Wednesday, 30 April 2014

In Remembrance of Private Charles Thomas Fox

Private Charles Thomas Fox, Wellington Infantry Battalion, NZEF

Private Charles Thomas Fox, of Waipukurau, was one of many New Zealand soldiers who took part in a major offensive at the Somme in France. On 15 September 1916 an attack was made on the Flers-Courcelette line and this was the first time that tanks were used in a combat role. The New Zealanders main objective was to attack to the left of the village of Flers and to try to capture its trench network. This was approximately 3kms in front of the New Zealanders line. 

Tom was posted to 1st Battalion, Wellington Infantry Regiment, 7th (Wellington West Coast) Company in the field on 8 September 1916. He joined his battalion at a bivouac near Dernancourt, and on the morning of the 9th September the 1st Battalion marched on to Albert where they stayed in another bivouac just outside the town. General Godley inspected the 1st Battalion troops whilst they were stationed there. Tom’s battalion then marched out to Fricourt Wood and by the 13th September the New Zealand Division was ready and waiting for their destined role in the Battle of Somme. Operation Orders for the attack scheduled for the 15th were made available to the troops that same day.

The 1st Battalion was in Carlton Trench in Brigade reserve on 14th September. When zero hour (6:20am) struck on the 15th September a massive artillery bombardment was placed on the enemy lines and the 2nd Battalion moved forward. Just two hours later the Brigade had captured its second objective. Later that afternoon, Tom along with the rest of the 1st Wellington moved forward to Check Trench and took up position about 1,500 yards north of Montauban. With the 2nd Battalion and Rifle Brigade having advanced through the village of Flers, the Germans prepared for their counter attack. However the New Zealand Artillery pounded the advancing German soldiers and the attack failed.
The next morning was Tom’s last day alive and the day before his 23rd birthday. His battalion encountered much difficulty advancing through the poor light, broken ground, and shell fire on their way to Flers. At 6:30 a.m. on the 16th September, the 1st Battalion was set into position on a line from the north west end of Flers to Abbaye Road – Flers Trench – Cross Roads. 

They advanced further and the Hawke’s Bay Company confronted a German counter attack which they managed to quash through machine gun and rifle fire. The 1st Battalion then continued on with the attack with the objective of gaining Groove Alley. They achieved this but not without taking heavy casualties from enemy machine gun fire on both flanks.

It will never be known how Tom lost his life and at what stage of the advancement over the Somme Battlefield on the 16th September. The 1st Battalion’s strength had been 25 officers and 784 other ranks going into action on the 15th September. Three days later on the 18th they had lost 10 officers and 282 other ranks. Tom's older brother George Douglas Fox was killed at Messines nine months later (please see blog post http://100nzww1postcards.blogspot.co.nz/2013/02/tribute-to-my-great-uncle.html)


A small portrait photograph of Tom Fox appeared in the ‘Auckland Weekly News’ on 4 January 1917 (seen above) and the caption read “Private C.T. Fox of Waipukurau, wounded”. No record of Tom being wounded has ever been found and judging by the date of the ‘Auckland Weekly News’ report and knowing he was killed on 16 September 1916, the caption probably should have said ‘Killed in Action’.

Private T. Fox's grave at Gommecourt British Cemetery No.2, France.
Photograph courtesy of D & S Brackfield, taken Anzac Day 25 April 2014.

 A view of Gommecourt British Cemetery No.2 from the road.
Photograph courtesy of D & S Brackfield, taken Anzac Day 25 April 2014.

A view of Gommecourt British Cemetery No.2 looking toward the entrance.
Photograph courtesy of D & S Brackfield, taken Anzac Day 25 April 2014.