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A Chelford Man's Story

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Richard Boon
Private No 18287..Second Battalion Cheshire Regiment.

This is the story of a Chelford man, whose relative, Tony Boon, many of you will know. Richard's story is very poignant and for someone born in Britain in the late 1890s, sadly, all too common.

Richard Boon was born in December 1897 at Chelford, the son of farm labourer Joseph Boon and his wife Rose Ellen (nee Bloor). He was baptised at St John's Church, Chelford, on 2nd January 1898. He enlisted at Macclesfield, probably before the end of 1914 and before his 17th birthday and was, therefore, too young for Army service at the time. The minimum age for recruitment was 19 years and proof of age was not required provided the individual appeared to be of the correct age, the enlistment document containing the words, 'apparent age'. After a period of training of about six months on 4th May, 1915 he was posted to France for service with the Second Battalion of the Regiment.

This battlion was stationed at Jubbulore, India on 4th August, 1914 and was immediately ordered to return to the UK for service in the British Expeditionary Force. The battalion arrived at Devonport on Christmas Eve, 1914 and joined 84th Brigade, 28th Division, one of the Regular Army Divisions formed in the early months of the War from units withdrawn from overseas garrisons. The Division landed in France in January 1915 and the severe winter badly affected the health of the men who had spent some time in India or other overseas stations. The Division was in the firing line scarcely ten days when so many men became sick that the three infantry brigades had to be temporarily replaced by battalions from other divisions. The brigades were brought to strength again in time to take part in the Second Barttle of Ypres.

The battle began in April when the Germans, with a heavy bombardment of artillery, and the use of gas for the first time on the Western Front, made an attempt to take Ypres and push through to the Channel Ports, as they had attempted in 1914. The 28th Division was occupying a sector ofthe Salient north of the Menin Road aside the Ypres-Broodseinde road. On 20th April a heavy bombardment began on Ypres and continued for two days. On the 22nd the Germans used gas in a sudden attack on the left sector of the Salient held by French colonial troops who fled leaving exposed the flank of a Canadian battalion, also gassed, and units of the 28th Division. The Canadians held firm and the reserve battalions of the 28th Division, and also the 27th Division, were faced north to fill the gap. On 4th May the 28th Divison was withdrawn and moved to rear positions near Frezenberg.

The sector of the front held by the Division was north of the Menin Road from Frezenberg to Mousetrap Farm. The line held was nothing more than namow trenches, with no wire, and no communication trenches. On 8th May, three German army corps attacked the 27th and 28th Divisions astride the Menin and Frezenberg roads. The attack was supported by a heavy bombardment of shell and gas. The men of the defending battalions were protected against the effects of gas by an issue to each battalion of only 200 cloth bands to be worn across the mouth.

The 84th Brigade had the Cheshire Battalion in the line, with two companies at the front and two in support with the Suffolks on the right and the Monmouths on the left. The 83rd Brigade on the right of 84th Brigade was attacked at 8.30 a.m. and again at 9.00 a.m., but it was only at a third attack at 10 a.m. that the front gave way. The gap left by 83rd Brigade made it clear that 84th Brigade was in a very critical position. Reinforcements sent forward were mown down before they could reach their destination. About 1 o'clock the Cheshires and Suffolks were overran as were the Monmouths some time later.

The left battalion of the Brigade, the Northumberland Fusiliers, held on till dark but when they were about to withdraw, they were wiped out by a sudden bombardment followed by an attack from all sides. Three companies of the Cheshires were wiped out also, but the fourth fought on and preserved a semblance of order as it withdrew. The Battalion was brought out of action by two 2/Lieutenants, being the only surviving officers and only 32 men drew rations on that evening. The remnants of the Battalion formed part of a composite battalion with what was left of the other battalions of the Brigade. At the end of the battle, although the Division had lost all its positions, a line was held across
´┐╝the gap behind Verlorenhock Ridge to Mousetrap Farm. It went into reserve west of Ypres for a short period of rest, re-equipment and reinforcement.

At dawn on 24 May the 85th Brigade, 28 Division, was gassed and tumed out of its trenches a few miles east of Ypres. The 84th Brigade was ordered at 5.45 a.m. to the General HQ line about 3 miles from Ypres, which crossed the Menin Road at Hell Fire Corner and ran north to Potijze. The Brigade reached a point about a mile east of Valmertingfue about a mile west of Ypres and began to prepare a midday meal but was ordered before the meal could be eaten. All the battalions of the Brigade were weak having only partially made up to strength with drafts of young inexperienced ofiicers and untrained men. They moved forward dinnerless, at noon, across country south of the Roulers Railway. In the front line were the Northumberland Fusiliers and the Cheshires.

The actual attack on the German positions started at 5.00 p.m. There had been no chance of cooking food and the men were all tired and famished besides being without experience. Direrction and cohesion were soon lost but a few men got within 200 yards of the German line and dug in. Two battalions of 80th Brigade had come forward in support and were to co-operate with what was left of the 84th Brigade but the plan never had any chance of success as it could not be communicated to the troops who were completely exhausted, the Northumberland Fusiliers being completely wiped out- The two battalions of 80th Brigade were driven back and retired behind the line of 84th Brigade, which hung on till it was relieved. Six officers ofthe Battalion were killed and one wounded and 279 men were casualties.

Private Boon was killed during this action and his body was not recovered.

His name is recorded on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, Ypres, Belgium. He was awarded the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal, and the Victory Medal.

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