"Not to know one's ancestors, is to be a tree without roots, a stream without a source."

Chinese Proverb

Joseph Huddlestone

72086. Gunner, 4th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA), died of wounds, 1st May 1917, France, age 35yrs.



Joseph was baptized on 19th February 1882, the son of Joseph, deceased labourer, and Sarah. He joined the army in April 1916. The "Barrow News" reported, on May 26th 1917:



"On Monday, Mr. William Huddlestone, Barngarth, Cartmel, received the sad news that his brother, Gunner Jos. Huddlestone, 4 Siege Battery R.G.A., in 95 Field Ambulance, had died of wounds on May 1st 1917. The deceased soldier was a fine, strapping fellow of 35, and joined the colours in April of last year. He had been in France about ten months. Prior to enlistment he was a carter in the employ of Mr. William Rigg; in fact, he had spent all his life, since being old enough to work, in the Rigg family. He was well known throughout the district, and a universal favourite."

The Parish magazine stated, "Many will miss him, and not least the employer for whom he worked for 20 years before he was called up. This of itself is an indication of his character. He was a real honest worker, and a very good brother. In his quiet way he made many friends, though he had much of the reserve so typical of Northern Country people."

Joseph was another Cartmel victim of the Battle of Arras (the others were William Mossop and James Gaskarth), which took place from 9th April to 17th May 1917.

The RGA were in charge of the long-range large calibre artillery much used in this war. 4th Siege Battery consisted of four 6-inch (30cwt) howitzers and had been on the Western Front since 17th September 1914.

On April 1st 1917, the battery marched from Tinques, 20km west of Arras, (just off the present day N39) to Habarque Wood, 10km nearer to the town. The battery was then reformed, and the guns registered to be ready for the preparatory bombardment of the Battle of Arras. Two weeks of preliminary shelling had frayed German nerves, but the onslaught launched on 4th April, "V" Day, was devastating, "Front-line trenches collapsed and men were buried alive in dugouts. Shards of red-hot metal sang through the air, dismembering and disembowelling fragile human bodies. There was no respite." (Cheerful Sacrifice, J. Nicholls. p53.) 4 Siege Battery fired 700 rounds that day, targetting enemy wire and artillery.

"W" day saw 820 rounds fired, "X" day 1138, but enemy counter fire destroyed the battery water cart. The next day, "Q" day - 7th April, the howitzers remained silent, but the gunners were bombarded with 50 gas shells and Gunner T. Wills was killed. The barrage continued and "Y" day saw 1100 rounds fired, prior to the infantry assault going in on "Z" day 9th April, 1917, when XVII Corps attacked NE of Arras, resulting in the historic Canadian capture of Vimy Ridge. The battery fired 970 rounds that day, but the intense firing had taken its toll on the guns and number IV gun went out of action at noon, going into the workshops the next day, when only 113 shells were fired.

The following days were spent moving forward, an observation post (OP) was reconnoitered near "Maison de la Côte", and a new gun position selected at map reference H13a 7.7 on trench map sheet 51b NW, which, on modern maps, I put at a road junction on the D42, 1km east of St Laurent Blangy. The battery commenced firing again (122 rounds at hostile batteries) on the 15th. The guns were only intermittently active for a few days, until the major Allied attack on the Oppy-Gavrelle line went in, on 23rd April. The howitzers and their operators were worked extremely hard in counter-battery work (particularly as No IV gun did not return from the workshop until the 25th) firing the huge number of 1142 shells! The assault suffered massive casualties for little gain, the 7th Border Regiment, comprising miners, farmers and dalesmen from the Kendal, Whitehaven, Cockermouth and Workington areas, lost 15 officers and 404 other ranks from the 19 and 505 who had attacked that morning.

The following day saw 328 rounds fired at Neuvireuil and Fresnes, villages to the rear of Oppy and Gavrelle, the gunnery continued, 340 and 111 rounds of counter battery fire being shot on 25th and 26th. April 27th was quiet for the gunners but the next day saw XIII Corps and the Canadians attack the Oppy front, 400 rounds being expended in support. Casualties had depleted many battalions by this time, some comprising only 200 men, few gains were made but the Canadians captured Arleux. Nicholls (p195) mentions thick fog obscuring the artillery observers' view of enemy reinforcements, but the Battery War Diary makes no mention of this.

4th Siege Battery RGA came under heavy enemy shelling all day on the 29th, but managed to fire 200 rounds in reply. Enemy bombardment must have continued the next day because the battery took heavy casualties 2nd Lt Wood being killed with Cpl. Thompson and Gunners Potter and Huddleston wounded. Gunners Potter and Huddleston died the next day.
(Arthur Potter,who died aged 33, is buried in DUISANS BRITISH CEMETERY, ETRUN, Pas de Calais, II, O, 5)
Joseph Huddleston is buried in Ste Catherine British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France. Row C, Grave 21.
The cemetery occupies an attractive site among meadows sloping towards the River Scarpe, but a suburban housing development encroaches. When I visited a resident's caravan all but blocked the path leading to the entrance.

Bill, who enrolled as a National Reservist in 1915 guarding Barrow shipyard, continued to live in Barngarth for many years after the war. A sister, referred to as "Mrs. Woodhouse", is also mentioned in reports of Joseph's death. Lily Woodhouse moved in with her brother and remained there until her death in the 1970s.