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Captured at the First Battle of the Aisne (WW1)


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Hello everyone. I was pleased to find this group, during my searches as I write up my family history. One of my Grandfathers passed before I was born so I’m particularly interested in finding out as much as possible about him and what he did (a few questions at the end of this item – sorry it is so long but I thought it best to summarise what I already have found out). I know he was in the Northumberland Fusiliers and hope that some members of this group can help me in my search. This is what I know, at present:

Ernest Maycock went to Newcastle upon Tyne to ’sign up’ at the Fusiliers office on Barrack Road when he was sixteen (he declared himself older to them as he signed up) so it must have been sometime after early August of 1903 (when he turned 16). Private Maycock had a Service Number of 164 (Geneva records)

He was described within the family as going to South Africa so it looks like he would have been in the 3rd Battalion - that was one of the two newly formed battalions, in 1900, and the only one in South Africa after late 1903. He may have been there until 1907, perhaps, when the Battalion was disbanded in April 1907 and he would have returned to England where he remained on the ‘Reserves’ List.

As the First World War was about to start I believe he was remobilised. In August 1914, the Northumberland Fusiliers consisted of 7 battalions. At this time the 1st Battalion (from later, Ernest was described as a POW from 1st N.F.) was a Regular Army battalion and was stationed in Portsmouth at the outbreak of World War I. It was assigned to the 9th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division and remained with it throughout the war. It landed at Le Havre on 14 August 1914 and remained on the Western Front until the Armistice with Germany. It was soon involved in action at Mons and then Aisne.

I presume that Ernest was involved immediately in the Battle of Mons (22nd to 24th August) and then at the First Battle of the Aisne (12th to 15th September). I found a detailed description of the battle via the following link:

https://www.britishbattles.com/first-world-war/battle-of-the-aisne/

It seems that Ernest (based on N.F. recorded deployments), was in the 9th Brigade and probably crossed the river at Vailly on the night of 13th September using a single plank access across a gap within a damaged bridge, following the 8th Brigade who had crossed during that afternoon. The BEF attack continued through 14th September but British intelligence falsely believed that German forces were fairly weak and probably going to retreat.

In adverse and confusing conditions, the attacking British infantry were repeatedly subjected to strong counter-attacks aimed at driving them back across the Aisne From an entry in German records dated 24th February 1915, it records that Ernest had been captured at Vailly. He was then transferred to Prisoner of War camp/s, documented in Erfurt, by 23rd January 1915. This is also confirmed in a Geneva CICR record statement. He ended up at the detention camp near Kassel.

At some time, a post card was sent from the camp to update relatives. This one gives reference to Ernest being in “1st N.F.” – presumably the First Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers, with a reference number of 8844. The Witzenhausen camp/area was nearly 500 miles to the east/north-east of Vailly,

It is not totally clear which camp (e.g. “12 camp, Kassel”) that Ernest was based in because there are three referred-to locations in and near Kassel: Kassel-Niederzwehren, Langensalza and Witzenhausen.

Fairly near to the Kassel area was, also, the Langensalza camp, opened in 1914 and holding 10,000 men. If this were a camp that Ernest was based in, the following article link becomes very interesting and poignant:

http://www.scotlandswar.ed.ac.uk/sites/default/files/pdf_Langensalza_POW_Camp.pdf

It gives an officially recorded witness account of deliberate shootings by the Germans who were in control just after the Armistice was announced. One member of the Northumberland Fusiliers was killed in that incident. This camp was used for prisoners from several nations, including Russia, France and even oddities such as Senegal.

The reference to Witzenhausen, from the photo post card, leads to other potentially relevant (or perhaps confusing?) information as to where Ernest was actually held. Witzenhausen is about 50 miles north west of Langensalza and only 25 miles from Kassel. There does not seem to have been a camp at Witzenhausen.

It is known that some other English prisoners started their incarceration at Kassel and later transferred to Langensalza. The known reference to at least one Northumberland Fusilier being at Langensalza suggests that Ernest almost certainly spent some of his time in captivity here.

During his lengthy period as a POW we know that Ernest was used to do work on a local farm. It was not until 1919 that Ernest managed to be repatriated home to Chesterfield.

Questions that people may be able to help with:

-          On what date did he sign up, and can an image for that page of records be obtained (where would the records be kept)?

-          Where would he have been, in South Africa, and what did they do there?

-          Are there records to show when he sailed for South Africa and when he returned to England? (where can these details be found?)

-          Was he in the 1914 1st Battalion and then assigned to the 9th Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division?

-          Am I correct in my deductions on how he was captured at Vailly?

Any help would be much appreciated

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