Thursday, 15 October 2015

A Budleigh widow’s son, killed in the Battle of Loos: Private Archibald George Slee, 14 October 1915

The badge of the Civil Service Rifles 

On the Loos Memorial in Dud Corner Cemetery, one kilometre west of the village of Loos-en-Gohelle is the name of yet another casualty of the Battle of Loos with a connection to Budleigh Salterton.

However Private Archibald George Slee was born not in Budleigh but in Ottery St Mary in 1895.  In 1901 he was living with his parents and older brother Harold Tom Slee in Silver Street, Ottery St Mary. Ten years later, according to the site, he was a student in London. At the outbreak of war he seems to have been working as a civil servant since he enlisted at Somerset House, headquarters of the 1st/15th London Regiment, known as the Civil Service Rifles because its recruits were made up of civil servants living and working in London.

After training at Bedmond and then Watford in Hertfordshire, Private Slee embarked at Southampton in one of four boats, used in peacetime, according to the Regimental History, for pleasure trips along the coast. Along with 30 officers, 1,045 other ranks, and 78 horses, he arrived at Le Havre on the morning of 18 March 1915.

It seems from the account in the Regimental History that the troops were not impressed, “the chief disappointment, perhaps, being that there were little or no signs of the Great War. No welcoming crowds of pretty French girls were there to meet them, and almost unnoticed they marched through the town and up the hill which led to the camp above Harfleur. Here the troops, perspiring after the steep climb, in what they thought was full marching order, learnt that there were many more things for the unfortunate Infantry soldier to carry in France. Winter clothing was issued, and although it was very welcome on that bitterly cold afternoon, the weight of it made everyone look forward with more than usual keenness to the coming of Spring.”

The Regiment had its full taste of warfare in the Battle of Festubert (15-25 May) and the Battle of Loos (25 September-14 October).

This image from the Illustrated London News of 30 October 1915 graphically conveys the horror of war, spelt out in the commentary: “One of the most awe-inspiring charges during the war was that made by the London Territorials on the German trenches between the ‘Tower Bridge’ of Loos and the great double slag-heap opposite Grenay, known as the Double Crassier. The first line having been cleared, a number of fortified houses were rushed, and finally Loos Cemetery was taken. Under cover of gas, the Territorials wearing their respirators, dashed forward with irresistible elan, and eventually emerged onto the front German line. The eerie effect produced by their Inquisition-like hoods struck terror into the hearts of the enemy. Sweeping with comparative ease over the German first-line trench, they encountered greater resistance at the sunken road and at the Lens Road junction at Valley Cross-roads, but this, too, was overcome, the enemy retiring to his third line of defence through Loos. The masked figure on the right is wearing the regulation belt filled with bombs. On the left three German machine-gunners are surrendering.”

The Loos Memorial
Image credit: Commonwealth War Graves Commission 

It was during the last stages of the Battle of Loos that Private Slee was killed in action. He was 20 years old. His name appears on Sidmouth’s war memorial. By 1921, when the Commonwealth Graves Commission Certificate was issued, his mother Rosa Slee was a widow, living at 13 Greenway Lane, Budleigh Salterton.  

‘The Great War at Fairlynch’ 2015 exhibition at Budleigh Salterton’s very special museum! Reviews included: “Wonderful display on WW1, informative, bright and relevant. Well done!!


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