Richard Henry Sandoe 1869-1915

Private Richard Henry Sandoe was reported missing presumed killed near Ypres on 23 Apr 1915. The British army records for the Great War were mostly destroyed in the 1940 London Blitz, and all that remain are the brief summaries published in the 80 volumes of UK Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-1919 (1921, London, HMSO). This records that he served in the 2nd Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, was born at Truro (Cornwall), resided at Plymouth (Devon), enlisted at Deptford (London), and was killed in action on 23 Apr 1915. The History of the the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry 1914-1919 (by Everard Wyrall, Methuen & Co, 1932) records the story of the 2nd Battalion in the Ypres salient in March and April of 1915. The 2nd Battalion DCLI War Diary Dec 1914 – Oct 1915 is kept at the National Archive in London (WO 95/2266/2).

Richard Henry Sandoe was a distant cousin of my grandfather Sidney Richard Sandoe, our earliest common ancestors being William Sandoe (1728-1810, a farmer at Kea and Philleigh in Cornwall) and Grace Tresise (1732-1811). They shared the same given name, Richard, the namesake tradition going back to ancestors of Grace Tresise.

Richard Henry was born around 1870 at St Clements, Truro, the son of William (a sawyer) and Mary Ann. He was orphaned in the 1880s aged about 15 after losing both his parents, and seems to have fallen into delinquency. He was sentenced twice to hard labour in 1886, first for assault and then for petty theft (Source: court proceedings). He declared himself a soldier in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry on his son’s birth certificate in 1894, a labourer when he married in 1895, an insurance agent in 1898 and 1911, and a dealer’s carman in 1901. He married Evalina Stanaway at Plymouth in 1895, Evelina leaving at once with their son Joseph Henry for New South Wales, where a second child (a daughter) was born and died in 1895/96. Evalina settled in Sydney, living with one Robert Dietze and their new daughter in 1900. In Cornwall and Devon, Richard Henry returned to petty crime, being fined once and sentenced to hard labour twice in 1896-98. He was living with Elizabeth Borlace and their new daughter in Plymouth in 1901. Evalina married Robert Dietze in 1906, and Richard Henry married Elizabeth Borlace in 1907, everyone respecting the stipulated minimum five years absence of a missing spouse. Richard Henry and Elizabeth were living in Plymouth in 1911 with two daughters. The son Joseph Henry remained with his mother in Sydney, where he grew up knowing Robert Dietze as his father, Evalina doing her best to hide the Sandoe connection. Joseph Henry enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force in 1914 as Dietze, and was wounded at Gallipoli and in France. Company Quarter Master Sergeant in 1917, he was commissioned in 1918. He had tried to find his father while on officer training in England in 1918, then he too was killed, within days of rejoining his unit in September, and is remembered at Bellicourt, barely 60 miles from his father’s memorial at Ypres.

The Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry

Richard Henry Sandoe's Medal Card

Figure 1. Richard Henry Sandoe’s medal card.

Richard Henry’s enlistment date in 1914 or 1915 is not known (lost with the blitzed records). Already 45 years old, he was posted to France in March 1915  (Source: Medal Card, Figure 1).

When the war started, the 1st Battalion was  in Ireland, the 2nd in Hong Kong, and the 3rd at Bodmin. The 1st sailed immediately from Dublin for France, while the 2nd left Hong Kong for the UK. The 3rd waited at Falmouth, providing reserves for the two regular battalions. Richard Henry was part of the Special Reserve at Falmouth until he was posted to France in March 1915, to help replace severe losses in the 2nd Battalion.

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Figure 2. Overview of the Ypres Salient, showing the front line in 1914, the area taken by the Germans after the gas attack of 22 Apr 1915, and the front line at end of April 1914. (1) 2nd Bn DCLI at St Eloi in Jan-Mar 1915; (2) At Sanctuary Wood in Apr 1915; (3) The bivouac near Brielen 20-22 Apr 1915; (4) Wieltje and the counter attack on 23 Apr 1915 (red arrows). Adapted from Flemish Heritage Institute.

The 2nd D.C.L.I. arrived at Devonport from Hong Kong in November 1914 and continued to Winchester to become part of 27th Division in 82nd Brigade, that were assembling and training there. The whole brigade sailed  for France in December, landing at Le Havre and continuing north to the Belgian frontier by train. Finally, they marched to the front just south of Ypres, arriving at Dickebusch (a few miles SW of Ypres) on 11 Jan 1915. The actual travelling time to the front from le Havre, discounting days spent working, was 5 days. The battalion then followed a routine of two days in the front line trenches (at St Eloi, 1 in Figure 2) and two in billets (at Dickebusch, Westoutre or Reninghelst). On 2nd Apr, they marched through Ypres to the front at Sanctuary Wood (south of Hooge, 5 miles east of Ypres, 2 in Figure 2). On 20 Apr they left the front for a few days in reserve at Ypres.

Richard Henry’s qualifying date for the 1915 star is 24 March 1915, the date he disembarked in France and entered a theatre of war, the condition for the star. Allowing for slow travelling, he might have joined his battalion early in April 1915. The 2nd Bn war diary records seven drafts of reserves arriving from 29 Jan to 6 Apr 1915. He might have joined the battalion at Westoutre on 28 Mar along with 7 officers and 114 other ranks (a mere 4 days travelling), or more likely on 6 Apr at Sanctuary Wood.

The Ypres Salient

Figure 2 is a map of the Ypres salient, showing the front line of Nov 1914 (yellow) and the ground gained by the Germans after the gas attack of 22 Apr 1915. At 5.00 p.m. on April 22, chlorine gas was released over the French sector, killing all who did not withdraw. The German units holding the front line advanced during the night and dug in on high ground south of Pilckem, exposing an undefended Canadian flank further east near St Julien. The planned British counter attack on April 23 was intended to recapture the French sector and help close the open Canadian flank.

The 2nd Battalion D.C.L.I. in the Ypres Salient

The three craters that remain today. The fourth was on the road on the left, presumably filled in when the road was repaired.

Figure 3. Satellite photo (GoogleEarth 2010) showing the location of the front line immediately south of St Eloi, The large craters were the German mines blown beneath the front line in March 1915. A fourth on the far left, has been filled in. The front line ran across this photo, through the crater on the left and along the lane below the craters on the right. The fields below were in no mans land.

The first assignment for the 2nd Bn D.C.L.I. was to hold the front line at St Eloi, where they were involved in two major actions. On 14-15 Feb 1915, a German attack captured the front trenches, that were then recaptured by a counter attack in which the 2nd D.C.L.I. took part. A much more serious engagement occurred on 14-15 Mar 1915, while the 2nd D.C.L.I. were in the front line. Four German mines beneath the front trenches were blown, followed by an artillery barrage and an infantry attack (Figure 3). Both actions caused heavy casualties to the battalion, straining the resources of the 3rd Bn at Falmouth to provide replacements.

On April 2 the 2nd D.C.L.I. marched through Ypres and the Menin Gate to Sanctuary Wood a few miles to the east, where they followed the same routine, two days in the front line and to days in the rear. Richard Henry Sandoe joined them either just before the move, or just after they arrived. He experienced three turns in the front line trenches, during which there was no unusual activity, the daily average 1 killed and 5 wounded from sniper fire and the occasional shell burst.

Ypres

By Anthony; Belgium, Ypres.

Figure 4. The Menin Gate at Ypres in the summer of 1914, an opening in the rampart and a bridge over the moat. Photo: Ypres City Museum.
Ypres: The Menin Gate in 1919

Figure 5. The ramparts at the Menin Gate in 1919
ww1photos.com

Figure 6. Ypres in ruins. Photo: ww1photos.com.

The battalion left Sanctuary Wood on April 19 and marched to billets in Ypres. On the morning of April 20 a shell fell on a billet, killing six men of C company and wounding 13. The battalion then marched out to a field near Brielen NW of Ypres (5 in Figure 2, D in Figure 7), where they camped out. On the afternoon of April 22 the battalion returned to Ypres for hot baths. At 17:00 a heavy bombardment commenced over the city and over the country to the north. The second Battle of Ypres had begun, the chlorine gas was already drifting over the front line towards Pilckem, and French troops were withdrawing towards the canal. Ypres was immediately evacuated.

Satelite photo. The area of the counterattack of 23 Apr 1915 at 16.25.

Figure 7. Satellite photo (GoogleEarth 2010) of the ground covered by the counter attack of 23 Apr 1915.
Bottom right corner: The old road from Ypres passing St Jean and Wieltje here.
A, B, C: New suburbs NE of Ypres on what was open country in 1915.
D: 2nd D.C.L.I. bivouac 20-22 Apr 1915, near Brielen Bridge over the canal.
E, F, H: Gedde’s detachment. E is 2nd D.C.L.I. at Wieltje Farm.
G G G G: The new German line south of Pilckem on 23 Apr 1915.
I. 13th Brigade.
J: The site of Turco Farm, the limit of the 2nd D.C.L.I. advance.
K: The site of Foch Farm, to which the 2nd D.C.L.I. withdrew at nightfall.
L: The site of La Belle Alliance farm.
M: A new national highway, Noorderring, N38, built across the southern part of the battlefield.
N: A new motorway, A19, from the SE, temporarily halted just NE of Wieltje. Its continuation NW will cut across the battlefield.

The 2nd Bn D.C.L.I. marched again in the early hours of 23 April, through the city to join the other battalions assembling to the NE near St Jean and Wieltje (3 in Fig. 2, E-I in Figure 7) under the command of Col. Geddes of the East Kent Regiment. A morning counter attack was planned once 13th Brigade had arrived to complete the force. This was a beautiful spring day, none of the mud and rain usually associated with Flanders. The counter attack was doomed to failure, with units assembling all day in bright sunshine in full view of the enemy. The German artillery had spent the day registering its guns and picking targets at will. The 13th Brigade had still not arrived, the counter attack was delayed, and delayed again, until 16:25. The German line was reached in various places but not penetrated, and the British forces withdrew a short distance at nightfall (K-L in Figure 7). The total allied losses were enormous, 2000 killed, wounded or missing (1 every 10 seconds for 5 hours).

 WW1map2ndBnDCLIWarDiary05Figure 8. A sketch map from the War Diary of the 2nd Bn DCLI.
(Source: National Archive, London).

Figure 8 shows a sketch map from the battalion war diary, showing roughly the same area as the satellite photo in Figure 7. The DCLI attack was led by D and B companies, to the left and right respectively, starting from Wieltje farm (bottom right). Richard Henry was in B company. The first part was downhill from Wieltje, covered by hedgerows. Highway N38 crosses at the bottom today, in 1915 they crossed a ditch. Then uphill over arable farmland to the farms and lane in the centre, B company edging to the right. After the farms, B company fanned out to the right across the hilltop, and descended in full view of the enemy line ahead, converging on D company and the farm at the top (Turco Farm).

Belgium, Ypres, St Jean, WieltjeFigure 9. Satellite photo (2010, GoogleEarth), showing the part played by the 2nd Bn DCLI in the counter attack of 23 Apr 1915 (red arrows), looking north. The landmarks show army names as used on trench maps. The photo also shows new features (Ypres suburbs and industry along the left edge, the N38 highway and the A19 motorway).
googleearth150423wieltje02Figure 10. The same area as Figure 9, but looking south. This view emphasizes how clearly the the allied troop movements could be seen all day long from the German line (just beyond the bottom edge of the photo).

The battalion casualties were 49 killed, 223 wounded, and 6 missing. One of the six missing was Richard Henry Sandoe, who was never found. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records that his name is inscribed on panel 20 of the Menin Gate War Memorial at Ypres, which carries the names of 54,000 solders who were killed somewhere in the Ypres Salient but have no known grave (Figure 11).

MENIN GATE, YPRES, BELGIUM. OVER 54,000 NAMES OF SOLDIERS WHO HAVE NO KNOWN FINAL RESTING PLACE ARE ENGRAVED ON THE WALLS OF THE MEMORIAL. EUROPE. THE WW1-1914-1918 CEMETERIES AND MEMORIALS MAINTAINED BY THE COMMONWEALTH WAR GRAVES COMMISSION. COPYRIGHT PHOTOGRAPH BY BRIAN HARRIS  © 2006 0044(0)7808-579804-brianharrisphoto@ntlworld.com OR brian@brianharrisphotographer.co.uk

Figure 11. The Menin Gate memorial at Ypres
(Photo: Commonwealth War Graves Commission).

Postscript

During 2004-2007, the Flemish Heritage Institute undertook exploratory excavations along the projected route of the A19 motorway NW from Wieltje, including Turco Farm. In addition to the events of 22-23 Apr 1915, this area also saw the 3rd battle of Ypres in 1917. In consequence, alternative routes are being considered.

Moortelweg; N38 across top; Crossroads Farm rightt.

Figure 12. View SE towards the end of the A19 and the new N38 in 2004, with Wieltje village top right, showing an excavation on the projected continuation of the motorway. Below and to the right of the excavation are the fields where B company spread out before turning towards Turco Farm. Photo: http://www.a-w-a.be.
Moortelweg; N38 across bottom; Turco Farm top left.

Figure 13. The opposite view in 2004, NW from the A19, towards Turco Farm, with B Company’s counter attack added. Photo: http://www.a-w-a.be.
Turco Farm area, allied trenches red, German trenches blue.

Figure 14. A trench map dated April 1915 of the Turco Farm area, allied trenches in blue, German in red. Additions: B and D Companies’ counter attack in red, five locations highlighted in green. The only trenches on 24 April were the line through Foch Farm to La Belle Alliance and Hill Top Farm along the bottom, where the DCLI dug in the previous evening. The additional trenches close to the German lines were dug later. Source: http://www.a-w-a.be.
Warped onto a survey map to identifify locations, roads,  and buildings etc. July 1915.

Figure 15. Aerial photograph of Turco Farm (bottom left) and allied front line trenches, July 1915, warped onto a recent road map to identify locations and features, in preparation for archaeological excavation. Source: http://www.a-w-e.be.
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©Sidney Wood and SWPhonetics, 1994-2015
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