Lance Corporal Ernest Allen
G/47857, 22nd Bn., Royal Fusiliers
Killed in action on 17th February 1917, aged 23
Remembered with Honour:
Barrow Hill Memorial
Staveley Parish Memorial
Ovillers Military Cemetery I.E.19
ERNEST ALLEN was born in Barrow Hill, near Chesterfield, in 1894, the son of Jonathan and Emma Allen and brother of Florence (1891), Hannah (1893), Joseph William (1896) and Ellen (1900).
Ernest’s father, Jonathan, had been born in Lancashire, in 1862, but had lived from childhood with relatives at Canal Row on Hollingwood Common and later at 18, Devonshire Terrace, Barrow Hill. He married Emma Roberts from the Lees Buildings at Hollingwood Common in 1889 and worked as a labourer in the local coalmines.
Between 1901 and 1911, the Allen family moved to live at 117, Barrow Hill, a “Block” cottage on the 4th row. These cottages were tied to employment with the Staveley Coal and Iron Company.
Jonathan was still working as a labourer in the mines in 1911 and his sons, Ernest (17) and Joseph William (15), are both recorded working as horse drivers underground at one of the Company’s collieries.
Many of the service records for WW1 soldiers were destroyed in an air raid during WW2 and, had his survived, they could have provided more details of Ernest’s military service. However, it is known that he enlisted in the 17th (Empire) battalion of the Royal Fusiliers and that this was probably in December 1914. Ernest was initially allocated the service number E/1424 and, having been promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal, went overseas with this unit to France on 17th November 1915. Interestingly, he would almost certainly have been serving alongside both Edgar Bennett and Joseph Walsh whose names appear beside his on the village memorial. In the absence of a surviving service record, the date and reasons for his transfer to the 22nd (Kensington) Battalion of the same regiment are not known, but Ernest retained his rank and was renumbered as GS/47858 when this change occurred. [1}
In June 1915 the battalion had joined 99th Brigade, 33rd Division, at Clipstone camp near Mansfield in Nottinghamshire. The Division was largely comprised of locally raised units often known as “Pals”, with units raised by the public schools, footballers and other sportsmen and the Church Lads Brigade, among others. In August they moved to Salisbury Plain for final training and firing practice and, in November, they received orders to prepare to proceed to France. They landed in Boulogne on 17th November 1915. On 25th November 1915, 99th Brigade joined 2nd Division as part of an exchange to strengthen the inexperienced 33rd Division and transferred to 5th Brigade, also in 2nd Division, in December.
Although the 17th and 22nd Battalions of the Royal Fusiliers were in different Brigades, they both served together in the 2nd Division after December of 1915. They moved into the Battle of the Somme from Vimy Ridge in late July 1916. August and September saw the Division in action at Delville Wood, Waterlot Farm and Guillemot and at the Battle of Albert, the Battle of Bazentin, the attacks on High Wood and the capture of Boritska and Dewdrop Trenches.
In November the division was in action on the Ancre Heights and stayed on the Somme until March 1917. This account of the action in which Ernest Allen was killed is taken from “Boom Ravine” by Trevor Pidgeon.
In February 1917, 2nd Division were in action near Miraumont, attacking Boom Ravine and north towards Pys and Petite Miraumont. The action was to involve 3 divisions, 63rd (Royal Naval) Division on the slopes to the north of the River Ancre, attacking eastwards towards Miraumont, 18th Division south of the River Ancre, attacking north towards Miraumont, and 2nd Division to their east attacking in a northerly direction towards a line between Miraumont and the village of Pys.
The 2nd Division main attack was to involve just the 99th Brigade, capturing Hill 130, with a secondary attack involving a battalion of the 6th Brigade on the right flank, towards Pys. On the left of the 99th Brigade the attack was led by the 54th Brigade of 18th Division. The ground over which the men were to attack had been subject to a five week period of freezing conditions, and the commanders decided that a rate of advance equal to 100 yards in three minutes for the first 100 yards, followed by 100 yards in four minutes thereafter was decided upon, punctuated by 30 minute pauses at each of the three fixed objectives. Zero hour was set at 5.45 am on the 17th February 1917. In the event, a thaw began on the 16th which rendered the rate of advance calculations inaccurate, and hence the rate of the moving artillery barrage that the advancing troops were to follow.
The 99th Brigade front consisted of 500 yards of line between the East Miraumont Road (right flank) and the West Miraumont Road (left flank & boundary with 54th Brigade). On the right of the 99th, one and a half companies of 23rd Bn Royal Fusiliers were to advance in four waves towards the first objective of Blue Line (Grandcourt Trench) which they were then to hold. ‘D’ Company 22nd Bn Royal Fusiliers were then to move up behind them to take up a flank protecting position along the East Miraumont Road between the British frontline and the Blue Line. At this point, the remaining elements of 23rd Bn Royal Fusiliers were to advance through Blue Line and on towards the second objective, Green Line (South Miraumont Trench). One company from 23rd Bn Royal Fusiliers were to continue the flank protection between the Blue Line and the Green Line.
The left element of 99th Brigade’s front was to be attacked by four waves of ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies of 1st Bn King’s Royal Rifle Corps, augmented with members of ‘B’ Company 22nd Bn Royal Fusiliers, who were to act as ‘moppers up’ (the remainder of the company acting as ‘support’ for the attack). The second objective, Green Line, was then to be assaulted by ‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies 1st Bn KRRC. The third objective, Yellow Line (the road at the foot of Hill 130 in front of Miraumont) was the objective of the final remaining two companies (‘A’ and ‘C’) of the 22nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers.
Having moved up to the front line on the night of the 16th, the men of the brigade took what shelter was available in shell holes and the existing trenches. Due to the anticipated frozen condition of the ground, the planners had opted away from preparing assembly trenches for the leading waves to advance from. During the night, the men were subjected to a sustained German barrage, which pointed to the probability that the Germans were aware that the attack was imminent.
At 5.45 am the British barrage fell on the German lines and the attack began. It was immediately subjected to heavy German machine gun fire. Elements of 54th Brigade moved across the brigade boundary of West Miraumont Road, pushing the 1st Bn KRRC lead companies amongst those of the 23rd Bn Royal Fusiliers. To the right flank, ‘D’ Company 22nd Bn Royal Fusiliers established themselves along the East Miraumont Road in the face of German machine gun fire.
The attack was still progressing in the gloom of the early dawn and mist and smoke of battle. The ground over which the men were advancing had become a slippery, icy morass. In these conditions the second wave’s advance towards the Green Line lost direction and became scattered. ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies of 22nd Bn Royal Fusiliers also lost direction as they attempted to advance across Hill 130 towards the Yellow Line, and strayed west of West Miraumont Road. A Company and elements of C Company were led back towards their objective, but became surrounded and killed or captured in the region of South Miraumont Trench.
As the attack faltered, the Germans counter attacked towards Hill 130 from a ravine to the north of the Miraumont-Pys Road. By this stage there was little the depleted and tired men of the attacking force could do to resist, and gradually the advance was pushed back across the slopes of Hill 130.
49 Officers and 969 other ranks were casualties of this attack. Amongst them was Ernest Allen who was killed in action aged 23.
Ernest is buried in Plot 1.E.19 at the Ovillers Military Cemetery which began as a battle cemetery behind a dressing station. It was used until March 1917, by which time it contained 143 graves, about half the present Plot I. His original grave was marked with a cross and a headstone erected when he was re-buried after the war.
His medal index card reveals that the officer in charge of records requested authority for the disposal of his medals on 3.11.20 suggesting that his family either did not receive, or claim, his medals after the war.
 Ernest’s service number is recorded on some official documents as G/47857 and on others as G/47858.
 Ernest’s official date of death is recorded as 17.2.1917 but other CWGC documents suggest that it may have been 18th February.
© Ann Lucas