Private 12177 Albert Cyril Rea

Killed in Action on Friday, 22nd March 1918, age 21.
Commemorated on Panel 48 of Pozieres Memorial, Somme, France.

11th Bn., Hampshire Regiment. Pioneer Battalion of 16th Division.

Born: Smethwick, Enlisted: Birmingham, Resident: Tipton.

First landed France & Flanders, 19th December 1915.
Medal entitlement: 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal.
Soldier's Papers at National Archives did not survive.

Not commemorated on any Tipton memorial.
Commemorated here because identified as Tipton on 'Soldiers Died in the Great War'.

Link to Commonwealth War Graves Site: www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/1587238/

Genealogical Data

Birth of Albert Cyril Rea registered March quarter 1897 in Kings Norton.

1901 Census
369 Rotton Park Road, Summerfield, Birmingham.
Living with his son-in-law and daughter, Mr Colin and Mrs Mildred Smith were:
Henry P. Rea (49, Millwright in Tube Works, born London), and his 3 children: William A. Rea (19, Silversmith, born Smetwick), Philip W. Rea (10, born Smethwick), Albert C. Rea (4, born Smethwick).

1911 Census
27 Edith Road, Smethwick, Staffs.
Henry Philip Rea (58, Driller at Tram Depot, born London), his wife Annie (55, born Hockley), and their son: Albert Cyril Rea (14, Errand Boy, born Smethwick).

Personal Data

Two Tipton men, Albert Rea and Arthur Hurst, were both killed on 22nd March 1918 whilst serving with the 11th Hampshires. It is unlikely that they knew each other before the war as Albert was 21 years old and lived in Tipton, while Arthur was 40 years old and lived in Oxfordshire. It is of course possible that they 'palled up' during their service due to their common home town.

After Albert's death, his outstanding army pay and allowances amounted to £8/16/7d (8 pounds 16 shillings and 7 pence); this was paid to his father,Henry P. Rea, in July 1919. His War Gratuity was £20/10/0d (20 pounds and 10 shillings), this was also paid to his father in July 1919. The value of the War Gratuity suggests that Albert had enlisted in August 1914.

Action resulting in his death

The 11th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment (11/Hants), was the pioneer battalion for the 16th (Irish) Division. As a pioneer battalion their main task was labouring, but in extreme conditions would be called upon to support the infantry. The 1918 German Spring Offensive was expected, but the precise date unknown. As a contingency, the 11/Hants had been considered in the defensive planning.

On 21st March 1918 over a 5-hour period beginning at 4.40am, the Germans fired over a million high-explosive and gas shells over a 50-mile front. At 9.35 am, 500,000 German soldiers advanced through a mist which reduced visibility to 25 yards in some places. The 16th (Irish) Division were centred around Lemire and Ronssoy, between Peronne and Cambrai and about 20 miles east to the 1916 Somme battlefields. Specifically, the 11/Hants were located in Villers Faucon which itself was heavily shelled.

The 11/Hants were ordered to take up a defensive position at the 3rd line at St. Emilie; by midnight of the 21st March the Germans had taken the first 2 lines and had been temporarily repulsed at the 3rd line.

The 11/Hants War Diary for 22nd March reports: "About 4.30am enemy put down his barrage on Brown (3rd) line and St. Emilie with guns of all calibres. Enemy attacked directly after dawn in a heavy mist. After very severe fighting it appeared that the right flank was threatened and orders were received to withdraw in direction of Villers Faucon. Battalion held St. Emilie defences to cover this withdrawal putting up a very fine fight and considerably delaying enemy advance."

For the rest of the morning of 22nd March, the whole Division was forced back until the line held near Tincourt by early afternoon. The War Diary continues: "Remainder of afternoon the enemy contented himself with registering on Green (4th) line, and harassing fire on reserves and communications in rear, and this fire and that from his low-flying aircraft caused many casualties."

During this trying day, 20 men of the 11/Hants who were killed. This number included Tipton men Alfred Hurst and Albert Rea. Like most of the men killed on that day, they have no known grave and are commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial.

The next 10 days saw a fighting withdrawal across the River Somme to the eastern outskirts of Amiens. By the time 16th (Irish) Division was relieved on 3rd April, it had suffered 7,149 killed, wounded, and missing, the highest casualties of any division engaged in the battle. In the words of Captain Staniforth, "The Division has ceased to exist, wiped off the map."

Newspaper Cuttings

Birmingham Daily Post 1st June 1918
Hampshire Regiment, Rea, 12177, A.C., (Tipton).