Serjeant 12295 Ernest Wheeler

Killed in Action on Thursday, 21st March 1918, age 21.
Commemorated on Bay 6 of Arras Memorial, Pas De Calais, France.

2nd/6th Bn., South Staffordshire Regiment. 176th Brigade of 59th Division.

Son of Mr and Mrs John Grinsill Wheeler, of 19, New Cross St., Tipton, Staffs.
Born: Tipton, Enlisted: Wolverhampton, Resident: Tipton.

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

Commemorated on the Tipton Library Memorial.
Commemorated here because he appears on a Tipton memorial.

Link to Commonwealth War Graves Site: www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/776714/

Genealogical Data

1901 Census
Cannot trace family.

1911 Census
74 Union Street, Tipton, Staffs.
John Wheeler (53, Iron Moulder, born Tipton), his wife Sarah (52, born Tipton), and 3 of their 6 surviving children of 7: Florence (19, born Tipton), Ernest (16, Moulder's Assistant, born Tipton), and Edith (11, born Tipton).

Personal Data

After Ernest's death, his outstanding army pay and allowances represented a debit balance of £3/8/10d (3 pounds, 8 shillings and 10 pence) - that is Ernest owed the army money; there is no evidence of any attempt to recover this. His War Gratuity was £23/10/0d (23 pounds and 10 shillings), this was paid to his father and sole legatee, John, in September 1919. The value of the War Gratuity suggests that Ernest had enlisted in August 1914.

Action resulting in his death

21st March 1918 was the first day of the German Spring Offensive, a major push all along the Western Front. The 2/6th South Staffs were in the Bullecourt sector, close to Ecoust-St-Main, when the Germans attacked out of the mist and overwhelmed them. The unit was wiped out except for 50 inexperienced men under Major Curtis, the second-in-command. They first held a position south of Ecoust and then fell back to Mory, where they gallantly held out for thirty hours. "The resistance of the battalion was only extinguished when the battalion was itself extinct."

The War Diary shows 106 Other Ranks being killed, this includes Ernest Wheeler who, like most of his comrades, has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

2nd/6th South Staffs War Diary, 21st March 1918
"Heavy enemy shelling of back areas commenced from 2-3 am also heavy bombardment by enemy of Front and Support Line with High Explosive and Gas Shells from 4 am -8 am.
Enemy attacked in massed formation at 9 am and succeeded in capturing the front line and also effected a flank move and got though railway reserve and Battalion HQ.
23 Officers and about 600 Other Ranks are 'Missing', including Lt. Col. J. Stuart-Wortley, Capt. Whitehouse (Adjutant), Capts. Adam, Jordan, Astbury and Lynes, (Company Commanders). Major Curtis proceeded to the line with details from the Transport Lines, a party of 2 Officers and 50 Other Ranks including Band and specialists under training and held a portion of the front line of the Third System of Defence, East of Mory, until relieved at 4.00 a.m. on the 22nd.
When the roll was called after the fighting just six officers and eighty other ranks, mainly Bandsmen, were all that remained of 2/6th South Staffords. Of the officers listed as missing, Lieutenant-Colonel Stuart-Wortley, Captain Astbury and 2nd Lts. Jones and Rigby were dead, as were 106 Other Ranks, the remainder having been taken as Prisoners of War.
At the end of the day all but a few of the 2/6th South Staffords were wiped out."

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