Gordon William AcworthBorn 9th February 1895 - Killed in Action 7th June 1917
Gordon William Acworth was the only son of William George and Kate Susan Acworth of 19 Forest Drive West, Leytonstone. Gordon’s father - William was the bank manager at Bank House 24-28 Broadway, Stratford. Gordon went to Bancrofts School and then later the City of London School. There was little time elapsed from Gordon’s leaving school to the commencement of the Great War. He had secured a position as a bank clerk and was a keen member of the Leytonstone Congregational church where he led Sunday school classes for the local children. Shortly before war’s outbreak Gordon had made the decision to leave banking and seek a future as a church minister. But, as with so many, the need to answer his country’s call came before all else.
Gordon was embodied with the 15th Battalion the London Regiment on 17th November 1915 and applied for a commission from his training camp in Wiltshire. In seeking referees Gordon sought and was given the support of the Congregationalist minister at Wanstead and the Headmaster of City of London School.
By the summer of 1916 he was an officer cadet at Whittington Barracks, Lichfield. He passed out of officer training and was commissioned Second Lieutenant in the 15th Battalion the Prince of Wales Own Civil Service Rifles on 24th October 1916. Gordon went to France on 15th January 1917 and proceeded to the front. The Battalion had been out in the line since late 1914, though plenty of reinforcements had diluted the numbers who could recall back that far. Indeed the battalion had lost some 635 men by June 1917. Most recently it had been seriously depleted through its role in the attacks around Arras of May 1917.
Moreover a number of Bancrofts boys had been amongst those that had already fallen with the Battalion - including Douglas Brown Shanks and Herbert Manico Nash, William Funston Haddock and Reginald Vivian Menhennit. Gordon was young and brand new. Nevertheless, he had the officer rank to command and was sorely needed, particularly as no less than four Second Lieutenants had been killed in the battalion in the previous fortnight. The augurs were perhaps not favourable and the battalion like all the battalions was tired. Back in 1914 the veterans amongst them had taken part in the first battles around the Ypres salient and now three years later they were back in the same area, in the lines below Messines Ridge. In the flat Belgian countryside Messines Ridge was low but prominent enough that, once fortified, it presented the German army with a distinct advantage overlooking the southern stretch of the Ypres salient. The attack had been in the planning for a long time. The allies had been working hard for the past year - underground.
A total of twenty-one mine shafts had been dug deep down on the allied side of the lines and then tunnels burrowed east out and under and across No Mans Land. At the end of these tunnels working in hideously stifling and perilous conditions allied sappers had planted nineteen massive mines each consisting of large caches of high explosive.
The Commanding officer - General Plumer was to comment on the eve of the assault: In the early hours of the morning of 7th June 1917 Gordon was with his battalion in its starting positions to the northern end of the area to be attacked (circled above). Its objectives were the German lines around Hill 60. A heavy bombardment of the German lines had been sustained for days and there was to be no surprise element to the attack from the artillery. Then at 0250 hours the artillery ceased firing. This to the German troops was the clear sign the assault was about to begin and emerging from dug outs, machine gun positions were reestablished and flares were sent across No Man’s Land in large numbers so as to light up the advancing troops. But, the front, under a clear moonlit sky, went quiet. For almost half an hour no allied troops had gone over the top. Then at about 0310 hours the first mine exploded followed seconds later by a sequence of further huge explosions travelling south down the line - nineteen in all. The explosions were so huge that some allied troops were blown off their feet by the shock wave and the explosion was allegedly heard by the British Prime Minister Lloyd George in Downing Street.
The mines killed hundreds and thousands of German troops most of whom were never found again. Then the allied troops advanced. By the end of the day all the objectives had been seized. The shocked German troops counterattacked but then fell back further and the ridge was taken. Gordon had gone ‘over the top’ according to schedule. As his old friend a fellow corporal from the days before his promotion to officer was to write home:
In the history of Great War battles, Messiness Ridge was a signal success for the allied armies, a fact which owed a lot to the use of the mines. Success or failure, it still cost by its end some 17,000 allied casualties. Leading from the front Gordon was seriously wounded. He was evacuated by his men and removed to the 2nd Canadian Casualty Clearing Station. His wounds, however, were beyond recovery and he died there. Gordon’s personal effects were gathered together and returned to his father. These included his tobacco pouch, cigarettes and pipe, a torch, clasp knife, a tin of oxo, a packet of aspirin and his watch. Gordon is buried in LIJSSENTHOECK MILITARY CEMETERY.