Pte Bertram James Reeves (1899 – 1918)
Bertram James Reeves (or ‘Bertie’ as he was known,) was born south of Canterbury in Upper Hardres and the son of Marshall and Eleanor Reeves. Bertie’s father was a farm worker, and he had two siblings; however, they both sadly died in infancy. By 1901 the family had moved west, and were living in Bapchild, and then at Old Soar Cottages in Plaxtol ten years later. By this time young Bertie was attending school, probably in Plaxtol and at the time war broke out in August 1914 he was living with his family in ‘Upper Platt’.
Based on the amount of war gratuity awarded after his death, it appears Bertie enlisted in the Army at Maidstone around February 1917 when he joined the Royal Army Service Corps but immediately transferred to the 85th Training Reserve Battalion at Sutton-on-Hull. On 8 December 1917 Bertie was posted to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, Durham Light Infantry and remained with them until 28 February 1918 when he embarked in Folkestone for Boulogne.
On arrival Bertie was assigned to the 11th (Service) Battalion (Pioneers) Durham Light Infantry, however, within days he was transferred with a draft of 58 other men to the 12th (Service) Battalion (Teesside Pioneers) Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own (Yorkshire Regiment.) At the time the Yorkshires were based at Bellacourt, and Bertie, along with 112 other men, joined his new unit in the field four-days later. At the time the battalion was training at No.4 Camp in Hendecourt when the new draft arrived, and they moved at short notice on 21 March to trenches in front of the village of Hamlincourt. The Germans had commenced what would be known as the ‘Spring Offensive’, and many British units were swiftly brought forward to hold the Allied position and plug any gaps in the line.
Bertie’s first experience of an enemy attack occurred on 25 March while holding the line along the Ervillers – Béhagnies road. Large numbers of Germans attacked at 9:00 pm, forcing the 12th Yorkshires to retire to a position in front of Courcelles-le-Comte. The following day the battalion concentrated at Douchy-les-Ayette before marching on to Bienvillers-au-Bois and then on to the village of Beaudricourt, where they billeted until the 30th.
About 4:00 am on 9 April, while billeted at Bac St Maur, the German artillery opened up a heavy bombardment on the battalion’s position causing them to ‘stand to’ in preparation for an attack. By late-morning all companies had been brought up to reinforce various areas in the locality, with one, ‘X’ Coy, engaging the enemy at Balette Farm, where they were overwhelmed and forced to fight a rear-guard action. Regrettably, we do not know which company Bertie belonged to and therefore cannot say precisely where he was in this period. Enemy encounters over the following days were intense, and often at close quarters. The Germans had broken through to the Lys on the border between Belgium and France, and the battalion was continuously on the move, taking up successive defensive positions in an attempt to close the gaps in the line and slow the offensive. At some point in the fighting Bertie was wounded, and eventually died on 20 April of his injuries.
At the start of April battalion strength had been 40 officers and 847 other ranks, however by the end they numbered 27 officers and 480 men, (which also took into account a draft of 155 that arrived during the month.)
Bertie was buried in Les Baraques Military Cemetery in Sangatte. He was just 19 years old.