Pte. Bertram James Reeves (1899 – 1918)
Bertram James Reeves (or ‘Bertie’ as he was known,) was born south of Canterbury in Upper Hardres, and was the son of Marshall and Eleanor Reeves. His 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. At this time young Bertie was attending school, probably in Plaxtol.
Based on the service numbers of other men in his unit, it appears Bertie enlisted in the Army at Maidstone either at the end of 1916, or within the first week of January 1917. 287387 Pte. Bertie Reeves was initially assigned to the Royal Army Service Corps, but was transferred to the 85th Training Reserve Battalion at Sutton-on-Hull at the end of January. 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 at Folkestone for Boulogne.
In France Bertie joined 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.
The battalion was training at No.4 Camp in Hendecourt when 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 units were swiftly ordered forward in order to hold the British position and plug any gaps in the line.
Bertie’s first experience of an enemy attack occurred on 25 March whilst based along the Ervillers – Béhagnies road. Large numbers of Germans attacked at 9 p.m., forcing the 12th Yorkshires to retire, and eventually secure 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 a.m. on 9 April the German artillery opened up a heavy bombardment on the battalion, who were billeted at Bac St Maur, causing them to ‘stand to’ in preparation for an attack. By late-morning all companies had moved to reinforce various positions in the locality, with one, ‘X’ Coy, engaging the enemy at Balette Farm, where they were forced to fight a rear-guard action. Regrettably we do not know which company Bertie belonged to, and therefore cannot say exactly 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 almost constantly on the move, taking up defensive positions in an order 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 and posthumously awarded the British War and Victory medals. He was just 19 years-of-age.
A brief obituary in the Kent Messenger of 18 May 1918 records that Bertie’s parents were living in Upper Platt at the time of his death.