Pte. Ernest Rose (1898 – 1918)
Ernest Rose was born in Offham on 17 April 1898. He was the second son of Alfred Herbert Rose, a woodcutter from Mereworth, and Elizabeth Ann Lawrence. By 1901 the family had moved to Wrotham Heath, and were living on Windmill Hill. Ernest started at Platt School on 21 April 1902, and by 1911 was living at Comp.
He enlisted in Maidstone with the Royal West Kent Regiment probably in late-summer 1915, and in 1916 may have seen action at the Somme with the 1st Battalion. At some point he transferred into the Machine Gun Corps and initially served with 8th Company, MGC, who had become part of the 3rd Division in 1916.
In early 1918 Machine Gun Battalions were formed by bringing together four MGC Companies. Each Battalion took the number of their Division and at some point Ernest had been transferred into one of the Companies that were to form part of the 21st Battalion, which had been established on 24 February.
By mid-March 1918 Ernest would have found himself in a line of trenches running northwards from Epehy to Vaucelette Farm. The imminent attack by the Germans (usually referred to as the ‘Spring Offensive’) was known to the battalion, and prior to this they had spent some time bolstering defences and ensuring they would be ready for whatever might be thrown in their direction.
During the night of 20/21 March the German pre-attack bombardment began, with Ernest’s unit finding themselves the target of a large number of gas shells that required the men to wear their gas masks for up to 3 ½ hours. As dawn broke a thick mist enveloped the battlefield causing the battalion great difficulties in ascertaining the enemy’s position, either in front of, or on both flanks. The War Diary records that:
All M.G.’s were very severely handicapped, and it is impossible to over-estimate the disadvantages under which the defence was thus placed.
At 10 a.m. Vaucelette Farm fell and the battalion, having received a report that the Germans were advancing towards them along Chapel Hill, concentrated nine guns in that direction. On the battalion right the 16th Division had been heavily attacked and were now withdrawing. The MGC responded by ordering all guns on this flank, which was now exposed, to act accordingly and hold the line.
By late morning the mist lifted giving the battalion a fighting chance of holding off the enemy advance, however the overwhelming number of Germans pushing forward caused the Ernest’s unit to fall back. A counter-attack in the evening failed and the machine gunners fought valiantly on for another week before being taken out of the line. The men were described as displaying the ‘utmost gallantry and self-sacrifice’ during this period.
On 2 April the battalion moved from Amiens to Locre in Belgium and remained in Flanders until early May when they moved back into France and entered the trenches east of Bouvancourt at Vaux Varennes.
The Germans launched a second major offensive on 27 May that would later be known as the Third Battle of the Aisne. A heavy bombardment opened at 1 a.m. which included a large percentage of gas shells meaning the men were again required to wear their box respirators for a protracted period. At 4:30 a.m. the barrage lifted and a substantial enemy infantry attack began. A number of Allied positions were rapidly overrun and the MGC, who had become dangerously exposed on their left flank, were forced to make a withdrawal and fight a rear-guard action in the process. Many guns were put out of action by enemy bombers who made effective use of the maze of communication trenches that zig-zagged across the area.
The fighting continued for two more days and at the close of the operations on 29 May the battalion had lost 64 of 76 guns. The human cost was even more severe with 182 men recorded as being, killed, wounded or missing. Ernest was among the 62 wounded and died of his injuries on 30 May at the Hospital Auban-Moët in Epernay, which is south of Reims. He was initially buried at the Epernay French Military Cemetery, but exhumed in 1920 and reburied in the Terlincthun British Cemetery in Wimille.
5039 Pte. E Rose was awarded the British War and Victory medals. His remaining war pay of £33 1s 6d. was sent to his father which included a war gratuity of £15 10s.
Image of Ernest courtesy of Bryan Rose