Rfl. William Henry Rogers (1895 – 1918)
William Henry Rogers was born at Wrotham Heath in 1895, the son of Henry and Christina Rogers. Henry was a farm worker and in 1901 the family were living on Windmill Hill. William had a younger brother and three younger sisters and after leaving Platt School he joined his father labouring on a local farm. At some point William married a lady called Lily, though it is unknown where or when the marriage occurred.
In the absence of surviving service papers, exactly when William joined the Army has been lost, however it is known he enlisted at Woolwich into the 2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort’s Own) and was serving in France in early 1918 as S/25044 Rfl. W H Rogers.
On 21 March 1918 the German Army launched a series of attacks along the Western Front known as the Spring Offensive or Kaiserschlacht (Kaiser’s Battle) and made significant advances during the campaign, however, by late April, and having suffered a considerable amount of casualties, any gains they had made were now precarious, and the Allied counter-attack in the summer would prove disastrous for the German Army.
At the time the Offensive began, William’s unit were training in Tilques, however they quickly mobilized the following day and marched to Arques where they entrained for Rosières-en-Santerre on the Somme. They arrived on the 23rd and marched to Chaulnes, before travelling by lorry to Morchain, where the battalion opened out into artillery formation and advanced on Pargny. Whilst crossing the high ground above the river they came under heavy shell fire and managed to take over a stretch of river north of Pargny Bridge to the south of Fontaine Les Pargny. Shortly before midnight a German patrol succeeded in rushing the bridgehead, penetrating the British line. The Rifles successfully counter-attacked but lost five officers and 60 other ranks during the action.
The following morning, shortly after dawn, the enemy commenced bombing the posts along the riverbank and succeeded in fording the river to the left and right of the line held by the battalion. The Rifles were forced to withdraw with casualties during the retreat rapidly mounting. The Germans had continued to mass in large numbers causing the battalion to fall back even further, and eventually taking up a line of trenches astride the Morchain-Pertain Road, north of Potte. During 24 March, 12 officers and about 300 other ranks were killed, missing or wounded.
About 8 a.m. on the 25th, the Germans continued their attack and penetrated the British line on a wide front, and advanced rapidly towards Dreslincourt and Pertain. William’s battalion became scattered in about five groups and eventually withdrew to Pertain, which had already been occupied by the Germans, and so they rapidly moved to a position about one-mile northwest of the village. By the day’s end they had retired to the Hyencourt – Marchélepot railway, where the remainder of the division was already in position. Casualties on the 25th numbered about 54 officers and men.
The following day, about 2 a.m., the battalion marched to bivouacs on the western outskirts of the Lihons – Merlincourt road and south of Chaulnes – Rosières railway. They remained there until late afternoon when the Germans entered Lihons, which necessitated a withdrawal to bivouacs west of Rosières.
During the 27th the 2nd Rifles launched a counter-attack through the southern outskirts of Rosières in the direction of the sugar refinery. In this assault about 20 other ranks were killed and wounded. At 1 a.m. the next morning, and with no further enemy attacks having developed, the battalion withdrew back to bivouacs west of the town, however they moved again later in the morning, and about 3:30 p.m. were ordered to march to Moreuil and hold the bridgehead at all costs. However, upon arrival, they discovered a French unit already in position, so they moved east across the river into billets at Morisel.
At about 5 p.m. on the 29th the French started to withdraw southwest and the 19th Corps northwest. The battalion carried out a rearguard action on the right flanks of the latter and dug in north of a wood near Moreuil, where they remained until 4 a.m. on the 30th, when orders were received to abandon the line. Marching north via Castel to bivouacs in a wood northwest of Rouvrel, the battalion managed some respite before heading back to Castell under heavy artillery fire along a valley west of the village. Having made it through with 20 ranks killed and wounded, the battalion took up a position to protect a bridgehead, and remained there until 1 April.
At some point between the 23rd and 31st William was killed in action. His body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Pozières Memorial at Ovillers-la-Boiselle. For his part in the war, William was awarded the Victory Medal. He would be remembered by his family as a very loving and special man who would always be happy to accommodate people if they needed advice or help. In the years following the war his relatives would take an active part in the annual Remembrance ceremony held at the Platt War Memorial.