Great War Timeline

To remind ourselves of the progress of the World War I, we are detailing the main events affecting Great Britain which took place each week. 

In the week up to March 22:
Private Charles H Holt from Chesham was killed in action at the Western Front on March 16

On March 17 Charles E Harris from Taplow died of wounds back in the UK

Private Albert Owen Montague from High Wycombe died from wounds back in the UK and Private William H Saunders from Coleshill was killed in action at the Western Front, both on March 18.

March 21/22 see below:

Germany’s Spring Offensive
With the imminent arrival at the Western Front of thousands of troops from the USA the Germans realised that they were likely to lose the war.

Furthermore, the Russian Revolution had effectively ended Russian involvement in the war, which allowed the Germans to transfer some of their 50 divisions from the Eastern to the Western Front. 

Therefore they devised a plan which would exploit the differences which might have existed between the French and British strategies for defeating any major German offensive.

The German thinking was that in the face of such an offensive, the French would have been likely to give priority to the defence of Paris. 

On the other hand Britain would have been more concerned to defend the ports such as Calais and Boulogne, through which supplies and troops flowed, and which would also have been essential in the event of the need for evacuation from France.

The German plan was therefore to attack at the junction between the French and British forces in NE France. It was code-named Operation Michael and commenced on March 21.

The offensive began with a sudden five hour bombardment of the British lines by 6000 artillery pieces firing both gas and high-explosive shells.

Three German armies then attacked along a 50 mile front between the towns of Arras and La Fere, with specially-trained “stormtrooper” units leading the way. 

The surprise and shock of the onslaught overwhelmed the thinly-spread British forces. Part of the army collapsed in confusion and the Germans made substantial gains.

On March 21 a total of 29 local men were killed in action at the Western Front. They were:

  • High Wycombe – Privates James C Adam, Frederick A Ansted, Harry Brooks, Frederick G Frost and Owen F Williams; Gunner Frank Bridger: Sergeants Edwin Pocock and Joseph F J Whitehead
  • Bledlow Ridge – Rifleman Frederick J Avery
  • Stokenchurch – Private Thomas Johnson and Lance Corporal Edward Bates
  • Bourne End – Private Edward W Braisher
  • Chalfont St Giles – Driver Edwin E Chilton
  • Chalfont St Peter – Private William J Kedge
  • Prestwood/Gt Kingshill – Privates Percy Janes and John Langston
  • Wooburn Green – Private Alfred E Collins
  • Langley – Drivers Alfred Devonshire and Arthur Eldridge
  • Marlow – Private Horace H Harvey and Rifleman Charles E Hawtin
  • Amersham – Corporal Frederick J Hearn
  • Iver Heath – Corporal Ernest H Hyde
  • Chesham – Private Frank Sabatini, Lance Corporal Charles H Pullinger
  • Bryants Bottom – Gunner Charles A Ridgley
  • Princes Risborough – Private Herbert Smith and Lance Corporal Harry Witney
  • Denham – Sergeant Charles Taylor
  • The following day March 22, a further 8 local men died
  • High Wycombe – Private Harry G Harris and Lance Corporals Frank Brooks and William A Wheeler
  • The Lee – Private Harold Clark
  • Marlow – Lance Corporal Alfred E Copestake
  • Denham – Private George W Day
  • Chalfont St Peter – Private Ernest J Hill
  • Chesham - Arthur Summerlin

The Bridger Family of High Wycombe

March 21, Gunner Frank Bridger died of wounds at the Western Front. He was the second son that widow Eva Bridger had been informed to have been killed within the space of a few weeks. 

Frank’s brother Charles had actually been killed in action in Palestine on November 21 1917, but Eva had not been told until many weeks later.

Eva and her husband Joseph had for a number of years around the turn of the century operated a grocery shop in the Desborough Rd/Avenue area of the town, initially trading as J. Bridger.

They had four sons, Frank born in 1897, Charles in 1899, Walter John in 1903, and Arthur who was born in 1905.

Initially the grocery shop must have been very profitable, judging from photographs which showed them at leisure with a horse and carriage, and another with three bicycles.

Alternatively they were living beyond their means, because in 1906 Joseph was declared bankrupt.

At the bankruptcy hearing in June Joseph explained that before he had set up his own grocer’s shop in 1896 he had been employed by Mr J Myrton, who operated grocery shops in Oxford St and Totteridge Rd. Having no capital of his own he had borrowed £150 from his wife. 

Most of this was used to acquire fixtures and fittings which his wife purchased from “Mr Loosley’s ironmongers shop in Oxford Rd”.

He also bought a horse and cart with the money. He had also found it necessary to borrow further sums of money, including from his father-in-law. 

In cross-examination he admitted that his books had not been balanced and he had not taken an inventory of his stock for seven years. He had known for three years that the business was insolvent. 

All his assets, including the lease of the premises, were sold by auction on July 11th 1906. His bankruptcy was formally closed on Monday Aug 7th 1906.

However shortly afterwards a grocery shop under the name of Joseph’s wife Eva E Bridger began to trade from different premises called The Stores, 105 Desborough Ave and continued until at least 1915. 

Joseph died in the summer of 1911, leaving Eva to manage the shop and bring up their four sons.

Her son Charles was the first son to enlist after the start of the Great War, doing so on November 1st 1914. 

Initially he was in the 2nd Battalion of the Bucks Yeomanry stationed at Buckingham, but volunteered for active service in the Royal Bucks Hussars in August 1915.

He was killed on November 21, 1917 in action against the Turks in Mesopotamia, a few days before his 18th birthday. 

His mother received two letters of condolences, one from his Captain and the other from his Sergeant who wrote “He died a hero’s death and cheerfully laid down his life for what we are all fighting for – our loved ones at home”.

Less than four months later Eva received the news that her eldest son Frank had also been killed, on March 21, 1918. Frank was a Gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery and died from wounds received in action at the Western Front. He was just 21. 

Once again Eva received two letters of condolence, one from the Matron of the Casualty Station where Frank had died and the second from the Lieutenant in charge of his Battery, who wrote: “Your son received his injuries while manfully doing his duty, and whilst showing that spirit that will eventually bring us through - the true spirit of the Britisher.” 

Frank died at the start of the German’s Spring Offensive of 1918, their ‘last throw of the dice’ in the Great War.