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26th Jun, 2022

Gas attack could have claimed the life of brave Redditch soldier John

Ross Crawford 12th Aug, 2018

JOHN Chambers had seen some combat with the 1st Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment in the First World War.

Wounded in April 1917, he survived to carry on fighting on the Western Front until dying 100 years ago this week – possibly from the affects of a gas attack – on August 7, 1918.

Christened John William Chambers, he was born in Studley in 1897, one of the eight children of Harry Augustus and Jane Chambers.

The family lived in Green Lane, which, barring the housing development through the trees behind the Alexandra Hospital, can’t have changed very much over 100 years.

By the 1911 census John, aged just 13, had followed his father into the print trade.

With war raging in Europe, he enlisted in Stourbridge and served as a Private in the 1st Worcs.

By June 1918 and stationed on the French sector, his unit had been battered and bruised by the German Spring Offensives.

Their Colonel, George Grogan, had recently been awarded the Victoria Cross in the Battle of the Aisne after riding his horse across No Man’s Land to encourage his men to hold the line – which they did, but at considerable cost.

When they were pulled out to transfer back to the British sector the battalion mustered barely 100 men from a nominal size of 900.

However by mid June more than 500 men had arrived to swell the ranks and by mid July, back to full strength of 950 officers and men, they were moved up in support at Petit Vimy between the cities of Arras and Lens.

A week later they were back in the front line where, according to the war diary of the Worcestershires, they suffered ‘a severe bout of gas shelling on August 1, which caused many casualties’.

The gas used was probably mustard gas, which blistered the lungs and throat if inhaled, and even if wearing a gas mask it soaked through uniforms to leave terrible blisters all over the body. It’s possible that John was a casualty from this attack.

On August 3 the Bromsgrove, Droitwich and Redditch Messenger reported him as wounded, and he died on August 7.

John Chambers lies buried at Rocquigny Communal Cemetery, France, South-West Quarter, ‘near the crucifix’ and is remembered today on the Redditch War Memorial and as Jack Chambers on the St George’s Church War Memorial.

With thanks to Remembering Redditch’s Fallen Heroes.

The War Diary of the Worcestershire Regiment.


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