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26th Jun, 2022

They died fighting with their Anzac comrades to re-capture key village

Ross Crawford 27th Apr, 2018

EARLY on Wednesday morning this week Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, was at the little French village of Villers-Bretonneux.

He was there with Prime Minister of Australia, Malcolm Turnbull, and the Prime Minister of France, Edouard Philippe, to mark ANZAC Day, April 25, which commemorates the sacrifices of soldiers from Australia and New Zealand in two world wars.

One hundred years ago this week Australian soldiers led a night assault on Villers-Bretonneux, east of Amiens, which had been captured by the Germans the day before.

They were joined by many British units, and over the three days of the battle, thousands of soldiers were killed, among them two lads from Redditch.

Today their bodies lie buried in the Adelaide Cemetery, not far from the National Australian Memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

Gilbert Hugh Field was born in Chatham, Kent, the eldest son of Redditch couple George and Mary Ann Field.

George had served as a Company Sergeant Major in the Royal Engineers and when he left the Army he and Mary brought their two children back to their home town.

Together they ran the Royal Hotel with the help of three staff. The couple later lived in Mason Road, Headless Cross.

Gilbert joined the 2nd Battalion the Devonshire Regiment, a unit which had already seen plenty of action against the German Spring Offensive the previous month.

On April 24 the Germans struck south to the east of Amiens. Preceded by a bombardment of mustard gas shells, they smashed a hole in the Allied line and capturing the village of Villers-Bretonneux.

However, as the morning wore on, their attack started to run out of steam and the British and Australians started to prepare for a counterattack.

This was launched at 10pm on April 24, the British suffering many casualties including Gilbert in frontal assaults on the village, which by April 25 was recaptured.

James Ellins was involved in the same battle, serving with 2nd Battalion of Princess Charlotte of Wales’ Royal Berkshire Regiment.

He was born in 1888, the first child of Matthew and Mary Ellins.

In 1901 the family were recorded living in Charles Street, Headless Cross, before moving to 45 Prospect Hill and later in Marsden Road, again in Headless Cross.

Both his parents worked in the needle industry and James followed them, working in a warehouse.

He married Ellen Elizabeth Annie Ellins of 253 Beoley Road, who would go on to live to be 80 years old, dying in 1970.

James was gassed in the initial German barrage of April 24, but despite this his unit made one of the first counterattacks, later that afternoon, pushing the Germans back 150 yards.

They continued fighting and even after Villers-Bretonneux had been recaptured it was not fully secured until April 26, the day James was killed.

Both Gilbert and James are buried in the Adelaide Cemetery in Villers-Bretonneux.

James is remembered today on the St Stephen’s War Memorial in the town centre and Gilbert on the war memorial at Trinity High School, Redditch and at The Bridge War Memorial at Headless Cross.

With grateful thanks to:

Remembering Redditch’s Fallen Heroes


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