PRIVATE ALFRED DICKENS
Died 8th April 1917
No. 20760 of the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry, 5th Battalion.
Born: Stewkley, Bucks 1885
Resided: Woburn Sands
The son of Robert and Mary Dickens, Alfred was born and raised in Stewkley, and was there at the time of the 1901 Census. By 1910 he had moved to Aspley Heath, as he married here. From the Luton Times and Advertiser, 7th January 1910: “Woburn Sands – Wedding. A pretty wedding took place at St Michaels on Boxing Day, the parties being Mr Alfred Dickens, of Stewkley, and Miss Beatrice Garrett, youngset daughter of Mr T. Garrett of Aspley Heath. The Rev. D. W. Henry officiated, and there was a large congregation. The bride, who was given away by her brother, Mr. G Garrett, was accompanied by six bridesmaids. Mr. E Dickens acted as the best man. A reception was afterwards held at the Institute, when about 80 guests were present.” The 1911 Census gives his trade as “Groom Gardener Domestic”.
Alfred served with the Suffolk Regiment, no. 31486, before transferring to the KSLI. He was killed in action on the first day of the Battle of Arras – Vimy Ridge, aged 32.
It appears Beatrice remarried quite soon after his death, as she is refered to as Beatrice Ellen Rosier in some records, and was living at 60 Garfield Street, Bedford.
Alfred is listed on the Tilloy British Cemetery, Tilloy-les-Mofflaines, Pas de Calais, France. Listed on the Woburn Sands Memorial. His army service papers have not survived. His Medal Roll indicates that he had not served during 1914 or 1915, or he would have been eligible for the 1914 or 1914-15 Star.
The KSLI Regimantal history gives this account of the action on the day he died:
“THE BATTLES OF ARRAS, 1917. On the 8th April the battalion was again in the trenches, in relief of the 9th K.R.R.C. [Kings Royal Rifle Corp], prior to taking part in the Battle of Arras on the 9th April. The ground allotted to the battalion was south of Tilloy from a point about half-way between this village and Telegraph Hill to about 300 yards south of the latter. The enemy was caught unawares, in many cases asleep in the dug-outs, consequently a large number of prisoners was taken with their arms and ammunition. In our line of advance there was a very strong work known as “The Harp” on account of its singular shape, but thanks to the accurate bombardment which had preceded the attack, not much of this was left and the battalion had little difficulty in reaching its objective. The second phase of the attack which had been planned was the capture of the village of Wancourt and the line immediately west of the point, but this was not persevered with. A considerable body of our cavalry was concentrated later on in the day near Telegraph Hill, but they were not able to help the situation much for various reasons.
The weather on this occasion added much to the difficulty of the troops, there being a series of violent snowstorms. Nevertheless the bearing of all ranks was excellent, and it was good to see the undoubted superiority of our men over the enemy.
BATTLE OF VIMY RIDGE The part played by the battalion is contained in the following report, rendered to 42nd Infantry Brigade :-
I was in command of B Company 5th K.S.L.I., operating on the right flank of the battalion and detailed to capture the Cojeul Switch from Eye Lane to Dog Lane inclusive. On obtaining objective I was to take charge of battalion front on Blue Line.
The battalion was formed up in assembly trenches by 2a.m. and the men were made to lie down to avoid observation by the enemy. The assembly trenches were not shelled. At 7.34 a.m. our barrage commenced, and the battalion advanced.
At this time there were two tanks just in front of assembly trenches, and two just behind, the condition of the ground seemed to make their progress very slow and in my line of advance I saw nothing more of them, and they played no part in the operations. The enemy barrage which appeared to be fairly heavy was drawn through the crest of Telegraph Hill immediately west of Telegraph Work. At this point the attacking line also came under heavy machine-gun fire from the direction of Neully Trench and Tilloy. Slight resistance was encountered in Telegraph Hill Trench, and Head Lane, but this was immediately overcome and my company captured between 50-75 prisoners here. No resistance was offered in Pole Trench, but enemy fired a machine gun from Nouvion Lane. On a patrol being sent forward, the enemy abandoned Nouvion Lane and ran to the rear, but were shot down by our Lewis-gun fire. One enemy machine gun was captured. The D.L.I, [Durham Light Infantry] of the 43rd Brigade had converged slightly into my area, but I occupied a part of Pole Trench and had established communication with the D.L.I. on my right by 8.45 a.m. Germans in dug-outs were cleared out by 9.10 a.m., and work was forthwith started in consolidating the line. I captured and consolidated this line with the remnants of A, B and C Companies. D Company had meantime obtained their objective in Silent Work, and by 10 a.m. communication had been established with the Suffolks on their left and the Ox. and Bucks Light Infantry in the String and Negrine Trench. At 1.15 p.m. the R.B. passed through my line to establish an outpost line in advance. They appeared to encounter no resistance whatever.
Total casualties: in the battalion as far as can be ascertained at present amount to 12 officers and 189 other ranks.
Trophies: Only one enemy machine gun was captured, but the trench system is so smashed up by our artillery fire, that it is very possible several others are buried in the debris, also I needed every man in my final objective and could not send men back to search Telegraph Hill Trench, the enemy’s front line. We have secured several hundred rifles and a large quantity of bombs and equipment.
Prisoners: I would estimate that the prisoners taken by the battalion numbered over 300.
Signed, O. S. Benbow-Rowe, Captain, 5th K.S.L.I.”
The battalion lost the following officers killed on April 8th and 9th, 1917:- 2nd Lieuts. J. K. Chapman, P. W. Lee, A. P. Webb and W. J. G. Yeomans. Capt. T. E. Burke died of wounds on April 14th, and 2nd Lieut. H. S. Griffen on the 9th.”
Page last updated Jan. 2019.