Untold lives blog

23 March 2018

With the Hampshire Pioneers in the Kaiserschlacht

This blog has been following the six members of the Library Departments of the British Museum who died during the First World War.  The last-but-one casualty was 11351 Sergeant John Frederick Nash, M.M., of "B" Company, 11th (Pioneer) Battalion, Hampshire Regiment, who was killed in action on 23 March 1918, aged 24.  He was a casualty of the German Spring Offensive (also known as the Kaiserschlacht, or Kaiser’s Battle), which had commenced on 21 March.

  Battle of St. Quentin. British walking wounded leaving a RAMC casualty clearing station near Bapaume /88888888888888888888888Battle of St. Quentin. British walking wounded leaving a RAMC casualty clearing station near Bapaume which was captured the next day, 23 March 1918  © IWM (Q 8702)

John Frederick Nash was born at Cwmbran in Monmouthshire in 1893, and baptised at the Church of All Saints Shrewsbury on 22 February 1894.  By the time of the 1901 census, the family had moved to Stockport and had taken the family name of Turner.  John F. Turner had been joined by two younger sisters, Delia and Emily. His father was working as a solicitor's clerk.

The name change is difficult to explain.   John Frederick Nash’s parents had married at the Church of St Peter, Blaenavon on 25 December 1892. The marriage register entry clearly gives their names as John William Dominack Nash and Emily Beatrice Davies. Curiously, however, a marriage notice published in the Wellington Journal of 7 January 1893 provides some alternative names: John William Dominack Nash Turner and Emily Beatrice Davies Howells.

Marriage notice published in the Wellington Journal of 7 January 1893 Wellington Journal  7 January 1893 Public Domain Creative Commons Licence

According to the London Gazette of 2 June 1908, John Frederick Turner Nash was appointed a Boy Attendant at the British Museum in May 1908, working in the Department of Manuscripts.  The 1911 Census records that John Frederick Nash was living in Tufnell Park with the family of his uncle, Alfred Edward Nash, who also worked at the British Museum.

Nash enlisted in September 1914.  He was shortly afterwards posted to the 11th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment.  During the First World War, the 11th Hampshires were the pioneer battalion in the 16th (Irish) Division.  While pioneer battalions were trained to fight as infantry - and often did - their main role within a division was to support a myriad of engineering tasks, including the construction and repair of defences and transport links.

The 11th Hampshires fought in the latter stages of the Battle of the Somme in 1916.  Sergeant Nash was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field.  A document attached to the war diary of the 11th Hampshires suggests that the medal was awarded for actions undertaken by the battalion during the capture of Ginchy during the Battle of Guillemont in September 1916.

On 21 March 1918, the 16th Division were based in the area around Villers-Faucon, east of Péronne, where they had spent several months working on the construction of new defensive positions. The division was very badly hit by the opening stages of the Kaiserschlacht.   At the end of the day, a new line was formed based on Ste. Emilie, which was held with the support of the divisional reserves including the 11th Hampshires.  The following day, the pioneers covered the withdrawal of what was left of the division before falling back towards Péronne.   It is not recorded exactly where Sergeant Nash fell on 23 March 1918, but he is buried in Ste. Emilie Valley Cemetery, Villers-Faucon.

Michael Day
Digital Preservation Manager

Further reading:
WO 95/1966/2, 11th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment War Diary, The National Archives, Kew.
Supplement to the London Gazette, 16 November 1916, p. 11142 – award of Military Medal to Sergeant Nash.
Martin Middlebrook, The Kaiser’s Battle: 21 March 1918: The first day of the German Spring Offensive (London: Penguin, 1983).
K. W. Mitchenson, Battleground Europe: Epéhy (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 1998).


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