This page records the events of a dreadful incident that occurred on 1 July 1918, many miles behind the trenches of the Western Front. It involves the 7th Cavalry Brigade. The case is also noteworthy in that the Brigadier-General commanding the brigade became a casualty through his own bravery.
The brigade had moved to St-Ouen, near Crouy-St-Pierre, on 22 June 1918. During the night of 30 June / 1 July, a German aircraft dropped four bombs which landed on a field to the NW of St-Ouen.
Court of Inquiry
On 2 July 1918, an enquiry was held into tragic circumstances of the previous day. The enquiry was conducted by Major J. E. Dyer of the 7th Dragoon Guards; Captain R. H. L. Fowler of the 17th Lancers; and Second Lieutenant R. S. Gilman, 7th Dragoon Guards.
Lieutenant Ronald E. Macbean, 7th Dragoon Guards. 7th Cavalry Brigade Intelligence Officer
On the morning of July 1st, 1918 it was reported to me by Sgt Crocker (7th Dragoon Guards, Brigade Gas NCO) that among the bombs dropped by enemy aircraft the evening before, there was an unexploded one. I had the spot wired around, and a sentry posted on it. I called for a bomb expert from 102 Squadron RAF, who decided to dig it up for the purpose of examination.
Later on in the day it was reported to me that the ground had caved in under two NCOs who were digging, the reason being that a cavity had been formed by the explosion of the bomb, about 15 feet from the surface of the ground.
2108 Sgt Frederick Crocker, 7th Dragoon Guards. 7th Cavalry Brigade Gas NCO
At about 9am on 1st July 1918 I reported to the Brigade Intelligence Officer Lt. Macbean that of the four bombs dropped by enemy aircraft at 11.21 the evening before, two were “duds”. Lt Macbean reported the fact to the RAF, who despatched an expert, Cpl Cooper, 102nd Flight Squadron, to examine and remove the unexploded bomb for further investigation. I helped him to dig; when we got down to a depth of 7 or 8 feet we discovered a large chamber evidently formed by the explosion of the bomb. Cpl Cooper decided it was necessary to go down and examine this chamber.
I watched him lowered into the hole with a rope tied round his chest under the arms. I flashed an electric torch into the chamber, as soon as Cpl Cooper had been let down, and he appeared to be looking round the chamber as if examining the sides, when I realised he had been overcome by fumes. I at one gave orders to have him hauled out, but the rope had slipped down and was around the waist, causing him to double up when lifted off his feet, consequently he could not be drawn out through the existing hole. I tried to adjust the rope under Cpl Cooper’s arms by reaching down as far as I could, but as I couldn’t hold my breath long enough had to withdraw from the hole and go up on top for fresh air.
A Private of the ASC went to the Corporal’s assistance and was successful in getting him out, but fell in himself. As soon as I was sufficiently recovered, I went and reported the matter to OC CFA and also to Brigade DGO.
165077 Staff Sgt Albert Garland, North Somerset Yeomanry attached to 7th Cavalry Brigade
About 3pm on 1st July 1918 I was in the horse lines when someone signalled to me for assistance. I ran up to the bank where they were excavating for a “dud” bomb and found the Gas NCO and a Driver of the ASC … [this statement is in a damaged part of the document, sadly] … collapsed before he had been lowered half way, so we pulled him out.
T/33207 Driver Bartly Connell, Army Service Corps
About 3pm on 1st July 1918 I was helping to dig out a “dud” bomb when the earth gave out from under me and I nearly fell into a large hole. The Corporal of RAF went down to examine the hole with a rope round him. As soon as he got down he seemed to fall, so we pulled him up at once, his head was hanging over and we could not get him out, so a Driver of ASC went down to help and he slipped and fell through. Then Driver Horn, with a gas mask, went down to rescue the other man, whose nae I did not know, and he fell on his face as soon as he got to the bottom. A Canadian NCO next volunteered to go down to rescue the two men in the hole; we lowered him down, but through he had a gas mask on he fainted before reaching the bottom and we pulled him up at once.
We continued to dig until we got to within reach of the bottom, when we were able to get the last man out. Brigadier-General Burt went down himself before this and very nearly got Driver Horn’s body out, but was gassed in the attempt.
Captain A. G. G. Thompson, Royal Army Medical Corps (Territorial)
At about 4.30pm on 1st July 1918 I arrived where the party were digging and found three men lying unconscious apparently from the effects of gas. I learnt that there were two men in the crater who had been there about half an hour. I strongly advised nobody else to go down as I did not believe that the two men in the crater were then alive.
The casualties: killed
- Driver T/28996 Alfred Edward Montague Horn, 3rd Cavary Division Auxiliary Horse Transport Company, Army Service Corps, attached to HQ of 7th Cavalry Brigade. Enlisted in Hastings in 1910, then aged 23; married in Fulham in 1912; recalled from reserve in 1914. Served in France from October 1914 and had served, amongst others, with 5th Divisional Train and 6th Cavalry Machine Gun Squadron.
- Private DM2/096744 Arthur Johnson, Mechanical Transport Army Service Corps, attached 364 Forestry Company, Royal Engineers. Enlisted in Leeds, aged 25, in May 1915. To France with 399 MT Company ASC, August 1915. Married in Armley in 1916.
The casualties: wounded (affected by gas)
- Brigadier-General A. Burt DSO, commanding 7th Cavalry Brigade
- 522653 Sgt V. Brooks, Canadian Cavalry Field Ambulance
- 11176 Cpl A. G. Cooper, 102nd Flight Squadron, Royal Air Force
- 22036 Cpl F. H. W. Streetley, Army Service Corps Mechanical Transport attached 108th Brigade Royal Field Artillery
Verdict of the court of inquiry
The casualties were caused by accident due originally to want of proper precaution on the part of the NCO in charge of the operation.
Senior authority overturns the finding
Brigadier-General Alfred Burt DSO, commanding 7th Cavalry Brigade
Having carefully considered the above evidence, I am of the opinion that the accident started through it not being realised that the bomb was exploded by a delayed action fuze which formed a crater, the crust of which gave way; the casualties were incurred through the endeavours of the individuals mentioned to rescue their comrades.
I should like to bring to the notice of General Officer Commanding Division, the exceptional gallantry displayed by Pte A. Johnson ASC, Dvr A. Horn ASC, both deceased, and the plucky attempt by Sgt. V. Brooks, Canadian Cavalry Field Ambulance, to rescue these two men.
Major-General A. E. W. Harman, commanding 3rd Cavalry Division
I concur in the opinion expressed by GOC 7th Cavalry Brigade and I do not consider that Corporal Cooper was to blame, which is the opinion expressed by the court.
The casualties were officially recorded as injured, two being killed accidentally.
The war diary of 7th Cavalry Brigade says that the deaths were due to Carbon Monoxide gas poisoning.
Horn, Johnson and Brooks were all awarded the Albert Medal in Bronze; the first two posthumously.
Place of burial
Horn is buried in grave III.C.25 in Crouy British Cemetery. Johnson is next to him in grave 26.
The cemetery was used between April and August 1918,mainly for burials from the 5th and 47th Casualty Clearing Stations, which had come to the village because of the German advance.