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Miss Edith GREENFIELD of Cranleigh, when over 100 years of age, would represent her own, her parents’ and this village’s grief at the loss within a fortnight of all three of her brothers, who had been in the Boys’ Brigade. She poignantly symbolises the totality of WW I’s sacrifice and losses, as expressed in and by 1916’s Battle of the River SOMME.
‘Edie’ lived to 103 in what would become in the 1980’s England’s largest village and revealed that her mother never was the same after hearing this family’s tragic news. If the Great War was one of the two most tragic aspects of the 20th Century, then 1916 and the Battle of the Somme came to epitomise Britain’s losses, frustrations and disappointments in that war. Once the German Army had attacked Verdun in February with large numbers of French and German soldiers killed and wounded, Douglas Haig, Commander-in-Chief of the British Forces since December 1915, changed his plans, hoping that a massive bombardment near the River Somme would destroy the German defences. His hopes were that the infantry could advance and allow the cavalry to thrust forward so as to relieve the pressure on French forces further east.
On 1st July 1916, the opening day and the bloodiest day in British history, over 19,000 British died and nearly twice that number were wounded and missing, a signal failure for the bombardment’s accuracy and effectiveness and for the Allied forces. Within 24 hours a fifth of Britain’s fighting strength was no more, a few months before the death of this Somme Offensive and of Sir Hiram Maxim whose invention of the machine gun had so transformed the nature and scale of warfare. By late autumn more than one and a half million casualties were sustained by the forces of both sides, one of the largest losses in any set of sustained military operations, including British losses of over 420,000 killed in this largely fruitless attempt to advance less than five miles to support our French Allies.
Harry, oldest of the three brothers, and decorated with the Military Medal, was killed on the very first day and his two other brothers would be killed on the 13th – perhaps knowing the family’s existing loss the third son was initially reported as missing. It is sometimes forgotten the effect of the losses of so many men in WW1 had on the marriage prospects of so many ladies in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Also, after the savage and sustained losses in World War I, which was still so evident in 1945, many returning veterans would frequently feel reticent of describing their own experiences in WW2. Edie’s and these young men’s parents were Frank and Eliza Greenfield of 7 St. James’s Place in Cranleigh, Surrey. There is a simple brass plaque in Cranleigh’s village church commemorating the service and sacrifice of these three brothers, Harry, Albert Frank and Percy, all three of whom served with the Queen’s Regiment, Their casualty details listed elsewhere are recorded here.
Lance Corporal HARRY GREENFIELD MM G/4184 of “A” Coy. 7th Bn The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) died aged 26 on 1st July 1916 and is buried at IV Q 5 DANTZIG ALLEY BRITISH CEMETERY, MAMETZ.
Sergeant PERCY GREENFIELD G/2194 of 7th Bn The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) died aged 20 on 13th July 1916 and is commemorated on the Pier and Face 5 D and 6 D. at the THIEPVAL MEMORIAL.
Company Sergeant Major ALBERT FRANK GREENFIELD G/2192