WORLD WAR ONE

Josiah Alexander Chancellor Kennedy, ("JACK")
Regimental Number: 51288

Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry
& Royal Irish Rifles 


This Page Last updated: February 07, 2013

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PRISONER OF WAR

Josiah Alexander Chancellor Kennedy had the fortune (good or bad is a matter of opinion in those "days of death") to be taken prisoner of war by the German forces on March 21, 1918 near Artemps and Saint Simon, France (Map Reference 66dNE Sector L). He was serving with the 12th Service Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles of the 108th Infantry Brigade.

 

In December 2009 I received the details of his "POW Attestation" from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ordered as soon as it became available in February 2009). 

The details state as follows:

The International Committee of the Red Cross has received the following information:


Name and first name(s) KENNEDY Josias Alexander Chancellor
Date of birth 03.03.1896
Place of birth Belfast
Rank 2. Lieutenant
Unit 12. Royal Irish Rifles Corps, 36. Div.
Date and place of capture 21.03.1918, St Quentin
Places of detention
Prisoner of war in German hands, detained in Karlsruhe¬Offiziere Camp, coming from Bachant (according to a list dated 02.04.1918).
Present in Offiziere Camp in Freiburg i. B., coming from Karlsruhe (according to a list dated 17.04.1918).
From Two lists issued by German authorities.


click on image for full scale

The documents are posted here to this web site in PDF and JPEG format:

PDF Format of POW Attestation
JPEG Format
Page 1
Page 2

 

Nicholson Map 10 which depicts the German Offensives in 1918 was used as an overlay on Google Earth to show the location of Artemps and Saint Simon, France. The area is just north of the Somme River, near the Crozat Canal.

It was in this area that the war diary states that the men of the 12th Royal Irish Rifles "lost touch".


Nicholson Map 10 Overlay
Click for larger view
This map is from the McMaster University Collection (on-line). There was no 66dNE map available so this is taken from the 66d map in the NE L Sector. The location was described in the war diary of March 21, 1918 at the time of the capture.
McMaster Trench Map 66d
Click for larger view

The UK National Archives search revealed the War Diary of the Royal Irish Rifles, for which we have been provided with the specific pages from March 1, 1918 to March 30, 1918.  Some of the events leading up to the date of Grandfather Kennedy's capture are summarized as follows:

The 1st RIR was moved up to the front line on March 1, 1918 to relieve the 12th RIR.  They moved to Essigny Station in Brigade support on March 7th. 

It would appear that the RIR Battalion moved to the front line again on March 16th in what appears to read as in relief of the 9th Battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers..  The following day the RIR laid down an artillery barrage on likely places the enemy might assemble.  This "harassment" barrage continued on the 18th and 19th.

The war diary reports that the enemy was very quiet during the night and day of the 20th, with the artillery continuing to carry out concentrations of fire where the enemy might assemble for attack.  The available information suggest the enemy was planning a large scale offensive for March 21, 1918.

The diary continues on the 21st of March that all was quiet from midnight until 4:33 am, at which time an extremely heavy bombardment with all calibers of artillery and trench mortars, including gas shells, was put down on the RIR front trenches. On this extremely misty morning, the RIR artillery and roads also suffered from the intense artillery attack.

At 5 am on the morning of March 21, 1918 communication with the rear was cut off and the last message sent was that the battalion was still holding out in the front line, although communication was impossible in the heavy mist and with the heavy artillery.

At 12 noon (the next entry) the war diary reports that the 14th Division on the right of the battalion fell back and it is believed that the battalion were surrounded, the right flank being in the area.  There were 22 officers, 566 others in the line and all were reported missing since this date.

In the story of "Major John Brew - 1918: Retreat from St. Quentin" the following is reported:

The organisation of the Division along the front line had remained the same since the 22 February : The 108th Brigade on the right, the 107th in the centre, and the 109th on the left. The attack found the 12th Irish Rifles holding the 108th Brigade front line, followed by the 1st Irish Fusiliers in the trenches of the battle zone, and finally the 9th Irish Fusiliers in reserve. 

 Dawn broke to reveal a heavy morning mist. It has been recorded that by 05:00 visibility was barely 10 yards, and was extremely slow to dissipate throughout the morning. British communications were soon in shambles; telephone wires had been cut by artillery, and runners had a difficult time finding their way through the dense fog and heavy shelling. Their was much pandemonium and confusion. Forward positions could not relay or receive information to Battalion and Divisional Headquarters and communication with the artillery was cut. 

German troops advanced en-mass in gas masks behind a creeping barrage, using the fog as cover, and led by divisional 'storm troops' with heavy machine guns. Later reports place the time of infantry attack at 08:30, and the main thrust to the west of the Ulster Division, but confusion is hardly surprising under the circumstances. 

The Division was overwhelmed by the onslaught of German Infantry and recoiled under the might of the massive push. Along with all other British troops on the front, they were driven back faster than they believed possible. As the day progressed, breakthroughs of successive lines of British trenches were reported continuously. The push was gaining momentum and German troops were moving faster than British Artillery could reel in their range. Many barrages landed uselessly behind the unremitting advance. 

Around midday, a major breakthrough in the 14th Division's lines, to the right of the 36th's sector, meant that German troops were already in the battle zone. This became an immediate and dangerous threat to the 36th. Before long, German troops were in Essigny, and beating on the 108th Brigade's right flank. The 1st Irish Fusiliers turned to meet them and the 9th Irish Fusiliers were sent in to defend the exposed flank but by 14:30, German troops were already 1½ miles south of Essigny. The entire forward zone had by now been captured and the enormity of the German attack began to become quite clear. General Gough, however, was still having problems convincing his own commanders of the gravity of the situation. 


Meanwhile, the 108th's 12th Irish Rifles, despite all that was thrown against it, put up stubborn resistance and held on longer than almost any other British unit, despite several direct attacks on their trenches, which at times involved bitter hand-to-hand fighting and attacks with flame throwers. Each time, the Germans were ejected from the 12th Rifles' trenches. But then, soon after midday, the fog lifted and revealed to their horror the extent of the breakthrough - German soldiers could be seen a mile behind them! By this time the Rifles were being attacked from the front and both flanks; they were virtually surrounded, and quite clearly outnumbered. They decided the best course of action was to retreat, but by 16:00, the situation had become so hopeless that they realised their only option was surrender.

 Some 100 men, many of whom were wounded, destroyed their rifles and gave themselves up to avoid senseless slaughter. In the confusion of the battle, no-one was aware of their gallant stand, and it is difficult to gauge the effectiveness of their delaying action, but, following the war, the unit was awarded two DCMs, one MC, and four MMs for the episode.

From this point on, Grandfather Kennedy would end his time as a Prisoner of War. The diary of these days, up to September 30, 1918 have been scanned to a PDF document and are posted here:

 
Prisoner of War Diary

After some time, I eventually read through this complete document while on a flight to Nicaragua in January 2006 - it is difficult to read the handwriting, so I needed a "quiet time" for this task.  I was surprised to read the document as if Grandfather Kennedy was at a "summer camp" rather than as a prisoner of war.  There was much fuss about what packages they would receive, who they were playing cards with, and what visitors they might expect to see later in the day.  I have since been told that the life of "An Officer" as a POW was much different than that of an enlisted man, as they would be sent to do the most insignificant labour task while the officers enjoyed their time.

It was not until we received the Chris Baker report in April 2006 that we learnt of the circumstances of Josiah's capture after the force was overrun.  This is detailed in the appendices to the Baker report, as highlighted for April 21, 1918.  Please refer here to read the War Diary about "The Capture".

 
Chris Baker Attachments: support information for the above noted report - scanned by myself with notations added to highlight information revealed by these documents.

As time permits, I will start the transcription of the "Prisoner of War Diary".  In the meantime, the original version is posted here on the web site.

 

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