In honor of Stephen John Watkins, one of the many Channel Islanders who made the ultimate sacrifice by giving his life for his country, I post the following details firstly about Stephen's short life and secondly about the New Berles Military Cemetery in Northern France.
Born Vingtaine de St Nicolas, St Peter, Jersey, on 22nd February 1888.
The 8th child of Thomas John Watkins and Rosina Mary Paul
Enlisted Fort Regent Jersey (St Helier Jersey) into 397 Royal Jersey Light Infantry which later was merged with Dorestshire Regiment.
Killed in action on 14th June 1918 in France and Flanders.
Awarded Victory and British War Medal.
Berles-au-Bois ia about 15 kilometres southwest of Arras and 3 kilometres south of the main road from Arras and Doullens (N25). The cemetery lies at the northwest end of the village on the road leading to Baileulmont.
The village remained in British hands from the summer of 1915, when it was taken over from French troops, until the end of the war, but it suffered at time from severe shelling. It has been "adopted" by the County Borough of Wolverhampton.
In the First World War, the Western Front - a battle line from the Channel coast to Switzerland along which for four years, millions of men fought and died - was the principle and vital theatre. Against the German Army were arrayed the armies of the British Commonwealth, France, Belgium and latterly the United States. The first two months, a war of movement, saw the containment and partial repulse of the initial German thrust. There then followed three and a half years of static trench fighting - war of attrition - during which defensive power was paramount. Neither side could effect a breakthrough and great battles were fought for small territorial gains. The last seven months were again a war of movement culminating in the Allied offensive, starting in August which finally achieved the breakthrough leading to the armistice of 11 November 1918.
The six divisions of the British Expeditionary Force which went to France at the outset in 1914 were deployed amongst the French armies and played their full part from 23 August in the Battle of Mons Le Cateau, the Marne and Aisne. The next three weeks, during which the battle lines moved every day, were a highly critical period in which the German plan for ending the war at a stroke was foiled and the issue deferred.
In the first two weeks of October the BEF was moved from the central section of the front to Flanders. This move shortened its lines of communications, which ran through Dunkirk, Calais and Boulogne, and enabled it to protect these ports which were vital both to its own supply and reinforcement and to the Royal Navy's command of the Channel. Over the next four years, during which its strength rose to fifty British and twelve overseas Commonwealth divisions - Canadian, Australian, New Zealand, South African, Indian and troops from Newfoundland, the British West Indies and other territories - the BEF progressively took over more of the northern sector of the Allied line and fought a number of battles attrition of which the greatest was the First Battle of The Somme in 1916.
The German offensive of late March to mid-July 1918 had been contained, and the advance to victory began on 8 August 1918 with the Battle of Amiens, continued on a widening front to the Second Battle of Somme and of Arras. The advance swiftly gathered momentum and by the day of armistice the front ran fifty miles or more to the eastward of the starting point.
Nearly 750,000 Commonwealth soldiers, sailors and airman died on the Western front - 200,000 in Belgium and over 500,00 in France. They are commemorated upon headstones marking the graves in over 1000 war cemeteries and 2000 civil cemeteries or on one of the six memorials in Belgium and twenty in France which carry the names of over 300,00 who have no known grave.
The Berles New Military Cemetery was used for the first few months of 1917 and again in the summer of 191. It contains the graves of 67 British and 11 French solider who fell in the trenches.
A map of the graves can be found by clicking here
Berles New Military Cemetery is at the Northwest end of the village, in the triangle where the roads to Bailleulomont and La Cauchie join. It was began by fighting units in January 1917, when the Churchyard Extension was closed; it was used until April 1918. It now contains the graves of 167 solider and airmen from the United Kingdom (one of whom is unidentified) and eleven French solders; fifteen French graves have been removed to other cemeteries.
The new Military Cemetery covers an area of 1,163 square yards.
Details on New Berles Military Cemetery were supplied by:
Commonwealth War Graves Commission http://www.cwgc.org/
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