Aubrey Neville Hutchinson was born in 1897, in Chelsea. His father, Gerald Pemberton Hutchinson was born in 1866 in Rugby. Gerald Hutchinson`s family hailed from the Liverpool area and were active in academia and teaching. Gerald was a practicing artist by profession, working in stained glass. His wife Mabel ( nee Moore ) originated from Sussex of farming stock, although her father was a vicar. Aubrey was one of three children, an older brother Hubert born in 1894 and a younger sister Eirene , born in 1902.
The 1911 UK census shows Aubrey lodging in Colchester ( his home was at no 20 , Arundel Gardens in Kensington ). Aubrey`s grandfather, Rev Thomas Neville Hutchinson, had been assistant master at Rugby for nearly a decade and was interested in mineralogy and geology. Gerald Hutchinson attended the Bristol school of art, and graduated in the mid 1890`s. There was thus an established professional cadence within the family. Despite this, it appears that Aubrey was an indifferent scholar and his ambition was to become a farmer. It is likely that Gerald Hutchinson determined that Aubrey complete his matriculation, before being allowed to indulge in farming.
It was also very much the norm at that time, that young men without immediate prospects, would gravitate to one of the dominions or colonies as a matter of course. Why exactly Aubrey chose to travel to South Africa, as opposed to other parts of the empire is unclear. What is known is that British settlement of South Africa, in particular agricultural settlements in the former Boer republic`s of the Orange Free State and Transvaal had been strongly supported by the Conservative British Government and a number of likeminded parties, notably the “ British South Africa Settlement Society “ – at least until the formation of the Dominion of South Africa in 1910.
There is another possibility. There was a strong ancestral Hutchinson connection to the church. It was inevitable that from both a religious and professional point of view, Gerald Hutchinson would have been acquainted with his local Bishop. This was because as an artist in stained glass – the church would be an important, if not his most important, client. The Bishop of Kensington from 1911 was John Maud. And it transpired, that the owner of a sheep farm in a remote part of the eastern highlands of South Africa, visiting London in that same year – was one Arthur Roland Maud , younger brother of John….
However it all came about – Aubrey set sail from London to Cape Town via Southampton on 31 July 1914, aboard the Galway Castle. The most likely arrangement was that Aubrey accepted work on the basis of a one year agricultural cadetship on Arthur Maud`s farm Thorley, just north of Dewetsdorp in the Orange Free State. En route on 4 August, Great Britain declared war. On 17 August 1914 Aubrey reached Cape Town. By the early evening of Wednesday 19 August, Aubrey disembarked at Dewetsdorp station. Life at Thorley, for him at least, had begun.
South Africa in 1914 was in a precarious state. The scorched earth policy in particular that had been employed by the British army during the Boer war, had resulted in many thousand farm buildings throughout the Boer republics being burnt to the ground and dynamited. Millions of farm animals were shot on the spot and left to rot. Estimates vary widely, however it is certain that many rural hamlets and small towns were pulverised to dust by these methods. And with the basis of the economy being agriculture, the aftermath was acute impoverishment, especially of the Boer population. Worst of all – as if the preceding was not bad enough – because of the total destruction of so many farmsteads, many thousands of Boer women and children were thereby rendered homeless, with few hours warning. This problem rapidly became so large that the British had to resort to tented camps on the open veldt as a means of housing these unfortunates. Predictably, due to the utter lack of forethought by Roberts and Kitchener, sanitary diseases abounded after a short time. The result, was that around 28 000 non combatant women & children died in these camps by war`s end. And If this were still not enough, there were also a significant but unknown number of native peoples who died in similar camps as well. This result of British policy, more than any other, was to fill Boer hearts with an unquenchable rage and all consuming desire for retaliation – which meant that in practice, unfortunately, for the next nine decades South Africa would remain a fractured and fractious society at loggerheads with itself. [ This does not represent an attempted apology for the twisted doctrine of apartheid , which emerged some decades later – but it is a frank statement about the emotional and ideological state of many of the Boer population at that time. ]
Recognising the dismal British record in that land, South Africa had been given self governing Dominion status in 1910 by the Liberal Campbell – Bannerman Government. Boer moderates Louis Botha and Jan Smuts held the reins politically. A long slow painful crawl out of the economic morass that resulted from the war commenced, driven primarily by the mining industry. But much animosity remained and even multiplied, particularly among the dispossessed. In the northern Free State and the western Transvaal in particular, large numbers of hard line Boers or those whose dwellings had not only been destroyed in the war, but their land confiscated and any associated title annulled – had congregated and lived subsistence existences on many small plots and the like. To make matters even worse, there had been a series of extreme droughts in the decade after the war, blighting and complicating the endeavours of all who were involved in agriculture. The situation was in fact a political powder keg, ripe for exploitation. The seeming trigger was Louis Botha`s announcement in parliament in 1914 that South Africa would support and fight for the British with volunteer forces only. Deliberate misrepresentation of this statement by Boer radicals and malcontents in the countryside, ignited the Boer Rebellion of October 1914.
Arthur Roland Maud was born in 1867 in Ancaster, Lincolnshire , one of six children of John and Fanny Maud. The Maud family had lived in India for nearly a century, as far as can be established. Arthur Maud and brothers Bertrand and William, were engaged in sheep farming at Wairau in the northeast of South Island, New Zealand , from about 1895 onward. In 1899, with the outbreak of the Boer war, Arthur enrolled in the “ Rough Riders “ to fight in South Africa. William Maud was employed as an artist/ war correspondent for the “ Daily Graphic “ in the same conflict. Bertrand remained in New Zealand. Arthur fought in the Boer war as a member of an irregular unit until the peace was signed in 1902. He was clearly interested in farming in the former OFS, because he is listed as the owner of a farm east of Bloemfontein ( Mooiplaats ) in 1904. In 1909, as the fourth owner in succession, Arthur assumed a 20 year bond for the sum of 2688 GBP on the Farm Thorley, 8 Km northeast of Dewetsdorp.
Aubrey resided on the farm Thorley in 1914/15 with Arthur and his sister Alice. Shortly after shearing season, the Boer rebellion broke out in October 1914. Arthur and Aubrey were summarily called up as a result, along with many thousands of others.
The problem for the Botha Government in October 1914, was that although it was well aware that some form of internal armed conflict had been brewing for several years, it did not know just how extensive the support for the rebellion would prove to be. Arthur was posted to 5 mounted Brigade in Bloemfontein. Once the rebellion had fizzled out by December 1914, Arthur`s unit was coopted to join the rest of South African forces preparing to invade the (then ) German South West Africa. Aubrey meantime had been drafted into a militia unit, No 2 Brands horse constables as “ recruit “ no 42. He was provided with a horse and rifle and means of identification. The purpose of these far flung units was to conduct manoeuvres along remote mountain tracks leading to the British protectorate “ Basutoland “, and to keep watch for any signs of resurgence of the Boer rebels on distant farms and byways. The result was that Aubrey did not return to Thorley until late January 1915, while Arthur was only released from duty in GSWA by mid July. In the meantime, Alice Maud remained on the farm alone.
This situation, which could hardly be viewed as conducive to the running of a profitable farm, soon resulted in Arthur Maud missing his six monthly bond payments to “ The Orange River Colony Land Settlement Board “ as the appropriate agency of the Provincial Government saw fit to describe themselves. Two letters that Arthur posted to the secretary of that august institution provide interesting reading. Arthur was permitted to retain title subsequently but must have endured several difficult years to redeem his defaults. Whatever the reason/s, two weeks after Arthur`s return, on Saturday 14 August Aubrey enlisted at the magistrate`s office in Dewetsdorp, with the “ South African Overseas Expeditionary Force “, destined to fight in Europe.
Aubrey was accepted and in accordance with procedure, given a 7 day pass to arrange his affairs and appropriate rail warrants and meal vouchers. By 21 August 1915, he had arrived at the assembly camp in Potchefstroom, some 400 km`s north west of Dewetsdorp. The 1st South African infantry Brigade was a scratch unit under the command of Brig H T Lukin. Unlike in the cases of the other dominions, the South African brigade was paid for by the British Government and entirely under it`s command for the duration of WW1. Because the unit was comprised solely of volunteers, it was impossible to know beforehand what distribution of male citizenry would actually appear on the day. In the event, four regiments were fashioned from this “ first wave “ of recruits who had enlisted in August 1915. The military hierarchy decided that the regiments would be fashioned according to the logic of where each recruit had enlisted. Consequently the first regiment was formed from men in the western Cape/Cape Town and Kimberley. The second regiment was comprised of recruits from “ Natal and the Orange Free State “, the third regiment was composed of volunteers from the Transvaal and Rhodesia, and the fourth regiment was an amalgamation of the many Caledonian societies throughout South Africa, and was the only regiment that wore a kilt as formal dress.
Having enlisted in DeWetsdorp, Aubrey was allocated to 2 Regiment B Company, no 8 platoon. Despite it`s description, 2nd Regiment, like the others was a work in progress. All volunteers that had enlisted in the OFS were allocated to B Coy in practice, and Eastern Cape/Border volunteers were “ persuaded “ to join 2nd Regt as D Coy – known as the “ Border “ Coy. The next 6 weeks comprised much marching, drilling, fitting of uniforms and equipment, and rifle practice. On 30 September 2nd Regiment entrained at Potchefstroom station for Cape Town. On 2 October, 2 Regiment sailed for Bordon in Hampshire via Madeira, aboard the S.S. Norman.
Between 20 October and 19 December 1915, training recommenced in earnest under British army instructors in Hampshire. New weapons were incorporated and NCO training expanded. All of this was interspersed with frequent route marches, and the damp autumn weather was responsible for several outbreaks of influenza/bronchitis. Whether this fact was a reason or a pretext, after a Christmas furlough, on 29 December 1915 the regiment embarked on Her Majesty`s Transport Saxonia in Devonport and arrived on 12 January 1916 in Alexandria, Egypt. The objective was that the South African Brigade was to assist British forces in Egypt suppress the Senussi uprising – a local tribal revolt fomented by the Turks. 2nd Regiment was committed at Halazin, on 23 January. Casualties were light but B company lost it`s leader, Captain John Douglas Walsh of Newcastle, Natal. On 30 January, Lt Stranack of Pietermaritzburg died of wounds from the same battle. A slow attrition of 2nd Regiment officers and NCO`s had begun, who would be sorely missed by the time of Delville Wood.
By mid March 1916, Sollum was in British hands and the Senussi rebellion was over. On 12 April 1916, 2nd Regiment embarked on Her Majesty`s Transport Megantic bound for Marseilles, arriving on April 20. Within 2 days the Brigade had entrained for Steenwerck in northern France , near the Belgian border for training in trench warfare. The regiment, along with the rest of the brigade encamped south of Meteren. It had also been decided that for purposes of operations that the brigade would be incorporated into the 9 ( Scottish ) Division , which was a remnant of a division that had been badly mauled at Loos in 1915. Combat training in trench warfare, under real combat conditions, took place. On 14 June, the division received orders to march southwest, en route to the Somme.
Some brief context in regards to the Somme. After a number of costly debacle`s in 1915, the Entente powers were forced to re-evaluate. At the Chantilly conference late that year it was decided to attack the Central Empires on a number of fronts at the same time, as a means of overextending their resources. As their contribution, British and French forces would launch a huge offensive along the Somme – a location in rural France specifically chosen by Joffre. However these plans were disrupted by the massive German offensive at Verdun in February 1916. France rapidly became entangled in a fight for it`s life combating this remorseless, bloody attack. As a consequence, the British had to shoulder the burden of much of the Somme offensive alone, with nominal French forces assisting to the south as best they could.
The Somme battlefield is some thirty five km`s in length extending from Serre in the north to Maricourt in the south of British positions. The main force involved was Rawlinson`s fourth army. South of Maricourt were six French divisions under Fayolle. In the British sector, after a 7 day bombardment of German positions, British forces “ went over the top “ at 07.30 on 1 July 1916. The result was 58000 casualties in that first day, the bulk of which were incurred in the sector north of Thiepval. In the extreme south in the vicinity of Carnoy/Maricourt, some limited gains were made and casualties although sobering, were less severe. The 9 Division ( Furse ) was allocated to X111 Corps ( Congreve ) in the south, and did not take part in the opening stanza of the battle on 1 July.
By 3 July it had started to dawn on Haig what magnitude of disaster the offensive had been. Desperate to show some positives for such an enormous expenditure of men and resources, Haig focussed exclusively on the sector south of Thiepval. This required a colossal rearrangement of transport and logistics facilities in those first few days, which was to impact on all British and French units in the area, including 9 division. The 2nd Regiment left the Meteren area at the beginning of June and marched on foot, down to the Somme river. The route ran south west through the rural villages of Borre, Blessy, Matringhem, Rollancourt, Saint Riquier, Flixecourt and finally Ailly – sur – Somme by 15 June. During June 23/24 the brigade moved east to Corbie by train. From there, their movements would be solely dictated by severely limited access to the roads in the area, which were bursting with men and vehicles of every description, moving 24 hours a day.
On 1 July, the brigade was located at Grove “Town “ , northeast of Mourlancourt, about halfway distant between Corbie and the front line. Grove “ Town “ was in reality little more than a supply depot, with a few local POW cages. On 2 July the 2nd Regiment marched southeast to the outskirts of Bray, and then northeast again toward a checkpoint at Bronfay Farm. The regiment bivouacked that night in Trigger Wood nearby. The following day, the regiment marched past Bronfay farm, up the road leading to Maricourt, and upon reaching Maricourt ridge turned west down to a long, thin wood known as “ Talus Boise “ a hundred metres north of the hamlet of Carnoy. They were now in the combat zone.
The front line had advanced about 3 Km`s north in the meantime, past the neighbouring village of Montauban to the north. The regiment remained in reserve in Talus Boise for the next 3 days. Talus Boise lay astride a 19th century narrow gauge rail line which ran through from Guillemont to Albert. Within this wood were extensive ammunition stores and supplies as well as a casualty dressing station for the wounded. Numerous British artillery pieces were clustered around Carnoy for several weeks.
On 8 July, A and C Coy`s of 2nd Regiment infiltrated along the rail track bed, which lay in a steep culvert known as “ Train Alley “ , northeast past a destroyed former German strong point at the brickworks or “ Briquetterie “, and into Bernafay Wood. A Coy occupied the northern sector of the wood, and C Coy the southern. They were later joined by units of D Coy in the centre. B Coy remained in reserve at Talus Boise, and was occupied in bringing up supplies and water to it`s fellow units, and helping with the evacuation of the wounded. After an initial triage in the wood, the wounded were either driven by motor transport to Maricourt or carried along the light guage rail to Talus Boise. However, the pointless occupancy of Bernafay wood over the period 8 – 10 July, cost the 2nd Regiment dear. Due to the unremitting shelling some 185 casualties were experienced, with C Coy hardest hit. This was exactly what the regiment did not need when attacking the site of Delville wood 5 days later – 3 understrength companies down by at least a platoon. B Coy was in good shape not having occupied Bernafay, but it did have one significant loss. Lt Claude Mulcahy was wounded in the back by shrapnel on 9 July whist on reconnaissance, and died on 11 July. The attrition of men and leaders went on.
2nd Regiment returned to Talus Boise after the night of 10 July, and then remained in reserve. By 12 July, the O/C 2 regiment, Lt Col WEC Tanner was informed that Delville Wood would be the regiment`s next objective, in accordance with Operational order 48, once Trones Wood and Waterlot farm had fallen to the British. He would have 2nd and 3rd Regiments at his disposal to do so. During the afternoon of 14 July, 18 Division succeeded in capturing Trones Wood, but Waterlot farm remained German.
Around midnight on 14 July, the order was given for 2nd and 3rd Regiments under command of Lt Col Tanner to enter the wood from it`s south west corner. At 5 am on 15 July 1916 the attack commenced. 2nd and 3rd Regiments vacated their bivouac in the old German trenches south of Montauban, and silently filed along the track leading from Montauban to the southern perimeter of Longueval. While the troops sheltered in vacated German trenches adjacent to Longueval, Lt Col Tanner and staff went forward and assessed intelligence reports about the situation in the wood. At 07.00, with the third regiment in the lead, the unit entered the wood. The southern half of the wood, south of Princes Street was captured without resistance by 09.00 . With the 2nd Regiment lining Princes Street, the unit began to prepare it`s command post, lay communications and dig in. 2nd Regiment waited for a planned British artillery barrage of the north/ northwest of the wood as a prelude to attacking the northern sector. At 10.00 the intended barrage was abruptly cancelled by XIII Corps, and 2nd Regiment ordered to capture the north of the wood without delay.
2 platoons of 2nd A coy infiltrated rapidly up Strand Street, leaving one platoon to defend the western branch of Princes Street. The 2 platoons of 2nd Regiment A Coy wheeled right into position, on the northern boundary of Delville Wood without incident and dug in . Meantime, 2nd Regiment B and D Coy`s had advanced up Regent Street to its northernmost point, B Coy facing west and D Coy facing east. On signal that A Coy was in position in the north, B Coy advanced west in skirmish formation through the dense wood and cleared the area from Regent Street up to Strand Street. At the same time D Coy wheeled north east, and took up positions in the north east perimeter, linking up with 2nd regiment A Coy on their left, and 3rd regiment D Coy on their right. Once B Coy had consolidated along Strand Street, the initial deployment was complete.
But all was not peaceful in the northern sector. There were German pickets in the wood and shell fire of varying intensity took place continuously. B Coy conducted most combat at close range because of the thickness of the wood in the first hours, before the shelling had created too much damage to the foliage. In addition, German counter attacks soon took place from the north , north east and north west, sometimes in unison. These counter attacks eventually penetrated the northern boundary. All that one can deduce – is that sometime between 10.30 a.m. and evening rollcall at around 17.00, Aubrey`s life ended between Regent and Strand Streets, near the northern boundary of the wood.