Marsh, Douglas Charles Earle
Douglas Charles Earle Marsh was born on 19th May 1898, in Newport, Monmouthshire to Charles William Earle Marsh (1846-1943) a civil engineer, JP, DL and High Sheriff of Monmouthshire and Jane Evans (1861-1930). He attended Lockers Park School in Hemel Hempstead, coming to Winchester from 1911 to 1916, as a member of Chernocke House.
By early 1916 he had been appointed a House Prefect and family letters indicate that he was enjoying life, writing to his mother that he had had a “topping day in London….. we had tea at the Criterion”. The same letter mentions that “Dr Fisher’s report was very satisfactory, I think. He said I was very much better than expected”. This refers to the problem Douglas was having with his eyesight which had caused several rejections of his applications to Sandhurst. However Dr Fisher reported that Douglas had “found no difficulty in following his studies at Winchester College…. and he has been able to shoot at the Rifle Range with glasses, with fair success”.
Douglas was admitted to Sandhurst in August 1916 and was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant, 6th Dragoon Guards on 30th April 1917. He was assigned to the 6th Reserve Regiment of Cavalry. Based at Tidworth Barracks he found military life a mix of boredom and intense activity. In a letter to his aunt he says: ‘There is not much doing down here now. We only have enough men to exercise & groom the horses. I have had a fairly strenuous existence up to Xmas, tho’ as I’ve been on a 6 weeks course into which they try to condense what you usually learn in a year!’. However, he still had time off for hunting and shooting: ‘I had a topping time at home but only one days hunting & that was on Boxing Day & the ground was frozen hard & they only hunted as a matter of form.’
Douglas was posted to France in February 1918. Only one letter survives from BEF France from March 1918, in which he writes to his mother: ‘Arrived down here after an all day trek yesterday. I was left behind with a clearing party & the place was in such a filthy mess I didn’t get off till 11 o’clock. We are south now near where Aunt Mary used to be, living in tents trying to camouflage ourselves in the trees! This part isn’t half so badly damaged by the Hun & is simply wonderful country – huge woods & forests, the weather is simply glorious & but for the wind up it wd be just like a holiday. The Hun hasn’t attacked yet & as far as I can make out will get a pretty hot time when he does…There’s not much other news from here except wind up & the Hun has that disease as ourselves we have as far as I can make out.’
On 21st March 1918, the ‘wind up’ proved correct as the Germans launched the Spring Offensive or Kaiserschlacht (Kaiser’s Battle) a massive attack on the British Fifth Army and the right wing of the British Third Army. The main offensive, codenamed Michael was intended to break through the Allied lines in the Somme close to Amiens. Douglas was stationed here with the Second Cavalry Division.
Major H. Sadler, Commanding 6th Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers) described the action on 31st March/1st April 1918:
On the 31st March…the Brigade Commander…ordered the Brigade to saddle up ready to move at once, as the line south of the river Luce between Thennes and Hangard was in a critical condition. The Carabiniers were ordered to move off…to a position just N. of Thezy…here orders were received to move along to Domart and clear up the situation on the 3rd Brigade’s left flank…so we received orders to take Hourges dismounted at all costs…Hourges was being shelled and it looked as if the Germans were about to attack it, and were massing for this purpose in Rifle Wood…During the night we were intermittently shelled – our patrols endeavoured to approach the Rifle Wood, but came under machine gun and rifle fire…On the 1st of April received orders for the counter attack on Rifle Wood…the attack was timed for 9am…We then received orders to follow the Canadians in the 3rd wave…we proceeded by the Hourges – Meziers road…our orders were to hold the Eastern perimeter of the wood…In the afternoon, the enemy heavily bombarded the Eastern and Southern edge of the wood with guns and heavy trench mortars…The enemy’s trenches in front showed much movement and massing of men so we opened a heavy machine gun, automatic rifle and rifle fire on them, which eventually appeared to disperse them…this continued during the afternoon…In the meantime owing to heavy bombardment and machine gun fire…we had some casualties and the squadrons were depleted…The Canadians were now relieved from the S.E. corner…Col. Sparrow decided then to withdraw the Carabiniers from the East face of the wood to the S. W. face…this was effected with difficulty as the bombardment had destroyed so many trees and bushes, there were great obstacles to movement…The 7TH Battalion relieved us…
In an extract from General Pitman’s Diary he says:
“Our casualties were heavy, but when one considers the issue that was at stake, and the result gained no price could be called too high. The Germans had been advancing steadily at an average of about 5 miles per day since 21st March and were now within 12 miles of Amiens – Our action at Moreuil Wood on the 29th had steadied them, but the action of April 1st settled them once and for all.”
And in a telegram received after the counter attack of April 1st 1918, General Watts commanding 19th Corps to General Pitman commanding 2nd Cavalry Division states:
My heartiest congratulations and thanks to you and all concerned in the fine achievement of your division today. The great success attained has a most important bearing on the whole operations.
2nd Lt. Douglas C. E. Marsh was reported missing on 1st April.
The only eye witness account of what occurred comes from a letter to Douglas’ father from Major S W Webster of The Carabiniers:
You asked me at the Mem. Service if I could give you any further particulars how your son met his death. I can only give you a general idea of the action & the names of the places in case you wished to visit the spot. During the afternoon, the Bde were situated in the BOIS L’ABBE [close to VILLERS-BRETONNEUX & almost 5 miles East of AMIENS], when we got instruction to turn out at once as the Bosches were breaking through. The Bde moved almost due south, & under a certain amount of shell fire the Regiment arrived at DOMART, where we were told to dismount & prepare for immediate action.
I thought myself that the Germans were just coming over the rise, I would suppose the whole Regiment numbered much more than about 120 dismounted men & perhaps a dozen officers. This was about 4 p.m. & they were then told to be prepared to take the village of HANGARD. From memory I suppose they moved off at about 5 p.m. I remained with the led horses at DOMART. Later on about 8 p.m. I received orders to take them back to the BOISE de GENTELLES.
The dismounted party spent the night in the vicinity of HANGARD, it being found that the Bosches did not really hold it, but a wood commanding it. This wood which I believe is called “Rifleman Wood” is not shown on any maps. Next morning the Canadians counter attacked and took the wood at about 9 a.m. Our Bde went up to relieve the Canadians & consolidate it at about 11 a.m.
They were there till they were relieved at midnight. During that time they were submitted to a continuous shell fire & machine gun fire. We had a great many casualties & on occasions like this I find people only know what happened in their immediate vicinity. That night I brought the horses back to DOMART where I met them returning.
I was told then that your boy was missing, that someone (I forget who) said they thought they saw him brought down on a stretcher. This proved to be the case, as I found he had been passed through the ‘clearing station’ at BOVES. This is all I can tell you, not having really taken part in the action.
Douglas was taken to No 8 General Hospital, Rouen and died there on 8th April 1918.
J R Kirby, Lt Colonel of The Carabiniers wrote to his mother on 22nd April:
I was terribly shocked to hear from another officer in hospital that your boy had died of wounds. It came worse of a shock because none of us had any idea that he was seriously wounded. He was hit in a wood, which he had taken by a counter attack, against the Germans, who were in force. The wood was very thick and under very heavy machine gun fire and also trench mortars, we had a great many casualties there during the day.
It is all so sad, the boy had been out here such a short time and most of the time has been so strenuous that I have been able to see very little of your son. From what his squadron commander has told me about him he must have been very keen on his work, and was very much liked by his comrades.
But as I say, the whole time has been such a continuous rush of movement and fighting that no one has any time to think of other things bar the matter at hand at the moment. I am afraid that it is a terrible loss for you, your only son, and so young, it is hard to think that [it] is not a waste of a life but it is not that whatever else it may be. Anybody who has been out here for over 3 years fears what it means if the Germans gain the victory in the end, such an end is inconceivable. The wood and hill that was taken that day was of such vital importance that our Division received the thanks of the Army Commander for the work, so the boy took part and received his wound in a fight of great importance and not in some paltry affair, which seems so much harder to my mind.
The boy was so cheery and full of spirits, just the sort we want these days when a bit of cheer means so much to everybody, both officers and men.
In June 1919, Thomas T Pitman, Major General, Commanding 2nd Division of the Hussar Brigade, Army of the Rhine wrote to Douglas’ father asking him to fill in a card about him as he was ‘making up the records of the Second Cavalry Division and would like to include his name’. He followed this up with a further letter in July saying: ‘I send you herewith the letter to the Division. I’m afraid it only gives a brief account of the doings of the division in which your boy served but I hope some day to bring out a full account. It is only now that the war is over that I am beginning to find time to do what I would like to have done during the war, to let the relations know something of the doings of their gallant boys who have gone’.
In the Farewell Letter to All Ranks of the Second Cavalry Division, Major General Pitman writes of their actions in 1918:
On the 30th March, the British line having broken, the Canadian Cavalry Brigade and the 3rd Cavalry Brigade made a mounted attack at Moreuil Wood and restored the situation.
On the 1st April, the line having again broken, the whole Division carried out a brilliant dismounted attack on Rifle Wood under cover of their own artillery and machine gun barrage. The objectives were gained and the line restored, heavy casualties being inflicted on the enemy.
The losses of the Division from 21st March to 1st April were 70 officers and 2,000 other ranks.
Now that the Division is about to be broken up after a period of 4 ½ years since its formation, I wish to offer each one of you my heartfelt thanks for your services both individually and collectively…Let us do this in memory of those we have unfortunately been compelled to leave behind; may their names never be forgotten.
St Mark’s Church, Newport, Monmouthshire, Form of Dedication of the Memorial Window to 2nd Lieut. Douglas C. Earle Marsh, 6th Dragoon Guards (Carabineers) by the Right Reverend Bishop Lloyd Crossley on Thursday, November 11th, 1920, a 11 a.m.
My Lord Bishop, I, Isaiah Roberts, Clerk, M.A., as the Incumbent and Official Representative of this Parish do request you to Dedicate this Window to the Glory of God and in Memory of Douglas Charles Earle Marsh, who during the Great War gave his life for the cause of Freedom and Justice.
The Window, which consists of two long lights with small tracery openings above, has been designed in the manner of the best ancient glass of the XV Century, and has for the principal subjects, figures of the Patron Saints of England and France, St. George and St. Denis, each holding his banner.
Below the figures, on the left a view of Winchester College Chapel with the words “Winchester, VITA 1911-1916” and on the right, a view of Rouen Cathedral, with the words “Rouen, MORS 1918”.
At the foot of the window is a scroll on which a laurel wreath is entwined with the Regimental ribbon, and bearing the inscription “To the glory of God and the dearly loved memory of DOUGLAS CHARLES EARLE MARSH, 2nd Lieut. 6th Dragoon Guards (The Caribineers) [sic] who died at Rouen, April 8th, 1918, of wounds received in action, at the successful defence of Amiens, aged 19 years. Erected by his Father and Mother as a Memorial to their dearly loved only Son.”
The church also contains choir stalls in the chancel including the name Marsh, D. E. which are dedicated ‘To the honoured memory of the following sons of the Parish of St Mark’s Newport who gave their lives for their King and Country in the Great War 1914-1918’.
His father left a sum of money in memory of Douglas to purchase a library of books for Winchester College on subjects connected with the War. An oak desk inscribed with Douglas’s name is currently in Winchester College Armoury. His name is also recorded in the College War Cloister: Outer G2.
St Michael the Archangel Church, Winterbourne, Gloucestershire contains the grave of ‘Henry Godfrey Marsh JP of this parish died 10 March 1872 aged 60; also Margherita Josephine his wife died 25 Nov 1873 aged 59; also [among others] their grandson Douglas Charles Earle Marsh 2nd Lt Carabiniers 6th Dragoon Guards died of wounds at Rouen 8 April 1916 aged 19’.
Douglas is buried in St Sever Cemetery, Rouen, Grave: Officers, B. 8.16.
Second Lieutenant – Douglas C. Earle Marsh – 6th Dragoon Guards
8th April 1918 – Age 19
“Leaving to us who pass where he passed an undying example of faithful & willing service”
(With thanks to the Marsh family for their help with this biography)
- Surname: Earle Marsh
- Forenames or initials: Douglas Charles Earle
- House: A
- Years in School: 1911-1916
- Rank: 2nd Lieutenant
- Regiment: Dragoon Guards
- Date of Birth: 19th May 1898
- Date of Death: 8th April 1918
- How Died: Died of wounds
- Location in War Cloister: Outer G2
- Decoration: NA
- Burial Site: St Sever Cemetery, Rouen: Grave B.8.16