54808 PTE. T. B. MELLING.  ROY.FUS.

 

Thomas Benedict Melling wasborn in 1897, the son of Thomas Melling (b. 1860 in Bamber Bridge), and Cicely (Sissie) Hodgkinson (b. 1871 in Morley, Yorkshire).  Tom snr. had been a weaver in Bamber Bridge but in the mid 1890s the family moved to Victoria Terrace in Lostock Hall where he opened a newsagent’s and tobacconist’s shop.  They had 7 children of whom 6 survived: Ann (b. 1891), Mary (b. 1895), then Thomas, then James H. (b. 1899), Francis (b. 1903), and Josephine (b. 1913).  Aged 14 in 1911, Tom B. is listed as an art student, which is very unusual, given that almost all of his contemporaries would have been working in the mill at that age.

 

Tom joined the 7th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers.  

 

The Battalion left Southampton on 22 July 1916 and encamped at Verdrel on the 26th where they underwent training and instruction before moving to Calonne where they start work digging trenches and repairing existing ones. They then move on to Hédauville in October. 

16 November 1917 Battalion is at Metz. In mid-late December they suffer serious losses due to German raids on their trenches, losing some 300 officers and men killed or wounded. 

 

1918 German Spring Offensives

March 21, 1918 - Germany's all-out gamble for victory begins upon the launch of the first of a series of successive spring offensives on the Western Front. The Saint Michael Offensive, named after Germany's patron saint, begins after a five-hour 6,000-gun artillery bombardment as 65 divisions from the German 2nd, 17th and 18th Armies attack the British 3rd and 5th Armies along a 60-mile front in the Somme. At first it seems destined to succeed as the thinly stretched British 5th Army is quickly overrun and wrecked. Using effective storm troop tactics, the Germans recapture all of the ground they lost in 1916 during the Battle of the Somme and press forward. However, during the two week offensive, the British 3rd Army manages to hold itself together and prevents the Germans from taking Arras and Amiens, key objectives of the offensive.

 

As the German Spring Offensive begins on March 21 the Battalion is at Ribécourt, and is initially forced to withdraw. Under heavy artillery fire they attempt to slow the enemy advance but again they are forced to withdraw to Thiepval Wood. During the attack and withdrawal 6 officers and 200 other ranks are killed, wounded or missing and a further 250 other ranks are gassed.

 

March 26, 1918 - At a strategic conference in Doullens, France, the British and French agree to appoint an Allied Supreme Commander on the Western Front, in place of the separate commanders they had been using, to better coordinate their efforts. Ferdinand Foch, Pétain's highly regarded chief of staff, accepts the position.

 

The Battalion returned to the line at Forceville (about 90kms north of Ribécourt, and 40 kms south of Arras) on April 3rd. “On the morning of the 5th at 5am the enemy launched a heavy barrage attack along the whole front, followed by an advance in large numbers. In the early hours of the battle, many of the British officers were killed making command and communication difficult. When the Germans broke through in the middle some posts became surrounded and hand to hand fighting took place before our troops were forced to withdraw. In the afternoon a counter attack was mounted, the battalion was able to regroup and under intense machine gun fire was eventually able to break the attack, rush the enemy position, surround them and take 50 prisoners and 10 machine guns.” During this attack, 12 officers and 205 other ranks were killed, including Thomas Melling.  He died on 5 April 1918, aged just 21, and is buried at Arras

 

Rank:  Private

Service No:  54808

Date of Death:  05/04/1918

Regiment/Service:  Royal Fusiliers, 7th Bn.

Panel Reference:  Bay 3.

Memorial:  ARRAS MEMORIAL

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