‘While year by year November mists again’; Arthur and Robert Greg in World War One

I wasn’t expecting to start feeling so emotional so early in the morning today, (and I warn you that this post is quite a sombre one), but as I continued with my research into the Greg family, on my expedition into the archives, I stumbled across the featured photo of Arthur Tylston Greg. Given that it is Remembrance Sunday this weekend, I decided that there was no other story that I wanted to immerse myself into, than that of the bravery and sacrifice of Arthur, and his younger brother Robert (Bobby) Philips Greg.

Arthur and Bobby were the sons of Ernest William Greg, and brother to Alexander Carlton Greg, the man who donated Quarry Bank Mill to the National Trust. Born in 1894 and 1899 respectively, the brothers, like millions of other young men, were called up to do their duty for King and country in World War I.

Arthur began his military career at the age of 20, when in 1914 he was commissioned as Second Lieutenant of the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, serving as a bombing officer. In May 1915 he was attached to the First Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment, 15th Brigade, 5th Division, and was stationed in Ypres.  His letters from the time are filled with dry humour to mask the sheer horrors of the trenches he and his comrades had endured;

“Eighteen days in a fire trench with heavy engagements only a few hundred yards to our right, and more critical fighting a mile or so on our left, was not calculated to act as nerve tonic.”

Arthur was involved in leading several reconnaissance missions, searching for enemy spies, often only returning by the skin of his teeth under heavy shell fire. During a German attack on the trenches, despite fighting back fiercely, at one point duelling with a German soldier, Arthur was severely wounded after a shell dropped nearby;

“I went down like a log and was next aware of a loose, horrid and disconnected feeling about the lower part of my face…At one time I thought I should not live as I was bleeding so furiously. I thought it a pity that one more so young should have to go.”

Arthur luckily survived and was sent back to “Blighty” and to more advanced medical treatment than the dressing station in the trenches could provide.

In November of 1915 Arthur became a Captain with the 3rd Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, and in 1917, having previously been attached to the Royal Flying Corps in 1916, he was graded as a Flying Officer and posted to the British Expeditionary Force, 55 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps.

Captain Arthur Tylston Greg in his plane during World War One
Captain Arthur Tylston Greg

On 23rd April 1917, flying the DH4 bomber A7408, Arthur performed his final sacrifice for his beloved England. Eight other DH4 bombers Tasked as part of a formation which successfully shelled an ammunition factory at Etreux and a sugar factory at Lechelle, their victory was short-lived. Upon their return however, the formation was attacked by between 7 and 9 German Albatross DIII. It is believed that one of the German pilots was none other than Herman Goering. During the ensuing ferocious air battle two of the DH4 bombers were shot down after giving as good as they got, fortunately the occupants survived albeit wounded. The same ‘lucky’ escape was not destined for Captain Arthur Greg or his observer Air Mechanic First Class Robert William Robson. He was fatally shot at 18,000ft, and whilst Robert managed to land the plane inside Allied lines, he later died from his wounds.

That same year Arthur’s younger brother Bobby commissioned as Second Lieutenant, 4th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, Territorial Force, and in 1918 he became the Liaison Officer for the 11 (Service) Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, 75th Brigade, 25th Division.

On 29th April 1918, barely a year after Arthur’s death, Bobby was stationed near Kummel when a shell was dropped directly onto his dug-out in the support line. Robert was fatally wounded and died days later on 3rd May 1918.

Bobby Greg
Bobby Greg

Arthur and Bobby’s story is one which was sadly repeated throughout the course of World War One and Two, continuing through the 20th century, including the Falklands War, right up to today with the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan. But what has also been repeated is not just their untimely deaths, but their loyalty, courage, camaraderie, admirable optimism and acts of heroism, by thousands of men and women time and time again, and that is what we should strive to remember and never forget.

That is why we wear our poppies with pride.

Arthur left behind a fiancée, Marian Allen, who far more eloquently than I can ever hope to, captured the bravery and the grief that all too often go hand in hand during the course of war, and I end this post with an excerpt of one of her poems.

“Whilst over you rang out the last salute,

Midst others bravely fallen you were laid;

As we in England taste the hard-won fruit

Of all your strife and labour, we but live

To keep alive the life you died to give.”

Norcliffe, June 1918


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