PERCY GOODALL

Private 35445, 2nd Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment)

Killed in Action 24th October 1918 aged 19

Buried at Verchain British Cemetery, Verchain-Maugre, France

Son of Ernest and Martha Goodall

Lived Coop House, Batley Road, Heckmondwike


The River Ecaillon is a modest river flowing through small villages and pleasant rolling fields in a gently sloping shallow valley.  Yet an officer of the 2nd Battalion West Riding Regiment thought the countryside was ‘extraordinarily difficult’.  A few days later, on 24 October 1918, that assessment would prove to be correct.

Percy Goodall was born on 6 November 1898.  He was the only surviving child of Ernest and Martha (née Taylor) who were married on 20 March 1892 in Birstall.  In 1901 the family were at New Street, Rawfolds and were still at that address in 1911, with Martha’s father John Taylor recorded as a visitor at the time of the census.  Percy was still at school and his father’s occupation was grocery manager.

Percy was 15 when The Great War broke out and he had to wait until 2nd March 1916 to enlist.  At that date he was 17 and still not eligible for overseas service until he reached the age of 19.  Therefore from March 1916 he was at home but formally on the Reserve before he was mobilised on 1 May 1917 at the age of 18 and 176 days.  The forms he completed at that point show that Percy was a clerk; 5ft 5ins tall and weighed 130lbs.  He lived with his parents at Co-op House, Batley Road, Heckmondwike.  Though he expressed an interest in joining the Royal Field Artillery (which had links to Heckmondwike) he was posted to the 5th Training Reserve and sent to the vast Rugeley Camp in Staffordshire.  He was soon allocated to the newly formed 53rd Young Soldiers Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers with service number 17880, then to the 3rd Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, service number 58875.

He had spells as acting unpaid Lance Corporal and Lance Sergeant before reverting to Private on 10th August 1918.  On 22nd August 1918 he left Folkestone for Boulogne and the base depot at Etaples near Le Touquet, where he joined the 14th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers.  Percy’s records show that he was then transferred to the 2nd Battalion West Riding Regiment, with service number 35445, on 1st September 1918.  This information on Private Goodall’s record was contained within the format of a rubber stamp.  But someone had inserted in clear bold writing the word ‘permanently’ before the stamped word ‘transferred’.  Had Private Goodall met someone at Etaples whom he knew and who could arrange for him to be transferred in this way?  It seems fitting that his multiple postings should end with a move to a local regiment.  Private Goodall reached his new regiment whilst the Battalion was at Averdoigt, West of Arras.  Gradually the Battalion began to move eastwards.  There was an indication of what was to follow when in early October the war diary showed  that the soldiers practiced ‘dealing with machine gun posts in open warfare’ (that is, not trench based).

There was some light relief on 5th October 1918 when the Battalion marched into Arras accompanied by the Bands of the 4th and 2nd Battalions of the West Riding Regiment.  The movement eastwards then resumed by bus and on foot until an area northeast of Cambrai was reached on 18 October.

There followed a series of attacks which had the objective of breaching that part of the Hindenburg Line known as the Hermannstellung.  The Battalion war diary records that on 19th October the village of Saulzoir was taken with the Battalion ‘peacefully penetrating the village with slight fighting for the railway’.  At 4:00am on 24th October in the darkness before daybreak the main attack on the Hermannstellung began with a shrapnel shell barrage by the artillery.  The war diary outlines five German defence lines, one of which was the River Ecaillon and there was clearly concern about attempting an opposed river crossing before daybreak.  An air reconnaissance flight over the area took place on 22nd October and the passable bridges over the river were clearly marked on the resulting map.  There is a suggestion in the war diary that the river might have been in flood after rain and all the battalions taking part in the attack carried forward temporary light bridges to enable the crossing to take place.  During the attack the soldiers faced heavy machine gun fire from the slopes across the river.  The war diary says ‘the enemy were in force with numerous machine guns which were overcome in a marvellously efficient manner’.  Once over the river the advance continued rapidly through the day.  Over 350 prisoners and 31 machine guns were taken and the war diary says that ‘the action can be looked upon as one of the most successful operations it [the Regiment] has ever taken part in’.  On the night of the 24th/25th the Germans withdrew a distance of over 2000 yards.

All the battalions suffered heavy casualties, especially in the river crossing but the 2nd Battalion had the greatest losses with over 200 men killed or wounded, partly because the battalion on their right could not move forward and the West Riding Battalion was left exposed on that flank.  Private Goodall was killed that day, just 17 days before the Armistice.

He left all his effects to his mother and on 24th April 1919 the Pay Office sent Martha £14 6s 2d, which included a war gratuity of £8.  He is buried with many of his comrades in Verchain British Cemetery, not far from the place where he fell.  A photograph, taken by The War Graves Photographic Project, of his headstone can be viewed by following this link.  His headstone inscription, for which the family were charged 14s 10d, reads: ‘O God let angels guard this spot where our dear one doth slumber’.
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