Unit: A Bty 50th Brigade RFA.
Rank: Shoeing Smith
Commemorated: Grootebeek, British Cemetery, Belgium
I have very little information on William except to say he was born in Wainfleet and is probably the brother of Frank Phillips, who is also commemorated on the memorial.
After enlisting at Lincoln, William found himself serving with A battery of 50 Brigade Royal Field Artillery. This brigade went to France with the 9th Division in May 1915. This was the senior division of Kitchener’s First New Army.
By the beginning of 1918, the main combatant nations were all suffering badly from three years of war, their resources being stretched by the maintenance of several fronts. The decisive factor in the war would be the Americans. The Germans realised their only chance was to defeat the British and French before they could be reinforced. Accordingly on the 21st March 1918, the Germans launched a huge assault, with 65 divisions, along a 60-mile front between Arras and La Fere. Almost immediately, the British Fifth Army, its lines stretched by recently taking over the French left, collapsed under the pressure. The was the German’s first offensive and it ground to a halt by the 5th April, having cut a salient into the Allies lines some 40 miles deep.
The German’s second thrust was mounted on the 9th April, approximately between Ypres and La Bassee, the German Fourth Army attacking the British Second in the North. It was during this assault, Haig issued his famous “backs to the Wall” exhortation. After initial buckling, however, the line held. It is during this second phase we find William’s unit being moved on the 16th April to a position just south of Whytchaete. Here on the 25th April, the enemy launched an attack on a 6-mile front resulting in the battery being withdrawn to a position just north of St. Hubertushock. On the 28th and 29th April, the enemy put down a very heavy bombardment, during which they shelled William’s position with gas for a period of 4 hours. Despite repeated attacks, the line held, but casualties from William’s unit amounted to 117 all ranks killed or wounded for the action, of which William was one.