Lance Corporal Francis Crawshaw Raynes (1895 - 1918)  

The sobering postscript I'm afraid is that John's younger brother Frank was killed a week before the Austrian Army signed the Armistice on 4th November 1918. The details were taken from the web-site of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

 

Name: RAYNES, FRANCIS CRAWSHAW
Initials: F C
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Lance Corporal
Regiment: Northumberland Fusiliers
Unit Text: 11th Battalion.
Age: 23
Date of Death: 27/10/1918
Service No: 285138
Additional information: Son of Stephen Henry and Hannah Elizabeth Raynes, of Sheffield.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: Plot 5. Row C. Grave 10.
Cemetery: TEZZE BRITISH CEMETERY        

 
Cemetery: TEZZE BRITISH CEMETERY
Country: Italy
Locality: unspecified
Visiting Information: The cemetery is permanently open and may be visited anytime. Wheelchair access possible via main entrance. For further information regarding wheelchair access, please contact our enquiries department on telephone number 01628 634221.
Location Information: Tezze is a village in the Province of Treviso, a large town north of Venice. The village is 8 kilometres east of Susegana, a town on the main road some 24 kilometres north of Treviso. The British Military Cemetery lies about 270 metres south of the village of Tezze.
Historical Information:

The Italians entered the war on the Allied side, declaring war on Austria, in May 1915. Commonwealth forces were at the Italian front between November 1917 and November 1918. The village of Tezze was captured by the Austrians in the advance in the autumn of 1917 and remained in their hands until the Allied forces crossed the River Piave at the end of October 1918. On 21 October 1918, Commonwealth forces comprising the XIVth Corps (7th and 23rd Divisions), which had been transferred from the Asiago sector, took over the part of the River Piave front from Salletuol to Palazzon, serving as part of the Italian Tenth Army. On the night of 23 October, the main channel of the river was crossed using small boats and the northern half of the island of Grava di Papadopoli was occupied, the occupation being completed two nights later by a combined Commonwealth and Italian force. After the capture of the island, the bridging of the Piave proceeded rapidly, although the strength of the current meant that the two bridges built for the crossing were frequently broken and many men were drowned. The Allied attack east of the Piave began early in the morning of 27 October. Despite stiff resistance and difficulties with bringing forward supporting troops across the river, the Austrians were forced back over the next few days until the Armistice came into effect on 4 November. Many of those who died on the north-east side of the river during the Passage of the Piave are buried in Tezze British Cemetery. It now contains 356 Commonwealth burials of the First World War.

No. of Identified Casualties: 335

The 11th (Service) Battalion was part of 68th Brigade, 23rd Division

The following extract is from the War Diary of the 11th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers and details the Italian Campaign of 1917 - 1918

November 1917 - On 26th October, GHQ in France received an urgent order from London, directing Sir Douglas Haig to send two Divisions to Italy as quickly as possible. The Italian Army had suffered a shattering reverse when attacked at Caporetto and was in serious danger of collapse. The Supreme Inter-Allied War Council had advised moving some British and French reserve into the Italian theatre. The 23rd and 41st Divisions both about to be relieved, were selected. A further order on 8th November then expanded the force, and the 7th and 48th Divisions also prepared to move. On 14th November the 5th Division was added, making the British force in Italy five Divisions.

The entrainment of the last units of 23rd Division was completed on the 11th November 1917. If ever there was a “tonic for the troops” it was the journey through France, to the Riviera and across in Lombardy, following their harrowing experiences of the Western Front. 

Unfortunately the Italian railway system completely broke down under the strain of 5 British Divisions arriving from France, and detrainment and concentration proved somewhat chaotic. The 23rd Division finally concentrated in the Mantua area.

A high command meeting on 14th November decided to move the 23rd and 41st Divisions immediately into the front line in the Vicenza area, as soon as the Italians could provide road and billeting facilities, which would not be before the 19th.

The march to the new front began in cold weather on the 19th November 1917, moving the troops from Mantua towards Legnano. The new front was on the River Brenta. On 28th, the two Division were moved again, the 23rd going via Castelfranco and Montebelluna to the front lines of the Montello. [Consisted of three lines of well-revetted trenches parallel to the bank of the River Piave, with the forward one on the sand and shingle of the river itself. The Montello was a high flat-topped hill facing the 800-yard wide river. Much work was required to strengthen the position, and this provided the 11th Battalion with plenty of manual activity over the coming weeks.]

The 23rd Division stayed in the Montello sector until March 1918. No major incidents occurred, but there was regular shellfire to endure.

March 1918

The Division received orders on 12th March that a move was imminent. The British were to take over part of the front on the Asiago Plateau. This was a mountainous region with snow, and special preparations in terms of equipment, signalling methods etc were made as far as possible. Relieved on 14th March by Italian units, the Division marched by easy stages to an area east of Vicenza. Moved by lorry, the Divisional infantry took over the line on 27th March from the Italian 12th Division.

The British remained on the Asiago, until September 1918. Trench warfare continued, with its usual attendant dangers. During the intervening period, preparations were made for an offensive but this was cancelled as information was received from deserters of an impending Austrian offensive on the Lower Piave.

June 1918

On the night of 1/2nd June, the Battalion raided three houses in front of the Austrian line, killed at least ten of the enemy and took two prisoners.

On 15th June 1918, the Austrians attacked the British force on the Asiago Plateau, with about four and a half Divisions. The British front was being held by the 23rd and 48th Divisions, both well under-strength due to lack of reinforcements and cases of influenza, and each holding 4000 yards of line. For example in the 144th Brigade, where companies should have been 250 strong, they averaged 75. The artillery of the 7th Division, then in reserve, was close to the front too. The 11/NF, at this time with a trench strength of about 500 men, was in position near a trench called the Boscon Switch.

The Armies received good intelligence about the forthcoming attack. At 3am on 15th June, a heavy bombardment including gas opened on the entire British front and battery position. However, the fire was not registered or accurate, but brought trees down and sent large rock splinters flying. Artillery signalling lines were soon out of action. British counter-battery work commenced at 5am and was throughout the day very successful.

The Austrian infantry attack opened at 7am, and the battle soon broke in the mist and wooded country into fragmented local affairs, with hand to hand fighting. The 23rd Division lost a little ground at the flanks but recovered it during the day. The front of the 48th Division was broken at several places but again this was recovered by early on the 16th. British patrols were sent out, in the belief that the Austrians were confused and demoralised, but they ran soon into resistance that suggested otherwise. In one such patrol, a young officer of the 11th NF carried out actions that led to an award of the Victoria Cross. [Temporary 2nd Lieutenant John Scott Youll. His VC citation reads “For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty during enemy attacks when in command of a patrol, which came under hostile barrage. Sending his men back to safety, he remained to observe the situation. Unable subsequently to rejoin his company, Youll reported to a neighbouring unit, and when the enemy attacked he maintained his position with several men of different units until the troops on his left had given way and an enemy machine gun had opened fire from behind him. He rushed the gun, and, having killed most of the team, opened fire on the enemy with the captured gun, inflicting heavy casualties. Then, finding that the enemy had gained a footing in a portion of the front line, he organised and carried out with a few men three separate counter-attacks. On each occasion he drove back the enemy, but was unable to maintain his position by reason of reverse fire. Throughout the fighting his complete disregard of personal safety and very gallant leading set a magnificent example to all.” Youll was killed in action at the age of 21 on the River Piave on 27th October 1918. He is buried in Giavera British Cemetery.] By the time the fighting died down, the Battalion had suffered 104 casualties. This was one fifth of the total of casualties suffered by the whole Division. Severe as the fighting was, it bore no comparison with the experiences of the Western Front.

September 1918

The 23rd Division was moved from the Asiago Plateau, and was billeted in an area north-west of Vicenza before moving by rail to Treviso. It was part of a wider movement with the British Army taking over a wide front on the banks of the River Piave, down stream from its former positions on the Montello. The Piave here is a mighty river indeed: 800 yards or more wide, very fast-flowing in numerous deep channels. A feature facing the British was a flat, narrow, four mile-long island – Papadopoli. This move was part of a broad plan by the Italian Commander-in-Chief General Diaz to make a decisive break through across the Piave, to separate the Austrian forces on this front from those in the Trentino. If a major advance could be secured in this area – the Vittorio Veneto – then the enemy’s rail routes for supply would be cut and they would be forced to withdraw their troops from Italian soil.  The attack commenced in October 1918.

October 1918

On 27th October1918, the 7th and 23rd Divisions attacked in the Vittorio Veneto. This followed a successful effort by the 7th Division to cross part of the river and capture Papadopoli Island. The 11th Northumberland Fusiliers were the leftmost Battalion in this attack, and their job was to produce a flank defence as the rest of the Divisions forced a crossing of the river. There was a gap of some 5,000 yards to the next formation, the Italian 58th Division. They were to move across right, to converge with the 23rd Division to form a continuous line. This however, failed as the Italians could not cross the river. The river crossing was indeed arduous, with men crossing by sections, mostly by linking arms and dragging their feet along the bottom; to have lifted a foot in the incredible current would almost certainly mean losing the footing and being swept away. A few men were washed off their feet and drowned. As the barrage lifted off the bank, the whole line rushed forward. Machine-gun fire was heavy, and amongst others Lieut.-Colonel Ashton St.Hill the CO of the Battalion, was killed [He is buried in Tezze British Cemetery.]. The British bombardment had not destroyed much of the wire, but this was thin in places where the men could trample it down, whilst other gaps were cut by hand under covering fire from Lewis guns. Through these gaps platoons passed and then extended, and the bayonet did the rest. It was reported that no Austrian had his bayonet fixed; many surrendered, others ran. In spite of resistance, in which the 11th Battalion lost all its senior officers so that it was soon led only by a Lieutenant, the whole Bund on the front of the 23rd Division was in its possession. The Battalion was relieved by the 10th later in the morning. It was by now weak through losses, and was reorganised as two Companies.

Two days later, the attack had advanced the front towards the next river crossing: the Monticano. Despite its small size, the Battalion crossed this river successfully and moved ahead, with its right on the little river Cervada. There was considerable resistance from machine-guns hidden in houses and ditches, but the attack was completely successful and by 6.30pm the 11th had cleared the enemy from the whole Brigade front.

The assault across the Piave had succeeded brilliantly, and pursuit turned into rout of the Austrian armies in this area. In addition to the large advance in terms of distance, some 300,000 prisoners were taken; more, in fact, than the entire Allied force attacking on this front. This was in addition to an enormous haul of war material. The British force of the 7th and 23rd Divisions had taken a prominent part, for the loss of just under 1,600 men of the average 78,000 employed between 27th October and 4th November.

On the 4th November 1918, the Austrian-Hungarian Empire signed an Armistice and the fighting ceased on the Italian front. There then followed a period of reorganisation, with much spit and polish as the British troops were reviewed by the King of Italy on 27th November 1918. Reductions of the British force in Italy were gradually carried out, with the very last returning home on 15th April 1920.

This is an extract from the Battalion war diary which is held at the Public Record Office, in documents WO95/2182 and WO95/4236. It can also be found at the website of the British Army 1914 - 1918 The Long Long Trail

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