By kind permission of John King, Author
March of 1918 was to be a decisive month. Moreover the public at home were aware that something was about to happen. Thus Luffman wrote on 25 February for the March magazine that the shock of battle must come soon ‘with all that a collision of such hosts of men will most certainly involve!’ But before the battle came, there was a reminder that service in the ASC did not guarantee a safe passage — the St Mildred’s magazine for March reported the death in action of Pte George Peacock whose parents lived in Heather Road. Before the war Peacock had been a chauffeur to Mrs Gill of Somertrees Avenue.
On 21 March a great offensive on the Western Front was launched by the Germans. At great cost to both sides, the Germans made substantial advances. Luffman was aware of these critical times on the Front. He wrote in March for the April magazine that the battle to which, in magnitude, history furnished no parallel, was still raging with almost unabated fury; the Germans had advanced deeply into French territory and were threatening Amiens. Farquhar also commented. Writing on the fifth day of the battle, he admitted he did not know how it would go but he thanked God that German leaflets, Bolshevism and pacifist immorality had left no impression upon the country’s magnificent soldiers. A Germany victory, he concluded, would mean a world bereft of Christian morality.
The German offensive was at first successful. Between 21 March and 5 April the Germans over-ran nearly 2,000 square miles of territory and drove a salient forty miles deep into Allied territory. They captured 1,100 artillery pieces and more than 70,000 prisoners, while inflicting almost 150.000 losses in killed and wounded upon the Allies, mostly British. One of the British casualties in this period was Rifleman Frederick Gracey aged 20, of Marvels Terrace. Luffman wrote of him ‘… one of our village lads, was killed in action on 29 March.’ (It was his younger brother Bertie who, nearly sixty years later, was to awaken this writer’s interest in Grove Park history when shown one of the many postcards of the ASC at the Barracks.)
The German offensive was not sustained but this was by no means clear to Luffmafl when he wrote in April for the May magazine. He also asked his parishioners to pray for greater unity at home and especially for Ireland that the “people of that country may reject the pernicious advice given by the Bishops of the Roman Church to resist a law of the land which is necessary for the defence and security of all that makes life worth living both there and here”. He was referring to a resolution of the Irish bishops warning the British government against the extension to Ireland, of conscription which had been introduced in Britain in 1916. There was same popular demand in Britain for conscription in Ireland, but in the event the government did not extend it.
The air raids on Britain by the Gothas had continued into 1918. One raid at the end of January killed 67 in Kent and London, but none in the Grove Park/ Lee area. The raid in the night of 16 February saw three Gothas reaching London. Five 112lb bombs were dropped on Woolwich killing seven before moving on to Chelsea and Beckenham where another eight bombs were disgorged, harmlessly falling on allotments and a park. It was a little close. Two more raids on London followed in February and March. Farquhar commented at the end of March that some of the beautiful nights of the last four weeks had been made hideous by murderous visitors. “Our sympathy goes out to those who had a right as civilians to expect immunity from the dangers of war, but I do hope people will be brave and manfully face the dangers. Some people are perhaps unable to, but we cannot all run away, and it is not right that we should”.
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