This morning, July 1st 2016, a dozen of us gathered in the porch of St Andrew’s Church at West Deeping.
At 7.30 a.m., Brian Marsden, a staunch supporter of the Royal British Legion, Langtoft, Deepings and Districts Branch, blew 3 short blasts on his ARP whistle. This was the signal for ‘zero hour’ for the British troops lined up along the trenches in Picardie in Northern France, exactly 100 years ago.
We remembered all those 19,240 killed and 35,493 wounded on July 1st 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme but West Deeping particularly remembered one of its own soldiers who fought and died on the first day on the Somme, July 1st 1916.
2nd Lieut. Joseph Anstee was the younger son of William Anstee, the miller at West Deeping Mill, just next to the church. He had grown up in the village and judging by frequent mentions in the local newspapers seems to have been talented as a singer and pianist. He was often complimented for his flower decorations in the church and was involved with activities at the village Reading Room. He was in his early 20s when he signed up for a short military training with the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps in Berkhamsted and in October 1915 he was commissioned to the 2nd Lincolnshire Regiment. It is possible he went to France soon afterwards as the Army had an urgent need for troops after their losses at the Battle of Loos.
The 2nd Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment was part of the 8th Division when the British Army attacked the German front near Albert, in Picardie, Northern France. Together with the 2nd Royal Berkshires, they were at the centre of the line, leading the attack on the village of Ovillers-la-Boisselle.
Joe, a 26 year-old subaltern, would have been the one responsible for getting his men out of their trench and forming them up to set off across ‘no man’s land’ towards the German front line, 800 yards away. Charging into the full weight of an artillery barrage, the attack halted before it even got half way.
It’s most likely that 2nd Lieutenant Anstee died in the first hour of the first day of the battle that was to last another 140 days.
“One of the cheeriest and best boys”
Joe’s parents, William and Mary Anstee read about their youngest son’s death in a letter from his commanding officer who had the eye-witness account of comrade Lieutenant Hubbard. “2nd Lieutenant Anstee was hit with shrapnel half-way across during the assault. I bandaged him up, and whilst awaiting him to be taken back behind the line he was hit again in the chest and died almost instantaneously. We were moved out of the trenches into another area that afternoon, so were unable to collect our dead and wounded… I can’t express what his loss is to us. He was a splendid officer and loved by all, and one of the cheeriest and best boys I have ever met, and can well understand what a terrible loss he is to you, as he is to us.”
One of 72,194 men who have no known grave, he is commemorated at Thiepval (Face C of Pier 1). If you go almost to the end of the King Street Cemetery in West Deeping, you will find an Anstee family memorial not far from the right hand fence. Joseph’s parents are buried here but the inscription on the gravestone also commemorates ‘Lt J Anstee Killed in action in France July 1st 1916 Aged 26′.
A Remembrance Cross was placed by the grave this morning.
If there are any Anstee descendants reading this, we would be most interested to hear from them.