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British infantry advancing into a gas cloud during the Battle of Loos, 25 September 1915
British infantry advancing through gas at Loos
image: Imperial War Museum catalogue number HU 63277B
Trench map showing the Hohenzollern Redoubt and North to Auchy, December 1915
Hohenzollern Redoubt and Fosse 8
image: Paths of Glory
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Draper, Stephen

Stephen Draper
1914-1915 Star
1914/15 Star
Victory Medal
Victory Medal
British War Medal
British War Medal
Private Stephen Draper (15824)
Killed in Action on Tuesday 28th September 1915
Battle of Loos, aged 30
Son of William & Mary Draper
Father's occupation: Coachman
Born Q2 1884 at Cheshunt, Herts
1 sister, 2 brothers, position in family: 4
Relatives: Wife - Louisa Draper
Local address: Twyford
Enlisted:Reading, December 1914
Regiment:Royal Berkshire
Battalion:1st Bn.
Went overseas:Thursday 1st April 1915
Wounded:& Missing
Died:Tuesday 28th September 1915
Cause:Killed in Action
Action:Battle of Loos
Battalion at:Fosse 8, Vermelles
Commemorated:Memorial at Loos Memorial

Stephen Draper was born in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire in 1884 to William and Mary Draper, and was the youngest of four children. He lived with his two brothers and one sister in 6 Wellington Place, Enfield and his father was a coachman and domestic servant. At the age of 17 Stephen was living with his parents in Brookfield Lane, Cheshunt and working as a general labourer.

By the start of the First World War Stephen had moved to Twyford where he lived with his wife Louisa. In December 1914 he enlisted at Reading and after training was assigned to 1st Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment. Stephen went to France on 1st April 1915 to join his Battalion who were in the front line at Cuinchy just south east of Béthune. Here the front line ran alongside the La Bassee canal and through the remains of a large brickworks. For the next month the Battalion rotated between the trenches and billets in Beuvry before being withdrawn from the line in readiness for a new offensive.

After a few days of training near Béthune the Battalion marched north-east in the early hours of 9th May to Le Touret. The initial attack on Aubers Ridge was scheduled for next day, with 1st Battalion in the second wave of the assault. However the first attack faltered and so the Battalion did not see action until the Battle of Festubert, which commenced five days later.

The attack was timed to start at 11.30 p.m. and the troops were already lying out in No Man's Land in preparation. Within half an hour they had taken the German trenches and achieved all of their objectives, but overall the battle was a failure as the initial successes were not exploited and the enemy re-took the hard won ground. Over the course of two days 1st Battalion lost over 100 men killed with more than 250 men wounded. The Battalion was then withdrawn to the reserve and allowed a short period of recovery.

By 19th June 1915 the Battalion found themselves back in the familiar surroundings of the trenches at Cuinchy, though in their absence the Germans had gained superiority and the sniping was continual. The next three months were spent at Cuinchy, rotating between front line and billets as before, until it was time for the next major offensive. This turned out to be the Battle of Loos.

The Battle of Loos was the British element of a combined offensive with the French, designed to overrun the railway system behind the German lines and undermine their positions along much of the Western Front. It was a large scale engagement involving 120,000 men from six divisions advancing on a six mile front. Cuinchy was on the northern flank of the attack and the Battalion was held in reserve in the second line trenches when the attack commenced at 6.30 a.m. on 25th September 1915.

The British released poison gas prior to the attack but because of the changeable wind this drifted back into their front line. As the gas-affected men advanced they were mown down by the German machine guns and the attack failed. At noon 1st Battalion was ordered forward into the front line trenches and after dark they recovered many of the wounded from No Man's Land. Late in the evening they were withdrawn to Annequin to join a composite force, Carter's Brigade, whose role was to exploit some successes further south at Hulluch. The Battalion marched to Vermelles and stood by for further orders.

The expected attack was forestalled by a German counter-attack that re-took Fosse 8, a large coal mining slag heap that dominated the surrounding area. The Battalion dispersed to perform fatigues and join working parties but was brought back together at 12.30 a.m. on 28th September 1915 when orders were received to launch an attack on Fosse 8. The Battalion War Diary describes the attack and its aftermath:

12.30 am. Battalion collected from fatigues and working parties in order to attack FOSSE No 8
2.30am. Capt Radford DSO went to the Brigade HQ at the VII Divisional Dugouts to explain that the battalion were scattered on fatigues and that the position to be attacked and the approaches were strange to the officers.
Personal message from General Gough (1st Corps) explained that owing to the situation the attack was imperative.
Companies moved in file to the rendezvous — A, B, C, D, HQ, Machine Guns. Here the battalion formed up in Company Column and advanced towards the objective 800 yards away. During the advance two lines of captured German trenches and two lines of barbed wire had to be crossed - these were manned by British troops.
Owing to the bright moonlight the enemy saw us advancing when we were 400 yards from our objective (FOSSE 8): they put up "very" lights and kept up a continuous rifle fire on us from our right front - this grew heavier as we got nearer.
The Battalion advanced steadily A, B and part of C Company going straight for the FOSSE. They were unable, owing to the heavy fire from the enemy who by this time were manning the top of the FOSSE, to gain the slag heap being checked about 70 yards from it. D and part of C Company meanwhile advanced and manned the front British trench.
During this time 2nd Lieut A B Turner single handed bombed down a German communication trench driving the enemy before him a distance of over 150 yards. During the whole of this period the Germans were throwing bombs at 2/Lt Turner. While performing this very gallant act he was mortally wounded. By this time it was known that the CO Major Bird was wounded and Capt Radford DSO 2nd in command was killed. In consequence the command devolved on Capt C W Frizzell who was in command of the rear company D: also by this time Colonel Carter the Brigadier was up in the first trench.
Seeing that the first two companies were checked Colonel Carter gave Captain Frizzell the order to charge with the remaining men available. This order was carried out. The leading men with Capt Frizzell in front got halfway up the slag heap when the Germans from the top threw bombs on our heads. This checked our further advance and the men retired to the front British trench, a distance of 150 yards.
As it was now getting daylight and the men were all rather exhausted Colonel Carter decided not to attack again. He ordered Capt Frizzell to re-organise in our old trenches.
Killed. Capt M C Radford DSO.
Died of wounds 2/Lt A B Turner.
Missing. Capt E N Getting, 2/Lt P C Rawson 2/Lt R A Summers, 2/Lt J W B Blazey.
Wounded and missing. Lieut G F M Hall.
Wounded. Major L W Bird, Lt E F Eager, Lt D E Ward, 2/Lt Haigh, 2/Lt W S Mackey and Capt Adj C St Q Fullbrook Leggatt DSO.
Other ranks. Killed 17, missing 143, wounded 115. Total 288
The death of Captain Radford cannot be too much deplored. He was a very gallant officer and his loss is very keenly felt by everyone in the regiment and brigade. He was buried at Vermelles.
Search parties under Captain Large were untiring in the devoted manner they searched for the wounded.

2nd Lieutenant Turner was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his gallantry during the attack. Stephen Draper was reported as wounded and missing in the Reading Standard but it later transpired that he had died on that day. He was thirty years old and had been in France for only six months. Stephen has no known grave and is commemorated on the Loos Memorial along with eighty of his comrades from 1st Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment whose remains were never found.


Stephen Draper on the Loos Memorial
Loos Memorial

They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in morning
We will remember them.
Lawrence Binyon