McPherson, Albert

Hull Pals Memorial Post. Private, ALBERT McPHERSON 28614. Born in October 1884 Albert’s life was a tragedy from the start. Orphaned into Hull Workhouse with his brother Charlie, he came up the hard way parentless and penniless. He made it though, finding work as a Mill Labourer and marrying Annie Elsey on 25th October 1906. The couple lived at 13 Fern Grove, Northumberland Avenue, Hull (War Pension address). They had two daughters, Annie and Florrie. Albert was in no rush to leave them. Perhaps a little older and less susceptible to the idea of the war as a Great Adventure; perhaps not wishing to abandon his children the way he had been abandoned himself; either way he enlisted in December 1915 when faced with the dreaded Conscription Law which would have come for him anyway. He spent much of 1916 and 1917 in training and Reserve here in England, only arriving in France early in December 1917 a few short days after the death of his daughter Florrie from Meningitis. Albert was killed in action on 27th March 1918 during the German Spring Offensive in what was his first and only taste of battle. Like so many of his comrades, Albert McPherson simply disappeared and his body never recovered. He went to his grave mourning a child after the war tore him away from his family in their hour of need. His name is commemorated on the Arras Memorial; but that etching in stone says nothing of his story, and the country was too busy counting its dead to care.

Background. When the German spring offensive opened on 21 March 1918, 31st Division was in reserve, with 10th and 11th EYR Battalions digging trenches in the ‘Army Line’ behind the front. On 23 March the division was sent up to hold off the German attack at St Léger, but 92 Bde remained in reserve at Ervillers, improvising the defences. Ervillers was attacked on the evening of 24 March, the defence being confused by British troops retreating from the forward defences. Two companies of 10th Bn were pushed up to reinforce 11th Bn fighting in the village streets. About midnight a German patrol got into the village, but was captured by 11th Bn’s HQ staff. The following day the 11th Bn was reinforced by 10th Bn Manchester Regiment of 42nd (East Lancashire) Division and their combined fire stopped the German advance. However, events elsewhere meant that the 31st and 42nd Divisions were ordered on the morning of 27 March to retire through Courcelles-le-Comte.

On 27th March 1917, the brigade defended Ayette aerodrome against repeated attacks from 11.20am to 16.30pm, when with both flanks ‘in the air’, the brigade pulled back to the partly-dug ‘Purple Line’ in front of Ayette village. Between 24 and 27 March, 10th EYR Bn had lost 211 officers and men, and was praised “for its exceptional gallantry on March 27” by the Commander in Chief of the BEF, Sir Douglas Haig. During the night, Lt-Col Headlam of 10th Bn led up a composite battalion of troops from the quartermasters’ details of all three battalions to take over part of the Purple Line, and they helped to recover some 18-pounder ammunition from behind enemy lines, which was fired the following day. Although fighting continued elsewhere along the line, 28 March was a quieter day for 92 Bde, and 11th Bn took over some trenches started by 210th Field Company, Royal Engineers, which they continued to dig. The brigade was relieved on 31 March and marched back to billets near Pommier.

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Arras Memorial, Pas de Calais, France