100 years since the beginning of the German Spring Offensives

The German Spring Offensive: Troops of 101 Siege Battery RGA attaching nose caps to 6-inch howitzer shells, Merville. IWM Collections Q 354

The German Spring Offensives, which began on 21 March 1918, represented a calculated gamble for Germany in trying to tip the balance on the Western Front once and for all. British and Allied troops were met with a huge concentration of German artillery, gas, smoke and infantry. The German Army initially achieved unprecedented gains, but by August the tide had turned against them.

In our latest blog post, we look at the story of one gunner who was caught up in the events of 21 March 1918 – Thomas Harold Burton. Thomas’ father wrote to the newly-formed Imperial War Museum in 1918 to share his son’s experiences.

 

  • Early life

Thomas Harold Burton was born on 14 July 1895 in Nottingham, to Thomas and Fanny. He had two older sisters, and was educated at Southwark Street Council School, Basford. After leaving school he became a farm merchant’s assistant.

As Thomas’ father recounted, “at the call of his Country’s need in the Great War, he volunteered in the Royal Field Artillery and was made a gunner.”

Thomas Harold Burton. IWM Collections HU 93371

  • Serving overseas

Thomas completed around 9 month’s training at Deep Cut, Hampshire before being sent to France on 5 June 1916. His father told IWM that,

“During his leave home in November 1917 he marked on our Daily Mail map many places where he had stayed being 7 months during the time at Nœux-les-Mines. He had several narrow escapes during the falling back from Cambrai, about October of 1917.”

After a brief period of leave at the end of February 1918, Thomas returned to France. When the German Spring Offensive began just weeks later, he was injured whilst acting as runner:

“His left leg was shattered and he would have been left behind to fall into the hands of the enemy, who were advancing rapidly, had not 2 of his comrades volunteered to fetch him at great risk.”

Tragically, Thomas later succumbed to his wounds, and died on the morning of 25 March 1918. He was buried in Bac-du-Sud British Cemetery near Arras, which was the location of field ambulances at the time. According to his father, Thomas’ friends made a special cross for him. Today, Thomas has a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone bearing the inscription ‘Until the day breaks’. His father described him as “one of the best of God Fearing Sons a Father and Mother could have”.

 

Bac-du-Sud British Cemetery. Image taken by Jérémy Bourdon, licensed under Creative Commons.

 

  • Remembering Thomas

In July 1918, the Imperial War Museum made an appeal in the Daily Express newspaper for families to send in photographs and biographies of loved ones who had died in the war. To accompany his son’s photograph, Thomas Burton wrote a heartfelt letter which not only tells us a great deal about Thomas’ wartime service, but also evokes the immense grief which he and his wife felt.

Our loss is irreparable and he was our only son. Such is the Supreme Price we are compelled to pay for this Terrible War.

Thomas is just one of more than half a million Allied casualties of the German Spring Offensive. Lives of the First World War pays tribute to him on the hundredth anniversary of his death, and remembers all those who took part in this battle – both those who lost their lives, as well as the men and women who survived the war.

 

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