Stanstead Abbotts

Local History Society

Alfred “Cecil” ATKINS

Private 26991

6th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry

Formerly Hertfordshire Regiment

Died of Wounds 13th April 1917 aged 19

Born on 17th May 1897, in Stanstead Abbotts, he was called Cecil and was the son of Sidney and Alice, they lived in the High Street where Sidney was the local coal merchant, and he also started the chemist shop in the High Street.  Cecil had one sister Alice and four brothers, three who also served in the war, Leonard, Arthur and Sidney.

Cecil joined the Hertfordshire Regiment as Private No. 6720, on 23rd April 1916 and was sent to Tring training camp on 4th May.  He was transferred to Prince Albert’s Regiment (Somerset Light Infantry) No 26991 in the 6th Battalion and his unit sailed for France on 2nd August 1916.

At Arras from 1st Jan 1917, the trenches were filled with water, up to a man’s knees and in places their thighs. Raids on German trenches took place on most night. Normally up to 150 men were used in these raids, aimed primarily in capturing prisoners, after shelling the enemy positions first.  On 4th Feb the battalion moved to Daneville in reserve positions, where 400 men were used in the construction of a narrow gauge railway used to bring up ammunition and supplies. On 27th Feb they returned to the front line, where they stayed for one or two weeks.  The month of March was relatively quiet, as can be seen from the fact that in 3 days during the month they only suffered the following casualties,  1 Officer killed, 2 Other Ranks Killed and 1 Other Rank wounded.

Cecil’s unit, as part of the 14th Light Division took part in the Allied Arras offensive.   This began on Easter Monday April 9th at 5.30am. Cecil’s battalion together with other troops from the Durham Light Infantry and the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry attacked the enemy lines. By 13.20 they were under heavy fire from machine guns on two sides, although they had taken over 80 prisoners and gained some ground. On that day Cecil was wounded in the head and the hand by shell splinters and was transferred to the base hospital at Rouen where he died four days later.   

His last letter home to his mother was on 27th March 1917 which he finished by saying ‘It seems that the war is over except for the rumbling of the guns, so we must be winning’ His mother Alice transcribed all his letters into a notebook which came to light in 1997 and many of these can now be seen on the internet.

There is a commemorative plaque to Cecil in St Andrews church.

He is buried in St Sever cemetery in Rouen.

Medals Awarded: British War Medal, Victory Medal