The Battle of the Aisne followed the Battle of the Marne in September 1914. The German 1st and 2nd armies were retreating, pursued by the British Expeditionary Force and the French 5th and 6th armies.
The Germans had stopped their retreat at the River Aisne, on the Chemin des Dames Ridge. The 1st Army was under the command of General Alexander von Kluck and the 2nd Army was under the command of General von Bülow. They were joined by the new 7th Army, commanded by von Heeringen. The Germans entrenched themselves along the north bank of the River Aisne. The Chemin des Dames Ridge presented the advantages of a formidable defensive position.
The French 5th Army was commanded by General Maunoury and the 6th Army was commanded by General Franchet d’Espèrey. The British Expeditionary Force was commanded by Sir John French. On 13th September 1914 the Allies launched a frontal assault upon the Germans across the River Aisne. They won a single bridgehead. The German VII Reserve Corps was sent from Mauberge to assist the 1st and 2nd armies. The Germans resisted and deployed machine guns and heavy artillery. The Germans launched counter-attacks and forced the Allies back to the river. The Allies were unable to consolidate their small advances.
The fighting was abandoned on 28th September 1914. The standstill at the Aisne marked the beginning of the “Race to the Sea”. Indeed, both sides, unable to break through, turned their armies northwards, towards the Belgian coast.
There were no victors at the Battle of the Aisne. The Germans failed to push the Allies back across the river and the Allies failed to take the Chemin des Dames plateau. Both sides dug trench networks, which remained the front line for several years. This battle saw the change from a mobile war to a static stalemate.
Eric was born to Rev. William and Margaret Mitchell of Elson Vicarage, Gosport, Hampshire. His father was the former rector of Wing, Rutland.
Eric attended Oakham School between 1908 and 1912. His school achievements are listed below:
Oakham School Cricket 1st XI 1911 – Eric is sitting at the front left.
Oakham School Cricket 1st XI 1912 – Eric is standing third from left.
The School Corps in 1911 - Eric is standing on the third row, sixth from the right.
The O.T.C. 1911 Camp in Windsor Great Park - Eric is fifth from the left (left) and on the far left (right).
In his sporting career, the Oakhamian Magazine made comments upon both his cricket and rugby prowess.
Summer 1911 Cricket review: ‘Has a great many faults to unlearn but awkward style; very active but too uncertain as a catch to be considered a good field’.
Summer 1912 Cricket review: ‘Most energetic in the field; as a batsman not sufficiently aggressive and, owing to his not always playing straight, a ready victim to any ball on the leg stump’.
Winter 1911 Rugby review: ‘Is a player who revels in the game and the muddier it is, the more he likes it. Started-off half. At first, too mechanical, but has now become a really good pivot. Makes good openings but spoils some of them by sticking to the ball too long. Is apt to get too near the scrum while defending and so leaves his opponent unmarked’.
Winter 1912 Rugby review: ‘He never seems so happy as when forcing his way through a crowd of opponents. Has learnt the art of breaking through, and in attack would be really good if he were a little more unselfish. Has a safe pair of hands and picks with judgement. Defence not beyond reproach’.
Spring 1912 Place kick review: ‘[only missed one kick out of nine] An uncommonly good performance’.
After school, Eric went to RMC Sandhurst. He was a member of the Champion Company at Arms and played in the College Rugby XV. He joined the 2nd Battalion, The Prince of Wales’s Volunteers South Lancashire Regiment, 7 Brigade, 3 Division, as Second Lieutenant.
The Prince of Wales’s Volunteers South Lancashire Regiment badge.
His battalion was part of the British Expeditionary Force, which landed at Le Havre on 14th August 1914. He was promoted to Lieutenant and took part in the Battle of the Aisne. Eric was killed in action at Neuve Chapelle on 27th October 1914. He was 19.
Roll of honour and notice in the Oakhamian Magazine, Easter term 1915, Vol.31, no.1
Eric is remembered on panel 23 of Le Touret Memorial and in Oakham School chapel.
Charles was born in London to George and Alice Sills of Coet Maes, Oakham.
Charles (left) at Oakham School with G.C. Barber (top) and C.E.R. Albrecht (right).
Charles attended Oakham School between 1905 and 1912. His school achievements are listed below:
Oakham School Cricket 1st XI 1908 – Charles is standing second from left.
Oakham School Cricket 1st XI 1909 – Charles is standing second from left.
Oakham School Cricket 1st XI 1910 – Charles is sitting far right.
Oakham School Cricket 1st XI 1911 – Charles is sitting in the centre.
Oakham School Cricket 1st XI 1912 – Charles is sitting in the centre.
The School Corps in 1911 - Charles is standing in the third row, sixth from the left.
The O.T.C. 1911 Camp in Windsor Great Park - Charles is sat on the right.
In his sporting career, the Oakhamian Magazine made comments upon both his cricketing and rugby prowess.
Summer 1908 Cricket review: ‘Shows every promise of developing into an effective batsman. He has already a good off stroke.’
Summer 1909 Cricket review: ‘is as a rule too restless at the beginning of his innings; he opened the season well enough, but then had a long succession of failures; he is a free hitter and scores well on the off side; his fielding leaves much to be desired.’
Summer 1910 Cricket review: ‘A vigorous but rather too impetuous a batsman; he has a beautiful off-drive which he is often over-anxious to indulge; he has done excellent work throughout the season at short slip.’
Summer 1911 Cricket review: ‘An admirable batsman with a variety of strokes; found his real form as the season advanced; is an excellent field but only moderately successful as wicket-keeper. His judgement in the management of the bowling at his command was not always above criticism.’
Summer 1912 Cricket review: ‘A strong free batsman with a particularly effective off-drive; a safe field in any position; as Captain, has shown excellent judgement in his management of the bowling at his disposal.’
Winter 1910 Rugby review: ‘one of the most improved players in the team; his height makes him useful out of touch and he is generally to the front in the forward rushes; a good place-kick.’
Winter 1911 Rugby review: ‘Makes good use of his height in the line out, runs strongly and hands-off well. The best hooker in the team. A good place kick and tackler.’
After School, Charles went to RMC Sandhurst. He was a double Blue in 1913 for the high jump and cricket. When at Aldershot he played cricket and rugby and was a member of the MCC. He became Second Lieutenant with the South Wales Borderers, 3 Brigade, 1st Division in September 1913.
South Wales Borderers badge.
His battalion went to France as part of the 1st Division of the British Expeditionary Force. He fought at the Battle of Mons and the Battle of the Marne. He was killed near Vendresse during the Battle of the Aisne while his battalion was trying to repel a strong German attack on its trenches. A German battalion attacked in front of the 1st South Wales Borderers and penetrated the line at one point but were driven back. The Borderers suffered severely: of their 7 officers and 182 men, half were killed. Charles was killed in action on 26th September 1914. He was 20.
Roll of honour in the Oakhamian Magazine, Christmas term 1914, Vol.30, no.3
Charles is remembered at La Ferté Sous-Jouarre Memorial and in Oakham School chapel.