Cecil William George Trenfield

Name Cecil William George Trenfield
Corps Royal Berkshire Regiment, 2nd Battalion
Rank Private 
Service No. 11512
Date/Place of entry September 1914
Date of death 2 June 1915
Memorial/Grave Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, VIII A63

Cecil William George Trenfield’s name is inscribed on Cottingham Primary School’s WW1 memorial plaque honouring former pupils who were killed in the fighting. He was the only son of William George Trenfield, originally from Herefordshire, and his French wife Cecile Marie nee Frank. The couple were married in 1895 in Saint Margaret’s Church Westminster which lies next to Westminster Abbey and was until 1972 the official parish church of Parliament. Cecil was born on 26 January of the following year in Paris.

William’s family were farmworkers but in 1891 he was employed as a footman in a Gloucester rectory. The whereabouts of his future wife in 1891 remain a mystery. She was born in 1867 in Paris but in 1881 was employed in a Somerset rectory as a lady’s maid. Paris in the 1870s was a turbulent city. The Franco-Prussian war and the Siege of Paris, the bloody fighting between the Paris Commune and the French army and the founding of the Third Republic would have made the city a stressful place to grow up in. Did Cecile live through it or was she taken to England as a child?

So far I’ve been unable to trace the family in the 1901 census; possibly they were abroad. In 1911 they were living in the Marylebone area of London and a daughter, Florence, was born there in 1906. William was working as a chauffeur and Cecil was a page at the Army and Navy Club in St James, Pall Mall. His obituary says he began work there at the age of fourteen (1910). 

His time at Cottingham school was probably fairly short. Given his father’s occupation it seems likely that he, and maybe Cecile, were employed in one of the larger households; Bury House, East Carlton Hall or Rockingham Castle maybe?  At the outbreak of the war the family had recently moved on to the East Sussex village of Newick, a few miles from Haywards Heath, where William was chauffeur to a Mr Brown of Brendon. Their previous residence was Heathfield, about fourteen miles distant. They do seem to be unusually peripatetic. 

Cecil volunteered for the Royal Berkshire Rifles in September 1914 and was placed in the 2nd Battalion which had only recently arrived from India. According to his obituary he was an excellent shot which is the probable reason he was sent to the Front more quickly than was usual for new recruits. The 2nd Battalion was part of the 25th Brigade in the Eighth Division and landed at Le Havre on 5 November. Cecil was in the trenches by 14 December.
The 25th took part in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915 during which Cecil’s rifle was smashed from his hands. (Cottingham men who fought in the Battle included brothers William James and Samuel George Tansley, Edwin Towndrow, Thomas Crane, Ernest Stokes and Francis Omar Tilley.) Cecil was uninjured but his luck was not to hold.

On the 9th May the 8th Division took part in a disastrous action in support of a major French attack. The Battle of Aubers opened just before 6.00am when men of the 24th Brigade that included the 2nd Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment began an advance. Within thirty yards they were met with heavy rifle and machine gun fire. The 25th Brigade also attacked and many of the infantry made it into the German fire trenches. However there was a huge amount of confusion on the field and by 8.30 the attack had come to a halt. The soldiers in the German trenches were stranded.

Twice that morning General Haig ordered further attacks but these were forestalled by heavy enemy shelling. There were a huge number of casualties. Haig was told forward movement was impossible but then ordered a bayonet attack to take place at dusk. This was cancelled as the chaos in the trenches and roads around them made any action impossible. The following day it became apparent that there was not enough artillery ammunition to continue an attack. Moreover the ammunition available was defective. The whole sorry mess was abandoned that afternoon having achieved absolutely nothing. 

The 9th May saw one of the highest rates of loss during the entire war. British casualties numbered over nine thousand, most of them injured or killed within yards of their own front line trenches. It took the field ambulances more than three days to get them away. Cecil Trenfield, severely wounded in the chest, only arrived in hospital on the 13th. He died on 2nd June aged nineteen and is buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery.

At the time of Cecil’s death his father William George was himself serving in France as an Army Service Corps driver. According to the Sussex Express newspaper, the hospital matron wrote to his mother Cecile with the news of her son’s death.

In 1939 Cecile was keeping house in St Albans for her widowed son in law Charles Jones; Florence Cecilia had died in 1936 after ten years of marriage, leaving six children. Cecile herself died in 1952. The death was registered in Cuckfield district so she may have been living in Newick. Her husband William George was injured but survived the war. He is almost certainly the man of that name who killed himself in Horsham in March 1946.