The pre-war life of Cecil Trenfield remained something of a mystery until the publication of the 1911 census. His military records show his birthplace as Ripley, Surrey and his age at death as 19 years. However, no records of the birth of anyone of that name in the Surrey (or elsewhere in Great Britain) have been traced, and his name does not appear in the census of 1901. He did not attend the village school.
The survival of the service record of his father, William George Trenfield, who served as a driver in the Royal Army Service Corps did hint at the reason for this. Although William was from Hertfordshire, his wife Cecile Marie was French. They were have married in December 1895 in St. Margaret’s Church, Westminster, London. It appears that Cecil was born the following year on the other side of the Channel in Cecile’s home city of Paris, and presumably the family stayed there until after the 1901 census.
By the time of the 1911 census the Trenfields had moved back to England, and William, Cecile, Cecil and his younger sister, Florence were living at No. 7 Abercorn Mews, St. Johns Wood, London. William was working as a chauffeur, and Cecil was listed as ‘Page Domestic’. The names of Cecile and Cecil are both misspelt. Cecil is also listed under his full name of ‘Cecil William George Trenfield’ as a ‘Waiter Club’ at The Army and Navy Club in Pall Mall. According to a newspaper article published after his death (see below), he worked there from the age of 14 until he joined up.
Cecil joined the Princess Charlotte of Wales’s Regiment, usually referred to as the Royal Berkshire Regiment in September 1914 and sailed for France on 17th December 1914, an extremely early date for a Kitchener volunteer. The report published in a local newspaper following his death confirmed this early date of embarkation, apparently based on his much-needed frontline skill as a recognised marksman. He joined the 2nd Battalion.
Cecil fought with this battalion until May 1915, when it was involved in the Battle of Aubers Ridge. The battalion’s War Diary records that the Berkshires were in the front line at Fauquissart, opposite Aubers at the beginning of the month, but were withdrawn to billets at Laventie and then at Bac St. Maur to prepare for the coming assault on the evening of the 3rd May. The battalion paraded at 11.00pm on the 8th May and moved to assembly trenches opposite German positions at Fromelles that night. They were to provide support to battalions from the Rifle Brigade and the Royal Irish Rifles, attacking as part of the northern end of a planned pincer move on the German lines.
The battalion’s War Diary records the utter chaos which ensued on the following morning. The bombardment of the German lines began at 5.00am and lifted at 5.40am. The men occupying the frontline trenches rose up to attack as the bombardment lifted, but they were met by heavy rifle and machine gun fire and the assault faltered, with some men not leaving their start positions. As the Berkshires tried to move forward into the space supposedly vacated by these men they found them still occupied, resulting in considerable congestion in the confined spaces of the trenches.
There seems to have been more confusion, and even some panic, when men from The Rifle Brigade, apparently now mixed in from men from the Royal Irish Rifles and some Berkshires who had managed to get forward, began rushing back towards the British lines shouting ‘retire at the double’. Despite the mayhem, officers managed to regain some control and attempts were made to advance towards the German lines by men from all three of the battalions, but again the assault wavered under heavy enemy fire, and was eventually halted, with men from the Berkshires retiring to their own trenches under the continuing German fire.
At 11.10am an order was received for the Berkshires to occupy a crater made by a mine explosion earlier in the day, in an attempt to support neighbouring troops who had managed to infiltrate part of the German front line. This involved crawling over an area of No-Man’s-Land continuously swept by German machine gun fire. Again there was confusion when men from the other battalions began retreating from the occupied German trenches. Eventually visual contact was made with the remaining men in the German positions, and after abortive efforts to send ammunition to them, the order was given for them to withdraw ‘by degrees’. Following a disastrous attempt to retreat across No-Man’s-Land in daylight, the survivors withdrew under the cover of darkness.
The Berkshires returned to their billets at Bac St. Maur the following day. There had been a heavy price to pay for the chaos of the 9th May; casualty figures given in the War Diary for the day are 5 officers and 39 other ranks killed, 11 officers and 198 other ranks wounded, and 6 officers and 36 other ranks missing..
A report in The East Sussex News of Friday 11th June 1915, records that Cecil Trenfield was wounded on 9thMay 1915 and evacuated to a military hospital in Boulogne, eventually arriving there on the 13th May. Letters sent to his family from a matron at the hospital describe a ‘severe wound in the chest’ and offered little hope of a recovery. He died on the 2nd June 1915, and was buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, part of one the town’s civilian burial grounds, used between 1914 and 1918 to bury men who had died in the military hospitals set up in the area. He was 19 years old.
The personal inscription on his gravestone reads ‘IN LOVING MEMORY OF OUR DEAR BOY CECIL UNTO ETERNAL LIFE’, chosen by his mother.
The Commonwealth plot contains the graves of 5,577 servicemen from the Great War, and a further 224 from the Second World War when British military hospitals were again set up in the Boulogne area for a short time. Unusually, owing to the soft sand on which the cemetery was built, the Commonwealth gravestones are laid flat.
Private Trenfield name appears on the church memorial and in the Book of Remembrance and at The Green(but not on the school memorial or in the village Roll of Honour). A total of 6688 men who served with the Royal Berkshire Regiment were killed during the Great War. The 2nd Battalion has its own dedicated Cenotaph at the Brock Barracks in Reading. It was designed by Edwin Lutyens.
The church memorial bears the name ‘C. W. Trenfield’ and the Commonwealth War Grave Commission records for that name describe him as the ’only son of Mr. W. G and Mrs. C. M. of Golden Nab, Newick’. He was mortally wounded on the same day that the Brooks brothers and George Gaston met their deaths, but lived for almost a month.
Private Cecil Trenfield was awarded the 1914/15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, but the details of much of his short life and exact circumstances of his death remain unclear. The medals were presumably sent to his mother and father, who survived his wartime service. The Trenfields moved to Handcross after William’s safe return.
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