11th Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps
Died of wounds on Friday, 10th August 1917, aged 21
Alfred George Reffell was born in February 1897 at Deptford, Surrey, the son of James John Reffell (1858-1931) and Alice Maud Reffell (1863-1926). Despite both parents having the same surname at birth, they were only distantly related. He was baptised at St Katharine Rotherhithe on 21 February 1897. The family lived at various addresses in Fawcett Road Rotherhithe for many years. In 1911 the family was at number 51, where Alfred’s occupation was as an apprentice compositor printer.
The Third Battle of Ypres
On 7 June 1917 the British attacked and captured the Messines Ridge, a dominate feature that extended northwards to the German held Passchendale Ridge. On 31 July the British attacked once again, but floundered in mud and rain in an assault that earned General Haig the title of ‘Butcher’. Haig realised that the French would have to be left out of any immediate plans for an offensive and was still determined to prove himself as a commander before the Americans arrived. Thus to help the French he persuaded a reluctant War Cabinet to sanction what became the 3rd Battle of Ypres, or simply ‘Passchendale’.
The preliminary bombardment began on 22 July with over 3,000 guns hurling almost five tons of shell at every yard of the front. This bombardment totally destroyed the drainage and water table, shell holes were filled to overflowing and the earth turned into a thick glutinous mud, stinking and foul with the decay of dead horses and thousands of corpses. Truly a hell on earth.
It is probable that Alfred George was wounded during the battle of Pilckem, which lasted from 31 July to 2 August, and was transferred back to the Casualty Clearing Station at Dozinghem where he died a few days later. At the begining of the British offensive, groups of Casualty Clearing Stations were placed in readiness at three positions called by the troops with typical Tommy’s humour, Mendinghem, Dozinghem and Bandaghem, after the many local place names ending with ‘hem’ meaning settlement.
After 16 weeks of fighting in the most appalling conditions, Passchendale Ridge was finally won at a cost of over 300,000 British losses. All these gains were lost in the final German advance of 1918.
Grave III D 11 Dozinghem Military Cemetery Westvleteren, Poperinge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium.
The 4th, 47th and 61st Casualty Clearing Stations were posted at Dozinghem and the military cemetery was used by them until early in 1918. There are now 3,174 Commonwealth burials of the First World War together with 65 German war graves. The cemetery also contains 73 Second World War burials dating from the Allied withdrawal to Dunkirk in May 1940.