Joseph Belsham was one of five Abbots Langley men who were killed during the German Spring Offensive which started on 21st March 1918. Initially he was listed “Missing” on 25th March 1918, during the confusion that followed the surprise attacks all along the British Front, and later was confirmed as presumed dead a year later on 25th March 1919.
When he attested in Watford on 24th May 1916 he gave his place of birth as Abbots Langley, although this was not confirmed by Census records. He gave George Geddings (corrected to Giddins) as his Next of Kin at 70 Marlin Square. Joseph was born in 1898, and was recorded in the 1911 Census as a “Nurse Child”, living at 70 Marlin Square with George and Matilda Giddins. The Giddins family fostered Joseph, Jack Brown and also had their grand-son Charles Giddins living with them at the time of the 1911 Census. They also had a daughter, Elsie.
Joseph attested with the Bedfordshire Regiment on 24th May 1916, and gave his occupation as a Butcher’s Roundsman. He joined up at Bedford on 5th February 1917, and was first listed in the Abbots Langley Parish Magazine Roll of Honour in Mach 1917. He embarked for France on 21st June 1917 and transferred to the 12th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment on 13th July 1917.
The German Spring Offensive was launched on 21st March 1918 following a massive bombardment of high explosive and gas shells. Fog covered the British Lines, and the German attack was pressed home, causing the British to retreat in considerable confusion. The War Diary of the 12th East Surrey’s indicated that the battalion had moved up to Achiet Le Grand, just behind the Front Line on 21st March. Three Officers due for leave in England were recalled as all leave was cancelled due to the sudden German offensive. At 6pm on 22nd March the East Surrey’s took up a line in front of the village of Sapignies, north of Bapaume, to await the oncoming enemy, and although the next day was quiet there was considerable aerial activity, with very little seen of British aeroplanes. Throughout 24th March there was heavy shelling, and at 5.30am on 25th March the Germans attacked, and after a fierce fight the East Surrey’s retreated to Bihocourt, two miles to the west. It was in this action that Joseph went “Missing”, and subsequently was confirmed as being killed in action.
He was reported missing in the June 1918 edition of the Abbots Langley Parish Magazine, and in the August edition it was reported that there was no further news. By December 1918 the Magazine reported
“Joseph Belsham was reported missing on March 25th last, and must now be reckoned amongst those who have been killed. He was another of our old Choir Boys, of whom so many have made the supreme sacrifice. He belonged to the East Surrey Regiment. May God Almighty of His gracious mercy grant to those who have given their lives in defence of their Country, perpetual Light in Paradise, and may they rest in Peace.”
Joseph Belsham was eventually confirmed as presumed dead on 25th March 1919 and was commemorated on the Arras Memorial in France and on the Abbots Langley War Memorial.