Jersey Flag
The Channel Islands and the Great War
Guernsey Flag
 

245 (Guernsey) AT Coy Bridge in Belgium


In August 2017 we received some information, files and photographs from Peter Oldham who had spent some time researching the origins of this insignificant looking bridge. I was able to visit in April 2019 to take some up to date photographs.

Peter wrote:

"You may be interested to know that a small concrete bridge in Belgium , where Sgt Tostevin was awarded the MM and Sappers La Serre*, Langlois and Rihoy were gassed building it, still exists and is now in the process of being listed as a historic monument for protection**.


The 245 ( Guernsey ) Army Troops Company cast the deck, and the parapet walls a month later. There is an inscription on the parapet by 245 AT, although there is still a query over the date.

Attached is a Belgian government listing of the bridge, together with a book entry. Further to this info it is now confirmed that the bridge is Guernsey built. Confirmation was needed because the Belgians, rightly, want preservation/listing details to be accurate, and a recent battlefield guide (Major and Mrs Holt) said it was American and called it the"American Bridge" which was then put out by the local tourist board. Holts now accept the error, but there are many books in circulation.
Also, war diary for 7th September recording the gas shelling (which is where Sergeant Peter Tostevin was later awarded the Military Medal) and that for post-war, where four men died from carbon monoxide.


There is some confusion over the inscribed date on the bridge (7th August) when the first work carried out was 7th September. Also, it is a little weather-worn and I only realised the significance of the G later. 245 (G) AT RE."

*Sapper La Serre was Sapper Arthur Le Lerre and his name was transcribed from the handwritten Company War Diary.
** This protection has been valid since 21/03/2018

Furthur research shows that there were at least seven men killed or wounded at this site:

Sergeant Peter Tostevin MM***  
Sapper Arthur Le Lerre* Gas shell 7/09/1918
Sapper Harold Rihoy Gas shell 7/09/1918
Sapper Arthur Langlois Gas shell 7/09/1918
Sapper John Duquemin Died from carbon monoxide poisoning 19/11/1918
Sapper John Rihoy Died from carbon monoxide poisoning 19/11/1918
Sapper George Robert Died from carbon monoxide poisoning 19/11/1918
Pioneer Thomas Kimber Died from carbon monoxide poisoning 20/11/1918

Guernsey Evening Press 7th June 1919 – Smart Bridge Building, Men decorated in the field.

245 (Guernsey) Coy. Army Troop R.E. Bridge Building under shellfire.

The company were refitted and were moved to Ypres and Poperinge area. A party of them was sent to a place close to Dickebush to construct a heavy bridge to enable the tanks to take part in an advance. This work was completed under shell fire, and two men were gassed.

Sergt. P. Tostevin***, who was in charge of the party received the Military Medal. This was also an immediate award.

Congratulations to the R.E. 245 (Guernsey) A.T. Company from General Glubb. Chief
Engineer of 2nd Army.

***London Gazette (SIXTH SUPPLEMENT) Issue No. 31142 published on the 21 January 1919. Page 10 of 56 (Left hand pane under his original RE number not his Later WR number)

 

The bridge is sited in a very busy agricultural area and heavily used by by large farm machinery. A tribute to the quality of its construction and to the Guernseymen who built it 100 years ago
April 2019
April 2019

 

 

This has been designated as an established architectural heritage Concrete bridge Kemmelbeek
This statement has been valid since 28/11/2013

This has been designated as a protected monument British bridge from the First World War
This protection has been valid since 21/03/2018

Larger picture
Enhanced for ease of reading

British bridge over the Kemmelbeek

Translated from the The Property Heritage Agency of Flanders

Description
Bridge over the Kemmelbeek, on the border between the municipality of Heuvelland and Ypres, along the Vierstraat in Kemmel (Heuvelland) and the Hallebaststraat in Dikkebus (Ypres). The bridge, called Bardenbrug on pre-war maps, is located southeast of the hamlet of Hallebast, northwest of the hamlet of Vierstraat, southwest of Dikkebusvijver where the Kemmelbeek flows. 500 meters southeast of this bridge are the British military cemeteries Klein Vierstraat British Cemetery and Kemmel No 1 French Cemetery .

Historical overview
Concrete bridge from the First World War, erected in two phases by the British genius in September - October 1918. Inscriptions can be found on the bridge, which can probably be identified as follows: "245 - G [...] - ATCy (?) - RE - 7 Aug. 1918" . In full this becomes: "245th (Guernsey) Army Troop Company Royal Engineers August 7, 1918" . Judging from the war diary of the 245th (Guernsey) Army Troop Company , this genius unit built this bridge between September 4 and 7, 1918 along the Vierstraat - Hallebast road, across Kemmelbeek. The bridge was initially intended as a tank bridge, in preparation for the Allied Liberation Offensive, which was to start on 28 September 1918.

The circumstances in which the construction of the bridge took place were not evident. The Allies, more specifically American and British troops, had tried unsuccessfully in the context of the Relief Battle (August 18 - September 6, 1918) to conquer the German front line, the so-called Vierstraete Ridge , against a high toll of human casualties. The area around the bridge was therefore heavily shot at by German artillery between 4 and 7 September. The 245th (Guernsey) Army Troop Companyduring these days, despite these artillery bombardments, worked continuously in three shifts on the bridge. Two men were hit by a gas attack during the construction of this bridge. To accomplish this difficult assignment under infernal war conditions, Peter Tostevin, who led the construction, received a Military Medal together with his company .

Once the region was liberated, more specifically from October 11, 1918, the same engineering unit worked on the bridge a second time and buttresses and parapets were added. Inscriptions were left during this phase that refer to the builders. Strangely enough, the bridge was marked “August 7, 1918,” while the first phase of building the bridge was completed on September 7, 1918, according to the war diary. until the award of the Military Medal to Peter Tostevin. It seems that there was a mistake when applying the date.

The bridge is largely constructed with British prefabricated concrete bricks. More specifically, it concerns British concrete bricks, which were manufactured in the summer of 1918 in a workshop in Arques near Saint-Omer (France) for the British 2nd Army . These concrete bricks, often in combination with prefabricated concrete beams, were mainly used for British bunker construction. The concrete bricks and beams were provided with round openings, into which rods could be placed to anchor the bricks and beams. The slots on top and bottom made it possible to place irons horizontally between the rows.

Description
Bridge over the Kemmelbeek, with ramparts made of concrete blocks on either side. Under both parapets a steel beam with an I-profile is visible, which spans the Kemmelbeek. The abutments terminate on both sides in wing walls. On the southwestern side, and probably originally also on other sides, the wing wall was expanded into a buttress.

The wing walls / buttresses are, as far as visible, largely constructed on the basis of prefabricated concrete bricks. The lower part of the abutments and of the wing walls are, as far as visible, made of brick.

On the north-east side and south-west side a construction seam is visible between the wing wall / buttress and the bridge. A cement layer has been applied at the top of the buttress on the southwestern side.

The parapets are erected with concrete bricks, arranged in ten rows. A layer of cement has been applied to the top of the southern parapet and to the sides of the parapets. Inscriptions have been made on the southwestern side, which can probably be deciphered as follows: "245 - G [...] - ATCy - RE - 7 Aug 1918" .

 

The Property Heritage Agency of Flanders - current web listing with map

 

Kew, The National Archives: 245th Army Trps Coy RE Apr 1918-Apr 1919. War Diary , WO_95_329_7.
Captured German Trench and Operations Maps from the National Archives [CD-ROM published by The Naval & Military Press], Stellungskarte N ° X Wytschaetebogen , 2/5/1917.
The Imperial War Museum Trench Map Archive on CD-ROM (CD-ROM published by The Naval & Military Press in association with the Imperial War Museum): British military map 28 SW I, Ed 3b, Kemmel , 6/7/1918.
Topographical map of Belgium, Revision third edition, Military Cartographic Institute, scale 1: 20,000, map 28/5, 1911.
Sn 1952: History of the Corps of Royal Engineers. Volume V. The Home Front, France, Flanders and Italy in the First World War , Chatham.
ASTON J. & DUGGAN LM 1936: The history of the 12th (Bermondsey) Battalion East Surrey Regiment , Finsbury.
DECOODT H. 2017: British bridge from the First World War in Heuvelland (Kemmel) and Ypres (Dikkebus) . Unpublished protection file, Immovable Heritage Agency.
EDMONDS J. sd: Official History of the War. Military Operations. France and Belgium 1918 , Volume II Maps, London.
O'RYAN 1921: The Story of the 27th Division , volume I, New York.
OLDHAM P. 2014: Armageddon's Walls. British Pill Boxes 1914-1918 , Barnsley.
VENZON AC & MILES PL (ed.) 1995, The United States in the First World War. An Encyclopedia , New York & London.
WILLIAMS D. 2015: British Second Army and Coalition Warfare in Flanders in the Hundred Days, 1918 , University of Birmingham, unpublished doctoral thesis.
YOCKELSON MA 2008: Borrowed Soldiers. Americans under British Command, 1918 , Norman.
Information provided by Franky Bostyn (13/5/2013).
Information provided by Peter Oldham (19/9/2012, 23/5/2013, 15/6/2013, 21/8/2017).
The Channel Islands Great War Study Group

Roger Frisby

Adapted from information supplied by Peter Oldham with additions and photographs by Roger Frisby (April 2019)