New book tells story of St Albans WWI hero

Sgt Billingham in his uniform. Supplied by Gill Maud.

Sgt Billingham in his uniform. Supplied by Gill Maud. - Credit: Archant

A new book will tell the story of how a St Albans bank manager survived four days surrounded by enemy forces in WWI.

Aerial photo of Bullecourt from 1917.

Aerial photo of Bullecourt from 1917. - Credit: Archant

Bullecourt 1917: Breaching the Hindenburg Line by Paul Kendall, features the story of Cpl Reginald ‘Rex’ Billingham.

Billingham fought at close quarters against the Germans at the Battle of Bullecourt on May 3 to 4, 1917.

He eventually lost contact with his battalion, and was stranded with nine other men in the rubble.

The Germans surrounded them, and after three days the group had exhausted their food supplies.

Billingham wrote: “The situation was desperate and we discussed the chances of escape.

“We decided to wait till dark and then make a dash through the Hun lines.

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“This was pretty hopeless, but better than dying like rats in a hole.

“The Bosche seemed to have guessed our intentions, because during dusk we could see them putting up more wire in front of their trench and mounting machine guns.

“This made us alter our plans and stay on for still another night.”

They were eventually relieved by a Highlanders regiment, after surviving for four days and three nights.

Billingham was given the Military Medal for his efforts, and went on to serve in Italy during the last year of the war.

After he was demobilised, he went into banking, finishing his career as a bank manager in St Albans.

He died in St Albans on Sunday, December 26, 1965.

His book tells the story of British and Australian forces trying to pierce the infamous Hindenburg Line at Bullecourt.

The trench warfare cost the lives of 10,000 Australians, and 7,000 British over a six-week period, between April and May 1917.

Mr Kendall said: “My great grandfather, Private William Kendall, was among those killed in the fight for Bullecourt. It had been reduced to a pile of bricks and rubble by the time it had been cleared of its German presence.

“The allies had fought hard for Bullecourt and eventually captured the fortress, but the sacrifices made by the men from Britain and Australia made it a flawed victory.”

The book can be purchased via