The local men caught up in the big German push during the final months of World War One. CLIVE WHITE reports on what was happening on the front lines 100 years ago

IN the early spring of 1918 the German army made its final big push in a bid to overwhelm the allies. Initially they had success, especially by their crack storm-trooping soldiers but the offensive soon petered out in April despite some fierce fighting. They were unable to keep their advancing troops supplied and re-enforced.

But the fighting was brutal on both sides and thousands were killed or horrifically wounded.

One of those men killed in action was Sergeant Joe Bancroft of the West Riding Regiment whose parents lived in Walker Close, Silsden.

Sergeant Bancroft was already the holder of the Military Medal and had been recommended for the Distinguished Conduct Medal for great gallantry on April 16.

His commanding officer wrote to his parents saying: "I've never seen a man so utterly indifferent and regardless of personal danger as your son. After one German attack which was repulsed with heavy losses to the enemy, your son went out about eight times on patrol close to the enemy position."

Joe, 25, went to France in April 1915 after having joined up at the outbreak of the war. He had previously been wounded and gassed and only a few weeks previous to being killed, he was wounded in the head. He was one of five brothers serving on the front. They were Sapper Sam Bancroft, Royal Engineers, Private Willie Bancroft, who at the time was wounded in hospital, Corporal Fred Bancroft, also holder of the Military Medal and John Bancroft, who had just recently joined up.

Thanks to the selfless bravery, men like Joe Bancroft and brothers Private Richard and Private James Whittaker of Devonshire Street, Skipton, who were killed within weeks of each other, the allies were able to force the German attack to stall and by late April the danger of a German break-through had passed and the advantage had begun to turn in favour of the allies, especially in the air.

For a period during that spring time, most of the activity turned to action in the air where in just five days the allied brought down 235 enemy aircraft. Over the same period they also turned their attention to some of the big German towns, bombing places such as Metz, Coblenz, Thionville and Landau.

The Craven Herald reported that since the start of the German offensive in March, 1000 German aircraft had been brought down or driven out of control and more than 1000 tones of bombs dropped over enemy lines.

Reports from other theatres of war reveal much aerial activity as in Italy where allied airman brought down nine enemy aircraft on one day. Allied bombers had also been heavily targeting Bulgarian communications.

But the British were not having it their own way in the air. The Germans managed a raid on London and the south coast in late May and it was reported to be one of the worst of the war. It took place on a Sunday night, May 19 and 37 people were killed and 161 injured.

It was also one of the most costly the Germans had ever made in the war, the Craven Herald revealed. Seven of the Gotha aircraft, twin engined heavy-biplanes, were brought down.

It was understood some 20 or 30 of the bombers took part in the raid, and, as on former occasions, the aircraft came in relays crossing the coast at several points in Kent and Essex. Some thrilling fights were witnessed in the moonlight.

Fighting still went on - if not as intensely - and the Allies continued to steadily make ground, along the way sweeping up exhausted and demoralised German troops.

At Merville the Germans carried out a desperate counter attack which turned into a disastrous failure.

"These small gains are of immense important to the Allies for they keep the enemy perpetually harassed and make his task of launching a new attack much more difficult," the reporter remarks.

He signs off with, in hindsight, a fantastical remark made by that the Austrian Emperor, Charles 1, the nephew of Franz Ferdinand whose assassination in 1914 sparked the Great War. He turned up in Constantinople, capital of the Turkish empire now modern Istanbul, claiming a new alliance with Germany and predicting it would lead to a final victory in the East and West.

He was obviously living in cloud cuckoo land.