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Western Front, 1915.
Although the opening months of 1915 were not marked by any important fighting minor engagements were frequent and casualties heavy. The latter included O. S. Dawson (1st Cameronians, Asylums) killed near Bois Grenier on 6th January and A. E. Wilton and F. W. Clarke, both of the 1st Coldstream Guards and the Stores Department, killed in a German attack at Cuinchy on the 25th, while on the same date William Maxim (R.F.A., Estates and Valn.) died of syncope at Zevecote. On 4th February Sergeant. H. W. E. Jarratt (2nd Coldstream Guards, Educ.) was killed near Givenchy, on the 8th Joseph Huggins (3rd Royal Fusiliers, Tram.) near Ypres, and E. H. Palmer (2nd Essex, Tram.) at Le Gheer in Ploegsteert Wood, on the 11th Corporal H. T. Cordery (1st Life Guards, Asylums) probably near La Bassee and on the 22nd Lieut. H. F. Heatly, B.Sc. (Yorks., attached 2nd E. Lancs, Educ). Lance-Corp. W. J. Mott (1st R. W. Surrey, Tram.) was killed on 9th March and on the 10th T. G. Pitt (1st Life Guards, Tram.) died at Boulogne of wounds received near La Bassee on 16th February.
Capt. J. H. Stokes (R. W. Rents, attached R. Berks, Educ), one of the first to be awarded the newly instituted decoration of the M.C., died at Boulogne on
22nd March of wounds received on 13th February. G. E. Romer (2nd E. Surrey, Tram.) was killed at Ypres on 25th March, and A. E. Mears (R.F.A., Comp.) died
at St. Omer on the 28th of meningitis. Corp. E. S. Carpenter (6th London, Educ.) was killed on 21st April near Cuinchy, and D. Angus (2nd Warwicks, Tram.) was missing a few days later. A. Seal (2nd Scots Guards., Asylums) died on 15th May of illness.
During the fighting of October, 1914, by the 3rd Corps, the village of Neuve Chapelle, guarding the Aubers ridge, had changed hands several times but remained finally in the possession of the Germans. In March, 1915, in order to test the spirit of our troops after the losses of the preceding six months and so that all ranks and all arms might obtain experience of the offensive in trench warfare, it was decided to attack the place. Accordingly at 8 o'clock in the morning of 10th March, after a heavy bombardment by 300 guns, British and Indian troops attacked on a front of about 2,000 yards; at the same time demonstrations on each flank kept the enemy
occupied. On the right of the main attack the advance was at once successful, but on the left it was held up for a time by broad belts of uncut wire. However, by noon the village had been seized and during the afternoon our troops debouched to the east, where they were held up at the Bois du Biez and the Moulin du Pietre. Heavy mists on the 11th and 12th, while preventing a further advance, enabled the Germans to bring up reinforcements for several counter-attacks, but these were all beaten off.
For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty, especially on the 11th. Staff Sergeant W. C. Minchin (4th Seaf. Highlanders, Arch.) was awarded the D.C.M., the official notice stating that " he was always to the fore when volunteers were required for arduous and dangerous work, leaving cover on more than one occasion voluntarily to take the place of wounded stretcher-bearers. ".
Our gains were the village and 3,000 yards of the enemy's position to a depth of 1,000 yards. The casualties were nearly 13,000 and included Sergeant H.
J. Stevens (2nd Durham Light Infantery, Educ.) killed on the 10th in some subsidiary fighting at Houplines near Armentieres, C. E. Russell (1st Grenadier Guards, Educ.) on the 10th or 11th, Sergeant A. E. Coster (Border, Tram.), A. F. Samuels (2nd Yorks., Tram.) and J. D. Hale (2nd Yorks, Housing) on the 12th, and H. Gostling (2nd Midd., Tram.) on the 14th. L. Foy (13th London, Tram.) died at Boulogne on 5th April of wounds received on 12th March.
The fighting at Hill 60, which lasted for a fortnight or more from 17th April, may be taken as an example of the attacks made by each side with varying success upon points up and down the line which were, or were held to be, of importance. This modest feature is a spoil-heap, rather more than 2I miles to the south-east of Ypres, by the side of the Ypres-Comines railway. At the most only fifty feet high, it was useful as an observation post, and so, at dusk on the evening of 17th April, after the explosion of several mines, it was rushed by the 1st Royal West Kents and the 2nd Scottish Borderers. By the next morning the Germans had recovered part of the crest from which, however, during the night of the 18th/19th they were again driven by the 2nd West Ridings and the 2nd Yorks L.I. For some time, in spite of heavy bombardments and numerous counter-attacks, the hill, defended by the 1st E. Surreys, the 1st Bedfords and the 9th Londons, remained with the British. In the early part of May the Germans renewed their attacks, this time with poison gas, against which our men were not then protected. One such attack on the 1st failed, but a second on the 5th was more successful, and the main part of the hill had to be given up.
Battles of Ypres, 1915.
In the first Battles of Ypres the Germans concentrated on the line to the east and south-east of the city, but in the second they attacked chiefly the sector to the north-east. The assault opened on 22nd April, 1915, with a discharge of poison gas against the trenches at, and to the north-west of, Langemarck held by French Colonial troops. This was the first occasion on which such gas had been used, at all events on a considerable scale, the troops were quite unprepared, and those that survived fled in terror. A gap, several miles wide, was made in the line and, if the enemy had properly exploited the success purchased by ignoring the conventions of civilised warfare, the position of the Allies would have been most serious. The Germans, however, paused to consolidate their gains, and the Canadians, who formed the left of the British line next to the French, had time to defend their flank and even to make a counter-attack. Isolated detachments were hurried up as reinforcements, and by the morning of the 23rd the gap to the left of the Canadians had been somehow bridged by a line in rear of the original position. Part of the area abandoned was regained by counter-attacks, but eventually the loss of St. Julien, Pilkem Ridge, Langemarck and Bixschoote had to be accepted, and a new line was formed just to the east of Wieltje and Boesinghe. At the same time the dangerous projection which was thus formed to the north-east was given up. The latter movement was completed by 4th May, and on the 8th a fierce attack broke out on the sector to the south of Wieltje. The line was pierced at Wieltje and near Frezenberg, but the former was recaptured and at the latter a new line was formed to the west. A German attack on the 24th near Bellewaarde and another at the end of the month near Hooge were equally fruitless.
The fighting died down with the Allies holding the line St. Eloi — Hooge — Wieltje — Boesinghe On the north and north-east the Germans had advanced, at the most, two miles nearer Ypres and had secured positions overlooking the town, but their efforts to capture it had failed and were now finally abandoned. The casualties included F. H. Stanton (12th London, Arch.) on the 24th, and George Hood (2nd Duke of Cornwall's L.I., Tram.) on 28th April, both killed near St. Julien, while on the 29th Lance-Corp. J. T. Pascoe (1st Somerset L.I., Tram.) died near Vlamertinghe and M. H. Woodhead (Middlx., Ch. Engr.) at Boulogne of wounds which they had received probably in this district. On 3rd May John Kirk wood (Educ.) and E. W. Baldwin (Pub. Cont.), both of the 5th Londons, were killed to the south of St. Julien and A. A. Ridlington (2nd Buffs, Tram.) was killed probably to the north-east of that village. On the 4th Lance-Corp. C. W. H. Juniper (2nd Essex, Tram.) was killed near St. Jean and on the 8th C. L. Rizzi (12th London, Arch.) probably near Frezenberg. W. F. West (5th London, Educ.) died on 12th May of wounds received near St. Julien on 25th April. On 13th May John Pearce (1st Rifle Brigade., Comp.) and W. C. R. Boughton (5th London, Educ.) were killed near Wieltje and Corporal G. Guyver (Tram.) and H. L. J. Christiansen (Parks), both of the 10th R. Hussars, and Lance-Corp. Benjamin Hambly (2nd Life Guards, Asylums) near the Ypres-Roulers road. G. A. Jenkins (12th Lancers, Asylums) was wounded on the 14th probably at the same place and died at Hazebrouck on the 17th. Sergeat A. J. Shepherd (4th R. Fus., Tram.) was killed near St. Eloi on the 20th, and on the 24th Lieut. Thomas Roberts (Cheshires, Educ), Walter Everitt (4th Dragoon Guards, Tram.), Lance-Corp. F. G. Griffin (3rd R. Fus., Tram.) and W. T. Ellner (3rd R. Fus., Tram.), all in front of Ypres.
George Moore (2nd E. Surr., Tram.) was killed on the 28th and on the same date Lance-Corp. Sidney Clark (3rd R. Fus., Tram.) died of wounds received at Ypres on the 8th. Edward Moore (4th Huss., Tram.) died at Dublin on 10th January, 1916, from the effects of a wound received in this sector on 24th May, 1915.
Aubers Ridge and Festuhert.
Early in May the French took the offensive between Loos and the Vimy Ridge to the north of Arras and, in order to engage the enemy's attention, the British on 9th May opened an attack on a front of about ten miles between Laventie and Richebourg l'Avoue. In the north near Rouges Bancs the 13th Londons seized a mine crater and several lines of trenches beyond, and in the south the 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers captured some trenches near the Rue du Bois. The rest of the attack failed and these two battalions, being unsupported on their flanks, had to withdraw. Further attacks on the night of 15th/16th May at Richebourg l'Avoue and Festubert were less unsuccessful but, though the operation continued for several days, the total gains were negligible for, apart from the casualties inflicted on the enemy, an advance of a few hundred yards in so flat a country was of no advantage.
The Germans seem to have had warning of the attack and to have been fully prepared for it, and, owing to the demands for guns and ammunition at Ypres, our artillery preparation was far from being effective. It is therefore not surprising that the casualties in this, the first engagement in which Territorial and New Army units were employed on a considerable scale, were very heavy. On the first day alone they exceeded 12,000, most of the battalions engaged losing over half their effectives. This at the time seemed a very heavy proportion, but later such losses became so frequent as scarcely to arouse comment. The undermentioned members of the Council's staff were killed on 9th May: V. J. Macartney (Comp.), H. C. C. Whitwell (Solr.) and F. M. Macrae (Educ.) all of the 13th Londons near Rouges Bancs, W. H. Ferry (1st Northamptons, Tram.), John Whittam (Solr.) and Sergeant. William Keys (Educ.) both of the 4th Seaforth Highlanders near Rouges Bancs, James Bailey (2nd R. Sussex, Educ.) at Richebourg l'Avoue, W. G. Dickens (24th London, Tram.) near the Rue du Bois, Sergeant. H. J. Lock (2nd Middx., Tram.), and John Tott as (2nd Cameronians, Tram.). Albert Forse (24th London, Tram.) died on the 10th of wounds received on the 9th. Joseph Gray (1st Lond., Tram.) was killed on the 10th and Lance-Corp. A. E. Keeling, B.Sc. (7th London, Educ.) on the 16th near Festubert. On the same day and probably at the same place Lance-Corp. George Cox (2nd R. W. Surr., Tram.) and Corporal Herbert Parker (8th London, Educ.) were also killed, and on the 17th J. E, Petherick (13th London, Comptr.) died of wounds received near Rouges Bancs on the 9th. On the 18th W. A. V. Luckhurst (7th London, Tram.), H. F. Buckby (4th Cameron Highlanders, Educ.) and Lance-Corp. Edward Carey (1st Irish Guards., Housing) were killed near Festubert. C. E. Pearson (15th London, Solr.) died on the 23rd of wounds received on the 20th. Lieutenant H. E. Handley (Educ.) was killed on the 24th and Lance-Corp. G. T. Boxall (Educ), Lance-Corp. H. S. Burton (Educ), Lance-Corp. Frederick Rushton (Tram.), Lance-Corp. T. S. Waterhouse (Tram.), J. C. Terrett (Educ), 1. H. Dibble (Educ), A. J. Hammond (Educ), R. J. H. Maley (Educ), V. K.
Mallpress (Educ) and H. C. Turner (Estates and Valn.) on the 25th, all these falling at Givenchy with the 23rd Londons. On the same day and at the same place were killed W. S. Curtis (Educ.) of the 15th and R. C. Beale (Stores), Archibald Herriott (Tram.), Corporal George Klein (Tram.), of the 24th Londons. Those in the 23rd Londons killed on the 26th included Douglas Waterland (Educ), J. L. Aubury (Tram.), Arthur Bickmore (Tram.), F. M. Carson (Educ), and H. G. Pugh (Educ). Corp. A. E. W. Chappell (24th Lond., Arch.) was killed on the 26th and W. Allan (1st R. W. Surr., Tram.) died on the 27th of wounds received the day before.
The summer of 1915 was taken up with various local encounters which led to no more definite result than the occasional gain or loss of a trench. Thus on 15th June about eight battalions attacked opposite Givenchy; some failed to reach their objective and the others suffered such heavy casualties that they were unable to maintain themselves in the captured trenches. Trenches captured at Hooge on 16th June were retaken by the Germans with the aid of liquid fire on 30th July, and again captured by us on 9th August.
On a date in July Staff-Sergt. N. Mapham (R.A.V.C, Educ), in charge of some N.C.O.'s and men, was ordered to entrain at Bethune a large number of sick and wounded horses. There was a two hours' wait for the train and during all this time the station was heavily shelled. In these trying circumstances and in spite of many casualties he successfully carried out this difficult operation, and for his gallantry was awarded the D.C.M.
In the general warfare during the middle of 1915 J. J, Shrimpton (H.M.S. Vernon, Tram.) was killed on 23rd May near Dunkirk while employed in connection with some naval guns which were in use on shore. On 8th June J. H. Rowe (16th London, Tram.) died at Vlamertinghe of wounds received the previous day in front of Ypres, on the 15th H. E. Bailey (5th Seaforth Highlanders, Arch.) was shot at Givenchy while aiding a wounded comrade, on the 16th Harry Jackson (1st R. Scots Fus., Tram.) and W. G. Squires (R.F.A., Asylums) were killed at Hooge and on the 20th William Allison (1st Middx., Tram.) died of wounds received probably near Armentieres. On 6th July Corporal J. E. Butler (1st Rifle Brigade, Tram.) was killed near Boesinghe, on the 19th J. E. Matthews (4th Middx., Tram.) at Hooge and on the 30th S. W. Jones (24th London, Tram.) died of wounds received on the 20th and Harry Fuller (1st N. Staffs, Tram.) of wounds received near Ypres on the 27th. R. Payne (E. Surr., Parks) was reported as missing about this time. Walter Pearson (H.A.C., Educ.) was killed at Hooge on 25th August, J. R. Marshall (2nd Worcs., Tram.) in front of Bethune on the 26th and Corporal W. W. Davis (R.E., Tram.) at Grenay on the 30th.
During September Lieut. F. W. Quilter (6th London, Comp.) was killed on the 1st near Vermelles, Lance-Corp. Albert Jackson (2nd Yorks. L.I., Asylums) on the 4th, Lieut. S. B. Walsh, M.D., D.P.H. (R.A.M.C, Pub. Health) died at Calais on the 8th owing to an accident on 28th August when his horse, frightened by a shell, threw him, Sergeant. F. C. Dixon (12th Rifle Brigade, Parks) at Boulogne on the 9th of wounds received near Laventie on the 5th, Charles White (2nd Dragoon Guards, Stores) in a railway accident on the 18th, and G, A. E. Searle (4th Oxford. and Bucks L.L, Educ.) near Hebuterne, south of Arras, on the 24th.
Loos and Hulluch.
In September, the French decided, in conjunction with a great attack in Champagne, to renew their offensive against the Vimy Ridge, and the British were asked to co-operate by attacking between Lens and the La Bassee Canal. The preliminary bombardment occupied four days and, immediately before the advance, large quantities of asphyxiating gas were released, this being the first time that gas was used by us. The main attack was launched at 6.30 a.m. on the 25th, and in some parts suffered much from coming upon large belts of uncut wire and drifting clouds of our own gas. On the extreme right the 47th Division (with the 18th Londons dribbling a football across No Man's Land), captured the Double Grassier - and part of Loos. On their left the 15th Division captured the remainder of Loos, pressed on a mile or so farther to Hill 70 and even attempted an attack beyond (i.e., to the east of) the hill. In the centre the 1st Division got as far as Hulluch and the 7th up to Cite St. Elie but the latter had to withdraw to the Quarries. Further north the 9th Division, although held up by the Hohenzollern Redoubt and Fosse 8, reached the outskirts of Haisnes. They were much impeded, however by the failure of the 2nd Division on the extreme left to deal with the very strong works at Auchy which were thus able to enfilade sections of the advance.
During the following night the Quarries were lost, and on the 26th the 15th Division was forced to give up most of Hill 70. The reserves in this latter part consisted of the 21st and 24th Divisions. These, being newly arrived from England, had never been under fire; they were wearied with a series of night marches along roads crammed with traffic ; they were short of food and water and drenched with rain; it has been stated that the officers had no precise orders or detailed information. In this state these two divisions on the 26th were thrown into the conflict between Hulluch and the Bois Hugo. Both succeeded in advancing, but suffered so terribly that they were unable to maintain their gains and had to fall back.
The 8th Buffs for instance, and the 8th R. West Kents each lost nearly 600 officers and men, and the brigade, the 72nd, of which they formed part, lost 2,000 men out of 3,600. On the 27th Fosse 8 was lost and the Hohenzollern Redoubt which it commanded was threatened. As a set-off to this reverse the newly-formed Guards Division retook Hill 70. Desultory fighting proceeded for several days, a strong German counter-attack on 8th October being beaten off and renewed efforts by the British on the 13th to clear the redoubt and to take Fosse 8 being unsuccessful.
After this the fighting died down into ordinary trench warfare with the British holding a line running almost due eastward from Grenay as far as the Lens-Hulluch road, then north-ward along this road and finally turning westward through the Hohenzollern Redoubt to the original front line. The area captured, although less than that gained in the first assault, represented an advance of about two miles on a front of about four, and the advance formed a permanent threat to the German occupation of Lens in the south and La Bassee in the north. Some 3,000 prisoners with 26 field guns were taken.
Major (afterwards Lt.-Col.) Ernest Eton (R.F.A., Educ.) was awarded the D.S.O. for excellent service throughout the summer when, although constantly shelled out of observation stations, he always managed to command his guns with success. He also did good work at Loos at the end of September. In the latter fighting the D.C.M. was gained by Sergeant. A. A. W. Gray (M.G.C., Tram.) on the 25th when " he carried his machine-gun forward . . . when only two men of the gun team were left, and selected the gun position in the most able way. His coolness and gallantry afforded a fine example to all ranks." Co. Sergt. -Major (afterwards Captain) P. E. Fairley (18th London, Educ.) was awarded the same decoration for conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty under heavy shell fire during the repair of trenches that had been blown in. For excellent work on night patrols, both at Festubert and Loos, Rgt. Sergt. -Major. J. W. Fisher (22nd London, L.F.B.) was awarded the D.C.M. Sergt. A. E. Kitchen (R.A.M.C, Educ), Sergt. J. V. Jeanes (Grenadier Guards, Asylums)., and F. J. Bulcraig (23rd London, Stores) were awarded the M.M.
On 25th September W. A. G. Davey (18th London, Stores), S. J. Farley (20th London, L.F.B.) and Harold Marsh (6th London, Tram.) were killed with the 47th
Division, Sergeant H. B. Richardson (12th Highland L.L, Educ.) with the 15th Division somewhere near Hill 70, Claude Challice (8th Devons, Educ.) near Hulluch, Capt. L. G. Coward (Comp.) and H. E. Cannard (Tram.) near Auchy with the 1st Middlesex and S. H. Townsend (R.F.A., Tram.). On the same day G. James (1st R.W. Surr., Tram.) was killed in a subsidiary attack near Givenchy and Henri Willem Dussauze (French Army, Educ). was killed at Auberive-sur-Suippes during the French assault in Champagne. For his gallantry on this occasion he was awarded the Croix de Guerre (highest class). J. S. Walker (1st R. Welch Fus., Tram.) died on the 26th of wounds received the previous day. On the same day Sergeant P. J. Gould and Albert Ingram, both of the 9th E. Surreys and Asylums, were killed to the south of Hulluch, Lieut. Edgar Faulks (R.A.M.C., Asylums) near Loos, B. G. Turner (1st Coldstream Guards, L.F.B.) near the Bois Hugo and E. T. Havell (10th R. Suss., Educ.) near Fosse 8. On the 27th E. C. Barklamb (2nd E. Surrey, Housing) was killed in the Hohenzollern Redoubt, and on the 30th Frank Ashby (R.A.M.C, Tram.) died at Noeux-les-Mines of wounds received on the 26th. On 13th October Sergeant Henry Eason (14th London, Educ.) was killed while reconnoitring, and Sergt. A. T. O'Meara and Sergt. E. Hart, both 7th Norfolks and Education, and Lance-Corp. A. J. King (5th R. Berks., Tram.) near the Quarries. On the 14th B. L.
Bilcliffe (15th London, Educ.) was killed near Loos.
Autumn of 1915.
During the autumn of 1915 there were no serious engagements, but casualties on the long front now held by the British were numerous. They included Lance-Corp. H.J. Simons (8th E, Surr., Tram.) killed at Fricourt to the east of Albert on 15th October, Sergt. James Shrewsbury (12th K.R.R., Educ.) at Laventie on the 16th, William Fox (1st Buffs, Parks) on the 17th, Crowther Morton (15th London, Educ.) on the 24th near Loos, S. J, Baker (23rd London, Tram.) on the 28th of wounds received on the 25th, A, S. Plumb (8th Rifle Brigade, Tram.) on the 30th of wounds received near Ypres on the 13th, and Sergt. J. G. Jones (21st London, Tram.) near Hulluch on the 31st. During November E. S. Meredith (15th London, Estates and Valn.) was killed near Loos on the 1st, L. H. T. Williams (15th London, Solr.) near Loos on the 2nd, and A. E. Coventry (6th R. Berks, Tram.) near Albert on the 27th. P. H. Rivers (R.E., Tram.) died on 4th December of wounds received on 20th November, Arthur Cooper (11th Essex, Tram.) probably near Hulhich on 19th December, and C. R. S, Aplin (22nd London, Tram.) on the 30th.
Edward Gimble (1st Middx., Tram.) was awarded the Albert Medal, second class, for his gallantry on 26th October, when he assisted Lieut. -Com. Warden in quenching a fire which had broken out on the s.s, Maine. The vessel, loaded with high explosives, was lying at the time in the Bassin Loubet, Boulogne, and a serious, possibly disastrous, explosion was averted by their action.
Sergt. A. J. Tilney (4th Dragoon Guards, Clerk) received the D.C.M, for repeated acts of gallantry, particularly on a night in January, 1916, when he accompanied an officer and two men in an attempt upon a mine crater in the Hohenzollem Redoubt. The officer was killed and one of the men wounded, but Sergt. Tilney seized and held the position. Corp. S. C. P. Drury (R.E., Educ.) was awarded the D.C.M. for consistent gallantry and good work about this time when in charge of sap and wire entanglement work. During an engagement in the Ypres salient he also displayed great courage and coolness.