Baptism of Fire

The 9th Battalion Norfolk Regiment at Loos

26th September 1915

Private 15895 Samuel Percival Armfield who served with the 9th Battalion Norfolk Regiment.

Private 15895 Samuel Percival Armfield who served with the 9th Battalion Norfolk Regiment.

The 26th September 2015 marked the 100th Anniversary of the 9th Battalion Norfolk Regiment going into action on the second day of the Battle of Loos, this is their story.

The 9th (Service) Battalion had been raised in Norwich on 9th September 1914 and three days later had proceeded to Shoreham with a strength of 900 men under the command of Major E. Orams. By June of 1915 the battalion had joined the 71st Brigade in the 24th Division under the command of Colonel Mansel Shewen. In August that year the 24th Division was inspected by Lord Kitchener and in that same month it was considered battle ready. They sailed for France and the 9th Norfolks landed at Boulogne on 30th August and they marched to Montcavrel the next day.

On 21st September 1915 Colonel Shewen was promoted to command the 71st Brigade and the battalion was handed to Lieutenant Colonel Ernest Stracey. As with my Great Grandfather’s battalion, the 8th Buffs, who were serving in the same division, the 9th Norfolks did not see a front-line trench during their initial time in France. They remained at Montcavrel and received training.

The battalion received orders to move on 21st September and reached Bethune that evening. From there they marched onwards and eventually got to a position marked as Lonely Tree Hill in their war diary situated to the south of La Basse. Here they formed up but were not initially used but on 26th September they were ordered to assist the 20th Brigade in attacking German positions at Vendin le Veil. The reason for this being that were going to be used in the ongoing battle at Loos.

Looking out towards Lone Tree from St Mary's A.D.S. Cemetery. Lone Pine was where the 9th Norfolks started from and ended back at on 26th September 1915.

Looking out towards Lone Tree from St Mary’s A.D.S. Cemetery. This was where the 9th Norfolks started from and ended back at on 26th September 1915.

By 9.30 a.m. on 25th September 1915 the 22nd Brigade of the 7th Division had captured the Hulluch Quarries and had sent patrols to the edge of Cite St Elie itself. However, further advance was found to be impossible without further support, and the positions captured thus far at the Quarries had to be consolidated. The 21st Brigade moved up from reserve in Vermelles, splitting into two sets of two battalions, and were ordered to advance through the positions gained so far. They were also halted in and around Gun Trench and the Quarries but were unable to penetrate uncut wire in front of Hulluch under fire from Cite St Elie.

The 21st and 24th Divisions had moved by a night march into the Loos valley. Progress was slow and exhausting and the men were carrying extra supplies, equipment, rations and ammunition. At 1.20 a.m., the Brigadiers of 24th Division met to consider their actions for the next morning.

The Official History of the Great War noted this about what happened next.

‘The 71st Brigade, in rear of the 72nd, moved forward to the British original trenches, centre opposite Lone Tree, where it halted for the night. During the early hours of the 26th Br-General Shewen was ordered by the 7th Division, who furnished an officer as a guide, to detach one of his battalions “to retake the Quarries”. The 9/Norfolk  was sent at 1 a.m., …South of the Quarries, the Wiltshire and part of the Bedfordshire held the line along Stone Alley to Breslau Avenue. Here the Green Howards had rallied, thus linking up with the units in Quarry Trench.

A counter attack was delivered on the Quarries from the old German front trenches at 6.45 a.m. on the 26th, by a battalion (9/Norfolk of the 71st Brigade) of the 24th Division, lent to the 7th Division by the XI. Corps for this purpose. Dead tired by its night march its attack immediately stopped by heavy fire and had to be abandoned after 13 officers and 409 other ranks had become casualties.’

What is known from the battalion’s war diary and from the WW1 history of the Norfolk Regiment is that by 5.30 a.m. they were in the old German front-line and at 6.45 a.m., as noted by the Official History, they went over the top advancing towards the Quarries. But the German fire was heavy from the start, especially from numerous snipers, and their advance faltered and they suffered heavy casualties.

Picture1

The area where the 9th Norfolks fought taken from an Official History map for 25th September 1915.

They had to seek cover and remained there, watching the 2/Worcestershires going through their position in an effort to capture the quarries. At 7 p.m. the Germans fired flares and they then opened fire on the Norfolks. This fire was so heavy that the Norfolks had to retire to reserve trenches eventually being relieved by the Grenadier Guards.

Having marched back to Lone Tree they then moved to Vermelles reaching there at 6 a.m. on 27th September.

The Loos Memorial where those that fell serving with the 9th Norfolks are now commemorated.

The Loos Memorial where those that fell serving with the 9th Norfolks are now commemorated.

A roll call identified 5 officers killed and 9 wounded with 39 other ranks killed and 122 wounded. This totalled 209 men. It is noted in the Norfolk’s history of WW1 that in total, when they reached Ham on 29th September, they had 16 officers and 555 other ranks from an original complement of 30 officers and 987 men. This totals a loss of 14 officers and 432 other ranks killed, wounded or missing in their initial baptism of fire on the killing field at Loos.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists that between 26th and 27th September 1915 the 9th Norfolks lost 69 men killed. One of these men can be identified as Private 15895 Samuel Percival Armfield a Draper’s Assistant who is pictured at the top of this article and records show he was just 18 when he died. Like most of the men who were lost that day he has no known grave and is now commemorated on the Loos Memorial.

The battalion would now move with the rest of the 71st Brigade from the 24th Division to the 6th Division where they remained until the end of the war. By October they were in the Ypres Salient and they would then remain in that sector for the rest of 1915 and the beginning of 1916. We will look at their war in 2016 when they would again go into action this time on the Somme.

 

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