The 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment at Loos
13th October 1915
Today marks the 100th Anniversary of the 7th Battalion Norfolk regiment seeing their first major action at Loos on 13th October 1915. As with many things to do with WW1 this action will go unnoticed in the media. So in order that this action is commemorated here is their story.
The 7th (Service) Battalion were part of the 35th Brigade in the 12th (Eastern) Division initially under the command of Lieutenant Colonel John W.V. Carroll. They had landed in France on 30th May 1915. Their initial experiences of the Western Front had been to the south of Ypres around Ploegsteert and Ploegsteert Wood. Here they began to learn their craft as a newly deployed battalion on the Western Front. This area was considered a quiet sector and their casualties were light when you compare them to other battalions in other sectors.
However, at the end of September, they were given orders to move and marched from Ploegsteert to Gonnehem and then to La Bourse. On 30th September they took over trenches at the Chalk Pit from the Irish Guards. On their right the line was held by the French and on their left the position was held by the 7th Battalion Suffolk Regiment. They went into the line with a complement of 25 officers 926 other ranks.
The Battle of Loos had been raging since 25th September 1915 when gains had been made by the British. But the battle had turned into a series of attacks that had failed after the Germans had managed to reorganise. The Germans had counter attacked on 8th October 1915 which also ended in failure and they had lost heavily like their British counterparts on the killing fields of Loos. Further efforts were made by the British between the 9th and 12th October where local attacks were made with slight gains.
Between the 1st and 4th October, by just occupying trenches in this sector, the battalion’s casualty rate went up considerably and the war diary records that they lost 11 men killed and 57 men wounded. Even when they were out of the line at Philosophe they lost a further 14 men wounded due to long-range shelling and an accident. On 8th October Major F E Walter took over command of the battalion from Lieutenant Colonel John W.V. Carroll who was moving on to command a brigade.
But on 13th October 1915 we renewed the offensive at Loos where efforts were made to recover the Quarries and Fosse 8 and others were to consolidate the line of the Lens-La Bassée road between Chalk Pit Wood and the Vermelles-Hulluch road. Into this would come the 35th Brigade who would attack the Quarries.
So on 12th October 1915 the battalion marched from Philosophe to trenches in front of the Quarries where they relieved the Coldstream Guards. The attack went in at 2 p.m. and this is what the Official History had this to say about it.
The attack by the 35th Brigade against the Quarries also across open ground was made by the 7/Norfolk on the right and 7/Suffolk on the left leading, followed by the 5/Royal Berkshire and the 9/Essex. The volume of smoke proved inadequate to screen the operations from the Dump, as planned, and, in addition to receiving heavy frontal fire, the Brigade was enfiladed from Slag Alley and from a number of machine guns at the foot of the Dump, some of which took the 7/Suffolks in reverse.
The Norfolk and R. Berkshire gained, mainly by bombing, many men being employed in passing bombs, about 300 yards of trench at the south-western end of the Quarries; and the Suffolk secured, partly by bombing and partly by an attack of one company over the open, about 200 and fifty yards of trenches, later known as “The Hairpin”, at right angles to the British line along the north-west side of the Quarries. The gap between the Norfolk and Suffolk was subsequently reduced by the Essex. But into the Quarries the attack failed to penetrate, and the Germans still maintained possession of them. Thus by nightfall the 37th Brigade was holding Gun Trench and the southern part of Stone Alley, whilst the 35th Brigade had secured part of the south-western edge of the Quarries and the Hairpin.
More locally using their war diary and the history of the Norfolk Regiment we know the following.
‘Owing to the failure of the smoke screen, the Germans could be clearly seen manning their trenches when the attack was launched at 2 p.m. The Norfolk battalion soon began to suffer severely from a German machine gun opposite their right, enfilading their attack, which our trench mortars were unable to knock out. Its fire almost annihilated one squad as it tried to get through. On the left fifty men succeeded in taking 200 yards of the enemy trench an held on there till the exhaustion of their supply of bombs forced them to retire till reinforced by “A” Company and half of the Royal Berkshire.’
Bombers under the command of 2nd Lieutenant H V Franklin did manage to penetrate one of the main trenches along with a communication trench where they put in blocks. “B” Company tried to follow the Berkshires but were held up with them and it was impossible to reinforce the beleaguered defenders and those that attempted this were mown down by machine gun fire in the first twenty yards.
The 7th Battalion withdrew to the old British line on 14th October from Fosse Way to the Hulluch Road. There they remained suffering shelling and received a draft of 263 men between the 15th and 17th October. On 19th October the Germans counter attacked and the battalion stood to but were not used. On 20th October they marched back to Bethune where they were inspected by Major General Scott on 22nd October who congratulated them on their exploits on 13th October 1915.
Between the 1st and 20th October 1915 the battalion lost 192 men killed and a large number of them have no known grave and are commemorated on the Loos Memorial.
The history of the Norfolk Regiment notes that in total the battalion lost 11 officers killed or wounded and 422 men killed, wounded or missing on the killing fields of Loos.