The 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment
The Capture of Westhoek
10th – 11th August 1917
At Zero Hour, set for 04:35hrs on 10th August 1917, in what became known as the Capture of Westhoek, II Corps attacked. The initial advance on all fronts was successful with the left flank and the village of Westhoek being captured by the 74th Brigade of the 25th Division. The right flank, however, was not as successful. The 55th Brigade, notably the 7/Queens had advanced from the eastern edge of Inverness Copse but had been stopped by a machine gun post and had failed to occupy the southern edge of the copse. They retreated, being closely pursued by the enemy who re-took the copse and the 7/Queens failed to carry out any further advances losing 10 officers and 272 other ranks.
The 54th Brigade had far better success, occupying the German second line around Fitzclarence Farm and the eastern end of Glencourse Wood and although German resistance was seen to be thinly held, with the forward lines offering little resistance, it was noted by the official history that it was easier to capture than to hold what had been taken. Just after 06:00hrs the Germans fired a box-barrage designed to stop any reserves being brought up and launched localised counter attacks. All requests to bring up reserves were initially refused and when permission was granted to move up the 53rd Brigade they did not reach their assembly area until 19:00hrs. But, by that time, it was too late and by then most of what had been gained was back in German hands.
On the morning of 10th August 1917 the 8th Battalion were called forward to Chateau Segard and then to Inverness Copse where they were to take part in the attack at 7 p.m. They were to assault the north-west corner of the wood after the 55th Brigade had failed to take the wood. At 2 p.m. they were at Ritz Street where they came under the orders of the 54th brigade.
At 5.30 p,.m. they took over the 54th Brigade’s front with the 6th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment. Although this relief was met with confusion the Germans did not attack and only did so at 4.30 a.m. on 11th August. At this time the Germans attacked just as the battalion was relieving the 7/Bedfords and the enemy captured a strong point and broke through, especially in the line held by ‘A’ and ‘D’ Companies.
‘B’ Company was was ordered to be ready to counter attack but it was found that although ‘A’ Company had been forced back the left flank was still holding and ‘C’ Company was ordered to counter and take back the strong point. This was held by 4 machine guns and the C.O. Colonel Ferguson decided to make a converging attack using ‘C’ and ‘B’ Companies.
The attack went in with the support of Lewis gunners and snipers and was assisted by a platoon of the 6/R. Berks and the strong point was recaptured. Captain Frederic Morgan led this attack and after the capture of the strong point the enemies fire slackened and ‘B’ and ‘C’ Company were able to support each other. In this attack Captain Morgan was severely wounded.
A line was then reorganised and ‘A’ Company was put into the line to the left of the strong-point, held by ‘C’ Company, and the right of the line was held by ‘B’ Company with ‘D’ Company in reserve at Surbiton Villas.
The Germans attempted to counter attack on a number of occasions and each one was repulsed and the line held. They were relieved on 12th August 1917 and were sent back to Railway Dugouts.
I am often contacted by people or have conversations with them on social media. Recently I spoke to Shannon Taylor whose relative served with the 8th Battalion. John Wells came from Santon Downham and enlisted in December 1915 and went to France in December 1916. He had contracted scabies whilst the battalion was in trenches around Irles in March 1917 and also received a gunshot wound 4 days layer on 10th March 1917 and was admitted to No 10 Hospital in Rouen. John recovered from that so that he was present during the attack on 11th August and was killed in action during the fighting. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Menin Gate. John was 29 when he was killed and was the husband of Lily Emily Wells of 90 London Road in Brandon. His death was reported in the Brandon Times which stated that a sniper’s bullet had killed him and he left a young daughter ‘Joan’ who was only 10 months old when he was killed. My thanks go to Shannon for providing me with this information.