The 7th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment
10th – 17th August 1917
The 3rd Battle of Ypres did not resume until the 10th August when 2nd Corps were ordered to capture German positions from a line starting at the Ypres-Roulers Railway to Inverness Copse in the south. It is here that we will now look at the 7/Bedfords and the 8th Norfolks. The reason for this is that a man from my village was wounded during this engagement.
We already know that George Grimes was the brother of Victor. He probably enlisted at the tail end of 1915 and one soldier with a consecutive service number joined up in November 1915. That means that, at the very earliest, he could have gone across to the Western Front in early 1916.
George joined the 7th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment who had been serving in France since July 1915. They were part of the 54th Brigade of the 18th (Eastern) Division and this division as we know from previous chapters had seen action on the first day of the Somme and subsequent actions fought there afterwards. During 1917 they had seen action there again during operations on the Ancre and Miraumont and they had also participated in the capture of Irles in March. When the Germans retreated to the Hindenburg Line they followed and had assisted in the capture of Achiet le Grand. They also saw action at the Third Battle of the Scarpe. But by July of 1917 they were in Flanders and trained for their participation in the 3rd Battle of Ypres. Their initial action happened at what became known as the Capture of Westhoek.
Initially we will look at the operational order for the battle that came as an appendix within the war diary.
The orders were simple and to the point with the document stating,
‘1. The II Corps will capture and hold at an early date INVERNESS COPSE, GLENCORSE WOOD and the Southern end of WESTHOEK RIDGE.’
This position was and still is situated to the north of the road to Menin and had been heavily fought over in October and November of 1914. It had been captured and held by the Germans until now and was heavily defended with the Germans having nearly three years to build up their defences. The 54th Brigade straddled the Menin Road facing in the direction of Glencourse Wood and Inverness Copse and formed the left flank of the division with the 25th Division to their left and the 55th Brigade to their right. The 24th Division would support the 18th Division on the right. This whole area, but especially Glencourse Wood and Inverness Copse, was bombarded between the 8th and 9th August with 3,000 heavy and medium shells being fired on Glencourse Wood on the 8th. There would only be a 46 minute pause in this bombardment for the 18th Division to attack and capture its objectives and only 25 minutes for the 25th Division to do the same.
The 7/Bedfords were positioned just to the east of a position known Surbiton Villas and roughly parallel to an old German trench known as Jargon Switch.
At Zero Hour, set for 04:35hrs on 10th August 1917, 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.
The 7/Bedfords have an after action report to describe in detail what happened to them.
The initial moves made by the 7/Bedfords went well and they had taken their objectives by 05:13hrs after clearing out around 150 Germans and destroying two machine guns in Glencourse Wood. The report notes that those Germans left alive surrendered by running forward shouting ‘KAMERAD!’ Once they had reached the new line fighting patrols were sent out to the southwestern end of Nonne Bosschen Wood where the barrage was still being fired. The battalion then set about consolidating the line. Throughout the day the Germans tried to counter attack but were beaten off with rifle and machine gun fire but by the afternoon this was beginning to run out and the right flank risked being overrun because of this. Artillery support was called for but could not be given even though SOS flares were sent up. However, no artillery came and then in the evening the Germans were seen to be forming up at Nonne Bosschen, Inverness Copse and the south western part of Polygon Wood. They then advanced under the cover of smoke and gas.
The after action reports stating,
At this time I cannot state the exact clock hour the artillery opened and with terrible execution, but the Bosch line came on delivering their attack on the right flank of the Battalion. The advanced posts were either killed or captured, it is impossible to say which, but judging from the very intense barrage which the Bosch rolled over GLENCORSE WOOD they were undoubtedly killed, a certain amount of confusion set in on our right and it was only by firm determination that the strong point at J.14.a.4.2. which I had taken over from the right Battalion (11th Royal Fusiliers) and JARGON TRENCH was held.
This placed the Bedfords almost back at their start point. The report continued,
When the attack was fully developing reinforcements (two Coys) of the Royal Berkshire Regt arrived and were sent forward to hold our original front line in case the Bosch succeeded in his object to gain the strong point and high ridge STIRLING CASTLE – STRONG POINT J 14.a.4.2. – JARGON TRENCH. The attack however did not materialise and only his advanced line got near the position. The situation quietened down and the relief of the Battalion by the Royal Berkshire Regt was carried out by 2 A.M. and the Battalion withdrew to CHATEAU SEGARD. Established line handed over was JARGON TRENCH – LADY’S LEG – STRONG POINT J14.a.4.2. Situation of forward posts was somewhat obscure. It is worthy of record the splendid manner in which the two Coys of the Royal Berkshire Regt came up to reinforce. They had a terrific barrage on the support line through which they travelled without a waver, shells falling into and all round each platoon. Major Longhurst of this Regt. arrived in advance of these two Coys and rendered most valuable assistance in establishing a second line of defence in case of necessity.
The 7/Bedfords then moved out of the line and moved to Dickebusch New camp to rest and refit. However, that is not the end of their story at 3rd Ypres. On the 12th August they were ordered to join the 53rd Brigade the war diary stating,
The Battalion was reorganised into four companies of two platoons each, each platoon had one rifle section one rifle grenadier section one bombing section one L/G section. Total Battalion strength about 300. Orders were received from Division to move into a field close to Div.H.Q. and rest there until the evening. After dinners the Battalion moved to the field mentioned where the Div.General (General Lee) address a few words to the men and thanked them for their gallant behaviour in the action of August 10th. He also said that he had given instructions (that) we were not to be used unless absolutely necessary. The afternoon having been spent in receiving SAA rations etc the companies moved off at 6.30 PM A and D companies to CRAB CRAWL C and B and HQ to RAILWAY DUGOUTS.
By 23:00hrs the war diary states,
The Battalion was in support to 53 Brigade.
The reason for this that the 53rd Brigade had been given to the 56th Division who had taken over from the 18th and were now forming the southern flank of this fresh unit. On the 13th August the battalion waited to see if it was needed in support of the 53rd Brigade. However, a thunderstorm on the 14th August postponed the next attack that was now set for the 16th. This became known as the Battle of Langemarck. The 7/Bedford received orders to relieve the 10/Essex Regiment at Stirling Castle and to prepare for an attack on the 16th.
This came as a surprise to the battalion having been promised not to be used unless absolutely necessary. However, they prepared for the attack. On the 15th August B Company was given orders to prepare for an attack on a German strongpoint to the south of the Menin Road and just shy of the edge of Inverness Copse.
The war diary for the 16th August states,
B Company having formed up on the tapes put out by 2nd Lt. Craig during the night attacked the enemy strong point at J14 c.4.4. This attack was carried out in conjunction with a large offensive by the Division on our left; a heavy shrapnel barrage opened at ZERO hour (4.45 AM) and 4.5 howitzers shot on strong points. Owing to some mistake a battery of 4.5 howitzers detailed to shoot on the enemy’s strong point at J 14 c.4.4 fired short and on to our B Company about to move forward to the attack, knocking 50% of their effective strength out. Captain Ferguson at once supported with a platoon of D Company but owing to the heavy enemy M.G. fire little could be done and the attempt to capture the strong point was abandoned. The day was chiefly spent in artillery duels no further infantry activity taking place on our sector.
The Battle of Langemarck failed in this area with only minimal gains in this sector and a few gains in the north, around the town of Langemarck. The attack that B Company assisted in was thwarted when the Germans poured artillery fire on the leading companies and then stopped the advance by pouring fire on the survivors with machine guns sited in Inverness Copse. During the night what was left of the 7/Bedfords were relieved by the 12/Middlesex and they saw no more offensive action at 3rd Ypres. The after action report finished with eight recommendations/observations on the attack and was made by the C.O. of the 7/Bedfords Lieutenant-Colonel George Pilkington Mills D.S.O.
For general interest I have listed them.
1. I venture to think had a fresh Battalion been close at hand when the situation on the right became obscure and pushed in, in attack formation a good deal more ground would have been taken and the Bosche routed from his position.
2. Artillery should not cease firing on protected lines until Battalion Commander is satisfied all is well. Artillery ceased on the 10th without any reference to Battalions (at least not to 7th Bedfords). I consider it of great importance that Battalion Commanders should be able to convey to Artillery, which fire other than S.O.S. is required.
3. No telephone wire to be laid beyond Brigade HQ as it is used for all kinds of things that hopelessly give away arrangements, and too many other ranks have access to it and the Commanders of the sector having no knowledge of many things happening on the wire unless he or his Adjutant sits by it. The telephone was a nuisance and not the least assistance to the Battalion on the 10th inst.
4. It took from 5 to 6 minutes before the Hun Barrage got really going on our lines; it was severe when it did do so.
5. The 54th Brigade arrangements for ordering up the reserve Coys from RITZ area and the Coys for mopping up was excellent, timing was also extremely good.
6. To avoid any Platoon going astray I placed Battalion Police posts 100-200 yds apart along the ATN track from RITZ area to MENIN road passing point.
7. Our own Artillery inflicted many casualties on our troops by firing very short what appeared to be one 8” gun in particular.
8. The Bosche attack was guided by a line of his men at a few paces apart firing very lights, during the advance these were with the first wave.
The casualty list for the 7/Bedfords records that between the 10th and 17th August 1917 that they lost 7 officers killed, wounded or missing and 259 other ranks went the same way. Of this total George is listed as being wounded but did not recover and he died of his wounds on 25th October 1917.
He got as far as being moved to one of three CCS around the town of Westvleteren, which is situated to the west of the front. All three were prepared for the forthcoming offensive and were given the nicknames of Mendinghem (Mending them), Dozinghem (Dosing them) and Bandaghem (Bandaging them). He is now laid to rest in grave X. D. 9. in Dozinghem Military Cemetery. I have visited George’s grave on numerous occasions and he now lies in a beautiful cemetery surrounded by trees and farmer’s fields in a very peaceful part of Flanders Fields.