THE BATTLE OF CAMBRAI (PART 2)

The 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment

30th November 1917

Lieut W G Collins KIA 30 Nov 17

Lieutenant William Geoffrey Collins who was posted missing on 30th November 1917. In fact he had been wounded and captured in the German advance. Sadly he died of these wounds as a prisoner of war and is now buried in Grave I. C. 3. in Hamburg Cemetery. William had been with the 7th Battalion since 7th July 1917 and had come from the ranks and had been commissioned on 15th December 1915, having previously served in the 1/1st City of London Yeomanry. He was 35 and the son of Mr. W. H. and Mrs. H. L. Collins of 13 Coopers Lane, Grove Park in London and the husband of Violet C. Collins of Hither Green in Catford. (Image IWM)

As the British took Bourlon and Bourlon Wood on 23rd November 1917, the Germans began reinforcing the area. As early as the 23rd, the German command felt that a British breakthrough would not occur and began to consider a counter-offensive. Twenty divisions were arrayed in the Cambrai area. The Germans intended to retake the Bourlon salient and also to attack around Havrincourt while diversionary attacks would hold IV
Corps; it was hoped to at least reach the old positions on the Hindenburg Line. The Germans intended to employ the new tactics of a short, intense period of shelling followed by a rapid assault, leading elements attacking in groups rather than waves and bypassing strong opposition. For the initial assault at Bourlon three divisions of Gruppe Arras under Otto von Moser were assigned.

On the eastern flank of the British salient, Gruppe Caudry attacked from Bantouzelle to Rumilly and aimed for Marcoing. Gruppe Busogny advanced from Banteux. These two corps groups had seven infantry divisions. Lieutenant General Thomas D’Oyly Snow, commander of the British VII Corps to the south of the threatened area, warned III Corps of German preparations.

The German attack began at 07:00 on 30th November; almost immediately, the majority of III Corps divisions were heavily engaged. The German infantry’s advance was unexpectedly swift. The commanders of 29th and 12th divisions were almost captured, with Brigadier-General Vincent having to fight his way out of his headquarters and then grab men from retreating units to try to halt the Germans. In the south, the German advance spread across 8 miles and came within a few miles of the vital village of Metz and its link to Bourlon.

At Bourlon, the men under Moser met with stiffer resistance. The British had assigned eight divisions’ worth of fire support to the ridge and the Germans suffered heavy casualties. Despite this, the Germans closed and there was fierce fighting. British units displayed reckless determination; one group of eight British machine guns fired over 70,000 rounds in their efforts to stem the German advance.

Bleak Trench

Bleak Trench where the Battalion HQ was situated for 30th November 1917

The 7th Battalion had been in reserve for the opening of Cambrai on 20th November and only ‘C’ Company had been involved in the 12th (Eastern) Division that day. They had then spent a relative period of quiet after the battle and went back into the line on 29th November facing Banteux situated on the western side of the Canal St Quentin. At 6.30 a.m. the Germans began to bombard Villers-Guislain hitting the entire divisional front and the divisions either side.

The ferocity of the German counter attack can be seen in Ernst Jünger’s book Storm of Steel in the chapter entitled ‘The Double Battle of Cambrai’. Junger was initially positioned in the grounds of Baralle Castle. (It must be noted that Jünger did not face the Norfolk Regiment who were further south to this position).

‘At nine o’clock in the morning our artillery began a powerful pounding, which from quarter to twelve to ten to twelve achieved the intensity of drumfire. The woods of Bourlon, which were not even under direct attack as they were too heavily defended, simply vanished in a chartreuse fog of gas. At ten to twelve we observed through our binoculars lines of riflemen emerging on to the empty crater landscape, while the rear batteries were harnessed up and rushed forward to new positions.’

Jogn Seaman died 2 Dec 17

Private 12335 John Stone Seaman was born at Little Walsingham in 1866 and was educated at Little Walsingham National School. He enlisted on 26th August 1914 and went to France with the battalion on 30th May 1915. He was killed in action on 2nd December 1917 and has no known grave and is commemorated on the Cambrai Memorial. He was the son of Alice and Albert Seaman

The war diary for this period was destroyed in the fighting so what is written in it was retrospective of the fighting on 30th November 1917. The entry is brief and states,

‘About 7 a.m. a very heavy Hun Barrage commenced and at 7.40 a.m. he attacked in mass in enormous numbers from Gonnelieu which he had just previously taken about 7.35 a.m. and also from Banteaux. The Bosche attacked the battalion from the right flank and the front. Our Lewis guns did splendid work, mowing down the enemy in large numbers, but by weight of numbers, he forced the Battalion to fall back on to Battalion Headquarters in Bleak Trench and a strong point on our  left front. The Hun succeeded in surrounding many of our men, who were thereby forced to surrender. We made a splendid  fight and accounted for enormous numbers of the enemy. About 10 a.m. 2nd Lieut G MADDISON was only officer left, and he, with the remaining men of the battalion, attached himself to the 9th Fusiliers Regt.’

Sendall KIA 30 Nov 17

Private Sendall was born in Skeyton on 25th September 1895, and was educated at Skeyton School. He enlisted on 14th June 1915, and was killed in action near Cambrai on 30th November 1917.

At that point in time it was not certain who had been killed or who had been captured. This included the C.O. Lieutenant Colonel Henry Lex Francis Gielgud who was reported missing.

Ernst Jünger again,

‘The British resisted manfully. Every traverse had to be fought for. The black balls of Mills bombs crossed in the air with our own long handled grenades. Behind every traverse we captured we found corpses or bodies still twitching. We killed each other, sight unseen. We too suffered losses. A piece of iron crashed to the ground next to the orderly, which the fellow was unable to avoid; and he collasped to the ground, while his blood issued on to the clay from many wounds.’

Further German attacks forced the battalion back to the south of the Cambrai road where they ended up around Fusilier Reserve and Fusilier Trench at La Vacquerie. On 3rd December 1917 a much depleted battalion marched to Heudicourt.

La Vacquerie

The area around La Vacquerie where the remains of the battalion retreated to

Sadly Lt Col Gielgud had been killed in action along with a total of 18 officers and 333 other ranks killed wounded or missing. 

Pretty much all that had been taken in the previous offensive was now back in the hands of the Germans and it was only through counter-attacks by the Guards Division, the arrival of British tanks, and the fall of night allowed the line to be held.

Fusilier Trench

Fusilier Trench and Reserve where the battalion ended up

By the following day, the impetus of the German advance was lost but pressure on 3rd December led to the German capture of La Vacquerie and a British withdrawal east of the St Quentin canal. The Germans had reached a line looping from the ridge at Quentin to near Marcoing.

Villers Plouich Area 2017

The area on a French IGN map

On 3rd December, Haig ordered a retreat from the salient and by 7th December the British gains were abandoned except for a portion of the Hindenburg line around Havrincourt, Ribécourt and Flesquières. The Germans had exchanged this territorial loss for land to the south of Welsh ridge.

Bunn KIA 30 Nov 17

Private 17097 Edward Bunn was born in Norwich on 11th October 1891 and was educated at St. Peter Mancroft School. He enlisted on 5th December 1914 and went to France on 23rd June 1915. He was reported missing, believed killed in action, at Cambrai on 30th November 1917. He was 26 when he died and was the son of Mrs. Rosetta Bunn of 7, Distillery Terrace on the Dereham Road in Norwich. Edward’s body was found and he’s now buried in Grave VII. A. 12. in Villers Hill British Cemetery.

Casualties were around 45,000 for each side, with 11,000 Germans and 9,000 British taken prisoner. In terms of territory, the Germans recovered most of their early losses and gained a little elsewhere, albeit with a net loss of ground. The battle showed the British that even the strongest trench defences could be overcome by a surprise artillery-infantry attack using the newly available methods and equipment, with a mass tank attack as a bonus; it also showed the Germans the effectiveness of their similar new tactics so recently used against the Russians. 

Ernst Jünger’s company also lost heavily.

‘In this murderous sector of trench, all my NCOs and a third of my company were bleeding to death. Shots in the head rained down. Lieutenant Hopf was another one of the fallen, an older man, a teacher by profession, a German schoolmaster in the best sense of the word. My two ensigns and many others besides were wounded.’

These lessons were later successfully implemented by both sides. The German revival after the shock of the British attack improved morale but the potential for more attacks like this meant that the Germans had to divert resources to anti-tank defences and weapons, a diversion of resources the Germans could ill afford.

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Private 40234 Daniel Lowder aged 26 who was killed in action at Cambrai. He was the son of Daniel Elijah and Sophia Lowder, of Gresham in Norfolk. Daniel is buried a long way from where he fell and is now laid to rest in Enclosure No.4 Grave X. E. 11. in Bedford House Cemetery near Ypres. 

In total 94 men from the 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment were killed in action or died of wounds between 30th November and 3rd December 1917. Most have no known graves and are commemorated on the Cambrai Memorial at Louverval.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Battle of Cambrai (Part 1)

The 9th Battalion Norfolk Regiment 

20th November 1917

Battle_of_Cambrai_1917

The area around Cambrai where the battle was fought

General Hon. Sir Julian Byng, commanding Third Army, went to see Haig around three months before the attack, asking to be allowed to make a surprise assault on the formidable defences at Cambrai.

It required a methodical “bite and hold” advance in four stages using six Divisions. ‘Bite and hold’ called for an advance that would not extend beyond supporting artillery that could assist in defeating the expected enemy counterattacks.

Brigadier General Hugh Elles, commanding the Tank Corps in France, and his chief staff officer, Lieutenant Colonel John Fuller, made a convincing case that with growing strength in France, the Corps could be used collectively to punch a hole into the enemy defences. Cambrai, being on relatively undamaged rolling chalk land, would be ideal which effectively made it tank fighting country.

Byng’s Army had also developed a scheme for a surprise attack using unregistered artillery. The Tank Corps much approved of the idea, for it would avoid the devastation of ground that had caused so much difficulty for the machines at Ypres.

Cambrai had been in German hands since 1914 and had become an important railhead and hgarrison town. With its railways connecting Douai, Valenciennes and Saint-Quentin and the Saint-Quentin canal, from which the front could be supplied along the River Scheldt men and material could be moved along the western front.

If captured it would deny the enemy a key part of his communication system. But it lay behind a formidable defensive position.

Haig approved the plan on 13 October 1917.

In Third Army orders – codenamed Operation GY –  issued on 13 November 1917, the attack was defined as a coup de main, “to take advantage of the existing favourable local situation” where “surprise and rapidity of action are  … of the utmost importance”. It was also to be a deep attack on a 10,000 yard (5.6 mile) front that would be “widened as soon as possible”.

Once the key German Masnieres-Beaurevoir line had been breached by III Corps, the cavalry would pass through, reach around to isolate Cambrai from the rear and cut the railways leading from it. Haig would later say that the purpose of the attack was to compel the enemy to withdraw from the salient between the Canal du Nord and the Scarpe, although the objectives must be achieved within 48 hours before strong enemy reserves could come into play. So the high speed and short tactical operation had somehow become one of seizing and holding ground, and while not quite a plan for strategic breakthrough – there were never enough reserves to exploit a breakthrough – the orders had faint resemblance to the original concepts.

Pte-George-Ptolomey-Norfolk-Regiment.-KIA-20-November-1917

Private 27436 George Ptolomey, born in 1891 and pictured with his wife Eva, both of whom married in 1916, George 25 and was serving with 9th Battalion, when he was killed in action on 20 November 1917. He was the son of Charles and Catherine Ptolomey. Previously to joining the Norfolk Regiment George had served in the East Yorkshire Regiment and had been medically discharged on 29th December 1914. He is buried in Grave I. B. 4. in Ribecourt British Cemetery

More than 1000 guns and howitzers were concealed on the fronts of III and IV Corps and the opening bombardment and a total of 476 tanks, including the new Mark IV version tanks, were moved up to the front on 18 and 19 November with aircraft flying up and down the area mask their sound as they moved up. Their objective would be to crush wire defences and suppress fire from trenches and strong points.

Fascines would be dropped as makeshift bridges enabling the crossing of a wide trench removed one of the known shortcomings of the current tank design. Much attention had been paid to training, particularly for co-operation between infantry and tank, with the units designated to make the initial assault being withdrawn to Wailly for this purpose. An innovation was that the infantry would follow the tanks through the gaps they made, moving in “worms” rather than the familiar lines: their training seems to have done much to improve infantry confidence in the tanks, hitherto seen as a mixed blessing. The tanks were a notable operational success. Shrouded by mist and smoke, they broke into the Hindenburg Line defences with comparative ease in many places.

Most importantly the Germans failed to identify the imminence and nature of the British attack

Six Divisions were used in the attack and from right to left they were the 12th (Eastern), 20th (Light), 6th, 51st (Highland), 62nd (West Riding) and 36th (Ulster). In immediate support was the 29th, and ready to exploit the anticipated breakthrough and sweep round Cambrai were the 1st, 2nd and 5th Cavalry Divisions. The Tank Corps deployed its entire strength of 476 machines and were led by the Tank Corps GOC, Hugh Elles, in a Mk IV tank called ‘Hilda’.

1 Leics Cambrai

A Mark IV (Male) tank of ‘H’ Battalion ditched in a German trench while supporting the 1st Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment, one mile west of Ribecourt. Some men of the battalion are resting in the trench, 20 November 1917. (Image IWM)

The attack opened at 6.20am on the 20th November 1917 with an intensive predicted-fire barrage on the Hindenburg Line and key points to the rear, which caught the Germans by surprise. Initially, this was followed by the curtain of a creeping barrage behind which the tanks and infantry followed.

There was an issue with the cavalry and progress was slow when the bridge at Masnieres collapsed under weight of a tank. 

‘The 6th Division attacked on the front Villers Plouich-Beaucamps, with the 71st Infantry Brigade (Brig.-Gen. P. W. Brown) on the left next to the 51st Division, the 16th Infantry Brigade (Brig.-Gen. H. A. Walker) on the right next to the 20th Division. These two brigades were to advance about 3,000 yards to the first objective (Ribecourt and spur to south-east of it), and another 1,000 yards to the second objective (support system). The 18th Infantry Brigade (Brig.-Gen. G. S. G. Craufurd) was ordered to advance through the 71st Infantry Brigade and secure the third objective about a mile farther on (Prerny Chapel Ridge), throwing back a defensive flank towards Flesquieres for the further operations of the 51st Division on its left and securing the flank of the 29th Division on its right. The latter division passing through the right of the 6th Division and the left of the 20th Division, was charged with securing the crossings of the St. Quentin Canal at Marcoing and Masnieres and seizing the high ground at Rumilly, thus facilitating exploitation to the south-east, preventing a concentration against the widely stretched defensive flanks of the III Corps and threatening Cambrai.’

From the Short History of the 6th Division

The 5th Cavalry Division advanced through them but were repulsed in front of Noyelles.

The 51st (Highland) Division had a very hard fight for Flesquieres, but its failure to capture it and keep up with the pace of the advance on either side left a dangerous salient which exposed the flanks of the neighbouring Divisions.

Cambrai

A map from the Norfolk Regiment history listing the positions assaulted by the 9th Battalion at Cambrai

The 9th Battalion left Longuereuil on 15th November and reached Peronne 12 hours later. They then moved to Manancourt and then to Dessart Wood. On the 17th they took over the line to the south of Ribecourt although 30 men of the Rifle Brigade remained in the forward trenches to mask the fact that they had been relieved by a fresh battalion. 

‘Two battalions of tanks, each of thirty-six tanks, were allotted to the Division. ” B ” Battalion (Lt.-Col. E. D. Bryce, D.S.O.) operated with the 16th Infantry Brigade, and “H” Battalion (Lt.-Col. Hon. C. Willoughby) with the 71st Infantry Brigade. The 18th Infantry Brigade advanced without tanks. The only points which caused anxiety, provided that the tanks functioned satisfactorily, were Couillet Wood on the right of the 16th Infantry Brigade front, in which tanks could not operate, and Ribecourt Village on the left of the 71st Infantry Brigade front. The former was successfully cleared by the Buffs, and the latter gallantly captured by the 9th Norfolk Regiment; the 11th Essex clearing and securing it for the advance of the 18th Infantry Brigade, while the 71st Infantry Brigade attacked the second objective.’

From the Short History of the 6th Division

The 71st Brigade was ordered to capture Ribécourt village and the 9th Norfolks would move off after the first wave of tanks and would leap-frog over the 1st Battalion Leicestershire Regiment. The battalion advanced with ‘D’ Company on the right, ‘B’ Company in the centre and ‘D’ Company on the left, ‘C’ Company would follow in support. The advance was quick with infantry moving quicker than the slow lumbering tanks and the C.O. at that time, Lieutenant-Colonel Bernard Henry Leather Prior, recorded the action of the battalion in an account.

‘…the leading tanks, followed by the Leicesters, crossing our trenches and starting across No Man’s Land – a wonderful spectacle in the half light of the early morning. Ponderous, grunting, groaning, wobbling, these engines of war crawled and lurched their way toward the enemy lines, followed by groups of men in file. Overhead our shells were pouring over. The barrage lifted from the enemy’s outpost trench, where we knew that Unseen Trench was getting it hot; but the slowness of those tanks! It is at these moments that one itches for quickness and rapidity, and the slow, deliberate action of these monsters was exasperating. Neither tanks nor Leicesters were clear of our lines when we reached ‘A’ Company.’

43112_1623_0-00274 (1)

A trench map from the battalion’s war diary showing the area where they assaulted

The C.O. followed his Battalion and very quickly found himself with ‘C’ Company who had outstripped both the tanks and the other three companies of the 9th Norfolks.

‘Ribécourt was immediately in front of us. I could see parties of the enemy running through the streets. Our artillery was putting down a smoke barrage on the farther side of the village, and several houses were on fire and blazing merrily. I had to decide whether to hang on in our present position and wait for the arrival of the tanks and the three other companies, or push ‘C’ Company in. The enemy already showed signs of recovering from the initial surprise. We were now being shelled pretty persistently and accurately, as well as machine-gunned. I determined to take immediate action, and directed Failes to push forward at once, take the part of the village lying on this side of the ravine, and hold the bridge crossing it. ‘C’ Company swept on and effected this in brilliant fashion, securing a large bag of prisoners.’

Ribecourt 11 Leicesters

Men of the 11th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment (6th Division) with Vickers machine guns in a captured second line trench at Ribecourt, 20 November 1917. (Image IWM)

The account sounds as though the advance was easy. However, in parts, it was not and A and B Companies met with strong opposition and became involved in hand to hand fighting. They came up against two machine guns which had to be knocked out at close quarters by a party led by Lieutenant John Hancock and C.S.M. Bertie Neale. Another machine gun was silenced by Lewis Gunners and it’s estimated that the Germans lost eighty killed or wounded and another six hundred wounded. 

By 9.00 a.m. the battalion had captured Ribécourt and were passed by the 11th Battalion Essex Regiment who went on to capture Kaiser Trench. The Norfolks then spent the rest of the day consolidating their gains.

 

Armes KIA 20 Nov 17

Private 40286 Thomas William Armes was born at Weasenham on 13th September 1892 and educated at Billingford school. He enlisted on 8th November 1915. He died from wounds on 21st November 1917 and is now buried in Grave I. F. 29. in Rocquigny-Equancourt British Cemetery. He was 25 and the son of Thomas and Annie Armes.

‘The Division had a most successful day, with very light casualties (about 650), capturing 28 officers and 1,227 other ranks prisoners, 23 guns, and between 40 and 50 machine-guns and many trench-mortars, and receiving the congratulations of the Corps Commander.’

From the Short History of the 6th Division 

IGN Ribecourt

The area assaulted by the 9th Norfolks on a French IGN map

Lt Col Prior noted in his account that,

‘It would be impossible to set out all the extraordinary incidents of that glorious day’ how Hancock and his sergeant major rushed an enemy machine gun position and settled a bet as to who would kill most Boches. This was won by Hancock, but Sergeant-Major Neale always contends that he was unduly handicapped by having to use his bayonet, whilst Hancock had a revolver. How a runner of ‘D’ Company, without assistance, took over seventy prisoners, including a staff officer. How Worn, wounded in the first hundred yards of the advance, carried on with his platoon until he reached his final objective, the railway station, and consolidated his position. How Thompson of ‘B’ Company, who in the darkness of the night prior to the attack had fallen down and very badly sprained his ankle, deliberately refused to go sick, and, with the aid of his servant, limped over in front of his platoon, and carried on until the objective was reached. How one man of ‘A’ Company having very daringly and very foolishly penetrated an enemy dugout, leaving his rifle outside, knocked down the Bosche who thrust his pistol at his head, seized the pistol and harried his opponent by the vigorous application of the butt end.’

Lieut George DYE 21 Nov 17

Lieutenant George Harry Gordon Dye was educated at Bracondale School and Christ’s Hospital and was a private schoolmaster and had enlisted in August 1914. He was 26 and the son of George Arthur and Ellen Ann Dye of Victoria Road in Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight. George died of wounds on 21 November 1917 and is now buried in Grave III. B. 23. Rocquigny-Equancourt British Cemetery.

The advance pushed four miles deep into a strong system of defence in little over four hours at a cost of just over 4000 casualties but 3rd Army failed to capture all of its objectives, with the cavalry being unable to push through a gap at Marcoing-Masnieres and on to encircle Cambrai itself and Bourlon Ridge did not fall that day. The Tank Corps lost 179 tanks destroyed, disabled or broken down. Cambrai would not remain a stunning victory for long.

Lt Col Prior finished his account by noting,

‘Some of these things are written down in the records of gallantry which have earned awards; many more and equally gallant actions never will be recorded, and some are recorded only in memory of those, and, alas! their number has sadly reduced who took part in that glorious first day of the fist battle of Cambrai.’

The 9th Norfolks lost 7 officers and 87 other ranks killed or wounded at Cambrai. 

Frank Edward Sabberton KIA 22 Nov 17

Private 43499 Frank Edward Sabberton who was born in Norwich on 23rd July 1889. He attended Angel Road School and enlisted 9th August 1914. Frank was aged 28 when he died and had served in “C” Company in the 9th Battalion. He was the son of Frank William and Emily Sabberton of St. Andrew Street in Norwich. He is now buried in Rocquigny-Equancourt British Cemetery

 

The two men I have mentioned as having assaulted the machine posts and the ones Lt Col Prior mentions having the bet were Lieutenant John Eliot Hancock and C.S.M. 7178 Bertie Mark Neale. Both won awards for this action Lt Hancock won a D.S.O. and C.S.M. Neale won a D.C.M. Both were listed in the London Gazette in 1918. 

London Gazette 4th February 1918
 
HANCOCK, JOHN ELIOT, Temporary Lieut., Norfolk Regt.
 
‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Owing to his company commander being seriously wounded, he took command of the left company in an attack. ‘When they came under heavy machine-gun fire he organised a frontal attack while he, with two N.C.O.’s, rushed across the open from a flank, killed or wounded all the gun team and put the guns out of action. He himself killed six men. In the subsequent fighting he showed great initiative in clearing the houses in a village and directing the advance.’
 
London Gazette 4th March 1918
 
7178 C.S.M. B. M. Neale, Norf. R. (Swanton Novers).
 
‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in volunteering with an officer and N.C.O. to put out of action some machine-guns that were holding up the advance of his company. Under heavy fire from the two guns he succeeded in doing this, and in the hand-to-hand fighting that ensued killed four of the enemy.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 3rd Battle of Ypres (Part 6)

The 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment

Poelcapelle

22nd October 1917

Poelcappalle 22 Oct 17 No 7

An IWM image which states, ‘View from British front line trench in Poelcapelle (Poelkapelle), held by 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment, showing the effect on the German trenches of the British bombardment, 13th September 1917.’ This cannot be correct as the battalion was still at Rubrouk at that time. So I think this is more than likely October 1917.

The 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment had not been involved in any of the major offensives since they had fought in August. After this they had been in training at Rubrouk until 23rd September and then spent the first 3 weeks of October around Ypres on the west bank of the canal.

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The British front-line for 22nd October 1917. By that time half of the village was in British hands. The Norfolks went over the top from trenches to the left of this road and behind the camera. Poelcappelle Church can be seen on the right.

On 22nd October 1917 the battalion moved to Cane Trench and prepared for the next assault which would be to capture the remains of Poelcappelle. This village had remained mostly in German hands and the front-line, running from north to south, passed through the middle of it where the British line still was positioned just part what was left of the church. Previous to this planned attack the Germans had attempted to retake this area and some of their counter attacks had been successful.

Poelcappalle 22 Oct 17 No 4

Poelcappelle 22nd October 1917 and this trench map comes from the 8th Battalion war diary.

The village was now just rubble and was interlaced with German bunkers and littered with shell-holes. All previous attacks had failed and it was decided that this time the attack would come from a different direction and a feint would occur in order to try and fool the Germans. This was in the form of using dummy figures which was called a ‘Chinese Attack’. 

Chinese Attack

The type of dummies used in the Chinese Attack on 22nd October 1917 at Poelcappelle.

This type of attack had been carried out before and a Cyclist Battalion man within the 18th (Eastern) Division recounted how this type of operation worked.

‘When laid on the ground face downwards, two staples held it firm at the foot end, which was on a swivel. A thin wire would then be attached at the back and led to a trench or shell-hole in the rear. At a given time the wire would be pulled, up would come the dummy in an upright position looking from a distance as though men were going over the top. When hundreds of these things were used they were very realistic. One man in a shell-hole could operate four or five of these soldiers which would be thirty or forty yards in front of him.’

Private Valentine Magill Army Cyclist Corps

DSC_0009

Looking back toward the position where the Brewery would have been. This was situated where the two light coloured buildings are today.

The 8th Norfolks would be given the task of capturing the rest of the village assisted by the 10th Battalion Essex Regiment. The Norfolks would lead the advance and the 10/Essex would follow up later on. Aluminium discs had been placed out prior to the attack as the whole area was just a sea of mud.

DSC_0045

The position where Helles House would have been in 1917.

Once the initial objectives had been captured then the 10/Essex would leap-frog over the Norfolks and capture the secondary objectives. They would be supported by elements of the 34th Division on their left, which included the 3 Norfolk Field Companies which had been recruited in Norwich in 1915. 

Poelcappalle 22 Oct 17 No 5

Poelcappelle after its capture.

All four companies of the battalion would be involved in the assault and C and D Companies would lead with A and B following them. B Company would advance and capture Requete Farm.

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Requete Farm

Zero Hour was set for 5.35 a.m. and would be supported by a barrage from 30th Division 3 minutes after that. B Company captured Requete Farm but then veered off to the right and the officer attempting to correct this, Lieutenant Symonds, was killed by a shell. B Company continued and advanced on another strong-point called Helles House and a number of bunkers to the north-east.

Edgar Smith KIA 22 Oct 17

Corporal 16088 Edgar Robert Smith MM who was killed in action on 22nd October 1917. Edgar was the son of Isaac and Ann Smith of Weasenham near King’s Lynn. Edgar had served with the battalion since they had landed in France in July 1915. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.

Here the company captured Helles House but met with strong resistance from machine guns and a bombing party in the strong-points. These were dealt with and the company captured 1 officer and twenty five men, with another eleven wounded Germans being found in one of the bunkers.

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Nobles Farm. The new front-line for 22nd October 1917 was positioned to the other side of the farm running left to right.

Although the bunkers caused problems with the Norfolk advance they were also quickly dealt with by surrounding them and dealing with the occupants. 

Poelcappalle 22 Oct 17 No 6

Poelcapelle after capture.

D Company and captured another strong-point called the Brewery at 6.50 a.m. but suffered casualties from an 18 pounder barrage. At 7.30 a.m. the 10/Essex passed through the captured positions and the Norfolk companies consolidated their positions.

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Private 265787 Donald Sidney Price Gay who was born at Barton Turf who was killed in action on 22nd October 1917. Donald was the husband of Gertrude E. Gooch (formerly Gay) of 15 Marlboro’ Road in Norwich. Donald is buried in Poelcapelle Military Cemetery and this picture was taken on 22nd October 2017, 100 years ago to the day he was killed.

Some of the Norfolks came under artillery fire which reduced their number from thirty-six to fourteen but the men held onto what they had captured.

George Balls KIA 22 Oct 17

Serjeant 40463 George Balls, aged 22, who was killed in action on 22nd October 1917. George was the son of Mr and Mrs Richard Balls of 4 Connaught Road in Norwich. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial

The 10/Essex suffered heavy casualties and requested help from the Norfolks and they bolstered positions in front of Helles House, Nobles Farm and along the Spriet Road to Tracas Farm.

Sydney Smith KIA 22 Oct 17

Lance Corporal 3/7073 Sidney John Smith, aged 24, who was killed in action on 22nd October 1917. Sidney was the son of Mrs Mary Smith of Pulham St. Mary.

Here the remnants of both battalions held the ground they had captured under heavy German artillery fire directed by spotter planes.

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Tracas Farm which caused problems for the 10th Battalion Essex Regiment. This position was the extremity of the line of advance for both battalions.

This caused more casualties but the ground they captured was kept and they were relived by fresh troops in the evening and they returned back to Cane Trench. The casualties for this action were high. The battalion lost 6 officers and 224 men killed, wounded or missing.

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Corporal 20967 Daniel Alfred Daniels, aged 31, who was in “A” Company and who was killed in action on 22nd October 1917. Daniel was the son of William and Kathleen Daniels of Norwich and the husband of May Maud Daniels of 12 West End Street in Norwich. Daniel is buried in Poelcapelle Military Cemetery and this photo was taken on 22nd October 2017, 100 years to the day he was killed.

But the capture of Poelcapplle was described as a ‘gloriously won’ in the Norfolk’s history and that noted that the 18th Division history stated,

‘The triumphant Essex and Norfolks…tramped back to hear the whole division and General Maxse singing their praise.’

Walter Phillips DOW 24 Oct 17

Corporal 43693 Walter John Phillips, aged 24, who died of wounds on 24th October 1917. Walter was the only son of Walter John and Clara Phillips of 50 Guernsey Road in Norwich. He is now laid to rest in Grave XII. C. 24. in Dozinghem Military Cemetery.

100 years ago to the day the 8th Battalion advanced I visited the area. The day was bleak and windy and the fields around the area had been ploughed over for winter. 100 years ago this whole area was flooded due to the almost continuous shelling by both sides. Just walking on a ploughed field around this time of year gets your boots caked with mud. Just walking on tracks can be very difficult.

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Looking toward the Brewery close to Helles House. This is a large part of the ground advanced over by the 8th Battalion on 22nd October 1917

So imagine what it must like when you have full kit, a rifle and a tin hat with an enemy firing at you with rifles, machine-guns, grenades and artillery. It always amazes me that anyone got through that maelstrom!

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Lance Corporal 3/6895 Leonard Louis Smith from Felthorpe who was killed in action on 22nd October 1917. Leonard was a pre-war regular who had enlisted on 18th January 1911. He had served on the Western Front with the 1st Battalion since January 1915 and had been wounded in August 1916 but had been sent to the 8th Battalion in November 1916. He was the son of George Smith of the Oaks in Howford near Norwich. Leonard is one of a couple of Norfolk men who are buried in Poelcappelle Military Cemetery and this photo was take on 22nd October 2017 so 100 years to the day he was killed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Tale of Two Soldiers

Gunner 153455 Archie Snelling and Gunner 153456 Cornelius Skipper

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Cornelius Skipper who served as a police officer in Norwich City Police and with 293rd Battery Royal Garrison Artillery

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the death of two Norwich City Police officers who served in the Royal Garrison Artillery in WW1. Cornelius had joined the police as PC 80 on 24th April 1909 and Archie had joined up as PC 124 on 1st April 1911.

When war broke out both men remained as police officers but both did apply to join the Army. Both men were initially refused but as the war progressed they were allowed to join and Archie & Cornelius joined up together on 30th March 1917 and their service numbers, 153455 and 153456, are one number apart.

Both went to No. 1 Depot at Rugeley the next day. Cornelius was then posted as Gunner to 412th Siege Battery based at Prees Heath and then, at the end of June, onto Lydd for live fire training. After a short period of leave he left Southampton with his battery on the 14th of August and arrived Le Havre the next day.

On the 24th of August 1917 one officer and 51 other ranks from the 412th joined the 293rd Siege Battery adding an extra section and making it up to six howitzers.

 

Cornelius was wounded on 11th October 1917 when his battery received counter battery fire and he died of wounds in 47 Casualty Clearing Station. On the day that he died a medic who tended to him wrote a letter to the Chief Constable of Norwich City Police stating,

To the Chief Constable Norwich City Police

I am very sorry to inform you that Gunner Skipper late of the Norwich Police passed away here yesterday 12th instant. I was on duty with him all night the 11th and he told me he was a Police Officer previous to joining up, I myself being a member of the Kent County Constabulary.

I thought I would take the liberty to write to let you know, he was well cared for during the brief time he was here and also I done all he wished, he died peacefully from a shrapnel wound in the chest, hoping you will forgive the liberty I am taking in writing.

Private A A Arnold RAMC

C Skipper Letter

The original letter sent by Private Arnold

Secondly his C.O. wrote to his widow and detailed what had happened,

Dear Madam,

I very much regret to have to inform you that your husband No 153456 Gunner Cornelius Skipper, serving in the Battery under my command was severely wounded in the right arm and back by the explosion of a hostile shell on the morning of 11th October 1917. He was immediately conveyed to the nearest dressing station where he was attended to by the medical officer in charge and after having his wounds dressed was sent to the Casualty Clearing Station by motor ambulance. Shortly after arrival he succumbed to his injuries.

I trust you will accept my deepest sympathy.

H S K Snowdon Major

C Skipper Letter 2

The original letter sent to Cornelius Skipper’s wife

 

 

Archie would have landed in France on 16th February 1917 with the rest of 248 Siege Battery. In October 1917 they were serving in 1 ANZAC Corps and the battery was located about 200 metres north east of Birr Cross Roads in the Ypres Salient. 

At that time they were in support of 1 and 2 ANZAC during the 1st Battle of Passchendaele. Archie was killed during counter battery fire operations.

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Archie Snelling who served as a police officer in Norwich City Police and in 248 Battery Royal Garrison Artillery

Both men died on the same day and this I find very sad and I have paid my respects to both when I have been on battlefield tours.

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Cornelius Skipper’s grave in Dozinghem Military Cemetery

Cornelius is buried in Grave X. F. 19. in Dozingham Military Cemetery and was the son of James and Harriett Skipper of Surlingham and the husband of Nellie H. Skipper of “The Cabin,” in Haynford.

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Archie’s name on one of the Royal Garrison Artillery panels on the Tyne Cot Memorial

Archie has no known grave and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial, he was son of Mr and Mrs. Snelling of 190 Waterloo Road in Norwich and the husband of Ellen Snelling of 72 Avenue Road, Park Lane in Norwich.

Both were aged 28 when they died.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3rd Battle of Ypres (Part 5)

  1. Polderhoek Chateau

The 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment

9th October 1917

PHC No 5

Polderhoek Chateau prior to WW1

After Oppy Wood the 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment had spent time around Beaumont but on 25th September 1917 it returned to Ypres, a place they had not served around since 1915. On 1st October they went into the reserve trenches around Dickebusch Lake. 

PHC No 7

The area around Polderhoek including the chateau

After a brief spell in reserve they were moved up to the front and were put into the line facing the Polderhoek Chateau. They had the 1/Cheshires on their left and the 16/Warwickshires on their right.

By now the weather had really set in and the ground around them was watery and described as ‘obnoxious’ with shell holes and craters filled with water. The conditions and difficulty with the weather are noted in their war diary,

‘Moved from support trenches in the early morning for attack on POLDERHOEK CHATEAU. Coys got on their kicking off position about 4 am. Very dark night and pouring with rain. Companies had a very difficult task to get on the tape but they managed it successfully, much to the credit of their Coy commanders.’

Since we saw the initial actions by the 8th Battalion there had been a series of battles fought around the Ypres Salient and the next action would be the start of the Battle of Poelcappelle. After gains had been made on 4th October the next attack was planned for 9th October along a front of 13,500 yards. The intention here was to capture Passchendaele Ridge.

Dix & Pembroke

Private 200762 Alan Jack Dix from Norwich and Private 26288 Horace Andrew Pembroke from Ilford. lan was killed in action during the attack on Polderhoek Chateau and Horace died when the battalion were in support trenches prior to moving up to the front. Both are buried in Hooge Crater Cemetery.

X Corps was to attack to hold German reserves around Becelaere and Gheluvelt. To the north, I Anzac Corps was to advance on the right flank of the main attack, with the 1st and 2nd Australian divisions, the 4th and 5th Australian divisions being in reserve. Further north, II Anzac Corps with the New Zealand and 3rd Australian divisions in reserve, was to attack two objectives, the 66th Division advancing along the main ridge, north of the Ypres–Roulers railway to just short of Passchendaele village and the 49th Division on either side of the Ravebeek stream, up Wallemolen spur to the Bellevue pillboxes.

If the first objectives were reached, the reserve brigades were to attack the second objectives in the afternoon. The second objectives were 800–1,000 yards ahead of the red line, beyond the village and the main ridge respectively. The reserve divisions were ready to move rapidly forward, by train from west of Ypres to continue the attack the next day.

On the 5th Army front, XVIII Corps with a brigade each from the 48th and 11th divisions, was to advance 1,200 yards up to the Poelcappelle spur and towards Westroosebeke on the main ridge. XIV Corps was to advance to the south edge of Houthoulst Forest with the 4th, 29th and Guards divisions, as the French First Army conformed on its left. Raids and artillery bombardments were arranged along the rest of the front, to deceive the Germans as to the objectives of the attacks.

There is an after action report in the war diary of the 1/Norfolks so we can follow the progress of their battle on 9th October 1917. But in the main body of the war diary there is a very brief summary which states,

‘Attacked the Chateau at 5:20 am. Attack was a failure owing to Battalion on our right apparently getting held up and losing direction. We had heavy casualties in officers and men.’

George William White KIA 9 Oct 17

Private 14775 George William White aged 25 who was the son of Edward John and Harriett Mary White of Wighton in Norfolk. George has no known grave and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.

At 4 a.m. the battalion moved from support trenches to the front. “C” Company would be on the right and “A” Company on the left. “B” Company would support both of the lead companies and “D” Company was held in reserve. They moved up in complete darkness and in heavy rain.

The barrage on the German line lifted at 5.20 a.m. and the Norfolks followed the Warwickshires who were leading the advance. Sadly both the rain and the darkness meant that the Norfolks veered off to the right and found themselves in front of the Chateau instead of the left of it. “B” Company was sent up to support the two lead companies who began to falter. But enemy artillery and machine gun fire began to take its toll, with no support from British artillery which had moved on. This led to heavy losses and no further progress could be made.

The after action report noted the following for the day,

1. Battalion formed up at zero – 1:30 “A” Company on the left – “C” Coy on the right – “B” Coy in close support – “D” Coy in section reserve. “D” Coy remained in reserve for counter attack purposes.

2. Our barrage lifting, the front line went forward but “C” Coy and half of “A” Coy made a right incline which brought them off their line and facing the Chateau.
Nos 1 and 2 Platoons followed the line, No 2 Platoon went slightly too much to their left and on reaching the objective found themselves isolated in front of the right of the Cheshire Regiment. They held on there till relieved on the night of the 10th-11th.

No 1 Platoon also went well forward about 400 yards. Then finding they had lost touch on the right, efforts were made to regain touch.

6 a.m. The Officer Commanding sent back a Sergeant to find out the situation. The Sergeant was wounded.

9 a.m. He then went back with a runner and was himself wounded.

9 p.m. Eventually the remnants of the Platoon rejoined the original front line by night.

5:30 a.m. Half “A” Coy and “C” Coy went half right and found themselves up against the Chateau

6 a.m. A retrograde movement on the part of these companies was checked by O.C. “B” Coy who threw his company in. By this time the enemy had opened cross M.G. fire and was bombing from wing trenches near the Chateau and the barrage had gone on. No further progress was made. By night the Companies were re-organised and the old line held.

Bertie Docking KIA 9 Oct 17

Private 13689 Bertie Docking who was killed in action on 9th October 1917 and who came from Brandon. He is now laid to rest in Grave 4 XII. H. 6. in Bedford House Cemetery, 

By 9 p.m. on 9th October 1917 the battalion was back where it had started and were out of the line by 11 p.m. The after action report had this to say about the failure.

The Battalion moved to relieve the KOSB at 1 a.m. on the night of 5-6th

The Battalion had no casualties on this relief. The men had no great coats and suffered a good deal. Shelling went on all the while and losses were steady. The support companies suffered most from this shelling.

Trenches can easily be dug in but it is extremely difficult to keep them in good repair as the wet causes them to fall in.

They and all shell holes fill with water.

The men had no hot food all the time from leaving Bedford House till after relief on the night of the 10th – 11th.

I think the failure was due to the worn condition of the men and the bad weather.

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The area around the Polderhoek Chateau which can be seen centrally

Losses on this day were high with 3 officers killed and 4 wounded other ranks casualties amounted to 38 killed and 246 wounded or missing.

Challis KIA 9 Oct 17

Lance Corporal 290071 Bertie Challis who was killed in action on 9th October 1917. Bertie came from Brandon and is now laid to rest in Grave IX. L. 4. in Hooge Crater Cemetery.

The day after the attack saw the battalion being commanded by one officer and wounded were left out in no-man’s land with stragglers coming in all day. After they were relieved the battalion was sent to Berthen where it reorganised receiving drafts of men.

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Private 22336 Albert Bertie Hardiment aged 30 who was the son of J. and Mary Ann Hardiment who came from Hellesdon and is now laid to rest in Hooge Crater Cemetery.

On 22nd October 2017 I will be out walking the area around Polderhoek so will update this post then.

 

PHC No 2

The remains of Polderhoek Chateau after the fighting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3rd Battle of Ypres (Part 4)

The 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment 

14th August 1917 

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James Lewton-Brain who came from Yaxham

During a battlefield tour in June I found three Norfolk Regiment graves in Lijssenthoek Cemetery. Not knowing much about them I photographed them and then looked into their deaths when I got home.

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Douglas Arthur Leamon’s grave in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery

They are:

DOUGLAS ARTHUR LEAMON

Rank: Lieutenant
Date of Death: 14/08/1917
Age: 22
Regiment/Service: Norfolk Regiment 8th Bn.
Grave Reference: XV. A. 15.
Cemetery: LIJSSENTHOEK MILITARY CEMETERY

Additional Information:Youngest son of Philip Augustus and Lucy Leamon of Headingley in Manitoba who was born in Norwich.

 

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Wilfred Robert Williamson’s grave in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery

WILFRID ROBERT WILLIAMSON

Rank: Lieutenant
Date of Death: 14/08/1917
Age: 28
Regiment/Service: Norfolk Regiment 8th Bn.
Awards: M C
Grave Reference: XV. A. 18.
Cemetery: LIJSSENTHOEK MILITARY CEMETERY

Additional Information:Son of Annie Sophia Williamson of 67 Cecile Park Crouch End London and the late William Pope Williamson.

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James Lewton-Brain’s grave in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery

 

JAMES ANDREW LEWTON-BRAIN 

Rank: Lieutenant
Date of Death: 14/08/1917
Age: 29
Regiment/Service: Norfolk Regiment 8th Bn.
Grave Reference: XV. A. 16.
Cemetery: LIJSSENTHOEK MILITARY CEMETERY

Additional Information: Son of James and Clara Lewton Brain of The Rookery in Yaxham who was born at Swanton.

All of these 3 officers died from the affects of gas when a phosgene shell penetrated the dugout they were in at Railway Dugouts near Zillebeke.

 

Zillebeke July 1917

The area where the 8th Battalion were positioned. The dugout where the shell landed was positioned was in grid 21.

A total of 11 officers and 12 other ranks were affected by the gas, 7 officers being seriously affected all of whom were evacuated.

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Railway Dugouts Burial Ground (Transport Farm) Cemetery this is the area where the 8th Battalion were in dugouts when the gas shells landed.

I have included part of the after action report for this time.

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The 3rd Battle of Ypres (Part 3)

The 7th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment

10th – 17th August 1917

10th August 1917

The order of battle for 10th 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.

Langemarck 16 Aug 17

The situation for 16th August 1917

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.

Lessons:

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.

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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.