London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories
The First Seven Divisions - Manoeuvring Westward in 1914
Being a Detailed Account of the Fighting from Mons to Ypres
Author: Ernest W. Hamilton
General Foch, with his Head Quarters at Doulens, at this time commanded all the
French troops north of Noyon, and the Flanders plan of campaign was arranged
between him and the Commander in Chief as follows: The 2nd Army Corp was to
occupy the canal line from Aire to Béthune, and the 3rd Army Corp on arrival was
to extend that line northward. The road running from Béthune to Lille was to be
the dividing line between French and British, and the aim of the British force
was to be to wheel to the right and so menace the flank of the Germans facing
the 21st French Army Corps under General Maistre. The 7th Division and the 3rd
Cavalry Division from Belgium were to co-operate in this general wheeling
movement as circumstances permitted.
This scheme, as things turned out, was destined to be entirely upset by the fall
of Antwerp on October 9th. For the first week it worked admirably, and the
cavalry patrols and infantry outposts opposed to us fell back—as had been
anticipated—before our advance. Then German reinforcements began to come up.
Four Army Corps were railed up from the eastern frontier, to which were
presently added some 90,000 troops released by the fall of Antwerp.
However, before these things happened, we had made some progress from our
original line in an attempt to carry out the formulated scheme. On October 11th
the detrainment of the 2nd Army Corp was completed and Sir Horace moved his two
divisions into position between Aire and Béthune. On October 12th the 3rd A.C,
under General Pulteney, arrived at St. Omer and moved forward to Hazebrouck. The
moment this Army Corps was in position Sir Horace made the first move in the
contemplated sweep by pushing forward the 3rd Division, which was on the left of
the 2nd A.C, with orders to cross the Lawe Canal, which the enemy was reported
to be holding in force. The advance was carried out with but little serious
opposition, except in the neighbourhood of the locks at Etroa, where the 2nd R.
Scots in the 8th Brigade met with a stubborn resistance, in the course of which
Lieut. Trotter was killed and Captain Croker (in command of the battalion) and
Captain Heathcote badly wounded. The battalion, however, in spite of losses,
continued to advance with great gallantry to the line of the canal, which
Captain Tanner and Lieut. Cazenove, with the leading company, eventually
succeeded in crossing by the lock-gates, an exploit for which the former
received the D.S.O. and the latter the Military Cross. The defenders thereupon
at once gave way, suffering heavily in their retirement from the rifle fire of
the 4th Middlesex on the right.
On the following morning the 3rd Division advance was renewed, the brigade
chiefly concerned being once again the 8th, in the centre. This brigade set out
at 6.30, the Middlesex being on the right, the R. Scots in the centre, and the
1st Gordon Highlanders on the left.
The country was dead flat, and the advance very slow owing to the innumerable
water-dykes with which the country is intersected and which could only be
crossed by means of planks or ladders borrowed from the farms.
About midday the Middlesex captured the village of Croix Barbée and the R. Scots
performed the same office by Pont de Hem, but shortly afterwards further advance
was checked, the enemy being found in considerable force and strongly
entrenched, and the country offering no sort of cover. The brigade, however,
though unable to advance, refused to retire, and very fierce fighting ensued, in
the course of which the enemy made two most determined counter-attacks, one on
Lieut. Henderson's Company on the left of the R. Scots, and one on Captain
Passy's Company on the left of the Middlesex line. Both these attacks were
repulsed with heavy loss to the enemy, but the casualties on our side were also
severe, Lieut. Henderson—who was awarded the Cross of the Legion of Honour for
the great gallantry which he displayed throughout these operations—being badly
wounded, and Captain Passy's Company being reduced to the dimensions of a
platoon. By nightfall the R. Scots had lost, during the day, 9 officers and
close on 400 men. Second-Lieuts. Hewitt, Kerr and Snead-Cox had been killed, and
of Captain Morrison's Company all the officers and 175 rank and file had been
either killed or wounded.
The losses in the Middlesex were almost as severe, Lieut. Coles, among others,
being killed and Major Finch and Captain Passy severely wounded. Both
battalions, however, maintained their ground with the utmost determination.
On the 14th some more of the actors in the approaching drama began to fall into
their allotted places. The immortal 7th Division reached Ypres from Dixmude at
midday and went into billets. The 3rd Cavalry Division arrived at the same time
and from the same quarter, and split up, the 6th Cavalry Brigade going to
Wytschate and the 7th Cavalry Brigade to Kemmel. The original Cavalry Brigades
had now been re-organized, de Lisle taking over the 1st Division from Allenby,
Gough retaining the second, and both divisions forming a "Cavalry Corps" under
General Allenby. The 3rd Cavalry Division, on the other hand, had no part or
parcel in this Cavalry Corps, being a separate and independent organization,
under General the Hon. J. Byng.
During the day the Cavalry Corps captured the high ground above Béthune after
some stiff fighting, while the 3rd Army Corp advanced and occupied Bailleul,
which was found to be full of German wounded. The 9th Brigade on the left of the
3rd Division was still pushing ahead, but the 8th Brigade was found to have got
too far in advance of the troops further north, who had the bigger sweep to
make, and General Doran, the Brigadier, ordered the brigade to entrench where it
was, the R. Irish Regiment under Major Daniell being brought up from reserve to
fill the gaps made the previous day in the ranks of the 4th Middlesex and 2nd R.
Sir Hubert Hamilton, the Divisional General, shortly afterwards came along on
foot to inspect the trenches, disregarding warnings as to the great danger he
was running. He proceeded on foot down the Richebourg Road, which was swept by
shell-fire, in company with Captain Strutt, commanding the R. Scots, and was
almost immediately killed by a shell, Captain Strutt being at the same time
rendered unconscious. The General's A.D.C., Captain Thorp, ran forward and knelt
by Sir Hubert's body, trying to screen it from the shells which were now falling
thickly on the road. Captain Strutt shortly afterwards recovered consciousness,
but was almost immediately severely wounded by another shell, and the command of
the R. Scots devolved on Lieut. Cazenove. This battalion had now lost 15
officers and over 500 men in the last three days' operations, but its casualties
were to a certain extent repaired by the timely arrival of a draft of 180 men
and several officers from home.
While the 3rd Division was thus pushing slowly ahead in the face of great
natural difficulties, the 5th Division was being heavily engaged in the
neighbourhood of Givenchy. Little forward progress was either asked for or
expected from this division, the canal south of Givenchy having been, from the
first, the selected pivot of the proposed wheeling movement. It was also a
matter of common knowledge that the Germans were in far greater strength here
than they were further north, the original idea of the wheeling movement having
been, in fact, entirely based on the knowledge of the gradually diminishing
strength of the German forces as they stretched northwards.
The first regiment to take a conspicuous part in the terrific fighting which for
three weeks raged round Givenchy was the Dorsets. This was on the 13th, i.e., on
the same day on which the 8th Brigade made its advance to Croix Barbée and Pont
It was a miserable day, foggy and wet. The Dorsets were on the extreme right of
our army, in a line of trenches on the low ground between Givenchy and the
canal. The attack was pressed with great vigour by the enemy, and the 1st
Bedfords, on the left of the Dorsets, were driven out of the village of
Givenchy. The left flank of the Dorsets was now exposed to enfilading fire from
the ridge on which Givenchy stands, and their position was distinctly
precarious. Some of the left-hand trenches were all but surrounded, the enemy
having pressed forward into the gap at Givenchy, and from thence bearing down on
the flank of the Dorsets. That regiment, however, held on with the utmost
tenacity and successfully defended its position against repeated and most
determined attacks; but the position was distinctly critical, and it was felt to
be essential that orders of some sort should be received from Brigade Head
Quarters. The telephonic communication had unfortunately been cut and there was
no means of getting a message through except by hand, which, in the
circumstances, seemed an all but impossible undertaking. A private of the name
of Coombs, however, volunteered to try, and on the outward voyage actually got
through untouched, but on returning with the necessary orders he was shot clean
through the chest, but continued running for another 200 yards till he had
delivered his message.
The orders received were that the Dorsets were to hold on, and this they
continued to do, and with such good results that about 10 a.m. a long line of
Germans was seen advancing with hands up and a white flag. The Dorsets left
their trenches to accept this surrender and were instantly raked from end to end
by concealed machine-guns from beyond the canal. These machine-guns had
evidently been trained on the Dorsets' position in anticipation of that which
actually happened, proving beyond any question that the whole thing was one
carefully thought-out piece of treachery. The Dorsets being got fairly in line,
and fully exposed to the concentrated fire of several machine-guns, literally
fell in hundreds. Major Roper was killed and Col. Bols was shot through the back
and actually taken prisoner, but in the subsequent confusion he managed to crawl
away and rejoin what was left of his battalion. The most unsatisfactory part of
the whole affair was, that if the French Territorials on the south side of the
canal, i.e., on the right of the Dorsets, had been where they ought to have
been, that which happened never could have happened; but instead of being up in
line, for some unexplained reason they were a quarter of a mile behind.
The loss, however, was limited—as a loss—to the treacherous massacre of several
hundred gallant men, and the capture of two of the supporting guns. The Gunners,
as usual, behaved with the utmost gallantry, but they too came under the same
enfilading fire as the Dorsets and every man of the detachment except Captain
Boscawen fell either killed or wounded. Two of the guns were captured, but, with
this, the material advantage gained by the enemy began and ended, for the 1st
Cheshires were brought up from reserve and, with their co-operation, the
morning's line was re-occupied. The Cheshires, however, themselves suffered
considerably, among their casualties being their C.O., Col. Vandeleur, who was
killed while leading the attack. 
On the 15th, as though in fury at the loss of their gallant General, the 3rd
Division, now under the command of General Mackenzie, fought with a dash and
determination which were irresistible. Their advance was continually checked by
the country dykes, but, in spite of these hampering obstacles, the Germans were
everywhere driven back with heavy loss. The 4th Middlesex and the 2nd R. Scots
again did particularly good work, and, further north, in the 9th Brigade, the R.
Fusiliers and the Northumberland Fusiliers gained high praise from the Army Corp
Commander for the vigour and activity with which they pushed forward in the face
of strong opposition.
Conneau's cavalry, filling the eight-mile gap between the two Army Corps, also
made good progress, as did the 3rd Army Corp, on the left. In the case of the
latter Army Corps the 6th Division succeeded in reaching Sailly without
encountering serious opposition, while the 4th Division got as far as Nieppe.
The 2nd Army Corp, in its attempt to wheel, had so far advanced its left flank
three miles in the last four days at a cost of 90 officers and 2,000 men. It
had, however, inflicted very heavy losses on the enemy.
On the 16th the 3rd Division continued the wheeling movement with little
opposition till it reached the village of Aubers, which was found to be strongly
held, and where it was brought up short.
So much for the present as regards the general movement forward of the four
divisions of infantry working south of Le Gheir. The attempt to drive the enemy
back was destined to prove abortive, but this was not generally recognized by
October 17th, and the idea was still to push our troops forward. This general
desire to advance soon communicated itself to the 15th Brigade, on the extreme
right of the British line at Givenchy, which had so far been looked upon as the
pivot on which the left was to sweep round, and on the morning of the 17th the
brigade was ordered to push ahead. During the night of the 16th the 1st Devons
had taken over the trenches just north of the canal in which the Dorsets had
suffered such terrible casualties three days earlier. The 1st Bedfords were on
their left, and on their right, of course, were the French Territorials south of
At 5 a.m. on the morning of the 17th a great bombardment was concentrated upon
Givenchy, and the Germans were soon shelled out of that place, which had been in
their possession since the 13th. A general advance was thereupon ordered.
As a precaution against the calamity which had overtaken the Dorsets, the Devons
put one company on the south side of the canal. This company was in touch with
the French Territorials—so long as these latter kept up in line, which, as it
proved, was not for long. The advance was made under considerable difficulties,
as the country afforded no natural cover, and the enemy was found to be in far
greater force than had been anticipated. However, in spite of a most continued
and stubborn resistance, the Devons, in obedience to orders, succeeded in
advancing their position 1,000 yards, and held on there till dusk, waiting for
the French Territorials on their right and the regiment on their left to come up
into line. These, however, failed to arrive, and it soon became clear that for
the Devons to remain isolated at the point to which they penetrated could only
result in the capture of the entire battalion. Their retirement, however, in the
circumstances, was a matter of extreme difficulty, the country being quite flat
and entirely destitute of cover. The enemy were favoured by an exceptionally
clear field for their fire, and all their attention was naturally focussed on
the one battalion which had dared to push so far ahead. The men were sheltering
as best they could in ditches and behind haystacks, of which there was
fortunately a fair sprinkling. When the order came to retire some crept away
under shelter of the hedges; others had not even this cover, and had to take
their chance in the open.
One detachment of some forty men were sheltering behind a large haystack in the
open. They were quickly located, and shrapnel and machine-gun fire was
concentrated on the haystack, which soon began to dwindle under the hail of
missiles. Lieut. Worrall, who was one of the party, thereupon set fire to the
haystack, and told the men to make a bolt for it singly, under cover of the
smoke. This they successfully did, and with few further casualties—all but Sergt.
Harris and another man, who were wounded and could not move. The haystack was
now beginning to blaze fiercely and it was clear the men could not be left.
Lieut. Worrall picked up Sergt. Harris and carried him 400 yards across the open
to the shelter of the canal bank, where he left him. Then he went back for the
In the meanwhile the line further north was still making a certain progress. At
Lorgies a party of the King's Own Scottish Borderers Cyclists, under Corpl. Wheeler, rode right into
the enemy outposts. They promptly dismounted, and, opening fire, held the enemy
for half an hour till the brigade (the 13th) arrived on the scene and captured
the place. Still further north again Gen. Shaw and his 9th Brigade was as usual
fairly active. About 4 p.m. the R. Scots Fusiliers and the Northumberland
Fusiliers attacked and carried the village of Aubers with the bayonet,
completely routing the occupying troops; and a little later the R. Fusiliers and
Lincolns performed the same office by the village of Herlies.
Aubers stands on the crest of the ridge which faces Neuve Chapelle. Herlies, on
the other hand, lies at the foot of a long, gradual slope of open, cultivated
land. The village was defended on the west side by a semi-circular line of
trenches, protected by barbed wire entanglements. The defenders had also a Horse
Artillery Battery and—as usual—a great number of machine-guns posted here and
there in any suitable buildings. The two attacking battalions, on the other
hand, were supported by a R.F.A. battery and a section of howitzers. These did
admirable preliminary work, and at dusk the two regiments—Lincolns on right, R.
Fusiliers on left—charged the trenches, carried them hot-handed and pursued the
Germans into the village. Here further pursuit was unfortunately checked by the
too great activity of our own artillery, but the position won was occupied and
held for six days. The Lincolns, who were the chief sufferers, lost seventy-five
men and two officers during this attack.
Further north, Conneau's cavalry added their share to the day's work by
capturing Fromelles, so that there was an appreciable advance all round, which
would have been greater still had not the 7th Brigade, which was on the right of
the 3rd Division, failed to take the village of Illies.
The position then at night on the 17th was that the pivot point remained on the
canal, south of Givenchy. From that point the line of the 2nd Army Corp curved
round behind La Bassée and through Violaines, after which it zig-zagged towards
the north-east in an irregular salient, the 3rd Army Corp being thrown back on
Such was still the state of things on the morning of the 18th, when the
Germans—having been reinforced during the night by the XIII. Division of the
VII. Corps—made counter-attacks all along the line of the 2nd Army Corp All
these were repulsed with loss to the enemy, but our own line made no advance,
the stumbling-block being still Illies, which continued to defy capture by the
At dusk the undefeated 9th Brigade stormed and took the trenches one mile
north-east of Illies, but as they were unsupported on either flank, they had to
abandon the position and fall back. The 1st R. Scots Fusiliers did particularly
good work on this occasion, and suffered correspondingly, Captain Burt and
Lieuts. Cozens-Brooke, the Hon. J. Doyle, and Fergusson-Barton being killed, and
six other officers wounded. In the meanwhile Conneau had advanced from Fromelles
and attacked Fournes, but this attack failed.
Meanwhile, in the Armentières district, the 3rd Army Corp was making great
efforts to play up to its allotted part in the wheel to the south, the 4th
Division being north of Armentières, the 6th Division south of it. The centre of
interest was still to the south of Armentières, the concentration of German
troops north of that town being still only in process of development. For the
moment, then, we can neglect affairs further north, and follow the attempted
wheeling movement of the troops south of Armentières to its furthest point east.
On the afternoon of the 18th the 16th Brigade captured Radinghem, the two
battalions chiefly concerned being the 2nd Lancs. and Yorks. and the 1st Buffs.
These two battalions, who were on the right of the 6th Division, gallantly
stormed and carried the village and then—in the impetuosity of success and
enterprise—followed on beyond after the retreating Germans. Here, in pushing
forward through an impenetrable wood, they suddenly found themselves swept from
all sides by concealed machine-guns, which literally rained bullets on them. The
casualties here were very high, the Lancs. and Yorks. alone losing 11 officers
and 400 men. Col. Cobbold and Major Bailey, however, who displayed the greatest
coolness and courage throughout, succeeded in withdrawing the remains of the
battalion in good order and getting it back to Radinghem.
The two battalions, in spite of their heavy losses, retained possession of this
village throughout the night, though—had the Germans counter-attacked in
force—things might have gone badly with them, as they were two miles ahead of
the rest of the division.
 Col. Vandeleur, while leading the Cheshires at Givenchy, was not killed as
originally reported, but was wounded, fell into the hands of the Germans and
finally escaped to England.