London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories

The First Seven Divisions - Zandvoorde in 1914

Being a Detailed Account of the Fighting from Mons to Ypres

Author: Ernest W. Hamilton

ZANDVOORDE

Following the loss of Kruiseik on the 29th came the loss of Zandvoorde on the 30th. The particular section in the line of defence known as the Zandvoorde trenches had from first to last been a death-trap, and had proved particularly expensive to the 3rd Cavalry Division, whose special privilege it had been to defend them. They curved round the south-east side of the village, following the contours of the ridge, and, being the most prominent feature in the entire Ypres salient, were particularly susceptible to shell-fire from all quarters, except the north. Their chief attraction, from the purely military point of view, lay in the fact that they were on the crest of a ridge some 120 feet high, which here juts out into the plain, and which faces the ridge of about the same height a mile and a quarter away, on which Kruiseik stands. Their weakness lay in the fact that they were practically surrounded by the enemy, and were even open to attack from the direction of Hollebeke, which lay due west of their southern extension. In these circumstances their loss on the 30th was not wholly a matter for regret.

At the moment of the final attack, the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Household Cavalry) had already been in these trenches for three days and nights, under a ceaseless shell-fire from south and east, and occasionally even from west. In the case of the machine-gun section of the Blues, under Lord Worsley, that period was doubled, the detachment having been in the advance trenches for six days and nights unrelieved.

There is reason to believe that the supreme attack on Zandvoorde had originally been planned for the 29th, so as to take place simultaneously with that on Kruiseik, but a delay in the arrival of the XV. German Army Corps resulted in its postponement till the following day. The expected reinforcements arrived during the night of the 29th and—all being now according to arrangement—the attack took place at daybreak on the following morning.

The attack took the form of a storm of shrapnel and high-explosives of so terrific a nature that by nine o'clock the Household Cavalry trenches had been literally blown to pieces, and the brigade was forced to retire slowly down the hill, keeping up a covering fire as it went. The retirement was effected in good order, but Lord Hugh Grosvenor's squadron of the 1st Life Guards, "C" Squadron of the 2nd Life Guards, and Lord Worsley's machine-gun section of the Blues did not succeed in withdrawing with the rest of the brigade, and their fate is still a matter of uncertainty. It is probable, however, that, in the pandemonium which was reigning, the order to retire did not reach them, and that those who survived the bombardment awaited the infantry attack which followed, and fought it out to an absolute finish. An officer in the R. Welsh Fusiliers' trenches, on the left of the Zandvoorde trenches, subsequently described the defence put up that day by the Household Cavalry as one of the finest feats of the war. It may well be that untold deeds of heroism remain yet to be recorded in connection with that morning's work. [10]

The R. Welsh Fusiliers were on the right of the 22nd Brigade and on the left of the Household Cavalry, in trenches which curved back from the Zandvoorde trenches and faced in the main north-west, whereas the Zandvoorde trenches faced south-east. These trenches were at the best ill-constructed affairs, and were weakened in the middle by a big gap where the road from Zandvoorde to Becelaere passed through them.

The Zandvoorde trenches passed into the hands of the enemy soon after nine, and the Germans at once swarmed into them and began making their way along towards the north, till they reached a position from which they could get the Welsh Fusiliers in flank. Then began the annihilation of this very gallant regiment. From the moment that the Zandvoorde trenches went, its position was hopeless, its right flank being completely unprotected, and its own trenches disconnected and ill-adapted for mutual protection. The regiment, however, fought as it had fought on the 19th and again on the 20th and 21st. It fought, in the words of the Commander in Chief, "till every officer had been killed or wounded; only ninety men rejoined the brigade." As a matter of fact, the exact number of survivors out of a battalion which a fortnight earlier had numbered 1,100 was 86, and these were shortly afterwards absorbed into the 2nd Queen's, their only remaining officer being the Quartermaster.

Among those that fell on that day were Captain Barker, Col. Cadogan and his Adjutant, Lieut. Dooner. The latter was killed in a very gallant attempt to cross the interval which divided the trenches, and investigate the state of affairs on the right; and the Colonel fell in an equally gallant attempt to rescue his subordinate after he had fallen.

The position was now—as may be supposed—extremely serious, the enemy being in complete possession of the Zandvoorde ridge. The 7th Cavalry Brigade (Household Cavalry), when it had fallen back in the morning, had retired through the 6th Cavalry Brigade and formed up in rear.

Its retreat had been greatly assisted by the magnificent work of the two Horse Artillery Batteries attached, viz., "C" Battery, under Major White, and "K" Battery, under Major Lamont. Both displayed the greatest daring and activity, and the latter succeeded in completely knocking out a German battery which was just coming into action on the Zandvoorde ridge.

In the meanwhile, the only force which stood in the way of the enemy was the 6th Cavalry Brigade, that is to say, three cavalry regiments, all considerably weakened by fighting. The gravity of the situation lay in the fact that if the Klein Zillebeke position went, there was nothing further to prevent the enemy marching straight into Ypres, only three miles distant, in which case the 1st Army Corp and 7th Division would have been irretrievably cut off from their base and supplies, and the capture or annihilation of these three divisions would have inevitably followed.

Accordingly Sir Douglas Haig, quick to realize that the events of the next few hours would decide the making or marring of the campaign, sent out an ultimatum to the effect that the line to which we had now been driven, i.e., from Gheluvelt to the corner of the canal north of Hollebeke, was to be held at all costs. Concurrently an urgent appeal was sent to General Allenby to send up with all possible speed any and all regiments available. Allenby sent the Scots Greys and the 3rd and 4th Hussars—all from different brigades. The Greys and the 3rd Hussars arrived first on the scene, and passed across to the left flank of the 6th Cavalry Brigade, filling up, in fact, the gap between that brigade and General Bulfin's (2nd) Brigade on its left. The 4th Hussars, who had further to come, arrived in time to take up a position on the right of the Royals (who were the right-hand regiment of the 6th Cavalry Brigade), and carry on the line of defence beyond the railway. The position then was that the line of the three regiments of the 6th Cavalry Brigade was extended by the 3rd Hussars and Greys on the left, and by the 4th Hussars on the right.

The 7th Cavalry Brigade, who had concentrated at the little village of Zwartelen in rear of the 6th Cavalry Brigade, now sent off two squadrons of the Blues to support the Royals, who were holding the château at Hollebeke. This château lies on the low ground to the east of the canal, whereas Hollebeke itself is on the west side. The château was considerably in advance of the line which was ordered to be held, and with Zandvoorde gone was of no strategic importance. This combined force held off the enemy for some hours, during which time Sergt. McLellan, of the Royals, especially distinguished himself by several acts of great gallantry, but by midday the château had to be abandoned and was occupied by German infantry. Except for this loss, the cavalry line held its ground throughout the day. There was no further infantry attack, but it had to stand a severe shelling all through the afternoon, and its casualties were numerous, among those of the 10th Hussars being Captain Kinkead, Captain Fielden, Captain Stewart and the Hon. H. Baring.

The R. Sussex, too, in General Bulfin's 2nd Brigade, on the left of the cavalry, came in for their full share of the bombardment and suffered very severely, Col. Crispin and Lieuts. Croft, Marillier and Lousada being killed.

At five o'clock in the afternoon the five cavalry regiments were relieved by Lord Cavan's Brigade, the 2nd Grenadier Guards under Major Lord Bernard Lennox [11] taking over the position on the canal—later on to become famous under the name of Hill 60, while the Irish Guards continued the line on their left. The line was still further strengthened on the following morning by the addition of the Oxfordshire Light Infantry from the 5th Brigade, and the 2nd Gordon Highlanders from the 20th Brigade, these two battalions being added to General Bulfin's command, which was on the left of Lord Cavan's.