London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories

The First Seven Divisions - Zwartelen in 1914

Being a Detailed Account of the Fighting from Mons to Ypres

Author: Ernest W. Hamilton

ZWARTELEN

November 6th saw a certain renewal of the enemy's activity. The day opened very foggy, but by eleven o'clock there was a bright sun. In the morning the French once more re-took Wytschate and Messines, but again found them untenable, and in fact this was the last attempt on the part of the Allies to occupy either of these two places.

The respite of the poor 22nd Brigade from the trenches was short-lived, and the evening of the 6th saw them once more hurried up into the firing line. This came about in the following way. The French had now taken over all our trenches as far north as the Brown Road, our own troops being pushed up to the left. North of the French were the Irish Guards, and, beyond them, the 2nd Grenadiers. The French troops, who had so far held their ground with splendid tenacity, now found the position more than they could support. The German bombardment, with which they as usual opened the day, was more than usually severe, and lasted the whole morning, and about 2 p.m. it was followed by an infantry attack before which the left of the French and the right of the Irish Guards was driven in. As a result of this cave in the line, the left of the Irish Guards, which remained in the trenches, suffered considerably, Lord John Hamilton, Captain King-Harman and Lieut. Woodroffe being killed. An urgent message was sent to Gen. Kavanagh to bring up the 7th Cavalry Brigade, who were in readiness near Lord Cavan's Head Quarters behind Zillebeke, and the 22nd Brigade was also wired for to come up from Bailleul. The cavalry came galloping up to Zillebeke, where they dismounted and advanced on foot along and astride of the road from Zillebeke to Zwartelen, which runs along the foot of the ridge ending in Hill 60. Just short of Zwartelen they deployed, the 1st Life Guards on the left being told off to restore the Irish Guards' position, while the 2nd Life Guards attacked the position from which the French had been driven. The Blues were behind the centre of the line in support.

The 1st Life Guards, under the Hon. A. Stanley, attacked the lost trenches of the Irish Guards with the greatest vigour, and within an hour had regained, at the point of the bayonet, the whole of the position lost. The Hon. A. Stanley received the medal for Distinguished Service for his conduct on this occasion, as did also Corpl. Baillie and Corpl. Fleming. Sergt. Munn, of the Irish Guards, also got the D.C.M. for rallying some men of his battalion and joining in the charge of the 1st Life Guards.

In the meanwhile the Hon. Hugh Dawnay, commanding the 2nd Life Guards, sent off "B" Squadron to connect up with the right of the 1st Life Guards and clear the wood on the Klein Zillebeke ridge. "D" Squadron was sent off to cover the right flank of the whole combined movement by advancing along the edge of the Ypres to Armentières railway, which is separated from the wood by about 500 yards of open ground; while Major Dawnay himself, with "C" Troop, attacked the village of Zwartelen, with the Blues under Col. Wilson on his left, and some 300 of the French, who—encouraged by the advance of the Household Cavalry—had reformed, on his right, that is to say, between him and "D" Squadron on the railway.

The whole scheme worked admirably. The attack by "B" Squadron on the Klein Zillebeke ridge wood was entirely successful, the enemy being driven out with loss and pursued for several hundred yards. The attack on Zwartelen—though perhaps a more formidable undertaking—was no less successful. The village was very strongly held, the houses in and around being occupied and defended, and the Household Cavalry's advance was met by a heavy rifle fire which caused many casualties, both Col. Wilson and Major Dawnay being killed while leading their respective regiments. In spite of heavy losses, however, the cavalrymen, with great steadiness and determination, pressed home their attack, and, at the point of the bayonet, carried the village and captured a number of prisoners, "C" Troop of the 2nd Life Guards afterwards pushing right through and occupying the trenches in the wood on the far side of the village. Lieut. Stewart-Menzies, Corpl. Watt, Corpl. Moulsen and Corpl. Anstice were all decorated for their gallantry during this brilliant performance on the part of "C" Troop. The latter N.C.O. displayed the greatest courage throughout the fight.

The success of the counter-attack was now to all appearances complete, all the ground lost in the morning having been regained. At this moment, however, the French on the right of "C" Troop again gave way, leaving a gap into which the enemy at once pressed. The position of "C" Troop was now greatly imperilled, and General Kavanagh ordered the Blues, and "B" Squadron of the 2nd Life Guards, to cross the Verbranden Molen road to its support. This was done, the Blues moving to the right and occupying Zwartelen and Hill 60, and in these several positions the combined force continued to fight out time; but some of the ground which had been regained had to be abandoned.

The situation was saved by the arrival about 6 p.m. of the 22nd Brigade, which had been hurried up from Bailleul in motor-buses. This brigade now took over the Household Cavalry position at Zwartelen, while the 2nd King's Royal Rifles (60th), from the 2nd Brigade, relieved the squadron of the 2nd Life Guards which was holding the railway on the right flank.

The Household Cavalry earned the very highest praise for their performance on this afternoon. They were handled with great skill by General Kavanagh, and the daring and dash of their advance undoubtedly averted what might have proved a very serious calamity. They lost seventeen officers during their advance, as follows:

In the 1st Life Guards the Hon. R. Wyndham (attached from the Lincolnshire Yeomanry) was killed and the Hon. H. Denison, the Hon. E. Fitzroy and Captain Hardy were wounded.

In the 2nd Life Guards the Hon. H. Dawnay, the Hon. A. O'Neill and Lieut. Peterson were killed and the Hon. M. Lyon, Lieut. Jobson, Lieut. Sandys and 2nd Lieut. Hobson were wounded.

In the Blues, Col. Wilson and Lieut. de Gunzberg were killed, and Lord Gerard, Lord Northampton and Captain Brassey were wounded.

The enemy's bombardment of the morning, and the infantry attack of the afternoon which followed, had by no means been confined to the area the loss and recapture of which has just been described. The 2nd Grenadiers, on the left of the Irish Guards, were as heavily attacked as any, but they succeeded in maintaining their ground throughout both morning and afternoon. Sergt. Thomas, who as Corpl. Thomas had so distinguished himself at Chavonne, once again showed the material of which he was made. His trench was subjected to a most appalling shelling. Only two of his platoon remained unwounded; he himself had twice been buried and the flank of his trench was exposed, but even in this apparently impossible position he held on, and was still in proud occupation of his trench when the arrival of the 7th Cavalry Brigade and 22nd Brigade once more drove back the enemy. Sergt. Holmes and Corpl. Harrison in the same battalion also greatly distinguished themselves.

At daybreak on the 7th, in the dull, misty atmosphere of a November morning, the 22nd Brigade deployed for an attempt to regain the position of the day before. This brigade, owing to its depleted condition, was now reduced to two composite battalions, the R. Welsh Fusiliers and 2nd Queen's being amalgamated into one battalion under the command of Captain Alleyne of the Queen's, and the Warwicks and S. Staffords into the other, under the command of Captain Vallentin of the S. Staffords. It is worthy of note that the brigade could furnish no officers of higher rank than a Captain; also that both the officers above-named fell on the second day of their command, Captain Alleyne being badly wounded and Captain Vallentin killed. The latter was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for the great gallantry he had displayed in the command of his composite battalion.

The brigade deployed in four lines, of which the first two were formed by the 2nd Queen's, who now numbered about 400. In this formation they advanced till within 300 yards of the enemy's position, when the first two lines joined up and charged. In spite of a heavy machine-gun fire, which still further reduced the 400, the Queen's charged right home and in rapid succession carried first one and then a second line of trenches, the defenders being all bayoneted or put to flight. The second of these two positions—the same, in fact, as had been captured by the 2nd Life Guards the day before—proved to be too far ahead of the general line and had to be abandoned, as it was persistently enfiladed by machine-gun fire from a farm-house on the left; but the first line was successfully held till night, when the battalion was relieved. During this charge of the Queen's Lieut. Haigh was killed and Captain Alleyne, Captain Roberts, Lieuts. Lang-Browne, Collis and Pascoe were wounded. Three machine-guns were captured.

The 22nd Brigade was now reduced to four officers, that is to say, one to each battalion, and at night they were finally relieved, and allowed to return to the retirement from which they had been so rudely summoned.

During this same day there was some severe fighting in the Polygon wood, the Connaught Rangers being driven back and their trenches captured. The flank of the Coldstream Brigade thus became threatened, and for a time the position promised to be serious, but the 6th Brigade on the Zonnebeke road came to the rescue, the lost trenches were regained, and the continuity of the line once more established.

The morning of the 8th saw a renewal of the attempt to break through along the Menin road. At the first assault the French and two companies of the Loyal N. Lancashire Regiment in the first line were driven back, and the flank of the 1st Scots Guards became exposed. As a result the enemy was able to rake the trenches of the latter regiment with machine-guns and their casualties were heavy, Lieuts. Cripps, Stirling-Stuart, Monckton and Smith being killed. The battalion, however, held on till the morning position was once more restored by the two reserve companies of the Loyal N. Lancashires, who, counter-attacking with great spirit and determination, drove back the enemy from the position they had temporarily won.