London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories
1/4th Battalion in the Second Battle of Ypres, 1915
4TH Battalion, The London Regiment
(Royal Fusiliers) in the Great War
1914 - 1919
THE 1/4TH BATTALION IN THE SECOND BATTLE OF YPRES, 1915
Since the exhaustion of the enemy's drive towards Ypres in November 1914, the
Ypres area had not been the scene of any important operations, although from
time to time fierce struggles had raged here and there for the possession of
points of minor tactical importance. Early in April 1915 the British lines had
been extended slightly northward, and a sector had been taken over from the
French troops on the left. On the 22nd of that month the line from Steenstraate
(near the Yser Canal) as far as the Poelcapelle Road east of Langemarck was held
by a Moroccan Division of the French Army. Thence the line took a south-easterly
turn towards the Passchendaele-Becelaere Road and was occupied by the Canadian
Division. On the right of the Canadians, British divisions held the trenches
which ran east of Zonnebeeke in the direction of Hooge.
On the afternoon of the 22nd the French lines were subjected to a heavy
bombardment, following which at about 5 p.m. our aeroplanes reported that they
had seen thick clouds of yellow smoke issuing from the German trenches between
Langemarck and Bixschoote. These arose, as is now well known, from poison gas,
of which the effect was so terrible as to render the troops exposed to it
practically incapable of action. The smoke and fumes at first hid everything
from sight, and hundreds of men were immediately incapacitated. Within an hour
the whole position had to be abandoned with the loss of fifty guns. This
horrible and unlooked-for attack was so overpowering in its moral effect that
our gallant allies were unable to combat it, and being totally unprovided with
means of defence against so diabolical a contrivance, were forced — as indeed
any troops would probably have been under the like conditions— to abandon their
position without offering resistance. The confusion and moral effect were
doubtless increased by the fact that the trenches thus attacked were occupied by
Africans whose firm belief in the supernatural rendered it so much the more
difficult for them to withstand this assault.
The immediate result of this gas attack was that the left flank of the Canadian
Division was in the air and was in imminent danger of being entirely cut off.
But the Canadians stuck to their positions with magnificent tenacity and during
the night repulsed numerous German attacks. In the disorganisation following
the gas attack the Germans had succeeded in establishing themselves on the west
side of the Yser Canal at Lizerne, thus threatening to drive a wedge between the
Canadians on the right and the French and Belgian troops on the left.
By 10 o'clock the next morning the position, though by no means re-established,
was slightly easier, touch being definitely ensured between the Canadians' left
and the French right, about 800 yards east of the Canal ; but in order to effect
this junction so great an extension of the British lines had been necessary that
no reserves were available for counter-attack. The enemy's artillery fire was
severe all day and the situation was rendered exceptionally difficult by the
loss of so many allied guns in the gas attack.
It was arranged between Sir John French and General Foch, who was in command of
the French Army on our left, that the latter should make immediate arrangements
for the recapture of the original French Line, and for this purpose it was
necessary for the British to maintain their present position without further
retirement ; but it was clear that the British troops could not be allowed to
remain in the precarious position held by them during the last twenty-four hours
unless the French attack were delivered within a reasonable time. In the
meantime such reinforcements as were immediately available from neighbouring
Corps were being rushed up into Ypres to strengthen the temporary line between
ourselves and the French.
On the 24th a heavy German attack breached our lines at St Julien. This might have
initiated an extremely critical situation but for a powerful counter-attack
organised and launched by Brig. -Gen. Hull (afterwards G.O.C. 56th Division),
who, with his own Brigade and parts of battalions belonging to six different
divisions all new to the ground, was successful in stemming the tide of the
enemy's advance, although attempts to recapture St Julien were repulsed.
Early in the morning of the 25th the left flank of the Canadian division was
driven back after two days' magnificent fighting, and by the evening the allied
line north of Ypres ran practically east and west from the neighbourhood of
Boesinghe on the Canal to the south outskirts of St Julien. The general tendency
of this line was to bow inwards towards Ypres. The seriousness of the threat to
the whole British position east of Ypres is obvious. It was now possible for the
enemy to shell any point in our lines from both sides of the salient, while his
positions being about two miles farther to the south than they had been prior to
the gas attack of the 22nd, he was able to keep the arterial road from Ypres to
Zonnebeeke under continuous and heavy shell fire from guns of all calibres.
During the whole time considerable confusion was created by the alteration of
areas caused by the sudden relinquishment of the forward positions ; and by the
fact that fresh troops on arrival in the Ypres area had at once to be absorbed
into the firing line to prevent the enemy from exploiting his initial success.
This confusion was heightened by our lack of artillery, which was inadequate to
keep down the heavy German fire, and our casualties were in consequence
continuously heavy. Ypres was itself kept under very heavy shell fire which
vastly increased the difficulty of maintaining supplies of munitions and food.
The Lahore Division was ordered on the 23rd April to move to the Ypres area, and
on the morning of the 24th orders were received by the l/4th Londons that the
contemplated relief of the Dehra Dun Brigade on the La Bassee Road would not
take place and that the Battalion would be ready to move — possibly by train —
at 1.30 p.m. By 2 p.m. the Battalion had joined in the Ferozepore Brigade column
followed by the first line transport. In ignorance of its destination, and quite
unaware of the bitter struggle then going on at Ypres, the Battalion expected to
entrain at Merville, and a great many packs were filled with eatables and
comforts for a long train journey.
However, when Merville, Indian Corps railhead, was passed it became evident that
whatever journey was before the column would be made on foot. The march was an
exceedingly trying one and was made under " forced " conditions. The roads were
in a bad state after the winter rains, and a good deal of opening out in the
column was inevitable, so that the five-minute halts which took place each hour
were mostly spent in " closing up." Hour after hour the column moved on under
the burden of full marching order, now over uneven pave, now in deep ruts and
thick mud. Merville, Vieux Berquin, Strazeele, were passed in succession.
Daylight gave place to dusk and dusk to darkness but still the column struggled
forward. From all battalions stragglers now began to line the sides of the road,
unable after the physically weakening experience of trench life to keep up the
pace. At last about 10.30 p.m. a long halt was made just outside Godewaersvelde,
a small village at the foot of the Mont des Cats. Here a rest of some forty
minutes was obtained on the roadside while double lines of guns, ammunition
columns, and transport blocked the road.
Finally at about 10.45 p.m. the Battalion moved forward into Godewaersvelde, but
the village was packed with troops, and the companies, therefore, had to content
themselves with such shelter as could be found beneath the parked lorries in the
But the end of the march was not yet. After a hasty breakfast the Battalion was
again on parade before 6 o'clock on the morning of the 25th, and once more
joining the Brigade Column struggled up the steep hill at Boescheppe, at the top
of which another delay was caused by a cross-current of vehicular traffic. The
distress of the troops was now so evident that orders were received to lighten
packs, and garments of all sorts, principally gifts of knitted garments sent out
from ladies in England, were left by the roadside. Through Westoutre and
Reninghelst the column marched on to Ouderdom, where it arrived at about 2.30
p.m. with orders to billet in huts. Most of the huts were already fully
occupied and the greater part of the l/4th Londons were compelled to bivouac in
the fields adjoining. Ouderdom is about seven miles south-west of Ypres, and the
object of the forced march was at last clear. Some little idea of the storm
raging in the salient could be gathered from the bivouacs, as throughout the
afternoon and night the air vibrated with the continuous thunder of artillery in
which the rapid and sharp rafales of the French " seventy-fives " away to the
north were plainly distinguishable.
Shortly after midnight orders were received that the Division would be pushed
into the firing line that day the 26th April, and at dawn the Battalion was once
more formed up. Shovels and picks were issued alternately to all the troops for
the purpose of digging themselves into such positions as they might be able to
gain, and to each platoon was issued a yellow flag for signalling its location
to the artillery. In these early days of the War no arrangements were made for
the formation of a " battle surplus," and consequently the whole available
strength of officers and men prepared to move forward. Packs were now stacked to
relieve the troops of superfluous weight, and at 4.30 a.m. the companies began
to move off at five minutes' intervals.
The exhaustion of the men made progress inevitably slow. The roads traversed
were fortunately not receiving much attention from the enemy's artillery, though
a steady bombardment of Ypres with shells of the heaviest calibre was
proceeding. By about 9.30 a.m. the Battalion was concentrated in a field
adjoining Outskirt Farm at La Brique, where it proceeded to dig itself into
Meanwhile the Jullundur Brigade had concentrated farther to the east, between St
Jean and Wieltje, while the Sirhind Brigade in Divisional Reserve had moved
round the south of Ypres to a position north-west of Potizje.
The l/4th Londons' position during the hours of waiting in the morning was
behind the crest of the spur which runs westward from St Jean, past La Brique
towards the Canal, and though out of view from the German trenches was
undoubtedly located by the enemy's Taubes, whose reconnaissances over our lines
were entirely unmolested. This, combined with the close proximity of the
Battalion's position to several British and French batteries, brought it a fair
share of German shrapnel during the morning, the shelling being from both the
north and south sides of the salient. Happily but few casualties were sustained.
Below the hillside on which the Battalion lay concealed and distant something
more than half a mile the gaunt ruins of Ypres stood out clearly in the morning
sunlight, the fast-crumbling tower of its wonderful Cloth Hall still erect, a
silent witness of the tragedy which was being enacted. All the morning shells
were falling into the town, a steady and merciless bombardment without the least
cessation or abatement. From the centre of the town dense columns of black smoke
rose continuously, and the crash of explosions and the clatter of falling debris
followed each other without respite. The cross-roads at which the St Jean road
left the town were in particular a target for the German heavy guns. All the
morning the 50th (Northumberland) Division T.F. was moving from Ypres along this
road to St Julien, and as each platoon passed the fatal crossroad at the double
a heavy shell fell close by thinning the ranks. It seemed to every spectator of
this horrible yet fascinating sight that the German artillery lire must surely
be directed from some point within the British lines.
# It has been thought couvenient in the account of this action to designate
buildings and other topographical features by the names by which they afterwards
became generally known, though they were not in every case so named in April
1915. At 12.40 p.m. the Brigade received orders to prepare to take part in a
divisional attack in conjunction with the French in a due northerly direction,
with the object of relieving the pressure on the left of St Julien and of
endeavouring to push the enemy back. With this attack the 50th Division would
co-operate on the right of the Lahore Division in an attempt to recapture St
The Ferozepore Brigade's frontage was on the right of Boundary Road (the
Ypres-Langemarck Road) and extended as far as English Farm, beyond which the
Jullundur Brigade was responsible as far as Wieltje Farm on the extreme right,
and the general line of assembly was on the forward slope of the spur some 600
yards north of La Brique.
The Brigade's advance was led by the Connaught Rangers on the left, the 57th
Rifles in the centre, with the 129th Baluchis on the right. The l/4th Londons
were to follow the Connaughts, while the 9th Bhopals remained in reserve in La
At 2 o'clock the attack was launched under a heavy bombardment from all
available British and French batteries, but such was the shortage of ammunition
that this support died down for lack of supplies in about five minutes, after
which the German batteries were free to search intensively the whole area of the
Brigade advance, causing a good many casualties in the assaulting columns.
From the line of assembly the ground subsided gently to a shallow depression
running across the direction of advance, beyond which, at a distance of some
1000 yards from the crest on the La Brique side, the hill swelled to a second
skyline which impeded further view. Just below the crest of the further spur an
unfenced lane. Buffs Road, followed the contour running eastwards from Boundary
Road. None of this land was intersected by trenches, the Allied trenches being
several miles ahead and to the rear of the German positions.
The l/4th Londons moved from their position of waiting at about 2.30 p.m., and
shaking out into four lines of platoons in file with B Company (Moore) on the
left, and A (Duncan -Teape) on the right of the front line, followed by D
(Saunders) and C (Clark). The German shrapnel was now searching both slopes of
the spur pretty severely and men began to drop, but the Battalion steadily
breasted the rise from which it could overlook the shallow valley towards Buffs
Road. The sight which met their eyes defies description. The valley was covered
with a ragged crowd of agonised and nerve-racked men, both Moroccans and
Indians, who, having thrown down their arms and everything which could impede
them, were streaming back from the front trenches suffering the tortures of
poison gas. It was a revolting sight. The attack had clearly failed and our
leading troops were broken and in retirement. But the men of the l/4th Londons
were splendid. Without wavering for a single instant they trudged steadily
forward, though indeed almost completely exhausted, maintaining the intervals
and distances between platoons with the precision of the parade ground. Never
was there a more striking example of the results of training and discipline. The
" attack in open warfare " which had been so roundly cursed by one and all in
the days of training at Blendecques had indeed so sunk into the minds of
everyone that instinctively the troops remembering only their orders to " follow
the Connaughts at all costs " carried out under the most trying ordeal the
lessons which had been drilled into them.
The Battalion continued to advance as far as Buffs Road, where a halt, believed
at first to be temporary, was called. No trench line existed here but the ditch
on the near side of the road had been widened. This was already filled with the
remains of the 2nd K.O.S.B. (who had been fighting continuously since the action
at Hill 60 on the 17th April, and were now reduced to under 100 all ranks) and
by the reserve company of the Connaughts. The majority of the Battalion were,
therefore, unable to obtain shelter in the ditch, and the digging of a fresh
line some fifteen yards in rear was at once put in hand.
Early in the advance Moore (B Coy.) was hit in the foot and his company was
taken over by Grimwade. Considering the severity of the enemy's shrapnel fire
the advance was made with surprisingly few casualties, and although owing to the
massing of the whole Battalion on one line of narrow frontage some intermingling
of platoons on halting was inevitable, this was rapidly set to rights with
little difficulty. The enemy's bombardment soon died away considerably, though
for a while he maintained a steady machine-gun fire sweeping the crest of the
ridge ahead of Buffs Road.
The troops leading the attack had moved forward steadily at zero hour and had
pushed over the crest line in front of Buffs Road descending the further slope
towards Turco Farm. The front German trench north of the Farm was reached and
occupied, but before the position was properly established dense yellow clouds
of poison gas issued from the enemy lines and, being gently wafted by the
breeze, bore down on our defenceless troops. Under the horror of this ordeal the
greater part of the line broke and a general retirement ensued which affected
most severely the French and Indian Battalions, as already described. About 100
of the Connaughts and the Manchesters (Sirhind Brigade), however, managed to
cling gallantly to their ground under Major Deacon, though they were shortly
afterwards ejected by a strong enemy counter-attack which followed the gas
cloud. They eventually succeeded in consolidating a line in the immediate
vicinity of Turco Farm.
Shortly after the l/4th Londons were established on Buffs Road Lieut. -Col.
Botterill became a casualty, and Major L. T. Burnett assumed command of the
Battalion. It was decided by Major Burnett that the overcrowding of the Buffs
Road alignment was so great and wasteful of fire power, quite half the Battalion
being unable to get into position to use their rifles, that a redisposition of
his forces was desirable, and accordingly C and D companies withdrew to a
position in support some 300 yards in rear of Buffs Road, where they dug
During this time the Regimental Aid Post under Lieut. Hurd, R.A.M.C, was
established at Irish Farm and the Battalion stretcher-bearers under Corporal Fulford worked with great coolness in evacuating the wounded under heavy fire.
At about 4.30 p.m. orders were received that the reserve company of the
Connaughts was to push forward and reinforce their two leading companies,
supported by the l/4th Londons. But, after consultation with Major Burnett,
Major Hamilton of the Connaughts decided that the severity of the enemy's fire
was so great that there was no reasonable probability of achieving a result
commensurate with the inevitable loss of life, and the orders for the projected
advance were cancelled. An attempt to reinforce the advanced troops was,
however, actually made at about 7.30 p.m. by the 15th Sikhs and the l/4th
Gurkhas of the Sirhind Brigade, supported by the 9th Bhopals. This advance was
carried out in good order, the Indians passing through the l/4th Londons and
disappearing over the ridge in front under a veritable hail of fire ; but
although touch was obtained with the leading companies of the Connaughts, the
position of the German trenches could not be ascertained in the gathering
darkness, and Lieut. -Col. Hills, who was in charge of the operation, decided to
dig in on the position gained.
In conjunction with Bhopals' attempt an attack was also delivered by the Turcos
of the French Brigade Moroccaine, who passed over the l/4th Londons' trench in
the gathering dusk. They were met in the crest line by a frightful machine-gun
fire under which they advanced steadily, suffering heavy losses. A young French
officer in charge of these Africans filled all who saw him with the deepest
admiration of his coolness. Smoking a cigarette and lightly swinging a small
rattan cane, he stood up on the sky line with his loose blue cloak thrown
negligently over his shoulders, directing the advance of his men with all the
indifference to danger of which his wonderful nation is capable. None of these
gallant fellows were seen again.
During the whole of the 26th very good work was done by 2/Lieut. A. D. Coates,
who was employed as liaison officer between Brigade Headquarters and the
advanced troops. This gallant young officer succeeded several times in passing
through the enemy's barrage and was the means of providing Headquarters with
valuable information as to the course of events at Turco Farm.
Meanwhile the l/4th Londons remained in readiness for action on Buffs Road,
which was shelled heavily at intervals, especially at about 6 p.m., when the
German shrapnel caused a great many casualties. The enemy's fire, however, died
down after the evening advance by the Indians had been checked. The night was
particularly quiet, and Sergt. -Major Harris at La Brique was able to get
rations up to the Battalion and issue them.
The 27th April broke grey and cold and the morning was misty. During the early
hours the enemy's artillery was remarkably inactive and the work of
strengthening the Battalion's position was proceeded with without molestation by
the Germans. The signs of battle were few indeed and it seemed almost impossible
to realise the critical position of the British troops. The sense of detachment
from the serious events of the preceding afternoon was enhanced by the unbroken
state of the countryside in the immediate neighbourhood and the presence of
several cows, which by some marvellous chance had escaped the enemy's shells and
continued to graze lazily in the field in rear of the Battalion's position, as
they had done during the battle on the previous afternoon.
The lull, however, was only the calm which proverbially precedes the storm, for
about noon the enemy's guns opened with intense violence on the British
positions and the l/4th Londons received their full share of these hostile
attentions. Fortunately, however, its position behind the crest secured it from
During this bombardment Major Burnett was ordered to report to Brigade
Headquarters, where he received orders for an attack to take place in half an
hour's time. When he got back to the Battalion under ten minutes were left in
which to explain the orders to his company commanders and to make all
preparations. The Battalion was to execute a further advance in a north-easterly
direction on to Oblong Farm, which was given as the objective. In order to reach
the assembly position, it was necessary for the Battalion to move about 200
yards to the right flank in order to come up on the right of the Sirhind
Brigade, who, in the early hours of the morning, had relieved the most advanced
troops of the Ferozepore Brigade.
The hurried nature of the attack precluded any possibility of reconnaissance of
the ground by the officers and allowed no time for the explanation of the work
on hand to the rank and file. The position of the German trenches was unknown
and the difficulties and obstacles which might be met with during the advance
were entirely undisclosed.
The movement of the Battalion toward its position of assembly for this
unpromising enterprise was carried out steadily although with considerable
loss. The British and Canadian artillery, which were co-operating in giving
support to the attack, were again lamentably short of ammunition, so that an
intense bombardment of some five minutes left them unable to render further
assistance. Thus as the Battalion in moving to its flank came near the crest of
the spur behind which it had hitherto been concealed from direct observation by
the enemy, it became a very clear target for the hostile artillery, and the
German guns being no longer harassed by our artillery, were able to pour a
devastating fire upon the companies.
The actual " jumping-off " position was the ditch on the south side of Buffs
Road which, at this point, was bordered by a hedge. The Battalion advanced in
two lines of two companies in open order, each company formed in three waves,
and the leading companies were C (Clark) on the left and D (Saunders) on the
right, followed respectively by B (Grimwade) and A (Dunean-Teape). In order to
ensure that the waves in each company should move forward together, it was
necessary to collect the whole of each wave in the ditch before it moved ; and
this could only be effected by " feeding " the men along the ditch in single
file, from the western end of the Battalion's frontage, the hedge in rear being
impenetrable. The result of this slow progress was that the remainder of the
Battalion waiting its turn to go into the ditch was compelled to wait on the
hill, under a high explosive and shrapnel fire which was both intense and
accurate. The result needs no description, but under this very trying ordeal the
Battalion was perfectly steady, each platoon grouped together and waiting its
order to move with the greatest nonchalance.
Before following the actual advance of the l/4th Londons it will be convenient
to explain the object and scope of the operation of which it formed part.
During the morning arrangements had been made for the Lahore Division to
co-operate in an attack which was projected by the French Brigade Morcccaine.
The general direction of the French attack was to be along the Ypres-Langemarck
Road, as on the previous day, and the Lahore Division was to take all possible
advantage of the French advance to gain ground, but without committing itself to
the attack before the French troops had secured its left flank. The Lahore
Division's attack was to conform to the French movement but on the east side of
the Langemarck Road ; the Sirhind Brigade occupying the left of the Divisional
front next the French with the Ferozepore Brigade on its right.
The objective of the latter was, as already stated, Oblong Farm, a moated
farmstead some 1700 yards from starting-point, the attack being led by the l/4th
Londons on the left and the 9th Bhopals on the right. The Connaughts followed in
support at a distance of 400 yards, while the 57th Rifles and the 129th
Baluchis, both of which regiments had been seriously weakened in the action of
the 26th, were in reserve.
At 12.30 p.m. the leading waves of the two assaulting battalions moved forward
under a continued heavy shell and machine-gun fire. The ground over which the
advance was to be made was for the first 700 yards an unenclosed plateau which
afforded the enemy good observation of our movements, and then sloping gently
downwards to a somewhat more enclosed depression rose beyond it once more
towards the objective. The objective itself was not visible from starting-point,
and it appears probable that in consequence of the very hurried preparations for
the attack, its position was not fully appreciated by all concerned and thus it
was not recognised. However this may be, it is certain that the general
direction of the attack after crossing Admirals Road became diverted too much
towards the north and thus some encroachment was made on the frontage for which
the Sirhind Brigade was responsible. This was probably accentuated by the fact
that the position selected as starting-point lay at an acute angle to the
direction of advance, so that a change of direction was necessary during the
advance itself — always an operation of great difficulty.
As far as Admirals Road cover was non-existent. On topping the crest of the hill
the Battalion came under an exceedingly severe rifle and machine-gun lire, and
losses were consequently heavy. The succeeding waves, however, pushed on
steadily as far as the near edge of the depression described above, in the
vicinity of Hampshire Farm, when it became clearly impossible to get down the
forward slope of the valley under the raking fire of the enemy, without
incurring frightful losses. Half the leading companies were already hit, as were
also Saunders, fatally wounded, Grimwade, Stedman, Leonard, and Coates. It was,
therefore, decided by Major Burnett to hold the line gained and there to
reorganise the Battalion pending the arrival of reinforcements, when it might be
possible to carry the line forward.
A small part of C Company under Clark and of B Company under Giles, however,
were successful in gaining the bottom of the valley, but finding himself
isolated and further advance impossible without support, Clark, who assumed
command of the composite party, took up a position to the right of Canadian
Farm, where the men dug themselves in with their entrenching tools and hung on
gallantly under a murderous fire. Splendid service was rendered by two N.C.O.'s
of this party. Sergeant A. C. Ehren and Lanee-Corporal C. Badham, both of B
Company, who passed through the barrage three times unscathed with messages
between Captain Clark and Battalion Headquarters.
Excellent work was also done by the Machine-Gun Section under 2/Lieuts. Walker
and Pyper, who skilfully brought their guns into action on the left of Hampshire
Farm and assisted in no small measure to keep down the hostile rifle fire from
the enemy trenches on the further side of the valley. Their position, however,
was shortly afterwards discovered, evidently by a Taube, which continued its
reconnaissance over our lines without let or hindrance, and the section came
under heavy shell fire and was forced to fall back on the main position, with
Walker dangerously wounded, Sergt. Phillips killed, and several other
At about 2.30 p.m. the enemy's artillery fire abated considerably, but by that
time the advance of the whole Division had been definitely checked on an
alignment generally corresponding with that occupied by the l/4th Londons, and
reports were received that the French also had failed to gain their objectives.
Later in the evening the French attempted to renew their offensive, but once
more were met with clouds of poison gas which definitely broke up their attack,
and a report having been received from Col. Savy, the French Commander, that his
losses were so heavy as to preclude all further attempts, orders were received
that the Brigade would consolidate its position.
During the evening before dusk the Ferozepore Brigade was again subjected to
violent shelling, which inflicted considerable loss on all battalions. During
this later bombardment Lieut. Coffin was buried by a high explosive shell.
After darkness fell the l/4th Londons were withdrawn from their advanced line to
Brigade Reserve in rear of Cross Roads Farm where they set about digging fresh
trenches. The Connaughts and the Bhopals withdrew to the line of Admirals Road
near Cross Roads Farm, in which Brigade Headquarters were now established, while
the Rifles and Baluchis took up a position to the rear.
The night passed without incident and with very little shelling, and the
opportunity was taken to collect the wounded whom it had been impossible to
evacuate under the heavy fire of the afternoon. 2/Lieut. E. Giles, who from many
volunteers was selected for this work, set a splendid example of devotion to
duty and worked hard throughout the night in endeavouring to relieve the
sufferings of his men.
The day's losses had been heavy and the gain of ground nil, but the bearing of
the Battalion under somewhat disheartening circumstances had been worthy of the
highest traditions of regular troops. Something, however, had been achieved as,
in spite of his use of poison gas, the enemy was no nearer Ypres and our line,
though strained almost to breaking point, was still holding. It appears indeed
that the gallant front shown by the Lahore Division was successful in deceiving
the Germans as to the extent of our resources, and deterred him from pressing
the advantages he had already gained.
The casualties of the afternoon of the 27th April were in officers :
Capt. O. R. Saunders and 2/Lieut. A. D. Coates, killed ; Lieut. P. B. K.
Stedman, died of wounds ; Capt. F. G. Grimwade, Lieuts. F. A. Coffin and D. J.
Leonard, and 2/Lieut. T. I. Walker, wounded ; and in N.C.O.'s and men, 32 killed
(including C. S. M. Chennels), 132 wounded, and 13 missing.
During the 28th the l/4th Londons remained in position in rear of Cross Roads
Farm, and beyond a good deal of shelling in which gas shell was freely used by
the enemy the day passed without important incident. Luckily the bombardment
this day was not very costly to the Battalion or, indeed, to the Brigade as a
whole. The Lahore Division was transferred from V Corps to a special
counter-attack force then formed under command of Gen. Plumer, and it was
arranged that the Sirhind and Ferozepore Brigades should be prepared to
co-operate with an attack contemplated by the French who were still on our left
flank, making such advance as might be justified by the results achieved by our
Allies. The French attack, however, did not materialise in consequence of the
very heavy losses of the preceding two days and our Allies confined themselves
to artillery action.
During the evening the enemy turned a large number of guns on to St Jean and in
a few hours the work of destruction, already far advanced, was almost completed.
In the darkness the church was clearly visible in flames, the windows being lit
up by the conflagration within : before morning the tower had fallen, the roof
had collapsed, and nothing but smouldering ruins remained.
The 29th April found the Ferozepore Brigade still holding its trenches and
orders were again issued to it to be prepared to co-operate with the French. But
during the morning definite orders were received that the French attack was
postponed, the assault of the enemy positions being a more formidable
proposition than could be tackled by the Allied troops in their then exhausted
and numerically weak condition.
The German bombardment continued throughout the 29th, and the Battalion remained
inactive beyond the further strengthening of its trenches. It did, however, have
the satisfaction of seeing a Taube brought down close to its lines by our
Before daybreak on the 30th, the Ferozepore Brigade was relieved and marched out
of the salient, the l/4th Londons proceeding by way of Buffs Road and La Brique
to hutments at Ouderdom. While passing through La Brique the Battalion was met
by a reinforcement of about fifty N.C.O.'s and men from the 3/4th Battalion in
England, conducted by Major E. H. Stillwell. Accompanying this draft were
2/Lieuts. L. G. Rix and B. Rivers Smith.
The roads out of the salient were being very heavily shelled during the relief,
the cross roads at Vlamertinghe being in particular accurately bombarded with
heavy shrapnel. But Major Burnett was able to save a great many casualties by
varying the route of some platoons.
At about 7.30 a.m. on the same morning the Ferozepore Brigade moved from the
hutments to bivouacs close by to avoid the effects of the continuous shelling to
which the concentration camp was subjected, but returned to the huts at night.
The day was spent in rest and re-organisation. The Battalion was undoubtedly a
little shaken after its rough handling and very seriously reduced in strength.
Over 600 rifles had left Ouderdom on the morning of the 26th, but at the roll
call which took place on return on the 30th only 235 names were answered, apart
from the newly arrived draft which had not been in action.
The following awards were made for services rendered :
Capt. W. G. Clark, D.S.O. ; Sergt. A. C. Ehren, D.C.M. ; L/Corp]. Colomb, D.C.M.
; Corpl. Fulford, Mddaille Militaire
In this, its first serious action, the l/4th Battalion had firmly established
its reputation by its remarkable steadiness under unprecedented circumstances,
and, though the price paid was heavy, it had the satisfaction of having
contributed materially to the undying glory of the British defence of Ypres.
At 7.45 p.m. on the 1st May, the concentration of the Division being now
complete, the Ferozepore Brigade marched from Ouderdom via Reninghelst,
Westoutre, to Meteren, arriving there at 12.30 a.m. on the 2nd. A rest was made
here until the afternoon when the route was resumed, Doulieu being reached about
10 p.m. The march was completed the following evening, when at about 7 p.m. the
Brigade returned to its former billets in the Paradis area.