London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories

Royal fusiliers in the Great War - THIRD BATTLE OF YPRES

The Royal fusiliers in the Great War 1914 - 1919


The Flanders offensive was very elaborately staged and was launched with high hopes. The Battle of Messines was a prelude, which was very successfully performed, but another part of the plan was anticipated by the Germans. If the offensive achieved sufficient success before the end of the season it was intended to attack along the coast from the Yser positions.

The Yser. — But on July 10th the Germans made a surprise assault on these positions and part of the bridge-head was lost. At that moment the third battle of Ypres had not begun, and the coastal and Yser defences were still maintained for some time. In this part of the scheme the 20th Battalion took part, and the novelty, if not the importance of their role deserves some record. On the opening day of the Ypres battle (July 31st) the battalion detrained at Dunkirk and embarked on barges, in which they slept that night. In the early morning of August 10th they were moved up the canal to Bray dunes. On the following day they took over the Bray dunes defences. Posts between the frontier and Bray Plage were to be manned in case of attack by the sea. It was not a very strenuous life, and the battalion were able to put in a fortnight's training. On the 15th they moved to Kuhn Camp, near Oost Dunkerque, and on the following day marched via Welpem and Nieuport to take over trenches in the Lombartzyde sector. C Company occupied Nose Trench below the Lombartzyde position and received a welcome from gas shells on arrival. Little beyond the ordinary routine marked this tour of the trenches, and they were in support when B Company had to go up to the line suddenly on the night of August 25th to support the Camerons who had been compelled to evacuate the Geleide Brook position. B Company took over and organised Nasal Trench, and held two posts on the Geleide Brook. It was their last active part in the work of this sector, for they were relieved on August 27th, and on the last day of the month went into training near St. Omer. Though they had been involved in little beyond the ordinary trench activity they had lost, in the month, 63, including 12 killed.

* * * *

By this time the third battle of Ypres had been launched and had shown those features that, in the end, robbed it of the strategic significance expected when it was planned. On July 31st two Royal Fusilier battalions took an active part in the opening attack. They were engaged on a sector that from the beginning meant hard fighting and little success. The 26th Royal Fusiliers attacked at Battle Wood, but little progress was made. An hour before zero, which was at 3.50 a.m., a heavy rain began to fall and the ground was a mass of water-logged shell-holes. The men could hardly keep their foothold, and it is surprising that the battalion lost no more than 160 killed, wounded and missing.

On the right of the 41st Division, of which the 26th Battalion formed part, was the 24th Division, containing the 1st and 12th Battalions. The 1st attacked at zero with the 12th Battalion 200 yards in the rear. The leading companies as usual clung closely to the barrage. A number of casualties were sustained as the men crossed the valley in which lies the sunken road towards the eastern end of Shrewsbury Wood, but the Germans did not attempt to stand until the strong point south of Jeffrey Avenue was reached. This trench runs from the north-eastern face of Clonmel Copse to the northern edge of Shrewsbury Wood. At this point the battalion were held up until Lieutenant Flack's party rushed it. Flack knocked out the machine gun with a rifle grenade, and was subsequently awarded a bar to the M.C. for this service. This part of the line was then consolidated. C Company, under Captain Leeming, reached the trench on the south-western face of Bodmin Copse, and here he was killed. The German snipers were very active, and C Company was deprived of an efficient leader. This company on the left of the advance alone maintained its direction. A very sustained fire had been kept up from Lower Star Post, in the heart of Shrewsbury Wood, and it was owing to this, apparently, that the battalion on the ist Royal Fusiliers' right swerved, causing the Fusiliers' right company also to swerve.

At 4.15 a.m. the 12th Battalion passed through the 1st in Jeffrey Avenue. They had been held up while the 1st were reducing numerous strong points, and had suffered heavy loss. Captain H. J. Cox, Captain H. D. Doudney, Lieutenant A. J. Waby and Second Lieutenant W. F. Cooper were killed, and Second Lieutenant E. Cohen was mortally wounded. Captain F. C. Day was also wounded. These casualties could not but gravely weaken the battalion. Five minutes before the 12th passed through the ist, Second Lieutenant H. Martin with the signallers advanced, but he was killed on the way up. The advance from Jeffrey Avenue had made but little way before it was held up at a strong point on the western edge of Bodmin Copse. No. 3 Company rushed this position, and the 12th pushed through the copse to its eastern edge, but were there held by machine-gun and rifle fire. The advance had to be abandoned and a line was established enclosing the greater part of Bodmin Copse. A strong point was established in the trench about 100 yards to the north-east of the north-eastern corner of the copse, and there Lieutenant N. P. Mussbaum was wounded.

That night a final line was established some 500 yards west of Bassevillebeek and held by the ist Battalion, the 12th, with the 3rd Rifle Brigade and the Leinsters. On this day, the ist Battalion sustained 277 casualties, 12 being officers, 3 of whom were killed. The 12th Battalion lost 9 officers and 170 other ranks, killed and wounded. One officer was killed at the jumping-off place and one, the CO., had almost exactly the same fate as the officer he succeeded. Battalion headquarters were moved up as the advance made progress, and Lieut. -Colonel Hope Johnstone was mortally wounded as he approached the new position. Captain A. Simpkins took the command of the battalion. Headquarters were moved again because of the heavy shelling ; and even in its third position it fell under a severe bombardment. Messages failed to reach headquarters, the runners being knocked out on the way. As the command of the battalion was so gravely weakened, they were relieved at 11 p.m. Three-quarters of an hour before it had begun to rain again, and the ground seemed unnecessarily irritating to the weary men who had to make their way back over it.

Fighting was still in progress on the line south of Shrewsbury Wood, and the conditions at the front were very terrible. Many wounded were still lying about in shell-holes as the stretcher bearers had suffered so many casualties. Seven officers and 69 other ranks were sent up to the 1st Battalion from the transport lines on August 2nd, and on the next day they moved back with the 12th

Battalion to Micmac Camp.

* * * *

The 32nd, who had moved up to the front near Klein Zillebeke, had a strange experience on August 5th. The Germans had delivered counter-attacks on various parts of the front, and on that day the blow fell to the left of the battalion front. At 4.10 a.m. the enemy barrage lifted and the Germans advanced under cover of fog and smoke bombs. Only half the front was involved ; and there the attack was held up by rifle and machine-gun fire. But the Germans broke through the right flank of the battalion further north and a party of them got to the rear of the 32nd Royal Fusiliers. At midday it was ascertained that the enemy were holding 100 yards of Jehovah Trench, which was sited in a strip of wood lying north of Klein Zillebeke road and some 500 yards east of the village. This situation was cleared up by the bold and decisive action of Major Robinson, Captain H. L. Kirby and Second Lieutenant G. W. Murrell, and when the battalion moved back on relief, the next day, the position was restored. Major Robinson led a few men against the German detachment who had got behind the centre post in the forward zone and succeeded in killing part of them and dispersing the rest.

* * * *

On August 10th, the 11th Battalion took part in one of those minor operations which are the aftermath of all great battles ; and it was their fate to fight over much the same ground as that on which the 4th Battalion had clashed with the Grenadier Guard Regiment in the first Battle of Ypres. The Fusiliers, the right assaulting battalion of the 54th Brigade, had their right flank near the Ypres-Menin road ; and at 4.35 a.m. B Company (Captain Fuller) on the left, D (Captain Gray) on the right, attacked from this position. They advanced steadily against little opposition until the machine-gun fire from Inverness Copse — in the neighbouring brigade area — brought up the right flank and made it swerve to the left. On the left, however, the men penetrated some distance into Glen-corse Wood, despite the ten or twelve " pill-boxes " standing like sentinels on the edge, some 200 yards from the south-west corner of the wood. Some of D Company also got well forward and, with Captain Gray, reached Fitz-clarence Farm. Gray was there shot through both knees, but continued to fire from a shell-hole. Fuller was shot through the head in a gallant attempt to rush a machine-gun emplacement.

As a natural consequence, a gap was made between the nth Battalion and the brigade on their right. In less than two hours all the officers of the assaulting companies were casualties, and a counter-attack was initiated by the Germans. The Fusiliers were out of touch with the troops on both flanks ; and a skilful bombing attack down the Jargon and Jap Trenches rendered their position impossible to maintain. Issuing from Inverness Copse the Germans almost penetrated to the rear of (C) the support company. Despite the cool and courageous handling of the men by the N.C.O.'s, Sergeants Wilson, Berry and Burch, and Corporal Hallett, the Fusiliers could only remain where they were at the imminent peril of envelopment. They were compelled to retire and establish themselves some 200 yards east of Clapham Junction, in touch with the 55th Brigade on the right. Some of the men were cut off, and one of them gave a good account of himself. Private Arthur Jakes remained calmly in an advanced shell-hole, sniping all the day, and at night found his way through the German lines back to his battalion. The nth remained in their position until 4 a.m. on August nth when they were relieved. They went back to Dickebusch huts weaker by 17 officers and 328 other ranks than when they entered battle.

Battle of Langemarck. — On August 16th the " second attack " was launched, and the Royal Fusiliers were represented in it by the battalions of the London Regiment. But practically no progress was made. The " pill-boxes," which had proved so formidable an obstacle to the Royal Fusiliers on August 10th, and even at the end of the Messines battle, now began to attract official attention. Nothing short of a direct hit put them out of action, and standing inconspicuously but a few feet above the ground it was almost impossible to hit them except by chance. It was the " pill-boxes " that proved too much for the London Regiment. The 2nd Londons attacked on the left of the London Rifle Brigade, eastwards and slightly north from the western face of Glencorse Wood. The men fought very gallantly and reached all objectives, but the flanking battalions had found it difficult to maintain themselves when the objective was reached. The machine-gun fire was very heavy, and Nonne Boschen and Polygon Wood provided ample cover. In spite of this one officer reached the racecourse in Polygon Wood with his platoon, where, fighting desperately, he was surrounded and forced to surrender, when quite defenceless from lack of ammunition. Before doing so, however, he was able to send a message by pigeon : " Ammunition and bombs exhausted. Completely surrounded. Regret no course but to surrender." Colonel Kellett and almost all the officers became casualties ; and at length the battalion with their neighbour had to go back to the starting point. With one officer, Captain Stevens, the adjutant, and about 50 other ranks, they were withdrawn.

The 4th Londons, attacking between Glencorse Wood and Inverness Copse, had an even worse fate. They came up against the " pill-box " system which had neutralised the success of August 10th, and the objectives were never taken. The battalion lost heavily in the unequal struggle. And the 3rd Londons also failed to capture their objectives. In each case where the troops achieved success they found themselves gravely weakened when the speedy and heavy counter-attack was launched. The bad weather made aeroplane reconnaissance practically impossible ; and hence there was no warning of the counter-attacks and no artillery support against them. The new tactics led to a modification of the artillery tactics and the readjustment of the command, so that the Menin road area could be placed as a separate feature under one commander. The sector was entrusted to Sir Herbert Plumer.

On August 16th another Fusilier Battalion, the 2nd, were ready to attack north of the Ypres-Thorout railway, if called upon, being attached to the 88th Brigade for the purpose. But the 29th Division's attack was so successful that the battalion were not called upon, and reverted naturally to the orders of the 86th Brigade. It was on this night that a shell falling outside headquarters severely wounded Second Lieutenant Hewlett and killed C.S.M. Rolfe — a great loss, for Rolfe had always carried himself in action with conspicuous gallantry.

An amusing incident occurred in this sector of the line two days later. Two men of the 2nd Battalion were carrying water to the advanced trenches when they lost their way. They were unarmed, and they ought to have felt duly depressed when they ran into an armed German patrol of three men. However, arguing that the best defence is a resolute offensive they at once attacked and captured the enemy, a striking and amusing illustration of the difference between German and British morale.

On August 22nd, a patrol of the 1st Battalion, who were then in the line near Bodmin Copse, carried out a minor operation which was thought sufficiently good to merit the study of all the battalions in the II. Corps. The G.O.C. sent round a report which may be printed here : " Following account of a minor operation is forwarded for information as an example of the success which attends good leadership and initiative when coupled with the correct use of fire to cover movement. Efficient reconnaissance prior to the operation ensured that the fire of the light trench mortars was both effective and accurate, and this conduced largely to the success of the operation.

" At zero two trench mortars opened fire on the enemy's strong point, quickening the rate of fire at zero plus five minutes. At zero plus seven minutes the trench mortars lengthened range and the infantry advanced.

" The assaulting troops — about a platoon * — advanced in two waves, and were stubbornly opposed by the enemy with rifle fire and bombs. Second Lieutenant Stonebanks at once ordered his flanks to swing round and come in on the flanks of the strong point, the centre meanwhile keeping up a heavy fire on the enemy's position and distracting his attention.

" The enemy, finding himself surrounded, surrendered.

" The assaulting party pushed on to a second strong point which was found unoccupied. This was at once consolidated and a German machine gun, which was captured with a large quantity of ammunition, was brought into action against the enemy.

* One officer and 20 men actually, who accounted for double their number, fighting in prepared positions.

" Five of the enemy were killed and 35 taken prisoner, of whom five were wounded.

" Our casualties were four other ranks wounded, two
of whom are at duty."

It only remains to add that Second Lieutenant Stone-banks was himself wounded, but the brilliant little operation deserved the praise it received. Stonebanks received the M.C.

* * * *

After the attack on August 16th the wet weather and the arrangement of new tactics to suit the new elastic defence of the Germans imposed a long interval in the operations ; and, although minor assaults were delivered here and there, no further concerted movement took place in this area until September 20th. There was minor activity on other parts of the line. Several heavy raids, for instance, were carried out by the 4th Battalion in the Lagnicourt sector. On August 8th, on taking over trenches there, the battalion had discovered a German telephone wire leading from the wire in front of one of their posts towards the German line. Major Winnington Barnes put an end to any usefulness it might have by cutting it about 60 yards from the German wire. On the 17th they began an exchange of compliments with the enemy by delivering a gas attack, which was acknowledged by a bombardment of 3,000 shells. Strong raiding patrols carried out operations on the 23rd, 29th and 30th.

Menin Road Ridge. — In the Ypres area the second line battalions of the London Regiment were engaged on September 20th. These battalions were originally third line battalions, but the second line battalions had been amalgamated with the first in May, 1916, and the third, thereupon, became the second. The 2/3 Londons were in the 173rd Brigade and operated on the right of the division north of St. Julien ; and all the battalions had uniform success on this occasion, taking their objectives with distinct skill. It was to some extent a justification of the new tactics ; but it was also an endorsement of the training and morale of these battalions in their first major operation. Schuber Farm was gallantly rushed by the 2/4 Londons, with the help of the 8th Liverpool Irish and two tanks.

Below the Ypres-Menin road the 26th and 32nd Battalions were engaged, their object being the Tower Hamlets spur. The 26th were on the left and the 32nd on the right of the brigade front, both battalions being in support, with their front on the road running north from the west of Lower Star Post. The approach was characteristic of the time and place. The 26th had to step off the duckboard track to allow the 32nd to get in front. This meant stepping into the mud which clung to several of the men so tightly that they found very great difficulty in getting out again. At zero both battalions moved forward so close to the barrage that the German barrage fell behind them. The 26th ran into heavy machine-gun fire almost at once ; but for the first 200 yards the 32nd found no opposition until the fire from the left checked them. Lying out in shell-holes the Germans inflicted heavy casualties on the right of the 26th and the left of the 32nd.

At this point the majority of the officers of the 32nd had become casualties. The front assaulting battalion had been almost wiped out. But A Company, under Second Lieutenant Christie, and B under the C.S.M., pushed right and left, respectively, and the advance was enabled to resume progress. Through the check, the advantage of the barrage had been lost, but the enemy now put up little opposition. Small parties of Germans began to come forward with white flags, and the Fusiliers thus encouraged, made another spurt forward. By 9.0 a.m. the two first objectives had been captured. The 32nd had now lost more than half its strength, and no further progress could be made against the fierce and sustainedjnachine-gun fire.

The 26th had fared no better. Lieut. -Colonel G. McNichol, D.S.O., was killed early in the battle, and Major A. Maxwell, who took over the command, was awarded the D.S.O. for his gallantry and skilful leadership. All the officers but one were either killed or wounded. Indeed, in less than ten minutes there was only one unwounded officer of the 19 who had gone forward. But Lieutenant S. H. Firth and Second Lieutenant F. A. B. Jones * finding they were the only officers in the front line, held on with a small body of men. No communication could be obtained with headquarters until a staff officer arrived with some pigeons. A message was at once sent off by pigeon, and at four o'clock in the afternoon the 20th Durham Light Infantry came up. The enemy had now got the range of the position, and so effective was their fire that the five Fusilier officers, who were sent up just before dark were all casualties within two hours, four being killed and one wounded.

At one time the line was broken on the left, and the men in the support line on the right were turned about, righting with their backs to the front line. Their unexpected volley checked the German advance and the left flank recovered. On the morning of the 22nd no food and little ammunition remained from what had been brought up on the night of the 19th, and Private Sturgis volunteered to go back for supplies. Three times on his way back he was blown up, and when at length he found battalion headquarters he fainted. But as soon as he recovered he started off with a party carrying food and ammunition. The enemy barrage caught them about half way, and the party were inclined to run back. But Sturgis threatened to shoot them if they did not go forward ; and at length they came to the front line. When the battalion was withdrawn in the early morning of the 24th, they had suffered 363 casualties, including 23 officers. This was the heaviest casualty list the battalion had ever incurred in a single operation. The Menin road area continued to be true to its reputation.

* Second Lieutenant Jones was wounded in the chest early in the fight. A little later a shell exploded near him and burst the drums of both ears. But it was not until two days later that he reported wounded

Battle of Polygon Wood. — On September 26th the 4th Battalion began a series of operations which add a touch of relief to the bitter and unsuccessful fighting on the Menin road area. So fine was their discipline, and so skilfully were they handled that all orders were carried out with precision that was only too rare in this terrible battle. The battalion stood to in the Zonnebeke area at zero, 5.50 a.m., while the 3rd Division attacked. At 3 p.m. the battalion received a verbal warning that they might have to reinforce the line as the attack on Hill 40, just north of the Ypres-Roulers railway, and near Zonne-beke, had been unsuccessful, and in this case they would come under the orders of the 8th Brigade. Major Winnington Barnes was at this time in command, as Colonel Hely Hutchinson had been attached to the 4th Division as liason officer the day before.

At 5.30 p.m. this order was confirmed in writing and the battalion were ordered to occupy the old British front line in Bremen Redoubt. This movement carried out in daylight under full observation was the source of many casualties. Low-flying German aeroplanes bombed them as they were forming up, and signalled the position to the enemy artillery. As a consequence a heavy barrage was put down, but despite severe losses the battalion were in no way disorganised and moved forward in great style. On taking up position at the Bremen Redoubt the Fusiliers again suffered heavily. The barrage was now on the redoubt, and it was with the utmost difficulty that the men could be got to their positions. In front of them this determined German resistance had produced some dis-organisation in the attacking force, and it was decided to move the battalion forward to a ridge some 300 yards in front of the Bremen Redoubt. This position was taken up and all stragglers in the neighbourhood were rallied. The shell fire continued to be severe, and the losses heavy.

The ground was very bad, and it was difficult to collect the men in the midst of the heavy bombardments when the battalion were ordered to move forward at 1 a.m. on the 27th. Their new position was between 200 and 300 yards west of the road running north-west from Zonnebeke, with the right flank about 400 yards north of the railway. In the morning the battalion had two companies in front and two in rear, with the 13th King's on the right and the 59th Division on the left.

At 2 p.m. the battalion were ordered to move forward and occupy a line some 200 to 250 yards west of the road from Zonnebeke station to Jacob's House and to connect up with the East Yorks and K.S.L.I., still keeping touch with the 13th King's on the right. In spite of the heavy machine-gun and rifle fire from Hill 40, which caused many casualties, the movement was carried out in good order. The two battalions on the left, holding a line of shell-holes to Jacob's House were relieved by the Royal Fusiliers on the night of September 28th ; and the battalion dug and consolidated two lines of trenches along the whole of their front to the left of the 13th King's. On September 30th they were relieved, after a tour of four days, during which time they had carried out every duty allotted to them with perfect discipline and efficiency. Their casualty list totalled 205, but they had found a crumbling position and they left one established and organised.

It was on September 30th that the 13th Battalion were called upon to deal with a local counter-attack. They were lying at the time astride the Menin road, with an advanced blockhouse near the western edge of Gheluvelt Wood. At 5.30 a.m. a heavy bombardment by trench mortars was opened by the Germans on the whole position, and the support lines as far back as Bassevillebeek valley came under a heavy barrage. Ten minutes later the advanced post, which was held at the time by Second Lieutenant Shorman and 10 other ranks of No. 2 Company, was attacked by about 300 Germans, armed with jlamm enwerfer. After a short and fierce struggle the post was captured, all the garrison being killed or wounded. An immediate counter-attack was organised by Captain T. Whitehead, commanding No. 2 Company, and very swiftly the blockhouse was cleared of all the enemy. Second Lieutenant Shorman, who was badly burned and was last seen fighting, was missing. Second Lieutenant H. C. Bevan, who had been on patrol at the moment of the attack, was found beside the post badly wounded ; and the total casualties were 26 in an operation which occupied a very short space of time, but was carried out with bitter hand-to-hand fighting. The morning mists had prevented the rifle grenade rocket from being seen, and there was consequently no artillery support, though the whole battalion on the right had a barrage put down on their front. Captain Whitehead was awarded the M.C. for his skilful and energetic leadership, and C.S.M. J. Edwards and Private W. Digby, both of No. 2 Company, received the D.C.M. The battalion also received the congratulations of the Brigadier,* the Divisional f and the Corps commanders.

Battle of Broodseinde. — Five similar attacks were delivered by the Germans on October 1st. Yet another was launched on the morning of the 3rd, and that night there was a heavy gale with much rain. But the advance was resumed once more. The 13th Battalion took part in the attack with the 10th supporting. Since repelling the German attack on September 30th, they had lost heavily from the enemy bombardment. No. 2 Company in Bodmin Copse suffered very seriously on October 2nd, when No. 1 Company was practically wiped out, and No. 3 Company's carrying parties lost heavily. The remainder of No. 2 Company was divided between Nos. 1 and 3 ; and when the battalion attacked its total strength was 13 officers and 233 other ranks. The role of the battalion on October 4th was to seize the dug-outs strung across the northern part of Gheluvelt Wood and form a defensive flank to the 5th Division who were engaged north of the Menin road. The battalion were in position at 5.15 a.m., and a quarter of an hour later a heavy German barrage was put down. Fortunately for the battalion it fell chiefly north of the Menin road. Zero was at 6 a.m., and at that moment the battalion advanced, following the barrage so closely that though the German artillery were very prompt in their counter-barrage the assaulting troops suffered very little. But they encountered a heavy rifle and machine-gun fire from a blockhouse and also from Lewis House which had escaped the bombardment.

* " You have worthily upheld the traditions of your regiment."
t " For very gallant defence and prompt and successful counter-attack."

The 13th King's Royal Rifle Corps, who were to have raided Lewis House, were therefore unable to effect much there, and this unreduced centre, lying to the right front of the Royal Fusiliers, was chiefly responsible for their failure to carry the objective. Their original line faced roughly east. To capture the line of blockhouses in Gheluvelt Wood they had to wheel so as to take up a final position facing towards the south. This operation brought them more and more under the fire from Lewis House, and Second Lieutenant A. A. Allen's leading platoon were at one point reduced to two. Later on he collected 14 men, but the flanking fire from Lewis House and the blockhouses compelled him to dig in. No. 3 Company suffered heavily from the short firing of our own field guns, but established their line with less difficulty. It was not until night that touch was gained with the Royal West Kents on the left. At first their right flank had been in the rear of the Fusiliers' left, but towards the end of the day the advance was continued, and finally their right forward post was some 100 yards in front of the Royal Fusiliers. Though the 13th Battalion had not secured their final objective, they had covered the flank of the 5th Division, and the major part of the task given them was carried out. In killed, wounded and missing they lost 208 officers and men out of the 246 who had gone into battle.

Battle of Poelcapelle. — The weather now appeared to have definitely broken. In the early days of October it had been intermittently rainy. On the 7th heavy rain again fell all day. These conditions interfered with the artillery preparations ; and, though it was possible to crush two hostile attacks on the 7th, the perfection of counter-battery work, which was needed to cover a further advance, was impossible. The night of the 8th was almost as terrible as any experienced in the campaign. It was impenetrably black. The ground was deluged with rain, and a high wind drove the rain into the men's faces with the sting of whips. It was perilous to stray from the path, for the ground was now for the most part a trough of mud. Under such conditions it was not easy to assemble for the attack in the early hours of the 9th. But somehow the troops had become inured to such conditions, and the 2nd Battalion were in their places at zero. The attack was launched at 5.20 a.m. in conjunction with the French. Once more there was little from which to draw satisfaction in the role of the battalion. They were in support to the Lancashire Fusiliers, on the right of the 29th Division, about 500 yards south of the Ypres-Staden railway. Captain Hood, with two platoons of Y Company, pushed forward to reinforce the leading battalion and came under severe rifle fire after crossing the Conde House- (or Houthulst-) Poelcapelle road. But, advancing from shell-hole to shell-hole, they got forward about 200 yards east of the road and were then brought to a stand-still by sustained fire from the right front. The 4th Division on the right could not be located, and Corporal Floyd sent out with a patrol reported a gap of 300 yards on this flank. The second objective had not been made good ; there were no supports, and, accordingly, Captain Hood consolidated the line from about 250 yards north of Conde House to about 100 yards north of Miller's House.

Second Lieutenant Saul, with the right platoon of Z Company, followed Y Company. The other officers of Z became casualties ; and Saul followed Hood, passing through a few groups of Lancashire Fusiliers in shell-holes, until he was drawn off to the right, near the huts, about 300 yards north-east of the Mill on the Poelcapelle-Houthulst road, where he was held up by rifle fire. On the left X Company, followed by W, advanced by the watch, passed through a line of Lancashire Fusiliers in shell-holes and prepared to advance on the third objective. They were in contact with the Worcesters on the left, but could not locate any one on the right ; and the line of Lancashires who were thought to be in front did not exist. They went forward once more by the watch ; but the right was held up by short shooting of our own barrage at Conde House, and when they could advance again the protection of the barrage had been lost.

It was at Conde House that Sergeant J. Molyneux won the V.C. From the trench in front of the house a machine gun kept up a persistent fire on the advancing troops. Molyneux, who belonged to W Company, seeing that the attack was completely checked, at once organised a bombing party to clear the trench. Many of the Germans were killed, and the machine gun was captured. Molyneux then jumped out of the trench, and, calling on the men to follow, rushed forward against Conde House. He was well in front, and, when the others arrived, he was in the thick of a hand-to-hand fight. So swift and impetuous had been the assault that the struggle was soon over. Some 20 to 30 prisoners were taken, and the position, which had threatened to bring the whole battalion to a standstill, was captured. His action was as serviceable as it was daring.

But despite the heroism of the advance, the final objective could not be reached. No troops were found ahead, and the second objective had not been taken. A line was therefore established with the right about 200 yards below the road which runs from the Poelcapelle-Houthulst road north-east to the Ypres-Staden railway, and the left resting on the Poelcapclle-Houthulst road about 200 yards below the railway. It was literally a filthy advance ; it was costly ; it was unsatisfactory. The battalion had advanced according to plan, but apparently no one else had. There was no obvious landmark to stake out the day's work and round off their ordeal. But it was not so much a misfortune of the battalion's as a general characteristic of the operations in this phase of the battle.


" By this time the persistent continuation of wet weather had left no further room for hope that the condition of the ground would improve sufficiently to enable us to capture the remainder of the ridge this year. By limited attacks made during intervals of better weather, however, it would still be possible to progress as far as Passchen-daele, and, in view of the other projects which I had in view, it was desirable to maintain the pressure on the Flanders' front for a few weeks longer.

" To maintain his defence on this front the enemy had been obliged to reduce the garrison of certain parts of his line to a degree which justified the expectation that a sudden attack at a point where he did not expect it might attain a considerable local success. The front for such an attempt had been selected. . . ." *

Such thoughts, however, were not the inspiration of the troops, who had only their determination to see the thing through to carry them over an ordeal that remains almost indescribable. Another local attack was made on October 12th despite the heavy rain that continued almost throughout the day. There was a further attack on October 22nd, and the nth Battalion were called upon to hold the positions taken by the 10th Essex, who had successfully attacked the brewery east of Poelcapelle, until the 24th. They were then relieved and passed to Dirty Bucket Camp, a very aptly described place.

* Despatch.

Second Battle of Passchendaele. — On October 25th a strong west wind somewhat dried the surface of the ground and the night was fine. The stars shone out with the sharpened clarity of a frosty atmosphere. Another small attack was planned for the 26th ; and the 2nd line battalions of the London Regiment took up their positions with the 58th Division, below the Poelcapelle-Spriet road. The 2/2 Londons, attacking at 5.40 a.m., reached Cameron House — about 250 yards below the Poelcapelle-Spriet road — at 7.15 a.m. A Company under Captain Harper cleared three of the four " pill-boxes " at this point and sent back 17 prisoners. D Company, in command of Second Lieutenant J. P. Howie at 6.30 a.m. reached a " pill-box " about 200 yards above the Lekkerboterbeek and stormed it, capturing 32 prisoners ; and three-quarters of an hour later had to repel hostile counter-attacks directed against this point and Cameron House. A Company, finding their flank uncovered by the retirement of the unit on their left, were compelled to withdraw ; but D clung to the mebus they had captured until the end of the day. Moray House, lying about 550 yards due east of this "pill-box," held up C Company all the day. The casualties were 11 officers (3 killed) and 386 other ranks.

The 2/3 Londons were not so fortunate. The men were up to their waists in mud, and it was almost impossible to reach the enemy, who shot down the men as they struggled to advance. Nevertheless they managed to push their way, on the left of the 2/2nd half-way to the final objective, but were then unable to withstand the prompt and violent counter-attack. The Germans in the later stages of the battle depended much on wearing off the edge of the attack by light advanced troops, and then endeavoured to wipe out any success by immediate and heavy counter-attacks. Part of the 2/2 Londons had been able to hold their own against these tactics. But the 2/3rd were forced back, and their retirement involved the left of the 2/2nd. The 2/3M fell back to the assembly positions where, with the help of the 2/1st, they were able to beat off the enemy. The 2/3rd lost so heavily on this occasion that when the battalion were relieved only two officers and 17 men returned. Among the casualties were Lieut. -Colonel P. W. Beresford, D.S.O., who was killed. Somewhat similar was the fate of the 2/4th, who made some headway, but could not capture their objectives. D Company, under Captain C. A. Clarke, seized and held advanced positions, and the battalion, with a casualty list of 11 officers and 368 other ranks, had to be content with this result. The Londons all suffered very terribly from the state of the ground. Many men were drowned in the shell-holes.

* * *

Another attack was delivered on October 30th, and the 7th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, who took part in it, suffered from the conditions that had so gravely affected the second line Londons. They too, were fighting in the trough of mud and water while other battalions advanced along the main ridge, where it was at least possible to move. The 7th Battalion moved up to their position below the Lekkerboterbeek, about 1,000 yards west of the Paddebeek, on the afternoon of the 28th, and on the following morning a practice barrage was put down about 200 yards beyond the line of the advanced posts. The German counter-barrage came down on the support and reserve companies, but it was fortunately not very heavy. A strong position on the left of the front gave considerable trouble and was reported to the brigade. It was then arranged that this point should be attacked by C Company, under Second Lieutenant Snelling.

The barrage came down at 5.50 a.m. on the 30th and the advance began. The men soon lost touch with headquarters, and this proved a serious handicap. Five runners were sent up, but only one returned. Later, by interrogating the wounded it was found that the right of the line had got as far as the Paddebeek, though the left was still held up by the strong point which had been marked down before the beginning of the attack. The resistance of this single focus conditioned the battle on the 63rd Division's front. At 12.55 P m - Second Lieutenant Wells, who arrived at headquarters wounded, reported that heavy machine-gun and rifle fire was coming from this quarter. Men of all companies were lying out in front of it and there had been heavy loss already in the fruitless attempt to capture it. At 2.0 p.m. it was arranged that Second Lieutenant Hawkins, with two Stokes guns, should assist in another attack. Part of C Company were to make a feint from the front while Second Lieutenant Tricker led the attack from the flank. Every effort was strained to make this assault successful. It was arranged to deliver the attack at 5 a.m. on the morning of October 31st, and about four hours before Captain Ogle and Second Lieutenant Hawkins went forward to complete the arrangements. But at 7.45 a.m. they returned to report that the attack had again failed. Before the attack began, a shell destroyed one of the guns and its double crew of 20 men. The other fired six rounds and then ceased to function owing to the mud. A withering machine-gun fire was opened from the strong point, and Second Lieutenant Tricker was compelled to abandon the attack. The battalion had to hand over their positions on relief with this obdurate focus of resistance still defiantly active.

But in the meantime the men had pushed forward on the right, though they failed to cope with the main enemy of the area and the time — the deep, adhesive mud. Officers and men tried to find some feasible pathway through it, but when they contrived to get forward the mud and water had robbed them of the advantage of the barrage. A small " pill-box " on the right was captured and an escaping German shot. They pressed up to within about 100 yards of Sourd Farm, about 600 yards east of the obdurate strong point and not 150 yards south of it.

At 10.30 p.m. on the 30th it was arranged to relieve the battalion by the Royal Marine Light Infantry, but this was later changed to the Hawke Battalion. Arrangements were completed by 1.15 p.m. on the 31st, and the Hawke Battalion began to arrive at 7.30 p.m. The 7th Royal Fusiliers were still lying in their advanced positions.


Stretcher bearers had been active since noon and practically all the wounded were evacuated. Corporal Hancock, who was wounded on the 30th, had been taken prisoner by the Germans. He was removed to a dug-out where his wounds were dressed and he was fed. Later on he was handed over to the Fusiliers' stretcher bearers with the condition that he gave no information as to the German dispositions.

It was 10.45 P m - on the 31st before the relief was complete. A desultory shelling was taking place at the time, and the battalion passed through a gassed area on their way to Irish Farm, where German aeroplanes greeted them. Fortunately there were no additional casualties ; for the battalion had already lost heavily. Captain Seward, Second Lieutenants Snelling and T. L. Williams, and 65 other ranks were killed, Second Lieutenants D. Bishop, M. A. Townshend, C. R. Wells and S. W. Dunthorn, and 148 other ranks wounded, and 19 missing. Both of the attacking divisions were congratulated by the XVIII. Corps commander, who stated that " Nothing but the impossibility of crossing the mud prevented their usual complete success." The condition of the ground could not be exaggerated, as the commanding officer could testify from personal observation. " No troops could possibly pass over it." The seal is set on this statement by the fact that the line, on this sector of the Ypres front, lay at the end of the campaign very much as the 7th Battalion left it.

But the long-drawn-out battle had now reached its last stage. On November 6th, the Canadians carried Passchendaele together with the high ground immediately to the north and north-west. The nth Battalion returned to the area in time for the ringing down of the curtain. On this occasion (November 10th) they took over positions south of Houthulst Forest. The ground was water-logged. Beyond the duckboard tracks, drowning was an ordinary risk, and it was hardly decent drowning. The water in the shell-holes was strongly impregnated with Yellow Cross gas. There was a considerable amount of gas shell expended on this area, and in their first tour of the trenches the nth Battalion had 21 gassed to 13 wounded. The latter included Lieut. -Colonel Sulman. On November 22nd, the adjutant, Captain O. C. Whiteman was killed on the way up to the front. He was walking up with Major Ford, the second in command, a few minutes before the battalion arrived, and finding that one part of the track was being persistently shelled, they took refuge behind a " pill-box," intending to wait for the next shell and then dash across the dangerous spot. Unfortunately the next shell fell just over the " pill-box " and Whiteman was killed at once.

An incident that was marked with better luck will serve to round off the narrative of the campaign. " In the Houthulst Forest sector on the night of November 24th-25th, 1917, Private T. Wright was accompanying his platoon officer who was visiting his front line posts, when an enemy patrol was seen approaching. The officer and Private Wright, who were in No Man's Land at the time, allowed the patrol to get close to the post, and then placed themselves between the patrol and the enemy's lines and called upon the patrol to surrender.

" The patrol, consisting of an officer and a corporal, attempted to get away, but were prevented from doing so by Private Wright, who shot the German officer in the thigh and then knocked down the corporal, who offered considerable resistance, and, moreover, was a strong opponent, standing at least six feet one in height, and strongly built. The two were made prisoners and valuable documents and other information was obtained from them." Such is the official account of the incident which gained for Private Wright the Military Medal.

But by this time the other project to which Sir Douglas Haig had referred in his despatch as the chief reason for maintaining the pressure on the Flanders' front had seen fulfilment. At Cambrai the troops had gone through the German line, and, attaining complete surprise, had secured a remarkable success.