London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories

1918 Armistice : The Royal fusiliers in the Great War 1914 - 1919


To the army the subordinate armies are the units ; to the sectional armies, the army corps ; to the army corps, the divisions ; to the divisions, the brigades ; to the brigades, the battalions. Only when we reach the battalions does the full incidence rest upon the companies and the individuals who compose them. It is this that constitutes the main difficulty of writing a regimental history. In a regiment a private or N. CO. is not X Y Z 123456, but " that bandy-legged little chap who played the fiddle," a distinct and quite human personality. It is the human side of war that is uppermost. But the historian cannot on these grounds excuse himself from dealing with the military framework into which these men fitted. The stress falls in this, as in the more personal side of the war, upon detail. If regimental histories were all written with a perfect knowledge of detail, the history of the war would be made supremely easy for those who have to deal with operations in their larger aspect.

But in the case of the Royal Fusiliers the historian is faced with the task of dealing with 235,476 men who fought in every theatre, except Mesopotamia, put in an appearance at almost every considerable battle of the war, and whose dead numbered 21,941. The problem of dealing with the history of these battalions in the space has been extremely difficult, and I have been reluctantly compelled to adopt a compromise. The complete story could not be told in all its detail. On the other hand, the purely military narrative which makes the more irresistible challenge to my mind might have been concentrated, but it would have tended to be lifeless. I have attempted to meet both claims by dealing with every engagement that seemed to deserve notice as correctly and completely as possible, while singling out incidents appealing to me as more significant. In the final resort some loss of perspective and some injustice are inevitable. But injustice is inevitable on any plan. In this laborious, though fascinating, inquiry I have been struck by nothing so much as the terrible disproportion and fundamental injustice of the awards.

Take, for instance, the one case of the landing of the 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers in Gallipoli, which so far has not been justly appreciated. The tardy recognition that came to the battalion came so late that many whose work should have been recognised had fallen, and only the Victoria Cross is given posthumously. Many, of course, fell on the day of the landing ; but many more had passed away before recognition came to the survivors. One or two regiments were seen to fall in heroic action, and their story ran on every one's lips. But other men quite as heroic fell unmarked, frequently unnoticed, by their fellows, and sympathetic friends try to soothe wounded hearts at home by recollections which are frequently found to be incompatible. If I were asked to say what incident in the three landings in Gallipoli,] "X," " W " and " Y," appealed most to me, I should say with little hesitation it was the stand of the gallant company (" X ") of the Royal Fusiliers under Captain Leslie on the left of the " X " beach. The company dwindled to a platoon in the day's fighting. Leslie himself fell. But he held off the repeated onslaughts of the Turks, protected the landing of the 87th Brigade, and made possible that swift march to the right that secured elbow-room for the Lancashire landing.

My story therefore is probably not more unjust than in any case it must have been. It is impossible here to set down all the books I have consulted. I have read all I knew to be published. It is also impossible to thank all who have helped me. Without the help of Generals Donald and Newenham I could not have made much headway, and I have received the most generous help from all to whom I have appealed, from Colonel W. Hill, Lieut. -Colonel T. R. Mallock, and Lieut.-Colonel Malone, especially. As it was wholly impossible within the space to do full justice to the personal side of the story, a long appendix has been devoted to accounts of soldiers who actually took part in the various operations. I must thank those who have kindly allowed me to use their contributions. I have also to thank Captain Gibson, of the Infantry Records Office, and Mr. A. E. Dixon, of the Committee of Imperial Defence, for bearing with an ambitious and continuous series of demands.

But, of course, the responsibility for the book is wholly mine, and I trust it is not altogether an unworthy tribute to the war record of the Royal Fusiliers.


I. Reveille  ; Raising of the Battalions

II. First Battles— Mons to the Aisne . .

III. Flanders— La Bassee, Armentieres, Ypres 

IV. The First Spring Campaign— Neuve Chapelle, Ypres

V. The Summer Operations— Loos ...

VI. The Great Adventure — Gallipoli . .

VII. The Battle of the Somme. .

VIII. The German Retreat and the Battle of  Arras ..

IX. The Battle of Messines ..

X. The Third Battle of Ypres . . 

XL The Battle of Cambrai ..

XII. Interlude

XIII. The German Offensive ....

XIV. Salonika

XV. East Africa

XVI. The Hundred Days — First Battles . .

XVII. The Hundred Days— Last Battles . .


The Roll of Honour