Bellewaarde, Hooge & Gheluvelt

1st attack at Bellewaarde 

The objective for the 3rd Division on June 16th 1915 was to secure a line running NNW from the SW corner of Bellewaarde Lake, up to the Railway.

The 1st objective was the Eastern edge of Y-Wood (Y16 -Y15) and the German front line of trenches running NE to the corner of Railway Wood. The 2nd objective was to gain and secure the line of the road from the house 100yrds South of Y17 up to Bellewaarde Farm, through Y14, Y11 and Y7 at the railway. The 3rd objective phase was the western edge of Bellewaarde Lake, through Y.12 to Y.7.

The artillery bombarded the front to be attacked from 2.50am and 4.15am.

The 9th Brigade were to attack the South Corner of Y-Wood to the North corner of Railway Wood at 4.15am.

The attacking troops for the first phase were (from right to left) the 4/Royal Fusiliers, 1/Royal Scots Fusiliers and 1/Northumberland Fusiliers.

As soon as the first objective had been gained the guns were to bombard the second objective. In the meantime, it was planned that the supporting troops of 1/Lincolns and Liverpool Scottish (1/10th King’s Regiment) would move up to the front line vacated by the troops of the first phase, and then capture the third objective.

The attack will be supported by 1 Battalion of the 7th Brigade (Wiltshires) from the Menin Road aiming to seize the West end of the trench running from Y16 to Y20 working up the trench and then in to the trench leading NNE from point Y20 towards the bridge. 

The 7th Brigade (less the 1 battalion) will be in reserve in trenches West of Cambridge Road. They will occupy the vacated trenches of the 9th Brigade…

Hooge Summer 1915 

The 14th Division had been holding a part of the Ypres salient ever since the middle of June.

During most of that time there had been considerable bickering over the site of the village and chateau of Hooge.  On July 17 a mine was successfully exploded under the enemy's front line, and the crater occupied by the 4th Middlesex (8th Brigade, 3rd Division).

Other attempts were made to capture a piece of the enemy's line on July 22, but without success.  The area had become very 'unhealthy,' and was subjected to constant shelling.

To quote from the 'Official History';

Rumours of German retaliation, by an attack along the Menin Road, were current on the 26th, but it did not take place until the morning of the 30th, and then against the Hooge sector, held by the 41st Brigade (Brigadier-General O.S.W. Nugent), of the 14th Division (Major-General V. Couper), which had taken over the sector a week before.

The 41st Brigade was ordered to move up and take over the defence of the Hooge sector. No sooner had they done so than a terrific German bombardment began, serving a warning of the desperate counterattack that was to follow. 

Although closely hemmed in by German trenches, the position that had been seized at Hooge gave the British men a tactical position from which they could attack the German front line on three sides. It was obvious, therefore, that the re-capture of the salient was of huge importance to the Germans. The 8th Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and the 7th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade were allotted to the first line whilst the 7th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps and the 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade were held in reserve.

The Germans' uninterrupted bombardment by shell and mortar fire resulted in the systematic destruction of the trenches. “Day by day and night by night, they shelled the front trenches, the support trenches and the communication trenches. Gradually they blew them down faster than we could repair them; whole sections of men at a time were blown to pieces, and there was no cover to withdraw the men to. We were shelled from the front, from the flank, and from the rear. At the end of a week there were hardly any trenches left, and the two battalions in first line, without sleep, and worn with constant watching by day and night, sorely needed a rest.” That need was met when the night of 29-30 July was set for the men in the first line to be relieved by the two battalions in reserve.

It was 3.15 a.m. on the morning of 30 July, and the battalions had just exchanged places, when, without any warning, jets of flame - a torrent of fire - shot across from the German side to the trenches that the British had captured ten days before and which were now occupied by the 41st Brigade. This was accompanied by a shell and mortar (minenwerfer) attack on the support trenches; the ramparts of Ypres and the exits from the town were also shelled. This was the first time in warfare that liquid fire flamethrowers (flammenwerfer) were used by the German Army against the British. The Germans achieved complete surprise and there was intense hand to hand fighting in some of the trenches. The German trenches were not more than twenty yards away at that point. One soldier, who was in the trench at the time but just clear of the liquid fire, said that after the flame had died down and the bombardment - which lasted only two or three minutes - had ended, he saw the Germans charging out of their trench so he ran down his trench trying to find a way out. "He found not a man alive; all whom he saw, who were not buried by the shells, were lying dead.”

The Germans now aimed their fire at Sanctuary Woods where the Reserve Companies were and, although they were beaten off on two sides, the Germans soon poured into the front trench; from there they proceeded to take the rest of the sector bit by bit. The news quickly reached Brigade Headquarters and the artillery were called up by the Brigadier; orders were also despatched to the two Battalions that had just been relieved to return at once and reinforce their comrades. 

Meanwhile, the Germans had got into the support trenches in overwhelming numbers and were digging themselves in, rushing up a number of machine guns. The British bombers (using Mills bombs) held on to the communication trenches leading into Zouave Wood, fighting a desperate fight just south of the Menin Road. Soon after 5 a.m. the German artillery supported their attack with a curtain of shell fire designed to prevent the reinforcements arriving but losses were avoided as the two Reserve Battalions pushed forward via a route away from the usual line.

Faced with concentrated artillery and machine-gun fire, and overwhelming enemy numbers, the position became untenable forcing the remainder of the Battalion to fall back on the outskirts of Sanctuary and Zouave Woods connecting up with the Menin Road.

Reinforced by the two Battalions who - without food, water or sleep - had been rushed back up from their short and hurried rest, the whole 41st Brigade was assembled at last and managed to hold their ground.

The commanding Brigadier-General, who was early on the scene, quickly grasped that a counter-attack was impracticable. He requested a complete division as reinforcement, plus a lengthy bombardment by artillery superior to those of the enemy, so that his jaded and exhausted troops could recover and regroup. Regardless, at 11.30 a.m. orders were issued for a counterattack by the 41st and 42nd Brigades. To support this, one Battalion from the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry was sent as reinforcement and a new line was formed; from the 42nd Brigade, the support of the 9th Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps was also promised along the Menin Road. A bombardment by the Artillery Corps was also arranged, to begin at 2 p.m. and end at 2.45, when the counter-attack would begin. Two battalions were directed to attack from Sanctuary and Zouave Woods, the 7th Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps on the right, with the 8th Battalion in reserve, and the 8th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade on the left, with the 7th Battalion in reserve.

All the senior officers were experienced in war and they fully understood that the counter-attack was a desperate move. However, once the necessary dispositions had been made, both the officers and riflemen lay waiting for the conclusion of the bombardment, ready to do their duty. The order had been received: theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die. “We were in for a real attack,” wrote one officer, “in which I honestly felt there was no chance of success, knowing the ground, and having had six weeks’ experience of the German fire. There was not an officer or man who did not realize the situation and did not count the cost.” 

However, the Allied bombardment was ineffective, so much so, wrote one officer eye witness, “that the Germans opened a heavy machine-gun fire from our recently held supporting trenches before the bombardment was at an end". Despite this, the counter-attack was launched at the appointed hour, 2.45 p.m. “The attack moved forward. The men behaved very well, and the officers with a gallantry no words can adequately describe. As they came out of the woods the German machine-gun and shell fire met them, and literally swept them away line after line. The men struggled forward, only to fall in heaps along the edge of the woods.”

 A rifleman described the scene: "under an unholy bombardment from every kind of gun, fired from every side into our salient, rush our splendid riflemen! It certainly seemed a case of good-bye to this world! I only felt a kind of regret that it was not a show likely to succeed! But I kept such thoughts to myself! I will say this, we did keep smiling. We went at it - officers and all. But the odds were too great, and our forty five minutes’ bombardment had done nothing to save us."

“Led by their officers, each successive line swept forward,” wrote the leader of the Brigade, “and the last wave of men rolled forward from the woods with determined courage. The men literally fell in swathes, and headway was impracticable. First came a message from the left that one Company only still remained. Shortly after, about 3.30 p.m., the senior officer on the right reported that further progress was impossible. It was clear that the attack had been pressed home with a splendid gallantry and to its furthest limit, but that success was impracticable.” The Brigadier judged correctly that pressing the attack further would result in the sacrifice of his whole Brigade; he considered that eventuality unjustifiable so directed his commanding officers to “incur no further avoidable losses, and to hold the edge of the woods till dark.” When they rallied at Sanctuary and Zouave Woods, it was found that a bare remnant of 720 of all ranks could be mustered from the four thousand men of the Brigade. 

The 9th Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, under Lieutenant Colonel Charles Slingsby Chaplin, had been directed to support the counter-attack carried out by the 41st Brigade. They had been in reserve near Ypres and, having received their instructions, arrived at the assembly point on the Menin Road before the bombardment began. Chaplin issued detailed orders that at 2.45 p.m. B and D Companies were to advance towards Hooge on either side of Menin Road; B Company on the right was ordered to seize a trench to the south, and D Company to seize a trench to the north of the main road; it was believed that both trenches had been occupied by the enemy following their successful flammenwerfer attack on the 41st Brigade in the early hours before dawn. The remaining two Companies, A and C, were to follow B and D Companies in support. The Battalion was close to but not in touch with the 41st Brigade, so Chaplin did not act under the orders of the 41st's Brigadier.

Fresh from being recently held in reserve, the men of the 9th Battalion were in splendid fighting condition and, inspired by devotion to their Colonel, in whom they had implicit confidence, were eager for the fray. The advance began precisely on time, at 2.45 p.m., and, some two hundred yards from their objective, the men passed the front trench firing line held by the 9th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade. There had been good cover up to this point as the advance had been through fairly good communication trenches so the losses thus far were small. Lieutenant Colonel Chaplin went with the third line in the leading B Company, where he felt he would be in a better position to direct his men. After clearing the front line trenches, Chaplin gave orders for the bombers and the furthest forward lines of B Company to rush the main trench adjacent to the Menin Road; they swept away the enemy who had been holding it and established themselves at its eastern end. D Company followed next in support of B Company, and made good the western end of the enemy’s trench. 

The main task had thus been achieved! In this gallant assault the leading men faced sustained flanking fire from Hooge village. A gallant young officer (2nd Lieutenant William Purdon Geen - a Welsh International Rugby Player) desperately charged the enemy position with a few men but was never seen again, one of 350 from B Company 9th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps who were killed on that day.

 Whilst directing his men to make good their success, Colonel Chaplin came under machine-gun fire and was killed instantaneously by a shot through the head. Captain Richard Selby Durnford, commanding D Company, and Captain Andrew Alexander Truman Tanqueray of B Company were also killed at about the same time.

With D Company supporting B Company, in accordance with Chaplin’s latest orders, the two supporting Companies, C and A, were directed to seize the trench south of the Menin Road and found that it had not been occupied by the enemy. The officer commanding C Company thought he saw an opportunity to relieve the exposed flank of the leading B and D Companies, and called upon his men to charge “but few got beyond a point fifty yards from the trench, where many officers and men were shot down by machine-gun and rifle fire coming from Hooge and the neighbouring enemy trenches.” Had this bold move succeeded, this gallant effort could have relieved the pressure not only on B and D Companies but also on the left flank of the 41st Brigade where the 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade were losing heavily. 

Last to arrive was A Company and - despite encountering murderous fire - they showed enormous gallantry in trying to carry back their injured comrades from the open ground where they were lying wounded. Captain Noel Jardine Exell of A Company gallantly brought back the badly wounded Captain Young of C Company; he then went to the aid of a private, was severely injured in the act and died of his wounds the following day. Captain Christie arriving about this time with the remainder of A Company, took over command, consolidated the defence of the trench and linked up with the left wing of the 41st Brigade.

At 2.20 a.m. on the morning of 31 July, the enemy renewed their attack on Zouave Wood, preceded by further bursts of liquid fire. This was followed by very heavy shelling of the wood and terrific rifle fire all along the German front line. This heavy fire was maintained without any cessation until daylight when the firing died down. The 41st Brigade hung on to the edges of the woods throughout that day, 31July, regularly losing officers and men, until they were withdrawn, finally, late in the afternoon.

In the fighting of 30 and 31 July, the 41st Brigade lost 53 of its officers and 1400 men. Altogether, the 9th Battalion's ordeal had lasted for six weeks and, in the month of July 1915 alone, they had lost 13 of officers - 6 killed, 5 wounded and 2 missing - and of other ranks had lost 49 killed, 236 wounded and 37 missing. 

Excerpt from War Diary 8th Battalion Kings Royal Rifle Corps and the action in which Gordon Whittaker lost his life.

29/7/1915

Thursday

Sanctuary wood

Dugouts made, Communication Trenches cleared, parapets raised especially in F1. 7thK.R.R relieved 8th K.R.R about midnight. 8th Battalion returns to Ypres, A+D Coys to Ramparts near Lille Gate, B+C Coys to dug outs near White House west of Asylum.

30/7/1915

Friday

Enemy attack trenches occupied by 8th Rifle Brigade and 7th Kings Royal Rifles at 3.am using Liquid fire on G3+G4. Front Line Trenches opposite Zouave Wood lost. Bombardment by our guns and counter bombardment opens at 3.45.am. Platoons of 8th Kings Royal Rifles ordered to reinforce 8th Rifle Brigade in Zouave Wood.

D.Coy (Gordon Whittaker’s) leads off getting to Zouave Wood at 6.30 am. The 3 Platoons are under Major Green and Captain Barber, remainder of Battalion goes to Sanctuary Wood.

The three Platoons of D Company reinforce A Company of the 8th Rifle Brigade at the edge of Zouave Wood and are heavily shelled and are withdrawn to Sanctuary Wood at 12.noon.

Lt Hawkes R.A.M.C is killed just past Bridge 14 on the way up to Sanctuary Wood with the Battalion.. Intensive Bombardment by our Artillery opens at 2.15pm, counter attack arranged for 2.45pm. 8th Battalion to support 7th Battalion and attack to be launched from Sanctuary Wood and the Rifle Brigades from Zouave Wood. Enemy machine gun fire makes it impossible to leave wood, edge of wood being heavily crumped, a few platoons succeed in getting some way out from wood, A and B Company’s in front line supported by C Company, D Company kept in reserve in trench near Headquarters in Sanctuary Wood.

About 3.15a.m. a message was received by Colonel Green from Major Seymour saying that the 7th Battalion and our own advance was stuck up, and asking whether he should again attempt to push on. Colonel Green seeing that the Rifle Brigade attack had also been held up decided to hold on and ask for orders. The order was shortly received from the Brigadier not to press the attack further. Colonel Green issued orders for a trench to be dug through Sanctuary Wood at the point held by our firing line; this was done by all available men, and helped by the 7th Notts and Derby’s and the D.C.L.I who had sent two Companies to reinforce.

The losses had been very and the Medical arrangements were entirely inadequate and with Dr Hawkes having been killed only one Doctor was available to deal with over 500 cases. Great difficulties were experienced in finding and collecting the wounded in the thick woods, and when found in bringing them in to the dressing station. With it being impossible to bring the ambulances within 900 yards of the first aid station, many men had to remain out exposed for over 24 hours.

This coupled with the fact the Battalion had no rations for 36 hours and suffered for the want of water, caused the loss of many riflemen who might have been saved.

At about 3.a.m. a terrific rifle and machine gun fire was opened by both sides and the Artillery, Flare lights, and rockets of both sides added to the confusion of what appeared to be a heavy night attack took place.

The 7th Battalion and A and D had been relieved, and only B and C Company’s and machine Guns were present and the two of them took up positions and awaited developments under Colonel Green.

One Machine Gun under rifleman Bentley particularly distinguished itself.

At daybreak the firing died down and the two Company’s having been relieved withdrew.

Gordon Whittaker fought and died along with 10 Officers, and 190 men, killed wounded or missing of his Battalion, the 8th Kings Royal Rifle Corps.

During the 3rd battle of Ypres..A raid by the 8th Division in II Corps, was made on Hooge on the night of 10/11 July. The raiders assembled so close to the barrage that several soldiers were wounded and then a machine-gun caused more casualties. The German resistance was so determined that only one prisoner was lifted and after 44 minutes the raiders retired, claiming 70–80 Germans killed for 36 casualties. On 31 July, the first day of the Battle of Pilckem Ridge, the 8th Division advanced towards Westhoek and the 24th Brigade advanced through Hooge, over the Menin road and took its objectives relatively easily. The southern flank then became exposed to the concentrated fire of German machine-guns from Nonne Boschen and Glencorse Wood in the area to be taken by the 30th Division.

The Germans retook Hooge in April 1918 as part of the Spring Offensive but were driven back from the area by the British on 28 September as the offensive faltered.

GHELUVELT

GHELUVELT 1914

Gheluvelt Oct 1914...

The attack on 31st October began without any preliminary bombardment. This was repulsed. Most British units were by now much depleted. Enemy shelling began in earnest at 08:00 and infantry attacked at 10:00. Numerical advantage was with the Germans and by 11:30 the British position in Gheluvelt was lost. The road to Ypres was now open to the Germans.

The 2nd Worcesters had by now been placed under command of the 1st Division. The Brigade holding Gheluvelt was the 1st (Guards) Brigade. As reserve they had spent the morning dug in at the western edge of Polygon wood. The Battalion Adjutant described their condition: "Every single soul dog tired, cold, wet, and plastered with mud, had been unwashed and unshaved for days. Deficient of various articles of clothes and equipment, we still had our rifles and bayonets with plenty of ammunition, and we knew how to use them."

A counter attack had to be organised. The commanders and staff of both 1st and 2nd Division were co-located in the same building, a nearby chateau. As the two commanders were conferring in the HQ of 2nd Division, a shell burst in the room, killing almost all those present. General Munro commanding 2nd Division was only concussed but the commander of 1st Division was killed. The Brigade commander of 1st (Guards) Brigade sent a warning order to the Worcesters. Due to the effects of casualties no other unit was available to assist in the counter-attack.

'A' Company was positioned to protect a flank, leaving 3 weakened companies to carry out the attack. From their start point the Worcesters had to move a mile to reach Gheluvelt. The Battalion formed up short of the objective, a large chateau, and fixed bayonets; 'C' company on the left, 'D' company on the right with 'B' company in a second line. 360 all ranks started out.

As the regiment went into the attack they came under shell fire which claimed over 100 casualties. Caught off guard many of the enemy were looting the village or relaxing. 'C' company burst in among them and drove through them with the bayonet. The effect of this was to plug the gap in the line which had been created between the Scots Guards and the South Wales Borderers, and the situation was saved. The enemy made no attempt to retake the position, and British troops eventually withdrew to shorten their exposed position. The action on the 31st cost the Worcesters 187 casualties of whom 31 were killed. The First Battle of Ypres officially concluded on 22nd November 1914, by which time the 2nd Worcesters mustered some 240 all ranks.

MAJOR WATSONS ‘situation’ Sketch map…

On 29 October, the 1st Queen's arrived at Gheluvelt to support the 2nd Battalion of the regiment. The following day the 2nd Queen's retired, and on the 31 October the Germans launched a strong attack on Gheluvelt. After fierce fighting, the 1st Queen's was decimated.

On the evening of 31 October, the strength of the 1st Battalion stood at 2 officers and about 40 NCOs and other ranks. It had lost nine officers, and 624 NCOs and men were killed, wounded or missing. The commanding officer, Major Watson, and Lieutenant Boyd, collected together 200 assorted stragglers on 1 November, who held a line over the next few days until relieved on 5 November. Four days later, on 9 November, the battalion was reorganised as one company of two officers and 170 NCOs and men (including men attached from other units).

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