Heavy Fighting in Ypres Salient On the morning of 8th May, the 3rd Monmouths had three companies in the front line and one in support. Half a mile to the north the 1st Monmouth's were fighting with the 83rd Brigade. The German bombardment began at 5.30 am followed by the first infantry attack at 8.30. In the words of Pte W.H. Badham: "They started bombarding at the same time in the morning and….afterwards we could hear a long blast of a whistle, and the attack started. We were only a handful of men, and they came on in thousands, but we kept them at bay"
Private A.L. Devereux carried this story forward in a letter he wrote to his family a day or two after the battle:
"Hundreds of them were put of action with shells and it left very few men to man the trenches. After, the Huns shelled all the country for a couple of miles…stoping any reinforcements from being brought up and thousands of the rabble charged our trenches in their favourite massed formation. The few boys that were left in our trenches showed then the kind of stuff Britain can turn out and thousands of the Germans were put out of action"
Almost immediately, the shelling started again and at 09.00am the Germans attacked again and were again driven back. The Germans realised that their attack was making no progress, and they fell back so that the artillery could return to its task on the front line trenches. By 9.10 am the bombardment was as intense as at any time that morning and there was little that the soldiers could do except find what little cover they could.
Orders reached the 3rd Monmouth's and 2nd King's Own from Brigade HQ about 10am to evacuate the front line trenches. Captain Baker began withdrawing his Company, but immediately the enemy opened up an intense machine gun fire, followed by shrapnel, which practically swept away the few survivors of A and D Companies. Captain Baker was killed a few yards behind the front line. The order apparently never reached Lt Reed and he and few men of A Company, with some machine gunners held on gallantly and resisted to the last. Lt Reed was finally killed and no officer of A Company was left, and only 13 survivors amongst the men could be mustered. D Company stuck it gallantly. They lost their only officer Captain J Lancaster. Every Sergeant in the company was killed and only 16 men answered the roll call next morning. Of the 500 men in A and D Companies only 29 were left. B Company (under Captain Gattie) throughout the battle was separated from the rest of the Battalion. They were in the front line in a wood near Red Lodge. Rations and letters came up regularly and one fortunate officer even received a tin of cooked sausages! What the war diary does not record is that the new trenches had been hastily prepared and it was not as deep or as wide as had been hoped for by those men retiring to it. One member of the 3rd Monmouths noted: "….when we occupied this new line of trenches we found them very badly made and up to our knees in water, and the poor men had no chance of getting any sleep unless they wished to i.e. down in the water".
So dawned the most critical day of the great battle, the 8th May, The 3rd Monmouth's lay astride the Zonnebeke road, the apex of the Salient, two companies in the front line with one in support and the fourth company not far away to the south. Half a mile to the north was their sister battalion the 1st Monmouthshire's in the 84th Brigade. Holding the position with them were their comrades of the 83rd Brigade, the nd Kings Own to the north and to the south the 1st KOYLI who relieved the 1st York and Lancs and B Coy. 3rd Monmouth's on the night of the 7th May. The Brigade had been in the line without relief since April 17th . Its numbers were greatly reduced, and the artillery behind were few in numbers and woefully short of ammunition. As indicating the desperate position of the British troops in respect to artillery support, it is now authoritatively stated that the heavy British guns during this period of the 2nd Battle of Ypres were limited to:- One 9.2 inch howitzer, Eight 60 pdrs, Four old six inch howitzers, Twelve obsolete 4.7 inch guns.
Against them the Germans brought up at least 260 heavy guns and howitzers. There was nothing except the Division between the enemy and Ypres on that day and they got as far as Verlorenhoek, but the British soldier proverbially does not know when he is beaten and the Germans were kept back somehow till fresh troops were brought up in the evening to fill the many gaps. The enemy on their side were all out to push through. They had guns on the high ground enfilading the British position and smothering our artillery, they had field guns well forward, and they had innumerable machine guns, and six divisions of their best and freshest troops, against the depleted ranks of the war-worn and weary 27 th and 28 th Divisions. Their bombardment opened up at 5.30.a.m. and the trenches lying on the forward slope were badly damaged and almost untenable.
The wood came under heavy shelling and Lt Groves and Lt Palmer were killed by a direct hit on their dug out. After two German attacks on the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in the front trenches, B Company charged across open ground to reinforce them. A dip in the ground favoured the advance and casualties were few, but Capt. Gardner was shot through the heart as he entered the trench, a great loss. He was one of the finest looking and best soldiers in the Battalion. 2/Lt. Paul was wounded at about the same time.
The first enemy infantry attack took place at 8.30.a.m. and was driven off. The bombardment re-opened and at 9.a.m. the enemy again attacked and were driven back. After a further hours intense shelling the front line was practically obliterated and the enemy found few survivors to hold up the attack. In A Coy 3rd Monmouths, Capt Baker and C.S.M. were killed and Lt Reed with a few survivors of his company held gallantly on and resisted to the last. This party and the machine gun section took heavy toll of the advancing enemy, but were finally overwhelmed by numbers.
Lt. Reed was killed and no officer of A Coy was left and only 13 survivors amongst the men could be mustered. D Coy stuck it gallantly. They lost their only officer, Captain James Lancaster, beloved of all who knew him, and that fine type of Territorial soldier C.S.M. Lippiatt, who did such wonderful work training recruits almost single-handed at Abergavenny in August and September 1914. Every Sergeant in the company was killed and only 16 men answered the roll next morning. The machine-gun section were involved in this slaughter, and had one gun destroyed but one of the few survivors brought back the lock of the other.
Early in the day C Coy came into action in support, but little by little was forced back to Battalion HQ owing to the exposure of their flank from the north. Stragglers were coming down the road, so Col. Gough ordered Sergeant Jenkins to collect them in a trench in the rear, and for his fine services on this occasion coupled with the good work on the telephone; this old soldier received the DCM. This party and other remnants of the Battalion was led by Col. Gough in counter attack, but could only advance as far as the eastern edge of Frezenberg. In this advance R.S.M. Hatton was seriously wounded. He had accompanied the adjutant Capt. Ramsden, in many visits to the front line during the last terrible days and with him had often helped to stiffen the defence by cheery encouragement. He now refused to be carried back and was taken prisoner. His wounds were of such a nature that he was one of the first prisoners of war to be exchanged, but unhappily he died much regretted before the end of the war. He was a fine type of regular soldier from whom all ranks learnt much.
After hanging onto this position for some time and holding up the advance, orders came at about 11.a.m. from the Brigade to retire on the GHQ line near Potijze.
Lt. McLean, M.O., 3rd Monmouth's and Lt.Marriott, M.O., 1st Monmouth's had established a dressing station just east of Verlorenhoek; at 11.a.m. they received orders to retire their detachments, but after sending back the stretcher bearers they found a number of wounded still coming back and so decided to carry on, till the enemy were practically in the village and Lt. McLean was wounded.
Just before mid-day the 2nd East Yorks were ordered to counter attack and after reaching Verlorenhoek with heavy casualties had to fall back on the G.H.Q. line. At 2.30.p.m. 1st York and Lancaster and 3rd Middlesex counter-attacked north and south of the railway, remnants of the 2nd East Yorks, 1st KOYLI, 2nd Kings Own, 3rd Monmouth's, 5th Kings Own going up into support. At 3.30.p.m. 2nd East Surreys , 3rd Royal Fusiliers arrived and were sent up in support. The counter attack, practically unsupported by artillery, made slow progress and by 5.30.p.m. was held up at a line running from Verlorenhoek south over the railway. This line was consolidated with fresh troops during the night and eventually became the approximate position of the front line until the British advance in 1917.
In the meantime the 3rd Monmouth Battalion with the exception of B Coy was withdrawn and marched back to huts at Vlamertinghe. B Coy throughout the battle was separated from the rest of the battalion. It reinforced 1st York and Lancs, coming under orders of the CO of that Battalion, and took over a trench on the extreme right of the Brigade and Division from a company of K.R.R.C. 27 th Division. The next unit on the right was the “Princess Pats”. The position was in front of the wood near Red Lodge, about 300 yards south of the Roulers railway. The trench was newly dug like the rest of the line and not deep. It was also on a forward slope and the only communication trench was full of mud and impassable. Further, it lay along a lane with a hedge on one side and a line of poplars on the other, so that it was an admirable mark for the enemy's artillery observing on Westhoek Ridge. On May 5 th and in a smaller degree on May 6 th and 7 th the enemy bombarded the trench, but it was so narrow and well traversed that the damage was comparatively slight and casualties not as heavy as might be expected from such a bombardment. Sgt. Nash, a Territorial with much service, was killed on the 6th .
The attack in front was beaten off and the afternoon in the immediate neighbourhood proved quiet, but there was a great danger of the company being surrounded.. The P.P.C.L.I on the right were forced back to their support trench and on the left to the north of the wood there was a large gap and both flanks were more or less in the air. Accordingly Capt. Gattie went to the HQ of the Rifle Brigade, near Bellewaarde Lake, for reinforcements to protect the exposed flanks, especially to the north, and was able to guide them as far as the P.P.C.L.I. support trench, but machine gun fire prevented them from advancing further until dark. Meanwhile a party of the Monmouth's and KOYLI were in fact in advance of all other British troops with both flanks exposed. Towards the evening the bullets of our troops counter-attacking up the railway were beginning to take them in the rear, so that it was clearly impossible to hold on.
The party was now completely cut off from its own HQ, so Capt. Gattie proceeded to Brigade HQ for orders, leaving the remains of B Company under 2/Lt. Somerset. Under cover of darkness the men of both units filed out of the right end of the trench and were sorted out, and the men in the wood were ordered to re-join. This party had received no orders to advance in the morning and had been left behind. The senior soldier, Cpl. Sketchley, had kept them together during the day and now led 30 men out to join the Company. The enemy attack up the railway on his left had come so near that his party had taken a prisoner and they now brought him with them. Cpl. Sketchley received the D.C.M. for his great initiative and pluck at this period. Capt. Mallinson was awarded the D.S.O., for his fine leadership in maintaining this position and finally in extracting his party from a very difficult position. The enemy did not attempt to harass the withdrawal and the whole mixed party got safely back to Rifle Brigade HQ. After a halt there they proceeded across the railway to the Potijze road intending to rejoin the Brigade at Vlamertinghe.
Battle of Aubers Ridge Operation Orders for Battle of Aubers Ridge 9th May 1915
Secret London Div Artillery
Operation Orders No 2 8th May 1915
Reference Maps 1/40000, 1/10000.
(a)1st Army will advance tomorrow with the objective of breaking through the enemy's line and gaining La Bassee-Lille Road between La Bassee and Fournes.
It's further advance will be directed on the line Bauvin-Don
(b) 1st Corps is to attack from Rue Du Bois and advance on Rue Du Marais -Illies, maintaining its right flank at Givenchy & Cuinchy.
(c) The 1st Div, is to attack from it's breastworks in front of Rue Du Bois.
It's first objectives are
Hostile trenches P.8-P.10, the road junction P.15 and the road thence to La Tourelle.
It's subsequent advance is to be directed on Rue Du Marais - Lorgies, a defensive flank being organised from the Orchard (P.4) by La Quinque Rue to Rue Du Marais.
The artillery supporting the attack of the 1st Div. is to complete such registration as may be necessary by 0500 at which hour the preliminary bombardment is to commence and continue up to the time of the Infantry assault in accordance with the following time table.
0500 to 0510 wire cutting and bombardment of hostile strong points.
0510 to 0540 wire cutting and bombardment of the first objective.
0540 infantry assault. Artillery to increase their range.
(d) The 2nd Div. (less 4th (Guards Bde) with motor machine battery attached is to be in Corps reserve in the area Loisne-Le Touret-Le Hamel in readiness to continue the advance.
The GOC. intends to hold the present defensive line Cuinchy-Chololai, Menier Corner (S.15) opening a vigorous fire attack along the entire front, until called upon to relieve the infantry of the 1st Div. at the Orchard (F.4.), La Quinque Rue and Rue Du Marais when these points have been secured and further to take advantage of any weakening of the enemy about the Rue D’Oovert to occupy that locality.
(a) All troops are to be warned that the 1st Div. attack will come across their front lines left to right and that the right of their attack, as also any captured points, will be marked by a red flare with white vertical bar in centre.
Troops in the 2nd Div. will carry a yellow flag.
Troops of London Division will be marked by a round disc with a black cross (disc 2ft in diameter).
Should our Infantry come under fire of our own artillery, they will make their identity known by raising their cups on the points of their bayonets.
(b) Infantry. The 4th (Guards), 4th Lon Infantry (less 8th Battalion. Lon Regt), 6th Lon Infantry (less 23rd Battalion Lon Regt) Brigades will maintain their positions. The 6th Lon Infantry Brigade however, will be prepared on the receipt of orders to relieve the troops of the 1st Div. at the points mentioned in para 2 after these points have been occupied and made good by those troops.
All assault troops will be in position by 0400.
(c) At 0540 a vigorous fire attack with burst of rifle and machine gun fire, will be opened along the whole front, the object being to prevent the enemy being withdrawn from our front to operate against the 1st Div. and to inflict loses on reinforcements they may bring up to oppose the right of that Division. The heaviest possible fire will be brought to bear on any favourable target which may be offered.
(d) Artillery fire will be directed as per time table already issued.
NB. artillery in London Divisional area opens fire at 0445.
The 1st East Anglian Field Coy. RE. is attached to the 4th (Guards) Brigade: 1 section 3rd London Field. Coy. RE. to the 4th London Infantry Brigade; 2 section of the 4th London Field Coy. RE. to the 8th London Infantry Brigade. Remains of the Royal Engineers are placed at the CREs disposal to carry out tasks already allotted.
The 4th and 6th Inf Brigade will each be prepared to detail a company as working party when called for by the CRE.
Wagon Lines and Ammunition Columns:
Horses of the Wagon Lines and Amm Cols. not in reserve are to be harnessed and saddled from 0500 9th May but not hooked in.
Reserve The Divional Reserve constituted as follows, will be in position by 0445 9th May.
(a) Divisional Mounted troops (Squadron King Edwards Horse less two troops and London Cyclists less two platoons) under Major Herron will be under cover at Beuvry.
(b) 8th Battalion London Reg at Annewuin under cover.
Headquarters at Cross Roads (F.29.b)
In case of sudden emergency this Battalion may be employed by GOC. 4th (Guards) Brigade to support the defense of the right flank.
(c) 23rd Battalion the London Regiment under cover at Le Preop. Headquarters at Canal Bridge (F.10.c)
Medical. Divisional Collecting Station will be at Beuvry (F.14.a.5.b). The existing dressing station will be maintained
Supply. Every man to carry the currents day’s ration and iron ration.
(d) Supply Sections of Train to rendezvous at Refilling Point by 0600 9th May
From 0300 9th May all wires are reserved for operations purposes. All administrative messages will be sent by despatch rider, as opportunity offers.
Reports to Div Hq Marche Au Paulets, Bethune
Signed D.E. Sherlock Bde Major London Div Artillery