Vern Littley will be giving a presentation on The Battle of Nonne Bosschen November 1914.
This battle occurred towards the end of the first battle of Ypres. The German High Command put together a Corps comprising Prussian Guard divisions (from Army Group Fabeck) and attempted to outflank the Guards division in Polygon Wood when the French Zouaves broke leaving a gap in the line just to the north of the Menin Road.
At this part of the line, there were three woods: Polygon Wood (occupied by the Guards), Nonnebosschen and Glencourse Wood. In a gap between Polygon Wood and Glencourse Wood was Black Watch Corner, a stronghold held by the Black Watch. Also in this section of the line were the 1st Scots Guards, the 1st Cameron Highlanders and the 1st Kings. Behind the lines were the artillery – 150 yards behind the Guards was 16th battery and behind the Camerons and Black Watch was 9th battery.
On the morning of 11 November 1914, the German attack began at 0630 with a heavy artillery barrage from the German guns at Geluvelt and, as it built up to a climax, the Prussian Guards moved out into No Man's Land. 17,000 German infantry advanced on less than 7,000 in Haig’s 1 Corps. The infantry assault began after the barrage had lifted to hit the Batteries. Thousands of Prussian Guards streamed across the gap between Polygon Wood and the Menin Road. The 1st Kings in Polygon Wood were the only surviving troops left after the barrage had forced the Camerons, Fusiliers and Black Watch back. The enfilading from the 1st Kings’ rifle fire forced the Prussian attack to deflect somewhat towards Nonnebosschen and Veldhoek. As the Prussians came in sight, the batteries behind the Guards opened up with shrapnel, firing over open sights.
At 0845 the position was critical – 1st Cameron Highlanders and the 1st Scots Guards were still out of their trenches and Black Watch Corner was the only strongpoint held in the line; this consisted of 40 men in a trench inside the hedges of a cottage garden protected by a few strands of barbed wire. Artillery fire from the two batteries and rifle fire from stragglers from 1st Brigade aided by 5th Field Company, RE, including cooks, forced the Germans into Nonnebosschen or the farm buildings. Direct artillery fire from 500 yards cleared the farm buildings.
There were only the reserves - 2nd Ox & Bucks - left; they were sent forward by Major-General Monro of 2nd Division at 1000. Their CO, Lt-Colonel Henry Davies, received two sets of instructions: to clear Nonnebosschen (from 5th Brigade); and to recover trenches lost by the Guards (from 1st Brigade). Davies decided clearing Nonnebosschen was his first priority as joining with the Guards was not possible. Between 1400 and 1500, A & B companies of the 2nd Ox & Bucks advanced swiftly into the wood with bayonets fixed, C & D companies followed in support. The two batteries of XXIX Brigade, RFA, gave covering fire. Led by Captain Harry Dillon, the Ox & Bucks charged into the Germans, who vacated their trenches. Those that did not surrender emerged from the wood in ones and twos and were shot ‘like pheasants’ by the Guards in Polygon Wood. Many of the Prussian Guardsmen surrendered. As the Ox & Bucks reached the support trenches, they were mistaken for Germans and shelled by a French Battery.
Losses: Ox & Bucks had 5 killed and 22 wounded, the Guards Brigade was reduced to 300 men and the Prussians took over 2,000 casualties.
As it grew dark, Brigadier Fitzclarence (1st Brigade) set about recovering his lost trenches. His plan was use the Ox & Bucks together with Guardsmen to attack out of Polygon Wood at 2100 without a preliminary artillery bombardment. The attack was postponed at first until 0100 (12 November) as more men were put at Fitzclarence’s disposal. Preliminary reconnaissance discovered that the Germans had dug new trenches and if the attack went forward (north to south) the Guards would be enfiladed. As the attack started between 0200 and 0300, the moon appeared briefly and the Germans opened fire. Fitzclarence was killed and the attack was called off.
This was the last action of the first Battle of Ypres. The Germans had almost broken through as the Ox & Bucks were the only reserve available on the morning of 11 November.
IMAGE: The 2nd Battalion Duke of Wellingtons Regiment mobilising for war in Ireland in August 1914.