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Land War The First World War: join the Western Front Association, the premier organisation for study, learning and research into all aspects of The Great War 1914-18, and to understanding more about the phenomenon which shaped the 20th century http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land.html Sun, 21 Dec 2014 20:03:55 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb British and Commonwealth casualties in the Great War http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/192-the-great-war-in-statistics/4272-british-and-commonwealth-casualties-in-the-great-war.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/192-the-great-war-in-statistics/4272-british-and-commonwealth-casualties-in-the-great-war.html Bundesarchiv Bild 102-00169A Westfront Abgeschossener englischer Flieger

From research generously provided by historian Andy Slade.

Andy has collated his research from CWGC public data sources.

The casualties include all those listed as war casualties, from all theatres and all arms.

The graphs are interactive, so you can look at shorter periods of the conflict. NB: the graphs use the Flash plugin to your browser, so will not be visible on certain iOS devices such as Apple iPads.

Graph 1: casualties day by day throughout the war (to be added to throughout the centenary)


 Graph 2: 1914 casualties, with annotations


Image: "Bundesarchiv Bild 102-00169A, Westfront, Abgeschossener englischer Flieger" by Unknown - This image was provided to Wikimedia Commons by the German Federal Archive (Deutsches Bundesarchiv) as part of a cooperation project. The German Federal Archive guarantees an authentic representation only using the originals (negative and/or positive), resp. the digitalization of the originals as provided by the Digital Image Archive.. Licensed under CC-BY-SA-3.0-de via Wikimedia Commons.


webmanager@westernfrontassociation.com (Web Editor) The Great War in statistics Thu, 27 Nov 2014 13:41:27 +0000
The Second Battle of the Somme or Operation Michael March 1918 http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/battlefields/4230-the-second-battle-of-the-somme-or-operation-michael-march-1918.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/battlefields/4230-the-second-battle-of-the-somme-or-operation-michael-march-1918.html capt richard gordon munro webIn 2012, the WFA's Bulletin printed "My Father's War" over 3 issues. This was an account of my father's experiences in the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards, from his part at Audregnies, the day after Mons in August 1914, when he was the regiment's junior troop leader, until, by now adjutant, he was finally invalided home in August 1918 during the Battle of Amiens. The account includes the wound he received in September 1914 during the counter-attack to the Marne, as well as the Military Cross he won when the cavalry played their part in resisting the strong German attack in March 1918, known as Operation Michael.

Since writing My Father's War, I have come to understand better just how important was the desperate British rearguard action that March and, in presenting this account, I am hoping that among readers of the WFA's website and eNewsletter there may be someone with further knowledge of the action in which my father distinguished himself. Apart from his MC citation, my principal sources for what happened to him on 27 March 1918 were the regimental war diaries of the 4th Dragoon Guards and of the 11th Hussars.

Many WFA members will be aware of the background to Operation Michael, and I will summarise it briefly. At the beginning of 1918 the Russians were out of the war and the Germans were able to bring thousands of troops to the Western Front. 48 divisions in total were transferred. This was their last chance to break the Allies in France before the Americans had arrived in sufficient strength to turn the tide. They would do this by two major offensives: Operation George in Flanders; but, before that, would be Operation Michael along the line of the Somme. Operation Michael would divide the French and British armies and break through to Amiens and then to the Channel.

Operation Michael came frighteningly close to success. Many historians have written about it, including the two books on which I have mainly relied: John Keegan's The First World War; and Ring of Steel, Alexander Watson's recent book on the First War from the German and Austro-Hungarian perspective. Amiens was a vital part of the British supply chain, and Watson quotes General Sir Henry Rawlinson as saying that Amiens was "the only place in which the enemy can hope to gain such a success as to force the Allies to discuss terms of peace".

The southerly part of the German offensive was against the British Fifth Army, which was much weaker and less prepared than the armies further north. The Fifth Army had been heavily involved in 1917 at Passchendaele and had not fully recovered. Moreover, its southern end had relatively poor trenchworks and not enough men to repair them. John Keegan reminds us that the First World War was as much a digging war as a fighting one. Just how close to success the Germans came may be seen from some of the statistics Watson provides. Operation Michael was launched on 21 March and, by 5 April, when it came to a halt, the Fifth Army "had been shattered. Some 90,000 Allied troops had surrendered, among them 75,000 British, and 1,300 artillery pieces had been captured". The German Eighteenth Army had advanced 60 kilometres. The war diary of the 4th Dragoon Guards leaves no room for doubt as to the extent of the rout along the Somme. In My Father's War, I report how on 28 March the cavalry had to "rally (some) stragglers, marching them back to the support line".

Perhaps most dangerous of all for the Entente was that, when the German advance faltered, their leading units were within 5 miles of Amiens.

Yet, for an array of reasons, the Germans gained almost nothing of lasting value from Operation Michael.

Significantly, and one might have thought inexplicably, the German High Command, unlike General Rawlinson, did not realize just how grievous a blow it would have been for the British to lose Amiens. Instead of concentrating their efforts on taking the town, they divided their strength with attacks on several fronts.

Second, although British losses were serious, and many aspects of British leadership had been poor, much of their resistance was strong, not least in the crucial sector before Amiens, where my father was in action. The French, too, came to the aid of their allies and, by the time Operation Michael ended, the British were sending in up to 100,000 reinforcements. As a result the Germans' own losses were appalling, with some quarter of a million men killed, wounded or missing. To us today these numbers are simply beyond comprehension, and such German losses meant that when the big Allied attack came in August, the German Army was a largely spent force.

There was a further reason for the failure of Operation Michael. It is true that the initial German attack was carried out with great enthusiasm, but beneath it German discipline and morale were not good. The offensive would have gone more quickly, and might well have succeeded, had not the German troops stopped to plunder British supplies, mainly food and drink. All of Germany was by now suffering severe hardship from what was arguably Britain's most potent long-term weapon, the Royal Navy's blockade. Soldiers at the front may have fared better than the civilians at home – indeed there are reports that soldiers sent food parcels home, the reverse of what was happening with the Allies – but the relative abundance to be found in the captured British stores was too much to resist. Once they had exhausted British supplies, some of the advancing Germans even turned on their own depots.

During the famous "Hundred Days" between the beginning of the battle of Amiens in August 1918 and the Armistice, these German defects, together with greatly superior Allied equipment and, at last, better battlefield tactics, resulted in the decisive outcome in November 1918.

For a highly realistic fictional treatment of the Second Somme, readers may like to turn to the final chapters of John Buchan's Mr Standfast. Beyond doubt, the battle was of immense importance in ensuring not that the Allies won the war, but that the British did not lose it. I believe that on 27 March at the Somme village of Sailly-Laurette, my father's bravery contributed to denying the Germans the one thing that General Rawlinson believed could have won them the war: the fall of Amiens in March or April 1918.

Article and images contributed by Neil Munro.


3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) Battlefields Mon, 03 Nov 2014 00:00:00 +0000
The Hong Kong - Singapore Mountain Battery in Egypt, Sinai and Palestine 1915 - 1918 http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/3850-the-hong-kong-singapore-mountain-battery-in-egypt-sinai-and-palestine-1915-1918.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/3850-the-hong-kong-singapore-mountain-battery-in-egypt-sinai-and-palestine-1915-1918.html The Hong Kong-Singapore Royal Garrison Artillery

Hong Kong Singapore Mountain Battery in actionIn 1847 the British authorities in Hong Kong began using Indians as gun lascars, or general workers, because the climatic conditions were unsuitable for white soldiers, and also because Indians were much more economical to employ and to administer. The practice spread throughout the British possessions in the Far East and by 1908 all the gunners were Sikhs or Muslims recruited from the Punjab. The quality of recruit was excellent as the pay was higher than that offered by the Indian Army, and also there was prestige involved in manning field or larger guns that were not used by Indian Army units. In that year a British Army Imperial [1] unit named The Hong Kong-Singapore Battalion Royal Garrison Artillery was formed with three companies in Hong Kong and one company each in Singapore and Mauritius. The gunners were focused towards coastal defence duties but some of them had been employed as machine and mountain gunners during operations in China in 1900 and 1901. After that conflict [2] ended permission was requested to maintain a mountain battery in Hong Kong, but London dismissed the idea. Eleven years later action was taken and the 24th Hazara Mountain Battery, Frontier Force, Indian Army, arrived in Hong Kong in 1912. When that battery departed in 1914 it left behind a trained company of mountain gunners, No 1 Company, in the Hong Kong-Singapore battalion.

3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) Britain and Allies Sun, 28 Sep 2014 00:00:00 +0000
The Disaster at Hooge, 1914 http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/4073-the-disaster-at-hooge-1914.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/4073-the-disaster-at-hooge-1914.html hooge chateauOne of the most frequently heard misconceptions about the First World War is that British and Commonwealth generals and their staff officers shared neither the hardships nor the dangers of the average front line soldier. The excellent book 'Bloody Red Tabs' by WFA members Frank Davies and the late Graham Maddocks has been an important rebuttal of these arguments, detailing seventy eight generals who were killed in action or died of wounds. The book also provides biographies of a further 146 generals who were wounded, or became prisoners of war. Although Bloody Red Tabs was published nearly 20 years ago, the fact remains that public perception is still dominated by the 'lions led by donkeys' approach.

Whilst this article is not intended to examine the arguments around the subject of generalship (there is not room for a full examination of the arguments), readers who wish to delve deeper into the waters of this controversial subject can do so via the links which are provided at the end of this article.

Arguably the worst single incident of the First World War in terms of the near destruction of command and control of British Divisions was the height of the First Battle of Ypres in 1914. At this stage in the war the Germans were pressing the British and Commonwealth troops back and it was felt that a breakthrough by the Germans was possible. Had this occurred, the way would have been open to the Germans to the channel ports: this would have spelled disaster for the Allies.

Against this background, the commanders of the British 1st and 2nd Divisions (Lieutenant General Sir Samuel Lomax and Major General Sir Charles Monro) had requisitioned, in October, the Chateau at Hooge, just outside Ypres, as a suitable place for their headquarters.

The chateau was only 2 miles from the front line. By lunchtime on 31 October 1914, it was becoming clear that the British front line had been broken in one or two places, and immediate action was needed to stabilise the situation.

Lieutenant-Colonel (as he was at the time) Ernest Swinton wrote in his book "Eyewitness":

As I drove away, I turned round to look at the Chateau of Hooge standing a little to the north of the road. The approach was packed with cars – a splendid advertisement to catch the eye of any chance enemy airman who happened to wander above and proclaim that here was a British headquarters.

Lt-Col Ernest Swinton

Image: Lt-Col Ernest Swinton

It may not have been necessary for the cars to be spotted by aerial reconnaissance because the Germans had control of ridges to the east and the concentration of cars must have caught their attention. A German aeroplane flew over the chateau, but this failed to alert the staff of the headquarters to possible danger, and work continued in a room overlooking the gardens.

At about 1.30pm the first shell fell in the chateau gardens. Many of the occupants of the room rushed to the French windows which opened onto the gardens. It seems that the danger of the situation still did not occur to those present. Major General Sir Charles Monro however, took advantage of the distraction to consult with his GSO1 (Chief of Staff), Colonel Robert Whigham, in a doorway to the adjoining studio. This act probably saved both of their lives, as a second shell burst close to the French windows; the metal tore through the room causing significant casualties. A third shell hit the chateau causing damage but no more injuries (some accounts suggest four shells fell in this salvo).

General Sir Charles Monro

Image: General Sir Charles Monro

In the moments after the shelling, the high number of casualties was obvious. Sir Samuel Lomax was critically injured and he was evacuated to a Casualty Clearing Station. Sir Charles Monro was severely concussed but otherwise unhurt.

Hooge Chateau – after a few months of bombardment

Image: Hooge Chateau – after a few months of bombardment

Destruction of the First Division command structure

Besides the incapacitation of Lt-General Lomax, his GSO1 (Chief of Staff) Colonel F W Kerr [1] was killed as was the second most senior staff officer of the division (GSO2) Major George Paley.

Major George Paley

Image: Major George Paley

Lt-General Samuel Lomax was evacuated back to the UK but he was to die of his injuries six months later; he was one of the most senior general officers to be killed in the Great War.

Second Division decimation

The 2nd Division's staff was also badly affected: Colonel Whigham (Monro's GSO1) was rendered unconscious, but otherwise unhurt (he was the only officer of the two staffs to escape serious injury). Lt-Col Arthur Percival (GSO2 of the 2nd Division) was killed, as was the Division's third senior staff officer (GSO3) Captain Rupert Ommanney. Major Francis Chenevix Trench [2], a staff officer with the Division's artillery, was also killed.

Major Francis Chenevix Trench

Image: Major Francis Chenevix Trench

Other staff officers of the 2nd Division were seriously injured: the Commander of Royal Engineers, Lt-Col R H H Boys was wounded [3], as was Major I W Forsett and Lieutenant H M Robertson.

Two other officers were severely injured: Captain Graham Shedden of the Royal Garrison Artillery and Captain Robert Giffard (Lomax's ADC) both died of their injuries.

Memorial to Captain Shedden

Image: Memorial to Captain Shedden in St Mildred's Church, Whippingham, Isle of Wight

Ypres Town Cemetery Extension

The 5 officers who were killed outright (Percival, Paley, Kerr, Chevenix Trench and Ommanney) are all buried side by side at Ypres Town Cemetery Extension. Shedden and Giffard are also buried in this cemetery, but none of these seven is the highest profile officer to be buried there. Arguably, the most high profile casualty of the Great War, Prince Maurice of Battenburg, a grandson of Queen Victoria, is buried just a few yards away.

Prince Maurice

Prince Maurice of Battenberg, KCVO, was born on 3 October 1891. His mother was Princess Beatrice, the fifth daughter and the youngest child of Queen Victoria. The youngest of his four siblings, Maurice resembled his father (Prince Henry of Battenberg who was the son of Prince Alexander of Hesse and by Rhine) who died when the Prince was only 4 years old. Although half German, Prince Maurice grew up in England and seemed to enjoy fast cars - there are reports of him being fined for speeding at least twice. When caught driving on Hampton Court Road in May 1914 at the heady speed of 34mph, he was reported as remarking: "You fellows are always out trapping on race days" (he was fined £3). On another occasion when caught at 42mph, he was fined £5 – this offence whilst a cadet at Sandhurst.

Prince Maurice Victor Donald

Image: Prince Maurice Victor Donald

He qualified from Sandhurst and joined the Kings Royal Rifle Corps. It was whilst serving with the 1st battalion on 27 October 1914 that he was killed. Prince Maurice was hit by shrapnel from a shell whilst leading his men across the road near the Broodseinde Ridge. Although a sergeant tried to administer assistance to the Prince he was found to be beyond any help and died before he could be evacuated back to the Dressing Station at Zonnebeke. The Battalion also lost 5 other officers and 167 other ranks on 27 October.

Although it was the rule for soldiers who were killed in action to be buried where they died, Lord Kitchener was about to make an exception, ordering that Maurice's body be sent home, but Princess Beatrice asked for her son to be buried alongside his comrades.


Article contributed by David Tattersfield, WFA Development Trustee


Generalship in the First World War: some links

The British Generals: Biographies
Further biographies will be added over the following months, we are very grateful to Dr John Bourne, one of the WFA's Vice President, for allowing us to use the biographies he has assembled of British Generals in the Great War.

Some Prominent British Generals and their Fortunes in The Great War
Extensive article by WFA member Dr David Payne.

Brigadier-General Ralph Husey DSO and Bar, MC
Article on a highly decorated Brigadier by historian, prolific author and WFA member Dr Bill Mitchinson.



[1] Colonel Frederick Walter Kerr was born on 20 May 1867. He was the son of Admiral Lord Frederic Herbert Kerr and Emily Sophia Maitland. He married Lady Helen Victoria Lilian Kerr, daughter of Schomberg Henry Kerr, 9th Marquess of Lothian on 5 April 1902. Kerr held the office of Page of Honour to HM Queen Victoria between 1879 and 1883, and fought in the Boer War. He was Deputy Assistant Quartermaster General of the 1st Army Corps between 1904 and 1906, was GSO2 of the Aldershot Command between 1905 and 1906 and was Deputy Assistant Director of Movements, War Office between 1908 and 1912. Kerr became GSO1 of the Scottish Command between 1913 and 1914 and went to France with the 1st Division on the outbreak of the First World War.

[2] Major Francis Maxwell Chenevix Trench was born on 23 September 1879. He was the son of Colonel Charles Chenevix Trench and Emily Mary Lefroy. He married Sibyl Lyon, daughter of Major Alfred Owen Lyon, on 28 March 1914.

[3] His replacement, Major Charles North was only in his post for one day, being killed on 1 November. Major North's permanent replacement was appointed on 9 November. This officer, Major Alfred Tyler, was killed after only two days. It is astounding that three officers in the supposedly "safe" staff role of Commander of Royal Engineers were injured or killed within less than two weeks.


3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) Britain and Allies Sat, 27 Sep 2014 13:25:41 +0000
The First to Fall: Britain's first casualties of war http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/3992-the-first-to-fall-britains-first-casualties-of-war.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/3992-the-first-to-fall-britains-first-casualties-of-war.html Able Seaman Victor McKey HMS Amphion 1914With the centenary of the start of the First World War now being commemorated, it is appropriate to look at the first British fatalities of this conflict. This is a matter of some debate, as questions arise as to whether military and naval deaths immediately after the outbreak of war at 11pm on 4 August should be considered, or if the first casualties should be those who died as a result of accidents caused by the mobilisation, or if the strict interpretation is those fatalities caused as a result of enemy action.

Although not recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as the individual was a civilian Richard van Emden has made a case for Henry Hadley being the "first casualty". Hadley, a former army officer working as a teacher in Berlin, was aware of the mounting tension in Europe. No doubt the German declaration of war on Russia on 1 August helped him to decide to leave the country. He was travelling from Berlin to Paris with his housekeeper and was shot on 3 August.

... Henry Hadley and his house-keeper were well on their way home and not far from either the Dutch or Belgian border. Their train, though, had stopped at Gelsenkirchen. After the altercation in the dining car, they had returned to their carriage but Henry had ventured into the corridor while the train was stationary. After about a minute, Elizabeth heard loud noises followed by sounds of a scuffle. She rushed outside to find Henry lying on the floor. 'They have shot me, Mrs Pratley, I am a done man,' he gasped. A German officer, later identified as Lieutenant Nicolay, had fired his revolver at point-blank range, hitting Henry in the stomach.

Richard van Emden - Meeting the Enemy: The Human Face of the Great War

Hadley was taken by ambulance to the Evangelical Hospita' in Gelsenkirchen, and died there at 3.15 am local time on 5 August – just three hours after Britain declared war on Germany.

Turning to military deaths, the CWGC database records 4 men who died on 4 August. War was declared in Britain at 11pm (UK time; midnight in Berlin) on that day, it is likely that these deaths took place during the course of the 4th rather than in the one hour between war being declared and midnight. The 4 records on the CWGC database are Private G Davies, Boy Servant Ernest Brackley (aged 16), Private Joseph Viles, and, in India, Staff Serjeant SE West.

HMS Amphion

The first major loss of life was at sea. On the first full day of the First World War, HMS Amphion, a light cruiser under the command of Captain Cecil Fox, was leading the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla, which was tasked with defending the eastern approaches to the English Channel. In accordance with a pre-arranged plan the flotilla was undertaking a patrol in the area of the Thames Estuary, en route to the Heligoland Bight.


Image: HMS Amphion courtesy of Naval-History.net

Some hours earlier the Germans had sent out a holiday ferry, the Königin Luise, which had been converted to lay mines. Disguised in the black, buff, and yellow colours of the steamers of the Great Eastern Railway, the minelayer had been spotted laying mines by a fishing trawler. This was reported to the Amphion, which, together with two destroyers, went to investigate and - at 10.25 in the morning, spotted and then chased down and fired on the German vessel. The captain of the Königin Luise realised that he stood no chance of getting away and decided to scuttle the ship just after noon on 5 August. These first shots of the war were fired by HMS Lance.


Image: A 'Laforey' class destroyer, of the same type as HMS Lance

After picking up a number of survivors, the Amphion carried on with her patrol and in the early hours of 6 August headed back to home waters.

Amphion changed course to avoid a minefield and, by 6.30 am, she was assumed to be clear. However, a mine was indeed detonated, wrecking the fore part of the ship, starting a fire and breaking her back. The order to abandon ship was given. Moments later another explosion occurred, which was either the ship's magazine exploding or a second mine. HMS Amphion went down quickly. Of the men on board, about 174 (including Captain Fox) survived, but a total of 149 crew plus 18 German prisoners of war were lost. Amongst them was Able Seaman Victor McKey.


Image: Captain Cecil Fox of HMS Amphion courtesy of Amazon.com



Image: McKey was from Coventry Road, Yardley in Birmingham. His older brother Corporal Matthew Charles was killed while serving with 1st Birmingham Pals during the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917. His nephew and niece (the children of his sister) are still alive but were born after the Great War. Victor McKey is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial (image courtesy of Mark Hone) 

The explosion was so large that two nearby destroyers were damaged when Amphion blew up. HMS Lark was hit by a 4 inch shell from the Amphion, killing her sole German prisoner and wounding two of her seamen. Meanwhile HMS Linnet was narrowly missed by a 4 inch gun which was thrown in the air. This destroyer was showered with splinters and struck by one of Amphion's bunker lids.


Image: HMS Amphion - the first British Naval loss of the First World War (image courtesy of the Imperial War Museums Q 43259)

The vast majority of the men lost on HMS Amphion are commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial. However, the bodies of four men were recovered and identified; they are now buried at Shotley (St Mary) Churchyard, south of Ipswich.


Image: Shotley (St Mary) Churchyard

Gifted pilot and his air mechanic killed

When the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was getting ready for its first deployment, even crossing the Channel was fraught with difficulties and dangers. The first deaths of airmen occurred on 12 August in the UK.

The inquest tells the story of what happened.

About a quarter past five o'clock Second-Lieutenant Robin B Skene, of the Third Squadron, accompanied by Raymond Keith Barlow, a first air mechanic in the corps, ascended from Netheravon sheds in a Bristol monoplane which was ready for active service. That the aeroplane was not loaded to a dangerous extent is shown by the fact that several other machines left the school carrying similar weights without accident. The monoplane had not proceeded far on its journey when the pilot in taking a left-handed turn banked sharply. The result was that the machine lost speed and dived vertically to the ground. Lieutenant Skene was found under the wrecked monoplane, while Barlow was pitched clear of it. Both died before medical aid could be obtained....The Squadron Commander of the Royal Flying School said that after the accident he examined the machine, which was completely wrecked. It had evidently fallen almost vertically but not from a great height. The controls were all intact. The machine was heavily loaded for active service, but was able to fly. He understood that Lieutenant Skene was a capable pilot.

Arthur Frederick Deverill, first air mechanic, Royal Flying Corps, an eye-witness, said he attributed the accident to the loss of speed in banking. This was the first time the machine had been so heavily loaded, but if precaution had been exercised flight would have been safe. Several machines left that day with the same load. The monoplane was at the height of about 150ft or 200ft when it dived vertically to the ground. The engine was running at full speed until the fatal turn.

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death (South Wiltshire Coroner's Inquests 1868-1920)


Image: a Royal Flying Corp Bleriot monoplane


Image: 2/Lt Robin Skene

Robin Reginald Skene was born in London on 6 August 1891, and was an eminent pre-war pilot, trained at the Bristol School at Brooklands before qualifying for Royal Aero Club Certificate No 568, issued on 21 July 1913. He gained a measure of fame by being the first British pilot to loop an aeroplane and worked as an instructor at the Bristol School. On 15 November 1913 he was gazetted as a Second Lieutenant in the RFC Special Reserve. As War drew near, Robin continued to instruct pupils on Martinsyde machines, but was ordered to join No 3 Squadron when the Army mobilised.


Image: the Pension Record Card for Barlow from the WFA's Pension Record Archive.

2/Lt R R Skene is buried at Send (St Mary's) Churchyard in Surrey, and AMI R K Barlow is buried in Bulford Church Cemetery, Wiltshire.

First RFC fatalities in France, 16 August

The first three squadrons to join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) flew across the Channel without incident on 13 August and, after a stop at Amiens, moved forward to the fortress town of Maubeuge in northern France on 16 August.

The move to Maubeuge was not without cost, as 2/Lt Evelyn Perry and AMII Herbert Parfitt were killed when their BE8 crashed and caught fire at Amiens aerodrome. It is likely that the aeroplane was overloaded and stalled at about 150 feet, too low to permit the pilot to take corrective action.

Evelyn Walter Copland Perry was born in London on 4 December 1890. After leaving Trinity College, Cambridge he joined the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough, where he worked from February 1911 to August 1912 before joining T O M Sopwith's aviation company. Royal Aero Club Certificate No 130 was gained on a Valkyrie Monoplane at Hendon on 30 August 1911. Like many civilian pilots, Evelyn applied for a commission in the RFC Special Reserve, and was gazetted as a Second Lieutenant on 21 March 1913. Hence, on 1 August, he was ordered to report to No 3 Sqn, and went to France with his unit.


Image: 2/Lt Evelyn Perry (courtesy of www.sommebattlefieldpipeband.com)

Herbert Edward Parfitt, from Croydon, was a direct entrant to the RFC on 27 May 1913. He was 21 when he was killed.

2/Lt Evelyn Perry is buried in Grave 7 at St Acheul French National Cemetery at Amiens, and AMII Herbert Parfitt is buried in the adjacent Grave 6.

The next RFC fatality was Frederick Geard on 18 August. Corporal Geard was flying as observer in BE8 No 391 of No 5 Sqn, flown by 2Lt R R Smith-Barry, and he was killed when the aeroplane crashed at Peronne due to 'control failure' with fatal consequences for the observer and two broken legs for the pilot.


Image: a prototype BE8 (note the undivided cockpits)

Frederick John Parsons Geard was born in 1892, the second son of John and Amelia Geard of Dover. He was educated at Herne Bay before joining the Royal Engineers at Woolwich on 1 September 1910. After a course of training at Chatham he was posted to the Balloon Section of the Engineers at Aldershot in January 1911. He then belonged to No 1 Aeroplane Section (RE), was appointed Airman Rigger in September 1911, and the following year transferred to the RFC.

Cpl F J P Geard is buried in Grave No 510 at Peronne Communal Cemetery.


Image: the Pension Record Card for Geard.

First combat fatalities in the RFC

Just four days after the death of Cpl Geard, the first combat deaths were suffered by the Royal Flying Corps. 2/Lt Vincent Waterfall (pilot) and Lt Gordon Bayly (observer) were flying an Avro 504 when their aeroplane was brought down by enemy ground fire on 22 August 1914. The airmen had departed on a reconnaissance mission at 10.15am.


Image: the Shuttleworth Collection's Avro 504K. Taken at old Warden's Summer Show 2009.

Charles George Gordon Bayly was born in Rondebosch, Cape Colony, South Africa, on 30 May 1891, the only son of Brackenbury Bayly of the Cape Civil Service, and his wife Beatrice. He was the great-nephew of Major-General Charles George "Chinese" Gordon, the great British soldier who died in the Sudan when Khartoum was overwhelmed by Madhist forces in 1885. Gordon, as Bayly was known, was first educated at Diocesan College School, South Africa, before moving to England to attend St Edmund's Preparatory School at Hindhead before gaining a scholarship to St Paul's School at Kensington, where he represented the school at rugby and played in the second eleven at cricket. In addition, he boxed and shot for his house, winning the shooting prize for his house in his last year at school.


Image: Gordon Bayly. Image courtesy of Ancestry.com. Great Britain, Royal Aero Club Aviators' Certificates, 1910-1950 [database on-line]. (Royal Aero Club index cards and photographs are in the care of the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, London.)

After school he joined the Army as a Gentleman Cadet at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, His first posting with the Royal Engineers was to Chatham. It was while he was at Chatham in 1912 that he decided to learn to fly.

After Chatham, Gordon was posted to the 56th Field Company at Bulford Camp, Salisbury Plain. While stationed there he was promoted to Lieutenant on 31 July 1913. In May 1914 he successfully applied for a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps and was selected to join a course at the Central Flying School at Upavon. Here, Gordon studied the emerging use of wireless telegraphy from aeroplanes.

Gordon's time at the flying school was cut short by the declaration of war against Germany on 4 August, after which training was curtailed and the airmen then stationed at Upavon were sent to RFC squadrons. Lt Bayly was posted to No 5 Sqn at Gosport (Fort Grange), with excellent comments in his confidential report including the line: "Very good indeed as a pilot and his capabilities as an officer being above average."

Vincent Waterfall was born in Grimsby on 25 May 1891. He was commissioned in the 3rd Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment, on 27 January 1912 after service as a Corporal in the Brighton College Contingent, Officers' Training Corps. He trained as a pilot at the Vickers School in 1913 and gained RAeC Certificate No 461 on 22 April 1914. The pages of Flight for 1913 and 1914 trace his flying career, as he evolved from performing simple straight flights and circuits to more complex manoeuvres. In many ways, his progress was very similar to that of Gordon Bayly and his education can be regarded as that typical of a pre-war pilot. By April 1914 he was described as being "thoroughly at home on the new Martinsyde monoplane" and went on to become the Martinsyde Company's pilot.


Image: 2/Lt Vincent Waterfall (courtesy of Ancestry.com)

The bodies of Lt Bayly and 2/Lt Waterfall were initially hastily buried by the Germans in 10 centimetres of soil, but they were later exhumed by M Louviau, the owner of the land on which they had fallen. Their bodies were placed in zinc coffins which were then hidden in his distillery cellar to await a more suitable burial. Both airmen are now buried in Tournai Communal Cemetery, Belgium; Lt C G G Bayly in Grave III.G.3 and 2/Lt V Waterfall is next to him in Grave III.G.4.

First infantry fatality

It is widely reported that the first British soldier (as distinct from sailor or airman) to be killed on the Western Front as a result of enemy action in the First World War was Private John Parr of the 4th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. Although Parr's claim is unlikely to be challenged, there are a number of earlier fatalities - commemorated or buried in France - who are worthy of mention. The earliest French commemoration on the CWGC's database is for Private George Gooch who is noted as being killed as early as 11 August (a week after war broke out and before any significant numbers of troops had crossed to France). It is almost certainly the case that this date for Gooch is incorrect. Data held by the CWGC can shed no further light on this.


Image: Unfortunately, and unusually, the date of death of George Gooch is not clarified on his Pension Record Card. The space for "date and cause of death" simply notes "missing (notified 20/11/15)" from the WFA's Pension Record Archive.

The first 'correct' French commemoration is for Private Duncan MacDonald who died on 13 August. It is likely that his death was as a result of falling overboard from the transport vessel (the battalion landed in Le Havre on 14 August). His Pension Record Card (below) indicates him as "missing". He has no known grave and is commemorated on La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial.


Image: the Pension Record Card for MacDonald from the WFA's Pension Record Archive


Image: La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial.

Just three days after the death of Private McDonald came the death of the first medium ranking officer to be commemorated in France by the CWGC.

The story of Major Arthur Hughes-Onslow is fascinating. He has an obituary in Wisden, the cricket publication:

Born in 1862, died on August 17, whilst on service with the British Expeditionary Force. He was in the Eton XI in 1880, when he scored 41 and 0 v. Winchester and 24 and 6 v. Harrow. He was then described as A good bat, hitting well and hard; a fair field. He was also well-known as a steeple-chase rider, an Association footballer, and a rider to hounds, and three times rode the winner of the Grand Military Steeplechase at Sandown.

Details courtesy of ESPNcricinfo.com


Image: Major Arthur Hughes-Onslow (courtesy of John Fergusson)

Major Arthur Hughes-Onslow is now buried at Ste Marie Cemetery, Le Havre. How he met his end whilst crossing to France is detailed in this web article: these details are confirmed by the CWGC exhumation report.


Article and images contributed by David Tattersfield, Development Trustee, The Western Front Association



My thanks to Gareth Morgan of Australian WWI Aero Historians - www.ww1aero.org.au - for details of the first RFC casualties. Also to John Fergusson for the background to Arthur Hughes-Onslow and to Mark Hone for his contribution of the Victor McKey image and information.


3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) Britain and Allies Sun, 31 Aug 2014 00:00:00 +0000
The composition of the British Expeditionary Force in 1914 http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/3994-the-composition-of-the-british-expeditionary-force-in-1914.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/3994-the-composition-of-the-british-expeditionary-force-in-1914.html In 1813 the Duke of Wellington, angered by incidents of looting amongst his army, wrote sourly 'We have in the service the scum of the earth as common soldiers'. The words were harsh, but not altogether inaccurate, for the British Army had a long tradition of recruiting primarily amongst the poorest and most desperate of society.

 the black watch bulletin supplement 99

Image: the Black Watch

Very little had changed a century later. Despite the earnest efforts of various committees and reformers to improve the lot of the soldier and make the military a more appealing career, the all-volunteer army remained perennially short of recruits. In the Edwardian period the phrase 'it's the workhouse or the Army' was analogous to 'between a rock and a hard place'. Writing in the 1930s, disillusioned cavalryman Arthur Osborn of the 4th Dragoon Guards commented:

In England the ranks of the Regular Army had always been a refuge for the man out of work, the man with no friends and no prospects, for the boy who could not find a job and had neither energy nor initiative to make one for himself, for the healthy man who was not a blackguard but a failure in civil life because he could not fight successfully against his fellows in a sternly competitive world. So it followed that many 'fighting men by trade' are anything but 'fighting men by temperament'.

Indeed, in 1913 less than half of all enlistments had any form of trade.

Furthermore, contrary to popular (and contemporary French and German) belief the ranks of the British Army were not filled with hardened, long service veterans. The majority of private soldiers were relatively recent enlistments, with a high proportion having less than two years' service at the outbreak of the war. More experienced soldiers tended to be reservists who were recalled to the colours in 1914. Many of these men had been out of the army for years and their standards of fitness and military knowledge varied wildly, from proud veterans such as Frank Richards of the 2nd Royal Welch Fusiliers, who was still capable of 20 aimed shots per minute with a Lee-Enfield, to other men who were deemed so unfit that they were initially rejected for service.

Yet from this unpromising material the British Army was able to shape a famously effective force. This pays testament to the quality of training during the pre-war period. As well as possessing advanced tactics, the army was hugely experienced in moulding unhealthy, ill-educated young men into soldiers. Writing after the war, John Lucy of the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles looked back aghast at the miseries of his first six months of training but took immense pride that by the end of it he and his comrades were a 'crack squad' who were 'superbly fit'.

British training was enhanced by the experience of officers and NCOs. The junior officers of the British Army possessed a huge fund of combat experience gained in the hard school of colonial warfare. In 1914, 138 out of 157 infantry battalion commanders had been on active service. Company commanders were similarly experienced, and a substantial number of senior NCOs had seen action in the Boer War (1899 - 1902). Young soldiers loved and feared these 'old sweats' in equal measure. At the outbreak of war many veteran NCOs warned their men of the dangers that lay ahead, although, as A P G Vivian of the 4th Middlesex recalled, this failed to dampen the youthful enthusiasm of most of the private soldiers.

the grenadier guards bulletin supplement 99

Image: a large crowd welcoming the Eastern Column at the corner of Commercial Road, London, marching in full uniform during the first months of the war (courtesy Mary Evans Picture Library)

Another important element to British training was the strength of the battalion system. The fierce loyalty held by soldiers to their battalion was largely incomprehensible to contemporary foreign observers, who felt that the men's loyalty should lie with their nation. But the battalion provided something far more tangible than the abstract concept of national identity. The battalion was both a 'home' and a 'team' for the men. They came to know their officers and formed deep friendships with their comrades. In the words of historian Richard Holmes, it 'bestowed an expectation of courage' and provided 'something to look up to, something to admire, even something to worship.' Field Marshal Bill Slim, a junior officer in the First World War who rose to command 14th Army in Burma in the Second World War, commented that the battalion system is 'the foundation of the British soldier's stubborn valour'.

The combination of battle hardened leaders and the iron bonds of battalion loyalty provided the British Army with the tools it needed to forge its unpromising raw material into the force would come to wear the name 'Old Contemptibles' with such pride. In closing, it is worth recalling the second, lesser known part of the Duke of Wellington's quote that began this piece: 'it really is wonderful that we should have made them to the fine fellows that they are.'

 Article contributed by Spencer Jones.

This is a featured article from the special supplement to the WFA's Bulletin 99, entitled "August 1914: Britain goes to war".


webmanager@westernfrontassociation.com (Web Editor) Britain and Allies Sat, 30 Aug 2014 10:02:58 +0000
Here come the girls! The women volunteers at the Army Pay Office Woolwich from August to October 1914 http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/3856-here-come-the-girls-the-women-volunteers-at-the-army-pay-office-woolwich-from-august-to-october-1914.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/3856-here-come-the-girls-the-women-volunteers-at-the-army-pay-office-woolwich-from-august-to-october-1914.html Women 7Abstract

August 2014 will witness the centenary of the start of the First World War. It is considered that much of the historical aspect will be focused on the all-male fighting army, with little attention being paid to the women's contribution during the course of the war. Yet also in August 1914 the first women to volunteer for the war effort made their presence felt in perhaps the least researched part of the British Army, the Army Pay Services, which has remained merely a footnote in history. The role played by the women volunteers at the Army Pay Office, (APO), Woolwich during the early months of the Great War is evidenced by the expansion of a Regular and Regular Reserve Army from a peacetime strength of 200,000 in August 1914, to nearly 1 million by November 1914.

The deployment of women volunteers at APO Woolwich was totally unofficial and was not part of any directive from the War Office. However, there had been a tradition of voluntary philanthropic assistance during the 19th century from military officers and their wives that supported the families of soldiers. This influence of regimental philanthropic assistance increased during and after the Crimean War. The women volunteers who assisted at the Army Pay Office Woolwich as it reorganised from peace to war were an extension of the tradition of regimental philanthropy.


3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) Britain and Allies Mon, 21 Jul 2014 00:00:00 +0000
Languages and the First World War http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/general-interest/3763-languages-and-the-first-world-war.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/general-interest/3763-languages-and-the-first-world-war.html The problem was that 2014 would bring a rush of books, TV programmes and websites about the First World War, discussing, analysing, arguing and, that by the time 4 August 2014 came round, it would feel like everything had been said. So we are pleased to announce that the British Library and the University of Antwerp are hosting a two-site conference on what seems to be a new way of looking at the conflict – how the war influenced language and how languages influenced each other as a result of the war.

'Languages and the First World War' (18 and 20 June 2014) will bring together a host of international scholars and researchers, who will be presenting papers on how languages changed, how languages influenced other languages and how soldiers, their families and their officers, journalists and politicians all influenced each other through their words. The London day (20 June) at the British Library promises a feast of ideas on the subject, with a particular focus on English. Keynote speaker Lynda Mugglestone, University of Oxford Professor of the History of English, will be giving a paper on the work of the Rev Andrew Clarke who, right at the beginning of the Great War, set about collecting what he saw as 'ordinary words' – the words used in reporting the war, in advertising and in people's conversation as they experienced the fear, grief, relief and stress of the conflict.

languages fww img1

His collecting of words was not an isolated example. All through the conflict the home press commented on soldiers' slang, often to the annoyance of the soldiers, who resented this sometimes inaccurate appropriation of their linguistic representation of their experience. French soldiers, just as much as their British comrades resented the imposition of slang – a popular-song writer coined the name Rosalie for the bayonet but it never caught on amongst the troops. Trench journals, written by soldiers for soldiers, regularly contained their own 'trench glossaries' and pastiche alphabets, which show soldiers playing with words and enjoying language.

languages fww img2

In Antwerp Julie Coleman will be presenting on "Lingo of No Man's Land", a trench glossary compiled by Lorenzo Smith and published in 1918, which was used for recruiting purposes in North America, while Odile Roynette will be speaking about French trench slang, and the comparison of German and British trench slangs will be the subject of a paper by Peter Doyle and Rob Schaefer.

The relationship between junior officers and other ranks led to a spread of terms up and down the social scale – many newspapers noted how by the end of the war slang terms were being used openly in Parliament. And the mixing of soldiers from different parts of the country in 1917 and 1918 led to a sharing of local dialect words. Junior officers' schoolboy French filtered down to the other ranks, creating mangled French expressions such as 'sanfairyann' and 'napoo' (ça ne fait rien, and il n'y a plus), and may have created 'plonk' (vin blanc). Arthur Tildesley sent to his parents a postcard with the news that he was 'tray bon', and you can almost sense the smile on his face as he wrote it.

languages fww img3

Across the hell of no-man's-land British and German soldiers were united in their disdain for margarine, one side calling it 'axelgrease' and the other side 'Wagonschmiere'. German soldiers could find themselves using a phrasebook that told them how to say in French both 'I am confiscating the money' (schè kongfisk larschang) and 'Waiter, bring me half a litre of wine' (garsong, donneh moa öng dèmih litr dè wäng). It all looks very like an English schoolboy's attempt to pronounce French but then many of the British soldiers fighting in France were not long out of school themselves.

The London day will be offering, besides a thorough examination of the linguistic experience of English-speaking soldiers, papers on the problems of censorship of letters home in Indian languages and Welsh, Italian war propaganda, the language of espionage, a German collection of sound-recordings of British prisoners-of-war, analysis of soldiers' letters and diaries and much more. The conference promises to reveal some exciting finds (some are being saved up for a 'conference trench journal', a conference magazine in homage to the publications created by soldiers). Conversations in progress and the pre-conference blog are bringing to light ideas and examples hidden away in provincial newspapers and soldiers' letters home.

The conference is open to all. Regular updates and information will be posted on the tumblr blog, which carries the full programme for both sites; and see also the twitter feed @LanguagesFWW. Tickets for the London day can be booked on the British Library website and for the Antwerp day via the link on the tumblr site.

Article and images contributed by Julian Walker



3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) General Interest Sun, 08 Jun 2014 00:00:00 +0000
The Battle of Rafa http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/other-war-theatres/3569-the-battle-of-rafa.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/other-war-theatres/3569-the-battle-of-rafa.html The battle at Rafa, (or more accurately "Action at Rafa") which took place on 9 January 1917, was a small affair that rarely receives any mention in accounts of the First World War. It was, however, a victory that ended the Sinai campaign of 1916.

During 1915 British and Commonwealth forces under General Sir Archibald Murray began pushing eastwards across the Sinai Peninsula from their defensive positions adjacent to the Suez Canal. Due to the desert climate, the advance was dependent on the construction of a water pipeline to support the troops. Reaching El Arish, mounted forces captured Turkish fortifications at Magdhaba on 23 December.

battle rafa jan 17

Image: 'Camel corps at Magdhaba.' The painting depicts mounted troops of the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade with the Egyptian town of Magdhaba in the distance, 23 December 1916.

Keen to push on, Murray decided to attack the Turks at Rafa, on the Egyptian-Palestinian border. Murray assigned this task to the Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division which was led by Major General H G Chauvel, accompanied by Brigadier General E.A. Wiggin's 5th Mounted Brigade and the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade led by Brigadier General C.L. Smith, VC.

Order of Battle

The Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division included the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade (comprising 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Australian Light Horse) and 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade (comprising 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th Australian Light Horse) and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade (comprising the Auckland Mounted Rifles, Canterbury Mounted Rifles and Wellington Mounted Rifles). The 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade was not engaged in the action.

The 5th Mounted Brigade comprised 1/1st Warwickshire Yeomanry; 1/1st Royal Gloucester Hussars; 1/1st Queen's Own Worcestershire Yeomanry.

The Imperial Camel Corps comprised two Australian battalions, one British battalion and a mixed Australian/New Zealand battalion.

The Action at Rafa

Just three miles south of Rafa the 2,000 strong Turkish force had constructed a defensive position at El Magruntein, on a rise known as Hill 255. Approaching Rafa on the morning of 9 January the Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division and the 5th Mounted Brigade, together with three battalions of the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade, isolated the garrison by cutting the telegraph lines to Gaza. The New Zealanders were sent to the south with instructions to attack the Turks from the east and north. Meanwhile the 5th Mounted Brigade moved in from the west. At 7am artillery opened fire on the Turkish redoubts.


Map: depicting the Battle of Rafa.

Advancing across open ground, the assault was held up as the Turks were able to maintain a high rate of fire; the British and Commonwealth forces began to run low on ammunition early in the afternoon.


Image: Part of the firing line at Rafa.

Aware of the approach of a Turkish relief force, plans were made to fall back to El Arish. As evening approached several units launched final efforts against the Turks. Charging from the north, three New Zealand regiments attacked the main redoubt on Hill 255, supported by the Imperial Camel Corps and the regiments of the Australian Light Horse. These attacks succeeded in overcoming the Turkish opposition who began surrendering.

Turkish losses

The Battle of Rafa cost the Turks about 200 killed, with possibly nearly as many again wounded and about 1,500 taken prisoner. Still concerned about the Turkish relief column, orders were given to begin falling back towards El Arish. The Turks became wary of leaving isolated garrisons on the Sinai frontier, which resulted in them abandoning their positions outside Gaza.

British and Commonwealth losses

Although most accounts suggest that the Allied losses were only around seventy, research undertaken for this article suggests the figure is in fact over one hundred. The Western Front Association is pleased to be able to honour these men for the first time in full on the 'Rafa Roll of Honour' available as a download below.

Although five of the men listed are detailed as belonging to the Cheshire Yeomanry, Pembrokeshire Yeomanry and Lanarkshire Yeomanry, these men were all members of the Imperial Camel Corps. The Imperial Camel Corps contained the 26/Machine Gun Squadron, which was made up of men from the 1/3rd Scottish Horse; one man from the Scottish Horse being killed at this time.

There is one error on the CWGC database: Private PG Holmes was not at the time a member 32nd Battalion AIF but was part of the Imperial Camel Corps. A useful searchable database exists here.

The most senior officer to be killed in this action was Major Henry Clifford of the Royal Gloucester Hussars. Further details of him are available here.

Amongst those killed were two brothers from New Zealand, Thomas and John Graham who died on 9 and 10 January respectively.

It has been impossible to say with certainty that the men from the Herefordshire Regiment and the British West Indies Regiment were killed during this attack. The balance of probability is that they were not. However, these men are named on the Roll of Honour.


The British War Cabinet postponed the invasion of Palestine until later in 1917 because of commitments on the Western Front. Notwithstanding this policy, the British commander in Egypt, General Murray, decided to make an early attempt to capture Gaza, to clear the way for the main invasion. This led to three Battles of Gaza in March and April of 1917.

The War Graves Photographic Project

It is not easy to visit the area, but using The War Graves Photographic Project the last resting places of men commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission can be seen. Links to these photographs are provided in the Rafa Roll of Honour below. Of note are the headstones of Harry Linford and Sidney Onions which show the Imperial Camel Corps badge.

CWGC Burials and Commemorations of those killed at Rafa

The majority of those killed during the Action at Rafa are buried at the Kantara War Memorial Cemetery. The missing from the New Zealand forces are commemorated on the Kantara Memorial (also at this site is the Kantara Indian Cemetery Memorial; however, this memorial does not relate to Battle of Rafa). Those men from the Australian and British forces with no known grave are commemorated on the Jerusalem Memorial.

Within Kantara War Memorial Cemetery there are also 341 war graves of other nationalities, many of them from a Polish hospital that was here in the Second World War. These are concentrated in a distinct Polish extension. Click here for photographs of this Polish extension.

Selected further reading


Article courtesy David Tattersfield

Images courtesy Wikimedia


3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) Other Theatres of War Thu, 30 Jan 2014 18:11:21 +0000
The Suffolk Regiment at the Battle of Loos http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/battlefields/3132-the-suffolk-regiment-at-the-battle-of-loos.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/battlefields/3132-the-suffolk-regiment-at-the-battle-of-loos.html Ned 3The assault launched by British forces on the German army at Loos on 25 September 1915 was one of the great set-piece battles of the war - indeed the largest up to that point - but also one of the least successful. It is well-known that the decision to participate in a joint attack alongside French forces was taken at the insistence of General Joffre and thus to maintain the unity of the Allies. Joffre had far greater manpower and material at his command and believed firmly in the capacity of an offensive to remove the German occupiers from French soil.

Kitchener, Field-Marshall and a member of the Cabinet as Secretary of State for War, did not share this optimism and preferred to wait until the outcome of the Dardanelles campaign was clearer and the New Army battalions were trained up and capable of strengthening the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), whose Regular forces had been grievously reduced in the first months of the war. Moreover the British supply of equipment of all kinds, and notoriously of ammunition and artillery shells, was at this stage of the war not adequate in either volume or potency to support a major offensive. But Gallipoli and the weak position of Russia prompted a changed calculation and, in spite of his earlier misgivings, on the eve of the battle Kitchener instructed his army commanders in the field to "take the offensive and act vigorously".

1 Loos 1915

Map: Loos 1915 general map

Relations between the two principal commanders at Loos, Sir John French (Commander-in-Chief of the BEF) and Sir Douglas Haig (whose First Army held the front northwards from its border with France's Tenth Army opposite Lens to south of Ypres) were not good. French believed, correctly, that earlier failures had weakened his authority in London and certainly Haig had secured direct lines of communication with Kitchener and the monarchy. Nonetheless neither man welcomed the prospect of an offensive at Loos, in which the British role would be essentially to support the simultaneous Tenth Army attack in the Artois. Sir John feared that another tactical defeat would be fatal to his command of the BEF, as indeed it was, while Haig regarded the battle-ground over which his forces must make their assault as highly unfavourable, compared with sectors of the front north of the La Bassée canal. But Haig now pinned his hopes on surprising the enemy with the deployment of a new weapon, which Germany had first used against British troops the previous April: poison gas.

6 attack to 11.30 26 Sept

Map: Loos attack of 21st and 24th Divisions up to 11.30am, 26 September 1915

Militarily, if not morally, the use of gas at Loos on 25 September was contentious. The advantage of surprise only applies to the first use and at Loos it was wasted. Because the attack had to be coordinated with the French assault, it could not be delayed until the wind was strongly from the west and on 25 September the breeze was at best light and variable. Casualties due to gas were experienced by both sides, but crucially even where the German front line was affected, the gas did not penetrate far enough to disable the reserve line and artillery fire had little impact on German defensive wire. Where reports indicated that there had been some success, on the right of the British attack at Loos village and Hill 70 and more centrally in front of Hulluch, any possibility of a breakthrough depended on the prompt use of reserve divisions to press home the attack or at least to consolidate any gains. But to add to the predictable problems of poor communication between advancing troops and Army and divisional staffs and a tendency to prioritise good news where there was any to report, was the extraordinary fact that at dawn on the first day of the battle, the First Army had no reserves under its command to call up.

The General Reserve, XI Corps, comprised three divisions (Guards, 21st and 24th), three brigades to each division, and four battalions to each brigade. For whatever reason - perhaps fear of German counter-attack, or ambition to play a crucial role in a successful breakthrough - French did not release XI Corps to Haig's command until probably the early afternoon of the 25th (the exact time was disputed, and there was a time lapse between an order and its receipt). This error was compounded by French's decision to hold the lead divisions (21st and 24th) eleven to sixteen miles from the front line, so that it was not until mid-morning on the 26th after an exhausting and difficult night march from Lillers that these divisions were in position to move in support of the previous day's offensive.

What converted this mismanagement into a shocking waste of lives and opportunity were a series of extraordinary decisions taken in preceding days. The 21st and 24th were New Army divisions which, like the other formations composed of civilian volunteers, had not been expected to contribute to the fighting strength of the army until they had spent time in front-line trenches, acquiring the routines and habits which would transform them into hardened and battle-ready soldiers. Indeed, the first K1 divisions had been arriving in France since the end of May 1915 and were three months into the learning process. But the 21st and 24th (K3 divisions) were the rawest of the raw. They were not issued with their service rifles until July, arrived in France on the last day of August and were billeted a few miles from the coast until 20 September. But Sir John French, who in January had expressed the view that such inexperienced troops "might easily become a positive danger", now saw it as an advantage that they had not acquired the "sedentary habits of trench warfare". He evidently believed, and allowed the divisions to believe, that their role would be vigorous pursuit of German units in retreat, though if that possibility had ever existed, it did not survive beyond 9am on the 25th. But in any case it was bizarre preparation for the intended role of the New Army divisions, to require them to march the seventy miles over three nights from the Montreuil area to Lillers. After a rest day on 24th they then had an appallingly difficult march to the front line on the night of the 25th through the congestion and carnage of the battlefield.

How bad this final march was is confirmed in the autobiography of Harold Macmillan, future prime minister but then a junior officer in the Guards Division composed mostly of war-experienced troops, which was following the 21st and 24th divisions a day later. Added to the exhaustion, hunger and thirst was the first experience of shelling and machine-gun fire.

"I can still remember vividly this march from Vermelles to Loos. I must confess that for many months and even years I would dream of it ... What was distressing for our men was that the whole ground that we covered in our march was filled, or seemed to be filled, with the remnants of troops who had attacked in the earlier days of the battle ... [There] were the men of the 21st and 24th. Some were dead, some wounded, some broken and having lost all discipline or order. I have often wondered since why the decision was made to put in these divisions, who had never seen a shot fired and come straight from England, ahead of the Guards Division. It seemed a fatal error."

The 21st and 24th divisions whose remnants Macmillan and the Guards encountered had attacked the German second line on 26 September, the second day of the battle. Exhausted after their march, thirsty for lack of water, and hungry being separated from their 'cookers', they found that the gains of the previous day had already been lost and the defenders of the line were now strongly reinforced. Casualties (killed, wounded or captured) in the two divisions were heavy: over 8,000, or a third of their complement. The open area in front of the German reserve line between Hulluch to the north and Chalk Pit Wood and Bois Hugo to the south became known to the German army as the "field of corpses". Attacking troops who reached the line found that the defensive wire was untouched by British artillery fire and impregnable, and indeed after 2pm the German machine-gunners ceased firing, "nauseated by the sight of the massacre" according to a German regimental history. Astonishingly, but confirmed by the Official History of the Great War, German medical personnel came out to assist the wounded to return to the British lines.

It should be borne in mind that 24th Division, whose performance on the 26th was called into question, (though more in the immediate aftermath of the battle than on later reflection) entered the field with only half its strength. Of its three brigades, 73 Brigade had been reallocated to support 9th Division in front of the Hohenzollern Redoubt. The attack by 24th Division was led by 72 Brigade (8/Queen's, 8/Buffs, 9/East Surrey, 8/Royal West Kent), whose losses were particularly heavy and 71 Brigade, two of whose battalions (9/Norfolk, 8/Bedfordshire) had been detached to support 7th Division facing the Quarries. 71 Brigade thus consisted of just two battalions, 11/Essex and 9/Suffolk. (Whether or not the 24 battalions of the two divisions were casualties on the "field of corpses" itself, all were badly mauled wherever they fought on 26 September).

6 attack to 11.30 26 Sept

Map: Loos 13 October 1915, attack by 7/Suffolk at the Quarries

By September 1915 there were six battalions of the Suffolk Regiment on war service, either at Gallipoli (5th Territorial Force) or on the Western Front. Of the latter five, 1st and 2nd were Regular battalions, 4th was TF, and 7th 8th and 9th were Service (New Army) battalions. Three of these - 1st, 7th and 9th - were engaged in different phases of the battle of Loos, and in the ranks within each was one of three brothers; Arthur, George and Edmund Leonard (Ned) Goodchild. All three brothers were Kitchener volunteers who in August/September 1914 had left the family home at Grundisburgh near Woodbridge. Like their father Joe, all the sons were farm labourers who supplemented their meagre wages with what they could make from keeping pigs. The Goodchilds were a close and affectionate family and this was reflected in some 300 letters that they wrote to their mother Etta between enlistment and July 1916. She kept their letters, and they form the basis of a website (www.goodchilds.org) which reconstructs their experiences in training and on active service in the light of what they wrote, as well as of the general literature on the Great War. The full collection of letters is also available on the website in transcribed and searchable form.

Ned served in 9/Suffolk, 24th Division. He thus participated in the 'long march' from Alette (near Montreuil), which began on 20 September and culminated in the debacle of the attack on 26th. He had enlisted during the first ten days of September 1914 and arrived in France on the final day of August 1915 with the last New Army division to reach France before Loos. Ned survived Loos, but 71 Brigade was then transferred to 6th Division and moved to the Ypres sector. It was there, during the first German phosgene gas attack on 19 December 1915, that Ned was killed. 

Ned 3

Image: Ned Goodchild’s platoon, 9/Suffolk, February 1915.  Ned is standing in the back row, on the extreme right 

Ned's letters, like those of his brothers, were not written to give posterity a glimpse of what it was like to live and die in the trenches - indeed, a month before he was hit by a shell he wrote that "people in England who have never been out here will never realise what it's like, they can read papers till their eyes drop out, if they never experience it". His main aim was to reassure his parents and his young sister - my mother - that he was coping and they were not to worry, but he did admit that "We have all had very narrow escapes, and can think ourselves lucky we are still alive ... I wonder us three have got through as far as we have."

The next Goodchild brother to go into action at Loos was Arthur, the youngest of the three. His strange progression through four battalions of the Suffolk Regiment had much to do with his underage enlistment (16 years 10 months) and the fact that since childhood he was very deaf. He attested in Ipswich a few days after Ned but began his training at Shoreham alongside Ned in 9/Suffolk. His disciplinary record was not good, mainly, though not always, because he could not hear what was said to him. From December to March 1915 he (and Ned) were billeted in Brighton, refugees from the rain, mud and ill-constructed huts at Shoreham, and while there he met and fell in love with Dolly, who wrote to him faithfully at least until July 1916. In March 1915 he was transferred to 3/Suffolk, a Special Reserve battalion stationed at Felixstowe - close to home but a long way from Brighton - causing him and his relieved mother to believe that he was designated fit for home service only. But not so. At the end of July he arrived in France, a month ahead of Ned and his old battalion, in a draft intended for 1/Suffolk.

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Image: Arthur Goodchild (left), Sutton Smith (neighbour from Grundisburgh, killed March 1917), Ned Goodchild (right)

This battalion was one of two Regular battalions in the pre-war Regiment. At the outbreak of war in August 1914, 2/Suffolk was stationed in Ireland at the Curragh; before the end of the month as part of the BEF it had held up the advance of the German army, sustaining very heavy losses at Le Cateau. Almost a quarter of all 1914-18 deaths in the Suffolk Regiment were in the 2nd battalion. 1/Suffolk, by contrast, was in Khartoum when war was declared and did not arrive in France until mid-January 1915. In April-May it was heavily engaged in the second battle of Ypres and approximately two-thirds of all 1/Suffolk deaths during the war were sustained in those two months.

Doubtless Arthur's draft was to plug the gap left by those losses but on arrival at Rouen on 28 July he was sent to 4/Suffolk (TF) (according to its postal address an Entrenching Battalion) and spent the next six weeks digging trenches and felling trees for timber to reinforce the trenches, probably in the area of Neuve Chapelle, north of La Bassée. But on about 22 September he finally joined 1/Suffolk and almost immediately the battalion was sent to the Loos sector, reaching Sailly-Labourse on the 28th. Four days later they moved into support trenches opposite the 'Little Willie' trench at the Hohenzollern Redoubt, which the battalion as part of 84 Brigade was ordered to attack on 2-3 October. The attack failed, according to the regimental historian, in somewhat farcical circumstances but the close fighting was intense and the battalion sustained about 160 casualties in this brief visit to the front line.

On his own reckoning Arthur's involvement at Loos lasted a week, a terrifying experience but one which was not to be repeated. On 7 October 1/Suffolk was 20 miles from the front line and by the end of the month with the rest of 28 Division was in Egypt en route to Salonika, in northern Greece. Arthur remained there, bored but not endangered, until invalided home for surgery on his ear in mid-1916. The surgery failed and Arthur was discharged from the army as unfit for further service.

The third Goodchild brother to see action at Loos was George, whose 7/Suffolk battalion (K1) arrived in France with the rest of 35 Brigade, 12th Division on the last day of May 1915, exactly three months before Ned. After many weeks of rotating with 9/Essex in front-line trenches at Ploegsteert the battalion was redeployed to Loos on 30 September (and remained in this sector until the end of April 1916). The first task of 7/Suffolk was to relieve 1/Coldstream Guards at Chalk Pit and to complete the extended trench system begun by the Guards, under heavy fire. "We suffered fearful losses and I shall never forget the sights I saw." The commanding officers of both 1/Coldstream Guards and 35 Brigade were killed in this perilous location. The battalion was relieved on 3 October by 1/Gloucestershire, and was reintroduced into the line on 12 October in front of the Quarries, where it relieved the 1st Guards Brigade. The following day all four divisions of 35 Brigade attacked the Quarries with partial success, but at great cost, 1/Suffolk losing 160 killed and wounded (George believed the number to have been 400).

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Image: George Goodchild, with Kitchener, George V, and French

A week after the attack the battalion came out of the front line, but on 25 October they returned. "[We] had only ten officers and there weren't above two hundred of us. If Kitchener had seen us and he knew we were the 7 Suffolks, I will swear he would have wept at the sight of us." But there was now only sporadic fighting at Loos, and the battle was formally declared over on 4 November. Ironically, on that day George was working in the Hohenzollern Redoubt repairing a parapet when he received a leg wound. "When I got hit there were four of us standing close to each other, talking and smoking, Ford and Palmer they were on my left and they both got killed by the same bomb [grenade] that hit me, the other fellow was on my right and he escaped." Invalided home, George was treated at Graylingwell Military Hospital near Chichester. But after he was discharged in February 1916 he successfully resisted pressure to be returned to the trenches, and completed his war service in Britain and Ireland.

Letters from their mother at home kept each brother informed about the welfare of the others and rumour - not always accurate of course - let them know about the activities of the other Suffolk battalions. But the brothers did not see each other at Loos. After the 26 September attack and retirement, Ned's 9th Battalion was withdrawn from the front line. Arthur, heading towards the front, wrote on 29 September: "We went within half a mile of the 9th batt, and I saw my Capt who was over me there. I wish I had seen Ned, I hope he is alright." The next day Ned expressed the same disappointment: "I have seen the First Suffolks, but am sorry to say I never saw Arthur." George was at Chalk Pit from 30 September to 3 October ("I have been wondering how Ned got on, his lot were cut up [on the 26th] next to us on our left"), and went back in on 12 October opposite the Quarries. Arthur's brief involvement, also near the Quarries, came during 2-7 October. Before the end of December George was in hospital in England, Arthur was in Salonika, and Ned had been killed at St Jean.


Article and images contributed by Henry Finch


3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) Battlefields Thu, 30 Jan 2014 00:00:00 +0000