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1914 October
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Artefacts ...

- Units of the Army. Numerical strength and Equipment Explained.
- Weight of Territorials' Equipment

- Maps of the Front published in The Daily Express,
- 1st October 1914.
- 20th October 1914.
- 3rd November 1914 - disposition of German forces.

Despatches from the Front ...

- 8th October Despatch describing the Battle of the Aisne from 11th September 1914 (Gazetted on 18th October).
- 20th November Despatch for the period from 8th October 1914.
- 5th December Despatch covering operations round Antwerp from 3rd to 9th October.
- 9th and 29th October and 10th November 1914 Despatches describing the siege of German-held Tsingtau.

Imperial War Museum War Partnership logoFirst World War - Soldiers' Stories - 1st Battle of Ypres

World War 1 soldier at rest

Two versions: Story 1 is drawn from the Daily Express of 23rd November 1914 (pages 5 & 6), the following is a story from the Front that was reported in (Story 2) the South Eastern Gazette - 17th November 1914 too - with different editing. How much of these two versions is propaganda or truly 'personal' is not clear. This is a relatively neutral, but still dramatic, story from soldiers of the West Kent Regiment facing larger German forces. The narratives are playing to the home audience that is asked to increase recruitment in "Lord Kitchener's Army".

STORY 1 - Daily Express

HEROIC WEST KENTS.
OFFICERS’ ACCOUNTS OF A FIVE DAY’S FIGHT.
TEN SHELLS A MINUTE. – THRILLING DEEDS IN THE TRENCHES.

[Two accounts are given below of the great feat of the West Kent Regiment which won for it the special visit and speech of thanks from Sir H. Smith-Dorrien, as first exclusively reported in the “Daily Express.” Both accounts are written by officers of the regiment, and show the strenuous nature of the five days’ fighting, in which at one time the enemy succeeded in completely turning the West Kents’ flank.]

As ____ and I are both here convalescing, and as we can give a fairly consecutive story of the severe fighting in which the battalion took part during the last week of October, we feel that the following account may be of interest to those who feel a pride in the honours won by the regiment.
Prior to the 24th the Germans had been pushing up towards our position, and entrenched themselves at about 500-800 yards from it. From the 24th onwards they made repeated attacks both on the line held by us and on the positions held by the battalions on either flank. On our right were the K.O.Y.L.I., who held their position splendidly, and by a certain amount of cross fire materially aided in the defence of the right portion of our line, but on our left we were not so fortunate, as the battalions on this flank were eventually driven back.
The area covered by my firing support and communication trenches was approximately 150 yards square each way, and into this area the Germans turned the fire of several of their 6in. howitzers, commonly called “Black Marias,” as well three or four field guns, in addition to rifle and machine gun fire.

“BLACK MARIAS”

The shrapnel and machine gun fire we could compete with, as our fire trenches, and especially the supports in dug-outs in a broad ditch, some 15ft. by 8ft. deep, were proof against such fire. But the fire of the 6in. howitzers could not be competed with, as they descend at a very steep angle and wreck everything they strike, making a hole in soft soil some 6ft. deep by 8ft. across.
On the 24th the Germans put some sixty “Black Marias” into the area 150 yards square above referred to during the afternoon, and after dusk opened with shrapnel into the line of the fire trench, so as to prevent us either repairing any damage done to the fire trench or bringing up supports.
That night the Germans attacked the companies to our left, but left us alone, which we regretted, as we wanted to get our own back to repay the shelling we had to endure during the afternoon.
The next day (25th) the same thing was repeated, only the shelling was somewhat worse, and either through spies or aeroplanes – probably the former – they located our support trench, putting ten or twelve shells right into it, and completely wrecking not only our dug-outs, but also the actual ditch above referred to. Luckily the men had been shifted to a safer spot just before, otherwise our casualties would have been extremely heavy.

DESTRUCTION.

I have never seen such a mess as they made of that ditch; broken timbers, branches torn from overhanging trees, gaping holes in the ground; in fact, not a yard of level surface anywhere, and all that remained of a solid wooden bridge under which the company headquarters had been, was one jagged beam pointing skywards. That night there was the same shrapnel shelling for about two hours, but no attack.
During these two days my company lost twenty men killed and wounded, which was not excessive considering the shell and rifle fire. During this period the Germans had, by night, dug another line of trenches some 150 yards nearer our line.
The 26th was the day on which the enemy had determined to launch us a real attack, and the shelling that day was the worst I had ever experienced, while the amount of ammunition used must have been enormous.
Beginning about 7 a.m. the Germans shelled slowly, but methodically, the area behind our support trenches, were reserves were thought to be, and then soon after midday fire was concentrated on the area of fire and support trenches.
Considering the small area shot at, the fire was terrific; no sooner was the debris from the explosion of one shell cleared when the next was heard arriving, and at one time I reckoned they were falling at the rate of 100 an hour.
Everything was wrecked; the support trench was rendered impassable as well as the communication trench, so that to reach the fire trench we had to double across 150 yards of open ground.

BURIED ALIVE.

Here, the heavy fire helped us, as the smoke and debris from the bursting shells was so thick that men were often able to reach the fire trench unperceived by the machine guns which were trained into and fired at the area behind the fire trench in order to prevent supports coming up.
About 2p.m., owing to several six-inch shells having actually burst in the fire trench, wrecked parts of the trench and buried men alive under the debris, it was necessary to send up extra men with shovels to clear the debris.
Ten men volunteered for this job, and, armed with two shovels each, raced for the fire trench. Luckily only one was hit, and then the work of digging out the entombed men began. No easy job, as, owing to the parapet being wrecked and to a heavy machine gun and rifle fire, to say nothing on six-inch shells which were falling within a few yards of the trench, it was impossible to stand up to dig; as it was, three of the ten volunteer diggers were hit to my knowledge, and more may have been.
Anyway, we dug out two men alive, which was great satisfaction.
As the Germans were not coming on, the fire trench was left weakly held in order to avoid losses and as soon as dusk fell, extra men were pushed up in twos and threes to try to get across. The fire swept the area from the supports to the fire trench, but in spite of the darkness many were hit. And then started the worst shrapnel shelling I have ever experienced.
At one time they were bursting at the rate of ten a minute, and dirt from the parapet was continually knocked all over the men.
The only thing was to crouch under cover and trust that the shelling would stop and allow of men looking out before the actual infantry attack took place, which is what actually happened. For myself, thinking I ought to take a peep to the front into the night, I incautiously put my head above the parapet, when a shell burst almost in my face, knocked me over and rendered me useless for the rest of the fight.
Earlier in the afternoon a shelling similar to that which my company had endured had been too much for the regiment on our left, and it had vacated several of its trenches, leaving our left flank dangerously exposed. A platoon from our reserve company was sent to cover this flank, but reinforcements coming up from elsewhere relieved that situation.
Returning to my own company; the attack developed about two hours after I was knocked over, and in spite of the loss of all its officers before dark, and the loss of over fifty men the remainder of the company held their ground and met the Germans with rifle fire and the bayonet.
Personally I am immensely proud of the way my company worked, and consider that no infantry would have done more. In this, Major ____ cordially agreed, and spoke to the company praising them for the resolute and soldierly behaviour.
This ends my part of the story, and I append that of _______. From what I have since heard, not only did the regiment gain great credit by their resolute action in holding the position, but when the line was broken on our left subsequent to the 26th, the action of the regiment saved that part of the line from a very serious situation.
Our losses during this week were severe – twelve out of fourteen officers and over 300 men being killed, wounded, and missing, and we have to deplore the loss of many brave comrades; but, at the same time, one cannot help being thrilled with pride at the noble way in which all ranks answered to the call of duty.

THE SECOND ACCOUNT.

To continue the above narrative and to say what I know of the situation during the heavy fighting beginning on October 24, I must first say that when a trench is referred to a trench containing one platoon is implied.
October 24 was a very dark night, and about 8 p.m. heavy musketry fire was going on from three companies in the left trench, which had some high wire entanglement about 25ft. in front of it.
It was said that some of the enemy were endeavouring to cut the wire, while some others were throwing up a rough trench about 60ft. away.
This was pooh-poohed by a section of the occupants of the trench, but at dawn on October 25 it was found that the firing was justified, and three dead Germans were found at the entanglement, and a short distance in front of us was some newly thrown up earth.
Major ________ came into the trench and asked for a volunteer to go forward and see if any Germans were behind the parapet. Without hesitation Lance-Corporal Wright, of _____ Company, went over the parapet and made a reconnaissance. On his return he said there were “no live Germans, but a dozen dead ones.”
On the evening of the same day Sergeant Bishop took out a party to fill in this new trench. He had a covering party consisting of Lance-Corporal Wright and tree men, while twelve men went with him with shovels. This was accomplished with no firing.
October 27th, up to 2 p.m., all had been comparatively quiet, when suddenly a hail of bullets was showered on ____ and ____ Companies’ support trenches, and some other British troops having fallen back from the line which they held were seen coming through our lines.

ROAD CLOSED

Thereupon the supports were taken out of their trenches and moved to a position about fifty yards away, lining a road at right angles to the general line of our trenches in order to cover our left, which was now exposed.
Great credit was due to C.S.M. Penny on this day for the cool manner in which he behaved – walking along smoking a cigarette and entirely collected, his action acting as a great steadier on the men in this critical situation, since at this time there was a gap of at least 400 yards on the left of our line of trenches. Now, as the enemy saw that the road was denied them, they decided to extend their right and so overlap our flank, but further down the road ____ Company, who were then in reserve, conformed to our movements and so extended our line.
This was still insufficient, and the Germans got into a village on our left flank, having thus completely broken through the front line.
Dusk was beginning to fall, and owing to a request on our part for reinforcements, we learnt that the _____ Infantry were coming to our help.
In the meantime there was a small incident worth recalling. On one occasion a couple of men appeared round a house, and when challenged replied, “We are English,” which reply was greeted by a volley from our men, as such a reply deserved, as it is a well-known trick of the enemy to reply to a challenge in English.
The following conversation was heard by an officer in the _______ Infantry passing behind one of our trenches.
Private “A”: Hallo! Who’s that passing behind the trench?
Private “B”: That? Why, that’s an officer.
Private “A”: But we ain’t got no officers left now.
Private “B”: That’s a British officer of the native troops.
Private “A”: Thank heaven! I’m glad to know there are still some officers about.

BETWEEN TWO FIRES

On October 28 we were told that a combines force of British, French, and native troops were going to make an attack and retake the trenches lost the previous day, consequently our artillery started shelling _______ very heavily. But in the meantime the enemy were also shelling our trenches preparatory to an attack. They were beginning to develop their attack when the Allies discovered this, and devoted their efforts in attempting to shell the hostile infantry, but unfortunately their shots fell short, and we in the trenches were subjected to both shrapnel and heavy artillery fire from friend and foe.
About 2.45 p.m., the German attack having developed more quickly than our own, they were enabled to push a force of about 400 men through the gap which had yet to be filled. From our point of view in the fire trenches it was impossible to do anything beyond betting two men to fire over the left traverse of the left trench. Shortly after this we had a number of shots in our backs, but these ceased in about fifteen minutes.
I was in the fire trench, and consequently can give no actual account of what went on in the support and reserve trenches; but at dusk I took a small party to visit the headquarter and reserve trenches, and I found the Germans had been there but had departed.
Thus ended five days of very severe fighting, and the regiment had managed to hold the line allotted to them without having once been compelled to withdraw, although at times the enemy had completely turned our flank and were behind us.


STORY 2 - South Eastern Gazette

GALLANT ROYAL WEST KENTS. – FIGHTING AGAINST GREAT ODDS.
HOW A DESPERATE GERMAN ATTACK WAS DEFEATED
A SERIOUS SITUATION SAVED – REGIMENTS HEAVY LOSSES.

(All Rights Reserved).

We print below consecutive narratives by Capt. R.G.M. Tulloch and Capt. E.F. Moulton-Barrett, of the 1st Battalion The Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment) describing the gallant part played by the Battalion in five days’ fighting – October 24th-October 28th – in the neighbourhood of the village of Neuve Chapelle, in North-East France. Commenting in a leading article last week on a Press Bureau message giving an account of evens in this area, we pointed out that the fiercest fighting had occurred in an around Neuve Chapelle, and the narratives of Capts. Tulloch and Moulton-Barrett show that we were right in assuming that the heavy losses among the Royal West Kents reported last week were sustained here. The plain, unvarnished account of the splendid work of the Regiment which is given by the two officers will be read throughout Kent with feelings of intense pride.
_____________
CAPTAIN TULLOCH’S NARRATIVE
Osborne, Isle of Wight

As Moulton-Barrett and I are both here convalescing, and as we can give a fairly consecutive story of the severe fighting in which the Battalion took part during the last week of October, we feel that the following account may be of interest to those who feel a pride in the honours won by the Regiment.
The story opens on 24th October, when the Battalion held a position some two miles south-west of Neuve Chapelle, forming part of a defensive line held by the 2nd Corps. Previous to the 24th the Battalion had been continuously fighting, marching, and entrenching for ten days or more in face of a steadily increasing German force, so that by the 24th we had had a considerable amount of fighting in the neighbourhood of Bethune.
Returning now to the operations on and subsequent to 24th October, the position held by the Battalion was some 450 yards in extent and formed part of a continuous line of trenches running roughly N.E. and S.W. Owing to the broad front held by the Battalion, it was necessary to detail three companies for the firing line, and these each had approximately two platoons in the firing line and two platoons in supporting trenches some 100 or 150 yards in area. Prior to the 24th the Germans had been pushing up towards our position and entrenched themselves at about 500-800 yards from it. From the 24th onwards they made repeated attacks both on the line held by us and on the position held by the Battalions in either flank. On our right were the K.O.Y.L.I., who held their position splendidly and by a certain amount of cross fire materially aided in the defence of the right portion of our line, but on the left we were not so fortunate, as the Battalions on their flank were eventually driven back.

HAVOC OF GERMAN “BLACK MARIAS.”

I will now go into the details of what happened to my own company on the right of our line on the 24th to the 26th, as the attack on them was typical of the German attack on the rest of the line held by the Battalion. The area covered by my firing, support and communication trenches was approximately 150 yards square each way, and several of their 6in. howitzers, commonly called “Black Marias,” as well as three or four field guns, in addition to rifles and machine gun fire. The shrapnel and machine gun fire we would compete with, as our fire trenches, and especially the supports in dugouts in a broad ditch some 15ft. wide and 8ft. deep were proof against fire. But the fire of the 6in. howitzers could not be compete with, as the shell descend at a very steep angle and wreck everything they strike, making a hole in soft soil some 6ft deep by 8ft. across. On the 24th, the Germans put some 60 “Black Marias” into the area 170 yards square above referred to during the afternoon, and after dusk opened with shrapnel into the line of the fire trench, so as to prevent us either repairing any damage done to the fire trench or of bringing up supports little damage, however, was done that day, though some buildings and a road just behind the support line were badly wrecked, the road being rendered quite impassable for vehicles owing to the shell holes. That night the Germans attacked the companies to our left, but left us alone, which we regretted, as we wanted to get our own back to repay the shelling we had had to endure in the afternoon.
The next day (25th) the same thing was repeated, only the shelling was somewhat worse and either through spies or aeroplanes – probably the former – they located our support trench, putting 10 or 12 shells right into it, an completely wrecking not only our dugout, but also the actual ditch above referred to. Luckily the men had been shifted to a saver spot just before, as otherwise our casualties would have been extremely heavy. I have never seen such a mess as they made of that ditch; broken timbers, branches torn from overhanging trees, gaping holes in the ground – in fact, not a yard of level surface anywhere, and all that remained of a solid wooden bridge under which the Company headquarter s had been one jagged beam pointing skywards. That night the same shrapnel shelling for about two hours, but no attack. During this period, the Germans had, by night, dug another line of trenches some 150 yards nearer our line.

A REAL ATTACK LAUNCHED

The 25th was the day on which the enemy determined to launch a real attack, and the shelling that day was the worst I have ever experienced, while the amount of ammunition used must have been enormous. Beginning about 7a.m., the Germans shelled slowly, but methodically, the area behind our support trenches, where reserves were thought to be, and then soon after mid-day fire was concentrated on the area of fire and support trenches. Considering the small area shot at, the fire was terrific; no sooner was the debris clear from the explosion of one shell when the next was heard; and at one time I reckoned they were falling at the rate of 100 an hour. Everything was wrecked; the support trench was rendered impassable as well as the communicating trench, so that to reach the fire trench we had to double across 150 yards of open ground. Here, the heavy fire helped us, as the smoke and debris from the bursting shells was so thick that men were often able to reach the fire trench unperceived by the machine guns which were trained on to and fired at the area behind the fire trench in order to prevent supports coming up.
About 2p.m., owing to several 6 inch shells having actually bust in the fire trench, both wrecked parts of the trench and buried men alive under the debris, it was necessary to send up extra men with shovels to clear the debris. Ten men volunteered for the hob, and armed with two shovels each, raced for the fire trench. Luckily only one was hit, and then the work of digging out the entombed men began. No easy job, as owing to the parapet being wrecked and to a heavy machine gun and rifle fire, to say nothing of 6in. shells which were falling within a few yards of the trench, it was impossible to stand up to dib; as it was, three of the ten volunteer diggers were hit to my own knowledge, and more may have bee. Anyway, we dug out two men alive, which was a great satisfaction. As the Germans were not coming on, the fire trench was left weakly held in order to avoid losses and as soon as dusk fee, extra men were pushed up in two’s and three’s to try and get across the fire-swept area from the supports to the fire trench, but in spite of the darkness, many were hit.
And then started the worst shrapnel fire I have ever experienced. At one time the shells were busting at the rate of 10 a minute, and dirt from the parapet was continually knocked all over the men. The only thing was to crouch under cover and trust that the shelling would stop and allow of men looking out before the actual infantry attack took place, which is what actually happened. For myself, thinking I ought to take a peep to the front into the night, I incautiously put my head above the parapet, when a shell, bursting almost in my face, knocked me over and rendered me useless for the rest of the fight.

ENEMY REPULSED BY RIFLE FIRE AND BAYONET.

Earlier in the afternoon, a shelling similar to that which my Company had endured had been too much for the Regiment on our left and it had vacated several of its trenches, leaving our left flank dangerously expose. A platoon from our Reserve Company was sent to cover this flank, but reinforcements from elsewhere relieved the situation.
Returning to my own Company the attack developed about two hours after I was knocked over, and in spite of the losses of all its officer (Beeman and Harding becoming casualties before dark) and the loss of over 50 men, the remainder of the Company held their ground and met the Germans with rifle fire and the bayonet. Personally, I am immensely proud of the way my Company worked, and consider that no infantry would have done more. In this Major Buckle cordially agreed, and spoke to the Company praising them for their resolute and soldierly behaviour.
This ends my part of the story, and I append that of Moulton-Barrett. From what I have since heard, not only did the regiment gain great credit by their resolute action in holding its position, but when the line was broken on our left, subsequent to the 25th, the action of the Regiment saved that part of the line from a very serious situation. Our losses during this week were very severe, 12 out of 14 officers and over 300 men being killed, wounded and missing; and we have to deplore the loss of many brave comrades; but at the same time one cannot help being thrilled with pride at the noble way in which all ranks answered to the call of duty.

__________

CAPTAIN MOULTON-BARRETT’S NARRATIVE.

To continue Tulloch’s narrative, and to say what I know of the situation during the heavy fighting commencing on October 24th, I must first say that when a trench is referred to, a trench continuing one platoon is implied.
October 24th was a very dark night, and about 8p.m. heavy musketry fire was going on from No.3 Company’s left trench, which had some high wire entanglement about 25ft. in front of it. It was said that some of the enemy were endeavouring to cut the wire, while some others were throwing up a rough trench about 60ft. away. This was “pooh-poohed” by a section of the occupants of the trench, but at dawn on October 25th it was found that the firing was justified, and three dead Germans were found at the entanglement, and a short distance in front was some newly thrown up earth.

A LANCE-CORPORAL’s BRAVERY

Major Buckle came into the trench and asked for a volunteer to go forward and see if any Germans were behind the parapet. Without hesitation, Lance-Corpl. Wright of “B” Company went over the parapet and made a reconnaissance. On his return he stated there were no “live Germans but a dozen dead ones.” On the evening of the same day, Sergt. Bishop took out a party to fill in this new trench. He had a covering party consisting of Lance-Corpl Wright and three men, whilst 12 men went with him with shovels. This was accomplished with no firing. On the morning of the 26th it was apparent that some of the enemy must have crawled forward, as enough earth to hide two men had again been thrown up, but on this occasion they were not heard. During the night 25th-26th, some firing was coming from “B” Company’s right trench. In the morning about 15 of the enemy lay dead 50ft. away from the trench.
Towards the evening of the 26th we were being subjected to very heavy shrapnel fire in the support trenches, similar to that as described by Tulloch.
October 27th, up to 2p.m., all had been comparatively quiet, when suddenly a hail of bullets was showered on “A” and “B” Companies support trenches, and some other British troops, having fallen back from the line which they held, were seen coming through our lines. Thereupon, the supports were taken out of their trenches, and moved to a position about 50 yards away, lining a road at right angles to the general line of our trenches in order to cover our left, which was now exposed. Some crawled forward, but it was impossible to get very far owing to the heavy fire of the enemy they were under the whole time. On arrival at the road the enemy could be seen collecting in masses about 250 yards from us – we opened fire and they did not advance.

SUCCESS AGAINST ODDS OF FOUR TO ONE.

It is difficult to state the Germans’ action, movement by movement, but it is clear that they wished to get round the back of our fire trenches, but owing to the determined manner in which our men held the road with odds of roughly four to one against them, the enemy was prostrated in their attempt. Great credit was due to C.S.M.Penny on this day for the cool manner in which he behaved – walking along smoking a cigarette and entirely collected, his action acting as a great steadier on the men in this critical situation, since at this time there was a gap of at least 400 yards on the left of our line of trenches.
Now as the enemy saw that the toad was denied them, they decided to extend their right and so overlap our flank, but further down the road “D” Company, who were then in reserve, conformed to our movements, so extending our lines. This was still insufficient, and the Germans got into a village (Neuve Chapelle) on our left flank, having thus completely broken through the British front line.
Dusk was beginning to fall, and owing to a request on our part for reinforcements, we learned that the 9th Bhopal Infantry were coming to our help; in the meantime, there was a small incident worth recalling. On one occasion a couple of men appeared round a house, and, when challenged, replied, “We are English,” which reply was greeted by a volley from our men, as such a reply deserved, as it is a well-known trick of the enemy to reply to a challenge in English. Just before the 9th Bhopal Infantry came up, we could hear the Germans collecting preparatory to a charge, calling out “Deutsche Hier,” but on the arrival of the native troops they withdrew. That night, we had to readjust our line temporarily. The 9th B.I., prolonging our left, bending our line back from the left flank, as the trenches formerly held by the British troops were now occupied by Germans.

A CONVERSATION IN THE TRENCHES

The following conversation was overheard by an officer of the B.I. passing behind one of our trenches:
Pte. “A”: Hello; Who’s that passing behind the trench?
Pte. “B”: That? Why, that’s an officer.
Pte. ”A”: But we ain’t got no officers left now.
Pte. “A”: Thank Heaven. I’m glad to know there are still some officers about.
On October 28th we were told that a combined force of British, French and Native Troops were going to make an attack and retake the trenches lost the previous day; consequently, our artillery started shelling Neuve Chapelle very heavily. But in the meantime the enemy were also shelling our trenches preparatory to an attack. They were beginning to develop their attack, and when the Allies discovered this, they devoted their efforts to attempting to shell the hostile infantry, but, unfortunately, their shots fell short, and we in the fire trenches were subjected to both shrapnel and heavy artillery fire from both friend and foe. About 2.45pm, the German attack having developed more quickly than our own, they were able to push a force of about 400 men through the gap which had yet to be filled. From our point of view, in the fire trenches, it was impossible to do anything beyond getting two men to fire over the left traverse of the left trench. Shortly after this, we had a number of shots in our backs, but these ceased in about 15 minutes. I, myself, was in the fire trench, and consequently can give no actual accounts of what went on in the support and reserve trenches. But at dusk I took a small party to visit the headquarter and reserve trenches, and I found the Germans had been there, but had departed.
Thus ended five days of very severe fighting, and the Regiment had managed to hold the line allotted to them, without once having been compelled to withdraw; although at times the enemy had completely turned our flank and were behind us.
(Signed) R. M. G. TULLOCH
(Signed) E. F. MOULTON-BARRETT.