1st Hampshires – after Second Ypres

Between 25 April and 4 May 1915 the 1st Hampshires suffered 6 officers and 97 men killed, 5 officers and 214 men wounded, and 18 men missing. Bearing in mind that most infantry battalions in 1915 had around 800 men, these losses represented 43% of their strength, in 10 days of fighting.

After being in the thick of the fighting in the Second Battle of Ypres, on 3 May 1915 the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment withdrew from the front line, originally to Wieltje, and from there to Elverindghe. They were still however within range of the German guns. Furthermore, the High Command was still apprehensive about the possibility of another German offensive in the Ypres Salient, so the Hampshires were kept in reserve. The next the whole 11th Brigade moved back 2 miles to the South-West, and bivouaced in a wood. The next day the Battalion moved back to a wood near Oosthoek where the rest of the Brigade was.

There is no indication as to what was happening on 6 and 7 May, as the war diary skips straight to the 10th, when sudden orders were received to move to a chateau at Vlamertinghe. Later that evening the Hampshires were orginally relieved a Battalion of the Kings Own at Shelltrap Farm. These orders were cancelled, however, and the Battalion was put into the second line near Wieltje Farm. During the day Colonel Hicks was wounded and Major Palk again took over command. On 10 May they were back in the front line, between Shelltrap Farm and Hampshire Farm. On 11 May 7 men were killed, one of them a Portsmouth man, Lance Corporal Frederick Clay, who is buried in Sanctuary Wood Cemetery. 2 men were killed on on 12 May.

On 13 May the Germans launched a very heavy bombardment on the front line. Beginning at 4am, by 5.50am all of the enemy guns were thought to be in action. During short breaks in the barrage small parties of Germans attacked but were easily beaten off. The shelling continued in varying intensity until 2pm, when it gradually died away. A Company had suffered the heaviest, and had to be relieved by C Coy from the support trenches. 34 men were killed, 57 wounded, and 3 were missing. One of the dead was Private Frederick Johnston, 19 and from Guildford Street, Landport. He is buried in New Irish Cemetery.

On the next day (14 May) the action was fairly quiet. Despite this, apparently Shelltrap Farm changed hads twice during the day, with the Hampshires completely unaware! Some men of the East Lancashire Regiment were captured there. After several more quiet days at dusk on 16 May the Battalion was relieved by the Rifle Brigade. After several days in support the Hampshires returned to the front line on 19 May. After 3 quiet days they were relieved on 22 May by the Royal Irish during a heavy thunderstorm. During the relief Private Walter Bowman, 20, was killed.

Dawn on 23 May found the Battalion at Vlamertinghe Chateau. After breakfast they went into billets at a Farm east of Peselhoek. By this stage the Battalion was described as ‘rather fatigued’. They were not to receive any rest, however – at 4am on 24 May the Germans launched an attack on the Shelltrap Farm Salient, and the Hampshires went into close support on the banks of the Canal. On 27 May they went into the front line near Potijze, where apparently they occupied good trenches, with an excellent headquarters. They remained in the line through until the end of May, suffering few casualties. On 31 May the Battalion had the unusual occurence of a Zeppelin airship flying overhead.

During May 1915 the Battalion received 266 men as reinforcements, along with 5 officers. The rate of admissions to hospital was falling, and although 107 men were sent to hospital, during the month 104 men returned. These levels of reinforcement would have just about made up for the losses suffered in April. They also show, however, the turnover of manpower in an infantry unit on the western front, and the stark odds facing the British soldier.

The first few days of June 1915 saw the Battalion still in the front line. Although it was a relatively quiet spell, news was received of a Zeppelin attack on London. On the evening of 2 June the Hampshires were relieved, and marched back to La Brique, where they occupied dugouts around the village. Apparently they place was ‘in a whole state of filth which took a great deal of cleaning up’, but some of the officers found time to walk into Ypres on the 3rd. The Battalion was relieved from La Brique on 6 June, and from there marched to a wood between Elverindghe and Vlamertinghe where a meal was waiting. There was great excitement among the officers as Brigade told them that they were about to go on leave, but nothing came of this. Instead they went into farm billets near Poperinghe, well back from the front line.

So ended the 1st Hampshires involvement in the period immediately after the Second Battle of Ypres. Their experiences tell us much about the routine of the front line, losses, odds of survival and the manpower situation. After the end of Second Ypres, however, the western front settled down into relative deadlock.

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1 Comment

Filed under Army, portsmouth heroes, Uncategorized, western front, World War One

One response to “1st Hampshires – after Second Ypres

  1. Van

    Hi! I’m at work surfing around your blog from my new iphone!
    Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward
    to all your posts! Carry on the excellent work!

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