1st Hampshires in the Great War – Ypres to the Somme 1915

After retiring to their billets after the second battle of Ypres in June 1915, the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment entered one of the quietest periods of the war on the western front. While the war continued in France and Belgium, the allies in particular were attempting to circumvent the deadlock with their offensive at Galipolli. Therefore the western front settled down into something of a deadlock for the rest of 1915 and early 1916, until the great attritional battles of Verdun and the Somme.

June 1915 saw the Battalion being inspected by Lieutenant-General Sir J.L. Keir, the Corps Commander. They took several turns in the front line, east of the Yser Canal and about 2,500 yards north west of La Brique. Very few men were lost during this period, and the biggest concern seems to have been improving the trenches. Several officers even went home to England on leave. On 18 June 1915 the War Diary recorded that two officers of the Zouave Regiment – presumably a French unit – came over for dinner. On the 20th ‘a good many’ allied aeroplanes were flying around – obviously a novel occurence at the time. On the 22nd, however, a freak incident wounded two officers – Major Humphrey and 2nd Lieutenant Beatty were hit in the neck by the same bullet. Near the end of the month the Battalion enjoyed a rare treat of baths.

6 July, however, saw the Battalion committed to an attack near Hulls Farm, west of the Yser Canal. The bombardment of the German trenches began at 6am, at which point the 1st Rifle Brigade attacked succesfully. The British guns kept firing all day, and several German counter-attacks came to nothing. By nightfall the Battalion began to move east across the canal. The 7th saw the Germans launch more counter-attacks that had little effect. Heavy shelling continued on the 8th, when the Hampshires relieved the Lancashire Fusiliers on the front line. The next day found the Medical Officer, Captain J.F. Gwynne RAMC, up in the trenches tending the wounded left by the Lancashires, and also a serious wounded Rifleman. No sooner had he finished than he was shot by a sniper and killed instantly.

July 1915 saw three Portsmouth men killed with the 1st Hampshires in the Ypres Salient. On 1 July 1915 Sergeant W.G. Benham, who is buried at Talana Farm Cemetery, on 5 July Private Norman Goodall (aged 17, and from Windsor Road in Cosham), buried at Ferme-Olivier Cemetery, and on 10 July – the day the Battalion came out of the line – Private E.V. Burchell, 36, from Regent Street, Mile End. He is buried in Lijssenthoek Cemetery.

10 July saw the Battalion out of the line again, marching back to ‘halfway billets’ north east of Poperinghe. At 4pm they continued on to their ‘real’ billets, a mile west of Watau. The war diary recorded that ‘it really was a blessing to be clear… of that awful salient’. The period from 11 to 22 July saw the Battalion resting, during which they were inspected by the Brigadier (Prowse), the Army Commander (Plumer) and the Commander-in-Chief (French). Otherwise the period was spent getting the men into good shape. ‘Naturally there was much speculation as to the next move, ‘official’ rumours varied from the Dardanelles to England’.

The speculation ended, however, on 23 July 1915 when the Battalion entrained at Codewaersvelde at 5.30pm, and reached Doullens on the Somme at 12.30am. In moving to the Somme sector the Battalion was swapping the frenetic pace of the Ypres Salient for what was, in 1915, a relatively quiet part of the front.

After detraining early on the 24th the 1st Hampshires marched to Freschvillers, where they bivouaced in tents and barns. The next few days were spent preparing to move up to the front. On 25 July the new Army commander, General Monro, inspected the Battalion. Finally, on 29 July the Hampshires relieved 62nd French Infanterie Regiment in the trenches north of Hamel.

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One response to “1st Hampshires in the Great War – Ypres to the Somme 1915

  1. Pingback: Battlefields and Football ? Part 2 The Somme and Amiens | Baby Travel Systems

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