Tag Archives: Flanders

They called it Passchendaele by Lyn McDonald

Along with the Somme, the name ‘Passchendaele’ perhaps captures more than anything the horrific legacy of the Second World War. Properly known as the Third Battle of Ypres, the big offensive of 1917 has gone down in history as Passchendaele. Even though the fighting for Passchendaele itself only encompassed a small part of the battle in the Autumn. Millions of men were fed, sausage-factory style, into the Ypres Salient between July and October 1917. This was Haig’s second attempt at the ‘big push’ after the slaughter on the Somme the previous year.

There are some harrowing accounts here – indeed, it almost feels trivial to call them fascinating. Stories of thousands of men drowning in mud – can there be a more horrific way to die? One shocking story even relates how a man became trapped in the Flanders mud, and sinking up to his neck, begged his comrades to shoot him and put him out of his misery.

And not only does McDonald focus on the British Tommy – Aussies, Canucks and Kiwis all fought in the battle too, and some of their stories are included here. The Western Front – and, indeed, Passchendale – were truly Allied operations. And the accounts are carefully and sensibly selected, to give an impression not only of the fighting itself, but also of the human cost of war, and of the social history – letters home, leave, rations, wounds and treatment and officer-men relations.

One review of this book on Amazon refers to Lyn McDonald as the ‘recording Angel’ of the common soldier, in particular the Great War Tommy. When this book was published, Oral History was very much in its infancy. It was still a completely new concept that the experiences of the ordinary, common soldier might be anything as interesting as the deliberations of those much higher up the food chain. 30 years on however, this book shows its age somewhat. Nowadays historians might be more inclinded to weave Oral History in with conventional writing in a more complementary manner.

Presenting the Great War through the eyes of the millions of men who fought in it changed the way that military history was approached. For too long the study of armed conflict – in particular that of 1914 to 1918 – was far too focussed on Haig, French, Lloyd-George and the like. The men in McDonald’s book, however, lived and died on the strength (or weakness) of those mens egos and decision making. McDonald does not get too bogged down in the age-old ‘Lions vs. Donkeys’ debate, thankfully. Instead she gives us the barest details of the grand strategy, whilst letting the stories of the common men shine as only they can.

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Filed under Book of the Week, Uncategorized, western front, World War One

1st Hampshires in the Great War – after Passchendaele

George Raymond Dallas Moor VC

2nd Lt George Moor VC MC and Bar (Image via Wikipedia)

The great 1917 offensive in Flanders petered out as Autumn began to approach. Advances has been made out of the Ypres Salient, but at a terrible cost in lives, and a breakthrough had not been made. Also, since the mutinies in the French Army the BEF was having to take an even more active role in the fighting on the Western Front. However, with the entry of the United States into the war, massive reinforcements could soon be expected from across the Atlantic. On the Eastern Front, however, the newly Communist Russians had sued for peace. As a result, German attention could now focus solely on the Western Front. For both sides it must have seemed – even with the benefit of hindsight – that 1918 would be a make-or-break year.

Against this changing strategic background, the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment had by now been on the Western Front for over 3 years. Their war had taken them from Le Cateau, via the Marne, First Ypres, Ploegsteert, Second Ypres, the Somme, Arras, to Passchendaele. Interspersed in between were long spells of routine trench duty, along with the odd raid.

After the fighting on 4 October 1917, 5 October was relatively quiet for the Hampshires. The Battalion was relieved that night, and went into reserve in the area of Louis Farm. There the men stayed for several days, still under shellfire as they carried rations forward for the Rifle Brigade. On the 6th Private E.S. Dabb was killed, and is buried in Dozinghem War Cemetery. The Battalion were relieved from reserve duties on the 7th, and marched back to Wolfs Camp. The next day was spent on the usual clean up and inspections. The 4th Division’s offensive was renewed on the 9th – the 1st Hampshires were on standby all day, but were not called upon.

After remaining in Wolf Camp for several days, on 12 October the Battalion boarded trains at Elverindghe, detraining at Proven, and then marching to Putney Camp, where the men were accomodated in tents. After several days under canvas, the Hampshires marched to billets in Poperinghe on the 15th. On the 18th the Battalion entrained at Peselhoek, and arrived at Mareouil the next day. From there they marched to billets in Dainville, a suburb of Arras.

On 23 October the Battalion returned to familiar territory, when it went into the front line near Monchy. The front seems to have been relatively quiet, and the men were occupied mainly with improving defences. As November began the enemy became more troublesome, sending over trench mortar rounds. On 3 November gas shells were fired, causing a number of casualties. In the early hours of the next day a heavy barrage was unleashed, and the Germans were seen to be leaving their trenches. Rifle and Machine Gun fire and artillery broke up the attack.

On 8 November the Battalion was relieved, and marched to Boise de Boeufs. The next day a draft of 145 reinforcements arrived, welcome after the losses at Arras and Passchendaele. The next few weeks were spent providing work parties, and on inspections and parades. Several days of musketry training also took place. On 24 November the Battalion went into reserve in the Brown Line, but still found time to form working parties.

On 27 November the Battalion was suddenly ordered to go into the front line in the Pelves sector. This move took place the next day on the 28th, and the Battalion’s front was from Scabbard to Bit Lake. Enemy artillery was active. By this time in the war trench maps were becoming extremely detailed, as were operational orders which covered the fine minutae of every move, right down to the last man or blanket. On 2 December the Battalion were relieved and went back to Monchy, where men were spared to work on the defences of the town.

After a short respite out of the line, on 6 December the Hampshires again went into the line, this time south east of Monchy. For several days the enemy were quiet. On 10 December, however, the Battalion was ‘stood to’ until 10am as an attack was thought to be imminent. No attack transpired, however. Later that night, they were relieved and went back to billets in Arras.

There was little time for rest, however. Suspicions of an enemy attack remained, and the whole 4th Division was ordered to be ready to go back into the line at short notice. Even while out of the line, the Battalion kept to the age-old routine of ‘standing to’ at dawn and dusk until the 15th. On the 18th the Battalion went into Brigade reserve at Bois de Boeufs, providing work parties until they went into the front line on 22 December. Christmas Day was spent quietly in the front line, and apart from a  brief period in support at Le Fosse Farm between 26 and 30 December, New Years Eve was also spent in the front line.

During December 1917 a second Victoria Cross winner joined the Battalion – 2nd Lieutenant Montague Shadworth Seymour Moore, who had won the VC at Passchendaele in September 1917 with the 15th Hampshires, a Portsmouth Pals Battalion. The other VC holder to serve with the 1st Hampshires, 2nd Lieutenant George Raymond Dallas Moor, won his VC with the 2nd Battalion at Gallipoli in 1915, and had served with the 1st Battalion since later in 1915.

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