After the battle of the Marne in September 1914, the next phase of the war on the western front consisted of the ‘race for the sea’. Both the Western Allies and the Germans attempted to secure the Channel ports of Belgium and France. The North Sea coast formed the northern flank of the western front, and the channel ports were also crucial. Ypres was the last major obstacle to the German advance on Boulogne and Calais – if the Germans had captured these ports, as they did in 1940, the BEF would have been effectively cut off.
The First Battle of Ypres began on 19 October, and was over by 22 November.
Corporal Frank Atherton, age 22 and from Southsea, was serving in 104 Battery, 22nd Brigade of the Royal Artillery. 22nd Brigade were part of Rawlinson’s IV Corps. Atherton was killed on 31 October 1914. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial.
Private John Copping, 28 and from Southsea, was serving in the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment. He was killed on 2 November 1914, and is remembered on the Ploegsteert Memorial. Lance Corporal Reginald Aspinall was killed on 7 November 1914, and Lance Corporal Albert Brown was killed on 11 November. They are both remembered on the Ploegsteert Memorial.
Portsmouth men also served in other regiments. Private Albert Boyett, 27 and from Buckland, was serving with the 3rd Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment. He was killed on 7 November 1914. Corporal Albert Brett, of the 1st Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment, was killed on 13 November. They are both remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial.
After the first battle of Ypres the western front solidified into trench warfare, that was only truly broken with the Kaiserschlacht of early 1918. The heavy losses that the BEF suffered at Mons, Le Cateau, the Marne and te first Battle of Ypres meant that by the end of 1914 hardly any of the pre-war regulars were left. From 1915 onwards the Territorial Force and the Kitchener Battalions would bear the brunt of the fighting.