1st Hampshires and the Race to the Sea

After the German advance was halted on the Marne, both sides then turned their attention to attempting to outflank the other by reaching the North Sea Coast first. If the Germans had reached the Channel ports first the BEF would have been cut off from its lines of communication to England.

After the Battle of the Marne the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment continued advancing until 12 September 1914. On that day the French on their left flank were heavily engaged by the Germans. Rain which had been falling throughout the day became heavier by the time the Battalion reached Septmonts. Again the 11th Brigade was tasked with effecting a river crossing, which was not completed until 3am the next day – the Bridge over the river was partially destroyed, and troops could only cross in single file.

After crossing the Brigade continued advancing, until the Hampshires were occupying positions around La Montague Farm, on high ground near Bucy-le-Long. Reconnaisance showed that the Germans were occupying trenches 1500 yards to their front. During the afternoon of 12 September the Hampshires were heavily shelled, but suffered no casualties.

The Battalion remained in their positions until 17 September – a foreboding of the 4 years of trench warfare that would ensue later. Conditions were poor. On the 16th the Germans brought up heavy guns – reported to be 8.5 inch mortars – and these were used in conjunction with spotter aircraft. This was perhaps one of the first examples of the use of aircraft for directing artillery fire. The Hampshires suffered heavy losses in their trenches. Also on the 16th the 10th Infantry Brigade arrived, and the two Brigades were reorganised, with the Hampshires coming under the command of Brigadier-General Haldane.

Between 11.30am and 1.30pm on 17 September Bucy-le-Long was heavily shelled by the Germans, which caused considerable damage. Between the 13th and 17th of September the Battalion lost a total of 11 men killed, with 2 officers and 54 other ranks wounded – all as a result of artillery fire.

On 18 September the Battalion again came under the 11th Brigade. They were occupying the same positions. On their left was a French Colonial Division made up of African troops. These positions were held until 24 September, unhindered by the enemy. During this period the Battalion rested and re-equipped, receiving equipment – apart from boots – and supplies. More reinforcements were also received, consisting of 3 officers and 266 men. On 23 September a new Commanding Officer arrived, Lieutenant-Colonel G.H. Parker.

The Battalion remained in position until 6 October, when they were relieved by the French. After 4 days marching on 11 October the Hampshires arrived at Estree St Denis, where they entrained and journeyed to Wizernes. After detraining they marched to Diselle. On 12 October the Battalion were driven to Hondeghine by Motor Transport, and on 13 October they marched to Fletre, reaching Bailleul on the 14th. The Battle of Armentieres had begun the previous day.

On 15 October 1914 the Battalion received orders to take and occupy Nieppe. On reaching the village the advance guard came under heavy machine gun fire, but succeeded in clearing the Germans from the houses. The Battalion remained in Nieppe overnight. On 16 October the Battalion spent time improving and entrenching their positions. At dusk orders were received to continue the advance, and succesfully occupied the river bank with little opposition. At 10pm however, Major Parker gave orders for the Battalion to fall back to Nieppe, where they fortified the village. The expected attack did not materialise however, and after an uneventful day the Battalion went into reserve at Armentieres Good Station on the 18th.

The Race to the Sea marked the end of the first phase of the war on the Western Front, where mobile warfare was still being fought. The First Battle of Ypres heralded the start of the stalemate of costly trench warfare that would, with a few exceptions, exist until 1918.

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