1st Hampshires – From first Ypres to the Christmas truce

After the first Battle of Ypres the 1st Battalion of the Hamphire Regiment remained in trenches in the Ypres Salient. According to the war diary there was very little fighting, and the Hampshires spent most of their time improving their trenches, which were flooded by heavy rain. Pumps were provided, and worked continuously day and night. During this stage in the war, when the Army was still adapting to trench warfare, units spent much of their time in the front line.

Major F.R. Hicks and Captain the Honourable L.C. Palk rejoined the Battalion, having been wounded in the autumn of 1914. Major Hicks took over command of the Battalion on 22 November, having arrived with a reinforcement draft of 260 men – such were the level of losses that the Battalion had suffered in 1914. In fact, 260 men proved such a large number to absorb, that for a time many of the reinforcements were kept separate from the Battalion.

Baths were arranged for all men of the 4th Division, and while the men were receiving a welcome bath at Nieppe they were issued with a change of clothing. Whilst it might seem that December 1914 was a quiet period, between the 1st and 18th 11 men were killed, and 27 wounded.

On 19 December, however, the 11th Brigade received orders to attack and capture the right of the German line facing them. Heavy Artillery was ordered to shell the German positions until the moment of attacks, and then to adjust their range to behind the enemy lines. The Rifle Brigade and the Somerset Light Infantry were to lead the attack at 2.30pm, with the Hampshires in reserve. The Artillery opened fire at 9am, however towards noon their shells began falling short into the British trenches. The Rifle Brigade moved forward to commence the attack, but were pinned down by Machine Gun fire. The Hampshire’s moved forward in support, and eventually managed to secure the Eastern side of Ploegstreet Wood. Major Parker, however, was killed in the main trench while directing Machine Gun fire. 15 men were killed, and 1 officer and 25 other ranks were wounded.

The Battle on the 19th saw the deaths of 2 Portsmouth men. Private William Flook, 32 and from Hyde Park Road, Landport, was buried at Lancashire Cottage Cemetery. Private Charles Hayden has no known grave, and is rememered on the Ploegsteert Memorial.

After the attack on the 19th the front settled down, and the Hampshires were again occupied with pumping out their flooded trenches. 4 men were killed by snipers between the 19th and 31st of December. One Lieutenant and 6 men were wounded. During the whole of December 2 officers and 179 men were sent to hospital. Given than a British infantry battalion comprised of just short of 1,000 men in 1914, to lose 181 men to hospital in one month shows just how many men the Army was haemoraghing on the western front.

In December 1914 the 1st Hampshires were involved in one of the most well known and most poignant episodes of the First World War. Between Christmas Day and New year an informal truce with the 133rd Saxon Infantry Regiment, of the XIX Corps. The British Army’s leadership strongly discouraged truces, but the men facing each other on the Western Front found that they had much more in common than they did with their on senior officers.

The truce would not last, however. 1915 saw renewed attempts to break the deadlock of the trenches. Battles that the Hampshires would find themselves in the thick of.

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Filed under Army, portsmouth heroes, World War One

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