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From the military history 

and political science collection 

assembled between 1933 and 1989 

by Colonel John D. Ridge 

The collection of 3,700 volumes 

was presented to the 

University of Florida Libraries 

to encourage interest in the 

Military Services of the United States. 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2010 with funding from 

Lyrasis IVIembers and Sloan Foundation 


A Donkey decorates a Lion. General Alderson pins the D.C.M. 
on an unknown Canadian lance-corporal, for bravery at '2nd 



by Alan Clark 

New York 1962 

o^fvrHsiTY OF fwmh mmm 

Copyright © 1961 by Alan Clark. Published in Great Britain in 
1961. Published in the United States in 1962. All rights reserved. 
Printed in the United States of America. Library of Congress 
Catalog Card Number 62-8548. 



Ludendorff: 'The English soldiers fight like lions.' 

Hoffman: 'True. But don't we know that they 
are lions led by donkeys.' 

falkenhayn: Memoirs 


Introductory Mote 1 1 

Prelude: On the Aisne 13 

1 A Band of Brothers 21 

2 Winter in the Trenches 35 

3 The First Experiment, at Neuve Chapelle 44 

4 Neuve Chapelle; the Passing Hours 58 

5 Gas 74 

6 The Dismissal of Smith-Dorrien 88 

7 The Second Experiment : Aubers Ridge 102 

8 Aubers Ridge : the Northern Attack 1 1 5 

9 Repercussions and Recriminations 128 

10 Loos: the Plan 138 

11 Loos: the Assault 147 

12 Loos: the Second Day 163 

13 The Dismissal of Sir John French 175 
Appendices 1 89 
Bibliography 209 
Index 2 1 1 

The photographs are reproduced by permission of 
the Imperial War Museum. The map on page 45 
is adapted from the Ordnance Survey map in 
The Official History of the War by permission of the 
Controller of H.M. Stationery Office. 


Donkey decorates Lion frontispiece 

Pinned-down in their own wire facing page 68 

No-Man's-Land in the salient 68 

'Rawly' 69 

Advanced dressing station, Potijze 98 

Aubers: looking back at the English parapet 98 

Scaling-ladders going up 99 

Polished boots 130 

Walking wounded 1 3 1 

'Tower Bridge' and German wire in front of 

Loos village 1 3 1 

Highlanders going over the top 1 60 

The German line on Lone Tree Ridge 160 

Germans wiring their 'Second Position' 161 


The Northern Section of the Western Front, 

1915 page 44 

Neuve Chapelle 59 

The Ypres Salient 74 

Aubers 103 

Loos 165 

Introductory Note 

This is the story of the destruction of an army — the old 
professional army of the United Kingdom that always won 
the last battle, whose regiments had fought at Quebec, 
Corunna, in the Indies, were trained in musketry at Hythe, 
drilled on the parched earth of Chuddapore, and were 
machine-gunned, gassed and finally buried in 1915. 

I was drawn to this subject almost by chance. While 
working in another field I came across the diary of an officer 
in the Leinsters and was overcome by the horror of the 
contents and the sense of resignation and duty that character- 
ized the writing. I began serious research, back through the 
orders of battle and the unit records, in an effort to find out 
what happened to these men who endured for so long such 
incredible privations, such extremes of misery and squalor. 
Their casualties were frightful. In the first two hours of the 
Battle of Loos more British soldiers died than the total 
number of casualties in all three services on both sides on 
D-Day 1944. And slowly, as the field of operations widened, 
their fate became apparent. Again and again they were 
called upon to attempt the impossible, and in the end they 
were all killed. It was as simple as that. 

My generation did not fight in the Second World War. 
To many of us the First is as remote as the Crimean, its 
causes and its personnel obscure and disreputable. I have 
tried to put down simply, factually, tediously even, what 
happened to these men in one year, 1915. Because in print 
they have no memorial. The huge cemeteries of regimented 
headstones that stand on 'ceded ground' — these are for the 
'New Armies', the volunteers who died on the Somme the 
following year and for the conscripts slaughtered at Pass- 
chendaele. The graves of the soldiers killed in 191 5 are 
harder to find: clusters of white crosses that stand where 



the men actually fell on the sites of the German redoubts or 
of the advanced dressing stations, often away from the roads, 
hidden in folds of the ground, signposted only by the fading 
green notices of the War Graves Commission. And in the 
same way the evidence of their fate is scattered among unit 
records, official histories, regimental magazines published 
years afterwards. Today there are very few visitors to the 
graveyards. The visitors' book at the Bois Carre cemetery 
at Loos contains only three English names for the whole of 
1959. And so it is with the sources which, undisturbed for 
decades, gather dust in museum libraries. 

I am anxious that this work should not be thought an 
'indictment'. It is quite outside my intention to take part in 
arguments which relate, in any case, chiefly to the years of 
1916 and 191 7. This study is concerned simply with what 
the Army was ordered to do, and what happened when it 
attempted to carry out those orders; the results being im- 
portant from a military-historical standpoint in that this year, 
19 1 5, saw the core of professional quality dissipated before it 
had been either properly equipped or substantially reinforced. 

In compiling the material I owe an immense debt to 
that acknowledged master of military history, Captain B. H. 
Liddell Hart, who has allowed me access to his private files 
on the period and has been of the greatest help at every 
stage in the development of the book. I have also been 
greatly assisted by Miss Coombs of the Imperial War 
Museum Library, who has helped me in tracking down 
obscure items — often on the slenderest of leads. My thanks 
are also due to Captain Burgon Bickersteth, the historian 
of the Cavalry Brigade, for his help with documents and in 
conversation; to Colonel L. B. Beuttler for his assistance in 
extracting material from the War Office library; and to 
Captain G. C. Wynne from whose research on the period 
over the last thirty years, and from whose translations of 
German documents, I have drawn at length. 


Prelude: On the Aisne 

Sir John French: The British Army will give battle 

on the line of the Conde Canal. 
Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien: Do you mean take the 

offensive, or stand on the defensive? 
Sir John French: Don't ask questions, do as you're told.^ 

IN THE first week of September 19 14 the German armies 
to the east and north of Paris were in full retreat. The 
'Battle' of the Marne — an engagement of manoeuvre 
which, by the standards of later years, can be accounted 
almost bloodless — had broken the nerve of the German 
General Staff and they had authorized a general with- 
drawal to the line of the Aisne and the Chemin des Dames, 
intending, with their front thus shortened, to extend their 
right flank to the sea and make junction with the armies 
that had lately been investing Antwerp. 

The war at this stage had a picturesque, traditional 
quality. The French infantry marched into action in their 
red-and-blue uniforms and felt caps, men and officers 
dressed like the pieces in 'I'Attaque', a parlour game lately 
introduced into Edwardian drawing-rooms,^ whose very 
title suggested the one-sided trend of fashionable military 
thought. Photographs of those days show whole platoons of 
men forming up, under fire, in close order. Sometimes 
graced by a low farm wall, at others kneeling among the 
corn-stooks in a manner little different from that of the Old 
Guard at Waterloo, awaiting the signal to fire which their 
officer gave by dropping his sword, as at an execution. The 

1 . Brigadier-General Sir J. E. Edmonds, the official historian (Liddell Hart 

2. 'L'Attaque' was just put on the market in 1890. 


14 prelude: on the aisne 

artillery clattered into action in the style of the military 
displays, or 'tattoos', that had followed an unaltered pattern 
for the last half-century: six-horse teams pulled the eighteen- 
pounders, or seventy-fives, and their limbers on spindly, 
iron-shod wheels, arraying them in exposed positions with 
a precision and geometric neatness that made counter- 
battery work by the enemy a simple problem of mathe- 
matics. The gunners had no protection other than a quarter- 
inch steel plate above the axle and the polished brasswork 
at breech and hub glinted in the September sunlight, often 
betraying their position before they had fired a round. The 
French Cuirassiers rode into action wearing full peacetime 
uniform with polished shakos and breastplates — 'Dam'd 
fellows with their hair down their backs,' was the comment 
of General John Gough, Haig's Chief of Staflf — and were 
mown down. Behind the lines was the excitable atmosphere 
of 'a prolonged field-day with a bit of circus thrown in for 
good measure'. Wealth and social distinction still counted 
for much, particularly when, as in all previous wars, it was 
both necessary and desirable to supplement the issued equip- 
ment by personal expenditure. 'You may hear at any time 
the sound of shot-guns and come across a party of officers 
shooting pheasants. There is a pack of beagles run by most 
cavalry units. . . .' Charteris, Haig's Chief of Intelligence, 
tells how he had '. . . a young Prince of Orleans attached 
to us as a sort of unofficial interpreter, also a French banker 
with a magnificent car. Both are very anxious to do anything 
for anybody.' (They seem to have spent most of their time 
driving English officers backwards and forwards from Paris.) 
His own staff' consisted of '. . . a diamond merchant, an 
engineer from Vickers, and a brewer. The diamond mer- 
chant is appropriately rich; anyhow, he has placed at my 
disposal a very fine Rolls-Royce in which I can do my trips 
behind the lines.' 

Many others found all this fuss objectionable and tried 
to ignore the war. The proprietor of the Trois Tours at 
Poperinghe was constantly complaining to all and sundry 

prelude: on the aisne 15 

of the way in which the horses of the 9th Lancers were eating 
the bark off his trees — two years later the inn had been 
literally erased from the face of the earth and his orchard 
was a flat pool of mud. At least one of the grander restaur- 
ants in Paris excluded officers in uniform, and the sign ^Pas 
de chevaux" was hung outside many of the chateaux in Picardy. 

For at this early stage in the fighting the horses were 
everywhere. It was the cavalry, Queen of the battlefield 
since the Middle Ages, that caught the eye and the imagina- 
tion: the Scots Greys, the 4th Hussars, the 5th Lancers, the 
gth Lancers, the 12th Lancers, the i6th Lancers, the i8th 
Hussars, the 20th Hussars — in the Expeditionary Force it 
seemed that there were nearly as many regiments of horse 
as of foot.^ In troop and squadron strength they trotted 
about the autumn countryside, pennants fluttering from the 
tips of their lances, young men and their grooms from fox- 
hunting families the length and breadth of Britain, eager 
for *a go at the Boche'. 

And this moment, of all, was their opportunity. Largely 
owing to the intervention of Gallieni and the famous 'Taxi- 
cab Army' the armies of Kluck and Biilow had become 
separated, one on each side of the Marne, connected by a 
front of some thirty miles that was almost without protec- 
tion. Across this exposed flank streamed columns of trans- 
port and supply, and the whole confused mass of support 
echelons that were crowding up on each other as the fighting 
armies executed their turnabout. To protect this vulnerable 
and congested region the Germans were forced to rely on 
some scattered troops of Uhlans, two battalions of Jager 
(sharpshooters on bicycles) and a few dismounted oddments 
that had straggled in. This motley force, without adequate 
central direction, had to hold the crossings of the Grand and 
Petit Morin rivers for a period — it could not be less than five 
days — while von Kluck withdrew from his salient. 

Opposite them was the B.E.F. with its mass of cavalry 

I. Actually the proportion was i8 cavalry to 78 infantry, but 17 cavalry 
regiments were in the line compared with only 42 infantry battalions. 

i6 prelude: on the aisne 

and, under the command of cavalry officers, now offered 
what was to be, in Europe at any rate, the last and greatest 
opportunity in the history of the arm. A resolute thrust, 
pressed with even a semblance of the disregard for casualties 
that characterized later operations under the same com- 
manders, would have broken through this screen and rup- 
tured the enemy's supply lines. Kluck's army — which had 
been virtually without rations since the 5th September — 
would have been cut off and wholesale surrenders would 
have resulted. 

But what followed was disappointing. The forward move- 
ment of the British cavalry was timid and hesitant. Some- 
times, very rarely, the young officers had their hearts' desire 
and there were encounters with Uhlans or Garde Dragoner.^ 
More often a Maxim, chattering elusively from some distant 
barn or copse, would cause a whole squadron to dismount 
and delay — perhaps until dusk. 

Largely responsible for this faltering approach was Sir 
John French, the Commander-in-Chief. He was slow even 
to realize that the Germans had altered direction and on 
the 6th September his forces lost all effective contact with 
the enemy. This seems to have perplexed him, as did a re- 
quest from Joffre, that evening, to push northward (i.e. 
straight into the gap, instead of north-west to relieve the 
imaginary pressure on Franchet D'Esperey's 5th French 
Army). In his diary that evening he wrote: 'It now became 
necessary to study the situation with great care,' and the 
following day: 'My intention to close at all speed with the 
enemy had to be tempered by consideration for the French 
Armies on my flank, both of which were opposed by much 
larger forces.' 

Thus he was flatly ignoring the precepts laid down in the 
Field Service Regulations^ that 'A Commander who has 
gained a strategical advantage may have to act at once in 

1. A description of the charge of the gth Lancers at Fr6toy on the 7th 
September — probably the last encounter in which a member of the British 
Army was wounded by a lance — is given in Appendix No. i 

2. Part I, igog (Sec. gg.3). 

prelude: on the aisne 17 

order to prevent the enemy bringing about conditions more 
favourable to himself — and that 'AH pursuing troops should 
act with great boldness and be prepared to accept risks that 
would not be justifiable at other times.' 

Attitudes at corps and divisional level were equally 
cautious and leisurely. General Sir Hubert le Poer Gough, 
the Commander of the 2nd Cavalry Division, went, on the 
8th September, to a funeral which occupied him for the 
whole day and, on the 9th, did not get his cavalry out of 
their billets until three o'clock in the afternoon. On the 
loth the whole divisional front was thrown into confusion 
because its leading echelon — the 5th Cavalry Brigade under 
Sir Philip, later Lord, Chetwode — executed a complete circle 
and came up in the evening against the left flank of its own 
support line — a manoeuvre ascribed in the Official History as 
due to 'unfamiliarity with the terrain and the fatigued 
condition of horses and men'. 

It is not surprising that under such conditions of leader- 
ship the English advance averaged somewhat less than seven 
miles a day. Of the two corps, Haig's went the slower owing 
to its commander's insistence on keeping his infantry in 
front, with the cavalry waiting behind — an unexpected 
order of battle from one who had written before the war 
that 'the role of cavalry on the battlefield will always go on 
increasing' and that 'the organization and training of 
cavalry must have as its basis the necessity of mass tactics'. 

For a week the British cavalry meandered over the un- 
familiar terrain disturbing the harvest, while among them 
the columns of infantry stopped and started and stopped 
again. The enemy was seldom seen. Gunfire was heard only 
occasionally. Then, on the 12th, when it was already too 
late, Sir John French ordered Haig to let his cavalry loose 
and 'get over the Aisne as soon as you can'. 

'By now everyone was regarding the advance as a "pur- 
suit". The roads were strewn with abandoned German 
equipment. I myself saw hundreds of lances left behind and 

i8 prelude: on the aisne 

there were many stragglers. The orders that "the crossings 
over the Aisne will be seized" were understood by all to mean 
that the advanced guards should push over the river, the 
main bodies remaining on the south bank. But everyone was 
very tired and, to put the lid on it, the 12th September 
provided a real wet afternoon and evening. In the afternoon 
heavy firing was heard south of Soissons and, although 
aviators had reported only a rearguard at Bazochs, ahead 
Haig ordered his divisions not to proceed as far as the Aisne 
but to halt ahead of the ist Division at Vaucere and the 
2nd at Dhuizel! His later excuse was that the 3rd Division 
on his left was not keeping up and the French i8th 
Corps on his right was also behind and could not be relied 
on. His usual Scots caution. As it happened, even the re- 
duced march ordered by Haig was not completed until after 

But already the lava of the first eruption was hardening. 
The beginnings of trenches were being dug; strands of 
barbed wire were being staked out on the open ground; the 
last hours of 'fluid' warfare were ticking past as the front 
took shape in the form that it was to retain with but small 
variation for the next four years. 

It was twenty years before this double failure — at both 
tactical and strategic level — was explored by students at the 
War Office, and even then their findings were given only a 
restricted circulation.^ Among others, these points were given 
prominence : 

' ( I ) The necessity for orders to make their intention unmistakeable 
to the recipients. None of the G.H.Q. orders at this time dis- 
close the intention of the C. in C. 

'(2) The importance of not losing touch with the enemy. For 
example, there was no reconnaissance in front of ist Corps 
(Haig) on the night of the 13- 14th September. As a result 
of this the advanced guards of both divisions were forced to 

1. Sir J. E. Edmonds (L.H. files). 

2. Tour of the Aisne, H.M.S.O., 1934. The italics are mine. — A.C. 

prelude: on the aisne 19 

deploy on the morning of 14th in the confusion of surprise, 
from cramped valleys about Troyon and La Maison Brulee, 
and found themselves crowded on ground too restricted for 
their proper employment and in complete ignorance of their 

'(3) There was a hopeless lack of concentration. The B.E.F. 
advanced to the Aisne with its divisions spread over the front 
and all were committed to battle on the 13th, though none 
were heavily engaged. There was no reserve except the 
19th Infantry Brigade on the extreme left. No effort was 
made by G.H.Q^. to concentrate superior force against the 
gap in the German lines and, having no reserve, G.H.Q. 
were unable to reinforce ist Corps front on the 13th, where 
alone there was room for manoeuvre.' 

It is of interest to examine the conduct of the 'Battle' of 
the Aisne because of its significance as a background to the 
offensives of later years. In the following months, and con- 
tinuing right up until the winter of 191 7, the British com- 
manders were to make every effort, spending the lives of 
their men with profligacy, to reproduce the sort of conditions 
of open warfare and 'cavalry country' that had confronted 
them on the Aisne in the autumn of 19 14. But their handling 
of operations at this time gives no confidence that they 
would have been any more efficient or imaginative, had their 
wish been granted, than they were in coping with the 
siege-like conditions that set in after the first great 
opportunity was lost. 

It may be suggested that in the preceding half-century the 
British commanders had acquired reputations that were 
greatly out of proportion to their achievements. Zulus, 
Afghans, Dervishes, Chinese — all these and even, in the end, 
Boers — had been defeated. But distance had magnified the 
severity of those 'struggles' and they had been still further 
exaggerated by the newspapers — themselves responding to 
the public appetite for glory during these long, tranquil years. 
Nor had it been inconvenient for the politicians to allow these 

20 prelude: on the aisne 

inflated reputations to flourish. For the generals were far 
away; they could make no trouble; and their prowess, as it 
seemed, reflected glory on the home Government. Thus a 
popular tradition of heroic infallibility had been established 
which was to mate disastrously with the amateurish good 
humour and ignorance of contemporary military theory that 
was reality. For the adulation that had been their lot from 
Press and public had deluded the commanders with notions 
of their own ability and made them at the same time secure 
against dismissal by the politicians. 

So it was that, as the leaves fell and the ground turned to 
mud and the German howitzers with their twelve-horse 
teams plodded patiently up to the line, the British Army was 
poised over an abyss. It could be saved only by a reckless 
squandering of the virtues which, like its delusions, sprang 
from a background of peace and a stable, ordered society. 
Bravery, perfect discipline, absolute conviction of right and 
wrong and the existence of God; a whole code of behaviour 
that is now little more than an object of derision — these 
were to be pitted against the largest and the most highly 
trained army in the world. 

It could only be hoped that the British officers would 
profit rapidly from experience. 

A Band of Brothers 

He [Sir John French] surrounds himself with capable 
leaders and staff officers, and not only brings his troops 
to a high degree of efficiency, but also makes his 
officers a band of brothers, and establishes a good 
comradeship between all arms and all ranks. 

The Times, on his appointment, 3rd August 19 14 

IN COMMAND was Sir John French. 'There was not a 
moment's hesitation about the appointment of Sir John,' 
said The Times, 'there was no painful canvassing of 
candidates, no acrimonious discussion, no odious comparison 
of the merits of respective generals, no hint of favouritism, 
of Party intrigue.' But to some it may have seemed unusual 
that these concepts were mentioned at all. 

He was a weak-willed man of medium height, 'amiable 
enough', though 'petulant when thwarted'. He had 'a liking 
for the ladies', and rumour has it that this taste was not 
unconnected with his urgent need for ^{^2,000 when he was 
commander of the Cavalry Brigade at Aldershot. He had 
borrowed the money from Douglas Haig, at that time his 
Brigade Major, and now one of his corps commanders. 

For Haig, himself, having a superior officer in his debt 
was but one of a variety of fortuitous happenings that had 
so far compensated for a military talent which, although 
systematic, was not outstanding or original. He was not really 
a Haig of Bemersyde,^ although he took the title on his 

I. I have been asked by the solicitors to the Haig Trustees to set out the 
following facts concerning the late Field Marshal's lineage: 'He was directly 
descended from the 1 7th Laird and as such was entitled to bear the Quartered 
Arms. When he was born no Haigs were living at Bemersyde and the direct 
line through a younger son of the 17th Laird had petered out about 1840 when 
the last male heir died. Later about 1870 the sisters of that heir left the property 



ennoblement, but came from the whisky-making side of the 
family. Hence he had not entered the Scots Greys, which 
might have been considered a natural choice, but had 
joined the 7th Hussars. He failed the Staff College examina- 
tion. However, the Duke of Cambridge, who at that time 
had the right of nominating candidates was an acquaintance 
of Haig's elder sister, Henrietta. Under these auspices Haig 
applied a second time and the formality of an entrance 
examination was waived. From there he took frequent leave 
to attend shooting parties organized by his sister for the 
Prince of Wales, and these entries, boldly inscribed in the 
leave book, made their impression on his instructors. 

None the less, in the final outdoor examination Haig did 
not shine and attracted unfavourable comment from 
General Plumer, who was conducting it. At thirty-eight he 
was still only a captain. During the Boer War Haig was Chief 
of Staff to French, who had command of the Cavalry Divi- 
sion. (He thought that 'the Boers were treated too gener- 
ously') and afterwards he was made an A.D.C. to the King. 
From that time forward his ascent was more rapid and he 
became respected for his conventional opinions; as that 
'Cavalry will have a larger sphere of action in future wars', 
and 'Artillery only seems likely to be really effective against 
raw troops'. 

Finally, in 1905, he married the Hon. Dorothy Vivian, 
one of Queen Alexandra's maids of honour, and from then 
on his position in Court circles was unchallengeable. 

An unfortunate result of the fact that his progress owed 
more to influential connections than to natural ability was 
that the Army seemed to contain many people who had 
tried to thwart Haig or who had, on account of superior 
quality, excelled him. 

to a colateral who belonged to the same line as the Field Marshal, who owned 
Bemersyde until it was sold to the group of subscribers who bought it for the 
Field Marshal in 1921. During all this time the senior branch of the family had 
been living in America. In 1948 the Lord Lyon declared that in his opinion it 
was important for the Chief of the Family to be living in the family home, and 
so the Field Marshal's son was declared to be Haig of Bemersyde.' 


For example General Griersoiij his fellow corps com- 
mander in the B.E.F., had completely outmanoeuvred Haig 
at the autumn exercises of 191 2, to the embarrassment of all 
concerned, and to such an extent that the manoeuvres had 
to be closed a day early. On arrival in France Grierson had 
died of a heart attack and Sir John French's choice as his 
successor was General Plumer, the erstwhile Staff College 
examiner who had taken such a poor view of Haig's per- 
formance. At the last moment, however, this decision was 
altered and Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien was appointed in his 

As subordinates, too, there could be counted several 
divisional commanders enjoying only cool relations with 
Haig. One of these was General Allenby, commanding the 
I St Cavalry Division who while at the Staff College had been 
preferred, when in direct competition with Haig, for the 
mastership of the Drag. 

Perhaps it is on account of a feeling of insecurity en- 
gendered by this background that Haig's diaries, which are 
filled with information about his colleagues, seem unusually 
critical. For it is almost impossible to find mention of one 
whose abilities do not fill him with misgiving — unless it be 
Major-General Lomax, 'an experienced and practical leader, 
most loyal to me\^ 

Loyalty, however highly he may have regarded it in sub- 
ordinates, was not a virtue that Haig himself exhibited in 
relation to those above him. On the i ith August he cornered 
the King, who had been conducting a farewell review of the 
Expeditionary Force at Aldershot, and told him: 

'. . . as I felt it my duty to do, that from my experience 
with Sir John in the South African War he was certain to 
do his utmost loyally to carry out any orders which the 
Government might give him. I had grave doubts, however, 
whether either his temper was sufficiently even, or his 

I. The italics are Haig's. The implication shall be left for the reader to 
estimate — A.C. 


military knowledge sufficiently thorough, to enable him to 
discharge properly the very difficult duties which would 
devolve upon him during the coming operations.' 

The King's response to this disclosure is not recorded. 
Perhaps it was a little disappointing for Haig wrote further 
on that 'the BLing did not give me the impression that he 
fully realized the grave issues both for our country as well as 
for his own House, which were about to be put to the test', 
although (poor man) he '. . . seemed anxious\ 

Haig's doubts about French extended to his Chief of Staff, 
Major-General Sir Archibald Murray: 

'I had a poor opinion of his qualifications as a General. 
In some respects he seemed to me to be "an old woman". 
For example, in his dealings with Sir John. When his own 
better judgement told him that something which the latter 
wished put in Orders was quite unsound, instead of frankly 
acknowledging his disagreement,^ he would weakly acquiesce 
in order to avoid an outbreak of temper and a scene.' 

Haig added: 

'However, I am determined to be thoroughly loyal and 
do my duty as a subordinate should, trying all the time to 
see Sir John's good qualities and not his weak ones, though 
neither of them [French and Murray] is at all fitted for the 
appointment which he now holds at this moment of crisis.' 

Of Monro, who took Murray's place as G.O.C. 2nd 
Division, Haig wrote: 

'Monro proved himself to be a good regimental officer and 
an excellent commander of the Hythe school of musketry, 

I . i.e. Showing 'disloyalty'? Further evidence that Haig's attitude in matters 
of this kind was strictly subjective is offered by his entry regarding a slight 
disagreement with his own Chief of Staff, Brigadier-General John Gough: *It 
was during the retreat on the night after the action at Villiers-Cotterets. After 
dinner at Mareuil, he, in his impetuous way, grumbled at my going on "retreat- 
ing and retreating". As a number of the Staff were present, I turned on him 
rather sharply, and said that retreat was the only thing to save the Army, 
and that it was his duty to support me instead of criticizing. He was very sorry, 
poor fellow.' — The Private Papers of Douglas Haig, p. 87. 


but some years with the territorials has resuhed in his 
becoming rather fat. He lacks practical experience in 
commanding a division.' 

In considering the younger officers Haig could find little 
grounds for satisfaction. Of the staff of Sir Henry Rawlinson, 
Bt., commander of the 4th Infantry Division, he wrote: 

'His general staff consists of two Regulars, R. A. K. 
Montgomery, r.a., and Dallas, who had a bad sunstroke 
in India, from the War Office. Toby Rawlinson (his brother) 
acts as Mess President. He is now graded as Colonel, though 
he left the 17th Lancers as a Subaltern. Joe Laycock and the 
Duke of Westminster were A.D.C.s. There were two or three 
other officers about, who in peacetime were connected with 
motors or polo ponies.' 

Of the Indian Corps: 

'I felt surprise at the air of dejection and despondency 
which met me all round their headquarters, both outside, 
where orderlies and others were hanging about numbed 
with cold, and inside, where all ranks, staff officers, British 
and Native clerks seemed to be working together in three or 
four rooms on the ground floor. All the windows were shut 
and the atmosphere was, of course, very close. I came away 
feeling that things were not altogether in an efficient state 
in the Indian Corps.' 

On visits to other units he found further grounds for com- 

'I motored over in the morning to see the 17th Lancers. 
They gave me a great lunch in the Marie. The regiment is 
messing by squadrons. This may do very well at first, but in 
my opinion the officers of a regiment should always mess 
together in a "Regimental Mess" whenever possible.' 

Nor were good manners any surer a road to Haig's favour: 
he described D'Urbal, commander of the French Army on 


his left, as 'a tall suave, elderly gentleman — rather an actor, 
the type of man seen on the stage playing the part of "the 
respectable Uncle" — and unpleasantly />o/z7g'. 

While Haig could find little consolation as he looked 
around and beneath him, his superior was haunted by fear 
of the Secretary of State for War, Lord Kitchener. 

Relations between Kitchener and French had been poor 
since the time of the South African War. Now they were 
worsened by Kitchener's reluctance to accept the restraints 
of a political, civilian, appointment. As the premier soldier 
of the Empire it seemed to him intolerable that he should 
not be allowed to give Sir John direct orders, as to a sub- 
ordinate. He discussed frequently with his friends the possi- 
bility of assuming the post of Captain-General, or Generalis- 
simo, and of holding it in addition to his existing office 
of Secretary of State, in order to formalize the responsi- 
bility which he bore for the supreme direction of British 
military strategy. When he travelled to France he always 
wore his uniform, and tricky points of protocol — always 
a fertile source of dispute among soldiers — would crop 

The position was aggravated by Henry Wilson, nominally 
sub-Chief of Staff, who held an ill-defined but highly in- 
fluential position of liaison with French General Head- 
quarters, or 'G.Q.G.'. Henry Wilson's importance was two- 
fold. In the first place he was a convinced 'Westerner', that 
is to say that he was deeply committed to the doctrine that 
the whole war eflfort of the Empire should be applied ex- 
clusively in Flanders^ to the exclusion of all other theatres 
such as the Balkans and the Middle East. Second, he en- 
joyed the best possible relations with the French commanders 
— unlike many of his compatriots whose careers were equally 
involved — and from Foch and Joffre he would pick up a 

I . In his diary he tells how he 'Dined with the King. Also Prince of Wales 
and Stamfordham [Private secretary to the King]. Had little talk with the 
King, but much with S who said among other things that I was more responsible 
for England joining the war than any other man. I think this is true' 
{Memoirs of Sir Henry Wilson, ed. Sir E. Callwell, 189). 


variety of confidential information and political tit-bits often 
in advance even of their arrival at the Cabinet Room in 

Wilson was convinced of his own indispensability, but 
power — real power, that is, as compared with mere leverage 
for intrigue — seemed to be eluding him. This may explain 
his morally tortuous behaviour. As Director of Military 
Operations at the War Office he had played a prominent 
role at the time of the scandalous 'Mutiny at the Curragh'^ 
when he communicated Cabinet secrets to the Opposition 
and seems, as his diary shows, to have seen nothing improper 
in giving advice and encouragement, based on confidential 
information, to the Ulster Volunteers. He was friendly with 
Sir John French, they had been on intimate terms since the 
Curragh incident (which had forced French's, though not 
Wilson's, resignation) and the two men were joined in a 
mutual dislike of Lord Kitchener. ^ The Commander-in- 
Chief was less articulate in his expressions of dislike, but he 
seems to have listened happily enough as Wilson told him 
that the Secretary of State was as great an enemy of the 
B.E.F. as Moltke or Falkenhayn. Wilson also complained 

1. In essence the Curragh affair (March 191 4) centred round the stated 
preference of Brigadier-General Hubert Gough and fifty-one out of seventy- 
officers of the 3rd Cavalry Brigade for 'dismissal' rather than action should they 
be ordered to enforce the Liberal Government's home rule policy against the 
protestant north of Ireland. A muddled War Office directive and the incom- 
petent handling of the incident by Sir Arthur Paget, G.O.C. Ireland, obscured 
the real issue. This lay in the unwelcome irruption of the Army into domestic 
politics, and the establishment of an entente between its higher echelons and the 
Conservative opposition — an association of which there were to be several 
reminders during 191 5. 

2. Kitchener's biographer, Sir Philip Magnus, explains the background to 
this hostility. In July 1909 Kitchener had visited the Staff College at Camberley 
at the end of Wilson's period of service as Commandant. Kitchener had then 
questioned some aspects of Wilson's teaching, and Wilson had not replied with 
becoming modesty. Relying upon the licence which his social popularity had 
earned in many quarters, he had displayed a casual breeziness which the 
Field Marshal had deemed unsuitable. Five years later, on the 7th August 1914, 
Kitchener had occasion to summon Wilson to his room in the War Office in 
order to rebuke him for indiscreet discussion in Mayfair drawing-rooms of the 
transport arrangements of the B.E.F. Wilson hotly resented that rebuke, and 
thereafter did his best to poison the receptive mind of Sir John French against 


constantly about Kitchener's policy of keeping a number of 
trained officers and N.C.O.s in England to serve as instruc- 
tors for the new Kitchener's Armies that were being formed. 
(Actually, not enough were kept back.) Wilson professed to 
believe that Kitchener was mad: and he joked about 
Kitchener's 'shadow armies for shadow campaigns at 
unknown and distant dates'. 

This friction between French and Kitchener had unfortu- 
nate side effects — not least of these being that produced on 
the running of French's own headquarters. When after three 
months it became necessary to replace Sir Archibald Murray 
(French's Chief of Staff), there developed a positive turmoil 
of intrigue and mortification. When the matter was first 
raised it was taken for granted that Wilson would succeed. 
On the igth December he wrote in his diary: 'Saw Sir John 
twice this morning and again this evening. He talked as 
though it were settled that I was to be C. of S.' But four 
days later there was disquieting news: 

'Sir John began by saying that he would speak very 
openly. He said no man had ever given another more loyal 
and valuable help than I had given him. He said that so 
long as he was alive and had power my future and my pro- 
motion were assured. He went on in this way for some time 
and then came to the real point. He said the Government 
and Kitchener were very hostile to me. They said my 
appointment would be very repugnant to the Cabinet and 
would shake confidence in the Army!' 

It is evident that Wilson was not content to leave the 
protection of his interests in Sir John's hands, in spite of the 
latter's protestations. On Boxing Day he drove over to 
G.Q^.G. at Chantilly with Huguet^ and they discussed the 
whole question in the car. On arrival they recounted the 
state of affairs to Joffre in the presence of Delcasse^ who, by 
chance, was also there. 

1 . French liaison officer at G.H.Q,. at St. Omer. 

2. French Foreign Minister. 


'On this Delcasse said he would see Bertie^ at once, and 
that if this interview was not satisfactory he would go over 
and see Asquith, that it was intolerable that I should be 
ruled out for policital reasons. . . . Delcasse had sent for 
Bertie and was crossing to England tonight, so it looks as 
though he were moving.' 

Fortified by this, Wilson had another meeting with Sir 
John at which he said that: '. . . in my judgement he must 
remove Murray. He must beat Asquith on the matter of 
principle, and he must offer me the appointment.' Wilson 
declared that when offered the post he would refuse it. 
'. . . I can do no more than refuse the appointment that I 
have worked for and dreamed of for years.' And he went 
on to assure the Commander-in-Chief (though on what evi- 
dence is not clear) that Murray himself was anxious to vacate 
the post: '. . . five minutes after he is told that he is going 
to be given a Corps, he will thank God that the strain is 
over'. French's reaction to this harangue is not specifically 
recorded. It is possible that from experience he felt that 
Wilson might after all be prevented by his conscience from 
refusing the post when it was thus formally offered to him. 
At the time he was no more than 'charming and grateful', 
and gave Wilson to understand that he 'I think, perhaps, 
will use this loophole'.^ 

For a few days it seemed as if a compromise, and a typi- 
cally unsatisfactory one, was to be the result of all this 
agitation; namely the retention of Murray in his position 
and of Wilson, and the other candidates, in theirs. G.Q.G. 
were keeping a watchful eye on the situation, and on 
5th January Foch was able to write to Joffre and tell him 
that: 3 

'My telegram in cipher despatched today gave you a 
brief account of my knowledge of Field Marshal French's 

1 . Viscount Bertie, British Ambassador in Paris. 

2. All quotations are taken, unless otherwise stated, from Sir E. Callwell's 
edition of Henry Wilson's Memoirs. 

3. Liddell Hart, Foch. 


intentions with regard to a prospective change in his staff. 
Whether he has asked to keep him [Murray] I don't know; 
I do not think so. But he may have abstained from asking 
for his recall; for I know that when he learned of the steps 
we had taken he said that in those circumstances he could 
do nothing. 

'English pride demands that Murray stays where he is. 
Anyhow, Lord Kitchener and Mr. Asquith would not hear 
of General Wilson as his successor. When Murray is recalled 
and Wilson has gained people's confidence, I believe that 
we shall be able to progress. . . .' 

In the meantime Wilson's hopes had been raised again 
when French, who was preparing his headquarters for a 
visit from Asquith and Kitchener '. . . leant over to me and 
said to me in a whisper: "You are such a brute, you will 
never be nice to people you don't like. Now I am going to 
get Asquith out here, why don't you make love to him?" By 
which he means that he still wants to have me as Chief of 

However, Foch's hopes of his protege 'gaining people's 
confidence' showed little understanding of Wilson's charac- 
ter. The following week he was back in London and saw, 
among others. Lord Lansdowne, with whom he was 
characteristically indiscreet: 

'I spoke freely about our relations with the French, and 
my proposal that they should send some representative men 
to see what Kitchener was doing, also of the strained rela- 
tions between Sir John and "K" — also of my suspicions of 
Winston's intrigues — and so forth. He was charming, as 

When he got back to France Wilson made contact with 
Robertson, at that time Quartermaster General and his 
leading opponent as candidate for the post. They went for 
a drive in Wilson's Rolls and Robertson said that though 
'. . . the offer was a tempting one, as it meant an increase of 


pay as well as of position, I did not wish to accept it'.^ 
It did seem that for the time being the whole matter was 
dying down, and Wilson left for a tour of the French line at 
the invitation of Joffre: 'No other officer in any army, not 
even a Russian, has been allowed to go down the French 
line except me.' Certainly it started off pleasantly enough. 
He was 'everywhere met by the Generals, who took the 
greatest pleasure in showing me things and making me as 
comfortable as they could. I went to Amiens, Chantilly, 
Ghagny, Villiers Cotterets, Reims, Epernay, Bar-le-Duc, 
Remiremont. . . .' But at Remiremont there was bad news. 
A message '^en clair^ from Robertson writing as Chief of Staff, 
announcing the relief of Murray on grounds of ill-health, 
and Wilson's formal appointment as liaison officer with the 
French Army. 

Wilson hurried back to St. Omer where he saw Sir John 
who, in some embarrassment it may be thought, repeated 
that 'nothing he could ever do for me for the work I had 
done could be enough, and that, so long as he held power, 
etc., etc.'. French did, however, agree to Wilson's immediate 
promotion to lieutenant-general (although he had no power 
to do so without reference back to the War Office) and there 
was talk of a K.C.B. But this latter hope turned out to be 
ill-founded; in the days immediately preceding publication 
it got around that Wilson's name was not, after all, on the 
list. French approached Kitchener, who replied that nothing 
could now be done as the King had signed the list. When 
the Honours Gazette appeared it was found that Wilson had 
been granted his temporary lieutenant-generalship as an 
'honour'. Wilson ('The fools have given me another open- 
ing') at once wrote to Robb, the Military Secretary, claim- 
ing that this gave him 'permanent date', i.e. not a tem- 
porary rank at all — 'but happily,' as his biographer says, 
'this question never had to be put to the test'. 

Sir John French seems to have had the idea of compen- 
sating for the only mediocre support that he had lent to 

I . Sir William Robertson, From Private to Field Marshal. 


Henry Wilson's aspirations by the bad manners with which 
he treated Robertson, the Government nominee. He 
ignored Robertson socially, insulted him in public on a 
variety of occasions, refused to mess with him and continued 
to sit next to Henry Wilson at meals. Robertson got his own 
back when Wilson tried to dabble in Staff matters by stalling 
him on one pretext or another, refusing him access to docu- 
ments or sending them up days late. Naturally the smooth 
running of the British G.H.Q. was affected. Haig describes 
a characteristic incident: 

'I went to Hazebrouck at 11.30 a.m. to see Sir John 
French. When I was shown into his room, Sir William 
Robertson (G.G.S.) followed. Sir John said would he kindly 
wait as he had something to say to me alone. Then when 
Robertson had gone he said that he had "nothing private 
to say, only he wished to make it clear to R. that he (F.) 
meant to see his army commanders alone occasionally, 
because R. had tried to insist that F. should not see any of 
his subordinate commanders unless he (R.) was present as 

Gertainly from contemporary documents one does not 
draw a reassuring picture of happy personal relations in the 
higher echelons of the B.E.F. Haig describes the Mess at 
G.H.Q^. on a typical evening.^ 

'I motored to St. Omer and dined with Sir John French. 
Lieutenant-General H. Wilson was also dining. Brinsley 
Fitzgerald told me that the G.-in-C. had asked Wilson to 
join his Mess — a very great mistake, we both agreed, 
because he is such a terrible intriguer and is sure to make 
mischief. Wilson's face now looks so deceitful. By having W. 
in his Mess, while Robertson (the Ghief of Staff) is only able 
to see him at stated times, the Gommander-in-Ghief is 
courting trouble. Billy Lambton (the Mil. Sec.) is weak, and 
quite under the influence of Wilson, it seems. Luckily, 

I. Haig's diary for I2th March 191 5. 


Lambton is stupid, and more than once has unconsciously 
given away what H. Wilson has been scheming for.' 

Personal rivalries at G.H.Q. were complicated at every 
stage by the intervention of the French whenever it was felt 
by them that the influence of 'dooble-Vay', as Wilson was 
known, was threatened. The first instance of this, and one 
which, it may be throught, provides the key to the whole 
situation, had arisen at the Dunkirk conference of November 

'In imagined privacy Kitchener mooted his intention of 
recalling Sir John French and replacing him by Sir Ian 
Hamilton. Joffre and Foch had thought of asking that 
French should be replaced by Henry Wilson but they were 
not favourable to a change to the unknown which might 
weaken their existing influence over the British command. 
The following day Foch told Wilson privately of Kitchener's 
proposal, and suggested that French himself ought to be 
told. Next day, according to Wilson's diary: "Sir John and 
I went to Cassel at 3 p.m. when Sir John thanked Foch 
personally and in the warmest terms for his comradeship and 
loyalty. They shook hands on it, and the two parted great 
friends." Through this breach of confidence French and his 
staff" were able to take steps both at home and in France to 
nullify the proposal. Also there is little doubt that some 
members of his staff" took the shrewd course of informing 
Joffre, quite untruthfully, that Sir Ian Hamilton spoke the 
French language even worse than Sir John French. It is 
needless to emphasize the effect of this hint at G.Q.G. 
where the inter-allied situation in Flanders was already 
compared, with caustic humour, to The Tower of Babel. '^ 

Foch's disclosure naturally strengthened his influence over 
French, if it did not increase his respect for him. It is clear 
that Foch gauged aptly the character of the British Com- 
mander-in-Chief, if also that admiration for it was not the 

I. Liddell Hart, Foch, p. 149. 


reason for combating his recall. For, earlier, when Huguet 
(the French liaison officer with the British) told Foch that 
Sir John was aggrieved with him, he jocularly replied: 'Bah! 
It is of no importance; you have only to tell him that he 
has just saved England; that will put him in good humour 
again!' On this message being conveyed to French he made 
the gratified, though not immodest, retort: 'But, my dear 
fellow, I know it only too well, I knew it from the beginning.'^ 
Now, after Robertson's appointment, Foch wrote to Joffire: 

'General Murray is leaving the English Army, ostensibly 
because of his health. Murray is replaced by General 
Robertson, a good choice in default of Wilson. Wilson re- 
mains head of operations and relations with us. His status 
has not been raised, but his position is growing more 

Lest these overt intrusions into the domestic politics of the 
British Army should have left too many ruffled coats, Foch 
added: 'It might be advisable to make another distribution 
of medals among the English generals. The Field Marshal 
[i.e. Sir John French] wished to remind me of it. . . .'^ 

1. Liddell Hart, Foch, p. 149. 

2. Ibid, p. 152. 

Winter in the Trenches 

The region of the Lys basin and the plain of Flanders 
consists entirely of low-lying meadow. Throughout 
the winter months the clayey subsoil holds the water 
approximately two feet betow the surface and there is 
a tendency for any minor declivity, whether natural 
or artificial, to become water-logged. 

Introductory note to War Office Manual, 19 13 

No-man's-land was a grassy tufted waste, pock- 
marked with brown craters, with here and there the 
the stumps of broken trees and little greyish mounds 
which, from their situation and contour, suggested human 
origin. At a distance — it varied from 80 to 200 yards — stood 
the German emplacements. Through half-closed eyes, or 
when veiled by the damp mist that rose from the ground at 
dawn, the irregular line of grey and fawn hummocks that was 
the enemy breastwork might have been a stretch of dunes on 
the seashore, with the dark bundles of wire straggling from 
their lower reaches like wild blackthorn. 

Sometimes, at night, it was absolutely still for minutes at 
a time. The voices of the enemy could be heard and even 
the click of a sentry's heels at inspection. A subaltern in the 
Black Watch wrote in his diary: 

T could hear some Boche playing Schubert; it was "The 
Trout", that bit that goes up and down, on an old piano. 
They must have got it in a forward dug-out; even so it was 
incredible how clear the sound came across. But before he 
got to the end someone put a flare up over Auchy and the 



whole of No-Man's-Land went pale green. A nervous 
sentry fired a short M.G. burst and firing started up all 
along the line. It went on and off for about half an hour. I 
never heard the pianist again, although Corporal Duffy said 
he was performing on the following night. I often wondered 
whether he survived the War.' 

As the November fighting died down the British troops 
had found themselves holding a 'line' of scattered trenches, 
the majority of them scratched hastily in the soil while the 
battles were at their height, unconnected with each other 
and without any proper system of communication and sup- 
port to the rear. When these were linked up into one con- 
tinuous strip by the engineers many weaknesses became 
apparent: the successive counter-attacks that had been made 
in the last days of November had recovered much of the 
ground lost but, owing to the exhaustion of the men and 
their depleted numbers, had been brought up short before 
any enemy positions of natural strength. The instructions 
from G.H.Q^. that not an inch was to be yielded, and the 
terrible cost at which the ground had been re-won, alike 
made it difficult to alter the line where this might have 
meant giving up even a few hundred yards of territory. 
And so the British front, like the last few inches of a 
high tide, was everywhere indented by little areas of high 
ground, or groups of buildings at road junctions, or other 
sorts of positions that offered unusual advantages to the 

In this way whole stretches were subject to crippling 
enfilade fire from the German positions, that gave rise to a 
constant drain of casualties in holding on to them; the dig- 
ging of communication trenches was particularly dangerous 
in sectors such as these and in some cases had to be aban- 
doned altogether, which in turn meant that long frontages 
were without proper connection to the support areas and 
were dependent for the supply of ammunition and other 
essentials, and for the evacuation of wounded, the provision 


of reliefs and so forth, on the hazardous and uncertain night 
traffic along the fire-trench itself. 

The trenches themselves were pitiful affairs. The infantry 
'showed considerable lethargy and a marked disinclination 
to dig'/ largely on account of the unfamiliarity of the 
medium and the G.H.Q^. policy of switching units from 
sector to sector. This meant that the troops were seldom in 
a position long enough to effect any marked improvement, 
and there was a feeling that they were simply doing the work 
for those that came after, with the certainty that in the 
stretch where they themselves were next posted they would 
have to start all over again. This attitude persisted for many 
weeks, until it gradually became obvious that the condition 
of trench warfare was a permanent one. Certain regiments 
also, notably the Royal Scots and the Somerset, began to 
make it a point of prestige that 'no unit should ever have 
cause to complain when it takes over a stretch of line from 
us',^ and with the spreading of this practice the strength and 
habitability of the line began to increase. Even when the 
will was there, however, there was a painful shortage of 

Picks and shovels were considered plentiful when there 
were as few as two or three per platoon and efforts to 
commandeer them from civilian sources met with little 
success, as the Flemish peasants used to bury them rather 
than part with the tools of their livelihood. There was also 
a serious shortage of actual construction material, and par- 
ticularly of sandbags and wattling for 'reveting' the sides 
of the trenches. The scarcity of sandbags was particularly 
serious in low-lying areas such as the Ypres salient and oppo- 
site Festubert, where the trenches were almost permanently 
waterlogged throughout the winter. In places such as these 
it was necessary for protection to construct a raised breast- 
work which, if it was adequately to protect against machine- 
gun fire, particularly at the very close ranges that separated 

1. O.H., 1915, I, 28. 

2. Ewing, The Royal Scots. 


the troops in many areas, had to be at least eight feet 

'Sergeant Doherty was killed by a sniper while supervising 
a building fatigue. This is the eighteenth casualty and the 
fourth N.C.O. we have lost in this way since we came into 
the line on Tuesday — it is a frustrating business. The Boche 
has got perfect observation of our lines from Frezenburg 
Ridge. The snipers pick the men off in the evening before 
they can get started. We slave away all night building a 
parapet of loose earth — I have hardly seen a sandbag since 
our arrival — then in the morning he calls over a few 
"crumps" and they blow the whole thing to blazes, usually 
burying some poor wretches alive at the same time as they 
unearth a lot of dead ones!' 

Throughout these bleak months the German artillery 
dominated the situation, making life a misery for the British 
troops who were obliged to hold the line in greater strength 
either than the enemy or the French, owing to their own 
shortage of guns. For whereas their allies could afford to 
make their front positions little more than outposts that 
could call up an immense weight of artillery fire at the least 
sign of any suspicious activity on the part of the enemy, the 
British were dependent on rifle fire to cope with marauding 
patrols and local attacks. This was due to two things: in the 
first place the eighteen-pounders used for direct support 
were few in number,^ and hesitated to expose themselves 
except in an emergency owing to the fact that the heavier 
guns needed to support them against German counter- 
battery fire were almost entirely absent. Secondly, they were 
so starved of ammunition as to make it futile to reveal their 
position for the sake of throwing the meagre daily 'ration' of 
shells at the enemy. In actual fact for the entire B.E.F there 
was in the field only about three-fifths of the regulation 

I. The regulation number of batteries per division — not always achieved — 
was obtained by reducing the number of guns from six to four per battery 
(O.H., 1915, I, 9). 


amount calculated on the experience of the Boer War, and really 
little more than a day's supply in modern battle.^ 

The fire-power of the men in the front line was also 
seriously diminished by the shortage — amounting in cases to 
non-existence — of trench-mortars and hand-grenades. Of the 
latter a number of extemporized missiles were tried out, the 
most notorious being the 'jam-pot', the 'Battye bomb' and 
the 'hairbrush'. These were dangerous and difficult to con- 
struct, their ignition was chancy and impossible in wet 
weather, and in general it is likely that they caused as many 
casualties among the British as among the enemy. No 'Mills' 
hand-grenades were produced until the spring of 191 5 — by 
March only forty-eight had been delivered. The trench- 
mortar, an ultra-short-range howitzer, more or less portable, 
with which the Germans were making great destruction, 
was even more rare in the Expeditionary Force. One officer, 
however, managed to do a private deal with the French, 
paying cash for a number of old Coehorn siege-mortars 
which were found to bear the cypher of Louis Philippe! 

It was in these conditions, starved of the equipment 
necessary in trench warfare, with little pretence even of 
artillery support and seriously short of trained junior officers 
and N.C.O.s, that the British troops were crowded into the 
fire-trenches to suffer throughout the winter months extremes 
of physical privation. 

It rained incessantly. From the 25th October until the 
loth March there were only eighteen dry days, and on 
eleven of these the temperature was below freezing. The 
trenches themselves became little less than culverts, re- 
placing in rudimentary fashion the drainage system of the 

I . For example figures for the 1 7th November (2nd Corps) are 3rd Division, 
363 rounds per field gun, 5th Division, 323. Reserve in park, 6, 28. 3rd Corps, 
45> 551 for sll divisions — i.e. rather less than 300 per gun. War Establishments, 
Part I, p. 5 lays down minima of 528 and 280 for field-guns and howitzers, 
with a further 472 and 520 on lines of communication, in addition to the 
general reserve. 


countryside which had been dislocated by the digging and 
artillery fire. It was impossible to dig deeper than eighteen 
inches without finding water, and along whole stretches of 
the line garrisons had to do their stint with the water waist- 
high, for the fire-step had crumbled away and there were 
not the materials to construct an adequate breastwork after 
the German fashion. Duck-boards were unknown and the 
wounded who collapsed into the slime would often drown, 
unnoticed in the heat of some local engagement, and lie 
concealed for days until their bodies, porous from decom- 
position, would rise once again to the surface. When the 
German guns opened fire the troops could only cower in the 
water because the dug-outs, built for protection during a 
bombardment, were themselves awash to roof level and 
stank intolerably from the dead that floated there. 

In an effort to alleviate these conditions, relieving the men 
every twelve hours was tried (the German rota was four days 
in the line, two in support and four at rest), but this led to 
great administrative confusion, particularly in the immediate 
rear and over the allotment of billets themselves 'filthy and 
inadequate',^ and to heavy casualties from sniping and 
shrapnel over the continuous traffic along the communica- 
tion trenches. 

It is thus not surprising that the 'wastage' from illness was 
very high — the more so in view of the fact that there were 
no proper facilities for drying clothing and the men fre- 
quently had to return to the line in the same soaking gar- 
ments in which they had quitted it. 'De-lousing' stations 
were established, but the process consisted of no more than 
running a hot flat-iron over the troops' undergarments about 
once every ten days. Although the strictest criteria were ap- 
plied before men were allowed to report sick, the returns 
for January 191 5 show an average of about 4,500 a day, 
chiefly from pneumonia and blood-poisoning. 

Wilson wrote that 'The water and mud increase and are 
getting horrible. The longer days will be very welcome when 

I. O.H., 1915,1, 28. 


they come, especially to officers; the men do not mind so 
much.' But he gave no reasons to support this distinction of 

On Christmas Day, 1914, there had been no firing, and 
in many sectors the troops had climbed out of their trenches 
and, meeting in No-Man's-Land, had talked and exchanged 
gifts. But such a development met with the strongest dis- 
approval at G.H.Q^.^ and the officers responsible were 
punished. It did not happen again. 

G.H.Q^. seems to have been slow in realizing that the un- 
fortunate tactical siting of the line was making an important 
contribution to the ' wastage'. ^ Finally, when it was seen 
that the line must be altered, there never seems to have been 
any thought of achieving this by making local withdrawals 
and inviting the enemy to step forward into the 'bad ground'. 
Instead, a variety of small, but extravagant, attacks were 
authorized with the intention of straightening the line and 
eliminating some of the more tiresome German enfilade 
buttresses that dominated it. 

It is hardly surprising, in view of the conditions under 
which they were ordered, that these were uniformly un- 
successful, in spite of being pressed with the utmost gallantry. 
Sometimes, very rarely, the infantry, or such small propor- 
tion of them as had survived the passage of No-Man's-Land, 
managed to evict the Germans; but by nightfall they were 
almost spent, ammunition was low, they were under con- 
tinuous fire from the German artillery. The reliefs, stumbling 
across a flarelit waste where the sappers slaved to dig some 
pretence of a communication trench in the mud, some 
meagre channel that would afford protection in daylight, 
were as often as not cut down by the machine-guns before 

1. In igi4, Sir John French wrote of*. . . individual unarmed men running 
from the German trenches across to ours holding Christmas trees above their 
heads. These overtures were in some places favourably received and fraterniza- 
tion of a limited kind took place during the day. It appeared that a little 
feasting went on and junior officers, N.C.O.s and men on either side conversed 
together in No-Man's-Land. When this was reported to me I issued immediate 
orders to prevent any recurrence of such conduct, and called the local com- 
manders to strict account, which resulted in a good deal of trouble.' 

2. O.H., 1915, I, 218. 


they got there. It became customary to 'send a company to 
reHeve a platoon — only a platoon's strength will arrive'. 

In the warmth and comfort of the Allied Headquarters, 
however, the mood was one of optimism. Charteris expressed 
the general view when he wrote home: '. . . don't believe 
Captain M. that the war will last another two years. 
Germany has shot her bolt here and failed. . . .' It was more 
prophetic, if also provoking a more ominous reaction, when: 

'. . . General Rice, our senior sapper, has made the most 
original forecast of all! He predicts that neither we nor the 
Germans will be able to break through a strongly defended 
and entrenched line, and that gradually the line will extend 
from the sea to Switzerland, and the war end in stalemate. 
D.H. will not hear of it. He thinks that we can push the 
Germans back to the frontier, and after that it will only be 
a matter of numbers.'^ 

Foch went even further, and thought that the time was 
already ripe. 'We are in a perfect condition, both morally 
and materially, for attacking,' he told Henry Wilson, whose 
diary also records: 

'Long strategical talk [with Foch] in which we agreed that 
Germany still has one chance, and one only, namely, to 
shorten her front — and retire to the line Liege-Metz, or 
possibly even to the Rhine. Any middle course would be 
fatal to her. '2 

In the closing weeks of the year preparations for a great 
winter offensive to accelerate this process were eagerly 
rushed forward; so eagerly, indeed, that a number of 
important considerations were overlooked, chief among 
these being the waterlogged state of the terrain and the 
dismal condition of the soldiers themselves. Then, at the 
last moment. Sir John French, who was to co-operate in the 

1. Charteris, G.H.Q^. The italics are mine. — A.C. 

2. Wilson, Memoirs, p. i88. 


north, lost his nerve and 'impressed on every commander 
that he was not on any account to get ahead of his neigh- 
bours in the attack; everybody was to wait for the man on 
his left'. And in the event everybody did wait, including the 
left-hand man. Thus the offensive proved 'not merely a 
failure, but a fiasco. The only effect produced was on 
Franco-British relations.'^ 

This abortive operation also had deep and significant 
psychological after-effects. In the first place the security of 
Sir John French's position was further undermined, both in 
his own estimation and in reality. Wilson was sent to Foch 
to plead against any complaint that might be sent out from 


'I made the best case I could about advancing in echelon 
from the left, and he listened without saying a word. At the 
end he said, ^^Mais mon cher Wilson, nous sommes militaires pas 
avocats.'' That exactly expresses the straits I was pushed to. 
We discussed everything and he was as nice as could be; but 
^^Pere Joffre n' est pas commode", and it was cleaf that Sir John 
would be in a very difficult position if he did not put up 
some fight. '^ 

Wilson's mediation was of little use. Huguet noted that 
'their [those of Joffre and French] relations which had 
never been trusting or cordial became colder and colder'. 
And there is no doubt that this made the Commander-in- 
Chief more jittery and indecisive than ever. 

But more important, because more lasting, was the slur — 
as it was thought to be — left on the prowess of the Expe- 
ditionary Force. The French now openly declared that 'it 
might be helpful to hold the line and act defensively, but 
would be of little use in an attack'. Determination to redeem 
this and their own reputations was responsible for many of 
the worst excesses of stubborn leadership among the British 
commanders in the years to come. 

1. Liddell Hart, History of the World War, igi 4-1918. 

2. Wilson, Memoirs, p. 192. 

The First Experiment, at Neuve Chapelle 

We are now about to attack with 48 battalions a 
locality held by three German battalions. 

From a Special Order of the Day to the 
I St Army, issued on gth March 19 15 

yys THE bleak winter days dragged past there was little 

ZA sign of improved relations between the Allied com- 

1. JL. manders. Joffre, who was accumulating troops for a 

further offensive effort in the spring, had asked French to 

relieve the gth Corps, north of Ypres. The request was a 

reasonable one,^ but the Field Marshal objected to its 'tone'. 

'Sir John showed much anger at the tone of Joffre's letter, 
brought by Belin last night. And Sir John, who had arranged 
to meet Foch and Belin at Cassel at 1 1 a.m. this morning, 
refused to go.'^ 

Foch reduced the French demands to the relief of one 
division only, from the gth Corps, but 'Sir John refuses to 
relieve anybody before April ist'. 

Joffre, who knew from Henry Wilson the rate at which 
the Expeditionary Force had been sent replacements, was 
furious. When Wilson went to Chantilly the following week 
Joffre began, at dinner, by loudly remarking: 'Well, your 

1 . As a glance at the map will show the French gth Corps was isolated from 
the main mass of manoeuvre of the French Armies by the stretch of line 
occupied by the Expeditionary Force. (The country to the north of Ypres was 
virtually impassable as a result of the inundations, and remained static through- 
out the war, being held by the remnants of the Belgian Army.) 

2. Wilson, Memoirs, p. 208. 


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Chief's extremely tiresome.'^ As proof of his own power, 
Joffre related how he had been given 'absolute carte blanche 
till May' as a result of telling the Cabinet 'If you take away 
one single man that I can use on my front / will resign.'' 

The implication was plain. And in fact Sir John, also, 
was trying political pressure to secure his material needs, 
though applying it less blatantly. At this time it was by no 
means settled that the main mass of the armed forces of the 
Empire was to be fielded in northern France; other theatres 
seemed equally promising to sections of the Government in 
London. An expedition to the Near East, a massive naval 
effort to force the Kattegat — both these concepts had their 
supporters at home. Moreover, French must have felt doubt- 
ful as to how enthusiastic Kitchener would be over allowing 
the six 'new' armies, each of three corps, that would become 
available during the coming year, to swell the command of 
someone with whom he was on terms of almost open 

In an attempt, as he said, 'to clear the air' and, at the 
same time, to emphasize his own importance, French wrote 
direct to Asquith, behind the back of the Secretary of State, 
'a letter on the general situation' with particular emphasis 
on 'the manner of employing the New Army', and Asquith 
had it printed and circulated to members of the Cabinet. 

Kitchener was furious, the more so as he had just com- 
pleted plans with the Admiralty for an offensive against 
Ostend and Zeebrugge. But he was overruled in the Cabinet, 
the majority of whom seem to have felt, perhaps unjustly, 
that he was allowing strategic considerations to be sub- 
ordinated to his personal distrust of Sir John French. More- 
over, French had first taken the precaution of consulting his 
corps commanders^ who had, not unnaturally, concurred, 
so that the whole of the Army in France was presenting a 
uniform opinion. It was necessary, though, for there to be 

I. Wilson, A/e/72ozVj, p. 216. 

•2. Haig describes the summons to French's house in St. Omer in his entry 
for Monday, 4th January 191 5. 


some action that would justify priority for the French 
theatre and the command there, as well as restoring faith 
in British fighting ability at French General Headquarters. 
Haig had told the military correspondent of The Times that 
'as soon as we were supplied with ample artillery ammuni- 
tion of high explosive I thought we could walk through the 
German lines at several places'.^ But both he and French 
realized that an early demonstration of this truth was neces- 
sary to establish their position. French wrote that 'Many 
vital considerations induced me to believe that a vigorous 
offensive movement by the forces under my command 
should be planned and carried out at the earliest possible 

Unfortunately two adverse factors demanded considera- 
tion. In the first place, the ground was so sodden that any 
serious forward movement would be suicidal until the be- 
ginning of April, as attempts to dig in in fresh ground would 
strike water at a depth of eighteen inches. And in the second 
place, Joffre was now backing down on the promises which 
he had made earlier of a joint attack to the south, against 
the Vimy Ridge. His ostensible reason was 'shortage of 
troops' arising out of French's refusal to relieve the gth Corps, 
although the state of the ground and his preparations for a 
'really shattering' blow at the Germans in May probably 
influenced him more. At all events. Sir John had now to 
decide whether to secure French co-operation by carrying 
out the relief that Joffre had originally demanded and thin- 
ning out his own army, or to launch the attack in isolation. 

For some days he discussed the problem with Haig. Some 
sort of a demonstration was plainly, indeed urgently, neces- 
sary. A simple relief of the French gth Corps would hardly 
be noticed by the English papers and, indeed, by thus 
spreading out his troops Sir John would be postponing still 
further the day when he could launch his own offensive. 
Haig had a plan for a 'battering-ram' attack against the 
German position at Neuve Chapelle, to take place 'as soon 

I. Private Papers of Douglas Haig, p. 84. 


as possible', and independently of any action by the French. 
Of course, strategically it was a preposterous notion for the 
small British Army to launch an offensive without French 
support. But tactically there was a chance, by making full 
use of surprise and a local superiority of numbers, of break- 
ing the German line and inflicting a sharp reverse. Sir John 
decided to adopt the plan. With evident satisfaction Haig 
noted (13th February 1915) that French 

'. . . would prefer to take the offensive on my front 
rather than from Ypres because: 

'(i) He wished me to carry out the operation as he could 
never be sure of getting satisfactory results from Smith- 
Dorrien,^ and (ii) Because my troops were better.' 

Haig had been toying with the plan, on and off, through- 
out the winter. In many respects the situation was full of 
promise. As regards numbers he was never again to enjoy 
such favourable circumstances for taking the offensive. The 
Germans had taken every available man, gun and shell from 
the Western Front preparatory to their great offensive 
against Russia in the late spring, and their contempt for the 
abilities of the British Army — in an offensive role at least — 
had led them to denude their front in that sector even more 
extravagantly than elsewhere. 

Moreover the area selected for the attack was a point 
where the German line jutted westwards, forming a salient, 
about 2,000 yards round, between Port Arthur and the 
Moated Grange, with the ruins of Neuve Chapelle village 
immediately behind its centre. And here the local superi- 
ority of their own artillery, arising largely from shortage of 
ammunition on the British side, had fostered among the 

I. Smith-Dorrien's decision to stand and fight at Le Cateau in August of 
1 91 4 had saved the Expeditionary Force, it is now generally agreed. But this 
had been taken in defiance of orders to go on withdrawing from French, and in 
spite of the fact that Haig's own corps had retreated at such a pace that it had 
completely lost touch with the enemy, besides exposing Smith-Dorrien's flank. 
The grudge which both commanders bore against Smith-Dorrien as a result 
of his showing up their pusillanimity in this way had much to do with circum- 
stances of his dismissal at the height of 'and Ypres'. See below, pp. 88 et seq. 


Germans a feeling of security that was not warranted either 
by the lie of their position — it was exposed to converging 
fire from three sides — its ability to withstand serious bom- 
bardment, or their own numerical strength. For in this area 
there were only six companies amounting to some i ,400 men 
with twelve machine-guns between them. They were 'en- 
trenched' behind a single line of sandbag breastwork built 
up shoulder high back and front on the water-logged ground, 
the water-line being only a foot or so below the surface. The 
wire — that was in later battles to consist of entanglements 
staked into the ground and as much as a hundred feet across — 
was here little more than two rows of chevaux-de-frise, portable 
trestle-like structures that two men could lift to one side. 

Against this flimsy barrier Haig proposed to throw no 
fewer than forty-eight battalions, that is to say approxi- 
mately 40,000 men, a numerical superiority of thirty-five to 
one. The two batteries of eighteen-pounders that had looked 
after the sector during the winter were augmented by a 
further sixty batteries together with forty 45 in. howitzers 
and eighty-two siege and heavy artillery pieces whose task 
was to silence the enemy counter-battery fire. Close behind 
the line the Cavalry Corps and the Indian Cavalry Corps 
were held in readiness to ride through the gap. 

I St Corps Intelligence had accurately predicted the shape 
of the enemy resistance, as it had their reserves both local 
(800 infantry plus a cyclist and a machine-gun company 
four miles behind the line at Ligny-le-Grand) and general 
(a forecast of 4,000 additional rifles within twelve hours and 
up to 16,000 from corps and army reserves around Lille by 
the evening of the second day). In view of this it might have 
been felt that Haig's plan was excessively cautious: with such 
enormous superiority to attack on a frontage as narrow as 
that selected was far too conservative, particularly as Intelli- 
gence told him that he could count on a ratio of at least two 
to one as late as forty-eight hours afterwards. However, 
when Allenby, commander of the Cavalry Corps, suggested^ 

1. At a conference at Haig's H.Q,. at M^rville 26th February 1915. 


that the attack frontage be broadened so as to avoid the 
possibihty of confusion in the bottleneck during the follow- 
through, he was sharply reminded of his 'unfamiliarity with 
commanding masses of infantry'. 

Starting in the last days of February began the assembly 
of the assault troops. Soon the rear areas were '. . . abso- 
lutely choked with men, G-wagons, temporary bivouacs, 
long lines of horses standing patiently' and, more sinister, the 
S.A.D.S., the Supplementary Advanced Dressing Stations, 
spotlessly clean as yet, and empty. 

Two Corps, the 4th (commanded by Lieutenant-General 
Sir H. Rawlinson, Bt.) and Indian (under Lieutenant- 
General Sir J. Willcocks, k.c.b., d.s.o., etc.), were squeezed 
side by side into the tip of the phalanx, each leading with 
one division; the 8th under Major-General Davies, and the 
Meerut under Lieutenant-General C. A. Anderson. Here 
already were the seeds of trouble, for both these units would 
be converging from opposite sides of the salient towards each 
other, trailing their long 'tail' and chain of command back 
to corps level and only finding unity of direction once again 
when their reports reached the army commander, Haig, at 
his headquarters at Merville. Things might be all right if the 
day's progress went according to plan, but there was always 
the possibility that some unforeseen event would dislocate 
the machine, whose administrative duality threatened to 
double the confusion that AUenby had foreseen. 

More immediately serious was a muddle over the artillery 
dispositions on the left flank. In spite of the profusion of 
artillery and the sparsity of targets, the destruction of the 
enemy breastwork along the last 400 yards of front on the 
extreme left had been entrusted to a brigade of six-inch 
howitzers — the 59th and 8ist siege batteries — which it was 
discovered later had not yet arrived from England. This 
meant that there would be no heavy fire on the enemy 


positions there, as the eighteen-pounders were of little use in 
breaking up the breastwork, although they could cut the 
wire and keep the defenders' heads down while the actual 
bombardment was in progress. The absence of the two siege 
batteries was noticed and correspondence with the War 
Office took place on the subject^ but, inconceivable though 
it seems, no alternative arrangements were made to cover 
the gap. The two missing batteries finally appeared on the 
evening of the gth — the day before the assault — and had not 
sufficient time to build up gun platforms or lay their tele- 
phone lines to the forward observing officers, much less to 
range on to their allotted targets. For these reasons they 
played no part in the bombardment of the following day: 
an omission that was to have far-reaching consequences. 

The eve of the battle was wet. Rain fell steadily, blown 
into occasional gusts of snow by a wind that was just above 
freezing temperature. Low clouds drifted across No-Man's- 
Land leaving long streaks of clinging mist that followed the 
course of the waterlogged communication trenches; the gun- 
barrels dripped with condensation and by nightfall the 
greatcoats of the waiting infantry were soaked through. But 
morale was at its highest. Many of the men, including the 
whole of the 25th Brigade,^ were going into action for the 
first time. This was the first offensive operation of the war, 
and the majority believed that it would be the last. 

And when, at 7.30 on the morning of the loth, the bom- 
bardment broke, the effect was stupendous. This was the 
strongest concentration of guns per yard ever before as- 
sembled — one that was not to be equalled until the closing 
stages of Passchendaele, over two and a half years later. The 

1. On the 26th February the War Office informed G.H.Q. that the 
batteries would embark on the ist March. On the 2nd March they wired that 
embarkation had been postponed until the 5th. On the 3rd March G.H.Q. 
wired requesting an immediate embarkation of the batteries but they were not 
shipped until the 5th and did not arrive at Estaires until the morning of the gth 
(O.H., 1915, I, 84 fn.). 

2. Under Brigadier-General A. W. G. Lowry-Cole, consisting of 2nd 
Lincolnshire, ist Royal Irish Rifles, 13th London, 2nd Berkshire and 2nd Rifle 


defenders were completely swallowed up in a storm of 
smoke, black and orange, from the high explosive, speckled 
with the hard white flash of the shrapnel; huge masses of 
earth, bodies, fragments of the enemy emplacements were 
tossed up and blown into the sky again and again, so that 
the battlefield became quite dark. 

At five past eight the artillery lifted their fire from the 
German line and on to Neuve Chapelle village itself and the 
English infantry clambered out of their trenches and into 

The centre of the attack was led by the Berkshires and 
Lincolnshires. They found the enemy virtually neutralized 
by the bombardment; the wire had been shattered and such 
defenders as had survived were too dazed by the shellfire to 
offer any resistance. Suffering only the lightest casualties, 
they passed on over the crumpled remains of the enemy 
breastwork to their first objective — the German 'support' 
line. It had been expected that this might prove a tougher 
obstacle — it had only received ten minutes' concentrated fire 
as compared with the twenty allotted to the front line — and 
the orders to the leading formations were to 'consolidate 
here once the position has been captured by reversing the 
parados, etc.'. But on reaching this objective the leading 
British battalions found not only that it was not defended 
but that it had plainly not been occupied during the winter, 
for the sides were crumbling and the trench itself was full of 
water. However, in spite of the complete absence of oppo- 
sition here. Colonel Feetham decided not to attempt the 
passage of this 'obstacle' but to halt his men just behind it. 
Colonel McAndrew of the Lincolns had been mortally 
wounded while leading his men across No-Man's-Land. He 
died a happy man for he had caused himself to be held up 
so that he could see his men enter the German trenches; but 
he was sadly missed for, without his leadership, the Lincolns, 
too, decided to halt without passing over the old German 
'support' line. 

However, within less than half an hour the second row of 


the phalanx had caught up with the now stationary first row. 
These troops, the 2nd ELifle Brigade and ist Royal Irish 
Rifles, passed right through the Berkshires and pressed on 
into the ruins of Neuve Ghapelle village, which was empty 
of the enemy. They crossed the main street and advanced 
on into the open fields beyond towards the line of the 'Smith- 
Dorrien trench', the old British defensive position that had 
been built in front of Neuve Ghapelle in the autumn of 19 14. 
It was thought likely, at G.H.Q., that the enemy was occupy- 
ing this position, or at least had it in such a state of readiness 
that he could have put reinforcements into it when the 
battle started. But this was not so; the trench, like the 
'support' line, was disused. However, it had been scheduled 
for a half-hour bombardment, which started, to the moment, 
on the arrival there of the leading elements of the Rifle 
Brigade. These troops were thus compelled to withdraw 
some hundreds of yards and wait while the artillery methodi- 
cally churnca up the ground all round a position that the 
infantry on the spot could see to be unoccupied. 

Immediately the bombardment stopped the Rifle Brigade 
resumed their advance with the Irish Rifles on their right, 
and were soon established along the line designated as their 
objective for the day — and this within one and a half hours 
of the start of the attack. Ahead of them stretched the flat 
green countryside, lightly scarred by the shellfire but seem- 
ingly lifeless. The line of the Layes Brook could be followed 
from the stunted willow bushes along its bank, broken only 
at one point by the group of shattered cottages that was to 
form, the next day, the 'Layes Bridge Redoubt' — at that 
time, like the dense undergrowth of the Bois du Biez to the 
south, unoccupied by the enemy.^ 

In view of the extraordinary opportunity that seemed to 
be presented, and the fact that the only enemy soldiers 
visible were occasional scattered groups that could be seen 

I. The 56th and 57th Infantry Regiment (German) diaries show one section 
of the reserve Machine-Gun Company arriving at the Layes Bridge at 2.45 p.m. 
but the two Jager Companies not getting into position in the Bois du Biez until 
6 p.m. 


running eastwards without rifles on the far side of the 
Mauquissart road, Lieutenant-Colonel Stephens at once sent 
a message back to Brigade H.Q^. asking for permission to 
proceed with the advance. The sending of this message, and 
the time taken awaiting a reply, imposed a most irritating 
delay on the troops who, by now, had the momentum of the 
advance thoroughly in their blood. The minutes slipped by 
into quarters, then halves, then whole hours. From their left 
and also away to the south on their extreme right came the 
intermittent rumble of artillery fire. But ahead was empti- 
ness, silence. The birds could be heard. After fetid months 
in winter dug-outs the air was clean and fresh. In little 
groups the men stood about chatting; some of them lit fires, 
others cleaned their rifles, still others dutifully improvised 
small shallow earthworks. Then, after 1 1 a.m., a body of 
men in khaki could be seen approaching from the direction 
of Neuve Chapelle. Were these, at last, reinforcements with 
which the spearhead could be pushed deeper? But no, it was 
simply a detachment of the 2nd Field Company R.E., with 
instructions 'to set to work constructing trenches and erect- 
ing wire'. On their heels came another message, from 
Divisional H.Q^., to the effect that 'no further advance was 

This occasion is of interest historically, as on the 
loth March 1915 was effected one of only three clean 
breaches in the German line throughout the war in the 
west.^ The complete failure to exploit it in a vigorous and 
urgent fashion was due to concern — which may well be felt 
to have been unwarranted — at two checks which had been 
administered on the extreme flanks of the break-through. 

The more serious of these had been in the north, at the 
left-hand corner of the enemy salient. Here there was a 

I. The others being the first day at Loos, 24th September 191 5, and the first 
day of the 'tank offensive' at Cambrai on 20th November 191 7. 


stretch of the enemy emplacement about 400 yards long, 
whose destruction had been allotted to the 59th and 8ist 
siege batteries of 6 in. guns. For reasons explained above, 
these guns never fired a shot and the worst that the Germans 
suffered was a spattering of fire from the divisional eighteen- 
pounders. This gave rise to a lot of smoke and noise but left 
the enemy position virtually undamaged, serving as little 
else than a warning gong that called the Germans to man 
their fire-step. 

This section was assaulted by the 2nd Middlesex under 
Colonel R. H. Hayes. They attacked in three successive 
waves, climbing out into a storm of point-blank fire, and 
some measure of their bravery may be taken from one 
sentence in the Official History: Tt was thought at first that 
the attack succeeded in reaching the German trenches as no 
one behind could see and not a man returned.' In fact every 
man, and there had been nearly a thousand, was killed. 

A further result of the failure here was that the 2nd Scot- 
tish Rifles, who had been put in on the right of the 
Middlesex, were subjected to a vicious enfilade fire that 
swept diagonally across No-Man's-Land from the inviolate 
section of the enemy breastwork. This caused them heavy 
casualties, particularly among the officers, of whom 90 per 
cent, including Lieutenant-Colonel Bliss, the commander, 
were killed while attempting to rally the men and wheel the 
attack southwards and round the enemy flank. On this set- 
back being reported to the Brigadier he decided to put in 
more infantry and ordered the Devons and the West York- 
shires from Brigade Reserve to follow round in the footsteps 
of the Scottish Rifles. This decision is perhaps less inexcusable 
than it seems at first sight. For at that time it was impossible 
to 'call up' artillery fire direct from the front line. The re- 
quest and accompanying report had to go back through 
Brigade to Divisional Headquarters for consideration there. 
Conscious as he was of the urgency of the situation — his 
headquarters were only 200 yards behind the front line — 
Brigadier-General Pinney felt that if extra infantry could do 


the job time would be saved. However, the renewed assault 
and the outflanking movement that was to accompany it 
took some time to get under way and, at the outset, suffered 
severely. Before they were properly developed, word came 
back from Divisional H.Q^. that a further bombardment of 
the enemy position was to be put in hand at 1 1 a.m. and in 
the meantime the infantry were to be withdrawn to a safe 
distance. On this news being reported back to 4th Corps, 
immediate instructions were sent out to all the leading 
formations to halt and 'consolidate', and this, of course, 
included the unopposed battalions of the Rifle Brigade and 
the Royal Irish Rifles in the centre. 

In holding up the whole of the offensive in their sector 
the 4th Corps were also influenced by the news from La 
Croix Marmuse (which was the H.Q^. of the Indian Corps 
to the south) . This told them of another check — less serious 
but leading to as great a muddle — on the extreme right of 
the breach. Here at zero hour the Gharwali Rifles had con- 
fused their direction on leaving the trenches and borne 
right-handed, running head-on into a section of the German 
defences that had been unprepared for assault by artillery 
bombardment. They had suffered heavily, losing all their 
British officers, but managed none the less to break into, and 
establish themselves across, the enemy position. In the centre 
the 2nd Leicestershire and 2 /3rd Ghurka had a compara- 
tively easy passage of No-Man's-Land but, owing to the 
loss of direction by the Gharwalis, there existed between 
these two forces a strip of enemy line, that had been on the 
fringe of the bombardment area and in which the defenders 
soon came to their senses and began to play fire up and 
down No-Man's-Land to their right and left. 

The moment that news of this check filtered back to 
Divisional and thence to Corps Headquarters orders were 
sent out for all forward units of the assault to stop in their 
tracks and 'dig in', while steps were taken to eliminate the 
offending section. It was intended to mount an infantry 
attack with the troops most immediately available, the Sea- 


forth Highlanders and the 3rd London, but, as wilJ be seen 
in the following chapter, this took an inordinately long time 
to get under way. And while it was awaited all forward 
movement of the Indian Corps, as in the 4th Corps to the 
north, was halted. 

All this time, although the movement of the leading for- 
mations had been stopped, the mass of the support battalions 
of both corps continued to press forward on their allotted 
timetable. Thus the effect of artificially retaining the cork 
in the neck of the bottle was an intense congestion in the 
rear areas. The slow traffic of the reinforcements travelled 
remorselessly up to the old front line, there petering out 
aimlessly among the shell-holes. Against it ran the first of 
the wounded; in their midst the engineers, cable layers, 
artillery observation officers and 'runners' attempted to 
carry out their tasks. All forty-eight battalions were on the 
move, but the fire-power of the phalanx was still limited to 
the strength of the troops deployed at its tip; the remainder 
were so much useless cannon-fodder and only the weakness 
of the enemy artillery at that time allowed what was, for all 
too many, an extra twenty-four hours of life. 

Neuve Chapelle ; the Passing Hours 

... by I o a.m. there were eleven battalions, roughly 
10,000 men, in that narrow space. They lay, sat or 
stood uselessly in the mud, packed like salmon in 
the bridge pool at Galway, waiting patiently to go 


THREE hours after the assault, then, the position was 
as follows: on the extreme left of the line — that is to 
say, at the northern end of the attack frontage — the 
infantry had been disengaged from the enemy positions in 
the region of the Moated Grange and were awaiting a 
second bombardment before going forward. 

To the south of this sector was a gap of about a quarter 
of a mile of flat country, traversed by a track. Signpost Lane, 
and the old enemy communication trench that ran along- 
side and bore the same name. On the far side, at a distance 
of about 200 yards, ran the sunken road that led straight 
into the rear of the line that was holding out against the re- 
mains of the Middlesex and the Scottish Rifles. The approach 
to this was unprotected other than by a few survivors of the 
enemy garrison who with one machine-gun were attempting 
to put the shattered group of cottages on the Mauquissart 
road into a state of readiness. But, unaccountably, there 
were no British troops in this area to take advantage of the 
gap — the nearest unit was the left flank of the Irish Rifles, 
to the east and south, on the line of the old 'Smith-Dorrien 
trench' and under instructions to 'dig in'. Further on down 
the line the Rifle Brigade, also completely unopposed at this 



time, was strung out with the ruins of Neuve Chapelle at its 
back. Then, exactly in the centre of the breach, was another 
gap, at the junction of the two corps on either side of 
Brewery Road, the lane that connected Neuve Chapelle 
with the Bois du Biez, and ran into the British front at right 

Below this line was the territory of the Indian Corps. 
Their attack frontage had been split into two by the devia- 
tion of the Gharwalis described in the preceding chapter. 
This had left an active section of the enemy line, again about 
400 yards long, separating the right flank from the units in 
the centre. These units, the Leicesters and the Ghurkas, were 
ranged along the Layes Brook and the back of the 'Smith- 
Dorrien trench' up to a point just below the edge of Brewery 
Lane. Like the centre formations of the 4th Corps to the 
north, these troops were quite unopposed. Yet they adopted 
strictly defensive positions and made no effort to push for- 
ward scouting parties or to establish a forward screen. Had 
they done so, they would have found the Bois du Biez, a 
perfect natural strongpoint commanding the south-east ap- 
proaches to Neuve Chapelle, to be unoccupied, and would 
have been able so to command the approaches as to prevent 
any reinforcement of the thin enemy front by the two Jager 
companies stationed in Halpegarde. 

But it seemed impossible for any further advance to take 
place, either as a result of direct orders (as in the case of 
the 4th Corps) or lack of initiative on the part of the com- 
manders on the spot (as in the Indian Corps), until the flanks 
had been 'cleared'. No trace of urgency is detectable, how- 
ever, in the direction of operations to achieve this purpose. 

In the south, the task of clearing the Germans out of the 
Port Arthur sahent had been entrusted to the Seaforth 
Highlanders, who were to attack down the trench Hne from 
the north while the 3rd London were to make another 
frontal attack. But the Seaforths were not in position until 
midday and then got so dispersed and confused in the course 
of their flanking march across the morning battlefield that 

NEUVE chapelle; the passing hours 6i 

the divisional commander was led to the assumption that 
they had already delivered the attack and had been held up. 
Accordingly a fresh barrage was put down on the northern 
sector of the offending position, arriving almost simul- 
taneously — it was by now 2.15 p.m. — with the Seaforths, 
who had to withdraw immediately to get out of the way of 
their own artillery. 

In the meantime the Germans at the northern end of the 
breach, in the region of the Moated Grange, had surrendered 
after a second bombardment and this flank was now com- 
pletely cleared. However, General Rawlinson was con- 
vinced that the small orchard, which lay just behind the 
enemy position with one wall running along the side of the 
sunken road, was also a strongly defended strongpoint. There 
was no evidence that this was so, nor had Intelligence re- 
ported it, but General Rawlinson none the less instructed 
General Davies (commanding the 8th Division) that the 
men must be halted and a formal assault on the orchard 
prepared. A message from the commander who was on the 
spot (Brigadier-General Carter), to the effect that no sign 
of the enemy was detectable at any point in the orchard, 
took over an hour to travel back to Lestrem and crossed 
one from Rawlinson to the effect that the bombardment had 
been set for 12.30 and the assault was to go in immediately 
afterwards. In view of the fact that the whole of corps artil- 
lery was shortly to be put down on the orchard, Brigadier- 
General Carter was understandably reluctant to reconnoitre 
there and another half-hour's delay ensued. Finally, after 
the bombardment was over, the 'assaulting' troops moved 
in, and found the orchard neither defended nor even 
prepared for defence.^ 

At last there was no excuse for further hesitation by the 
left wing. It is true that the complete absence of enemy 
forces which had characterized the greater part of the front 
that morning no longer applied, for small groups of machine- 
gunners and other scratch units had filtered up to occupy 

I. This episode should be borne in mind when reading the exchange of 
letters referred to on pp. 72-3. 


the skeleton outpost line which the enemy had been con- 
structing along the diagonal Mauquissart-Layes Bridge, but 
their numbers were very few — less than a hundred. On the 
other hand the British van had now become so swollen as to 
be highly unwieldy, even by a skilful commander with a 
clear idea of objectives and their priority. For the 'assault' 
on the orchard a number of units that had been accumu- 
lating just behind the line were pressed into action, so that 
the same length of front (i.e. that from Moated Grange to 
the left flank of the Irish Rifles on Signpost Lane) that had 
earlier been the province of the Middlesex and 3rd London 
was now, besides their remnants, crowded with the 2nd 
Wiltshire, the 2nd Green Howards, the 2nd Royal Scots 
Fusiliers, the 2nd Northamptonshire, the ist Worcestershire 
and the ist Sherwood Foresters. 

In spite of, or because of, these massive numbers the 
advance was hesitant and dilatory in the extreme: 

'It took a long time to get under way as the men were 
very thick on the ground and there was a good deal of 
sorting out to be done. We advanced in platoon columns of 
sections, preceded by a posse of men from other units bearing 
enormous light-coloured planks with which to cross the 
Layes Brook. These served to draw what fire was about. 

'When we had progressed a few hundred yards against 
very mediocre opposition, word was passed along the line 
to halt the advance. I gathered that something had gone 
wrong. Actually all it was was that the lines of advance of 
two brigades had crossed. We lay in the open under desul- 
tory, but increasing, shellfire, for some hours. Ahead the 
Moulin de Pietre was clearly visible among the trees [two 
days later the Grenadiers were to be practically wiped out 
attacking it] — at that time it was unoccupied.'^ 

In the meantime Colonel Stephens had been desperately 
sending messages back from his position in the centre, urging 
the need to advance immediately. No reply was made to 

I . Ewing, The Royal Scots. 

NEUVE chapelle; the passing hours 63 

these until 1.15 p.m. when the instructions read simply that 
the men were 'to be prepared to advance towards Aubers 
ridge'. And at 1.30 Rawlinson sent a further message, this 
time to the mass of troops at the northern end of the breach 
who were fumbling forward after occupying the orchard, to 
the effect that they were to 'reassemble as rapidly as possible 
with a view to a further advance'. The commanders on the spot 
can hardly be blamed for halting their men in perplexity at 
such instructions! 

Immediately after sending these orders, Rawlinson sent 
a summary of the situation to Haig at Merville. In this he 
stated that it was his intention to give the order to advance 
on Aubers at 2 p.m. Haig wired his approval, at the same 
time allotting still further troops to the 4th Corps from ist 
Army reserve. But when, five minutes later, Rawlinson 
telephoned to La Croix Marmuse and spoke to General 
Willcocks he was told that the Indian Corps were still not 
ready to move forward as the Germans holding out in the 
Port Arthur salient had not yet been eliminated. Rawlinson 
therefore postponed, indefinitely, the issue of his orders to 
advance on Aubers. There followed an hour of complete inac- 
tivity. Then, at 2.45 p.m., came an enquiry from Merville: 
General Haig wanted to know what was happening. 

Rawlinson replied that he was waiting for the Indian 
Corps; but when Haig's chief of staflf telephoned La Croix 
Marmuse Willcocks maintained that his position had been 
cleared up and that he was waiting for word from Raw- 
linson. The Meerut Division, he said, had already been 
ordered to attack the Bois du Biez. So once again the 4th 
Corps administrative machine creaked into motion. A 
message was sent back to the ist Army saying that 'they 
were about to issue orders for the advance', and Haig or- 
dered up yet more reserves — this time the 5th Cavalry 
Brigade. But the orders themselves^ envisaged an advance of 
absurdly limited scope — when the second objectives desig- 
nated were at a distance of less than a thousand yards. 

I. O.H., 1915, I, Appendix 17. 


Whether on account of a leisurely atmosphere generated 
by such unambitious instructions, or on account of the 
heightening congestion both behind and in the front line, 
it was a considerable time before these orders were put into 
execution. They were received at Divisional Headquarters 
just after 3 p.m. but had not percolated to the various 
brigades concerned until just before four o'clock. The attack 
had, in fact, been ordered for 3.30 and so was already out 
of phase with the artillery bombardment. The gunfire was 
rendered still less effective by the fact that none of the new 
targets could be clearly seen from the existing observation 
posts, nor had they been previously registered. The only 
effect of the haphazard and sporadic fall of shell that 
followed was to inflict casualties on some of the Devons who 
had pushed ahead of the line and on a group of ruined 
miners' cottages along the Mauquissart road. The Devons 
withdrew, and about half an hour later the Germans re- 
occupied these cottages and placed two machine-gun sections 
in the cellars. (They were never evicted, either on that day 
or those following, and used this point as one of the pivots 
of their northern line.) Further delays were caused by an 
absurdly protracted exchange of messages between Brigadier- 
General Carter and Brigadier-General Watts, each en- 
quiring whether the other was ready, their messages crossing 
in transit and leading to fresh and differently worded replies, 
and so forth. When, finally, the leading battalions moved 
forward across the Armentieres road and in the direction 
of the enemy it was after 5.30 p.m. 

By this time thick clouds that had been gathering during 
the afternoon had formed an unbroken ceiling over the 
sodden battle area. A grim twilight shrouded the un- 
familiar terrain, masking the little clumps of trees, the 
shattered farm buildings, the stunted willows that marked 
the course of innumerable swollen brooks. And all the while 
the German strength had been increasing so that as the 
British infantry groped their way forward in the dusk there 
could be heard once again, in increasing volume, that most 

NEUVE ghapelle; the passing hours 65 

haunting of all the sounds of trench warfare — the drawn-out 
clatter of a long burst on the machine-gun. 

Down on the Indian Corps front the renewed forward 
movement ordered by General Willcocks had got under 
way earlier, though still over half an hour later than or- 
dered. And, as dusk fell and the damp mist rose up from the 
dykes and water-meadows, the leading Ghurkas reached the 
western edge of the Bois du Biez. At the southern end of the 
wood the 2 /2nd Ghurka occupied the group of cottages, 
still burning from the morning's bombardment, known as 
'les Brulots', and sent scouts on into the wood; but at the 
northern end the i /9th came under intermittent fire from a 
German machine-gun in the cellar of one of the houses by 
the Layes Bridge and Lieutenant-Colonel Widdicombe kept 
back the greater part of the battalion behind the line of the 
Layes Brook until the 4th Corps should have cleared his left 
flank. (Ironic to think of these men hesitating at one machine- 
gun at that range when, less than eight weeks later, they 
were to be sent in repeatedly against a volume of fire twenty 
or thirty times stronger.) 

In the meantime the meagre German reserves were taking 
advantage of the failing light to enter the wood, undetected 
from the eastern side. So it was that at dusk the Bois grad- 
ually began to fill with stealthy little groups of infantry, 
stumbling and crackling in the unfamiliar undergrowth. 
The air was quiet. The two armies were still poised, like 
boxers in the first round, nervous at the lightest feint. The 
artillery was silent as the guns trundled to their new posi- 
tions; only to the north could be heard the intermittent 
chatter of the German machine-gun at Layes Bridge. As 
darkness deepened some rifle fire could be heard, and 
shouted orders, Hindustani mingling strangely with English 
and German. 

Then, just after 8 p.m., occurred one of those tricks of 


chance whose effect was to be ampHfied by the timid and 
hesitant leadership of the attackers. Ghurka scouts captured 
a corporal of the 56th Infantry Regiment, who stated under 
interrogation that two regiments (in reality only two battal- 
ions, but from different regiments) were collecting in the 
wood. When this was reported to Brigade Headquarters, 
they replied with instructions that all forces were to be with- 
drawn behind the Layes Brook for the night, and with them 
went any chance of reaping even a local success from the 
Neuve Chapelle offensive. 

During the hours of darkness the enemy worked with 
prodigious energy to improve his position: the newly arrived 
infantry dug a line of shallow breastwork to connect the 
machine-gun nests at Mauquissart and Layes Bridge and 
these two strongpoints were further improved and armed 
with additional machine-guns. The Germans also ran an 
outpost line in front of the Bois du Biez, with their main 
body of machine-gunners lying in the fringe of the trees so 
that here there was defence in depth. 

Haig's orders came through at dawn on the nth. They 
ordered an attack at 7 a.m. '. . . to begin at all points, and 
to be pressed vigorously, as from information received it 
appears that the enemy before us is in no great strength'. 
Although this estimate of the enemy strength was still true, 
relatively speaking, the task of the ist Army was now im- 
measurably more difficult. The element of surprise had gone, 
the infantry planning had been thrown out of mesh, and the 
weight of artillery support was now very much less. 

Fifteen minutes' bombardment was due to start at 6.45, 
but dull and misty conditions impeded observation and 
registration of targets. Many of the guns never ranged 
properly on to their targets and the new enemy breastwork, 
being as yet undetected, was not shelled at all. When the 
assault did get under way it followed the same principle of 
'congested development' as on the previous day, with 
brigades uncovering each other and diverging as they moved 
forward. But now the confusion latent in such practice was 

NEUVE chapelle; the passing hours 67 

aggravated by the much-increased enemy resistance. The 
Germans had brought up several fresh batteries in the night, 
and their bombardment began at 6.30 and lasted for over 
three hours, deluging Neuve Chapelle village and the whole 
rear area with shellfire and gravely impeding movement and 
communication. The 20th Brigade, which had come up 
fresh, the Grenadier Guards and Gordon Highlanders lead- 
ing, was badly knocked about as it passed through the 21st 
Brigade lines opposite Mauquissart and soon got lost among 
the maze of ditches that intersected the area. After edging 
forward through the smoke and under fire the whole time 
they halted some forty minutes later astride a deep drainage 
dyke mistakenly supposed to be the Layes Brook. When 
their position was reported back to Divisional H.Q^. it was 
taken to mean that a complete break-through of the German 
lines had been effected and the artillery was lifted. This had 
the effect of making any further advance impossible, yet 
owing to the telephone lines having been cut by the enemy 
bombardment the higher commanders remained in ignorance 
of the state of affairs in the firing line until the early after- 

Another factor contributing to the muddle was that, for 
some reason which has never been explained, there had 
been no relief of the 2nd Rifle Brigade, the force exactly in 
the centre of the wedge. They had, indeed, received no 
further orders since their instructions to 'consolidate' at 
12.45 P-m- the previous day, and now, instead of finding 
themselves opposite a vacuum, they were directly facing the 
strongest part of the enemy line — the 'Layes Bridge Re- 
doubt' — which had been reinforced with an additional 
twenty- two machine-guns during the night of loth 
March and the morning of the iith.^ Colonel Stephens, 
their commander, who had had his urgent pleas for per- 
mission to advance rejected or ignored the previous day, was 
now naturally reluctant to make any further movement 
forward as his men were short of food and ammunition as 

I. Regimental diary, III Jager Battalion. 


well as exhausted physically. But the weakness here did have 
the serious tactical effect of further emphasizing the division 
of the front between the 4th and the Indian Corps, the one 
to the north, the other to the south of the Layes Bridge, 
and each functioning only along the ponderous chain of 
command that led back to their respective Corps Head- 

Whether this failure to relieve 2nd Rifle Brigade arose 
from oversight, or from General Rawlinson's preference for 
independent action in a north-easterly direction, is not clear. 
The first mention of an intended relief is at 10.25 a^-^i. on 
the morning of the 1 1 th, but General Rawlinson was con- 
vinced that a German counter-attack would follow on his 
own failure to breach the Mauquissart road position that 
morning, and cancelled the relief order at the last moment, 
directing the reserves to support along the axis of the Pietre 
road — an area already desperately overcrowded and carry- 
ing a heavy traffic of wounded. 

In fact no German counter-attack did materialize in the 
forenoon — the enemy were still engaged in improving their 
defences and were certainly not sufficiently numerous to 
attempt an advance across the open. By 12. 19 p.m. Rawlinson 
seems to have realized this for he sent out orders for a fresh 
attack, and that 'the objectives should be captured without 
further delay'. 

However, the German artillery fire was increasing in 
severity the whole time, and all telephone communication 
with the front line had been cut. As a systematic diffusion of 
the new orders by runner would have meant delaying the 
attack for another two or three hours the unorthodox course 
was adopted of sending forward the support battalions (ist 
Worcester and Sherwood Foresters) with instructions to 'go 
straight in to the attack and carry the front-line troops 
forward with them'. They set off late, five minutes, in fact, 
after the supporting artillery fire had stopped, and suffered 
heavily in crossing the open ground that led up to the fore- 
most positions. On arrival they met with a flat refusal on 

Advancing infantrymen pinned down in their own wire. 

Looking north-east across No-Man's-Land in the sahent. It is a 
quiet day. The only discernible activity is a puff of smoke in the 
background from a 4.7 shell which has burst short of the enemy 


. ^^.4^^v3^^.^;.- f ir^t^ 

'% :^^, 


M > 


NEUVE chapelle; the passing hours 69 

the part of the officer in command to go into the attack a 
second time: 

*I received a note from the Worcestershire: "We have got 
to advance, will you give the order?" I answered: "No, it 
is a mere waste of life, impossible to get 20 yards, much 
less 200. The trenches have not been touched by the artillery. 
If artillery cannot touch them the only way is to advance from 
the right flank. A frontal attack will not get near them." '^ 

In spite of this the two leading companies of the Worcester- 
shire were ordered over the top by their own commander; 
here they were shot down almost at once. On the left the 
Northamptons made three attempts and some of their 
number managed to reach some dilapidated farm buildings 
in No-Man's-Land where, in due course, the majority of 
them were killed by enemy artillery fire. The fate of Colonel 
Prichard, after his courageous refusal to subject his men 
to further pointless slaughter, is not recorded. 

The position by nightfall on the nth, then, was simply 
that no further progress had been made but that casualties 
were rising hourly. Simple mathematics should have forced 
the decision to break off the engagement — the British ar- 
tillery was weaker and less accurate than on the day of the 
assault, the infantry were exhausted and in some confusion 
while the enemy was nearly five times as numerous as on 
the previous day. However, General Haig was determined 
to proceed with his plan. On the evening of the nth he 
visited the support area and '. . . gave personal orders for 
guns to be brought closer to the front in several places'. On 
return to his headquarters he issued orders for a 'simul- 
taneous advance' by the 4th and the Indian Gorps^ at 10.30 
a.m. the following day after a half-hour artillery bombard- 
ment — an almost verbatim repetition of his orders of the 
morning before. 

1. Message received at 24th Brigade H.Q,., 2.50 p.m., nth March 1915, 
from Colonel Prichard. 

2. O.H., 1915, I, Appendix 20. 


On this day, the 12th, ist Army was given a last chance 
— by the stupidity of their opponents. For at dawn the 
Germans had launched a counter-attack with sixteen 
battalions along the whole length of the line. This was 
easily repulsed, but no effort was made to follow up their 
confusion and the precious morning hours were allowed to 
slip by until the zero fixed on the previous day. Even this 
seemed too early, for at 9.20 a.m. Rawlinson telephoned to 
Haig^ and told him that 'unsatisfactory' artillery registration 
threatened to jeopardize the effectiveness of the bombard- 
ment and asked for zero to be put back two hours. Haig 
consented to this, but when, at 1 1.15, he was again told that 
the gunners were not ready he directed that 'forward move- 
ment should not be postponed any longer'. 

At 12.30, accordingly, the assault went in. Within two 
hours it had been brought to a dead stop, with gains meas- 
ured quite literally in yards and with many of the leading 
units virtually annihilated. But there were still, concentrated 
in the immediate neighbourhood of Neuve Chapelle village 
and the old German front line, large numbers of troops who, 
if not fresh, had not, at least, seen direct action, and Haig 
gave orders that these should now be committed. At 3.6 
p.m. he wired all units that 

'Information indicates that enemy on our front are much 
demoralized. Indian Corps and the 4th Corps will push 
through the barrage of fire regardless of loss, using reserves 
if required.' 

It is very hard to decide what was in Haig's mind at this 
time. Certainly the reports coming in to ist Army gave no 
indication of any other result than 'loss' of life. Along the 
whole front a new pattern was emerging, of fresh units 
moving forward to the line under fire, intermingling and 
hesitating briefly among the battalions already shattered in 
the morning's attacks and then, themselves, attacking piece- 
meal with the inevitable result. In spite of this patent 

I. O.H., 1915, I, 139. 


NEUVE chapelle; the passing hours 71 

collapse of the offensive momentum Haig seems to have 
thought that the answer was simply to throw in yet more 
troops. That afternoon he telephoned to Sir John French 
asking that the 2nd Cavalry Division should be placed at 
his disposal, which request was granted, and even as late as 
6.20 p.m. there is a record of a telephone conversation with 
G.H.Q^. in which Haig asked that 

'In view of the promising situation, the 46th Division from 
General Reserve might be used to relieve the two left 
Canadian Brigades . . . and that these should be massed 
with a view to breaking through opposite Rouges Bancs and 
co-operating with the advance of the 7th Division.' 

However, those nearer to the front were less optimistic. 
Both Rawlinson and Willcocks passed on the orders to 
attack 'regardless of loss' and to 'push forward at all costs', 
but as these instructions reached brigade level they began 
to meet with a similar reaction to that of Colonel Prichard 
the previous day — although it found a more discreet ex- 

In the Indian Corps the commander of the Ferozepore 
Brigade, Brigadier-General Egerton, ordered up from re- 
serve with instructions to take over command of the Sirhind 
and Jullundur Brigades also, and to mount an immediate 
attack against the Bois du Biez, first succeeded in postponing 
the time of the attack to 8.30 p.m., then, after consultation 
with the front-line commanders, telephoned a request for a 
further postponement until 10.30 p.m., 'at the same time 
giving his opinion that the attack ordered was not likely 
to succeed'.^ Thereupon General Willcocks cancelled the 
attack altogether, giving as his reason to Haig, who had 
turned up at Indian H.Q. at La Croix Marmuse a few 
minutes earlier to urge the corps to greater effort, '. . . that 
he did not consider it feasible to make an attack with such 
a large body of troops by night over unreconnoitred 
ground'. The cancellation of the Indian Corps attack must 

I. O.H. 1915, I, 144. 


by itself have sealed the fate of any offensive by 4th Corps 
to the north but the first orders cancelling their own attack 
did not start being received at the various brigade head- 
quarters until 1.25 a.m., and by that time a number of ill- 
co-ordinated forward movements had already got under way. 
The confusion was very great and heightened by the ex- 
haustion of the men who, after three days and nights con- 
tinuously under fire, had fallen asleep and 'could only be 
aroused by the use of force — a process made very lengthy 
by the fact that the battlefield was covered with British and 
German dead, who, in the dark, were indistinguishable from 
the sleepers'.^ 

In fact the offensive had run down completely, and by 
the morning this was plain, even at ist Army H.Q. Haig 
therefore issued orders that the leading units were to con- 
solidate their present positions and those in close support 
were to be taken back into reserve, with the intention of 
pushing in a second offensive within the next few days with 
two fresh divisions. 

Happily, this scheme did not come to fruition and, as 
the days passed, it came to be realized that ist Army had, 
although 'gaining valuable experience', suffered a defeat. 

As to the causes of the defeat, opinion was less than 
unanimous. Haig's diary for i6th March tells how 

'Sir H. Rawlinson came to see me about 8 a.m. and 
handed me a letter which he had written about Major- 
General Davies commanding 8th Division. He did not con- 
sider him a good commander of a division on the field of 
battle. In forwarding on the letter to G.H.Q^. I concurred 
in R.'s opinion, said he [Davies] had done well in preparing 
the attack, but that he had failed to advance from the 
village of Neuve Chapelle at once after its capture. I thought 
that he was unfit to command a division at this critical 
period of the operations in France but should be employed 
at home.' 

I. O.H., 1915, I, 149. 

NEUVE chapelle; the passing hours 73 

But something seems to have gone wrong with this attempt 
to make Davies the scapegoat because later: 

'. . . I received a letter from Rawlinson enclosing one 
from Davies. As a result of this, R. at once wrote that he 
took all responsibility for delaying the advance from the 
village until 3.30 p.m. This at once showed that Rawlinson 
felt himself to blame for the delay, not Davies. I am afraid 
that Rawlinson is unsatisfactory in this respect — loyalty to 
his subordinates, but he has many other valuable qualities. . . .' 

The background to this episode is not clear.'^ 
If relations between the British generals had temporarily 
deteriorated, those between the Expeditionary Force and 
the French showed a marked improvement — and for an 
ominous reason. 

'After the battle of Neuve Chapelle the correspondence 
between the French and British general staffs contained a 
fresh note of confidence and a more cordial desire on the 
French side for an effective co-operation in a combined 
offensive movement.'^ 

For more important than any other 'lesson' was the fact 
that the British commanders had shown their readiness to 
attack 'regardless of loss' even if loss was to be the only 

Prophetically, Charteris wrote: 

'I am afraid that England will have to accustom herself 
to far greater losses than those of Neuve Chapelle before we 
finally crush the German Army.'^ 

1. See p. 61 above, and footnote. 

2. O.H., 1915, I, 154. 

3. Charteris, G.H.Q,., 86. 


The horrible part of it is the slow lingering death of 
those who are gassed. I saw some hundred poor 
fellows laid out in the open, in the forecourt of a 
church, to give them all the air they could get, slowly 
drowning with water in their lungs — a most horrible 
sight, and the doctors quite powerless. 

CHARTERis, 28th April 1915 

WITH the coming of April the weather had improved. 
One glorious spring day followed another, drying 
out the scabs of war that lay upon the soil. On 
the 22nd temperatures were in the seventies. 

Throughout that morning the Germans had been putting 
heavy shell, 8 in. and 17 in. howitzers, on Ypres and the 
roads leading out of the town, but during the afternoon all 
was quiet. The sun shone gently on the flat countryside, 
glinting on the Beekes, the deep drainage ditches that mean- 
dered across the fields, still swollen with the rains of winter. 
Everywhere the green shoots of spring struggled upwards 
through the filth and squalor of battle. Right up to the 
support lines the land was still under cultivation. For four 
months the salient had seen no serious fighting. 

And then at 5 p.m. a new and furious bombardment of 
the town and the villages in front and to the north of it 
began. The enemy artillery, that had ranged accurately on 
to all these targets in the morning, now searched them out 
in crippling strength, making movement almost impossible. 
Soon those observers who were on points of vantage saw 



two greenish-yellow clouds creeping out across No-Man's- 
Land in the French sector, on either side of Langemarck. 
These clouds spread laterally, joined up and, moving 
before a light wind, became 'a bluish- white mist, such as 
is seen over water-meadows on a frosty night'. Rapid fire 
from the French 75 mm. field batteries could be heard, 
as could the rifle fire of the Germans who seemed to be 

The Canadian Division, on the right of the French, had 
only lately arrived and had as yet no proper communication 
with them, while the telephone lines to and from Corps 
Headquarters had all been cut by the bombardment. Thus 
it was impossible for anyone in the 2nd Army to form a clear 
picture of what was happening, but, as the minutes slipped 
past, people in the rear areas, and in particular the British 
reserves in billets around St. Jean and La Brique which 
were due south of the French positions, became aware of a 
peculiar smell and smarting of the eyes. Then, as the enemy 
artillery fire lifted, dense masses of fugitives came stumbling 
down the roads from the direction of Langemarck and 
Pilckem. Few of them could speak, none intelligibly, many 
were blue in the face, others collapsed choking by the side 
of the road. At the same time onlookers began to feel a 
tingling of the nose and throat, and a tightening of the chest. 
At this time the mob was composed about equally of Tirail- 
leurs, civilians and French African troops, but it soon be- 
came thicker and more disordered as the first of the French 
artillery teams and wagons attempted to drive their way 
through those on foot. 

The air was heavy with fear, with the stark panic of the 
unknown. The few British units in the path of the retreat, 
the 2nd Middlesex, 3rd Buffs, and two and a half companies 
of Canadian troops, began — with a coolness and discipline 
that seems almost incredible as we look back on it — to pre- 
pare their positions for defence. It was obvious that some- 
thing very serious had happened, although for about an 
hour the 'seventy-fives' of French divisional artillery could 

GAS 77 

still be heard. Then, at about 7 p.m,, these, too, suddenly 
and ominously ceased fire. 

Shortage of troops had restricted the weight of the German 
attack, but their hopes that surprise and the introduction of 
the new weapon would foster its chances were more than 
fulfilled. For this area held by the French was weakly gar- 
risoned. It had seemed that the deadlock was unbreakable 
here, and vigilance had relaxed. The trench-line faced north- 
east, running across very gently rolling country, from the 
Belgian positions along the Ypres-Dixmude Canal, in front 
of the town of Langemarck, up to the junction with the 
4th Corps of the British 2nd Army on the Poelcapelle-St. 
Julien road. A distance of four and a half miles, it was 
covered by two French divisions, the 87th Territorial and 
the 45th Algerian. They were generously backed by artillery 
and had the added advantage of enfilade fire from the 
Belgian positions that were almost at right angles to their 
own. But the quality of the troops was poor. An officer of 
the Leinsters, holding the line adjacent, noted: 

'These French native troops are a picturesque lot, in their 
blue tunics and baggy red trousers, but they are a con- 
founded nuisance to us. They keep up a rapid fire all night, 
so that the enemy retaliates and often catches our working 
parties in No-Man's-Land; then, in the daytime, they drift 
back to loot in the ruins of Ypres. They never bury their 
dead and the whole place stinks to heaven.'^ 

This was in fact the old 9th Corps area, that had proved 
such a source of trouble between Joffre and Sir John French 
earlier in the year. It is not impossible that G.Q^.G. were 
deliberately using it as a 'waste-paper basket' for second-rate 
units in the hope that trouble here would force the British 
into a de facto relief so as to safeguard the left flank of their 
own divisions in the salient, although the French cannot have 

I. F. C. Hitchcock, Stand To. 


expected that the 'trouble' would have been so sudden or 
so drastic. 

Nonetheless, it must be recorded that both the French and 
the British had ample warning of the Germans' intention 
to use gas. On the 20th March some prisoners had been 
captured on the south side of the salient and under interro- 
gation had given extensive details of the plan and of the 
placing of the cylinders in the trenches. The idea was re- 
garded as being so fantastic, though, that it took some time 
to filter up the chain of command, and in the meantime the 
division was posted to a new area. When, finally, it reached 
Army Headquarters, it was duly published in the bulletin; 
but this circulated only in the Artois district, over 1 00 miles 
away. Then, a week before the attack, a deserter surrendered 
in the exact area that was to be attacked, near Langemarck, 
and supported his evidence by showing one of the crude 
respirators with which the German infantry there had al- 
ready been issued. The French divisional commander was 
gravely impressed, but the corps commander, Balfourier, 
dismissed the concept as 'absurd' and administered a sharp 
rebuke at the manner in which the usual channels had been 
bypassed to warn the British and French units on either 
side.^ Then, three days later, the Belgians captured further 
evidence of the enemy design, and again the information 
was not taken seriously above brigade level. 

All these warnings might just as well have never been given 
for the heed that was paid them. The higher the rank the 
more ludicrous did the idea seem, the British commanders 
taking their line from Haig who, a fortnight previously, had 
given short shrift to a visitor whose mind was working on 
these lines: 

'Lord Dundonald arrived from England. He is studying 
the conditions of War in the hopes of being able to apply to 
modern conditions an invention of his great-grandfather for 

I . Advance warning of the gas attack, received at French and Belgian H.Q,., 
is given in greater detail in Appendix 2. 

GAS 79 

driving a garrison out of a fort by using sulphur fumes. I 
asked him how he arranged to have a favourable wind!' 

And now the front, from the canal to the Canadian flank, 
was broken, completely shattered. As dusk fell, the sound 
of rifle fire died away from the battlefield as the last pockets 
of resistance collapsed. The field-guns, too, were silent; 
those of the French had been overrun and the German 
infantry had long since outstripped their own. 

'Where was the firing line? Nobody seemed to know. All 
around us there was a curious silence, but in the background 
you could hear the pounding of the "Jack Johnsons" [Ger- 
man 5*9 in.] on the town and the roads out. It was impossible 
to tell friend from foe ana the place was still filled with little 
bands of French native troops. They were without officers 
and completely disorganized, some of them were in a very 
bad way and coughing up quantities of blood and pus. . . .' 

Had the Germans realized the probable scope of their 
success there seems every likelihood that they could have 
pressed right through to the Menin Gate and taken the 
whole of the British force in the salient in a noose. For by 
the time that darkness had enveloped the battlefield there 
were no French troops left fighting east of the canal and the 
eight-thousand-yard gap was covered by a mere ten British 
and Canadian battalions, many of them under strength, 
without co-ordination, leadership, proper communication 
or prepared positions of any kind. 

However, the enemy plan, limited by the absence of 
reserves, was for no more than an effective salient cut, that 
would disrupt the Allied plans for a spring offensive and, at 
best, compel the evacuation of the Ypres salient. To this end 
the German infantry, after advancing to a depth of about 
two and a half miles, halted at a shallow though significant 
rise in the ground, known as Mauser Ridge, that ran parallel 
with the old front. Here they began to dig in, placing their 
main line on the reverse slope and running a string of out- 


posts on the forward side, with the flank resting in 'Kit- 
chener's Wood', a dense copse that had, up until that 
morning, concealed a number of French and Canadian field 

The British were strongest on the extreme right of the 
breach where the Canadians were still occupying their 
original positions. Here, although their flank was 'in the air', 
the Canadians had sufficient troops in divisional reserve to 
improvise a throwback line along the Poelcapelle-St. Julien 
road during the night, although the narrow triangle formed 
thereby must obviously prove untenable over a long period. 
However, at about 8 p.m. a liaison officer arrived at the 
headquarters of the Canadian Division with the news that 
the French 45th Division was going to counter-attack during 
the night against the other side of the gap and pleading for 
'urgent and immediate' support. 

In fact it was quite out of the question for any offensive 
operation to be mounted by the French 45th Division, which 
had virtually been destroyed as a formation and had lost all 
its artillery. However, this fact could not, on the scanty 
information available at the time, be appreciated at 
Canadian H.Q., and it was felt that the enemy might be 
compelled to withdraw by concerted pressure on the two 
sides of the breach. The 3rd Canadian Brigade was accord- 
ingly ordered to counter-attack against 'Kitchener's Wood' 
'and then press on east of Pilckem' as soon as possible. 

But although these orders were issued at 9.40, it was not 
until past midnight that the reserves were in position. Dark- 
ness and the unfamiliarity of the troops with the terrain and 
their task hampered the operation from the outset. Nor was 
the exact locality of the Germans known, so that the 
Canadians, when they finally got under way, had to advance 
virtually 'blind' towards the dark mass of 'Kitchener's Wood' 
some half-mile distant in the failing moonlight. At 300 yards 
the enemy opened fire and the Canadians broke into a run, 
their bayonets glinting in the green light of the phosphorus 
flares. Within minutes, although nearly half their number 

GAS 8l 

had been killed or wounded, they had fought their way deep 
into the wood and the enemy was in flight. By 2 a.m. they 
had reached its centre where stood the four sad guns of the 
2nd London heavy battery, their long barrels still pointing 
impotently at the now retreating Germans. 

But this success, bought at a high price in lives, was both 
local and short-lived. The French on the left flank had not 
moved, nor made any effort to distract the enemy. In the 
centre the British troops were still in too confused a state to 
have had any prospects of a successful night attack and, 
likewise, had made no demonstration. The Germans in 
'Kitchener's Wood' had been little more than an outpost line 
and, on their withdrawal being signalled, the 5-9s began 
systematically 'squaring-over' the whole region with a hard 
insistent bombardment that started at dawn and continued 
with mounting intensity throughout the following morning. 

With the exception of this gallant but ill-conceived sally 
the Allies had made no direct move against the enemy during 
the night, although there was so much confused marching 
and counter-marching as a result of contradictory orders 
that the majority of the men were thoroughly exhausted by 
daybreak. These conflicting instructions were issued by a 
variety of officers, each of whom supposed himself to be in 
complete charge, as the motley collection of units in the 'line' 
were each independent, having no proper command struc- 
ture, or only one that ran back to some brigade and 
divisional headquarters outside the threatened area. For 
example, the Buffs and the Middlesex had been resting in 
reserve for the 28th Division, itself in position in the extreme 
eastern tip of the salient. At the very moment (one o'clock 
on the morning of the 23rd) that they received instructions 
to move north, the Germans launched a fierce local attack 
on the 28th Division front and on the neighbouring 27th 
Division that faced south. Orders were immediately sent out 
to the reserves of both these divisions to 'hold themselves in 
readiness to move up to the [south-eastern] line', and they 
had to turn about — no easy task in the darkness, when 


'. . . every civilian left in the salient seemed bent on getting 
out as soon as possible, usually pushing a handcart and 
driving his four best beasts'. 

Telephone communication was almost impossible as the 
enemy artillery fire had severed all the direct lines, and the 
liaison officers had to gallop their horses across the darkened, 
torn-up country, the main roads being impassable under the 
constant shellfire. None the less, by about 3 a.m. a motley 
collection of about 4,000 men^ had been assembled, under 
the nominal command of Colonel A. D. Geddes of the Buffs, 
with orders to make a counter-attack 'as soon after dawn as 
was practicable'; and by 5.30 a.m. these men — the majority 
of whom had not eaten since midday of the 22nd — were de- 
ployed in positions for advancing. The extreme short notice 
at which these dispositions had to be made, allied to the 
other factors making for confusion related above, and the 
commanders' ignorance of the exact position of the enemy, 
had unfortunate consequences. 

The British infantry were halted and strung out in the 
long lines of their attack formation at a considerable distance 
from, and out of sight of, the enemy. The Germans were dug 
in along Mauser Ridge. Running parallel with this, and to 
the south of it, was another gentle rise — Hill Top Ridge. The 
attacking infantry were drawn up short of the crest and were 
then sent off at irregular intervals 'in the general direction 
of the enemy', and without any pretence of serious artillery 
support. The moment that they breasted Hill Top Ridge 
they came under heavy fire which played over them all the 
time that they were descending the reverse slope and crossing 
the declivity between the two ridges (that was christened 
'Golne Valley' later in the war). Here their condition was 
worsened by fierce enfilade fire from machine-guns dug in 
during the night on a spur of the Boesinghe Ridge that the 
French had mistakenly reported as still being in their own 
possession. Thus the attack never succeeded in coming to 

I . Consisting of battalions of 2nd Buffs, 3rd Middlesex, 5th King's Own, and 
1st York & Lancaster. 

GAS 83 

grips with the Germans, ahhough the survivors managed to 
crawl up to within a few hundred feet of the enemy, where 
they scraped and improvised what cover they could, remain- 
ing pinned down, without water or other rations, until 

While this attack was in progress Sir John French drove 
over to see Foch at Cassel. Foch, as usual, was grossly 
optimistic. Crises had a stimulating effect on the French 
general and seemed to generate in him a kind of excitable 
euphoria. Reminiscing after the war he said: 

'One knew nothing, one could know nothing, and if one 
waited till the next day it meant a break-through. I sent 
Desticker to Elverdinghe. He "legged" it all night long. 
During this time Weygand and I at Cassel were warning 
the divisions at Arras — they arrived at the rate of one a 
day — the gap was closed!'^ 

But, as his biographer drily comments, 'These remarks 
show the fallibility of memory, if they also illustrate Foch's 
peculiarly strong tendency to assume that the facts of a 
situation coincided with his conception of it.' For the pre- 
vention of a break-through was primarily due to the fact 
that the Germans were not aiming at one, and so did not 
exploit the gap actually made. Only three French divisions 
were brought from Artois and the first did not arrive on the 
battlefield until the 25th, so that the Germans had time to 
consolidate their hold. 

In point of fact Foch's aim was not merely to 'close the 
gap', but to regain lost ground. For this purpose the reserves 
available to the Allies at that time were quite inadequate, 
yet so strong was Foch's personality, and so vacillating that 
of Sir John French, that the latter found himself leaving 
Cassel at midday on the 23rd committed to a course of 

I. Liddell Hart, Foch, p. 177. 


action exactly opposite to that which he had proposed. Sir 
John had gone over to explain to Foch that the situation of 
the British troops in the salient was now so precarious that 
steps in preparation for their withdrawal would, in the 
absence of an immediate and decisive French counter-offen- 
sive, have to be taken immediately. There is no record of 
the exchanges at this interview but the outcome was that 
French agreed to shoulder the main weight of the fighting, 
and counter-attacking, on the strength of some vague 
promises by Foch which a proper scrutiny of the Allied dis- 
positions in the area would have shown to be impossible of 

By the time that French got back to his headquarters all 
the British reserves^ in the area had been brought forward 
and, in spite of the morning expenditure, strength on the 
new 'front' was greater than at any time previously. When 
the Commander-in-Chief's orders for a second counter- 
attack were received at 5th Corps H.Q., General Plumer 
replied that it should go in as soon as possible as 'the longer 
that the Germans are given to entrench, the more difficult 
it is going to be to dislodge them'. To this end it was decided 
to put in the whole of the 1 3th Brigade in the gap on the 
left flank, i.e. at the end of the shortest direct line of their 
forced march from billets to the front. 

The men had had a meal earlier in the day and observers 
who watched them filing across the Brielen Bridge described 
their condition as 'cheery, but physically very tired'. The 
attack to which they were committed never had any prospect 
of success. It was directed, like that of the morning, against 
Mauser Ridge, but this time from west-south-west. Once 
again, though, the infantry had to advance in broad day- 
light over ground that was very open, broken only by a few 
widely separated hedges which sloped gently up, over a 
distance of about half a mile, towards the enemy positions. 

I. These consisted of the ist Cavalry Division (dismounted) and 13th 
Brigade of the 5th Division under Brigadier-General Wanless O'Gowan, 
consisting of 2nd K.O.S.B., ist R. West Kent, 2nd Duke of Wellingtons, 2nd 
K.O.Y.L.I. and gth London. 

GAS 85 

And once again this had to be done without any co-opera- 
tion from the artillery. 

The attack was originally timed for 3 p.m., but owing to 
the difficulty of getting the men into position by then — 
much less making even the most cursory reconnaissance — 
zero had been postponed an hour. Unfortunately the 
gunners, scattered as they were, coming under different 
commands and being fed from different telephone ex- 
changes, were not informed of the change. As a result of 
this they opened fire for a short time at 2.45 and then for an 
hour the assembly of the attacking troops proceeded in 
almost complete silence. 

The men's boots squelched in the mud, but they were too 
exhausted to speak, although onlookers were eager with 
accounts of the horrifying effects of the poison. There had 
been no time to put proper protective measures in hand, but 
instructions had been issued 'that the troops should hold 
wetted handkerchiefs or cloths over their mouths; if possible 
these should be dipped in a solution of bicarbonate of soda'. ^ 
As the men trudged up to the line they passed the crowded 
dressing stations. In many cases casualties from the gas were 
lying outside by the roadside where they had been moved 
to pass their last hours in the fresh air, and to make room 
for the wounded from the morning attack. 

'The whole countryside is yellow — the battlefield is fear- 
ful; a curious sour, heavy, penetrating smell of dead bodies 
strikes one. . . . Bodies of cows and pigs lie, half decayed; 
splintered trees, the stumps of avenues; shell-crater after 
shell-crater on the roads and in the fields.'^ 

Finally at 4.25 p.m., an hour and a half late, the men pre- 
pared to leave this region of ill-omen. Each battalion had 
been allotted 500 yards of front and was organized in six lines. 
The attack was to take place on the same ground as that 
morning, and the result was no different. As they entered 

1. O.H., 1915, I, 195. 

2. R. G. Binding, Aiis den Kriege, pp. 89-91. 


the enemy sights the first two lines were cut down where 
they stood, but the darkening smoke and a dust cloud gave 
some protection to those that followed and they gradually 
worked their way forward up the slope, picking up the sur- 
vivors of the morning attack in some places, and got as far 
as the enemy outpost line before being brought to a stand- 
still. On the extreme right the Canadians, following almost 
exactly in the tracks of the morning assault, did manage to 
close with the enemy and regain some of the farms and out- 
buildings that had been fortified in advance of the main 
German line, but, by 7 p.m., as dusk fell, all movement came 
to an end. Over 3,000 men had fallen without ever having 
come to grips with the Germans. In the whole of the 13th 
Brigade there was now not one officer or one man surviving 
who had fought the previous autumn at Mons or Le Gateau.^ 

The evening was cloudy, without a moon, and by 10 p.m. 
the survivors had been pulled back to a line running along 
the trough of 'Colne Valley'. Organization of this ill-chosen 
position proceeded only with great difficulty owing to the 
confusion and mix-up of units and the loss of so many officers; 
the ground was completely water-logged so that it was im- 
possible to dig for cover; and the distribution of rations was 
scanty and haphazard so that many of the men were now 
twenty-four hours without food. The verdict of the Official 
History on the whole operation could hardly be more damn- 
ing — no ground was gained that could not have been secured, 
probably without any casualties, by a simple advance after 
dark, to which the openness of the country lent itself. 

The co-operation from the French troops on the west side 
of the canal, which Foch had promised, never materialized. 
In fact, Sir John French's own doubts seem to have returned 
even before he got back from Cassel to his own H.Q^., for on 
arrival there he had ordered up the whole of the 2nd Army 
reserve^ to the 4th Corps area with the intention of mounting 

1. O.H., 1915, II, 207. 

2. These consisted of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division, the loth and nth 
Brigades of the 4th Division and the Lahore Division of the Indian Corps, 
from rest billets at Bailleul and M6rville. 

GAS 87 

a heavier counter-blow as soon as his dispositions would 
permit it. One cannot avoid the conviction that the doubts 
so evidently felt by the High Command about the results of 
these unco-ordinated and ill-prepared attacks make their 
ordering still less excusable. 

It is true that Foch, after his meeting with French, went 
to see Putz to urge him to greater efforts. But Putz seems to 
have been as little impressed at this meeting as he had been 
by Foch's unrealistic instructions of the previous day. Putz 
was of stronger fibre than Sir John French and, owing 
responsibility only to the King of the Belgians, was less sus- 
ceptible to political pressure. He had seen the front im- 
perilled by the collapse and flight of two French divisions 
and felt little inclined to sacrifice the lives of the few re- 
maining Belgian troops in hasty counter-attacks before 
French reinforcements arrived. Consequently Foch could 
get no specific assurances. None the less on the way back he 
called on French and told him Putz's hand was being 'mas- 
sively strengthened' — although knowing that the sum total of 
these reinforcements was two infantry battalions and three 
batteries from the coast defences at Nieuport. 

It was certainly unfortunate that the crisis had arisen at 
the exact point where the authority of the three commanders 
— Foch, Putz and French — overlapped. The result was that 
considerations of personal vanity and prestige led to much 
bloodshed that might have been avoided by a dispassionate 
consideration of the military principles involved. 

The Dismissal of Smith-Dorrien 

S-D has been very unwise and tactless in his deaUngs 
with General Putz. His messages are all wordy — his 
pessimistic attitude has the worst effect on his com- 

Diary of Sir John French, 26th April 19 15 

SUBORDINATE Only to Sir John French, the command of 
the British troops in this area was in the hands of Sir 
Horace Smith-Dorrien. Smith-Dorrien was a clever, 
sensitive and rational man. No other officer of equivalent 
seniority — with the possible exception of Sir Ian Hamilton — 
was his equal intellectually, and none could rival his ability 
in handling large numbers of men with economy and 
decision. The Expeditionary Force itself had been forged 
under his practical and progressive regime at Aldershot 
where he was C.-in-G. from 1907 until 191 2, and had been 
saved from extinction by his decision to stand and fight at 
Le Gateau in August of 1914.^ 

But, throughout the fighting that followed the gas attack, 
Smith-Dorrien's ability was hamstrung by the repeated 
interference of French, who was himself subject to constant 
and contradictory pressure from Foch. Foch's attitude — 
alternately excitable and wooden — had a disastrous effect 
on the nervous and indecisive British Gommander-in-Ghief. 
At a time such as this a cool head and a firm grasp of basic 
military principles were essential. But Sir John's chief 
concern was twofold: not to lose 'face' with the French; and 
to avoid any withdrawal which would show significantly on 

I. See p. 48, fn. 



the small-scale maps published every morning in The Times. 
The acquisition of even the shallowest strips of ground had 
proved so costly a procedure that it was felt at the British 
Headquarters, as at the French, that the reverse must be 
true, namely that no price was too high to avoid 'yielding' 
territory. The concepts of flexibility and manoeuvre in 
defence — that were to be so effectively put into practice by 
the Germans in the spring of 191 7 — had, on the Allied side 
at least, already been choked in the mud. Thus it comes as 
no surprise to find that, in spite of the day's losses, the con- 
fused and demoralized condition of many of the units, the 
extreme tactical vulnerability of their position and the com- 
plete absence of any effective protection against the new 
enemy weapon — in spite of all these things Sir John French 
was still thinking in terms of the offensive. By now it was 
plain that Putz was not going to lift a finger to remedy the 
situation, and as much was realized at G.H.Q.; but without 
moderating, it seemed, their views as to the proper manner 
to conduct the battle. In a message to Smith-Dorrien, timed 
9.30 on the morning of the 24th, Robertson admitted that 
'evidently not much reliance can be placed on the two 
French divisions on your left', but continued: 'The Chief 
thinks that vigorous action E. of the Canal will be the best 
means of checking the enemy's advance.'^ 

However, hours before this message was sent, the Germans 
had forestalled the British plans by a resumption of their own 
forward movement. They selected first the most vulnerable 
region, the sharp apex of the Canadian line at the eastern 
end of the breach, bombarding it mercilessly from 3 a.m. 
until 4.15, and then releasing gas. Sentries at first light saw 
the poison cloud coming on rapidly like a greenish fog bank, 
fifteen feet high, carried on the dawn breeze. The men had 
no protection but handkerchiefs, towels or cotton bandoliers 
wetted with water or any other liquid available in the 
trenches and little time to adapt even these pathetic devices, 
yet they clambered up and on to the parapet from where 

1. O.H., 1915, II, Appendix 22. 


they continued to fire into the advancing enemy until, as 
happened to over three-quartersof them, they were overcome 
by the gas. It is impossible to exaggerate the bravery of these 
Canadians, who, in their defiance of an almost certain and 
particularly ugly death, held on to these critical positions at 
the upper hinge of the Allied line. Gradually, as more and 
more of their number succumbed to the gas and fell into the 
pit of the trench, where the vapour lay strongest, their fire 
slackened. But the enemy had been so surprised at meeting 
any resistance at all after discharge that the mass of his 
attack had veered westwards and southwards into the open 
country below 'Kitchener's Wood', and he contented him- 
self with an intermittent bombardment of the Canadian 
positions for the rest of the day. 

Here was yet one more example of the gallantry of indi- 
vidual soldiers saving the commanders from the eflfects that 
should have followed on their own folly. For this whole, 
perilously balanced, triangle should have been evacuated 
during the lull of the 23rd, and the density of troops here 
redistributed along the crumbling face of the main breach. 
Had the German attack succeeded, as well it deserved to, the 
28th Division line as far south as Polygon Wood would un- 
doubtedly have collapsed with disastrous consequences. As 
it was, with the exception of a small inroad in the eastern 
end of the Canadian line, the enemy column was diverted 
across the sights of the defenders over the Keerselare cross- 
roads and up the valley of the Steenbeek towards St. Julien, 
where it ran up against a scratch force of Highlanders, Buffs 
and some Canadian remnants,^ supported by some mixed 
batteries of field artillery firing over open sights, and here it 
was temporarily checked. 

By 5 a.m. wounded and gassed men were streaming back 
into the centre of the Salient, where the confusion was, if 
anything, worse than that of the evening of the 22nd. Al- 
though Brigade Headquarters had information of the new 

I. Chiefly men from the 13th, 7th, 3rd, and 2nd Battalions and the survivors 
of the original night attack on 'Kitchener's Wood'. 


attack at 4.30 a.m. and was already calling urgently for 
reinforcements, the 4th Corps was not told before a message 
sent at 7.20 but not received until 7.40. Thereafter there was 
no further news for General Plumer until 11.33, when a 
message came reporting the new Canadian line in the 
Gravenstafel-St, Julien area. Thus it was that the whole 
burden of conducting the fighting, which was now raging at 
close quarters along the entire front, fell on the battalion 
commanders themselves, none of whom could have any idea 
of the general position. It is plain from a reading of the 
Official History that the command structure, which cannot 
ever be said to have been properly established in the threat- 
ened area, had now disintegrated. The result was a series 
of local, limited, last-minute withdrawals punctuated by 
counter-attacks carried out with great bravery but little 
regard for casualties or relation to the general situation. 

All this confusion and loss of life is directly attributable to 
French's insistence on 'vigorously checking', i.e. maintaining 
close and aggressive contact with, the enemy. Permission to 
step back and regroup on the 23rd, when the Germans had 
halted, would have enabled Smith-Dorrien to reassert his 
control over the 4th Corps without which centralized direc- 
tion any serious counter-blow was doomed to failure. 
French's insistence on 'directing' the battle personally meant 
that with four generals (French, Plumer, Alderson and 
Smith-Dorrien) attempting to control some five brigades 
the command set-up was as confused at the staflf level as it was 
in the field. 

Students who have noted the C.-in-C.'s complaint, re- 
garding Smith-Dorrien's 'wordy' messages, set out at the 
start of the chapter, may well consider the following example 
of French's own instructions to his army commander as 
being a good example of a text at the same time ambiguous, 
prolix, and obscure: 

'The Chief does not want you to give up any ground if it 
can be helped, but if pressure from the north becomes such 


that the 28th Division ought to fall back from its line, then of 
course it must fall back, for such distance as circumstances 
necessitate. But we hope the necessity will not arise. The 
Germans must be a bit tired by now, and they are numeri- 
cally inferior to us as far as we can judge. In fact there seems 
no doubt about it.' (The italics are those of Sir John French.) 

In this way the whole of the 24th April passed in a welter 
of local counter-attacks and confused hand-to-hand fighting, 
with the enemy gradually pressing forward — largely owing 
to his co-ordinated direction and superior artillery support 
— into positions from which he successively levered off larger 
slices of the British line. The most serious inroad made was 
along the axis of the Poelcapelle-Wieltje-Ypres road to- 
wards St. Julien, which the Germans occupied during the 
afternoon. This had the effect of gravely accentuating the 
Canadian salient to the north-east, which had already been 
badly split by a gradual deepening and widening of the 
small breach made there by the dawn attack. The Canadians 
were thus forced to evacuate their positions, which they had 
striven so heroically to hold against the gas attack that 
morning, and to fall back under fire to a scattered and un- 
connected series of trenches across the neck of their old 
salient — the remains of an old French redoubt known as 
'Locality C. 

Almost unbelievably, at the end of this day of carnage. 
Sir John French persisted in ordering the counter-attack 
originally planned for the morning. He had now collected, 
in the vicinity of Ypres or less than a night's march away, 
nearly 12,000 fresh troops, consisting of the loth Brigade 
(Brigadier-General Hull), the 150th Brigade, and six other 
battalions scraped up from the reserves of other units in the 
2nd Army. Smith-Dorrien had wished to use these troops to 
shore up the line between the canal and the Poelcapelle 
road, which was still very thin, being held only by the 
shattered remnants of the 1 3th Brigade and those units that 
had taken part in the unsuccessful counter-attacks of the 


preceding days, but both Plumer and Alderson supported 
French, and he was over-ruled. 

Accordingly at 8 p.m. that evening Brigadier-General 
Hull, whose men had not yet crossed over the canal, received 
orders to mount an attack against the enemy positions in St. 
Julien and 'Kitchener's Wood' at 3.30 a.m. that same night, 
superseding his previous instructions which had been to 
relieve the survivors of O'Gowan's and Geddes' men behind 
Hill-top Ridge, and entailing a four-mile night march across 
unknown^ country devastated by fire. 

The men had a terrible struggle crossing the torn-up 
ground. Their progress was at right angles to the various 
tracks that pivoted out of Ypres like the spokes of a wheel, 
and the night was pitch dark with pouring rain; they had to 
make endless detours to avoid the burning groups of houses 
that stood round every cross-roads and drew fire all through 
the night; the soil was water-logged — deep mud clung to the 
boots and clothing; constantly, in the darkness, the men 
stumbled on mounds of rotting flesh — pigs, mules, cows, 
sometimes the bodies of French-African troops that had lain 
there for weeks. The whole area was intersected by old trench 
lines, many of them dating from the previous autumn and 
now fused with the broken-up drainage ditches to form long 
stagnant dykes up to eight feet deep. Everywhere were dis- 
carded pieces of equipment, empty shell-cases, blown-up 
G-wagons, coils of barbed wire and the small white wooden 
crosses that marked the 'combat' graves. Before setting off, 
Hull had sent a note to Alderson's H.Q. asking for post- 
ponement of zero from 3.30 until 5.30; but, just as in the 
attack of the 23rd, the news of the postponement was not 
conveyed to the artillery. So, between 2.45 and 3.15, the 
men, still stumbling patiently forward to get into position, 
heard the precious ammunition that was to have supported 
their assault being fired blindly off into the night. 

I . When the brigade arrived at Brielen Bridge the guides who were to bring 
it across-country to the attack positions were not there, and after waiting for 
an hour the men set off" under the directions of two officers from the 149th 
Brigade who had appeared there 'by mistake'. 


Finally, as the sun rose behind the stumps of 'Kitchener's 
Wood', the loth Brigade advanced. Once again, like the 
13th Brigade two days before, they were being called upon 
to attempt the impossible. Without adequate artillery pre- 
paration or support, on ground unknown and unrecon- 
noitred, they were being sent off to turn the enemy machine- 
gunners out of a position which had ready-made cover in 
ruined houses and thickets, and splendid artillery observation 
from higher ground behind. None the less, the brigade 
'advanced in faultless order, worthy of the traditions of its 
home at Shorncliffe',^ but 'they were mown down, like corn, 
the dead lying in rows where they had fallen'. Some of the 
men got to within a hundred yards of St. Julien before dying. 
The brigade was virtually annihilated, losing 73 officers and 
2,346 other ranks in under two hours. 

That evening Smith-Dorrien drove to Sir John French's 
headquarters at Hazebrouck in an effort to dissuade him 
from ordering any more attacks. He pointed out that the 
French contribution was quite negligible, and that the 
exhausted condition of the troops and the confusion of 
intermingled and depleted units made some sort of a pause 
for reorganization imperative.^ Sir John, however, was 
steadfast in his contention that 'he did not wish any ground 
given up if it could possibly be avoided', and the situation 
should be 'cleared up', and the area 'quieted down', as soon 
as possible.^ The French were making 'a big effort' on the 
following day, and it was his wish to support them to the 

1. O.H., 1915, I.22I 

2. After the defeat of Hull's attack the command set-up was reorganized as 
follows. All troops to the east of the St. Julien-Wieltje road were placed under 
the command of General Bulfin (28th Division), those to the west up to the 
canal under General Alderson with directions '. . . to reorganize the command, 
putting battalions under their proper Brigadiers if possible, or at any rate under 
a definite General'. O.H., 1915, I, 248. 

3. O.H., 1915, II, 16. 


As Smith-Dorrien drove back to his H.Q^. he passed near 
the huts at Ouderdom where the Lahore Division, the last 
major unit left in reserve, was arriving, as yet ignorant of the 
fact that it was to be committed to battle the following day. 
As the horses were watered and fed, little groups of Sikhs 
and Pathans — they had only arrived a fortnight ago from 
Hong Kong — stood about miserably in the mud. 

That evening copies of Putz's orders arrived at 2nd Army 
H.Q_. and these showed that the French attack was, in fact, 
to carry very much less weight than they had originally 
stated. Only one new division, less a brigade, was to be put 
in, together with those troops already in the line. Hardly had 
this news arrived than a fresh message came saying that zero 
was to be put forward from 5 p.m. to 2 p.m. Smith-Dorrien 
immediately telephoned Sir John and protested that the 
French attack was not only too light to have any effect but 
was being put in at a time which would once again involve 
the British forces taking part in an all-night march to their 
battle stations. However, no regard was paid to these points 
and he was instructed to proceed as arranged. 

The task of the Lahore Division was exactly the same as 
that set the men of Geddes' force on the 23rd — namely a 
frontal attack against the German positions on Mauser 
Ridge. Although the attacking troops were more numerous 
this did not begin to balance the fact that the enemy had 
enjoyed an extra three days and nights in which to improve 
his defences. Indeed the artillery support was, if anything, 
lighter than on the 23rd, for the division's artillery had, 
although allotted its sites on the west bank of the canal, no 
time to lay lines to its observation officers or range the guns 
on to their targets. The Germans, on the other hand, had 
almost doubled their own artillery strength since that day as 
the majority of their field batteries had been moved for- 
ward into the captured territory and dug in to their new 

Early and ominous evidence of this came soon after 10 

I. 27th Reserve Corps (Reichsardiv.). 


a.m. when the long column of marching British and Indian 
soldiers was spotted by observation planes and heavy-calibre 
shells from the enemy long-range guns began falling among 
them. The fire continued, gradually rising in intensity as the 
division deployed in the lea of Hill-top Ridge, causing 
casualties and retarding the organization of the assaulting 
lines. At 11.30 French's headquarters telephoned what the 
Official History describes as 'a sorely needed message of 
encouragement', stating that the enemy '. . . could not be 
very strong or very numerous, as he must have lost heavily 
and be exhausted'.^ 

In fact the British numbered over 15,000 for, in addition to 
the frontal attack on Mauser Ridge by the Lahore, there was 
to be a simultaneous assault on the right flank in the direc- 
tion of 'Kitchener's Wood' by the 149th (Northumberland) 
Brigade, a completely fresh unit of North Country terri- 
torials ;2 thus the attackers enjoyed, like the Dervishes at 
Omdurman, a substantial numerical superiority — although 
their chance of success must be rated even lower than that 
of those naked, stone-age savages. 

The battle — if the afternoon's massacre may be dignified 
by such a term — lasted three hours. The attackers were 
never able, in the words of the official account, 'to close with' 
the enemy. As soon as the leading lines of infantry breasted 
the skyline of Hill-top Ridge they came under a heavy and 
persistent fire from the German field batteries and, as they 
trudged their way patiently down the reverse slope and into 
'Colne Valley', the first of the enemy machine-guns began to 
pick up the range with long feeler bursts. Shells from 5-9 in. 
howitzers fell among them with pitiless accuracy, '. . . knock- 
ing out whole platoons at a time; British and Indians were 
falling quite literally in heaps'. 

The two British battalions had been placed on the flanks, 
with the Indians stretching along between them. As the men 
toiled up the slope towards the German wire, through a dark 

1. O.H., .1915, I, 258. 

2. In fact they were the first territorials to go into action as a brigade. 


twilight of brown smoke from the shell-bursts, they entered a 
veritable storm of machine-gun fire. 

Very heavy and very well directed and probably owing a 
good deal to the yellow flags which had been issued to the 
leading sections with instructions that they were to be 
prominently displayed so as to show our positions to our own 

Several of the Indian battalions, broken by the casualties 
and the loss of all their British officers, disintegrated; some of 
the men remained crouching in shell-holes, others turned 
and made their way back to the old line in 'Colne Valley'. 
But the I St Manchester, together with some Pathans and 
Sikhs on the left, and the Connaught Rangers on the right, 
managed to get up to the edge of the enemy entanglements. 
Then, at this critical moment, the enemy played their trump 
card: they had brought a number of gas cylinders up during 
the night on the forecast of a favourable wind and as the 
survivors of the British and Indian attack reached their wire 
the poison was released at the western end of the attack 
frontage and blew diagonally down on the attackers, with 
deadly effect. The assault, which had been faltering, now 
came to a dead stop. 

On the extreme right, in the direction of 'Kitchener's 
Wood', the attack of the Northumberland Brigade fared 
even worse. Although the brigade was in close reserve at 
Wieltje, Brigadier-General Riddell, its commander, did not 
get his instructions until 1.30 p.m., that is, half an hour 
before zero. The brigade took another half-hour to get 
under way — and then was moving forward over practically 
flat, fireswept ground with little more idea of what was 
required of them than the direction of the attack pointed 
out on the map. By the time the men reached the British 
front line the main attack of the Lahore had already been 
stopped and Brigadier-General Hull, whose remnants of 
the loth Brigade were. the garrison there, and who had been 
instructed to co-operate in the attack 'with at least two 


battalions', refused. The grounds for his refusal were the 
complete absence of any support on the left and the rumours 
of gas which had already spread along the line. Doubtless he 
was mindful also of his brigade's experiences over that same 
stretch of ground the previous day. Undeterred, Brigadier- 
General Riddell led his men over the top to almost certain 
death. He himself was killed at 3.40 p.m. after seeing over 
half his men fall within a hundred yards of the British front 
trenches. The attack never got anywhere near the enemy, 
the leading troops being pinned down in No-Man's-Land 
all night and withdrawn the following morning. In this, its 
first action, the 149th lost 42 officers and 1,912 other ranks, 
or nearly three-quarters of its strength. 

The sole contribution of the French to the day's attack 
had been a noisy and ineffective demonstration by some 
black troops on the front between Lizerne and Het Saas. 
These wretches, advancing with a 'stiffening' of whites who 
had instructions to shoot any man who turned in his tracks, 
broke when the gas was released and shot their officers. 
They fought their way back to, and through, their own lines 
and ran amok for hours in the rear area looting dumps and 
raping the nurses in the dressing stations. So disordered did 
the situation become that General Putz had to request the 
use of one of the British cavalry brigades from Vlamertinghe 
to assist in restoring order. 

This note, coupled with the feebleness of the French 
preparations for the following day, as evidenced in the copy 
of Putz's orders which reached the 2nd Army that evening, 
decided Smith-Dorrien. Without consulting Sir John French, 
he issued orders to the effect that offensive operations were to 
cease forthwith, and that 'consolidation' was to be the object 
of all future dispositions. At the same time he despatched a 
strong note to Putz in which he protested that it was im- 
possible to order any further attacks by the 2nd Army until 
there was evidence of substantial and effective co-operation 


Corpsmen pass between the litters of the dead and dying at an 
advance dressing station near Potijze. 

Looking back towards the English parapet at Aubers. The 

bodies of twenty-three 2nd Cameronians lie within forty feet of 

the parapet's edge. 

' A ' ^.-y IHL '. .. . ;».»^. 

Scaling ladders are positioned in anticipation of a forthcoming 



by the French. He also sent a long letter to Robertson, 
French's Chief of Staff, setting out the position and going 
on to raise the question of a possible complete evacuation 
of the salient.^ 

By now the condition of the 5th Corps was very bad. The 
Germans had artillery observation of all the main roads 
leading east and north out of Ypres and movement across 
the canal was becoming increasingly difficult even at night. 
With each day that passed the number of casualties accumu- 
lated and wounded and gassed men lay everywhere, unable 
to move. There is a haunting picture of an advanced dressing 
station taken at this time. The detail is clear, emphasizing 
many questions that suggest themselves to an observer. The 
building itself has been hit by a shell. When? Before or after 
it was housing wounded? The operating theatre is inside; 
dimly, the M.O. and two orderlies can be seen looking out 
of the doorway. Standing about outside, some of them 
smoking, are the stretcher-bearers, glad of the excuse to hang 
around a little before going back to the firing line. Among 
them can be seen the padre, a stout captain — how many 
men already that morning have died under his blessing, 
moaning some final message to their dearest in England? 
In the foreground are many stretchers. A closer look reveals 
that these nearly all carry dead men or those, like the 
wretched being on the extreme right of the picture, whose 
wounds are so grievous that they have been given up for 
lost. One of these in the immediate foreground has been 
upset from his bier. Was he put down roughly or suddenly 
as the scream of an approaching 5-9 was heard? Or did he 
roll off in his death agony? With this exception there are no 
empty stretchers. As soon as the dead have had their personal 
effects and identity discs removed they are buried and the 
bearers return with the stretchers to the battlefield. 

Of those in the 5th Corps who had survived unhurt all 
were completely exhausted; they were in many cases serving 
under strange officers and in amalgamation with other, 

I. See Appendix 3. 


equally depleted, units. ^ There was a brooding atmosphere 
of death about the whole region with its bleached, poisoned 
crops and sour smell of gas. 

And if, tactically, the aggressive holding of the salient was 
costly and ill-judged, in a strategic context it was completely 
inexcusable. Experience at Neuve Chapelle should have 
shown that nothing but a carefully prepared offensive, 
requiring much time to organize, could possibly dislodge 
the Germans from the ground they had gained and had 
been methodically fortifying for several nights. Yet the 
French were organizing a great offensive in Artois, to the 
assistance of which Haig's ist Army was heavily committed, 
and two days earlier Sir Ian Hamilton's expedition had 
landed at the Dardanelles. Any further dilution of the 
military effort was absurd and dangerous. 

Yet the moment that Smith-Dorrien's letter arrived, 
Robertson telephoned back to say that 'The Chief does not 
regard the situation nearly as unfavourable as your letter 
represents', 2 and directing 'vigorous' co-operation with the 
French attack that was to go in that afternoon. 

By now no one nearer than G.H.Q^. to the front had any 
hope of success. Even Foch seems to have tired of the whole 
thing, for his promises of reinforcement had dwindled; his 
notes had taken on a sharper tone; he declared that the 
troops on the spot were sufficient — 'Pour poursuivre Vaffaire 
et la resoudre\ When zero hour came the French infantry 
never left their trenches and the remnants of the Lahore 
Division — the only 'reserve' left for the attack — were cut to 
ribbons in No-Man's-Land without even getting as far as 
they had the previous day. 

That evening before the fighting had died down a message 
from G.H.Q^. came into the 2nd Army switchboard 'in clear' 

1. For example the 2nd Army order of batde, 28th April 191 5, shows a 
'brigade', in numbers hardly stronger than a full-strength battalion, with 
units from three separate brigades: 2nd D.C.L.I. (82nd) 260 strong; ist York 
and Lancaster (83rd) 280 strong; 5th King's Own (83rd) 400 strong; 2nd Duke 
of Wellingtons (13th) 350 strong. Total 1,290, under the command of a 

2. O.H.J 1915, I, 397 (and see Appendix 3). 


directing General Smith-Dorrien to hand over the command 
of all troops engaged round Ypres to General Plumer, and 
also to hand over his chief stafFofficer, Major-General Milne. 
Thus, although Smith-Dorrien was the senior of the army 
commanders, the effect of this order was to reduce his 
command to that of a single corps. For ten days he remained 
in this position while the very situation which he had fore- 
told came about under Plumer's command — that is to say 
a gradual, clumsy, forced and costly withdrawal, or con- 
traction, of the lines round Ypres. Even this was carried 
through half-heartedly so that, instead of pulling back to the 
town ramparts and the line of the canal, the British troops 
were left in a miserably cramped and shallow bulge, dug in 
on the reverse slopes of ridges that gave the Germans perfect 
observation of the whole area and 'a permanent target for 
artillery practice for the next three years. '^ 

Total British casualties in the salient for the period 22nd 
April until 31st May, the date when the new shape of the 
position was finally settled and the battle, known as 'the 
Second Battle of Ypres', officially came to a close, were 
2,150 officers and 57,125 other ranks. 

But before this, on the 6th May, Smith-Dorrien wrote to 
French suggesting that the evident lack of trust in him 
constituted a seriously weak link in the chain of command, 
and that for the good of the cause it would be better if he 
should serve elsewhere, and someone else command the 2nd 
Army in his place. That same evening he received written 
instructions from G.H.Q^. directing him to hand over the 
army command to Plumer and return to the United King- 
dom. No reason or explanation was offered. 

I . An excellent impression of the conditions under which the infantry had 
to fight after the withdrawals is given in some extracts from the diary of an 
officer in the Leinsters over this period, reproduced in Appendix 4. 

The Second Experiment: Aubers Ridge 

... by means of careful preparation as regards details, 
it appears that a section of the enemy's front line 
defence can be captured with comparatively little 

From a G.H.Q^. memo to officers of 
field rank and above, i8th April 191 5 

IN SPITE of the serious mishandling of the Neuve Chapelle 
offensive, and the fate of the counter-attacks at Ypres, 
the private papers and public utterances of the British 
commanders alike show a mounting confidence in the weeks 
that followed. The divisional commanders were agreed that 
a future operation '. . . should be Neuve Chapelle over 
again, but much more successful because we have learnt its 
lessons and shall know what to avoid this time'.^ 

But in fact, as the plan took shape at G.H.Q., it was plain 
that no lesson had been learnt, at least so far as concerned 
the direction of the battle. Tactically it was to be fought on 
exactly the same lines. Once again massed man-power was 
to be asked to overrun a thin firing line and, even if it was 
overrun, no measures had been thought out to counter the 
problem of the concealed machine-gun nests, 800 to 1,000 
yards behind, that at Neuve Chapelle had caused such 
tremendous losses and demonstrated beyond all doubt their 
effective stopping-power. That the difficulties which that 
battle had shown might be expected when an attack by 
massed man-power enters a position defended by intelligently 

I. O.K., 1915, n, 13. 



ilQCCAil Abback fronbage • Perpetrations L London Rcgfc. 
M Munsters IR Irish Rifles BW BlackWatch (p.rnj 


applied fire-power had not yet been considered. It is thus 
not surprising to find Falkenhayn summarizing the situation/ 
simultaneously to the day with the G.H.Q. memorandum 
quoted above: 

'The English troops, in spite of undeniable bravery and 
endurance on the part of the men, have proved so clumsy 
in action that they offer no prospect of accomplishing any- 
thing decisive against the German Army in the immediate 

Before examining the conduct of this disastrous operation 
in detail, however, one must look at the planning that 
preceded it. 

General Joffre had conceived the idea of a massive spring 
offensive, attacking along the front Arras-Lens, with the 
object of storming the Vimy Ridge and breaking out and 
beyond it into the plain of Douai. On the 24th March, less 
than a fortnight after the collapse of the Neuve Chapelle 
offensive, he wrote to French asking whether he would be 
interested in co-operating on the left flank. ^ Joffre was 'very 
hopeful . . . said he was bringing up even more troops and 
really thought he would break the line past mending, and 
that it might be, and ought to be, the beginning of the end. 
He talked of getting to Namur and the War being over in 
three months.'^ 

French conferred with Haig, who echoed the optimism of 
Joffre. Both the British commanders were anxious to dispel 
the amateurish impression which had been left by the 
Neuve Chapelle operation and they had evolved a scheme 
of attack, operating over the same terrain but more am- 
bitious in scope, which was communicated to Joffre on the 
I St April, as being 'feasible in approximately four weeks' 

1. General Headquarters {igi4-i8) and its critical decisions — English translation, 
1919, p. 74. 

2. O.H., II, Appendix 4. 

3. Wilson, Memoirs, 125. 


This time two sectors of the German breastwork were to 
be assaulted, on either side of the old Neuve Chapelle 
battlefield: a front of 2,400 yards from the Rue du Bois by 
the ist and Indian Corps, and a front of 1,500 yards opposite 
Fromelles by the 4th Corps. After forcing two breaches in 
the German breastwork at those places, 6,000 yards apart, 
the two columns were to spread out and advance concen- 
trically, joining up on the Aubers Ridge that lay about a 
mile and a half behind the German line. 

It had originally been intended that the British attack 
should start a day later than that of the French, timed to 
hit the enemy as his reserves began to be drawn southwards, 
but owing to the differences in artillery preparation Sir 
John French insisted that his attack go in at the same time 
as that of D'Urbal, who was commanding the French loth 
Army on his right flank. 

This was reasonable for, once the element of surprise was 
lost, the British chances would be in serious jeopardy. 
Although the French, with 959 light and field guns and 293 
heavies, were intending to attempt the passage of No-Man's- 
Land in the wake of a preliminary bombardment of five 
days' duration. General Haig, with rather less than half 
that number of guns, intended to rely on a bombardment of 
forty minutes, 'of which the final ten minutes was to be 

In so placing his faith once again in surprise, the ist 
Army commander was influenced, doubtless, by the shortage 
of ammunition. But he was ignoring also the repeated 
warnings of the Intelligence Section and, indeed, the 
evidence that presented itself to the naked eye of any 
observer in the front line. 

Neither of these sectors had in fact been touched by the 
earlier fighting, but ever since that time the Germans had 
been working ceaselessly at their improvement. And now, 
in May, their front line resembled more the huge sprawling 
earthworks of Sevastopol than the flimsy structure that had 

I. O.H., 1915, II. 


been shattered by the gunners eight weeks earlier. The 
front breastwork, built of sandbags and revetted with large- 
mesh wire, had been doubled or trebled in thickness to from 
fifteen to thirty feet across with frequent traverses and a 
parados.^ In addition huge sandbag mounds, provided with 
shelters and a dug-out accommodation, had been built at 
.varying distances — 30 to 200 yards — behind the front for 
living in {Wohngraben) . Then, as at Neuve Chapelle, there 
were a number of machine-gun nests [Stiitzpunkt) situated 
some distance behind the line to act as rallying centres in 
the event of a break. 

Although the enemy front was lightly held the defence 
plan^ was realistic, and thoroughly rehearsed. As ill fortune 
would have it it was based on the very principles most likely 
to wreck the British attack scheme — namely of blocking at 
once the flanks of a break-in by using the support companies on 
switch lines formed by the newly dug communication trenches. 
These, running at right angles to the front, connected 
with the Stiitzpunkt and had a fire-step on each side so that 
troops occupying them could shoot right or left. They also 
contained deep concrete shelters fitted with water pumps 
to which the garrison could hurry as soon as the bombard- 
ment began, leaving only a few sentries to watch at the 
front breastwork. The German troops themselves were sited 
in depth, each battalion holding its front breastwork with a 
garrison of two companies (each of 140 rifles), with one in 
support some 2,000 yards behind and another in reserve 
about two miles back. 

Against these two German regiments, the 55th and 57th, 
Haig's I St Army mustered three corps, the ist, Indian and 
4th. The attack was to be made in the first instance by, 
from south to north, the ist Division (Major-General R. C. B. 
Haking), the Meerut Division (Lieutenant-General Sir C. A. 
Anderson) , and the 8th Division (Major-General F.J. Davies) , 

1. The facts of the German defence are taken from Das Inf. Regt. 55, 
Schulz, 1928; Das Inf. Regt. Castendyk, 1936, and the analysis of these diaries 
in an article in Army Quarterly, Vol. 36, No. 2, by Captain G. C. Wynne. 

2. 57th (Ger.) Regt. diary. 


with three more divisions, the 2nd, the Lahore and the 7th, 
in close support. 

The final plan for the offensive was explained by Haig to 
his corps and divisional commanders at two conferences held 
in Bethune on the 27th April and the 6th May. In essence 
the scheme was for the ist and 8th Divisions to fan out after 
a quick break-in, holding the southern and northern flanks 
of the breach, while the Meerut and 7th Divisions converged 
on a big Stutzpunkt situated at La Clicqueterie Farm, some 
one and a half miles behind the centre of the German 

In theory, once these two units joined hands the whole 
body of enemy defending the unattacked portion of the line 
would be caught in a noose. However, in spite of the experi- 
ences at Neuve Chapelle, no definite objective for each day 
was given. Although many regimental officers would have 
preferred a limited one with 'systematic exploitation after the 
first assault', the course of the battle was left to a great 
extent in the hands of the local commanders. The attacking 
divisions simply had vague orders to press on as rapidly as 
possible from objective to objective to the line of the Haute 
Deule Canal, a distance of some six miles beyond Aubers 

During the nights of the first week in May there was great 
activity on the British front. A number of shallow disused 
trenches in No-Man's-Land were reclaimed as jumping-off 
places for the assaulting lines; blocks of assembly trenches 
were prepared a few hundred yards behind the main parapet 
where it was hoped that the second and third waves could 
shelter until their turn came; and both these new areas were 
connected up with the main positions by narrow communi- 
cation trenches. But it proved impossible to dig these to a 
depth greater than two feet — a failing that was to have 
serious consequences on the day of the attack. At intervals of 
thirty feet steps were cut in the main breastwork to enable 
the infantry to pass over more rapidly and, in addition, 
the assaulting companies were provided with portable step- 


ladders for this purpose as well as a number of light foot 
bridges that had to be carried forward for use in crossing 
the German trenches, the Layes Brook and other dykes and 
obstacles that might hold up the advance. 

It was thus particularly unfortunate, in view of the 
congested state of the forward area, that the offensive had 
to be postponed at the last minute. Haig's final operation 
orders were issued on the 6th May at lo p.m., naming zero 
as 5.40 on the morning of the 8th, which meant getting the 
troops into position the previous evening. But, on the 
morning of the 7th, there was a dense mist, limiting visibility 
to fifty yards, and worsened by intermittent rain and drizzle. 
These conditions upset the French bombardment schedule 
as the guns, which had been firing without a pause since the 
3rd, could no longer range properly on to their objectives or 
observe the effect of their fire. 

It was thus with considerable misgiving that the British 
officers heard to the north the continuous rumble of the 
French artillery die gradually away at the very moment 
their own attacking battalions were marching up to the line 
from their billets. As the day lengthened, uncertainty spread 
and rumour followed rumour. Finally, at five o'clock that 
evening, a letter arrived at Haig's headquarters from the 
commander of the French loth Army,^ explaining that the 
date of the attack would have to be put off until the 9th. 
All forward movement was immediately halted, but those 
men who had already got into position were kept there 
as it was felt that, in spite of the difficulties in feeding them 
and finding adequate space for the two extra nights for 
which they were to wait, any further movement would add 
to the confusion and might attract the attention of the 

After midnight the French guns started again to the south, 
continuing their bombardment with mounting intensity all 
day on the 8th. But on the British front that day, and all 

1. This was D'Urbal, for whose 'excessively good manners' Haig had earher 
recorded his distaste (above, page 25). 


through the night until dawn of the Sunday, the silence was 

The gth May was a perfect morning of early summer. 
The larks could be heard singing as they circled to greet the 
rising sun. Then, exactly at 5 a.m., the British guns opened 
fire. The contrast with the tranquillity that had preceded 
the bombardment made it seem doubly impressive. Through 
their periscopes, observers in the British front line could see 
nothing but a high wall of smoke, dust and splinters rising 
from the German parapet, swirling and boiling as wire- 
cutting shrapnel from the eighteen-pounders exploded within 
it. But, measured by its actual results, the bombardment 
was seriously inadequate. Smoke and noise there were in 
profusion but the fall of shell was inaccurate, and their 
calibre in the majority of cases too light^ to affect the massive 
German earthworks. The time allotted for the bombardment 
was quite inadequate for the few heavy guns that were 
available to work over the German position thoroughly. 
Moreover the effect was still further diminished by the fact 
that many of the shells were duds of American manufacture 
which had been filled with sawdust instead of explosive.^ 
In the case of the 4-7 in. employed for counter-battery 
work these guns were now so worn out that as soon as the 
shell left the muzzle the copper driving bands stripped and 
the shell turned end over and fell anywhere, sometimes as 
little as 500 yards from our own support trenches. 

Thus within twenty to twenty-five minutes of its com- 
mencement the German officers began to get their men out 

1 . The only guns capable of breaking up the enemy emplacements were the 
sixty-pounder and the 9-2 in. R.H.A. returns for gth May show six 9-2 in. for 
the whole front (loth and 13th siege batts.) and twelve sixty-pounders (24th, 
48th and Canadian heavy batteries). As for the wire-cutting eighteen-pounders 
— 'the low tra.jectory of this gun at wire-cutting ranges, 1,500-2,000 yds., and 
the flatness of the ground did not make it an ideal weapon for the purpose; 
and its shells passing low over young troops and transport horses at night were 
trying to their nerves'. 

2. 55th Infantry Regiment (German) diary. 


of the Wohngraben and back into position behind the 
parapet. According to the British plan the leading companies 
of assaulting infantry were to go over the top and into No- 
Man's-Land at 5.30, that is at the moment when the 
bombardment entered its intense phase of the final ten 
minutes. But at about twenty past a strong breeze blew 
across the southern edge of the battlefield dispersing, 
momentarily, the clouds of smoke and dust; the German 
breastwork could be seen with alarming clarity to be almost 
intact while behind it showed the helmets and bayonets of 
men moving about. The brief duration, and vivid clarity, 
of this vision made it the more nightmarish, as any thought 
of holding up the attack was impossible to the junior officers 
and men who were its only witnesses. 

Then, sure enough, some ten minutes later, as the first wave 
climbed out and over the British parapet, with the warm 
morning sun in their faces, the enemy opened a concentrated 
fire. In this region, the extreme right flank of the attack 
front, the assault was being led by the ist Northants and the 
2nd Royal Sussex of 2nd Brigade, and the Munster Fusiliers 
and 2nd Welch of 3rd Brigade, from General Haking's ist 
Division. Side by side with them, on their left was the 
Dehra Dun Brigade, consisting of Ghurkas and Seaforth 
Highlanders from the Meerut Division commanded by 
Lieutenant-General Anderson, these two groups forming 
together the southern, or lower, arm of the pincer. 

The Dehra Dun Brigade fared worst. The diary of the 
German 57th Regiment described how, as the bombardment 
lifted on to the rear areas and the smoke cleared, '. . . there 
could never before in war have been a more perfect target 
than this solid wall of khaki men, British and Indian side by 
side. There was only one possible order to give — "Fire until 
the barrels burst." ' 

As the German machine-guns scythed into advancing 
lines the confusion became intense; many of the men turned 
and made for the cover of their old parapet, but here they 
were met by the second and third waves who were attempting 


to climb out. In a short while the shallow jumping-off 
trenches were clogged with dead and wounded; the majority 
of units were in complete disorder having become inter- 
mingled with those following behind them, while many of 
their officers had been shot down^ while standing on the 
breastwork exhorting the men to come out again and press 
the attack. In the official account it is said that 'the troops 
found it impossible to advance more than a few yards from 
the front parapet' but the German 57th Regiment diary 
does admit that a handful of Ghurkas got as far as the wire. 
They had discarded all their equipment, including their 
rifles, but 'running like cats' along the entanglement they 
found a gap and passing through attacked the defenders 
with knives. Alas, there was to be no recognition of this 
desperate gallantry for all were cut down and buried in a 
communal and anonymous grave by the Germans later that 

On the right of the Meerut Division the attack suffered as 
heavy casualties and was but slightly more effective. Here, 
too, the artillery support was seriously deficient: 

'For most of the batteries it was the first experience in wire- 
cutting and as only thirty minutes had been allowed the 
results were not unnaturally incomplete. Then, when the 
time came for the infantry advance the various artillery 
"lifts" were too quick — the first lift was made before the 
assaulters were within fifty yards of the Germans — with the 
consequence that the covering gunfire got clean ahead of 
the troops. As the telephone lines back from the front had 
been cut and no other means of communication had been 
arranged it was impossible to correct this.'^ 

Of the attacking battalions, the Sussex and Northampton- 
shire were practically annihilated in the passage of No- 
Man's-Land, suffering over a thousand casualties. But there 
was no thought of turning back to the cover of the trenches. 

1. The 1st Seaforth lost all their officers in this way. (O.H., 1915, 11, 23.) 

2. O.H., 1915, II, 22. 


In spite of losing nearly all their officers the men pressed 
right on up to the German wire and then searched along it 
— all the time under crippling fire — for gaps through which 
they could pass. But a cruel reward awaited them as it was 
found that a deep ditch that had been dug in front of the 
German breastwork for earth to fill the sandbags had itself 
been filled with tight coils of barbed wire. At this final 
obstacle the Sussex, now reduced to a handful, disintegrated; 
but a small party of the Northamptonshires, about twenty 
in number, managed to scramble across the ditch opposite 
a breach in the enemy breastwork and entered his trench, 
where they were at once engaged in desperate hand-to-hand 

On the extreme right flank of the attack, also, a lodge- 
ment had been made. Here the Munsters, pressing forward 
with extraordinary bravery under the personal leadership of 
Lieutenant-Colonel Rickard — who was mortally wounded 
at the edge of the German wire — managed to penetrate with 
their right company and, after a fearful passage of the wire- 
filled ditch, the survivors of this detachment, also, entered 
the German breastwork. But by now the German fire was 
sweeping No-Man's-Land to such effect that the second and 
third waves had either been forced back into their own 
trenches or pinned down among the craters that lay between. 
Watchers in the British line could see, for a few moments, 
several of the Munsters standing on the enemy breastwork 
waving a green flag; then one of them was shot and the rest 

It soon became evident to General Haking that, with the 
exception of these two small entries by fragments of the 
Northamptonshires and Munsters, the attack had failed 
completely. More serious, the leading brigades were badly 
off'-balance with their forward trenches choked with 
wounded, several of their companies pinned down in No- 
Man's-Land and their chain of command disrupted by heavy 
casualties among the officers. In spite of this, however, he 
ordered a renewed bombardment for forty-five minutes, to 


be followed immediately by a fresh attack at 7 a.m., and 
passed word along to headquarters of the Meerut Division 
requesting them to conform. 

This decision was an unhappy one, and not only on 
account of the hopelessness of the task set the infantry. For 
large numbers of our own men, the majority of them 
wounded, were lying out in front of the German wire. Here 
they were ill protected from small-arms fire but were, at 
least, too close to his own line for the enemy to risk turning 
artillery fire on to them. But now, tumbled in craters, with 
little cover save what they could scrape in the dry earth of 
No-Man's-Land with their own bayonets, they were nearly 
all killed by this second bombardment, for the gunners had 
had specific instructions to concentrate on the wire as 
distinct from the breastwork. With horror those few of the 
attackers who had gained the relative shelter of the enemy 
breastwork watched their wounded comrades torn to pieces 
by the storm of shrapnel that played over the wire for the 
next forty minutes, itself emphasizing their own isolation. 

When the time came for the second attack the stricken 
and disordered condition of the leading brigades made it 
impossible to achieve the same degree of co-ordination and 
numerical strength as had characterized the first. None the 
less a few officers managed to group together the remnants 
of various units and gallantly led these once more over the 
top when the bombardment stopped. All these individual 
groups, however, were cut down in No-Man's-Land within 
minutes of leaving their own trenches. 

Thus it can be seen that Making's use of the word 'dead- 
lock' to describe the situation in his report to the ist Corps 
H.Q. at 7.20 a.m. was nothing if not optimistic. In the space 
of two hours he had dissipated to the point of annihilation 
two of the finest brigades in the British Army without 
achieving any material success whatever. None the less, he 
asked, in this report, if he could not commit the Guards 
Brigade which he had in reserve, stating that 'If the wire 
is cut by deliberate fire and more of the enemy's machine- 


guns are knocked out, the assault can be delivered again 
after midday.' 

Before considering subsequent developments on this 
front, however, something must be said of the course of 
battle to the north where the left arm of the British attack 
was also engaged in bitter fighting. 


Aubers Ridge: the Northern Attack 

General Rawlinson : This is most unsatisfactory. Where 

are the Sherwood Foresters? Where are the East 

Lancashires on the right? 
Brigadier-General Oxley: They are lying out in No- 

Man's-Land, sir, and most of them will never stand 


Rifle Brigade Official History^ p. 1 86 

IN THE northern sector, the attack of General Rawlin- 
son's 4th Corps was to be led by the 24th and 25th 
Brigades of 8th Division, operating on much the same 
plan as the ist and the Indian Corps to the south. There 
were some minor differences in execution, however, and 
these, added to the fact that the 25th Brigade under 
Brigadier-General Lowry-Cole was made up of some of the 
most gallant and well-disciplined troops in the Expeditionary 
Force, gave the attack here an appearance, to begin with, 
of partial success. 

A number of ingenious and unconventional means had 
been devised to break up the German emplacements. Two 
mines had been sunk and run under the enemy lines on the 
extreme left where the i/i3th London Regiment was to break 
through and hold the enemy communication trench as a 
switch line protecting the flank. The sinking of the shafts 
had been a perilous business, for the engineers had first to 
penetrate a thickness of fifteen feet of water-bearing loam 
before they reached the hard blue clay in which the tunnel 
was drilled. The tunnel itself was made only just wide 



enough for a man to crawl along, with 'lay-bys' at intervals 
of twenty feet, and each ounce of the tell-tale blue soil had 
to be carried away in sandbags. Proper ventilation of the 
tunnels was impossible and sometimes men with a load of 
explosive on their back would pass out unconscious en 
route, blocking the passage-way, and have to be dragged 
out by their feet over hundreds of yards. By the day of the 
attack, though, over 2,000 lb. of black gunpowder had 
been packed at the base of each mine. 

Then, again to supplement the main artillery bombard- 
ment, a number of eighteen-pounders were brought right 
up into the front line the night before, using rubber-tyred 
car wheels to minimize the noise, and put in special emplace- 
ments from where they could fire into the German emplace- 
ments at point-blank range. 

This supplementing of the barrage to some extent com- 
pensated for its short duration and lack of weight. On the 
extreme left, in particular, the attack went well forward 
in spite of heavy losses, and the London Regiment pushed 
right on over the line of the German third trench, taking 
the Stiitzpunkt at Delangre Farm in their stride, and then 
wheeling left as arranged, to protect the flank of the attack. 
In the meantime the other two battalions of the 25th 
Brigade, 2nd Rifle Brigade and ist Royal Irish Rifles, had 
stormed the German breastwork in their sector and had 
pressed on to their first objective, the bend in the Fromelles 
road that lay some 200 yards behind the enemy front line. 
Unfortunately, however, portions of the German earthworks 
were so strong in this sector that the strength of the enemy 
fire had forced this attack southward into the areas where 
the close-support eighteen-pounders could be seen to have 
done their work properly. Thus a gap between the London 
Regiment and the Rifle Brigade, latent at the start of the 
attack, had widened to over 400 yards by the time they 
were established in the enemy position. Moreover, to the 
south, the attack of the 24tL Brigade had been virtually 
snuffed out before even the men had managed to leave the 


assembly trenches, for in this area the German breastwork 
had been practically undamaged along its entire length; 
only a small party of Northamptonshires about thirty strong 
had managed to survive the passage of No-Man's-Land and 
fight their way into the German position. 

Thus these three lodgements — that of the London Regi- 
ment on the extreme left, of the Rifle Brigade and Irish 
Rifles in the centre and the forlorn little group of Northamp- 
tonshires on the right — were all seriously isolated. And when 
Brigadier-General Lowry-Cole arrived at the front at 6.30 
that morning it seemed that the situation had already 
deteriorated rapidly. The hard chatter of the enemy machine- 
guns could be heard all along the line — the more clearly as 
our own artillery had ceased firing. Through field-glasses, 
whole lengths of the enemy emplacements could be followed, 
lightly scarred but structurally intact except in those few 
places when the first rush of attacking infantry had broken 
in. No-Man's-Land was being continually swept by heavy 
fire and all forward movement had ceased. 

But although they could get no further, the supporting 
battalions were still flowing up from the back areas into the 
confusion of the front trenches, that were jammed with 
stretchers bearing wounded, broken scaling-ladders, and 
large numbers of dead who had been dragged in off" the 
parapet and lay in heaps awaiting identification and burial. 
The confusion was heightened by the presence everywhere of 
groups of leaderless men whose officers had been killed and 
who had been driven back to take refuge in a 'strange' 
section of trench. ^ The conditions for sending reinforce- 
ments forward were highly unfavourable and yet this had 
to be done unless the troops whose gallantry had carried 
them into the enemy position were not to be forsaken, 

I . Disorder in the front trenches was always aggravated by this factor which 
accompanied the repulse of an attack. After their officers had been shot, the 
men would slowly work their way back to their own line, but, without proper 
direction in the smoke and noise and sameness of the cratered terrain, would 
often end up at a point some hundreds of yards above or below their original 
jumping-oflF point. 


for with each minute that passed the pressure on them was 

The most critical situation was that of the i/i3th London 
on the extreme left, for they, in obedience to their orders, 
had taken up a position that had originally been conceived 
as the flank of a clean break-through; this meant that they 
were facing due north, not east, and that they were especially 
vulnerable to enemy counter-attacks. 

A succession of half-hearted attempts to reach them all 
failed until at ten minutes to seven two companies of the 
2nd Lincolnshire broke into the German position just below 
the London flank. But once inside the complex of enemy 
trenches they became lost in the maze of sandbagged 
buttresses, and the Germans, more numerous and familiar 
with every twist of the line, reduced their numbers to a 
critical level in the twenty minutes or so of hand-to-hand 
fighting that followed the break-in. However, a junction of 
sorts was effected by one man, Acting-Corporal C. Sharpe, 
who fought his way up 250 yards of trench, using captured 
enemy grenades and a bayonet in his right hand.^ 

All efforts to spread the area of break-in to the south, 
however, were ineffective and the passage of No-Man's- 
Land was so difficult as to eliminate any prospect of rein- 
forcement or relief of the troops that were still holding on 
in the enemy emplacement. Then, quite suddenly, watchers 
on the English parapet saw large numbers of men from the 
Irish Rifles streaming back across the front German breast- 
work and making their way back towards their own lines. 
They were under heavy fire from the enemy all the time and 
suffering severely — large numbers could be seen dropping 
as they ran. To add to the confusion, a body of German 
prisoners whom they were trying to bring back with them 
was believed to be an enemy counter-attack; rumours 
flashed round that the enemy was disguised in captured 
uniforms and a heavy cross-fire was opened from our own 

I. He was awarded a V.G. for this. He was killed at Passchendaele in 191 7. 


trenches.^ Brigadier-General Lowry-Cole was himself killed 
while standing on the parapet and attempting to rally the 
men and restore order. 

By now the confusion within the British lines was so great 
that all movement was impossible. The extra communi- 
cation trenches whose shallow depth had caused disquiet 
earlier were proving to be death-traps, and the normal 
system was so overloaded with stretcher parties and walking 
wounded as to be unusable. Furthermore, now that the 
attacks had been halted, the enemy artillery had lifted from 
No-Man's-Land and the assembly trenches and was systema- 
tically 'feeling' up and down the rear and support areas. 

In spite of this, however, some individual runners from 
Haig's H.Q. were able to get through to General Rawlinson 
with 'urgent' instructions. These were that '. . . you must 
press the attack vigorously and without delay on Rouges 
Bancs' — i.e. frontaily and in the same place. These orders 
were issued at 8.45,^ and took about an hour and a half to 
be thoroughly disseminated. By the middle of the morning, 
however, it was plain to all the commanders on the spot that 
it was physically impossible to mount an attack with the 
shattered remnants of the assaulting battalions that remained 
in the front trenches, while the acute congestion in the 
immediate rear made the task of relieving them with fresh 
troops, and that of evacuating the large number of wounded 
that impeded free circulation, laborious and costly. It was 
plainly impossible to achieve a state of readiness before the 
afternoon. In consequence nothing was done to put these 
orders into effect. 

As the morning wore on, however, Haig became impatient. 
The reports from the southern sector, from Haking and 

1. The Official History offers no explanation of this debacle, other than the 
following: '. . . exhaustive enquiry failed to discover any reason for the retire- 
ment beyond the fact that someone unknown had shouted the order "Retire at 
the double", \vhich was passed rapidly along the line'. Of the Regimental 
histories written subsequently, that of the Irish Rifles makes no comment at 
all; that of the Rifle Brigade, whose flank was uncovered thereby, does no more 
than quote from the Official History. 

2. O.H., 1915, II, 36, fn. 


Anderson, had equally been disappointing, but with the 
difference that here both generals had shown a readiness 
to renew the attack. At 11.45 a.m., therefore, Haig issued 
further orders insisting that the attack should be pressed 

The arrival of these fresh and insistent orders caused 
consternation on 8th Division front. It was plainly impossible 
to get the two shattered brigades, the 24th and 25th, out of 
the way in time, and so Major-General Davies decided to 
improvise by ordering them to attack 'with what men you 
can muster' and the support of those troops that had 
managed to squeeze into position by that time — 1.15 p.m. 
These were the 2nd Queen's, which had come across from 
7th Division, and two Middlesex Regiments that had not 
been trained for the assault at all but were garrison troops 
who had already been in the line in that sector for twelve 
days and were intended to 'consolidate' after the attack. 

Owing to the fact that the exact whereabouts of those few 
detachments of London, Rifle Brigade and Northants that 
were still holding on in the enemy position was not known, 
it was decided to concentrate artillery fire solely on that 
stretch of 500 yards south of the Fromelles road that had 
remained untouched. In other words it was proposed to 
assault the strongest part of the enemy position in isolation, 
as distinct from making a determined attempt to reinforce 
the small breaches already effected. 

In fact, the attack was brought to naught before it even 
got started. The majority of the men were already shell- 
shocked and bewildered by their experiences that morning; 
they were serving under strange officers and with unfamiliar 
comrades; they knew only too well the strength of the 
enemy, in that sector above all. The preliminary bombard- 
ment was short, and more than matched by the fire which 
the German guns themselves put down on the assembly 
trenches. The majority of men never even climbed out into 
No-Man's-Land, although many companies were reduced 
by more than half as they huddled in the shallow, crowded 


forming-up places waiting for the whistle. By two o'clock 
the position had changed not at all, except that the 8th 
Division had suffered a further 2,000 casualties. 

In the meantime Haig had arrived at Lestrem — head- 
quarters of the Indian Corps and operational centre for the 
direction of the southern arm of the attack. The atmosphere 
at lunch was not an easy one, although the talk was mainly 
of horses and hunting, for General Willcocks had earlier 
been compelled to explain that the Dehra Dun Brigade had 
been so severely 'knocked about' that it was not capable of 
launching the third assault which Haig had earlier ordered 
for noon, and which he had been expecting to find under 
way on his arrival. Then, as the Indian orderlies were serving 
coffee, came more bad news: Brigadier-General Southey, 
commanding the Bareilly Brigade, reported that, owing to 
the congestion in the forward areas and the impossibility of 
using the communication trenches, his relief of the Dehra 
Dun Brigade had been attended by serious losses, was not 
yet complete, and precluded any possibility of getting the 
battalions into position for assault before 4 p.m. at the 
earliest. No sooner had this been digested than a further 
despatch arrived, this time from the north, from the 8th 
Division. In this the failure of the midday frontal attack, 
launched as a result of Haig's insistent orders, was reported, 
as was an estimate of the casualties suffered. 

'. . . the Chief took it very hard. We had been getting 
reports all morning of how well the French were doing and 
he must have felt that they would be laughing at our efforts, 
as they did in December. He wrote something in pencil and 
handed it to the D.R. and left the Indian Corps mess with- 
out another word.' 

While Haig was motoring from Lestrem to Aire, the 
position of the 2nd London, the Munsters and the Northants, 


Still holding on inside the enemy lines, was becoming hourly 
more desperate. They had used up all their ammunition 
and were compelled to defend themselves with captured 
enemy equipment. Moreover they were suffering heavily 
from their own artillery which had been putting down 
intermittent fire ever since the failure of the midday attacks 
and which no longer appeared to be discriminating between 
'captured' and 'enemy' stretches of the line. While the 
Germans would retreat to the Wohngraben the moment a 
bout of English shelling started, the British troops had no 
cover except the battered trenches where they lay, that had 
been reduced virtually to mud and rubble not only by the 
gunfire but by the ceaseless hand-to-hand fighting with 
hand-grenades that had raged over them all day. In an 
attempt to extricate themselves from this situation the 
Munsters, to the extreme south of the line, launched an 
independent attack still deeper into the enemy position. The 
sheer audacity of this move surprised the Germans and this 
small group, still bearing their green flag, carried the 
enemy's support position and broke out into the country 
beyond. But both the runners who had been detailed to 
crawl back across No-Man's-Land, to inform Brigade of 
this plan and ask for support, were shot, and the attackers 
were far too few in numbers for any possibility of success. 
The moment that the Munsters had passed through the 
German support line the garrison ran back down the trench, 
reoccupying it and, using the parados as a fire-step, poured 
a stream of fire into the backs of the attackers. A few hundred 
feet further on the Munsters were halted by a deep brook. 
Some of the men tried to swim across but barbed wire had 
been staked across the bottom and they were drowned. The 
survivors took up a position along the bank, but their 
position was now worse than ever and all except three (who 
were taken prisoner) were killed by the British bombard- 
ment that preceded the afternoon attack. 

This, the assault fixed by Haig for 4 p.m., had a par- 
ticularly inauspicious beginning. For when Haig got back to 


his H.Q. from Lestrem Brigadier-General R. H. K. Butler, 
the chief general staflF officer who was always left in charge 
in his absence, handed him a despatch from General 
Rawlinson. The substance of this was that General Gough, 
commanding the 7th Division that had not yet been com- 
mitted to action but faced the imminent prospect of this, 
had made a 'personal reconnaissance' of the ground. This 
had left him convinced not only of the 'uselessness' of putting 
in the 21st Brigade, but also of '. . . the certainty of any 
further attempt to attack by daylight being a failure'.^ 

It was an unpleasant position for Haig; for with the delays 
made by the Indian brigadiers fresh in his mind it must have 
seemed that his commanders were losing heart; only Haking, 
of the ist Division, was still filled with 'the attacking spirit'. 
Moreover this refusal — it amounted to nothing less — of the 
4th Corps to press the afternoon attack must obviously have 
serious consequences on the prospects of the ist and Meerut 
attacks in the south, which would now be without any 
pretence of support from the northern arm of the pincer.^ 

And yet there was never at any time thought of cancelling 
the afternoon attack. The Germans, who thought that the 
British must have had enough punishment [die Nase voll) for 
the day, were amazed to see them coming across once 
again, in broad daylight, with the pipers of the ist Black 
Watch playing, as the sun lowered in the western sky. And 
once again along the whole length of the attack frontage there 
broke out the harsh rasping stutter of the machine-guns; 
once again whole lines of men withered away, reduced to 
straggling mounds of twitching, agonized humanity. The 
Black Watch was the only battalion to get into position in 
time and so the only troops to go over the top at zero. They 
were alone in No-Man's-Land, little groups of kilted soldiers 

1. O.H., 1915, II, 37- . . 

2. The enemy had been steadily reinforced all morning, and reports to this 
efFect were sent in both by artillery observers who could see the traffic and by 
the R.F.G. The 55th Infantry Regiment (German) diary gives the morning's 
losses as four hundred, but the three supporting companies had all moved into 
position by 2 p.m. so that the strength of the troops holding the front defences 
was actually greater in the afternoon than it had been in the morning. 


trudging doggedly forward through the clearing smoke, 
drawn on by the wail of the pipes that could be heard a mile 
and a half away in Festubert. Miraculously, some fifty of 
their number reached the enemy position alive; and once 
inside found the enemy garrison in flight; standing on the 
parados they turned the German machine-guns round and 
on to the enemy, catching them in their own communication 
trenches as the retreating garrison ran into the reinforce- 
ments that were hurrying forward. 

But like the Munsters in the north they were too few in 
numbers to exploit their success. The enemy, working round 
through other communication trenches, surrounded them 
and, throwing bombs and firing machine-guns from the 
traverses of the front breastwork which they had reoccupied 
after the Scots had passed through, destroyed nearly the 
whole party after an hour's bitter fighting.^ 

By the time the troops that should have supported the 
attack of the Black Watch were in position — some forty 
minutes late — those officers on the spot deemed it 'inadvis- 
able', most fortunately, to put them in and they were kept 
waiting in the assembly trenches — a demoralizing experience 
for troops waiting for assault owing to the large numbers of 
severely wounded that crowded there, while others could be 
heard crying in No-Man's-Land. 

Back in ist Army H.Q^. Haig had, by tea-time, drafted 
fresh orders to all units. These were that 'slow, deliberate 
fire was to be maintained on the enemy positions throughout 
the remainder of the day' and that an attack was 'to be 
pushed in with the bayonet at dusk'. But the report of his 
three liaison officers with the divisions concerned suggested 
that the commanders on the spot were so reluctant to press 
another assault as to seriously jeopardize its chances of getting 
started with any semblance of cohesion. In the light of these 
reports, therefore, Haig, at 6 p.m., cancelled the orders for 
the attack at dusk and travelled once again to Lestrem where 

I . Corporal J. Ripley and Lance-Corporal D. Finlay were each awarded 
the V.C. for their conduct during this engagement. 


he called a conference of the corps commanders and their 
senior staff officers. At this meeting Haig addressed his 
audience sharply. He considered the progress of the battle 
so far 'regrettable', he said, and insisted that 'results' should 
follow from the attack of the following day, for which he was 
allocating fresh brigades out of army reserve which was in 
his control. 

But Haig's listeners can have been less than enthusiastic, 
for on their return to their units they set about collecting 
further evidence with which to dissuade him. When Briga- 
dier-General Butler telephoned round to confirm their state 
of readiness at 11.30 p.m. that evening, Gough and Rawlin- 
son suggested that, instead of being put in on the northern 
flank, the 7th Division should be brought round to the south 
to reinforce the ist and Indian Corps — a move that must 
have meant cancellation of the attack as it could not possibly 
have been completed in time, and would have disrupted the 
whole front. This, and other reports of losses and the poor 
state of the units at the front, continued to pour in to Haig's 
H.Q^. all night. The army commander thereupon summoned 
yet another conference — this time at ist Corps headquarters 
— for 9 a.m. on the loth. At this, however, the corps com- 
manders were more vocal; earlier they had talked things 
over among themselves,^ and now they harped on the 
shortage of ammunition, and on the worn-out condition of 
the 4-7 in. guns used for counter-battery work. In addition 
they had a fresh and spectacular excuse in an order from 
Kitchener that 20,000 rounds of eighteen-pounder and 2,000 
rounds of 4-5 in. howitzer ammunition should be sent from 
France to the Dardanelles — instructions which had arrived 
the previous afternoon. They had news, too, of those few 
brave remnants that had been holding out on the other side 
of No-Man's-Land in the German position: all had finally 
been overwhelmed by the enemy, except for sixteen survivors 
of the Northamptonshires who had managed to return to the 
British lines under cover of darkness. After prolonged 

I, O.H., 1 91 5, II, 39-40. 


discussion the corps commanders had their way, the attack 
was cancelled — '. . . it was generally agreed that the German 
defences were stronger than anticipated' ^ — and Gough's 
plan of bringing the 7th Division round to the south was 

The losses of the one day's fighting that was the 'Battle' of 
Aubers Ridge were 458 officers and 11,161 men. It had been 
a disastrous fifteen hours of squandered heroism, unre- 
deemed by the faintest glimmer of success. 

But, in fact, more than heroism had been squandered, for 
the divisions broken on this day, like those at Ypres in the 
weeks before, were the last of the old regular British Army, 
that had the training and discipline of years behind them and 
whose musketry and 'fifteen rounds rapid' made German 
observers in 191 4 think that there must be 'a machine-gun 
behind every tree'. Thereafter the gaps in individual units 
were filled first by brave but hardly trained volunteers, the 
'New Armies' of the Somme; and, later, by the conscripts 
whose turn was to come at Passchendaele. 

It is one of the great strategic ironies that 1915, the year 
of opportunity for the Western Allies while so many German 
divisions were tied down in Russia, was in fact used by them 
to blunt the very instrument needed for victory. It marked, 
too, a final ossification of tactical thinking; after Aubers 
Ridge surprise was abandoned. 'Weight of metal' was 
regarded as all-important; the 'war of attrition' was held to 
be the answer. In theory the artillery became the chief 
weapon of offence and the infantry the moppers-up. This in 
turn led to a complete neglect of infantry tactics. As will be 
seen, even at the time of the Somme ofifensive over a year 
later, the infantry were still being directed to advance in 
lines, 'dressing from the left' at a brisk walk, and forbidden, 
under pain of court martial, to take cover in any 'trench, 
hole, crater or dug-out'. 

Prevailing military thought was summed up by Robert- 
son: 'We are like a gambler who must always call his 

I. O.H., 1 91 5, II, 40. 


opponent's bluff. Whatever chips he puts down, we must 
put down more.'^ 

But he forbore to state the obvious, that at cards all money 
thus staked comes back to the victor — in war lives are gone 
for ever. 

I . This remark of Robertson, and the substance of the comment thereto, 
which I have paraphrased, are taken from Captain Liddell Hart's personal 
file on World War I. 


Repercussions and Recriminations 

Our attack has failed, and failed badly, and with heavy 
casualties. That is the bald and most unpleasant fact. 

CHARTERis, letters, 1 1 th May 1 9 1 5 

BEHIND the lines, at General Headquarters of the 
French and British commands, and in the capitals, 
distance magnified the echoes of defeat. 
The French offensive had not fulfilled the promise of its 
opening days and their losses, operating on a longer front, 
were likewise greater in proportion. None the less orthodox 
military thinking in both armies professed itself convinced 
that the 'attrition' method was the key to success. 'We lost 
some 10,000 men and never gained a yard,' wrote Wilson 
triumphantly in his diary. 'Now whose plans were right, 
Foch's or Haig's?' 

But the French themselves had doubts. Poincare tells how 

'Colonel Penelon . . . leaves me no illusion whatever as 
to the Arras operations, which have utterly failed. The thing 
is over, the casualty list is very heavy, and we are not going 
to get through. In consolation I am told that the German 
losses are very much greater' [they were, in fact, less than 
half] . . . 'but this can be very little better than guesswork.'^ 

On the day that the oflfensive opened Castelnau had told 
him that he did not think that any very important result 
would be achieved, and, contrary to the opinion of Joffre, 
thought that they might have to look for a decision in some 

I. Poincar6, Au Service de la France, Vol. II (translation Sir George Arthur, 
P- »37)- 



Other theatre of war, Italy or the Danube. Ten days later 
Henry Wilson saw Castelnau and 

'. . . found him very much opposed to attacks like this at 
Arras, which cost 100,000 men and did nothing except 
shatter four Corps. He is for big guns, lots of ammunition, 
deep entrenchments, wait for the English to appear, stop 
all attacks till some chance of real decision and so on.'^ 

It is strange to find such hard-headed sense among the 
senior generals of that period, stranger still to hear such 
sentiments from the lips of one who, before the war, had 
been regarded as the 'High Priest of the offensive' and whose 
influence had spread deep into the Army. But at that time 
Castelnau held no fighting command, and jealousy of Joflfre 
and Foch may perhaps have helped to sharpen his logical 
perception. The junior French commanders on the other 
hand were only too keenly aware of the hopelessness of the 
oflfensive and, unlike their British colleagues, were more 
vocal in expression. Early in June Poincare wrote that 
'Everyone is complaining about Joffre, and especially about 
his entourage.' Clemenceau declared that 'if things go on as 
they are doing, there will be a revolt of the Generals against 
the High Command'.^ 

In response to a large volume of letters Poincare visited 
the Arras front in July where he found ample evidence of the 
rift between 'brass and boots'. The Commander of the 9th 
Corps besought him: 'Pray, Monsieur le President, do what 
you can to put a stop to these local oflfensives. The instrument 
of victory is being broken in our hands.' All the other 
commanders, with little variation, voiced the same opinion. 
But '. . . the Army Commander by no means agreed with 
them. His view was that if the troops are having such a bad 
time where they are, they should be pushed on up to the 
crest of the ridge. '^ 

1. Wilson, Memoirs, p. 233. 

2. Liddell Hart, Foch, pp.- 189-90. 

3. Ibid. 


In conclusion he noted that 'One gets the impression of 
profound disagreement between the man who sets the task 
and the subordinates who have to execute it.' 

Unfortunately for French and Allied strategy, this bout of 
discontent was largely dissipated by a few well-selected 
reforms on the part of Joffre. The bribes that he distributed 
ranged from eight days' leave for all the N.C.O.s and men 
engaged in the Arras offensive to a reshuffle of the higher 
commands that gave him a new Chief of Staff and Castelnau 
command of the centre group of armies. At the same time 
he arranged for a regular sequence of conferences between 
himself and the other army commanders 'so that a unanimous 
front may be presented' thereby doing away, in name at 
least, with the duumvirate system of rule that had prevailed 
under himself and Foch. The power of promotion as a 
restorative of harmony was amply demonstrated at the first 
of these when Castelnau joined with the others in condemn- 
ing the 'Eastern heresy', i.e. the theory that the Allies should 
stand on the defensive until British man-power and 
munitions had reached full tide, declaring that the English 
'. . . can pronounce at their ease, having no invaded 
provinces to liberate'. 

All the same Castelnau still seems to have been uneasy 
at this subordination of the practical to the sentimental. 
After getting back from Chantilly he said: 'At present we 
have no plan, and we are like a cockchafer in a glass 
case; we keep on putting our heads out right and left 

The agitated condition of their Allies had done nothing 
to soothe the nerves and susceptibilities of the British 
commanders. Joffre was continually pressing Sir John 
French to keep up local offensives while his own attack 
corps were recovering their breath, and there were some 
tricky scenes: 

I. Poincard, Au Service de la France, Vol. II (translation Sir George Arthur), 
p. 147. 

Polished boots: left to right, Joffre, Poincare, George V, Foch, 





The walking wounded, dazed and benumbed, return from 
the terror of the front-Hne trenches. 

Looking across the German wire to 'Tower Bridge' which rises 
in the background. A riddled and abandoned farmhouse stands 

on the left. 


!•• 4 / 

' m^i 

♦ *. 

'•— ' *h»^ 

iUt' I 




'Joffre got very excited and pointed out that we should be 
doing very little if we only relieved the 58th Division, and 
hinted at Government action, which luckily Sir John did 
not quite catch, and I got the chance of interpreting wrong; 
but as both were getting hot I got Sir John to go away, 
saying he would send an answer later. '^ 

Nor were feelings any more tranquil on the 'Home Front'. 
For some months past the Conservative Party had been 
chafing with eagerness to play a larger part in the direction 
of the war and the long succession of disappointments, 
the fact that no early end to the war was in sight, and, now, 
the fresh spate of rumours and accusations that spread with 
the return of wounded and leave-men after the Aubers 
battle — all these were giving rise to dangerous political 
undercurrents. The British commanders could not but be 
aware of these, and being convinced, naturally, of their own 
indispensability, took steps to secure their position. 

Their excuses centred round those that had finally tipped 
the scales at Haig's morning conference of corps com- 
manders on loth May, namely — shortage of ammunition. 
This was, of course, a distortion of the facts for it was 
planning, tactics and leadership that had lost the battle on 
the first day. The real reason for halting the battle was that 
the men were exhausted and had already suflfered crippling 

'The answer to any such excuse from a general is that 
you ought not to enter into an oflfensive battle unless you have 
enough ammunition. The Commander who miscalculates is 
seriously to blame. 

'I well remember a soldier and Member of Parliament at 
G.H.Q^. — Captain Stanley Wilson, m.p. — describing to me in 
those critical weeks with great prescience exactly what form 
this policy of offensive -defensive would assume. "We have 
failed, we have lost many lives." This was the gist of the 

I. Wilson, Memoirs, p. 227. 


G.H.Q^. case. "There may be a popular outcry. Very well, 
then let us concentrate it quickly on the home authorities." '^ 

In pursuance of this policy French sent Captain Guest and 
his military secretary, Brinsley Fitzgerald, to London, 
armed with a quantity of secret information on the supply 
situation. These two talked most indiscreetly to leading 
members of the Opposition as well as 'with any other M.P. 
who could be got to listen to them'. They also put before 
Bonar Law, the Conservative leader, and Lloyd George, who 
was the principal rival to Asquith in the Liberal Government, 
a carefully edited mass of correspondence on the subject that 
had passed between French's H.Q^. and the War Office. 

Their arguments were given added force by the publica- 
tion in The Times of a series of articles exposing the shells 
'scandal' — whose very content showed that they owed much 
to official sources in the field — over the name of Colonel 
Repington, that paper's military correspondent. Repington 
was much addicted to fashionable dinner parties — it was in 
this milieu that he had first made the acquaintance of Sir 
John — but it so happened that at that time he was in France, 
'touring' the Western Front with Lord Brooke. Haig, who was 
apprehensive of enquiring journalists, refused to see them and 
did his best to obstruct all the reporters working on the 
ist Army front at that time,^ but the Commander-in- 
Chief took them in and poured out his grievances, supporting 
these with a mass of secret data and correspondence. (Evi- 
dently French did not scruple to suppress, or Repington to 
overlook, the despatch preceding the offensive in which the 
Commander-in-Chief had stated that supplies were 'ade- 
quate' — or his earlier decision to order ammunition in the 
proportion 75 per cent shrapnel/25 per cent high explosive, 
itself a most serious error of judgement when considered 
against the background of siege warfare which prevailed on 

1. Lord Beaverbrook, Politicians and the War, Vol. I, p. 91. 

2. On 2 1 St May Haig wrote to C.G.S. 'recommending that no newspaper 
correspondent be allowed to come close to the front during active operations'. 
i.e. the duration of the war. (Haig, Diaries, p. 93.) 


the Western Front.) Sir John harped on the ammunition 
shortage and made the most of the opportunity for airing 
all his private grievances concerning the Secretary of State. 

He could not have selected a more timely occasion or a 
more receptive audience, for Repington was himself keenly 
aware of Kitchener's dislike and contempt for 'Social 
Soldiers' and had several times in the past attempted, at the 
instigation of Henry Wilson, to spread gossip in London to 
the effect that Kitchener was 'mad' and 'unfit to command 
a platoon' and so forth. Furthermore Northcliffe, Reping- 
ton's employer, had just decided, as he confided in Lord 
Beaverbrook one afternoon in the Ritz Hotel, 'to go on 
attacking Lord Kitchener, day in, day out, until he had 
driven him from office'.^ 

Repington's first despatch appeared in The Times of 
Friday, 14th May, and gave rise to a major political sensa- 
tion. Then, on the Saturday, the Government, already 
tottery, suffered a fresh and fatal blow. Lord Fisher, the 
First Sea Lord, resigned, having first written an anonymous 
letter in his own flamboyant hand to the leader of the 
Opposition, stating the fact of his resignation. The ostensible 
reason for his action was 'disagreements over the situation in 
the Dardanelles' but it was well known to be, in fact, the 
climax to a long series of disputes with the First Lord of the 
Admiralty, Winston Churchill. Churchill was, at this time 
(as in the 1930's), 'a person peculiarly odious to the Conser- 
vative party'. ^ Even had he so wished, Bonar Law would not 
have been able to restrain his rank and file if Churchill had 
stayed in office with a new Board of Admiralty beneath him, 
and all other considerations pointed to this being an ideal 
moment for the Tories to force their way into the Govern- 
ment. Accordingly Bonar Law addressed a letter to 
Asquith informing him that they would demand an early 

1. Lord Beaverbrook, Politicians and the War, Vol. I, p. 95. 

2. Charteris wrote : '. . . I have never had much beHef in Churchill. He is so 
glib and his judgements seem always wrong. He has always the perfect explana- 
tion, like a child with the inevitable excuse that you cannot break down, but 
know to be untrue. (G.i/.Q,., p. 95.) 

134 "^^^ DONKEYS 

debate on the conduct of the war unless he reconstructed his 
government. Asquith yielded, sacrificing both Churchill and 
Haldane, another member who was anathema to the Tories, 
and formed his new Coalition Government on igth May.^ 

For the British commanders in France the significance of 
these Cabinet changes were twofold. In the first place, public 
and official attention had been effectively diverted from the 
Aubers debacle. Scapegoats had been found and assurances 
had been given that reforms were in hand. Second, and more 
important in its long-term consequences, the 'Eastern' 
group in the Cabinet had been routed. Of the two men with 
real strategic vision at present directing the war policy of 
the Empire one, Churchill, had been dismissed; while the 
other. Kitchener, had had his authority restricted by Lloyd 
George's appointment as Minister of Munitions and the 
elevation to a separate department of what had hitherto been 
a committee subordinate to the War Office. While it was true 
that public feeling did not allow Northcliflfe and Repington 
to pursue their victimization of Kitchener in the Press, his in- 
fluence within the Cabinet itself had been sensibly diminished. 

These political changes virtually sealed the fate of the 
Dardanelles Expedition — short of some spectacular and 
sudden military victory which was unlikely to occur without 
further quantities of men and supplies being diverted to that 
theatre. And it became plain that the Government must 
back the view that the war would be decided on the 
Western Front and, accordingly, to pay every attention to 
the opinions and demands of those in command there. 

I. It is ironic that the most lucid account of 'The Shells scandal' and 
its political repercussions should have been written by Lord Beaverbrook 
(Politicians and the War, Vol. I, Chaps. VI, VII, and VIII), the man who was most 
responsible for seeing that an identical situation did not recur in World War 
II. In this he asserts that the fall of the Government was '. . . produced 
solely and entirely by the dissensions at the Admiralty'. This may be true as 
regards. the direct cause, but, equally, there can be no doubt that the dissemina- 
tion of 'facts' relating to the scandal played a significant part in conditioning 
public opinion to the need for a change and thus of dissuading Asquith from 
taking up the challenge and attempting, as well he might have, to fight out the 
issue on the floor of the House of Commons. 


At the beginning of July two inter-Allied conferences were 
held, to soothe such differences as remained after the defeat 
in May and to co-ordinate plans for a new offensive. The 
first of these, a purely Anglo-French affair, was held at 
Calais on the 6th. At this were present MM. Millerand, 
Augagneur, Delcasse and Viviani, Mr. Asquith, Mr. Balfour, 
Lord Crewe (who was acting for Sir Edward Grey) and Lord 
Kitchener, as well as Joffre and French. 

In spite of this no record of the conference can be found, 
and it is not mentioned in the French Official History. 
Poincare in his Memoirs merely states that Millerand told 
him of an 'interview', adding 'a subsequent interview took 
place yesterday at Chantilly at which an agreement was 
reached'. Foch does not mention the conference in his 

However, Asquith has given a diagram of the seating at 
the conference table in his Memories and Reflections^ although 
he says little of what took place other than that '. . . the man 
who came best, not only linguistically but altogether, out of 
the whole thing, was Lord Kitchener'. It does seem, as is 
discussed in the following chapter, that at this meeting 
Joffre and Kitchener concluded a private agreement, so 
that they should know where they stood on the following day. 
At all events there was complete harmony at the military 
conference which took place the next day at Chantilly where 
'Sir John French stated that he was fully in accord with 
General Joffre's views that the general strategic situation 
demanded the offensive, and pledged himself to the utmost 
of his means'. 

It seems that, the day before, there had occurred, not for 
the last time in the war, one of those mutually agreed but 
almost unconscious deceptions of the politicians by the 
generals; for, in World Crisis, Churchill wrote: 

'. . . the representatives of the Cabinet had argued against a 
further Anglo-French offensive in the West in 1915, and 
proposed offensive-defensive qperations, and the French had 


agreed; General Jo ffre had agreed. The agreement was open 
and formal (but not recorded) . No sooner had General Joffre 
left the conference than, notwithstanding these agreements, 
he had already resumed the development of his plans for a 
great attack.' 

Whatever the means the result was the same and, with 
their governments acquiescent and the memory of the spring 
defeats receding, the spirits of the commanders in the field 
rose again. 

As often as not this seems to have happened beyond the 
point of self-deception. Sir Edward Spears conveyed the 
atmosphere at headquarters:^ 

'General Rawlinson's bouts of optimism were apt to play 
ducks and drakes with the rigid economy of effort imposed 
on his army by the niggardly means at his disposal. One 
day he came to see Franchet D'Esperey and to my horror 
spoke as if he had unlimited artillery with which to support 
the French attack. He sailed in, a stick under one arm, 
waving the other, in a splendid humour due no doubt to the 
fact that he was going on a few days' leave which he was 
going to spend hunting the wild boar with the Duke of 
Westminster near Arcachon. His promises were quite un- 
related to what was possible. I spent some difficult hours, 
tables of guns and munitions in hand, dispelling the hopes 
Rawly had so lightly conjured up.' 

All the same the resources at the disposal of the British 
commanders increased significantly throughout the two 
months following the conference. In all, eighteen new 
divisions were sent out and grouped into an additional four 
corps. These were the first of the Kitchener 'New Armies', 
imperfectly trained it was true, but filled with enthusiasm 
. . . they were the very first of the volunteers of the winter 
of 1914. 

One wonders what they would have felt had they been 

I. Spears, Prelude to Victory, p. 88. 


able to read an entry, in Kitchener's own hand, on a War 
Office memorandum at this time: 

'The French have an almost unlimited supply of ammu- 
nition and fourteen divisions in reserve, so if they cannot get 
through we may take it as proved that the lines cannot be 


Loos: the Plan 

Joffre and Sir John told me in November that they 
were going to push the Germans back over the 
frontier; they gave me the same assurances in Decem- 
ber, March, and May. What have they done? The 
attacks are very costly and end in nothing. 

KITCHENER, memo to Robertson, 
iSthJuly 1915 

WITHIN a month of the inter- Allied conference 
General Joffre, undeterred by his hard experiences 
of the spring, had approved further but no less 
grandiose plans. The ideal, he felt, was for two great con- 
vergent blows from the sectors Arras-Lens and Rheims. 

These fronts were in fact too widely separated for direct 
tactical interaction of the offensives, being served by 
different railheads and systems, but Joffre ignored this and 
believed, as he expressed it in a memorandum to Sir John 
French, that: 

'A successful break-through both in Champagne and in 
Artois was to be followed immediately by a general offensive 
of all the French and British armies on the Western Front 
which will compel the Germans to retreat beyond the 
Meuse and possibly end the war.' 

French expressed his general agreement. He had to tread 
carefully with Joffre, he thought, for Henry Wilson was 
constantly at his elbow with fresh evidence of Kitchener's 
plans to replace him. There seems little doubt that French 
really did believe that Kitchener had proposed his replace- 
ment by Sir Ian Hamilton at the Dunkirk conference the 


loos: the plan 139 

previous November and that he had been saved only by the 
support of Joffre and Poincare. Should he forfeit this for 
some reason, he would feel less secure. 

But Haig, whose ist Army was to conduct the operation, 
had other ideas. The last thing that he wanted was to be 
implicated in a sort of half-cock offensive with the French 
pulling all the strings. He made a personal reconnaissance of 
the area and found the ground 'for the most part bare and 
open . . . and so swept by rifle- and machine-gun fire from 
the German trenches and the numerous fortified villages 
immediately behind them that a rapid advance would be 

Glumly Sir John listened to his Army Commander. 
Although, less than a week before Haig's visit, when Foch 
and D'Urbal had taken him on a tour of the front, he had 
recorded in his diary, '. . . the ground which extends for 
some distance to the west of our trench line affords many 
advantages to an attacker', he now wrote that 'Our future 
plans are causing me a good deal of anxious thought', and 
that '. . . after a careful examination of the ground at Loos 
and Lens and a consideration of Haig's report I am doubtful 
of the success of an attack against these places, which I had 
arranged with the French to make'.^ 

Joffre, however, would not tolerate any objections. 
Abruptly he told the British commanders that 'Your attack 
will find particularly favourable ground between Loos and 
La Bassee.' 

As Sir James Edmonds drily commented: 'He did not 
enter into any explanation of the reasons why he considered 
the ground favourable.' 

A conference with Foch was arranged for the 27th July at 
Frevent, and at this Foch '. . . maintained it to be of vital 
importance that, regardless of the ground and strength of 
the enemy's defences, the British First Army should make 
its attack south of the canal in co-operation with the French'. 
This completely upset Sir John, who had also to cope with 

I. E. G. French, The Life of Field Marshal Sir John French. 


Henry Wilson, daily at his elbow with his assertions of the 
superior French military judgement. 

Haig, however, remained adamant, while French shilly- 
shallied between the two, changing his mind from day to 
day; stroking his moustaches in perplexity as his Rolls 
tourer bumped and lurched over the roads between Doullens, 
Frevent and St. Omer. There were four such conferences 
during June and July and the date of the offensive was 
successively postponed from 'the first week in August' to 
'the end of August', to 'the 8th of September', to 'the 15th 
September', and, finally, to 'the 23rd of September'. 

At intervals Jo ffre himself was called in to deliver oracular 
pronouncement on the world-shattering importance of the 
operations planned. Both he and Foch gradually abandoned 
any pretence that the locale was favourable and were taking 
their stand on the ground that 'a fierce blow' was vital 'to 
the honour and prospects of the Allied cause'. 

During this period Intelligence reports began to come in 
with disquieting regularity of the energy with which the 
Germans were strengthening their defences. It was becoming 
plain that they, at least, knew what was coming. They had 
perfect observation of the whole front of the assault: in the 
north from Fosse 8, a vast heap of slag and shale deposit 
from the mine workings that dominated the area and was 
virtually indestructible; in the south from the Loos pylons, a 
tall lattice-like structure of iron and steel that stood at the 
pit-heads outside Loos village. (The British artillery had been 
trying for months to destroy this erection, known to the 
troops as 'Tower Bridge' on account of the similarity in 
outline, but without success.)^ 

The general plan of the offensive definitely subordinated 
the surprise of the enemy to the methodical destruction of 
his defences. None the less it was disquieting that the French 
Ambassador in Rome should report that its delivery was a 
subject of general gossip. 

I. After they had evacuated them, however, the Germans, with their heavier 
guns, brought the pylons down in two days. • 

loos: the plan 141 

After some further period the unfortunate Sir John French 
hit upon a compromise solution: might it not be possible to 
co-operate with Foch's attack 'by threat, and implication', 
i.e. without sending the infantry over the top at all? A 'storm 
of artillery fire' — he used this term freely, ignoring the fact that 
one of his and Haig's strongest objections to launching the 
attack was shortage of heavy guns — 'a storm of artillery fire 
laid down for a period of days on the German positions would 
harass and destroy their forward elements, and lead them to 
believe that a heavy attack might follow at any moment'.^ 

The catch in this, from an ethical point of view, was that 
French could not quite decide when, or how, to explain to 
Foch, with whom he was co-operating, that he was not 
going to attack with infantry. Perhaps he hoped that he 
would not have to explain at all. His papers show scant 
attention to this problem. At all events it was not to arise, 
or not in that form, for Henry Wilson got wind of the 
scheme, and promptly communicated it to Pelle, the French 
Chief of Staff.2 Joffre then sent a strong letter to Sir John 
saying that he expected him to attack with all his forces, and 
wished him to settle details with Foch. French, still eager in 
evasion, had a reply drafted that '. . . he would assist according 
to ammunition'. Wilson at once rushed to see Foch, who 'when 
I told him the story was quite open about the deplorable 
effect if we don't fight — Sir John had better walk warily'.^ 

Once again Joffre was appealed to. By now he was in a 
state of high indignation. The insubordination, for it seemed 
nothing less, of the British generals was threatening the whole 
structure of his offensive scheme. This was to be the attack 
that would finish the Boche in the west. Was it to be 
prejudiced by the timidity of these inexperienced British? 
It could not, it must not, be thwarted. Perhaps already he 
was feeling the first chill puffs of draught from the wind of 
popular indignation that was to blow him out of office a year 

1. E. G. French, The Life of Field Marshal Sir John French. 

2. Liddell Hart, Foch, p. 197. 

3. Wilson, Memoirs, p. 245. 


later. He appealed to Kitchener. Alarmingly he hinted that 
he, Joffre, was being held responsible for securing the 'full 
and proper' co-operation of the British, and that should he 
fail he would be displaced and the politicians would conclude 
a separate peace. 

Confronted by this threat Kitchener travelled once again 
to France and visited French at his headquarters. 'K' was 
alarmed by Joffre's threat; he was still suffering from reaction 
to the disappointment at the Dardanelles. By now it was 
Augustj the 'black August' of 191 5; daily there were reports 
of fresh disasters on the Russian front; he was tired and he 
felt his own reputation waning. And, added to all these 
factors, there is considerable circumstantial evidence of a 
secret agreement contracted some months before, between 
himself and Joffre. 

At the Calais conference of Gth-yth July, Kitchener, who 
had accompanied Asquith, Balfour and Crewe in a strong 
delegation that was to settle Allied differences, had scored a 
great personal success in bringing the French round to the 
British point of view. The Cabinet were duly gratified at his 
achievements, but they were ignorant of the background. 
The facts of this are as follows: 

In the early morning of 7th July, Kitchener took a stroll 
with Joffre, followed by a long private conversation in the 
saloon of the special train which had drawn the French 
ministers to Calais. Kitchener would never reveal any details 
of that conversation; but the main conference, which was 
resumed later that morning, ended in a complete agreement 
within a remarkably short time. 

Joffre accepted, with apparent geniality, the decision to 
stand upon the defensive on the Western Front. But he took 
no notice of it whatever, and he continued to work secretly 
and uninterruptedly on his plans for a huge-scale autumn 
offensive in Champagne. He may have explained to 
Kitchener that the psychology of the French people made a 
defensive policy dangerous; and it is certain that Kitchener 
knew what Joffre was planning. He probably hoped that 

loos: the plan 143 

Hamilton would break through the Dardanelles during 
August; at any rate the Cabinet reinforced Hamilton's force 
and he was given this last chance to succeed there. 

But by the i8th August Kitchener was back in France 
with the knowledge that Hamilton had failed and that there 
was nothing left but to honour his compact with Joffre. On 
the following day he went to ist Army H.Q. and, after 
addressing the corps commanders in the garden there, he 
asked Haig to see him privately. 

'After washing his hands. Lord K. came into my writing- 
room upstairs, saying he had been anxious to have a few 
minutes' talk with me. The Russians, he said, had been 
severely handled, and it was doubtful how much longer their 
army could withstand the German blows. Up to the present, 
he had favoured a poHcy of active defence in France until 
such times as all our forces were ready to strike. The situation 
which had arisen in Russia had caused him to modify these 
views. He now felt that the AUies must act vigorously in 
order to take some of the pressure off Russia, if possible. He 
had heard, when with the French, that Sir John French did 
not mean to co-operate to the utmost of his power when the 
French attacked in September. He [Lord K.] had noticed 
that the French were anxiously watching the British on their 
left. And he had decided that we must act with all our energy, 
and do our utmost to help the French, even though, by so doing, we 
suffered very heavy losses indeed.''^ (The itahcs are Haig's.) 

I. Winston Churchill throws an interesting light on Kitchener's state of 
mind at this point in World Crisis, p. 463: 

'. . . To avoid unnecessary circulation of secret documents, it had been 
arranged that the members of the War Committee wishing to read the daily 
War Office telegrams could do so each morning at the War Office in Lord 
Kitchener's ante-room. . . . On the morning of August 21st, I was thus engaged 
when the private secretary informed me that Lord Kitchener . . . wished to see 
me ... He looked at me sideways with a very odd expression on his face. I saw 
he had some disclosure of importance to make, and waited. After appreciable 
hesitation he told me that he had agreed with the French to a great offensive 
in France. I said at once that there was no chance of success. He said that the 
scale would restore everything, including of course the Dardanelles. He had 
an air of suppressed excitement like a man who has taken a great decision of 
terrible uncertamty, and is about to put it into execution.' 


It may be remarked that the reluctance of the British 
higher command to commit their infantry in hopeless or 
excessively costly operations stands in marked contrast to 
their attitude up to and following this date, and, in par- 
ticular, to the profligacy with which lives were later 
squandered on the Somme and at Passchendaele. 

The autumn offensives of 19 15 came at a transitional stage 
in the development of the British armies in France. Hitherto 
the battles had been of an experimental nature; from a 
strategic aspect they had been — in spite of French's 
optimistic telegrams — holding actions. Under these con- 
ditions there was no room for indecision or 'faint-hearted- 
ness'. Commanders who wished to remain in office for the 
greater struggles that were to follow were not slow in taking 
to heart the lesson of Smith-Dorrien's dismissal; there was to 
be no squeamishness over 'losses'. But now, after a year of 
war, a change was coming over the scene. Soon Kitchener's 
'New Armies' would be taking the field. The preponderance 
of British fighting strength over that of France, in quality 
if not yet in numbers, would be manifest. The prospect of 
honour and fame on a great scale were heavy in the air. To 
excitable minds there was even the possibility that the post 
of supreme commander, of Generalissimo, might ultimately 
be offered to an Englishman. How cruel to be robbed of 
such a prospect by involvement in a fiasco, at the bidding of 
an ally whose own position would shortly become in fact, if 
not in name, subordinate. To Haig, and to French, after 
Haig had explained the position to him, all these dangers 
were very apparent. His own personal position was not yet 
adequately consolidated. 'A new broom', 'a fresh start', 'cut 
away the dead wood' . . . these and many other spectres that 
haunt the leaders of a society, based on popular government 
and a popular Press, troubled them. If the attack should 
prove a failure, too obvious a failure . . . 

But with Kitchener's intervention the burden was lifted 
from their shoulders. The responsibility was his, and that of 
Joffre. Moreover Haig was in touch with the King. As he 

loos: the plan 145 

looked about him he must have seen many who could be 
jettisoned if seas became too rough. 

And now that the decision had been taken, Haig's own 
mind began to warm to the idea. He had built for himself an 
enormous wooden tower. From the balcony at its summit he 
could look out over the malevolent grey-black country with 
its slag-heaps, crassiers, and little clusters of miners' cottages, 
roofless from the perpetual shellfire but housing in their 
cellars the German machine-gun crews. Through his field- 
glasses he could discern the coils of barbed wire — in places 
thirty or forty feet across — that sprawled, like great poisonous 
centipedes, among the craters. 

When an M.P., Mr. Shirley Benn, who was on a visit as 
a member of Lloyd George's ammunition committee, asked 
him how men could penetrate this wire Haig did not answer, 
but an aide told him that they would be cut by artillery 
fire. (Earlier another member of the commission, a Mr. 
McMaster, had asked Haig whether they still used 'the 
round cannon-ball'.) 

The scheme that appealed to Haig at the present time was 
to attack behind a 'wave' of chlorine gas, projected from 
cylinders. He had attended, earlier, a convincing demon- 
stration of the possibilities of this technique and it had, 
among others, the advantage that it allowed the widening of 
the front from a two- to a six-division assault. 

There was a danger in this plan, however. To be sure of 
an effective 'wave' of gas, the engineers needed the wind in 
a certain quarter — west-south-west — and for it to be of at 
least moderate strength. Failing this the gas would simply 
hang about their own trenches, poisoning the troops crowded 
there waiting for the assault, or at best drift over towards the 
enemy lines in irregular gusts and patches, disrupting the 
uniformity and cohesion of the attack. 

As some insurance against this Haig had an alternative, 
'inner' plan for an attack on a two-division front if unfavour- 
able weather should cause the larger scheme to founder at 
the last moment. But, again, this was already seriously 


compromised by the fact that he had spread his guns, in 
themselves hardly adequate to support an offensive on this 
scale, over the larger front, so that the concentrated attack 
would be starting with the fatal handicap of dispersed 
supporting fire. 

Other factors, on a broader strategic level, were working 
against the success of the ist Army's attack. Notwithstanding 
his earlier encouragement Joffre had privately become 
convinced, in the few weeks immediately preceding the date 
fixed for the opening of the offensive, that the ground in the 
Loos-Lens area was most unfavourable to the attacker, and 
had been shifting the main emphasis of his own armies to 
the southern stroke in Champagne. However, on 14th Sep- 
tember he gave a final explanation of his plans at a conference 
at Chantilly, attended by the three army group commanders 
and by French. At this meeting Joffre declared that the 
time was 'particularly favourable for a general offensive', 
and expressed his 'confidence in a great and possibly com- 
plete victory'. The simultaneous attacks were 'a certain 
guarantee of success'. 

ist Army Headquarters, too, were by now infected with 
optimism. Those who had doubts wisely held their peace, for 
'disloyalty' or 'lack of offensive spirit' did not go unnoticed 
or unpunished. 

It was generally felt that the gas would work wonders — 
a view which ignored the fact that although gas will poison 
men, regardless of nationality, only high explosives will 
destroy wire. 

Loos: the Assault 

Foch: Est-ce-que les hommes sont en bon etat? 
Haig: They never were in better heart, and are longing 
for a fight. 

At tea, 1 2th September 19 15 (Haig, Diaries, p. 103) 

ATA quarter past five on the morning of 25th September, 
Z_\ after an uneasy night spent in constant consultation 
-/ X. with Captain Gold, the R.F.C. meteorological officer, 
Haig gave the orders to 'Garry on'. 

Ponderously, for he had suffered a mild attack of asthma 
the previous evening, he climbed up the stairs of his wooden 
tower, his staff at his heels. As the sound of the bombardment, 
which had been unimpressive even at its height, abated, 
they peered across No-Man's-Land at the flickering bracelet 
of fire caused by the exploding shells as they crept slowly 
from the leading to the secondary German positions. So still 
did the air seem that, as the minutes passed, all became 
infected by the fear that the gas would simply hang about 
the British trenches. After a quarter of an hour Haig made 
one of his staff telephone to ist Corps to enquire whether it 
was possible to stop the arrangements for the attack. The 
answer came that 'General Gough did not consider it prac- 
ticable to get word in time to the front trenches'. 

Nor were they the only ones in doubt about the wisdom of 
releasing the gas; in Home's 2nd Division the officer in 
charge of the gas on the 2nd Brigade front declined to 
assume the responsibility of turning on the cylinders. On this 
being reported to Home he ordered that 'the programme 



must be carried out whatever the conditions'. The reluctance 
of the corps and divisional commanders to sanction any last- 
minute alteration in the plan is all the harder to understand 
when one discovers the very complex and thorough arrange- 
ments that had been made to ensure a last-minute cancella- 
tion if this should prove necessary. Between the higher 
formations three routes were arranged, by telephone, 
telegraph and despatch-riders. To pass the order on to the 
gas units, officers, attended by runners, were stationed at 
special points. Each of these officers had ready twenty 
typewritten slips, 'Attack postponed, taps not to be turned on 
until further notice'.^ 

However, in spite of definitely unfavourable conditions 
on several parts of the attack front, these precautionary 
measures were nowhere implemented and, at nine minutes 
to six, the taps were opened. 

There was certainly no shortage of gas. Until zero-hour at 
6.30 over 150 tons were discharged from 5,243 cylinders 
concealed in sandbagged bays in the fire-trench. As the 
greenish-yellow chlorine came hissing out it slowly built up 
into a cloud from thirty to fifty feet high that billowed 
sluggishly forwards into No-Man's-Land. Overhead the 
German distress Verys curved red and white in the lightening 
sky and their forward machine-guns in the sap-heads began 
to chatter, firing short warning bursts at alternating 

As the sun rose the wind did not increase. There can have 
been few among the infantry, packed like animals along the 
narrow slippery communication trenches, sweating in their 
improvised talc and flannel 'respirators', who did not feel 
a sense of foreboding as they waited for the subaltern's 
whistle. Far from being 'in a panic' the Germans had 
already begun to open bursts of deterrent fire and the bullets 

I. O.H., 1915, II, 171. 

loos: the assault 149 

were slapping into the sandbag parados just above the heads 
of the waiting assault troops. Soon mortar-fire was added to 
this and, fijrther back, the enemy field artillery began to 
come to life. 

In front of Loos and further north in the region of the 
Hohenzollern Redoubt the gas cloud carried fairly well over 
the German trenches and was to exert a marked influence on 
the advance of the 47th, 15th and gth Divisions, only falling 
short of complete success because it moved too slowly and 
there was not enough of it. But at the southern end of the 
front the vapour, after thirty-five minutes' flow, was still 
short of the enemy parapet. And in the centre, on both sides 
of the Vermelles-Hulluch road, it drifted in the right 
direction at first; but towards the end of the discharge began 
to float back and into the British trenches, giving rise, in the 
words of the Official History^ to 'great inconvenience and 
some loss'. In other places, particularly on the 2nd Division 
front, the discharge had to be discontinued at once and no 
gas reached the German trenches. 

There was some surprise eflfect, but it quickly wore off. 
The official narrative of the German 6th Army reads: 'In 
general the physical effect on the men was trifling.' 

The drizzle of rain had cleared, leaving a thin ground 
mist, when, at 6.30 a.m., the infantry clambered out of the 
trenches, and in the fog of gas and smoke, which made it 
difficult to pick up landmarks, began the advance across 
No-Man's-Land. They were in fighting dress — without 
greatcoat and pack, but cumbered with bombs, picks and 
shovels, and extra rations. All ranks wore the original 
pattern smoke helmet — a flannel bag — over their heads, but 
with the front rolled up, and had a second helmet in their 
haversacks. With the front down they could hardly see 
through the talc-covered eye-holes, and with the front up 
the rain caused the chemicals in the flannel to soak out and 
irritate the eyes. 

Although casualties were heavy at every point these varied 
from mere decimation to whole battalions being virtually 


obliterated, as did their achievements vary from the 
substantial and heroic to the utterly negative. If the course 
of the battle, and the causes of the ghastly massacre of the 
following day, are to be properly understood, it is best to 
follow briefly the fortunes of each of ist Army's six divisions, 
starting at the southern end of the attack front opposite Loos 
village itself. 

The 47th Division, at the extreme southern end, broke 
cleanly through the German first line — the men of i/i8th 
London Regiment dribbled a football in front of them as 
they crossed No-Man's-Land — at a cost of some 1,200 
casualties, or roughly 15 per cent, in the first hour. Unfor- 
tunately, however, the right and centre of the division halted 
at the German rear support trench, which they began to 
organize for defence, instead of pressing forward towards 
Cite St. Pierre. In the meantime the London Irish, on the 
left of the division, had entered the southern outskirts of 
Loos village and the i/20th London, passing through the 
Irish, carried all before them, taking in quick succession the 
cemetery, the 'garden city', arriving still full of fight, though 
now sadly depleted, at the heavily defended 'Chalk Pit 
copse' by 8.30 a.m. An hour later they had fought their way 
into the pit itself but their numbers were too few to evict the 
Germans dug in round the copse and they suffered severely 
under enfilade fire from this quarter while their comrades 
looked on from the old German support trench some 800 
yards away. 

On the left of the 47th was the 15th Division, whose 
assault brigades were made up entirely of Highland regi- 
ments. At zero-hour their assault was seriously impeded by 
the obstinacy of the gas cloud which simply hung about the 
congested trenches. Many of the men lingered in the hope 
that it would disperse or drift away towards the German 
lines and there was much difficult to-and-fro traffic in the 
crowded fire-trench as platoons made their way to places 
clear of cylinder bays. The situation was saved, however, by 
the extraordinary heroism of Piper D. Laidlaw of 7th 

loos: the assault 151 

K.O.S.B., who rallied the men by marching up and down 
the parapet playing 'Scotland the Brave' on the pipes, 
regardless of gas and enemy fire. He continued to play even 
after being wounded and was awarded the V.C. Once the 
assault got going the Highlanders pressed it with great 
vigour and complete disregard for losses. It took them less 
than an hour to penetrate both German trench lines in 
front of Loos village and by 8 a.m. they were enthusiastically 
digging the garrison out of the cellars at the point of the 

Unfortunately the enemy's fire, and the prospect of his 
rout in the village itself, had drawn all the Scottish regiments 
into the maze of trenches and connected cellars there, to 
the detriment of the broad plan of advance. Thus the front 
of the divisional attack narrowed from 1,500 to less than 600 
yards and the 7th K.O.S.B. on the extreme left, who had 
achieved the deepest penetration of all, reaching the line of 
the Lens road by 9.15, were left in isolation, suffering inter- 
mittent shellfire from their own artillery. In Loos itself the 
Highland regiments were by now thoroughly intermingled. 
A very large proportion of their officers had been killed and 
many of the subalterns remaining did not like to assume the 
responsibility of giving orders, believing that their superiors 
were still alive but perhaps lost in the confusion. The men 
themselves — 'a magnificent Border rabble'^ — believed that 
it was all over bar the shouting and, by half past eight, were 
streaming out of the eastern end of the village in great spirits 
and starting the ascent of Hill 70 in a somewhat leisurely 
manner. They had, in the words of a battalion diarist, 'the 
appearance of a bank holiday crowd'. Furthermore, as they 
advanced up the bare slopes of Hill 70, the German garrison 
in the redoubt there, which was at that time no more than a 
few maintenance men and engineers, took to their heels. The 
sight of their enemy running away was too much for the 
Scots and with a renewed cheer they pressed forward and 
over the crest. 

I. R.H. Black Watch, 191 4-1 9, Vol. II. 


But once they were on the downward slope the troops of 
the 1 5th Division were in full view of the Germans waiting 
behind the wire of their very strong second line, which had 
been built outside the range of the eighteen-pounders. And 
after they had travelled some half distance down the bare 
slope, fire was opened by the enemy. The Scots were com- 
pletely pinned down. With only a few inadequate entrench- 
ing tools they could make little impression on the hard 
chalky soil. Some of them tried repeatedly to rush the wire. 
Others attempted to make their way back over the crest. 
But of the nine hundred or so who had advanced from the 
redoubt scarcely one survived. 

During the day the Germans were rapidly reinforced and 
by the afternoon they were counter-attacking in sufficient 
strength to recapture the redoubt. The remnants of the 46th 
Brigade, now reduced to a handful, were rallied by Second 
Lieutenant Johnstone,^ R.E., and made five separate 
attempts to retake it but were beaten off in each case. 

The casualties of the division in this one day's fighting 
were nearly 5,400 — or about 60 per cent — and some bat- 
talions, in particular the 9th Black Watch, 8th Seaforth, 
yth Cameron, 7th K.O.S.B. and ist Highland Light 
Infantry, were virtually annihilated. All the same the 15th 
and 47th Divisions had, though checked now and sadly 
depleted, made substantial gains in the first few hours. But 
further north, for the ist and 7th Divisions, the situation was 
very different. 

The attack plan of the ist Division was, from the outset, of 
doubtful promise. On their right, or southern, flank No- 
Man's-Land was very wide. The opposing trench lines ran 
along the slopes of the Grenay Ridge, unobserved by each 
other and separated by the blind hump of the Col de Grenay 
on which stood 'Lone Tree', the enormous flowering cherry 
that had blossomed that May.^ In consequence artillery 
observation both for cutting the wire and demolishing 

1. Lieutenant Johnstone was awarded a V.C. for his part on that day. He 
was killed at Delville Wood, 191 6. 

2. After the blossoms had fallen a young lieutenant in the Seaforths had led 

loos: the assault 153 

advanced saps had been very difficult, as also patrolling by 
night to investigate results. It had, accordingly, been decided 
to leave this sector out altogether and to concentrate the 
attack along the axis of the Vermelles-Hulluch road in the 
north, with the ist Brigade to lead the attack and the 3rd 
Brigade in close reserve behind it. 

At a later stage, however, as the plan worked its way up to 
Corps and Army level, amendments were made. In par- 
ticular it was ordered that the Division's 2nd Brigade should 
after all make an attack to the south of Lone Tree. These 
instructions had the effect of weakening divisional concen- 
tration along the main axis of advance and, as the two 
brigades were from the outset directed to advance on 
diverging lines, threatened to aggravate this condition later. 
(To 'fill' this gap a composite force — known as 'Green's 
Force' from Lieutenant-Colonel E. W. Green, its commander 
— was created by taking away a battalion from each of the 
I St and 2nd Brigade, and putting them back into reserve.) 
In particular, the orders meant that the 2nd Brigade was 
doomed, in effect, to be 'expended', for it had been given a 
task that was almost impossible. 

And, as it turned out, the attack was a complete failure. 
The men were late in jumping off, as they suffered partic- 
ularly from their own gas in this sector, and were badly 
enfiladed by machine-guns in two sap-heads that the 
Germans had run forward into No-Man's-Land. By the 
time the leading battalions^ reached the wire they had 
suffered over 400 casualties including their commanding 
officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Sanderson. The wire itself was 
some ten yards across, firmly staked low in the ground, and 

a night patrol there and, climbing to the upper branches, had attempted to 
fasten a Union Jack to the trunk. Unfortunately, although successful in this, 
he had been caught in a flare on the way down and machine-gunned. For 
several days his body had hung there. Two attempts to recover it on subsequent 
nights failed and finally divisional artillery were directed on to the tree in an 
attempt to bury him. As the days wore on all the branches had been blown off 
but the gims never scored a direct hit and the stump remained, standing some 
fifteen feet high. It flowered again in 1920. 
I. 2nd K.R.R.C. ist Loyal North Lanes. 


virtually intact. Thus, within an hour after zero, the rem- 
nants of the 2nd Brigade found themselves pinned down in 
hopeless disconnected positions among the craters and 
depressions immediately in front of the main German 
position, their numbers being steadily reduced by short- 
range artillery fire and mortaring. From time to time little 
groups would attempt to clear a way through the obstacle 
with wire-cutters, but all were shot. By 7.45 the smoke 
and mist had cleared, for the British artillery fire had long 
since passed on to more distant objectives, and the prospects 
of an assault became still more hopeless. 

At this point the Brigade may be said to have disinte- 
grated. 'A few officers,' the Official History records, 'neverthe- 
less rallied their men for another effort; but the attackers had 
lost heart and, individually and by groups, began to struggle 
or crawl back to their original trenches.' 

The setback here, and the influence that it exercised on 
the mind of the British commanders, was to have very serious 
consequences on the operations further north. 

Initially the attack of the ist Brigade, opposite Hulluch, 
had prospered, although once again at tremendous cost. 

There were two small copses in No-Man's-Land in this 
sector, known as Bois Carre and La Haie. For many months 
the artillery of both sides had passed over them reducing 
them to little clusters of shattered scrub and ist Army 
Intelligence had classified them as 'unoccupied'. But in the 
weeks immediately preceding the offensive the Germans had 
run saps out and into the undergrowth here. The pre- 
paratory bombardment began along a line further in 
advance, and the machine-gun nests there escaped un- 
touched. Their crews might have been incapacitated by the 
gas if things had gone right but, as it was, the cloud pro- 
gressed so slowly that the three lines of British infantry were 
all deployed, fifty paces between each, and advancing in full 

loos: the assault 155 

view of the enemy, before the Germans smelt the first whiffs 
of vapour. Thus fire from these positions caused very heavy 
casualties before the attackers had even got to grips with the 

On the right of the Brigade front the Gloucesters were the 
assaulting force. With extraordinary courage they forced 
their way into three successive German positions, but by 
the time they had penetrated the German support line and 
reached the maze of communication trenches that lay behind 
they were, in the words of the Official History, 'destroyed as a 
battalion'. The fighting was desperately exhausting and 
there was the utmost difficulty in keeping a proper cohesion 
to the attack. By the time that they arrived at the German 
wire the attacking infantry had, in almost every case, lost a 
proportion of their officers and N.C.O.s so that many 
sections were without proper instruction. The barrier itself 
was seldom penetrable along its entire length and platoons 
and companies would become badly intermingled and the 
confusion more serious as they searched for and passed 
through such gaps as existed. Once in the German lines it 
became even harder for those in command to keep a full 
control of their men. The enemy system was very intricate 
in this sector and the trenches, eight feet deep with a raised 
fire-step on their western side, turned back and forth every 
eighteen feet or so in a series of orderly, buttressed, right 
angles. At intervals steps would lead down under the parados 
to the dug-outs where little groups of unharmed Germans 
lurked ready to emerge with grenades and machine-guns 
after the first attacking wave had passed over, or where, 
more often, lay numbers of shell-shocked and badly wounded 
defenders suffocating from the gas that lingered there, inert 
and deadly. 

In this evil-smelling maze the British infantry became still 
further dispersed, and it was only with great difficulty that 
they could be rallied and induced to clamber out over the 
parados and attack, once again over open fire-swept ground, 
the German support trenches that lay some eighty yards in 


the rear. None the less, within half an hour of first entering 
the trench, the subalterns of the Gloucesters managed to 
mount a second attack on the German positions beyond. 
This, too, was successful, though at a sad price. As the men 
advanced across the broken, cratered earth, whole platoons 
would be reduced to mere handfuls of individuals as the 
German machine-gunners scythed into them again and 
again. But at the last moment their extraordinary courage 
broke the spirit of the defenders who turned and fled down 
the communication trenches to Hulluch, leaving their guns 
silent and smoking on the parapet and the British to cover 
the last fifty feet unmolested. By now, though, the loth 
Gloucestershire existed in name only; less than sixty, of all 
ranks, survived the first two hours of the assault. 

On the left of the Gloucesters the attack fared as well, and 
was less extravagant in life. It had been rehearsed for weeks 
before by the Berkshires — the leading battalion — against 
replicas of the German trench system constructed behind the 
lines from aerial photos. The result of this thorough training 
was a clean break-through to 'Gun Trench' by 8 a.m. — 
a penetration of threequarters of a mile. This was the 
cleanest break on the whole front of the offensive, and that 
most urgently requiring exploitation. Here on 'Gun Trench', 
a shallow, wandering communication trench that connected 
a series of mortar pits, but was of little defensive significance, 
the Berkshires halted while the reserve battalion, the 
Cameron Highlanders, came up. Through the smoke the 
poplar trees along the Lens-La Bassee road could be seen. 
Immediately in front of them the firing had abated. It must 
have seemed that they were nearly through. 

On their arrival the Camerons continued the advance at 
a good pace and by nine o'clock their forward elements had 
actually entered the village of Hulluch by progressing up 
Alley 4, a long 'arterial' communication trench that ran 
from the outskirts of the village across the northern part of 
the Loos Valley to the gun positions that had lain immedi- 
ately behind. The German troops in the forward positions, 

loos: the assault 157 

never numerous, had been killed or wounded — there were 
many gassed and lighdy wounded infantry lying on the floor 
of Alley 4 as the Camerons picked their way along — and the 
remainder had withdrawn, in considerable confusion, 
through the village and well behind the 'Second Position' for 
which, in spite of its natural strength, there were not enough 
men at that time. 

Thus it was that the Camerons found themselves passing 
through 'gates' in the German wire, which the defenders in 
their haste had omitted to close, and heard their footsteps 
ringing in the deserted streets undisturbed by anything more 
lethal than an occasional shell from their own artillery, that 
was meant to be 'bombarding' the village. At the far, or 
eastern, end two enemy machine-guns and some infantry 
discouraged too close a follow-up without reinforcement but 
even they, in the words of the Company report sent back 
by the Camerons to ist Brigade at 9.10 a.m.,^ 'appear to be 

Here then, three hours after the start of the assault, was the 
critical point on the Loos front. For this small mixed force of 
the I St Division — the Berkshires and the Camerons, and the 
remnants of the Gloucesters — were astride the German 
'Second Position' at its most vulnerable point — that is, where 
it was closest to the original front line — with the choice of 
rolling it up to the north or the south, depending upon the 
course of the battle in those areas. 

It was now essential to make sure that this spearhead could 
be adequately, and promptly, reinforced. Immediately 
available were the reserve battalions of the ist and 2nd 
Brigade (Black Watch and 2nd Royal Sussex) and, less than 
an hour away. Colonel Green's force and the 3rd Brigade in 
its entirety — a total of some 6,500 men of whom none had yet 
seen action that day. Such numbers were more than 
adequate to force a clean break through the confused and 

I. O.H., 1915, II, 213. 


battered German elements that held on to the eastern end 
of Hulluch village, and open a way, at last, for the cavalry 
that stood patiently among the copse and scrub on the far 
side of the Grenay Ridge. 

But speed was essential. With every minute that passed the 
German defenders had time to recover their composure; the 
reinforcements that had been directed there as early as the 
previous evening began to arrive; the guns were manhandled 
into their new emplacements; the infantry were assembled, 
given their orders, shown their field of fire. 

For the attackers, this of all times was not one to worry 
about the flanks. Although, in fact, the extraordinary 
heroism of the attacking infantry had more or less secured 
these at every point except on the 2nd Brigade front on Lone 
Tree Ridge — which, anyway, it had originally been planned 
to omit from the attack plan on account of its strength. But it 
was, most unfortunately, this very position with which the 
I St Division Commander, Major-General A. E. Holland, was 
preoccupied. It was incomprehensible to him that British 
infantry should be stopped dead, as the 2nd Brigade had 
been. He knew from Intelligence reports that the force 
opposing them must be a small one. It was now, furthermore, 
cut off from any prospect of help from either Loos (by the 
15th Division's advance) or from Hulluch (by his own ist 
Brigade). Another attack would surely bring about its 
surrender and the ist Division's front would be 'clean'. With 
this in mind the two supporting battalions, instead of being 
directed to reinforce the ist Brigade, were ordered up with 
instructions to clear the German position on Lone Tree 
Ridge and 'press on'. 

As might have been foretold by anyone inspecting the 
situation on the spot, this second attack, made without any 
pretence of artillery support, in broad daylight, with no 
protection from smoke or gas, was cut to pieces.^ More 
serious was the fact that, on the assumption that it would be 

I . The gallantry with which it was pressed can be judged from the fact that 
three V.C.s were won on this short front during that same afternoon. 

loos: the assault 159 

successful, Green's force had been ordered forward to fulfil 
their originally conceived — but now quite meaningless — 

This had two results. In the first place the men opposite 
Hulluch village were deprived of the prospect of immediate 
tactical reinforcement from the 2nd Brigade reserve and, 
secondly, they saw the only substantial force (other than 
divisional reserve) that could have rendered them decisive 
assistance diverted to an objective that was militarily quite 

As Green's force set off it found that it, too, was under very 
heavy fire after breasting Lone Tree Ridge, owing to the 
failure of the latest attack by the 2nd Brigade reserve. 
Unable to use the communication trenches, which were 
filled with gassed and wounded men going in the opposite 
direction, both battalions were compelled to approach over 
open country under intense fire from a quarter which they 
had been told had already been successfully attacked. Soon 
they began to come up with the remnants of the 2nd 
Brigade and they, also, found themselves pinned down in the 
long grass in front of the German wire, unable to go forward 
or retire. 

In the meantime precious hours were slipping past for the 
ist Brigade, as the troops that it needed so badly for rein- 
forcement were thrown away in frontal attacks directed 
against an enemy position that had already been outflanked. 
Lieutenant-Colonel Graeme, in command of the ist Cameron 
Highlanders, could hear intense firing well to his rear, as the 
successive 2nd Brigade attacks went in. He realized the 
possibilities of an advance down the axis of the Lens road to 
outflank the enemy instead of repeatedly assaulting this 
front, and sent a succession of messages urging this course 
as well as that of occupying and consolidating Hulluch. But 
without reinforcement it would obviously be dangerous to 
further disperse his small mixed force and so they held on 
anxiously to the straggling cobweb formed by captured 
German gun-pits and such improvised trenches that the 


exhausted infantry had scratched in the hard chalk since 
their arrival. 

Opposite them, the first of the German reserves were 
already beginning to arrive and move into the defensive belt 
that stretched away to the north and south, empty and 
undamaged. On their side, too, there was considerable 
confusion; the 26th Regiment, ordered up from Pont a 
Vendin, reported at midday: 'There appear to be no German 
troops ahead on a front of about three miles, and the forward 
batteries have all been over-run. How far the enemy has 
advanced is not known. The battalion will advance till it 
meets the enemy and be prepared for any eventuality.'^ 
At intervals the men of the ist Brigade would, from their 
advanced position, be presented with splendid targets as the 
enemy infantry, all unknowing, would march up in close 
order. At one moment the Camerons opened fire on a 
detachment estimated at over 300 that was proceeding 
down the road between Hulluch and Benifontaine, with 
great effect. But with each bout of firing it was plain that the 
enemy was becoming more numerous and the British 
ammunition less plentiful. The men were short of water, 
also, and gradually, as the hours slipped past without relief 
or contact with the units on their flanks, an ominous sense of 
isolation began to envelop them. 

There were now only two units left on the divisional front 
that were available as reinforcement. These were the 
Brigade's own reserve battalion, the ist Black Watch, and 
the divisional reserve of three battalions in the 3rd Brigade. 
If these forces had been sent up immediately their combined 
strength ought still to have been sufficient to 'prop open' the 
breach in the German 'Second Position' at least for the twelve 
hours or so that must elapse before the Army Reserve, the 
nth Corps, could arrive on the scene. 

At this point in the battle the situation for Brigadier- 
General Holland was, the Official History tactfully records, 
*full of difficulty'. However, in spite of the open breaches to 

1 . 1 1 th Division, War Diary. 

t^ V 

With swirling kilts and bayonets ready, the Highlanders go 

over the top. 

Looking south down the front German trenches on Lone 
Tree Ridge. 


w-'^M'' fe ■ 


German soldiers wiring their 'Second Position,' The Lens road 
is in the background. 

loos: the assault i6i 

the north and south of the German position, he decided 
against any outflanking movement and ordered yet another 
frontal attack, committing the whole of the 3rd Brigade and 
with it the last hope for any substantial help for the men in 
Hulluch. These orders arrived two hours late, owing to the 
loss of three runners in No-Man's-Land, and Colonel Green 
read 'with horror' the clear instructions to put in one 
battalion on either side of Lone Tree, to attack once again 
over this stretch of ground where the corpses were so thick 
and the. groaning and calling for stretcher-bearers so insistent 
that the sound was 'like the cattle market at Devizes'. 

Although he realized, as did everyone on the spot, the ease 
with which the German position could be outflanked, the 
orders were quite definite and, in view of the delays that had 
already taken place, there was no time to refer the question 
back to General Holland. So, at one o'clock, the two leading 
battalions (London Scottish and i/gth King's) were sent 
over the top, the majority of them to certain death, for 

'. . . the approach of another attack did not have the 
expected effect on the resisting power of the Germans. 
Before the advancing lines had reached the wire, still intact, 
they were greeted with a hail of bullets at close range. 
Every attempt to get into the enemy trenches was in vain, 
the men being shot as they endeavoured to cut a way 
through the wire.'^ 

The situation was aggravated by the fact that, owing to the 
sparsity of troops to the north, and their forward situation, 
the Germans on the 2nd Brigade front were all the time 
gradually working their way forward and northward along 
the trench line that the Berkshires and Gloucesters had passed 
over earlier in the morning. By midday they had even got a 
machine-gun back into position in the Bois Carre, which had 
been left unguarded in spite of the profusion of British troops 
in that area, and this had the effect of drawing off" the ist 

I. O.H., 1915, II, 217. 


Black Watch — the last available unit that could have rein- 
forced the I St Brigade at Hulluch — who were instructed to 
dig in and seal off the old German line at the junction of 
the ist and 2nd Brigade fronts. 

Thus, by the early afternoon, there was a state of deadlock 
along the whole of the i st Division front. The offensive had 
lost all momentum; the men were exhausted, without 
reserves, had suffered fearful casualties and the strength of 
the Germans opposite them was increasing hourly. 

At four o'clock the German force that had held up the 
2nd Brigade, and all but destroyed it and Green's force, 
surrendered. But this was for reasons quite unconnected with 
the succession of frontal attacks to which they had been 
subjected during the morning. For the Germans had been 
taken at last — and quite accidentally — in the rear by a 
small group of the 2nd Welch from the 3rd Brigade that had 
been driven northwards by the fierceness of the fire and, 
finding themselves more or less lost in the wide shelving 
expanse of the Loos Valley, had worked their way down and 
back towards the sound of battle along the Germans' own 
communication trenches, taking the defenders by surprise. 

By now, though, it was too late, for almost at the same 
moment a German counter-attack was driving the remnants 
of the I St Brigade out of Hulluch and, although it was not 
pressed in sufficient strength to compel a withdrawal further 
than the line of the Lens road, its success did mean that the 
enemy 'Second Position' had now been restored in its 

As this last short engagement died down the noise of battle 
abated. Leaden clouds, heavy with the rain that was to fall 
that night, darkened the Loos Valley as the remnants of the 
I St Division trudged their way forward, unmolested now, 
their backs to a No-Man's-Land of hideous memory. Only 
the howitzers, eight miles in the rear, kept up their rumbling 
fire as the first big raindrops broke on the packs and helmets 
of exhausted infantry. 


Loos: the Second Day 

The machine-gun is a much over-rated weapon and 
two per battalion is more than sufficient. 

HAiG, in a minute to the 
War Council, 14th April 1915 

BEHIND the assaulting troops was the newly formed 
nth Corps consisting of the 21st and 2/th Divisions/ 
' the first of Kitchener's volunteer 'New Armies', who 
had only arrived from England a fortnight previously. It was 
to this force, under General Haking (promoted to corps 
commander following the 'aggressive spirit' he had shown at 
Aubers Ridge) , that Haig, now desperately short of troops, 
turned his eye. 

They had spent the three nights prior to the battle moving 
up towards the line from their concentration area west of 
St. Omer and were in no condition to face immediate action. 
Moreover they were the only units in reserve behind the 
1st Army front and Sir John French did not wish to see 
them used in the offensive. Nevertheless, as a result of Haig's 
urgent requests, the 21st and 24th were finally placed at his 

Whether French intended them simply to consolidate the 
ground gained, serving as replacements for the enormous 
losses that had been suffered on the 25th, or whether they 
were to be used as an instrument with which to renew the 
offensive, is not clear. The real intentions of the two com- 
manders have been obscured by the bitter controversy and 

I . In the 1 1 th Corps there was also the reorganized Guards Division but it 
was situated further back and separate from the 21st and 24th Divisions. 



recrimination that followed on the fate of the two divisions. 
But there is no doubt that Haig and French diverged at this 
point. Haig saw his offensive already stalled. Unclear orders, 
fumbling at brigade and divisional level, and the enormous 
casualties that had followed thereon had seriously impaired 
the balance and condition of the attacking forces. The most 
that Haig could hope for was that the Germans were in 
similar plight. Perhaps he felt that another 'punch', thrown 
quickly, might still give him a chance to let loose his horses. 
The thought seems to have occurred to him that with these 
troops their very 'freshness' might be an advantage; with the 
enthusiasm of ignorance they v/ould tear their way through 
the German line. Of them he wrote that 'having been so 
short a time in France they have not yet acquired the 
sedentary habits of trench warfare'. ... At its crudest, they 
didn't know what they were up against. 

But French seems to have been getting uneasy about the 
prospects of the attack even some days before its actual 
launching, and this may explain his half-hearted effort to 
keep the i ith Corps under his wing. On the 24th September 
he wrote: 'In view of the great length of line along which the 
Army is operating I feel it to be necessary that I should keep 
a strong reserve under my own hand.' Twice he resisted 
Haig's insistence on being granted absolute control of the 
nth Corps, until finally he relented after visiting advanced 
H.Q,. at Lillers at midday on the 25th. 

Then, at the shortest notice, the 21st and 24th Divisions 
were ordered up from their billets — which were a consider- 
able distance from the firing line — against a tide of con- 
gestion. As they made their way forward ugly rumours 
spread from mouth to mouth. Past them, in the opposite 
direction, the ambulances creaked and jolted in endless 
procession; among them, following the same routes and 
accorded priority,^ were the convoys of fodder for the 

I. Owing to the short notice at which the 2ist and 24th Divisions had been 
ordered forward, no marking tapes or other arrangements for directing them 
had been provided along the route. 


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cavalry. It was not until nightfall that they began to get 
clear of the complex of roads and lanes that were still 
crammed to capacity with supply and medical echelon and 
now awash under the heavy rain, and began to deploy in 
their final assembly positions behind Lone Tree Ridge. 

As the men were formed up in the darkness for their cross- 
country march to the Lens-La Bassee road the confusion was 
considerable. Neither division had had longer than two weeks 
in France and their total training period in England had 
been no more than four months. They had, moreover, only 
a slight leavening of regular officers and N.C.O.s. None of 
the divisional staffs were familiar with the ground and there 
had been no time to issue large-scale maps. The men were 
soaked to the skin and, as the kitchens had been left behind, 
there was no hot food available. Thus it is not surprising to 
find that their deployment was only threequarters complete 
by day-break. By this time the troops had been continuously 
on the move for over eighteen hours, with only the cus- 
tomary halt of ten minutes in the hour while on the road. 
Even more serious was the fact that a thick mist, hanging 
over the area at dawn, led to the divisional artillery getting 
into positions some half-mile ahead of that allotted to them, 
so that when it cleared they were in full view of the German 
batteries about Haines and Hulluch. Thus the guns were 
effectually neutralized from the start. 

But in spite of the complete exhaustion of all ranks, their 
morale was high. This was to be the division's first action, but 
they had been told that all that was required of them would 
be a long march in pursuit of a demoralized enemy. Both 
Haig and Haking, the corps commander, had assured them 
that they would 'not be put in unless and until the Germans 
are completely smashed and retiring in disorder'. 

However, in contrast with his general assurance, Haig's 
explicit orders for the 26th were that the divisions were to 
continue the battle. These orders, issued from ist Army 
H.Q. at 11.30 on the night of the 25th, while the wretched 
troops of the 21st and 24th Divisions were still stumbling 

loos: the second day 167 

about in the darkness on Lone Tree Ridge preparing for their 
cross-country march, emphasized the importance of the various 
'attacks' that were to start in at 1 1 a.m. the following day. 

At 9 a.m. Haig saw the three corps commanders con- 
cerned at his headquarters. He had breakfasted. He enlarged 
on the orders of the previous evening. The divisions were to 
push on through the German 'Second Position' and take the 
Haute Deule Canal, some five miles distant, as their ob- 
jective. Such an advance, he said, might turn the whole 
enemy position to the south and even force the Germans to 
evacuate Lens itself. 

If given in good faith this appreciation must be reckoned 
ludicrously optimistic. Nor did it square well with his 
assurances that the battle had entered a pursuit phase. No 
blame for Haig's mental confusion can be attached to 
Intelligence, who had accurately predicted the German 
dispositions. They had also sent a warning to ist Army H.Q. 
that the German local reserves (a total of five divisions in 
the threatened sector) could begin to reach the battlefield 
within twelve hours of the alarm. In point of fact twenty-two 
additional battalions arrived in the battle area within 
twenty-four hours, so that by zero-hour on the 26th the 
German 'Second Position' was as strongly held as had been 
the front line at the time of the original assault the day 

In contrast to the attack of the previous day — which had, 
at least, been preceded by a four-day artillery bombardment 
and a half-hour discharge of gas along the entire front, and 
had, moreover, been carried out by four selected divisions 
trained for the assault in every detail for weeks beforehand — 
the hapless 21st and 24th Divisions were expected to cross 
No-Man's-Land in broad daylight with no gas or smoke 
cloud to cover them, with no artillery support below 
divisional level, and attack a position as strongly manned as 
had been the front defences and protected by a formidable 
and intact barbed-wire entanglement. 


The German 'Second Position' was in the form of a tall, 
shallow 'D'. Originally, in depth, it had consisted of an 
'ID' with the village of Loos lying between the two letters, 
and the 'I' representing the first line. But this 'I' had been 
overrun in the previous day's fighting. The very strong 
enemy 'Second Position' followed the curve of the 'D', 
swinging round from the twin villages of Hulluch and 
Benifontaine in the north down to the Hill 70 Redoubt in 
the south, and giving terrible enfilade and cross-fire over the 
gently sloping Loos Valley. The bar of the 'D' was formed by 
the Lens road that stretched straight down from north to 
south, white with chalk dust, marked by an occasional 
leafless tree. Inside this area was a mass of small quarries and 
mineshafts, and a densely wooded copse, the Bois Hugo. 
These, as has been seen, were evacuated by the Germans 
during the fighting of the 25th but were reoccupied as 
reinforcements came up, and formed an excellent outpost 
line for machine-gunners and sharp-shooters. The diary of 
the 15th Reserve Regiment records: 

'One battalion in particular had an excellent position 
along the edge of a disused quarry overgrown with thick 
bushes and scrub. They were well concealed from view, 
and yet had a perfect field of fire to front or flank. Four 
machine-guns were placed in position there, with the 
champion machine-gunner of the regiment at one of them.' 

A tragic aspect of the situation lies in the fact that all of 
this area, and large stretches of the German 'Second Position', 
could have been taken for the picking the previous afternoon. 
A battalion of the German 26th Regiment, marching up 
from Annay to occupy the sector between Hulluch and the 
Bois Hugo, was told to make all haste as the British might 
already have entered it. So probable did this in fact seem 
that the battalion deployed half a mile from it just before 
dusk and advanced against it in extended order, only to find 
it empty. During the night many other opportunities had 
passed; two more battalions, of the 153rd Regiment, came 

loos: the second day 169 

up into the Bois Hugo sector of the second-line position south 
of the 26th Regiment and advanced into the wood itself at 
dawn, under cover of mist. As this cleared they attacked the 
outposts of the 63rd Brigade at the western end of the wood 
and drove them back, thereby enfilading the front position 
of the brigade immediately north of the wood and forcing 
them to retire back across the Lens road. As the morning 
wore on the Germans in the wood were reinforced by a 
battalion each of the 93rd and 165th Regiments and 
extended their line southwards, joining up with the rein- 
forcements — a further six battalions strong — that had 
arrived to strengthen the position at Hill 70. 

These, and other minor local counter-attacks carried out 
by the Germans with the intention of improving their 
defensive position, must surely have given i st Army H.Q., and 
to both Haig and Haking, ample warning that an unprepared 
attack by two untrained divisions was unlikely to succeed. 
But the question of revising the order in the light of the 
Intelligence reports does not seem to have been considered. 
And so the stage was set for a repetition — at a distance of 
sixty-one years, in slow time, under conditions of infinite 
squalor and magnified in scale a hundredfold — of the charge 
at Balaclava. For the set-piece attack of i ith Corps, that was 
to be launched in the broad light of an hour before noon on 
the 26th, was as futile, and as foredoomed, as that of the 
Light Brigade. 

As the morning wore on the British perfected their order 
of battle. Theirs was a depressing situation. They had had 
to cross the No-Man's-Land of the previous day, that was 
littered with the corpses of the Devon and Highland 
Regiments, lying in long straggling rows as the German 
machine-guns had traversed along their ranks. Among these 
were still many wounded who called out piteously to the 
newcomers for water and assistance. As assembly points the 
two divisions were using the former German front line. To 
make access to this easier, engineers had cleared gaps in the 
wire at regular intervals, but no one had yet had time to 


remove the contorted, lifeless figures that still hung at so 
many points on the entanglement. In the trench itself, and 
in the adjacent dug-outs, were pockets of gas, and many 
German dead, hideously yellow and blue in colour. The 
stench was frightful. 

But the spirit of the men was unshaken. The official 
historian records that: '. . . they were delighted at the 
prospect of getting at the enemy after the exertions and 
frustrations of the last few days', although they had had 
hardly any food, and no sleep for forty-eight hours. 

Just after 10 a.m. a desultory pattern of artillery fire, 
unworthy of the term 'bombardment', was thrown at the 
German positions. Without their own artillery the 21st and 
24th were paying the price of Haig's 'flexible' distribution 
of guns for the first stage. Indeed the gunners could have no 
very clear idea of where the German emplacements were 
located and simply fired off patches of shells, assorted H.E. 
and shrapnel, at likely looking points. The Germans suffered 
no casualties and the wire remained intact. This fire lasted 
some twenty minutes, and then for half an hour the front 
was practically silent. 

Punctually at eleven o'clock the British rose out of the 
ground. Peering across the shelving valley of rank grass, slag 
and white chalk craters, the German look-outs could see 
column after column moving up in close formation at the 
crest of Lone Tree Ridge, the officers on horseback, marshal- 
ling successive battalions as they rose out of the old German 
trenches and formed up in a dense mass. 

At first the effect was unnerving. Not since the German 
attacks in the closing days of the first battle of Ypres had 
such dense masses of infantry deployed for a daylight assault. 
Sheer weight of numbers must, it seemed, carry the British 
through the thinly spread German outposts. The colonel of 
the 15th Reserve Regiment has described how he was 

loos: the second day 171 

walking in the main street of HuUuch when an experienced 
N.C.O. from the Machine Gun Company came running up 
to him and shouted out, 'Two divisions ... we will be 
surrounded ... we must retire. . . .' A number of men were 
following close behind, panic-stricken. But almost simul- 
taneously another officer, who had been watching the 
situation from a housetop, came up and told him that the 
situation was not so serious. 'The machine-gun and rifle fire 
from our position is terrific and no enemy can possibly 
advance across the open against it.' Quickly, extra detach- 
ments were organized and sent into position. For fully ten 
minutes the Germans held their fire as the two divisions 
deployed in column of extended line and started obediently 
off on their progress down the gentle slope towards the Lens 
road. It was a tense moment for the enemy, watching in 
silence until, as the leading columns of the 24th Division 
passed under the south-east front of Hulluch, at a range of 
1,000 yards, the order to fire was given. 
The diary of the 15th Reserve Regiment records that: 

'Ten columns of extended line could clearly be dis- 
tinguished, each one estimated at more than a thousand 
men, and offering such a target as had never been seen 
before, or even thought possible. Never had the machine- 
gunners such straightforward work to do nor done it so 
effectively. They traversed to and fro along the enemy's 
ranks unceasingly. The men stood on the fire-steps, some 
even on the parapets, and fired triumphantly [jauchsend] 
into the mass of men advancing across the open grass-land. 
As the entire field of fire was covered with the enemy's 
infantry the effect was devastating and they could be seen 
falling literally in hundreds.' 

As the British infantry advanced they started to come 
across little pockets of dead and dying from the detachments 
of the 2nd Brigade that had pressed too far the previous day. 

Some of these, delirious, stood up and screamed at them 
to turn back, or to fetch stretcher-bearers, or to duck down 


and join them in an adjacent crater. But the discipline of the 
two divisions never wavered. SUghtly in front of the lines 
walked the subalterns, shouting encouragement: 'Come on, 
me lads, we're nearly there.' 'It won't last long.' 'We'll soon 
be at 'em.' 'Show 'em what we are,' and so forth. ^ 

And indeed the German diary noted with amazement: 

'In spite of it [the intensity of the fire] the extended 
columns continued their advance in good order and without 
interruption. When they reached the Lens road one of our 
companies advanced from the Hulluch trench in an attempt 
to divert the attack, but only a small party of the enemy 
swung round to meet it, the mass took no notice and went 
on regardless past the southern front [of the village]. Here 
they came under the enfilade fire both of the troops lining 
the position and of a battery of artillery concealed in the 
village. Their losses mounted up rapidly and under this 
terrific punishment the lines began to get more and more 
confused. Nevertheless they went on doggedly right up to the 
wire entanglement.' 

This barrier consisted of hard steel barbed wire, too thick 
to be cut with the hand-clippers that had been issued to some 
sections, braced and criss-crossed among pine stakes and pit- 
props driven thirty-five centimetres into the earth. Its height 
was over four feet and its depth across five metres, or nearly 
nineteen feet. 

Desperate, the men hurled themselves at it in frenzy; some 
tried to scramble over it as one might a thick yew hedge, 
others pulled at it with their bare hands; still more ran up 
and down along its edge in the hopes of finding a gap that 
might have been cut by shellfire, until they were cut down. 

I. Corporal J. Woosnam of the 8th East Yorks of 62nd Brigade of 21st 
Division has told me: 'The Lieutenant leading our Company, Harris or 
Harrison I think he was called, kept on talking all the time that we were going 
forward. He said the same thing over and over again — "Come on, my lads, 
show them what we are." After we had been advancing for about ten minutes 
he was hit by a burst of machine-gun fire in the stomach which lifted him right 
off the ground. He was calling for water and we gave him some although he 
was going to die, which he did in a few minutes' time.' 

loos: the second day 173 

The German diary continues: 'Confronted by this hopeless 
impenetrable obstacle and faced by continuous machine- 
gun and rifle fire the survivors began to turn and retire in 
confusion, though scarcely one in ten that had come forward 
seemed to go back again.' 

On the right flank the 2ist Division was being dashed to 
pieces in like manner. The diary of the 153rd Regiment tells 
the same sort of story as that of the 15th: 

'. . . dense masses of the enemy, line after line, appeared 
over the ridge, some of their officers even mounted on horse- 
back and advancing as if carrying out a field-day drill in 
peacetime. Our artillery and machine-guns riddled their 
ranks as they came on. As they crossed the northern front 
of the Bois Hugo, the machine-guns there caught them in the 
flank and whole battalions were annihilated. The English 
made five consecutive efforts to press on past the wood and 
reach the second-line position, but finally, weakened by 
their terrible losses, they had to give in.' 

For the troops attacking the western end of the wood and 
struggling up the bare slopes of Hill 70 conditions were, if 
anything, worse. 

One of the German battalion commanders spoke later of 
the revolting and nauseating impression made on them all 
as they watched the slaughter; so much so that after the 
retreat had begun they ceased fire. Before them was the 
'Leichenfeld [field of corpses] von Loos', and, as among them 
dozens of khaki-clad forms rose up once again and began to 
limp and crawl back to their own lines, 'no shot was fired at 
them from the German trenches for the rest of the day, so 
great was the feeling of compassion and mercy for the enemy 
after such a victory'. 

There had been twelve battalions making the attack, a 
strength of just under ten thousand, and in the three and a 
half hours of the actual battle their casualties were 385 
officers and 7,861 men. The Germans suffered no casualties 
at all. 


In the late afternoon, as the remnants of the two divisions 
rallied once more on Lone Tree Ridge, General Haking, the 
corps commander, came down from his H.Q^. and moved 
among them, asking 'What went wrong?' The answer that he 
got from all, according to the Official History^ was 'We did 
not know what it was like. We will do all right next time.' 
. . . Such was the spirit of those who had answered 
Kitchener's call 'Your Country needs you.' 

For these men were volunteers. They were the flower of 
the richest, most powerful, nation on earth. Behind them 
stretched the ordered childhoods of Victorian Britain; 
decency, regularity, a Christian upbringing, a concept of 
chivalry; over-riding faith in the inevitable triumph of right 
over wrong; such notions were imbued in them. This had 
been their first time in action, but if these were the rules of 
the game, well then, they would conform. 


The Dismissal of Sir John French 

A very small memento, my dear, dear Douglas, of our 
long and tried friendship proved 'in sunshine and in 
shadow'. — J.F. 

Inscription on a flask of Haig's, 
now at Bemersyde 

BACK in London the air was thick with rumour. After 
dusk, as the October mists closed on the city, the 
' hospital trains would draw into Charing Cross and 
discharge their groaning cargo. Many of the wounded 
talked of the impossibiHty of the tasks that they had been 
given, of the hopeless sacrifice of their comrades. It was not 
difficult to equate the casualty lists and the miserable 
stretches of German line gained that, even on maps of the 
largest scale, looked thin and insubstantial. In his diary 
French noted petulantly: 

'There was another military debate in the House of Lords 
on Monday night. The general tone adopted was to belittle 
and "crab" all the work which has been done by the Army in 
France. Lord Milner said, in so many words, that the battles 
of Neuve Chapelle and Loos instead of victories were in 
reality "defeats". Lord Courteney adopted the same line of 

Both he and Haig still clung, though without any real 
conviction now, to the hope that the German line in the 
Loos sector might yet be broken before winter set in. The 
thought of another winter in the trenches, which each had 

I. French, p. 320. 


felt during their periodic bouts of optimism might no longer 
be a necessity, was disquieting. Not only was supply of many 
essentials inadequate in quality and distribution, but the 
unsuitable terrain and situation of the troops in many 
sectors made it necessary to consider withdrawals to more 
favourable ground if their discomfort was not to be too 

Haig was opposed to this notion. By now his relations with 
French were very poor although no open breach had taken 
place. On the 2nd October he wrote: 'It seems impossible to 
discuss military problems with an unreasoning brain 
[French] of this kind. At any rate no good result is to be 
expected from so doing.' 

As Haig would not agree to any withdrawal, French 
concentrated on persuading his ally to take over stretches of 
the British line. He painted the prospects of immediate 
glory in glowing colours: 

'Foch came to see me this morning. I told him that if I 
was in the position of G.-in-C. of the whole western Allied 
front I would put every available man in just north of 
Hill 70 and "rush" a gap in the enemy's line. I should feel 
quite confident of success.'^ 

But Foch had a habit of scrutinizing the projects of 
colleagues more critically than he did his own. Tactfully he 
replied that : 'It would be very difficult to organize so big an 
attack in so small an area.'^ 

In point of fact the British troops were, during the first 
week in October, being subjected to a series of determined 
and effective counter-attacks that were steadily prising from 
them all the ground that had been gained at such cost on the 
25th September. Haig noted that: 'On 2nd and 3rd October 
the 28th Division steadily lost ground so that we no longer 
had a line of trench suitable for launching an attack.' 

He added the by now customary, though scarcely relevant, 

1. French, p. 371. 

2. Liddell Hart, Foch, p. 202. 


comment that: '. . . The fact is that Sir John seems incapable 
of reahzing the nature of the fighting that has been going on 
and the difficulties of getting fresh troops and stores forward 
and adequate communication trenches dug.' 

On the Friday, 8th October, Haig drove over to French's 
headquarters at St. Omer and found him in 'chastened' 
mood. The first rumblings of protest from London at the 
massacre of the 26th September were beginning to be 

'Sir John read me a letter which he had received from 
Lord Kitchener asking for a report on the action of the 21st 
and 24th Divisions. Some of the wounded had gone home 
and said that they had been given impossible tasks to 
accomplish and that they had not been fed.' 

Enquiries at this level, particularly when the actual results 
of operations were so meagre, boded no good for the com- 
manders. And, sure enough, the following day, Saturday, 
Haldane turned up from England with only the barest 
notice and asked himself to lunch at Haig's headquarters. 
After the meal he and Haig repaired to the latter's room and 
the questions started. Haldane excused himself by saying 
that feelings were 'very strong' on the subject in England and 
that he had come to France 'to help in arriving at the truth'. 

If Haig was disconcerted by this he quickly recovered his 
posture, and submitted an impromptu report^ that was 
shamelessly critical of his superior. He ended by saying that 
'the arrangements for the supreme command are not satis- 
factory. . . . Many of us feel that if these conditions continue 
it will be difficult ever to win.' 

However it was not for nothing that Haldane had been 
thirty years in politics and he returned to England with an 
open mind. 

The following day Robertson, French's Chief of Staflf, 
travelled to London. As has already been explained 
Robertson enjoyed the worst relations with French. But his 

I. Reproduced in Appendix 5. 


friendship with Haig was of long standing, and was fortified 
by ties of mutual dependence which both hoped to strengthen 
in the immediate future. Although there is no direct evidence 
for this it seems reasonable to assume that Robertson con- 
sulted with Haig before the journey. On arrival in London 
he made contact with Lord Stamfordham, the King's private 
secretary, and the question of 'replacing' Sir John French 
was raised. An audience was arranged and at it the King 
listened attentively to French's shortcomings as catalogued 
by his Chief of Staff. No record is available of this meeting, 
but its substance must have been favourable to Haig, for at 
its conclusion Robertson journeyed post-haste back to ist 
Army H.Q. Here Haig told him that: 

'Up to date I have been more than loyal to French and 
done my best to stop all criticism of him or his methods. 
Now, at last, in view of what happened in the recent battle 
over the reserves . . . and of the seriousness of the general 
military situation, I have come to the conclusion that it is 
not fair to the Empire to retain French in command on this, 
the main battle front. Moreover none of my officers com- 
manding Corps have a high opinion of Sir John's military 
ability. In fact they have no confidence in him.' 

Haig went on to make the surprising claim that he got on 
better with his Allies: 

'French does not get on with the French. Joffre seems to 
have no great opinion of his military views and does not 
really consult with him. It is most important at the present 
time to have someone to put the British case and co-operate 
with the French in aiming at getting decisive results in their 
theatre of operations.' 

All this was duly communicated to the King. His Majesty 
decided, before taking any further steps, to come to France 
and see things for himself. Three days later he arrived at 
Boulogne where he found an uneasy French waiting on the 


quay. Owing to the shortness of notice received, there had 
been no time to prepare royal quarters and the King had 
to live in his train while these were being got ready for him 
at Aire. French, sensing perhaps a coolness and warned by 
his friends in England of impending trouble, took advantage 
of the dislocation of the royal schedule to slip back to 
England for a few days. 

But before Sir John got back, on 24th October, the royal 
Mess was installed and Haig had been invited to dinner. 
After the meal he returned once again to the subject: 

'I told him [the King] that the time to have removed 
French was after the retreat, because he had so mismanaged 
matters. . . . Since then, during the trench warfare, the 
Army had grown larger and I thought at first that there was 
no great scope for French to go wrong. I have therefore done 
my utmost to stop criticisms and make matters run smoothly. 
But French's handling of . . . the last battle, his obstinacy and 
conceit, showed his incapacity, and ... I therefore thought 
strongly that, for the sake of the Empire, French ought to be 

He added, superfluously it may be thought, that 'I, 
personally, was ready to do my duty in any capacity . . .' 

The King listened attentively. That afternoon, he confided 
to Haig, he had had an informal chat with General Haking 
who had told him much the same thing. General Robertson, 
too, was very critical of Sir John. When Haig got back 
to his headquarters at Hinges at midnight, he must have 
felt that he was on the point of achieving a vital personal 

But then, two days later, with things still in the balance, 
there was an unfortunate occurrence. The King was thrown 
by a mare. He was badly bruised. He had to take to his bed 
for several days. 

The incident was the talk of the Army and dominated, as 
well, the pages of the newspapers at home. Speculation and 


gossip about changes in the High Command were forgotten. 
The smooth flow of events which must, it had seemed, carry 
Sir John from his position was interrupted. For not only 
was one of his foremost opponents incapacitated, but it 
would have been most unseemly for any note of discord to 
have intruded on the harmonious messages of sympathy that 
poured in from all sides. The status quo must be preserved at 
present, and later on, as the first sprinkling of snow covered 
the Leichenfeld von Loos, the events of the 26th September 
would already be half forgotten. 

For General Haig the incident had a particularly trying 
personal aspect; for it was his mare that the King had been 
riding. It had been his personal responsibility to see that she 
was exercised and 'quiet'. 

What a compliment it had been that His Majesty should 
have selected one of Haig's personal stable! And how 
nightmarishly things had turned out! For if he claimed that 
the mare had been thoroughly exercised it was a reflection 
on the King's horsemanship, but if he admitted that his staff* 
had been negligent in quieting her beforehand . . . Haig's 
diary devotes much space to an account of, and apologia 
for, this incident; more space, indeed, than is occupied by 
the whole of the battle of Loos.^ On and on rambles the text, 
as we read that it was a chestnut mare, that Haig had ridden 
her regularly for over a year, that she had been tried the day 
before with cheering men and people waving flags, that 
hats — not flags — were waved, that the grass was wet, that 
the ground was slippery, that the King seemed to clutch the 
reins very firmly (a tricky passage, this), and to pull the mare 
backwards, that the cheering would have upset any horse at 
such a distance, and so on. 

That evening Sir Derek Keppel telephoned to Haig and 
told him that the King was to remain in bed for a couple of 
days and that he could not receive visitors. He much re- 

I. I am referring to the published text of Haig's diary. Robert Blake has 
kindly pointed out to me that in the original document (which has not been 
published) this ratio does not apply. — A.C. 


gretted that he would not be able to see Haig again before 
he returned to England. The diary records also: 

'He was desired by the King to say that His Majesty knew 
very well that the mare had never done such a thing before 
and that I was not to feel perturbed at what had happened 
(or words to that effect).' 

All the same, the result of the whole episode must have 
seemed unsatisfactory to Haig. 

Sir John quickly sensed the shift in fortune and made every 
effort to consolidate his position. As soon as the King had left 
France, he, too, journeyed to London where he consulted 
with his friends — themselves a body of some influence, and 
including Colonel Repington, the military correspondent of 
The Times — and in concert with them he evolved further 
measures to protect his interests. 

While he was in the capital he attended two Cabinet 
meetings. He found that body ineffectual and pusillanimous 
and reported this — not without a glint of triumph, one may 
suspect — to Haig on his return. 

'Everyone seemed desirous to speak at the same moment. 
One would say "Please allow me to finish what I am saying." 
Another would interrupt, and a third would shout from the 
far end of the room that he meant to have his say on the 
matter too. Poor Lord Crewe^ feebly rapped the table and 
said "Order please!" in a disconsolate sort of way. . . .'^ 

. . . Not much chance of that Cabinet dismissing the Com- 
mander-in-Chief — and small wonder that Haig found 'Sir 
John seemed in excellent spirits since his return. . . .' 

As it turned out, however, the measures initiated by 
French in London proved his undoing. On the 2nd Novem- 
ber his 'full' despatch dealing with the attack on the 25th 
September appeared in The Times — filled with needless in- 
accuracies that could with facility be exposed by anyone 

1 . Crewe was presiding during Asquith's illness. 

2. Haig, Diaries, p. in. 



who had access to the relevant documents, telegrams, orders, 
etc. Haig, of course, was just such a person, and any reserva- 
tions that he might have felt about so flagrant a breach of 
the canons of loyalty and discipline must have been finally 
dispelled by the text of an article by Colonel Repington, 
published alongside French's despatch. In this article the 
military correspondent of The Times regretted that the 
operations at Loos had not been under the direct command 
of Sir John, whose abilities were by implication contrasted 
favourably with those of Haig. 

Accordingly two days later a long letter went out from 
ist Army H.Q. to French's staff pointing out these 'mis- 
statements' and, in particular, enclosing copies of telegrams 
showing that the 21st and 24th Divisions were not placed 
under Haig's orders at the beginning of the battle, and that 
the Guards Division was not placed under his orders until 
4.15 p.m. on the 26th. (French had stated that it came under 
Haig's command 'that morning'.) 

If anything were needed to illustrate the very secondary 
mental calibre of Sir John French, and his impaired capacity 
for anticipation, it is his conduct of 'The affair of the 
Reserves at Loos'. He allowed himself to be completely 
outmanoeuvred — and on a mere technicality. Haig had 
selected as his grounds of dispute the fact that the reserves 
had not been brought forward in time. The fact that this, in 
itself, constituted an oblique admission that he had committed 
them to battle when he knew that it was too late, and thus 
subjected them to a pointless slaughter, seems not to have 
occurred to Haig. And a rejoinder was obviously denied to 
Sir John. 

When Haig's letter was received, asking 'that these facts 
should be put on record', French collapsed and retired to his 

He remained in bed — 'staying out' in the parlance of 
Etonians — for thirty-six hours. Finally he pulled himself 
together sufficiently to draft a letter stating that 'this corres- 
pondence shall henceforth cease'. And that '. . . the state- 


ments in question are substantially correct, and call for no 

After a further three days of delay during which interest 
and indignation, as reflected in the columns of The Times ^ 
rose to a high pitch, French sent for Haig. He told him that all 
the correspondence would be sent to the War Office together 
with a covering letter, the text of which he would first show 
to Haig. He also disclaimed any connection with Repington's 

But it was too late. Haig brushed aside French's apology 
and declined to co-operate in hushing the matter up on the 
grounds that '. . . my duties as G.O.C. First Army take up 
all of my time'. When Lord Esher turned up at his head- 
quarters the following day Haig, with a subtlety that he was 
more prone to display in the furtherance of his personal 
ambition than in the planning and execution of his military 
campaigns, hardly mentioned French but concentrated 
instead on running down another of his military superiors. 
Kitchener. At this time the Cabinet were pre-occupied with 
the importance of ridding themselves of 'K'. It may be 
suggested that one of Sir John French's few commendable 
traits, in the eyes of the politicians in England, lay in his 
implacable hostility to the Secretary of State for War, and 
Haig probably saw that the Cabinet would have to be sure 
in their minds that these views were shared by any successor 
to the Commander-in-Cliief that they might nominate. 

'Lord Esher asked what should be done with Lord 
Kitchener. I repHed, "Appoint him Viceroy of India." 
Trouble is brewing there and in Burma, and some blood- 
letting will become necessary for the health of the body 

There is no doubt that other reasons, also, prompted Haig 
to get rid of Kitchener besides his desire to align himself with 
the Cabinet. He was apprehensive of Kitchener's strategic 
vision, that dwarfed all other contemporary minds save 
those of Churchill and Lloyd George; of his autocratic 


manner; and of the devotion that he commanded from the 
pubHc at home: 

'. . .in my opinion it is important to remove Lord Kit- 
chener from the Mediterranean and Egypt because where- 
ever he is, by his masterful action he will give that sphere of 
of the operations an undue prominence in the strategical 

There was also the consideration that Kitchener stood in 
the way of an appointment that Haig was determined to 
secure, namely that of Robertson to Chief of the Imperial 
General Staff — or at any rate in the way of a full and free 
exercise of the powers that went with such a post. In the 
course of Lord Esher's visit Haig pressed vigorously for 
Robertson's appointment and also put forward a variety of 
other proposals for clipping Kitchener's wings. 

Robertson, in the meantime, was in London. On the 
15th November he wrote: 

'My dear Haig, I have got your letter. Many thanks^" — I 
shall try my best to help put things straight. . . .' 

And on the 1 7th: '. . . just a line to say that I am doing my 
best. . . .' 

And on the 20th: '. . . it would do the world of good if you 
could come over yourself for a few days. . . .' 

Haig needed no further encouragement. He left France the 
day after receiving Robertson's call and, on the 23rd 

'. . . Doris and I went shopping. At 1.45 we lunched at 10, 
Downing Street. I sat next to Mrs. Asquith, and after the 
ladies left the room I sat by the Prime Minister. . . .' 

There seems little doubt that at this meeting Haig was 
briefed for the Cabinet meeting on the following day. At this 
he urged further and more elaborate measures for curtailing 

I . Presumably for Haig's 'work' with Lord Esher. 


Kitchener's power and influence.^ These were, naturally, 
welcome, and as Bonar Law drove Haig home in his car 
'. . . he Stated how Lord K had misled the Government and 
wondered what appointment could be found for him to 
remove him from London!' 

In the light of these intrigues there is a touch of irony 
about Haig's note of his next meeting with Kitchener: 

'Lord K. was most friendly. . . . He said that today [3rd 
December] he had written to the Prime Minister recom- 
mending that I should be appointed to succeed to Sir J. 
French. If the P.M. did not settle the matter today he would 
again press for a settlement tomorrow, but in any case he had 
taken the matter in hand and I must not trouble my head 
over it. Meantime, he said that I must not be afraid to 
criticize any of his actions which I found unsatisfactory; he 
had only one thought, viz, to do his best to end the war. . . . 
He again kindly told me that he would look after my interests 
and wished me good luck.' 

Now Haig had on his side the King, the Cabinet, and 'K'. 
It was impossible for French to resist any longer, and, on 
December loth, Haig wrote: 

'About 7 pm I received a letter from the Prime Minister 
marked "Secret" and enclosed in three envelopes! 

'It was dated 10 Downing Street, Dec: 8th 191 5, and ran 
as follows: 

' "Sir John French has placed in my hands his resignation 
of the office of Commander-in-Chief of the Forces in France. 
Subject to the King's approval I have the pleasure of 
proposing to you that you should be his successor. I am 
satisfied that this is the best choice that could be made in the 
interests of the Army and the Country." ' 

There were one or two final touches to go on the canvas 
before the picture was complete. As his successor, Haig 
recommended, for G.O.C. ist Army, Sir Henry Rawlinson, 

1. Appendix 6. 


noting at the same time, 'Though not a sincere man he has 
brains and experience.'^ 

And then there was the last meeting with Sir John. It 
could not be pleasant. In alarm Haig noticed that his erst- 
while superior was 'not looking very well, and seemed short of 
breath at times'. In still greater alarm he followed Sir John 
over to a remote part of the compound in obedience to the 
latter's request that there was a 'delicate personal matter' 
that he wished to speak about. Was there to be, at the last, 
some undignified personal scene? Some bitter recrimination 
that might end in shouting, in gesture, that would be noticed 
by those standing around them? 

But no, even this slight price was not to be paid. All that 
Sir John wished to say was that he had wanted to give 
Winston ChurchilP an infantry brigade, which idea had 
been vetoed, but that he was none the less anxious that he 
should have a battalion. Haig replied that he had no 
objection, and the interview was at an end. 

Now, at last, Haig had reached the summit. His was the 
command of the greatest army that the Empire had ever put 
in the field in the past, or was ever to amass in the future. A 
body whose heroism and devotion was such that they could 
twice in two successive years be ravaged in hopeless offen- 
sives, who were in a single day to lose more men than any 
other army in the history of the world, whom, after twenty- 
seven months of slaughter and exhaustion, he was to leave 
so perilously exposed that they were nearly annihilated — 
and yet whose fortitude was such that they could still, after 
three years, be brought to final victory. 

The change in Command became official on ist January 
191 6. The evening before there was 

'A regular New Year's beano, more like a London New 
Year's Eve festival than a war one. There were present the 

1. Rawlinson was not in fact appointed. Instead the job went to Monro, 
whose obesity had earHer aroused Haig's comment. See p. 24 above. 

2. At this time Winston Churchill, going through a period of reaction after 
the Dardanelles, was doing a stint in the front line. 


Duke of Teck, on D.H.'s right, General Macready, Sir A. 
Sloggett, General Butler, Alan Fletcher, Sir Philip Sassoon, 
etc. I do not think that any of us spoke about the present 
war all through dinner. . . . Sloggett was the life and soul of 
the party with his yarns, some of which were libellous and 
few of which would have passed muster in a drawing-room. 
D.H. never shines at a dinner, but he was obviously in very 
good spirits and kept silence merrily.'^ 

But in the line the trenches were already heavy with mud 
and that Christmas on the leave platforms at Victoria there 
began to be heard the chorus of a new song: 

I don't want to die, 

I want to go home. 

I don't want to go to the trenches no more, 

Where the whizz-bangs and shells do whistle and roar. 

I don't want to go over the sea, 

To where the alleyman will shoot at me, 

I want to go home 

I don't want to die. 

I. Charteris, G.i/.Q,., p. 129. 

Appendix i 

The Charge of the gth Lancers at Fretoy, on the morning of yth 
September 19 14, from igi4, by Field Marshal Viscount French 
of Ypres: 

'On reaching Fretoy the village of Moncel was found to be 
occupied by a patrol of Germans, and was taken at a gallop by 
the leading troop, followed by the one remaining machine-gun 
of the regiment. About a troop and a half, accompanied by the 
Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel D. Campbell and 
Major Beale-Brown, moved up on the left of the village. Shortly 
afterwards two squadrons of the ist Garde Dragoner charged the 
village and drove out the troop of the gth Lancers after a little 
street fighting. A third Dragoner squadron then came up to the 
village from the north in support. The troop and a half of the gth 
Lancers, led by the Commanding Officer and 2nd in Command, 
attacked this squadron in perfect order, charged the left half of 
the German squadron and pierced it with loss, both sides facing 
the charge; the Germans at a 15-mile rate and the gth Lancers 
at speed. 

'In this charge Lieut.-Col. Campbell was wounded in the 
arm by a lance and in the leg by a bullet, both wounds, how- 
ever, being slight. The adjutant, Captain G. F. Reynolds, was 
severely wounded in the shoulder by a lance. Lieutenant Alfrey 
. . . was killed while extracting the lance from Captain Reynolds. 
Our casualties were slight, one officer and two men killed, two 
officers and five men wounded. The number of Germans left on 
the ground was considerable.' 

This was Lieutenant-Colonel, later General, David Campbell, 
who had ridden his famous gelding, 'Soarer', in the Grand 
National of igi2. He commanded the 2 ist Division in the opening 
weeks of the battle of the Somme. 


Appendix 2 


Bulletin of the French loth Army, joth March igi§ 

Employment of Asphyxiating Gases by the Germans 

'According to prisoners of the XVth Corps, there is a large 
supply along the whole front in the neighbourhood of Zillebeke 
(this was where the enemy first intended to use gas) of iron 
cylinders, i -4 metres long which are stored a little in rear of the 
trenches in bomb-proof shelters or even buried. They contain a 
gas which is intended to render the enemy unconscious or to 
asphyxiate him. It has not yet been made use of, but the pioneers 
have received instructions regarding its employment; the cylinder 
is laid on the ground pointing towards the enemy and is opened 
by withdrawing the cap; the gas is forced out by its own pressure, 
and remains near the surface of the ground. In order that the 
operation may be without danger for the operator a favourable 
wind is necessary. The pioneer detailed to open the cylinder has 
a special apparatus attached to his head. All the men are supplied 
with a cloth pad to be placed over the nostrils to prevent the gas 
being breathed in. The inventor has been promoted lieutenant.' 

2nd Army Report to G.H.Q^., dated i§th April 

'A reliable agent in the Detachment of the French Army in 
Belgium reports that . . . The German^ intend making use of 
tubes with asphyxiating gas, placed in batteries of 20 tubes for 
every 40 metres along the front of the XXVIth Corps (then, as 
far as was known, in the line on either side of Langemarck, 
wholly opposite the French). This prisoner had in his possession 
a small sack filled with a kind of gauze or cotton waste (cotton 
waste in a gauze bag) which would be dipped in some solution 
to counteract the effect of this gas. 



'The German morale is said to have much improved lately, 
owing to the men having been told that there is not much in 
front of them. 

'It is possible that the attack may be postponed, if the wind is 
not favourable, so as to ensure that the gases blow over our 

Bulletin de Renseignemetits sur le Detachement de rArmee de Belgique, 

dated i6th April 

'. . . the Germans have manufactured in Ghent 20,000 mouth 
protectors of tulle, which the men will carry in a waterproof bag 
10 cm. by 175 cm. These mouth protectors, when soaked with a 
suitable liquid, serve to protect the men against the effects of 
asphyxiating gas.' 

One further point that should be mentioned is that in their 
communique of 17th April the Germans said: 'Yesterday east of 
Ypres the British employed shells and bombs with asphyxiating 
gas.' To anyone famihar with the German mentality this should 
have been sufficient warning that they intended to do something 
of the same kind themselves and were putting the blame on their 
opponents in advance. 

Appendix 3 


'Advanced Headquarters, 2nd Army, 
27th April 19 1 5 
'My dear Robertson, 

'In order to put the situation before the Commander- 
in-Chief, I propose to enter into a certain amount of detail. 

'You will remember that I told Colonel Montgomery (H. M. 
de F., General Staff, G.H.Q.) the night before last, after seeing 
General Putz's orders, that as he was only putting in a small 
proportion of his troops (and those at different points) to the 
actual attack, I did not anticipate any great results. 

'I enclose you on a separate paper the description of the line 
the troops are on at this moment. I saw General Putz last night 
about to-day's operations, and he told me he intended to resume 
the offensive with very great vigour. I saw his orders, in which he 
claims to have captured Het Saas, but on my asking him what he 
meant he said the houses of that place which are to the west of 
the canal. He told me also that the success at Lizerne had been 
practically nil — in fact, that the Germans were still in possession 
of the village or were last night. 

'From General Putz's orders for to-day, he is sending one 
brigade to cross the river east of Brielen to carry forward the 
troops on the east of the canal in the direction of Pilckem, and he 
assured me that this brigade was going to be pushed in with 
great vigour. 

'It was not till afterwards that I noticed that, to form his own 
reserve, he is withdrawing two battalions from the east of the 
canal and another two battalions from the front line in the same 
part to be used as a reserve on that bank of the river, so the net 
result of his orders is to send over six fresh battalions to the 
fighting line and to withdraw four which had already been 



'I have lately received General Joppe's orders. He is the 
general commanding the attack towards Pilckem on the east of 
the canal, and I was horrified to see that he, instead of using the 
whole of this brigade across the canal for this offensive, is leaving 
one regiment back at Brielen, and only putting the other regiment 
across the canal to attack — 30 the net result of these latter orders 
with regard to the strength of the troops on the east of the canal 
for the fresh offensive is the addition of one battalion. 

'I need hardly say that I at once represented the matter pretty 
strongly to General Putz, but I want the Chief to know this as I 
do not think he must expect that the French are going to do any- 
thing very great — in fact, although I have ordered the Lahore 
Division to co-operate when the French attack, at 1.15 p.m., I 
am pretty sure that our line to-night will not be in advance of 
where it is at the present moment. 

'I fear the Lahore Division have had very heavy casualties, and 
so they tell me have the Northumbrians, and I am doubtful if it 
is worth losing any more men to regain this French ground 
unless the French do something really big. 

'Now, if you look at the map, you will see that the line the 
French and ourselves are now on allows the Germans to approach 
so close with their guns that the area east of Ypres will be very 
difficult to hold, chiefly because the roads approaching it from 
the west are swept by shell fire, and were all yesterday, and are 
being to-day. Again, they are now able to shell this place, 
Poperinghe, and have done it for the last three days; all day 
yesterday at intervals there were shells close to my Report 
Centre and splinters of one struck the house opposite in the 
middle of the day, and splinters of another actually struck the 
house itself about midnight — in other words, they will soon 
render this place unhealthy. 

'If the French are not going to make a big push the only line 
we can hold permanently and have a fair chance of keeping 
supplied would be that passing east of Wieltje and Potisje with a 
curved switch which is being prepared through Hooge to join 
onto our present line about a thousand yards east of Hill 60. 

'This of course means the surrendering of a great deal of 
trench line, but any intermediate line short of that will be 
extremely difficult to hold, owing to the loss of the ridge east of 
Zonnebeke which any withdrawal must entail. 


'I always have to contemplate the possibility of the Germans 
gaining ground east of Lizerne, and this, of course, would make 
the situation more impossible ... in fact it all comes down to 
this, that unless the French do something really vigorous the 
situation might become such as to make it impossible for us to 
hold any line east of Ypres. 

'It is very difficult to put a subject such as this in a letter 
without appearing pessimistic ... I am not in the least, but as 
Army Commander I have to provide for every eventuality and 
I think it right to let the Chief know what is in my mind. 

'More British troops could restore the situation but this I 
consider out of the question, as it would interfere with a big 
offensive elsewhere which is after all the crux of the situation 
and will do more to relieve this situation than anything else. 

'Yours sincerely, 

'H. L. Smith-Dorrien.' 

Telephone message (record is in writing of C.G.S. Lieutenant- 
General Sir W. R. Robertson) : 

'2.15 p.m. 27th April 

'C.G.S. to Second Army 

'Chief does not regard situation nearly so unfavourable as 
your letter represents. He thinks you have abundance of troops 
and especially notes the large reserves you have. He wishes you 
to act vigorously with the full means available in co-operation 
with and assisting the French attack having due regard to his 
previous instructions that the combined attack should be simul- 
taneous. The French possession of Lizerne and general situation 
on Canal seems to remove anxiety as to your left flank. 

'Letter follows by Staff Officer.' 

But in fact no letter was ever sent, the next communication 
being a telegraphed message sent, en clair, that same evening: 

'Advanced Second Army, V Corps 

'Chief directs you to hand over forthwith to General Plumer 
the command of all troops engaged in the present operations 
about Ypres. 


'You should lend General Plumer your Brigadier-General 
General Staff and such other officers of the various branches 
of your staff as he may require. General Plumer should send all 
reports direct to G.H.Q. from which he will receive his orders. 

'R. Hutchinson, Major, G.S.' 

Appendix 4 


Extracts from the diary of Captain F. Hitchcock, of the 
Leinster Regiment, relating to conditions in the Ypres saUent 
following Plumer's withdrawal to the new line in the summer of 

' 1 1 th August 

'The CO. had a "pow-wow" with all the officers in the 
Battalion. He told us that we were ordered to consolidate the 
new position at Hooge. He said we would have to dig in and wire 
all night, and that we must be prepared for a counter-attack. 
His final orders were: "Go and tell your platoons what they are 
up against, and what to expect." At 7 p.m. we marched off for 
Hooge in battle order, each man carried sand-bags, and a pick 
or shovel. Algeo was in charge of the Company, as Caulfield had 
gone up in advance to take over the front line. Marsland was 
attached to Battalion Headquarters as Bombing Officer. We got 
to the front line at Hooge after a rough journey under shell-fire, 
over dead men and round countless shell-holes. At 11 p.m. we 
had taken over the Hooge sector and the mine crater from the 
last Battalion The Buffs . . . i6th Brigade. The order of the 
Battalion in the line was C and D Companies front line, with A 
and B in support and reserve. We had hardly taken over the 
line, when the Huns attacked our left flank, which was exposed. 
However, Algeo had posted the Company Bombers there, and 
with a handful of men armed with jam-tin bombs, succeeded in 
beating them back. 

'By the light of the moon and the glow from the green-white 
star-shells one could just distinguish the serpentine course of the 
German lines running along the near side of the Bellewaarde or 
Chateau Wood, only 50 yards away. The leafless trees stood out 



in their shattered forms, and behind them was the lake reflecting 
the moonhght. 

'My left flank was in the air,, a barricade only separating us 
from the Germans. We actually shared our front line with the 
enemy! How this strange fact came about was as follows: the 
continuation of our front line running up the Bellewaarde ridge 
which had been captured by the i6th Brigade on the gth had to 
be abandoned the same evening, as the trench was untenable 
owing to the enfilade fire which caused terrible havoc to the 
troops holding it. This enfilade fire came from the German 
positions on the high ground, on the extreme left flank at Belle- 
waarde Farm. 

'The 1 6th Brigade, therefore, evacuated this enfiladed section 
and erected a strong, sand-bagged barrier in the trench with 
a good field of fire. After about twelve hours, the Huns cautiously 
worked their way along their old front line, from Bellewaarde 
Farm, and found that our troops had withdrawn. After the 
bombing attack had been successfully repulsed Algeo and his 
bombers flattened out the old German parapets, and filled in 
the trench in front of the barricade, so that the Huns could not 
approach this post under cover. Within 15 yards of our barricade, 
the enemy switched off their old front line into their old support 
line. Throughout the night, the enemy were very offensive with 
bombs and snipers. We did not retaliate, as we were too busily 
employed reversing the parapets, making fire steps and deepening 
the trench everywhere, as we were anticipating a bombardment 
and a counter-attack on the morrow. Serg. Bennett and 
his machine-gun section worked splendidly, and built two fine 
battle positions for their guns. All the men worked like Trojans 
on top of the parapets in their shirt-sleeves. 

'The place reeked with the smell of decomposed bodies. They 
lay about in hundreds, on top of the parapets, in our trenches, 
in No-Man's-Land, and behind the parados. The British dead 
mostly belong to the 2nd York and Lanes, and the 2nd D.L.I. 
The dug-outs were full of dead Germans, those that were not, 
two only, were strengthened for occupation. While we were 
working bullets spat viciously all round, and we had several 


'i2th August 

'Dawn broke at 4 a.m. and within half an hour I had two 
casualties. Pte. Bowes was killed by an explosive bullet in the 
head, and Pte. Duffey was wounded by an enfilade bullet from 
the Bellewaarde Farm. We buried Bowes in a disused trench 
behind our line. One could now make out the country all round 
perfectly, and what an appalling sight it was. Everywhere lay 
the dead. The ridge in our rear was covered with dead men who 
had been wiped out in the final assault of the German position: 
their faces were blackened and swollen from the three days' 
exposure to the August sun, and quite unrecognizable. Some 
of the bodies were badly dismembered : here and there a huddled- 
up heap of khaki on the brink of a shell-crater told of a direct 
hit. Haversacks, tangled heaps of webbed equipment, splintered 
rifles, and broken stretchers, lay scattered about. The ground 
was pitted with shell-holes of all sizes. A few solitary stakes and 
strands of barbed-wire was all that was left of the dense mass of 
German entanglements by our artillery. Several khaki figures 
were hanging on these few strands in hideous attitudes. In front 
of us, in No-Man's-Land, lay a line of our dead, and ahead of 
them on the German parapet lay a D.L.I, officer. They had 
advanced too far, and had got caught by a withering machine- 
gun fire from the Bellewaarde Wood. There was not a blade of 
grass to be seen in No-Man's-Land or on the ridge, the ground 
had been completely churned up by the shells, and any of the 
few patches of grass which had escaped had been burnt up by 
the liquid fire. Some 50 yards away, around the edge of the 
Bellewaarde Wood, ran the sand-bagged parapet of the German 
line on its serpentine course towards the shattered remains of 

'The wood itself had suffered severely from the shell-fire. 
Most of the trees were badly splintered, and some had been torn 
up by the roots. There was little foliage to be seen on any of the 
trees. All that was left of the once bushy-topped trees which lined 
the Menin Road were shattered stumps, and the telegraph poles 
stood drunkenly at all angles. Although numbers of the Durhams 
and the York and Lanes lay about in the open, yet our trench 
was full of German dead belonging to the Wiirtembergers. 

'They lay in the dug-outs, where they had gone to seek refuge 
from our guns, in fours and in fives. Some had been killed by 


concussion, others had had their dug-outs blown in on top of 
them, and had suffocated. Our gunners had done their work 
admirably, and the strong cover made with railway lines and 
sleepers and with trunks of trees had collapsed under the fierce 
onslaught of our shells. The faces of the enemy dead, who had 
thus been caught or pinned down by the remnants and shattered 
timber of their death traps, wore agonized expressions. 

'Here and there, where portions of the trench had been 
obliterated by the shells, legs and arms in the German field-grey 
uniform stuck out between piles of sand-bags. Thousands of 
rounds of fired and unexpended cartridges lay about the 
parapets, and ground into the bottom of the trench. German 
Mausers, equipment, helmets, and their peculiar skin-covered 
packs lay everywhere. The ground was littered with portions of 
the enemy uniforms saturated in blood. Serving in the Ypres 
salient one was not unaccustomed to seeing men blown to pieces 
and, therefore, I expected to see bad sights on a battle-field, but 
I had never anticipated such a dreadful and desolate sight as the 
Hooge presented, and I never saw anything hke it again during 
my service at the front. The reason that Hooge was such a 
particularly bloody battle-field was due to the fact that it covered 
such a small area in the most easterly portion of the salient, and 
was not spread out over miles of open country like those battle- 
fields on the Somme in 19 16. Hooge had been continually under 
shell-fire since the First Battle of Ypres in October, and the ridge 
which we had dug into had been captured and recaptured five 
times since April. 

'At 5 a.m. some shells fell all along our line. Then all was 
silent and we realized the meaning of those dozen shells which 
traversed our line from left to right, ranging shots for a pukka 
bombardment. Within fifteen minutes of the burst of the last 
shot, a steady bombardment started all along our line. 

'The enemy gunners carried out their work in a most systematic 
manner. They fired by a grouping system of five shells to a limited 
area, under 12 yards. Then they burst shrapnel over this 
area. This plan for shelling our position was undoubtedly 
successful, as three out of the five shells hit our trench, oblitera- 
ting it, blowing in the parapet on top of the occupants, or 
exposing them to a deadly hail from shrapnel shells. Our casualties 
were beginning to mount up. A direct hit with a 5-9 knocked out 


six men of the Machine-Gun Section, Burlace, Cleary, and 
Scully being killed. As there was no communication trench the 
walking wounded "chanced their arms" going back over the 
ridge which was being raked by shrapnel fire, but the badly 
wounded had to lie in the bottom of the trench and wait until 
the cover of darkness to be carried back by the stretcher bearers. 
Some of these stretcher cases were, unfortunately, hit for a second 
time and killed. 

'At 12.30 p.m. the shelling eased, and we got ready for a 
counter-attack. The order: "Pass along the word, fix bayonets," 
went along the line. We all, except the wounded who looked 
wistfully up at us, armed to the teeth, looked forward to Germans 
getting out of their trenches, but they did not. Although there 
were no wire entanglements of any description in front of us, 
as the single stretch of concertina wire had been cut by the first 
shells, yet we would have given hell to the Huns had they 
attacked. They obviously calculated on us retiring from our 
seemingly hopeless position, but we did not budge an inch. 
During the lull, the men dragged the wounded under better 
cover, dug out more funk-holes, and took the opportunity to 
"drum up their char". Shell-fire, the smell of powder, and the 
continual dust made us all very thirsty, and never did I relish 
a drink of tea more than that dixie-full which L/Corpl. Leanard 
and Pte. Coghlan shared with me. The dixie was chipped all 
round the edges and was blackened by smoke ! 

'At 3 p.m. exactly, the enemy started a second bombardment 
of our line. Ail along our trench they put down a terrific barrage 
of shells of every description. High explosives and crumps 
exploded on our parapets, leaving burning and smoking craters, 
and torn flesh, and above, screeching and whining shrapnel 
burst over us. We were shelled from all sides by guns of every 
calibre. We could not have been in a worse position, and it 
seemed that every enemy gun around the salient was turned on 
to our 400 yards of trench on the left of the Menin Road. Shells 
from the Bellewaarde direction enfiladed us, and blew in our 
few traverses: shells from the Hill 60 direction ploughed great 
rifts in our parados, and broke down our only protection from 
back-bursts, and now and then some horrible fragments of 
mortality were blown back from the ridge with lyddite wreaths. 

'The whole place had become quite dark from the shells and 


the clouds of earth which went spouting up to the sky. We could 
barely see twenty yards ahead throughout this terrible tornado 
of fire. Our casualties increased at such a rapid rate that we were 
all greatly alarmed, our trench had ceased to exist as such and 
the enemy shrapnel caused dreadful havoc amongst the practi- 
cally exposed company. L/Corpl. Leanard, Privates Keenan, 
McKenna, Digan, and Shea of my platoon, had been hit, and 
Algeo got a direct hit on his platoon, killing 6032 Pte. Fay, and 
3642 Pte. Lysaght, and wounding Privates Healey and Rattigan 
badly, and four of his N.C.O.s. If this went on much longer, the 
Boches would walk into our position without any opposition, as 
we would all be casualties. The shells came down with tantalizing 
regularity, which was nerve-racking. 

'A most demoralizing effect is that of being smothered in sand- 
bags. Twice I emerged out of a heap of demolished sand-bags to 
find men hit on either side of me. It was extraordinary how one 
got to know and understand the men under shell-fire. " 'Tis 
different now beyont in Killyon, sir," said a man in my ear. "Ye 
gods, yes!" I replied. The man had seen me many times pre- 
war, as Killyon was only three miles from my home. 

'I went up to the bend where Company Headquarters was 
situated. They had just got a direct hit and the stretcher bearers 
were on their knees bandaging some lifeless-looking forms. 
Another yell rang out for stretcher bearers from close to a smoking 
crater, and off Dooley ran to give first aid along the top of the 
trench into the blackness, and disappeared from view. Healy and 
Rattigan, who had been hit earlier in the day, lay alongside each 
other in the bottom of the trench. Algeo was standing beside 
Sergt. Bennett, who was sucking at an old clay pipe. Both wore 
an expression of defiance on their determined-looking faces. 
Rattigan was in a semi-conscious state, and blackened from head 
to foot with powder. Healey was in frightful pain: he had been 
badly hit in the stomach, and kept calling for water. "Mister 
Algeo, for the love of God give me a drink." "Stay quiet now, 
Healey, and you'll be all right soon." But he would not stay quiet. 
He then spotted me, and asked me for my water-bottle, but I 
could not give it to him. Reid came along and rinsed his mouth 
with water. "Can't ye keep quiet now, for a few minuted. Shure 
'tis meself that will be bringing you along to the dressing station." 
But Healey would not stay quiet. "Holy Mary, Mother of God!" 


Bang, crash! A shrapnel shell burst right over us, and Healy 
lay quiet for all time. He had been hit for the second time. " 'Tis 
as well, sir," said Morrissey. "He hadn't a hope: a piece of shell 
as big as your fist in his stomach!" 

'The blackened bodies of our dead, and the badly wounded, 
lay about at the bottom of the trench, and it was impossible to 
move without treading on them. Every few minutes the call for 
the stretcher bearers would be heard. Then along came Morrissey 
with his first-aid bag, closely followed by Reid. "Steady, me lad," 
they'd say to a man who had lost his leg, but could still feel the 
toes of the lost limb tingling, " 'tis a grand cushy one you've got. 
Sure you're grand entirely, and when darkness sets in we'll 
carry you off to the dressing station, and then ye'll get your ticket 
for Blighty." How they stuck it, those company stretcher bearers, 
Morrissey, Reid, Dooley, and Neary. White men all! 

' 1 5th August 

'The CO. came over and told Caulfield that C and D 
Companies were to go back to the front line for two more days! 
He said that Piper should strengthen the barricade, and put out 
barbed wire: also that the positions had to be made as strong as 
possible, with traverses and flying traverses to stop the enfilade 
fire. He detailed me to bury all the dead at night. 

'At 5.30 B Company got heavily shelled for over i^ hours. 
The shrapnel-fire was terrific, and their line was completely 
enveloped in a dense mass of smoke from the bursting shells. 

'We stood to in case of an attack, but the shell-fire did not 
materialize into anything. Daly's casualties were 7 killed and 
21 wounded. These numbers included most of his N.C.O.s. 

'When it was dark I set off with two platoons to bury the dead. 
It was a most unpleasant duty, as they were all men of the 
Durhams and York and Lancasters, who had been killed on the 
9th in the charge. There were many other bodies lying out in 
this shell-churned area, and the ghastly stench of mangled 
corpses gripped us all by the throat as we carried out our task. 
It was very sad, but headless and armless got exactly the same 
treatment. We searched all for their identity discs, and their 
Army Books 64, and any other personal belongings for their 
next-of-kin. We salved their webbing equipment and rifles, and 
buried them in threes and fours in large graves. We buried some 


fourteen and returned to the reserve line, where we all got a rum 
issue. Barnett got a bullet through the stomach when he was 
guiding a working party of the ist North Staffords along the 
Menin Road. Poole and Pearman were wounded and Louis 
Daly slightly, but he remained at duty, being the only officer left 
in B Company. Ducat, who was transport officer, returned to 
duty to assist him. C and D Companies took over the front line 
again at 9 p.m. 

'i6th August 

'Barnett died of his wounds. The Doctor told us that he stuck 
his wounds splendidly, and that men who were only hit in the 
arms and legs were groaning all round him in the dressing-station. 
Barnett had a presentiment that he would get killed, and told us 
so when we got orders for Hoogc. I relieved "Cherrie" Piper and 
Caulfield at 9 a.m. in the fire trench. The Brig. General 
came round to inspect the line with the CO. The Brigadier said 
the Battalion had done splendidly, and that the place was 
thoroughly consolidated: he, however, objected to a German's 
leg which was protruding out of parapet, and I was told to 
have it buried forthwith by the CO. I called Finnegan, and told 
him to remove the offending limb. As it would have meant pulling 
down the whole parapet to bury it, he took up a shovel and 
slashed at it with the sharp edge of the tool. After some hard 
bangs, he managed to sever the limb. I had turned away and 
was standing in the next fire bay, when I overheard Finnegan 
remarking to another man: "And what the bloody hell will I 
hang me equipment on now?" 

'Three men of the Machine-Gun Section were wounded. We 
found a private of the York and Lancasters wounded and in a 
dying condition in a dug-out near the culvert, he appeared to 
have been there for days without any help. I had No. II Platoon 
carrying up bombs all night to the front line. 

' 1 7th August 

'On duty all morning in the advanced trench. The CO. 
brought the CO. of the North Staffords, Lieut.-Colonel de 
Falbe, up to look round the line. He gave me orders about 
burying some dead. In a hollow he had discovered three un- 
buried. This was a sad sight, as the trio consisted of a patient 


lying on a stretcher and the two stretcher bearers lying across 
him, with the slings of the stretcher still across their shoulders. 
All had been knocked out by the same shell. 

'We were only shelled in the support trench and at Railway 
Wood. At lo p.m. we were relieved by the ist North Staffords, 
and I handed over my line with its flank in the air joyfully! 
After relief we did not return to billets, but found carrying parties 
for R.E. material to the Hooge crater. So back again we toiled 
along the Menin road in Indian file, with duckboards, stakes, 
planks, and sand-bags. To make matters worse, it was raining 
hard and very dark. It was a tedious job: fallen trees had to be 
negotiated and numerous shell-holes full of water had to be 
avoided. The enemy was sending up star-shells, and we had to 
halt until the flare fell and had burnt itself out. To have been 
seen by the enemy would have been fatal, as we were on the 
exposed Menin road, right away from cover of any description. 
We finished our work at 1.30 a.m. and moved off for Ypres in 
the dark, and in heavy rain. 

'We had no guide to meet us in Ypres, and we wandered about 
near the Lille Gate. Sergt. Sullivan, the Provost Sergeant, 
heard me cursing, and came to my assistance, and showed me 
our billeting area.' 

Appendix 5 


'Lord Haldane came to lunch. Afterwards he came to my room 
and asked me to give him my views on the action of the Reserves, 
i.e. of the 2ist and 24th Div§. during the 25th and 26th Sep- 
tember. He said that feehngs were so strong on the subject 
in England that he had come to France in the hope of arriving 
at the truth. I gave him all the facts. The main criticism to my 
mind is the fact that the Reserves were not at hand when wanted. 
The causes for this seems to be: 

'i. Neither the C-in-C nor his staff fully realized at the begin- 
ning (in spite of my letters and remarks) the necessity for reserves 
being close up before the action began. 

'2. The two divisions were billeted in depth a long distance 
from where they would be wanted, and no attempt was made to 
concentrate them before the battle began. 

'3. When the course of the fight showed that reserves were 
wanted at once to exploit the VICTORY, the two divns. were 
hurried forward without full consideration for their food, etc., 
with the result that the troops arrived worn out at the point of 
attack and unfit for battle. 

'4. But the 2 1 St and 24th Divns. having only recently arrived 
in France, with staffs and commanders inexperienced in war, 
should not have been detailed for this work. It was courting 
disaster to employ them at once in fighting of this nature. There 
were other divisions available as shown by the fact that they 
arrived three days later upon the battlefield, namely, the 28th 
Divn., the 12th Divn. and the Guards Divn. 

T also felt it my duty to tell Lord Haldane that the arrange- 
ments for the supreme command during the battle were not 
satisfactory. Sir John French was at Philomel (near Lillers) 
twenty-five miles nearly from his C.G.S. who was at St. Omer 



with G.H.Q. Many of us felt that if these conditions continued it 
would bvi difficult ever to win! Lord Haldane said that he was 
very glad to have had this talk with me, and seemed much 
impressed with the serious opinion which I had expressed to 

'(note: In spite of these views I expressed, as given above, 
to Lord Haldane, the latter went back to England and stated 
that no blame for failure could be attached to Sir John French.)'^ 

I. This comment was added subsequently by Haig. 

Appendix 6 

haig's recommendation to the cabinet, 
24th november i9i5 

'At 6.30 p.m. I attended at the Colonial office by appointment 
and saw Mr. Bonar Law. The main points I urged were: 

'i. The immediate removal of the Imperial General Staff 
(with Sir Wm. Robertson as C.I.G.S.) to Horse Guards, so as 
to be free from War Office routine and questions of administra- 
tion, General Staff to lay down the size of the Army required and 
how it is to be employed. 

'2. The formation of only one class of Army instead of three as 
at present (Territorials, K's and Regular Armies). 

'3. The Divisions to be of similar establishment throughout the 
Field Force. 

'4. Units at the front to be maintained at full strength. My 
Army alone is 21,000 of all ranks deficient. 

T did not mention anything about Sir J. French. Mr. B. Law 
stated how Lord K had misled the Govt and wondered what 
appointment could be found for him to remove him from 

author's note : One of the conditions that Haig shared with 
Sir John French was his apprehension that Lord Kitchener might 
be going to put 'his' armies to a special and personal use — • 
probably in furtherance of K's strategic concepts in the Near 
East. Hence Haig's anxiety to take advantage of any weakness 
in Kitchener's position to prise away from him the I.G.S. and 
the administrative control of the Army. 

The reference to French is of interest only as suggesting that 
the subject probably was, in fact, discussed. Bonar Law's indis- 
cretion coming from one habitually so reticent is yet further 
evidence of Cabinet unity on this one question, if on no other — 
namely, how to get rid of Lord 'K'? 



Atkinson, C. T., The Devonshire Regiment igi^-igiS (Simpkin 
Marshall, 1926). 

Beaverbrook, Lord, Politicians and the War, Vol. I (Thornton 

Butterworth, 1928). 
Bickersteth, J. B., History of the 6th Cavalry Brigade, igi4-igig 

(Baynard Press, 19 19). 
Black Watch, The, Regimental History, igi^-igig (Ed. A. G. 

Warehope, Medici Society, 1925). 
Blake, R. N. W. (Ed.), The Private Papers of Douglas Haig (Eyre 

and Spottiswoode, 1952). 
Callwell, Sir E., Memoirs of Sir Henry Wilson (Cassell, 1927). 
Charteris, Brigadier-General, Earl Haig (Cassell, 1929); G.H.Q^. 

(Cassell, 193 1 ). 
Churchill, W. S., World Crisis. (Thornton Butterworth, Vols. I 

and II, 1923; Vol. Ill, 1927; Vol. IV, 1929; Vol. V, 1931). 
Duff Cooper, Haig (Faber, 1935). 
Edmonds, Sir J. E., Military Operations in France and Belgium 

(Macmillan, 1928); 'The Reserves at Loos' (In Journal of the 

Royal United Service Institution, Vol. LXXXI, 1936). 
Ewing, J., The Royal Scots, igi4-igig, 2 Vols. (Oliver and Boyd, 

Edinburgh, 1925). 
Falkenhayn, Field Marshal von. General Headquarters and its 

Critical Decisions (English translation, H.M.S.O., 1919). 
French, E. G., The Life of Field Marshal Sir John French, First Earl 

of Ypres, K.P., G.C.B., O.M., G.C.V.O., K.C.M.G. (Cassell, 

French, J. D. P., ist Earl of Ypres, igi4 (Constable, 1919). 
George, D. L,, War Memoirs (Nicholson and Watson, 1933-6). 
Hitchcock, F. C, Stand To: A diary of the trenches, igij-igi8 

(Hurst and Blackett, 1937). 
Liddell Hart, B. H., Reputations (Murray, 1928); History of the 



Great War, igi4-igi8 (Faber and Faber, 1936); Foch, The Man 
of Orleans (Gassell, 1934). 
Magnus, Philip, Kitchener: Portrait of an Imperialist (Murray, 

Poincare, R., Au Service de la France, Vols. VI, 1930; VII, 1931 
(Plon, Paris, 1 930-1); The Memoirs of Raymond Poincare igi§ 
(Translated and adapted by Sir George Arthur, Heinemann, 

S . . . H. L., 'Loos' (In The London Scottish Regimental Gazette, 
Vol. XXV, No, 293, 1920). 

Spears, Brigadier Sir Edward, Prelude to Victory (Cape, 1939). 

Wynne, G. G., 'The Affair of the 21st and 24th Divisions at Loos, 
26th September 19 15' (In The Fighting Forces, Vol. XI, 1934). 


General: Officers are referred to by the rank which they bore at the time of 
the operations. Regiments are Hsted, but not by separate battahons. 

Alderson, General, commanding 

Canadian Division, 91, 93 
Allen by. General 

elected to membership of Staff 

College Drag, 23 
unwelcome suggestion at Merville 
Conference, 49-50 
Ammunition, 38 

returns for winter of 191 4-1 5, 39 

duds of American manufacture, 
Anderson, Lieutenant-General C. A. 
commands Meerut Division at 

Neuve Chapelle, 50 
commands Meerut Division at 
Aubers, 106 

absence of 59th and 8ist Seige 
batteries at Neuve Chapelle, 
50-1 (and fn.) 
strength at Aubers Ridge, 105, 
109 fn. 

visits headquarters in France, 30, 
132, 135, 142 

Balfourier, General, 78 
Bareilly Brigade, The, 1 2 1 
Beaverbrook, Lord 

conversation with Captain Stanley 

Wilson, M.P., 131-2 
Northcliffe confides -views on Kit- 
chener to, 133 
analysis of 'the Shells Scandal', 
134 fn. 
Berkshire Regiment, The, 52, 156, 


Bertie, Sir F., 29 

Black Watch, The, 123, 152, 157, 

Bliss, Lieutenant-Colonel, 55 
Brooke, Lord, 132 
Buffs, The, 76, 81, 82 fn. 
Butler, Brigadier-General R. H. K., 

123, 125 

Calais Conference, 6th July 1916, 

Cameron Highlanders, The, 152, 

156, 157, 159 
Campbell, Lieutenant-Colonel, 189 
Canadian Division, The, 76, 80, 89 
Carter, Brigadier-General David, 61, 

Castlenau, General, 128, 129 

views on war, 150 

at '2nd Ypres', loi 

at Aubers Ridge, 126 

at Loos (2nd day), 173 
Charteris, Major 

views on duration of the war, 42 

views on 'losses', 73 

description of effect of poison gas, 

assessment of battle of Aubers 

Ridge, 128 
opinion of Winston Churchill, 133 
description of New Year's Eve 
party at G.H.Q.., 187 
Chetwode, Sir Philip 

manoeuvring the 5th Cavalry Bri- 
gade, 17 
Christmas in the front line, 1914, 




Churchill, W. S. 
political status, 133 
Charteris' opinion of, 133 fn. 
sacrificed by Asquith, 1 34 
description of meeting with Kit- 
chener before Loos, 143 fn., 
given command of a battalion, 
Goehorn siege-mortars, 39 
Connaught Rangers, The, 97 
Cornwall's Light Infantry, The Duke 

of, 100 fn. 
Crewe, Lord 

at Calais Conference, 134, 142 
presides over a Cabinet Meeting 
during Asquith's illness, 181 

Da VIES, Major-General 

commands 8th Division at Neuve 
Chapelle, 50, 61 

at Aubers Ridge, 106, 120 
Dehra Dun Brigade, The, no, 121 
Delcasse, 28, 134 

Devonshire Regiment, The, 55, 64 
Dundonald, Lord 

visits Haig with prophetic scheme, 

Dunkirk Conference, November 1914, 


Edmonds, Sir James 

account of conversation between 

French and Smith-Dorrien, 13 
recollections of advance to the 

Aisne, 18 
comment on JofFre plans, 19 
Egerton, Brigadier-General, 71 
Esher, Viscount 

visits Haig's headquarters, 183 

Falkenhayn, Field Marshal von 
view of English troops' ability in 
an offensive role, 104 

Feetham, Colonel, 52 
Ferozepore Brigade, The, 71 
Finlay, Lance-Corporal D., v.c, 124 
Fisher, Lord 

resigns as First Sea Lord, 133 
Fitzgerald, Lieutenant-Colonel Brins- 
ley, 32 

disclosures to Bonar Law, 132 
Foch, General 

writes to Joffre concerning British 
Staff appointments, 29, 34 

tells Wilson of Kitchener's sug- 
gestion for replacing Sir John 
French, 33 

formula for humouring Sir John 
French, 33 

'strategical talk' with Henry Wil- 
son, 42 

on failure of December 191 4 oper- 
ations, 43 

recollections of the gas crisis, 83 

visits Putz and French, 24th April 
I9i5> 87 

losing interest in operations at 
'2nd Ypres', 100 

threats in case of non-co-operation 
by the British, 141 

conversation with Haig at tea 
before Loos, 147 
French native troops 

Description of appearance, 77 

mutiny of, 98 
French, Sir John, 16, 21 

orders for battle of the Aisne, 1 7 

concerned with appointing a new 
Chief-of-Staff, 28-31 

views on Christmas fraternization, 

objects to being asked to relieve 
French 9th Corps, 44 

writes 'a letter on the general situa- 
tion' to Asquith, 46 

drives to see Foch at Cassel, 23rd 
April 1915, 83 

orders to Smith-Dorrien, 25th 
April 1 91 5, 89 

further vague instructions, 91 

attitude concerning 'giving up' 
ground, 94 



French, Sir John — contd. 

confers with Haig regarding pros- 
pects for the offensive, 1 04 

indecision regarding practicabiHty 
of an attack at Loos, 139 

plans for co-operation 'by threat 
and impHcation', 141 

releases nth Corps to Haig, 164 

notes a military debate in the 
House of Lords, 1 75 

recommends a course of action to 
Foch, 176 

account of a Cabinet Meeting, 1 8 1 

last meeting with Haig, 186 

charge of the gth Lancers, 16, 189 


warning of impending attack, 78, 
1 90- 1 

quantity of, at Loos, 148 
Geddes, Colonel A. D., 82, 93 
George V, His Majesty, King 

at farewell review at Aldershot, 23 

visits France, 178-9 

thrown by a mare, 179 
Gharwali Rifles, The, 56 
Ghurkas, The, 56, 65, no, in 
Gloucestershire Regiment, The, 155, 

Gold, Captain, R.F.C. Meteoro- 
logical Officer, 147 
Gordon Highlanders, The, 67 
Gough, Brigadier-General John, v.c, 

14, 24 fn. 
Gough, General Sir H. le P., 17 
'The Curragh Affair', 27 fn. 
commanding 7th Division at Aubers 
Ridge, 123 
Graeme, Lieutenant-Colonel, 159 
Green, Lieutenant-Colonel E. W. 

'Green's Force', 153, 157, 159 
Green Howards, The, 62 
Grenadier Guards, The, 67 
Grierson, Lieutenant-General Sir J. 
outmanoeuvres Haig at 191 2 exer- 
cise, 28 
Guest, Captain, 132 

Haig, General Sir Douglas, 17,21 
cautious approach to the Aisne, 18 
speaks to H.M. the King at Aider- 
shot farewell review, 23 
views expressed to military corres- 
pondent of The Times, 47 
on reasons for ist Corps conducting 

Neuve Chapelle offensive, 48 
orders up more reserves at Neuve 

Chapelle, 63 
visits Neuve Chapelle support area 
on evening of nth March 191 5, 


orders to attack 'regardless of loss', 

asks French for more reserves, 71 

account of letters from Rawlinson 
and Davies, 72-3 

explains plan for Aubers offensive 
to Conference of Corps and 
divisional commanders 27th 
April 1 91 5, 107 

orders to 'press the attack vigor- 
ously' at Aubers, 119 

visits Indian H.Q_. at Lestrem, 121 

account of the terrain at Loos, 139 

describes Kitchener's visit before 
Loos, 143 

conversation with Foch at tea 
before Loos, 147 

orders to nth Corps for 26th Sep- 
tember 1 91 5, 166 

inscription on a flask presented to 
Haig by Sir John French, 175 

invited to dinner at the royal Mess, 

account of the King's riding acci- 
dent, 180 
recommendations to Lord Esher 

concerning the future of Lord 

Kitchener, 183 
receives notice of his appointment 

as Commander-in-Chief, 185 
last meeting with Sir John French, 

report to Lord Haldane on '2nd 

day' at Loos, 205 
recommendations to the Cabinet, 

24th November 191 5, 207 



Haking, General commanding ist 
Division at Aubers, io6, 112, 
ii3> 123 
General commanding 1 1 th Corps, 
163, 166, 168, 169, 174, 179 
Haldane, Lord 

sacrificed by Asquith, 1 33 
visits Haig after Loos, 1 77 
Hamilton, General Sir Ian 

possibility of replacing Sir John 
French by, 33, 138, 143 
Hand-grenades, quality of early is- 
sues, 39 
Hart, see Liddell Hart, B. H. 
Hayes, Colonel R. H., 55 
Highland Light Infantry, The, 152 
Holland, Major-General A. E., CO. 

1st Division, 158 
Home, General, CO. 2nd Division 
refuses to cancel orders for gas 
release, 147, 148 
Huguet, General, 28, 34 

on Anglo-French relations, 43 
Hull, Brigadier-General, 92, 93, 97 

Indian Corps 

Haig's impression of, 25 
at Neuve Chapelle, 50 
at Aubers Ridge, 106 

prediction of enemy strength at 

Neuve Chapelle, 49 
warnings of enemy strength at 
Aubers, 106 
Irish Rifles, The Royal, 53, 56, 58, 

JoFFRE, Mar^chal, 28 

irritation with Sir John French, 44 
assertion of carte blanche for new 

offensive, 46 
conception of a spring offensive, 

possibility of secret compact with 

Kitchener, 135-6, 142-3 
conception of an autumn offensive, 


communication with Kitchener re- 
garding British co-operation at 
Loos, 142 

conference at Chantilly before 
Loos, 146 
Johnstone, Second Lieutenant, R.E., 
v.c, 152 

Kents, Royal West, 84 fn. 
K.O.S.B.,84fn., 151, 152 
K.O.Y.L.I., 84 fn. 
King's Own Regiment, The, 100 fn. 
Kitchener, Field Marshal Lord, 25 
antipathy to Henry Wilson, 27 
on a visit to Headquarters with 

Asquith, 30 
adamant over the honours list, 3 1 
orders to send ammunition from 

France to the Dardanelles, 125 
authority restricted by Lloyd 

George's appointment, 134 
possibility of a 'secret compact' with 

JoflTre, 135-6, 142-3 
doubt about the practicability of 

the offensive, 137 
meeting with Haig, and efforts on 
his behalf, 185 
Kitchener's Wood, 80, 81 

Lahore Division, The, 86 fn., 95, 96 
Lambton, Major-General Sir W., 32 
Lansdowne, Marquis of 

visited by Henry Wilson, 30 
Law, Rt. Hon. Bonar 

writes to Asquith demanding gov- 
ernment reconstruction, 1 32, 

discusses Kitchener with Haig, 

Leicestershire Regiment, The, 56 
Liddell Hart, Captain B. H., 12 fn., 

13 fn., 29 fn., 33 fn., 43 fn., 129 

fn., 141 fn. 
Lincolnshire Regiment, The, 52, 118 
Lloyd George, Rt. Hon. David, 132, 

134, 183 
London Irish, 150 

London Regiment, The, 57, 62, 84, 

115, 116, 120, 150 
'Lone tree', 152 
Lowry-Cole, Brigadier-General 

commander 25th Brigade at Neuve 

Chapelle, 51 
at Aubers Ridge, 1 1 5 
killed in action, 1 1 9 

Macandrew, Colonel, 52 
Manchester Regiment, The, 97 
'Mauser ridge', 79, 84, 95, 96 
Middlesex Regiment, The, 55, 58, 

62, 76, 81, 82, 120 
Milne, Major-General, loi 
Monro, General Sir C. 
Haig's opinion of, 24 
appointed to succeed Haig, 186 fn. 
Munster Fusiliers, The, no, 112 
Murray, Major-General Sir Archi- 
Haig's opinion of, 24 
circumstances in relation to his 
replacement as Chief-of-Staff, 

Northamptonshire Regiment, The, 
62, 69, no, III, 112, 120 

NorthclifFe, Lord 

conversation with Lord Beaver- 
brook concerning Kitchener, 133 

Northumberland Brigade (the 149th), 

Northumbrian Division (the 50th), 
86 fn. 

O'GowAN, Brigadier-General Wan- 
less, 84 fn., 93 
Oxley, Brigadier-General, 1 1 5 

Pathans, The, 97 

Pelle, General, 141 

Pinney, Brigadier-General, 55 

INDEX 215 

Plumer, General 

conducts Staff College examina- 
tion, 22 
orders for counter-attack, 23rd 
April 1915, 84, 91 

on disillusionment at offensive 
operations, 128 
Prichard, Colonel 

refuses to advance, 69 fn. 
Putz, General, 87, 98 

Queens, The, 120 

Rawlinson, Lieutenant-General Sir 
Henry, Bt. 
Haig's opinion of his staff, 24-5 
commands 4th Corps at Neuve 

Chapelle, 50 
views as to the state of 'the orchard' 

at Neuve Chapelle, 61 
orders during the battle, 63, 68 
asks Haig to postpone zero hour on 

2nd day, 70 
writes to Haig blaming Davies for 

failure, 72 
withdraws accusations, 73 
dissatisfaction at the course of the 

battle of Aubers Ridge, 1 1 5 
suggests alteration to plan, 125 
on a visit to Franchet d'Esp6rey, 

selected by Haig as his successor, 
Repington, Colonel, 132, 182 
Rice, General 

forecast concerning character of 
war, 42 
Rickard, Lieutenant-Colonel, 112 
Riddell, Brigadier-General, CO. 
Northumberland Brigade, 97, 
Rifle Brigade, The, 53, 56, 58, 67, 

68, 116, 120 
Robertson, General W. 

takes a drive with Henry Wilson, 
30. 89 



Robertson, General W. — contd. 

comparison of warfare to gambling 

at cards, 127 
journeys to London, 177 
visits Lord Stamfordham, 1 78 
letters to Haig from London, 184 

Sanderson, Lieutenant-Colonel, 153 
Scots, The Royal, 37, 62 
Scottish Rifles, The, 55, 58 
Seaforth Highlanders, The, 56-7, 60, 

1 10, III fn., 152 

'Second Position', the enemy, at 

Loos, 168 
Sharpe, Acting-Corporal C, v.c, 

Sherwood Foresters, 62, 68 
Sikhs, The, 97 

Smith-Dorrien, General Sir Horace, 
23, 48 fn., 88 
drives to French's headquarters in 
effort to dissuade him from or- 
dering forth counter-attacks, 94 
protests at instructions, 95 
directs that 'offensive operations 

shall cease forthwith', 98 
writes to Robertson, 99 
correspondence, 192-5 
'Smith-Dorrien trench', 53, 60 
Somerset Regiment, The, 37 
Southey, Brigadier-General, Com- 
manding Bareilly Brigade, 1 2 1 
Spears, Sir Edward, 136 
Stamfordham, Lord 

receives Robertson, 1 78 
Stephens, Lieutenant-Colonel, 54, 

62, 67 
Sussex, The Royal Regiment, 1 1 o, 

111, 157 

Ureal, General Philippe D' 

Haig's opinion of, 25, 105, 108 fn., 

'Wastage' from illness, 40 
Watts, Brigadier-General, 64 
Welch Regiment, The, no, 162 
Wellington's Regiment, The Duke 

of, 84 fn., 100 fn. 
Widdicombe, Lieutenant-Colonel, 65 
Willcocks, Lieutenant-General Sir J. 
commands Indian Corps at Neuve 

Chapelle, 50 
exchanges with General Rawlin- 

son, 63 
cancels night attack at Neuve 
Chapelle on his own initiative, 

65, 71 
reluctant to attack a third time at 

Aubers, 121 
Wiltshire Regiment, The, 62 
Wilson, Lieutenant-General Sir 

Henry, Bt., 26-7 
antipathy to Kitchener, 27 
candidate for post of Chief-of- 

Staff, 28-30 
touring the French lines, 31 
tells Sir J. French of Kitchener's 

proposal to Foch concerning his 

replacement, 33 
on winter conditions, 40-1 
makes excuses for B.E.F. to Foch, 

dinner at Chantilly with JofTre, 44 
verdict on the battle of Aubers 

Ridge, 128 
communicates French's plans to 
Pell^, 141 
Woosnam, Corporal J., 172 
Worcestershire Regiment, The, 62, 

York and Lancaster Regiment, The, 

82 fn., 100 fn. 
Yorkshire Regiment, The West, 55 


3 12b2 0MMM3361