Private Wilkinson Day killed in action on the Somme

Private Wilkinson Day 15449 “A” Coy. 9th Bn. York and Lancaster Regiment
Submitted by his great-granddaughter

Wilkinson Day was born on 6th February 1892 and baptised on 28th February 1892 at a Methodist church in Mexborough, South Yorkshire. His address at that time was Roman Terrace. It appears he lived with his family on Wragby Row, Wath Road, Mexborough from birth for most of his life. (Due to boundary changes, some records show that he was born in Swinton, others show him living in Adwick upon Dearne and others record Mexborough.)

His father, Walter Day was born in Bradford. His mother, Rose Hannah (nee Bell) was born in Saltburn by the Sea. Daughter of an Iron Stone Miner, she appears to have been working in a Worsted Mill from an early age. They married in Bradford.

Wilkinson had 9 brothers and 3 sisters. His older sister Edith and older brother Ernest were born in Queensbury/Halifax. The family then moved to Swinton where Walter became a Coal Hewer at one of the local collieries. Wilkinson and all of his younger siblings appear to have been born in the Roman Terrace/Wragby Row, Wath Road area where the family settled. His younger siblings were: – Fred, Susan, George Arthur, Walter, Albert, Violet Ellen, Edmund, Joseph, William Edward and Herbert.

The 1911 census shows Wilkinson was living at Wragby Row and was a Pony Driver below ground.

Wilkinson married Elizabeth Hough on 27th August 1914 at Bolton upon Dearne. The marriage register records Bolton upon Dearne addresses for both bride and groom.

His only child, a son named Edward (Ted) was born in Bolton upon Dearne in May 1915.

Wilkinson served in World War 1 and was Killed in Action on 3rd October 1916 on the Somme.

His medal record shows: Theatre of War first served in – France. Date of Entry therein – 27th August 1915. Victory Medal, British Medal and 15 Star Medal.

Wilkinson is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial (Pier and Face 14A and 14B) Somme, France. Also, the WW1 Memorial cross in Adwick upon Dearne and the WW1 Memorial in the cemetery at Bolton upon Dearne.

His photograph, copied from a newspaper, can be seen in an entry for December 1916 on website bolton.dearnevalleyhistory.org.uk.
His details have also been researched and recorded by The Barnsley War Memorial Project.

His name appears in the book “From Pit Town to Battlefields: 1914-16 Mexborough & the Great War” by Bill Lawrence. Page 310 “This particular letter also mentions that Percy Sale was buried by a local comrade from Bolton-upon-Dearne. Private W Day, who himself died two hours after his acting Sergeant Major.” He is also listed on page 361. Perhaps Wilkinson and Sgt Percy Oswald Sale 15440 knew each other and perhaps enlisted together as they have similar service numbers? Interestingly, Percy Sale is recorded as having been killed on 1st October 1916.

His widow remarried twice and had 2 further sons in her second marriage.

Wilkinson’s son Edward, a collier, remained in the coal mining communities of the Dearne Valley where he and his wife raised their daughter and 3 sons.

Shell Shock, gas and imprisonment, but life goes on.

George Frederick Hallgate was born on the 17th December 1892 and grew up at 89 St Johns Road Balby. He was the eldest of a family of five and his father worked as a brick layers labourer. By the age of 18 in 1911 George was working as a steel wire tester possibly at British Ropes. It seems likely the George joined up around October 1915 by which time he was working at the Plant railway works and would have been about 23.

Initially posted to the 10th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment he was given the army No 3823. From family stories it seems that he did some of his basic training at Rugely Camp in Staffordshire. This was one of two huge hutted camps on Cannock Chase built early in the war primarily as training establishments. Together they were capable of holding 40,000 troops.

From his medical record it seems likely that George was transferred to France around September 1916 and it may have been at this time that he was allocated to the 1/6th Battalion of the West. Yorkshire. Regiment. This battalion was present at the battle of Flers-Courcelette which was the first battle where tanks were used and formed part of the battle of the Somme. Unfortunately George was reported as wounded, shell shock in the Doncaster Gazette on the 22nd of September 1916. So he may not have been at the front for very long before becoming injured. It seems likely that he returned to England to recover as a later newspaper report says that he went to France three times.. It could have been at this time that his Army number was changed to 263008. Back with the 1/6th Battalion George was injured again around July 1917, this was just before the start of the battle of Passchendaele. Conditions were already appalling and his family recall that George told them that he was buried by shell and gassed. He then had to spend two days in a shell hole with several corpses before being rescued. It is difficult to know what gas George was exposed to or what his injuries were, but he arrived in hospital in England on the 4th August 1917 and was discharged home on the 14th September 42 days later. During this time he was in the County of Middlesex War Hospital at Napsbury near St Albans. Though the effects of gas were terrifying the actual number of fatalities was relatively low. From the local newspaper we know that George was back in France for the third time in November 1917 but this time he was probably with the 1/7th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment. George returned to Ypres, where the battle of Passchendaele was now mainly over. Unfortunately for George in April 1918 Germany launched its great offensive and broke through the allied lines. On the 25th of April George was reported missing, probably during the battle of Kemmal. His imprisonment was recorded by the International Committee of the Red Cross

This must have been a very worrying time for his parents Kirk and Hannah, who eventually received a post card from George in June to say that he was a prison of war at Limberg. Limburg an der Lahn is a German town in the Hesse region, the pow camp there during the first world war could hold 12,000 men. It had been used by the Germans as a location for Irish prisoners, these were encouraged to join the Irish Legion and fight against the British in Ireland.

With the end of the war in November 1918 George would have been released, however many men found it difficult to find their way home and we know that George was not discharged until the 4th March 1919. For his services to the nation George was awarded the British War and Victory medals.

George returned to Doncaster and his job at the Plant where he joined The National Union of Railwaymen in 1925 giving his occupation as fitters mate. In 1923 he married Elsie Broomhead and their daughter Alice was born soon afterwards. In 1939 George was working as a fitter labourer for the L.N.E.R. and was living at 22 Byron avenue Balby with Elsie and one other probably Alice. George died in 1960 aged 67.

Thank you to David Marson for submitting information for this story.

Brave KOYLI soldier Philip Bedford

This is a story about a brave soldier who fought for King and Country in the Great War of 1914-1918 and his tragic death 36 years after the war had ended.

Philip was one of nine children born to Philip and Rose Bedford of New Street Darfield near Barnsley.

The Bedford family were no strangers to Army life; Philip’s late father was a Sergeant Instructor in the 42nd Black Watch, his brother Henry was in the Royal Horse Guards Artillery and his brother Samuel (Sammy) was in the York and Lancaster’s Regiment 14th Battalion (2nd Barnsley Pals)*

Henry Bedford

Title: Henry Bedford
Description: Phil's brother. Mexborough and Swinton Times. by-nc

All three Brothers previously worked at the Houghton Main Colliery where they left to join the army and fight for King and Country.

Philip at the age of 23, answered Kitcheners call and enlisted in the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (K.O.Y.L.I.) 7th Battalion, one of the many coal workers of Yorkshire who were lured by the offer of regular pay, three meals a day and the adventure of a life time with their best mates.

The 7th Battalion K.O.Y.L.I. which was formed at Pontefract on the 12th September 1914  became attached to the 61st Brigade and went into training in Aldershot, then onto Witley and finally to Salisbury Plain were the Division was inspected by King George V. and found to be ready for war.

The Battalion left Salisbury Plain on the 22nd July 1915 and went by train to Southampton were they boarded the Mona’s Queen, a passenger ship which had been commissioned by the government as a troop carrier for the duration of the war. They crossed the English Channel to Le Have arriving the following day and stayed at a rest camp at Sanvic.

On the 24th July they bordered a train bound for Arques a journey of 182 miles where they went into billets. On the 28th July they route marched to La Creule near Hazebrouck were they rested over night. The following day they marched to their destination at Steewerck near Nieppe close to the Belgium boarder, where they received training in trench warfare. This training which would be of the utmost value for their morale, and knowledge of trench routine which ultimately could save their lives.

After their training the 7th/K.O.Y.L.I. took over trenches of its own as a fully fledged fighting unit, and were destined to spend the remainder of the war on the Western Front, where they would see action on many famous theatres of war.

Ypres, Passchendaele, and the Somme

The  trenches they occupied were typically 3 meters deep by 2 meters wide, mostly filled with mud and water. Sanitary conditions were poor, and the Soldiers were unable to bathe for weeks at a time and found it difficult to rest and sleep, they also lived in constant fear of being buried alive by shell fire. The trenches were infested with rats, and many Soldiers suffered from cholera, gangrene, trench foot, and trench fever, if that wasn’t enough, there was always the constant threat of gas attacks, and when it was finally time to go over the top, they all knew that they were forbidden from turning back, and had no choice but to advance.  Even their injured mates had to be left where they fell.

In August 1916, Phil was sent home suffering with trench fever and returned to duty in early September 1916, where the 61st Infantry  Brigade found themselves in action in  the Guillemont and Ginchy areas of the Somme. The onset of fierce fighting and gas attacks resulted in  many casualties, and this is probably where Phil is thought to have sustained shrapnel wounds to his shoulder and back which would cause him pain and suffering for the rest of his life. After treatment he returned to his unit and in October was awarded a Wound stripe to signify that he was a wounded soldier.

Samuel Bedford

Title: Samuel Bedford
Description: Phil's brother. Mexbourgh and Swinton Times August 1916. by-nc

Ironically, two months earlier and just 10 miles away at a Village called Serre, his younger brother Sammy was killed on the first day of  the Battle of the Somme on the 1st July 1916. Sammy was just one of tens of thousands of under aged soldiers who joined the Pals Battalions’ for comradeship and adventure, but paid the ultimate price for King and Country.

Phil was finally given a honourable discharge on the 29th December 1917, and received the following medals; the Victory Medal, the British Medal and the Silver War Badge, which was awarded to service personnel who had been honourably discharged due to wounds or sickness from military service in World War 1. The lapel badge was made from sterling silver and worn on the right breast of their civilian clothes.

His Battalion went on to fight many heroic battles on the Western Front before it was finally disbanded on the  20th February 1918.

Phil returned home and went to live with his Mother Rose Bedford.  He was one of many men who came back from the War suffering from serious injuries and the effects of mustard gas and shell shock, better known now as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Tormented by his experiences and not being able to return to his former work, family recollections indicate that Phil never fully recovered  from the traumas he endured.  He suffered from depression and financial difficulties which only added to his already devastated life.

Our family have fond memories of Phil, my sister Ann in particular, can recall visiting their house each week and do her grandmother’s hair, whilst listening to her uncle Phil play the organ in the parlour.

He looked after his mum for many years through her old age until she passed away at the age of 90 in April 1954.  Shortly afterwards in May 1954, Phil aged 63 took his own life while the balance of his mind was disturbed.  We can only presume that with the loss of his mum, he lost his will to live and wanted to put an end to his pain and suffering.

Whether people agree that this was the right or wrong way for someone to end their life I cannot say. All I know is that I am proud of my Uncle’s for doing their ‘bit’ for King and Country and I am sure if they were around today, they would be the first to volunteer again to keep our Country great and safe for all of us to enjoy.

I have dedicated this story to his Regiments Museums Archives who have provided me with the Battalions War Diary’s which has helped me put his story together, for which I am deeply indebted.

By Richard Ward – Philip’s Nephew

* http://www.pals.org.uk/barnsley/bedford.pdf

Pte Henry Hall , 8th Battalion, Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. KIA Messines Ridge.

Henry was born in Sheffield around June 1895. Henrys family lived in the Firth Park area of Sheffield. He had 3 Brothers and 3 sisters. His mother was called Clara who was a widow.

The reason why I’m writing this story is to keep Henrys memory and knowledge of his sacrifice from been forgotten, although he was not from Doncaster he joined the KOYLI who recruited heavily from the area. I’m not related to Henry but I was given his medals by one of his sisters Eva, she was my grandparents neighbour and she always said hello when I was visiting. Eva gave me the medals to take care of when I was young and with the First World War centenary Ive completed a little research to find more about Henry and his service in the KOYLI and to do my best to keep his memory from disappearing.

Henry would have joined the Army around May 1916 , there’s no information or evidence about when he joined the 8th Battalion KOYLI as the war diaries of the battalion do not list individual replacements. The 8th Battalion Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry were part of 70th Brigade in the 8th Division. They were in the area of Hill 60 from 10th May and taking part in preparations for the attack on Messines Ridge. The Germans assaulted the line on the 13th May and resulted in counter raiding by the 70th brigade. The 8th Batt took part in the attack on Messines Ridge on the 7th June 1917 and would have witnessed the large mine explosions at the start of the battle. These explosions rank among the largest non nuclear explosions of all time. The mines exploding at Hill 60 and Caterpillar Hill siganalled the start of the attack. The battalions objective was the German trench called Image Trench and part of Illusive Trench these been the German frontline. The objectives were captured 3hours 40 mins after zero hour and  consolidated under the cover of Lewis guns. The 8th Battalion remained in the front until 10th June.

 

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At some part of the attack Henry became 1 of 250 casualties sustained by the 8th Battalion Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry during the Battle.

According to a burial report Henry was initially buried near the front line north east of Zwarte Leen in Belgium. Fortunately after the war Henrys body was identified and was re buried  in La Brique Cemetery number 2 north of Ypres. Henry left behind his mother Clara 2 brother and 3 sisters one been Eva who gave me Henrys medals to look after, he also left behind his sweetheart Julia Cooper from Eyam. The inscription on Henrys headstone reads “To our hearts more dear from Mother,Brothers,Sisters”. Henry and his sacrifice will not be forgotten by my family,

Lest We Forget

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https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/5348951

https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/451180/hall,-/

 

William Cole, a life to be discovered.

William Cole from Adwick was one of many local Doncaster men who joined up in the First World War. He joined the 12th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment as a private and went off to fight in France. We know nothing of William’s life before then, and nothing of his experiences in the army. All we know is that he died in the horrors of the first day of the first Battle of the Somme, 1st of July 1916, aged 27.

How wonderful it would be if someone somewhere has memories or reminders of William that could bring him to life again for a new generation.

Masborough man captured at Le Cateau

My Grandfather William Blazey was a regular soldier, having joined up in 1913. He came from 87 Henley Street, Masborough. Whilst serving with the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in the battle for Le Cateau in August, 1914, he received minor injuries and was taken prisoner.

He was transferred to Doberitz prison camp near Berlin where he was with prisoners from Serbia, Russia, France and Belgium. He said they were taken out into the villages to work and that the ordinary German people were very kind to them, but some of the German soldiers were not so kind.

He received three medals – the 1914 Star, Victory Medal and the British War Medal. During his captivity, William Blazey was sent a tin of biscuits by a lady from Sheffield. He replied, thanking her for the generous gift – he also enclosed a picture of him and his fellow captives, marking himself with a cross.

In 1924, he married Minnie Jepson from Ecclesfield, Sheffield. He had met her after the War whilst visiting an Aunt, who lived next door to her.

William Blazey did not talk freely about his experience but my Uncle, John Blazey, recalled that during the Second World War there were German prisoners working on building Wordsworth Avenue, Parson Cross (Sheffield). As a boy, Uncle John remembers accompanying his father visiting them, speaking to them in German and giving them cigarettes. His German was quite good.

19160801 Sheffield Independent 1st Aug 1916 p6

Title: 19160801 Sheffield Independent 1st Aug 1916 p6
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Newspaper article from Sheffield Independent 1st August 1916 page 6.

On the main photograph of William Blazey’s wedding, the three men are (left to right): Harry Jepson (bride’s brother), Geoff Alderson (best man) and William Blazey (bridegroom). The two ladies are (left to right): Minnie Blazey nee Jepson (bride) and Jessie Jepson (bride’s sister, who later married Arthur Baxter from Chapeltown).

Father Killed Half an Hour After His Son

Harry Moorhouse was born in Wakefield, early in 1869. His father, John Wilkinson Moorhouse, was a wool manufacturer and merchant. He was baptised at St Michael’s Church in Wakefield on the 2nd of May 1869. He grew up in Wakefield surrounded by brothers and sisters. He was educated at the Wakefield Grammar School, and later the Northern Congregational School in Silcoates. By 1891, at the age of 22 he was assisting his father in the wool business he ran from a mill on Flanshaw Lane, Wakefield. In 1891 Harry enlisted in the Wakefield Volunteers for the Boer War.

In the 1880s Harry had courted Sussanah Elizabeth Marsdin. She was a beautiful young woman with many admirers, when she was 19 in 1885 she had photos taken for them in which she teasingly faced away from the camera or hid her face behind the Yorkshire Post. After arriving back from travelling the world in 1889, Harry gave her an ‘oriental’ dress with a parasol and fan. She was so thrilled she made sure to be photographed in them. On the 19th of June 1892 Harry and Susan were married at Alverthorpe in Yorkshire, they moved into Alpha Cottage on Alverthorpe Road, Wakefield.

Sussanah and Harry had 3 children, Alan Marsden Moorhouse was the oldest born around 1894, followed by Ronald Wilkinson Moorhouse the next year, and Lydia Majorie Moorhouse 4 years later. In 1901 Harry was serving in South Africa, in a camp near Cape Town, he sent Alan a postcard of the city. In South Africa he proved a loyal soldier and a natural leader of his fellow Volunteers, eventually rising to the rank of Major. One man who served under him called him ‘a fine soldier every inch of him and one of the truest and best friends that ever lived.’ He was known both for his strict discipline, and unfailing optimism. Privately he was deeply religious. He was awarded the Silver medal for his service in South Africa. The French government also awarded him the Legion of Honour, possibly for leading a Battalion of Zouaves into battle.

In the meantime Alan had been attending the Silcoates School, where he played on the football team. Ronald also attended the Silcoates School, then the Thorne Grammar School. While Harry was at war in 1901, the family had lived at The Laurels, Wakefield, next door to Flanshaw House where Harry’s parents lived. In 1911 they lived back on Alverthorpe Road, Wakefield, Harry was back home and worked as a yarn spinner. Alan was now old enough to join him in this work.

When the First World War broke out, Harry was eager to report for duty again after his time in Africa. Ronald received a commission too whilst travelling in Alberta, Canada. Both father and son served together in France from 1915, in the 4th Battalion of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. In 1914 Harry’s moustache had pointy tapered ends, but by 1915 he had trimmed them down, presumably so it looked neater. On the 10th of September 1915 Harry was injured, and again in 1916, on these occasions he was still a Major but was later promoted to Lieutenant Colonel. Ronald was a Captain, he wrote to his aunt that ‘If you put your head above the parapet you soon have bullets whizzing about you’. In early in 1917 he was also wounded, this may have been when he was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry.

On the 9th of October 1917 Ronald was leading the Y Company of his Battalion through the mud and heavy machine gun fire when he was killed. A comrade would later call him ‘a gallant son of his gallant father’. Within half an hour of his son’s death Harry walked out of the Battalion headquarters and was shot and killed. The loss was felt across Wakefield, where the paper’s called the Moorhouses ‘one of Wakefield’s best known and respected families’. Sussanah was utterly devastated, and the tragedy was so cruel it hung over the family for generations. No bodies were ever recovered, further depriving them of closure. It is thought they were the only father and son killed in the Battle of Passchendaele. Harry’s descendant’s still give talks on the war at military cemeteries. Ronald is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial in Zonnebeke.

The K.O.Y.L.I. in October 1917

The 9th and 10th Battalions

September had been uneventful for the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. From the 16th of September the 9th and 10th Battalions had undergone intensive training with the 64th Infantry Brigade at Hendeghem. The training was supposed to go on until the 4th of October but plans changed and the Battalions returned to the front line on the 1st. Lieutenant-Colonel Micholls took command of them. The 9th Battalion passed through Polygon Wood to take up a position on the east of the front, while the 10th spent 2 days as reserves in dugouts south-west of Zonnebeke Lake.

The 3rd of October was spent under heavy shellfire for the 9th Battalion, it was so bad their rations and brandy couldn’t be brought to them. The 9th launched an attack at 6 in the morning of the 4th, leaving the shell holes and advancing in ‘snake formation’ to capture a portion of road west of Reutel. D Company led on the right followed by B Company, A followed C on the left. Many men were killed in the gun fire including all the officers of the companies on the right.

Passing Joist Farm they reached a lowland bog. Flares were sent up to reveal the enemy positions. Captain Sykes led D Company, with B Company behind under Sergeant Piggott, to capture an enemy post. Not far behind followed the 10th Battalion. 13 men and 4 machine guns were taken. Half an hour into the attack, German prisoners started arriving at the Battalion Headquarters. Little of what was happening on the front could be discovered from them. A heavy enemy barrage from Polygon Wood across to Clapham Junction had severed all lines of communication.

Back on the front the swamp proved dangerous to cross, slush came up to the soldier’s knees making them easy targets for machine guns on the right. The 10th Battalion took the road around the swamp and actually came out ahead of the 9th. A strong point to the west was poorly defended; the 9th Battalion managed to take it by surprise. The forts on the east were properly concreted though, each with 2 machine guns and placed on high ground. They were taken with the help of bombs, one proved to be a German Battalion Headquarters.

Juniper trench had been strongly held but the Germans retreated from it as the K.O.Y.L.I. arrived. 2nd Lieutenant Leonard Baker Spicer, the son of a grocer from Dorchester, bravely took the initiative in manoeuvring to block their retreat and force surrender. An attempt at a counter-attack on the right was fought off by D Company.

3 more strong points were eliminated, leaving the course clear to the village of Reutel. The men regrouped, with the 10th falling back behind the 9th, but were forced to dig into a captured trench for nearly 2 hours by a fresh bombardment. A strong point near Reutel shot at them until it was destroyed by a tank. The right flank was struggling terribly until it received reinforcements.

The men had dug themselves in 100 yards past Reutel Road, and now faced an enemy advancing from Polderhoek Chateau to the south-east. Under 2nd Lieutenant Spicer a number of men were sent to try and flank them, many of them were never seen again, Spicer was undoubtedly killed. When it was clear to advance they did so by 150 yards. Much of the rest of the day was spent connecting shell holes to create cover.

At 8 that night Captain Hendriks, along with 2nd Lieutenant Homer Nevin Teaz the son of an Irish Presbyterian Reverend, led a party forward from the Headquarters with ammunition and water. They found that while the left flank was in a good position and had taken its objective, the right had failed badly. At half past 9 an SOS was sent up from the front line, both sides took this as a signal to open up their guns for a bombardment.

At half past 10 a shell exploded at the entrance to the 9th Battalion’s headquarters. Lieutenant-Colonel Daniell was mortally wounded, and a signalling Corporal was killed instantly. Many more signalling officers were wounded.

Overnight the 9th and 10th Battalions dug in, and held the trenches through counter attacks the next day. Some reserves arrived that night, and then on the night of the 6th they were relieved. They returned to Ouderdom and took the train to Ebblington. Between the 9th and 10th Battalions over 67 men had been killed and 538 injured over the course of the attack. The 9th Battalion came under the command of Major H G Greenwood for the rest of Passchendaele.

The 4th and 5th Battalions

On the 9th of October the 5th K.O.Y.L.I. Battalion had been in the first line of an attack by the 148th Infantry Brigade. At quarter past midnight, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Moorhouse led the 4th Battalion forward in the dark, following behind the 5th. The route was in poor condition and they progressed slowly.

They reached Abraham’s Ridge, which was barely big enough to conceal and cover them, but they were still 800 yards behind the main force. Enemy fire slowed down the 4th Battalion further. They proceeded down the ridge, in the usual formation with 2 companies on each side, under heavy machine gun fire from Belle Vue spur.

The banks of Ravebeek stream had been obliterated by shells and it had overflown forcing the advance onto the Meetcheele-Gravenstafel road. They advanced uphill through thick mud and under heavy machine gun fire from Wolf Copse and Belle Vue. Captain Ronald Wilkinson Moorhouse was killed while bravely leading his company. Half an hour later his father, Lieutenant-Colonel Harry Moorhouse, was killed by a bullet as he left Battalion Headquarters.

By 7 at night most of the companies had been cut down to 30 or 40 men, and were struggling to hold ground. Captain Chadwick led X Company, followed by Z Company, in a failed attempt on 2 pill boxes at the top of the slope. Little more progress was made before they were relieved that night by a New Zealand Battalion. Captain Chadwick led them out of combat in the early hours of the 10th of October.

The K.O.Y.L.I. Battalions returned to the fields near Ypres. Between the 4th and 5th Battalions 55 men were dead, and 177 wounded. On the 11th of October the Battalions rested at Winnezelle, and they were back at the front on the 18th.

The End of Passchendaele

On the 12th of October the Brigadier General came to congratulate the 64th Infantry Brigade including the including the 9th and 10th Battalions of the K.O.Y.L.I. By the 15th they were rested enough for exercise. A bizarre range of sports were arranged at the brigade camp including musical chairs, pig slicking and wrestling mounted on the backs of mules!

From the 24th onward the 9th and 10th underwent special training for Passchendaele, but the battle ended early in November, and they didn’t arrive back on the line until the 8th of December. None of the K.O.Y.L.I. battalions were involved in any major campaigns for the rest of 1917.

The K.O.Y.L.I. in August 1917

At 10 to 4 in the morning on the 31st of July 1917, the Battle of Pilckem Ridge launched the Battle of Passchendaele. Briefly, the 7th Battalion of the K.O.Y.L.I. supported the Guards and Welsh Divisions. K.O.Y.L.I. Officers came forward to Pilkem ridge and saw the village of Langemarck decimated by gunfire in only 3 hours, within a few weeks many of them would die advancing through the ruins of Langemarck.

On the 4th of August the 7th Battalion travelled by train and then road to Malakoff Farm. They were close enough to the frontline to see the artillery being set up, at night they faced constant bombing. The next day saw the whole Battalion first tour the trenches of Pilkem ridge. On the 6th of August the 7th Battalion was attacked with mustard gas for the first time, on the same day the 6th Battalion began intensive training. After 2 days in the Pilkem trenches the 7th Battalion withdrew, 7 of the men were dead and 28 had been gassed.

The 7th Battalion rested until the 14th of August when they advanced on the front near Langemarck. They spent that night lying still in shallow trenches so as not to be seen. After midnight on the night of the 15th the 7th Battalion crossed the Steenbeke River with the 59th Infantry under shellfire. B Company suffered heavy losses.

The German guns didn’t stop until half 3 in the morning, the French guns started at 4 and the English at quarter to 5. At 10 to 5 the K.O.Y.L.I. began a creeping advance past flooded shell holes in the dawning light. Men were often sucked into the mud so bad they had to be pulled out. As they crested a ridge they came under heavy fire from machine guns in 2 concrete forts. Before they had gone 700 yards nearly half the Battalion was killed or injured.

Private W Edwards of D company took the initiative. He bravely crawled ahead and threw a bomb into the fort at Reitres Farm. This stopped the guns and he led a charge into the fort. For his heroism private Edwards would later be awarded the Victoria Cross. Another D Company man, Captain Joseph Havenhard, led a similar successful assault on the second fort. With these forts dealt with they took Langemarck. 12 machine guns and 75 prisoners were taken in total including 5 German officers.

The 7th Battalion had 600 further yards to advance through the grounds of a chateau. The rain had formed a swamp in their way; A Company led the way around on the right and B Company on the left. They met little resistance this time. Lieutenant Robinson went to take control of the forward line, and a new Battalion headquarters was established at Reitres farm. The troops dug in for a well-deserved quiet night and were relieved on the night of the 17th. In the attack at least 23 men had died and 177 had been injured.

The pressure was off for the 7th Battalion, but Passchendaele was just starting for the 6th.  On the night of the 21st they moved into deceptively named Sanctuary Wood under gunfire. In the dark narrow paths they suffered their first gassing and fumbled on their box respirators. The next day they supported 2 other Battalions in an attack on Inverness Copse, mostly by digging trenches, 3 men from the Battalion were killed and 73 wounded.

The 23rd of August was spent consolidating a new position north of Inverness Copse. They were bombarded from 9 that night until 5 on the morning of the 24th. 7 more men were killed. At half 2 German attacks had resumed so at quarter past 5 the 6th K.O.Y.L.I. was sent to fight them on the right until reinforcements relieved them in turn.

At 11 in the morning the English guns returned fire and another attack was repelled at half 1. A hellish assauly of heavy artillery, trench mortars and flamethrowers followed, backing up Germany infantry attacks. Such a vicious attack couldn’t be sustained, and by evening it had subsided. The 6th K.O.Y.L.I. was relieved at 9 that night, retiring to dugouts further back. On the 22nd of August they had gone into battle with 543 men, only 190 of whom remained unwounded. Deaths were much lower at around 22 men.

 

Further Links

Sanctuary Hill is now a museum with original trenches still intact

The Battle of Passchendaele

The Battle of Passchendaele is the informal name for the Third Battle of Ypres, which was fought between the 31st of July and the 10th of November in 1917. It has never enjoyed the historical fame of the Somme or the German Offensive. It was one of the most costly and futile battles of the war. Many of our most infamous ideas of the war, of mud and thousands dying for a few miles of ground, were the bitter realities of Passchendaele.

At the start of 1917 the front line had been bent forward around the city of Ypres, and the Germans had prepared for the inevitable fighting by retreating 20 miles to straighten up their line. The German front lines settled on the high ridges which they defended with concrete bunkers and machine guns. Before they withdrew the Germans destroyed all possible cover, laid mines and filled shell holes with barbed wire. This left a vast open, flat area that the allies would advance into under heavy fire. In a 2 week bombardment, before the men advanced to the Battle of Pilckem Ridge on the 31st of July, the allies fired 4.5 million shells from 3,000 guns to little effect on the fortified Germans.

That August it only stopped raining for 3 days, and over 2 feet of water had seeped into the ground before winter even started to approach. The rain continued through much of the campaign. The land around Ypres was mostly below sea level and the water table was high, meaning trenches couldn’t be dug beyond a few feet. Men advanced from shell hole to shell hole or relied on sandbags for cover. The weather briefly improved on the 20th of September, allowing for further assaults. The Daily Mirror called Flanders ‘One Vast Quagmire’. Poet Siegfried Sassoon put it more plainly when writing a comrade’s memorial: ‘I died in hell – (They called it Passchendaele)’. The mud clogged up rifles and clung to uniforms, it trapped tanks and even mines were rendered unreliable by the damp. Men and horses were known to be swallowed and drowned in the mud.

Passchendale was fought far to the north of the Somme, away from the middle of the front line. The offensive was intended to capture the German controlled ridges south and east of Ypres, so as to relieve the French. It also sought to defend the ports of Dunkirk, Calais, and Boulogne where supplies and troops arrived from England. Field Marshal Douglas Haig wanted to push the attack as far forward as the Belgian Coast and strike at German submarine bases, but this proved far too optimistic. Haig had been encouraged to attack by the succesful capture of Messines Ridge on the 7th of June. The decision to go on the offensive was unpopular with many officials including Prime Minister David Lloyd George.

While the town of Passchendaele was near a railway junction important to supplying the German 4th Army, it had never been the initial objective of the attack. By October 20th the goalposts had already been adjusted so that the capture of Passchendaele was the new aim. On the 6th of November 1917, British forces with the help of the recently arrived, 100,000 strong, Canadian Corps finally took full possession of Passchandaele. 4 days later Haig declared the campaign a success and called off further attacks, the victory was widely praised in the papers. The line had advanced by 5 miles and over half a million men were dead. The allies had suffered heavier losses, numbering at least 325,000 to the German’s 260,000. Although the Russian revolts in October had threatened to make this a loss in the war of attrition, the promise of US reinforcements meant that the German’s felt their losses more heavily.

 

Further Information can be found through these links:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/worldwars/wwone/battle_passchendaele.shtml

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1998/10/98/world_war_i/203397.stm

http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/battles/chronology-of-the-great-war/timeline-july-1917/

http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/battles/chronology-of-the-great-war/timeline-august-1917/

http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/battles/chronology-of-the-great-war/timeline-september-1917/

http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/battles/chronology-of-the-great-war/timeline-october-1917/

http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/battles/chronology-of-the-great-war/timeline-november-1917/

http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/podcasts/voices-of-the-first-world-war/podcast-31-passchendaele