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.

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