Walkley History

News, events and discoveries of the Walkley Ways, Walkley Wars history project.

Grenadier’s Ypres

Ypres

The Ypres Salient is the area around Ypres in Belgium which was the scene of some of the biggest battles in WW1. Archie Shelley, a member of Walkley Reform Club, was wounded at Festubert, during the Second Battle of Ypres.

In military terms, a salient is a battlefield feature that projects into enemy territory. Therefore the salient is surrounded by the enemy on three sides, making the troops occupying the salient vulnerable.

Within the first few months of the outbreak of WW1 the Ypres salient witnessed the first of several battles to occur there before the war ended on 11th November 1918.

Festubert

Trenches at Festubert

The Major battles comprised:-
First battles of Ypres – 19th October – 22 November 1914
Second -do- 22 April – 25th May 1915
Battle of Messines 7 – 14th June 1917
Third battle of Ypres (Battle of Passchendaele) 31 July – 10 Nov 1917
Fourth -do- 28 Sept – 2 October 1918.

Here are extracts from the war diary of the Grenadier Guards, Archie Shelley’s regimient, for May 1915 states the following:-

01.05.15
Early in the morning the enemy shelled heavily in the direction of NEUVE CHAPELLE on our right front. Battalion stood to arms but no attack took place. Battalion went into Brigade reserve on LA BASSEE ROAD in the evening.

02.05.15
In Brigade reserve.

05.05.15
Battalion marched to billets in ESTAIRES. Large working parties were found for Royal Engineers.

06 – 07.05.15
Battalion remain in billets

08.05.15
Same billets.
09.05.15
At 12.05am the Battalion, with the remainder of 20th Brigade moved up to shelter trenches in support of the 8th Division which attacked later in the day. The Battalion was not called upon to go into action.

10.05.15
Battalion moved to billets near LAVENTIE early in the morning where it remained for the day. In the evening the Battalion marched with the rest of the Brigade to BETHUNE, the whole of the 7th Division having been ordered to that district. Length of march about 13 miles.

11.05.15
Battalion remained in billets at BETHUNE.

12.05.15
Battalion moved to billets at HINGES.

13.05.15
In billets at HINGES

14.05.15
In billets at HINGES

15.05.15
On the evening of this day the 20th Brigade moved to trenches NORTH of FESTUBERT preparatory to a attack the following morning. The Battalion took up a position in support trenches, the Border Regiment being in front.

16.05.15
At 3.15am the 7th Division attacked after a heavy bombardment. The Battalion supported the Border Regiment which successfully carried the first line of enemy trenches. The Battalion went on through the Border Regiment and forming to the LEFT joined hands with the Scots Guards who had advanced in the RIGHT and had pressed swell forward. A German communication trench was occupied and, during the afternoon, this was improvised and the position generally consolidated. In the evening No.3 Company did some good work by advancing along a German trench and clearing it of the enemy with bombs.

17.05.15
The Battalion remained in the same position being ordered to be ready to co-operated with the 21st. Brigade which advanced through it. The whole line was pushed forward on this day, the Battalion remaining in the second line. In the evening the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards came up on the LEFT with 1st Battalion Irish Guards and occupied part of the original German line and the memorable situation occurred of two Battalions of the Regiment being in action in the field side by side.

18.05.15
In the morning the Battalion was ordered back to bivouacs near Brigade HQ and later in the day proceeded to its old billets at HINGES.

19.05.15
To billets in ROBECQ

During the above operations the Battalion lost the following:-
1 officer killed, 3 officers wounded.
Killed, wounded and missing 113 persons. This included Archie having been wounded.

The following information is taken from pages 247 – 254 of Ponsonby’s, The Grenadier Guards in the Great War 1914 -1918, Volume 1.

In May 1915 the French resolved to make a determined attack on the German line in Artois, and in order to prevent the enemy moving up any reinforcements to support that part of the line, Sir John French agreed to attack simultaneously at FESTUBERT, where the German Seventh Corps was posted.

Sir Douglas Haig, who was entrusted with the task, began operations on May 9th, when the Eighth Division captured some of the enemy’s first-line trenches at ROUGEBANC, while the First and Indian Divisions attacked out the NEUVE CHAPELLE. But the enemy’s positions proved much stronger than had been expected and little progress was made in either place. During this attack the 1st Battalion Grenadiers was never engaged but remained in close support.

A second attack was made by the Eighth Division EAST of FESTUBERT on the 10th, preceded by a long artillery bombardment, the Seventh Division remaining in reserve. During the interval between the attacks of the 9th and 15th the Seventh Division was brought up on the right of the First Corps, the Canadian Division being in support, while the Indian Corp still remained on the left.

On the night of the 10th May the 1st Battalion was marched to BETHUNE, where it was billeted in a tobacco factory, and on the 11th moved to HINGES.

On the 15th May the Seventh Division moved up to the trenches north of FESTUBERT and the 1st Battalion Grenadiers marched to the assembly trenches in and around Dead Cow Farm. The attack was opened by the 20th Brigade. On the right was the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards, supported by the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders, and on the left of the 2nd Battalion Border Regiment, supported by the 1st Battalion Grenadiers, while the 6th Battalion Gordon Highlanders was in reserve. On the right of the 20th Brigade was the 22nd Brigade, and on the left the Second Division.

The attack began at 3.15am on the 16th May 1915. The Scots Guards met with little opposition and easily secured their objective, but the 2nd Border Regiment had hardly started when it came under a murderous machine-gun fire. It lost a large numberof men and most of it’s officers, including the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Wood but it succeeded nevertheless in reaching the enemy’s trenches In the meantime however the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards had pushed on beyond the German support line, so that its left was in the air. Even in the support trenches, which were only thirty yards in rear of the front line, the 1st Battalion Grenadiers came in for a great deal of shelling, and one shell burst in the middle of No. 8 Platoon, killing four men and wounding many others. All the time a stream of wounded from the front trenches was passing by, some walking and some on stretchers.

The machine-guns under Lieutenant Duberly were sent up to support the Scots Guards and helped them greatly. With a view to protecting their left flank, the 1st Battalion Grenadiers was now ordered forward. It was about 10.00am Lieut. Colonel Corkran, who saw clearly that his Battalion would share the same fate as the Border Regiment if they advanced against the machine-guns which had inflected such loss, decided to move his Battalion farther to the South, and advance from the original forming-up trench of the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards, where a communication trench was being constructed by the Gordon Highlanders. Down this trench the 1st Battalion rushed, jumping over a mass of wounded men as it went and when it reached the German front line trench, the King’s Company under Captain Maitland and No.3 under Captain Hughes, remained to consolidate it, while No.4 under Captain Moss, followed by No.2 under Captain Swaine, pushed on to prolong the left of the Scots Guards.

Lieut.-Colonel Corkran met Lieut.-Colonel Cator, commanding the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards and discussed the situation which was very obscure. One and a half companies of the Scots Guards had most gallantly pushed on right through the German lines and had completely lost touch with the rest of the Battallion. It was afterwards discovered that they had been surrounded and cut off by the enemy. The left of that Battalion was consequently in the air. It was determined that the Scots Guards and No. 2 Company Grenadiers under Captain Swaine should consolidate the line they had reached, namely, the German third line; No.4 Company under Captain Moss was to advance over the open on the left and attack a small house still held by the enemy about six hundred yards off; No. 3 Company under Captain Hughes, from the original German front trench, was to make a bombing attack down a German communication trench leading apparently to the small house; and the King’s Company under Captain Maitland was to remain where it was in the German front trench in reserve.

Captain Hughes with No.3 Company made a most successful advance down the German trench, clearing about 300 yards of it and killing a number of Germans, while the bombers under Captain Nicol were equally
Successful down another German communications trench in which they captured a large number of prisoners, but the advance of No.4 Company was held up almost immediately by machine-gun fire from the small house. The leading platoon was practically annihilated and its gallant commander was killed. Finding any farther advance impossible No.4 Company received orders to prolong the left of No.2 Company and keep in touch with No.3 Company which was in the German communication trench.

At 1.00pm Lieut.-Colonel Corkran went back to the 22nd Brigade Headquarters and got into communications by telephone with General Heyworth who ordered him to push his Battalion as far forward as he could and assist any advances made by the 22nd. Brigade on the right.

Rain began to fall at 6.00pm and grew into a steady downpour. The two companies which had been moved up on the left of the Scots Guards found themselves in some old German trenches which had to be reconstructed as they faced the wrong way and would have been lamentably weak if they had been left as they were. In these ill-covered trenches the men were soaked to the skin and spent a miserable night which was not improved by the fact that all the time the officers were busy in getting them into their right order so that they might be ready to attack at daybreak. Everywhere the wounded, both British and Germans, lay about groaning.

As soon as it was dark it was hoped that the small house might be rushed but when No.2 pushed forward it came under such a heavy machine-gun fire that it had to abandon all idea of seizing the house.

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About Bill Bevan

Bill Bevan is an archaeologist, writer, photographer and heritage interpreter.

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This entry was posted on May 28, 2014 by in First World War.
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