The British Campaign in France (november 1916)
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The British Campaign in France. VII. The First Battle of Ypres (continued) is the 8th article, published in november 1916, in a series of 21 articles written by Arthur Conan Doyle serialized in The Strand Magazine.
- in The Strand Magazine (november 1916 [UK]) (1 map, 3 ill.)
- in The British Campaign in France and Flanders (1916-1920, Hodder & Stoughton Ltd. [UK])
- in The British Campaign in France and Flanders (1916, George H. Doran Co. [US])
- in The British Campaign in Europe (1914-1918) (november 1928, Geoffrey Bles [UK])
By motor-bus to the firing-line.
The London Scottish re-forming under a terrible fire before they made their last brilliant charge.
The desperate attempt of the Prussian Guard to break the British line round Ypres.
The scene of the fighting described in the present instalment.
The British Campaign in France
Chapter VII. The First Battle of Ypres (continued)
(From the Action of Gheluvelt to the Winter Lull.)
Pressure on the Cavalry — The London Scottish—The Ypres Defence — Withdrawal of the Seventh Division — Second Corps Come North — The Attack of the Prussian Guard — Repulse of the Guard — Subsidence of the First Battle of Ypres — General View of the Battle — Death of Lord Roberts.
Pressure on the Cavalry
Whilst this severe fighting had been going on to the north of the British position, the centre, where the dismounted cavalry was holding the line of trenches, was so terribly pressed that it is an extraordinary thing that they were able to hold their own. The Second Corps, which at that time had just been withdrawn for a rest from the La Bassée lines, were the only available reinforcements. When news was flashed south as to the serious state of affairs, two regiments, the 2nd Yorkshire Light Infantry and the 2nd Scottish Borderers from the Thirteenth Infantry Brigade, were sent up in motor-buses by road to the relief. Strange indeed was the' sight of these vehicles flying along the Flemish roads, plastered outside with the homely names of London- suburbs and crammed with the grimy, much-enduring infantry. The lines at Messines were in trouble, and so also were those at Wytschaete farther to the north. To this latter place went two battalions of Shaw's Ninth Brigade, the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers and the 1st Lincolns. Hard work awaited the infantry at Messines and at Wytschaete, for in both places Allenby's troopers were nearly rushed off their feet.
It has already been shown that on October 30th a severe assault was made upon the Third Cavalry Division, when the Seventh Brigade (Kavanagh's) was forced out of Zandvoorde by the Fifteenth German Army Corps. Upon this same date a most strenuous attack, made in great force and supported by a terrific shell-fire, was directed along the whole line of the cavalry. from Wytschaete to Messines. No British troops have been exposed to a more severe ordeal than these brave troopers, for they were enormously outnumbered at every point, and their line was so thin that it was absolutely impossible for them to prevent it from being pierced by the masses of infantry, from the 24th Corps and 2nd Bavarian Corps, which were hurled against them. From the extreme left of the Second Cavalry Division near Wytschaete, to the right of the First Cavalry Division south of Messines, the same reports came in to the anxious General, of trenches overwhelmed or enfiladed, and of little isolated. groups of men struggling most desperately to keep a footing against an ever-surging grey tide which was beating up against them and flowing through every gap. In the north Gough's men were nearly overwhelmed, the 5th Irish Lancers were shelled out of a farmhouse position, and the 16th Lancers, shelled from in front and decimated by rifles and machine-guns from the flank, were driven back for half a mile until three French battalions helped the line to re-form. The pressure, however, was still extreme, the Germans fighting with admirable energy and coming forward in never-ending numbers. An Indian regiment of the Seventh (Ferozepore) Brigade, the 129th Baluchis, had been helping the cavalry in this region since October 23rd, but their ranks were now much decimated, and they were fought almost to a standstill. Two more British regiments from the Second Corps, the 1st Lincolns and the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers of the Ninth Brigade, together with their Brigadier, Shaw, who was a reinforcement in himself, were, as already stated, hurried off from the south in motor-buses to strengthen Gough's line. Advancing into what was to them an entirely strange position, these two veteran regiments sustained very heavy losses which they bore with extreme fortitude. They were surprised by the Germans on the road between Kemmel and Wytschaete on the night of October 31st, the same night upon which the London Scottish to the south of them were so heavily engaged. Colonel Smith succeeded in extricating the Lincolns from what was a most perilous position, but only after a loss of sixteen officers and four hundred men. The Fusiliers were almost as hard hit. For forty-eight hours the battle swung backwards and forwards in front of Wytschaete, but in the end the village itself was lost, though the defensive lines to the west of it were firmly established. By November the second strong French reinforcements had appeared, and it was clear that this desperate attempt to break through the very centre of the British position had definitely failed.
The struggle at Messines, some five miles to the south, had been even more severe and sanguinary than at Wytschaete. In the early morning of the 31st the Bays and the 5th Dragoon Guards upon the left of the Messines position, after a heavy shell-fall, were driven out of their trenches by a sudden furious advance of the German infantry. The front of the village of Messines was held by Wild's 57th Rifles, who were driven in by the same attack, every officer of the regiment being killed or wounded. A reserve company of, Wild's Rifles and a squadron of the 5th Dragoon Guards endeavoured to restore the fight, but could not hold the torrent. The 9th Lancers, also in front of the village, and to the right of the Indians, held on for a long time, repulsing the infantry attacks, until they were driven back by the deadly shell-fire. At one time they, were enfiladed on both sides and heard the Germans roaring their war songs in the dark all round them; but they were able, owing to the coolness of Colonel Campbell and the discipline of his veteran troopers, to fall back and to re-form upon the western side of the village. Lance-Corporal Seaton of himself by covering the retreat of his whole squadron, remaining single-handed in his trench until his Maxim was destroyed, after he had poured a thousand shots into the close ranks of his assailants.
The situation was so serious after dawn upon the 31st that General De Lisle had to call for help from Wilson's Fourth Infantry Division, holding the line upon his right. The Inniskilling Fusiliers were extended so as to relieve his right flank. The struggle within Messines was still going forward with fighting from house to house, but the Germans, who were coming on with overpowering numbers and great valour, were gradually winning their way forward. The Oxfordshire Hussars, fresh from the base, were thrown into the combat. A second line of defence had been arranged a mile or so to the west, near Wulverghem, but if Messines must go the victors should at least pay the price down to the last drop of blood which could be wrung from them. Reinforcements were within sight, both French and British, but they were scanty in quantity though superb in quality. It was a most critical position, and one cannot but marvel at the load of responsibility which Sir John French had to bear upon this day, for from the left of Haig's First Corps in the north, down to Neuve Chapelle in the south, a stretch of twenty-five miles, there was hardly a point which was not strained to the verge of cracking. Cool and alert, he controlled the situation from his central post and threw in such reinforcements as he could find, though, indeed, they could only be got by taking them from places where they were wanted and hurrying them to places where they were needed even more urgently. He was strengthened always by the knowledge that General Joffre behind him was doing all that a loyal colleague could to find fresh columns of his brave little infantry-men to buttress up the hard-pressed line.
For the moment, however, none of these were available, and Messines was still partly in British, partly in German hands. Briggs's First Brigade — Bays, 5th Dragoon Guards, and 11th Hussars — with the Oxfords, held on to the western edge of the town. To their left, linking up with Gough's men in the Wytschaete sector, was the 4th Dragoon Guards. Late in the afternoon the 2nd Scots Borderers and the 2nd Yorkshire Light Infantry (the joint detachment under Major Coke) arrived from the south, and were at once advanced upon Messines to stiffen the defence. Under heavy fire they established themselves in the village. Evening fell with desperate street fighting and the relative-position unchanged. Twice the Bavarians stormed into the central square, and twice they fell back after littering it with their bodies. It seemed hopeless to hold the village against the ever-growing pressure of the Germans, and yet the loss of the village entailed the loss of the ridge, which would leave a commanding position in the hands of the enemy. Village and ridge were mutually dependent, for if either were lost the other could not be held.
The London Scottish
As it proved, it was the ridge and not the village which could no longer sustain the pressure. On the night of October 31st Mullen's Second Cavalry Brigade — 9th Lancers, 4th Dragoon Guards and 11th Hussars — took over the defence from Briggs. Of these, the 4th Dragoon Guards were to the left of the village upon the ridge. The London Scottish had been brought up, and they were placed upon the left of the 4th Dragoon Guards, forming a link of the defence which connected up the Second Cavalry Division with the First. The right-hand regiment of the latter, the 6th Carbineers, of Bingham's Fourth Brigade, were upon the left of the London Scottish. These two regiments held the centre of the ridge. The London Scottish had already suffered considerable losses. Hurried up from the lines of communication to St. Eloi, they were pushed forward at once into action, and were exposed for hours to all the nerve-racking horrors of a heavy shell-fire endured in most insufficient trenches. A more severe ordeal was in store for them, however, during the grim night which lay before them, The admirable behaviour of Colonel Malcolm's men excited the more attention as they were the first Territorial infantry to come into action, and they set a standard which has been grandly sustained by the half-million of their comrades who have from first to last come into the line.
On the early morning of November 1st there had been a strong attempt within the village to improve the British position, and some ground was actually gained by the cavalrymen, the Yorkshire Light Infantry, and the Scots Borderers. What occurred, however, on the ridge to the north made all further effort a useless waste of life. The Bavarian infantry had come with an irresistible rush against the thin British line. The order to hold their ground at all costs was given, and the London Scots answered it in a way which gained the highest praise from the many soldiers who saw it, It is not claimed that they did better than their Regular comrades. That would be impossible. The most that can be said is that they proved themselves worthy to fight in line with them. After being exposed for several hours to heavy shell-fire, it was no light task for any troops to be called upon to resist a direct assault. From nine in the evening of October 31st to two in the morning. under the red glare of burning houses. Colonel Malcolm's Scottish and Colonel Annesley's Carbineers held back the Bavarian advance. an advance which would have meant the piercing of. the British line, At two o'clock the Bavarians in greatly predominant force were all round the Scots, and even the reserve companies found work for their bayonets, preventing the enemy from encircling their companions. The losses were very heavy — four hundred men and nine officers, including their gallant doctor. McNab, who was villainously stabbed as he bandaged a patient. In spite of the great pressure, the ground was held all night, and it was not till dawn, when the regiment found that it was outflanked on both sides and nearly surrounded, that, under cover of the fire of E Battery, R.H.A., it fell back. The Carbineers and the Scots were close together, and the Germans, with their usual quick ingenuity, approached the former with a cry of "We are the London Scots." A disaster might have occurred in the darkness but for the quickness and bravery of a young officer, Lieutenant Hope Hawkins, who rushed forward, discovered the identity of the Germans, and fell, riddled with bullets, even while he gave warning to his comrades.
The Germans had won the ridge, but the British line was still intact and growing stronger every hour. The village was held by the Scots Borderers and Yorkshiremen until nearly ten o'clock, when they were ordered to fall back and help to man the new line. The shock had been a rude one, but the danger-hour was past here as in the north.
The fateful November 1st had come and gone. The villages of Messines and Wytschaete were, it is true, in German hands, but French reinforcements of the Sixteenth Corps were streaming up from the south, the line, though torn and broken, still held firm, and the road to Calais was for ever blocked. There was still pressure, and on November 2nd the 11th Hussars were badly cut up by shell-fire, but the line was impregnable. Sir John French summed up in a few terse words the true meaning of the operations just described, when he said afterwards, in addressing the 9th Lancers, "Particularly I would refer to the period, October 31st, when for forty-eight hours the Cavalry Corps held at bay two German army corps. During this period you were supported by only three or four battalions, shattered and worn by previous fighting, and in so doing you rendered inestimable service." There have been few episodes in the war which have been at the same time so splendid and so absolutely vital. The First Cavalry Division lost fifty per cent. of its numbers between October 30th and November 2nd, and the Second Division was hardly in better case, but never did men give their lives to better purpose. Their heroism saved the Army.
Meanwhile the current of operations was evidently running strongly towards the northern end of the British line, where help was badly needed, as Haig's men had been fought almost to exhaustion. There was no British reinforcement available save only the weary Second Corps, the remains of which from this date began to be drafted northwards. It was already known that the German Emperor had appeared in person in that region, and that a great concentration of his troops was taking place. At the same time, the French were making splendid exertions in order to stiffen- their own line and help us in those parts, like Messines, Wytschaete, and Ploegsteert, where the attack was most formidable. It was a great gathering towards the north, and clearly some hard blows were to be struck. Northwards then went General Morland, of the Fifth Division, taking with him four more weak battalions. The whole line had moved upwards towards the danger spot, and these troops now found themselves east of Bailleul, dose to the village of Neuve Eglise. For the moment General Smith-Dorrien was without an army, for half his men were now supporting General Willcocks in the south and half General Allenby or General Haig in the north. The British leaders all along the line were, as usual, desperately endeavouring to make one man do the work of three, but they were buoyed up by the knowledge that good Father Joffre, like some beneficent earthly Providence, was watching over them from the distance, and that fresh trainfuls of his brave little men were ever steaming into the danger zone. Day by day the line was thickening and the task of the Kaiser becoming more difficult. It was hoped that the crisis was past. If our troops were exhausted. so also, it was thought, were those of the enemy. We could feel elated by the knowledge that we had held our ground, while they could hardly fail to be depressed by the reflection that they had made little progress in spite of so many heroic efforts, and that Calais was as far from them as ever.
The Ypres Defence
The narrative must now return to the defenders of the Ypres approaches, who were left in a state of extreme exhaustion by the critical action of October 31st. On November 1st the First Corps was not in a condition to do more than to hold its line. This line was now near to Veldhoek, to the west of Gheluvelt village, and to that extent the Germans had profited by their desperate fighting, but this was a detail of small consequence so long as an unbroken British Army covered the town that was still the objective of the enemy. The Ninth French Corps to the north of the British had lost heavily, but to the south of the canal lay the Sixteenth French Corps, which was in comparatively good condition. This corps now made an advance to take some of the pressure off the British line, while Moussy's regiments to the north of the canal were to co-operate with Bulfin's men upon their left. Upon the left of Bulfin's Second Brigade were two battalions of the Fourth Brigade of Guards.
One of these battalions had a terrible experience upon this morning. For some reason the trenches of the Irish Guards were exposed to an enfilading fire from the high explosives of the Germans, which wrought even more than their customary damage. For hours the Guardsmen lay under a terrific fire, to which they could make no reply and from which they could obtain no protection. When at last, in the afternoon, they were compelled to fall back, their losses had been great, including their colonel, Lord Ardee, seven other officers, and over three hundred men. It is the hard fate of the side which is weaker in artillery to endure such buffetings with no possibility of return.
The French attack of the Sixteenth Corps had been brought to a speedy standstill, and a severe counter-attack, preceded by a heavy shell-fire, had fallen upon General Moussy's men and upon Bulfin's Second British Brigade. Help was urgently needed, so the remains of the Seventh Brigade from the Third Cavalry Division were hurried forward. The Germans were now surging up against the whole right and right-centre of the line. It seems to have been their system to attack upon alternate days on the right and on the centre, for it will be remembered that it was on October 29th that they gained the Gheluvelt cross-roads and on October 31st Gheluvelt village, both in the centre, while on October 30th they captured the Zandvoorde ridge upon the British right, and now, on November 1st, were pressing hard upon the right once more.
That morning the Army sustained a loss in the person of General Bulfin, who was wounded in the head by shrapnel. Fortunately his recovery was not a lengthy one, and he was able to return in January as commander of the Twenty-eighth Division. Upon his fall, Lord Cavan, of the Fourth Brigade, took over the command upon the hard-pressed right wing. At half-past one the hundred survivors of the 2nd Gordon, on the right of the Seventh Division, and the 2nd Oxford and Bucks, were desperately hard-pressed by a strong German infantry advance, and so were the remains of the Sussex and Northamptons. The only available help lay in the 23rd Field Company of Royal Engineers. Our sappers proved, as they have so often done before, that their hearts are as sound as their heads. They pushed off the enemy, but incurred heavy losses. The situation was still critical when at the summons of Lord Cavan the 2nd Grenadiers advanced and cleared the Germans from the woods in the front and flank, while the 10th Hussars supported their advance. A gap had been left in the trenches from which the Irish Guards had been pushed, but this was now filled up by cavalry, who connected up with the French on their right and with the Guards upon their left. The general effect of the whole day's fighting was to drive the British line farther westward, but to contract it, so that it required a smaller force. Two battalions — the Gordons and the Sussex — could be taken out and brought into reserve. The centre of the line had a day's rest and dug itself into its new positions, but the units were greatly mixed and confused. If the reader finds some difficulty in following them he is only reflecting the state of mind of the brigade and divisional commanders, who had to handle that complex situation. It will take a work upon the scale of Kinglake's account of the Crimea to do justice to the details of such a battle.
November 2nd brought no surcease from the constant fighting, though the disturbance of these days, severe as it was, may 'be looked upon as a mere ground swell after the terrific storm of the last days of October. On the morning of the 2nd the Ninth French Corps upon the British left, under General Vidal, sent eight battalions forward to the south and east in the direction of Gheluvelt. Part of this village was actually occupied by them. The Germans meanwhile, with their usual courage and energy, were driving a fresh attack down that Menin road which had so often been reddened by their blood. It was the day for a centre attack on their stereotyped system of alternate pushes, and it came duly to hand. An initial success awaited them as, getting round a trench occupied by the Rifles, they succeeded in cutting off a number of them. The Third Brigade was hurried up by General Landon to the point of danger, and a French Zouave regiment helped to restore the situation. A spirited bayonet charge, in which the Gloucesters led, was beaten back by the enemy's fire. After a day of confused and desultory fighting the situation in the evening was very much as it had been in the morning. Both that night and the next day there was a series of local and sporadic attacks, first on the front of the Second Division and then of the Seventh, all of which were driven back. The Germans began to show their despair of ever gaining possession of Ypres by elevating their guns and dropping shells upon the old Cloth Hall of that historic city, a senseless act of spiteful vandalism which exactly corresponds with their action when the Allied army held them in front of Rheims.
November 4th was a day of menaces rather than of attacks. On this day, units which had become greatly mixed during the incessant and confused fighting of the last fortnight were rearranged and counted. The losses were terrible. The actual strength of the infantry of the First Division upon that date was : First Brigade, twenty-two officers, twelve hundred and six men; Second Brigade, forty-three officers, thirteen hundred and fifteen men ; Third Brigade, twenty-seven officers, nine hundred and seventy men ; which make the losses of the whole division about seventy-five per cent. Those of the Second Division were very little lighter. And now for the twenty-five per cent. remainder of this gallant corps there was not a moment of breathing space or rest, but yet another fortnight of unremitting work, during which their thin ranks were destined to hold the German army, and even the Emperor's own Guard, from passing the few short miles which separated them from their objective. Great was the "will to conquer" of the Kaiser's troops, but greater still the iron resolve not to be conquered which hardened the war-worn lines of the soldiers of the King.
Withdrawal of the Seventh Division
November 5th was a day of incessant shellfire, from which the Seventh Division, the Fourth and the Sixth Brigades were the chief sufferers. On this day the Seventh Division, which had now been reduced from twelve thousand infantry to two thousand three hundred and thirty-three, was withdrawn from the line. In their place were substituted those reinforcements from the south which have already been mentioned. These consisted of eleven battalions of the Second Corps under General McCracken ; this corps, however, was greatly worn, and the eleven battalions only represented three thousand five hundred rifles. The Seventh Division was withdrawn to Bailleul in the south, but Law-ford's Twenty-second Brigade was retained in corps reserve, and was destined to have one more trial before it could be spared for rest. The day was memorable also for a vigorous advance of the Gloucester Regiment, which was pushed with such hardihood that they sustained losses of nearly half their numbers before admitting that they could not gain their objective. A description has been given here of the events of the north of the line and of the cavalry positions, but it is not to be supposed that peace reigned on the south of this point. On the contrary, during the whole period under discussion while the great fight raged at Ypres there had been constant shelling and occasional advances against the Third Corps in the Armentières section, and also against the Indians and the Second Corps down to the La Bassée Canal.
The most serious of these occurred upon November 9th. Upon this date the Germans, who had knocked so loudly at Messines and at Wytschaete without finding that any opening through our lines was open to them, thought that they might find better luck at Ploegsteert, which is a village on the same line as the other two. Wytschaete is to the north, Messines in the middle, and Ploegsteert in the south, each on the main road from Ypres to Armentières, with about four miles interval between each. The German attack was a very strong one, but the hundredfold drama was played once more. On the 3rd Worcesters fell the brunt, and no more solid fighters have been found in the Army than those Midland men hem the very heart of England. A temporary set back was retrieved and the line restored. Major Milward, of the Worcesters, a very gallant officer, was grievously wounded in this affair. The counter-attack which restored the situation was carried out mainly by the 1st East Lancashires, who lost Major Lambert and a number of men in the venture.
Upon November 6th, about 2 p.m., a strong German advance drove in those French troops who were on the right of Lord Cavan's Brigade — Fourth — which occupied the extreme right of Haig's position. The point was between Klein Zillebeke and the canal, where a German lodgment would have been most serious. The retirement of the French exposed the right flank of the 1st Irish Guards. This flank was strongly attacked, and for the second time in a week this brave regiment endured very heavy losses. No. 2 company was driven back to the support trenches, and No. 1 company, being isolated, was destroyed. The situation was splendidly saved by Kavanagh's Seventh Cavalry Brigade, who galloped furiously down the road to the place where they were so badly needed. This hard-worked corps d'élite, consisting of the 1st and 2nd Life Guards supported by the Blues, now flung themselves into the gap, a grimy line of weather-stained infantry with nothing left save their giant physique and their spurs to recall the men who are the pride of our London streets. The retiring French rallied at the sight of the sons of Anak. An instant later the Germans were into them, and there was a terrific mélée of British, French, and Prussians, which swung and swayed over the marshland and across the road. Men drove their bayonets through each other or fired point-blank into each other's bodies in a most desperate fight, the Germans slowly but surely recoiling, until at last they broke. It was this prompt and vigorous stroke by Kavanagh's Brigade which saved a delicate situation. Of the three cavalry regiments engaged, two lost their colonels — Wilson of the Blues and Dawnay of the 2nd Life Guards. Sixteen officers fell in half an hour. The losses in rank and file were also heavy, but the results were great and indeed vital. The whole performance was an extraordinarily fine one.
Early on the morning of November 7th Lawford's Twenty-second Brigade, which was now reduced to eleven hundred men, with seven officers, was called upon to retake a line of trenches which the enemy had wrested from a neighbouring unit. Unbroken in nerve or spirit by their own terrific losses, they rushed forward, led by Lawford himself, a cudgel in his hand, carried the trench, captured three machine-guns, held the trench till evening, and then retired for a time from the line. Captains Vallentin and Alleyne, who led the two regiments into which the skeleton brigade had been divided, both fell in this feat of arms. After this action there remained standing the brigadier, three officers, and seven hundred men. The losses of the brigade work out at ninety-seven per cent. of the officers and eighty per cent. of the men, figures which can seldom have been matched in the warfare of any age, and yet were little in excess of the other brigades, as is shown by the fact that the whole division on November 7th numbered forty-four officers and two thousand three hundred and thirty-six men. It is true that many British regiments found themselves in this campaign with not one single officer or man left who had started from England, but these were usually the effects of months of campaigning. In the case of the Seventh Division, all these deadly losses had been sustained in less than three weeks. Britain's soldiers have indeed been faithful to the death. Their record is the last word in endurance and military virtue.
The division was now finally withdrawn from the fighting-line. It has already been stated that there were reasons which made its units exceptionally fine ones. In General Capper they possessed a leader of enormous energy and fire, whilst his three brigadiers — Watts, Lawford, and Ruggles-Brise — could not be surpassed by any in the Army. Yet with every advantage of officers and men there will always be wonder as well as admiration for what they accomplished. For three days, before the First Corps had come thoroughly into line, they held up the whole German advance, leaving the impression upon the enemy that they were faced by two army corps. Then for twelve more days they held the ground in the very storm-centre of the attack upon Ypres. When at last the survivors staggered from the line, they had made a name which will never die.
Second Corps Come North
The bulk of Smith-Dorrien's Corps had now been brought north, so that from this date (November 7th) onwards the story of the First and Second Corps is intimately connected. When we last saw this corps it will be remembered that it had been withdrawn from the front, having lost some twelve thousand men in three weeks of La Bassée operations, and that the Indian Corps had taken over their line of trenches. Such fighting men could not, however, be spared in the midst of such a fight. The hospital was the only rest that any British soldier could be afforded. Whilst they had still strength to stand they must line up to the German flood or be content to see it thunder past them to the coast. They were brought north, save only Bowes' Eighth Brigade and Maude's Fourteenth, which remained with the Indians in the south. Although the Seventh Division had been drawn out of the line, its attendant cavalry division still remained to give its very efficient help to General Haig. The British position, though by no means secure, was getting stronger day by day, for General d'Urbal of the Eighth French Army to the north, and General Maud'huy of the Tenth French Army to the south, had both been strongly reinforced, and with their usual good comradeship did all they could to strengthen the flanks and shorten the front of the British line.
The men of the Second Corps who had come north from the La Bassée district were not left long unmolested in their new sphere of operations. On the afternoon of November 7th there was a hot German attack upon that portion of the line which had just been vacated by the Seventh Division. The trenches were now held by the Fifth Division (Morland's).
The enemy may have hoped for some advantage from a change which they may well have observed, but they found that, though the units might be different, the same old breed still barred their path. On this occasion, after the early rush had spent itself upon the 1st Lincolns, it was the 2nd West Ridings who led the counter-charge. The line, however, was never fully re-established. A number of smaller attacks broke upon the front of the Second Division on the same day, leaving a few score of prisoners behind them as they ebbed. On the same day, November 7th, the enemy got into the trenches of the 2nd Highland Light Infantry and remained in them, for all of them were bayoneted or taken. Upon this day the London Scottish were brought up into the Ypres line — a sign, if one were needed, that after the action described they were accepted as the peers. of their comrades of the Regular Army, for no empty compliments are passed when the breaking of a unit may mean the enfilading of a line.
November 8th was a quiet day, but it was well known from every report of spy, scout, and aeroplane to be the lull before the storm. One German brigade came down the Menin road, and went up it again leaving a hundred dead on or beside the causeway. This attack inflicted some loss upon the 1st North Lancashires and on the 1st Scots Guards. The 1st Bedfords captured a trench that night. The 9th and the 10th were uneventful, and the tired troops rested on their arms, though never free for an hour from the endless pelting of shells. To the north and east the Eagles were known to be gathering. There were the Emperor, the Emperor's Guard, and a great fresh battle of the Germans ready for one grand final dash for Calais, with every rifle in the firing-line and every cannon to support it. Grave messages came from headquarters, warning words were passed to anxious brigadiers, who took counsel with their colonels as to fire-fields and supports. Batteries were redistributed, depleted limbers refilled, and observation posts pushed to the front, while the untiring sappers gave the last touches to traverse and to trench. All was ready for the fray. So close were the lines that at many points the conversations of the enemy could be heard.
The Attack of the Prussian Guard
The Germans had already concentrated a large number of troops against this part of the British line, and they were now secretly reinforced by a division of the Prussian Guard. Documents found afterwards upon the dead show that the Guard had had special orders from the Emperor to break the line at all costs. The brigades which attacked were made up of the 1st and 2nd Foot Guards, the Kaiser Franz Grenadiers No. 2, the Königin Augusta Grenadiers No. 4, and the battalion of Garde Jäger — thirteen thousand men in all. It was to be victory or death with the corps d'élite of the German army, but it was no less victory or death with the men who opposed them. After an artillery preparation of appalling intensity for three hours along the line of both the First and Second Divisions, the infantry advance began about nine-thirty on the morning of November 11th amid a storm of wind and rain. They are gregarious fighters, the Germans, finding comfort and strength in the rush of serried ranks. Even now the advance was made in a close formation, but it was carried out with magnificent dash, amazing valour, and a pedantic precision which caused, for example, the leading officers to hold their swords at the carry. The Prussian Guardsmen seemed to have lost nothing, and also to have learned nothing, since their famous predecessors lay dead in their ranks before St. Privat, forty-four years before. The attack was directed against the front of the two divisions of the First British Army Corps, but especially on the First Brigade, so that Guardsman faced Guardsman, as at Fontenoy. There were none of the chivalrous greetings of 1745, however, and a stern hatred hardened the hearts of either side. The German Guard charged on the north of the Menin road, while a second advance was made upon the south, which withered away before the British fire. Nothing could stop the Guards, however. With trenches blazing and crackling upon their flank, for the advance was somewhat diagonal, they poured over the British position and penetrated it at three different points, where the heavy shells had overwhelmed the trenches and buried the occupants, who, in some cases, were bayoneted as they struggled out from under the earth. It was a terrific moment. The yells of the stormers and the shrill whistles of their officers rose above the crash of the musketry-fire and roar of the guns. The British fought in their customary earnest silence, save for the short, sharp directions of their leaders. "They did not seem angry — only business-like," said a hostile observer. The troops to the immediate north of the Menin road, who had been shelled out of their trenches by the bombardment, were forced back and brushed aside into the woods to the north, while the Germans poured through the gap. The 4th Royal Fusiliers of the Ninth Brigade, upon the right of the point where the enemy had penetrated, were enfiladed and lost their gallant colonel, MacMahon, a soldier who had done great service from the day of Mons, and had just been appointed to a brigade. The regiment, which has worked as hard and endured as great losses as any in the campaign, was reduced to two officers and a hundred men.
The German Guard poured on into the woods which lay in the immediate rear of the British position, but their formation was broken and the individualism of the Briton began to tell. Next to MacMahon's regiment lay the 1st Scots Fusiliers, sister battalion to that which had been destroyed upon October 31st. With fierce joy they poured volleys into the flank of the Guard as the grey figures rushed past them into the woods. Four hundred dead Germans were afterwards picked out from the under-wood at this point. The Scots Fusiliers were also hard hit by the German fire.
At this period the Germans who had come through the line had skirted the south of a large wood of half-grown trees, called the Polygon Wood, and had advanced into the farther one, named Nonnebusch. At this paint they were close the British artillery, which they threatened to overwhelm. The 41st Brigade R.F.A., and especially the 16th Field Battery, were in the immediate line of their advance, and the gunners looking up saw the grey uniforms advancing amid the trees. Colonel Lushington, who commanded the artillery brigade, hurriedly formed up a firing line under his adjutant, composed partly of his own spare gunners and partly of a number of Engineers. reinforced by cooks, officers' servants, and other odd hands who are to be found in the rear of the army, but seldom expect to find themselves in the van of the fight. It was a somewhat grotesque array, but it filled the gap and brought the advance to a halt, though the leading Germans were picked up afterwards within seventy yards of the guns.
Whilst the position was critical at this point of the front, it was no less so upon the extreme right, where the French detachment, who still formed a link between the canal on the south and the British right flank, were shelled-out of their trenches and driven back. Lord Cavan's Fourth Brigade, their nearest neighbours, were too hard pressed to be able to help them. To the north of the Menin road a number of British units were intact, and these held up the German flood in that region. There are two considerable woods — the Polygon to the north and the Nonnebusch to the south-west of the Polygon — the edges of which have defined the British position, while their depths have harboured their artillery. Now the 1st King's Liverpool Regiment held firm to the south of the Polygon Wood, while north of them were the 2nd Highland Light Infantry, with a field company of Engineers. Farther to the south-west were the 1st Connaught Rangers, while on the other side of the Nonnebusch road was the Seventh Cavalry Brigade. In the alter-noon of this day the enemy, skirting the south of the Polygon Wood, had actually entered the Nonnebusch Wood, in which it. faced the artillery as already described. In the Polygon Wood, when they penetrated the trenches of the First Brigade, they had the King's Liverpool Regiment on their right, which refused to move, so that for a long time the Prussian Guard and the King's lay side by side with a traverse between them. "Our right is supported by the Prussian Guard," said the humorous adjutant of the famous Lancashire regiment. While the main body of the Guard passed on, some remained all day in this trench.
Repulse of the Guard
The German Guardsmen had been prevented from submerging the Forty-first Brigade of Artillery, and also the Thirty-sixth Heavy Battery, by the resistance of an improvised firing-line. But a more substantial defence was at hand. The 2nd Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, which had been in divisional reserve near Ypres, had been brought forward and found itself at Westhoek, near the threatened guns. This regiment is the old 52nd, of the Peninsular Light Division, a famous corps which threw itself upon the flank of Napoleon's Guard at Waterloo and broke it in the crisis cf the battle. Once again within a century an Imperial Guard was to recoil before its disciplined rush. Under Colonel Davies the regiment swept through the wood from north-west to south-east, driving the Germans, who had already been badly shaken by the artillery fire, in a headlong rout. Many threw down their arms. The loss to the Oxfords was surprisingly small, well under fifty in all. As they emerged from the wood they were joined by some of the 1st Northamptons from the Second Brigade upon the right, while on the left there was a rush of Connaughts and Highland Light Infantry from their own (Haking's) brigade and of Engineers of the 25th Field Company, who showed extraordinary initiative and gallantry, pushing on rapidly, and losing all their officers save one and a number of their men without flinching for an instant. A party of the Gloucesters, too, charged with the Northamptons upon the right, for by this time units were badly mixed up, as will always happen in woodland fighting. "It was all a confused nightmare," said one who tried to control it. The line of infantry dashed forward, a company of the Oxfords under Captain H. M. Dillon in the lead, and the khaki wave broke over a line of trenches which the Germans had taken, submerging all the occupants. There was another line in front, but as the victorious infantry pushed forward to this it was struck in the flank by a fire from French batteries, which had been unable to believe that so much progress could have been made in so short a time.
It was now nearly dark, and the troops were in the last stage of exhaustion. Of the First Brigade, something less than four hundred with four officers could be collected. It was impossible to do more than hold the line as it then existed-. Two brave attempts were made in the darkness to win back the original front trenches, but it could not be done, for there were no men to do it. Save for one small corner of the Polygon Wood, the Germans had been completely cleared out from the main position. At twelve and at four, during the night, the British made a forward movement to regain the advanced trenches, but in each case the advance could make no progress. At the very beginning of the second attempt General FitzClarence, commanding the First Brigade, was killed, and the movement fizzled out. Besides General FitzClarence, the Army sustained a severe loss in General Shaw of the Ninth Brigade, who was struck by a shell splinter, though happily the wound was not mortal. The German losses were exceedingly severe ; seven hundred of their dead were picked up within a single section of the British line, but the main less was probably sustained in the advance before they reached the trenches. Killed, wounded, and prisoners, their casualties cannot have been less than ten thousand men. It was a fine attack, bravely delivered by fresh troops against weary men, but it showed the German leaders once for all that it was impossible to force a passage through the lines. The Emperor's Guard, driven on by the Emperor's own personal impetus, had recoiled broken, even as the Guard of a greater Emperor had done a century before from the indomitable resistance of the British infantry. The constant fighting had reduced British brigades to the strength of battalions, battalions to companies, and companies to weak platoons, but the position was still held. They had, it is true, lost about five hundred yards of ground in the battle, but a shorter line was at once dug, organized, and manned. The barrier to Ypres was as strong as ever.
The strain upon the men, however, had been terrific. "Bearded, unwashed, sometimes plagued with vermin, the few who remained in the front line were a terrible crew," says the American Coleman. "They were like fierce, wild beasts," says another observer. They had given their all, almost to their humanity, to save Britain. May the day never come when Britain will refuse to save them.
Glancing for a moment down the line to the south, there had been continuous confused contention during this time, but no great attack such as distinguished the operations in the north. Upon November 7th two brisk assaults were made by the Germans in the Armentières area, one upon the Fourth Division of the Third Corps and the other upon the Seaforth Highlanders, who were brigaded with the Indians. In each case the first German rush carried some trenches, and in each the swift return of the British regained them. There were moderate losses upon both sides. On the same date the Thirteenth Infantry Brigade lost the services of Colonel Martyn of the 1st West Kents, who was seriously wounded the very day after he had been appointed to a brigade.
Subsidence of the First Battle of Ypres
This attack upon November 11th represents the absolute high-water mark of the German efforts in this battle, and the ebb was a rapid one. Upon November 12th and the remainder of the week, half-hearted attempts were made upon the British front, which were repulsed without difficulty. To the north of the line, where the French had held their positions with much the same fluctuations which had been experienced by their Allies, the German assault was more violent and met with occasional success. though it was finally repelled with very great loss. The 14th was to the French what the 11th had been to the British — the culmination of violence and the prelude of rest. The weather throughout this period was cold and tempestuous, which much increased the strain upon the weary troops. Along the whole line from Ypres to Bethune there were desultory shellings with an occasional dash by one side or the other, which usually ended in the capture of a trench and its recapture by the supports in the rear. It was in one of these sporadic German attacks in the Klein Zillebeke section that the 2nd King's Royal Rifles held their trench against heavy odds, and their machine-gun officer, Lieutenant Dimmer, thrice wounded and fighting, won the coveted Cross by his valour. Each gallant advance and capture of the Germans was countered by an equally gallant counter-attack and recapture by the British. The long line sagged and swayed, but never bent or broke. The era of battles had passed, but for thirty miles the skirmishes were incessant. So mixed and incessant had been the fighting that it was, a very difficult task during these days to tidy up the line and get each scattered group of men back to its own platoon, company, and battalion.
On Tuesday, November 17th, the fighting suddenly assumed a more important character. The attack was again in the Ypres section and fell chiefly upon the battalions of the Second Corps, if so dignified a name as "battalion" can be given to bodies of men which consisted very often of less than a normal company, commanded, perhaps, by two junior officers. The Fourth Brigade of Guards was also heavily engaged, this day, and so were the cavalry of the Third Division. The general locale of the action was the same as that which had been so often fought over before, the Second Corps being to the south of the Ypres-Menin road, with Lord Cavan's Guardsmen upon their right and the cavalry upon the right of the Guards. After a severe shelling there was a serious infantry advance about one o'clock which took some trenches, but was finally driven back and chased for a quarter of a mile. McCracken's Seventh Brigade bore a chief part in this fighting, and the 1st Wiltshires particularly distinguished themselves by a fine charge led by Captain Cary-Bernard. The 2nd Grenadiers did great work during the day.
An even heavier advance was made in the afternoon to the south of that which was broken in the morning. This involved an oblique advance across the British front, which was stopped and destroyed before it reached the trenches by the deadly fire of rifles and machine-guns. Over a thousand dead were left as a proof of the energy of the attack and the solidity of the resistance. Farther to the south a similar attack was beaten back by the cavalry after a preliminary shelling in which the 3rd Dragoon Guards suffered severely. This attack was repelled by the Third Cavalry Division, to which the Leicestershire and North Somerset Yeomanry were now attached. The latter did fine service in action. Altogether, November 17th was a good day for the British arms and a most expensive one for the Germans.
General View of the Battle
We have now reached the end of the Battle of Ypres, which attained its maximum fury, so far as the British line was concerned, from October 29th to November 11th. This great contest raged from the sand dunes of the north, where the Belgians fought so well, through the. French Marine Brigade at Dixmude, and the Ninth French Corps, to General Haig's Corps, which was buttressed on the right towards the latter part of the battle by the Sixteenth French Corps. Farther south yet another French corps supported and eventually took the place of the British cavalry opposite the lost villages of Wytschaete and Messines. From there ran the unbroken lines of the imperturbable Third Corps, which ended to the south in the trenches originally held by the Second British Corps, and later by the Indians. Across the La Bassée Canal the French once again took up the defence.
It is not an action, therefore, which can be set down to the exclusive credit of any one nation. Our Allies fought gloriously, and if their deeds are not set down here, it is from want of space and of precise information, not from want of appreciation. But, turning to the merely British aspect of the fight — and beyond all doubt the heavier share fell upon the British, who bore the brunt from the start to the end — it may be said that the battle lasted a clear month, from October 12th, when Smith-Dorrien crossed the La Bassée Canal, to November 11th, when the German Guard reeled out of the Nonnebusch Wood. We are so near these great events that it is hard to get their true proportion, but it is abundantly clear that the battle, in its duration, the space covered, the numbers engaged, and the losses endured, was far the greatest ever fought up to that time by a British Army. At Waterloo the losses were under ten thousand. In this great fight they were little short of fifty thousand. The fact that the enemy did not recoil and that there was no sensational capture of prisoners and guns has obscured the completeness of the victory. In these days of nations in arms a beaten army is buttressed up or reabsorbed by the huge forces of which it is part. One judges victory or defeat by the question whether an army has or has not reached its objective. In this particular case, taking a broad view of the whole action, a German force of at least six hundred thousand men set forth to reach the coast, and was opposed by a force of less than half its numbers who barred its way. The Germans did not advance five miles in a month of fighting, and they lost not less than one hundred and fifty thousand men without any military advantage whatever, for the possession of such villages as Gheluvelt, Wytschaete, or Messines availed them not at all. If this is not a great victory, I do not know what military achievement would deserve the term.
Death of Lord Roberts
On November 15th Lord Roberts died whilst visiting the Army, having such an end as he would have chosen, within earshot of the guns and within the lines of those Indian soldiers whom he loved and had so often led. The last words of his greatest speech to his fellow-countrymen before the outbreak of that war which he had foreseen, and for which he had incessantly tried to prepare, was that they should quit themselves like men. He lived to see them do so, and though he was not spared to see the final outcome, his spirit must at least have been at rest as to the general trend of the campaign. The tradition of his fascinating character, with its knightly qualities of gentleness, bravery, and devotion to duty, will remain as a national. possession.
About this time, though toe late for the severe fighting, there arrived the Eighth Division, which would enable Sir Henry Rawlinson to complete his Fourth Corps.
The Eighth Division was composed as follows:—
- DIVISIONAL GENERAL — Gen. Davies.
- 23rd Infantry Brigade — Gen. Penny.
- 2nd Scots Rifles.
- 2nd Middlesex.
- 2nd West Yorkshires.
- 2nd Devens.
- 23rd Infantry Brigade — Gen. Penny.
- 24th Infantry Brigade — Gen. Carter.
- 1st Worcester.
- 2nd East Lancashkes.
- 1st Notts and Derby.
- 2nd Northamptons.
- 24th Infantry Brigade — Gen. Carter.
- 25th Infantry Brigade — Gen. Lowry Cole.
- 2nd Lincoln.
- 2nd Berkshires.
- 1st Irish Rifles.
- 2nd Rifle Brigade.
- 25th Infantry Brigade — Gen. Lowry Cole.
- Artillery — 5th Brigade R.H.A., G.O.Z. XLV. Brig. R.F.A.
- XXXIII. do.
- Heavy Batteries 118, 119.
- Engineers 2, 5, F Cos.
- 8 Signal Co.
- Divisional Cavalry.
- Northampton Yeomanry.
- 8th Cyclists.
- XXXIII. do.
We have now arrived at what may be called the great winter lull, when the continuation of active operations was made impossible by the weather conditions, which were of the most atrocious description. It was the season which in a more classic age of warfare was spent in comfortable winter quarters. There was no such surcease of hardship for the contending lines, who were left in their trenches face to face, often not more than fifty yards apart, and each always keenly alert for any devilry upon the part of the other. The ashes of war were always redly smouldering, and sometimes, as will be seen, burst up into sudden furious flame. It was a period of rain-storms and of frost-bites, of trench mortars and of hand grenades, of weary, muddy, goat-skinned men shivering in narrow trenches, and of depleted brigades resting and recruiting in the rearward towns. Such was the position at the Front. But hundreds of miles to the westward the real future of the war was being fought out in the rifle factories of Birmingham, the great gun works of Woolwich, Coventry, Newcastle, and Sheffield, the cloth looms of Yorkshire, and the boot centres of Northampton. In these and many other places oversea the tools for victory were forged night and day through one of the blackest and most strenuous winters that Britain has ever known. And always on green and waste and common, from Cromarty to Brighton, wherever soldiers could find billets or a village of log huts could be put together, the soldier citizens who were to take up the burden of the war, the men of the Territorials and the men of the new armies, endured every hardship and discomfort without a murmur, whilst they prepared themselves for that great and glorious task which the spring would bring. Even those who were too old or too young for service formed themselves into volunteer bands, who armed and clothed themselves at their own expense. This movement, which sprang first from a small Sussex village, was coordinated and controlled by a central body of which Lord Desborough was the head. In spite of discouragement, or at the best cold neutrality from Government, it increased and prospered until no fewer than a quarter of a million of men were mustered and ready entirely at their own expense and by private enterprise — one of the most remarkable phenomena of the war.
Chapter VIII. The Winter Lull
Singular Conditions — Reinforcements — The King's Visit.
The winter lull may be said to have extended from the great combats at Ypres of the middle of November, 1914, to the opening of the spring campaign in March, 1915. It was a period of alternate rest and discomfort for the troops, with an ever-present salt of danger. For days they found themselves billeted with some approach to comfort in the farmhouses and villages of Flanders, but such brief intervals of peace were broken by the routine of the trenches, when, in mud or water, with a clay-cutting before their faces and another at their backs, they waited through the long hours, listening to the crack of the sniper's rifle, or the crash of the bursting shell, with an indifference which bordered upon thankfulness for anything that would break the drab monotony of their task. It was a scene of warfare which was new to military experience. The vast plain of battle lay in front of the observer as a flat and lonely wilderness, dotted with ruined houses from which no homely wreath of smoke rose into the wintry air. Here and there was an untidy litter of wire, here and there also a clump of bleak and tattered woodland, but nowhere was there any sign of man. And yet from the elevation of an aeroplane it might be seen that the population of a large city was lurking upon that motionless waste. Everywhere the airman would have distinguished the thin brown slits of the advance trenches, the broader ditches of the supports, and the long zigzags of the communications, and he would have detected that they were stuffed with men — grey men and khaki, in every weird garment that ingenuity could suggest for dryness and for warmth — all cowering within their shelters with the ever-present double design of screening themselves and of attacking their enemy. As the German pressure became less, and as more regiments of the Territorials began to arrive, taking some of the work from their comrades of the Regulars, it was possible to mitigate something of the discomforts of warfare, to ensure that no regiments should be left for too long a period in the trenches, and even to arrange for week-end visits to England for a certain number of officers and men. The streets of London got a glimpse of rugged, war-hardened faces, and of uniforms caked with the brown mud of Flanders, or supplemented by strange Robinson Crusoe goatskins from the trenches, which brought home to the least imaginative the nature and the nearness of the struggle.
Before noting those occasional spasms of activity—epileptic, sometimes, in their sudden intensity — which broke out from the German trenches, it may be well to take some note of the general development of those preparations which meant so much for the future. The Army was growing steadily in strength. Not only were the old regiments reinforced by fresh drafts, but two new divisions of Regulars were brought over before the end of January. These formed the Twenty-seventh and Twenty-eighth Divisions, under Generals Snow and Bulfin, two officers who had won a name in the first phase of the war. The two divisions together formed the Fifth Army Corps under General Plumer, the officer who had worked so hard for the relief of Mafeking in 1900. The divisions, which were composed of splendid troops who needed some hardening after tropical service, were constituted as follows, the list including Territorial regiments as well as the four original Regular units in each brigade:—
FIFTH ARMY CORPS. — General Plumer.
- DIVISION XXVII. — Gen. Snow.
- 80th Infantry Brigade — Gen. Fortescue.
- Princess Pat. Canadians.
- 4th Rifle Brigade.
- 3rd King's Royal Rifles.
- 4th King's Royal Rifles.
- 2nd Shrop. Light Infantry.
- 80th Infantry Brigade — Gen. Fortescue.
- 81st Infantry Brigade — Gen. Macfarlane.
- 9th Royal Scots (T.F.).
- 2nd Cameron Highlanders.
- 1st Argyll & Sutherland.
- 1st Royal Scots.
- 2nd Gloucesters.
- 9th Argyll & Sutherland. (T.F.).
- 81st Infantry Brigade — Gen. Macfarlane.
- 82nd Infantry Brigade — Gen. Longley.
- 1st Leinsters.
- 2nd Royal Irish Fusiliers.
- 2nd Duke of Cornwall's L. Infantry.
- 1st Royal Irish.
- 1st Cambridge (T.F.).
- 82nd Infantry Brigade — Gen. Longley.
- XIX. Brigade R.F.A., etc.
- Wessex R.E.
- XIX. Brigade R.F.A., etc.
- Army Troops—
- 6th Cheshires.
- Army Troops—
- DIVISION XXVIII. — Gen. Bulfin.
- 83rd Infantry Brigade — Gen. Boyle.
- 2nd East Yorkshire.
- 1st King's Own York. L. Infantry.
- 1st York and Lancasters.
- 2nd Royal Lancasters.
- 3rd Monmouths (T.F.).
- 5th Royal Lancasters (T.F.).
- 83rd Infantry Brigade — Gen. Boyle.
- 84th Infantry Brigade — Gen. Winter.
- 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers.
- 1st Suffolks.
- 1st Welsh.
- 2nd Cheshires.
- 12th London Rangers (T.F.).
- 1st Monmouths (T.F.).
- 84th Infantry Brigade — Gen. Winter.
- 85th Infantry Brigade — Gen. Chapman.
- 2nd East Kent.
- 2nd East Surrey.
- 3rd Middlesex.
- 3rd Royal Fusiliers.
- 8th Middlesex (T.F.).
- Artillery — Col. Kelly.
- Surrey Yeomanry.
- 85th Infantry Brigade — Gen. Chapman.
Besides this new Fifth Army Corps, there had been a constant dribble of other Territorial units to the Front, where they were incorporated with various regular brigades. The London Scottish, which had done so well, was honoured by admission to the First Brigade of Guards. The Artists' Rifles (28th London) had the unique distinction of being set aside as an officers' training corps, from which officers were actually drawn at the rate of a hundred a month. The Honourable Artillery Company, brigaded with the Eighth Brigade, was among the first to arrive. Conspicuous among the new-comers were the London Rifle Brigade, the 4th Suffolk, the Liverpool Scottish, the 5th and 6th Cheshire, the 1st Herts, the 2nd Monmouthshires, Queen Victoria Rifles, and Queen's Westminsters. These were among the earlier arrivals, though it seems invidious to mention names where the spirit of all was equally good. Among the yeomanry, many had already seen considerable service, notably the North and South Irish Horse, the Northumberland Hussars, the North Somersets, the Oxford and the Essex Yeomanry. Most of the troops named above shared the discomfort of the winter campaign before the great arrival of the new armies from England in the spring. There can be no better-earned bar upon a medal than that which stands for this great effort of endurance against Nature and man combined.
To take events in their order. Beyond numerous gallant affairs of outposts, there was no incident of importance until the evening of November 23rd, when the Germans, who had been stunned for a week or so, showed signs of returning animation. On this day some eight hundred yards of trench held by Indian troops in the neighbourhood of Armentières were made untenable by the German artillery, especially by the minenwerfer — small mortars which threw enormous bombs by an ingenious arrangement whereby the actual shell never entered the bore, but was on the end of a rod outside the muzzle. Some of these terrible missiles, which came through the air as slowly as a punted football, were twp hundred pounds in weight, and shattering in their effects. There was an advance of the 112th Regiment of the Fourteenth German Corps, and the empty trenches were strongly held by them — so strongly that the first attempt to retake them was unsuccessful in the face of the rifle and machine-gun fire of the defenders. A second more powerful counter-attack was organized by General Anderson, of the Meerut Division, and this time the Germans were swept out of their position and the line re-established. The fighting lasted all night, and the Gurkhas, with their formidable knives, proved to be invaluable for such close work, while a party of Engineers with hand-bombs did great execution, a strange combination of the Asiatic with the most primitive of weapons and the scientific European with the most recent, It was a substantial victory as such affairs go, for the British were left with a hundred prisoners, including three officers, three machine-guns, and two mortars.
The Ring's Visit
The first week of December was rendered memorable by a visit of the King to the Army. King George reviewed a great number of his devoted soldiers, who showed by their fervent enthusiasm that one need not be an autocratic War Lord in order to command the fierce loyalty of the legions. After this pleasant interlude there followed a succession of those smaller exploits which seem so slight in any chronicle, and yet collectively do so much to sustain the spirit of the Army. Now this dashing officer, now that, attempted some deed upon the German line, and never failed to find men to follow him to death. On November 24th it was Lieutenant Impey, with a handful of 2nd Norfolks ; on November 25th, Lieutenants Ford and Morris, with a few Welsh Fusiliers and sappers ; on November 26th, Sir Edward Hulse, with some Scots Guards ; on the same day, Lieutenant Denham, with men of the 2nd Rifle Brigade ; in each case trenches were temporarily won, the enemy was damaged, and a spirit of adventure encouraged in the trenches. Sometimes such a venture ended in the death of the leader, as in the case of Captain the Honourable H. L. Bruce, of the Royal Scots. Such men died as the old knights did who rode out betwixt the lines of marshalled armies, loved by their friends and admired by their foes.
[Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detailed account then includes a full story of the winter operations, which, interesting as they are, are of minor importance compared to what is to come. We pass on, therefore, with Sir Arthur's consent, to the Spring Campaign.]