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Webmatters : The Battle of Loos, 47th (London) Division
Rough Map of Area

Loos

47th (London) Division

The Londoners were a Territorial Division drawn from the south of the city. Although they had been in France in time for the battle of Aubers Ridge in May 1915, their first action against the enemy was at Festubert later in the month.

The Division occupied the only sector of the British line that overlooked the German trenches. Their task was to push into the German line and then form the southern flank. It was imperative that the Double Crassier was taken.

The advance by 47th (London) Division

140th Brigade

On the extreme right the 140th Brigade left their trenches at 0630 hours following behind a dense cloud of gas that obscured the way ahead and even rendered much of the two crassiers invisible. The German defenders, however, had not been subdued by the four day bombardment and reacted with speed and deadly force.

As the 1/6th London advanced across the open ground along the north face of the crassiers 1/7th London had the arduous task of climbing them and taking the German position. Major Casson commanding the 7th’s A Company had surprisingly little difficulty overpowering their opposition but the Germans were swift to organise a counter-attack during which Casson was killed (He is buried in Loos British Cemetery, grave: VIII B 19). The Londoners held their new position, and were later reinforced by half of the Post Office Rifles (1/8th London).

 

141st Brigade

On the left, the 141st Brigade had decided to lead with just the one battalion: the London Irish Rifles (1/18th London). Advancing out of their trenches the Irishmen made good progress down the slope and into the German trenches. The flow of gas continued in the correct direction (which it would not do on other sectors of the offensive) and the Germans were soon either surrendering or running for the Loos defence line which ran through the town cemetery — the Brigade’s next objective.

The western edge of Loos

Loos cemetery is located just to the left of the large white complex within the village
The 6th and 7th London Regiment took the area in front of the camera

On the right of the assault the battalion football team dribbled a football across the ‘pitch’ towards the open goal. The intention had been to use six footballs but the stunt had come to the attention of one of the officers who took the unprecedented approach of shooting the six balls. One, however, was recovered by Private Frank Edwards and re-inflated before being smuggled out under his greatcoat.

Unfortunately it ended up as did so many of the soldiers — hanging; pierced; on the German wire.

The ball was recovered and then forgotten, slowly disintegrating in a box, until it was rediscovered. Having been carefully restored and given a commemorative tour back to Loos, the football was returned to the London Irish Rifles Museum on the 13th March 2011.

Those Germans who tried fleeing from the London Irish found themselves caught by a machine gun barrage put down over the heads of the attackers on the orders of Brigadier General Thwaites. Although this sort of barrage would become part and parcel of future battles, in 1915 it was considered innovative.

Within thirty minutes of Zero (0630 hours) the battalion had reached the main B├ęthune road and were on the point of assaulting the communal cemetery within which was a well concealed machine gun emplacement that caused terrible casualties.

At this stage the 1/19th London were to take up the advance on the left into the village of Loos. Cutting across no man’s land they were badly hit by enfilading fire coming from a trench, which was not being actively engaged at this stage, to the rear of the Lens Road Redoubt.

Although they lost many of their officers including their CO — Lt Colonel Harold Collinson-Morley — the battalion pushed on into Loos and swiftly secured the area around Tower Bridge the twin towered pit head that formed a major feature of the village landscape.

The follow-through on the right of the London Irish was carried out by the 1/20th London who advanced into the German front line trench and then swinging south through Garden City reached the trench just in front of Chalk Pit Copse.

The Londoners attacked the copse throughout the morning but could not dislodge the defenders. Both sides received reinforcements and a stalemate ensued.

By and large the 47th Division had achieved all that had been asked of it : for a high rate of casualties — in particular amongst the officers.