Webmatters Title
Webmatters : The Battle of Loos, 1st Division
Rough Map of Area

Loos

1st Division

The 1st Division was one of the original Regular Army Divisions dispatched to France with the BEF in August 1914. Having taken part in the retreat from Mons it was heavily engaged in the Battle of the Aisne and then during the 1st Battle of Ypres.

The casualty rate was such that by 1915 little was left of the original organisation and the Division was transferred to Artois. In May 1915 it was again badly mauled during the Battle of Aubers Ridge.

Up until August 1915 the Division had been designated as a Guards Division but in that month the 1st Battalions of the Coldstream Guards and Scots Guards were posted to a new Guards Division and were replaced by two New Army battalions: 8th Royal Berkshire Regiment and the 10th Gloucestershire Regiment. Perhaps fortunately they also lost Major General Richard Haking who had called for a renewed effort at Aubers Ridge despite having just lost almost two thirds of his force in the space of the opening hour. His departure however meant that Major General Arthur Holland was given little time in which to acclimatise into his new command or area.

Its two Brigades would be advancing away from each other and a force under Lt Colonel E Green of 2nd Bn Royal Sussex Regiment would, at the opportune moment, advance to fill in the gap as the front widened.

The advance by 1st Division

2nd Brigade

On the right of the Division the 1st Bn Loyal North Lancashire Regiment were accompanied by the 2nd Bn King’s Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) on their left. The only point of reference on their front was the Lone Tree, the stump of a cherry tree that had so far survived the artillery duels. It was situated slightly forward of the German trench and was used by them as a machine gun emplacement.

The replacement Lone Tree at Loos

The original tree survived the shells but not the soldiers who cut it down and took pieces home as souvenirs.
In 1995 the Western Front Association planted a replacement – it can easily be seen from St Mary’s ADS Cemetery

At 0550 hours the gas was released and almost immediately blew back into the British trenches catching the waiting soldiers unaware. It quickly became apparent that the first wave would need to be reinforced as men succumbed to the chlorine.

When the attack was launched slightly behind zero the Germans were alert and waiting for them. The bombardment had failed to cut the German wire and the machine guns at the Lone Tree and in Northern Sap brought the attack to a halt.

Two soldiers would be awarded the Victoria Cross for their work in bringing in the wounded whilst under fire. Private Henry Kenny of the Loyals carried six men back to safety before being wounded himself.

Private George Peachment of the KRRC was lying near the German front line when he spotted his OC, Captain Guy Dubs lying wounded. Crawling over to him Peachment attempted to dress his wounds and when they came under further fire began pulling Dubs to shelter. At that moment he was killed by rifle fire. Peachment had only been with the regiment for a few months and was one of just eight, eighteen-year-olds to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

Guy Dubs survived the war but George Peachment’s body was never identified in the aftermath of the battle and he is commemorated on the Loos Memorial.

Having seen the first wave halted the 2nd Bn Royal Sussex Regiment (in support) went over the top earlier than planned. They too were stopped short of the German wire and despite being constantly rallied by Sergeant Harry Wells the Sussex could not get into the German front line.

Wells was killed along with the remnants of his platoon on his third attempt to get forward. He was awarded the Victoria Cross and is buried at Dud Corner Cemetery (Grave: V E 2).

In an attempt to break the German line the Brigade ordered forward the remaining company of the Sussex and the 1st Bn Northampton Regiment who had been held in reserve. About 0900 hours they began their advance across the open ground. The gas and smoke screen had gone and the wire was still as uncut as it had been at the commencement of the battle.

As troops began to fall back in disorder Captain Anketell Read gathered up a party of sixty and established them in a position just to the south of the Lone Tree. Almost permanently out of cover as he encouraged the men and directed their fire he was eventually brought down. Like Harry Wells before him he was awarded the Victoria Cross and is buried at Dud Corner Cemetery(Grave: VII F 19).

2nd Brigade’s attack had stalled.

 

1st Brigade

1st Brigade formed the left flank of IV Corps with that boundary running along the Vermelles – Hulluch Road. Their commander Brigadier Anthony Reddie had decided to use his New Army battalions in the first wave, placing the 10th Bn Gloucestershire Regiment on the right and the 8th Bn Royal Berkshire Regiment on their left.

In front of the former was the Bois Carré whilst in front of the latter was a small copse known as La Haie (French for Hedge and thus, incidentally, La Haie is French for The Hague). Neither wooded patch had been left unmarked by the shelling and both had been reduced to shattered scrub which offered little in the way of shelter.

The Gloucesters charged into the Bois Carré and although they suffered heavy casualties, soon had it, and the German front line secured. From there the advance towards the German support line was cut to pieces. Fortunately for them, once engaged, the Germans did not put up too great a fight and most retreated down the communications trenches. Casualties amongst the Gloucesters had been so bad that only sixty were available to continue the advance.

The Bedfords on the other hand had no difficulty traversing La Haie and gaining the enemy front line. By 0800 hours they had already crossed half the distance towards the La Bassée Road. At this point at Gun Trench the 1st Bn Cameron Highlanders (in support) came through and continued the advance to the main road. There they stopped though scouts were sent forward to reconnoitre Hulluch.

 

Green’s Force

As already mentioned, Lt Colonel Green commanded a small force consisting of the London Scottish and the 1/9th Bn King’s (Liverpool) Regiment. Their task was to act as a filler between the two Brigades as they diverged.

Thinking that the opposition to his 2nd Brigade could not last much longer, having already seen both its flanks pushed back by the successful attacks by the 15th Division and the 1st Brigade, Major General Holland ordered Green’s Force to apply its weight around the area of the Lone Tree.

Orders were sent out and the 1/9th King’s attacked with the Lone Tree on its left (the southern side of the tree) and the London Scottish with the tree to the right. By now it was well after midday and the Germans had been given ample time to reorganise themselves. Instead of fleeing at the sight of this renewed attack, the defenders put down a hail of fire into the English and Scots from the moment they showed themselves.

It proved impossible to get into the German trench and a line was consolidated just short of it, using whatever cover there was to be had. Once again the attack on 2nd Brigade’s front had failed. By now it was 1315 hours and General Holland gave up trying to bulldoze his way through when the flanks had already given way. Offering the 2nd Brigade the assistance of the 1st Bn Gloucestershire Regiment he ordered them to secure the line as they had it and then move all available men down to the Loos Road Redoubt (which had already been taken) and then work northwards taking the remaining Germans in the flank.

Despite the wording of : Collect all available men the reality was that the Gloucesters were to all intents and purposes on their own. 2nd Brigade had been destroyed.

 

3rd Brigade

At the same time that Lt Colonel Green was receiving his orders to assist 2nd Brigade, Brigadier General Davies, commanding 3rd Brigade, was required to take his men up in support of the 1st Brigade’s left flank. All did not go to plan.

The 2nd Bn Munster Fusiliers got themselves lost in the trenches, smoke and retiring wounded. Instead of advancing to the north of the Bois Carré they inclined to the right and ended up alongside Green’s Force.

Le Rutoir Farm

Le Rutoir Farm was used as a Headquarters by both the 2nd and 3rd Brigades
What you see today was rebuilt. Nothing was left after the war apart from a 1916 British bunker

Behind them and supposedly in their support the 2nd Bn Welch Regiment had greater success in cutting across no man’s land and soon reached Gun Trench. With no sign of the Munsters the battalion wheeled towards the south-east and continued. This movement brought them directly behind the German trenches which were opposing 2nd Brigade at Lone Tree.

Some of the Germans in the support trench turned and opened fire on the Welch but as their escape route towards Hulluch was now sealed the party of Germans surrendered about 1430 hours. Having gathered their prisoners the Welch continued to the La Bassée Road and waited on further troops to arrive.

A company were sent back towards the 2nd Brigade in an effort to dislodge the remaining defenders by attacking them from both sides. Their position now hopeless the soldiers of The 1st Battalion 4. Schlesisches Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 157 under Captain Ritter surrendered.

Ironically, it was at about the same moment that their 3rd Battalion (A German regiment, like a French one, was composed of three battalions who fought together as a unit) attempted a counter attack from Hulluch. Although it succeeded in pushing back the British outposts it was easily repulsed by fire from the units lining the main road.

The 2nd Brigade were at last able to cross no man’s land and reach the La Bassée Road and link with the 15th Division at Puits 14bis.