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Webmatters : The Battle of Loos, the Guards Division
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Loos

Guards Division

The Guards Division was formed in France in August 1915 on an initiative proposed by Lord Kitchener. Guards battalions allocated to other Brigades were transferred across whilst other battalions were created in England. There was therefore a mix between those who had already seen considerable action and those for whom Loos would be their first battle.

The Division was formed at Lumbres near St Omer under the command of Major General the Earl of Cavan.

In advancing towards the battle zone on the 25th September they had been subjected to the same congestion and confusion on the roads as the two New Army Divisions the night before. Whilst Lt General Richard Haking (XI Corps) was scathing in his remarks about the latter’s disorganisation he made no comment about the Guards’ experiences.

Following the failed attack by the 21st and 24th Divisions on the 26th September the Guards Division was placed under Haig’s orders at 1602 hours.

Sir John French later claimed in his dispatch that Haig had access to the Division from the morning.

The task was to capture (definitively) Hill 70 on the afternoon of 27th September. 1st Guards Brigade would hold the left flank opposite Hulluch; 2nd Guards Brigade would advance through Bois Hugo and Chalet Wood and then attack the German’s redoubt from the north whilst the 3rd Guards Brigade attacked it from the west.

Following the loss of Fosse 8 earlier on 26th September Haig ordered that the Guards were not to progress any further than the Lens РLa Bass̩e Road.

 

2nd Guards Brigade

Starting from the position they had occupied the previous night the 2nd Bn Irish Guards had over a kilometre of open terrain to cover before they reached Chalk Pit Wood. To assist them 1st Guards Brigade created a smokescreen on the left, and by 1600 hours the breeze had carried the smoke out towards the German second line (If only the wind had been so obliging with the gas two days before).

Puits 14bis as seen by the Canadians in 1917

Taken by the 15th Bn CEF in August 1917 this view of Puits 14bis
would probably not be much different to that seen by the Guards

Tucked in behind was the 1st Bn Scots Guards who were to take Puits 14 Bis as soon as the Irish Guards had secured the wood and Chalk Pit. This they had done by 1645 hours with very few casualties.

The advance by the Guards Division

As the Scots Guards swept forward (carrying along many of the Irish Guards — including John Kipling) they were met by heavy machine gun fire from Bois Hugo. Despite the loss of many of its officers some of them managed to force their way into the Pit Buildings. It proved impossible though, even for the Guards, to maintain their position and by 1700 hours many were falling back towards the Chalk Pit which was then secured with the arrival of the 1st Bn Coldstream Guards.

 

3rd Guards Brigade

Starting their advance from Vermelles at 1500 hours the Brigade began to take casualties as it approached Loos village. Going through Loos the 4th Bn Grenadier Guards came under gas shelling and in the confusion split into two with half heading off with the Scots Guards attacking Puits 14 Bis and the other half (though by now reduced to a single Company’s strength) forming up as had been intended to assault Hill 70.

Realising the folly of such a situation Brigadier General Heyworth ordered the 1st Bn Welsh Guards to join the Grenadiers.

The Welsh Guards was raised on 26th February 1915 by order of King George V, in order to complete the national complement of regiments of Foot Guards identified with the countries of the United Kingdom. Loos would be their baptism of fire.

The initial rush of Hill 70 at 1800 hours — by which time the 2nd Guards Brigade had already begun falling back — went well with the attackers covered by the dead ground at the base of the hill. Approaching the top, however, the guardsmen immediately ran into scything machine gun fire. The barbed wire protecting the redoubt was tantalisingly close but any attempt to close in on it was considered to be out of the question.

At 2300 hours the advanced position was joined by the 2nd Bn Scots Guards whose commander, Lt Colonel Cator ordered a 100 metre withdrawal to a position that could be defended in daylight.