The King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment , 1/5th Battalion, Territorial Force,
and Volunteers of 1914 and 1915 during the Great War in France and Flanders 1914-1918
.

Norman Gardner

A video film recording made on the 14th September 1914, shows the 1/5th Battalion, King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, marching from their temporary barracks at the former Wagon Works, Caton Road Lancaster to the Castle railway station on the first leg of their journey to France. On being told of the release of a modern video copy, a person was heard to remark 'How many came back ?'. This paper examines the question.

Throughout its' existence the Regiment has had a number of titles dating from 1680 as the 2nd Tangier Regiment, hence the nickname Tangerines for the 2nd Battalion. In 1684 King Charles II issued a Warrant ordering the ranking of the Regiments of Foot according to their respective seniorities. Now named the Duchess of York and Albany's Regiment, the Regiment was numbered IV (4th of Foot). In 1685 it became the Queen's Regiment; in 1688, The Queen Consort's Regiment; 1702 The Queen's Marines; 1715, The King's Own Regiment; 1751 The 4th or King's Own Regiment; 1867 The 4th (The King's Own Royal) Regiment; 1881 (May) The Royal Lancaster Regiment (King's Own); 1881 (July) The King's Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster). In 1959 it was amalgamated with the Border Regiment, (formerly 34th & 55th Foot), to become The King's Own Royal Border Regiment. 1.

The King's Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster) fought throughout the First World War in France and Flanders, the Balkans, and the Middle East, as did other Regiments. However it's casualties in France and Flanders per Battalion were higher than most of its' neighbouring English County Regiments as Tables 1 and 2 show.

Table 1 North Western Regiments, Casualties 1/8/14 to 31/12/18, France & Flanders

Regiment Casualties Bns in France/Flanders with
at least one casualty
Casualties per Bn

Liverpool

12,226 26 613

Border

5,269 9 585

King's Own Royal Lancaster

5,188 10 519

Loyal North Lancashire

6,227 13 479

East Lancashire

5,102 11 479

Lancashire Fusiliers

10,494 23 456

Manchester

10,408 29 359

Cheshire

6,587 20 329

South Lancashire

4,136 13 318

Source Soldiers Died in The Great War CD Army & Navy Press 2001

Table 2 North Western Regiments 1/5th or 5th Battalion Casualties, Flanders & France 1914-1918
 
Regiment Battalion First Casualty Total
Liverpool 5th 4 March 1915 838
South Lancashire 1/5th 21 February 1915 677
Loyal North Lancashire 1/5th 14 March 1915 607
King's Own Royal Lancaster 1/5th 26 September 1914 575
Border 5th 13 November 1914 555
Lancashire Fusiliers 1/5th TF 31 October 1915 301
Cheshire 1/5th 3 March 1915 286
East Lancashire 1/5th 18 June 1915 257
Manchester 1/5th 14 September 1916 232

Source. Soldiers Died in the Great War, cwgc.org.uk

NB # next casualty dated 18/4/17. * serving with the 1st Battalion , the 1/5th arrived in France on 14 February 1915 (see below).

The numbering system of the Battalions of the King's Own Lancaster Regiment, is a consequence of the Regiment's History. The Regiment consisted in 1914 of two regular battalions. The First Battalion normally served at home and the Second Battalion served in India. On the outbreak of war the 1st Battalion went with the Expeditionary Force, famed as the Contemptibles, following a somewhat injudicious remark by the German Kaiser Willhelm, and the 2nd Battalion sailed shortly afterwards for England, from India.

Following a short leave and after collecting new recruits, it landed in France on the 15 January 1915. The 3rd Battalion was a special reserve or training Battalion which had its origins in the 3rd and 4th battalions of the Lancashire Militia which can trace its lineage to 1642, and its function was different to that of the other battalions. The 4th Battalion based at Ulverston and the 5th Battalion, based at Lancaster, originated in the Volunteer movement of the 1790s, in response to the threat of a French invasion. As these expanded in 1914, the original Territorial units became the 1/4th, 1/5th, and subsequent (Service) battalions helped to comprise the new Army, 2/4th 2/5th and 3/5th. Only the 1/5th, 2/5th and 1/4th served overseas. The 1/5th went to France on 14 February 1915, and the 1/4th Battalion on 3 May 1915. The 2/4th, 3/4th and 3/5th were amalgamated to form the 4th (Reserve) Battalion, which trained men who were sent as replacements to the other Battalions on active service overseas; the 6th (Service) Battalion sailed for Gallipoli in June 1915 and then went to Mesopatamia where it remained until the end of the war. The 7th (Service) Battalion disembarked in France on 17 July 1915, and was disbanded in February 1918 to provide reinforcements for other Battalions. The 8th (Service) Battalion arrived in France between the 27th and 29th September 1915 and remained there until the end of the war. The 9th (Service) Battalion arrived in France on 4-6th September 1915 and was transferred to Salonika shortly afterwards. The 10th (Bantam) Battalion was raised in June 1915, it was composed of men who would normally have been too short to serve in the army, many were Lancashire miners, and it was disbanded in early 1918. In total over 4.000 officers and 41,000 other ranks served in the Regiment during the war, and of these 298 officers and 6,143 other ranks died whilst serving. 2.

Here we are concerned principally with the 1/5th Battalion, although some of its members died fighting with the 1st and 1/4th Battalions, and during the bloody period of April May 1915, it was closely linked to the Regular 2nd Battalion at Frezenberg, Ypres. Table 3 shows how the 1st, 2nd1/4th and 1/5th Battalions bled during the war years on the France and Flanders front. The heaviest casualties overall were taken by the 1st Battalion, which was in the fight in France and Flanders for the longest time, but the 2nd Battalion had the highest annual casualty rate in any one year in 1915. The 1/4th had consistently high casualties after 1915, sustaining its highest casualties in 1917, as did the 1/5th which fared relatively well, compared to the other Battalions and the time served in the field.

Table 3. Soldiers who died 1 August 1914 – 31 December 1918, France & Flanders
 

Battalion
Year

1st 2nd 1/5th 1/4th Annual Total
'1914 213 0 2 0 215
'1915 238 532(1) 168 93 1,031
'1916 323 10 87 220(3) 640
'1917 262 6 181(2) 253 729
'1918 262 19 137 200 609
Total 1,325 558 575 766 3,224

Source Soldiers Died in The Great War CD Army & Navy Press 2001

(1) 1/1/15 – 1/6/ 15 = 481 deaths. The Battalion was reformed and sent to Mesopotamia in 1916 after it's heavy casualties at Frezenberg 8 May 1915.

(2) 1/11/17 – 31/12/17 = 60 deaths mostly at Cambrai 30/11/17.

(3) 1/8/16 – 30/9/16 = 183 deaths, on the Somme.

NB. Soldiers Died .., gives slightly lower figures than Steve Irwin, 2000 Remember' kingsownmuseam@iname.com

The data reproduced here from modern copies of army records, pertains to members of the Territorial Force 1/5th Battalion, with original numbers less than 2,000, including some 940 men who marched away from Lancaster on the 14th September 1914. The next group are volunteers with original numbers between 2.000 and 2.999, some 981 men. All joined the Battalion before the Military Service Acts of January and May 1916, and were full of enthusiasm for the coming fight. Private L J Haberbin was so keen to join the 1/5th that he deserted from the 1st Battalion in order to do so. He was discovered and discharged from the 1/5th on 17 November 1914. The medically unfit and other unsuitable people among the Territorials and Volunteers were found and discharged during the Battalion's stay at Didcot where they guarded the Great Western railway between Reading and Swindon, also losing some men in unfortunate accidents with locomotives, and remained there until 11 and 12 November when the Battalion moved to Sevenoaks where the men received new web equipment and modern Mark VII foreign service ammunition along with inoculations.

Although initially recruited for home service only, the great majority of men volunteered for overseas duty. Most of the remainder of these two groups sailed from Southampton and disembarked in France on 14 February 1915. The strength of the Battalion on arrival in France was 31 Officers, 1,026 NCO's and men. 72 horses and mules, 6 GS wagons, 13 limbered wagons, 2 Maltese Carts and 2 water carts. They were under enemy fire on 7 March 1915, when Private J Liver who survived the war, was wounded, becoming the first casualty serving with the Battalion , he returned to civilian life on 3 March 1919. The first death of a soldier serving with the Battalion occurred on the 8 March 1915 when Private William Walls was killed in front of Neuve Eglise aged 19. Warrington born, he was educated at Morecambe National School, a former bandsman in the Salvation Army, he lived at Queen Street, Morecambe, with his parents Mr & Mrs Walls and he enlisted at Morecambe. His name may be found on Morecambe War Memorial, and he is buried in grave V B 13 at the Wulverghem – Lindenhoek Road Military Cemetery. 3.

Table 4 shows that of the 937 Territorials and 981 Volunteers with original numbers below 3,0000 studied, the Territorials suffered 115 killed in action and 36 died of wounds, higher than the Volunteers' 66 Killed in Action and 24 died of wounds. However the Volunteers had 17 men promoted to a Commissioned Rank whereas the Territorials furnished only one man for the Officer Cadre.

Table 4 Territorial Force and Volunteers, numbered below 2999 who left the Regiment or died after enlisting before 31st December 1915. 

 
Volunteers with Numbers 2000-2999 Territorial Force numbered under 2000 Total

Total Enlisted

981 100% 937 100% 1918 100%

Killed in Action

66 6.7% 115 12.2% 172 8.9%

Died of Wounds

24 2.4% 36 3.8% 60 3.1%

Commissioned

17 1.7% 1 0.1% 18 0.9%

Medically Unfit

53 5.4% 51 5.4% 104 0.5%

Others

28 2.8% 40 4.3% 68 3.5%

Total Lost

179 18.2% 243 25.9% 422 22.0%

 Source 1/5 Roll; Star Medal Roll, HA, Soldiers Died in the Great War.

The pattern of losses sustained in action by the 1/5th Battalion reflects the time when it was in action, especially in 1915 , as shown in Table 5 (next page) showing Territorial and Volunteer sample casualties.The 1/5th Battalion was blooded at the Second Battle of Ypres, (22nd April–25 May, 1915), in particular heavy losses were suffered at Gravenstafel and Frezenberg (92 killed in action and 26 died of wounds). The following year on the Somme 72 died ( 54 killed in action, 16 died of wounds between 1 July and 27 September 1916).

Table 5 1/5th Territorials and Volunteers Killed in Action 8th March 1915- 17th October 1918 
 
1915 Number 1916 Number 1917 Number 1918 Number
Date T V Date T V Date T V Date T V
8/3 1 0 1/8 1 0 11/2 1 0 9/4 1 0
13/3 1 0 9/8# 4 0 19/2 0 1 28/4 1 0
15/3 1 0 11/8# 1 0 9/3 0 1 21/5 0 1
29/3 0 1 15/8# 4 3 12/3 1 0 7/7 1 0
4/4 1 0 10/9# 3 0 3/6 0 1 6/8 0 1
13/4 1 1 18/9# 1 2 15/6 1 0 28/9 1 1
14/4 3 2 22/9# 0 1 19/6 1 0 8/10 1 0
16/4 1 2 27/9# 1 0 13/7 1 0
17/4 0 1 3/10# 1 0 31/7@ 2 0
23/4* 11 6 4/10# 1 0 1/8@ 1 1
24/4* 2 0 17/10# 1 0 26/8@ 0 1
26/4* 1 1 15/9@ 1 0
27/4* 9 6 20/9@ 4 4
28/4* 0 1 9/10@ 1
3/5* 1 5 26/10@ 2 0
4/5* 7 6 30/11C 3 4
5/5* 9 0 1/12C 1 0
7/5* 0 1
8/5* 9 5
9/5* 3 2
19/5* 1 0
27/5 2 2
3/6 2 1
1/7 1 0
8/8 2 0
16/8 1 0
2/10 0 1
14/11 1 0
20/11 1 0
Total 72 44 18 6 20 13 5 3

Source Soldiers Died in The Great War CD Army & Navy Press 2001, HA

Notes * 2nd Ypres; # Somme; @ 3rd Ypres; C Cambrai;

At the Third Battle of Ypres (31 July – 10th November 1917) 68 died ( 54 killed in action and 12 died of wounds). The Germans failed to prevent the advance at Pilkem Ridge on the 31st of July where 18 died, killed in action, and on the Menin Road on the 20-22nd September 1917, 18 were killed in action and 2 died of wounds when the Battalion stopped a

German advance, and was congratulated for its good work. At the German counter attack at the Battle of Cambrai (20th November – 3rd December 1917), the Battalion was again congratulated for its sturdy defence of an untenable position on 30th November where 48 were killed in action and 1 died of wounds, against an enemy which employed combined air and land attacks and new storm trooper tactics. Finally at the Battle of the Lys, at Le Touret - Festubert -Givenchy (9-14 April, 1918), the Battalion stopped a strong German attack despite being shelled with gas and lack of artillery support. 4.

Officers of course died too, Hodkinson shows thirty four, of the 1/5th who died, only one of whom died on home service. The exact battalion statistics are uncertain, many officers had primary and secondary Regiments, others served with the RFC (later RAF) and retained their original Regimental identity. Others died seconded to other battalions or Regiments, and the records do not always record the battalion to which the officer belonged.

Table 6 shows those officers who died in France and Flanders serving with the 1st, 2nd 1/4th and 1/5th Battalions 5.

Table 6 King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment officers who died, Flanders and France, 1 August 1914 - 31 December 1918
 

Battalion

1st

2nd

3rd1/4th

1/5th

Year

1914

9 - - -

1915

6 12 3 9

1916

12 - 10 4

1917

13 - 13 16

1918

4 12 14 19

Total

44 12 40 48

Second Ypres 9 April-11 May 1915.

At Second Ypres the British and Canadians took over positions from the French, which had been constructed according to an entirely different philosophy from their own. In 1915, the French disdained defensive fighting, regarding defensive trenches as a temporary pause between dashing offensive operations. In the event of an enemy attack, they retired from their lightly held front lines and relied on their excellent rapid firing 75-millimetre field guns to prevent a break through. On the other hand the British heavily fortified the front line trenches and held them at all costs if possible. This clash of philosophies always caused headaches for British troops who relieved French formations, or, as at Frezenberg, took over positions dug by the French. Front line sanitary conditions for the troops were appalling, exacerbated by a chronic shortage of materials of every kind. The French used the trenches as latrines, and parts of corpses were often exposed by the trench diggers who made little or no effort to remove the bodies, owing to the proximity of the Germans who could be as close as ten or fifteen yards away. 6.

The first gas attack and countermeasures 22-25 April 1915.

The chaos caused by gas attacks combined with conventional weapons which disrupted communications, was exacerbated by rivalries among the generals of the three armies. Sir John French, the British Commander in chief wanted to withdraw from the Ypres Salient, but general Foch, the French commander persuaded him to stay and fight, with promises that French reinforcements would quickly regain the ground lost by the first gas attack on 22 April, but reinforcements were slow arriving and fewer than promised. Relations between the British and the inexperienced Canadians were poor and a diplomatic incident arose over a dispute between the British General Snow, and the Canadian General Currie, each accusing the other of ignorance of the position on the ground, with the British being accused of contempt for the 'amateur' Canadian soldiers, who were subsequently respected for their fighting qualities by the British. The available French troops had little spirit for battle, having suffered from the effects of gas, and several times they failed to support British and Canadian counter attacks, leading to higher casualties and failure to hold recaptured ground, despite the gallantry of Canadian and British soldiers. The Germans failed to exploit their opportunities, partly because the gas offensive was designed to distract attention from the removal of troops from part of their line to attack Russia, and their over optimism, that they would have an easy victory following their success on 22 April. However the element of surprise was lost on 24 April when the Germans attacked the apex of the Salient, and the Canadians improvised gas masks enabled them to stand and fight. They were eventually forced to retire as they were cut up by artillery and infantry attacks, and gaps in their line opening as a result of poor communications and failure of the commanders. The 1/5th were in support of the East Yorks and York and Lancaster's as part of Geddes detachment, supporting the Canadians, between the 22 April and late evening on the 25 April. 8.

The British high command refused to believe that the Germans would flagrantly resort to the use of gas, thus violating the 'rules of war'. Spies and captured prisoners had reported supplies of gas and respirators were being stockpiled behind the German lines, but their reports were ignored. In the warm sunshine and balmy breeze of the 22 April 1915, the first great gas attack of the war was to commence. As Canadian General Alderson inspected a gun position near Saint Julien on the north east side of the Ypres Salient at five pm, he saw two clouds of yellowish–green smoke appear, which then merged and drifted towards the French on the Canadian left. Two Canadian medical officers, an analytical chemist and a surgeon, saw the cloud and correctly concluded it was probably chlorine gas, but in the Canadian trenches an officer surmised it was probably a new powder the French were using. The German official account shows that the French fled before it after firing a few shots, by five twenty pm only isolated pockets of French resistance remained and by seven o'clock all the French guns were silent, as the French hurriedly withdrew amid growing panic. To the rear, about one mile from Ypres, sixteen years old Frank Hawkins, a Private in the 9th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment, Territorial Force–Queen Victoria's Rifles, saw the resulting chaos unfold. Describing ' the spectacle presented by these civilians' as they fled from Ypres, ' despair written in their white faces, terror in their eyes , a French 75 limber passed by as the drivers lay in their saddles as if asleep', a French mounted officer and his horse fell as they attempted to jump the hedge, and he lay dead with a broken neck, and looking through the hedge they saw a flying mass of men , who gasped for breath and staggered about like drunken men. Speaking French he asked a Zouave what was wrong Des gazes asphixiantes – la retraite ' he replied and stumbled on … A British motor ambulance came hurling along from the direction of Ypres, the driver shouting at the top of his voice 'Run for your lives boys. The Uhlans are in Ypres'. Panic was in the air.'.7.

The commander of the 1/5th was confused by the rapid unfolding of events, they and six other Battalions were suddenly put under the command of Colonel Geddes of the West Kent Regiment, something serious had happened in the French sector nearby, but no one was sure what had happened. At one am on the morning of the 23 April, they met some panic stricken French Zouaves, but they could not understand them or do anything for them. The section of the line was broken through from St Julien to north of Pilkem, and at one pm they went forward about a mile in the direction of Pilkem and dug themselves in. 9 At four thirty pm, the 1/5th were ordered to support an attack by the East Yorks and York and Lancasters, with its left on the Pilkem – Ypres road. They went forward in good visibility, making good targets for the German artillery

' for 600 yards it was simply damnable, and it was a wonder anybody got through at all. There was one field with heaps of manure in rows … there was hardly a heap without a dead or wounded man beside it .' 10.

Many of the dead were Canadians who had attacked over the same ground between five am and seven thirty am that morning. After the attack 17 years old Private James Cathcart of the 1/5th wrote a letter to his mother describing the action, with the news that his brother George, same Battalion, was dead. When they came under shell fire they broke into a run going forward, and George shouted to James to abandon his valise, which he did, avoiding the manure heaps with their dead and wounded beside them. Later he looked for his brother, but he had been blown up by a shell. (James was to suffer a similar fate on the 4 May 1915).. The 1/5th eventually entered a ditch occupied by the Canadians and a jumble of men from fifteen different Regiments, where they remained until dusk. The casualties for the day were one officer killed, two died of wounds, three wounded, one gassed. NCO's and men, 23 killed or died of wounds, 99 wounded. They remained under shell fire until they were relieved on 26 April 1915 and posted to the quieter Potjize Wood. Lord Cavendish concluded the attack on 23 April was badly managed, none of the troops concerned knew the ground over which they were to advance and 'not a single officer had the slightest idea of the proper direction'. In short it was a panic stricken measure, which had the effect of distracting the Germans from launching a crushing attack. Hawkings tells a similar story

'(At) St Jean .. we staggered on amidst the shriek of falling shells and the crash of explosions .. we passed the shambles (of) the MG section, I saw Gubbins' head rolling along the ground ..trenches to either flank already occupied by groups of .. Scotsmen, Englishmen, Canadians and Frenchmen . 11.

On 3 May the 1/5th returned to the line at Frezenberg in support, at the apex of the salient under heavy shell fire, as the front line troops, took part in a general strategic retirement to a new partly completed front line, they remained under heavy shell fire and lost 36 killed, 153 wounded and 4 missing, being reduced to 398 men fit for trench duty; and on 6 May they were relieved by the 2nd Battalion King's Own Royal Lancasters. At one am on the morning of 8 May the 1/5th were in trenches opposite Potjize Chateau, which were already full of man from many regiments. About 12 noon, Major Clough and about 40 men of the 2nd Battalion arrived. They had been over- whelmed by artillery and gas, and were the only survivors of the Battalion. 12. At about three pm in the afternoon, the 1/5th attempted to retake their former trenches at Frezenberg some one and a half miles distant, but progress was made for only 1,200 yards, and a bayonet charge at eight pm failed to dislodge the Germans. The 1/5th casualties for the day were one officer killed and six wounded, NCO's and men, 15 killed 96 wounded and of these ten died of wounds. On the 9 May the Brigade was relieved, being about one sixth their original number. They were thanked for their work by General French on 21 May, and on 2 June the Battalion marched to a rest area at Ryevelt. Because they were under four hundred strong they were no longer able to relieve front line units, and both they and the 2nd Battalion, very nearly shared the fate of the Monmouths. These latter were on the right of the Second Battalion at Frezenberg on the 8 May, and were disbanded and allotted to other units. 13.

Table 7 shows that 1/5th casualties were never again to reach the bloody level of 1915.

Killed

Wounded

Missing

Total

All Ranks

Ypres 9/4/15-11/5/15

Officers

7 14 0 21

Other Ranks

113 416 0 529 550

Somme 2/8/16-23/9/16

Officers

2 0 0 2

Other Ranks

8 41 0 49 51

Ypres 3/10/16-22/9/17

Officers

5 20 0 25

Other Ranks

63 278 16 357 382

Cambrai 1/10/17-30/11/17

Officers

*

Other Ranks

*

Lys Festubert-Givenchy 9/4/18

Officers

1 5 9 15

Other Ranks

22 62 141 225 240

* Breakdown not given

Source HA pp 34,70,75, 85, 100, 105, 118, 130. 5,8.152-157 

The Somme. 2 August to 23 September 1916.

With the French on their right, the British sought to unplug the German stranglehold on this part of the front to mark the visit of the King to Sir Douglas Haig's Headquarters with a victory of sorts, and allow the French room to push forward by attacking Guillemont and Ginchy in a combined operation. With his usual meticulous care, Field Marshal Douglas Haig concentrated his artillery and the Germans replied with an eight

days long bombardment as the 55th Division, of which the 1/5th was a part, sat in the trenches endured the consequences of shattered nerves and eardrums, and dead and wounded. 14. At Guillemont on 8 August, the 1/4th King's Own Royal Lancasters, lost one hundred killed, when, with the 1/8th Liverpool Irish, they over ran Guillemont in mist and fog, only to find the Germans, had emerged from dug outs and tunnels in the ruined village behind them. On this occasion the 1/5th relieved the Liverpool Scottish after the attack, losing 10 other ranks killed, 45 wounded and one missing, and three officers wounded. The roll of the 1/5th on the Somme was mainly in support. Several times they were ordered to stand by for an attack, to find orders were changed and they were once again detailed for working parties digging front line trenches under fire, ready for the day when other units would go 'over the top'. Knowing full well the value of well dug trenches, on the night 14-15 August they had to dig a 180 yards long fire trench in bright moonlight ,only thirty yards from the enemy at the nearest point, whilst kneeling, thus inevitably attracting rifle fire from the Germans. Second Lieutenant Higginson and 16 other ranks were killed and 34 other ranks were wounded before dawn broke. The Major General personally thanked the working parties for their good work of the previous night, stressing the military value of the spade. Though whether they appreciated his words on parade at 11am, having worked under fire all the previous night is a matter of conjecture. 13.

The Salient and Third Battle of Ypres, 3 October 1916-20 September 1917 (Passchendaele 30 July & 20 September 1917).

Field Marshall Haig's plan was to drive back the Germans in two directions from Ypres. To the east he sought to capture vital railway junctions, to make impossible the tenure of the German trench system, thereby forcing a withdrawal. To the north he sought to occupy the high land overlooking the coast, forcing the Germans to retreat from Ostend, and thereby lift the threat to British shipping from German 'U-Boat' submarines. A preliminary limited attack at Messines on 7 June 1917, encouraged the generals, but subsequent operations were delayed by the weather, and the waterlogged soil was made impassable for tanks and infantry by the prolonged, extensive artillery bombardment. A surprise attack at Cambrai, where tanks were successfully used was designed as an experiment in the use of the tank and as a distraction from the main offensive, which became known as Passchendaele. The 1/5th were destined to take part in both these offensives. At Passchendaele the attack on the left, over the ground where the 1/5th fought in 1915, was successful, but the attack to the east along the Menin Road failed and fighting continued until 6 November, when, with the fall of Passchendaele village, Field Marshall Haig could claim a victory. A novel element in the German defences was the concrete pill box, a reinforced concrete machine gun post, which was waterproof and not subject to flooding, like the waterlogged trenches.14.

The Battle of Passchendal commenced on the 31 July 1917, and the 1/5th, as part of the 55th Division, were ordered to advance along the right of the Gravenstafel Road, one thousand yards east of Weltjie, with the 1/5th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment on their left on the other side of the road. Their objective was the German front line, which they took, and the 1/10th Scottish and 1/5th South Lancashire Regiment then passed through their ranks and took the next objective, behind the German Front line. The weather then broke and the rain 'came down in buckets' as German counter attacks began. On the night of 2/3 August they were relieved by the Royal Irish Rifles and withdrew, passing a man up to his neck in mud in a shell hole who 'prayed to be left there to die'. Colonel Wayte's account ends

Throughout the entire operations I cannot say too much in praise of all ranks in the Battalion who took and held their objective through three days of appalling shell and rifle fire, in conjunction with such discomfort that no one who has not seen Flanders has any conception of. 15

The Battalion returned to the old front line between Potijze and Weiltje on 14, September 1917, and immediately suffered casualties from an air attack, which killed three cooks. They were in position in Call Reserve when the Division began its second attack of the battle, which began on 31 July 1917. They advanced at seven am on 20 September in support of the 1/8th Liverpool Irish, and Lancashire Fusiliers over shell pitted ground infested with snipers and pill boxes, amidst great confusion. Many units were without officers and NCO's, others were lost, but they achieved their first objective, the Schuler Galleries, but the leading troops were pushed back to join them at this point, which became the front line by the morning of 21 September. A German counter attack was broken by 55th Division artillery. The Battalion returned to huts in the Vlamertinghe area, and on 22 September moved to Derby Camp, thence to Beaulencourt on the Somme, where some viewed their old battlefield, rested, or visited Amiens. 16.

Cambrai November 1917.

On 22 October 1917, the Battalion arrived at support trenches near Epehy, and occupied Kildare Post, Meath Post, with Headquarters at Vaughan's Bank just outside Epehy. The trenches were laid out, with Meath Post on the left, Limerick Post in the middle, and Kildare Post (held by the 1/10th Liverpool Scottish), to the right. Behind these lay another strongpoint, Parr's Bank. On 15 November the 1/5th relieved the front line, each Company held a length of nearly three quarters of a mile, hence posts were thinly stretched, overlooking the German positions, the nearest enemy posts being about six hundred yards away, others up to one thousand five hundred yards distant. On 20 November at six twenty am the front line erupted in shell fire as British tanks and infantry advanced in clear sight of the 1/5th, who took no part in the attack. On 25 November the Battalion was relieved by the 1/5th South Lancashire Regiment and returned to their former positions at Meath Post and Limerick Post.

At dawn on 30 November the Germans broke through the thinly defended flanks of the Cambrai salient (produced by the successful British attack of 20 November), aided by mist, low flying aircraft and storm troopers, who filtered between the thinly held line of posts and attacked them from the rear. About nine am the support line of Limerick and Meath Posts were hotly engaged, and the 1/10th Liverpool Scottish had been driven out of Kildare Post. The 1/5th were reinforced by the 1/4th King's Own Lancaster's. However, Parr's Bank, to the rear, was taken by the enemy, and the occupants of Meath and Limerick were surrounded. During the days fighting, the survivors concentrated in Limerick Post, and an attempt to relieve it was beaten off by heavy machine gun fire from Parr's Bank. Shortly after five am on 1 December one 120 men of the 1/5th King's Own Lancasters and 1/10th Liverpool Scottish, made good their escape, having surprised the enemy. The 1/5th supported by other elements attempted to retake their former positions during the afternoon of 1 December, but failed, with the result that half the attacking party became casualties. They were relieved that day and returned to billets at Longavesnes Aerodrome. The defence of Limerick Post was mentioned in Sir Douglas Haig's dispatch:

…Limerick Post, garrisoned by troops of the 1/5th Battalion (King's Own) Royal Lancaster regiment and the 1/10th Liverpool Regiment, held out with great gallantry throughout the day, though heavily attacked.

The Official Inquiry into the reverse at Cambrai attempted to lay the blame on poorly trained and motivated troops. But the reasons lay in the failures by Field Marshall Haig to appreciate the value of the tank, and by the commander, General Byng to ensure the reserves necessary were available to exploit the opportunity gained on 20 September. The men and artillery required were stuck in the mud at Passchendaele. Lloyd George, never believed the Cambrai cover up story, and blamed his Commander in Chief for the waste of human life on the Somme and at Ypres. Field Marshall Haig for his part argued that all he could do was provide the plan and prepare thoroughly, which he certainly did. The rest was up to the men on the ground. Unfortunately at Cambrai someone blundered, and it certainly was not the fault of the battle-hardened troops who fought at Ypres and Cambrai.17

The collapse of the Russian war effort in December 1917, released significant numbers of German troops for action on the Western Front and it was fortunate for the Allies that Ludendorf was deprived of his brilliant military adviser Hoffman, who remained on the Russia. Hoffman had devised a strategy of outflanking the opposition in bold sweeping moves, which Ludendorf attempted in the West in 1918, but he failed to exploit the opportunities gained south of the Somme, and wasted time and resources hammering at Western strongpoints, especially at Arras. He also failed to appreciate the significance of the tank as the key to overcoming trench defences, until it was too late. He knew it would be only a matter of time before the arrival of American troops in Europe coincided with a reduction of the pool of recruits from a declining German population. The battle of the Lys, April 1918, was initially designed as a feint to draw British attention away from the effort being made south of the Somme, where German Forces had the opportunity to break through a weakly defended area and encircle the British bastion of Arras. But Ludendorf was afraid of a counter attack and dissipated his resources. The Battle of the Lys developed as a serious attack when Ludendorf found his advance was stagnating against desperate British resistance. A break through the Portugese and British lines in the La Basse Canal Area offered the prize of the capture of Hazebrouk, a vital railway centre which if lost by the British would make the loss of Ypres and it's Salient almost inevitable, and German capture of the Channel Ports probable; thus knocking Britain out of the war. Thus all the might the Germans could muster, fell on the Second Portuguese Division, and their neighbours, the 1/5th King's Own Lancaster's as part of the British 55th Division, at Locon., Le Touret, Festubert and Givenchy. On 9 April the attack opened with high explosives and mustard gas, but the Division magnificently held and completely broke the attack of the Prussian IV Corps. The Germans tried again on 11 April, and managed to break through in some areas but were thrown back by the British 1st Division, which had relieved the battle weary 55th . During the Battle the British withdrew from a large part of the Ypres salient, back to the lines of June 1915, thus sacrificing all of the costly gains made at Passchendaele in 1917. The battle ended on 29 April, with unsuccessful attempts by the Germans to force back the British and French south of Ypres. The Germans gained an advance of some twelve miles at its deepest, along a front of twenty miles, but they had failed to capture the railway line between St Pol and Hazebrouk, and the salient they had just created was to cost them dear in the coming months. 18.

9-15 April 1918.La Basse Sector.

The 1/5th spent the early part of the year 1918, training in the vicinity of Bethune, Northern France. A big German offensive was expected and units rotated as usual from the front line into the reserve. Coming into the line, the Battalion spent one night in Bethune and moved on 8 April to La Tombe Willot, near Locon, about four miles north of Bethune, in the Portuguese area. It was decided that they should take over the southern part of the Portuguese area north of Givenchy and Festubert. This was a new sector for the Battalion and they had no opportunity of doing any reconnaissance before the storm broke. At four am on 8 April, heavy shelling, including gas, was being concentrated on Locon in a very heavy mist, and at seven fifteen am, they moved up to support the Portuguese who were under heavy attack. By ten fifteen am some elements of the Portuguese retreated in disorder through the 1/5th lines but other Portuguese units rallied and joined the Battalion as Headquarters reinforcements. The Battalion was holding a front of about two miles, and a one thousand yard gap had opened to the north of A Company at Le Touret, who were outflanked and overwhelmed on 10 April 'going down fighting'. B Company to the south of them were also over run, but about 35 survivors and the Headquarters Platoon covered the gap and held up the Germans until they were relieved at ten pm on 10 April. From the morning of 8 April until late on 10 April the Battalion had received no artillery support, but they were reinforced by the Seaforths on 9 April and attacks to the south were beaten off where the division still held Givenchy and Festubert, having been driven back about eight hundred yards at Givenchy and three quarters of a mile at Festubert. The collapse of the Portuguese units in front of the 1/5th forced the British line back about four miles, creating a salient. In addition to artillery support arriving on 10 April, the 1st Division filled in the gaps and the line was secured, when the 1/5th were relieved. Major Phillips wrote this testimonial to his men:

The men were wonderful and fought splendidly under conditions very trying to morale, such as an unknown sector, the unfortunate example of the Portuguese, shortage of food, and no artillery support … Their fighting spirit never shone brighter. I lay wounded in a shell hole .. all afternoon and evening of the tenth, and had every opportunity of observation. 19.

The German attacks continued on 11, 12, 13 April, each time being repulsed, but by this time B Company formed a defensive flank on the west side of the Lawe Canal, where another attack was repulsed on 14 April. The 1/5th had arrived back close to where they were at four in the morning of 8 April. They had stopped the German advance in their sector, at a cost of 240 casualties, including 23 killed, 67 wounded, and 150 missing. On the night of 14/15 April the Battalion was relieved by the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers, and 4th Royal Fusiliers. 20.

The Advance 12 September–11 November 1918.

When the 1/5th returned to the Front on 8 September, they found their positions had advanced nearly two miles, and it rapidly became clear that the enemy were withdrawing, setting booby traps and destroying anything of military value as they retreated. Advances met isolated opposition and the enemy made no counter attacks. The biggest hindrance to the advance was the poor state of the roads and Seclin was occupied on 18 October. Two Germans were shot in a raid on 5 November, and a Polish prisoner ran ahead of his captors, only too willing to be captured and willing to give information. Talk of an armistice was in the air on 11 November, but the enemy had been located at Ath and were 'sticking', so the Division was poised to attack at eight am. At 10 am the enemy began to retire and it was reported that the armistice was to begin at eleven am. Peals of bells rang out from the Belgian churches, and the Battalion entered Ath with the band playing the Belgian National Anthem and the Marseillaise. The 1/5th then marched to Brussels, where they were based from17 December to 1 April, when they joined the Army of Occupation in Germany, until they returned from Call, Germany on 3 September. Arriving at the Curragh, Ireland on 7 September they began the demobilisation process, and men not due for demobilisation joined the 1st Battalion in Dublin. A small party of other ranks and officers under Captain Briggs, returned for a civic reception at Lancaster Town Hall on 16 October 1919 as the 1/5th and 2/5th Battalions, King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment were disbanded. 21

Notes & Bibliography

  1. Comments heard before a Lancaster Military Heritage Group lecture on Habbinya, at Alexandra Barracks, Lancaster, 11 November 1982. Hodgkinson A, The King's Own 1/5th Battalion T. F., Lewes 1921, p 11. (hereafter HA). Ascoli D, A Companion to the British Army 1660-1983, London, (1983), pp 68, 69, 138, 115.
  2. I am indebted to Mr Peter Donnelly, King's Own Royal Regiment Museum, Lancaster, for this information, also Steve Irwin, 2000 Remember Fact Sheet, www.cleo.net.uk/content/history/remember.
  3. HA pp 11 – 16; 1914-15. Roll of the 1st/5th Battalion King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, (King's Own Royal Regiment Museum, transcripts), Lancaster, 2002; hereafter 1/5 Roll. 1914-15 Star Medal Roll, King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, ibid, Lancaster, 2003, hereafter S M.; Lancaster Observer 19 March 1915 p 7, cwgc.org website, hereafter cwgc. Privates 2162, William Martindale died on the 26th September 1914, and Private 1091 Walter James, died on the 4th October 1914, both of the 1/5th, serving with the First Battalion. Soldiers Died in The Great War CD Army & Navy Press 2001.
  4. Steve Irwin, 2000 Remember Fact Sheet, HA pp 102-106, J.O. Coop, The Story of the 55th Division, (Liverpool, 1919), pp. 76, 78. E. Wynall, History of the King's Regiment (Liverpool), pp. 546. ff. A.M. Gilchrist, The Liverpool Scottish 1900-1919, (Liverpool, 1930), p.139 ff. J.M. Cowper, The King's Own Story, pp. 191-193.B.R. Mullaly, The South Lancashire Regiment. Prince of Wales Volunteers, Aldershot, (1952), p.551. R. Woolcombe, The First Tank Battle, Cambrai 1917, Aldershot, (1956), pp. 147-149, 178-185, 198-201. W. Moore, A Wood called Bourlon the cover up after Cambrai, 1917, London, (1988), pp. 78, 143-154, 165-200. Soldiers Died in The Great War CD Army & Navy Press 2001; HA pp 125-130
  5. HA p 163
  6. Dancocks Daniel G, Welcome to Flanders Fields, Toronto, (1989), pp 145-6 (hereafter Dan), HA p 19.
  7. Dan pp 149 – 161. Hawkings F From Ypres to Cambrai, (Ed.A Taylor) (hereafter Hawkings), Morley, Yorks, 1974, pp 49 – 51.
  8. Dan passim, HA pp 21 - 31
  9. HA p. 22
  10. HA pp 23 – 24 Colonel Lord Richard Cavendish's account.
  11. Dan pp 198-201; HA pp 24, 26, 167; Lancaster Observer 7/5/15 p 8, 14/5/15 p.3, 21/5/15 p 10, 18/6/15 p.5, 12/11/15 p.8, Hawkings pp 53,54. HA pp 29 –32. See also Dancocks D G, Gallant Canadians, The Story of The Tenth Canadian Infantry Battalion, Calgary, (1990), pp 22-43.
  12. H A pp 33-37; J M Cowper, The King's Own Story, Vol 3, Harmondsworth (1957), p. 59, 2nd Battalion, King's Own Lancaster Regiment 'War Diary', 9 May, 1915, 'Lancaster Guardian', 22/5/15, p.8, & 5/6/15 p. 5; 'Lancaster Observer & Morecambe Chronicle', 13/8/15, p. 5; J E Edmonds, Military Operations France and Belgium, Vol. 3, London, (1927), pp. 310-359. NB The Author's grandfather died with the 2nd Battalion at Frezenberg on the 8th of May. One of the wounded, he was finished off with gas. His brother–in-law served with the Tenth Canadian Infantry Battalion, and died of wounds incurred at Vimy Ridge on 9, April,1917. Also, the grandfather of the author's wife died with the 1/5th near Meath or Limerick Posts, Epehy on 30/11/17, see below.
  13. Macdonald L, Somme, Houndsworth, (1993) pp 213-216; Soldiers Died in the Great War CD; HA pp 60 – 68.
  14. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol 23, pp 910,911, London (1959). , HA, pp 72-118.
  15. HA pp 90 – 101
  16. Ibid pp 102-107

HA pp 107-113, J.O. Coop, The Story of the 55th Division, (Liverpool, 1919), pp. 76, 78. E. Wynall, History of the King's Regiment (Liverpool), pp. 546. ff. A.M. Gilchrist, The Liverpool Scottish 1900-1919, (Liverpool, 1930), p.139 ff. J.M. Cowper, The King's Own Story, pp. 191-193.B.R. Mullaly, The South Lancashire Regiment. Prince of Wales Volunteers, Aldershot, (1952), p.551. R. Woolcombe, The First Tank Battle, Cambrai 1917, Aldershot, (1956), pp. 147-149, 178-185,

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