1st Gloucestershire Regiment – 20th – 23rd October 1914

The following account is based on the Regimental History The Gloucestershire Regiment in the War 1914 – 1918 by Everard Wyrall published in 1931.

On the evening of the 19th of October 1915, Sir John French, the commander-in-chief of the British Expeditionary Force, ordered and attack eastwards from Ypres towards Roulers-Thourout and Ghistilles in order to break the enemy’s front and sepatae the IIIrd German Reserve Corps from the main German forces. Unfortunately he did not realise that the IIIrd German Reserve Corps was acting as a screen for a new German Army – the Fourth – that had similar plans to break the through the line held by Belgian forces between the British and the sea.

On 20th October, the 1st Gloucestershire billeted behind the line at Poperinghe, fresh from the victory of the Battle of the Aisne further south. The country could not have been more different, from the valleys and hills of the Aisne, with thickly wooded slopes, to the the low lying country around Ypres. At 1.45 am on the 21st, The Ist Corps, to which the 1st Gloucestershire were ordered to advance along the Ypres-Passhendaele-Roulers road and “to attack the enemy wherever met.” The battalion as part of 3rd Brigade were to act as advance guard to the 1st Division and to attack Langemarck. In the daylight it was obvious that the enemy were holding Poelcappelle and the Queens Regiment and South Wales Bordered held the line, with the 1st Gloucestershire in reserve. The Queens and the SWB advanced, but French cavalry on the left were driven back and the Gloucestershire protected the exposed flank and occupied Langemarck railway station.

From these positions, the men of the 1st Gloucestershire repelled an attack from the enemy around midday, and held the line through heavy rifle and shell fire. However, the French Cavalry continued to fall back exposing the flank of the battalion. The Machine-Gun Section was dispatched to cover this left flank, but with the development of another attack about 2pm, matters took a turn for the worse with both flanks becoming threatened. Another hostile attack was checked at 4pm and the enemy fire slackened. This position was held until midnight when, under orders, the Battalion withdrew to the farm south-west of Langemarck.

As a result of the fighting on the 21st the German advance had been stemmed, but the British attacks on Poelcapelle and Passchendaele had failed, through sufficient ground had been gained to enable the 3rd Brigade and 2nd Division to hold Langemarck and Zonnebeke securely – no mean achivement in the face of the great superioirty of the enemy in numbers and artillery, for the attacks of the new Fourth German Army had begun.

The 22nd October was comparatively quiet, but on 23rd two platoons of the A Company were sent up to the northern outskirts of Langemarck in close support of the Welsh Regiment. They were used to plug a gap left of the Welsh Regiment and the right of the Coldstream Guards.

At 7.30 am German columns were pbserved advancing from Koekuit. During the advance there were covered by their guns, which opened heavy fire on Langemarck and on the trenches in fron of the village. About 9 am, however, having fired a farm and hay-stacks on the southern banks, about 400 yards from the British line, they advanced under cover of the smoke. A party of the enemy also tried to advance down the road: they were led by a man carrying a flag. The latter was soon shot down and the party driven back. Covered by heavy machine-gun fire the enemy advanced to within 200 yards of the British trenches and then crawled through a root field to witin 100 yards. Here they tried to build up a firing-line.

The German machine-gun was soon put out of action by the Gloucestershire, but Captain Rising, seeing how serious the situation was becoming, went back for supports and succeeded in diverting No 15 Platoon, under Lieutenant Yalland, which was moving up with the rest of D Company to assist the Welsh regiment farther to the right. With these men he was able to strengthen the line on the left of the road.

Suddenly the situation became critical. In front of the Coldstream Guards there was a ditch leading up from the Kortebeek, undiscovered in the darkness by the relieving company. Along this covered approach the Germans had been creeping forward: there was a sudden rush and the Guards were taken in rear and flank. The Guards, however, manayed to fall back some 200 yards to a fresh position in a turnip field. Here, greatly assisted by th three platoons of Glosters under Captain Rising, they held on.

The Gloucestershire platoons, exposed on one flank, were attacked again and agian, but beat off every fresh attempt. Lieutenants Hippisley and Yalland fell dead, and Lieutenant Baxter was seriously wounded. The casualties among the other ranks of the pltoons were severe.

Having tries in vein to overwhelm the Glouctesreshire, the enemy at about 1 pm gradually drew off, covered by his artillery, and by 3.30pm, but for hostile shell-fire, there wa no further activity on this sector of the front.

In addition to the officers mentioned, the losses of the 1st Battalion in this attack and defence were: A Company – 2 N.C.O.s and 7 men killed, and 2 N.C.O.s and 22 men wounded; D Company – 2 N.C.O.s and 4 men killed and 3 N.C.O.s and 9 men wounded – a total of 3 officers and 51 ranks out of three platoons already involved in the previous fighting. B and C Companies lost 4 men each.

But for the splendid resistance of the two platoons of A and one platoon of D Company, the enemy might have broken through.

Captain R. E. Rising, who commanded the three platoons was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. Lieutenant Bater was awarded the Military Cross and Sgts Eddy and Knight and Ptes Crossman and Wilson were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

The next day over 1500 bodies of German troops were counted in front of Langemarch, and including 600 prisoners, it is likely that the enemys total loss in that sector for three days fighting was around 10,000 killed, wounded or prisoner.

“For the time beign, any further thought of a breakthrough,” states the German official account, “was out of the question”. The action underlined the professional competence of the British Expeditionary Force having prevailed against overwheming numbers.

Everard, W The Gloucestershire Regiment in the War 1914 – 1918 London 1931.