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Battle of Loos

Posted By on September 18, 2023

German field gun captured at Loos. (Postcard image by St. Andrew's Service)

German field gun captured at Loos.
(Postcard image by St. Andrew’s Service)

War and War Trophies

Prior to the attack 533 British guns fired more than 250,000 shells during a four-day bombardment commencing 21 September 1915. At the time, the engagement was the largest Great War British offensive. The battle also marked the first use of gas by the British Army. Specialized units of the Royal Engineers released chlorine gas one hour prior to the assault. Weather was, however, not accommodating and gas blew back towards the British lines as well as settling in no-man’s land where the gas created considerable confusion.

The offensive proved that the German lines could be penetrated however the ability of the British Army to exploit attacks into major successes proved difficult. In the future to achieve success heavier bombardments would be required as well as more ammunition and better communications. More than 50,000 British soldiers became casualties at Loos. German losses were about half the British total.

Twenty-one Victoria Crosses were awarded for actions during the battle, including Piper Daniel Laidlaw (King’s Own Scottish Borderers), George Maling (Royal Army Medical Corps) and Kulbir Thapa (2nd Battalion, 3rd Queen Alexandra’s Own Gurkha Rifles.

Captured German guns from the Battle of Loos 25 September – 8 October 1915 were sent to England where some were publicly displayed in Horse Guards Parade near to Trafalgar Square. These events, exhibiting captured enemy equipment, were popular with the public and continued throughout the Great War. Many of the captured guns were later distributed to communities where they were displayed as trophies of war. In Canada two fields guns remain on exhibit in Esquimalt Memorial Park, British Columbia. Guns such as these are rare survivors as many of these community souvenirs were scraped during the Second World War to produce metals required for the war effort. The 77 mm field gun, shown in the postcard, was captured by the 19th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment.

Captured German Guns on Show – London (1914-1918). British Pathe.

Back to the Somme: Part 6

Posted By on August 31, 2023

Walking the Mill Road, Somme, France. (P. Ferguson image, April 2007)

Walking the Mill Road, Somme, France.
(P. Ferguson image, April 2007)

Delicate Hope

Its been a long while…our last visit to the Somme.

This day we end our Somme series (for the time being)…no doubt there will be a return. The last actual walk was August 2018 – a drive from Ypres to the Somme with friends and family…Rosemary…at long last has learned why this ground continues to provide reflection for her other half.

Rosemary knows me well – of my struggle to recognize the peace in this beleaguered ground I walk. I search the conflict in the peace as well as peace in the conflict. Subtle differences these words. Close together – contrasting effect.

It is this juxtaposition of words that guides each step, a slight jog to the left or right. There are smaller things to find. A new path to take. Not just the fields of lives too short, markers of too few words, or memorial sites too small for the lives they embrace and yet too large a record of stories lost somewhere deep within their engravings. While here within the conflict we find the peace – a flower bloom across the field – cornstalks rising skyward. It is more than the shards and stonework of the Great War. Delicate hope for this tortured ground…and peace in the conflict.

Back to the Somme: Part 5

Posted By on July 30, 2023

Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial. (P. Ferguson image, September 2017)

Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2017)

Remembrance on the Somme

A visit to the Commonwealth War Graves website begins Close to 150,000 Commonwealth casualties are buried in close to 350 sites on the Somme. They range from large cemeteries with thousands of graves to individual graves in churchyards and burial grounds.

There are eight memorials to the missing of the Battle of the Somme including Beaumont-Hamel. I have visited Beaumont-Hamel at times but on this one occasion in 2017 more poignant knowing I came to fulfill a family request to picture from one panel – two names who remain somewhere in France.

This was the most recent visit but an earlier visit in 2006 was equally poignant as I heard from one fellow interested in the Devonshire Regiment and their thoughtful encounter with this place of memory…the Devonshire Cemetery..and its memorial tablet…

Devonshire Cemetery Tablet, Somme, France. (P. Ferguson image, September 2006)

Devonshire Cemetery Tablet, Somme, France.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2006)

The Inscription

The Devonshires Held This Trench
The Devonshires Hold It Still

1st July 1916
The 8th and 9th Devons
Suffered Very Heavy Casualties
As They Left Their Forward
Trench to Attack

Later That Day
The Survivors Buried Their Fallen
Comrades In That Same Trench
And Erected A Wooden Memorial
With The Words Which Are
Carved In The Cross Above

Semper Fidelis

Back to the Somme: Part 4

Posted By on June 30, 2023

Lochnagar Crater, South of La Boiselle, Somme, France. (P. Ferguson image, September 2010)

Lochnagar Crater, South of La Boiselle, Somme, France.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2010)

The Mines

On the first day of the Battle of the Somme (1 July 1916), 19 mines were detonated. Eight large and eleven smaller charges prepared by tunneling units of the British Army exploded on the German frontline. Both the mines at Lochnagar (detonated at 7:28 AM) and Hawthorn Ridge (detonated at 7:20 AM) were, at the time, the largest mines ever detonated. Both craters remain intact.

The Lochnagar mine was privately purchased by Richard Dunning in 1974 and preserved by the Lochnagar Crater Association. At the time, Lochnagar Crater was in danger of being filled in. Y Sap mine, at Picardy, also detonated 1 July 1916 was filled in 1974 and is now no longer visible.

The famous mine crater at Hawthorn Ridge is well known as its detonation was filmed by Geoffrey Malins and John McDowell. In 2018 the crater site was leased from its owner by the Hawthorn Ridge Crater Association.

I have managed to visit both sites and was especially interested to arrive at Lochnagar when a number of students arrive which provided a reflection of magnitude based upon the size of the visitors to the depth of the crater. Lochnagar is the site of several commemorations and one is able to walk a path around its edges. At Hawthorn Ridge I was pleased to stand at the camera site of Malins and McDowell. For an in depth view of the work of the Hawthorn Crater Association visit their website. I look forward to a return to both sites.

Back to the Somme: Part 3

Posted By on May 30, 2023

Light gauge railways delivered ammunition to the frontlines. (Imperial War Museum image)

Light gauge railways delivered ammunition to the frontlines.
(Imperial War Museum image)

The Artillery Barrage

Light gauge railways delivered ammunition to the frontline. Prior to the attack on 1 July 1916 a seven-day barrage fired 1.5 million shells. Of these it is estimated 1/3 of them were duds. The Canadian Expeditionary Force’s battalions took part in the Battle of the Somme but much later than the events of July 1916. However, Canadian gunners took part in the barrage 16 July 1916 at Thiepval.

Ordnance on exhibition at Ulster tower. (P. Ferguson image, April 2007)

Ordnance on exhibition at Ulster tower.
(P. Ferguson image, April 2007)

Ordnance on the Somme continues to be encountered. Found in the furrows of farmer’s fields or haphazardly torn from the earth to the surface. Today’s bounty competes for attention amidst the rusted iron shards and unexploded charges. The plough wrenches these iron harvests and after years underground the inedible harvest is despatched for destruction by Ordnance experts. Others, the duds, the unfired rendered inert find their place in exhibitions of the Great War. There appears to be an appetite for destruction – not lost to this wanderer.

German concrete fortification. (Imperial War Museum image)

German concrete fortification on the Somme.
(Imperial War Museum image)

Bombardments, the barrage, often failed to cut the wire which in many locations was 20 yards deep necessitating the use of wire cutters to individually cut through single strands of wire so the infantry could advance. Barrages seldom destroyed the deep German dugouts some of which were 40’ deep cut into the chalk landscape. Similarly German concrete fortifications and gun positions were able to withstand this iron battering. Despite the onslaught of artillery against their enemy, British and allied forces were faced with the daunting task of taking well established enemy positions.