Loos - September 25th 1915.
HOW THE LONDON IRISH SAVED AN ARMY CORPS.
New Regiment’s Glorious Rush and Stand at Battle of Loos.
FOOTBALL DRIBBLED INTO ENEMY TRENCH.
One of the most stirring stories of British grit and courage in the present war is undoubtedly that of the charge of the London Irish Rifles in the attack upon Loos. Some of them actually played football right up to the German trenches; but this was only one of a thousand acts of cool dare-devilry that marked a day which, according to Brigadier - General Thwaites, witnessed “one of the finest actions of the war.” Indeed, one of the men’s letters from the front quotes Major-General Barter as saying that at one moment in the struggle it was not too much to say that one regiment, the 18th London, known as the London Irish, actually was instrumental in saving a whole army corps.
The following narrative by one of the wounded, now lying in a London hospital, which gives for the first time the story of the regiment’s great charged and equally, great stand against hordes after that, is of peculiar interest at a moment when a special appeal is being made for 500 more recruits for the regiment.
SW Jones, A Loos Survivor.
I joined up on August 6th 1914 and was soon training at St Alban's, then off to France on March 9th. At Festubert, I had a bullet through my cap just above the badge. Keeping up a covering fire one afternoon, Rfn Haslar was head and shoulders above the parapet, saying the Lord will protect me, but the Lord evidently didn't hear him because a sniper took took him.
Harry Tyers recalls Loos.
Sergeant Harry Tyers would not have been permitted to keep a diary during the war years, but in April 1933, he wrote an account of his experiences in an excellent hand written document. Harry was better known by all his comrades for his expertly drawn cartoons of life in the trenches, many of which are preserved in the Regimental Museum. The article below is an extract from his diary...
"On the morning of 22nd September 1915, the officers and NCOs visited the Brigadier’s observation station, a house thickly sandbagged at Maroc, from which a splendid view of the country was observed. Every part of the ground over which we would have to attack was committed to memory: house, barn, strong points etc from where fierce resistance was to be expected was made the object of special attention. In front of my platoon frontage was a house where some cross roads met, pointed on the map as Valley Cross Roads. This was known to be heavily fortified with machine guns and from our point of vantage, looked a formidable place.
At night, everyone was busily engaged on some secret work, ie carrying to the advanced line, huge cylinders of gas to be used against our amiable friends. Everything was done methodically, not a detail being overlooked and we worked very hard to have everything ready for the great day. I might here mention that it was the first time the British used gas cylinders – before, it was rather a mystery as to what the heavy iron vessels contained, especially as the word ‘gas’ was never used, but was known under the name of ‘stout’.
My Battle of Loos - EJ Andrews.
During the day of the 24th September 2015, our Brigade Bombing Officer met me and the NCOs of my platoon and arranged the general scheme of the Bombers, in which I was detailed with one fourth of the Platoon to attack the most difficult proposition facing us - the Loos Cemetery; to gain and bomb the Bosche's trench as far as this cemetery, where machine guns were known to be in strength, and to bomb them out of it.
Lieutenant Hone at Vimy.
At the outbreak of the First World War, Major General Sir Henry Ralph Hone was studying and intending to become a civil servant, but like so many others at that time he put his civilian life on hold. He joined the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps before being commissioned into the London Irish Rifles (1 LIR) on 15th July 1915., and was then posted as a Second Lieutenant to the 1st Battalion (1 LIR) and served with them in 1916 near to Vimy Ridge. There, the heavy and sustained rain made the trenches waterlogged, and he contracted acute trench fever and impetigo.
In the narratives below, Major General Hone recalled his time spent with the London Irish Rifles during 1916.
High Wood - September 15th 1916.
Bois de Fourceaux, better known as High Wood, was lightly held in the middle of July 1916 by enemy who had been driven out of Bazentin le Petit. It was thought that here was an opportunity to occupy a key enemy position without huge loss of life. Also there was an opportunity to use l’Arme Blanche – the Cavalry – who had been kicking their heels since August 1914. Unfortunately, before the Deccan Horse and the 7th Dragoon Guards could be deployed, the Germans had reinforced the Wood. The cavalry galloping up, what would come to be known as Caterpillar Valley, were cut to pieces by machine guns. The survivors rode into High Wood killing infantry and machine gunners with their lances. They held their positions through the night. Unfortunately they were not reinforced. Eventually a Brigade of 33rd Division fought their way into the Wood, dug in and waited for the inevitable counter attack.
Orders came through that the Division would change the axis of advance to the North and, with High Wood on the right, advance towards Martinpuich. Brigadier General Baird knew that this would lay the Division open to enfilading fire from the enemy in High Wood. As a compromise he was allowed to leave a small force: three platoons of Glasgow Highlanders and ‘A’ Company of the 16th KRRC to keep the enemy in the Wood occupied. This they did most valiantly, but were eventually forced to retire. ‘A’ Company lost all its officers, all its senior NCOs, all its full corporals. It was left to L/Cpl Herbert King, the senior L/Cpl, to rally the 65 survivors of ‘A’ Company and bring them out. The fate of the Glasgow Highlanders is not recorded The date was 15th July. It would be exactly two months to the day, before High Wood would be taken.
In the Line - October 1916 to April 1917.
Nigel Wilkinson describes six months in the life of the First Battalion:
IN THE build up to the 100th Anniversary of the start of the Great War, the media has understandably concentrated its attention on the PBI (poor bloody infantryman) who spent his time going 'over the top' against the machine guns of an entrenched and invulnerable enemy and after a succession of expensive defeats finally won the last battle in 1918. This view is naive, as it ignores the heavy casualties suffered by artillerymen, sappers and the men of the transport columns. Fortunately set-piece battles took time to plan and so were comparatively rare. Our armies and those of our allies spent the lengthy periods between battles just holding the line, which entailed living in the squalor of water-logged trenches in all kinds of weather, patrolling in no-man's-land and at the instigation of the Staff, carrying out 'raids' to obtain information and prisoners. The rate of attrition in the trenches varied depending whether the sector was a quiet one or not. It would not be uncommon for twelve or so unfortunates to fall to a sniper, a shell, sickness or mortar bomb in the course of a month on the Western Front. I hope what follows gives you an inkling of how boring and uncomfortable life was in the line for the average Tommy in the 'Salient'.
Sergeant Wallin with the 2nd Battalion in France and Palestine.
Sgt H C G Wallin of C Company, 2nd Battalion, London Irish Rifles recounts his incredible time with the Regiment spanning two historic theatres of war.
"MY STORY starts in 1912, when I joined the 1st Battalion, Queen Victoria Rifles (QVRs) as a Territorial. When war was declared in August 1914, I had reached the rank of LCpl, which then felt quite exalted.
When the QVRs were sent to France, I was in a party of NCOs left behind to form the nucleus of a new Provisional Battalion but, when this job was done, I was surplus to requirements and posted to the 2nd Battalion, London Irish Rifles. I consider this to have been a very lucky move for me, as I could never have wished to join a finer bunch of men to call comrades-in-arms. I can barely remember our training at Sutton Vent, from where we were transported, on June 23rd, 1916, to Southampton and then on to Le Havre. Almost at once we were then taken straight up to the front line at Neuville St Vaast, arriving there seven days after leaving Blighty.
Our first spell of duty - comprised eight days Front Line, followed by eight days Support Line, then another eight days Front Line - a baptism of fire lasting twenty-four days, during which we were not allowed to ‘drum up’ (brew some tea), even in the deepest dugout. We were subject to continuous “Minnie” and Rifle Grenade fire, with no hot food or drink. Also, there was the unnerving rumbling of miners under our feet, never knowing if the bumps were being made by our miners or the enemy’s, nor when the explosion was due. I was soon convinced that this war business was no picnic.
Harry Tyers at Ytres, March 1918.
It was fortunate that the day the long awaited offensive started on March 21st 1918, the weakened 2nd Division was replaced by a trained counter-attack Division, the 47th (London) TF, veterans of Loos, High Wood and Ypres. The handover between the two divisions was actually in progress when the enemy bombardment started. The London Irish were in the line at the La Vacquerie Sector. Their CO was Lt Col G H Neeley DSO MC, who had taken over in December. In the early hours of 21st March, the Battalion’s ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies in the front line trenches came under heavy shell and gas attack.