This is the story of my Great Uncle, Arthur James Sear, who was born on August 4th 1895 in Islington, London. He was the son of Joseph Sear, a hackney carriage driver and groom, and his wife Annie Sophia. He had one older brother, Joseph Henry, known as Joe, born on October 29th 1889, and an older sister Annie, my grandmother, born on 18th October 1891.
By March 1901 the family were living at 31 Goodinge Road, Islington. Joe, Annie and Arthur were baptised together at St Luke’s West Holloway on March 29th 1901, along with five children of the Godman family, who were neighbours and cousins of the Sear children.
Arthur’s little sister, Helen, was born in 1906. Helen always admitted to being her Dad’s and her brothers’ pride and joy. By April 1911 the family had moved along the Goodinge Road to a three room home at number 16. Arthur’s father Joseph was at that time unemployed. Twenty one year old Joe was working as a canvasser for a coal company. Fifteen year old Arthur was a drawing office clerk for an arc lamp maker. Little Helen was now five years old.
Both Joe and Arthur were either in the Church Lads Brigade (plaque) or the London Diocesan Church Lads Brigade (CWGC). In 1911 the CLB and the LDCLB joined the Territorial Cadet Force and were part of the military set-up of the country prior to the War. Prior to WW1 the London Diocesan CLB had approx 180 companies in 24 battalions with 7,000 members. They went to Eastbourne Redoubt each year for their Annual Camp. As for the Church Lads’ Brigade, at around 1914 there would have been about 8,000 members (aged 13 to 20) in the London Area in about 16 Battalions. It is estimated that around 50,000 Church Lads’ Brigade lads served in the First World War. The LDCLB became the Church Cadet Brigade for the Diocese of London in 1918. In 1919, it amalgamated with the Church Lads Brigade and became the Church Lads Brigade, London Division. There is a Church Lads’ and Church Girls’ Brigade Memorial Garden next to the south wall of the Millennium Chapel of Peace and Forgiveness at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.
Arthur was either a Staff Serjeant (plaque) or Lance Serjeant (CWGC) in the Brigade. Most Brigades held a monthly parade through the parish, and it was probably on these occasions that Helen, who adored both her brothers, would rush to see them as they marched by. Arthur may have been a drummer or a bugler (both seem to have carried the rank of drummer). The lads were ideal recruits, being trained in shooting, marching, camping, signalling, bugle bands, and first aid. They were also used to being smartly turned out and taking orders.
Arthur turned 19 on the day war was declared. He probably joined up during the first two or three weeks of the war, even perhaps on the first day. His regimental number, 1964, confirms that he must have enlisted between 3rd May 1914 and 4th September 1914. He joined the 3rd (City of London) Battalion of the London Regiment. The 3rd Londons were a unit of the Territorial Force with their HQ at 21 Edward Street, St Pancras. Edward Street was renamed Varndell Street in 1938, and the site is now occupied by a block of flats named Staveley.
In The Fighting Territorials, Percy Hurd writes:
In old Volunteer days the 3rd London was known as the 3rd Volunteer Battalion (Royal Fusiliers). It was raised in 1859, and for many years had its headquarters in Edward Street. In 1911, when the old Paddington Rifles were disbanded, the 3rd Battalion London Regiment — as the regiment became on the introduction of the Territorial Force — took over their premises in Harrow Road. These were rebuilt and completed in September 1914. In the South African War the 3rd provided a Service Company for the Royal Fusiliers.
When the Great War broke out the 3rd were mobilized before any other London regiment. On August 3, 1914, they were at full strength, and over 95 per cent of the men had volunteered for foreign service. They were soon dispatched to Malta until early in January 1915, when they were relieved by the 2nd Battalion, and were dispatched to Marseilles, whence they proceeded to Etaples and thence to the trenches at the Indian village where they held the trenches for eight days. They were brigaded with the Garhwal Brigade of the Meerut Division with the 2nd Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment, and more Indian regiments.
The story of Arthur Joseph John Paul Agius (told by a family member at http://agiusww1.webplus.net/arthur.html) records:
At the start of August 1914 Arthur and his fellow Territorials were busy preparing for their annual summer training camp. Overnight they were mobilised, and by 3rd August found themselves, with the 1/3rd Battalion, guarding a section of the Basingstoke to Eastleigh railway line. The ladies’ first class cloakroom on the main Winchester Station platform became Arthur’s HQ, and the senior Officers messed in the nearby Eagle Hotel – a dreadful place according to Arthur!
The 3rd Londons were embodied for war service on August 3rd 1914. Arthur was initially given the rank of Private, but was later promoted to Drummer (one rank above).
The regiment was mobilised for full time war service on August 5th 1914 and was sent to guard the Basingstoke-Eastleigh railway. They soon began to prepare for service overseas.
The London Division was broken up, being sent to provide reinforcements where needed. On September 4th 1914 the 3rd Londons were posted to Malta to man the garrison. Arthur was probably with them. The 3rd Londons sailed from Southampton with the 1st London Infantry Brigade. They arrived in Valetta on September 14th. In the photograph we have of Arthur he has a pith helmet at his side, which was standard issue for service in Malta.
The story of Arthur Joseph John Paul Agius (told by a family member at http://agiusww1.webplus.net/arthur.html) records:
In September the Battalion sailed from Southampton, bound for Malta. They were based in and around Imtarfa Barracks until the beginning of January 1915. This was their first overseas posting – the Territorials were to relieve the regular British Army troops (for active service elsewhere) and continue with basic training.
They were not to remain there long. On January 2nd 1915 they sailed for Marseilles to see active service on the Western Front. The story of Arthur Joseph John Paul Agius (told by a family member at http://agiusww1.webplus.net/arthur.html) records:
The 1/3rd Battalion sailed from Malta on 2nd January 1915 in the RMSP “Avon”. They arrived safely at Marseilles on 5th and finally reached Etaples Camp in the north of France around the 9th after what seemed like an endless train journey across the country. On 26th January the Territorials transferred to billets at Tatinghem, near St Omer, to complete their training.
Arthur Aguis’s story indicates that service wives and family members based in Malta left very soon after the 3rd Londons, following in their path, travelling first by boat to Marseilles, and then by train across France to a channel port. It seems extraordinary that at this time they could travel all this way in relative safety.
Arthur Sear’s medal card confirms that he arrived in France on 6th January 1915.
Soon after their arrival, on February 10th 1915, the 3rd Londons joined the Gharwal Brigade, 7th (Meerut) Division. One source says that a week later, on February 17th 1915, they transferred to the Dehra Dun Brigade in the same Division, but I cannot corroborate that). The Gharwal Brigade comprised:
- 2nd Bn. Leicestershire Regiment
- 1/3rd Bn. London Regiment (Territorial Force)
- 39th Garhwal Rifles
- 2nd Bn. 3rd Gurkha Rifles
- 2nd Bn. 8th Gurkha Rifles
Major Charles Blackader was promoted to major in September 1904, and left for India a few months later to join the regular 1st Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment. Shortly after his arrival, he was appointed to command the cantonment at the Purandhar Sanatorium, his fourth administrative posting in five years. He returned to England with the battalion at the end of 1906, when it moved into camp at Shorncliffe. Wikipedia continues:
Wikipedia tells us:
In August 1914, on the outbreak of the First World War, Blackader was in India, commanding the 2nd Battalion of the Leicesters, which was mobilised for service as part of the Garhwal Brigade of the 7th (Meerut) Division. The division was sent to France as part of Indian Expeditionary Force A, seeing its first action in the trenches on 29 October. On 19 December a force under Blackader’s command staged a successful attack on the German trenches, though the attack was overshadowed by the beginning of the German attack on Givenchy the following day, through which the Leicesters remained in reserve. Brigadier Keary, commanding the Garhwals, was promoted to command the Lahore Division in January 1915, and on 8 January Blackader was given the temporary rank of Brigadier-General, assuming command of the Garhwal Brigade in his stead.
The Garhwals led the first wave of the Indian Corps’ attack at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle on 10 March, Three of the attacking battalions reached their objectives, but one was delayed by strong resistance; after clearing the last German trenches, the brigade halted to let the second wave pass through. In the attack, two men were awarded the Victoria Cross, and nine the Indian Order of Merit, and Blackader was commended by his corps commander, General Willcocks, who wrote that “I had learned to respect him and to trust in his judgement. The manner in which he handled his brigade at Neuve Chapelle was good to see, and his report … is written as brave and modest men write”. His force had taken heavy losses, however; the trailing battalion on the flank, the 2/39th Garhwal Rifles, lost over half its men and all its officers. The brigade repulsed a heavy attack on the morning of 12 March, but settled into a relatively static position thereafter.
The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War by H C O’Neill tells the story of the 3rd Londons:
Neuve Chapelle. — The 3rd Londons had reached France in January, and on February 17th found themselves with the Garhwal Brigade of the Meerut Division at Vieille Chapelle.
From March 10th to 13th 1915 the Division fought in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War by H C O’Neill continues:
They were the only Fusilier battalion to be engaged in the operations against and around Neuve Chapelle. On March 10th they supported the advance of the 2nd Leinsters in the Meerut Division’s attack on the south of the village.
A deviation of 1/39th Garhwal Rifles to the right caused that regiment to encounter the enemy’s line beyond the part where the wire had been destroyed by our artillery fire, and in this fashion a gap of some 200 yards was left unaccounted for, with the result that the Germans with the aid of machine guns maintained a steady resistance at this point, which was finally reduced about 6 o’clock in the evening.
The way in which that point was won will not easily be forgotten by the 3rd Londons. The battalion were in brigade reserve, and by 3.30 a.m. had taken up position behind a long breastwork, in the rear of the trenches along the Estaires-La Bassee road. The country still looked beautiful as the day broke. It was snowing a little, but the fearful din of the bombardment put every other thought out of the heads of these young soldiers as they lay huddled up behind their sandbags for their first battle experience. The roars and barks of the guns were accompanied by the easily distinguishable ping of the bullets. At 8.5 a.m. the infantry advanced and the 3rd Londons moved up to the forward trenches to take their place. Two companies went forward to support the left of the attack, and the other two proceeded to a circular breastwork, on the right of the trench line, known as “Port Arthur”.
It was about 8.30 am that the first two companies advanced with the 1st Seaforths and a company of the Garhwal Rifles to support the left flank. A Company was ordered to take a house at the corner of the village, which was reported to have a garrison of about twelve Germans. The order was given to charge and the men at once came under a terrible fire. There were, in fact, almost a complete company of Germans well provided with machine guns. Captain Pulman fell almost at once with about ten or a dozen men. There was a momentary hesitation in the rest of the company. Lieutenant Mathieson, one of the gayest and best beloved of their officers, then pushed forward, shouting, with his infectious smile, “Come on, boys; don’t be shy!” Few, except those in his immediate neighbourhood could hear him. But they saw the gesture and sprang forward. In a few seconds he fell, shot through the head, and died almost immediately. They lost indeed terribly, but somehow they won through and helped on the battle a little.
The other two companies remained in “Port Arthur”, the ruined part-skeleton of some farm building, buttressed with walls of earth and sandbags, with machine guns mounted upon them. At 2 p.m. only one officer had escaped in A Company; and at 5 p.m. the order came that this obdurate German trench that made a gap in the line must be taken. The men climbed over the breastwork in full view of the enemy to cross some 200 yards of open country, pitted by shells and strewn with dead, in a frontal charge on the German position. With bayonets at the charge they rushed across the open, cheering as they went.
Lieutenant Crichton was one of the first in the open and, stepping in front of his platoon, he cried, “Follow me”. He fell after a few yards, shot in the leg. One or two men ran to help him, but he struggled to his feet and, shouting “Charge!” went on again. He was wounded again, this time mortally. Half the men who went across that space became casualties. Men fell on all sides, but the charge continued, and at length they rushed the German trench and the gap was healed. “It was the finest charge I ever saw”, said an Indian officer. After the charge the wounded trickled back to “Port Arthur”, where the colonel and another officer attended to them. One of these wounded boys said to his officer with a smile, “They can’t call us Saturday night soldiers now, can they, sir?”
Captains Livingston and Moore remained in the captured position for four days, and had to repel a German counter-attack. It was during this period that Acting Serjeant W Allen won the DCM. He was out on a reconnoitring patrol on the night of March 13th and discovered three small bridges laid down by the enemy for their advance. These he removed, which caused the Germans to be held up in their counter-attack, when they were met by machine guns. This action was a splendid opening of the Londons’ fighting. The 3rd Londons lost 8 officers and 340 other ranks, but they had won their spurs.
A general description of the 3rd London’s role is given by Arthur Conan Doyle in “The British Campaign in France and Flanders 1915”:
Whilst the British brigades had been making this gallant advance upon the left the Indians had dashed forward with equal fire and zeal upon the right. It was their first real chance of attack upon a large scale, and they rose grandly to the occasion. The Garhwali Brigade attacked upon the left of the Indian line, with the Dehra Duns (Jacob) upon their right, and the Bareillys (Southey) in support, all being of the Meerut Division. The Garhwalis, consisting of men from the mountains of Northern India, advanced with reckless courage, the 39th Regiment upon the left, the 3rd Gurkhas in the centre, the 2nd Leicesters upon the right, while the 8th Gurkhas, together with the 3rd London Territorials and the second battalion of the Garhwalis, were in support. Part of the front was still covered with wire, and the Garhwalis were held up for a time, but the Leicesters, on their right, smashed a way through all obstacles. Their Indian comrades endured the loss of 20 officers and 350 men, but nonetheless they persevered, finally swerving to the right and finding a gap which brought them through. The Gurkhas, however, had passed them, the agile little men slipping under, over, or through the tangled wire in a wonderful fashion. The 3rd Londons closely followed the Leicesters, and were heavily engaged for some hours in forcing a stronghold on the right flank, held by 70 Germans with machine-guns. They lost 2 officers, Captain Pulman and Lieutenant Mathieson, and 50 men of A Company, but stuck to their task, and eventually, with the help of a gun overcame the resistance, taking 50 prisoners. The battalion lost 200 men and did very fine work.
Gradually the Territorials were winning their place and in the Army. “They can’t call us Saturday night soldiers now,” said a dying lad of the 3rd Londons; and he spoke for the whole force who have endured perverse criticism for so long.
The moment that the infantry advance upon the trenches had begun, the British guns were turned upon the village itself. Supported by their fire, as already described, the victorious Indians from the south and the 25th Brigade from the west rushed into the streets and took possession of the ruins which flanked them, advancing with an ardour which brought them occasionally into the zone of fire from their own guns. By twelve o’clock the whole position, trenches, village, and detached houses, had been carried, while the artillery had lengthened its range and rained shrapnel upon the ground over which reinforcements must advance. The Rifles of the 25th Brigade and the 3rd Gurkhas of the Indians were the first troops in Neuve Chapelle.
A very broad overview of the Battle is provided by The Battle of Neuve Chapelle by Count Charles de Souza, 10-13 March 1915, Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. I, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923. The same source provides a commentary from a popular Berlin periodical, the Kriegs-Rundschau, by Margarete Munsterberg. The German report places much emphasis on British losses incurred during the attack, and emphasises the stern resolve of German soldiers to repulse the attack. The author of the article also alleges that American ammunition was used by the British (America was at that time a neutral power), that Indian troops deserted in sizeable numbers to the German side, and finally that the British used German prisoners-of-war as cover for their advance. No proof was however offered for any of the charges. As was common on both sides at the time, the chief aim was to score propaganda points at home.
The battlefield of Neuve Chapelle and Givenchy – about 7 or 8 kilometres broad – is bounded on the north by the railroad Merville-Laventie-Armentieres, on the south by the Canal d’Aire a la Bassee and is crossed by two main highways, from Estaires to La Bassee, and from Bethune to Armentieres. Through this territory, in a south-westerly direction, flow the rivers Lawe and Louane, which, supplied by a multitude of brooks and small rivulets which issue from ponds, empty into the Canal d’Aire a la Bassee.
In a north-easterly direction the Lys with its tributaries flows through the battlefield, and farther on joins the Defile. The character of the whole region follows from this great abundance of water; it is almost perfectly flat and does not rise any higher than 19 metres, and about 21 metres in the south near Givenchy. Isolated groves and hedges break the monotony of this land upon which the exceedingly fierce battles of March 10th-14th were fought.
As early as October 29, 1914, our infantry regiment had stormed Neuve Chapelle, and until March 10th we were undisputed masters of the place. At the beginning of March, however, when the foggy weather began and observation from the air was impossible, our opponent succeeded, around March 10th, in carrying out movements of troops, unnoticed by us.
As appeared through reports in English newspapers, he concentrated no less than two army corps, consisting of two English divisions, two Indian divisions and Canadian troops, besides very strong artillery, a part of which was French, for a joint attack upon our positions. The attack surprised us greatly, but found us by no means unprepared, so that one Jager battalion and one infantry regiment were able for the present to repel the attack of the English.
These, however, directed an overwhelming artillery fire – about ten to twelve grenades (frequently of American origin) to one metre of the trench – against our lines of defence, which were completely buried.
In spite of these unfavourable conditions, the English attack was warded off twice, and again and again the enemy started new strong artillery fire. Contemporaneous with this attack upon Neuve Chapelle, the English started a further attack upon Givenchy; an English infantry division advanced against two German battalions, but was repulsed with enormous losses through the fire of our infantry and artillery.
The English, advancing in great masses, were mowed down in sections. Meanwhile the fight over Neuve Chapelle continued. Here Indian troops rushed ahead – and seemingly unarmed. In the preceding days numerous Indians had deserted to our lines, hence our troops believed that in this case they were again dealing with deserters and so did not shoot. This sin of omission was thoroughly avenged; for close before our positions the Indians began to throw hand grenades and attacked the garrison of our trenches with knives.
Through these attacks by very superior numbers on March 10th, our troops in the trenches suffered severely, so that reserves had to be brought forward. These gathered under terrible English fire and advanced against the English with contempt of death. Although they did not succeed on this day in throwing the opponent out of the positions taken by him, nevertheless they were able to prevent a further advance of the greatly superior enemy forces and to hold the new positions against all attacks of the opponent.
On March 11th in the forenoon strong German artillery fire was directed against the enemy positions, and the attacks of the enemy were repulsed, although he succeeded in invading Neuve Chapelle at isolated points.
After more reserves had reached us on March 12th in the forenoon, we did the attacking; and the burning desire to settle with the hated English accelerated the steps of each soldier. We succeeded in gaining ground at several points and in throwing the opponent back on Neuve Chapelle. The complete re-conquest, however, of the place Neuve Chapelle itself, which was constantly under heavy enemy fire, would have required needless sacrifices, and for this reason we limited ourselves to attaining the general lines previously held by us.
The strategic plan of the enemy to break through had failed with enormous losses, and the English found themselves forced to give up their plans. But the great moral success of the fighting round Neuve Chapelle and round Givenchy lies in the repulse by comparatively weak German troops, of his attempt to break through which was undertaken with such great masses.
Although the opponent succeeded in winning slight tactical successes and in gaining territory, these successes are quite out of proportion to the enormous losses, particularly of officers, which were characterized as “heavy” even by the enemy himself.
The papers have brought details, taken from letters and reports of officers, about the English method of warfare, which have been made known to the German troops as official warnings. According to these, in the battles round Neuve Chapelle, 250 Englishmen, in German cloaks and helmets, lured a band of German soldiers toward them, only to shoot them down from a short distance. German prisoners were used, as it were, as cover by the English during their advance.
In The Fighting Territorials, Percy Hurd writes:
The tale of the London Regiment is continued in the present volume, covering the salient doings of the other London Territorial regiments. The narrative includes many stirring incidents of war in addition to the Battle of Loos. There is, for instance, the charge of the 3rd Londons at Neuve Chapelle. We see how, leaping over the slain strewn about the fields, they made a great bayonet charge, being cheered as they went by the Regular troops who witnessed their gallantry. The Germans fell before them, and as evening closed in they dug themselves in on the new lines they had won. As time goes on, said Sir John French of the Territorials after the fight, I am still further impressed with their value; Several battalions were engaged in the most critical moments of the heavy fighting, and they acquitted themselves with the utmost credit.
“With The Indians in France”, by General Sir James Willcocks, contains a very thorough account of the Indians’ role in Neuve Chapelle from page 207.
Account from 10th March 1915
The half ruined village of Neuve Chapelle, about to be turned into a shambles for the third time, lay but a few hundred yards to the front; boggy fields, torn hedges and numerous ditches blocked the passages of the attackers, and the Aubers Ridge beyond looked down on the dead level country, so soon to mark the triumph of the Asiatic over the Teuton.
At 8.5 am precicely the Garwhal Brigade rushed to the assault of the enemy’s trenches opposite the front he had been holding along the La Bassee Road. The order of Battalions from right to left was:
1/39th Garwhal Rifles (Corporal Swiney)
2nd Battalion Leicesters (Lieut-Colonel Gordon)
2/3rd Gurkha Rifles (Lieut-Colonel Ormsby)
2/39th Garwhal Rifles (Lieut-Colonel Drake-Brockman)
The 3rd London Regiment was in Brigade Reserve.
The assaulting infantry (except the 1/39th Garwhalis) reached their first objective without a check, and by 8.30 had pushed through to the east side of the road joining Port Arthur with Neuve Chapelle.
The 2/39th, the left battalion of the Brigade and therefore the one nearest the right of the 8th British Division, which was attacking on our left, was met by some rifle and machine gun fire, but had soon reached the fourth German trench. Scouts were at once sent forward, and the consolidation of the position commenced. Simultaneously the advance was continued to the outskirts of Neuve Chapelle, where three machine-guns and 300 prisoners fell into their hands.
In this advance Naik Jaman Sing Bisht won the Indian Order of Merit by fine leading, and Havildar Buta Sing Negi was awarded the same decoration. Rifleman Gobar Sing Negi received the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery and under circumstances so similar to those which had won it for his Garhwal comrade of the 1st battaHon, viz. Naik Darwan Sing Negi, on the 23rd November 1914, near Festubert, that it would appear the soldiers from Garhwal firmly believe that the bayonet is the best weapon for use in the trenches. He was the leading man of the bayonet detachment which accompanied the bombing party ; was first to rush each traverse, and besides himself bayoneting several Germans drove back many more who finally all surrendered. Death claimed him before he could receive the Cross which he had so bravely won, but it was awarded posthumously, and his family get the monetary award ; whilst his name will remain a beacon to attract for years his fellow hillmen to the 2/39th Garhwal Rifles.
Jemadar Ghantu Sing Negi was killed and over 130 casualties were suffered by the battalion.
The 2/3rd Gurkhas carried the trenches to their front and secured two machine-guns. Having arranged for one company each from the 2/39th and Londons to consolidate the line gained, the Gurkhas pushed on, wheeled to the right, crossed the Rue du Bois and reached the old British trench east of Neuve Chapelle. Quickly entrenching they gained touch with the Rifle Brigade of the Fourth Corps on their left. Major A. Tillard on his own initiative carried the attack still farther forward towards the brewery and captured several prisoners.
The Indian Order of Merit was conferred on Subadar Bhim Sing Thapa, Lance-Naik Harak Sing Gharti, Subadar Major Gambhir, Sing Gurung, Havildar Bahadur Thapa, and Rifleman Gane Gurung. This latter gallant fellow was the hero of a melodramatic affair. The 2nd Rifle Brigade from the Fourth Army Corps met the Gurkhas in the village, and the first thing seen was my friend Gane Gurung, with his bayonet very close to the stern of a German, who with seven others were being driven off as prisoners, having surrendered en bloc in a house to the little Gurkha. Lieut.-Colonel Ormsby was made a C.B.
The 2nd Leicesters also advanced without a check and by 8.30 a.m. had gained the road parallel to and east of the Estaires — La Bassee road, where the battalion began to entrench itself. It was found, for reasons which will be related, that between their right and the left of the 1/39th a considerable gap existed. Captain Romilly, using his revolver freely and followed by a platoon of the Leicesters, bombed back the Huns for over a hundred yards of trench and then with the assistance of Captain Hobart, R.E., and some sappers who came up opportunely, erected a barricade. Hobart was awarded the Military Cross, Sapper Sheikh Abdul Rahman the I.O.M., and Colour-Havildar Chagatta, who had previously won the I.O.M., was given the Russian Cross of St. George.
Romilly received a well-earned D.S.O., and Captain D. L. Weir, also of the same battalion, a Military Cross.
The Leicesters are all brave, but conspicuous amongst them on this day was Private William Buckingham, who, regardless of an inferno of fire, carried in several badly wounded men. In doing this he received two severe wounds himself but escaped with his life and was awarded the Victoria Cross. Poor fellow, he no longer lives to enjoy his reward ; he has added one more to the immortal dead along the Somme. Several D.C.M.’s were also awarded to N.C.O.’s and men of this fine fighting Corps.
In none of these assaults so far had any serious check been caused by the enemy’s wire entanglements, these obstacles having been destroyed by the artillery, and only in the case of the 2/39th had any considerable fire been met before the first trench was reached.
The l/39th Garhwalis did not fare so well ; their assault unfortunately took a wrong initial direction, and instead of keeping their left as ordered on the Riviere des Layes, swung away to the right. Nevertheless, in face of a heavy rifle and machine-gun fire they reached close up to the German trenches, but the obstacles had not been destroyed by our artillery, as they were not included in the marked zone, and consequently the impetus of the rush was broken.
During this check the battalion suffered considerable casualties in British officers and Indian ranks. But although the initial error cost them dear, it was the occasion for proving the grand material of which these fine Garhwal Rifles are made. On no occasion in the history of the Indian Corps in France was it better proved what Indians led by British officers will assuredly achieve, provided the men have been properly trained. The capture of the enemy’s trenches here became a terrible struggle, but the 39th would take no denial. Captains Owen, J. E. Murray, R. J. Clarke, and Sparrow were killed, whilst Captain Kenny and Lieut. Welchman actually reached and entered the trenches before they also shared the same fate. Six out of the total of twelve British officers gave their lives in a few short moments, and Major MacTier of the 2nd Battalion, who had been sent to replace Colonel Swiney (wounded), was also killed later on.
Faithful unto death.
The check created a gap between the left of the l/39th and the right of the Leicesters. In this gap the Germans held out, and it took much time and was not without considerable losses that their trenches were finally captured.
The Leicesters seeing how matters stood immediately set to work to clear up the situation, and a party under Captain Romilly, as already related, using bayonets and hand grenades, gradually forced the enemy back along his trenches. Lieut. G. A. Cammell, R.F.A., on forward observation duty, seeing the British officers were being mown down and that some hesitation was occurring in the advance, and his telephone communication having been destroyed, dashed forward and headed the charge, with some Garhwalis by his side ; he and a few of the Riflemen were almost immediately wounded, and fell, but here again another gallant soldier. Corporal V Thompson, 2nd Black Watch, was quickly on the scene to save the officer, and carried him back, being himself wounded while doing so. It is pleasant to record that the DSO and DCM were promptly bestowed.
Colonel Swiney, the Commander of the l/39th, who himself related to me the doings of his Corps on this day, a brave and modest gentleman, was also severely wounded during the morning ; but what he did not tell me was that he remained on for many long and weary hours, till loss of blood forced him to leave his command. Subadar Kedar Sing Rawat and other Garhwali officers did very fine work after the British officers had been killed and wounded.
Further help was needed before the end could be attained, and this came from the Dehra Dun Brigade, whose G.O.C. placed two companies of the 1st Seaforths at the disposal of the Garhwal Brigade, and these, together with two companies of the 3rd Londons and one company of the l/39th from Port Arthur, finally succeeded in carrying the trenches.
The Seaforth advance was brilliantly seconded by the 3rd Londons and a company of the 39th, who carried out a frontal attack with the bayonet in a most dashing style, but of course with heavy loss. The 3rd Londons, especially in this their first fight, literally covered themselves with honour, and I never heard their name mentioned thereafter except in terms of the highest praise by all ranks of the Army Corps.
The 1st Seaforths carried out its advance, as it always did, with the elan and thoroughness of the pick of the ” Old Contemptibles.” Captain Wicks, once on my Staff in India, was wounded, one of the very best all-round men I ever knew. Captain R. Murray was wounded and died the next day. 2nd Lieut. C. H. Kirkaldy was killed, and in this short attack the battalion suffered over seventy casualties. Three N.C.O.’s and men received the D.C.M.
I recall a story of the Seaforths during one of my expeditions on the North-West frontiers of India in 1908. A brigade, after carrying out some punitive measures on a large village, was retiring over an open plain scored by deep nullahs. The Seaforths formed the rearguard. The Afridis, as usual, were following and firing whenever opportunity offered, but on such ground they had no chance and were kept at a respectful distance. After the expedition was over the chiefs all came in to hear the terms of our Government. I asked an old warrior why they had not followed us more closely on that day. His answer was : ” We did not like those Highlanders ; they looked as if they wanted us to come on, and we had no intention of obliging them.” He was right; the Seaforths moved deliberately throughout as if they were spoiling for a fight.
It was on this same day that my gallant friend Major Hon. Forbes Sempill, their CO., was killed, and the battalion would have given a good deal to have had its revenge.
The assault of the 3rd Londons was, as I have already said, a “most dashing” one. Officers and men vied with one another to be first into the German trenches. Wherever they all came from I cannot say, but blessed indeed is the city that can pour forth such men at the call of their country. 170 casualties marked their share in the battle.
Captain Moore received the Military Cross, and a few N.C.O.’s were awarded the D.C.M.
The result of all these operations was that the gap in our advance was closed, and many wounded Germans surrendered.
The l/39th Garhwalis paid dearly on this day. By the time they had reached the objective assigned to them in the assault the battalion had been severely mauled, and its subsequent losses brought its total casualties to 330 out of a strength which did not exceed 600 all told.
Every British officer was either killed or wounded before the fighting at Neuve Chapelle ended.
Captain J. Taylor, I.M.S., in medical charge of the battalion, was awarded the D.S.O. on Colonel Swiney’s special recommendation for gallant conduct and devotion to duty.
During the attack of the Garhwal Brigade the Dehra Dun Brigade had moved up in close support. At 10.45 A.M. the Jalandar Brigade also was ordered to move to Richebourg St. Vaast, and later, at 2.30 p.m., the Sirhind Brigade was ordered to Vicille Chapelle and La Couture.
By 11 A.M. the Dehra Dun Brigade (less 1st Seaforths, detailed to assist the l/39th Garhwalis’ advance) was ready to issue from the trenches along the La Bassee road and to advance to the attack of the Bois du Biez. Since, however, at that hour the enemy was still holding out in the trenches between the Leicesters and the l/39th Garhwalis (who were isolated) this attack was postponed.
The delay was most unfortunate, as had it been carried out on the heels of the first assault, great results might have been achieved.
As will be seen later, even as it was the Bois du Biez might have fallen to us, but the inability of the British Brigade of the Eighth Division, on our left, to advance prevented it, and on this and the following days for the same cause an advance into the Bois du Biez became an impossibility, as our left flank was entirely enfiladed.
As I stood that morning expectantly by the telephone, awaiting the first news of the results of our assault, it seemed as if ages were rolling by, but when the news came, it was one of the moments I often live again. ” Practically all our first objectives captured.” “Hurrah!” I shouted, and with such energy that, as the French women at the back of the house afterwards told me, they thought a bomb had burst inside. And so it had! The bomb was the birth of a new life for India ; the story that the cables would bear throughout the world, viz. that the Indians, led by British officers, could drive Germans from their own deliberately selected entrenchments. That the men who had fought against us from Seringapatam to Assaye, at Moodkee and Chillianwala, at Delhi, Lucknow, and Tirah, all classes, creeds, and clans, had banded together under the Union Jack, and trusting in the inviolable word of England’s King and the proven valour of their white leaders, had inaugurated a new era in the history of Hindustan.
At 3.15 P.M. orders were received from the First Army to push on to the Bois du Biez, and instructions were issued for the Dehra Dun Brigade to advance, supported by two battalions of the Jalandar Brigade (the 1st Manchesters and 47th Sikhs), which had now come under the orders of the Meerut Division. The deployment for attack along the road running south-west from Neuve Chapelle was not completed until 4.30 p.m., and it was nearly dark by the time the troops reached the line of the river Layes. By 6.30 p.m. a portion of the Brigade had reached the western edge of the wood, guided in the pitch darkness by a burning house on its extreme north-west corner.
The leading companies of the 2nd Gurkhas under Major Watt and Captain Dallas Smith crossed the road, occupied some houses, and commenced to dig in at the edge of the wood. Major H. Nicolay was killed during this operation. A portion of the 9th Gurkhas on the left of the 2nd Gurkhas also reached the wood. In this advance both battalions moved with the greatest steadiness under rifle and machine-gun fire from both flanks, but although suffering casualties, had soon placed portable bridges across the Layes river and reached the farthest limit attained during the battle. Subadar Mehar Sing Khattri, 9th Gurkhas, was awarded the I.O.M. for his daring leading, and Major Watt was gazetted a D.S.O. Of the conduct of the 4th Seaforths, who were in support of the Gurkhas, General Jacob wrote : ” The 4th Seaforths (Territorials) showed itself to be the equal of any Regular Regiment.
The Germans, realising the position, now made a special effort to turn our left flank, but the 9th Gurkhas were equally determined that the attempt should fail, and Lieut. Murray, with a machine-gun, very opportunely stopped the movement. He received the Military Cross for his gallant conduct on this and subsequent days.
At 8.7 P.M., 10th March, Jacob, after a consultation with his Battalion Commanders, decided to withdraw from the wood to the line of the Layes. This operation was rendered necessary by the fact that the British Brigade on our left was unable to make any further advance beyond the line of the old British trench, which they had captured earHer in the day. The left flank of the Dehra Dun Brigade was therefore entirely in the air and exposed to machine-gun fire, and to have held on to the wood would only have meant being cut off and adding another long list to the “missing.”
The First Army Commander considered that Jacob should have held on, but he was not in a position to judge, and the decision to get back to the Layes was, in the opinion of all those cognisant of the real state of affairs, a correct one.
The position was in fact somewhat similar to that of the 8th Gurkhas six months later at the fight near Mauquissart during the battle of Loos. In this case the 8th gallantly held on till it was too late to retire, and paid a terribly heavy toll.
During the move back from the wood the following riflemen of the 2nd Gurkhas behaved with great courage and received the I.O.M.: Hastobir Roka, Partiman Gurung, Ujir Sing Gurung, Man jit Gurung, and Jagtia Pun.
At the time the point regarding the position in the wood was much discussed, and it is only fair to the battalions concerned to say that they did all they were asked to do.
If any man could have remained, without quite needlessly undue risk, that man was General Jacob. I quote from his report : “If the Eighth Division had been able to co-operate with me, I would have been able to maintain myself on the edge of the wood. As it was I found myself with my left flank enfiladed. The right flank of the Brigade was also in the air. My information showed me that the wood was held by the enemy.” He then states that he intended to continue the advance next morning and had issued his orders for this advance, but that it was impracticable unless the Brigade on his left also co-operated.
The situation at 9 p.m., 10th March, was as follows:
Dehra Dun Brigade (less 1st Seaforths). On line of river Layes south-east of the village of Neuve Chapelle. Both flanks in the air.
Garhwal Brigade (plus 1st Seaforths). Holding and strengthening a line parallel to and about 200 yards east of the road running from Neuve Chapelle to Port Arthur, with the right practically on the La Bassee road.
Bareilly Brigade. In original trenches along the Rue du Bois.
Jalandar Brigade (temporarily at the disposal of Meerut Division). In and about the Rue des Berceaux and in Neuve Chapelle.
Sirhind Brigade. Vieille Chapelle and La Couture.
Ferozepore Brigade. Calonne.
The night of 10th March passed without any particular incident, but work went on incessantly in strengthening all positions gained.
The Garhwal Brigade, divided into three sections, had its left in touch with the Rifle Brigade on our left, which battalion was, however, some 200 yards farther to the rear.
The left section was commanded by Lieut.-Colonel Ormsby, 2/3rd Gurkhas, a soldier who loved his battalion but had the great virtue of never concealing any faults of his men, and from him I often obtained the greatest assistance in matters of discipline.
Lieut.-Colonel Gordon, 2nd Leicesters, had charge of the centre section, and where that Corps was stationed there was never any chance for the enemy.
Lieut.-Colonel Ritchie, 1st Seaforths, commanded the right section, consisting of his own battalion, the 3rd Londons, and the l/39th Garhwal Rifles. Ritchie was a most reliable officer, and in a short report written on the spot, the Brigadier had added : “I am much indebted to Colonel Ritchie for the efficient organisation and command of his section.”
Orders had been issued from First Army at 3.45 p.m. placing one battalion of the First Corps at our disposal. This battalion was to be employed in working down the enemy’s trenches, parallel to the Rue du Bois, starting from near Port Arthur, but for various reasons this order was cancelled at 12.45 a.m. on the 11th.
The attack of the Dehra Dun Brigade was to have been renewed at 7 a.m. on the 11th March and all orders had been issued. By 6.30 a.m. the Jalandar Brigade had commenced to arrive at Neuve Chapelle in support of Dehra Dun, but there was still no sign of any advance by the British Brigade on our left.
At 8am General Jacob himself visited the Rifle Brigade, but was informed by the CO. that “he had distinct orders not to attack without further orders.” The 2/39th Garhwalis, who had been detailed to move to the right to protect the flank of the Brigade as it advanced, reported themselves in position, and that the enemy was crowding into the trenches straight to their front, whilst the houses and edge of the wood were manned with machine-guns and men.
The 2nd Gurkhas were being enfiladed from their left, and the 9th Gurkhas facing the Germans at 100 yards with the river between them, were held up. The mist during the morning made observation very difficult, and it was not possible to bring artillery fire to bear on the points whence the attack was being retained.
During the morning of 11th March Jemadar Shibdhoj Mai of the l/9th Gurkhas won the Indian Order of Merit for bringing in, with the help of some of his men, several wounded, under very heavy fire.
By 12 noon on the 11th it was found that the attack of the Dehra Dun Brigade could not continue under the conditions, and I issued orders for it to be renewed on the Bois du Biez at 2.15 p.m., with the Jalandar Brigade in support. Both Brigades got into preparatory formation, but the same causes prevented an advance. As it gradually became apparent that nothing further could be done that afternoon, fresh orders were issued for the relief of the Dehra Dun Brigade and for the attack to be renewed on 12th; the Sirhind Brigade of the Lahore Division being placed at the disposal of the Meerut Division for the purpose.
This Brigade had been ordered up at 7.45 a.m. to Richebourg St. Vaast.
The Dehra Dun Brigade eventually moved back after nightfall to the vicinity of Lestrem, in Army reserve, and the Ferozepore Brigade was directed on Richebourg, to arrive there on morning of 12th. The First Army had sent a message saying that the Indian Corps should keep in touch with Eighth Division, but this had, as already explained, been done all along, the 9th Gurkhas being in touch with the right of the Rifle Brigade, which corps was directly behind their left. Some confusion existed as to the dividing line between them, the two attacks overlapping, both Brigades having been given two common objectives.
Throughout this day the Dehra Dun Brigade had been subjected to constant shell fire and suffered considerably. Whilst this delay was being caused, some platoons of the 4th Seaforths rose up and doubled forward, and in doing so had to pass through a heavy machine-gun fire, but nothing ever dismayed that gallant Corps, which was reported by the Brigadier as advancing during the battle “with a confidence and self-reliance that left little to be desired.”
The CO., Lieut. -Colonel MacFarlane, and the Second in Command, Major Cuthbert were both severely wounded. I can see them now as I first saw them in France : two gallant gentlemen who at once gave me the impression of being real “cool-headed Scots,” who would enjoy nothing more than a tough scrap with a good few Boches.
I will revert to the Bareilly Brigade, which, as already narrated, was holding our original front trenches, and had divided their line into two sub-sections. Before the opening of the battle, advanced picquets had been withdrawn and all houses in the Rue du Bois evacuated, in case they should be shelled by the enemy. The main line of defences had been fully manned, and Brigade reserves were in position by 4 A.M. on the morning of 10th March.
Port Arthur was evacuated by the garrison for the period of our obstacle and wire-cutting bombardment, but rifle and machine-gun fire was maintained. A German aeroplane which had made an early trip over our lines had spotted the gathering of troops, and shortly after a rain of shells was poured into the redoubt, and caused many casualties. The Leicesters and l/39th suffered somewhat severely, and the 2nd Black Watch also had over thirty.
Communication trenches to connect our own line with the captured German works had been pushed forward, and three companies of the 4th Black Watch moved up to take over the points d’appui which were being established. Shortly afterwards this battalion was withdrawn, but it reads strangely, in the light of after events, that ” it was found difficult to keep proper communication with this unit as it had no telephone equipment.”
I must digress a moment. “No telephone equipment!” Think of it, those who later on fought so bravely but under what different conditions. The Indian battalions at least had their ordinary equipment, though at first on a very meagre scale, and if we owed nothing else to the parsimony of the Indian Government in connection with all things militant, we nevertheless owed them one debt of gratitude, and that was, that perhaps of all the troops in the field in France during the winter of 1914-15, the Indian Corps felt least the lack of necessaries, simply because it never realised that a shortage existed ; for when things were at their very lowest ebb they still were in excess of anything we had been accustomed to in India, even in our palmiest and most festal Durbar days.
Before this war I never discussed with Indian officers the policy of the Government of India in regard to the Army. They knew the position fairly well, but with an inborn good feeling they seldom ventured to do anything more than touch casually on what was notoriously the intense stinginess practised towards the soldiery. If any of those high dignitaries yclept Members of Council should read anything I write, they may perhaps feel a passing shame in the thought that whilst they themselves, to use a slang phrase, always ” did themselves well,” soldiers of all ranks below at any rate that of Major-General were treated as outcasts in a financial point of view, at all and every large political or social gathering, at which the ci\dlians lived in luxury, sometimes casting an eye of patronage on their military ” brethren,” whilst the latter, who had perhaps been undergoing very severe training at manoeuvres, and had only arrived in Durbar camps at the eleventh hour (in order to make a show in scarlet and gold for the glorification of the aforesaid civilians), were consigned to some outlying sand hills and told to shift for themselves: no water supply prepared, no wood at hand for fires, and no preparations for sanitation.
Yes, I have in my mind some very vivid recollections of many such scenes, and they are recalled to me by the remembrance of incidents at Neuve Chapelle. On this occasion the fault lay not with India, but that it passed almost unnoticed in the Corps was, as I have said, because the members of that Corps had been bred in an atmosphere of civilian selfishness so abysmal that they failed to realise they were no longer in the shiny East, but were actually considered as good as their fellows, and would be so treated.
During the fighting, 10th to 11th March, the Dehra Dun Brigade sustained over 570 casualties. General Jacob and Colonel Widdicombe, l/9th Gurkhas, were given the C.B., and Major Boileau, 2/2nd Gurkhas, was promoted to Brevet Lieut. -Colonel.
The attack on 11th March was to have been supported by the Jalandar Brigade, but, as already described, it could not be carried out, and the Jalandars in consequence remained out in the preparatory positions they had assumed for the advance, under a heavy shell and rifle fire. Brigade Headquarters here had no luck: three different tumbledown houses selected were shelled in turn, till at last four of the signalling section were wounded by one projectile which plumped into the room they were working in.
This Brigade underwent a two days’ fiery ordeal, both in support and in moving up to Neuve Chapelle. They had been very exposed and subjected to a ceaseless fire from big and light guns, in addition to machine-guns and rifles, and nearly 600 casualties resulted. Some of the units became much disorganised and broken up, but in Brigadier-General Strickland they fortunately possessed a commander whom no losses could deter. I remember well his quiet verbal description of the whole incidents, and his unfaltering faith in his Brigade, happen what might.
Included in this was his own battalion of Manchesters, a model Corps.
At 8.30pm 11th March, the situation was as follows :
Meerut Division: At original Report Centre at Vieille Chapelle.
Dehra Dun Brigade. Marching back to La Couture.
Garhwal Brigade. Holding line gained on the first day.
Bareilly Brigade. Holding original Une on the Rue du Bois.
Lahore Division: Headquarters at La Couture.
Ferozepore Brigade. South of Lestrem.
Jalandar Brigade. Vicinity of Rue des Berceaux.
Sirhind Brigade. In Neuve Chapelle.
During the night Neuve Chapelle was heavily bombarded by the enemy.
Neuve Chapelle was the biggest battle up to that time in which Indians, as a body, had ever taken a share. It marks the beginning of a new era in the history of that wondrous land ; it proved the solidarity of our Empire in the East ; it opened new fields to the peoples of Hindustan, and it was a living proof of the genius of our race to weld into one Imperial whole, people so diverse in colour, race, and creed. Are we on the eve of undoing our own great work ? Are we, in our desire to grant equality to all and every race, rushing towards the goal of an ultimate dissolution ? In the words of the African proverb I would say, “Softly, softly, catchee monkey.”
The total casualties of the British Army in the battle amounted to nearly 13,000 officers and men ; of which the Indian Corps sustained a loss in killed of forty-one British and twenty-two Indian officers, 364 British and 408 Indian other ranks. Wounded, ninety-one British and thirty-six Indian officers, 1461 British and 1495 Indian soldiers ; whilst the total reported as “Missing” numbered 315. When the actual numbers engaged are calculated it will be seen that the Indian Corps bore its full share of the losses.
The net result of the operations was to advance the line held by the Indian Corps by about 1000 yards at its northern extremity, and to straighten out the dangerous sahent known as Port Arthur — a point which had always been a considerable source of anxiety to the various Corps who had been responsible for holding it. The losses inflicted on the enemy by the Indian Corps amounted to five machine-guns captured, twelve officers and 617 men prisoners. Their losses in dead amounted to 2000 on the front captured by the Indian Corps. After the battle I viewed the ground to our immediate front, from a ruined tower near the trenches, and in places it was thick with bodies.
Every Brigadier engaged brought prominently to notice the excellent spirit that had prevailed throughout all ranks, and it was a great pleasure to me to visit every unit, combatant and non-combatant, that had in any degree shared in winning our first Indian offensive victory. The delight of the men was very visible, and the toils and hardships of the long weary winter were soon effaced.
Of the units engaged, some I have not so far in this book particularised.
The Fourth Army Corps, which with the Indian Corps carried out the attack on Neuve Chapelle, was then commanded by Lieut. -General Sir Henry Rawlinson. Of all the Corps Commanders I knew him best, and working with him was a real pleasure. He is so straight and fearless, two unsurpassed qualities in a great leader, and such he has indeed proved himself in the Great War.
Neuve Chapelle will always remain a great name with Indians, for they fought right gallantly ; they fought as a Corps, with a definite objective, and they gained a decided victory over the highly trained army of Germany. We were superior in numbers on the actual front attacked; we had, it is true, a superiority in guns, and the attack came as a complete surprise to the Huns; nevertheless, theirs was at that time the most efficient army in the world, flushed with success, believing itself invincible, and professing to despise the Indian soldier. The German race, no matter what its writers may say in the years to come, will, so far from despising, respect the soldiers of India, who have established for all time on the sodden plains of Flanders and in many other theatres of the Great War a reputation that cannot die.
On the 14th March Sir John French sent me the following telegram:
I have cabled following to Viceroy of India. Begins. “I am glad to be able to inform Your Excellency that the Indian troops under Sir James Willcocks fought with great gallantry and marked success in the capture of Neuve Chapelle and subsequent fighting, which took place on the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th of this month. The fighting was very severe and the losses heavy, but nothing daunted them; their tenacity, courage, and endurance were admirable and worthy of the best traditions of the soldiers of India. Message ends.” Please make this known to the Corps under your command. Accept yourself, and repeat to all troops, my warm and hearty appreciation of their services and my gratitude for the help they have rendered, which has so much conduced to the success of the operations.
Such a generous tribute to the Indian Corps coming from the great Field-Marshal immediately after the battle was equal to a strong reinforcement, and his appreciation of my own efforts was not only the highest reward I could have received, but determined me to hold fast to my command under any circumstances.
On the 15th March I received the following telegram from Lord Hardinge, Viceroy of India :
“I have just received from Field-Marshal Sir John French a telegram informing me of the great gallantry and marked success with which the Indian troops under your command fought in the capture of Neuve Chapelle and subsequent operations which took place on the 10th, 11th, 12th, and 13th of this month. Stop.” I shall be glad if you will be so good as to convey to the Indian troops on behalf of myself, the Commander-in-Chief, the Government, and the people of India, our warm admiration of their gallant behaviour and our confidence that they will ever maintain before the enemy the best traditions of the Indian Army. Viceroy.”
Naturally all ranks were very pleased, and the Indian officers especially so.
During the battle I had ridden into the village of Richebourg St. Vaast, and came on a company of my old friends the Guides, just arrived as a reinforcement from India. The village was at the time being shelled, but our meeting was all the more opportune. I spoke to the men and had a handshake with the Indian officers. One of the sepoys, who had once served as my orderly in the Peshawar Division, said as I rode down the ranks,
“General Sahib, if you are in need of an orderly I am with you, but I must just see one pukka larai (real fight) first, then I am ready to come.” The Connaught Rangers were also in the village, and as I passed them they raised a loud yell ; it was splendid seeing the gallant Irishmen just spoiling for a fight.
The 39th Garhwal Rifles was a remarkably smart and clean regiment. An officer of another Indian battalion told me that the most impressive sight he saw at Neuve Chapelle was a dying British officer being carried by four Garhwali soldiers through all the turmoil, confusion, and firing with a quietness and tenderness that astonished him. He added, ” and they looked so smart and clean.”
The Indians at this battle were much impressed by the dash and bearing of the 3rd Londons. One of them said to me : “What is this they are saying, that untrained regiments can fight as well as trained ones. You always told us in India that without long and hard training we should be of no use in battle. Why is it that this London paltan (regiment) can fight so well.” I said, trying to look wise: “They come from London and you from Lahore; there lies the difference. Think it out, my friend.”
In The Fighting Territorials, Percy Hurd writes:
On March 9 the 3rd were moved up to the Estaires — La Bassee Road in front of Neuve Chapelle in readiness for the assault which took place on the following day. Here the battalion was split up, and we must follow the fortunes of the different companies separately.
C and D companies under Captain (now Major) H. A. Moore were ordered to proceed to Port Arthur, a fort made out of old buildings at the junction of the La Bassee Road and the Rue de Bois. Here they were ordered to assault some German trenches which had been assaulted by the 1/39 Garhwals, who having slightly lost the direction found the barbed wire uncut and the German breastwork intact, this particular point having been seemingly overlooked by our artillery. The attack, after being postponed several times, took place in the afternoon at five. The companies in the meantime were partly in Port Arthur and partly in the communication trench. The Germans kept up a constant shell fire all day, and Port Arthur became an awful spot, full of dying and dead. That men could stand this hellish shelling from ten in the morning until five in the afternoon, and then attack over 250 yards of open country against a breastwork strongly held, speaks volumes for their discipline and courage.
C and D Companies lined up at five ready for the assault. The ground before them was extremely exposed, and immediately in front of them there was a stream to be crossed, and huge shell holes and many old trenches. The German trench in front of them was a semicircle, so the enemy could fire from our left centre and right. On the right a machine gun enfiladed any advance.
At ten minutes past five the whistle blew and the men scrambled over the parapet. Immediately a terrific rifle and gun fire from the left centre and right met them and there was a continual hail of shrapnel. Men fell on all sides, but the rest went on undaunted. When a little more than half-way to the German trench, a pause was made for breath, the men taking whatever cover they could. Then the rush continued, and this time the German trench was reached, the men going through untouched barbed wire and over the breastwork. “The finest charge I have ever seen” is the phrase used by a general officer who was present, when describing this advance of C and D Companies. It was the work of a few moments to make prisoners sixty men and three officers who remained in the trench — the rest had bolted. These prisoners were sent back under escort, and every one set to work to reverse the parapet. This work was carried out at night under terrific shell fire. In the meantime a roll call had been taken, and it was found that half the two companies had fallen in the charge.
The Seaforth Highlanders came up on the left and I /39th Garhwalis on the right, so the captured trench was now strongly held. The barbed wire was carried across the trench and put up on the enemy’s side. Every moment was spent in filling the sandbags and strengthening the trench against a counter-attack.
At dawn on March 12 there were signs of movement on the enemy’s part. All stood to arms and opened fire. As the daylight began, the enemy were seen to be advancing. Our rifle fire and machine guns mowed them down by hundreds all along the line, and the Germans got no farther than about 150 yards from our front, when each line that advanced was brought down to a man. The German casualties must have been very heavy. The 3rd continued to hold the trench until their brigade was relieved by another on March 14, when they went into billets at Les Lobes. The two companies, C and D, came out of the engagement very short of officers; Lieutenant Crichton was killed, and Lieutenant Morley was wounded. Captain Moore, it is pleasant to be able to add, was awarded the Military Cross and given his majority for his gallantry in leading his men in this splendid charge. Another officer — Captain E. V. Noel, a brother of Captain E. A. Noel of D Company — of A company, had a cigarette case — which had been given him by his fellow-officers on his twenty-first birthday — smashed by a bullet. Captain E. A. Noel, who had been in hospital, rejoined the battalion during the battle, and was seriously wounded within ten minutes of rejoining. One subaltern found at the end of the engagement that his coat had been riddled with shot, and that his cigarette case had been smashed by a bullet which he found in his pocket. He himself was untouched.
In the meantime A Company had been doing their share. Their orders were to clear the trench after the Leicestershire Regiment had charged, if the charge was successful. They moved up to headquarters near Neuve Chapelle, where they dug themselves in to the left of Port Arthur on the La Bass6e road. After the bombardment they moved up to the second line of breastworks and there awaited orders. These came at nine, and they moved up to the first line to pick up extra ammunition for the troops already gone forward.
The orders were for them to attack the German trench on their right front in which the Germans had barricaded themselves and were doing a lot of damage by sniping. Captain Pulman and Lieutenant Mathieson and Lieutenant Stephens were killed. Captain E. V. Noel was wounded in the advance. The company was rallied by Lieutenant J. T. Reeves, the only officer left, and late in the evening they joined up with D Company.
B Company had been engaged in carrying ammunition up to the firing line and in digging fresh lines of trenches under heavy fire, and had lost a good many men. A N.C.O., writing of his experiences at Neuve Chapelle, said :
” I cannot put it in exact words, It was called a ‘ Street of Hell.’ Well, we went into the reserve trench at night and lay there till daybreak. Then the bombardment commenced, and under cover of the guns we started. The company had orders to reinforce another regiment on our right, and we had a hot time in getting to the next lot of trenches. Then we were fetched away at dinner-time to another part which had been held since October 12. We were then told we were going to make a charge, as one part of the line was still held, and we had three hours’ rest till tea-time. Time was up, and I can now see the officer seize his revolver, shouting “Don’t forget you are all Englishmen!” Then to the charge. There were obstacles galore. We had to climb a 7-foot wall of sandbags and drop down on the other side, and then we doubled about 100 yards, and into a trench of mud. The men were dropping all around me — a most sickening sight. In the next 100 yards were bodies and wire which we cleared all right; then another trench, about 8 feet wide and full of water. I made the first phmge, but there being lyddite in it, I was green when I came out. But you don’t wait to see if your hat is straight at such times. I got together all my men that I could, and called out ‘ Get ready to go.’ And we did go. I was fourth. They turned the machine gun on us, but I was not hit. We kept on, and into the trench we went. Some of the Germans put up their hands ; and one of them, either an officer or a N. CO., we caught putting his hand to his pocket, evidently to get his revolver to fire at our men. I was too close to him to fire, so I hit him with the butt of my rifle, and another finished him. What I did then I don’t know, because for the time I lost all reason. I was mad. I got my men together — all I had — and we went on the job at once of changing the front cjI the trench. We kept on working all night, and then they made a counter-attack; but we were ready for them. The sights in front were dreadful. I cannot tell you in writing; but even what’ I saw then is nothing to what I have seen since. During the engagement we sent seventy-two prisoners back with an escort. We lost two officers of our company, and in one platoon there were only eight men left.”
The writer of this letter — a serjeant — was promoted to be serjeant-major on the field.
The following background accounts are printed later in the section on the 3rd Londons.
Another letter, dated “April 22 or 23,” says :
“While people at home are in bed we out here are longing for daylight, for our busiest times are at night. At three in the morning we look into the heavens for break of dawn, for it is then that the Germans fire away for all they are worth. They send up starlights as fast as they can; it’s like a display of fireworks. You can hear the skylarks singing in the air when there is a lull in the firing, and yet it isn’t daylight. There is no chance for any other bird to play around here, for every tree has been hit, and the place is a wreck. … I could do with a jolly fine sleep now; you don’t get much time on this job; I wish I could forget it. . . . Water is too precious to wash with; you want all you can get to drink, and we hardly get enough for that. I shall have to go a week before I can get a wash. . . . I don’t think I shall want to go to Hendon to see aeroplanes, I see too many of them here. They are up all day long here; it’s very interesting to watch the Germans firing at them, but our boys show no fear. I have seen as many as fifty shot at them, but they never seem to get near enough.”
Captain C. E. Rochford, writing to Mrs. Brabrook to announce that the gallant serjeant had been killed said:
“I am writing to express my very sincere sympathy with you in the death of your husband, who was killed by a shell while advancing in an attack on a German trench. He had been with me ever since we left England, so I knew him well. He was a splendid man and a splendid soldier.”
An insight into life in billets is given in a letter written by a member of the regiment. He wrote:
“The French peasants are delighted with us, and they go out of their way, even without payment, to help us get anything we want in the way of food. Often and often they have given us what they had without asking a centime in return, but we always make it up to them when our money is paid. It is a common thing to see in a peasant’s house tins of American meat, Australian rabbit, and Californian fruit. It is really funny to see the French children trying to learn English from the label of a cornbeef tin. Wherever it is insisted upon that a money payment shall be made — and we have to do more insisting than the French people — an order is written out by the officer in command and it is honoured by the first paymaster who comes along. I will give you an idea of the perfection of our Army Service Corps, and I hope that the soldiers’ relatives are being treated half as well as their boys at the front. One day I and my mates got tired of stew and bully beef, and the usual menus we have had. ‘ Let us have a steak and chips,’ said one man. ‘ Right-o,’ shouted a crowd, and so I went down to the master-cook, and asked him to give me a steak and chips for six, but he merely swore at me. ‘ You can have your bloomin’ steak,’ he said, ‘ but you will have to find your own chips.* I got two men to go into an adjacent field and dig up potatoes, and sure enough they went out under a hail of ‘ black marias ‘ and ‘ coal boxes ‘ and brought in a good quantity of spuds. Then right in the trenches we sat down to cook a meal, and I can assure you that the steak and chips we had on the banks of the Lys was better than any other we have ever tasted.”
It is impossible within a brief chapter to do more than give an outline of the doings of a regiment which has seen as much fighting as this battalion has done, but enough has been said to show that the 3rd Londons have won a high place among the London Territorials as a fighting regiment in Flanders. Their spirit might be illustrated by a hundred instances. Let two suffice. One of the corporals of the regiment is fifty-two years of age. After failing to pass the doctor twenty-two times, he shaved, bought a new set of teeth, and was enlisted.
Captain Leslie G. Rix, of Crouch End, London, N., whose duty it has been to censor the letters of men of the regiment, writing in December 1915, says :
“Reading through their letters home one notices the same trait, never letting their wives and mothers know that they get soaked to the skin with rain, or frozen with cold at night ; and I have even come across some letters written home where the family is in a poor way, urging them not to worry or spend the hard-earned pence in sending out cigarettes or parcels, as they can manage very well without.
“The spirit of the men is just marvellous to see. We are now in a small town, some way from the firing line, and although we arrived here all covered with mud and dirty, the next morning everyone turned out with shining faces and polished boots and buttons, just as if they’d never heard the roar of an H.E. or the scream of shrapnel, and were back again on the barrack square in old England.”
It is not too much to say that those in authority have trusted the 3rd London as if it were an old and tried regular battalion.
After Arthur James Sear was wounded it was likely that he was transferred to No 4 Casualty Clearing Station at Lillers by the No 2 or No 3 Field Ambulance. The official War Diary of 1st Field Ambulance RAMC, is kept at The National Archives, Reference: WO95/1257. It records that from March 1st to 3rd 1915 medical arrangements were as follows:
No 3 Field Ambulance open in Bethune for casualties from trenches.
No 2 Field Ambulance at Lillers for sick of division in rear.
No 1 Field Ambulance continues to carry out the duties of a Laundry & Tailor Shop for the 1st Division.
E M McCarthy, Matron-in-Chief of the British Troops in France and Flanders, wrote a retrospective Report on the Casualty Clearing Stations in late 1914 and early 1915 which was published on 31st July 1919. This document is Crown Copyright, The National Archives WO222/2134.
In most cases the Clearing Hospitals had taken up their position in buildings in either schools or seminaries, or such like establishments, where no equipment of any kind was available. The Clearing Hospital itself was little better off for equipment than a Dressing Station. There were no beds; stretchers and blankets were provided, and for the rest there were only the barest necessities and these very scanty in number.
During November , the hospitals, particularly No. 4, at Poperinghe, were very busy taking in the casualties from the 1st Battle of Ypres. There was a constant stream of patients, evacuations took place every day, and only the worst cases were kept. The Sisters worked all day, and usually till after midnight. This unit moved to Lillers on December 3rd.
A later paragraph described the move:
No. 4, C.C.S. left Poperinghe on November 24th as the buildings, a convent and a school in which it was established, were being given over to the French. The Nurses were sent down to St Omer, and temporarily assisted the staff of 1, C.C.S. (established in the town) until December 2nd, when they rejoined No. 4, Casualty Clearing Station at Lillers, then established in an orphanage and school. On November 20th, a bomb dropped a few yards from the main building, and had broken the windows, and caused casualties among the civilian population, who were admitted and treated in the hospital.
The description of conditions at the hospitals continued:
During December, the work was, as the Sisters described it “terrible”; at Hazebrouck, Lillers and Merville, everywhere it was the same, patients pouring in in dreadful conditions. The stretchers were placed in rows on the floor, with barely room to stand between each. The admissions and evacuations were incessant and almost all that could be done in the time was to feed the patients, dress their wounds and bathe their feet. Only the most urgent operations were done; the others were sent to the Base as quickly as possible.
The difficulties in connection with the work of Clearing Hospitals in 1914 and early in 1915 were due not only to the lack of elementary comforts, but also to the very limited number of Sisters working there. That the number was so small was partly that their employment there at all was an experiment, and partly owing to the uncertainty of the Military situation, it was considered advisable that a very minimum number only should be attached to each unit. Experience had more than proved how valuable and necessary was the presence of Sisters at these units.
From my frequent inspections of these advanced units, I was satisfied that normally, when no heavy fighting was being done, five Sisters could accomplish the work required of them, but when the fighting was severe, this number was hopelessly inadequate. One unit alone, in 24 hours, had admitted 1200 patients, another 1500 and so on, and they would continue passing the wounded through at this rate for some considerable time. It was, therefore, decided on March 11th 1915, to have a pre-arranged system for rapidly increasing temporarily the number of Sisters at Casualty Clearing Stations in the event of large numbers of wounded having to be dealt with in any particular unit.
This decision was made the day before Arthur died.
The report also provided a clear description of conditions during the early part of the war:
In order that the wonderful organisation and administration in connection with the work of the C.C.S.’s [in the development of which the Nursing staff had a share], may be fully appreciated, it is felt that a few more details, typical of all units, will be of assistance in forming some sort of idea of the conditions existing in the early period of the War.
In the Operating Theatre there was the travelling Table, 1 Steriliser for instruments, 1 table for instruments, and perhaps 3 jugs of sterilised lotions. Dressings were not sterilised. For the Anaesthetist’s requirements packing cases were used.
In the Wards there were rows of stretchers with brown blankets only and on bare floors. One unit was proud of the four bedsteads it had found, and another of its 50, where those patients who were to be kept at the hospital for some length of time could be made comfortable.
There were no trolleys or dressing tables, an empty petrol can served for the soiled dressings, and a clean piece of paper as a tray for the fresh dressings, and the floor or next stretcher for a table. The cases, acute and light, were all mixed in the same ward.
Every attempt to better conditions had been made from the beginning, and though at first only in little things, by the spring of 1915, great improvements were to be seen as a result of the initiative and devotion of both Medical Officers and Sisters.
One of the greatest boons was the provision early in 1915, of trestles on which the stretchers were placed. These trestles were originated, I think at 1, Casualty Clearing Station by the late Major Symons, R.A.M.C., O.C., and they were not only a comfort to the patients, but an assistance to the Nurses in the performance of their work. Quantities of comforts, such as sheets, draw-sheets and feather-pillows, pillow-cases, socks, bed-socks, operation stockings, pyjamas, dressing gowns, water pillows, and multitudes of other necessary comforts were obtained from personal funds of the B.R.C.S., Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild, and other sources, and a larger and more adequate supply of ward equipment and appliances of every kind was obtained from the Army Ordnance Store. Certainly before the autumn of 1915, there was no lack of any of the essential things so necessary for the adequate nursing of wounded men.
The RAMC website www.ramc-ww1.com provides the following description of the Casualty Clearing Stations:
The Casualty Clearing Stations were to facilitate movement of casualties from the battlefield on to the hospitals. The general rule was one CCS per Division but they were under Army Corps rather than under Divisional control. To date, 72 have been traced.
A Casualty Clearing Station was a very large unit, and could hold a minimum of 50 beds and 150 stretchers in order to treat a minimum of two hundred sick and wounded at any one time. In normal circumstances the team would be seven Medical Officers, one Quartermaster and seventy-seven other ranks, there would also be a Dentist, a Pathologist, seven QAIMNS and other non-medical personnel attached. In times of stress this number could be increased and a specialised ‘Surgical Team’ could be brought forward. Because they were so large they needed up to about half a mile square of real estate. Each CCS would carry its own marquees and wooden huts so as to create medical and surgical wards, kitchens, Sanitation, Dispensary, Operating Theatres, Medical stores, Surgical stores, Incineration plant, Ablutions and Mortuary, as well as sleeping accommodation for the Nurses, Officers and Soldiers of the unit. Sanitation was dug, and a water supply assured.
They were usually situated about 20 kilometres behind the front lines; roughly mid-way between the front line and the Base Area, and about 500 yards from a main railway line or waterway system. Transportation to a CCS could have been via horse-drawn or motor ambulances. This was the first line of surgery and the furthest forward of nursing staff but treatment could still only be limited.
Casualty Clearing stations were usually grouped in twos or threes and would have worked in relay, that is, one would be closed and treating casualties for evacuation by train or ambulance to the Base Area, whilst the other would be empty and ready to receive new casualties. When this became full it would close, but the first would by now be empty and ready to receive new casualties again. A third would only be treating the sick, but would evacuate to receive battle casualties in an emergency. The CCS’s collected the casualties from the MDS’s by sending forward the Motor Ambulance Convoys [MAC’s] that were attached to them. The ambulances of the MAC’s were Army Service Corps vehicles [ASC] and each had an ASC driver and an RAMC attendant. In exceptional circumstances a Field Ambulance would be attached to assist.
There were six mobile X-Ray units serving in the British Expeditionary Force during the Great War and these were sent to assist the CCS’s during the great battles.
The Rontgen Tube had been in use during the South African War of 1898-1902 and complete trailer X-Ray equipment was attached to every CCS from very early in the Great War.
The holding capacity was about four weeks in order for men to be returned to their units or be transferred by Ambulance Trains or Inland Water Transport to a hospital. The seriousness of many wounds challenged the facilities of the Casualty Clearing Stations and as a result their positions are marked today by large military cemeteries.
No 4 CCS War Diary is held at the National Archives under WO95/413 and covers Oct 1914 to Oct 1919. There is no information on casualties treated, just numbers passing through, where sited, staff and administration. Admissions and Discharge Registers have not survived.
Arthur James Sear died of his wounds on March 12th 1915, age 19, and was buried in grave III. A. 13. at Lillers Communal Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France. This makes it almost certain that he died at Lillers No 4 Casualty Clearing Station.
His headstone reads “Stand Fast, quit ye like men”, which was authorised by his father.
Allied casualties during Neuve Chapelle were 7,000 British, 4,200 Indian. All around Arthur’s grave the resting places of Indian soldiers can be found, including Sikhs, Mohammedans, and Hindus. Five of the six men who died on the same day as Arthur and are buried at Lillers Communal Cemetery are Hindus.
- 2nd Bn. Leicestershire Regiment
- 1/3rd Bn. London Regiment (Territorial Force)
- 39th Garhwal Rifles
- 2nd Bn. 3rd Gurkha Rifles
- 2nd Bn. 8th Gurkha Rifles
Two were from the same Division as Arthur:
- Rifleman Ratan Singh Rawat, reg no 743, 39th Garhwal Rifles, grave II. B. 5.
- Rifleman Tek Bahadur Thapa, reg no 2983, 8th Gurkha Rifles, grave II. B. 10.
The second UK soldier and three of the Indian soldiers were from a different Division:
- Rifleman A Brien, reg no 1942, The King’s Liverpool Regiment, grave III. A. 12.
- Rifleman Bhagat Bahadur Sen, reg no 2953, 9th Gurkha Rifles, grave II. B. 9.
- Rifleman Kul Bahadur Mal, reg no 3020, 9th Gurkha Rifles, grave III. C. 2.
- Jemadar Tika Ram Kumar, 1st King George’s Own Gurkha Rifles (The Malaun Regiment), grave III. C. 5.
Of the 30 men buried at Lillers between March 10th and March 15th three were Sikhs:
Sepoy Ajib Singh died on March 13th 1915. He served in the 52nd Sikhs (Frontier Force), attached to the 59th Scinde Rifles (Frontier Force), Service No: 3280. In 1914, the regiment’s class composition was three companies of Pathans, two companies each of Sikhs and Dogras, and one company of Punjabi Muslims. During the First World War, the regiment served with great gallantry on the Western Front in 1914–15, fighting in the Battles of Givenchy and Neuve Chapelle. Grave Reference: III. C. 2. He is the son of Andu, of Obhoke, Shahbazpur, Taran Taran, Amritsar.
Naik Badan Singh died on March 14th 1915. He served in the 58th Vaughan’s Rifles (Frontier Force), Service No: 3113. In 1914, the regiment’s class composition was three companies each of Pathans and Sikhs, and one company each of Dogras and Punjabi Muslims. During the First World War, the regiment served on the Western Front in 1914-15, fighting in the Battles of La Bassee, Givenchy, Neuve Chapelle. Grave Reference: III. C. 2. He is the son of Ladi, of Pandori, Adampur, Jullundur.
Sepoy Indar Singh died on March 13th 1915. He served in the 47th Sikhs, Service No: 648. The 47th Sikhs were an infantry regiment of the British Indian Army. The 47th Sikhs were among the early Indian divisions arriving in France at Marseilles on September 26, 1914 as part of the 3rd Lahore Division. Grave Reference: II. B. 14. Father of Badan Singh, of Dadial, Hoshiarpur, Garhshankar.
After the bloody battle of Neuve Chapelle, France (10 till 13 March 1915) the Sikh Regiments had lost eighty percent of their men and three regiments stood at only sixteen percent of its original composition. A Sikh soldier wrote to his uncle in Jallandhar (Punjab):
“Thousands and hundreds of thousands of soldiers have lost their lives. If you go on the fields of battle you will see corpses piled upon corpses so that their is no place to place or put hand or foot. Men have died from the stench. No one has any hope of survival, for back to Punjab will go only those who have lost a leg or an arm or an eye. The whole world has been brought to destruction.”
There are in total 25 Sikh graves in Lillers Communal Cemetery.
The imposing Indian Memorial is located at a roundabout on the main D947 road to the south-east of the village. This is where the D171 (Rue du Bois) crosses the main road. It is actually on the site which was marked as Port Arthur on trench maps. There was a small bulge in the lines here, which meant that this was a little further behind the front lines than was the case further north and south along this road. Consequently, at the start of the battle, the battalion Headquarters of the 1/39 Garwahl Rifles was based here.
Situated just outside the Indian Memorial itself is a stone memorial to 2/Lt Cyril Alfred William Crichton, of the 3/London regiment who was killed near here on the first day of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle. The memorial was moved from it’s original location (which was nearer the cafe on the other side of the roundabout) to here in 1965. It was damaged during the Second World War and has also been hit by a car in the past. 2/Lt Crichton’s body was found in 1925, and he is now buried in Le Touret Cemetery.
Arthur earned the British Medal, the Victory Medal and the 1915 Star.
There is a memorial to Arthur in St. Luke’s Church, Holloway. This is currently in storage. It is a rectangular tablet, mounted on a stone backboard, with the inscription in black lettering. The regimental badge is at the top centre of the tablet. The tablet has a green border with red squares at each corner. It reads:
In loving memory of Arthur James Sear, Drummer 3rd London Regt (Royal Fusiliers} who fell mortally wounded at Neuve Chapelle and died on the 12th March 1915, aged 19 years. Staff Serjeant, St Lukes Co CLB. “Stand Fast, Quit Ye Like Men”.