Pillbox, Shako, and Cap/Chapter III
War declared, 1914[edit | edit source]
From the 27th July 1914, Britain began to respond to the gathering crisis in Germany. Two days later, all British troops on leave were recalled, and the army mobilized. Lord Kitchener, the new Secretary of State, appealed for volunteers. By chance, The Kensington Territorial Force had just been assembling for summer camp, and had entrained at Addison Road, station, on 2nd August for Salisbury Plain. At 10, that night, they receive orders to report to their Headquarter’s Drill Hall. That they were able to act quickly, under their commanding officer Lieut.-Colonel F G Lewis, [1910-15.], it was a tribute to their preparedness and efficient staff work. The 1/13th [County of London] Princess Louise’s Kensington Battalion, The County of London Regiment, was officially mobilised on the 4th August 1914, two days after boarding the train for summer camp. They were to form part of the then 24th Brigade, 8th Division.
Ninety thousand men descended upon Southampton and Portsmouth to board ships for Boulogne, Rouen and Le Havre, under the command of Sir John French… their destination was Maubeuge. The Army was made up of four infantry and one cavalry division. A division at this time equalled about eighteen thousand men – this sum included support troops. Two or more divisions made up a corps and two or more corps made an army. A British Expeditionary Force of six divisions, of about 80,000 men, set sail for France… they arrived on the 6th August and moving northeast reached the small town of Mons, in Belgium. The landing of The British Forces was completed by the middle of August.
Battle of the Frontiers[edit | edit source]
The battle waged against the advancing German Army by the Belgians and the French… the losses were high. Almost immediately the British had gone into the line alongside the French Army, trying to stem the tide of the German advance. The object was to hold the line located by the Mons-Conde Canal in Belgium. The British Force was stationed on the left of the Allied Forces directly in front of the advancing 1st German Army, Commanded by Alexander von Kluck. In manpower the German and French armies were equal at a million each. The German Schlieffen Plan, which entailed encircling the Allies, had been carefully planned long in advance. The BEF were crucial in keeping the line intact by stopping the German right wing. Whilst the British troops were heavily engaged the French 5th Army was engaged with the German 2nd and 3rd armies at the Battle of Charleroi. The French Army Commander, General Lanrezac instructed Field Marshal Sir John French the BEF Commander to hold the line for twenty-four hours. The BEF dug themselves in - preparing for the onslaught... The first contact with the enemy was on the 22nd August.
Battle of Cateau, 23 August[edit | edit source]
On 23 August 1914, the German 1st Army of General Alexander von Kluck arrived at Cateau – a village on the edge of Mons. They were following the Schlieffen Plan to outflank the Allies – to cut them off – from using the channel ports. The BEF was made up of four regular army divisions arranged as I Corps [Douglas Haig] and II Corps [Horace Smith-Dorrien]. Three hours later eight German battalions advanced against two battalions of the 3rd Infantry Division including D and B Companies of the 4th Middlesex Regiment, Kensingtons. They were overwhelmed by the 31st, 85th, and 86th, German Fusilier Regiments; these three Regiments comprised the German 18th Division, forced the British back towards Paris. By mid-day, the British began a withdrawal. To assist them, they requested reinforcement from the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish.
Battle of Mons, 23 - 24 August[edit | edit source]
After initially digging themselves in - thereby becoming familiar with the place, they set out their fields of fire and prepared a second line, they were again ordered to retire – so as not to be cut off. This was ordered by the Commander-in-Chief, General Joffre. The French Army had been defeated at the Battle of Charleroi. The British Army was the original Old Contemptibles and considered Britain’s finest troops capable of rapid, accurate firing with their Lee-Enfield rifles, capable of 15 aimed shots a minute. Albert was a champion shot, representing the regiment at Bisley. He was capable of double that figure. The battle opened at dawn on the 23rd August, with a German bombardment. There were four bridges over the canal… these the Germans had to force. Advancing in close-order, parade ground fashion, the advancing Germans were skittled down and forced to retire in confusion. Another attack was formed only this time in loose formation… this was more successful; using plantations of fir-trees to shied them. On the right of the Royal Fusiliers were the Kensingtons and Gordon Highlanders… Both suffered grievously. Fortunately the reserve battalion, the Royal Irish, gave sufficient steadying power to hold the bridges. Throughout the day the British II Corps held out. It was obvious to all that holding the bridges were not going to last. The Kensingtons had suffered 15 officers and 353 killed or wounded nearly half the total. To the east the Germans had penetrated the perimeter turning the right flank.
At 15.00 hours the British 3rd Divisions was ordered to retire to the south of Mons. To straighten the line the 5th Division was also ordered to retire - establish a line through the villages. As news was received about the French collapse – it was deemed wise to pull back further, unfortunately this exposed the British right flank… a further withdrawal was scheduled for that night. It was an invidious position to be in. There had not been time to organise a proper holding action. The British Army was now holding a defensive line on the Valenciennes to Maubeuge Road. All the time the Germans were advancing. This retreat lasted two weeks and covered 250 miles. The battle had been won by the Germans although at a tremendous price [5,000 casualties]. The advance nearly took them to Paris.
Battle of the Marne, 5 - 14 September[edit | edit source]
The remainder of the German 1st Army had by this time arrived. Although the Germans advanced they lost considerably more men – it was considered a great strategic withdrawal… saving the French line from total collapse. The 4th Royal Fusiliers defended the northern approaches to Mons. The remainder of D and B Companies, of the Kensingtons, retreated to St Symphorien cemetery on the outskirts of Mons. Early that afternoon the British could see they were unable to withstand the pressure. The French army was retreating south together with the Belgian army. The British had their flank exposed and in danger of being cut off, falling back to Etreux on the 27th August. It was claimed the ‘Angels of Mons’ had aided the British army. This was the first major action of the British Expeditionary Force – the retreat from Belgium to the Marne. The fighting in Belgium and France was along traditional lines, which was of armies surging backwards and forwards… in what is known as engaging in forward and retiring movements. At the beginning of September the Allied retreat slowed down as the Germans lost impetuous - further from their supply base. This heralded the Battle of the Marne, which halted the German spearhead and lasted until the middle of the month. After the battle it was decided to move the BEF north to Flanders convenient to the channel ports. Travelling by train III Corps reached Abbeville on the 8th October, II Corps a day later and I Corps following on. On the 11th October IV Corps found itself close to Bruges and Ghent. Three days later the last gap in the Allied line was secured. The BEF held the line from Le Bassee to the river Douve… The French held the southern flank. The BEF was then moved to Flanders to be in easy reach of their supply base at the channel ports… arriving there the second week in October.
1st Battle of Ypres, 15 Oct - 22 Nov[edit | edit source]
Early on 3rd November 1914, The Kensington 2nd Battalion, marching behind their band to Watford station, boarded their train - bound for Southampton. Embarkation was complete by the following morning. The Battalion sailed for Le Havre which came in sight by midday… There they were marched off to Rest Camp 1. The next day mounting railway trucks they steamed off for St Omer grasping their long Lee-Enfield rifles, reaching their destination on the 6th. A period of training followed at Blendecques. These men were to join their 1st Battalion – to make up their numbers. The major battle that first year for the British was the 1st Battle of Ypres fought October 19th by the BEF under the command of Field Marshal Sir John French. That month the Allies had reached Nieuport on the North Sea coast.
The Germans meanwhile had captured Antwerp, and forced its defender back. At the start of November 1914, the Kensingtons were attached to the 8th Division as part of the 25th Infantry Brigade. The Brigade included the 2nd Lincolnshire’s, 2nd Royal Berkshires, 1st Royal Irish Rifles and the 2nd Rifle Brigade. The 8th Division was allocated a four mile stretch alongside the La Bassee Road and La Rue Tilleloy, just in front of the village of Laventie. This was referred to as the La Bassee Front and lay opposite Aubers Ridge north-east of Bethune, in Atois. The 8th Division had been redeployed north to join two divisions of reinforcements recently landed in Belgium. They advanced east from St Omer halting the German forces at the Passchendale Ridge. The Division was lined up from La Bassee to Messines, there was little activity but you could hear the battle raging to the north. The French Army Command and General Foch believed a coordinated attack would result in the recapture of the industrial city of Lille, then Belgium, finally to capture Brussels. The German General Falkenhayn had other opinions. He ordered the capture of Dunkirk, Calais, and Boulogne. He struck the Belgian defences on the Yser River. By far it was the worst battle fought – there was an almighty clash of troops. Only a few miles down the road was Ypres. There was constant hand to hand fighting as the battle swayed from one side to the other. The problem for the British was that the position was vulnerable to superior German artillery. The British made a stand which formed a salient around Ypres, the Battle becoming ‘The Massacre of the Innocents at Ypres. The Innocents being eight German units of young volunteers, many of them students - who were annihilated.
Battle of Nonne Bosschen, 11 November[edit | edit source]
The last major attack on the British lines occurred on the 11th November. This battle became famous because it was made by the Prussian Guards and they broke through the British lines. A counter-attack by the 1st Guards Division was forced to take shelter in the woods before driven out by a counter-attack. The fighting secured the close bonding between the British and the French. The two armies fought side by side all around Ypres in a fashion not used in earlier battles. The more the Germans extended their lines the more the Allied troops did too as the front stretched northwards up past Bapaume, Arras and Bethune… onwards to Ypres. For the next four years this ridge was to become a raging sore, the landscape a pulverised mass of pocked marked soil… this was Passchendale. The Battle of Aisne ended on the 13th November 1914, the last battle of the first year of war. During the 14th November 1914 the Kensingtons marched to Estaires. This small mill town on the banks of the Lys was to become very familiar to the Battalion. The low-lying land around the river and bridge; the lined cobbled roads shaded by tall poplars on either side echoed to the sound of marching feet. The 8th Division was part of General Sir Henry Rawlinson’s IV Corps… he inspected the Kensingtons, after the Battalion had reorganized itself - into a four-company structure. He recognised the enormous efforts made and made reference to it. The 8th Division went into the line just south of the Belgian frontier, close to Armentieres.
Battle of the Aisne, late November[edit | edit source]
Almost immediately there came the four day Battle of the Aisne. The method of waging war changed to one of stagnation as each side settled down and dug Battle Lines. Henceforth the artillery, and its insatiable appetite for ammunition, and the strung barbed wire, developed into the Western Front. The line from Ypres to Nieuport was held by the Belgians; Bethune, Lens, Arras, Bapaume, Verdun, and St Quentin were to become synonymous with great suffering and death. By the end of November the terrible battles died down, both armies were spent forces needing to reform. The Salient came to be attached to the Belgian names of the farms, villages and features – Mouse Trap Farm, Cheddar Villa, Polygon Wood, Sanctuary Wood, Hill 60, and many more At Neuve Chappelle the 1st Battalion Kensingtons lost 160 men even though they had broken the German lines. The losses at Aubers Ridge the losses were even higher reducing the battalion by thirty per cent. There were several awards granted and the gallant action by Captain Kimber rated a DSO. Over to the northeast a village on a ridge provided cover and observation posts for the German observers. They could see all that was going on. By December, the Germans decided to call off their offensive and to dig in – to resume the battle in the spring.--Terence Kearey 12:57, 23 August 2010 (UTC)