So far as possible the troops who were to be in the first wave of the assault had been relieved and rested for at least three days before the battle. The day before they moved up the line was filled with last-minute preparations. Padres were issued with Burial Registration Books; ‘green envelopes’ were distributed so that soldiers who wished could put their affairs in order, for such letters containing private and personal information could be sent uncensored by battalion officers, although they might be opened at the base. Extra rations and ammunition were drawn, rifles and feet were inspected, last-minute instructions issued to NCOs. There were sing-songs that night and gambling too, for some troops had been paid and the Crown and Anchor kings set up their boards to fleece them. Mostly they succeeded, but the Tommies didn’t mind much. The games had pleasantly passed the time and moreover even the soldiers of Kitchener’s Army had quickly cottoned on to the superstition that it was bad luck to go into battle with money in your pocket.
The guns thundered on and the Tommies lying in flimsy bivouacs or on the floors of half-ruined buildings for their last full night’s sleep were lulled to rest, or kept awake, by the vibration of the guns pulsing gently through their heads. They were lucky if they slept at all for a spectacular thunderstorm gave way to heavy rain.
Lt. A. F. P. Christison, MC, 6 Bn., Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders, 45 Brig., 15 Div.
Next day men handed in packs and greatcoats and with the CO. and Adjutant I attended the final briefing for the Battle of Loos. Brigadier-General Wallerstein, a small old man with white hair, gave out the orders clearly enough. The four machine-gun sections were to be brigaded under the Brigade Machine-Gun Company and given the task of protecting the left flank of the division. The Northamptons would be on our left and we were to liaise with them as they advanced. Our Colonel asked whether, if we got our objective easily, we were
to press on or to consolidate. The Brigadier was indefinite. He said, ‘If things go well, push on. Take it as you find it.’ This was to have grave repercussions. We were then told that the 21st Division would pass through us. Events proved otherwise.
That night, Friday 24 September, we moved up in close support of the KOSB who were to go over first, and spent the night in a support trench without sleep.
The battle was only hours away. The men of the special gas brigades moved into the front-line trenches to begin their final task of checking the gas cylinders and attaching the long pipes that would discharge the gas towards the enemy lines. They wore striped brassards of red, white and green to distinguish them as special troops with special authority – and also to prevent them from being rounded up as stragglers and ordered over the top.
Behind them the infantry of six divisions were filing towards the long lines of assembly trenches in a less than orderly fashion, striking across country from the few main roads – roads so congested with men and traffic that everything slowed to a crawl. If anything, the narrow communication trenches that led to the assembly positions were worse. Some battalions arriving at last in their assembly trench had been as much as nine hours on the way and the air was blue with curses. Even the men who had had less difficulty reaching the line and had been in position for some time were not particularly happy.
Rfn. W. Worrell.
The Battalion moved up into the line and C Company were in position in the assembly trench on the night of 24 September at 10.30 p.m. – and the rain poured down. We were dressed in battle order, which means full equipment excepting the pack. The haversack with two days’ rations was fixed on the back in place of the pack. Every man had two extra bandoliers of .303 ammunition and a tool pushed down behind the haversack. I had a spade. Every time I stood up straight it pushed my cap off and if I leaned against the side of the trench the handle stuck into my behind. By midnight the rain was pelting down and we were soaked through. Our artillery were making such a din that you couldn’t hear the whistle of the Jerry shells when they came over. It wasn’t until the explosion that you knew he was still in the war. I could feel the rain seeping through my puttees and filling my boots. In the early hours of the morning there was a tremendous roar and the ground swayed under our feet. The mine that I had worked on had been exploded. The artillery bombardment seemed to increase until the noise became painful. Just before dawn the two sergeants, Spud Murphy and Sid Hubbard, came along the top of the trench with a jar and a mug. Take a good swig, youngster,’ said Sergeant Hubbard. I did that, then gasped, coughed and spluttered. Neat rum, I found out, should not be swallowed in mouthfuls!
There was deep gloom in the trenches where the weary men of the 7th Cameron Highlanders waited miserably for the dawn, for Colonel Sandilands had deprived them of the tot of rum that might have cheered them up. ‘If my men are going to meet their maker,’ he said, ‘they will meet Him sober!’ And he had even ordered the sergeants to up-end the jars and pour the precious rum away. They tipped it over the back of the shallow trench and the men got never a sniff of it. Their indignation helped to keep them warm.
For the umpteenth time platoon sergeants checked the equipment each man would take into battle. One particular item was unique to the 7th Camerons and scout Sergeant Tommy Lamb was rather pleased with it. Some of the signallers would be carrying flags or discs on long poles, coloured differently for each division, which they would hold aloft as their battalion advanced to pinpoint the positions of the troops. The flags of the 15th Division were plain yellow, but Tommy Lamb was struck by the idea of cutting a square of Cameron tartan from an old kilt and, with the colonel’s permission, having it sewn to one corner of the identifying flag. Now the battalion would go into battle bearing the Cameron colours. Colonel Sandilands was delighted.
General Sir Douglas Haig spent a sleepless night for he was painfully conscious that everything depended on the speed and direction of the wind. Forty gas officers positioned along the front, specially trained to estimate velocity and direction, sent back reports every hour and the wind was also measured in a dozen different places behind the front. Once or twice a night reports came in from Paris collating observations made at various points in France, and weather conditions in the British Isles, monitored at 1 p.m. and again twelve hours later, were wired directly to France. This was standard procedure, for wind and weather were vital to the operations of the Royal Flying Corps and it was the responsibility of the Meteorological Officer, Captain Gold, to see them plotted on a huge chart of western Europe and to produce weather forecasts accordingly. The forecasts were rough and ready, and in the changeable climate of western Europe they could not hope to be accurate for more than the next few hours – but it was the next few hours that mattered. Never had the chart on the wall of the Met. Office been scrutinised more often and more anxiously than in the hours before the battle. As the night wore on, the favourable conditions on which Haig had decided to gamble began to look more doubtful.
The weather forecast at this hour, 9.45 p.m., indicates that a west or south west wind may be anticipated tomorrow, 25th September. All orders issued for the attack with gas will therefore hold good. The hour of Zero will be notified later during the night.
At three o’clock in the morning, after he had plotted the latest reports from the British Isles, Captain Gold went to see General Haig. Near the front the wet westerly wind was still steadily blowing. Usually, Gold explained, the wind began to increase after sunrise but it was impossible, in this case, to rely on it. The wind following the south-westerly was weakening and showing a tendency to turn to the south. General Haig went straight to the point. What time then, in the opinion of Captain Gold, would be the most favourable for the attack? Gold hesitated, reluctant to commit himself. ‘As soon as possible,’ he said.
‘As soon as possible’ was dawn, and the order was given at once. At ten to six in the morning the gas was to be turned on and forty minutes later the infantry would follow it over the top. The guns roared on, flashing through the pitch-black night. As the first streak of dawn appeared in the sky behind the German lines the rain eased off. The wind began to drop.
Like the supply of shells, the supply of gas had not come up to expectations. German gas-masks, like those of the British, were soaked in chemicals to filter the lethal fumes and experiments with masks taken from prisoners had shown that they remained effective for only half an hour. After that they had to be re-processed and re-dipped, so it was vital to the British plan that gas clouds should envelop the Germans for at least forty minutes. But such a quantity of gas was simply not available and the plan was modified. For the first twelve minutes six gas cylinders would be discharged, then at two-minute intervals four smoke candles would be lit, then another twelve-minute burst of gas, then six minutes of smoke and, in the last two minutes before the assault, the final and largest burst of smoke would smother the front and cover the infantry as they climbed out of the trenches. It was the best that could be done and this programme would at least ensure that the Germans would still be wearing their masks long after they had lost the power to protect them.
Lt. Α. Β. White, 186 Coy.,Royal Engineers.
My men had previously had the programme explained to them. By 5.30 a.m. I had everything ready to start at zero and I went back a short distance to see whether the wind was favourable. Finding it blowing very lightly from the south south-west and varying considerably in direction, I decided not to carry on and warned the men to do nothing without further orders. At 5.40 a.m. a mine was blown up in front of my line. The charge appeared to have been weak as no debris was thrown up, only an immense cloud of smoke. From the direction in which the smoke drifted I was confirmed in my impression that it would not be safe to carry on.
Lieutenant White was on the 2nd Division front near the la Bassée Canal, and almost in the same place where Tommy Robartes’ band had treated the Germans to the ‘concert’. The mine exploded on the German line just beyond the lip of the crater they called Etna, but the Germans were not there. They had retired to another line some fifty yards behind, and the mine exploded harmlessly beneath their empty trench. It did at least give a useful pointer to the direction of the wind.
The light grew stronger. From his position on a high slag-heap General Gough’s French interpreter, Paul Maze, was able to pick out landmarks coming slowly out of the night. The slag-heaps, sharply conical or low and lumbering like hump-backed whales; the skeleton tracery of Tower Bridge rising out of Loos, the overhead wires above the pits, and suspended coal trolleys ‘silhouetted like spiders entangled in their webs’.
Just before daybreak in front of the Lens Road Redoubt Alex Dunbar’s gun crew had pulled aside the false walls of the ruined cottage to reveal their gun and were firing point blank at the German wire entanglements to open a path for the infantry.
Bdr. A. Dunbar.
We ran the muzzle forward into the opening and started work. Through my telescope sight I had an excellent view of the target and I could pick out the section of wire I wanted to cut. It was easy! This was the first occasion I had used direct firing and I found it much more interesting than laying on an aiming post and never seeing the target.
After firing about fifty rounds, I noticed that my eyes were beginning to water and before long I could hardly see at all. I put this down to the fumes of the cordite which came from the breech every time it was opened. The others didn’t seem to be affected so I thought that the extra strain of laying was responsible for my trouble. I changed places with my number 2, but after a few rounds he was crying his eyes out! Just then we became aware of a beautiful smell of lilac filling the room. This was the last thing we expected. Perhaps there was a field of lilac nearby and a changing wind had brought the smell to us. We were puzzled.
We managed to continue firing by frequently swapping places. We hoped our infantry were keeping their heads well down when we were cutting their wire! With fuses correctly set and with such a flat trajectory there was not much risk of bullets going into our own trenches. At zero plus thirty minutes we ceased fire. We had fired about a hundred and fifty rounds and blown some useful gaps in the wire on both sides.
In the countdown to zero hour, while the guns were doing their best to cut the enemy wire, gas clouds slid across the front like a curtain stabbed by red bursts of shrapnel. But the wind had slowed down. In places it dropped altogether and Lieutenant White on the 2nd Division’s front was not the only gas officer who was worried. It took him a long time to get through on the telephone to Brigade Headquarters and it was almost time for the gas to be released. Everything was in readiness. The men were standing by. The iron pipes, ten feet long, had been thrown over the parapet and joined up to the flexible tubes that linked them to the cylinders. At twelve minutes to six, with two minutes to go, White succeeded at last and spoke to the Brigadier-General and informed him that he could not carry on in these conditions. The General made no bones about the situation. Addressing his junior officer with extraordinary frankness he told him bluntly that he had already been in touch with 2nd Divisional Headquarters, that he was aware that all was not well and that he had passed on the information to higher authority. But he had received a direct order to carry on. Under these circumstances he had no alternative but to pass the order on to Lieutenant White. The General’s voice was flat and unemotional, but it was clear that the decision was not his. By the time White returned from the telephone in a support trench to the emplacement in the front line it was almost six o’clock. He ordered the gas to be turned on and the cylinders were opened.
Lt. A. B. White.
At first the gas drifted slowly towards the German lines (it was plainly visible owing to the rain) but at one or two bends of the trench the gas drifted into it. In these cases I had it turned off at once. At about 6.20 a.m. the wind changed and quantities of the gas came back over our own parapet, so I ordered all gas to be turned off and only smoke candles to be used.
Punctually at 6.30 a.m. one company of the King’s advanced to the attack wearing smoke helmets. But there was a certain amount of confusion in the front trench owing to the presence of large quantities of gas. We experienced great difficulty in letting off the gas owing to faulty connections and broken copper pipes causing leaks. Nearly all my men suffered from the gas and four had to go to hospital. Three out of the five machine-guns on my front were put out of action by the gas.
Very little could be seen of the German line owing to the fog of smoke and gas. Our infantry reached the enemy wire without a shot being fired, but they were mown down there by machine-gun fire or overcome by the gas. One or two made their way back and reported that there were seven to ten rows of wire uncut, and that nobody had reached the front German trench. A report also came in that the enemy were not holding their front line, but were firing from their second line.
In the middle of the line, in front of the wire which Alex Dunbar’s gun team had been so furiously cutting, the 15th Scottish Division had better luck, for the guns pounding the Lens Road Redoubt had done their job well and here even the capricious wind was stronger. But only a quarter of a mile away, where the King’s Own Scottish Borderers stood stifling in gas-helmets as they waited to go over, the breeze was skittish and gas drifted back into their trenches. The German guns were shelling now. As Lieutenant Christison led the machine-gunners of the 6th Cameron Highlanders forward, even through the hiss and rattle of falling shrapnel and even above the sound of his own stentorious breathing in the suffocating mask, he caught the unmistakable wail of bagpipes. He could hardly believe his ears.
Gas was an unknown quantity. The waiting troops had worn their masks rolled up and pulled the hoods down as ordered ten minutes before zero. Already it was hard to breathe. When the gas cloud rolled back to engulf the first line of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers it was not surprising that they faltered and hung back. Piper Laidlaw had saved the situation. Tearing off his own mask, leaping on the parapet, he played the pipes for all he was worth. He hardly knew what he was playing but the skirl of the pipes had done the trick. One by one, in a trickle and then in a flood, the men pulled themselves together, clambered over the parapet and began to run across towards the German wire. Machine-guns opened up and sprayed across their lines as they loomed out of the smoke.*
But across most of the 15th Division front the wind had been favourable, the Germans were demoralised, and the Scots battered and bayoneted their way across the first of their lines and swept on into the valley. By nine o’clock they had covered a quarter of a mile and were fighting in the village of Loos.
On their right, where the 47th Division were to seize the Double Crassier and extend to capture the southern outskirts of Loos, the London Territorials were well on the way to success. By the time Frank Moylan jumped off in the second wave, they had already captured the German front line.
Cpl. F. Moylan.
A and Β Companies took the front line. C and D were to go through them and take the second one. I was in C. We had the furthest to go. Now, war is peculiar. C Company had the fewest casualties and went the furthest distance. Β Company lost every officer – the whole lot on the right, a hell of a lot, got killed. We were lucky. We’d found gaps in the wire. It was all a matter of luck. There’s a tremendous amount of luck in war, you know.
We went up the night before this attack. We were pretty tight in the trench and we sat down on the floor of it. I’d got somebody in between my legs and somebody else behind me had got me in between his legs. There was a fellow named Brockhurst behind me and a man named Emersfield in front of me and Emersfield got cramp and it meant we both had to get up and we changed positions. I was in front then and Emersfield was in the middle. We had ladders in the trench to go up, and when it came to the time we went over and we hadn’t got very far when this chap Emersfield flopped down. Must have been a machine-gun bullet. Of course, he was where I would have been if we hadn’t changed places! I remember thinking that as I saw him go down.
In an attack the whole thing seems a bit like a dream. It doesn’t take as long as you think. Crossing No Man’s Land, you imagine beforehand what a hell of a journey that’s going to be – but it’s not, and either the Germans are dead or there’s no one there. There were a lot of our dead in No Man’s Land as we crossed and more at the places where they’d arrived at the wire and it wasn’t cut. Then they were just sitting ducks. We just went through gaps in the wire, but we weren’t in the first wave luckily.
We got to the German front line and they were mopping it up – there were prisoners there being mustered, and there were dead lying about. Then we got to the second line and they’d gone from there. Where we were the gas blew over the Germans and that may have driven them out of that second line. There were some dug-outs there and we went down one of them – deep, long, steep it was, very well made – and I got a terrific fright then. It was pitch black and we were just feeling our way. Somebody had a glimmer of light ahead but where I was it was really dark, and I suddenly felt this arm grabbing me and pulling me flat in the dark. I toppled right over. I nearly died of fright. I must have yelled out because someone struck a light, and there was a wounded German, lying there in the dark. He was alive but somebody must have thrown a bomb down there. He got peppered all over and he was a mass of dried blood. He was calling for his mother and for water. He was muttering, ‘Mutter, Mutter, Wasser.’ Mother, Mother, water. We got him out and it was a hell of a job up those stairs, and when we got him out it was raining. We laid him out in the trench there and he was taken away after a while.
When we got back in the trench I saw the most extraordinary thing happen. I got up to look over – it was quite safe, because the fighting was a good bit ahead – and there were civilians knocking about. Loos village was on our left, and suddenly out came these civilians. I saw them myself! Of course they were shepherded away as quickly as possible but I remember seeing an old woman wounded, hobbling along and thinking that she must have been shot in the leg. There was a whole bunch of them, at least a dozen, maybe more.
The Scots had broken through so swiftly in the wake of the gas, pushed back the survivors with such determination and battered their way into Loos village with such ferocity that the German troops who endeavoured to make a stand were overwhelmed in the act of erecting barriers in the streets. Soon observers were delightedly reporting back that crowds of Germans were running up the hill towards their second line with the Scots in full pursuit. The village had been captured so rapidly and so unexpectedly that days later German soldiers were still being winkled out of hiding places in attics and deep cellars. The orders were for the troops to press on as far and as fast as possible while a second and third wave followed behind to consolidate the lines they had captured, and the Jocks were carrying out their orders to the letter. They had punched a great hole in the centre of the German line and there was no stopping them.
Further north, on the left of the main attack, things had gone less well and the German line that ran in front of the village of Hulluch, past the outskirts of Auchy to straddle the la Bassée Canal was almost intact.
Paul Maze, Interpreter att. I Corps HQ.
The actual front line was completely blurred. The middle-distance between the front line and our slag-heap was now in constant convulsion, rising in columns of black earth and smoke. The gas which we had released was drifting heavily down across the left of our front, obviously in the wrong direction. We peered and peered through our glasses, trying to catch sight of anything where the smoke had drifted away. Through a gap the horizon showed up like a sinister purple streak. Suddenly someone shouted, ‘What’s that near Fosse 8?’ We all focused our glasses on the slag-heap and for a second figures appeared, as one might see bathers surge up in the troughs of rough seas.
Our telephones buzzed feverishly; messages were coming in on the wires, all more or less confused. Someone caught a visual message and spelt the words out to another who took it down, repeating every syllable with that slow cadence that gives special significance to tidings, and leaves an indelible impression on the mind: ‘We – have – no – officers – left –…’ Then something happened. The shutter flashing the message had closed. Contact was lost.
Scots of the 9th Division had stormed the Hohenzollern Redoubt, some had even managed to reach a slag-heap beyond it, but on either side of them where the gas had blown back matters had gone badly.
Sgt. F. M. Packham, 2nd Bn., Royal Sussex Regt., 2 Brig., 1st Div.
Our Division’s directive was to reach the Loos-la Bassée Road by noon, also the Hohenzollern Redoubt, the village of Hulluch, and to get as far forward as possible by late afternoon. Then we were to hold our positions until reinforcements arrived to carry on with the advance. The right of the Division’s line was marked by a lone tree that was growing in No Man’s Land. My company was in the second wave of the attack, and the ‘lone tree’ was our guiding line.
Just before we had to go over the top, an officer gave me a message to take to the officer in charge of the platoon when they reached the front line. I went up the communication trench which was full of troops which made it difficult to make good time, but I was able to get into our front line. There was a gas officer in the trench. He looked ghastly and all the buttons on his tunic were green as if they were mouldy. He was saying that the gas was blowing back into our troops’ faces. The wind had turned round on us. The German shelling was terrific and the forward troops had gone over the top, and I thought my platoon had gone over the top and caught up with a line of advancing troops, so over I went to catch them up. The gas was now very thick and everybody was wearing gas-masks, just a flannel bag with a mica slot to see through. I had mine on but my mica slot was all steamed up and I couldn’t see anything. Also, I was nearly suffocating so I took it off, and to my amazement I saw that there were only about six of us advancing. After a few more yards there were only two of us, and as we were both close together we flung ourselves to the ground. The man beside me asked me what we should do. I said that we’d better wait for the next line to come up to us then advance with them.
Very soon we heard the Germans firing again, and looking back we could see a line advancing. We could see men falling so I fired my own rifle at the Germans hoping to keep their heads down. When the line reached us there were only two or three left, and they too went to ground. We waited for another line to come. As we lay there the gas seemed to be getting worse and I had no mask on so I must have breathed a lot of the gas. I found that if I lifted my head up the air seemed to be much fresher. Then the Germans started firing again as another wave came over, but it was the same thing over again! In fact, nobody from this third line even got as far as our position. It was soon after that we heard someone shout for everyone to get back to our front line. As we made our way back across No Man’s Land, there were a lot of men wounded or killed laying on the ground and when we reached our front line, the trench was full of troops – including a lot of wounded. I heard that my platoon officer I was looking for was killed within minutes of going over the top.
We heard that the 47th London and the 15th Scottish divisions had captured the village of Loos and had reached the German second line. Also, that our 1st Brigade had reached the Hohenzollern Redoubt and were still fighting there. It looked as if we were the only brigade that had failed to get our objective!
All along the left where the 19th Division were intended to form a flank to protect the main attack, it had been an almost complete failure.
Pte. W. H. Shaw, 9th Bn., Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 58 Brig., 19 (Western) Div.
I was about the most fortunate man in France that day. We were almost on the extreme flank of the sector that was going over, on the left flank, north of Loos. I was detailed to go and report to C Company. Each company had three signallers attached to the company – two asleep and one on duty. But an hour before we were due to go over I got a signal to report back to Battalion Headquarters. We were being exchanged and I was to be transferred to Β Company, and three signallers from Β Company were going to the company I’d just left. Well, the next thing I knew the officer I reported to said, ‘We’re being attached to the Welsh Regiment.’ I had to report to a Captain Davies, a South Wales chap, so I reported to him and off we went, to join up with the Welsh Regiment who were on our right.
We kicked off with a rugby football. That’s how we kicked off, chaps with half a dozen rugby balls belted over and in we went. Now there was a Welsh Fusilier chap, and he was the first casualty I saw. You’ve never seen such a mess in all your life! He was out! He was slumped over the smoke cylinder, and the smoke was pouring out from his stomach. A shell must have hit him directly, and his stomach was completely opened up. Oh! It was shocking. I was only eighteen and it was the first time I’d seen anything like that. You couldn’t do anything for him.
As soon as the word came to attack and the whistles blew, the Germans actually shouted to us, ‘Come on, Tommy, we know you’re coming over.’ ‘Come on, Tommy, we’re waiting for you.’ They were that close! The Germans were still shelling us when we went across and, believe me, they didn’t half send some stuff over! Of course, the Colonel, this Major Maddox, and the Adjutant, they were carrying their swords! Well, they hardly got out of the trench! They didn’t even get to the top before they were hit by the machine-gun. Major Maddox was mown down before he got his feet on the top of the trench. They had their swords flashing, you see! It was absolutely ridiculous because the Germans were looking for officers. They were the main targets.
Well, we dived for cover, anywhere we could get, and machine-guns opened out on us and, believe me, those machine-guns! Whew! Terrific. You couldn’t imagine it! I was lying flat on my stomach, trying to make myself as inconspicuous as possible, and this shell came very, very close and a piece of shrapnel came down and hit me on the back of the hand. Now, that piece of shrapnel was perhaps just as big as my hand, and it came flat. It burnt me, but if it had come edge on, I’d have lost my hand. That was the first lucky escape I had.
We were held up. We couldn’t move. We couldn’t budge, and we got the orders to retire to the front line. Well, what we saw when we were trying to get back! It was real sickening seeing the lads, how they were mowed down. I still worry to this day how we stuck it out. Oh, yes, I think about it. I should say that from the time when we went over to when we got back was about an hour, and we were pinned down. We couldn’t go any further. It was impossible with all the machine-guns and all the shelling! We were just pinned down and we got the order to retire. Well, there was nothing for us to do. There weren’t enough left to do anything.
The remainder of us went back to our own regiment and when we got back, the place was in an uproar. The company that I’d originally been ordered to report to, C Company, was completely wiped out. Those three signallers that took our place, they were riddled! And there they were, stuck on the barbed wire. You see, our artillery had been trying to smash their barbed wire and never succeeded. They put a barrage down of shells for about three or four days, then, as the time came for us to go over, the artillery stopped firing but the Germans had time to get up from their dug-outs – and their dug-outs were 60, 70, 80 foot deep. You could get the whole Battalion in some of their dug-outs.
It was our own signalling officer that told us that C Company had been wiped out and that we’d lost the three signallers. We tried hard to get him to let us go and look for them, we were that keyed up. And they were such fine chaps! They were from my own town. Private Edwards, I don’t know how he got the name but he was always known as Cosh, and there was Tom Jones and Billy Hughes. But they wouldn’t let us go forward. Search parties went out. They wouldn’t let me go. I was eighteen – the youngest man in the Battalion.
Pte. C. H. Russell, 14th (County of London) Bn. (London Scottish), 1st Brig., 1st Div.
When I first went up into the front line there were three of us in this fire bay and the sergeant came in to tell us about something and all of a sudden one of these pipsqueaks went off, bang. And, lo and behold, next minute the sergeant was right down in the ground! So of course we all laughed. He got up and he said, ‘You’re bloody well laughing? You wait until you’ve been there a month, you’ll be quicker than I am in getting down to it.’ He was right. My nerves were fine until I got out into the open. When you get out of the trench you feel quite naked. The protection’s gone. It’s a queer feeling out in the open after being in the trench for about a week.
They told us it would be a bit of cake and all we’d got to do for this attack was to dawdle along and take these trenches which we’d find pulverised by our guns. Every other blooming shot was a dud, I think. You could hear them hit bomp, bang– that was a live one – but most of them went bomp– then dead silence. A dud blooming shell! Lloyd George took it up. Most of the stuff wasn’t worth sending out. They said that these trenches were so pulverised that we’d just walk into them and take over. When we did start the attack, my battalion lost hundreds of men in the first hour or so. The whole thing was a waste of lives.
Six of us were going along with bags of bombs. We were to follow the first wave with these bombs, because they soon go and they weigh about a pound each, so the bombers can’t carry too many. All Hell was let loose. There were five ahead of me. The chap in front of me had the whole of his face blown away. I’ve never seen anything so horrible in all my life. It was just a red mass, his face. He sunk down moaning, making a horrible noise and I had to push on. The bag of bombs was blown out of my hand, and I picked it up again and had to walk on with it.
We were all in extended order, waiting to push on further, and a sergeant came in and said, ‘You’d better wait until they sing out where they want the bombs.’ So we waited there a bit and after a time we went forward again. Reinforcements never came. Another officer joined us. He wasn’t one of our officers, quite a decent bloke though, and he said, ‘Well, we’ve got to hang on here, we may have to push forward later on.’ But we had to make an orderly retirement back again, because the attack failed altogether. They mowed them down.
The right-hand divisions of the 47th London Division were to steady and form a hinge on which the whole assault could pivot as it went forward. On their right the Londoners were to sweep ahead to capture the Double Crassier and the outskirts of Loos village. They had done just that, the assault had succeeded and now they were in the third German line. They were not intended to advance any further and, having gained their objectives, they were instructed to stop and to form a defensive flank at the southern end of the battle. The orders of the 15th Division had not made this clear to them. They were merely told that the 47th Division would be attacking on their right, and this half-information had given the Jocks the impression that the Londoners would continue to advance alongside them. But, as they advanced looking for the Londoners on their right, they found nobody there. Nor was there anyone to be found on their left, so both flanks of the 15th Scottish Division were ‘in the air’. But still they plunged on and, in the excitement of their advance, they drifted well away from the route they should have followed. It was a long time before anyone realised that the Scots had lost direction.