They were now attached to the 1st Army, under the command of General Sir Douglas Haig, and later the 11th Corps, under the command of General Sir Richard Haking.
” The first and most trying test was attacking Hohenzollern Redoubt on Oct 13th 1915, fighting over the same ground where 1/5th had been attacking at Loos. The heaviest part of the 2nd phase of the attack, on Oct 13th, was borne by the 46th N. Midland Division, the objective of 1/5th and 1/6th Battalion being the German Trench, Big Willie.
. . . ” The attack was made at the east end of Big Willie Trench and was intended to work forward to Fosse 8.
As soon as South Staffs left the parapets they came under deadly cross-fire from 3 sides. In the rush they captured the main trench but, owing to heavy machine gun fire, progress was impossible and the attack resolved itself in a struggle of bombing parties.
The S. Staffs fought their way along Big Willie, and far into the night this soldier’s battle continued. It had become an affair of individual gallantry & endurance rather than battle plan. For three days they fought and endured like heroes of old until relieved by 2nd Guards Brigade . . . ” [NB Discrepancy with 1/5th Staffords War Diary ‘relieved by 3rd Guards Brigade‘]
” The result was a gain of the main trench of the Redoubt and no more. This was not the fault of the Battalion who led the attack. The artillery preparation was insufficient to clear obstacles and make progress across awful ground.’
Corporal SYDNEY HIBBETT & 1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS WAR DIARY.
12th Oct. Tue: In Billets. Proceeded to the trenches in relief of the 3rd GUARDS Brigade. Line taken over runs from G.5.c.8.7. to G.5.c.8.9. – 6half – 8 – 6.7half -5half.7 thence along “BIG WILLIE” trench to G.5.c.half.10. Reference Map BETHUNE combined Sheet.
************ 1/5th Bn FIELD STATE Oct 12th 1915: Available for:- TRENCH DUTY 13.10.15: 24 Officers; 721 Other Ranks. TOTALS 745. DUTY with TRANSPORT and STORES: 2 Officers; 56 Other Ranks. TOTALS 58. DETAILS: 1 Officer; 30 Other Ranks. TOTALS 21. SICK: 1 Officer; 20 Other Ranks. TOTALS 21. TOTALS: 28 Officers; 827 Other Ranks. TOTALS 855. ************
13th Oct. Wed: TRENCHES EAST OF VERMELLES. Took part in a Division Attack (See Narrative of events from 12 NOON 13th to 12 MIDNIGHT 14/15th). (below)
1/5th Bn South Staffordshire Regt.
Narrative of Events from 12. noon on 13th October 1915
At 12 noon on 13th October 1915, the Battalion was disposed as follows:- Headquarters, ‘A‘ and ‘D‘ companies in the old front line trench between ‘Hulluch Alley’ (1) and ‘Border Alley’ (2) (G.10.b.8.9 half to G.11.a.half.60) – to form second line of attack (3).
‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies, with Nos 3 and 4 special bombing parties (137th Brigade Operation Orders No.22 para.2.) in the old German trenches (from G.5.c. half.9 half to 7.8.)– to form first line of the attack .
During the Bombardment, especially from 12.30 pm to 1.30 pm the communication trench (from G.4. d.8. half -G.5.c.5.7.) between the two lines was shrapnelled by the enemy down its whole length.
The bombardment did not appear to affect the ‘South Face’ (4) or the ‘Dump Trench’ (5) (south of G.5.a.3.5.) as a great deal of sniping from these trenches took place between 12. noon and 2.0 pm, three of our periscopes were hit between 1.40 pm and 2.0 pm.
At 2.10 pm No 7 Platoon, on the right of ‘B’ Company, left the trench to form up on the parapet for the assault, and was followed by No 8. and No. 6.
Capt Millner, commanding the Company, the Platoon Officers of No. 7 and 8, and most of No. 7 Platoon were almost immediately hit by enfilade machine gun fire from the left, and the rest of the Company was withdrawn into the trench to await the arrival of the 1/5th North Staffordshire Regt. The Company also suffered from shell fire directed on their trench by the enemy.
‘A’ and ‘D’ Companies (3) in the second line moved over the parapet at 2.5 pm and advanced at 2.10 pm. They came immediately under heavy fire from machine guns and rifles which swept the parapet of our trenches in G.5.c, those of the old front line, and the ground between them. The fire was very deadly and appeared to come mainly from the left. Before the two companies had reached the front line trenches all the officers and most of the men had fallen.
At 2.20 pm the Germans instituted a bomb attack on the barrier in BIG WILLIE (at G.5.c.half.9 half) which was held by 8696 Sgt J. Beards and a section of ‘C’ Company. Lt H. Hawkes at once took forward No. 4 special bombing party to reinforce the post. At the same time a number of Germans in the South Face Trench got out of their trench and attempted to cross to Big Willie, but were driven back with loss by rapid fire from No. 10 Platoon.
The German bomb attack came over the second barrier into the space between the two barriers and was there engaged by our bombers, who drove the enemy back again beyond the second barrier. 8698 Sgt J. Beards and 7952 Pte W. Barnes doing good work with the Bayonet. At this point our men came under bomb fire from three directions, right, front, and half left, and were forced to retire to the first barrier from which they carried on the fight till about 4 pm when our losses in trained bombers made it necessary to retire over the first barrier into our own portion of the trench, the Germans using a longer range grenade than the Mills (6 ).
A sufficient supply of G.S. hand grenades (7) did not reach us until later, brought up by a carrying party under Lt. McKinnis, 6th Sherwood Foresters.
After the first advance had been stopped by the German fire, the Battalion occupied our original line in the old German trenches, where it was joined by two officers and 20 men of the 6th South Staffordshire Regt., and about 3. pm by Captain Robinson and 60 men of the 6th Bn Sherwood Foresters.
The defence was then reorganised as follows:–
in order from right to left – 6th Bn Sherwood Foresters, ‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies, 5th Bn South Staffordshire Regt., 6th Bn South Staffordshire Regt., – the trench sections being commanded by Capt. Robinson (6th Bn Sherwood Foresters); Captain Wilson, Capt.Thursfield (6th Bn South Staffordshire Regt) and Captain Wistance*.
As a German attack appeared imminent, and a thick mist settled over both lines, half the men were kept on watch while the other half took what rest they could. Towards evening the Germans opened a persistent shrapnel (whiz-bang) fire on our trenches.
During the night parties from the 6th Bn South Staffordshire Regt rendered much assistance in collecting our wounded who were lying in the open between trenches.
At 6.15 am on the 14th October a Company of the 5th Sherwood Foresters, under Captain Kerr, arrived in our trenches and was posted to the left of our line to support a new bomb attack on the German sector of Big Willie. This attack, which was intended to cooperate with a similar attack by the138th Brigade from the West Face, and was supported by rifle grenade fire, was unsuccessful against a very determined and vigorous defence.
The detachment of the 6th Bn South Staffordshire Regt was withdrawn about 12 noon and the trench garrison reorganised as follows:-
from right to left – 6th Sherwood Foresters; A, B, C, D Companies, 5th Bn South Staffordshire Regt; 6th Bn Sherwood Foresters.
Our heavy batteries shelled the South Face severely, from about 11.30 am onwards during the day and at 1.15 pm another bomb attack was made on Big Willie by the Company, 5th Bn Sherwood Foresters, but could make no progress, though maintained for nearly 6 (?) hours. The cooperation of the 138th Brigade from the West Face appeared to be very short lived. During practically the whole day the enemy directed H.E. shrapnel (whiz-bang) fire on our parapets and caused several casualties.
At midnight 14th -15th October, the Battalion (with the Sherwood Foresters attached) was relieved by the 3rd Guards Brigade and returned to billets at Sailly-la-Bourse, arriving there at 8. am on 15th October. (8)
Signed: R. RICHMOND RAYMER, Lt Col Comdg. 1/5 South Staffs Regt.
CASUALTIES: OFFICERS Killed 5; Wounded 6; Died of Wounds 2. OTHER RANKS Killed 41 ; Wounded 213; Wounded and Missing 53 ; Died of Wounds 3 . TOTAL CASUALTIES: OFFICERS 13; OTHER RANKS: 309.
(1) Hulluch Alley (see plan above) where Germans released poison chlorine gas on British troops, April 1916. (2) Border Alley: named after Scottish Bn?
(3) Corporal Sydney Hibbett in 1/5th ‘A’ Company at first but transferred to ‘D’ Company by this date. Pte Bertie Hibbett ‘A’Coy (one of the 20 Sick listed in 1/5th Staffs Field State for 13th Oct.) would have been in the thick of this murderous ‘fray‘ if the Army had got him back up the line in time. He did not arrive in Bethune until 15th Oct. – or I and my brother & sisters might not have been born.
(4) South Face: 300 yards long, with views in all directions. (5) The Dump: a 20ft Crassier/ Spoil Heap (Mine ‘deads’) from the Fosse 8 / Pithead; with excellent views in all directions over the British Line.
(6) Mills: hand-thrown grenade with stick attached, see photo: 12th July 1915, Hibbett Letter. (7) G.S. Hand Grenade: Gas Smoke Grenade, used for signalling/ camouflage/poison?
NEXT POST: 14th Oct. 1915. Battle of Loos Hohenzollern Redoubt: The What & The Why.