Tag Archives: Sir John French


WHO  –  WHY  &  WHAT?

1WW JoffreEarl Haig.

Sir John French

General Sir Richard Cyril Byrne Haking. 1862 - 1945.
General Sir Richard Haking. 1862 – 1945.
General Plumer.
General Herbert Plumer. 1857-1932.








The Battle of Loos and Hohenzollern Redoubt was an attempt by the Allies to break the stalemate of trench warfare in 1915.  Despite initial success at Loos on 25th September, the ‘Big Push’ failed with enormous loss of life; Sir John French was made to take the blame and was replaced by Sir Douglas Haig. 

Marshall Joseph Joffre, Commander in Chief French Forces, planned a renewal of offensives on 13th October with an attack on a 20 mile front between Arras & La Bassee. The French Army was to attack in Champagne and a joint French British Army was to attack in Artois – along the Line between Bethune and La Basse from Auchy-les Mines to Loos-en-Gohelle.

Rough Map/ modern roads deleted: Artois Region, France : Hohenzollern Redoubt. Approx Front Line in Red. October 13th 1915.
Rough Map/ modern roads deleted: Artois Region, France : Hohenzollern Redoubt. Approx Front Line in Red. October 13th 1915.

The 1/5th South Staffordshire Regt under the command of Field Marshall Herbert Plumer (Officer Commanding 2nd Army) was ordered to leave Ypres Salient, Hill 60 & the Caterpillar and move south to join the 1st Army now commanded by Sir Douglas Haig (they later come under the command of Lt Gen R.C.B. Haking 11th Corps 46th Midland Division.

Marshal Joffre’s plan was for the British to capture Hohenzollern Redoubt and Fosse 8, a Bethune Colliery Pithead.  Loos_fosse8_trenchesBritish Generals were not happy with this plan for the Hohenzollern Redoubt, (a fortification built in front of the original German Front Line of 1914) was considered to be the strongest German defensive- work on the whole of the Western Front.  It was a heavily developed industrial mining area with Pitheads (Fosses) Spoil Heaps (Crassiers) and auxillery Shafts (Puits).

'Tower Bridge' Pithead.
‘Tower Bridge’ Pithead.

The face of the Redoubt was 300 yards long with excellent views over the British Lines. Both British & German sides had tunnelled into it to create communication trenches, observation posts and machine-gun nests.  It curved with extensions to join Big Willie at southern end and Little Willie at the northern end (named of course after Kaiser Wilhelm).  The Germans dominated the high ground for in front of Fosse 8 there was a 20ft high Crassier (of mine ‘deads’)  an excellent observation post for German sniping in  all directions.

Soldiers' Graves at Vermelles.
Soldiers’ Graves at Vermelles.

To reach the Hohenzollern Redoubt and the Vermelles Trenches, the 1/5th South Staffords had a long march to pass through small colliery villages, like Cuinchy, Cambrin and Vermelles; to compound the difficulties there was a distance of a mile between the entries to the communication trenches and the assembly trenches for the Charge.  The Vermelles Trenches, too, were badly damaged with no dugouts to shelter in; soldiers had to contend with the distressing remains of dead bodies lying unburied.< www.ww1.battlefields.co.uk>

Edward James Montague-Wortley.
Edward James Montague-Wortley.

Sir Stewart Wortley (C.O. Staffordshire Regt) warned that the area was not suitable for the ‘Big Push’ attack and would cause ‘useless slaughter of infantry’.  Tragically his warnings were ignored, as they were again at Gommecourt, Battle of Somme 1st July 1916.

The Long Long Trail: The British Army of 1914-1918 is a must for family historians who wish to gain an insight into why this plan was put into action and what their relatives were expected to do on those three days in October, a hundred years ago.  InFrance & Flanders & the Western Front : The Battle of Loosthere is a comprehensive account of the background history of the Battle and of relations between the French and British Generals.  Especially interesting is the section Loos Lessons Learned or Not’ giving a list of reasons  why the Battle failed despite initial success. It too makes tragic comparison with what was to happen on 1st July 1916, the Battle of the Somme, when the same mistakes were made.

Another View of Tower Bridge, Loos.
Another View of Tower Bridge, Loos.

Andrew Thornton’s website: Staffordshire Territorials and Assault on Hohenzollern. ‘We had done all that was expected of us, does great service with its comprehensive and vivid description of the Battle of Loos & Hohenzollern Redoubt.  <www.hellfirecorner.co.uk  >.

From this website we learn that the troops were given 3 days rations, carried 220 pounds of ammunition, (Bombing Parties carried only 100 pounds of ammunition).  They were to carry great coats on their backs instead of packsThey also carried 3 empty sandbags, and two smoke helmets.


NB. My father was training to throw hand-grenade bombs before he left for Hospital in Rouen).

Andrew Thornton’s selection from diaries and letters, of individual soldiers’ eyewitness accounts and reactions to the Battle, provides moving  insight into their horrific experiences and why the attack failed.

Robert Graves’ ‘Goodbye to All That contains eyewitness descriptions of the mining villages and experiences of individual soldiers. He himself was billeted in Vermelles in June 1915.

These excellent websites and many others help to give the What ? and the Why? to the Battle of Loos Hohenzollern Redoubt and make the 1/5th South Staffordshire War Diary come alive. The more I read of this Battle the more I wonder how my uncle, Corporal Sydney Hibbett and his QMS Walsall pals could possibly have survived  it – many 1/5th Staffords did not.  In the first few minutes, 3,643  were killed or wounded. (See Casualty List in previous Post).

Above all, my reading of those three days in October 1915, makes me wonder about my own existence  – and that of my brother & sisters – for  my father arrived from Hospital in Rouen too late.  Otherwise he would, with the rest of ‘A’ Company, have been in the thick of this hell.

NEXT POST: 15th Oct. 1915.  The Finest March Past I ever saw.


31st JAN. 1915: LUTON: TA Reading Room & ‘A’ Coy Firing Scores.

Bertie in Uniform

Pte BERTIE HIBBETT: First of Two LETTERS to Marie Neal Hibbett, 95, Foden Rd, Walsall.

44 Cromwell Road, Luton. (1)

Sunday afternoon.  Jan 31/ 14 (sic).

My Dear Mother,

I just feel like writing to someone and now I come to think of it I have a great many letters to write to a great many people, but I prefer to write to you first.

Ha hem!  Tar Shar eh! (2) Well at any rate he’s top of all those in ‘A’ Coy. who joined since mobilisation.  An’ I shouldn’t be surprised if he don’ come out on the very top of all.

I will just put it in more schedule form of course.  The firing was a Regular Course and taken from Table ‘B’ Classification i.e. a Test to see what degree of efficiency each soldier attains.

First comes the Marksman who gains 130 or over, next comes the 1st  Class Shot who gets below 130 and above 105, then there is the 2nd Class down to 70.  Less than 70 comes the 3rd Class Shot.

Course of firing by untrained men of ‘A’ Coy: Marksman – 130 (nobody);  Sig. S. Hibbett  –  112, 1st Class; Corporal Page* – 1061st Class; Lance Corporal Bendall – 103 /4?2nd Class; Pte A.H.Hibbett  – 902nd Class.

Sid started with a full group (3) & you know I told you that Colonel Crawley* commended him. Sid would not tell me what he said.

Next day was fine but very cold, especially having to wait our turns.  Some played at ‘tick’, back to school days again.  Some had that most thrilling game of pick-a- back that Sid has told you of.  Most of us put on our great coats & sleeping helmets & mits.

Sid –  well I nivver – inspite of him firing with sleeping helmet on & oh! Miss Foster’s mitshe got 5 BULLS  – at the silhouette targets too – the most difficult test of all.  I shall have to tell Miss Foster that her mits are lucky, for the silhouettes are cut out like the shape of a man’s head & shoulders & painted a drab colour & stuck on a pole which is held up for, I think, not more than 5 secs & down it goes.  A hit counts a bull – the alternative is a miss.

I watched Sid with great excitement firstwhich is the most anxious shotHe got a bull, then another bull would come, until the 4th was a bull again.  At the 5th shot I got equally anxious as the first for I wanted him to get 5 & so he did.  Hurrah! 

Poor Sid  then had to undergo another ordeal – this time our Capt. Lister* had a word with him.  When I got back to my billet everyone was talking of Sid.  “There’s a stripe for him” one said.  (I was only just thinking – coming “home” from Church  – Sid comes of age this year).


Well so much for shootingI hope you have all spent a quiet & happy Sunday.  I was just thinking  of Rev. Darling*.  I did not send him a Christmas Greeting.  Never mind, now you’ve got a servant you can, if you like, have him to tea sometime.

I am spending a very quiet Sunday afternoon in writing you this letter in Sid’s billets. Vernon & he are nestled down asleep on the floor.

I went to the Parish Church at the 11 service, being no parade, & the sunlight did make the Church Choir look grand – white lilies & red flowers adorned the altar, which has not got a cross but a beautiful painting of the Last Supper.

After the service, in which we had Hymns No:- 351,565, 546, 525 (in Church Hymnal (4) so Dad can play them) I went to have a look round in the Someries Chapel, just been restored.  There, there is a most beautiful Communion altar with Reredos & silver Cross. 

Wenlock Luton 1915
Stained Glass window of Sir John Wenlock, Parish Church of St Mary, Luton.

Tell Ida.  I was shown the tomb of the Archbishop of York’s Mother in the reign of Edward IV & that of Lord Wenlock, a Yorkshire squire (5).          

The Widow of Sir Julius Wernher* has a beautiful name:- Dame Alice (Wernher) and she has given a Bible & fitted the Chapel with every accommodationThe Archbishop of York in Edward IV reign had residence near Luton (6).

On Sat. night I went to see what this Territorial Reading Room, in the New Bedford Road, is like.  It was there when I left Luton at first.  I had not been in before.

I say  wouldn’t it be simply “Topping” if we had a large enough house, that we could afford to make a library or back room into a room where the soldiers can enjoy recreation & reading.  Well that is what a generous private person has done with one of his rooms.  I walked up the steep winding gravel path until I came to the French window & on looking in I saw no one.  I entered & tapped a door to enquire if the use of the room was free.  Yes, was the answer the housemaid gave, so I sat down and read about Kitchener & looked at the pictures on the wall.

WW1 Kitchener
Field Marshall Herbert Kitchener. 1850 -1916.
John Jellico Admiral of the Fleet.
John Jellico Admiral of the Fleet.

Ida, it was just like our ‘Top Attic Study’ but most beautifully coloured portraits of Kitchener & Jellicoe (6) & the other generals & flags 9th Nov 1914 smallover the fireplace & along the walls.  Games of draughts etc, writing material & magazines of all kinds.  All of the above were neatly laid in piles on the forms and tables.

Helmuth Johann Ludwig von Moltke. 1848-1916.
WW1 Kluck
Alexander von Kluck. 1846-1934.

I had a look at the Times’ ‘History of the War’ and noticed – (well I had never noticed before) how vulgar are the countenances of the German orcifers (sic) Von Moltke (7), Von __, Von __,  Von Kluck (8) – all have got double chins, ugly flat noses, horrible dishevelled hair, broad hard faces. So different from the other nations (9).

Marshall Joseph Jacques Cesaire Joffre
Marshall Joseph Jacques Cesaire Joffre. 1852-1931.
Sir John French
Field Marshall, 1st Earl of Ypres.





I read your last letter, with deep interest, on the Range last Wed or Thursday, between the turns.  But I cannot but admit that when I got to know what a fuss the P. C. caused I felt very M____ble (10).

Dear Mother, I could give you all I get excepting just say 1/- for fear of a question from the Captain.  I noticed your paper was getting short when I was on Home LeaveI know you like some good note to write on.  Well here’s some for your very self.  You will not very well be able to rip the sheets in two, as you generally do with the ordinary leaf note.

I thought of your advice to save my money.  Well I went and got a 2/- P.O. intending to send it home, but I had to break into it at the end.  Never mind I will send some home next week. If anything happens to me then it will be a “little” help to you.

I admired Ida’s dress when I was at home & ‘eyed’ the dainty ‘blouse’ with its pretty red, white & blue ‘border,’ so I could not resist going & buying what I thought a pretty knot to match the blouse.  Staffordshire Regt. Brooch. Should Ida not like it, then I think Miss Mary Overend* should have it,  for she has been very good to us in sending chocs etc.

What does Basil do on Saturday & Sunday afternoons now?  Bless him.  I do hope he will manage to get through (exam) without injuring his health. Does Harold often come & see you at weekends?  When I send him a P.C. I often wonder whether to send it to home or his Wol’ton place (11).  Does he show you the P.Cs I send him?

Have I told you that we have had good meals here, no two dinners alike – change every dayMilk pudding to-day, being Sunday.  Am having a glass of hot milk for my supper.

If you would like a tie like the one I sent for Miss Foster* (I sent it to you to have a look at it, for it was your idea & I hope you mentioned it to Miss Foster. I shall in my next letter).  I say if you want another tie (I can’t get one like yours) just write by return & I will get one before we leave Luton on Tuesday Feb. 2/ 15.

Is there anything else?  Not as I know of yet.  Got some P.Cs in store for future use & your collection. Field firing begins next week at Dunstable, when we shall take billets.

Yours affec.        Bertie


(1Sydney’s Billet next door. New Year  date wrong again. (2)’Ta Sha’ (Staff’s dialect –  meaning ?) (3) ‘Group’: See 26th Jan. (4) Must mean English Hymnal, 1906. (19th Cent. research – Medieval plainsong & celebration of Saints). See Robert Alwell Article.  http://www.englishhymnal.co.uk and http://www.stmary’sprimrosehill.com. 

(5) Hibbett interest in Yorkshire history (grandparents’ home). i) Edward IVth 1461-1470 & 1471-1483. 1st Yorkist King (eldest son of Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York) granted Luton estates to ii) Archbishop  of York, Thomas Rotherham (formerly Bishop of Lincoln – brother iii) John Rotherham became Lord of Manor of Luton  Hoo, 1476).  ivLord William Wenlock d.1471 (fought for both Yorkists & Lancastrians in Wars of Roses; Knight of Bedfordshire; Speaker 1455 Parliament). Wenlock Chapel, St Mary’s Parish Church, Luton).

(6) Earl John Jellicoe, Admiral of the Fleet 1914 -1916. Governor of New Zealand, 1920-1924. (7) Helmuth Johann Ludwig von Moltke, Chief of German General Staff, 1906 – 1914(8) Alexander von Kluck, German General.. (9) iMarshall (Papa)Joffre 1852-1931. French General; iiSir John French. Anglo-Irish Officer, British Army(10PC re Monday’s ‘bad scoring’? (11) Woverhampton abbrev.

NEXT POST: 31ST JAN. 1915: 2nd Letter with a FOR LUCK Note.