Part Seven THE BATTLE OF THE MENIN ROAD

THE BATTLE OF THE MENIN ROAD

At dawn 5.25am on Thursday the 20th of September the
gun-fire all along the front rose to intensity, and the British
battalions advanced to the attack. Apparently the enemy
had not expected the attack to be prolonged so far
southward as the front of the 19th Division, and the
German resistance, though stubborn, was not well
supported. The attack was completely successful. The
German front-line defenses were overrun without
difficulty; then after a pause, to allow the artillery to
lengthen their range, the platoons in rear passed through
and pushed down the slope. Some venomous machine-guns
in Wood Farm caused many casualties before the ruins of
that building were finally stormed, and from the right flank
German machine-guns in Hollebeke Chateau swept the
slopes. Immediately to the left the 8th Gloucestershire had
a stiff fight in Belgian Wood, but by 9 a.m. all resistance
was over, and the 10th Worcestershire were busily at work
entrenching the captured ground. Patrols were pushed
forward to Moat Farm, which was occupied and secured.

Away to the left, higher up the valley of the
Bassevillebeek, the battle was raging in Shrewsbury Forest
and along the Menin Road, with repeated attack and
counter-attack; but on the front of the 19th Division the
enemy attempted no counter-attack until after dark. Then
an attempted German advance from North Farm drew
down a storm of fire. Thereafter, except for an angry
gun-fire, the night was quiet and the 10th Worcestershire
slept on the ground they had won. The
losses in the advance down the exposed slope had been
about a third of the Battalion’s ” battle strength “—150 in
all, including 7 officers.

Killed one officer (2/Lt. P. Jones) and 20 other ranks.
Wounded 6 officers (2/Lts. H. Thompson, H. M. Hale,
J. Froggatt, E. C. Coxwell, F. A. Brett, H. J. Luckman) and
95 other ranks. Missing 28.
For their gallant leadership in that attack Captain A. E.
Owins and 2/Lieut. J. Clarke were awarded the M.C. and
Sergeants. E. J. Calder and A. Barber were awarded the
D.C.M.
65
All next day the Battalion held its position near Moat Farm,
while patrols worked cautiously forward to the line of the
stream (a). That evening the 7th East Lancashire of the 56th
Brigade took over the line, and the Worcestershire platoons
moved back up the slope. After concentrating behind the
ridge, the companies marched back across the canal, and
thence made their way to camp near Vierstraat.

Casualties for Friday the 21st of September,
Killed, 10; Wounded, 1 officer (2/Lt. T. B. Hunt), and 19 other
ranks; Missing 6.

There breakfasts had been eaten. Then the Battalion
assembled and marched to Locre. About noon on Saturday
the 22nd of September the companies settled down in
” Fermoy Camp ” for a well -earned rest

Thus on the right flank of the battle-line the plans of the
British Commander-in-Chief had been successfully carried
out, but on the left flank the attack had not been so
successful. In the heavy mud around Langemarck and in
the valley of the Steenbeek the attacking troops had been,
able to make but little progress, and fresh Divisions were
now brought up in relief. Among those fresh troops was the
29th Division, which relieved the Guards Division (6) after
the battle. The Guards Division had not actually taken part
in the attack. The left flank of the attack had been the 20th
Division immediately to their right.

On the morning of Thursday the 20th of September the 4th
Battalion Worc’s were carried forward by train from
Proven to camp at Elverdinghe which was bombed after
dark by German aeroplanes, fortunately without casualties.
Next evening Friday the 21st of September the 4th
Battalion Worc’s moved forward across the devastated area
up to the front line, and relieved the 1st Coldstream Guards
on the extreme left of the British battle-front. The front line
ran along the Broembeek stream, and the left flank of the
Battalion, at Brienne House, was in touch with the right
flank of the French

66
The enemy’s guns kept up a heavy fire throughout the first
twenty-four hours but casualties were few. Great
discomfort was caused by a bombardment of mustard-gas
shells on the night of Monday the 24th of September, which
compelled all ranks to don their gas-masks and grope
blindly in their muddy shell-holes.
The gas-shelling was continuous during the following days,
and on Saturday the 29th of September Lt. W, Strang of the
Battalion, attached to 88th Brigade H.Q., was gassed.

Next night Tuesday the 25th of September the Battalion was
relieved and marched back to Elverdinghe, where the 4th
Battalion Worc’s stayed in reserve for three days. Then the
88th Brigade were relieved.
The Worcestershire companies marched back to camp near
De Wippe Cabaret and remained there until Saturday the 6th
of October, training busily for a fresh attack.

The heaviest fighting of the battle had taken place along the
Menin Road. There the attacking troops had won their way
forward for nearly a mile, capturing Veldhoek, as well as
Tower Hamlets, and the western edge of Polygon Wood.
Fresh Divisions were now brought up to relieve the
victorious troops. Among those fresh troops was the 33rd
Division, including the 2nd Battalion Worc’s.

The long training period of the 2nd Battalion Worc’s had
come to an end on Saturday the 15th of September. The
Battalion had marched forward from Ganspette by stages
September 15th marched from Ganspette by Watten and
Broere to Oosthouck. 16th marched by Cassel to
Steenvoorde. 17th marched to Berthen. And on the 19th
marched to La Clytte and finally reached ” Chippewa
Camp ” near La Clytte in the evening of Wednesday
September 19th.
Orders for the forthcoming battle were received on
September 21st and all ranks were stirred by news that the
destined role of the Battalion was to attack and capture
Gheluvelt.

67
The attack of September 20th had captured Glencorse Wood
and Tower Hamlets. Veldhoek also was in our hands. The
next attack was intended to carry the British front line
forward to the old positions of October 1914.

After four busy days of preparation, the Battalion marched
forward on September 23rd through La Clytte and
Dickebusch to camp at House Farm which is near Bedford
House south of Ieper. That night batteries all around were
continuously in action. Early on the following] afternoon
(September 24th ) the 2nd Battalion Worc’s advanced into
the battle.
The platoons marched at regular intervals 100 yards
interval between platoons, the leading platoon started at
1.30 p.m. Route was by Maple Copse, Doring House and
Zillebeke, round the outskirts of ruined Ieper and then up
the Menin Road, forming part of a stream of troops
trudging forward along duck-board tracks into the battle.
All around artillery were in action and heavy shells burst
continuously in every direction. German aeroplanes
swooped low over the marching troops, signaling by flares
to their artillery. The intensity of the shell-fire increased as
the platoons neared Sanctuary Wood. There a halt was
made as dusk came on. Arrangements were made for the
relief.
The Battalion was to relieve troops of the 23rd Division,
which had captured Veldhoek. The relief was very difficult,
for the German artillery were clearly aware of the
movement along the Menin Road, and were putting down a
fierce bombardment.
It was decided to relieve first the troops holding the support
positions.
Strength on going into action was,
” A ” Company (Capt. Booth)—123,
” B ” Company (Capt. Barker)—117,
” C ” Company (Capt. Ripley)—127,
” D ” Company (Capt. Smith)—134,
H.Q. (2/Lt. Turley)—66;

Total 567 with 21 officers.

68
“A” and “C” companies moved forward during the evening
and took over positions between Glencorse Wood and
Inverness Copse in trenches, shell-holes and captured
block-houses. One of the latter was a notable erection, a
concrete two-storied tower ten feet high which had
survived the British bombardment. The tower was used as
an observation station, and the First Aid Post was also
established there, for no better cover was available.
After dark around 7pm “B” Company was led forward by
Captain R. F . Barker to take over the front line. The
enemy’s barrage had become intense, save for the bursting
shells the night was pitch dark.
The shelling was terrific. Men were hit at every yard as
they struggled along the duck-boards among the shellholes.
Before the support trenches were reached two-thirds
of the company had been killed or wounded: all the four
guides allotted to lead the platoons had been struck down.
No one in the support trenches would volunteer to guide
the Worcestershire company, so Captain Barker led his
men forward as best he could through the bursting shells.
Eventually he reached the front line with three platoons 37
in all with only one other officer. The fourth platoon, under
2nd/Lieut. A. C. Pointon, had been misdirected, and the
survivors of that platoon about 10 men did not rejoin the
company till the following afternoon.
At 4.30am it was dawn before the relief was complete and
Captain Barker’s company had settled into positions among
the shell-holes north of the Menin Road and east of
Veldhoek. The 9th H.L.I, came up on the right flank of the
Worcestershire, and beyond them the 1st Queen’s held the
line of the Menin Road. On the left of the Worcestershire
the 4th King’s, temporarily lent to the 100th Brigade,
continued the line down to the banks of the Reutelbeek.
North of that stream the line was continued by the 98th
Brigade up the slope to Polygon Wood.
The forward platoons of the 2nd Battalion Worc’s were on
historic ground. Close in front of their line a few shattered
tree stumps marked the position of the little copse behind
which the Battalion had deployed on October 31st, 1914.
The ruins of Gheluvelt village were just hidden from
view by the crest of the Ridge over which the Battalion had
rushed at the beginning of that memorable counter-attack .

69

Monument to the 2nd Battalion Worc’ Gheluvelt
31st October 1914.

70

But the aspect of the scene at dawn was very different from
what it had been three years before. The open fields had
been beaten into a desolate expanse of boggy shell-holes.
Such trees as still stood had been stripped and broken. On
the skyline to the left a mere stubble of bare treetrunks
marked the site of Polygon Wood.
The British plan was to attack at dawn on Wednesday the
26th of September, leaving the attacking troops all the day
of September 25th in which to reconnoitre the ground in
front, but the plan was upset by a German counter-stroke.
At 5.15 a.m. the enemy’s artillery suddenly opened an
intense bombardment over the whole area from Veldhoek
to Stirling Castle. For half-an-hour shells struck all over the
open ground, then the German 230th Regiment of infantry
advanced to the attack. The German bombardment
preceded by some five minutes a ” practice barrage ” by the
British artillery.
Captured German orders showed that the artillery engaged,
on a front of 2 German Divisions were, 27 Field
Batteries, 17 Field howitzer batteries, 15 batteries of 5.9″
howitzers. The bombardment was arranged as a
triple barrage on 1,The British front line 2, The line
Glencorse Wood—Inverness Copse and 3, Stirling Castle.
The attack along the Menin Road was made by a picked
unit, the ” Storm-Battalion ” of the German Fourth Army.

On the front of the 2nd Battalion Worc’s the attack was
repulsed without difficulty, and many of the enemy were
shot down as they advanced from the bare Polderhoek
Ridge or struggled up from the bogs of the Reutelbeek. But
on the right the bombardment had achieved more
destruction and there the British front line was
overwhelmed. The forward platoons of the Queen’s were
annihilated and many of the Highlanders were captured by
the enemy. The attack along the Menin Road was made by
a picked unit, the ” Storm-Battalion ” of the German Fourth
Army.

71
Nevertheless “B” Company held firm. Captain Barker sent
back a message for help. “A” Company was ordered
forward. Led by Captain F. H. F . Booth, the company
advanced very steadily across the shell-holes through the
bursting shells.

Captain Booth and two of his subalterns were hit, but the
surviving officer, 2nd/Lieut. H.J. Roden led his men forward
and took up position in rear of ” B ” Company’s right flank.
That assistance came just in time to prevent the enemy
from surrounding “B” Company.
A fierce fire-fight ensued among the shell-holes, while
further back the whole ground was obscured by the fumes
of bursting shells. About 9 a.m. a big shell struck Battalion
Headquarters killing the Adjutant, Capt.C.A.N.Fox,
severely wounding the Regimental-Sergeant-Major and
also wounding the Commanding Officer, Colonel Gogarty.
But. the Colonel refused to leave his post and remained in
command. Colonel Gogarty was wounded in four places.
For his able and gallant leadership in that battle, he was
awarded the D.S.O.
The Regimental Aid Post, in the same concrete tower as
Battalion headquarters, was packed with wounded men,
and it became urgently necessary to carry some of them
back. The barrage around the tower was so fierce that it
seemed impossible for stretcher-bearers to pass.
The devoted Chaplain, the Rev. E. Victor Tanner,
volunteered to join the stretcher.-bearers. Inspired by his
example, the stretcher-bearers succeeded in carrying their
‘charges back through, the barrage to safety.
Miraculously none were hit, though the shell-fire was
intense. “The tower received direct hits certainly every
fifteen minutes, probably much oftener.” (Colonel
Gogarty’s report).

72
The situation in front remained critical, and Captain W. L.
Smith led ” D” Company forward, on his own initiative, to
assist the defense. The state of the ground made it difficult
for the enemy to close, the German attack came to a
standstill and about midday the fighting died down.
Ammunition ran short, and urgent messages for more were
sent back. “A” platoon of “C” Company was sent up about
midday with a fresh supply. 2nd/Lieut. A. Johnson led the
platoon forward to the front line. He was ordered by
Captain Barker to form his men as a defensive flank on
the right of “B” Company. Posting his men skillfully
among the shell-holes, he beat back all attacks during the
rest of the day . 2nd/Lieut Johnson was awarded the M.C.

The enemy were not yet defeated. About 2pm. the German
gun-fire again rose to intensity and small bodies of infantry
were seen advancing among the tree stumps along the
Reutelbeek.
Messages were sent back and all made ready to meet the
attack. Two hours later the attack came in earnest. Strong
forces of the enemy advanced past the site of Polderhoek
Chateau. At 4.30p.m. the ” S.O.S.” signal was sent up by
Captain Barker from the front line. In answer the British
artillery put down an intense barrage. The German infantry
were obliterated by a rain of shells and the danger passed.
Night closed down, a night of heavy firing and great
anxiety. The Worcestershire companies were far in advance
of the troops on their right flank : but the enemy made no
attempt to advance and at dawn the situation was
unchanged.

While the enemy counter-attacks above Gheluvelt were
being fought to a standstill, .final preparations were being
made for a renewed advance. Fresh Australian Divisions
had been brought up to the line in Polygon Wood. It was
planned that the Australians should attack through the
Wood on Wednesday the 26th of September..
It had been intended that the 33rd Division should prolong
the front of attack southwards, but at the last hour the plan
was modified. The 33rd Division had suffered so severely
from the German counter-attacks that the projected attack
was countermanded.

73
The left-flank of the Division, the 98th Brigade and the 4th
King’s, would wheel forward in concert with the
Australians, the 1st Queen’s and the 9th Highland Light
Infantry, would endeavour to recover the ground they had
lost. Other battalions would. stand fast.

Heavy gun-fire started with the dawn on Wednesday the
26th of September and continued all day. Away to the left,
the Australians fought their way forward through Polygon
Wood. Between the Wood and the Reutelbeek, troops of
the 98th Brigade stormed ” Cameron House ” after fierce
fighting.
Officially that attack on September 26th has been set down
as a separate ” battle “, the Battle of Polygon Woods, and
the ‘honour ” Polygon Wood ” granted to the Regiment is
due to the fighting.
On the front of the 100th Brigade a counter-attack was
organized to retake the ground lost on the previous day.
The 9th H.L.I, were reinforced by a company of the 16th
K.R.R.C…and attacked about 10 a.m. Times given for that
attack vary from 10am (Brigade Diary) to 2pm (Battalion
account).
The enemy gave way and fell back, raked by fire from the
Worcestershire platoons on their flank. Notably by a
Lewis-gun worked single-handed by L/Cpl A. Davis. The
Lewis-gun had previously been buried by a bursting shell,
but L/Cpl. Davis, the only survivor of the team, dug out the
gun and shooting down many of the enemy. He was
awarded the-D.C.M.
Enemy aeroplanes joined in the fight, flying low and firing
their machine-guns at the attacking troops. Lewis-guns and
rifles blazed at them from the shell-holes, and two of them
came hurtling down close to the front of the 2nd Battalion
Worc’s.
The battle raged throughout the day, and by nightfall .the
line of the 100th Brigade. Was restored except for a small
pocket along the Menin Road itself, but the Brigade had
been reduced to a thin line of desperately weary men
scattered in groups among the shell-holes. It was decided
that the 33rd Division must be relieved, and that night came
orders for the relief.

74
The bombardment continued incessantly throughout that
night: then as dawn broke at 5am the artillery of both sides
suddenly ceased their fire. For some minutes all remained
under cover, then, as the guns did not recommence, men
ventured cautiously from their defenses and gazed around
in wonder. The intense bombardment of two days and
nights had beaten the whole area into a different
appearance. Such landmarks as had existed beforehand had
disappeared. The surface of the ground from Stirling Castle
to Gheluvelt had been churned up afresh, the whole
landscape was even more desolate and repulsive then
before.
For the time, the battle was over. Intermittent sniping alone
continued throughout the day of Thursday the 27th of
September.

Polygon Wood 1917.

Wounded were brought in and dispositions were
rearranged. In spite of the forty-eight hours of heavy
fighting, without sleep and without any food beyond their
“iron rations” the soldiers of the 2nd Battalion Worc’s were
in good heart.

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Gallery | This entry was posted in The Worcestershire Regiment August 1917 and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Part Seven THE BATTLE OF THE MENIN ROAD

  1. Rob Mumby says:

    My Great Uncle (born 1898) was killed on the 26th Sept 1917. He was in the H.L.I but further details are sketchy. I can’t confirm if he was in the 9th Battalion or if he died fighting for Polygon Wood. However, it seems likely this was the place. I’m still researching. Thanks for your info 3rd Worcestershire Battalion.

    • ww1ieper1917 says:

      Pleased I could help in a small way. My Gt Uncle was the same age 19, in the 3rd Worc`s killed at Westhoek 11th Aug 1917. All I know about him is that he was a sniper.
      All the best, Martin Newman

  2. Canon D.Bruce Kington says:

    Just found this site as I research the movements of my Great Uncle, the Revd. E. Victor Tanner

  3. lesley lee says:

    Enjoyed reading information on this site many thanks. My Grt uncle was reported missing in action 1 October 1917 BARKER, HARRY Rank: Serjeant Service No: 235474 Date of Death: 01/10/1917 Age: 31 Regiment/Service: Yorkshire Regiment 9th Bn. (formerly 3111 Northland Fusiliers. I found his name mentioned in war diaries as one of the fallen during the battle of Polygon Wood part of C company.

  4. Canon Bruce Kington says:

    We have just returned from a visit to Flanders with our grandchildren and included Gheluvelt in the tour. It was difficult to trace exacly where Uncle Victor Tanner was doing his padre’s work for which he was awarded his first MC, but we felt glad to have been in the area. A visit to the trenches in Sanctuary Wood nearby gave us some sense of what it must have been like for those men.

  5. gebull50@gmail.com says:

    Thank you for this information. I am researching a great uncle who was blown to pieces by a shell at 5.45am on 20 September 1917, just in front of Glencourse Wood. Your information has added to our picture. Thank you.

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