Posted 29 June 2009 - 02:56 pm
Here is an extract from the History of the Welsh Regiment by T.O. Marden;
20th October. On 20th October, the Germans attacked on most of the Allied front in great force, driving the French Cavalry on the left behind the Houthulst Forest, and causing the 3rd Cavalry Division also to fall back, as its left was exposed. In the centre the 7th Division held its own, but on the right the 6th Division was heavily attacked round Ennetieres by three German Divisions, and eventually fell back one-and-a-half to two miles, digging in on the line which was to be held by the British during four weary years. The 2nd Division was pushed up to support the left of the 7th Division, and the 1st Division moved to the neighbourhood of Poperinghe, where the 2nd Welsh were billeted and were most hospitably treated at a convent.
21st October. The enemy had not yet shown great strength in the front held by the 7th Division, nor were their troops reported to be well trained, and Sir John French therefore ordered an advance on the 21st towards Roulers by the 1st and 2nd Divisions, while the 7th Division held their ground. The 2nd Division advanced on Passchendaele while the 1st Division, on the extreme left, moved on Langemarck.
The 3rd Brigade, which provided the Advanced Guard, captured this village about 9 a.m. with the Queen’s and S.W.B., the Gloucesters being in support and the Welsh in reserve. Pushing beyond the village, the leading Battalions found the enemy in strength, and the Gloucesters were sent forward to prolong the line to the left.
Shortly afterwards a call for assistance came from the Queen’s, who were hard pressed, so Colonel Morland, informing Battalion Headquarters of his action, sent up first “D” Company (Captain Rees) and then “B” Company (Captain Berkeley). The village and roads were being shelled very heavily, but both companies got to their objective practically intact, thanks to the clever leading of these two Company Commanders.
Lieutenant Melville, who had gone into the village to reconnoitre for his machine guns, and had climbed the church belfry, had a very narrow escape, being shot at by a German concealed in the spire, but the fighting round the village was too brisk to waste time on a single man. However, the incident had a sequel as the spire was demolished the next day by the Germans, as related later by Captain Rees.
The French Cavalry were driven out of the forest by noon, and the flank of the 3rd Brigade exposed. The Divisional Commander thereon sent the 1st (Guards) Brigade to form a defensive flank back to the Ypres Canal making thus a dangerous right angle, both sides of which could be enfiladed.
It was thought inadvisable to accentuate this danger by holding the forward positions which the Queen’s and S.W.B. had so gallantly won, and at dusk the whole line was withdrawn to about 300 yards to the north-east of Langemarck, the S.W.B. being on the right, the Welsh in the centre, and the Gloucesters on the left, thrown back somewhat to connect with the 1st (Guards) Brigade. The Queen’s were brought into reserve.
Elsewhere on the front the Germans made heavy attacks on Armentières and Messines, without much success.
It was evident that, far from advancing, the Allies would have to strain every nerve to maintain their positions, for they were holding a long line weakly and without reserves, while entrenching tools and barbed wire were practically nonexistent. The Allies were for the moment definitely on the defensive. The 1st Division was strung out on a front of four miles in small groups holding shallow trenches, which were no protection against shell fire. [Seven and one-third British Divisions and five Allied Cavalry Divisions all weakened by much fighting were opposing eleven German Divisions (eight of whom were fresh) and eight Cavalry Divisions on a front of 35-36 miles. (Official History, Vol. II. p. 167.)]
22nd October. The next day was fairly quiet except for the shelling of Langemarck by 8-inch howitzers and field guns. Captain Rees records that in four hours the village was reduced to ashes.
“I saw a field gun shell strike the spire of the church just below the cross, and send the cross 20 yards in the air. The church shortly afterwards caught fire and went up in a sheet of flame. A little later, Colonel Morland and Battalion H.Q. came to my Company H.Q. He had had two houses blown down over his head in succession in the village, and, as he remarked, it was safer in the front line.”
The Battalion, being outside the village, had very few casualties.
I have another booklet of how the Welsh and Worcesters saved the day at Ypres, but I'll have to search for that!