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Atrocity Story from Hooge, 1915


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#26 bob lembke

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Posted 13 November 2005 - 08:01 PM

QUOTE (AOK4 @ Nov 13 2005, 02:57 PM)
I think the remark of a forum member that the officer was probably a kind of dummy doll is most plausible. No German officer would allow his men to treat an adversary (even being the corpse of one) in such a manner...


Jan may have hit this on the head; I missed the suggestion he cited. I have been ruminating about this; the "atrocity" seemed odd to me. To those who do not know him, "AOK4' is an exceptional, published scholar of the German Army of WW I.

The psychology of the event seemed all wrong to me. The Germans had just used a new weapon and easily drove the British out of their positions. I would think the prevailing mood among the Germans would be pleasure or even glee, not hate and bitterness. Some also may have been embarrassed or ashamed of having used a weapon that might have seemed unmanly. But not bitter hatred. I also agree with his assessment of the attitude of German officers; better that it was expressed by a non-German.

The prank hypothesis is probably what happened. The Germans, having skunked the Brits, were having some fun. Possibly they used the officer's uniform? I was also wondering how two or three men could wave a corpse that, with kit, might have even weighed 160 or 180 pounds on the ends of their rifles. They might have even broken their rifles; they are not made for such abuse. Even actually bayonetting someone might only involve a force of 10 to 25 pounds max., with dynamics, the stunt with a real corpse, with dynamic loads (pardon the mechanical engineer slipping out) could easily put a 100 pound load on the end of the rifle, easily breaking the fore-stock.

Mark, please be assured that Ralph, who I have had off-forum exchanges with, is a real gentleman and I am sure was not impunging your scholarly nature or instincts.

Until the prank explaination surfaced I was thinking that Corporal Holmes might have been approached by a psywar officer and asked to plant a story to tone up the home folks about the enemy. Certainly the British did a lot of "disinformation" during the war to, in particular, inflame American public opinion. But I have not heard about anything like that. Certainly after having been subjected to the largest flame attack of the war, to date, the British troops in the area must not have been in a good mood and would have been receptive to something like that. But I think that the prank idea leads the pack, and an actual atrocity having occurred is running in third place.

Bob Lembke

#27 simmyred

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 12:03 AM

Mark,

This is my first posting on this forum - please bear with me.

I will be posting a new topic shortly in direct relation to this day: 30th July, 1915 [mainly request from people like yourself that might have any information lurking at the back or front of their research!]. However, I couldn't resist responding to your posting and I wonder if you know whether or not Philip received any visits from British Staff Officers whilst in hospital wounded and, indeed, which hospital he was sent to. Would be grateful for your input.

Incidentally: I'm pretty sure [without looking at the original in close up] that the officer censored was Bobbie Longbottom. He was a close personal friend of Jack Kipling, Rudyard's son as you know. A clue to Longbottom's personality is the fact that earlier that day, before being killed, being outflanked on 3 sides and the farthest forward in that part of the front line, one of his men had tactfully suggested that perhaps they withdraw, like the rest of the garrison, to the support line. Longbottom pulled his revolver and threatened to shoot the first man who made a move in that direction. Brave words for a 19 year old. This incident would tend to suggest that his general conduct that morning, in this exposed forward position, would perhaps have been one of similar adrenalin and aggression.

Re. Bob: I would be a little wary of leaning too heavily on official British sources for this day. Almost from the outset, too much emphasis was placed on flammenwerfer's role in the events which unfolded. This day was all about the murderous British counter-attack that had never any chance of success, launched at 2.45p.m on a small frontage against several known and plotted enemy machine-gun emplacements.

Flammenwerfer, in this instance, was a supreme masterstroke of German initiative in being a successful 'opener' to a superbly-executed and highly successful massive ground assault with specific and relatively limited objectives. The flames [all of 30 or 40 seconds-worth] acted as a curtain, a virtual window of paralysis of our front line garrison, behind which the German stormtroops could move quickly and effectively in capturing their initial objectives with relative ease. The Flammenwerfer type used that morning was 9 large stationary canisters sunk in to the bank behind the newly-formed Hooge Crater: Gros Flammenwerfer as I believe the Germans called it. I have an eye-witness to this: a veteran recounted seeing them there after the line was re-captured on the 9th August.
Official British casualties for the morning in terms of living wounded who 'faced the flame' are just 3. Most accounts [many private or unpublished] that I have, state that casualties were incurred by bombs and the bayonet [the chosen method for all forward waves of the stormtroops]. This concurs with official German statistics from their records although their prisoner tally of British captured that morning is 16.

This day has been put forward to posterity as The Flamethrower Attack etc. etc. [please note all references to this day on the forum!] Infact, it is quite possibly, in my opinion, the first usage of intelligent Stormtroop tactics in a cohesive local offensive: almost the working blueprint for Blitzkrieg, without air support. It was well-planned, well-executed and full credit was given by the German official and unofficial sources for the British garrison who simply had the misfortune to find themselves unprepared and in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Oh yes, and Mark: a German Second Lieutenant described the front line garrison as : '.. the first men of Kitchener's Army, young, strong, honourable people'. The Germans knew they were facing men from K1: the first divisional draft of Kitchener's Army. Interesting, don't you think? I'd be very interested in talking to you further about Philip and his involvement in this day.

#28 stiletto_33853

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 12:34 AM

Hi Simmy,
Firstly welcome to the forum. Interesting, Carey who was an officer in the 8th Rifle Brigade in the Regimental History on page 126 states that"Those who had faced the flame attack were never seen again." General Nugent says "I have endeavoured to trace witnesses who could speak as to the effect of the flame, but have been unable to trace a single man who got away from the trench."
What you have said could well be true as from the personal and Regimetal accounts that I have read on the subject could be interpreted into forming your opinion.
I look forward to reading your theory.

Andy

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#29 simmyred

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 07:49 AM

Andy:
Yes; Gordon Carey's account is superb and extremely informative and I wouldn't want to give the impression that his contribution was diminished in any way at all. There are one or two observations of his that are inaccurate but as a soldier on the battlefield it is impossible for any individual to give an overall comprehensive report, which is what he was effectively being asked to give. As to Brigadier General Nugent: he played a pivotal role in the entire day. These men of the front line garrison were subject to insinuations of cowardice and defeat which spread across the reputation of RB and KRRC. Infact they had reassembled themselves very smartly after seeking cover at the bottom of G5 and fought bravely and with distinction. This could be typified by Second Lieutenant Keith Rae's dying moments. Many who did survive the attack stayed on the battlefield and reassembled in Zouave Wood to participate in the counter attack. One reason alone why Nugent found it difficult to locate any survivors in the initial aftermath. There are a few actually; one even from the edge of the crater itself, and also several of Keith Rae's men.
Nor am I wishing to diminish the effect of Flammenwerfer or its efficacy: it spearheaded a superb German success. In addition: the trees around Hooge Chateau and the crest of the ridge caught fire by the arc of the flame frontage accompanied by a Minenwerfer barrage of fearsome intensity - a weapon which, by itself, must have caused copious fatalies and burns. An awesome spectacle for a totally unprepared garrison of just 10 weeks' active service and mere days of front line occupation experience.

I was referring Bob to the weight given to Flammenwerfer from the official British position on the matter which has successfully survived to the present day. Personal accounts give a different weight entirely and a more balanced one. Problem is finding them! I know! Which is why accounts like Mark's Grammar School boy are important. When I've navigated the workings of this forum a little more [and found some extra hours in every day!] I'll sort out how to contact people direct.

Cheers for your thoughts on this day Andy.

#30 stiletto_33853

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 08:18 AM

Hi Simmy,
Gordon Carey's son wrote an article for The Rifle Brigade Chronicles some years later concerning the Hooge incident and the friendship of some of the officers of the 8th RB in which he states "In the agony of remorse, weighing what might have been argued as carnage against what his conscience charged as cowardice, my father wrote a letter to Colonel Maclachlan accusing himself of a share in the disaster.
The Colonel's reply, written in indelible pencil on a budget letter card reads "Don't be a sensitive old ass!! You did spledidly well, as I knew you would. Don't allow an aftermath of useless regrets to spoil the main idea, that you played your part right well."

Edward James Kay-Shuttleworth of the 7th RB after his part in the disastrous counter-attack wrote to his wife "I feel an outcast to be alive"

Andy

#31 armourersergeant

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 08:27 AM

Returning to the 'dummy' scenario. If this was the case I wonder how they arrived at the identification of the supposed officer?

Uniforms of officers would have been similar surely?

How far apart were the trench systems for identifying visually in the first place?

Was the id done (real body or not) by surmising time area unit platoon etc and not actually by visual?

This is a fascinating thread. Lets keep the investigating going

regards
Arm

#32 Bert Heyvaert

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 09:23 AM

If someone knows for sure which German regiment was on the other side, I can have a look at the regimental History.

#33 Bert Heyvaert

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 09:55 AM

I did some research myself in the meanwhile, and it seems that Infanterie-Regiment 126 was the one conducting the attack on the 30th with the flamethrowers. their history speaks of very grim fightings. Here's just a selection of their detailed accounts of the fightings:
" The enemy, the 8th Rifle Brigade of the 14th Division, who just spend 9 weeks in rest fell back to their lines at Zouave Wood. They suffered very heavy losses in comparison to ours. Only 19 prisoners were made by us. This shows how stubborn the fightings were. The English tried to keep their ground at all costs. We had to storm all 4 machine guns directly to stop them."
The history also features a picture of two wounded British soldiers taken prisoner. I will try to post it as soon as I manage to scan it.

As for the KRRC, Marc, do you know their exact locations? Do the diaries give numbers of the trenches they were holding? During the 30th and 31st the Germans reorganised their defence at Hooge, and brought in several other units which makes it difficult to find out which ones were facing the KRRC unless you can give me their exact location.

As Jan allready brought up, all german Infantry units at Hooge were Württembergers, Infantry regiments of the regular army. They were of a very high standard and saw plenty of action in 1914 allready.

regards,

Bert

#34 simmyred

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 10:35 AM

Hi Bert:

Wish I'd known you a couple of years ago. I ended up having to translate the history myself which took me weeks! I hit the wrong button with 6 instead of 9: as you quote - German official figures for prisoners were 19. Bearing in mind the number of British garrison, it gives some indication of what ferocity the stormtroops hit our front line. I was especially impressed with Wollinsky's report of his involvement. Quite a poet. Would appreciate comms with you at another time on this as I'll stick to the essence of the thread. In which case - Armourer Sergeant: your observations are absolutely spot on. I'll get back to you later as I'm already running late. Mark: this in no way reduces the credability of your man Philip. It's merely that, in my opinion, he was not an actual eye-witness. I still await your response to my query in my first posting. Cheers.

#35 simmyred

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 10:42 AM

Meant to qualify myself in my last posting by clarifying that Philip never actually stated he was an eye-witness, he merely relates the event. Sorry.

#36 stiletto_33853

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 11:24 AM

Hi All,
Bert, the Infantrie Regiment 126 History is slightly in error, the 8th Rifle Brigade only arrived in France on May 20th 1915, 9 weeks prior to this action, and, had their first stint in the trenches at the end of May under instruction. Since their arrival in France they had not exactly been in rest.
Re Philip's letter, another possibility and one I have come across from officers letters before, and this is not in anyway meant to diminish this letter or indeed what was without doubt a brave soldier, is that in this time of the dreaded Boche, letters were embelished slightly and had been noted as such by officers censoring the letters. In this I mean that i.e we were in the thick of it giving the Boche a dose of his own treatment, or we saw this happen etc etc, just a thought and something else to think about.
Arm, I am not exactly sure of the distance between the 7th KRRC and German trenches, on the 8th RB section it was roughly 15yards with the left end of "C" Company on the right of the crater and the right of "A" Company on the left side, not exactly desirable to put it mildly.
Simmy, according to the field return of the 8th RB on 24/7/15 they were 3 officers and 58 other ranks under war establishment with no replacements arriving until after this action. Actual men who took over the trenches from the 7th Rifle Brigade were 24 officers and 745 other ranks according to the war diary.

Andy

#37 AOK4

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 12:47 PM

QUOTE (Bert Heyvaert @ Nov 14 2005, 09:55 AM)
As Jan allready brought up, all german Infantry units at Hooge were Württembergers, Infantry regiments of the regular army. They were of a very high standard and saw plenty of action in 1914 allready.


Hello Bert,

The Germans at Hooge 1915 were from the 39. (Alsacian) Infanterie-Division, to which belonged this Württemberg regiment, 126. They were engaged in Flanders since October 1914.

Jan

#38 bob lembke

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 01:21 PM

Guys;

Lots of interesting posts; I will have to digest before commenting. Three quick points.

Simmy; The name printed under the three lines of the censor's note is:

" J M Roe " The M. could be an "H".

One really basic thing to be established (I assume that many of the Pals know this to a "T") is the correct date of the attack. In the last several days I have seen, in print, July 29, July 30, and July 31. A problem was that it was in the early morning hours. I think that the truth (just based on the predominant number of dates on different accounts) is that the attack was in the early morning hours of July 31, 1915, which could, of course, be thought of as the night of July 30. (I prefer the notation of "the night of July 30/31" that is sometimes used.) Any comments or corrections?

Simmy; The availability of German regimental histories is limited, and they then to be quite expensive, typically $100 or more, although lately some can be found on CDs. you want me to take a run at translating it and posting the translation for the forum? Not to cast doubt on your effort, but your comments suggest that it was quite an effort for you. I often read German military material of the period, in the old typefaces, say four or five hours a day. German is a very difficult language, often with many meanings for a word, and a very different grammar (actually, it is Latin, basically, probably a souvenir of the Roman occupation of the Rhineland), and there were many quirks and abbreviations used in military matters. Again, no offense, but I might be able to tease a bit more out of it.

The comments on the utility of the Flammenwerfer in screening the assault is well-taken. the large flame throwers (GROss Flammenwerfer = GROF = large flame thrower) were used to open up first, utilizing their greater range and oil capacity, often firing at a diagonal across no-man's land to screen the assaulting troops, which might be led by men with light flame throwers; when the screening fire of the Grof stopped the storm troops were upon the first line, perhaps firing light flame throwers directly into the trench. These attacks were carefully planned, and the commander of the flame pioneers on the spot, often a senior NCO, and rarely of higher rank than a lieutenant, had the right to veto an attack plan drawn up under the athority of, say, a Generalleutnant, based on his judgement that the attack plan did not utilize flame throwers correctly. And the sergeant had a written order from the Highest Army Command (Hindenburg and Ludendorff, later) that he was empowered to veto the plan! This amazing arraingement led to these elite and highly trained troops being used correctly and not squandered in incorrect applications. As I said, in this attack not a single flame pioneer died in combat or of wounds.

Bob Lembke

#39 armourersergeant

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 02:51 PM

QUOTE (stiletto_33853 @ Nov 14 2005, 11:24 AM)
Arm, I am not exactly sure of the distance between the 7th KRRC and German trenches, on the 8th RB section it was roughly 15yards with the left end of "C" Company on the right of the crater and the right of "A" Company on the left side, not exactly desirable to put it mildly.


I would say given that, and assuming they would not have wanted to pop up above the trench and have a good look see, id would have been very difficult and that assumptions would have been made in identifying and naming the officer?

ta
Andy

regards
Arm

Edited by armourersergeant, 14 November 2005 - 03:12 PM.


#40 priv

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 02:57 PM

Fascintaing thread and some excellent information for us observers to read - Thank You.

Just one point which is rather sad to note is the subsequent reputation that the RB and KRRC got from this event. I am about to embark on further research on a 7th KRRC man who was a 15/9/16 KIA. From what I have found out to date the Battalions of the RB and the 7th KRRC at Hooge certainly defied their critics at Fleurs Courcelette a year later.

#41 bob lembke

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 05:26 PM

Guys;

For my own selfish purposes, and to advance the general understanding of this important engagement, perhaps we can cooperate systematically and organize the references to the engagements and make some materials available. For my part, as I have little knowledge of or access to the sources, I would be happy to pitch in and do some grunt work, such as prepare and post a translation of the German history of the IR 126, at least that section bearing on the engagement, including preparation. It would be interesting to see how they prepared, at that point in time; I have done a lot of work on German preparation for later storm attacks, which often were rather elaborate, including building mock-ups of the positions to be assaulted, days or weeks of rehearsals, culling units to select the most active men and officers to conduct the actual attack, and possibly (have to check on this) having the men have aerial photos pinned to their uniforms to consult as they wended their way thru the enemy positions. I have an interesting insight into one of these attacks, on Dead Man's Hill at Verdun, in the form of four letters from my father, two before the attack, as they prepared, one immediately after he was wounded, reporting this to his father, a staff officer, and a fourth later in hospital, long, with lots of detail, as he had a lot of time and paper. As the recipient was to be a staff officer with almost 30 years' service, they were written for a serious military mind, not the warm and fuzzy letters to Mum. The second, the eve of the attack, had him (accurately) lay out the plan of the attack, including the bredth of the attack front, and the day and hour that they planned to pull out of the captured French trenches. And he was a private! (This is an interesting insight in the level of preparation and additionally into the German system of individual responsibility. I think that in the British Army, at least until 1917, the question would be if this info would have gone down past the battalion commander, never mind to the individual private.) I assume that the mail was embargoed until the attack went off.

If people want to post complete citations of sources they are familiar with, giving proper identification, pages, etc., I will be happy to electronically snip them out and build a list on a word-processor file, and periodically (daily?) post the combined list, with notations, such as where the materials can be found. Is this an attractive idea? Should people "sign" their contributions?

If Simmy and/or Bert are willing and able to provide scans of the relevant section of the IR 126 history I would be happy to take a run and translate it and post it or otherwise distribute it. Possibly the divisional history has some insight. (Thanks, AOK4)

The discussions on the Forum are a lot of fun and informative, but perhaps we can build a really solid product to advance the study of this important action.

It is interesting in how, only after the participants have passed from the field, are we getting to the bottom of interesting questions about the Great War. In my own area of particular interest I seem to have found an organized effort to obscure and distort the history, efforts that actively were pursued till at least 1935, efforts that still poison current serious historical writings.

Bob Lembke

#42 Bert Heyvaert

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 05:41 PM

Bob,

I can send you copies if you PM me your adress. I also have quite a few other German and British regimental histories at my disposal, but until the beginning of next week I will be too busy with other things to investigate exactly which German units were engaged at Hooge around that time.
Towards the end of this month or the next I will also have photos of the war diaries of the 14th Division (divisional WD, Brigades and battalions). I allready have all those of the 3rd and 6th divisions for Hooge.
I think it would be great, like Bob said, if something substantial like an article or something could come forward from this. There are quite a few people following this thread I think, who have a good share of information. If we put everything together there is great potential!
For my work, I have to investigate this action anyway, and write up a 1 page resumé of what happened on the 30th and the 31st. But I would be glad to share my research material with people who want to take this a bit further.

regards,

Bert

#43 simmyred

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 06:34 PM

Andy: forgot to thank you for your contributions. Ted Kay-Shuttleworth's book is excellent. Am intrigued by the Gordon Carey letters etc. Been trying to track down some letters written to his brother. Are these they, or are these additional ones? Would be very interested to know. Yes, Ronnie Mac was extremely close to his officers. And Gordon never really recovered from surviving the day. I think it was his meeting with young Woodroffe as he left the battlefield that did it. Gordon went on back to hospital as ordered by his C.O. Macafee. Woodroffe went back up to Zouave, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Bob: wouldnt take offence at your suggestion at all. I was a novice when I began translating but, curiously, it gave me the most amazing insight into the German perspective, which I probably wouldnt have got otherwise. I only hope I got it about right. I'll get back to you on other matters separately e.g. your kind offer of translation checks etc. and also concur with your thoughts that it's important to get things right, essential infact. The attack at Hooge took place in the early hours of the morning of the 30th July. Not the 31st. Handover between the 7th and 8th Bns R.B. was completed at approximately 2a.m. on the 30th - just over an hour before the Germans attacked at approximately 3.22a.m. Am endeavouring, and failing I think, to stick to the original thread of this posting. Am very anxious to hear back from Mark in this regard. Cheers.

#44 Mark Hone

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 06:47 PM

Philip Holmes wasn't actually wounded in the action. Interestingly his next letter on 3rd August mentions a 'morale boosting' visit by two generals. I'll post this when I'm able. Rather snowed under at work as two of my department are now off sick.

#45 armourersergeant

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 06:56 PM

QUOTE (Mark Hone @ Nov 14 2005, 06:47 PM)
Philip Holmes wasn't actually wounded in the action. Interestingly his next letter on 3rd August mentions a 'morale boosting' visit by two generals. I'll post this when I'm able. Rather snowed under at work as two of my department are now off sick.



Mark, does he name the two Generals? I would be greatly interested as to who these officers were. Obviously when you get time.

regards
Arm

#46 stiletto_33853

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 06:58 PM

Hi Mark,
The Rifle Brigade also makes notes of Generals visiting them and congratulating them on the action. One of these was Lieutenant - General Sir John Keir also mentioned is a letter received from the King through Lord Stamfordham, sympathizing with the Brigade on it's losses.

Simmy, it would appear from Carey's son that Gordon Carey had corresponded with Mac for some time afterwards especially when Carey was on light duty at Cambridge with a Company of No2 Officer cadet battalion.

Andy

#47 simmyred

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Posted 14 November 2005 - 07:01 PM

Mark - thanks for responding. Know only too well pressures and nightmares of work. Same this end. Appreciate anything you have further with regard to Philip. In your own time. Look forward to it. Cheers.

And Priv: Andy is absolutely right. Accusations were short lived. There are complex reasons. However, look to the actions of these battalions the following summer on The Somme and you'll see their reputation restored within the official line. Delville Wood [Switch Trench] battle alone was a tour de force on their part, and, accredited as such.

#48 Mark Hone

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Posted 15 November 2005 - 05:36 AM

On 3rd August, Philip Holmes writes:
'My dear Mother,
Don't get into a fit about me, two Generals inspected what was left of us yesterday and one said we should never see such fighting again, he was proud of us etc etc, see papers for aug 2nd, Daily Chronicle (London paper) calls it "The Flame Fight".
I have heard , and there is a lot in it, that the 7th saved the British line, if we had given way the G's would have been right through to a "well known town of 5 letters" and so got behind most of our line. Poor Mr (crossed out by censor) who I mentioned in my yesterday letter, was only a boy, 19 and of slight build, that helps to explain the German placard, there's no pity on our side now and there never has been from them.'

The rest of the letter asks mother not to send any 'baccy' as they've just had a new supply and discusses his chances of a second stripe. Holmes confirms that the officer involved in the alleged incident was 19, which fits in with Longbottom. Do we know if he was of 'slight build'? CWGC doesn't give an age for Seymour, the other major contender.
I am gradually transcribing the later letters and will see if there are any further references to the story . A pity I didn't do so when I first got hold of them a few years ago. Sadly after a cursory read through of later letters to establish the circumstances of his death, I put them in a file and only unearthed them again this year after visiting Hooge. As other correspondents have pointed out, Holmes never actually states that he saw the body and placard, but he clearly believes that the story is true.

#49 2ndCMR

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Posted 15 November 2005 - 06:24 AM

While looking through the correspondence of a Bury Grammar School boy killed in November 1915, I have come across a remarkable atrocity story from a letter written on 2nd August 1915, immediately after the Hooge flamethrower attack. The writer is a corporal in 7th KRRC , Philip Holmes, writing to his parents and he is describing an officer of his own battalion:
'other officers killed are (name crossed out by censor, see below) , the Germans got his body, stuck it on bayonets and held it over the prapet with the label "One of Kitchener's ********". These are the sort of devils we're fighting and even if I don't see you all for years I hope we stay and really wipe them out'.
The censoring officer, J.M. Roe has added a remarkable postscript :
'I have scratched out the name of the officer on page 3 as his family must on no account hear of it and by some strange means it might leak out'. He has also 'blue pencilled' an estimated casualty figure given by the corporal.

While the source is allegedly an original letter from the front I seriously doubt the story is true. I have been studying the German Army, especially the individual soldiers for many decades now and from what I can see the only difference between the German and British soldier is the language and place of birth. And thus these must be the only differences between British and Germans? A profound conclusion indeed.

I think the remark of a forum member that the officer was probably a kind of dummy doll is most plausible. Ah, nothing like a little papier mache in the dugouts between stand-tos...

Flammenwerfer, in this instance, was a supreme of German initiative in being a successful 'opener' to a superbly-executed and highly successful massive ground assault with specific and relatively limited objectives. The flames [all of 30 or 40 seconds-worth] acted as a curtain, a virtual window of paralysis of our front line garrison, behind which the German stormtroops could move quickly and effectively in capturing their initial objectives with relative ease. Not identifying with this “masterstroke” overmuch are we? Could we have your opinions on the masterly use of poison gas too?

I think the remark of a forum member that the officer was probably a kind of dummy doll is most plausible. No German officer would allow his men to treat an adversary (even being the corpse of one) in such a manner...
Really? How much changed by 1939; and then back again of course after 1945...

The psychology of the event seemed all wrong to me. The Germans had just used a new weapon and easily drove the British out of their positions. I would think the prevailing mood among the Germans would be pleasure or even glee, not hate and bitterness. Some also may have been embarrassed or ashamed of having used a weapon that might have seemed unmanly. What a peculiar choice of words, or is that the closest you can bring yourself to “inhuman”?. But not bitter hatred. I also agree with his assessment of the attitude of German officers; better that it was expressed by a non-German.

The prank hypothesis is probably what happened. The Germans, having skunked the Brits, were having some fun. Odd kind of fun isn’t it? Possibly they used the officer's uniform? I was also wondering how two or three men could wave a corpse that, with kit, might have even weighed 160 or 180 pounds on the ends of their rifles. They might have even broken their rifles; they are not made for such abuse. Even actually bayonetting someone might only involve a force of 10 to 25 pounds max., with dynamics, the stunt with a real corpse, with dynamic loads (pardon the mechanical engineer slipping out) could easily put a 100 pound load on the end of the rifle, easily breaking the fore-stock. The forestock of a Gewehr 98 is secured to the barrel by steel bands. Have you never seen the films where a soldier stands on the barrel of a rifle held by two comrades who then lift the soldier over a wall using the rifle barrel as a step? A man could be bayoneted and lifted off the ground without breaking one rifle, let alone three. I’m sure I don’t need to explain the much higher loading in the scenarios I just described to an engineer...

Until the prank explaination surfaced I was thinking that Corporal Holmes might have been approached by a psywar officer and asked to plant a story to tone up the home folks about the enemy. Certainly the British did a lot of "disinformation" during the war to, in particular, inflame American public opinion. But I have not heard about anything like that. Certainly after having been subjected to the largest flame attack of the war, to date, the British troops in the area must not have been in a good mood and would have been receptive to something like that.. One wonders why they didn’t shoot some prisoners, after all in 1944/5 the captured crews of Churchill ‘Crocodile’ flame throwing tanks were frequently shot by the Germans for being so unsporting as to set fire to their enemies.

Returning to the 'dummy' scenario. If this was the case I wonder how they arrived at the identification of the supposed officer?
Uniforms of officers would have been similar surely?
How far apart were the trench systems for identifying visually in the first place?
Was the id done (real body or not) by surmising time area unit platoon etc and not actually by visual?
This is a fascinating thread. Lets keep the investigating going. Couldn’t we just have a nice friendly chat about the brilliance of flame thrower attacks and dispose of this unpleasant little story with some platitudes, generalities and half-baked excuses?

“I have scratched out the name of the officer on page 3 as his family must on no account hear of it and by some strange means it might leak out.”

Has no one noticed that censors do not usually explain their actions in little footnotes on letters? “...and by some strange means it might leak out” is surely a clear suggestion to the recipient of the letter to see that it does “leak out”. Funnily enough, it doesn’t seem to have.

A logical hyphothesis would be that the recipient of the letter decided not to publicize the matter knowing that the all of the families of the officers in that battalion killed that day would be left wondering if it was their relation whose body was so mutilated.

A pity that the soldier did not realize that in generation or three his countrymen would requre a sworn affadavit, not merely a letter, before giving any credence to his “story”. No, perhaps it’s just as well he didn’t.


#50 simmyred

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Posted 15 November 2005 - 10:22 AM

Well! 2ndCMR attempts to hijack with some stunningly acute and perceptive observations. What a shame it's in a completely unacceptable format which renders me unable to respond. Gutted!

Mark: a speedy thank you for your time and trouble in posting the info. As usual I'm racing around like the proverbial in abusy day but will get back to you on this. Cheers.