Page 134 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

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TRENCH WARFAHE, I9I5-I9I6
ID7
A
CODA TO THE SECOND BATILE OF YPRES
Even the attack of the rrth Infantry Brigade at Pilckem, in
2ND BN.
which the 2nd Battalion was concerned between the 6th and 8th
July,
I9I5,
is not mentioned. Yet that battalion, in spite of the
heavy losses described in Chapter IV and of a hope that it might have
a rest from the Salient, was destined to incur further casualties to
the extent of 17 officers and 380 other ranks before leaving that
unhealthy area . The attack was undertaken at the bidding of
Second Army Headquarters in order to improve the tactical
situation on the left of the VI Corps line and to distract the enemy's
attention from operations near Hooge. When the latter were can-
celled, the local commanders represented that the proj ected attack
had become futile and that it was bound to involve heavier casualties
to the attackers than to the enemy. This prophecy was amply
justified in the event but was overruled.
Accordingly on the morning of 6th July, the 1st Rifle Brigade
and the 1st Somerset Light Infantry, of the rrth Infantry Brigade,
with the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers (lent to the rrth Brigade for the
occasion) in reserve at Elverdinghe, attacked a stretch of German
trenches east of the Yser Canal, south-west of Pilckem. The attack
was very successful, thanks largely to one field gun being rafted
over the canal and man-handled up to a position sixty yards from
the German line from which it was able to blow in a sap-head
which would have seriously held up any attack if left untouched.
But the new line thus gained was overlooked by the German defences
of Pilckem and the two forward battalions lost heavily from shell fire
and were subjected to three attempted counter-attacks during the
day.
It
was therefore decided to relieve the Rifle Brigade and
Somerset Light Infantry on the night of 6th/7th July by the 2nd
Lancashire Fusiliers, supported by two companies and two machine
guns of the 1st Royal Warwickshire Regiment. The relief was
carried out amid confusion, though fortunately the enemy refrained
from shelling, and by 3 a.m. on 7th July the line had been taken
over with "A" Company (Lieutenant W. Appleby) on the right,
"D" Company (Captain ]. Smythe) in the centre, "B" Company
(Captain A. J . W. Blencowe) on the left, and "C" Company (Captain
W. P. Salt) in support about fifty yards behind the original British
front-line trenches. The French were on the battalion's left on the
west side of the canal, the estimated length of front being about
four hundred and fifty yards. Except for some bombing, the night of
the relief was quiet; but about noon on the 7th heavy shelling began ,
followed by an attempted counter-attack on both flanks which was
driven off. By an
ill
stroke of luck one shell hit the slit in the canal
bank which had done duty unscathed for several weeks as battalion
headquarters of previous units, and wounded Lieutenant-Colonel
C. ]. Griffin, Captain A. H . Spooner (the adjutant), Lieutenant
W. Appleby, Lieutenant F. CharIeston (the machine-gun officer,
who later died of his wounds) and a number of signallers and runners.
This shell set alight a box of hand grenades and a very much more