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44
THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS, 1914-1918
THE GAS ATTACK OF 24TH MAY
(THE BATTLE OF BELLEWAARDE)
The night of 23rd/24th May was peaceful until 2-45 a.m., when
the Gennans sent up four red lights, followed by two others and by a
very heavy bombardment. This in its turn was followed by the
heaviest gas attack yet made, both shell and cloud being used. The
wind was light and the gas in consequence travelled slowly, rising to a
height of forty feet from the ground and blotting out the view over a
considerable area; traces of it penetrated as far as twenty miles
behind the line. The effect was felt most severely by the troops on
each side of Shell Trap Fann where portions of two units retired.
Lieutenant-Colonel Griffin at 3.50 a.m. ordered two compani.es
forward to
fill
the gap, but on a serjeant of one of the units reporting
that three of its companies were still holding their trenches, he sent
only "A" Company, 120 strong, under Captain
J.
Collis Browne, who
was wounded in the stomach at an early stage. It advanced under
heavy fire from enemy machine guns which were already finnly
established in Shell Trap Farm; and only i.ts commander and 30 men
reached the front line which they entered at the right of the King' s
Own sector, immediately on the left of the gap, having probably
been diverted from their direct line of advance by fire coming from
the trenches vacated.
As it was now apparent that the Germans occupied the whole of
the gap and had a number of machine guns there, Lieutenant–
Colonel Griffin received orders shortly after IO a.m. for the rest of the
battalion to attack again in co-operation with the Ist Royal Warwick–
shire Regiment and with artillery support, its right being on Shell
Trap Fann. "B," "C" and "D" Companies moved off at 10.35 a.m.,
but by IO.52 a.m. had only been able to go thirty yards beyond the
ridge in front of the support line and were still four hundred yards
short of their objective. The Royal Warwickshire Regiment was also
held up and both commanding officers represented that more
artillery preparation was needed to deal with the hostile machine
guns.
It
was then decided that the two units should make a fresh
attempt at 2 p.m., helped by two companies of the 1st/5th South
Lancashire Regiment. But this attack met with no greater success
than its predecessor ; and, as the brigadier had come to the conclusion
that the whole situation had changed owing to the retirement of
units on the south-east side of Shell Trap Fann, leaving the flank of
the 12th Brigade in the air, he decided to remain on the defensive.
It
was, however, intended to make a further counter-attack after
dark with the help of three French battalions. But these were not in
the end available and orders were issued at 8 p.m. for the attack to be
abandoned and for the 12th Brigade to withdraw a short distance to a
trench called "French Switch" and to the 4th Divisional support line.
At 8-45 p .m. Lieutenant-Colonel
L.
E.
Pilkington, 1st/5th South
Lancashire Regiment, who was in command of that line, was ordered
to hold it at all costs, calling upon as many of the 2nd Lancashire