Saturday, 11 November 2017

The night was fine

On the night of 29th/30th October 1917, Captain C.H. Carruthers and 2nd Lieutenants Schutze and Beale lead a party of 60 men on a raid on German trenches. All were from ‘A’ Company, 2/6th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment. The night was fine, the moon being exceptionally bright.

The objects of the raid were straight forward:

(a) To kill the enemy and take prisoners
(b) To destroy dugouts and emplacements
(c) To obtain identifications

British and German trenches east of Arras from a November 1917 map. 
The square is where the raid of 30 October 1917 took place.

Detail map from the raid report showing the line taken between British and German trenches;
the British front-line trenches are those on the left.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Coolness and Courage

183rd Infantry Brigade Order No. 151, dated 23 October 1917 was for ‘A’ Company of 2/6th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment to “raid the enemy’s trenches”. The objects of the raid were:

(a) To kill the enemy and take prisoners
(b) To destroy dugouts and emplacements
(c) To obtain identifications

The trenches in question were located close to the French village of Fampoux, east of Arras. The battalion had spent October at Hull Camp, St. Nicholas, near Arras and in support and front line trenches.

Key map for trench raid of 29/30 October 1917 

Trench detail
Specific orders for the raid were written by Captain C.H. Carruthers, the Officer Commanding ‘A’ Company. Carruthers was to lead the raid, with 2nd Lieutenant Schutze and Beale, and 60 other ranks.

The orders identified six parties with specific targets (provided by co-ordinates) within the German trenches. Some were to destroy dugouts, while others were to form stop gaps and protection. A parapet party was to cover retirement of all parties and “do anything possible to facilitate their exit.” Two Lewis guns with two men manning each gun accompanied the parapet part to deal with any enemy movement overland.

Dress for all parties was – “Rifles and 30 rounds in right-hand pocket. Two bombs per man. Additional bombs in bomb buckets. Wire-cutters and electric torches and P. bombs (No.27) will also be carried by parties concerned.”

‘D’ company were to be utilised to place a tape from point of exit in the British lines to point of entry in the enemy lines.

The raid commenced at 3 a.m. after a three minute intense bombardment.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Cadet Class, Cairo

T.B. Minshall,
Langley Park, Norfolk
Thomas Minshall, of Northwich, Cheshire, enlisted with Cheshire Yeomanry at Chester, on 27 August 1914. The Cheshire, Denbighshire and Shropshire Yeomanry constituted the Welsh Border Mounted Brigade. In September the Brigade was posted to Norwich to join the 1st Mounted Division, the division being formed in August for the purpose of home defence.

The period September 1914 to March 1916 was spent on the Norfolk Coast. On 3 March 1916 Cheshire Yeomanry sailed from Devonport, arriving at Alexandria, Egypt, on 14 March 1916. The regiment comprised 25 officers and 451 men.

During his time in the UK, and later in Egypt, Thomas gained the following promotions:

- Appointed Lance Corporal - 17 February 1915
- Appointed Corporal - 21 February 1916
- Appointed Lance Sergeant - 22 October 1916

Through 1916 the regiment took part in operations against the Senussi, and in the Baharia Expedition. At the end of the year Cheshire Yeomanry learnt it was to be formed into an infantry battalion.

As the establishment of an infantry battalion was so much greater than that of a cavalry regiment it was necessary for some amalgamations. On 1 March 1917 Shropshire Yeomanry arrived from Sherira at Helmieh Camp, Zietoun, near Cairo. The following day Cheshire Yeomanry arrived at the camp from Alamein. Here the regiments amalgamated to form 10th (Shropshire & Cheshire Yeomanry) Bn. King's Shropshire Light Infantry.

Monday, 18 September 2017

A fateful transfer...

In March 1916 the 13th (Forest of Dean) Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment were posted to northern France. A few weeks later William Britton, of Bristol, completed his basic training and was posted to the 13th. He likely joined the Battalion in France, as a member of 'D' Company, with a draft of men arriving in May. By November 1916 the 13th Battalion were in the Ypres area in Belgium, where they remained throughout 1917.

The 2/6th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment were west of Arras in July 1917, but at the end of the month moved to northern France. From here, in mid-August, they moved to the Ypres area where time was spent in training. Mid-September they were once again on the move; heading back to northern France first, and a day of rest, then on 18 September they entrained at Cassel station bound for Arras.

It is probable that when both the 13th Battalion and 2/6th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment were in close proximity near Ypres, August-September 1917, that William Britton transferred from D Company 13th Battalion to A Company 2/6th Battalion.

Trench map from November 1917.
British trenches (blue) / German trenches (red)
'Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland'

On arrival at Arras the 2/6th Battalion marched approximately 7 miles west to billets in Simencourt. Having rested and completed a few days training they marched to Hull Camp, at St. Nicholas, near Arras. In the latter part of September, they were working in the support trenches under the Royal Engineers; then on 30 September the Battalion forward to the front line trenches, relieving the 2/4 Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment. Following a few quiet days they in turn were relieved and returned to Hull Camp. There followed another period of rest and training, before returning to support trenches as working parties, then back to front line trenches on 22 October.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

"Earth Shook" - 10th KSLI & the Second Battle of Gaza

Early in 1917 Turkish troops defending a line stretching from Gaza and south east to Beersheba, blocked the only viable passage for British forces advance into the heart of Palestine.

On 14 April 1917, the 10th (Shropshire & Cheshire Yeomanry) Bn. King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (10th Bn KSLI), moved from Khan Yunis to Deir el Belah the concentration area for the 74th (Yeomanry) Division. The Division comprised three Infantry Brigades, the 229th, 230th and 231st, the 10th Bn KSLI being part of the latter.

These moves were preliminary to the Second Battle of Gaza, in which the 10th Bn KSLI was to play a supporting role. The First Battle of Gaza took place on 26 March, and was unsuccessful, although Sir Archibald Murray presented it as a victory. Murray’s despatches resulted in the War Cabinet ordering a second attempt on Gaza.

The Second Battle of Gaza began on 17 April, with three infantry divisions, the 52nd, 53rd and 54th advancing and gaining a line from the Sheikh Abbas – Mansura Ridge to the coast. The 18th was then spent in consolidation and the main attack on the town launched on the 19th.

Map showing the movement of the 10th Bn KSLI
At 0030 hours on the 17th, the 10th Bn KSLI marched from Deir el Belah to a camp 3 miles to the north at Raspberry Hill, arriving at 0300 hours, and dug in. There they remained until 2030 hours on 18 April, when they marched out with the 231st Brigade, reaching a position 2000 yards south east of the Mansura Ridge at 0400 hours on the 19th, and again dug in. There they remained in reserve throughout the day.

The attack on the 19th began with a bombardment at 0530 hours after which the three infantry divisions moved forward. Serving with 10th Bn KSLI, and in reserve, Lance Sergeant Thomas Minshall in his ‘Notes on Palestine’ recorded his what he saw:
“We were aroused by the roar of guns after being on the march all night; everybody was very tired but the booming of the guns from land and sea very soon made us realise a great battle had begun. The air and earth fairly shook, shells of all calibres up to 11 inches, tore slits into the elaborate Turkish defences, the battleships pouring a deadly fire into the forts on the hills around the city.”

Monday, 3 April 2017

Into Palestine with the 10th Bn. KSLI

On 1 March 1917 Shropshire Yeomanry arrived from Sherira at Helmieh Camp, Zeitoun, near Cairo. The following day Cheshire Yeomanry arrived at the camp from Alamein. Here the regiments amalgamated to form 10th (Shropshire & Cheshire Yeomanry) Bn. King's Shropshire Light Infantry.

The first three weeks of March were spent in reorganising and equipping, followed by strenuous training in infantry work. During this time reinforcement of 69 O.R. arrived from King's Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) base in England. On 24 March the Battalion moved to Kantara, where a further reinforcement of 16 O.R. arrived.

Zeitoun had not been popular with the men and the move to Kantara brought a considerable improvement, including bathing in the Suez Canal. At Kantara the Battalion formed the 231st Brigade with the 24th and 25th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and the 24th Welsh Regiment.

On 2 April 1917 at 17:50, the 10th Bn. KSLI entrained at Kantara East. As they were going into an operational zone all kit had to be strictly limited to 50lbs and the remainder left behind at Kantara. Their destination was Khan Yunis, and the Battalion War Diary simply notes that they arrived there at 15:30hrs on 3 April, encamping 1 mile east of the station. Lance Sergeant Thomas Minshall, 10th Bn. KSLI, provides some insight into the journey:
“After 22 1/2 hours packed like sardines in open trucks, we arrived at the rail head on April 3rd/17, unloaded our trucks, marched inland a short distance, and bivouaced for the night on the side of a high ridge from which we had a splendid view of the surrounding country and the Mediterranean Sea.”

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Yeomanry become Infantry

In March 1916 the Welsh Border Mounted Brigade and South Wales Mounted Brigade, comprising six yeomanry regiments, were posted to Egypt.

Welsh Border Mounted Brigade | South Wales Mounted Brigade
  • Shropshire Yeomanry
  • Cheshire Yeomanry
  • Denbighshire Yeomanry
  • Pembroke Yeomanry
  • Montgomery Yeomanry
  • Glamorganshire Yeomanry
The Brigades had been dismounted in November 1915, and their cavalry equipment handed in and changed for infantry. In Egypt the two Brigades were amalgamated to form the 4th Dismounted Brigade. Although trained as yeomanry they were to be utilised as infantry and served on Suez Canal defences, and in operations against the Senussi throughout 1916.

By November 1916 Cheshire Yeomanry knew that it was to be formed into an infantry battalion. However, because the establishment of an infantry battalion was so much greater than that of a cavalry regiment it would be necessary for some amalgamations to create  new battalions. Cheshire Yeomanry were to amalgamate with Shropshire Yeomanry to form a Battalion of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, and the yeomanry regiments undertook a period of infantry training in preparation for their new role.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Streets And Houses Of Minia

Cheshire Yeomanry arrived at Minia, some 150 miles south of Cairo, around 2:00am on 19 April 1916 – strength was 23 officers, 440 other ranks, 6 horses and 4 mules. The Regiment had been sent to Minia to prepare for operations against the Senussi, a religious sect in Egypt, Sudan and Arabia, who were persuaded by Turkey to attack the British. By June squadrons were being detached from headquarters, which remained at Minia until September 1916, to assist in operations associated with the capture and occupation of the Baharia Oasis.

Some time, likely in April or May 1916, Corporal Thomas Minshall of “C” Squadron, Cheshire Yeomanry, gained permission to visit Minia. He later wrote the following notes for his wife Eva which describe the sights he saw. Sadly, the associated additional letters and drawings Thomas refers to have been lost during the last 100 years – however several photographs from this time survive and accompany the notes.