East Surreys, The - Actions in WWI (World War 1, First Great European War) to 1915
East Surrey Regiment On Hill 60
The men of the 1st Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment have been called the heroes of Hill 60, and with very good reason.
The story of their deeds there is one of the most stirring in the annals of the First Great European War.
The story, in brief, is as follows:
Hill 60 was about three miles from Ypres.
It was not a hill at all, in the real sense of the word, but just a mound formed by the dumping of soil taken from the railway cutting close by.
On April 17th, 1915, it was seized by the British and during the next few days the Germans made many frantic efforts to regain it.
The first to hold it were the 13th Brigade, but after a day or two of fierce fighting, the 14th Brigade, that included the 1st East Surreys, came up to their assistance.
“If your enemies headlong rush upon you, stay for them and bouge not ; if they without stirring stay for you, run with fury upon them." - Montaigne.
The East Surreys On An April Night, 1915
Throughout the 19th and the 20th the Surrey men crouched in their trenches, while shot and shell fell all around them, and just before dusk on the 20th the German infantry advanced.
The Surreys had lost heavily during the fighting of the previous two days, but that experience was nothing to that which they met with during the darkness of that April night.
They were outnumbered considerably, but for an hour and a half they kept the enemy at bay.
The Germans, finding that they could not move their foe, tried a new kind of attack.
They sent forward parties of grenadiers, again and again, who, creeping up unnoticed in the gloom, hurled grenades into the trenches.
They then rushed forward to take advantage of the confusion, but to no avail.
The Surreys, like the men mentioned by Montaigne, would not "... bouge."
When morning came they could be found, still on Hill 60, still unconquered.
Throughout the day and night, German guns were pounding the hill with shell and shot, among which were bombs which choked and blinded the allied troops with foul, gaseous odours.
On Wednesday 21st, the German infantry managed to get a foothold on the hill, but were only able to remain there briefly.
It took a good deal to halt the Germans and make them leave off their assaults.
For the next two or three days the East Surreys and the other defenders of the hill had hardly a moment's respite.
But they held on to the end.
Lieutenant George Rowland Patrick Roupell, 1st East Surrey Regiment, gained his V.C. for remaining at his post on Hill 60, though wounded, and leading his men in repelling a fierce attack.
First V.C. For The East Surreys On Hill 60
Three Victoria Crosses (VC's) were awarded to the East Surreys for their defence of Hill 60, but perhaps a hundred more were earned.
One V.C. was awarded to Lieutenant George Rowland Patrick Roupell, who commanded a company, that on the 20th was holding some front trenches.
Roupell had been wounded, but despite this he stayed on the field; and, seeing the Germans advancing, led his men out to meet them with the bayonet, and drove them back.
It was only then that he went off to the dressing-station, where he had his wounds dressed, and without delay he returned to his post, cheering on his men once again.
As darkness fell, and with many of his men killed or wounded, Roupell went to a rear trench and explained the position to his commanding officer.
Then he led some reinforcements up to the front trenches, whilst under heavy fire continuously, and with them held the line through another long and arduous night.
In the morning, when only he and the few others remained, they were given a well-deserved rest.
Lieutenant Benjamin Geary, East Surrey Regiment, was granted the V.C. for his heroism at Hill 60. Continually rallying his men, he successfully defended his position through a night, and was badly wounded.
Surreys Gain More V.C.'s On Hill 60
Equally gallant was the action of Second-Lieutenant Benjamin Handley Geary.
He was commanding a platoon which was holding a crater on the hill, and early in the night German shells destroyed the defences.
Then the bombers came on in the darkness, but Geary and his men beat them back time after time.
Totally indifferent to danger, the officer was at one moment firing a rifle, at another throwing grenades, and at another, oblivious of the danger, exposed himself to enemy fire in order to find out what the Germans were doing.
In those few moments he had of freedom, he was either looking after the supply of ammunition or arranging for reinforcements.
On the next day he was severely wounded, but he lived to receive his V.C.
On that same night Lance-Corporal Edward Dwyer won a third V.C. for the regiment.
A party of bombers had got quite close to his trench and were throwing in their missiles.
Dwyer, having seized a supply of grenades, leapt out on to the parapet of his trench, and returned the compliment, to the utter amazement, and inconvenience, of the foe he could just discern in the darkness.
Lance-Corporal Edward Dwyer, 1st East Surrey Regiment, was only nineteen when he earned his V.C. at Hill 60 for bravery in attacking a German position single-handed with grenades.
More Samples of The Surreys Heroism
This article cannot tell of all the many other heroic deeds done by the East Surreys on Hill 60.
The story of some of them is hidden away in the pages of the " London Gazette "; others are only known because comrades who saw them have told of them; but others, the greater number perhaps, will never be made public, for amid the darkness, the horror, and the noise they were unnoticed, and the men who did them were either dead or far too modest to speak of them.
The following, then, are but a few samples of many more heroic deeds.
Just like Dwyer, Lance-Corporal W. H. Harding went out of his trench and threw grenades at the enemy.
About the same time Private F. Grimwood coolly took sandbags and filled the holes made by the Germans in the "... parapet, standing exposed in the gap while the sandbags were handed up to him."
Private A. Hotz "... did his bit" in a different but equally useful way.
He positioned himself near a trench along which the Germans would have to pass in order to get nearer the allied forces.
When they came forward to attack, and as soon as they appeared, he hurled bombs at them, and made them change their minds about advancing.
A Brief History Of The East Surreys
The East Surrey Regiment, to which these heroes belong, was raised in 1701, and was long known as the 31st Foot.
It was at Dettingen, where King George II. gave the men their nickname of the “Young Buffs," and at Fontenoy it lost very heavily.
In 1756 a fresh battalion was raised, and was numbered the 70th, the two being united as the East Surrey Regiment in 1881.
When the Great War broke out the 1st Battalion was in Ireland, and at once, as part of Sir Charles Fergusson's 5th Division, it sailed for France.
It was at Mons, and had a terrible time during the retreat to the Marne, for the fiercest German attacks were made against this part of the British force.
In the Battle of the Marne the East Surreys and their comrades in the 5th Division were told off to attack the most difficult section of the line, and less than a week later they had forced their way across the Aisne.
The East Surreys Stand at Missy
Once across that river their difficulties were worse than ever.
Around the village of Missy the Surrey men took their stand, but unfortunately the German guns were on the high ground above, and shot and shell blasted above and around them day after day.
However, there was no driving them back, and they remained near Missy until the whole army had made its way to Flanders.
The October fighting in Flanders began with Smith-Dorrien's attack on La Bassée, and Sir John French told them that in this "… terribly severe fighting you" the East Surreys " were faced by three, if not four, times your numbers, and experienced some of the fiercest fighting of the war."
Then came a rest, and after that the heroism of the battalion on Hill 60.
But this is only the record of one battalion of the East Surreys, and only a little of that, and there were others at the front.
The Second & Eighth Battalions East Surreys
Early in 1915 the 2nd Battalion arrived in France from India, and as part of the 28th Division it fought in the Second Battle of Ypres.
There, somewhere near the centre of the British line, the Surrey men faced the German gas attacks without flinching, and their staunchness was deservedly praised by Sir John French, who said :
"Your colours have many famous names emblazoned on them, but none will be more famous or more well-deserved than that of the Second Battle of Ypres."
In September, around the Hohenzollern Redoubt, the 2nd battalion was again to the fore.
There Second-Lieutenant Alfred James Terence Fleming-Sandes, won the V.C. for saving the line at a very critical time.
The 8th Battalion of the East Surreys took part, and distinguished itself, at the fighting at Loos.
If you are interested in the gallantry displayed by "Kitchener's chaps" at that time, then the "London Gazette" for November 29th, 1915, is the place to inquire.