Northumberland Fusiliers, The - Actions in Great War (WWI, World War 1, First Great European War) to 1915
'Les Anglais' Are Coming
It was a Friday in August, 1914, hot and sweaty, and while the men were at work down in the mines, the women and children of Jemappes and others all around it had the time of their lives.
Rumour said that 'les Anglais sont à venir' ['the English are coming'], and this time the rumour was correct. In a short while they arrived, tramping along, pack on back ; they seemed in good spirits and fine fettle.
The 1st Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers were among them. Lieutenant-Colonel H. S. Ainslie rode at their head. They were one of the four battalions in the 9th Brigade, which was part of General Hubert Hamilton's 3rd Division.
Generals Joffre and French had decided that this would be the best place for the British Army to meet the advancing Germans. Smith-Dorrien's Army Corps, in which was the 3rd Division, was ordered to occupy a line running from Mons to Condé, with the canal in front of them. The strategy seemed a thoroughly good one.
“Then the 5th and 77th, weak battalions, formed in one square, were quite exposed, and in an instant the whole of the French cavalry came thundering down upon them. But how vain, how fruitless to match the sword with the musket ! to send the charging horseman against the steadfast veteran ! The multitudinous squadrons rending the skies with their shouts, and closing upon the glowing squares like the falling edges of a burning crater, were as instantly rejected, scorched and scattered abroad ; and the rolling peal of musketry had scarcely ceased to echo in the hills, when bayonets glittered at the edge of the smoke, and with firm and even step the British regiments came forth like the holy men from the Assyrian furnace." - Napier's "History of the Peninsular War."
Company Quartermaster-Sergeant J. W. Crouch
Hard Combat in France and Flanders
The Northumberland Fusiliers were to be found around Jemappes, and they set to work after a rest. The erection of barricades in the streets, and positioning of machine-guns in all kinds of places, surprised the children. In order to obtain a better view of the country beyond the canal the soldiers demolished buildings here and there.
The Germans were seen in the distance on the Sunday afternoon, and shells from their big guns burst to the fore, but the enemy did not advance to Jemappes. The Northumberland men were not hard pressed in keeping them at a distance.
But nearer Mons the enemy had crossed the canal, and farther away to the right they had beaten a French army. They were now working round the British flank ; so the Fusiliers, even though their losses had been very light, were ordered to retreat with the rest of the corps.
The battalions dug trenches along new lines, and early the next morning the Germans were again upon them. The Northumberlands fought in this Battle of Le Cateau, and then retreated again by St. Quentin to Noyon, on the Oise. They then undertook another backward march to the other side of the Marne. This time the retreat was over.
The Northumberland Fusiliers fought in the Battles of the Marne and the Aisne. They crossed the Aisne near Vailly, Sergeant J. Squires winning the Distinguished Service Medal (D.C.M.) for his gallantry during this time. After a quick check their brigade forced its way up the high ground on the other side of the Aisne, where they entrenched and remained until they were moved to Flanders, in October .
In Flanders the Fusiliers were near Herlies at first, but after several days of hard combat they were moved back a few miles, now being stationed near Neuve Chapelle, around which there was some severe fighting at the end of October.
In one of these combats Sergeant Fisk won the Distinguished Conduct Medal (D.C.M.) for gallantry, and a few days later Quartermaster-Sergeant J. W. Crouch also gained his D.C.M..
BACK ROW (LEFT TO RIGHT) :
Lieut. B. C. Brady, Sec.-Lieut. J. L. Donnelly, Lieut. Dan Magill Dawson, Sec.-Lieut. J. M. Dalzell, Sec.-Lieut. J. J. G. Welton, Sec.-Lieut. R. Donald, Sec.-Lieut. T. W. Thompson, Sec.-Lieut. H. Wilkinson, Sec.-Lieut. H. A. Patterson, Sec.-Lieut. J. McLoughlin,
SECOND ROW (LEFT TO RIGHT) :
Rev. G. McBrearty, C.F., Lieut., and Quartermaster P. McKenna, Sec-Lieut. H. S. Fitzgerald, Sec.-Lieut. H. M . Horrox, Sec.-Lieut L. F Byrne, Sec.-Lieut. S. A. Jardine, Lieut. C. M. Goodall, Sec.-Lieut. W. A. Short, Sec.-Lieut. H. R. C. Sutcliffe, Sec.-Lieut. J. R. Wedderburn, Sec.-Lieut. R. Loverock, Sec.-Lieut. F.J. Downey, Lieut. A.F. Rogers,
FIRST ROW (LEFT TO RIGHT) :
Capt. J. H. Pringle, Capt. G. Swinburn, Capt. K. Mackenzie, Capt. C. Wallace, Maj. J. M. Prior, Second-in-Command, Lieut.-Col. L. Meredith Howard, Commanding, Sec.-Lieut. and Adjutant W. Waring (Gordon Highlanders), Capt. J. P. Gallwey, Capt. E. Pugh, Capt. A. Thompson, Lieut. Thomas Garibaldi Farina.
FRONT ROW (SEATED, LEFT TO RIGHT) :
Lieut. C. J. Mate, Sec.-Lieut. G. Hardy, Capt. W. B. Watson, R.A.M.C.
Glories of the 'Old & Bold' in Times Gone By
The Northumberland Fusiliers belonged to a regiment first raised privately in 1674 to assist the Dutch in their fight against France. In 1685 it was added to the British Army as the 5th Regiment of the Line. It fought in Ireland, Flanders and Spain.
In 1761 and 1762 it won glory in the Seven Years' War fighting against the French. Later it fought in America. At St. Lucia the Fusiliers behaved so gallantly in defending the island from the French that they were allowed to wear the white feathers in their caps that they had taken from their foes.
The regiment was prominent in Holland in 1799. It was in the Peninsular War, however, that the Fusiliers made their reputation, earning their well-known names the "Fighting Fifth" and the "Old and Bold."
Their conduct at Roliça, and especially at El Boden in September, 1811, was held up by the Duke of Wellington as an example to the whole Army. At the Siege of Badajoz their hardened valour took them up scaling ladders and into the town at a moment when a British victory seemed impossible.
After nearly fifty years of peace the Fusiliers marched with Havelock to Lucknow. Later their services were required in Afghanistan, Egypt, and South Africa. During the Indian Mutiny four Victoria Crosses were earned by the men of the Northumberland Fusiliers.
"Fighting Fifth" in the Ypres Salient
After bombarding the British first-line trench, battering the sandbag breastworks and actually blowing some of the wire entanglements across the trenches, the Germans left their position, only a few hundred yards distant, and began to attack in force. The machine-gun and rifle fire of the Northumberland Fusiliers made dreadful havoc of the enemy, who were so bunched together that the Fusiliers merely fired into the crowds, it being impossible to miss at close range. But it was hot work for some minutes, and fresh ammunition was required before the attack was beaten off by the "Fighting Fifth"
Cap Badge of Northumberland Fusiliers
The "Fighting Fifth" Undismayed
By the end of January the 1st Battalion of the Fusiliers was again in trenches near Ypres. On February 24th the battalion lost heavily in a German attack, and four days later one company was in grave danger in a front trench, as its telephone wire had been cut, and shells were exploding all around.
Corporal C. Dawson saved the day by carrying a message across the open in broad daylight. By this deed of bravery assistance was obtained, and the peril averted.
Just a week later more than half of the men in another trench were killed or wounded, but, led by Sergeant A. Thompson, the remainder held on to it.
The 2nd Battalion of the Northumberlands had arrived from India just before the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, in March, and was at the front as part of the 84th Brigade and the new Fifth Army Corps. The Fusiliers did not fight in that engagement, but the 1st Battalion was involved in the counterattack made at St. Eloi two days later.
At the second Battle of Ypres the 2nd Battalion held part of the British line in front of Zonnebeke, being manned by all but its grenadier company of two officers and one hundred and twenty men, who were sent to Hill 60, and then to help gassed Canadians. Through the night of April 23rd these men, after eight hard days in the trenches, maintained the high reputation of the "Fighting Fifth."
The grenadiers then joined their comrades, and were with them when the Germans made one of their desperate attacks on May 8th. The rush broke the British line, and the battalion was soon almost destroyed.
Three companies were killed or captured entirely, and of the remaining one the whole of one platoon was either killed or wounded, for the Germans were all round them. However, under a subaltern, William Watson, the three remaining platoons of the one company left stuck to the trench, and although fired on from all sides, clung to it until they were relieved the next morning.
Among the prisoners were: Colonel S. H. Enderby, Captain Auld, the adjutant, and at least five subalterns. Captain Hart, Captain Molineux, and Captain Reynolds, as well as several subalterns, were killed.
1915 - Ypres, Belgium
"Shout, you shires, with a chorus sent
Ringing from Caithness right to Kent,
From far Northumberland down past Devon.
Shout for your heroes. Briton's sons,
Who quenched in silence the thundering guns
That darkened like doom the golden heaven.
The courage that lifted their hearts shall leaven
All who in England's name go forth
From east to west and south and north
Under the great godspeed of Heaven." - William Watson.
The Horrors of War - Shell Shock etc.
The Territorials' Fate
A fine battalion destroyed - but perhaps worse was the fate which had befallen the Northumberland Territorials a few days previous. A brigade, consisting of the 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th Battalions, was in reserve, and on April 26th, a Monday, at about ten o'clock in the morning, they received the order to advance to Fortuin.
They were marching into battle, almost all of them for the first time. However, they seemed cheerful enough, as they sung as they tramped along. As soon as they reached Fortuin they were ordered to attack the German position at St. Julien.
The Fusiliers moved forward in broad daylight, the 6th Battalion from Newcastle in the fore. The barbed-wire before them was uncut. The humps and hollows of the ground were unknown. A hail of shot and shell mowed them down.
Soon forty-two officers and about 1,900 men - about half the brigade - were lying dead or wounded on the ground. By afternoon it had become a disaster ; the brigadier-general, J. F. Riddell, came up to try to retrieve the situation, but was killed, and the attack was abandoned.
The list of "missing" was a long one, and many of those were later reported to be dead.
Heroes of Northumbria
On that day many heroic deeds were done by those Northumbrians:
- ammunition was carried to the firing-line across open ground by Private Martin and Private Burrell, of the 7th Battalion, and
- the wounded were saved by Corporal H. Smith and Private Yourstoun.
The men of the 1st Battalion were more fortunate when, at Hooge, on June 16th, they took part in a successful attack into the German trenches, led by their bombers.
The Northumberland Territorials were then given a rest before being sent into the trenches, and by July they were near Wulverghem. There the heroism of Second-Lieutenant W. W. Varvill saved many lives of men of the 4th Battalion.
Both the British and the Germans had prepared mines under the trenches. It was a race as to which would be exploded first. Sec.-Lieut. Varvill went down alone to make sure everything was in order. It was, and the Allied forces got in the first and decisive blow. He received the Military Cross because
"... but for his energy and skill our own trenches would most probably have been blown up."