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Royal Warwicks, The - Actions in First Great European War (WWI, World War 1) to 1915

Updated on February 5, 2015
Privates of the 2nd Royal Warwickshire Regiment with one of their two pet antelopes of the battalion.
Privates of the 2nd Royal Warwickshire Regiment with one of their two pet antelopes of the battalion. | Source

Around the little town of Ypres, of which followers of the history of the Great War are so familiar, there were the remains of an old forest. These, by 1914, took the form of isolated woods, some of which were a good size, and the district was, in fact, not dissimilar to areas of Warwickshire once covered by the Forest of Arden. In this Flemish forest there are many nameless graves of Warwickshire's bravest sons.

One of these woods was quite big and was called the Polygon Wood. It was near the village of Reytel, about six or seven miles from Ypres.

On the morning of October 24th, 1914, the British held it; the front line running to the front. However, during that day the Germans fought their way into the wood.

The 21st and 22nd Brigades held the trenches in front of it, and, as part of Sir Henry Rawlinson's famous 7th Division, had marched there from around Antwerp.

They were tired after their weary and harassed march. They had been reduced in numbers by constant fighting. The enemy probably knew this, as they suddenly sent four entirely new army corps against this part of the line.

They had failed time and again, but this time they succeeded,. The line was broken. The position was exceedingly critical. An attempt had to be made to turn out the enemy from the Wood, but there were no fresh troops available for this purpose; none but the thin and weary battalions which had had little or no rest since leaving Southampton nearly three weeks before.

One had to be chosen, however; one in which the General had unbounded faith. He selected the 2nd Warwicks, who were holding some trenches near the spot, and sent them forward to undertake the task.

Quote from Hon. J. W. Fortescue

"The Sixth, one of the sacred six old regiments, and distinguished above all others in the Spanish War." - Hon. J. W. Fortescue, "History of the British Army."

Source

Lieut.-Col. C.H. Palmer

Lieut.-Col. C.H. Palmer, commanding officer, gazetted in 1894. Served in S. Africa War, mentioned in despatches, received Queen's Medal with four clasps.
Lieut.-Col. C.H. Palmer, commanding officer, gazetted in 1894. Served in S. Africa War, mentioned in despatches, received Queen's Medal with four clasps. | Source

Officers of the 9th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment

Back row (left to right) :

H. S. Baker, S. St. G. S. Kingdom, Capt. G. H. D. Coats, Major G. D'E. H. Fullerton, Eric Newton Marson, E. S. Marshal!, Leonard Tinne Berthon, R. W. Reade, Lieut. W. J. Glim.

Centre row (left to right) :

J. R. Starley, John Kenneth Samuel Page, R. W. Lucas-Lucas, Lieut, and Quartermaster W. P. Hall, Lieut. C. E. Wilson, Lieut. J. Cattanach, R. F. Jardine, A. G. Kemp.

Front row (left to right) :

Lieut. George Edward Grundy, Capt. Charles John Reid, Major R. G. Shuttleworth, Capt. Cosmos C. R. Nevill (Adjutant), Lieut.-Col. Cecil Howard Palmer, Major W. A. Gordon, C.M.G., Major A. G. Sharp, Lieut. P. E. Bodington.

Major A.G. Sharp

Major A.G. Sharp, with Manchester Regt. in Sth. Africa, received Queen's Medal with three clasps & King's Medal with two clasps.
Major A.G. Sharp, with Manchester Regt. in Sth. Africa, received Queen's Medal with three clasps & King's Medal with two clasps. | Source

Sergeant B.L. Montgomery

Sergt. B.L. Montgomery, awarded the D.C.M. for courage while with a small party for ten days in enemy country.
Sergt. B.L. Montgomery, awarded the D.C.M. for courage while with a small party for ten days in enemy country. | Source

Heroism Near Ypres

The battalion did not hesitate. It advanced, and soon saw the enemy retiring before it; "a great distance," so the General said.

Fighting of this kind always cost a good many valuable lives, and eventually, after a short time, the battalion was far too weak to follow up on its success. It was withdrawn before the Germans were entirely driven from the wood.

The losses on this occasion included the colonel, two captains, and two subalterns killed.

The colonel, W. L. Loring, deserved more than the mere mention of his name. A few days earlier he had been seriously wounded, but he decided to lead his men in this attack.

However, he could not walk, so he gave his commands from horseback, presenting an excellent target for opposition marksmen, who did not fail.

This was not the only deed of gallantry completed by them during this critical time. On October 9th, just after landing, when protecting the Belgian army retiring from Antwerp, they were at Kleyhoek, and there, the General said,

"they acted with steadiness and good discipline under difficult circumstances."

On the 13th they were ordered to attack some trenches, and they drove out the enemy with the bayonet. During this charge Major Christie was killed, and Captain Montgomery, who received "... the D.S.O. for gallant leading," was wounded severely, being shot through the lung, and the knee.

On the 21st, the day Colonel Loring was wounded, and 22nd, they held a very exposed position. The Huns got round their flank, and were firing at them from the side and the front.

Eventually, after heavy losses, they, who had not given way under this ordeal, were withdrawn by order of their General.

German Troops in Antwerp

Sec.-Lieut. G.A.D. Lewis

Sec.-Lieut. G.A.D. Lewis, 1st Royal Warwick Regt.
Sec.-Lieut. G.A.D. Lewis, 1st Royal Warwick Regt. | Source

Cap Badge Royal Warwickshire Regiment

Royal Warwickshire Regiment cap badge with antelope.
Royal Warwickshire Regiment cap badge with antelope. | Source

Curious Regimental History

A sergeant of the battalion, writing to his wife in Birmingham, described this charge, or one very like it. He said that when his platoon was led out it was fifty-seven strong, but that after the fight it only mustered himself, a lance-corporal, and three men. The Warwicks had won the praise of "everybody out here" for their gallantry, he added.

This Regiment, known also as the 6th of the Line, by this time had a long and somewhat curious history.

It was raised in 1674 by a few adventurous Englishmen to help the Dutch in their fight against Spain, much as Englishmen of a later age went, without any particular official encouragement, to fight for the Italians and the Greeks.

In 1685, the British Government included them in the army of James II. as the Sixth Regiment of Foot, as they had done such good service for Holland.

However, they remained in Holland, the Dutch paying the British Government for their services, until 1688, when they landed at Torbay with William of Orange. A move which James II. had not anticipated.

From this point on their many fights for Britain began. After a campaign in Ireland, the Sixth went with William to Flanders, and it was all but annihilated at the battle of Steen Kirk.

In 1705 the regiment was sent to Spain under the Earl of Peterborough. It won honour at the assault and capture of Barcelona; but its greatest day was at the Battle of Almanza. There they won the antelope, now their badge, by seizing a standard with this emblem upon it from the enemy. They added to their laurels by their daring at the capture of Minorca.

The Sixth fought through the Peninsular War, particularly hard at Corunna and Vittoria. They drove the French through the Pyrenees; their heroism winning praise from the Duke of Wellington.

In 1814 they helped to defend Canada against the Americans, and they served in South Africa three times during the nineteenth century .

On 26th February, 1852, many of its men went down with HMS “Birkenhead”, and one battalion of the regiment was selected for the force which completed Kitchener's great work in the Soudan (now Sudan), taking part in the battles of Atbara and Omdurman.

Chars Bataille de Cambrai

The Fighting Near Cambrai

The Great War found the 1st Warwicks in England and the 2nd at Malta. Before long both were in France, though neither was at Mons when the fighting began.

On the next day, Monday, early in the morning, the railway-station at the little town of Le Cateau, some twenty-five miles from Mons, was bustling with life. Trains, full of British soldiers, steamed into the station continuously; the men de-trained, collected their baggage, fell in, marched away through the town and onto the roads beyond.

These men were General Snow's 4th Division, and among them were the 1st Battalion, each man wearing his antelope badge.

They had been hurriedly ordered up to the front by Sir John French, after they had just crossed over from England, who found himself suddenly confronted by enormous numbers of Germans.

They and their comrades joined up with the rest of the army near Cambrai, and took part in the fighting which hampered the German advance.

On the Tuesday a small party of them were cut off from the main body, and for ten days they were in the district occupied by the enemy. Nevertheless, owing to the courage and determination of Sergeant Montgomery, they managed to escape and join the rest of the battalion.

Others, however, were not equally as fortunate; one casualty list of the time contained the names of seven missing officers. Another, Captain Besant, who had been wounded, was taken prisoner.

Just before the Battle of the Marne the 1st regiment passed under the command of General Pulteney. As part of his army corps, they fought at the Aisne. They crossed it on a pontoon bridge near Missy, but were unable to scale the wet slopes on its northern bank, until a French success relieved them from a hazardous position.

Armentières

Their Wild Charge

In October Pulteney's men were taken by train from the Aisne to Flanders. The 2nd regiment were fighting near Ypres and the1st were advancing towards the enemy position near the River Lys.

On the 13th they, with the rest of the 10th Brigade, drove the enemy, in a wild bayonet charge, from his trenches near Méteren, and entrenched themselves on the captured ground.

They pressed on through Armentières and across the Lys. There they were stopped to make ready for the great Battle of Ypres, that was about to begin. The part played by the 2nd in that terrible struggle has already been told above.

The 1st were also put to a test. Day after day they were attacked; there was no relief from the ceaseless strain of the trenches dug in the mud near the River Lys. But they endured to the end, and in a November storm the battle died away.

Private J.S. Farmer

Pte. J.S. Farmer, 1/8th, awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (D.C.M.) for rescuing a comrade..
Pte. J.S. Farmer, 1/8th, awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (D.C.M.) for rescuing a comrade.. | Source

Private A. Vickers, V.C.

Pte. A. Vickers, gained the V.C. for his great bravery under fierce fire near Hulluch.
Pte. A. Vickers, gained the V.C. for his great bravery under fierce fire near Hulluch. | Source

Hard Fare and Hard Fighting

Before the end of the battle the brigade, of which the 2nd was one of the four battalions, had been reduced from its original 4,000 men and one hundred and fifty officers, or thereabouts, to five officers and seven hundred men.

One can conclude that the losses were enormous. The brigade was given a rest, and did not appear again in the fighting line until drafts from England had transformed it from a skeleton to a full-sized unit.

The 1st had not suffered quite so many losses, and they helped to hold the British line during the winter of 1914, being one of the battalions which ate and slept, joked and grumbled, fought and died, in the waterlogged and ice-cold trenches, where they sat with frostbitten feet and mud entering every pore. Towards the end of December they had some hard fighting and some severe losses, but even this was a welcome diversion.

In March, 1915, came Neuve Chapelle, which found both the battalions refreshed and reinforced. Neither, however, was employed in the first charge, but on the 13th and 14th the 2nd saw some fighting.

The Sundays of April and May were exciting days for them. On one of these, April 25th, the 1st Battalion, hurried up to support the Canadians, who had just been overwhelmed by the German gas, advanced with the rest of the brigade, the 10th, through their shattered ranks towards a village held by the enemy. As soon as they got to the houses they were mown down by hidden machine-guns. The attack was held up, and the brigade set to work to entrench itself.

2nd Battle of Ypres

Success in Spite of Gas

Near their trenches was a farm, called “Shell Trap Farm” by the men, and round it there was a good deal of fierce fighting.

On the next Sunday, May 2nd, the enemy tried another gas attack against the British troops there, but this time they were ready for it, and the assailants were driven back. Several subalterns, including G. S. Maclagan, once the cox of the Oxford University boat-race crew, were killed during this second Battle of Ypres.

At the attack on Festubert the 2nd Battalion supported the rest of the 22nd Brigade in a successful advance of over a mile to the enemy trenches.

To end this brief and incomplete story I shall relate an instance of individual gallantry performed eight days later.

Lance-Corporal W. Milner, of the 1st Battalion, carried a machine-gun for three-quarters of a mile across ground on which shells were falling thick and fast. Yet he got it into position in the firing-line, being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (D.C.M.) for this action.

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