T.E. Sandall, History of the 5th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment (1922)


The Ypres Salient

From June 23rd to the 29th we remained at Ouderdom bivouacking in the open in a field close to the village; fortunately the weather was fine. For the first two days the Battalion rested, being occupied with interior economy, on the 25th and 26th route marches, of about seven miles, were undertaken; for the next three days two Companies were detailed each day for digging on second line trenches, while the other two Companies had short route marches. On June 28th our "First Reinforcement", left at Stansted on our departure from England, together with a draft from the Base composed of men who had gone sick, and had now been discharged from hospital, joined the Battalion. The welcome draft, consisting of an Officer, Lieut. G. Walcott, and about 100 other ranks, brought us once again up to war establishment, or very nearly. The draft were met on the road from Poperinghe, where they had detrained, by the band, and played to our bivouac, where they were received with much enthusiasm by the Battalion. Major H. Stephenson, who went on leave to England on the 24th, was to the great loss of the Battalion unfit to return owing to illness, and his duties as 2nd-in-Command were taken over by Major H. I. Robinson, who filled the position with conspicuous success.

On June 29th we paraded at 7 p.m. for the seven mile march to the trenches to be taken over from the 8th Sherwood Foresters in the wooded district [p33] south of Hooge, almost at the apex of the Ypres Salient. The night was dark and wet, and consequently the relief took some time, but was finally completed by 1.30 a.m. on June 30th. In the afternoon of the same day the Battalion was redistributed and further trenches taken over from the 4th Royal Fusiliers, and the 1st Battalion of our own Regiment, these trenches being situated in the S.W. corner of Sanctuary Wood, with sheltered communications, which rendered a daylight relief possible. Battalion Headquarters were in Sanctuary Wood, and consisted only of a bomb-proof shelter, constantly exposed to shell fire, and were moved next day to a more sheltered spot in the wood, after one shell had exploded in the Headquarters' Mess Box, which was placed just outside the door of the shelter, scattering its contents in all directions; the Battalion staff showed no hesitation in complying with the Brigade order to move. The distribution of Companies was also altered, one Company being brought back to the new Battalion Headquarters in support, while three Companies held the trench line. The only disadvantage of the position in Sanctuary Wood was that no cooking was allowed by daylight; smoke at any point invariably attracted shell fire to the spot. The most noticeable features in the trench sector we now held were the comparative absence of rifle fire, with the exception of long range machine gun fire at night, and the great increase in artillery activity. In the Kemmel sector nearly all our casualties had been caused by rifle fire, in the Salient our casualties in the trenches were practically all due to shell fire, those due to rifle or machine-gun fire being sustained during reliefs when the troops were in the open, and often a mile behind the front line. During this first tour in the new sector, 2nd Lieut. Binns who had been doing excellent work [p34] as Bombing Officer, was severely wounded; the weather was fine and warm and no special incident occurred; the usual strengthening and improving of trenches was carried on, together with the never ending repair of damage to the parapets caused by constant shell fire.

On account of the long march necessary to reach our rest billets, it was decided that the tour of each Battalion in the trenches should be extended to six days, instead of four as formerly, and except on emergency this routine was continued for the future. Our relief was therefore fixed for the evening of July 5th, and was completed at 1.15 a.m. on July 6th by the 1/5th North Staffordshire Regiment, the Battalion marching back to rest in "E" Huts on the Ouderdom-Vlamertinghe road, about a mile north of Ouderdom.

During the next six day's rest, each Company carried out training independently when not detailed, which was more often the case, for constructional work on second line trenches at Kruisstraat or on cable trenches near Ypres. On July 9th Lieut. R. E. W. Sandall, the Machine Gun Officer, was invalided to England with trench fever, and was succeeded in the command of the section by Lieut. R. S. Fieldsend.

Owing to redistribution of the Divisional front the Battalion did not return to the Sanctuary Wood trenches, but on July 12th relieved the 1st Cheshire Regiment in a sector in the S.E. face of the Salient, two Companies holding the line with two Companies in support in dug-outs at the W. end of Zillebeke Lake, where Battalion Headquarters were situated. On July 14th Captain F. J. M. Ingoldby was seriously wounded while endeavouring to locate a sniper, who was annoying his trench. The weather now broke, and a few days' heavy rain necessitated [p35] much hard work on repair and drainage of trenches and communication trenches. On July 18th yet another redistribution of front took place, the Battalion frontage being prolonged to the left, and all four Companies being brought up to the front line, with Battalion Headquarters in dug-outs in a bank about 100 yards behind. At 11 p.m. on July 19th the Battalion was relieved by 1/4th Leicester Regiment and returned to the dug-outs at the end of Zillebeke Lake, as Brigade support, the Brigade front being now held with two Battalions in the line, one in support at Zillebeke Lake and one in reserve. While the Battalion was in Brigade support large working parties were detailed daily for constructional work on second line trenches, and the remainder were occupied in making new dug-outs in the bank at the W. end of the Lake, where the accommodation, which was ample for two Companies, was totally insufficient for the whole Battalion. The great objection to the Lake bank as a place of residence was the fact that the enemy artillery had the range exactly and shelled continually, but fortunately the bank was very narrow and shells fell either harmlessly in the lake itself, or on the marshy ground on the other side, and did little damage; a direct hit on the bank was very rare, though a considerable number of casualties were caused by splinters. On the night of July 24th the enemy exploded a mine immediately in front of the parapet of Trench 50, held by the 1/5th Leicestershire Regiment, adjoining the left of our sector, causing some 50 casualties, and a half Company of the Battalion was sent up as support to the 1/4th Leicester Regiment in case of emergency, but were not required, as the enemy did not attempt to occupy the crater.

On July 25th we returned to the front line, relieving the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment in trenches [p36] 42 to 49. The sector now occupied consisted of a trench line, of which the left portion was on high ground in front of Armagh Wood, the centre crossed a dip in front of Square Wood, while the right sloped up to the rising ground towards the Ypres-Comines railway; the breadth of No Man's Land varied from 200 yards to 25 yards. During this tour we experienced for the first time a bombardment with heavy trench mortars (Minenwerfer), popularly known as "Minnies", which caused great damage to trenches, but the toll of casualties was light. The work done was chiefly improving trenches and especially the wire in front; while engaged in superintending the latter in front of one of the machine gun emplacements, Sergeant Templeman, the Battalion Machine Gun Sergeant, who had done excellent work since mobilization, was killed. In addition to heavy trench mortars, we were also frequently worried by small trench mortar bombs, popularly known as "Sausages" from their shape. Their flight was slow, and could be easily observed, and the garrisons of trenches exposed to them usually posted a sentry, known as the "sausage look-out", furnished with a whistle, whose duty was to blow his whistle as a signal to take cover, whenever he observed a bomb in flight.

We were rather heavily shelled during the afternoon of July 30th, when the Germans made an attack on Hooge, held by the Division on our left. Beyond this the operation did not affect the Battalion, although the 139th Brigade, who were holding the left of the Divisional sector, were involved, and on the 30th were seriously attacked, but owing to their gallant defence, we were not called upon to assist.

On August 1st we were relieved in trenches by the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment and for two days occupied the railway dug-outs, situated in the [p37] Ypres-Comines Railway embankment, near the dug-outs in the W. bank of Zillebeke Lake, providing each day large working parties for second line trenches. Having been 24 days in the front line and support however, and having been rather heavily shelled for the greater part of the time, the Battalion was quite ready for the short rest which ensued for the next week. At dusk on August 3rd, the Battalion left the railway dug-outs and marched by Platoons into Ypres, finding their way in the darkness with some difficulty to the Infantry Barracks in the middle of the city, where we were billeted for the night. This was the only occasion during our tour in the Salient, when the Battalion actually entered Ypres itself, and on the afternoon of the 4th, we left the City and marched by Platoons to our former quarters when in Divisional Reserve at the E huts at Ouderdom, where a quiet evening out of shell fire, with the band playing, was much enjoyed by all. We were allowed two days complete rest, and on the third day, August 7th, only provided working parties for the construction of new dug-outs at Kruisstraat, while Sunday, the 8th, was also a rest day, and a Battalion Church Parade was the only duty.

On August 9th, we received orders to stand by, ready to move at short notice, if required, to support the 6th Division, who on this day made a successful counter attack on the Hooge trenches, captured by the Germans on July 29th, but we were not called upon; we were also due to relieve the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment in trenches the same evening, but the orders for the relief were cancelled owing to heavy shelling along the front, so we enjoyed an extra day's rest. On the night of August 10th, however, we again took over the trench line, 2nd Lieuts. Mountain, R. L. Hett, Early and Shrewsbury having joined from England earlier in the day.


This tour in trenches was somewhat uneventful, with the usual shelling at intervals, Battalion Headquarters being rather heavily shelled on the 15th; in consequence work on a deep shelter tunnel was begun in the bank behind which Battalion Headquarters were situated, for use in case of emergency. The work on the improvement of trenches was continued, bomb stores were constructed in each trench, and rifle batteries were constructed and laid on enemy communication trenches, which were thus kept continually under long range rifle fire at night. On the 12th Lieut. Fieldsend, owing to illness, was sent to the Divisional Rest Station, and the command of the Machine Gun Section devolved upon Lieut. Lowe, who had joined the Battalion in June, and acted as assistant Machine Gun Officer for the last month.

On August 16th, we were relieved in trenches by 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment, as usual, and became Brigade Reserve, one half the Battalion, with Headquarters, returning to the railway dug-outs near Zillebeke Lake, the other half bivouacking in a field close to Brigade Headquarters near Kruisstraat. The half Battalion at Zillebeke provided the usual working parties, while the other half were employed in constructing dug-outs round their bivouac field, which were occupied as soon as completed.

On August 22nd we returned to trenches, taking over an extra trench, No. 41, from 137th Brigade on our right. On the next day, a further reinforcement of officers reached us, 2nd Lieuts. Abbott, Bott, Brown, Bone, Jollye and Wright joining from England, while Lieut. Fieldsend joined from the Divisional Rest Station and resumed command of the Machine Gun Section. No particular event of importance occurred during the tour except the discovery of an enemy mine at the junction of 40 [p39] and 41 trenches on the right of the Battalion sector. A counter mine was sunk by our R.E. tunnelling Company, the trenches cleared, the German mine exploded, and our trenches re-constructed without any interference by the enemy. We were relieved on the 25th at 10 p.m. by the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment, and marched back to E huts at Ouderdom, the last Company arriving there at 4 a.m. on the 29th. To the great delight of the Machine Gun Section our old .303 Converted Machine Guns were now exchanged for six new .303 Vickers Guns, which were an immense improvement. The usual working parties were supplied during the next few days during which the Battalion was supplied with gas helmets to replace the respirators, which had previously been our somewhat dubious protection against the most dreaded of all enemy weapons, Gas.

On September 2nd, unexpected orders were received to relieve the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment in trenches that night, but the march to trenches was considerably delayed by very heavy shelling of the Canal bridges, which had to be crossed; eventually, however, the relief was completed with very few casualties. The weather, which had been fine and warm for the past fortnight, now broke completely, and heavy rain for the next two days caused much damage to trenches, and necessitated an immense amount of work in drainage and repair. On September 5th an unlucky isolated shrapnel shell killed two men and wounded two officers, Lieuts. Lowe and Bott, and several men; the effect of a single shell in casualties was sometimes greater than that of a severe bombardment at other times.

On September 8th, the Battalion was relieved in the front line, and sent back to Brigade Reserve, being distributed with one Company and Battalion Headquarters at the railway dug-outs, two Companies [p40] in the dug-outs back at Brigade Headquarters with one Company in immediate support of the front line in the newly constructed dug-outs behind Square Wood. During the next few days the usual working parties were supplied, and a small draft of 20 men joined the Battalion, but our casualties had been rather heavy during the last two months, and we were at the time very much below our establishment.

On the night of September 14th we relieved the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment in trenches, a heavy bombardment of the Square Wood dug-outs having taken place during the afternoon, which necessitated the provision and occupation of shelter trenches along the west end of the wood. However, another heavy bombardment on the next day led to the abandonment of these dug-outs, except for a small garrison of one platoon, for whom ample shelter trenches were available, as it was evident that the construction of these dug-outs, although behind the Wood and not under direct observation of the enemy, had been carefully noted from German aeroplanes. The shelter galleries at Battalion Headquarters were now complete, somewhat to the relief of the Headquarters details, as the Headquarters dug-outs had suffered rather severely lately, one shell actually penetrating into the Orderly Room dug-out, but fortunately not exploding.

On the 15th, as one of our trenches, No. 47, had received undue attention from "sausages" and rifle grenades, an organised retaliation was arranged by 2nd Lieut. Nichols, the Bombing Officer, which was evidently successful, as shown by a message which was thrown over into our trenches on the following evening, wrapped round a stone. The following is an extract from the message.

Why on earth do you shoot so idiotically? If we are ordered to fling over two or three hand grenades, [p41] is it necessary for you to send immediately a dozen into our trenches? Stop this nonsence! My best friend has been killed because of this. Let us show ourselves in this great World War honourable civilized human beings.

The receipt of this epistle was felt by our bombers to be very gratifying.

On September 17th we experienced the heaviest bombardment to which we were ever subjected during our tour in the Salient. From 11.30 a.m. to 4.30 p.m., a desultory bombardment with H.E. of various calibres, together with "Whizz-bangs", and "Woolly-bears" (heavy shrapnel) was directed on our trenches; this apparently was in the nature of registration, and no serious damage was done. For an hour there was complete calm, when suddenly at 5.30 p.m. an intense bombardment of the whole of the front line facing Hill 60 with shrapnel and H.E. of all calibres from 8 inch to whizz-bangs began, and continued for an hour. Telephonic communication was almost immediately cut from Battalion Headquarters to all Companies and also to Brigade and direct observation was almost impossible, owing to dust and smoke; each Company Commander had therefore to make independent plans to meet an infantry attack which we felt to be imminent. At 6.30 p.m., however, the bombardment suddenly ceased without any attempt at a German attack, and it was possible to examine the damage done. The casualties were marvellously few, one killed, and two wounded, but the material damage to trenches was immense. One long stretch of trench, 47 S., was practically obliterated for some 200 yards, but fortunately this part was not garrisoned, being practically a communication trench, but the result was that the right Company was cut off from the remainder of the Battalion by daylight. Private George Stockdale was awarded [p42] the Military Medal for gallant conduct on this occasion; when his trench was practically demolished by the bombardment, he went out under heavy fire to rescue a Sergeant, who had been cut off and badly wounded. Other trenches also suffered severely and the whole Battalion worked hard all night at repair, but finding that it was impossible to restore communication between the different parts of the front line within a reasonable time, the Commanding Officer requested help from Brigade, and on the evening of September 18th, a working party of 200 from the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment was sent up to our assistance, and by daylight on September 19th our trench line was practically repaired.

On September 20th began the long sustained preliminary bombardment of the Battle of Loos, continuing up to the 25th, but during this period our sector was particularly quiet. We were relieved the same evening by 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment, and went back as Divisional Reserve, being quartered in huts in a wood between Ouderdom and Dickebusch, and allowed two days for rest. On the 23rd in view of the possibility of a rapid move in the near future, a packing trial was carried out, the whole Transport being rapidly loaded up in the presence of the Divisional Commander. The usual working parties were supplied during the next two days and on the 26th we returned to trenches on a very wet night, which caused the march to the trenches over the mud roads to be very heavy going, and the men arrived tired out, and wet through. On the previous day with a view to supporting the attack of the 3rd and 14th Divisions at Hooge, a subsidiary operation to Loos, a demonstration by the Divisional artillery and machine guns was arranged, Lieut. R. S. Fieldsend, the Battalion Machine Gun Officer, being sent up to take charge of the Right Brigade Sector. [p43] Unfortunately he was dangerously wounded, and the command of the Machine Gun Section devolved on Lieut. R. E. Madge. Captain B. K. Finnie, who had acted as Battalion Transport Officer since mobilization, was anxious to be relieved of his duties and take his place as a Company Officer, and the Transport was therefore taken over from September 26th by Lieut. J. E. Moody.

A small draft of 30 men reached us on the 28th, and no special incident occurred until September 30th. At 6.45 p.m. on that evening an enemy mine under Trench 47 was exploded, wrecking the trench. L/Corporal Conrad Leadbeater, who was in charge of the listening-post at the end of the trench, was blown over the parapet by the force of the explosion. He crawled back, however, and although seriously injured, collected his men, opened rapid fire on the enemy, and remained in charge until ordered to go to the dressing station; for this gallant conduct he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. No attack was made, but heavy rifle fire was directed by the enemy on the position, which rendered repair very difficult, and Captain Finnie, who distinguished himself by his fearless supervision of the rebuilding of the parapet, was killed, and a total of 16 casualties was sustained before the work was completed. The following memorandum was received from Brigade Headquarters in answer to the Commanding Officer's report of the occurrence.

With reference to your recommendations, Corporal Leadbeater 's name has been forwarded for immediate reward. The names of the other N.C.O.'s and men are being forwarded to the Divisional Commander with a request that he will notify them his appreciation of their services. "The B.G.C. instructs me to say that he [p44] highly appreciates the behaviour of Captains Finnie and Scorer, and 2nd Lieut. Shrewsbury, who behaved with much gallantry and soldierly promptness and to request that this may be entered on the Regimental Records. He very much regrets the death of Captain Finnie, who was a most capable and promising officer.

It had now become known that the Division, which really needed a rest after three months strenuous trench warfare, was shortly to be withdrawn from the Line, and on October 2nd the Battalion was relieved in the trenches at 11.45 p.m., and returned to the huts at Dickebusch for the night. At 1.45 p.m. next day, we turned our backs on the Ypres Salient with great satisfaction, marching headed by the band to Abeele Station arriving at 6 p.m., when we entrained for Fouqueroil, near Bethune. Arriving at 8.30 p.m., the Battalion marched once more on the well known Pavé roads, which we had almost forgotten in the Ypres Sector, where the road to trenches was only a mud track, to the village of Gonnehem, where comfortable billets were found. For the first time for many months we were outside the range of shell fire and the day's rest on the 3rd was greatly enjoyed; the only work done was the refitting of the men with clothing, much of which was worn out by the trench work of the last three months. On October 4th some Company training was carried out, and at a conference at Brigade Headquarters the Divisional Commander outlined the next task ahead of the Division, the attack on the Hohenzollern Redoubt, N. of Loos. Next day Company training, bayonet fighting and bomb-throwing were practised, and a party of officers were conducted over the captured German trenches in front of Loos.

On October 6th, the Battalion left their pleasant [p45] billets at Gonnehem at 8.45 a.m. and marched to Hesdigneul, where Headquarters and half the Battalion found quarters, but owing to the crowded condition of the area, occupied as it was by a squadron of the Royal Flying Corps, no room could be found for the other half Battalion, which eventually found billets in the adjoining village of Gosnay. In these quarters we remained for the next six days practising Company and Battalion attack in open warfare, the actual formations to be adopted in the attack on the Hohenzollern Redoubt being assiduously rehearsed. A model of the position was constructed at Divisional Headquarters which was studied by the officers, and every opportunity was afforded to all ranks to learn the exact part they were expected to perform in the forthcoming operation. The Commanding Officer, Adjutant, and Company Commanders visited the trenches to be taken over from the Irish Guards facing the Hohenzollern Redoubt from which the attack would be launched. On the morning of October 9th the Commanding Officers of the Brigade were seen in conference by the Army Commander, Sir Douglas Haig, and on the same afternoon all the officers of the Division were met at Divisional Headquarters by the Corps Commander, General Haking, who addressed them, wishing them success in the proposed attack. The night of October 11th was the last night spent in billets by the Battalion, who looked forward with confidence to their first test in attacking an enemy position.