My journey to Ypres was considerably easier than Anson’s. Having marched to Fismes, they entrained at 3.00am. They were crowded into 3rd class train carriages, used for troop transport, with only what they carried for sustenance. The train travelled slowly often being shunted into sidings as some more important train was given priority. They travelled via Boulogne and Calais eventually arriving in Cassel exactly 48 hours later. They must have been relieved to get off the train and march into Cassel where they billeted. They were up at 3.00am the next morning and at 5.00am the Brigade consisting of the four battalions as well as supporting troops moved off into Belgium. The 18 mile march to the town of Elverdinghe took most of the day and on arrival, they billeted. Gunfire could clearly be heard from their billets. The next day was lighter; they marched only two miles closer to the action, again billeting in a small town, the sound of gunfire clear in the distance.
We remained billeted in Boesinghe, north of Ypres, for three days. We could hear regular gunfire both day and night, but we were not called for. The days were spent in kit inspections and rifle drill. On the second day, 23rd October, our new commanding officer, Lt Col HT Crispin, arrived from India. Maj Green, our second-in-command had been in charge since Lt Col Montressor was killed when we were down on the River Aisne. On 25th October, we moved off south and billeted in Ypres. 1 Division, of which our brigade was a part, had been put in Army reserve. That meant that we had to be ready to fill in gaps or counter attack as was necessary. We were held on one hour’s notice to move but in Ypres we could buy food and wine and life wasn’t too bad. We remained in Ypres for two days listening to the sounds of fighting, aware of the wounded coming back along the Menin Road and ammunition and provisions heading east to the troops. We were then ordered to move a few kilometres further along the Menin Road and to entrench in the wood surrounding Herenthage Chateau. The next day, were ordered to move further east into another wood, Polygon Wood. It was here that we started to attract the enemy’s attention. He peppered the wood with HE shells and two officer’s horses were killed and one wounded. A work party bringing up ammunition was also hit, although none was killed. The next day, there was an attack all along our line backed up by HE shells. In the afternoon the brigade was ordered back to Chateau Wood and we moved back into our old trenches. We learnt, from intelligence, that a major attack was planned by the enemy along the whole front and centred on Gheluveld and that it would start at 5.30am the next day.
We were ‘stood to’ in our trenches from 5.00am. It was a misty damp morning. The intelligence was good as, at 5.30am exactly, there was a roar of artillery.
At about 10.00am the enemy started dropping HE shells on our wood and among our dug-outs. Things must have been tough as soon the Northamptons and us were ordered to move south at best speed to reinforce the village of Zandvoorde. Col Crispin and HQ Company led the march but not long after leaving the wood moving across the field in the picture, they came under shrapnel fire and the Colonel was killed. Maj Green again took over and led us south through the woods to our start-line. We attacked to regain the road that runs north-south and came under heavy artillery fire and rifle and machine gun fire from the area of the inn on our right.
We held the line for 24 hours under almost constant fire but then we learnt that the army’s centre, at Gheluveld, had broken and we were ordered to fall back to the area of the 5 cross-roads in the wood behind us (pictures right). No sooner than we were there, than we were told that the enemy had sent two squadrons of cavalry supported by infantry to getround to our left. We redeployed two companies to cover that approach leaving two companies covering the 5 cross-roads. The enemy came on in large numbers against the cross-roads but we held our positions and as the afternoon progressed, drove him back. We were then ordered to advance with fixed bayonets to re-occupy our trenches, from this morning, on the road.
We then learnt that the enemy had occupied the position A & B Companies had been in this morning and had concentrated 4 machine guns at the corner of the wood (right). We attacked south (left to right) across a field to recapture the corner of the wood, but had to withdraw as the position was too strong. We dug in in the wood behind us and held that position. During these two days, as well as the commanding officer, we lost three subalterns and 394 other ranks killed, wounded or missing. Maj Green was shot in the arm during the night but stayed with us, in command.
We subsequently learnt that the army’s centre in Gheluveld had been restored. We were ordered to regain the wood in which the Germans had taken up position. We mounted a fixed bayonet attack with no more success than before. Without artillery and more troops, we would not be strong enough, but there were no more troops and all our artillery was engaging the enemy further forward. We lost another subaltern in the attack. By early November, though there were heavy skirmishes up and down the line, against all the odds and with desperate casualties on all sides, the British Expeditionary Force, with the French, had held and stopped von Fabeck’s Army Corps’ offensive to capture Ypres and break through to the Channel. The war would now enter a different phase and become a static, industrial war of attrition.