History of the Lincolnshire Regiment
The First Attack on Bellewaarde, 16th June, 1915
Between the Menin road and the Ypres-Roulers railway the German trenches formed a salient, they were the high-water mark of the enemy's advance during the Battles of Ypres 1915. Behind his front line lay the Bellewaarde Ridge and the Lake, the former giving him excellent observation over the British defences. At the southern extremity of this salient Hooge, battered and ruined, lay between the opposing trenches. Just south of the Ypres-Roulers railway the eastern edges of Railway Wood were held by the Germans and the western edges by the British, whose line from Hooge ran along the southern side of the Menin road to just east of the Birr Cross Roads, thence parallel to and east of Cambridge Road to the angle formed by the road and the railway. A minor operation was planned by the V. Corps (Lieut.-General Sir E. Allenby), to improve the position by the capture of the ridge, which would deprive the enemy of observation, and at the same time straighten out the re- entrant in the British line between Hooge and Railway Wood; the actual assault was entrusted to the 7th and 9th Brigades of the 3rd Division, On the front of attack the enemy's trenches were about fifty yards distant in the centre and about two hundred on the flanks. To save the troops from being heavily shelled whilst waiting for the attack, the ground being under observation by the enemy, it was decided to attack at dawn.
From the 6th to the 15th, preparations were made for the operations and the 1st Lincolnshire, with other units of the 9th Brigade, practised the attack. In view of the use of gas by the enemy, special attention was paid during this training to anti-gas devices. A new pattern smoke helmet, in addition to the some-what primitive respirator then in use, was issued to each man.
This new device took the form of a hood made of grey flannel with a celluloid window. It fitted over the head, the end of the hood being tucked in the neck of the man's tunic. Thus only the air within the helmet could be breathed. The hood itself was kept damp with a solution of hyposulphate of soda, the air passing through the material being thus filtered of any poisonous gas. The heat was so great that the helmet had to be removed from time to time to avoid suffocation.
When the orders for the attack were received the 1st Lincolnshire were still in bivouacs south of Brandhoek, and at 4.15 p.m. on the 15th of June the battalion left them for the assembly trenches at the southern end of Cambridge Road. This
approach march entailed a long tramp eastwards through Kruisstraat and Ypres and along the railway track as far as Hell Fire Corner, thence down the Menin road to the Birr Cross Roads. By 1.15 a.m. on the 16th the battalion was in position, having lost four other ranks wounded during the march.
The attack was divided into three stages: the first objective was the German front line: the second the line of the road, from Hooge to Bellewaarde Farm: the final one the trench on the edge of the Lake. After the first objective had been taken by the 1st Line of the 9th Brigade, the 2nd Line was to go through it and capture the second objective, the artillery lifting from the first objective to the second objective at a fixed hour, but remaining on the second until ordered to lift.
The bombardment commenced at 2.30 a.m., and continued with pauses until 4.15 a.m., when the artillery lifted and the 1st Line (4th Royal Fusiliers, 1st Northumberland Fusiliers, and 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers) captured the German front line with very little resistance. The 2nd Line consisted of the 1/10th Liverpool Scottish and the 1st Lincolnshire. What Germans were found alive were too dazed and demoralized by the terrific shell-fire through which they had passed to do anything but hold up their hands and surrender, glad to get away from the terrible sight of their dead and dying comrades and the ruin of their trenches. The Lincolnshire rushed forward in support of the Royal Fusiliers and reinforced their line. The attack then continued to advance, bombing parties forcing their way along the communication trench, driving the enemy at a run into his second-line trenches. The attack was covered on the right by rifle and machine-gun fire from the Wiltshires of the 7th Division, who had their trenches on the Menin road about midway between the ruins of Hooge and the Birr Cross Roads. On the left from the railway other troops belonging to the 6th Division assisted in a similar manner.
The Lincolnshire and the Royal Fusiliers next seized a trench where the artillery had done its work extraordinarily well, the
barbed-wire entanglements had been destroyed and the trenches themselves made absolutely untenable. Many dead Germans were found amidst the debris; others were taken prisoner and passed back to the rear.
The second stage of the attack now took place. Here again the guns had done their work admirably, for, with very few casualties, the Lincolnshire carried the trench by 4.30 a.m., driving the enemy out at the point of the bayonet. The infantry were working on a timed artillery programme, but were told that if the opposition was not too stiff to make their objective and send messages to the artillery to lift. When the Lincolnshire had got through the barrage, and on and beyond the second objective, the Commanding Officer, Lieut.-Colonel Boxer, ordered Major Boys to get on to the final objective, the western edge of Bellewaarde Lake, whilst he collected and turned some men who were going to the south of the Lake. He was not seen again. The trench at the final objective was only a split-locked trench, where the Lincolnshire were observed by a low-flying German aeroplane. No messages got back to our artillery, as very early after the attack commenced all telephone wires were cut by shell-fire, and when our guns lifted from the second objective " we got ten minutes of the very best," supplemented by the German guns shortly after the lift. There were many casualties, amongst them Lieut.-Colonel Boxer, whose body was never found, in spite of diligent search. The early morning mist, and smoke from the shells, prevented the artillery observers seeing the flags carried by the infantry to indicate their arrival on the various objectives and prevented visual signalling as well.
The trenches now became crowded with men, units got mixed up, and it became almost impossible to organize or control the fight; to add to the confusion, German artillery fire, very heavy and accurate, swept the battalions of the 3rd Division from three sides. A combat with bombs and bayonets in the network of trenches now ensued, and swayed backwards and forwards. About 7.30 a.m., the enemy made a definite counter-attack, which was repulsed, and two further attempts later in the day were broken up by fire, but at 9.30 a.m. still under heavy shell-fire, and with no bombs left, the attackers fell back to the first line of German trenches.
At about 9.30 p.m., the 4th Gordons of the 8th Brigade arrived and began the relief of the 1st Lincolnshire, the survivors on handing over the trenches marching back to bivouacs at Red Wine Camp, south of Brandhoek, arriving at their destination at 5 a.m. on 17th June.
Many acts of gallantry were performed by all ranks of the battalion both during the attack itself and during the subsequent enemy bombardment. Sergeant F.J. Davis and Private E. Breeze gained D.C.M.'s for gallantry during the advance to the second German line. The former took command of the supporting line of his company after all its officers had been killed or wounded, and rushed a portion of the German second line, capturing the trench and taking several prisoners. Private Breeze, collecting a few men, attacked a portion of the enemy's second line with bombs; destroyed two German machine-guns and took twelve prisoners.
It was during the heavy bombardment that Private A. Cresswell, on his own initiative, moved from trench to trench dressing the wounded of all battalions, at the greatest risk to himself, exposed as he was continually to the enemy's fire. "His zeal and bravery were very marked ", his D.C.M. was indeed well earned.
Back at Red Wine Camp, the battalion rested throughout the 17th June. At midday a roll call was taken and it was found that the following casualties had been incurred during the fighting on the previous day, the CO., Lieut.-Colonel H.E.R. Boxer — first reported wounded and missing, Lieutenant F.C. Green and 2nd Lieutenant R.O. Pearson were killed. Captains
J.R.G. Magrath, R.H. Spooner 2 and 2nd Lieutenant J.H.P. Barret were wounded, in other ranks the losses were twenty-two killed, three died of wounds, seventy-six missing and two hundred and sixty-five wounded, a total of three hundred and forty-two of all ranks.
Extracted from the book - History of the Lincolnshire Regiment by C.R. Simpson. which can be downloaded, free of charge.