3. Nov, 2016

"GET AWAY FROM ME!"

LOOS

The Battle of Loos was fought between 25 September-13 October 1915 in France on the Western Front during the First World War.

British and French forces tried to break through the German defences in Artois and Champagne. They failed, being contained by the German armies and suffering about double the number of casualties

25 September 1915
In many places British artillery had failed to cut the German wire in advance of the attack. Advancing over open fields, within range of German machine guns and artillery, British losses were devastating.
26–28 September
When the battle resumed the following day, the Germans had recovered and improved their defensive positions. British attempts to continue the advance with the reserves were repulsed. Twelve attacking battalions suffered 8,000 casualties out of 10,000 men in four hours

12/13 October 1915
The British made a final attack on 13 October, which failed due to a lack of hand grenades. [Field Marshall] Haig thought it might be possible to launch another attack on 7 November but the combination of heavy rain and accurate German shelling during the second half of October persuaded him to abandon the attempt.

LOSSES
Those three weeks cost the British 59,247 casualties, the Germans c.26,000. Tragically the majority of the former was made up of Kitchener’s New Army units seeing action for the first time. These were the best of the best, the first to volunteer and alas, among the first to die.

SURVIVORS

Among the survivors, however, was my late step-father, Pvt. Ernest Cheshire. A painter and decorator by trade he had no truck with volunteering to defend Crown and Empire. As he always put it, “I went because my brothers and my mates went”

THE BATTLEFIELDS

As a historian, I have read extensively about the Great War and on many expeditions to the battlefields with students I was able to walk many a battlefield…Mons, Ypres, The Somme, Neuve Chapel, CambraI, Vimy Ridge, even Ern’s footsteps across the fields of Loos. I experienced that dreadful open field over which he and his comrades had to advance against batteries of Spandau machine guns. Those white gravestones across Picardy and Flanders tell a terrible tale.

THE OLD SOLDIER
Like so many old soldiers, Ern would never talk about the actual fighting, except by accident. One Sunday as usual we had been over to the pub for a jar or three, followed by mum’s large Sunday roast. Ern promptly fell asleep in an armchair in front of the television showing “Sergeant York” -an American First War film. Waking up with a start he stared at the foreground trench and in his slow old Bedfordshire drawl announced,
“That int the way you build a bloody revetment!”

CHILLING AND MOVING

However, there was one thing he DID tell me that I found more moving and more chilling  than anything else I have read or seen.

His was a “Pals” battalion made up of boys from the same villages, streets, towns and parts of cities, in his case, South Bedfordshire.
On the morning of 25 September 1915 they were in the forward trench waiting for the whistle to send them over the top. Ern said he looked round to see his two brothers by his side. The eldest weighed up their predicament and shouted at them …
“For Chrissake you two. Get away from me! One of us has to get back to mother!”

THOSE WHO CAME BACK
Unlike so many others, all three survived and having done what they considered to have been their duty, eventually took up their respective trades in the family firm, oldest brother the builder, Ern the painter and decorator, youngest brother the plumber.
It is the citizen soldiers like them WHO CAME BACK that I particularly remember every November 11th., and who it is so easy to forget.
Ern had left me his ring on the grounds that it had seen him through the battles of Loos and Cambrai so it would see me and mine right too.

I am proud to wear it as my wedding ring.

FOOTNOTE

While at Grammar school, I refused to join the Army Cadet Corps.  (Mainly because I was told and not asked).   Ern backed me all the way!