Spirits are still high among the Allied commanders today. The French renew their attacks at Poelcappelle, north of Ypres; to the south, those dastardly Boches play a mean trick that’s just not cricket (although it is a funny story).
Poelcappelle & the Menin Road
The French renew their push against Poelcappelle, on the northern edge of the Ypres salient. A breakout here could prompt a general German retirement towards Roulers, and it would also provide an opportunity to considerably smooth off the northern corner of the salient. The Germans have not been in possession of Poelcappelle for long, but they’ve spent their time wisely. When the French attack, they find themselves opposed by generous helpings of artillery shells, and thick belts of barbed wire in front of the German positions. Their own barrage has had little effect on the defences.
The British Official History drily records of today’s events at Poelcappelle, “[The attack] could not get on.” Still, there’s always tomorrow.
Meanwhile, on the Menin Road, the Germans advance using a dirty, mean, rotten trick that Bugs Bunny would have been proud to use. The current British position is a couple of miles south-east of Gheluvelt, on a conveniently-sited hill. The Germans would like to have the hill; over the past couple of days, they’ve made a few minor advances around the sides, so that the hill is now in a very small salient.
After the standard early-morning artillery pounding, a small party of English-speaking Germans sneak through the thin British line. They are concealed by some conveniently-sited hedges. Having done this, they all get as close to the men on top of the hill as they dare, and in their best upper-class English officer voices, they all begin yelling “Retire! Retire!” Then they run away, very fast. Possibly some of them are munching on carrots and commenting “I do this sort of thing to them all through the war!”
The plan works just well enough. A few men from a few units begin to fall back. A few others go with them. At that point, the main body of German infantry runs round and advances through the gap. A considerable amount of extremely confused fighting ensues. Most British units manage to disengage and get the hell out of it; but two companies are surrounded and either killed or forced to surrender. For a brief moment the situation looks as though it could become more serious, but Brigade Headquarters is not far away and gets control of things back.
Outside La Bassee, Neuve Chapelle takes a major pounding. It begins with a surprise German night attack an hour or so before dawn, and continues all day. At one stage, the sheer weight of artillery blows the defenders out of their trenches, but they regroup, counter-attack, and re-occupy the deep new shell-holes. They’ve held their positions, but at the cost of horrendous casualties. They can’t take another day like that. Sir John French issues orders that they should hold on, and also look for opportunities to improve their position with local offensives. The response from the blokes is unrecorded, but presumably also rather offensive.
On the Yser, the Belgians are struggling mightily with their floodgates. A few are opened, but not nearly enough to result in more than the most minor local floods. The heavy bombardments continue, but the Germans have paused infantry movements for a moment until all their reinforcements can arrive.
The new breastworks in the Armentieres sector are heavily shelled, and German snipers are particularly active in that area today.
Actions in Progress
Looking at the adverts on today’s paper you might have thought that all the home front was concerned about was keeping its clothing up to scratch. On page 5 Derry & Toms is proud to announce it has new stock from France of lingerie, dressing gowns and blouses, whilst it was blouse week at Peter Robinson’s on page 6. Across the page D. H. Evans was advertising new blouses itself, whilst over on page 7 we have Dickins & Jones advertising womenswear, and two more adverts for corsets. D.H. Evans reappears on page 11 advertising hats, whilst Bradley’s and Barkers on the same page advertise fur coats. Finally, we get the weekly Selfridge’s full-page advert on page 15, taking clothing adverts into double figures for the day.
Yet across the Channel, our leader on page 8 noted that “for days now a battle of fury unmatched in the earlier passages of the war” is being fought, one which E. Ashmead-Bartlett claims on page 9 “which for spectacular and dramatic effect it would be hard to excel, No pen can do justice to the horror and grandeur of the scene.”. There seems a definite disjunct here, and it is not one that will go away – just wait for July 1916…
The other thing I want to note from today is that the Belgium Appeal has now gone over £40,000 (806,527 shillings); or £4 million after 100 years of inflation. It’s raising the equivalent of about £151,000 every day, and it’s far from the only charitable appeal of its kind currently running. (Conveniently, the alignment of inflation is such that £1 in 1914 is worth about £100 today.)