Return to Ypres | Woevre | 12 Apr 1915

A look at what “taking over the Ypres salient” actually entails, the French try again for a breakthrough at the Battle of Woevre, and the Ottomans in Mesopotamia open the Battle of Shaiba.

Battle of Woevre

The French hammer falls on Maizeray. They’ve taken pains not to launch the attack until paths have been cut through the wire by the artillery. Unfortunately, this has meant a six-day bombardment, and the vast majority of it launched against belt after belt of wire. There’s precious little ammunition left over to suppress the German defences, or to carry out counter-battery fire. The hammer bounces straight back and hits the French wielder in his eye.

General Gerard, in direct command of the attack on Maizeray, quickly moves to find out what’s gone wrong and to compile a report. It’ll land on General Dubail’s desk tomorrow.

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Return to Ypres

The process of taking over the Ypres salient is now well underway. BEF forces have been sending liaison officers into the salient for the last month, so that their French counterparts can show them the situation. The current areas of responsibility are approximately as shown in yet another of my famously amusing MSPaint maps.

Red sections of line are being held by British and Canadian troops, blue by French Empire (often tirailleurs and Zouaves from Africa), grey by Zee Germans.
Red sections of line are being held by British and Canadian troops, blue by French Empire (often tirailleurs and Zouaves from Africa), grey by Zee Germans.

Jock Macleod is a newly-minted second lieutenant with the 2nd Cameron Highlanders. It’s a Regular Army battalion, and it’s been out in France for most of the war. However, Macleod has had only three months’ training and two months’ service at the front. This is rather unusual, but by no means unheard-of. Casualties have to be made good from somewhere. While most new Army recruits are being carefully sent either to Territorial or New Army battalions, this isn’t always the case. There’s always the possiblity that, by luck or judgement, a man who hasn’t had much training yet will be earmarked for a reinforcement draft and find himself in France within months, weeks, or even days of volunteering.

Many of their stories are some of the most tragic of the war; unlucky men, thrown into the trenches with hardly any training, often doomed to die or be horribly wounded soon after arriving. Jock Macleod is a different case, however. He’s deliberately wangled his way to the front as soon as possible despite his lack of training. Though inexperienced, Macleod’s done well under pressure, and has been appointed to command the battalion’s machine-gun section. It’s in this role that he goes to Ypres.

They ride casually out of Ypres with their French counterparts, up the Menin Road and towards the trenches at Herenthage Chateau. The line runs through a wooded area that its new occupants will soon name “Inverness Copse”, a couple of miles away from Gheluvelt. When they arrive in the trenches, they soon have a jolly old time.

They gave us a capital lunch. Mackerel, ragout, bread, cold beef, vin rouge, and coffee with cognac. Four French and three British officers in a semi-circular redoubt in the woods. The firing trenches were about two hundred yards away, and the Germans eighty yards further on. In the middle of the redoubt was a tree, and tied to it was a magnificent gilded 18th-century clock from the chateau nearby. Every fourth tree was a splintered stump, for the Germans gave the wood a daily ration of shells.

In the afternoon, the French officers found some curtain pole rings. “Aha!” they cried. “Let’s have a game!” Doubtless the poles themselves had gone the way of all curtain poles, for firewood. They stuck a stick in the ground and played quoits, and absolutely insisted on a most dignified major of ours playing too. One man got five out of six, so another rushed to the tree, snatched down the clock, and offered it to him with a bow.

An excellent funny story, I think you’ll agree.

Friendly Feldwebel

Meanwhile, the Friendly Feldwebel is having rather less fun. He hasn’t nearly finished complaining about Major Eger yet.

When he went into the trenches, there was always something to criticise. He had the soldiers build a little hut above his dugout, “to breathe a little fresh air”, he said. He only went in there when the French were not firing, and they destroyed his hut before two days were over. The following day, a note was found nailed to one of the beams. “If you wish to take an airing, go into the trenches instead of sitting down in front of the dead and laughing. We are patriots, not cowards.”

Eger was half-mad with anger. This was his vengeance. Every day the companies got some rum. That evening, he had only a few bottles distributed, and the rest was drunk in our dugout. Eger had invited all the officers. Soon he and Lieutenant Boettger, 18 years old, became so intoxicated that they got into an argument and nearly fought. Boettger was thrown out and left there, unconscious, so that the fresh air might revive him. Eger was pushed into the corner. Lieutenant Tietz and Lieutenant Schaeffer even wished to tie him, to keep him quiet.

The German papers are full of tales of such rows, always attributed to the Russians. Nevertheless, they sometimes also occurred in our army, the effect of rum stolen from the soldiers.

The Feldwebel’s life then gets rather dull for a while. He’ll get new orders next month, but this is the last we’ll hear from him for now.

Battle of Shaiba

The Ottomans launch their attack on Shaiba at dawn today. An infantry assault mostly fails to go anywhere when counter-battery fire effectively silences their guns. At dusk, they try another tack, sending out raiding parties to sneak through gaps in the defenders’ wire. The raiders do their best, but they’re soon seen and summarily dealt with.

Actions in Progress

Battle of Woevre
Battle of Shaiba

Further Reading

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things.

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. I’m reading the paper every day, and it’s where the content for Our Advertising Feature comes from.

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

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