The offensive spreads northwards, and the BEF marches into Ypres for the first time.
In British memory, the Somme probably stands alone for outright notoriety as a name; but so much of that is bound up in the events of a single day. The reputation of Ypres will lay its foundation stone in a week’s time, and solidify in a year. The BEF and the Germans will be here for about three years and 355 days. When it is finally left behind, it will have extracted in the order of 900,000 casualties on both sides. It will carry the same fearsome reputation for the Tommies as Verdun carries for a poilu.
But, for now, all we have is one unit, planning to march away and leave Ypres far behind it. Is it really surprising to know that when 7th Division becomes the first British unit to march into Ypres with the intention of staying there for a while, they do so through a torrential rainstorm? I hope not. The chaps pass a quiet day, cleaning themselves up a bit and pronouncing “Ypres” very badly. They’ll be on the march again soon enough, to launch the great northern offensive that’ll sweep the Boche out of Belgium. It will not be the last Flemish place-name to be mangled by British tongues.
The weather is foul everywhere at the moment, and once again aircraft are grounded. The chaps push on anyway, expecting at any moment to run into the German reinforcements that are surely on their way. They don’t find any spiky helmets, though. The German Sixth Army has been ordered to stop attacking, fall back to good defensive positions west of Lille, and stand on the defensive.
The forces here are preparing to launch a two-pronged attack down each side of the La Bassee Canal. 3rd Division’s commander, General Hubert Hamilton, decides to travel up to Bethune in order to see the situation at the front of the battle for himself. Almost as soon as he has dismounted from his horse, a shell lands nearby. Hamilton (not to be confused with the rather better-known Sir Ian Hamilton) has already survived one hairy moment, when a shell almost landed on his head at Le Cateau and then declined to explode. This one is not so accomodating, and he is killed with a single fragment of shrapnel through the forehead. He is the first of 232 British generals who will become casualties; 78 of them dead generals. (This dwarfs the number of generals’ casualties from the Second World War, and hopefully shows that they didn’t all sit in their chateaux swilling claret like General Melchett.)
Actions in Progress
Battle of the Vistula
Battle of La Bassee
Battle of Armentieres
The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. In today’s paper: Large numbers of Belgian refugees are arriving in Britain, and for once there is no desire to chuck the foreigners back into the sea. Also, people are attempting to take out insurance against Zeppelin bombing raids, and a discreet advert shows us how much it cost an Army officer of the day to buy his uniform.