Promises promises

 

31st October 1914

The Dorsets marched 13 miles to Strazeele in fine weather. Gleichen caught up with them on his way through to Pradelles a little further on. Here he was

met by a staff officer, Cameron of the 5th Divisional Staff, who gave us the welcome news that we were to rest and recuperate for at least a week—really and truly this time.

Earlier he comments on this promise with a little sarcasm:

I knew those rests.

For the Dorsets, the only semblance of Hallowe’en on this day in 1914 was the nightmare they had left behind. Some respite from the two months of almost continuous fighting would have been very welcome indeed.

Ominously, as the shellfire diminished behind them with every step, a new rumble of guns could be hear away to the north; away to Belgium.

 

 

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Au revoir to all that

 

30th October 1914

The Dorsets’ war diary is short and sweet for the 30th October 1914. They left behind the mayhem of La Bassée and marched away in heavy rain to Calonne-sur-la-Lys 12 miles away. The receding sound of the guns must have been very sweet to ears of the Dorsets.

And today’s post is also short and sweet, cut due to a ridiculously long working day.

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5th Division’s band aid

29th October 1914

Any attempts to reorganise with the new reinforcements was hampered throughout the day as various companies were ordered into the front line and then stood down. A and B Companies were put under the command of the 13th Brigade at 11am (the Dorsets now coming under command of the 14th Brigade) and pushed up to support the Manchesters on Rue de Béthune. Apart from a few injuries from shellfire they didn’t engage the enemy and returned to billets at around 6:30pm.

A lack of resources had broken up reliable teams of fighting units and officers were thinly stretched thinly over the cracks of command. The Dorsets were being used as a band aid for the 5th Division.

The relief of the 5th Division started at 6pm that evening. The Indian Corps moved into position under “leaden skies and pouring rain”, according to Captain Ransome of the Dorsets. The Dorsets remained where they were for the evening awaiting orders. Heavy firing started up all along the line during the night as the Germans renewed their efforts to push the British back.

We haven’t heard from Count Gleichen for a few days and I’ve missed the old goat. He’s still watching the Germans put in saps along their trenches “in a most ingenious and hidden manner”. The Germans were now only between 200 and 400 yards from the British front lines. Gleichen was somewhat apprehensive about the efficacy of the newly-arrived Indian Corps, although he didn’t doubt their fighting spirit:

I was very doubtful how far these untried Indian troops would stand up to what was evidently going to be a very difficult situation if the Germans went on attacking as they had been doing. Fresh troops, it is true. But they had had no experience of this sort of fighting, nor of trenches, nor of cold wet weather: and they were going to have all three.

Whether he wrote this in hindsight or not it proved to be a very salient comment.

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Partridge captures geese

 

28th October 1914

Although an attack on Neuve Chapelle had been postponed during the night, it didn’t stop the British from trying to retake the village. This time they opted for the classic unsupported daylight attack across open ground. The Germans had dug themselves into Neuve Chapelle with the result being that the 7th Brigade’s attacking troops, including an Indian brigade and dismounted cavalry, got absolutely slaughtered.

The Dorsets, under temporary command of General Maude of the 7th Brigade, had moved forward at 6am in support, close to the road that runs north out of Le Bassée (now the D947), east of Richebourg St. Vaast. Here they remained until darkness fell, whereupon they moved back west and joined the new draft at Richebourg St Vaast at 10pm. The History of the Dorsetshire Regiment recalls a rather obscure snippet of a story from Captain Fraser’s diary:

Exciting chase with Partridge after some geese at 1 a.m. Captured three.

At 4:30pm the 5th Division had been informed that II Corps was being relieved by Indian Corps. This happy news trickled through to the various brigades that evening, which might explain a rekindled lightheartedness in the annals of the Dorsets.

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We’re going to Neuve Chapelle

 

27th October 1914

The Dorsets left their billets at 6am and met up with a new batch of reinforcements at Le Touret. Captain Fraser was put in charge of organising the fresh troops. The rest of the Dorsets marched to Richebourg-L’Avoué. They were pushed up with the Cheshires, two companies of the Bedfords and the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry (DCLI) to assist in a counterattack on Neuve Chapelle.

A series of manouevres for the attack are recorded in the 5th Division’s diary. The Dorsets remained in the road throughout the night waiting for an order to attack but it never came. A combination of confused communication, exhausted troops and poorly reconnoitred terrain meant that it never took place.

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