September 1915The Battle of Loos
At the end of September, the British Forces took part in a major Anglo-French offensive. The plan of the French General, Joffre, was for the French to attack at Vimy Ridge and the British at Loos. Field Marshall Haig was against the attack as the British forces were still recovering from heavy losses at Neuve la Chapelle and Fesubert. Supplies of ammunition were low, and also men and equipment being diverted to the Dardanelles was putting further strain on the British. But Kitchener and the British cabinet were behind Joffre. It was the first time the ‘New Army’, raised in 1914 by Kitchener’s ‘Your Country Needs You’ campaign, had seen major action, following months of training.
Many Ewhurst men, serving with the local regiment The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment, took part in the battle. Two of the men were already serving with the Queen's before the outbreak of the war. Capt Raymond Heath had attended Sandhurst and was gazetted into the regiment in 1903. At the outbreak of the war he was stationed in South Africa. The regiment returned to England and, after 24 hours leave, embarked for France at the beginning of October 1914. Just a few weeks later Capt Heath was seriously wounded. After convalescence in England he returned to France in December, initially on light duties at General Haig’s HQ and then rejoined his Battalion and served at the Battle of Festubert in May 1915. His parents lived at North Breache, but had recently moved to Coldharbour. Frank Sellings, whose parents lived at Mascalls, had enlisted as a private in 1911. As he was only 17 he was initially in the reserves and then transferred to the regular army a year later when he was 18. At the outbreak of war he was attending a training camp and was immediately recalled to The Queen’s’ HQ, at Bordon Camp, and, on 12th August left for France with the BEF (British Expeditionary Force). Together with William Rose, he was probably one of the first Ewhurst men to arrive in France. His unit saw active service at Mons, The Marne, The Aisne, Neuve la Chapelle and Fesubert.
Most of the other Ewhurst men were volunteers in Kitcheners ‘New Army’, and had all enlisted around the end of August or early September 1914. Privates Albert Killick, of Coneyhurst Lane ; Victor Lawrence, of Heathside Cottage; Harry Kilhams, of Maybanks; Joseph Parsons, of Lower Canfold; William Baker, a gardener at Malquoits [Cornhill Manor]; Victor Baker, a butcher’s assistant at Milk Hill;; George Denyer, who was a bell ringer at Ewhurst church; Frank Dedman, of Horseblock Hollow; William Thompson, of Ewhurst Green; and William Haffenden. Other Ewhurst men included Second Lieutenant Richard Joynson Hicks, son of William Joynson Hicks MP who lived at Holmbury House, and was commissioned in December 1914; Harvey Field, of Winterfold; and Frank Jenkins, of Ellens Green. Most of the New Army recruits underwent training at Bordon Camp and went to France in the summer of 1915, so the Battle of Loos was their first taste of action.
The British offensive started on the 21st with a massive barrage, then on the morning of the 25th six divisions attacked on a six and half mile front. Before the attack, chlorine gas was released, the first time it had been used by the British, but it was dispersed by light winds, and in some case drifted back to the British lines. After heavy rain the trenches were full of mud and water, and visibility was poor due to smoke, gas, and misty drizzle, but, despite this, good advances were made initially.
D Company, 2nd Battalion The Queen’s, commanded by Capt Raymond Heath, attacked as part of the second wave. They were able to reach the second German line at Cité St. Elie, where they met up with C Company. Captain Philpot of C Company, writing in the battalion war diary, wrote that “Captain Heath sent a bombing party down the trench to the right, as some German bombers were causing trouble. The Germans eventually pushed on and got in our rear, whence they sniped into our backs, our stock of bombs at this time becoming low......... At about 2pm Captain Heath organised an attack on Cité St. Elie, and we entered the village, but as our own guns then started to shell the village heavily we returned to our former position. At about 3.15 pm Captain Heath was killed and I assumed command”. Heath’s body was not recovered. D Company had gained nearly 2,000 yards and Captain Longbourne (2nd in Command, Brigade HQ) noted that Heath “had successfully lead his Company and gained the most forward position occupied by the Brigade that day”.
At the north end of the line, near the village of Givenchy, two Ewhurst men, Privates Joseph Parsons, who was 23, and Victor Lawrence aged 19, were serving with the 1st Battalion, The Queen's. They reached the German lines, but were forced back due to a lack of hand grenades. By the end of the day both were listed as missing. Several other Ewhurst men in the 1st Battalion were ‘Wounded in Action’ - Second Lieutenant Richard Joynson Hicks, Private Victor Baker and Private Frank Sellings .
On the second day of the Battle another Ewhurst man, L/Cpl William Haffenden was with the 8th Battalion They attacked to the south of the village of Hulluch, which they believed to be in British hands and with the wire already cut, but they came under heavy machine gun fire from the village and found the wire still intact, and so had to withdraw. Haffenden’s body was not recovered. He had only been in France for three weeks and this had been in his first experience of being under fire.
By 28th September the British had lost most of the ground gained and retreated. British casualties in the main attack were 48,367 and they suffered 10,880 more in the subsidiary attack.