Essex Weekly News of May 21 1915 - Ypres Special

The Essex Weekly News of May 21 1915 ran a special report on the action at YPRES, of which the following are extracts:


ESSEX YEOMANRY IN ACTION.
HEROIC CHARGE AT YPRES.
REPORTED HEAVY LOSSES.

Although no list of casualties in the Essex Yeomanry has been published officially, a number of letters received by relatives of men serving in the regiment go to show that they were engaged in severe fighting on Thursday, May 13th, and that the losses in killed, wounded and, missing are considerable.
One Correspondent, Trooper H. J. Tucker, writing to his father, who resides at Spelbrook, Bishops Stortford, states that when there was a roll call the casualties were found to be 168, and that included Col. Deacon, commanding, who is understood to be wounded and missing.
We have made an endeavour to compile a list based on information contained in private letters which have come to hand since Monday, and have taken every care possible in the difficult circumstances to ensure accuracy. The following names we obtained up to yesterday:-

(amongst those listed) Brock, Sergt., Rayne

After the list of names and any biographical notes the Weekly News dedicated two columns to reporting eye witness accounts. Again the following are extracts:

STORY OF DESPERATE FIGHTING.
HOW THE YEOMANRY MADE THE GERMANS RUN.

From the descriptions of the fighting written by those who took part in it to relatives and friends at home it is clearly evident that the Essex Yeomanry behaved in a very gallant manner. Officers and men alike distinguished themselves, behaving with all the cool and unflinching courage of their race. They made on May 13 a reputation for bravery of which the county has every reason to be proud, and their conduct is an inspiration to others.

THE STORY IN BRIEF.

It is possible from the early materials to obtain a general conception of the battle on this memorable day on which for the first time in the Great War a Territorial regiment belonging to Essex was under fire. The distinction, which deserves to become historic, will doubtless be cherished by the gallant Yeoman. Their conduct will enable every man now and hereafter to feel proud to serve in such a unit.

Leaving their horses in the rear the regiment were moved up to the firing line as infantry for the time being. On Wednesday night, May 12, they were employed in trench digging. The next day (Thursday, May 13) they occupied reserve trenches, being subjected for hours to a terrific bombardment by the German artillery. The British front-line trenches were smashed, and the reserve trenches occupied by the Yeomanry (who formed part of a British Brigade) became the foremost firing line.

THE ADVANCE OF THE BRITISH

In the afternoon, about half past two, orders were given for the British to advance. To do this the Essex Yeomanry had to charge across a space which was swept by rifles and machine guns. They managed to reach German trenches, driving the enemy out with the bayonet. Then they were counter-attacked, the captured trenches being heavily bombarded. It was at this period that most casualties occurred, and also later when the Yeomanry were ordered to retire, the object in view – to prevent a German advance – having been achieved.

“RAN LIKE HARES”

One account we received from a trustworthy source states that the Essex man charged to the fox-hunting cry and that the “Germans ran like hares” when they saw the British bayonets coming towards them.

VIVID ACCOUNT BY A DUNMOW TROOPER.

A vivid personal account of the battle is contained in a letter written last Sunday by Trooper Jack Mills to his father, Mr A. J. Mills, contractor, of Dunmow.

Trooper Mills is now in the Middlesex Hospital at Clacton, suffering from injuries caused by a shell. He is only 18 years of age, and he enlisted for the war upon the outbreak of hostilities. He belongs to the Dunmow Troop, C Squadron. “I am once more in England,” he begins, and proceeds:-

I was in the terrible battle of Ypres, where the Essex Yeomanry lost so many men. I was hit in the stomach by a piece of dirt thrown up by a shell at my feet. How I came out alive I can’t think! The men who were with us and have been all through the war from the retreat from Mons to Neuve Chapelle said the battle of Ypres was ten times worse than anything up till then.

STARTING FOR THE TRENCHES

I will try to give you a little account of the battle from the time we went into the trenches to the day I was sent away.

On the Tuesday we went from our billets to a place about four miles from Ypres. We marched 2½ miles, and spent Wednesday there in a dug-out. From the time we started we were shelled all the way.

On Wednesday evening we left our dug out and marched to the firing line to dig support trenches. To reach the line we had to march through Ypres, and as we passed through the city it was one mass of flames and was still being shelled. Dead horses and people lay all around in scores.

We reached our trenches and had so far only two wounded. We set to work digging, and had got fairly on the way when a German star shell gave us away. Instantly we knew what being under shell-fire was, but fortunately did not lose many men then.

We left those trenches and occupied trenches to the front line. It was then about midnight. We had some sleep until four o’clock, when the Germans commenced what our men described as “the most terrible bombardment during the war.” They started at four in the morning and did not leave off until dark.

During this time our front line trench was blown up and occupied by the Germans under their own shell-fire. Our trench then became the firing line, and we began to get shells.

ORDERED TO CHARGE

Our section were on the look out, and a shell burst overhead and down went a chap on either side of me. They shelled our trench until it was no longer possible to hold it, and we retired to the right. This was at mid-day. The Germans still came on, and as things looked bad we were ordered to fix bayonets and charge.

Now, we had 400 yards of perfectly open ground to charge over, and the cannon and machine guns mowed us down like nine-pins. Then the charge slackened, but not for many seconds. On we went again, and next minute Lieut. Holt fell, and Major Roddick also fell back dead.

The remainder of us reached the parapet of the first German trench, but the Germans did not wait for the bayonet; they fled to their second trench. As we began to climb over the parapet our Colonel (Col. Deacon) and several others fell, and I also got laid one.

German supports then came up, and finding we had only twenty men in the captured German trench we tried to hold on until our other men could come up. Soon, however, our number was reduced to twelve, and the order was passed along “Every man for himself! Get back if you can!”

SLOWLY RETIRED

Crawling on our stomachs and taking cover behind our dead comrades, we slowly retired. All the time it was raining hard, and for every spot of rain a shell fell.

I and another chap, got half-way back, when we came across a pal of mine, shot through the groin and in terrible pain. The Germans were slowly overtaking us, but we lifted him up, and as we did so he got a bullet through his foot. We half-dragged and half-carried him to our lines, and then the Red Cross took him away.

We reached our own trenches again, and managed to hold them until the 19th Durham supported us, and then with another charge we captured our first lines, which had been blown up in the morning. It is said that more lives are lost in “No man’s land” (a portion of the front before Ypres) than anywhere else. You get shelled on from all directions, and it is the perfect hell.

We went up to the trenches with 290 men, and at roll call on Friday there were only 78, but it is hoped that the others may have got with other regiments during the retirement.

However, we left the line in the same place we started, and we are not downhearted, except when we think of the fine fellows who fell that day for their country and their people at home.

Poor old Gowlett put his knee out again in the charge, but hung grimly on, and is now in hospital with me.

I don’t expect to be in hospital long, as the flesh was not pierced, but only bruised, and it shook me up a good deal.

Many thanks to Robert Stone for this transcribed copy.