The Liverpool Scottish at Bellewaarde June 1915
Fig.1 Taken near Hooge, a photograph of the first attack on Bellewaarde Farm by the Liverpool Scottish, 6 am, 16 June 1915. Photograph by Private F.A. Fyfe, 'Z' Company, 1/10th King's (Liverpool) Regiment (Liverpool Scottish). Image from 'The Battled of Bellewaarde 16th June 1915'.
This month’s “Battles this Month” is intended to briefly tell the story of one not particularly well known action that took place in June 1915. The starting point in the story is this photograph. It was taken by Private Frederick Alexander Fyfe of Liverpool Scottish (the 1/10th King’s (Liverpool) Regiment).
Before the war Fyfe was a newspaper photographer. There exists a series of images he took (against regulations) of life in the front line. This photograph is perhaps the most graphic as it shows the situation at about 6am on 16 June during an attack at Bellewaarde by his battalion. The flag on the right (which would have been yellow and red) is to enable artillery observers to note the progress of the attack and therefore (theoretically) avoid shelling of one’s own troops.
Reasons for the attack
At the close of the Second Battles of Ypres in April 1915, the German trenches on high ground north of Hooge between the Menin Road and the Ypres-Roulers railway formed a salient. This high ground, the Bellewaarde Ridge, gave good observation over the British lines. In early June 1915, it was decided to attack these German trenches and, if possible, gain possession of the ridge; the attack was to be carried out by the 9th Brigade of the 3rd Division.
Running eastwards away from Ypres, towards relatively high ground, was the Menin Road. Just to the north of this, running in a north easterly direction was the Ypers to Roulers railway line. These two routes met at the aptly named “Hell Fire Corner”. Just over half a mile east of Hell Fire Corner is a small road, then known as Cambridge Road. This was the approximate location of the British Front Line Trenches that were overlooked by the Bellewaarde Ridge.
Fig. 2 Map from 'The Fifth in the Great War' by Brigadier H.R. Sandilands
Just to the south of this area was Hooge, while at the northern edge of the area (and adjacent to the Ypres-Roulers railway) was Railway Wood, the eastern edges of which were held by the enemy, and the western edges by British troops.
As mentioned, in June 1915 it was decided to attack the high ground at the Bellewaarde Ridge; this was to be undertaken in three phases. In the first phase the objective was the eastern edge of a narrow strip of wood (Y.16 and Y.15), and the German front-line trenches as far as the north-east corner of Railway Wood (Y.13).
For the second phase, the objective was the line from Y.17, to Y.7., including the road from Hooge to Bellewaarde Farm.
The objective in the third phase was the western edge of Bellewaarde Lake, through Y.12 to Y.7.
The attacking troops for the first phase were (from right to left) the 4/Royal Fusiliers, 1/Royal Scots Fusiliers and 1/Northumberland Fusiliers.
As soon as the first objective had been gained the guns were to bombard the second objective. In the meantime it was planned that the supporting troops of 1/Lincolns and Liverpool Scottish (1/10th King’s Regiment) would move up to the front line vacated by the troops of the first phase, and then capture the third objective. From 2.50 a.m. with three pauses at 3.10 a.m., 3.40 a.m. and 4 a.m., until 4.15 a.m., the Divisional Artillery was to bombard the enemy trenches. At 4.15 a.m. the infantry were to advance.
The War Diary of the 1/10 King’s Liverpool Regiment describes how the battalion followed up the attack of the first wave.
“Our artillery bombardment started at 2.10am and carried out the work of demolition so successfully that little difficulty was experienced in taking the first and second line trenches. Unfortunately however in continuing the advance we suffered many casualties as, owing to the difficulty experienced in observing signals, it was impossible to keep our shells ahead of the advancing infantry. Although the third line German trenches were reached it was impossible to hold onto them and so the whole Brigade consolidated the first and part of the second line German trenches, manning them until 11.30pm pm the night of the 16th at which hour we were relived…. The casualties amongst our officers were particularly heavy and of the 24 officers who went up only Lt Wall, 2/Lt TG Roddick and Lt Chavasse came back unscathed.”
Fig. 3 Lieutenant Chavasse
Lieutenant Chavasse was awarded a Military Cross for his gallantry in this action. Later in the war he was to be awarded the VC twice. He was killed in 1917 and has the unique distinction of being the only CWGC headstone with two Victoria Crosses engraved upon it. Portrait of Captain Noel Chavasse, VC. Image courtesy of wikipedia
The Third Phase
The Liverpool Scottish, along with the 1/Lincolns attacked advanced, but, against orders, soldiers from reserve battalions (2/Royal Irish Rifles and 1/1 HAC) also went forward. The battalions taking part in this third phase of the attack caught up with troops who had gone forward earlier, and who were waiting for the barrage to move forward. Because they had moved so quickly, they ran into their own barrage (mist and smoke prevented observation by the gunners). The trenches were now crowded with too many troops from different phases of the attack, as well as those who should not have attacked at all. Control of the battle broke down and heavy German artillery started to take its toll. Despite taking the trenches, these could not be held due to the bombardment of both British and German artillery. Counter-attacked at 7.30am, and again at 9.30am, the Liverpool Scottish and the Lincolns were forced back.
In the attacking battalions, casualties were heavy. The three battalions of the first phase incurred 384 fatalities. The 4/Royal Fusiliers lost 7 officers and 125 other ranks; 1/Royal Scots Fusiliers 4 officers and 115 other ranks; and the 1/Northumberland Fusiliers 5 officers and 128 other ranks.
The 1/Lincolns also lost 4 officers and 94 other ranks, but the heaviest casualties were amongst the Liverpool Scottish who had 9 officers and 142 other ranks killed on this day, not one of whom has a known grave – all are commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres. The two reserve battalions that went forward with the attack against orders also lost heavily, with the 2 Royal Irish Rifles incurring 3 officers and 55 other ranks fatalities and the 1/1 HAC losing 1 officer and 34 other ranks.
The press photographer, Frederick Fyfe survived this attack, was commissioned and awarded the Military Cross for gallantry for his part in a raid on the Somme in 1916. He later transferred to the Royal Flying Corps. After the war he became a freelance photographer in Liverpool.
Visiting the area
An article aboutVC winners on the Western Front
A trailer of an 81 minutes Documentary on Bellewaarde 1915.
The Liverpool Echo features a gallery of photographs of the Liverpool Scottish in the First World War.
Private Fyfe took a number of images during this attack, and a composite photo, stitched together using two of Private Fyfe’s photos has been created by Martin Clift and are shown on his web site The Battle of Bellewaarde
Fig.4. Close up of the first attack on Bellewaarde Farm by the Liverpool Scottish, 6 am, 16 June 1915. Photograph by Private F.A. Fyfe, 'Z' Company, 1/10th King's (Liverpool) Regiment (Liverpool Scottish) Image from 'The Battled of Bellewaarde 16th June 1915'.
Although it is not certain, the British troops shown above are probably in No Man’s Land, with barbed wire entanglements on the left through which they have passed.
The damaged German front line trench is on the right - they are almost certainly sheltering behind the sandbags of the parapet of this German trench. Fyfe was of course a member of the Liverpool Scottish, and if we assume the photo shows men from this battalion, the image probably shows the position at the point the Germans started to counter-attack.
The British first wave (Northumberland Fusiliers) may have just retreated to the second line meeting the second wave (Liverpool Scottish) going forward.
More tragedy was to come as the British artillery, which could not see where the British troops were, joined the German artillery shelling the same trenches.
It has been suggested that the officer wearing the cap and holding a revolver may be an Artillery Observer, if so he would be trying to get the signal flag forward.
The soldier laying down in the foreground may be either dead or may have just thrown himself to the ground to take cover.
Battles this Month from The Western Front Association – June 1915
Article contributed by David Tattersfield, MA
Development Trustee, The Western Front Association