Published By Ben Hillidge
Battle of Festubert, 15 – 25 May 1915
Richebourg L’Avoue. 1/5 Bn King’s Liverpool Regiment. 15 – 18 May 1915.
Richebourg L’Avoue. 2 Bn South Staffordshire Regiment. 15 – 18 May 1915.
Festubert. 1 Bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers. 16 May 1915.
Men on the Gates fought in 3 units at the Battle of Festubert. In 6 Brigade, 2 Division and attacking from in front of Richebourg were 1/5 Bn King’s Liverpool Regiment and 2 Bn South Staffordshire Regiment. To the south and in the line near to Festubert was 1 Bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
Orders were received that 6 Brigade would attack the enemy trenches at 11.30pm on the night of 15 May. The 5 Bn King’s Liverpool and 2 Bn South Staffordshire’s, being in the same Brigade, arrived at Richebourg late in the evening of 15 May. They were to act as support troops during the first assault.
GOOGLE MAP – behind the lines – area from which 5 Bn KLR and 2 Bn SStfs moved forward
1/5 Bn King’s Liverpool Regiment. 15 – 16 May 1915.
At the beginning of May the battalion had come out of the line at Cuinchy and had gone into billets at Bethune. There it spent 5 days training. On 9 May they moved up to Le Touret and Richebourg L’Avoue for tours in the line. During the Battle of Festubert 5 Bn King’s Liverpool was split by company; A & B Coys were to be working parties, assigned to dig a communication trench to the German front line after the first assaults, timed for 11.30pm, had gone over and captured it; D & C Coys were held in readiness to support the main assault. At about 10pm the battalion left billets at Le Touret and moved up towards Richebourg L’Avoue.
A & B moved up to the front line under the command of a Royal Engineers (RE) Officer to dig the communication trench. However, the start of the work was delayed. The RE Officer had been badly wounded and there was a wait whilst a replacement came forward. Several casualties occurred during the waiting. The main assault had by now begun. Eventually, an RE NCO arrived and, at 1.30am on 16 May, they moved forward to begin work on the trench. Almost as soon as they went over they came under machine gun and rifle fire causing more casualties. It was by now after 2am and it was beginning to get light, the two companies were withdrawn to the front line having accomplished nothing.
C & D Coys, meanwhile had moved up to the support the 1 Bn King’s Liverpool in assault timed for 4.00am on 16 May. The 2 companies advanced from the support line over the open up to the front. They came under heavy rifle fire as well as shrapnel and high explosive shells. On reaching the front line they met up with the men from A & B Coys, still in the front line. The attack by the 1 Bn King’s Liverpool failed and the CO of 1/5 Bn was ordered to make a reconnaissance. He reported back to Brigade HQ that any further attack would cause many casualties, nevertheless, an attack was ordered. At about 8.00am the 4 companies went over and almost immediately were met by heavy rifle and machine gun, only a few men got as far as halfway across the 250 yard stretch of no man’s land. The attack faltered with the survivors withdrawing back to their start line, some during the day light but more after darkness. During the day too their positions were shelled twice – at mid day and between 3 & 3.30pm – causing more casualties. Many wounded were stranded in no man’s and there were many gallant attempts to rescue them.
On the next day the 5 Bn King’s Liverpool were still in the British front line. The British Artillery was shelling the enemy lines, the German artillery replied. Many Germans surrendered and came across no man’s land under a white flag, the battalion received over 120. Around mid day the battalion moved forward to occupy the enemy front line with two companies moving forward to the German second line. Here they were to support the 2 Bn South Staffordshire Regiment which had moved forward to help take a strong enemy position in Ferme de Bois.
The battalion was relieved during the morning of 18 May and to go back to billets at Le Touret – A Coy managed to get back on time but heavy shelling prevented the other companies from withdrawing until late in the day. Casualties for the period 15 – 18 May were officers 2 KIA and 11 wounded, ORs 41 KIA, 21 missing and 265 wounded.
Richebourg L’Avoue. 2 Bn South Staffordshire Regiment. 18 May 1915.
The 2 Bn South Staffordshire’s had arrived at Richebourg, late in the evening of 15 May. They were to act as support troops during the first assault timed for 11.30pm. At 1.00am on 16 May D Company went forward to reinforce the Royal Rifles and occupied the German front line, the other companies stayed in the support lines. There was shell fire throughout the day. Early the next morning the other coys moved up to relieve the Royal Rifles and rejoin D company. At 10.30am an advanced was planned to take a strong point in the enemy line, called the Quadrilateral at Ferme de Bois. The troops went over the top into heavy fire. As they moved forward the 2 Bn Staffordshire’s came under enfilading fire as the unit to their left was held up. The attack faltered and fell back. In the afternoon a second attempt was made to push forward and take the position, supported by 1/5 Bn King’s Liverpool (see above). Again it was held up, they dug in but by early evening had been withdrawn to their start line. Of the 1000 men who had set out only 130 could be mustered that evening. They dug in, holding the line all night under a shell bombardment. They were due to be relieved the next day, 18 May, but the new troops could not get up to the front so the battalion remained, again with shell fire during the day. The battalion was eventually relieved at 1.30am the morning of 19 May and withdrew back to Bethune.
Festubert. 1 Bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers. 16 May 1915.
GOOGLE MAPS Link to Rue de cailloux where the RWF took up position on night of 15 May 1915.
During the Battle of Festubert the 1 Bn RWF, part of 22 Brigade, 7 Division, was in the southern arm of the pincher movement. On 15 May the battalion left billets at Essars and moved up to take position on Rue de Cailloux, the road leading northwards from the village of Festubert. They had been allotted to capture a 200 yard stretch of German communication trench called the Northern Breastwork. At 2.45am on the 16 May a short and intense bombardment commenced. The battalion was to go forward in successive waves of half companies with A coy in the lead. At 3.15am the bombardment ceased and the order to go was given. The first line went over the parapet followed by successive waves 20 seconds later. It was dark and the enemy were shelling no man’s land. About half way across, at about 120 meters a water course – Rivière des Layes – had to be crossed. The lead troops were carrying trench boards with which they bridged the stream. Once across they came under heavy machine gun from their right and rifle fire from the front. A coy rushed into the German front line and were thus soon sheltered from the fire which was now directed at the stream of men in the following waves crossing over. Casualties were heavy, confusion set in, the attack began to break up but, after ‘half an hour of strenuous hand to hand fighting … … in a frightful tangle system of trenches’ (History of RWF) the line was taken. In the confusion troops from different units became mixed up. Order was restored and a mixed force, under the command of Captain Stockwell, of about 100 men continued the advance.
Again, they soon came under heavy enfilading fire, As they moved on the casualties mounted. They reached Rue de Quinque but had to halt because of the British artillery barrage – which caused more casualties from ‘friendly fire’. The halt did however allow Stockwell to get his bearings and about 20 minutes later, when the barrage had lifted they were able to move on and, at about 6am, and after a fire fight managed to capture their final objective. The Germans now began to shell the trench preventing more troops from getting forward and the group became isolated. At about 10.30am an officer from Queens Battalion reached them with a telephone. Stockwell asked for reinforcements which started to arrive about 1pm. They fought off counter attacks but by early evening the situation was untenable and they were withdrawn back to the German second line and then further back to Rue de Cailloux near to their start point. The battalion had managed to penetrate 1200 yards into the enemy defences but at a high costs with 118 other ranks killed, 271 wounded and 164 missing.
References and Sources WAR DIARY 5Bn Kings Liverpool, 1 Bn RWF, 2 Bn Sth Staffs
History of RWF.
B&O 1915 Bethune. Btle of Festubert. Richebourg L’Avoue. 1/5 Bn KLR & 2 Bn Sth Staffs. Festubert. 1 Bn RWF.15-16 May 1915.