Published By Ben Hillidge
Vermelles. 1 Bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers. 25 September 1915.
The 1 Bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers was in 22 Brigade, 7 Division and would take part in the first day of the Battle of Loos. The division was assigned to the northern sector of the battlefield in front of Vermelles. Their front was 1400 yards. Their objectives were to advance towards a feature called the Quarries and to continue through Cite St Elie and onwards to take the crossings of the Haute-Deule canal at Wingles, a distance of about 5.5 miles. Zero hour was timed for 6.30an 25 September 1915. The attack was preceded by a 4 day bombardment and, immediately before zero hour, a release of gas and smoke. The RWF were to support the 2 Bn South Staffordshire, attacking on the Brigade’s left and 2 Bn Royal Warwickshire, on the right. No man’s land was about 500 yards wide.
The 1 Bn RWF moved to their battle start point at Clerk’s Post and was all in position by 2.30am. Just before zero hour the bombardment increased its firepower, gas was released and a smoke screen laid down. At 6.30am the lead troops went over the top. The gas though had not ‘got away’ and, although the men were wearing gas helmets, some were gassed. The Sth. Staffs. and Warwickshire men rushed through the gas and smoke cloud but found themselves in the middle of no man’s land and in full view of the Germans. Also, they found that the wire had hardly been damaged and they had to struggle through the entanglements under fire. They managed to get into the enemy front line which again, despite the bombardment, was largely undamaged.
At zero hour the 1 Bn RWF had moved into the front line previously occupied by the Warwickshire’s and at 6.45am went over, A & B Coys leading D & C in support about 100 yards to the rear. They soon came under a devastating fire from the left at the Hohenzollern Redoubt, Big Willie trench and from Fosse No 8, a slag heap just beyond. The attack faltered and the battalion C/O, Captain Kearsley came forward and regrouped the men and they continued to the enemy front line – Captain Kearsley was badly wounded as they entered the trench.
Once in the enemy trench the situation became confused. The Warwickshire and Sth. Staffs. were still in the enemy front and had not yet moved forward, the battalions became intermingled. There were also many officer casualties and it took time to establish a chain of command. At 8.30am the brigade reserves, 2 Bn The Queens, came forward and the advance continued. They quickly overcame the defences in the Quarries but at Cite St Elie they found the trenches and wire untouched by the bombardment; they also came under a heavy machine gun fire. They could go no further and what was left of the brigade retreated back to the Quarries and dug in. The battalion remained in this position until relieved 2 days later. The 7 Division had the highest casualty rate on the first day of the battle with 1565 killed – the 1 Bn RWF, casualties were – Officers 7 wounded, ORs 43 KIA, 246 wounded, 135 missing and 2 gassed.
GOOGLE MAPS centres on ‘The Quarries’ – the rough ground adjacent to present day brick works. The Haute-Deule canal, the final objective just to the east of Wingles.
References and Sources WAR DIARY 1Bn RWF. History RWF.
B&O 1915. Loos. Battle of Loos. 1 Bn Royal Welsh Fusiliers. 25 September 1915.