Published By Ben Hillidge
Les Brebis & Hulluch. 1 Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. March-April 1917.
In the second half of February 1917 1 Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry was in Billets at Robecqu and Chocques in the rear area behind Bethune. It was during this time, on 23 February, that Lieutenant George Victor Blake joined the battalion – also, a draft of 20 men and possibly including Percy Owen. At the beginning of March they moved into the forward area arriving at billets at Les Brebis at 1.00pm on 1 March – the village is now part of Mazingarbe. They spent the next days on carrying parties until 8 March when they went into the line to the south of Loos – C Coy from the Northern Crassier (crassier = French for coal slag heap) to junction of Crafax and Queen Street and A Coy from there to Haymarket trench with D & B Coys in support. They relieved the 2 Bn York and Lancaster Regiment, during the relief they were subjected to a bombardment of ‘granatewerfer’ – aerial explosive darts. There would be similar aerial and trench mortar bombardments over the next days causing a number of casualties. There was also an accidental bombardment of friendly
The battalion was relieved on 14 March and went into keeps in Loos and Maroc villages. They went back to work on carrying parties until 20 March when they returned for a 6 day tour in the front lines. The time was quiet. They then returned to billets at les Brebis and in Maroc. On 30 March Les Brebis was shelled during the morning resulting in ORs 2 KIA and 2 wounded.
The first week of April was spent in the front line to the south of Loos. The time was quiet with only intermittent shelling. The battalion came out of the line on during the night of 7 April and moved into the Loos defences. They spent the next days on working and carrying parties.
During this time, on 9 April, the 1917 Arras Offensive began. As a consequence the Germans adjusted their lines and in the Loos sector pulled back. In response the British advanced their front in a series of small offensives to occupy the relinquished ground. At Loos. on 13 April, the 2 Bn York and Lancasters moved forward to occupy the high ground between the Double Crassier and the Lens-Bethune road. The 1 Bn KSLI were held in readiness at Loos but were not needed. They remained in Loos spending three days under a steady enemy bombardment.
On 16 April the 1 Bn KSLI relieved 1 Bn Buffs in trenches about 2 miles south east of Loos. The relief, owing to the darkness and A company getting lost, took all night and was finally completed at 930am the next morning. They were in the line astride the southern end of the Loos Crassier, D & C Coys in the old British lines between Seaforth Alley to the Crassier, A Coy along the Crassier railway and B Coy in support in Wrexham Tunnels.
At 1.30pm on 17 April a strong reconnaissance party of bombers from C coy was sent out to gather intelligence about the German line to their front – see map below. The raid was held up by counter bombing and snipers and they were forced to withdraw – 11 ranks were killed, 25 and 1 officer were wounded and who later died – Captain FK Symonds-Taylor.
The next day, 18 April, there was another raid. The objectives were to capture trenches along the sunken road to Natal Trench – see map below. The raid would be carried out by A & C Coys and was timed for 5.00am and following a preliminary bombardment. Two bombing parties had gone forward to cover the advance. The objectives were captured, heavy losses being inflicted on the enemy. The remainder of the day was spent waiting for an expected counter attack which did not come. Casualties were 11 ORs KIA and 25 wounded and 1 office wounded. That night A & C Coys were relieved by B & D Coy which would continue the advance the next day when they would capture Novel Alley running parallel to the Sunken Road with casualties of ORs 3 KIA 37 wounded and 3 officers wounded.
The battalion was relieved on 20 April and went back into the defences at Loos. Here they were in support to the continuing advance acting as carrying parties. After 2 days they were relieved and moved back to billets at Philosophe but only for 1 day before returning to the line to relieve the 2 Bn Sherwood Foresters in trenches to the north of Hulloch for a 5 day tour. The time was quiet until 27 April when there was considerable shelling all of the morning with shells falling around the Bn HQ and trench mortars on the front line, Casualties were ORs 17 KIA and 79 wounded. The battalion was relieved on 28 April and returned to billets at Philosophe,
References and Sources WAR DIARY 1 Bn KSLI page 33ff. History KSLI, page 33ff
B&O 1917. Loos. Les Brebis & Hulluch. 1 Bn King’s Shropshire Light Infantry. March-April 1917.