The sixth Despatch of Field Marshal Sir John French, Commander in Chief of the British Armies in France and Flanders. Printed in the Second Supplement to the London Gazette of 16 February 1915. It covered operations undertaken by the BEF over the dreadful winter of 1914-1915.
Sir John French in 1909.
The following Despatch was received on the 12th February, 1915: –
From the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief, The British Army in the Field.
To the Secretary of State for War, War Office, London, S.W.
2nd February, 1915.
I have the honour to forward a further report on the operations of the Army under my command.
1. In the period under review the salient feature was the presence of His Majesty the King in the Field. His Majesty arrived at Headquarters on the 30th November, and left on the 5th December. At a time when the strength and endurance of the troops had been tried to the utmost throughout the long and arduous Battle of Ypres-Armentieres the presence of His Majesty in their midst was of the greatest possible help and encouragement. His Majesty visited all parts of the extensive area of operations and held numerous inspections, of the troops behind the line of trenches. On the 16th November Lieutenant His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales, K.G., Grenadier Guards, joined my Staff as Aide-de-Camp.
2. Since the date of my last report the operations of the Army under my command have been subject almost entirely to the limitations of weather. History teaches us that the course of campaigns in Europe, which have been actively prosecuted during the months of December and January, have been largely influenced by weather conditions. It should, however, be thoroughly understood throughout the country that the most recent development of armaments and the latest methods of conducting warfare have added greatly to the difficulties and drawbacks of a vigorous winter campaign. To cause anything more than a waste of ammunition long-range artillery fire requires constant and accurate observation; but this most necessary condition is rendered impossible of attainment in the midst of continual fog and mist. Again, armies have now grown accustomed to rely largely on aircraft reconnaissance for accurate information of the enemy; but the effective performance of this service is materially influenced by wind and weather. The deadly accuracy, range and quick-firing capabilities of the modern rifle and machine gun require that -a fire-swept zone be crossed in the shortest possible space of time by attacking troops. But if men are detained under the enemy’s fire by the difficulty of emerging from a water-logged trench, and by the necessity of passing over ground knee-deep in holding mud and slush, such attacks become practically prohibitive owing to the losses they entail.
During the exigencies of the heavy fighting which ended in the last week of November the French and British Forces had become somewhat mixed up, entailing a certain amount of difficulty in matters of supply and in securing unity of command. By the end of November I was able to concentrate the Army under my command in one area, and, by holding a shorter line, to establish effective reserves. By the beginning of December there was a considerable falling off in the volume of artillery fire directed against our front by the enemy. Reconnaissance and reports showed that a certain amount of artillery had been withdrawn. We judged that the cavalry in our front, with the exception of one Division of the Guard, had disappeared. There did not, however, appear to have been any great diminution in the numbers of infantry holding the trenches.
3. Although both artillery and rifle fire were exchanged with the enemy every day, and sniping went on more or less continuously during the hours of daylight, the operations which call for special record or comment are comparatively few. During the last week in November some successful minor night operations were carried out in the 4th Corps.
On the night of the 23rd-24th November a small party of the 2nd Lincolnshire Regiment, under Lieutenant E. H. Impey, cleared three of the enemy’s advanced trenches opposite the 25th Brigade and withdrew without loss.
On the night of the 24th-25th Captain J. R. Minshull Ford, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and Lieutenant E. L. Morris, Royal Engineers, with 15 men of the Royal Engineers and Royal Welsh Fusiliers, successfully mined and blew up a group of farms immediately in front of the German trenches on the Touquet-Bridoux Road which had been used by German snipers.
On the night of the 26th-27th November a small party of the 2nd Scots Guards, under Lieutenant Sir E. H. W. Hulse, Bt., rushed the trenches opposite the 20th Brigade; and after pouring a heavy fire into them returned with useful information as to the strength of the Germans and the position of machine guns. The trenches opposite the 25th Brigade were rushed the same night by a patrol of the 2nd Rifle Brigade, under Lieutenant E. Durham.
On the 23rd November the 112th Regiment of the 14th German Army Corps succeeded in capturing some 800 yards of the trenches held by the Indian Corps, but the General Officer Commanding the Meerut Division organized a powerful counter-attack, which lasted throughout the night. At daybreak on the 24th November the line was entirely re-established. The operation was a costly one, involving many casualties, but the enemy suffered far more heavily. We captured over 100 prisoners, including 3 officers, as well as 3 machine guns and 2 trench mortars.
On December 7th the concentration of the Indian Corps was completed by the arrival of the Sirhind Brigade from Egypt.
On December 9th the enemy attempted to commence a strong attack against the 3rd Corps, particularly in front of the trenches held by the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the Middlesex Regiment. They were driven back with heavy loss, and did not renew the attempt. Our casualties were very slight.
During the early days of December certain indications along the whole front of the Allied Line induced the French Commanders and myself to believe that the enemy had withdrawn considerable forces from the Western Theatre. Arrangements were made with the Commander of the 8th French Army for an attack to be commenced on the morning of December 14th. Operations began at 7 a.m. by a combined heavy artillery bombardment, by the two French and the 2nd British Corps. The British objectives were the Petit Bois and the Maedelsteed Spur, lying respectively to the west and south-west of the village of Wytschaete. At 7.45 a.m. the Royal Scots, with great dash, rushed forward and attacked the former, while the Gordon Highlanders attacked the latter place. The Royal Scots, commanded by Major F. J. Duncan, D.S.O., in face of a terrible machine gun and rifle fire, carried the German trench on the west edge of the Petit Bois, capturing two machine guns and 53 prisoners, including one officer. The Gordon Highlanders, with great gallantry, advanced up the Maedelsteed Spur, forcing the enemy to evacuate their front trench. They were, however, losing heavily, and found themselves unable to get any further. At nightfall they were obliged to fall back to their original position. Captain C. Boddam-Whetham and Lieutenant W. F. R. Dobie showed splendid dash, and with a few men entered the enemy’s leading trenches; but they were all either killed or captured. Lieutenant G. R. V. Hume-Gore and Lieutenant W. H. Paterson also distinguished themselves by their gallant leading. Although not successful, the operation was most creditable to the fighting spirit of the Gordon Highlanders, most ably commanded by Major A. W. F. Baird, D.S.O. As the 32nd French Division on the left had been unable to make any progress, the further advance of our infantry into the Wytschaete Wood was not practicable. Possession of the western edge of the Petit. Bois was, however, retained. The ground was devoid of cover and so water-logged that a rapid advance was impossible, the men sinking deep in the mud at every step they took. The artillery throughout the day was very skilfully handled by the C.R.A.’s of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Divisions: Major-General F. D. V. Wing, C.B., Brigadier-General G. F. Milne, C.B., D.S.O., and Brigadier-General J. E. W. Headlam, C.B., D.S.O. The casualties during the day were about 17 officers and 407 other ranks. The losses of the enemy were very considerable, large numbers of dead being found in the Petit Bois and also in the communicating trenches in front of the Gordon Highlanders, in one of which a hundred were counted by a night patrol. On this day the artillery of the 4th Division, 3rd Corps, was used in support of the attack, under orders of the General Officer Commanding 2nd Corps. The remainder of the 3rd Corps made demonstrations against the enemy with a view to preventing him from detaching troops to the area of operations of the 2nd Corps.
From the 15th to the 17th December the offensive operations which were commenced on the 14th were continued, but were confined chiefly to artillery bombardment. The infantry advance against Wytschaete Wood was not practicable until the French on our left could make some progress to afford protection to that flank.
On the 17th it was agreed that the plan of attack as arranged should be modified; but I was requested to continue demonstrations along my line in order to assist and support certain French operations which were being conducted elsewhere.
4. In his desire to act with energy up to his instructions to demonstrate and occupy the enemy, the General Officer Commanding the Indian Corps decided to take the advantage of what appeared to him a favourable opportunity to launch attacks against the advanced trenches in his front on the 18th and 19th December. The attack of the Meerut Division on the left was made on the morning of the 19th with energy and determination, and was at first attended with considerable success, the enemy’s advanced trenches being captured. Later on, however, a counter attack drove them back to their original position with considerable loss. The attack of the Lahore Division commenced at 4.30 a.m. It was carried out by two companies each of the 1st Highland Light Infantry and the 1st Battalion, 4th Gurkha Rifles, of the Sirhind Brigade, under Lieutenant-Colonel E. W. H. Ronaldson. This attack was completely successful, two lines of the enemy’s trenches being captured with little loss. Before daylight the captured trenches were filled with as many men as they would hold. The front was very restricted, communication to the rear impossible. At daybreak it was found that the position was practically untenable. Both flanks were in the air, and a supporting attack, which was late in starting, and, therefore, conducted during daylight, failed; although attempted With the greatest gallantry and resolution. Lieutenant-Colonel Ronaldson held on till dusk, when the whole of the captured trenches had to be evacuated, and the detachment fell back to its original line. By the night of the 19th December nearly all the ground gained during the day had been lost.
From daylight on the 20th December the enemy commenced a heavy fire from artillery and trench mortars on the whole front of the Indian Corps. This was followed by infantry attacks, which, were in especial force against Givenchy, and between that place and La Quinque Rue. At about 10 a.m. the enemy succeeded in driving back the Sirliind Brigade, and capturing a considerable part of Givenchy, but the 67th Rifles and 9th Bhopals, north of the canal, and the Connaught Rangers, south of it, stood firm. The 15th Sikhs of the Divisional Reserve were already supporting the Sirhind Brigade. On the news of the retirement of the latter being received, the 47th Sikhs were also sent up to reinforce General Brunker. The 1st Manchester Regiment, 4th Suffolk Regiment, and two battalions of French Territorials under General Carnegy were ordered to launch a vigorous counter attack from Pont Fixe through Givenchy to retake by a flank attack the trenches lost by the Sirhind Brigade. Orders were sent to General Carnegy to divert his attack on Givenchy Village, and to re-establish the situation there. A battalion of the 58th French Division was sent to Annequin in support. About 5 p.m. a gallant attack by the 1st Manchester Regiment and one company of the 4th Suffolk Regiment had captured Givenchy and had cleared the enemy out of the two lines of trenches to the North-East. To the east of the village the 9th Bhopal Infantry and 57th Rifles had maintained their positions, but the enemy were still in possession of our trenches to the north of the village. General Macbean, with the Secunderabad Cavalry Brigade, 2nd Battalion, 8th Gurkha Rifles, and the 47th Sikhs, was sent up to support General Brunker, who at 2 p.m. directed General Macbean to move to a position of readiness in the second line trenches from Maris northward, and to counter-attack vigorously if opportunity offered. Some considerable delay appears to have occurred and it was not until 1 a.m. on the 21st that the 47th Sikhs and the 7th Dragoon Guards under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel H. A. Lempriere, D.S.O., of the latter regiment, were launched in counter-attack. They reached the enemy’s trenches, but were driven out by enfilade fire, their gallant Commander being killed. The main attack by the remainder of General Macbean’s force, with the remnants of Lieutenant-Colonel Lempriere’s detachment (which had again been rallied), was finally pushed in at about 4.30 a.m., and also failed. In the northern section of the defensive line the retirement of the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Gurkha Rifles, at about 10 a.m. on the 20th, had left the flank of the 1st Seaforth Highlanders, on the extreme right, of the Meerut Division line, much exposed. This battalion was left shortly afterwards completely in the air by the retirement of the Sirhind Brigade. The 58th Rifles, therefore, were ordered to support tbe left of the Seaforth Highlanders, to fill the gap created by the retirement of the Gurkhas. During the whole of the afternoon strenuous efforts were made by the Seaforth Highlanders to clear the trenches to their right and left. The 1st Battalion, 9th Gurkha Rifles, reinforced the 2nd Gurkhas near the orchard where the Germans were in occupation of tbe trenches abandoned by the latter regiment. The Garhwal Brigade was being very heavily attacked, and their trenches and loopholes were much damaged; but the brigade continued to hold its front and attack, connecting with the 6th Jats on the left of the Defora Dun Brigade. No advance in force was made by the enemy, but the troops were pinned to their ground by heavy artillery fire, the Seaforth Highlanders especially suffering heavily.
Shortly before nightfall the 2nd Royal Highlanders on the right of the Seaforth Highlanders had succeeded in establishing touch with the Sirhind Brigade; and the continuous line (though dented near the orchard) existed throughout the Meerut Division. Early in the afternoon of December 20th orders were sent to the 1st Corps, which was then in general army reserve, to send an infantry brigade to support the Indian Corps. The 1st Brigade was ordered to Bethune, and reached that place at midnight on 20th-21st December. Later in the day Sir Douglas Haig was ordered to move the whole of the 1st Division in support of the Indian Corps. The 3rd Brigade reached Bethune between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. on the 21st, and on the same date the 2nd Brigade arrived at Lacon at 1 p.m. The 1st Brigade was directed on Givenchy, via Pont Fixe, and the 3rd Brigade, through Gorre, on the trenches evacuated by the Sirhind Brigade. The 2nd Brigade was directed to support; the Dehra Dun Brigade being placed at the disposal of the General Officer Commanding Meerut Division. At 1 p.m. the General Officer Commanding 1st Division directed the 1st Brigade in attack from the west of Givenchy in a north-easterly direction, and the 3rd Brigade from Festubert in an east-north-easterly direction, the object being to pass the position originally held by us and to capture the German trenches 400 yards to the east of it. By 5 p.m. the 1st Brigade had obtained a hold in Givenchy, and the ground south as far as the canal; and the 3rd Brigade had progressed to a point half a mile west of Festubert. By nightfall the 1st South Wales Borderers and the 2nd Welsh Regiment of the 3rd Brigade had made a lodgment in the original trenches to the north-east of Festubert, the 1st Gloucestershire Regiment continuing the line southward along the track east of Festubert. The 1st Brigade had established itself on the east side of Givenchy. By 3.p.m. the 3rd Brigade was concentrated at Le Touret, and was ordered to retake the trenches which had been lost by the Dehra Dun Brigade. By 10 p.m. the support trenches west of the orchard had been carried, but the original fire trenches had been so completely destroyed that they could not be occupied.This operation was performed by the 1st Loyal North Lancashire Regiment and the 1st Northamptonshire Regiment, supported by the 2nd King’s Royal Rifle Corps, in reserve. Throughout this day the units of the Indian Corps rendered all the assistance and support they could in view of their exhausted condition.
At 1 p.m. on the 22nd Sir Douglas Haig took over command from Sir James Willcocks. The situation in the front line was then approximately as follows: – South of the La Bassee Canal the Connaught Rangers of the Ferozepore Brigade had not been attacked. North of the canal a short length of our original line was still held by the 9th Bhopals and the 57th Rifles of the same brigade. Connecting with the latter was the 1st Brigade holding the village of Givenchy and its eastern and northern approaches. On the left of the 1st Brigade was the 3rd Brigade.
Touch had been lost between the left of the former and the right of the latter. The 3rd Brigade held a line along, and in places advanced to, the east of the Festubert Road. Its left was in communication with the right of the Meerut Division line, where troops of the 2nd Brigade had just relieved the 1st Seaforth Highlanders. To the north, units of the 2nd Brigade held an indented line west of the orchard, connecting with half of the 2nd Royal Highlanders, half of the 41st Dogras and the 1st Battalion, 9th Gurkha Rifles. From this point to the north the 6th Jats and the whole of the Garhwal Brigade occupied the original line which they had held from the commencement of the operations. The relief of most units of the southern sector was effected on the night of 22nd December. The Meerut Division remained under the orders of the 1st Corps, and was not completely withdrawn until the 27th December. In the evening the position at Givenchy was practically re-established, and the 3rd Brigade had re-occupied the old line of trenches.
During the 23rd the enemy’s activities ceased, and the whole position was restored to very much its original condition. In my last despatch I had occasion to mention the prompt and ready help I received from the Lahore Division, under the command of Major-General H. B. B. Watkis, C.B., which was thrown into action immediately on arrival, when the British Forces were very hard pressed during the battle of Ypres-Armentieres. The Indian troops have fought with the utmost steadfastness and gallantry whenever they have been called upon.
Weather conditions were abnormally bad, the snow and floods precluding any active operations dxiring the first three weeks of January.
5. At 7.30 a.m. on the 25th January the enemy began to shell Bethune, and at 8 a.m. a strong hostile infantry attack developed south of the canal, preceded by a heavy bombardment of artillery, minenwerfers and, possibly, the explosion of mines, though the latter is doubtful. The British line south of the canal formed a pronounced salient from the canal on the left, thence running forward toward the railway triangle and back to the main La Bassee- Bethune Road, where it joined the French. This line was occupied by half a battalion of the Scots Guards, and half a battalion of the Coldstream Guards, of the 1st Infantry Brigade. The trenches in the salient were blown in almost at once; and the enemy’s attack penetrated this line. Our troops retired to a partially prepared second line, running approximately due north and south from the canal to the road, some 500 yards west of the railway triangle. This second line had been strengthened by the construction of a keep half way between the canal and the road. Here the other two half battalions of the above-mentioned regiments were in support. These supports held up the enemy who, however, managed to establish himself in the brick stacks and some communication trenches between the keep, the road and the canal and even beyond and west of the keep on either side of it. The London Scottish had in the meantime been sent up in support, and a counter-attack was organised with the 1st Royal Highlanders, part of the 1st Cameron Highlanders, and the 2nd King’s Royal Rifle’ Corps, the latter regiment having, been sent forward from the Divisional Reserve. The counter-attack was delayed in order to synchronise with a counter-attack north of the canal which was arranged for 1 p.m. At 1 p.m. these troops moved forward, their flanks making good progress near the road and the canal, but their centre being held up. The 2nd Royal Sussex Regiment was then sent forward, late in the afternoon, to reinforce. The result was that the Germans were driven back far enougli to enable a somewhat broken line to be taken up, running from, the culvert on the railway, almost due south to the keep, and thence south-east to the main road. The French left near the road had also been attacked and driven back a little, but not to so great an extent as the British right. Consequently, the French left was in advance of the British right and exposed to a possible flank attack from the north. The Germans did not, however, persevere further in their attack. The above-mentioned line was strengthened during the night; and the 1st Guards Brigade, which had suffered severely, was withdrawn into reserve and replaced by the 2nd Infantry Brigade.
While this was taking place another, and equally severe attack was delivered north of the canal against the village of Givenchy. At 8.15 a.m., after a heavy artillery bombardment with high explosive shells, the enemy’s infantry advanced under the effective fire of our artillery, which, however, was hampered by the constant interruption of telephonic communication between the observers and batteries. Nevertheless, our artillery fire, combined with that of the infantry in the fire trenches, had the effect, of driving the enemy from his original direction of advance, with the result that his troops crowded together on the north-east corner of the village and broke through into the centre of the village as far as the keep, which had been previously put in a state of defence. The Germans had lost heavily, and a well-timed local counter-attack, delivered by the reserves of the 2nd Welsh Regiment and 1st South Wales Borderers, and by a company of the 1st Royal Highlanders (lent by the 1st Brigade as a working party- this company was at work on the keep at the time), was completely successful, with the result that, after about an hour’s street fighting, all who had broken into the village were either captured or killed; and the original line round the village was re-established by noon. South of the village, however, and close to the canal, the right of the 2nd Royal Munster Fusiliers fell back in conformity with the troops south of the canal; but after dark that regiment moved forward and occupied the old line. During the course of the attack on Givenchy the enemy made five assaults on the salient at the north-east of the village about French Farm, but was repulsed every time with heavy loss.
6. On the morning of the 29th January attacks were made on the. right of the 1st Corps, south of the canal in the neighbourhood of La Bassee. The enemy (part of the 14th German Corps); after a severe shelling, made a violent attack with scaling ladders on the keep, also to thenorth and south -of it. In the keep and on the north side the Sussex Regiment held the enemy off, inflicting on him serious losses. On the south side the hostile infantry succeeded in reaching the Northamptonshire Regiment’s trenches; but were immediately counterattacked and all killed. Our artillery cooperated well with the infantry in repelling the attack. In this action our casualties were inconsiderable, but the enemy lost severely, more than 200 of his killed alone being left in front of our position.
7. On the 1st February a fine piece of work was carried out by the 4th Brigade in the neighbourhood of Cuinchy. Some of the 2nd Coldstream Guards were driven from their trenches at 2.30 a.m., but made a stand some twenty yards east of them in a position which they held till morning. A counter-attack, launched at 3.15 a.m. by one company of the Irish Guards and half a company of the 2nd Coldstream Guards, proved unsuccessful, owing to heavy rifle fire from the east and south. At 10.5 a.m., acting under orders of the 1st Division, a heavy bombardment was opened on the lost ground for ten minutes; and this was followed immediately by an assault by about 50 men of the 2nd Coldstream Guards with bayonets, led by Captain A. Leigh Bennett, followed by 30 men of the Irish Guards, led by Second Lieutenant F. F. Graham, also with bayonets. These were followed by a party of Royal Engineers with sand bags and wire. All the ground which had been lost was brilliantly retaken; the 2nd Coldstream Guards also taking another German trench and capturing two machine guns. Thirty-two prisoners fell into our hands. The General Officer Commanding 1st Division describes the preparation by the artillery as “splendid, the high explosive shells dropping in the exact spot with absolute precision.”
In forwarding his report on this engagement, the General Officer Commanding First Army writes as follows: – ” Special credit is due-
(i) To Major-General Haking, Commanding 1st Division, for the prompt manner in which he arranged this counterattack and for the general plan, of action, which was crowned with success.
(ii) To the General Officer Commanding the 4th Brigade (Lord Cavan) for the thorough manner in which he carried out the orders of the General Officer Commanding the Division.
(iii) To the regimental officers, noncommissioned officers and men of the 2nd Coldstream Guards and Irish Guards, who, with indomitable pluck, stormed two sets of barricades, captured three German trenches, two machine guns, and killed or made prisoners many of the enemy.”
8. During the period under report the Royal Flying Corps has again performed splendid service. Although the weather was almost uniformly bad and the machines suffered from constant exposure, there have been only thirteen days on which no actual reconnaissance has been effected. Approximately, one hundred thousand miles have been flown. In addition to the daily and constant work of reconnaissance and co-operation with the artillery, a number of aerial combats have been fought, raids carried out, detrainments harassed, parks and petrol depots bombed, etc. Various successful bomb-dropping raids have been carried out, usually against the enemy’s aircraft material. The principle of attacking hostile aircraft whenever and wherever seen (unless highly important information isi being delivered) has been adhered to, and has resulted in the moral fact that enemy machines invariably beat immediate retreat when chased. Five German aeroplanes are known to have been brought to the ground, and it would appear probable that others, though they have managed to reach their own lines, have done so in a considerably damaged condition.
9. In my despatch of 20th November, 1914, I referred to the reinforcement of Territorial Troops which I had received, and I mentioned several units which had already been employed in the fighting line. In the positions which I held for some years before the outbreak of this war I was brought into close contact with the Territorial Force, and I found every reason to hope and believe that, when the hour of trial arrived, they would justify every hope and trust which was placed in them. The Lords Lieutenant of Counties and the Associations which worked under them bestowed a vast amount of labour and energy on the organization of the Territorial Force; and I trust it may be some recompense to them to know that I, and the principal Commanders serving under me, consider that the Territorial Force has far more than justified the most sanguine hopes, that any of us ventured to entertain of their value and use in the field. Commanders of Cavalry Divisions are unstinted in their praise of the manner in which the Yeomanry regiments attached to their brigades have done their duty, both in and out of action. The service of Divisional Cavalry is how almost entirely performed by Yeomanry, and Divisional Commanders report that they are very efficient. Army Corps Commanders are loud in their praise of the Territorial Battalions which form part of nearly all the brigades at the front in the first line, and more than one of them have told me that these battalions are fast approaching- if they have not already reached-the standard of efficiency of Regular Infantry.
I wish to add a word about the Officers Training Corps. The presence of the Artists’ Rifles (28th, Battalion, The London Regiment) with the Army in France enabled me also to test the value of this organization. Having had some experience in peace of the working of the Officers Training Corps, I determined to turn the Artists’ Rifles (which formed part of the Officers Training Corps in peace time) to its legitimate use. I therefore established the battalion as a Training Corps for Officers in the field. The cadets pass through a course, which includes some thoroughly practical training as all cadets do a tour of 48 hours in the trenches, and afterwards write a report on what they see and notice. They also visit an observation post of a battery or group of batteries, and spend some hours there. A Commandant has been appointed, and he arranges and supervises the work, sets schemes for practice, administers the school, delivers lectures, and reports on the candidates. The cadets are instructed in all branches of military training suitable for platoon commanders. Machine gun tactics, a knowledge of which is. so necessary, for all junior officers, is a special feature of the course of instruction. When first started the school was able to turn out officers at the rate, of 75 a month. This has since been increased to 100. Reports received from Divisional and Army Corps Commanders on officers who have been trained at the school are most satisfactory.
10. Since the date of my last report I have been able to make a close personal inspection of all the units in the command. I was most favourably impressed by all I saw. The troops composing the Army in France have been subjected to as severe a trial as it is possible to impose upon any body of men. The desperate fighting described in my last despatch had hardly been brought to a conclusion when they were called upon to face the rigours and hardships of a winter campaign. Frost and snow have alternated with periods of continuous rain. The men have been called upon to stand for many hours together almost up to their waists in bitterly cold water, only separated by one or two hundred yards from a most vigilant enemy. Although every measure which science and medical knowledge could suggest to mitigate these hardships was employed, the sufferings of the men have been very great. In spite of all this they presented, at the inspections to which I have referred, a most soldier-like, splendid, though somewhat warworn appearance. Their spirit remains high and confident; their general health is excellent, and their condition most satisfactory. I regard it as most unfortunate that circumstances have prevented any account of many splendid instances of courage and endurance, in the face of almost unparallelled hardship and fatigue in war, coming regularly to the knowledge of the public.
Reinforcements have arrived from England with remarkable promptitude and rapidity. They have been speedily drafted into the ranks, and most of the units I inspected were nearly complete when I saw them. In appearance and quality the drafts sent out have exceeded my most sanguine expectations, and I consider the Army in France is much indebted to the Adjutant-General’s Department at the War Office for the efficient manner in which its requirements have been met in this most essential respect. With regard to these inspections, I may mention in particular the fine appearance presented by the 27th and 28th Divisions, composed principally of battalions which had come from India. Included in the former division was the Princess Patricia’s Royal Canadian Regiment. They are a magnificent set of men, and have since done excellent work in the trenches. It was some three weeks after the events recorded in paragraph 4 that I made my inspection of the Indian Corps, under Sir James Willcocks. The appearance they presented was most satisfactory, and fully confirmed my first opinion that the Indian troops only required rest, and a little acclimatizing, to bring out all their fine inherent fighting qualities. I saw the whole of the Indian Cavalry Corps, under Lieutenant-General Rimington, on a mounted parade soon after their arrival. They are a magnificent body of Cavalry, and will, I feel sure, give the best possible account of themselves when called upon. In the meantime, at their own particular request, they have taken their turn in the trenches and performed most useful and valuable service.
11. The Rt. Rev. Bishop Taylor Smith, C.V.O., D.D., Chaplain-General to the Forces, arrived at my Headquarters on 6th January, on a tour of inspection throughout the command. The Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster has also visited most of the Irish Regiments at the front and the principal centres on the Line of Communications. In a quiet and unostentatious manner the chaplains of all denominations have worked with devotion and energy in their respective spheres. The number with the forces in the field at the commencement of the war was comparatively small, but towards the end of last year the Rev. J. M. Simms, D.D., K.H.C., Principal Chaplain, assisted by his Secretary, the Rev. W. Drury, reorganised the branch, and placed the spiritual welfare of the soldier on a more satisfactory footing. It is hoped that the further increase of personnel may be found possible. I cannot speak too highly of the devoted manner in which all chaplains, whether with the troops in the trenches, or in attendance on the sick and wounded in casualty clearing stations and hospitals on the line of communications, have worked throughout the campaign.
Since the commencement of hostilities the work of the Royal Army Medical Corps has been carried out with untiring zeal, skill and devotion. Whether at the front under conditions such as obtained during the fighting on the Aisne, when casualties were heavy and accommodation for their reception had to be improvised, or on the line of communications, where an average of some 11,000 patients have been daily under treatment, the organisation of the Medical Services has always been equal to the demands made upon it. The careful system of sanitation introduced into the Army has, with the assistance of other measures, kept the troops free from any epidemic, in support of which it is to be noticed that since the commencement of the war some 500 cases only of enteric have occurred. The organisation for the first time in war of Motor Ambulance Convoys is due to the initiative and organising powers of Surgeon-General T. J. O’Donnell, D.S.O., ably assisted by Major P. Evans, Royal Army Medical Corps. Two of these convoys, composed entirely of Red Cross Society personnel, have done excellent work under the superintendence of Regular Medical Officers. Twelve Hospital Trains ply between the front and the various bases. I have visited several of the trains when halted in stations, and have found them conducted with great comfort and efficiency.
During the more recent phase of the campaign the creation of Rest Depots at the front has materially reduced the wastage of men to the Line of Communications. Since the latter part of October, 1914, the whole of the medical arrangements have been in the hands of Surgeon-General Sir A. T. Sloggett, C.M.G., K.H.S., under whom Surgeon-General T. P. Woodhouse and Surgeon-General T. J. O’Donnell have been responsible for the organisation on the Line of Communications and at the front respectively.
12. The exceptional and peculiar conditions brought about by the weather have caused large demands to be made upon the resources and skill of the Royal Engineers. Every kind of expedient has had to be thought out and adopted to keep the lines of trenches and defence work effective. The Royal Engineers have shown themselves as capable of overcoming the ravages caused by violent rain and floods as they have been throughout in neutralising the effect of the enemy’s artillery. In this connection I wish particularly to mention the excellent services performed by my Chief Engineer, Brigadier-General G. H. Fowke, who has been indefatigable in supervising all such work. His ingenuity and skill have been most valuable in the local construction of the various expedients which experience has shown to be necessary in prolonged trench warfare.
13. I have no reason to modify in any material degree my views of the general military situation, as expressed in my despatch of November 20th, 1914.
14. I have once more gratefully to acknowledge the valuable help and support I have received throughout this period from General Foch General D’Urbal and General Maud’huy of the French Army.
I have the honour to be,
Your Lordship’s most obedient Servant, J. D. P. FRENCH,
The British Army in the Field.