The London Scottish, the 14th (County of London) Battalion of the London Regiment (Territorial Force) could trace a continuous history back as far as 1859 and until the Haldane Reforms of 1908 was a unit of the disbanded rifle volunteer corps. It landed in France on 16 September 1914.
After spending its time on lines of communication duties, the battalion reassembled at the British General Headquarters at Saint-Omer on 27 October 1914. Seven days earlier, a British force had attempted to advance from Ypres to capture river crossings in the area of Menin in West Flanders, Belgium. It had soon run into the advance screen of a much larger German force, advancing towards Ypres in an effort to outflank the entire British and French line in Flanders and France. The clash developed into one of the epics of the Great War, known as the Battles of Ypres, 1914 (or “First Ypres”). To the south of Ypres, the rest of the British Expeditionary Force already had its hands full in containing German attacks that spread along a long line, from Messines down to Armentières and La Bassée.
By late October, a crisis was developing at Ypres, where a week of continual heavy bombardment and infantry attack had fragmented and weakened the British defence, and German infantry was threatening to break through. On 29 October, the London Scottish was taken by a fleet of buses, with urgency, to Ypres. Next morning it marched out to Hooge, east of Ypres, where it was to reinforce that part of the front. Later that day, as another crisis was developing to the south, the battalion was withdrawn back to Ypres and then moved by bus the short distance to Saint-Eloi. At 6am on 31 October, under temporary orders of the headquarters of the Cavalry Corps, it moved another short distance to Wytschaete.
The issue was the ridge of high round that runs south from Ypres, generally known as the Messines Ridge or Wytschaete-Messines Ridge. Holding it was considered to be strategically vital. On its east side, the ground slopes very gently up to the ridge, but on the west side it falls more steeply. The occupant of the ridge line enjoys excellent tactical observation over a long distance. German occupation of the ridge would enable them to dominate the ground to the west and seriously endanger the British force holding Ypres.