The North Somerset Yeomanry landed at Le Havre in France from the ship “Rosetti” on 3 November 1914. Exactly two weeks later it suffered heavy casualties in fighting in the First Battle of Ypres. It was one of the first units of the Territorial Force to participate in large-scale battle. This is their story.
Early days in France and Flanders
In August 1914 after being mobilised at Bath and the local drill stations, the regiment moved with the rest of its brigade to Sussex, going into billets at Forest Row. There is today a small memorial marking the fact that the brigade camped there. Having achieved the requisite number of NCOs and men who had signed the Imperial Service Obligation, the regiment was declared ready for overseas service. Along with a number of others in a similar position, it was ordered in late October to leave their brigades and make preparations to move to France as a welcome reinforcement for the British Expeditionary Force.
The regiment landed at Le Havre on 3 November 1914. Between 5 and 6 November it moved by train to Saint-Omer (atthe time, the location of British General Headquarters). After spending the night in a French cavalry barracks it marched out next day to its billeting area at Esquerdes.
While the regiment was getting used to overseas service and spent some days digging practice trenches at Esquerdes, the British Expeditionary Force was under enormous pressure at the front, particularly in the First Battle of Ypres. On the very day that the regiment was finally ordered to move towards the Ypres sector – 11 November 1914 – the Germans were mounting a major (and what proved to be final, for 1914) attempt to break the British line. The North Somersets moved to Saint-Sylvestre, and next day moved via Bailleul to the village of Dranoutre, a pleasant spot on the Flemish hills and a short distance behind the front line.
The regiment now came under orders of the 6th Cavalry Brigade in 3rd Cavalry Division.
On 13 November 1914 orders were received for the regiment to march up through Dickebusch (now Dikkebus as seen at the very top right of the map above) and Ypres, to go out towards the front along the already notorious Menin Road. It took up a position in a “chateau next to the Ecole de Bienfaisance” (school), having come under fire as it moved along a railway. Having tied up their horses, the men proceeded dismounted and carrying 200 rounds of rifle ammunition each to the trenches at Zillebeke, but were not required and returned to their camp.
After coming under shellfire in the early hours of 14 November, the regiment was ordered to pass back westwards through Ypres to billet at Vlamertinghe.
On 15 November the regiment was ordered forward again, leaving the horses at Ypres railway station and moving out on foot to Zillebeke. The men followed the Comines railway line. On reaching Zillebeke, “C” Squadron (about 100 men) came under temporary orders of the 10th Hussars and went to dugouts in a close support position near brigade headquarters; “A” and “B” Squadron and the Machine Gun Section (some 200 men) were placed under orders of Lieut-Col. O. Smith-Bingham DSO of the 3rd Dragoon Guards and told to relieve with that regiment the 7th Cavalry Brigade and occupy the front line trenches south and southeast of Zillebeke. They completed relief of 1st Life Guards at 7.30pm. “A” Squadron and the Machine Guns went into the front, with “B” Squadron in reserve close behind.
Over the next few days the regiment came under heavy shellfire and sustained its first casualties. On 17 November the Germans made a determined infantry attack which was beaten off with rifle and machine gun fire, but only after the attack had reached to within 20 yards of the Somerset’s trenches. In all, 64 casualties were sustained out of the 200 men who manned the trenches before the regiment was withdrawn back to Vlamertinghe late that day. The regiment’s part in the First Battle of Ypres was over, for it was ordered to Merville on 20 November.
The records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission include 23 officers and men of the regiment who lost their lives on 17 November 1914. Of these, the two officers are buried in adjacent graves in Ypres Town Cemetery. Not one of the “other ranks” has a known grave and all are commemorated at the Menin Gate Memorial.
‘661’ Private THOMAS FRANCIS ADAMS, 26
‘569’ Lance Serjeant JAMES DOUGLAS BRISTOW, 24
‘441’ Private ERNEST SAMUEL CARTER, 22
‘942’ Serjeant ALFRED ERNEST CLEALL
‘104’ Private ALEXANDER PETER COMRIE
‘410’ Private ERNEST FREDERICK CONGDON, 22
Lieutenant JOHN STANLEY DAVEY, 33
‘568’ Private ALEXANDER CHARLES DAVIS, 18
‘637’ Private LEONARD TAYLOR DICKINSON, 28
‘319’ Lance Corporal HAROLD JOHN GEORGE, 21
‘419’ Private JOSEPH EDGBERT GLASS
‘599’ Serjeant HARRY CHARLES GOODING, 25
’62’ Corporal FREDERICK CHARLES HANCOCK, 33
‘532’ Private FRANK HARRIS
‘776’ Private GEORGE JACKSON, 22
Captain FREDERICK ALEXANDER CHARLES LIEBERT, 32
‘758’ Private ALFRED WILLIAM McILVEEN, 21
‘640’ Private EDWARD HENRY POOLE, 23
‘773’ Private WILFRED JAMES POPE, 21
‘503’ Private GEORGE WAKEFIELD RICHARDSON
‘5’ Corporal THOMAS THOMAS, 26
‘265’ Private FRANCIS WILLIAM TUCKER, 23
‘746’ Private WILFRED DICK WILSON, 23
‘799’ Private V G HARVEY , 20 died of wounds on 18 November 1914 and is buried in Poperinge Old Military Cemetery.
The regiment remained at Merville until moving back to Bailleul on 15 December 1914. Two days later it returned to Merville. It was there during Christmas 1914 and for some weeks into the New Year. On 28 January it marched to Steenbecque (SW of Hazebrouck). Five days later it moved by bus to Ypres and was billeted in the town, but precise details are not given. It experienced some long range shell fire and aerial bombing before reoccupying the Zillebeke trenches on 8 February 1915. This proved to be a much quieter tour although snipers and shrapnel accounted for small numbers of casualties. The regiment returned to Steenbecque on 14 February.
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This page is in memory of Sidney George Samways of “C” Squadron. I researched him for a private client in 2012.