Yeomanry into action: the 1914 story of the North Somerset Yeomanry

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.

A scene that the original contingent of the North Somersets would have known well, being billeted here in the autumn of 1914.

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.

Esquerdes was well behind the front lines of late 1914 (which lay many miles to the east) and remained so throughout the war. Nearby Helfaut would eventually become the main British development and training centre for gas warfare.

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.

The yellow road going to top right of this image ends at Ypres. Note that in moving from Bailleul to Dranoutre, the regiment had crossed from France into Belgium.

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.

Ecole de Bienfaisance before it was completely destroyed in 1914-16.
The school is clearly seen outside the old city walls of Ypres. Where the figure 8 can be seen in the grid map is now the site of the Menin Gate Memorial.

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.

Vlamertinghe was out of small arms and field gun range, but still within distance of the heavy German guns east of Ypres.

Into action

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.

From the British Official History, a map of the German attack of 11 November 1914. The position was much the same when the North Somersets moved up into the trenches. The line ran across the railway just south of Hill 60, a site that would gain notoriety in 1915. French troops (blue) were on the regiment’s right. None of the war diaries (regiment, brigade, division, corps etc) provide an accurate statement of location.

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.

From the regiment’s war diary (National Archives WO95)
From the war diary of 6th Cavalry Brigade (National Archives WO95). The Germans got to within 20 yards of the trenches held by the 3rd Dragoon Guards and two squadrons of the North Somerset Yeomanry.
3rd Dragoon Guards report on the action (from 6th Cavalry Brigade war diary).
Part of a further report from brigade (from war diary). David Campbell, recently placed in command of the brigade, had won the Grand National in 1896, riding “Soarer”. He would be appointed to command 21st Division in 1916 and is regarded as being among the best-performing divisional commanders of the war.
A report submitted by 3rd Cavalry Division to I Corps (attached to the war diary of 6th Cavalry Brigade), signed by the Hon. Julian Byng, who went on to command one of the British Armies in France and Flanders.
Commander of I Corps, Douglas Haig, responded (also attached to war diary of 6th Cavalry Brigade). Within a year of this action, he would become Commander-in-Chief of the British Armies in France and Flanders.
Same newspaper and edition.


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
‘319’ Lance Corporal HAROLD JOHN GEORGE, 21
‘599’ Serjeant HARRY CHARLES GOODING, 25
‘532’ Private FRANK HARRIS
‘776’ Private GEORGE JACKSON, 22
‘640’ Private EDWARD HENRY POOLE, 23
‘773’ Private WILFRED JAMES POPE, 21
‘5’ Corporal THOMAS THOMAS, 26
‘746’ Private WILFRED DICK WILSON, 23

Imperial War Museum photograph HU124146. Captain Frederick Alexander Charles Liebert. The only son of Frederick Liebert of Swinton Hall in Lancashire, he was educated at Beaumont College and commissioned into the 3rd Hussars. Born in Bruges in Belgium, at the time of his death he was aged 32 and married, living at Charlton Musgrave near Wincanton in Somerset.
From the “Bristol Times and Mirror” of Saturday 28 November 1914 (British Newspaper Archive)
From the “Bristol Times and Mirror” of Saturday 28 November 1914 (British Newspaper Archive)

‘799’ Private V G HARVEY , 20 died of wounds on 18 November 1914 and is buried in Poperinge Old Military Cemetery.

An area that would remain behind the lines until April 1918: the valley of the River Lys.

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.

News filters home

From the [Gloucestershire] “Echo” of Wednesday 25 November 1914 (British Newspaper Archive). Papers had, for a few days before this, reported on letters sent home from men who had been under fire when the regiment was briefly at Ecole de Bienfaisance.
From the “Shepton Mallet Journal” of Friday 27 November 1914 (British Newspaper Archive)
From the “Western Gazette” of Friday 4 December 1914 (British Newspaper Archive). Shakespeare had been mentioned in David Campbell’s report.
From the “Somerset and West of England Advertiser” of Friday 11 December 1914 (British Newspaper Archive). 448 Private Percie George Thatcher Long, of the Machine Gun Section of “A” Squadron, died of wounds on 25 November 1914, aged 21. He is buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery.
Also from the “Somerset and West of England Advertiser” of Friday 11 December 1914 (British Newspaper Archive). 448 Sgt Reginald John Watts, aged 35, died of his wounds on 7 December and is buried at St-Sever Cemetery near Rouen.
Letters from Bath Squadron man James Scott, published in the “Bath Chronicle” on Saturday 12 December 1914 (British Newspaper Archive).
From the “Western Gazette” of Friday 18 December 1914 (British Newspaper Archive).
From the “Bath Chronicle” of Saturday 26 December 1914 (British Newspaper Archive): a tragically misleading report, for Alf Cleall had been killed.
From “Lives of the Great War” (many other photos on Alf’s page at that website)
From “Bristol Times and Mirror” of Saturday 6 February 1915 (British Newspaper Archive)
From the [Taunton] “Courier” of Wednesday 10 February 1915 (British Newspaper Archive)
From “Shepton Mallet Journal” of Friday 12 February 1915 (British Newspaper Archive)
From the “Western Gazette” of Friday 26 February 1915 (British Newspaper Archive)


North Somerset Yeomanry

This page is in memory of Sidney George Samways of “C” Squadron. I researched him for a private client in 2012.