1915-2015: Abergele & District Commemorations: The Battle of Loos claims four more local men

Abergele’s darkest day of the war, 10 August 1915, had seen the deaths of five local men at Suvla Bay, Gallipoli. However, the town and district was blissfully unaware of the scale of the tragedy until late September when the first, often contradictory, reports of men missing, wounded or killed began to filter through. As the community began to brace itself for the worst it was also unaware that the town’s second worst day of the war had just occurred. On 25 September 1915 four local men had fallen at the Battle of Loos: David Williams, John (Jack) Edwards, Daniel Owen Lloyd and Frederick William Jones. Two days later the same battle would claim the life of a fifth local man, John Owen Gilmore.

Over the coming days detailed biographies of the men who fell at Loos will be released on to the site. To assist in making sense of their stories a very brief outline of the battle as it affected the Abergele contingent may prove useful.

The Western Front had long been locked in the stalemate of trench systems. This suited the Germans who were happy to hold on to their territorial gains in a defensive posture whilst they concentrated on defeating Russia in the east. The French were keen to take advantage of this fact and, with significant British support, launch an assault to break the deadlock. The British part in this wider battle would be an attack north of Lens through a generally flat mining area in the vicinity of Loos. The attack of six divisions would be accompanied by an intense smoke barrage and the first British use of chlorine gas. The battle would generally not go well and resulted in over 60,000 casualties, nearly 8,000 of which were fatalities.

Amongst the battalions of the six divisions scheduled for the battle was the 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers. John (Jack) Edwards of New Street, Abergele, and David Williams of Manchester Cottages, Towyn, were just two of a number of local men in the 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 19th Brigade, 2nd Division. Jack had been with the battalion in France from the very beginning. David had originally been with 1st RWF and been wounded almost immediately in October 1914. When he returned to duty he was posted to 2nd RWF, a battalion that had already suffered the loss of Geleites John Thomas Jones, Fred Edwards and William Henry Hartley Higgins.

2nd RWF’s 19th Brigade attacked on the left along the banks of the La Bassee canal following the detonation of two huge mines which had the effect of alerting the Germans to the impending assault. The two craters created by the mines had the added effect of forcing the advancing troops into a narrow and concentrated formation. They were such an easy target that there were reports of Germans openly standing on their trenches to pour rifle fire into the British units. Machine guns mowed through the massed ranks and to add to the horror there were also casualties being taken from British gas blowing in the wrong direction. 2nd RWF were not in the leading waves but as those had been decimated orders for the Welshmen to attack were passed on; they were to carry out what was effectively a suicidal reinforcement of failure. B and C companies, were to lead the assault. Both David and Jack were in B Company. They were both to die within seconds of going ‘over the top’ as described by eyewitness Captain Blair of the 2nd RWF:

The Battalion attack was a forlorn hope. About 8 o’clock the officers blew their whistles and over we went. B Company on our left. I saw no shells bursting over the German trenches, so, the morning being bright and sunny, the German riflemen and machine-gunners took their toll of us undisturbed. C Company may have gone 40 yards and then the line just fell down. Half of B Company fell in 30 yards.” [The War the Infantry Knew, Capt. J. C Dunn, 1938, p.157-158]

Having witnessed the slaughter of B and C companies the RWF held back the planned follow up by A and D companies. Around 120 men had fallen in seconds, nearly 50% of the strength of the two companies that had gone ‘over the top’. David and Jack were amongst the casualties. Many of the wounded lay out in no man’s land until darkness. Thirty five bodies were recovered and identified, including those of David and Jack, and they were buried in nearby Cambrin cemetery during the night.

Amongst the men tasked with digging the graves and burying the dead was Griffith Morris Lloyd [1] of Grenville Terrace, Rhuddlan Road. Griff had begun the war with 1st RWF but had been shot in the leg in October 1914 and posted to the 2nd RWF in January 1915 upon his recovery. No longer as mobile as before he was now one of the battalion cooks (under the command of another Abergele man, the Quartermaster Harry Yates [2]) and had mercifully sat out of the disaster of earlier that day. As he laid the dead to rest he was no doubt anxious for news of his brother, and fellow professional soldier, Company Sergeant Major Daniel Owen Lloyd. Dan was in 1st RWF and they had been involved in the assault on the opposite flank of the Loos battlefield. Griff would not find out for several days yet, but his brother was dead. Dan’s 1st RWF, of 22nd Brigade, 7th Division, had also suffered significant casualties despite having a generally more successful day. They had taken the German support trenches and hampered the movement of German reinforcements. There is little evidence available to describe Dan’s final moments, though later reports indicate that he was ‘pumped up’ (to use a modern phrase) before the battle, convinced that either death or glory lay ahead. Dan’s body was recovered, but his final resting place was subsequently lost.

Elsewhere on the battlefield was Frederick William Jones of the 2nd Welsh. Although no longer a resident of the district, Fred had been born in Abergele.  The battalion war diary (edited) describes how the day unfolded for the 2nd Welsh.

The 2nd Welsh were in reserve to the attack [and] moved off at 3:30am and took up position for the battle in some old French trenches just in front of Vermelles. It was a wet day and the wind was still about …. we never for a moment thought they would use gas …. the clouds remained stationary and seemed to drift back instead of forwards. At about 8:30am the smoke and gas cleared a little and then we saw men go charging over the ridge and out of sight. We thought everything was going well but there was still a lot of rifle fire which we could not understand. We heard no news at all until 11:00am when we received orders to move up to Le Rutoire Farm and dropped into a trench there and waited for about an hour. Whilst we were here we saw a great many of our wounded and an astonishing number of men suffering from our own gas. At about 12:30pm we received orders to support the Munsters in an attack to the south of Hulluch. We came under fire immediately from the Germans. Suddenly the fire from our right slackened and at last stopped altogether and a German bearing a white flag came towards us. We then captured 160 men and five officers. The Welsh were now able to advance rapidly as there was no fire except a few snipers who were active in Hulluch. We eventually reached the Hulluch – Lens road and then halted and lined the road. We remained on this road until 6:00pm and then we were ordered to withdraw to a line of German trenches about 700 yards behind us.

Presumably Fred fell between 12.30 a.m. and the moment of the German surrender descried above. He has no known grave.

Later that day the recently formed Guards Division arrived in the battle area. This included John Owen Gilmore, formerly of Mount Pleasant, Abergele who was a Private in the 1st Battalion Scots Guards. The following afternoon the Guards moved into the original British trenches and began developing plans for an attack on Hill 70 the next day. The 1st Scots Guards would be at the forefront of the assault near an area known as the chalk pit. The attack of 27 September was launched in the face of gas and artillery and many men fell. One contingent pressed on and became engaged in hand to hand fighting for an area known as Puits 14 bis. This group held on to their prize for much of the day and only withdrew during darkness having suffered enormous casualties. Overall over 470 Scots Guards, about half of its fighting strength, had become casualties in a day. John Gilmore was amongst them. It is not possible to tell in which phase of the battle John fell, but his body was never recovered and it is thus likely he was part of the small band that tenaciously tried to hold Puits 14 bis.

[1] Griff Lloyd would survive the war. He enlisted 14 October 1912 and was thus already serving when the war began. Began the war in the 1st Battalion, landing with them 6 October 1914 at Zeebrugge, having returned to Southampton from Malta. He was shot in the leg 21 October 1914 during fighting near Ypres and returned to 3rd Western General Military Hospital in Cardiff in the UK – shrapnel was removed under chloroform. Home address at that time of 2, Granville Terrace. He was transferred to the 2nd Battalion January 1915 on his return from his wounding. Home on leave July 1917. Remained in the army after the war. In WWII he was Platoon Sergeant to 2 Platoon, A Company, 1st Battalion, Denbighshire Home Guard.

[2] Harry Yates MC was one of the ‘characters’ of 2nd RWF. He was born the son of a blacksmith on 3rd May 1868 at 24 Mary Street, Ashton under Lyne and later married an Abergele woman and became a Welsh speaker. Enlisted 4 March 1887 and served in Egypt. Hong Kong, India and China including the Boxer Rising, culminating in the Relief of Pekin on 14 Aug 1900 where Yates was a colour-sergeant. He was gazetted Honorary Lieutenant and Quartermaster on 27th January 1912. Home on leave January 1915 staying with his brother in law William Roberts at Bodgwilym, Castle Place, and he was also in Abergele in August 1918. He was the uncle of Abergele soldiers John Evan and Thomas Owen Roberts and attended the former’s wedding in Abergele in September 1915. Mentioned in dispatches 1 January 1916 and 15 June 1916. Awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in 1918.  He was the only officer to serve with the 2nd RWF from the beginning to the end of the war. After the war he returned to UK as a major QM 29th May 1919 and was able to greet his wife ‘heartily and unblushingly’ at the returning parade in the Depot town of Wrexham. At some point between 1919 and 1922 his wife died. He retired from the army 4th April 1922. In early 1925 he applied for a post as Recruiting Officer having been unemployed for eleven months whilst living in Liverpool. He was not appointed. At some point between 1922 and 1929 he remarried and a son, Ivan Alexander Yates, was born 22nd April 1929. He died suddenly on 14th November 1946 aged 78.

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4 thoughts on “1915-2015: Abergele & District Commemorations: The Battle of Loos claims four more local men

  1. 1915-2015: Abergele & District Commemorations: John (Jack) Edwards - AbergelePost.comAbergelePost.com:

    […] Born in Penmaenbach in 1884, Jack Edwards joined the army from school and served with the 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers in India. He left the army in 1912 but remained on the reserve. He was working on the railway extension and widening work at Pensarn for the London & North Western Railway when the First World War began, and was living at 20, New Street, Abergele. As a reservist, he immediately re-joined his old regiment at Wrexham and was posted to France, arriving 13 August 1914 with the 2nd Battalion. What happened to Jack at Loos is described here. […]

  2. 1915-2015: Abergele & District Commemorations: David Williams - AbergelePost.comAbergelePost.com:

    […] He was recalled 5 August 1914 as a reservist. He went overseas 6 October 1914 as a 1st Battalion man and was wounded almost immediately, being shot in the leg and also the head. It was a lucky escape, with the bullet passing through his cap and travelling along his scalp. Whilst in hospital in the UK his sister Martha died suddenly in November 1914. He was briefly home on leave at Christmas 1914 whilst still recovering. Having recovered from his wounding he was posted to 2nd Battalion RWF. Further details of the Battle of Loos, in which he was killed 25 September 1915 can be found here. […]

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