GWL 25th January 1915

It is awfully cold.  Thank goodness we are not in the trenches.  This afternoon I am going to have a bath & clean underclothes, the first change for five weeks! I rather think I shall drink most of that cod liver oil.  It is supposed to be good for the inside, isn’t it?  We are all wondering what the Germans will do for the Kaiser’s Birthday, round our way.  I shall swear if he disturbs our rest.  Your letters of the 22nd & 23rd have just come.  Also the cake, shortbread and bulls eyes and the Baccy, vaseline & acid drops – I hate to think you are having bad weather.  What can we do about it?  It is pretty poisonous here.  As far as I can remember it snowed most of Thursday with us & rained all Friday”.

In the early hours of the 25th the Germans launched concerted assaults on Givenchy and Bethune, to the south of the Salient.  Sir John French’s Despatch gives a clear account of the events of the day:

“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.”

givenchy - Bethune 1915

{next post 26th January}

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