Poelcappelle 24-26 October 1917


From the War Diary of 2/5Bn, the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, and the Regimental History: Col. H. C. Wylly, The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment 1914-1919, the Naval and Military Press, 2007. pp 218-219.


On the afternoon of 24 October 1917, the Battalion moved up to the line about Poelcappelle, completely equipped  and rationed for four days’ operations.  The ground over which the attack was to be made was in a terrible state, from previous fighting and incessant rain.


When the attack was launched “the leading waves had scarcely gone more than 50 yards before they came under an intense machine-gun barrage which caused a great number of casualties, and it seemed that our barrage had missed locating the positions of the enemy machine-guns.  All the Company Officers of the Battalion became casualties during the early stages of the attack and the sergeants and junior non-commissioned officers then carried out the advance in a most determined manner.  Small groups of men reached and held some shell-craters about 500 yards in advance of our original line; and it was only by reason of the particularly heavy losses and the very thin line that was being held that it was decided to withdraw to our original position and there to consolidate.


“The enemy seemed to have anticipated the attack and had pushed forward small groups of men very close to our line under cover of darkness.  These groups were untouched by our barrage and surprised the leading waves, thus causing the heavy casualties in the initial stages of the attack.  The enemy’s snipers were especially efficient.


“The ground which had to be advanced over was dreadful, and it speaks well for the men that they got along at all as it was almost impassable.  The German machine-guns were mostly emplaced in shell-holes, bringing a cross-fire to bear on the Battalion frontage; though covers were used for the rifles it was found almost impossible to fire them owing to the mud which collected when the men fell in and out of shell-holes waist deep in water.”


Throughout the 25th, the Battalion held the line under the very worst possible conditions of rain and mud, the enemy keeping up a heavy if intermittent shelling, which caused 53 casualties; and about 5 o’clock on the morning of the 26th the companies formed up to attack an objective which was about 1,000 yards from the original line.


At 5.40 the Battalion moved off in attack formation, three companies being in the front line and one being held in readiness as a counter-attack company, each platoon having a frontage of about 160 yards.  The “going” was almost impossible, but the men pushed on steadily if slowly.  Owing to the state of their weapons it was practically impossible to use either rifle or Lewis gun, and the men had to trust to the bayonet, in the wielding of which the men of the 2/5th excelled themselves, and it is estimated that the NCOs and men accounted for some 500 of the enemy and captured 8 machine-guns.  One sergeant attacked and killed the detachments of two German machine-guns single-handed, and was still advancing when he himself became a casualty.


The Battalion was relieved on the evening of the 26th and returned to camp near Proven, where it rested and was reorganised.