Daily Archives: August 4th, 2017

THE GREAT WAR 1917

THE MILITARY MEDAL

You may recall that over the course of the years since the hundredth anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War I have been giving annual updates on the life of Edward Lound MM. He had been born in Leicester, but brought up in Great Yarmouth. He worked for several years in the holiday industry before commencing his army career. He joining up in Derby. As a professional soldier he was at the outset of the war a Colour Sergeant in the 2nd Battalion the Sherwood Foresters; he must have been too good as his job to be promoted, because he never progressed beyond that rank.  He fought on the Western Front in Flanders throughout the war; just eleven private soldiers of his regiment shared this distinction with the equally few officers and NCOs. The other battalion (the 1st) that was in existence at the outbreak of war was serving overseas and did not arrive in France until November. At the outbreak of war he had been in Ireland, and was immediately dispatched to Cambridge and thence to France.  This made him one of the Old Contemptibles, those in the British Expeditionary Force who were involved in the earliest battles up to the end of November 1914.

After the war he went on to serve in Turkey, Egypt and on the North West Frontier. There he was constantly in conflict with the people who he referred to as Pathans; we know these people as Afghans. After leaving the army he worked in Derby until retirement when he and his wife moved back to Norfolk. When his wife died in 1951 he married my grandmother, who had been widowed in 1945.

THE LIFE STORY OF EDWARD LOUND (part seven)

1917 saw a great change on the Eastern Front, with the collapse of Russian resistance to German advances. From the beginning of the year unrest was growing in Russia, and this led to the February Revolution. The Tsar abdicated and discipline in the army became increasingly suspect. All over Russia the demands for peace were growing. Nevertheless the Provisional Government ordered an offensive against the Austro-Hungarians and Germans to begin on July 1st. The Russians enjoyed initial success against Austria, but Germany proved a much harder proposition, and by the 16th July the offensive had ground to a halt. By the 23rd of the month the Russians were in full retreat. On 1st September Russia attacked Riga, but the Russian troops refused to fight and fled the town. In the October Revolution the Bolsheviks seized power and hastily arranged a truce with Germany.

While the collapse of opposition on the Eastern Front altered the balance of power in Europe, the entry of America into the conflict on the Allied side, on April 6th, proved to be of enormous importance for the future course of the war. The coming of the Americans into the war, in which they had previously been determinedly neutral, was largely brought about by the German attempt to bring Britain to its knees by U boat attacks on neutral shipping. Although the addition of the United States to the Allied war effort was welcome, the arrival of American troops did not take place for another twelve months.

Things were also afoot in Austria, where the Young Emperor Charles I, who had come to the throne late in 1916, was secretly attempting to negotiate an Armistice with the French. Charles, the last monarch of Austria, was not at all warlike in his attitude, and has been sanctified by the Roman Catholic Church for his peaceable intentions. However the part played by Germany was far more influential as far as the British were concerned, and they were by no means ready to make peace.

The new command of the French forces under General Nivelle proposed a large-scale attack by French forces in the north of the country around the river Aisne, which meant a shift in British and Commonwealth forces. These were now to be deployed along a hundred miles of trenches, including Vimy Ridge. This was the scene of three days of bloody fighting which ended on 12th April 1917 with the Canadians taking the Ridge. The dug outs and trenches are preserved as a memorial and this gives some sense of the horrors of war a hundred years ago, though without the mud.

The New Year had begun with hard frosts and snowstorms which made operations extremely arduous for all, including the Sherwood Foresters. The Germans were driven back in the Somme valley by some heavy fighting during January and February. This did not involve the 2nd Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters to any great extent; they were stationed between Béthune and Arras. Nevertheless six men were lost in January and on one day’s action on 9th February ten members of “C” Company were killed. The relentless casualties of the war kept reducing the Battalion’s strength not only through death, but also through life changing injuries and disease. March passed with repeated raids and counter raids, some larger than the rest but apparently doing nothing to shorten the war. One German raid early in the morning of April 5th was particularly violent, involving up to 50 soldiers who rushed towards the British line from a sap. They drew such a barrage of fire that they retreated back to their own lines, apparently without loss. Two Britons of the Battalion were wounded during this exchange of fire. This was followed by a similar raid from the Foresters a few days later; a Lance-Corporal was severely wounded but there were again no fatalities.

In the last week of April the Battalion was moved to the Loos area, where the headquarters were briefly established in what for then were luxurious surroundings. The new HQ even had electric light, but after a day or two this  unaccustomed refinement, this home had to be surrendered to other occupants.  We hear now for the first time in the Sherwood Foresters’ war diaries of a junior N.C.O. suffering shell shock. It is certain that this affliction was suffered by troops long before 1917. The description of the trenches as being full of debris, with rifles and bayonets sticking out of the mud, and the bodies of soldiers left unburied, gives some idea of the daily horror that the fighting men had to endure. This trench warfare had gone on now for years, and almost all were susceptible to the mental damage from daily endurance of scenes of carnage. Edward Lound was not one of these men; he would tell, in a  matter-of-fact tone, of an officer of the Battalion who went mad. When asked if the man was then relieved of his duties, he replied ‘No; he was sent up to the front, where he got a shoulder wound which removed him to safety’.

The position of the Battalion in April was particularly bad as their section of trench had no dugouts and therefore nowhere for the men to shelter from the continuous shelling. During this month they lost 18 men killed and nearly 100 wounded. May and June passed in a similar way. There was no large-scale attack on the German lines during these months, but repeated raids of up to 150 men, who would spend half an hour or so in the enemy trenches before returning. The Germans had a very similar way of operating, so the attrition of soldiers continued with little prospect movement.

At the end of June and the beginning of July the 2nd Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters were engaging the enemy near the town of Lens. For five months they had been fighting in the area, and although large-scale battles were taking place elsewhere on the front, none involved the 2nd battalion. Nevertheless the fighting had resulted in 67 killed and 302 wounded. On July 14th the troops were visited by King George V for whom the battalion provided a Guard of Honour with drums and bugles; it was an incongruous event in the mud and blood soaked circumstances of war. The whole month of August was spent by the battalion in recuperation, taking part in sporting contests and rifle drills.

On the 4th September they were ordered to ‘Bug Alley’ near Loos, where they were preparing to carry out  a raid on the German lines, but on the 9th they were relieved of their duties. At the beginning of October they were again detailed to the front, where heavy rain and gales added to the difficulties of warfare. With the taking of Passchendaele the Third Battle of Ypres came to an end on 6th November, although the Foresters had not been involved; the Allies had advanced five miles in two months of horrendous fighting. With winter approaching the Germans hoped to regroup before a spring-time offensive, when a huge addition of troops freed from operations on the Eastern Front could be deployed before the arrival of the American forces.

The Allies could not afford to wait for these German reinforcements, and the Battle of Cambrai began at dawn on the 20th November. After the initial success of the Allies, the German response developed into the most substantial offensive in Northern France since 1914. The great break-through made in the German trenches and barbed wire demonstrated the effectiveness of tank warfare. By the 7th December when hostilities ceased, Allied advances to the north were balanced to certain extent by German advances to the south. The Sherwood Foresters had lost 23 men killed in the action.

(to be continued)

JOSEPH MASON

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