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War Memories of Lt. W L Heape East Lancashire Regiment 1914-1919

the battalion sailed for France in a converted cattle ship on 6 th November to join the 8 th Division on the British Front Line at La Bassee-Neuve Chapelle, near Armentieres. The troops, who went out to France under the command of Lieutenant- Colonel C L Nicholson, were seasoned soldiers with an average of five years of service overseas. By March 1915, after the battle of Neuve Chapelle, 12 officers and 278 other ranks had been killed or wounded, including the CO. Some of the men who were sent to replace them, like my father, were little better than raw recruits. My father had only had four months’ training at Sandhurst before being posted to his regiment. By the time he reached France, on 13 th April 1915, Major H Maclear had taken over command of the battalion, with Major Russell as Second-in-Command and Captain Arnott as Adjacent. The 2 nd Battalion East Lancs formed part of 24 th Brigade of the 8 th Division of the IV Corps of the First Army, commanded by General Sir Douglas Haig. At the start of 1915 the Allies had learnt that the German High Command was planning a major offensive against the Russians on their Eastern Front. To achieve their objective, the Germans were redeploying men from their Western Front to supply their Eleventh Army on the Eastern Front. General Joffre, the French Commander-in-Chief, wanted to use this opportunity to drive the invaders out of France and Belgium. He planned a great offensive by the French Tenth Army to attack Vimy Ridge and sweep across the plain of Douai. This offensive was known as the Second Battle of Artois. General Joffre approached his British allies about co- operating in a combined offensive in five or six weeks’ time. The intention was for the British to simultaneously break through the German line, north of La Bassee Canal, to widen the gap in the German line and assist the left flank of the French Army advancing into the plain of Douai. The French did not have sufficient men or munitions to carry out such a broad attack on their own. The relationship between the British Commander-in Chief, Sir John French, and his French counterpart, General Joffre, was somewhat strained. On 1 st April, Sir John French told General Joffre that he hoped to be in a position to offer assistance by the end of the month. On 9 th April, he advised the French Commander that he was prepared to employ 10 divisions and about 600 field guns in the operation with five cavalry divisions in reserve. The objective of the British First Army would be to break through the enemy’s line north of La Bassee Canal and reach the La Bassee – Lille road between La Bassee and Fournes. The main attack would be made by 1 st Corps and the Indian Corps from the Festubert – Neuve Chapelle front, whilst IV Corps carried out a secondary attack in the direction of Aubers – Fromelles. Sir John French issued his orders for the battle from British Advanced Headquarters at Hazebrouck on 4 th May. The offensive was originally scheduled for 8 th May, but was delayed until 9 th May because of bad weather. On 21 st April the Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Sir John French, inspected each brigade of the 8 th Division and addressed the men in appreciation of their behaviour in the recent battle of Neuve Chapelle. The following day the senior officers of the 1 st and 2 nd Battalions met for dinner in Armentieres and enjoyed what was described as the cheeriest evening since they had landed in France. Captain Craig, the MO, upset the waiting arrangements by embracing a waitress. Father does not mention anything about the evening so presumably the junior officers were not included in the festivities. On the night of 24 th April they relieved a battalion of the 23 rd Brigade in the right section of the divisional front facing Rouge Bancs. The
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