Tommies, Cooper


1st February 1915

At 12.25 pm the 15th Brigade, including the Dorsets, was relieved by the 13th Brigade, marched to Bailleul and went into billets there.

Lieutenant-Colonel Bols left the Dorsets and took over command of the 13th Brigade because its current commander, Brigadier-General Cooper, was taken ill. According to the Order of Battle of the British Army 1914 Cooper’s initials were F.J. and he took over command of the 13th Brigade on 3rd December 1914. I can’t find any mention of him anywhere else, including Ancestry. Could this be a typo and he’s actually Brigadier-General R. J. Cooper, ex-CO of 1st Grenadier Guards, who went on to lead the 29th Brigade at Gallipoli, where he was seriously wounded.

The author of 15th Brigade’s diary was very pleased with their new HQ billets. 28 Rue de Lille in Bailleul. The 1915 Trip Advisor review: “Good!”.

Heavy weather

10th December 1914

The Dorsets were relieved by the 2nd Bn. King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry but hideous weather made progress very slow. Although they were bound for billets in St Jans Cappel midnight passed and they were still en route, hence I will post the map of their march tomorrow.

The reason that the Dorsets were leaving this area so quickly was because the 13th Brigade had relived the 15th Brigade from Dranoutre. The 2nd Bn. KOYLI are allocated what 5th Division refer to as “Sector E” when they replace the 1st Bn Dorsets.

Another interesting story from the 5th Division’s diary today is that during the night the Germans opened up with a cannonade of rifle fire apparently in reply to cheering men of  the 14th Brigade. They were cheering upon hearing the news of a British victory at sea.

The Daily Telegraph reports the victory in the Battle of the Falkland Islands; .revenge for the earlier defeat at Coronel, just off the Chilean coastline. The British Government was quick to silence the earlier humiliation.

The Admiralty made known through the Press Bureau the glorious news that the major portion of the German Squadron under the command of Admiral Graf von Spee is now at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean as the result of an action fought off the Falkland Islands with a British Squadron under Vice-Admiral Sir Frederick Sturdee.

While the Telegraph’s reporting gets the story right here (albeit with some typically jingoistic chest beating), the same can’t be said for their “reporting” from the trenches. Their reporter’s claim that “the allied French, British, and Belgian armies on this side of the line are superior in number, equipment, and, one might assert with certainty, in “morale”” couldn’t have been further from the truth.

I’m sure Frank was glad to see the back of the filthy, wet, stinking he’d just emerged from.

The Wytschaete line man


7th December 1914

The Dorsets remained in Dranoutre for another day but at 4.15pm A Company, along with Frank and a single platoon of B Company marched via Lindenhoek to relieve the Bedfords in trenches south of Point 75. Here they came under orders of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers of the 13th Division. No mention is made of this in the 13th Brigade nor the 5th Division’s war diaries. The fact that just over a single company of the Dorsets could replace the strength of an entire regiment of the Bedfords (who report in their diary that their strength of 200 men and  three officers) tells the story of the shortages faced by many British regiments up and down the line.

I only have limited internet access for now, but I think that their new position is just to the right of the Dorsets’ last location. So that’s where I’ve put them for now. Apologies if I am woefully wrong.

Busman’s holiday


1st November 1914

The Dorsets awoke on a fine Sunday morning, perhaps expecting a nice leisurely breakfast and a stroll around Strazeele. However, at 7.50am they were greeted by a II Corps Staff Officer, Colonel Shoubridge, who announced that they were to be taken away by buses to the front. How dismayed they must have been. Their promised seven days rest vanished in an instant.

I think that II Corps knew it would be a tough ask so they decided to apply a bit of motivational management. Colonel Shoubridge himself was an ex-1st Dorsets man. As the men climbed wearily into the buses Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, II Corps’ commander, arrived and spoke to them, praising their fine fighting at Pont Fixe. The phrase forms the title of a self-published book I’m still trying to track down by Captain A.L. Ransome, “The fine fighting of the Dorsets”, portions of which embellish the official History of The Dorsetshire Regiment 1914-1919.

I have reasons to doubt his sincerity. Smith-Dorrien had actually been very critical of the 15th and 13th Brigades’ performance at Pont Fixe as I’ve explored in a previous post. He also claimed that the Dorsets and Cheshires “did not put up a resolute resistance” on the 22nd October at Violaines.

But these were desperate times and every spare unit was needed. The rumble of guns heard by the Dorsets the previous evening had been the sound of the Germans breaking the British line at Gheluvelt, east of Ypres in Belgium. Only a desperate charge by the 2nd Bn Worcestershire regiment on the 31st October had saved the situation. It remained critical time for the Allies and the British and French poured their tattered troops in to plug the gaps. The Dorsets were bound for Ploegsteert, where they were being attached to the 4th Division, who were having a very hard time of it.

And so the Dorsets grudgingly clambered aboard buses. Buses straight from the streets of London., manned by volunteers, painted red and white and still plastered with adverts for Evening News and Wright’s Soap.

London Buses in World War One
London B-Type Buses

The London B-Type Motor Omnibus could hold 24 men, so between 30 and 40 buses would have trundled over the border into Belgium. It must have been a bizarre couple of hours for Frank, as if his old London life had suddenly emerged out of the past.

The journey would have been pleasant enough for the Dorsets as they enjoyed clear blue skies, very similar to today’s weather 100 years later. This wasn’t to last. As they approached Lindenhoek they could actually see heavy shelling to the north east at Wytschaete. Messines to the east had fallen and the Germans were pushing forward into Ploegsteert wood three miles east of Neuve Eglise.

At 3pm the Dorsets went into billets at Neuve Eglise. At 5pm B Company was sent out as an outpost on the Wulverghem-Neuve Eglise Road. C and D Companies entrenched nearby. Frank and the rest of A Company remained in billets in Neuve Eglise. An hour later they were joined by the rest of the Battalion, leaving just one platoon of B Company covering the road.



5th Division’s band aid

29th October 1914

Any attempts to reorganise with the new reinforcements was hampered throughout the day as various companies were ordered into the front line and then stood down. A and B Companies were put under the command of the 13th Brigade at 11am (the Dorsets now coming under command of the 14th Brigade) and pushed up to support the Manchesters on Rue de Béthune. Apart from a few injuries from shellfire they didn’t engage the enemy and returned to billets at around 6:30pm.

A lack of resources had broken up reliable teams of fighting units and officers were thinly stretched thinly over the cracks of command. The Dorsets were being used as a band aid for the 5th Division.

The relief of the 5th Division started at 6pm that evening. The Indian Corps moved into position under “leaden skies and pouring rain”, according to Captain Ransome of the Dorsets. The Dorsets remained where they were for the evening awaiting orders. Heavy firing started up all along the line during the night as the Germans renewed their efforts to push the British back.

We haven’t heard from Count Gleichen for a few days and I’ve missed the old goat. He’s still watching the Germans put in saps along their trenches “in a most ingenious and hidden manner”. The Germans were now only between 200 and 400 yards from the British front lines. Gleichen was somewhat apprehensive about the efficacy of the newly-arrived Indian Corps, although he didn’t doubt their fighting spirit:

I was very doubtful how far these untried Indian troops would stand up to what was evidently going to be a very difficult situation if the Germans went on attacking as they had been doing. Fresh troops, it is true. But they had had no experience of this sort of fighting, nor of trenches, nor of cold wet weather: and they were going to have all three.

Whether he wrote this in hindsight or not it proved to be a very salient comment.