Down the Ploeg ‘ole

10th November 1914

Like a series of hurricanes, the battles of La Bassée and Armentiéres had blown themselves into the battle of Messines and they all culminated in what was developing now: the First Battle of Ypres. Really they’re just one long series of German attacks and British defence and piecemeal counterattacks, while the French continued to attack where they could, with huge resulting losses on all sides.

We are witnessing the last gasps of the British Expeditionary Force. Only the trenches, the one thing we most associate with the horrors of World War One, saved them from utter annihilation.

Poor Frank has now been living in shallow, poorly dug, filthy trenches for a week. The trenches at the beginning of the war were little more than holes in the ground. In Ypres, where the waterline was shallow, they had to build up breastworks on top of the ground. Sometimes they dug along hedgerows or tree lines and pulled the hedges down to form the breastwork. Most of the time sandbags and fascines of twigs were heaved out into no mans land to form a defensive line.

Dug outs for the men were practically non-existent. Some holes in the ground were made and covered over in sheets of corrugated iron, stripped from farms here and there. The farms and outbuildings themselves tended to house the HQs dotted along the frontline at this point in the war.

The Dorsets reported another quiet day with shelling throughout the night.

If it wasn’t for those bosky kids


3rd November 1914

The Dorsets spent the day being shelled in the woods, but at 4pm were gathered together and ordered to relieve the 2nd Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, who had scratched out some very basic trenches in the recent fighting. The History of the Dorsetshire Regiment 1914-1919 lists them as the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Fusiliers. I’ve just looked at the 11th Brigade war diary and it uses the abbreviation of “innis fus” so it looks like the War Diary is correct. Whoever they were, the relief was completed by 6pm. The rest of the night was quiet.

The Dorsets found themselves at the junction between what became known as two separate battles; the Battle of Armentières was dying away to the south and the Battle of Messines was now raging away just to the north. Ploegsteert Wood was a natural barrier between the two battles but the Germans were still pushing very hard to take it.

The map today is a bit of a leap of faith and I would be most grateful for more information if anyone has any. Since the 15th Brigade has been practically broken up after leaving La Bassée, there’s a paucity of information available. Gleichen’s memoirs have been very useful so far. I’ve located the Dorsets along a north westerly line running from the Messines-Ploegsteert road (Mesen on the Google map) to the River Douve, with Frank halfway along that line entrenched somewhere in a field. The line at this point is clearly marked on the Michelin illustrated guide to the battlefields (1914-1918) Ypres and the Battles of Ypres as bending around the north of Ploegsteert Wood (on the map just left of St Yvon).

Map of the Messines front
The Messines front during November 1914