A Twiss in the tale

20th December 1914

Today the weather lifted enough for the buzz of aeroplanes fill the air once more. The 5th Division’s war diary contains maps made by reconnaissance fly overs and the aeroplane was now proving itself very useful to both sides. Reconnaissance on the ground continued too. We learn, again through the 5th Division’s war diary, that Captain Twiss of the Dorsets discovered the enemy were holding the opposing trenches in strength. He also engaged and wounded a German patrol in No Man’s Land. I think this report was actually activity from the previous day, as the Dorsets diary doesn’t contain any further mention of patrols under the 20th December. The Dorsets’ diary records that the situation was quiet all day.

I hadn’t heard of Captain Twiss before today. Edward Kemble Twiss was born in Kingston-upon-Thames in 1882. It appears that he was attached to the Dorsets from the 10th Jats, Indian Army. When that happened remained a mystery but I hazard a guess that as the Indian Corps replaced the 5th Division at La Bassée at the end of October it might have happened then. He was certainly cited for a DSO as part of the Dorsets in November.

Looking at one of his medal index cards it looks like his disembarkation date was 18th September 1914 which is 8 days earlier that the rest of the Indian Corps. Was he in England on leave at the outbreak of war and shoehorned into a draft of reinforcements for the Dorsets? They were certainly desperate for officers at that time.

Twiss played first class cricket for the Europeans, one of four segregated teams who played each other in the Bombay Quadrangular; the other teams being the Parsees, Hindus and the Muslims. They played each other in various formats between 1892 and 1948. The match I found had Twiss taking 6 for 30 in just 14 overs. Impressive figures!

He survived the war and died suddenly in 1943 in Brighton aged just 60. His son was Admiral Sir Frank Roddam Twiss (1910-1994) who was the Black Rod from 1970 to 1978.


They have no fear in them

### 16th November 1914

In the yesterday’s letter, Frank reports that the first snow has fallen. The weather was definitely turning. Gleichen reports that at the time “the weather had turned beastly cold—snowstorms and sleet during the day and a hard frost at night”.

Frank gives Mabel his location by referencing the London Scottish. They had achieved the dubious honour of being the first Territorial battalion to see action. They lost nearly half their strength preventing the Germans breaking through the allies’ lines on the 31st October at Messines. He also mentions the Indian Corps which would have been from his time at La Bassée and seems especially impressed by the Gurkhas, who allegedly terrified the Germans “with their knives in their hands coming after them they have no fear in them when they start”. The letter is the most expressive of all the letters so far. His description of the hopelessness of men trapped out in the open is very moving.

Frank mentions a winner of the “French Legion of Honour who was killed.” The truth of this story is quite tragic. The battalion was awarded a Médaille Militaire, a French award that could also be given to foreign nationals. Lieutenant-Colonel Bols had decided it should be awarded to the machine gun section for its work on the 26th August at Mons. It’s not clear what date this happened or why the battalion won the award. It’s a story I will return to. Private Thomas Anthony Skipsey was selected as its recipient by the rest of the machine gun section. He remarked that he “would be the first to meet trouble”. He wasn’t wrong. On the 13th October Skipsey was shot and killed. The medal isn’t listed on his Medal Card, nor in the Medal Rolls, but it is noted on his CWGC casualty details page.

The Dorsets began to withdraw from their positions, getting ready for welcome relief. D Company went first, assembling at Battalion HQ with C Company at 6am. The machine gun was withdrawn from A Company’s trench.

At 2pm tragedy struck B Company. Some high explosive shells burst in one of their their trenches and buried part of a platoon. Men from C Company were sent to support them. At 6pm A and B Companies were ordered to withdraw from their positions but that was cancelled just half and hour later.

11th Brigade had already been informed that the Dorsets were to remain in their command for another day so all this movement seems to have been rather a waste of time. The 11th Brigade’s diary also rather testily notes that snipers had infiltrated the lines behind Hill 63 and the Dorsets are ordered to catch them. Lieutenant-Colonel Butler “suggests” the Dorsets assign observation posts on the top of the hill. The lack of any mention of this in the Dorsets’ war diary suggest to me that this “suggestion” carried a bit more weight than that.

I get the impression from the 11th Brigade’s diary that they had a less than favourable impression of the Dorsets. Whether this was due to inter-divisional rivalry or that the Dorsets’ reputation was tarnished from their disastrous time at La Bassée it’s impossible to say. I might be totally imagining this but the Dorsets’ star has definitely waned since the broiling heat of September.

The Dorsets’ diary reports 5 killed with 2 wounded. CWCG lists 5 men killed too. One of these men, James Henry Budden aged 34, came from a Peabody Estate in Vauxhall. I’ve just come home from one on the Old Kent Road. That is all.

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.

Partridge captures geese


28th October 1914

Although an attack on Neuve Chapelle had been postponed during the night, it didn’t stop the British from trying to retake the village. This time they opted for the classic unsupported daylight attack across open ground. The Germans had dug themselves into Neuve Chapelle with the result being that the 7th Brigade’s attacking troops, including an Indian brigade and dismounted cavalry, got absolutely slaughtered.

The Dorsets, under temporary command of General Maude of the 7th Brigade, had moved forward at 6am in support, close to the road that runs north out of Le Bassée (now the D947), east of Richebourg St. Vaast. Here they remained until darkness fell, whereupon they moved back west and joined the new draft at Richebourg St Vaast at 10pm. The History of the Dorsetshire Regiment recalls a rather obscure snippet of a story from Captain Fraser’s diary:

Exciting chase with Partridge after some geese at 1 a.m. Captured three.

At 4:30pm the 5th Division had been informed that II Corps was being relieved by Indian Corps. This happy news trickled through to the various brigades that evening, which might explain a rekindled lightheartedness in the annals of the Dorsets.