All quiet on the Western Front

28th December 1914

Today the Dorsets’ diary is empty of any information other than saying it’s been quiet. 5th Division’s diary records that Sector B experienced shellfire and heavy musketry in the evening, a claim which is borne out by the Bedfords’ diary entry.

A Dorsetshire man died today, according to the CWGC, but there’s no mention of this in the war diary. 38 year old William George Richbell had only arrived nine weeks previously. He was a Special Reservist with the 3rd Battalion who had been rushed into active service with the 1st Battalion as a reinforcement on the 23rd October, joining his new comrades outside Neuve Chapelle on the 27th October.

In 1911 William was a beer house keeper (having taken over from his father Thomas) who ran The Bell in Walton on the Hill. By 1914 he was listed as a general labourer in his service papers. He left behind a young wife and son, Florence and William. This former beer house is now a pub (having got its wine and spirit license in 1950) and it possibly retains a military connection today, through its alternative name of “The Rat”, perhaps so-called because it was frequented by members of the Royal Artillery in World War Two (according to the pub’s website).

Like many of the Dorsets’ rank and file, William Richbell had been recruited outside of the county. Some counties were too sparsely populated to feed a regiment’s constant need for new soldiers so they tended to recruit men from larger urban areas; London being a popular location for the Dorsets.

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.

Gorre blimey


26th October 1914

The Dorsets were formed into working parties and put under the orders of the Royal Engineers. They spent the day in and around Gorre, according to the Dorsets’ war diary. They returned to their billets in the Rue de Béthune at 6pm.

The Germans continued to press all along the front. The ragged Allies held on precariously. The French were being heavily shelled in Givenchy and the 5th Division HQ received reports from the 15th Brigade that the two French battalions there were “nearly wiped out”.

Further north the Germans had pushed through the 7th Brigade (part of 3rd Division) into a town that would become a household name the following year: Neuve Chapelle.