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  • Christina Drummond

The Battle of Festubert, 1916 - the loss of 16,648 British soldiers

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1915 the Battle of Festubert was being fought on the Western Front. It was to last for ten days with a loss of 16,648 British soldiers. The British intended to assist the French offensive against Vimy Ridge by attracting German divisions to the British front, rather than reinforcing the defenders opposite the French. The attack was made by the British First Army under Sir Douglas Haig against a German salient between Neuve Chapelle to the north and the village of Festubert to the south along a three-mile front – and it would be the first British army night-attack of the Great War. At the end, the British Army had advanced one kilometer, and there was no significant contribution to the French offensive on Vimy Ridge. Soldiers were killed not only by the shelling and machine-gun fire, but in hand-to-hand fighting, and many drowned in the flooded trenches and drainage ditches criss-crossing the battlefield. They had been hampered by a shortage of artillery ammunition and guns, and what they had was in poor condition through either over-use or faulty manufacture. They were also hampered by the weather, although the mixture of the Territorials, veterans and newly-trained had already been tested by a severe winter and so went valiantly on. Unfortunately, British intelligence, ground and air observation had not detected the important establishment of the new German line, and many British were cut down mercilessly by machine-gun fire. Among those who lost their lives on this day: Top row: Captain Harry Grigg, age 34 (1st Battalion attached to 3rd Battalion, 3rd Queen Alexandra’s Own Gurkha Rifles); Captain Stanley Jones, age 34 (1st Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers); and Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Wood CMG, age 47 (Commanding Officer 2nd Battalion, Border Regiment, killed while leading his battalion into action). Bottom row: Lieutenant Hugh Owen, age 22 (A Company, 3rd Battalion attached to 2nd Battalion, Border Regiment); Second Lieutenant Alfred Wingate, age 23 (2nd Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers – killed in action as he commanded the Bomb-Throwers Section in an attack on the German trenches); and Second Lieutenant Thomas McClelland. Age 22 (7th Battalion [Territorial], The King’s [Liverpool Regiment].

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