Battle of the Marne and 1st Battle of Ypres

The Advance to Aisne of the Royal Garrison Artillery September 1914

IWM Q51496 Photographer Robert Cotton money

Battle of the Marne

September 6th – 12th 1914

The Battle of the Marne, fought to the north and east of Paris, involved a counter-attack by the French Army, retreat of the Germans and marked the start of trench warfare as German forces dug in along the River Aisne. Fighting resulted in deadlock and the extension of opposing trench lines. Many regular soldiers and reservists were killed at this early stage of the war. The B.E.F. was present.

September 10th 1914, Hautesvesnes, France. Death of Rifleman 6246 Harry Voce, 1st Battalion, Kings Royal Rifles, 6th Brigade, 2nd Division. He was serving as a reservist and was the first Radcliffe man to be killed in action. He was 29 years old. When war broke out, he was working at Notts. County Asylum (Saxondale) as an attendant after serving in India with the KRC for several years.

From Kings Royal Rifles War Diary

The 1st Battalion, Kings Royal Rifles left Compru on September 10th, moving north. The enemy lined the side of the road at Hautesvesnes and opened fire. Heavy fighting for 1½ hours ended when the enemy put up the white flag. Four officers, ten NCOs and two riflemen were killed. Five riflemen were missing and sixty men were wounded.

1st Battle of Ypres, Belgium

October 19th – November 22nd 1914

The 1st Battle of Ypres was the last attempt at a decisive break through on the Western Front. British troops were forced into defensive battles to prevent the Germans reaching the Channel ports. The ‘race to the sea’ began after the decisive Allied victory at the Battle of the Marne and ended with the first battle of Ypres in mid October. Fierce fighting to control the city continued until mid November with heavy losses on both sides. Severe weather brought the battle to a halt. The area between the positions established by both sides —from Ypres on the British side to Menin and Roulers on the German side—became known as the Ypres Salient. Allies eventually held the Ypres Salient, overlooked by enemy lines on three sides. The B.E.F. was present.

Battle of Armentières

October 13th – November 2nd

The 2nd Battalion Sherwood Foresters disembarked on September 9th 1914. As part of the 6th Division, the men were involved in the Battle of Armentières (October 13th – November 2nd) and lost high numbers during a battle at Ennetières, near Armentières, on October 20th as they were making their way to Ypres. They held a vastly superior German force for 48 hours, losing 16 officers and 710 other ranks. British platoons were surrounded and captured on this date. The Nottingham Evening Post reported 450 Sherwood Foresters missing in December 1914, including Ernest Bemrose and Harry Thorpe from Radcliffe on Trent.

October 20th 1914, Ennetières. Private 10411 Ernest Bemrose, 2nd Bn. Sherwood Foresters, 18th Brigade, 6th Division, was missing in action during the Battle of Armentières. He had been in the 4th Sherwood Foresters (reserves) since 1907. Death confirmed much later. He was twenty-four, married, had a baby and was living in Radcliffe working as a farm labourer when war broke out. He had worked at Notts. County Asylum as an attendant until the spring of 1914.

The following information about the actions of the 2nd Battalion, The Sherwood Foresters comes from and was written by Graeme Clarke on April 17th 2012:

The  battalion landed at St. Nazaire, France on Thursday 10 September 1914 and on Friday 9 October 1914 entrained at St. Remy for St. Omer. They moved into billets at Arques and then moved into the Vieux Berquin area on Monday 12 October 1914.

The battalion then advanced until Sunday 18 October 1914 when they relieved the 2nd Battalion, Durham Light Infantry in positions at Ennetière. On (October 20th) the Germans attacked the battalion who were ordered to fall back to the high ground at La Vallée. The retiring troops were surrounded during this procedure and forced to surrender. The survivors, 2 officers and 49 other ranks, held a ridge near the windmill at La Vallée and managed to fight off further German attacks at 7.30pm.

The War Diary for the 2nd Battalion notes:

20 October 1914 On night of 19th-20th A Company relieved D Company, C Company relieved B Company taking A Company’s place in reserve. All night the companies were employed in improving their trenches and communications but the work was considerably interfered with by enemy fire.

At daybreak the enemy commenced a heavy shell fire on the village, the house occupied by Battalion HQ being destroyed.

At 7.10 am it was reported that a considerable number of the enemy were massing round our right flank towards Escobecques. At 10 am B Company was sent to reinforce the trenches on the right. At 11.30 am 1 company of Durham Light Infantry arrived to reinforce the BM. About 1 pm a vigorous attack was made on our front trenches, but it was driven off with considerable loss. About 3 pm enemy commenced his advance against the right flank supported by artillery from north, east and south. All remaining reserves, 3 platoons of Durham Light Infantry and about 50 men were pushed to aid the 5 platoons who were holding that flank. The enemy’s advance was however very ?? and we were vastly outnumbered. The few remaining men were collected and fell back, some covered the retirement of a battery of our guns and others assisted to man handle the guns onto the road. For some time the remnants of the battalion held on to some high ground overlooking the sandpits west of Ennetteres, but at 7 pm fell back to the road running through T of Fetus. Here we joined up with the Durham Light Infantry and West Yorkshire Regiments and remained in position until ordered to fall back to Bois Grenier.

Casualties 710 NCOs and men missing.

Unconfirmed date and place, October 1914. Company Sergeant Major 6973 Harry Thorpe, 2nd Bn. Sherwood Foresters, 18th Brigade, 6th Division, who had been serving in the army since 1901, was taken prisoner during this conflict. He was 32. He remained in captivity in Germany until November 1918 then continued his army service (information from records held at the Sherwood Foresters Museum, Nottingham).

The casualty rates for the Battle of Armentières were around 2000 for the 4th Division and 4000 for the 6th Division.