100 Years Ago
By Lyn Dyson
At the beginning of October the 1st Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment was at Zillebeke in Belgium, where they were working at night digging and repairing trenches. Things were relatively quiet. On 16th September the battalion marched from Abeele to Poperinghe for baths, and the next day they were inspected by General Haldane as the battalion was being transferred to another Division, and he wished to bid them farewell. In his speech he expressed his regret at losing them, although he added, “no doubt you are not sorry to leave the “health resort”, Hooge.”
“I have been with you for eleven months and well remember the first time I met you when you were marching back after that heavy fighting round Ypres last November reduced to less than one third of your war strength. Since that time your battalion has always distinguished itself in fighting, work, vigilance and other soldierly qualities. You made the defences of Hooge when we took over the trenches there. You have had more fighting than any other Battn in the Division. You were in the fighting on the 12th March when we attacked Spanbroekmolen which some of you may remember. 16th June, 22nd June and 25th September . On each occasion you distinguished yourselves and proved yourselves second to none. I have always felt that when the Wiltshires were holding the line, that portion of the line was secure. Whilst I have been in command of of the 3rd Division no trench has ever been lost until the other day a small portion of Sanctuary Wood was lost, that solely owing to the exhaustion of the troops. Your battalion has won more honours than any other battalion in the Division- I think I am right in saying this-. Well, good-bye to you all and good luck and I hope you may some day return to the 3rd Division, though not necessarily to Hooge.”
After the speech the battalion gave three cheers for general Haldane and the 3rd Division. Medals were presented and the battalion marched away to the sound of the 3rd Division band playing “Auld Lang Syne.”
They spent the rest of the month exercising and resting at Bailleul and Papot in France.
The 2nd battalion were resting in Le Preol at the beginning of the month. On 8th October they had a last bath before marching to Annequin where they were ordered to stand to and be prepared to move at a minute’s notice as the enemy were attacking Loos and the attack appeared to be spreading northwards. But things remained quiet.
By 20th October they were in St Hilaire where they received an address from Major General H E Watts. He said that he specially wished to see th men after their very fine performance during the recent fighting, “ and especially on account of your very fine attack on the 25th. You were ordered to attack and you advanced in a very well organized formation in a straight line. There was no hesitation, there was no holding back, to see whether others were coming on or not. Every man went straight on, and were evidently determined to get there. That was the result of very good training, of very good discipline combined with a strong sense of duty and the right spirit.
“You must always remember that the only way to win is for every man to be absolutely determined to go on quite irrespective of casualties, once you begin to hesitate or look to the right and left and behind to see if others are coming on it is very unlikely that the attack will be a success.
“On the other hand as you know if you go straight on, nine times out of ten when you get up to the Bosches they surrender, or if they don’t surrender you have got the satisfaction of putting your bayonet into them or shooting them when they go away.
“Of course there will always be losses. You cannot get there without and in the recent fighting you had your full share and that added to the credit of what you did.
“I deplore the loss of many brave commanders not least amongst whom was that gallant soldier your late Comdg Officer Major Leatham. I know, and you know, how hard he worked to get the battalion into the splendid position in which it now is.
“Well I congratulate you and you must keep up that spirit. The Wiltshires, I know will go home with a reputation second to none.”
At the end of the month the battalion was in trenches at Cuinchy.
There were no casualties from our villages in October.