Oldham Historical Research Group

1914 - 1918

Guardsman 21718,
Service No. 385
No. 2 Company
Killed in Action 31st July 1917

3rd Battle of Ypres
With many page transcriptions from 'The Grenadier Guards in the Great War of 1914-1918' by Sir Frederick Ponsonby, to recount the actual organisation & battles in which the Grenadiers, in particular the 4th Battalion, took part.
Pub. 1920 in 3 Volumes, .
from Volume 1

Part 3 ... Narrative Parts Index
The 4th battalion, in the 3rd Brigade of the Guards, would take part in the task of attacking Hill 70; achieving their aim, but then only to be driven back again as they reached the crest of the hill, in pouring rain, and came under murderous machine-gun fire. Almost 350 men in the 4th Battalion were either killed or wounded in this, their first battle.

At this stage Edward Garside Whitehead was still in England, with the Reserve Battalion and so was not caught up in the Battle of Loos

transcripts :

4th Battn.
p. 307 - 308

THE 4th BATTALION   [Battle of Loos]

The 3rd Guards Brigade, under Brigadier-General Heyworth, marched via Lambres, Liéres, and Marles-les-Mines to Haillicourt, where it arrived on Sunday morning the 26th. At Marles-les-Mines it had to halt for six hours to allow a cavalry corps to pass, and as the men never knew when their turn would come to advance, they had to sit down on a muddy road and wait. The battalions were crowded into billets for a short time at Haillicourt, where the violent bombardment of the French attack at Souchez could be distinctly heard. In the afternoon the Brigade moved off, and marched to Vermelles, where it remained for the night.

The officers of the 4th Battalion Grenadier Guards were :
Lieut.-Colonel G.C. Hamilton, D.S.O. ... Commanding Officer.
Major the Hon. C.M.B. Ponsonby, M.V.O. ... Second in Command.
Capt. T.F.J.N. Thorne ... Adjutant.
Lieut. M.G. Williams ... Machine-gun Officer.
Lieut. C.E.M. Ellison ... Machine-gun Officer.
2nd Lieut. E. Ludlow ... Quarterrnaster.
Capt. J.A. Morrison ... No. 1 Company.
Lieut. G. E. Shelley ... No. 1 Company.
2nd Lieut. G.A. Ponsonby ... No. 1 Company.
Captain Sir G. Houstoun-Boswall, Bart. ... No. 2 Company.
Lieut. E. F. Penn ... No. 2 Company.
Lieut. P. Malcolm ... No. 2 Company.
I Capt. E. D. Ridley ... No. 3 Company.
2nd Lieut. M. A. T. Ridley ... No. 3 Company.
2nd Lieut. A. H. Tompson... No. 3 Company.
Capt. H. L. Aubrey Fletcher, M.V.O. No. 41 Company.
Lieut. E. R. D. Hoare ... No. 41 Company.
2nd Lieut. B. C. Layton ... No. 41 Company.
2nd Lieut. M. H. Macmillan ... No. 41 Company.
Lieut. E. Brunton, R.A.M.C. ... Medical Oflicer.
Lieutenant Blundell, Lieutenant Britten, Lieutenant R. Leigh Pemberton, and Lieutenant Tennant were left at Vermelles with the transport.

On the 27th Brigadier- General Heyworth received orders to attack Hill 70. The movements of the 3rd Guards Brigade more or less depended on the success of the 2nd Brigade. Originally it had been decided not to go through Loos, but to leave it on the right and to rendezvous close in rear of the Loos-Hulluch road, but these orders were afterwards cancelled.

Lieutenant-Colonel Hamilton explained to the company officers the general plan of attack, with some more detailed particulars about the part the 4th Battalion was to play, but on being ordered at once to accompany General Heyworth, who was going into Loos, he handed the command of the Battalion to Major Ponsonby, and told him to bring it to a position of deployment in Loos, where he himself would meet them. At the same time Captain Aubrey Fletcher was sent forward to reconnoitre the best route into Loos, and Lieutenant Blundell was ordered to bring
up the Brigade S.A.A. and tool limbers to Fort Galatz.

4th Battn.
p. 309
At 2.30 the 4th Battalion moved off in fours down the Vermelles - Douai road, with No. 1 Company, under Captain Morrison, leading, and on reaching the top of the ridge assumed artillery formation. The order of march was: 45th Battalion Grenadiers, Welsh Guards, 2nd Battalion Scots Guards, and lst Battalion Grenadiers. For one and a half miles, under heavy artillery fire - not shrapnel, but percussion H.E. - and in full view of the Germans, the 3rd Guards Brigade advanced in artillery formation. Perfect order was maintained in spite of the shells, which burst all round, and there was not a man out of his place. Nothing more splendid has ever been recorded in the annals of the Guards than the manner in which every battalion in the Brigade faced this trying ordeal. The 4th Battalion Grenadiers was all the time under machine-gun fire from the right, and during this stage of the attack Lieutenant Hoare was wounded.

On nearing Loos the 4th Battalion Grenadiers was ordered to double down the slope and get into a trench which ran through some ruined houses. The German artillery was now directing its attention to Loos, and using a great many gas shells. Major Ponsonby, guided by Captain Aubrey Fletcher, led the Battalion down an old German communication trench immediately north of Fort Galatz. It had already gone some distance along the trench when General Heyworth arrived at full gallop down the road, and ordered Captain Ridley and the men in rear of him who had not yet entered the communication trench to follow him at once. It would seem that

4th Battn.

p. 310
the Battalion had either advanced too far or was going in the wrong direction. In any case from that moment it was divided into two parts.

Captain E. Ridley took with him Nos. 6, 7, and 8 platoons from No. 2 Company under Captain Sir George Houstoun-Boswall, No. 10 platoon from No. 3 Company under Lieutenant M. Ridley, with a few men from No. 4 Company, and worked down a trench towards the outskirts of Loos. Here they were again met by General Heyworth, who told them to go through the town and await Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton. Passing through the ruins at a rapid pace, Captain Ridley and his party reached the corner of the church which was being heavily shelled. The noise was deafening; shells were bursting in every direction and houses were falling in. The enemy's snipers were shooting at every place which might shelter a man. Through this hideous pandemonium the platoons came, not yet taking any part in the battle, but simply on their way to the place from which the attack was to start.

It was then found that Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton had been gassed and so placed hors de combat. Captain E. Ridley was told to take his platoons to the south-east corner of the town, but at that moment Major Ponsonby, accompanied by the Adjutant, Captain Thorne, and also Captain Fletcher, arrived and guided them to their destination. Major Ponsonby had been hastily sent for and told by the Brigadier to take command of the Battalion in Colonel Hamilton's place. Finding the Battalion split in two, he at once sent back for what really was the main

4th Battn.
p. 311
portion, but the orderly who took the message was killed, and the order never reached Captain Morrison. Meanwhile the men were placed in a shallow trench just outside the town and facing Hill 70.

Here they were joined by Lieutenant M. Williams and Second Lieutenant Ellison with the machine- guns, who had made their way across country while the limbers went by road. Corporal C. Gould, who brought up the limbers under continual shell-fire, met on the way a runaway horse racing down the road at full gallop with a bomber's wagon behind him, fully loaded with bombs. The driver had been killed, and the horse, terrified by the shells, was making for home. Corporal Gould succeeded in stopping the horse, and put one of his men on the wagon. On arrival at Loos the machine-guns were carried on by hand.

The Welsh Guards now came up under Lieut.-Colonel Murray Threipland, who said that General Heyworth wished the attack to begin at once. Major Ponsonby, however, realised that to attempt an attack with the small force at his disposal was merely to court failure, and sent back word to General Heyworth stating what had happened to his battalion, and adding that he hardly considered the few platoons under his command sufficient to carry out the attack with any prospect of success. Messages, however, take some time to deliver, and every moment might be precious. He therefore consulted Colonel Murray Threipland, who undertook the attack,giving him instructions to join in on the left.

4th Battn.
p. 312
The firing line was composed of the Prince of Wales's Company of the Welsh Guards on the right, and Nos. 6 and 7 platoons of the 4th Battalion Grenadiers, under Sir George Houstoun-Boswall, on the left. Nos. 2 and 3 Companies of the Welsh Guards and Nos. 8 and 10 platoons of the Grenadiers were in support, while Colonel Murray Threipland kept his 4th Company as a reserve, and to it were added the remaining Grenadiers, including the men of the Battalion Headquarters. As soon as the men were formed up Major Ponsonby decided to take command himself, and sent Captain Ridley back to find the remainder of the Battalion.

Colonel Murray Threipland sent a message to General Heyworth to warn him that the attack had been launched, but the news had just arrived that the 2nd Guards Brigade had been unable to retain their hold on Puits 14. At this General Heyworth appears at first to have contemplated cancelling the attack, but on receiving orders from Lord Cavan to relieve the pressure on the 2nd Brigade by launching the attack on Hill 70, he destroyed the cancelling order.

So the attack started. Steadily the 4th Battalion Grenadiers and lst Battalion Welsh Guards advanced towards Hill 70. At first they met nothing but rifle-fire, but on reaching the crest of the hill they were greeted by a murderous machine-gun fire, which caused great havoc among the front line. Staggered for a moment, the men hesitated, but Major Ponsonby urged them on, and they got to within twenty-five yards of the German trenches. There had

4th Battn.
p. 313
been no attempt at any surprise in this attack, ·which was not supported by artillery, although the cavalry machine-guns rendered all assistance they could. The enemy's machine-guns were cleverly placed and were most effective, especially in the neighbourhood of Puits 14 bis, which was now again in the hands of the Germans.

Explicit orders had been given by General Heyworth to the commanding officers on no account to advance over the crest of the hill; when a line on the reverse slope of the hill had been occupied it was to be consolidated. Owing to Lieut.-Colonel Hamilton having been gassed, the Grenadiers knew nothing of this order, and pushed on, while the Welsh Guards remained just under the crest of the hill. But the Grenadiers' position was quite untenable on account of the machine-guns which were enfilading them, and they withdrew to behind the crest.

Darkness now came down, and the exact position of the front line was not clear to those in rear. It was known that Hill 70 had been taken, and that somewhere on this hill were the Welsh Guards and a portion of the Grenadiers, with isolated parties in front of them. The 2nd Battalion Scots Guards, under Colonel Cator, was being sent up to relieve the front line, while the 1st Battalion Grenadiers remained in reserve in Loos.

During the last part of the advance Major Myles Ponsonby was hit while advancing with his men. Captain Thorne, the Adjutant, remained with him, although they were only twenty-five yards from the Germans, tied up his wounds, and

4th Battn.
p. 314
seeing how badly he was wounded, gave him morphia tablets. Early next morning Major Ponsonby died. No more glorious end could have been than his. He died, as Lord Cavan afterwards put it in a private letter, a great and lionhearted Grenadier fighting to the last, within a few yards of the Germans.

Captain Thorne was himself wounded in the head, and after leaving Major Ponsonby he tried to get back when it was dark. On the way he came upon two drummers who had been acting as orderlies; one had been killed and the other wounded through the leg. Knowing that if he left the boy where he was, he would probably be killed, he determined to carry him back. He put him on his shoulders and started off, but must have made some noise, for the Germans at once put up a flare and fired at him with machine-guns. He fell forward at once with the drummer - both killed.

Captain Sir George Houstoun-Boswall, who was ·in command of the first line of Grenadiers during this attack, behaved with great gallantry, and was killed as they were nearing the German trenches. Captain Fletcher was badly wounded earlier in the attack, as was Lieutenant M. Ridley: thus all the officers who took part in the attack were either killed or wounded.

When the attack started Lieutenant Mervyn Williams was ordered by Major Ponsonby to follow with his machine-guns in case of a counter-attack, and to leave Lieutenant Ellison behind in Loos with the reserve guns. The machine-gun party therefore followed on till it got to the

4th Battn.
p. 315
top of Hill 70, where a large number of Grenadiers who had been killed were found. Crawling on, the men suddenly realised that they had gone too far and that there were Germans firing behind them, so they wheeled round, and came across Captain W. Berkley with some Welsh Guards and a small number of Grenadiers under Lieutenant M. Ridley, who was badly wounded. The fire was very heavy and there seemed no prospect of being able to advance. Uncertain where the remainder of the force was, the party hesitated to fire for fear of killing its own men. It was pouring with rain, and as darkness came on Lieutenant Williams decided to dig in where he was on Hill 70.

It is necessary now to return and follow the movements of the other half of the Battalion. It was moving down the German communication trench quite unconscious that General Heyworth had diverted the two last companies to Loos. When Captain Morrison arrived at the spot appointed as a rendezvous, he waited. The attack had clearly begun, as the shelling was very violent, but no orders of any sort came to him, nor did he know what had become of Major Ponsonby, Captain'Fletcher, and Captain Thorne, any one of whom might have been able to explain to him the situation. He accordingly sent off an orderly to the Brigade Headquarters asking for instructions. But it was far from easy to find the Brigadier in the middle of a battle, and as the first orderly did not return he sent a second, and repeated this process until four
orderlies had gone. He had with him No. 1

4th Battn.
p. 316
Company (his own), one platoon of No. 2 Company under Lieutenant Penn, two platoons of No. 3 Company under Lieutenant Tompson, and the greater part of No. 4 Company under Second Lieutenant Layton and Second Lieutenant Macmillan.

As no orders came, he formed up the men and determined to take part in the fighting. He had been told that the 3rd Guards Brigade were to attack Hill 70, and that the 4th Battalion Grenadiers were to form part of the attacking force. It was clearly wrong, therefore, for these companies to be doing nothing. But he could see no sign of the rest of his battalion, and efforts to obtain instructions had proved fruitless. At this moment he observed the 2nd Brigade attacking Puits 14, and thereupon decided to take on himself the responsibility of joining in, feeling sure that if he was wanted by the 3rd Brigade to attack Hill 70 he would be in the best position to assist them: rather than remain inactive he thought it best to throw his forces in anywhere.

Captain Morrison's men now extended for attack, and came up on the right of the 1st Battalion Scots Guards just as they were attacking Puits 14. The ground in this part of the line was being fiercely contested, and they found themselves under very severe machine-gun fire. When the Scots Guards retired from Puits 14, this portion of the 4th Battalion Grenadiers found themselves completely isolated. They lay down where they were under heavy fire, and when it was realised that the 2nd Guards Brigade

4th Battn.
p. 317
could make no farther advance, Captain Morrison gave his men orders to crawl back and dig themselves in on the Hulluch - Loos road. During this movement Second Lieutenant Macmillan was wounded in the head. Captain Morrison then went back and reported his position to General Heyworth, who told him to go up with the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards, under Colonel Cator, and dig in a line on Hill 70.

That evening the 2nd Battalion Scots Guards was sent up to relieve the 4th Battalion Grenadiers, but fifty men of No. 3 Company, who had originally formed part of the attacking force and were now without an oflicer, finding how thinly this line was held, insisted on staying where they were in order to strengthen the line.

Early in the morning the 4th Battalion went to the Loos - Hulluch road, and remained there till the night of the 29th, but it was found that there were still the fifty men of the Battalion already mentioned on Hill 70, in addition to some thirty who had joined the 3rd Battalion in the 2nd Brigade. The machine-gun section, under Lieutenant Williams, also remained out on Hill 70, hoping that the attack would be renewed, when it could join in. Some Engineers had got out to them and erected barbed-wire entanglements partially across their front. Wounded men were continually crawling back to this little oasis in the desert of shell-holes. Painfully and slowly, inch by inch, these maimed men would arrive, often being sniped by the enemy. It was such an exposed spot that,

4th Battn.
p. 318 - 319
beyond helping them into the shallow trench, the men in this party could do little.

About 8.30 that night Lieutenant Williams saw a party of Germans crawl out and advance toward some of our wounded who were unable to move. They appeared to be quite unaware of the handful of men in this trench. Feeling sure they intended to take the wounded prisoners, when their injuries would, no doubt, be dressed, he gave orders that no one was to fire. The Germans crept on slowly, but on reaching the wounded, to Lieutenant Williams' horror, they proceeded to bayonet them. It was hardly necessary for Lieutenant Williams to give the order to fire, as the men with the machine-guns had seen this dastardly act, and the two machine-guns soon wiped out the whole party of Germans. Our wounded men were finally rescued by the Scots Guards when they came up, and Lieutenant Williams retired with the machine-guns to Loos.

Meanwhile, Captain Morrison had succeeded in collecting the men who had been scattered in various parts of the line. They had all joined in the attack somewhere, although they received no instructions to do so. That night the Battalion marched back to Vermelles, and went into billets.

The casualties among the officers were : Lieut.-Colonel G. Hamilton and Lieutenant Shelley, gassed; Major the Hon. M. Ponsonby, Captain Thorne, Captain Sir George Houstoun-Boswall, Second Lieutenant A. Tompson, killed; Captain Aubrey Fletcher, Lieutenant P. Malcolm, Second Lieutenant M. Ridley, Lieutenant E. R. D. Hoare, Second Lieutenant Macmillan, wounded. The total casualties in other ranks amounted to 342.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Next part

Edward Garside Whitehead
* Edward & family
Part 1
* Edward enlists in Jan.1915;
* formation of the 4th Battn.
* Guards Division in 1915.
Part 2
* Battle of Loos, Sept.1915 -
* the Guards Division
at Loos.
This Part
* Battle of Loos, Sept.1915
* The 4th Battn at Loos.
Part 4
Edward lands in France Oct.

* Diary of the War-
Oct., Nov., Dec., 1915;
* 4th Battn. Oct - Dec
Part 5
Edward transfers to
Machine-Gun Guards

* Diary of the War -
Jan - Sept. 1916;
* 4th Battn. Jan - Apr. 1916
Part 6
* 4th Battn. Apr - Jul.1916
Part 7
* The Guards Divison
at the Somme;
* Division Orders
Part 8
* The 4th Battn. at
The Battle of the Somme
Part 9
* Diary of the War -
Oct to Dec 1916:
* 4th Battn - Oct - Nov 1916;
* Diary of the War -
Jan - Mar 1917;
* 4th Battn. Jan - Mar 1917
Part 10
* Diary of the War -
April - July 1917;
* 4th Battn. Apr - July 1917
Part 11
* The Guards Division. -
Battle of Boesinghe
31 July 1917
Part 12
* Edward Killed in action in
Battle of Boesinghe

31 July 1917
*3rd Battalion - Boesinghe
1st battalion - Boesinghe
4th battalion - Boesinghe

Part 13
* 2nd Battalion - Boesinghe
* Diary of War - Aug -Sept.
* 1st Battn. Aug - Sept.
* Guards Divison - Oct. 1917
Crossing the Broembeek
* Diary of War - Oct - Dec.


* Gallery
of pictures & Maps
War Diaries - Extracts
*4th Battalion M-G Guards
'The Grenadier Guards in the Great War of 1914-1918' by Sir Frederick Ponsonby
Pub. 1920 in 3 Volumes, is freely downloadable as .pdf files or can be read on-line.
Vol 1 HERE
Vol 2 HERE
Vol 3 HERE

Contributed by Sheila Goodyear

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