LOO’s -Kent’s First day of the Somme
I can see you all sitting there scratching your heads over the title. What’s the silly sod writing I hear you cry. Simple says I. I’m just correcting an injustice that has been perpetuated down the years. It is a generally held belief that the Kitchener New Army made it’s debut and was wiped out on the first day of the Somme. On that day it was only the North that suffered with telegram boy’s working there way up and down the streets of back to back houses. That is true. But the South didn’t get it that easy. Our New Army divisions were wiped out at Loo’s -a good 7 months earlier, with casualty figures that rivalled the worst of the first day of the Somme. In this rural part of the world telegram boys didn’t go up streets, they cycled into little farming communities delivering two or three letters, in terms of proportion to these rural communities it was every bit a disaster. It never ceases to amaze me that these pathetically small hamlets have memorials with lists and lists of names on it. – Yes the Souths Kitchener Armies suffered but in a much earlier battle. The same could apply to the Scot’s, who’s Kitchener battalions were also wiped out at Loos. Hence my feeling of injustice, it happened to us too, only much earlier.
I will concentrate on the East Kent Regiment. There were initially three kitchener battalions, the 6th went into the 12th Division, the 7th in to the 18th Division and the 8th which went into the 24th Division. The 18th Division was not committed at Loo’s, it was allowed to train under Ivor Maxse and was first committed on 1st July 1916 after a year in France, this became a brilliant division, ?? how much of it was due to the fact that they were not wiped out within months of arrival in France and were allowed to train. The 12th and 24th Divisions were committed to the offensive at Loo’s and with it the 2 battalions of the Buff’s, the Kent connection continues as with them there was a battalion of the West Kents who’s fate was identical. Let’s look at the story of the two units.
8th Battalion East Kent Regt.
The Battalion arrived in France on 1st September 1915. After 2 days in Boulogne they went to Etaples for Divisional training and from there on the 21st September to the Concentration area for the battle of Loo’s. They marched to Bethune on the 25th September and were told to move to Vermelles for an attack that night. This attack was posponed. They were to attack the following morning.
The attack began at 10:30 the following morning. The unit had only been in France for three weeks, hadn’t done it’s appenticeship in the trenches as was customary plus had marched hard to get to the start point without rations. The Buffs attacked an objective at Hulluch, they had to cross a stretch of no mans land a mile wide. The brigade and the Buffs reached their objective despite being badly machine gunned to find intact wire in front of it. The fight was conducted from in front of the German wire. The Division to the right withdrew leaving the right flank open with machine gun fire comming through it. The Germans started shelling. the Buffs withstood this for 4 hours before withdrawing taking casualties as they withdrew. The Buffs were relieved that night and went back to Noeux les mines.The casualties were staggering, only one officer was left alive to bring them out, the casualty figures were 24 officers and 610 other ranks- more than the Buffs suffered at Albuera. It was a similar story with the West Kents, Queens, and East Surreys. The battalion was virtually non existant within three weeks of landing in France. The Division, the 24th never recovered, and had to have a regular brigade attached to it to stiffen it up. The truth is it never learnt to fight first, it never saw a trench until the attack.
My point was that this was the souths “Somme”. If the casualties of the 8th Buffs occured on 1st July 1916, they would have been 2nd in the casualty table for most casualties sustained. Perhaps you will see now my feeling of injustice
6th Battalion East Kent Regiment.
The 6th Buffs came out much earlier on the 1st June 1915, they had been in trench duty at Plugstreet before being bought down for LOO’s. They at least had seen a trench before, but still had only 3 months experience to draw on- pitifully little. The 6th Buffs were to be committed on October 13th, also at Hulluch, a cruel coincidence that they would be clambering over the bodies of men of a sister battalion. Their objective was the quarries. The attack was to be made with the aid of gas and artillery and was to take place at mid day. The attack went in with the Buffs crossed no mans land to find the wire uncut. The battalion could make no headway and was machine gunned before withdrawing. Ten of the 13 officers who took part were killed, 450 other ranks were also casualties that day. The battalion had suffered many casualties before Loo’s was now a shadow of it’s former self and was re directed to work with the Royal Engineers as a fatigue party afterwards until it could be bought up to strength.
Again compare these casualty figures with those of the 1st July, these again would be in the top half.
So the object of this minor work was to raise the awareness of what happened earlier in the war to other Kitchener units, I hope this has acheived my goal.