"We had done all that was expected of us."

Staffordshire's Territorials and the Assault on the Hohenzollern Redoubt  13th October 1915

"I believe our division got cut up very badly" - The Aftermath

"The fighting on the 13th-14th October had not improved the general situation
in any way and had brought nothing but useless slaughter of infantry…"

Official History of the War: Military Operations in France and Flanders - 1915, Volume Two (HMSO, 1928), page 388

None of 137th Brigade's objectives had been captured, the assault having been halted almost as soon as it had begun by a combination of concentrated artillery and machine gun fire. The 138th Brigade had managed to take and secure part of the Redoubt but this limited success had been achieved at high cost. In the days following the attack, the commanding officers of the battalions and the Brigade Commanders wrote reports for Major General Montague-Stuart-Wortley, who in turn composed his own account based on his observations and those of his subordinates.

Several factors were attributed as having contributed to the failure of 137th Brigade's attack. The artillery bombardment had been too light and failed to suppress German resistance in the sector, particularly the machine gun emplacements located in the Redoubt and the ruins of Fosse 8. Although the main barrage had begun at mid-day, the heavy artillery deployed for the operation had been ordered to bombard the Corons de Pekin, Corons de Maroc, Pentagon Redoubt and the Dump for only ten minutes from 1.00 p.m. For the remaining 50 minutes prior to the attack, the heavy guns shelled communications trenches and provided counter-battery fire . Both Lieutenant Colonel Raymer of the 1/5th South Staffords and Lieutenant Colonel Law of the 1/6th South Staffords reported that machine gun fire was directed at their assembly trenches in the minutes prior to the assault, and that the fire came mainly from the Dump and the South Face of the Redoubt. In his report, Major General Montague-Stuart-Wortley wrote:

"There appears no doubt that the bombardment directed on BIG WILLIE, SOUTH FACE and DUMP trench, that is the trenches immediately in front of the right attack was not effective.

There was continual sniping of our trenches during the whole of the bombardment, and from 1.15 p.m. onwards, there were continual bursts of machine gun and rifle fire from the above- mentioned trenches and from the DUMP. On the conclusion of the bombardment the enemy so far from being shaken, got up and fired over their parapets freely, their trenches appeared strongly held."

The supply of grenades was also considered to be a significant factor in the failure to hold sections of the German line captured earlier during the attack, an assertion supported by the Official History:

"…what the British won was lost again for lack of a sufficient supply of effective hand-grenades."

The grenade was considered the best weapon to use for close-quarter fighting, particularly when attacking along trenches and in defending positions against counter-attacks. Although it had been specified that only Mills Bombs would be used by the Division's bombing parties, the supplies available were insufficient and other types were sent up to the forward troops, often without detonators. This certainly affected the 138th Brigade, which were compelled to withdraw from sections of the Redoubt that they had captured when German bombing attacks overwhelmed their defences. J. D. Hills, the author of the 1/5th Leicester's Battalion History, considered that the officer responsible for this mistake should have been shot. In the case of 137th Brigade, the bombing parties experienced shortages of grenades, but the major factors in their failure to secure the objectives were the heavy casualties suffered by the bombers and the lack of reinforcements available to consolidate the gains made in Big Willie.

Stuart-Wortley may have also reflected on whether the attack might have met with more success if his preferred choice of a sequential attack, capturing and consolidating each objective trench by trench, had been carried out. The strategy of charging across the open by short rushes in an attempt to capture objectives several hundred yards away had proved very costly.

Whatever the reasons for the failure of their attack, the Staffordshire Brigade had experienced devastating casualties during their first major action. Once the remnants of the battalions returned to their billets behind the lines, the task of compiling the casualty reports began. Company Quartermaster Sergeant Martin recorded his feelings as his battalion, the 1/6th North Staffords, paraded at Sailly Labourse for the roll to be taken:

"It was a sad duty to perform when the battalion mustered for roll-call next day and we missed the lads who had been such good comrades for many months."

The 1/6th South Staffords made the following return shortly after the action:

Roll Call 14/10/15




Other Ranks





























Regt. Sergt. Major.

The 46th Division as a whole had 180 Officers and 3,583 Other Ranks killed, wounded and missing between 13th and 15th October. The casualty figures for the units of 137th Brigade were:

Officers Other Ranks
1/5th South Staffords



1/6th South Staffords



1/5th North Staffords



1/6th North Staffords






Source: Official History of the War: Military Operations in France and Flanders - 1915, Volume Two (HMSO, 1928), p387.

The number of fatalities suffered by each battalion on the 13th October, not including those men who were killed before or after that date, or died of their wounds, were:

Officers Other Ranks
1/5th South Staffords



1/6th South Staffords



1/5th North Staffords



1/6th North Staffords






Number of fatalities as a percentage of total casualties:

Officers % Other Ranks %
1/5th South Staffords



1/6th South Staffords



1/5th North Staffords



1/6th North Staffords






Source: "Soldiers Died in the Great War" and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

The 1/5th North Staffords, which recruited from the Potteries, had suffered the heaviest casualties of all of the units in 46th Division. About 700 officers and men entered the line on the night of 12th October. Barely 200 marched out of the trenches when the battalion was relieved. The toll was also heavy among the units of the Division that recruited in Staffordshire. The 1/2nd North Midland Field Company had two sections supporting the 137th Brigade during the assault and suffered casualties of two officers and 27 other ranks killed, wounded and missing. The attack on the Hohenzollern Redoubt was to prove the bloodiest action that the Company was to experience during the entire war.

The casualties suffered by the infantry in particular were devastating to the communities from which they recruited. Across the county, from the Black Country in the south to the Potteries in the north, regardless of class and social position, families were plunged into grief. Several towns in Staffordshire had a large number of casualties as a result of the attack on the Hohenzollern Redoubt. Based on the information provided by the relevant volumes of "Soldiers Died in the Great War" and local press reports, the following towns listed suffered ten or more fatalities:

Wolverhampton 54

Burton-on-Trent 52

Walsall 33

Hanley 30

Burslem 29

Longton 25

Stoke 20

Bilston 19

Newcastle-under-Lyme 19

Stone 16

Willenhall 15

Uttoxeter 14

Wednesbury 14

Brierley Hill 13

Casualty figures alone do not convey the true cost of any battle. The full impact of the loss of so many of their comrades would take some time to hit home. Caleb Norton informed his brother of the casualties suffered by the 1/6th North Staffords:

"Our Battalion lost heavily. I was the only Sergt. that came out without a scratch. In fact all the Officers and N.C.O.'s suffered a lot. There were only three officers, with the Colonel and the Adjutant, came out of it. Sergt. Copeland, Sergt. Hair, Sergt. Cutler, Sergt. Stone were killed and others wounded - yourself, Platts, Austin, Kenney, Hammond, Watts, Shirley, Cpl. Burrows, Clements, Littleford, Cronise - I cannot remember them all. Smalner Smith has died of his wound, also Mason. You will be surprised to see the list of the lot. We had a roll call the next morning. I shall never forget it - the strengths were 'A' Company - 90, 'B' - 92, 'C' - 112, 'D' - 114."

The slow process of rebuilding the shattered battalions began within days of the Brigade's relief. Large drafts were sent from the third-line battalions based in England to replace the casualties, and several survivors were promoted to take the place of senior ranks. Among these was Sergeant Caleb Norton, who was appointed as Company Sergeant Major of "A" Company of the 1/6th North Staffords, while Major William Burnett of the 1/5th South Staffords became the commanding officer of the 1/5th North Staffords in place of Lieutenant-Colonel Knight.

In the days that followed the attack, the survivors were visited by a succession of Staff officers, offering both praise and sympathy. On 16th October, General Haig, the commander of 1st Army, visited the units of the Brigade at their billets. Major General Montague-Stuart-Wortley also called on the battalions, including the 1/6th North Staffords, which by this time had moved to Fouquerueil. Company-Quartermaster-Sergeant Martin was one of those present:

"The General Officer Commanding addressed the men, and in a few simple words expressed his appreciation of the splendid way in which every man had faced the rain of bullets and said he was very proud to be in command of such a body of men. He expressed his regret for the gallant men who had fallen, and said they must remember that it was inevitable in this war. Every man must keep smiling, as we were going to win."

The 17th October was a Sunday and units attended Church Parade, where they remembered their fallen comrades. This prompted Private Sidney Richards of the 1/5th South Staffords to make a telling entry in his pocket diary:

"17th October Church Parade. Very impressive to the few of us left."

On the same day as Private Richards attended Church Parade, Private A. G. Boulton of the 1/5th North Staffords wrote to his father in Burslem from his billet at Fouquieres. Both he and a brother, Private B. F. Boulton, had survived the battle:

"We had a scrap with the Allimans the other day, and finished up pinching a thousand yards of trenches and a famous redoubt. The price was very great. When the roll call was called it was awful, but, thank God, both Bert and myself are "in the pink". Our chaps were shot down like sheep, but on we went and hung on like glue until reinforcements arrived."

Private F. Rogers, a member of "C" Company of the 1/6th North Staffords, described how he had narrowly avoided becoming a casualty in a letter to his parents in Lichfield:

"I was very lucky, for a bullet passed through my haversack, smashing a bottle of glycerine into a hundred pieces, and then passed through my iron ration bag and then through my tin of bully beef. Another piece of shrapnel hit my water bottle. Tell them that the Lichfield lads fought with the best of game and gave the Germans a good gruelling."

Other soldiers had the difficult task of informing the families of comrades who had been killed in the attack. The writers would often soften the circumstances of the man's death in an attempt to shield the family of the brutal realities. Lieutenant Norman Smith, the Machine Gun Officer of 1/5th South Staffords, wrote to the family of Lance-Corporal Arthur Paddock in Walsall:

"The division had the honour to be in an attack, and our battalion was given a portion of the line. Your son was in command of one of the guns, and had been chosen to go forward. He was always willing and helpful, and absolutely reliable. I feel that in him I have lost one of my best men, and the section has lost a very good N.C.O.

Those of us who have been lucky enough to come through alive realise the price paid by many brave men, who had given up all to fight for their country. There is some slight comfort in the fact that death was instantaneous, your son being asleep at the time that a shell burst over him."

Private E. Martin, serving with the Signal Section of the same battalion, composed a similar letter to the family of Private Ernest Mears in Bridgtown:

"He was very popular among the chaps and everyone I am sure felt the loss of such a noble and brave comrade. He was wounded very badly whilst we were charging, and when it was a bit quiet, I did my very utmost to comfort him, but to my regret he passed away a few hours afterwards. Shortly after he was wounded, he said to me; "Goodbye Mart, you have been a good pal to me. I'm done."

The men of the Brigade who had been wounded during the assault were now being evacuated down the casualty clearing chain to hospital. The War Diary of 1/3rd North Midland Field Ambulance recorded that during the period between the 13th to the 17th October, the unit dealt with 713 casualties at the Advanced Dressing Station in Vermelles.

Private J. Harrison of the 1/5th North Staffords was one of the men treated there:

"At last I arrived at the dressing station, enjoyed some cocoa and chocolate and had my wound attended to, after which I was taken to hospital in a bus, where I partook of some hot milk and bread and butter, and slept a deep sleep until 7 a.m."

Sergeant Sydney Norton, of the 1/6th North Staffords, eventually arrived at a hospital in Devon. From there, he was able to write to his wife in Fazeley and describe how he had reached his present destination:

"I am very comfortable and being well looked after. I only wish they had put me a bit closer to home so you can come and see me but never mind, you will know I am in a safer place and in old England again.

It's a very nice place where I am. About 200 in the same ward and they are all strangers to me. I don't know any of them. It's about 14 miles to Plymouth on the sea coast. I shall be able to tell you more about it next letter.

I arrived here on Sat. night at 6. I started from a place called Bethune in France in a hospital train. It took us 26 hours to get to Le Havre. I was in a bed - nicely fitted up - but in awful pain on my back - could not move. Then I got to No. 2 General Hospital and got my wound dressed before going on the hospital ship. Then we moved on to the ship into beds all fitted up to date. Doctors coming to see us all the while and nurses galore. Then I landed at Southampton and we had to stop in the harbour all night till Sat. morning. We were put into a hospital train there. It took us 10 hours to get to this hospital so you see I had a bit of knocking about. Well, Dear, what is putting me about I can't hear no tidings of Caleb and Jack. Has Lisa heard anything? Do let me know for I think all the Tamworth lads got wounded..."

Despite their wounds, some soldiers found that the conditions in hospital were much more preferable to life in the line. Sapper George Hawkins of 1/2nd North Midland Field Company commented on this in a letter sent from Etretat in France:

"Just a few lines to let you know that I am all right, only still in hospital in a nice little town near the seaside. It is a pleasure to be away from the noise of the guns. It was terrible in that charge. I was buried twice and wounded in the shoulder. People in England do not realise what we have to go through out here."

There was also an improvement in the quality of the food, something that obviously pleased Private John Birch of the 1/5th South Staffords, who was at a hospital in Edinburgh:

"We have eggs for breakfast and chicken for dinner. What a change from bully beef and biscuits!"

Sadly, for some of the Staffords, their wounds proved to be fatal. A total of 43 officers and men serving with units recruited from Staffordshire were to succumb to their injuries at hospitals in France and England. Several men died on reaching the Advanced Dressing Station, including Private Fred Merricks of the 1/5th South Staffords, who was recorded to have died of his wounds after walking unaided to Vermelles. More soldiers died after reaching a Casualty Clearing Station further down the chain. Captain Leslie Couzens, the officer commanding "A" Company of the 1/5th South Staffords, died on the 14th October at No. 1 CCS at Chouques. A fellow officer from the battalion, Second-Lieutenant Fred Kendrick, died two days later at the West Riding CCS at Lillers. Another soldier, Private Charles Wright , of the 1/6th North Staffords, had died at the same Casualty Clearing Station the previous day. H. E. H. Shaddick, a chaplain working at there, wrote to his family in Lichfield:

"It is with sorrow that I write to you about the death of Pte. C.E. Wright, 2605, 6th North Staffs. Regt., who died of wounds received in action last night. Fortunately he was spared any length of conscious suffering. I buried him this morning in the military cemetery here, and his grave has been marked and numbered and properly inscribed and a wooden cross is being erected.

It is very sad for you, and I send you my most sincere sympathy. Let your sorrow be tempered with the thought that the service of King and Country in the cause of righteousness is the service of God. Your brave soldier has given his life in this high service. God is not unmindful of his own, may he abundantly bless and comfort you."

Private Arnold Haylett , of the 1/5th North Staffords, was also being treated for a gunshot wound in his stomach at the West Riding CCS at Lillers. After receiving treatment, he was sent to a Stationary Hospital at Boulogne. However, after a few days there his condition deteriorated and he died on 25th October. A matron at the hospital expressed her sympathy to his parents in Burslem:

"He was so good a patient, and said if anything happened to him he did not want any messages sent, only "God bless you" to his mother."

Private Arthur Birkett of the 1/5th South Staffords died at a hospital in Rouen on 24th October. The wounds that he had suffered during the attack resulted in him having a leg amputated. This news must have been devastating to his parents in Walsall as his elder brother William, a Sergeant serving with the 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers, was reported as missing following an earlier action during the Battle of Loos. Private Albert Tortoishell , another Walsall man serving with the same battalion, died a few days later at Le Treport. He had received severe head injuries during the assault and had been unconscious ever since. Private Tortoishell had already been wounded in April while his battalion was serving in the Wulverghem sector.

Private B. Clarke, serving with "C" Company of the 1/6th North Staffords also wrote to his parents, who lived at Sandford Street in Lichfield:

"Our division had a big fight, we had to take three trenches but we did not manage it. It was too much for us. We took two but it cost us something as you will see in the papers."

As the flood of letters began to reach Staffordshire from France, it became evident that the county's Territorial units had experienced shattering losses. The first reports of the attack on the Hohenzollern Redoubt appeared in the local press only eight days after the Brigade had been relieved. The "Cannock Advertiser" published news of the action on 23rd October under the headline:



On the same day, the "Staffordshire Weekly Sentinel" reported the reaction to the news in North Staffordshire:

"A profound impression has been created in North Staffordshire this week by the news of the heavy casualties among the officers and men of the 1st-5th North Staffordshire Territorial Regiment, which went into action last week in Northern France with the rest of the North Midland Division of Territorial Forces; and the whole of the county shares in both sorrow and glory on the occasion, for other regiments of the Division also shared in the success that was achieved and in the losses sustained."

As news of casualties began to filter back from France, the local newspapers started to compile the first lists of the names of the dead and wounded. The "Walsall Observer" printed an appeal to the relatives of the casualties on 23rd October:

"In several instances, however, we have been requested to refrain from publishing the names of various men who are stated to have fallen, pending more definite information. Without the co-operation of relatives, it is difficult to keep our Roll of Honour record up to date, and relatives are therefore requested to inform us as soon as possible of casualties."

All over the county, this pattern was repeated in the local press. Pages were devoted to accounts of the battle. Among the many tributes received was one written on the 16th October by Major-General E. J. Montague-Stuart-Wortley, the commander of 46th (North Midland) Division. The same letter was sent to all of the County Territorial Force Associations that administered the units under his command:

"I should be obliged if you would inform the President and members of your Association that in a recent attack on the enemy's position the North Midland Division behaved with distinguished gallantry, worthy of the best traditions of the British Army.

I trust that their example may arouse enthusiasm in their various counties and as a result of their gallant efforts may bring every able-bodied man into the ranks.

I am proud to command a division composed of officers and other ranks who, for love of King and country, have sacrificed private interests, and whose example should be widely followed by every man imbued with patriotic sentiments."

Lord Dartmouth, the Lord Lieutenant of Staffordshire and President of the County Territorial Force Association, wrote a heartfelt reply:

"The report that has reached us from the General Officer commanding the 46th (North Midland) Division, leaves none of us untouched.

As Lord Lieutenant of the County, I would ask you to convey to the officers, N.C.O.'s, and men of the Staffordshire units under your command, the thanks of the county for all they have done.

The long list of casualties has brought sorrow and mourning to many homes; indeed, the weight of mourning hangs heavy over us all today, but behind it and beyond it stands out the splendid example of courage, sacrifice, and duty, which has been described by those most capable as worthy of the best traditions of the British Army. As a county, then, while we grieve with you in your losses, we rejoice in you in having earned the highest compliments open to a British soldier.

As chairman for the County Territorial Force Association, and speaking on their behalf, as one who, through ill report and good report, has never doubted the possibilities of the Territorial Force when their opportunity came, let me say that we are proud today to find that the Force we helped to raise has more than justified our most sanguine expectations."

Civic leaders also sent letters to their local units. On receiving the first reports of the action, the Mayor of Burton-on-Trent wrote to Lieutenant-Colonel Ratcliff of the 1/6th North Staffords:

"Dear Colonel Ratcliff,

It is with mingled pride and sorrow that Burton has heard of the gallant action of the 1st-6th North, lead by yourself, took part last week.

We are proud that the battalion which, in the old volunteer days, was always well spoken of on review days, has more than maintained its reputation as a unit of the Territorial Force, and is now in this terrible struggle has shown such splendid soldierly qualities. We are grieved as the news has come through to hear of the death of some and the wounds of many more, and we would like to express the pride we feel in "our" battalion, our sympathy with the wounded, and our grief for the fallen.

If you can convey to the Burton men the hearty greetings of their fellow citizens at home I shall be grateful.

Yours very faithfully,



Colonel Ratcliff responded to the letter and paid tribute to his men:

"Dear Mr Mayor

It was a great pleasure to me to receive your letter of congratulation to the Burton men. They and indeed all the battalion were splendid, eager to face danger, and to succeed in the object set us. That we could not do all that was asked was no fault of the men or officers, who never flinched in the face of terrible fire from hidden machine-guns and rifle fire. After the first few minutes after the men had gone forward into the open, there were practically no officers left to guide them, and they suffered heavy losses. Then after the attack the acts of bravery and thoughtful help to the wounded were very many. One the bravest boys I ever saw was Drummer Clark , of Burton-on-Trent; three times he went over the parapet amidst the bullets and brought in a wounded comrade who could not crawl. The first died as he reached the trench; the second and third were saved, and Drummer Clark was wounded himself and died a few hours later in the trench. Many lying on the floor of the trench frightfully wounded only asked, "Have we been successful" The battalion certainly will be grateful to receive your kind sympathy."

Lieutenant-Colonel Robert Frederick Ratcliff (1867-1943)

Robert Ratcliff was born in Burton-on-Trent and was educated at Rossall School, before moving on to study at Cambridge University. He was appointed to a directorship at Bass, Ratcliff and Gretton brewery in October 1894, and was the Unionist Member of Parliament for Burton-on-Trent between 1900 and 1918. Ratcliff was commissioned into the 2nd Volunteer Battalion of the North Staffordshire Regiment on 19th March 1887, as a Second-Lieutenant serving with "B" Company at Burton. He was promoted to Lieutenant on 27th July 1889, to Captain on 23rd January 1892, and Major on 18th July 1900. He was appointed an Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel on 21st September 1907, the same year in which he received the Volunteer Decoration. Ratcliff succeeded Lieutenant-Colonel Lord Gretton in command of the 6th North Staffords on 18th November 1909, a post which he held until 26th October 1914. He took over command of the 1/6th North Staffords on 20th May 1915 from Lord Gretton, and remained with the battalion until 18th June 1916. When the Territorial Army was reformed in 1921, Ratcliff again assumed command of the 6th North Staffords and also joined the committee of the County Territorial Army Association. He relinquished command of the battalion in 1924, and retired from the C.T.A.A. the following year.

However, news of casualties was only reaching Staffordshire slowly, and the fate of several men was not known. Anxious families besieged the newspaper offices in an attempt to find out what had become of their loved ones. Private R. Bruce, a member of the 1/5th North Staffords, wrote a letter to his family from a hospital in Devon. In it, he tried to comfort the relatives of his comrades about whom no news had yet been received:

"In these scraps one gets so mixed up that they are sometimes missing for days, and then they turn up alive; so there is always hope until a man is officially reported dead."

A few soldiers came home on leave after the action and were questioned by relatives and friends of the missing. In the absence of official information, rumours began to circulate. Once such rumour centred on Lieutenant-Colonel John Knight. His family had received information from the War Office that he had been posted as missing after the battle, but a local soldier offered more information:

"Down to Friday, no official news had been received concerning the fate of Col. Knight, Commanding the 1st-5th North Stafford Territorials, who has not been heard of since the battle of the 13th inst., when he took his Battalion into action. There was a rumour in the Potteries this week that a soldier who had come home on leave had stated that he had seen Colonel Knight captured after being wounded, but a representative of the "Sentinel" interviewed the soldier in question, who explained he had never said anything of the kind. On the contrary, the soldier states that he saw Colonel Knight fall and that he seemed to have been shot in the side."

Other families placed appeals in their local newspaper in an attempt to find out what had happened, such as the Starkey family, who lived in Walsall:

"DRUMMER OSWALD STARKEY, of 21, Station Street, is reported by comrades to have been wounded in the head by shrapnel, but no trace of him can be found. When last seen he was making his way during the battle to a dressing station, and relatives would be grateful to any comrade who can supply them with further information concerning his whereabouts. The missing soldier, who is nineteen years of age, joined the Territorials when he was fifteen, and previous to the war was in the employ of Messrs. Beebee, of Park Street, as a currier. He served in D Company, with who he had been in France since March. A parcel sent to him since the battle has been returned."

Although accounts of the heroism abounded in the newspapers throughout Staffordshire, the deep sense of loss made people question the purpose of the attack and the results it had achieved. The "Staffordshire Advertiser" of 30th October printed an inspiring account of the attack made by the 1/5th North Staffords. The narrative concentrated on the heroic acts of several officers and men rather than dwelling on the heavy cost of the action. The final paragraph of the description of the assault made the intentions behind its publication clear:

"The reader has probably met the melancholy person, who, with lengthened visage and bated breath, whispers that he has heard on unimpeachable authority that the advance was a mistake on someone's part. Never was such a baser calumny uttered. Such a suggestion is an unspeakable lie. It needs the lie direct to be given to it. There are other rumours of a depressing character which need counteracting, and maybe the forgoing narrative will help."

It is perhaps hard to appreciate the intense sense of loss that affected Staffordshire at this time after 85 years. Councilor S. M. Slater, the newly elected Mayor of Walsall, paid tribute to the men of the town who had been killed or wounded during the attack at a council meeting held on 10th November 1915. His son, a Second Lieutenant serving with the 1/5th South Staffords, was among the wounded:

"It is fifteen months since the men of the 5th South Staffords marched away from our town into a future which must have seemed new and strange. Eight months have passed since they crossed to France and began that period of arduous and devoted service, which culminated on October 13th in one of the greatest battles of this war. These soldiers expect no compliments; they ask for no recognition. It is enough for them to have done, as they have done a thousand times over, their simple duty. But yet, assembled here at the beginning of the new year, and looking back upon one which has passed, we feel we must tell them, on our own behalf and on behalf of the town we represent, some of the thoughts which crowd in upon us.

For eight months these men have borne the burden of trench warfare under the guns of the most formidable enemy England has known, under conditions the severity of which it is impossible for us to even imagine. They have borne it with splendid courage and patient endurance. And when the supreme test, as some regard it, came, an attack across the open ground upon fortifications strengthened by science and all that human ingenuity could devise, they welcomed the order, and, in the words of their General, they behaved with distinguished gallantry worthy of the best traditions of the British Army.

They are brave men, and we knew they would be brave. They have been true to themselves, to their country, to their town, and to the proud traditions of the (South) Staffordshire Regiment. But the price, the great and terrible price had to be paid, and there are many in Walsall and the district upon whom some of this heavy burden has fallen. There are some, too, even in this Chamber, who are still bearing the burden, in some way even heavier, of doubt as to the fate of those they hold dear to them. We offer them all, on our own behalf and for the town we represent, our deepest sympathy. We share their sorrow and if it were possible we would lighten their distress.

Most of the men who have fallen were young men. They went out in the pride and vigour of life, rightly and bravely hoping that upon the open book of life they would write a pure and noble record. They have written such a record, and though it is not of life but of death, it is one which will endure. It may be that some day we shall seek to place upon the walls of this building the names of these men. If so, it can but be a symbol and a token of the deep feeling which we have in our hearts, but by this resolution we desire to tell their relatives and their friends that for us, now and always, they shall by virtue of their act of supreme self-sacrifice, stand in the ranks of the undying dead."

Two battalions, the 6th South Staffords and the 5th North Staffords, published histories shortly after the war. Lieutenant Walter Meakin, the 5th North's historian, concluded his chapter on the battle with these words:

"There has been much criticism of this attack. It is known that the bombardment had been ineffective, and the Germans had been ready with their machine guns to sweep the line of advance. The gas attack, too, had failed, and no troops could have succeeded in the task.

But there has never been a word of criticism of the behaviour of the officers and men. That was simply sublime."

The authors of the History of the 6th Battalion, The South Staffordshire Regiment made clear that the sense of disappointment and sadness was still felt by the survivors even after many of them had seen three more years of fighting:

"There was a hope, encouraged in higher quarters, that the opportunity for distinction had presented itself, and that everyone felt confident that, given a fighting chance, the Regiment and Division would prove equal to the occasion. To the lasting sorrow of those present, in the short space of ten minutes, a valuable fighting force received a blow from which it was destined to recover but slowly."

For many years afterwards, notices were posted in local newspapers on the anniversary of the attack in remembrance of those men who had been killed. This entry was printed in the "Express and Star", a newspaper published in Wolverhampton, on 13th October 1917:

HANSTOCK - In loving memory of our dear son, Lance Corporal T. Hanstock, South Staffords, presumed killed in action October 13th 1915. Fondly remembered by mother, father, sisters and brothers (serving).

No loved one stood beside him,
He gave no last farewell,
Not a word of comfort could he have,
From those who loved him well.

Three pages of that edition were filled with similar notices commemorating men from Wolverhampton and the surrounding district, most of whom had died serving with the 1/6th South Staffords. Even in 1975, on the sixtieth anniversary of the attack, the family of one Sergeant in the 1/5th North Staffords remembered his death by having a message printed in the "Sentinel".

Today, the names of the dead can be found among many others inscribed on the panels of their town memorials, recorded in books of remembrance, and on dozens of small monuments erected by firms, associations or clubs that still survive. Councilor Slater's wish for Walsall's Town Hall: "… that some day we shall seek to place upon the walls of this building the names of these men", was carried out. The Town Hall contains several commemorative plaques fixed to the walls, each one engraved with the names of the town's fallen sons, together with two striking wall paintings of episodes in which the South Staffords distinguished themselves. The county memorial, located close to Stafford Railway Station, has the names of sixteen significant battles in which men of the county took part carved into the walls in front of the main monument. The Hohenzollern Redoubt takes pride of place among them.

"The Charge of the Terrier Brigade"

13th October 1915

'Twas the Thirteenth of October
When the stirring charge was made,
On the Hohenzollern Redoubt
By the Terrier Brigade.

They had held the line in Belgium
For eight long weary months,
They had no chance to go forward
But they never faltered once.

And now the chance was given them
Each heart was filled with joy,
From the General Commanding
to the youngest Drummer Boy.

We relieved the Guards at daybreak.
They explained to us the ground,
And how the trenches before us
With machine guns did abound.

A Captain passed along the trench,
"Keep clam my lads", said he,
"And by the help of God above
We'll claim a victory".

The boys, they understood him
And all ready for the fray,
We cracked our jokes with ne'er a thought
Of the ending of the day.

At five-to-two the order came;
"Stand-To boys and get ready!"
'Tis hard this waiting for your work
But be both calm and steady.

Again the order came along,
Two minutes to go, now one.
Then over the top and at 'em boys
For God's sake do get on.

In a minute or two we found ourselves
Masters of their front line.
Then it's over and at 'em again
Go on, you're doing fine.

In No-Man's Land many a hero fell
But on, still on they came.
Our folks at home will feel proud to know
'Twas for right and an honoured name.

At last we gained the ground we wanted
But oh, what an awful loss.
Still we did our duty, the order was -
"Take and hold it, at whatever cost".

The Engineers, they did their bit
After the charge was made.
With stakes and wire they made secure
The ground that we had gained.

Game to the last, they held their ground
For two whole days, we're told.
And the Guards relieving were moved to tears
At the glorious tales we told.

The boys who are left shed silent tears
As they fight it over again.
For many a pal and brother too
Are numbered with the slain.

"Trust in God", the Chaplain said,
"And think of the badge you wear".
We did, and we thought of our wives and parents too
Whose names we proudly bear.

If only the slackers in England now
Would think of those that are gone,
And resolve to shed their own life's blood
For the sake of their dear old home.

If with one voice they'd cry, "I will!"
Then this terrible war will cease
And the world would at last be clothed
In an everlasting peace.

Sapper J. Dutton
2/1st North Midland Field Company, Royal Engineers

Poem originally printed in the "Cannock Advertiser", 27th May 1916.

The Staffordshire County War Memorial in Stafford
October, 1999

Go to the final part of the story - Cemeteries and Memorials

Click here for an email link to the author of this article, Andrew Thornton

Copyright © Andrew Thornton, January, 2000.

Return to the Hellfire Corner Contents Section