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Menin Gate, Ypres Menin Gate, Ypres
First Name: William John Last Name: AYTON
Date of Death: 31/10/1914 Lived/Born In: Hammersmith
Rank: Sergeant Unit: Royal West Surrey (Queens)1
Memorial Site: Menin Gate, Ypres

Current Information:

Born-St Giles

First Battle of Ypres

Between 21st October and 22nd November, 1914 a desperate fight took place around the Belgium city of Ypres, the first of three major battles that were to be fought there during the course of the war. British troops entered Ypres in October. The 1st and 2nd Divisions plus the 3rd Cavalry Division had made their way up from the Aisne as part of the “Race to the Sea”, whilst the 7th Division came west to Ypres after Antwerp had fallen. The Germans knew that Ypres was the gateway to the Channel ports and that these were vital to Britain’s war effort so they poured reinforcements into the area. The fighting fell into three distinct battles; the Battle of Langemarck, 21-24 October, the Battle of Gheluvelt, 29-31 October and the Battle of Nonne Bosschen, 11 November. Ypres did not fall to the Germans but its defence during these two months resulted in the destruction of much of the old regular British Army.

Between 29th and 31st October a massive concentration of German troops tried to break the British line around Gheluvelt at the eastern apex of the Ypres salient. 1st and 7th Divisions stood in their path. On the 29th October, after a day of intense fighting, often hand to hand, the British were pushed back to the Gheluvelt cross roads. The following day the Germans attacked Gheluvelt itself and although the village remained in British hands, German troops had some success further south at Zandvoorde and were now able to enfilade the British line. Then on 31st October came the main German attack and Gheluvelt fell. At one stage the it seemed that all was lost but a dramatic counter attack by 2nd Worcestershire, stabilised the line. However, the loss to the British army in man power had been enormous.

The Germans attacked Gheluvelt on 31st October at 6 am with no preliminary shelling and no fog to conceal them. The attack fell on 1st Division and at first was beaten off everywhere except for a small lodgement in an orchard where a platoon of 2nd King’s Royal Rifle Corps, 2 Brigade were supporting 1st Royal West Surrey (Queens), 3 Brigade However, from their foothold here the Germans could enfilade the front line of 1st Queens  and they began a systematic bombardment of 3 Brigades’ trenches whilst bringing up more men. 1st Queens  view of proceedings was restricted by trees, hedges and the lie of then land and the Germans were able to extend their line east from the orchard in front of them . To their left, 2nd Welsh retired to their support line but no word of this reached  1st Queens  and their position south of the road made it impossible to see.  Their flank was unprotected. At 10 am the Germans launched a converging attack against Gheluvelt from both south and north of the Menin road.  13 German battalions, 6 of them fresh, attacked 2nd King’s Royal Rifle Corps, 1st Royal West Surrey (Queens), 2nd Welsh, 1st South Wales Borderers and 1st Scots Guards, barely 1000 men in all.  The Germans charged cheering and singing, believing the Kaiser to be present, but British rapid fire held them up for an hour.  Weight of numbers told in the end especially when two German batteries moved up close and began firing. 1st Queens  fell back to their main trenches but soon they were being fired upon from the rear.  It was now impossible for them to fall back on the Brigade reserve because it had been driven off and Gheluvelt, either on fire or reduced to rubble, was in German hands.  1st Queens  survivors fell back to where the reserve had been but were surrounded and killed.  Only 14 escaped to rejoin 3 Brigade.  

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