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Menin Gate, Ypres Menin Gate, Ypres
First Name: James Archibald Last Name: CHALMERS
Date of Death: 31/10/1914 Lived/Born In: Stoke Newington
Rank: Private Unit: Welsh2
Memorial Site: Menin Gate, Ypres

Current Information:

Born-London

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 had been enormous.

On 29th  October 2nd Welch, 3 Brigade, 1st Division, had been involved in the defence of Gheluvelt  and had joined in the counter attack launched in the afternoon which recovered some, but not all of the territory lost. The next day, 30th October, 2nd Welch were digging in whilst German shells burst all around them.

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 where 3 Brigade, supported by of 2 Brigade covered Gheluvelt.  2nd Welch were 400 yards east of the church, holding a line of 300 yards at right angles to the Menin road with just one platoon south of it.  To their right was 1st Queens (Royal West Surrey)  The first attack was beaten off everywhere except for a small lodgement in an orchard which allowed the Germans to enfilade the front line of 1st Queens. They began a systematic bombardment of 3 Brigades’ trenches whilst bringing up more men. By 9.30 am the right half of 2nd Welch had been blown out of their trenches. They retired to their support line which was no more than a sunken road and even more exposed so they pulled back again, through Gheluvelt and rallied, about 100 men, behind the left of the battalion, still in position.  Others of 2nd Welch got lost and joined the reserve battalion. 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. After an hour the British defences were overwhelmed.  At 11.15 am, “B” Company was surrounded and attacked, with machine guns opening up on them from a hill in their rear. They fought to the end by which time there were 37 men left alive to surrender out of 130. By now the remainder of 2nd Welch were well and truly scattered. 

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