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Menin Gate, Ypres Menin Gate, Ypres
First Name: Walter John Last Name: ETCHELLS
Date of Death: 07/11/1914 Lived/Born In: Woolwich
Rank: Private Unit: Royal West Surrey (Queens)2
Memorial Site: Menin Gate, Ypres

Current Information:

Born-Charlton

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.

7th November was a day of fighting all along the British line and also heavy shelling of both Ypres and Armentières. At 6.15 am, 22 Brigade of 7th Division attacked the German lines from a position , 500 yards north-east of Zwarteleen. Leading the attack was 2nd Royal West Surrey (Queens) with 1st South Staffordshire supporting on the right and 2nd Warwickshire in reserve. Under the cover of heavy mist 2nd Queens went forward in two lines, some in the open, some in woods, 150 yards off.  The firing of a gun was supposed to signal all other nearby troops to join in the counter attack , but in a battle this was probably not the wisest type of signal to use and only 1st Gloucestershire joined in.  The first German trench was occupied and three machine guns captured but enfilade fire stopped any further advance.  The Germans swept the area with all sorts of fire, many of the shells fortunately going over the heads of the British.  At 4 pm, dusk was falling,  the expected support of French troops north of the canal had not materialised, both flanks of 1st Gloucestershire were open and vulnerable, so the line was withdrawn to its starting position and 22 Brigade moved back into reserve.  The Brigade’s casualties for the day were over 300. 

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