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First Name: William Elliott Last Name: WHITAKER
Date of Death: 25/09/1915 Lived/Born In: Dartmouth Park
Rank: Private Unit: Middlesex1
Memorial Site:

Current Information:

Age-20

 

18 Balmore Street, Dartmouth Park Hill

 

Cambrin Churchyard, France

 

 The Battle of Loos, fought by the British Army from 25th September, 1915 through to 13th October was conducted along a six-and-a-half-mile front running north from the mining village of Loos on the outskirts of Lens in Northern France. It was the largest offensive carried out by the British so far in the war. The opening day involved an attack by six divisions, with others entering the fray as it progressed and it was part of a much wider offensive with the French launching their own attacks in Champagne and at Vimy. It was the first time that the British used gas during the war, despite their condemnation of the Germans for doing the same in April 1915. There were some encouraging results on the first day but no major breakthrough was achieved and in the successive days the offensive became mired in trench warfare. By mid-October the battle had petered out with the British having suffered over 60,000 casualties during its course.

On 25 September, 1915  2nd Division attacked, with all three brigades, on a 3500 yard frontage astride the La Bassee canal with the task of forming a defensive flank facing north-east.  19 Brigade and  6 Brigade attacked between the Vermelles -La Bassee railway and the canal. Their objective was to advance through Auchy and the Railway Triangle to the railway line between Haisnes and the canal and convert Canal Alley into a fire trench.  No-man’s-land was less than 100 yards wide and contained a number of mine craters.  Vesuvius and Etna, the two largest, had 8 feet high lips, concealing large parts of opposing lines from each other.  The Germans had more men here than anywhere else and they had converted their support trench into their main fire trench and evacuated their front trench after levelling the parapet.  This gave them a number of advantages. Firstly they had more time to man the defences by adding 100 yards to no-man’s-land, secondly a better field of fire and thirdly an escape from the worst of the bombardment.  The brick stacks to the south of the canal concealed concrete machine gun nests with shell proof dug-outs beneath them.  To add to their woes of the British, the gas did not do its job on this section of the line.  It blew back over the British lines causing many casualties.

19 Brigade attacked on the right with 1st Middlesex and 2nd Argylle and Sutherland Highlanders.  Two mines were exploded 10 minutes before zero which alerted the Germans and left only narrow gaps through which to advance, making easy targets.  Some Germans actually stood on the parapet to take advantage.  They went over the top in splendid order but handicapped both in sight and sound by their gas helmets. The German machine guns were set low in the parapet so many men were hit in the ankles and legs.  Both battalions came to a halt in front of the uncut wire where the one gap in it had been repaired overnight.  Needless to say, heavy casualties were incurred. Half of 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers were sent up to support 1st Middlesex but suffered similarly.  At 9am the attack was called off.  Those troops that could returned to their original trenches but the ground was too exposed for 1st Middlesex to retire  so they had to dig in and remain until dark.  The casualties for 1st Middlesex  on this day amounted to over 450.

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