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St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen, France St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen, France
First Name: George Last Name: DOWNES
Date of Death: 18/03/1915 Lived/Born In: Spitalfields
Rank: Private Unit: Middlesex2
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St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen, France


The Battle of Neuve-Chapelle

The Indian Army Corps and IV Corps attacked the village of Neuve-Chapelle in the Artois region of France between 10th and 13th March, 1915. During the winter of 1914-1915, reinforcements had arrived from Britain and this was seen as an opportunity to use them to break through the German lines.

It started well. At 7.30am on 10th March, a 30 minute hurricane bombardment destroyed the German wire and front line trenches and at 8.05am the infantry went in. Neuve Chapelle was captured and over a mile of the German line taken. But that was the end of the success.  The British chain of command was weak and their communications poor, which was hardly surprising given that many of the troops had no previous experience of battle. The Germans re-organised and reinforced during the night and no further gains were made. British casualties mounted to 12,000 by the time the offensive petered out on 13th March.

Although on 10th March, there had been success on the right, the British bombardment on the left, where 23 Brigade, 8th Division attacked, failed. This was largely due to the late arrival of the artillery batteries and as a result, the Germans in the line opposite 2nd Middlesex were untouched. When they went over 2nd Middlesex were met by heavy, point blank machine gun and rifle fire from their front and left flank and the three leading companies were annihilated.  At first it was thought that they had reached the German trench but when they advanced again at 11.15am the bodies of the first attackers were found lying in rows in no-man’s-land. At 10.10am, there was a very accurate and effective bombardment of the trenches in front of 2nd Middlesex and when 23 Brigade’s bombers began working north from Sign Post lane, over sixty Germans emerged from the trench and surrendered to 2nd Middlesex who were then able to advance and occupy the German trench by 11.30am.  Attention now turned to the Orchard, believed to be a German strong point.  It was bombarded for half an hour and at noon those left of 2nd Middlesex and 2nd West Yorkshire from Brigade reserve advanced to find the Orchard undefended and not even prepared for defence.  It was occupied without loss. 2nd Middlesex then proceeded to consolidated the old German front line and here they remained until they were relieved in the evening of 14th March. George Downes died from wounds on 18th March after having been sent to a base hospital in Rouen.

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