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First Name: Knox Gordon Last Name: BARRETT
Date of Death: 20/09/1917 Lived/Born In: Finchley
Rank: Lieutenant Unit: Royal Field Artillery 20th Trench Mortar Battery
Memorial Site:

Current Information:

Age-28

"Leysfield," Regent's Park Road, Finchley

Canada Farm Cemetery, Belgium

 

In 1914 the British army had no trench mortars but as the war progressed and became bogged down in the stalemate of trench warfare, the need for such a weapon, became more and more apparent. Fired from the front line they were able to deal with individual targets such as machine gun nests or sniper posts and thereby assisting the infantry going into the attack. But they were not always welcome. Many an infantryman would complain bitterly about trench mortar sections that would join them in the front line trenches, fire a salvo of mortars and then disappear back, leaving the occupants to face the inevitable enemy retaliation.

Many different models were tried until in mid 1915 the three inch Stokes mortar became standard issue and each division had three Medium Batteries attached, which had the same number as the division. There were also Light Mortars attached to Brigades and bearing the Brigade’s number.. When an attack went in it was the job of the men of the Trench Mortar Batteries to accompany the infantry forward and resume their fire from captured positions. It was dangerous work.

Third Battle of Ypres

This was a campaign fought between July and November 1917 and is often referred to as the Battle of Passchendaele, a village to the north-east of Ypres which was finally captured in November. It was an attempt by the British to break out of the Ypres salient and capture the higher ground to the south and the east from which the enemy had been able to dominate the salient. It began well but two important factors weighed against them. First was the weather. The summer of 1917 turned out to be one of the the wettest on record and soon the battlefield was reduced to a morass of mud which made progress very difficult, if not impossible in places. The second was the defensive arrangements of concrete blockhouses and machine gun posts providing inter-locking fire that the Germans had constructed and which were extremely difficult and costly to counter. For 4 months this epic struggle continued by the end of which the salient had been greatly expanded in size but the vital break out had not been achieved.

The Battle of the Menin Road. 20th-25th September, 1917

After the disappointing opening battles of the last day of July and the middle of August, when very little had been gained but at great cost in casualties, a new approach was adopted for the next offensive against the Gheluvelt plateau which began on 20th September and became known as the Battle of the Menin Road. The task was handed over to General Plumer, commander of the Second Army, a more cautious leader who, rather than try to drive as deep as possible into the German line, was an advocate of 'bite and hold' tactics with limited advances of no more than 1,500 yards, based on overwhelming firepower and exhaustive preparation. These new tactics, which were significantly aided by a period of warm, dry weather, worked well and September and early October saw a decisive phase of Third Ypres in which the British gained the upper hand. At the same time that Plumer’s Second Army were hammering away at the German defences on the Gheluvelt plateau, Fifth Army also attacked in the northern part of the Ypres salient and they too made gains.

On 20th September, 1917, 20th Division, of which 20th Trench Mortar Battery were a part, attacked on the extreme left of the eight mile front with the objective of establishing a northern flank between the Poelcappelle spur and the Ypres-Staden railway. Another of their objectives on that day was Eagle Trench, a trench that ran between two solid embankments about eight feet high. The attack was only partially successful and the enemy were left holding a portion of it and they would have to be removed if further progress was to be made. Among the casualties suffered by 20th Division on this day was Knox Barrett of 20th Trench Mortar Battery 

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