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First Name: Thomas Last Name: COLES
Date of Death: 02/08/1917 Lived/Born In: Alperton
Rank: Lance Corporal Unit: Royal Sussex13
Memorial Site:

Current Information:

7, Burns Road, Alperton

La Brique Military Cemetery No.2, Belgium

 

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 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.

On 31st July, 1917, after an opening barrage by 3,000 guns, 16 divisions attacked along the length of the salient. Those divisions in the centre of the line moved due east to the Steenbeek, a small stream, crossing the line of attack some 1,000 yards off. 39th Division attacked with 116 Brigade and 117 Brigade. 11th Sussex and 12th Sussex led the attack of 116 Brigade and both of these battalions succeeded in capturing the enemy front line and support trenches with relative ease and with minimal casualties. 14th Hampshire and 13th Sussex then passed through and went on to capture further objectives which included Alberta, a well defended stronghold where they faced for the first time the new reinforced concrete blockhouses. With the help of two tanks this was finally captured but at the cost of a number of casualties. They then moved on further and took the ruins of the village of St Julien, just the other side of the Steenbeek. At this stage 6th Cheshire and 1st Hertfordshire of 118 Brigade took up the advance but their progress was cut short by the failure of the troops on their right to match their advance and as a result their flank was exposed to enfilade fire. This was followed by a series of heavy counter-attacks which forced them and 14th Hampshire and 13th Sussex from 116 Brigade to withdraw through St Julien and back to the Steenbeek where they did their best, until they were relieved during the night of 2nd August, to consolidate a position beneath the driving rain and German shell-fire. Among the casualties sustained by 13th Sussex during this action was Thomas Coles who was killed on 2nd August.

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