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Menin Gate, Ypres Menin Gate, Ypres
First Name: William Archibald Last Name: SHAIL
Date of Death: 16/08/1917 Lived/Born In: Maida Vale
Rank: Second Lieutenant Unit: London1
Memorial Site: Menin Gate, Ypres

Current Information:

Age-27

17, Sedlescombe Road, Fulham

23, Lanhill Road, Maida Hill

 

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 Langemarck

This took place between 16th-18th August, 1917 and was the second general attack of 3rd Ypres. Although it did not rain during the two days of the battle itself there had been plenty of it in the preceding days and in many places the battlefield was a quagmire. On the left of the attack in the north-west of the Ypres salient there was considerable success,  especially for the French Army which attacked on the left of the British, but the attack on the Gheluvelt Plateau, due east of Ypres, met determined German resistance and the early gains were soon reversed.

On 16th August, 56th Division attacked at 4.45am on the right of the battle front, with 169 and 167 Brigades. They also had a brigade from 18th Division attached to form a southern defensive flank. 167 Brigade attacked with 8th Middlesex and 1st London. Overnight, because of the overcrowding as men made their way forward while those they relieved moved back,  the companies had had difficulty in reaching their assembly trenches in time for zero. Indeed ‘A’ Company, bringing up food and water for those making the attack, wandered far and wide and lost heavily in the process. When they finally arrived at 7.00am they were only 23 strong. Attacking in three waves at an angle across a shell torn and muddy landscape 1st London soon became merged into one wave. As they moved forward they left pockets of Germans in their rear and in some cases the ‘mopping up’ platoons missed them too and they had to face not only fire from in front but from behind as well. The state of the ground made it impossible for the advance to proceed in one long line, Areas of impassable marsh forced some to go left and others right and cohesion was lost. One party reached the northern edge of Polygon Wood but were not seen again. As enemy shelling and machine-gun fire increased, their position became untenable and late in the afternoon, 1st London, along with the other battalions of 56th Division retired to a position which gave them a gain of 400 yards. The attack had failed. None of the objectives had been realised and there had been many losses. 1st London suffered casualties of over 200, one of whom was William Shail.

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