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Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium
First Name: William George Last Name: CHARLES
Date of Death: 26/10/1917 Lived/Born In: Kensal Rise
Rank: Private Unit: London2/3
Memorial Site: Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium

Current Information:

Age-19

68, Leighton Gardens, Kensal Rise

 

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 four 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 Second Battle of Passchendaele.  26 October, 1917–10th November, 1917

Although all the fighting during Third Ypres is often referred to as the Battle of Passchendaele, that name officially belongs to two battles fought late in the campaign. The second of these, the final battle of the campaign,  was fought between 26th October and 10th November, 1917, when Canadian and British troops of Second Army attacked the Passchendaele ridge, capture of which would have given them sight of the important railway junction at Roulers, a vital part of the German supply network. At the same time, units from Fifth Army attacked further north. The battle was a success inasmuch as the high ground along the Passchendaele-Westrozebeke ridge ended up in British hands but once again the casualty rate was very high. At this stage and much to Field Marshall Haig’s chagrin, some British divisions were withdrawn from Flanders and sent to Italy to assist the Italian Army after their defeat at the Battle of Caporetto, while others were removed to take part in the forthcoming offensive at Cambrai. As a result of this the whole campaign of 3rd Ypres was terminated.

At 5.40am on 26th October, 1917, 173 Brigade of 58th Division attacked as part of Fifth Army, from a position just east of Poelcapelle, with 2/3rd London on the left and 2/2nd London on the right. 2/4th London were in support and 2/1st London in reserve. The rain had returned and once again the ground conditions were very bad. The mud impeded progress and in many cases the men were unable to keep up with the protective artillery barrage which left them exposed to machine-gun and rifle fire. Three minutes after zero, the enemy artillery opened up, causing more problems for the assaulting troops and it soon became evident that they were not going to reach their objectives. Still they inched forward as best they could. Some men, either wounded or not, fell into rain-filled shell holes and drowned there. 2/2nd London made it as far as Cameron House where they captured three enemy strongholds, but could proceed no further. Meanwhile 2/3rd London had reached Spider crossroads on the road leading to Spriet, but exhausted and facing heavy machine-gun fire, were unable to continue the attack. At 10am the Germans launched a determined counter attack and all units were driven back to their starting line. 2/4th London moved forward and managed to hold the enemy advance and even force them to fall back themselves and along with some of 2/1st London, who moved up from reserve, managed to consolidate and hold this new defensive line. Not only had the attack by 173 Brigade completely failed, it had also cost the lives of hundreds of men, one of whom was William Charles.

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