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3rd Middlesex trenches St Eloi - please help


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Me again, I'm afraid. I am trying to locate the trenches used by the 3rd Middlesex from 7th-17th of February 1915 near St Elois. They relieved the 2nd Kings Own and were themselves relieved by the Suffolks. The trenches occupied were M, N, O and P. From reading a book called Mud and Khaki, by H. S. Clapham of the HAC, I gather that P trench was in the vivinity of Shelly Farm and The Mound. However I'm not sure which way the trenches ran, either to the north-east or south-west. I have a trench map of the St Eloi area but the numbers aren't on the map. Can anyone help please?

Thanks again in advance.

Pete Joseph

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The trenches were on map 28SW2 Feb 1915

Squares

M.....O3/O4

N.....O3/O4

O....O3b

P.....O3b/O4a

According to McMasters

They do not appear on the T&A British Trench Map DVD

Hope this helps

Eddie

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Eddie,

Just to check, this means that P trench was between Triangular Wood and the canal?

Pete

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Yes, M,N,O,P would have been in a NE/NW orientation from Shelley farm through Square Wood then Triangular Wood and to the canal.

If it is of any help the earliest map I have (July 17) shows the German Lines, pm me if you require a copy

Eddie

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Pete,

Interesting to see this particular thread as I had a great uncle in the 3rd Middlesex who was killed in the fighting on 15th February 1915 -- there was quite a detailed report at Brigade level following the loss of O & P trenches.

The attached sketch (from the National Archives) was made by the officer commanding the 2nd Buffs who tried to retake the lost trenches during the following night.

Happy New Year!

S.

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Many thanks. One of my great uncles was one of the MIAs from that period and I'm beginning to wonder if he was caught up in the fighting around the lost trenches. Incidentally, I've had trouble reconciling the losses in the Battalion war diary with those admitted by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The war diary gives a total of 5 officers killed and 5 wounded and 60 ORs killed, 117 ORs wounded and 156 ORs missing for the period 5-15 February. Going through the search facility on the CWGC website I got a total of 102 dead; of these 5 are in cemetaries, the rest on the Menin Gate. I have the list on a spreadsheet if it's of any use.

Pete

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Sorry, I also meant to ask, do you have a reference for the report at Brigade? I gather that 28th Briagde was under the direction of General Thomas D'Oyly Snow, great-grandfather of a certain TV historian.

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Sorry, I also meant to ask, do you have a reference for the report at Brigade? I gather that 28th Briagde was under the direction of General Thomas D'Oyly Snow, great-grandfather of a certain TV historian.

Pete,

I will try to take a look through my files tomorrow -- I may have something. Out of interest, do you have any information regarding the specific company of your great uncle? It's a bit of a long shot but you never know...

My great great uncle was also an MIA; according to his service record (which fortunately has survived -- barely) his death was not confirmed by the Army Council until 1st July 1916.

S.

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I've no idea I'm afraid. The list I got from the CWGC for the action gives the Companies for six men only, though one of these is 'G', which I suspect must be an error. I've been through a lot of the 1911 census for the 3rd Battalion and the Companies aren't given there either. I presume any records were destroyed during WW2.

Actually, looking at the record it says killed in action 18-15.2.1915, presumptive date of death 15.2.1915. I presume that he was seen to die as the official notification was quite soon after the event, July 1915.

Pete

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Pete,

The 85th Infantry Brigade Headquarters war diary reference is WO 95/2278, but I don’t yet know if it is currently available on line. When I last referred to the file back in August it was supposedly not available as they were in the process of digitising it, but even so they let me examine it in their invigilation room (provided that I promised not to fiddle around with the order of the papers) and as a result I was able to photograph a few of the handwritten reports of the officers involved, including the attached photograph of the new trench that was being constructed when the Germans attacked on the morning of 14th February.

This is the National Archives link for the file: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/catalogue/displaycataloguedetails.asp?CATLN=6&CATID=5636612&SearchInit=4&SearchType=6&CATREF=WO+95%2F2278

As it happens this action has put me on a bit of a collision course with the CWGC/MoD. The information that I have from their database (at least, my interpretation of it :whistle:) seems to suggest that seventy officers and men of the 3rd Middlesex Regiment were killed between 14th and 15th February 1915, but what is annoying me is that for some inexplicable reason the date of death given for the four officers killed (Captain Herbert Hilton, Captain Herbert Large, Lieutenant Wilfred Ash and 2nd Lieutenant William Grieve) is 16th February 1915. However, the available files (Regimental War Diary and Brigade Headquarters Diary) all indicate that Hilton, Large and Ash were killed on the 14th February, and Grieve on the 15th. Instead they all appear to be conveniently listed as having died on 16th February, which coincidentally was on a day that the regiment was in reserve and being rested in Ypres.

I first passed this information to the CWGC back in February but thus far they have been unable to resolve the matter (apparently because of staff issues at the MoD) so I’ve decided to kick it upstairs to the Minister responsible to find out why there seems to be an apparent reluctance to deal with the matter when the source documentation is so conclusive. It’ll be interesting to hear what they say, but in the meantime I would suggest that any CWGC figures with regard to this action may need to be treated with a degree of caution.

By the way, I don't think that the reference to a G Company is necessarily wrong. According to his service papers my great great uncle Nathaniel was also in G Company at one stage, although they are very badly damaged so I am not sure if this was at an earlier stage when the regiment was in India.

S.

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Just to check, this means that P trench was between Triangular Wood and the canal?

Just for accuracy 'P' was actually a sector of trenches, not a single trench (they were lettered and numbered, ie. 'P1', 'P2', 'P3' and 'P4' (etc) were all part of the 'P trenches') and were designations taken over from the French who held (and mapped) the sector slightly earlier. I'm not too sure whether there was some change in the sector designations after the British settled in, but below is a map of the lettered sectors in accordance to the French mapping at the end of November 1914 (the 'G' to 'M' sectors were in exactly the same place in March 1915 (my earliest dated , labelled, British trench map of the area), but,unfortunately, I don't have any official British map of the area to the immediate north ('N' to 'P') that pre-dates September 1915). With the caveat that there might have been a change to the more northerly designations between November 1914 and March 1915,and in the hope that it doesn't just confuse matters, the map might be of some use?...

Dave

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  • 1 month later...

Hi Forum, just joined after looking up trench maps on google and found this thread. I've been working through a chapter of The Die-Hards In The Great War (Everrard Wyrall) trying to find where the wife's grandfather was wounded. The four officers killed have mentions and they are as follows:

The enemy had sapped right up to the British lines and a Royal Engineer officer recommended the construction of a new trench 100 yards across the rear of the existing line. To do this required leaving 'O' and 'P' trenches lightly defended during the construction period.

14 February 1915 - 8.00 a.m. 'O' Trench lost to the enemy. Captain H.P. Hilton commanding 'B' Company was killed during the withdraw and orders became confused leading to the greater part of 'B' Company withdrawing beyond the new line under construction and turning up at Brigade Headquarters. Lt Col Stephenson realising that the lines were now only lightly defended, gathered these men together and personally led them back, accompanied by Major Neale and Capt and Adjutant Large, to retake the lost trench. Coming under heavy fire this party joined the East Surreys in 'M' Trench. Captain H.E. Large was killed during this advance. That afternoon the East Surreys and a party of Middlesex Regiment attempted to regain 'O' Trench. This was unsuccessful and Lieutenant W.J. Ash was killed with the rest of his party mostly being killed or wounded also. The Buffs made a further attempt to recapture 'O' after dark but this failed and the trench was abandoned.

15 February 1915 - 'B' and 'C' Companies occupied the new 'O' and 'P' Trenches with the Germans occupying the original 'o' and part of the original 'P' Trenches, from which positions they kept up heavy rifle fire. Lieutenant W.P. Grieve was killed and 2nd Lieutenant N.H. Moller was wounded. The 3rd Middlesex were relieved that evening by the Suffolks.

Thanks for the map info.

Steve

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  • 2 years later...
Guest 1stSuffolks1915

I don't know if this topic is still live, however, I have information regarding the 1st Battalion Suffolk regiment in the Salient in 1915. my research has been based around my 2 great uncles who were both killed within a few days of each other.

NUNN, PRIVATE CHARLES WILLIAM, 8093, 1st Bn. Suffolk Regiment, 15th February
1915, Age 22. Market Harborough, Leics.

NUNN, PRIVATE WILLIAM, 7759, 1st Bn. Suffolk Regiment, 5th February 1915.
Age 23, Market Harborough, Leics.

William Nunn was the first soldier in the 1st Battalion Suffolk Regiment to be killed in the Great War and is mentioned in the Regimental history. From my research I believe that Charles was killed during a substantial action around 'O' Trench that the battalion were involved in. If anybody is interested in any information I may have, or has anything that would be of helpful in my research, then please do not hesitate to contact me.

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  • 1 year later...

I am very pleased to find this thread. Captain Herbert Edward Large is my Gt.Uncle and my second name is Herbert in his memory. I to have been puzzled by the disparity in dates of death - clearly the Battalion Diary gives us the correct date. It is sad to see in that diary that as Adjutant, Herbert (I have just discovered he was known as "Bertie") Large filled in each day's entry and signed it. Another officer completed the diary the day after his death and i find the change in ahndwriting quite poignant. He managed to get back to Ireland, where he had played Polo for the Co.Westmeath team before the war, and married Ivy Grant on the 31st December 1914. he then had to rejoin the 3rd Middlesex Rgt., eventually arriving in France in the early hours of  the 19th January. His medals were sold at auction in 2014 (wish I'd know so I could have bought them), but his binoculars came back to me via delightful people in the Shetland Islands who had bought them & tracked me down as a descendant - the internet can be a wonderful thing.

 

His brother, my Grandfather, Major P.M. Large was also in the 3rd Middx. Rgt. and was probably involved in the trench defence in which Bertie died. Sadly Philip was killed as part of the Geddes Detachment in the 2nd Battle of Ypres, charging 8 machine-guns in a hopeless  holding action on the 23rd April. Sadly the CWGC have his date of death wrong (they say the 27th April) as well as his battalion (they say the 1st Middx.). Correcting that is my next big task, and at the same time I will see if I can get Captain H.E. Large's death date corrected.

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There is another puzzle about Herbert Edward Large. He has no known grave and thus his memorial is on the Menin Gate, alongside his brother: and yet he was killed in a trench defence situation in which one would expect his body to have been recovered - very different from the exposed killing fields in front of Turco Farm near St. Jean, where Philip was killed & the land was fought over constantly for years afterwards.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hello Tim,

 

Thanks for the additional information on Captain Herbert Large.

 

I spent a year or two fighting the corner with the CWGC for the four officers of the 3rd Middlesex killed in this particular action, as they were all conveniently listed as having died on 16th February 1915. As best as I can see the dates of death were just recorded as having occurred on the date that the paperwork was processed, but fortunaely the battalion and brigade war diaries were enough to persuade the CWGC to change the dates -- eventually...

 

My great uncle died in the same engagement, but unfortunately ORs were rarely listed by name so I cannot be sure if he died on the 14th or 15th; the CWGC say it was the 15th, but the battalion war diary seems to indicate that the bulk of the fighting took place on 14th February, in which case it is possible that Nathaniel was also a victim of the same bureaucratic procedures as your great uncle.

 

If anyone is interested, here's the entry from the 3rd Middlesex battalion war diary:

 

14th February 1915

8.00 a.m. An urgent message was received to the effect that ‘O’ trench, occupied by ‘B’ Coy. under Capt. Hilton had fallen & was in possession of the enemy. This trench had been vacated in order to take up the new line. On withdrawing Captain Hilton was killed & owing to this & his order being misunderstood, the greater part of ‘B’ Coy. withdrew beyond their new line arrived near the Bde. H.Q. The new trench was consequently only lightly held. This information was received by telephone from Bde. H.Q. Immediately on receipt of this message Lt. Col. Stephenson collected all the men at Bde. H.Q. (28) & accompanied by Major Neale & Capt & Adjt Large moved out with the intention of retaking this trench. This party came under very heavy fire & eventually reinforced ‘M’ trench, which was held by a party of E. Surreys. During this advance Capt. Large & 2 men were killed. Lt. Col. Stephenson took command of this trench and remained there till 6 p.m. the following evening. In the afternoon the E. Surreys & a party of the Middlesex Regt. Attempted to regain ‘O’ trench, but were unsuccessful. Lt. Ash was killed and practically the whole party, who came under very heavy shell & Maxim gun fire were killed or wounded. All was quiet in ‘M’ trench, but a very heavy artillery fire was heard in the night & it was reported that the trench on the on the immediate right of ‘M’ trench had fallen. This trench was retaken at about 4 a.m. the following morning. An attempt was made after dark by the Buffs to regain ‘O’ trench, but as the ground had not been reconnoitred it was abandoned.

 

Simon.

Edited by Simon Mills
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