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Remembered Today:

5th (City of London) Battalion (London Rifle Brigade)


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Hi Everyone,

I come accross this forum every now and again when researching my family tree, i was hoping you could help me with these two relatives.

I am trying to work out which battles they would have died in? Walters date matches to the Battle of Langemarck but i can't find if his division was involved:

Name: Walter Shrapnell Birth Place: Trowbridge Death Date: 16 Aug 1917 Death Location: France & Flanders Enlistment Location: Ealing Rank: Rifleman Regiment: London Regiment Battalion: 5th (City of London) Battalion (London Rifle Brigade) Number: 315056 Type of Casualty: Killed in action Theatre of War: Western European Theatre Comments: Formerly 6452, 12Th London Regt.

The same with William, his date matches Battle of Pozières Ridge, 23 July – 7 August bu the divisions are confusing me.

Name: William Frank Shrapnell Birth Place: Trowbridge Death Date: 27 Jul 1916 Death Location: Home Enlistment Location: Trowbridge Rank: Private Regiment: Devonshire Regiment Battalion: 9th (Service) Battalion Number: 3/6599 Type of Casualty: Died of wounds Theatre of War: Home

I hope you can help me.


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5 Londons were with 169 Brigade of 56 division at Langemarck.

9 Devons were with 20 Brigade of 7 Division at Delville Wood.

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Hi Kate, welcome to the forum

It's almost certain, being killed on the same day, that Walter Shrapnel was killed in the same LRB action as my grandfather (see below). This was as an attack by the LRB and 2nd Londons (with Queen Victoria & Queens Westminster Rifle in support and reserve) as part of the battle of Langemarck. The object was to advance to Polygon Wood from Surbiton Villas (to the north of Inverness Copse) through Glencorse & Nonne Boschen Woods. Contact planes reported that flares had been seen to the southwest of the racecourse in Polygon Wood and that troops were digging in, but later in the day an untimed and unsigned carrier pigeon message giving 'we are surrounded' was received. The attack met with stiff opposition and was eventually pushed back to its starting position by a counter attack. The LRB's casualties for 14-16th August '17 are recorded as Officers – 11; Other Ranks – killed 24, wounded 172, missing 147, total 361.

If you'd like more information on this particular action I have various bit and pieces which I'd be happy to share.


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Thank You Both.

Nigel i would really appreciate anything you could share with me about what they went through, i feel it would being me closer to understanding them. Perhaps there is a chance your Grandfather and Walter knew each other?

I appreciate all of your help, i am very inexperienced when it comes to researching WW1 and am unsure where to even start.

Looking forward to learning more.


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Kate; from my write up of LRB research Section 19 : 1st Battalion – Polygon Wood 14 – 16 August 1917 ( 3rd Ypres )

Although the Regimental History is silent on the issue, there is ample evidence in other sources to suggest that the casualties sustained by the 1st Battalion in an ill planned and abortive attempt to capture part of the race-course in Polygon Wood on 16 August 1917 had a serious and lasting effect on regimental morale. The Battalion had moved into the line on 14 August on the right flank of Gough’s Fifth Army, where attacks on the German positions in Inverness copse had been stopped in their tracks by a curtain of machine gun fire from carefully sited and hidden positions. The 169th Brigade was ordered to make a frontal attack to the north of this position and take Nonne Bosschen, Glencourse and ( part of ) Polygon Woods. The staff’s view that this attack, unprotected on its right flank, would force the Germans to voluntary withdraw from Inverness Copse, was not shared with any conviction from any quarter in the 56th Division, rightly as it turned out. One of the main causes of the Brigade’s heavy casualties on the 16th was the concentrated machine gun fire from the Copse into the flanks of the advancing ( and retreating ) troops.

Three out of the four Companies in the LRB were decimated in just over twelve hours of deadly fighting; ‘A’ Company disappeared near the race-course in Polygon Wood, its fate unknown then and never established since. The last possible sighting of these men was reported by an observation aircraft which had seen flares and hand-to-hand fighting on the perimeter of the race track; and the last contact from the Company was by carrier pigeon with the unsigned message ‘we are surrounded’. ‘B’ Company was heavily involved in dealing with German infantry who came up from deep dug-outs after ‘A’ had passed through. Many ‘C’ Company men disappeared in the swamp of Nonne Bosschen and only three men from the Battalion reached Black Watch Corner, one of the principal objectives of the attack.

The inevitable counter attacks drove the remnants of the Brigade back to its starting trenches so that by 5 p.m. it was all over.

W.H.A. Groome, in his book ‘Poor Bloody Infantry‘ gives very details of the fighting that day, and the two days that preceded it in the line. The following are extracts from a very full account ( note that all surnames are fictitious );

‘Aug. 14th; As I looked round in the dusk, what an area of bleak desolation it was and with the lowering clouds which had an ominous yellow tinge over Ypres the whole thing seemed unreal. At 9 p.m. we were ready to go up to Westhoek Ridge which was I suppose some 3 ½ miles ahead. It was a pitch black night, and slipping, sliding, and cursing we picked our way through the mud. We must have halted for ages in the notorious Sanctuary Wood area, which was now no wood but shattered stumps of trees from three to eight feet high, and the ground was littered with broken timber and bodies. Twice I tried to sit on a tree trunk but only sat on a dead man. The difficulty was not only maintaining contact but of standing upright in the slime. It took about four hours to cover the 3 ½ miles from half Way House to Westhoek Ridge. This so called ridge was only a few feet above the surrounding countryside but in this flat country even a few feet constituted a ridge. We were muddied up, wet, exhausted and frustrated with this preliminary ordeal.

Aug 15th; 1 a.m. It was still pitch black when suddenly we tumbled into some shell holes which were the front line on the Ridge. As dawn came we looked around, it was just a grave yard with a pair of boots sticking out of the muddy ground on which I had been lying and a couple of yards away there another partly buried booted foot and a shattered Lewis gun. A peep over the top, and there about three hundred yards away was the devastated Glencourse Wood. It must originally have been rather a dense wood but the trees had all been beheaded and all what was left was shattered trunks like scaffold poles. A short peep from time to time was all that one could take, as from somewhere among those tree trunks the Germans were occasionally sniping, but the worst thing was the bodies lying everywhere; they must have been mown down. Further out in No Man’s Land some might have been still alive as we had heard a few odd noises like groans in the night, and the horrible small of decay in that warm damp August weather was everywhere.

As the morning wore on, the desultory shelling became more intense but most of the shells were pitching about thirty to forty yards behind us and then the range shortened and some very near misses made us very jumpy. Canning was reading a letter and had just been asked to move and I remember he said ‘Just another minute’ when there was a split second shriek of the direct hit. I remember a blinding flash, being buried up to my arm pits and feeling a blow on my elbow. Our platoon officer with the bombing section came round the corner to dig us out and I was soon free. On my right was Saunders with a piece of shell in the side of his face, Canning one yard away from me was underneath a pile of earth; on my left Corp. Simpson was stretched out unconscious. Howard was OK but the new man was quite dead with a head wound; so the Lewis gun team was now just two strong. The officer dug up what at first looked like a flattened German helmet, but it was Canning’s – a flattened shape and he had been neatly beheaded. They had to continue digging to extract Saunders’ legs from underneath Canning and it was a mess getting his legs from Canning’s trunk which was a horrible sight. The rest of the day went in a dazed sort of way with shells pitching round either just in front or just behind.

There was some commotion and yells on my right so I suppose that was another direct hit and I wondered whether anyone in the front line on the ridge would be left to go over at 4.45 a.m. the next day. I suppose all days must end and at dusk here it was, that split second scream of your very own shell, but it pitched about six yards away round the corner on the bombing section of our platoon. A moment’s silence and round came Corp. West, very shaken but intact saying ‘I believe they’ve all had it.’ Howard and myself went round to help and there were four of his bombing section in a muddled heap all dead. Three others were wounded but not too badly and the lucky blighters were soon off to safety.

Aug. 16th; White tapes had been laid out just in front of the trench to mark the first wave of the advance and as early as 3.30 a.m. we got out of the trench and lay down on the soggy earth. It is a very strange experience lying there waiting for zero and one is very mentally alert beyond being frightened, just being resigned to the inevitable. Suddenly, looking back, the whole horizon seemed to burst into flames as thousands of guns started the barrage. What a sight it is – there is the burst of flame across the horizon behind, in seconds the whine of thousands of shells and then almost immediately the deafening crash of explosions. In front, the very earth disintegrates with everything going up. Then we were off at a slow walk, picking our way over the churned up earth. The ground made it impossible to continue in line and soon we were filing our way over obstacles and flooded shell holes. I remember jumping over a narrow trench filled to the brim with dead Germans. Into the shattered wood we went with no Germans visible and came across a sunken farm road or track in the side of which there were entrances to a dugout. Sgt. Carter and his runner were first at the entrance and were immediately killed from shots from the dugout. There were some bombs thrown at the entrance and I fired bursts from the Lewis gun straight down the dugout steps. They soon came up – what a crowd, probably forty or fifty.

On we walked over tree trunks, shell holes and debris – my No. 2 with two magazines had disappeared. No shells were falling near as our barrage had lifted. It was a marvellous sunrise and I remember the huge red ball of the sun resting on the top of a distant pill box. On we walked through the truncated wood, but the machine gun fire rose to a crescendo and we seemed to be walking through a curtain of bullets. It was really devastating and chaps were dropping all over the place. There must however be no stopping even to look for anyone wounded. Capt. Harper came rushing by with his arm smashed up and he shouted something about going back, it was hopeless, we were surrounded. Somehow, however, we just went on walking. I suddenly was alone, and I changed direction to make for a shallow shell hole. As I did so, a bullet ripped through the case of the Lewis gun and it nearly swung me over but I made it. The nearest men visible to me appeared to be another Lewis gun team, at least I thought I saw a Lewis gun and they were possibly some three hundred yards or so away and I saw them disappear into a shell hole. I could see no one else.

Time passed, how long I do not know, but I stayed cramped, crouched down in that shell hole with bullets plopping into the earth on the slight rising bank behind. Then away to my right in the direction of the Lewis gun team a green flare went up and then another and miraculously the machine gun fire from the north east flank stopped. There were Germans coming through the south east corner of the wood in short rushes. They had reached the Lewis gun team and standing round the shell hole appeared to be shooting them. ( They were an ‘A’ Company Lewis gun team who disappeared in the attack ). Partly paralysed with fear I wondered what the hell to do and suddenly I was out like a flash and dashed towards a group of shattered tree trunks, but in the wrong direction as I was running right into a German behind a tree trunk. I just let off a shot with my cocked revolver and he appeared to drop and I bolted like mad in the opposite direction down a slight slope into the open country on the edge of the wood and towards the pill boxes. I then collected my thoughts and worked my way back along that lower edge of the wood and saw others also beating a hasty retreat. We covered the next hundred yards in quick time and again got into the wood where remnants were still struggling back. With the Germans counter attacking, all their flank machine gun fire had ceased and we seemed relatively safe. I carried on walking back, picked up a rifle and eventually reached almost the exact spot on Westhoek Ridge where I started. I just had to sleep.

I was awakened by a shower of muddy water, a light shell must have pitched into a muddy shell hole at the back of the trench. Everything had now quietened down, no shelling of the ridge, there was only the droning of heavies overhead which were pitching two or three miles back. It was a strange experience sitting in that shell hole trench for the rest of the day by myself and thinking about the chances of survival. I do not remember eating that day but I got some water from a water bottle belonging to one of the dead bombers round the corner. It was a lovely warm summer day and later on in the afternoon I thought I heard a noise or groan coming from a narrow sap about a dozen yards away which ran out towards the wood, so I crawled up the sap to a shell hole and in it was a man of the Queen Victoria Rifles with a badly shattered shoulder. It was a shell wound and a real mess. I just took the Lewis gun which was by his side and crawled back. There was nothing I could do.

Early on that summer evening a number of low flying German planes came right over us. At first I thought there might be an attack on the ridge as green marker flares were going up in the wood, and I saw Germans getting over some obstacle between the shattered tree trunks probably on their way to their old positions in the sunken road. I hoped that was all, because we were in a very poor state to withstand an attack on the ridge. I fired a few bursts with my newly acquired gun which slowed them up considerably. Soon it became dark and about an hour later someone came into my shell hole with a message that all LRBs were to move up to the right. I moved up, joined a small group and was told that we were being relieved. I told a relief man about the wounded man in the sap but he said ‘What can I do – there are wounded men all over the place out there’

Groom and the pitifully small number of survivors were told that a sergeant from the Welsh Fusiliers had been returned to the line for disciplinary purposes and he had deserted with the plan of attack. Fifty years later a press article repeated the story. Groom initially thought,

‘it was just a yarn to excuse our costly defeat but then we remembered the shells that dropped amongst us, and slaughtered the reserves behind us, at the very moment our barrage opened. This counter barrage was too quick and the counter attack from the right flank of Glencourse Wood was also remarkably quick. However, apart from that, I doubt very much whether the attack would have succeeded. The objective, an advance of over a mile, was much too far away to cope with the devastating pill box defence and the new tactic of immediate counter attack.

Never before had a battle affected our nerves so badly. This was the battlefield of all battlefields which exposed the ultimate degradation of fighting and man’s inhumanity to man. Some might say how can all this detail be remembered. It can, because one is so emotionally charged and if one has a photographic type of memory every detail is there for life.’

The History records that one officer was killed, three others missing ( all killed ) and seven wounded, and that 24 other ranks had also been killed ( actually a typing mistake – should have been 42 ), 172 wounded and a further 147 missing – a total of 361 other ranks. The War Diary contains the following breakdown of the casualty figures;

KIA Wounded Wounded Missing Total

at Duty

‘A’ Coy 7 50 4 59 120

‘B’ Coy 12 36 5 33 86

‘C’ Coy 14 49 3 27 93

‘D’ Coy 9 25 - 28 62

42 160 12 147 361

According to the research derived from CWGC records and the medal rolls etc.;

4 men were recorded as KIA/PD on 14 Aug

43 men were recorded as KIA/PD on 15 Aug

and 88 men were recorded as KIA/PD on 16 Aug

6 med died from wounds ( 3 – 15/16 Aug.; 3 – 17 Aug.; 2 – 22/23 Aug )

Seven other men died of wounds in German hands ( another man died in 1928 from consumption caused by his time as a prisoner of war ). Overall then, at least 150 LRB men were killed or died as a result of wounds in the attack on Polygon Wood. The War Diary states that 42 other ranks were killed and another 147 missing, suggesting that a total of 489 men were either killed or captured. Analysis shows that 143 other ranks died in or shortly after the attack so that the potential number of prisoners taken was 44. However, these figures are derived from 5th London Regiment sources. By August 1917, such calculations are becoming more problematic because many men had been posted to the Battalion from other Regiments and had retained their former units’ army numbers – and, moreover, in many cases were listed on their former Regiments’ medal rolls or other data bases ( such as Soldiers Died ), not the LRB’s. Indeed three men formerly with the Post Office Rifles and six men formerly with the Poplar and Stepney Rifles were killed in Polygon Wood serving with the LRB. Thus, the figure for known fatalities rises to 152 ( excluding those men who died when prisoners’ of war ), implying 38 men were originally captured by the Germans.

In fact 40 men have been identified as known or probable prisoners from this action. Of those 40 men, 37 were of LRB origin or had LRB army numbers post transfer ( many were former 2/7 Middlesex men and other London Regiment men who had been posted to the Battalion during the Somme campaign ), and the remaining three were 17 London Regiment men.

Thus the total known number of other rank casualties and potential number of men captured exceeds the regimental record by three. It is just as likely that this minor difference results from wrongly determining three men as prisoners or from slightly inaccurate figures in the first place. The difference is so small though as to warrant no further expenditure of time. The fact is that 160 men serving with the LRB between 14 – 16 August 1917 lost their lives in the failed attack on Polygon Wood. The majority who died were originally listed as missing on the medal rolls ( about 90 men ) and over 50 of these men had been drafted to the LRB from other Regiments after Gommecourt.

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Wow, that is some account. Thank you so very much for sharing that with me. I really do appreciate it, it has brought the circumstances surrounding my ancestors death to life for me rather than being something in my imagination built from the romanticised hollywood versions. This has truly highlighted the hell and chaos they were faced with.

Would it be worth me purchasing W.H.A Groomes' book or is this the only extract that refers to the Third Battle of Ypres? Would there be any other personal accounts i could refer to?

Thank You again. Kate

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There is more in his book; his account is the fullest I have seen. Also, History of the London Rifle Brigade 1851 - 1919.. Naval & Military Press

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  • 3 months later...

A distant relative of mine also died on the 16th, Alfred Rutherford Clark, 19 or 20 years old, rifleman with the 1/5th, no idea which company he served with. Thanks to the forum members who have provided so much information, I can't say it makes for pleasant reading but it certainly brings home the experiences those men went through.

Best wishes, Richard

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William is shown as died Home, Birmingham Cemetary, parents from Trowbridge.

This may suggest that he was wounded and sent to a hospital in Birmingham, The date of his wounding could have been some time before his death.

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Could have been wounded here?

The Battle of Bazentin (a phase of the Battles of the Somme 1916)
As the Somme offensive moved from its early phase (designated the Battle of Albert) to the next major push (the Battle of Bazentin), the 25th Division continued to carry out operations on a small scale in the Ovillers area. Casualties were heavy, with no gains of any significance being made. Relieved by 48th (South Midland) Division during the night 16/17 July, the Division moved to Beauval.

From LLT. States casualties were high.

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  • 3 months later...


I have Raymond Leslie White, 302863 of the Sevenoaks War memorial as KIA 15th August 1917, serving with 5th London Regiment, 1st London Rifle Brigade

Does his d.o.d suggest that he was also part of the action at polygon Wood?



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CWGC has him as Raymond Wesley White, date of death 16th August 1917.

1/5th London Regiment was with 56th Division and 16th-18th August was the Battle of Langemarck.


Edit: from post #5, I think you can take it that he was in the action at Polygon Wood.

Edited by Phil Evans
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