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Remembered Today:

Recovery of wounded in No Man's Land Zwarteleen Salient May 8th 1915


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Hello, I can't find anything on Google that might answer my question, which is, what action, if any, would have been taken to try to recover the (at least) least 40 men who were left stranded and wounded when 2 Bn KOYLI pulled back after their unsupported attack into the Zwarteleen Salient on the night of 7/8 May 1915.

According to the Intelligence Summary, three men crawled back over the following three days, but would stretcher parties at night have gone out to try to retrieve the wounded - or were they just left in No Man's Land? Would the South Lancs, who replaced the KOYLIs, have tried?

Thanks in advance.


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Have you tried looking in Medical Services unit war diaries for the 5th Division ie the attached Field Ambulances and the diary of the ADMS 5th Divison?



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No, but I'll do so now. Thank you for the tip.

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Hi @kerry,

There's possibly a clue to this in a different action, the attacks around Givenchy in mid-June 1915. The first attack was delivered at 6pm on 15th June, with 51st Div left, 7 Div centre and 1st Cdn Div right.

There was limited artillery ammunition available, and the aim of the attack was to pin German reserves to this area to help a French offensive around Arras. Because of this, each Div limited their attack to one Bde. Each attacking Bde also limited their attack to 2 out of 4 battalions, both using only 2 out of 4 companies. 7 Div's attack was delivered by 21 Bde, which used 2/Wilts and 2/Yorks.

The map below (modified from 7 Div WD) shows 1/Gren Gds (20 Bde) left of 2/Wilts, but one of the problems for the Wiltshires is that the Guards weren't part of the initial attack, so their left flank was open. The map also shows that the Wiltshire's right flank was even more exposed. It ran parallel to the German front line for about 450-500 yards. The German trenches (strongpoint to I9) were on higher ground, looking down on the attackers moving across their front towards their objective from I9 (excl) to J13.






What does this have to do with the original question about recovering casualties?

Well, Zero Hour for the attack was 6.00pm. Sunset (BEF time) in this part of France on 15th June is just after 8pm, so it's dark before 9.00pm. 2/Wilts relieved 2/Beds in the front line trench at about 1.30am on the 15th and sat tight in a deep, narrow trench with 16 and a half hours to wait until Zero. They were shelled in the early afternoon, taking 'some casualties'.

For their attack to have any chance of success, they needed 2/Yorks to get into the German front line and clear the German strongpoint in the angle, just behind the copse in the photos. They then needed the Yorkshires to advance eastwards along the ridge to the line I9-I8-H3 in step with their own advance over the open ground to their objective around the white buildings in the lower photo. But the Yorkshires didn't get into the German front line, except for a short stretch of it way to the right of the photo above. There is a chance that some bombers from 2/Yorks pushed on almost to the German second line, but this isn't certain. Even if they did, they were unable to support the Wiltshires on their northern flank. Some of the Wiltshires reached the German wire, despite 450 yards of enfilade fire from the strongpoint and the front line running east from it for 450-500 yards, parallel to the battalion's advance. They were also enfiladed from the long grass in No Man's Land on their left, in front of 1/Gren Gds. The German wire was completely uncut.

21 Bde was ordered to try again at 9.15 pm, but the front line and the maze of comms trenches were packed with units all jumbled up. The attack was delayed until 10pm, then postponed again. Then, 2/Wilts and 2/Yorks were relieved from the front line by 2/Beds and 2/RSF, the relief completed by 3am on 16th June. The latter units renewed the attack on the morning of the 16th, also a failure.

Captain Ponsford (Adjutant, 2/Wilts) summarised the Battalion's casualties in the WD entry for 16th June (possibly written that day, but definitely written by 21st June). Casualties (mostly in C and D Companies) were:

  •  4 officers killed, five wounded.
  •  25 OR killed, 127 wounded (a surprisingly low total given the fire they took from left, right and front).
  • 48 OR missing.

There's an afternote in the CO's handwriting (CO = Lt Col Brown), saying 'The majority of the 48 missing most were killed in front of the German wire' [sic]. This suggests that the missing men hadn't been recovered, but that the killed and wounded had been - otherwise they couldn't have been counted. If the diary entry is written on the 16th there may have been a few more survivors still to crawl back. However, there's another afternote by the CO, under the entry for 19th June. It'sa headed '15th June continued', signed and dated 21/06/1915. It's possible that his afternote on the 16th was also added on the 21st, in which case the casualty figures are probably final.

Given that the 4 dead officers were recovered, it seems likely that the 25 dead ORs were recovered as well. The 127 wounded must have either crawled back or been brought in, otherwise they'd be listed as missing. Some of these casualties would have been from the German shelling before the attack. At Zero minus 2 minutes, the Germans opened up with an intense artillery barrage and furious MG and rifle fire along the British parapet. Quite a number of the killed and wounded fell back into the trench or fell within the first few yards of the assault. These would have been easy to recover afterwards.

The missing are said to be mostly in front of the German wire, and it's clear that patrols/stretchers didn't get out to them. 2/Wilts and 2/Yorks were both preparing to attack again until at least 10pm, and 5 hours later were clear of the trenche having been relieved. By that time, it's a fair deduction that only the 48 ORs classed as missing were still out in No Man's Land. Recovering them from the German wire on a short summer night, with 450 yards or so of German front line dominating the are you're trying to search was likely to have been too much of risk, so the dead and any non-walking wounded were presumably brought in from the ground shown in the lower photo out to a line approximately level with the German strongpoint behind the copse.

GOC 7 Div, Maj-Gen Thomas Capper, was on sick leave at this time. A/GOC was Hubert Gough. Capper had his failings (deploying 7 Div on forward slopes at First Ypres being one example). However, he probably wouldn't have made such a mess of this attack. He certainly wouldn't have blamed one of his own battalions for its failure, as Gough was happy to do:


Gough was promoted to command I Corps in July 1915 and appears to have forgotten that he'd promised a further report on the Wiltshire's alleged failure. There's no sign of it in the WD's for GHQ, I Corps, IV Corps, 7 div or 21 Bde. However, in the 21 Bde WD for 22nd June there's this ugly little line:


Captain Makin had commanded the Battalion at Neuve Chapelle in March, when the CO was an early casualty. He was in command again at Festubert in May, when Lt Col Brown was away on sick leave. He was 2IC in June 1915, and one of five officers left in reserve with Second Line Transport per orders from 7 Div, and also one of three of this pool annotated as 'convalescent'. I've kicked against the 'Lions led by Donkeys' view all my adult life, but this unhappy sting-in-the-tail of a 'hopeless dud attack' makes the blood boil.

I hope this is helpful in relation to the OP. It wasn't intended to be such a vent but it clearly wanted an airing and it's fascinating to speculate what happened between sunset and the two battalions leaving the line. 2/KOYLI likely had the same problem in recovering their casualties. The desire to do so would be strong, tempered by the real risk that patrols and stretcher bearers will only add to the casualty bill. Men nearer their own line are more likely to be brought in. Those nearer the German lines less likely.

All the best,


Edited by Old Forge
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Hi Richard,


your post is full of fascinating facts and doagrams - thanks so much for pulling all of this together, i agree there doesn;t seem to be any clear cyt or laid-down scheme of manoevre to recover wounded from No Man's Land. And I suspect that as to those who were lost from 2/KOYLI on the Zwarteleen Sailent on 6/7 May 1915, it's something that will remain an open question.

Thank you so much again for your information.

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