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Battle of the Dunes, July 1917


Hugh Pattenden
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O.C. = Officer Commanding i.e. Lieutenant-Colonel Abadie (and by definition 2nd KRRC battalion HQ).

Steve.

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Thanks Steve. That raises some interesting questions with the most obvious answer being as Liz suggested, that the final report had been airbrushed. Quoting from the report "From 9.50 a.m. the Battalion Fuller 'phone wires had been cut, with the consequence that no direct communication existed either with the Companies in the front line or with the guns beyond the Yser. A buried telephone wire from the Corps Commander extended, at all events, to the west bank of the Yser. Of this no practical use was made, nor did any message come from the rear during the whole day. All attempts by our Signallers to call up the Officer at the near end of it, proved futile. Colonel Abadie's sole means of sending one was by pigeons, of which there were eight. All seem to have reached their destination." Words in bold italics indicate handwritten comments by Lieut.-Gen. Sir Henry Rawlinson, and reading these conversely, he could just as easily be saying that the buried telephone line was used, but impractically, and a pigeon or two may not have made it back to base, so while not in so many words, a couple of messages may later be found to have gone astray. Lieut.-Gen.Rawlinson is entitled to the benefit of the doubt - he told no lies, and was completely objective, but his comments made certain that he was fully covered in the event of future challenges. We know one of Lieut.-Col.Abadie's pigeons made it safely to 1st Northampton H.Q., timed at 11.07 a.m., so it's fair to assume that the Corps Commander received the same message at around the same time - well before Lieut.Gott left on his mission at noon and returned, after which 2nd Lieut.Taylor arrived in a dazed condition, and only "after an interval" was able to impart the same sad news re the "B" Company H.Q. The direct line is referred to later in the report by Capt. Butler: "A buried telephone wire from the Corps Commander extended at all events, down to the west bank of the Yser. Of this no use was made during the whole day". Lieut.-Gen. Sir Henry Rawlinson has written next to this "It was constantly used as far as the left bank."

Would I be correct in assuming that Captain Butler would have followed the chain of command by tendering his original, and conveniently missing report initially to his Corps Commander, whom he held largely responsible for the events of July 10th? That scenario would largely explain the report being edited and retyped to the point where the original timeline had been destroyed. Was Captain Butler's Corps Commander the very same Lt.-Gen. Du Cane who was responsible for the highly insulting speech? Capt.Butler is to be commended for having the courage of his convictions and standing up for his comrades in a manner that would definitely not enhance his career prospects.

Paul

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Paul, excuse me for butting in ...following this thread and find it informative and fascinating. I wondered if the reference in the Brisbane Courier is Sjt Ben Cope of the Northamptonshires ?

" At last a heroic wounded man swam back over the Yser with a rope, thus enabling the wounded non-swimmers to pull themselves across. "

The other thought I have is that it does'nt seem clear how many British soldiers escaped either being casualties or captured. Those that survived I wonder if they were briefed to give

an account of the action that did'nt point blame ?

cheers Bob

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Paul,

I haven't checked the War Diaries up as far as Divisional and Corps level yet, but yes, the chain of command would have seen the reports go through the Corps Commander. I assume that the letters via his father would have been a method of "getting the message out". I believe that the Corps Commander was General Philip du Cane, but I haven't confirmed the fact or whether he was a Major-General or Lieutenant-General. I can't really imagine that Du Cane was pleased with the accusations.

I suppose it is possible that the KRRC HQs "about noon" could just mean closer to noon than dawn...

Bob,

The letter of Private Bradshaw categorically states that it was Ben Cope who swam the Yser with a rope. See post #83 on Page 4:

"The attack was begun just after seven and as the enemy had blown up all the bridges we were caught like rats in a trap, and it looked all over with every man Jack of us."

"I got a nasty wound in the left elbow about 8 o'clock, but I was comparatively lucky; how any of us escaped was a marvel. Hand-to-hand fighting was pretty general, but we were simply overwhelmed, and had nothing to do put get out of it the best way we could."

"But for the bravery of Sergt. Cope, of Peterborough, in bringing a rope across the river at full tide, I reckon it would have all been up with about a dozen of us, and as it was, with my left arm useless, I hardly know how I got across the other side."

Post #56 on page 3 shows the casualties:

1st Northamptons: Of the 508 men and 20 officers in the line, nine men escaped and No officers (about 300-400 men and about 10 officers were either on the British side of the Yser or on leave and thus were not caught up). Soldiers Died shows 97 deaths between 10 and 31 July 1917 for the 1st Battalion (they were not in the line in July 1917 after the Dunes so I assume the later July deaths are as POWs, but there may be one or two non-related deaths), so the other 400+ I presume were POWs.

2nd KRRC: Of 501 men and 20 officers in the line, 46 men and 3 officers escaped (I presume the KRRC also had a couple of hundred men not in the front line). SDGW shows 64 deaths in the period 10th to 31st July 1917 with, again, the balance probably being POWs.

So 954 men out of 1009 (94.5%) and 37 officers out of 40 (92.5%) were killed or captured.

Steve.

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Steve - many thanks for the clarity - I have trouble deciphering some of the abbreviations but learning all the time ( just twigged OR = Other ranks!)

kind regards Bob

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Bob,

Yes, he was definitely Ben Cope as Steve has pointed out.

Re the Brisnane Courier article, I've since found the original, and a second article as well, with one appearing to be a re-hash of the other. Go to the Australia Trove site:

http://trove.nla.gov.au/

and in the search box, enter without inverted comma's, German dash at Nieuport and you will get both results. I only mention this, because for those interested, whole sections can be saved as JPEG's, or pages and entire articles as PDF's.

Steve,

Thanks for confirming Philip du Cane's role. Judging by Captain Butler's opinion of him, and the most insensitive speech he delivered to his troops, he appears to have been inept, and it wouldn't surprise that the report had been edited to cover for him. If there was any justice Captain Butler's career would have blossomed, and Philip du Cane's would have stalled, but unfortunately that wasn't always the way things worked.

Paul

Steve - many thanks for the clarity - I have trouble deciphering some of the abbreviations but learning all the time ( just twigged OR = Other ranks!)

kind regards Bob

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Hi Paul - many thanks for the link - more information on the tragic event and Sgt Cope's exploits to add to my folder on him. Cracking link as well - found an article on another chap whose medal I have in my collection.

regards Bob

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  • 1 month later...

I have read this thread with great interest, as my grandfather, Edwin Middleditch of 2nd Batt. K.R.R.C. was captured in this battle. I would like to extend my deep thanks to all of the contributors who have put in such remarkable research to bring the detail of this operation to life. It has provided me with an insight to the past that I never expected to find when I first set out to explore the background to the Battle of the Dunes. After Edwin was captured, he wrote the following account of the events of the day as he experienced them. Bear in mind that like many of the young men there, he was actually just a teenage boy of 16 or so at the time.

I note from Johan's translation of the German reports of the battle, that a small group of British soldiers launched a minor counterattack (reclaiming 250 metres), but that this was of little consequence to the Germans, who had achieved their objectives already. Reading my grandfathers notes, I wonder if this referred to the actions of his platoon. I also note that the casualty rate for the German flame thrower troops was higher than usual and Edwin makes the comment that his small group inflicted heavy casualties with rifle fire on the enemy who were advancing with "liquid fire". Anyway, for what its worth, here's Edwins view of the battle, as seen from the British trenches.

Battle of the Dunes

Nieuwpoort, Belgium 1917

The morning of the 10th of July, No. 3 platoon , A Company, 2nd Kings Royal Rifle Corps. 1st Division of the 4th Army “Stands to” on the extreme left of the British front in Belgium, the platoon being 27 men strong.

The enemy, evidently seeing our bayonets, opened fire with trench mortars. At the order of the Sergeant, we got down on hands and knees in the bottom of the trench. After half an hour, he drops two in the middle of the trench, causing a little panic. There was a mad rush, by a few men who had got hit, for the dugout, myself getting trod and jumped on.

Whilst going out of the trench, someone shouted for his tin helmet. I retraced my steps and found Rifleman Lyley lying in the bottom of the trench with his legs and an arm blown off. I tried to lift him, but he was too badly wounded, so I pulled him under cover and went for help. An officer helped me get him to the dugout. Our casualties at this time were two killed and five wounded.

The bombardment continues, it is the heaviest I have experienced on the whole front. All the pontoon bridges had been splintered before 10 o’clock, entirely cutting off our communication with the British troops, so avoiding us from getting reinforcements.

The mouth of our dugout got blown in at 11.10 a.m. After 20 minutes, the candles go out, the air getting so foul. With 3/4 hour tedious work with hands and trenching tools, we once again see daylight.

At 12 o’clock the enemy is quiet and Sergeant Macmanne organises a party of volunteers to fetch ammunition. There were only small portions of the trenches left, making the work dangerous. We find the Mills Bomb dugout blown in, but secure a little ammunition. Half way back to our own dugout the enemy opens fire again and the Corporal in charge is killed.

A shell enters the dugout and blew up the whole left half of our Company 1 and 2 Platoon, about 50 men. A heavy death toll. The ammunition is shared round to the remainder of the Company by the Sergeant, each man having 175 rounds.

At 4 o’clock the bombardment gets more fierce and a second shell enters the dugout a little to the left of the first, not causing so much damage. 4 killed, 7 wounded.

Several carrier pigeons are flown with messages, but do not get far. Our own artillery replying rang faintly, presumably the enemy has smashed all their guns. This seems a second Hell, a rat trap.

At 7 o’clock a German rushes past the mouth of our dugout and we now know that the enemy has launched his attack. 2nd Lieutenant Barnes, the only officer we have left orders “Line the trench”.

We claim our rifles and dash out. There are no trenches left and the enemy are all around us. It seems that we are too late. We bayonet a few of the enemy as though by some mechanical power and make a dash to the canal. Our officer is the first to get killed. In the retreat about 10 men fall.

We arrive at the canal banks, 9 men and Sergeant Macmanne, making in all 10 rifles. Two enemy aeroplanes continually circle over us, but the Company pay no heed to their machine gun fire. Rifleman Doubling being killed here.

The enemy try to advance on our left with liquid fire and we cause heavy casualties in his ranks with our rifle fire and he has to retreat. Sergeant Macmanne holds a council of war and it is decided to charge the enemy on our right, that being our last chance to get into communication with any British troops. One of our men gets a bullet through the back and dies here, so we are now a sergeant and 7 men strong.

At an order from the Sergeant we charge the enemy and after half an hour of skilful bayonet fighting we capture our objective amid cheers and we keep the enemy back with our rifle fire. We are now only three men and a sergeant strong, our ammunition now getting low.

The enemy is closing in on all sides; it seems we cannot hold out much longer. The enemy have strong reserves. The Sergeant has gone raving mad and gives the order to “Charge”

We make a mad dash. Rifleman Barns drops on my left with a groan and the Sergeant and I dash on with bullets spluttering all around us. It is now getting dark and that is the reason we are still alive. A shell strikes the ground in front of me and I remember no more.

I awake as though from a dream and find Sergeant Macmanne still by my side. He gave me a drink of water and says he has stopped a piece of shrapnel in his leg. The Germans have dug trenches of ?????? up wire and seeing us moving, send out their Red Cross to fetch us in. There is no escape for us now. When we get into their trench they hit us with their rifles, but I feel no pain. A German officer puts a sentry in charge of us and with nudges with his bayonet, he moved us down the trench.

Sergeant Macmanne helps me along although badly wounded himself. What a fine type of Englishman. He is deserving of a decoration. He laughs and says “We are the remnants of a Regiment”.

After about a kilometres march the Sergeant falls from exhaustion and the German sentry points a rifle at him. I pick him up as best I can and help him along. How I wish I had been killed. We arrive at Middlekerke and are thrown into a cell. What day or time it is I cannot say as I have lost all account but the Germans have not fed us yet.

This is the best account I can give of the battle. The last time I saw Sergeant Macmanne was the 10th September at Dendermond. He was getting too weak to walk caused from starvation.

Signed Rifleman Edwin Middleditch a/362 of 2nd Battalion KRRC

Repatriated 21st December 1918

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An absolutely brilliant account of the battle Chris, thank you for sharing. Historians will always write whatever suits their purposes, but reports such as Edwin's tell the real story, and are worth their weight in gold - are you able to post the original document by any chance? It doesn't bear thinking about, but had one of those bullets spluttering around your grandfather hit it's target, his story would never have been told, and you would not have been here to pass it on to us - scary stuff!

Paul

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Hello Chris.

I agree with Paul - it is a very fascinating account. I have tried to identify the other men mentioned but without success. The names may have been slightly changed or spelt phonetically, perhaps. Edwin does however appear on the lists of missing that we have mentioned in earlier posts. Like many of the men from the Dunes, Edwin ended up at Lager Lechfeld.

Have you found Edwin's service records on Ancestry? His parents went right through the emotional wringer, having been told of a young lad in hospital in England who had lost his memory and who they seem to have assumed was Edwin for a while.

Steve.

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Hello Paul & Steve.

Thanks for the words of appreciation. Its a shame that the other soldiers mentioned can't easily be identified. I felt particularly that the family of Sgt. Macmanne would be worth tracking down and letting them know how courageous he had been in leading the men til the last. Doubtless he was just one of many brave leaders doing their best, but it seems there are few first hand accounts left that bear witness to the countless heroics against the hopeless odds that day.

Steve, your message was a pleasant surprise, with mention of Edwins folks. I only began looking for Edwin in the last few weeks.

My own father had a frosty relationship with him, as Edwin ran off with a mistress when Dad was an infant. After five years in abusive foster care, Dad was only reunited with Edwin at the outbreak of WW2, when Edwin needed his children to work in his bakery, as he had lost his apprentices to the 2nd world war conscription. Dad was worked hard throughout his childhood, never meeting his mother or any relatives. Edwin seemed to have cut ties altogether, or at least never chose to discuss much of his past, or his family, with Dad. So I do not even know who Edwins parents were. Edwin died of cancer in the mid 1950's. All I have is a photo of him (attached) and the notes that Dad says he typed word for word from Edwins hand written account scrawled on six scraps of note paper. (the whereabouts of these originals is a mystery, sorry Paul). So with "Battle of the Dunes" being my only solid lead, I found myself on this forum and have yet to do any deeper searching into service records and the like.

As a complete novice to navigating my way through online archives, any tips you have on where to begin would be greatly appreciated. If I have to subscribe to geneaology or military record sites, which have you found give the best info?

Where did you get the story of the mistaken identity with the hospitalised soldier from? It sounds harrowing and is and intriguing side story to what Edwin was going through at the time. Feel free to PM me or email middleditch.chris@gmail.com

Thanks and best regards

Chris Middleditch

post-64271-072135300 1297209706.jpg

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Hello Chris.

As you can appreciate it is just past midnight here, but I will have a look at the service records tomorrow and and see what I can sort out.

His records show his address as 21 Askew Road, Shepherds Bush, his next of kin listed as his mother, Ethel Middleditch.

The 1911 Census (I can only see the index) suggests the family consisted of the following at that time:

Surname, forenames, approx, Male/Female, year of birth, age

MIDDLEDITCH, ETHEL AMY, F, 1874, 37

MIDDLEDITCH, WALTER H A, M, 1893, 18 (probably Walter Henry A Middleditch, birth reg. 1893)

MIDDLEDITCH, JOSEPH K, M, 1895, 16 (probably Joseph Key Middleditch, birth reg. 1894)

MIDDLEDITCH, ETHEL J S, F, 1897, 14 (probably Ethel Julia S Middleditch, birth reg. 1896)

MIDDLEDITCH, EDWIN T, 1898, 13 (Edwin Thomas Middleditch, birth reg. 1898, JFM Qtr, Vol 1a, page 293)

MIDDLEDITCH, JAMES W T, M, 1902 9 (probably James William T Middleditch, birth reg. 1901)

MIDDLEDITCH, IVY P, F, 1903, 8 (probably Ivy Phyllis Middleditch, birth Reg. 1903)

MIDDLEDITCH, JOY A, F, 1909, 2 (probably Joy Abigail Middleditch, birth reg. 1908)

(The father of the family appears to be missing).

Edwins father is shown on the 1901 Census. He was named Walter, a 36 year old foreman tiler (slate tiler). Edwin appears listed as "Teddie", age 3. The family were living at 12 Wellesley Avenue, Hammersmith. Also listed are Ethel (26), Walter (8), Joe (6), Ethel (4), and Amy (1)

A quick look at marriages would suggest that he was Walter Terry Middleditch (born in 1862) who married Ethel Amy Key in 1892 in the Fulham Registration District. Walter Terry Middleditch, of 53 Silchester Road, Notting Hill, London, Middlesex, died on 25-9-1930 at West London Hospital in Hammersmith leaving £40 to his wife, Ethel Amy Middleditch.

Although I use a subscription site (Ancestry), most birth marriage and death indexes can be searched here:

http://www.freebmd.org.uk/

Steve.

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Thanks Steve,

I am amazed and very grateful. Where are you getting this info? if there are any scans of the supporting documents, I'd love to see them.

Thanks again for your kindness in researching this.

Regards

Chris

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Really must go to sleep now, but I will e-mail you later, if that is ok.

Steve.

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Somewhere in my archives I have the official report from the German artillery commander for this operation. it is rather thick and has a number of maps (Going from memory here). I will see if I can dig it up today. In German of course.

If anyone wants a copy I will try and scan it in and can send it by mail.

if anyone is interested, please drop me a PM.

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Guys;

This has been discussed before, as was stated. The attack was by the 3rd Marine Division, was led by 30 flame throwers, and heavily supported by close support aircraft, bombing and strafing the troops and the bridges.

Ok, I have the original orders here in front of me, old and yellow and as straight from the horses mouth as one can hope for.

Divisionsbefehl of the 2. Marine Infanterie Division...

2) Zur Ablenkung und Täuschen des Gegners wird im Raume der 2. Mar. Div. ein Scheinangriff unter Verwendung grosser Flammenwerfer stattfinden.

It goes on a bit about the implementation of the FW in this diversion, but from the 3rd MAr. Div Arty orders, the FW part seems to have been limited to this diversion.

From the orders themselves... they had a looooot af arty, and expected to more or less have vleared the board with that.

Best

Chris

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The pedigree.... then the proof.....

2

post-748-010845800 1297265115.jpg

post-748-006178000 1297265188.jpg

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Hello Chris,

don't understand very good what You want to prove

- attack was carried out by 3rd Marine Division with portable FW

- 2nd Marine Division was to the south of sector attack 10/7/1917 and only carried out diversion with heavy FW, no real attack followedup.

Regards,

Cnock

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Hello Chris,

don't understand very good what You want to prove

- attack was carried out by 3rd Marine Division with portable FW

- 2nd Marine Division was to the south of sector attack 10/7/1917 and only carried out diversion with heavy FW, no real attack followedup.

Regards,

Cnock

I am willing to eat crow on this, but there is no info in the orders at all for a major roll to be played by FW.

The Heavies get a mention as a diversion, the Light dont get a mention at all.

If the FW WERE to play any major roll in the attack, I would expect them to get a mention of some sort?

It is very obvious from the orders that this was to be an attack backed by artillery on a very large scale indeed... To give the laurels to the FW and claim it as a "flame attack" is just plain wrong.

There was a great quote somewhere where a French soldier was talking about advancing with fixed bayonets, he said "sure, we advanced with fixed bayonets, but it was not a BAYONET attack... same way we had Puttees on... you dont call it a "Puttee attack" just because we wore them".

Things really have to be kept in perspective.

Best

Chris

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Chris,

I repeat,

Your FW stuff is about the 2nd Marine Division that played NO ROLE in the attack

the attack was carried out by 3rd Marine Division

take a read of 'Das Marine Infanterie Regiment 1 1914-1918', Kiel 1933, the use of FW in the attack is well explained

Cnock

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Chris,

I repeat,

Your FW stuff is about the 2nd Marine Division that played NO ROLE in the attack

the attack was carried out by 3rd Marine Division

take a read of 'Das Marine Infanterie Regiment 1 1914-1918', Kiel 1933, the use of FW in the attack is well explained

Cnock

The orders are FROM the 3rd Marine Division (top left) and make more mention of the FW used in a 2nd Div diversion than their own attack.

But I cede the point.

Does the Marine Infantry Regiment book support the argument that it was a "flame attack" and that FW carried the day?

Best

Chris

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Dear Chris,

Your orders for the 3rd Marine Division are not complete,

see regimental history 1st Marine Infantry Regiment,

the FW were only part of the attack force, and there is no comment they carried the day,

they helped reduce some still existing strong points after the artillery beating,

and were so active they almost burnt German soldiers

best regards,

Cnock

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  • 2 weeks later...

Hello everyone,

I came across this fascinating thread by accident while looking for information about the proposed British attack along the Belgian coast in 1917, which was to be in conjunction with the anticipated success of the Third Battle of Ypres. I must admit that I had not heard of the Battle of the Dunes before. I've never been shy about confessing my ignorance ... I've had ample opportinities to do so in the past and am confident I shall in the future too!

"Siege Gunner's" post of December 13th 2010 and that of "Cnock" on the 14th both make mention of the British artillery. "Siege Gunner" mention that the RN siege batteries were ineffective because of range problem (I think) and "Cnock" mentioned that - at the time of the German attack - the British artillery had not registered on the German front lines.

My interest in all of this is centres on the whereabouts of 32 Siege Battery Royal Garrison Artillery. My grandfather served with them and I'm trying to piece together his war service. The following information may be of interest to other members of this thread. On the other hand of course it may not.

On July 1st 1917 32 SB (part of 54 Heavy Artillery Group) were at BULLY (?). On July 9th they transferred to 49 HAG, according to their War Diary, and by 11th had arrived at BOITISCHOUKE. I believe that's pretty close to Nieuwpoort. Here they remained until September 5th when, having been transeferred to 34 HAG on September 2nd, they moved to OOSTDUIKERKE (the 1914 spelling was Oostdunkirk). They were still there on October 1st when their War Diary ends. This seems to be further evidence that some, at least, of the British heavy artillery (in this case 6" howitzers) hadn't even reached the scene of operations until the day after the German attack went in.

Does anyone have further information about RGA dispositions at this battle please? Does anyone have a map ... please?

Regards,

Paul

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Hi Paul,

I'm new at this, and can't help with the RGA question, but re the British artillery not being registered on the German front line, page 16 of Captain Butler's "edited" official report provides an answer. Lieutenant General Sir Henry Rawlinson's hand-written comments on the page are difficult to read, but appear to say "The position was taken up at a time when the Corps Artillery most wanted direction, could not be used in support." I suppose this could be interpreted to read that "direction" in the form of commands from superior officers had not been received, but "direction" could also relate to the physical locations of the German artillery, and the Fuller telephone lines were down, so the artillery would not have been receiving co-ordinates. Whichever way you look at it, the British artillery was unable to provide the necessary support when needed.

Thanks to the kind members of this forum my Lt. Munro and KRRC saga is now almost complete, and a version of it, including page 16 of the report. is up and running on the not for profit 'Medals Gone Missing' site if anyone is interested.

http://medalsgonemissing.com/military-medal-blog/military-medals/for-king-and-country-baillie-chisholm-munro-m-c-the-kings-royal-rifle-corps/

The other Paul

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Thanks Paul,

I agree with you that the British heavies were unable to intervene and were lacking "direction" - whatever that was originally intended to mean. I also understand that the land-based RN siege batteries were not able to support the troops because they were of too-long-a-range for the required targets. And the off-shore RN Monitors were not employed for a variety of complex meteorolgical and nautical reasons. I was hoping someone might know which "un-directed" land-based British heavies were present and where they were. Presumably on the western side of the River Yser?

Thanks for your response

Best wishes

Paul D

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