What Royston Did …
The attack by the 1st Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment at the village of St. Julien on 31st July has become legendary. It has been said that the Regiment was effectively wiped out to a man during the attack but this is not the case. It did, however, suffer an appalling level of casualties.
The first hints of this were revealed in the paper on 10th August in the following article. The first paragraph says -
The Hertfordshire Regiment was among the earliest Territorial troops to go on active service, embarking for the front in November, 1914. Since then they have fought gallantly and have won renown in many of the famous battles on the Western Front. They have recently been in action again and it appears unfortunately the Regiment has suffered heavy casualties among the officers and men, their brave commanding officer, Lieut. Col. Frank Page, D.S.O., being among the killed.
Published in the Crow’s edition of 24th August was the following poem, signed E.S.T.
The entry for 31st July in the Regiment’s War Diary is as follows -
About 3.50am the Bn moved forward in 4 lines behind the 116th & 117th Inf. Bdes. east of the river STEENBEEK. Up till this time the casualties had been very slight indeed but as the Bn advanced from STEENBEEK toward the LANGEMARCK line (the Bn objective) casualties grew heavier from sniper and machine gun fire……
On reaching the enemy wire this was found to be practically undamaged (except in one place) & very thick. 2/Lieut Marchington & a handful of men of No. 3 Coy got through the only gap and got into the enemy trench & killed a lot of Germans.
The remainder of the Bn, being unable to get through the wire and suffering severe casualties from enfilade MG fire & Germans making a strong counter attack from our left flank about this time, had to fall back having suffered exceptionally heavy casualties…….
Casualties to Officers were: Lt. Col. F. Page D.S.O., Captain S.H. Lowry M.C., Captain A.R. Milne, 2/Lts Gallo, Secretan, Scott & Macintosh killed. 2/Lts Walthew, Thompson & King missing. Lt Head & 2/Lts Hardy & Francis wounded & missing. Captain Fisher, Captain C. Charles & 2/Lts Marchington, Edwards, Gilby & Ritchie wounded.
Estimated casualties to other ranks were 29 killed, 5 missing believed killed, 132 missing, 68 wounded & missing, 223 wounded & 2 died of wounds making a total of 459 casualties to other ranks. Died of wounds; Officers 2, Or’s 6. Missing; Officers 9, OR’s 120. Wounded; Officers 8, OR’s 180
The diary for 2nd August states -
Major Phillips, Captain Whitfield and 2nd Lieut E.M. Paul went up to the line to take charge of the 130 Other Ranks who remained from the fight on the 31st July…..
All the officers and nearly 80% of the men from the Regiment’s 1st Battalion who fought that day were listed as killed, missing or wounded.
Entries from the Regimental War diary from
bedfordregiment.org.uk maintained by Steve Fuller
On 17th August, The Crow heavily quoted a report by the Daily Mail’s war correspondent, W Beach-Thomas, set out in that paper on Wednesday, 15th August,
Under the heading “How the Men of Herts Took St. Julien” it reiterated large sections of the report.
The highest sacrifice in the third battle of Ypres was perhaps paid by the Hertfordshire Regiment, who with other Territorials as gallant as themselves took St Julien and pushed forward deep into the enemy's country beyond. I have heard of no more splendid or moving tale of gallant men point out to death and glory since the war began…….
It is difficult today to reconcile the rhetoric of the time with how history views the senseless waste of life seen in this conflict. There was nothing “splendid” about this offensive.
The article continues -
The men reached the approaches to a trench defended by 400 yards of uncut wire six yards deep and running along the contour swept by machine guns from left, front and back. Some made their way round, others hacked at the wire and forced a way over it. They took the trench with a good number of prisoners, and began to consolidate.
Somewhere about this time the last of the officers in the Hertfordshire Regiment fell, and the sergeant, himself severely wounded, took command. In front of this occupied trench was a shallow ditch manned by a considerable garrison of the enemy, who threw up their hands and came forward to give themselves up, when the sound of machine guns was heard away in the rear of the Territorials, and both Germans and British saw more or less what had happened. These regiments had advanced almost alone……..
These surrendered prisoners, suddenly appreciating the position, took up arms again, and even prisoners in their midst attempted to fight. The Territorials were more than surrounded, if one may say so, for they were also mixed up with the enemy, but they fought on……….
At 11.00 am local time on 31st July 2017, the 100th anniversary of the battle to take St Julien, a memorial was unveiled to the men of the Hertfordshire Regiment who lost their lives in the Great War.
It is placed at the exact spot near St Julien reached by the “Herts Guards”, as they became to be known, at that precise time 100 years earlier. It contains a dedication to the Battalion for the entire war. Also shown is a map and explanation, in English and Dutch, as to reason it is placed in this spot.
The inscription reads -
This memorial is dedicated to the Officers and Men of the 1st Battalion Hertfordshire Regiment who fought in The Great War 1914 - 1918
The description of of the fighting reads -
At 10.10 am on the morning of the 31st July 1917 around 620 men of the 1st Battalion Hertfordshire Regiment attacked German positions on the Pilkem Ridge, the final objective of the opening day of the 3rd Battle of Ypres,
After leaving the Steenbeck River the Battalion came under heavy machine gun fire as they advanced towards their objectives. This memorial marks the point of the furthest advance of the Battalion that day. By midday, suffering heavy casualties, the Battalion was forced to withdraw in the face of a fierce enemy counter-attack. Over the next hour the remnants of the Battalion conducted a fighting withdrawal to their starting position, leaving behind every officer and 75% of other ranks, killed, wounded or captured.