Letter found in WW1 Northampton Book

Transcribed with omision where hand writing was indecipherable

This is a moving account of the last mass Cavalry charge including the Northampton Yeomanry

45 Upper Mounts

Dear Mr Lowery

I am at last returning your book which to me was very interesting as it covered a period when I was “occupied” over the channel.

Attached are a few roughly scrawled notes which may add a bit more padding to the narrative concerning the section dealing with the Northants Yeomanry.

I would like to thank you for loaning me the book, if when you have looked at the enclosed perhaps you could set one of your staff to drop it through my letter box when convenient.

Yours Truly Xxxxxxxxx

Page 108. Photo taken at Bridge Street Goods Station within a week of being mobilised and as soon as regiment has been allocated its horses. All weapons and saddles etc had been in store at Militia stores.

Right Column under photo- Derby Racecourse Grandstand our location where men and horses got “used to each other” !!! m. G. Section detained at xxxxxx xxxx last Sunday in August and was billeted at Franklins Farm Houghton Regis about 1 mile from Dunstable. Completed initial training here. Rage practice at Dunstable, Inspection by Kitchener at Luton Hoo Dash (Mrs Wexxxx) Passed as efficient and moved by rail to Hunsley Park. Raining like hell, 2nd Northants arrived from abroad in their Kaki drill and shorts and were re-equipped and sent on leave. Both units allocated to 8th Division.

Landed at Le Harve on 5th November and put up a tented camp, but detailed almost at once and went up to the front 1st Billet at farm at Sailly. Village of La Ventie had just been evacuated by residents and tables in some homes were still laid for meals. Church had been used for Billet by “Jerry”.

Double Squads (every 3rd night) line abreast ½ to ¾ mile away and the darkness was lit up by Verey lights and shell bursts intermittently and a few heavy rounds through at dawn.

Moved to village of Lestreux has de Calais and billeted in Chateaux for a brief period.

M. G. section went into the line at “Point Arthur” on page 74 is a photograph of our Maxim mg left to right J Richardson Pte E.C. Basford L/Cpl (Deceased) R Blackwell Pte. The widow of E.C. Basford has a photo (9 Delapre Crescent Road)

Page 109 mentions Sgt Johnson having been mentioned in despatches but no details

The Yeomanry gun team under Sgt Johnson had been detached from the 4th Regt and with a party of the 2nd Lincolner were holding a sector of this line known as the “Street of Hell”, we were at the junction of where our brigade was held up by rifle and MG fire and when the friends on our right under another command started to advance that gun fired a its best behaviour that day hacking the enemy down. When we were due to be relieved we had moved out and a few men only came in. It was getting on for dawn and Sgt Johnson brought us back and had us linking up with our Horses. (Our relief had lost its way) I think this is why he was mentioned in dispatches. He was latter commissioned I believe in 13th Hussars and later became a district Inspector of the RIC until 1922.

The gun team went to Belgium with B Squadron and had a year in the Salient and had shells and trench work to add more fire power and we went with the 16th mg brigade at the line, Jerry came in with his xxx liquid fire attack.

Earlier A squadron under Capt Collier had been sent up at the line of the Gas attack with a piece patrol and ran into the Jerry losing his horse killed and 2 men captured.

Page 110 – 1916/17 we worked with the new Zealand tunnelling mining company in Area Hunter St and Horace St support. We drove down galleries in the dark about 14 feet down and every few yards we drove out side galleries left and right of the main tunnel

The object was to construct these so that when the attack took place in 1917, wounded men could be evacuated along these galleries and reinforcements and stores passed out. These were dug right under the German lines and our job was to cart all these and bags of chalk back at night emptying them into shell holes.

Notices were warning not to make a noise. No talking, telling you to listen for counter mining etc etc.

Occasionally raids took place Bottom of page 110. (This last paragraph is a flight of imagination !!!)

We proceeded at a slow march through the town, stopping by an old billet at the Hospice St Josephs and on through St Nicholas and Blangy merely going at a trot until more information had been obtained, Streams of walking wounded and xxxx were coming down and we got to Athies we ran into the dead and the ugliness of destruction. We were on the south branch of the Scarpe and advanced to Fampoux and got as far as Roeux but as no troops were following us we had to retire as dusk was approaching.

We had got right trough but there were no lads to take over. We sent back some prisoners from an artillery camp we captured and then rejoined our horses on the Scarpe and Some infantry came and took over. We same back to the Scarpe again for another day what for we never knew, many casualties and no food and then we with draw behind a straggling wood and slept as best we could with our horses still saddled.

Wednesday morning we formed up and rode back to a place called Grange Hill and there we met the 8th Cavalry Brigade. This consisted of the Scots Guards, 10th Hussars and Essex Yeomanry who had been in Arras all the time and not used. At the top of the hill stood a village of Monchy le Preux and GHQ actually had an idea? They formed the 4 Regiments of Cavalry in columns of squadrons and at intervals sent us forward at a gallop to capture it !! As we had been duty regiment our sgt was No 4 and as we were duty squadron of the day before we were the last squadron.

As soon as Jerry spotted what was taking place he opened up with his 5.9’s. We had about a mile to go and the last part was up a steep slope with a cross roads at the top of the hill on the Pevles road.

This is the typed manuscript as referred to also placed in book


Easter Sunday arrived. The trumpeters sounded the "Reveille" and shortly afterwards "Stables." We went to the horse lines and started the day's routine as usual and got busy with Dandy brush and wisp, getting our horses cleaned ready for the usual inspection, and then getting the nose bags filled and the horses watered. "Feed" sounded and then there was the usual scraping of fore-feet, whinnying and neighing till the nose bags were on and they were busy with their morning meal. All except those not on Stable guard trooped off to breakfast and everything was as normal as things could be.

We had our breakfast and fell in for the usual Sunday morning Arms and personal inspection, rifle and bayonet and sword. Then we had a shock for after this was over, we were ordered to clean our Saddlery for inspection. This was certainly unusual and little time was allowed for us to get it ready, but we did it, and polished up our brasses and burnished our bits and stirrup reins and neck chains till they sparkled. The inspection didn't take long and then we had another shock when the order was given to saddle-up in full marching order. As soon as this was done, we had another surprise as we had to draw what the Army grandiloquently termed "the unexpended portion of the day's ration." By this time we were in a state of bewilderment and when we got the order to fall in and get mounted we wondered what the dickens they (H.Q.) were playing at.

Well, off we went, and after riding along in half section for about half an hour we halted, dismounted and tightened up girths. Once more we mounted, and rode along wondering what was afoot; we thought we were on some exercise, and used a lot of lurid language at what we thought was a waste of a good soldier's time.

Then we halted about noon and made a meal out of our rations. Although still daylight, we were in the "dark." We had noticed that we were moving closer to the Line and began to wonder what was on the board. Once more we got mounted and rode up into the Arras shelf through St. Nicholas and then we knew we were for it. We ran into the walking wounded, and gangs of prisoners and the debris around told us what to expect.

On we went through Athies, and were soon on the South Bank of the River Scarper. We again halted with the Railway Bank on our immediate right and the river on the left. Looking across the valley we could see a Cavalry patrol pushing its way in the direction we were facing so it was evident that Jerry had pulled out.

We were dismounted here, and one man to four horses was the order, and the remainder of us scrambled up the Railway Bank and extended on the top and advanced.

We came on a German artillery position and took some prisoners who we sent under escort to where we crossed the Railway and the Cyclists who apparently were working with us took them back to the cages. We pushed on to Fampoux and the Duty Squadron put out a skirmishing line.

Next morning, the Infantry came up and took over and we remained nearby. Later we went back a few hundred yards behind a bend in the river. We stood by and snatched what rest we could. Our day's ration was gone on the Sunday, so we did not have to bother about meals. It snowed that night as we lay out in the open fields. On the Tuesday morning we again returned to our old place by the Railway Bank, and Jerry having got over his surprise had resumed shelling. We had quite a few casualties; the original Adjutant was wounded as was his successor, then the Signalling Officer took over and was killed, and the original Adjutant returned from the Dressing Station and resumed. Two of our troop were killed and we scratched out a hole in the Railway Bank and buried them. We had no cover, and all we did was to sit and smoke and chat and watch the shell bursts around us.

On the Wednesday morning, we were ordered to get mounted and rode back through Athies to the reverse slope of Grange Hill. Here we joined up with the 8th Cavalry Brigade under Big Jim Bulkeley Johnson. I believe the regiments were the 10th Hussars, The Essex Yeomanry and the Scots Greys. Anyhow there were about 1,700 to 1,800 mounted men there in all.

Our Regiment, as it had been the longest out, was to bring up the rear. The orders came to stand to our horses and then Hell opened, for as soon as the leading Regiment showed over the crest of the hill and galloped towards Menchy le Priens, the Jerries opened up with 5.90. Squadron after Squadron, the Brigade went forward and shells were now landing like hail all about us.

Just as we were getting ready to mount they dropped one clean in our midst and that meant another eight of our pals would never ride again. We swapped out wounded horses for fresh ones and got mounted and in our turn off we went. No sign posts were needed to point out the way. We saw a shell burst right where the Brigadier and his staff were grouped and they were wiped out.

We got to Menchy and what a sight met our eyes. Men and horses lying everywhere in the place and along the route we came. Blood was running like rain in the gutters and when we took stock of ourselves, twelve of our troop were there out of thirty-four who had started on the Sunday morning. Menchy was now being heavily shelled and the remains of our Squadron were brought back to the reverse side of a slope to the west of the village. Here we formed up and dismounted and we had time then to look round at what was left of a fine well trained Squadron of Cavalry. We had lost more than half our strength in an hour or two.

Two of us were detailed to select any horse other than officers' chargers and return to Menchy and bring out the other two Squadrons. We left a hundred yards apart and rode up and the pony I was riding got wounded just as we got near the village. It wasn't much so I mounted again and went on having by this time lost my mate. As it happened, I ran into the tail end of a Squadron, who were sitting on the Reives road with their backs to the walls, smoking and holding their horses’ reins. Casualties were steadily mounting, so having delivered my message I started to lead the way back. I thought the remains of the Squadron were following, but when we got out of the place there were only a few and we then saw the remainder coming out by another route. They were very cheerful in spite of what they had been through. What did annoy them was all those fine fellows who had been lost without having had a crack at Jerry. We made for the Railway Triangle after this and we sat on the steps of a Jerry dugout with the rain dripping down under us. We hadn't had a meal since the Sunday and that Wednesday night we saw our transport for the first time and got some food which by that time we badly needed.

Next morning, we mounted and rode back to Agny les Dairons and on the way passed by the Cemetery we had seen there previous on our way up. We happened to halt to allow a procession of Padre, bearers and dead to cross the road and looking over the low hedge the first names we saw on the new wooden crosses were the names of the two chaps killed on the side of the Scarper who we had hastily buried on the Railway Bank.

Although Cavalry were again used in action, this was the last occasion any considerable number were used, and never again will mounted men and horses be pitted against barbed wire and machine fire.

When stragglers returned and the slightly wounded we ultimately found that we had lost 50% of both men and horses.

Cavalry Regiment War strength. H.Q. and 3 squadron of 4 troops, (troop strength = 34. Squadron + H.Q. approx. 150 officers and men)

Approx. total 430 in all ranks.