Home » First World War » Harry Tyers recalls Loos

Harry Tyers recalls Loos

Sergeant Harry Tyers would not have been permitted to keep a diary during the war years, but in April 1933, he wrote an account of his experiences in an excellent hand written document. Harry was better known by all his comrades for his expertly drawn cartoons of life in the trenches, many of which are preserved in the Regimental Museum. The article below is an extract from his diary…

“On the morning of 22nd September 1915, the officers and NCOs visited the Brigadier’s observation station, a house thickly sandbagged at Maroc, from which a splendid view of the country was observed. Every part of the ground over which we would have to attack was committed to memory: house, barn, strong points etc from where fierce resistance was to be expected was made the object of special attention. In front of my platoon frontage was a house where some cross roads met, pointed on the map as Valley Cross Roads. This was known to be heavily fortified with machine guns and from our point of vantage, looked a formidable place.

At night, everyone was busily engaged on some secret work, ie carrying to the advanced line, huge cylinders of gas to be used against our amiable friends. Everything was done methodically, not a detail being overlooked and we worked very hard to have everything ready for the great day. I might here mention that it was the first time the British used gas cylinders – before, it was rather a mystery as to what the heavy iron vessels contained, especially as the word ‘gas’ was never used, but was known under the name of ‘stout’.

The dispositions of the troops were as follows. The 15th Division, mostly ‘Jocks’, had Loos as their objective, whilst our Division, the 47th, was to take the garden city and ground to the right up to the Lens Road. The 1st Division were attacking on the left of the 15th, whilst on our right the French were making a dummy attack. Gas was to be used along the whole front.

‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies of our battalion were to lead the advance in the following order – Number 1 Platoon (which was mine) were to be ready for the advanced trench, followed by Numbers 3, 2, and 4. ‘B’ Company was arranged in a similar manner on our left. Our objective was the German 2ndline, which took in the house at the Valley Cross Roads, already mentioned. There had been intermittent bombardments by our artillery for four days and we were informed that we were to be backed up by divisions who would advance over us and altogether, it was going to be a big thing. On the night of 24th September, after a long preparation, we marched out of Les Brebis at midnight, carrying only iron rations and extra food in our packs, the overcoats being dumped previously in a ruined school at Maroc.

As we neared the trenches, the Brigadier came over and shook our CO’s hand and wished us luck, telling us to keep up the reputation of the Brigade. It took some hours to sort ourselves out and reach our allotted places whilst our artillery bombarded the enemy lines. At 555am, everyone was on the qui-vive and punctually at 6am with a huge hissing noise, the gas was turned on over the parapet by the Royal Engineers and Welch Fusiliers, who had charge of that affair. For half an hour, smoke and gas were turned on alternately. The Germans subjected us to a terrific bombardment and succeeded in smashing several of the cylinders. One was broken in the next bay to where several of the boys and myself were waiting for the time to go over. Whizzbangs and heavy shells were smashing in the trench and we could not see each other for smoke. For the first few minutes, I felt rather terror stricken, but soon recovered myself.  One of the boys, a decent little chap from the Emerald Isle, lost his nerve completely and sobbed and cried until I gave him a pretty stiff dose of rum.

When he recovered, he started to sing ‘Killarney’ in a shrill falsetto voice. After about a quarter of an hour of the intense shell fire, one became quite jubilant and itched for the time to come to go over. Almost on the half hour, a rather amusing thing occurred. A corporal, who was with me and who did not know the meaning of fear, had his gas mask on top of his head and was contentedly puffing at a pipe informing me all the while that smoking kept the gas off and it was unnecessary to wear the helmet. A minute or so afterwards, he was coughing and reeling along the trench, tearing at his throat and knowing that for him to remain in the trench was a certain death. I pulled his mask over his face and pushed him up the scaling ladder to send him sprawling over the parapet. He disappeared, stumbling through the smoke towards the German lines. The amusing part of this anecdote is that about eight hours afterwards, he joined up and said that he fell in the centre of ‘No Man’s Land’ and slept through the whole attack and was luckily unhurt by the stuff that was flying about.

At 630am, the gas was turned off and we mounted the ladders and followed on. One could not see six yards for the smoke, which hung over the field like a fog. Almost the first man to collapse was Mr Chapman, my platoon officer, a man who had not been in the country long, being hit in the stomach and mortally wounded. We had only gone about 20 yards when we ran up against fire from machine guns and the boys seemed to fade away from each side of me. I knelt beside poor Buchanan, a kid I was rather fond of, but he only smiled and said ‘Stick it, Sarge’ and then died. I continued on but fell down the slopes of the road. A man followed but was shot through the head and his body rolled grotesquely into the road. I came to the German front line quite before I realised it, having lost all sense of direction, and can dimly see again the face and body of a Bosche as he hurled a stick bomb at me, which passed over my shoulder and exploded harmlessly behind me. I entered the trench and was joined by an officer of the 6th London Regiment, bareheaded and carrying a revolver in each hand and together we bombed dug outs and accounted for a few Germans, who were knocking about. In this trench, I had rather a narrow squeak. I was passing a dug out when the officer shouted ‘Look out!’ I dodged just in time to escape the bayonet of a Bosche as he thrust viciously at me, the point of his weapon making a small hole in my left hand. Up to this time, I was rather chary of using the bayonet, but I let him have the point of my weapon through the neck. Soon after, I was violently sick owing, I think, to the gas I had inhaled and had a strong inclination to lie down and sleep.

We continued down the trench with the object of finding our respective units and on passing down a communicator, a German officer and ten men surrendered to us after we had given them a couple of bombs. Sending the party back under a corporal, we reached a large slag heap. Here, some fierce fighting was in progress with the enemy contesting every inch of the ground. We looked pretty objects, being covered in coal dust thrown up by the shells as they burst on the heap. Soon after, the young officer was killed by a huge piece of shell, which smashed his head. Leaving the slag heap, I returned the way I had come and eventually came across our bombers, who were having a battle royal around the house at the Valley cross roads.

In all my experience, I have never seen men tackle so difficult a proposition as those bombers. Every bomb that was hurled seemed to find the windows and openings. It was not long before we were inside and settled properly to business. We lost a number of good boys in the fight. Poor Charlie Mann and Ripley of my company were killed besides numerous others, but I counted 41 Germans dead in and about the house, so the fierceness of the fight will be realised. Meanwhile, the Battalion had driven the enemy from the garden city on the right of Loos and had consolidated the enemy second line. A few of the bombers with myself, made our way to the village. When we entered by the twin towers, the place was in a shambles and the ‘Jocks’. were still on the job. We linked up with a party of Scotsmen and ran up the main street after a body of the enemy troops. At the converging roads by the ‘Brasserie’,  the Germans made a start and met us with a hot rifle and machine gun fire, but the ‘Jocks’ were amongst them in a twinkling of an eye and the bayonet was brought into play, only a few of the enemy escaping.

The Scots were avenging Richebourg and were not taking prisoners, shouting, ‘Ninth of May, you bastards!’ as they bayoneted the Germans right and left.

When then enemy were finally driven from the village, it presented an awful spectacle – British and German bodies lying in the roads and it was by her grocer’s shop that I saw Mlle Helene Moreau tending the wounded although the beaten foe were shelling the town with heavy guns. On the left of Loos, heavy fighting was still taking place, the 1st Division having to attack three times before they took the first German line in the neighbourhood of ‘Lone Tree’. Soon after these events, I found what remained of my company established in the enemy second line under the command of Lieut Dale. The night passed uneventfully except for a continuous bombardment by the enemy and on the following day, I saw from the signal station on a high point on the Lens road, an attack by the Brigade of Guards. Advancing over the ground, they were undeterred by the shrapnel, which burst low over their heads and reached the enemy and drove them from their positions. Immediately in front of us, the 20th London, assisted by the bombers of the Division, was still fighting in a small copse. The Germans were retiring all along the line and the guns were being withdrawn through Lens.

On the 27th and 28th September, we were still holding the line that we had won, although we were strafed heavily by the enemy artillery. During these days, we witnessed some fine acts of bravery. On the night of the 28th, we were relieved by the 22nd London Regiment. It was raining heavily and great difficulty was experienced in getting over the ground. As we passed in file along the road, we came across the bodies of many of the boys. At the house at the cross roads, piles of dead Germans were heaped up against the walls – altogether, not a pretty sight.

At Maroc, we were met by out transport who gave us a good welcome and we continued on to Les Brebis, where we billeted at about midnight. The next day was taken up in cleaning and making out returns of the killed, wounded and missing. The losses of the battalion were about three hundred and fifty. ‘A’ Company alone losing 98. On the 30th September, we started a trek from Les Brebis and arrived at a tiny village named Hesdigneul at 3pm where we were put up in a school room. We had a quiet time there. After an inspection by the Brigadier, he thanked us for the way we had behaved on the 25th onwards. We suffered very much afterwards from swelled heads.”