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Ypres Front (November 1916 to September 1917)

The rest of October 1916 was spent in the 1st Battalion moving from the Somme to the Ypres region and in training. The London Irish entered the line again at Ravine Wood on 8th November sustaining casualties from shell fire on the following nine days, 2/Lieut Stedman and eleven other ranks being killed.

The danger was that Hill 60, from which the sector derived its name, rose gently in the enemy lines providing valuable observation of the British trenches. The Germans had occupied this position since the early days of the war and converted it into an almost impregnable fortress. When the London Irish returned to the line at the end of January 1917, the snow covered ground made every movement conspicuous, and white smocks were issued. A considerate Brigade HQ authorised a double rum ration in an attempt to ameliorate the severe conditions. In mid February, the Bombing Platoon was disbanded after a year and a half of magnificent success, and the bombers returned to their companies. Lieut Col Mahon was forced to leave through illness and the command was taken over by Major DB Parry, who was later confirmed in the position as Lieut Colonel.

March 1917 was uneventful but the first few days of April were spent in special training for a forthcoming raid. Division had been most enthusiastic following a successful raid by the 6th London Battalion on 20th February to identify the enemy defences south of Hill 60. At the cost of eleven other ranks killed and 65 all ranks wounded, one officer and 117 other ranks were captured and a large number of the enemy killed and wounded.

The London Irish were ordered to carry out a further raid on the German salient on 7th April with the whole battalion participating. The entire area was known to be under enemy observation from Hill 60.  The bad condition of the ground made all movement slower than planned and the raiders lost 2/Lieut Dubois, 2/Lieut Wilson and 57 other ranks killed when caught in the open by shell and machine gun fire. A further three officers and 134 other ranks were wounded, so that out of a total of about 500 taking part in the raid, there were 196 casualties. It was later learnt that the enemy were aware of the scheme and in addition to their artillery making our withdrawal very difficult, a battalion of storm troops had been brought up in support.

Most of the remaining days of April were spent out of the line and for the first time in six months the battalion found itself beyond the range of the guns. By the middle of May, the London Irish were back in the line with rumours of a major offensive very strong. This was to be the 2nd Army’s attack for the Messines Ridge in which the 47th Division had an important role. At the time, the Battalion’s fighting strength was 25 officers and 719 other ranks. The London Irish moved forward on 7th June, but were not involved in the initial fighting. Three days later, a strong London Irish patrol encountered a large body of the enemy on the Spoil Bank and inflicted many casualties. This position was later captured by the 24th Division.

July found the battalion out of the line at Ridge Wood near Dickesbuch providing night parties on various tasks to the forward area. During their stay, King George V passed through and was cheered by the troops. Major WH Murphy, who had commanded the 2nd Battalion prior to their sailing to Salonica, joined the 1st Battalion as second-in-command.

On 17th August, the London Irish were back at Ypres where Lt-Col Parry was admitted to hospital and Major Murphy took over command. Enemy artillery fire was intense during August, causing many casualties.  German planes were also extremely active making a special point of attacking horse lines with machine guns and bombs.

Read more about the 1st Battalion’s time at Ypres here.