LOOS BATTLEFIELD TOUR

LOOS IN ONE DAY BY PAUL REED


1. INTRODUCTION - THE BATTLE OF LOOS

The Battle of Loos (25th September – 18th October 1915) was the first major British offensive on the Western Front, and also the first time the British used gas in the Great War. Launched on 25th September, the initial attacks were from the La Bassée Canal at Givenchy in the North to the Double Crassier in the South. Many of the troops assembled for this battle were men of the ‘First 100,000’ – the originals of Kitchener’s Army from September 1914. Indeed the very first Kitchener’s Army division – 9th (Scottish) Division – had its debut here in the battle.

The initial advance at Loos was successful, and the German line breached in several places, but at high cost. Losses on the first day of the Somme in 1916 are well known: similar, if not higher losses were suffered at Loos in September 1915. Some examples:

FIRST DAY OF LOOS: UNITS WITH OVER 450 CASUALTIES

UNIT

OFFICER CASUALTIES

OTHER RANK

CASUALTIES

TOTAL

CASUALTIES

7th Camerons

19

668

687

9th Black Watch

20

660

680

6th KOSB

20

630

650

10th HLI

15

631

646

8th Devonshires

19

620

639

7th KOSB

20

611

631

12th HLI

21

532

553

2nd Royal Warwicks

17

510

527

8th Black Watch

19

492

511

8th Seaforths

23

479

502

8th Royal Berkshires

?

?

493

1st Loyal North Lancs

?

?

489

10th Cameronians

21

464

485

2nd Royal Sussex

?

?

481

9th Devonshires

15

461

476

2nd KRRC

?

?

460

10th Gloucesters

?

?

459

1st Middlesex Regt

16

439

455

1st South Staffs

18

430

448

It should be noted that many of these were Scottish units: aside from the 9th, the 15th (Scottish) Division also fought at Loos. In many ways it was a ‘Scottish Battle’ – certainly more so than almost any other of the war.

The gas used by the British at Loos proved troublesome, and in many places actually blew back on the attackers! This was the last major battle where gas was released from cylinders placed in the front line – thereafter gas shells were developed, which were a far more reliable way of delivering gas to a target. Both sides used this awful weapon until the end of the war.

Fighting continued at Loos following the successes on the first day, and the newly formed Guards Division was brought up to attack Hill 70, which dominated the landscape here. They were assisted by units of the 21st and 24th Divisions, both Kitchener’s Army divisions, who had only been in France a few weeks – this was their first action. Under the face of withering machine-gun fire, these two divisions were forced back from Hill 70. Many accused them of having run away – but their high casualties testify to the fact that the men kept on moving forward into the German guns.

The major stumbling block at Loos was the Hohenzollern Redoubt, which did not fall until 1918. Many units fought here, and in the last phase of fighting at Loos on 13th October 1915, the 46th (North Midland) Division was wiped out in trying to capture this formidable German defensive position.

Casualties at Loos were 2,013 officers and 48,367 other ranks killed and wounded, with 867 officers and 21,627 other ranks missing. Many of those killed and missing were never found – their names placed on the Loos Memorial (see below).

2. LOOS BATTLEFIELD TOUR

This is not a comprehensive tour of the Loos area, but is designed to get you out to see some of the main sites on the battlefield connected with 1915. The tour starts in BETHUNE at the Bethune Town Cemetery. This reached on any number of roads, depending on where you come from and is signposted by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The tour will take about a day, and it presumes you have taken a packed lunch with you.

Maps Required - ideally use the IGN Serie Verte (Green Series) No 2 Dunkerque-Lille or Serie Bleu (Blue Series) 2405 Est: Lens. You can buy both on line at www.ign.fr or in newsagents in Bethune or Lens. The Michelin sheet No 51 also covers the area.

Bethune Town Cemetery

Bethune is 29 kilometres north of Arras. From the town centre of Bethune, turn right in front of the Tribunal and second right at the bottom of the road down to the cul-de-sac where the cemetery will be found.

For much of the First World War, Bethune was comparatively free from bombardment and remained an important railway and hospital centre, as well as a corps and divisional headquarters. The 33rd Casualty Clearing Station was in the town until December 1917. Early in 1918 Bethune began to suffer from constant shell fire and in April 1918, German forces reached Locon, five kilometres to the north. The bombardment of 21 May 1918 did great damage to the town and it was not till October that pressure from the Germans was relaxed. Bethune Town Cemetery contains 3,004 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, including 26 men of the 1/8th Manchester Regiment who were killed by a bomb on 22 December 1917 while marching to rest billets. Second World War burials number 19. There are also 122 French and 87 German war graves. The Commonwealth section of the cemetery was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. 

From here take the N43 out of Bethune, following signs for LENS. Continue to DUD Corner Cemetery and the Loos Memorial.

A feature of the cemetery is a viewing platform reached by taking some steps. From here you will have a superb view across the battlefield.

Dud Corner Cemetery

The main Loos battlefield cemetery, the following are buried here:

1,772 British
28 Canadian

Located on the site of the Lens Road Redoubt, a large German defensive position, this area was attacked and captured by the 15th (Scottish) Division on 25th September 1915. A few graves were on this site in 1918, but this is largely a concentration cemetery with burials from all over the Loos area. The following Victoria Cross winners are buried here:

Sgt Harry Wells VC, 2nd Bn Royal Sussex Regiment, 25th September 1915:

On 25 September 1915 near Le Rutoire, Loos, France, when the platoon officer had been killed, Sergeant Wells took command and led his men forward to within 15 yards of the German wire. Nearly half the platoon were killed or wounded and the remainder were much shaken but Sergeant Wells rallied them and led them on. Finally, when very few were left, he stood up and urged them forward once again and while doing this he was killed.

Captain Anketell Moutray Read, 2nd Northamptonshire Regiment, 25th September 1915:

On 25 September 1915 near Hulluch, France, Captain Read, although partially gassed, went out several times in order to rally parties of different units which were disorganised and retiring. He led them back into the firing line and regardless of danger to himself, moved about under withering fire, encouraging them, but he was mortally wounded while carrying out this gallant work. He had shown conspicuous bravery on other occasions, particularly on the night of 29/30 July when he carried out of action an officer who was mortally wounded, under a hot fire of rifle and grenades.

The Loos Memorial

This memorial commemorates 20,633 soldiers who were killed in the Loos sector from 25th September 1915 until October 1918, and have no known graves. The majority of the names are men who fell in the Battle of Loos in 1915, and every regiment of the British army is represented here. Famous names on the memorial include Lieutenant John Kipling (see above), the poet Charles Hamilton Sorley and the Queen Mother’s brother, Captain Fergus Bowes-Lyon of the 8th Black Watch. All three died at Loos in 1915.

From the cemetery continue on the N43 towards LENS. Take the first turning on the right before a petrol station on the D165 for BULLY-GRENAY. After about a hundred yards, pull over on the left hand side of the road. Here you are looking at a huge twin-peaked slag heap. This is on the site of the Double Crassier.

The Double Crassier

This was a long and tall slag heap in the German lines, assaulted and taken by units of the 47th (London) Division on 25th September 1915. However, the bulk of the position was later re-taken by the Germans and remained in their hands until 1918.

Continue along the D165 through the old mining community of Cite Maroc to Maroc British Cemetery, which is on the right. There is parking outside.

Maroc British Cemetery

The cemetery was begun by French troops in August 1915, but it was first used as a Commonwealth cemetery by the 47th (London) Division in January 1916. During the greater part of the war it was a front-line cemetery used by fighting units and field ambulances, and protected from German observation by a slight rise in the ground. Plot II was begun in April 1917 by the 46th (North Midland) Division and by the middle of October 1918, Plot III, Row A and part of Row B, had been filled. The remainder of Plot III, and the ends of certain rows in Plot I, contain graves brought in after the Armistice from the battlefields and small cemeteries (including Maroc Churchyard), north and east of Grenay. Maroc British Cemetery now contains 1,379 Commonwealth burials and commemorations of the First World War. 264 of the burials are unidentified but there are special memorials to 89 casualties known to be buried among them. In particular, 87 officers and men of the 6th London Regiment, who died on 25 September 1915 in the capture of Loos, are now buried (but without individual identification) in Plot III, Rows H, J, K and L. The cemetery also contains 45 French and German burials. The cemetery was designed by Sir Herbert Baker.

Re-trace your steps and return to the N43 on the D165. However, on reaching the N43 turn right and follow towards Lens. Then turn left into Loos-en-Gohelle village. Continue to the town hall for a visit to the Loos Museum.

Loos Museum

For several years local Great War enthusiasts have been trying to establish a museum at Loos. Since early 2001 there has been a permanent exhibition in the village hall (‘mairie’) and now there is an on-site guide who will take you on a guided tour of the nearby Double Crassier. The museum is not open all the time and for further details and to arrange a visit contact:

Association ‘Sur les traces de la Grande Guerre’
Mairie de Loos-en-Gohelle
Place de la Republique
62750 LOOS-EN-GOHELLE
FRANCE
Tel: 0033 3 21 69 88 77
Email: a.villedieu@infonie.fr
Web: http://perso.wanadoo.fr/asso.sltdlgg/index.htm

There are also two military cemeteries in Loos itself. Neither was there in 1915, but they do contain graves from the 1915 fighting:

Loos British Cemetery

The cemetery was begun by the Canadian Corps in July, 1917, and the graves then made are contained in Rows A and B of Plot I and Row A of Plot II. The remainder of the cemetery was formed after the Armistice by the concentration of graves from the battlefields and smaller cemeteries over a wide area North and East of the village. The great majority of these soldiers fell in the Battle of Loos. There are nearly 3,000, 1914-18 and a small number of 1939-45 war casualties commemorated in this site. Of these, two-thirds from the 1914-18 are unidentified and special memorials are erected to two soldiers from the United Kingdom and four from Canada who are known or believed to be buried among them. Other special memorials record the names of 44 soldiers from Canada and 12 from the United Kingdom, buried in other cemeteries, whose graves were destroyed by shell fire. The cemetery covers an area of 11,364 square metres and is enclosed by a rubble wall. The following were among the burial grounds from which British graves were removed to Loos British Cemetery:- BARTS ALLEY CEMETERY, VERMELLES, about 1 kilometre North-East of the village, named from a communication trench in which a Dressing Station was established. It contained the graves of 38 soldiers from the United Kingdom, who fell, for the most part, in the Battle of Loos. CALDRON MILITARY CEMETERY (RED MILL), in the Southern part of the town of LIEVIN, in which were buried 85 soldiers from the United Kingdom (mainly of the 46th (North Midland) Division), 38 from Canada and one German. CITE CALONNE MILITARY CEMETERY, LIEVIN, in the middle of a mining village between Grenay and Lievin. The cemetery was begun by French troops and used by the British from March, 1916, onwards. It contained the graves of 207 soldiers from the United Kingdom, five from Canada, 130 French and six German. CORKSCREW CEMETERY, LOOS, which was close to the mine known as Fosse II. It contained the graves of 168 soldiers from the United Kingdom and 38 from Canada. COURCELLES-LES-LENS COMMUNAL CEMETERY, in which 19 soldiers and one airman from the United Kingdom, mainly of the 12th (Eastern) Division, were buried in October, 1918. LIEVIN STATION CEMETERY, on the North-West side of the railway station, used in 1917 and containing the graves of 48 soldiers from the United Kingdom (almost all of the 46th (North Midland) Division) and 12 from Canada. LOOS (FORT GLATZ) GERMAN CEMETERY, named from a German strong point at the North-West corner of the village, and containing the graves of three soldiers from the United Kingdom who fell in the summer of 1915.

St Patrick's Cemetery, Loos

St. Patrick's Cemetery was begun during the battle by French and British troops, and used in 1916 very largely by the units of the 16th (Irish) Division. It was closed in June 1918, but a small number of graves were brought into it after the Armistice from the battlefields between Loos and Hulluch. The irregular arrangement of the rows is due to the conditions under which the burials were carried out. There are now nearly 600, 1914-18 war casualties commemorated in this cemetery. Of these, over 40 are unidentified and the graves of 23, destroyed by shell fire, are now represented by special memorials. 

From Loos continue on the D165 to where it meets the D947. Here turn right and then stop by the side of the road. From here you are looking at Hill 70.

Hill 70

This important feature was the highest point on the Loos battlefield, and the scene of some costly fighting in September 1915. Elements of both the 21st and 24th Divisions were almost wiped out here, and the position was captured until the Guards Division came up and took it on 27th September. Lieutenant Jack Kipling of the Irish Guards, and son of Rudyard, was killed here. Today part of it is a shopping complex (beyond the trees you can see) and part of it a small civilian airfield. This is about the best view of it.

Continue on the D947 to the next roundabout and do a full loop, returning in the direction you just came from, along the D947 going towards Hulluch. In Hulluch, at the main roundabout, turn left on the D39 and follow it out of the village to a series of small cemeteries in the fields to your left. The best idea is to mark outside the largest one, which is just astride the D39.

St Mary's ADS Cemetery

Located roughly in the centre of the Loos battlefield, this cemetery has the following burials:

1,761 British
19 Canadian
30 Special Memorials

Until some years ago, one of the graves simply read ‘an unknown Lieutenant, Irish Guards’. Research by Norm Christie, who then worked for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, proved it to be Lieutenant John Kipling, killed at Loos in September 1915. He had a famous father – Rudyard Kipling. Toni and Valmi Holt published a book on this subject, My Boy Jack (Leo Cooper 1998).

Out in the fields close to this cemetery are two others; both battlefield cemeteries. They can be reached by either walking across the fields outside of the main growing season (but respecting property at all times), or by going further along the D39 and taking a track off to the right.

Bois Carré British Cemetery

The cemetery was started during the Battle of Loos in September 1915, and remained in use until August 1916; in 1916 the 16th (Irish) Division used it extensively. A few graves were also added in March 1918. Burials total:

227 British
53 Unidentied
47 Special Memorials

Of these 140 belong to Irish regiments; in particular the 8th and 9th Royal Dublin Fusiliers.

Ninth Avenue Cemetery

Named after a trench which ran across the north end of the cemetery, it was started after the first attack at Loos when an officer and forty-one men from 1st Cameron Highlanders who fell on 25th September 1915 were buried here in a ‘comrade’s grave’. Four other graves were added in January 1916, one of them an unknown. As this is effectively a mass grave, all the Cameron graves are represented by Special Memorials and are arranged in a square within the cemetery.

Now continue on the D39 and then take the next turning on the left, down a minor road. Follow this to a farm complex. Where the complex almost ends, there is a parking bay on the right; park your vehicle here.

Le Rutoire Farm

This was a key feature behind the British lines, and an advanced headquarters and medical post during the Battle of Loos in 1915. Units of the 1st Division assembled for the attack. It was destroyed by 1918 and has been rebuilt. In 1916 and observation bunker was built here, and can be seen at the back of the farm by following a track going out across the battlefield, close to where you parked.

Return towards the D39; there is a farm track going off across the fields. If you have a vehicle capable of driving up here use the track; otherwise walk. The walk will take you to Lone Tree - it is about 1 mile from the road.

Lone Tree

This famous feature marked on all maps of the battlefield. The original survived shell fire to be chopped up for souvenirs by British soldiers! A tree was replanted here in 1995, and a memorial stone now also marks the site. The London Scottish and 2nd Royal Sussex Regiment fought near to here on 25th September 1915. There are also good views across the battlefields. For a good article on the tree by Wayne Young, visit the Western Front Association site.

Return to the D39 and continue towards Vermelles. Just before the village on the left is the memorial to the 46th Division: stop here.

46th (North Midland) Division Memorial

The 46th (North Midland) Division was a first line territorial formation recruited from regiments from the north midland area of England. Among them were the North Staffordshire Regiment, South Staffordshire Regiment and the Leicestershire Regiment. During the operations at the Hohenzollern Redoubt the division was all but wiped out. Using a trench map and compass, it is possible to orientate yourself towards the site of the Hohenzollern Redoubt – but with the ever changing Loos landscape this can be sometimes difficult. Gone, sadly, are the familiar wartime landmarks of Fosse 8 and The Dump.

 Follow the D39 into Vermelles; it bends sharply to the left, with a minor road going off to the right. Take this minor road and follow it for some distance towards Auchy-les-Mines. You will eventually see a CWGC signpost directing you to Quarry Cemetery. There is parking outside the cemetery.

Quarry Cemetery

Quarry Cemetery was used from July, 1915 to June, 1916, and (for two burials) in August, 1917. Its existence is due chiefly to the fighting at Fosse 8 and at the Hohenzollern Redoubt, and it contains many graves of the dismounted Cavalry who occupied this sector in 1915-16. The cemetery, was severely damaged by shell fire. There are now over 100, 1914-18 war casualties commemorated in this site. Of these, 10 are unidentified and many of the graves, identified as a whole but not individually, are marked by headstones bearing the additional words "Buried near this spot".

Then take a track alongside the cemetery going across the fields towards some pylons and a wooded area. Follow this to where it ends. From here look towards the houses you can see in the nearby estate (Cite Madagascar). You are now over-looking the site of the Hohenzollern Redoubt.

Hohenzollern Redoubt

This was a heavily fortified position in the German lines, and one of the keys to the Loos battlefield. Beyond was The Dump and Fosse 8. It was attacked by units of the 9th (Scottish) Division on 25th September 1915, who were all but wiped out here. The 12th (Eastern) Division was heavily involved in early October, the war poet Charles Hamilton Sorley being killed here with the 7th Suffolks. On 13th October 1915 the 46th (North Midland) Division attacked, and again casualties were very heavy. The Redoubt remained firmly in German hands, and the area achieved an infamous reputation as one of the great killing grounds of the Loos battlefield. 

Today there is no trace of the redoubt, although there are some surviving mine craters among the trees: this, however, is private property and there is often hunting there. In 2004 the area here was nearly destroyed by development, but after protests it has been saved. There is an excellent article on the 46th Division attack by Andrew Thornton on Hell Fire Corner.

Retrace your steps to Vermelles and rejoin the D39. Follow it past the church and some shops to the next main junction. Here turn left and follow to Vermelles British Cemetery which is on your right. The best place to park here is to take a minor road just past the cemetery on the right, and follow this round to the back of the cemetery. Your car is safer here: break-ins have been known in this area.

Vermelles British Cemetery

Vermelles was in German hands from the middle of October to the beginning of December, 1914, when it was recaptured by the French. The cemetery was begun in August, 1915 (though a few graves are slightly earlier), and during the Battle of Loos (when the Chateau was used as a Dressing Station) Plot I was completed. It was laid out and fenced by the Pioneers of the 1st Gloucesters, and known for a long time as "Gloucester Graveyard". The remaining Plots were made by the Divisions (from the Dismounted Cavalry Division onwards) holding the line 1.6 kilometres East of the cemetery until April, 1917, and they incorporated a few isolated French graves of October, 1914. From April, 1917, to the Armistice, the cemetery was closed; but after the Armistice graves were brought in (to Plots II, IV and VI) from the battlefields to the East. There are now over 2,000, 1914-18 war casualties commemorated in this site. Of these, nearly 200 are unidentified and special memorials are erected to six soldiers from the United Kingdom, known to be buried among them.

There are some more details of this cemetery plus photos of men buried here on the Silent Cities website.

Return to the road and continue out of Vermelles and join the N43. From here you are free to return to Bethune or continue on elsewhere.

Click here for some books about the Battle of Loos.

©Paul Reed 2005-2006

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