In spring 1915, the Army was suffering a shortage of heavy artillery and machine guns and general orders limited operations to small aggressive threats which will not require much ammunition or many troops.
On 2 June 1915, a German bombardment followed by an infantry, led to the loss of the ruins of the Hooge Chateau and Stables, then on 19 July, a large mine, the first using the explosive ‘Ammatol’, was exploded under the German trench positions at Hooge, and the crater was occupied by 4th Middlesex whilst artillery quelled German attempts to recover the crater.
In the Hooge Crater action that was to follow on 30 July 1915, eight men from Rugby were ‘Killed in Action’ in the defence and counter attacks. Their biographies are given in more detail on this ‘Rugby Remembers’ site, but all were in various battalions of the Rifle Brigade or the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, which although having similar names, and in this case the same Battalion numbers and histories, were separate Regiments.
In the 41st Brigade, two of the Rugby men who died that day were in the 8th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade: Lance Corporal George Edwin COLEY, S/1275; and Rifleman Frederick PEE, S/2152.
Three and most likely four were in the 7th Battalion, Kings Royal Rifle Corps: Rifleman, John Henry PRESTON, R/78; Rifleman Herbert SMITH, R/1621; and Lance-corporal, Albert Edward WATTS, R/160; together with Rifleman William TOMLINSON, R/79, who having the next number after John Preston, was probably also in the 7th Battalion and had joined up at the same time.
One other Rugby man was in the 8th Battalion, Kings Royal Rifle Corps: Rifleman James Henry SIMS a.k.a. JENKINS, A/3456. The 7th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade was also in the 41st Brigade.
In the 42nd Brigade, Sergeant Charles ROBERTS, R/1243 from Rugby was killed in action that day serving in the 9th Battalion, Kings Royal Rifle Corps. The 9th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade was also in the 42nd Brigade.
The 7th, 8th, and 9th Battalions of the Rifle Brigade were formed from volunteers at Winchester on 21 August 1914 as part of K1 [Kitchener’s New Army, K1 Army Group] and all came under command of 41st Brigade [and 42nd for the 9th Battalion] in 14th (Light) Division. They moved to Aldershot, going on to Elstead, Grayshott and Petworth respectively in November before returning to Aldershot in February [9th with 42nd Brigade] and March 1915. They arrived in France, landing at Boulogne in May 1915.
There is a similar history for the 7th, 8th, and 9th Battalions of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. They were also formed from volunteers in Winchester as part of K1, on 19 and 21 August [and on an unspecified date for the 9th]. They also came under command of 41st Brigade [and 42nd for the 9th Battalion] in 14th (Light) Division. They moved to Aldershot, with the 7th and 8th going to Grayshott in November and in February 1915 to Bordon and then returned to Aldershot in March 1915. The 9th went to Petworth in November with 42nd Brigade and in February 1915 returned to Aldershot. The three Battalions also landed in Boulogne, France in May 1915 (on the 19th, unspecified and 20th respectively).
Initially without equipment or arms of any kind, the new recruits in the 41st Division were judged to be ready by May 1915, and landed in Boulogne, although their move to the fighting front was delayed by lack of rifle and artillery ammunition.
The first significant action for the 41st Division was in the Hooge area and the 41st Brigade of 14th Division took over in the sector a week before the end of July 1915. The 8th Rifle Brigade held the Hooge Crater lip, with the 7th Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps was to their right.
On that fateful day, 30 July 1915, the Germans launched an attack to recover the Hooge Crater. The attack began at 03.15am using flamethrowers with ‘jets of flame streaming from the German parapets rather like water might come from a large hose’. This was the first use of these terrifying ‘fire weapons’ against the British. The Germans achieved complete surprise, and caused much confusion and panic amongst the British defenders. The British front line was evacuated. The 42nd Brigade on the left was not attacked at that time.
At 11.30am, a counterattack by both the 41st and 42nd Brigades was ordered after a short artillery bombardment. The 41st Division attack failed, although the 9th KRRC of the 42nd recovered some of the lost lines. The 43rd Brigade relieved the 41st during the later afternoon. Another flamethrower attack that night was repulsed, and further efforts on 31 July came to nothing.
A subsequent attack by 6th Division on 9 August 1915 regained all of the ground lost, including the ruins of the Hooge Chateau Stables.
The 14th Division lost almost 2,500 men at Hooge on 30 July 1915.
This article on the Hooge Crater action was written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the Rugby Family History Group, July 2015.