The second Battle of Bellewaarde Farm
The 5th (Service) Battalion of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry had been formed at Oxford in August 1914 as part of Kitchener’s new army and was placed under the orders of the 42nd Brigade in the 14th (Light) Division. On 21 May 1915 they landed in Boulogne.
A few days later, some four months before the Battle of Bellewaarde Farm, on 24/25 May 1915, a final scene of the Second Battle of Ypres had been played out in what later became known as the First Battle of Bellewaarde Ridge. Further actions in the area included an attempt to take Bellewaarde Farm on 16 June 1915, and then later, the Battle of Hooge Crater, which centred on the ruins of the Hooge Chateau and Stables on 30 July 1915, in which eight Rugby men in various Rifle Regiments were killed [see previous post]. 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 various locations in the Hooge/Bellewaarde area are shown on the trench map.
Meanwhile, after various training and providing working parties in the Ypres area, the 5th Ox. and Bucks. went into the trenches for familiarization in June 1915, and thereafter in June and into July were in trenches in the Ypres area as well as providing working parties when not in the front line. There was a steady number of casualties and in June and July some 49 officers and men had been killed and 276 wounded.
On the 1 August 1915, the Battalion, forming part of the 42nd Infantry Brigade of the 14th (Light) Division, was still in the neighbourhood of Ypres, holding trenches near the Menin Road. They alternated in the line with the 5th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry.
The Battle of Loos would take place mainly from 25-30 September 1915, but extended to 14 October, and the second Battle of Bellewaarde Ridge, or of Bellewaarde Farm, on 25 September 1915, was a disastrous diversionary attack launched to distract German attention from the Battle of Loos.
A detailed report of the action, including War Diaries of the 5th Battalion, the orders for the action and individual officers’ reports and sketch maps of the area can be found on the Web, and a brief summary and extracts are given below.
The 42nd Infantry Brigade was tasked with seizing Bellewaarde Farm. The 5th Bn. Ox. and Bucks. were in the centre, with the 5th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (KSLI) on their right and the 9th Rifle Brigade to their left.
Before the action on 17 September, all the officers and N.C.O.s visited the ‘spit-locked’ plan of the German trenches around Bellewaarde Farm, laid down (life-size) from aeroplane photographs.
On 19 September the whole Battalion had hot baths and change of shirts in Poperinghe, followed by Church Parade at 11.30 a.m. Companies practised the attack on skeleton trenches in the afternoon. Forty men of the Battalion were allowed to go each night to the 6th Division ‘Fancies’, and forty to the Cinema in Poperinghe.
After a further three days training and familiarization, the Battalion proceeded to the trenches on 23 September. Two Companies went by train, leaving Poperinghe at 6p.m. They then left the Menin Gate at 7.40p.m., with 5 minutes’ interval between Companies, and proceeded, via Menin Road and Cambridge Road, to occupy their trenches.
On 24 September, ‘… heavy bombardment by our guns of all sorts continued throughout the day, … One H.E. shell pitched in one of D Company’s dug-outs, killing 1 man and wounding 6 men. Our own 6-inch Battery put about a dozen shells or more into H.17, H.16, and H.16.S. Four were dropped in the H.Q. dug-out of the 5th K.S.L.I. Three guns appeared to fire correctly, but the fourth gun was persistently short. Result: about 21 of our men were killed and wounded, and about 15 of the 5th K.S.L.I., and some damage was done to the trenches. The Forward Observation Officer of the Battery was killed.’
During a preliminary bombardment at 3.50a.m., the troops moved from their assembly trenches and at 4.19a.m. a mine was exploded, with the assault launched at 4.20a.m., and the barrage lifting for a minute to mid-way between the German lines, and then at 4.21a.m. lifting for two minutes onto the second German line, and then on to the third line.
Meanwhile the men were ready to ‘… sweep forward to the German 2nd line …’, with platoons ‘… to arrange to enter Bellewaarde from the south, and arrange fire to keep down machine guns if necessary’. Various ‘bombing parties’ and ‘blocking parties’ were deployed to protect the attack.
It seems that some objectives were reached, but men on the left were severely dealt with by enemy artillery, and whilst the Ox. and Bucks. met up with the Shropshires, they later had to withdraw when the Germans counter-attached.
On 26 September. ‘… Only about 180 N.C.O.s and men, the C.O., and the Adjutant came back out of the trenches, and went by train to Poperinghe, thence marching to the camp we had last been in near La Lovie Chateau. We have now to face the ordeal of starting again from where we were a year ago, …’. The Battalion returned to a ‘Camp near Poperinge’ by 1 October, when the War Diary noted that 46 other ranks were killed, six died of wounds, 249 were wounded and 136 were missing. Two days later a draft of 200 NCOs and men, a ‘… very good looking lot of men’ arrived from 9th Bn. to provide replacements.
The eight Rugby men, from the 5th Battalion of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, who were killed in action in the attack on Bellewaarde Farm were: BARBER, F., 11043, L/Corpl; BARNETT, S. G., 10554, L/Corpl; BATES, A., 10174, Private; GOFFIN, W. F., 11080, Private; HINKS, J. V., 10546, Private; PAGE, W., 11075, Private; STENT, P. V., 10555, Corporal; and SUMMERS, F. J., 11077, Private. POWELL, Horace, Y/531, who was listed as a Rifleman, but was actually a Corporal in the 9th Bn. Kings Royal Rifle Corps, who were in action on the left flank of the 5th Bn. Ox. and Bucks was also killed in that action, as was another local man in the 5th Ox. & Bucks., CASHMORE, Alfred Charles, who is remembered on the Hillmorton War Memorial.
This article on the Second Battle for Bellevaarde Farm 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, September 2015.
 The name may vary depending on British, Flemish and French spellings, and indeed, misspellings!
 Sourced with thanks from exhibition by the Cotesbach Educational Trust.
 1834, J. S. Macaulay, Field Fortif., iii. 49, ‘Having set up the profiles, trace with a pick-axe (termed ‘spit-locking’) the escarp and counterscarp lines’; 1892, G. Philips, Text Bk. Fortif., (ed. 5), 153, ‘Cutting a groove along the surface of the ground with the point of a pick (spit-locking)’.