The Battle of Loos was the largest British battle that took place in 1915 on the Western Front during World War I. It was the first time the British used poison gas and the first mass engagement of New Army units. The British battle was part of the attempt by the Allies to break through the German defences in Artois and Champagne and restore a war of movement. Despite improved methods, more ammunition and better equipment, the Franco-British attacks were contained by the German armies, except for local losses of ground. British casualties at Loos were about twice as high as German casualties.
Five men from Rugby are remembered on the Loos Memorial, which surrounds the Dud Corner cemetery, Loos and are assumed to have died in action at Loos.
On the first day of the battle, three Rugby men were killed in action. TURNER, J. L., 11090, Private; and WOODHOUSE, P., 11091, Private, both in 2nd Bn. Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry; and BROWN, P. E., 8533, Private in the 2nd Bn. Leicestershire Regiment.
On the second day, a further two Rugby men were killed. FRANKTON, W. F., 21537, a Private in the 3rd Bn. Grenadier Guards; and BUSH, J. W., 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Scots Fusiliers.
There were probably other Rugby casualties later in the action, such as RUSSELL , P. E., Gunner in the RFA, ‘D’ Bty, 71st Bde., who died on 3 October and was buried plot H183, in Dud Corner Cemetery.
On the first day, the artillery failed to cut the German wire and in advancing over open fields, within range of German machine guns and artillery, British losses were devastating. The British were though able to break through and capture the town of Loos-en-Gohelle, due to numerical superiority. Supply and communications problems, combined with the late arrival of reserves, meant that the breakthrough could not be exploited.
The following day, the Germans had recovered and improved their defensive positions and British attempts to continue the advance with the reserves were repulsed, and suffered 8,000 casualties out of 10,000 men in four hours. A lull fell on 28 September, with the British having retreated to their starting positions, having lost over 20,000 casualties, including three major-generals.
‘The real tragedy … was its nearness to complete success. … There seemed to be nothing ahead of us, but an unoccupied and incomplete trench system. … All that we needed was more artillery ammunition to blast those clearly-located machine-guns, plus some fresh infantry to take over from the weary and depleted “Jocks.” But, alas, neither ammunition nor reinforcements were immediately available, and the great opportunity passed. – Richard Hilton’
On 8 October, the Germans attempted to recapture lost ground by attacking around Loos and on the left flank. The German attack was repulsed. The British made a final attack on 13 October, which failed due to a lack of hand grenades.
Robert Graves described the battle and succeeding days in his war memoir Goodbye to All That.
For a detailed report on the battle of Loos, go to: http://www.1914-1918.net/bat13.htm
This article 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.