Today is the centenary of the Battle of Loos. On this day the first British ‘Big Push’ of the war began and it was also the first time that large numbers of men from the New Army – Kitchener’s Army – went into battle on the Western Front. 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. On the first day of the battle alone nineteen battalions suffered more than 450 casualties each, and the losses among Scottish regiments were particularly severe at Loos – making it very much a ‘Scottish battle’.
This photograph shows men of the 10th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment who took part in the battle on this day in 1915. They were in the first wave of the attack as part of the 1st Division attack near Bois Carré opposite Hulluch. The battalion’s War Diary describes the opening of the attack:
“….the assault was pushed home with the utmost resolution…. The officers fell as the position of their bodies showed, leading their men, and 16 out of 21 officers were lost. The bodies of our dead indicated how they died with their faces towards the enemy.”
Nearly 900 men of the battalion went into action and more than 600 of them became casualties by the time the battalion was relieved.
The area around Loos was one of France’s richest coal mining districts and the landscape was populated with mining communities and old pit heads. Arguably the most famous was the so-called ‘Tower Bridge‘, a massive pit head lift which stood to the rear of Loos village and which reminded those who saw it of the original Tower Bridge in London. Loos itself sat in a hollow but the top of Tower Bridge could be seen from the British trenches before the battle and it soon became a landmark. Men from the 15th (Scottish) Division took the village on 25th September 1915 and just as the Germans had used it as an Observation Post, British gunners soon did the same until it was eventually destroyed. Many of the men who served at Loos acquired postcards of Tower Bridge in towns like Bethune, and kept them or sent them home to family. Images of it appeared in the popular press of the day.
By 1918 there was little left of Tower Bridge but it was rebuilt post-war. The mining industry in Northern France pretty much collapsed in the 1960s/70s and the pit which the new Tower Bridge served closed. The image below was taken by WW1 author John Giles in the 70s showing the building before it was demolished once more. Today only a few traces exist of Tower Bridge, now tucked away between houses and a small park.
Today is the 97th Anniversary of the Battle of Loos and this image connections us with the tragedy of that day – the human cost in lives as the soldiers of both sides fell in their thousands on 25th September 1915. But this image is not of a soldier or a warrior, but of a little girl. Written on it is the legend ‘Returned From France after Battle of Loos’. A postcard photograph, it was taken in Reading – where I bought it when I lived there in the early 1990s. The Royal Berkshire Regiment, the local unit to Reading, had several battalions involved in the fighting at Loos and it likely was the daughter of one of their men who went over the top that day. What happened to him? How did he become separated from this image? One veteran I interviewed recalled seeing postcards like this blowing around the battlefield, scattered from the pockets of men killed and wounded. Some soldiers picked them up, knowing how such treasures would be missed, and sent them back to local newspapers who printed them after big battles like Loos. Whether this one was ever reunited with its owner or whether this young girl grew up without a father we will never know – but it remains a powerful image and a link to the tragedy the Great War caused.
This week is the 97th Anniversary of the Battle of Loos, not only the first major British offensive on the Western Front but the first British use of gas and the first time on the Western Front entire formations of Kitchener’s Army men – the willing volunteers of 1914 – fought in a major battle. All this week Great War Photos will feature images connected with the battle.
We start with this group photograph of men of the Coldstream Guards in August 1915. Taken only a few weeks before the Battle of Loos it shows men of a Guards training platoon at their end of their course awaiting posting to the front. Up until this time the different battalions of the Guards had been posted across the British Expeditionary Force but a decision had been made to bring them all together under a unified command into what became the Guards Division. The units of the division – many of whom had been in action continuously since Mons in 1914 – were brought together that summer and assembled for the next offensive; although they would not play their part in the vanguard of the Battle of Loos but in fighting for locations like the Hohenzollern Redoubt.
Weeks of physical drill, bayonet practice, shooting on the range and training in all the new accoutrements of trench warfare had steeled these men in this photograph for the front. Within a month they were at the base being posted as re-enforcements to the Coldstream battalions in the Guards Division and then thrown straight into battle at Loos. As Guardsmen they gained a high reputation, which would see their regiment and the Guards Division at the forefront of engagements until the end of the conflict.