17th (Northern) Division
history 1915

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goodbyeeee. Off to France and Flanders

1915. First contact with the Western Front.
The Division left for France between July 12th-15th, 1915. The men of the 6th Dorsets boarded the 'St. Cecelia' and escorted by two destroyers, arrived in Boulogne at 3 a.m. on July 14th. The 50th Brigade marched in sweltering heat to Pont des Briques then boarded cattle trains that took them to the vincinity of St.Omer. Two further days of marching followed, the units arrived at Steenvoorde on the Franco-Belgian border where they were inspected by Lt.General Plumer.
The 17th Division's first taste of the trenches was in the Ypres salient. The Division was part of 5 Corps commanded then by Lt. Gen. Allenby. The other two divisions were the 3rd and the 46th.
The first units to go into the trenches at Sanctuary Wood on July 25th were companies of the 6th Dorsets, 9th Duke of Wellington's and the pioneers of the 7th York and Lancaster. Nine casualties was the result of the first day in the trenches. The Dorsets lost their first man (Pte. A.J. Banks)
General Pilcher was slightly wounded by a shell splinter the next day whilst touring the trenches at Sanctuary Wood, so much for the generals in their chatêaux. During the night July 27th-28th, the 51st Bde. sent a detachment of men from its four battalions to the trenches at the extreme point of the salient at Hooge. 15 casualties were suffered just moving into the trenches. German shelling intensified on the 30th and was followed up by a night attack on the British positions around Hooge. The men of the 51st Bde. saw the Germans using liquid fire for the first time, the brunt of the attack falling on the men of the King's Royal Rifles of the 14th Division.
The next area designated to the Division was the sector held by the 3rd Division, this was a two mile section of front in the southern part of the salient between the Wytschaete-Vierstraat road and Oosthoek. The line here was not the shell battered wilderness that we imagine today when we think of the battlefields of the Great War. Farm buildings still remained and the wire was hidden by rank grass, cornflowers and other wild flowers. (See Peter Barton's excellent book) http://astore.amazon.com/17thnortdivi-20
The line was taken over during the night August 1st-2nd . It was a rainy night and the dugouts and trenches were flooded. On July 4th, the Division received its first draft of replacements, a total of 687 men. On August 9th, the 17th Division's artillery took part in the preparatory bombardment of Hooge that was to precede an attack by the 3rd Division. One 18 pdr. was lost to a direct hit from an eight inch shell.
Division losses for the first month in the trenches were.
officers 7 killed 11 wounded
other ranks 90 killed 420 wounded
total 528 men
September 1915 is a month more famous for the Battle of Loos that began on the 25th some 40 miles south of the 17th Division.
The battalions continued to hold the line in the St.Eloi sector of the salient. The Dorsets lost six killed and 43 wounded during this time, the battalion had its first officer killed by a sniper on September 18th.
Plans were made for subsidiary attacks in the salient designed to draw German reserves away when the Loos offensive began. The Borders and Sherwood Foresters were attached to the 3rd Div. which was due to attack along with the 14th Div. on September 25th.
The bombardment began all around the salient on the 23rd. The Germans soon replied with heavy calibre guns. On the 25th the British barrage resumed at 3.30 a.m. and the two divisions attacked Hooge at sunrise, the two 17th Div. battalions were held in reserve. The remaining battalions were kept busy by making the enemy believe that an attack was imminent on their lines near St. Eloi. The news filtering back from Hooge indicated that the attack had been successful. A German counter attack later not only retook the gains made in the morning but they had also taken some of the British trenches. The Borders and Sherwood Foresters losses were 222. The end of the month saw the Division take over a new sector some 2,500 yards in length, this added to the trenches already held made a frontage of around 7,000 yards. The new portion of front was just south of the canal to just beyond where the Ypres- Lille railway passed through the line.  The Sherwood Foresters had a mine blown under them on the 30th which buried an officer and 14 other ranks.
October - November
The 17th remained in the front line until it was relieved by the 24th Division. The trenches were progressively handed over between the 4th - 7th October and the Division marched off for a well earned rest period that lasted until the 20th. The Division had its hopes raised of a move away from the salient but these hopes were dashed when orders arrived on the 17th for the relief of the 3rd Division in the salient. The sector was once more around Hooge, with the left flank on the Menin road and the right a little north of the Ypres - Comines railway. Weather conditions were bad, rain in the day and frost at night. The trenches became difficult to maintain and the first cases of trench foot were treated by the R.A.M.C.  October and November losses were.
Officers 4 and 9 wounded
Other ranks 49 killed 189 wounded 3 missing
total 245
Officers 3 killed 10 wounded
Other ranks 113 338 wounded 3 missing
total 457
Those lost to sickness were, Officers 35, Other ranks 750 , total 785.

Hooge crater 1915

The Ypres barracks in 1917

Salient Trench map. St Eloi. Paths of Glory

Ypres trench map. Paths of Glory

Hill 60 to the Bluff. Paths of Glory.

The month of December came and with it no let up in the bad weather. The Dorsets were issued gum boots in the dark of the Ypres barracks in an attempt to stave off the dreaded trench foot.
Enemy artillery was active and intensified to such an extent that an attack was deemed imminent. On December 14th, the Borders lost 10 men killed, 27 wounded and the Sherwood Foresters had 50 casualties when the Germans bombarded the trenches north of the Menin road. Around 8 p.m. Ypres was shaken by a huge explosion as the Germans fired a mine in front of the 7th Borders at Hooge. The Germans had, however, misjudged the distance and the mine went up 40 yards away from the British line (the crater was 60 feet wide and 30 deep). The Germans rushed the crater but the Borders did the same and drove them out after a fierce fight in the dark. The Borders' losses for the day were 26 killed, 78 wounded.
The Germans attacked with gas on December 19th, the cylinders were placed in the Hooge sector and the cloud spread as far as Ypres. The 51st Bde. were in the line on the Division's left sector north of Hooge with the 52nd Bde. on the right, the 50th Bde. were in reserve. The men in the trenches were relatively unharmed from the gas as they had seen it coming and had managed to put on their gas helmets. The men in the ramparts at Ypres were caught un-awares, the 51st Bde. H.Q. in the ramparts was affected and its commander, Brigadier General Fell was gassed.
Another battalion to suffer on this day was the 9th West Riding (Duke of Wellington's). The Dukes lost 5 officers and 105 other ranks killed or wounded to German shells whilst moving through Ypres.
The German attack, when it came, was beaten off and lasted little over five minutes. The Division signallers were kept busy during the day, maintaining communications between the front lines and the Divisional H.Q. The R.E.s built pontoons over the maot near the Menin gate under shell fire as there was a fear that the bridges would be lost. The pioneers of the York and Lancs moved over open ground in artillery formation to the reserve trenches. By 10 p.m. the shelling had slackened off and it was clear that the German attack had failed.
On December 22nd, 34 men of the Northumberland and Lancashire Fusiliers launched a trench raid on the German lines near Hooge. They got close enough to throw a hundred bombs and were lucky to get back to their own trenches with only one man slightly wounded.
Christmas came and with it orders not to repeat the fraternization that had occured in places in 1914. The Germans put a Christmas tree on their parapet opposite the Borders but after receiving a few well aimed rounds it quickly disappeared.
The Dorsets spent Christmas day in the ramparts or cellars.

The sector held by the 17th Division

PH Gas Helmet


Thanks to trench map expert Dave O'Mara of Paths of Glory for the links to the trench maps. See his site here.

Paths of Glory