Head note: Noel Chavasse VC and Bar was Medical Office attached to the Liverpool Scottish.
Rather than Just a bland account of the battle this blog is just concerned with one unit, the Liverpool Scottish. Walking from the Menin Road, leave the Menin Road at Birr X road towards Railway Wood, White Poort Farm buildings are on your left and the field is on your right. The Liverpool Scottish were in a trench more or less next to the road on the right hand side. Looking across the field towards the wood the cross of sacrifice is at the left hand end of the wood. On 16th June 1915 allowing for the snipers to have missed you, you would, if still alive be looking over the Liverpool Scottish Trench.
In what was meant to be a minor action, it turned out to be a bloodbath, the Liverpool Scottish went over the top. Attacking towards the woods in front of you. Described at the time as basically something glorious with the British Line sweeping forward.The second line, the Liverpool Scottish reaching the German trench on the heels of the first line. Little mention was made of the 400 casualties out of the 542 strong Battalion.
A Private Fyfe did write, “Many of our fellows had their heads blown clean off and others were simply smashed to red fragments” which paints a better picture of what an infantry assault was really like at this stage of the war.
The “Action” took place at an important stage in the history of the battalion. It was their first attack. They were the end result of a Highland Scottish tradition of get in close, don’t be afraid of hand to hand fighting and use the dirk to kill. No surrender, and no prisoners. The men had been trained. Training though is no substitute for the real thing. The attack had been rehearsed. Any soldier will tell you that battle plans last until first contact. By the time the Battalion had swept through the first line their blood lust was up. They had seen dead British soldiers brutally killed in action. now on top of the Germans, their pleas to be allowed to surrender were more often than not ignored. The Liverpool Scottish bayonets were freely used Germans were to be slaughtered. The battalion had reached the second German trench which was little more than a ditch. Command and control again failed. Ordered on to the third German trench. Many soldiers from the Liverpool Scottish now mixed up with other attacking battalions did not get they order. Caught in German Artillery fire many of the remaining men from the battalion were killed, ditches, such as the German trench, offer very little protection from shell fire. Walking up to railway wood and along the road to the right. It takes you to the cross of sacrifice. walk past along the track into the woods. There is a memorial to the Liverpool Scottish. stop and reflect on how peaceful and beautiful this little corner of hell now is.