Tag Archives: Battle of Neuve Chapelle

Douglas Charles Hamilton-Johnston

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Badge of the Black Watch

Douglas was the eldest son of Augustus and Bessie Hamilton-Johnston, who lived in Chelsea. He was born on 20th May 1889 and attended Charterhouse before arriving up Grant’s in 1904. After he left the school in 1906, Douglas matriculated at London University, and later spent some time in Frankfurt.

On his return to Britain, Douglas enrolled at RMC Sandhurst, perhaps inspired by his mother’s father who was a Major-General. After completing his training in February 1909, he joined The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) as 2nd Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion and became Lieutenant three years later. The Bareilly Brigade was formed in 1914 as part of the Meerut division of the British Indian Army, and Douglas’s battalion became part of this new brigade.

In October 1914, Douglas arrived at the western front with his battalion and served as Transport Officer of No. 1 Company. He was wounded slightly in December by a shell at Centre Section, Festubert, but recovered and was promoted to Captain in February 1915. He was wounded a second time on the 3rd March while preparing for the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, and this time was invalided home.

Whilst back in Britain, Douglas helped to train volunteers at the training camp at Bordon, Hampshire. One of the volunteers, David Elder Robertson, wrote to his parents on 26th September 1915, following a three-week brigade exercise: “ÔǪ Well I was glad when it was over for I was a tired one without sleep. If I had not had a stripe I would have got a sleep all right but I had to look after a section. Well I told them I was handing in my stripe and I was paraded in front of the Captain [D.C. Hamilton-Johnston], and I was fairly put through the mill and asked my reason for it I made the excuse I had no notion of it and he told me I was foolish. He said I was picked out as qualified for the job and that if I changed my mind I would not be long in getting another but I stuck to my decision so he said he would see about it. I am still wearing the stripe till I am told to hand it in but I have heard no more about itÔǪ”

Douglas returned to the western front in November 1915, and went with his battalion to Mesopotamia, where he was mentioned in despatches. In January 1916, he became a temporary Major, taking over from Colonel Wauchope, who had been severely wounded at the Battle of Sheikh Sa’ad. On the 21st January 1916, Douglas lead the 2nd Black Watch in an attack on Hanna, but by the end of the day he was reported as “wounded and missing (presumed killed)”. His former commanding officer, Wauchope, wrote:

“And right well did he respond to the call of duty. Both as Adjutant, under Colonel Wauchope, and as Commanding Officer, he had complete faith in the Battalion as had the Battalion in him. He was first wounded and then killed in this assault, but he died with the knowledge that he had kept its fighting spirit unbroken to the end.”

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Eric Chasemore Gates

Frankreich, Neuve Chapelle, Schlachtfeld
German postcard commemorating the Battle of Neuve Chapelle.

Eric Chasemore Gates was the elder son of Percy George Gates, M.P. He was a member of Rigaud’s house between1904 and 1908. He went on to pursue a career as a solicitor and was admitted as a Managing Clerk with the firm Pontifex, Pitt & Johnson in January 1914. On the outbreak of war he obtained a Commission as a Lieutenant in the 13th(County of London) Princess Louise’s Kensington Battallion in the London Regiment. He went out to the Western Front in December and was promoted to the rank of Captain by February 1915. He was killed in action near Neuve Chapelle, France, March 12, 1915.

Neuve Chapelle was the first large scale organised attack undertaken by the British army during the war. Although the troops were able to break through the German front line during the offensive they were unable to exploit this success. The battle was intended to cause a rupture in the German lines, which would then be exploited with a rush to the Aubers Ridge and possibly as far as Lille. Tactical surprise and a break-through were achieved after the First Army prepared the attack with great attention to detail.

After the first set-piece attack, unexpected delays slowed the tempo of operations, command was undermined by communication failures and infantry-artillery co-operation broke down when the telephone system stopped working. The German defenders were able to receive reinforcements and dig a new line behind the British break-in. A big German counter-attack by twenty infantry battalions took place early on 12th March. Sir Douglas Haig, the First Army commander, cancelled further attacks and ordered the captured ground to be consolidated, preparatory to a new attack further north. An acute shortage of artillery ammunition made a new attack impossible.

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The Battle of Neuve Chapelle, 1915 by James Prinsep Beadle
Maidstone Museum & Bentlif Art Gallery

The battle had a big impact on British tactical thinking. The idea that infantry offensives accompanied by artillery barrages could break the stalemate of trench warfare prevailed for the remainder of the war.

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Albert Ernest Morgan

19150310_Morgan,AlbertErnestAt the beginning of the First World War, the Royal Flying Corps, in which Albert Ernest Morgan was a pilot, were used entirely to support ground troops through photo-reconnaissance and artillery observation. Although technology advanced very quickly throughout the war, to start with it was rudimentary at best. Heavy equipment weighed planes down, a lack of usable communications made any work more difficult, and no parachutes made it even more dangerous for the men flying the planes.

After spending less than 3 months on the Western Front, Morgan was involved in directing artillery fire in the Battle of Neuve-Chapelle on the 10th of March, 1915. The plane was hit by shellfire, killing both him and his observer, Aubrey Gordon Irving. They were buried next to each other, their graves now in the Royal Irish Rifles Graveyard, in France. On Morgan’s, rather poignantly, his mother had engraved ‘Dulce Et Decorum Est Pro Patria Mori’.

Morgan started at Westminster in September 1902, aged 13. He was a half boarder (he lived in Bayswater) in Grant’s for the next 3 years, but other than this we know nothing about his time at the school. He seems to have not been involved in any sport or activities while here, and we don’t even know where he went after he left in 1905. We do know that he received his commission in the Royal Fusiliers in 1911, and was in the Royal Flying Corps from 1914, where he was an assistant instructor.

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