The London Irish Rifles "Loos Football"
London Irish Rifles - The Loos Football
This is the football wich the LIR kicked across No Mans Land on Sept 25th 1915 as they attacked the German positions in the town of Loos.
The following description was written by Patrick Macgill who achieved fame after the war as a poet and writer and who was a stretcher bearer during the battle.
I peered over the top. The air blazed with star-shells, and Loos in front stood out like a splendid dawn. A row of impassive faces, sleep-heavy they looked, lined our parapet; bayonets, silver-spired, stood up over the sandbags; the dark bays, the recessed dug-outs with their khaki-clad occupants dimly defined in the light of little candles took on fantastic shapes. From the North Sea to the Alps stretched a line of men who could, if they so desired, clasp, one another's hands all the way along. A joke which makes men laugh at Ypres at dawn may be told on sentry-go at Souchez by dusk, and the laugh which accompanies it ripples through the long, deep trenches... until it breaks itself like a summer wave against the traverse where England ends and France begins.
Many of our men were asleep, and maybe dreaming. What were their dreamsja . . . I could hear faint, indescribable rustlings as the winds loitered across the levels in front; a light shrapnel shell burst, and its smoke quivered in the radiant light of the star-shells. Showers and sparks fell from high up and died away as they fell. Like lives of men, I thought, and again that feeling of proximity to the enemy surged through me.
A boy came along the trench carrying a football under his arm. "What are you going to do with thatja" I asked.
"It's some idea, this," he said with a laugh.
"We're going to kick it across into the German trench."
"It is some idea," I said. "What are our chances of victory in the gameja"
"The playing will tell," he answered.
It was now grey day, hazy and moist, and the thick clouds of pale yellow smoke curled high in space and curtained the dawn off from the scene of war. The word was passed along. "London Irish lead on to assembly trench." The assembly trench was in front, and there the scaling ladders were placed against the parapet, ready steps to death, as someone remarked. I had a view of the men swarming up the ladders when I got there, their bayonets held in steady hands, and at a little distance off a football swinging by its whang from a bayonet standard.
Ahead the clouds of smoke, sluggish low-lying fog, and fumes of bursting shells, thick in volume, receded towards the German trenches, and formed a striking background for the soldiers who were marching up a low slope towards the enemy's parapet, which the smoke still hid from view. There was no haste in the forward move, every step was taken with regimental precision, and twice on the way across the Irish boys halted for a moment to correct their alignment. Only at a point on the right there was some confusion and a little irregularity. Were the men waveringja No fear! The boys on the right were dribbling the elusive football towards the German trench.
By the German barbed wire entanglements were the shambles of war. Here our men were seen by the enemy for the first time that e and roving that makes up the life of a soldier gone for ever. Here, too, I saw, bullet-riddled, against one morning. Up till then the foe had fired erratically through the oncoming curtain of smoke; but when the cloud cleared away, the attackers were seen advancing, picking their way through the wires which had been cut to little pieces by our bombardment. The Irish were now met with harrying rifle fire, deadly petrol bombs and hand grenades. Here I came across dead, dying and sorely wounded; lives maimed and finished, and all the romancof the spider webs known as chevaux de frise, a limp lump of pliable leather, the football which the boys had kicked across the field.
© Mike St. Maur Sheil / westernfrontphotography.com
High Wood from the track leading from Crucifix Corner at Bazentin le Petit. This is the track along which the two officwers walked on the morning of July 14th.
Shown on maps as Bois de Foureaux it was to be last of the major Somme woods to be captured.
14 July a dawn attack on Longueval - Battle of Bazentin Ridge was successful and early in the day two officers walked to High Wood and found it unoccupied. Due to series of communication failures no attack was really launched until late in the afternoon when 2/Queens and 1/South Staffs reached the wood. Squadrons of Deccan Horse and 7/DRagoons also entered the Wood but found the Germans in increasing strength on the northern edge of the wood.
15 July Germans launched a counter-attack in the dark and regained most of the wood
20/21 July 1/Cameronians, 5/Scottish Rifles, 20/Royal Fus. attacked from south east and after gaining a foot hold in the wood were forced back. 2/RWelch Fusiliers attacked [ Robert Graves severely wounded near Bazentin churchyard ] but unable to hold the ground with every officer wounded.
22/23 4/Gordon Highlanders, 1/R.West Kents attacked but Germans had built additional defensive line - Intermediate Line.
30 Attack preceded by heavy barrage and troops using creeping barrage but German M-g drove attack back and 14/R.Warwicks lost 171 out of 468 attackers.
Tunnelling operation begun to lay mine under M-g position on eastern side of wood.
18 Major bombardment but attack gained little ground.
3 178/Tunnelling Coy. blew 3000lb mine under M-g and 1/Black Watch took position but 1/Cameronians and 8/Berks to the east were unable to advance and Germans rtegained the mine crater.
8/9 Another mine blown but Germans regained the crater as attacking troops caught in own barrage which fell short.
15/16 Plan was drawn up to use tanks but the terrible state of the ground with broken tree stumps negated their impact. Major Gen Barter, commanding 47th Div wanted to wthdraw his troops and bombard the wood but was refused.
The infantry attack on the wood was made by the London Irish (18th Londons), Poplar & Stepney Rifles (17th Londons) and two companys of the 15th Londons (Civil Service Rifles). They suffered from enemy machine-gun fire as, just before zero, they lay in No Mans Land ahead of their trenches. By mid-morning there were five battalions desperately fighting for possesion of High Wood, and they called for an artillery barrage on the west and north-west part of the wood, and trench mortars to bombard the eastern portion.
Finally at 1300 the British took the wood. Barter was subsequently relieved of command because of the losses which the 47/Div had suffered. The London Cemetery was started after this action.
© Mike St. Maur Sheil / westernfrontphotography.com