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Langemarck 1914

by S.J. Barton
(Back Badge 1964)

"No. 4 Platoon "A" Company was commanded by Lieut. H.E. Hippisley who was posted to the 1st Battalion from the Reserve (S.L.) on mobilization. The Platoon sergeant was No. 8128 Sergt. T.H. Eddy. I was serving in No. 1 Section, No. 4 Platoon as No. 8168 Private S.J. Barton. At 2.30 am on 23rd October, "A" Company, commanded by Capt. R.E. Rising, was roused and Nos. 3 and 4 Platoons marched to Langemarck. We passed through and at a point fifty yards beyond the village on the Koekhuit road we stopped. Three sappers were with us and sited a trench which the platoon dug. The work was finished about 6 am. The trench was on the left of the road, the right edge being at the side of the road. It ran back towards the village at an angle of 45 degrees from the road. No. 3 Platoon (Lieut. D. Baxter) was on the right of the road but not in sight owing to the camber of the road. There were no troops or trenches visible on our left which seemed to be in the air.

The inhabitants had only left on the two preceeding days. Cattle were grazing in the fields and pigs were wandering about. There was no sign of the enemy. Shortly after 9 am German cavalry were seen coming towards us down the Koekhuit road, which ran in a straight line for about a mile. At a point about 350 yards from us they turned to their right down a farm lane some 325 yards from our position. They were going at full gallop and although we fired on them I did not observe any casualties. They remained at the farm and fired it. A large body of enemy infantry was then seen to be coming down the Koekhuit road led by mounted officers. About 800 yards from our position they deployed and advanced. They got into dead ground and reached the farm lane before we were able to fire on them. Fire was not opened on them at the point of deployment as, owing to our position, there seemed little chance of getting more ammunition. The enemy then opened fire on our trench, to which we replied, but as the road was sunken we could not see the effect of the fire. The enemy fire increased in intensity and we began to suffer casualties.

It was then observed that cattle were moving down a ditch on the left of our trench at a distance of about 125 yards. They were moving quicker than cattle usually do. Closer observation showed that the Germans were coming down the ditch on the far side of the cattle. The men in the two traverses on the left were ordered to open fire on the ditch. This was done and the advance down the ditch was stopped. The enemy fire from the farm became very heavy and the whole Platoon replied to it. Shortly after this the smoke was from the burning farm was seen to be increasing in density and was blowing down the ditch. The enemy were then seen to be advancing up the ditch amidst the smoke. The fire of the whole Platoon was turned on the ditch. Our fire was very effective and the movement dwindled away. The line at the farm then commenced to attack and at the same time the movement down the ditch re-commenced. The men in the two traverses on the left of out trench were ordered to fire at the ditch and the remainder dealt with the attack from the farm. The latter was pinned down about 200 yards from our trench. We were then able to give more attention to the ditch on our left and again stopped the movement. The Germans then formed a strong firing line in the ditch and under cover of this a party with a machine gun was seen going along. The whole Platoon concentrated on it and the gun remained out of action for the rest of the fight.

About this time (somewhere about 10.30 am) Lieut. Hippisley, the Platoon Commander, was hit. The bullet struck in the middle of the forehead. He was attended by his servant, Private Brown, who was under the impression that if he kept the brain from oozing out of the hole he would be alright. After a time he was convinced that the wound was fatal and that his master had no chance. He then divided his time between the parapet, where he would fire a few rounds and then return to Lieut. Hippisley. Between is concern for his master and his desire for revenge on the Germans he seemed to have gone crazy. Sergt. Eddy was now in command of the Platoon.

The enemy from the line attacking from the farm road then began to push their attack under cover of heavy fire from the ditch. The wounded who could by any means work a rifle were brought into action again. Two were wounded a second time. Private King who was shot through the left shoulder propped himself up in a corner of the traverse and worked his rifle with one hand. The gallantry of Private William Cratchley is worthy of record. At this time he was hit in the left jaw by a bullet which passed out of the right side of the neck. Blood was pouring from the wound and he fell to the floor. The wounded in the trench put a field dressing on his wound as best they could. He then crawled to the corner of the traverse, got on his feet and continued firing at the enemy. A lull in firing took place and he had to be forcibly removed from the parapet and his wound again dressed. The attack re-commenced and Private Cratchley appealed in a most piteous way to be lifted up to the parapet. He eventually burst into tears of rage at his helplessness and shortly after lapsed into unconciousness. He died of his wounds.

Our casualties were mounting rapidly. In the left traverse of the trench only one man was left out of seven and in my traverse, the second from the right, only two out of six. Ammunition was becoming scarce. All the wounded and killed were searched from ammunition. The attack from the farm direction was again pushed and reached a point 75 yards from us where it was pinned down. The fire from the ditch was so intense that many of our bayonets were broken off by bullets. When hit they snapped like glass and the flying fragments were responsible for seven neck and head wounds, two of which were very serious.

Shortly after 1 pm the enemy fire died down from the ditch and quietened from the front. Some men ran from the village and Sergt. James Wilson of "D" Company brought more ammunition. The Germans were then seen to be trickling in small parties down the ditch in retirement. The Platoon kept up a continuous fire and caused great numbers of casualties. Strangely enough we were not fired on again. This continued for an hour or so and the line in front which had attacked from the road were seen to be making movement. They arose in groups of about five or six and as we were at point blank range and waiting for each party they were mown down immediately after rising. No man reached the shelter of the road. Shortly after 6 pm the action ceased. One wounded German on our front was seen to be making attempts to rise. On his third effort he got to his knees, pointed his rifle in the direction of our trench, pulled the trigger and collapsed. There had been no artillery fire directed on the trench. When the retirement commenced the enemy shelled the village very heavily and fired the church. About 4 pm our own artillery opened up on the line of dead and wounded from the farm road attack, apparently under the impression that they were still attacking. The bodies were being blown in the air.

During the day I had fired 600 rounds of ammunition. We were relieved at night and lay in houses in Langemarck until 1 am when we set out for Battalion HQ, which we reached early in the morning. During the morning the Brigade Commander came to Battalion HQ and the Platoon was paraded for inspection by him. He addressed us and said that he had no idea of our situation, or the work we had done until after the fight when we viewed the site. He came immediately to congratulate us. He concluded by saying that the conduct of the Platoon was the finest example of steadiness and tenacity which had ever come to his notice."