Gavin Davies, a member of the South Wales Branch, originally wrote this series of articles for The Glamorgan GEM, a local paper circulating in Barry, Llantwit Major, Cowbridge, Bridgend and the Vale of Glamorgan.
Gavin also gives talks about First World War and the American Civil War in
In mid-September, despite General Henry Wilson's prediction that the Allies would be in
The Germans, now dug and protected by barbed wire, could not be dislodged and both sides moved troops northward to turn their enemy's flank. By the end of September the French were in action around
By late September the Germans, having beaten off a Belgian counterattack, started to bombard
At sea there were only minor actions. In one a U-boat attacked three old British cruisers; Midshipman Wykeham-Musgrave, aged 15%, was serving on the Aboukir. As the ship sank he swam to the Cressy and then, when she was sunk, to the Hogue. When the Hogue was sunk he was picked up by a Dutch trawler, one of only 50 of his crew of 800 to survive but still keen to join another ship. In the Pacific a German cruiser squadron under von Spee was at large while the cruiser
At home it was realised that
By the end of September the Western Front had stabilised from the River Aisne to the Swiss frontier and both sides were digging in while, in the north, open warfare continued as both sides tried to outflank the enemy. As part of these operations the British moved north from the
One of the British formations involved in the fighting at Antwerp was the Royal Naval Division which Churchill had formed from naval reservists who were not required by the fleet and with volunteer officers including Rupert Brooke, who wrote "Now God be thanked who has matched us to this hour ... ", a romantic view of war which would soon change, Arthur Asquith, the Prime Minister's son and the writer A P Herbert. Only partly trained and under equipped these sailor/soldiers were no match for the German army; most were evacuated to
The Allied plan was to advance on Menin and
The British and German attacks met head on along the ridges to the east and south of
At Gheluvelt the crisis came at the end of the month. The 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment captured the Chateau grounds, breaking the British line. The South Wales Borderers were holding out on one flank but the position was desperate. The 2nd
In the East the Germans continued to drive the Russians back and were advancing on
their civilian clothes and with broomsticks instead of rifles. Many found it an enjoyable experience; "I have been having the time of my life here among old friends." one wrote to a friend.
Late in October the Germans attacked the Belgian Army's positions on the River Yser. As their front started to crumble under fierce German pressure King Albert gave orders to open the sluices. The land vanished below six feet of water and the northern part of the Allied line was secure.
From Ypres to
By the middle of November the Germans were ready for a final push and on 11 November the attack, preceded by the heaviest bombardment of the war so far, started. Hill 60 a key observation point fell to the Germans. On the
The old British Regular Army had, almost literally, fought to the last. In August each of the 85 battalions was about 950 strong. Of these perhaps 30 had survived and, even with reinforcements, battalions now had about 150 men. The Germans had suffered too, especially the partially trained battalions of students whose losses gave the battle its name - the Kindermord yon Ypem, usually translated as The Massacre of the Innocents of Ypres'.
On the Eastern Front the Russians continued to advance towards
At the end of October Admiral von Scheer's squadron arrived at Coronel on the South American coast from
In the Indian Ocean the German light cruiser
If you are in Ypres you may wish to visit the
In early November the German Admiral von Spee had destroyed a British cruiser squadron off Coronel on the west coast of South America and, continuing eastwards, rounded
At home the German High Seas Fleet were raiding the east coast to try to draw out and trap part of the superior British fleet. On 15 December their battle-cruisers set out to attack
On the Western Front the British settled into trenches between Ypres and
The stalemate was broken for a few days by the famous Christmas Truce. Mostly the Germans seem to have taken the initiative by singing 'Stille Nacht' and putting up Christmas Trees and lights. Then, if the British did not fire, starting shouted conversations which led to meetings in No Man's Land. 2/Lt Bruce Bairnsfather, the creator of 'Old Bill', was involved in a truce, during which one of his men gave a German a haircut. The Royal Welch Fusiliers were given two barrels of beer by the Germans but Pte Frank Richards, a reservist from Blaina, was not particularly grateful, " ... [a man] would have bursted before he got drunk. French beer was rotten stuff."
There were kick-abouts with empty tins but, regrettably, the legend that there was an organised match is only that. One German wanted to go back to his job - driving a taxi in
Although General Smith-Dorrien, one of the few survivors of Islandwana and now commanding II Corps, had issued orders that there were to be no truces over Christmas no one was punished for being involved in these unauthorised events; many officers and men had been involved.
On the Eastern Front there were no widespread truces. The Russian advance in the Southern sector met with resistance and troops were moved from other sectors to continue the advance. In turn the Austrians counterattacked the weakened Russian front and there was a vast battle of manoeuvre. Eventually, after some of their divisions had suffered 70% casualties, the Russians fell back to a line from
There is a plaque on the cottage in St Yvon, just north of Ploegsteert Wood, occupied by Bruce Baimsfather and a cross nearby which marks the spot where his daughter and granddaughter met Rudolf Zehmisch, a German who had also been involved in the truce, and his daughter met in 2002.