Part 4 - Neuve Chapelle 1914
Lille, Roubaix and Tourcoing were France's largest manufacturing towns. The Germans vitally needed these towns for strategic purposes.
The village of Neuve Chapelle formed the gateway to the ridge that would secure the capture of Lille; a stronghold and pathway to the sea.
Without Neuve Chapelle under enemy control, their supply routes in and out of France would be strategically difficult.
The village – the river Des du Biez running through it – was already host to a German strong-hold to the north. They were secured up close to a group of large houses with walls, gardens and an orchard. This stronghold flanked the approaches to the village from the North.
Beyond this the Germans had also set up a machine gun post as well as deploying their infantry within a number of ruined buildings at a cross-road within the village itself. Here the Germans had dug trenches which extended right out of Neuve Chapelle.
Suffice to say, the Germans were well and strongly placed to defend the village.
The British line ran in a curve westerly round the village, with the Germans closest at 100 yards distant. The Royal Kents, 21st Company S&M, 20th Company S&M, the 4th Royal Fusiliers, the 1st Lincolnshire and two companies of the 47th Sikhs held the line, left to right.
With many of the batteries only able to assist through covering fire due to previous losses, the 47th Sikhs,20th and 21st Sappers and Miners advanced under heavy fire and losses to the first trench they could reach.
They reached the ruins of the village only to engage in close hand-to-hand fighting.
This account from the front:
“When our men were about 100 yard from the outskirts of the village, the Germans in front began to bolt, pursued by the gallant Sikhs and Sappers with the bayonet, a few being killed and more captured. The Indians then tore into the village...and worked in parties up the streets under furious fire from the roofs of the buildings...The 47th recovered a wounded British soldier and 2 wounded Germans”.
On reaching the cross roads in the centre of the village, they came under heavy attack once again.
Captain McCleverty, always in advance, led a party across the square, but was shot dead by a concealed German a few yards away. A Private of the Sappers stalked and shot him dead on the spot.
The Indian troops had penetrated deep into the village and made it northward toward the orchard where they came under machine gun fire and heavy shelling. They were overcome on the main street heading north and the losses were terrible for the 47th and the Sappers.
Only 68 out of the 289 47th Sikhs made it back to regroup on the line held by the British.
The 20th Sappers and Miners were left with just 20 men, still in the centre of Neuve Chapelle, which would almost certainly be attacked again by the Germans.
Incredibly, having charged a party of 20 Germans, Sapper Dalip Singh stood over the body of Lt. Rait-Kerr and kept up rapid fire to deter the advancement. The enemy turned and fled. Singh then carried his officer back to safety.
As recorded in official war history: “The attack was magnificently carried out and was within an ace of success”.
Meanwhile, reports where coming in from Lord Kitchener, Sir John French and others... praising the the 47th Sikhs of the Jullundur Brigade for their efforts at Neuve Chapelle.
“For the splendid courage and endurance in battle... and the fighting powers they have shown...giving the enemy a severe blow, successfully frustrating all their efforts.”