SHERWOOD FORESTERS ONE HUNDRED YEARS AGO
BATTLE OF AUBERS RIDGE 9 MAY 1915
Before the 1st Battalion The Sherwood Foresters had made good their 458 casualties suffered at Neuve Chapelle in March 1915 they were in action again a few miles further eastwards. On 9 May they fought the Battle of Aubers Ridge attacking the German lines near Fromelles in French Flanders.
The attack was mounted in co-operation with an attack by the French further to the south. The Battalion attacked in the second wave as part of 24th Infantry Brigade of the 8th Division. After a short bombardment B and D companies of the 1st Battalion went “over the bags” at 0555 am in support of the 2nd East Lancashires. Delays were caused by the fact that our front line trenches were choked by casualties from the first attacking wave who had made little progress against a German front line on which the short bombardment had been almost completely ineffective. At least eight machine guns were firing against the attacking Foresters. Despite this heavy fire one platoon got within 40 yards of the German breastworks but found that our artillery had only blown one gap, 4 yards wide, in the German wire. The two companies fell back to the British front line to re-group.
At 0735 am the Foresters attacked again in support of the East Lancashires, this time A and C companies leading followed by the remnants of B and D companies. The attack stalled under heavy enemy machine gun and artillery fire and most of the Foresters fell or took cover in No Mans Land before retiring to the British front line at about 1.15 pm where they suffered many more casualties in the next 6 hours as the German fire systematically destroyed the British breastworks. By the time that the Foresters were relieved by the 1st Worcesters at 10 pm they had suffered a loss of 55 killed , 257 wounded and 47 missing and not one British soldier had reached the enemy front line.
During the battle, as the citation for his Victoria Cross says “For most conspicuous bravery near Rouges Bancs on the 9th May 1915. During the whole of this day Corporal Upton displayed the greatest courage in rescuing the wounded while exposed to very heavy rifle and artillery fire, going close to the enemy’s parapet, regardless of his own personal safety. One wounded man was killed by a shell while this non-commissioned officer was carrying him. When Corporal Upton was not actually carrying in the wounded, he was engaged in bandaging and dressing the serious cases in front of our parapet, exposed to the enemy’s fire”. Corporal James Upton was a 27 year old from the Meadows area of Nottingham. He had joined the 1st Battalion The Sherwood Foresters on 1906. He married in July 1915, had three children and survived the war. He died in 1949.
Corporal James Upton VC
So many British artillery shells failed to detonate at the Battle of the Aubers Ridge that an enquiry was held. Two results of this enquiry were the fall of Asquith’s government and a total re-organisation of the industrial production of munitions including the foundation of National Shell Filling Factory No 6 at Chilwell over the winter of 1915-16
Author:Maj (Retd) J H Cotterill MBE