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The Leicestershire Regiment in the Great War, 1914-1918

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Even while the 46th Division continued to advance, fighting a vicious little battle at Ramicourt, celebration of their 29th September attack was growing apace. The 4th Army commander, Sir Henry Rawlinson revelled in “one of the finest, and most dashing exploits of the war”, while the Division’s commander, Major General G F Boyd declared: “What appeared well nigh impossible has been carried right through to a great victory. The story of the storming of the St Quentin Canal…will make one of the most glorious stories in the History of the War.” Captain Hills, resting in a shell-hole began writing the 1/5th Battalion’s War Diary, noting (with perhaps some memory of the criticism after Gommecourt): “After 3½ years the 46th Division has at last made a name for itself, and its doings on the 29th are known all the world over.”

More telling was the German reaction. At the Headquarters in Spa, Quartermaster General Ludendorff is said to have demanded an immediate armistice “in order to save a catastrophe” and in briefing party leaders at the Reichstag, the army liaison officer simply told them “the war is lost”.

Leicestershire Territorials in open country, October 1918

Though won and lost, the war was not yet over. On 8 November 1918, the last five Tigers to be killed-in-action were cut down by a German machine-gun team while crossing the Avesnes-Etroeungt Road at Le Cheval Blanc; a day’s march from Mons where it had all begun. Their names (Herbert Lakin and Thomas Watson, of Whitwick; Samuel Smith, of Ibstock; William Stanley, of Stafford; and Edward Willars, a Leicester man living in Market Harborough) are worth recalling, though their loss is no more tragic than any other, save for its proximity to the Armistice.

Some 7,300 men, in nineteen battalions of the Leicestershire Regiment died between August 1914 and the end of the war. Not all were killed in action. Some died serving at home, many died from wounds – often long after they were inflicted; while others died of disease or accidents. They were ordinary men, many drawn into military service by chance or compulsion, but they achieved and endured extraordinary things. Their service and their sacrifice must never be forgotten.

Robin P Jenkins

Fleckney, October 2020