Battle Honour NEUVE CHAPELLE

Event
Wednesday, 10 March, 1915 - Saturday, 13 March, 1915
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BH NEUVE CHAPELLEThe First World War Battle Honour is emblazoned on the Queen's Colours of the Royal Irish Regiment. NEUVE CHAPELLE was awarded to The Royal Irish Rifles for the actions of its 1st Battalion at the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in 1915. The distinction was borne for the first time on a Queen's Colour in 1968 when the antecedent Regiments formed The Royal Irish Rangers, one of our founding Regiments. The Royal Irish Rifles, that became The Royal Ulster Rifles, did not carry Colours and instead, such distinctions were carried on the badges of the officers' cross belts.

The Battle of Neuve Chapelle was fought from 11-13 March 1915, to capture the Aubers Ridge and force the Germans to withdraw from Lille. It was a two-Corps operation involving VI Corps and the Indian Corps. The village of Neuve Chapelle itself was to be attacked by the 8th Division with 25 Brigade on the right, the parent Brigade of the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Rifles (1 RIR) and 23 Brigade left. The attack would be a model for future actions with a heavy concentration of artillery fired to destroy enemy resistance prior to the attack by the infantry.

The Brigade’s 2nd Berkshire and the 2nd Lincoln’s were to capture the first objective, two lines of German trenches defending the village of Neuve Chapelle, 35 minutes after the enemy trenches were engaged by the artillery. The artillery fire was to lift and engage the rear defenses and the village itself for 30 minutes before the supporting battalions would pass through.

At 0354 hours on 10 March, 1 RIR assembled in an orchard and at 0730 hours the artillery bombardment began destroying the high parapets of the German trenches. Next, the Lincolns charged to capture the first objective. Following its relatively easy capture, there was a somewhat impetuous push forward by 1 RUR, who instead of waiting on their own parapets, advanced towards the German front line. At 0835 hours the Battalion pressed on to the second objective. This was the Rifles’ first battle, morale was high, and advancing at the double, the Battalion was cheered through by the Lincolns. The effect of Captain Graham’s calls on a French postman’s horn, mixed with hunting cries, no doubt added encouragement to the momentum. The Battalion reached the main street of the village within five minutes, but had to be pulled back some 100 yards as the 6-inch howitzers of the Artillery were to continue firing on the village until 0900 hours. The Rifles entrenched and worked to link up with 23 Brigade whose advance on the left had been slowed as it’s advance had encountered uncut wire and taken heavy casualties. The 1st Battalion held its positions throughout the afternoon and at 1100 hours on the following morning was relieved by the 24th Brigade and pulled back to the old German trenches.

The two-Corps attack was held up throughout the 11 March, and in front of 1 RIR, fresh German troops delivering counterattacks supported by increasing rates of Germany artillery fire thwarted any attempts by 24 Brigade to advance. At 0300 hours on 12 March, the Battalion received orders to move forward for a new attack at 0445 hours, advancing from the same entrenched area that had been dug on the afternoon of 10 March. At 0400 hours, an instruction was received to delay the attack, followed by another stating that it would be at 1200 hours, by which time the fog, that had delayed events, would likely lift. Unfortunately, the Battalion suffered serious casualties around 0900 hours during a heavy German artillery engagement. At 1200 hours, the British artillery opened with less preparation and effect than the first attack on 10 March. The result was that the German defences suffered less damage.

The 1st Battalion advanced with C Company right, D Company left, supported respectively by A and B Company following behind. As the Battalion began the advance, the weight of German machine-gun and rifle fire inflicted heavy casualties on those exposed, and the left half of D Company was shot down dead or wounded within minutes. The Commanding Officer (CO), Lieutenant Colonel Laurie, decided that the advance should stand fast. The Brigade Commander, Brigadier General Lowry-Cole, requested the advance be delayed until that night but at 1600 hours was ordered to attack and take the enemy position ‘at all costs’.

Lt Col Laurie decided to attack in four successive lines with B Company followed by C, A and D Company in that order. The 30-minute artillery bombardement was again ineffective and at 1715 hours, when the advance began, such was the enemy fire that every man advancing was cut down. Major Baker moved down the line to find out what was holding up the advance and discovered the Commanding Officer had been killed. He ordered a halt on the advance and that night the Brigade was ordered to consolidate ground gained as the command decision had been taken to end the advance.

The Battalion held the trenches in the Chateau gardens until the following evening when it was relieved by the 2nd Lincolns. The Battalion's losses included the Commanding Officer, the Adjutant, seven officers and 106 other ranks killed, nine officers and 270 wounded, and 15 missing.