Faughs overrun by Germans at St Eloi

Sunday, 14 March, 1915
Faughs St Eloi
'There were lads from Galway, Louth and Meath, Who went to their death with a joke in their teeth.' (Kipling)

The first two months of 1915 were relatively uneventful for the 1st and the 2nd Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers in the trenches south of the River Douve and in the area of St Eloi.

The 1st Battalion in 10 Brigade was more experienced as it was part of the original British Expeditionary Force, whereas the 2nd Battalion in 82 Brigade was fresh from India. The 2nd Faughs was neither equipped nor acclimatized for a European winter and in January it had had to march 17 miles to the front in old foreign-service boots where, on arrival, the companies occupied crudely constructed trenches that were half under water; there were therefore many who succumbed to trench foot. Trench foot is a ‘Non Freezing Cold Injury’, also known as ‘Immersion Foot’, that should be given 3-6 months to heal in order to prevent complications including gangrene and possible amputation.

When it became apparent that, owing to heavy casualties elsewhere, the French would not assist with an Anglo-French attack during March 1915, the British went ahead with their part of the plan to attack towards Lille on 10-13 March 1915. As the effect on the enemy was minimal, the Germans launched a minor but intensive attack that included the inexperienced British 82 Brigade’s area on 14 March.

The explosion of two mines at 1700 hours heralded the onslaught which very quickly overran St Eloi and nearby British trench systems. One of the mines had exploded behind C Company 2nd Faughs and, although the Company fought back savagely, it was forced to withdraw when outflanked. Shortly after midnight the British recovered their positions but withdrew the following morning. The Germans attacked again on 17 March, but were repulsed.