While the infantry battalions of 20th Light Division were involved in the taking and holding of the village of Langemarck, 11th DLI Pioneers continued, during and after the battle, to work as before. A, B and D Companies worked on roads and tracks over the Pilckem Ridge and into the Steenbeck valley area, C Company worked on laying railways (something they did well into September while the rest of the battalion was in rest). That illustrates a stark difference from the way the Pioneers were used in the attack on Guillemont a year before and shows the vital importance placed on keeping men, guns and materials moving through the swampy landscape. Nor was it without its dangers. Progressively, over the month four officers and 61 men were struck off as wounded or sick, and seven men were killed on the very day of the attack on Langemarck. The German artillery kept up a constant barrage of artillery and gas shells both on the attacking infantry and the supply lines.
On 16 August 1917, the day of the main attack, 11th DLI lost Privates 25775 Charles Buckle, 20757 Nathan Donkin, 15151 Robert Taylor, 21024 Henry Hodgson, 45678 Charles Hildreth, 15047 Arthur William Hunt and 16073 Joseph Alfred Tansey. All the bodies were recovered and lie buried at Bard Cottage Cemetery on the west bank of the Yser Canal next to the casualty station. Captain J Taylor and 17 other men were wounded at the same time. Under such heavy artillery bombardment, it took immense courage to keep working, unable to fire a shot in return. Private William Walker was awarded the Military Medal for his action in keeping his mates going.
Losses for the infantry were, however, much worse than for the Pioneers. The Field Companies of the Royal Engineers laid canvas-covered bridges over the Steenbeck during the night. 11th Rifle Brigade advanced into shell holes under cover of darkness ready to suppress Au Bon Gîte, capturing an officer and 50 men. The remaining battalions could only advance in single files through the shell-holed, muddy landscape, mopping up pockets of the enemy in holes and blockhouses as they went. Several VCs and other bravery awards were won. Most of the objectives were achieved, but losses were so heavy that two battalions of the 38th Welsh Division were brought up as reinforcements to secure the gains overnight and into 17 August before the rest of their Division were brought forward to relieve the 20th Division, who moved back into the reserve area with 11th DLI based at Seaton Camp (apart from C Company, who were still building railways].
Casualty Report: Langemarck 6-19 August 1917
|20 Divisional HQ||1|
|59 Infantry Brigade|
|10 Rifle Brigade||7||9||1||15||152||26|
|11 Rifle Brigade||7||1||37||167||50|
|59 Machine Gun Cy||2||4||20|
|59 Trench Mortar By||1||3||15|
|59 Brigade Total||9||21||6||110||555||180|
|60 Infantry Brigade|
|6 Ox & Bucks LI||4||31||153||8|
|6 Kings Shropshire LI||5||39||168||6|
|12 Rifle Brigade||1||11||31||165||10|
|60 Machine Gun Cy||6||26|
|60 Trench Mortar By||1|
|60 Brigade Total||5||26||2||150||664||75|
|61 Infantry Brigade|
|12 Kings Liverpool R||2||9||1||45||239||26|
|7 Somerset LI||2||12||47||206||21|
|7 Duke of Cornwall LI||2||4||24||151||16|
|61 Machine Gun Cy||2||5||43|
|61 Trench Mortar By||1||1||3||4|
|61 Brigade Total||10||37||2||151||881||63|
|11 DLI Pioneers||3||7||22|
|217 Machine Gun Cy||1||4||5||18||4|
|RAMC Field Ambulance||1||3||31|
The statistics above are what was reported in an appendix to the Narrative Report of the role of 20th Light Division in the capture of Langemarck, from start to finish of operations. They definitely deserved their Divisional Memorial in the village.
I have covered the battle of Langemarck in such detail (despite the essentially supportive role played by 11th DLI Pioneers) in order to correct what was a media misrepresentation as part of the commemorations in relation to Passchendaele around 31 July 2017.
There was BBC TV coverage of a ceremony at the Welsh Division Memorial at Langemarck and the impression was given that the 38th Division was largely responsible for the capture of Langemarck. This was not entirely the case. They were involved first as reserves to 20th Division, and then used to consolidate the hold on the village after the initial success, allowing the badly mauled 20th Division to go into reserve to refit.
There is also a memorial to the 20th Division at Langemarck (as there is at Guillemont) and I would like to highlight their central role. Of course, due to all the reorganisation of army regiments in recent decades, Light Infantry units have had their sense of identity severely eroded and do not have a ‘national identity’ to draw upon like the Welsh. Scores of regiments have become merely ‘The Rifles’, replacing units that have identities stretching back to the Napoleonic Wars.