Monday 1 February 1915 – We Lost 145
At La Bassee, the right of the German line rests on the Railway Triangle. A little over 200 yards to the west is an area known as the Hollow, a narrow 20-yard wide strip lying to the south of the railway embankment. In the early hours of this morning a German attack is directed at the Coldstream Guards which forces 4th Company to retire to a barricade erected in the Hollow. A British counter-attack is organized and at 04:00 fifty men of the Coldstream Guards supported by a company Irish Guards attack along the towpath, and the Hollow. This attack is halted 30 yards short of the enemy position near the culvert. The Irish Guards lose many of their officers. Second Lieutenant Innes, 1st Company Irish Guards is ordered forward to take command of the survivors of 4th Company and to withdraw them to the railway bridge, leaving a party holding the barricade in the Hollow, Innes himself stays at this barricade.
Orders are issued by 1st Brigade to retake the lost position at 10:15 and after a 15-minute artillery bombardment the counter-attack begins. Fifty men of the Coldstream Guards lead the assault followed by thirty men of 1st Company Irish Guards under Lieutenant Graham; the men carry filled sandbags, spades and two boxes of bombs as their task is to consolidate the position once it is captured. Second Company Irish Guards maintains covering fire and Second Lieutenant Innes, with his small party, is ordered to maintain his position. As the Coldstream Guards advance falters, Second Lieutenant Innes is ordered to lead his men forward.
Lance Corporal Michael O’Leary (Irish Guards), Second Lieutenant Innes’ orderly, is with his officer in the Hollow. On the command to advance, he runs quickly on, outdistancing the men with him, mounts the railway embankment and fires five times at the German machine-gun crew at the barricade, killing them. At a second barricade, 60 yards further on, another enemy machine-gun is prepared for action. The ground between the two positions is deemed too marshy for a direct assault so O’Leary again climbs the railway embankment and runs towards the Germans. They see him and as they attempt to turn the machine-gun towards him he shoots three of its crew. The remaining two Germans immediately surrender, not realizing that O’Leary has now fired all the cartridges in his magazine. He then returns to the original line with his prisoners. For his actions this day he will be awarded the Victoria Cross.
Among those killed in this action
- Lieutenant Thomas Ucher Caulfeild Knox (Coldstream Guards) the Viscount Northland and son of the 5th Earl and Countess of Ranfurly
- Private Walter James Osborn (Coldstream Guards) killed at age 31 whose brother will be killed in May 1917.
An estimated 12,000 Turks are reported to be advancing towards the Suez Canal.
The hospital ship Asturias is attacked by a German submarine fifteen miles off Le Havre but the torpedo misses.
Today’s losses also include:
- An Assistant School Master at Tonbridge School
- A football player for Brumley Football Club
- A man whose brother will die on service in 1919
- A hold of the Board of Trade Silver Medal and Royal Humane Society’s Bronze Medal for Life Saving
Today’s highlighted casualty is
Lieutenant Anthony Henry Simpson (Royal Warwickshire Regiment) who dies of wounds at age 27. He is the Assistant Master of Tonbridge School 1911-1914.
- Private Alfred Lorimer (Royal Army Medical Corps attached East Lancashire Regiment) dies on service at age 23 in Egypt. He is a football player for the Burnley Football Club.
- Gunner Samuel Charles Arthur Smith (HMS Comet) is killed by a local at Ahwaz, Mesopotamia at age 37. He was awarded the Board of Trade Silver Medal and Royal Humane Society’s Bronze Medal for life saving at the wreck of S S Dellhi.
- Rifleman Henry Quantrill (King’s Royal Rifle Corps) dies on service at home at age 18. His brother will die at home on service in October 1919.