HorsePower Museum Battlefield Tour to Flanders

The HorsePower Museum battlefield tour was intended to coincide with the centenary celebrations of the Great War and to raise awareness of the Museum’s collection and archives. With our expert historian, guide and fellow cavalryman, Nicholas Haines, thirty five set sail for a four day tour of Flanders. The weather was glorious for late September and following an easy crossing of a lumpy Channel we had time to reach Hautrage Military Cemetery on the outskirts of Mons and reflect on the life and death of Lt Harold Soames 20H, the Regiment’s first casualty of the war, killed during his first week in France on 23rd August 1914.

Nery farmyard where the Eleventh bivouacked, as photographed by Lt Col Pittman in 1914 and the same yard 103 years later.

After an enjoyable evening in Mons the party set off early for Nery. It was in this, remarkably unchanged village, that the 11th Hussars, as part of 1st Cavalry Brigade and having covered 130 miles in a week, encountered the German 4th Cavalry Division early on 1 September 1914. The short battle proved costly for both sides and although the Eleventh were fortunate to be occupying substantial and protected farm buildings, limiting casualties from artillery fire, we were able to see where Lt ‘Tapeworm’ Tailby’s troop first encountered the German superior force, the scene of ‘L’ Battery RHA’s glorious action, Lt Norrie’s charge to take the German guns and where our Machine Gun Section combined with those of the Greys to give him covering fire. Lt Col TT Pitman’s photographs of 103 years ago were easy to place. The Eleventh were fortunate that day, but Major Stephen Cawley, a 20th Hussar on the brigade staff, died from a shrapnel wound to the head during the German initial artillery fire.  He lies in the Nery village cemetery, alongside his brother Oswald who was killed with the Shropshire Yeo nearby within two months of the end of the war. A third brother died with the Manchesters at Gallipoli.

 

It was difficult to leave Nery where we could have spent much more time, but we had a tight programme so we set off for Vimy Ridge to the North. Many believe Canada’s nationhood was forged on Vimy Ridge and the memory of the Canadians’ sacrifice is kept alive through their beautiful monument (right), excellent information centre and wonderful young Canadian guides. It proved to be a highlight of the tour for many, as was Lt Col Nick Tuck’s account of the commander of the Canadian Corps; our very own Julian ‘Bungo’ Byng, truly one of the Regiment’s most accomplished officers.  After a full and stimulating day, we withdrew to the ancient fortified town of Arras for the night.

 

On a beautiful crisp Autumnal morning, we crossed Arras to visit the CWGC Memorial and Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery where almost thirty of the Tenth feature on the Memorial walls. They died during the battle at Monchy-le-Preux in April 1917, a typically nasty and fruitless engagement that cost the Tenth dear. Capt Wayne Price (left) provided an excellent account of the battle as we sat in the elegant arches of the Arras Memorial that frame one side of the cemetery. Buried in front of the memorial were men from 10th, 11th and 14th Hussars, including Capt ‘Pat’ Armstrong MC of the Tenth who had impressed many with his professionalism in South Africa and in his planning (with Byng) of the Gallipoli withdrawal. He was mentioned in despatches four times, had a citation for a DSO pending, before being shot dead in May 1917 when Brigade Major of 29th Division. Byng said “I do not know of anyone of his age who had a more promising future ahead of him”.

 

We left Arras for Zandvoorde where we were able to appreciate the actions of the British Cavalry around Ypres, the nature of the ground and to understand how the ebb and flow of the campaign affected the villages (many with names familiar to any Briton) in the area. We paused to reflect on the lives of four from the Tenth, all buried in Zandevoorde’s churchyard and celebrated in a stain glass window in the church. Our understanding was advanced considerably by the excellent Paachendale Memorial Museum and a tour of the Tyne Cott cemetery nearby.

The tour party at the Menin Gate, Ypres.

It left time for the short drive to Ypres and an opportunity to admire the market square where the Tenth, as part of 6th Cavalry Brigade, bivouacked on the 13th October 1914, the first Allied troops to occupy Ypres during the war. With the regimental plaques (and many others) admired in St George’s Memorial church, our party positioned themselves with a splendid assortment of regimental ties, insignia and berets for the Menin Gate Ceremony.  The Colonel, serving Regiment and Association were represented by Brig Alex Potts, Lt Ben Unwin and Capt Steve Penkethman respectively, who joined a dozen other parties in laying a wreath. The ceremony is repeated daily with great style and sincerity, and it was notable that the vast majority of the wreath parties were children; there was a large contingent from Oundle School complete with marching band whilst we were there. There are scores of the Regiment’s Fallen on the gate, all without a known grave, but as FM Plumer remarked at the inauguration of the Memorial about each of the 54,000 names on the Gate’s plaques: “He is not missing; he is here”.

On our final morning we left Lille and headed for the Messines Ridge. En route there was time to recount the short career of 2Lt Richard Lumley, 11H who died only six months into his service in Oct 1914; a man born into the Regiment (his father commanded) and whose younger brother, Roger, wrote the excellent history of the Eleventh. He is buried in Ploeegsteert Churchyard.  The tour finished with a snapshot of the Messines area and a pause to reflect on the losses of the Tenth in May 1915 when they fought so valiantly in the trenches and lost their Commanding Officer, Adjutant and Squadron Leader, all buried in Vlamertinge cemetery (right).

 

We covered a lot of ground during the tour, physically and metaphorically; but through our guide and the research of Wayne Price, Nick Tuck and others we were able to grasp the true sense of the service provided by our predecessor regiments. Colonel Richardson said of the 20th Hussars (whom he commanded) “all we claim is that whenever we were given a job to do, we did it”. This humility runs through the accounts provided by our predecessor Regiments, but it doesn’t diminish our admiration of them. Our understanding of their story was advanced greatly by visiting the battlefields of Flanders and dipping into the fascinating, accessible and inspiring archives and collection of the HorsePower Museum. Our curator is ready and willing to help anyone to achieve the same.