On the 25th September 1915 five of our members died on the battlefield at (or near) Loos; William Douglass James, William Casson, Herbert Dudley Ellis, Vivian Gordon and William Crew Tremearne. All of their obituaries are recorded on our Honour Roll. The Battle of Loos was the largest British offensive on the Western Front during 1915. It was remarkable in its scale and ambition; in part to take pressure of the Russian’s in the East and in part to aid the French in breaking through the German lines in Artois and Champagne (part of the Autumn offences). It was the first time the British used poison gas, it was also the first mass engagement of Kitchener’s Army
Despite improved methods, more ammunition and better equipment the Franco-British attacks were contained by the German armies. British casualties in the main attack were 48,367 and 10,880 in the subsidiary attack, a total of 59,247 (there were a total of 285,107 casualties on the Western Front that year). German losses from 21st September to 10th October were approximately 26,000 (of an approximate total of 141,000 casualties that Autumn). The Loos Memorial commemorates over 20,000 soldiers who fell in the battle and have no known grave, Ellis is one of these. We know little of him but what is certain is that he enlisted as soon as war was declared in 1914, as he received a medal for doing so.
It is necessary for us to take the offensive in the French theatre of operations so as to drive the Germans out of France….Besides, a brilliant victory over the Germans will induce neutral countries to declare themselves for us and will compel the enemy to slacken his operations against the Russians…Everything has been done so that this offensive may be carried out with large forces and powerful material… The communication of these instructions to the troops will not fail to raise their morale and make them ready to accept the sacrifices which will be asked of them.
Note for the General Officers Commanding Army Groups, from Joffre [French Commander-in-Chief Joseph Joffre], 14 September 1915
Each of our members had a different background. Most were new to a military life, Casson however did have a background of volunteering for military service.
Captain Casson was an enthusiastic member of various Volunteer Regiments for twenty-five years. He attained his rank in 1903 in the 7th Battalion, the London Regiment, and at the outbreak of war undertook Imperial Service obligations. On 25th September 1915 he was commanded to lead the British attack at Loos on the extreme right flank, and to seize and hold a dangerous but highly important position. This he accomplished with a skill and courage that was the admiration of all who witnessed it, but he was instantaneously killed by a sniper as he stood on the parapet of the trench rallying his men.
Gordon also had military experience, he fought in the South African War (Boer War or Anglo-Boer War). He then went of with his studies. At the start of the war he received a Lieutenancy in the 4th Gloucester Regiment, and was afterwards exchanged his South African regiment, the 8th Battalion Gordon Highlanders.
James comes across as academic, he studied Pembroke College, University of Cambridge where he took the Engineering side and in 1914 he left, having obtained a second class in the Mechanical Sciences Tripos. Previously he had studied at Plymouth College, and in 1909 he passed the Intermediate B.Sc. examination in Engineering. He was proceeding as pupil to the Engineer-in-Chief of the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board when war was declared.
During the same period that James was up at Cambridge, so to was Tremearne. He studied at Christ’s College, taking the Mechanical Sciences Course, and later on his B.A. He then was appointed to the Singapore Tramway Company, having charge of the power-house, supervision of the boiler plant and outside track and overhead system. Just before the outbreak of war he had returned to England, due to fever.
Each of their stories can be read on our Honour Roll, alongside those of all our Members who died as a result of the war. Our WWI exhibition features resources on the war, such as drawings and journals.