George Henry Hyde, paternal Great Uncle: Ypres May 1915


2014 is the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War.

So today ia perfect time to write about a gentleman I didn't even know existed until 2006, a man who gave his life in service of his country and a man who was my Great Uncle.

George Henry (he was known as George Harry) was my Grandfathers youngest brother, the other being Joshia. When my Great Grandfather lost his wife in 1899 he was also left with a dilema that, at the time, was made worse by his chosen profession - Great Grandfather was a publican. Knowing that he could not bring up 3 boys single handed and certainly not in a public house in a working class area of Staffordshire Great Grandfather made a monumentous decision and broke the family up.

George Harry and his brother went to relatives in South Wales and my Grandfather went to people known to the family in Aston near Birmingham (Aston was not at that time actually part of Birmingham - its is now).

George Harry and his brother were brought up by Aunts (direct family relations) in Newport South Wales, a place where that side of my family still lives today.

George Harry obviously learned respect, deference and the meaning of service from his upbringing because in 1915 he was in the British Army and on the "western Front" at a small Belgium market town which the "Tommy's" called Wippers, the Flemish call Lepers but to the rest of us is known as Ypres.

1st Battelion Monmouthshire Regiment

George Harry was a Rifleman in the First Battelion of the Monmouthshire Regiment and on the 8th May 1915 was in a trench along with the members of the Third Battelion of the Monmouths and all the other regiments present at what became known as the Battle of Frezenberg. Both Battalions suffered heavy casualties and when the battalions were amalgamated later there were barely enough men answering roll call to create one Battalion.

The First Battelion was created in August 1914 at Newport, Momouthshire (now in Gwent) as part of the Welsh Border Brigade in the Welsh Division. Moved on mobilisation to Pembroke Dock but by 10 August went to Oswestry and by the end of the month was at Northampton. Moved in December to Bury St Edmunds and in January 1915 to Cambridge.

13 February 1915 the Battelion left the Division and landed in France. Came under orders of 84th Brigade in 28th Division.

27 May 1915 the Battelion was amalgamated with the 1/2nd and 1/3rd Bns at Vlamertinghe, after all suffered heavy casualties during Second Battle of Ypres.

The First Battelion Resumed identity on 11 August 1915.

3 September 1915 the First Battelion transferred as Pioneer Battalion to 46th (North Midland) Division.

2nd Battle of Ypres

The Second Battle of Ypres was the first time Germany used poison gas on a large scale on the Western Front in the First World War and the first time a former colonial force (Canadians) pushed back a major European power (Germans) on European soil, which occurred in the battle of St. Julien-Kitcheners' Wood.

The 2nd Battle of Ypres consisted of four separate engagements:

  1. The Battle of Gravenstafel: Thursday 22 April – Friday 23 April 1915
  2. The Battle of Saint Julien: Saturday 24 April – 4 May 1915.
  3. The Battle of Frezenberg: 8–13 May 1915
  4. The Battle of Bellewaarde: 24–25 May 1915

The scene of ALL the battles was the Ypres salient on the Western Front, where the Allied line which followed the canal bulged eastward around the town of Ypres, Belgium. North of the salient were the Belgians; covering the northern part of the salient itself were two French divisions (one Metropolitan and one Algerian) The eastern part of the salient was defended by one Canadian division and two UK divisions.

Battle of Frezenberg 8 - 13 May 1915

In the period 4-7 May, much encouraged by the British withdrawal, German Fourth Army Commander moved his artillery forward and grouped three Army Corps opposite the weakened Men of the Royal West Kents, front line trench near Ypres, April 1915 British 28th and 27th Divisions holding the Frezenberg Ridge in readiness for a further attack.

At 5.30am on 8 May a violent German artillery bombardment began on the British lines causing massive destruction – especially to 83rd Brigade in vulnerable trenches on the forward slopes of the Ridge. The subsequent German infantry assault was repelled by the surviving British battalions. A second German thrust on the ridge was held but a third assault at 10am, either side of Frezenberg village, forced the remaining defenders to fall back. The German attack was stopped on the right by 80th Brigade but, to the north, 84th Brigade was almost totally destroyed in the onslaught (Private George Harry was in the 84th Brigade); by afternoon a two mile gap had been punched in the British line. Tenacious defence, hastily improvised counter-attacks and a crucial night advance of 10th Brigade restored a precarious situation.

9 May saw new German attacks further south on 27th Division astride the Menin road; intense German bombardments accompanied violent assaults which were repeatedly held and, over the next three days, no significant breakthrough was made. A final crisis occurred on 13 May, a day of ceaseless rain and shelling, with a German break-in on 7th Cavalry Brigade’s quagmire of a front and enemy bombardments causing temporary evacuations of 4th Division’s line; counter-attacks and skilful use of support troops restored the situation – though at heavy cost in lives. Six days of intense fighting yielded German gains of around 1,000 yards of front between Hooge and Mouse Trap Farm but at such high cost in casualties that offensive operations were halted.

Menin Gate, Ypres

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing is one of four British and Commonwealth memorials to the missing in the battlefield area of the Ypres Salient in Belgian Flanders. The memorial bears the names of 54,389 officers and men from United Kingdom and Commonwealth Forces (except New Zealand and Newfoundland) who fell in the Ypres Salient before 16th August 1917 and who have no known grave.

George Harry is one of the 54,389 and the foillowing detail was supplied by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission:

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One day I will make the trip to Belgium to pay my respects, until then each November 11th and on the Rememberance Sunday (since 2006) I have thanked George Harry for sacrificing his life so I can live mine the way I choose.