“100 hundred years on from the First World War the Battle of Bellewaarde is not an engagement many, if any, readers will have heard of.
The battle which lasted little more than 12 hours over territory little more than half a square mile is dwarfed by more well-known battles on the Somme and Passchendaele.
But it is the subject of a fascinatingly-detailed book from historian Carole McEntee-Taylor who brings the battle to life with personal testimony weaved with strategic overview.
The story starts in June 1915. Two months on from their gas attack at Ypres, the German Army occupied the Bellewaarde Ridge east of the Belgian town affording unobstructed views into the British rear areas.
It was to be here, in the early hours of June 16, 1915, that the British 3rd Division would attack out the mist in an attempt to seize the ridge.
However, by the day’s end about 4,000 men would be casualties for marginal gain – the Germans fought ferociously to their positions making the advancing British waves pay dearly for every yard of ground gained.
For a British battle plan of 1915 it was relatively well-conceived – 300 guns were massed to help the infantry seize a limited objective.
But McEntee-Taylor is clear why the assault – well-planned as it was – failed. At this early stage in the war it was nigh-on impossible to maintain effective communication between the attacking troops and supporting artillery.
This meant that although some men reached their ultimate objectives they were shelled by their own guns. It was hoped coloured screens could be used to signal their positions, but mist and smoke from shelling obscured these from view.
This coupled with a dearth of well-trained and experienced officers meant the attack lost impetus as casualties mounted.
The British Official History of the war declared Bellewaarde a minor action, perhaps with some justification.
But such language does a disservice to the gallantry and courage of the men who fought on there.
What is particularly refreshing is the level of attention given to German units who fought there. This is becoming more and more common in books on the subject today – long may it continue.”
BATTLE OF BELLEWAARDE June 1915
The account of the battle is detailed and quotes from many individual accounts of participants and of their units, this in itself takes up around a fifth of the work, and after a 25 page summing up, 120 pages list in detail the individuals, British and German, who fell. The book is as much a memorial to all who fought in the battle as a history of it.