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Action at Boetleer's Farm

1st/8th DLI & the Second Battle of Ypres

From: 25 April 1915

To: 26 April 1915

Within days of landing in France on 20 April 1915, the 1st/8th Battalion Durham Light Infantry was thrown, along with the other four DLI Territorial battalions, into the desperate fighting at Ypres to stop a German attack towards the Channel ports. This, the Second Battle of Ypres, was to be the Durham Territorials’ baptism of fire.

After marching under shell fire through Ypres, the battalion was ordered to relieve the 8th Canadian Battalion (Winnipeg Rifles) nicknamed the ‘Little Black Devils’ at Boetleer’s Farm, on a low ridge north east of the town. As Veitch’s battalion history recounts:

“It was now nearly 2am. The Battalion immediately moved off to relieve the Canadians who were reported to have lost heavily and to be much exhausted. Passing through a farm filled with Canadian wounded, the pack animals were left and the ammunition taken on by hand. The position at Boetleer’s Farm was reached about 3am on Sunday, April 25th.”

A few hours later, the Germans began shelling 1/8 DLI’s trenches and the shelling continued throughout the day. Early in the afternoon, German infantry attacked the Durhams and the remaining Canadians, but were driven back by rifle and machine gun fire. Then, about 3.30pm, German reinforcements arrived in three trains and the main attack began. Again the German soldiers were driven back, resulting in yet more heavy shelling of 1/8 DLI’s positions. Another attack by a hundred German cyclists was also driven off, but by early evening the Durhams were running out of ammunition and running out of men.

However, though 1/8 DLI was forced to abandon its forward positions, the battalion held Boetleer’s Farm for a second night despite incessant shelling and sniper fire. Then, about 4am on Monday 26 April, Colonel Turnbull, commanding the battalion, finally ordered his exhausted and hungry men to fall back. Early next morning, after another day under shell fire, a roll call of the survivors was taken.

Veitch’s history records the total number of casualties killed, wounded or missing for 25/26 April as 19 officers and 574 other ranks, with many of the 342 men missing having been taken prisoner. Soldiers Died lists 102 names as killed in action on 26 April 1915 (no names are given for 25 April, it seems possible that as the fighting was continuous, those killed on this date were all recorded as 26 April).

Once the battalion had regrouped near Frezenberg, Captain Stevens is recorded in the battalion history as having said, “You have taken part in a battle which will be remembered as long as the war is spoken of.”

The battalion was so shattered by the Second Battle of Ypres that it was merged with 6 DLI on 7 June. They remained as the 6th/8th Battalion until August 1915, when drafts from home allowed the battalions to be rebuilt.

Durham at War blog about the Second Battle of Ypres:

An account of Boetleer’s Farm can also be read from the Canadian perspective. Scroll down to “Supporting Material” and click on the link to “The Little Black Devils who faced hell.”

Contributed by Durham County Record Office