An extract from the personal War Diary of Captain Geoffrey Codrington[1]

Acting Squadron Leader of ‘A’ Squadron, Leicestershire Yeomanry in May 1915

(later Colonel Sir Geoffrey Codrington KCVO CB CMG DSO OBE TD)

 [In May 1915, the Leicestershire Yeomanry, with the 1st and 2nd Life Guards, was serving in 7th Cavalry Brigade (Brigadier General A. A. Kennedy) in 3rd Cavalry Division (Major General C. J. Briggs).  For trench duty, the 1st and 3rd Cavalry Divisions formed the ‘Cavalry Force’, each Cavalry Brigade producing c.50 officers and 8-900 riflemen, the equivalent to an infantry battalion. On 11th May, 3rd Cavalry Division came under command of 27th Division, who were holding the Eastern salient North and South of the Menin Road, and on 12th/13th May the Cavalry Force relieved the infantry of the 28th Division in the North, and the Northernmost positions of 27th Division.]



May 11th [1915]: Spent all day in our bivouac near BRIELEN [two miles North West of YPRES]. We are probably due for the trenches tomorrow so each Squadron has been told to send an officer up to reconnoitre the trenches we are going to – I sent [Lieutenant Alan] Turner – ‘B’ Squadron sent [2nd Lieutenant William] Fielding-Johnson and ‘C’ sent [Lieutenant] Donald Thomson. We were told particularly to send our best.

During the day I went down to a little chateau near by where I thought must be REG: KER: GULLAND’s grave, but I could not find it.[2]

May 12th: We go to the line this evening and are spending the day cleaning up, checking respirators etc.

May 30th: I have written nothing since May 12th and will try and give an account of everything that has happened since then.

We paraded at about 6.30 p.m. on the 12th, and just as we were going to move off, we being in rear of 1st and 2nd Life Guards, a message came to say that our destination was changed and that we were not going to the trenches originally intended for us, and to reconnoitre which, we had sent up officers. Of these officers Fielding-Johnson came back on the morning of the 12th to act as guide and the other two were to meet their respective Squadrons on arrival. However, that was all altered and we heard a little later that there had been a direct hit on the dugout occupied by Donald Thompson and Turner and that both had been killed -  two officers we could very ill afford to lose – both Squadron leaders had sent their best.[3] Turner a good fellow, from BUL WITHAM – Donald, of course I am particularly sorry about. We had been a good deal together and had done Regimental Scouts with him at home, and so on, and I am particularly sorry to lose him.

We were relieving [85th Brigade of] the 27th Division I think, and things appeared to be rather in chaos. Just as we were moving off, the Brigadier[4] asked if we had got everything. The 1st Life Guards said they had no Very pistol ammunition and a staff officer of the 27th Division (I think) said that that would be provided on arrival. The Brigadier told him that he would not march off till he had some and when put in that way some ammunition was forthcoming in a car in no time! This was served out and off we went.

We took over trenches between the ZONNEBEKE and MENIN roads, in front of POTIJZE – our right on the [YPRES-]ZONNEBEKE railway. ‘B’ and ‘C’ Squadrons in front, ‘A’ Squadron in support – the 1st Life Guards were on our left and the 2nd Life Guards on their left again.

We took over from a battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. My support trench was about 150 yards East of the road ['Cambridge Road', now Begijnenbosstraat] joining the ZONNEBEKE and MENIN roads from a point 2.5 k. East of YPRES on the ZONNEBEKE road to a point 2.8 k E. of YPRES on the MENIN road and about 500 yards North of the railway. Very little was known about the situation. I asked where was the front line and was told ‘if you go straight up over the crest there, and keep that tree about 30 yards on your right hand, you are bound to strike it – You can’t miss it.’ That was all I knew. There were no telephones or anything of that sort.

The support line consisted in three lengths of trench, two holding about 30 men each, these two being about 15 or 20 yards apart and one holding about 50 men – the longer trench was on the left of the other two and about 70 yards away. All three were similar in construction and condition. They had been good trenches, but had rather been knocked about – the front wall of the trench had been hollowed out in several places and consequently was inclined to crumble and fall in.

I took over 70 shovels and 35 picks from the Battalion we relieved. The only information I could get from the officer I relieved was that we should need to work like beavers all night, but that Bosche planes were over all day and if you showed a little finger by day you got shelled at once.

[May 13th:]

I got everyone to work improving the trenches and dug a short length of communication trench between the two right hand lengths of trench. We did not get this very deep, but deep enough to crouch along – Without this we had no communication between the two trenches that I was going to occupy. I decided not to attempt to hold the northernmost trench as I had too few men. I improved the end of my left trench so as to make a bit of a defensive flank there in case of necessity.

The C.O. [Lieutenant Colonel the Hon. Percy Evans-Freke] came along during the night and asked how many picks and shovels I had as [Major] Bill Martin [commanding ‘C’ Squadron] was badly in need of some in the front line.[5] I said I could spare 20 shovels and 10 picks and these I sent up by Sergt. [James] Dewey and four men. I directed Dewey as best as I could and sent him off. Presently – a long time later, when it was daylight, he came back and dropped into the trench – I asked him to whom he handed the tools and he told me that they had been unable to find the trench and that movement was so difficult owing to the shelling that he had put down the tools and come back – presumably for instructions. This was bad.

I had another party of ten under [Second Lieutenant T H] Simpkin[6] taking up some S.A.A. [small arms ammunition] to the front line so my party was very much reduced from a working point of view. However, they worked wonderfully well.

There was supposed to be a post about 200 yards on my right front, which should be held, but in the dark we were unable to find it. Our predecessors had only a very vague knowledge of where it was, and after discussion with the C.O., I decided to leave it for the present and concentrate on work on my support trench.

At about 5 a.m. some very heavy shelling began right over us – we had a few men hit, but not badly.

At about 6 a.m. several men could be seen coming back from the front [line] trench, especially away on our left, and about the same time a ‘C’ Squadron man dropped into my trench and reported that the Life Guards on our left had been shelled out – that the enemy had occupied their trench and was bombing [attacking with grenades] his way along our front line -  that there were very few men left of our ‘B’ and ‘C’ Squadron, and that the enemy had occupied our front line; our own men falling away on the 3 D.G. [Dragoon Guards, 6th Cavalry Brigade] on their right across the [YPRES-ZONNEBEKE] railway.

This seemed serious – and at the same time I saw men falling away fast on our left, as if they were falling back onto the road about 150 yards in our rear. This road was sunk and seemed to offer a good line of resistance.

As my front and my flank seemed to have gone I decided to fall back on to the road with the intention of joining up with the people on my left and closing the gap between us to make a solid defence along the sunk road [Cambridge Road]. 

Just at this time I was hit. I had already sent Corporal [        ] Meakin off to report to the C.O. and to let him know what was going on. My stretcher bearers came and put me on to a stretcher, and I shouted to Simpkin to let him know that I was hit and that he must take command.

They started to carry me down to the road in order to get under a certain amount of cover, and just before we got there one of the stretcher bearers[, Trooper John] Hoyes in the Belvoir Troop was shot through the head and killed instantly. The stretcher, of course, dropped and the bar underneath that keeps it open shut up. It was difficult for the others to open this out again with my weight on the stretcher so I had to get half off. However, we managed this and on we went. Just as we got on to the road [Colonel] Percy [Evans-]Freke came out with [Major] Wilfred Ricardo and [Lieutenant] Tim Best.

Apparently the support on our left had not fallen back and meanwhile the Germans were now between the original position and the support line. So [Colonel] Percy Freke told Wilfred to take the Squadron back to our Support Trench and hold on there.

Wilfred [Ricardo] took command of the Squadron from that time onwards.

The C.O. went up to reconnoitre the farm on our right front (marked F) [on G.R.C.’s sketch map: ‘Gully Farm’] to see about establishing a post there and took with him Sergt. [   ] Bailey and ten men of the Rutland Troop - I believe he wanted also to go on and see how things were going in the front line, but he could not get there. He then came back to Wilfred [Ricardo] and just as he got close to the trench he was shot and killed. R.S.M. [George] Parker,[7] who was with him was killed at the same time.

The enemy came on, proceeded to start digging in between our trench and the crest in front, and the Squadron under Wilfred held them there all day.

At about 10 a.m. [Captain the Hon.] Julian Grenfell[8] in the Royals came up to Wilfred and asked him to hold on at all costs as there was nothing else on this side holding, so that if we gave way the left flank of the next brigade [to the right, across the YPRES-ZONNEBEKE railway] would be turned.

Wilfred told him that he would hold on as long as he had any men at all, but that he must have some reinforcements sent up.

This, Grenfell said he would try and arrange - Wilfred now had about 50 men or less.

At about noon [Captain] Tollemache[9] the Brigade Major, came up and again said they must hold on at all costs and again Wilfred asked for reinforcements.

At about 2 p.m. the reserve Brigade (8th Cavalry Brigade) consisting of the Blues, 10th Hussars and Essex [Yeomanry] came up to counter-attack which they did with the Bayonet – what was left of our Squadron joining in.

There is no question that the Squadron did a magnificent piece of work and absolutely saved a very nasty situation.

While all this was going on I had been taken, to begin with, to the Regimental Head Quarters dugout where [Trooper Bill] W. Woods, the stretcher-bearer of the RUTLAND Troop (from GLASTON) put a field dressing on my chest.

It was most disagreeable staying in the dugout – It was full of other wounded and we could not get on to the dressing-station till dark.

I sent the stretcher-bearers back to attend to other casualties, one staying to tie up the men who kept coming to the dugout.

During the afternoon an officer of the Blues looked in and saw me lying there and I heard him ask ‘Who is that? Is that an officer?’. The answer from the stretcher-bearer was ‘Yes, sir’. ‘What is the matter with him? Is he bad?’ ‘Yes, sir, he’s done, I think.’ Of course I was not meant to hear it and it was hardly encouraging.

Eventually, at about 5p.m. things seemed to quieten down a bit and I was taken out and to the dressing station. It had rained hard all day and the ground was extraordinarily slippery. When crossing a ditch the head stretcher-bearer slipped and fell, dropping the stretcher and falling on to the top of me! However, we arrived all right eventually and simultaneously with a German shell just outside the farm.

I was put down in the barn and a M.O. [Medical Officer] looked at me – I showed him where I was hit and his comment was ‘that is best left undisturbed’. I found there Wilfred [Ricardo][10], Tim Best[11] and many men of my own Squadron.

The Doctor had just finished looking at me when the O.C. [Officer Commanding] of the Field Ambulance, or rather the M.O. i/c the dressing station, came in and said: ‘This is too hot here – anyone who can walk must get down to some old artillery dugouts in a field close by here’. ‘Can you walk?’ I remembered that when first I was hit I had gone on walking, but I was now so stiff that [I] could not get up – so I answered that I could not get up, but that if they could help me up I thought I could walk. So they got me up and I hobbled on Tim Best’s shoulder down to the dugouts which were about 300-400 yards away. Here we stayed till about 9 p.m.

Then the M.O. came and told us that Ambulances had arrived on the Menin road and that if we could walk we should get away more quickly than by waiting for stretchers for they were short of stretchers – so again Tim and I started off together. He had been hit in the head.

We just caught the last ambulance of the batch and got in as sitting cases. We stopped at a sort of relay post where some were given the anti-tetanus injection. Neither of us were.

We then got into another ambulance and started off through YPRES to the Main Dressing Station [M.D.S.].

We got held up in YPRES to let some battery ammunition-wagons go through. This was not at all pleasant as they were shelling the place pretty plentifully and there were large holes in the road and the horses were slipping about a lot. They came through at a gallop and did not crash into us, as one felt they must.

We then moved on and when close to the Main Dressing Station we got pushed into the side of the road to let some other traffic pass, and got absolutely stuck in the mud! The driver of the car came and apologised, but he could not help it - of course no lights were possible and in the dark he could not tell how deep the mud was. He told us that we were only about 200 yards from the M.D.S. so we got out and walked.

On arrival at the M.D.S. at about 11.30 p.m. I was again left undisturbed – and was lain down on some beautiful dry, warm hay. A Padre of one of the Cav. Bdes. [Cavalry Brigades] (I forget his name) gave me some soup, for which I was very grateful, having had nothing since the night before, when we paraded[,] and I went to sleep.

[May 14th:] At 3 a.m. the Motor Ambulance Convoy arrived to take us to the C.C.S. [Casualty Clearing Station]. Again I went down as a sitting case. We went first to BAILLEUL [10 miles South West of YPRES], where we found they were full up, so we went on to No.10 C.C.S. at HAZEBROUCK [9 miles West of BAILLEUL]. This was luck as it was quite close to the Squadron billets so that I was able to get all my kit together and so on.

I arrived at the same time as Tim Best and [Major] Bertie Hanbury.[12] We were all coated with mud, and we were met by a very cheery Matron, who greeted us with ‘which would you like first – a wash or some breakfast?’. It was about 9.30 a.m. May 14th. Having had nothing since tea-time on the 12th we said breakfast!

Then gradually they took us each in turn. We discovered then for the first time, that my bullet had gone in under my shoulder-blade and had gone right through my chest – coming out at what I thought was the entry hole.

I stayed there a week and was very comfortable –being then moved to No.7 Stationary Hospital at Boulogne where I remained for another week before transfer to LONDON to Lady Ridley’s hospital[13] where I now am.

June 3rd: Boarded [attended a Medical Board] to-day and discharged from hospital exactly three weeks from the day I was hit – and have got two months’ sick leave before I go back.

[Captain Geoffrey Codrington returned to France on 4th August 1915, and rejoined the Regiment at Chateau HERVARRE in BOUT DE LA VILLE, 2 km North of FAUQUEMBERGUES, 9 miles South West of St. OMER, on 13th August. In January 1916, he was posted to a staff appointment, and on 13th February became Staff Captain of 63rd Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier General Hill in 21st Division (Major General Claude Jacob) II Corps, 2nd Army; 63rd Brigade attacked with limited success at FRICOURT on the first day of the Somme, 1st July 1916.]

[1]   This extract from Geoffrey Codrington’s personal War Diary (pages 35-40 in the original) is reproduced by kind permission of his son, James Codrington Esq., the current owner of the diary. Permission to quote long passages in any published work should be made to the owner, who may be contacted via the creator of this website.

[2]   Second Lieutenant Reginald Ker-Gulland of 14th Bn the London Regiment (the London Scottish) died (probably of wounds) aged 28, on 12 Nov 1914 and is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Railway Chateau Cemetery, 2 km West of Ypres. The London Scottish were the first Territorial Battalion to see action in 1914; they were committed to support 4th Cavalry Brigade’s defence of Messine s, South of Ypres, on 31st October and lost over 300 men in this action. GRC’s connection is not known [a contemporary from Harrow or Oxford?].

[3]   Lieutenant Alan Fletcher Turner, aged 40, who had served in the South African War in the 3rd Yorkshire Hussars, and Lieutenant Samuel Pestell Donald Thomson, are both buried in the CWGC Sanctuary Wood Cemetery 5 km East of Ypres. See Personalities and Men, World War 1 and Pre-War periods elsewhere on this website.

[4]   Brigadier Alfred Kennedy, late 3rd Hussars, took command of 7th Cavalry Brigade on 5th May 1915.

[5]   Major William Francis Martin, who had served in the Leicestershire Imperial Yeomanry in the South African War, was killed later in the day and is buried at CWGC Oosttaverne Wood Cemetery, 4 miles South of YPRES. He was Mentioned in Despatches on 1st January 1916.

[6]   T[   ] Simpkin had been a Sergeant in the Gaddesby Troop of ‘A’ Squadron and described as ‘quite excellent’ by GRC on 2nd October 1914: he was recommended for a Commission in December 1914, and was commissioned [early in 1915]. ‘A’ Squadron, based in Melton Mowbray, comprised troops from Gaddesby, Rutland, Belvoir, Melton Mowbray and Uppingham; GRC had commanded the Rutland Troop.

[7]   Regimental Sergeant Major George Parker, aged 42, was shot in the neck: he is commemorated on the Menin Gate, Ypres.

[8]   Captain the Hon. Julian Grenfell DSO if the 1st Dragoons (the Royals), a war poet, was hit in the head by a shell splinter later that day; he died of wounds on 26th May 1915 and is buried at the CWGC Boulogne Cemetery.

[9]   Captain the Hon. Denis Plantaganet Tollemache, 7th Queen’s Own Hussars, Brigade Major 7th Cavalry Brigade. He was awarded the DSO during the War, and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1928.

[10]  Major Wilfred Ricardo was wounded in the head and in the hand at Frezenberg. He was Mentioned in Despatches for his leadership in the battle, and in 1917 was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He was promoted Lieutenant Colonel in the Royal Horse Guards (the Blues) and served with them to the end of the War.

[11]   Lieutenant Thomas William (‘Tim’) Best had been attached to Regimental Headquarters. He was wounded in the 8th Cavalry Brigade counter-attack at Frezenberg, but recovered. Later in 1915, he was attached to the Royal Flying Corps.

[12]   Major Robert Hanbury had served in ‘A’ Squadron, Leicestershire Yeomanry before the outbreak of War in 1914. He was killed in action while serving in the Machine Gun Corps on 24th March 1918.

[13]   Lady Ridley’s Hospital was in 10, Carlton House Terrace, London, W1.

A Squadrons Trench positions.