THE ACTION AT FREZENBERG
An extract from the personal War Diary of Captain Geoffrey
Acting Squadron Leader of ‘A’ Squadron, Leicestershire
Yeomanry in May 1915
(later Colonel Sir Geoffrey Codrington KCVO CB CMG DSO OBE
[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
EXTRACT FROM CAPTAIN GEOFFREY CODRINGTON’S DIARY
May 11th :
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
We go to the line this evening and are spending the day
cleaning up, checking respirators etc.
I have written nothing since May 12th and will
try and give an account of everything that has happened
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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]
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]
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
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,
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
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
Wilfred told him that he would hold on as long as he had any
men at all, but that he must have some reinforcements
This, Grenfell said he would try and arrange - Wilfred now
had about 50 men or less.
At about noon [Captain] Tollemache
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
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
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
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
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
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
where I now am.
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