The following is the Regiment’s own account of the Battle of Frezenburg. There had been some doubts about how the territorial regiments would stand up, and one can see the pride of the writer here that other, more illustrious regiments had broken, but not the Leicesters. "A" Squadron were, at one point, doing the work of a Brigade, which would have about ten times the number of men in it. Their pride was justified.

All spelling and punctuation is as in the original.


Total Number: 15 Officers & 267 NCO's and men went into battle on the 12th May 1915.

RECORDS OF LEICESTERSHIRE YEOMANRY

on the nights of May 12th and 13th. 1915,

When they held the trenches to the East of Ypres against the attack of the Germans.

 

At 5pm on May 12th when in huts 1 mile wst of Ypres on the Brailen Road and one mile East of that Village, an order came to march for the trenches at 7.15. All respirators were inspected and doped, and the Regiment, consisting of 281 all ranks moved off from the huts at 7.30 in Brigade with 1st and 2nd Life Guards, the Leicesters being the leading Regiment.

 

The route taken was East along the VLAMERTINGE-YPRES Road through the town of YPRES. The town was being shelled by Germans during our march through and was practically all on fire.

The Brigade left YPRES by the ZONNIBEKE Road and passed through the village of POTIJZE, and about a mile further East halted for half an hour near white Chateau, on left of road West of General Head Quarter Line and West of where brook crosses Road.

 

At 11pm we marched off to take up our position in trenches previously occupied by the 5th Battalion Royal Fusiliers and situated about 700 yds West of the Road joining the Zonnebeke Road and the YPRES MENIN Rd (squares 5 & 6, sheet 28 Squared BELGIUM map) with the extreme Right of Regiment resting on Railway running North East from Ypres and extending to farm house about 300 yds North North West of Railway including trench in front of Farm House.

 

The map above is accurate.

 

B squadron occupied North portion of trench C squadron the South portion of trench.

 

The trenches were bad, about 5feet deep and 2 feet wide at bottom, the parapet in front and behind trenches slanted very much and was made of loose soil, very few sand bags being used. There were no dugouts of funk holes (the friable nature of soil would not allow of their being made) so there was practically no protection from shell fire.

 

 

The support trenches occupied by A squadron were situated about 300 yds to the front of advance trenches and on the extreme flank of B squadron.

 

The M.O. and R.A.M.C were 1st in support trenches but were subsequently (2 am) ordered by C.O. to make Regimental Aid Post in Farm situated 200 yds South of Railway. Crossing on left side of Toad in square 11 opposite wood. This Farm was found to be occupied by 6. Cav. Field Amb. as their advanced dressing station.

 

The 7th Cav. Field Ambulance had its advanced dressing station at White Chateau on the YPRES. ZONNEBEKE Rd. mile East of POTIJZE Village.

 

The Hd. Qrs. were in dugout on Rd. joining ZONNERBEKE and MENNIN Rd. about 150 yds North of Railway crossing.

 

All troops got settled down in their trenches about 1 am some difficulty being experienced in finding best positions for machine gun and it was ultimately placed in C squadron trenches close to Rly.

At 1.30 spades and picks were obtained and the men improved the condition of their trenches during the night.

 

There were no trench bombs or mortars or hand grenades issued to the Regiment.

The 3rd Dragoon Guards occupied trenches on immediate South of the Railway, and the 1st Life Guards the trenches immediately North of B squadron.

 

Between 3.30 and 4 am the Germans commenced a very heavy shell fire - shrapnel and high explosives - on both the advanced and support trenches which practically continued without intermission till 6 am when there appeared to be a lull. The casualties during that time were not very heavy, and were attended to by the stretcher bearers who had accompanied each squadron with their stretchers into the trenches, Pte Townsend did excellent work in this respect in support trenches.

At about 6.15 there was signs of a German assault and some Germans left their trenches when a heavy rifle fire from our advanced trenches caused the Germans to retire precipitously to their trenches and open again a heavy shell fire upon our trenches, but principally confined this time to the advanced trenches, and they continued shelling till 7.30.

 

During this shelling there were many casualties, principally in the advanced trenches and the trenches themselves were blown flat, especially that in front of the Farm on the extreme Left of B trenches and the Germans seemed to be getting into trenches which had been occupied by the 2nd Life Guards and evacuated by them before 6 am and coming along there trenches towards B squadron trenches.

 

The B squadron gradually retired South along their trenches, some leaving trenches and retiring to support trenches.

 

The Germans continued their advance along B squadron trenches and leaving trenches advanced West under cover of hedge, until they came to within 200 yds of the support trenches and here dug themselves in a ditch which ran parallel with support trenches and it was noticed that the Germans used steel shields to protect their advance. Here they remained till the counter attack in the afternoon.

More Germans continued to advance along B squadron trenches and also made frontal attack under cover of their snipers, and B squadron retired on C. When they came to the left of C squadron they found Major Martin in Command, and he rallied the B and ordered barricades to be built across the trenches and he himself and SGT. MAJ. Swain defended these barricades by rifle fire. Major Leibert who commanded the B squadron was killed about now.

 

Major Martin was perfectly cool and collected, cheering his men by his undaunted courage and example got his men to make a great stand against large odds. This stand continued some time, the rifle fire of the Germans being very heavy, especially by snipers from front and flank Major Martin and Sgt. Major Swain and others standing behind a traverse and shooting Germans coming along trenches, whilst Lieut. Brooks and others protected their front from the German advance.

 

This check to the Germans continued for some time, and casualties from rifle fire were very heavy, among them were Lieut. Brooks, shot through the head until Major Martin was killed whilst making an observation of the advancing Germans support with his glasses.

 

He was shot through the upper part of face by a near range bullet and killed immediately.

Lieut. Johnson and Sgt. Major Swain and 14 men (all that now remained in the advance trenches) retired fighting along trenches to the Railway passing on their way the remains of the Machine Gun which seemed to have been knocked out by shell fire.

 

At the Railway Lieut. Johnson had a pit dug for cover as they dare not cross the Railway as it was reported to machine fun fire by the Germans.

 

Lieut. Johnson and Sgt. Major Swain got into communication with the 3rd Dragoon Guards, five men of whom attempted to cross the Railway to assist the Leicester Yeomanry two of the Dragoon Guards were killed in the attempt.

 

An attempt was then made to build a barricade across the Railway from both sides in order for the Leicesters to effect junction with the 3rd Dragoon Guards. This was done leaving only a short space in the centre of the Railway exposed to Machine gun fire, and Lieut. Johnson, Sgt Major Swain and 14 men of the Leicesters with the 3 surviving Dragoon Guards rushed across behind this barricade singly and at intervals, and suffered only 2 slightly wounded in the passage.

 

These men were now in the trenches occupied by the 3rd Dragoon Guards and here they found Capt. Hanbury unwounded and under him started to make a barricade parallel with the Railway to prevent the 3rd Dragoon Guards trenches being enfiladed by Germans on Left. Capt. Hanbury was wounded whilst in these trenches. They remained here till 8 pm when they retired with the general retirement of 3rd Dragoon Guards.

 

The A Squadron [Sleath’s squadron] under Capt. Codrington and Lieut. Simpkin were in the support trenches which were bad and similar to the advanced trenches, if anything, worse.

These trenches were shelled very heavily from 3.30 and about 5.30 a retirement towards the road West of trenches had commenced, before this retirement reached the road, it was met by Col. Freke, Major Ricardo and Capt. Martin (acting adjutant) coming out of their dug out in road.

Col. Freke shouted "Hold hard Leicester Yeomanry" and the A squadron halted.

 

Col. Freke then ordered them to return to the support trenches which was done at the double. Major Ricardo 2nd in command returning in charge of A squadron, Capt. Codrington having been badly wounded during retirement, and had to be removed on stretcher to the Regimental Aid Post.

Col. Freke then took Lieut Simpkin, Sgt. Bailey and 15 men, and led them up an avenue of trees situated about 100 yds South of support trenches and running in Eastern direction from Road to a small house about 150 yds in advance of support trenches, and 100 yds South East. Here Col. Freke placed Lieut Simpkin, Sgt. Bailey and 15 men, and instructed them to hold on at all costs, as the Germans were threatening a flanking movement on his advanced trenches through the 1st Life Guard trenches.

Lt. Col. The Hon. P C Evans-Freke
Click on image for larger picture

Capt. Martin who accompanied the Col. was wounded here and had to retire.

Col. Freke then went forward to advance trenches, sending back to trenches 1 troop of B who were leaving trenches, and he went along the whole front trenches encouraging his officers and men to stick it, though the shell fire was very heavy. Whilst retiring from advanced trenches he saw a wounded man, Private Fewkes dragged him to a shell hole under cover, took his own coat off, wrapped it round the wounded man and left him.

 

The Col. then returned to Lieut. Simpkin, pointed out the importance of his position and then went back towards the road and crossed over to get to the support trenches, he was struck first by shrapnel in the arm but continued his way, and when within three yards of support trenches, was hit by a bullet which penetrated his breast, and he was killed instantly, his servant John Swain rushed out to his aid and he was wounded with a bullet.

During the time the Col. was visiting the advanced trenches, Lieut. Best, R.S.M. Parker and the remainder of the Hd. Qr. Staff left Hd. Qrs. dug out and went into the support trenches and remained with A squadron till the end of the action.

 

R.S.M. Parker was killed by a bullet wound in head at 6.30.

 

Major Ricardo was wounded in left arm by G.S. and later had a finger injured and was also wounded in head by shrapnel and rendered unconscious for some time. As soon as he regained consciousness he resumed command, crawling about trenches cheering and encouraging his men.

 

At about 7.30 the Germans were seen advancing from our trenches on the left flank taking cover down the side of hedge leading South West from Farm situated on left flank of B Squadron trenches. This hedge continued about 200 yds. South West of advanced trenches and terminated in a ditch which ran at right angles to it. In this ditch the Germans took cover and started to dig themselves in, they had spades and shields.

 

The German shelling had now ceased, though the German’s snipers killed anyone who exposed themselves.

 

The German advance never reached any further than this point and many Germans were killed by our rifle fire before they made good this position.

 

At about 8 pm Lieut. J. Grenfell, Royal Dragoon Guards brought message to Major Ricardo from General Campbell C.O. 6th Brigade saying A squad was the only squadron holding the section of trench originally occupied by 7th Brigade, and asking him to hold on at all costs, otherwise General Campbell’s left flank would be completely exposed and that 6th Brigade was intact. Major Ricardo said that he would hold onto his position, but pointed out the necessity of reinforcements owing to heavy casualties from rifle fire and also many of his rifles jamming, and doubtless this message must have got through, and the counter attack of Bulkey’s Brigade was the result.

 

At 12 noon Capt. Tolemache the Brigade Major joined A squadron and remained with them.

Soon after Col. Freke left Lieut. Simpkins and Sgt. Bailey at top of avenue. Lieut. Simpkins was hit by shrapnel on chest and badly bruised and had to retire leaving Sgt. Bailey in command who stayed in that position till 8 am at that time he had only 6 men then remaining. Sgt. Bailey then thinking that his flank was then protected by 6th Brigade and hearing Major Ricardo was wounded, and might require his help with A squadron returned to support trenches and remained with A squadron.

At 2.30 our guns opened a heavy shell fire on the German trenches and continued to shell till 3.30 when the Royal Horse Guards, the 10th. Hussars and the Essex Yeomanry advanced from General Head Quarter Lines - 1000 yds - to retake the trenches lost by the 7th Brigade.

 

The Leicester Yeomanry numbering about 40 under Capt. Tolemache (Major Ricardo tried to go, but only got a short distance owing to his wounds,) and Lieut. Best joined in this charge and retook trenches occupied by 1st and 2nd Life Guards, and part of the trenches occupies by B squadron. Those trenches which had been occupied by C squadron were never re-occupied as they had been blown quite flat.

 

One corp of the Royal Horse Guards went along back of C company trenches looking for wounded but found none. They saw many dead in these trenches but took no identity discs.

The Leicesters took five German prisoners and saw three iron cylinders containing gas with rubber tubing attached which was handed over to the Engineers. Lieut. Best was wounded in this charge and we lost some men.

 

These trenches were held till 8 pm when they were evacuated and the remnants of the Leicester Yeomanry reinforced by Lieut. Henry and thirty men took up their position on road immediately behind the support trenches on A squadron where they remained till relieved in the early morning of the 14th when they returned to their huts near Brealin.  

 

During the shell fire from 4 to 8 several wounded men arrived at the Regimental Aid Post and 9 am as shells were dropping on farm occupied by Medical Officer and there were no laying down cases. The Medical Officer decided to evacuate that Aid Post and took his wounded to rear across country to the Ypres-Menin Road and skirted Ypres by Railway and getting on Poperinge Rd. took wounded without loss to 7th Brigade Dressing Station at Brealin Cross Roads.

 

At 12 noon the Medical Officer and his orderly returned by Motor Ambulance to White Chateau on Zonnibeke Road and formed Regimental Aid Post there and remained there all day.

 

At 8 pm it was found that 9 out of the 12 stretcher bearers belonging to the regiment only remained, the remainder being either killed or wounded, so volunteers were called for to collect the wounded and 2 stretcher squads with stretchers under the supervision of the Medical Officer searched the ground between the new advanced trenches on road and the advanced trenches originally held by Regimental.

 

The stretcher bearers did their work excellently and all wounded found were taken either to the 6th or 7th Cavalry Field Ambulance advanced dressing station. Many wounded were found on the side of the Railway. All the wounded were collected by 3 am.

 

Colonel Freke’s body was found and removed to advanced Dressing Station of 7th Brigade Field Ambulance and later removed by Ambulance to Brealin Cross Road and was buried in Cemetary there, the Following day by the Brigade Chaplain; the survivors of the Leicestershire Yeomanry being present.

 

The following is an account by Harry Skelson M.B.E, Joint Hon. Secretary and Treasurer of The Leicestershire Yeomanry Association:

 

"As Sleath was killed at the Battle of Frezenburg on May 13th, 1915, he would have been in the first draft to go to France. He would have been originally in ‘D’ (Lutterworth) Squadron but was transferred to ‘A’ Squadron for mobilisation. The Regiment was mobilised on August 4th, 1914 and then concentrated at Grantham on August 10th.

The regiment then moved, mounted, by road and arrived at Diss, Norfolk at the beginning of September. The Regiment left England on November 2nd, landing at Le Havre the following day under the command of Lt. Col. the Hon. P.C. Evans-Freke, who was also killed on May 13th 1915. They then moved up gradually to Ypres where the war was static in weather conditions of extreme severity - rain, mud and later frost, snow and very intense cold.

The Regiment was employed as reserves and reliefs for the infantry in the trenches. On May 9th they were called upon and leaving their horses in rear areas, they were bussed to Ypres and then marched to Bridon.

 

On May 12th they went into the line between the roads leading from Ypres to Zonnebeke and Menin and in front of Potijze. Early in the morning of 12th May, after very heavy shelling, the enemy took possession of the trenches on the left of the Regiment and then proceeded to bomb their way along ‘B’ and ‘C’ Squadron lines. These two squadrons suffered very heavily, but ‘A’ Squadron [of which Samuel Sleath was a member] in rear support held the enemy by rifle fire, thus preventing a gap in the line and an opening to Ypres. ‘A’ Squadron suffered badly too, but a supporting Brigade came up and counter-attacked and the survivors of ‘A’ Squadron joined in and drove the enemy back at the point of the bayonet.

 

On the night of May 12th 14 officers and 267 other ranks went into action. By the morning of the 13th the Regiment had lost 7 officers killed and 87 other ranks killed or missing. 5 officers were wounded and 88 other ranks.

 

This action, in holding the line and saving a gap in the defences, gained for the Regiment the Battle Honour of Frezenburg.

 

It was in this action that Samuel Sleath was killed, and one can hardly imagine worse conditions in which to fight and die. It was even difficult to work the bolts of the rifles owing to the cold and the mud."

 

2131 Tpr. S Sleath

It is impossible to deduce exactly at which point in the battle Sleath was killed, but it seems likely that he was killed by rifle fire as the shelling claimed fewer victims on the second day of the battle than the first.

The medal awarded to all who died in The Great War. This is Samuel Sleath’s.

 
The Ypres Salient today. This is a view of Tallana Farm Cemetery, just north of Ypres
Rutland and the Great War
Page 15-16