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Soldiers of the Regiment

Sergeant James Kirkby, number 376, 1st/5th Battalion, King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment.

Sergeant James Kirkby, was killed in action on the 3rd May 1915.

From the Kendal Mercury 21 May 1915

Gallant King’s Own Royal Lancasters Assault
England should beat despicable methods.
Germans playing a losing game.
Carnforth Sergeant’s Inspiring Story.

Mr. W Kirkby, of College Road, Windermere, has received news of the battle of Hill 60 from his nephew, Sergeant James Kirkby, of the 5th King’s Own. The letter was received after his death which took place whilst assisting a wounded comrade. Sergeant Richard Kirkby, his brother, was wounded a day or two after his brother’s death.
The Battle Round Ypres
Describing the battle round Ypres, Sergeant James Kirkby, says our own battalion have had the honour of participating in the spoiling of the German attempt to break the line. As you probably are aware the Germans drove a division of the French from the trenches by the use of poisonous fumes and left a patch of five miles open for the Germans to advance through. By a splendid opening our movement and reinforcement by our splendid Canadian troops filled the breach and held them until reinforcements arrived, although the Germans advanced four miles. The Canadians lost heavily but accomplished their purpose and next day our Brigade were detailed to reinforce them. The Germans were massing for another attack and with 1 1/2 miles of the town and apparently our Divisional Commander thought he could best keep them in check by a vigorous offensive as we were only weak for defence. Happily the piece of bluff came off all right, and in the meantime sufficient troops were brought up to hold the line. We had come out of the trenches after four days and were billeted in the town, but were shelled out by the Germans and took our residence in a field sleeping under the hedge side. Next day word came that the Germans were breaking through on our left, and we were told to get our equipment and “Stand to”.
Digging In
About midnight we were marched off on to a road and there told to dig ourselves in as best we could. We came in for a severe shelling during the day and about 4 pm received the order to fix bayonets as we were going to attack. Three regiments were in front of us and they got a severe wiping out. We deployed to the left and extended across a field and got the order to reinforce the firing line as soon as possible. We had to cross a stretch of 500 yards down a valley and up the other side on the crest of which Germans were entrenched. We have christened it: ‘Hell’s Valley’, a suitable name it is. They simply hurled shells into us all the way across, and the ground was raked with machine gun fire. Our Adjutant shouted: ‘Come on lads!’ and we tore along after him dropping occasionally for a breather and then on again. We eventually reached the support trench minus many of our lads who had fallen and then commenced the assault up the slope. A young lad who had crept back with a shrapnel wound in his leg said to our Adjutant “For God’s sake, sir, don’t take your men up there, you will never get through as it is a perfect hell!’
Must Obey Orders
Our Adjutant said he must obey orders and shouted again: ‘Come on lads!’ and we entered upon a patch twenty times worse than the other. We crept on hands and knees up to the crest then attempted to run through. It was a perfect rain of hissing bullets and a few of us managed to reach a dyke side a little further on and here our Captain continued to stay until dark as he could see nothing in front of him but a field strewn with bodies, and it would have been murder to go further. We lay there until dusk about 7 1/2 hours and I was wet through with laying in the dyke, but that was preferable to having a bullet.
Heavy Losses
The Canadians and Yorkshire Regiments lost heavily and our regiment lost over 250, my company losing 62. Out of my platoon ten only answered the roll. Goodness only knows how we got through and we have something indeed to be thankful for. You would wonder how fellows would face such an ordeal with the courage they do. We have now been under fire for 20 days continually and although we are billeted in huts just outside the town we had shells ripping into the next field to us and we were all the time expecting one dropping amongst us. The Germans have now started razing all the places round here to the ground and the scene beggars description. The roads are littler with dead horses and broken vehicles and they shell the town day and night without ceasing.
Poisonous Fumes
I told you about the poisonous fumes used by the Germans. They used them on us and although we were 800 yards from their position we all were so affected by them that our eyes simply ran to water and we could not see for five minutes. I really believe they are playing a losing game and they know it. Spies abound around here and six have been caught just close to here in the farmhouses filled up with telephones etc., which the Germans would probably lay as they retreated. We are expecting to go down country to have our Brigade made up with new drafts from England and have a well earned rest. The last three days have been fearfully hot and I think the French summer must have come on all at once. They have much more artillery round than we have and I should think we have had thousands of shells whistling round our heads this last fortnight. This is a veritable death-trap and the line is shaped just like a horse shoe about 7 miles in length and all in the middle is a shambles, villages and farm houses all being knocked to bits by shell fire from three flanks. Our efforts are now concentrated in straightening out this horse shoe and they have pressed the Germans back three lines of trenches at various parts.
A Terrible Time
Another incident I might mention. After the attack we were told to dig ourselves in a wood, and next day received orders to support the Lahore Division (Gurkhas and Sikhs) who were only making slow progress. We moved off at 5 o’clock in the evening in broad daylight to take our positions as it was behind a ridge out of sight of the German lines. We had reckoned without our host as a German aeroplane came sailing over and in about two minutes that field was turned into a pandemonium. They started ripping roped fire into us and it was 20 minutes of nothing but shrieking shells and thunderous explosions. One of our platoons not more than 50 yards in front of me got one shell right in the middle of it and lifted 17 men clean out of action. “Coal-boxes,” cannon shell and shrapnel hurtled into us incessantly and we hastily retired to some dug out in the rear and then advanced to our position under cover of darkness, and stayed there until the following night when we were quite unexpectedly relieved and marched back to these huts. Our battalion is not more than 500 strong and we have lost the biggest part of our men along the Ypres line, a line which has cost more men than any other battle line in the history of the world. Many of our fellows are somewhat nerve shattered by the continual exposure to fire and nothing but a complete rest will put them right again.
I think we can whack the Germans at their own game if they will only play fair.
England should treat despicable methods with the retaliation they deserve and not consider an enemy who will descend to anything to gain her end.


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