The Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) 7th & 8th Territorial Battalions 1914-1918
By Andrew Kirk
Pen & Sword, 2017
Leeds Rifles looks at the four Leeds-raised territorial battalions of The Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment). With its genesis in the volunteer militia movement of the 19th Century, the Leeds Rifles saw some service in the Boer War. However the reorganisation of the volunteers as part of the Haldane reforms upset many members and had an impact on recruitment.
Andrew Kirk explores this early history of the Leeds Rifles before moving on to examine the battalions’ actions during the First World War. Both of the first line Territorial Force battalions were overseas from April 1915 as part of the 49th (West Riding) Division. Initially posted to the Fleurbaix sector, the men experienced their first action during the Battle of Aubers Ridge. The battalions subsequently moved to the Ypres canal sector (where the 49th Division memorial is sited by Essex Farm cemetery) and held this area until moving to the Somme in 1916.
The 49th Division had a supporting role on 1st July 1916 at Thiepval; confusion meant it was put into action too late to make an impact, although a small party of the 1/7th Battalion held out in the Schwaben Redoubt, leading to the award of the Victoria Cross to Corporal George Sandes. The Leeds Rifles later suffered heavy casualties (600 between the two battalions) in a failed attempt to take the ‘Pope’s nose’ on 3rd September.
1917 saw a move to the coast at Nieuwpoort; shortly after arrival most of the 1/8th Battalion was affected by a German mustard gas bombardment. The battalions were not involved in the main fighting of 1917, but joined the fray at the tail end of Passchendaele, suffering heavily at Poelcapelle on 9th October.
In January 1917 the two second line battalions also went to France, as part of the 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division. Posted initially to the Somme sector, they saw action around Bullecourt in April and were successfully attacking Havrincourt during the first day of the Battle of Cambrai.
In January 1918, as part of the reorganisation of the BEF, the 1/8th and 2/8th battalions were merged into one, the 8th Battalion. Similarly the 2/7th Battalion was disbanded in June, and Kirk explored the impact these changes had on the esprit de corps of the men. As late as 1918 the battalions were still being reinforced by recruits almost exclusively from the Leeds area, however due to the shortage of manpower this inevitably became diluted and Kirk again examines the impact of this on what were effectively ‘pals’ battalions in all but name.
The remaining battalions saw action in the last 100 days of the war, the 62nd Division in particular being noted for its advance and capture of Montagny after a bitter fight.
|The book draws on a variety of sources including war diaries and personal accounts; my only criticism in this area is that there are no footnotes at all, although a comprehensive bibliography is provided. There are some great pictures to illustrate the text, including many individual and group photographs, but maps are very further. Further maps to accompany the detailed accounts of the actions would not have gone amiss, particularly for some of the lesser known areas where the battalions were fighting. Nevertheless Andrew Kirk’s passion for telling the stories of the Leeds men shines through and makes this volume another valuable addition to the ever-growing number of unit histories.
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Leeds Rifles: The Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment ) 7th and 8th Territorial Battalions 1914 – 1918: Written in Letters of Gold