The Great War, 1914-1918
Number 1 breastwork, Ploegsteert Wood,
The Great War saw the Somerset Light Infantry increasing in size to nineteen battalions, which fought in the three main theatres of war: on the Western front, in Mesopotamia and in Palestine, whilst other battalions remained on garrison duty in India, Burma and at home.
With the declaration of war on 3 August 1914 the 2nd battalion was on garrison duty in India and it was to remain here for the duration of the war. The 1st battalion was stationed at Colchester as part of the 11th Infantry Brigade of the 4th Division. It was the first Somerset Regiment to be selected for active service and within days from the declaration of war the battalion was mobilised. In just two weeks the battalion was in France on the Western Front, where they would remain for the duration of the war. Forming part of the British Expeditionary Force the 1st battalion was soon confronting the enemy during the battle for Le Cateau, before becoming embroiled in the retreat from Mons. Early October saw the 1st battalion entering the trenches for the first time, they took a position in Ploegsteert Wood, Belgium, where they remained for the winter.
a fresh initiative by the Allied leaders who wanted to put the losses of
the Somme behind them, plus the German leaders also wanted to strike
quickly and try to bring about a victory, thus the year saw heavy
involvement by all of the Somerset battalions on the Western Front. The
Battles of Arras began in April 1917, it saw the involvement of all the
Somerset battalions in France at that time. In June the Third Battle for
Ypres began, this time only the 7th and 8th battalions saw action.
In November 1917 the Battle of Cambrai began. It was a unique battle as it was the first time the Allies had used tanks in large numbers and to a positive effect. The 7th battalion were detailed a role in the battle and was almost wiped out due to a heavy German counter-attack.
1918, the final year of war, saw all four battalions involved in
fighting which aimed to hold back a final push by the enemy. During the battle of
St. Quentin only four men from the 6th battalion made it back to brigade
headquarters. Spring saw the tables turn and the Allies began to push the
German lines backwards and the Somerset men (now augmented by the 2/4th,
11th and 12th battalions) helped put the enemy to
A Somerset Light Infantry soldier in
1917 wearing a gas mask, drawn by
Sergeant R.S. Corwell
The Regiment also saw action in the Middle East. In
February 1916 the 1/4th battalion arrived at Basra to take part in an
attempted relief of Kut el Amara, where General
Townshend's forces were under siege, before taking part in localised
actions in and around Basra. The other battalions in the Middle East, the
12th (formerly the West Somerset Yeomanry), 1/5th and 2/4th were occupied
with the recapture of Palestine from the Turks. These battalions took part
in the second and third battles of Gaza. The third battle of Gaza,
launched on 31 October 1917, was a success and by mid-December the British
had regained control of Jerusalem.
At the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 the war ended, 4,756 soldiers from the Somerset Light Infantry had died for King and Country and one soldier had been awarded the Victoria Cross.