Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, October 31, 2013

31 October 1914 –
The Western Front's Last Piece:
The Fight at Gheluvelt Chateau

It was the day the war of movement on the Western Front stopped. Afterward there would be no big breakthroughs until 1918, and forty-one months of trench warfare would ensue.  By mid-day on 31 October 1914 there were no more flanks, just one last gap in the entire line from the Swiss border to the English Channel where a breakthrough seemed possible. It was at a place five miles east of Ypres on the grounds of Gheluvelt Chateau, just north of the Menin Road. 

Gheluvelt Chateau Today

Shortly before noon the line of the British 1st Division was broken at Gheluvelt.  If at that moment German reinforcements available close at hand could thrust through the gap and spread out fanwise, they could have rolled up the defenders on either flank in their rear and simply broken the cohesion of the British in Flanders to pieces. The impulse of retreat began to seize the British troops. Already men and guns were streaming back towards Ypres. The Germans quickly assembled thirteen battalions for a final follow-through attack. 

General Charles FitzClarence commanding the British Army 1st Brigade, was nearby and saw the declining situation. At Polygon Wood north of Gheluvelt, he got hold of the 2nd Worcestershires, part of the reserve of the 2nd Division on the north, and ordered them to counterattack immediately. This movement had scarcely begun when a shell burst in Hooge Chateau, where the staff of both divisions had assembled for a conference, and practically destroyed them.

But the Worcestershires — a tiny force of eight officers and 360 men — swept all before them nonetheless. They fell upon their adversaries, who were mostly Bavarians, and drove them back in confusion from the chateau grounds. The line was reestablished.  The Western Front of the Great War was effectively completed. It would not move dramatically until the first Ludendorff Offensive of 1918.  General FitzClarence, sadly, did not have much longer to live. He died on 11 November 1914 in fighting along the Menin Road, where many more would fall in the remaining four years of war.

After the Victory: Gheluvelt, 31 October 1914


  1. My Great Uncle: Private Stanley Charles Morgan died on this date in this very battle. RIP

  2. I believe the Bavarian units included the List Regiment, containing a certain private Hitler.