The Life of Lieutenant-General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston MP
Chapter Seven: Winter in the Trenches
Winter in the Trenches
The September campaign, which began with Hunter-Weston’s tour de force on the heights of Bucy-le-Long, ended in frustration. The BEF prepared to quit the Aisne at the beginning of October and begin a transfer to the left of the allied line in Flanders. The rationale involved a complex mix of logistical and political considerations, but a further unspoken motivation at GHQ was the opportunity to return to mobile warfare.1 The reality was very different. Allied attempts to turn the German flank coincided with a massive enemy offensive which was designed to win the war at a stroke. Rather than advancing, the British were left defending an unprepared and over-extended front out of all proportion to their strength. For Hunter-Weston, the complex, brutal and confused fighting of the First Battle of Ypres and the pernicious stalemate that followed during the winter of 1914–15 marked an important transitional phase in his approach to command.
Promotion and ‘Plugstreet’
The 11th Brigade left the Aisne on 7 October, moving off by moonlight to avoid ‘dratted airplanes’.2 Arriving in Flanders five days later, their first impressions of the region were not good. Described rather wistfully in the Official History as ‘a country of old, decaying towns and prosperous villages’, ← 107 | 108 → its flat, cluttered landscape was very different from the picturesque Aisne.3 An equally unattractive (if less obvious) feature was the sub-surface water table which carried the constant threat of...
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