now I have cooled down for two days, I will take the benefit of this evening to share with you details on the last operations executed by our Army, and which gave the opportunity to the 90th to add a glorious page to its own history.
Since the 15th of September, the attack had been under preparation everywhere on the front: night and day, entrenchment works had been conducted to ease the heavy tasks of our offensive to come.
I will not comment the successes that were obtained on the Champagne front, or in Artois: the short and strict official messages that we receive daily, really mean more and longer than explicitely said. Since the 25th of September, the reinforcement of the German troops had clearly shown all along the front, and the "Boches", though furiously unhappy of their losses, had hardly launched an offensive, too soft, and that had led towards colossal losses.
Everywhere, these offensives failed and got stuck to the ground by our strong defensive organization; just after the end of these counter-attacks, the Boches [sic] used to bury themselves, in order to come back later on, then operate vigorously on some points they would consider as weaker amongst our lines.
My story is just about to begin: I belong to those who received the formidable strike of this brutal attack. I will tell you how we did manage to get rid of it.
The 90th Infantry (3th Company) had attacked, on the 9th of last May , the village of Loos, a place that had been fortified, ahead of Hill 70 on which a redoubt defending Lens had been settled. Our offensive had been stopped by the cruel losses we were enduring, and my Batalion had nevertheless overtaken a few lines of trenches, my Company taking in the mean time, the little fort on the right side of Loos.
This new attack was, in fact, assigned to the English, and on the 25th of September, Loos fell down into their hands, after a strike attack, and a terrible hand to hand. The "Boches" took the village back on the very following day, but the heroic charge of the Scottish on the left wing repelled the German army back to the heights of Hill 70. 2500 German prisoners were made.
During these fights, I was in operations in the South of Arras, and on a single telephone call, the order was given to the IXth Corps to march on to Loos, and take back this sector on which we had lost a lot of ours. The 90th was assigned the mission to settle in and to hold the trench line ahead of the village, and to get ready for the attack on to 70.
For three days, we had been suffering a normal bombing, but on the 8th in the morning, around 9:00 am, the rounds became heavier, sharper, and tighter. It was obvious that an attack was under preparation: by 2:00, then 3:00, then 4:00 pm, shells of 105mm, 210mm, and 305mm were falling down on to Loos within a dreadful intensity. Every plant, house, building was blown away; the sky was covered by thick dusty clouds, which was darkening the daylight. My Company was settled in the very village, ready to react, and despite the violent firing coming from the adversary, everyone was holding his own position, myself standing up close to the Colonel. By 3:50 pm, the attack was launched: 3 successive waves of Boches burst out from 70 and from the smooth crest behind the road to Lille; a hail of bullets was pouring on either side, the suffocation shells were falling behind Loos, in order to stop our reserves. But the "75", at once made aware of this Kolossale [sic] adventure entered into the game. Never again, such a beautiful target was offered to the 90th soldiers (at least the newcomers), to their hail of bullets and to the guns of the 20th, 33rd [Regiments] of Field Artillery. Everywhere, the Boches [sic] were diving to the ground; entire platoons were valsing to the air, and both Saxon Regiments, the 106th and the 93th, were wiped out in a glimpse. As they had seen that the global move had been delayed, the Germans did not stop, and, as they were understanding our front, they started executing, with a second Brigade, a flank move in order to attack English right. The Tommies took it calmly, and at point-blank range, they shot many adventurers, who were anticipating on their premature retreat. On the right, the survivors were showing hands up in yelling "Kamerade", but no mercy was given; and by 5:30 pm, the attack could be considered as repelled, leaving on the field not least than 4 to 5000 dead. Many were the wounded, too, and all the reserves that were waiting behind the crest, had to receive a terrible gunnery until they came back to their holes.
How many losses they had to deplore, on this very day, during this retreat! Only the Sergeant-Majors knew that, and the Companies might not have been that thick, when they were taking the role call.
Photography annotated by Henri Baudiment - Loos-en-Gohelle, on the 10th October 1915: "My battle field".
Almost all the wounded left on the battle field were exterminated, and despite the fire barrage, many of them were preferring to enter our lines than theirs. Anyhow, the order had been given to take prisoners: the English Batalion captured one, the 90th two. This was what we needed to get some relevant information.
I personnally attended their interrogations, and these poor devils were not speaking any more of victory, like in the past, and they seemed to be so exhausted. The 93th Infantry had just been holding the trenches for twelve days in a row, and the 106th had left Souchez, etc, etc... in order to rest in Douai, but during their walk, they had had to stop and fight: most of them have now found the final rest, and they will not get tired anymore...
The Regiment was so overjoyed that our soldiers were stepping out of the trenches to adjust their aims on the skirmichers, all excited by machine guns bullets hitting their backs... Then, it was not rare to see corpses with 10 to 15 bullets in the back. The Regiment would have had no loss, if we had not lost our dear Colonel.
Here comes in a few words, the decrsiption of an other phase of the battle.
Photography by Henri Baudiment - Loos-en-Gohelle, on the 10th October 1915: the Haÿ brewery after being bombed.
My Company had been gathering in the center of the village; by 4:30 pm, I received from the Colonel himself, the verbal order to reinforce the right wing of the Regiment with 100 men. In the very mean time, we received not further than five steps from us three 210 shells: the first one falls down on the remainings of the chimney stack of a plant, _my Company got some losses, so I had to deplore 1 dead, 11 woundeds, 5 bruiseds_, the second falls down close to my 2nd Platoon, and the third just in front of me. The Colonel falls down, I am blown away two meters aside, deafened, seeing nothing anymore. So I get up, check my members, nothing hurts. The move gets executed as decided anyway, so the 100 men can reinforce the chain, without any loss during their progress. Unfortunately, the Colonel had been severely wounded: yesterday, we led him into his last home, with all the honours that he deserved.
Photography annotated by Henri Baudiment - Loos-en-Gohelle (the Haÿ Brewery after being bombed), on the 10th October 1915: "So sad a corner".
I had escaped a serious hit; in any case, after all these small events, you resume your job as if nothing had happened.
All night long, there was still some fight: the prowlers on the battle field, the deserters, and some lightly wounded were exterminated with certain patrols.
Upset by this defeat, the Germans attacked again on the 9th in the morning, by 8:00 am: anyway, after an assault of 20 meters only, nothing else: dead men again, dead men always. You have to remember that the Boches [sic] get up to attack shoulder to shoulder. The more numerous they are, the more lively they operate; this is just what we ask for not to miss our lign of sight.
Shortly, Hill 70 will be overtaken by our troops. Under our threat on Lens, then, the Boches will have to retreat, and will thus be in a difficult situation to hold their own troops still: the great plain stretches behind, no more geographical support, no more dips, no more holes 10 meters under the ground. They will always have to face soldiers who strongly want the victory, who want to get it over, and who, in a few days, will cause them heavy losses.
During one hour of full availability, I could operate with my Kodak, and take snapshots of ruined Loos: so many good souvenirs, and for quite a while. Our soldiers, dead on the 9th of May, had been avanged on the 8th and 9th of October...
As soon as I get the printings, I will send you a complete set[...];
[...] I hope this new story of my own was worth: [...] very often, you have to fight, you have to charge, but you get only a few informations without a real importance. I here enclose to my letter a sketch which will give you indications on the positions that we were occupying: so, you will have a better understanding on the paper of the attack and progress of the Boches [sic]. To be noted: our French and English aeroplanes were flying above the Boches [sic], 300 meters high, and the wireless radio was seriously operating.[...].
[...] I have to stop my little diary, now, I guess that all my postcards could get to you; be reassured on my condition.
After these terrible days, we were given the order to go and rest, and currently, riding my good old horse Coco [Bel Oeil], I am touring through the miners' terraced houses, all around, where I can get, thus, the opportunity to get familiarized with the miners[...].
[...]Angèle is well, and keeps always in his mind the hope to meet all of us together. By then, around the table, I sure would have to start my stories about war: no doubt that my dear Daddy who saw 1870 would stay astounded ...[sic]; who has not seen the hail of bullets we have to get through here, cannot really understand[...]
[...] To all of you, I send my very best kisses of love and tenderness,
Your son and brother"
[Letter dated 11th October 1915]