1915 was a horrendous year for Staffordshire. The Great War had raged for over a year and dozens of local lads had fallen in various battles such as Neuve Chapple and Hooge. For a few months all went quiet on the western Front as General Haig had a new plan. A full frontal attack in the Artiois Region of Northen France. The town selected for this attack was Loos. Loos was an industrial town with many mines and quarries surrounding it. The Germans had built many positions in the Trenches that snaked around the quarries and slap heaps, non more impenetrable than the Hohenzollern Redoubt. It jutted out into no man’s land and was a horseshoe shaped trench system protected by dozens of machine gun nests and roll upon roll of barbed wire. When the battle began on September 25th the British managed to capture it …at a loss of over 8500 men. The Redoubt was recaptured by the Germans on October 9th and it was upto the 46th Midland Division to take it back. They landed in France on September 15th 1915 and had a weeks training, so missed the first few days of the battle, they were deployed to the trenches on October 12th 1915. For 3763 of them this would be their first and last night in the trenches.
These are words of Private Joseph Barlow …A man born in Fenton
“Well I can not attempt to describe what it was like! It was acknowledged to be the fiercest bombardment the world had ever seen. I had many a look over the parapet and and what a sight! For miles you could see their first line or trenches ! One blazing, raging mass of flames, smoke and dust !”
They had been trained and showed a 3D diagram made of clay by Newcastle under Lyme born Lt Col John Hall Knight, so they would be familiar with the slag heaps and trenches they would be facing.
At 12pm on the October 13th another bombardment of the German lines began, it was expected that most would have been killed.
At 2pm the Lincolns and Leicester’s left their trenches with disastrous results.
Private S. Orpe, looked up over the parapet of the trench to watch their attack go in:
“As we looked over, men could be seen running across. These were the Lincolnshire’s and Leicestershire’s, as they charged first.”
Knowing what was to come, Captain Bamford led his Burton men forward in an orderly fashion , most were killed. At 2:05 Colonel Knight and Captain Ridgway led the potters forward.
POTTERS FOR EVER ! they cried kicking footballs forward as they ran through the hurricane of bullets and bombs.
Private Harrison advanced with the first wave:
“A whistle blasted, and over the bridge of death we climbed and shouted potters for ever!. I got clear of our barbed wire and commenced to advance, rifle and bayonet fixed in one hand and spade in the other, under a terrific machine-gun fire, bullets whizzing past me in thousands. I got about one hundred yards and took a short rest; up again, but alas! a bullet hit my spade, glanced off and grazed the bone of my left eye slightly. It dazed me for about one minute, but I soon recovered myself, only to find that I was about thirty yards from the first German line. Now I had to make the best of my way back.
With our last account we will be returning back to our Fenton survivor
Pte Joseph Barlow: “Four minutes to go – three – two – ‘God help us’ – one! Up lads and at ’em’.
“Up we scrambled, bullets whizzing past our ears like hailstones. Off we started. The lad on my left dropped in a heap without a murmur.
“About five more paces, the lad on my right dropped. Then they dropped all around me in twos and threes.
“I wondered when my turn would come and what it would feel like when it did come. I had not long to wait. “I had gone about 50 yards when ‘bang! crack!’, got it in the leg. Just throwing my arms up in the air – bang – copped it again in the right upper arm. Down I go.
“A few yards away lay seven or eight dead pals; some dead, some dying, some delirious.”
“In a few words it was hell, hell, hell let loose with all its fury, believe me it was as it the earth had opened up”
All together 485 men from Stoke were killed in just 10 minuets during the attack of the Hohenzollern Redoubt. By shouting potters forever stoke remained in their minds and hearts and in our minds they shall exist today.