David Childs

By the end of September the German advance into France had lost its steam and their retreat to the Aisne was fully underway. October was thus occupied with the 'race to the sea' with each army trying to outflank the other to the north - resulting in the long line of trenches stretching from the Swiss border to the deliberately flooded lowlands of Belgium. While this was happening Churchill raised a Royal Marine Brigade and a Royal Naval Division and sent them to Antwerp and Ostend to stiffen the Belgian resistance at these critical channel ports. They did not hold out for long and were withdrawn at the end of the month. The British advance through France was marked with battles at Messines and Armentières before the front line was consolidated around Ypres which the Germans had occupied on 7 October, only to move out a day later, leaving the way open for the British arrival on 13 October. They would hold it for the duration with the fighting to take or break out of the town resulting in some of the fiercest and most deadly engagements of the war beginning with the First Battle of Ypres which began on 19 October. Two battalions of the Wiltshire Regiment were heavily involved in the fighting.

Elsewhere, Turkey entered the war on the German side on 28 October when their fleet bombarded Odessa. A few days later the British fleet in the Aegean opened hostilities by firing on the Turkish forts at the mouth of the Dardanelles, the first move that would lead to the tragic landings at Gallipoli in 1915.


Private James Phillips of 1st Battalion Wiltshire Regiment, aged 29, died on 21 October 1914.
He was a regular soldier, the son of Edwin and Edith Phillips of Tuckingmill, Tisbury. On 19 October the 1st Battalion was in entrenched positions near Ligny le Grand, on the Western Front in France. It came under heavy artillery fire and suffered casualties of 12 dead and 19 wounded. The enemy broke through on its right on 21 October but the battalion held firm, counter-attacked and restored the line. Private Phillips body was buried in a grave "known only to God". His name is commemorated on the Letoret Memorial, Pas de Calais. Over 13,000 names are listed on this memorial of men who fell before 25 September 1915 and who have no known grave.

Remembering Relatives
Any reader of Focus who lost relatives in the First World War and would like to see their names recorded in Focus on the hundredth anniversary of their deaths is invited to forward the details, including the family link, to David Childs on at least six weeks before the relevant month in which the loss occurred.


A E Houseman, author of the perennially popular A Shropshire Lad, did not pen this poem until 1917, three years after the Battle of Ypres culled so many of the original British Expeditionary Force. But it is the loss of that group, who the German's dismissed as 'a contemptible little army of mercenaries', to whom Houseman refers. It is one of the great epitaphs of the war reflecting, as do so many epitaphs, the imagery of classical Greece and the fallen at Thermopylae.

Epitaph on an Army of Mercenaries
by A E Houseman

These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth's foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling
And took their wages and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky suspended;
They stood, and earth's foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.

©  Tisbury History Society
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