After being withdrawn from the Battle of the Lys in the early hours of 14th April 1918, the 11th Bn., East Lancashire Regt. (Accrington Pals) marched to billets north of Hazebrouck where there was some time to reequip and reorganise before returning to the front line west of Vieux Berquin on the 19th. After a relatively uneventful week, the battalion was relieved on the night of the 27th/28th and moved into Corps Reserve.
As the German offensive on the Lys drew to a close, few could have imagined that the war would be over within 7 months. While recovering from an arm wound, 27-year old Cpl. William Hill wrote to his father John on 28th April:
"My arm is almost better again, don't expect I shall be here [in hospital] above another week at the most, you get short mercy here if there is nothing the matter with you. We don't appear to be exactly winning the War at present but one never knows what the game is, perhaps the Yankees will polish them off."
John Hill had previously served in the war with The Loyal North Lancashire Regt. William was not to see the war won; he died on 29th June of wounds sustained with the 11th East Lancashires during or just before the action at La Becque.
Writing in a letter to the parents of his best friend, 19-year old Wilf Kitchen had a more optimistic message:
"I shall be jolly glad when this war is over. I'm fed up already & have only been out six weeks, however it won't be long now, the Bosche has done about as much as he can do."
Wilf Kitchen - a talented art student - joined 74th Training Reserve Bn. at Prees Heath Camp, Shropshire in May 1917. He was transferred to the 225th (Graduated) Bn. - subsequently the 51st (Graduated) Bn., Manchester Regt. - and spent the winter of 1917/18 in quarters at Great Yarmouth. He was posted to the 11th East Lancashires shortly before the battalion was drawn into the Battle of the Lys. 31526 Pte. Wilf Kitchen was killed in action at La Becque on 28th June, and lies buried in Aval Wood Military Cemetery. His best friend, Pte. Harold Victor Jones, was killed in action on 7th October 1918. The letter is reproduced by kind courtesy of Elnora Ferguson.
The battalion returned to the front line in the Meteren sector on the night of 15th/16th May, remaining there for six days before being withdrawn to a training camp at le Val-de-Lumbres, west of St. Omer. Shortly afterwards, the third German offensive of 1918 was launched against British positions on the Chemin-des-Dames. Within days of the offensive grinding to a halt, the East Lancashires were moved back to the front on 15th June in anticipation of a renewed enemy attack against Hazebrouck. In the event, no attack took place and, before another week had passed, orders were received to take part in an offensive on 28th June.
© Andrew C Jackson 2001