Hill 60 'hardest fought battle of the war so far'

The following account of the fight at famous Hill 60 is an extract from a letter received from the officer son of a well-known Luton man.

On Sunday, the 10th (April), I went into the trenches , expecting it to be for eight days. However, it was not until the 12th day that we came right back. By this time what was left deserved it, and you can imagine the relief it was to us after going through perhaps the most severe fighting and the hardest fought battle since the war started.

Officers and men who had been through the retreat from Mons, the battle of the Marne, the Ypres battle in November and Givenchy, all say that the fight for Hill 60 and the bombardment was the hardest that they had been through, so I have started my career of real active service in no small way. The losses in the Battalion were about 400, including 12 officers - five killed and seven wounded. My company, I am sorry to say, suffered as heavily as any and I lost my three subalterns, all killed, and how I escaped without even a wound is almost a miracle. I had some very close shaves.

I can never describe what we saw and went through, but I will try to give you a few details and facts of the days.

On the 10th my company occupied two trenches at the foot of Hill 60. From these two trenches ran the shafts to the mines that were to blow it to pieces. The hill was about 70 yards in front of us, or rather the German trenches on the hill.

During the first two nights the preparations were carried through, and you can guess it was a pretty anxious time. Late on the Monday night I was relieved for 24 hours and went into a billet for a rest, and then went back again till the night of the explosion. That was on Saturday, the 17th, at 7 in the evening. My company and another were back about two miles. The trenches were then occupied by the ----- [censored], who were to make the assault on the hill.

The explosion was terrific and the assault a complete success, but another line of German trenches had to be taken. This was done on Sunday evening, the 18th, by the ----, the ---- and the ----. It was a severe fight, but the hill and trenches were successfully captured, though with heavy loss on both sides. Now I and my company came in again.

On the Sunday afternoon I moved up again and at midnight was ordered to relieve the assaulting party in the newly captured trenches. As dawn broke I will not attempt to picture to you the sight it revealed of dead and wounded. We held that hill and the trenches against much opposition for 20 hours till I was relieved and went into support trenches about 50 yards in the rear.

On Tuesday afternoon [April 20th], about 4.30, the enemy commenced their counter-attack in all earnest. For three hours we were subject to the most murderous bombardment it is possible to conceive. They had had time to bring up reserves and more artillery.

It seemed as though every gun in the German army was brought up against us, from their 17-inch guns to trench mortars and hand grenades, high concussion and explosive shells, shrapnel, field guns, all poured forth at us for three hours, and their infantry started attacking and attempting to recapture their lost position. This went on through the night, we and the ---- ---- fighting like mad.

It is marvellous the cheerfulness and tenacity of the British soldier. The men seemed to revel in it. If we were driven back we went at it again, and so we went on till about ten o'clock the next morning.

Those three days and nights were as one day with no rest. Then the ---- came up to carry it on. We still held the hill. I don't think the enemy will get it again.

That day we got right back and got a night's rest. I slept till eleven the next morning, but during yesterday afternoon the news came that the Germans had broken through the French lines away to our left, and we were to be ready to move at any moment, which we had to do, and reached where we are now soon after midnight.

Reading this through, it seems a poor account of one of the most strenuous battles of the war, but it will give you some slight idea of what I have been doing.

You say we are fighting for "Right against Might". There is no doubt about the "Might". They are wonderful in their organisation, and leave nothing to chance, but they can't defeat us. Our soldier is a different human being to theirs.

General French came specially yesterday to congratulate us, which was a considerable honour as he had never been to speak to the regiment before.

[Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph, May 1st, 1915]