I was asked recently by the family of John Lovell, a man born in the shadow of the Guiness Brewery in Dublin, who enlisted in the Connaught Rangers and was part of the British Expeditionary Force that marched on Mons in August 1914, for some background information into this proud Battalion in the weeks up to John Lovell’s death on 2 November 1914. They were only 79 days in France and took a terrible hammering in the retreat from Mons and in the 1st Battle of Ypres in late October. This is what I sent to them.
2nd Battalion Connaught Rangers 1914
On mobilization at 3.15pm on 4th August 1914, the 2nd Battalion were on a Divisional training exercise at Frensham, about 40 miles south of Aldershot. They were in peak condition and consisted of 527 men and 30 officers. They were part of the 5th Infantry Brigade of the 2nd Division, commanded by Lt. Gen. Sir Archibald Murray.
The 2nd Division consisted of:-
Cavalry. 15th Hussars (B Squadron)
Artillery. 34th Brigade, 36th Brigade, 41st Brigade, 44th Howitzers, 35th Heavy Battery
Engineers. 5th Field Company, 11th Field Company, 2nd Signal Company
Infantry – 4th Brigade consisting of-
3rd Coldstream Guards, 1st Irish Guards, 2nd Coldstream Guards and 2nd Grenadier Guards
5th Brigade consisting of-
2nd Connaught Rangers, 2nd Worcesters, “nd Highland Light Infantry and 2nd Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry
6th Brigade consisting of-
Ist Kings Liverpool, 1st Royal Berkshires, 2nd South Staffs and 1st Kings Royal Rifles
The 5th Infantry Brigade was commanded by Brig. Gen. R.C.B. Haking.
On 7th August the Connaughts were reinforced by 351 Reservists, and on the 9th by a further 284 (John Lovell was probably in this draft having joined up in 1910. He was certainly in the Reserve when war was declared) Mobilization was complete by the 13th August with a total complement of 1162 men and 30 officers. They entrained for Southampton, boarded ship at midnight and landed at Boulogne at 5.30am on 14 August 1914 under the command of Lt. Col. A.W. Abercrombie. Probably their most famous officer was Capt C.J. O’Sullivan, father of Maureen O’Sullivan, the Hollywood actress, who was only three at this time, who was wounded after crossing the Aisne in mid September in the acting rank of Lieutenant Colonel.
As they marched off the ship and through the town of Boulogne, the Connaught’s musicians played It’s a Long, Long way to Tipperary and caused great excitement in the town and a Daily Mail reporter sent his copy in describing the event and within two weeks it became the best selling song of all time, selling 10,000 copies a day. See my blog Tipperary So Far Away posted on 4 January 2010.
They left Boulogne by train on 16th August for Busigny from where they marched to Mennevret where they were billeted for three days while the reservists were put through their paces. On 21 August they marched from Mennevret to La Croise. They crossed into Belgium on 23 August and dug in 2 miles north of Bougnies and they were watching the battle at Mons and saw the Germans break through the French on the British right. General retreat was given, with the 5th Brigade, which included the Connaughts forming the rearguard. From the 24th August until 5th September there was a withdrawal towards Paris.
13 days of retreat sometimes in chaos especially on 26th at La Grand Fayt, where 6 officers and 280 men of the 2nd Battalion went missing, mostly taken prisoner, when they did not receive the order to fall back. Stragglers regrouped on 28th at Servais and the following day received their first change of clothes in eight days. The retreat stopped on the 5th September on the Marne about 30 miles west of Paris. On the 7th they advanced through Rebaix and the following day the Connaughts were highly praised for capturing the village of Orly. On the 13th D Company and by now Lt. Col. O’Sullivan attacked across the River Aisne and took the town of Soupir. On 14th at La Coeur de Soupir they had heavy casualties, three officers killed, five wounded and 100 men killed and 150 injured against 3000 German casualties. On the 19th at Verneuil there were four officers killed, 40 soldiers killed and 35 injured. By then with so few survivors they were put into reserve and then into billets at Dhuizal where they stayed until 2nd October. Then they were moved back to Soupir for four days, then to Boury for a week before they were entrained at Fismes on 14th and moved to Ypres and detrained at Hazebrouk on 16th and marched to Poperinghe, west of Ypres where they had a draft of four officers and 280 men.
They went into the attack at 1st Ypres on 21st October at St, Julien and Langemarck. Over the next three days they had 16 men killed and 55 wounded then they were recalled to Ypres on 24th and sent out to Polygon Wood along the Menin Road about six miles out of town. In the battle for this wood, which was one of the most intense set pieces of this 1st Battle of Ypres, the Connaught Rangers lost 35 killed, 70 wounded and30 missing. With so few officers left they were withdrawn into reserve on 2nd November. John Lovell was one of the many missing soldiers who had no known grave and was lost in this withdrawal. Having marched in the order of 500 kilometres and been in constant battle order for possibly 65 days of his 79 days in France, he would have been extremely fit, very often hungry, very, very tired and possibly totally disheartened by the carnage amongst his fellow soldiers.
The 2nd Battalion were amalgamated with the 1st Battalion on 5th December 1914 and of the 1192 men who landed at Boulogne and the drafts of 410 men in the interim, there were only 450 men in the battalion at amalgamation showing a casualty rate of 62%.
To the memory
of Private John
2nd Battalion, Connaught Rangers, who died on
2nd November 1914.Aged 29 at Polygon Wood, on the Menin Road, 9 Kilometres from Ypres.
Son of the late John and Anne Lovell and husband of
Mary Lovell of 3 Kelly’s Cottages, James Street, Dublin.
Lest We Forget.