On 25 January 1915 the Germans unleashed a well planned attack on the British-French front at La Bassée, specifically between Givenchy in the north, Cuinchy on the canal, and further south. At Givenchy they captured British trenches, but were soon ejected, with the loss of 207 men. At Cuinchy the attack began with a number of mines being exploded in trenches occupied by the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards. The Germans then rushed the British lines, took the front trenches, and fought on.
Much of the fighting at Cuinchy was in a flat area east of the village known as ‘the Brickstacks’. It contained about thirty blocks of bricks fifteen feet high, which had been there since before the war. Most were within German territory, the rest within the British lines. They presented a peculiarly difficult battlefield, especially as the area was knee-deep in mud. After a delay, the British infantry counter-attacked but could not dislodge the enemy from the front trenches. Over the next week a bloody farrago of trench warfare, shelling, machine-gunning and hand-to-hand fighting developed, before on 6 February the 4th (Guards) Brigade of the 2nd Division captured the Brickstacks and improved the junction between the British and French lines.
Jim Corbet (see my post of 8 September) was present. After he had recovered in Britain from his wound at the Marne, he was promoted to Lieutenant on 9 December 1914 and sent out to La Bassée with a draft of two hundred men and three officers. He was now probably with the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards, who were part of the 4th (Guards) Brigade. In the words of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Newsletter, the ‘attack and counter-attack’ action around Cuinchy at this time a hundred years ago is ‘probably typical of the front line situation at this stage in the war’.
George Calderon refers to the Battle of the Brickstacks, as it became known, and Jim Corbet’s part in it, in the opening line of the last letter he ever wrote (3 June 1915). Evidently the battle was synonymous for him with extreme danger.
Next entry: The ‘second’ front