This is the situation on May 4th, 100 years ago today. With the loss of all the territory on the north of the Salient, the British had to withdraw so that they could present a more rounded front.
On May 4th, the PPCLI pull back from their position in Polygon Wood to one near the Bellewaerde Ridge. They are still part of the British Army's 28th Division.
Just as the hardest part of the early fighting took place in the northern hinge of the Salient, on May 8th, with the Pats in the hotspot, the hardest fighting would take place in the southern hinge.
So begins a terrible week for my family and their circle. Maybe the hardest week of the entire war.
Here is an excellent review of the lead up to the 8th of May. (From Birth of a Regiment)
By early May, the Patricia’s had already been in the line for twelve days and suffered seventy-five casualties. Although every spare man had been used to construct the new line, numerous alterations in the plan for the defence meant the much of the effort was wasted. In the end, the Bellewaerde Ridge position was still far from complete. Shortly after dark on May 3rd, the support companies under Agar Adamson withdrew quietly to the Bellewaerde Ridge position and the front line trenches began to thin out. By midnight only a small rear guard of about a dozen remained in the position. The men moved along the trench line firing sporadically to give the impression that the position was still full occupied. By 3:00 am, the entire battalion had been withdrawn without casualties. The response by the enemy the following morning when they discovered the ruse was rapid and aggressive. On May 5th the Germans quickly closed up to the new line and once again brought their artillery into play with devastating effect. By the time the Patricia’s were relieved by the Shropshires on the night of May 4th, twenty six men had been killed. As they withdrew to a support position on the GHQ line on the Menin Road, Lt-Col Buller was struck in the eye by a shell fragment, taking him out of action. Fortunately, Major Hamilton Gault returned to duty at the same time with a reinforcing draft of 47 men. He quickly assumed command and on the evening of May 6th led the battalion forward to relieve the Shropshires in the Bellewaerde Ridge position. The Patricia’s held the left flank of their brigade with the 3rd Monmouth Regiment of the 83rd Brigade to their north and the 4th Kings Royal Rifle Corps to their south.
Writing to his wife on the eve of the main battle, Agar Adamson, described the conditions:
“We moved up last night from our support dugouts having been fairly well shelled. Gow (Lieut.) shot badly, was alive when we left, 4 men killed, 9 wounded, 2 went mad, 6 in what is called ‘in a state of collapse’, having been shelled all day and having to remain underground all day.” After thanking his wife for sending baseball bats, he concludes “We now have 400 fighting men and 7 officers. …. It seems certain that this line cannot be held and we are only making a bluff at it.”