"The Defence of Hill 60" by the 1st Battalion The East Surrey Regiment April 1915

artefact

Painting by Fred Roe, RI

The painting is by Fred Row, RI, who completed numerous war pictures and paintings. This picture depicts an episode during the Defence of Hill 60, South of Ypres on the Western Front, over the period 19-21 April 1915. It portrays one of the many German assaults that took place on the late afternoon of 20 April, and the view is taken from the high ground about 200 yards south of the Hill. From this point of view one can see a heavy attack being made on the left of 1st Battalion The East Surrey Regiment's line simultaneously with an assault by the Germans across the open at the front trenches on the forward slope of the Hill. The right of the line is shown in the foreground with the riflemen and machine guns in action. The intense bombardment is well depicted and the numerous dead and wounded of both sides convey a very good impression of the scene as it actually was.

The Hill was captured on 10 December 1915 by the Germans. The British, almost immediately after they arrived, began digging tunnels under the hill and thus the German positions. This was one of the first tasks of the newly created 171st Tunnelling Company.

By Saturday 10 April, digging at Hill 60 was just about finished and six mines were ready for charging. Zero hour was set for 19.00 hours on the 17th April 1915. Officers of the 171st Tunnelling Company hit the plunger; the resulting explosions ripped the heart out of the hill over a period of some 10 seconds.. It flung debris almost 300 feet in all directions. One British soldier who peered over the parapet was violently hit in the face by a piece of debris and was killed. As mud lumps, sandbags, trench timbers and shattered German bodies were still spinning in the air, a huge Allied bombardment commenced saturating the German Lines with fire and shrapnel.

An attacking formation of the 1st East Surreys, Royal West Kent's, 2nd Kings Own Scottish Borders and 1/9th Queen Victoria Rifles, with bayonets fixed, scrambled up the hill. As the assaulting party closed on what was left of the German 172nd Regiment holding the hill, the dazed German's screams could be heard over the din, as the British bayonets pierced them. Approximately 150 died, with only 20 being taken prisoner. Total British casualties were just seven.

A counter attack that night by the Germans inflicted heavy casualties on the defenders, forcing the British off the hill, although the next day, 18 April, 1st East Surreys, the 2nd Duke of Wellingtons and 2nd Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry re-took the hill in a fresh attack.

Furious German counter attacks were repelled from the 1st East Surreys in a forward trench, during which Lt George Rowland Patrick Roupell won the Victoria Cross on 20 April.

Lt George Rowland Patrick Roupell's citation reads:

"For most conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty, on the 20th April 1915, when he was commanding a company of his battalion in a front trench of Hill 60, which was subjected to a most severe bombardment throughout the day, though wounded in several places, he remained at his post and led his company in repelling a strong German assault. During the lull in the bombardment he had his wounds hurriedly dressed, and then insisted on returning to his trench, which was again being subjected to a severe bombardment.

Towards evening, his company being dangerously weakened, he went back to his battalion headquarters, represented the situation to his commanding officer, and brought up reinforcements, passing backwards and forwards over ground swept by heavy fire. With these reinforcements he held his position throughout the night, and until his battalion was relieved next morning.

The young officer was one of the few survivors of his company, and showed a magnificent example of courage, devotion and tenacity, which undoubtedly inspired his men to hold out till the end.