Battle Honour LOOS

Saturday, 25 September, 1915
Battle Honour Loos
Battle Honour LOOS

The Battle Honour LOOS is emblazoned on the Queen's Colours of The Royal Irish Regiment.

The 18th (County of London) Battalion, the London Regiment (London Irish Rifles) was in a Division exclusively composed of brigades of London Territorials and was selected to lead the 47th (2nd London) Division into the attack. The objective was the capture of a double length of trenches along a line of four miles and to a depth of up to four miles in an area around the village of Loos between Hulluch and Lens; it contained a network of trenches and bomb-proof shelters. On the night of 24 September the London Irish received their orders and marched through the dark to the forward trenches.

What a sight! - Almost pitch dark, as light near the firing line must not be - just a few glimmers here and there to mark cross roads, and those are lanterns, mostly on the ground, in charge of one or more soldiers, according to the importance of the posts, whose job it is to control the traffic. Now and again a more or less lurid illumination comes from the star shells that are used between the trenches while searchlights sweep across the sky. Artillery flashes continuously and the roar of the guns is added to the crash and rattle of the traffic on the roads.

The Brigade Commander, Brigadier-General Thwaites, stood and watched the London Irish move past. He shook hands with the officers, wishing them luck and told them:

Remember that the London Irish has been chosen to lead the whole Division.

Footballer LoosThe Battalion reached the forward trenches around midnight where they waited for over six hours in torrential rain wearing sodden clothes and standing in mud. At 0630 hours in the morning with a whistle blast and to the cry of ‘Irish up and over’ the London Irish crossed the parapet by platoons at half-minute intervals. They were wearing crude grey flannel gas 'helmets' as the British had released gas thickened with smoke to drift across the German lines. Next, with rifles at the slope they formed up in four lines before picking up the charge. However, Private Frank Edwards had tossed a (soccer) football* over the parapet before they clambered out and it was then booted along by a number of men before they picked up the charge. With their war cry of 'Hurroo' they charged and kicked Edward's ball in front of them until it was eventually kicked into the goal of the enemy's wire where they rushed the Germans, at bayonet point, in the forward trenches.

(Above left, Silver statuette of 'Footballer of Loos' presented by London Irish officers to officers of 1 RUR on 5 October 1929 at Aldershot)

These first lines of trenches were captured thanks to nineteen days of effective artillery bombardment and the release of that morning's gas. However, although the second and depth were strongly wired and lightly manned, they still had to be taken by bombing parties, fierce hand-to-hand fighting and individual initiatives. Typical of such initiative was one man, alone in an enemy communication trench beyond the reserve line, who bundled sandbags down into the trench and raised a barricade. When the enemy attempted to drive him out they had to clamber over the obstacle and, as they did so, he shot them one by one until thirteen lay dead.

The London Irish then went on to assist with the clearance of Loos village and withstand a determined German counterattack. After the battle, the Brigade Commander addressed the battalion and said:

‘Not only am I proud to have had the honour of being in command of such a regiment, but the whole Empire will be proud whenever, in after years, the history of the battle of Loos comes to be written, for I can tell you it was the London Irish who helped to save a whole British Army Corps. You have done one of the greatest actions of the war.’

The London Irish were granted the Battle Honour 'LOOS' and the gallant action is commemorated annually by their observance of 'Loos Sunday'.

A soldier of the London Irish, Patrick MacGill was a poet before the war and he was wounded at Loos. He then wrote 'The Great Push', an acclaimed book on The Great War; to read his poems about Loos, click (below) on the Attachment 'Poems by Patrick MacGill'.

The football, believed to be the original, is now treasured in the London Irish Rifles Regimental Museum in London.