yeovil at War

Leonard Alfred George Gale

Killed in action during the attack on Bellewaarde

 

Leonard Alfred George Gale was born in September 1896 in Yeovil. He was the eldest son and fourth of the eight children of iron moulder Tom Gale (b 1865) and glover Louisa Jane née White. By 1911 his father had died and Louisa and her children were listed in the census living at 50 Queen Street. 14-year old Leonard listed his occupation as a shop assistant in a grocery.

At the outbreak of war 18-year old Leonard enlisted at Yeovil and joined the 6th (Service) Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry that was formed in August 1914. His Service Number was 3/6831.

The 6th Battalion crossed the Channel on 21 May 1915. They were in billets for the first few weeks and spent their time as working parties digging trenches southwest of Ypres. Leonard was classed as unfit for foreign service but he nevertheless volunteered and joined his Battalion in France in June. The 6th Battalion commenced its first tour in the front line on 12 June 1915.

On 26 July 1915, while at Hooge, the Battalion was subjected to a new weapon of war - the flamethrower. This event is described in the Regimental History of the Somerset Light Infantry "Very early in the morning the front-line trenches of the Brigade were suddenly flooded by liquid fire, which belched from jets in the German lines opposite. This new device momentarily caused surprise and confusion, and the victims of this dastardly attack fell back from the front-line trenches which were then occupied by the enemy."

The rest of July and August passed in day-to-day trench warfare with, as the Regimental History points out "Two days in and two days out of the front line was the rule at this period, but between the miserable conditions of the billets and the filthy state of the trenches there was little choice." However in mid-September the 6th Battalion were in preparation for an attack at Bellewaarde, a subsidiary action at Hooge. The attack, on the 25th September, on the trenches held by the Germans in the vicinity of Hooge and Bellewaarde Lake was made with the object of distracting attention from a "full-dress" attempt to break through at Loos, to the south, and to contain the enemy's reserves. Like so many similar attacks, it entailed heavy losses to the attacking infantry. Zero hour was fixed for 4:20am and the preliminary bombardment was to open at 3:50am. The enemy trenches were reached but could not be held but, according to the Regimental History of the Somerset Light Infantry, "The Battalion held on all day in trenches.... with fierce tenacity and splendid courage, held on all day in the face of a terrible bombardment.... About 5pm the enemy's artillery fire gradually became less and by 7pm had almost died down.... In other ranks the Battalion had lost 11 killed, 38 wounded and 3 missing."

Sadly, Leonard Gale was killed in this action of 25 September 1915. He had just turned 19. Another Yeovil man killed in this action was Edward Curtis.

On 15 October 1915, the Western Gazette reported "Official notification was received on Saturday by Mrs Gale, 28 Eastland Road, that her son Lance-Corporal Leonard Gale, was killed in action on September 25th, whilst serving with the 6th Somersets in Flanders. Deceased, who was well-known in the town, celebrated his 19th birthday at the Front about three weeks before his untimely end. Joining the Army on the outbreak of hostilities, he served his training at Crown Hill, Plymouth. He was, however rejected for foreign service on medical grounds, but on volunteering went to France in June last. Deceased’s younger brother is serving in France as a farrier."

Leonard Gale is commemorated on Panel 21, Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, and his name is recorded on the War Memorial in the Borough.

 

gallery

 

German flamethrower, first used against the 6th Somersets at Hooge on 26 July 1915.

 

The remains of the village of Hooge - totally destroyed. Photographed in 1919.

 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate in memory of Leonard Gale.

 

Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium

The Menin Gate is one of four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders which cover the area known as the Ypres Salient. Broadly speaking, the Salient stretched from Langemarck in the north to the northern edge in Ploegsteert Wood in the south, but it varied in area and shape throughout the war. The Salient was formed during the First Battle of Ypres in October and November 1914, when a small British Expeditionary Force succeeded in securing the town before the onset of winter, pushing the German forces back to the Passchendaele Ridge. The Second Battle of Ypres began in April 1915 when the Germans released poison gas into the Allied lines north of Ypres. This was the first time gas had been used by either side and the violence of the attack forced an Allied withdrawal and a shortening of the line of defence.

The site of the Menin Gate was chosen because of the hundreds of thousands of men who passed through it on their way to the battlefields. It commemorates casualties from the forces of Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and United Kingdom who died in the Salient. In the case of United Kingdom casualties, only those prior 16 August 1917. It now bears the names of more than 54,000 officers and men whose graves are not known. The Ypres (Menin gate) Memorial, designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield with sculpture by Sir William Reid-Dick, was unveiled by Lord Plumer on 24 July 1927.