The Birdcage


The 1/1st Leicestershire Yeomanry served on the Western Front as a unit from November 1914 to March 1918, from April 1918 to the Spring of 1919 the Regiment's three squadrons were allocated to the Regiments of the 3rd Cavalry Brigade. During their service on the Western Front the Regiment suffered many casualties but there were only two occasions when the Regiment sustained substantial fatalities, both involved attacks by German troops on trenches they held. The first is well known, The Battle of Frezenberg in May 1915, when 93 men died, the second took place in June 1917 resulted in 10 fatalities and is probably less well known. Neither figure includes those who subsequently died of their wounds.


Unfortunately the 'Outline History of the Leicestershire Yeomanry', which was written by an officer who served with the Regiment during WWI, only provides a passing reference to the action in June 1917. The entry records 'in spite of several casualties suffered through a determined German raid …........ it was with regret that they [the Regiment] finally left this sector'. Fortunately the space saved is not wasted as three paragraphs were needed to record a boar hunt. It is of interest that both the history of the 10th Hussars and the Essex Yeomanry and the history of the 6th Cavalry Brigade refer to the raid on the Leicestershire Yeomanry in more detail.  A benefit of the mention, albeit brief, in the 'Outline History' is that former Lance Corporal John E. Smith, who was involved in the action, wrote to the author and his letter is preserved in the Records Office.


In June 1917, whilst the Regiment was located in Tincourt, along with other Regiments of the 3rd Cavalry Division it was required to provide a dismounted party to take over part of the front in Epehy overlooking the Canal de St. Quentin, this was known as D1 sub-sector. This part of the front included The Quarries and an exposed outpost line known as The Birdcage, which could only be approached at night. On the night of the 21st June one troop from B Squadron and three troops from C Squadron relieved the 10th Hussars in The Birdcage. Upon completion of the relief Lieutenant Toulmin (Sniping Officer), Sergeant Talbot and a party of snipers went into No Man's Land to patrol towards the German sap. It seems that Lt. Toulmin saw German troops moving and the patrol started to return to The Birdcage but was caught in a German trench mortar barrage fired as part of a trench raid. The Regiment's War Diary records that Lt Toulmin and four members of the patrol were killed, Lcpl Smith records that three members of the patrol survived with one of them being wounded  and reaching the trench but then being buried and having to be dug out. Smith also refers to the barrage killing all his section and the need to maintain steady fire to stop the Germans from entering the trench. The History of the 6th Cavalry Brigade records that one party of the attacking Germans was driven off by rapid fire, the other was caught by their own trench mortar barrage. 'Friendly Fire' or 'Blue on Blue' is not a new concept.


( 9 graves of the men shown, Lt Toulmin's is in a row  toward the rear).

**On the 22/06/1917, Lt. Toulmin with Sgt. Talbot, Cpl. Knight, Tpr(s) Rhodes, Howard, Lester, Green, Dormer, Huss were all killed in one action, and Tpr. Rowe died of his wounds on the next day. All are buried at the VILLERS-FAUCON COMMUNAL CEMETERY with the exception of Tpr. Rowe who is at TINCOURT NEW BRITISH CEMETERY.  Here is a letter describing what happened that night at 1:30 a.m.

The Regiment's War Diary records that the casualties were one officer and nine other ranks killed and ten other ranks wounded. Lcpl Smith was one of the wounded but, luckily, he was able to rejoin the Regiment within six days.


Understandably there are no references to the number of German casualties caused by the trench mortar barrage. In respect of the casualties caused by the rapid rifle fire there are conflicting accounts. There would appear to have been ten killed, with their bodies left on the wire but, as to the number wounded, one account has three wounded being brought into the trench, all subsequently dying. Another records that a German officer was killed trying to enter the trench, with three prisoners taken, two of whom were severely wounded and died.


The ten members of the Leicestershire Yeomanry who were killed in this action were Lt Toulmin, Sgt Talbot, Cpl Knight and Privates Donner, Green, Hart, Howard, Huss, Lester and Rhodes, all of whom are buried in Villers-Faucon Communal Cemetery. Pte Rowe died of wounds on the 27th June and is buried in Tincourt New British Cemetery. It is possible he was of the ten other ranks wounded in the action and died having been taken to one of the five Casualty Clearing Stations located in the Tincourt area.


On the 17th June members of the 8th Cavalry Brigade (Royal Horse Guards, 10th Hussars and Essex Yeomanry) had carried out a raid on the German trenches, one of the aims being to identify the unit occupying the trench. Whilst their raid did cause casualties amongst those holding the trench, it did not result in the unit being identified. However, the three wounded Germans who were brought into the trench defended by the Leicestershire Yeomanry did result in their unit being identified and a further planned raid was cancelled.