Leave then Passchendaele
The beginning of September 1917 saw the normal pattern of activities in and behind the front line. Noel went on leave for eleven days in mid-September and returned to England. He and his mother visited my grandfather, Reginald, and his family in Watford. Several photographs show him looking relaxed and happy; by contrast, the expressions on the faces of his mother and aunt clearly show their concern. He was to have a weekend leave in Paris in January 1918 and another fortnight’s leave in February, just after he had been made Camp Adjutant.
On his return to France Noel spent a week in the front line near Epehy until 30 September, when 35th Division left the Somme and returned to near Ypres via Peronne, Arras, Wanquentin for a week’s training, Cassel and Proven. The BEF had launched a huge offensive in Flanders on 31 July 1917, intended to break through the German lines in front of Ypres and to re-capture the Belgian ports and coast but the worst summer weather in Flanders for decades turned much of the Ypres area to deep mud, and the infantry ran into an unexpected array of enemy concrete pillboxes holding machine gun posts.
Noel’s Battalion was to play its part in this, the largely ill-fated Battle of Passchendaele (photo). On 22 October it was in
support of the 15th ‘Glosters’ in an attack south of Houthulst
The report of events praised the regiment’s officers and men
were lying in shell holes up to their waists in water for forty eight hours under harassing shell fire. It was
bitterly cold and raining heavily. The men were perished and the rum and tea rations failed to arrive; machine gun fire on
the ground and low-flying German planes above made it impossible for supplies to get through. The objective was achieved but
then the intensity of German artillery fire made it impossible to get the relief orders through. The relief eventually
arrived at 11.30 p.m. on 24th and the men moved back to a camp near Elverdingue.