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Courage Under the Surface – Tunnelling Battles of Le Touquet and Trench War at Mouse Trap Farm

Le Touquet consisted of a number of large mine craters situated between Allied and German fronts. On the completion of a single mine shaft, troops in the danger area withdrew for detonation. A resultant crater then had to be captured by one side's infantry storming party.Tunnelling 1

Captain Woodgate joined the 1st Bn. King's Own in the Le Touquet sector in the winter of 1914, engaged in mining operations. His unit held the part of the Railway Barricade Trench. Woodgate was positioned in a listening gallery which was being extended towards enemy lines when he saw unfamiliar flashes of light in the tunnel.

He saw the distinctive outline of a man's head and shoulders and instinctively fired a round at the light, which suddenly disappeared. Woodgate and Sgt. G.H. Rastall went up the mine, but were prevented from going further by a barrier of planks and earth. They built a barricade whilst a gun battle continued for more than four hours. The Germans then blew the tunnel in with a charge, 3 of the 4 King's Own men escaped, but Pte. Stephenson was trapped. Woodgate, Sgt. Leach and others made unsuccessful attempts to rescue the man – Woodgate being overcome by fumes and evacuated.

Mouse Trap Farm was a moated farm with 2 outbuildings about 2.5 miles northeast of the Menin Gate. Nicknamed Shell Trap Farm by Allied troops, it was the scene of bitter fighting in May 1915. At 2:45am on 24 May 1915, the Germans launched an attack that involved the heaviest use of chlorine gas to date. This extract is taken from the 1st Bn. Royal Lancaster Regt. War Diaries:

Shell Trap Farm24.5.15 – "Just before dawn at about 2:30am enemy attacked with gas – there was a good deal of shelling and rifle fire, but no attempt at infantry attack. The Coy. Of Royal Irish on our right remained but the rest of the 1st between them and Shell Trap Farm retired from their trenches."

"At about 3:30am enemy advanced and captured trenches held by Royal Irish and tried to bomb down our trenches, but were held up by Capt. Woodgate, Lieut. Leach (wounded) and a bombing party who drove them back and recaptured about 50 yards of Royal Irish trench. They captured a flag on two uprights held by the Germans to show the artillery their position and erected a barricade."

Capt. Woodgate was awarded the D.S.O. for this action and for 'the underground fight in the mine gallery at Le Touquet'.

 

 

 

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