The units of 21st Division disembarked on French soil between 9 and 12 September 1915. Two weeks later, with absolutely no battlefield experience, and with very little in the way of acclimatisation to the realities of the Western Front, they were thrown into action on the second day of the Battle of Loos. Their performance has been a topic of controversy ever since: the popular perception is that they “disgraced themselves by retiring before the enemy” (Edmonds).
The seemingly widely accepted narrative is that they advanced on the German second line of defence and were routed by enemy machine gun fire. Dr Derek Clayton’s talk will show that this view is far too simplistic, and that the true picture is much more complicated and far less damning of the division’s performance.