When researching for my chapter on the Battle of Loos – to be included in the follow up volume to “Stemming The Tide: Officers and Leadership in The British Expeditionary Force 1914”, I came across an interchange of memoranda between Major-Generals George Thesiger, commanding 9th (Scottish) Division, and Thompson Capper, commanding 7th Division, which sheds some light on the nature of the day to day relationship between divisions placed alongside each other in the frontline. The two divisions were then part of I Corps under Hubert Gough and were readying themselves for the battle that was to commence in fourteen days time.
Thesiger had sent a type-written note to 7th Division which was couched in a somewhat administrative and officious manner:
“As there seems to have been some misunderstanding about the new fire trench from K sap to your left sap head, I should like to point out that this Division does not recognise and has never recognised any responsibility for this portion of the line. The 120 yards of fire trench that the 9th Division has dug…has been undertaken by this Division voluntarily as a “quid pro quo” for the trench which was dug from Fontes des Marichons to Barts and afterwards handed over to us by the 7th Division and in order to work in a friendly spirit with this Division….I shall be glad if the 7th Division will undertake all further responsibility for this Section of the line. Do you agree to this arrangement?”
Capper responded by handwriting on the back of the memorandum the following: “As regards the labour of placing accessories in position, I understand you have to handle a number proportionate to those we have to handle as 3 is to 2. Under these conditions, I think the best plan would before us to completely take over the new trench…We would undertake all liabilities for the new trench…I will send a staff officer to meet anyone you delegate…and arrange the boundary mark.”
Both Thesiger and Capper were to be killed in action in the opening days of Loos and it is sometimes easy to get caught up in the action of the battle, thereby losing sight of the daily “management” tasks of commanders in the field. Who was responsible for which trench was simply one of the thousands of details that were under consideration by the staff at divisional and corps levels leading up to an offensive and gives a small insight into the scale of the operations these men were facing.