- Name: Cecil Reginald NOBLE
- D.O.B: 4th Jun, 1891
- D.O.A: 12th Mar, 1915
- D.O.D: 13th Mar, 1915
- Award: Victoria Cross
- Occupation at time of action: Acting Corporal, 2nd Battalion The Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort’s Own), 25th Brigade, 8th Division
- Book: The Complete History - Volume 2
Neuve Chapelle, France 10-12 March 1915
10-12 March 1915
The First World War 1915
To demonstrate British commitment to the allied cause, the British Commander-in-Chief, Field Marshal Sir John French, ordered General Sir Douglas Haig, the GOC 1st Army, to carry out between 10 and 12 March 1915 the first independent British attack on the Western Front, an advance on the Aubers Ridge which ran from the south-west to the north-east north of La Bassée. The plan was for the Indian Meerut Divison and British 8th Infantry Division to breach the German line at Moated Grange Farm, just under a mile north of Neuve Chapelle, for the Lahore and the 7th Infantry Division to assault on either side, and for the Cavalry Corps to exploit the position by riding through to Aubers Ridge with supporting infantry. The attack on the morning of 10 March 1915 appeared to be succeeding and the infantry captured Neuve Chapelle itself, but not all the German machine guns had been knocked out by the preliminary bombardment and after three hours the advance stalled. In the initial assault the Garhwal Brigade was in the line along the road running north-west from La Bassée to Estaires, where it crossed the Rue du Bois running from the south-west northeastwards into Neuve Chapelle. The 39th Garhwal Rifles were at the point of intersection, known as Port Arthur, where a British salient jutted a short distance towards the town. The Garhwalis veered south of their intended direction and suffered very heavy casualties dealing with uncut German wire. Rifleman Gobar Sing Negi leading a bombing party was the first man into the main German trench but was killed. Meanwhile, the 2nd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment crossed the German front line just to the east of the Garhwalis and occupied trenches along the Layes Brook. At 5am on 12 March the Germans counter-attacked the new British positions. The attack was repulsed and at 12.30pm the British renewed their offensive. 2nd Battalion The Rifle Brigade (Prince Consort’s Own) were north of the Leicesters, and just north of the crossroads at the heart of Neuve Chapelle. A and B Companies advanced towards the German front line 500 yards away but machine-gun and shell-fire cut through them and only a few reached the protection of Smith-Dorrien Trench some 200 yards out. At 5.15pm C Company had no better fortune. Only five survivors made it to Smith-Dorrien Trench. Meanwhile D Company ran into intact barbed wire. Lying on their backs, Sergeant Major H Daniels and Corporal C R Noble cut the lower wires but when they knelt to reach those higher up, Daniels was shot in the thigh and Noble in the chest. After spending four hours in a shell-hole waiting for nightfall, Daniels carried Noble back to safety but he died the next day. To the north of the Rifle Brigade and beyond the Royal Irish Rifles, 1st Battalion The Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) had gone into action at 5.30pm the previous day and established a salient about 100 yards forward of the Allied lines. During the night the Germans shelled these positions and in their counter-attack at dawn on 12 March forced the Sherwood Foresters to pull back. It was then that Private J Rivers in his first VC action helped relieve the situation. Just before 7am the Battalion counter- attacked, driving the Germans back. This was possibly the occasion of Rivers’s second VC action, during which he was shot through the heart by a sniper. Beyond the Sherwood Foresters was 21st Brigade, including 2nd Battalion The Bedfordshire Regiment. These men had moved up to the assembly area near Moated Grange Farm, during the morning of 10 March 1915. They then advanced to join the Royal Scots Fusiliers, who held a salient south-west of Mauquissart (not to be confused with Fauquissart along the continuation of the Rue du Bois to the north). Throughout the 11th it was under constant fire. In the German counter-attack at dawn on the 12th the enemy overran the salient. The Bedfordshires’ first attempt to regain it failed but, after an assault led by Captain C C Foss, a second counter-attack recaptured the position. To the north of the Bedfords, just south-west of Moated Grange Farm, was 2nd Battalion Alexandra, Princess of Wales’s Own (The Yorkshire Regiment) (later The Green Howards). After taking part in the repulse of the German counter-attack at dawn on the 12th, the Battalion despatched bombing-parties to help the 2nd Wiltshires, on their left flank, regain trenches which the enemy had captured. Corporal W Anderson led one of these parties and when all his men were wounded, he used their bombs. By the time the 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment was finally relieved early on 13 March, it had lost 15 officers and 299 men killed, wounded or missing, including Corporal Anderson. His pay book was handed in, but no one knew where he had been buried. In the British assault on German lines at midday on 12 March, 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards supported 2nd Battalion Scots Guards and 2nd Battalion The Border Regiment to the north of the Yorkshire Regiment. This attack stalled after the 2nd Border Regiment suffered heavy losses from machine-guns in the Quadrilateral, a German redoubt between Moated Grange Farm and Mauquissart. However, following an artillery barrage, the Scots Guards and the Border Regiment captured the Quadrilateral, taking 400 prisoners. While the 1st Grenadiers became lost in the maze of old communication trenches, a party of their Brigade Reserve bombers and a company of 2nd Wiltshires succeeded in weaving their way rapidly through old German trenches in no man’s land and overwhelming the enemy in 40 yards of trench, having achieved complete surprise. Lance Corporal W D Fuller and Private E Barber in particular distinguished themselves by their gallantry. By the time the fighting ended on the 12th, British and Indian troops had overrun the German first line along a front of about two and a quarter miles round Neuve Chapelle, yet had penetrated to a depth of scarcely more than half a mile. The battle demonstrated that the British, like the French, lacked adequate numbers of large calibre guns and supplies of ammunition. Moreover there was a shortage of manufacturing capacity to supply them. They also lacked an effective system of communication for exercising command and control. The disappointing outcome at Neuve Chapelle thus prefigured the course of many battles of the war. The BEF suffered 12,000 casualties and had used about 15% of its ammunition. Nine VCs were awarded for acts of gallantry during the battle.
For most conspicuous bravery on 12th March, 1915, at Neuve Chapelle. When their battalion was impeded in the advance to the attack by wire entanglements, and subjected to a very severe machine-gun fire, these two men voluntarily rushed in front and succeeded in cutting the wires. They were both wounded at once, and Corporal Noble has since died of his wounds.