The Battle of Loos was part of a joint allied offensive on the Western Front - dubbed the 'Big Push' which began on the 25th September 1915 and engaged 54 French and 13 British divisions, including many of Lord Kitchener's New Army units, on a front of 90 kilometers in Northern France from the small town of Loos in the north to the famed Vimy Ridge in the south. Casualties were simply appalling - 60,000 of whom died on the first day (the names of those killed in the opening fighting filled four pages in the London Times) in an attempt to breakthrough German lines (8,000 yards of enemy trench were captured) but the failure to exploit these gains has been the subject of much subsequent bitterly contested commentary. The battle also marked the first time that the British Army used poison gas as part of its military offensive.
An outline of the contribution made by Old Dunstonians RFC who fought in G Company 20th London Regiment at the Battle of Loos notes the following significant information :
When the unit went to France in March 1915 the Old Dunstonian Platoons went with it, and this is the only recorded example of a single unit of Old Boys from one school serving overseas together. The Platoons went through fighting at Festubet and Givenchy with only light casualties, but on 25 September 1915 the unit attacked Loos as partof the 47th (London) Division and were almost destroyed. During the initial attack the Platoons led the attack through Loos village, and had further casualties in the following days of fighting as the Germans counter attacked. Most of the survivors were of officer standard and were commissioned into other units, and by the end of 1915 G Company had lost its unique Old Dunstonian character.
Rudyard Kipling, perhaps best-known for his classic children’s novel The Jungle Book (1894), wrote a haunting elegy to his son, and all those young men like LC Debenham who was aged 21 years when he was killed, who where lost in the great war, Second Lieutenant John Kipling who was killed in action on the 27th September at Loos :
That flesh we had nursed from the first in all cleanness was given…
To be blanched or gay-painted by fumes – to be cindered by fires –
To be senselessly tossed and retossed in stale mutilation
From crater to crater. For this we shall take expiation.
But who shall return us our children?
LC Debenham whose body was never recovered is also remembered on the Loos Memorial