Upon the outbreak of war in 1914 the 4th (Territorial) battalion of the Leicestershire regiment was split into a 1st/4th (consisting of those men willing to go overseas) and 2nd/4th, which was to remain in England and train recruits. The 1st/4th battalion crossed to France in March 1915, but its baptism of fire came in October of that year, when, together with the 1st/5th battalion it was given the task of attacking the Hohenzollern Redoubt. This was a honeycomb of German trenches and strongpoints near Hulluch, in the French coalmining district of Lens. The appaling losses which the 1st/4th sustained – some 400 killed and wounded – were among the worst ever sustained by an infantry battalion in a single days fighting on the Western Front.
The 1st/4th was a battalion recruited from the hosiery factories and working class terraced streets of Leicester. Its members all knew one another – they played in the same football teams and they worked in the same factories. Their officers were the factory owners and their sons. The losses of 13 October 1915 would have been distastrous to any battalion, but to one with such close bonds of kinship as the 1st/4th they were devastating. Typical of this pattern was Lieutenant R.E.Faire (above), of Faire Brothers, who fell that day along with many of the men who worked for his family firm.
What had gone so disastrously wrong? Insufficient artillery bombardment, coupled with an inadequate preliminary gas attack, meant that many of the German defenders in the redoubt were still able to man their machine guns as the Leicesters climbed out of their trenches. Pte Charles Mortimer was among them, and later remembered the difficulty in running with full kit and gas hood on. He dropped into an abandoned trench to catch his breath, only to discover that it was already full of Tigers who were dead or dieing.