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Last Post at Loos

A blog from our CWGC historian, Dr Glyn Prysor, on the history of the CWGC's commemoration of those who lost their lives at the Battle of Loos.

At 10.15 a.m. on Monday 4 August 1930, a group of dignitaries gathered at a cemetery called 'Dud Corner', near the French town of Loos-en-Gohelle.

They unveiled a memorial honouring more than 20,000 men who had lost their lives in the area during the Great War, but who had no known grave.

Britain was represented by General Sir Nevil Macready, a key figure in the creation of the Imperial War Graves Commission, which had built the cemetery and the memorial, along with thousands of others.

The Battle of Loos began on 25 September 1915. It was part of a joint Allied offensive intended to push the Germans back from their foothold in northern France.

Much of the battlefield was flat and exposed, and there were many strong defensive positions - industrial machinery, workers' cottages, high spoil heaps - which provided excellent vantage points for the Germans.

There were other problems. Short of artillery and shells, the British turned to poison gas for the first time. Short of professional soldiers and reservists, they turned to wartime volunteers.

Despite these difficulties there were some successes, and British soldiers swept through the town of Loos itself. But delays in bringing up reinforcements meant that it was difficult to sustain the momentum of the attack.

It was the largest offensive the British army had yet undertaken. Around 75,000 men were involved on the first day alone.

Some 8,500 were killed on 25 September, and by the end of the battle in October around 16,000 had lost their lives.

Correctly pronounced 'Loss', the name of this small mining town in northern France would evoke grief for families across Britain.

Dud Corner took its name from the large numbers of unexploded shells - or 'duds' - which had been discovered in the area. Standing at the heart of the Loos battlefield, it seemed a fitting place for the memorial to the missing.

The unveiling ceremony was not the last ritual of remembrance to take place there. At the request of Rudyard Kipling, who had lost his son in the battle, the Imperial War Graves Commission agreed that the 'Last Post' could be sounded every evening by one of its ex-Service gardening staff.

In 1935, a journalist travelled to Dud Corner to pay his respects. 'Facing me in the dying shadow of the towering war memorial cross,' he wrote, 'stood ex-Lance Corporal W.T. Prynn, of the 2nd Dragoon Guards.'

'Every evening in the year, bad weather or fine, he leaves his cottage in the village to sound the Last Post at sundown over the graves of his dead comrades… Many and many a night he is entirely alone, but the stirring call of his trumpet is heard far and wide…'