The White Flag Incident

The Battle of the Aisne, which was a pursuit of the Germans following the Battle of the Marne, began on the 13 Sept 1914.  The 1st Battalion of the Northamptonshire Regiment crossed the Aisne without opposition on the 13 Sept 1914 but came into action soon after when two Companies of the Regiment attacked a hill north of Troyon village.  Private Reginald Ingram 7507 from Rushden was killed in this action.  At the start of this attack Captain Gordon had two subalterns and 160 men.  The weather was very wet and the men spent 5 days in trenches knee deep in water.  Captain Gordon was killed on the 15 Sept whilst trying to get his Company into advanced trenches.  
Medal Roll for Private Reginald Ingram 7507.

Medal Roll for Private Reginald Ingram

On the 17 Sept 1914 the Germans were seen advancing holding up their hands and carrying a white flag, appearing to surrender. The men of the Northamptonshire Regiment went to meet them but then the German Officer ordered his men to charge. 

The Regiment was joined by the 1st Queens Royal Regiment (West Surrey) quickly followed by the Coldstream Guards, but by that time the Germans had been dealt with.  Many of the Northamptonshire men were wounded or killed, including 1 man from Rushden – Private Edmund King 7219. Of the men who took part in that action only eight sound men and 4 slightly wounded were left fit to fight.

The extract from the 1st Battalion - Northamptonshire Regiment War Diary reads as follows:

17th September 1914

Still very wet. Enemy attacked us in force about 1.30 p.m.  Order to charge them out of trenches too close to our lines.  Capt. Parker killed leading the charge which was successful.  An unfortunate incident occurred in which 2 officers and many of our men were killed.  The enemy showed the white flag and some few surrendered, but it was a trap.  When our men were exposed they fired under cover of the white flag.

Private Edmund King 7219 who died in the White Flag incident

Private Edmund King 7219

Medal Roll for Private Edmund King who died in the White Flag incident

Medal Roll for Private Edmund King

Private E. G. Edwards, of Rushden, in an interview with a reporter from the “Rushden Echo”, said – “Germans, as far as I know, have never yet faced out a bayonet charge, not even when they have started one themselves. I was in that “white flag business” of theirs when the Germans advanced protected by the white flag and then, without warning, fired on us.”

Pte. Charles Tew , also in an interview with a “Rushden Echo” reporter, said -

“It was on Sept. 17th that the Germans played a dirty trick on us. They left their trenches and approached us over the brow of the hill, carrying a white flag. Naturally we thought they wished to surrender, and we got out of our dug-outs with the idea of taking them prisoner. As soon as they saw our numerical inferiority the front line lay down and their rear ranks opened a murderous fire on us with rifles and machine guns, with the result that the Northamptonshires suffered very severely. Fortunately, our reserve line noticed what was happening, and opened fire in their turn, with the result that we captured about 200.”

 

In a similar incident a line of German soldiers advanced showing signs of surrender but pretended not to understand that they were to put down their weapons. One or two laid down their rifles but then the line fell to the ground revealing a second line behind the ridge who immediately rose and started firing. 

This incident was reported in the press at home and is shown in the drawing by F. Matania. This convinced the people of the ruthlessness of the Germans and that they had to be overthrown.

 

Drawing of the White Flag Treachery by F. Matania.

The White Flag Treachery

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