THE CLOSE OF 1914. 17th NOVEMBER - 31st DECEMBER 1914 Based on extracts from the Regimental Chronicles of The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Vol 24 1914-1915
The Battle of Ypres was over; the Germans had shot their bolt, and had failed signally to break through to Calais—their one aim and object. It is possible here to touch only lightly on the gigantic but victorious effort of the Allies to withstand the furious attempts of the enemy to hew a way to the Channel ports. Be it remembered that the Germans numbered no fewer than 600,000 men, highly trained, highly organized, equipped with every modern contrivance, and, moreover, belonging to one nation, confident of victory. Against them were pitted not half their numbers in men, with far fewer and inferior guns—men of three European nations and troops from India. Yet the enemy was foiled, and with a loss of a quarter of his force gained nothing beyond a few villages of no great importance. Mention has already been made of the dispositions of the French and British forces in this great battle, and the line northwards was held by the French Marine Brigade at Dixmude, with the Belgian Army thence to the coast. These dispositions remained virtually the same throughout the battle, and the German onslaughts fell on every part of the line, not only in the neighbourhood of Ypres, but also in the south, as far as the La Bassee canal, as well as in the north, up to the sea. It is true that the Allies, overpowered by numbers, were occasionally forced to give way; it is true that they gained no sensational victory, as victories were reckoned in old wars; but, nevertheless., the enemy's defeat was complete, in that he sacrificed an enormous number of lives in failing to approach the objective for which he set out.
The part played by one battalion in a battle front of sixty miles must be comparatively small, although on many memorable occasions in the Battle of Ypres the gallant conduct of individual battalions averted disaster which threatened the whole Allied line. The work of the 52nd has been recorded, day by day, by Colonel Davies in the foregoing pages, and no one will doubt that, after its three continuous months of strenuous campaigning, it required the rest which was now given to it.
Marching, by way of Ypres, to Bailleul, the Regiment went into billets, and remained there for almost six weeks, with only one spell of three days in the trenches (Wytschaete) to break their rest. After that, in the last week of the year, the 5th Brigade moved south, to take over the trenches near Richebourg with which subsequently the Regiment became only too closely acquainted.
LIEUT.-COLONEL DAVIES'.S DIARY
November 17th.—(Ypres.) Halted for the day. Occasional shells fall into the town, and some houses have been smashed, but not much damage has been done as yet.
In the afternoon news came in of a fresh German attack, and Southey. with the Machine-gun Section, was ordered to be sent up again to the Menin road (near Hooge), to be attached to the 3rd Division.
November 18th. — (Ypres to Bailleul, 14 miles south-west.) Marched at 5 a.m., with the Highland Light Infantry, via Westoetre and Locre, stopping for breakfast at a big empty convent at the latter place, to which the cooks wagons had been sent on. Went into billets at Bailleul for a rest, out of the range of shells.'
November 19th.— (Bailleul.) Billets quite good here, the men being in the houses of the town, and we are very glad of a rest. Weather very cold.
The Connaught Rangers left the Brigade, to join their 1st Battalion, with the Indian Corps, their place in the Brigade being taken by the 9th Highland Light Infantry (Glasgow Highlanders).
November 20th-23rd.— (Bailleul, in rest.) Weather very cold, with hard frost and snow. On the 21st the Machine-gun Section, under Southey, returned from duty with the 3rd Division, having had one man wounded. Leave for 7 days to England for officers and N.C.O.'s was now opened, and on the 23rd I went on leave.
From the Regimental Diary.
November 24th.—Still in rest at Bailleul.
November 25th.—(Bailleul to trenches near Wytschaete, 7 miles north-east.) Quite unexpectedly the Regiment was ordered to take over trenches near Wytschaete, in relief of the Gloucestershire Regiment. A, C, and D Companies in the front line; B Company in reserve. One man was wounded.
November 26th.—(Trenches near Wytschaete.) Not much shelling, but a good deal of sniping, as the German trenches were very near. Casualties : 3 men killed; Lieut. A. V. Spencer and 2 men wounded.
November 27th.—(Trenches near Wytschaete to Bailleul.) We had 3 men wounded today, and were relieved at night by the Lincolnshire Regiment, after which we marched back to Bailleul.
November 28th.—(Bailleul.) Reached Bailleul at 2 a.m., and went into billets.
November 30th. — (Bailleul.) Seventh reinforcement of 80 men arrived with Captain S. F. Hammick (Reserve of Officers) and Lieut. T. C. Tanner (attached from King's Shropshire Light Infantry).
December 3rd. — (Bailleul.) Paraded and lined part of the Meterin road, for inspection by His Majesty the King, who motored slowly by, stopping to shake hands with commanding officers.
Information received of the award of the following honours : --
Distinguished Service Order. Lieut. R. B. Cross . Lieut. C. S. Baines. Lieut. A. V. Spencer 2nd Lieut. F. Pepys. 2nd Lieut. H. V. Pendavis.
Medaille Militaire. 7140, Sergeant A. Kippax.
Distinguished Conduct Medal. 9419 Corporal .J. W. Hodges (killed 21.10 14) 5071 Private- E. D. Stock 8082 Private. H. .J. Hastings. 7441 Private H. Merry. 8444 Private G. Hall.
His Majesty the King presented the D.S.O. to Lieut, (Crosse, and the D.C.M. to Privates Merry and Hall at Divisional Headquarters.
The eighth reinforcement of 200 men arrived.
December 14th-19th. — (Bailleul.) Warned to be ready to move at one hour's notice as Army Reserve, but were not required.
December 20th — General Haking, who had recovered of his wound, and resumed command of the 5th Brigade, left today to take over the command of the 1st Division. Lieut.-Colonel Davies took over temporary command of the 5th Brigade.
December 22nd.—(Bailleul.) We had been at Bailleul and the neighbourhood since 18th November, the last three weeks being devoted to drill, musketry, route marching, etc. A few men were also instructed in bombing, which is now being introduced.
December 23rd.—(Bailleul to La Couture, 14 miles.) The whole Brigade was moved in motor-buses, starting about midnight (22nd—23rd December), and going round by Hazebrouck and Merville. Several buses took wrong roads, and others broke down temporarily, so that it was nearly midday on the 23rd before we were in our billets at La Couture. It was a very cold frosty night, and the men outside were intensely cold.
The ninth reinforcement of 70 men arrived.
December 24th to 26th.—(La Couture, in billets.) Spent Christmas Day quite quietly, and a service was held by the Bishop of Khartoum (Bishop Gwynne), who is Chaplain to the 5th Brigade.
December 27th.—In the evening went into trenches near Richebourg L'Avoue, relieving the 39th Gharwal Rifles. The Regiment, in the centre of the Brigade front, has three companies in trenches, and one in reserve in billets, with Regimental Headquarters in S. 9. a. 8.0 (Map 1/40,000 Bethune Sheet). The 5th Brigade, with its headquarters in Richebourg St. Vaast, has 3 battalions in the front line, and its left on the south edge of Neuve Chapelle, which is occupied by the 8th Division.
December 28th.—Very quiet in the trenches. One man was killed and one wounded by a short shell from our own artillery. Rained all night, and the trenches falling in everywhere. The country is flat, and intersected with wet ditches.
December 29th—Relieved in the evening by the 9th Highland Light Infantry (Glasgow Highlanders), and went into billets at Richebourg St. Vaast. Casualties : one man wounded.
December 31st—Relieved the 2nd Highland Light Infantry in trenches near Richebourg L'Avoue, immediately to the right of the trenches previously occupied.
Brigadier-General A. A Chichester took over command of the 5th Infantry Brigade, vice Brigadier-General R. C. B. Haking, promoted Major-General, and appointed to the command of the 1st Division.
On leaving the Brigade, General Haking wrote the following letter (dated 31st December 1914) to Lieut.-Colonel Davies, commanding the Regiment:
"On handing over command of the 5th Brigade, which I have held for over three years, I wish to express to all ranks of the Battalion under your command my appreciation of the work they have done during this campaign. It is unnecessary for me to go into any details, because the rapid and skilful manoeuvring of the Battalion during the retirement from Mons, and the subsequent advance to the Aisne, their defence during the long occupation of the latter, and, above all, their splendid attacks and defence round Ypres, is well known throughout the Army, and later on will become a matter of history. The Battalion has always been celebrated for its attack at Waterloo, but, in my opinion, it will in future be distinguished, above others, for its magnificent attack near Ypres.
"Your Battalion has been in the Brigade during the whole time I have been in command, and, consequently, I feel more closely attached to it than to the others. I cannot tell you what satisfaction it gives me to be able to record in this brief manner the heroic doings of the Battalion during the present campaign, which cannot be exaggerated."