Based on extracts from the Regimental Chronicles of The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Vol 24 1914-1915 & Vol 25 1915-1916
NARRATIVE The 52nd came out of action with a total loss of close on four hundred of all ranks. Never before in its history had the Regiment suffered so heavily, except at the storming of Badajoz, when its casualties numbered twenty more. Other regiments of the Division had suffered equally, and it was taken out of the line for a period of rest, reorganization, and training.
For a fortnight the Regiment remained in billets behind the line, and then returned to trench duty, at which it continued until the end of July, having in the meanwhile received from home ample reinforcements of officers and men to make good its losses.
Throughout this period the British Army was engaged in different localities, but principally in the vicinity of Ypres, where the enemy made a determined but vain attack on Hooge on the 2nd June, and a more successful one at the same point on the 30th July, when, with the assistance of burning liquid-his new device—he forced our troops back a short distance, to a new line of trenches,
COMMANDING OFFICERS (Major Eden's) Diary
May 18th.—By 5 a.m. Crosse and I returned from Brigade Headquarters, and were back again with the Regiment at Richebourg St. Vaast; but under what sad conditions, and how different the Regiment from what it was when we left the place on the night of the 15th! Our Headquarter Staff had come out of it unscathed, but of the Company Officers only one per company was left—twenty being among the killed, wounded, or missing. Thank goodness we were all left to sleep for a few hours, as the Brigade was not ordered to march until 2 p.m. At that hour we paraded with the Brigade, and, marching through Le Touret, Avelette, and Hinges, reached the small scattered village of Bellerive (10 miles) at 7 p.m. Very poor billets, and much crowded even for our depleted numbers.
The 20th reinforcement of 130 men joined the Regiment in the evening.
May 19th.-Our billets being too small for the strength of the Regiment, we moved after dinner, about half a mile, to the extremely pretty village of Gonnehem. But this is not to be our resting, for we now have orders that the Brigade is moving tomorrow into a fresh area, as the present one is being allotted to the 7th Division.
May 20th.—(Gonnehem to Raimbert, 7 ½ miles.) We had a good night's rest before parading at 8 a.m. Battalions then moved independently, and we marched through Burbure to Raimbert, which we reached at about noon. This is a curious little mining village, and as there are no barns or other large buildings the men are all billeted by twos and threes in the miners' cottages, built in long rows, and are thoroughly enjoying their comfortable quarters. We are now a considerable way behind the line, and it is a distinct relief to be away from the incessant noise of the guns for a little while.
May 2lst.-(Raimbert.) In the afternoon a special parade of the Regiment was held, at which Major-General Horne, Commanding the 2nd Division thanked all ranks very sincerely for their good services during the past ten days.
May 22nd.-(Raimbert) The whole Regiment bathed in an excellent washing establishment in one of the mines. Reinforcements of officers commenced to arrive.
May 23rd.-(Whit Sunday.) The Bishop held an open-air Parade Service for the Regiment, and afterwards administered Holy Communion in an estaminet, the only available building.
Everyone is now feeling considerably rested.
May 24th.-(Raimbert.) Company Training commenced today. During the morning our Corps Commander, Lieut.-General Sir Charles Monro, K.C.B.. visited the Regiment. He had no parade, but told me that he considered "that the Regiment had once more behaved as it had always done throughout this campaign—that is, admirably"—which was nice to hear. He asked me to communicate this to all ranks, so I published it in Regimental Orders.
May 25th.-Not left long in peace. I went in a car today with some of the Brigade Staff to view a line of trenches which we are to take over shortly.
The following appeared in Regimental Orders :— "General Sir Douglas Haig, K.C.B., K.C.I E., K C.V.O., A.D.C.. Gen. -Commanding 1st Army, has desired the Brigadier-General to thank all ranks of the 5th Infantry Brigade for their great gallantry and hard work during the recent operations, and to say that the thanks of General Joffre have also been sent to the 1st Army for the way in which they have drawn the enemy's troops away from other parts, thus enabling the French to carry out plans which could not otherwise have been successful."
May 26th.-(Raimbert.) Companies continued their training in good country close by. In the afternoon, with the Brigadier and some others, to view another set of trenches which we are to take over instead of those which we looked at yesterday. They are near Mazingarbe, considerably farther south than we have ever been in these parts, and at present are occupied by the French. The weather is very hot now.
May 27th.-At 8.15 a.m. I took the four Company Commanders, on horseback, to the vicinity of our new line of trenches. At Philosophe I interviewed the French Brigade Commander, a charming old Colonel, who puzzled us somewhat with conundrums about ministerial changes at home, and particularly with the question as to what Winston Churchill would have to do as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster! Next I interviewed the Colonel of the 281st Regiment, and finally the Commandant (Major) of the Battalion occupying the line which we are to take over. The latter took us a complete tour of his trenches, with the result that we did not return to Raimbert until 8 p.m. having ridden 30 miles in all and walked several more in addition.
May 28th.-(Raimbert.) A large draft (21st reinforcement) of 270 men and 6 officers arrived today. This brings the Regiment almost up to strength again in men.
May 29th.-(Raimbert to trenches near Mazingarbe, 14 miles.) Left our pleasant billets at 2 p.m. Halted an hour for tea at Houchin, and arrived at Philosophe in time to commence the relief at 11.30 p.m. We had marched, with the 2nd Highland Light Infantry, through Auchel, Marles-les-Mines, Bruay, Labuissiere, Houchin, Noeux-les-Mines, and Mazingarbe.
May 30th.-The relief was not completed until 2.30 a.m. The Regiment took over the right half of the Brigade front from the 281st Regiment of French infantry, and was distributed as follows:--
Right Section.—B Company (1 platoon in support). Centre Section.—D Company (1 platoon in support), Left Section.—A Company (all 4 platoons in firing line). Regimental Headquarters and half C Company.—At the Corons of Fosse 7. Half C Company.—At the Corons of Fosse 3. Regimental Transport.—At Houchin.
The trenches are deep, cut out of chalk, and there are many dugouts, those for the supports being extremely well made.
Some portions of the fire trench are very long stretches without any traverses. The French use wooden loopholes in all their trenches. The communication trenches are sufficiently numerous, but are rather straight and rather broad. Machine-gun emplacements are well made.
The German line runs along a crest-line commanding the greater part of our area, but their trenches are not visible from our left centre. The distance between our trenches and those of the enemy varies from 200 to 300 yards on the flanks to 200 yards in the right centre.
Several saps have been run out, but, with the exception of one captured from the Germans on the extreme right, none of them approach nearer than 120 yards.
Fairly persistent shelling of our extreme right by guns of small calibre all the morning.
May 31st.-The Divisional Commander visited the trenches today. So far we have been having a very quiet time in these trenches; occasional shelling on the right, but very little sniping. Casualties, 1 killed and 7 wounded.
June 1st.-(In trenches near Mazingarbe.) We now have a light Trench Mortar Battery in the line with us. They did some very useful shooting during the morning; but, as their efforts usually bring some form of retaliation, they are not at present very popular with the people in the front line trenches.
June 2nd.-In the evening we were relieved by the 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and went into billets at Philosophe, close in rear.
June 3rd.-(In Brigade Reserve.) Philosophe is an absolutely filthy village, and is surrounded by numerous French guns. Consequently, for fear of attracting attention, our companies can scarcely move about in any numbers at all during daylight, as the enemy can see practically everything that goes on.
June 5th.-(Philosophe.) The 22nd reinforcement of 30 men arrived.
June 7th.-(Philosophe to Verquin.) After a most irritating and valueless five days, during which little or no training could be done, and with shells dropping at very uncertain intervals (1 man killed and 1 wounded), we were glad to get the order to move back into Divisional Reserve with the remainder of the Brigade.
At 8.30 p.m. the 5th Brigade was relieved by the 141st Brigade of the 47th Division, and the Regiment marched to Verquin, where we went into billets at 11.30 p.m.
June 8th.-As the Headquarters of the 47th Division is in this village, accommodation is very limited, especially as regards officers. Very warm weather at present.
June,14th.-(Verquin.) We have had a week in billets here, and have been able to do some training, including night work.
On the 10th we received information that the Distinguished Conduct Medal had been awarded to:-- No. 6970 Colour-Sergeant T. Hudson. No. 8445 Sergeant P. Breach.
Today I have been, with the Brigade Staff, to reconnoitre trenches near Vermelles, into which we are to move tomorrow,
June 15th.-(Verquin to trenches near Vermelles.) I took Company Commanders early this morning to have a look at the trenches. Returned at 1.30 p.m., and at 8 p.m. the Regiment, marching through Sailly-Labourse, relieved the 1st King's Regiment in the right sector of the Vermelles section.
June 16th.-I went round the line directly after the relief was complete, and so did not get to bed until 3.30 a.m. Went round again with the Brigadier during the morning.
Regimental Headquarters are at Le Rutoire Farm.
This line was taken up by the French after the capture of the village last November, when the Germans withdrew to some high ground which commanded nearly the whole of the country between them and Vermelles. Here the French and Germans settled down comfortably into winter quarters, and kept their respective lines some considerable distance apart. Our 1st Division took over from the French about a month ago, and, in accordance with British policy, put an end to this inactivity by pushing trenches forward ; but even now the enemy's line on the left is 250 yards away, whilst at the other end it is 500 or 600 yards.
We have two companies in the front line (made by the 1st Division) and two companies in support occupying the old French first line and reserve trenches.
All the trenches are deep and on the whole well made, with many dugouts where the French had been in occupation.
June 17th.—Continuing the policy of lessening the distance between the opposing lines, the Brigade commenced at once to make a new trench about 100 yards in front.
June 18th.-Things have been very quiet. Practically no shelling or sniping on the part of the enemy, and we have had no casualties.
June 19th.-(Trenches near Vermelles to billets at Labourse.) At 8.30 p.m. we were relieved in the trenches by the Glasgow Highlanders (an excellent Territorial Battalion), and moved into very good billets at Labourse. Weather still very hot. The country east of Vermelles is now a wonderfully gorgeous expanse of red, white, and blue—poppies, daisies, cornflowers.
June 20th-22nd.-(Labourse, in Brigade Reserve.) Companies were exercised in musketry and drill, and more men were trained as bomb-throwers.
We had always hoped to bring off in some way the celebration of the Centenary of Waterloo, and now the opportunity came. The times were fairly quiet; the weather was good; we were near a large town, where supplies could be bought; and, above all, the ground for our usual Waterloo Sports was at hand, for opposite the farmhouse which we were occupying as a mess was a fine, large, and flat grass-field. So the big show was fixed for the 22nd.
After Church Parade on the 20th, General Horne presented many men of the Brigade with D.C.M.'s, which had been won during the recent fighting. Although the Regiment had marched in quite late on the previous night, the men buckled to, and turned out on parade remarkably clean.
The 22nd was a splendid day, with a cool wind, and the sports were a brilliant success. As we were living in the country of our Waterloo foes, and did not wish to offend our good neighbours and hosts, we avoided having a gaudy programme printed, and contented ourselves with a few copies hectographed in the orderly-room. Everything was carried out on our usual peacetime lines, with an hour's break for tea in the middle of the afternoon, at which the men were regaled with abundance of fruit, and cakes baked by Sergeant Hazel and his cooks in the village baker's oven. Both General Haking and General Davies were present, and we were fortunate in securing the services of a band (London Field Ambulance)—a thing not very common out here in these times.
At the foot of the programme was this notice :-- "Should a hostile aeroplane appear, a bugler will sound three G's as a signal to take cover under the wall or the trees."
June 23rd.-(Labourse to Vermelles.) The 23rd reinforcement (25 men) arrived. In the evening we marched to Vermelles, in relief of the Inniskillings, and went into billets. Still in Brigade Reserve.
June 25th.-(In billets at Vermelles.) Information received of the granting of the following promotions and honours :-- To be Brevet-Lieut.-Colonel—Major A. J. F. Eden. Distinguished Service Order—Captain H. M. Dillon. Military Cross— Captain W. G. Tolson.
June 27th.-(Vermelles.) Some shelling in the vicinity of the church. Casualties : 4 wounded.
June 28th.-During the afternoon Vermelles was shelled a good deal One shell penetrated a house, killing one man and wounding 8 others.
Information received that the following have been awarded the D C.M. for distinguished service during the period 9th-18th May 1915 :-- No. 10021 Private Zeacle. No. 10052 Private Jones. No. 10063 Private Wykes.
At 10 p.m. the Regiment, on relief by the 2nd Welsh Regiment (3rd Infantry Brigade), marched to Bethune (6 1/2| miles), and went into billets at the Ecole de Jeunes Filles.
June 29th.-(Bethune.) The 5th Brigade in Divisional Reserve.
June 30th.-In the afternoon moved to B 1 section Givenchy, in relief of the 2nd Border Regiment (7th Division).
July lst-3rd.-(In trenches at Givenchy.) In the section occupied by the Regiment, two companies are in front line, in good first line trenches. The new 2nd line was in course of completion. One company was in support in the vicinity of Orchard X - Old Keep
Enemy about 200 yards distant on canal bank, but our line just north of the canal forms a large re-entrant: extreme point about 600 yards away, until opposite extreme left, then trenches only 50 yards from the enemy.
Intermittent shelling during these days. Casualties : On 1st July, 1 killed. On 4th July, 1 killed, 1 wounded.
July 4th.-The 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers relieved the Regiment in the trenches in the afternoon, and we went into billets at Le Preol. on the banks of the Beuvry Canal.
July 5th-7th.-In Billets at Le Preol, in Reserve. The Regiment found 200 men per day for fatigue parties, in connection with the mines at Givenchy. Only one man killed when at this work.
July 8th.-We relieved the Inniskillings in B 1 section of trenches at Givenchy in the afternoon.
July 9th-12th.-(In trenches at Givenchy.) Very quiet on the whole, though odd shells and rifle-grenades were fired at times— mostly against our front line trenches.
On the 9th the 24th reinforcement (25 men) arrived.
On the 12th the 25th reinforcement of 8 men (machine-gunners) arrived.
July 13th,-The enemy fired 30 to 40 large shells at Pont Fixe between 8 and 9 a.m. Casualty, 1 man wounded in front line trenches. In the afternoon the Regiment was relieved by the l/7th King's (Liverpool) Regiment T.F. (6th Brigade), and moved into billets at Bethune, in the area of the Rue du Tir.
July 14th-20th.-Brigade in Corps Reserve at Bethune, with orders to be ready to move at two hours notice. Route-marching, musketry, and drills were carried out during this period. The grenadiers were also exercised in throwing Battye bombs.
July 15th.-Brigadier-General Chichester left the Brigade today, on transfer to the Staff of the 3rd Corps, and Lieut.-Colonel Corkran, from the Grenadier Guards, has succeeded him.
Bishop Gwynne, of Khartoum, who has done so much for the Regiment during the past six months, has also just left us, on appointment as Acting Chaplain General to the British Expeditionary Force in France. We shall miss him very much.
July 19th.-This has been a very restful period, and we have put in a lot of useful work in the way of training bombers. A short rifle-range was also much in use. In the public baths in the town there was a Brigade Swimming Competition.
July 2lst-(To Cuinchy trenches). Back again this afternoon to A 1 sector, in the southern half of Cuinchy trenches, relieving the 3rd Coldstream Guards, who made excellent arrangements for everything.
Trenches and dispositions generally are much as they were when we were here last March, Three companies in the trenches, and one company in reserve in Harley Street. Regimental Headquarters are now in a reconstructed house, officially known as "Woburn Abbey," the walls of which are decorated with a wonderful collection of illustrations from the Sketch and other papers.
July 22nd-24th.-Altogether a fairly quiet period in the trenches. Praed Street was shelled rather heavily on the 22nd, when 3 men were wounded, and the enemy's trench-mortars annoyed us at times.
On the 23rd the 26th reinforcement (30 men) arrived; and on the 24th we had 2 men wounded.
July 25th.-(To Bethune.) During the morning the Regiment was relieved by the 1st Queen's, who have taken the place in the 5th Brigade of the Inniskilling Fusiliers, who have gone to the 3rd Army.
We reached Bethune and went into billets at the Tobacco Factory at 2 p.m.
July 26th-28th.-In Brigade Reserve at Bethune.
July 29th.-(To Cuinchy trenches.) Back to A 1 Cuinchy trenches, as before, in relief of the Queen's. The relief was carried out between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. Good work.
Some shelling round Regimental Headquarters, when one man was wounded. July 30th-August 1st.-(In Cuinchy trenches). Very quiet period, though some bombardment by trench-mortar bombs and rifle-grenades at intervals. Casualties, 5 men wounded.