BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM CITIZEN SOLDIERS OF BUCKS BY JC SWANN AND THE FIRST BUCKINGHAMSHIRE BATTALION 1914-1919 BY PL WRIGHT
DOMLEGER proved to be a real haven of rest. Training was carried on without interruption, and life was made to resemble peace time so far as it was possible.
Every effort was made to prevent the troops becoming tired or stale under training. Physical rest was a necessity, and it was only by adequate periods of relaxation in rest billets that the troops could recover from the heavy moral strain and nerve themselves for the next effort. The battalion was reinforced by a draft of ninety-seven men, mostly drawn from the Hunts Cyclist Battalion. These were the first “strangers” sent to the 1st Bucks.
The stay in these comfortable billets was all too short for the amount of work to be done, for on August 9 the Battalion started marching back to the line by the way it had come, and on the 11th were once more in the neighbourhood of Bouzincourt.
At 6 a.m. on August 13, the Battalion moved forward through Albert, and took over a line of gunpits a little to the west of Usna Redoubt. Here it was in reserve to the remainder of the Brigade, who were holding a line immediately west of Pozieres and on the extreme crest of the ridge. The front trench was known as Sixth Avenue or Skyline Trench. The Australians were on the right, round Pozieres Windmill.
On the night of the 13th/14th August the Brigade was holding the line. A heavy enemy counter-attack had driven back the unit that was holding this trench. At dawn a counter-attack by the 1/4th Royal Berks failed to regain the position. The Battalion was then ordered to retake this trench, and in the afternoon moved up and relieved the 1/4th Oxfords in Fifth Avenue. The position to be attacked consisted of a trench 800 yards long approached from Fifth Avenue (front line) by two badly damaged communicators about 250 yards long. It was decided to carry out a bombing attack, and ”C” Company was detailed for the work.
The attacking troops advanced up the right communicator and worked outwards, while a bombing section of “A” Company was to establish a T-head at the top of the left communicator. The operation was entirely successful, and only slight opposition was encountered. After throwing a few bombs the enemy retreated rapidly down the northern slope of the hill. Contact was regained with the Australians on the right, and the whole trench, except about 100 yards, was recaptured. Casualties were rather heavy from shell-fire, and, owing to the length of the trench, there were not enough men available to attack this part of the trench, which was held in great strength.
At midday the enemy opened an intense bombardment with heavy guns on the portion of the trench held by the Battalion. This continued for nine consecutive hours. This time Skyline Trench and Fifth Avenue were held by “C” and “D” Companies. The bombardment started on the right and worked along the trench systematically, destroying everything. By 3 p.m. the Battalion was only holding the tops of the two communicators and a few posts in between, casualties being very heavy. These points, however, were successfully held by“C” Company until 9.30 p.m., when they were relieved by “B” Company. During the whole nine hours the shelling was terrific, the whole ridge being a mass of smoke and flying earth. No attack, however, ensued, and shortly after the relief by “B” Company the situation became more quiet. After dark, in conjunction with the 5th Gloucesters, an attack with bombs was made by “A”Company against the portion of the trench still held by the enemy. This attack was pressed with great determination and casualties were heavy, but success could not be attained, as the exhausted remains of “C” and “D” Companies were unable to maintain the necessary supply of bombs.
The shelling on this occasion was the heaviest and most prolonged that the Battalion had undergone, and the endurance of all ranks throughout the ordeal was of the very finest.
Four officers were wounded, and the casualties in other ranks were 8 killed, 65 wounded, and 20 missing.
At 11 a.m. on the 16th, the exhausted Battalion was relieved by the 4th Oxfords, and moved back to a new camp of bivouacs, trenches and smells between Bouzincourt and Albert. On the way out of the front trenches we passed the Divisional General, who, as usual, was one of the first on the spot after a show, and had a cheery word for everyone.
The forty-eight hours in this camp was no great rest, as there was so much to be done to prepare for action again.
At the end of forty-eight hours, sudden orders were received to move at once to the neighbourhood of Usna Redoubt. This the battalion did, bivouacking for the night in the open, without blankets. The 143rd Infantry Brigade were attacking at dawn on August 19, and the Bucks had been sent up to be in support and to be ready to exploit any success. The attack was a complete success and by the evening of the 20th the battalion were back in Bouzincourt again for another forty-eight hours, before being once more sent up to Ovillers Post to support the 144th Infantry Brigade.
On the 23rd August the Battalion relieved the 6th Gloucesters in the trenches between Ovillers and Thiepval, with orders to carry out an attack on the enemy’s forward positions. “A” and “ C” Companies were detailed for this attack, which was timed for 3.05 p.m. A bombardment carried out by the Heavy Artillery from 1 p.m. to 2.45 p.m. served merely to define the limits of the objective. At 3 p.m. an intense bombardment was put down for five minutes by the Field Artillery, under cover of which the attack was launched. The barrage was good, but too short, as when it lifted the attacking troops had still some way to go, and the enemy were manning their trench thickly, apparently little affected by it.
The enemy barrage also came down immediately after our own. As a result casualties were heavy and progress almost impossible. Second Lieutenant Bates, Commanding “C” Company, ran forward to try to rush the position, but was instantly killed. Company Sergeant-Major Smith then endeavoured to do the same, but fell severely wounded. The only other officer in this Company was also wounded.
On the left “A” Company was in the same straits, Second Lieutenant Heath being killed and Lieutenant Bowen wounded. A few N.C.O.’s and men of “C” Company reached their objective on the extreme right, but were all killed or wounded, only Sergeant Bishop getting back. The remnants of the two Companies had to lie where they were, many being killed and wounded by shell-fire and snipers, before nightfall made a move back possible.
No real gain resulted, except the capture of almost the whole of a diagonal trench running from the centre of our position to the enemy’s right, and on the left our bomb stop was advanced some fifty yards.
The losses in both Companies were heavy. Out of a total of four officers and 150 other ranks who actually went over the top, our casualties were Two officers killed and two wounded, and in other ranks 24 were killed, 71 wounded, and 13 missing.
The Battalion spent three more nights in these trenches before being relieved by the 5th Gloucesters on August 25. During this time every effort was made to improve the position, and to gain certain points by means of bombing attacks.
Some sort of revenge for the failure of the attack on the 23rd fell to the Battalion early one morning, when an enemy relief was spotted coming over the open and heavy casualties were inflicted on them with Lewis-gun fire.
Constant patrols, too, were sent out at night and gathered much useful information concerning the enemy’s dispositions, and a German prisoner, belonging to the 28th I.R., confirmed much of this, and added more. This information was handed over to the 5th Gloucesters, and assisted them in making a most successful attack on the position on the 27th.
On the 28th the whole Division was relieved, and started moving back to Bus-les-Artois via Hedauville, Forceville and Bertrancourt.
After the termination of the Battalion’s active share in the Somme fighting, they had a considerable period of rest, marked only by spasmodic visits to the line at Beaumont Hamel and Hebuterne.
Altogether during the operations on the Somme the losses of the Battalion were: OFFICERS Killed: 6. Died of wounds: 2. Missing, presumed dead: 1 Wounded: 15.
OTHER RANKS Killed: 52. Wounded: 433. Missing: 102.
The First Buckinghamshire Battalion 1914-1919
P. L, Wright. Hazell Watson & Viney. 1920
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