Based on extracts from the Regimental Chronicles of The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Volume 25 1915-1916
The second winter in the trenches had been no better than the previous one, although the troops had learned by experience how to combat the effects of the weather on the trenches, and how to preserve their health. The methods of warfare had undergone a gradual change, the artillery on both sides had become more active, snipers more highly skilled, patrolling and trench raiding more frequent, and the work of aircraft vastly improved. Sir Douglas Haig had assumed command of the British Forces on the return to England, in December 1915, of Sir John French, and the line held by the British during the winter was to all intents and purposes that which was held the winter before, from the north of Ypres to the south of Albert.
For the first half of January the 52nd, which still belonged to the 5th Brigade, 2nd Division, was in rest at St. Hilaire, and then went to Bethune, whence, before the end of the month, it moved into the Festubert trenches for a tour of duty. A month later it railed south and took over, from the French, a sector of trenches opposite Lens, in which and in other sectors it remained, with occasional periods of rest and training, until the end of June.
January 1st, 1916.-In billets at Cottes, St. Hilaire, the 2nd Division being now in Corps Reserve. Kept Christmas today, and the men had good Christmas fare. Everyone had his rations supplemented by a couple of sausages for breakfast, and half a pound of plum pudding, roast beef, and ham for dinner.
January 3rd.-The 39th reinforcement (139 men) arrived. The allotment of leave for the men is now very large, which is splendid. This is chiefly due to the fact that we have two Service Battalions with us, and they have not yet come on to the leave roster.
January 7th.-A short Brigade route march (6 miles).
January 8th.-We played the 2nd H.L.I, at football—a good game, ending in a draw (2 goals each), after extra time.
January 10th.-Return match with H.L.I., who beat us by 2 goals to 1.
January 11th.-We are getting through a lot of useful company training, such as short-range musketry, grenade throwing, physical training, and various drills.
January 12th.-Brigade exercise. The weather is rather colder.
January 14th.-The 40th reinforcement (25 men) joined.
January 17th.-Our rest came to an end, and at 7.40 a.m. we left our comfortable billets, marching 3 miles to Lillers, where, at 9 a.m., we entrained for Bethune, while the transport moved by road. Arrived at Bethune at 9.45 a.m., and marched to billets at Essars (2 ¼ miles) at 10.50.
January 18th.-(At Essars.) 5th Brigade in reserve. The Regiment had nearly 400 men on spoil-bag (mining) fatigue.
January 26th.-To trenches at Festubert. At 7 p.m. we commenced to relieve the 1st K.R.R.C. in C.1 area in the neighbourhood of Festubert. The 24th R. Fusiliers on our left, in C.2, and the Herts Regiment (6th Brigade) on our right.
On account of so much wet, and the difficulty of repairing, the front line (2 companies) consists of 16 island posts ; that is to say, that, although one can get about behind these posts, they do not form a continuous trench or line of breastworks. Regimental H.Q. and 2 companies occupy breastworks close in rear (" Old British Line").
January 27th.-There was considerable delay in carrying out the relief, which was not finally completed until about 6.30 a.m., owing chiefly to want of efficient guides. I went round the whole line before daylight, as one cannot do so after that. I went round again at night—a very long job, taking 3 1/2 hours, as it was difficult to find the way from one post to another.
January 29th.-(In trenches.) Dull weather. Very quiet in our neighbourhood, though Givenchy got a good shelling yesterday.
January 30th.-Very foggy in early morning. I explored that portion of the German line which was opposite our left company in February 1915, but which is now, of course, behind our front line.
At 7 a.m. we were relieved by the 17th R. Fusiliers, with whom we usually work now. Relief complete by 9.15 p.m.—most satisfactory.
Altogether, this period in the trenches has been very quiet, although the enemy was fairly active at times.
Casualties.—3 men wounded.
On relief we moved into Festubert village area, in keeps and rather poor billets.
February lst-3rd.-The Regiment in support in Festubert village line, including keeps. An uneventful period, during which the Regiment furnished fatigue and working parties, carrying and unloading R.E. stores, and repairing keeps and supporting points.
February 3rd-7th.-Relieved 17th R. Fusiliers in C sub-section trenches on the 3rd, and during the following days the Regiment worked, under the supervision of the East Anglian Field Company R.E., at the restoration of the second line.
Casualties.—4 men wounded.
February 7th-l0th.-Exchanged places with the 17th R. Fusiliers, and furnished working parties, as before.
Casualty.—1 man killed.
February 11th.-This evening the Brigade was relieved by the 6th Brigade. Our Brigade H.Q. to Les Choquaux, and the Regiment to billets in the Tobacco Factory, Bethune.
February 15th.-The Regiment marched (2 ½ hours) to very scattered and bad billets at Les Harrisoirs and neighbourhood. A good deal of rain and blowing a hurricane.
February 16th.-Gale still blowing.
February 17th.-The relief of the 2nd Division by the 38th Division (XIth Corps) commenced. At 9 a.m. the Regiment marched to new and good billets at Busnes, a nice little town close to the big canal. Billets scattered, on two roads between Busnes and the canal.
February 21st.-Brigade route march.
February 23rd.-Snow and subsequent thaw preventing much training over land already waterlogged.
In the evening received orders to be prepared to move at short notice. All officers were returned from courses and schools of instruction.
February 24th.-The 41st reinforcement (17 N.C.O.'s and men joined.
February 26th.-At 3.30 p.m. the Regiment marched to Lillers and entrained for Noeux-les-Mines, whence it marched southwards, about 2 miles, to billets in Petit Sains.
February 27th.-At 6 a.m. CO with Adjutant and Company Commanders to Bully Grenay, where we met guides, who took us into the right half of Angres sector, at present held by the French. Interviewed the Commandant of the 3rd Battalion 66th Regiment, and the Regiment took over the trenches this evening. The Commandant was very pleasant, and explained the area and all its points very carefully. Very lengthy communication trench from the village to Regimental H.Q., which is a very poor spot, though the dugout is deep and quite safe. A French H.Q. is built to hold only 2 officers and 3 men, so we find it a very tight fit. We got through the relief very comfortably, though it was not complete until just after midnight. The French seemed jolly glad to leave these trenches, and in getting away made small use of communication trenches, but went off very speedily over the top in all directions.
February 28th.-The section which we now occupy is quite a new part of the line to us, and is just north of the famous Lorette Heights, where the French have had such desperately hard fighting. The trench area is on sloping ground, which is a welcome change to the eternal flat country around Bethune. Our frontage is a wide one, necessitating three companies being in the front line, which creates difficulties in the matter of the relief of companies. The enemy is at present very quiet.
February 29th.-Very bright day, and many aeroplanes about. A vast amount of work required to bring up ammunition and hand grenades to fill the line—always the case when relieving the French. They had left the line in very good order as far as the front and supporting lines were concerned, but they appear never to have enough men to construct lines farther in rear, so that here, as elsewhere, the 2nd and Reserve lines of defence existed only on their trench maps! This entails a very considerable amount of work for the battalions out of the line who are supposed to be resting.
March 1st- The line was reduced today from a three-battalion to a two-battalion front, so we had to take over more line. Casualties.—3 men wounded.
March 2nd.-In the evening we were relieved by the 17th R. Fusiliers and moved to billets in the Corons d'Aix adjoining Bully Grenay. Only H.Q. and 2 companies are here, the other 2 companies being at strong points in the Reserve Line. These "corons" are a very poor class of miners' cottages, built in rows of about ten. Many of them are much knocked about by shell-fire, and others are still occupied by miners, so we had little choice of quarters.
March 3rd.-(In billets at Corons d'Aix.) General Davies, whose headquarters are just north of Calonne, came over to see us. Heavy snow during the night.
March 4th.-The whole Regiment moved back into billets at "Fosse 10." We are now in the midst of a mining country, and here there is still a mine working, although only at night. We are billeted in the miners' houses, nice semi-detached villas, and very superior in every way to the "corons" which we recently occupied. More snow fell. The 42nd reinforcement (41 men) joined.
March 6th.-We relieved the 2nd H.L.I. in the trenches—centre sub-section of Angres sector. The first company moved in at 8.45 a.m., the last at 3.45 p.m., and the relief was complete by 6.30 p.m. The country is more hilly here, and the enemy commands parts of the roads up to the trenches, so that the strength of parties moving up at a time was restricted to platoons; this, added to the great length of communication trenches, made the relief a slow business.
March 7th.-A misty day. The 24th R. Fusiliers are on our left, and the 17th R. Fusiliers on our right. Beyond the latter, i.e., southwards, the 99th Brigade now occupy a frontage extending as far as the Souchez River. Heavy snow this evening.
March 8th.-Bright sunny day, but more snow at night.
March 9th.-Moved Regimental H.Q. today to some very good dugouts about half-way back to the village. This was where the French had had their pioneer company and many workshops. The men are working very hard bringing up ammunition, hand grenades, and R.E. stores. We now have in the Brigade a sapping company, each regiment furnishing a platoon of about 36 men, under an officer, and it is commanded by Rawson (O.C. our platoon). This company is invaluable for revetting and such-like work, though it does not take the place of the R.E., but supplements them. The chief advantage is that we always have the company at hand, which is not the case with our Field Company R.E.
March 10th.-We were relieved today by the 2nd H.L.I. The reliefs are now carried out in daylight, companies moving at intervals of two hours. This period in the trenches has been fairly quiet, and the enemy's artillery inactive, except on the afternoons of the 7th and today, when some 4.2 shells fell on the front line and close behind. He showed a good deal of activity with rifle grenades at first, but cooled down later, as we were able to reply with vigour.
Casualties during the period : 2 killed and 11 wounded.
We returned to billets at "Fosse 10." The 2nd Division now forms part of the IVth Corps, commanded by General Sir H. H. Wilson. This is the first change we have had, as we have belonged to the 1st Corps since the war commenced.
March 11th.-Good baths here, and every man gets one during his four days out of the trenches. Weather still cold and raw.
March 14th.-Exchanged places again with the 2nd H.L.I. Each of the other two battalions are staying in the line all the time, but they only have two-thirds of their strength up in the trenches. The 43rd reinforcement (53 men) joined.
March 15th.-Brighter weather. Much aeroplane activity; we have plenty of machines, and they seldom allow a Hun 'plane to come over our line.
March 19th.-Relieved at 6 p.m. by the 10th West Riding Regiment (69th Brigade, 23rd Division), who carried it out very well. We were billeted in Hersin for the night.
March 20th.-Moved, through Barlin and Bruay, to Divion. Quite hot and muggy—unpleasant for marching. Good billets at Divion, though scattered. We share the village, which lies in a hollow, with the 24th R. Fusiliers.
March 22nd.-(At Divion.) Companies getting to work at training. Very pretty country about here—rolling hills and valleys running north and south.
March 24th.-Trying to teach young officers to ride, at which few excel. Snowing again tonight.
March 27th.-The Brigade was inspected by the Corps Commander (Sir H. H. Wilson), who seemed pleased with the appearance of the men.
March 28th.-The Regiment marched 1 ½ miles to Houdain station, whence, with the 2nd H.L.I., it proceeded by train to Hersin (50 minutes' journey). Billeted in the Convent School - excellent quarters. 400 men on fatigue tonight making and improving the second line in the Angres section.
March 29th.-Beautiful weather. These large fatigue parties upset training considerably.
April 1st.-(Still in billets at Hersin.) The enemy shelled a mine within 100 yards of the Consent at intervals all day. The mine was considerably damaged, but none of the Regiment hit—an extraordinarily lucky escape, due no doubt to the wonderful accuracy of the enemy's shooting, his shells all going where he intended them to go.
April 2nd.-The Regiment marched to Barlin (1 1/4 miles), and thence proceeded by train (20 minutes) to Bruay. On by road, through Divion (5 miles) to Camblam-Chatelain (called by the men "Charlie Chaplin"). Good billets.
April 5th.-The Brigade moved to an area a considerable way back, in order to carry out some open warfare training. We marched from Camblain-Chatelain to Calonne-Ricourt station (1/2 mile), entrained at 12.30p.m., and arrived at Aire at 1.45 p.m. Thence we marched 9 1/2 miles, through Therouanne, to Delatte, a pleasant, old-world village, where we found very comfortable billets.
April 6th.-The day was allotted to the Regiment for battalion training.
April 7th.-The Brigade out for training, General Joffre being present for a few minutes, as he had expressed a wish to see British troops manoeuvring.
April 8th.-Brigade training on another part of the area.
April 9th.-As this special training area is required for other troops, we had to return today, by the same route, to billets at Camblain-Chatelain, which we reached at 4 p.m. The buglers are in great form now, and, in the absence of a band, are a great help to us on the march.
April 10th.-Companies at fire-control exercises, etc. Scouts and snipers at special training. Two hundred men were away on a whole day's fatigue.
April 12th.-We moved by road and rail to Hersin again, but were billeted in small cottages, which are not nearly so comfortable as the school which we had last time; 200 men on fatigue tonight.
April 15th.-These large fatigue parties upset the daily training very much, but the opportunity was taken to give N.C.O.'s thorough instruction in the latest methods of physical training and bayonet fighting.
April 16th.-The Regiment moved forward to Bully-Grenay, on the commencement of the relief of the 23rd Division by the 2nd Division. The 5th Brigade front is now being held by two battalions instead of three. One battalion is in Fosse 10 in Divisional Reserve ; we ourselves are in support, distributed as follow,-; H.Q. and two companies in Bully ; one company at Metro Cap-de-Pont, in trenches about 300 yards from the west end of Corons d'Aix Alley; one company in Mechanic Trench at the tactical disposal of the O.C. the Right Battalion.
April 18th.-The 44th reinforcement (16 men) arrived.
April 20th.-The weather lately has been very rainy and windy. The Regiment relieved the 17th R. Fusiliers in the evening, as Right Battalion (Angres.1.), having our H.Q., as before, in the good dugout (not deep) in Mechanic Trench.
April 21st.-" Stand-to " is now at 4.15 a.m. Nothing much going on.
April 22nd.-Very heavy rain all day, consequently the trenches much flooded.
April 24th.-Two fine days in succession have almost dried up the trenches again. The 17th R. Fusiliers relieved us in the afternoon, and we returned to good billets in Fosse 10.
This period was very quiet, except for a certain amount of hostile rifle grenade activity. Casualties.—1 killed and 5 wounded.
April 28th.-Relieved the 17th R. Fusiliers in the same sector as before.
During this period the enemy was quiet, except for some more frequent shelling of the right communication trench and all along the front line. Casualties.—3 wounded.
To the north, at Hulluch, and on the 1st Division front just north of the 6th Brigade (on our left), the enemy has been active with gas attacks, which met with no success. There has also been much shelling, near Givenchy-en-Gohelle, on the 47th Division front, just south of the 99th Brigade (on our right).
April 30th.- Since our arrival in France the Regiment has received reinforcements to the extent of 105 officers and 2,840 other ranks, but of course these numbers include many officers and men rejoining on recovery from wounds.
May 1st.-The Regiment is still in the trenches—Angres 1 Sector. The enemy's artillery fairly active.
May 2nd.-Relieved by the 17th R. Fusiliers, and moved to billets at Bully, as before.
May 4th.-The 45th reinforcement (17 men) arrived.
May 5th.-Back to the trenches, in relief of the 17th R. Fusiliers.
May 7th.- The 46th reinforcement (1 sergeant and 37 rank and file) arrived.
May l0th.-On relief by the 17th R. Fusiliers we moved to billets at Fosse 10. The period had been very quiet, and was spent in deepening and improving trenches.
May 11th.-The weather now is very warm and pleasant. At night C Company furnished 100 men for repair of communication trenches.
May 12th.-The 69th Brigade (23rd Division) relieved our Brigade tonight, when the Regiment moved into very good billets (Convent) in Hersin. The day was fine but cloudy; no hostile balloons up, and no aircraft about.
May 17th.-During the past four days we have provided working parties of about 2 companies daily for work on the rearward defences in the areas occupied by the 47th and 23rd Divisions. Casualty.—1 man of B Company wounded on the 15th.
May 18th.-The Regiment marched to Camblain-Chatelain, Area " " (Bruay) of the IVth Corps Rest Area.
Passed through Maisnil-les-Ritz, Houdain, and Divion. Halted near Divion for three-quarters of an hour, and tea was issued from the cookers. Packs were carried on lorries. Very hot march. Three men fell out.
May 19th-20th.-In rest billets at Camblain-Chatelain. Cleaning billets (which had been left very dirty), ordinary drills, and musketry.
May 21st.-Moved to billets at Divion—not the same sub-area as last time. Companies scattered, and positions rather unsatisfactory.
May 22nd-24th.-The Regiment was held in readiness to move at short notice. The enemy had heavily bombarded the Right Division (47th) of the IVth Corps and the line to the south of it, the 47th losing some trenches. Two brigades (6th and 99th) of our Division, which was in reserve, moved forward, but the 5th Brigade stood fast, awaiting orders, and were never called for.
May 25th.-The Regiment marched at 9 a.m., via Houdain, Rebreuve, and Fresnicourt, to tents in the Bois de Verdrel. Heavy rain at the start, which clearly demonstrated the value of the regimental method of carrying waterproof sheets.
May 26th.-Marched at 1.30 p.m., via Grand Servins and Petit Servins, to Gouy-Servins. The 5th Brigade is now reserve to the 2nd Division, which is in course of replacing the 47th Division in the line.
The battle position assigned (if necessary) to the Regiment was the Maitre, and the position farther forward was the line between the rivers Carency and Souchez, the left flank resting approximately on the ruined village of Ablain-Saint-Nazaire.
May 27th-31st.-During these days the Regiment furnished several working parties, and carried out such training as was possible in the vicinity of billets. Reconnaissances of the new line were made by officers and N.C.O.'s daily.
1. The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Chronicle, 1915-16. Vol 25 : compiled and edited by Lieut.-Colonel A.F. Mockler-Ferryman: London : Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1918