THE THIRD BATTLE OF YPRES
- VIMY August 17th - November 1917
BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM
CITIZEN SOLDIERS OF BUCKS BY JC SWANN AND THE FIRST BUCKINGHAMSHIRE BATTALION
1914-1919 BY PL WRIGHT
Eight days’ rest in Dambre Camp was allowed, before the Bucks again moved up to the line to take part in further operations. This time it was the turn of the 143rd and 144th Brigades to attack, the former on the right, the latter on the left, their objective being the red line.
The 145th Brigade was to be in reserve until zero plus five hours, when it was to move through the leading brigades, and capture the line of farms included by the dotted blue line. So far as this Brigade was concerned, the 1/4th Royal Berks and 1/4th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry were to leave the canal bank at zero, move across country to assembly positions about the green line, and be ready to carry out the attack on the dotted blue line at zero plus five hours. The 1/5th Gloucesters and the Bucks Battalion were to leave the canal bank at zero plus three hours, and move to the assembly positions vacated by the other two battalions.
Zero was fixed for 1.55 p.m. August 27, 1917. At 4.55 p.m. the head of the Battalion, marching by platoons, passed the canal bank. The ground between that stream and the Triangle Farm—St. Julien road was being very heavily shelled. This caused casualties, but they were few compared with the immense number of shells falling around. This was largely due to the state of the ground, which, whilst so deep in mud as to make progress almost impossible, minimised the resistance to the bursting shells and so diminished the force of their explosion.
Heavy rain had fallen throughout the previous night, with the result that the battle area was a sea of mud.
The situation on arrival was most obscure, but it was evident that very little, if any, progress had been made by the two leading brigades. Rifles, bombs and Lewis guns became coated with muddy slime, which quickly put them out of action. The only real gain was the capture of Springfield by the 1/8th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment.
The night, passed in the neighbourhood of Maison du Hibou, was intensely dark; the evacuation of wounded presented even greater difficulties than on the 16th, and at least eight men to a stretcher were found to be necessary.
The following day, August 28, the whole Division was relieved in the line, the Bucks Battalion handingover to the 2/7th Battalion London Regiment.
The first fortnight of rest and preparations for future offensives was spent in camp close to St. Jans ter-Biezen. This was not sufficiently far behind the line to be entirely clear of the war, for enemy bombing planes paid a most unwelcome visit every night that the weather was fine, and the Division suffered quite a number of casualties through them.
Leave reopened at once in a very fairly generous way, and everything that could be effected to make life more possible was done. Training was more important than anything, but this was completed in four and a half hours in the morning, and the afternoon and evening were given up to games. On one of these afternoons a number of officers and men of our 2nd line Battalion (2nd Bucks) visited us, this being the first occasion on which the two Battalions had had any good opportunity of seeing each other since our second line came out. Thirteen officers joined the Battalion as reinforcements, from the 1st Battalion Artists Rifles.
The next move was carried out by train on September 16, the Battalion entraining at Abeele and detraining at Audruicq (north-west of St. Omer), whence a twelve-mile march brought it to Licques.
The days in fact went all too quickly, and it was with feelings of genuine regret that we left the place at two o’clock on the morning of September 27, and, entraining at Audruicq, found ourselves at our old friend the canal bank on the same afternoon. Here we stayed for three days in reserve to the remainder of the Brigade, which had taken over the old divisional front close to St. Julien.
On taking over the line from the 1/4th Battalion Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry on the night of September 30—October 1, it appeared that an appreciable though not very large advance had been made in the battalions absence. The farms which had been seen so often on the map, but which wanted so much taking, namely, Hubner, Genoa, Von Tirpitz and the others, were at last ours, and the front line now ran along Cemetery Trench just in front of Quebec, and thence due south.
The enemy shelling was as heavy as ever, especially at night, when the whole front area as far back as the Steenbeek became most “unhealthy.” It was only necessary for the 1/6th and 1/7th Battalions Royal Warwickshire Regiment to march up and relieve us, with a view to attacking the following morning, for the rain to come down in torrents. The Battalion was ordered to leave one company in the line to act as an outpost company during the forming up and first phase of the attack to be made by the Royal Warwicks, the remainder of the Battalion moving back to a camp about half a mile behind the canal bank.
The objectives of this attack were 1st—Tweed House, York and Winchester Farms, and Albatross Farm; 2nd—County cross-roads, Vacher Farm and Burns House
Divisions on the right and left were co-operating, and zero was fixed for 6 a.m., October 4.
The whole of the first objective was gained by 8.30 a.m.
The second objective, excepting Vacher Farm and Burns House, was captured by 10.30 a.m. Three officers and about 320 other ranks belonging to the 369th, 370th and 371st German Infantry Regiments were taken prisoners, and two anti-tank guns and numerous machine guns captured.
The attack was successful, and, provided that we could be spared a little weather, there appeared reasonable prospects of our being able to make some substantial progress. On the 5th, however, it rained off and on all day; on the 6th it came down in torrents without ceasing; and on the 7th, when the battalion was moving back to Dambre Camp, there were frequent heavy showers. The battalion had not been two hours in this camp before it was warned to get ready to leave again for the line in relief of the 6th and 7th Royal Warwicks, who were dead-beat, soaked to the skin and plastered from head to foot in mud. Sorry as we were for those in the line, we were none too well pleased at the prospect of going in again ourselves, especially as we had been marching hard in the opposite direction within the last two hours. Our feelings, however, were distinctly appeased on finding that we were to have a fleet of motor buses to take us up. These took us as far as Wieltje, where we debussed, proceeding by platoons up to the line via St. Julien. The relief was much complicated by the extreme darkness of the night and the indescribable condition of the forward area; in fact it was not until 2 a.m. that the relief was complete.
The Bucks Battalion dispositions then were: Battalion Headquarters—Hubner Farm. C Company (front line)—Terrier Farm, County crossroads, Cemetery. B Company (front line)—Cemetery, Trench 400 yards east of Winchester Farm. D Company (support)—In front of Tweed House. A Company (support)—By York Farm.
The 11th Division were on the left, and the 1/4th Royal Berks on the right.
Shelling throughout the night was heavy, and towards dawn the rain once again came down in great lumps. About 4 p.m. the Battalion received notice that it would be relieved during the evening by the 1/4th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment on the left and the 1/6th Battalion of the same regiment on the right, and that these two battalions in conjunction with other Divisions on their flanks would attack at dawn. The relief of the right by the 1/6th Gloucesters was a comparatively easy matter, as trench boards had been laid almost up to the front. The relief of the left was a very different affair, and turned out to be a perfect nightmare. No trench boards had been laid in that direction from Hubner, and the road shown as leading past Quebec Farm and Tweed House had long ceased to exist and had become amalgamated with the general quagmire which swamped the whole area. Tweed and Quebec existed as spots on the map, but were not there to be identified on the ground.
By zero the Battalion, with the exception of an outpost company (which had been left in the line to cover the forming up of the attacking Battalion), was concentrated round Cheddar Villa in divisional reserve.
Zero was at 5.20 a.m., October 9. Although the rain ceased just before this time, the condition of the ground was such as to render the chances of a successful attack exceedingly small, if not quite impossible, but the progress actually made was considerably greater than expected, though casualties were heavy.
On the evening of October 10, the Division was relieved in the line by the 9th Division, and the Battalion left the Ypres battle area for good, being carried back to Dambre Camp from Wieltje in motor lorries.
On leaving the Ypres sector the Divisional Commander received the following message from General Gough, commanding the Fifth Army: “The 48th Division have taken part in much hard fighting during the past two months, including five general engagements. Their spirit and determination on all occasions have been admirable, and temporary setbacks have in no way affected their moral. I am very sorry to bid good-bye to such a dependable division and feel sure that the future holds many further successes for them."
After a twenty-four hours’ halt at Dambre Camp and forty eight hours at St. Jans-ter-Biezen, the Battalion entrained at Hopoutre on the evening of October 14, and proceeded by rail to Ligny-St. Flochiel, just east of St. Pol. Breakfasts were eaten here before we started on a long march to Mesnil-Bouche; after three days there we moved to Villers-au-Bois, where the remainder of the month was spent.
The Division had now come under the orders of the Vth Corps, taking the place of the 2nd Canadian Division.
On November 1, the Battalion went into the line in front of Vimy. Our chief occupation in this part of the line was preparing trenches for the coming winter.
When the 48th Division took over the Vimy sector, everything seemed to point to it settling down there for the winter; consequently, it was with considerable surprise, not unmixed with regret, that it heard that it was to be withdrawn.
When the Division reached the Aubigny area (November 14), the battalion was told that it was intended for Italy. The news, on the whole, was welcomed.
The First Buckinghamshire Battalion 1914-1919
P. L, Wright. Hazell Watson & Viney. 1920