BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM CITIZEN SOLDIERS OF BUCKS BY JC SWANN AND THE FIRST BUCKINGHAMSHIRE BATTALION 1914-1919 BY PL WRIGHT
On March 20 the 1st Bucks received orders to move to billets at Peronne, the town had been entered by the 143rd Infantry Brigade on the previous day. The march through “No Man’s Land,” Biaches, and over the pontoon bridge, just finished by the Royal Engineers at Bazincourt, was one of exceptional interest. The area had been completely cleared of all stores by the enemy before his departure, and the most that one saw, in the way of material left behind, was a few coils of barbed wire. Peronne presented the most awful of pictures, being completely wrecked and a large portion of it still burning. An earthquake could not have produced a more appalling effect or a scene of greater chaos. House fronts in many cases had been blown completely out and had fallen right across the street, so that one looked from the street straight into the rooms of the houses. These rooms were bare of all furniture, every stick of which had been either carried away by the enemy or sent to Berlin as souvenirs. Everywhere lay huge masses of rubble and paper, and the work of tidying up appeared to be well-nigh hopeless. The only two buildings which remained more or less intact were the Town Hall and the Castle, and these we guessed must be mined. Battalion Headquarters were, however, billeted in the Castle for that night, and the remainder of the Battalion in cellars on the north-west side of the square. These cellars were selected, not from any idea of possible bombardment, but because they provided the only shelter left, and there was less fear of a wall falling on one there than above ground.
At 6.30 a.m. on March 21, B, C and D Companies moved off to relieve the 1/8th Battalion Royal Warwick-shire Regiment in the outpost line, which then lay some three miles east of the town and embraced Doingt, Doingt Woods and Courcelles Wood, from a point about 500 yards south of Bussu to the Cologne River. In the afternoon, Battalion Headquarters and A Company moved up from Peronne, the former taking up quarters in Doingt.
In the evening, a flying column, known as “Ward’s Column,” and composed of one Infantry Brigade, drawn from elements of all Brigades in the Division, moved forward through the outpost line to Cartigny.
The line, which we took over on the 21st, remained the Divisional line of resistance until the 26th, though places well forward were occupied and held by us during this period. With the exception of a few Uhlans who were at times visible in the distance, no enemy was seen, and we were given a great opportunity of practising, in real earnest and yet without molestation, open warfare, which was a complete novelty to us. Mounted officers were able to visit their outposts on horseback, and the free and open life, after trench warfare, was thoroughly appreciated. On the evening of March 26 we moved forward to Tincourt, taking over billets there from the 1/4th Battalion Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. This village had not been completely demolished like the others, chiefly because it had been used by the enemy as a dumping ground for civilians, who had been collected there from all farms and villages in the neighbourhood.
The following day, March 27, the Battalion took over the outpost line, which now ran from Roisel (captured by 1/4th Battalion Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry) to Villers-Faucon (exclusive), Battalion Headquarters being at Hamel. At 5.30 in the afternoon, the 5th Cavalry Division attacked and captured Villers Faucon. At 7 p.m. that part of the line covering Roisel was handed over to the 2/4th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment (59th Division), and B Company were dispatched to Villers-Faucon to assist the cavalry, who, in taking this village, had met with considerable opposition from the enemy rearguards, and suffered a number of casualties from their machine guns.
The following day the enemy shelled the village pretty heavily with 77 mm’s. and 5.9’s, and after dark the cavalry were withdrawn, being relieved by C Company. Strong patrols were sent forward at dawn to ascertain whether the enemy were still holding St. Emilie, and they were found to be there in considerable numbers.
In pouring rain on the 29th March, the Battalion marched back to Cartigny at dusk, on relief by the 4th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment. Here it became part of what had been called “ Ward’s Column,” but was now known as “Dobbin’s Column.” After four happy days with this column the Battalion was moved to Longavesnes, relieving the 1/4th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment in Brigade reserve. This village, which had been attacked and captured by the 143rd Infantry Brigade on the 26th, was absolutely devoid of any accommodation or shelter, so completely had it been wrecked by the enemy and our shells.
On April 5, at 2 a.m., we marched to the railway cutting between Villers-Faucon and St.. Emilie, acting as reserve to the remainder of the Brigade, who were to capture the villages of Lempire, Ronssoy and Basse-Boulogne attacking as follows: 1/4th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment, south and south-east of Ronssoy and Basse-Boulogne; 1/4th Battalion Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, south-west end of Ronssoy; 1/5th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment, the workhouse, Lempire and Basse-Boulogne.
Each of these battalions carried out the attack with three companies, keeping one in battalion reserve. Zero was at 4.45 a.m. The operation was completely successful, all objectives being taken, together with over thirty prisoners and six machine guns. The German dead numbered over 200. The prisoners, who belonged to the 237th Infantry Regiment, stated that one platoon from each of their companies had been holding the villages, but owing to our active patrolling the alarm had been given at 11 o’clock that night and the support platoons had been brought into the picquet line. They had received no orders to withdraw in case of a heavy attack, and had been told to hold the position to the last. All had the greatest confidence in the impregnability of the Hindenburg Line, and, though they were obviously tired of the war, their moral was not bad. They said that the Hindenburg Line near Bony had been occupied since the 28th of last month, and that their next outpost line ran in front of Tombois Farm and Malakoff Farm.
The Battalion moved back into Villers-Faucon for the remainder of the day, officers being sent up to reconnoitre the new line, with a view to relieving the 5th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment that evening. The outpost line was held by A and B Companies, the 1/4th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment being on the right, and 1/6th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment on the left. C Company were in support in cellars in Basse-Boulogne, and D Company in reserve with Battalion Headquarters in the railway cutting, just south of the Lempire-Epehy Road. The transport and quartermaster’s stores had at this time been moved to the neighbourhood of Villers-Faucon.
No counter-attack developed on that night or the two succeeding ones, during which the Battalion held that line, and companies were occupied in consolidating the whole position, which it was decided should be the future Divisional line of resistance.
On the evening of April 7 the Bucks were relieved by the 1/7th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, and marched back to cellar accommodation in Marquaix. Work was here concentrated on roads which the enemy had done everything in his power to make impassable. Additional parties were sent up to the outpost line on most nights, to help the forward battalions in the work of wiring and digging of new trenches.
On April 15 the Battalion took over the line again, receiving orders at the same time that we were to attack Tombois Farm on the following night.