1/1st BUCKINGHAMSHIRE BATTALION - TOMBOIS FARM APRIL 16/17 1917
The following is extracted from “The First Buckinghamshire Battalion 1914-1919” by Captain P L Wright
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.
This farm lay on the southern side of the Lempire-Vendhuille Road (Map No. 2), midway between the two villages, and about 1,000 yards from our nearest sentry post. At dusk on April 16, A Company (Captain N. S. Reid, D.S.O., M.C.) took over the whole of the Battalion outpost line, relieving B and C Companies for the attack. On our right, the 1/4th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment were to capture Gillemont Farm, and on our left, the 1/5th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment were to attack Catelet Copse and Le Petit Priel Farm.
C Company (Captain J. B. Hales) had orders to form up just west of Sart Farm, and to direct their attack south and south-east of Tombois.
B Company (Lieutenant M. Bowen) were to form up on the northern side of the Lempire-Vendhuille Road, clear of Lempire, and to deliver their attack on the west and north of the farm; D Company (Captain R. Gregson-Ellis) to proceed in echelon behind C Company, occupying the trench in front of the farm, until satisfied that the leading companies had attained their objectives, when they were to go through and capture a small ridge lying some 200 yards beyond the farm.
Zero was fixed for 11.30 p.m., April 16.
The weather conditions could not conceivably have been more unfavourable for a night attack, over open country, with few landmarks. It was pitch-dark, with pouring rain, and a gale blowing in the direction of the enemy. That the attacking companies were able to find their forming-up position in such darkness was a creditable performance; that they should have kept direction and struck Tombois speaks very highly for their leaders.
At 11.45 p.m. the enemy opened with machine-gun and rifle fire, and sent up a great number of lights from the farm and the trenches on either side of it. They also put down a moderate barrage well behind our attack, mostly on the outskirts of Lempire and on Sart Farm. All companies encountered a thick belt of wire in front of the enemy positions, which were strongly held, C and D Companies both being held up by this wire, which it was impossible to negotiate in face of the heavy enemy fire. All D Company’s officers had become casualties, and at 12.30 a.m. Captain Hales decided to withdraw both companies to Sart Farm, and reform them there for another attack.
Meanwhile B Company, on the left, had attracted rather less rifle and machine-gun fire than the other two companies, and had succeeded in getting through a thinner belt of wire and penetrating the enemy trenches at a point just north of where the trench crossed the road.
In consequence of the failure of the two right companies, and in view of the fact that at that time no news had been received at Battalion Headquarters of the success of B Company’s attack, three platoons of the support company (1/5th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment) were ordered to advance on the farm, one platoon each side of the road and one in close support, in order to ascertain the situation as regards B Company and, if necessary, to attack. They arrived at the farm to find B Company in possession, but the enemy still holding out in the orchard south of the farm. Our men were finding considerable difficulty in clearing the orchard owing to the fire of the other two companies who had been held up.
By 3 a.m., however, both farm and orchard were clear, and a counter-attack, launched by the enemy down the road, was successfully broken up by B Company. C and D Companies, who had now reorganised, were at once sent up to help in the work of consolidation, and trenches were dug west of the road and north and east of the farm, Major A. B. Lloyd-Baker going forward to organise this work.
News was received that the 1/4th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment and 1/5th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment had both failed to reach their objectives, on account of wire and heavy enemy fire.
At daylight on April 17, the Battalion was holding three or four hundred yards of trench on either side of the farm, with no sign of the enemy. Strong patrols were sent out to right and left, with orders to occupy every position possible, and by 7.30 a.m. one of these patrols, consisting of a platoon of Gloucesters, succeeded in entering Le Petit Priel Farm with little or no opposition.
Another patrol from A Company (holding the old line), which had been sent forward to ascertain the left of our new line, found Catelet Copse unoccupied. This they reported to the nearest picquet of the Warwicks, who moved up and occupied it.
It would seem that at dawn the enemy, realising that he bad lost Tombois, had decided to withdraw from the objectives which the battalion on our left had fought hard all that night to gain.
At least thirty dead Germans were found in and around the farm, and our captures were nine prisoners with one machine gun.
Our casualties were: OFFICERS-Died of Wounds 1. Wounded 4. OTHER RANKS- Killed 18. Wounded 48.
The strengths of the attacking companies had been:
B Company—4 officers and 136 other ranks. C Company—3 officers and 125 other ranks. D Company—4 officers and 134 other ranks.
The following message was received from the Army Commander, General Sir H. Rawlinson:
“Please convey to 48th Division my admiration of their success last night. To have carried out a successful attack, on a wide front, in the midst of such a storm, reflects the highest credit on all ranks and especially on the leadership of subordinate commanders. My best congratulations and thanks to all troops engaged.”
The First Buckinghamshire Battalion 1914-1919
P. L, Wright. Hazell Watson & Viney. 1920
The present day Tombois Farm, the position assaulted by the 1st Buckinghamshire Battalion on the stormy night of 16/17 April 1917.
1ST BUCKINGHAMSHIRE BATTALION WAR DIARY
15TH APRIL - E29b64
Battn relieved 1/5GLOSTERS- left subsection from MALASSISE FARM (excl) to cross tracks F17c28 (incl) –
Disposition – two Coys in outpost line – B Coy on left – C Coy on Right – A coy in BASSE BOULOGNE. D Coy about F.8.c.2.7. Bn HQ about E.13.c.5.9.
1/4 R BERKS on right. 1/5 R WARWICKS on left.
Very dark night delayed relief which was not complete until 1am.
Quiet night. Enemy searchlight very active.
Received orders that Battn was to attack TOMBOIS FARM tomorrow night.
Ration Strength 20 officers 635 OR
16TH APRIL – OUTPOSTS MALASSISE FARM (EXCL) TO X TRACKS F17c28 (INCL)
Quiet day – A Coy took over whole of outpost line at dusk relieving B & C Coys for attack on TOMBOIS FARM arranged for 11.30pm.
ATTACK ON TOMBOIS FARM
Objectives – TOMBOIS FARM & ridge east of TOMBOIS FARM.
On our Right 1/4 R BERKS to capture GILLEMONT FARM
On our Left 1/5 R WARWICKS to capture CATELET COPSE& LE PETIT PRIEL FARM.
Dispositions for attack - C Coy on Right to attack S& E of FARM.
B Coy on Left to attack W & N of FARM
D Coy in echelon behind C Coy to occupy enemy trench from abt F.11.b.3.1 to F.11.d.5.9 & remain on that line until satisfied that leading Coys had attained their objectives then it would go fwd & capture 2nd objective.
1 Coy 1/5 GLOSTERS in support in LEMPIRE
Forming up positions – B Coy W of SART FARM.
C Coy abt F.10.d.5.7
D Coy abt F.10.b.7.6
WEATHER-Pouring rain & blowing a gale -very dark. Wind blowing toward enemy.
Result- All Coys encountered a thick belt of wire in front of enemy positions which were strongly held.
Enemy rifle & MG fire very heavy.
Enemy barrage mostly behind the attack on outskirts of LEMPIRE & SART FARM
C & D Coys unable to penetrate wire & were withdrawn to SART FARM & reorganised.
B Coy who attracted rather less enemy fire, penetrated enemy trench abt F.11.b.6.5 & by abt 2am had got possession of farm in spite of considerable opposition in which the bayonet played a leading part.
On hearing of C & D Coys failure to attain objectives reaching Bn HQ, the Coy of 1/5 GLOSTERS in support were sent up at 2am to gain touch with & support B Coy, if necessary.
The remains of C & D Coys following shortly after to support them.
All succeded in reaching B Coy & helping them to clear neighbourhood of Germans, who were still holding in some strength in ORCHARD immediately SOUTH of FARM.
By 4am both FARM & ORCHARD were reported clear of enemy, & trenches were being dug W of the road also N & E of the FARM.
Enemy dead on & around FARM estimated at 30
Captures- 9 prisoners & 1 Machine Gun
1/4 R BERKS on Right & 1/5 R WARWICKS on Left both failed to reach their objectives on account of wire & heavy MG & rifle fire.
Casualties – Officers Wounded - CAPTAIN R GREGSON-ELLIS (serious) D Coy 2LT J JACK (slight) D coy 2LT N S FLINT (serious) D coy 2LT B C C OLIVER (slight) D Coy 2LT R F CHATAM (slightly, at duty) B Coy
OR Killed -18 OR Wounded -42 OR Wounded (slightly at duty) -6
STRENGTH OF ATTACKING COYS B Coy 4 Offrs 136 OR LT M BOWEN in Command C Coy 3 Ofrs 175 OR LT J B HALES in command D Coy 4 Offrs 134 OR CAPT R GREGSON-ELLIS in command
Ration Strength 20 Officers 637 OR
17TH APRIL – OUTPOSTS X TRACKS F4d99 TOMBOIS FARM F17b88
At 7.30am Germans were seen over ridge in F.6.a in 6 waves, apparently for counter attack.
Artillery fire was brought to bear on them, but they did not reappear from hollow into which they had descended.
At 7am a patrol of 1 platoon sent out from TOMBOIS FARM to reconnoitre road running from the FARM to PETIT PRIEL FARM, found the latter unoccupied.
A message to this effect was immediately sent back& the 1/5 WARWICKS sent troops to relieve us in that position about 12.30pm.
Another patrol sent out by A Coy from the old Outpost Line to reconnoitre road running through F.10.a & F.4.c found CATELET COPSE unoccupied.
Word was at once sent to nearest post of 1/5 R WARWICKS who at once sent out men to occupy it.
It would appear that the enemy withdrew from PETIT PRIEL FARM & CATELET COPSE at dawn, on hearing that they has lost TOMBOIS FARM.
TOMBOIS FARM & road running from the FARM to LEMPIRE were shelled intermittently causing some casualties.
At 5am Germans were reported to be holding trench in F.17.b.
At 6pm a bombing party was sent down the trench towards this point but could find no trace of enemy.
Battn relieved by 1/5 GLOSTERS after dark & proceeded to camp SW of ST EMILE abt E29 b64.
CAPT R GREGSON-ELLIS died in Field ambulance of wound received previous night.
2LT H J PULLMAN took over temporary command of D Coy.
Ration Strength 16 Officers 577 OR.
18TH APRIL - E29b64 IN CAMP (BDE SUPPORT)
All Coys resting.
Burial party of 60 OR A Coy sent up to TOMBOIS FARM to bury dead & salvage material.