SECOND BUCKINGHAMSHIRE BATTALION THIRD BATTLE OF YPRES AUGUST TO OCTOBER 1917
BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM "CITIZEN SOLDIERS OF BUCKS" BY JC SWANN
On the 15th August the Battalion moved to Abeele and on the 18th to Goldfish Chateau Camp near Ypres. On the evening of the 20th they advanced to the support line just forward of Wieltje, having many casualties on the way from shell-fire. After dark they went into the line in the Pommern Castle sector,Headquarters at Uhlan Farm, “C" Company on the left, “B” on the right (front line), “D” left support, “A” right support. The next day was spent in preparations for the attack on the 22nd.
Of the 61st Division the 184th Brigade was told off for the attack, having the 44th Infantry Brigade, 15th Division, on their right, and the 143rd Brigade,48th Division, on their left. The Bucks were to make the attack on the right, the Oxfords on the left of the Brigade, each Battalion taking a frontage of approximately 700 yards.
The Bucks were to advance with two Companies forming the first and second waves, and two Companies forming the third and fourth; the Oxfords were to attack with three Companies forming the first and second and one Company the third wave. Eight platoons of the Royal Berks were to be attached to the Bucks as “moppers-up’ and five to the Oxfords. The Glosters and one Battalion of the 183rd Brigade were in Brigade reserve.
The final objective was the position on the Kansas Cross—Winnipeg Road. The “moppers-up” were to deal with the strong posts at Somme, Aisne, Gunpits, Cross Cotts, Green House, Martha, Keir Farm, and various dug-outs, and to be ready to cover the flanks if necessary. This would enable the main attack to push forward to take the main position without delaying to clear the strong points in advance of it.
At 4.45a.m. the Artillery put down the barrage and the waves advanced, disregarding the strong posts and pressing forward as close as possible to the barrage in accordance with the orders they had received. The “moppers-up,” in attempting to follow, suffered heavily in casualties from machine-gun and rifle fire, the garrisons of the posts behind their concrete walls put up a stubborn resistance. The Somme and Aisne Farms were taken, but the latter retaken almost at once by the enemy. Pond Farm in front of the Oxfords on the left and Gallipoli in front of the 7th Cameron Highlanders on the right remained in the possession of the enemy.
The position of the advancing waves of the Bucks became more and more serious, but still they pressed on, and some at least reached their objective, though exposed to fire from front, flanks, and rear, and entirely cut off from all communication. Meanwhile a company of the 2/5th Gloucesters, under Second Lieutenant Johnston, with the few remaining men available with the Battalion, consolidated a line of shell-holes for the defence of Somme Farm that had been won by a platoon of the Berks, only three men of which remained to follow Second Lieutenant St. Leger into the post and to deal with the 14 survivors of the garrison. Three counter-attacks were made on the newly consolidated line, but were caught by the fire of our Artillery, and easily repulsed by the Infantry. The enemy snipers were much in evidence throughout the day, any movement that might suggest a runner with information for Headquarters attracted their special attention; even stretcher-bearers and wounded crawling painfully back were not spared.
At 4 p.m., with the assistance of two platoons of the 2/5thGloucesters, the Oxfords finally assaulted and captured Pond Farm. This much relieved the pressure on the left of the Bucks, and they were able to straighten out the line. A party was sent forward to take the gun-pits, but found them deserted by the enemy and giving shelter to many of the wounded of the Battalion, including Second Lieutenant S. A. G. Gibson, who had shown conspicuous gallantry in the attack, and was awarded the Military Cross before he died of his wounds.
The losses were found to have been very heavy 13 officers and 637 other ranks went into action, 11 officers and 338 other ranks were reported as casualties.
KILLED: 1 Officer And 46 other ranks. DIED OF WOUNDS: 3 Officers WOUNDED 4 Officers And 156 other ranks. MISSING: 3 Officers And 122 other ranks.
Of the missing 19 were afterwards traced as prisoners of war, and 103 presumed killed. Nine of the prisoners were wounded when captured. At night the Battalion was relieved by the 2/7th Worcesters, to whom they handed over a much-improved line, straighter and stronger than it had been when they took it over on the 20th. Many attempts were made by the Worcesters and Warwicks to clear the strong posts and gun-pits in front during their tour in the line, but without achieving any success, and they remained an annoyance until swept away in the general attack and advance on the 1st October.
The Battalion returned to their old bivouac at Goldfish Chateau, a sad return. Except “A” Company, all were commanded by Sergeants. The men were in the last stage of exhaustion, the strongest Company had barely 80, the weakest just over 50 in the ranks.
Practically all the officers had become casualties at the very commencement of the action, despite the fact that in accordance with orders they wore the dress and equipment of the men. This shows that in fighting at short range it is the act of leadership rather than the dress that distinguishes the officer as a mark to be specially selected.
After one night at Goldfish Chateau the Battalion moved back to Brandhoek. Here they found themselves in a camp that seemed luxurious in comparison with any of the quarters they had occupied in France. It was duck-boarded throughout and very clean, the accommodation for the men was ample, and good provision existed for the administrative offices. The officers’lines contained mess-room and anteroom on a large scale, and sleeping huts with separate compartments for each officer and a complete issue of beds. A busy week was spent in reorganising, and practically reconstituting the whole Battalion and replenishing the equipment, practically the whole of which had been lost in the Ypres battle.
When the Brigade moved into support on the 30th September the Battalion went to their old quarters at Goldfish Chateau for a week before relieving the 5th Warwicks in the trenches on the 7th October. Two days later they were relieved by the Oxfords and went into the support line round Warwick Farm, but moved up to the line again the next night. The weather was bad, and the enemy shelling was heavy and continuous. The casualties, however, were not serious—other ranks, killed 16, and wounded 36—the greater number of which occurred through the explosion of a shell in the concrete dug-out used by the Headquarters Section. Having been originally constructed by the Germans, the entrance faced towards the enemy, and through this the shell entered. Of the 26 occupants 12 were killed and only 1 escaped unhurt.
On the night of the 12th the Battalion was relieved by the Glosters, and after two nights at Goldfish Chateau in support, moved to Brandhoek No. 2 Camp, about a mile south of Poperinghe, and then to Mill Camp (Watou). During their stay here they discovered the 1st Bucks in camp about four miles away, but due to move the next day. A football match was at once arranged, which was won by the 1st Bucks after a close struggle. The day was thoroughly enjoyed by all ranks, and marked the cordial relations existing between the Battalions. The evening was damp—but cheerful.
On the 17th the Battalion continued the move towards Arras, where they arrived on the 24th and went into Lichfield Camp, St. Nicholas.
The Second Bucks Battalion 1914-1918 : An Unofficial Record
G. Christie-Miller 1920
2/1ST BUCKINGHAMSHIRE BATTALION WAR DIARY
THIRD BATTLE OF YPRES 22ND AUGUST 1917
AUGUST 21 - POMMERN CASTLE SECTOR.
A strenuous day for everyone, organising and preparing the Battn. to reach the pitch of perfection required for the great day.
The day for which the whole Battalion has waited and trained incessantly, the day of attack. It is unnecessary to repeat the scheme, for the copy of Battalion orders attached is clear enough for the dullest brain
The assembly for attack was one of the most difficult propositions to be contended with, but, well before time, everyone was in position, knowing exactly what he had to do and not a soul but was confident that the Battn. would do it’s utmost and succeed.
Zero is fixed for 4.45 a.m.
Dead silence – then, punctual to the second, there is a terrific roar, heard for miles back, and our barrage is down. Slowly the waves advance under this protective wall of smoke and flame.
The sky is lit up with lights of all colours and descriptions, the Huns appeal for help; then his barrage descends, too late to be of use, for it is well behind the advancing troops.
Obeying their orders, the waves push on, disregarding the enemy’s formidable strong points and block houses, which are left to be dealt with parties of moppers-up especially detailed for the purpose.
The facts from this point onwards necessarily become somewhat confused. But this much is certain; that the parties of moppers-up, hopelessly depleted by casualties from machine-gun and rifle-fire, and owing to the stubborn resistance met with (the Hun fought well when protected with concrete), were unable to fulfil the task allotted to them, and with the exception of SOMME and AISNE, the Hun remained in possession of these points of vantage.
The former of these two was taken by 2.Lt. ST. LEDGER of the R. BERKS. with 3 men the sole remaining representative of his platoon and in it they captured 3 M.G’s. and slew 14 Bosche.
The later was retaken almost immediately by the enemy.
On our left and right respectively the Hun had remained in possession of POND FM and GALLIPOLI. Glancing at the map, you will see in what a precarious position were our advancing waves; fired on from front, flanks and rear, all means of communication denied them. Yet they pushed on, and some, at any rate, are known to have reached their objective.
Meanwhile a company of 2/5 GLOSTERS under 2/Lt. JOHNSTON was brought up and, together with the few remaining men available, quickly consolidated a line of shell-holes for the defence of SOMME FM. and the remainder of the front (the attached map shows the position of this line), for we were determined to hold what we knew we had won at all costs
The enemy counter attacked at least three times, but the artillery dealt with these so successfully that the only one we were aware of at the time consisted of a few Huns advancing, or rather diving from shell-hole to shell-hole, at about 1 a.m. in the 23rd; this attack was easily repulsed by machine and rifle fire
Exactly to what extent those that remained of the men who had reached their objective helped to beat of these counter attacks is not, and probably never will be, known, but certain it is that they hung on and hung on, sacrificing themselves for the more lucky. To realise the feelings of those who were anxiously awaiting news, you must picture for yourself the situation.
It is the afternoon of the 22nd, all four companies have almost entirely disappeared, no messages received, no signals sent, the only news scant and necessarily unreliable, being gleaned from those wounded early in the attack.
The enemy snipers had a busy day, not sparing stretcher bearers or the wounded crawling in; such is their idea of warfare and Kulture. This undoubtedly accounts for the absence of any runners returning with news to headquarters.
Meanwhile the Battn. on our immediate left had taken, lost and retaken POND FM. and by evening this was firmly in our hands.
This considerably relieved the pressure on our left and we were able, after attacking the gun-pits with a party under 2/Lt. BUTTERFIELD (who had returned about 9 p.m. 23rd) and finding them unoccupied, to straighten out the line.
It was a disappointment finding these gun-pits unoccupied, but it was a blessing in disguise, as the party found several of our wounded, amongst them 2.Lt. GIBSON, and we had received the welcome news that we were to be relieved that night by the 2/7 WORCESTERS, and were able to hand over a straight and strong line, which boded ill for further enemy counter attacks.
The relief was uneventful; enemy shelling had been and was at the time almost entirely confined to the valley of R. STEENBEEK, which he had peppered almost continuously with 5.9’s.
The majority of survivors arrived in camp near GOLDFISH CHau. by 5 a.m., dog-tired, but so excited and full of their experiences that the camp resounded with laughter well on into the morning. Should I attempt to relate a half of these exciting experiences and acts of gallantry, we would have to indent for a G.S. wagon to carry the library, so let it suffice to relate a few of the most conspicuous acts during this period of real WAR.
Lists of awards and particulars will be included when to hand. It is hard to feel cheerful when so many of our best and dearest companions are lost to us, but we must always and will always, be thankful that, in the General’s own words, the Battalion has been tried and has not been found wanting, remembering especially the share of those who have gone, never again to answer their names in the roll of the Battalion.
The casualties to the Battalion were heavy; the total taken into the line with companies was 13 Officers and 637 O.R’s.
Of these 11 Officers and 338 O.R’s. are reported as casualties as follows: - Killed 39 men Wounded 153 men Missing 146 men.
Of the Officers, casualties are as follows: KILLED. 2/Lt. TYSON (B. Co.)
DIED OF WOUNDS. Capt. J.E.S. WILSON M.C. (Medical Officer) 2/Lt. S.A.C. GIBSON, M.C. (D. Co.). 2/Lt. W.R. GILL, (D. Co.)
The figures of those missing both of Officers and man cannot be treated in any way as final as we are at the moment receiving news who have been found wounded. A corrected list, largely altered for the better let us hope, will be enclosed later.
AUGUST 24 - GOLDFISH CHATEAU.
This morning was spent in making up for previous lack of sleep.
Re-organising etc, in the afternoon.
AUGUST 25 –
The Battalion marched into camp B near BRANDHOEK in the morning.
A very nice camp with plenty of accommodation.
SEPTEMBER 1 - GOLDFISH CHATEAU
Divine Service at 10 a.m. Recreation.
Official news was received that 2/Lt. S.A.C. GIBSON has been awarded the M.C. in recognition of his conduct on Aug. 22nd. This was awarded before his death from wounds.
The corrected list of casualties on the 22nd August is as follows:- Officers. Killed. 2 Died of Wounds 2 Wounded. 6 Missing. 3