GERMAN RETIREMENT TO THE HINDENBURG LINE MARCH TO APRIL 1917
BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM “CITIZEN SOLDIERS OF BUCKS” BY JC SWANN.
In this locality, varied by a week’s training at Rainecourt, the Battalion remained till the withdrawal of the Germans became known, and the 61st Division began to move forward on the 18th March. The Battalion was then at Vauvillers, resting and training, and advanced via Lihons, Vermand, Ovillers, Bersaucourt, Marchelepot and Flez, and Douvieux, halting to repair roads and fill in mine craters as they proceeded. The villages were found in a most deplorable state, largely owing to deliberate damage, buildings burnt to the ground, trees cut down, wells contaminated with filth, etc. Nothing, in fact, in the way of destruction that was possible had been left undone.
On the 30th March the Battalion marched to Montecourt and thence to Tertry, and on the 1st April relieved the 2/8th Warwicks in the line at Soyecourt, a village 2 miles in front of Tertry, but reduced to ruins. Sufficient material, timber, and corrugated iron was, however, found amongst the debris to enable the men to construct shelters for themselves. Warning of an attack to be made the following morning was received, but too late for a thorough reconnaissance of the enemy’s position. A reconnoitring patrol was, however, sent out at dusk under Lieutenant Petrie to ascertain whether the Montolu Woods were occupied or the approaches to the railway embankment guarded. A small sentry group disappeared from the woods on the approach of the patrol, but no other Germans were discovered in the localities mentioned.
The enemy was holding a line through Bihecourt northwards along a ridge N.E. of Soyecourt with the Bihecourt— Vendelles Road and the railway embankment in front of their position. The attack of the 184th Brigade was to be made by 2/1st Bucks and 2/4th Royal Berks. On their left was the 59th Division with the right Battalion of which, the Sherwood Foresters, the 2nd Bucks had to keep in touch. On the right of the Royal Berks came the 183rd Brigade. The attacking Companies were to advance at a.m. on the 2nd April from the embankment, while the Artillery shelled the enemy, and the 184th Machine Gun Company supported the advancing Infantry with overhead fire. In the Battalion” C” Company, under Captain Beck, and “D” Company, under Captain Tyler, were detailed for the attack, two platoons of “A” to cover the left flank, and “B” Company to hold the original line. Guided by a telephone line and keeping position by a second line of wire 900 yards long which each man held in his left hand, the Companies moved in file to a point on the embankment, and then turning right-handed deployed along it, each Company having a frontage of 450 yards. The wire obtained for the guide line had evidently been classed as unserviceable,” as it parted at intervals, causing delay till joined up again.
The deployment, however, was completed just in time. At 5 a.m. the guns opened fire, and the men advanced. “D” Company on the left met with no opposition, and as they topped the ridge they saw the enemy, completely taken by surprise, making off in every direction. “C” Company on the right met with more opposition, and in addition suffered some casualties from our own barrage, either from shorts or from pressing on too eagerly before it had lifted forward. Captain Beck was wounded in the hand, but continued to lead his men forward with great gallantry until he fell mortally wounded. Later this Company also came in for a burst of Lewis gun-fire from a part of another Battalion, which had attacked and captured Bihecourt, and issuing from that village mistook them in the grey light of dawn for Germans. Apart from these contretemps, the attack was completely successful, several prisoners were taken, and the captured positions were consolidated. The Battalion lost Captain Beck and 8 other ranks killed, Lieutenant Hughes and 29 other ranks wounded.
Before the Battalion went out of the line they had made a further advance and occupied Caubrieres Wood, and on returning to Soyecourt on the 7th April, after three days at Coulincourt, were able to occupy the trenches on the ridge forming part of the new German position which had been attacked without success on the 6th by the Glosters and Oxfords. A patrol of” B” Company, under Lieutenant Foster, on the night of the 8th discovered that they had been evacuated, though a patrol of the Berkshires on the right had found them occupied only a short time before. On receipt of the information the Berkshires and the 59th Division on the left also moved up to the vacated positions.