JANUARY 1st - MARCH 20th 1918 BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM THE REGIMENTAL CHRONICLES OF THE OXFORDSHIRE & BUCKINGHAMSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY
January 1st.-The Regiment was in huts at Barastre, on the Barastre-Haplincourt road.
January 1st/2nd.-Classes of instruction and work about the lines were carried on as far as weather conditions permitted, the men having to be kept on the move and warm, as the weather, though fine, was severe.
January 3rd.-Marched to Beaulencourt, on the Bapaume-Peronne road.
January 4th.-A period of rest and training now began, which, in spite of the weather, was made good use of and was much appreciated. Various classes of instruction, competitions, exercises, and reconnaissances were carried out, but the period was on the whole uneventful.
January 5th.-Notification received of the award of the Military Cross to Lieut. J. E. H. Neville (Honours List, 1st January).
January 7th.-Notification received of the following additional " Immediate Awards " in connection with recent operations : Military Cross: A/Captain L.E.W.O.Fullbrook-Leggatt. Distinguished Conduct Medal: 11963 Sergeant E. Constable.
January 9th.-The huts being riveted and protected against bombs.
January 18th.-Brigade exercise, from which the following lessons were learnt: (1) To avoid consolidating on a forward slope; (2) to see that the flanks do not hang back during an advance; (3) to appreciate the difficulty of consolidating in depth when rear companies have been involved in the fighting, and so have to be withdrawn to strengthen rear lines.
January 20th.-The Regiment went through the Gas Chamber; 8054 C.-Q.-M.-S. Beckett was gassed, owing to having a defective box respirator.
January 22nd.-The Regiment moved by rail and relieved the Nelson Battalion of the 63rd (R.N.) Division in camp in Havrincourt Wood. The camp was in a very bad condition. The position was that of Reserve Battalion to the Left Brigade of the 2nd Division which had taken over the Vacquerie Right and Left Sections of the front from the 63rd (R.N.) Division.
January 25th.-The Regiment relieved the 2nd Highland Light Infantry in the Left Sub-section of La Vacquerie Left Section; the 10th Worcestershire (19th Division) on our left; the 17th R.F. (5th Brigade) on our right. A quiet relief. Enemy machine-guns were active on our parapet during the night. Lewis guns were disposed so as to fire from other than their battle positions and thus deal with this.
January 26th.-Thick fog all day. A few pineapple bombs fell on the front line. Snipers active. Working parties employed in digging new support line posts, and in duck-boarding and wiring the posts. Regimental H.Q. shelled about 9.20 p.m.
January 28th.-Reconnaissance of Vacquerie Right Section (area of 99th Brigade). Our support line was shelled for an hour in the afternoon with 5.9-inch shell. No casualties.
The Regiment was relieved by the 1st King's Regiment (6th Infantry Brigade), and on completion of a quiet relief withdrew to billets in Metz-en-Couture.
January 29th-3lst.-At Metz-en-Couture. Bathing. Working on new transport lines north of Fins, and on the Metz defences, R.E. dumps, etc., according to the Brigade Schedule of working parties.
Five men were wounded during the month. No reinforcements were received.
February 1st.-The 5th Infantry Brigade being Divisional Reserve, the Regiment remained in billets and shelters at Metz-en-Couture, supplying working parties, bathing, etc.
February 3rd.-The Regiment relieved the 23rd Royal Fusiliers (99th Infantry Brigade), on the right of the Divisional Front, as far north as Village Road. H.Q. in Farm Ravine. Right Front, D Company (Captain Littledale); Left Front, A Company (Captain Fullbrook-Leggatt, M.C.); Right Support, C Company (Lieut. Vigars, D.C.M.); Left Support, B Company (Captain Field, M.C.).
The six days' tour in the trenches was very quiet, except that the shelters of B Company were shelled early on the 5th February, when three men were killed. Two men were wounded on the 6th.
February 9th.-The 92nd reinforcement arrived, consisting of transfers from the 6th (Service) Battalion of the Regiment, viz. : 8 sergeants and 129 rank and file.
The other ranks included a band, of about 18 performers, and 6 buglers. A few men who had served previously in the field with the 52nd were among this draft, which has almost entirely H.Q. and C Company of the 6th Battalion, and contained a large proportion of elderly men and senior N.C.O.'s.
The Regiment was relieved in the trenches by the 23rd R.F. (99th Brigade), on the reorganization of the Divisional Front, and withdrew to billets in Metz-en-Couture.
February 10th/11th.-The billets were shelled in two bursts at 3.30 a.m. and 5.30 a.m. There were no casualties, although several shells came unpleasantly close to where the men were quartered. Permission was asked for, and given, for the position of the Reserve Battalion to be changed, and at about 3 p.m. the Regiment marched by companies to a new camp, pitched in irregular formation on both sides of the Metz-Equancourt cross-country track, about three-quarters of a mile clear of Metz. A Company remained in Metz until the 12th, owing to having to find a working party.
February 12th-14th.-Bathing, drill, musketry, and improving the new camp. The Lewis gunners were exercised on a range near Metz.
February 15th.-The Regiment relieved the 24th (Service) Battalion Royal Fusiliers in what had now become known as Vacquerie Centre Sub-section of the 2nd Divisional Front; B Company, right front; C, left front; D, in support; A, in reserve. Regimental H.Q. in Monument Ravine.
Six very pleasant, enjoyable, and quiet days (save for two trench-mortar bombardments of the front line) passed without incident. The weather permitted full use to be made of the trenches as thoroughfares, thereby yielding the advantages of (a) free movement all over the area by day; (b) being able to avoid overland movement, which resulted in reduced shelling. When the area was taken over, it was difficult to find one's way about, as trenches were either not labelled at all, or so that their names did not agree with the official maps or with the Divisional scheme. To some extent this was rectified.
February 21st.-The Regiment was relieved, on a further redistribution of the front, by parts of the 1st King's (6th Infantry Brigade),1st Royal Berkshire (99th Brigade), 17th R.F. (6th Brigade), and then proceeded to relieve the 2nd Battalion R.M.L.I, with H.Q. and 3 companies, while B Company relieved one company of the 1st Battalion R.M.L.I., 63rd (R.N.) Division, in Apex Lane, as right support to the Battalion in the Line.
This came about as follows : The Divisional front from three sub-sectors (Vacquerie Right, Centre, and Left) was reorganized in two sub-sectors (Vacquerie Right and Centre), the Division withdrawing from the old centre (the 5th Infantry Brigade) and with it taking over a new Vacquerie Left, i.e., the part held by the Right Brigade of the 63rd (R.N.) Division on our left, which provided an indefinite front line in front of the support line Apex Lane—Sailor Reserve, which measured rather over 2,000 yards, to be held by 9 Platoon Posts. The Support Battalion, which the Regiment thus became in this new Vacquerie Left, was distributed about the old Hindenburg System—Wood Trench and Wood Support, astride the Couillet Valley. Work was begun on making the position fightable, and a certain amount of fire-stepping and wiring was carried out.
Casualties (wounded) : 3 men on the 20th, 1 man on the 21st, 2 men on the 23rd, 1 man on the 24th.
February 27th.-The Regiment was relieved by the 2nd H.L.I. from the front line, on the relief of that Battalion by the 24th R.F. from Reserve. The Regiment then withdrew to billets and shelters in Metz-en-Couture, less C Company, to the Winchester Valley, where work was begun on the construction of a camp for one battalion.
February 28th.-The ribbon of the " 1914 Star " was received and issued on parade, by the Commanding Officer, to 70 of all ranks. About 30 of all ranks above this number were, from various causes, not on parade.
March 1st.-The Regiment was in billets and shelters in Metz-en-Couture and Winchester Valley (position of Reserve Battalion of the Left Brigade of the Right Division of the Vth Corps), whither it had moved from the trenches two days ago.
A party of 3 officers and 29 other ranks proceeded on 4 days' leave to Paris—a very refreshing experience for troops situated in such a desolate area as this.
At 6.30 p.m. there was a practice occupation of the Second System of Defence on the Brigade Front.
Casualties (from shelling) : 5 killed and 7 wounded.
March 2nd-5th.-Weather very bad. The Regiment was employed., as far as circumstances permitted, in increasing the accommodation in Winchester Valley, with a view to moving the whole Reserve Battalion there from Metz-en-Couture; but owing to the scanty supply of material, very little progress was made.
Regimental Orders of the 4th March 1918 quoted the Special Order of the 13th February 1918, by Brigadier-General F. J. Duncan, C.M.G., D.S.O., relating to the disbandment of the 6th Battalion, with the following remarks :-- " In publishing the above, the Commanding Officer remembers how Brigadier-General E. D. White, C.M'.G. (a 52nd officer for some 25 years), who commanded the 6th Battalion from its formation until late in 1916, referred to it as the Younger Brother of the 52nd, and trained it in the Regimental way. It is, therefore, very appropriate that, at the close of its career, so many officers and men should come to the 52nd, and the Commanding Officer feels sure that all ranks welcome them, and rejoice to see among them so many old soldiers and men who have served with the 52nd before. The good name of the Regiment and of the Light Division must now mean more to them than ever."
March 5th.-Relieved the 24th R.F. in the left sub-sector of the front. Frontage about 2,200 yards ; in new platoon posts; 3 platoons in close support; 1 company in a position of "Left Support Company " in Sailor Reserve Trench, and 1 company of the Support Battalion (24th R.F.) in a position of " Right Support Company " in Apex Lane.
March 5th-11th.-During this period the dispositions of the Regiment were altered almost daily in furtherance of the policy of holding the front line more thinly, and after the second change it was definitely established that the front was in the nature of an outpost line, and clear arrangements for withdrawal were made.
Considerable apprehension as to hostile intentions appeared to prevail now; and early morning artillery fire, designed to break up assembly formations and so forth, occurred almost daily. An identification was very urgently needed, so a raid with this object was undertaken by B Company on the right front at 4 a.m. on the 9th March under Lieut. R. G. Pluckrose, M.C.
This failed, and Lieut. Pluckrose and 1 man were wounded, but there were no killed or missing. The failure was due to : (1) presence of thick wire round Ostrich Sap (the point raided), the patrol report having been too optimistic; (2) inability of 6-inch trench mortars to take part in the operation. Considerable wire-cutting had been allotted to them, but they inflicted casualties when registering by wounding Captain E. J. Osborne, M.C., commanding 5th Light T.M. Battery, and 2nd Lieut. W. H. Seale, M.C., 52nd Light Infantry, attached to the 5th L.T.M. Battery. These officers were laying their guns in our front line with a view to co-operating in the same operation.
Ostrich Sap was full of Germans (a working party as well as the garrison), and the raiding company was lucky to suffer as little as it did.
Considerable trouble was experienced during this period by the short shooting of our own artillery. Evidently, in accordance with a general scheme of defence covering a large area, gun positions were far back, and one felt that there was a considerable decrease in the amount of support one might get from this arm of the service. The same applied to the Trench Mortar Service, more especially the medium, in which one ceased to have any confidence at all.
March 10th.-Regimental H.Q. moved back, by order, to the position of Support Battalion H.Q. when the outpost system was definitely adopted. This entailed certain rearrangements, which all tended towards holding the front line more thinly.
On the night of the 11th/12th March the Regiment completed its tour of duty of 6 days in the front or outpost system. The men and officers were considerably worn and tired, and the shortage of officers (three, and in some cases two, per company without reliefs according to our usual custom) was beginning to make itself felt. The Regiment was relieved by the 2nd H.L.I, from Reserve, and on relief proceeded to take over the area of the Support Battalion, viz. : D Company (Captain D. T. Barnes, D.S.O.), at disposal of front line battalion (2nd H.L.I.), in Wood Trench and Wood Support, east of Orchid Avenue; C Company in Wood Trench and Wood Support, west of Orchid Avenue; B Company occupying Highland Trench by day, but standing to arms in a battle position in the eastern part of Diarmid Trench; A Company in a scattered position about Loughborough Lane, but standing to arms in a battle position in the western part of Diarmid Trench.
Village Support Trench (Regimental H.Q.) was reconnoitred by the O.C. Support Battalion of the Centre Brigade, and later in the day this battalion effected an entry, under an arrangement whereby the dugout should be shared as double battalion H.Q. This was a most inconvenient and unworkable arrangement which lasted for some 48 hours, at the end of which we reoccupied the accommodation lost, as the Brigadier-General had intervened on our behalf.
During the nights of the 12th/13th and 13th/14th March the enemy used Mustard Gas by means of bombardment in the front and support areas, causing very great inconvenience and casualties- in particular to ration convoys and parties. The Regimental Transport suffered very much in personnel, especially in coming through Villers Plouich, which became impassable by reason of gas fumes. The gas casualties, most of which declared themselves at once, amounted in two nights to close on 100, many of whom were transferred to England almost at once.
The most careful and thorough precautions had to be taken, e.g.. men who had been in affected areas (even brakesmen of limbers of ration convoys passing through) who, by wearing box-respirators, were not affected at the time, were found subsequently to be made ill by sleeping in their clothes, to which the gas had clung. Consequently clothing had to be removed outside billets, and sleeping in close proximity to other men became unsafe. (Gas casualties among N.C.O.'s and men :- On the 11th, 1 ; 12th, 46 ; 13th, 10 ; 14th, 36 ; 15th, 3,)
The night of the 17th/18th March brought to a close a period of 12 days in trenches, which was a most exhausting and trying one for all ranks. The Regiment was relieved by the 2nd H.L.I., after the relief of the latter by the 24th R.F., and proceeded to an area outside Metz arranged by Major Brett with labour from the rearward services. B and D Companies to Winchester Valley; A Company to a camp west of Metz, close to Regimental H.Q.; while C Company remained at the disposal of the O.C. Support Battalion in the west end of Diarmid Fort, the garrison of which had become (16th March) three companies instead of two, the extra company being supplied by the Reserve Battalion.
March 18th-A fine, warm day. A number of all ranks were suffering from colds and loss of voice from the effects of gas. Some bathing.
March 19th.-Wet and disagreeable. Bathing continued.
March 20th.-Relieved by a battalion of the 47th (London T.F.) Division. To Vallulart Camp, Ytres.
1. The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Chronicle, 1917-18. Vol 27 : compiled and edited by Lieut.-Colonel A.F. Mockler-Ferryman Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1919
4 members of the 52nd lie in this cemetery from the period January - March 20th 1918.
2Lt Barclay of the 52nd lies in this cemetery from 27th January 1918.
8 members of the 52nd lie in this cemetery from the period January - March 20th 1918.
LCpl Webb of the 52nd who died on the 9th February 1918 lies in this cemetery.