5th (SERVICE) BATTALION RECORD 1914-1915 Based on extracts from the Regimental Chronicles of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
Lieut.-Colonel C. H. Cobb, who commanded the Battalion for the first year of its existence, has contributed the following :--
THE CREATION OF THE 5th (SERVICE) BATTALION.
On the 4th August 1914 (the day on which war was declared) I was at home on eight months' leave from the 1st Battalion in India, and due to sail, on the 25th October, in the Austrian-Lloyd's S.S. "Hungaria," from Trieste to Bomaby.
On the 6th August I received a telegram ordering me to embark for India, in the "Somali," on the 11th. On the 10th, however, just as I was starting for the station, there was put into my hand another telegram, cancelling my previous orders, and telling me to await further instructions. These came on the 22nd August, when I was ordered to proceed forthwith to Aldershot for duty with the new 5th (Service) Battalion of the Regiment.
On arrival at the barracks I found Captain R. 0. Logan and Lieut. B. C. T. Paget (1st Battalion) in command of about 150 men of the new Battalion, having come from Oxford three days before; and on the following day I took over this party. Then I began to get busy. I was ordered to draw camp equipment, blankets, etc., for 1,000 men, and to move to Old Dean Common (near Camberley), where I was to pitch a camp. I had no quartermaster, but with the aid of my car we managed things between us. I interviewed several people of the Ordnance, A.S.C., and Transport, and though I found every one working at high pressure and nearly off their heads, still they readily rose to the occasion and did all they could for me.
The next day I spent interviewing various Staff Officers, A.S.C., R.E., etc., while Captain Webb marched the party to Old Dean Common. The men were fully armed and equipped, but were absolutely raw and new, and, the weather being hot, they felt even this short march very much. Then came a real difficulty—pitching camp with men who had never seen a tent before. The officers and the few N.C.O.'s did most of the work, but gradually the recruits picked it up, and we got a camp going.
On the following day (Wednesday, the 26th) the men had their first experience of a wet camp, for it rained all day. However, we had to be busy, trying to get things into shape, and in the evening Lieut. Hanbury-Williams (2nd Battalion) arrived with 100 more men, who came in plain clothes, as the stock of uniforms at the Depot had become exhausted.
Thus things went on from day to day. We started drills at once, and were at it all day from dawn to dusk, with lectures in the evening, putting in nine hours' work a day, including Sundays.
Gradually more officers and some old N.C.O.'s of the 43rd, 52nd, and other regiments joined the Battalion, so in the course of time companies got commanders, sergeants-major, and drill instructors, and were able to carry on fairly well. My great difficulty at this time was the feeding of the men—not for want of rations, for they were plentiful, but only the original men of Logan's party had mess-tins, knives, and forks, and the other men had nothing wherewith to eat or drink. We were obliged to have meals in relays, using the same mess-tins, and this was a serious handicap, in that it wasted time and delayed work a good deal. But it was only one of the many discomforts with which my new soldiers had to put up.
Our numbers increased rapidly, and to give an idea as to how the men came, I will quote from a few notes which I have kept. On, September 5th 500 men arrived, on the 7th another 500, and next day 64. On September 7th I wanted only 14 subalterns and 24 sergeants to complete to strength, and on September 8th the 5th Battalion was reported complete.
I was then ordered to form a 6th Battalion, and on September 14th the 6th Battalion was 833 strong, while the 5th Battalion had a strength of 1,203. Soon after this Colonel E. D. White, who recently commanded the 43rd, arrived, and we divided up the two Battalions, he taking command of the 6th.
The men's clothes were a great source of difficulty. Expecting to be put into uniform at the Depot, they naturally came up in their oldest clothes, which in some cases were hardly decent; and as there was no uniform or equipment to give them, they had to go about in any sort of kit for some considerable time. There were also not enough blankets to go round, and the nights in camp were cold. However, as far as these were concerned, the two counties came to our rescue in a noble way, and blankets were sent to us in hundreds, and after a bit the men were made altogether more comfortable.
But at first they had a very rough time of it, and it was quite astonishing to see how well they stood it. Always cheerful, they seemed to laugh at their misfortunes, and for some of them it must have been a very hard trial. There were a great many men from most respectable homes and businesses. Some gentlemen, many indoor servants, grooms, gardeners, chauffeurs, gamekeepers, well-to-do tradesmen, hotel-keepers, clerks, etc., etc., to say nothing of the engineers, fitters, and hands from the great works in Birmingham and Coventry. All these men had left good, comfortable homes, with good wages, and had come voluntarily out of a sheer sense of duty. They were brought suddenly face to face with every sort of discomfort on Old Dean Common—discomforts which were absolutely unavoidable, because of the impossibility of supplying the wants of 500,000 recruits at a moment's notice. Yet they faced it all in a splendid way and with stout hearts, and never a murmur. This showed the sort of stuff of which the New Army was made, and that it was the right sort of stuff has been amply proved on every occasion on which the 5th Battalion has encountered the enemy in the field.
For the next few weeks drills went on all day and every day, the men doing a solid nine hours' work each day, and some of the officers a good deal more.
Towards the end of our time on Old Dean Common, Field-Marshal Earl Roberts rode over to see us one morning and inspected the Battalion on parade, which, of course, pleased the men immensely. It was the first time that many of them had seen the distinguished veteran Field-Marshal, and it was the last time, to the regrets of all of us, that we ever saw him.
On the 21st September we marched into Aldershot, and occupied Malplaquet Barracks With us in these barracks were the 5th Shropshire Light Infantry, also of our Brigade (42nd); while the other two Battalions of the Brigade, viz., the 9th King's Royal Rifles and the 9th Rifle Brigade, were in the next barracks.
Training was continued with vigour, and on the 26th September the 14th (Light) Division, to which we belonged, was inspected on the Queen's Parade by H.M. the King. The men now had arms, and most of them were in uniform, but I think that scarcely any of them had caps, and the different kinds of headgear that appeared on that parade must have amused His Majesty.
Company Training now succeeded Individual Training, and musketry and bayonet-fighting went on continuously, the Battalion gradually becoming equipped in every detail.
After two months at Aldershot we received orders to move again, and on the 27th November the Battalion entrained for Cranleigh (near Guildford) to be billeted for the winter. It commenced to rain the moment we arrived at Cranleigh, and there was hardly a fine day between then and the end of February, when we left the place. But rain was not allowed to check our training, and we were out in all weathers manoeuvring over the country. As often as not we returned soaked to the skin, and at that time the men had no change of clothing, being possessed of only the one suit of khaki and the one pair of boots. In spite of all this they kept their health in an extraordinary way, as well as their cheerful spirits. I do not suppose that any body of men were ever happier in billets than were ours at Cranleigh, which was due in a great measure to the constant care and kindness of the inhabitants of the village. After their day's work the men returned to comfortable billets, where there were good fires to dry their things and hot tea awaiting them. In fact, all that could be done for the men's comfort was done by these kind people. The 5th Battalion—those that are left of them—will always keep a warm corner, in their hearts for the people of Cranleigh, who, led by their excellent Rector, the Reverend P. Cunningham, did everything that was possible to make our stay in the village a happy one; and they succeeded in every way, in spite of the atrocious weather. It made all the difference in the world to the existence of these new soldiers, and, more than that, it preserved their health, improved their characters, and did a good deal towards making them the fighting men they afterwards became. I feel very strongly about this, and I take the opportunity of recording in our regimental chronicle, which will be handed down to posterity, my most grateful thanks to the Cranleigh people for their splendid hospitality to the Battalion.
Whilst at Cranleigh we did Company Training up to the 14th. January, and for the next month Battalion Training, which was carried out every day and most nights. I will not enter into details about all this training, but will confine myself to an extract from my Battalion Training diary describing the work of two memorable days, when we inarched to Witley for the inspection of the whole of the 14th Division by Lord Kitchener and the French War Minister :--
January 2lst, 1915.—In the morning packing blankets, etc., on the wagons, in preparation for marching to Witley.
1.15 p.m.—Battalion parade. Marched in heavy rain, via Park-hatch, Loxhill, Little Burgate, Hydestile, Milford Station.
On reaching Little Burgate snow began and continued very heavily. Great difficulty in getting the transport up the short steep hills between Loxhill and Hydestile.
Eventually I sent the Battalion ahead, and stayed behind to help bring the transport on, keeping B Company with me.
It was now snowing very hard, and each cart had to be manhandled up the hills. We reached Witley Huts at 5.15 p.m., and spent the night on the floors of the empty rooms.
January 22nd.—6.30 a.m., Reveille. It had been snowing all night, and snow was deep on the ground.
8.30 a.m. Paraded, and marched to Hankley Common, where we formed up with the rest of the Division to await the arrival of Lord Kitchener and the French War Minister. Bitterly cold and snowing all the time. Lord Kitchener and party arrived at 12.45 p.m.
At 1.10 p.m. we started back to march to Witley, where we arrived at 2.30 p.m. Snow very deep. Dinners. Paraded at 3.15 p.m., and left Witley on our return march to Cranleigh. The going was very heavy and snow fell continuously. On crossing Hascombe Hill from Hydestile onwards the snow was quite a foot deep, which made marching very trying.
At 7 p.m. we reached Cranleigh, the men well closed-up, stepping a good pace, and singing at the top of their voices.
One man fell out of the ranks on parade on Hankley Common from cold and exhaustion; all the rest came in with the Battalion.
At the end of February 1915 we went back to Aldershot and occupied Salamanca Barracks, and remained there, carrying out Brigade and Divisional Training, until the 20th May, when we marched to the Government siding to entrain for embarkation for France. The R.A.M.C. Band played us out, at the special request of their Bandmaster, Mr. Bradley, for many years Bandmaster of the 52nd, and we all greatly appreciated the compliment.
So ended the training for war of the 5th Battalion.
FRANCE AND FLANDERS. About the middle of May the long-expected orders came, and the 5th Battalion, with the remainder of the 42nd Infantry Brigade, 14th (Light) Division, proceeded to France, moving forthwith up to the vicinity of the Ypres front. Here the newcomers were gradually and progressively introduced to the realities of trench warfare. They began in the second-line trenches, and furnished strong working parties by night, thus receiving their baptism of fire, though not subjected to intense shelling. Next, each company was attached for instruction to a tried battalion in the front trenches for a 48 hours' tour of duty, when all ranks learned all that there was to learn of trench routine in the face of the enemy. This was followed by a few days' training behind the line and by digging communication trenches and dug-outs. After which, within a month of leaving Aldershot, the Battalion took its place in the trenches.
The situation at this time was somewhat as follows : The Second Battle of Ypres had come to an end; the Germans, feeling sure that the Allies in the West had made their great offensive effort for the year, had decided to leave a sufficient force to hold their line, and with the remainder to go East and settle accounts with the Russians. The Allies had as yet neither the men nor the munitions to pursue a vigorous offensive on the Western Front, but they had enough to make thrusts at the enemy whenever opportunity offered. The British portion of the line now extended from the north of Ypres to a few miles north of Arras; the VIth Army Corps, on the left, joined on to the French at Boesinghe, and the Vth Army Corps, on its right, held the Ypres salient almost as far as Hooge; then came in succession to the south, the IInd, IIIrd, Indian, and 1st Army Corps.
The IInd Army Corps (Ferguson) was disposed thus : on the north the 5th Division (Morland); next, holding the trenches in the neighbourhood of Hooge, the 14th (Light) Division (Couper); and on its right the 46th (North Midland) Division (Stuart-Wortley).
For the next six weeks the 14th (Light) Division, which had the honour of being the first entire Division of the New Army to be engaged with the enemy, held the trenches on the Ypres Salient about Hooge, brigades and battalions relieving one another periodically, and having daily losses while up in the line. How these losses mounted up will be seen by the summary of casualties given elsewhere; but it may be said here that the 5th Battalion of the Regiment, although not called upon during the six weeks to take part in an engagement on a large scale, lost of its original numbers no fewer than one-third in officers and one-third in other ranks.
The trenches occupied by the Battalion were in Railway Wood, but it did not come in for any serious attack by the enemy. On the right of the 42nd Brigade, however, it fell to the lot of the 41st Brigade to bear the brunt of a violent onslaught delivered by the Germans on the 30th July, on which occasion, for the first time, the enemy made use of liquid fire, and by that illegal method of warfare drove the unfortunate Brigade out of its position.
The following extracts from the diary of Captain and Adjutant B. C. T. Paget give a continuous and detailed account of the doings of the Battalion :--
May 14th.—We have been expecting to move overseas, in accordance with orders received. This morning we paraded, with the remainder of the 42nd Brigade, in close mass, on the slopes of Beacon Hill, when the Brigadier addressed us on the good and willing work which had been done by all ranks during the past eight months of the hardest training for war ever carried out by any troops; and he told us that we must remember that we were an Army of Vengeance for the abominable crimes and outrages committed by the Germans—a thought which should strengthen us in the day of battle.
May 15th.—Practised mobilization, loading baggage, etc.
May 17th.—Heard today that our move is postponed indefinitely. Our spirits sank to zero. Later we learned that the 41st Brigade have orders to entrain for Southampton at 6.45 a.m. tomorrow Splendid news, for which we have waited for months.
May 18th.—41st Brigade went off today. We received our timetable for tomorrow. The first train with the transport leaves at 8.55 a.m. Busy practising entraining and detraining.
May 19th.—The first trainload marched off the Battalion parade-ground at 7.30 a.m. without a hitch. It consisted of Major Webb (Second in Command), Lieut Maude (Machine-gun), Lieut. Cooke (Transport Officer), and 106 N.C.O.'s and men, with 23 vehicles and 78 horses and mules. Entrained at 8.30 and left at 8.55 a.m. for Southampton and Havre.
Respirators for use against gas were issued today.
May 20th.—Strength of the Battalion, proceeding on active service : 31 officers (including Medical Officer, attached), 924 other ranks, 1 armourer-sergeant, 14 riding horses, 52 draught and pack, 12 heavy draught for train, 25 vehicles (including 6 train wagons), and 9 bicycles.
The second train, under command of Lieut.-Colonel Cobb, left at 4.20 p.m., and arrived at Folkestone at 7.38 p.m.; the third train arrived half an hour later; and embarkation on the "Invicta" took place at once Escorted by a destroyer we reached Boulogne at 10.30 p.m., after a smooth crossing. Disembarked, and, after an hour's uphill march, got into camp at Ostrokoye shortly after midnight
May 2lst.—Reveille at 7 a.m.; much business. Drew an interpreter, Monsieur Guillaume, ranking as Warrant Officer. Q.-M.-S. Manton taken away for the A.G.'s office at Havre. Miss Lena Ashwell gave a concert in the Y.M.C.A. tent at 3 p.m. inspection, by companies, of all kit, equipment, arms, ammunition, etc. Iron ration issued to all ranks. Remained in camp all day.
May 22nd.—Paraded at 2.15 a.m., and marched off at 2.30 for Pont-de-Briques Station, arriving at 3.35 a.m. Entrained, and passing through Boulogne, Calais, and St. Omer (G.H.Q.), reached Bavinchove, near Cassel, at 10.30 a m., and detrained. Our transport was already there, having had 23 hours in the train from Havre.
The men's blankets and waterproof sheets, which they had brought with them, were put on the wagons, and the Battalion marched off. A trying march to Rubrouck in very hot weather, the men having had no breakfast. Sixty-six fell out, but all except two were in half an hour after our arrival. Went into billets—men in barns with plenty of straw, officers in houses with beds and sheets!—the Officers' mess and orderly-room in a large house.
May 23rd.—(Rubrouck.) Church Parade at 10 a.m. 'The C.O. read the King's Message and a special message to the 14th (Light) Division. Lieut. Cobb (Signals) has connected Battalion H.Q. with all companies, etc., which saves a lot of running about; and the 14th Signal Company has connected us up with 42nd Brigade H.Q.
May 24th.—Brigade route march; the men went well, and no one fell out.
May 25th.—Companies paraded, under their Company Commanders, for practising rapid extension. A definite Headquarters Company was formed today.
May 26th.—(Rubrouck.) Special instructions issued about the use and value of respirators. The 41st Brigade moved to-day; we march to-morrow at 6 a.m. The payment for billeting is 1 franc per officer per night, and for the men 5 centimes.
May 27th.—(Rubrouck to Steenvoorde, 12 1/2 miles.) Reveille at 3.30 a.m.; breakfast at 4 a.m.; baggage packed by 4.45, and the Battalion moved off at 5.15 a.m., being leading battalion of the Brigade, and having D Company as advance guard. Marched through Cassel, where there are a lot of French troops, and reached Steenvoorde at about 11 a.m. The men's feet suffered a good deal from marching on the pave in nailed boots. Went into good and clean billets in farms on the east of the town. We have not been able to have a Battalion Officers' mess here, as the companies are much scattered; so the officers of each company have their own mess. We were told that the farm in which we have our headquarters was once occupied by 300 Uhlans.
May 28th.—The C.O. saw companies at training. We are in the Second Army area, under General Sir Herbert Plumer. The H.Q. Company is now in very good working order, under Major Webb There are 8 officers and 150 other ranks, and all are billeted in one farm, which is a great convenience. Visited by Sullivan (52nd), who is A.P.M. of the IInd Army Corps.
May 29th.—(Steenvoorde.) Usual routine hours.
May 30th.—Marched out of billets at 5.25 a.m. as rear Battalion of the Brigade, and passed the crossroads in Godewaersvelde at 6.50 a.m., where General Sir H. Plumer saw us. Then on to Zevecoten, and occupied huts in a wood about one mile south of that place, arriving at 11.15 a.m. after a march of 9 miles over very bad roads and pave. The Battalion marched well, and only one man fell out (sprained ankle). The 14th (Light) Division now forms part of the IInd Army Corps, commanded by General Sir Charles Fergusson, which is in the Second Army (General Plumer), the other Divisions in the Corps being the 5th and the 46th (Territorials). Major Weatherby (52nd), who is G.S.O. 3 of the 5th Division, came to see us this evening. This place is within range of enemy artillery; it has also been gassed. After dinner we watched a heavy bombardment in the direction of Ypres; there was also heavy rifle and machine-gun fire to the east of us. The 9th R.B. here with us; other battalions farther east.
May 3lst.—(Camp near Zevecoten.) General Sir C. Fergusson addressed the Battalion and the 9th R.B. this morning at 9.30 a.m., making a very fine and impressive speech. Major Webb has been appointed Camp Commandant at Dickebusche (about 3 miles from here), which is a blow, as he is our only major. A sergeant and 3 men detailed for permanent divisional guard. Fighting strength of the Battalion today is 28 officers and 900 other ranks.
At 7 p.m. the Battalion paraded as a working party on second line of trenches. We carried 5,000 sandbags, and each man a pick or shovel. As the main road to Ypres was exposed to shell-fire, we moved by side roads north of Dickebusche. Ypres was burning fiercely in three or four places, and Kruisstraathoek, through which we passed, was a mass of ruins and smelling horribly of corpses.
Thence we went north-west to a ruined chateau close to the canal. Our task was the completion of a breastwork from the road junction to the canal and the filling of 5,000 sand-bags for the R.E. The breastwork is almost finished, and is a good bit of work; it extends for miles on either side, and is revetted inside with fine mesh wire netting, the top being sand-bagged for a height of about two feet. Rifle fire of varying intensity continued all night about 1,500 yards north-east of us, and some big guns were firing to the west. The ruined houses were a pathetic sight, and there were dead bodies of women and children in those at the road junction where we were working. The road has evidently been shelled frequently; motor ambulances without lights were passing along it—the, driving must be difficult.
We had to be clear of the Dickebusche-Ypres road by daylight, so stopped work at 1 a.m. (1st June). It was a good experience for us all—the gun and rifle fire, the blazing town of Ypres, the shell-shattered houses, and the stench of corpses.
June 1st.—Marched off at 1.30 a.m. and reached camp at 4.15 a.m., having marched altogether 13 miles without a man falling out. The men had some tea and went to bed. Reveille at 8 a.m.; breakfast, 9 a.m.; Orderly Room, 10.30; Company Commanders inspected their companies and overhauled everything.
Paraded at 7 p.m. for the same work as last night.
June 2nd.—Knocked off work at 1 a.m.; back in camp at 3.30; reveille, 9 a.m.; breakfast; 10 a.m.
At 7 p.m. to work again as before.
June 3rd.—Same as yesterday. Just as we reached our task a shrapnel shell burst a little beyond us, and was followed by several H.E. shells, but they went over us, and we came to the conclusion that they were intended for the batteries on the high ground beyond. Afterwards things were extraordinarily quiet; hardly any shell or rifle fire.
June 4th.—No trench digging tonight; the troops need a rest after five nights' work with a 12-mile march each night.
June 5th.—Ordered to be ready to move tomorrow. The Germans showed considerable activity last night and today in shelling the trenches on which we have been working. Lieut. Maude and the M.G. Section marched at 2 p.m. for the neighbourhood of Dranoutre, where they will be attached to the 5th Leicesters (T.F.) for instruction in the trenches.
June 6th.—(To Dranoutre ) Reveille at 4.15 a.m. 2nd Lieut. Bleeck and a billeting party left at 6,30 a.m. Battalion, with first line transport, etc., marched at 7 a.m., Lieut Birch remaining behind to hand over huts to the 8th R.B. We marched via La Clytte and Locre, and arrived at Dranoutre at 9.40 a.m., took over Dettington huts, but there were only 15 of them, holding 20 to 25 men apiece. So A and B Company, who are for the trenches to-night, bivouacked. Battalion Headquarters were established at a farm, and the C.O. and I then visited H.Q. 138th Brigade, when the Brigadier (Clifford) discussed the programme of training in trench warfare. Afterwards we went on to the H.Q. 4th Leicesters, near Kemmel, for further discussion on the same subject.
A and B Companies go into the trenches tonight with the 4th and 5th Leicesters respectively for 48 hours' instruction. C and D Companies are digging a communication trench.
Casualties.—Wounded : 8477 Sergeant A. Cuss, bullet through wrist, in trenches with M.G. Section; 10891 Private G. Smith, bullet through shoulder, with D Company working party.
June 7th.—(Dranoutre.) C and D Companies returned from work at 3.30 a.m., having been under fairly heavy indirect fire. The C.O., Major Webb, and I went to H.Q. 4th Leicesters at 2 p.m., and were then conducted all round the trenches, taking about 5 hours to complete the tour. We obtained a very good view of the German position, and were much struck by the irregularity of the top of their trenches, as well as by their use of variously coloured sand-bags. Our fire trenches are partly breastwork and partly trench. In many places the smell of decaying humanity is unpleasantly strong; corpses are frequently unearthed during work on the trenches.
Each Brigade has four pigeons in the firing line in charge of a specialist. In case of emergency, when the telephone wire has been cut, a pigeon (with message) is released, and flies to Bailleul; but a bird only remains two days in the trenches, and is then released. We were told that a pigeon has been timed between Kemmel and Bailleul, and flew the distance in 3 minutes, i.e., 100 miles per hour.
Having made a minute inspection of everything, we returned to the 4th Leicesters' H.Q. for dinner, after which Colonel Cobb and Major Webb made a night tour of the trenches, while I went through returns, etc., with the Leicester Adjutant.
June 8th.—D Company paraded at 3 p.m. for work on the communication trench between Regent Street and Pall Mall. C Company paraded at H.Q. 4th Lincolns, near Locre, at 8.50 p.m., and relieved B Company in the trenches. At night I accompanied the Adjutant, 4th Leicesters (Captain Dyer-Bennett), on a tour of the trenches. We crawled out in front of our trenches to look at a mine crater, and made the serious error of not warning our men.
In consequence, we had a hot time from both sides, and Dyer-Bennett was hit in the leg, and got a slight bayonet wound in jumping over the parapet, and I got a scratch from a bullet in the shoulder.
Casualty.—11953 Private R. Stevenson (B Company), M.G. Section, wounded in the thigh last night in a listening post.
June 9th.—Lieut. Crawford, with 14 of the Reserve M.G. Section, relieved Lieut. Maude and 12 of the Service Section in the trenches held by the 4th Lincolns, where also is C Company. Lieut Ridge-Jones to Etaples, to command Base Details temporarily. Lectures and demonstrations. Very hot and sultry. A Company used baths of 138th Brigade.
June 10th.—(Dranoutre.) B Company at work on communication trenches from 1.30 to 7.30 p.m., and then relieved D Company in the right sector of the trenches. A relieved C in the left sector at 8 p.m. Major Webb and I went round the trenches in the afternoon.
Casualty.—10776 Bugler R. Donald, slightly wounded.
June 11th.—2nd Lieut. Carter returned from M.G. course. A and B Companies came out of trenches preparatory to move of Battalion. Company Sanitary Sections have been under training with the Divisional Sanitary Section.
June 12th.—(Dranoutre to La Clytte.) Battalion paraded at 7 a.m., and marched, via; Dranoutre and Locre, to huts near La Clytte. Colonel Cobb and Major Webb reconnoitred east of Ypres. The Germans put a few shrapnel into Canada Huts, occupied by 5th K.S.L.I. and 8th K.R.R C., to the north of us.
June 13th.—Church Parade at 9.45 a.m. Major Webb and Captain Barwell out on reconnaissance to east of Ypres; and later Captain Carfrae and Lieut. Berlein went on same duty. Battalion system of Intelligence started under Major Webb.
June 14th.—(La Clytte to Vlamertinghe.) Reveille at 6.30 a.m. Marched at 9.15 a.m., with two minutes interval between companies, by Zevecoten and Ouderdom to huts about a mile south-west of Vlamertinghe. Battalion made dug-outs and improved and drained company trenches in case of being shelled, as the Germans have been firing on the water-tanks here (supplied by pipes from Dickebusche).
Draft of 90 N.C.O.'s and men arrived, from 3rd Battalion, under 2nd Lieut. Sweet-Escott. There were a good many old 43rd and 52nd men.
June 15th.—(Vlamertinghe to trenches south of Ypres.) Battalion paraded at 9.45 p.m. and marched at 10 p.m., men with 200 rounds of ammunition First-line transport parked at a farm; train returned to Poperinghe. The Brigade marched in two columns by the main road to Ypres and the Battalion went into trenches just south of the Lille Gate. On arrival the two sand-bags carried by each man were filled, and cover improved.
June 16th.—(Trenches south of Ypres.) At 3.30 a.m. our artillery opened very heavy fire with about 100 guns, and continued, with one short break, until 6.30 a.m. During this time we received news of what was going on from our Divisional H.Q. At 4.20 a.m. we received a message, "1st Army successfully attacked enemy's trenches 6 p.m. last night. 51st Division captured German redoubts (vicinity Festubert), Canadian and 6th Divisions capturing enemy's first line trenches."
At 5.20 a.m. a further message said: "At 4.22 a.m. Scots Fusiliers penetrated first line trenches; at 4.30 a.m. Liverpool Scottish preparing to assault." At 5.45 a.m. we heard : "5th Fusiliers have captured first line of trenches in Railway Wood and to south of it. Royal Fusiliers and Wilts have also captured trenches. 26 prisoners taken."
At 9.50 a.m. we were held in readiness to move. At 11.30 a.m. A Company (in north end of trenches) moved out to occupy dugouts on the railway bank, but found them still full of 9th K.R.R.C., so had to remain outside. At noon Brigade H.Q. stopped further movement.
A German observation balloon was hanging all day Over Hooge, looking straight down the railway past Hell-fire Corner, and was reminiscent of a story in the "Green Curve," which came true for us later in the day.
At 3.30 p.m. we moved east along the south side of the railway across a ridge, which was being heavily shelled by the enemy, and into some trenches south of the Menin Road, near Hell-fire Corner. Here the Battalion was collected, less half A Company, which, under Major Webb's guidance, had gone on to trenches north of the road about 800 yards ahead. We had a few men hit in crossing the ridge.
Colonel Cobb and I now went across the Menin Road and up a communication trench, in some places three feet deep in water, and found it blocked by wounded near the recently captured enemy first-line trench. We were told that all the assembly trenches, into which we had been ordered to move, were already packed with troops, so we returned to the Battalion, and I went off to the H Q. 9th Infantry Brigade to make inquiries, and found them in a dugout under the railway. At 8 p.m. 42nd Brigade received orders to return to Vlamertinghe under cover of darkness, battalions to move independently. Apparently what had happened was that ten battalions had been brought up to occupy a three-battalion front, and there was no room for us. The men were much disappointed at not being able to push on and get at the enemy. The trenches in which we were were very heavily shelled by shrapnel and H.E. for about an hour and a half in the evening. Lieut. C. M. Berlein was killed; 2nd Lieut Curry wounded; Captain Carfrae slightly wounded, but remained at duty; and 30 other ranks were wounded. The Battalion behaved splendidly in this, its first engagement, which the G.O.C. admitted was a severe test. Collected our kits, which had been left in the dug-outs, and marched back to camp by companies, C Company carrying back Lieut. Berlein's body.
June 17th.—(Vlamertinghe.) Lieut. Berlein was buried at 2.30 p.m. near the huts. His platoon and the officers of the Battalion, also some officers of the 5th K.S.L.I., attended. We have now a standing order to be ready to move off at two hours' notice. We hear that the Vth Corps captured the 1st and 2nd, and in some places the 3rd lines of German trenches north of Hooge yesterday, but had to give up the 2nd and 3rd lines, so now occupy the whole of the 1st line of German trenches on a front of 1,000 yards. One hundred and seventy German prisoners were taken.
June 18th.—(Vlamertinghe.) The C.O. and Company Commanders rode out to H.Q;, 9th Infantry Brigade, and were shown round the trenches into which we are to go tomorrow.
June 19th.—(Vlamertinghe to trenches on Ypres salient.) A draft of 50 men from the 3rd Battalion arrived today. The Battalion paraded at 7.15 p.m., to take over, from the 2nd R. Scots, trenches on the Ypres salient. Moved off with 100 yards between companies, and between rear company and transport. Just after we left Vlamertinghe a shell fell in it, killing and wounding some 20 of the 9th K.R.R.C. We marched through Ypres—a city of the dead, not a house without a shell-hole, and the Cloth Hall in ruins. We have had to burn certain quarters nearest the enemy, in order to lessen the effect of their shells. We went out by the Menin Gate, guides from the Royal Scots meeting us there; and passing the cemetery, which is very much knocked about by shells, came to the Ecole de Bienfaisance. From here companies went on, with a quarter of an hour interval between each, up the road alongside a communication trench to Railway Wood trenches.
Transport dumped supplies and 124 petrol cans of water at the Ecole, and then returned to the Brigade centre at Vlamertinghe. Companies began to get into their trenches at 10 p.m.; at 11 p.m. the enemy started shelling the communication trenches with lachrymatory shells and shrapnel. This went on all the time the relief was taking place; the low-lying ground was thickly covered with gas fumes, which made breathing difficult and the eyes very painful. The relief was completed by 3 a.m. (20th). Casualties.—Lieut. Crawford severely wounded; 2nd Lieut. Clarke slightly, by a shell which burst on the railway; other ranks, 6 killed, 7 wounded.
June 20th.—(Railway Wood trenches.) Spent the day in surveying our position, which is a pretty unhealthy one. The trenches require a great deal of work to make them habitable. They were captured from the Germans on the 16th, and had been almost destroyed by our shell fire. They are narrow and shallow, without traverses. Corpses lie all over the place. Some have been there for six weeks between the old opposing first line trenches. As we now occupy what was the German first line, things are rather topsy-turvy in places, with communication trenches running up towards the enemy. These, of course, are now blocked.
A, C, and D Companies are in the front line, B in reserve. The latter supplies 3 platoons for carrying up water, rations, etc., from the dump at the Ecole. This took from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. for two journeys. Water very short, not a full water-bottle per man for the 24 hours.
June 21st.—(Railway Wood trenches.) Fairly quiet day. Snipers busy; artillery on both sides registering. At night two officers patrols, under 2nd Lieuts. Davies and Le Mesurier, were sent out to examine enemy position, and try to find out if it was held in any strength, as our airmen had reported that large German forces had moved southwards. Left patrol, under Davies, reported enemy holding trench south of Y. 7, facing south; also in the easternmost of the two trenches running south from Y. 7, and the northern end (near railway) of the trench west of Y. 7. The fire coining from these trenches points to their being strongly held. Right patrol (Le Mesurier) reported enemy holding trenches west of Bellewaarde Farm in some strength.
At dawn about 40 enemy advanced against our barrier, but were bombed back, leaving behind them two dead, if not more.
June 22nd.—The following hours are observed in the trenches held by the 42nd Infantry Brigade at present :-- Stand to Arms, 1.45 to 2.45 a.m. Rest and breakfast, 2.45 to 8 a.m. Work in trenches, 8 to 11 a.m. Rest and dinner, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Work in trenches, 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Tea, 5 to 6 p.m. Stand to Arms, 6 to 8 p.m.
Tonight we were ordered to attack the enemy redoubt opposite C. 5. From 7 to 7.40 p.m., and from 7.45 to 8 p.m., some five batteries carried out a bombardment.
Two platoons of C Company in two columns were ordered to carry out the assault, led by 2nd Lieut. Davies from C. 5 trench, and 2nd Lieut. Jackson from the Barricade (C. 4) both columns headed by a party of bomb-throwers (our own men with some from the 5th K.S.L.I. and 9th R.B.).
The bombardment was tremendous while it lasted, our guns pounding the Germans, and their guns pounding us. At 8 p.m. the bombardment ceased; but, as we had had to evacuate our front trenches during our bombardment, there was some delay in getting the assaulting columns up into position again, ready to advance. This, unfortunately, enabled the enemy to reoccupy the redoubt, and when our columns moved forward they came under very heavy fire. The two columns acted in accordance with orders, but when (8.15 p.m.) No. 1 column had gone a short distance beyond the barrier, it was met by machine-gun and rifle-fire from a work in low-lying ground to the right of the redoubt. No. 2 column kept too much to the right, and Captain A. Webb (C Company), who was controlling operations from a central position, ran out to try correct the direction, but was too late.
2nd Lieut. Davies and a few men of No. 2 column reached the redoubt, which proved to be strongly held. In the meanwhile No. 1 column had been checked by the heavy fire. Then someone was heard to shout out "Retire"; and although the men had been warned of this German trick, some of them forgot the warning, and began to retire. By now 2nd Lieut. Davies had, it is thought, been killed, and 2nd Lieut, Jackson severely wounded; but Lieut. Barleven, of the 62nd Company R.E., realizing what was happening, shouted to the men not to retire, and rallied those at hand, but in the end was obliged to retire.
The columns returned to the fire-trench, which they lined and held. Two platoons of B Company came up to reinforce, as soon as the C.O. heard that the attack was held up. Great assistance was rendered by the 62nd Company R.E., who, when the column was checked, threw down their tools, and charged in with our men.
June 23rd.—The day passed fairly quietly.
June 24th.—The Germans in the redoubt put up a notice-board, on which was written: "This way to the Redoubt." They also put out red and white artillery screens in front of their trenches—probably thinking that our guns would cease firing. At night we were relieved by the 6th Somersets.
June 25th.—The relief was late, and we did not get away from the trenches until early morning, which, fortunately, was misty. Companies marched back through Ypres, which in the mist of early dawn looked ghostly and desolate. One mile west of the town the Battalion assembled, and then marched on to a point a little west of Vlamertinghe, where a hot meal was served out, after which we proceeded, through Poperinghe, to very comfortable billets in farms and fields about 3^ miles north-west of the latter place.
Casualties during this tour in the trenches.—Killed, 20 N.C.O.'s and men ; wounded, Lieut. Crawford, 2nd Lieut. Jackson, 2nd Lieut. Clarke, and 96 N.C.O.'s and men; missing (believed killed), 2nd Lieut. I. T. Dvies, and 6 N.C.O.'s and men.
June 26th.—(Billets near Poperinghe.) Day spent in cleaning up, and checking casualties.
June 27th.—Church Parade. Discussion at Brigade H.Q. concerning the carrying up of supplies to the trenches. The method adopted has not worked satisfactorily; more men are required; and it is suggested that whole battalions shall be employed, which means that two battalions would have to be kept in reserve, and the other two up in the trenches.
June 28th.—The C.O. addressed each company in turn. 2nd Lieut. Cupper (now Brigade Bombing Officer) started a bombing school.
June 29th.—Companies at drill, skirmishing, etc. Cold and wet. 2nd Lieut. Bleeck appointed sniping and bombing officer to the Battalion.
June 30th- Training in bomb-throwing, attacking trenches, etc.
July 1st.-(Billets near Poperinghe.) Route marching by companies.
July 2nd.—A draft of 96 N.C.O.'s and men arrived. We are now at full strength, except in officers, of whom we are 7 short.
Heard today that Private Astill died at Bailleul, on the 29th of last month, of wounds received on the 24th He was a stretcher bearer, and always showed great bravery. It was while rescuing a wounded man in Cambridge Road that he was hit.
We furnished tonight a working-party of 400 men (100 from each company, with an officer), under the command of Major Webb. The party went in motor buses to Ypres, and thence, via the Lille Gate, to dig trenches on the salient.
July 3rd.—The working-party returned at 4.30 a.m.; no casualties
July 4th —Church Parade at 10 a.m. Cricket Match against the 9th R.B. in the afternoon; won by us.
July 5th —Sergeant-Major drilling the new draft. A good many of the men have come out again after being wounded, and do not appear to be fit for active service yet. Although the draft contains some very good old soldiers, the quality generally is not so good as our original material.
July 6th.—(Billets near Poperinghe.) Brigade-bombers training with live bombs.
Working-party of 4 officers and 274 other ranks, under Captain Logan, left for Ypres at 6 p.m.
July 7th.—Played the 5th K.S.L.I, at cricket, and beat them. The country all around is covered with crops, and looks very prosperous. Colonel Cobb went up to the trenches at Railway Wood, on the Ypres salient, to arrange with the O.C., 8th R.B., about our relieving his battalion tomorrow night.
July 8th.—Preparing to go up to the trenches. Parties moved up separately, and assembled at the advanced starting point, at the road junction west of Ypres. At 8.30 p.m. the companies moved off at intervals of a quarter of an hour, and reached the trenches without casualties.
July 9th.—(Railway Wood trenches.) The relief was completed by 1.5 a.m. The communication trenches have been much improved since we were last here, and Cambridge Road has been traversed as a protection from shells from Wytschaete.
Heavy mist at dawn, which was utilized for various small reconnaissances, but it made it necessary for all front-line trenches to stand to arms until 4 a.m. Severe shelling by our guns and by the enemy's going on all the afternoon and evening; aircraft also very active—apparently neither side out for a fight.
Carrying-parties (strength about 400) of the 5th K.S.L.I. brought up all our rations, stores, etc., tonight. Very quiet night, for which we were thankful, as we had a lot of work to do wiring and at French trench. Since we were last here the Huns have learned how to burst 77 mm, shells short of and in Cambridge Road. Casualties.—1 man killed, and 3 wounded.
July 10th.—At 7.10 a.m. enemy bombarded our railway barricade, and knocked it down. About 100 H.E. shells were fired at it. A good deal of artillery fire on both sides all day, also trench mortars firing on Railway Wood. Logan's dug-out was blown up; he had left it three minutes before. Casualties.—7 men wounded.
July 11th.—We frequently send off a pair of pigeons to Poperinghe for practice. They are brought up overnight by the carrying-parties. From Poperinghe the messages are telephoned to Divisional H.Q., and thence to the addresses given. The artillery supporting our section of the line at present consists of 2 batteries 18-pr., 1 battery 4.5 howitzers, 1 siege-gun (6-in.); and in our front line we have 2 trench howitzers, which are very useful for replying to enemy whiz-bangs on our trenches. We are rapidly making the French trench tenable, thus linking up D. 10 and D. 12. Casualties.—17 men wounded, and 1 officer slightly (remained at duty).
July 12th.—(In trenches.) About 3 a.m. a hand-grenade (supposed to have been one of our own) exploded in one of C Company's bombing posts, killed Corporal Ludford, and severely wounded three others, two of whom subsequently died. Casualties.—1 killed, 13 wounded.
July 13th.—Our artillery bombarded the enemy barricade on the railway, commencing at 9.45 a.m. At about 10.30 a.m. our observing aeroplane was seen to dive down head first in a sheet of flame, and to fall about 600 yards in rear of enemy's lines—evidently the petrol tank had been hit by shrapnel bullets. Our artillery thereupon ceased bombarding, but had already done a good deal of damage to the barricade,
We were relieved in the trenches tonight by the 5th K.S.L.I., the first party arriving at Cambridge Road at 10.45 p.m. The relief was stopped for a short time, on account of an enemy attack to the north of us, but was completed by 1.15 a.m. (14th) without any trouble. Casualties today.—4 men killed, 7 men wounded.
July 14th.—(Ypres.) The Battalion went into dug-outs in the ramparts of Ypres, between Menin Gate and Sally Port, D Company on the north of the Menin Gate. Battalion H.Q. in a large bakehouse, cut in the ramparts, next to Brigade H.Q. in a similar place; some of the Company officers' dug-outs very comfortable and not badly furnished. D Company found a large and well-stocked cellar in their portion of the ramparts. The Battalion found the carrying-party for the 5th K.S.L.I. tonight—9 officers and 443 other ranks. Casualties.—3 killed and 7 wounded.
July 15th.—Day spent in cleaning up. Night very wet. Carrying-parties (8 officers and 411) took 3 1/2 hours, instead of about one hour, to reach the trenches. At 9 p.m. every night our transport brings up rations, mails, etc., to Battalion H.Q. One or two of the wagons remain, until the return of the carrying-parties, who bring back, from the trenches, salved rifles, equipment, etc., of the casualties. Casualties.—7 men of D Company wounded in Cambridge Road by a 77 mm. tonight.
July 16th.—D Company's cellar was cleared, by priests and gendarmes, of its contents, the wine being removed in motor lorries. The owner is in England. During the day we pulled down some walls of ruined houses which were swaying dangerously in the wind; cleared the roads of debris, and collected the timber for the Brigade workshop. Very wet night. Carrying-party, 8 officers and 372.
July 17th.—Officers of 10th D.L.I, visited dug-outs, preparatory to taking over tomorrow. Our artillery fairly busy all day, but the enemy makes no reply. In addition to the usual carrying-party, we furnished a working-party of 2 officers and 100 men, but owing to failure of guides to meet the party, they did not arrive at their task until 1.30 a.m. (18th), and it was then too late to start work.
July 18th.—Battalion relieved by 10th D.L.I, at 10 p.m., and marched back, by companies independently, via Vlamertinghe.
July 19th.—(Between Vlamertinghe and Poperinghe.) Arrived at 1 a.m., and went into dug-out shelters in a field, south of the main road between these two places. The whole Battalion in one field and the rest of the Brigade close by in Corps Reserve—at an hour's notice. A hostile aeroplane came over this afternoon and had a good look at the mass of troops here. At 7 p.m. we saw Hooge Chateau blown up by one of our mines, and then heavily shrapnelled, to catch the survivors as they bolted.
July 20th.—The Battalion bathed at Poperinghe, and changed shirts and socks. The 5th K.S.L.I, have been using a catapult in the trenches, to throw jam-tin bombs into the German trenches, which are out of range by hand throwing.
July 2lst.—Furnished three working-parties today (total 8 officers and 400), to work on redoubt 1 1/2 miles west of Ypres and on another redoubt east of the Ecole. New Bombing and Machine gun classes started, under Bleeck and Maude respectively. A draft of 20 N.C.O.'s and men, under Lieuts Bird and Newman, arrived.
July 22nd.--Working-parties continued work on redoubt west of Ypres from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. (4 officers and 200).
July 23rd.--Between Vlamertinghe and Poperinghe. Working-parties resumed work on two redoubts west of Ypres, from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. (8 officers and 400). A draft of 60 N.C.O.'s and men, under Lieut. H. J. T. Day, arrived. We played the 9th R.B. at cricket.
July 24th.—Working-parties at the redoubts, and for burying telephone wire along the Menin road. A certain amount of shelling going on all around us. Our aeroplanes patrolling well the last few days, and no enemy machine has come over.
July 25th.—Colonel Cobb, who has been ill for the last two days, left for Mont-des-Cats at 4 p.m., and Major W. F. R. Webb took over the command of the Battalion. He went up to the trenches to arrange about the relief of the two battalions of the 43rd Brigade tomorrow.
July 26th.—Moved up to the trenches at night, as on the last occasion. Relief completed half an hour after midnight, in spite of the complications arising from the fact that the 43rd Brigade always have 3 battalions up and 1 battalion in reserve, whereas the 42nd Brigade have two up and two in reserve. Communication trench very muddy—in places up to one's knees. Very quiet night. Casualty.—1 man of D Company killed by shrapnel.
July 27th.—A little rain. Lots of whiz-bangs, to which our 18-prs. replied on enemy trenches. We did not do nearly enough retaliation today; must get a move on in this matter, as life is not worth living until we prove ourselves top-dog. Casualties.—2 men killed; Captain Logan and 3 men wounded.
July 28th.—Enemy much more active that when we were last here. We are also determined to make ourselves as offensive as possible with trench-mortars, catapult bomb throwing, sniping, etc. Many working-parties of the enemy can often be seen between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., and again in the evening, chiefly north of the railway, but our batteries are not allowed to fire on these targets. Casualties.—2 men killed, and 8 wounded.
July 29th.—Some heavy shelling in afternoon. Considerable annoyance from trench-mortars; ours cannot retaliate effectively owing to shortage of detonators. A good deal of sniping on both sides throughout the day, and we put some catapult bombs into the enemy's trenches. Casualties.—2 men killed, and 20 wounded.
July 30th.—Enemy very active; much shelling, especially opposite Hooge. Lieut. Bleeck reported that he saw streams of flames being poured into our trenches (41st Brigade) at Hooge. Bombardment continued for over an hour, and was still going on pretty heavily at 5.15 a.m. Telephone wires all cut. Casualties.—3 men killed; Lieut. Jury and 25 men wounded.
July 3lst.—Situation at 8.30 a.m.: 3 battalions. 43rd Brigade, relieved 41st Brigade last night. At 2 a.m. the enemy made a heavy attack on their front, and penetrated Zouave Wood. Our artillery appear to have beaten off the greater part of the attack, and a counter-attack by the Cornwalls recaptured the northern edge of Zouave Wood. The position we now hold is G. 10 to the first house on the Menin road; 9th K.R.R.C thence S. 3. a. The 43rd Brigade hold northern edge of Zouave Wood, and Sanctuary Wood up to G. 1. The enemy used liquid fire yesterday against the 41st Brigade, and drove them back. The liquid is brought up to their trenches in cylinders, and with compression of about 5 atmospheres is sprayed forward, lighting spontaneously. It requires no fire to start it, and the maximum distance to which it can be thrown is about 40 yards. Heavy shelling between 2 and 4 a.m., and again between 2 and 4 p.m. on Sunken Road and Cambridge Road, as well as in the vicinity of K. 2. Very little damage; casualties of day and night estimated at 15. Enemy opened rifle and grenade-fire at 2.15 a.m., and maintained it for about 20 minutes. Our mortars did good work on the redoubt in the afternoon, blowing holes in the parapet. Our heavy guns shot very accurately on the redoubt, and knocked it about a good deal. The enemy's mortars were again a nuisance day and night; his ammunition seems unlimited; ours is at present very short. Captain Carfrae and Lieut. Birch, of B Company, did most useful work observing what was going on at Hooge from K. 16-17, where it is still possible to look over the parapet without a periscope. At 2 p.m. our artillery opened fire preparatory to counter attack on Hooge, and the enemy shelled heavily in return, using also trench-mortars. Our snipers had a good day, bagging 1 officer and 8 others for certain, and probably more. Casualties.—1 man killed, 15 wounded, and 2 temporarily insane.
REINFORCEMENTS TO 31ST JULY 1915. 4 Officers and 266 other ranks (4 Reinforcements).
SUMMARY OF CASUALTIES IN THE 5th BATTALION. 6TH JUNE to 31ST JULY 1915.