5th (SERVICE) BATTALION RECORD 1915-1916 Based on extracts from the Regimental Chronicles of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
1915 On the 1st August 1915 the Battalion, forming part of the 42nd Infantry Brigade of the 14th (Light) Division, was still in the neighbourhood of Ypres, holding trenches near the Menin Road
August 1st. — Fairly quiet day. The usual large number of mortar-shells and rifle-grenades sent over by the enemy. Communication between the Battalion and supporting batteries needs improvement — too slow at present. We did some retaliation with our trench mortars and catapult, and our heavies did some good work.
At 9.38 a.m. the enemy got into the east end of G.10.1 Bomb counter-attack was made, and enemy checked. We and the 9th R.B. sent out bombers to assist. All day bombing continued in G.10, without much advantage to either side. Our 9.2-inch howitzers did some useful work.
At 10 p.m. two green lights, followed by one red one, went up from the German lines; shelling on the R.B. trenches followed. Our line was quiet. Enemy appears to have evacuated most of his front line trenches opposite us, judging by his Very lights. We are holding our front line very lightly, in case of bombardment or mine.
Casualties. — 2 men killed; 2nd Lieut. Fenwick and 17 men wounded .
August 2nd. — An enemy working party of about 30 was seen just south of the railway in the afternoon, and was dispersed by our artillery. The Germans were working on their communications just north and south of the railway with great vigour last week, but were not observed on the 30th/31st — during the period of activity at Hooge.
At 10 p.m. the enemy apparently had a scare and sent up the S.O.S. signal. Their guns opened heavily on the R.B. trenches for about fifteen minutes. Their signal for guns was two green lights followed by one red one. They seem to change their signals very frequently. A large fire was observed east of Beliewaarde Farm. It is thought that the Germans burn their dead in these fires, or that they are used as guiding-points to troops advancing at night. The enemy has evidently more or less vacated the redoubt east of Railway Wood during the last two nights, no doubt due to the accurate shelling of our 6-inch howitzers and our trench mortars, which have put in a good many bombs at odd hours. The parapet of this redoubt has been much knocked about, and it is probably a most unpleasant place in which to spend the night. Flares went up at night from the usual places, except at the point of the redoubt opposite H.20.
Casualties.—2 men killed; Lieut. Birch and 5 men wounded.
August 3rd.—At 3 a.m. the Germans sent up an unusual number of flares—even for them. They had evidently got wind up, and feared an attack. They have improved their communications between Eclusette and Hooge, and cannot be easily sniped now from H.17. Our observation and sniper's post in Railway Wood Was shelled out by 77mm. yesterday morning. The 77mm. north of the railway is a source of continual damage to personnel and trenches. Range 3,400 metres. Yesterday it fired salvoes of 4 guns continuously from 4 to 5 a.m., and from 8.30 to 10.30 a.m., with a few rounds in the evening.
Mining by the enemy is said to be going on near Railway Barrier. The R.E. have been requested to superintend the construction of a listening shaft. One of our sentries reported that he saw, in the enemy's redoubt opposite Railway Wood, a man wearing a blue-topped cap with red band and shiny peak. Probably a Staff Officer. Regret he was not bagged.
Casualties.—4 men wounded.
August 4th.—Enemy's 77mm. batteries busy during the morning. At 3 p.m. he opened with "crumps"' and "whizz-bangs" on our trenches. Our field-guns replied as far as the limited supply of ammunition permitted. A good many rifle-grenades and trench-mortar bombs were fired into H.21, to which we replied. From H.I7 there have been observed on the enemy's parapet two round, spectacle like tubes, which work on a pivot, and at times disappear. They are probably a periscope and overlook Hooge and the valley west of it.
Casualties.—2 men killed, and 9 wounded.
August 5th.—The enemy replied to our artillery bombardment this morning with heavy field-gun fire and some 5.9's. His mortars were also active, and ours replied. We put 5 mortar bombs into the enemy's redoubt opposite Railway Wood, as a working party was seen there. The situation to-day was altogether more lively than usual. The enemy was trench - mortaring and firing "whizz-bangs" all day. The latter from field-guns cause 95 per cent, of our casualties. We ourselves replied with trench mortars and catapult bombs. The enemy's aerial - torpedo mortar was located, and one of our 9.2-inch howitzers fired at it, the first shot, it is believed, being a “direct hit" I sincerely hope so, as its projectile is very trying to the nerves.
Casualties.—2 men killed, and 5 wounded.
Major Webb received the following note from Captain G. Willoughby, 9th R.B., commanding the company on our right :--
"May I take the opportunity which the present quiet offers of thanking you and all your Battalion for their unceasing kindness to us during the last few days ? Wounded men, stretcher-bearers, and everyone who came in contact with your officers or men, all say how very good your Battalion were in rendering them assistance in every conceivable way. As O.C. the Company on your immediate right, the Company and I wish especially to express our gratitude to you, and at the same time the hope that we may give the Boche a licking in the near future, in company with your Battalion."
August 6th.—Situation very lively. Soon after 5 a.m. thirteen Minenwerfer were put into our trench (H.21) and Railway Wood. Our artillery was turned on, but the enemy's fire did not slacken until our howitzers got to work. At about midday there was very heavy field-gun fire from the north, enfilading our trenches in Railway Wood. After about a quarter of an hour our artillery stopped it, but not before our trenches had been a good deal damaged.
At night we were relieved by the 5th K.S.L.I., and proceeded to positions in reserve: A and B in dug-outs near Hell fire Corner; C in the ramparts of Ypres; D in G.H.Q. line. Relief completed by 12 midnight.
Casualties.—Killed, 7 men; wounded, Lieut. Bird and 17 men.
August 7th.—-Have to be very careful not to give away positions of A, B, and D Companies to enemy aircraft, which are very active over this area. An officer always on duty watching for aeroplanes. Found carrying parties for rations and water for 5th K.S.L.I. One man was wounded.
He was killed on the 9th August.
August 8th-9th.—Lieut.-Colonel Cobb, being O.C. Left Sector (5th K.S.L.I. and 2 companies 9th R.B.), remained in the trenches when the Battalion was relieved. From 6 p.m. the 8th to 6 p.m. the 9th the enemy kept up an almost continuous bombardment, with much rifle fire, which caused considerable damage and many casualties. Two platoons of the Battalion were sent up as reinforcements during the early morning of the 9th. On this day Captain Carfrae was employed as Divisional Observing 'Officer to watch the attack of the 6th Division on Hooge. He wore a French steel cap to protect his head, and, in a succession of messages, rendered very valuable information. One man was killed and 3 men were wounded in the Battalion today.
August 10th.—Comparatively quiet, but a good deal of shelling and bombing going on at Hooge.
We were relieved by the 43rd Brigade tonight, and companies marched back independently to a field about half a mile west of Vlamertinghe—not much rest or comfort after 15 days in the trenches !
Casualties.—6 men wounded.
August 11th.—The Germans shelled Vlamertinghe morning and evening with 12-inch shells. Spent the day in sorting ourselves out a bit, but nothing can be put up in the field, because of enemy aircraft.
August 12th.— Colonel Cobb took over the command of the Brigade, the Brigadier having been invalided to England with dysentery. We now find a daily working party (1 officer and 50 men) for the redoubt near Hell-fire Corner, the party going by motor-bus to Ypres, and marching thence. Major Webb now commands the Battalion.
A draft of 30 N.C.O.'s arid men arrived; amongst them several recovered from wounds.
August 13th.—Furnishing more working parties. Sent a man for a 3 day course in the care of carrier pigeons.
Yesterday the whole Battalion had baths in Poperirighe and got clean shirts.
Very heavy rain most of today.
August 14th.—Colonel Cobb addressed the Battalion on the good work done during the last tour in the trenches, and made some special mentions.
Sent Lieut. Clarke and 3 men to a course of instruction in Toby Mortars; also one man to a 7 day carrier-pigeon course at the 6th Corps Pigeon Loft, Watou.
August 15th.—Church Parade at 10 a.m. usual. Working parties as commenced.
August 16th.—Company Training
Brigadier-General Dudgeon, C.B., took over command of the Brigade, vice Brigadier-General Markham, invalided to England. Lieut.-Colonel Cobb returned to the command of the Battalion. We have opened a canteen, which is very popular. Country beer ld., English beer 5d., a pint.
August 17th.—"Granny" (12-in. howitzers) fired 3 rounds in the morning, which stirred the Germans up to considerable activity, and they shelled the main road near Vlamertinghe, as well as north of our camp. Gas shells prevented our working parties from going out.
Casualties during the last tour in the tranches: Officers, 5 wounded; other ranks, 27. killed and 157 wounded. Total all ranks, 189.
Total casualties since 20th May 1915 (date of landing) : Officers, 1 killed, 1 missing, 11 wounded; other ranks, 62 killed, 2 missing, 345 wounded, 11 invalided. Total all ranks, 433.
August 18th.—The new Brigadier saw the companies at work in the morning, and the Corps Commander (General Sir J. Keir, K.C.B.) inspected the Battalion in the afternoon. Commenced various courses of instruction, etc., to be continued while the Battalion remains in the rest area; 5 men to Divisional Signalling and Linesman's Course. The Armourer Sergeant instructs subaltern officers and platoon sergeants in the care and inspection of arms.
August 19th.—Major Webb, Captain Webb, and Lieut. Le Messurier went to look at trenches H. 13 to 17 (inclusive), which C and D Companies are to take over tomorrow night. Major Wood, Brigade Major of our Brigade, gave us a 500 high-velocity sporting rifle, with solid nickel bullets, for use against "Copper-bottomed Fritz"—the "German armoured aeroplane which is so fond of hovering over our trenches. A reward of £15 is offered to the man who brings down the first aeroplane ! (The reward was never claimed !)
A draft of 88 N.C.O.'s and men arrived.
We now have no more than 19 officers all told—2 per company, and the remainder with H.Q., as four have gone sick, and the remainder have been wounded.
No more working parties after midday today.
August 20th.—Signallers, machine-gunners, and bombers went into the trenches by day. Companies paraded and marched off independently at 10 minutes' interval, commencing at 7 p.m. Marched to the Prison at Ypres, and thence to Dixmude Gate, on the north of the city, so as to avoid the Square, as the Germans are still putting 17-inch and 12-inch shells into the Cloth Hall and Cathedral. Moved on to the Ecole, on the Menin Road, where guides from the 6th K.O.Y.L.I. were found. C and D Companies in trenches H.13-17, B Company to F.13, and A to G.H.Q. line. Battalion H.Q. in Brigade, Battle H.Q. dugout, beside the railway, just east of Hell fire Corner. Relief complete by 11.20 p.m. No fires are allowed in F.13 or G.H.Q. line for fear of observation by hostile aircraft. The night was very quiet.
2nd Lieut. Mitchell (promoted from the ranks of the 4th Battalion, T.F.) joined the Battalion for duty, and was posted to D Company.
August 21st.—About 8.30 a.m. a few crumps and some shrapnel fell on the western communication trench, near the Menin Road, and in Chateau Wood. Heavy rain in the morning.
Strength of the Battalion in the trenches: 16 officers and 712 other ranks. Left at Brigade Centre Camp, with the transport : 2 officers and 144 other ranks.
Between 3 and 3.30 p.m. there was a whizz-bang bombardment on the railway near Battalion H.Q., one shell making a hole in the roof of Captain Cobb's dug-out. This shelling was probably brought on by people moving about too much. For the remainder of the day and night the enemy was inactive except for a few trench mortars. We supply large working-parties at night for work in the trenches, and have parties at work in front of our parapet.
August 22nd.—Enemy aircraft very active over our lines today, otherwise very quiet, and less shelling than usual. Enemy shelled Ypres.
A and B Companies relieved C and D in the firing-line to-night; the signallers, machine-gunners, and bombers having been relieved by day.
Captain A. Webb, Lieut. Le Mesurier, and 3 men were sent down sick to Brigade Centre.
At night we furnished a working party of 40 men for Railway Wood.
A draft of 20 N.C.O.'s and men arrived.
August 23rd.—There was a good deal of shelling by field-guns on both sides in the morning. The C.O., Second in Command, and Company Commanders of the 5th K.S.L.I, came to our H.Q. in the morning to arrange about relieving us. They had walked up the railway from Sally Port to Hell-fire Corner, which was madness, as it can be seen from Hooge. They were, of course, shelled, and lost two officers.
Relief begun at 8 p.m. and completed by 11 p.m. Beautiful moonlight night. Companies went back independently to huts just west of Vlamertinghe. Both this place and Ypres have been much knocked about by the recent shelling.
The Germans are apparently using a new kind of phosphorous shell (mortar), which bursts in the air and emits a quantity of smoke, as well as liquid, the latter burning small holes in clothing upon which it happens to fall; probably used for ranging.
One of our bombing corporals found a bomb full of red phosphorus in an old German dugout in Wye Wood.
August 24th.—For the first time since the Battalion landed, officers have been granted leave to England. Two officers go at a time for 7 days. We have no information yet about leave for other ranks.
The Battalion found 400 men for carrying and working parties tonight.
August 25th.—Sent a working party of 50 N.C.O.'s and men, under Lieut Beckingham, to make dugouts in the ramparts of Ypres; to remain away probably for 3 or 4 weeks.
Lieut. Clarke and 5 men returned from a Toby Mortar course near Poperinghe.
4 officers and 380 men for carrying water, stores, etc, east of Ypres.
Since the Battalion landed in France we have received 6 officers and 430 other ranks as drafts. We are badly in want of a real rest period, for the purpose of reorganization and the instruction of young officers, N.C.O.'s, etc.
August 26th.—Hostile aeroplanes very active to-day, and bits of shells dropping all around the camp. This is probably a retaliation for our air-raid yesterday on the Forest of Houthulst, in which 70 aeroplanes took part.
Colonel Cobb went on 7 days' leave, and Major Webb took over command.
Instituted Permanent Order Book for each company, in which will be recorded all important standing orders issued since the Battalion left England.
420 men on carrying-parties east of Ypres.
August 27th.—C Company had 3 men killed and 5 wounded in Cambridge Road last night by whizz-bang. One of the men killed belonged to the transport; it seems wasteful to use specially trained men on carrying parties. Today we had to find 426 men for the same duty, and were obliged to call on the H.Q. Company and employed men in order to make up the numbers. But we are getting short all round—15 officers under strength—Carfrae the only original Company Commander left, N.C.O.'s being taken for various outside billets; so, what with large nightly carrying parties and one thing and another, it is impossible to do any drill, training of young officers, N.C.O.'s, etc. Still, the Battalion is in very good form, all things considered, and is the most efficient in the Brigade.
Heard the result of our aeroplane raid on Houthulst Forest— fires in 16 places, Bixschoote set on fire, also a train in Langemarck.
August 28th.—Perfect summer weather lately. Usual large carrying parties. A good deal of enemy shelling at night.
August 29th.--Rained all day. Divine Service at 11.30 a.m.
Two companies to the baths at Poperinghe, where the men had hot baths, change of shirts, and smoke-helmets re-damped. All officers, N.C.O.'s, and Machine-gun Section are now supplied with the new pattern tube smoke-helmet, which has glass eye-pieces and a rubber tube from which to exhale. The wearers are terrifying objects.
Draft of 3 men arrived from the Pioneer Company.
August 30th.—Day fine, evening wet. Divisional leave regulations for all ranks received. We can send 3 or 4 on leave every 6th day, the allowance being 6 days to England, and 7 days to Ireland or Scotland.
August 31st.—2nd Lieut. Mitchell and 2 N.C.O.'s per company went for a course of bombing at the Brigade Grenade School.
The Battalion provided a working party of 4 officers and 250 other ranks tonight, to work on defences of White Chateau at Shrapnel Corner, near Hell-fire Corner, east of Ypres ; 3 of the officers were taken by car to Ypres, the rest of the party went by train to point H.I2 Central, just west of Ypres, and marched from thence. The train brought them back again to the starting-point, H.8.a.5.8., west of Vlamertinghe.
September 1st.—Apparently things are very quiet on the Ypres front now. The enemy shells Ypres and the road from there to Vlamertinghe regularly, and Vlamertinghe itself, and Poperinghe occasionally.
September 2nd.—Very wet afternoon. All the huts leak, as they are very badly constructed.
250 men on working party at night.
September 3rd.—Poured all day. Five officers went to VIth Corps H.Q. to study maps and learn the position of opposing lines. A Staff Officer took them in hand, gave them some valuable instruction, and discussed matters of considerable interest. He pointed out what a bad position the Ypres salient is from a tactical point of view, being enfiladed from both- flanks, but that it was necessary to hold it because it covers Ypres. Ypres itself is of no value to us, but it has acquired an unmerited value in the eyes of other nations, and to lose it would mean a loss of prestige. Sir John French, in his speech to the 28th Division after the second battle of Ypres, said that if Ypres had been, taken by the enemy Italy would never have come into the war. It appears that the Germans have an even worse salient, and that if we make a push on Bellewaarde Farm and Hill 60 and succeed, we shall greatly improve our position.
We managed to find billets in farms for about 200 men whose huts are very leaky.
Colonel Cobb was due back from leave today, but is too ill to return.
Company and Platoon Commanders reconnoitred Redoubt L.4. Seminaire, between Vlamertinghe and Ypres, extending both sides of the main road and railway. In the event of a heavy attack on the VIth Corps, the Battalion (if in rest) will hold this post.
September 4th.—All ranks have now been issued with the tube pattern smoke-helmet as well as the ordinary one, and respirators have been withdrawn.
The Band of the 6th Somersets played to the Battalion in the evening.
September 5th.—Still raining. Too wet for Church Parade. A draft of 30 N.C.O.'s and men arrived; only one of them had previously been with the Battalion.
The Battalion provided working parties, 200 men on L.4. Seminaire, and 100 on another redoubt (H.3.d.9.7) north-east of Ypres.
September 6th.—Fine. C and D Companies practised the organization and carrying out of an attack on trenches, which needs a deal of thought and practice.
Usual working parties at night.
September 7th.—Company Commanders, with their Sergeant-Majors, also bombers, machine-gunners, and signallers, went up to the trenches by day, preparatory to relief. Companies marched off independently at 6 p.m. at 10 minutes interval. Night very quiet. Went straight up Menin Road, past Hell-fire Corner, to the support trench P.2 and Wye Wood H.13-H.19. A Company, for H.19-H.18, went the old way via Cambridge Road. Relief of 6th Somersets completed by 11 p.m., and their C.O. reported that it was excellently done.
September 8th.--The trenches are pretty bad. Recent rain has done a lot of damage. The soil, being a mixture of sand and clay, slips easily, and there are many miniature landslides. Communication trench knee-deep in water; support trenches very wet; fire trenches a bit drier.
Captain Cobb has been offered and has accepted the appointment of Brigade Signalling Officer, which is a loss for the Battalion.
September 9th.—Quiet. Completed sap from H.15 to H.16.
September 10th.—2nd Lieut. A. W. Wood joined the Battalion, from the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion.
September 11th.—The new trench from H.13 to Q.20 was shelled by field guns from the right rear (Hill 60 direction). Enemy appear to be very busy at work on their Bellewaarde defences.
The Battalion was relieved at night by the 5th K.S.L.I., and went back in reserve : 1 company in F.13; 1 company in G.H.Q. line; 2 companies and H.Q. in L. Farm, just west of Hell-fire Corner.
The only time to do really effective reconnaissance from our trenches is from 4.30 a.m. to 5.30 a.m. At that time it is possible to do a large amount of direct observation with field glasses. In the afternoon there is always shelling now.
While the Battalion was in the fire trenches, rations, water, and R.E. stores were brought each night up the Menin Road to F.2, and there dumped. Each company sent its own ration party to the dump, and C Company (Reserve) carried up R.E. stores to the 3 companies in the firing line.
September 12th.—Enemy artillery less active to-day; he seems to have fewer guns or less ammunition than a month ago.
Rations, water, etc., for the Battalion in reserve are brought up on two trollies along the railway from Vlamertinghe, each trolly being drawn by 2 mules.
Working party of 50 men making dug-outs in the Ypres ramparts returned to the Battalion today. Another small party is now engaged in making 2 dug-outs (4 feet by 14) in H.17.a., for occupation by Battalion H.Q. during the coming show.
At night we had about 400 men on various working-parties.
Casualties.—2 men wounded; 1 man accidentally wounded (with bayonet).
September 13th.—About 400 men working at night.
September 14th.—Working-parties of about 300 men.
Casualties.—5 men wounded by trench-mortar.
During this tour in the trenches all ranks have worked splendidly, with the result that we have made all our own assembly trenches for the attack fixed for the 24th, and nearly all the necessary dugouts, etc. We have had no rest since the 7th July, yet the spirit of the men and the discipline of the Battalion are excellent. The average daily sick, when the Battalion is in the trenches, is about 1 per diem ; out of the trenches about 50 to 70, a great many of whom are suffering from slight injuries or old wounds, for which they will not go sick when in the line. I think that in many cases the wounded are sent back to the Battalion too soon from hospital.
September 15th.—Relieved in the trenches by the 6th Somersets (43rd Brigade). The Battalion was brought back by rail from the Asylum at Ypres to Poperinghe, and then marched to our rest camp near La Lovie Chateau, VIth Corps H.Q., arriving just after midnight.
September 16th.—The Corps Commander inspected the Battalion Transport in the afternoon—quite satisfactory. The Brigadier discussed future plans with the C.O. All leave stopped. A draft of 24 N.C.O.'s and men arrived.
PREPARATIONS FOR THE ATTACK ON BELLEWAARDE FARM.
September 17th.—Physical drill before breakfast. Rifle exercises, musketry, and bayonet-fighting in the afternoon.
All officers and N.C.O.'s visited the spit-locked plan of the German trenches around Bellewaarde Farm, laid down (life-size) from aeroplane photographs.
At 5 p.m. General Plumer, the Army Commander, inspected the Battalion. In the evening there was a concert and a bonfire, the Band of the 6th Somersets playing to us.
September 18th.—All companies at work on improving the spit-locked plan of the German trenches, each company doing the particular portion which it will attack, and C Company doing our present line.
In the afternoon companies carried out bayonet-fighting, musketry, drill, etc. The Machine-gun Section fired morning and afternoon.
September 19th.—Physical drill, 7.30 to 8 a.m., as usual.
The whole Battalion had hot baths and change of shirts in Poperinghe. Church Parade at 11.30 a.m.
B and D Companies practised the attack on skeleton trenches in the afternoon.
We are not getting much rest, but hope for some after the show is over.
Forty men of the Battalion are allowed to go each night to the 6th Division "Fancies," and forty to the Cinema in Poperinghe. The former are taken in G.S. wagons, and the latter are brought out.
September 20th.—Reveille, 6.30 a.m.; sick parade, 7; breakfasts, 7.30. At 8.30 a.m. the Battalion paraded as strong as possible— signallers, machine-gunners, bombers, stretcher-bearers, and H.Q. orderlies parading as such.
Marched to the Brigade Bomb School, and practised assembly and attack in the skeleton trenches. First, the Battalion carried this out by itself, and then in conjunction with the 9th R.B., who will be on our left. The Commander of the Vth Corps, the G.O.C. 14th Division, and the Brigadier were present. Signallers practised running out telephone lines; trench-blocking parties also practised. (6 N.C.O.'s and men trench-blocking party, 18 N.C.O.'s and men wiring party, 10 N.C.O.'s and men dug-out party are trained daily, under the R.E., at the Bomb School.)
September 2lst.—Hours of routine the same as yesterday. Companies paraded for physical drill and doubling 7-7.30 a.m., machine-gunners carrying their loads at the double. The Battalion paraded at 8.45 a.m., and marched to the Bomb School, where another attack on the skeleton trenches was carried out—and done well. Carrying parties and orderlies were practised in their special duties.
Bayonet-fighting in the afternoon in squads and at the dummies.
All men carrying wire-cutters are to wear a white strip of cloth sewn on the right shoulder above the red one (Battalion mark). Bombers' flags are green with red stripe; these are to indicate the progress of bombing parties.
Two excellent panorama photographs of the German lines in front of H.I7.-16 and Sunken Road Barrier were received from the Vlth Corps photographer.
September 22nd.—Physical drill and doubling, as yesterday.
The Battalion paraded as strong as possible at 10 a.m., two assaulting columns complete, and C Company in reserve. Strength on parade, 12 officers and 677 other ranks. Marched to the Bomb School, where Lord Kitchener watched us carry out the assembly for, and the attack on, BellewaardeFarm skeleton trenches. The VIth and Vth Corps Commanders, the G.O.C. 14th Division, and the B.G. 42nd Infantry Brigade were also present, with a large Staff.
Kit inspections in the afternoon. Bayonets sharpened, oil-bottles filled, etc.
The Battalion paraded again at 6.30 p.m., and marched to the Bomb School, where the attack was practised in the darkness.
BATTALION OPERATION ORDERS, 22ND SEPTEMBER 1915.
The Battalion will proceed to the trenches tomorrow, the 23rd instant, as follows :--
1. Bombers, under Sergeant Adams, for the four posts, as detailed by Lieut Escott. Lieut. Clarke and the Regimental-Sergeant-Major will proceed by motor-lorry from L.3 central, sheet 27, at 9 a.m. Lieut. Clarke and the R.S.M. to take over all special stores in the trenches in accordance with instructions received.
2. Signallers, as detailed by Captain Cobb, will proceed to the trenches in accordance with his orders. O.C. 14th Signal Company will arrange for conveyance of those who go in advance of Battalion.
3. A and C Companies, under the command of Lieut. Newman, will proceed by train leaving Poperinghe at 6 p.m. They will leave the Menin Gate at 7.40 p.m., with 5 minutes' interval between companies, and proceed, via Menin Road and Cambridge Road, to occupy trenches as follows : A Company, H.18.a., 18, 18.s. and half H.17.a., 17, 17.s. C Company, New Trench, 17 (d) and half H.17.a., 17, 17.s. Sergeant Culwick will go with A Company, and report to the R.S.M. in the trenches.
H.Q. Company (consisting of signallers and bombers not already detailed, machine-gunners, H.Q. orderlies, stretcher-bearers, and pioneers and B.and D Companies) will parade in camp at 6.15 p.m., and proceed from Poperinghe by train,, leaving at 8 p.m.
B Company will occupy dug-outs in the Ramparts of Ypres; remainder will leave Menin Gate at 10 p.m., and proceed to dug-outs at L. Farm. Companies will proceed to their trenches and positions as soon as possible after detrainment.
Signallers, bombers, and stretcher-bearers detailed to companies will parade and go to the trenches with those companies.
4. Bomb-throwers and bomb-carriers will be equipped as follows :--
(a) Throwers, no rifles or entrenching tools, but armed with cudgels.
(b) Carriers, no entrenching tools or ammunition in the pouches, but armed with rifles and bayonets, and 10 rounds in the magazine.
5. All NCO’s and men will carry greatcoats rolled. No packs or waterproof sheets will be taken to the trenches. All spare kits will be packed in the packs and stacked by companies outside the Q.M. Stores by 4p.m. Officers valises and spare kit stacked separately by the same hour.
6. Machine-guns of the Battalion will be taken in limbered G.S. wagons to L. Farm tomorrow night, arriving there about 10.30 p.m., and these wagons will take back from there 16 boxes S.A.A. and 100 shovels to B Company in Ypres Ramparts. O.C. B Company will arrange dump for these, and detail a N.C.O. to meet the transport on its return to Ypres, and show the N.C.O. in charge the position of the dump.
Machine-guns and rifle batteries of the 43rd Infantry Brigade will not be relieved,
7. All ammunition, trench stores, tools, and bombs Avill be taken over from companies relieved, and lists of stores, etc., taken over will be sent to the Adjutant as soon as possible after relief.
8. The rifles and ammunition of bomb-throwers and the entrenching tools and ammunition (less 10 rounds) of bomb-carriers will be returned to the Q.M. Stores to-morrow morning.
9. The 18 N.C.O.'s and men of C Company, for wiring party, will parade with B Company, and will remain with that company until 24th September. On that date they will report at 10 p.m. to O.C. 62nd Field Company R.E. at the road junction 1.8.a.9.3.
10. A Roll of N.C.O.'s and men not accompanying the Battalion to the trenches will be issued to O.'s C. companies tomorrow.
11. Reserve stretcher-bearers, under Sergeant Hiorns, will be in a dug-out in the centre bay of H.18. on the night of the 24th/25th September.
September 23rd.—Reveille at 7 a.m. Voluntary Holy Communion at 8 a.m. Breakfast, 8.30. Sick Parade, 9.30. Orderly Room, 10.30a.m.
Previous to Orderly Room, the C.O. addressed all N.C.O.'s, reminding them how much 'depended on them in this war, and more especially now that we are so short of officers ; this is our first chance of really getting at the Boche; no thought of failure, etc.
In accordance with yesterday's Battalion Orders. Lieut. Clarke and the Regimental Sergeant-Major (to take over special stores), 22 bombers under Sergeant Adams, and 12 signallers left at 9 a.m. by motor-bus for the trenches.
At 4.15 p.m. A and C Companies paraded, and marched to Poperinghe, and went by train to the Asylum at Ypres, thence marching to trenches H.18., H.17., and trenches in rear, and relieving the 10th D.L.I. (43rd Brigade).
At 6.15 p.m. B, D, and H.Q. Companies paraded, and marched to Poperinghe, and then trained to Ypres. B Company in the new dug-outs under the Ramparts; D and H.Q. in L. Farm. The train consisted of open trucks, to hold 1,200 men packed like sardines, and a brake van for officers. The journey up was quite quiet.
It began to drizzle at 8 p.m. The enemy sent over a large number of 77mm. and 4.2-inch shrapnel into L. Farm and the field in which it stands, but every shell was a "dud."
The following is a summary of the Secret Operation Orders, received today from the 42nd Infantry Brigade, for the attack on Bellewaarde Farm :--
1.The 14th Division will capture the Bellewaarde Farm position on September 25th.
The 3rd Division will capture the enemy's position south of the Eclusette stream on September 25th.
2.The object of the attack is to seize and hold the line of trenches contained in the area, of which the southern boundary is from the Eclusette stream, where it cuts the enemy's trench between points C.93 and C.85, thence by D.16 to D.29. (Reference.—Special Trench Map 1/5000.) Eastern Boundary, D.29 via 09, A.80, 72 to A.64. Northern Boundary, A.64, via A.24 to A.04. Western Boundary, A.04, A.24, A.42, A.40, C.58 via C.77 to the Eclusette stream.
The attack will not be pushed beyond these limits.
The possibility of later extending the position on the north and capturing trenches A.64, 47, 27, 08 will be borne in mind.
3.The attack will be carried out by the 42nd Infantry Brigade and the following attached troops :62nd Field Company R.E.;27th, 29th, and 39th Trench Howitzer Batteries.
4.Objectives.—The Brigade will attack as follows :--
(a) 5th Shropshire Light Infantry and 29th T.H. Battery will capture the section of the enemy's trenches contained in the area Eclusette stream, D.16, D.29, via D.09, A.80, C.79 exclusive, C.68, C.58 exclusive, C.86 to the Eclusette stream.
(b) 5th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry will capture the enemy'strenches contained in the area C.58, C.68, C.79, A.80, A.71. A.72 exclusive, A.42 exclusive, A.40, C.58.
(c) 9th Rifle Brigade and 39th T H. Battery will capture the enemy's trenches contained in the area A.42, A.72, A.64, A.24, A.04.
5. Distribution.—To be completed by1 a.m. September 25th.
5th K.S.L.I.: H.15.a., A.16.a., and support trenches in rear.
5th Oxford and Bucks : H.17.a., H.l8.a., and support trenches in rear.
9th R.B. : H.19, H.20, and support trenches in rear.
Brigade Reserve : 9th K.R.R.C. in trenches just west of Railway Wood; and 6th Somersets,
1 company holding line A.I, H.22, R.184.108.40.206; 3 companies G.H.Q., X.I, X.l.a. and F.13. Battalion H.Q., X.l.a.
The above have been quoted in full, but the remaining paragraphs will be given in outline only, since everything of importance is dealt with in the Battalion Operation Orders, issued by Major W. F. R. Webb, on the 24th September.
Paragraph 6 of the Brigade orders referred to the work of the artillery and the time of the assault, which was fixed for 4.20 a.m. At 4.19 a.m. a mine was to be fired under A.04, and at 4.20 a.m. the guns were to lift on to a line half-way between the German first and second line for 1 minute. But the infantry were to assault at 4.20 a.m. exactly, whatever happened.
Para. 7.—Ordered wire to be cut by midnight 24th/25th.
Para. 8.—Consolidation of positions when captured.
Para. 9.—Work to be carried out by trench howitzers and machine-guns.
Para. 10.—Dumps of stores, ammunition, etc.
Para. 11.—-Every man ordered to carry 220 rounds S.A.A. (except bombers), 4 sand-bags, 1 iron ration; 50 per cent, of the men to carry shovels.
Para. 12.—German screens, and bombers' flags.
Para. 13.—After capture of position the line to be thinned out as much as possible.
Para. 14.—Situation of battle police-posts, for dealing with stragglers.
Para. 16.—German prisoners.
Para. 17.—Maps and documents not to be taken into action.
Para. 18.—Control of traffic to and from trenches.
Para. 19.—List of special instructions issued separately to C.O.'s.
Para. 20.—Advanced Brigade H.Q. to be established at 1.10.a.8.6. at 6 p.m. 24th September.
September 24th.—Intense bombardment from our artillery began at 3.30 a.m., and lasted for an hour. There is now a field battery on either side of L, Farm and one in rear. They make a horrible noise, as they are all engaged most of the day in cutting enemy wire entanglements 2,400 yards away. Heavy bombardment by our guns of all sorts continued throughout the day, and some reply by the enemy. One H.E. shell pitched in one of D Company's dug-outs, killing 1 man and wounding 6 men. Our own 6-inch Battery put about a dozen shells or more into H.17. H.16, and H.16.S. Four were dropped in the H.Q. dug-out of the 5th K.S.L.I. Three guns appeared to fire correctly, but the fourth gun was persistently short. Result : about 21 of our men were killed and wounded, and about 15 of the 5th K.S.L.I., and some damage was done to the trenches. The F.O.O. of the Battery was killed.
The following Operation Orders for tomorrow's attack were issued to-day :--
BATTALION OPERATION ORDERS, 5th OXFORD AND BUCKS LIGHT INFANTRY, 24TH SEPTEMBER 1915.
1. 42nd Infantry Brigade will seize the Bellewaarde Farm position.
2. The Regiment will form the centre battalion in the attack; 5th K.S.L.I. on the right, and 9th R.B. on the left.
3. DISTRIBUTION as under :--
Left Column, under Captain Carfrae :--
B Company, with 1 Platoon of A Company, and 1 machine-gun, objective 12.a.72 exclusive to 12.a.71 inclusive in second German line; 12.a.42 exclusive to 12.a.40 inclusive in first German line.
Right Column :--
D Company, with 2 Platoons of A Company and 1 machine-gun, objective 12.a.71 exclusive to 12.a.80 inclusive in second German line; 12.a.40 exclusive to 12.C.58 inclusive in first German line.
(12.C.68 and 12.C.79 are in this column area.)
Reserve.—1 Platoon of A Company and C Company.
4. DISTRIBUTION BEFORE ASSEMBLY :--
Left Column in depth, H.lS.a, H.18, H.lS.s, part of H.17.S north.
Right Column, H.17.a, H.17, H.17.S, patrol trench, if required.
Reserve, A Company Platoon, H.17.S. (north); C Company, new trench behind H.17.S, H.l6.d, to Mud Lane.
5. DISTRIBUTION IN ASSEMBLY :--
Left Column, 2 Platoons of B Company, front line. Remainder in Company Column.
At the commencement of bombardment, get out through gaps in H.19 into field north of H.19; first line level with bomb-post 4.18.a; lie down.
Right Column, half an hour before bombardment starts, assemble in assembly trenches H.17.a and H.l8.a.
Reserve move to H.17 and H.18, and south end of H.17.a; Platoon of A Company on left.
6. ACTION :--
The first line of both columns will sweep forward to the German second line. One platoon left column will swing into Bellewaarde Farm and search for machine-guns. One platoon left column will enter Bellewaarde from the south, and arrange fire to keep down machine-guns if necessary. The machine-gun with the left column will also pay special attention to the ruins of the farm.
Reserve Platoon A Company will dig out communication trench along Hedge Sap. C Company will dig out the International Trench, and furnish working parties, under the Regimental Sergeant-Major, to carry up stores in the following order : (a) bombs and tools, (b) water, (c) ammunition; (d) sandbags, (e) rations.
Two machine-guns will be on the alert to counter enemy machine-guns, and will take position in German second line.
All trenches leading to front and flank will be blocked by bombers and blocking parties until communication is established.
There will be special bombing parties as follows : Lieut. Escott and 10 men down Hedge Sap; Corporal Stent and 9 men down International Trench.
The third lines of columns will remain in German first line unless required for reinforcement.
7. Position won will be immediately consolidated, and communication established between the two
enemy lines, by platoons detailedby O.C.'s Columns.
8. The mine at A.04 will be exploded at 4.19 a.m.
The assault will be launched at 4.20 a.m. regardless of mine or artillery.
Artillery bombardment will commence at 3.50 a.m. At 4.20 a.m. it will lift for one minute to mid-way between lines. At 4.21 a.m. it will lift for 2 minutes on to second enemy line, and thence at 4.23 a.m. to enemy third line, and form a barrage.
Trench mortars will fire smoke-balls, to cover consolidation.
9.Every man, except bombers and stretcher-bearers, to carry 220 rounds S.A.A., 4 sand-bags, and iron rations. Every third man of the front line will carry a shovel. Every other man of the second and third lines will carry a shovel.
10.German artillery screens are not to be removed. Bombers' progress will be indicated by their flags.
11.OCCUPATION OF CAPTURED LINE
Unless heavy casualties render other dispositions necessary, captured line will be held as follows :-- B Company in depth on front 72 to 71, and 42, 40 in first enemy line. D Company, 71 to 80 inclusive, 68 and 59 to 58 in first enemy line. 1 Platoon, A. Company, 40 to 59. Remainder of A Company, H.l8.a, H.18, H.18,s. C Company, H.17.a, H.17, H.17.S.
Men should be distributed in C.7.S, also in captured position in order to avoid loss by shell-fire.
12.Constant reports by telephone, messenger, or semaphore, to H.Q. in H.17.a.
13.Prisoners to be evacuated by A Company via Mud Lane to G.H.Q., and handed over to Reserve Cavalry Division. Receipts to be taken.
14.Medical Aid Post at Birr Cross Roads. All walking cases to be evacuated, by Mud Lane and Castle Street, to Ypres Asylum. Stretcher cases to be collected in H.18 and evacuated, by Cambridge Road, to Birr Cross Roads by night.
15.Brigade H.Q. at I.10.a.8.6 from 6 p.m. 24th September. Battalion H.Q. at H.17.a.
16.Special precautions to be taken against counter-attack with gas.
17.Red and green rockets will be issued to each Battalion H.Q., and, when sent up simultaneously, indicate S.O.S.
18.Watches of O.C. Companies will be synchronized with the Adjutant at 12 midnight 24th/25th September.
W. F. R. Webb, Major, Comdg. 5th Oxf. and Bucks Lt. Infy.
At 4.45 p.m. the following message was received :--
"The Major-General commanding the 14th (Light) Division has informed the B.G.C. that the operation in which we are engaged is only a part of a very large offensive movement of the Allied Armies. All ranks must be informed of this as late as possible to-night. The B.G.C. feels sure that the magnificent courage and determination of all ranks will be additionally stimulated by the above information." Message ends;
A and C Companies up in the firing-line have had rather a rough time of it to-day—most trying to be shelled in cold blood by one's own guns !
Heavy whizz-bang bombardment about L. Farm at 5.45 p.m. C.O. and Adjutant proceeded to Battle H.Q. in H.I7.a (front line trench), arriving there at 8.30 p.m., followed by B, D. and H.Q. at 11.30p.m.
The following message was received from G.H.Q. : "Chief wishes troops to be informed that he feels confident that they will realize how much our success in the forthcoming operations depends upon the individual effort of each officer, N.C.O., and man." Message ends.
At 10 p.m. Lieut. Newman was shot through the leg while superintending the cutting of our wire near Hedge Sap. This leaves only 9 officers actually with the attacking columns, and he is a great loss.
Patrols report that enemy wire has been very effectively destroyed by our artillery.
By 12 midnight the Battalion was all assembled ready to move out to the attack. The Adjutant went to the H.Q. of the 9th R.B. and 9th K.R.R.C. in the French General's dug-out at 11.50 p.m., and synchronized his watch with Corps time.
September 25th.—The following is the official report on the events of this day sent in by Major W. F. R. Webb, commanding the Battalion :— 5th oxford and bucks light infantry.
REPORT ON ACTION OF 25th SEPTEMBER.
The Regiment was ordered to attack Bellewaarde Farm at 4.20 a.m. on the 25th September.(This was a subsidiary attack in connexion with the Battle of Loos)
The Right Column, under Captain Barwell, occupied its assembly trenches in H.17.a and H.lS.a before the bombardment started. These trenches were not much shelled. The first line penetrated about point 12.C.58, followed by the second line. A machine-gun opened from the German sap head, running from 12.C.58 to H.16, but was quickly bombed out of action. The wire was successfully destroyed by the artillery. This column secured the objective allotted to it, viz., 12.a.71 and 80, also 12.C.69 and 68. There were only a few Germans left in the first line, and they were despatched.
Captain Barwell himself, with some bombers, cleared the ruins of Bellewaarde, where a machine-gun was found facing south. He also cleared some dug-outs in the region of point 12.a.71.
By 5.20 a.m. the line was fairly established on this front, and communication established with the 5th K.S.L.I, on the right, but I received no report by runner that the enemy's first line and works south of Bellewaarde were captured until 6 a.m.
At 6.25 a.m. I had a report that the second line was secured.
An attempt was made to push up bombs and ammunition by the communication trench from H.16 to 58, but at 7 a.m. it was reported that German snipers were very active from the direction of 12.C.6.7. These were some men evidently left behind, in the advanced sap, by the 5th K.S.L.I, attack, or who had come up from Eclusette. I asked the K.S.L.I, to have them bombed out.
I received a message from Lieut. Maude (timed 7 a.m.) that our men were holding the German second line and had dug in, and that 3 machine-guns had been captured, but that communication was not established on the left. He asked for a machine-gun to be sent. The sniping on the communication trench from the south was not going on at this time. I sent a message telling Lieut. Maude to establish connexion with my left column, and told him to look out for his left, as I had heard that the 9th R.B. had lost the second line again.
At 7.15 a.m. I sent a message, through the 9th K.R.R.C. at French dug-out, to inform the Brigade of the situation, as I had no direct communication. Previous to this I had sent a message by runner to the Culvert Post. Communication was very slow and much interrupted.
I sent up another machine-gun at this time, as it appeared that it was urgently required, and this gun was got up in spite of the snipers on the communications. The gunner was shot while setting up the gun, and it did not go into action.
At 7.45 a.m. I heard by runner that the Germans were advancing on the right and left fronts, and asked for S.O.S. to the Forward Observation Officer and through French dug-out. The F.0.0. tried to flag it, and the Signal Officer also lamped it. The guns opened a few minutes later, but it was too late. At 7.45 a.m. I asked for 2 platoons from the 9th K.R.R.C. and some bombers. I received a report, timed 7.50 a.m., that we were having to retire on our right, as the Germans were developing a strong attack, and that the enemy was also advancing from Bellewaarde Farm).
Lieut. Maude came in at about 8 a.m. wounded.
The German attack developed rapidly. The enemy advanced from the north of Bellewaarde and from the wood east of the line (Dead Man's Bottom) along the north side of the Etang. The 5th K.S.L.I, and our men were forced to retire, and only just avoided being cut off by the enemy from Bellewaarde, who advanced in the open in front of H.17.a, their right appearing for a minute or two on the crest of the hill. Fire was opened at once by all the spare men in the trench (orderlies, etc.), and the enemy got into his front-line trench again. I saw about 50 Germans at this point. Our men suffered heavily in the retirement. I reported to the Brigade, by telephone through French dug-out, and by runner, that I was holding the original line with about 200 men. Two platoons of the 9th K.R.R.C. came into H.17 and H.18. I reorganized the defence as soon as shelling got less, and it became evident that the enemy did not purpose a further advance. According to report, our men accounted for 60 or 70 Germans in the attack, and dropped many more with rifle-fire in the Counter attack.
The Left Column was to move out at the start of the bombardment and lie down in a field to the north of the Hedge Sap in an old trench and a hollow. It appears that they were spotted moving out, or that the Germans had reason to be suspicious of this piece of ground, for it was heavily shelled. The enemy sent up flares just after our men began to move out. At all events this column suffered very heavy casualties from shell-fire, and were also shaken by the explosion of the mine, the debris of which fell amongst them.
According to the statements of men who returned, when they did advance a machine-gun opened fire on them, and only 8 men of the first line reached the German lines with some of the 9th R.B. They mistook their direction also, and went more towards the line 04-24 than 41, which was their objective. Only about 7 men of the second line reached the German trench, but were unable to get in, and so took cover in shell-holes outside. The third line was almost destroyed. A few men went with the column of the 9th R.B.
The above facts account for the gap in the line to the north of Bellewaarde and the absence of news. Orderlies whom I sent returned saying that they could not get through. A bombing party which went up the Hedge Sap has not been heard of; there were many dead bodies in the trench. Carrying parties with bombs started up this way also, but were wiped out. These parties never succeeded in getting anyone back to let me know the state of things on that side.
From the reports of the men who went with the 9th R.B. it appears that they went into the line 04-24, and worked down to a redoubt in German second line. It does not appear that anyone went to the line 40-42 or beyond, as the men say that there was no one on their right, but that they bombed along the trench for some distance. They returned by the Crater, having to bomb their way back.
Men working in the communication trench up the Hedge Sap said that the sniping was very hot from the communication trench connecting 41 with the German second line, and that it was from there that the carrying parties were hit. The German counter attack from the left evidently came by this trench and reoccupied Bellewaarde after it was cleared by Captain Barwell.
From reports of men, our shell-fire had considerably damaged the German first line and dug-outs in the second line, especially south of Bellewaarde and about point 71. A derelict machine-gun and two dead gunners were seen on the parapet near the farm. A party of 40 or 50 Germans who had been working between their lines had been caught by the bombardment and totally destroyed. Thirteen prisoners, including an officer, were captured by our Right Column, but I understand that some of them were killed in the Sunken Road while being brought down.
W. F. R. Webb, Major, Comg. 5th Oxf. and Bucks Lt. Infty.
The above report contains everything that there is to tell. The failure of the Brigade to hold the line after it had been captured was due to our Left Column (B Company and 1 platoon of A) being almost wiped out by enemy artillery fire while lying out in the open in front of H.19 prior to the assault. Possibly, enemy patrols had observed the gaps cut in our wire by which the Left Column was to go out; at any rate, they put all their guns on to this spot and scarcely shelled south of the Hedge Sap at all. The consequence was that Captain carfrae and Lieuts. escott, clarke, and mitchell were all killed, and Lieuts. Wood, Walter, and Beckingham were wounded before the assault reached the German lines. Apparently, only two Corporals were left to lead the attack, and about 20 men to see it through. These survivors were a good deal unnerved by the explosion of the mine close to them (under the enemy redoubt opposite Sunken Road), and when they started off they went too much to the left and joined the 9th R.B.
The Right Column (Captain Barwell) reached their objective, the enemy second line, and held it until forced back by a very strong counter attack. (Estimated by Observers of the 3rd Division, on our right, to have been made with about 1,000 men.) Captain Barwell and Lieuts. Maude and Lee were wounded, and nearly, all the N.C.O.'s were killed or wounded. Prisoners told us that they had been expecting our attack for three days, which accounts for the strength and rapidity of their counterattack with fresh troops.
The 5th K.S.L.I., on our left, also gained the German second line, but I do not think that the 9th R.B. ever got as far. The gap in our centre was fatal, and the enemy grasped that fact at once. As far as one could see, every German was armed with bombs. The original enemy in the position showed practically no fight at all. Captain Barwell killed one with his stick.
The Battalion's losses were 13 (out of 15) officers and 463 (out of 767) other ranks.
We retired and held our original line until relieved at midnight by the 10th D.L.I. The spirit of the men all through was admirable, in spite of heavy losses and drenching rain.
September 26th.—Only about 180 N.C.O.'s and men, the C.O., and the Adjutant came back out of the trenches, and went by train to Poperinghe, thence marching to the camp we had last been in near La Lovie Chateau. We have now to face the ordeal of starting again from where we were a year ago, but, like the hero of "Duffer's Drift," we have past experiences to help us.
September 27th.—Organized the companies and posted the new officers. All of them attended for instruction at the Bomb School in the morning. The Vth Corps Commander (General Allenby) addressed the Battalion in the afternoon, and told the men what splendid work they had done, and how proud he was to have had the 14th Light Division under his command for the attack. (We were lent by the VIth Corps to the Vth Corps for the attack.)
He said that never before had troops been so heavily shelled and decimated and yet advanced as we had done. We might think that we had lost, but in reality we had taken part in a great victory and in the biggest battle in the history of the world; for by our determined attack we had held large forces of the enemy to the Ypres salient, and so prevented them from assisting farther south, where our 1st Army and the French have broken through so successfully.
September 28th.—Kit inspection. Company drill, to get the men used to their platoons and sections.
Two authenticated cases of German brutality :-- (1) They deliberately shot one of our wounded men who went up to their parapet in mistake for ours. (2) They have left one of our wounded officers lying on their parapet for two days, and will not allow us to go near him, but are leaving him to die by inches.
September 29th.—Visited by the VIth Corps Commander, who addressed the Battalion on parade, and thanked all ranks for their very gallant conduct in the attack on Bellewaarde. He said that all the 42nd Brigade had done well, but this Battalion in particular, and he expressed his great sorrow at our heavy losses.
The following Battalion Order was issued by Major W. F. R. Webb :-- "The Commanding Officer desires to compliment all ranks on their gallant behaviour in the attack on Bellewaarde on the 25th. The determination and gallant bearing of the Right Column which led to primary success, and the courage with which the men of the Left Column went on after being practically destroyed by shell-fire, are incidents of which the Regiment may well be proud, and are worthy of the old traditions of the Corps. The Commanders of the Vth and VIth Corps have already complimented the Regiment on its achievements. That the Regiment had to give up the captured trenches was in no way due to the men, but was forced by the tactical situation. It is to be hoped that on the next occasion better fortune will attend the Regiment, and that permanent success will crown our efforts.
"Those who have fallen let us remember with honour, not with regret, for they fell in a gallant fight.
As far as we have been able to find out at present our casualties on the 24th and 25th September were :-- 2 Officers killed. 3 Officers missing, believed killed. 8 Officers wounded. 3 Co.-Sergts.-Maj.. 3 Sergeants, 45 other ranks killed. 15 Sergeants and 161 other ranks wounded. 2 Sergeants and 212 other ranks missing. Total of all ranks, 454.
It is hoped, however, that some of the missing may have been picked up wounded.
September 30th.—Companies at drill, musketry, bayonet-fighting, etc. Instruction for bombers and machine-gunners to replace casualties. Difficult not to be depressed by finding the Battalion put back a year by one action, for it is necessary to start again almost at the beginning, with, no captains to command companies, only 4 junior subalterns, and hardly any effective N.C.O.'s of standing or experience.
Two enemy aeroplanes flew over the camp in the evening.
Lord Kitchener's congratulatory message to Sir John French was published in a Special Order of the Day.
By dint of searching in all the Field Ambulances for miles round, we are gradually reducing the number of our missing.
October 1st.—Companies at drill, etc. Told that Lord (Kitchener was so impressed by the attack which he witnessed being carried out on the skeleton trenches, that he had called for a full and detailed account of the training for use at home.
The camp was visited by the VIth Corps Commander and the Divisional Commander.
Hurricane lamps were issued; also straw, in lieu of tent-boards, which are not available.
Corrected casualty return for operations of 24th-25th September :-- Officers.—Killed 2, wounded 8, missing 3. Total 13. Other Ranks.—Killed 49, wounded 262, missing 141. Total 452. Total of all ranks, 465.
October 2nd.-- Sir John French's Special Order of the Day, relating to the operations of and since the 25th, was received and circulated to companies.
Further search amongst the Field Ambulances had reduced our original list of missing very considerably.
The corrected casualty return for 24th-25th September is now as follows :-- Officers.—Killed 1, died of wounds 1, wounded 8, missing 3. Other Ranks.—Killed 50, died of wounds 6, wounded 262, missing 136. Total of all ranks, 467.
October 3rd.—Church Parade at 10 a.m.
A draft of 200 N.C.O.'s and men arrived from the 9th Battalion. A fine lot of young troops with 8 months' training, and about 6 men who had been with the Battalion before.
October 4th.—Route march, drills, etc. A concert was held in the barn in the evening; the Band of the 6th Somersets performed, but arrived late, as Poperinghe was being shelled.
October 5th.—Rained all day. Great discussion about building huts for recreation-rooms, drying-rooms, etc. The idea is that we shall build them ourselves of mud and wattle, and we are to make a start tomorrow with the aid and guidance of 6 Belgians. Large classes of bombers under instruction.
October 6th.—Started work on building huts and on making a 100 yards range.
October 7th.—Lieut.-Colonel W. F. R. Webb returned from leave and resumed command of the Battalion. Work on huts and range progressing. First round of inter-company football tournament.
October 8th.—A and B Companies practised relief of trenches and movement under artillery fire on the skeleton trenches used by the Battalion in training for the attack of the 25th September.
October 9th.—Church Parade at 10 a.m. Boxing tournament in the evening. A draft of 3 officers and 134 other ranks arrived.
October 10th.—C and D Companies to the skeleton trenches, and later they were relieved by A and B, the four companies thus being practised in the relief of trenches. The C.O. lectured to all officers and N.C.O.'s on trench duties.
October 11th.—Four subalterns went up to the trenches for a course of instruction. Companies did musketry, drill, and bayonet-fighting, and practised putting on smoke-helmets, firing at aeroplanes, and fire control in the trenches.
October 12th.—Preparing for the trenches tomorrow.
October 13th.—Relieved the 8th K.R.R.C. in Railway Wood, Sector H.20 to A.2. Machine-gun Section went up last night.
Signallers and bombers relieved by day. O.C. Companies with 1 N.C.O. per company also went up by day. The Battalion paraded at 4.15 p.m., and marched to Poperinghe. Thence by train to Ypres, arriving at 6.30 p.m., when it was found that the approaches to it were being heavily shelled, so the Battalion waited until 7.30 p.m., and then moved off. The shelling was still very heavy, and it became necessary to take shelter under the canal bank west of Ypres until 9 p.m. As the shelling still continued, the C.O. decided to push on via the Dixmude Gate and Menin Road. At about 11.30 p.m. the shelling ceased, and the relief was completed by 2.30 a.m. (14th). Only one man was wounded.
October 14th.—Fairly quiet. Enemy did some damage to our parapet with trench mortars, and there was a little sniping and hand-grenade throwing during the day. No. 10464 Corporal H. A. Duester was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
October 15th.—Much the same situation as yesterday. The mornings are generally foggy now, and the men can go on working as long as the fog lasts. In the afternoon there was a good deal of shelling—H.E. and trench mortar. Casualty.—1 man killed.
October 16th.—Quiet morning. Between 3 and 4 p.m. a good many whizz-bangs and crumps were fired into Railway Wood. The men work all night, as there is much repairing to be done. Casualties.—1 man killed arid 7 men wounded.
October 17th.—At 5.15 a.m. the enemy "exploded" a mine under the junction of H.20 and H.21, making a very large crater (about 40 yards in diameter and 30 feet deep), and filling a great part of H.20 and H.21 with earth.
Our mine shaft in H.20 was blown up. It appears to have been a defensive measure only, as no artillery fire was opened and no attack made. The fire-trench at the junction of H.20 and H.21 was destroyed for about 4 bays on either side. A huge amount of earth was thrown up, and forms a long ridge running towards the German crater of the 25th September. About 7 a.m. the enemy made two bomb attacks against the new crater and the Sunken Road. Both were easily repulsed by our bombers at the crater, and by rifle-fire from H.20. The behaviour of the men was excellent. As soon as the mine exploded A Company holding H.20 north and south of the Sunken Road, stood up on the fire-step and delivered a very rapid, steady fire against the enemy position, while 2 platoons started to dig out men buried by the explosion. Work commenced almost at once on constructing a trench round the crater. Enemy snipers were busy, and we had several casualties in parties carrying up knife-rests. The C.O. directed field guns to be laid on the enemy crater; large supplies of bombs were got up, and a reinforcement of 1 sergeant and 16 bombers of the 5th K.S.L.I. came to our assistance.
At 12.40 p.m. 1 company of the 5th K.S.L.I, was ordered up to reinforce. During the morning we successfully wired between H.20 and S.20. The night passed quietly, but the Battalion stood-to throughout.
Casualties during the day: 2 officers and 13 other ranks killed; 31 other ranks wounded; 23 other ranks missing and buried by the mine. Total 69.
October 18th.—Two Germans, captured inside our wire at Hedge Sap, stated, among much other valuable information, that the enemy would attack at 6 this morning, after blowing up a mine at junction of H.I9 and H.I8 (Hedge Sap). We waited anxiously, but nothing happened.
A good deal of trench-mortaring and sniping, otherwise a quiet day. Much work going on, making saps round crater, wiring, digging, and repairing.
A diversity of opinion as to the distance apart of our crater and the enemy's. The Staff say that the lips must be almost touching, while our patrols and observers estimate that they are 40 yards apart.
October 19th.—Some firing on both sides, but the day passed quietly. The Battalion was relieved at night by the 7th R.B., and took up position : H.Q. and A and C Companies in L.4 Seminaire Redoubt, between Ypres and Vlamertinghe; B and D (under Major Keyworth) in Brielen Houses, near the Water Tower, west of Ypres. These are about the only houses which have not been shelled; no one knows why. [They were later.]
The Brigadier sent a most complimentary message to the Battalion, especially praising the magnificent work of the bombers and A Company after the mine was exploded. The G.O.C. the Division and the Brigadier also congratulated the Battalion on the immense amount of work put into the improvement of the trenches.
October 20th.—Inspection of arms, kits, etc. Officers reconnoitring routes through Ypres. 400 men on carrying party at night.
October 21st.—Men resting by day, and on carrying party at night.
October 22nd.—Left at 7.20 p.m. by train, and arrived at Poperinghe at 8.10 p.m., thence marched to Herzeele (10 miles). Arrived just after midnight, when tea and rum was issued to the men.
Companies billeted in farms, very scattered. Battalion H.Q. in Herzeele village.
October 23rd.—Cold, but fine. To go round all the billets is as much as one can do in a morning. The G.O.C. Division and the Brigadier visited the Battalion. Great schemes preparing for the training and reorganization of the Battalion while in Corps Reserve.
October 24th— Church Parade at 11.30 a.m. Colonel Webb addressed the Battalion on the good work done during the last tour in the trenches, especially by A Company. Lance-Corporal Archer sent for a course in pigeon-flying.
October 25th.—Rained all day.
October 26th.—The Army Commander inspected B Company at work in the morning. Canteen opened in the village of Herzeele.
During the last tour in the trenches the casualties in the Battalion amounted to 2 officers and 92 other ranks, killed, wounded, and missing.
The total casualties in the Battalion since its arrival in France in May 1915 :-- Officer's.—Killed, 3; wounded, 17; died of wounds, 4; missing, 5. Total, 29. Other Ranks.—Killed, 150; wounded, 664; died of wounds, 19; missing, 145. Total, 978.
Total casualties in all ranks during the five months, 1,007.
October 27th.—Rained all the morning. The party for review left at ,6.30 a.m. Detachments from every Battalion and Corps troops of the 2nd Army were reviewed by and marched past the King and the Prince of Wales.
Extracts from the Battalion Diary.
October 28th.—Captain and Adjutant Paget, temporarily attached to H.Q. 41st Infantry Brigade, to act as Brigade-Major. Lieut. Bleeck took over the duties of Adjutant. Reorganization of Battalion bombers; training of companies continued; lecture at 6 p.m. A recreation-room was opened in the village school.
October 29th.—The Battalion used the Divisional baths at Poperinghe. Training, etc. Lecture at 6 p.m. on "Regimental History."
October 30th.—Route march in the morning. Officers throwing live bombs in the afternoon.
October 3lst.—Church Parade.
November 1st.—Company training. Weather very bad.
November 2nd.--Wet. Little training possible. Lectures, etc.
Information received that 2nd Lieut. L. Farrer died in hospital on the 28th October.
November 3rd.—Route march. The following awards announced :-- Military Cross.—Captain B. C. T. Paget. 2nd Lieut. T. Rodocanachi.
November 4th.—Company training. A Special Order of the Day, by H.M. the King, relating to his recent visit to the front, was published.
November 5th.—Brigade route march. The marching of the Battalion was satisfactory. Present on parade : 19 officers and 639 other ranks.
November 6th.—Company training. Battalion Horse Show in the transport lines in the afternoon.
November 8th.—The Battalion 1st Line Grenadiers, consisting of 24 picked men, have been separated from their companies, and billeted together in one farm. In the trenches they will be near Battalion H.Q., and, under the Battalion Grenade Officer, will be immediately available for counter-attack.
November 13th.—Training, and various courses of instruction, still continuing. Platoon Grenadiers practising with live bombs. Practice with sniper scopes (2nd Army pattern); drill, musketry, attack practice, etc. Fur coat and leather waistcoat issued to every man now.
November 14th.—Church Parade at 11 a.m. Weather fine, with a cold wind. 2nd Lieut. A. Smith, 1 sergeant, and 1 corporal proceeded to Watou for a Lewis-gun course. Ordinary Company Training is becoming more difficult every day; nearly every man is a specialist, or at any rate has to be trained in some special work. There are bombers, snipers, machine-gunners, Lewis-gunners, signallers, transport men, grooms, etc.; and special instruction has to be given in the care and use of sniper-scopes,(rifles fitted with secondary butt and periscope attachment, which enable men to fire over the parapet while keeping under cover.) rapid fire while wearing smoke-helmet, and various other things. There is an idea now that we should be training for open warfare, though, as far as I can see, there seems little prospect of getting away from trench warfare, as long as we are on the Ypres salient.
November 16th.—In the evening the Battalion constructed a breastwork of the 14th Division pattern. Digging in wet clay very difficult.
November 17th.—Training as usual. A good concert was given by the Ammunition Column in the evening, and they provided electric light.
November 18th. -The remainder of the Brigade went up to the trenches. We are to move to B Huts tomorrow.
November 19th.— Paraded at 11.45 a.m. and marched via Watou and Poperinghe to B Huts, arriving at 4 p.m.
Strength of the Battalion, 20 officers and 738 other ranks.
November 20th.—The C.O., Company Commanders, and the Sniping Officer (Rodocanachi) proceeded to H.Q. 5th K.S.L.I. in Potijze Wood to inspect the sector of the line into which we move tomorrow. Communication trenches found to be all water-logged.
November 2lst.— -Relieved the 5th K.S.L.I. in trenches. A.3.-A.5.b and X.2.-X.3 in front of Potijze Wood. A quiet night, though enemy's machine-guns were active. Relief completed by 8.15 p.m. The C.O. and Adjutant went round the front trenches; on the left they were fairly dry, but on the right they were knee-deep in mud and water everywhere, and in places even waist-deep. What is required now is a thorough system of drainage under the R.E. 2nd Lieut. Gray was wounded by a bullet.
November 22nd.—A misty day, and we were able to work on the top of the parapet. Major Keyworth went round the trenches in the morning, and the C.O. in the afternoon. Potijze Road and Wood were heavily whizz-banged in the afternoon, in retaliation for our shelling. Much enemy firing from machine-guns and fixed batteries at night. A patrol of 2 men, under 2nd Lieut. Bowman, went out at 11.30 p.m. towards enemy trenches, to endeavour to hear Germans talking. The patrol never came back.
November 23rd.—The O.G. 14th Manchester was attached to us for instruction. Very quiet on our part of the line, but a lot of trench-mortaring in Railway Wood. Prisoners state that Germans are making preparations to attack with a new (colourless) gas. Casualty.—1 man wounded.
November 24th.—Enemy guns very busy registering this morning. We had a case of "trench foot," and found that the man had not used anti-frostbite grease. The Battalion was relieved at night by the 5th K.S.L.I., and marched back to B Huts, Brandhoek.
November 25th.—Heavy fall of snow. Inspections, etc.
November 26th.—Captain B. C. T. Paget, appointed Brigade-Major 42nd Infantry Brigade, handed over the, duties of Adjutant to 2nd Lieut. Sebastian.
Extracts from Lieut. Sebastian's narrative.
On the 26th November, when Paget went off as Brigade-Major to the 42nd Brigade, I was appointed Adjutant and promoted Lieutenant. Next day we went back to the Potijze Wood trenches, which were in a very bad state.
After this, until the end of the year, we continued in and out of these trenches. When in, there was never any very great excitement, only the usual shelling and a few casualties. When out, we went back to Herzeele, to B Huts, or to Kaaie Salient, for refitting, training, and furnishing working parties. Kaaie Salient formed part of the defences of Ypres (at the north-east corner of the canal), but as far as defence went it was at this time practically useless on account of the water and mud. It was a miserable place, and consisted of very bad dug-outs.
About the middle of December we thought that we were going to get away from all this mud and beastliness, as we were told that on being relieved in the trenches we were to refit, and then go to Egypt. When the relief came off, we saluted the Menin Gate as we passed, and wished it good luck, hoping at the same time to see it never again. We trained from the Asylum to Poperinghe, and thence marched to B Camp, arriving there at about 1 a.m. What a place it was! The mud too appalling for description. In riding up the road, or, rather, mud stream, I managed somehow to slide off my horse, arid got literally bathed in mud from head to foot. There the Battalion remained for four days, and then marched to Herzeele, where we were to refit.
On the 20th December the Army Commander presented the Military Cross to Captain Paget, Lieut. Rodocanachi, and other officers of the Brigade on parade.
Christmas Day was spent at Herzeele, where we stayed, refitting and training, until the 29th December, and then we were moved in buses to B Huts, preparatory to going back into the trenches, as we had been told on Christmas Day that Egypt was off.
Casualties.—28th November, 2nd Lieut. Robinson and one man wounded;
29th November, one man wounded.
We were very short of good Company Commanders now, so Captain Fowke, who had been transferred from the 52nd to be our Second in Command in place of Major Keyworth (to England on account of deafness), was made Company Commander of B Company.
On the 30th December we went into the line, in relief of the 5th and 6th West Ridings (147th Brigade, 49th Division) in the Boesinghe Sector of the Salient. The Colonel thought that he knew a short cut through the grounds of Vlamertinghe Chateau we of H.Q. went through with it, but it was not much of a success, as the mud in most places was up to our knees. The sector which we now took over was on the extreme left of the British line, and we joined on to the French, who were holding Boesinghe, with the Yser Canal between them and the Huns. Half the Battalion was in trenches, and the other half in farms behind—Malakoff, Pelissier, Saragossa, Hull, Modder, etc. The trenches were in a terrible state of repair, full of water, and no wire. The relief was completed by 10.30 p.m.; enemy machine-guns active; and we unfortunately lost 2nd Lieut. S. E. burrows, who was severely wounded, and died on the way down to the dressing-station.
Battalion H.Q. were in the west bank (very high) of the canal, and to go up to the trenches we had to cross the canal by one of the many wooden bridges, each of which had a weird number attached to it, such as 7Z, 7Y, 4D, etc,. What the numbers meant we never discovered, and as they were in no sort of order, they did not help us much. Apparently, when a new bridge 'was put up, it was given a new number, without any attention being paid to the number of the old bridge alongside. But there may have been some deep scheme at the bottom of the process of numbering, though too deep for us to fathom.
Bridge 7Z was very close to the Hun, and a most unpleasant place, as he used to flick machine-gun bullets over it all night long. Some of the other bridges he regularly strafed with shells at odd hours day and night.
In this sector the German had the complete upper hand, and he did almost as he pleased. His chief amusement was Jetting off machine-guns, all over the place throughout the night, but he got very little result from his expenditure of ammunition. Two of them he had on our left, and with these he used to sweep our back area, switching them about apparently without method, and doing no damage. One of these got the name of "Mad Alec," but we were getting even with the lunatics by the time we left, as our batteries got on to them, and opened fire directly they started, with a field gun firing in the open from a different place each night, and directed by an infantry officer on the canal-bank with a direct line to the gun. This was started as an experiment, and worked extraordinarily well, the infantry F.0.0. switching the fire of the field guns whenever the German machine-gun changed position.
At the end of our time in this sector we had got the enemy's machine-guns well in hand. These travelling field guns were supplied by the 46th Brigade, R.F.A.
The trenches were really shocking, there was no connected line, and in most parts only isolated platoon-posts—quite unapproachable in daylight, as there were no communication trenches, and the Huns had fixed rifles laid on all the approaches. It was well-nigh impossible to bring back stretcher-cases from these posts, for in the dark they were most difficult to find, arid on more than one occasion I completely lost my way in trying to get to some outlying part of the line. To add to our troubles there was always an abundance of mud and of water, not only in the trenches, but also all over the open, and we were silhouetted -to the Germans by every Very Light sent up from the other side of the Ypres Salient about Hill 60.
1916 In this way we began 1916, and we were more or less pinned to these miserable trenches until the middle of February.
At one time rations were brought up by a so-called light railway, about a mile and a half in length—rather a feeble affair with wooden rails. The trucks had to be pushed by men, and they were as often off the rails as on. What made the work of the pushers doubly hard was the absence of trench-boards between the rails, so that they were floundering about in mud and slush all the time. Later on we remedied this by getting the line properly trench-boarded; but, of course, the Hun knew all about this railway, and gave it a pretty hot time both with shells and machine-guns, though I do not think that he ever got one of our men. I used to amuse myself by looking after the bringing up of stores, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Eventually we gave up the use of the railway, and employed pack ponies for bringing the rations.
During January we had three tours of the trenches—not always in exactly the same part, and we generally had four days in the line, four days at B Huts, near Vlamertinghe, and four days at Elverdinghe, the period out of the line being devoted, as usual, to training and providing working parties. There was a certain amount of excitement at different times in the trenches, and a good deal of shelling and sniping went on, but as a rule things were pretty quiet, and we had few casualties.
A draft of 20 men joined the Battalion on the 15th January.
On the 16th January C.-S.-M. Adams and Corporal Smart were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, and Captain C. A. Fowke the Military Cross.
We were in the line once in February (from the 1st to the 9th), and then we came out for good and all. As a matter of fact, we were uncommonly lucky while in this sector, as the Huns turned most of their mortars on to the French on our left. They used to give Boesinghe a good dressing at times, and it was interesting to us to watch. Rodocanachi acted as liaison officer between us and the French all along, and it was his duty to let the French know if we were being attacked.
We put in a lot of work on these wretched trenches, and made strenuous efforts to get rid of the water. There was a big drain (known as the Pilkem drain) running through the sector, but it was full of mud. The R.E. told us that if we were to dig small drains from this up to trenches E.28 and 29 we should get rid of all the water in these trenches. We did as we were told, but, unfortunately, the scheme did not come off, for instead of emptying the trenches, we emptied the drain into them.
On the 7th February we had quite a lively time at Battalion H.Q. We had just had new dug-outs made in the canal-bank, and three of them had been completed, but when we came to look at them we found that they had not been dug deep enough, and, consequently, they had not got a sufficient thickness of overhead cover. So Farmer (Grenade Officer) and I set to work to improve matters, and rolled an 18-inch log over the end of the sleeping dug-out, piling sandbags on the top. Next afternoon the Germans began to drop shells all around the dug-out. I was outside working, and did not think that the shells were coming very near, when suddenly one burst quite close. The next thing that I saw was the Colonel, in his socks, dashing out of the sleeping dugout, and going for all he was worth up the canal. I went to see what had happened, and found that two boards at the end of the dug-out had been broken in. This was enough for me, so I decided to evacuate. After ordering all the men near H.Q. to move off, I went a little way down the trench. Returning a few minutes later, I found two of the H.Q. servants still there, and I cleared them out. Soon afterwards the Hun started in properly, and simply plastered the place with 4.2-inch and 5.9-inch shells, dropping about a hundred in a small circle; but he got nobody. He demolished H.Q. cookhouse, as well as the dug-out in which I had found the two servants, and he damaged others.
That evening we decided to take strenuous measures for our protection. Thick trees were cut down from the side of the canal and put on the top of the dug-outs plus hundreds of bags of bricks from a house some 800 yards away. It was hard work, but quite a good job was made of it. During the brick carrying, one of the men was heard to remark : "We've put all Belgium into sand-bags, and now we've got to put in the houses as well."
We attributed this particular bit of shelling to our R.E. Wireless Station, which was close to our dugouts. It was a sunny day, and the men were playing about with a new copper wire, which they kept dancing about in the sun. This, of course, attracted the attention of the Boche. In the midst of the shelling the wire was broken, but the linesmen most gallantly replaced it, and thereby caused a considerable increase in the intensity of the enemy's fire.
The last night that we spent in these trenches there was great excitement : an enemy patrol got on to our wire in the early hours of the morning, and lit a torch to see what was up. Our men opened fire, and were quite certain that they had hit two. The Brigadier ordered the bodies to be brought in on the following night, so Captain Fowke went out himself to recover them. But no bodies were to be found, and the supposition is that the Huns were only wounded, and managed to wriggle home.
On the 9th February we came out of the trenches, on relief, and marched to Elverdinghe. Next day our Division was relieved by the 20th Division, when the 6th Battalion of the Regiment (Colonel White) took over from us, and we marched to Houtkerque, being joined on the way by Lieut. Newman, who had been wounded on the 24th September.
On the 11th February we moved to Wormhouldt; where we had most comfortable billets, scattered in farms, to the east of the village, and where we settled in for a short spell of rest and training.
On the 17th February the Battalion was inspected by the Commander-in-Chief, Captain Fowke, M.C., being in temporary command, during the absence on leave of Colonel Webb.
We now received orders to entrain at Esquelbec for some unknown destination, and on the 20th February we marched to that place and duly took the train. When we knew for certain that we were really out of the salient, we heaved one, huge sigh of relief. Here the 14th Division had been for nine months without a rest. Our Brigade had had six weeks' rest—of a sort. The times had been hard, and had cost us dear, for the Battalion had lost 35 officers and over 1,000 other ranks—most of the flower of the Battalion when it first came out. Everybody was rather tired of Flanders.
We had no idea whither we were going until we found ourselves passing through Amiens. A few miles farther on we stopped and ran back into a siding at Longueau. At about 10 a.m. (21st February) we detrained, and were then told that motor-buses would take us to our destination, Berteaucourt, about 25 miles north, as soon as they were ready. Breakfast was prepared and eaten in the streets, and then we started on our journey through Amiens and out into the open country beyond, immensely pleased with the change of scenery. We reached Berteaucourt (Map : Lens, Sheet 11, 1/100,000, C.6) later in the day, and by nightfall were all comfortably settled in billets.
On the following day Brigade H.Q. were established in the village, and we were told to make all arrangements for a prolonged stay; so we at once got permission from the Maire to use a considerable tract of land in the neighbourhood for training purposes, and on the 23rd February started to work in earnest, in spite of snow and frost. In the early hours of the following morning, however, we received a shock, an orderly from the Brigade waking me up with an order that the Battalion was to be ready to move at 8 a.m. Accordingly we were all ready at that hour, but did not receive our orders for marching until 9 a.m., when we were told that we were to go to Gezaincourt (D.5). We started off in deep snow and bitter cold, had dinners at Fienvillers, and reached Gezaincourt after dusk.
The billets were very bad, but we were off again at 8 a.m. next morning, en route for Grand Rullecourt (F.3). During the night an intense frost set in, and the roads were like glass, making things most difficult for the transport, although the animals had been rough-shod overnight. Doullens Hill was an immense trouble, and the Battalion had to go on and leave the transport behind, though we managed to push on the cookers and water-carts. Eventually we reached Grand Rullecourt, but it was long after dark before we got the billets fixed up, and they were not too good. The men got their long-delayed dinners, but there were no blankets until the arrival of the lorries at about midnight.
We rested on the 26th (on the 26th February Lance-Corporal Timms was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal) and 27th February, did a bit of training on the 28th, and on the 29th moved for the night to Simencourt, going on to Arras on the 1st March.
At Arras, where we relieved the French, we were billeted in the east side of the Grande Place. We had expected to find Arras in a battered condition like Ypres; but, with the exception of the Town Hall, Museum, and Cathedral, it was really very little damaged. The whole place was full of interest, shops were open, and there were plenty of civilians about. But we were not given much time to amuse ourselves, as, on the 5th March, we were for the trenches again.
We relieved portions of the 7th and 8th R.B. in the left of H Sector, and found that the trenches were simply perfect—deeply dug, with good communication trenches, and excellent dug-outs. It was all a revelation after the Ypres Salient. But here, as elsewhere, the Hun held the high ground, his line of trenches running along the ridge east and south-east of Arras. On this ridge, and just opposite H Sector, was Beaurains, which dominated the whole of our position. H Sector, which lay well astride the Beaurains Road, was divided into H.I on the right, and H.2 on the left, the former facing Beaurains and Beaurains Park, and the latter facing the north-west end of Beaurains and the brickfields to the north.
For the next few weeks we and the 5th K.S.L.I, took it in turns to relieve each other in H.2 trenches. As a rule things were fairly quiet in the line, and casualties were very few.
On the 30th 2 men were killed and 1 man wounded. I do not think that we had any further casualties until the 27th April, when 5 men were killed and 2 wounded.
When not in the line at this period we were in Arras or in billets in the immediate vicinity, carrying on the usual routine of training, fatigues, working parties, etc.
The casualties in the Battalion during February were five men wounded on the 4th, and six men wounded on the 6th.
Throughout the winter we had had a lot of snow, which did considerable harm to the trenches, but when spring came things underwent a complete change—the weather was delightful, and the whole countryside, including the trenches, became a perfect garden, with flowers everywhere. In the course of time even the "communication trenches were lined with poppies, blue cornflowers, yellow mustard, and flowers of many other colours. With summer fruit came in abundance, as well as potatoes and other vegetables, which improved the men's feeding immensely.
Whilst in the trenches every one fed exceedingly well, the cookers being kept at Ronville or at Achicourt, according to which section of the line we were holding, and the men getting four meals a day. Except for an occasional strafe, the Hun kept remarkably quiet. We were told that when the French held this line there was a sort of compact between them and the Germans; at any rate, each side was protected by solid wire, on stout wooden posts, to a depth of 30 yards to the front. To find such a mass of wire was rather a surprise to us, as in the Salient wire 3 yards deep was considered by no means bad. Alas! with the arrival of Lewis guns, this beautiful wire got fearfully knocked about, as it became a regular practice to shoot them off from our parapet, and so cut the wire to ribbons, which meant endless wiring parties and a great waste of labour, until it was put a stop to.
At first we used to be billeted in Arras and Simencourt, afterwards Bernville was substituted for the latter, and the transport camp was at one or the other of these two villages. In Arras two companies and H.Q. were billeted in the Ecole des Jeunes Filles, which was a most comfortable place; and the H.Q. Mess was in a big house close by, where the people were very kind, and often served us with most tasty dishes. One Company and its H.Q. was in the Commercial Hotel, and another was not far off. While in Arras itself we had practically no experience of shelling, and even in the line we had remarkably few casualties.
June was a glorious month as far as the weather was concerned, although there were a few wet days. Life went on much as usual; the Battalion was in and out of the trenches; the enemy's shelling increased somewhat.
The last three days of June and the first of July were fairly lively; on the 28th June the vicinity of our billets was heavily shelled for a-couple of hours in the early morning; on the 29th Beaurains trenches were raided, as I shall describe; on the 30th the billets came in for another shelling; and on the 1st July, when we relieved the 9th K.R.R.C. (Right H. Sector, H.25 -H.34), there were a few casualties. The Maltese cart had its driver, Sergeant Warner, and Corporal Smith wounded, and the Ypres mule killed. Two other men were also wounded.
Raid on Beaurains Trenches. This was the first raid on the enemy's trenches undertaken by troops of the 14th Division, and we were detailed to make it. Secret Orders were issued by the Brigade for the minor enterprise to take place on the night of 29th/30th June, and the principal of these were embodied in Colonel Webb's orders to those concerned, so I will only quote the paragraph which related to the work of the guns :--
Artillery barrage of 18-prs and 4.5-inch howitzers to start at 12 midnight, signal time.
Raiding party to be in position to enter enemy trenches as soon as possible after barrage starts.
Barrage to cease at 12.25 a.m., unless O.C. 5th Oxf. and Bucks asks for it to cease before then.
At the same time one Stokes gun will barrage M.4.b.6 1/2.0 to M.4.d.7.9 1/4, and will cease when the artillery barrage ceases.
Machine and Lewis guns to sweep enemy parapet on flanks of raiding party, as arranged by O.C. 5th Oxf. and Bucks with O.C. Brigade Machine Gun Company.
The following orders were issued by Colonel Webb :--
PROPOSED RAID ON SALIENT OF BEAURAINS. 1. Strength of Party.— One officer(Lieut. Weston-Webb), 3 N.C.O.'s, and 21 other ranks.
2. Object :--
To obtain prisoners.
To capture a suspected machine-gun.
To see if there is any mining in progress.
3. Party to be divided into 4 sections :--
(a) 1 N.C.O. and 6 men to clear trench to right.
(b) 1 N.C.O. and 6 men to clear trench to left.
(c) 1 N.C.O. and 5 men to clear communication trench and look after mine shaft.
(d) 1 Lance-Corporal arid 3 men to remain on parapet, to assist returning raiders out, and mark spot where wire is cut.
The first three parties each leave one man with the officer when the trench is entered, and will remain where communication trench leaves fire-trench until withdrawal is ordered. They will be used as messengers to the groups to withdraw.
An emergency signal of three sharp whistle-blasts will be arranged to signify withdrawal.
4. Parties will get out in column from sap behind mound, following course indicated by arrow on attached sketch.
3 bombers, with bombs and knobkerries only.
3 riflemen, with bayonets and bombs.
Except party (d), who will all be armed with rifles.
5. Three wire-cutters per squad.
No superfluous equipment.
Wounded to be brought in if possible.
6. Wire-cutting by artillery :--
Direct view on spot marked by a white stake from Salient to H.33.
Wire is in 3 lines :--
(1) Outside. Ordinary entanglement on screw-poles.
(2) Double line of French wire.
(3) Double line of French wire.
There are lanes between rows, and it appears there is a passage through the row where the white stake now is.
7.Vickers gun to fire on gap, to prevent repairs from Salient.
8.Covering Party.—A Lewis-gun protected by bombers on the mound A. These bombers will deal with sentry in sap, should he become alarmed.
9.Barrage Fire.—By artillery along X D E and W F E, Stokes guns and mortars at barricades X and D in Ronville Road. By Vickers gun along trench north side of Ronville Road.
10.Patrol to reconnoitre effects of wire-cutting and route on night previous to raid.
11.O.C. Battalion will be at H.Q. of right company of centre sector.
12.Date and time.—29th/30th June, 12 midnight.
13.If darkness permits, raiders to crawl forward to wire, and assault as the first gun of the artillery fires. If night is light, raiders to go forward at steady pace two minutes before the time for barrage fire to commence.
W. F. R. Webb, Lieut.-Colonel, Comdg. 5th Oxf. and Bucks Lt. Infty. 28th June 1916.
Colonel Webb sent his official report on the raid to 42nd Brigade H.Q. on the 30th June :--
1.The following is an account of a raid carried out by a party of the Regiment under my command on the enemy trenches in front of Beaurains on the night of 29th/30th.
2.Proposed plan of action was sent to you on June 27th.
3.Up to 11.40 p.m. a Vickers gun ensured the gap in the wire being kept open.
At 11.45 a covering patrol got out on the mound (M.4.b.5.1), and lay down in column.
At 11.50 p.m. the party crawled forward and reached a point about 10 yards from the gap.
At 12 midnight precisely the artillery opened fire, the Stokes -guns barraged the barriers on the Ronville-Beaurains Road, and a Vickers machine-gun swept the trench of the enemy second line running parallel to the road. The raiding party rushed into enemy trench with the first round of the guns. The wire was well cut and proved no obstacle. The trench had been blown in, and descent into it was easy.
Enemy were taken by surprise. There was no fire, nor were any more than the usual lights put up.
4.The party under Sergeant Bignell worked to the left, encountering a small enemy working party, 4 or 5 strong, carrying sandbags, who bolted, and a post of 3 or 4 men, two of whom remained, the rest bolting. These two were bayoneted, and a third of the retreating enemy was caught and bayoneted. The remainder vanished down the steps of a dug-out, and six bombs were thrown in on top of them. The party then came to a sand-bag barricade in the trench, and were unable to advance any farther. After the first two enemy were killed, unfortunately a short round from one of our supporting batteries fell on the parapet and killed two of our men, one of whom was the man who had bayoneted the first enemy met with, two others were also wounded. Only two of the party reached the block, which was of recent construction, and placed in the trench between two entrances to a dug-out. The party then came back to the point of entry to the trench, and they say that the enemy threw two bombs from behind the barricade in the trench.
5.The right party went down the trench to the right, and found it very much blown in. They found nobody there, and, after going along about 30 yards, returned.
6.The centre party, who were to have searched a communication trench, failed to discover it, and got into a disused trench, very much knocked about, but found nothing there. I think that in all probability the C.T. for which they were searching was on the other side of the block.
7.After being 12 or 13 minutes in the trench, Lieut. Weston- Webb, commanding the party, gave the signal to retire..
8.On the way back some of the party, being confused by the proximity of the barrage and the darkness of the night, lost their way for a time. As I could get no news of all being back, I requested the F.0.0. to continue barrage up to 30 minutes, when I ordered him to stop.
9.The F.0.0. and the Adjutant observing from Maison Allongee observed enemy fire two blind rockets, which did not explode.
No enemy machine-gun fired, and the only artillery action was a few 77mm. rounds on to Havelock.
Enemy opened a very weak rifle-fire, of not more than 8 or 10 men, when party were coming back.
Two men were hit by shell-splinters on the way back.
10.A cap of the Bavarian Jaeger Regiment was brought back, and has been sent to you. The return of it is requested.
It is regretted that no other documents or prisoners were brought back, but the few short rounds which occurred happened at the most unfortunate time, and rather confused the only party which met with the enemy.
11.The work of the artillery in wire-cutting was excellent, and the barrage put up by them, with the exception of the few short rounds mentioned, was very good.
The Stokes mortar barrage on the Ronville-Beaurains Road was also excellent, and the work of the Brigade machine-guns in keeping the wire open and assisting the barrage was very good. The two-inch mortar fired a few rounds in the afternoon, removing two knife-rests blocking the gap.
12.The enemy trench was of the same type as ours, about 8 feet deep, hurdle-revetted, wooden fire-steps. It was considerably damaged by shell and mortar fire.
The sand-bag barricade between two dug-out entrances has been met with before in raids. This was evidently newly erected with a view to covering the gap in the wire and possible raid.
13.Enemy casualties.—7 or 8, exclusive of casualties caused by barrages.
Our Casualties.—2 killed, 3 wounded.
14.Recommended for reward :-- 2nd Lieut. H. Weston-Webb. Sergeant C. Bignell. Private A. Hall.
W. F. R. Webb, Lieut.-Colonel, Comdg. 5th Oxf. and Bucks Lt. Infty. 30th June 1916.