RECORD OF THE 5th (SERVICE) BATTALION. 1st August 1916 to 30th June 1917.
BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM THE REGIMENTAL CHRONICLE
Lieut Colonel W. F. R. Webb, D.S.O. (Indian Army), continued to command the Battalion until March 1917, when he was ordered to rejoin his own regiment in India, and was succeeded in the command by Lieut. -Colonel H. L. Wood (2nd Battalion). The several accounts which follow give details of twelve months' fighting, as severe as any in which the Battalion had been engaged. Its losses were heavy — more than eight hundred of all ranks — but its glory was correspondingly great.
Adjutant Narrative July opened with several wet days in succession, but the trenches were pretty quiet until the 6th, when things began to tune up. (On the 7th July Major G. V. Drury, of the 9th K.R.B.C., joined the Battalion, for duty as Second in Command.)
On that day the Germans put about 150 five-point-nines on to the left company, and on the following day gave the centre and left companies some 50 of the same sort. On the 9th and 10th they treated all three companies in the line to some heavy shelling, but on the 11th and 12th we had a combined shoot on Beaurains and its park with good results.
After that we were relieved by the 5th K.S.L.I, and went back to Arras.
On the 14th July 2nd Lieut. Walrond and 7 men were wounded by shell-fire, near the station, when returning from carrying-party duties; next day the Battalion went up into H Sector for the last time. A Company was heavily shelled on the first day in, but the remainder of the tour was decidedly quiet. We had 4 officers of the 10th Sherwoods (33rd Brigade, 11th Division) attached for two days, and a company of the 6th Lincolns also attached for two days' instruction. On the 22nd July we were relieved by the 6th Lincolns, when our Division came out of the line.
After the relief we marched that night to Agnez-lez-Duisans for a short rest and to refit. The weather was delightful, and every one enjoyed the change. All was well with us then. During our long stay at Arras our casualties had been very few, and everybody knew everybody—both officers and men. We were, indeed, a happy family. And, to add to our merriment, some of the band instruments had now arrived, so that a beginning could be made with the band. The noise at first was a trifle crude, but we liked it because the band was our very own.
Besides ourselves there were some Indian cavalry billeted in the village, and amongst the officers some friends of the Colonel who dined with us. We did a route march and a bit of training, played the Somersets both at cricket and at football, and the Divisional Train at football.
On the 27th July we started on the march again, and found the weather uncommonly hot. That day we marched to Sus-St. Leger via Avesnes, Grand Rullecourt, etc., and we made a fatal mistake in that we halted for two hours on the far side of Avesnes for the men to have their dinners. This spelt disaster, for heavy food in the sun is bad. After passing Grand Rullecourt the men began to fall out like flies; the heat was too much for them, and 57 were behind when we got in. We halted on the 28th, and next day marched in brigade to Mezerolles, our packs being carried by lorry. All went well until the battalion in front (whose men were carrying their packs) began to fall out, and then perpetual halts commenced.
If it had not been for these delays we should have got in before the sun grew really hot, but as it was, the latter part of the march was simply scorching, and we had between 60 and 70 men fall out. However, we collected everybody together for dinner in a wood north-east of the village, and afterwards marched in perfectly fit.
Mezerolles was a charming place, and we did a lot of bathing in the river Authie. The billets were not bad, and there was plenty of shade about. There we spent Sunday, and on the 31st July the Battalion marched to Berneuil, making an early start to avoid the heat, and quite enjoying the walk.
At Berneuil we stayed a week, and got through some useful training, especially wood fighting. One day we were taken to witness a demonstration of a Stokes mortar barrage, which was very fine, but also slightly dangerous, as an officer of the R.B. was wounded (though not badly) when standing behind us, and we were some 500 yards from the barrage. As far as amusements went, we had quite a good time, and played cricket matches most afternoons. Then there was the Brigade Lewis-gun Competition, which the Battalion won; and the end of an enjoyable week found us very pleased with ourselves by reason of a most flattering speech made to us by the Brigadier.
BATTLE OF THE SOMME. The 5th Battalion, as will be seen, was thrown in for the attack on Delville Wood in August, and again for the attack on Guedecourt in September, losing altogether, before being finally withdrawn, 15 officers and some 300 other ranks.
At last came orders for us to proceed to the Somme. We were to go by train, while the transport of the Brigade was to march, leaving a day before us, and spending the night at Ardonnette, north of Amiens. We got off at 5 a.m. (7th August), and marched to Fernvillers for entrainment, but were kept waiting at the station for some four hours, when the King's Shropshire Light Infantry and ourselves were put into a train made up of 3rd-class carriages—by no means bad. Passing through Amiens we slowly entered the Somme battlefield, when everything became of interest. At Ribemont we detrained, and thence marched to Buire, where we found that the transport had already arrived. Now we really were in the battle area, and all was hustle. The number of troops and the amount of transport on the spot filled us with amazement.
At Buire we established Battalion Headquarters in a house near the church, and the orderly-room in the schoolroom, where the schoolmaster, who was also Maire, transacted official business at the same time as our staff was at work. Some of us were billeted in the schoolmaster's house, while the men and the company officers were mostly in tents. The weather for the next four days was glorious, and we were able to put in some excellent training—amongst other things, practising night advance and digging in
On 11th August Colonel Crosse came over to see us from the 52nd, who were at Treux, on the other side of the Ancre, which flowed between us and them. He told us a lot about Delville Wood, which we had every reason to believe was our destination.
One afternoon some of us went up to a wood to witness British forms of frightfulness for trench warfare, and saw a huge Flammenwerfer ejecting a flame nearly a hundred yards in length, and also flaming tubs being thrown from mortars. We marvelled at it all, and were pleased at the knowledge that whatever the Hun might try on we would go one better. Preparations for fighting now went on in earnest; the matter of equipment was settled; and we had some practice with the new wire cutter an ingenious device fixed to the muzzle of the rifle.
After a little less than a week at Buire we got our orders to move up to the forward area, and on the 12th August, passing through Dernancourt, Meaulte, Becourt, and Becordel, reached the high ground just west of Fricourt, where we relieved a battalion of the 17th Division, and went into bivouac. On the way up we had passed great ammunition dumps and crowds of Hun prisoners— both most striking. The first view of the battlefield was wonderful; the enormous number of men, the guns, transport of all kinds, the work going on—all on a stupendous scale.
Next to us was an Entrenching Battalion of the Guards, whose work interested us considerably, and we had reason to be grateful to them, for they lent us a hut for our headquarters. Here we remained for about a week, furnishing a few working parties, doing a good deal of training, especially in connexion with the attack, and listening to terrible stories of Delville Wood. We also carried out reconnaissances of the surrounding country, including Montauban and Mametz. From the former place the actual battle line could be seen, and we-were all duly impressed by the sight of it, though it was not long before we made a more intimate acquaintance with it.
After this (19th August) we moved up to Montauban with orders to take over a part of the defences there. We relieved a battalion of Bantams, and had our headquarters in an old German bakehouse, which might have been a good deal worse.
We now heard that we were for an attack, the object of which was to clear the enemy out of Delville Wood, and so the Colonel, Company Commanders, and I set to work to make careful reconnaissances of our front line—Devil's Trench. The particular work allotted to me was the reconnaissance of certain assembly trenches which were supposed to exist, the finding of a dug-out for H.Q., and the taping of an assembly trench, which had to be dug. Every night and most days we had to find large working parties for digging and also for burying cables. We were seldom shelled here, at any rate nothing to speak of.
On the 22nd August we were told that we were to relieve the 5th K.S.L.I. next day on the left of the wood, and on the 24th were to join in the Brigade attack.
The 23rd was spent in fitting out all ranks for the coming fight. This was essential because the stores in bulk could not be carried up to the wood, and, even if they could have been, distribution there was not possible. As dusk came on Captain Neale and I went up with a working party to dig the assembly trench. On the way up I was told to find a guide for a carrying party with stores for us. I tried to do both, but it was a failure.
As Neale and I were going up the road to Longueval a heavy bombardment and S.O.S. went up from our trenches by Guillemont, some 1,500 yards on our right, and bullets began to whistle all around. Both the parties were rushed into the communication trench (Crucifix Alley) to get cover. Soon afterwards the Germans started dropping shells all over the place, so we decided to wait until they had finished. Presently things quieted down, and we went off with the digging party, but the carrying party got lost. After a great deal of trouble the digging party reached the line, and, leaving them there, I went off to find our headquarters. In the meanwhile the relief was going on without trouble.
Battalion headquarters were in the entrance to an old half finished Hun dugout, which went down to a depth of about 15 feet, but as the place consisted of nothing but steps it was very uncomfortable. The worst part of it was that it harboured millions of flies, and these, with their buzzing and their wish to plant themselves wherever they were not wanted, proved a perfect curse until we applied copious doses of creasol and got rid of them. In headquarters there were the Colonel, Captain Walter (Signals), and myself, as well as the R.S.M., some signallers, and some orderlies. Outside were the remainder of the signallers and the police, who were acting as a stragglers' post. Close to H.Q. were various dumps, including water. We were just off and to the left of Crucifix Alley, and not far from the ruins of Longueval church. The Colonel selected this spot for headquarters, in preference to utilizing the former H.Q. (which were more in Longueville), because he knew that the Huns were in the habit of dropping their barrage on the Ginchy Road between it and Delville Wood, and there being no communication trench to it, all communication was certain to be cut off. So we merely established a signal station in the old H.Q., and that; the Colonel was right was soon proved, for sure enough the German barrage came down on the Ginchy Road.
ATTACK ON DELVILLE WOOD. I now give briefly the orders that were issued for our attack. In the preliminary operation orders it was stated that the French and the British 4th Army were renewing the attack on the 24th August; that the 14th (Light) Division would operate in conjunction with the 20th Division on its right, and the 33rd Division on its left; the 20th Division to attack the line Guillemont Station to the Guillemont-Ginchy road; and the 33rd Division the new German trench (S.12.C.1.9 to S.ll.a.3.3) l and Tea Trench. The 100th Infantry Brigade to assault one hour after zero.
Reference Maps : Guillemont 1/20,000; and 1/10,000, X. 16
The task allotted to the 14th (Light) Division was to attack and capture the line ::-- (a) T.13.C.0.5 to T.13.C.4.9, and from junction Hop Alley and Beer Trench to junction Ale Alley and Beer Trench. To be carried out by 41st Infantry Brigade.
(b) Thence along the line Beer Trench, lying about 200 yards north of the north edge of Delville Wood, to the Flers road, at about point S.12.a.4.3. To be carried out by the 42nd Infantry Brigade.
SUMMARY OF OPERATION ORDERS OF THE 42ND BRIGADE. The objective of the Brigade is about 1,200 yards long and 500 yards from present front line. Two lines have to be captured before reaching the final objective, viz., Inner Trench, about 150 yards inside the northern edge of Delville Wood, and Edge Trench, on the northern edge of the wood.
Inner Trench, as soon as captured, to be consolidated, to form a strong support line against counterattack.
Edge Trench to be similarly dealt with, and held at first by strong posts only. Dugouts to be cleared at once by " mopping up" parties from each battalion, provided with " P " grenades and bombs.
Battalions to attack as follows :-- 9th K.R.R.C. on the right, 5th Shropshire in centre, 5th Oxford and Bucks on the left, 9th Rifle Brigade in Brigade Reserve.
Two machine-guns and two Stokes mortars allotted to each assaulting battalion.
Twenty officers only per battalion to go into action, remainder to be near Brigade Headquarters ready as reinforcements if required.
For two hours before zero intense bombardment by heavy and field artillery, and heavy medium and Stokes mortars. During last quarter-hour of this bombardment Devil Trench to be vacated, and all machine-guns and trench-mortars withdrawn.
Ten minutes before zero artillery on Delville Wood will concentrate on Inner Trench.
At zero the assault to move forward steadily behind the artillery creeping barrage, which will commence to lift at five minutes after zero, and will continue to lift 25 yards at a time at the rate of 100 yards in four minutes.
Getting clear of the edge of the wood assaulting waves to re-form, and get up as close as possible to the barrage, ready to rush the final objective immediately the barrage lifts off it. Leading line to be kept strong enough to effect this; other lines, following at not less than 100 yards, not to merge prematurely, and to reinforce only when absolutely necessary.
At 1 hour after zero the barrage on final objective will become intense, and 5 minutes later the barrage will commence to lift (25 yards at a time), finally establishing itself 200 yards beyond the objective, as a protective barrage. The final objective to be consolidated immediately after capture.
Zero will be 5.45 p.m. 24th August.
Battalions to take up their positions of assembly during the night of 23rd-24th August.
Disposition of machine-guns of the Brigade :-- During bombardment prior to assault.--4 in Devil Support Trench; 2 with each assaulting battalion; 3 in position to barrage 33rd Division front; 2 in reserve (1 each at H.Q. of 9th K.R.R.C. and 5th Oxford and Bucks); 1 with 9th Rifle Brigade in Brigade Reserve.
During assault.—4 in Devil Trench; 2 with each assaulting battalion (1 of which to be left in Inner Trench and 1 to be available for strong point after consolidation); 3 barraging 33rd Division front, as before; 1 with Battalion in Reserve, as before.
After assault and capture of final objective.—4 either in Devil Trench or withdrawn to Brigade Reserve; 6 in strong points on Edge and Inner Trenches; remainder in Brigade Reserve.
[The establishment of a forward dump (water, ammunition, bombs, wire, sandbags, etc.), the work to be carried out by the 89th Field Company R.E. and 11th King's Regiment Pioneers, and minor matters were then dealt with in the orders.]
SUMMARY OF 5TH OXFORD AND BUCKS LIGHT INFANTRY OPERATION ORDERS.
The Regiment to attack on the left of the 42nd Brigade front, and to secure S.12 central to Flers road. 5th Shropshire L.I. on our right; 100th Brigade on our left.
The Regiment to attack in three lines :-- A and C Companies form the first two lines on a two-platoon front. D in third line. B in fourth line, as reserve.
Objectives :-- First line will take edge of Delville Wood, leaving a party of Battalion Grenadiers in Inner Trench to deal with any enemy left behind.
Second line to follow (at 100 yards), make certain that no enemy capable of resistance remain in Inner Trench, and then pass on to edge of wood, where Battalion Grenadiers of second and third lines will clear out dug-outs.
Third line to follow to N. edge of Delville Wood and secure it, being careful about the left flank in N.W. corner of wood. Meanwhile, first two lines of A and C Companies will reform, and, at lift of artillery barrage, will advance and take final objective, 200 yards outside the edge of the wood.
Duties of B Company (reserve) :-- Move via Crucifix Alley as soon as third line has moved forward to front line.
One platoon to occupy and consolidate strong point at S.12 central, and one platoon to dig communication trench to it from front line.
One platoon to be placed at disposal of O.C. Stokes mortars for bomb carrying.
Lewis guns to be established in Inner Trench, one to be at S.12 c. central.
Carry forward bombs and ammunition if required by front line.
Supply carrying parties (water, ammunition, bombs, etc.) at dusk for A and C Companies.
Take charge of defence of strong point S.12.C. central and original front line, in which there will be 4 Vickers guns.
Communication:-- Runners to be employed.
Flares will be lit on reaching edge of Delville Wood on obtaining final objective at 7.30 p.m. 24th August, at 6 a.m. 25th August.
S.O.S. Signal, one golden-rain rocket.
The above were the chief points in the orders; some other matters of detail were :-- 2nd Lieut. Weston-Webb, with some battalion bombers, was to clear a suspected strong point on the left of our line; and Sergeant O'Grady, with the remainder, was to hold the right flank.
Lieut. Rodocanachi commanded C Company; Captain Crawford, A Company; Captain Maude, B Company; and Lieut. T. W. C. Foreshew, D Company.
Before the attack the following points were particularly impressed upon the men :--
Take prisoners. If the Germans throw up the sponge, the two front companies to pass right through them and carry on. The support companies collect the prisoners.
Follow the barrage as closely as possible, and get out of our trenches quickly.
Do not go too fast.
The men did as they were told, and all went well.
Two hours before the time for attack, which was 5.45 p.m., the heavy artillery opened. It turned the wood into a perfect hell. I saw the beginning of it. Trees were flying about like matches, and great columns of earth were thrown up.
The attack started. C Company went straight through to the edge of the wood without any difficulty. A Company lost direction slightly, had all its officers put out of action, met with wire and bombs, but succeeded in getting through. D Company reached the Hun trench, and there knocked out any Huns who showed fight. B Company carried out their orders, and finished off a few more Huns—incidentally, they caught a machine-gun team who were, trying to mount their gun.
The Huns showed little fight. As A and C advanced crowds of them came running out shouting "Kamerad." A few tried some dirty tricks after their surrender was accepted, but they received short shrift.
Then the barrage lifted again, and A and C Companies went forward to their final objective. On their right were the K.S.L.I., and on the left the Worcesters.
About a quarter of an hour later the K.S.L.I, fell back to the German trench, and our right flank was left in the air. At this point 2nd Lieut. Jacks took charge of A Company, and he and Rodocanachi decided to form a defensive flank back to the German trench. The difficulty of labour now arose; there was a shortage of men, and tools were none too plentiful, owing, principally, to C Company not having their shovels tied on to them. Rodocanachi asked the Worcesters for help, and got from their Brigade (33rd) a working party of R.E., who helped to dig the defensive flank trench.
In the meanwhile we in H.Q. had been having a poor time, since we could get no news. The first we received was from a man who came down in charge of a party of prisoners, and who told us that all was going well. Then, later on, we had a message from Rodocanachi to the same effect. After a while came word that the K.S.L.I, had fallen back, and in another two hours 2nd Lieut. Tompkins came to H.Q. to explain the situation.
By this time Walter and I had gone off down the line to try to get information, and when I returned the Colonel ordered me to find out full particulars as to what had happened, to tell the K.S.L.I, that they must hold on, and to help with the consolidation.
I was accompanied by the Colonel's servant, Private Wiley, a first-rate orderly, who had been with the Colonel all along and knew his work thoroughly. On reaching the old German trench I found that the consolidation of D Company's part (the right) was being carried out well by 2nd Lieut. Ashman, the only officer left in the Company, who had done good work all through, and who had commandeered some K.S.L.I, men to help with the defensive flank. Thence I went on to the front line, where I found Rodocanachi and Jacks quite comfortable.
I returned to H.Q. with Captain Walter, and on the journey back had rather a curious experience. As we were coming into our old support line we heard someone crying, and, thinking that there might be a wounded man lying out, we made a search. Eventually we came across a very young Hun standing in the trench and crying bitterly—apparently absolutely finished, though without any signs of being wounded. Not knowing what tricks he might try on when he recovered himself, we decided that it would not be wise to leave him to his own devices, so made up our minds to take him along to the police. Neither of us could speak his language, but Walter suggested that there was a word "Vorwarts," which meant "get on." So we told him to "Vorwarts," but he would not budge, and the more we told him the harder he cried. We felt really quite sorry for the poor fellow, and, by holding on to the back of his coat, I half pushed and half carried him along until, in the end, he collapsed altogether, and we were obliged to leave him. After reporting at H.Q. I came back to look for him, and found that he had died, presumably from some form of heart attack, brought on, doubtless, by the heavy bombardment.
The enemy's artillery was not very efficiently handled on this occasion. When our heavy bombardment had been in progress for about a quarter of an hour the Huns let loose with barrage-fire on the Longueval-Ginchy road, and kept it up for nearly five hours. They altered the whole appearance of the ruins of Longueval village, and they hit the dug-out any number of times, causing us intense annoyance by perpetually putting out our candle. No barrage started on our trenches until ten minutes after the attack had gone forward, when they were, of course, too late. They shelled the edge of the wood, but did not cause us many casualties, as our men were either well inside or out of it altogether.
The following is the Colonel's official report on the operations :--
NARRATIVE OF OPERATIONS OF ATTACK ON DELVILLE WOOD, 24th AUGUST 1916.
1. Regimental Orders for Operations are attached hereto. These orders were given verbally to Company Commanders, and subsequently confirmed in writing.
2. Preparations for attack were as follows : On the 23rd instant I was informed that withdrawal from front line would be necessary for the bombardment, and that it could not be used as an assembly trench. I therefore requested that a line should be dug during the night from S.11.d.6.1 to S.18.a.0.85, which work was excellently carried out by the 11th King's Liverpools. A party of the Regiment also dug and improved a trench from S.17.d.6.8 to S.17.d.7.7. Lees Trench from S.18.a. 1.7 to Longueval Alley was also improved, and the Regiment was enabled to assemble in these and existing trenches in order of assault.
Battalion Headquarters were in Crucifix Alley, near Longueval Church, at about S.17.b.85.40.
Telephone communication was established with Brigade Headquarters and visual station in Longueval, and an earth buzzer was installed. Dumps of ammunition, bombs, water, etc., were established in original front line and in Crucifix Alley in vicinity of Battalion Headquarters.
Medical Aid Post was in a trench at the shrine on Crucifix Alley S.l7.d.l.0.
Tapes showing direction of assault were put out by first two lines during night 23/24th August.
3. At 3.45 p.m. (24th August) the bombardment of German lines in Delville Wood commenced by the heavy artillery, and, from observation, appeared most effective.
At 5.45 p.m. the leading line of the assault left their trenches, and were followed by the second and third lines, as directed in Regimental Orders.
The first line was enabled to get close up behind the barrage before it lifted, and at the lift advanced and carried the enemy first line (Inner Trench) and passed on, behind the barrage, to the edge of the wood.
The second line, dropping the bombing squads previously detailed, followed, and merged into the first line outside the edge of the wood.
Under cover of the artillery barrage these lines reformed, and awaited the lift of the artillery.
Some casualties occurred during the advance. A heavy shell on the extreme left of the line caused some casualties amongst the bombers, and some others occurred from splinters, or from the enemy barrage, which opened at 5.35 p.m., as soon as our intense barrage commenced.
Enemy appear to have barraged in two lines—on our original front line, and also on the assembly trenches in rear, but it was not in sufficient density to stop the succeeding waves, which advanced in good order in spite of some casualties. Enemy barrage was heavier on right of attack than on the left, which was comparatively free from shell-fire.
Enemy were holding Inner Trench in force, but were much demoralized by our bombardment, and surrendered to the first lines without much difficulty, with the exception of about 50 men with a machine gun, who commenced to fight after third line had passed.
These men commenced to fire at the leading lines from the rear and at the fourth line, but were speedily put out of action or captured by a part of the fourth line, under Lieut. Anderson (B Company), and a section of the Brigade machine gunners.
The company forming the right of the first and second lines (A Company) suffered a good many casualties in this first advance, and all their officers were put out of action. The company forming the left of the line (C Company), with the exception of casualties to the bombers who were on their left by the shell mentioned, advanced without much difficulty, taking prisoners on the way, and reached the edge of the wood at 6.5 p.m. They were then some little distance from the Flers road. A small party of the enemy was left in the gap caused by the casualties to the bombers, and gave some trouble until cleared up by C.-S.-M. Hill and a few men.
The third line (D Company) followed the second line at a distance of about 100 yards, and, not finding the enemy trench on the edge of the wood, commenced to consolidate Inner Trench. One platoon of this company lost direction slightly, and met some men of the. 9th K.R.R.C. who had come too far to the left, but subsequently rejoined their company. Five officers and 200 prisoners were taken in Inner Trench.
The fourth line (B Company) moved as directed in orders and occupied S.12.C. central, and commenced consolidation and construction of communication trench to old front line. Stokes mortars and carrying parties for bombs were somewhat disorganized by enemy party cleared by Lieut. Anderson, and did not come into action.
The first and second lines reorganized meantime outside the wood in one line in the most perfect order, the conduct of the N.C.O.'s of A Company (particularly Sergeant Lewendon) being most noticeable in this respect; and, on the barrage lifting at 6.40 p.m., advanced and seized the final objective (7.5 p.m.), establishing communication with the 100th Brigade on the left, and the 5th K. Shropshire Light Infantry on the right, and commenced to dig in about 200 yards outside the edge of the wood.
At this period the 5th K. Shropshire Light Infantry, finding that the attack of the 9th K.K.K.C. had failed, and that their right flank was exposed, retired to the edge of the wood. This was carried out in good order, but left the right flank of my battalion in the air.
The officer commanding the first line (Lieut. Rodocanachi) seeing this, sent an officer to find out what had happened. This officer (Lieut. Jacks) restored the line by forming a defensive flank with some of the 5th K.S.L.I., aided by a platoon of D Company, from S.12 central southward to Inner Trench, and consolidated this line. The conduct of Lieut Ashman in reorganizing his company and part of the 5th K.S.L.I. on new front was also very noticeable.
Meanwhile B and D Companies consolidated Inner Trench, in spite of barrage fire, which was considerable and especially heavy on the northern angle of the wood.
The Vickers gun of the Brigade Machine Gun Company advanced as ordered, and was established in S.12.C. central; the other gun suffered casualties, and was unaccounted for for some time. I sent forward the reserve gun to take its place, which was established in Inner Trench, and subsequently all three guns were installed there.
Telephone communication broke down between Battalion Headquarters and Brigade as soon as enemy barrage commenced; a heavy barrage was put up on the line Longueval Church, south edge of Delville Wood. The special earth-buzzer was read at the visual station for some time, but subsequently ceased to act. So all communication was made by runner. The visual station could not be reached or worked, owing to barrage on Longueval. Information from front line, though somewhat delayed, was good, and a fair idea of the situation was obtained from wounded officers passing through and from an officer sent down by Lieut. Rodocanachi to explain the situation with regard to the 5th K.S.L.I. The Adjutant, Lieut Sebastian, made an excellent reconnaissance at about 2.30 a.m., and confirmed reports previously received'as to the situation of the line.
The front entrenched by the first line was extensive, and valuable assistance was afforded by a R.E. Company of the 33rd Division, lent by a battalion of the Worcester Regiment, on the Tiers road. A platoon of the 100th Brigade held a portion of the trench on the road.
During the morning of the 25th August enemy registered the new line, and at about 8.30 p.m., evidently fearing an attack in the evening, he opened a heavy barrage-fire from guns of various calibre on our new front and on the old front line.
Prisoners captured were of 119th and 121st Regiments. When final objective was reached many men were seen retiring in the open, north-west of Flers road, and fired upon. Our artillery barrage, Lewis guns, and snipers inflicted heavy casualties on these parties.
During the morning of the 25th enemy were seen entrenched to N.W. of Flers road, probably Tea Support, and attack was at one time thought imminent. They appeared subsequently to be working on the trench. Good visibility is now possible on the Switch Line trenches and Flers village.
Trenches at S.12.a.9.2 appear old gun-emplacements, as shells in baskets could be seen standing in the vicinity.
Casualties in the Battalion are estimated at: Officers, 2 killed, 1 missing, and 6 wounded; and 160 other ranks killed, wounded, and missing. Some of these occurred on the 25th instant.
W. F. K. Webb, Lieut.-Colonel, Comg. 5th (S) Bn. Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. 27.8.16.
I have extracted the following from the official documents of the Battalion :--
5th BATTALION CASUALTIES, DELVILLE WOOD, 24-25TH AUGUST 1916. Officers: Killed, 2. Wounded, 7. Missing, 1 N.C.O's and Men. Killed, 42; wounded, 111; missing, 7. Total Casualties. 10 Officers; 160 Other Ranks.
On the night of the 24th/25th the Brigadier placed Colonel Morris, of the 9th R.B., in command of the K.R.R.C. and K.S.L.I., with orders to clear the N.E. corner of Delville Wood at all costs. Accordingly he put in some bombers at the Cocoa Lane end, to work down the trench, and reported that no Germans were left in the wood. Later on the 10th D.L.I. (43rd Brigade) discovered Huns at this corner of the wood, and finally turned them out of it by a bombing attack across the open.
Next morning (25th) all was pretty quiet, but in the afternoon the enemy put in some very heavy shelling, and though there were some casualties, not much harm was done. We were now informed that the Battalion would shortly be relieved by the K.O.Y.L.I. (43rd Brigade). The relief took place without incident, although at one time things looked ugly, as the Huns started an intense bombardment of the wood generally. We were a long time getting away, chiefly owing to the large working parties moving about in the wood.
Passing through Montauban on the 26th we picked up our Lewis gun hand carts, and marched back to our old camp near Fricourt. Next day we were moved to Pommier Redoubt (near Montauban) to act as reserve, and a vile march we had, with rain coming down in sheets. Fortunately it cleared up in the afternoon, but all the trenches and dugouts were running with water. Close by we found our 6th Battalion in bivouac.
On the following day (28th August) the 9th R.B. relieved us, and we returned once again to our Fricourt camp, where we remained a day, and then got orders to go into rest. The day of relief was soaking wet and most unpleasant, but we got away, and marched to Dernancourt for the night. Thence, on the 31st, we marched to Albert, where we took train for our rest area.
We (and I think I may speak for the whole of the 14th (Light) Division) left the Somme feeling extremely proud of ourselves, because we had carried out the allotted task—the clearing of Delville Wood, which had previously defeated no fewer than five other Divisions.
In the Battalion we were particularly proud, for we knew that we had made a really good show, and we considered that our casualties were extraordinarily light. The Battalion had been well tried in action, and every one came out of it with a contempt of the Hun as a fighting man.
After a hot journey we detrained at Arraines, some 30 miles west of Amiens, and marched about 9 miles to Epaumesnil, where we spent a delightful ten days rest in a lovely country and perfect weather. This gave us an opportunity for a thorough reorganization, and we received drafts, to the number of about 320 (from our 3rd Battalion, our Territorials, and the Sherwood Foresters), who settled down to business very rapidly. Regimental-Sergeant-Major Arlett also joined here.
Much training was carried out, and some sports were held, the Battalion distinguishing itself by winning the Brigade Relay Race.
The ten days passed all too quickly, and we were ordered up to the Somme again, this time to take part in the great attack of 15th September.
We sent off the transport the day before, and in the early hours of the morning of the 11th September we marched to Arraines, where, after the usual wait, we entrained. At Mericourt we detrained and marched to some high ground to the south-west of Albert, where we bivouacked for a couple of days, and then moved into tents at a spot near our old Fricourt camp.
On the 14th operation orders were issued. As before, I give a summary of them, though I have thought it advisable to enter rather more into detail than I did in the case of the attack of the 24th August:--
SUMMARY OF OPERATION ORDERS. (14th September.)
Objective of 4th Army.—To attack enemy's defences between Morval and Martinpuich, with object of seizing Morval, Lesboeufs, Guedecourt, and Flers, and thus breaking through enemy's system of defence. (The capture of Morval was allotted to the 6th Division ; Lesboeufs to the Guards; Guedecourt to the 14th Division ; and Flers and beyond to the 41st Division and New Zealand Division.—S. E. S),
The French and Reserve Armies are attacking simultaneously on our right and left.
14th (Light) division. To capture Guedecourt, and establish a line to north and east of it, about 2,200 yards long, and distant from north edge of Delville Wood 3,500 to 4,000 yards.
On the way four definite objectives to be attacked and captured, viz. :-- (a) Switch Trench (Enemy 3rd Line). (b) Gap Trench. (c) Gird Trench. (d) Gird Support (about 1,800 yards long, and 3,500 to 4,000 yards north of Delville Wood).
4lst Infantry Brigade to capture (a) and (b). 42nd Infantry Brigade, the remainder, 9th Rifle Brigade and 5th Shropshire L.I., capturing (c) and (d), and the final objective being allotted to 9th K.R.R.C. and 5th Oxford and Bucks.
On the right of 14th Division the Guards' Division (XlVth Corps) will be operating, and on .the left the 41st Division.
42nd Infantry Brigade. Assembly Positions :-- (a) 9th R.B. and 5th K.S.L.I. York Alley and the Check Line between Trones Wood and Crucifix Alley. (b) 9th K.R.R.C. Montauban Alley, between Bernafay Wood and S.27.b. central. (c) 5th Oxford and Bucks Montauban defences.
Machine-guns and trench mortars.—Two of each to proceed with each battalion. The remaining guns of the 42nd Machine Gun Company to act as follows : (1) 6 guns to follow about 400 yards in rear of 9th K.R.R.C. and 5th Oxford and Bucks, take up positions in Gird Trench until Guedecourt has been reconnoitred, and then move forward to positions selected by O.C. Machine Gun Company; (2) 2 guns to remain in Brigade Reserve, and await orders from Brigade Headquarters.
Artillery Bombardment commenced on 12th instant, and takes place daily from 6 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. At zero on day of attack field artillery opens intense bombardment all along the line.
Movements of 41st Brigade.—At zero advance on Switch Trench as close as possible behind the barrage, which moves in front of them at 50 yards a minute. "Mopping-up" parties deal with Pint Trench—Tea Support. Brigade halts in Switch Trench until 60 minutes after zero, when barrage starts creeping to Gap Trench, with 41st Brigade following close behind.
Movements of 42nd Brigade.—At zero 9th R.B. and 5th K.S.L.I. advance, and 9th K.R.R.C. and 5th Oxford and Bucks move up into York Alley and the Check Line.
At 1 hour 45 minutes after zero 9th R.B. and 5th K.S.L.I. form up in rear of Gap Trench, ready for further advance; 9th K.R.R.C. and 5th Oxford and Bucks form up clear and N.E. of Delville Wood.
At 2 hours after zero the 9th R.B. and 5th K.S.L.I. advance, keeping as close as possible to barrage. On reaching the line of road from N.33.C.2.0 to N.31.b.4.0 they establish themselves and reform for capture of Gird Trench. The 9th K.R.R.C. and 5th Oxford and Bucks form up, with their leading lines about 400 yards in rear of the rear lines of 9th R.B. and 5th K.S.L.I.
At 4 hours 30 minutes after zero 9th R.B. and 5th K.S.L.I. advance, following barrage, capture Gird Trench, and consolidate. 9th K.R.R.C. and 5th Oxford and Bucks push on close behind barrage, capture final objective, and dig in at once, under cover of machine and Lewis-guns.
Bombardment of Guedecourt ceases at 5 hours 30 minutes after zero.
O.C. 5th Oxford and Bucks to detail special garrison for defence of Guedecourt.
Other instructions dealt with "mopping-up " parties, protection of flanks, communications, signalling, medical arrangements, etc., and separate memoranda attached to Operation Orders described the "new engine of war—'The Tank'—to be used for the first time," and its tactical employment.
Then followed appendices, the more important of which related to things to be carried into action by assaulting battalions, and methods of communication between infantry and contact aeroplanes.
To be Carried by each Assaulting Battalion. Each Battalion carries: 240 tools (60 per company), 20 drums per Lewis-gun, with a battalion reserve of 48 drums, 10 complete S.O.S. signals (2 per company and 2 Battalion H.Q.).
Each Officer and effective N.C.O. : 1 ground flare and 6 Very cartridges.
Each N.C.O. and Man: Rifle and equipment, less pack; 220 rounds S.A.A. (N.C.O.'s 120 only); haversack on the back containing 2 tins meat and 8 hard biscuits (exclusive of emergency ration); 1 full water-bottle; waterproof sheet with jersey rolled inside fixed on back of waistbelt by the supporting straps of the pack; two sandbags carried under the flap of the haversack; 2 Mills grenades (No. 5), one in each lower jacket pocket, except N.C.O.'s; 2 smoke-helmets.
SUMMARY OF 5th OXFORD AND BUCKS LIGHT INFANTRY OPERATION ORDERS. 1.General Idea.-- 41st Brigade, 2 battalions capture Switch Line; 2 battalions capture Flers Defences (Gap Trench); a Brigade of the 41st Division is responsible for capture of Flers.
42nd Brigade, 2 battalions capture Gird Trench and Gird Support ; 2 battalions capture line N.33 central—N.27.a.6.0—N.20.d.5.6.
2. 5th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry capture Guedecourt, and establish themselves on left sector of final objective, N.27.a.6.0 to N.20.d.5.6. The 9th K.R.R.C. seize the right final objective.
3.Regiment to assemble in Montauban Defences prior to advance. Order of companies right to left, D, B, A, C, and Headquarters.1 Formed up ready to move by platoon files, two platoons at a time, at zero, and move independently, taking up artillery formation south of York Trench. (Captain Walter commanded D Company ; Captain Maude, B ; Captain Neale, A; Lieut. Rodocanachi, C ; Headquarters, Colonel Webb, Major Drury, and myself.—S. B. S.)
4.At 1 hour after zero advance in artillery formation; four lines, two companies in first two lines, two in second two lines; each company on a two-platoon front in platoon files at 100 paces interval and 100 paces distance between lines. B and D in front line, B on the left; C and A in second line, C on the left. Battalion bombers form a separate file in centre of third line; remainder of H.Q. a separate file behind Battalion.
5. Move to Crucifix Alley, through N.W. corner of Delville Wood to Cocoa Lane. Continue in this formation to Gap Trench. The right now directs on Ginchy-Guedecourt road; interval increased to 150 yards from the right. Still in artillery formation, pass through 41st Brigade, and continue to advance to the line of Bulls Road, where leading battalions of 42nd Brigade will be waiting for barrage to lift. Do not merge into these battalions, but follow with the leading line 300 yards distant from the rear of 5th K.S.L.I. Barrage lifts at 4 hours 55 minutes after zero. At Gird Trench first and second lines extend to the left, pass through 5th K.S.L.I., on to Gird Support; then pass through leading line of 5th K.S.L.I., and wait for barrage to lift. At 5 hours 30 minutes after zero barrage lifts, when first and second lines capture the final objective—Guedecourt. The third and fourth lines remain in platoon files, unless forced by the situation to extend.
6.Guedecourt to be attacked by B and D Companies, first line moving through the village, second line clearing it up. Platoons of third-line companies move round flanks of villages, coming up into line on the final objective, and connecting by posts with units on left and right. Fourth line remains in reserve on the line of the road running through N.26 central, N.W. and S.E.
7. Lieut. Jacks,with the Battalion bombers, responsible for clearing enemy from Guedecourt cellars, etc.
[Then follow various instructions for carrying the operations through by making a resolute continued advance, and finally a warning that troops must conform to the barrage and not to the "Tanks."]
So much for the Orders. Now for what happened : Late in the afternoon of the 14th September the Battalion moved to the Brigade dump to draw stores. Owing to the appalling congestion on the roads, with a cross-current of traffic, the march was most troublesome, but eventually we drew stores, and equipped, in the dark.
As it fell to my lot to write the official report on the operations I give it in full.
OPERATIONS OF SEPTEMBER 15th, 1916. Map Ref. Albert, 1st Edition, 1/40,000
At 6 p.m., 14th instant, Battalion left Camp F.13.d. and marched to F.6.C., near Montauban-Mametz road, to equip for attack, On completion Battalion moved to orchard in S.27.C., near Montauban, and bivouacked for the night.
At 3a.m., 15th September, Reveille; 4.15a.m., tea issued; 5 a.m., Battalion moved off, and formed up in artillery formation of platoon files just north of York Alley, S.23.a. and c., with its left . resting on road from Lorigueval to Bois de Bernafay ; B Company on left, D Company on right, C following B, A following D; Stokes gun, H.Q.; 2 Vickers in 5th Line from left to right.
In front were the 5th K.S..L.I. with 9th R.B., and on our right the 9th K.R.R.C. behind R.B.
At about 6 a.m. Colonel Webb was wounded by shrapnel bullet, but continued to lead the Battalion.
At zero hour (6.20 a.m.) the Battalion moved off in a N.N.E. direction.
Before reaching Delville Wood the battalion had to split to avoid several batteries of field guns, and joined up again when the wood was reached.
Just inside the wood the leading man of A Company was shot dead by a German who had previously surrendered. The German was shot.
As the last line cleared the wood a few 8-inch shells fell in Longueval and on the Longueval-Guillemont road behind the wood, but did no damage.
The Battalion in the same formation, almost without a halt, continued its march up to the Switch Line between about T.1.c.25 and T.l.d.13, under the personal lead of Colonel Webb, who was in front watching the direction taken. During this march no barrage of any intensity was met with, although a few 4.2 and 7.7 mm. fell just outside the wood
A Tank, out of action, was seen at T.13.a.55. On arrival at Switch Trench the Battalion came under machine gun fire from the direction of Lesboeufs, but received some protection from the 9th R.B. and 9th K.R.R.C., and suffered few casualties. The Battalion extended and continued its advance, with Colonel Webb in the centre of the second line still directing, until Gap Trench was passed between about T.1.a.43 and T.l.b.51, and a line about 300 yards short of Bulls Road, N.31.b.50 to N.32.c.65, was reached about 9.10a.m., when the Battalion halted. During the advance from Switch Trench enemy were seen moving guns back, and a Tank was observed to engage two batteries in Bulls Road, in which encounter it was set on fire and destroyed after silencing one battery.
During the advance to Gap Trench the 9th R.B. and 9th K.R.R.C. suffered heavily from the machine gun fire, especially with regard to officers, and the 9th R.B. could not advance beyond Gap Trench.
Between Switch Trench and Bulls Road the Battalion came under heavy field gun fire from Bulls Road and Guedecourt, but, fortunately, had few casualties. Beyond Gap Trench the two right platoons of A Company were sent up to the right of the Battalion to make connexion with the 9th K.R.R.C., as direction had been lost slightly. These platoons found no one on their right flank.
In this position, under very heavy shell fire, the Battalion waited until 10.50 a.m., when the 5th K.S.L.I, and 9th R.B. were due to advance to take Gird Trench and Gird Support, between about N.26.a.l2 and N.33.C.55.
After waiting a little time an officer went to the O.C. of the 5th K.S.L.I, and asked what had happened, and if he intended to advance.
It was then discovered that one company only of the 5th K.S.L.I. was in front, and that no one was on our flanks. The situation, therefore, was that we, with this one company of the 5th K.S.L.I., were in this position, with no one on either flank. Under these circumstances Colonel Webb decided to advance up to the line held by the K.S.L.I., and dig in there. He ordered A Company to dig in between the 5th K.S.L.I. and the Cross Roads N.32.C.; B and D to make front and support lines between the 5th K.S.L.I. and Road Junction 31.b.51.
On B and D Companies advancing the remaining battery ceased fire. Shortly afterwards a white flag was seen near the battery.
The line then lay across Bulls Road at N.31.d.59 1/2—d.68, and thence to Cross Roads.
About noon the 9th K.R.R.C. came up on our right flank and joined at the Cross Roads.
At 12 noon the enemy in great numbers were seen advancing from Le Transloy, and occupying Gird Trench and Gird Support.
At about the same time troops were seen advancing towards the flank of the 9th K.R.R.C. from a south-west direction, but these shortly afterwards retired.
Whilst the enemy were advancing our field guns were silent, and, in spite of two S.O.S. rockets, no fire could be got on to them. It turned out afterwards that the majority of the field artillery covering our front were moving forward at the time.
At about 12.15 p.m. Colonel Webb was again wounded, and forced to hand over the command to Major Drury.
At 2 p.m. barrage on Gird Trench and Gird Support was renewed. At 2.50p.m. a Brigadier General of the 41st Division came to Major Drury and asked him to cooperate in an advance to a line N.31.A.0.1.0-N.31.b.40, to protect our left flank. Two platoons of A Company, who were still behind B Company, advanced on the right of the 41st Division, but as these began moving off in a N.N.W. direction, and were to be relieved by a new Brigade, the Company Commander (Lieut Rodocanachi), after consultation with a Staff Officer of the 41st Division, decided to stop and protect our flank, which was being uncovered.
At 5 p.m. the enemy began assembling for a counter attack against our right company and the 9th K.R.R.C. This attempt was frustrated by our rifle and Lewis-gun fire.
At 7.20 p.m. a platoon of C Company with one Lewis-gun under a Captain of the Royal Fusiliers dug a trench round the 7.7 mm. battery aforesaid, which was under the control of D Company.
At about 8 p.m. a Company Commander of the 9th K.R.R.C. came to A Company Commander (Captain Neale) and informed him that the Guards, who had apparently joined up, were falling back 400 yards, that he was following, and that A Company was to conform.
Captain Neale refused to retire. Later, other messengers brought the same news, and asked him to retire, but he still refused.
Shortly afterwards the same Company Commander of the 9th K.R.R.C. sent a message to Major Drury with the same information, and asked him to retire, but was told that we would not.
This company of the 9th K.R.R.C. then retired, and also the Vickers that was guarding our flank, but Major Porter, commanding the 9th K.R.R.C., ordered them back, and sent to say that he was not going to retire.
At about 3 a.m. (16th instant) we were relieved by the 43rd Brigade, and went to Montauban.
At the time when the Battalion was relieved it had destroyed in Bulls Road one mitrailleuse, and had control of eight 7.7 mm. guns in the same place.
S. R. Sebastian, Lieutenant and Adjutant, 5th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. 30.9.16
With regard to the above a few explanatory notes may be of interest: When the attack started the 6th Division failed immediately, and thus exposed the flank of the Guards, who suffered heavily, and who lost direction by going too far to the east. This exposed our right flank, so that during our advance all the way up to Bulls Road our Division had nothing on this flank. At one time the Guards were seen coming up towards our right flank, but, meeting a heavy enemy barrage, melted away. Our left flank for some time was also exposed, owing to the fact that the 41st Division were unable to hold Flers. They had entered the village as we crossed Switch Trench, but the Hun artillery made the place too hot for them, and they were forced to clear out. At about noon, however, they came up again, and eventually joined up with us, Flers being retaken by a Tank.
Between 7 and 8 p.m. the Guards occupied Switch and Gap Trenches to our right, and put out outposts in continuation of the line held by us. The outposts were withdrawn at about 8 p.m.
The 9th K.R.R.C. did not advance with us from Gap Trench, but came up on our right some three hours later. At 8 p.m. they fell back, but came up again afterwards.
I mention these points to show how the 14th Division became isolated, and I may add that, in spite of its isolation, it succeeded in holding on to all the ground gained. It received special congratulations because it went farther than any other Division; it cleared the north east corner of Delville Wood which had been reoccupied by Germans while we were in rest; and, by capturing Switch and Gap Trenches, opened the way for the attack which took place ten days later.
I fancy that the actual capture of Guedecourt on the 15th was nothing more than a wish. Given luck it might have been captured, but that it was not captured was due, I think, principally to the three following causes :-- 1. Lesboeufs, which was not attacked, was on high ground dominating Guedecourt.
2.The heavy barrage on Gird Trenches was to lift at about noon. Long before this the 9th R.B. and the 5th K.S.L.I, had been checked, and although we ourselves might have tried to rush through, there was the great danger of running into our own field artillery barrage, and the further danger of catching the enemy barrage from the direction of Lesboeufs, and thereby being cut off.
3.With the exception of one battery our field guns were unable to move forward east of Delville Wood on account of the state of the ground and the heavy shelling on the Longueval-Flers road.
Be all that as it may, the fact remains that next day (IQth September) the 43rd Brigade tried three times to get Guedecourt, and failed.
As my report says, after our relief in the early hours of the 16th we marched back to Montauban, the last of the Battalion arriving there at about 8 a.m. Then came the counting of the casualties, which included Colonel Webb, Captain Maude, 2nd Lieuts. Atkins, Beaver, Brooks and Turner wounded; other ranks, about 30 killed and 120 wounded. (The rewards given for the 15th September were : D.S.O., Lieut.-Colonel Webb ; Military Cross, Captains Maude, Neale, and Walter ; D.C.M., Corporal Mills ; bar to Military Medal, Sergt. Lewendon ; Military Medal, Privates Banks, Smith, Endicott, and some eight others.—S. R. S.)
We had not much of a rest, for at about 3.30 p.m. we received orders to hold ourselves in readiness to go up to the line again in the following message from 42nd Brigade H.Q. :-- "Under orders received from Division, the 5th Oxford and Bucks and 5th K.S.L.I, are placed at the disposal of the 43rd Infantry Brigade. These two battalions will prepare to move forthwith, and inform this office when ready to do so. Separate instructions have been issued as to stores to be carried up by each battalion. Acknowledge."
This was followed very shortly by other messages which stated that the attack on Gird Trench and Guedecourt was to be resumed that evening; that the creeping barrage would lift off Gird Trench at 6.55 p.m., and off Guedecourt at 7.35 p.m.; and that the 5th Oxford and Bucks and 5th K.S.L.I. would support the 43rd Brigade in the attack, the former relieving the 8th R.B., and the latter the 8th K.R.R.C. (41st Brigade) in Switch Trench.
Half an hour later this was altered, and the 5th Oxford and Bucks and 5th K.S.L.I. were detailed for the attack on Guedecourt, but at 5 p.m. the order for Guedecourt attack was cancelled, the intention now being to capture Gird Support, and push patrols into the village of Guedecourt.
Immediate steps were taken to get ready for the move, and the Battalion paraded for the march up. As the men passed a point, stores were issued to them and forthwith fixed on, and the Battalion proceeded to the rendezvous.
In my opinion this march up was a wonderful performance. Not a murmur was heard, and the men went forward almost as if they were pleased to be at the Hun again. We heard afterwards that the Brigadier had watched us go by, and had said that a battalion capable of marching up in such a manner could do anything. What the Battalion had already gone through must be remembered : On the 14th all day preparations for the operations, equipping and marching to the rendezvous, with at the most four hours' sleep. On the 15th advancing some 2 1/2 miles over heavily shelled ground, fighting, and digging in. Night of 15th/16th no rest possible, and on relief a march back of about 3 1/2 miles over bad ground. On 16th could not settle down until 9 a.m., and turned out between 3 and 4 p.m.
OPERATIONS OF 16th/17th SEPTEMBER 1916. Whilst the Battalion was forming up, Major Drury and I went to H.Q. 43rd Brigade, under whom we were placed. There we received orders to put half the Battalion in Gap Trench and the other half in Switch Trench (2 1/2 miles from Montauban), thereby occupying the right half of the Divisional area. The K.S.L.I. were to be on our left, and we were to act as support to the 43rd Brigade battalions who were in Bulls Road.
The Battalion moved forward, in lines of platoons, through Delville Wood. After going a short distance we ran into a row of field guns, which started barrage fire. We wheeled to the right then to the left, and a half-left-wheel brought us into position. What happened after this will be discovered from the official report sent in to the 43rd Infantry Brigade by Major Drury :--
ACCOUNT OF OPERATIONS, NIGHT 16TH/17TH. 5.30 p.m. Received orders in your B.M.34. Occupied right of Gap Trench with 2 companies, and right of Switch Trench with 2 companies and H.Q.
Patrols ordered to go from each of Gap companies to Bulls Road and forward, to ascertain position and to continue doing so hourly. Patrols similarly ordered from Switch companies to go to Gap Trench.
10.30. Officers Patrol reported (There is reason to believe that this report was incorrect. —S. R. S.) your Brigade had taken Gird Trench but not Gird Support, and that plenty of troops were in Gird Trench and Bulls Road. Sent you our OXA-2, at 10.40.
10.40. Message to a Colonel of your Brigade : "Understand you have sufficient force to hold Gird Trench and Bulls Road. Am remaining in support, in Gap Trench 2 companies and Switch Trench 2 companies. 5th K.S.L.I. have similar force."
1.30a.m. Received your B.M. 29, 31, and 32. Post made on flank as ordered, and connexion made with Guards' Division who were holding Gap Trench as front line. It is doubtful if the trench in which this post was made is Gas Alley, but the post made connexion between the front line and the Guards. Post handed over to 13th Northumberland Fusiliers.
2.25 a.m. Received message from O.C. 10th D.L.I, stating that O..C. Flers believed enemy intending to counter-attack at 2 a.m., and that he required support.
Gap companies, with 1 Vickers gun, ordered to occupy Bulls Road, and to report to O.C. 10th D.L.I., and to return to Gap Trench if O.C. 10th D.L.I, stated in writing that they were not required. O.C. 10th D.L.I, informed that one company from Switch Trench has been sent to Gap Trench.
Two companies returned to Gap Trench, as Colonel Stokoe stated in writing they were not required. One company withdrawn to Switch.
2.53 a.m. sent you my OXA-10 on situation. About 5.30 a.m. 12th Northumberland Fusiliers relieved Switch Trench.
1st Lincolns did not arrive to relieve Gap Trench, but relieved Irish Guards.
Explained situation to O.C. 12th Northumberland Fusiliers, and asked if he objected to Gap Trench being left vacant. As he raised no objection, we evacuated the portion held by us. G. V. Drury, Major, Comg 5th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. 17.9.16. To 43rd Infantry Brigade.
We had been told at about midnight that the 62nd Infantry Brigade would take over the trenches during the night, but a counter attack being expected at 2 a.m. (17th September), the relief was not completed until some hours later, and then there was a hopeless muddle, because we had been informed that we would be relieved by a battalion which had received orders to relieve a battalion of Guards on our right. However, as Major Drury's report shows, we succeeded in getting away just before daylight, and marched to Pommier Redoubt, where we had some food, and went straight off to sleep, every one being pretty well done up.
During the afternoon of the 17th we marched to our camp near Fricourt, and were greeted by our Band making a strange but pleasing effort to play the "43rd March."
Next morning we had heavy rain, and in the afternoon we moved to a camp near the Amiens-Albert road (D.l8.a.),- and a bad camp at that—all mud, and wholly insufficient cover from the rain, which continued to be most persistent. 2nd Lieut. Fitzgerald joined here. — S. E. S.
After three days stay we were informed that, on the following day, we were to be bussed up north to an unknown destination, and on the 21st September the whole Brigade was conveyed in French buses to Grand Rullecourt, thus concluding our experience of fighting on the Somme.
The Battalion had lost 3 officers killed and 12 wounded. But it had done really good work, and had helped to add honour and glory to the 14th (Light) Division.
For the fighting on the Somme the following awards for acts of gallantry were made to Officers, N.C.O.'s, and men of the 5th Battalion : One D.S.O., five Military Crosses, two D.C.M.'s, and twelve Military Medals. Many more were "recommended," as will be seen from the list for the 24th August and from the list of recommendations for Guedecourt (15th September) as follows : Captain Edwin Walter MAUDE, (Awarded Military Cross) Lieut. Cecil Hastings WALTER, (Awarded Military Cross) Sergeant Albert Walter LEWENDON, (Awarded Bar to Military Medal) Corporal Victor Mark MILLS Lance-Corporal Herbert SMITH.
The remainder of 1916 was Uneventful for us, as we did nothing beyond holding quiet trenches in front of Arras, furnishing working parties, training, etc., most of the time being spent at Dainville, Agny, Gouy-en-Artois, Dernier, Sars-le-Bois, and Arras.
During these three months the following officers joined the Battalion : 2nd Lieuts. H. R. Parker, J. R. Stammers, J. Stevens, J. R. Peel, R. E. D. Hall, and V. W. Pearson.
On the 27th December Lieut Colonel W. F. R. Webb rejoined, on recovery from his wounds, and took over command of the Battalion from Major Drury, who shortly afterwards went to England.
1917. The Battalion had its full share in the fighting of the first half of this year, suffering the inevitable heavy casualties, but adding still further to its splendid reputation. It took part in the great British offensive which opened on the 9th April, on a ten-mile front, from the south of Arras to the south of Lens; and it was engaged again in the next great offensive on the 3rd May in the same area, losing no fewer than 185 of all ranks in the former and 300 in the latter
Extracts from the Battalion Diary,
On the 1st January 1917 the Battalion, commanded by Lieut.Colonel W. F. R. Webb, D.S.O., was in the trenches in the neighbourhood of Dainville, near Arras, and on that day was relieved by the 9th Rifle Brigade. During the remainder of the month the Battalion and the 9th R.B. relieved each other every six days, the periods out of the trenches being spent at Dainville or at Agny. Nothing worthy of record occurred, and there were no casualties, although, on the 29th January, the enemy was very active with Minenwerfer for some three hours.
The changes among the officers during January were as follows :-- On the 11th, 2nd Lieut. J. L. Bulmer joined and was posted to A Company; on the 12th, 2nd Lieut. J. J. T. Rose went on leave, prior to transfer to the R.F.C.; on the 15th, 2nd Lieut. F. E. Borman joined (C); on the 17th, 2nd Lieut. G. H. E. Palmer joined (B);
New Year's Honours Gazette: Captain F. T. Neale and Captain and Adjutant S. R. Sebastian awarded the Military Cross ; 7570 C.-S.-M. C. Bignell the Medaille Militaire, The following were mentioned in Dispatches : Q.-M.-S. J. Manton, C.-S.-M. C. Bignell, Sergeant W. A. Russell.
On the 20th Lieut. W. A. Ford rejoined and took over command of C Company.
February was as uneventful as January, the time being spent in a similar manner. The following officers joined or rejoined the Battalion : On the 16th, Captain Rodocanachi, Lieut. Robertson, 2nd Lieuts. R. A. Buttery and J. H. Jackson; on the 20th, Captain C, B. Crawford and 2nd Lieut. Gray.
March 1st—15th.—-The Battalion had one tour of the trenches, losing 1 man killed and 5 men wounded. On the 15th marched to Sombrin, and went into training for the coming offensive.
March 11th-31st.—This period was devoted to strenuous training, including a rehearsal of an attack on the Harp, the German trench system east of Arras at the junction of the front-line system and the Cojeul Switch. On the 17th Major A. T. Mossop joined, but left on the 24th for duty under the A.P.M. at Arras. On the 18th Lieut.-Colonel W. F. R. Webb was ordered to rejoin his own regiment in India, and handed over temporary command of the Battalion to Captain and Adjutant Sebastian. 2nd Lieut. J. W. Guise joined on the 17th, and left again for the 3rd Army Trench Mortar School on the 20th. Lieut.-Colonel H. L. Wood (2nd Battalion) joined on appointment to command the Battalion on the 30th. 2nd Lieut. W. C. Haynes also joined during this month.
April 1st.—A German aeroplane was shot down close to our H.Q. Mess. Working parties dug assembly trenches at night, and suffered considerably from enemy machine-guns and shells, having 5 men killed and 23 wounded.
April 4th.—The Battalion moved to Dunedin Caves (Made by quarrying chalk for the building of Arras. For our purposes they were now connected by tunnels and lighted by electricity.)—one of the six large caves—accommodating some 5,000 men. Three officers' patrols were sent out at night with orders to reconnoitre the Harp and its vicinity. B Company's patrol, under 2nd Lieut. Anderson, met a party of 10 or 12 Germans, who opened fire with a machine-gun. The patrol lay down, and the enemy, probably alarmed by the proximity of C Company's patrol in his rear, ran across the front of 2nd Lieut. Anderson's party, who hit three with a Lewis-gun (which, however, jammed). The patrol then moved forward and captured the German machine-gun as well as a rifle.
April 5th-7th.—At Christchurch Cave supplying working parties.
BATTLE EAST OF ARRAS. Attack on the Harp. The operations now in course of preparation were to take the form of a combined attack to the south of Lens. Elaborate Secret Orders were issued between the 3rd and 7th April, and from the 3rd to the 5th a heavy bombardment was carried out. At 7 a.m. on the 7th the following Operation Orders were issued by the 42nd Infantry Brigade:--
Secret. 7th April 1917. Ref. Maps, Beaurains Area, 1/10,000, and 1/20,000. Maps " A ".and "B," attached.
1.The Third Army is to break through the enemy's defences and advance on Cambrai. Simultaneously the First Army is making an attack on the Vimy Ridge.
2.(i) The task allotted to the 14th Division and to the 56th Division on our right and 3rd Division on our left is to capture and consolidate the hostile position as far as the Brown Line. (ii) After the Brown Line has been secured the two southern Divisions of the VIIth Corps and certain Divisions of the VIth Corps have the further task of securing the line Heninel—Guemappe—Monchy-le-Preux.
3.Present information indicates that the hostile forces opposite and near the front allotted to the Division are the 23rd Reserve Division (Saxon) from the Cojeul River to Tilloy with the 11th Division (mixed, Prussians and Silesians) to the north of Tilloy.
4.(i) The assault will be delivered on "Z" day. The preparatory bombardment will be carried out on "V," "W," "X," and "Y" days. (ii) The hour of zero on "Z" day will be communicated later.
5.The Division will attack with two Brigades in line, the 43rd Infantry Brigade on the right, and the 42nd Infantry Brigade on the left. The 41st Infantry Brigade will remain in reserve.
6.(i) Divisional, Brigade, and Battalion Boundaries are shown on attached Map "A." (ii) The first and second objectives of the 42nd Infantry Brigade are shown on Map "A," and the third objective on Map "B."
7.The 42nd Infantry Brigade is allotted the task of capturing the portions of the Red and Blue Lines within its boundaries.
The 42nd Infantry Brigade will also be responsible for maintaining touch with the 3rd Division during the advance from the Blue and Brown Line, and will do so by occupying an Outpost Line N.E. of the Tilloy-Wancourt Road from N.2.c.70.20 to N.9.C.15.75.
8.(i) TheFirst Objective allotted to the 42nd Infantry Brigade is the Red Line, consisting of the String of the Harp from N.I.c.60.50 to N.7.a.80.47, thence S.W. along Negrine Trench and Telegraph Work both inclusive, to N.7.C.25.95, a frontage of 950 yards.
The capture of this objective is allotted to the 5th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry and 9th K.R.R.C., the 5th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry on the right. The Boundary between the two Battalions is as shown on attached Map "A."
(ii)The Second Objective allotted to the 42nd Infantry Brigade is the Blue Line consisting of the rear or eastern face of the Harp from N.7.b.28.92 to N.7.b.10.35, thence along the eastern side of the Cojeul Switch Line to N.7.d.90.25, a frontage of 1,000 yards. The capture of this objective is allotted to the 5th Shropshire Light Infantry, two companies to capture the eastern face of the Harp, and two companies the Cojeul Switch within the Brigade boundaries.
(iii)The Third Objective allotted to the 42nd Infantry Brigade is to clear all ground between the Blue Line and the Tilloy-Wancourt road within Brigade boundaries, and to occupy an Outpost Line N.E. of this road from N.2.C.70.20 to N.9.c.15.75, marked in Violet on Map "B," a frontage of 1,000 yards. The capture of this objective is allotted to the 9th Rifle Brigade (less two companies in Brigade Reserve).
9.Each objective will be consolidated as soon as captured, and made secure against counter-attack.
10.The following are the tasks and objectives allotted to the 42nd Machine-Gun Company on "Z" Day. (i) From zero to zero plus two hours eight guns will fire on the area Harfleur Trench—Tilloy-les-Mofflaines—Linx Trench—the String of the Harp to its junction with Telegraph Work.
Approximately 250 yards of front will be allotted to each gun, and each gun will traverse and search, in depth only, on its front. It is probable that the enemy will offer targets whilst retiring in front of the 3rd Division, and full advantage will be taken of such opportunities.
At zero plus two hours, these guns will cease fire, but will remain in position until it is clear that the 76th Infantry Brigade on our left have captured the first objective of the 3rd Division, when those six guns will become Brigade Reserve.
(ii) Four guns will follow in rear of the right two companies of the 5th Shropshire Light Infantry, and will take up a position on Telegraph Hill, whence they can cover the area N.S.a., b., and d., and stop any attempt on the part of the enemy to counter-attack from this direction or interfere with the work of consolidating the first and second objectives of the Brigade.
At zero plus six hours thirty minutes, the guns on Telegraph Hill will cease fire, but will remain in position to cover the front of the Brigade. They will only fire after zero plus six hours thirty minutes, if the enemy counter-attacks on the Brigade front.
(iii) If necessary three guns will be sent forward from the Brigade Reserve after zero plus six hours, to N.7.a.25.70 (junction of Jove and Nancy Trenches), where O.C. 5th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry will detail a guide to meet them, and will instruct them as to where they are required to take up positions to cover the front of the 5th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry.
(iv) Three guns will follow in rear of the two left companies of the 5th Shropshire Light Infantry, and will proceed to N.l.c.20.45 (junction of Pol and F.I Trenches), where O.C. 9th K.R.R.C. will detail a guide to meet them, and will instruct them as to where they are required to take up positions to cover the front of the 9th K.R.R.C.
(v) Six guns will remain in Brigade Reserve.
11. The 42nd Trench Mortar Battery will be distributed as follows :-- (i) Two guns and 200 rounds of ammunition in Telegraph Lane in dug-out about M.6.d.00.45.
(ii) Two guns and 200 rounds of ammunition in Arras Way in dug-out about M.5.b.94.45.
Should it become necessary to form a defensive left flank on the line F.I and Wye Lane, these guns will be at, the disposal of the O.C. 9th K.R.R.C.
12. (i) Map "A" attached illustrates the time-table for the lifts of the creeping barrage up to and including the capture of the Blue Line.
Map "B" attached illustrates the time-table for the lifts of the creeping barrage from the Blue to the Brown Line.
(ii) The dotted lines indicate the approximate lines on which the barrage will be placed, and the figures on or at the end of these 4 lines indicate the time counting from zero hour at which the creeping barrage will lift off the line concerned, i.e., the creeping barrage lifts off the line marked 2.20 at 2 hours and 20 minutes after zero.
(iii) The creeping barrage comes down on the line marked 2.12 at 2 hours 4 minutes after zero. It, therefore, will remain on this line for 8 minutes. The hour plus 2 hours 4 minutes will be marked by all guns forming this barrage opening with a salvo of shrapnel.
13.At zero the 3rd Division is advancing to the attack of the German First Line System of trenches on their front and on our left flank.
(i) At 2 hours 4 minutes after zero the leading infantry of the 42nd Infantry Brigade will advance from their assembly trenches and creep up as close to the artillery barrage as possible, ready to go forward close to the barrage when it begins to creep back.
(ii) At 3 hours 12 minutes after zero the creeping barrage lifts off the last portion of the Blue Line and goes back to form a protective barrage about 300 yards east of the Blue Line. The rate of fire on the protective barrage gradually decreases until the time fixed for the commencement of the advance from the Blue to the Brown Line, when the rate of fire again rises to the rate fixed for the creeping barrage.
(iii) At 6 hours 48 minutes after zero the troops of the 42nd Infantry Brigade detailed for the capture of the 3rd objective (Violet Line) will creep forward as close as possible to the artillery barrage, and will follow that barrage up to their objective.
At 6 hours 48 minutes after zero all guns forming this barrage will open with a salvo of shrapnel to mark this hour.
15. It is most important for all ranks to realize that, to ensure success and avoid casualties from enemy machine guns, it is necessary to keep as close as possible to the creeping barrage ready to deal with the defenders of any trench immediately the barrage lifts off that trench.
The leading wave of the assault must take advantage of any pause in the forward movement of the barrage to get forward as close to it as possible.
Every opportunity will be taken to reform under cover of the artillery barrage, and to gain touch on the flanks.
The protection of the flanks of each unit or formation, however small, is of vital importance.
16. (i) 16 Tanks will assist the attack of the 3rd and 14th Divisions on the Harp, and 4 of these will subsequently assist in the attack on the Cojeul Switch.
(ii) The Tanks will endeavour to be up in time so as to start with the leading infantry.
(iii) All ranks are to be warned that they are on no account to wait for the Tanks should the latter get delayed. The pace of the infantry is to be regulated according to the creeping barrage as explained in para. 14.
(iv) Map "C" (attached to starred copies only) shows the routes to be followed by the Tanks.
(v) Some Tanks will probably pass over the Assembly Trenches of the Brigade whilst still occupied by the infantry. Troops will be warned that this may happen, and that they will close up to either flank to leave a clear passage for the Tank crossing the trench.
17. (i) Contact aeroplanes will be in the air from zero to dusk.
(ii) The distinguishing mark of VIIth Corps Contact planes is a black stripe and streamer under the starboard lower plane.
(iii) Contact aeroplanes will call by Klaxon Horn for flares to be lit by leading troops as nearly as possible at the following hours :-- Zero plus 3 hours 30 minutes. Zero plus 7 hours 30 minutes. Zero plus 8 hours 30 minutes. Zero plus 11 hours,
(iv) Only Red Flares will be used. Every man will carry one.
18. Special "Mopping-up" Parties will be told off by each Battalion detailed for the capture of the first and second objectives.
They will occupy the trench which they have been detailed to "Mop Up " as soon as the barrage lifts off it, and will work systematically along the trench, picqueting all dugout entrances, and ensuring that no part of the trench is left unsearched.
Their work is of the utmost importance to the success of the attack.
19.Full use will be made of the various means of communication available. Information regarding the situation will be sent back to the Brigade Command Post as frequently as possible, and at least at each clock hour after zero.
20.Watches will be synchronized daily from "V" day onwards through signals at 0 a.m. and 6 p.m.
Watches will be synchronized at times to be notified later on "Y/Z" night.
21.All Battalions will carry Tables'' A,'"' B," and " C " of Brigade Table of Loads. Table "D" will be dumped as follows :-- (a) For two Battalions in Arras Way in dugout about M.6.a.00.35. (b) For two battalions at Brigade H.Q. in the Factory (G.34.b.95.70).
All units will draw from (a) after the assault, and this dump will be kept supplied from (b) under Brigade arrangements.
22. After zero Halifax and Fish Lane Communication Trenches will be reserved for evacuation of the wounded, and no other Communication Trenches will be used for this purpose.
23.Detailed instructions have been issued to units regarding the supply of rations and water by pack pony on "Z" day for consumption on "Z plus 1 day."
24.Separate orders have been issued regarding :-- (a)Approach, march, and position of troops at zero. (b)Water supply on "Y/Z" night. (c)Battle Straggler Posts. (d)Communications. (e)Medical arrangements. (f) Distinguishing badges.
25.The "S.O.S." Signal is a series of Green Very Lights.
26.No orders, sketches, letters, or papers likely to be of use to the enemy will be taken into action.
27.(i) Brigade H.Q. will be at the Command Post in dugout in Old German Second Line (M.5.b.55.90) from 12 midnight on "Y/Z" night.
The Staff Captain will remain at the Factory (G.34.b.95.70).
(ii) As soon as Battalions have established their H.Q. after the assault they will notify Brigade H.Q. of their exact position.
The above Orders were followed, on the same day, by detailed instructions concerning the assembly trenches and how they were to be reached by each Battalion of the 42nd Brigade.
1. The units of the 42nd Infantry Brigade will be distributed as follows at zero on "Z" day :-- 5th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry :-- In Sardine Trench (300 yards). In Roach Trench (260 yards). In Trout Trench (250 yards). In Salmon Trench (15Q yards) from its right flank (western end) to M.6.C.61.51, where old German cable trench cuts it at right angles. Total: 960 yards.
9th K.R.R.C. :-- In Minnow Trench (250 yards). In Perch Trench (300 yards). In Bream Trench (200 yards). In Rudd Trench (150 yards). Total: 900 yards.
5th Shropshire Light Infantry :-- (a)Two companies in Salmon Trench from M.6.C.61.51 to its junction with Telegraph Lane (175 yards). And Shark less 50 yards from its junction with Telegraph Lane (200 yards). Total : 375 yards. (b) Two companies in Pike Trench (275 yards). Eel Trench (150 yards). Carp Trench (150 yards). Total: 575 yards. Total for Battalion, 950 yards.
9th Rifle Brigade : -- (a)Two companies in London Trench. Minenwerfer Weg. Halifax Trench. Galway Trench. (b)Two companies in Old German Front Line and its dug-outs.
42nd Machine-gun Company : -- (a)Four guns with teams in Shark Trench for 50 yards from its junction with Telegraph Lane, and in Telegraph Lane immediately north of its junction with Shark Trench. (b)Three guns with teams in Chub Trench. (c)Eight guns with teams in Old German Second Line. (d)One gun and reserve personnel in shaft connecting dug-outs in Old German Front Line with Brigade Command Post.
42nd Trench-Mortar Battery : -- (a) Two guns with teams and 200 rounds of bombs in dug-out in Telegraph Lane near its junction with Roach Trench. (b)Two guns with teams in dugout in Arras Way about M.5.b.95.45 on west side of trench. (c)Reserve personnel in continuous dug-out in Old German Front Line.
Brigade Pioneer Company :-- 1.In dug-outs in Old Reserve Line off Halifax. 2. Headquarters of units will be as follows at zero on "Z" day : -- (a) 42nd Infantry Brigade H.Q. at Factory (G.34.b.95.70), with Command Post in dugout in Old German Second Line (M.5.b.55.90). . (b) 5th Oxford and Bucks L.I. in dug-out in Middlesex Trench (M.5.b.65.60). (c) 5th Shrops. L.I. in continuous dugout in Old German Front Line, near the shaft leading to the Brigade Command Post. (d) 9th K.R.R.C. in dugout in Old German Second Line (M.5.b.85.98). (e) 9th Rifle Brigade in dug-out in Old Support Line off Hunter Street. (f) 42nd Machine Gun Company in continuous dugout in Old German Front Line near the shaft leading to Brigade Command Post. (g) 4.2nd Trench-mortar Battery in dug-out in Village Line off Hooge. N.B.—The 9th Rifle Brigade will take over the H.Q. of the 5th, Oxford and Bucks L.I. as soon as the latter vacate them. During the move of the 9th Rifle Brigade H.Q., O.C. 9th Rifle Brigade will be in the Brigade Command Post.
3. Units will reach their assembly positions as follows on "Y/Z" night :-- (a) 9th K.R.R.C. from Christchurch Cave by Exit No. 14.E. (G.34.c.90.63). Battalion to be clear of the Cave by 9 p.m. on the 8th inst. Route to Assembly Trenches.—Rue de Temple—Arras Way and Hunter Street to Old German Front Line—Telegraph Lane and Fish Lane to Assembly Trenches; 200 yards' distance to be maintained between platoons. Battalion to be in Assembly Trenches by 12 midnight 8th/9th inst.
(b) 5th Oxford and Bucks L.I. from Christchurch Cave by Exit No. 14.F. (G.34.d.02.60). Leading troops to start from Cave at 9 p.m., and be clear of the Cave by 10 p.m. Route to Assembly Trenches.—Rue de Temple—Hatter's Lane and Halifax to Old German Front Line—Halifax and Arras Way to Assembly Trenches; 200 yards' distance to be maintained between platoons. Battalion to be in Assembly Trenches by 1 a.m. on 9th inst.
(c) 5th Shrops. L.I. from Old Support and Reserve Lines. Leading troops to leave Support Line at 12 midnight 8/9th inst. Route to Assembly Trenches.—As detailed by O.C. Battalion. 200 yards' distance to be maintained between platoons. Battalion to be in Assembly Trenches by 2 a.m. on 9th inst. (d) At 2 a.m. on the 9th inst. the 9th Rifle Brigade will withdraw to positions of Assembly given in para. 1.
4. Only "Up" traffic will be allowed in the following trenches between the hours of 8.30 p.m. and 2 a.m. on night of 8th/9th inst. Halifax, Hunter Street, Arras Way, Telegraph Lane, Fish Lane. All trenches have been clearly labelled.
5.O.C. Battalions will report by Runner to Brigade H Q. as soon as Battalions are in their Assembly Trenches.
6.O.C. Battalions are responsible that the routes to be used, to their Assembly Trenches on " Y/Z " night are prepared and thoroughly reconnoitred so that no unnecessary delays occur. Any bridges required for the purpose 'of crossing trenches can be obtained at Brigade H.Q. O.C. Battalions are responsible for clearing any wire which obstructs their route.
7.As soon as all Battalions are in their Assembly Trenches a ration of hot tea and rum will be served out to the men in accordance with instructions already issued.
8.No shouting or talking will be allowed during the march to Assembly Trenches, nor in the Assembly Trenches. It is of greatest importance to conceal from the enemy the fact that these trenches are occupied. Care must be taken that men do not expose themselves in the trenches after dawn on 9th inst., and that bayonets are not exposed over the top of the trench.
REPORT OF ATTACK ON THE HARP ON 9th APRIL 1917. The Battalion left the caves at 9 p.m., and was in position in the Assembly Trenches by 12 midnight. No casualties occurred on the way up. There was practically no shelling of the Assembly Trenches till 5.30 a.m. Between 5.30 and 7.30 a.m. the Assembly Trenches were slightly shelled with whizz-bangs and an occasional 4.2-in. chiefly from direction of Tilloy. During this time one officer and one man were hit. At 7.34 a.m. the advance began. There was a good deal of crowding on the right owing to the Battalion on our right losing direction. This was rectified as much as possible by the company officers on the spot.
During the initial stages of the advance there was practically no enemy artillery fire, but there was a certain amount of machine-gun fire from Tilloy; this, however, was mostly high and caused very few casualties. As soon as the leading line came in view of the Harp three machine-guns opened fire from behind Telegraph Work and the string of the Harp. Lewis-guns and rifle-grenades were immediately turned on to them, and their fire slackened sufficiently to enable the infantry to go forward. On reaching the front line about 50 of the enemy gave themselves up without fighting, and were passed back to the rear.
There was a certain amount of resistance from the back of Telegraph Work and the string of the Harp, but the Germans gave themselves up as soon as our men reached them. About 50 Germans were captured here.
As soon as both objectives had been reached consolidation was at once commenced as follows :-- C Company and a part of D Company from N.7.a.6.6 to N.7.a.5.3. A Company thence along back line of Telegraph Work to N.7.a.4.1. Remainder of D Company from N.7.a.2.8 to about N.7.a.2.6. B Company thence to N.7.a.2.0.
During the consolidation a machine-gun opened fire from about N.7.a.6.9, which caused a certain number of casualties. This gun was knocked out by a rifle-grenade, and was captured in conjunction with a bombing-party of the 9th K.R.R.C.
About 20 minutes after reaching the objective the captured position was heavily shelled with 77-mm. and 4.2-in. for about half an hour, and a strong barrage of 5.9 in. put along the bank in M.12.b.l.9 for about one and a half hours. There were no troops advancing over this ground at that time. It only caused a certain amount of inconvenience to communications and very few casualties. About 10 a.m. all hostile artillery fire ceased, and consolidation was completed without further molestation. About this time another machine-gun and its crew were found in a dug-out. They gave themselves up without any trouble.
It is impossible to state accurately the number of prisoners taken by us, but it is estimated there were about 100. Three machine-guns were also captured.
Our casualties were roughly 5 officers killed, 7 wounded, and about 180 other ranks. The battlefield was cleared of all casualties by 5 p.m., with the assistance of the prisoners.
H. L. Wood, Lieut.-Colonel, Comdg. 5th Bn. Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR HONOURS OR REWARDS. Captain Theodore Emmanuel Rodocanachi, M.C. Awarded D.S.O. (immediate). Captain and Adjutant Claude Boisragon Crawford ; Lieut. Henry George Styles ; 2nd Lieut. Henry Nichols Parker ; 2nd Lieut. Basil Arthur Anderson, M.C.; Captain James Alphonso Conway (R.A.M.C.); awarded Military Cross (immediate). 10896 Sergeant(Acting C.-S.-M.) Albert Walter Lewendon awarded Bar to Military Medal (immediate) 10489 Sergeant Joseph Holt; 10630 Lance-Corporal Arthur Thomas Hicks ; 10647 Sergeant Edgar Grant awarded Military Medal (immediate) 8223 Sergeant George Capel ; awarded Military Medal 10994 Sergeant Frank Sketcher ; awarded Military Medal (immediate) 32511 Private Charles Henry Bull ; awarded Military Medal (immediate) 185 Private Frank Cooper ; 10440 Sergeant William Lake; 16274 Lance-Corporal Percy Jones ; awarded Croix de Guerre. 18908 Lance-Corporal Thomas Bird ; awarded Military Medal (immediate) 17271 Corporal William Bradley ; 16017 Corporal Frank Gilbert Smith ; 10550 Corporal John Bassett; awarded Military Medal (immediate) 19396 Lance-Corporal Levi Moseley ; awarded Military Medal (immediate) 10734 Lance-Corporal William Carvell ; awarded Military Medal (immediate) 23877 Lance-Corporal Frederick Wright ; awarded Military Medal (immediate) 11480 Lance-Corporal Edward Vines; 10892 Sergeant James Lewendon; 10609 Private Robert Mills; 11543 Corporal Richard Angell; 16838 Private Sidney Houghton; 10488 Private Robert Miller; 10119 Sergeant Ernest House ; 10982 Sergeant Arthur Caleb Coombs ; 32528 Lance-Corporal Brown; Private Soames; Corporal Johnston; 19020 Private Ernest George Clarke; 18577 Sergeant George Salter; 18115 Private Henry Joseph Morgan; 17292 Private Alfred John Croft. Several of the others were subsequently awarded the Mijitary Medal for further acts of gallantry.—ed.
CASUALTIES 5th OXFORD AND BUCKS LIGHT INFANTRY, 9TH APRIL 1917.
Killed. 2nd Lieut. G. G. Gray. Lieut. D. S. Higgins. 2nd Lieut. J. H. F. Scott. 2nd Lieut. J. R. Stammers 2nd Lieut. J. Stevens. And 45 N.C.O.'s and Men
Wounded. Captain L. J. Goodwyn. 2nd Lieut. G. S. Greene. 2nd Lieut. R. E. D. Hall. 2nd Lieut. H. R. Parker. 2nd Lieut. H. A. Robertson. Captain T. E. Rodocanachi, M.C. Lieut. H. G. Styles. 2nd Lieut. C. J. Vidal. Lieut. C. H. Walter. And 116 N.C.O.'s and Men.
Missing. 11 N.C.O.'s and Men.
Battalion Diary continued.
April 10th.—The following was issued today :-- "complimentary order. "The Commander-in-Chief has personally requested me to convey to all ranks of the 14th (Light) Division his high opinion of the excellent fighting qualities shown by the Division.
"The commencement of the great offensive of 1917 has been marked by an initial success in .which more than 11,000 prisoners and 100 guns have been taken on the first day alone.
"The Division has taken a prominent part in achieving this success and maintained the reputation gained last year on the Somme, and added to the laurels of the gallant regiments of which it is composed. V. Couper, Major-General, Comdg. 14th (Light) Division. 10th April 1917.
April 12th-30th.—After two days' marching the Battalion arrived at Liencourt on the 14th, and spent a week in training, then moved to Fosseux and to the Harp, going into the trenches on the 24th. Casualties.—Three men killed. Major G. G. Knighton died of wounds on the 30th. Captain Maude and 22 men wounded.
The following officers rejoined during April : Major N. Barwell (Second in Command), Captain E. W. Maude, M.C. (again wounded a few days later); and the following joined for duty : Captain J. A. Southey (2nd Battalion), Captain Goodwyn, 2nd Lieut. R. J. Richards; 235 men, in two drafts, arrived, when the ration strength of the Battalion was 25 officers and 905 other ranks.
May 1st.—A and B Companies to baths at Achicourt by lorry. Very warm and fine weather. Private Rixon was killed by a 4.2-inch shell.
VIS-EN-ARTOIS. Attack on Hillside Work. This formed part of the great British offensive which commenced on the 3rd May on a 12-mile front to the east of Arras. Preliminary instructions and maps were issued secretly to certain officers at the end of April, and on the 2nd May (9.15 a.m.) came the final orders from H.Q. 42nd Infantry Brigade. The following is an outline of these orders :--
The attack was to be made by the 21st Division on the right, the 18th in the centre, and the 14th Division on the left, the 14th Division having the 41st Brigade on the right, the 42nd on the left, and the 43rd in reserve, while the 42nd Brigade was to attack with the 5th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry on the right, the 9th Rifle Brigade on the left, and the remaining two battalions in reserve. Special maps showed, in distinctive colours, the front held by the 14th Division and the Divisional boundaries, the position of the leading troops at zero, the boundaries between the brigades of the Division and between the assaulting battalions of the 42nd Brigade, the First Objective and the Second Objective.
Other paragraphs dealt with: (a) Information known about enemy troops opposed to the 14th Division ; (b) Detailed instructions about the assault, employment of Lewis and machine guns for protection of flanks, maintaining touch with adjacent brigades, mopping-up parties, consolidation; (c) Tasks and objectives allotted to the 42nd Machine-gun Company; (d) Action of 42nd T.M. Battery; (e) Artillery creeping and protective barrages; (f) Communication with contact aeroplanes; (g) Sending back information on the situation; (h) S.O.S. signal; (i) Battle stragglers; (k) Prisoners of war; (l) Position of Brigade H.Q. in Stag Trench.
The movements of the 42nd Brigade to positions of assembly on "Y" day and "Y"/"Z" night had been previously notified, thus:-- The 5th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry from N.14.b via Brigade H.Q. (N.15.d.4.4), N.22 central, N.23.d.8.4, along the bank and via the railway. The Battalion will move by platoons in file at 3 minutes' interval. The leading platoon to arrive at Brigade H.Q. at 8 p.m. Water will be issued to men requiring it, under Brigade arrangements at Brigade H.Q. The Battalion will be clear of Cross Roads N.22.a by 9.15 p.m., and will proceed in file to their Assembly Trenches. All trenches have been labelled. All units (less 9th K.R.R.C.) will report by runner to Advance Brigade H.Q. in the Stag as soon as they are in their positions of assembly. As soon as Battalions are in their Assembly Trenches an issue of hot tea and rum will be made under Brigade arrangements. The Assembly Trenches were named "zoologically," and the Battalion assembled for the assault in portions of the Ape, the Boar, the Buck, the Lion, and the Bison.
'Z" day was 3rd May and zero hour 3.45 a.m. The following is Lieut.-Colonel H. L. Wood's Official Report of action of the Battalion:--
At zero the Battalion was formed up as follows : A and C Companies in the front line, A on the right, C on the left; B and D Companies in the second line, B on the right, D on the left; each company in two lines of two platoons. The front line was on the taped line, the second line in Ape Trench.
The German artillery and machine-guns opened fire within 3 minutes of our barrage commencing; most of the artillery fire was between Ape and Bison. Until the advance commenced at zero plus 18 there were only a few casualties from artillery fire in Ape, and none in the companies in front. On the other hand, the machine-gun fire was very heavy and accurate, and came from the left flank (either from St. Rohart Factory or from the Quarry in 0.15.c) and front (from the Quarry at 0.21.b.8.0 or from Triangle Wood).
At zero plus 18 the advance commenced and reached a line about 50 yards west of New Trench, beyond which it was found impossible to advance farther on the left.
On the right of the line 2nd Lieut. Peel (A Company) found it possible to avoid the machine-gun fire by crawling, and he got a few men forward and occupied part of New Trench. As touch had been lost with the 8th K.R.R.C., 2nd Lieut. Peel brought up the reserve platoon of A Company on his right flank, and gained touch with them. This was about 4.30 a.m. About this time the remainder of A Company and part of D Company managed to get into New Trench on the left of A Company.
The Germans who had been holding New Trench retired to a line about 40 yards in rear, from which they heavily bombed and opened fire with two machine-guns on New Trench. These were, however, soon silenced by rifle and Lewis-gun fire. It was, however, found impossible to advance owing to the very accurate and unceasing machine-gun fire from the left, and also to a certain extent from the front. The artillery fire also became fairly heavy about this time.
The situation now was as follows : about 50 men of all companies in New Trench, and parties of B and D Companies (about two platoons in all) in a line of shell-holes about 40 yards behind. This party tried to consolidate, but found it impossible to work owing to the incessant machine-gun fire, snipers, and heavy Vane-bomb fire, which came from the left flank, probably from Hillside Work.
The situation remained unchanged until about 10.45a.m., New Trench being shelled continuously, while a very heavy barrage was maintained on the Assembly Trenches.
At about 10.45 a.m. the troops on our right were observed retiring, and a strong enemy counter-attack in 6 or 7 waves (each estimated by those in the front line at about 150 to 200 men) was launched against New Trench. Fire was immediately opened on them with all available rifles, Lewis-guns, and two Vickers which had come up, and many casualties were inflicted, but without stopping the counter-attack. When the enemy had got within 50 yards of New Trench, and our ammunition was practically all expended, the remnants withdrew to the Assembly Trenches, bringing back as many Lewis-guns as possible. The two Vickers had to be abandoned.
Owing to there being no room in the front Assembly Trenches I rallied the Battalion in Buck Trench, where it remained until relieved.
The casualties were :-- A Company (Right leading) 75, out of 129 who attacked. C Company (Left leading) 84, out of 118. B Company (Right Support) 57, out of 123. D Company (Left Support) 62, out of 123. H.Q. 13, out of 30, including bombers who went over behind the leading company.
H. L. Wood, Lieut.-Colonel,. Comg. 5th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. 6.5.17
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR HONOURS OR REWARDS. Captain Claude Boisragon Crawford ; 2nd Lieut. John Horace Peel ; Awarded Military Cross (immediate) 10892 Sergeant James Lewendon ; awarded Military Medal (immediate). 8223 Sergeant George Capel ; awarded Military Medal (immediate). 11049 Private Sidney Southern ; awarded Military Medal (immediate). 10996 Lance-Corporal George Edward Collins ; awarded Military Medal (immediate). 8764 Private John Enticott ; awarded Bar to Military Medal (immediate) 13106 Private Leonard Unsworth ; awarded Military Medal (immediate). 10147 Corporal Hosia Paul ; awarded Military Medal (immediate). 27912 Private John Quinn ; awarded Military Medal (immediate). 32720 Private Stanley Wonnacott; 17311 Private Frank Henry Wright; 26363 Private George Ayris.
CASUALTIES, 3RD MAY 1917. Killed. Lieut. S. Ashman, B Company. 2nd Lieut. W. C. Haynes, D Company. And 22 N.C.O.'s and Men.
Wounded. 2nd Lieut. J. N. Jackson (C). Captain L. J. Goodwyn (D). Lieut. T. Hutchinson (A). And 158 N.C.O.'s and Men.
Missing. 2nd Lieut. R. J. Richards (B). (It was afterwards learned that 2nd Lieut. Richards was captured when wounded and died of his wounds. ) 2nd Lieut. C. C. Harper (C). 2nd Lieut. J. L. Bulmer (A). And 111 N.C.O.'s and Men. (Fifteen N.C.O.'s and men were also captured, 7 of them being wounded (3 died). (The other 2 officers and 96 N.C.O.'s and men were subsequently reported killed.)
Total Casualties.—8 officers and 291 N.C.O.'s and Men, out of 12 officers2 and 523 N.C.O.'s and Men who went into action. (The four officers who came out of action unwounded were Lt.-Colonel Wood Captain Crawford (Adjutant), 2nd Lieut. Peel (A Company), and 2nd Lieut. Palmer (B Company).)
May 4th-31st.—On the 4th the Battalion was relieved in Niger Trench and moved back to the Harp, where it remained until the 10th, on which day it moved up to Cojeul Switch. The remainder of the month was spent in and out of the trenches, large working parties being constantly supplied by the Battalion. Casualties.—1 man killed and 4 men wounded.
The following officers joined or rejoined : 2nd Lieut. Taylor-Rose, 2nd Lieut. Parker, Lieut. H. W. Spurge, 2nd Lieut. D. J. Banks. Attached from the 9th K.R.R.C : Lieut. J. Hetherington, and 2nd Lieuts. J. H. Westall, L. S. Dagg, and J. S. Chown. 2nd Lieuts. C. H. E. Palmer and W. C. Lester-Smith were invalided to England.
June.—King's Birthday Gazette : Lieut, and Quartermaster F. M. Roberts awarded the Military Cross ;
The following Mentioned in Dispatches : Captain (Acting Lieut.-Colonel) S. R. Sebastian, Lieut. S. Ashman, Major G. V. Drury, Major G. G. Knighton, Sergeant J. J. Newman, Sergeant J. S. Shenton, Sergeant-Cook T. J. Schalk.
The first days of June were spent in the trenches, with few casualties, but Corporal Percy Jones was killed within a few days of receiving his Croix De Guerre. The remainder of the month was devoted to training at various places.
The following joined the Battalion : Captain 0. S. Royal-Dawson,(Had previously served with the 7th Battalion, and been wounded on the Salonika front) 2nd Lieut S. L. Symonds,( Had previously served with the 7th Battalion, and been wounded on the Salonika front) 2nd Lieuts. W. Line, J. A. Stace, L. E. Davis, E. V. Mullis, and 101 N.C.O.'s and men (2 drafts); 2nd Lieuts. L. S. Dagg and H. N. Parker left the Battalion.
Roll of Officers, 30th June. Lieut.-Colonel H. L. Wood; Major N. Barwell, M.C.; Captains B. K. Cooke, C. B. Crawford, J. A. Southey, M. Labouchere, 0. S. Royal-Dawson; Lieuts. H. W. Spurge, 0. L. Jacks, M.C., B. A. Anderson', M.C.; 2nd Lieuts. W. T. Brindley, R. E. D. Hall, R. A. Fitzgerald, J. H. Peel, M.C., F. E. Borman (with 14th Divisional Depot Battalion), W. G. Holiday, J. W. Guise, J. J. T. Rose, D. J. Banks, S. L. Symonds, W. Line, J. A. Stace, L. E. Davis, E. V. Mullis; Lieut, and Quartermaster F. M. Roberts, M.C.