The following account has been supplied by Major C. Wheeler, D.S.O.:--
GENERAL SITUATION IN MACEDONIA. By May 1916, the Salonika defences being in an advanced state of development, the Allied forces were able to devote more time to training and other preparations for offensive action. The Bulgars had remained on the northern frontier of Greece, where, by strenuous work and clever use of a naturally strong position, they had prepared an excellent defensive system. In May 1916, by arrangement with Greece, they came through the Rupel Pass and extended their left flank down to the Aegean Sea, thus blocking the best line of approach into Southern Bulgaria. The screen of Allied troops was pushed forward to the northern frontier of Greece, and patrol encounters with the Bulgars became frequent.
Towards the end of July the preparations for a big attack on the Doiran-Vardar front had to be altered so as to meet the menace on the western flank, where the Bulgars had crossed the frontier and advanced half-way.
Rumania's entry into the war (August) compelled the Bulgars to withdraw troops to the north just at the time when they were wanted to follow up this success; and as they withdrew the French and Serbs pressed forward in pursuit until checked when north of Monastir.
Meanwhile minor operations were in progress along the remainder of the Allied front, of which the British were now responsible for the eastern portion extending from the Aegean Sea to the Vardar River, the XIIth Corps (22nd and 26th Divisions) holding the Doiran-Vardar front. But nothing of importance occurred until the spring of 1917, when General Sarrail launched his great offensive, in which the French and Serbs attacked in the Monastir district while the British attacked on the Doiran-Vardar front. Bad weather and stubborn Bulgar resistance proved too much for the Allies, and on the 24th May General Sarrail ordered the offensive operations to cease.
Major Wheeler's Diary of Events. July lst-24th, 1916.—The Battalion, commanded by Lieut.-Colonel A. T. Robinson, was in camp half a mile west of the Greek village of Dremiglava, and about a mile north of the Birdcage Line as the trench system around Salonika was called. The camp was pitched on stubble in an open plain; the dust, heat, and flies made life under a bivouac-sheet very trying, and yet, as we discovered later on, the site had its good points when compared with other sites in Macedonia. Fortunately there were a few vineyards and mulberry groves on its outskirts, and in a gully close by we managed to improvise a very effective shower-bath. Then gradually there arrived some tents, marquees, and a certain amount of R.E. material, and in the end we had quite a passable standing camp. But malaria began to be a worry, and all ranks were dosed with quinine two or three times a week; every possible precaution was also taken to prevent the flies breeding; but few, if any, precautions were taken to get rid of the breeding-places of mosquitoes. We were all pleased at having a change from the incessant digging of the last six months, and we settled down to some useful training during the next three weeks, preparatory to a move nearer the front. We stored all our surplus kits, and made huge dumps of mess furniture, orderly-room gear, meat safes, and every description of thing which we could not take with us, and I may as well say at once that we never saw any of these treasures again.
July 25th.—After spending the day in clearing the camp and adding further stores to the dumps, the Battalion marched out at 4.30p.m. in welcome rain. Transport, half pack and half limber; men in full marching order (greatcoats left on the dumps); a blanket and a bivouac-sheet per man with 2nd Line Transport. The march to Ambarkeui was only 7 miles, and we camped on a very stony piece of ground just above the village.
July 26th.—After handing over the camp to the advance party of the 79th Brigade the Battalion marched at 8 p.m. to Sarigol (8 miles) by a bad road. Camp better than the last one.
July 27th.—Leaving at 8 p.m. we had an easy march of about 8 miles to Milovci.
July 28th.—Our camping-ground was on a spit of sand in the bed of the River Gjol Ajak, which, draining Lake Doiran into Lake Ardzan, has cut its way through the plain between the Krusha Balkans and the Vardar River. Since the plain itself is under observation from the Bulgar position on Grand Couronne, and from their balloon which hovers over its western shoulder, the bed of the Gjol Ajak is used as a camping ground for a great number of both French and British troops. The Entente Cordiale was much in evidence, and our men and the Frenchmen mixed freely during the day. The latter were a fine lot, and most of them had seen service in France, Gallipoli, and Serbia.
The situation here at present is as follows: The Allies are holding a line of hills (about 13 miles long) running from the south of Lake Doiran to the Vardar. These hills, averaging some 900 feet in height, are absolutely treeless, though covered with scrub,, usually dwarf, prickly-leaved, evergreen oak, and their slopes are seamed with deep, steep sided ravines. Away in the distance stood the great rocky peak known as Grand Couronne (Kala Tepe), which, for the next three years, was to be the evil eye of our existence, for not only could it see every movement in our front line, but it overlooked our lines of communication, our railroads, our aerodromes, and even the Aegean forty miles away.
A mile west of Grand Couronne was the peak known as P.2 ("The Dub"), which was the second peak on a great ridge running south-south-east into No Man's Land. This ridge, some two miles long, was bisected by the boundary between Greece and Serbia, and was called by us the Pip Ridge, because the French, before our arrival, had named its five most prominent peaks Pitons 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, which we abbreviated to P.I, etc.( " P. 1" became " Pip One" in signaller's jargon) About 300 yards south-east of P.5 was Horseshoe Hill, a mile to the south of which lay Kidney Hill.
To Grand Couronne itself the distance from the Allied line was about 6,000 yards, but to the advanced Bulgar positions scarcely half that distance; and, as will be seen from the map, the capture of Grand Couronne necessitated first the capture of the Pip Ridge.
July 29th.—The Battalion moved at dusk to Cugunci, a ruined village half a mile north of the Kilindir-Karasuli Railway, and went into bivouac alongside the French reserves and transport, ready to relieve their troops in the line the following night. Battalion H.Q. were established at Table Hill; D Company held Asagi Mahala, and Bujuklu Ravine; B held Le Commandant; C Palliasse, with an outpost platoon on Bagatelle. The French described the situation as tres calme, with little artillery fire and only occasional patrol encounters.
July 30th.—The French began early to dribble away, and we were glad to have the line to ourselves, as the camps had been too full to be comfortable.
July 31st.—Busy clearing up camp areas. It is very difficult to locate the Bulgar front-line trenches, which are most inconspicuous, and we have no aeroplane photographs, and only poor maps to help us.
August 1st.—Enemy artillery showing some activity. The French have placed four batteries of 75's in our area; our own gunners are also choosing battery positions, so we shall not have a quiet time much longer. Captain Henry went to Brigade H.Q. as acting Staff Captain.
August 2nd-3rd.—Patrols went out towards the enemy outpost positions, and found Kidney Hill unoccupied.
August 4th.—Major C. Wheeler, Lieut. Miller, and six men went out just before dawn to reconnoitre the country with a view to an attack on Pip Ridge from the south-west. They were out for nearly twelve hours, and suffered considerably from the heat and the difficult going. Major Wheeler came to the conclusion that an attack either by day or by night would have little chance of success.
August 5th.—Colonel Robinson and Colonel Dene (7th R. Berks), with Lieut. Miller, reconnoitred Kidney Hill, and were fired on by a Bulgar 77-mm. field-gun, but, fortunately, succeeded in getting back unhurt.
August 5th/6th.—2nd Lieut. Manning, with 25 men of A Company, left Commandant Hill at 8.45 p.m. to reconnoitre the approach from Kidney Hill to Horseshoe Hill and to locate the enemy's position on the latter hill. 2nd Lieut. Eagle, with 25 men of B Company, followed in support, with orders to establish connexion by wire between Kidney Hill and Battalion H.Q.
As the patrol was approaching the top of Kidney Hill and was still on ground which on two former occasions we had patrolled without incident, the enemy was found to be holding the top of the hill. Our patrol at once charged, and four of the enemy were bayoneted and two shot. Then, in accordance with Manning's orders, the patrol fell back to reorganize at Castle Hill 800 yards in rear. This was practically impossible under the circumstances, the patrol having become scattered, and the country bewildering. Sergeant H. J. Smith, the leader of the patrol screen, who behaved very gallantly throughout, collected a party of 7 stragglers (3 of whom were wounded), and eventually came in at the extreme left of our line, 400 yards west of Castle Hill. One man (Private F. Wood) did not return, and must have been killed. Seven other ranks were wounded, This is the first time that the bayonets of the Division have been used in action. Patrols sent out during the day to look for Private Wood found no trace of him,
August 7th.—Last night's patrols found Kidney Hill unoccupied, but the enemy's outposts were seen on the skyline of Horseshoe Hill. General Duncan inspected and congratulated 2nd Lieut. Manning and his patrol on their successful patrol action. August 8th.—Orders received that the Battalion is to assault and consolidate Horseshoe Hill. Our artillery is very active.
August 9th.—Beginning at dawn the combined artillery maintained a very heavy bombardment on the enemy's positions. The Battalion was relieved after dusk by the 11th Worcesters, and moved into a position of readiness in Bujuklu Ravine.
August 10th.—A French Colonial Division established itself on La Tortue (the big, flat-topped hill midway between Lake Doiran and the Pip Ridge), and a company of the R. Berks occupied Kidney Hill without much trouble. This will simplify our bound forward to Horseshoe Hill, and gives our patrols a good starting-point from which to reconnoitre Horseshoe. The transport joined the Battalion in Bujuklu Ravine—a dangerous place for it, as the enemy's guns can enfilade the ravine from end to end, and the steep sides will concentrate the effect of bursting shells.
August 11th.—Enemy artillery very active. At dusk the inevitable happened, and a 5.9 howitzer commenced firing with the utmost deliberation and accuracy into our mule lines, causing appalling confusion. Sergeant Bovington, with other transport men, behaved very gallantly, and did all that was possible to control the animals while the shelling continued. Sergeant Bovington and some of the men were wounded, and Privates D. Faulkner, W. Smith, and others at once went into the ravine and rescued the wounded from under the very feet of the panic-stricken mules. Sergeant Bovinuton unfortunately died of his wounds at the 79th Field Ambulance, and his death deprived the Battalion of the services of a valuable old regular soldier of the best type. Five men were wounded, and of the mules 11 were killed, 16 wounded, and one broke away altogether. During the night working parties buried the dead mules—a difficult job in this rocky country. Much to our relief the Brigade ordered the transport to return to Cugunci.
August 12th.—All day a French battery just above us fired steadily on La Tortue, but without drawing any reply from the enemy, and we were left alone except for a few stray shells. Two strong patrols, going out to reconnoitre from Kidney Hill towards Horseshoe Hill, encountered a party of Bulgars. The patrols withdrew to the trenches of the R. Berks on Kidney Hill and the enemy was beaten off.
August 15th.—The French carrying out a bombardment and making an attack on La Tortue, which they had failed to hold against determined counter attacks on August l0th/11th.
August l6th.—The attack by the French Colonials still continued successfully, though their casualties were heavy. Their attack extended from Doiran Lake to Horseshoe Hill (exclusive), and by the end of the day they had consolidated on La Tortue, but had failed to cross the Jumeaux Ravine, or to establish themselves in Doldzeli, which was included in the left of their attack . One company did, however, get into Doldzeli, but never returned.
ATTACK ON HORSESHOE HILL. August 17th.—Definite orders were received from the Brigade as to the Battalion's advance against Horseshoe Hill. These were altered during the day, but finally we were given to understand that we should meet with no opposition on the hill, and that we would be required merely to occupy it and dig in. For this reason the two companies of the R. Berks who were to have come with us were withdrawn. It was decided to attack with A and B Companies, while C and D would come out lightly equipped, to carry tools, and return before dawn.
August 17th/18th.—The enemy had been fighting the French all day in and around Doldzeli, and were apparently unprepared for a night attack. The Battalion, with attached R.E. and Machine-gun Company (Sections, proceeded in two parties to the point of assembly at the south end of Pillar Hill, one party going each side of Castle Hill. Time was lost through a scare due to French transport returning from their front line being mistaken for the enemy, and also through clumsy loading of the mules of the troops attached to us. The first stage of the assault was, therefore, delayed from 10.30 p.m. to 11.15p.m., which was most unfortunate, as the moon was now well up. Telephone communication with Brigade H.Q. was successfully established. A French officer from our right assured us that we would encounter no opposition, but no sooner had 2nd Lieut. Hoey's platoon reached the higher slopes of C.3 than he was fired upon from the direction of the boundary mark on the east arm of the Shoe. Lieut. Bowman and his platoon, with a Lewis-gun (under Corporal Hudson), were sent to assist him. The enemy (an advanced post) was driven out, but not before it had knocked out Bowman and about 15 men from the two platoons. Major Debenham now went forward, and, finding that we were out of touch with the French on our right, went off to remedy this. On the way he and a Bulgar scout stalked each other until Debenham bagged him with the first shot from his revolver. Unfortunately he had had to send his runner to H.Q. with a message, for shortly afterwards he (Debenham) was blown up and partially buried by a big shell, and he was only just able to struggle back to H.Q. before collapsing. Heavy shelling had now opened up all along the French line. We had reports of a French withdrawal, but a message from 2nd Lieut. Garland, who was liaison officer with the French, denied this. Meanwhile Manning was heavily fired on as he approached C.I, but he soon made good his objective, where shortly afterwards he was joined by two more platoons of A Company under 2nd Lieuts. Collier and Ker. The remainder of B Company under Captain Simpson now joined Hoey, whose force was considerably depleted. Simpson was hit at the telephone almost as soon as he arrived, and Eagle also was hit soon afterwards. All telephone wires were cut almost as fast as they were laid, and had it not been for the really fine work of the runners, it would have been impossible to arrange for a simultaneous attack on C.2 from both C.3 and C.I after an intense bombardment of C.2 from 1.15 to 1.30a.m.
Symonds, who had been sent up to fill the gap between our right and the French, reached B Company, and found them so much in need of assistance that, on reference to Battalion H.Q., he was ordered to support Hoey, who was now the only officer left with B Company. As soon as our artillery lifted from C.2 Hoey and Symonds moved forward with B Company and No. 14 Platoon, but were met by heavy rifle and grenade fire. Part of the line was checked, and Symonds was wounded. Corporal Hudson, who was immediately behind, rushed through the broken line and, with great gallantry, fired his Lewis-gun from his hip. This enabled Hoey to push on, and C.2, the toe and dominating point of the whole shoe, was captured without much further trouble. Meanwhile Ker and Manning had swept up and round from C.1 and met Hoey's force on the top of C.2. Manning was at once sent out with a covering party. Martin, with Keeble, Steele, and about 30 men of C Company, arrived a few minutes later, after a difficult advance through a heavy barrage and up the steep slopes of C.2 between the two arms of the shoe. Arnett, with the remainder of A Company, arrived about the same time. Martin now was faced with the problem of reorganization and consolidation with only about an hour before dawn. Most opportunely, however, Boor and No. 15 Platoon arrived from H.Q. with tools and sandbags, and so work was at once begun on adapting the Bulgar trench which almost completely encircled the top of the Hill C.2. Hoey and B Company were sent back to Battalion H.Q., "fifteen minutes away. A Company held C.3 and C.1 with two platoons, the other two, together with two platoons of D Company and part of C Company, forming the garrison of C.2 and local reserve. Providentially there was a natural terrace about 70 yards down the steep southern slope of C.2, and slits dug into the bank of the terrace gave valuable cover from the steady fall of shrapnel which was kept up more or less continuously for the next three days. It was soon found that the Bulgar trench was cut in solid rock, and as it was only about three feet deep, Martin decided to concentrate on a main line of trench on the reverse slope of C.2. A day post (1 officer and 3 men) was left in the trench on the north slope, where they spent a miserable time lying prone among the rocks in the blistering heat, with the constant expectation of being blown out at any moment. Next day Wrinch, who was acting as artillery liaison officer, was mortally wounded here. We could not get him in, and Mansell very nobly came and remained with him for three hours—until he died. Symonds, who had returned to C.2 after having his hand dressed, and Boor did most useful work in the day post, and the presence of their two platoons gave Martin a confidence which otherwise he would not have had.
August 18th- was spent—not very successfully—in trying to get a little rest, in anticipation of the coming night. At dusk Sergeant-Major Merritt brought up the remainder of C Company to C.2, while Salvesen, with his other two platoons, arrived about 1 a.m. and escaped the enemy's barrage by a minute. They brought up for the men hot stew, which was much appreciated, although, after its three-mile journey, it arrived quite cold. A certain amount of water was also brought—about sufficient to rinse the dust from one's mouth and throat. Two sections R.E. ran out some concertina wire, while the garrison improved the trenches, and Miller got through a lot of useful work co-ordinating our Lewis-guns and the 4 machine-guns of the 78th Machine-gun Company. Being in touch with the French on our right, we now felt more happy about our flanks. Baker, with a small party of A Company, formed a post on Whaleback, a long spur running south-west from Horseshoe, and he remained on this very unpleasant job for three nights.
August 19th.—About 12.45 a.m., without any very marked warning from their artillery, some 200 or 300 Bulgars charged down the neck joining C.2 with P.5. Fortunately we managed to get our artillery on to them, and the wire put up by the R.E. broke up the enemy's formation, since, ignorant of its actual weakness, they tried to go round it instead of over it. Their casualties must have been heavy, for we were all waiting for them, and they met a volume of fire from our guns, machine-guns, and rifles. At 2.45 a.m. a party of Bulgars coming from P.5 was driven by our fire down the north-east slope of C.2. Here they seem to have collided with a company about to attack our right flank, for we heard a good deal of shouting and saw the occasional flash of an electric torch. The result was that we had not much difficulty in beating off this flank attack when it came about 3 a.m. Probably it was a case of bad synchronization by the two parties. During these attacks the barrage put down by the enemy between C.2 and Battalion H.Q. was very heavy, and almost invariably cut our wires; consequently Ditchburn and his signallers and runners had a very hard time. The rest of the night passed without incident, and just before dawn the survivors of B Company, who had been sent back to Battalion H.Q. on Salvesen's arrival at C.2, were able to reach Bujuklu Ravine. Hoey was wounded by a splinter of shell while standing-to with his company during the counter-attack at 3 a.m. The daylight hours of August 19th were uneventful, but the intense heat, lack of water and sleep, and absence of cover gave everyone a very trying time. At 8 p.m. the intermittent shelling became an intense bombardment, and we stood-to and waited for about twenty minutes, when there came a sudden and complete lull. We expected an immediate counter-attack, but it did not come. This performance the enemy repeated several times, and at 1 a.m. (August 20th) he did make a feeble attack, which our Lewis-guns broke up at once. Shortly afterwards we were relieved on C.2 and C.3 by the 9th Gloucesters. Baker and Ker remained for another 24 hours on C.I, while C and D Companies went back to fresh camps at Troupel. Martin handed over to Salvesen and joined Battalion H.Q. to help in the completion of the reliefs by the Gloucesters. This was completed by about 1.30a.m., just before another unsuccessful Bulgar ' counter-attack.
August 21st.—By 8 a.m. the whole Battalion was in camps just south of Troupel, having come through the first serious operation in its existence. It had the honour of striking the first blow for the British in the second round of the Balkan campaign; moreover, as C.2 was just over the frontier, the Battalion had the further honour of recovering a part—albeit a very small part—of Serbia.
CASUALTIES. Killed. 1 Other Rank.
Wounded. Major F. Debenham. Captain B. L. Simpson. Lieut. T. Bowman 2nd Lieut. S. L. Symonds. 2nd Lieut. J. T. S. Hoey. 2nd Lieut. C. P. Baker 2nd Lieut. H. S. Eagle And 91 Other Ranks.
The Battalion received letters of congratulation on its success from the Commanders of the Xllth Corps, 26th Division, and 78th Brigade. A draft of 22 men arrived from England.
August 22nd-28th.—This week was spent under bivouacs south of Troupel, two companies always ready to move at night to reinforce the Horseshoe garrison, while the other two companies worked on the Hill 420—Commandant line.
August 29th.—After dusk the Battalion moved to Bujuklu Ravine.
August 30th.—Took over the sector on the west of Horseshoe Hill. Posts very much in the air, and, if the Bulgar is, enterprising, we are likely to have some excitement.
August 3lst.—Battalion H.Q. moved to Clichy Ravine.
September lst-3rd.—Collier and 6 men patrolled to Krastali, to discover if the village was held, but owing to the undergrowth and stony ground found progress difficult. They were out from dusk until 4.20 a.m., and were fired at from the southern outskirts of the village. No casualties.
September 4th-5th —Busy improving trenches and wiring. Enemy inactive.
September 6th.—Collier took out his patrol again, and was fired at again from Krastali.
September 7th.—Lieut.-Colonel Robinson and Company-Sergeant-Major E. B. Wootten attended a French investiture and received the Croix De Guerre for good work on Horseshoe Hill. 2nd Lieut. J. T. S. Hoey should also have attended for the same purpose, but was still in hospital.
September 8th/9th.—The Battalion was relieved by the 12th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. A heavy thunderstorm from 9p.m. to 11 p.m. and other difficulties made the relief very slow, and the last company did not get away until 3 a.m.
September 9th.—The Battalion was not reported present at Jenikoj until 6.30 a.m. Every one very tired. Yesterday Colonel Robinson, who had sprained his ankle badly on the 7th, was evacuated to hospital. He had a miserable journey down to the dressing-station, as he had to be carried by bearers nearly three miles over rocky paths in heavy rain.
September 10th.—The Battalion (less D Company) marched at dusk 4 miles to camp at Mihalova, to form Corps Reserve with the 11th Worcesters. The 22nd Division has now taken over the line as far west as the Vardar, and the XIIth Corps thus holds all the Doiran-Vardar front, except La Torttie, which is still held by French Colonials.
September 11th.—D Company (left to clear up the last camp) and the transport rejoined the Battalion.
September 12th-19th.—This period was spent in training of all kinds, especially in loading mules, a most important matter when pack transport is in constant use, and we have had a" good deal of trouble, during night marches, from bad loading.
On the 12th a draft of 88 other ranks joined from England, and on the 13th another draft of 114 arrived. They seem a pretty good lot, and about 5 per cent, of them have seen, service in France.
Each company now has 2 Lewis-guns, and a certain amount of reorganization of companies has taken place. The strength of the H.Q. Company has been reduced to 65, it having become too large, thus causing overlapping as well as depletion of the fighting strength of the other companies. Companies are now 180 strong, including the recent drafts.
September 20th.—Colonel Robinson rejoined from hospital.
September 23rd.—Captain G. B. Martin and Lieut. G. C. Miller were awarded the Military Cross for Horseshoe Hill" The official announcement in the London Gazette of 14th November 1916 was as follows: "Capt. George Bellis Martin. He reorganized the captured position with great courage and skill. Later, he rendered very valuable assistance during an enemy counter-attack." "Lt. Gerald Cedar Miller. He fought his machine-guns with great courage and skill; rendering most valuable services” and 15421 Sergeant H. J. Smith the Military Medal for patrol work on Kidney Hill.
September 24th—30th.—Training and road-making.
October lst-8th.—Training and road-making continued. The whole Battalion was inoculated against cholera on the 1st and 2nd; a draft of 18 other ranks from the Wilts Yeomanry joined on the 3rd, and 15 of the 2/3rd Scottish Horse on the 5th. The nights are now much colder, and the men glad of their second blanket. Sun-helmets were withdrawn on the 4th. ;
October 9th.—Companies marched independently to new camps in rear of Hill 420 Sector, D at Zouave, A at 420, C at Bujuklu, B and Battalion H.Q. south-west of Troupel.
October 10th.—Weather delightfully bracing now. All idea of an offensive on this part of the front has been abandoned, the Allied reserves being all required for the push for Monastir. The enemy's artillery has been more active, but he has made no further effort to regain lost ground.
October 11th.—A and D Companies went up at dusk to Doldzeli Sector to man the trenches while their present occupants (11th Worcesters) raided Mamelon. The raid took place at midnight, the Worcesters entering the enemy trenches, inflicting casualties, and bringing back identifications. The enemy shelled Mamelon and our trenches very heavily. The Worcesters had 40 casualties, and we four men wounded. A and D Companies returned to their camps just before dawn.
October 12th.—Second cholera inoculation.
October 14th.—Relieved 11th Worcesters in Doldzeli trenches (D Sector); 3 companies in the line, 1 company in reserve. One man wounded.
October 15th.—The trenches are dug on the farthest limit of the French advance in August, and there are dead Frenchmen still lying about. Doldzeli is a small ruined village about 700 yards down the eastern slopes of P.5, and some 200 yards in front of our line. French Colonials are on our right, and share Senelle Ravine with D Company.
October 16th.—D Company's trenches and camp were shelled, and a direct hit knocked out a Lewis-gun. Two casualties.
October 17th.—Day quiet and uneventful, but at 9 p.m. the enemy artillery put down a very heavy barrage about 200 yards in rear of our front line west of Vladaja Ravine. Our advanced posts on the left, seeing the enemy coming on, withdrew, and rifle and machine-gun fire was opened from our trenches, but all communication with our artillery had been cut by the enemy shells in the first few minutes, so the S.O.S. was sent up.
At about 9.45 p.m. the enemy shelling died down, but at 10 p.m. opened again. For a quarter of an hour our trenches were heavily bombarded, and our sole remaining wire to the rear was cut, while simultaneously the enemy opened steady rifle and machine-gun fire on our trenches. By 11 p.m. all firing had ceased, and our officer's patrols went out and searched the ground in front, but found nothing of interest.
The night was intensely dark, and from our trenches little could be seen of the enemy's movements, but two of our advanced posts brought back some information. Lance-Corporal Harrison, of C Company, who was in charge of an advanced post of 6 men in front of our wire, saw about 30 Bulgars making for his post, so at once brought fire to bear on them and successfully checked them, and continued to engage them until his ammunition was exhausted, when he effected the withdrawal of his party to our trenches.
Lance-Corporal Griffith, bringing back B Company's left advanced post, missed the gap in our wire, and from the slopes of Horseshoe watched the enemy's attack. He saw four waves advancing against our left, but they were soon checked, and after a while they retired carrying their casualties with them. It would seem that the Bulgars meant either to carry out a raid, or to make a demonstration with a view to discovering in what strength we were holding this part of the front. If they were making a raid, their plans were evidently ill-prepared; but if, on the other hand, they wished to ascertain the volume of our fire, they certainly achieved their purpose, for they received no fewer than 18,000 rounds S.A.A. The fact is, that we found fire-control extremely difficult, because of the narrowness of the trenches and the impossibility of keeping touch with the Machine-gun Company, whose guns were dispersed about the trenches and the crews under the impression that until their own officer ordered them to cease they were to blaze away for all they were worth.
We also discovered the difficulty of intercommunication in this sort of country during a fight. Except from the noise of the firing, Battalion H.Q. (only 100 yards away) had little knowledge of what was going on until the second in command (Martin) went round the Sector. Of course, Battalion H.Q. were really much too close to the front trenches. Casualties.—2 men killed and 11 wounded.
October 18th-19th.—Two men were wounded on the 18th, and two on the 19th. 2nd Lieut. Hatfield and 4 men were accidentally wounded at the Corps Trench-mortar School.
October 20th.—Major-General Mackenzie-Kennedy, commanding the 26th Division, visited the trenches and presented Military Medal ribbon to :-- Com.-Sergt.-Maj. H. J. Smith. 13970 Private F. J. Rivers. 11372 Private W. Hales. 5875 Private F. C. Carter.
A Bulgar deserter who came in today said that the Bulgar attack was made by three companies.
October 2lst.—At 1 a.m. the enemy repeated last Tuesday's attack in almost every detail. Our communications held, and the fire-control was much better, the total S.A.A. expenditure being only 700 rounds; 5 men were wounded. No trace of the enemy was to be found when our patrols went out after the shelling ceased.
October 22nd.—Another Bulgar deserter came in. The Battalion was relieved by the 7th R. Berks, and spent the night in camps of the 420 line. Every one dead beat, as it has been a strenuous time. The accuracy rather than the intensity of the shelling has been the chief annoyance. Besides dominating us from Grand Couronne, the enemy on Petit Couronne and P.5 practically enfilade us from the two flanks.
October 23rd.—Marched to Mihalova, and relieved the 11th Worcesters in Corps Reserve.
October 24th-November 7th.—At Mihalova, training and supplying large parties for road-making. Weather much colder, and leather jerkins very welcome. Silver Medal of the Serbian order of the White Eagle has been awarded to 14373 Private A. W. Johnson and 16782 Private E. T. Hill for gallantry on Horseshoe.
November 8th.—The Battalion marched to Rates, exchanging camp with the 7th R. Berks, but still in Corps Reserve.
November 9th-14th.—This period was spent in making winter quarters with sand-bag walls and corrugated iron roofs. Braziers and a certain amount of charcoal have been issued.
November 15th.—Relieved the 11th Worcesters in Doldzeli trenches, which are in a very wet and bad condition.
November 16th.—Received news that regular leave to England has been opened, though only one officer and 7 men will go with the first party.
November 17th-22nd.—In Doldzeli trenches. Enemy artillery active day and night. Our men busy repairing trenches, wiring, etc. Patrols constantly out at night; 6 men were wounded on the 18th; 1 killed and 3 wounded on the 19th; 3 killed and 14 wounded between the 20th and 22nd. A draft of 53 men joined from England.
November 23rd.—Three Bulgar deserters came in—the usual story of not being true Bulgars. The Battalion was relieved by the 7th R. Berks. Four men wounded.
November 24th-December 8th.—Camps have been much improved, and the whole Battalion is now in weatherproof shelters. Most of the time now occupied in digging and in work on winter shelters. Drafts of 15 and 38 men arrived from England.
December 9th.—The Battalion relieved the 9th Gloucesters in Doldzeli trenches. Weather better, and trenches much improved.
December 10th-16th.—In trenches. Enemy artillery less active, except on the 13th, when the whole Sector was heavily shelled. Work chiefly on improvement of wire. During this period we had 1 man killed and 3 men wounded.
December 17th.—Captain G. B. Martin was presented with his Military Cross ribbon by Brigadier-General J. Duncan. The Battalion was relieved by the 7th Berks, and moved to Rates, in Corps Reserve.
December 18th-23rd.—The whole Battalion in one camp at Bald Hill. The men had their first hot bath since May in the new baths just finished by the R.E. A good deal of training is now being done; 150 men for road-making daily.
December 25th.—Cold, but fine. After Church Parade C and D Companies played an exciting game of football, which ended in a draw. Every one had an excellent Christmas dinner, including a liberal allowance of plum pudding provided by the "Daily Telegraph" and "Daily News," and the day was brought to a close with a most successful camp-fire concert.
December 26th.—Relieved the 8th R. Scots Fusiliers in Horseshoe Sector, which is now lettered E, Doldzeli being D, and the other Battalion Sectors in our Corps front being lettered A, B, C. Dispositions : Battalion H.Q. at the foot of the south slope of Pillar Hill; D and A Companies in the trenches; C in support at Kidney Hill; B in reserve with Battalion H.Q.
December 30th.—2nd Lieut. Thursfield was badly wounded in the neck while in charge of a working party on the new fire-trench which will link up the Doldzeli and Horseshoe Sectors. The defences in these parts are hopelessly inadequate at present; for instance, against an enemy attacking from P.5 we have fire-bays for not more than 20 men. To put matters right on this sector would require 500 men continuously at work for two months. The Bulgar, however, does not show much inclination for further offensive action, and it is thought that, having reconquered the Dobrudja and Macedonia, he is quite content to hang on to what he has got. With this in view, he has strengthened his naturally strong positions with every possible device suggested by German engineers and German gunners.
1917. January 3rd.—We remained in the Horseshoe Sector until today, when we were relieved by the 7th R. Berks, after a quiet tour, during which we had 3 men killed and 4 wounded. On relief, the Battalion moved into Brigade Reserve; C, B, and D Companies at our old camps in Commandant Sector; A (reserve) under canvas halfway between Cugunci and Table.
January 4th-11th.—Spent in Commandant Camps, the men being employed principally in digging, at which they work for eight hours a day. A working party of 100 are road-making with the 8th Battalion of the Regiment, and another 100 are undergoing training. We are well supplied now with commodities from the Expeditionary Force Canteen, and the beer supply is also fairly regular.
January 12th-19th.—In the trenches of Horseshoe Sector. Little activity, but weather disagreeable, with a strong and icy wind.
January 19th.—A Bulgar deserter came in. On relief, the Battalion returned to Commandant Camps.
January 20th.—The Commander-in-Chief visited Battalion H.Q. and presented Lieut. G. C. Miller with the Military Cross ribbon. D Company supplied a very smart guard of honour.
January 2lst-26th.—Usual work and training.
January 21th-February 4th.—In Horseshoe trenches again. Patrols reconnoitred P.5, and on the evening of the 3rd 2nd Lieut. C. P. Ker took out about 12 men of A Company with the object of reaching P.5 before the Bulgars did so. Unfortunately he was delayed and arrived a little too late, for as he approached the enemy wire he had a very warm reception from bombs and rifle-fire, which make it impossible to rush the gap in the wire. Ker was wounded in the thigh, and Sergeant Birmingham was slightly wounded. Casualties during this tour.—1 officer and 5 men wounded.
February 5th-9th.—Commandant Camps. Usual work. Information received that in the New Year's Gazette Lieut.-Colonel A. T. Robinson was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for good work in connexion with the capture of Horseshoe Hill.
February 10th.—Relieved the 7th R. Berks in D Sector (Doldzeli), the relief being much delayed by a raid being carried out by the 10th Devons, who succeeded in clearing Petit Couronne. This sector is much less pleasant than Horseshoe, and the trenches are very muddy. Our patrols were active during the tour, which terminated on the 17th, and we had 5 men wounded.
February 18th.—On relief, went into Brigade Reserve (420 Sector), and remained there until the 26th, when the Battalion returned to D Sector.
February 27th.—The German aeroplane squadron of 23 aeroplanes, known as "Richthofen's Travelling Circus," was much in evidence, doing a certain amount of damage to transport lines, etc. Our aeroplanes cannot compete with them at present.
February 28th.—The enemy shelled us heavily yesterday and today. This evening 2nd Lieut. H. Eccles was killed by a large piece of shell which hit him in the throat. He had just set his working party to their tasks of clearing Doldzeli Avenue, our main communication trench, when he was hit. These working parties always have a man on the look-out for flashes from the guns opposite, and he gives warning by blowing a whistle. It is probable that Eccles did not hear the warning, as no one else was hit. Stukeley patrolled towards Hill 380, but the snow, which had been falling for about four hours, made it impossible to get near the enemy wire.
March 1st-6th.—The snow and wind played havoc with the trenches, which became completely blocked, and in most places the only cover for the men was behind the parados, the tops of which were three feet above the ground level. These were used as breastworks, and the men behind them were well-nigh frozen; a curtain of icicles hung from the rim of their helmets, and their greatcoats were frozen stiff. It took three days to make the trenches tenable again, but they were not put in proper order for two or three months, the weight of the snow having broken down trench walls and parados in every direction. During this tour four men of the Battalion were wounded.
March 7th.—Relieved by the 11th Worcesters, and moved into winter shelters and tents at Cugunci. A draft of 7 men joined from the base.
March 8th-13th.—This period was spent chiefly in training in trench-to-trench attack. The weather was intensely cold and windy, and it was very difficult to work up much enthusiasm.
March 14th-16th.—Back again to D Sector trenches. Weather wet and cold with some snow.
March 17th.—From 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. the enemy bombarded our trenches from Doiran to Horseshoe very heavily. From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. they delivered five minute bursts of rapid fire twice every hour. From 5 p.m. till dark the continuous bombardment was resumed. The comparative inaccuracy and obvious lack of definite purpose in the shooting were most unusual, and we concluded that the whole thing was more a spectacular shoot than a bombardment preliminary to an attack, for we had heard that Prince Boris, the Bulgarian heir apparent, was visiting Grand Couronne that day. We had one man killed and one wounded. Later we learned that the whole of the British front was similarly bombarded.
March 19th.—The 22nd Division relieved our Brigade in D and E Sectors. We handed over to the 8th K.S.L.I., and took over camps in Pearse Ravine from the 79th Infantry Brigade, whom our Brigade relieved in C Sector (Tortue). This meant a vast amount of movement during the night, and we were not in our new camps until 4 a.m.
March 20th-23rd.—In fairly good camps in Pearse Ravine, which is situated between Hill 420 and La Tortue. The only drawback was that there were several batteries in the ravine, and these drew enemy fire. We were shelled a good deal, twice with gas shells, and, consequently, box respirators were issued. We are working on a new communication trench (about a mile long) leading to Senelle Ravine, to enable foot traffic to avoid the Vladaja Ravine. Other similar trenches are being dug to converge on B and C Sectors. The Bulgars must be wondering what we are doing, knowing that we have managed to do without these trenches for the past seven months.
March 24th.—The Battalion relieved the 7th R. Berks in the right half of C Sector, of which the greater part of the trenches are on the northern slopes of the big round-topped hill known as La Tortue, very appropriately named from its resemblance to a tortoise. These slopes are very convex, and in places fall almost precipitously into Jumeaux Ravine, though the slopes on the opposite side of the ravine, i.e., up the Petit Couronne, are even steeper. Petit Couronne is the end of a long ridge running out to the south-east from Grand Couronne, and forms a very strong natural bastion which is the key of the eastern half of the outer defences of Grand Couronne. The distance from our line to the Bulgar line on Petit Couronne varies from 350 to 900 yards as the crow flies, but the intervening ground drops 300 feet to the bed of the ravine.
March 25th-April 7th.—All platoon commanders took out patrols at different times into the Jumeaux Ravine, with the object of familiarizing as many officers and men as possible with the best points for crossing the ravine. During the first few mornings Bulgar snipers showed a good deal of activity, especially when we were standing-to, but Ker organized retaliation shoots with Lewis-guns, and soon persuaded the Bulgars that the game was not worthwhile. Casualties.—2 men killed and 8 wounded.
April 7th-12th.—On relief the Battalion returned to Pearse Ravine and remained there until the 12th, suffering somewhat from shell-fire, probably intended for our batteries close by. Two men were wounded. This period was spent in training for the coming offensive. We did six hours by day, and one hour each night was given to the movement of the Battalion across ravines.
April 13th.-C Sector.- Relieved 7th R. Berks in the right sub-sector of C Sector.
April l4th-20th.—Preparations for the offensive are proceeding vigorously, and many batteries are now in position on the southern slopes of La Tortue. Battalion H.Q. at Bude Camp have been shelled a good deal in consequence. Every night we have sent a patrol into Jumeaux Ravine, for the double purpose of protection and reconnaissance. The Bulgars seem to patrol very rarely, relying for warning of attack on a very liberal use of Very lights. Enemy trench mortars on Petit Couronne annoy us more than ever, whereas our trench-mortars fire scarcely at all. We now know the general scheme of attack, which is briefly as follows :-- After three days' preliminary bombardment the 26th and 22nd Divisions will assault at night the enemy's front line from Lake Doiran to the Pip Ridge inclusive. Three battalions of the 79th Brigade will attack from the Lake to Petit Couronne inclusive; while, farther west, two battalions (7th R. Berks and 11th Worcesters) of the 78th Brigade will attack trenches opposite 0.5 to 0.6 ; C and D Companies of the 7th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry to carry ammunition and tools for the 7th R. Berks and the 11th Worcesters respectively. The remainder of the Battalion to be in Brigade Reserve. On the 17th two large drafts (total 195 men) joined the Battalion from the Base. Most of the men are old casualties of the Battalion, and have been employed with entrenching battalions pending rejoining.
April 21st.—The first day of our bombardment. The wire-cutting batteries did good work. The enemy's aeroplanes were very active, and his artillery retaliated heavily throughout the day, doing a lot of damage to our trenches.
April 22nd.—Second day of preliminary bombardment. Our artillery rehearsed its barrages for the various phases of the attack and subsequent consolidation.- We infantry very much questioned the wisdom of this rehearsal, for it showed the enemy the stages and limit of our intended advance. The enemy's retaliation continued, and his aeroplanes came over and bombed our batteries immediately south of La Tortue, but without doing much damage. During the night enemy searchlights were very actively used.
April 23rd.—Third day of preliminary bombardment. The continuous fire of our guns during the night has made it impossible for the enemy to repair the gaps made in his wire, and his trenches are very much knocked about. The bombing squadron came over again today, but did little 'damage.
April 24th.—The artillery duel continued, and our trenches suffered considerably. One of the greatest troubles is the laying of the telephone wires. Owing to the rocky nature of the hill it has not been possible to dig special cable trenches, and, consequently, we have had to fix the wires to the rocky sides of the trenches with staples. One of our communication trenches has no fewer than forty telephone wires running up it. The staples are constantly coming out, and it will be surprising if signal communication lasts long after the attack begins.
ATTACK OF THE XIITH CORPS ON 24TH/25TH APRIL. The enemy steadily bombarded our trenches all day. About dusk there was a lull, followed by a bombardment, which reached its maximum just as our assaulting troops were leaving the trenches.
C and D Companies of the Battalion (with. No. 4 Platoon of A Company attached to C) carrying bombs, barbed wire, iron screw pickets, and tools, left our trenches at 9 p.m., and followed the reserve companies of the 7th R. Berks and 11th Worcesters respectively. The objectives of these two battalions were, firstly, the Bulgar trenches opposite 0.5 to 0.6, and secondly his trenches behind.
When C Company (Durno-Steele), less No. 12 Platoon, which was carrying for the R.E., reached the junction of Hand 2 and 5 Ravines, they found that the right company of the 7th R. Berks had been checked by the barrage in the Jumeaux Ravine.
Meanwhile the other two assaulting companies of the 7th R. Berks and 11th Worcesters had gained the greater part of their first objective, as well as part of their second objective. And the Medical Officer of the 7th R. Berks had established his dressing-station in Mortar Ravine.
The Bulgars counter-attacked very heavily, but until midnight we were able to hold the ground we had gained. Things now became critical, as the two companies of the 7th R. Berks had suffered heavy casualties and had lost all their officers.
Two platoons of D Company, under Pickford, were sent up to help a party of the Worcesters under Pearson, (Captain F. S. Pearson joined the 7th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry from the 3rd Dorsets, 4th April 1917, and was transferred a week later to the 11th Worcesters) while Stevenson did most useful work with the other two platoons, making three journeys back to Exeter Ravine for further supplies of bombs.
Eventually (about 2 a.m.) Pearson had to withdraw, as the Bulgars had counter attacked in such force and with such vigour that gradually all our men were pushed back into the Jumeaux Ravine, and he was in danger of being surrounded. Pickford, although badly wounded, refused to be carried away, as the situation was so critical, and every available man was needed in the line. He was last seen doing what he could to cheer on his men.
Durno-Steele did all he could to relieve the situation on the right, but not being allowed to take his company into the actual fight, he himself went back to our trenches for further orders, as three runners sent for that purpose had all failed to return. At 4 a.m. he was ordered to withdraw, and brought his company back, with all that was left of the loads they had carried out.
On the extreme right the 79th Infantry Brigade had failed to establish themselves in 0.1, 0.2, and 0.3, while the 10th Devons, after having their two leading companies almost completely wiped out by shell fire in the Jumeaux Ravine, captured 0.4, the easternmost of the two bumps of Petit Couronne.
At 1.30a.m. an orderly reached our trenches with the following message :-- "To 79th Brigade. Either keep 0.5 under continual bombardment or get 78th Brigade to take it. I am unable to take it, having entirely lost two companies, and with heavy casualties among remainder. Send S.A.A. and grenades most urgently to 0.4. " T. N. Howard, Lieut.-Colonel 10th Devons. 11.35 p.m."
This message was at once transmitted to our Brigade, who ordered us to send two platoons with the ammunition asked for. Hutchins and E. L. D. Robinson were sent with their platoons to 0.4.
Hutchins, in his endeavour to locate the 10th Devons, got actually into the trenches on the north side of 0.4, but found neither the Devons nor the Bulgars. Returning about 4 a.m. he met Colonel Howard, who had in the meantime received orders from his Brigade to evacuate the hill.
April 25th.—As dawn broke all who could walk were back in our old lines, and thus ended the attack of the 26th Division. Not an inch of ground had been gained, and the casualties in the two brigades engaged amounted to 81 officers and 2,200 men. On our left flank the 22nd Division had made good the general line of their objectives from Hill 380 to P.4.
The chief reasons for the failure were the preparedness of the Bulgars, the inadequate force employed in comparison with the strength of the enemy reserves, the great difficulty of the ground, rendered the more difficult by the darkness, and, lastly, the impossibility of keeping our men supplied with bombs and ammunition. It would seem that the Bulgars were kept well informed of our plans, for, a month before the attack, its general outline was common gossip in Flocas, the most popular restaurant in Salonika. After the attack persistent rumours stated that the Bulgars, by means of their listening apparatus, discovered the actual date and time of our assault.' Certainly it was a strange thing that their barrage fire became intense just as our assaulting troops were leaving their trenches.
It is evident that the Bulgars completely outnumbered our people, and were quite confident in the strength of their position, greeting our men with shouts of "Come on, Johnny!"
After the armistice a Bulgar officer, who was attached as liaison officer to Colonel Villiers-Stuart, British Military Representative in Sofia, said that his people with their listening sets could hear practically everything spoken over the telephone on our front, and that during the last months of the war this had been his particular job opposite us. He was quite familiar with the gossip of our Battalion, and knew all about our pantomime, our football prospects, and so on, from hearing our telephone operators chatting to each other at night when things were quiet.
During the last year of the campaign screen buzzers were installed in our front line, but the Bulgar officer said that a German operator invented a method of neutralizing their effect.
The casualties in the Battalion were as follows :-- Killed, or Died of Wounds. 2nd Lieut. H. T. R. Pickford (at first reported wounded and missing). And one Other Rank.
Wounded. Captain J. S. Stevenson, M.C. And 68 Other Ranks.
Missing. 10 Other Ranks. Of these ten missing eight are presumed to have been killed, as the Bulgars captured only two men of the Battalion, both wounded (one blinded),—ed,
Total Casualties. 81 of All Ranks.
We are now holding the whole of C Sector (Tortue) with A and B Companies; C and D are back in Tortoise Camp. A good deal of shelling during the latter part of the day. Some of our stretcher bearers have helped, during daylight, to bring in wounded from Jumeaux Ravine, the Bulgars, as usual, rigidly respecting the Red Cross. All bodies have been cleared from the trenches, but none of our missing have come in. It is quite easy to see the trenches begun by our Brigade on the line of the final objective.
CAPTAIN C. A. SALVESEN'S ACCOUNT OF THE ATTACK. On the night of 24th April the first general attack on the Bulgar positions on the Doiran front was made. Briefly, the first intention was to seize the Bulgar front line position, which ran along the bottom of a hill known to the army as Grand Couronne, and a ridge, running north and south, known as Hill 535. This Bulgar position included the hill Petit Couronne, the real key to the whole Bulgar front-line position, as well as the key to the town of Doiran. Again briefly, the position was to be attacked by two Divisions, the 26th on the right and the 22nd on the left. The 26th Division sent two brigades to the attack on the frontage from Lake Doiran to Petit Couronne inclusive, and the 22nd Division sent one brigade on the frontage from Petit Couronne exclusive to Krastali (a village on the western slope of the ridge) Hill 535 exclusive.
The attack of the 22nd Division was successful, and was carried out with insignificant losses. That of the 26th Division failed, but this account will be confined to the part played by the 78th Infantry Brigade, and more especially the 7th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry.
The 78th Infantry Brigade was ordered to attack and hold the Bulgar position from Petit Couronne (exclusive) westwards to the point of junction with the 22nd Division. A battalion of the 79th Infantry Brigade—the 10th Devons—attacked Petit Couronne. Roughly, the frontage to be attacked was about 800 yards long, there being two battalions in the attack, one in close support. Our Battalion was employed thus: (1) one company garrisoning our own trenches, with all available Lewis and machine guns; (2) one company in general reserve; (3) two companies providing carrying parties. It will be easier to follow each of these three separately, reversing the above order in their treatment.
The two companies employed as carrying parties were detailed one to each battalion in the attack. They were intended to carry water, wiring material, tools, and ammunition. By the time these carrying parties went over the top the enemy barrage had reached its heaviest. The behaviour of these two companies was magnificent, and they carried out their work in splendid style. However, casualties were so heavy in the leading battalions that the materials taken out were not required, and those two companies were committed to the attack in support of the two leading battalions. It was only when the general withdrawal and the abandonment of the attack were ordered that these two companies returned.
The company in general reserve (B Company—my own) received orders about midnight to take out as much ammunition and as many bombs as possible to the 10th Devons, who were attacking Petit Couronne. Every man carried 500 rounds of S.A.A. in a sandbag, or 18 Mills grenades. In this way, by keeping to the open, and avoiding tracks and nullahs, 20,000 rounds of S.A.A. and 450 bombs were taken out to the 10th Devons, only four men being wounded on the way out. The journey out from the company's camp to Petit Couronne took over an hour and a half, owing to the roughness and steepness of the ground, the darkness of the night, and the added darkness produced by smoke.
By 2 o'clock in the morning the whole company was out on Petit Couronne, each man with his load. But the order to withdraw had already been sent to the 10th Devons, and the company had to return. Every man, in spite of the heavy artillery fire, the extreme difficulty of the ground, and the heavy weight of his load, returned and handed in everything complete. That there were only four casualties in the company of approximately 100 men during this journey in No Man's Land led to the decision as to the direction and way that our Battalion should take when sent to attack Petit Couronne on the night of 8th/9th May.
The remaining company which garrisoned our own trenches was not moved, and was wonderfully fortunate in escaping casualties.
Major Wheeler's Diary continued. April 26th.—A few more wounded were recovered from the ravine during the night. The Bulgars are still very nervy. The following letter from Brigadier-General J. Duncan, C.M.G., D.S.O., commanding the 78th Infantry Brigade, was received :-- "To O.C. 7th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. Please convey to all ranks who took part in the operations on the night of the 24th/25th April 1917 my appreciation of their gallant and steady conduct. The manner in which they carried out their duties was admirable, and was of the utmost assistance to the two attacking battalions."
April 27th.—The 9th Gloucesters took over the left half of C Sector, and C and D companies relieved A and B. A good deal of artillery activity on both sides.
April 28th.—Quiet day, except for intense artillery activity during evening stand-to.
April 29th.—Three patrols to different parts of Jumeaux Ravine returned with nothing unusual to report. A draft of 90 men arrived.
April 30th.—Lieut.-Colonel Robinson rejoined from leave and resumed command of the Battalion.
May 1st.—The 7th South Wales Borderers (22nd Division) took over the left half of C Sector.
May 2nd-3rd.—Salvesen and Miller reconnoitred crossing places in Jumeaux Ravine. The Bulgar artillery has been busy trying to knock out a wire-cutting battery which is 150 yards from our Battalion H.Q.. As there is only one bomb-proof for the whole of the H.Q. the camp had to be evacuated.
May 4th.—The Battalion was relieved by the 7th R. Berks, and went into bivouac half a mile south of Vladaja. Everybody is very stale, as we have been in the trenches for the last six weeks except for a break of six days.
May 5th-6th.—Vladaja village is in ruins, and although there are many large shell holes quite near, we are in a delightfully snug and quiet camp. Our bivouacs are dotted about in vineyards and mulberry groves; a good stream, running down into the Vladaja Ravine, enables the men to wash once more; the weather is perfect; a blaze of flowers covers the countryside; and nightingales and cuckoos make our temporary resting-place quite idyllic. Were it not for the guns and the obvious preparations for another offensive we might think ourselves at peace.
Each night we rehearsed the advance across ravines, then the assault and consolidation. Twenty per cent were told off to fall out as casualties, and so the make-believe went on. There was something grim about it all, for as we marched back there were few whose thoughts did not wander to the Jumeaux Ravine, which at that very moment the Bulgar was lighting up with his flares and turning into an inferno with his trench-mortars and heavies. Some there were who thought that our imagination might have gone further by practising the consolidation with ninety per cent, of the officers and N.C.O.'s imaginary casualties instead of twenty per cent.
After voluntary Church Parade on Sunday the C.O. had a powwow of company commanders, and gave the general outline of the attack that our Division is to make during the coming week. Brigadier-General Duncan addressed a parade of officers and N.C.O.'s and wished us good luck. He presented medal ribbons to those who had won them at Horseshoe, and subsequently he handed over the command of the Brigade to Colonel Howard (10th Devons), as he had been appointed to the command of the 22nd Division.
SECOND ATTACK ON THE DOIRAN FRONT. 8TH/9TH MAY 1917. The following is Captain C. A. Salvesen's account:-- On 3rd May, after doing twenty-three days on end in the frontline trenches, and being through the attack of 24th/25th April, the Battalion was relieved and went back two miles to a camp near Vladaja village. Although no definite information that a fresh attack was to be made was given, it was easy enough to anticipate and make the necessary preparations.
On 6th May company commanders were given their orders.
On 7th May the Battalion moved up to the front line again, taking over a short sub-section for the night.
May 8th was spent in making all the necessary final preparations.
Briefly, the plan of attack was that A and B Companies should form the assaulting waves, A Company being on the right, B Company on the left and directing, C Company in support behind B Company, and D Company in reserve. With this latter company came Royal Engineers, pioneers (for wiring), machine-gunners, etc.
The first objective was the Bulgar frontline position on the eastern and higher summit of the hill known as Petit Couronne. That line was to be taken and held, and then the Bulgar support line on the same hill. After the capture and consolidation of these two lines, the Battalion was to wheel to the left and capture the lower summit of Petit Couronne. This latter objective was subsequently allotted to another battalion, which at the eleventh hour was ordered out. The Bulgar position was roughly circular, one half of the perimeter forming the front line, the other half the support line. Communicating trenches ran back across the summit as chords to the circle, with an observation-post (entered by a tunnel from the reverse slope) near the centre of the circle. This gives a rough idea of the Bulgar trench position, but the great strength of it lay in its topographical situation. The position was on the higher mound of the hill Petit Couronne, which was separated from the hill on which the British line lay by a very deep ravine called the Jumeaux Ravine. Although the trenches of the two positions were only 600 yards apart as the crow flies, yet distance by the shortest path from the one to the other was at least 2,000 yards.
The slope of Petit Couronne is precipitous. The only way to get up is to scramble, half walk, half crawl. Large boulders crop up now and then, and the lower part of the slope is covered with thick brushwood, which can only be penetrated by the few old goat-tracks which exist. Towards the top the brushwood had been completely cleared by successive bombardments.
An hour before the Battalion moved to the attack the 77th Infantry Brigade had been launched against the Bulgar position from Petit Couronne (exclusive) to Lake Doiran. Action by the Battalion was intended to be dependent on the success met with by the 77th Brigade. The 77th Brigade were not successful either at first or ultimately, but the Battalion was moved to the attack as previously decided.
At 10.15p.m. A and B Companies moved out of their camp area, and at 10.30 p.m. the heads of these columns were moving out of the trenches. The companies went by different routes; both had to pass out by one gap, and so had to move in single file. A Company went out well to the right, and doubled, by an almost precipitous track, down into a very steep but dry ravine, which ran between their position and that of the enemy. This was crossed, and the ascent of the other side begun. B Company went out by a gap on the left and doubled down, through thick brushwood, by a track made and used previously by the Bulgars. This track was the only possible way of going through the undergrowth. During the whole time the company was passing through this gap the enemy kept up a slow barrage-fire with shrapnel. It was miraculous that only one casualty—and he the first man to move out—should have occurred. C Company followed B Company by the same track; D Company went out by a route close to, and parallel to, the route taken by A Company.
The intention was to assault the Bulgar position five minutes before midnight after an intense bombardment of ten minutes. Shortly before the time of assault the Bulgars started dropping heavy trench-mortar shells amongst the two companies who were now formed up. One shell wounded the second in command of the Battalion (who was in charge of the assault) and both commanders of the leading companies.
Casualties continued to be regular and fairly heavy during the wait for our bombardment to lift. Punctually to time the bombardment lifted, and the first position was taken with comparative ease and little fighting. For ten minutes the artillery played on the Bulgar support line and the companies moved to the attack again. During the second wait of ten minutes the Bulgar barrage of heavy, medium, and light trench-mortars, and of artillery of calibres up to 8-inch guns, descended on the captured line. Casualties then became very severe. From the left the Bulgars made several determined bombing counter-attacks along a communication trench. These attacks were safely held, but the company on the left (B) was so badly knocked about during these ten minutes that C Company (in support) had to be pushed in as well.
When the attack on the Bulgar support line was launched, the casualties in A, B, and C Companies had reached well over 40 per cent, of their original strength, and only three officers out of twelve were able to go on. D Company had been moved up into close support and suffered heavy casualties also. The attack on the Bulgar support line was successful on the right, but on the left no more than a temporary footing was ever gained. This gain could not be held. Bulgar counter-attacks drove the Battalion back, and a stand was made in the old Bulgar front line.
From 12.10 a.m. until five in the morning the Battalion held to this position, throwing back five or six determined Bulgar counter-attacks. By this time the division of the Battalion into companies had automatically come to an end, as there remained only between 60 and 70 men fit to carry arms, and all officers and a very large proportion of N.C.O.'s had become casualties. At 5 a.m. three companies of another battalion (7th Berks) were sent to attack the Bulgar support line. This attempt broke down almost immediately—due to the very determined counter-attack by the Bulgars.
At 7 a.m. the Commanding Officer (Lieut.-Colonel Robinson), being unable to obtain accurate information of the situation, arrived on the scene, and found that all the officers had become casualties.
At 9 a.m. orders came for our Battalion to withdraw, while the Berkshires hung on. Colonel Robinson, however, declined to withdraw until it was beyond doubt that the Berkshires could not make good and hold the position. Shortly after 9 a.m. the Colonel was hit—a wound from which he subsequently died.
Just after Colonel Robinson had been taken off the field, orders again came for our Battalion to withdraw, and the withdrawal, which was organized by the Berkshires (no officer of our Battalion being left), was slowly carried out by the few survivors, our last party leaving the hill about 4 p.m.
Magnificent work was done by the R.A.M.C. and battalion stretcher-bearers in removing the wounded.
The action was of short duration, but the casualties were extraordinarily heavy. The Battalion went into the attack about 600 strong. The casualties numbered (roughly) 487 N.C.O's and men and all the 17 officers. Only two of the missing have been heard of as wounded and prisoners of war, and over twenty-five per cent, of the casualties were posted as "missing," which speaks volumes for the behaviour of the men and their determination to succeed.
Major Wheeler's Diary continued. May 7th.—The day was spent in getting rid of superfluous kit. After dusk we relieved the 7th Berks in the right half of C Sector, B and C Companies going to Torquay, A, D, and Battalion H.Q. to Tortoise, Elbow, and Bude Camps respectively. Much artillery activity. Lieut. N. J. Peirson and 4 men were wounded during the relief.
May 8th,—The day was spent resting and making the last preparation for the attack. While everybody realized the seriousness of our particular task, there was a marked spirit of confidence throughout the Battalion. After tea, during the wait till dusk, two of the companies had impromptu sing-songs. By 9 p.m. the whole Battalion was in position of assembly in Torquay Camp. While Lieut. C. P. Baker and a few men were making the necessary gaps in our wire, the 77th Brigade began their attack on 0.1, 0.2, 0.3 which formed about 1,000 yards of trench connecting the southeast face of Petit Couronne with Lake Doiran. No Man's Land was here comparatively flat, with an occasional short, deep ravine, which made progress difficult. Originally it was the intention only to attack Petit Couronne, if the attack of the 77th Brigade was successful. The 12th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were the centre of the three attacking battalions, and they actually reached their final objective. Owing, however, to difficulty with the wire and very heavy machine-gun fire, the two flank battalions were unsuccessful, and the centre had to fall back, so that by 2 a.m. the Bulgar was able to concentrate on the defence of Petit Couronne.
While waiting in Torquay Camp a few lachrymatory gas shells fell in the camp and caused a good deal of inconvenience. Had they been put into Jumeaux Ravine our crossing would have been almost impossible, as it would have been appallingly difficult to climb the slope of Petit Couronne more or less blindfolded. Actually, the crossing was effected very quickly and with very few casualties. This was due to the good reconnaissance and organization of company officers. The Bulgar was manifestly uneasy, and was steadily shelling Dorset Ravine and the Jumeaux between us and the Black Watch—the left battalion of the 77th Brigade.
About 11.30 p.m., as A and B Companies were getting into wave formation, the enemy opened fire with his trench-mortars. Major A. D. Homan (commanding the assaulting companies), Captain C. A. Salvesen (B Company), Captain G. C. Miller (A Company), and Company-Sergeant-Major Smith were all seriously wounded. 2nd Lieut. H. J. Hodges (C Company) soon afterwards was incapacitated, thus leaving only six officers with A, B, and C Companies. After consultation with Lieut. White, artillery liaison officer, Lieut. C. P. Ker signalled back at 11.40 p.m. asking that our barrage might lift as soon as possible, as no good could result from having to wait. This, however, could not be arranged.
Except for one 6-inch gun which appeared to be firing erratically, our barrage was very accurate, so that our first wave was able to creep within about 20 yards of the enemy's trench before assaulting. The wire was no obstacle at all, and our first wave had no difficulty in disposing of the few Bulgars still in Z.27 and Z.28. These were brave men, as the fire-trench had almost disappeared, our shell-fire during the last month having destroyed it completely. Nowhere was the trench more than 3 ft. deep, and its width had grown to 8 ft., while all its dug-outs had their entrances choked with debris.
Our bombers pushed out along our flanks, and the first wave of B Company manned the parados preparatory to forming for the advance to Z.33 and Z.34. A very heavy enemy barrage now began, and, during the enforced 20 minutes' wait before our barrage lifted from the second objective, B Company suffered very severely. 2nd Lieut. A. W. Kelly had been badly wounded in the leg just before the assault, and 2nd Lieut. C. A. Hutchins, the only officer remaining with the company, was wounded and partially buried during this wait. 2nd Lieut. W. Garland (C Company) now took command of B Company, bringing up a platoon of C on B's left.
At 12.40 a.m. the second assault took place, A Company gaining its second objective (the support trench Y.9-Y.10, on the northern slope of the hill) without much difficulty. B Company, on the other hand, was held up by the very heavy barrage between them and their second objective, and although Captain F. A. Durno-Steele (commanding C Company) and 2nd Lieut. W. Garland both behaved magnificently, B and C Companies together were unable to remain on this second objective, being literally blown back by the fire concentrated on the 80 yards of trench. Steele suffering from two wounds, improvised a tourniquet for his thigh, and carried on until he was hit a third time and fell. Garland was last seen near the junction of Z.33 and Z.34 helping to bomb back a counterattack. (This phase of the fight has been very difficult to reconstruct, as no officers and very few N.C.O.'s or men survived.—C. W.)
Meanwhile D Company (the reserve company), who had been originally detailed to carry up S.A. ammunition and bombs, having deposited its loads at Green Pan, a natural hollow on the south-east slope of the hill, reached advanced H.Q., about 80 yards south of the junction of Z.27 and Z.28, Major C. Wheeler, its commander, now assuming command of the attacking companies.
Communication had been established, by electric torch, with Lieut.-Colonel Robinson, at Rockley Observation Post, and with the 115th Brigade, R.F.A., at C.6, but it was impossible to send back any very definite information.
A Company, it will be remembered, had captured its second objective, and here the company (under Lieut. C. P. Baker and 2nd Lieut. A. T. W. Stukeley) had firmly established themselves. They had beaten off a counter-attack of about 200 Bulgars coming from Deep Ravine, but now, owing to the failure on their left, they found themselves in danger. The hill fell away sharply to 0.3 on their right, and as a Lewis-gun from D Company had been sent to protect this flank, they would have held their ground quite easily but for the exposed left flank. Lieut. W. Hyslop, 2nd Lieut. L. F. Bishop, and Sergeant Hudson were all sent up by Major Wheeler to ascertain the state of affairs. All three were wounded, but Hudson struggled back with the information that the situation was critical.
2nd Lieut. C. A. Hutchins, who had been knocked out earlier in the fight, had now recovered sufficiently to take command of B and C Companies.
Further reports that the 6-inch gun referred to above was again firing into our left flank were confirmed by shouts from the men, who began to fall back on the left. The "lengthen barrage" signal had to be put up to save disaster, and although Lieut. White signalled to C.6 explaining the reason, the whole affair was most unfortunate, for at that moment the Bulgar must have been concentrating for the counter-attack which came about 1.30 a.m., just as the two platoons of the 8th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry were preparing to wire in front of the ground captured. Instead of wiring they and D Company had to be thrown into the fight, and two more attempts were made to regain the top of 0.4.
The Bulgars now had the advantage of the high ground, and, as our only available officers and most of the N.C.O.'s were wounded, it was decided that we should hold the fire trench Z.26, Z.27, Z.28 until the 7th R. Berks, due at 3.30 a.m., should arrive. A Company had done splendidly, and only conformed to the failure on their left when Lieut. C. P. Baker and all his sergeants were out of action. Baker's end is uncertain, but it is thought that he was killed while trying to gain touch with B Company on his left.
The enemy should now have pushed us off the hill, as our men had to stand up to fire, owing to the convexity of the slope. They contented themselves, however, with barraging the Jumeaux Ravine, so that our lamp communication was obscured by smoke for more than an hour. Reorganization was very difficult, for, although the slope gave us protection from artillery fire, we were under constant fire of bomb and trench-mortar. The night was a dark one, and, with blackened faces and no easily recognizable marks on officers or N.C.O.'s, it was almost impossible to distinguish anyone.
Whateley and his sections of the 78th Machine-gun Company gave most valuable assistance in looking after our left flank, which otherwise would have been very much in the air. It was a great relief when Major Gillespie arrived with two companies of the 7th R. Berks at about 3.20 a.m., and it was then decided that the remnants of our companies should remain where they were, with the R. Berks companies about 80 yards down the slope. Then, if we could arrange matters with our artillery, we would make a joint attack from south and east, with the object of recapturing 0.4.
About 4.15 a.m. Lieut.-Colonel A. P. Dene (O.C. R. Berks) arrived and took command. About 5 a.m. the joint assault was launched and gained its objective, but only to lose it again very shortly afterwards. It would seem that we met a Bulgar party preparing to counter-attack from Y.12 and Z.35. Major Gillespie and his leading wave never came back, and trench-mortar and artillery fire eventually drove the supporting waves back to our line, just south of Z.27, Z.28.
Meanwhile Colonel Robinson joined the Battalion, and the survivors of the two battalions dug themselves in. Of the original officers the only two remaining at duty were 2nd Lieuts. Ker and Stukeley, both of whom had been wounded nine hours previously.
At 9.30 a.m. orders were received to evacuate the hill, but as there were still nearly a hundred stretcher-cases to be taken across the Jumeaux Ravine, this could not be carried out until 3 p.m. About 10 a.m. Colonel A. T. Robinson was hit in the neck by a splinter of shell. He tried to carry on, but eventually had to leave the hill. To our universal regret he and Major A. D. Homan, who had done so much to organize the attack, both died of their wounds at the Casualty Clearing Station.
So ended a magnificent effort, in which the Battalion was tried to the uttermost. All ranks behaved with extraordinary bravery, and what acts of gallantry were performed in the darkness of the night no one will ever know, but it is certain that it was only the dogged determination of the individual soldier that kept the line. '
The following stand out among the many lessons which this dearly bought experience taught :-- 1. The control of the barrage in a single battalion operation, in such very difficult ground, should be with the assaulting party. Had it been so in this case the two disastrous waits could have been avoided. Moreover, if the Jumeaux Ravine had been gassed, we should have been as late as we were early, and the barrage would have lifted before we were ready to assault.
2.The trench-mortars, which caused about sixty per cent, of our casualties, should have been dealt with as early as possible, and it would have been better to have had the two battalions assaulting together, their second objective being these trench-mortars (there were only three or four), which were not more than 200 yards away from the fire-trench.
3.The effectiveness of trench-mortars in stationary-hill warfare. They can co-operate more easily and more quickly with the infantry they are supporting, and can often search ground which even howitzers are unable to touch.
CASUALTIES. Killed or Died of Wounds. Lieut.-Colonel A. T. Robinson. Major A. D. Homan. Captain F. A. Durno-Steele. Lieut. C. P. Baker. 2nd Lieut. W. Garland. And 107 Other Ranks. It was discovered later that three of the 107 were captured. One of the three died of his wounds.-C.W.
Wounded. 2nd Lieut. L. F. Bishop. 2nd Lieut. H. J. Hodges. 2nd Lieut. C. A. Hutchins. Lieut. W. Hyslop. 2nd Lieut, A. W. Kelly. 2nd Lieut. C. P. Ker. Lieut. G. C. Miller. Captain C. A. Salvesen. 2nd Lieut. A. T. W. Stukeley. Major C. Wheeler. And 349 Other Ranks (47 of whom remained at duty).
Of the officers and other ranks of the Battalion who crossed the Jumeaux Ravine Captain J. Loftus (R.A.M.C.) and about 60 O.R. were unwounded.—C. W.
In connexion with the above operations the following complimentary letters were received by the Battalion :-- From the Commander-in-Chief, British Salonika Force. "The Lieut.-General Commanding-in-Chief has desired that his appreciation of the magnificent gallantry and of the determination to succeed on the part of the 7th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry and the 7th Royal Berkshire Regiment should be conveyed to all ranks of these battalions. The splendid example set by them is worthy of the highest commendation. 11.5.1917. P. J. Hanbury, Lieut.-Colonel, Gen. Staff, 26th Division.
From Brigadier-General J. Duncan, C.M.G., D.S.O., Commanding 22nd Division, formerly Commanding 78th Infantry Brigade. "I would like you to let all the survivors know how grieved I am at the loss of so very many gallant officers and men. "The manner in which the Battalion fought was quite magnificent —nothing could have been finer. The way they stuck to Petit Cuuronne when subjected to such a devastating fire, and in the face of such terrible losses, will always remain an example of how British soldiers can put their sense of duty before any selfish thought of personal safety. "I feel very proud at having had such a magnificent battalion under my command. "I am deeply grieved at the losses. It was sad that the ground which had been captured with such great sacrifice had to be given up, but it must be a proud remembrance that the Battalion did not retire until they had been ordered to by higher authority, although all their officers had become casualties. 12.5.17. J. Duncan, Brigadier-General, 22nd Division H.Q."
From Lieut.-Colonel T. N. Howard, D.S.O., Commanding 78th Infantry Brigade. "The Officer commanding the Brigade congratulates all ranks of the 7th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, 7th R. Berkshire Regiment, and the 78th Machine-gun Company on the plucky way in which they tackled a difficult task. He desires to express to all his sympathy with the losses sustained, and wishes the wounded a speedy recovery. He feels sure that very severe losses were inflicted on the enemy. "The manner in which the wounded were brought off Petit Couronne reflects the greatest credit on those who carried out this duty. 10th May 1917. H. Ponsonby, Captain, Brigade-Major.
The following report indicates the heavy knock inflicted on the Bulgars, and what might have happened had reserves been available to follow it up :-- 15186 Lance-Corporal J. Rolfe reports that after our attempt to recapture the high ground of 0.4 about 2.30 a.m. on 9th May, he lost touch, having apparently worked too far to the right. In Z.25 he found Private Home of his own company. They dug themselves in on the parados of the Bulgar fire-trench. Here they remained throughout Wednesday, 9th May, and all Thursday, 10th May, returning to our trenches at about 10.30 p.m. on that date. They did not receive the order to withdraw on Wednesday, and presumed, that we were holding on on the left. They did not see any of the enemy, except dead, after the morning of the 9th. On the morning of the 10th they noticed that our artillery was shelling the enemy trenches on their left, and realized that our troops must have withdrawn. They therefore withdrew to the shelter of some rocks at the head of Y Ravine, and when darkness fell they returned to C.3, which they reached at about 10.30 p.m. They saw no wounded British, but many dead. There were three dug-outs in the parapet of the trench, beyond which they took up their position. These had all been completely blown in. They heard a Bulgar shouting in Y Ravine, apparently for help, but up to the time of their withdrawal no one had been to his assistance.
From Major E. Riley's diary. May 9th.—A day of bitter memories for those who remained with the Battalion. None of those who were still in the trenches and camps on Tortue Hill will ever forget the endless stream of wounded officers and men coming back from Petit Couronne. The procession began in the early hours of the morning, and continued until darkness had fallen. At about 10 a.m. Lieut.-Colonel Robinson came down mortally wounded, supported by Father Day (a Roman Catholic padre well known throughout the Salonika Force).
Meanwhile a handful of men, consisting of the survivors of our Battalion and the 7th R. Berks, remained on Petit Couronne, holding the hill, but uncertain whether they were to be reinforced or not. At 9 a.m. a company of the 7th South Wales Borderers arrived in Torquay Camp, with Captain Dickie in command, having instructions that they were to constitute the reserve to the Petit Couronne force, and that later they would receive their orders to reinforce the small garrison. As they had spent the whole of the previous night in a raid on 0.6, N.W. of Petit Couronne; they were rather weary for a reserve force. About midday the Brigade confirmed their order that the hill was to be evacuated. The message was passed on to those who remained on the hill, and the evacuation was carried out with difficulty, as the Bulgars subjected all the ravines to a heavy artillery bombardment. At 4 p.m. the last men left the hill—a small party of our Battalion. The survivors were collected in Tortue Camps, and thence, with the exception of loading parties, were sent back in two's and three's to a reserve camp in Vladaja Ravine.
During the evening the 11th Worcestershire Regiment arrived to take over the trenches, and the remainder of our Battalion then proceeded to the Vladaja Camp.'
May 10th.—Cleaning up, sorting and counting Battalion stores, checking lists of wounded and missing, and recording the stories of the survivors while the events were still fresh in their minds. Major E. F. B. Witts, 9th Gloucestershire Regiment, reported for duty, and assumed command of the Battalion.
May 11th.—Inspections and light training. It was now found necessary to form and train new Lewis-gun teams, as practically the only surviving Lewis-gunners were the men of the nucleus teams, which had been left behind. There joined the Battalion today 25 men of the 8th Battalion and 19 of the 7th, all from the 10th Entrenching Battalion.
May 12th.—Thirty-four other ranks of the Battalion reported for duty from the Royal Berkshire Regiment, to which they had been temporarily posted a few days ago.
May 13th.—(Sunday.) A Memorial Service was held for those who had fallen during the operations of the past week. Nineteen other ranks joined for duty.
May 14th.—Training programme extended, and classes for specialists commenced.
May 15th.—The Battalion moved from Vladaja Camp to Bare Hill, Rates.
May 18th.—Battalion H.Q. and B Company moved to a camp at Pivoines.
May 20th.—Lieut.-Colonel P. Villiers-Stuart, Royal Fusiliers, joined the Battalion and took over command from Major E. F. B. Witts. The Battalion, under orders to move to the Snevce area, where the 78th Infantry Brigade relieves the 79th Independent Infantry Brigade, marched at 7.50p.m., and passing through Kilindir and Patarec, reached Moravea at 2 a.m. (21st), and bivouacked for the night and following day.
May 21st.—At 6.30 p.m. the march was resumed, and the Battalion reached the position of readiness at Ereselli at 1 a.m. (22nd) and bivouacked.
May 22nd.—In the evening the Battalion relieved the 8th D.C.L.I, in the right centre sub-section of the Snevce area. A Company on the right, with the 9th Glosters on its flank, B in the centre, C on the left, with 7th R. Berks on its flank, and D in reserve.
May 23rd-24th.—The front now held by the Battalion differs from that just left. Here British and Bulgars are established on either side of the Butkova Valley or Plain, which separates the Krusha Balkans (2,000 feet) from the Belashitza range (5,500 feet). Along this valley the Salonika-Constantinople railway runs due east from Doiran. The British trenches are on the northern slopes of the Krusha Balkans, south of the Plain, particular care being taken to guard each of the numberless deep ravines which cut their way through our lines, and constitute the sole weakness of the position. The main Bulgar lines are at the foot of the Belashitza range, north of the Plain, and their trenches are on a higher level than even the summits of the hills held by us. So, also, the whole of the Butkova Plain is dominated by the great and apparently impassable Belashitza Mountains, which rise, like a massive wall, 4,000 feet above the Plain. In this natural position of immense strength the Bulgars know that they are secure, and they know also that we are not likely to advance on to the Plain, which is a hotbed of malaria.
But they are not content to pursue an inactive policy, and they have established along the railway a line of posts quite two miles in advance of their main-line trenches, probably hoping to entrap unwary patrols and scouts. Our patrol work is very difficult, owing to the thick and high undergrowth and numerous trees and woods which cover the country in our front. Still, we are enjoying life, as the Italians left us very comfortable quarters, and the country is much more pleasing than what we have been accustomed to.
May 25th-3lst.—Nothing particular happened during the remainder of the month. Constant patrols went out to Cakli and elsewhere, and occasionally met with small parties of the enemy, but no serious engagement took place. Thanks to being in such a quiet part of the front, the Battalion is rapidly recovering from its almost overwhelming blow of the 8th/9th May. On the 31st Lieut.-Colonel P. Villiers-Stuart received the Order of Chevalier of the Legion of Honour from General Sarrail, C.-in-C. Allied Forces, at Guvezne (advanced British G.H.Q.).
June1st-6th.—The Battalion remained in the Snevce Sector.
June 7th.—On relief by the 1st K.O.Y.L.I. the Battalion marched to Moravca and bivouacked for the night.
June 8th.—Marched in the evening to Hirsova.
June 9th.—To Dache Camp, arriving at 11.30 p.m.
June 10th-30th.—The Battalion remained at Dache Camp, in Brigade Reserve, training, and digging and wiring on the U.-V. line. During the month of June 214 other ranks rejoined the Battalion from the Base, and 49 joined from the Gloster Regiment, while 15 other ranks were invalided to England, 6 were transferred to the 78th Machine-gun Company, and 3 to the 78th T.M. Battery. One man was wounded.