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A Brigadier in France 

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A Brigadier in France 

1917— 1918 

Hanway R. Gumming 

With Introductions by 

Field-Marshal Sir William Robertson, G.C.B., G.C.M.G. 

and Major-General Sir David Campbell, K.C.B. 

Jonathan Cape 

Eleven Gower Street, London 


First published 1922 
All rights reserved 

Printed in Great Britain by Butler & Tanner, Frome and London 

THE Author hopes that these personal 
experiences may be of interest to a certain 
section of the public and asks their clemency 
for any lapses in literary style which they may 
possess, as he lays no claim to such proficiency. 
Whatever merit they may have lies in the fact 
that they cover a period of great interest in 
the war, and one wherein many lessons of 
omission and commission may be learnt. 


one of the many officers who, after safely 
going through the Great War, met his death 
at the hands of the Sinn Feiners at the time 
when it was the poHcy of His Majesty's Govern- 
ment to try and restore order in Ireland by 
the application of military force. 

His devotion to duty, regard for his men, and 
soldierly qualities in general were such that, 
had not his career been cut short in the lament- 
able way just mentioned, he might soon have 
reached the higher rank of Major-General and 
been given the command of a Division. 

The narrative he left behind him descriptive 
of the doings of the brigades he commanded 
at different times on the West Front is an 
unvarnished record of achievements which 
reflect credit upon himself and the officers 



and men who served under him. Moreover It 
bears the impress of accuracy, and therefore 
should, v^^ithin its sphere, be as useful to the 
mihtary student and historian as it will be 
interesting to those who shared in the arduous 
operations described. 

December 14, 1921. 


I FIRST met Brigadier-General Hanway 
Robert Gumming, D.S.O., when he joined 
my Division to take over command of the 
iioth Brigade, vice Brigadier-General Cayley. 
Brigadier-General Gumming took over command 
on March i8, 191 8, a few days before the great 
German Offensive started. Between that time 
and the Armistice on November 11, the 21st 
Division was probably more heavily engaged 
than any other Division in the British Army 
during the same period. 

During March, the Division was in the thick 
of the Somme fighting, receiving a congratu- 
latory message from the Gommander-in-Chief 
for the work it did. 

Being transferred to the Ypres sector in 
April it then, once more, sustained the shock 
of the German attacks in that section, and 



was one of the Divisions in the line when the 
great German attack on April 29 was definitely- 
held up. For the work performed, it 
again received the congratulations of the 

Being transferred to Champagne in May, 
it took over the line on May 14, and experienced 
the full brunt of the German attack which 
was launched on May 27. Although the left 
flank was completely turned, and by the evening 
of the first day the enemy was actually occu- 
pying positions in rear of those held by our 
troops, all ranks fought with the greatest 
gallantry, and, showing the most magnificent 
discipline, maintained their positions in the 
battle zone. 

During the night May 27/28, pivoting on 
the French, the Division formed a line at 
right angles to the one they were holding the 
previous evening, and so created a ground- 
work on which other Divisions of the 9th 
Corps, who had suffered terribly in the previous 
day's fighting, were able to form. The way in 
which the troops of the 9th Corps rallied on 
May 28, after the experiences they had been 



through on May 27, was, I firmly believe, as 
fine a performance as any enacted during the 
whole war, and had a very decisive effect in 
finally bringing the Germans to a standstill. 
Leaving the Champagne in June, the Division 
was once more in the line by July 15. On 
August 21 it started, with the other units of 
the 7th Corps, on the final great 'alHed counter- 
offensive. During this period the Division 
received unstinted praise from its Corps Com- 
mander, Lieut.-General Sir C. D. Shute, a 
very hard man to satisfy, as well as congratu- 
latory messages from the C.-in-C. 

Between August 21 and November 11, the 
Division captured 114 officers, 3,758 other 
ranks, and, considering what the Division had 
been through during the previous months, this 
amply testifies to the grand spirit which per- 
vaded all ranks. I should here like to give a 
small example which further testifies to this 
magnificent spirit. 

After the Division had been heavily engaged 
with the enemy from early morning March 21 
to the evening of March 25, during which time 
rest was practically an impossibility, it was 



withdrawn from the line during the night of 
March 25/26. 

It was sent back to Bray, some six miles in 
rear, many of the troops not getting in till 
the morning of the 26th. Every one was com- 
pletely worn out with physical fatigue. After 
forming the Division into a composite Brigade, 
I ordered the men to get what rest they could. 
At 4 p.m. orders were received that the 
Brigade was to move up at once to Maricourt, 
the place they had left the previous night, to 
support the 35 th Division. I was positively 
ashamed to have to make this call on men 
who had just come through such a terrible 
experience. The sequel is interesting. I was 
standing with General Franks in his room 
when we suddenly heard the sound of troops 
marching, accompanied by loud singing. 
It was the Brigade moving out, in perfect 
order. General Franks turned to me and said, 
" By God, that's fine, they are singing." And 
it was. 

During the whole of the fighting which I 
have briefly mentioned, Brigadier-General 
Gumming was in command of the i loth Brigade, 



and proved himself to be not only a magnificent 
leader of men, but also a soldier of the very- 
highest class. 

He was beloved by every one in the Brigade, 
and the results obtained were very largely due 
to his personality and the confidence he inspired 
in all who served under him. 

Not only was he a very fine Brigadier, but 
on many occasions his advice to me, as his 
Divisional Commander, was of inestimable 

I am sure a perusal of his book will do every 
layman good and will explode, once and for all, 
the absurd idea that the lot of generals and 
such like was cast in fine chateaux and motor- 

During the last eight months of the war, 
owing to the scarcity of trained ofhcers, the 
work of brigadiers was of a most trying nature, 
and it was only men like General Gumming, 
possessed of health, strength, and indomitable 
will power, who could possibly have stood the 

I doubt if there was a Brigadier in France 
more universally loved by those who served 



with him, and his death has left a blank which 
it will be hard to fill. 




November 21, 1921. 




INTRODUCTORY . . . . . . • ^7 





BULLECOURT . . . . . -5' 






IN CHAMPAGNE, MAY, I918 . . . . . I54 



APPENDIX I ...... . 269 

APPENDIX 2 ...... . 272 


Illustration and Maps 


Brigadier-General Hanway R. Cumming, D.S.O, 


The German Retreat in 191 7 . . . -43 

The Hindenburg Line ...... 57 

The German Offensive, First Phase [March, 191 8) . 100 

The German Offensive, Second Phase [March, 191 8) 1 14-15 

The Fourth Battle of Ypres [Jpril, igiS) . . 135 

The German Offensive in Champagne [May 27, 191 8) 160 

The Counter-Offensive [October-May, 191 8) . . 207 

The Counter-Offensive, First Phase [to October 3, 

1918) 218-19 

The Counter-Offensive [October ^-October 24, 191 8) 248-49 


chapter i : Introductory 

WHILST in temporary command of a 
Brigade, the real occupant of the position 
being away on leave, the writer received the 
welcome news one day that he had been ap- 
pointed to command the 91st Infantry Brigade 
in the 7th Division and was ordered to join it 
forthwith. This was in November 1 91 6, the 
6th Division to which he then belonged being at 
Bethune, having just come out of the Battle 
of the Somme after the usual three turns 
in the fighting line, which was the general 
custom in that very strenuous and exhausting 

The 6th Division during their tour had been 
through some of the hardest fighting, starting 
from September 15 just south of Ginchy; they 
had also taken part in the big attack on the 
26th of the same month, when Morval and Les 
Boeufs were taken, a day on which a big break 
through seemed probable — ^when, from the high 

17 B 


ground beyond these villages, the Boche could 
be seen retiring in considerable confusion to- 
wards Le Transloy and the Bapaume Road. 
Later, during October, they came in for the 
operations in connection with the consolida- 
tion of the line, in which the fighting, though 
not so spectacular, was of a very bitter character, 
East of Flers and Gueudecourt. After com- 
pleting their part in this operation they were 
taken out of the hurly-burly and sent back to 
an area not far from Abbeville, where they 
refitted and rested, and shortly afterwards were 
railed to Bethune, where they took over the 
line in the usual course. It was shortly after 
arriving there that the orders arrived for taking 
over the new Brigade. 

On November i8 the Brigadier left his old 
Brigade with many regrets, especially as his 
own Battalion, the 2nd Durham Light Infantry, 
formed part of it, and started off in a motor-car 
in search of his new command. The 7th 
Division at that time was on the march from 
the North towards the famihar Somme area. 
Having started early and made several inquiries 
on the way, the Brigadier was able to trace 



them as being somewhere near Doullens. On 
reaching Doullens, he was lucky enough to 
find a Staff Officer of a Division quartered in 
the town who eventually discovered that the 
7th Division H.Q. were in a small village West 
of Doullens. There he eventually found them 
and after a very welcome lunch with the Divi- 
sional Commander, Sir Herbert Watts as he 
eventually became, he pushed on to where his 
Brigade H.Q. were located at the small village 
of Villers L'Hopital, and there was greeted 
by the Brigade-Major, Captain R. N. O'Connor, 
of the Scottish Rifles, who had been in the 
Brigadier's company at Sandhurst as a cadet. 
Young, active, full of enthusiasm, and a first- 
rate soldier, " Bunny " O'Connor, as he was 
called in the Division, was an ideal Staff Officer, 
and the Brigadier thought it was a fortunate 
omen to find him there. 

The Division at that time consisted of the 20th, 
22nd, and 91st Infantry Brigades, the former 
two being commanded by Brigadier-Generals 
Green and Steele. The Divisional Artillery 
was commanded by Brigadier-General Stanley 
Clarke, but this had been left in the line 



and did not rejoin the Division till some 
time later. It was a very happy Division to 
join, in v^^hich every one got on very well 
together, which was not always the case. The 
H.Q. Staff were very capable and helpful and 
assisted in making the divisional machine go 
" on oiled wheels." The Divisional Com- 
mander himself was an ideal one and beloved 
by every one alike, from highest to lowest. The 
Brigadier felt that he had attained a happy 
stage for his first venture in a new role. 

The day after he joined, the Division moved 
another stage in its march towards the line, 
so that he had the chance of seeing his battalions 
on the move and meeting the commanding 
officers of the several units. The Brigade con- 
sisted of the 2nd Queens, ist S. Staffordshires, 
and the 2ist and 22nd Manchesters, 91st 
Machine Gun Company and 91st Trench 
Mortar Battery. It was a fine body of men, 
and the Brigadier was well pleased with their 
appearance as they swung along the road past 
him that autumn morning, and he felt a great 
pride in being lucky enough to have them under 
his command. 



Two days later, the Brigade relieved a 
Brigade of the 51st (Highland) Division which 
had just taken the village of Beaumont Hamel, 
and occupied and consohdated the newly 
captured Hne which ran along the high ground 
just East of the village, continuing in a sort of 
semicircle as far as the Serre to Mailly-Maillet 
road, just West of the village of Serre. The 
line was in a very nebulous state and the relief 
was compHcated by having to take over part 
of the front from the 32nd Division as well as 
from the 51st. Naturally enough after such 
a fiercely opposed attack the line was consider- 
ably disorganised, with units mixed up with 
one another and certain portions of the line 
not quite linked up. The relief was, however, 
carried out without a hitch and every one 
started to settle down and make the best of 
things as they were. 

Brigade H.Q. started badly in a pecuHarly 
filthy dug-out in a part of the line called 
the White City, a trench dug out of the 
chalk between the village of Beaumont Hamel 
and Auchonvillers. It had the great advan- 
tage of being comparatively close to the 


front line, but as it poured with rain, varied 
by snow at intervals, from the moment 
of taking over, it very soon became unin- 
habitable from the water which penetrated 
through the roof and walls ; added to which 
the smell which arose from the wet floor 
was appaUing. It seemed to those who had 
to live in it that something or somebody 
had been buried underneath it. Under the 
stress of it, the Brigade H.Q. began to be 
affected, so much so that the Divisional Com- 
mander put his foot down and ordered them 
to leave it. A Brigade H.Q. was found in a 
little house on the outskirts of Mailly-Maillet. 
This was a distinct change for the better, but 
its disadvantage was the distance from the 
front line, which meant a considerable amount 
more riding and walking for the Brigadier and 
his staff. Although not everything that could 
be desired, it certainly made a fairly com- 
fortable H.Q. for the winter months, where at 
any rate it was possible to get dry and warm 
after returning from the trenches, covered 
with mud and wet through. 

The days following the relief were very busy 



ones for everybody. The new lines had to be 
practically reorganised, communication trenches 
sited and dug and everything put in order. 
The reconnaissance of the ground and endless 
questions of supply of all sorts took up all the 
time of the Brigade staff. Precautionary mea- 
sures against trench feet was a big item, and this 
necessitated a proper organisation for furnishing 
men in the front line trenches with a regular 
supply of dry socks, whale oil, and hot food, 
a task of no small difficulty in view of the 
appalling state of the ground, which had been 
subjected to nearly two years of constant 
shelling, and the bad weather conditions which 
then prevailed and which continued incessantly. 
The question of trench feet was so important 
that the Brigadier started a competition be- 
tween his battalions as to who would have the 
least number of cases, and the result was 
published in orders periodically throughout 
the winter. It finally came to be looked on 
as rather a disgrace to be at the bottom of the 
list, and the result was that this unpleasant 
and serious disease was reduced to a minimum. 
The ration parties taking food up to the front 


line at night used to take a sufficient number 
of dry socks to equip every man in the trenches 
and bring away with them the wet discarded 
pairs, which were then washed and dried and 
sent up in due course. That pecuUarly useful 
article the Tommy's Cooker was employed in 
large numbers to enable the men to obtain 
the hot food which the medical authorities 
proclaimed as a panacea, or at any rate a 
preventative, for trench feet, and this undoubt- 
edly was the case. The difficulty always was 
to obtain sufficient suppHes of the Tommy's 
Cooker, as the demand was always for more, the 
men thoroughly appreciating the comfort of 
being able to get a hot drink whenever they 
wanted it. 

No one who was in France during the winter 
of 'i6-'i7 will ever forget it, at any rate if 
they happened to be in the part of the line 
which was held by the 7th Division during 
that period. It was certainly the worst winter 
experienced during the whole war. Incessant 
and torrential rain from October to January 
was followed by a sudden change to very 
severe frost (6° Fahr. at times), which lasted 


from the middle of January for six weeks and 
then changed again to snow and sleet, accom- 
panied by heavy thunderstorms lasting well 
into April. 

What these conditions meant to the troops 
holding the hne can be better imagined than 
described, although it is hardly possible for 
any one not acquainted with it to imagine the 
depth and stickiness of the mud in the Ancre 
Valley. The trenches became impossible. 
With enormous labour they were constantly 
repaired, and even rebuilt, only to fall in again 
after a particularly bad downpour. While the 
frost lasted all was well, but when the thaw 
came they fell in hke a pack of cards. It was 
disheartening, and with weary and mud- 
bedraggled men it at times seemed almost 
impossible ; but the trenches had to be kept 
going at all costs, and so it was done. That 
Ancre mud was a positive nightmare, and to 
no one more so than the Brigadier and his 
Staff, for more than once he had Hterally to be 
dug out of a trench in which he had sunk to 
his waist during his rounds. On one occasion, 
during a relief, an officer and two privates fell 



into a shell hole on their way from the front 
line ; every effort was immediately made to 
rescue them, but without success, owing to the 
state of the ground, the heavy shelling and 
pitch darkness. These efforts were continued 
until daylight, when the rescue party was 
compelled to withdraw owing to their exposed 
position. The following night a further rescue 
party was organised, equipped with ' duck- 
boards,' ropes, and shovels, and these with 
great difficulty and at considerable personal 
risk succeeded in effecting the rescue ; the 
ofhcer was just alive and recovered, but the 
two men had succumbed to cold and exposure. 
The lot of the front line troops during that 
time was not a happy one. Four days of it was 
as much as flesh and blood could stand, but 
in spite of the horrible discomforts and appalling 
conditions the men remained cheery and con- 
tented. They would come out after relief 
covered with mud, wet through, weary and 
chilled to the bone ; but next day, after a 
hot meal and a good sleep, they were singing 
and joking and busy cleaning up their mud- 
stained clothes and equipment and quite ready 


to face it all again in three or four days' time 
— in fact, not only ready, but eager and willing 
on the off-chance of " outing a Boche." Truly 
the salt of the earth, such men couldn't be 
beaten, and their deeds deserve a modern 
Virgil or Homer to do them justice. 

In spite of the weather conditions, however, 
there was no thought of allowing the Hun to 
sit unmolested on the other side of the shell- 
swept stretch of mud and rusty wire known as 
" No Man's Land." His condition was even 
worse than ours, and desertions under the 
excuse of ' losing the way ' were common and 
grew in frequency as the interminable winter 
wore on. The Boche position in this part 
overlooked ours in a most disconcerting way, 
and his powers of observation were detrimental 
to every one's peace and comfort in approaching 
the forward areas. Moreover, as offensive 
operations were due to take place as soon as the 
state of the ground admitted, it was necessary 
that a good position from which to start off 
should be assured. With this object in view 
a minor operation was planned, the objective 
being the commanding ground known as 


Munich Trench, immediately East of the village 
of Beaumont Hamel ; this trench constituted 
the Boche front line. Great care was taken 
to make the operation a success. The Brigade 
was taken out of the line, and by means of 
dummy trenches constructed in the back area 
the different battalions were constantly prac- 
tised in their various roles till every man knew 
exactly where to go and what he had to do. 
The great difficulty was the state of the ground ; 
it was impossible to move quickly across No 
Man's Land, the more so in view of the great 
weight it is essential for men to carry in an 
attack. It presented a very difficult problem. 
Many people thought it would be impracti- 
cable, but eventually it was decided that it was 
possible if the weight carried by the individual 
man could be reduced to a minimum and the 
pace likewise reduced, so as to avoid undue 
fatigue to the attacking troops. Some idea 
can be formed of the state of affairs when it 
is stated that the " Creeping Barrage " was 
timed to advance at a rate of 50 yards in five 
minutes, the slowest barrage, probably, that had 
ever been known. This slow pace came in for 


a great deal of hostile criticism ; it was argued 
that such a barrage would defeat its own object 
by giving the enemy time to bring his own 
barrage down on the attacking troops before 
they could get across the intervening space to 
the enemy's trenches. On the other hand 
unless the infantry could keep in touch with 
their own covering barrage it was useless ; and 
as it was impossible to move faster over that 
ground in the state it was in, it was deemed 
better to chance the enemy's retaliation coming 
down so soon and so accurately, than to risk 
the chance of certain failure by losing the cover 
of our own artillery at the crucial moment — 
i.e. the moment it lifted from the objective 
trench which was known to be heavily defended 
by machine guns as well as infantry. 

Three battalions — the ist S. Staff ordshires 
(Lieut.-Colonel Beauman), the 2ist (Lieut. - 
Colonel Woodward) and the 22nd Manchesters 
(Major Ramsbotham) — were detailed to carry 
out the attack, the front of which was about 
800 yards. The fourth battalion had the un- 
enviable duty of providing carrying parties for 
the attacking battalions — i.e. carrying parties 


for the necessary supply of bombs, ammunition, 
etc., thus relieving the weight on the actual 
attackers. This particular duty is a thankless 
as well as a dangerous task, and on this occasion 
it was carried out by the 2nd Queens with a 
precision and loyalty to its sister units which 
left nothing to be desired. 

The attack was to take place at dawn on 
January ii, 19 17. The Brigade took over the 
line the previous night and the troops formed 
up for the assault the next night at 2 a.m., on 
the tape line which had been laid down in 
front of the trenches earlier in the evening. 
All the assembling and forming up was carried 
out without attracting the attention of the 
enemy, the night being very cold and dark, and 
no casualties were incurred from the hostile 

The success of the enterprise was to a great 
extent dependent on the capture of certain 
trenches to the South of Munich Trench. 
This had been done with complete success by 
the 20th Infantry Brigade, under Brig.-General 
Green, on the night before, with the result 
of making the right flank secure. 



A very heavy bombardment of all the enemy 
trenches in the vicinity had been continued 
for several days previous to the operation, but 
with no special attention to the objective in 
order to mislead the enemy as to the real point 
of attack. At three minutes before " Zero," 
the Divisional Artillery opened an intensive 
bombardment on a line 300 yards in front of 
the tape line on which the assaulting troops 
formed up ; and at Zero this barrage moved 
forward, followed by the infantry. 

Zero was fixed for 6.40 a.m., at which hour 
a heavy mist lay on the ground, which made 
observation impossible and assisted to make the 
operation the surprise that it was intended to 
be. The morning was very dark and lowering, 
with rain and sleet at intervals, turning to 
snow ; a morning, in fact, when one would 
think one's courage would be at its lowest ebb ; 
but there was no faltering, and when Zero hour 
came round and the barrage went forward, the 
troops followed close upon it, wave after wave, 
in the way in which they had been trained 
beforehand. Everything went like clockwork 
and the attacking troops captured their objec- 



tives almost before the Boche had time to know 
what was in the wind. There was some fierce 
fighting at different points along the line and 
great difficulty was found, in the mud-bedraggled 
area, in actually finding Munich Trench at 
all, more especially in those portions of the 
line which had been obliterated by the com- 
bined effect of artillery fire and weather. So 
much so, that the battalion forming the right 
of the line, the 22nd Manchesters, actually 
overran the trench and went some distance 
beyond it, causing some anxious moments to 
the Brigadier until it was discovered what had 
occurred and steps could be taken to recall the 
over-zealous warriors. By 8.30 a.m. the whole 
position had been taken, touch had been gained 
all along the line with the exception of the 
extreme right flank, where it was not established 
till nightfall (owing probably to the confusion 
caused by the right advancing too far), and 
consolidation was being rapidly carried out. 
It is one thing taking a position, under modern 
conditions ; it is quite another holding it when 
it is won. A new position is invariably made 
the target of every gun that can be brought to 



bear on it with the object of causing casualties 
or preparing the way for a counter-attack. 
The present one was no exception to the rule, 
as the enemy shelled the position till dark very 
severely from the moment he found out what 
had occurred. To avoid, as far as possible, 
the effects of this bombardment, the troops 
holding and consolidating the front Hne had 
been thinned out as soon as the line had some 
stability, the idea being to hold it by a series 
of small posts, instead of one continuous line, 
with supports in the rear. This had been 
very expeditiously carried out by the battahons 
concerned, with the result that casualties were 
comparatively light and the work of establishing 
and strengthening the new line of posts was not 
seriously interfered with. By nightfall the 
assaulting companies were relieved by the ones 
in reserve, and with the help of a party of 
Royal Engineers and Pioneers, the work of 
consolidation was carried on, wire was put up 
in front of the line, duckboard tracks in Heu of 
communication trenches laid out, and every- 
thing done to secure the ground that had been 
won. The night was bitterly cold, with a 
33 c 


north wind and some snow, which probably 
assisted in hastening the preparations, as the 
men worked hard to keep themselves warm. 
The next day was uneventful, but the hostile 
shelling still continued with unabated vigour, 
but owing to the precautions taken this did not 
cause the damage it might have done. Prepara- 
tions, such as laying tape lines to the various 
posts and completing the duckboard tracks, 
were made for the relief of the attacking 
Brigade. During the afternoon, the enemy 
put down a heavy and sudden barrage on the 
left of the line, a counter-attack was expected, 
and an S.O.S. actually did go up from a neigh- 
bouring Division, but it never materialised. 
It is doubtful if a counter-attack could have 
been made at such a short notice with the 
ground in that state. It was discovered 
later from an intercepted message that the 
barrage was put down for defensive purposes 
only, as apparently it was expected that the 
assault would be renewed. 

During the night of the I2th-I3th, the 
Brigade was relieved by the 22nd Infantry 
Brigade and the weary but cheerful troops 


made their way out through the mud to a well- 
earned rest. It was snowing hard and black 
as Erebus when the Brigadier and his staff at 
about 2 a.m. made their way back to the 
ruined village of Auchonvillers, where a motor- 
car was waiting to take them back to their new 
headquarters. In spite of the weather it was 
a very cheery party, weary though it was, that 
picked its way from the filthy dug-out which 
had formed the battle headquarters, back to the 
comparative luxury of a dirty farm-house, 
where a tub and a shave and some decent food 
awaited them, prepared by a careful Staff 
Captain, Morshead, who had preceded them 
during the afternoon. The casualties on this 
occasion were very little over 200 ; whilst 
against them could be put 200 prisoners, 
various machine guns and a very considerable 
number of casualties on the enemy's part. 
Altogether a successful show which appeared 
in the official dispatch as " the most important 
and successful of the Winter Operations." 
The chief result of this affair was that it 
deprived the Germans of most of the advantage 
in observation which they had heretofore pos- 



sessed, with a corresponding increase to our 
own, and it was probably one of the factors 
which eventually caused their withdrawal to 
the Hindenburg Line later in the year. 

Shortly after this operation the Brigadier 
went home on leave, and the Division came out 
of the line with the belief that it was to have 
six weeks of rest and training in a back area — 
a belief which, like many others, did not actu- 
ally come off according to the programme, as 
three weeks later found them moving once 
more towards their old line to relieve the 62nd 
Division, which had replaced them and which 
had come in for a hard time during the severe 
frost which lasted from the moment of their 
taking over until well into February. 

During the interval, the Division had lost 
its popular Commander, General Watts, who 
was given well-deserved promotion and ap- 
pointed to the newly raised 19th Corps. Every 
one deplored his departure, although they 
were glad for his sake that promotion had come. 
He was a fine leader of men, and had that 
peculiar capacity of endearing himself to the 
rank and file to a very marked degree. They 



would have done anything for him, a valuable 
asset not always appreciated at its due worth. 
He was succeeded in command by Major- 
General George Barrow, who later commanded 
in Palestine with great success, and was awarded 
the K.C.B. for his services. He did not remain 
long, however, in command, but was succeeded 
at the beginning of April by Major-General 
Shoubridge, who commanded the Division 
to the end of the war. 


chapter 2 : The Co7n7nence- 
ment of the German Retreat^ 

\ COLD, cheerless morning, a thick mist 
-^^ overlying everything, emphasising the bit- 
ing cold. The ground was sodden, and the 
Ancre mud seemed thicker and stickier than ever. 
In these circumstances the desolation and dreari- 
ness of the front line was intense ; the whole 
ground was littered with the debris of a battle- 
field — 'dead bodies lay scattered, some lying in 
shell-holes where one came across them suddenly, 
others in the open, in a litter of equipment, 
bombs, and ammunition-boxes ; while here 
and there a rifle, stuck in the ground upside- 
down, marked an impromptu grave. Truly 
the abomination of desolation, depressing 
beyond measure in the early grey of dawn, 
when thoughts of breakfast and a fire were 
powerful magnets to draw one back to head- 



quarters, however squalid and uncomfortable 
they might be. 

Such was the scene that greeted the Brigadier 
as he went round the line the morning after 
the relief (February 23), accompanied by his 
orderly and Brigade-Major. There was much 
to be done : the front line consisted of isolated 
posts in shell-holes, backed up by the semblance 
of a trench, in which were a few old German 
dug-outs constituting the Company head- 
quarters of the troops in the line. A certain 
amount of readjustment was needed to suit 
his requirements — new posts to be selected 
and put into position, Lewis-gun positions to 
be sited, various small questions of supply of 
rations and ammunition to be gone into and 
discussed, all requiring reconnaissance and 
calling for a considerable amount of creeping 
and crawling and running to get to the best 
places for seeing without too much exposure, 
as the enemy line was supposed to be very close 
to our own. 

Everything was, however, as quiet as the 
grave. There was no sound, not a rifle-shot, 
not a movement of any kind, not even a 



Stray shell or anything to break the tense still- 
ness. Gradually it dawned upon all three of 
the little party that this hush was abnormal, 
and almost unconsciously their movements got 
more bold and their excursions towards the 
front further than was customary, until, finally, 
they got right under the wire of what used to be 
one of the German front-line posts. Still not a 
sound, no shot was fired. It was uncanny. 
And then it flashed across them — had the Ger- 
mans gone ? It looked like it and yet one knew 
their guile. It required more than the little 
party of three to find it out for certain. Back 
they went as fast as they could drag their feet 
out of the mud to the nearest Battalion Head- 
quarters and the Brigadier quickly told the 
situation to a hastily-aroused Commanding 
Officer and ordered patrols to be instantly sent 
out to find out what was actually happening.. 
The Brigade-Major was then sent on to the 
other Battalion Headquarters with similar orders 
for the CO. whose battalion was opposite 
Serre, while the Brigadier made the best of his 
way back to his headquarters to inform the 
Division by telephone of what was happening 


and the measures he had taken to deal with the 
situation. It was an exciting time — every one 
was on tenterhooks to hear the result of the 
reconnaissance patrols which had been sent out, 
but nothing could be done until something 
definite from them came in. This waiting for 
definite information is one of the trying fea- 
tures of modern warfare ; and on this occasion, 
as so much depended upon what the patrols 
discovered, it was more trying than usual. The 
morning and afternoon dragged on slowly, 
relieved by rumours more or less authentic that 
the patrols were making progress, and even- 
tually at about 4 p.m. the C.O.'s concerned 
sent back the patrol reports so anxiously 
awaited. These definitely asserted that those 
on the left had penetrated into Serre itself 
without opposition, while on the right " Pen- 
dant Copse " and the slopes south of the village 
were also reported clear ; and that in the mean- 
while the ground had been occupied by a new 
line of posts. It was now 5 o'clock, the winter 
day was rapidly drawing to a close and darkness 
had practically set in. The state of the ground 
absolutely precluded an advance that night, so 



the Brigadier decided to advance at dawn the 
following morning and occupy Serre Village 
and the ridge running Southwards to the Ancre, 
and thence to move forward towards the village 
of Puisieux. The Division was informed and 
the plan acquiesced in, and orders to this effect 
were sent out to the two front-line battalions. 
Shortly after the orders had been dispatched, 
a car rolled up to the door of the Brigade Head- 
quarters and the Army Commander came into 
the room which served as office, sitting- and din- 
ing-room combined. It was evident from the 
first moment that he knew nothing of what had 
occurred, and it transpired afterwards that he 
had been out all day and had merely called in 
on his way back, as he frequently did. The 
Brigadier rapidly explained the situation to him 
and informed him of the measures taken and of 
the plan for the following day. The Army 
Commander was naturally greatly surprised, as 
.although such a move was thought likely by the 
higher command, it was not expected that it 
would take place so early or that it could be 
accomplished without any indication to the 
front-line troops. He wished the advance to 


The German Retreat in 191 7. 



be carried out at once and was desperately- 
anxious that no time should be lost in following 
up and gaining touch with the enemy ; but it 
was pointed out to him by the Brigadier that 
such a move was impossible before daylight on 
account of the nature of the ground and the 
fact that it would have to be carried out by 
the troops holding the line who were already 
rather exhausted. After a little argument 
the Brigadier carried his point, and with 
many injunctions to press on as early and 
as fast as possible Sir Hubert Gough departed 
and every one settled down to complete the 
thousand and one details essential to the 
morrow's operations, with the welcome addi- 
tion of dinner after such a hard and exciting 
day. During the evening, news came from 
the Division that Army Headquarters had 
ordered a general advance all along the line 
so that the Brigade's advance in consequence 
would be assisted by other troops on its 
left and right — a piece of information which 
relieved the Brigadier's mind considerably — 
and shortly afterwards he pushed his staff off 
to bed, with the exception of the officer on 



duty, whose pleasing task it was to sit at the 
end of the telephone all night. 

" Zero " had been fixed for 5 a.m. on the 
following morning, at which hour both front- 
Hne battalions were to advance under cover of 
strong patrols and establish themselves on the 
first objective (i.e. Serre Village and the ridge 
running South of it), and gain touch with the 
troops on their left and right. 

Owing to the darkness and fog, and the 
difficulty of forming up and making the neces- 
sary preparations for an advance, the actual 
move forward was not commenced until 6 a.m. 
Once launched, however, the advance con- 
tinued steadily. The battalion on the right, 
the ist S. Staffordshires, and the right company 
of the left battalion, the 21st Manchesters, 
passed the line of Pendant Copse at 6.30 a.m. 
and moved steadily forward. Owing to the 
thick fog, direction was lost to a great extent 
at this point, the front line bearing off to the 
left. Considerable opposition was met with at 
one point on the Southern outskirts of Serre, 
where the Boche had established a strong post 
with machine guns. A determined attack was 



organised, the line was reinforced and the post 
forced to retire. The final objective was 
reached in this part of the line at 9.30 a.m., 
and the work of consolidation was commenced 
at once. The left company of the line en- 
countered an enemy post in Serre and was held 
up for about an hour before it was finally out- 
flanked and dislodged, the final objective being 
reached here at 10.30 a.m. 

In the meanwhile no trace of troops of the 
62nd Division on the right could be found, 
which left the flank considerably en VaiT, 
Eventually the reserve company of the ist S. 
Staff ordshires was ordered up to form a defen- 
sive flank in that direction. By the time they 
arrived in position the fog had lifted and 
patrols succeeded in locating the neighbouring 
troops, who were further to the South than had 
been intended. The reserve company there- 
fore prolonged the line Southwards and ob- 
tained touch with the battalion of the 62nd 
Division on their right. On the left, too, 
considerable difficulty was experienced owing 
to the fog in getting into touch with the 19th 
Division. It was not until the afternoon that 



the troops of this Division could be seen advanc- 
ing and touch was eventually established ; in 
the meantime the reserve company of the 21st 
Manchesters had had to form a defensive flank 
facing Northwards during the day. As soon 
as the first objective had been taken the Briga- 
dier had been anxious to press forward and 
establish the Brigade in Puisieux, which lay in 
the valley beyond, and orders were sent to the 
support and reserve battalions to be ready to 
move forward through the front-line battalions 
and advance on that objective. Owing, how- 
ever, to the precarious situation of the Brigade, 
with both flanks uncovered, the further advance 
could not be attempted until the necessary 
support could be obtained. By the time touch 
had been gained and the flanking Divisions had 
come into line, the afternoon was far advanced 
and the light was beginning to fail. It was 
considered inadvisable to continue the advance 
that day, as although fresh troops were avail- 
able the ground could not be reconnoitred, 
and movement in the dark over unknown 
ground might well have been disastrous. Orders 
were therefore issued for the support and re- 



serve battalions to relieve the front-line units 
that night. This was carried out successfully 
and completed matters as far as the Brigade was 

The operation was thus accomplished with 
very little opposition. The total casualties 
only amounted to one killed and eight wounded, 
and five prisoners were taken with two or three 
machine guns. These casualties were so light 
that the Division, when the Casualty Report 
was forwarded in due course, rang up to enquire 
how many noughts had been omitted ! 

Such resistance as was offered was clearly 
that of small parties holding on to posts till the 
last minute with the object of delaying our 
advance. Serre, which once had been a charm- 
ing little village, prettily situated on a knoll 
overlooking all the adjoining country and sur- 
rounded by trees and orchards, was now a 
shapeless, shell-swept mud heap. No trace of 
it remained ; hardly a brick could be seen and 
every tree was either flattened or merely a 
blackened pole. It was difficult even to deter- 
mine the site of it ; so much so that the patrols 
of the previous day, although they had actually 



been in the village itself, had no idea of the fact 
until their route had been carefully checked 
from the map. The gallantry and ability with 
which these patrols were handled was a notice- 
able feature of the operation, and the young 
officers who led them were deservedly given 
the Military Cross for their exploit. 

This operation, small and inexpensive as it 
was, was productive of far-reaching results. It 
opened the way to the big forward movement 
for the pursuit of the Boche to his famous line 
in rear. It inaugurated the beginning of that 
open warfare to which every one was anxious to 
return, and which, although it did not last for 
long, had a tremendous effect on the moral of 
the troops and showed both them and their 
commanders that they were quite capable of 
manoeuvring in the open against their adver- 
saries. It served, too, to show that the judg- 
ment and conclusions of the man on the spot, 
whose appreciation of the situation is based on 
what he has actually seen with his own eyes, 
should not be ignored. He is the only man 
who can choose the psychological moment for 
initiating a movement of this kind, where 
49 D 


several factors have to be taken into account, 
such as the state of the ground, knowledge of 
the locality, or the reverse, and the fitness or 
otherwise of the troops concerned. On this 
occasion the Brigadier's views were admitted 
to be sound, and although there were urgent 
reasons to justify haste, he was allowed to carry 
out the operation in his own time and in the 
way he considered best suited to the occasion. 
The result proved that the movement was a 
sound one and that no time would have been 
gained by initiating it earlier. 


Chapter 3 ; Bucquoy — Croi silks — 
the Hindenburg Line, Bulk- 

THE German retreat was carried out with 
great steadiness and skill, the bulk of their 
troops and heavy guns being removed under 
cover of small rearguards composed largely of 
machine guns and hght artillery, and assisted 
by heavily wired lines of trenches, which had 
been in preparation months beforehand. 
Owing to the weather and the state of the 
roads, which were also mined before they were 
evacuated, our advance was necessarily slow, 
and great difficulty was experienced in moving 
even the field artillery forward and keeping 
them suppHed with ammunition ; still greater 
difficulty, as can be imagined, was found in 
moving the heavy guns. The infantry there- 
fore did not obtain sufficient support from guns 
to enable them successfully to cope with the 



wire and machine guns with which the enemy- 
opposed them at certain well-defined positions. 
The higher command, meanwhile, were anxious 
to press the enemy to the fullest extent and not 
to allow him to retire in his own time. 

An attack was carried out at Bucquoy on 
March 13 by the Brigade. The Germans had 
been gradually pushed back through Puisieux 
to a line through Bucquoy which they intended 
to hold in order to admit of their removing 
their heavy guns and impedimenta further to 
the rear. This line was a very strong one, 
heavily defended by machine guns and thick 
wire. The original idea was to attack it, in 
conjunction with other divisions, with two 
brigades on the Divisional front, but on March 
13 it was reported by aeroplanes that the line 
was not held in any strength and that there 
were indications of the enemy retiring from it. 
The Brigade at this time was holding the line 
and was to be relieved the next day by the two 
assaulting brigades. At about i p.m., however, 
orders were received to occupy the village with 
patrols and the front-line battalion was at once 
ordered to send patrols forward to find out the 


situation. Shortly after the receipt of the first 
order a second was received with definite 
instructions for an attack that night. Just 
after 3 p.m. the O.C. front-Hne battahon sent 
in the results of the patrols which he had sent 
out. There were four altogether, all of whom 
without exception reported the village strongly 
held by machine guns and the wire very thick 
and uncut. A report to this effect was sent in 
by the Brigadier, who expressed in writing his 
opinion that the attack was not a feasible pro- 
position and that, as his battalions had only 
recently taken over the line, they did not know 
the ground ; moreover, that there was not 
sufficient time to organise an attack by 11.45 
that night, and that he considered that an 
attack at dawn would have a greater chance 
of success. The attack was however ordered 
to proceed, although at i a.m. in place of 
11.45 p.m. ; but although Zero hour was thus 
pushed forward, the original intention of bom- 
barding the village from 10 to 10.30 p.m. was 
not altered, in spite of protests from the 
Brigadier. The consequence was that the 
active patrolling during the day and this bom- 



bardment such a long time before the actual 
operations of the infantry took place, put the 
enemy on the qui vive and gave him a very good 
indication of our intentions. As the Brigadier 
expected, the operation was a complete failure. 
At I a.m. the infantry moved forward. The 
night was exceptionally dark and the ground 
very heavy. The wire was found to be dense 
and impenetrable. The enemy's artillery and 
machine-gun fire was intense as soon as opera- 
tions started. In one place only was an en- 
trance effected — on the extreme right of the 
attack. Here the right company of the right 
battalion, the 22nd Manchesters, got through 
the wire and established itself in the trench, 
which they held until the supply of bombs, both 
British and German, was exhausted. It was 
eventually driven out by a determined hostile 
counter-attack. Most of the surviving mem- 
bers of that company were captured. As soon 
as information reached Brigade Headquarters 
that the operation had been unsuccessful, the 
Brigadier ordered the troops to withdraw to 
their original line. In the course of the follow- 
ing twenty-four hours the Brigade was reheved. 



The primary cause of this failure was the 
state of the wire. In viewing the position 
afterwards, when the Germans had withdrawn, 
it was not surprising that it was able to with- 
stand an impromptu attack in pitch darkness 
and pouring rain by men to whom the ground 
was entirely new. The triple belt of wire was 
scarcely damaged and the trench in the rear 
of it was full of machine-gun emplacements 
carefully and skilfully placed to bring a cross 
fire to bear in front of it. 

In his own time the enemy evacuated the 
Bucquoy line and, slowly followed by our 
advanced guards, withdrew further Eastwards, 
making no prolonged resistance to our advance 
until the comparatively high ground in front 
of the Hindenburg Line was reached, which 
formed an outpost position to the main line 
behind. In this portion of the line, this con- 
sisted of a ridge running between the villages 
of Croisilles and Ecoust and continued to North 
and South with small re-entrants running into 
it from the West, in one of which the village 
of Croisilles lay. It was a strong position, well 
defended by a trench system and a considerable 



amount of wire. Situated on a higher ridge, 
in rear of it, was the famous Hindenburg Line, 
with its Hnes of barbed wire which looked, 
when viewed from a distance, as if it were one 
sohd block. A tough proposition to tackle, as 
indeed it proved itself to be. 

Since March 25, one battalion of the Brigade 
had been holding the line facing the village of 
Croisilles which was heavily defended by- 
trenches, wire, and machine guns ; it moreover 
lay in a hollow, as already pointed out, and there- 
fore was a difficult place to attack unless the high 
ground on either side of it could be taken and 
held. This meant a very wide extension of 
front. Nevertheless, it was decided that an 
attempt should be made to carry it with one 
brigade as it was an important tactical point 
for further operations. It was however pointed 
out by the Brigadier, whose Brigade had been 
detailed for this duty, that one brigade was not 
sufficient to cope with such a big objective, the 
front of attack being alone 1,500 yards, with a 
defensive flank, if the operation was successful, 
of a further 1,200 yards. An additional diffi- 
culty lay in the fact that the wire had not been 




properly cut in front of the village, which 
being in a hollow was screened from proper 
observation by the artillery observing officers, 
which rendered the cutting of the wire very 
difficult and problematical. However, it was 
essential that the village should be taken, or 
that some indication should be obtained of 
how it was held and in what strength, so the 
operation was ordered to proceed. 

On the night of March 27, the line of posts 
East of St. Leger and opposite Croisilles, held 
by one battalion of the Brigade, were taken 
over by two fresh battaHons, the 1st S. Stafford- 
shires and the 22nd Manchesters, who were to 
make the assault. The relieved battalion, the 
2 1st Manchesters, went back to rest-billets, and 
the fourth battalion of the Brigade, the 2nd 
Queens, moved up early in the morning of the 
28th to a position of readiness near Brigade 
Headquarters, to support the attack. The task 
of the left battalion, the ist S. Staff ordshires, 
was to make good the high ground North of 
the village, and the right battahon, the 22nd 
Manchesters, had a similar task on the South, 
the scheme being that both these attacks should 



effect a junction on the Eastern exit of the 
village and thus completely surround it ; a 
small proportion of each battalion only was to 
work through the village. The assaulting bat- 
talions were to be formed up on a line 200 yards 
beyond the edge of St. Leger wood by Zero 
minus 30 minutes, and were then to advance 
300 yards so as to be close under the barrage 
by Zero hour. The attack was launched at 
5.45 a.m. on March 28. Both companies of 
the 22nd Manchesters were met with heavy 
machine-gun fire and failed to penetrate the 
wire, which was uncut except for a small gap. 
At one place however twelve men under a very 
gallant officer, Captain Duguid, of the 22nd 
Manchesters, cut a passage through the wire 
and established themselves in the enemy lines 
where they remained for thirty-six hours till 
relieved. The remainder of the battalion dug 
themselves in near the wire till nightfall, when 
they were ordered to withdraw to the original 
line. On the left, the right company of the 
1st S. Staffordshires was immediately held up 
by very heavy rifle and machine-gun fire, but 
had nevertheless succeeded in advancing a 



considerable distance. The supporting com- 
pany became absorbed in this attack, and a 
mixed party worked close up to the enemy wire. 
Here they were heavily counter-attacked, but 
drove the attack back and inflicted considerable 
casualties. Owing to their exposed situation 
and the severity of the fire to which they were 
subjected, this party was eventually forced to 
withdraw about loo yards to a sunken road, 
where they dug in and remained throughout 
the day. Meanwhile the left company had 
advanced successfully a considerable distance 
towards their objective, but were eventually 
held up by heavy enfilade and frontal machine 
gun and rifle fire. Owing to the failure of the 
right company to advance, a considerable gap 
had been formed between the two companies. 
What happened afterwards to this company is 
very obscure, but probably, after maintaining 
their isolated position under very heavy fire for 
two hours, they were heavily counter-attacked 
from the German main position and completely 
enveloped. All except the left platoon, who 
were acting as a defensive flank, became casual- 
ties, or were taken prisoners. A further effort 


with the reserve company and four machine 
guns was made later, about 8 a.m., but it was 
found impossible to advance over the open 
owing to the exposed nature of the ground 
which on this flank was a regular glacis. When 
darkness came on, the troops were ordered to 
retire to their original line. It was proposed 
to renew the attack at dawn next morning with 
two fresh battalions, but this was cancelled, the 
attack on the village becoming part of a larger 
attack four days later. 

Considered in the light of subsequent events, 
there is little cause for surprise at the result of 
this attack. For one brigade to advance over 
a mile of exposed country and occupy an objec- 
tive 1,500 yards in extent is, in itself, an opera- 
tion of considerable magnitude. When 1,200 
yards of this advance is exposed to a village, 
heavily wired and strongly held, and when the 
left flank was exposed to a depth of 1,200 yards, 
the problem is further complicated. Con- 
sidered, however, as a reconnaissance in force, 
the attack established the fact that the enemy 
was not prepared to throw open the approaches 
to the Hindenburg Line, and this information 


may have contributed to the success of the 
operation on April 2. 

About this time the Brigadier was present 
at a very interesting conference which was held 
at Divisional H.Q. The Commander-in-Chief, 
Sir Douglas Haig, was present and amongst 
others with him were Generals Allenby, com- 
manding the 3rd Army, Gough, commanding 
the 5th Army, and David Campbell, com- 
manding the 2 1st Division. Sir Douglas had 
come to confer with his Army Commanders 
on the ground, in regard to the operations at 
Arras which were due to take place on or about 
April 9. 

Four days later, on April 2, the attack on 
Croisilles was renewed, but on a much larger 
scale. In conjunction with the 21st Division 
on the left and the 4th Australian Division on 
the right the 7th Division was ordered to 
capture the villages of Ecoust-Longatte and 
Croisilles, and to establish a line of posts on 
the slopes below the Hindenburg Line. The 
task of the right brigade of the 21st Division 
was to establish itself on the high ground North 
of Croisilles and work round the Eastern exits 


from the village, where they were to gain 
touch with the 91st Brigade. 

A sister brigade on the right was to capture 
Ecoust-Longatte and the line of the railway 
running Northwards towards Croisilles. The 
role of the 91st Brigade was to occupy the line 
of the railway and the high ground South of 
Croisilles and work round the Eastern exit of 
the village and then gain touch with the 21st 
Division, thus completely surrounding the vil- 
lage ; and at the same time to establish a line 
of posts running parallel to the South boundary 
of the village, as a temporary defensive flank. 
When these operations were complete, the 
village was to be cleared by direct assault. 

The artillery arrangements were carefully 
worked out and co-ordinated, the infantry 
advancing under a creeping barrage to their 
objective, and the village itself was bombarded 
with heavy artillery until the first objective 
was taken. The artillery support was excellent 
and materially contributed to the success of 
the operation. All day long, as soon as the 
first objective had been taken, they were able 
to engage as targets the bodies of enemy infan- 



try retiring into the Hindenburg Line and 
inflict heavy casualties on the portion of the 
enemy who attempted to break out from 
Croisilles by the Fontaine Road. The heavy 
howitzers, too, did good work in reducing the 
strong points in Croisilles and its outskirts, 
especially the one usually called the " Tooth," 
which required two separate doses before it 
was finally disposed of. 

The attack was carried out by three bat- 
talions in line, namely the 2nd Queens, 21st 
Manchesters, and 1st S. Staff ordshires respect- 
ively from left to right, their objective being 
the line of the railway already mentioned, the 
left battalion forming the defensive flank along 
the line of the village and establishing itself 
on the Eastern exit and gaining touch with the 
2 1st Division there. The 22nd Manchesters 
were to clear the village. A fifth battalion, 
the 2nd Royal Warwickshires, was lent to the 
Brigade to hold the line vacated by the 
attacking troops. 

The night of the ist-2nd of April was fine, 
with bright moonlight which assisted the march 
of the troops to their forming-up positions. 


In the clear moonlight however one company 
of the leading battalion, the 2nd Queens, was 
observed advancing down an exposed spur, a 
number of " golden rain " rockets were imme- 
diately sent up by the enemy and the valley 
beyond the spur was heavily shelled. But the 
limits of this barrage were so clearly defined 
that the battalions who followed were able to 
keep clear of it, and carry out the assembly 
march successfully. 

At 5.15 a.m. the advance started. The ist 
S. Staffordshires met with little opposition and, 
gaining their objective, opened a heavy Lewis- 
gun fire on parties of the Boche making their 
escape across the open to the Hindenburg Line. 
The centre battalion was checked at the outset 
by our own barrage, which was somewhat short, 
but as it lifted they were able to advance. 
The railway embankment however at this point 
proved to be a very formidable obstacle, being 
some forty feet high and covered with a low 
scrub. A small culvert ran through the em- 
bankment about the centre, above which was 
a strong machine-gun emplacement heavily 
wired. The top of the embankment was 
6$ E 


defended by a series of rifle posts with a con- 
siderable amount of wire in the scrub in front 
of them. As the battalion advanced it was met 
by heavy machine-gun and rifle fire from the 
embankment and from a machine gun concealed 
in the culvert. Machine-gun fire from the 
South side of Croisilles, where the left battalion 
had been delayed, also hampered the advance. 
The embankment however was gained after a 
struggle, by 6.30 a.m. The enfilade machine- 
gun fire from the village then became so in- 
tense that the line was forced to retire below 
the embankment. The right company event- 
ually succeeded in getting a Lewis gun over, 
and by means of dribbling little parties of men 
over and using the culvert, the line was estab- 
lished in the sunken road beyond, by 10 a.m. 
Meanwhile the right and centre battalions 
had pushed on to the slopes in front of the 
Hindenburg Line, and the second objective 
was reached by all three battalions shortly after 
II a.m. and consolidation at once commenced. 
The Brigadier at this point ordered up six 
Vickers guns to the railway embankment which 
now formed a very strong support line. Touch 



was maintained throughout the morning with 
the Brigade operating on the right, but no 
signs of the Division on the left could be found 
East of CroisilleSj where they should have been 
" according to plan." The consequence was 
that the idea of completely isolating and 
surrounding the village did not come off. 
Throughout the morning parties of the enemy 
attempted to leave the village by the Fontaine 
Road, but were turned back by the fire of our 
posts. They however eventually escaped by the 
road North-East from the village, which the left 
Division should have occupied, but they appar- 
ently had been held up until it was too late, 
which was a pity, as there was little doubt that, 
had that exit been blocked, a very large number 
of the enemy would have been effectively cut off. 
The situation of the front line being now 
assured, the Brigadier ordered the 22nd Man- 
chesters under Colonel Woodward to clear the 
village. Two companies forming up on either 
side of the river Sensee, which runs through the 
village, started at 11.30 a.m. under a barrage, 
the objective being the sunken road at the 
Eastern exit, strong bombing parties being also 



detailed to work round the outer defence of 
the village on the North side. 

In this formation the battalion entered the 
village and became swallowed up in it for the 
time being ; little information came through, 
and the battalion practically disappeared into 
the labyrinth of ruined houses and masonry- 
cumbered streets of which the village was com- 
posed. The left company pushed on towards 
its objective, but soon became scattered and 
disorganised, as always happens in village fight- 
ing. The right company in the same way soon 
lost its direction and only one platoon event- 
ually reached the objective — the sunken road 
already referred to. The bombing party be- 
came held up by a strong point on the Northern 
boundary. At 1. 1 5 p.m. the support company 
was pushed in and became involved in the 
melee. Finally the two reserve platoons were 
sent by the Officer Commanding to deal with 
two strong points located by the advanced 
troops. By skilful handling and the proper use 
of Lewis guns, these were eventually overcome 
and the village was cleared except for some 
desultory fighting with isolated fragments of 


the enemy, which continued most of the night. 
The situation was not finally cleared up until 
the early morning of the 3rd, when touch was 
estabHshed at all points with the left Division. 
The Brigade was reheved on the night of the 
2nd /3rd, with the exception of the battalion 
actually in the village, which remained there 
until relieved by the Division on the left on 
the night of the 4th /5th, an unnecessarily long 
time to have kept a battalion which had had 
a very difficult task to perform and had carried 
it out with great dash and skill, but thus it 
was ordained by the Division in spite of the 
protest of the Brigadier. 

The operation was entirely successful, and 
once more demonstrated clearly how much 
more efficacious and economical an attack on 
a broad front, properly co-ordinated and 
supported, was than the isolated enterprises 
which were so often attempted and which 
were earmarked beforehand for failure. The 
way to the Hindenburg Line was now clear on 
this part of the front, and the great offensive 
from the direction of Arras was the necessary 
sequel to the operation. 


The battle of Arras commenced on April 9, 
after a tremendous artillery preparation which 
lasted for about a week or longer, during which 
the enemy line was subjected to the heaviest 
bombardment which, up to that time, had 
been seen. The attack, which started on 
April 9, was a complete success ; the infantry- 
pushing forward drove the enemy from his 
positions East of Arras and penetrated deeply 
into his line. As time went on however the 
available troops became exhausted, and the 
operation eventually ended on the Sensee 
River. The whole front of the attack pivoted 
during the move forward on the village of 
Croisilles, which had been taken as described 
on April 2, and which considerably aided the 

It was not until May 1 1 that the 7th Division 
came again into the picture, as it was relieved 
and taken out to rest, although occasionally 
holding the line for short spaces of time. 

It had been determined by the higher com- 
mand that the Hindenburg Line should be 
attacked and broken in the vicinity of BuUe- 
court, a village forming part of the line 



immediately to the East of Ecoust — the main 
Hindenburg Line running through the Western 
outskirts of the village with the support line 
on the high ground East of it. This operation 
was to have been carried out simultaneously 
with an attack on the line of the Sensee River 
by General AUenby's army to the North. 
The primary operation was carried out by the 
62nd Division and was a complete failure, the 
Boche position being very strong at this point 
and well supported by artillery. This Division, 
too, had only arrived a short time before from 
home and were therefore rather raw and 
untrained, and this was their first experience 
of heavy fighting. They were a fine Division 
and proved their worth later on, but on this 
occasion they were severely handicapped. 

However, it was considered necessary that 
the village should be taken at all costs and 
the attacks were continued, the 7th Division 
being brought into line for this purpose. 
First one and then the other brigade attempted 
the task, but in spite of the utmost gallantry 
were unable to obtain more than a footing 
on the extreme edge of the village. It was 



then decided that the 91st Brigade was to 
make a further attempt in conjunction with 
an AustraHan Division on the right. The 62nd 
Division on the left was to send a party to 
capture a strong point known as " The Cruci- 
fix," which was situated on the extreme Western 
edge of the village and thus covered and sup- 
ported the left flank. The Australian Division 
on the right was to capture the Hindenburg 
Support Line, South of the village, and link 
up with the Brigade assaulting the village. All 
the attacks hitherto made had been entirely of 
a frontal nature. The Brigadier, however, 
on being informed of the task he was to carry 
out, had intimated that he would prefer to 
attack from a new direction and produced a 
scheme for assaulting the village from a South- 
westerly direction, from the Southern end of the 
Ecoust-Bullecourt Road. By this means touch 
was more easily obtained with the Australian 
Division on the right, the forming up of the 
assaulting troops was simplified and could be 
carried out comparatively under cover, and 
the supporting barrage could be made in 
enfilade, which increased its efficiency. An 


attack from this direction would also, he argued, 
come more as a surprise than if carried out in 
the former way. After some argument and 
not a little opposition this plan was eventually 
approved and sanctioned. Two battalions, 
the ist S. Staff ordshires and the 2nd Queens, 
were detailed to make the assault, forming up 
on a tape line previously laid on the required 
alignment. Another battalion, the 2 1st Man- 
chesters, was detailed to carry out the " mop- 
ping up " of the village after capture, sending 
a company to each assaulting battahon for 
this purpose to follow the battalion with which 
they were acting. The fourth battalion, the 
22nd Manchesters, remained in reserve in 
Ecoust with one company holding the line 
of the railway North of Ecoust and North 
of the Ecoust-Bullecourt Road. The Brigade 
Headquarters were in the vaults below what 
had once been the church of Ecoust, but 
which was now merely a chalk rubbish heap. 
These vaults were rather curious and were 
quarried out of hard chalk, the church having 
been built from the material taken from them. 
In places they were sixty feet deep and were 



very safe and commodious headquarters, but 
ventilation of any kind was an impossibility 
and the stuffiness of them will never be forgot- 
ten, although they felt cool when compared 
with the broiling heat outside, as the weather 
had suddenly become hot — hotter than any 
May ever remembered. 

On the night of May lo/li, the Brigade 
took over the line from a sister Brigade of the 
Division (the 20th Brigade), the two assaulting 
battalions taking over the posts in Bullecourt 
in their respective spheres of attack. On the 
night of II /i 2, the tapehne for forming up on 
was laid out by the Engineers, and Brigade 
Headquarters moved from the sunken road 
which went by the cheery name of " The Dead 
Man " to the headquarters below the church in 
Ecoust. In the early morning of the 12th the 
two battalions making the attack were formed 
up with their leading waves on the tape line. 
This was successfully carried out with slight 
casualties, although the enemy maintained 
a steady bombardment on the South-West 
corner of the village. 

Judging that the enemy's retaHation would 



be heavy and continuous, every means of com- 
munication was carefully thought out and 
organised by the Brigadier and his Signal 
Staff. Relay posts for runners were established 
in the communication trench (the only one) 
from Longatte to the South-West corner of 
Bullecourt. Two telephone lines had also 
been laid by different routes to the combined 
Battalion Headquarters in the line. A " power 
buzzer " set in duplicate was established, and 
this was supplemented by a field wireless 
apparatus. Every battalion was also supplied 
with carrier pigeons. In spite of all these 
preparations, communication broke down badly. 
The enemy very early in the proceedings put 
down a heavy high explosive and shrapnel 
barrage, which in a few minutes cut both 
telephone wires, smashed the power buzzer 
and the wireless apparatus, and in spite of 
heroic efforts on the part of all members of 
the signal section, the telephone lines remained 
practically useless for the rest of the day ; as 
soon as they were renewed, they were cut 
again and again. All communication there- 
fore devolved on the hard worked " runners," 



many of whom became casualties in their en- 
deavours to get through. The pigeons were 
also a failure — most probably they refused to fly 
through the heavy barrage, or else became con- 
fused by it and lost their way or were killed. 

Zero hour was at 3.40 a.m., at which 
hour the attack started. The 2nd Queens 
on the right accomplished their task with 
little opposition and, in touch with the Aus- 
tralian Division on the right, reached its object- 
ive in fine style by 4.15 a.m. Thence they 
at once pushed out a series of posts to the front, 
and consoHdated a line just North of the road. 
Touch was gained with the Australian Division 
and with the battalion on the left, and as far 
as this part of the attack was concerned, all 
was couleur de rose. The advance of the 
I St S. Staff ordshires on the left was not so 
easy, however. At Zero hour, the enemy at 
once put down a very heavy barrage on the 
South- West corner of Bullecourt. Numerous 
machine-gun and rifle posts opened from the 
corner of the village. That part of the advanc- 
ing troops immediately South of the road 
suffered very heavily, made little progress, and 



became very disorganised. But the troops 
farther South were able to obtain more cover, 
and in spite of losing a lot of men, pushed on 
very steadily and by 7 a.m. had estabhshed 
themselves in the Northern portions of the 
village, and touch was gained with the battalion 
on the right. At about 9 a.m. Colonel Beau- 
man, commanding the ist S. Staff ordshires, 
considered that a fresh attack was necessary 
to drive the enemy from the Hindenburg 
Line West of the village and the houses adjoin- 
ing it which were evidently strongly held and 
which formed the chief point of resistance. 
He therefore ordered up his reserve company 
to attack this part of the village. This attack 
was met with very heavy machine-gun fire, 
was unable to proceed, and eventually dug 
in in the centre of the village. In the mean- 
while the 62nd Division on the left had failed 
to secure The Crucifix, with the result that the 
left flank remained uncovered and the Germans 
were able to send reinforcements into the 
village without hindrance. 

The situation at this time was a very curious 
one. The whole of the village was occupied 



by the Brigade except the Hindenburg Line 
running along its Western edge and the houses 
adjacent to it, the only outlet to which was 
the line of trench running from The Crucifix 
to the Hindenburg Support Line along the 
Northern edge of the village. Could this 
latter be carried the village was theirs, and the 
position won. 

During the whole of this time, the Brigade 
Headquarters was in a state of ignorance as to 
what was happening on account of the failure 
of communication, due to the causes already 
touched upon. An aeroplane reconnaissance 
had, however, brought in the information that 
the troops had entered the village and that the 
right battalion and the Australians had gained 
their objectives. But the situation was very 
obscure, and the lack of information from the 
left battalion was the cause of much anxiety 
to the Brigadier — anxiety which was not 
lessened by the continuous and irritating 
complaints from the Division of the absence 
of news. It transpired that continuous reports 
had been sent from the battalion which never 
reached Brigade Headquarters, every runner 



being either killed or badly wounded and the 
other means of communication being, of 
course, entirely suspended. By seven o'clock, 
no information having being received, the 
Brigadier sent one of his staff to the left Bat- 
talion Headquarters to obtain news of the 
situation and to return as soon as possible. 
At about II a.m. the first report was received, 
giving the situation at 9 a.m. as already des- 
cribed above. The Brigadier thereupon ordered 
three companies of the 22nd Manchesters to 
move forward and place themselves under the 
orders of the Officer Commanding the ist S. 
Staffordshires, to whom he sent instructions 
to use these companies to attack the Western 
part of the village still occupied by the 
enemy and drive them out, in the manner 
best suited to the situation as it appeared 
to him at the time. By the time however 
that this order reached him, the Officer 
Commanding considered it impossible to 
deploy troops in dayhght for an attack, 
owing to the intensity of the enemy's barrage 
and the rifle and machine-gun fire from this 
position, which had evidently been reinforced. 



He therefore kept these companies in reserve 
under cover and did not use them. During 
the remainder of the day no further advance 
could be made, but the positions held were 
firmly consolidated. At about i p.m. the Staff 
Officer returned from the front line and con- 
firmed what had already been reported, also 
bringing back a report from Colonel Beauman 
with a request for reinforcements to com- 
plete the taking of the village. These how- 
ever had already been dispatched in accordance 
with the appreciation of the situation from 
former reports received before this arrived. 
On receipt of this information the Brigadier 
shortly after 2 p.m. made his way to the Bat- 
talion Headquarters, accompanied by his acting 
Brigade-Major, Captain Morshead, an officer 
as capable as he was reliable and the possessor 
of a charming personality, to see for himself 
how matters stood, to confer with his 
Battalion Commanders as to the steps to be 
taken, and to give orders for further operations. 
On arrival, after a very rough passage, further 
accentuated by its being a boiling day, when 
running across the open to dodge shells and 



machine-gun bullets was not a form of exercise 
to hanker after, he found the situation to be 
as follows : The 2nd Queens were firmly estab- 
lished in their objective, not having suffered 
excessive casualties, and reorganised into proper 
formation. The ist S. Staff ordshires and the 
" mopping up " Battalion, the 2ist Manches- 
ters, on the other hand, although well estab- 
lished in the village, were much disorganised 
from the constant fighting in which they had 
been engaged among the ruined houses and 
derelict streets, than which nothing is more 
conducive to disorganisation and difficulties 
of control. Moreover, the men were thor- 
oughly exhausted by the heat and suffering 
from want of water which, although supplies 
were adequate, was difficult to distribute 
owing to the constant sniping which came 
from the enemy line on the West of the 
village. The Crucifix had not been taken, 
although early in the day a report had been 
received at Brigade Headquarters to the 
contrary. It was evident, however, from 
information received that the enemy still 
had means of communication with his main 


line to the isolated posts still in the Western 
end of the village. With this aspect of the 
situation in his mind and thinking that a 
counter-attack was probable, the Brigadier, 
after the conference, decided to withdraw 
the ist S. Staff ordshires and the 2ist Manches- 
ters to the rear of Ecoust after dark, where 
they could reorganise, and to relieve them 
in the Hne by the 22nd Manchesters who were 
comparatively fresh. As it was impossible 
to move troops in daylight he also detailed a 
fifth battalion, the 2nd Royal Warwickshires, 
which had been lent him from a sister Brigade 
to make an attack at dawn the next morning 
on the German Hne still holding out on the 
West of the village. He indicated on the 
ground the way he wished the attack to be 
carried out. It was to start from a Hne East 
of the Boche line and, working westwards, to 
assault this Hne from the rear. With the 
exception of a short, sharp barrage of mixed 
H. E. and shrapnel from the field artiUery, 
a few moments before Zero, the attack was 
not to be supported by artillery, as he deemed 
it wiser to trust to the element of surprise in 



an attack from this direction, and also because 
arrangements for artillery support would have 
been very difficult, especially as time was short. 
Having settled all these points, the Brigadier 
returned to his headquarters to issue the neces- 
sary orders and to make arrangements for the 
various moves it entailed, well pleased with 
the success obtained and confident of being 
able to bring the operation to a satisfactory 
conclusion on the following day. On arrival, 
he rang up the Divisional Commander on the 
telephone and after explaining the situation 
he detailed the measures he proposed to take 
to deal with it and the way in which he was 
prepared to carry them out. He was met with 
a blank refusal to entertain his plans and was 
told that the operation had been a failure, and 
that the attack must be continued at all costs. 
The Brigadier replied by reiterating his former 
arguments against any further operations during 
daylight, and concluded by saying that the plan 
which he had already indicated was the one 
which he considered had the best chance of 
success, but that he was willing to carry out 
any other operation which the Divisional 



Commander might consider necessary. The 
latter appeared to be somewhat annoyed and 
rang off after intimating that further orders 
would be sent and that no relief of any of the 
troops was to take place. In a few minutes 
the telephone bell rang again : it was the 
Divisional Commander, who proceeded to 
inform the Brigadier that in his opinion the 
Brigadier was too tired to cope with the situa- 
tion, that his judgment was therefore warped, 
and that he considered it advisable that he 
should relinquish his command to the next 
senior and return to Divisional Headquarters 
for the night. After protesting against this 
arrangement, the Brigadier was forced to obey 
and handed over command that evening to 
Colonel Norman of the 21st Manchesters, and 
proceeded as ordered to Divisional Head- 
quarters, departing on leave the following day. 
After the Brigadier's departure, an attack by 
the 2nd R. Warwickshires and two companies 
of the 22nd Manchesters was planned to take 
place at 3.40 a.m. on the following morning. 
This attack was a combined frontal and envelop- 
ing one, the two companies of the 22nd Man- 



chesters attacking from the North side of the 
main road, the 2nd Warwickshires advancing 
from the South- West to attack that portion 
of the Hne. This operation was launched at 
the time named but was a complete failure, as 
they could make no progress in face of the heavy 
hostile shelling. The two companies of the 
22nd Manchesters, after being held up by 
their own barrage, eventually moved forward 
when it lifted, but were held up by heavy 
machine-gun fire from the German trench. 
The attacking troops were withdrawn at about 
10 a.m., having suffered very severely. From 
now onwards, during the 13th and 14th of 
May, various small attacks by one or two com- 
panies at a time were organised and delivered, 
but with no other effect than that of increasing 
the casualty Hst. On the night 14/15 May, 
the Brigade was relieved and a further attack 
by two companies of still another battalion of 
a sister Brigade was ordered to take place in 
the early morning of the 15th. From midnight 
onwards, however, the enemy shelled Ecoust 
and the communication trench very heavily 
with H. E. and gas shells, and at 3.55 a.m. 



heavily counter-attacked the advanced line 
vi^hich was driven back through the village 
to a line which, after being reinforced, was 
held and consolidated, some distance in the 
rear. On the night of the i5/i6th the 
Division was relieved. 

Here again is an instance of that fatal policy 
of attempting to attack entrenched positions, 
strongly and skilfully held by a determined 
enemy, with inadequate numbers, and of trying 
to effect with small numbers what has been 
proved to be incapable of assault by larger 
forces. The small attack, hastily organised 
and inadequately prepared, is bound to fail. 
No gallantry in the world can make up for 
properly organised support of all kinds ; and 
ample time for preparation is essential to make 
a success of such an attack against a strong 
position where no possibility of manoeuvre 
is open to the attacking forces. After the 
initial success on this occasion, a properly 
organised attack with sufHcient numbers should 
have been organised to exploit the first step, 
ample time for its proper organisation being 
allowed and fresh troops being detailed to make 


it ; and if possible the troops in the front 
line, who were in a very uncomfortable situa- 
tion, and were much exhausted from severe 
fighting in almost tropical heat, should have 
been relieved. The fetish for instant action 
on all occasions does not commend itself when 
applied to assaulting prepared, entrenched 
positions which have no flanks to turn ; this 
resolves itself into siege warfare, where positions 
can only be taken piecemeal and step by step. 
It is a very different thing in what is known 
as " open warfare," where quick decision and 
instant action are so often necessary to seize 
fleeting opportunities. The constant shelling 
on this occasion rendered all quick communi- 
cation impossible ; the only way of getting 
information was by means of orderlies with 
written messages, a very slow and precarious 
method ; and this alone would have made 
proper preparations difficult and hurry and 
dispatch impracticable and dangerous. 


Chapter 4 : The German Offen- 
sive — March^ 1 9 1 8 

AFTER returning from France in May, 
1 91 7, there came a period of service in 
England. Although more peaceful and less 
exacting, it was still a very strenuous time and 
very little leisure v^^as attached to it. 

The post to which the Brigadier was ap- 
pointed after a short period of leave was the 
command of the Machine Gun Corps at Grant- 
ham, and his efforts were concentrated in train- 
ing and equipping officers and men of that 
Corps in as short a period as possible, and 
sending them out to the various fronts fit, as 
far as time allowed, to take their place in the 
fighting line. The time allowed was very 
short — nine to twelve weeks for the men and 
six to eight weeks for the ofiicers. Not a 
moment of this could be wasted and train- 
ing was, of course, continuous and exacting ; 


but it served its purpose, and as the wastage 
all through the summer and autumn of 191 7 
was very high every effort had to be expended 
to supply the requisite number of men to 
make good the deficiencies. At this time too 
the necessity for change in the organisation 
of the Machine Gun Corps was becoming 
more and more apparent, as the scope and 
utility of these weapons became better under- 
stood and more widely appreciated. 

The number of machine guns in a Division 
had been gradually increased since the war 
started from two guns per battalion, making 
a total of twenty-four in the Division, to 
sixteen guns per Brigade, making forty-eight 
guns to the Division. The old Machine Gun 
Section (two guns) of the battalions had been 
done away with and replaced by Lewis guns 
with each platoon, and the machine guns had 
been organised, very wisely, into a separate 
Corps. But it was essential, to get the full 
effect of these weapons, that they should be 
capable of being used collectively and not 
frittered away piecemeal attached to Brigades. 
After much discussion and a certain amount 



of opposition, it was finally decided to organise 
the Machine Gun Companies into Battalions 
of four companies of sixteen guns each, making 
a total of sixty-four to a Division, which would 
then become part of the Divisional Troops, 
where they would be properly administered 
and trained by a senior officer who would also 
become, ex officio, the Machine-Gun Adviser 
to the Divisional General. This change of 
organisation was worked out at Grantham, 
in conjunction with the Machine Gun School 
at Camiers in France, and meant a considerable 
amount of work for the staff at both places. 
That the change was a wise one, and more than 
justified itself during the whole of the fight- 
ing in 191 8, must be admitted by even its 
most bitter opponents. 

In February, 191 8, the Brigadier relinquished 
his appointment at Grantham, preparatory 
to taking over a Brigade in France, and on 
March 16 left England for that purpose. On 
arrival he was posted to the i loth Brigade of 
the 2 1st Division, and after a night spent at 
Boulogne, he left by train for Amiens, with 
the vaguest idea as to where the Division was ; 


he only knew that a car would meet him at 
Amiens station to take him on his way. On 
arriving at Amiens among the throng which were 
congregated in the station yard, he found with 
some difficulty the car in charge of a smart man 
with a very broad Scotch accent and a pair 
of piercing black eyes which twinkled in an 
extraordinary way, and who evidently had a 
keener sense of humour than his countrymen 
are generally suppose to possess. He was 
destined to drive the Brigadier on many other 
occasions of a less pleasant character, as he 
remained with the Division till it was demobi- 
lised in April, 1 91 9. After lunching at the old 
familiar Godbert Restaurant, the Brigadier pro- 
ceeded on his way, the driver informing him that 
Divisional Headquarters were at Longavesnes 
and that the i loth Brigade were at that moment 
in the line with headquarters at Saulcourt, which 
meant that they were on the ground where 
the German counter-attack, after the Battle 
of Cambrai in November, 191 7, took place. 
Late in the afternoon he arrived at Divisional 
Headquarters, which consisted of a series of 
the usual wooden huts on the sheltered side of 



a low ridge and provided with mined dug-outs 
as protection against aerial bombing, which at 
that time was common in this part of the 
line. As it was getting late, the Divisional 
Commander arranged for the Brigadier to 
stay the night at Divisional Headquarters and 
take over the command of his Brigade the next 
morning, which, as he had been travelhng since 
7 o'clock that morning, he was very pleased to 
do. This rest, by the way, was productive of 
many good results when viewed by the light 
of subsequent events, as it enabled the Brigadier 
to make acquaintance with the Staff, and it 
also gave him the opportunity of hearing from 
the Divisional Commander his views on the 
situation as it stood and discussing various 
other questions which are so necessary for a 
good understanding between a Divisional Com- 
mander and his Brigadiers. The situation, on 
the whole, was a sufficiently grave one ; the 
extent of front held by the Division, with two 
Brigades in the line and one in reserve, was 
appaUingly large, more especially considering 
that the Brigades were weak — for already 
each had been depleted of one battahon 


and the remainder were not up to strength. 
The weakness of the Division dated from 
the latter end of 1917, when the strength 
of battalions was so much reduced owing to 
there being an insufficient number of recruits 
forthcoming to keep them up to strength, that 
it was decided to disband a certain number 
of battalions so as to strengthen the remainder. 
At the same time it was decided not to alter 
the number of Divisions, so that the only other 
alternative was to reduce the strength of the 
Brigades ; the latter were therefore reduced 
from four to three battalions, making the 
infantry strength of a Division ten battalions 
instead of thirteen. Apart from the loss of 
strength, this decision — from a Brigadier's point 
of view — ^was very unfortunate, as the diffi- 
culties of inter-battalion reliefs were thereby- 
increased. It can easily be seen that, with 
four battalions in the Brigade, two could be 
placed in the front line, leaving one in support 
and one in reserve, these latter two relieving 
the front line battalions which, in their turn, 
became support and reserve. With three 
battalions however this was not so, because 



it almost invariably occurred that two 
battalions were in the front line, leaving only 
one for relieving purposes, and thus making it 
imperative to keep one of the front line batta- 
lions a longer time in the line. Incidentally, 
too, it was a great waste of Staff, as it was just 
as easy to administer and command four or 
even five battalions as three. 

Added to this loss of strength, in spite of 
incessant work, which had seriously interfered 
with the training during the winter, the 
trenches, which had had to be absolutely 
remodelled, were not yet finished. The out- 
post zone and the main line of defence were 
complete, but the same could not be said 
for the lines in rear of these. Main routes of 
telephone communication had been buried 
but were by no means complete, and the 
German attack which was clearly foreshadowed 
by various indications might take place at any 
moment. Filled with the thoughts of what 
he had heard, the Brigadier went to bed that 
night well pleased with what he had seen of his 
new Division, but little thinking what was in 
store for him in the course of the next few days. 



The 2 1 St Division at this time was com- 
manded by Major-General Sir David Campbell, 
formerly of the 9th Lancers, with which 
I regiment, and later in command of a cavalry 
Brigade, he had been through the opening 
phases of the war. From this cavalry Brigade 
he had been appointed direct to the command 
of the 2 1 St Division, which he continued to 
command till March, 1919. Very quick and 
alert, with an inexhaustible supply of energy, 
a great sense of humour and a fund of common 
sense, he was the perfection of a Divisional 
Commander. He was very popular with all 
ranks, and rightly so, as he never spared himself 
in looking after their comfort and efficiency in 
every way. Added to which he was a fine 
soldier, with sound and original ideas on 
training, and possessed a strong will of his own 
without being in any way obstinate. 

The Division at this time was composed of 
the lioth, 62nd and 64th Infantry Brigades, 
commanded respectively by the writer, Briga- 
dier-Generals G. H. Gater and T. Headlam. 
The Divisional Artillery was commanded by 
Brigadier-General Newcombe, the C.R.E. being 



Colonel Addison. General Gater was a pro- 
duct of the New Army ; he had never seen 
or thought of soldiering before the war, but 
had joined up as soon as it started and had 
worked up to his present rank. He was a 
first-class Brigade Commander, very able and 
quick ; indeed it was difficult to imagine 
him in any other capacity. A deHghtful 
companion and a good comrade, he was uni- 
versally liked throughout the Division. 

The I loth Brigade, known as " The Leicester 
Brigade," was originally made up of the 6th, 
7th, 8th, and 9th Battahons Leicestershire 
Regiment. The latter had, however, been 
disbanded and at this time only the first three 
were in being. They were a fine, upstanding 
lot of magnificent fighting men, with excep- 
tional esprit de corps and proud of their 
unofficial title. The Brigade-Major was Major 
Whittuck, of the Somerset Light Infantry ; 
a very capable officer, with a sangfroid which 
nothing could disturb ; and an equally capable 
Staff Captain was found in Captain Ibbotson, to 
whom Napoleon's axiom might apply that 
" Difficulties only arose to be overcome." 



The next morning, March i8 , the Brigadier 
bade adieu to Divisional Headquarters and 
motored to Saulcourt, a ruined village near 
the line, where, in a sunken road leading from 
the North-East corner of it, he found his 
headquarters, comprising a series of " elephant 
shelters " dug into the bank of the road with 
a mined dug-out below them ; altogether very 
snug and comfortable quarters, as things went. 
He thereupon took over the command from 
the outgoing Brigadier, who had been appointed 
to the command of a Division and was there- 
fore anxious to get away. After discussing 
the situation and having shown the positions 
of the troops on the map and the defensive 
measures generally which had been taken. 
General Cayley departed and the relief was 
complete. Not very much could be done that 
day, but the rest of the afternoon was spent 
with the Brigade-Major, going more into 
details of the defensive scheme and the methods 
of supply, relief, communications, artillery 
support, and the thousand and one other details 
which it behoves a Brigadier to have at his 
finger-ends and to be thoroughly au courant 
97 G 


with if he wishes to keep his finger on the pulse 
of his command. Various other matters claimed 
his attention, such as the setthng down in his 
new quarters, making acquaintance with the 
various members of his staff, having the means 
of communication thoroughly explained to him 
by his signal officer and last, but not least, 
making a prolonged reconnaissance of the 
Brigade sector from the bank above his head- 
quarters, with field-glasses and telescope whilst 
the light permitted. He decided that night to 
commence inspecting the line the following 
morning and arranged, in company with the 
Brigade-Major, to see the left half of the line 
the morning of the 19th and the right half on 
the 20th, employing the afternoon in seeing 
the reserve battalion, the transport lines and 
the various other oddments which go to form 
the rear line of a Brigade on these occasions. 
It was a comprehensive programme and meant 
a very considerable amount of walking, but 
seeing what the situation was, it was imperative 
to get some idea of the line and how it was held 
as quickly as possible, as there was no knowing 
when the blow might fall. The 7th and 8th 



Leicesters were at this time holding respectively 
the left and right sectors of the front with the 
6th Leicesters in reserve at Saulcourt in huts. 
The extent of the front held by the Brigade 
was prodigious, although not more so than any- 
other in the 5th Army front. It ran from the 
Southern extremity of the village to Epehy, 
where it joined up with the i6th Division, along 
the railway cutting which followed its Eastern 
face, through the village of Peiziere to the 
slopes below Vaucellette Farm, which was 
held by the 62nd Brigade ; a total distance of 
about 2,100 yards. Every Division and every 
Brigade in the 5th Army was alike in this 
respect ; is it any wonder that, as Ludendorff 
discloses in his memoirs, the 5th Army was 
selected by the German High Command as the 
point for attack ? Is it any wonder that 
holding, as they were obhged to do, this 
extended front with eleven weak Divisions, 
with only three in reserve, they were obHged 
to give ground when assailed by the weight 
of superior numbers ? The only wonder is 
that they were not hopelessly broken, as the 
enemy calculated that they would be. Only 



the skilful and determined way in which they 
were handled by the Army Commander, his 
wise and soldierlike decision at a critical 
moment to retire behind the Somme, and the 
gallant and determined fighting qualities of 
the rank and file, kept the line intact and pre- 
vented the enemy in spite of all his efforts and 
carefully organised plans from breaking through. 
On the 19th and 20th, the Brigadier carried 
out the programme which he had mapped out, 
and although the time was all too short for the 
purpose he managed to see the whole of his 
forward zone and the main line of resistance, 
which included the defences of Epehy and 
Peiziere, and to get a good idea of how his 
flank joined up with the neighbouring units. 
Some time was necessarily spent in carefully 
reconnoitring from the front line trenches of 
the Outpost Zone the three re-entrant valleys 
(Linnet Valley, Thrush Valley and Fourteen 
Willows Road), which led from the German line 
towards the Epehy ridge, as they were obvious 
lines of approach for any hostile attack. During 
this tour acquaintance with the various com- 
manding officers of units and details of their 



Strength and the various defensive measures 
for which they were responsible were gone into 
and discussed. There was not time during 
these two days to do more than take a cursory- 
glance at everything, and it was lucky that so 
much was able to be done in that brief space, 
as although handicapped to a large extent by 
his lack of knowledge of all the details, the 
Brigadier had seen enough to be able to fight 
his Brigade with confidence when the blow 
fell on the following morning, March 21. 

During the 19th and 20th the outlook had 
seemed very peaceful ; everything had been 
quiet, there had been very little shelling and 
no indication on the surface that anything was 
in the wind. But from information received 
beforehand, especially from the statement of 
two prisoners who had been captured and who 
on interrogation gave the 21st as the date 
which had been chosen for the attack, special 
watchfulness was enjoined on everybody and 
every precaution of readiness for instant action 
was taken. Actually the Brigadier was scep- 
tical, but his doubts were rudely dispelled 
when he was awakened the following morning 


at 4.30 a.m. by the crash of the opening bom- 
bardment. It came down Hke a thunderclap 
on all parts of the line, even as far back as 
Brigade Headquarters, and left no doubt in 
any one's mind from its depth and intensity 
that it meant business. 

A hurried move from the shelter to the dug- 
out was accomplished and, as a considerable 
proportion of gas shell was being used, gas masks 
had to be worn and continued to be necessary 
at intervals during the day, which did not 
add to the comfort of the proceedings. The 
morning was cold and damp and a thick mist 
enveloped everything, so that it was impossible 
to see any part of the front. Luckily the 
main telephone lines were buried, so that 
communication with the front line and the 
observation posts in Epehy was possible, but 
even these could not see much, owing to the 
mist. For six hours the bombardment con- 
tinued, and it was not until 10.30 a.m. that any 
infantry attack developed ; then a general 
attack along the whole line took place and, 
favoured by the fog, the enemy penetrated the 
forward zone in several places but were eventu- 


ally driven out again. It was evident from the 
first that the Boches were employing a new 
form of tactics, pushing forward light machine 
guns which opened the way for small parties of 
infantry advancing under cover of their fire ; 
where these bodies met with determined 
opposition the attack was not forced, but 
wherever there was a gap or the opposition was 
able to be overcome, there the attack was 
pressed and reinforcements directed. Thus a 
system of infiltration was estabHshed and the 
strong points were gradually surrounded and 
cut off. This was a very difficult system to 
combat, as, owing to the shortage of numbers, 
it was necessary to occupy the extensive front 
in a series of small posts mutually supporting 
each other. The mist however rendered this 
mutual support difiicult, hence this infiltration 
was more successful than it otherwise would 
have been, with the consequence that parts of 
the line were penetrated. Epehy and Peiziere 
were defended by a series of strong points in 
the villages themselves ; these had separate 
garrisons, were well wired, and disposed for 
mutual support of one another. The position 


was further strengthened by a strong machine- 
gun defence from the rear and flanks and a 
converging artillery barrage so arranged as 
to sweep these valleys at irregular intervals 
as they formed obvious forming-up places for 
the attacking troops ; and it is quite possible 
that this bore good fruit, as the frontal attacks 
on Epehy and Peiziere did not develop to any 
extent for some considerable period. During 
the morning, at about 11 a.m. the enemy 
apparently filtered through the battalion on 
the left and a strong party entered Peiziere ; 
a local counter-stroke by the 7th Leicesters, 
assisted by two tanks, however, drove them out 
successfully. At noon the main line of resist- 
ance was still intact and part of the forward 
zone remained in our hands, but both flanks 
were considerably threatened and reports from 
these directions of bombing enterprises on the 
part of the enemy went to show that all was 
not well there. Especially was this the case on 
the right where as far as could be ascertained 
there was a considerable gap. The telephone 
lines were still working with the forward 
Observation Post, and by this means a very fair 


idea of the situation was obtained. At 3 p.m. 
a heavy attack developed from Linnet and 
Thrush Valleys against the right (8th Leices- 
ters). The line, however, remained intact, 
but the situation on the extreme flank, where 
the 1 6th Division joined up, was very critical 
as the enemy appeared to have broken through 
at this point and in conformity with their plan, 
as sketched above, were pushing past it towards 
St. Emihe. The Brigadier therefore ordered 
up the 6th Leicesters to form a defensive 
flank, pivoting on the South edge of Epehy, 
towards Saulcourt ; and later they were 
reinforced from the Divisional Reserve by two 
companies R.E., three machine guns and a 
company of the 1st E. Yorks. Regt. And so 
the day wore on towards evening, and still the 
line was intact and the defensive flank holding 
its own ; but disquieting rumours of the 
enemy pushing down the St. Emilie Road 
caused much anxiety to the Brigadier. The 
position on the left flank was most satisfactory, 
as although Vaucellette Farm ridge had been 
taken yet Chapel Hill was still in our hands 
and the 12th /13th Northumberland Fusiliers 


were echeloned in rear of the Railton-Peiziere 
Railway. At 10.30 p.m. the fight had died 
down and as far as the Brigade front was 
concerned everything was in statu quo, except 
that the forward posts had gone — after a 
desperate fight from which unfortunately few 
returned. They undoubtedly broke up the 
enemy's attack on more than one occasion, 
prevented him from making an organised 
assault on the main line of resistance of Epehy, 
and remained at their posts until entirely sur- 
rounded. Even then, from reports received 
late in the afternoon, they were still holding 
out. It is difficult to say when or how they 
ceased to exist, but nothing could be finer than 
their performance and no words of praise are 
adequate for such men. Their epitaph lies 
in the text of the German Communique, 
which said : " The Leicester Brigade at Epehy 
gave us the most trouble." 

So the hours of darkness came, hours full of 
anxiety and work. There was no sleep for 
anybody, as there was much work to be done, 
reports to be received, orders sent out and 
rations to be arranged for ; and the oppor- 


tunity was taken of sending everything in the 
way of impedimenta to the rear, out of the 
way. The next morning (22nd) was still 
misty. At 6.45 a.m. a heavy bombardment 
commenced on the front line and to the rear 
of it, and about 8.15 a.m. the S.O.S. signal 
went up from Epehy where the enemy was 
developing a heavy infantry attack on the 
Southern defences of the village, at the same 
time pushing an attack from the direction of 
the Epehy-St. Emilie road against the defensive 
flank ; the latter attack extended as far as 
St. Emilie on the i6th Divisional Front. This 
attack was stoutly resisted, and fierce fighting 
at close quarters took place in and around the 
Southern portion of the village. Eventually 
the Southern group of posts were surrounded 
and captured, and the left of the defensive 
flank had to be withdrawn slightly to the 
North-West in consequence. At 9 a.m. the 
attack on this flank grew stronger and orders 
were sent for the line to withdraw North-West- 
wards to a line Capron Copse — Saulcourt. 
Lieut. -Colonel Stewart, D.S.O., commanding 
the 6th Leicesters, a very gallant officer and a 


great loss, was killed just before the withdrawal 
took place. By 10 a.m. the movement was 
complete, the 7th Leicesters still holding the 
main line of resistance and the village of 
Peiziere. At il a.m. orders were received 
from the Division for the Brigade to withdraw 
in rear of the reserve Brigade, who were in 
position along the Saulcourt — St. Emilie line, 
and reorganise near the aerodrome at Long- 
avesnes. To comply with these orders was 
not an easy matter. The enemy was pressing 
the defensive flank, the Southern defences of 
Epehy had gone and the remainder were 
in close touch with the Boche, if not already 
surrounded. The enemy had occupied St. 
Emilie and were pressing on down the Villers 
Faucon road. It seemed doubtful if the unit 
would be able to disentangle itself from such 
close grips and then make its way out through 
the gap that was left. The Brigadier issued 
orders for the Brigade to rendezvous at Long- 
avesnes, the retirement being carried out from 
the left, the 6th Leicesters to hold on to the 
flank to enable the 7th and 8th Leicesters to 
get away. The greatest latitude was left to 


Commanding Officers to withdraw their com- 
mands in the way best adapted to the changing 
situation. Headquarters remained at Saul- 
court till it was known that the orders had 
been received and the movement had started. 
In the meantime the personnel of Brigade H.Q. 
made up of cooks, servants, signallers, etc., 
were formed into a fighting formation and took 
their places in the Reserve Line which ran 
immediately in front of the H.Q., to fill a gap 
which existed where one of the battaHons of 
the reserve Brigade had not yet arrived. At 
about 12 noon, the Brigadier with his staff, in 
small separate parties, moved to Longavesnes, 
there to await the Brigade. This journey was 
by no means a pleasant one as a considerable 
area in front of Saulcourt through which their 
pathway lay was being heavily barraged by 
the enemy ; considerable practice in shell- 
dodging was obtained, but the passage was 
successfully carried out, with no casualties. 
The personnel of H.Q. were ordered to follow as 
soon as they were relieved, but owing to the 
exigencies of the situation they were unable 
to leave till the Reserve Line was evacuated 


during the afternoon, when the remnant 
eventually joined up. The consequence was 
that the Brigade, for the remainder of the 
operations, was left with very few signallers 
and none of their equipment, which proved a 
great handicap in the strenuous days that fol- 
lowed. In spite of the close proximity of the 
enemy, who followed up the retirement of the 
defensive flank, the operation was successfully 
accompHshed and was complete by 1.30 p.m., 
although stragglers who had got lost or been 
temporarily cut off continued to come in 
for some time afterwards. Lieut.-Colonel 
Utterson, D.S.O., 8th Leicesters, however, 
and the greater part of the surviving garrison 
of Epehy were missing, having been, as was 
afterwards ascertained, surrounded and cap- 
tured. The remnants of the battalions were 
rapidly formed up and reorganised as they 
arrived. The majority of the 8th Leicesters 
had disappeared and the 6th and yth had both 
suffered heavily. The men were given a meal 
of sorts and a rest ; but not for long, as orders 
were received at 3.30 for the Brigade to with- 
draw to Aizecourt-le-Haut, to act as reserve 


to the remainder of the Division, who were 
to hold a line East of Templeux-la-Fosse. By 
7.30 that evening the Brigade were settled in 
their bivouacs, dog-tired and weary with the 
march after their strenuous exertions of the 
previous days. The battalions were ordered 
to get as much rest as possible but to be ready 
to turn out at a moment's notice ; and, sure 
enough, during the night the situation East 
of Curlu Wood, on what was known as the 
Green Line, became very critical and the 
Brigade was ordered to come into position on 
the left of the 62nd Brigade by 4.30 a.m. on 
the 23rd, with the 9th Division prolonging the 
line to the North. The battalions of the 
Brigade were by this time so reduced that 
they were temporarily merged into one, and 
placed under the command of Lieut. -Colonel 
Sawyer, D.S.O. of the 7th Battalion. The 
14th BattaHon Northumberland Fusiliers 
(Pioneers) shortly afterwards joined the Brigade 
and acted with it during the remainder of the 
operation. At 6.40 a.m. the enemy opened 
with his artillery on the Green Line and the 
main Aizecourt-Curlu road, and his infantry 


commenced to push forward. At 8 a.m., 
acting on orders received, the Brigade fell 
back on an old trench line running from the 
Peronne-Curlu road, East of Aizecourt-le- 
Haut, towards Moislains, the line South of the 
road being held by the 64th Brigade; the 
62nd Brigade occupied the part East of Aize- 
court. From now onwards, their strength 
being so much reduced, the 62nd and iioth 
Brigades amalgamated and acted under the 
joint orders of the two Brigadiers. About 
10 a.m. both flanks of their position were 
turned, and the troops holding it fell back to 
the high ground at Haut Allaines, the 6th, 7th 
and 8th Leicesters retiring through Moislains 
in conformity with the movement. 

It was about this time that a very exciting 
incident befel the Brigadier. While on the 
heights close to Haut Allaines, where the joint 
Brigade H.Q. were temporarily established, 
just before the troops started to retire from 
their positions at Aizecourt, touch with the 
Division was required to report the situation 
and obtain orders for further movements. For 
this purpose the Brigadier, attended by his 

113 H 


orderly, rode rapidly back through the village 
to the cross-roads about a mile to the West, 
where the 64th Brigade H.Q. were situated, 
and where it was known that telephone con- 
nection was established with Divisional H.Q. 

The Girman OrptNsivi, Sfco 

On arrival he was able to converse with the 
Divisional Commander and having got all the 
information he could, he started back without 
losing a moment to where he imagined he 
would find his H.Q. Some time of course had 


elapsed before he had started back and in the 
meantime the enemy had pushed rapidly for- 
ward, the two Brigades with their head- 
quarters having been compelled to retire across 
the canal, leaving the village to be occupied 

lax {March, 191 

by the enemy. Quite unaware of this situation, 
he was cantering through when suddenly he 
was fired at at comparatively short range, one 
bullet hitting his horse just in front of the 
saddle. Rapidly realising the situation, he 


turned his horse and shouted to his orderly to 
turn and gallop as hard as he could. Every 
moment the firing grew more intense and, while 
turning, both horses were again hit but luckily 
without breaking a bone. A wild gallop out 
of the village, followed by a regular fusillade 
which, however, did not do any further damage, 
brought them to shelter round an angle in the 
road and the horses, mortally wounded though 
they were, were stout-hearted enough to con- 
tinue till the village was left well in the rear. 
Having put a sufficient distance between them 
and the village, the Brigadier pulled up and 
sending his orderly on towards Clery-sur- 
Somme with the horses, with orders to shoot 
them, he started to walk across country and 
eventually rejoined his H.Q. who had retired 
to the high ground west of the canal, over- 
looking Moislains. The orderly took the horses 
back, but the Brigadier's horse died on the 
way, and the other was shot shortly afterwards. 
Both riders owed their lives, and certainly their 
freedom, to the gallant way in which, although 
badly wounded, the horses had kept up suffi- 
ciently to carry them out of danger. 


By 12 noon the whole Division had crossed 
the Canal and had taken up a position on the 
ridge overlooking it, with the right of the 64th 
Brigade on Clery-sur-Somme. The enemy 
were now in possession of the East bank of the 
canal and their artillery was causing considerable 
losses to the transport which had got jammed 
on the Clery road, as the devastated country 
of the old Somme battlefield rendered move- 
ment across country impossible for wheeled 
trafhc. Unluckily the Brigade Headquarters 
wagons were blown up, with the result that 
Brigade H.Q. were left with nothing but what 
they stood up in — not that that mattered very 
much at the moment, but its effects were felt 
very much in days to come. Later in the 
afternoon a further retirement was made to 
higher ground East of Bouchavesnes, but 
shortly afterwards, finding that both flanks 
were in the air, the Brigadier withdrew the 
line to the Bois Marriere ridge, where touch 
was obtained with the 64th Brigade North of 
Clery ; no junction, however, with the 9th 
Division to the North could be obtained. The 
remnants of the two Brigades (62nd and iioth) 



were now retiring on the upland country North 
of the Clery road — a blank desolated area, 
where it was impossible, owing to lack of neces- 
sary equipment, to get touch or get into com- 
munication except by runners, so that during 
this period no information or orders were 
received, and the force under the Brigadier 
had to act on its own initiative, endeavouring 
as far as possible to conform to the general 
movement. Carrying out this idea during the 
night of the 23rd /24th, the Brigadier withdrew 
the force to a line one thousand yards West of 
the Bois Marriere ridge, and by this means, 
early in the morning, gained touch again with 
the 64th Brigade and eventually with the 9th 
Division. At 7 a.m. that morning, the 21st 
Division was holding the line East of Clery, over- 
looking the Clery-Feuillaucourt canal to a point 
South of the Bouchavesnes-Mt. St. Quentin 
road, where it joined with the 9th Division. 
Between 9 and 10 that morning, Clery village 
was taken by the enemy and the 64th Brigade 
were withdrawn to a line running West of 
Clery and North- West of Hem Wood. Earlier 
in the morning a staff ofhcer arrived from the 


Division bringing orders and information of 
the situation, together with news that fresh 
troops were coming up to reHeve them, and 
between 11 and 12 noon a Brigade of the 35th 
Division arrived to take over the line West of 
Clery from the 64th Brigade, while the lioth 
and 62nd Brigades retired to the ridge two 
miles South-East of Maurepas. Up till now 
the Brigade H.Q. of both the 62nd and iioth 
Brigades had been merged in the front line, 
but they were now ordered back to Hem Wood, 
where they remained for the greater part of 
the day, orders being sent out by runners and 
touch with the Division at Maricourt being 
once more established by telephone, which 
made things much easier. During the after- 
noon orders were received for the relief of the 
Division by the 35th, and later the Brigades 
withdrew to the Maurepas-Curlu line and 
subsequently via Maricourt to Suzanne where 
they halted for the night and battalions were 
reorganised as far as possible. Early next 
morning (25 th) the whole Division moved to 
Bray-sur-Somme, where a composite Brigade, 
under Brigadier-General Headlam, of the 64th 


Brigade, was organised, made up of a composite 
battalion from each Brigade, which eventually 
took up a position from Bray to Dernancourt, 
between the Somme and the Ancre. Having 
organised and handed over the battahon. Bri- 
gade H.Q. late in the evening proceeded to 
Sailly-le-Sec, where they spent the night. 
The roads during this march were filled with 
troops and guns retiring Westwards and mingled 
with the rest were crowds of country people 
moving in the same direction accompanied by 
every sort of vehicle, from farm carts to peram- 
bulators, conveying as much of their household 
treasures as they could. It was a sad sight to 
see, as nearly all of them were old men and 
women accompanied by very young children, 
to whom a journey of this kind must have 
been a great hardship, more especially as this 
was the second time they had had to do it. 
If it had not been for the tragedy of it, it was 
almost laughable to see what the loads on the 
carts were chiefly composed of. Apparently 
the most treasured possessions were beds, and 
it was chiefly with these bulky articles that the 
carts were loaded. What help could be afforded 



to them was given in the way of transport, but 
it was doubtful if they all got away as a large 
proportion of them were very feeble and could 
neither move fast nor far. 

In the early morning of the 26th, the nucleus 
parties of the three battalions, the last remain- 
ing part of the Brigade, were organised as a 
company, and, together with similar ones from 
other Brigades, were formed into a battalion 
under Lieut.-Colonel McCulloch and sent to 
take up a position South of Morlancourt. The 
same morning Brigade H.Q. were ordered to 
Heilly, where the Brigadier was to organise a 
Brigade. On arrival he found an Entrenching 
battalion and a mass of men collected from 
drafts, men returning from leave, and a certain 
number of stragglers. These he organised into 
a " Highland " battalion from the drafts of 
the 9th Division and a " Draft " battalion 
from the remainder ; and these with the En- 
trenching battalion made up the Brigade. 
The Brigade, when organised, was to occupy a 
line from Ribemont-sur-Ancre to Heilly ; sub- 
sequent orders were however received to take 
up the line of the old trench system running 


from Ribemont to Sailly-le-Sec. The 2nd 
Cavalry Division, under General Mullins, had 
by this time arrived ; they took up a position 
in front of this line, and were in touch with 
the troops on the South of the Somme, so that 
information regarding the situation on that 
side was forthcoming. The situation was none 
too rosy, and the enemy were pressing hard 
South of the Somme, where there were only 
tired and disorganised troops to oppose them. 
Reinforcements were on their way but had not 
yet arrived, and the line was now getting dan- 
gerously close to Amiens. North of the river, 
too, there were no fresh troops to oppose a 
determined effort on the part of the enemy. 
It was an anxious time, especially for the 
Brigadier, with a hastily organised and unknown 
force under his command, and with an attack 
of unknown strength imminent at any moment. 
By the early morning of the 27th the Brigade 
was firmly estabhshed in position, and during 
the night Lieut.-Colonel McCulloch's force 
had also arrived and entrenched itself in rear. 
At 11.30 a.m. the nth AustraHan Brigade 
arrived by lorry and that afternoon took over 


the front line, the Brigadier's force withdraw- 
ing into immediate support in rear of them. 
The Australian troops were a magnificent body 
of men, fresh and well-trained as they came 
straight from six weeks' rest and training near 
the sea and had been rushed up by lorry to 
reinforce this part of the front. The Brigades 
were well up to strength, and their Brigadier 
and all his staff appeared to be particularly 
alert and capable. They were eventually able 
completely to get the upper hand of the Boche, 
who lived in terror of them ; and when the 
advance took place later in the year they went 
through in fine style. 

Brigade H.Q. moved from Heilly Chateau, 
which was taken over by the nth Australian 
Brigade, to the Lime Kilns on the Corbie road 
— a more central position, but unthinkably 
dirty and uncomfortable. The day was a 
comparatively peaceful one ; nothing happened 
on our immediate front, although the 3rd 
Australian Division had issued orders for the 
Brigadier's force to be prepared to attack in 
the direction of Sailly-le-Sec in case of need. 
The necessity never arose, much to the Briga- 


dier's relief, as the idea of attacking with tired 
and newly organised battalions without any 
means of transport was not attractive. The 
situation in the afternoon about Sailly and 
South of the Somme was cleared up by the 
cavalry and the enemy made no effort that 
day in that direction. On the 28th, the Briga- 
dier's force was relieved by another Brigade of 
the 3rd Australian Division, with orders for 
all details to rejoin their Divisions. Brigade 
Headquarters moved to Behencourt, where the 
" details " of the Brigade had already gone. 
During the night 28th /29th the Brigade was 
ordered to furnish a composite battalion to 
form part of another Composite Brigade of the 
Division, which was to be under the command 
of General Gater and was to move to a position 
East of Baizieux if required ; but again the 
necessity never arose. On the evening of the 
29th the Brigade moved to Allonville, and 
during the march, under sudden orders issued 
by the Corps, the Composite Brigade under 
General Gater was diverted to la Neuville to 
support the 3rd Australian Division. So once 
more the Brigadier was minus his Brigade, and 


arrived at Allonville very late in the evening 
in pitch darkness, where he had some difficulty 
in finding his Headquarters. Eventually he was 
lucky enough to get some dinner at Divisional 
Headquarters, whither he went to report the 
departure of the Composite Brigade — the first 
decent meal he had had for nine days. 

On the 30th, General Gater's Brigade came 
In, not having been required ; and the follow- 
ing day General Headlam's force and Colonel 
McCulloch's arrived and all details rejoined 
their Brigades which were at once reorganised 
into battalions, wofully attenuated, averaging 
little over 200 fighting men each battalion. 

Thus ended, as far as the 21st Division was 
concerned, the German Offensive on this part 
of the front. By the help of reinforcements, 
both French and British, the tired and shat- 
tered Divisions were relieved, and the line 
stabilised practically on the same positions on 
which they had finished up. A certain amount 
of devastated country had been lost, but other- 
wise not much harm had been done. The 
line had never been broken, the enemy had 
failed to interpose between the allied armies, 


and although under fire of his guns, Amiens 
had not been taken " according to plans ". 
Looked at in this light, the German Offensive 
was a failure, and a costly one, but its failure 
was due solely to the fighting qualities of the 
troops and the able handhng of the 5th Army 
by its Commander. 

It proved the impossibility of defending a 
position, thinly held, with a paucity of reserves, 
against a well-organised attack in superior num- 
bers. The fallacy of trying to hold defensive 
positions with a series of posts instead of a 
connected line was exposed and the policy, 
although rendered necessary by circumstances, 
was shown to be unsound, more especially with 
only partially trained troops. The uses of 
light and heavy machine guns both in attack 
and defence were clearly exemplified, especially 
their power when ably handled in attack, as it 
was in great measure due to them that the 
German infantry were able to pursue their 
tactics of infiltration. The necessity for defence 
in depth by machine guns was clearly shown 
on many occasions, also for this defence in 
depth to be maintained throughout a retire- 


ment, being carried out by echeloning those 
weapons and carrying out a rearward move- 
ment by successive " leap-frogging ". At 
Epehy the machine guns placed on the flanks 
of Epehy and Peiziere broke up the attack by 
their barrage fire and materially assisted the 
defence. By their position on the flanks, they 
were also enabled to turn their attention to the 
flank attacks and prevent their developing. It 
also demonstrated the necessity for the machine 
guns of a Division to be worked under one 
command, and for that commander to be in 
close touch with the Division, so as to carry 
out the wishes of the Divisional Commander 
in co-operation with the other arms. 

One thing that appeared surprising was that 
the enemy made no attempt to use his cavalry, 
although on several occasions if boldly handled 
they must have had opportunities of acting 
with direful results on the weary infantrymen. 
The British cavalry, on the other hand, when 
they arrived, did yeoman service in checking 
the advancing enemy. 

As for the fighting men themselves, no words 
can express the admiration evoked by their 


doggedness and tenacity in circumstances which 
would have tried and might have demoralised 
the best and highest trained troops. There 
may have been instances of their leaving posi- 
tions too soon, but this, when it occurred, was 
due to sheer fatigue and the lack of sufficient 
officers in the later stages. There were no 
signs of panic at any time ; if they retired they 
simply walked away and could be stopped and 
brought up again with no difficulty if there 
was any one to lead them. They were handi- 
capped severely by lack of that training which 
they ought to have had during the winter 
months. This was inevitable, however, owing 
to the enormous amount of work which had 
had to be done in constructing a new line over 
an enormous front and making successive lines 
in rear of it. Training under these circum- 
stances had to go to the wall. The fault lay, 
if fault it were, in taking over more front than 
we had troops to occupy it with — in fact, to 
use an Americanism, we had " bitten off more 
than we could chew." 


chapter 5 : The \th Battle of 
Ypres — April ^ 1 9 1 8 

THE 2 1 St Division came out of the fighting 
described in the previous chapter con- 
siderably knocked about and with greatly 
depleted numbers, but with their moral and 
confidence unshaken. Although they had been 
obliged to make a retrograde movement, it 
had been carried out with steadiness and dis- 
cipline, the front had remained unbroken and 
there was no doubt that heavy losses had been 
inflicted by them on the enemy. New drafts 
of men were quickly forthcoming to fill the 
vacancies but these were of course comparatively 
raw, and to a certain extent untrained, although 
good material if time could be given to let 
them settle down and be properly organised 
and trained with their battaHons. This respite 
was, however, from force of circumstances not 
procurable. The Division was sent straight 
.129 I 


from the Somme to the 2nd Army and even- 
tually to the Ypres area where another Boche 
attack commenced, and fighting of the fiercest 
description took place shortly after its arrival. 
The Division was handicapped severely by its 
inability to train and rest the harassed battalions 
of the Brigades. They nevertheless rose nobly 
to the occasion, and throughout one of the 
biggest battles which entailed a considerable 
amount of movement it was wonderful how 
the recently joined recruits fell into the scheme 
of things, acting and fighting Hke veterans in 
maintaining the already high reputation of the 
Division. Both the 62nd and 64th Brigades 
were detached to other Divisions for certain 
purposes shortly after the fighting started, and 
it was not till towards the end that the 62nd 
Brigade returned. In the meanwhile the 
Division was made up of Brigades from other 
Divisions which were attached to it for varying 
periods, the 21st Brigade, the 39th Division 
Composite Brigade and the 89th Brigade being 
used for this purpose at different times. 

On the afternoon of April i, the iioth 
Brigade left Allonville and marched to Amiens. 


where it entrained that evening and proceeded 
to a place in the 2nd Army Area appropriately 
called Hopoutre and thence marched to Locre. 
It was far from being a pleasant journey. In 
the first place the Boche airmen had been mak- 
ing a target of the St. Roch station in Amiens, 
where they entrained, and while the entrain- 
ment was in progress it was quite on the cards 
that the station might be bombed from the 
air at any minute. When the Brigadier's train 
came to start something went wrong and it 
was kept for three hours in the station before 
finally getting under way. That time of wait- 
ing was rather trying, as there seemed to be no 
particular object in waiting in such a very 
exposed place and an accurate attack would 
have been disastrous. However there was 
nothing to be done, and eventually the train 
moved off, to every one's great relief, the airmen 
not paying a visit that night. The discomfort 
of these railway journeys was intense ; the 
rolling stock used for the purpose was by no 
means first class and a journey of thirty-six 
hours in a filthy carriage of a suburban train 
type was no luxury. Apparently the trains 


were used to such an extent that any idea of 
cleaning them was impossible. On this occa- 
sion the carriage was so filthy that all hands 
had to set to to clean it as best they could before 
starting. In these circumstances the Brigade 
H.Q. mess-corporal, the admirable Eldridge, 
always surpassed himself by producing meals 
in the most extraordinary way ; how he did it 
was always a marvel to every one. On arrival 
at Locre Brigade H.Q. were quartered in a 
little house near the hospital which a few weeks 
later became part of the battle area, with the 
usual result of reducing it to a heap of ruins. 
On April 4 the 21st Division relieved the ist 
Australian Division on the Wytschaete-Messines 
ridge with the 62nd and 64th Brigades in the 
line and the iioth Brigade in reserve at Fairy 
House, to which place they moved on the 4th. 
On the 7th however the Division was relieved 
by the 19th Division and was ordered to take 
over the Menin road sector East of Ypres, from 
the 49th Division. The Brigade moved there- 
fore to La Clytte on the 7th, and to Quebec 
Camp on the 8th. While this latter move 
was in progress the Brigadier and his Brigade 


Major went hy motor-car to reconnoitre and 
make arrangements for relieving the 148th 
Brigade in the Hne. They found the H.Q. of 
this Brigade in a series of huts just North of 
Zillebeke Lake on Warrington Road and the 
Brigadier, General Green Wilkinson, turned 
out to be an old friend of South African War 
days. Here arrangements for the relief were 
worked out and all details with regard to the 
defence of the sector explained and discussed. 
There was no time that day actually to recon- 
noitre the line, but the commanding officers of 
the battalions, together with the company 
officers of the battalion actually taking over 
the front line, were sent to reconnoitre with 
the respective battalions which they were to 
relieve. Everything was very quiet and peace- 
ful — but it was not to remain so for long. 

On the following night, the pth/ioth, the 
Brigade took over the line, the 6th Leicesters, 
now commanded by Lieut. -Colonel Chance 
(5th Lancers), relieving the 5th York and Lanes. 
Regt. in the front line on Tower Hamlets ridge, 
the 8th Leicesters in support at Zillebeke Lake 
and the 7th Leicesters in reserve at Scottish 



Wood. A battalion of 22nd Corps troops, 
composed of Australian Light Horse and New 
Zealand Cyclists, were already in the line in the 
right subsector of the Brigade front and became 
attached to the Brigade. The move up to the 
line was carried out by light railway which 
saved the troops a very long march, and was a 
great help in every way. The relief went off 
without incident during the evening and, owing 
to the able arrangements of the 148th Brigade, 
was completed before midnight. 

The forward system of the line held by the 
Brigade comprised a fairly well-developed 
though irregular trench system East of the 
Basseville Beke on Tower Hamlets ridge as far 
as the Menin Road on the left battalion front. 
On the right it consisted of a line of posts 
West of the Basseville Beke which connected 
up with the outpost line of the 9th Division 
on the right, North of the canal. A support 
line ran in rear along the spur overlooking the 
Basseville Beke valley. The marshy ground in 
this valley formed a serious obstacle against 
any attack from the East, but it also precluded 
any direct junction between the left and right 






^„ ¥ 




subsectors — a di^dvantage partially met by a 
system of signalling across the valley. 

The morning of April lo practically saw the 
commencement of the 4th Battle of Ypres. 
The enemy commenced on this day that pres- 
sure which led up to the violent attack culminat- 
ing in the taking of Wyschaete and Messines 
and later Mt. Kemmel, threatening the Scher- 
penberg and the Mont des Cats, with Hase- 
brouck as the objective — the capture of which 
would have necessitated the evacuation of 
Ypres. The thrust which started to the South 
of the salient eventually spread Northwards, 
the most Northerly portions of it finally reach- 
ing the Southern defences of Ypres itself 
between Zillebeke Lake and Voormezeele. It 
was a fierce and long-drawn-out struggle, and 
as the enemy penetrated deeper into the line 
further South, it became necessary to retire 
and change front on the Northern part of the 
line, with Ypres as the pivot. These move- 
ments were by no means easy as they had to 
be carried out under constant and heavy artil- 
lery fire and entailed constant vigilance and 
very hard work on the part of the troops, in the 


face of an enterprising and active enemy. The 
battle finally culminated in a violent effort on 
the enemy's part to straighten out the salient 
he had formed and make ground Northwards, 
with which intent he attacked in a North- 
westerly direction from Wyschaete towards 
Ypres ; the final phase lasted all through the 
27th, 28th, and 29th of April, and ended on 
the line Hill 60 — Voormezeele — Ridge Wood. 
This critical attack was successfully resisted 
with very heavy casualties to the enemy, and 
practically ended the battle as far as this part 
of the front was concerned. 

On the morning of the loth (the day follow- 
ing the relief of the 49th Division) the enemy, 
in conjunction with his operations further 
South, started heavy shelHng of the battery 
positions round Zillebeke Lake and all the 
roads and tracks leading to the front Hne. 
The support battalion was in an exposed situa- 
tion in a hut camp near the lake, so, partly to 
obtain shelter for them and partly as a pre- 
cautionary measure, they were ordered to move 
up to dug-outs in Observation ridge — Tor Top 
and Canada tunnels. The Brigade H.Q. itself 



was not in a very happy position, being exposed 
in huts on Warrington Road in the centre of 
the shelled area. They bore with it for some 
time, but the following day after several high 
velocity shells had come very near and one 
had pitched within ten yards of the mess hut 
(luckily in a shell hole full of mud and water), 
the Brigadier decided that it was time to move, 
and shifted Headquarters to the dam which 
ran along the West side of Zillebeke Lake, 
where a certain amount of shelter could be 
obtained, although even there it was more 
moral then material ; however it was a decided 
improvement. The Divisional Pioneers were 
in occupation of these shelters at the time, but 
with the greatest good will gave up a sufficient 
number of them to accommodate the party ; 
Colonel Weyman, who commanded them, was 
particularly helpful and unselfish in assisting 
to carry out the change. There had always 
been a particularly good understanding with 
the Divisional Pioneers since the time when 
during the Somme Battle they became part 
of the Brigade for a short while. 

On the night of the iith/i2th, the 7th 


Leicesters relieved the 22nd Corps composite 
regiment in the right subsector. The com- 
posite regiment went back to Scottish Wood 
in reserve, but the following day were taken 
away and sent to another part of the front, 
thus reducing the Brigade to three battalions 
again, a loss of strength which at that particular 
moment could ill be afforded. On the same 
night (nth/ 1 2th) the enemy attempted to 
raid an isolated post of the 6th Leicesters, 
but the attack was beaten off and a sergeant of 
the 393rd Regiment was left dead on our wire, 
which was a very valuable identification. 

Nothing of importance happened during 
the next two days, but big things were taking 
place further South and the news was grave 
concerning the progress of the enemy's 
attack. On the 15th orders were received to 
withdraw the line from the forward positions 
to a line South of Zillebeke Lake, running just 
North of French Farm to Convent Lane, con- 
necting on the left with the 6th Division, the 
right being continued to Snipers Barn by the 
39th Division Composite Brigade attached to 
the Division. The new position to be taken 



up was organised on the Brigade front as an 
outpost zone and a main line of resistance, the 
former consisting of the line already indicated, 
with supporting points in the rear, and the 
latter being the old G.H.Q. line running parallel 
with the road from Shrapnel Corner to Kruis- 
traat Hoek. This latter was an old line which 
had been dug in 191 7 and had now partially- 
fallen in and required digging out ; but still 
it was there, which was something. The out- 
post defences had to be constructed, and there 
was much to be done, but very little time to 
do it in. 

The withdrawal was carried out that night 
(i5th/i6th), the two front line battalions, 
the 7th and 8th Leicesters, gradually vacating 
their positions after dark, and quietly and care- 
fully retiring through two companies of the 
6th Leicesters under Major Burdett, who were 
left as a rearguard on Observation ridge from 
Tor Top to Mt. Sorrel ; this rearguard re- 
mained in position until the new line had 
been dug and organised for occupation. The 
same night work was started on the new line 
and was continued night and day until it was 


completed. Two companies of the 6th and 
8th Leicesters were detailed for the purpose 
and worked with such a will that the line was 
ready for occupation by the night of the 
1 7th/ 1 8th, a very creditable performance. It 
was then taken over by the 7th and 8th Batta- 
lions who occupied the whole system in depth, 
two companies in the Outpost Zone and two 
companies in the G.H.Q. line. Meanwhile the 
two companies of the 6th Leicesters, which 
were eventually reinforced on the night of the 
20th/2ist with the remaining two companies 
of the battalion, had held the rearguard position 
on Observation ridge till the 23rd, when they 
were relieved by the 7th Battalion who con- 
tinued to hold it till they were ordered to 
withdraw on the 26th. The holding of this 
isolated position was a very trying and arduous 
duty, entailing incessant watchfulness and care 
on the part of all concerned. It was only a 
skeleton force, scattered over a wide extent of 
front in small posts with practically no sup- 
port. It was really a colossal piece of bluff to 
cover, in the first instance, the construction of 
the new line ; but it was continued for some 


time longer as it prevented the enemy from 
gaining a commanding bit of ground from 
which observation of the whole area was pos- 
sible. It proved a most successful device, as 
the enemy advanced very slowly and cautiously 
towards it, and it was not until the 17th that 
he pushed forward and established a general 
hne in front of it. Thenceforward the line 
was very little molested, except by sniping 
and trench mortaring (which rendered com- 
munication between the posts impossible in 
daylight), and by an unsuccessful raid on the 
right post on the night of the 20th /21st, which 
was beaten off with apparently heavy casualties 
to the enemy ; but he was able in the darkness 
to remove his wounded. 

The situation on the 23rd was rather a 
curious one on this portion of the front ; the 
6th Leicesters were holding the forward out- 
post line, immediately in front of the main 
line sector held by the 6th Division West of 
Zillebeke Lake. The continuation of the 
outpost line on the right from Mt. Sorrel 
to the Eikhof Farm, South of the Canal, was 
held by the 21st Brigade with two battalions 



in front and one in reserve, and behind the 
line was the sector of the new line astride the 
Canal from French Farm to Convent Lane, held 
as already described by two battalions of the 
iioth Brigade. The enemy's artillery action 
during the whole of this time was very violent 
and continuous, a large amount of gas shell 
being used which caused a considerable num- 
ber of casualties and prevented the troops 
getting any rest or sleep. Although still only 
on the fringe of the battle which was raging 
further to the South, and although no actual 
infantry action had as yet materiahsed, still 
the strain of the constant shelHng and the 
watchfulness required from the liability of 
attack at any moment was beginning to have 
its effect on the personnel, who were getting 
very tired and worn out. No relief was pos- 
sible but the men, weary as they were, stuck 
it out manfully and when the actual attack did 
take place, showed that their stamina was equal 
to the occasion. 

On the 1 6th Brigade Headquarters moved 
from Zillebeke Lake to Walker Camp, about a 
mile to the West of Dickebusch. It was 


merely a hut camp round a ruined farm house 
with no protection except that which was 
afforded by the standing walls of the house, 
into which " elephant " shelters protected by 
sand bags had been introduced, which gave a 
sense of security and protection against splin- 
ters, but could not have withstood a direct hit. 
Here Headquarters remained for the rest of 
the time, but as more and more guns took 
up their position all round it in the vicinity, 
and of course attracted the enemy's fire, it 
was not a healthy place of residence, and the 
Brigadier thought that he was much safer 
and quieter when he was forward in the line 
than he was at his own Headquarters. 

On the 25 th the enemy, after a very heavy 
bombardment, commenced an attack on a line 
roughly North-West from the direction of 
Wyschaete and Kemmel and drove the line 
held by the 39th Composite Brigade and the 
9th Division, to which the 64th Brigade was 
attached, back to the West of Kruistraat and 
Kemmel Village, causing the 39th Brigade to 
form a defensive flank from St. Eloi to Ridge 
Wood. The 62nd Brigade the same morning 


was moved up to a position of readiness and 
during the evening sent one battalion to rein- 
force the 39th Brigade in Ridge Wood, the 
remaining two battahons continuing the defen- 
sive flank to Hallebast Corner. The 62nd 
Brigade Headquarters and the 39th Composite 
Brigade Headquarters were accommodated in 
Walker Camp, which became considerably 
congested in consequence. 

On the 26th the enemy extended his front 
of attack Northwards and drove in the 21st 
Brigade, capturing the Bluff and the Spoil 
Bank. It was in consequence of this acquisition 
of commanding ground that the 7th Leicesters 
were ordered to withdraw from Tor Top and 
retire into Brigade reserve near Hanover House. 
The situation otherwise remained the same 
from Voormezeele southwards, although the 
enemy constantly developed attacks against 
Ridge Wood and its vicinity which was the 
scene of some very desperate fighting at close 

On the night of the 27th/28th the 39th 
and 62nd Brigades were relieved by the 89th 
Brigade, and the same evening shortly after 

145 K 


dusk a large enemy raiding party about 250 
strong surprised and surrounded Lankhof Farm 
and the four posts East of it. One officer and 
twenty men fought their way out but the 
Company Headquarters at Lankhof Farm and 
about seventy men were missing. The enemy 
maintained his hold on the position, which 
stood on higher ground than the adjoining 
posts, in spite of a counter-attack by a company 
of the 7th Battalion sent up to eject them. 
The loss of this part of the line was a very 
serious one and prevented the relief between 
the 89th Brigade and the iioth Brigade in 
that part of the line from Lock 8 to Vimy 

On the 28th the enemy attacked Voorme- 
zeele, and a desperate fight took place for its 
possession. The village was taken and retaken 
twice before it finally remained in Boche hands. 
After capturing the village, the enemy pro- 
ceeded to work Northwards up the trench 
leading to Lock 8, by means of bombing 
parties which eventually captured Lock 8 by 
7 p.m. and occupied Vimy post. Owing to 
this move a company of the 6th Leicesters 


with one platoon of the yth Leicesters were 
obHged to throw back their flanks on both 
sides of the canal between Lock 8 and the 
Iron Bridge. The fighting on this day was 
carried on at close quarters with bayonet, bomb 
and rifle, and was controlled and carried out 
chiefly by the junior officers of the battalions 
concerned with great dash and skill. The local 
situation was constantly changing and required 
individual action in carrying out the general 
scheme without waiting for definite orders ; 
and the training which they had received for 
this purpose bore fruit here. 

The artillery activity of the enemy, which 
had been gradually increasing in its intensity, 
culminated on the 29th in a terrific bombard- 
ment of the G.H.Q. line, Bedford House 
area, Ridge Wood, and all battery positions 
and approaches to the line. This bombard- 
ment started about 3 a.m. and at 6 a.m. the 
infantry assault started ; this was chiefly con- 
centrated on Ridge Wood and the G.H.Q. 
line as far as Kruistraathoek cross roads, and a 
subsidiary attack also developed on the outpost 
line along the Canal from Lock 8. The gap 



caused hy the loss of Vimy post and Lock 8 
became increasingly dangerous, so the Brigadier 
during the morning ordered the withdrawal 
of the company holding the Canal between 
Lock 8 and the Iron Bridge, and arranged for a 
new defensive flank to be formed running 
from the Iron Bridge across to Bellegoed 
Farm, which in this way linked up the Bedford 
House-French Farm line with the G.H.Q. 
system. This latter operation was carried out 
by one company of the 7th Leicesters, the 
supporting battalion, and another from the 
same battalion was used to relieve the right 
flank company of the 6th Leicesters in the 
G.H.Q. line, who had sustained a continuous 
bombardment mixed with heavy gas shells 
for two days and had also been strongly 
attacked, their casualties being particularly 
heavy and the men dead beat from want of 
sleep. The fighting round Ridge Wood and 
its vicinity was of a particularly fierce character, 
the enemy renewing his efforts again and again ; 
but the 89th Brigade, assisted by well placed 
machine guns and with the skilful co-operation 
of the artillery, successfully beat off all attacks 


and inflicted very severe losses on the enemy. 

At 2.30 p.m. the enemy assembled to attack 
the Iron Bridge, having probably noticed the 
withdrawal of the post in front of it. The 
attack was finally broken up and dispersed by 
combined artillery, machine gun and rifle 
fire, but not before a considerable amount of 
hand-to-hand bomb and bayonet work had 
taken place in the canal bed itself. Splendid 
work was done here by officers and men ahke 
of the companies of the 6th and 7th Leicesters 
concerned, and they left their mark on the 
enemy to such purpose that the attack was not 
renewed. The 8th Leicesters on the left, as 
far as French Farm, were also attacked in some 
force, but had no difficulty in defeating the 
attempt which was the extreme limit of the 
attack. The fighting, which had lasted all 
day, gradually died down about dusk and the 
night was quiet except for the usual shelhng, 
but even that was not of the intensive character 
it had been. 

During the night of the 29th/30th a com- 
pany of the 14th Northumberland FusiHers 
(Divl. Pioneers) and the 126th Co. R.E. 


assisted the Brigade in digging and wiring the 
new line between the Iron Bridge and Bellegoed 
Farm, which thus became properly consolidated 
and constituted a grave menace against any 
attack from the direction of Voormezeele 
against the G.H.Q. line. 

The 30th passed quietly. The enemy did 
not renew his attacks, and there was a consider- 
able diminution in the shell fire during the 
day ; and this lull continued during the night 
when the 58th Brigade relieved the iioth 
which withdrew to near Busseboom. The 
relief, although very late, was carried out with- 
out incident and with no casualties, and the out- 
post line was handed over intact. It was nearly 
3 a.m. before the Brigadier and his Brigade- 
Major left their Headquarters, the relief 
having been reported complete. They were 
not sorry to see the last of it, as it had proved 
a most unpleasant refuge. They were both 
tired and weary to the verge of breaking point 
as the Brigade had been in action for practically 
three weeks, from the loth to the 30th. 
Although not actually fighting during the 
whole time the strain on the staff had been 


very severe, and the last three days especially 
had been a period of strenuous activity with 
little sleep and constant anxiety. They 
stumbled along the dark muddy road for about 
a mile to where the motor-car awaited them 
on the lee side of a little farm house, the 
cellars of which had been converted into a field 
dressing station. There they found the car, 
but at first nothing would induce it to start, 
which was trying to overstrained nerves as 
it was by no means a sheltered spot and had 
been heavily shelled the day before. How- 
ever, they eventually got away and a short 
run over a very bumpy road brought them to 
their new abode. During the run in the 
darkness, it was curious to see how narrow and 
deep the salient appeared. The Boche Very- 
lights seemed to be going up from every quarter 
and the gap through them appeared astound- 
ingly small when seen in this way. Something 
to eat and drink was ready for them on arrival, 
and finally a sleep in a more or less com- 
fortable bed, with the additional joy of being 
able to get into pyjamas — the first time for 
three weeks ! 



The battle continued for a short time longer, 
but not with the same intensity. The force 
of the attack had been spent and never 
revived. Further South the German advance 
was brought to a halt in no uncertain manner 
by the 1st Australian Division at Meteren. 
French reinforcements were rapidly pushed 
up and the line was stabilised ; Wyschaete, 
Messines and Kemmel remained in Boche 
hands, but the Scherpenberg and the Mont 
des Cats were still intact. They never 
succeeded in getting nearer to Ypres than the 
outskirts of Ridge Wood and the village of 
Voormezeele, and the line remained where 
the Brigadier had left it. The Boche remained 
in the salient he had created, much to his own 
detriment, until he finally withdrew in the 
last phase of the war. This attack had cost 
him very dearly, and except for a shght gain 
in territory in a most desolated and unpleasant 
area he had hardly benefited at all. 

The practical lessons that could be learnt 

from this battle were not of a very obvious 

character in this portion of the front. There 

had been a certain amount of manoeuvring 



which was of extreme value in giving officers 
and men aHke great confidence in themselves 
and the true infantry weapon — the rifle. The 
vogue of the bomb had passed, never to return, 
it was hoped. It showed what a necessity 
there was for continued training in musketry 
of all kinds, and in the proper tactical handling 
of the Lewis gun. What little training had 
been carried out in the way of teaching the 
young officers how to handle their platoons 
had borne fruit an hundredfold and showed 
that this was the right foundation for future 


chapter 6 : In Champagne^ May^ 

THE 2 1 St Division was now somewhat war 
weary. It had taken a prominent part 
in two important battles, and rest and time to 
train the new drafts and organise the battalions 
again seemed to be almost imperative for its 
well-being and future efficiency. But its 
labours were by no means over and it was 
destined to continue its career of martial glory 
to the bitter end. Wherever it went, North 
or South, it seemed to be a magnet for drawing 
the Boche forward to make an attack. It was 
generally supposed that G.H.Q. really did 
try to find a quiet spot in the line for the 
Division to rest in, but fate or that magnetic 
attraction was too strong and the plan went 
"all agley". 

On arrival at Thieushouk on May 4, it was 
found that the Division was destined to pro- 



ceed Southwards into Champagne and become 
part of the IX British Corps, reinforcing the 
6th French Army, who were holding the 
sector of line East of Soissons which included 
Rheims, the Chemin des Dames and the line 
of the Aisne in its area. 

The move was carried out by rail, the iioth 
Brigade marching to Wizernes, near St. Omer, 
where it entrained on the afternoon of the 5 th, 
arriving at Lagery on the 6th. 

After the desolated area of Ypres and the 
flat, uninteresting country of Flanders and 
the North of France, the landscape of Cham- 
pagne appeared particularly charming — a de- 
lightful corner of the real France, peopled by 
kindly country folk with an old-world courtesy 
that was a pleasant change. A country of hill 
and dale, well-watered and wooded and con- 
taining such towns as Soissons, Epernay and 
Rheims, full of historical associations, ancient 
architecture in its best period — and good wine. 
The valleys of the Aisne, the Vesle and the 
Marne are little known to the ordinary traveller, 
but for beauty of their special kind they are 
hard to beat, the Marne especially with its 


broad, stately river flowing serenely through 
the deep valley, with a background of rolling 
uplands as far as the eye can reach. A won- 
derfully pleasant country to the eye and 
never more so than during this month of May, 
when everything was showing the signs of early 
spring with all its beautiful effects of young 
greenery and the hint of blossom. It seemed 
incongruous, almost impossible, that war, with 
its horrors and devastation, should visit this 
lovely land. But so it was to be — and at no 
very distant date. 

At Lagery the lioth Brigade rested in peace 
and comfort for a week. It was a fine training 
ground and full use was made of it, training 
in musketry being much practised, as there were 
excellent rifle ranges already existing. The men 
were very comfortable, either in hut camps, 
which were extraordinarily good and well 
run, lit by electric light and with plenty of 
water, or in good clean billets in the villages. 
The French arrangements in the back areas 
appeared to be particularly good and efficient, 
being well and carefully organised under good 
ofllicers, who by reason of wounds or ill health 




were unable to serve at the front. Although 
not of long duration, this pleasant period 
worked wonders with the men, who presented 
a very different appearance to what they did 
on arrival, war-worn and weary from the Ypres 

On the 13th, the Brigade marched to Pevy 
in readiness to go into the line, where the 21st 
Division were to relieve the 74th French 
Division in the left sector (Chalons le Vergeur) 
of the 38th French Corps. The iioth Brigade 
were to relieve the 230th French Infantry 
Regt. (Le regiment de Savoie) in the centre of 
the Divisional front on the night I4th/i5th of 
May. The 62nd Brigade took over the left 
sector with their left on the Aisne, and the 
64th Brigade the right sector, joining up with 
the 45th French Division just North of Loivre. 

The Brigadier, starting early on the 13th, 
went forward to the 230th Regt. H.Q. to 
reconnoitre the line, get all the information 
he could from the French colonel commanding 
the sector and make arrangements for the relief. 
The colonel proved to be a charming person- 
ality — a true type of the versatile French 



Army. The staff, too, were typical of the 
smart regiment to which they belonged. No- 
thing was too much trouble and everything 
that could be done to help was done in a spirit 
of good will and good comradeship which was 
most engaging. A sumptuous lunch, in a 
style and on a scale which the British Army 
could never hope to compete with, was provided 
at Headquarters, after which the line was 
visited and the salient points of the defence 
scheme were pointed out on the ground and a 
general view of the trenches obtained. The 
front was so extensive that it was hopeless 
to attempt to get more than a cursory view 
of the line in one day. 

For the time being the 2ist Division was 
under the tactical orders of the 38th French 
Corps, and it was not until the i6th that the 
IX British Corps, under Lieut-General Hamil- 
ton Gordon, took over the Corps sector. The 
IX Corps consisted of the 8th, 21st, 25th and 
50th Divisions and was subsequently reinforced 
by the 19th Division. The 21st Division was 
in the line on the right from Brimont to the 
Aisne. The 8th and 50th Divisions were 


North of the Aisne, holding the sector between 
that river and the lower slopes of the Chemin 
des Dames, where they joined up again with 
the French. The 8th Division were on the 
right, with their right resting on the river : 
the 50th Division on the left, joining up with 
the French. The 25th Division were in Corps 
reserve. It was at once apparent that the 
front held in this manner was very extended 
for the number of troops allotted for its 
defence. The Divisional front extended for a 
distance of 7,500 yards. The iioth Brigade 
had a front of 2,500 yards to be held by three 
weak battaHons, who had only been filled up 
recently by a large proportion of young and 
untrained men, and there had been little time 
to rectify this before going into the line. 
The position on the divisional front was a bad 
one ; the Aisne Canal ran along the whole 
length of it and divided it into two portions, 
the area East of the Canal and that West of 

On the flanks the forward line ran close to 
the Canal, but in the centre it made a deep 
loop away from it, the greatest distance being 

Aisne RivcrGernic6urt"' 
and Canal 


















/jll^s Franqueux^ 

'ChaIons-\/ ]] 



The German Offensive in Champagne {May 27, 1918). 


about 1,000 yards. The Canal itself was 
broad and constituted a formidable obstacle 
which was enhanced hy a belt of marsh about 
150 yards broad, lying immediately to the East 
of it. The area East of the Canal formed in 
this way an Outpost Zone for the remainder 
of the area West of it, but it was entirely 
dominated by the Boche positions — Hill 108, 
Mt. Sapinand Sapin gneul, and above all Mt. 

The area to the West of the Canal was 
defended by a double belt of strong points 
connected by a continuous trench line. This 
position lay for the most part along a low 
ridge overlooking the Canal and formed a 
strong defensive line with a good obstacle in its 
immediate front, but there were insufHcient 
numbers allotted to it to admit of its being 
properly manned together with the forward 
zone East of the Canal. 

The whole of the Divisional sector, including 
the lofty St. Auboeuf ridge in rear of it, was 
under observation from the enemy positions. 
This was to some extent neutraHscd by the 
excellent road camouflage erected by the 

161 L 


French and the thick woods which covered 
the slopes of St. Auboeuf. To judge from the 
enemy's initial artillery bombardment, the 
existence of Brigade H.Q., though on the 
forward slopes of the St. Auboeuf ridge, was 
never suspected. The enemy's forward areas 
and portions of his main roads were under 
observation from both the crest of St. Auboeuf 
ridge and from the rising ground West of the 

On the 14th, the units of the Brigade left 
their camps and billets at 3 a.m. and marched 
to day halting places, so as to arrive by 6.30 
a.m. before it was light. This was done 
in order to keep the troops under cover from 
enemy observation during the day and to get 
them near enough to the front to be able to 
relieve without undue fatigue. The 6th 
Leicesters were to take oyer the right subsector 
and the 7th Leicesters me left, while the 8th 
Battalion remained in reserve at Chalons le 
Vergeur. Brigade H.Q. were very pleasantly 
situated in a wood at the foot of the St. 
Auboeuf ridge, just below the Tour de 
Rougemont — an old, dilapidated masonry 


watch-tower standing on the crest of the 
ridge, which proved a prominent landmark for 
miles round. The whole Headquarters were 
accommodated in a dug-out, tunnelled into a 
bank on the hillside and, being in the middle 
of the wood, it was beautifully screened from 
any aerial observation. The wood itself was 
delightful, full of lilies of the valley and 
spring wild flowers, and its shade was very 
welcome in the boiling heat which prevailed 
at this time. 

The Brigadier, not relishing the idea of 
living in the dug-out, had a small wooden hut 
built for himself outside, which improved 
matters considerably. Altogether these Head- 
quarters were something entirely new, and 
much more comfortable than was usually the 
case in the line. The relief was successfully 
carried out that night between 10 and mid- 
night, and after breakfast the French colonel 
departed with many expressions of goodwill 
and friendship. The weather was lovely, 
almost too hot. The Headquarters were rather 
far back and as it was impossible to ride 
further than the Cormicy road it meant a 


considerable amount of walking in visiting the 
line, especially the forward area, and this in the 
abnormal heat made the distances seem greater 
than they really were. 

The general atmosphere of the front was 
absolutely peaceful prior to May 27. Shells 
were few and far between, and trench mor- 
taring was slight and practically confined to a 
small area, while hardly any registration of 
any calibre of gun took place. From the 
22nd onwards, however, enemy movement 
behind the line was seen by observers to have 
greatly increased. A large amount of traffic 
was noticed, chiefly converging on the sector 
astride the Aisne, and one morning about dawn 
numerous teams of horses, undoubtedly artillery 
teams, were seen withdrawing from a suspected 
battery area. On the 25th a raid on the 
enemy's line was attempted by two parties of 
the 7th Leicesters, but the front line was 
found empty and the second line, to which 
they penetrated, was found to be so strongly 
wired that it was impossible to approach it. 
The raid accomplished nothing and failed to 
acquire an identification which was much 


required. As soon as the line was taken over, 
very active patrolling was instituted, but 
directly the enemy found our attitude was 
becoming aggressive he ceased his own patrol- 
ling activity altogether, evidently with the 
idea of avoiding all chance of losses in prisoners 
who might give valuable information. It was 
only the excessive movements in back areas, 
together with the laying of cables and air 
lines which was observed on the 26th, and 
their determination to avoid giving away 
identification, that gave any indication whatever 
of an offensive — and these indications were not 
very conclusive. 

The 8th Leicesters relieved the 6th Leicesters 
in the right subsector on the night of the 
20th/2ist and the yth Leicesters should have 
been relieved by the 6th Battalion on the night 
of the 27th/28th. This relief was cancelled, 
however, as on the 26th information was 
received that prisoners taken by the IX French 
Corps had stated that an attack would take 
place on the morning of the 27th, and in 
consequence of this the following precautions 
were taken. One company of the 6th Leices- 



ters reinforced the 7th Battalion in the line as a 
support, and the Battalion H.Q., which was 
rather far forward on route 44, was brought 
back to the Tenaille de Guise, East of Cormicy. 
The nucleus parties of the 7th and 8th Bat- 
talion, who were at the transport lines, were 
organised into a company and ordered to a 
position of readiness East of the Cavroy- 
Cormicy Road, as a reinforcement for the 
8th Battalion. The indications were so slight 
and everything was so calm that the chance of 
an attack seemed very small to the Brigadier's 
mind, but the information turned out to be 
perfectly correct. No doubts could possibly 
be entertained after the beginning of the open- 
ing bombardment at i a.m. on the 27th that it 
was the prelude to a very heavy attack. This 
bombardment was extremely intense with all 
calibres, shrapnel, high explosive, and gas being 
all used. No buried routes for the telephone 
cables were in existence, with the consequence 
that, after the commencement of the bombard- 
ment, all telephonic communication forward of 
Brigade H.Q. ceased within a few minutes and 
could never be restored — a very serious draw- 


back at such a moment. Everything was 
wrapped in fog until after 8 a.m. and it was 
quite impossible to see anything from either 
the forward O.P.'s or from those in the St. 
Auboeuf ridge. The only information that 
could be obtained was by message from the 
forward battahon which, however, arrived very 
regularly. Up to 7.15 a.m., these merely 
reported the fact of heavy shelHng and com- 
plete invisibility. At 7.15 a.m. a message from 
the 7th Leicesters reported that the enemy had 
captured La Neuville, were pushing South- 
West and had already reached the West bank 
of the Canal. A further message, timed 7.20 
a.m., reported enemy patrols creeping from the 
Canal towards the main line of resistance West 
of the Canal. This information was very 
puzzling to the Brigadier as no big infantry 
attack had been reported East of the Canal, and 
it was considered that the strength in that 
area was sufficient to hold up any attack 
for some considerable period. It was evident 
from the initial stages that something extra- 
ordinary had occurred, and that from some 
cause or other the weight of the attack was 


coming from the North, and this indeed proved 
to be the case. The forward area East of the 
Canal, although attacked in front, was also 
turned and attacked round its left flank, with 
the result that the whole of the garrison was 
surrounded and cut off before they had a chance 
to retire across the Canal. This was a very- 
serious loss, as practically a third of the Brigade 
strength thus disappeared, and the proportion 
of numbers to length of front was already very 
small. Owing to the virtual annihilation of 
the companies East of the Canal, it is practically 
impossible to say the exact time when the 
enemy launched his infantry attack, but from 
various indications it is presumed that it started 
between 3 and 4 a.m. 

The explanation of what occurred North 
of the Aisne was disclosed later. Apparently 
three or four hours after the opening of the 
bombardment, the enemy attacked in force the 
French Divisions holding the Chemin des 
Dames. Heavily attacked and exposed on the 
ridge to the intense bombardment, these 
Divisions were driven off the high ground and 
were unable to prevent the enemy reaching the 


Aisne and seizing the bridges over it. The 
50th Division was by this move practically cut 
off fighting to the last, ceasing to exist except for 
a few isolated fragments who managed to make 
their way South to the Aisne. The same thing 
happened, though in a less degree, to the 8th 
Division, which however had more time to 
adapt itself to the new situation ; but the 
result was that it became badly split up and 
suffered very heavy casualties, those portions 
of it which crossed the Aisne being too dis- 
organised to be of much further use as a 
fighting formation. By reason of these develop- 
ments, the left flank of the 21st Division 
became uncovered and remained so for the 
rest of the operation. The forward companies 
East of the Canal were able to hold their 
ground against the frontal attack, but their 
left flank was turned before they had time 
to realise what had occurred, and they became 
enveloped by penetration along the line of the 
Canal. The whole of the troops in this for- 
ward area were cut off and every Brigade lost 
a third of its fighting strength, which it could 
ill afford. The enemy pressed the advantage 


which he thus obtained during the remaining 
days of the withdrawal, but was unable to 
break the line or the cohesion with the 45th 
French Division. He was continually turning 
the left flank; which remained " en Pair " and 
thus forcing the Division to pivot on the 
right flank by continually throwing back the 
left, until troops could be brought up to fill 
the gap. The 25th Division, directly it was 
known that a break through had occurred and 
that the enemy were on the Aisne, were 
brought up to protect this flank, but, although 
becoming heavily engaged, their numbers were 
insufficient to stem the tide. 

From 7.30 a.m. onwards the 21st Division, 
fighting doggedly, was gradually pressed back 
by weight of numbers and by the fact that its 
left flank was being continually turned. The 
reserve battalions of all three Brigades were 
by degrees used up as reinforcements and to 
restore the situation by counter-attack. Fin- 
ally, as a last reinforcement, the Pioneer 
Battalion, and all three Field Companies R.E. 
were thrown into the fight. The struggle 
was a very bitter one ; desperate fights occurred 


for the strong points of the hne ; the Tenaille 
de Guise for one was taken and retaken twice 
before being actually overcome. Garrisons 
of the works immediately to the West of the 
Canal continued to fight although surrounded, 
when the enemy was attacking the Cormicy- 
Cavroy road well in the rear. Heavily attacked, 
outnumbered and outflanked, the Division 
managed to keep its line and its fighting for- 
mation intact. 

By 6 p.m. the Division had been driven 
back as far as the line of the Cormicy-Cavroy 
Road, the 62nd Brigade holding Cormicy 
village and throwing a flank back in the 
direction of the Bois de Val, with a Brigade 
of the 25th Division continuing the line further 
to the West. The 64th Brigade was holding 
the outskirts of Cavroy in touch with the 
45 th French Division on their right, in the 
direction of Villers Franqueux. Such was 
the situation when orders were received to 
withdraw during the night, as soon as it was 
dark, in a South-Westerly direction, the idea 
being to occupy a new front, pivoting on 
Hermonville, the line then running by the 



high ground of St. Auboeuf in the direction 
of Bouvancourt. The 64th Brigade, with 
their right on Hermonville, which was to be 
occupied by a battalion of the 45th French 
Division, were to swing back to the high 
ground at St. Auboeuf. The 7th Brigade, 
25th Division, was to continue the line to the 
Chalons le Vergeur road, West of St. Aubceuf. 
The iioth Brigade to hold from there along 
the ridge towards Bouvancourt, where junction 
with the 8th Division was to be formed. The 
62nd Brigade was to withdraw and form the 
Divisional Reserve. 

The withdrawal was a matter of some 
difficulty, the troops were for the most part in 
close contact with the enemy, and some 
difficulty was experienced in getting orders 
to the extreme left of the Brigade (the 7th 
Leicesters) as they were situated in the wood 
near La SabHere, where they had been engaged 
with the enemy for some little time before the 
orders reached them, and were somewhat 
disorganised in consequence. All this impor- 
tant work of getting orders deHvered was 
carried out by " runners," and no one knows 


what wonderful skill and initiative they showed 
in carrying out their duties. Their work was, 
naturally, carried out in circumstances where 
no one saw their difficulties or their methods 
in overcoming them ; they could only be 
judged by results. It required a man with a 
stout heart and iron nerve to carry a message 
successfully in pitch darkness through a thick 
wood, of which his knowledge was small and 
which was full of enemy patrols. Their duty 
was not a spectacular one ; they were generally 
alone and there was every facility for shirking 
if they had felt so inclined, but such a 
thing was rare, if not entirely unknown. 
Many wonderful instances of the devotion 
and bravery of these men in circumstances 
which might appal the bravest are known 
and vouched for, but no greater trial could 
be found than those endured by these men 
throughout that night in getting urgent 
and essential orders to their battalions. All 
honour to them, as very few got through 

Orders for the withdrawal having been 
issued and the fact of their delivery having 



been ascertained, Brigade H.Q. withdrew to the 
crest of the St. Auboeuf ridge and there 
awaited the arrival of the Brigade. At this 
place caves existed cut out of the rock ; these 
were known as the Champignonieres and were 
apparently devoted to the cultivation of mush- 
rooms in happier times. While waiting, the 
Brigadier got in touch with Divisional Head- 
quarters on the telephone, but the only 
information he got before the telephone line 
was cut was that the enemy were in possession 
of Chalons le Vergeur, where Divisional Head- 
quarters had been but a short time before. 
This news was not very encouraging, as Chalons 
was not very far from the road along which the 
Brigade had to go to reach its new position 
and it had not yet even disentangled itself 
from the woods. Eventually the battalions 
arrived — or what was left of them, as the two 
forward companies of the yth and 8th 
Battalions and one company of the 6th 
Battalion, which had been sent as a reinforce- 
ment to the 7th Battalion early in the day, 
had totally disappeared. The remainder were 
considerably disorganised, and stragglers and 



small parties who had lost themselves in ^ the 
woods continued to make their appearance for 
some time afterwards. The Brigade assembled 
at the junction of the Bouvancourt and 
Chalons le Vergeur roads at about 11.30 p.m. 
where the three battalions were hastily organ- 
ised into one battalion, placed under command 
of Colonel Chance of the 6th BattaHon, and 
guided to their positions. Brigade H.Q. were 
established at Vaux Varennes. By 1.30 a.m. 
however it was learnt from information 
derived from patrols that there were no for- 
ward elements of either the 8th Division or 
the 7th Brigade (25th Division) on the left or 
right, and Bouvancourt itself was found to be 
occupied by the Boche. Further, from re- 
ports brought in by despatch riders, and from 
a company of the 2nd Lincolns who had passed 
through on their way to rejoin their Brigade 
in the direction of Pevy, it was evident that 
the enemy were pushing patrols Westwards 
from Bouvancourt and had already cut the 
road South of Vaux Varennes, thus completely 
isolating the Brigade from Divisional Head- 
quarters at Prouilly, so that no information 


about the situation was obtainable. In these 
circumstances the Brigadier decided to with- 
draw the Brigade as quickly as possible and to 
endeavour, under cover of darkness, to obtain 
touch with the 64th Brigade, whose Headquar- 
ters were known to be at Luthernay Farm. 
Orders to this effect were sent out at once and 
the Brigade formed up on the cross-country 
track running East from Vaux Varennes to- 
wards Luthernay Farm, the only route which 
appeared available. The withdrawal began 
about 3.30 a.m., covered by one company of 
the 6th Leicesters, under Captain Scholes, 
and was carried out without incident, except 
for low flying enemy planes about dawn. 
Luthernay Farm was reached shortly after 
dawn, and a hasty conference with the 64th 
Brigade disclosed the fact that their left flank 
was uncovered. Their right, however, was in 
touch with the French at Hermonville. It 
was decided between the two Brigadiers that 
the iioth Brigade should take up a position 
on the left flank, holding the high ground 
at St. Auboeuf and forming a defensive flank 
on the ridge just West of the Chalons le 


Vergeur-Pevy road. This was accordingly done 
and the Brigade, which had once more resumed 
its battaHon formation, was got into position, 
the 6th Leicesters on the St. Auboeuf ridge 
and the 7th and 8th BattaHons forming the 
defensive flank. Brigade H.Q. were estabHshed 
in a bank about half a mile further South, on 
the Pevy road. 

Shortly after the troops gained their posi- 
tions orders were received from the Division 
for the 64th and 62nd Brigades to take up a 
line on the Hermonville-Montigny ridge, and 
for the iioth Brigade to withdraw into Divi- 
sional Reserve, at Pevy. Orders to this effect 
were sent out at once, but owing to the 
despatch rider being wounded the 6th Leicesters 
never received theirs and became detached 
for the remainder of the day with the 64th 

About this time it became apparent that 
the enemy was advancing so rapidly, and 
the situation changing in consequence so 
often, that it was impossible for the Division 
to keep pace with it and issue and deliver 
orders in time for them to be acted upon. 
177 M 


It therefore devolved upon Brigadiers to make 
decisions and order movements on their own 
initiative, endeavouring as far as possible to 
carry out the general scheme without orders 
and with no information — a by no means 
easy task, as the point of view of a Brigadier 
is necessarily somewhat limited. This was 
especially the case during this day's opera- 
tions (28th), when the enemy moved so fast 
round the left flank that it became merely a 
question of delaying his advance as long as 
was compatible with withdrawing the troops 
before they were actually surrounded and cut 
off. Altogether it can be imagined that it 
proved a somewhat hectic day for the Brigadiers 
in the front line. 

Having issued the orders for the withdrawal 
toPevy, the iioth Brigade H.Q., about 6 a.m., 
proceeded down the road towards that village, 
with the object of getting arrangements made 
beforehand for the advent of the troops. As they 
approached the village, however, the heights 
above it were suddenly occupied by the enemy 
who, on catching sight of those in the road, 
immediately opened a heavy fire with machine 



guns. It was a complete surprise as nothing 
was further from the Brigadier's thoughts at 
that moment than to find the enemy there. 
There was no time to lose, so he ordered the 
H.Q. to get off the road and make for the 
Prouilly ridge on the opposite side of the 
valley. This move entailed crossing a swamp 
in the centre of the valley and a stiff climb 
up to the ridge on the opposite side, fol- 
lowed the whole way by heavy but fortun- 
ately inaccurate fire, from the Boche machine 
guns on the hill. No one was hit and the 
movement was carried out without mishap ; 
but it was not pleasant, especially for those 
men with bicycles, who had to carry them 
across the marsh and haul them on the opposite 
side. The Headquarters mess waiter. Meadows, 
was in charge of the few utensils that were 
being used and the rations, all of which were 
in a sack. This he insisted on carrying ; 
nothing would induce him to leave it, and he 
finally bore it in triumph to safety on the top 
of the ridge — a fine feat of doggedness and 
muscle on a hot day. 
On arrival the crest of the ridge was found 


to be held by some disorganised elements of 
the 8th and 25th Divisions. On the extreme 
left flank, facing West and South-West, over 
the valley of the Vesle, were the 14th North- 
umberland FusiHers (Pioneers) together with 
the 1 2th/i 3th N.F.'s of the 62nd Brigade. On 
the arrival of the iioth Brigade H.Q. the line 
was reorganised and placed in position. Touch 
was gained on the right with the two battalions 
of French troops and some more troops of the 
25th Division. Connection for the time being 
had of course been lost with the troops of 
the Brigade who, when this happened, had 
been in process of withdrawing to Pevy. They 
however, for the most part, made their way 
across the head of the valley, and eventually 
reorganised on the crest of the ridge ; Captain 
Scholes' company of the 6th Leicesters, who 
had acted as rearguard from Vaux Varennes, 
also falHng back on it during the morning. The 
enemy made no attempt to attack this position 
throughout the morning, although he occa- 
sionally shelled it fairly heavily. But masses 
of his troops could be seen defiling towards 
the valley of the Vesle in the direction of 


Jonchery, which shortly afterwards burst into 
flames. The 64th Brigade had also been forced 
back during the morning and was now occupy- 
ing the remainder of the Trigny-Prouilly 
ridge, just North of Trigny. At about 3 p.m. 
the line North of Trigny was heavily shelled 
and attacked and appeared to give way and 
withdraw some distance. A very heavy attack 
preceded by artillery and machine-gun fire 
developed along the whole front at about 
3.30 p.m. and the left of the line, being much 
exposed from the valley, was driven back. Both 
flanks being now uncovered, it was decided 
to withdraw to the line of the Vesle in accord- 
ance with instructions issued from the Division 
earlier in the day. Orders were accordingly 
sent to carry this movement out, but it was 
very difficult to get them to all the scattered 
and intermingled units on the hill, and portions 
of the ridge remained held by the French and 
some of our own men till nightfall, when they 
were able to retire. The withdrawal to the 
line of the river Vesle was carried out without 
hindrance. The battalion were able to reor- 
ganise to some extent and took up a position 


from the Tile Works West of Muizon to Muizon 
itself. The 62nd Brigade continued the line 
Westwards towards Jonchery. By 8 p.m. the 
troops were in position, and during the night 
touch was gained at Muizon with the 64th 
Brigade, the 6th Leicesters rejoining the next 
morning. Brigade Headquarters of both 62nd 
and iioth Brigades were estabhshed at the 
Chateau in Rosnay from which, as it was 
situated on a hill, an excellent view of the 
surrounding country could be obtained, 
although the actual line of the river was 
screened by the thick woods. 

The night of the 28th/29th and the early 
morning of the 29th passed fairly quietly, 
except that it became increasingly evident 
that the enemy intended pushing his attack 
mainly from the direction of Jonchery in a 
South-Westerly direction, still pursuing his 
tactics of turning the left flank. It was in 
consequence of this tendency that, as a pre- 
cautionary measure in the first instance, an 
observation post was estabhshed on the early 
morning of the 29th on Hill 202, a small knoll 
standing considerably above the surrounding 


country about one mile West of Rosnay. 
Some French troops by this time had been 
brought up on the left flank and some of these 
were holding a line West of the Treslon- 
Sapiecourt road, joining up with the 62nd 
Brigade troops holding the line of the Vesle. 
The main enemy movement however was more 
in a South-Westerly direction, aiming at 
enveloping the Treslon-Faverolles-Savigny 

Later in the morning as the situation 
developed all available troops and stragglers 
were sent up to a position of readiness near 
Hill 202. This force was placed under the 
orders of Lieut. -Colonel Chance, of the 6th 
Leicesters, who at once organised a defensive 
line in the vicinity of the hill and sent a 
detachment to support the French on the 
Treslon-Sapiecourt line. This line was heavily 
attacked during the morning from the direction 
of Branscourt and was gradually forced back. 
Reports from the Vesle front indicated that 
all was quiet on that side, so the ist Lincolns 
and, later, the 12th/ 13th Northumberland 
Fusiliers of the 62nd Brigade, were withdrawn 


and sent to strengthen the Hill 202-Sapiecourt 
front during the afternoon. 

And so the fight ebbed and flowed during the 
morning and early afternoon, the enemy attacks 
on the Treslon-Sapiecourt front becoming 
stronger and stronger as the day wore on. 
Information was obtained also of heavy enemy 
attacks in the direction of Savigny along the 
line of the valley of the Ardre. But there 
were evidences of more French troops arriving 
who were directed towards this point, and 
rumour also had it that the 19th British 
Division was on its way, advancing up the 
valley of the Ardre. The immediate left flank 
of the Brigade (the Treslon-Sapiecourt line) 
and Hill 202 were a source of endless anxiety 
throughout the day as, if that gave way, the 
situation of the troops holding the line of the 
Vesle would be seriously jeopardised. 

During the morning, after a visit from an 
enemy aeroplane flying very low, which no 
doubt reported that the Chateau was being 
used as a Headquarters, Rosnay was very 
heavily shelled, especially in the vicinity of 
the Chateau. The Headquarters of all three 


Brigades had therefore to depart somewhat 
hurriedly and estabhshed themselves on the 
edge of the woods on the high ground South of 
Rosnay, where they remained until late in the 

At 6.45 p.m. Lieut-Colonel Sawyer, 7th 
Leicesters, reported the situation on the Vesle 
front still fairly quiet, but that his left flank 
was seriously menaced by large numbers of the 
enemy threatening an attack near his junction 
with the I2th/i3th Northumberland Fusiliers, 
who were prolonging the line with the French 
and some elements of the 25 th Division down 
to Sapiecourt. This was very soon developed 
into a very serious attack all along the line. 
By 7.30 p.m. the salient where the two forces 
joined was driven in and Colonel Sawyer with- 
drew his force to a line West of and parallel 
to the Les Vautes-Rosnay road. At the same 
time Sapiecourt was taken and shortly after- 
wards Courcelles as well, and the enemy 
finally crossed the Treslon-Sapiecourt road and 
secured a footing on the slopes of Hill 202. 
This position prior to the attack had been 
very heavily shelled throughout the afternoon, 


causing heavy casualties, as there was Httle cover, 
and, much to every one's grief, Lieut. -Colonel 
Chance was killed. He was a great loss and 
his death added considerably to the anxieties 
of the Brigadier as he had been the life and 
soul of the defence on this important flank 
during the whole day. Captain Tooth, the 
adjutant of the 6th Battalion, took over the 
command and carried on the action with 
great ability for the remainder of the operation, 
finally bringing the troops on that flank out of 

Shortly afterwards it was reported that 
Treslon had been captured, but as more and 
more French reinforcements appeared about 
this time advancing in that direction it was 
hoped that the situation might improve. At 
8 p.m. the position was sufficiently serious, 
however ; French troops and about 200 men 
of the iioth Brigade were holding a line West 
of Rosnay Farm, roughly along the line of the 
Treslon Road ; other mixed elements continued 
the line West of Rosnay to the Courcelles 
Road ; thence the remainder of the 7th 
Battalion, estimated at about 100 strong, 


continued the line along the East side of the 
Les Vautes-Rosnay road to Muizon, where 
they joined up with the 64th Brigade. 

The troops were dead beat and by this time 
considerably disorganised and mixed up after 
the three days' fighting in circumstances which 
never afforded a minute's breathing space in 
which to reorganise. But disorganised as they 
were, the units kept their cohesion in a won- 
derful way ; naturally in the confusion arising 
from withdrawing at night from St. Auboeuf 
woods and the withdrawal the following morn- 
ing from Luthernay farm, there were a great 
many stragglers — men who had lost their way 
and were endeavouring to find their units. 
These were collected and organised from time 
to time in formations composed of men of all 
three battalions and possibly of other units 
as well, who were then sent into the fight 
again, where they fought well and bravely, in 
spite of the difficulties under which they 
laboured. In the evening all three Brigade 
Headquarters withdrew to the village of Mery 
Premicy, in accordance with instructions from 
the Division, and orders were received about 



9 p.m. that the 15th French Division were 
taking over the Hne and that units of the 21st 
Division were to withdraw wherever their 
front was covered hy troops of that Division. 
Instructions to this effect were sent out. As 
the troops were scattered and intermixed, it 
was a matter of some difficulty, but it was 
eventually managed hy each Brigade sending 
a mounted staff officer to explain personally 
to commanding officers of units and detach- 
ments what was required, and where the units 
were to rendezvous on retirement. Between 
I and 2 p.m. on May 30 the scattered units 
West of Rosnay under Captain Tooth and 
those North of Rosnay under Colonel Sawyer 
were withdrawn and retired to Mery Premicy 
where the Brigade H.Q. were established and, 
after a short halt in which battalions were 
reorganised and sorted out, the Brigade marched 
to Pourcy. Here a halt of three hours was 
made, during which the men got some hot food 
and a rest which they badly needed. The 
same morning about li a.m. the march was 
resumed, the Marne was crossed at Damery and 
the Division finally halted for the night in 


the Foret D'Epernay, half way between 
Vauciennes and St. Martin D'Ablois. The 
next day the i loth Brigade marched to Etrechy 
and went into billets, where at last a real rest 
was obtained. The following day (ist June), 
the Division organised a Composite Brigade, 
under General Gater, composed of a battalion 
made up from each Brigade. The iioth 
battalion, 350 strong, was commanded by Lieut.- 
Colonel Irwin, 8th Leicesters. This Composite 
Brigade was then sent forward on June 2 
to take up a line along the Marne between 
Dormans and Troissy, with Brigade H.Q. at 
Comblizy, where it remained until relieved 
later in the month. 

The German offensive ended on the Marne 
at Chateau Thierry and along the line of the 
river as far East as Chatillon, and thus succeeded 
in producing a deep salient in the angle between 
Soissons, Chateau Thierry and Rheims — a 
very small gain when compared with the 
sacrifices it entailed ; a gain, too, which in the 
end when the time for counter-attack arrived 
proved itself to be a snare and a delusion. The 
2 1 St Division took no further part in the 


operations except for the role played on the 
Marne by the Composite Brigade under the 
tactical orders of the French. What was left 
of the latter marched by easy stages to an 
area near Sezanne whence it was railed to the 
Oisemont area, rejoining the Division about 
June 21, when Brigades were reorganised and 
new drafts were forthcoming to amalgamate 
with the battalions. 

The Division 'subsequently moved to the 
Gamache area, near Dieppe, a delightful 
locality where good training ground was 
available. It was thought that a certain time, 
perhaps six weeks, would now be given to the 
Division to recuperate and train its newly 
constituted units ; and considering what the 
Division had been through this would have 
been scarcely too long to restore it to its former 
state of efficiency. The Gamache area was 
one of the most pleasant of the back areas. 
The country was charming, especially so at 
this time of the year ; the villages were good 
and clean, and provided comfortable billets 
for the men ; moreover the training area 
was conveniently situated and possessed the 


requisite natural features for carrying out 
practical exercises. The sea coast between 
Dieppe and Eu was within reach and rendered 
sea bathing possible — a thing the men much 
enjoyed and which did them a lot of good in 
many ways. 

The Brigadier went off on leave to England 
at the end of June and confidently expected 
to find the Division where he had left it on 
his return. Shortly after arrival in England 
he received a wire telling him to rejoin on the 
7th July, and on getting back he found that the 
Division had moved to Beauquesne and had 
joined the 5th Corps preparatory to going into 
the line East of Acheux. And so ended any 
idea of any rest or training. 

From the operations just described little can 
be gained for any instructional purpose. The 
fighting while it lasted was so intense and the 
pace was so severe that everything became 
confused and disorganised to such an extent 
that nothing could be extracted from such a 
hurly-burly to serve as a guide for future 
operations of a like kind. It was a time when 
quick decisions were necessary and rapid 


movement essential, when all that could be 
done was to keep the line intact and un- 
broken and carry out the scheme of delaying 
the advance as long as possible and so enable 
reinforcements to arrive before it was too late. 
Of the finer elements of tactics there were none. 
It was simply hammer and tongs all the time, 
where every man and every gun was employed 
with the one idea of stemming the tide to the 
best of their ability in the circumstances in 
which they happened to find themselves at 
any moment. 

The Field Artillery, however, after the first 
day's operations, when they fought their guns 
to the last moment to check the attack and 
had some difficulty in getting away in conse- 
quence, manoeuvred with considerable success 
and tactical skill in the open fighting which 
occurred later. Finding it difficult, if not 
impossible, to define accurately the position of 
their own infantry, and noting that the chief 
danger lay in the exposed left flank, they con- 
centrated all their efforts on covering that 
flank by their fire. They were able to get 
excellent positions and their targets were such 


as a gunner dreams of but seldom sees — and 
their efforts were successful, as, although 
gravely exposed after the first twenty-four 
hours, that flank was never driven in except by 
an attack in force. This action assisted the 
infantry to a far greater extent than support 
against frontal attacks would have done, where 
it would have been difficult to locate targets 
with any accuracy. 

The most outstanding feature was the choice 
of the defensive position from the Aisne South- 
wards towards Rheims. Here was exemplified 
that fetish for retaining ground wherever 
won, regardless of whether it was the best 
position tactically or not. The position held 
was tactically unsound : it was dominated by 
the enemy positions and it had a very serious 
obstacle in rear. The ground East of the 
Canal could have no sentimental value, being 
composed of marsh and a medley of shell holes 
and trenches of no use to any one. The only 
reason that could be adduced for retaining it 
was that it had been won and therefore must 
be held at all costs. In war such reasons are 
folly, and worse than folly — they are almost 
193 N 


criminal. In this particular case the advantages 
gained if this ground had been given up would 
have been immense. A strong line existed to 
the West of and commanding the Canal and 
this would have possessed the obstacle of the 
Canal and marsh in front of it, well within 
range — an ideal combination. An outpost 
zone, holding the line of the Canal and the area 
between that and Route 44, could have been 
established and this would have made the 
position an almost ideal one ; for an advance 
entailing the crossing of the Canal and the marsh, 
with the ground dominated as it was from 
both forward and back positions, would have 
proved a very costly operation, if not entirely 
impossible. Representations were made for 
carrying out this change, at any rate in part, 
but nothing was done owing to the enemy's 
advance taking place before a change could be 
made. This was by no means the only instance 
of ground being occupied regardless of the 
tactical requirements, and merely for the 
sentimental idea that ground once won should 
never be given up. Sentiment has no place 
in war and should never be given precedence 


over tactical principles the neglect of which 
leads to defeat and disaster. 

Many people seemed to think that Trench 
Warfare differed from Open Warfare, and that 
the former required a special form of tactics. 
In reality, however, the principles laid down 
in Field Service Regulations apply just as much 
to one as to the other. In actual practice 
the principles of defence laid down in that 
excellent book apply equally to Trench War- 
fare, and can be, and should always be, carried 
out in extenso when such a phase become 
necessary during operations. 

On July 3 the Division left the Gamache 
area and moved by rail to the vicinity of 
Beauquesne, billeting in the villages in that 
area. There they remained until the 12th, 
employing the time in training of all kinds, 
especially musketry, as good ranges existed for 
that purpose. The Division now formed part 
of the 5 th Corps, under Lieut.-General Cam- 
eron Shute, the other Divisions in the Corps 
being at this time the 63rd (Naval) Division 
and the 35th (Welsh) Division. Later on the 
17th Division replaced the 63rd, which then 


became part of the 4th Corps who were in 
position North of the 5th Corps. The Corps 
sector comprised that part of the Hne running 
from a point just North of Albert to Beaumont 
Hamel, the northern part of the line being 
very familiar ground to the Brigadier. 

On the 13 th the Brigade moved forward to 
Acheux, taking over the line from a Brigade of 
the 63rd Division on the 14th ; Brigade H.Q. 
were located in a sunken road on the Western 
outskirts of the village of Englebelmer. The 
Brigade sector ran approximately from the 
Northern corner of Aveluy Wood to the high 
ground immediately West of the village of 
Hamel, the Northern half of the Divisional 
front (up to Beaumont Hamel) being occupied 
by another Brigade. 

This sector ran along the Ancre valley, 
which is here a deep ravine, with the heights 
of Thiepval on one side and on the other 
the lower elevations of the high ridge which 
runs from just North of Albert to Auchon- 
villers. The banks of the Ancre are in this 
part high and precipitous, dropping sharply 
from the heights to the river below. In a 


shallower depression at the point where the 
Ancre turns sharply Eastwards below the 
Thiepval heights, situated on the West bank 
is, or rather was, the village of Hkmel — once a 
prettily situated village, nestling in a fold of 
the slopes with vistas of the Ancre valley 
stretching South and East in a long perspective 
of wooded banks, now a blackened heap of 
ruins after three years in the front line. The 
Ancre valley itself was unoccupied as it was 
commanded and overlooked from both sides : 
it was the happy hunting ground of night 
patrols and there was many a lively skirmish in 
its depths before we finally claimed it for our 
own. The village was always a doubtful 
spot, and it was never finally established 
whether it was actually occupied by the 
Boche or not. It was certainly occupied by 
them with small posts after dark as an outpost 
to their trench system, which here was astride 
the river and ran up to the ravine leading to 
Beaumont Hamel. These small outlying posts 
were a magnet for many night patrols and 
efforts were continually made to try and 
capture them, but they were very wary 


birds and never occupied the same place two 
nights running. There was many a fight 
between the patrols and these posts on this 
account, but we never succeeded in rounding 
up and capturing one of them. 

From the 14th onwards the Brigade con- 
tinued to occupy this sector and took part 
once again in the wearisome process known 
as " holding the line ". It was by no means a 
pleasant part, either. The trenches were not 
particularly good or well built — they never 
were in this part of the line where the Ancre 
mud is so fickle that what may be a trench one 
day is a quagmire the next. There was a lot 
of work to be done ; support and reserve lines 
had to be reorganised and practically rebuilt, 
communications improved, and schemes for 
the support of existing trench lines and for 
counter-attack under all circumstances had to 
be thought out and put into shape. It was 
thought when the line was first taken over 
that an attack was imminent on this part of 
the front, and later, when this had passed after 
the success which occurred further South in 
the middle of July, came the opposite swing 


of the pendulum, when the enemy was expected 
to withdraw. That was a period of incessant 
activity and watchfulness, commencing at the 
beginning of the month of August and lasting 
till the beginning of the advance on the 21st 
of that month. During the whole period 
the enemy was particularly active with his 
artillery, the area being constantly subjected 
to bursts of artillery fire of all cahbres. Gas 
he made a speciality of more particularly at 
night, and in spite of every precaution it was 
difficult to evade the effects of the mustard 
concentrations which he frequently put over. 
This particular form of gas is the hardest to 
combat as owing to its peculiar properties it 
sticks to and impregnates anything with which 
it comes in contact. Any one who passed 
through an area in which this gas had been let 
loose had immediately to change his outer gar- 
ments, otherwise it was impossible for him to 
avoid being affected himself and affecting any 
one else in the vicinity from his own clothing. 
It was a constant source of trouble and anxiety 
as it was not always easy to tell where a gassed 
area had been after a certain time had elapsed, 


and casualties were sometimes considerable 
from this cause. One night, when the reserve 
line at Englebelmer was heavily gassed the 
company holding the trenches concerned was 
immediately moved from the vicinity, accord- 
ing to orders. Although not affected that 
night, the following morning when the sun 
came out the whole company became casual- 
ties, partially from their own clothing and 
partially because a gentle breeze blowing in 
the right direction wafted the gas, drawn out 
of the ground by the heat of the morning sun, 
directly across them. No precaution or care 
could fight against such a devilish combination 
but everything was done that could be thought 
of to combat the evil. 

Thus this month of waiting drew towards 
its close. It was the final experience of trench 
warfare, which as far as the Brigadier's career 
was concerned, began and ended in very much 
the same spot. 


Chapter 7 : The Counter- Offen- 
sive — August— Nov em 6 er^ 

FROM August 20 onwards, the final offens- 
ive on our part may be said to have started. 
Owing to the successful operations near Villers 
Bretonneux by the Austrahan Corps of the 
4th Army, the position of the enemy on the 
right bank of the Ancre, North of Albert, was 
getting more and more precarious and resulted 
eventually in his gradual withdrawal from South 
to North. The whole of Aveluy Wood was 
clear of the enemy by the 5th. Hamel was 
evacuated about the i6th, and by the 17th the 
2 1st Division outpost line had pushed forward 
to the line of the Ancre East of Hamel, thence 
immediately West of Beaucourt to the high 
ground North of it. 

From now onwards, an enemy withdrawal 
on a large scale was anticipated, and it was 


therefore of paramount importance to keep in 
close touch with him and to discover the 
moment such a retirement would commence. 
Ceaseless patrolling was ordered and arrange- 
ments made to follow up instantly any such 
move on his part. This entailed very hard 
work for the front line troops, as this patrolling 
work, carried out by strong fighting patrols 
of the strength of one platoon, was of a trying 
and arduous nature. At various times during 
this period patrols forced their way, with great 
difficulty and admirable skill, across the Ancre 
and penetrated into the enemy lines, procuring 
valuable information and having many exciting 
experiences and a considerable amount of fight- 
ing in doing so. One patrol, venturing too 
far one misty morning, was ambushed and cut 
off, and a spirited and running fight ensued, 
from which only one of the patrol managed to 
escape. Although at considerable cost, valu- 
able information was gained by this encounter. 
These patrols were boldly and skilfully handled, 
and enabled the higher command to watch the 
enemy as a cat does a mouse : no move that 
he made could go undetected. They were 



however carried out at the expense of a certain 
number of casualties at a time when the Brigade 
was by no means fresh, having been in the line 
for a considerable time. 

It was decided that a move forward should 
be made on August 21, the scheme of attack 
being that the 62nd Brigade should capture 
Beaucourt and advance along the high ground 
North of the Ancre towards Miraumount in 
conjunction with a similar advance carried out 
by the 42nd Division further North. Beau- 
court having been captured, the iioth Brigade 
was to cross the Ancre and endeavour to estab- 
lish itself on the high ground South-East of 
the river in conjunction with a similar advance 
by the 17th Division further South. Six com- 
panies, four from the 6th and two from the 
7th Leicesters, were ordered to carry out this 

In accordance with this scheme, on the night 
of the 20th/2ist, the 114th Brigade relieved 
the iioth Brigade, who in their turn relieved 
the 62nd Brigade further North. After this 
reorganisation the 7th Leicesters under the 
command of Lieut.-Colonel Sawyer, D.S.O., 


became the front line battalion, with the 6th 
Leicesters under the command of Lieut. - 
Colonel Martyn in support and the ist Wilts 
under the command of Lieut.-Colonel Ward, 
D.S.O., in reserve ; Brigade Headquarters 
moved from Englebelmer to the vicinity of 

The next morning (21st) the 62nd Brigade 
attacked and captured Beaucourt, advancing 
beyond it towards Miraumont. The operation, 
however, of crossing the Ancre and making 
good the high ground South-East of it was 
found impracticable. The marshes were not 
fordable and no crossings existed ; moreover 
the Eastern edge was strongly held by the 
enemy. It had been decided beforehand that 
if strong opposition was encountered the opera- 
tion was not to be pressed. On the following 
night (2ist/22nd), two footbridges were very 
skilfully constructed by the Royal Engineers, 
and by means of these two companies of the 
7th Leicesters crossed, and after hard fighting 
established and maintained themselves on the 
slopes above the river. This brilliant little 
action was the first step towards gaining com- 


plete possession of the high ground which was 
so important for further operations Eastwards. 

On the night of the 22nd/23rd the 50th 
Brigade (17th Division) reheved the iioth 
Brigade, which became Divisional Reserve and 
was concentrated in the trench system East of 
Mailly Maillet and Englebelmer. Brigade 
Headquarters moved to the trench system 
immediately East of Beaussart. 

During the 23rd, preparations were made 
for an attack on a big scale to take place on 
the whole Army front. The 5th Corps was 
to take the Thiepval heights and push East- 
wards up the valley of the Ancre towards Pys 
and Le Sars. The 17th Division was to attack 
the heights while the 21st Division moved 
along the valley with the object of capturing 
the high ground East of Boom Ravine and 
South of Miraumont. The 64th Brigade 
was detailed to carry out the first part of 
the latter operation, the iioth Brigade passing 
through them to finish it. These orders 
were subsequently slightly altered owing 
to the suspected withdrawal of the enemy, 
and the 64th Brigade were ordered instead 


to push Straight on to the high ground 
East of Boom Ravine and the iioth Brigade 
to make for the ground South of it so 
as to hnk up with the 17th Division further 

To carry this out the Brigade concentrated 
in Battery Valley at 12 midnight and formed 
up in order of attack with the 6th Leicesters 
on the right, 7th Leicesters in the centre, and 
1st Wilts, on the left. This necessitated a 
night march over exceedingly difficult ground, 
combined with crossing the river over narrow 
footbridges — an operation requiring very careful 
timing arrangements and reconnaissance. The 
64th Brigade assembled earlier in the night, 
and the iioth Brigade was to follow them. 
The Brigade Headquarters moved the same 
night from Beaussart to a dug-out in the 
trenches just West of Beaucourt as a temporary 
resting place whence communication could be 
obtained direct by visual signalling with the 
troops in the valley ; this was the first occasion 
on which this method had been used for a 
long time. It was quite successful and was 
employed thereafter as a supplementary means 



of communication during the whole of the 
subsequent advance. The night assembly was 
carried out without any undue hitch ; but as 
the 6th Leicesters (the leading battalion) 
approached Battery Valley, they found that 
the Southern end, and the trench line South of 
it, was still held by the enemy in some force. 
Lieut.-Colonel Martyn, commanding the 6th 
Leicesters, at once realised the situation, and 
without hesitation or waste of time attacked at 
once and drove them out, capturing three 
trench mortars and a number of prisoners, 
thus clearing the valley. The consequence of 
this was that only the 7th Leicesters and the 
1st Wilts, formed the attacking line, and the 
6th Leicesters, after they had reorganised, 
followed in support. At 5 a.m. the Brigade 
started from Battery Valley and made good 
progress Eastwards towards their objective. 
The 64th Brigade, starting earUer, had gone 
ahead very fast and touch with them had to a 
great extent been lost. It afterwards trans- 
pired that they had pushed rapidly down the 
valley, meeting with little opposition at first, 
until they came to Boom Ravine ; nothing 


daunted, they pushed on and after some heavy 
fighting seized the high ground South of 
Miraumont. Here, however, isolated as they 
were with their flanks in the air, they had con- 
siderable difficulty in holding their position ; 
their Brigadier, General McCulloch, was 
wounded and their casualties severe, but their 
action was a very brilliant one and justified 
the risk taken, as it materially assisted the 
42nd Division on the North and forced the 
early evacuation of Miraumont by the enemy. 
The iioth Brigade moved steadily forward, 
echeloned in rear of the 64th, the 17th Division 
on their right again being also some distance 
in rear, owing to their initial difficulty in gain- 
ing the heights at Thiepval. 

During the whole of this advance the right 
flank of the Brigade was unprotected and was 
subjected to continual machine-gun fire. In 
spite of this, however, the Brigade continued 
to press forward. At about 9 a.m. everything 
seemed going well and Brigade Headquarters 
moved from the high ground at Beaucourt, 
crossed the river, and after a short halt in 
Battery Valley, where they joined the 6th 
209 o 


Leicesters, they pushed on across country in 
rear of the two leading battalions to where a 
peculiarly shaped, isolated bush grew on the 
bank of a sunken road, about i,ooo yards West 
of Boom Ravine. Here the attack was for a 
time held up, partially by our own barrage, 
which they had over-run, and partially from 
enfilade fire coming from the right flank. The 
64th Brigade was being hard pressed, and it 
was of the greatest importance to get across 
Boom Ravine and support their right ; so the 
Brigadier, on arrival, seeing the situation, 
ordered the left battalion (ist Wilts.) to push 
on, having sent back word for the guns to 
lengthen range ; the 7th Leicesters were 
instructed to follow slightly in echelon on the 
right and to push out a company to the right 
to protect that flank. Brigade Headquarters 
remained for the rest of the day at the " Bush." 
It was not a pleasant place as, during the advance 
to it and at intervals afterwards, the Head- 
quarters were severely sniped by machine-gun 
fire from the right by detachments of the 
enemy which had not as yet been cleared by 
the 17th Division. At one period, too, the 


Bush appeared to be ranging mark for the 
enemy's artillery, for at a critical moment, 
when orders for the night's advance were being 
received over the telephone, it became the 
object of most uncalled for attention by the 
enemy's artillery. 

All went well, however ; the objective was 
gained at about 3 p.m. and the situation of the 
64th Brigade assured. As touch could not be 
gained with the 17th Division and the two 
front line companies of the 7th Leicesters could 
not be found, the two support companies were 
ordered up to fill the gap. These former two 
companies, commanded by Captain Home and 
Captain Vanner, had gradually been diverted 
from the true line of advance owing to the 
enfilade fire from the right to which they had 
been subjected during the advance, and event- 
ually found themselves on the outskirts of 
Courcelette, which was on the line of advance 
of the 17th Division. They proceeded to 
occupy the village and made a considerable 
number of prisoners, including a battalion com- 
mander. These they handed over to the 17th 
Division on arrival and, next morning, rejoined 


the Brigade. Apart from the loss of direction 
this was quite a brilliant little affair and reflected 
great credit on the leadership of the two officers 
concerned ; but they were the cause of much 
anxiety to the Battalion Commander and the 
Brigadier, who thought they must have been 
cut off and captured — a loss which they could 
ill have afforded at that moment. 

Later, about 6 p.m., information was received 
that the 17th Division was advancing on 
Courcelette, and the i roth Brigade was ordered 
to push on at once and make good a line North- 
West of Le Sars and thence to push patrols 
into Le Sars if possible, gaining touch with 
the Divisions on left and right. The battaHons 
were ordered to concentrate on the Mirau- 
mont Road East of Boom Ravine by 8.30 p.m., 
the 6th Leicesters on the left, ist Wilts, on 
right, 7th Leicesters (less the two companies 
temporarily lost) in support. The route, which 
lay over the old battlefield area, was a mass of 
shell holes and of course had no landmarks 
to go by, so the march had to be conducted 
by compass bearing. This night march proved 
a most difficult operation, carried out hurriedly 


as it was, and with no previous reconnaissance. 
Luckily the night was a moonlight one, which 
helped considerably. Boom Ravine itself 
proved a difficult obstacle, and it was no easy 
matter in the darkness to find the way into 
and out of it as the sides were precipitous and 
deep and the exits on the Eastern sides were 
few and far between. 

Brigade Headquarters arrived in the road 
at about 8 p.m. and formed up the Brigade 
as they arrived. By some mischance two 
companies of the 6th Leicesters lost their 
way and did not arrive, but as time was all- 
important, the Brigadier ordered the move- 
ment to proceed without them and started 
the battalions off, while he remained at the 
rendezvous to send the two companies on 
their way when they arrived. After waiting 
for some time without hearing or seeing any- 
thing of them, he decided to push on, and 
started to march on a compass bearing to a 
previous selected map location on the high 
ground West of Le Sars which he had chosen 
for his Headquarters. It had been his original 
intention for the Headquarters to march with 


the support battalion, but owing to the delay 
caused by the non-arrival of the two companies 
of the 6th Leicesters the Headquarters were 
now some distance in rear. He thought, 
however, that his small party could move 
quicker and catch up. As a matter of fact 
he lost all touch with them for the remainder 
of the night. After a very unpleasant march, 
falling into shell holes and derelict trenches 
and getting caught up in barbed wire, the 
Headquarters finally arrived at the spot they 
had previously selected, only to find it a very 
exposed place on the crest of a spur with no 
cover to speak of. At the moment they 
arrived, very heavy firing broke out from the 
direction of Le Sars and the spur became a 
most unpleasant spot, being apparently right 
in the line of fire, and the only available cover 
was in shell holes and a very derelict trench. 
As there was nothing to be done in the dark- 
ness, the Brigadier decided to withdraw his 
Headquarters further back, and stumbling 
back through the darkness he came upon the 
Headquarters Company of the 6th Leicesters 
with their CO. (Lieut.-Colonel Martyn), 


who had lost touch with his front Hne com- 
panies. As the place where he found them 
was much exposed he withdrew them together 
with his own Headquarters to a sunken road 
South of Pys, and from there sent out patrols 
to endeavour to get touch with the battalions. 
Just before dawn the sunken road was very 
heavily shelled by the enemy but not much 
damage was done, although the shooting was 
extremely accurate. During the night Lieut.- 
Colonel Martyn with his Intelligence Officer, 
Lieut. Alcock, and his orderly, went forward 
to locate his forward companies ; but in the 
darkness they walked into a quarry located 
on the road, just North-West of Le Sars ; here 
he was ambushed and, after a struggle, was 
captured and his orderly killed. Lieut. Alcock, 
however, managed to escape and brought 
back word of what had happened. By dawn 
the two forward companies of the 6th Leices- 
ters had been located, but touch had not been 
gained with either the 1st Wilts, or the 7th 

As can be imagined, the Brigadier was some- 
what harassed and anxious. He decided at 


dawn to go himself and locate the missing 
troops and started off accordingly, accom- 
panied by his Brigade-Major, Captain Ozanne 
of the Duke of Wellington's Regiment, a 
keen, capable, active young officer. 

The plan of operations for this day was 
for the 62nd Brigade at dawn to pass through 
the lioth Brigade and capture Le Sars and 
the trench line North of it, after which the 
iioth Brigade was to pass through and capture 
the road line still further East. 

The Brigadier and Brigade-Major started 
off in a thick mist and made for the places 
where the objective of the 1st Wilts, had been, 
according to plan. On their way they came 
across the 62nd Brigade advancing. They 
reached the high ground West of Le Sars just 
as the mist lifted, and found the leading troops 
in the act of attacking the village. The high 
ground was no place to remain on long, as the 
whole area was alive with machine-gun bullets 
fired at the attackers and supports in rear, 
so they hastened their steps to a small valley 
where cover was obtainable. Here they found 
the 62nd Brigade Headquarters but no sign 


of the Wiltshire Regiment, who however 
were near at hand, having successfully attained 
their original objective during the night. In 
the hurly-burly of a desperate attack such 
as the taking of Le Sars proved to be, it was 
impossible to discover anything, so the Brigadier, 
considerably worried, decided to return ; but 
as the fog lifted and the country became visible, 
he eventually found the 7th Leicesters and 
established his Headquarters with them. 
Shortly afterwards touch was obtained with 
the 1st Wilts., the two missing companies of 
the 6th Leicesters arrived, and later also the 
other two of the 7th Leicesters, who had 
strayed to Courcelette. The 62nd Brigade 
having been successful at Le Sars, the iioth 
Brigade was ordered to push through and 
capture the road line further East. The 
Brigade therefore concentrated south of Pys, 
the 6th and 7th Leicesters forming the front 
line, with the ist Wilts, in support. At about 
2 p.m., while the Brigade was moving to its 
assembly positions prior to starting for the 
attack, the Brigade Headquarters moved to the 
Headquarters of the 62nd Brigade for the oper- 


ation. On arrival the Brigadier found the 62nd 
Brigade being heavily counter-attacked. He 
immediately sent off his Brigade-Major to 
the two leading battalions, vi^ith orders for them 

The CouNTER-OrrENSiVE, Firs'I 

to press on quickly and attack at once, giving 
verbal orders to the Battalion Commanders 
as to the direction and task of each battalion. 
The 1st Wilts, he ordered to stand fast, West 


of Le Sars. The 6th and 7th Leicesters 
changed direction, and quickly grasping the 


[ASE {to October 3, 191 8). 

I situation, moved rapidly forward and attacked 

in their turn the flank of the Boche counter- 

I attack. By 3.30 p.m. the enemy had been 

completely repulsed but the original attack 


had been cancelled. The 6th and 7th Leices- 
ters however remained in line under the 
tactical orders of the 62nd Brigade, and the 
1st Wilts, withdrew to their original position 
West of Le Sars. Brigade Headquarters took 
up their quarters in a trench just West of 
Le Sars in shelters which had been occupied 
shortly before by a German artillery brigade. 
They had only been recently built and were 
comparatively clean. 

Here an amusing incident occurred which 
caused great laughter and, if meant for a joke 
by the Hun, was a very successful one. In 
examining the mess hut a very unpleasant 
looking red bomb was found embedded between 
the sandbag wall and the door post. Warnings 
had been issued about " booby traps," and 
this had every appearance of beingone; prepara- 
tions were therefore made to remove it. After 
everything of value had been removed from the 
hut a long line of telephone wire was procured 
and one end very gingerly tied round the 
bottom of the bomb, the other end being led 
to a trench some thirty yards away ; from this 
secure position it was decided to pull the 


bomb out. On the first pull the wire broke. 
This was repeated four times with the same 
result, but the fifth effort proved successful. 
Out came the bomb — it was empty ! The 
question was (and is) whether it was a leg- 
pull or not. 

At dawn on the 26th the 64th Brigade 
went through the 62nd Brigade and captured 
the high ground South of La Barque. The 
62nd Brigade then attempted to exploit this 
success but were unable to advance more than 
two or three hundred yards owing to the heavy 
enfilade fire from La Barque and Ligny Thilloy. 

The 17th Division had reached Martin- 
puich and the 63rd Division on the left was 
believed to be holding La Barque, but appar- 
ently not the Southern part of the village. 

The 6th Leicesters, now commanded by 
Major Burdett, were withdrawn South of 
Warlencourt, but the 7th Leicesters remained 
with the 62nd Brigade. On the 27th, at 
dawn, the iioth Brigade moved forward with 
the line of the Thilloy — Lusenhof Farm Road 
as their objective, with the 6th Leicesters 
on the left, the ist Wilts, on the right and the 


7th Leicesters in support. Brigade Head- 
quarters had moved forward to the Butte de 
Warlencourt, a very prominent landmark which 
had the appearance of a slag heap, standing 
about a hundred feet higher than the surround- 
ing country. The Brigadier was watching 
the advance of the troops from the top : they 
had already reached the line of the road called 
Blue Cut when a telephone message was 
handed to him telling him that the attack was 
cancelled and that the troops were to be with- 
drawn. Prompt action was necessary. He 
flew down to his Headquarters at the base 
of the mound and quickly got his Brigade- 
Major and another officer to run and stop the 
two leading regiments. There was no other 
means of communicating, the battalions being 
on the move. The two officers being young 
and active eventually succeeded in stopping 
them, but not before the 6th Leicesters had 
suffered some casualties from machine-gun 
fire from the left flank. 

The attack was cancelled owing to the 17th 
and 63rd Divisions not attacking on the South 
and North at Guedecourt and Le Thilloy 



respectively, as had been arranged beforehand. 
The Brigade withdrew to its old position, 
West of Le Sars. 

The 28th was a quiet day and the troops 
got a rest, which they badly needed. At 3 
p.m. however the Brigade was ordered to relieve 
the 62nd Brigade in the front line. The relief 
was effected that night, the front line being 
the line of Yellow Cut Road, where junction 
was obtained with the 42nd Division at La 
Barque and with the 17th Division just East 
of Eaucourt L'Abbaye. At 9 p.m. informa- 
tion was received that the 38th Division was 
attacking on the South, in the direction of 
GInchy, at 5.30 a.m. This attack proved 
to be successful, and the enemy started to 
retire all along the line. The two front line 
battalions were ordered to push forward 
advance guards and make ground " by bounds " 
Eastwards. In this way they were able to 
advance as far as the high ground West of Beau- 
lencourt. Further progress was not possible, 
as the enemy were holding the Bapaume- 
Peronne Road in strength. The ist Wilts, on 
the right and the 7th Lelcesters on the left 


proceeded to consolidate, the 6th Leicesters 
in support being on the reverse slope of the 
high ground East of the Lusenhof Farm Road. 
Brigade Headquarters occupied a filthy dug- 
out in the trench system just South of the 

The enemy shelled the forward battalions 
very heavily that night, but showed no dis- 
position to attack. Beaulencourt was shelled 
by us during the night until 2 a.m., at which 
hour patrols were pushed forward to recon- 
noitre. These patrols were only able to get to 
about 300 yards from the Western outskirts 
of the village as the latter was found to be very 
strongly held by machine guns. On the 
morning of the 30th, and again during the 
night of the 30th/3ist, the bombardment was 
repeated and patrols sent out with the same 

Meanwhile the 42nd Division on the left 
attacked and captured Riencourt, East of the 
Bapaume Road, but the right Division found 
Le Transloy strongly occupied. At 10 a.m. 
on the 31st the Division intimated that the 
Brigade would have to be prepared to attack 


Beaulencourt, and alternative schemes for a 
night or day attack were prepared. A day- 
light operation would have necessitated a 
frontal attack, but a night attack which allowed 
a certain amount of manoeuvring could take 
the position from the flank. The approaches 
to Beaulencourt from the front presented a 
glacis-like slope with no cover, which would 
have made a frontal attack very risky and 
costly. A night attack from the North 
however presented less difficulties and would 
introduce the element of surprise. Moreover 
the necessary movements could be made under 
cover of darkness. 

The latter plan was eventually decided on, 
and orders were issued with the artillery pro- 
gramme, for the attack to take place the follow- 
ing morning (ist September) at 2 a.m. The 
plan of attack was that the 6th Leicesters 
on the left, with their left on the Bapaume 
Road and the ist Wilts, on the right, were to 
form up in the valley running South-West from 
the Bapaume Road and immediately West of 
Riencourt, and move parallel with the Road, 
preceded by an enfilade artillery and machine- 
225 ? 


gun barrage, and capture and occupy the vil- 
lage. The 7th Leicesters, in the meanwhile, 
were to hold the trench line West of Beaulen- 

At 7 p.m. the Division ordered a supple- 
mentary attack to be made on the Sugar 
Factory North of Le Transloy at 5.30 the 
same morning, in conjunction with an attack 
on Le Transloy by the 17th Division : the 
7th Leicesters were ordered to carry out this 
attack with one company. 

The attack on Beaulencourt was completely 
successful : as a flank attack, it obviously took 
the enemy completely by surprise. The 6th 
Leicesters and ist Wilts, swept through the 
village and, after some very heavy fighting in 
which good use was made of Lewis guns and 
trench mortars, the whole of the village was 
captured and a position consolidated round 
the Eastern and South-Eastern portions of it. 
The captures included three officers and 130 
men, two field guns, nine anti-tank guns, 
4 trench mortars and 36 machine guns, 
as well as a Field Hospital more or less 



The attack by the 7th Leicesters did not 
materiaHse as, owing to the short time available 
for reconnaissance, the company detailed failed 
to reach the forming up line. An enemy 
counter-attack on the South-East corner of 
the village was beaten off by the 1st Wilt- 

The attack on Le Transloy failed. At 2 
a.m. on the 2nd the 7th Leicesters attacked 
the Sugar Factory with three companies. 
The operation was followed at 5 a.m. by a 
general attack all along the line, the 64th Bri- 
gade going through the iioth Brigade towards 
the high ground East of the Bapaume Road, 
the 4th Corps on the left attacking Villers-au- 
Flos and the 17th Division making an encircling 
attack on Le Transloy from North and South. 
The Sugar Factory was captured by 5 a.m. and 
the 64th Brigade and 4th Corps attacks were 
successful ; but the enemy fought desperately 
for Le Transloy. At 10 a.m. the Sugar Fac- 
tory was heavily shelled and retaken, but by 
11.30 a.m. the situation was restored, the 
7th Leicesters regaining the Sugar Factory, 
and the 17th Division cleared Le Transloy and 


pushed on to the high ground East of the road. 
Here the 17th Division gained touch with the 
2nd Division of the 4th Corps and thus pinched 
out the 2 1st Division. The 64th Brigade was 
therefore withdrawn, and the day ended with 
the 7th Leicesters holding a line from the Sugar 
Factory to the high ground in rear of the 
17th Division, with the 6th Leicesters 
garrisoning Beaulencourt, the ist Wilts, 
being withdrawn into support in the original 
trench line. Brigade Headquarters moved 
from the dug-out near Lusenhof Farm to 
some huts in a sunken road West of Riencourt, 
near the Bapaume road — a very pleasant 

The 42nd and 17th Divisions pressed on 
during the 3rd, captured Barastre and Roc- 
quigny, and pushed forward beyond these 
villages. The iioth Brigade withdrew to 
Divisional Reserve. The Division for the next 
two days was in Corps Reserve and was able 
to obtain a little rest which was badly needed. 
It was wonderful what these short periods of 
rest did for the men. After constant fighting, 
moving with little rest or sleep and with 


periods during which the tactical situation 
did not admit of proper food being taken, 
the men at times were strained to the limit of 
human endurance. Fatigue became almost 
a pain ; yet one day's complete rest with good 
hot food and a comprehensive wash, worked 
wonders. Of course the moral effect of advanc- 
ing and hammering the Boche was a great asset 
in keeping the men going, and added to their 
ardour. Their tails were right over their 
backs ; fatigue and hardship no longer 

On September 5 the 21st Division again 
came into the line, relieving the 38th Division 
which had pushed on East of the Canal du 
Nord in the vicinity of Manancourt and 
Etricourt. The iioth Brigade, in Divisional 
Reserve, moved to Sailly-Saillisel. Here they 
remained till the 7th, when they moved 
forward to the Canal du Nord about Manan- 
court and Etricourt. Brigade Headquarters 
were established in a very comfortable hutted 
camp in Manancourt, formerly a German 
Corps Headquarters. In the meanwhile the 
front line troops had been pressing steadily 


but slowly forward in the face of gradually 
increasing opposition. On the 9th, the 17th 
Division on the North had reached the old 
trench line South of Gouzeaucourt, the 64th 
and 62nd Infantry Brigades continuing the 
line South through Revelon Farm and East 
of Heudicourt, where the 58th Division joined 
up with them, carrying the line further South, 
just to the West of Peiziere. 

During the night 9th/ioth the i loth Brigade 
relieved the 62nd Brigade in the line. On the 
loth instructions were received to the effect 
that the iioth Brigade would extend its line 
to the North, relieving the 64th Brigade, and 
attack the trench line running South from Chapel 
Hill. Accordingly the 1st Wilts, carried out 
the relief on the night loth/iith, and the 7th 
Leicesters made the attack on the morning of 
the nth. This attack was successful, 50 
prisoners and a number of machine guns being 
captured, but some difficulty was experienced 
in gaining touch with the 1st Wilts, on the 
North owing to the pocket of the enemy 
holding out in Chapel Redoubt. Complete 
touch was not gained until the 6th Leicesters 


relieved the 7th Battalion on the night of the 

At 9.20 a.m. on the 13th a deserter from the 
enemy was brought into Brigade Headquarters. 
On examination he stated that a Flamenwerfer 
attack would take place about Chapel Hill as 
part of a larger operation at 10 a.m. There 
was very little time to be lost if advantage 
was to be taken of this information. Battalions 
were warned, the Division was rung up and 
asked to bring the heavy artillery into action 
at once, and the Brigadier himself dashed across 
the road to the supporting F.A. Brigade Head- 
quarters, who were fortunately near at hand, 
to bring the field guns into action at once to 
forestall the attack. The enemy's opening 
barrage and our own commenced at about the 
same moment, 9.45 a.m., our guns making 
beautiful shooting on the enemy trenches 
where they should have been forming up for the 
attack. Sure enough, the enemy started their 
attack with flamenwerfer at 10 a.m. The 
counter-attack after a short, though sharp, 
fight was beaten off. The enemy gained 
a temporary footing in the vicinity of Chapel 


Redoubt, but were soon ejected by an immedi- 
ate and well organised counter-attack delivered 
by a platoon of the 1st Wilts., leaving nine 
prisoners and one machine gun in our hands. 
This attack caused the enemy a considerable 
number of casualties. 

The 2 1 St Division was now working over 
ground with which it was very familiar as they 
had borne the German onslaught of March 
2 1 St while holding this part of the front. It was 
a curious experience, finding themselves working 
back over this old ground, where many evi- 
dences of our former occupation were found ; 
the Brigadier himself found in an old dug- 
out which he occupied as a Headquarters, and 
which had been the Headquarters of the 
I2th/l3th Northumberland Fusiliers in March, 
191 8, an old cheque-book in which the last 
cheque drawn was dated March 19. 

The night of the i6th was a most unpleasant 
one _for Brigade Headquarters, which were 
under canvas in the vicinity of a sunken road 
immediately West of Manancourt. Dinner 
had just been finished about six p.m. and all 
were very busy with orders and preparations 


for the coming attack, when without warning 
an enemy aeroplane dropped 6 bombs into 
the small camp. A direct hit was obtained 
on the office tent ; Sergeant Winney, the chief 
" G " clerk, was killed instantaneously and 
Private Osie, assistant clerk, so badly wounded 
that he died shortly afterwards. Typewriter, 
stationery, files and correspondence were of 
course blown to atoms. The Brigade despatch 
rider was also killed. Altogether, out of a 
total of 30 officers and men, the casualties 
amounted to 6 killed and 10 wounded. There 
were some extraordinary escapes. The Officers' 
Mess tent was riddled with sphnters but none 
of the officers were touched, although all were 
blown off their feet by the force of the 

The Brigade had been relieved by the 19th 
Brigade (33rd Division) during the night of 
the I5th/i6th and withdrawn to the West of 
the Canal du Nord near Manancourt. At 
noon that day (i6th) orders were received for 
an operation on a big scale and on a wide 
front, to take place on the morning of the 
1 8th. 



The scheme for the 2ist Divisional attack was 
for the 62nd Brigade to capture the trenches 
East of the railway between, and including, 
Vaucelette Farm and Peiziere. After this 
the iioth Brigade on the right and the 64th 
Brigade on the left, were to go through and 
capture the trench system running West and 
South of Villers Guislain, whereupon the lioth 
Brigade was to exploit further East to protect 
the flank of the 12th Division, who, further 
South, was to attack Epehy and the trench 
system East of it. 

It was decided to make the attack with the 
6th Leicesters on the right and 1st Wilts, on 
the left, the 7th Leicesters being in support. 
The battalions moved about 9 a.m. and marched 
to the assembly position near Heudicourt 
whence they were to follow the 62nd Brigade 
when the attack started. Brigade Head- 
quarters moved to a dug-out in a sunken road 
just South of Heudicourt where the 62nd 
Brigade was already established, and later, when 
the attack started, they moved forward to a 
similar one in a sunken road just West of 
the railway and South of Chapel Hill. 



The attack started just before dawn. The 
62nd Brigade took their objective, and the 
iioth then passed through them. The 6th 
Leicesters on the right found their right 
flank exposed and had some difficulty in clear- 
ing the trenches just North of Peiziere. They 
pushed on as far as 14 Willows Road, but were 
obliged to halt here and throw out a defensive 
flank as the 12th Division had failed to take 
Epehy, thus leaving this flank exposed to an 
enfilade fire from the enemy trenches East 
of the village. The leading companies of the 
1st Wilts, reached their final objective, but 
owing to the lack of support on their right 
were eventually compelled to withdraw to the 
high ground East of 14 Willows Road where 
they remained, throwing their flank back to 
the road itself. By 10.30 a.m. the supporting 
battalion, the 7th Leicesters, reached the line 
of 14 Willows Road, immediately in rear of the 
1st Wilts., and consolidated a position there. 
The 64th Brigade had captured their final 
objective and was firmly 'established. The 
38th Division on the right, however, was 
only in possession of the trenches immediately 


East of Peiziere and could not advance further. 
The operation, on the whole, had been very- 
successful ; 20 officers, 400 men and 8 
field guns were captured, but exploitation 
further East was stopped by the failure on 
the right, Epehy not having been taken. 
At 9 p.m. orders were received to renew 
the attack next morning, but these were 
subsequently cancelled and the Brigade was 
relieved by the 19th Brigade, 33rd Division, 
on the following night (i9th/20th), and again 
withdrew to Manancourt. 

From the 21st to the 23rd, the Division 
rested in this area. The 5th Corps had been 
reinforced by the 33rd Division, so the four 
Divisions were organised into a right and left 
wing, the 38th and 33rd relieving each other 
on the right and the 17th and 21st doing the 
same on the left. On the night of the 25th/26th 
the lioth Brigade relieved the 51st Brigade 
(17th Division) in the sector East of Gauche 
Wood, running as far North as Quentin Hill ; 
the 6th Leicesters on the right, the 7th Leices- 
ters on the left and the ist Wilts, in support, 
Brigade Headquarters in dug-outs at Chapel 


Hill. Here the iioth Brigade remained, the 
62nd Brigade on their left holding a trench 
line running round the South and West edges 
of Gouzeaucourt. 

Information was received from the 4th 
Corps on the morning of the 28th that the 
enemy were withdrawing on their front, and 
later in the morning the 62nd Brigade was 
able to push through Gouzeaucourt as far 
East as the railway. The 6th and 7th Leices- 
ters were thereupon ordered to push out 
patrols and occupy the trench line West of 
Gonnelieu. By 5 p.m. this operation was 

On the 29th, at 3 p.m., the 62nd and iioth 
Brigades attacked Eastwards, the 62nd Brigade 
attacking Gonnelieu and the iioth Brigade 
the trench line South of it. The 6th Leices- 
ters led the attack, followed by the ist Wilts., 
who were to pass through them at a later 
stage. The attack however was not a suc- 
cess, the enemy held the high ground in 
strength and with great determination — 
evidently to allow other troops to get across 
the Canal. The 6th Leicesters were unable 


to advance owing to heavy machine-gun 
fire ; one company on the extreme right got 
forward and captured the cemetery North- 
West of Villers Guislain and part of the trench 
line North of the cemetery ; but here the 
attack was held up. The 62nd Brigade was 
also unable to advance through Gonnelieu. 
The 4th Corps attack from the North had its 
effect next day, the enemy evacuating Gon- 
nelieu ; both Brigades then pushed forward 
and finally drove the enemy across the Canal 
and consoHdated the old trench line on the 
high ground West of Bantouzelle to Honne- 
court Wood. Here the advance halted for two 
days, while preparations to attack and cross 
the Canal were completed. Brigade Head- 
quarters, meanwhile, had moved to the Quarry 
just East of Gouzeaucourt, which proved a 
nice change from the dug-out on Chapel 
Hill. It was not so safe, perhaps, but the 
shelling in the back area was not so severe, 
and the comfort of being in the open air 
was well worth the risk. The atmosphere 
in a dug-out was invariably damp and stuffy, 
and the Brigadier always felt it a wrench to 



leave the fresh air and descend into the black 
depths, though never unmindful of the immor- 
tal Captain Corcoran : — 

" But when the breezes blow 
I generally go below, 
And seek the seclusion that a cabin 

On the 3rd the 62nd Brigade was with- 
drawn and the iioth Brigade took over the 
whole of the Divisional front, having two 
battahons in the front line (7th Leicesters on 
the left and the ist Wilts, on the right), and 
the 6th Leicesters in support. Constant 
patrolling was carried out towards the Canal 
to keep touch with the enemy, but patrols 
were invariably engaged by machine guns on 
approaching the Canal bank. At dawn on the 
5th however patrols of the Brigade on the 
right crossed the Canal at Honnecourt, and by 
8.30 a.m. had occupied a line East of it. The 
two front line battalions were at once ordered 
to cross the Canal. This was carried out, but 
only with considerable difficulty owing to the 
bridges having been destroyed. 


Once across, they pushed on rapidly under 
advanced guards and found the whole of the 
Hindenburg Line evacuated. This they occu- 
pied and sent patrols to the East of it. The 
6th Leicesters meanv^^hile moved to Banteux 
Spur in readiness to cross the Canal, which they 
did later in the afternoon. By the evening 
the whole Brigade was occupying the Hinden- 
burg Line with an outpost line in front of it. 
Brigade Headquarters moved forward to a 
position West of the Canal. During the 
afternoon the 64th Brigade passed through the 
Hindenburg Line to occupy the Beaurevoir 
Line which was reported clear, but meeting 
with strong opposition they were unable to 
advance far. The next day Brigade Head- 
quarters moved to the Hindenburg Line and, 
during the 7th, preparations were made for a 
further advance on the 8th on a big scale. 
The 2 1 St Division was to capture the Nasmieres- 
Beaurevoir system and Walincourt and the 
high ground to the North of it. Divisions on 
the right and left were also advancing on a wide 
front. The plan for the Divisional attack was 
for the 64th Brigade (right) and the iioth 


Brigade (left) to capture the Beaurevoir Line 
between Angle Chateau and Ardissart Farm, 
after which two battalions of the iioth 
Brigade would form up South of Ardissart 
Farm, facing North, and attack Northwards, 
the objective being the Beaurevoir Line and 
the high ground immediately East of it as far 
North as Hurtebise Farm, where junction with 
the 37th Division could be established. This 
operation completed, the 62nd Brigade was to 
pass through and capture Walincourt and the 
high ground North of it. The ist Wilts, were 
detailed for the initial stages of the iioth 
Brigade attack, the 6th and 7th Leicesters 
carrying out the final stage. Zero hour for 
the first stage was i a.m. (8th). The assembly 
march of the ist Wilts, was successfully carried 
out in spite of an exceptionally dark night. 
The attack was delivered with great dash, 
although the wire was thick and practically 
undamaged. Their objective in conjunction 
with that of the 64th Brigade was made good. 
The fighting in and around Angle Chateau, 
however, went on till mid-day as it was strongly 
and tenaciously held by machine-gun posts. 

241 Q 


At 5 a.m. the 6th and yth Leicesters formed 
up on the line of a communication trench South 
of Ardissart Farm. This was no easy operation 
in the pitch-black night, more especially as the 
communication trench in question was barely 
a foot deep and therefore extremely difficult 
to find. Again the attack was everywhere 
successful, and was certainly the surprise it 
was intended to be; 624 prisoners, 4 field 
guns, 67 machine guns and 6 trench mortars 
were the tangible results of this attack. At 
8 o'clock the 62nd Brigade passed through for 
their advance on Walincourt. By I p.m. the 
front had been reorganised, the 64th Brigade 
extending northwards to Haut Farm, the 
remainder of the front to Hurtebise Farm being 
held by the 6th Leicesters. The ist Wilts, 
and 7th Leicesters were ordered to move North 
and concentrate West of Briseux Wood in 
readiness to attack Guillemin Farm and the 
high ground East of it, but this idea was 
subsequently modified by the 62nd Brigade 
carrying out this attack, the ist Wilts, being 
lent to them as a supporting battalion. This 
operation, carried out at 4.30 p.m., was suc- 


cessful to start with, but a strong counter- 
attack drove it back to the line of the Sargrenon 
brook in the valley. Walincourt was however 
taken and remained in our hands. During the 
late afternoon Brigade Headquarters moved to 
a dug-out at Montecouvrer Farm. This was a 
most successful day, although an arduous 
combination of hard fighting with a long 
advance. On going over the ground next day 
it was astounding to see the depth and thickness 
of the wire, practically undamaged, through 
which the troops had forced a passage. More- 
over the intense darkness made the feat all the 
more marvellous. 

The second attack, from the South, was 
evidently a great surprise to the enemy and 
had the advantage of evading the wire by get- 
ting behind it. The large haul of machine 
guns was undoubtedly due to this fact. 

The 17th Division came through on the 9th 
and pushed forward, the enemy retiring in 
front of them. The iioth Brigade moved 
forward on the loth and went into billets at 
Caullery, where they remained resting, train- 
ing and reorganising till the 22nd. 


On the 13th, the Brigadier was able to get a 
few days' leave to England. He arrived in 
London on the 14th, but on the evening of the 
1 6th received a wire to return at once, so he 
left again on the morning of the i6th, getting 
back to CauUery by the evening of the 17th. 
It was a hurried journey, but well worth the 
trouble ; for the rest and good food and a sleep 
in a good bed for a few nights made a great 
difference. The troops had also benefited 
considerably by their ten days' respite in com- 
fortable billets — a thing they had not seen for 
a long time. New drafts arrived and were 
organised with the battalions and received 
some training. The devastated area had now 
been left behind and the enemy had no time to 
destroy the towns and villages, although he 
did his best by blowing down every church 
that he had the time and opportunity to des- 
troy — an unnecessary and disgraceful act of 
vandalism for which there was no excuse 
whatever. When the Division moved forward 
again it was in great fettle with the battalions 
nearly up to strength ; and the men, refreshed 
and rested, were full of themselves after their 


previous successes and eager to continue the 
advance and give the enemy something of that 
which they themselves had suffered earHer in 
the year. 

On the morning of the 22nd orders were 
issued for an attack on a big scale on the 3rd 
and 4th Army Fronts, the 5th Corps attacking, 
with the 33rd Division on the right and the 
2 1 St Division on the left. The scheme was a 
comprehensive one and made provision for a 
long advance to be carried out " by bounds " — 
a series of objectives being attacked and 
captured in succession by different formations. 
The 2 1 St Division in this had five objectives 
allotted to it : (i) The high ground North- 
East of Amerval ; (2) A line of road running 
along a spur East of Ovillers ; (3) Vendegie 
village and the line of road running South of it ; 

(4) The high plateau West of Poix-du-Nord ; 

(5) The high ground East of Poix-du-Nord and 
the outskirts of the Foret de Mormal. 

The iioth Brigade on the left, in conjunc- 
tion with the 64th Brigade on the right, were 
ordered to take the first three of these objectives, 
the 62nd Brigade then passing through and 


accounting for the remainder. The Brigade 
orders were for the ist Wilts, on the right and 
the 7th Leicesters on the left to capture the 
first two of the objectives allotted. On com- 
pletion of this phase the 6th Leicesters were to 
pass through and make good the line of Ven- 
degie village. As a preHminary to this oper- 
ation the 2 1st Division took over the line held 
hy the 17th Division on the night of the 
22nd/23rd, the 6th Leicesters taking over 
from the 52nd Brigade the front allotted to the 
iioth Brigade, roughly along the ridge North 
and South of Amerval. 

Zero hour for the attack was 2 a.m. on the 
23rd. By 12.30 a.m. the 7th Leicesters and 
1st Wilts, had formed up along their assembly 
position, the line of road running East of 
Amerval. When in position, the enemy heavily 
bombarded the Brigade front, this particular 
road coming in for a large share of the shelling, 
which caused very heavy casualties and con- 
siderable disorganisation among the battalions. 
In spite of this initial disadvantage both 
regiments advanced according to programme 
and captured their first objective up to time. 


In moving forward however to their second 
objective, they encountered heavy opposition, 
and delay was caused by the Brigade on the 
left being held up at the Red House. By 
means of the support afforded by the 6th 
Leicesters this opposition was overcome, and 
by 7.15 a.m. a message was received to the 
effect that the 6th Leicesters were in position 
and ready to advance. This battalion then 
passed through and advanced towards the 
third objective. Here they met with strenu- 
ous opposition, chiefly from Dukes Wood, 
which was full of machine guns. The advance 
was held up for some time until one company 
succeeded in working round the southern 
edge of the wood to the Chateau, thus out- 
flanking the position. From this point the 
advance was resumed without much difficulty, 
the third objective being in our hands by 
ID a.m. Patrols were pushed out through 
the village and the exits were held before the 
leading troops of the 62nd Brigade passed 
through at about 10.30 a.m. 

Brigade Headquarters during these man- 
oeuvres moved from Inchy to Neuvilly and 



Poix du 


Q\ I'^-^auBois 






>Le Cateau 


I 2 i 

5 Kilometres 

The Counter-Offensive {October '^-October 24, 19 18). 


from thence to a small copse North-East of 

Amerval at li a.m. At 3.30 p.m. news 

arrived of the capture of the fourth objective 

by the 62nd Brigade, but further advance 

wras impossible. At 3.45 p.m. the Brigade was 

concentrated ready to move forward, the 6th 

Leicesters in Vendegie, the yth Leicesters 

North of Ovillers, the ist Wilts, holding the 

line of the second objective in readiness to 

move forward. Brigade Headquarters were 

estabhshed at Ovillers. No further movement 

was possible that day, but the advance was 

ordered to be continued the next day (24th), 

the 62nd and 64th Brigades to attack and make 

good the line of the road through Grand Gay 

Farm, a further advance to be undertaken by 

the iioth Brigade with the Johmetz-Le 

Quesnoy Road as objective. The operations 

this day had again been most successful ; the 

Brigade had captured 340 prisoners and made 

good all its objectives. The flank movement 

of the company round Dukes Wood had been a 

particularly good bit of work, showing great 

initiative and excellent leading on the part 

of the officers concerned. By means of this 



outflanking movement Vendegie Chateau was 
surrounded before the German Regimental 
Commander, whose headquarters it was, could 
get away and he was captured with most of his 
staff. The attack was resumed on the 24th, the 
leading battalions of the Brigade, the ist Wilts. 
on the right and the 7th Leicesters on the left, 
crossing the high ground North-East of 
Vendegie at 7 a.m., keeping in close touch 
with the progress of the attack. Brigade 
Headquarters moved to Vendegie Chateau 
at 8 a.m. On arrival there news was received 
that the first objective (the high ground North- 
East of Poix-du-Nord) had been captured, and 
that the advance was being continued. The 
Brigadier therefore pushed on with an advanced 
Headquarters to Poix-du-Nord, leaving word 
for the remainder to follow later. 

The situation at noon however showed that 
further advance East of the first objective was 
definitely stopped by heavy machine-gun fire 
and a greater measure of artillery fire than 
had hitherto been experienced. The 7th 
Leicesters and 1st Wilts, had reached and 
halted on the line of the Fontaine le Conte- 


brook, North of Poix, the 6th Leicesters being 
in position on the plateau West of the village. 
There they remained till 2 p.m. when the 
battalions were ordered back, the 6th Leicesters 
to Vendegie, the 7th Leicesters and ist Wilts. 
to a position on the plateau. Brigade Head- 
quarters returned to Vendegie Chateau. No 
further change in the situation occurred that 

On the 25th little advance was made as 
patrols reported the enemy holding the line 
of Grand Gay Farm Road very strongly with 
infantry and machine guns. That night, the 
25th/26th, the iioth Brigade relieved the 62nd 
and 64th Brigades in the line and Brigade 
Headquarters moved to Poix-du-Nord. At 
I a.m. (26th) patrols were pushed out from the 
front line under a Field Artillery barrage, and 
posts were established about 300 yards in 

The following night (26th/27th) the Brigade 
was relieved by the 52nd Brigade, 17th 
Division, the iioth Brigade Headquarters 
moving to Ovillers, the 6th Leicesters and ist 
Wilts, to billets in Ovillers and the 7th Leicesters 


to camp near Amerval. Two nights later 
(29th/30th), the Brigade relieved the 52nd 
Brigade in the same line as that held prior 
to the previous relief. The Brigade remained 
in the line till the end of the month, the 
area being shelled very heavily at times. Poix 
itself received considerable attention, mainly 
between dusk and dawn, with a certain amount 
of gas. The billets were good in Poix, but it 
was hardly a safe place of residence. 

On the night of the 2nd/3rd of November 
the Division was relieved by the 17th Division, 
the 52nd Brigade again relieving the iioth 
Brigade, which withdrew to Ovillers. 

On the 3rd, orders were received that the 
1st French Army, together with the 3rd and 
4th and 1st British Armies, were to resume the 
offensive on November 4. Up till now the 
advance had been carried out in a North- 
Easterly direction, but the further operations 
now to take place were to be carried out due 
East. This necessitated a partial wheel to the 
right and meant attacking through the Foret 
de Mormal from West to East — a strenuous 
proposition if the latter proved to be tena- 


ciously held. The 17th Division was to clear 
the Foret de Mormal up to Locquignol in 
the first day's operation. The 21st Division 
on the following day was to pass through 
the 17th Division, endeavour to cross the river 
Sambre and establish a line East of it. This 
meant an advance of over 12,000 yards during 
the two days. 

On the 4th the operations started, the 17th 
Division advancing with apparently little 
opposition and was swallowed up in the forest. 
The 2 1st Division meanwhile assembled in the 
area West of the forest, near Futoy, ready 
to move forward. Brigade Headquarters 
moved in the afternoon to a small house near 
Futoy. On arriving after dark at this place, 
the Brigadier, accompanied by his Brigade- 
Major (Capt. Ozanne) and Intelligence Officer 
(Capt. Victor Kelly, a brilliant and gallant 
product of young Oxford,) found the house in 
direst confusion. It had evidently been hit 
by one of our shells and had also been system- 
atically ransacked by the Hun before evacuation. 
All hands had to turn to to make it fit for 
occupation ; two dead Germans amongst other 



things were disposed of before anything else 
was done. 

By the evening it was reported that the 17th 
Division had reached a Hne in the forest about 
2,000 yards short of their original objective. 
The morning of the 5th was misty and damp, 
and this subsequently turned to a continuous 
rain which lasted till the end of the operations. 
It was a cheerless morning when the 62nd 
Brigade led off the advance at about dawn, 
the iioth Brigade following close in the rear 
in close touch with the support battalion of that 
Brigade. Brigade Headquarters had moved at 
6 a.m. and joined with the 62nd Brigade at 
Pont a Vache. As soon as the 62nd Brigade 
had moved off and the iioth Brigade had 
formed up ready to start, the Brigadier moved 
off in advance of the head of the column and 
established Headquarters in advance of the 
Brigade at the Institute Forestier, about the 
centre of the forest, on the Locquignol — ^Tete 
Noire Road, which was reached about 8.30 a.m. 
In the meanwhile reports came in that the 
52nd Brigade was steadily advancing and had 
reached a line Tete Noire — Grande Carriere and 



were moving forward towards the Sambre at 
Berlaimont without much opposition. 

As soon as this news was received the Brigadier 
rode on to Tete Noire, leaving word for the 
column to follow, and joined the 62nd Brigade 
Headquarters established in the village. Here 
it was found that further advance was being 
strenuously opposed in and around Berlaimont, 
and the advance was held up for a time. It 
was decided that the iioth Brigade should not 
attempt to advance till the 62nd Brigade could 
establish themselves East of Berlaimont and 
prepare bridge-heads to cover the crossing. 
At II. 1 5 a.m. the head of the Brigade column 
arrived at Tete Noire. Their march had been 
much delayed by the congestion on the road 
caused by the large and deep craters which had 
been blown by the Boche in the road, at 
Locquignol and West of Tete Noire. It was 
pouring with rain, too, which made the roads 
through the forest very muddy and difficult. 

The further advance of the 62nd Brigade 

showed every sign of being delayed for the 

remainder of the day, so the iioth Brigade 

was ordered to billet in Tete Noire. Brigade 



Headquarters were established in a farm house 
on the Eastern side of it, and preparations were 
made and orders issued for the attack and 
crossing of the Sambre the following day. 

The 62nd Brigade had cleared Berlaimont 
during the evening, and during the night had 
been able to push across small parties at the 
Lock, where they occupied a very restricted 
position, but had managed to improvise a 
bridge over the shattered remains of the 
masonry of the Lock. This bridge merely 
consisted of single planks about two feet wide, 
laid zigzag across the dilapidated masonry, 
with no handrail or supports on either side. 
It was a most rickety structure over which to 
cross troops on a pitch dark and rainy night, 
the more so as the river below was swift running. 
By this contrivance the 6th Leicesters and ist 
Wilts. — the former on the left and the latter 
on the right — managed to cross the river at 
5.30 p.m. and established themselves along the 
Eastern bank of the river in readiness to advance. 
Brigade Headquarters moved forward and estab- 
lished themselves at a house on the Western 
outskirts of Berlaimont. Up till 8.30 a.m. no 

257 R 


advance could be made owing to the heavy 
machine-gun fire from Aulnoye and the direct 
artillery fire from batteries posted on the high 
ground East of it. The 6th Leicesters how- 
ever managed to extend their flank slightly by 
capturing and occupying the Factory, and also 
pushed a patrol up the East bank of the Canal 
towards Aymeries. This they followed up by 
sending more troops in this direction with the 
idea of turning Aulnoye from the North. 

During the whole morning the enemy had 
continuously and heavily barraged the line of 
the Sambre, which prevented any advance. 
Owing to the civilian population known to be 
in Aulnoye, the employment of artillery fire 
on the village to assist the troops in its capture 
was not permitted. If it had not been for 
this restriction the advance would have been 
made much earlier in the day. As it was, it 
was not until noon that the enemy fire died 
down and an advance could be made. By 
12.45 p.m. the 6th Leicesters had occupied 
Aulnoye and the ist Wilts, were advancing 
with them on the right. By 6 p.m. the final 
objective, the line of the road East of Aulnoye 


and Aymeries from Les Quatre Bras through 
Etree to the Sambre, had been captured, and 
touch had been estabHshed with the 33rd 
Division on the right although not with the 
5th Division on the North, who should have 
joined up at the bridge South of Pont sur 

All through the previous night and during 
the next day the rain had been heavy and 
continuous, which combined with the desperate 
fighting during the day made the lot of the 
front line troops very trying and uncomfort- 
able. In spite of the weariness of the men, 
orders were received for the advance to be 
continued the following morning (7th), and 
accordingly at dawn the 7th Leicesters and 
1st Wilts, moved forward under an artillery 
barrage and occupied the high ground West 
of Limont Fontaine. Little opposition was 
met with during this advance towards the 
Maubeuge Road. Brigade Headquarters had 
meanwhile advanced firstly to Aulnoye Brewery 
at 7.30 a.m. and later, at about 9 a.m., to 
Etree, being received everywhere with open 
arms by the inhabitants who were crazy with 


joy at being free once more. Flowers and 
everything they had — mostly coffee — were 
pressed on the troops, and flags sprang out 
everywhere like mushrooms in a night. Touch 
with the 33rd Division was still maintained on 
the right, but the 5th Division had only been 
able to make good the line of railway East of 
Pont sur Sambre. A defensive flank was there- 
fore thrown back by the 7th Leicesters across 
the high ground facing North, to guard this 
flank as a temporary measure until the 5th 
Division was able to get into the line. Mean- 
while the 64th Brigade, after some hard fighting, 
had been checked on the Eastern limits of 
Limont Fontaine, and it was not till about 5 
p.m. that they finally took this and advanced 
to a line about 500 yards West of the Maubeuge 

During the night 7th/8th the 17th Division 
came through to continue the advance, where- 
upon the iioth Brigade withdrew to billets 
in Berlaimont. Brigade Headquarters were 
billeted at the home of an old French military 
surgeon, who had fought in the war of 1870, a 
charming old gentleman who did everything 


he could to make his self-invited guests com- 
fortable. In the course of conversation he 
told the Brigadier a curious story, vi^hich he 
himself thoroughly beHeved and vouched for. 
He said that after the retreat in 1914, about 
400 British soldiers with a proportion of officers 
were cut off and remained hidden in the Foret 
de Mormal. Here they remained for eight 
months, living partly on what they could 
catch in the way of game, and partly on 
what the villagers could send them secretly. 
The country people, he said, were very much 
struck with the discipHne which was still main- 
tained, the men turning out spotless, with their 
rifles and accoutrements clean and always ready 
for use. Eventually the Germans somehow 
discovered their whereabouts and organised a 
search through the Forest. Apparently, from 
what he gathered, a large number were killed 
and the remainder captured. It would be 
interesting to know what truth there is in this 
extraordinary story ; owing to the extent and 
density of the forest in those days it seems 
probable the men could have remained hidden 
in the depths ; but eight months seems a long 


time for such a secret to have been kept, no 
matter how carefully guarded.^ Latterly of 
course the Germans felled a large portion of 
the forest for timber, and it is now no longer 
what it used to be. 

The Division remained at Berlaimont and 
its vicinity till the nth, when orders were 
received for the cessation of hostiHties from 
1 1 a.m. that day. The news was received with 
a certain amount of pleasure, but, strange as it 
may seem, not wholly with deHght. From 
evidence which was apparent on every hand, 
the enemy's retreat had become in the last 
three or four days more and more of a precipi- 
tate flight. It was known, too, that a big 
offensive was due to start from near St. Mihiel 
Northwards which, if successful, as there was 
little doubt it would be, would have had the 
effect of cutting in on the enemy's line of 
retreat Eastwards. This with their front badly 
broken, as it was in front of the 4th, 3rd and 
1st Armies, would have meant a serious debacle 
and a crushing defeat to the enemy. Further 
advance would of course have been a veiy 

^See Appendix 2. 


difficult problem owing to the difficulties of 
transport, but every one would have gladly gone 
on on half rations to finish the job properly. 

On the nth the iioth Brigade marched to 
Beaufort, while a squadron of the North Irish 
Horse on bicycles formed an outpost screen 
beyond, with Headquarters at Croisies. Here 
they remained till December 14, and employed 
the time in training and reorganisation in 
preparation for any further move which might 
be necessary. Sports of all kinds were organised 
and everything done to keep the troops happy 
and fit. On November 18 the Brigadier at 
last got his long-deferred leave and this time, 
instead of being recalled, he was agreeably sur- 
prised by being given a week's extension. 

The trip from Beaufort to Boulogne, carried 
out by motor-car, was a most interesting one, 
the route being by Valenciennes, Lille, Arras, 
through the devastated and famihar area to 
Bailleul and thence, via St. Omer, to Boulogne. 
Bailleul, which the Brigadier remembered five 
months before as quite a charming little town, 
comparatively intact, with a particularly com- 
fortable Officers' Club just off the principal 


square, was now merely a rubbish-heap, knocked 
absolutely flat. Shortly after the Brigadier 
returned from leave, the Division moved back 
to an area near Amiens, in the Somme Valley. 
The iioth Brigade marched on December 14 
by stages to Inchy, where they were transported 
in motor buses to Bevelles, arriving there about 
December 17, just in time to make necessary 
preparations for Christmas. 

There had been little scope for tactical 
manoeuvring during these last three months. 
Big movements were certainly made, but they 
appertained more to strategy than to tactics, and 
the role of the fighting troops could hardly be 
called Open Warfare as flanks were still, in the 
big sense, " un-get-at-able ". Trench systems 
such as the Hindenburg and Masnieres Line 
were still in being and were held, but it was 
possible from time to time to introduce a 
certain amount of tactical manoeuvres into 
these operations, such as the taking of Beaulen- 
court and the Masnieres Line, which showed 
what can be done by such flank movements, 
especially when they introduce that element of 
surprise which produces effects out of all pro- 


portion to its intrinsic value. The chief lesson 
learnt during these times was in the co-opera- 
tion of the Field Artillery with the infantry. 
In long advances the infantry very soon got 
beyond the support of the Heavy Artillery and 
depended entirely on the lighter arm for sup- 
port. Undoubtedly the Field Artillery, long 
accustomed as they had been to the system of 
barrages — so essential in an attack on a limited 
objective — were somewhat at sea and rather 
*' sticky " when confronted with the problem 
of supporting infantry in the open. They 
very quickly adapted themselves to the changed 
conditions, at first adopting the principle of 
attaching sections to the forward battalions 
with excellent results ; but this savoured of a 
makeshift. This principle of pushing guns 
forward to support the infantry would have 
been sounder and more in accordance with the 
Field Artillery training if it had been applied 
to complete batteries and even to Brigades. 
Indirect fire could still have been employed 
where necessary, and fire brought to bear over 
open sights when opportunity oifered. Some 
portion of the guns in an advance of this kind 


should be far enough forward to be able to 
take advantage of opportunities, which may- 
be fleeting ones, for energetically supporting 
the infantry. The machine guns during this 
period had made great strides. Their tactical 
handhng was getting more and more under- 
stood ; they were no longer tied to the apron- 
strings of the Brigadier or Battalion Comman- 
der, but were given a definite place in the 
general scheme and allowed to carry out their 
role without being hampered or fettered with 
unnecessary orders and instructions. Their 
chief raison (Vetre is to support the infantry 
whole-heartedly and to the last man and gun, 
and it was now clearly understood that this 
support could be obtained, not ^^f^Zi the infantry, 
but by pursuing their own tactics for the infan- 
try. Here again close support is essential, and 
this was obtained by the principles of echelon- 
ing in depth and continuous leap-frogging in 
the advance. Their performance was excellent 
but, to be hypercritical, it seemed that freer and 
better use of limbers might have improved it. 

The years 1917-1918 will never be forgotten 
by the writer. They were a priceless experi- 


ence of war in nearly all its phases and, through 
it all, the chief thing which remains in his 
mind is a deep and ineffaceable admiration for 
the men who really won it, the bed-rock of 
the fighting line — the imperturbable British 

In February of the following year the Briga- 
dier took over command of the Division from 
Major-General Sir David Campbell, who went 
to another command, much to the regret of 
everybody. No further move was made, the 
Brigadier remaining in command of the Divi- 
sion till it was gradually demobilised and 
finally ceased to exist early in May. 

As the Brigade gradually melted away in 
the fierce heat of demobilisation, the Briga- 
dier felt many a pang in seeing the departure 
of the men in whom he took such a pride and 
who had fought so long and so well under his 
command. What splendid men they were ! 
No one who was not actually there with them 
can have any idea of what they went through, 
especially during the last three months. Dur- 
ing that last period there was practically no 
rest for them. Weary and footsore they never 


faltered or gave way. It was their proud 
boast that, during that time, they never failed 
to obtain their objective and never lost what 
they won. Truly a command to be proud of, 
and the Brigadier saw them go with reluctance 
and grief. Such men are beyond all price, 
and so long as England produces them and sees 
that they are looked after in the right way and 
that their spirit of self-sacrifice and devotion 
to duty is fostered and encouraged to the 
highest possible degree, she need have no fear 
of any diminution in the National Spirit which 
is the right and heritage of her sons. One was 
reminded of those stirring lines in "The 
Shropshire Lad " : — 

Yes, God will save her, fear you not. 
Be you the lads you've been — 

Get you the sons your fathers got, 
And God will save the Queen ! 


Appendix i 

Mentions of the 2 1 st Division in the Com- 
mander - in - Chiefs Dispatches from 
January to October^ 19 18 

March 24, 19 18. 

" During the first two days of the enemy's offensive South of 
Arras, the 21st Division maintained its position at Epehy against 
all assaults and only withdrew from the village under orders when 
the progress made by the enemy to the South rendered such a 
course necessary. Before this Division withdrew it inflicted 
great loss on the enemy and the German Official reports acknow- 
ledge the bitterness of the fighting," 

April 30, 19 1 8. 

*' 8.34 p.m. Following a bombardment of great intensity, 
the French and British positions from the neighbourhood of 
Meteren to ZiLLEBEKE Lake Were violently attacked this morning 
by large hostile forces. Attacks were made also upon the Belgian 
positions North of Ypres. 

" Fighting of great severity developed rapidly on the whole 
Allied front. 

" The 25th, 49th and 21st British Divisions completely repulsed 
every attempt made by the enemy to enter their position, and 
despite the constant succession of determined attacks in great 
strength, maintained their line intact." 

May 2, 1918. 

"Please inform the G.O.C. and Officers and men of the 21st 
Division that the share taken by them in the recent fighting North 



of the Lys, following so closely upon their gallant action on the 
battle front South of Arras, reflects credit aUke on their Division 
and upon the British Army. I thank them for the great courage 
and devotion they have already displayed and am confident that 
any further test which the future may bring will be met by them 
with the same unflinching resolution." 

May 29, 19 18. 

" On our right the 2ist Division in touch with our Allies held 
their battle positions throughout the day and successfully with- 
stood the enemy's attempts to advance." 

September 14, 1918. 

"The 2i8t Division which on March 21 distinguished itself 
in the defence of Epehy was in line opposite to Beaucourt on 
August 21, capturing Beaucourt. During the following days 
it advanced with great gallantry over the Somme Battlefield, 
overcoming stiff resistance in the neighbourhood of Le Sars and 
Beaucourt L'Abbaye." 

September 19, 19 18. 

" North of Peiziere, the 21st Division attacked over the North- 
ern position of the sector defended by it with so much gallantry 
on March 21 and 22. Having captured its old front trenches, 
together with the strong point known as Vaucelette Farm and 
beaten off a hostile counter-attack, it pushed forward more than 
a mile beyond this line, capturing several hundred prisoners and 
a German Battery complete with teams in the course of its advance. 

October 9, 19 18. 

" In the centre, Welsh and Enghsh troops of the 38th and 21st 
Division broke through the German defence system known as 
the ' Beaurevoir-Masnieres Line ' and captured Malincourt 
and the trench line West of Malincourt. Obstinate resistance 
was met with from strong bodies of the enemy with M. Gs. in 
Villers Outreaux. After a period of hard fighting, Welsh 
troops gained possession of the village." 



October 24, 19 18. 

" English troops of the 25th Division had hard fighting in 
Bishop's Wood (East of Le Cateau) and made good progress 
through It. East County troops of the i8th Division advancing 
to a depth of 8| miles captured Bousies. English and Scottish 
Battalions of the 21st and 23rd Divisions secured the crossings 
of the Harpies at V^endegie Wood and captured Vendegie 

Headquarters, October 30, 1918. 

Times, Monday, March 25, 191 8. 


On the right of Gauche Wood were other troops — namely 
Leicesters and Northumberland Fusiliers — from the height belov? 
Gauche Wood known as Chapel Hill to Peziere and Epehy. Some 
three divisions and parts of a fourth were thrown against our one 
division. At one point only the enemy got into our line just 
round Vaucellette Farm where he was actually in our advanced 
posts in the fog before we saw him. Waves of Germans flowed 
past the farm and round It on both sides, but In the farm Itself 
were a party of Leicesters who held out though completely sur- 
rounded, and fought, refusing to surrender until every man was 
either killed or so wounded that he could fight no more. 

On the left of this bit of the Hne the Leicesters and Northum- 
berland Fusiliers together held Chapel Hill against attacks which 
lasted throughout the day. On the right more Leicesters had 
Peziere In their keeping and here the same bloody struggle raged, 
immense numbers of Germans being killed and immense numbers 
more coming on. At one time the Germans forced their way 
into the village of Peziere by the use of the Flammenwerfer. 
Then we attacked with a couple of tanks and infantry and drove 
the enemy out again. 

« * * * * 

At the end of the day all this section of the front was intact, 
except where a small dent remained by Vaucelette Farm, and 
the men told me that they could have re-established even that 
one dent and " held on till 1920 " if they had been allowed to 



stay and do it. But the troops on the right of Ep6hy had been 
compelled to fall back and to conform to this that evening the 
line from Gouzeaucourt to Pezlere also fell back. 

The Germans had pushed us back nearly as far as St. Emilia 
80 that our flank at Ep6hy was exposed to a depth of some 2,000 

Times, April 24. 


Of the 2 1 St Division's magnificent fighting at Ep6hy and Pezi- 
^re and by Chapel Hill I told in my dispatch of March 24 when 
Leicesters, Lincolns, and Northumberland Fusiliers all did so 
gallantly, and I spoke of it again in my message of April 4. The 
2 1 St has done very well in other battles in this war, as in the Wan- 
court-Henivel area in the battle of Arras last year and in the 
capture of the Reutel Ridge on October 4, 1917. Nothing could 
have been stouter than this fighting on the first days of this German 

And again in The Times of May 29, in an article entitled " Battle 
on two Fronts." 

Appendix 2 

Some three months after General Gumming had left the 91 st 
Brigade an incident occurred which may be recorded here. At 
about 1.30 a.m. on the night August 6/7, 1917, No. 282046 Pte. 
B. Taylor, 2 /4th London Regiment, crawled into the right post 
of the Brigade, which was still holding the Bullecourt sector. 
His battalion had taken part in an attack on June 15, and he, 
being disabled with a fractured thigh, had crawled with a friend 
into a disused shelter about 200 yards behind the enemy's front 
line. His companion could walk, and would go out after dark to 
procure iron-rations and water from the dead in the vicinity, and 
in this manner they lived for no less than seven weeks, until one 
night the companion failed to return. After twice faihng, Taylor 
eventually succeeded in dragging himself across the enemy 
trenches and wire defences, and into our lines. For this remark- 
able feat he was subsequently awarded the D.C.M. 






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