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- Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has been preserved. The Nominal Roll was originally printed in two columns, and numbered on each page from top to bottom, left to right. This has been reproduced in this document. To avoid confusion, each page break is marked. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected in this text. For a complete list, please see the end of this document. -
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THE 23RD (SERVICE) BATTALION ROYAL FUSILIERS.
THE 23RD (SERVICE) BATTALION ROYAL FUSILIERS
A RECORD OF ITS SERVICES IN THE GREAT WAR, 1914-1919
FRED. W. WARD
CAPTAIN R.E., FORMERLY NO. 662 FIRST SPORTSMAN'S BATTALION
LONDON SIDGWICK & JACKSON, LTD. 1920
THE SPORTSMEN 3
FROM MAJOR-GENERAL SIR C.E. PEREIRA, K.C.B., C.M.G. 4
FROM MAJOR-GENERAL R.O. KELLETT, C.B., C.M.G. 7
FORMATION OF THE BATTALION, THE HONOURS GAINED, AND ITS RECORD IN BRIEF 9
A NEW TYPE OF SOLDIER—THE COSMOPOLITAN COMPOSITION OF THE BATTALION 15
TRAINING AT HOME—HOW THE FINISHED SOLDIER EMERGED FROM THE ROUGH MATERIAL 23
SERVICE OVERSEAS—HEAVY FIGHTING ALL ALONG THE FRONT, AND A TRIUMPHAL MARCH INTO GERMANY 35
GREAT WORK ACCOMPLISHED—HOLDING UP A GERMAN ADVANCE— SILENCING SNIPERS IN A DERELICT TANK—AND SOME OTHER THINGS 67
PRESENTATION OF THE KING'S COLOUR—MAJOR-GENERAL SIR C.E. PEREIRA, K.C.B., C.M.G., AND HIS PRIDE IN THE BATTALION 73
"GOOD-BYE AND GOOD LUCK"—BRIGADIER-GENERAL A.E. MCNAMARA, C.M.G., D.S.O., AND HIS FAREWELL TO THE 23RD ROYAL FUSILIERS 77
THE BATTLE OF DELVILLE WOOD—AN ADVANCE IN FACE OF HUNDREDS OF MACHINE GUNS—A PERSONAL NARRATIVE 81
EXPERIENCES AS A PRISONER OF WAR—EXTRACTS FROM THE DIARY KEPT BY "MR. BROOKS, THE SCHOOLMASTER" 93
THE HONOURS' LIST: NAMES OF OFFICERS AND MEN AWARDED DECORATIONS AND MENTIONED IN DESPATCHES 103
THE ROLL OF HONOUR: OFFICERS AND OTHER RANKS WHO DIED THAT ENGLAND MIGHT LIVE 111
THE NOMINAL ROLL: NAMES AND NUMBERS OF THE ORIGINAL MEMBERS OF THE BATTALION WHO JOINED EITHER AT THE HOTEL CECIL, LONDON, OR AT HORNCHURCH, ESSEX 143
EDITOR'S NOTE 167
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS
COLONEL THE VISCOUNT MAITLAND Frontispiece
FIRST INSPECTION OF BATTALION: HYDE PARK, OCTOBER, 1914 to face p. 20
MARCHING AWAY FROM HYDE PARK TO ENTRAIN FOR HORNCHURCH to face p. 28
THE CAMP, HORNCHURCH " 30
INTERIOR OF A HUT, HORNCHURCH " 30
LIEUTENANT-COLONEL H.A. VERNON, D.S.O. " 42
LIEUTENANT-COLONEL E.A. WINTER, D.S.O., M.C. " 50
PRESENTATION OF COLOURS: NIEDERAUSSEM, GERMANY, JUNE 24, 1919 to face p. 66
BATTALION HEADQUARTERS, HORNCHURCH " 80
THE BATTALION PIERROT TROUPE: GERMANY " 80
Sportsmen of every kind, God! we have paid the score Who left green English fields behind For the sweat and stink of war! New to the soldier's trade, Into the scrum we came, But we didn't care much what game we played So long as we played the game.
We learned in a hell-fire school Ere many a month was gone, But we knew beforehand the golden rule, "Stick it, and carry on!" And we were a cheery crew, Wherever you find the rest, Who did what an Englishman can do, And did it as well as the best.
Aye, and the game was good, A game for a man to play, Though there's many that lie in Delville Wood Waiting the Judgment Day. But living and dead are made One till the final call, When we meet once more on the Last Parade, Soldiers and Sportsmen all!
TOUCHSTONE (of the "Daily Mail").
FROM MAJOR-GENERAL SIR C.E. PEREIRA, K.C.B., C.M.G.
The history of any New Army battalion is a valuable contribution to the history of the war. This applies particularly to a battalion like the 23rd Royal Fusiliers, which achieved a high morale and maintained excellent discipline throughout the war.
At the Front our only knowledge of the New Army before they came overseas was gained from the Brigade Staffs and Commanding Officers of the new Formations, who were sent over for short attachment to troops in the line.
We learnt from them the great difficulties that had to be overcome in raising new units, with very few officers, warrant officers, and N.C.O.'s to lead the new force and instruct them in military routine. Without exception they were filled with admiration of the physique, intelligence, and spirit of the men who had rushed to arms in those dark early days of the war.
It was evidently the flower of the nation that came forward, and probably in the history of all wars such magnificent material has never been equalled.
My acquaintance with the 23rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers extended from the end of 1916 to March, 1919, when the Battalion left the 2nd Division, and it is interesting to look back at my first impression of the Battalion, as I had not previously had any New Army battalions under my command. Regular battalions have the pride of history to sustain them, and traditions to live up to, but here I found a battalion not two years old, with its history in the making, but with the same spirit and self-consciousness that one finds in the old formations.
Those who have not had considerable experience of troops in peace and war may imagine that regiments are, at all times, sustained by a great pride in their past, and a determination to live up to it. Alas! in some cases this spirit dies away in adversity. I have seen the 23rd Royal Fusiliers in good times and in bad, and I have never found them downhearted.
When out for a few weeks' rest and training, in pleasant surroundings, their work and play were carried out with much life and zest.
In the fighting in the Cambrai salient, in the Bourlon-Moeuvres Ridge, on November 30, 1917, when the 2nd Division defeated six successive attacks on their line, the 23rd Royal Fusiliers at the end of the day held their line intact. This action was followed two days later by a withdrawal which was necessary to get us out of a sharp salient. This entailed very hard work and constant trench fighting, extending over several days. The troops were very exhausted from the extremely heavy calls that had been made on them, but after a few days' rest it was almost incredible how rapidly they had thrown off their fatigue and how good their spirits were.
They knew they had killed large numbers of Germans, and had successfully defeated a German attack which, if successful, would have been a great disaster for the British.
A more trying time was the March retreat in 1918. Lieutenant-Colonel Winter had lost his voice from the effect of several days of very heavy gas shelling of the Highland Ridge just before the Germans launched their attack, and he was voiceless for the next ten days. A large proportion of his Battalion were similarly affected, but time after time during the retreat they turned and fought, and inflicted heavy losses on the enemy until they did their share in repelling a heavy attack at Beaumont Hamel, where the Germans were finally held.
It was the spirit of such battalions as the 23rd Royal Fusiliers that broke the German offensive, and the marvellous power of recuperation that they had, given a few days to rest and sleep.
In the offensive operations that lasted from August 21, 1918, to the Armistice, the Battalion delivered many successful attacks with undiminished dash and courage, and it was a proud day when I saw them march through the Square in Duren with fixed bayonets, headed by the few Regimental pipers that had been through the war with them since their formation.
Well had they earned their Victory March into Germany, and Lieutenant-Colonel Winter was justified in his great pride in their fine appearance and magnificent transport.
In conclusion I must pay a tribute to the private soldiers, the non-commissioned officers, and the young officers, who, year in and year out, faced death and the greatest of hardships with that dogged courage that has always broken the hearts of our enemies. The saying that the British soldier never knows when he is beaten has never been truer than in this war.
My hope is that histories such as this may have a wide circulation, so that mothers, wives, and children may know what their men have done for their country, what dangers they have faced, and what vast sacrifices they cheerfully made.
FROM MAJOR-GENERAL R.O. KELLETT, C.B., C.M.G.
The story of the 23rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers cannot fail to be a fine one. Every soldier who, like myself, had the honour of fighting, I may say, shoulder to shoulder with it, will read its history with the deepest interest.
As its first Brigadier, I took up that appointment on December 19, 1914, when the Battalion was in its infancy, deficient of arms and equipment, but full of men whose physique, zeal, and spirit were magnificent, and this spirit was fully maintained, to the honour and fame of the Battalion, in the face of the enemy in France during the winter of 1915-16, and throughout 1916 and 1917, during which time it was in my (99th) Brigade, which formed part of the 2nd Division.
Throughout the heavy fighting we went through during this period, the 23rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers never failed me. What they were ordered to do they did, and more; any objective they seized they held on to, and never retired from. Few units can boast of as proud a record as this.
Many hundreds of their best and bravest made the last sacrifice, but the splendid gallantry and dogged and cheerful endurance of the Battalion never lessened.
I was, and am, a proud man to have had such a Battalion in my Brigade, a Battalion second to none amongst those who fought for the Empire in the Great War.
- FORMATION OF THE BATTALION, THE HONOURS GAINED, AND ITS RECORD IN BRIEF -
FORMATION OF THE BATTALION, THE HONOURS GAINED, AND ITS RECORD IN BRIEF
RAISED IN LONDON IN 1914 BY MRS E. CUNLIFFE-OWEN (NOW MRS. STAMFORD, O.B.E.)
PARTICULARS OF STRENGTH.
- - Officers. Other Total. Ranks. - - Total strength of Battalion on embarkation 31 1,006 1,037 Total number of reinforcements who were posted to and joined the Battalion whilst overseas 188 3,762 3,950 Total number who have served on the effective strength of the 23rd Royal Fusiliers whilst overseas 219 4,768 4,987 - -
NOTE.—The above figures do not include those posted to the Battalion for record purposes only, and who never joined the Battalion in the Field. The figures represent only those who have served on the effective strength of the Battalion overseas.
COLONELS IN COMMAND.
Colonel Viscount MAITLAND. From formation of Battalion to January 29, 1916.
Lieut.-Colonel H.A. VERNON, D.S.O. From January 31, 1916, to May 23, 1917.
Lieut.-Colonel E.A. WINTER, D.S.O., M.C. From May 24, 1917, to April 14, 1919.
Lieut.-Colonel F.L. ASHBURNER, M.V.O., D.S.O. From April 15, 1919, to March, 1920.
The Battalion proceeded overseas on November 15, 1915.
- Officers. Other All Ranks. Ranks. - Killed in action 26 427 453 Died of wounds 2 128 130 Wounded in action 81 2,216 2,297 Missing in action 19 331 350 Died from sickness whilst on active service Nil 11 11 - Total 128 3,113 3,241 -
D.S.O. 5 Bar to D.S.O. 1 M.C. 27 Bar to M.C. 5 Order de l'Caronne 1 D.C.M. 14 M.M. 93 Bar to M.M. 6 M.S.M. 8 French Croix de Guerre 1 Belgian Croix de Guerre 1 Italian Bronze Medal for Military Valour 1
MOVEMENTS OF THE BATTALION AND BATTLES IN WHICH IT TOOK PART.
November: Bethune sector. December: Cambrin sector.
January: Festubert sector. February: Givenchy sector. March: Souchez sector. April: " " May: " " June: Carency sector. July: Somme and Battle of Delville Wood. August: Somme, in support. September: Hebuterne sector. October: Redan. November: Battle of Beaumont Hamel. December: Battalion resting.
January: Courcelette sector. February: Battle of Miraumont. March: Battles of Greyvillers and Lady's Leg Ravine. April: Vimy Ridge and battle in front of Oppy. May: Battle for and capture of Oppy-Fresnoy line. June: Cambrin sector. September: Givenchy. October: Battalion resting. November: Battalion moved to Herzeele, behind Passchendale, ready to go in, and was then moved south to meet the German counter-attack at Bourlon Wood. December: Holding Hindenburg line.
January: Highland Ridge. February: Highland Ridge. March: German attack. Battalion fought a rearguard action from Highland Ridge to Mailly-Mailly. April: Battalion holding line at Blairville and Adnifer. May: " " " " June: Holding line at Adnifer and Ayette. July: " " " August: Battalion led off for the Third Army on 21st inst., attacking and capturing enemy positions near Courcelles. September: Battalion attacked and captured part of the Hindenburg line at Doignes, and later helped to capture Noyelles, and attacked Mount sur l'[OE]uvres. October: Battalion attacked and captured Forenville. November: Battalion attacked and captured Ruesnes. November and December: Battalion marched forward into Germany.
Battalion in Cologne area as part of Army of Occupation.
Battalion in Cologne area until it was disbanded in March.
- A NEW TYPE OF SOLDIER THE COSMOPOLITAN COMPOSITION OF THE BATTALION -
A NEW TYPE OF SOLDIER—THE COSMOPOLITAN COMPOSITION OF THE BATTALION
With the formation of the Sportsman's Battalion it will be admitted quite a new type of man was brought into the British Army. Public Schools battalions, the Chums, the Footballers, and other battalions were formed. But to the First Sportsman's belongs the honour of introducing an actually new type.
To begin with, it was cosmopolitan. Practically every grade of life was represented, from the peer to the peasant; class distinctions were swept away, every man turned to and pulled his bit. To illustrate what is meant one hut of thirty men at Hornchurch may be mentioned.
In this hut the first bed was occupied by the brother of a peer. The second was occupied by the man who formerly drove his motor-car. Both had enlisted at the same time at the Hotel Cecil, had passed the doctor at the same time at St. Paul's Churchyard, and had drawn their service money when they signed their papers. Other beds in this hut were occupied by a mechanical engineer, an old Blundell School boy, planters, a mine overseer from Scotland, a man in possession of a flying pilot's certificate secured in France, a photographer, a poultry farmer, an old sea dog who had rounded Cape Horn on no fewer than nine occasions, a man who had hunted seals, "with more patches on his trousers than he could count," as he described it himself, a bank clerk, and so on.
It must not be thought that this hut was an exceptional one. Every hut was practically the same, and every hut was jealous of its reputation. Scrubbing day was on Saturdays as a rule, and it was then that the "un-char-lady" side of various men came out. They were handling brooms, scrubbing-brushes, and squeegees for the first time in their lives, but they stuck it, and, with practice making perfect, it was surprising to what a pitch of cleanliness things eventually got.
Even church parade has been dodged on a Sunday morning in order that three pals might unite in an effort to get the stoves blacked, the knives and forks polished, and a sheen put on the tea-pails.
One may smile about these things now when in civilian life again, but it was all very real at the time. The First Sportsman's were not coddled; no man thought twice about getting in a terrible mess when domestic duties had to be performed. The only kick came when the hut windows had to be cleaned with old newspapers. The man who had forgotten to wash the old cloths or buy new ones came in for a terrible time.
Rivalry, perfectly friendly in character, was great in the earlier days before chums began to be split up as the result of taking commissions. If we were digging trenches "somewhere in Essex," our particular sector had to be completed quicker and be more finished in character than any other. Jobs were done at the double if it were thought to be necessary; if any man developed a tendency to take a rest at too frequent intervals—well, he was ticked off in the most approved fashion. It all made for the good of the whole. The N.C.O. in charge had an easy time, he hadn't to drive a man. All he had to do was to see that in over-eagerness his working party did not take risks.
But the time came when the calculations upon securing a commission began to make their appearance. It may be some men were approached on the matter, or that others thought they would get to the Front more quickly as individual officers than as members of the Battalion (as indeed proved the case in many instances), but certain it is that the Colonel began to be inundated with applications to apply for permission.
Whilst freely recommending all suitable applications, the Colonel, in order to keep up the strength of the Battalion, made a rule that an applicant was to supply two other recruits to the Battalion of a certain height and of absolute physical fitness.
Naturally this was conformed with, and the recruiting sergeants round Whitehall were all the richer for it. So, too, were the recruits, and everyone was satisfied. If one man went two others took his place.
Finally, as it was found that men constantly leaving was interfering with the internal organization of the companies, a special company was formed of all those waiting for their commission papers to come through.
This company, "E," proved the friendly butt of all the others, one wag even going so far as to christen it the "Essex Beagles," alleging they did not "parade," but "met"!
So, in order to free the others for harder training this company provided very nearly all the fatigue parties for the camp.
Still, this didn't matter. It just gave the budding officers a chance to show what they were capable of. On several occasions a member of "E" Company proved he was more than a little useful with his hands when it came to a matter of treating things from a physical point of view and cutting the cheap wit out. The fatigues were also done without a murmur, that was another point of honour, and although the available strength of the company was dwindling day by day, "grousing" about extra work was conspicuous by its absence.
There was a funny side about this dwindling of the strength, too. Men would be on the morning parade, and not on that later in the day. The explanation was a simple one. Their papers had come through. A man would walk out through the gates and be pulled up by the sentry.
"What about your pass?" the latter would ask.
"Got my discharge," would be the reply.
"Got a commission?"
"Good luck, old chap. I'm getting my papers to-morrow."
So, many of the original members of the First Sportsman's Battalion were scattered about on every front in their various regiments. Walking through the Rue Colmar, Suez, one day I met my old company officer, then in the Royal Flying Corps. At Sidi Bishr, on the banks of the Mediterranean, I met another. A fellow-sergeant in the Battalion came up in the Rue Rosetta, Alexandria, and claimed me.
Out beyond the Bitter Lakes, east of the Suez Canal, I met an old Sportsman who had been a fellow-corporal with me. Back of the Somme, a prominent West Country Sportsman shouted a greeting to me from the Artillery. He still remembered rousing the camp at Hornchurch one night by sounding a hunting horn.
In an Artillery Captain in the Hebuterne sector I recognized another member—a Machine-Gun officer rolled up smilingly on the way up the line, and, finest time of all, I had nearly a whole day with what was left of the old crowd when they were resting after Delville Wood.
Friendships made in the First Sportsman's Battalion were not easily broken. We are out of it now, but—once a Sportsman, always a Sportsman. That, at least, has been my experience.
And it must not be forgotten that to Mrs. Cunliffe-Owen is due the credit of conceiving the idea of a battalion formed of men over the then enlistment age, who, by reason of their life as sportsmen, were fit and hard. Approaching the War Office, she obtained permission to raise a special battalion of men up to the age of forty-five. This was how the Sportsman's Battalion was actually brought into being.
- TRAINING AT HOME HOW THE FINISHED SOLDIER EMERGED FROM THE ROUGH MATERIAL -
TRAINING AT HOME—HOW THE FINISHED SOLDIER EMERGED FROM THE ROUGH MATERIAL
Formed almost as soon as the war broke out in 1914, the First Sportsman's Battalion may have provoked some criticism. It was uncertain at first as to what branch of the service it was to represent. Personally I thought it was to be mounted, and I was not alone in this idea either. More than a few of us got busy at once in settling how, if possible, we could provide our own mounts. That was in the days when we were new to war, long before we began to know what something approaching the real thing was.
Recruiting went on briskly at the Hotel Cecil, London, where Mrs. Cunliffe-Owen and her staff worked hard and late. Lieutenant-Colonel Winter, then Second-Lieutenant Winter, with his ledger-like book and his green-baize-covered table, was a familiar figure. So, too, was the tailor who had been entrusted with the task of fitting us out with our uniforms. He, poor man, was soon in trouble. The stock sizes could be secured, but stock sizes were at a discount with the majority of the men who first joined up. They wanted outside sizes, and very considerable outside sizes, too, for the average height was a little over six feet, and the chest measurements in proportion.
Still, we recognized that these things had to be, and we kept on with a smile and a joke for everything. Perhaps we had a pair of army trousers and a sports-coat. Perhaps we had a pair of puttees, and the rest of the costume was our own. It didn't matter. It was good enough to parade in off the Embankment Gardens. It was good enough to route march in through the London streets. And the traffic was always stopped for us when we came home up the Strand, and proceeded down the steps by the side of "the Coal Hole" to the "dismiss." Rude things might be said to us by the crowd, but there was a warm spot in their hearts for us. We just carried on.
Bit by bit we were provided with our uniforms, and we began to fancy ourselves as the real thing. We began to make new friends, and we were drawn closer to those we knew. We came from all over the world. At the call men had come home from the Far East and the Far West. A man who had gone up the Yukon with Frank Slavin, the boxer; another who had been sealing round Alaska; trappers from the Canadians woods; railway engineers from the Argentine; planters from Ceylon; big-game hunters from Central Africa; others from China, Japan, the Malay States, India, Egypt—these were just a few of the Battalion who were ready and eager to shoulder a rifle, and do their bit as just common or garden Tommies. The thought of taking a commission did not enter our minds at the start. Every man was eager to get on with the work, with but a dim thought of what it was going to be like, but worrying not a bit about the future.
In a few weeks the Battalion had learnt how to form fours, to wheel, and to maintain a uniformity of step. Every man was desperately keen; to be late for parade was a great big sin. And this despite the fact that every man had to come into London from all parts of the suburbs, and farther out than that in many instances, by train (paying his own fare) every morning.
So the time went on. Then came the news that we were to go into camp at the Grey Towers, Hornchurch, Essex, and next came the formation of a fatigue party to go on ahead and get things ready for the reception of the Battalion. There was a rush to get into this party as soon as the news went round. Everyone was eager to do something fresh, and, after all, we didn't know what fatigues were in those days. So the party went on ahead.
We who were left kept on with our drills; we even did physical jerks on the slopes of Savoy Street, Strand. Then came the news that we were to march away. That bucked everybody up tremendously, for, to tell the truth, we were really beginning to get tired of the London life. Some of us, who had seen life in various parts of the world previously, were sighing again for the open air. All of us were thinking it was really time we did something to justify our existence. We did not claim to be show soldiers; we wanted to get at it.
All things come to those who wait, however. We were to move to Hornchurch—the first step to active service. We had our uniforms, we even had white gloves, and at last we fell in, by the Hotel Cecil, with a band at our head, and off we went. Funnily enough, some of us felt this break with London more than we felt anything afterwards. It was really our first introduction to "the Great Unknown."
Had the Guards been marching away they could not have had a greater and a more enthusiastic send-off. The streets of the City were packed; it was a struggle to get through. At Liverpool Street we were reduced to a two-deep formation, and even then it became a case of shouldering your way through those who had gathered to wish us "God speed." But we were entrained at last; we detrained at Romford, and we marched to Hornchurch. We were in the camp.
OUR FIRST SURPRISE.—That's when we had the first surprise sprung upon us, for we learnt that the camp would be our home for a whole solid fourteen days. No one was to be allowed to go into the village; we were to begin our course of instruction in discipline. There were a few heart-burnings, but nothing more. The Battalion played up to its ideal.
We were drilled early and late; we were instructed in the art of guard mounting; we peeled potatoes in the cookhouse; we fetched coal from the quartermaster's stores; we fell in to get our rations from the cookhouse; and last, but not least, we began to grouse. That was our first advance to becoming real soldiers. At least, so the author was told by an old N.C.O. who had marched with Roberts to Kabul, and who was again in the Service, too aged to do more than to instruct, but not too aged to do that well.
Hard work and plain but plentiful food soon made the Battalion as hard as nails, a phrase coined by the London Evening News, and a phrase that stuck. Quite as important, too, was the fact that a member of the "hard as nails" Battalion had to prove he was capable of acting up to it. So it was just a matter of honour that every man should keep off the sick parades, and not come home in the ambulance when a long route march or a field day was indulged in.
This took a bit of doing sometimes, for there was no mercy shown us. We said we wanted the real thing, and, between ourselves, we got it. A march of seven miles to the scene of operations, a hard field day, and a march of seven miles home again, with pack, rifle, and full equipment in other ways, was our lot. We began to recognize that we were really soldiers, and we patted ourselves on the back.
Sport, too, played a very big part in our training. The Army of to-day recognizes the fact that athletics makes and keeps our youngsters fit and well. Our Colonel recognized it from the start, and as we had plenty of material to work upon we went right away with it. We had a "soccer" team, a "rugger" team, and a cricket eleven. The records of the matches we won, and the fact that very few defeats were notched up against us, proves we had a perfect right to style ourselves "the First Sportsman's Battalion, the 23rd (Service) Battalion Royal Fusiliers."
Scullers, footballers, boxers, runners, wrestlers, actors, musicians, artists—all these could be had for the asking, and we drew upon them liberally. We were given plenty of opportunities to indulge in our passion for sport in the ordinary way, but the private who once asked for leave in order to go grouse shooting didn't get it. It was suggested he might put in a little time at the rifle range instead. No restrictions, however, were put upon any early morning running matches, and the football and cricket teams were helped in every way.
To get back to the purely military side, however. We groused at the amount of drills and night operations, to being hut orderlies, going on guard, and so on. But we did them as a means to an end. Then we had the rudest shock of all. We learnt we were to embark on the task of digging trenches—somewhere in Essex! That put the lid on things, so we considered. We, infantry soldiers, to dig trenches! It couldn't be right. We thought the Engineers, or the Pioneers, or somebody else, always did that. Our job was to carry a rifle, and to shoot Germans. That's how the rank and file looked at it in the first place. Of course they discovered other things when the Battalion got to France, but that's another story.
However, it had to be done and, like everything else, it was done. After an early breakfast, the company detailed fell in and marched off to the station. After a while, a special train arrived and we scrambled in. In the interim, it may be mentioned, packed trains proceeding cityward went by, the passengers cheering us. That passed the time if it did nothing else.
Nearly an hour in the train, a march of perhaps a couple of miles, and we reached our objective. Mysterious personages, with a big "G.R." in gold on scarlet armlets popped up from somewhere, produced plans, and informed our Company Officer that trenches had to be dug at such and such a place. As a rule it was somewhere where the water from an adjacent brook would percolate through the earth and make things uncomfortable. That's by the way, though, and after all it was good practice, this working out a method of trench drainage on our own. As a matter of fact we had a lot of Civil and Colonial Engineers in our ranks, and so we put all the mistakes made by the others right. Whenever possible, of course. One or two things, it must be admitted, beat us.
Sometimes it rained, sometimes it snowed, occasionally, very occasionally, it happened to be fine. But we got on with our work, waiting for the bugler to blow for the midday lunch. When "cookhouse" went we straightened our backs, got some of the mud off our boots, and proceeded to take what the gods (in this case the quartermaster) were good enough to give us. We always had two guesses, and we were always right. It was either bread and cheese, or bread and bully. If we were fortunate we might be able to purchase beer at a local hostelry, or Oxo at a village shop. If not so fortunate, the waterbottle or, if again lucky, a pocket-flask was brought into service.
THE KINDLY SHOPKEEPER.—Digressing for a moment, though, it may be mentioned that the various shopkeepers were always very, very good to us! They always supplied us with what we needed, if they had it, and they never put the prices up to us! At least, not much. For instance, if a resident could buy a pair of bootlaces for a penny, we were only occasionally charged more than threepence. Other things were in proportion, and Essex to-day has quite a lot of nice new shops, unknown before the advent of the First Sportsman's Battalion. It is pleasing to remember that a Navvy Battalion followed us!
To resume the trench digging. As we were later complimented on the quality of the work we did, we must have shone in the way of handling the pick and the spade. At the end of our labours, when the "fall in" was sounded, we were quite ready to say we were looking forward to a hot meal in our huts in camp, where, outside, the breezes whispered through the branches of the trees lining the drive, where the moon silvered the tin roofs of our living quarters, and all was bright and jolly—in the sergeants' mess!
So time sped away, and still we kept on wondering if we were forgotten. We sat by the fires in "stoves, hot, combustion slow," and we told the tale of the two highly placed War Office officials who were discussing the war years after it had finished. One had asked the other how the Sportsman's Battalion had shaped in "the Great Adventure," and then would come the climax. "Good God!" the other would say, "I've forgotten them. They're still at Hornchurch!"
All things have to come to a finish though, and so we found. We had night attacks, some three and four day route marches, even a recruiting march through Barking and its neighbourhood, we did our shooting tests, got through our bayonet exercises, had battalion drill in the early mornings, with a fair amount of ceremonial drill thrown in as a makeweight, and then came the rumour that a real big move was to be made, such a move that the departure for the Front could not be long delayed.
This was the move to Clipstone Camp for brigade training. We had heard so many rumours previously that we did not believe this, the latest, at first. But it was correct, and at last the Battalion, formed up in hollow square, was found on the parade ground at Grey Towers, where the Rector of Hornchurch bade us God speed and good cheer.
A few days later the Battalion, leaving two companies behind as depot companies, entrained at Hornchurch for the new camp at Clipstone.
There it went through brigade training, was equipped with its regimental transport, and afterwards moved to Candahar Barracks, Tidworth, to undergo divisional training with the 33rd Division, of which it formed a part.
Finally, after being reviewed with the Division by Queen Mary, acting in place of His Majesty the King, who was suffering from his accident sustained in France, all was in readiness for the next and biggest move of all.
- SERVICE OVERSEAS HEAVY FIGHTING ALL ALONG THE FRONT, AND A TRIUMPHAL MARCH INTO GERMANY -
SERVICE OVERSEAS—HEAVY FIGHTING ALL ALONG THE FRONT, AND A TRIUMPHAL MARCH INTO GERMANY
The day of the move overseas arrived. This was on November 15, 1915, when the regimental transport entrained at Tidworth for Havre, followed one day later by the Battalion, which proceeded to Folkestone, Boulogne being reached on November 17, Ostrohove Rest Camp being the first objective. No time, however, was wasted there, for on November 18 the Battalion entrained at Pont-de-Briques, joining the transport which had come up from Havre.
It was at Steenbecque, reached a day later, and where billets were found in barns and farmhouses, that the sound of artillery in action was first heard by the Battalion. Four days were occupied here in sorting things out generally, the companies parading, route marching, and being inspected.
On November 23 a move was made to Busnes, the first part of the route being over badly cut up second-class roads, and the remainder on pave. The men, the war diary tells us, marching in greatcoats, and carrying blankets, found the march very trying. Billets in the area La Miquellerie were reached at 3 p.m. Distance, 111/2 miles.
Then came a very important thing from a soldier's point of view. Pay was drawn from the Field Cashier, and distributed for the first time in France. Next came the notification that in conformation with the policy of re-forming the 33rd and the 2nd Divisions by forming brigades, each consisting of two new battalions and two regular battalions, the 99th Brigade was to lose the 17th and 24th Battalions Royal Fusiliers, receive the 1st Royal Berks and the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps and join the 2nd Division.
On November 25 the Battalion paraded to march to their new billets at Bethune, being inspected en route by General Walker and the Staff of the 2nd Division. General Walker's opinion was that the 23rd Royal Fusiliers was one of the best battalions he had seen in Bethune.
Still moving, on November 26 the Battalion marched to Annequin, Fosse 9, and owing to the road being frequently shelled, orders were given that seventy-pace intervals should be kept between platoons east of Beuvry. To improve matters, it may be mentioned, there was a heavy fall of snow, and in the portion of the village south of La Basse the majority of the houses were in ruins, the result of frequent bombardments by the enemy.
Then began the first experience of the Battalion in warfare. Before being trusted to hold a line by itself it had to serve an apprenticeship. This was done by attaching, in the first place, platoons, then companies, and then the half-battalion to battalions in the line in order to learn the work and what was expected of them.
During this time much kindness was experienced from the regular battalions to which the attachments were made. The units of the Battalion not doing attachment duty were used for working parties in the trenches and suffered several casualties. No. 2 platoon, right flank company, specially suffered, being caught by shrapnel fire on the Bethune-La Basse road, ten N.C.O.'s and men being wounded.
On December 10 instruction in the use of the gas helmet was given. Every man was required to pass through a hut sprayed with chlorine gas ten times as strong as would be used on ordinary occasions, General Kellett being present while this was being carried out, and himself going through the test.
So things went on until December 19. On that date the Battalion marched to Cambrin support point to relieve the 1st Royal Berks and take over a sector "on its own." In the trenches, No. 1 Company was on the right, adjoining the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps, No. 2 Company on the left, adjoining the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, No. 3 Company was in the centre, and No. 4 Company was in support at Annequin (Fosse).
It was a very busy time, for No. 3 Company held command of the sap head at New Crater, a spot where German snipers were particularly troublesome. A gas attack was ordered upon the enemy, but, much to the disappointment of the officers and men, it proved a "wash-out" owing to the breeze dying down at the last moment. On December 21, however, as the wind was favourable, a gas attack took place on a front of about a mile. It was on this day that Captain Cameron, of No. 1 Company, was wounded in the arm by a piece of high-explosive while entering the front line.
Then the Battalion, less No. 4 Company, was relieved by the 1st Royal Berks, and proceeded to reserve billets at Annequin (Fosse) on December 22. Not for complete rest, though, as it is generally understood by the civilian, for working parties had to be detailed; indeed, on December 24 all four companies were out, less sick and those on duty. And, says the war diary, no straw was provided for the billets, no coke, coal, or wood for the drying-room, and no facilities for drying or cleaning clothes.
CHRISTMAS DAY IN THE TRENCHES—On Christmas Day the Battalion paraded for trench duty to relieve the 1st Royal Berks, the trenches taken over being the same as were occupied on December 19-22, with the alteration in disposition that made No. 4 Company replace No. 3 Company in the centre.
There was also a special bombardment on this day, and the Battalion's first patrol, consisting of four men and an officer, went over the parapet, being out in No Man's Land for an hour. During that time the party located a sniper's post, cut out some wire from the enemy's entanglements, and were persistently sniped at themselves, while great difficulty was experienced in maintaining direction.
Then, on Boxing Day, Colonel Lord Maitland was wounded in the knee by a piece of high-explosive while proceeding to the 99th Brigade Headquarters via Cambrin Church.
The German snipers continued their activity, there were intermittent bombardments, several casualties were sustained, and on December 29 the Battalion was relieved by the 18th Royal Fusiliers. Owing to the bad state of the trenches this relief did not take place until 5.10 p.m., although it was due to be effected at 3 p.m.
Still, the Battalion got back to its billets at Annequin (Fosse), and on December 30 marched back to Busnettes for sixteen days' divisional rest. Owing to the very arduous work which had been done since December 19, on this occasion no packs were carried, and only three men fell out in a tiring march of 111/4 miles.
The New Year opened quietly, the usual rest-time routine of kit inspection, squad drill, route marching, and so on, being indulged in, a draft coming up from the base on January 7, while on January 11 the first leave for officers commenced. Then came a move, and on January 19 the Battalion marched to Le Touret, relieving the 6th Queen's Regiment, the 99th Infantry Brigade taking over a sector of the front at Festubert from the 37th Infantry Brigade.
On January 22 the Battalion relieved the 1st Royal Berks, "B" Company being in reserve in the old British line, "A" Company in support in Richmond Trench, "C" Company in front line Cover Trench and Islands, and "D" Company in front line Orchard Trench. The front line and support line garrisons, it may be noted, had to take up their positions over the top, and so could not be visited in daylight. The position remained the same until the then Kaiser's birthday, on January 27, when although the order for relief was given at 6 p.m., a "stand to" was ordered in anticipation of an attack.
This did not come off, and, the relief by the 24th Royal Fusiliers being effected, the Battalion marched back to Bethune on January 28, where the billets were inspected by General Kellett.
On January 29 Colonel Lord Maitland relinquished the command of the Battalion, temporary command being taken by Major Richey, D.S.O., and Lieutenant-Colonel H.A. Vernon (1st King's Royal Rifle Corps) assumed command on January 31, while Lieutenant Cooper was appointed machine-gun officer in place of Lieutenant Lewis, who had been wounded.
Le Quesnoy was the next move, made on February 3, and relieving the 1st Royal Berks on February 7, the Battalion was in turn moved out of the trenches into the village line Givenchy on the 11th, remaining there until the 15th, when it again relieved the 1st Royal Berks in B3 sub-sector Givenchy. On the 17th the Battalion was relieved by the 16th Royal Welsh Fusiliers and moved to Le Quesnoy, remaining there until the 27th, when it proceeded to Barlin. On February 28 another move was made to Petit Sains, relieving the 22nd Royal Fusiliers, and on the 29th the Battalion took over the Souchez North sector of trenches from the French 77th Infantry Regiment.
From March 1 to March 13 the Battalion held the line at Souchez North in turn with the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps and on the latter date proceeded to billets at Noulette, returning again to the trenches on the 17th, the Battalion on the left being the 17th Royal Fusiliers, and on the right the 1st Royal Berks. Then on March 28 it moved to La Comte for divisional rest.
Reclinghem was the next move, made on April 9, and on April 11 there was a Brigade field day, another reinforcing draft arriving on the same day. Then on the night of April 21-22 the Battalion relieved the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps in the Souchez second sector of the line. So the end of the month arrived with alternate duty in the trenches and rest in billets.
More reinforcements, to replace wastage, arrived in the early part of May, and on the 23rd the Battalion was in the trenches at Berthouval, marching to its billets at Camblain l'Abbe on May 30. Working parties were naturally provided for the trenches while the Battalion was resting, and two men were accidentally wounded on the 4th. But things were moderately quiet until the night of June 10-11. On that date the Battalion relieved the 17th Middlesex Regiment in the Carency left sector of the front.
On June 21 Lieutenant-Colonel Vernon was wounded whilst visiting a sap head held by Jerry Delaney, the boxer, Major H.V. Pirie assuming command of the Battalion until he returned to duty. The Battalion was relieved by the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps on the night of June 22-23, and proceeded to billets at Villiers aux Bois. The next move, on the 27th, was made to Estree Cauchie.
THE SOMME FIGHTING.—Then came the move to the Somme and the July of 1916, when the average life of the infantry subaltern in France was only worth three weeks. Many, indeed, were killed within a week of their crossing the Channel, on the very first day of entering the trenches and taking part in the British advance. The 23rd Royal Fusiliers were engaged in the whole of the desperate fighting on the Somme, including the battle of Delville Wood, the story of which is told in another part of this volume.
Following this bath of blood, on August 1 the Battalion left Bund support trench, two companies going to Longueval Alley, and two remaining to garrison and dig trenches at Montauban.
Becoming united again, on the 29th the Battalion, under the impression that it was going out for a promised rest after its battle, moved to The Citadel, Sandpit Valley, and on to Mericourt l'Abbe; thence on to Fremont (passing through Amiens), Naours, Longuevillette, Authie, and Bus les Artois; and next, instead of the longed-for rest, found itself back in the trenches again at Hebuterne, relieving the 1st Coldstream Guards!
September was spent in the Hebuterne sector, and October saw many moves. Starting with Coieneux (Basin Wood) the Battalion was at the Redan (Serre sector), Mailly-Maillet (where the church, it will be remembered, had been protected by means of fascines), Raincheval, and Acheux Wood, where the rail-head and the factory with its tall chimney were bombed heavily from the air and shelled by the German heavies. Finally, on October 30, the Battalion relieved the 2nd Highland Light Infantry in the Redan right sub-sector, being in the trenches there when the month drew to a close.
November saw the Battalion taking its part in the Battle of Beaumont Hamel. Told by the War Diary this month's events were:
November 1.—Battalion in Redan right sub-sector.
November 2.—Battalion relieved by the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps, and proceeded to billets at Mailly-Maillet.
November 3-4.—Battalion in billets, providing working and carrying parties.
November 5.—Battalion relieved 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps in Redan right sub-sector.
November 6.—Battalion in Redan right sub-sector.
November 7.—Battalion relieved by 24th Royal Fusiliers and proceeded to billets at Bertrancourt.
November 8-12.—Battalion in billets, providing working and carrying parties.
November 13.—Battalion left Bertrancourt at 2.10 a.m., and proceeded to Ellis Square, Fort Hoystead, and View Trench (Redan right sub-sector). "A" and "C" Companies sent at 10.10 a.m. to G.O.C. 5th Brigade at White City. These companies proceeded later to the old German front line, and at 5 p.m. "C" Company was ordered up to reinforce the 2nd Highland Light Infantry in Green Line.
"B" and "D" Companies at 7 p.m. carried the German second line. During this time, these companies were under the command of G.O.C. 8th Infantry Brigade. At 7 p.m. Battalion Headquarters moved to White City.
November 14.—1st King's Royal Rifle Corps at 3 a.m. also established Headquarters at White City. At 6 a.m. Battalion moved forward in support of 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps and 1st Royal Berks. "A" and "C" Companies proceeded to Crater Lane, and later to Wagon Road (on right). "B" and "D" Companies (on left) took up position in Lager Alley, between the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry and the 1st Royal Berks.
November 15.—At 1 a.m. Battalion Headquarters moved from White City to Headquarters of 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps in German front line. Companies still in support of 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps and 1st Royal Berks.
November 16.—Battalion at 1 a.m. moved back to Ellis Square.
November 17.—Battalion moved to billets in Mailly-Maillet.
November 18.—Battalion moved to billets at Sarton.
November 19.—Battalion marched to billets at Gezancourt.
November 20.—Battalion in billets at Gezancourt.
November 21.—Battalion marched to billets at Candas.
November 22.—Battalion in billets at Candas.
November 23.—Battalion marched to billets at Domqueur.
November 24.—Battalion marched to billets at Gapennes.
November 25.—Battalion marched to billets at Millencourt.
November 26.—Battalion in billets at Millencourt.
November 27.—Battalion marched to billets at Oneux.
November 28-29-30.—Battalion in billets at Oneux.
The following month, December, the Battalion also spent in rest at Oneux.
On January 9 a move was made from Oneux to Candas, to Beauquesne on the 11th, to Bouzincourt on the 13th, and to Aveluy on the 20th. From there it went into the trenches at Courcelette, "A" and "C" Companies being in the front line, and "B" and "D" in support.
On February 1 the Battalion moved from Courcelette to Ovillers Huts, and on the 5th went on to Senlis, moving to Wolfe Huts on the 15th, and into the line for operations a day later.
Intense cold was experienced at this time. The ground, like iron, was covered with snow. The frost was intense, one man being actually frozen stiff at his post on sentry, and drinking water carried to the front line arrived as lumps of ice, from which bits were chipped for eating.
An attack on the German trenches was made on February 17. Unluckily a day before the attack the frost gave way, a very rapid thaw set in, making No Man's Land deep and heavy with slush and mud. Moving to the attack over such ground was terrible; the objective line was reached, but the following casualties were sustained:
Officers killed 8 " wounded 4 " missing 1 —- 13
Other ranks killed 30 " wounded 165 " missing 32 —- 227
The Battalion held the Red Line on February 18, and in the night was relieved and moved to Ovillers Huts again. On the 24th it moved to Bruce Huts, and on the 26th to Albert, returning to Ovillers Huts on the 27th.
March 5 found the Battalion back in the trenches at Courcellette, and on the 10th "D" Company cooperated with the 1st Royal Berks and the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps in an attack on Grevillers Trench and Lady's Leg Ravine, taking the ravine, killing about 20 of the enemy, and capturing 30 men and 2 machine guns. The casualties of the company amounted to 7 other ranks killed, 26 wounded, 1 accidentally wounded, and 2 died later from their wounds.
The following day the Battalion moved to Wolfe Huts, and on the 19th to Albert again, proceeding from there to Contay, Amplier, Bonnieres, Framecourt, Aumerval, and Bailleul les Pernes.
VIMY RIDGE.—From Bailleul les Pernes the Battalion moved up to Larosette, behind Vimy Ridge, ready to go in and take over a part of the Ridge after its capture in the coming battle for its possession. On the night of April 11, in a blinding snowstorm, the Battalion relieved the 1/5th Gordons on the captured Ridge, and on the 13th continued the advance to the line of the railway, captured the village of Bailleul, established a line on the enemy side of it, and sent out patrols to Oppy, which was found to be very strongly held by the enemy.
Owing to a mistaken order, one platoon of "C" Company actually advanced on Oppy to capture it, but were themselves taken prisoners after severe fighting. During this advance one 77mm., two field guns, and one 4.2 howitzer were captured, and whilst moving forward, at the Colonel's side, to the railway embankment, the Adjutant of the Battalion, Captain Lissaman, was killed by an enemy shell.
Being relieved on the 14th by the 1st Royal Berks, the Battalion moved into support and reserve lines, but on the 18th were in the trenches west of Ecurie, moving to a tent camp on the Roclincourt-Maison-Blanche road on the 22nd. Another move, to Maroeil, was made on April 23, and on the 25th the 17th Royal Fusiliers were relieved in the trenches west of Bailleul.
On April 29, at 4 a.m., "B" Company took part in an attack on Oppy by the 1st Royal Berks and the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps, and then the Battalion moved back into reserve trenches.
On May 1 a composite battalion was formed of two companies of the 23rd Royal Fusiliers and two companies of the 1st Royal Berks, and moved forward to a position in front of Oppy to deliver an attack on the Oppy-Fresnoy line.
Attacking on March 3, Fresnoy trench was captured with between sixty and seventy prisoners and a machine gun. Heavy counter-attacks were made by the Germans during the day, and, in view of these and the retirement of the troops on the right, it became necessary to retire along Fresnoy trench. At 3.30 a.m., on the night of May 3-4, the Battalion was relieved by the 15th Warwicks, and moved back to disused enemy trenches in the Roclincourt area, the total casualties sustained being 7 officers and 122 other ranks.
On May 5 Lieutenant-Colonel Vernon having proceeded on leave, Major E.A. Winter assumed command, and on May 24 Lt.-Colonel Vernon having to report to the War Office on promotion to Brigadier-General, Major Winter was promoted Lieutenant-Colonel, and appointed to the command of the Battalion. On the same day the Battalion moved into the line again, relieving first the 1st Royal West Kents, and then the 22nd Royal Fusiliers.
June 1 saw the Battalion relieved by the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps in the front line (Oppy-Arleux line), and moved back to Deutscher House and Thelus Wood, working parties for the front line being provided each night. On the 4th, the 22nd Royal Fusiliers came in as the relief, and the Battalion moved to St. Aubyn for rest.
This did not last long, for on June 8-9 the Battalion relieved the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps in immediate support, Oppy-Arleux line, the casualties sustained being one other rank killed and two wounded. Then, relieving the 22nd Royal Fusiliers, the Battalion went into the front line, being relieved in turn on the night of June 13-14 by the Royal West Kents, and proceeded to Bray.
On June 20 the Battalion was taken by omnibus to Beuvry, and on the 21st relieved the 2/5th Manchester Regiment in the front line, Cambrin left sub-sector, the casualties being two other ranks killed and six wounded. A German raid on the Battalion right was repelled at 3.30 a.m. on the 27th, and the 22nd Royal Fusiliers came in as relief on the evening of that day, the Battalion proceeding to Noyelles for rest.
July opened with the Battalion training at Noyelles under company arrangements, so far as it was possible, having in view its proximity to the line and liability to observation by the enemy. On July 3 the Battalion went into the front line, Cambrin left sub-sector. Six days later it went into support with headquarters at Annequin.
July 5 saw the Battalion, less two companies, in the Cambrin left sub-sector front line, Major N.A. Lewis assuming command in the trenches, with 100 Corps cyclists attached, while Lieutenant-Colonel Winter remained at Annequin for the purpose of training "C" and "D" Companies for a raid.
About 3.30 a.m. an enemy raiding party, about fifteen strong, entered the front line, wounding and carrying off one man. Bombing parties at once bombed along the trench, driving the raiders out, who came under Lewis gun and rifle fire both on entering and leaving their objective. On returning to their own lines they left our wounded man, who was brought in. The body of one of the enemy was found in No Man's Land, but a complete search could not be made owing to the light. At night, however, a patrol went out and brought in the body of the dead German. Other bodies had apparently been dragged back to the enemy trenches. Our casualties were only four wounded.
On July 20, at 10.30 p.m., a raiding party, consisting of two officers and about a hundred other ranks, crossed to the enemy's front and support lines, the object being the capture of these two lines, the infliction of loss on the enemy, and the securing of prisoners and identifications. The raid was preceded by a hurricane barrage from our artillery, Stokes' mortars, and machine guns, being also accompanied with a discharge from oil projectors.
Very few of the enemy were found in the front and support lines, but small parties who were in dug-outs were bombed. Five of the enemy were also bayoneted in a communication trench. The main garrisons of the lines had apparently retired, and no prisoners were taken. Our casualties during the raid were two killed, fifteen wounded, and five wounded and missing.
Then came a move into reserve at Annequin, but from the 27th the Battalion moved into the front line of the Cambrin left sub-sector again up to, and including, August 1. From then until the night of August 25 the Battalion were doing duty in the trenches and in reserve, but on the 26th was relieved by the 8th Sherwood Foresters, and moved to Oblinghem.
There training was carried on, and on September 6 the C.O., accompanied by the company commanders and specialist officers, reconnoitred the Givenchy support line. On the following day the Battalion proceeded to the village support line, no shelling being experienced during the relief of the 17th Middlesex. On September 13 the Battalion relieved the 22nd Royal Fusiliers in the Givenchy left sub-sector front line, a battalion of the Portuguese troops being attached for instruction.
Gas was projected upon the enemy on the 14th; there was no retaliation, and on the following day the Portuguese were relieved by another of their battalions.
About a hundred enemy heavy shells fell on September 16 near the right company's headquarters at Barnton Tee, Barnton Road, blowing in the trench in five places. A bombardment on the left, which commenced later, ceased on our retaliating. On September 17 the Portuguese troops left the trenches and returned to their billets, while on the night of the 18th-19th the Battalion was relieved and proceeded to Beuvry.
Training there until September 26, the Battalion then relieved the 22nd Royal Fusiliers in the Cambrin left sub-sector, and finding the enemy to be ominously quiet, a patrol was sent out to Railway Craters. On the following night eight small patrols were sent out into No Man's Land, and on the 28th two patrols reconnoitred the enemy wire. On the following day eight small patrols were established in No Man's Land to cover work in the trenches, and, ensuing upon this, the German artillery became fairly active.
A move into support, following relief, was made on September 2. On the 5th the Battalion was relieved, and the companies marched independently to the Orphanage, Bethune, then on to Raimbert, the Battalion being watched on the line of march by Generals Pereira and Kellett.
AT BOURLON WOOD.—Training was carried on, and on November 5 the Battalion made a move through Busnes, Merville, and the Eecke area to the Herzeele area. More training ensued, and a strong rumour was in the air that the 2nd Division was "for Italy." The Battalion was equipped up to the last button, all ranks were looking forward to a change of scenery and new phases of fighting; the medical officer lectured the Battalion on the perils to be avoided in relation to charming Italians, and spirits were high and merry.
But the first attack on Cambrai took place, and instead of going to Italy the 2nd Division was hurriedly moved south by road and rail to take over the line from troops which had conducted the attack.
On the night of November 26-27 the Battalion had reached Beaumetz-les-Cambrai, from which it was moved up to the slopes of Bourlon Wood to take over from elements of the 2/4th King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and the Bays. The march along the Cambrai road, across the captured Hindenburg Line, and on to the Sugar Factory will long be remembered by those who took part in it.
Again it snowed—it is curious how many important moves of the Battalion took place in a snowstorm. This time, however, it was a blessing, for it deadened the sound of moving troops, and certainly saved the Battalion being heard and shelled by the enemy.
On the line (if a few scattered posts in shell-holes can be called a line) being taken over, the Battalion at once set to work to dig itself in, profiting greatly by the recent training it had received in "intensive digging." On the left was the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps, and on the right the 62nd Division, the battalion in support being the 1st Royal Berks. The Battalion held the line on the 27th, and on the 28th changed places with the 1st Royal Berks, going into support positions to them.
On the 30th the heavy enemy attack developed, and the Berks being hard pressed, three companies of the 23rd were moved up to their support. The enemy gained a footing in their line, and one company of the 23rd was used to counter-attack and re-establish the line, which it successfully performed.
The 17th Royal Fusiliers, on the Berks' left, having severe fighting, a section of the 23rd was sent to strengthen their posts, and help was given in supplying them with bombs and S.A.A. On the evening of December 1 the line was readjusted between the 1st Royal Berks and the 23rd Royal Fusiliers—the Berks taking the left and the 23rd the right. On the night of December 1 the position of the Battalion was: two companies and two platoons in the line; two companies, less two platoons, in support.
On the night of December 2 the unit on the right of the 23rd Royal Fusiliers pushed forward its line. In order to keep touch with them, one company from the support positions went over with them at 8.10 p.m. The advance was successful, the objective duly gained and rapidly consolidated—one prisoner and one machine gun being taken in the advance.
Then came a great disappointment to the troops who had fought so well. Further south the enemy's counter-attack had proved successful, converting the position held by the 2nd Division into a very dangerous salient, from which it was imperative to retire.
The necessary orders were issued, and at dead of night, December 4-5, the Battalion retired through Graincourt to Hermies. To cover the retirement two sections per company were left in the line with orders not to retire until just before dawn, and to spend the night in moving up and down the vacated line, firing Verey-lights and rifles to delude the enemy into thinking the line was still held.
By this ruse the Battalion was enabled to carry out the difficult operation of withdrawing in the face of the enemy without his knowledge. The sections so left behind gallantly carried out their tasks and safely rejoined the Battalion at Hermies.
From December 5 the Battalion was in support, but on the 11th it relieved the 21st Londons in the Hindenburg Line, and, after relief, marched on December 20 to Gropi Camp, where Christmas was spent in tents in the snow. In reserve until the 30th, it then relieved the 22nd Royal Fusiliers in the left canal sector (Canal du Nord) of the Hindenburg Line.
On January 3 the Battalion, relieved, marched independently by companies to Barastre for Divisional rest. January 23 found them at Villers Plouich in the Vacquerie right sub-sector, the Battalion headquarters being in Farm Ravine. On February 3 they entrained on the light railway for Equancourt, where they were placed in Divisional reserve. Not much time was spent in this way, though, for on the 9th the Battalion entrained for Trescault, and proceeded from there to the Vacquerie right sub-sector, remaining in the line there until going into reserve at Equancourt again on the 15th.
On February 22 a move was made to the line again in the Vacquerie right sub-sector. On the night of March 6-7 the Battalion was relieved, and marched to Metz, where they were billeted in huts. It was impossible, however, to secure any real rest here, for the camp was shelled intermittently both during the day and the night.
The afternoon of March 12 saw the Battalion back in the trenches again at Lincoln Reserve and Midland Reserve, "D" Company being in Snap Trench. There was a heavy gas-shell bombardment by the enemy on the nights of the 12th, 13th, and 14th, the Battalion suffering heavy casualties, also intermittent shelling during the day and night, while there was, as a welcome change, a raid on the enemy front line by the Battalion on the night of March 13-14. Then came the relief of the Battalion, which marched back to Equancourt, a rest for the Battalion being absolutely necessary owing to the fact that all the remaining members were suffering from gas poisoning.
THE GERMAN OFFENSIVE.—Next came the great offensive by the enemy—the time when the Germans almost thrust their way right through by force of numbers.
The first indication of the break-through which the Battalion received was enemy bullets actually falling in the camp. Every man turned out, the Battalion took up a line north of Equancourt in an attempt to hold up the advance of the enemy, patrols being sent forward into Fins, where it was found the Germans had succeeded in establishing themselves.
On the following morning an enemy attack was beaten back with heavy loss, but both its flanks being "in the air" the Battalion received orders to retire on Le Transloy. Moving though Hayettes Wood, Ytres, Bus, and Rocquigny, Le Transloy was reached late at night, where the Brigade from which it had become separated was rejoined.
Moving again before dawn, a line was taken up round Gueudecourt, which was held during the day. Making another move at dusk, a fresh line was established at Eaucourt l'Abbaye. Very heavily attacked on the following day, the Battalion was forced to fight a rearguard action, retreating through Le Sars on Pys, where another stand was made.
Again slipping back at night, a position was taken up near Beaucourt sur Ancre. From this position the Battalion again moved back and occupied the old British trenches known as White City trenches near Beaumont Hamel. In spite of many heavy enemy attacks this position was held until the Battalion was relieved by New Zealand troops.
On relief it marched out to the wood at Mailly-Maillet only four officers and seventy men strong.
Resting at Englebelmer for a day or so, it was again moved into the front line at Aveluy Wood, where a German attack was beaten off, the enemy being badly mauled. During the fighting round Gueudecourt, Brigadier-General Barnett-Barker was killed, and, as senior Colonel in the 99th Brigade, Lieutenant-Colonel Winter assumed command, the command of the 23rd Royal Fusiliers devolving upon Major Lewis.
In his anxiety to hold up the enemy for as long as possible and to get the battalion back safely to a line being formed behind him, Major Lewis was taken prisoner at Eaucourt l'Abbaye. The command then devolved upon Captain C.H. Bowyer, who kept it until the return of Lieutenant-Colonel Winter, who rejoined the Battalion on General E. Ironside (now General Sir E. Ironside, who earned fame in Russia) taking over the Brigade.
It only remains to add that the gas casualties from March 12 onwards amounted to 11 officers and 240 other ranks, while the casualties in action from the 22nd to the 31st were:
Officers killed 1 " wounded 2 " wounded and missing 1 " missing 10 Other ranks killed 15 " wounded 59 " wounded and missing 6 " missing 210
During the early part of April the Battalion was busy in moving, being in turn in Hedeauville, Beauval, Houvin, Houvigneul, Ivergny, Coullemont, La Cauchie, and on the 14th relieved the 1st Coldstream Guards in Brigade Reserve in front of Blaireville. Two days later it was in the front line, right sub-sector, in front of Adinfer, doing alternate front line and support duty until the end of the month.
It was not until May 12 that the Battalion marched back to billets at Berles au Bois, where training was carried on until June 7. On that date it relieved the 1st Grenadier Guards in the Ayette left sub-sector. Relieved on the night of June 10-11, it marched back to reserve position near Monchy au Bois, going into the line again in the Ayette sector on the night of 13th-14th.
During the night of June 24-25 "A" Company carried out a raid on the enemy front line, and at 2 a.m. on the 26th "B" Company also carried out a similar operation. July came round, and on the night of the 22nd-23rd the Battalion supplied a flanking party to a raid carried out by the 1st Royal Berks. On the 30th the Battalion was in the Ayette right sub-sector, but on August 5 and August 6 there was a reorganization of the Brigade front, and it went into support.
Then came the British advance, and on the night of August 20-21 the Battalion moved up for an attack by the 3rd Army. Leading off in a dense fog, the 23rd Royal Fusiliers went over the top at Ayette, capturing Aerodrome Trench, and so clearing the way for other troops to leap-frog over them and capture Courcelles.
Moving forward again in its turn, two companies of the Battalion, under Major W.B. Cluff, captured Behagnies. On the night of August 23-24, being relieved by the Loyal North Lancs, the Battalion moved back to bivouac near Courcelles, where it remained until September 2. Moving forward on that day to Vaulx-Vraucourt, it attacked at dawn on the 3rd and reached Morchies, bivouacking near Doignes.
On the 6th-7th the Battalion took over the front line from the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps and delivered an attack on Slag Avenue, suffering casualties of 3 officers killed and 100 other ranks killed and wounded.
Relieved on the 8th by the 52nd Light Infantry, a bivouac was made at Beaumetz-les-Cambrai, moving on the 15th to Mory. On the 27th the Battalion moved forward in support to the Brigade which was fighting its way onwards, and spent the night in the Hindenburg Support Line just west of Flesquieres.
The advance continuing, the Battalion moved again at dawn on the 28th, reaching Nine Wood just west of Noyelles. From here one company was sent forward and assisted the King's Royal Rifle Corps in capturing Noyelles. Then the remainder of the Battalion moved up and took over the front line from the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps. Attacking on the 30th, the Battalion found itself up against the strong position of Mount sur l'Ouvres, suffering casualties of two officers and sixty-four other ranks. This position could only be subsequently captured by the use of a whole new brigade for the purpose.
GERMAN TANKS UNSUCCESSFUL.—Relieved at night, the Battalion moved back to bivouac at Nine Wood. Remaining there, resting, till October 7 the Battalion moved up to east of Rumilly on the night of 7th-8th, and delivered a successful attack on Forenville at dawn on the 8th. During a counter-attack the enemy used tanks against the Battalion in an endeavour to oust it from the positions secured, but without success.
On one tank, indeed, getting close to our line an officer, Lieutenant Anderson, armed with a rifle, and accompanied by his batman, got out of the trench, went forward under heavy fire, reached the oncoming tank, hammered at its side with his rifle-butt, and called on it to surrender. The iron door opened, and out came the crew, to be escorted back in triumph as prisoners!
On the early morning of the 9th the Guards' Brigade "leap-frogged" the Battalion and continued the attack, the Battalion moving back to bivouac at Flesquieres. Remaining there for a few days, a move was made on the 13th to keep in touch with the general advance, Wambaix being reached after a long march.
Training was carried out here until the 19th, when the Battalion marched to Boussieres. At midnight on October 22, under the command of Major H.P. Rogers, it moved up to St. Python, and on the 23rd to Escarmain, taking over the front line from the 52nd Light Infantry. At dawn on the 24th it attacked and captured Ruesnes, and established a line of outposts on the railway beyond. This was the last actual fighting done by the Battalion. Relieved on the 26th by the 7th King's Shropshire Light Infantry, it moved back into reserve.
With the signing of the Armistice came a welcome change. Duty was relaxed so far as was possible, and the Battalion employed the rest of the year in fitting itself out, and getting back into something approaching its old condition, and marching into Germany, a distance of 200 miles.
January found the Battalion in billets at Niederaussem, forming part of the British Army of Occupation in Germany. Training was still being carried on, however, but sport was not lost sight of. There were platoon football matches, whist drives, paper-chases, and so on, while there was also voluntary educational training in such things as English, French, and shorthand.
On January 24 came the presentation of the King's Colour to the Battalion by Major-General Pereira. Later, on the reorganization of Divisions taking place, the Battalion on February 27 left the 99th Brigade, 2nd Division, in which it had served so long, proceeded by rail through Cologne to Ehreshoven, joined the London Division, and took over the outposts of the Occupied Zone at Lindlar on March 18.
On April 15, the Battalion then being back in Cologne, the command was taken over by Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel L.F. Ashburner, M.V.O., D.S.O., Lieutenant-Colonel Winter being appointed to the command of the British Camp at Antwerp. On May 6 the Battalion was inspected and complimented by General Sir William Robertson, G.C.B., K.C.V.O., D.S.O., Commander-in-Chief British Army of the Rhine.
In the event of the non-acceptance of the Peace Terms by Germany, preparations were made between June 8 and June 19 for an advance, but the orders on June 20 were held in abeyance and subsequently cancelled.
On June 22, at the Brigade swimming gala, the Battalion won two-thirds of the prizes put up for competition, although they had previously lost (2-1) in the "Kalk" football cup final to the 57th Siege Battery.
Battalion sports were held at Klef, near Vilkerath, on July 19, the championship being annexed by "C" Company. A competition for the best company in the Division was won by "D" Company, who were subsequently called upon to furnish a guard of honour on the occasion of the visit of the Army Council to Cologne.
The Battalion also scored in another way, for on August 1 the War Savings results for July were announced. The amount subscribed by the 23rd Royal Fusiliers was L1,137 19s. 1d., the percentage of members being 51 per cent, of the Battalion strength, and the Battalion being top of the VIth Corps list for the amount subscribed.
Finally, the 23rd (Service) Battalion Royal Fusiliers (1st Sportsman's) ceased to exist in March, 1920, after having had a longer life than any other Service Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers.
- GREAT WORK ACCOMPLISHED HOLDING UP A GERMAN ADVANCE SILENCING SNIPERS IN A DERELICT TANK AND SOME OTHER THINGS -
GREAT WORK ACCOMPLISHED—HOLDING UP A GERMAN ADVANCE—SILENCING SNIPERS IN A DERELICT TANK—AND SOME OTHER THINGS
From the official narratives available it is possible to amplify, in some few instances, the great work accomplished by the Battalion, and which is told but tersely in the War Diary from which the previous pages have been collated.
Taking May 3, 1917, as an instance, when the 23rd Royal Fusiliers formed a part of the attacking force, we are told it was determined to capture—
Fresnoy Trench on a front of 1,400 yards.
Oppy Support, by a bombing attack, over a length of 200 yards.
Crucifix Lane, by a bombing attack, over a length of 200 yards.
Form a defensive front facing south on a front of 400 yards, and
Form eight strong points and four posts.
The above, it may be explained, entailed the Brigade having, on the whole, a fighting front of no fewer than 2,200 yards.
"The task of the 23rd Royal Fusiliers, forming the left assaulting battalion, was to capture a certain sector of Fresnoy Trench, to form two strong points, and to form four posts....
"The whole of 'C' Battalion (the 23rd Royal Fusiliers) gained their objective, but, owing to a slight loss of direction, found the enemy still occupying Fresnoy Trench to their north.
"A strong bombing party was immediately organized, the trench cleared, sixty to seventy prisoners and a machine gun captured, and touch established with the Canadians at the south end of Fresnoy Wood. At about 5.45 a.m. a strong enemy counter-attack developed from Oppy, which, coming up over Oppy Support and Crucifix Lane, and over the top by several well-covered approaches, worked its way north, and attacked the right company, whose flank was left bare owing to the retirement of 'B' (another) Battalion.
"This attack was pushed home with the greatest energy and determination, and succeeded in driving the right two companies and part of left centre company out of Oppy Trench. At this point, however, it was brought to a halt by a strong bombing and sniping post of the 23rd Royal Fusiliers, who not only stopped it, but counter-attacked in their turn, and regained some 400 yards of the trench.
"This party then halted owing to numerical weakness and lack of bombs, and retiring a short way, formed a block and a post, and occupied a shell-hole line from the first point named through the second and a little beyond it, thus forming a defensive flank in close touch with the Canadians.
"This party held out all day, until relieved by the 15th Warwicks at 3.30 a.m. A strong point was also formed immediately after dark and handed over to the 15th Warwicks on relief...."
"In one instance the garrison of a post calmly watched an enemy machine-gun team establish a machine gun in position; they then opened rapid fire, killed all the team, and brought in the gun...."
Amongst the gallant services mentioned by Major-General Pereira in the special order of the day, dated December 17, 1917, is the following:
"No. 1,079 Lance-Sergeant James Cochrane, M.M., and No. 2,852 Private Frank Hemington: In the enemy lines west of Bourlon Wood there was a derelict tank, from which enemy snipers were very active at only 70 yards from our line, causing many casualties.
"On December 1, Lance-Sergeant Cochrane and Private Hemington volunteered to deal with them. Creeping out through our wire, they succeeded in reaching the tank in spite of heavy enemy fire. They put two Mills' bombs into the tank, and on the bombs exploding they came under heavy machine-gun fire, but returned in safety. No further sniping came from this tank. By their gallant work we were saved many casualties, and this daring feat cheered and encouraged the men in the line...."
In the desperate fighting in March, 1918, the Battalion also distinguished itself.
"Hexham Road," says the narrative of the morning of the 25th, "where the headquarters of the 23rd Royal Fusiliers was in a dug-out, had been swept by machine-gun fire all the morning, and as the Divisions on the right had retired, the 23rd Royal Fusiliers were left in a very precarious and isolated position, from which only small bodies of men were able to extricate themselves...."
Then, however, came March 28, and here our men were afforded an opportunity of getting their own back. It is with delight that we consequently read:
"The old trenches were, on the whole, in surprisingly good condition, the men had ammunition and had had some sleep and food, and orders had been received that this was to be the line of resistance, and that there would be no further retirement.
"It was a day of anxiety, but still a day on which our men could at last settle down to shooting down the enemy. This they did with great relish."
Bald, perhaps, these details may appear to those who have judged the war from the pen pictures of the various war correspondents, but they possess the ring of real reality to those who have known what it is to be shelled day after day and night after night in the trenches, to have advanced in the face of a rain of machine-gun bullets, or to have been forced to take shelter in an all too small shell crater, when to show an inch of head or body meant death or a serious wound.
- PRESENTATION OF THE KING'S COLOUR MAJOR-GENERAL SIR C.E. PEREIRA, K.C.B., C.M.G., AND HIS PRIDE IN THE BATTALION -
PRESENTATION OF THE KING'S COLOUR—MAJOR-GENERAL SIR C.E. PEREIRA, K.C.B., C.M.G., AND HIS PRIDE IN THE BATTALION
His pride in the Battalion was expressed by Major-General C.E. Pereira, C.B., C.M.G., on the occasion of the presentation of the King's Colour at Niederaussem, Germany, on January 24, 1919.
"First of all," said Major-General Pereira, "I will tell you how highly I esteem the privilege of presenting these colours to-day.
"For two years," he went on, "I have had the honour to command the 2nd Division, and I have been proud of your work in the Field and out of it, and of the fine spirit which you have always shown.
"These colours are given you as a mark of the magnificent service you have rendered in the campaign during the last four years.
"The record of the Regiment during the whole of its service will compare with the services of any battalion in the British Army, whether in the Somme fighting, 1916, Courcelette, Vimy Ridge, and Bourlon Wood in 1917, the retirement from the Cambrai salient in March, 1918, or the recent victorious advance which culminated in the overthrow of the Germans. In all these operations, in spite of mud, heat or cold, or desperate resistance, you have always shown the dogged determination to win.
"It is a fine tribute to the British race that a newly-raised battalion, without any previous traditions, which are such assets to regular battalions, should have outfought the German battalions, trained to war for generations.
"Perhaps your finest record is that of March, 1918, when along a great part of our front detached Divisions fought their way slowly back from position to position, facing overwhelming numbers, and an enemy drunk with the idea that the final victory was theirs; it was then, when short of food, without rest, short of men, that you showed what you were made of, and after successive days of retirement you turned and held the Germans.
"It is fitting that the work of this Battalion should be crowned by the victorious march to the Rhine, and that your colours should make their first appearance in a conquered country—a country which has taken us four and a half years to reach."
- "GOOD-BYE, AND GOOD LUCK!" BRIGADIER-GENERAL A.E. McNAMARA, C.M.G., D.S.O., AND HIS FAREWELL TO THE 23RD ROYAL FUSILIERS (FIRST SPORTSMAN'S BATTALION) -
"GOOD-BYE, AND GOOD LUCK!"—BRIGADIER-GENERAL A.E. McNAMARA, C.M.G., D.S.O., AND HIS FAREWELL TO THE 23RD ROYAL FUSILIERS (FIRST SPORTSMAN'S BATTALION)
Appreciation of and admiration for the Battalion was also expressed by Brigadier-General A.E. McNamara, commanding the 99th Infantry Brigade, when he bade it "good-bye and good luck" on February 25, 1919, when it left the 2nd Division to join the London Division.
"Owing to the reorganization of the Army of Occupation," he said, "the 23rd Royal Fusiliers, the oldest member of the 99th Infantry Brigade, is leaving it.
"I wish to place on record my high appreciation and admiration of the magnificent services of the Battalion while in the 99th Infantry Brigade.
"The Battalion came out to France with the 99th Infantry Brigade in November, 1915. Since then it has taken a leading part in all the many and strenuous battles in which the Brigade has been engaged. In these eventful three years we have seen together good times and bad, but whether things were good or evil the 23rd Royal Fusiliers have ever shown the same high discipline, esprit de corps, and indomitable spirit which eventually beat down all resistance and won the war.
"The battles of Delville Wood, Bourlon Wood, Ayette, Behagnies, Mory Copse, Canal du Nord, Forenville, and Ruesnes stand out in history as a record of the achievements of the 23rd Royal Fusiliers—a record of which the Battalion may well be proud.
"The Battalion is now going to another Brigade and another Division. I wish it the best of luck, and know it will maintain the high reputation for discipline, efficiency, and, if need be, fighting, which it has built up since its formation.
"In bidding it farewell, I wish to thank officers, N.C.O.'s, and men (including the gallant comrades who have fallen in the fight), for their gallant services when in the 99th Infantry Brigade. It is they who have borne the brunt of the hardships and the fighting, and it is they who have won the war.
"I cannot express how sorry I am to lose the Battalion, or how proud I am of the honour I have had of having had it under my command.
"Good-bye, and good luck!"
- THE BATTLE OF DELVILLE WOOD AN ADVANCE IN FACE OF HUNDREDS OF MACHINE GUNS A PERSONAL NARRATIVE -
THE BATTLE OF DELVILLE WOOD—AN ADVANCE IN FACE OF HUNDREDS OF MACHINE GUNS—A PERSONAL NARRATIVE
To the personal side of the late war we have, in a measure, been introduced by various war correspondents. But there has always been something actually lacking, and that something is the touch and the atmosphere which can only be introduced by those who have been through the baptism of blood and fire.
In the following pages the real touch is introduced. Every incident is told by a man who has actually seen and experienced what he describes. These incidents are in the actual words of the writers. Nothing is altered.
Here, then, is the story of the capture of Delville Wood by the 1st Sportsman's Battalion in 1916, told by Major N.A. Lewis, D.S.O., M.C.:
"For two days before the fight the Battalion occupied some trenches near Bernefay Wood, and sustained a number of casualties from shell-fire. Battalion headquarters was a shelter dug in a bank at the side of Bernefay Wood. This shelter was constructed by Albany, the sculler, and as he was killed in the fight it was his last job as dug-out constructor. Needless to say, he did this job excellently.
"For some hours before the Battalion moved off to take up its position, the Huns shelled the area with gas shells. Fortunately, however, just before 11 p.m., the time for starting, a breeze sprang up, and we were able to move without wearing gas masks.
"The move up was not pleasant. The area had been much fought over, it had been impossible to bury the dead for ten days, and it was a hot July!
"Our artillery was firing to cover our move up. Just after passing Longueval one of our shells dropped, unfortunately, near the platoon which, with the C.O., I was following. As luck would have it, though, only one man was badly wounded. The platoon, of course, went on, and the C.O. went over to the man who had been hit.
"'It's hard lines, sir,' said the man.
"'I know it is,' said the C.O., 'but you will soon be all right. The stretcher-bearers are coming.'
"'Oh, it's not that,' was the man's rejoinder. 'It's being hit now! Here have I been all this time in France without having a real go at the b——s, and now the chance has come, here I go and get knocked out.'
"The C.O. made only one remark to me as we passed on. It was: 'Well, if that's what the rest of the Battalion feels, I have no fears for to-morrow.'
"We took up our position in a trench at the edge of the wood. This was all that remained after the South Africans had been beaten back, and our attack was to start at dawn on the following morning. This attack was in two parts, two companies to take the first objective, a trench in the centre of the wood, and two companies to capture the far edge, and dig themselves in there. The 1/60th were on our right, each battalion having half the wood allotted to it.
"The waves formed up in position shortly before dawn, and it was our first experience of going over the top as a battalion. The men, however, were quite cool and cheerful; in fact, one, named Lewis Turner, asked me, 'How long to go?' I looked at my watch, and said, 'Five minutes.' His reply was, 'Oh, then I've time to finish my breakfast.' And he did.
"At zero our barrage started, and our first waves were off, the thing I noticed most being that most of the men were smoking as they went over. The whole wood was immediately full of machine-gun bullets. There must have been hundreds of machine guns—up in trees, hidden in the undergrowth, in fact all over the place. The Hun artillery came down on all the approaches to the wood, but not on the wood itself so long as any of their own men were in it.
"Owing to the position of the wood, however, at the apex of a captured triangle of ground, we received fire from both flanks, and also from our right rear, as well as from the front.
"The first objective was quickly taken, and then there was a pause before the advance to the second. A large number of prisoners came in, and were herded up near Battalion headquarters' trench. We then found that we were up against the Brandenburg Regiment, which had been specially sent up to hold the wood.
"A number of these prisoners next got into a shell-hole near Battalion headquarters, refusing to come farther, and one of the funniest sights was to see our R.S.M., Sergeant-Major Powney, who, as a rule, was most dignified, rush at them, and kick and cuff them out of it.