HISTORY OF 1/8th BATTALION SHERWOOD FORESTERS 1914—1919
THE SHERWOOD FORESTERS IN THE GREAT WAR 1914—1919
CAPTAIN W. C. C. WEETMAN M.C., CROIX DE GUERRE
With an introduction by BRIG-GENERAL C. T. SHIPLEY, C.B.
NOTTINGHAM THOS. FORMAN & SONS 1920
To Our Fallen Comrades
"In truth they were young Gentlemen, Yeomen and Yeomen's Sons, and Artificers of the most brave sort, such as went voluntarily to serve of a gaiety and joyalty of mind: all which kind of people are the Flower and Force of a Kingdom."
Sir John Smyth To Lord Burleigh On Our Men In Flanders IN 1589-90.
It is not only a great honour to have been asked to write an introduction to this book, but it is a real pleasure to me to be linked in this manner to a Battalion with which I was so intimately connected for nearly six years and in which I made so many friends, of whom many, alas, have passed the "great divide."
The Battalion has been lucky in finding in Capt. Weetman an author with such a ready and amusing pen, and one especially who was in a position to see the workings of the Battalion in almost every phase of its career and from every standpoint, first as a Company Officer, then as Adjutant and finally from Brigade Headquarters.
To me, perhaps naturally, the most interesting part of the book is the early chapters. From the time, in 1911, when I took over the command of what, I was informed by a Staff Officer qualified to know, was the best Territorial Brigade in the Kingdom, I was a firm believer in the Territorial Force. But I hardly think that the most hardened optimist would at that time have thought it possible for a Territorial Division to mobilise and march complete with equipment and Transport to its Mobilisation area on the sixth day after receiving the order "Mobilise." The amount of work done by Battalions and Companies was marvellous and only those who experienced it can have an idea of what it meant.
As for the Training, I don't believe better work was ever done than during those weeks at Harpenden. True we were lucky in the weather and in the Training area, and the 8th Battalion were specially lucky in their excellent staff of Sergeant-Instructors. All ranks put their heart into the work. I remember particularly the excellent work done by the large batch of recruits which joined the Battalion at that time, including surely as good a lot of young Officers as ever joined a regiment. The author has described fully the training carried out at Harpenden and in Essex, and that the time and labour spent in it were not wasted is proved by the manner in which all ranks so quickly took on their responsibilities in the trenches, and with such success. That the Territorial Force was in many ways neglected by the Higher Authorities during those early days is well known, but that the Force amply justified itself is proved by its actions and was fully recognised by those General Officers under whose command it came. The following extract from a speech made by Lieut-General Sir C. Fergusson, Commanding II Corps, to the Brigade at Locre, when it left his command, is worth recording to show the high opinion he held of our work in front of Kemmel. "No Battalion," he said, "and no Brigade could have held the lines better than you have done or have done better work than you have done.... Your work during the last three months is work of which any Brigade and any Battalion might be proud." No higher praise could have been given to any troops by an officer of such standing and repute.
I have written rather at length on this period for I consider the metamorphosis of a Territorial Battalion into as fine a fighting Battalion as ever took the field, is well worth the study of all those who have joined since those days or will join in the future.
It is only fitting that some acknowledgment be made to the memory of the man who did more than any other to make the North Midland Division worthy to take its place in line with the Regular Army. I refer to the late Major-General Hubert Hamilton, who commanded the Division from 1911 to June, 1914, and fell early in the war at Richebourg-St. Vaast. He foresaw that war with Germany must come and worked with all his power to make the Division efficient in every way—in Training as in Organisation. And it was very largely due to his efforts that Mobilisation was carried out so successfully.
One word more. I am fully convinced that if every Officer and man who joined up in 1914 after the outbreak of war, had joined the Territorial Force and made himself efficient before August, 1914, there would have been no war. If Germany had known that England could put 1,000,000 men into the field within a few weeks of the declaration of war, instead of only 160,000, she would never have dared to embark on her campaign of spoliation. The risk would have been too great.
If this story of the doings of a Territorial Battalion in the Great War can do anything to bring that Battalion up to strength, to keep it there, and to encourage all ranks to make themselves thoroughly efficient, I am sure that the author will consider himself well repaid for all the time and all the trouble he has spent on it.
C. T. SHIPLEY. 12th September, 1920.
In compiling this history of the 1/8th Sherwood Foresters in the Great War, I have relied for my main facts on the Official War Diary, but from many other sources I have received much help. My thanks are due especially to Lieut.-Col. H. Mellish, C.B., for advice on many general points; to Lieut.-Col. A. Hacking, D.S.O., M.C., for much help with "The Salient" and "Lens" chapters, and for kindly revising the whole of the book; to Capt. A. L. Ashwell, D.S.O., for most of the "Hohenzollern" chapter, and for much general assistance; to Capt. A. Andrews, M.C., for much of the detail of the "Gorre and Essars" chapter, and information on many other points, and to Capt. A. B. Miners, M.C., for help with the account of the "Battle of Ramicourt" and subsequent fighting.
I have also to thank Capt. C. Davenport for some details of Transport work; Capt. R. H. Piggford for a few notes and the sketch dealing with Mining operations; and Lieuts. C. H. S. Stephenson and E. W. Warner, M.C., for some Signalling items, and the diagram of Signal communications. I am also indebted to Capt. J. D. Hills, M.C., of the 5th Leicestershire Regiment, for many hints on the general arrangement of the work, and to Pvte. A. Hunstone of the 6th Battalion for the excellent plans. To many others who have supplied me with information and helped me on various points, I offer my grateful thanks.
The book is not intended in any way to be a literary effort. All that has been attempted has been a simple narrative of our doings for the use primarily of persons connected with the Battalion. My main endeavour throughout, has been to secure accuracy, but it will be understood that in sifting the mass of material placed at my disposal, errors may have crept in. I trust, however, that these are few.
W. C. C. WEETMAN. Hereford, October, 1920.
CHAPTER. Summary of Events 1. England 2. France 3. The Salient 4. Hohenzollern 5. Richebourg—Marseilles—Candas 6. Vimy Ridge 7. The Battle of Gommecourt 8. Bellacourt 9. The Capture of Gommecourt 10. Lens 11. St. Elie and Hill 70 12. Spring, 1918 13. Gorre and Essars 14. Auchel to Pontruet 15. Bellenglise 16. Ramicourt and Montbrehain 17. The Last Fight 18. Home Again
Appendix. 1. Roll of Honour 2. Honours
Lieut.-Colonel G. H. Fowler Officers at Harpenden, Nov. 1914 The Avenue, Kemmel Major J. P. Becher, D.S.O. R.S.M. Westerman and N.C.O.'s of A Company R.S.M. Mounteney and N.C.O.'s of C Company Lieut.-Colonel B. W. Vann, V.C., M.C. The Brasserie, Foncquevillers Air Photograph of Lens and Loos Area Air Photograph of Part of St. Elie Sector The Beuvry—La Bassee Road Gorre Brewery The Clock Tower, Bethune St. Quentin Canal, Bellenglise
MAPS AND PLANS.
Sketch of Mine Galleries Kemmel Sector Hooge and Sanctuary Wood Hohenzollern Redoubt Gommecourt Lens District Diagram of Signal Communications Battle of Ramicourt Battle of Regnicourt Battle of Bellenglise General Map of Western Front
SUMMARY OF EVENTS
Aug. 4th War declared. Mobilisation ordered.
" 7th Concentration at Newark.
" 10th— 11th Marched via Radcliffe-on-Trent to Derby.
" 15th Entrained at Derby for Luton.
" 21st Moved to Harpenden. ( Sept. 29th Inspection " 22nd by Lord Kitchener Nov. 15th Training in Harpenden at Luton Hoo. Area. < Oct. 6th Inspection by Lord Roberts at ( Sandridge.
" 16th-18th Marched via Harlow and Dunmow to Bocking.
" 19th— Dec. 27th Trench digging near Bocking.
" 28th— By train to Luton for Musketry at Wardown 1915. and Galley Hill Ranges, and Field Firing at Jan 5th Dunstable, returning to Bocking.
" 6th— ( Feb. 19th—Inspection Feb. 24th Training in Bocking Area. < by H.M. The King near ( Bishop's Stortford.
" 25th Entrained at Bocking for Southampton.
" 26th— Mar. 3rd Crossed by detachments to Havre.
" 3rd— " 4th By train to Cassel and marched to Oudezeele.
" 9th Marched to Merris.
" 10th Moved to Bac-St. Maur, for First Battle of Neuve Chapelle. Temporarily attached to 2nd Cavalry Division.
" 13th Marched to Neuf Berquin for training.
" 24th— " 26th Moved via Vieux Berquin to Romarin.
" 27th— " 30th Trench instruction at Ploegsteert and Messines.
" 31st Marched back to Vieux Berquin.
April 2nd Marched to Locre.
" 3rd Took over Kemmel sector.
( April 22nd Gas used against French and Canadians in Ypres Salient. Traces in trenches held by Battalion. ( In line in Kemmel April 24 Heavy trench April 4th < sector with intervals < mortar bombardment June 20th in rest billets at of front line held by B, ( Locre. C and D Companies. June 15th Enemy blew up by mines and raided part of front ( line.
" 20th Marched to huts near Vlamertinghe.
( In line at Hooge and ) Sanctuary Wood, " 21st < with intervals at rest > July 30th First "liquid Aug. 28th in bivouacs near fire" attack ( Poperinghe. )
( In line at Middlesex ) Sept. 21st Inspection Wood, adjoining by Gen. Plumer. " 29th < Ypres-Comines Canal, > Sept. 25th Demonstrations Sept. 30th near St. Eloi, with in conjunction rest bivouacs near with attacks on other ( Ouderdom. ) portions of the front.
Oct. 1st Marched from Ouderdom and entrained at Abeele for Fouquereuil. Billeted in Bethune.
" 3rd Moved to Mont Bernenchon.
" 4th Marched back to Bethune, proceeded by 'bus to Vermelles, and took over reserve trenches near Lone Tree, North of Loos.
" 5th Moved back to Mazingarbe.
" 6th Marched to Fouquieres.
" 13th— " 14th Attack on Hohenzollern Redoubt.
" 16th Moved back to Vaudricourt.
" 19th Marched to Lapugnoy for training.
" 26th Marched to Bethune.
Oct. 28th Composite Company with other troops of XI Corps inspected by H.M. The King at Hesdigneul.
Nov 4th— " 5th Marched via Epinette to Vieille Chapelle.
Nov. 6th— In line in Richebourg sector, with rest billets at Dec. 2nd Vieille Chapelle and Lacouture.
" 3rd Marched from Vieille Chapelle to Haverskerque for training.
" 19th— Marched via Wittes to Molinghem and continued " 26th training.
Jan. 7th— " 9th Entrained at Berguette for Marseilles.
" 26th— Returned by train to Pont Remy. Marched to " 28th Ergnies for training.
Feb. 10th Marched to Ribeaucourt.
" 20th Moved by motor lorry to Candas.
" 21st— Training and work for R.E.'s on new railway lines March 5th in Candas area.
" 6th— " 9th Marched via Iverny and Maizieres to Acq.
" 10th— In line in Vimy sector, with intervals at rest in April 20th huts behind Mont St. Eloy. Mining activity.
" 21st By 'bus to billets at Tincques and Bethencourt for training.
" 29th Moved to Averdoignt.
May 6th— Marched via Rebreuviette and Gaudiempre to " 10th Bienvillers.
" 11th— June 4th In line in front of Foncquevillers.
" 5th Moved back to Humbercamp.
" 6th Marched by night to Le Souich.
" 8th— " 14th Training in attack practice near Sus-St. Leger.
" 15th Marched to Humbercamp.
" 16th— Working parties found for digging cable trenches " 18th and screening approaches near Bienvillers.
" 19th— " 27th In line in front of Foncquevillers.
" 28th " 29th Rested at Pommier.
" 30th Moved at night to assembly positions in front of Foncquevillers.
July 1st Battle of Gommecourt.
" 2nd Moved back to Gaudiempre.
" 3rd Marched to huts at Bavincourt.
" 4th Marched back to Pommier and Bienvillers.
July 10th Moved to Bellacourt.
( In line in front of Bretencourt, with periods " 11th < in Support at Bellacourt, and in Reserve at Oct. 28th Bailleulval. (Sept. 22nd, Raid by A Company ( near Blairville.)
" 29th— Marched from Bailleulval via Warluzel, Le Souich Nov. 3rd and Neuvillette to Maison Ponthieu, for training.
" 22nd— Marched via Bealcourt and Neuvillette to " 25th Humbercourt.
Dec. 6th Moved to Support billets at Foncquevillers and Souastre.
( In line in front of Foncquevillers, with intervals " 7th in Support in posts in and about Foncquevillers, 1917. < and in billets at Souastre. (Feb. 16th-17th, Feb. 18th heavy bombardment with gas shells and ( bombs.)
" 19th Moved back to St. Amand.
" 20th Marched to Iverny for training.
" 28th— March 1st Returned via Grenas to St. Amand.
" 3rd Took over recently evacuated German trenches at Gommecourt.
" 4th— Followed up enemy to Pigeon Wood, Brayelle " 13th Farm and Essarts. (March 4th, heavy counter-attack against C Company.)
" 17th Moved back to Souastre.
" 20th— Marched via Bayencourt, Courcelles-au-Bois and " 24th Contay to Bertangles.
" 25th Moved by 'bus through Amiens to Revelles.
" 28th Entrained at Bacouel.
" 29th Detrained at Berguette and marched to Westrehem for training.
April 13th— " 14th Marched via Vendin-lez-Bethune to Houchin.
" 18th Moved up to Support billets in Lievin.
" 19th— " 22nd Skirmishing in Cite de Riaumont.
" 23rd Attack on Hill 65 by C Company.
" 24th— Held sectors in front of Lievin and Loos, with June 30th intervals in Support in Lievin and in Reserve at Marqueffles Farm and Noeux-les-Mines.
July 1st In Brigade Reserve for attack by 46th Division West of Lens.
July 4th On relief by Canadians marched to Bully Grenay and by 'bus to Chelers for training.
" 23rd Marched to Verquin.
" 24th— In line in St. Elie sector and in Support at Aug. 15th Philosophe.
" 16th— " 25th Training in Verquin area.
" 26th— In line in Cambrin sector and in Support at Sept. 12th Annequin.
" 13th— " 19th In Divisional Reserve at Fouquieres.
" 20th Marched to Mazingarbe huts.
" 21st— In line in Hill 70 sector, in Support in trenches Nov. 14th North of Loos, and in Reserve at Mazingarbe.
" 15th— In line in St. Elie sector, in Support at Philosophe, 1918. and in Reserve at Verquin. (Jan. 2nd, Raid Jan. 20th on front held by D Company.)
" 21st Marched from Verquin to Burbure.
" 22nd— Training at Burbure. Large detachment at Mazingarbe Feb. 8th digging reserve trenches near Vermelles.
" 9th Marched from Burbure to Laires and Livossart.
" 13th Moved to Enquin-les-Mines for training.
March 5th— " 6th Marched to Westrehem and by 'bus to Bethune.
" 14th— Held Annequin Fosse "Locality," in view of " 19th heavy attacks expected.
" 20th— In line in Cambrin sector. (March 22nd, Heavy " 23rd bombardment and raid on A Company.)
" 24th— " 26th In Support at Beuvry.
" 27th— In line in St. Emile sector, and in Support in April 10th St. Pierre.
" 11th On relief by Canadians, moved back to Vaudricourt.
" 18th Moved to reserve trenches in front of Sailly-Labourse. Unsuccessful attack by enemy near Givenchy.
" 20th Returned to Vaudricourt.
" 23rd Marched to Bethune.
" 24th— In line in Gorre and Essars sectors, and in Reserve Aug. 17th at Fouquieres, Vaudricourt Park and Verquin.
" 18th Occupied Le Touret after driving out enemy rear-guard.
" 19th— In billets at Verquin, Vaudricourt Park, " 31st Fouquieres, Essars and Gorre.
Sept. 1st Took over front line near Richebourg St. Vaast.
" 2nd— " 3rd Continued to drive back enemy rearguards.
" 4th Attacked and occupied old British Line in front of Richebourg l'Avoue.
" 5th— " 7th Moved back via Beuvry to Auchel for training.
" 11th— By train from Calonne Ricouart via Amiens to " 12th Corbie and marched to La Houssoye for training.
" 18th Marched to Bonnay and by 'bus to Poeuilly.
" 20th— " 25th In line about Pontru and Pontruet.
" 26th Moved back to bivouacs near Vendelles.
" 29th Battle of Bellenglise.
" 30th— Oct. 2nd In dug-outs near Lehaucourt and Magny-la-Fosse.
" 3rd Battle of Ramicourt.
" 5th— " 7th In line at Sequehart.
" 8th Resting at Lehaucourt.
" 9th— Moved via Levergies and Mericourt to Jonnecourt " 12th Farm, near Bohain.
" 17th Battle of Regnicourt.—The Last Fight.
" 18th Moved back to Fresnoy-le-Grand for training.
" 30th Marched to Bohain.
Nov. 3rd— " 4th Marched via Escaufort to Catillon.
" 5th Crossed Sambre-Oise Canal and advanced to Mezieres.
" 6th Occupied Prisches and Cartignies.
" 7th— " 9th At Cartignies.
" 10th Marched from Cartignies to Boulogne-sur-Helpe.
" 11th Armistice.
" 14th Marched to Landrecies.
" 15th— 1919 Clearing battlefield in Landrecies area. Jan 2nd Demobilisation begun.
" 3rd Marched from Landrecies to Prisches and continued clearing battlefield.
Feb. 19th— Marched via Bazuel to Bethencourt, near Candry, " 20th for completion of Demobilisation.
June 23rd Return of Cadre and Colours to Headquarters at Newark.
August 4th, 1914. February 25th, 1915.
When the 8th Sherwood Foresters concentrated at Hunmanby, at the end of July, 1914, for their usual annual training, the International horizon was clouded with the diplomatic conversations which had followed the murder of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria by Servians at Sarajevo. Many hoped, no doubt, that the experience of the Morocco incident of 1905 and the Agadir incident of 1911, would again be repeated and that once more the clouds of a world war would be dissipated, but when we reflect upon this period of the world's history it is easy now to see that war with Germany, sooner or later, was inevitable.
The atmosphere was so charged with electricity that it was impossible to settle down to the normal routine of training, and there was little surprise when on August 3rd, Bank Holiday, Germany declared war on France, and when on the following day, August 4th, Great Britain herself, following upon the violation of the neutrality of Belgium, joined forces with Russia and France.
Territorial Camps were at once broken up and all ranks ordered home, with instructions to hold themselves in readiness for any emergency.
The Royal Proclamation for the embodiment of the 8th Battalion Sherwood Foresters (Notts. and Derby Regiment) was issued at 6.45 p.m. on Tuesday, August 4th, and notified to all units in the briefest possible telegram—"Mobilise." During Wednesday and Thursday, August 5th and 6th, all Companies were endeavouring to purchase locally and issue to every man, underclothing and necessaries according to scale. This was a big undertaking, as the scheme for earmarking such goods in the case of embodiment had not been completed, and there was, therefore, some delay in obtaining all requirements. The strength of the Battalion on mobilisation was 29 officers and 852 other ranks.
On Friday, August 7th, the Battalion concentrated at Newark, under the Command of Lieut.-Col. C. J. Huskinson, T.D., with Major G. H. Fowler second in Command, and Capt. E. N. T. Collin, Adjutant, Companies and their Officers at this time being as follows:—
A Company—Retford.—Lieut. W. R. Smith, 2nd Lieuts. L. Rose and E. C. A. James.
B " Newark.—Capt. L. C. B. Appleby, Lieuts. C. Davenport and A. H. Quibell.
C " Sutton-in-Ashfield.—Lieut. M. C. Martyn, 2nd Lieuts. H. G. Wright and R. H. Piggford.
D " Mansfield.—Capt. A. C. Clarke, 2nd Lieut. J. W. Turner.
E " Carlton.—Lieut. F. G. Cursham, 2nd Lieut. H. Kirby.
F " Arnold.—2nd Lieuts. G. Clarke and A. F. O. Dobson.
G " Worksop.—Capt. E. W. E. Tylden-Wright, Lieut. W. H. Allen.
H " Southwell.—Capt. J. P. Becher, Lieut. J. K. Lane, 2nd Lieut. H. B. S. Handford.
Lieut. A. L. Ashwell was Machine-Gun Officer; Capt. F. W. Johnson, and Surgeon-Capt. H. Stallard, Medical Officers, and Rev. J. P. Hales, Chaplain; Major W. N. Sarll was Quarter-Master, but, being medically unfit, at once handed over his duties to Capt. R. F. B. Hodgkinson, who joined from the Territorial Force Reserve. Capt. R. J. Wordsworth mobilised with Brigade Headquarters.
The Battalion was billeted for the most part in Schools: B Company were detailed for various duties in the town, and H Company found guards on bridges and other points on the Great Northern Railway, the most important being the Tubular Bridge. Nothing of interest happened except that a too keen sentry one night loosed off at some suspicious looking persons, who turned out to be innocent platelayers returning home from work. Fortunately there were no casualties.
On Monday, August 10th, at 9.30 a.m., we paraded in the Market Place ready to begin our move to concentration areas. The Mayor (Mr. J. C. Kew) and Corporation were present, accompanied by Canon Hindley, Vicar of Newark, and other Clergy, and there was a dense crowd of onlookers. After an address by the Mayor, who wished us God speed, and a short service, we marched off via the Fosse Way to Radcliffe-on-Trent, leaving behind H Company under Capt. Becher, to guard the railway.
For the first time in its history the Battalion had complete First Line and Train Transport with it, this being under the command of Lieut. Davenport, who had been appointed Transport Officer. The vehicles were not exactly regulation pattern, but little fault could be found with the horses, all of which had been purchased locally. Floats from Warwick and Richardson's and Hole's formed the majority of the Small Arm Ammunition and tool carts, whilst Dickens's Mineral Water drays and Davy's Brewery drays made fairly good General Service wagons, when fitted with light wooden sides. A furniture van full of blankets, two Corporation water carts, and a bread cart with a large red cross on each side, completed the collection. We feel sure that few Regimental Transports can have looked more like a circus than did ours as we left Newark.
The march of 14 miles to Radcliffe-on-Trent was completed about 4 p.m., and after a good night's rest we left early on August 11th, and proceeding via Nottingham, arrived at Derby at 6.30 p.m., after a 23 mile march. This was a very severe test for all, as few were really "hard" enough at that time for such a long trek. Route marches were accordingly carried out, on each of the three extremely hot days spent at Derby, as the main part of our programme.
Whilst at Derby the main subject of discussion was that of Imperial Service for Territorial units. So far as we were concerned a considerable number of officers and men had already volunteered. There were many others who had not actually done so, but there was no doubt as to what their answer would be. Of the remainder many were practically disqualified from serving abroad by reason of age, unfitness, family and business ties, and other reasons, and for them, in the light of the little we knew then, the decision was most difficult, and the need for it we hardly thought fair. The demand for volunteers was in the first instance put rather baldly, with little notice, and with apparently little realisation of the enormous difficulties under which so many were labouring, and it was not surprising that this appeal met with little response. A second earnest appeal, reinforced by the feeling that the honour, even the existence of the Battalion was in danger, resulted in over 800 volunteering, which was eminently satisfactory, though it is impossible to avoid the feeling that many who volunteered then did so against their better judgment, and that the decision should have been made for them.
All the other units in the Division having more or less similarly settled this vital question, training was started in earnest.
The first area allotted to the Division was Hertfordshire, and we entrained on August 15th, for the first time, and by no means the last. Hours went by after our scheduled time before there was any sign of the train. In an adjoining field, however, the various Company entertainers had full scope and played to large audiences. Eventually we got off in two trains, and detraining at Leagrave marched the last three miles to Luton, where we arrived in the early hours of August 16th. Here we stayed for six days and carried out a little training, mostly at Luton Hoo and Markyate. We cannot say that we regarded this as the most pleasant of our experiences, as our billets were not of the best either for Officers, who were mostly crowded into a few cottages, and took turns at bathing in small tin baths in the sculleries, or men who were also crowded in somewhat unwholesome schools, while our menu consisted monotonously of bully beef and pickle, and army biscuit and cheese.
Better things fortunately were in store, for on August 21st, we moved on a few miles to Harpenden, where we were destined to stay for three months, and where we received on all sides the greatest possible hospitality. We are sure that all who were billeted at Harpenden will look back with the greatest pleasure to the time spent in that delightful district. The men for the most part were billeted in small houses, three or four together, and with the more than ample rations and billeting allowances then in force, both men and billet owners were exceedingly well off.
Here we had also the 5th, 6th and 7th Sherwood Foresters, which, with ourselves, formed the Notts, and Derby Infantry Brigade, under the Command of Brigadier-General C. T. Shipley, who had Major E. M. Morris as Brigade Major, and Capt. R. J. Wordsworth as Staff Captain. The Stafford and Lincoln and Leicester Infantry Brigades completed the North Midland Division, which was commanded by Major-General The Hon. E. J. Montagu Stuart-Wortley.
Fortunately the weather for some time was splendid, and the Battalion soon began to shew the result of constant and regular drill, and the turnout and smartness improved rapidly. Training comprised almost every possible form that could be required to make both officers and men efficient, and went so far as to include the detailing of Sergt.-Instructor Mounteney to carry out the by no means easy task of trying to turn Officers into swordsmen. It is no disparagement of his efforts to congratulate ourselves that we never had to put our lessons to the test of stern reality. "Infantry Training" and "Field Service Regulations" were studied and more or less followed out in practice in all we did. Most of our drill, musketry instruction, bayonet fighting, physical exercises, and outpost drill were carried out on the splendid Common at Harpenden, but our training area extended to most of the surrounding parks and farms, where the bulk of our more advanced work in attack practice and tactical exercises was carried out. Perhaps some of the best remembered places are "High Firs," where we first spent a night in bivouacs, Sandridge, where there was a small range, Rothamstead Park, Redbourn, Ayre's End, Hammond's End Farm, Annable's Farm, Mackery End, Thrale's End Farm, where barbed wire entanglements were put up, the like of which we never saw in France or anywhere else, and Cold Harbour. At Sundon, not far from Dunstable, we dug and occupied our first real trench system, which after a preliminary skirmish at night, when rockets were used to guide the attacking troops, had to withstand a heavy dawn attack by the Lincoln and Leicester Brigade.
Classification practices were fired at Wardown and Galley Hill ranges, near Luton, on thoroughly wet and disagreeable days, with ammunition not intended for the rifle we were using, and altogether under such adverse conditions, that good scores were impossible.
In addition to Brigade and Divisional schemes in the neighbourhood of Harpenden we had big shows on two days at Kinsworth, near Dunstable. Of our indoor classes, probably the most entertaining were the French lessons given after mess sometimes by a kind friend from the Y.M.C.A.; he did his best, but we fear that it was not quite the right time of day to find a class of Officers in a mood for imbibing instruction.
Meanwhile there were many changes in personnel: Lieut. James took over A Company from Lieut. Smith, who was unfit; Capt. Appleby and Lieut. Cursham proceeded to Dunstable to take charge of Home Service men; Lieut. Quibell went to the Depot at Newark; Capt. Tylden-Wright being unfit, G Company was handed over to Capt. Allen; Lieut. Turner took over the Machine-Gun Section on Lieut. Ashwell becoming Assistant Adjutant; Lieut. G. Clarke was Musketry Officer; Lieut. H. B. S. Handford, Signalling Officer; and Lieut. Piggford, Scout Officer. Subalterns who joined during these early days included 2nd Lieuts. W. H. Hollins, J. V. Edge, A. Hacking, E. M. Hacking, W. N. Wright, J. R. Eddison, B. W. Vann, J. M. Gray. J. S. C. Oates, R. E. Hemingway, A. P. F. Hamilton, and W. C. C. Weetman. Hamilton soon left us to join the Divisional Cyclists and afterwards served with the Tank Corps, winning the M.C. In other ranks there were also changes: Sergt.-Instructors Hancock, Holmes and Walker went to other units, a number of men went to Dunstable, and a good many were discharged medically unfit, but our numbers were constantly being swelled by the arrival of recruits who kept coming in batches at frequent intervals from the Depot, and made up our strength practically to establishment.
[Illustration: OFFICERS AT HARPENDEN; Nov., 1914.
Back Row: 2nd Lieut. A. F. O. Dobson, 2nd Lieut. J. S. C. Oates, 2nd Lieut. E. M. Hacking. 2nd Lieut. A. Hacking, 2nd Lieut. W. C. C. Weetman, Lieut. H. B. S. Handford, Capt. J. K. Lane, 2nd Lieut. J. R. Eddison, 2nd Lieut. H. Kirby.
Middle Row: 2nd Lieut. J. M. Gray, 2nd Lieut. W. N. Wright, Lieut. H. G. Wright, 2nd Lieut. B. W. Vann, 2nd Lieut. J. V. Edge, Lieut. G. Clarke, 2nd Lieut. W. H. Hollins, 2nd Lieut. E. C. A. James, 2nd Lieut. J. W. Turner, Lieut. C. Davenport.
Front Row: Capt. and Qtr.-Mtr. R. F. B. Hodgkinson, Capt. W. H. Allen, Major A. C. Clarke, Rev. J. P. Hales, Capt. and Adjt. E. N. T. Collin, Lieut.-Col. C. J. Huskinson, Major G. H. Fowler, Capt. J. P. Becher, Capt. M. C. Martyn, Capt. A. L. Ashwell, Surgeon-Capt. H. Stallard.
On Ground: 2nd Lieut. R. H. Piggford 2nd Lieut. A. P. F. Hamilton.
Reproduced by permission of H. A. Valentine, Photographer, Harpenden.]
Lieut.-Col. G. S. Foljambe, who had joined from the Territorial Force Reserve, was in charge at the Depot, and later commanded for some time the 3rd Line, with the unenviable task of getting together and training in an extraordinarily short space of time, personnel to replenish the 1st and 2nd Lines. Many young Officers and others who passed through his hands in those days look back with pleasure and affection to the happy times spent under his kindly care at Newark and Belton Park.
Recreations in these early days were run on the usual lines. Padre Hales had a reading room and organised Battalion Concerts from time to time, at which much local talent was displayed, but with everyone living in houses organised entertainment was not so necessary as we later found it to be in isolated camps, or at out-of-the-way villages in France.
We were inspected three times during this period; once at Harpenden by Lieut.-General Sir Ian Hamilton, commanding the Central Force, again on September 29th, by Lord Kitchener in Luton Hoo Park, when we thought we made a very creditable display, and lastly, on October 6th, after we had carried out an attack scheme ending up on the Sandridge Rifle Range, when the Battalion had the honour of marching past Lord Roberts.
The air, of course, was full of rumours. As early as September 1st, we were told that we should be off to France in a month: later the date was fixed for October 30th, and then November 7th, Bordeaux being mentioned as the elusive objective. On this last occasion it seemed so certain that we were going that a farewell sermon was preached, which turned out to be decidedly premature. We heard with every conceivable detail the delicious stories of the thousands of Russians who kept pouring through Nottingham, and like others we had the usual excitements of spy scares, all of which were very entertaining, and one at least highly dangerous, when one of our chases took some of us over the railway embankment armed with loaded revolvers.
Whatever the possibilities of our going out early may have been, one step was taken which could have had only that object in view, viz. inoculation against typhoid. We can only hope that the Medical Officers who operated on us got more fun out of the operation than we did.
Marching orders came eventually, and as ever, when least expected. Late on Sunday evening, November 15th, we were told to be ready to move at an hour's notice. This was presumed to be due to a feared raid and landing on the East Coast—at any rate one hopes there was some equally good reason for it, for quite a number of Officers and men had been allowed to go on week-end leave, and had to be recalled by telegram, whilst the following day was to have been a holiday.
We shall not easily forget that night—the energy we expended in packing valises, brows sweating, tempers bad, language beyond description,—all trying the impossible feat of making the wonderful collection of kit we had got together on the advice of one friend or another keep within the allotted allowance of 35lbs.
Apart from our own individual troubles, we had the additional enormous task set of issuing new equipment to everybody. The 1908 bandolier pattern had been withdrawn, and new leather equipment (pattern 1914) had arrived on the previous Friday and Saturday, and the Quarter-Master's staff had been busy marking it and getting it ready for issuing. This all had to be issued during the Sunday night, and was carried round to billets in blankets. The language of something like 900 men all trying to put together an entirely new set of equipment, the like of which they had never seen, may well be imagined. We were the first Battalion to be issued with this equipment, which on the next day's march proved very unsatisfactory, many buckles and straps pulling right out of the webbing of the packs and haversacks. We were glad when a month later it was all withdrawn, and we were issued with the much more popular and lasting web equipment.
Eventually the Battalion paraded at 9 a.m. on November 16th, one hour late, and in consequence instead of leading the Brigade we had to march in rear. We got to Harlow, a distance of something like 26 miles, about 8 p.m. This was a very trying march, and as many men had only been issued with new boots during the night, it was not surprising that several fell out. On this march we first realised what a difficult and technical job "supply" can be. The supply and baggage wagons appear to have been hopelessly overloaded, and in consequence both rations and blankets failed to reach us that night. It was largely owing to the extreme kindness and hospitality of the inhabitants of the delightful little village of Harlow, amongst whom was the evergreen veteran Sir Evelyn Wood, V.C., that we were fed and breakfasted and able to continue the march the following day, 14 miles to Dunmow. This proved more trying than the previous day, and the Medical Officer and stretcher-bearers had a busy time attending to those who fell out.
On the 18th, we finished the journey by a nine mile march to Bocking, and there settled down into billets for the rest of our time in England. Though we were spoilt at Harpenden, we are sure that all ranks have nothing but pleasant recollections of the time spent at Braintree and Bocking, where one and all treated us with the greatest kindness, and we hope were sorry to lose us. Where all were so kind it is almost invidious to mention names, but one feels (though they themselves would be the first to deny it) that a special debt of gratitude is owed to the Nuns of the Convent at Booking, whose kindness and care for those who were billeted at the Convent, and for all with whom they came in contact, were beyond all praise.
In order to prepare for any possible German landing on the Essex coast orders had been issued for a series of trenches to be dug to form defensive lines for the protection of London, and we were at once set on to this work, which was pushed on as rapidly as possible, systems of trenches, redoubts, gun positions, and other defensive works being put in hand. Our work was mainly at Panfield, Marks Farm and Black Notley. It was not an ideal season for trench digging, especially in the clay of Essex, which was the "genuine" article, and we were glad when the bulk of it was finished by Christmas. This work was carried out under Royal Engineers' supervision and was in some ways instructive, although we thought that the principles we had been taught in the Military Manuals were frequently violated by the siting of trenches along the sides of prominent hedgerows. Nevertheless, what we did was more after the nature of what we were to meet in France, and therefore of considerable practical value. That our work was satisfactory was testified to by the insertion in Central Force Orders of January 23rd, 1915, of the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief's keen appreciation of the soldierly spirit and enthusiasm shewn for the work by all ranks. All the same, we have no regrets that it was never necessary to occupy the trenches for actual warfare.
Owing to another scare Christmas leave was cancelled. Scarborough had been bombarded on December 22nd, and there was apparently a bit of a "breeze." According to one writer this was due to a little lack of liaison between our Naval and Military authorities. The former had apparently spread a rumour that an invasion of the German Coast was to take place, and the enemy concentrated numbers of troops there in case it happened. This concentration came to the knowledge of our military spies, who, however were not told of the cause, and their report appears to have caused our War Office to think that an invasion of England was contemplated. We were not, however, by any means dull at Christmas. On December 24th, we beat the 6th Battalion 2—1 in the first round of the Divisional Football competition, Vann being skipper, and in the evening the Warrant Officers and N.C.O.'s had a dance at Braintree Corn Exchange. On Christmas Day there was Church Parade at Braintree, when the Bishop of Derby preached. Later, dinners were issued on a sumptuous scale, and in the evening the Officers were entertained at the White Hart by the Colonel and Major Fowler.
In a later round of the Divisional Cup Competition, we beat the Divisional Mechanical Transport Column 3—0, and got into the semi-final, when, however, we were badly beaten by the 4th Leicesters at Bishop's Stortford, by 3 goals to nil. In a Brigade paper chase which was held on December 26th, Pvte. Allen of E Company came in first.
On December 28th, we returned to Luton by train to carry out final firing practices at the Wardown and Galley Hill Ranges, and field firing practice at Dunstable in appalling weather, when frost, snow and rain made accurate shooting perfectly impossible, and we were glad indeed to get back to Bocking on January 6th, 1915.
The rest of our time was spent in final training, mainly carried out at Gosfield Park and Abbot's Hall, and in preparations for going out, in which the inspection and completion of equipment of all kinds played a prominent part. This was not too easy a job for the young Company or Section Commanders, as the men by this time were up to all the "old soldier" tricks, and were very clever at making one article appear almost simultaneously in half-a-dozen different kits. Drill included a certain amount of new bayonet fighting and other exercises under Major A. C. Clarke, who had attended a course at Chelsea. Mules arrived in January and were objects of much interest; our miscellaneous transport vehicles were discarded and replaced by new ordnance pattern issues, to which were added two Lune Valley Cookers, kindly presented by the ladies of Nottinghamshire. At the end of January the Battalion had to be completely reorganised in order to come into line with the regular Battalions: the old 8-Company system was abolished, and the 1914 Double Company organisation introduced, entailing an immense amount of work and keeping us busy right up to the time of our departure. The situation was not helped by the absence of Major Fowler with eight Subalterns and 407 recruits, who were away carrying out musketry classification practices at Luton from February 3rd to 20th.
Our chief relaxation at Bocking in the early part of 1915 was night searching for elusive spies, who were supposed to carry on lamp signalling; more often than not when these were tracked down they turned out to be innocent stable guards doing their nightly rounds. At other times we picketed the roads to hold up motor cars which were supposed to be acting as guides to Zeppelins, but it is doubtful whether either of these occupations did a great deal towards bringing about the more rapid conclusion of the war.
One also remembers the excitement caused by the first Boche aeroplane dropping bombs within a mile of the village, which we, of course, imagined had been dropped for our especial benefit. One of the Scouts secured a "dud," which was the object of much interest to everyone, up to the Divisional Commander.
It was about this time that the first distinguishing patches were allotted to Battalions. Our first was a square green patch worn behind the cap badge, undoubtedly very smart, and the envy of the other Battalions in the Brigade. When we got to France the Officers of the Battalion had to wear two short vertical green stripes at the top of the back of the jacket, to enable them to be picked out from behind, as all ranks were more or less similarly dressed and Officers' swords were discarded. Later still these marks were worn by all ranks in the Battalion, and the practice was continued up to the end of the war.
On February 15th, confidential orders were received that we were to proceed abroad at a very early date. Final preparations were put in hand, equipment, stores and clothing were issued to complete, and everything was made ready for a move.
On February 16th, Col. Huskinson received notice of his appointment as Commander of Base Details on Lines of Communication with Capt. G. Clarke as his Adjutant. Col. Huskinson had been to a great extent responsible for the recruiting of the Battalion to full strength before the war, and his keenness and enthusiasm throughout the difficult times of reorganisation and training during these first six months of the war, contributed largely to the high standard of morale and general efficiency reached in England. One and all were sorry to lose him, but we were glad indeed to find that Major Fowler was to succeed him in Command of the Battalion.
On February 19th, we had the honour of being inspected with the rest of the Division by H.M. the King, at Hallingbury Place, near Bishop's Stortford.
Into the last few days was crowded an immense amount of work, for the final arrangements never seemed to finish, and changes took place right up to the last. We were made up to establishment in Officers by the arrival of Lieuts. G. S. Heathcote and F. B. Lawson, and 2nd Lieuts. C. L. Hill and T. H. F. Adams, whilst large reinforcements from the 2/8th Battalion on February 22nd, brought us up to full strength, and when we left Bocking on February 25th, we were 31 Officers and 996 other ranks. Second Lieut. R. E. Hemingway was left behind with 100 men as the First Reinforcement, and the Orderly Room was handed over to the care of Col.-Sergt. Instructor F. Kieran. We left by two trains at 7.50 and 9.15 a.m., and by 4.0 p.m. had all detrained at Southampton Docks.
On the whole the Battalion was well equipped, and physically everyone was fit. The chief drawback appeared to be that we had rather a large percentage of young and inexperienced Officers and N.C.O.'s, but as all had much to learn of the kind of warfare actually going on, this was no great disadvantage. With so many late additions and the very recent reorganisation, few Commanders had had the opportunity of getting to know their men. So far as training was concerned we had covered in a way the whole of what the books had to say, and were fairly well acquainted with ordinary methods of fighting. There was a tendency towards staleness at the moment, and it is doubtful whether prolongation of our training in England would have been beneficial. We felt somewhat ignorant of many practical points affecting trench warfare, into which the fighting on most of the Western front had degenerated, and though we had received useful hints from Major Hume, who had been out, we yet had a great deal to learn; this we did in France, in the hard school of bitter experience. Whatever our shortcomings, we felt proud indeed to belong to the first complete Territorial Division to embark for France.
At this time the personnel of Battalion and Company Headquarters were as follows:—
Commanding Officer.—Lieut.-Colonel G. H. Fowler. Second-in-Command.—Major A. C. Clarke. Adjutant.—Capt. E. N. T. Collin. Medical Officer.—Surg.-Captain H. Stallard. Chaplain.—Rev. J. P. Hales. Quarter-Master.—Capt. R. F. B. Hodgkinson. Transport Officer.—Lieut. C. Davenport. Machine-Gun Officer.—Lieut. A. F. O. Dobson. A Company—(formerly E and F Companies). Capt. A. L. Ashwell; Lieuts. G. S. Heathcote, H. Kirby, and F. B. Lawson; 2nd Lieuts. J. V. Edge, and E. M. Hacking; Comp. Sergt.-Major A. Mabbott; Comp. Quar.-Master Sergt. E. Haywood. B " (formerly B and H Companies). Capt. J. P. Becher; Capt. J. K. Lane; Lieut. J. W. Turner; 2nd Lieuts. W. H. Hollins, J. R. Eddison and B. W. Vann; Comp. Sergt.-Major W. Mounteney; Comp. Quar.-Master Sergt. S. C. L. Shelton. C " (formerly C and D Companies). Capt. M. C. Martyn; Capt. H. G. Wright; Lieuts. H. B. S. Handford and R. H. Piggford; 2nd Lieuts. A. Hacking and T. H. F. Adams; Comp. Sergt.-Major E. Hopkinson; Comp. Quar.-Master Sergt. J. R. Dench. D " (formerly A and G Companies). Capt. W. H. Allen; Lieuts. E. C. A. James and W. C. C. Weetman; 2nd Lieuts. J. M. Gray, C. L. Hill and J. S. C. Oates. Comp. Sergt-.Major F. Spencer; Comp. Quar.-Master Sergt. F. A. Pritchard.
Acting Regimental Sergt.-Major.—E. A. Westerman. Regimental Quar.-Master Sergt.—D. Tomlin. Armourer Quar.-Master Sergt.—R. A. G. Loughman. Signalling Sergt.—W. Burton. Machine-Gun Sergt.—F. Parker. Transport Sergt.—C. Green. Sergt. Drummer.—W. Clewes. Provost Sergt.—G. Phillipson. Sergt.-Cook.—S. Wiffen. Pioneer Sergt.—J. Caddy. Acting Sergt.-Tailor.—H. A. Huckerby. Sergt.-Shoemaker.—G. H. Fletcher. Orderly Room Sergt.—F. Torrance. Orderly Room Sergt. (Base).—E. Kirkby. Orderly Room Clerk.—Corpl. R. Harvey. Non-Commissioned Officer i/c Stretcher Bearers.—Corpl. R. F. Bescoby. Medical Orderly.—Corpl. B. Sissons.
February 25th, 1915. June 20th, 1915.
As soon as the detrainment was completed, we proceeded on board the "Mount Temple," with certain Royal Field Artillery Details, the ship being under the command of Major Kent, R.F.A. At 6.30 p.m. we dropped down to Netley, imagining we were off, instead of which we anchored there for the night. The greater part of the next day, February 26th, was spent on board in physical and other exercises and inspections. Late in the afternoon, much to our surprise, orders were received that 21 Officers and 763 other ranks were to disembark, presumably because it was not desirable for so many troops to cross on a slow going boat like the "Mount Temple." Having left on board Major Clarke, Capt. Ashwell, and Lieut. Heathcote with two-and-a-half platoons of A Company, and Capts. Hodgkinson and Davenport with the Signal, Transport and Machine-Gun Sections, the remainder of us disembarked about 6.30 p.m., and proceeded to a Rest Camp about three miles outside Southampton. It was very disappointing to be split up, but there was nothing to be done but to make the best of it. We cannot say that our two days' stay at the Rest Camp was exactly enjoyable, for the camp was uncomfortable, and no passes were allowed to the town. We therefore fully appreciated the kindness of the ladies of the St. John Ambulance Association, who had huts near the camp, and gave us most excellent meals.
On February 28th, a further contingent of 101 men under Captain Becher embarked on the "Caledonian," and later in the day the rest of us went on board a small Clyde pleasure steamer, the "King Edward," where we were crowded beyond description. Neither party sailed, however, that day, and we spent the night on board. The next day those on the "King Edward" had to disembark once again! This took place early in the morning, and after a little wandering we ultimately obtained billets for the Officers at the Central Hotel, and for the men at the Watt Memorial Hall.
In the end we embarked on the "King Edward" on the afternoon of March 2nd, and sailed the same night. There was so much to interest everyone until we got out to sea that we had little time in which to indulge sentimental feelings. That gliding down Southampton Water in silence broken only by the throbbing of the engines, with lights out, sentries posted, and in some cases Machine-Guns mounted, the sudden appearance out of the darkness from somewhere off the Isle of Wight of a destroyer to pilot us across the Channel, the challenge to the ship as to who we were, and the order to "carry on," the numberless rays of searchlights sweeping around on all sides—such was the start of our great expedition, precisely the same, no doubt, as that of most other troops who crossed during the war.
We had an excellent crossing and anchored off Havre early the following morning, disembarking about 7.30 a.m. The morning was spent amongst the hangars at the docks, drawing sheep-skin coats and other equipment. Here we were met by Major Clarke who reported that Capt. Ashwell with two platoons had already proceeded up country, and that they had all had a very uncomfortable time at Havre, sleeping in trucks or wherever they could. They had been joined by M. Lacolle, who was to be attached to the Battalion as Interpreter. After dinner we marched down to our entraining point, and were able to entrain more or less at leisure during the afternoon—our first experience of a French Troop train. Later on we got accustomed to their ideas, but certainly for the men, and often for Officers too, the French way is not quite in accordance with our own ideas, and we must confess it went very much against the grain to have to crowd 36 to 40 men in nothing more or less than a cattle truck. "Hommes 40: Chevaux 8," may be all right for the "Chevaux," but for the "Hommes" we consider a revised number is required.
During these first few hours spent at Havre we learnt to appreciate the Y.M.C.A. huts, which supplied much excellent refreshment, and the Officers will certainly not forget the delicious tea and cakes so generously provided by Mrs. Pitt.
We left for the North at 5.15 p.m. At Rouen a halt was made for the engine to take in water, and ourselves coffee and rum. The taste of the latter was new to most of us, but we liked it well enough to hope that we might make its acquaintance again. Early in the morning of March 4th, we had a short "halte repas" at Abbeville for breakfast, and continuing via Calais and St. Omer we eventually, about 1 p.m., after a 20 hours journey, detrained at Cassel, which if tradition does not lie, was the happy hunting ground of the good old Duke of York, who
"Had ten thousand men, He marched 'em up to the top of the hill, And he marched 'em down again."
If the English Tommy of those days was anything like the modern "Old Bill" he probably had something pointed to say about the Hill of Cassel, and was equally unappreciative of the magnificent view one got from its summit!
Capt. Ashwell met us at the Station and acted as our guide to the little village of Oudezeele, which we reached about 5 o'clock after a trying seven miles' march. The men were tired after their long, cramped journey; many wore new boots, whilst all were weighed down with enormous packs, which had been added to by the newly drawn sheep-skin coats. It was not surprising that under such conditions many fell out, and that most of us were thoroughly weary by the time we reached our destination. Ashwell and his party too, had not had a pleasant time. Strangers in a strange land without Battalion, Brigade or Divisional Headquarters—or any of the other luxuries which make life worth living—they had found existence rather precarious. Ashwell himself had walked 45 miles in three days in search of rations, so that our arrival with the transport was more than welcome.
We found our billets rather strange after the houses and cottages to which we had become accustomed in England, as they consisted mostly of scattered farms, several platoons and sometimes a whole Company or more being billeted at one farm, generally in barns.
Capt. Becher and his party arrived late the following day, having been kept three days on the "Caledonian," and the Battalion was once more complete. As the rest of the Brigade had crossed before us and had already gone up for trench instruction, we were temporarily attached to the Lincoln and Leicester Brigade.
We spent a few days training at Oudezeele, including one or two route marches to get accustomed to the pave roads, and Edge, as newly appointed Sniping Officer, gave a little special instruction in that branch of warfare. We had a visit from Major-General Stuart-Wortley, who discussed the training to be carried out, and our coming duties in the trenches. The weather was very cold, and a good deal of work was in the shape of lectures in billets, and the reading of various routine and other orders issued to troops on arrival.
It was during one of our route marches in this district, which took us through the little village of Wormhoudt, that we made our first acquaintance with French troops. Many of them were back resting in billets, and the warm welcome they gave us as we passed through the narrow streets of the village crowded with French "poilus," the whole Battalion whistling the "Marseillaise," was an experience which will not be readily forgotten.
On March 9th, we marched with the Lincoln and Leicester Brigade via Cassel, Caestre (where General Smith-Dorrien saw us march past), and Strazeele to Merris, where we joined up with the rest of our Brigade, back from their course of instruction in the trenches. Fortunately the fur coats which had caused us so much trouble on the last march were now carried for us by motor 'bus. At Merris we saw our first real signs of fighting, both the Church and the Hospice having been hit several times by shells, whilst there were isolated graves of both French and English scattered about the surrounding country. Here too, we saw our first "fighting" aeroplane (armed with one short French Rifle), which had crashed just outside the village. It was also at Merris that we had our first experience of paying a Company "in the Field." Instructions on the subject had led us to believe that this was a complicated performance, but in practice it turned out to be quite easy. Company "Imprests" were at a later date done away with and a Battalion Imprest instituted, which was much more convenient, as also was the very handy "Officer's Advance Book," which was introduced later. At first there seemed but little check on the money that was drawn, and Field Cashiers appeared to issue money to all and sundry on the flimsiest authority.
Preparations were being made about this time for a British offensive at Neuve Chapelle, and our Brigade was attached temporarily to General Gough's 2nd Cavalry Division, with the object, if the attack succeeded, of breaking through in the region of the Bois du Biez. In order to be nearer the scene of operations we were moved from Merris at an hour's notice at noon on March 10th, and marched via Rouge Croix to Bac-St. Maur. This was a memorable experience, but later on we became accustomed to rapid movement, and the great concentration of troops which was necessary when fighting was imminent. Transport marched brigaded, and in passing through Sailly-sur-Lys in the darkness seemed to be so mixed up in the seething mass of men that we almost began to doubt if they would ever extricate themselves. Under the guiding hand and voice of Capt. Davenport, however, our Transport eventually got clear. During this operation "Davvy" evidently made a great impression on one soldier (a Regular), by his forcible language, as the latter was heard to remark "There's a bloke what knows 'is job." Confusion was great in Bac-St. Maur too, for when we got there, the billets which we had been allotted were still occupied by Canadians. Eventually, we all got shelter of a kind, in probably the dirtiest and poorest billets we ever had either in France or Belgium. This was our first meeting with our Canadian friends, and we can hardly say we were impressed, though we all knew well what they were made of. We have specially vivid recollections of one Canadian sentry on duty at night opposite D Company's billet, evidently "well away," loosing off his rifle at intervals, apparently to let us know that he was "present and correct." One bullet was close enough to be unpleasant, and fetched a lump off the tree just outside the window. In this area we were nearer to the line than we had yet been, some of our guns firing from quite close to the village, and we found it an interesting experience to see for the first time an aeroplane being shelled.
We stood by for two days, ready to move at a moment's notice, hearing much of the noise of the battle. The attack, however, was not successful and the Bois du Biez plan, therefore, fell through. On March 13th, we got orders to move to fresh billets. We had to travel light as we were still regarded as a "flying column." Much superfluous kit was left behind, to be sent for later on, and the weird bundles left at the Estaminet at Bac-St. Maur will not readily be forgotten. We marched that afternoon via Estaires to Neuf Berquin, where we had again to be content with rather crowded, if somewhat more comfortable billets than we had left.
One or two changes in personnel had already taken place. Capt. Hodgkinson gave up the appointment of Quar.-Master owing to some technicalities, and for the moment acted as Censor. In this capacity he was obliged, to our great annoyance, to carry out the order to relieve us of our cameras, which were sent home,—no doubt on the whole a wise and necessary precaution. Capt. Hodgkinson was succeeded as Quar.-Master by Lieut. Torrance, who was destined, with a short break in 1918, to carry out the duties up to the end of the war. He performed them with much success, and in a way that only Torrance could. On his appointment as Quar. Master, the Orderly Room came under the charge of Corpl. R. Harvey, who carried out his difficult task with the utmost devotion, without a break until the last man of the Battalion was demobilised. Second Lieut. G. W. Fosbery, who received his Commission as we were about to cross to France, took over his platoon from Handford, who as Signalling Officer had enough other work to keep him busy.
We stayed at Neuf Berquin for ten days and did a considerable amount of useful training, but unfortunately at this time many men were sick, owing to the bad water, so that parades were somewhat small. In addition to continued route marches to keep feet in condition we practised formations for advancing through woods in the Bois d'Aval, open warfare attack under the watchful eye of General Gough, and several trench-to-trench attacks on the leap-frog principle, the first line capturing and holding the front trench, and other lines passing through them to attack the support trenches. We also began to practise making and throwing the old "jam-tin bomb," the beginning of the attack of "bomb fever," which unfortunately was to play such a prominent part in the warfare of the next two or three years, undoubtedly to the detriment of all sound training and tactics.
Arrangements had meanwhile been made for our initiation into the mysteries of real trench warfare, and with that object in view we were moved on March 24th, to Vieux Berquin, and on the 26th, across the frontier to Romarin in Belgium, being once more attached to the Lincoln and Leicester Brigade. Much to our regret the rum issue was stopped the next day!
We were attached for instruction to the 10th Infantry Brigade, 4th Division, and the programme arranged allowed each Company to spend two nights in the trenches, with a break of 24 hours in billets. The Battalions to which we were attached included the Royal Irish Rifles, 2nd Royal Dublin Fusiliers, Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 2nd Seaforth Highlanders, and 2nd Royal Warwicks, who held the trenches about Ploegsteert and opposite Messines.
The first night each Officer and man studied the work of his counterpart in the Battalion to which he was attached, and the second night platoons were allotted definite lengths of trench, for which they were held responsible. This first experience was not exactly full of incident, as on the whole we had a very quiet time, but for us, as for all others on their first visit to the line, many little incidents of everyday trench routine were novel and exciting. Recollection lingers on the long, slow tramp to the trenches, along corduroy tracks in thick darkness lighted up from time to time by Very lights from our own trenches and by the infinitely superior ones from the enemy (we recollect that some of us, faithful to our instructions, but slightly misguided, began ducking quite five miles behind the line when a flare went up), the constant order to keep closed up, the whizz of bullets, at every one of which we ducked instantly, the cracking of rifles, the 'dead cow' smell which afterwards became so painfully familiar, the arrival at the trenches and the posting of sentries. Later the cautious creeping over the parapet to look at the wire and at dawn stand-to, followed by the frizzling of bacon and the brewing of tea (in these days each side had a more or less respectable breakfast, evidenced by the columns of smoke that went up from the respective front line trenches directly after stand-down). Such incidents we feel sure were sufficiently novel at the time to impress themselves vividly on the memories of those whom a kindly fate has preserved to read these recollections.
Probably the most uncanny feeling some of us had was, when on starting from Battalion Headquarters for the trenches, we met a stretcher party carrying out one of our own men, Comp. Sergt.-Major Hopkinson, who had been wounded by a sniper, and was our first casualty. It was an experience that everyone had to go through, but it was not pleasant. Hopkinson and two men of D Company wounded by shell fire were our only casualties during our instructional tours. That we did not make a bad impression is attested by a letter written from an Officer of the 2nd Seaforths, who says:—"I thought your Officers and men most awfully keen, and I was immensely struck by the way your men came into the trench—no noise at all, and perfect discipline and quietness and keenness. They were awfully willing to act up to any small suggestions you made as to what they ought to do. They came in so much better than Regulars, and I was genuinely filled with admiration for them. They were a splendid body of men." It is, perhaps, needless to say that we on our part much appreciated the great kindness shewn us by the units to which we were attached. Those of us who happened to be in or near Petit Douvre Farm during this attachment were much interested in finding some of the early drawings of Bairnsfather, as done for the "Bystander." The interior walls of the farm were covered with his charcoal sketches, in some cases to the order of Commanding Officers who were to follow! It was at the same farm that Pvte. Cottam, of D Company, acted as head butcher in the slaughter of an abandoned pig, causing a good deal of excitement before final despatch. Most of the men brought away with them "souveneers" of this first visit, none more unaccountable than the dud 77 mm. shell carried about in his pack for several days, by a sturdy sanitary man of A Company—in fact, until discovered by a rather alarmed Company Commander.
On March 31st, we left Romarin, and marched back to our old billets at Vieux Berquin, being met at Doulieu and escorted from there by the 6th Battalion band. Only one band had been allowed to come out with the Brigade, and after some discussion that of the 6th Battalion was selected, and carried on up to the end of the war, virtually as a Brigade Band.
Orders were received on April 1st, for our Division to take over its first portion of the British front in relief of the 28th Division, and on April 2nd we marched with the rest of the Brigade via Bailleul to Locre, in Belgium. As few, if any of us, had ever studied Flemish, the language question in some of the villages of Flanders presented a little difficulty, but with his guiding principle of "tout-de-suite, and the touter the sweeter," the British Tommy never seemed to have any trouble in getting what he wanted. We were disposed to think sometimes that the Belgians did not look very kindly on us. Perhaps it was because in our early days we were rather inclined to take too much notice of the frequent reports we heard of supposed Belgian spies, and of Belgians being in communication by various means with the Boche on the other side of the lines. One well remembers the suggestion made from time to time that signalling was carried on by means of the windmill on Mont Rouge, or by the display of washing laid out to dry on the ground by Belgian housewives. At any rate we did find a house at Locre, where a number of pigeons were kept, a fact which aroused the suspicions of some of the Officers of D Company, and in the same house were discovered quantities of British stores of all kinds, which must have been got from our troops in a not too straightforward manner. Some of the inhabitants, too, treated us with scant courtesy. It was here that the lady of the establishment removed the handle from the pump where Sergt. Markham's platoon was billeted, and not content with that went a step further, and for some reason best known to herself, gave him a cold douche when asleep one night. Some of us, on the other hand, were more fortunate in our billets, and all who went to the Hospice can have nothing but the most pleasant recollections of the great kindness of the Mother Superior and other ladies. Padre Hales, who left us to be attached to Brigade Headquarters, when we crossed to France, was billeted there with our Field Ambulance, and we were allowed to go there for baths when out of the line, and always received much kindness and hospitality. Unfortunately during the German onslaught in 1918, this delightful place was completely destroyed. The bathing arrangements in general at this time were somewhat poor, the nearest military baths being at Bailleul, about four miles away, so that we were very delighted at receiving during our stay at Locre, from Miss Gilstrap, of Winthorpe, Newark, three galvanised iron baths, with boiler complete. With these and other local devices we were able to get the men bathed at their own billets, which was a great boon. Another similar consignment from Mrs. John Becher, unfortunately got lost in the post, but we trust was of benefit to some other unit.
In the afternoon of Easter Eve, April 3rd, we attended a Church Parade, taken by the Bishop of London, of which many of us have bitter recollections, as owing to a mistake in Divisional Orders, we were rigged out in full marching order. Further, as it was a damp and windy day, few of us could hear a word of the address, and all wanted to get as much sleep as possible in view of the great adventure before us. The same night, which turned out to be miserably wet, we left Locre, to take over the trench sector in front of Kemmel held by the 1st Devons. Company Commanders had already been in the trenches for 24 hours to get the lie of the land, and they, together with the guides of the Devons, met us at the appointed rendezvous, the celebrated band stand at Kemmel. There were, of course, no lights; rations and trench fuel, which had been taken up by the Transport, were issued in sandbags, and water in petrol tins, and each platoon was then led off by itself. When one looks back on trench reliefs, one is inclined to wonder how on some occasions they were carried out at all, the possibilities of going wrong seemed so great. In the present case, however, nothing untoward happened, and we set off by our various routes to the front line, passing such favourite spots as the "Sahara Desert" (the final resting place of every bullet fired within a radius of five miles, or so it seemed), the "Willows," "Irish Farm" or "The Orchard," and into the G and H trenches. In our heavy greatcoats and with full packs, which we continued religiously to carry for many months for no apparent reason, the journey was not pleasant, and we were not sorry to get into the trenches, where the relief was completed about 11 p.m. C Company being mainly composed of miners and under the command of a Mining Engineer, were put in the right sector where was our only mine, much to the relief of, at least, one Company Commander, who had mental visions of a mine as a large black cavern, where hand-to-hand fighting went on incessantly! A Company had the centre and D Company the left, B Company occupying the two supporting points and billets in Kemmel Village. Battalion Headquarters were at the Doctor's house in Kemmel, and the Transport and Quar.-Master's Stores remained at Locre.
There was practically only one trench line at this time, and this, like most of the trenches in Belgium and the low lying districts, was a line of breastworks with very little wire in front, and only one or two small supporting points. The opposing front lines varied from 25 to about 300 yards apart, being closest at "Peckham Corner," on the right. Shelters were built mostly of timber and corrugated iron, strengthened with sandbags, and were generally in the parados of the trench.
Easter day—our first day holding a bit of line on our own—was fairly quiet, except for a little shelling of D Company on the left during the afternoon. On the right, some men of C Company sang hymns, and the enemy made overtures for a truce by showing a white flag. About 40 of them appeared on the parapet, and a brisk conversation ensued for several minutes across "No Man's Land." A somewhat unflattering remark from one of the enemy who had a wonderful knowledge of forcible English, ended the armistice rather hurriedly.
On most nights during these early days of the war, each side had its turn at five or ten rounds "rapid" to relieve the monotony of things. In this we were on equal terms with the enemy, but during the day we were hopelessly outclassed owing to the great shortage of periscopes, and the lack of telescopic rifles and well constructed loophole plates, of all of which the Hun seemed to have an abundant supply. It was long before we got anything like adequate numbers of these very necessary trench requisites. It was not surprising, therefore, that for some time the Boche snipers had the upper hand and could do almost what they liked. Their shooting was extremely accurate, and as the trenches were enfiladed on all sides, and there was in many cases little parados, we soon had casualties, most of which were sentries shot through the head. Our first fatal casualty was Pvte. Hyde, of A Company, shot in this way on April 6th. We were also short and entirely inexperienced in the use of rifle grenades and trench mortars, with which the enemy made very good practice. A large trench mortar certainly did find its way up to the trenches by some means one day, and provided considerable amusement to our men. It is reported to have dropped its first bomb into the enemy trench, and its second into our own—its erratic behaviour ultimately making it no doubt more annoying to ourselves than to the enemy. Lieuts. A. Hacking and Hollins were the pioneers in the use of rifle grenades, with which they eventually did good work at "Peckham Corner."
After a tour of four days which were most uncomfortable owing to constant rain, we returned to Locre. The system of four days in trenches and four in billets, taking turns with the 6th Battalion, continued for some time with little variation. When out of the line we, of course, had to find those never-to-be-forgotten working parties, which had become part of the normal trench warfare system. Having had a hard four days in the trenches, it was never a pleasant duty to have to march up three or four miles on one or perhaps two nights out of our few days' rest, to do a job for the Royal Engineers or some other specialists in the trenches. Otherwise, our stays at Locre were fairly pleasant. There were no great attractions, but we had enough to do as a rule in general training and cleaning, and the country round about was extremely pleasant, either for walking or riding. Perhaps the greatest excitement was to go down to Bailleul to shop and call on "Tina." Such luxuries as Canteens for supplying the wants of the inner man were quite unknown in these early days, when we had to rely mainly on parcels from home or purchases in the local towns.
Work in the trenches consisted mainly of strengthening or rebuilding the parapet and parados, and in putting out barbed wire defences. As a rule, we wanted far more sandbags than were ever forthcoming, but in these days they were used indiscriminately, and in consequence many very weak structures were built, which could not possibly stand without support through a single wet season. The barbed wire defences were very poor, and as soon as we got into the way of doing it much time was spent in that not too pleasant work, for Boche snipers did execution by night as well as by day, and made themselves very objectionable. Our entanglements consisted mainly of "knife-rests"—wooden frames strung with barbed wire. These were made by the men in the Brigade workshop at Kemmel, run by Major Wordsworth, the Staff Captain, to which each Battalion contributed a quota of pioneers and trade specialists. One Officer learnt a very practical lesson in their use from the enemy. He had some carefully placed in position one night, where he thought his wire particularly weak, but his spirits fell to zero the following morning, when on looking over the top he saw his precious knife-rests in position guarding the Boche trenches opposite! From that time onwards knife-rests were securely fastened to each other and to the ground. Our Brigade (hereafter known as the 139th Infantry Brigade) had a good reputation for trench work, and the digging element was used to great advantage by the 6th Battalion commencing what was one of the first long communication trenches dug on the British front. It extended from the front line nearly back to Kemmel and was for ever known as the "Via Gellia." In its later stages it was worked on by ourselves. This trench was a great convenience, as it enabled reliefs to be carried out much more securely by avoiding going over the open, and permitted of visits of inspection to be made by daylight, and the wounded to be carried back to the dressing station at Kemmel. In the early days they remained in the trenches until it was dark enough for the journey to be made over the top.
On April 22nd, we experienced a little of the backwash of the first Hun gas attack against the French and Canadians in the Ypres Salient a few miles North of us. During most of the time we had been in this area there had been considerable activity in that quarter, and the shelling and burning of Ypres could be plainly seen from the Kemmel trenches. This attack was the beginning of the second battle of Ypres. The only effect on ourselves of the gas used on this occasion, was to make our eyes smart and a few men sick. It did, however, cause a commotion on all sides, and with unaccustomed speed, the first consignment of respirators was sent out to us—pieces of gauze which had to be filled with tea-leaves, damped, and fastened round the mouth in the event of attack. These were improved from time to time, and a little later we got a gas-proof smoke helmet—the earliest form known as "P," and the later as "P.H." Vermorel sprayers were also provided in due course, and some solution for spraying the trenches to clear them of gas. Bells and gongs formed of shell cartridge cases or pieces of iron were also hung in the trenches to be sounded by the sentry if any sign of cloud gas was seen. There was perhaps a natural tendency to imagine gas when there was none, and an official report of gas by C Company on the night of May 8th, was found to be due to the proximity of a dead cow.
April 24th witnessed our first serious bombardment. We had already had several somewhat severe baptisms, but they were trifling in comparison. About 6 p.m., after an exceptionally quiet day, and just before we were to be relieved, the enemy began an organised trench mortar bombardment of G1 and 2, occupied by platoons of C and D Companies, and H 4 held by Lieut. Vann and his platoon of B Company. It lasted for about an hour, and made large breaches in the parapet of G1 and 2, and practically demolished the whole of H 4, a small isolated trench on the extreme left, opposite Petit Bois. Both these trenches were completely enfiladed by the Boche, so that their shooting was extremely accurate. It was thought at one time that the enemy might attempt a raid on G1 and 2, but this did not develop. A Machine Gun team consisting of L.-Corpl. Sharrock and Pvtes. Hopewell and Davis, which was posted in G1, behaved most coolly, and Sergt. A. Phillipson, of D Company, did very gallant work in the same trench under heavy fire with Pvtes. Coombes and Durand, all in a more or less dazed condition, helping to dig out the wounded. On the left Vann and his platoon had a very bad time. Whilst he was digging out wounded a bomb fell close by, killing four and burying three others, and blowing Vann himself several yards across the open at the back of the trench, and practically wiping out the garrison. Major Becher brought up reinforcements and helped Vann to get the position made good, and great assistance was given by 2nd Lieut. Hollins and L.-Corpl. Humberstone. Pvtes. F. Boothby and A. Gleaden of B Company also did excellent work, helping to dig out and dress the wounded, most of the time in full view of the enemy, not more than 70 yards away. The 2nd Royal Scots on our immediate left, also gave us valuable assistance. Our total casualties during the hour's bombardment were 14 men killed and two Officers (Vann and Gray), and 14 men wounded. When we were back at Locre after this tour, General Shipley spoke to the Battalion on parade and thanked them for the good work done, especially congratulating Vann, and on the following day the General Officer Commanding our Division also congratulated the Battalion on its behaviour under fire.
Several changes took place during April, owing to casualties. Capt. Allen went down sick on April 6th, and Lieut. James took over the command of D Company until the 14th, when Capt. Hodgkinson was appointed. He, however, also had a short stay there, for on April 22nd, when in an excess of zeal to see what was going on opposite G1, where some suspicious work was reported, he apparently thought he could sufficiently camouflage himself behind a pair of field glasses to gaze over the top of the parapet, the almost immediate result was a bullet which just grazed his head, and he, too, had to leave us. D Company then came under Capt. Lane. Second Lieut. Eddison, our first fatal Officer casualty, was killed on April 21st, being hit by a bullet whilst out wiring, and though help was instantly rendered by Drummers Newton and Robb, who pulled him out of the shell-hole of water, into which he had fallen, and carried him into the trench, he died in a few minutes. Four Officers were down for a short time with measles, including Capt. Martyn, who unfortunately was invalided to England, and was succeeded in command of C Company, by Capt. H. G. Wright. Martyn served later in Ireland and France, as Second-in-Command of the 2/8th Battalion and in command of the 2/7th Battalion, and won the D.S.O. and M.C. Lieut. Lawson got a shell wound in the shoulder and had to leave, and 2nd Lieuts. Gray and Vann also had to be in hospital for a short time from what was later known as "shell-shock." A great loss, too, was Sergt. Wilmore, a very gallant soldier, who was sniped one day when outside his trench.
May found us beginning to feel our feet. The Commanding Officer had talks with Officers as to a more aggressive attitude being taken up; we had a lecture from Major Howard, R.E., at Kemmel as to the construction of an invisible loophole, low down in the parapet, and so built as to afford a good field of fire and permit of our replying better to the Hun snipers. Sergt.-Drummer Clewes also got into action with his telescopic rifle from sniping posts cunningly placed behind the front line, the only possible position from which really successful sniping could be done, and was not long in getting quite a good "bag." Shortly afterwards he was put in charge of the newly-formed Brigade Sniping Section. A trench mortar was actually got into use, and did a certain amount of damage to the Boche trenches, but naturally produced considerable retaliation. Further efforts to fire rifle grenades met with some success, whilst a "Gamage" catapult introduced to throw bombs provided, at any rate, a little amusement. In patrolling considerable progress was made. Second Lieut. A. Hacking did some very daring work at "Peckham Corner," and near Petit Bois; 2nd Lieut. Hollins and L.-Corpls. Heath and G. Gadd of B Company made splendid reconnaissances of the enemy's wire; and 2nd Lieut. Edge, who was always to the fore in wiring, no matter how bright the night, carried out a daring daylight reconnaissance, the first attempted in the Battalion, getting nearly up to the German front line in company with Pvte. C. E. Bryan, of A Company. Pvte. W. O'Brien, of the same Company, was another who knew no danger; in fact, at night it was difficult to keep these two men in the trench at all. Daring patrols were also carried out by 2nd Lieut. Vann, Sergt. Pickering and L.-Corpl. Humberstone. Perhaps the most successful was a fighting patrol, which went out on the night of May 9-10th under 2nd Lieut. Oates, with the object of rounding up a Hun patrol. Oates, who had a party of six men with him, went forward with Pvte. Nicholson, leaving the remainder behind, to within about 50 yards of the German wire. On their way back they ran into a Boche patrol. Oates promptly shot one man, Nicholson bayoneted another, whilst two others who were wounded got away. Oates and his party got back safely.
On May 14th, we carried out one of those little manoeuvres which may have been of immense importance, but appeared to us at the moment to be so much waste of time, trouble and energy. Instead of proceeding to the trenches that night according to programme, we got sudden orders to "embus" for Hill 60, in the Ypres Salient, to dig there under Royal Engineers' supervision for the 5th Division. The net result was that of the 600 who went, 400 dug for one-and-a-half hours, and 200 for three-quarters-of-an-hour, after which the party returned to Locre in the 'buses. The idea, doubtless, was a good one, as it was necessary to dig more trenches where part of our line had given way during the recent fighting, but the organisation of the work seemed to leave a good deal to be desired. It was the remnants of a Canadian Battalion returning from this fighting in the Salient shortly after midnight on one occasion, whilst we were back at Locre, which made us think we must have had more than an ordinary nightmare, for we awoke with a start to hear the strains of a brass band coming along the pave,—at 1 a.m. such a proceeding seemed decidedly strange. It was not long, however, before we found that all was well, and that it was our own Brigade Band playing the Canadians through the village. This was evidently appreciated by them, for one of their number in a letter to the Daily Telegraph, after describing the magic effect of the music on his men, concludes with the remark: "The Canadians will remember how the band of the Sherwood Foresters played them through the darkness at midnight out of 'Bloody Ypres.'"