In the Line, Neuf Berquin, 25th – 29th August 1918
“On August 24 we relieved the 5th Suffolks in the outpost line, which had remained stationary for several days. It lay upon the eastern fringe of Neuf Berquin, through whose scattered ruins one picked a way to find the posts. Headquarters were some distance back, but most wretchedly accommodated in an orchard close to a lonely brick-stack known as Itchin Farm. The German guns showed marked persistency, not actually against the holes which formed Headquarters, but all around. No area more dismal could be imagined than the flat, dyke-ridden country north of Merville. So
thoroughly had our artillery during the last four months plastered the ground behind his former lines that little scope had been left for the retreating frenzy of the enemy. By bombs and shells we had driven the Germans not only from such places as Merville and Neuf Berquin, but from the mere proximity to roads or houses. They had concealed themselves as best they could in ditches and narrow
tunnels made with corrugated iron or planks. The ‘Huns,’ indeed, had been meeting with their deserts. Their life in the Lys salient must have been a nightmare. One required only to read a few of the
notices displayed to realise the difference of life behind their line and ours. Everywhere appeared in big letters the word ‘Fliegerdeckung!’ i.e. cover from aircraft. No testimony more eloquent of British superiority could have been offered.
Further behind, round Estaires and La Gorgue, the Germans were busy blowing up and burning were their retreat ebbed back across the Lys. Black palls of smoke rose daily from where mills and factories were aflame. One day the tall church of Sailly had simply vanished; the next, one looked vainly for Estaires’ square tower. Often, when idly scanning the horizon or watching aeroplanes, eyes were arrested by huge jets which sprang into the air to become clouds as large as any in the sky.
Combining with this present orgy of destruction numerous booby- traps were left behind, whose action was delayed till our advance should provide victims for their murderous art. Cross-roads and
level-crossings especially ‘ went up,’ or were expected to, and so many houses were mined that it became impossible to rest secure in any. In fact, the 182nd Brigade ordered its men out of all buildings. Some measure of vile ingenuity must be accorded to the authors of these booby-traps; but whether bombs under beds or attached to
pump handles can be included in legitimate warfare is a case for judgment.
At short notice we attacked from Neuf Berquin on August 28. In some places the advance was quite successful, but in others not. German counter-attacks obliged A Company, which had made good progress south of the Neuf Berquin Estaires road in the morning, to withdraw its patrols at dusk. A few days later, however, the opposition lessened, and companies went forward several miles. Soon afterwards the 182nd Brigade took turn as the advanced guard, the Lys was reached and crossed, and presently patrols were
passing through the old ‘ posts ‘ and grass-grown breastworks which used to lie behind our front-line system. We followed, and for several days lived in reserve among the scattered farms and houses
north of Estaires, over the ruins of which Crosthwaite, an officer of mature service, who had just joined the Battalion, was appointed Town Major. His task was not entirely enviable. Houses, roofless or otherwise, had to be subdivided into safe, doubtful, or certain to ‘go up.’ I cannot help regarding this Flanders retreat as a subject supremely dull. The constant suspicion of mines and booby-traps rendered doubly sordid the polluted ruins which formed the landmarks of our advance. One feature alone provided interest to
some. We were approaching, from an odd direction as it seemed, the old area where the Battalion had first held its trenches. La Gorgue, Estaires, Laventie were places rich in association. How
much the two former were altered! La Gorgue, where in 1916 Divisional Headquarters and Railhead had been, was heaped in ugly ruin. Its ex- pensive church had been blown in two. Of Estaires proper little more than its charred walls remained. In such shape was victory passing into our hands.”
Story of the 2/5th Battalion the Gloucester Regiment 1914-1918
ed by A.F.Barnes
Format: 2003 N&M Press reprint (original pub 1930) 192pp with 39 b/w photos and 12 maps.
25th August 1918
“On August 25th the Battalion moved forward in support round the Plate Becque. The position was roughly the objective of the attack on the 11th. The Oxfords held a line in the neighbourhood of Neuf Berquin and moved forward considerably in their four days’ tour.”