Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (The 2/4th Battalion)

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Archive for the category “December 1916”

1916, DECEMBER 1st – EIGHT MILE MARCH TO HUTS IN MARTINSART WOOD

Martinsart Camp Huts

Martinsart Camp Huts

 From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by Captain G. K. Rose M.C. (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1920)

Marched back to huts in Martinsart Wood. This march of eight miles, coming after a four days’ tour in wet trenches under conditions of open warfare, proved a trying experience. For four miles the path lay along a single duckboard track, capsized or slanting in many places, and the newly-made Nab Road, to which it led, was hardly better. A number of men fell from exhaustion, while others, their boots having worn completely through before entering the trenches, were in no state to compete with such a distance. After passing Wellington Huts and through Aveluy the going became easier, until at last the area of our big guns was reached and, adjoining it, the ‘rest billets.’ The latter consisted of unfloored huts built of tarred felt and surrounded by mud only less bad than in the trenches. Our lights and noise scared the rats, which infested the camp. The relief and march occupied until 4 a.m., and were succeeded by mist and frost. The concussion of our neighbours, the 6-inch naval guns, echoed among the trees, heralding the first of December, 1916.

1916, NOVEMBER 29th – HEAVY BARRAGE ON REGINA TRENCH

Trenches Near Grandcourt November and Dececember 1916

From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by Captain G. K. Rose M.C. (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1920)

At 5 p.m. on November 29, 1916, the Germans opened a heavy barrage with howitzers on the front line, giving every indication of impending attack. Regina Trench, where were the headquarters of C and D, the companies then holding the line, was also heavily shelled, and telephonic communication with the rear was soon cut. On such occasions it was always difficult to decide whether or not to send up the S.O.S — on the one hand unnecessary appeal to our artillery to fire on S.O.S. lines was deprecated, on the other, no forward commander could afford to guess that a mere demonstration was on foot; for the appearance of attacking infantry followed immediately on a lifting of the barrage, a symptom in itself often difficult to recognise. On this occasion I intended and attempted to send up a coloured rocket, but its stick became stuck between the sides of the dug-out shaft and, by the time the efforts of Sergeant Collett had prepared the rocket for firing, the barrage died down as suddenly as it had started. This very commonplace episode illustrates the routine of this phase of warfare. The trenches were, of course, blown in and some Lewis guns damaged, but, as frequently, few casualties occurred.

While speaking of the life furthest forward I do not forget the very similar conditions, allowing for the absence of enemy machine-guns and snipers, which prevailed at Battalion Headquarters. Confined to a dug-out (a smaller replica of Regina) in Hessian Trench, with a continual stream of reports to receive and instructions to send out, and being continually rung up on the telephone, Colonel Bellamy and Cuthbert had their hands full, and opportunities for rest, if not for refreshment, were very limited. Nor do I omit our runners from the fullest share in the dangers and activities of this time.

Under battle-conditions life at one remove from the front line was rarely much more agreeable than in the line itself, and was less provided with those compensations which existed for the Infantryman near the enemy. It was necessary to go back to Divisional Headquarters to find any substantial difference or to live an ordered life on a civilised footing; and there, too, responsibility had increased by an even ratio. The Battalion Transport during this time was stationed at Martinsart and its task, along bad roads, in bringing up rations each day was not a light one.

KILLED IN ACTION NOVEMBER 29th 1916

4106 Private William Wilsdon

1916, DECEMBER 16th – WORKING PARTY NEAR MOUQUET FARM

 

The Remains of Mouquet Farm, October 1916

The Remains of Mouquet Farm, October 1916

From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by Captain G. K. Rose M.C. (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1920)

I take December 16–a Saturday. My company was warned for working party last night, so at 6 a.m. we get up, dress, and, after a hurried breakfast, parade in semi-darkness. As the outing is not a popular one and reduction in numbers is resented by the R.E., the roll is called by Sergeant Major Brooks (recently back from leave and in the best of early morning tempers) amid much coughing and scuffling about in the ranks. At 7 a.m. we start our journey towards the scene of labour, some 80 strong (passing for 100). We go first along a broad-gauge railway line (forbidden to be used for foot traffic) and afterwards through Aveluy and past Crucifix Corner to near Mouquet Farm.

After a trivial delay of perhaps 40 minutes, the D.C.L.I. or 479 have observed our arrival and tools are counted out and issued, the homely pick and shovel. The task is pleasantly situated about 150 yards in front of several batteries of our field guns (which open fire directly we are in position) and consists in relaxing duckboards, excavating the submerged sleepers of a light railway or digging the trench for a buried cable.

Perhaps the work only requires 50, not 100 (nor even 80) men. Very well! It is a pity those others came, but here are a thousand sandbags to fill, and there a pile of logs dumped in the wrong place last night, so let them get on with it! For six hours we remain steadily winning the war in this manner and mildly wondering at the sense of things and whether the Germans will shell the batteries just behind our work–until, without hooter or whistle, the time to break off has arrived. By 3 p.m. the party is threading its way back, and as darkness falls once more reaches the camp. Cries of ‘Dinner up’ and ‘Tea up’ resound through the huts, and all is eating and shouting.

SIDE NOTE: Ivor Gurney of the 2/5th Gloucester Regiment wrote the following poem about Crucifix Corner.

Crucifix Corner

There was a water dump there, and regimental
Carts came every day to line up and fill full
Those rolling tanks with chlorinated clear mixture;
And curse the mud with vain veritable vexture.
Aveluy across the valley, billets, shacks, ruins,
With time and time a crump there to mark doings.
On New Year’s Eve the marsh glowed tremulous
With rosy mist still holding late marvellous
Sun-glow, the air smelt home; the time breathed home.
Noel not put away; new term not yet come,
All things said ‘Severn’, the air was full of those calm meadows;
Transport rattled somewhere in the southern shadows;
Stars that were not strange ruled the most quiet high
Arch of soft sky, starred and most grave to see, most high.
What should break that but gun-noise or last Trump?
But neither came. At sudden, with light jump
Clarinet sang into ‘Hundred Pipers and A”,
Aveluy’s Scottish answered with pipers true call
‘Happy we’ve been a’together.’ When nothing
Stayed of war-weariness or winter’s loathing,
Crackers with Christmas stockings hung in the heavens,
Gladness split discipline in sixes and sevens,
Hunger ebb’d magically mixed with strange leavens;
Forgotten, forgotten the hard time’s true clothing,
And stars were happy to see Man making Fate plaything.

 

 

 

1916, DECEMBER 25th – CHRISTMAS DAY IN FRONTLINE TRENCHES NEAR GRANDCOURT

Trenches Near Grandcourt November and Dececember 1916

 From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by Captain G. K. Rose M.C. (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1920)

The Battalion spent December 25, 1916, in the trenches under some of the worst conditions that even a war Christmas could bring. Christmas dinners were promised and afterwards held when we were in rest.

As in previous years, our army circulars had forbidden any fraternisation with the enemy. Though laughed at, these were resented by the Infantry in the line, who at this stage lacked either wish or intention to join hands with the German, or lapse into a truce with him. On the other hand, a day’s holiday from the interminable sounds of shelling would have been appreciated, and casualties on Christmas Day struck a note of tragedy. This want of sagacity on the part of our higher staff, as if our soldiers could not be trusted to fight or keep their end up as well on Christmas as any other day, was a reminder of those differences on which it is no object of this history to touch.

1916, DECEMBER 24th – RELIEVED THE 2/4th ROYAL BERKSHIRE REGIMENT IN THE FRONT LINE ON CHRISTMAS EVE

 Trenches Near Grandcourt November and Dececember 1916

From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by Captain G. K. Rose M.C. (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1920)

On Christmas Eve, 1916, the Battalion relieved the front line. Brown and Davenport took their companies to Desire and Regina. Battalion Headquarters had an improved position at Zollern Redoubt, and their old dug-out in Hessian was left to D Company Headquarters. Robinson with C Company was also in Hessian, to the left of D. His headquarters possessed plenty of depth but neither height nor breadth. The dug-out entrance was the size of a large letter-box and nearly level with the trench floor.

After the march up, the remainder of the night was devoted to the trying process of ‘getting touch.’ This meant finding the neighbouring sentry-posts on each flank–an important duty, for the Germans usually knew the date and sometimes the hour of our reliefs and the limits of frontage held by different units (we naturally were similarly informed about the enemy). For reasons of security no relief could be held complete before not only our own men were safely in but our flanks were established by touch with neighbouring posts.

In the course of the very relief I have mentioned, a platoon of one battalion reached the front line but remained lost for more than a day. It could neither get touch with others nor others with it. ‘Getting touch’ seemed easy on a map and was often done in statements over the telephone. Tangible relations were more difficult and efforts to obtain them often involved most exasperating situations, for whole nights could be spent meandering in search of positions, which in reality were only a few hundred yards distant. Total absence of guiding landmarks was freely remarked as the most striking characteristic of this part of the Somme area. I refer only to night movement, for by day there were always distant objects to steer by, and the foreground, seemingly a cratered wilderness of mud, to the trained eye wore a multitude of significant objects.

My last topic introduces the regimental guide. Guides performed some of the hardest and most responsible work of the war. Staff work could at time be botched or boggled without ill-effects; for mistakes by guides some heavy penalty was paid. Whenever a relief took place, men to lead up the incoming unit into the positions it was to occupy were sent back, usually one per platoon, or, in cases of difficult relief and when platoon strengths were different, one per sentry-post. Guides rarely received much credit when reliefs went well, but always the blame when they went ill. The private soldiers, who guided our troops into trench and battle, played a greater part in winning the war than any record has ever confessed.

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1916-12-24

Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire

Location France, Trenches

Entry Battn relieved by 2/4 OXFORDS – 1 Coy in support MOUQUET FARM, 1 Coy in dug outs at R26.b.5 9 R26a.27 and R32,g.8 and 2 Coys to WELLINGTON HUTS. Capt Bennett (OXFORDS) returned to his Bn. Draft of 76 arrived.

1916, DECEMBER 2nd – MARCH FROM MARTINSART TO HEDAUVILLE

2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Movements November & December 1916

From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by Captain G. K. Rose M.C. (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1920)

On December 2, 1916, the Battalion moved from Martinsart to Hedauville, on its way passing through Englebelmer, the home of one of our 15-inch howitzers, but no longer of its civilian inhabitants. The march was regulated by Pym, the new Brigade Major, who had replaced Gepp a few days before. The latter had proved himself a most efficient staff officer, and his departure to take up a higher appointment was regretted by everybody. Hedauville was an indifferent village, but our billets were not bad. Brigade Headquarters were at the château. One heard much about the habitual occupation of the French châteaux by our staffs during the war. On this particular occasion the Brigade had only two or three rooms at its disposal, and on many others would be licencees of only a small portion of such buildings. The 184th Infantry Brigade Staff was always most solicitous about the comfort of battalions, and its efforts secured deserved appreciation from all ranks.

DIED OF WOUNDS DECEMBER 2nd 1916

4498 Private William James Crabbe

1916, DECEMBER 1st – EIGHT MILE MARCH TO HUTS IN MARTINSART WOOD

SCENES ON THE WESTERN FRONT, PHOTOGRAPHED BY COLONEL R D PERCEVAL-MAXWELL, 1916-1917. part of "PERCEVAL-MAXWELL R D (COLONEL THE RT. HON.)" (photographs) 1916-06 Wooden huts of the 36th (Ulster) Division camp in Martinsart Wood.

SCENES ON THE WESTERN FRONT, PHOTOGRAPHED BY COLONEL R D PERCEVAL-MAXWELL, 1916-1917.
part of “PERCEVAL-MAXWELL R D (COLONEL THE RT. HON.)” (photographs) 1916-06
Wooden huts of the 36th (Ulster) Division camp in Martinsart Wood.

From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by Captain G. K. Rose M.C. (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1920)

Marched back to huts in Martinsart Wood. This march of eight miles, coming after a four days’ tour in wet trenches under conditions of open warfare, proved a trying experience. For four miles the path lay along a single duckboard track, capsized or slanting in many places, and the newly-made Nab Road, to which it led, was hardly better. A number of men fell from exhaustion, while others, their boots having worn completely through before entering the trenches, were in no state to compete with such a distance. After passing Wellington Huts and through Aveluy the going became easier, until at last the area of our big guns was reached and, adjoining it, the ‘rest billets.’ The latter consisted of unfloored huts built of tarred felt and surrounded by mud only less bad than in the trenches. Our lights and noise scared the rats, which infested the camp. The relief and march occupied until 4 a.m., and were succeeded by mist and frost. The concussion of our neighbours, the 6-inch naval guns, echoed among the trees, heralding the first of December, 1916.

SCENES ON THE WESTERN FRONT, PHOTOGRAPHED BY COLONEL R D PERCEVAL-MAXWELL, 1916-1917. part of "PERCEVAL-MAXWELL R D (COLONEL THE RT. HON.)" (photographs) 1916-06 The camouflaged Officer's Mess tent at the 36th (Ulster) Division camp in Martinsart Wood.

SCENES ON THE WESTERN FRONT, PHOTOGRAPHED BY COLONEL R D PERCEVAL-MAXWELL, 1916-1917.
part of “PERCEVAL-MAXWELL R D (COLONEL THE RT. HON.)” (photographs) 1916-06
The camouflaged Officer’s Mess tent at the 36th (Ulster) Division camp in Martinsart Wood.

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