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

Research and Resources around the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry during WWI

Archive for the category “February 1917”

1917, FEBRUARY 23rd – RELIEVED THE 2/4th ROYAL BERKSHIRE REGIMENT – ABLAINCOURT SECTOR

Ablaincourt Sector

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 the afternoon of February 23, we marched up to relieve the Berks. Near Foucaucourt the cookers gave us tea. There also we changed into gumboots. Guides met us at Estrées cross-roads, a trysting place possible only when dusk had fallen, and the lugubrious procession started along a tramway track among whose iron sleepers the men floundered considerably, partly from their precaution of choosing gumboots several sizes too large. On this occasion the usual stoppages and checks were multiplied by a brisk artillery ‘strafe’ upon the front, accompanied by all manner of coloured lights and rockets. The noise soon dying down we were able to continue a bad journey with men frequently becoming stuck and a few lost.

The Battalion relieved the 2/4th R. Berks in the left sub-section of the Ablaincourt sector. Dispositions : A Company on the left, C centre, D right, B in support.

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1917-02-23
Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire
Location France, Trenches Deniecourt
Entry Great artillery 7-45pm – 8-30pm. 1 OR killed 1 wounded. Battn relieved by 2/4th OXFORDS.

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1917, FEBRUARY 10th – REST BILLETS AT BRUCAMPS

Brucamps, February 10 1917 Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)  A sketch of a view from behind a few saplings and plants towards a village in the distance, with the middle ground largely empty of features.

Brucamps, February 10 1917
Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)
A sketch of a view from behind a few saplings and plants towards a village in the distance, with the middle ground largely empty of features.

1917, FEBRUARY 11th – REST BILLETS AT BRUCAMPS

Domart February 11th 1917 Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)  A view over the roofs and chimneys of the small town of Domart, with a tower dominating the skyline in the middle distance.

Domart
February 11th 1917
Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)
A view over the roofs and chimneys of the small town of Domart, with a tower dominating the skyline in the middle distance.

Domart-en-Ponthieu, February 11th 1917 Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)  A view across the rooftops of a small French town, with a tree standing in the right foreground and further trees in the distance.

Domart-en-Ponthieu, February 11th 1917
Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)
A view across the rooftops of a small French town, with a tree standing in the right foreground and further trees in the distance.

1917, FEBRUARY 15th – MARCHED FROM WIENCOURT TO RAINECOURT

Harbonnnieres Church, January 1st 1918

 

On February 15 the Battalion marched through Harbonnières, where the Major-General, Colin (John) Mackenzie (now Sir Colin, K.C.B.) was standing with a French General to see us pass, and on to Rainecourt. The latter village, where the Battalion was billeted, improved on acquaintance. It had lain some 3-1/2 miles behind the old Somme front and had suffered a good deal from German shells. French industry and French materials had, since the advance, converted damaged barns and houses into quite good billets.

1917, FEBRUARY 28th – BOMBARDMENT OF THE LINES AND THEN A GERMAN RAID

 Ablaincourt Sector

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

Morning and afternoon of the next day, February 28, were fine and ominously quiet. Excessive quietness was often no good sign. Presentiments could have been justified. At 4.15 p.m. a strong barrage of trench mortars and rifle grenades began to beat upon the front line, accompanied by heavy artillery fire against communication and support trenches and the back area. This sequel to the previous registration clearly indicated some form of attack by the enemy. The rhythmic pounding of the heavy howitzers, whose shells were arriving with the regular persistency of a barrage table, suggested that a long bombardment, probably until after dusk, was intended. Under such circumstances it was the part of the Company Commander to ‘stand to’ and await events with the utmost vigilance. This never meant that the men should be ordered out into the trenches and the fire-steps manned, for to do so would have invited heavy casualties and demoralised the garrison before the opportunity for active resistance had arrived. To keep look-out by sentries, to watch for any lifting in the barrage, and to maintain communication with H.Q. and with the flanks were the measures required. Otherwise, except to destroy maps and papers, there was nothing to do but wait, for only in the most clumsily organised shows did the other side know zero. On this occasion, at the moment the German raiding party came over, a patrol consisting of Corporal Coles and Timms had only just returned from D Company front line. They said that though the shelling was heavy immediately behind and on the flanks, the wire was intact and there was no sign of attack. At dusk, therefore, there was nothing save the heavy shelling to report to Cuthbert over my telephone, which by luck held until cut by German wire-cutters.

Within a few minutes, shouts and a few rifle shots were heard, and the next moment bombs were being thrown into my dug-out.

The lights went out and the interior became filled with fumes, groans, and confusion.

A German raiding party had penetrated C Company, seized the front line, which was a bare 80 yards from my H.Q., and, without touching my own front (which indeed was 200 yards distant and to the flank), had picketed my dug-out, and awaited their haul of prisoners.

Now, a bombed dug-out is the last word in ‘unhealthiness.’ It ranks next to a rammed submarine or burning aeroplane. For several minutes I awaited death or wounds with a degree of certainty no soldier ever felt in an attack. But in such emergencies instinct, which, more than the artificial training of the mind, asserts itself, arms human beings with a natural cunning for which civilization provides no scope. Life proverbially is not cheap to its owner.

That everyone inside was not killed instantly was due, no doubt, both to the sloping character of the stairs, which made some bombs explode before they reached the bottom, and to the small size of the bombs themselves. A gas bomb finished the German side of the argument. Hunt’s useful knowledge of German commenced the answer. We ‘surrendered.’ I went upstairs at once and saw three Germans almost at touching distance. In place of a docile prisoner they received four revolver shots, after which I left as soon as possible under a shower of bombs and liquid fire. Shortly afterwards, but too late to follow me, Hunt also came forth and found the enemy had vanished. Afterwards the Sergeant Major and Uzzell, sanitary lance-corporal, who on this occasion showed the genius of a field marshal, emerged and prevented the return of our late visitors.

After an hour’s struggle through mud and barrage I reached the two platoons in Trench Roumains, who (I mention this as a good paradox of trench discipline) were engaged in sock-changing and foot-rubbing according to time table! From there the counter-attack described in Sir Douglas Haig’s dispatch of March 1st was carried out. I fear this ‘counter-attack’ was better in his telling than in the doing, for the Germans had already decamped an hour before, taking with them Lieutenant Guildford and some 20 prisoners from C Company, several Lewis guns, and their own casualties.

Against a front line crowded with untried troops (I refer to the new draft of which the platoons holding C Company front line were principally composed) a well-planned raid powerfully pressed home under a severe box barrage and assisted by gas and liquid fire, was almost bound to succeed. The mud, strange trenches and weak artillery support were other factors for which allowance might have been made before such degree of blame was laid upon the Battalion as was seen fit for it to receive. The only cure for being raided is to raid back. That was happily done exactly two months later against the very regiment to which the German raiding party on this occasion belonged. Nor was it true that the enemy was not fought with. Some parties which attacked Brown’s front were, under the able example of that officer, driven off with Lewis guns, and D Company, whose loss in prisoners was nil, also maintained its front intact. Casualties were inflicted on the enemy, but these mostly regained their own lines or were carried back by stretcher parties. Our loss in killed that night amounted to some twenty. The story of this raid I should not have allowed to reach this length but for the fact that the affair created some stir at the time, and correspondence raged on the subject till long afterwards. Hunt, who was with me during the bombardment and the bombing of my H.Q., was not captured on emerging from the dug-out, but himself, some hour or more afterwards, while wandering among the blown-in trenches in an effort to follow me, entered a German listening post and became a prisoner. As a prisoner he was present at a German H.Q. when the details of an exactly similar raid upon a neighbouring division were being arranged; which raid proved for the enemy an equal success.

The aftermath of this fighting proved a trying experience. The dug-out to which I returned to spend the remainder of the tour was a shambles. The stairs were drenched with blood. Of my companions, Thompson, a signaller, Timms, Smith (Hunt’s servant, a fine lad) and Corporal Coles–one of the bravest and most devoted N.C.O.’s the Battalion ever had–were dead or died soon afterwards. Longford and Bugler Wright were severely wounded. Longley and Short had escaped before the first bombs exploded in the dug-out, but the remaining survivors, the Sergeant-Major, Lance Corporal Rowbotham, Roberts and myself were all partially gassed and hardly responsible for further action. Under these circumstances the task of carrying-on involved a strain, lessened, as always on such occasions, by management of everything for the best by Battalion Headquarters.

KILLED IN ACTION FEBRUARY 28th 1917

201534 Corporal Henry Coles

200453 Private Arthur Church

203732 Private Frank Dann (Formerly 20275, Hants Regt.)

203258 Private Alfred George Eno

202370 Private William Gibbons

200350 Private Edward Leach

200844 Private Walter Smith

202162 Private Trainton Thomas Whiting

Enemy bombardment of our lines very severe for 3 ½ hours, and at 6.15 p.m. they raided our trenches, penetrating the centre company front. A counter attack was organized, and the enemy driven out, but not before he had inflicted heavy casualties, as follows: Officers, wounded, 2nd Lieut. Constable; missing, 2nd Lieuts. Guildford and Hunt. Other ranks, killed 6, wounded 18, missing 19. 2nd Lieut. Guildford was captured, together with some 20 men of C Company, in a dug-out in a front line trench less than 100 yards from the enemy’s lines. 2nd Lieut. Hunt was with Captain Rose and D Company when their dug-out was raided. He was wounded by a bomb, losing a finger, but escaped from the dug-out, only, however, to walk into a German listening post and be taken prisoner.

Died of Wounds February 28th, 1917

2nd Lieutenant, Arthur Charles Fry

Fry died at the age of 24 at No. 5 Casualty Clearing Station in France of wounds received in action at Ablaincourt on 28 February 1917, and is buried at Bray Military Cemetery at Bray-sur-Somme (I.C.16). He was listed as dead in The Times of 7 March 1917.

1917, FEBRUARY 27th – UNDER ENEMY BOMBARDMENT FOR FOUR HOURS IN ABLAINCOURT TRENCHES

Ablaincourt Sector

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 the morning of February 27 German howitzer batteries commenced some heavy shelling on the Battalion sector, especially on the communication trenches passing under the former French titles of B.C.4 and B.C.5. Working parties who were busy digging out mud from those trenches were compelled to desist. At 10 o’clock I heard that Fry, the commander of No. 16 Platoon, had been hit by shrapnel on his way from Company H.Q. to the Sucrerie. To get him to the nearest shelter (C Company H.Q.) was difficult through the mud, and uncomfortable enough with 5.9s coming down close to the trench, but the men, as always, played up splendidly to assist a comrade.

Soon afterwards, the doctor, in answer to a telephonic summons, appeared at my H.Q. On our way to reach Fry we were both knocked down in the trench by a 4.2, which also wounded Corporal Rockall in the shoulder-blade. I regret that Fry, though safely moved from the trenches the same night, had received a mortal wound. In him died a fine example of the platoon officer. He met his wound in the course of a trivial duty which, had I guessed that he would do it under heavy shelling, I should have forbidden him to undertake. His type of bravery, though it wears no decorations, is distinguished, more than all other, by the unwritten admiration of the Infantry.

During that night I had a peculiar and interesting task. It was to report on the condition of all roads leading through our front line across No-Man’s-Land. Mud, battle and frost had so combined to disguise all former roads and tracks, that to decide their whereabouts it was often necessary to follow them forward from behind by means of map and compass. Seen by pale moonlight, these derelict roads, in places pitted with huge craters or flanked by shattered trees, wore a mysterious charm. More eloquent of catastrophe than those thrown down by gale or struck by lightning are trees which shells have hit direct and sent, splintered, in headlong crash from the ranks of an avenue. If wood and earth could speak, what tales the sunken roads of France could find to tell!

The enemy bombarded our trenches for four hours. Casualties.

—  2nd Lieut. A. C. Fry mortally wounded (died next day) and 2 men wounded.

In 1916 Arthur Charles Fry was Fry was well enough to enter an Officers’ Training Battalion, from which he received a commission in the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, and went to France on 5 January 1917 as a Second Lieutenant in “D” Company of the 2nd/4th Battalion; a month later he was killed. A fellow officer described him thus:

During the short time he was in the line he did extremely well. His Company Commander told me that it was perfectly extraordinary how quick he took to everything, and he went so far as to say that he was the best Platoon Commander he had had … he was most popular with his Platoon … and an awfully keen soldier…. In the line he was awfully good and brave, did not care a rap for bullet or shell, and was always with his men if there was a bombardment on, walking about amongst them cracking jokes and cheering them on, and the men admired him and thought of him as a little god. It was a chance shell that hit him, and he lay for hours in an Officers’ dug-out before they could take him to the Field Ambulance and then to hospital, where he died on March 1st.

1917, FEBRUARY 26th – IN THE TRENCHES AT ABLAINCOURT

Ablaincourt Sector

Our guns shelled the enemy line, but there was no retaliation.

1917, FEBRUARY 25th – IN THE TRENCHES AT ABLAINCOURT

Ablaincourt Sector

1 man killed and 1 wounded.

Killed in Action February 25th, 1917

203517 Private Walter John Reading (Formerly 2744, R. Bucks Hussars)

1917, February 24th – RELIEVED THE 2/4th BERKS – ABLAINCOURT SECTOR

Ablaincourt Sector   The relief was not over until nearly dawn, by when the last Berks had left and our worst stragglers been collected. The Battalion took over a three-company front. Brown with A Company guarded the left. Robinson with C (containing a large proportion of a recent draft now paying its first visit to the trenches) was in the centre, and D Company on the right. Some 500 yards behind our front lay the Ablaincourt Sucrerie, a dismal heap of polluted ruins, like all sugar factories the site of desperate fighting. Ablaincourt itself, a village freely mentioned in French dispatches during the Somme battle, was the very symbol of depressing desolation. Péronne, eight miles to the north-east, was out of view. Save for the low ridge of Chaulnes, whence the German gunners watched, and the shattered barn-roofs of Marchélepot–the former on our right, the latter directly to our front–the scene was mud, always mud, stretching appallingly to the horizon. Most of the trenches being deep in mud or water, parties were engaged day and night in clearing up. All companies in the line sent out patrols at night.

1917, FEBRUARY 22nd – RECONNOITRING THE NEW FRONT LINE AT ABLAINCOURT

Ablaincourt Sector

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

It is morning of February 22, 1917. Colonel Bellamy and his four company commanders are setting out to reconnoitre the new front line. Guides are to meet us at Deniécourt Château, a heap of chalk slabs and old bricks, beneath which are Brigade Headquarters. To reach this rendez-vous_ we pass through Foucaucourt and then along a corduroy road through Deniécourt Wood to the village of that name. The wood has been fought through and but few branches remain on the trees, whose trunks, like so many untidy telegraph poles, rise to various heights from the upheaval of shell-holes and undergrowth. Dismal surroundings on a dismal morning, for the frost has relented for several days and already sides of trenches are collapsing (flop go the chunks into the water!) and on top the ground is loading one’s boots at every step.

We change into gumboots in an old cellar and our journey commences. See the Colonel, Cuthbert, Marcon, Brown, Stockton, Robinson and myself lead off down a communication trench behind a guide, pledged to take us to the Berks Headquarters. The going is desperate–water up to our knees; however, each hundred yards brings our goal nearer, and it can hardly be like this all the way. We come to a trench junction, and our guide turns left-handed; presently another–the guide knows the way and again turns to the left. Confound the mud! If we do not get there soon we shall never be home for lunch … but we do not get there soon. The guide, always protesting that he knows the way, has led us in a circle and here we are whence we started an hour ago!

After such well-meaning mockery of our efforts, a route ‘over the top’ is tried. Soon we are outside Battalion Headquarters of the Berks. Whilst we are there, German gas shelling starts–a few rounds of phosgene–and helmets require to be adjusted. It is not everybody’s helmet that fits, this being the first real occasion on which some officers have worn them. There is some laughing to see the strictest censor of a gas helmet (or its absence) in difficulties with his own, when the moment for its adjustment has arrived.

The company commanders duly separate to go up to their own sections of the front. They see the ‘posts,’ or any of them that can be visited in daylight, make notes of local details affecting the relief, and so home independently.

Billets never seemed so comfortable or attractive as on the night preceding a relief. Perhaps they would have seemed more so had the Battalion known, what luckily it could not, that an unpleasant tour was in store, and that afterwards, with the enemy in retreat, there would be no more billets until the summer.

From the War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1917-02-22
Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire
Location France, Trenches Deniecourt
Entry Greater artillery activity. 1 OR wounded (gas).

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