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

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The Divisions Involved in the Battle of Hazebrouck, 12th – 15th April, 1918

The Battle of Hazebrouck, 12 – 15 April 1918

First Army (Horne)
I Corps (Holland)
3rd Division, fought in the defence of Hinges Ridge
4th Division, fought in the defence of Hinges Ridge
55th (West Lancashire) Division
3rd Brigade of 1st Division.
XI Corps (Haking)
5th Division, fought in the defence of Nieppe Forest
50th (Northumbrian) Division
61st (2nd South Midland) Division.
XV Corps (Du Cane) transferred to Second Army at noon on 12 April 1918
29th Division, less 88th Brigade, fought in the defence of Nieppe Forest
31st Division, fought in the defence of Nieppe Forest
33rd Division
40th Division
1st Australian Division, fought in the defence of Nieppe Forest
Composite Force, comprising personnel from Ii and XXII Corps Schools, 2nd New Zealand Entrenching Battalion, two companies of the 18th Middlesex Regiment and the XXIII Corps Reinforcement Battalion.

The sixth Despatch of Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, Commander in Chief of the British Armies in France and Flanders. This was a very long despatch covering the winter operations preceding the German offensives, the 21 March 1918 attack and subsequent developments (Operation Michael), the Battles of the Lys (Operation Georgette) and the Battle of Villers-Bretonneux.

“The Fall of Merville.
(56) On the morning of the 11th April the enemy recommenced his attacks on the whole front, and again made progress. Between Givenchy and the Lawe River the successful resistance of the past two days was maintained against repeated assaults. Between Locon and Estaires the enemy, on the previous evening, had established a footing on the west bank of the river in the neighbourhood of Fosse. In this area and northwards to Lestrem he continued to push westwards, despite the vigorous resistance of our troops. At Estaires, the troops of the 5th Division, tired and reduced in numbers by (the exceptionally heavy fighting of the previous three weeks and threatened on their right flank by the enemy’s advance south of the Lys, were heavily engaged. After holding their positions with great gallantry during the morning, they were slowly pressed back in the direction of Merville. The enemy employed large forces on this front in close formation, and the losses inflicted by our rifle and machine-gun fire were unusually heavy. Our own troops, however, were not in sufficient numbers to hold up his advance, and as they fell back and their front gradually extended, gaps formed in the line. Through these gaps bodies of German infantry worked their way forward, and at 6 p.m. had reached Neuf Berquin. Other parties of the enemy pushed on along the north bank of the Lys Canal and entered Merville. As it did not appear possible to clear the town without fresh forces, which were not yet available, it was decided to withdraw behind the small stream which runs just west of the town. This withdrawal was successfully carried out during the evening.

The Withdrawal from Nieppe and Hill 63.
(57) Heavy fighting took place on the remainder of the front south of Armentieres, and the enemy made some progress. In this sector, however, certain reinforcements had come into action, and in the evening a counter-attack carried out by troops of the 31st Division, recently arrived from the southern battle-field, regained the hamlets of Le Verrier and La Becque. Meanwhile, north of Armentieres strong hostile attacks had developed towards midday and were pressed vigorously in the direction of Nieppe and Neuve Eglise. In the afternoon, fierce fighting itook place about Messines, which the enemy had regained. Beyond this, his troops were not able to push .their advance, being checked and driven back by a counterattack by the South African Brigade. South of Hollebeke the 9th Division had again been heavily attacked during the morning, but had held their positions. Owing to the progress made by the enemy in the Ploegsteert sector, the position of the 34th Division at Nieppe, where .they had beaten off a determined attack during the morning, became untenable. Accordingly, in the early part of the nigiht our troops at Nieppe fell back under orders to the neighbourhood of Pont d’Achelles. Still further ,to shorten our line and economise men, our troops between Pont d’Achelles and Wytschaete were withdrawn to positions about 1,000 yards east of Neuve Eglise and Wulverghem. This withdrawal involved the abandonment of Hill 63 and of the positions still iheld by us about Messines.

The Southern Flank steady.
(58) Though our troops had not been able to prevent the enemy’s entry imto Merville, their vigorous resistance, combined with the maintenance of our positions at Givenchy and Festubert, had given an opportunity for reinforcements to build up our line in this sector. As troops of the 3rd, 4th, 5th, 31st, 61st and 1st Australian Divisions began to arrive, the southern portion of ithe battle front gradually became steady. Time was still required, however, to complete our dispositions, and for the next two days tihe situation in this area remained critical. A sudden attack just before dawn on the 12th April broke through the left centre of the 51st Division about Paoaut and Riez du Vinage, and but for the gallantry and resource of two batteries of the 255th Brigade, R.F.A., commanded respectively by Major L. N. Davidson, D.S.O., and Major F. C. Jack, M.C., might have enabled the enemy to cross the La Bassee Canal. Each of these batteries as it retired left a gun within 500 yards of the canal and, assisted by a party of gunners who held the drawbridge with rifles, worked with them to such good purpose .that the en-emy’s advance was stopped. The 3rd Division was already in action on the right of the 51st Division about Locon where, though forced ito fall back a short distance, our troops inflicted very heavy casualties upon an enemy greatly superior in numbers. On the left of the 51st Division, tihe 61st Division was coming into action about the Clarence River. Both ithe 3rd and the 61st Divisions had been engaged in many days of continuous fighting south of Arras; but with the arrival of these troops, battle-weary though they were, the enemy’s progress in this sector of the front was definitely checked. At Merville also, our troops, though compelled to give ground somewhat during the morning, thereafter maintained themselves successfully.

The Thrust towards Hazebrouck.
(59) Meanwhile, a situation which threatened to become serious had arisen north of Merville. At about 8 a.m. the enemy attacked in great strength on a front extending from south of the Estaires-Vieux Berquin Road to the neighbourhood of Steenwerck. After very lieavy fighting, in the course of which, the 1st Battalion Royal Guernsey Light Infantry, 29th Division, Major-General D. E. Cayley, C.M.G., commanding the division, did gallant service, he succeeded in the afternoon in overcoming the resistance of our troops about Doulieu and La Becque, forcing them- back in a north-westerly direction. As the result of this movement, a gap was formed in our line .south-west of Bailleul, and bodies of the- enemy who had forced their way through seized Outtersteene and Merris. In the evening a brigade of the 33rd Division, Major-General R. J. Pinney, C.B., commanding the division, with a body of Cyclists, a Pioneer battalion, and every available man from schools and reinforcement camps, came into action in this sector. On their left, troops of the 25th, 34th, and 49th Divisions, Major-General N. J. G. Cameron, C.B., C.M.G., commanding the last mentioned division, though heavily attacked, maintained their positions to the south and south-east of Bailleul, and before midnight our line had been reformed.

Next day, the enemy followed up his attacks with great vigour and the troops of the 29th and 31st Divisions, now greatly reduced in strength by the severe fighting already experienced and strung out over a front of nearly 10,000 yards east of the Foret de Nieppe, were once more tried to the utmost. Behind them the 1st Australian Division, under command of Major-General Sir H. B. Walker, K.C.B., D..S.O. was in process of detraining, and the troops were told that the line was to be held at all costs, until the detrainment could be completed. During the morning, which was very foggy, several determined attacks, in which a German armoured car came into action against the 4th Guards Brigade on the southern portion of our line, were repulsed with great loss to the enemy. After the failure of these assaults, he brought up field guns to point blank range, and in the northern sector with their aid gained Vieux Berquin. Everywhere except at Vieux Berquin, the enemy’s advance was held up all day by desperate fighting, in which our advanced posts displayed the greatest gallantry, maintaining their ground when entirely surrounded, men standing back to back in the trenches and shooting to front and rear. In the afternoon the enemy made a further determined effort, and by sheer weight of numbers forced his way through the gaps in our depleted line, the surviving garrisons of our posts fighting where they stood to the last with bullet and bayonet. The heroic resistance of these troops, however, had given the leading brigades of the 1st Australian Division time to reach and organise their appointed line east of the Foret de Nieppe. These now took up the fight and the way to Hazebrouck was definitely closed.

The performance of all the troops engaged in this most gallant stand, and especially that of the 4th Guards Brigade, on whose front of some 4,000 yards the heaviest attacks fell, is worthy of the highest praise. No more brilliant exploit has taken place since the opening of the enemy’s offensive, though gallant actions have been without number. The action of these troops, and indeed of all the divisions engaged in the fighting in the Lys Valley, is the more noteworthy because, as already pointed out, practically the whole of them had been brought straight out of the Somme battlefield, were they had suffered severely and had been subjected to a great strain. All these divisions, without adequate rest and filled with young reinforcements which they had had no time to assimilate, were again hurriedly thrown into the fight and, in spite of the great disadvantages under which they laboured, succeeded in holding up the advance of greatly superior forces of fresh troops. Such an accomplishment reflects the greatest credit on the youth of Great Britain, as well as upon those responsible for the training of the young soldiers sent out from home at this time.

The Struggle for Neuve Eglise.
(60) On the afternoon of the 12th April sharp fighting had taken place in the neighbourhood of Neuve Eglise, and during the night the enemy’s pressure in this sector had been maintained and extended. By the morning of the 13th April his troops had forced their way into the village, but before noon were driven out by troops of the 33rd and 49th Divisions by a most successful counter-attack in which a number of prisoners were taken. In the coarse of this day, also, a succession of heavy attacks were driven off with great loss to the enemy, by the 33rd and 34th Divisions about Meteren and La Creche. In the evening further attacks developed on this front and at Neuve Eglise. The pressure exercised by the enemy was very great and bodies of German infantry, having forced their way in between La Creche and Neuve Eglise, began a strong encircling- movement against the left of the 34th Division north and east of the former village.

During the early part of the night our troops maintained their positions, but before dawn on the 14th April withdrew under orders to a line in front of the high ground known as the Ravelsburg Heights between Bailleul and Neuve Eglise, the enemy having been too severely handled to interfere. At Neuve Eglise the enemy again forced his way into the village, and heavy and confused fighting took place throughout the night. A party of the 2nd Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment, 33rd Division, maintained themselves in the Mairie until 2.0 p.m. on the 14th April, and during the morning of this day other troops of the same division were reported to have cleared the village with bombs. The enemy persisted in his attacks, however, and by midnight Neuve Eglise was definitely in his possessfon. Other attacks delivered on the 14th April between Neuve Eglise and Bailleul and south-east of Meteren were repulsed. Farther south, local fighting had taken place meanwhile both on the 13th and 14th April at a number of points between Givenchy and the Foret de Nieppe. In these encounters the enemy had met with no success. On the other hand, a local operation carried out by the 4th Division on the evening of the 14th April resulted in the recapture of Riez du Vinage with 150 prisoners.

The Capture of Bailleul.
(61) On the morning of the 15th April the 19th Division repulsed hostile attacks about Wytschaete. Late in the afternoon fresh assaults in great strength, in which the Alpine Corps and two other fresh German divisions were engaged, developed against Bailleul and the Ravelsberg Heights. After heavy fighting the enemy gained a footing on the eastern end of the high ground and, though driven back by a counter-attack, re-established his position there and worked west along the ridge. By 7.0 p.m. the whole of it was in his possession, .and the retention of Bailleul itsejf became very difficult. Two hours later, hostile infantry forced their way into the town, and our troops, who were being heavily attacked from the east and south, were compelled to fall back to positions between Meteren and Dranoutre.

The Withdrawal at Passchendaele.
(62) In order to set free additional British troops for the battle and to delay the execution of any plans which the enemy might be entertaining for extending the flank of his attack to the north, I approved of putting into execution the scheme for the gradual evacuation of the Ypres salient. The first stage in this withdrawal had been carried out on the night of the 12th-13th April, since which date our positions on the Passchendaele Ridge had been held by outposts only. On the night of the 15th-16th April the withdrawal was carried a stage further, our troops taking up positions along the line of the Steenbeek River and the Westhoek and Wytschaete Ridges.”

Also see:

Battle of Lys, 14th April 1918

Lance Corporal George Bodfish

Name: BODFISH, GEORGE
Initials: G
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Lance Corporal
Regiment/Service: Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry
Unit Text: 2nd/4th Bn.
Age: 36
Date of Death: 12/04/1918
Service No: 202206
Additional information: Son of George and Emma Bodfish; husband of Sarah Elizabeth Bodfish, of Albert Cottages, Hook Norton, Oxon.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference I. K. 18.
Cemetery: HANGARD COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION

Name: George Bodfish
Birth Place: Sibford, Oxon
Residence: Banbury, Oxon
Death Date: 12 Apr 1918
Enlistment Location: Hook Norton, Oxon
Rank: L/Corporal
Regiment: Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
Battalion: 2/4th Battalion.
Number: 202206
Type of Casualty: Died of wounds

In the 1901 Census George Bodfish was listed as a Shepherd.

Captain Kenneth Edward Brown, M.C

From G. K. Rose, The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

“I should like to recall memories of such comrades as Bellamy and Wetherall, Cuthbert, Bennett, Davenport, ‘ Slugs’ Brown, Rose, ‘ Bob” Abraham, Regimental Sergeant-Major Douglas, Company Sergeant-Major Brooks, V.C., and a host of other friends of all ranks.”

August 1916
“Brucker, of C Company, became Adjutant of the 61st Divisional School, and command of his company passed to Kenneth Brown, a great fighter and best of comrades, the first member of this Battalion to win the Military Cross.”

November 1916
“At Albert, Bennett was taken from A ‘Company to act as Second in Command of the Berks. Brown assumed command of his company and Robinson about this time of C Company, Brucker having returned to the 61st Divisional School, which was set up at St. Riquier.”

Christmas Eve 1916
“On Christmas Eve, 1916, the Battalion relieved the front line. Brown and Davenport took their companies to Desire and Regina.”

December 1916
“A few nights later Brown, with a small party and on a clear frosty night, solved the riddle by boldly walking up to Grandcourt Trench and finding the Germans not at home.”

22nd February 1917
“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.”

23rd February 1917
“The Battalion took over a three-company front. Brown with A Company guarded the left.”

Ablaincourt
“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.”

April 6th, Good Friday, 1917
The Battalion’s objective was a line of trenches recently dug by the enemy and running between Le Vergier and the river. To capture them Brown’s company, which hitherto had stayed in reserve at Soyecourt in tolerable accommodation, was selected. B and D Companies were ordered to keep close behind A to support the attack, while C remained to garrison the outpost line. Zero was midnight, but before that snow and sleet were falling heavily. It proved the dirtiest night imaginable. Companies moved in columns across the 1,000 yards of open fields between their old positions and the objective, against which our artillery kept up as severe a fire as possible. That fire was less effective than was hoped. In its advance A Company lost men from our own shells, of which nearly all were seen to be falling very short. The German wire, still the great argument to face in an attack, was round uncut. Although at first inclined to surrender, the enemy soon saw the failure of our men to find a gap. Machine-guns were manned, which swept the ground with a fierce enfilade fire. Brown, Aitken, and Wayte behaved in a most gallant manner, the line was rallied, and a renewed attempt made to storm the trenches. In vain. No troops will stand against machine-gun fire in the open when no object can be achieved.”

August 1917
“A Company still had for its Command Brown, among whose officers were Coombes, Callender, and Webb.”

“They were so left in order that, if the casualties were very high,
some nucleus of veteran soldiers would still remain around whom the new Battalion could be built. A like rule applied to officers. A month ago the Colonel had decided which of these should not take part in the first Ypres attack. Brown and myself stayed out of the line, and in our stead Callender and Scott respectively commanded A and D Companies.”

7th September 1917
“On September 7 Brown and myself went up through Ypres to view the scene of the attack. At Wieltje, where Colonel Wetherall and B and C Companies already were, we descended to a deep, wet dug-out and that night listened to a narrative brought by an officer who had participated in the last attempt to take the hill.”

21st March 1918
“It is said of A Company that, when surrounded by the enemy, Brown formed the men into a circle, back to back, and fought without surrender. The monument which stands above Fayet is happily placed. It is inscribed to the sons of France who fell in action nearly fifty years ago. On March 21, I918 , it was enriched by its association with a later sacrifice, The credit won in this
lost battle gives to the 2/4th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry a share of honour in the war equal to that which has been earned by our most successful troops in the advance.”

The following information is from HARROW MEMORIALS OF
THE GREAT WAR VOLUME VI, APRIL 10th, 1918, to THE END
OF THE WAR.

CAPTAIN K. E. BROWN, M.C.

Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
The Headmaster’s 09*- 13′ Aged 22 April 12th, 1918

Youngest son of James Wyld Brown, of Eastrop Grange,Highworth, Wilts, and of his wife. Primrose, daughter of Captain Kennedy, of Finnarts-Glenapp, Ayrshire.

Three of his elder brothers — all Old Harrovians — Major G. D. Brown, M.C, 1st Wilts, Captain E. F. Brown, 5th Wilts, Lieutenant D. C. Brown, Royal Scots, all lost their lives in the War ; their records appear in Vols. IV, V and VI.

Entrance Scholar : Monitor. Cricket XI, 1914.

Captain Brown was intending to go up to Oxford and had already
matriculated at Magdalen College, when the War broke out. In
September, 1914, he received a Commission in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, and, after training at Oxford, Chelmsford, and on Salisbury Plain, went to France with his Battalion in May, 1916. The following September he was awarded the Military Cross for rescuing a wounded Officer and some men, to accomplish which he had to go over the parapet four times under very heavy fire. In the spring of 1917 a Bar was added to the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry in leading an attack.

On March 21st, 1918, north of St. Quentin, he led the counter-attacking Company of his Battalion, and, after rallying his men, or what was left of them, several times, he was shot through the left lung and became unconscious from loss of blood. When he came to he found himself a prisoner of war and died in a German hospital on April 12th.

Colonel Ames wrote : —

*’ ‘ Mitty * is doing very well indeed, and accomplished a very good piece of work at the end of last month, when I sent him into No Man’s Land to creep up to the German lines and see if there was a gap. He was out four and a half hours by himself, and he came back with valuable information. Later in the evening he went out several times under heavy fire and brought in dead and wounded after the raid. . . . The Brigadier was very much
struck with his performance and made a note of it.”

His CO. wrote : —

” You know how well he had done, and how grateful I was to him for all his hard work while I was with the Battalion, and I know how universally he was loved and respected by all ranks who knew him. God rest his gallant soul,”

Lt. K. E. Brown also gets mentioned in the history of the 2/4th Royal Berkshires on 14th July 1916.

Major J H Simmonds and Lt. K E Brown, 2/4th Oxford & Bucks L.I. behaved very gallantly in going out into NO MAN’S LAND for 2 hours and superintending the evacuation of the wounded from same.

UK, British Officer Prisoners of War, 1914-1918 

K E Brown
Rank: Capt.
Regiment: 4th Battalion. Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Lig
Date Missing: 21 Mar 1918
Record Number: 2905
Section: Western Theatre of Operations.

Lance Corporal Thomas Bishop

From the Wendover Roll-of-Honour

Lance Corporal 2674-I3 2nd/4th Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. (Also served as Private 20435 2nd/Ist Buckinghamshire Battalion, Oxfordsnire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry). Light Infantry. Son of Thomas and Laura Bishop of ‘West on Turville. . Husband of Esther Bishop of Tring Road. Born at Weston Turville. Worked as a gardener.Age 36. Enlisted at Aylesbury in 1916. Died of wounds 15th April 1918 at Aire-sur-la-Lys. On 12th April the battalion took and held positions on the Robecq-Calonne road and at Bacquerolles Farm. At 7.30am, in thick fog, the enemy attacked to the battalion’s left, requiring them to form a defensive flank. The troops on the left flank then withdrew and C Company had to carry out a local counter-attack to drive the Germans from a group of houses. On the 14th, at 6.30am, C Company drove the enemy from & further group of houses. Subsequently, in the belief that some houses were not being & held by the enemy, a battle patrol, consisting of a platoon of A Company was pushed out. After a short advance the patrol came under heavy rifle and machine-gun fire. There was an exchange of fire and the patrol withdrew, covered by Lewis-gun fire. The battalion lost one officer wounded, three other ranks killed, twenty-two wounded and one missing. Buried in Aire Communal Cemetery; Plot 4, Row F, Grave 10.

Name: BISHOP, THOMAS
Initials: T
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Lance Corporal
Regiment/Service: Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry
Unit Text: 2nd/4th Bn.
Age: 36
Date of Death: 15/04/1918
Service No: 267413
Additional information: Son of Thomas and Laura Bishop, of Weston Turville, Bucks; husband of Esther Bishop, of Tring Rd., Wendover, Bucks.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: IV. F. 10.
Cemetery: AIRE COMMUNAL CEMETERY

Name: Thomas Bishop
Birth Place: Weston Turville, Bucks
Residence: Aylesbury, Bucks
Death Date: 15 Apr 1918
Enlistment Location: Wendover, Bucks
Rank: L/Corporal
Regiment: Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
Battalion: 2/4th Battalion.
Number: 267413
Type of Casualty: Died of wounds

Private William John Barnes

Name: BARNES, WILLIAM JOHN
Initials: W J
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Private
Regiment/Service: Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry
Unit Text: 2nd/4th Bn.
Age: 18
Date of Death: 12/04/1918
Service No: 34260
Additional information: Son of W. J. and Mary Barnes, of Ivy Cottages, Link, St. Mary Bourne, Andover, Hants.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: Panel 7.
Memorial: PLOEGSTEERT MEMORIAL

Name: William John Barnes
Birth Place: Bourne, Hants
Residence: Basingstoke, Hants
Death Date: 12 Apr 1918
Enlistment Location: Bourne, Hants
Rank: Private
Regiment: Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
Battalion: 2/4th Battalion.
Number: 34260
Type of Casualty: Killed in action
Formerly 44313, Hants Regt.

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