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

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1918, MARCH 20th – FORWARD ZONE BETWEEN GRISCOURT AND FAYET

Redoubts 21st March 1918 The Fifth Army in March 1918 Walter Shaw Sparrow

Redoubts 21st March 1918
The Fifth Army in March 1918
Walter Shaw Sparrow

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

During the night of March 20 a raid on the Battalion’s right was carried out near Cepy Farm by the 182nd Brigade. It was successful. German prisoners from three divisions corroborated our suspicion that the great enemy offensive was about to be launched. From headquarters to headquarters throbbed the order to man battle stations.

From The Story of the 2/5th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment, 1914 – 1918, by A. F. Barnes, M. C., (Gloucester, The Crypt House Press, Limited, 1930)

On the night of the 20th/21st of March a strong raid by the 2/6th Warwicks was made against the enemy trenches east of Fayet. This raid was completely successful, and resulted in the capture of fifteen prisoners and three machine-guns, establishing the fact that the enemy forces opposite our immediate front had been increased by at least two Divisions, and, from prisoner statements, that an attack would be launched on the morning of the 21st.

The Fifth Army in March 1918, by Walter Shaw Sparrow, John Lane Company (1921)

Next evening, at ten o’clock, after our guns had poured in a great many shells, two companies of Warwickshire troops – Shakespeare for ever!—raided the German trenches beyond Fayet, partly to get a few prisoners, and partly to learn how much the foe’s ordinary line troops had been reinforced. Fifteen Germans were captured, and three German regiments, nine battalions, were found on a span of front formerly held by one regiment, or three battalions. More valuable still was the news that in five or six hours Ludendorff would open his attack. This warning was made known at once to all Headquarters, British and French.*

* Ludendorff says, I believe with truth, that on March 18 or 19 two Germans deserted from a trench mortar company and gave information to us of the impending attack.

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1918-03-20
Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire
Location France, Ugny
Entry The ADJUTANT – INTELLIGENCE OFFICER and one Officer per Company spent the day in reconnoitring the ground of the Battle Zone Sector and the ground between SPOONER REDOUBT and HOLNON WOOD, being one of the positions to which the Battalion be required to move in the event of an attack. Light Training was carried out by the Battalion.

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1918, MARCH 19th – MOVED INTO THE FORWARD ZONE NEAR FAYET

 

Redoubts 21st March 1918 The Fifth Army in March 1918 Walter Shaw Sparrow

Redoubts 21st March 1918
The Fifth Army in March 1918
Walter Shaw Sparrow

 

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 night of 18/19 March the Battalion went into the front line. C Company was on the right, in front of Fayet; B Company, under the command of Wallington, was on the left, just south of Gricourt. A went to Fayet itself and D Company, commanded in Robinson’s absence by Rowbotham, provided the garrison of Enghien Redoubt, which was a quarry near Selency Château; Battalion Headquarters also were at this redoubt.

The Battalion relieved the 2/4th R. Berks in the Forward Zone.

Dispositions: C Company, right front; B, left front; two platoons of A in Sunken Road near the Needle, as counterattack company; two platoons of A (with Company H.Q.) at the Willows (M.28.C.1.5 on Map 62 B.S.W.); D Company and Battalion H.Q. at Enghien Redoubt.

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1918-03-19
Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire
Location France, Gricourt-Fayet-St Quentin Wood
Entry The Battalion was relived early in the morning by the 2/4th BN OXFORD and BUCKS LT INF and marched to MARTEVILLE and thence to UGNY, reaching the latter place at about 8am. The remainder of the day was spent in Resting and cleaning.

1918, MARCH 21st – ENGHIEN REDOUBT ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE GERMAN SPRING OFFENSIVE

Redoubts 21st March 1918 The Fifth Army in March 1918 Walter Shaw Sparrow

Redoubts 21st March 1918
The Fifth Army in March 1918
Walter Shaw Sparrow

The British Campaign in France and Flanders, January – July 1918, A. Conan Doyle

As it is impossible to give the experiences of each redoubt in detail, the story of one may be told as being fairly typical of the rest. This particular one is chosen because some facts are available, whereas in most of them a deadly silence, more eloquent than words, covers their fate. The Enghien redoubt was held by Colonel Wetherall with a company of the 2/4 Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry upon the front of the Sixty-first Division. The redoubt formed the battalion headquarters, and was connected to brigade headquarters by a cable buried Battle eight feet deep. In front were two companies of the battalion in the outpost line; behind was the fourth company ready for counter-attack. Early in the morning heavy trench-mortar fire was raining bombs upon the redoubt, and the wire was flying in all directions. At 6 the redoubt was so full of gas that even the masks could not hold it out, so the men were ordered below and put up gas blankets to fend it off. This could be safely done, as when gas is so thick it is not possible for the stormers to advance. At 6.15,what with fog and gas and blurred respirators, it was hardly possible to see anything at all. At 7.30 the gas cleared and there was a shower of high explosive shells with shattering effect. At 9.30 the barrage lifted and the garrison rushed up from their shelters and manned their posts, but the fog rolled white and thick across their vision. The cloud banked right up to their wire, while from behind it came all the noises of the pit. So nerve-shaking was the effect that some of the outlying men came creeping into the redoubt for human company. At 9.40 the whizzing of bullets all around showed that the infantry was on the move. The garrison fired back into the mist, whence came vague shoutings and tramplings. A request was cabled back for a protective barrage, but the inadequate reply showed that the British guns had suffered in the shelling. Suddenly the mist darkened at one point; it broke into running figures, and a wave of men rushed forward, scrambled through the broken wire, and clambered into the redoubt. The Oxfords rushed across and bombed them back into the mist again. There was a pause, during which the attack was reorganised, and then at 11 o’clock the German stormers poured suddenly in from three sides at once. The garrison stood to it stoutly and drove them out, leaving many bodies on the broken wire. The fort was now entirely surrounded, and there was a fresh attack from the rear which added fifty or sixty more to the German losses. At 11.45 there was some lifting of the fog, and Colonel Wetherall endeavoured to get across to the village, 300 yards behind him, to see if help could be obtained. He found it deserted. Stealing back to his fort he was covered suddenly by German rifles, was dragged away as a prisoner, but finally, late in the evening, escaped and rejoined the main body of his own battalion. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Cunningham had taken over the defence of Enghien redoubt, assisted by Lieutenant Richards with the machine-guns. Hour after hour fresh attacks were repelled, but showers of bombs fell in the confined space, and the garrison were continually thinned out. Despairing messages—” What shall we do? What shall we do? “—were sent back over the cable, but nothing could be done, for these outliers are the enfants perdus of the army, marked from the first for destruction. Finally, at 4.30, the great deep all around them sent one heavy wave to submerge them, and the cable was for ever silent.

Such is the typical history of a redoubt. Some succumbed more readily, some survived until the afternoon of the next day ; but the difference may sometimes have depended upon the various degrees of severity of attack, which was by no means the same upon all sectors. The total effect was the complete destruction of the eleven gallant battalions which held the advanced line of the Fifth Army, and the loss of all material therein. One can but hope that the enemy paid a full price. Occasionally a sudden rise of the mist gave the defence a splendid opening for their machine-guns. On one occasion such a chance exposed a German officer standing with a large map in his hand within thirty yards of the fort, his company awaiting his directions beside him. Few of them escaped.

1917, MARCH 15th – RELIEVED BY THE WARWICKS AND BACK TO FRAMERVILLE

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 night of March 15 the Brigade was relieved by the Warwicks. The Battalion moved back to Framerville, where Quartermaster’s Stores and Transport rejoined.

This could have been either the 2/7th or 2/6th Warwickshire Regiment. As both were part of the 182nd Brigade of the 61st (South Midlands) Division.

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

1917-03-15

Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire

Location France, Denicourt Trenches

Entry Working parties as previous day. Battalion relieved by 2/7th ROYAL WARWICKSHIRE REGT, and marched to HARBONNIERES relief completed by 10.30pm.

1916, JULY 19th – THE BATTLE OF FROMELLES

The Battle of Fromelles – Order of Battle for British and German forces.

The Battle of Fromelles – Order of Battle for British and German forces.

Extracted From The Regimental Chronicles of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry

The 61st Division were to attack on the line from Bedford Row to Bond Street, the 184th Brigade on the front from Sutherland Avenue exclusive to Bond Street inclusive, the 183rd Brigade were on the right, and the Australian Division on the left.

The 2/1st Bucks and the 2/4th Berks were in the trenches and were to make the attack, one Company (C) of  the Battalion was in immediate reserve just north of the Rue Tilleloy, and the remainder of the Battalion remained in reserve at their billets. Owing to a misunderstanding of orders, a platoon of C Company, which was destined to carry trench-mortar ammunition across No Man’s Land after the attack had been established in the enemy’s trenches, was kept in the front line and suffered very heavily in the bombardment. An intense bombardment was kept up from 11 a.m. till 6p.m., when the assault was delivered, but owing to the machine-gun fire of the enemy the assaulting Battalion could not get across No Man’s Land and suffered very heavy losses.

About 7 p.m. the Battalion was loaded on to motor-buses and moved up towards the firing-line, and was sent up to take over the line held by the Berks and the Bucks. The relief was completed by 11, and at 11.30 the C.O., who had been ordered to remain at the Battle Headquarters, received orders to organize an attack with two companies on the Sugar Loaf, being told that he would find a party of Engineers with consolidating material at a certain point for which he was to provide a carrying company.

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

This harassing warfare had a crisis in July. The operations of July 19, which were shared with the 61st Division by the 5th Australian holding trenches further north, were designed as a demonstration to assist our attack upon the Somme and to hold opposite to the XI Corps certain German reserves, which, it was feared, would entrain at Lille and be sent south. That object was achieved, but at the cost of severe casualties to the divisions engaged, which were launched in daylight after artillery preparation, which results proved to have been inadequate, against a trench-system strongly manned and garrisoned by very numerous machine-guns. The objectives assigned to the 61st Division were not captured, while the Australians further north, after entering the German trenches and taking prisoners, though they held on tenaciously under heavy counter-attacks, were eventually forced to withdraw. ‘The staff work,’ said the farewell message from the XI Corps to the 61st Division three months later, ‘for these operations was excellent.’ Men and officers alike did their utmost to make the attack of July 19 a success, and it behoves all to remember the sacrifice of those who fell with appropriate gratitude. It was probably the last occasion on which large parties of storming infantry were sent forward through ‘sally ports.’ The Battalion was in reserve for the attack. C Company, which formed a carrying party during the fighting, lost rather heavily, but the rest of the Battalion, though moved hither and thither under heavy shelling, suffered few casualties. When the battle was over, companies relieved part of the line and held the trenches until normal conditions returned.

 KILLED IN ACTION JULY 19th 1916

3560 Lance Sergeant Arthur Lunn

Corporal Reginald Harding

5417 Private Frederick William Bateman

5148 Private Charles Bryden

202028 Private Sidney Butler

2990 Private George Jones

6736 Private William John Jones (Formerly 1347, Welsh Regt.)

4317 Private George Edward L. Simpson

4167 Private William Arthur Taylor

3022 Private George Tolley

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

1916-07-19

Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire

Location France, Laventie

Entry Artillery preparation opened at 11am attack at 6pm 2/1 BUCKS on our LEFT. AUSTRALIAN Division on Left of 2/1 BUCKS. 183rd Bde on our Right and 182nd Bde on Right of 183rd Bde, 8th and 61st Divisional Artillery behind our lines. Casualties Officers 3 Killed (Lt Col J H BEER, 2/Lieut G S ABBOTT and 2/Lieut F C D WILLIAMS) and 2 wounded (Major T SHIELDS and 2/Lieut D R GIBSON). Other ranks 35K, 115W and 8 Shell Shock. Bn relieved by 2/4 OXFORD and BUCKS LI at 1030pm. Marched back into billets at RUE DE LA LYS (G.27.c.2.2 1/2).

1917, APRIL 9th – TO MARTEVILLE, WEST OF HOLNON WOOD

Moved up into the 182nd Brigade area (Marteville) to consolidate and hold a line of trenches west of Holnon 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)

At 7.30 a.m. on April 9 we marched in wind and rain to Marteville, and then formed a reserve line in front of Maissemy and Keeper’s House. All day we dug trenches and erected wire. A divisional relief was to take place. The weather was vile; almost every hour a violent squall of hail and snow swept over us. That night was spent in bivouac in sunken roads.

Cambrai, 10th December 1917

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

“On the 10th a further tour in the front line commenced. This time trenches north-east of Villers Plouich were held. Wiring was strenuously carried out, but save for activity by trench-mortars the enemy lay quiet.”

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire

Monday 10th December 1917, France, Villers Plouich

The shelling of the village continued. Information was received that No 34105 Pte WARRELL A who was wounded by shellfire yesterday died the same night of his wounds. The Brigade was relieved during the day and night by the 182nd and 183rd Brigades and went into Divisional Reserve in the Eastern part of HAVRINCOURT WOOD. The Battn moved by companies independently starting at 7pm and by 9.30pm all ranks were under shelter and fed. The night was dark and very cold and roads full of transport.

Cambrai, 2nd December 1917

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

“On the following morning the enemy delivered a heavy attack upon the village, from which, after severe losses in killed and prisoners, troops of the 182nd Brigade were driven back. To assist them C Company was detached from the Battalion. The trenches our front was now the Hindenburg Line were frozen, there was snow on the ground, and the temporary supremacy of the enemy in guns and sniping produced a toll of casualties. It was an anxious time, but the Battalion was involved in no actual fighting; the German counter-attack, for the time-being, was at an end. ”

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire

Sunday 2nd December 1917, France, Fins

FINS and GOUZEAUCOURT.

At about 1am a GSO of the GUARDS DIV came to see Lt Col J H S Dimmer and explained the situation:-

It appeared that the GUARDS DIV had re-captured GOUZEAUCOURT from the enemy. Prisoners had reported that the enemy was going to attack in force this morning. The Battn was to be attached to 2nd GUARDS BDE as counter attack troops.

The Battn was marched to GOUZEAUCOURT at once. The CO was taken by car to this place, and guided to HQ 3rd Gren Gds. Lt Col A THORNE DSO, 3rd Gren Gds, conducted Lt Col J H S Dimmer over area occupied by 2nd GUARDS BDE around GOUZEAUCOURT, and arrangements for disposition of Battn along a railway were made.

Battn was in position by 5.30am.

Operation Orders were issued.

Battn dug itself in.

Forenoon was spent in reconnoitring and entrenching.
Mess Sergt (Sgt BURTON) came up to Battn with food for officers but was killed on his way back to Mess Cart.

Enemy activity was reported.

Reconnoitring patrols were again sent out and a scheme of attack arranged.

Battn was also ordered to be ready to assist SECUNDERABAD Cavalry Brigade if required.

Orders were received to rejoin own Brigade and necessary action taken.
Capt FIELD was sent ahead to obtain information.

Battn marched at midnight.

61st Division at the end of the War, 11th November 1918

61st (South Midland) DIVISION [Major General Duncan] –in corps reserve

182 Brigade [Brigadier General Evans]
2/6th Bn Royal Warwickshire Regiment
2/7th Bn Royal Warwickshire Regiment
2/8th Bn Royal Warwickshire Regiment
182 Light Trench Mortar Battery

183 Brigade [Brigadier General Anley]
1/9th Bn Royal Scots
1/5th Bn Gordon Highlanders
1/8th Bn Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders
183 Light Trench Mortar Battery

184 Brigade [Brigadier General Thorne]
2/4th Bn Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
2/5th Bn Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
2/4th Bn Royal Berkshire Regiment
184 Light Trench Mortar Battery

Division Artillery [Brigadier General Ooseley]
306 Brigade RFA: A B C D Batteries
307 Brigade RFA: A B C D Batteries
X & Y Medium Trench Mortar Batteries

61 Machine Gun Battalion

1/5th Bn Duke of Cornwalls Light Infantry (pioneer bn)

476, 478, 479 Field Companies RE

61 Signal Company

The Battle of Fromelles: 2/4th Oxfordshire and Other Battalions of the 184th Brigade

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

“This harassing warfare had a crisis in July. The operations of July 19, which were shared with the 61st Division by the 5th Australian holding trenches further north, were designed as a demonstration to assist our attack upon the Somme and to hold opposite to the XI Corps certain German reserves, which, it was feared, would entrain at Lille and be sent south. That object was achieved, but at the cost of severe casualties to the divisions engaged, which were launched in daylight after artillery preparation, which results proved to have been inadequate, against a trench-system strongly manned and garrisoned by very numerous machine- guns. The objectives assigned to the 61st Division were not captured, while the Australians further north, after entering the German trenches and taking prisoners, though they held on tenaciously under heavy counter-attacks, were eventually forced to withdraw. ‘ The staff work,’ said the farewell
message from the XI Corps to the 61st Division three months later, ‘ for these operations was excellent.’ Men and officers alike did their utmost to make the attack of July 19 a success, and it
behoves all to remember the sacrifice of those who fell with appropriate gratitude. It was probably the last occasion on which large parties of storming infantry were sent forward through ‘sally ports. The Battalion was in reserve for the attack. C Company, which formed a carrying party during the fighting, lost rather heavily, but the rest of the Battalion, though moved hither and thither under heavy shelling, suffered few casualties. When the
battle was over, companies relieved part of the line and held the trenches until normal conditions returned.”

2/4th Royal Berkshire War Diaries
Wednesday 19th July 1916, France, Laventie

Artillery preparation opened at 11am attack at 6pm 2/1 Bucks on our Left. Australian Division on Left of 2/1 Bucks. 183rd Bde on our Right and 182nd Bde on Right of 183rd Bde, 8th and 61st Divisional Artillery behind our lines.
Casualties Officers 3 Killed (Lt Col J H Beer, 2/Lieut G S Abbott and 2/Lieut F C D Williams) and 2 wounded (Major T Shields and 2/Lieut D R Gibson). Other ranks 35K, 115W and 8 Shell Shock. Bn relieved by 2/4 Oxford and Bucks LI at 1030pm. Marched back into billets at Rue De La Lys (G.27.c.2.2 1/2).

2/5th Gloucestershire Regiment

Story of the 2/5th Battalion the Gloucester Regiment 1914-1918
ed by A.F.Barnes
ISBN: 9781843427582
Format: 2003 N&M Press reprint (original pub 1930) 192pp with 39 b/w photos and 12 maps.

“Round about the middle of July ominous rumours got about of an impending attack by the 61st Division in cooperation with an Australian Division and movements became irregular. Small groups of Staff Officers and Commanding Officers could be seen, maps in hand, whispering together; large quantities of artillery began to assemble; trench mortars commenced to operate more frequently a “flying pig” memorable because another member of this porcine family had previously registered on this sector, dropped its message short and blown up two or three fire bays on its own side, made its appearance.

Australians loading a 9.45 inch mortar, “Flying Pig”, August 1916.

These omens materialized when on July 19th an attack was launched. The ostensible objective was the Aubers Ridge, some high ground opposite the British front from which the Germans could command a view of all the movements of their opponents. The real intention of the operation was to keep the German Divisions there so fully occupied that they would not be able to reinforce the troops on the Somme.

The Berks and the Bucks bore the brunt of the attack, while the Oxfords and Glosters were in support and reserve respectively. So far as the Aubers Ridge was concerned the attack failed dismally, but it probably had the effect of keeping the German Divisions there, at any rate, for the time being. The casualties of the 184th brigade were very heavy, the Bucks being especially hard hit. The lot that fell to the Glosters was the depressing task of bringing in and burying the dead. This operation took three or four days to complete and it is notable that the Germans allowed the stretcher-bearers and others to others to wander about No Man’s Land in broad daylight, picking up the dead and wounded without firing a shot.”

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