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

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1917, APRIL 26th – BEING BRIEFED FOR A RAID AND RELIEVING THE 2/1st BUCKS NEAR FAYET

By G. K. Rose

By G. K. Rose

The Battalion relieved the 2/1st Bucks in the front line during the night; H.Q. at Fayet; 4 men wounded.

 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 184th Brigade had been warned to carry out an ‘enterprise’ against the enemy. During the morning of April 26 I was sent for by the Colonel. I found Headquarters in their new position, an oblong greenhouse over whose frame, destitute of glass, was stretched a large ‘trench shelter.’ They had passed a shell-ridden night. Bennett just now had narrowly eluded a 5.9. This morning shells were falling as usual in Holnon, and pieces occasionally came humming down to earth close by. I listened to the plan of a large raid which with two companies I was soon to perform. Moore was here to outline the scheme and also Colonel Cotton of the R.F.A., whose guns were to support the operation.

The Battalion was mostly fortunate in the opportunity of its reliefs. One always prayed that the time spent in moving up and changing places with troops in the front line would coincide with a period quiet in regard to shelling. One hoped still more that no hostile attack would clash with the relief.

Such prayers and hopes on April 26, when a quiet, easy relief was specially desired, came near to being falsified. At dusk, just as our companies were starting towards Fayet, the enemy commenced an operation against Cepy Farm, a ruined building near the front line, predestined by its position to be an object of contention. The attack was ably dealt with by Tubbs’ company of the Bucks and had proved abortive for the enemy. The circumstance was accompanied by much erratic shelling from both sides. Orders to stand-to were issued rather broadcast, and as the relief was now in progress a degree of confusion resulted everywhere. The destination of my company and half of C was the sunken road leading down into Fayet, but that I found already crowded with troops. Almost all units of the Brigade seemed to be trying to relieve or support each other, and the front line itself was in quite a ferment, nobody actually knowing what the enemy had done, was doing, or was expected to do. Under these conditions it became impossible for me to send patrols to learn the ground from which the impending raid was to be launched. It happened, in fact, that when the time to move forward had arrived, I alone of all the five platoons about to be engaged knew the route to the ‘position of assembly,’ that is to say, the place where the attacking troops were to collect immediately before the raid. That most severe risk–for had I been a casualty the entire enterprise would have miscarried—was owing partly to the accident of the confused relief, but more to the short notice at which the work was to be carried out. Instead of that thorough reconnaissance which was so desirable I had to be content with a visit, shared by my officers and a few N.C.O.’s, to an advanced observation post from which a view was possible of those trenches and woods we were under orders to raid.

The sunken road proved anything but a pleasant waiting place. The shelling of Fayet–fresh-scattered bricks across whose roads showed it an unhealthy place–was now taken up in earnest by the enemy. Partly perhaps from their own affection for such places, but more probably because it was our most likely route to reach the village, the Germans seldom allowed an hour to pass without sending several salvoes of 5.9s into the sunken road. My men were densely packed in holes under the banks. I was expecting large supplies of flares and bombs and all those things one carried on a raid, and had, of course, orders and explanations of their duties to give to many different parties.

Died  of Wounds April 26th 1917

 33451 Private James Owen Wooster

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1917, APRIL 29th – RAID BY B COMPANY ON CEPY FARM BEFORE A RELIEF BY THE 2/4th ROYAL BERKSHIRE REGIMENT

By G. K. Rose

By G. K. Rose

Relieved by the 2/4th R. Berks, and marched to reserve billets. Cepy Farm was entered by a strong patrol of our B Company/and had one or two encounters with the enemy, leaving some killed, and obtaining an identification. Two men wounded.

ORDER NO 70. April 29th 1917 (2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment)

1.The Battalion will relieve the 2/4 OXFORDS in the Front Line on night 29/30th as under :-

“A” Coy 2/4 BERKS relieve “A” Coy 2/4 OXFORDS.

“B” Coy “C” Coy

“D” Coy do “B”

“C” Coy do “D”

Guide per platoon and one for HQ will be at the gap in the wire about S.3.b.8.3 at 9.0 pm. Companies will march by platoons at 200 yards distance. A. B. C. D. Coys, Hdqrs.

2.BAGGAGE :- Officers valises and mens packs will be dumped at Coy HQ by 4.0 pm. for collection by Transport. Mess boxes will be dumped at Coy HQ by 7.30 pm.

3.1 Representative per Coy and HQ will go up in the afternoon and take over Stores (except SOS Grenades).

4.The spare Lewis guns with Companies will be carried forward and utilised in the Posts.

5.Trench Shelters and Stores (except SOS Grenades) will be handed over to 2/1 BUCKS and receipts obtained. Receipts will be made out in triplicate for all Stores (except SOS Grenades) taken over from 2/4 OXFORDS and sent to Bn HQ by 6.00 am. 30th inst.

6.Rations for 30th will be carried on the man. Companies will carry their own Petrol cans (filled) for 30th.

7.Code for Completion of Relief :- “HANKEY PANKY”.

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 night another minor operation preceded the relief. Orders were given for B Company, which held the right of the Battalion’s line, to seize the much-disputed Cepy Farm and hand it over to the incoming Berks. Moberly, who had recently rejoined his old Battalion, was in command of this enterprise. The farm was reached and duly occupied, but when the time for handing over to the Berks arrived our post was driven out by a strong party of the enemy. This was the first of many similar encounters at Cepy Farm. Luckily it did not long prejudice the relief. Though chased a little on the way by shells, the Battalion had an easy march to Holnon Wood, in which a pleasant resting place was found. The trees and undergrowth, just bursting into green, presented happy contrast to the dust and danger of Fayet.

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1917-04-29
Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire
Location France, Bois d’holnon
Entry [This entry covers 29th/30th April 1917] The Battn relieved the 2/4 OXFORDS in the front line on night 29th/30th, relief complete by 1am 30th. A Coy (Capt Willenk) on right. B Coy (Capt Allen) right centre. C Coy (Capt Whitaker) left centre and D Coy (Capt Field) left. Patrols were sent out during night. A patrol under 2Lieut Hinchcliffe A Coy went out to ascertain if CEPY FARM was held by the enemy. It had been shelled by our guns and reported clear but subsequently the patrol reporting this was[driven] in. The guns were again put on, previous to 2Lt Hinchliffe’s patrol, on cessation of the guns his patrol pushed forward to FARM although fired on from the buildings and ascertained that enemy still held it in strength 12 men were seen to enter. 2 Lieut Hinchcliffe again went out on morning of 30th at 7am to reconnoitre FARM and report. He reported no movement at all observed nor was anything heard. The day was little below normal – the enemy’s artillery being not so active with the shelling of posts. At 9.30pm a party of 50 OR of A Coy under Capt Willink together with 2nd Lieut Hinchcliffe, 2Lieut Watson, 5 Lewis guns and 2 Vickers Guns carried out a small operation against the enemy in CEPY FARM. The object of the operation being to drive out the enemy should he be in occupation, and also to prevent him establishing himself there and ultimately creating a strong post there against us. At 9.30pm the guns opened on the FARM with 3 guns putting small barrage behind the FARM in the valley E of it. Directly this concentration on the FARM ceased (which was 10 minutes) the party advanced into the FARM. It was reported at 10.50pm that the enemy fled directly we appeared and relived to trenches on N and E of the FARM. The FARM was thoroughly searched and cellars bombed but no sign of the enemy found there or identification. The party then withdrew leaving a standing patrol of 1 Sgt and 10 men. When the party that had been withdrawn reached our line again, the enemy immediately approached the FARM to the extent of about 50 men. The standing patrol seeing their position made a fight of it but were forced to relive to a position underway between FARM and the Outpost line. Two strong listening posts were then pushed out to prevent the enemy establishing in strength in the FARM or in the valley, E of it. At 4.30am on 1st May Sgt Denton and his 10 men worked forward to the FARM again and reported no sign of the enemy neither was there any noise or movement. Casualties 1 OR killed, 1 OR wounded, 1 OR Shell Shock, 1 OR wounded at duty.

1917, JUNE 11th – MARCHED TO BILLETS AT BERNAVILLE

Bernaville,  June 21 1917, 10pm Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)  A view along a country lane, with trees and hedges on either side.

Bernaville,
June 21 1917, 10pm
Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)
A view along a country lane, with trees and hedges on either side.

Marched to billets at Berneville and remained there, resting and training, until the 23rd.

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 June 11 the Battalion was back in billets at Bernaville, a village four miles west of Arras, and it appeared that the Division (of which the 184th Brigade alone had been into the line) had completed its tour in the Arras sector.

1916, SEPTEMBER – MOATED GRANGE SECTOR, LAVENTIE

Laventie, Showing The Fauquissart Sector 1916 From the The Story of the 2/5th Gloucestershire Regiment 1914-1918, by A. F. Barnes, M.C.

Laventie, Showing The Fauquissart Sector 1916
From the The Story of the 2/5th Gloucestershire Regiment 1914-1918, by A. F. Barnes, M.C.

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 was not called upon for much fighting activity in September, 1916. Raids and rumours of raids kept many of us busy. An attack by the 184th Brigade upon the Wick salient was planned, but somewhat too openly discussed and practised to deceive, I fancy, even the participating infantry into the belief that it was really to take place. Upon the demolished German trenches many raids were made. In the course of these raids, the honour of which was generously shared between all battalions in the Brigade, sometimes by means of the Bangalore Torpedo, sometimes by the easier and more subtle method of just walking into them, the enemy’s front line was usually entered; and rarely did a raiding party return without the capture of at least an old bomb, an entrenching tool or even a live German. These ‘identification’ raids possibly did as much to identify ourselves to the enemy as to identify him to us, but they proved useful occasions on which to send parties ‘over the top’ (always an enjoyable treat!) and gave practice to our trench mortars, which fired remarkably well and drew down little retaliation–always the bug-bear of the trench mortar.

The mention of these things may make dull reading to the _blasé_ warrior of later battlefields, but, as there are some whose last experience abroad was during Laventie days and who may read these lines, I feel bound to recall our old friend (or enemy) the trench mortar, the rent-free (but not rat-free) dug-out among the sandbags, the smelly cookhouses, whose improvident fires were the scandal of many a red-hatted visitor to the trenches, the mines, with their population of Colonial miners doing mysterious work in their basements of clay and flinging up a welter of slimy blue sandbags–all these deserve mention, if no more, lest they be too soon forgotten.

Days, too, in Riez Bailleul, Estaires and Merville will be remembered, days rendered vaguely precious by the subsequent destruction of those villages and by lost comrades. Those of the Battalion who fell in 1916 were mostly buried in Laventie and outside Merville. Though both were being fought over in 1918 and many shells fell among the graves, the crosses were not much damaged; inscriptions, if nearly obliterated, were then renewed when, by the opportunity of chance, the Battalion found itself once more crossing the familiar area, before it helped to establish a line upon the redoubtable Aubers Ridge, to gain which so many lives at the old 1915 battles of Neuve Chapelle and Festubert had been expended.

It was a fine autumn. The French civilians were getting in their crops within a mile or two of the trenches, while we did a series of tours in the Moated Grange sector, with rest billets at the little village of Riez Bailleul. And then box respirators were issued.

Laventie days are remembered with affection by old members of the Battalion.

Until the 10th the Battalion was at Robermetz training, and on the 11th took over trenches in the left sub-section of the Moated Grange sector, coming out on the 19th, and going in again on the 29th. The tours in the line were without incident; 2nd Lieut. Buhner was wounded on the 13th and between the12th and the 30th two men were killed and six were wounded.

1916, JULY – IN THE LAVENTIE SECTOR

Winchester Trench Company HQ Front Trenches, Picantin (Laventie),  October 28 1916 Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)  A view along a section of trench immediately before a badly bomb damaged building. The trench has duckboards along the bottom and the walls are supported by a structure of wooden planks.

Winchester Trench
Company HQ Front Trenches, Picantin (Laventie),
October 28 1916
Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)
A view along a section of trench immediately before a badly bomb damaged building. The trench has duckboards along the bottom and the walls are supported by a structure of wooden planks.

 

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 July 1916 the Battalion was in and out of the breastworks between Fauquissart and Neuve Chapelle. When the 184th Infantry Brigade went  back to rest the Battalion had billets on the outskirts of Merville, a friendly little town, since levelled in ruins; and, when reserve to the Brigade, in Laventie. Brigade Headquarters were at the latter and also the quartermasters’ stores and transport of battalions in the line.

Some favourite spots were the defensive ‘posts,’ placed a mile behind the front line and known as Tilleloy, Winchester, Dead End, Picantin. Reserve companies garrisoned these posts. No arduous duties spoilt the days; night work consisted chiefly in pushing trolley-loads of rations to the front line. Of these posts the best remembered would be Winchester, where existed a board bearing the names of Wykhamists, whom chance had led that way. Battalion Headquarters were there for a long time and were comfortable enough with many ‘elephant’ dug-outs and half a farm-house for a mess–the latter ludicrouslv decorated by some predecessors with cuttings from La Vie Parisienne and other picture papers.

Though conditions were never quiet in the front line, during the summer of 1916 back area shelling was infrequent. Shells fell near Laventie cross-roads on most days and, when a 12 inch howitzer established itself behind the village, the Germans retaliated upon it with 5.9s, but otherwise shops and estaminets flourished with national nonchalance. The railway, which ran from La Gorgue to Armentières, was used by night as far as Bac St. Maur–an instance of unenterprise on the part of German gunners. Despite official repudiation, on our side the principle of ‘live and let live’ was still applied to back areas. Trench warfare, which in the words of a 1915 pamphlet ‘could and must cease’ had managed to survive that pamphlet and the abortive strategy of the battle of Loos. Until trench warfare ended divisional headquarters were not shelled.

Meanwhile the comparative deadlock in the Somme fighting rendered necessary vigorous measures against the enemy elsewhere on the front. A gas attack from the Fauquissart sector was planned but never carried out. Trench mortars and rifle grenades were continuously employed to make life as unpleasant as possible for the enemy, whose trenches soon became, to all appearances, a rubbish heap. All day and much of the night the ‘mediums’ fell in and about the German trenches and, it must be confessed, occasionally in our own as well. Whilst endeavouring to annihilate the Wick salient or some such target, one of our heaviest of heavy trench mortars dropped short (perhaps that is too much of a compliment to the particular shot) in our trenches near a company headquarters and almost upon a new concrete refuge, which the R.E. had just completed and not yet shown to the Brigadier. Though sometimes supplied, the co-operation of this arm was never asked for.

NOTE: I believe the term Wykhamists refers to former students of Winchester College.

Although the 184th Infantry Brigade, to which belonged both the 2/4th Battalion and the 2/1st Bucks Battalion of the Regiment, took no part in the actual battle of the Somme, its task of making demonstrations to assist the Somme operations was arduous in the extreme, and its casualties heavy.At the commencement of the Somme offensive the 2/4th Battalion was at Laventie, holding the trenches and front posts

 

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.

1918, FEBRUARY 22nd – REORGANIZATION OF THE 184th BRIGADE

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

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1918-02-22

Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire

Location France, Holnon Wood

Entry The morning was spent preparing to march and in the afternoon the Battalion moved to UGNY. The 184 Brigade which has been reorganised now consists of 3 Battalions disposed in depth.

2/4th Bn OXFORD AND BUCKS LIGHT INFANTRY in the Front Line.

2/5th Bn GLOSTER Regiment in HOLNON WOOD.

2/4th Bn ROYAL BERKSHIRE REGIMENT at UGNY.

184th BRIGADE HQ are at ATILLY.

61st DIVISION HQ are at AUROIR

XV111 CORPS HQ are at HAM

Fifth ARMY HQ are at NESLE.

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 three Battalions which remained were now arranged in ‘depth,’ a phrase explained by stating that while one, say the Berks, held the front line ‘twixt Fayet and Gricourt, the Gloucesters as Support Battalion would be in Holnon Wood and ourselves, the Oxfords, in reserve and back at Ugny. When a relief took place the Gloucesters went to the front line, ourselves to Holnon, and the Berks back to Ugny. The Battalion holding the line was similarly disposed in ‘depth,’ for its headquarters and one company were placed more than a mile behind the actual front.

From The Story of the 2/5th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment, 1914-1918, by A. F. Barnes, M.C.

A new system of defences was adopted by General Headquarters (Early 1918). There were to be three distinct areas of defence – a Forward, a Battle, and a Rear Zone. The Forward Zone was to consist of a line of outposts with strong fortified redoubts on the rising ground behind. These redoubts though from 500 to 1,500 yards apart, were not connected up by any system of trenches but a single line of barbed wire with a machine-gun post here and there. The redoubts and the machine-gun forts were sited so that they could sweep with converging fire all the intervening low lying ground. The depth of the Forward Zone was about 3,000 yards and its purpose was to break up and disorganize the leading troops of the German assault.

Behind this came the Battle Zone, consisting also of Redoubts but without the line of outposts.

The Last line was the Rear Zone, some two miles behind the Battle Zone and consisting of a double line of trenches.

So far as the 184th was concerned, the forward battalion held a line of posts north of Fayet with a strong point at Enghien Redoubt. These posts were very lightly held and were at distances of approximately 100 yards. The support Battalion held that part of the Battle Zone which lay along the front of Holnon Wood, The reserve battalion was some miles behind at a village called Ugny.

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.

1916, NOVEMBER 21st – ON THE SOMME 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)

On November 21 the Brigade took over its new sector of the line and with it a somewhat different régime to what it had known before. It was heard said of the 61st Division that it stayed too long in quiet trenches (to be sure, trenches were only really ‘quiet’ to those who could afford to visit them at quiet periods). Still the Somme ‘craterfield’ presented a complete contrast to the old breastworks with their familiar landmarks and daylight reliefs. Battle conditions remained though the advance had stopped. Our recent capture of Beaumont-Hamel and St. Pierre Divion left local situations, which required clearing up. The fragments of newly-won trenches above Grandcourt, trenches without wire and facing a No-Man’s-Land of indeterminate extent, gave their occupants their first genuine tactical problems and altogether more responsibility than before. In some respects the Germans were quicker than ourselves to adapt themselves to conditions approximating to open warfare. The principle of an outpost line and the system of holding our front in depth had been pronounced often as maxims on paper, but had resulted rarely in practice. Subordinate staffs, on whom the blame for local reverses was apt to fall rather heavily, were perhaps reluctant to jeopardise the actual front line by holding it too thinly, while from the nature of the case, the front line was something far more sacred to us than to the enemy. Since the commencement of trench warfare the Germans had held their line on the ‘depth’ principle, keeping only a minimum of troops, tritely referred to as ‘caretakers,’ in their front trench of all, while we for long afterwards crammed entire companies, with their headquarters, into the most forward positions.

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