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

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Attack on Strongpoints, South East of St. Julien 22nd / 24th August 1917

Sir Douglas Haig’s 4th Despatch (1917 Campaigns), 25 December 1917

“Minor Operations

48. In the interval, on the 19th, 22nd and 27th August, positions of considerable local importance in the neighbourhood of St. Julien were captured with some hundreds of prisoners, as the result of minor attacks conducted under the most unfavourable conditions of ground and weather.”

The ground gained represented an advance of about 800 yards on a front of over two miles.

Below are details from Bapaume to Passchendaele, on the Western Front, 1917 By Philip Gibbs

“The Way Through Glencorse Wood

August 22

There was severe fighting again to-day eastwards of St. Julien (35 miles north-east of Ypres), extending south across the Zonnebake, beyond the Frezenberg Redoubt, while on the right our troops again penetrated Glencorse Copse (due east of Ypres), and fought on that ugly rising ground which the enemy is defending in great strength. The Divisions engaged, from north to south, are the 29th, 38th, nth, 48th, 18th, 61st, 15th, 19th, 47th, 14th, and 24th.

On the left progress has been made from the high road of St.-Julien to the Zonnebeke-Langemarck road, which cuts across it, guarded on the enemy’s side by two strong points with the usual concrete shelters which the Germans have adopted as their new means of forward defence. Below them there is another strong position called Winnipeg, about which our men were heavily engaged in the early hours of this morning, and below that again the same series of pill-boxes and concrete blockhouses against which the Irish battalions went forward with such desperate valour on the 16th of this month, as I described in my message yesterday.

Scottish troops of the I5th Division attacked to-day where the Southern Irish were engaged six days ago. Before them they had those sinister forts, Beck House and Borry Farm, and Vampire Point guarding the way to the Bremen Redoubt, which will be remembered always in the history of the Irish brigades as places of heroic endeavour, just as now this morning they will take their place in the annals of our Scottish fighting. To the left of them are other forts, round which the Ulster men were fighting last week—Pond Farm, Schuler Farm, and others on the way to the Gallipoli Redoubt. About these places Warwickshires and other Midland troops of the 61st Division have been fighting, and have met with the same difficulties, apart from the state of the ground, which has dried a little. It has not dried much, for our shell-fire has broken up the gullies and streams with which it was drained, and the country is water-logged, so that the pools remain until the sun dries them up. The shell-holes and these ponds are not so full of water as when the Irish went across, and the surface of the shell-broken earth is hardening. But it is only a thin crust over a bog, so that the Tanks which went forward to-day here and there could not get very far without sinking in. One Tank was taken by a gallant crew almost as far as a German strong point nearly half a mile beyond our old front line very early in the morning, and did good work up there. The enemy put down a furious barrage-fire soon after the attack had started to-day, and kept the Frezenberg Redoubt under intense bombardment. But as soon as the attack developed he could not use his artillery against our men at many points, not knowing what forts and ground were still held by his own troops. He relied again upon the cross-fire of machine-guns, arranged very skilfully in depth, for enfilade barrages, and upon the garrisons who held his concrete redoubts in the advanced positions. In one of the blockhouses this morning our Warwickshire men captured forty-seven prisoners, who, when they were surrounded, took refuge in tunnelled galleries running to the right of the main fort, called Schuler Farm. Some of our men fought through the enfilade fire of machine-guns as far as the slopes of Hill 35, and to the right of this the Scots made a gallant and fierce assault towards Bremen Redoubt.”


2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

The following details are extracted from a great Web site: http://www.purley.eu/H142.htm. The site details the operations of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment, but within it is contained a wide range of information on the 184th Brigade and the Battalions that made up the Brigade.

“This attack, in so far as it concerns the Royal Berkshire Battalion, was that of the 184th Brigade on the enemy defences S.E. of St. Julien.

On the right of the brigade was the 44th Brigade (15th Division), on the left the 3rd Brigade. The direction of the attack was north-eastwardsand the front-line troops of the 184th Brigade were the
2/1st Buckinghamshire on the right, and the 2/4th Oxford and Bucks on the left.”

The function of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire was to supply thirteen platoons for dealing with the numerous strong points which were known to exist in the area to be attacked. The Berkshire platoons were to follow close up behind the leading battalions, and, as each strong point was approached, were to dash through the leading waves and assault it, leaving the leading battalions to pursue their way without having to consider the risk of leaving
the strong points in rear. These would be either taken by the Berkshire men, or so surrounded and blockaded as to be unable to harass the assaulting battalions in flank or rear.
The Berkshire platoons were thus detailed to deal with the several. strong points.

Platoon. Officer Commanding. Strong point to be attacked.
1. 2nd-Lieut. A. C. L. Hill. Somme
4. 2nd-Lieut. G. W. de St. Legier .Do.
2. 2nd-Lieut. A. K. Glover. Cross Cottages
3. 2nd-Lieut. C. L. B. Kirkland. Aisne House
5. 2nd-Lieut. H. W. Jewell. Schuler
7. 2nd-Lieut. A. E. Saw. To act as left flank guard for 2/4 OBLI
6. 2nd-Lieut. G. A. F. Gilmor Pond Farm
13. 2nd-Lieut. F. A. N. Wilmot Do.
8. 2nd-Lieut. F. Exier. Hindu Cottage
9. 2nd-Lieut. W. H. Stevens. Martha House
12. 2nd-Lieut. A. H. Robinson. Do.
10. 2nd-Lieut. D. Mackinnon Green House
11. 2nd-Lieut. H. S. Griffin Gun positions about centre Pond Farm

The first strong point encountered was Pond Farm towards the left. This was attacked from the right flank by Second-Lieutenant Wilmot with No. 13 Platoon, and from the left by Second-Lieutenant Gilmor and No.6.
Both these officers were wounded at the commencement.
Owing to the strong machine-gun fire, Sergeant
Shackleton (in charge of Wilmot’s platoon after the
latter was wounded) was unable to get into the farm, but
the fire of the platoons from the positions they had
attained so occupied the attention the garrison as to
completely prevent their interference with the assaulting
troops. Sergeant Shackleford, who afterwards received
the D.C.M. for his conduct this day, having reorganized
his platoon, made a second attempt to take the farm, but
was held up twenty yards from it. He succeeded in
surrounding it and keeping the garrison fully occupied
till the afternoon, when he was joined by two platoons
of the 2/5th Gloucestershire whom he helped in the
storm of the farm, where thirty-five prisoners were
taken.
Sgt Shackleford was awarded the DCM – his citation
read:-
No 202908 Sgt Shackleford F “D” Coy, 2/4th Bn Royal
Berks Regt (TF).
“At POND FARM, near WIELTJE in the attack on 22nd
August 1917, when his Platoon Commander was knocked out at the outset, took command of the platoon and
showed the greatest courage and skill in his handling of
it. This strong point was assaulted three times before
being finally taken, and this non-commissioned officer
participated in each attack. In the last attack he took the
residue of his Platoon over with one of the two platoons
of the Gloster Regt, making the final and successful
assault. It was due to his initiative in engaging the
enemy machine guns during the initial stage of the attack
that the casualties in the leading wave were considerably
reduced”. [WD4.2 21/9/17]
Hindu Cottage
The next strong point on the left was Hindu Cottage.
Here Second-Lieutenant Exler was wounded as soon as
the advance began, but the platoon went on. Marshy
ground prevented it from entering from the front, but it
got beyond the strong point and surrounded it, thus
enabling the assaulting waves to go on without
hindrance from it.
Schuler
The remaining strong point on the left was Schuler,
which fell to the lot of Second-Lieutenant Jewell and
No.5 Platoon. Despite the fact that the Division on the
left was held up, and his left flank was consequently
exposed, Jewell pushed gallantly on and stormed the
galleries constituting the strong point. In it were taken
two officers and seventy-four Germans of other ranks.
After despatching these to the rear, Jewell set to work to
consolidate the position which, owing to a retirement on
his right, and a failure to get up his left, was almost
isolated.
In this post he held on for two days, making up three
local counter-attacks of the enemy. After two days he
and Private Pike in Hindu Cottage, was relieved by the
2/6th Gloucestershire. For his exploit Jewell received a
well-earned Military Cross.
His citation read:-
2nd Lieut H W Jewell, 2/4th Bn Royal Berks Regt (TF).
“Near WIELTJE, at SCHULER FARM, on 22nd August
1917, shewed great courage and resource when, after
taking the concrete gallery he came under exceptionally
heavy machine gun and rifle fire, and finding the attack
on the left was held up and his flank badly exposed, he
threw back a protective flank and succeeded in dispersing
an enemy counter-attack which was forming up on his
left front”. [WD4.2 18/9/17]
Somme
We must now turn to the strong points on the right of
the attack. The first of these was Somme. As Second-
Lieutenant St. Legier approached he and two men
rushed ahead through the leading waves and the British
barrage in front of them. This enabled them to enter the
strong point from rear and to kill the whole garrison. St.
Legier also consolidated his position, like Jewell, and
held it till relieved two days later. He repulsed several
counter-attacks during this period, and also received the
Military Cross.
St Legiers citation read:-
2nd Lieut G W de St Legier, 6th Bn Devon Regt attached
2/4th Bn Royal Berks Regt (TF).
“Near WIELTJE on 22nd August 1917, this Officer was
detailed with his platoon to assist in the capture of
SOMME FARM, a strong point known to be very
formidable. On nearing the objective he with two others
rushed through our own barrage and round the flank at
considerable personal risk and bombed the position with
the greatest gallantry from the rear. But for his action this
post might have fallen, and would most certainly have
held out a considerable time and delayed the advance of
the Right attacking Battalion. After taking the post this
officer held it against heavy fire from the strong point
GALLIPOLI on his Right, and also a bombing attack
which he completely defeated, killing every one of the
hostile bombers”. [WD42-18/9/17]
Green House, Cross Cottage and Martha House
Owing to the 15th Division being held up on the right,
there was such a heavy machine-gun fire from that
direction that the attacks on Green House, Cross Cottage
and Martha House were impracticable; but the platoons
detailed for them were able to give valuable assistance
to the 2/1st Buckinghamshire in forming a curved line
which ran from in front of Somme post on the right,
north-eastwards in front of Hindu Cottage and Schuler
posts on the left. On this line three counter-attacks were
repulsed.
Private Pike’s Exploit
In connexion with the attack on Hindu Cottage the
Battalion Diary tells a most extraordinary story to the
following effect: Private Pike, of A Company, who had
lost his own platoon, happened to get into the strong
point, apparently unobserved. In it he found nineteen
Germans, of whom thirteen were unwounded. He took
the whole lot prisoners and remained there alone
guarding them for two days, till he was relieved by an
officer of the 2/6th Gloucestershire. How he managed to
bluff these nineteen men into surrender to a single
private, and to avoid being overpowered by them during
the two days, is almost inconceivable. The only possible
explanation seems to be that they knew they were
surrounded and could not escape.
That the story was substantiated is clear from the fact
that Pike was awarded the Military Medal for his
exploit. There are other points which are mysterious,
such as why the strong point was not entered by the
attackinpgla toon. Private Pike has
kindiy furnished us with his own account of his exploit
of which the following is the substance:
About 5 a.m. his platoon was lying out in No-Man’s
Land, waiting for the barrage, with orders to make a
right incline towards its objective. Pike, however, made
a mistake and went straight forward. He only discovered his error when he found himself alone Presently, he
found himself with some of the Oxfordshire and
Buckinghamshire, and was with them at the clearing of
several strong pomts. He was then asked by a sergeant
of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
to carry back a message. He started with it, hoping to
get back to his own regiment after delivering it. He had
gone some six hundred yards when the fire was so hot
that he got into a shell-hole for shelter and had a shot or
two at a German sniper whom he saw. He then worked
his way over to the strong point, hoping to get his
direction from it. Arriving there he found himself in an
awkward position, as it was in German hands. One of
the Germans came out and attacked him, but was
wounded and got back into the strong point. He
apparently told his friends inside that they were
surrounded, and, when summoned by Pike, they held up
their hands and he was able to remove all their arms and
bombs. After this they began to show symptoms of
resistance, but there was only one entrance to the strong
point, and Pike outside that was able to overawe them,
as he was armed an they were not. There he remained
for two days on guard, unable to eat and not daring to
sleep, for a moment’s unconsciousness meant that he
would be done for.
About 2 a.m. on the second day, when he was utterly
exhausted, he heard footsteps coming round the strong
point and, supposing them to be the enemy, believed he
was lost and prepared for a fight. Fortunately, the
footsteps turned out to be those of an officer of the
Gloucestershire Regiment and his party, and Pike’s
troubles were at an end. The Germans were duly fetched
out as prisoners. It was only when they recounted that
Pike knew how many prisoners he had. The Gloucestershire
officer was wounded and Pike accompanied him as
retired. He then thought of delivering the Oxford and
Bucks sergeant’s message, which was probably not of
much value after two days’ delay. It hardly surprising
that Pike found he had lost it. He was told, with what
truth we do not know, that he had been recommended
for the V.C.
The diary of the 2/6th Gloucestershire Regiment made
no mention of the incident.
Overview
The attack had on the whole not been too successful.
Tanks had been unable to give the assistance intended,
owing to the marshy ground. In the night of the 23rd-
24th the line was taken over by the 183rd Brigade and
the 2/4th Royal Berkshire returned to Goldfish Château.

Please see:

The Attack on Pond Farm, 22nd August, 1917

The Attack On Pond Farm and Other Strong Posts, 21st -24th August 1917

The Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele)

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