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

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61ST (SOUTH MIDLAND) DIVISION Second Line, From the Territorial Divisions, 1914-1918 by John Stirling

The Territorial Divisions, 1914-1918 (1922), John Stirling, J. M. Dent


The Division went to France in May 1916. On 19th-20th July they and an Australian division made an attack in the Neuve Chapelle district. Ground was gained but could not be held as the guns on the Aubers Ridge had command of it.

The despatch from Sir Douglas Haig, dated 31st May, 1917, paragraph 13, Messrs. Dent’s edition, shows that the 61st was one of the divisions employed in pursuing and pressing the enemy when he retreated from the neighbourhood of the Somme battlefield in March 1917. On 17th March the 61st and 2nd Australian Divisions captured Chaulnes and Bapaume.

The Division was for a time in the Third Battle of Ypres and, as part of the XIX. Corps, attacked on 22nd and 27th August and 5th September, 1917.

The Cambrai despatch of 20th February, 1918, paragraph 9 (Dent’s edition) and map opposite p. 163, shows that the 61st was in reserve on 30th November, 1917, when the enemy made his great counter-attack. On the night of the 1st December they took over from the 12th in the neighbourhood of La Vacquerie and for some days thereafter had to fight hard to stem the German flood; in this they were successful.

The Division saw a great deal of heavy fighting in 1918 and was frequently mentioned in despatches. It formed part of the XVIII. Corps, Fifth Army, in March of that year and was engaged throughout the whole of the British retreat. At the end of ten days’ continuous fighting the strength of the Division was down to about 2000. They came out of the battle with a splendid reputation, which was to be enhanced later, on the Lys.

In the telegraphic despatch of 26th March, 1918, Sir Douglas Haig said: “In the past six days of constant fighting our troops on all parts of the battle-front have shown the utmost courage,” and among divisions which had exhibited “exceptional gallantry ” he mentioned the 61st.

In the written despatch of 20th July, 1918, paragraph 15, which deals with the 21st March, it is stated: “Assisted by the long spell of dry weather hostile infantry had crossed the river and canal north of La Fere, and, south of St. Quentin, had penetrated into the battle-zone between Essigny and Benay. At Maissemy, also, our battle positions were entered at about noon, but the vigorous resistance of the 61st and 24th Divisions, assisted by troops of the 1st Cavalry Division, prevented the enemy from developing his success.”

The Division held its battle position intact against the assaults of three German divisions, and only retired in the afternoon of the 22nd when ordered to do so in consequence of the enemy’s progress at other parts of the line.

In his History of the British Campaign in France and Flanders, vol. v.. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gives a full account of the very arduous work of the XVIII. Corps in the March retreat, and frequently refers to the conduct of the 61st Division in terms of very high praise. He gives a detailed description of the most heroic resistance of the battalions in the front line on the morning of 21st March and, as an example of what was done, he tells the story of the 2 /4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry which, under Colonel Wetherall, held out in the Enghien Redoubt until it was finally submerged by the ever increasing waves from the three German divisions which attacked the front of the 61st. This took place about 4.30 p.m.

Mr. Sparrow in his The Fifth Army in March 1918, also gives many particulars of the splendid defence put up by the forward battalions of the 61st, on the 21st, as well as of the endless encounters they had during the retreat. On p. 239 he mentions that parts of the Division were first attacked at 5 a.m. on the 21st, and were only two miles back at 3 a.m. on the 23rd, although for 48 hours the 61st was attacked by three German divisions. On p. 102 he refers to it as ” this brave Division ” and says that a Special Order of the day, dated 18th April, stated that between 21st March and that date the 61st had been opposed by 14 German divisions.

At p. 287 Mr. Sparrow remarks that the 61st had been continuously in the line since 27th August, 1917, except when moving from one part to another, and “then fought for twelve continuous days.” Paragraph 24 of the despatch states that on the morning of the 23rd the Commander of the Fifth Army ordered ” a gradual withdrawal to the line of the Somme.”

Paragraph 26: A gap occurred in our line near Ham and bodies of Germans succeeded in crossing the river. ” In the afternoon these forces increased in strength, gradually pressing back our troops, until a spirited counter-attack by troops of the 20th and 61st Divisions about Verlaines restored the situation in this locality.”

The fighting between 21st-23rd March is now designated the ” Battle of St. Quentin.”

Paragraph 31, ” The Fight for the Somme Crossings”: On the 24th various bodies of the enemy had been able to effect crossings at different points. ” During the remainder of the day the enemy repeated his attacks at these and other points, and also exercised strong pressure in a westerly and south- westerly direction from Ham. Our troops offered a vigorous resistance and opposite Ham a successful counter-attack by the 1/5th (Pioneer) Battalion, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, 61st Division, materially delayed his advance.”

Paragraph 44: On 28th March the British were almost back to the Amiens defences and the enemy were seriously pressing the French on our right. “A gallant attempt by troops of the 61st Division to regain Warfusee-Abancourt and lighten the pressure from the north proved unsuccessful. … At night- fall we held approximately the Amiens defence line on the whole front south of the Somme.” Fortunately that same day the enemy had been defeated north of the Somme (see 56th, 42nd and 62nd Divisions), and in a few days his offensive on the front south of Arras ceased.

In his account of the 28th, Mr. Sparrow deals with the work of ” the intrepid 61st,” and remarks ‘ one and all behaved with the greatest gallantry.”

In Colonel a Court Repington’s Memoirs, The First World War, Constable, vol. ii., p. 269, there is detailed a conversation, on 7th April, 1918, with General Gough, the Commander of the Fifth Army. After some particulars of the great struggle there occurs the sentence, ” He brought with him some of Maxse’s notes, which mentioned particularly the fine conduct of the 61st Division, under Colin Mackenzie.” Lieut. -General Maxse commanded the XVIII. Corps.

The despatch of 20th July, 1918, deals also with the Lys battle which began on 9th April, 1918 (see 55th, 49th, 50th and 51st Divisions). Paragraph 58 shows that several divisions were brought straight from the Somme fighting to the Lys area. Among these was the 61st. Dealing with the 12th April, the despatch states: ” On the left of the 51st the 61st Division was coming into action about the Clarence river. Both the 3rd and 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 was definitely checked.”

The fighting 12th-15th April is now the ” Battle of Hazebrouck.”

Paragraph 65 deals with the great effort made by the enemy on 18th April on the southern front of his salient. ” At certain points there was severe and continuous fighting. . . . Elsewhere the enemy failed to obtain even an initial success, being repulsed, with exceedingly heavy loss, at all points, by the 4th and 61st Divisions.” And, referring to a few days later: “Further west the 4th Division, in co-operation with the 61st Division, carried out a series of successful local operations, north of the La Bassee canal, resulting in the capture of some hundreds of prisoners, and a considerable improvement of our positions between the Lawe and Clarence rivers.”

The action on 18th April is now the ” Battle of Bethune.”

The Division joined the XVII. Corps early in October 1918, and with it took part in the ” Advance to Victory.”

The despatch of 21st December, 1918, as to the final British offensive, paragraph 47, Battle of the Selle River, 17th-25th October, shows that the 61st Division, as part of the XVII. Corps of the Third Army, attacked on 24th October. ” About many of the woods and villages which lay in the way of our attack there was severe fighting, particularly in the large wood known as the Bois L’fiveque, and at Pom.rnereuil, Bousies Forest and Vendegies-surficaillon. This latter village held out till the after- noon of the 24th October when it was taken by an enveloping attack by troops of the 19th Division and 61st Division.”

Paragraph 49, ” The Battle of the Sambre,” 1st-2th November: As a preliminary to the main attack it is stated that on 1st November ” the XVII. Corps of the Third Army and the XXII. and Canadian Corps of the First Army attacked on a front of about six miles south of Valenciennes and in the course of two days of heavy fighting inflicted a severe defeat on the enemy. During these two days the 61st, Major-General F. J. Duncan, 49th and 4th Divisions crossed the Rhonelle river, capturing Maresches and Preseau after a stubborn struggle, and established themselves on the high ground two miles to the east of it. On their left the 4th Canadian Division captured Valenciennes and made progress beyond the town.”

The fighting on 1st-2nd November is now designated the ” Battle of Valenciennes.” On the 3rd November the enemy withdrew, and the British line was advanced. The XVII. Corps was again employed on the left of the Third Army in the Battle of the Sambre on the 4th November when ” the enemy’s resistance was definitely broken.”

Battalions from the Division were selected for the Armies of Occupation, as follows: Western Front, 2/6th and 2/7th Royal Warwickshire Regiment 2/5th Gloucestershire Regiment and 1/5th Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry (Pioneers). For Egypt, 2/8th Worcestershire Regiment, 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment.


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

A and D Companies were selected for the attack, and at 2.15 a.m. the Engineer party had not been discovered. The companies were filing out to take up their positions ten minutes later, when the Engineer officer reported, and stated that he had no material at all. The C.O. just at that moment received an order from the Brigade Headquarters that unless everything was ready by 2.30 he was not to start, so the attack was cancelled.

The next few days were occupied in cleaning up and repairing the trenches. 2nd Lieut. Thorne, of the 6th Middlesex, who was attached to the Battalion, made two journeys into No Man’s Land during the day, and succeeded in bringing in wounded men on each occasion


3359 Bugler Thomas Simms


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.


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


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).

Bugler Thomas Sims (Simms)

Name: SIMS
Initials: T
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Bugler
Regiment/Service: Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry
Unit Text: 2nd/4th Bn.
Date of Death: 20/07/1916
Service No: 3359
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: II. A. 18.

Name: Thomas Simms
Residence: Oxford
Death Date: 20 Jul 1916
Enlistment Location: Hinksey, Oxon
Rank: Bugler
Regiment: Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
Battalion: 2/4th Battalion.
Number: 3359
Type of Casualty: Died of wounds

184 Infantry Brigade Report on Operations, 19th/20th July 1916

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.

“On the 19th July the Brigade (with 183rd Brigade on our right and the 15th Australian Brigade on our left) was ordered to attack, capture and hold with two battalions (2/1 Bucks and 2/4 Royal Berks) the German Front and Support Lines from N 14 a 60. 25 to N 8 d 95. 10. – Two Companies of the 2/4 Oxfords were placed at the disposal of the Brigadier to occupy our front Line in the event of all Companies in the Assaulting Battalions being absorbed in the same: the 2/5 Glosters and remaining two Companies of 2/4 Oxfords were in Divisional Reserve.

The following were also placed at the disposal of the Brigadier: 3rd Field Company R.E. and ‘B’ Company 1/5th Duke of Cornwall’s L.I (Pioneers)

By 9.0.a.m. the Brigade was disposed, in accordance with orders. (vide Sketch No.1).

2 Vickers Machine Guns were posted in the front Line in support of the attack, 4 Vickers Machine Guns were detailed to follow the Assaulting Companies on the positions being captured. 6 Vickers Guns were detailed for indirect fire from vicinity of JOCKS LODGE. Owing to the difficulty of coming within effective range, only one Stokes Mortar was detained to bombard the SUGAR LOAF, it was arranged for 4 Stokes Mortars to follow the Assaulting Companies.

The Assaulting Companies No. 1 & No. 2 were ordered to attack in 4 waves at 20 yards distance.

The 3rd Company was to follow as soon as the position was reported captured, carrying consolidating material. Each
consolidating Company had 4 R.E. and 4 Pioneers detailed to accompany same – An R.E. and a Pioneer officer were also
detailed to supervise work of consolidation.

A portion of Reserve Companies were ordered to carry across NO MAN’S LAND reserve bombs and S.A.A.

Arrangements were made for a party of 3rd Australian Mining Company, under Major Coulter, to blow up, by means of an
ammonal pipe, a continuation of the RHONDDA SAP, after this had been effected for the Pioneer Company attached to the Brigade to dig a communication trench between N 8.d. 25. 15 on the SUGAR LOAF to the RHONDDA SAP – parties working from both sides.

Diary of Events (11. a.m. to 6. p.m.)

11. a.m. Our Artillery opened fire

11.50.a.m. Reported that enemy had shelled our Left Sub-section heavily – some casualties.

12.55 p.m. Report received that enemy’s Artillery fire had diminished slightly – A few salvos on RUE DE TILLELOY

1.20. PM. Report received ROTTEN ROW Communication Trench heavily shelled by 77 mm.

2.10.p.m. Report received that our Support Trenches were heavily shelled with H.E.

2.30.p.m. Telephonic communication with Front Line temporarily severed

2.44.p.m. Enemy firing 103 c.m. on BOND ST Communication Trench

3.25.p.m. The whole sectional Front heavily shelled. Communication effected by Runners

4.24 p.m. Our C.T’s. heavily shelled -BOND ST Communication Trench & PICANTIN AVENUE especially

5.15.p.m.Damage to our Front Line Parapet very severe (numerous casualties)

5.30.p.m. Owing to heavy casualties in Assaulting Companies of both battalions I gave orders for 2 platoons from reserve
Companies to reinforce former – the consolidating companies to be left intact.

6.00.p.m. Communication by telephone with Front Line re-established by laying an additional line from Advanced Battalion H.Q.

Up to 5.30.pm.owing chiefly to the crowded condition of our Front Line Trenches, considerable casualties had taken place,
amounting to 100 killed and wounded in 2/Bucks and 40 killed and wounded in the 4/Royal Berks. This necessitated reorganisation of the Assaulting and consolidating Companies.

At 5.45 p.m. on the right 4/Royal Berks commenced to file out through 2 Sally Ports. On emerging from same they encountered severe Machine Gun Fire – numerous casualties ensued. A certain proportion of the Right Company got through the Sally Ports but only in scattered parties – some of whom are reported to have reached the German wire but, beingunsupported and under heavy machine gun fire and shrapnel fire, were compelled to fall back, they reported that the Germanwire at X 20, X 21 was uncut. A few men only of the left company, 4/Royal Berks got through the Sally Port under heavy Machine Gun fire but failed to advance any appreciable distance. Whilst directing these men from the parapet Lt. Col. J N Beer was killed. Several officers were killed and wounded in endeavouring to initiate an organised forward movement.

At 5.40.pm. the 2/Bucks commenced to file through the Sally Ports but, owing to severe Machine Gun fire directed at the latter,
Lt. Col Williams decided to utilise the Rhondda Sap. This was carried out and the 2 Assaulting Companies were successfully
deployed from head of same., they were however subjected to heavy Machine Gun and shrapnel fire and a certain number of
casualties occurred, whilst waves were getting into position.

At 6.0.p.m punctually the 2/Bucks advanced to the Assault, a withering Machine Gun fire was encountered which mowed down
a large proportion of men, especially with the Right Company. A portion of Capt. Church’s Company on the left pressed through the enemy’s wire on the N.E. face of the Sugar Loaf and fierce fighting was seen to take place on the parapet. A good proportion of this Company, ably led by Captain Church (who was killed just before the glacis (sic) to enemy’s breastworks) got into the Germans trenches. (This has been substantiated by reports from the Right Battalion of the 15thAustralian Brigade)

Owing to the 4/Royal Berks having been driven back on their Right and the same thing having occurred to the Right Battalion
of the 15th Australian Brigade on their left, this lack of support on their flanks seriously impaired what chances the 2/1st Bucks
had of capturing the SUGAR LOAF. The C.O. is of the opinion (with which I concur) that if 2 Reserve Companies had been available at this period fro throwing into the assault, a substantial lodgement would undoubtedly been effected in the SUGAR LOAF. 61 missing N.C.O’s and men in this Battalion testifies to the belief that a considerable proportion of the Left Company of this Battalion got into the German Trenches.

Owing to want of support and heavy casualties the 2/1st Bucks were compelled to effect a withdrawal In accordance with orders,
C.O.s, 2/4 R.Berks and 2/1st Bucks then reorganised their battalions with the view to launching a second attack.

During the enemy bombardment shells emitting a dense column of light green smoke were observable in the vicinity of the Red House (Regimental First Aid Post)

At 6.0.p.m the 1/8 Cornwall’s left the Assembly trenches and proceeded to the Rhondda Gap and started improving it.

184 Machine Gun Company – The Machine Gun company fired 30,000 rounds with indirect fire and supporting the Infantry
attack. 3 of their guns were put out of action by bullets. They endeavoured to silence the enemy’s guns.

184 Light Trench Mortars – The one gun in the Front Line at 4.30. pm. fired 30 rounds on the SUGAR LOAF obtaining direct
Communications were maintained throughout the Operations from Brigade and Battalion H.Q. From Battalion H.Q. to the Front
Line they were cut between 2 and 3.p.m. but were re-established by 6,0.p.m. Runners were employed and were most satisfactory.”

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