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

Research and Resources around the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry during WWI

Archive for the tag “61st Division”

1917, APRIL 11th – 61st RELIEVED AND MOVED BACK TO THE NESLE AREA. THE 2/4th OXFORDS MARCHED TO HOMBLEUX

Hombleaux near Ham (sketch from Church Tower),  April 16th 1917 Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)  A sketched view across the rooftops of a small French town seen from the church tower, with the roof and small turret of the church in the foreground. Beyond are the roofs of houses, and then open countryside. There is a small study of a weather...

Hombleaux near Ham (sketch from Church Tower),
April 16th 1917
Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)
A sketched view across the rooftops of a small French town seen from the church tower, with the roof and small turret of the church in the foreground. Beyond are the roofs of houses, and then open countryside. There is a small study of a weather vane in the bottom left of the composition

 

To Hombleux, where remained in rest billets, undergoing training until 19th, on which date the Battalion marched to reserve billets at Germaine.

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 61st Division was relieved on April 11 and moved back to the Nesle area. The 2/4th Oxfords marched to Hombleux, a village where the enemy had left the church and a few houses standing.

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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.

1918, MARCH 21st – FROM THE FIFTH ARMY IN MARCH 1918, BY WALTER SHAW SPARROW

Storm Troopers Advancing Under Gas By Otto Dix

Storm Troopers Advancing Under Gas By Otto Dix

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

An officer of the Sixty-first writes: – “The night was extraordinarily quiet. … I turned in early, about 11 p.m., after telling my signallers to call me at 4 a.m. if nothing happened earlier. I slept well; and at 4 a.m. on the 21st not a sound was to be heard. The line reported all quiet. I went upstairs out of the dugout. A dense ground mist and a light north-west wind. I went back again to bed, and at 4.40 I was wakened by a terrific bombardment.
 Sir Hubert Gough, in his headquarters at Nesle, was awakened also by the same noise. Information was sought by telephone, and a few orders were given. Afterwards nothing more could be done till infantry fighting began. So the General went back to bed and slept, for there would be time for only short half-hours of sleep after the bombardment had passed into its creeping barrage, and it was important to keep as fresh and cool as possible.

Earthquake voices grew louder and louder as twenty or thirty batteries along each kilometre of German front poured shells by the thousand into our defences, particularly between the Rivers Scarpe and Oise, while high-velocity guns aimed at railways and roads far behind. Many communications were cut, many guns were knocked out; and let us try to make real to ourselves the fact that the twenty-one divisions in line on the fronts of our Fifth and Third Armies had each either two or three battalions under shell-fire in the forward zone.

As for the business of manning our battle zone, which began a few minutes after the bombardment started,* men groped through fog to their stations with shells screaming and bursting all around. A curt oath, followed by a hoarse cry through clenched teeth, came here and there from a wounded man; or some one fell with a peculiar, double-sounding thud, a rifle here, a body there, and no movement afterwards. Earth and stones and volcanic smoke fumes spouted into the fog as big new craters were scooped by explosions in and between many thousands of old ones.

* For some time this movement had been heralded by the ” Prepare for Attack” order. This was a piece of Staff work confined to the Fifth Army preparations, and it kept the whole defence alert, like the outposts constantly manned in all zones of defence. Quex writes of March 21, 1918 : ” Had not the ‘ Prepare for Attack ‘ warning come in, I should have been in pyjamas, and might possibly have lain in bed for two or three minutes, listening quietly and comfortably while estimating the extent and intensity of the barrage. But this occasion was different, and I was up and about a couple of minutes after waking. Opening my door, I encountered the not unpleasant smell of lacrymatory gas. . . .” Blackwood’s Magazine, October, 1918, p. 429.

One garrison, there is reason to believe, did not reach its battle station. It set out for Contescourt, but did not arrive there, according to a battery commander whose guns were in this sector. And at Contescourt the Germans got into our battle zone, and made their way by twos and threes down woody swamps of the Somme valley. Who knows how many of our men were either killed or wounded before breakfast by shell-fire ?

If either Nelson or Wellington could have been present, he would have been appalled by the unimaginable hellishness invented since his day by science in slaughter; but mankind being a creature of custom, routine, convention, all in war is right except the unfamiliar.

The Thirtieth, west of St. Quentin, at the usual hour, sent out a couple of patrols, each a platoon strong. One was a patrol from the Second Wiltshires. Out it went into the gathering white mist and disappeared: it was never seen again. The other patrol had men from the Sixteenth Manchesters; and at 4.40 a.m., when German shells began to seek for the lives of men, it was in no-man’s-land, and so cut off. Then our counter-bombardment started, and the patrol found itself between two fires. But it took its chance nonchalantly — or shall we say cigarettefully?—dodging from crater to crater; and after seven o’clock it made its way back into our forward zone, where it fought all day long; and then, with half of its men lost, it withdrew into and through the battle zone. Was it all that remained of the Sixteenth Manchesters? From eight battalions in the front zone of Maxse’s Corps, less than fifty men returned. All had fought to the very last.

The bombardment fell on many wide spans of front, striking broadly east and north-east of Reims, and also here and there between the Scarpe and Lens. Our positions from south of the La Bassee Canal to the River Lys were profusely shelled with gas, and battery areas between Messines and the Ypres-Comines Canal were actively engaged. Dunkirk was bombarded from the sea; and Ludendorf in his first bulletin made astute reference to the firing duel in Belgian Flanders, on both sides of Reims, in the Champagne, along the Lorraine front also, and at Verdun. “Our artillery,” he said, “continued its destruction of enemy infantry positions and batteries before Verdun.”

These were diversions to detain the Franco-British reserves. South of the Scarpe as far as La Fere, the shelling, carefully disciplined, was in deadly earnest. Byng’s Army grew taut and keen throughout its ten line divisions: and Gough’s Army, which started with about 66,000 infantry in first line, and about 16,500 in reserve, was ready. Owing to the fog, our airmen could not go out to attack all enemy batteries in action and troops on the move.*

* But since March 10, two hours before dawn every day, airplane patrols of the Fifth Army had reconnoitred the German front system as far back as a general line, about three miles east of our outposts. Flares were employed, but it was impossible to see German movements along roads.

While the artillery work continued, many German divisions trudged from anti-aircraft shelters to their places in the storming line, or from villages in the rear to their support stations. Now and then a British shell tore gaps in the marching ranks. Secret night marches to the battlefield must have tired a big percentage of men in each battalion. Divisions chosen to begin the battle were disposed variously for attack, but the formation most often used was this: two regiments in the front line (six battalions) and a regiment (three battalions) in divisional reserve. A regiment was echeloned in depth, having, as a rule, two battalions in first line. It was reinforced in numbers more or less strong with elements from the following units: companies of stormtroops, companies of pioneers, companies of flame-throwers, and mine-throwers, and cyclists ; also one and a half extra machine-gun companies. A brigade’s reserve seems to have had an independent detachment of two cyclist companies and an assault company. Half an hour after the attack began, and at arranged times through about three hours, a division’s artillery -— twelve field batteries and six heavy batteries—were to be moved forward.

During five hours of intensive bombardment every unit in these German forces moved in the white fog, learning from officers how the shelling advanced through its seven stages or periods. Every fixed target was known to the German gunners; its position had been accurately mapped and its range correctly measured; the errors of each German gun had been noted and tabulated, and allowed for when firing, like errors of the day caused by wind and atmospheric density. In this way it was possible to determine, by means of simple tables for any gun at any time, how much should be added to, or subtracted from, the normal elevation of any target. Of course, maps had to be faultless, and among the necessary preliminaries was the determination trigonometrical and topographical of all battery zero points on the ground. The most watchful care had to be shown in marking targets on maps, as determined by sound-ranging, flash-spotting and aerial photography. What in finite patience! Ludendorff says that this new artillery procedure set gunners by the ears, particularly the senior gunners, but that “it fulfilled all expectations.” He exaggerates, for a good many of our guns had been moved to alternative positions not yet discovered by the enemy.

At first, for two hours, the German gunners searched for our guns ; then for thirty minutes, going through three periods, one half of the bombardment tired gas and high explosive shells into our infantry positions, while the other half went on with its attack on our guns and mortars. Afterwards, through a hundred and forty-five minutes, special parts of our infantry defences were ransacked by every German gun that did not belong to the counter-battery groups ; and hundreds of mortars, heavy, medium, and light, took part in a crescendo of studied fire; light mortars beginning to bark thirty minutes before a creeping barrage started to travel from our outposts up the forward zone to our line of redoubts at the far end and farther west.

We must linger over this routine because it was the most important factor, in the foe’s opening assault. Ludendorff thought of it with great anxiety during his preparations, and his chosen storm troops practised with a barrage of live shells, in order that they might learn to keep close behind a creeping protection which exploded violently. They were trained to advance in a thin wave constantly renewed from behind. In all the German training loose formations, with infantry group tactics carefully worked out, were compulsory. Ludendorff said : “We must not copy the Allied mass tactics, which offer advantages only in the case of untrained troops.” As it was quite impossible for him to foresee what form the fighting would take when his infantry emerged from the protecting barrage, anxiety caused him to be present at various exercises and to converse with many regimental officers. discovered that it was not at all easy for his troops to adopt the open formation which he held up to them as essential. Right up to the middle of March every moment of time available for training was urgently needed for attack rehearsals, in which every infantry group was expected to act with swift initiative.

The barrage caused the greatest worry: — “It was evident that the closer the infantry could keep to the barrage, the less time the English would have to leave their dugouts, and the more chance there was of surprising them in their dugouts. Consequently the barrage must not advance faster than the infantry could follow. This pace had to be fixed beforehand, for, in spite of hard thinking and experiments, it had been impossible to discover any means of controlling the barrage. The nature and state of the ground had also to be considered, as regards their effect on the infantry’s advance and the consequent pace of the barrage. Stronger lines required a more prolonged bombardment, and the barrage had to dwell on them longer. So it came about that an advance of one kilometre (eleven hundred yards) required as much as an hour. It was always a great misfortune if the barrage got ahead; the attack was then held up only too easily. It could not be brought back again without great loss of time, and the infantry suffered losses which it was the duty of all commanders to avoid.”*

* Ludendorff, vol, ii., p, 579,

In these time matters, happily, fog was a great help to our defence, impeding the attack when it passed over trench systems and over ground profusely cratered with shell-holes, while the routine barrage thundered onward. As the range increased shorter range guns dropped out, so the barrage grew thinner and thinner, till at last, beyond extreme range, it ceased, leaving the fog-bound attack unprotected. Some artillery was moved up as rapidly as possible to support a further advance, but hitch after hitch was inevitable, happily, in such a fog and across ground which in peace manoeuvres, aided by broad daylight, would have been indescribably difficult.

A regular scheme for bringing up a large force of artillery and even larger masses of ammunition had been prepared, but Ludendorff says that often too many guns were pushed up compared with the ammunition that could be brought in wheeled vehicles over shell-holes and the German and British systems of trenches and wire. Vast quantities of gear were needed to bridge the defensive belts. No one could see what was happening fifty yards away ; and, happily, few German divisions knew anything about the country ahead of them. They had been trained to show initiative anywhere except in a fog. Even our own men felt lost on ground that they knew perfectly. Thus, at 6.15 a.m. the commander of one battalion, the 2/Fourth Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, had a baffled adventure. He was in the forward zone of the Sixty-first, holding Enghien Redoubt with a company. He had orders to leave his redoubt if a great deal of gas collected there; and gas becoming worse and worse, he went out in the fog to see whether he could move his company to Champagne trench, a better spot. Though the Colonel knew by heart every nook and corner in his neighbourhood, he lost his way before he had gone fifty yards; and it took him about fifteen minutes to find his way back. He and his men remained in the dugout, with gas blankets put down, knowing that the Germans would not attack until they believed all gas had cleared away. But an officer went up frequently to put his ear on the bombardment.

At half-past seven gas shelling ceased, and Enghien Redoubt was pounded with high explosives from four batteries. Shell after shell exploded, above all in the quarry, a space about fifty yards by sixty.

Nearly two hours later there were barrage symptoms east-ward that an attack through the fog had begun to play at blind man’s buff with Destiny. How soon would it reach the line of eight redoubts ending the forward zone of Maxse’s Corps? Would the attacking troops have courage enough to keep close to this exploding barrier of projectiles? Every one under- ground in Enghien Redoubt made ready for a rush upstairs.*

The barrage passed over : and when our men came up they had to grope their way to their lonely posts.

To be unable to see more than a few yards was a great ordeal –sometimes too great — when a company of young troops in a redoubt was divided between many isolated posts, and attack came all at once from many (quarters, with the hiss and ping of bullets. A brave officer, Lieutenant Bassett, fell, shot in the head. Not a German could be seen and for several minutes the garrison groped with strained eyes into the fog, and breathed almost as swimmers do when tired and cold.

Near the quarry was a sunken road connecting Fayet on the east with Holnon on the south-west ; and suddenly, close by, some fifty Boches climbed out of this road. Bullets welcomed them; and about five-and-twenty went down. The rest sought seclusion in the roadway. But Fayet had fallen, and just before ten o’clock the foe entered a part of Enghien Redoubt, capturing the sandpit.

At once a bombing reprisal was arranged. It went briskly, led by Captain Rowbotham, and the sandpit was our own again. Only five posts now remained in the enemy’s hands ; the rest of Enghien was Oxford and Bucks.

Soon after eleven o’clock the Germans tried their luck with bombs, assailing from three sides, and with a skill that looked menacing. But our men had warmed to their work their hearts were in it, for now they were freed from the cold, clammy demon that rules over most young soldiers when the blood is iced before battle by lonely waiting and a troubled consciousness of past joys and present dangers. Set firmly in a proper fighting vein, cool, firm, and fierce, they stopped the attack, then drove it back.

Foiled, the enemy persisted, surrounding the whole ground included in Enghien Redoubt and its posts. A rear post, No.12, only about three hundred yards from Holnon village, was in the thick of it, till a Vickers gun shot more than fifty attackers. They could be seen through the fog, these dead or wounded men, huddled into wire entanglements. No wonder a German war correspondent wrote of the blasts of death that blew around the Holnon district. Twelve hours later, when the war correspondent of the Berlin Gazette visited the scene, wounded men were still there in long lines, Germans on one side, our own men on the other and near by, in the

sunk road, was a terrible wreckage of guns, and horses, and dead soldiers. For both sides had fought their best, each in its own way. German platoons and companies came on as blurred targets through the fog, and hour after hour handfuls of British troops held them at bay. Self was lost in duty and this fact was equally active all along our firm line of redoubts. Tommy had no time to cry : “Outnumbered again ! Why? Isn’t the war nearly four years old?”

Towards midday the fog began to shred upwards, uncovering Enghien. At any moment enfilade fire might commence from the rear. What was happening to the Fifth Gordons in Fresnoy Redoubt, two thousand yards northward? And to the 2/Eighth Worcesters in Ellis Redoubt, about a thousand yards due south. Germans had passed between these strongholds; but had they settled themselves in Holnon village? If so, nothing but a barrage from our eighteen- pounders could save the quarry garrison at Enghien from shots in the back.

Some one must visit Holnon before the fog dispersed. Some one—but who? The only other officer at Battalion H.Q. in Enghien, Lieutenant Cunningham, had been so busy, with a bravery all of a piece with Chinese Gordon’s, that Colonel Wetherall thought it would be unfair if he did not go himself. So he chose two men and stole across the strip of land separating No. 12 post from Holnon. The village was empty.

On their way back one of our men was shot, while the Colonel was captured, with his other companion. Captors and captives made their way to a shell-hole; and there they sat peaceably until a quarter to five in the afternoon. The Germans chose many things from their prisoners’ pockets, but found no use for the Colonel’s watch.

Cigarettes they liked very much, yet were willing to share them with their owner; and Tommy also might have one if his Colonel did not mind. There was no unkindness, but just a compulsive communism in a shell-hole while a vast battle raged. Many bullets were flying about,and the Boches were glad to regard two prisoners as quite enough for a day’s peril. At a quarter to five one German went away, while the others took their prisoners to the rear, passing between Enghien and Ellis Redoubts towards the Faubourg St. Jean at St. Quentin. All at once, about fifty yards off, a British 6-inch shell exploded, and another was heard coming.

The Germans ran forward to a shell-hole. Their prisoners ran back to an old trench, there to begin new adventures. They were surrounded by Boches, who moved here and there by companies and platoons. Yet all went well until they reached our old line between Holnon and Round Hill, where many Germans were busy on the toil named “consolidating “;

and busy so close together that it was impossible to pass between them. An hour toiled through its long seconds. It seemed an eternity. At last a platoon finished its work and moved oft”, leaving a gap through which an escape could be made into other hazards.

Near midnight the Colonel reached Attilly, his brigade headquarters, where he got his first drink since daybreak, and where he learnt that Enghien Redoubt had made a big name under Cunningham. Not till half-past four in the afternoon did the position there become hopeless. Then Cunningham, completely surrounded with overwhelming numbers, sent a telephone message to his Brigadier, seeking final orders. On the chateau side his quarry was enfiladed. What was he to do?

The Brigadier, Robert White, having praised a great defence, told Cunningham to cut his way out after destroying the telephone gear. Parts of the redoubt were strewn with German dead, and its garrison, in proportion to its number of men, had suffered as heavily. Game to the last, it began to cut its way through, and just a few machine-gunners, with Lieutenant Richards, had fortune for their friend, reaching our battle zone more than a mile westward. And Cunningham? He was captured and, I fear, wounded.

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.

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.

1917, DECEMBER 31st – MARCHED TO CAIX

Bray-sur-Somme, December 31 1917 Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)  A view across the roofs of buildings in Bray-sur-Somme, with a line of telegraph poles crossing the foreground.

Bray-sur-Somme,
December 31 1917
Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)
A view across the roofs of buildings in Bray-sur-Somme, with a line of telegraph poles crossing the foreground.

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’s mid-winter respite was brief. On New Year’s Eve, 1917, the 2/4th Oxfords quitted the wretched Suzanne huts and marched through Harbonnières to Caix. No ‘march past’ was necessary or would have been possible, for so slippery was the road that the men had to trail along its untrodden sides as best they could. Old 61st Divisional sign-boards left standing nearly a year ago greeted the return to an area which was familiar to many. The destination should have been Vauvillers, but the inhabitants of that village were stricken with measles. Better billets and freedom from infection compensated for a longer march. At Caix the Battalion was comfortable for a week.

The Division’s move from the Bray-Suzanne area to south of the Somme heralded a new relief of the French, whose line was now to be shortened by the amount on its left flank between St. Quentin and La Fère.

1916, NOVEMBER 21st – ON THE SOMME

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.

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).

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