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

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1916, NIGHT OF AUGUST 19th / 20th – RAID ON THE GERMAN TRENCHES NEAR SUGAR LOAF

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)

At 10 p.m. on August 19 a raid upon the German trenches near the ‘Sugar Loaf’ was carried out by A Company. The raid was part of an elaborate scheme in which the Australians upon the left and the 2/5th Gloucesters on our own front co-operated. The leading bombing party, which Bennett sent forward under Sergeant Hinton, quickly succeeded in reaching the German parapet and was doing well, when a Mills bomb, dropped or inaccurately thrown, fell amongst the men. The plan was spoilt. A miniature panic ensued, which Bennett and his Sergeant-Major found it difficult to check. As in many raids, a message to retire was passed [1]. The wounded were safely brought in by Bennett, whose control and leadership were worthy of a luckier enterprise.

[1] [Footnote 1: A failure of this kind was far less due to any indetermination of the men than to the complex nature of the scheme, which any misadventure was capable of upsetting. On the occasion the ‘order to retire’ was said to have been of German manufacture, but such explanation deserved a grain of salt. Owing to the danger of its unauthorised use, the word ‘retire’ was prohibited by Army orders.]

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

During this tour of duty C Company made a raid on the night 19th / 20th August.

The rough outline of the trenches that were raided was an inverted T, affront trench of some eighty yards with a communication trench running back from the center.

The raiding party was divided into six sections: two were to act as flank guard; a third was to be the covering party, and was detailed to take up its position on the parapet of the German front line trench at the same point and to work respectively right, left and up the communication trench. The signal for the attack was to be the fist shot from the artillery which, it had been arranged, would open fire on the enemy’s support line and shorten to the front line immediately after the raiders had evacuated the trenches.

Two novelties were introduced into the plan. Firstly the raid was to be made on the same night and an hour or so after a similar operation had been carried out on exactly the same sector by another battalion. Secondly, the preliminary bombardment was to be dispensed with.

In these ways it was hoped to take the enemy by surprise – and this indeed proved to be the case……

In preparation for the raid the Company spent the previous fortnight behind the lines. Each day the attack was rehearsed on some disused trenches which approximately resembled the plan of those to be raided. Each night No Man’s land was carefully reconnoitered………..

Despite the hope that that the war might end on August 18th, the fateful day rolled round (19th). The raiders trudged up to the frontline about 10 p.m. and spent a desultory hour or so quaffing rum and blackening hands and faces. At about 12.45 a.m. they moved out into No Man’s L, and the various sections took up their allotted positions, the three that were to enter the trenches and the covering party, lying down in a ditch which ran nearly parallel to the German line and about forty yards from it……

Everything was depressingly quiet, as is usually the case just before a raid. A light mist hanging over the scene lent an eeriness to the picture: an occasional Verey light alone relieved the darkness; nothing was so audible as one’s breathing; the merest whisper jarred.

Thus they waited. Some dozed nonchalantly; some watched the luminous hand moving slowly yet inexorably towards the hour of zero. One minute still to go – thirty seconds – fifteen – ten! There was a slight brazing of limbs. Suddenly – a sound from far behind – faint, but unmistakable – the guns had opened fire. The raiders rose up and, rushing towards the German trenches, reached them as the first shell burst on the support line. What a moment ago, might have been a meadow outlying some English village, was now a caldron of flames and metal. The night air was riven by screaming shells; hundreds of Verey lights transmuted the darkness into a dazzling carnival; the quivering gun flashes from the German counter-barrage illuminated the distant sky-line; rat-tat-tat of innumerable Vickers guns, the muffled explosion of bombs; the ear-piercing bursts of the 4.9s completed the transformation. The enemy was taken completely by surprise, as is shown by the fact that the first sentry whom the raiders encountered was still looking out over No Man’s Land and was bayonetted through the back. Dugouts were bombed as well as several of the enemy who were endeavoring to escape.

The battle was at its height when  shell from one of our batteries, falling short, burst in the fire bay close to one of the raiding sections. A certain amount of disorganization resulted and taking advantage of the occasion, some cute German shouted “Retire.” The raiders, taking the order to be a genuine on, immediately scrambled out of the German lines. The guns almost at the same time shortened their range on to the enemy’s front line, so that the mistake was of little consequence.

It had been prearranged that the sections would reassemble in the ditch from which the attack started, the flankers naturally remaining where they were. This was done in order that the party on returning might not get caught by the German barrage which was then falling heavily on the Battalion’s front line. Only one member of the entire party disregarded the precaution and unfortunately was killed just before he reached the safety of his own trenches. The rest remained out in No Man’s Land for forty or fifty minutes while the shells from both sides hissed and shrieked overhead. Eventually the British Artillery barrage died down and ceased and the German guns followed suit in a few minutes. When all was quiet again, the party walked back to its trenches without sustaining a single casualty on the journey.

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1916-08-19
Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire
Location France, Fauquissart
Entry Quiet day – Wire cutting by our Artillery and TM’s 9.30 – 9.45pm and 10pm – 1230pm. Two small Raids were carried out on our Right Centre front. The first took place after Artillery preparation at PM by one company of 2/4th OXFORD and BUCKS LI. The second raid was upon the same front without Artillery preparation at AM (20/8/16) by one Company of 2/5 GLOSTERS. Wire was found to be cut and the second Raiding Party entered Enemy Trenches and inflicted loss on enemy with Bombs and Bayonet. Both Raiding Parties suffered slight casualties only. (2nd/Lt S WHITWORTH, 6th Manchesters joined Bn)

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, MARCH 18th – MOVING FROM THE ATTILLY HUTS IN THE BATTLE ZONE TO 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

 

The following narrative of events from March 18th to 25th, 1918, was written shortly afterwards by Lieut.-Colonel H. E. de R. Wetherall, D.S.O., M.C., Commanding the 2/4th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry:

My Battalion, in the natural course of reliefs, went up on the 18th March to hold the Forward Zone for 8 days.

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1918-03-18
Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire
Location France, Gricourt-Fayet St Quentin Wood
Entry The Raid carried out last night was repeated in the hope of obtaining identifications. As soon as our Barrage commenced, however, the enemy replied intensely and the flanks of the point of entry were strongly manned with rifles and machine guns resulting in our raiding party being beaten off without effecting an entry.

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 March 18th the Battalion relieved the 2/4th Oxfords and took over the defences of Holnon Wood, one of the strong points in the Battle Zone.

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 22nd – IN TRENCHES NEAR GRANDCOURT

Trenches Near Grandcourt November and Dececember 1916

During this time the 2/5th Gloucesershire Regiment was in the front lines.

Captain R. S. B. Sinclair, M.C. and Bar, Officer Commanding A Company  2/5th Gloucestershire Regiment

Captain R. S. B. Sinclair, M.C. and Bar,
Officer Commanding A Company
2/5th Gloucestershire Regiment

 

Captain R. S. B. Sinclair described the conditions as follows:

In the front line the mud made movement of any sort practically impossible until the frost hardened the ground; shaving was not to be thought of; ration parties were held up in the mire and so we were down to one cup of cold tea per man per day, hence the aptness of the code word (of the relief complete, “another little drink won’t do us any harm”). The shelling was so incessant that we were compelled to live more like rats than men.

1916, JUNE 20th – IN THE RED HOUSE SUB-SECTION OF THE FANQUISSART SECTION

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

During this period the 2/5 Gloucestershire Regiment made a raid, and the Battalion assisted with rifle-grenades and demonstration.

From the following description and the casualty figures of the 2/5th of June 21st I believe the raid was made on the night of June 20th / 21st.

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)

The other event of note was a raid made by A Company under the command of Capt. Wales. Unfortunately after the raiding party had gone over the top , it was held up by the wire which was found to be insufficiently cut. The party was thus exposed to a ruthless machine-gun fire from the enemy and was eventually compelled to return to its own trenches after having suffered heavy casualties. For the purpose of the raid , an attempt was made by the signalers to establish lamp signal communication between the front line and Battalion Headquarters, but the difference between a dress rehearsal on a quite night and the real thing with Verey Lights and gun flashes abounding, had been miscalculated. The signalers on this occasion included Tom Voyce of Twickenham fame. He cameto the 2/5th from the 1/5th, having been sent back as underage. He tells how he was placed in the “awkward” squad. Many who have tried to circumvent Tom Voyce when he was dashing for the goal line in those long loping strides of his have good reason to know how “awkward” he really was. Many acts of gallantry were performed during the raid and the following awards were made – M.C. to Capt. E. W. Wales, D.C.M. to Pte. L Fletcher, M.M. to Sgt. A. H. Norris and Cpl. C. Driver. The total casualties were 5 other ranks killed, 1 died of wounds, 3 officers wounded, 13 other ranks wounded and 4 missing*. Among the missing was Sgt. Newman of C. Company.

The Killed in Action of the 2/5th Gloucestershire Regiment from 21st June 1916 are listed below:

240948 Lance Sergeant Victor Garnet Newman

4589 Lance Corporal William Cambray 5809 Private Henry Barnes

5859 Private William English (Formerly 1687, Northumberland Cyclist Battalion)

4517 Private John Hall

3580 Private Charles William Jackson

5765 Private Joseph Ryan

3345 Private Ernest Skillern

5783 Private Frederick George Yeldham (formerly 2240, 8th Essex Regiment)

* It looks if all those listed as missing, were actually killed in action.

The Died of Wounds of the 2/5th Gloucestershire Regiment from 21st June 1916 is listed below:

5807 Private William Young

A side note on Tom Voyce:

Regarded as one of the game’s greatest back row specialists, he began his playing career at the local Gordon League club. The flank forward made 218 appearances for Gloucester in which time he scored 54 tries.

Tom appeared in every match of England’s Grand Slam winning teams of 1921, 1923 and 1924, and also represented the Army and the Barbarians. Tom was captain of Gloucester from 1924-1927 and was a member of the British touring side to South Africa in 1924.

His career was an amazing achievement because of the serious eye defect he sustained whilst serving for the Gloucestershire Regiment in World War I.

Tom Voyce

Resources on the 184th (2nd South Midland) Brigade

The Battalions that made up the 184th are listed below, with the resources I’ve found for each Battalion:

2/5th Bn Gloucestershire Regt.
Feb 1915 – 11 Nov 1918.
September 1914: Formed at Gloucester as a home service (“second line”) unit.
January 1915: attached to 2nd South Midland Brigade, 2nd South Midland Division, at Northampton.
April 1915: Moved to Chelmsford
August 1915: formation became 184th Brigade, 61st (2nd South Midland) Division
Park House Camp (Tidworth) in February 1916.
23 May 1916: Landed in France
August 1915: formation became 184th Brigade, 61st (2nd South Midland) Division.

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

This is essential reading for anyone interested in the 2/5th Gloucester Regiment and the other battalions that made up the 184th (2nd South Midland) Brigade

Gloucestershire Regiment in the War 1914-1918
Everard Wyrall
ISBN: 9781843425724
Format: 2003 N & M Press reprint (original pub 1931). SB. ix + 357pp with one b/w portrait picture frontispiece and 20 maps

Severn & Somme
Ivor Gurney
Publisher: London : Sidgwick & Jackson, Ltd.
Published 1917

Ivor Gurney is one of the most well known poets of World War One. He served with the 2nd/5th Gloucesters. The book is freely available at www.archive.org

Key Web Site:
Soldiers of Gloucestershire

2/4th Bn Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.
Jan 1915 – 11 Nov 1918.
September 1914: Formed at Oxford as a second line unit.
January 1915:moved to Northampton and attached to 184th Brigade in 61st (2nd South Midland) Division. April 1915: Moved to Writtle and quickly on to Broomfield (Essex)
January 1916: moved to Parkhouse Camp, Salisbury Plain.
24 May 1916: landed in France.
March 1919: sailed for Egypt and was still there by the end of that year.

The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
G. K. Rose
Publisher: Oxford : B. H. Blackwell
1920

This book is a fantastic first hand account of the 2/4th Oxfords during WW1, although the “great adventure” tone at time plays down the horrors and failures. The content is freely available from www.archive.org

Key Web Sites:
http://www.lightinfantry.org.uk/regiments/obli/ox_tl.htm
The Museum For The Soldiers of Oxfordshire Trust

2/1st Buckinghamshire Bn (Oxs and Bucks LI).
Jan 1915 – 22 Feb 1918. Disbanded.
September 1914: Formed at Aylesbury as a second line unit. Record same as 2/4th Bn.
22 February 1918: disbanded at Germaine, troops going to 25th Entrenching Battalion.

2/4th Bn Royal Berkshire Regt.
Feb 1915 – 11 Nov 1918.
6th November 1914: Formed at Reading as a second line unit.
Moved to Maidenhead.
February 1915: Attached to 2nd South Midland Brigade in 2nd South Midland Division, at Northampton.
April 1915: Moved to Chelmsford
August 1915: Formation became 184th Brigade in 61st (2nd South Midland) Division.
March 1916: Moved to Salisbury Plain
27 May 1916: landed at Le Havre.

Key Web Sites:
The Wardrobe The War Diaries for the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment are found online and available for purchase in a printed form. A great resource.

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.

Second Lieutenant John Crawford Cunningham

Born in 1894, John Crawford Cunningham was originally with the Bedford Yeomanry and was commissioned from a Private with the army No. of 905 into the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire  Light Infantry. At the time of Enghien Redoubt stand in March 1918 he was a 2nd Lieutenant with the 2/4th Battalion Ox & Bucks Light Infantry.

Lieutenant J C Cunningham was the last officer in charge of Enghien Redoubt on 21st March 1918.

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

Early in March some reinforcements from the 6th Oxfords, who had been disbanded, arrived; they numbered two hundred. Among the new officers who joined were Foreshew, Rowbotham, and Cunningham. Foreshew received command of C Company, whose commander Matthews went to England for a six months’rest. To Hobbs also, our worthy quartermaster, it was necessary to bid a reluctant farewell. His successor, Murray, a very able officer from the 4th Gloucesters, arrived in time to check the table of stores before the opening of the great offensive.

At 12 noon, after several patrols had failed to find out whether the enemy had captured Holnon, the Colonel himself went out to see all that was happening. He did not return, and shortly afterwards Headquarters were surrounded by the enemy, who had made ground on either flank. Nevertheless till 4.30 p.m. Cunningham, the officer left in command, held out most manfully.

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

These redoubts in the forward zone – held by the 5th Gordons, 4th Oxfords and 8th Worcesters fought with splendid gallantry throughout the day and were still holding out at 4.10pm when the buried cable – which had up to this hour remained intact, ceases to operate. The last message received was from Lieut. Cunningham 4th Oxford and Bucks who was then the senior officer commanding in Enghien Redoubt, asking permission for the garrison to try and cut their way out. This permission was granted and also by Corps Instructions to the other redoubts at the same time. Except for a few odd men that came in during the night , none returned from the Battalion fighting in the forward zone.

 

He became a POW, and is listed on the Holzminden Internee List (Sept 1917 – Dec 1918).

UK, British Officer Prisoners of War, 1914-1918
Name: J C Cunningham
Rank: 2/Lt.
Regiment: 4th Battalion. Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Lig
Date Missing: 21 Mar 1918
Repatriation Date: 14 Dec 1918
Record Number: 2910
Section: Western Theatre of Operations.

 

John Crawford Cunningham

He died 27th August 1964.

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