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

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1917, MARCH 2nd – RELIEVED BY THE 2/4th ROYAL BERKSHIRE REGIMENT IN THE VALET SUB-SECTION OF DENICOURT TRENCHES

Ablaincourt Sector

Extracted From The Regimental Chronicles of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry

 On the night of March 2 the Battalion was relieved by the Berks, now under the command of Colonel Beaman, and moved back about 2,000 yards to some support trenches near Bovent Copse.

 From the War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1917-03-02

Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire

Location France, Denicourt Trenches

Entry Battalion relieved 2/4 OXFORDS in “VALET” Sub-Section 50th Div on left of Battn front 2/5 GLOUCESTERS on RIGHT. A, B and C Coys in front line, D in support.

 DIED OF WOUNDS MARCH 2nd 1917

200333 Lance Corporal Albert White

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1917, FEBRUARY 26th – IN THE TRENCHES AT ABLAINCOURT

Ablaincourt Sector

Our guns shelled the enemy line, but there was no retaliation.

1917, FEBRUARY 25th – IN THE TRENCHES AT ABLAINCOURT

Ablaincourt Sector

1 man killed and 1 wounded.

Killed in Action February 25th, 1917

203517 Private Walter John Reading (Formerly 2744, R. Bucks Hussars)

1917, APRIL 28th – RAID NEAR ST QUENTIN BY THE 2/4th OXFORDS

By G. K. Rose

By G. K. Rose

From G. K. Rose, The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

At this point I must explain for the benefit of lay readers the difference between a raid and an attack. The purpose of the latter was to drive the enemy from ground he occupied and stay there. Early attacks upon the Western Front were usually directed against trenches, of which successive lines, reaching to a distance or ‘depth’ of several thousand yards, were often our goal or ‘objective.’ So that our Infantry could enter hostile trenches it was invariably necessary to destroy the wire in front or make a pathway through it. Many attacks failed because the wire had not been cut. Before the days of Tanks the means employed consisted, broadly speaking, in artillery fire, which it was also hoped would put the enemy’s machine-guns out of action and frighten his garrison. Our Infantry advanced immediately this fire had ceased or ‘lifted’ to the next objective. During the Battle of the Somme it was found that the enemy often left his actual trenches and came forward into shell-holes in No-Man’s-Land so as to escape the fire of our artillery. To counter this manoeuvre the ‘creeping barrage’ was devised. Our shells were fired so as to form a moving curtain of destruction immediately in front of our men in their advance, whilst at the same time the enemy’s trenches were bombarded. Attacks on any scale were planned to capture and hold against the enemy some ridge, by losing which he lost observation of our lines, while we, in gaining it, saw more of his and also were enabled to advance our guns.

The purpose of a raid was to penetrate a portion of the enemy’s front, to kill or capture as many Germans as possible, and then retire. Raids differed materially from attacks in this respect, that no attempt was made in the former to hold the ground won longer than was necessary to satisfy the plan. Raids were usually supported by artillery and took place at night; but daylight raids, though less common or successful, were sometimes made, and ‘silent raids,’ when no artillery was used, were also tried.

This explanation, dull to military readers, will serve to indicate what operation I was now about to undertake. The scheme, of which the General and his Brigade Major were the authors, was to pass a body of men through a gap in the unoccupied portion of the German trenches opposite Fayet, deploy, and sweep sideways against some other trenches, thought to be held, and through several copses which Bucks patrols had pronounced weakly garrisoned by the enemy. These copses, which were expected to yield a few handfuls of runaway boys in German uniform, would be attacked by us in flank and rear at the same time. The scheme promised well, but the proposed manner of retirement, which would be in daylight and across nearly a mile of open ground, presented difficulties. The more to overcome them and to be fresh for the event, D Company and the platoons of C selected for the task were to stay in the sunken road north of Fayet, while A and B Companies went to garrison the outpost line……..

The Raid on August 28th

From G. K. Rose, The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

At 1 a.m. I roused the men, some 150 all told, and the responsible task of issuing the bombs, wire-cutters, and other things commenced. All these, invoiced with excellent precision by the Brigade Major, Moore, had been carried up by the Berks. The shelling rarely ceased, and I owed everything on this occasion to Corporal Leatherbarrow, who showed not only steadfast bravery but skill. The platoons could not, on account of the shells which sometimes fell in the roadway itself, be paraded, and each received its share of bombs piecemeal by sections. Food, to supplement which I did not scruple to issue some of the next day’s rations, was partaken of at 2 a.m., but it took long, and half an hour later the whole party should have started upon its journey across the mile of open fields to reach the assembly post. Disposal of the bombs, the meal, and those many last attentions which breed delay had taken longer than I had allowed. Time was getting very short. I wanted to dodge the shelling, but had missed a quiet interval that occurred at 2.30 a.m. At 3 a.m. I moved, leading the party in a long column over the open ground north of Fayet to reach its eastern side. The inevitable ‘wire mats,’ an encumbrance without which few raiding parties ever started, hampered the progress. It was a pitch dark night, nor was I certain of the way. To cover the mile and then pass 150 men, ignorant of their whereabouts, silently and in single file through a gap into No-Man’s-Land ere dawn broke and our bombardment started now seemed impossible. It was a serious quandary. To go on might be to compromise not only the operation, but the lives of 150 men, who would be discovered in daylight and in the open near the enemy. But to go back was to jeopardise the reputation of the Battalion.

I went on.

Great darkness preceded the dawn, which was expected shortly after 4 a.m. I found the road, the first crater, the narrow track through the wire, and the empty ground beyond. A few minutes after the last man had reached his place our barrage opened. Shells fell spasmodically here and there for a few seconds; then all our batteries were shooting together. Their fire was admirable, heavy and well-directed.

In the stumbling rush forward to reach the nearest wood–C Company to the second crater on the Fayet Road–waves and platoons were rapidly confused. The Germans, who found themselves attacked in flank and rear, were totally surprised. They had not stood-to and many were yet asleep. Some lights went up and a few sentries’ shots were fired, but it appeared that small resistance to our progress would be made. The wire was trampled through, and for some minutes our men played havoc with the Germans, who ran, leaving draggled blankets and equipment in their trenches. Dug-outs were generously bombed, and explosions filled the air as our men hastily used the weapons brought to hurt the enemy. Three machine-guns fell into our hands. A miniature victory was in progress.

But a turn of events followed; the trenches and woods beyond those we had first entered were neither unoccupied nor weakly held. A force certainly equal to ours was in opposition. After their first surprise the Germans recovered, manned their reserve machine-guns, and opened a fierce fire from front and flanks upon their assailants. Many of us were hit, including Taylor, the officer of No. 15 Platoon, who was severely wounded in the thigh. In No. 13 Platoon, which lost most heavily, Allden and his Platoon Sergeant, Kilby, were killed. The full programme could not be effected. It was getting light; so I decided to withdraw. Most of D Company I found had already done this in their own way, but the remainder now collected at my summons. Lance-Corporal O’Connor with his two Lewis guns did yeoman service to stem what had become the German counter-attack. Ammunition was running short, and German stick-bombs obliged me, in order to save from capture those less badly hit, to leave Taylor, whose wound made him quite helpless. The wire, through which Sergeant Mowby had been busy cutting a path, was safely passed, and an hour afterwards we had regained the sunken road. I learnt that Jones, who had led the right of the advance, had not returned. He with his men had narrowly missed being cut off when the dawn broke. During the ensuing day this party had to lie scattered in shell-holes till darkness enabled them to reach our lines.

The raid was hailed as a signal success for the Battalion. Two machine-guns and one protesting prisoner had been dragged back to our lines. The German trenches had been over-run and many of their occupants had been killed or wounded. By a satisfactory coincidence the troops whom we surprised were a battalion of the Jaegers, the very regiment which after three hours’ bombardment had raided us exactly two months previously at Ablaincourt.

Our losses, considering the scope of the operation, were heavy, but not so proportionately to the number of troops of both sides engaged nor to the severe nature of the fighting. Most of our casualties had bullet wounds. The list, officially, was: Killed, 1 officer and 10 other ranks; wounded, 2 officers and 41; missing, 1 officer and 2. Of Taylor I regret to say no news was ever heard. I left him wounded, probably fatally, and quite incapable of being moved. The likelihood is that he died soon afterwards and was buried by the enemy in the trench where he lay. Allden and Kilby were a serious loss to the fighting efficiency of D Company.

D Company and 2 platoons of C raided the enemy trenches at 4.20 a.m., and reached the second objective, capturing two machine-guns and one German. Our casualties were heavy, viz. : 2nd Lieut. T. H. Allden and 16 other ranks killed, 2nd Lieut. H. S. Taylor  wounded and missing, 42 other ranks wounded, 9 missing.

KILLED IN ACTION APRIL 28th 1917

2nd Lieutenant T. H. Allden

2nd Lieutenant Herbert Samuel Taylor

200603 Sergeant Herbert Kilby

201083 Corporal Frederick Harris

201477 Corporal Harry Harbud

201373 Lance Corporal Francis Edward Buckingham

203761 Lance Corporal Albert Henry Souch

203458 Private James Edgar Cockridge (Formerly 3065, R. Bucks Hussars)

200445 Private Stanley George Covey

203459 Private William Henry Dear (Formerly 3043, R. Bucks Hussars) (Died)

203534 Private Thomas Ginger (Formerly 3139, R. Berks Regt.)

203839 Private Willie Goff

203497 Private Reginald Jack High (Formerly 2829, R. Bucks Hussars)

203502 Private William John Murphy (Formerly 3015, R. Bucks Hussars)

202654 Private Ernest Roof

200361 Private John Shepherd

202139 Private William Waite

201381 Private George Walker

203762 Private John Thomas Williams

DIED OF WOUNDS APRIL 28th 1917

267483 Private George Henry Williams

From G. K. Rose, The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

For their gallantry Corporal Sloper and Sergeant Butcher received the Military Medal and Jones the Military Cross. Corporal Leatherbarrow for his steadfast conduct in the sunken road was mentioned in dispatches. To Sergeant-Major Brooks fell the honour of the Battalion’s first V.C., of which the official award ran as follows:–

‘For most conspicuous bravery. This Warrant Officer, while taking part in a raid on the enemy’s trenches, saw that the front wave was checked by an enemy machine-gun at close quarters. On his own initiative, and regardless of personal danger, he rushed forward from the second wave with the object of capturing the gun, killing one of the gunners with his revolver and bayoneting another. The remainder of the gun’s crew then made off, leaving the gun in his possession. S.M. Brooks then turned the machine-gun on to the retreating enemy, after which he carried it back to our lines. By his courage and initiative he undoubtedly prevented many casualties, and greatly added to the success of the operations.’

Company Sergeant-Major Edward Brooks V.C.

Company Sergeant-Major Edward Brooks V.C.

Captain Kenneth Edward Brown, M.C

From G. K. Rose, The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

“I should like to recall memories of such comrades as Bellamy and Wetherall, Cuthbert, Bennett, Davenport, ‘ Slugs’ Brown, Rose, ‘ Bob” Abraham, Regimental Sergeant-Major Douglas, Company Sergeant-Major Brooks, V.C., and a host of other friends of all ranks.”

August 1916
“Brucker, of C Company, became Adjutant of the 61st Divisional School, and command of his company passed to Kenneth Brown, a great fighter and best of comrades, the first member of this Battalion to win the Military Cross.”

November 1916
“At Albert, Bennett was taken from A ‘Company to act as Second in Command of the Berks. Brown assumed command of his company and Robinson about this time of C Company, Brucker having returned to the 61st Divisional School, which was set up at St. Riquier.”

Christmas Eve 1916
“On Christmas Eve, 1916, the Battalion relieved the front line. Brown and Davenport took their companies to Desire and Regina.”

December 1916
“A few nights later Brown, with a small party and on a clear frosty night, solved the riddle by boldly walking up to Grandcourt Trench and finding the Germans not at home.”

22nd February 1917
“We change into gumboots in an old cellar and our journey commences. See the Colonel, Cuthbert, Marcon, Brown, Stockton, Robinson and myself lead off down a communication trench behind a guide, pledged to take us to the Berks Headquarters.”

23rd February 1917
“The Battalion took over a three-company front. Brown with A Company guarded the left.”

Ablaincourt
“Some parties which attacked Brown’s front were, under the able example of that officer, driven off with Lewis guns, and D Company, whose loss in prisoners was nil, also maintained its front intact.”

April 6th, Good Friday, 1917
The Battalion’s objective was a line of trenches recently dug by the enemy and running between Le Vergier and the river. To capture them Brown’s company, which hitherto had stayed in reserve at Soyecourt in tolerable accommodation, was selected. B and D Companies were ordered to keep close behind A to support the attack, while C remained to garrison the outpost line. Zero was midnight, but before that snow and sleet were falling heavily. It proved the dirtiest night imaginable. Companies moved in columns across the 1,000 yards of open fields between their old positions and the objective, against which our artillery kept up as severe a fire as possible. That fire was less effective than was hoped. In its advance A Company lost men from our own shells, of which nearly all were seen to be falling very short. The German wire, still the great argument to face in an attack, was round uncut. Although at first inclined to surrender, the enemy soon saw the failure of our men to find a gap. Machine-guns were manned, which swept the ground with a fierce enfilade fire. Brown, Aitken, and Wayte behaved in a most gallant manner, the line was rallied, and a renewed attempt made to storm the trenches. In vain. No troops will stand against machine-gun fire in the open when no object can be achieved.”

August 1917
“A Company still had for its Command Brown, among whose officers were Coombes, Callender, and Webb.”

“They were so left in order that, if the casualties were very high,
some nucleus of veteran soldiers would still remain around whom the new Battalion could be built. A like rule applied to officers. A month ago the Colonel had decided which of these should not take part in the first Ypres attack. Brown and myself stayed out of the line, and in our stead Callender and Scott respectively commanded A and D Companies.”

7th September 1917
“On September 7 Brown and myself went up through Ypres to view the scene of the attack. At Wieltje, where Colonel Wetherall and B and C Companies already were, we descended to a deep, wet dug-out and that night listened to a narrative brought by an officer who had participated in the last attempt to take the hill.”

21st March 1918
“It is said of A Company that, when surrounded by the enemy, Brown formed the men into a circle, back to back, and fought without surrender. The monument which stands above Fayet is happily placed. It is inscribed to the sons of France who fell in action nearly fifty years ago. On March 21, I918 , it was enriched by its association with a later sacrifice, The credit won in this
lost battle gives to the 2/4th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry a share of honour in the war equal to that which has been earned by our most successful troops in the advance.”

The following information is from HARROW MEMORIALS OF
THE GREAT WAR VOLUME VI, APRIL 10th, 1918, to THE END
OF THE WAR.

CAPTAIN K. E. BROWN, M.C.

Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
The Headmaster’s 09*- 13′ Aged 22 April 12th, 1918

Youngest son of James Wyld Brown, of Eastrop Grange,Highworth, Wilts, and of his wife. Primrose, daughter of Captain Kennedy, of Finnarts-Glenapp, Ayrshire.

Three of his elder brothers — all Old Harrovians — Major G. D. Brown, M.C, 1st Wilts, Captain E. F. Brown, 5th Wilts, Lieutenant D. C. Brown, Royal Scots, all lost their lives in the War ; their records appear in Vols. IV, V and VI.

Entrance Scholar : Monitor. Cricket XI, 1914.

Captain Brown was intending to go up to Oxford and had already
matriculated at Magdalen College, when the War broke out. In
September, 1914, he received a Commission in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, and, after training at Oxford, Chelmsford, and on Salisbury Plain, went to France with his Battalion in May, 1916. The following September he was awarded the Military Cross for rescuing a wounded Officer and some men, to accomplish which he had to go over the parapet four times under very heavy fire. In the spring of 1917 a Bar was added to the Military Cross for conspicuous gallantry in leading an attack.

On March 21st, 1918, north of St. Quentin, he led the counter-attacking Company of his Battalion, and, after rallying his men, or what was left of them, several times, he was shot through the left lung and became unconscious from loss of blood. When he came to he found himself a prisoner of war and died in a German hospital on April 12th.

Colonel Ames wrote : —

*’ ‘ Mitty * is doing very well indeed, and accomplished a very good piece of work at the end of last month, when I sent him into No Man’s Land to creep up to the German lines and see if there was a gap. He was out four and a half hours by himself, and he came back with valuable information. Later in the evening he went out several times under heavy fire and brought in dead and wounded after the raid. . . . The Brigadier was very much
struck with his performance and made a note of it.”

His CO. wrote : —

” You know how well he had done, and how grateful I was to him for all his hard work while I was with the Battalion, and I know how universally he was loved and respected by all ranks who knew him. God rest his gallant soul,”

Lt. K. E. Brown also gets mentioned in the history of the 2/4th Royal Berkshires on 14th July 1916.

Major J H Simmonds and Lt. K E Brown, 2/4th Oxford & Bucks L.I. behaved very gallantly in going out into NO MAN’S LAND for 2 hours and superintending the evacuation of the wounded from same.

UK, British Officer Prisoners of War, 1914-1918 

K E Brown
Rank: Capt.
Regiment: 4th Battalion. Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Lig
Date Missing: 21 Mar 1918
Record Number: 2905
Section: Western Theatre of Operations.

Private Walter Smith

From G. K. Rose, The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

28th February 1917
“The stairs were drenched with blood. Of my companions, Thompson, a signaller, Timms, Smith (Hunt’s servant, a fine lad) and Corporal Coles one of the bravest and most devoted N.CO.’s the Battalion ever had were dead or died soon afterwards.”

Name: SMITH, WALTER
Initials: W
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Private
Regiment/Service: Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry
Unit Text: 2nd/4th Bn.
Date of Death: 28/02/1917
Service No: 200844
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: Pier and Face 10 A and 10 D.
Memorial: THIEPVAL MEMORIALh

Corporal Herbert Edward (“Doctor”) Rockall

November 1916
“One night about this time a party of us, including Hunt and ‘Doctor’ Rockall, the medical corporal, who had accompanied me round the front posts, lost its way hopelessly in the dark.”

February 1917
“On our way to reach Fry we were both knocked down in the trench by a 4.2, which also wounded Corporal Rockall in the shoulder-blade.”

I’m 99% sure that it is Herbert E. Rockall mentioned above. As the document below gives details of him being wounded in action on 24th February 1917.

Private H Thompson

From G. K. Rose, The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

“The stairs were drenched with blood. Of my companions, Thompson, a signaller, Timms, Smith (Hunt’s servant, a fine lad) and Corporal Coles one of the bravest and most devoted N.C.O.’s the Battalion ever had were dead or died soon afterwards.”

Name: THOMPSON
Initials: H
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Private
Regiment/Service: Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry
Unit Text: 2nd/4th Bn.
Age: 19
Date of Death: 03/03/1917
Service No: 201059
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: II. B. 56.
Cemetery: BRAY MILITARY CEMETERY

Corporal Henry Coles

From G. K. Rose, The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

“The stairs were drenched with blood. Of my companions, Thompson, a signaller, Timms, Smith (Hunt’s servant, a fine lad) and Corporal Coles one of the bravest and most devoted N.CO.’s the Battalion ever had were dead or died soon afterwards.”

Name: COLES, HENRY
Initials: H
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Corporal
Regiment/Service: Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry
Unit Text: “D” Coy. 2nd/4th Bn.
Age: 24
Date of Death: 28/02/1917
Service No: 201534
Additional information: Son of Albert Coles, of Brook St., Watlington, Oxon, and the late Winnie Coles.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: Pier and Face 10 A and 10 D.
Memorial: THIEPVAL MEMORIAL

Private Albert Harry Timms

From G. K. Rose, The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

“The stairs were drenched with blood. Of my companions, Thompson, a signaller, Timms, Smith (Hunt’s servant, a fine lad) and Corporal Coles one of the bravest and most devoted N.CO.’s the Battalion ever had were dead or died soon afterwards.”

Name: TIMMS, ALBERT HARRY
Initials: A H
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Private
Regiment/Service: Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry
Unit Text: 2nd/4th Bn.
Age: 20
Date of Death: 16/03/1917
Service No: 201391
Additional information: Son of Harry and Emily Timms, of 9, Stratfield Rd., Summertown, Oxford.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: XXII. B. 9.
Cemetery: ETAPLES MILITARY CEMETERY

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