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

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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.

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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.

1918, MARCH 19th – MOVED INTO 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

 

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 18/19 March the Battalion went into the front line. C Company was on the right, in front of Fayet; B Company, under the command of Wallington, was on the left, just south of Gricourt. A went to Fayet itself and D Company, commanded in Robinson’s absence by Rowbotham, provided the garrison of Enghien Redoubt, which was a quarry near Selency Château; Battalion Headquarters also were at this redoubt.

The Battalion relieved the 2/4th R. Berks in the Forward Zone.

Dispositions: C Company, right front; B, left front; two platoons of A in Sunken Road near the Needle, as counterattack company; two platoons of A (with Company H.Q.) at the Willows (M.28.C.1.5 on Map 62 B.S.W.); D Company and Battalion H.Q. at Enghien Redoubt.

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1918-03-19
Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire
Location France, Gricourt-Fayet-St Quentin Wood
Entry The Battalion was relived early in the morning by the 2/4th BN OXFORD and BUCKS LT INF and marched to MARTEVILLE and thence to UGNY, reaching the latter place at about 8am. The remainder of the day was spent in Resting and cleaning.

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.

1916, NOVEMBER 26th – DRENCHED WHILE RELIEVING THE 2/4th ROYAL BERKSHIRE REGIMENT

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)

The next night (26th / 27th) the Battalion moved up to relieve the Berks, but was conducted, or conducted itself, along the very communication trench which I had studiously avoided using and which was in a shocking state from water and mud. As the result of the journey, D Company reached the front line practically wet-through to a man, and in a very exhausted condition. A proportion of their impedimenta had become future salvage on the way up, while several men and, I fancy, some officers, had compromised themselves for some hours with the mud, which exacted their gumboots as the price of their future progress. I regret that my own faithful servant, Longford, was as exhausted as anybody and suffered a nasty fall at the very gates of paradise (an hyperbole I use to justify the end of such a mud journey), namely Company Headquarters in Regina, where, like a sort of host, I had been waiting long.

Desire Trench, the name by which the front line was known, was a shallow disconnected trough upholstered in mud and possessing four or five unfinished dug-out shafts. These shafts, as was natural, faced the wrong way, but provided all the front line shelter in this sector. At one end, its left, the trench ran into chalk (as well as some chalk and plenty of mud into it!) and its flank disappeared, by a military conjuring trick, into the air. About 600 yards away the Germans were supposed to be consolidating, which meant that they were feverishly scraping, digging and fitting timbers in their next lot of dug-outs. To get below earth was their first consideration.

Regina dug-out deserves a paragraph to itself. This unsavoury residence housed two platoons of D Company, Company Headquarters, and Stobie, our doctor, with the Regimental Aid Post. In construction the dug-out, which indeed was typical of many, was a corridor with wings opening off, about 40 feet deep and some 30 yards long, with 4 entrances, on each of which stood double sentries day and night. Garbage and all the putrefying matter which had accumulated underfoot during German occupation and which it did not repay to disturb for fear of a worse thing, rendered vile the atmosphere within. Old German socks and shirts, used and half-used beer bottles, sacks of sprouting and rotting onions, vied with mud to cover the floor. A suspicion of other remains was not absent. The four shafts provided a species of ventilation, reminiscent of that encountered in London Tubes, but perpetual smoking, the fumes from the paraffin lamps that did duty for insufficient candles, and our mere breathing more than counterbalanced even the draughts and combined impressions, fit background for post-war nightmares, that time will hardly efface. Regina Trench itself, being on a forward slope and exposed to full view from Loupart Wood, was shelled almost continuously by day and also frequently at night. ‘Out and away,’ ‘In and down’ became mottoes for runners and all who inhabited the dug-out or were obliged to make repeated visits to it. Below, one was immune under 40 feet of chalk, and except when an entrance was hit the 5.9s rained down harmlessly and without comment.

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1916-11-26
Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire
Location France, Trenches
Entry Normal artillery activity on both sides. Casualties 3 OR killed, 2/Lt DANIELLS and 4 OR wounded. Relieved by 2/4 OXFORDS.

1918, OCTOBER 15th – BOURLON WOOD, BOURLON VILLAGE, AND BOURLON CHATEAU

Bourlon Village and Chateau,  October 15th 1918 Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)  A sketch of the shattered remnants of Bourlon village, with ruined buildings and bare tree stumps lining a road leading up to the bomb damaged chateau in the distance.

Bourlon Village and Chateau,
October 15th 1918
Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)
A sketch of the shattered remnants of Bourlon village, with ruined buildings and bare tree stumps lining a road leading up to the bomb damaged chateau in the distance.

Bourlon Wood,  October 15th 1918 Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)  A sketch of the shattered trees of Bourlon Wood, with many trunks and branches covering the ground.

Bourlon Wood,
October 15th 1918
Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)
A sketch of the shattered trees of Bourlon Wood, with many trunks and branches covering the ground.

1917, OCTOBER 9th – TANK DUMP

Tank Dump 9th October 1917 Captain G. K. Rose (M.C.)

Tank Dump
9th October 1917
Captain G. K. Rose (M.C.)

1917, JANUARY 1st – TRAINING AT CAIX

Harbonnieres Church, January 1 1918 Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)  A view of a few figures and a horse-drawn cart outside a church, with a few trees standing in the right foreground.

Harbonnieres Church, January 1 1918
Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)
A view of a few figures and a horse-drawn cart outside a church, with a few trees standing in the right foreground.

1916, SEPTEMBER 2nd – TRAINING AT ROBERMETZ NEAR MERVILLE

Near Laventie,  September 2 1916 Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)  A sketch of wild flowers growing amongst long grass in the foreground, with open countryside beyond and a few trees on the horizon.

Near Laventie,
September 2 1916
Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)
A sketch of wild flowers growing amongst long grass in the foreground, with open countryside beyond and a few trees on the horizon.

1917, NOVEMBER 17th – RAID CANCELLED BECAUSE THE DELIVERY OF THE WRONG TYPE OF SHELLS

Fampoux Mill,  November 17 1917 Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)  A depiction of the heavily bomb damaged water mill at Fampoux, on the bank of the River Scarpe. The roof has been particularly badly damaged.

Fampoux Mill,
November 17 1917
Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)
A depiction of the heavily bomb damaged water mill at Fampoux, on the bank of the River Scarpe. The roof has been particularly badly damaged.

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 evening of November 17, only an hour before the raid was to take place, it was announced that the wrong type of shells had been delivered to the artillery. Barely in time to avert a fiasco, the affair was cancelled.

From: First World War ‘Official Photographs’

The destruction and devastation at Fampoux, France. There is little left to indicate that a village once stood here. The only evidence is scattered debris and piles of rubble. A small road winds its way through the chaos. The wooden frame of a large building is visible in the distance. On the left of the photograph, a tree offers the only sign of life. Many small towns and villages, due to their proximity to the Front, found themselves caught in the middle of the fighting. In some cases, entire villages were obliterated by the bombing and shelling. [Original reads: ‘OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN ON THE BRITISH WESTERN FRONT IN FRANCE. General view of Fampoux.’]

The photographer was John Warwick Brooke, of the Topical Press Agency. He was the second British official war photographer to go to the Western Front in 1916. The demands placed on he and his colleague, Ernest Brooks, were heavy. They had to take as many photographs as possible, with as much variety as possible, a difficult task for two men covering an army of over two million. Despite this, Warwick Brooke managed to take what would become some of the most memorable images of World War I. As an officially appointed photographer, Warwick Brooke was assigned to the Western Front to follow the progress of the British Army. During his time there, between 1916 and 1918, Warwick Brooke is estimated to have taken over 4,000 photographs.

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