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

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

Archive for the tag “Colonel Wetherall”

1917, MAY 26th – AT DUISANS TRAINING AND JOINED BY ITS NEW COMMANDER, LIEUTENANT-COLONEL H. E. DE R. WETHERALL, D.S.O., MC

WetherallOn the 26th Lieut.-Colonel H. E. de R. Wetherall, M.C. (Gloucestershire Regiment), joined the Battalion on appointment to command.

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

Colonel Bellamy’s successor, H. de R. Wetherall, was a young man whom ability and leadership had already lifted to distinction in his regiment and placed in command of an important military school. From now onwards he is the outstanding figure in the Battalion’s history. In the new Colonel a quick brain was linked with vigorous physique. In spite of his Regular training, Wetherall could appreciate and himself possessed to no small degree the peculiar virtues of the temporary officer, who based his methods on common sense and actual experience in the war rather than servile obedience to red tape and ‘Regulations.’ He had studied during the war as well as before it, with the result that military tradition–his regiment was the Gloucestershire–and his long service in the field combined to fit him for command of our Battalion.

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1918, MARCH 21st – ENGHIEN REDOUBT ON THE FIRST DAY OF THE GERMAN SPRING OFFENSIVE

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 British Campaign in France and Flanders, January – July 1918, A. Conan Doyle

As it is impossible to give the experiences of each redoubt in detail, the story of one may be told as being fairly typical of the rest. This particular one is chosen because some facts are available, whereas in most of them a deadly silence, more eloquent than words, covers their fate. The Enghien redoubt was held by Colonel Wetherall with a company of the 2/4 Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry upon the front of the Sixty-first Division. The redoubt formed the battalion headquarters, and was connected to brigade headquarters by a cable buried Battle eight feet deep. In front were two companies of the battalion in the outpost line; behind was the fourth company ready for counter-attack. Early in the morning heavy trench-mortar fire was raining bombs upon the redoubt, and the wire was flying in all directions. At 6 the redoubt was so full of gas that even the masks could not hold it out, so the men were ordered below and put up gas blankets to fend it off. This could be safely done, as when gas is so thick it is not possible for the stormers to advance. At 6.15,what with fog and gas and blurred respirators, it was hardly possible to see anything at all. At 7.30 the gas cleared and there was a shower of high explosive shells with shattering effect. At 9.30 the barrage lifted and the garrison rushed up from their shelters and manned their posts, but the fog rolled white and thick across their vision. The cloud banked right up to their wire, while from behind it came all the noises of the pit. So nerve-shaking was the effect that some of the outlying men came creeping into the redoubt for human company. At 9.40 the whizzing of bullets all around showed that the infantry was on the move. The garrison fired back into the mist, whence came vague shoutings and tramplings. A request was cabled back for a protective barrage, but the inadequate reply showed that the British guns had suffered in the shelling. Suddenly the mist darkened at one point; it broke into running figures, and a wave of men rushed forward, scrambled through the broken wire, and clambered into the redoubt. The Oxfords rushed across and bombed them back into the mist again. There was a pause, during which the attack was reorganised, and then at 11 o’clock the German stormers poured suddenly in from three sides at once. The garrison stood to it stoutly and drove them out, leaving many bodies on the broken wire. The fort was now entirely surrounded, and there was a fresh attack from the rear which added fifty or sixty more to the German losses. At 11.45 there was some lifting of the fog, and Colonel Wetherall endeavoured to get across to the village, 300 yards behind him, to see if help could be obtained. He found it deserted. Stealing back to his fort he was covered suddenly by German rifles, was dragged away as a prisoner, but finally, late in the evening, escaped and rejoined the main body of his own battalion. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Cunningham had taken over the defence of Enghien redoubt, assisted by Lieutenant Richards with the machine-guns. Hour after hour fresh attacks were repelled, but showers of bombs fell in the confined space, and the garrison were continually thinned out. Despairing messages—” What shall we do? What shall we do? “—were sent back over the cable, but nothing could be done, for these outliers are the enfants perdus of the army, marked from the first for destruction. Finally, at 4.30, the great deep all around them sent one heavy wave to submerge them, and the cable was for ever silent.

Such is the typical history of a redoubt. Some succumbed more readily, some survived until the afternoon of the next day ; but the difference may sometimes have depended upon the various degrees of severity of attack, which was by no means the same upon all sectors. The total effect was the complete destruction of the eleven gallant battalions which held the advanced line of the Fifth Army, and the loss of all material therein. One can but hope that the enemy paid a full price. Occasionally a sudden rise of the mist gave the defence a splendid opening for their machine-guns. On one occasion such a chance exposed a German officer standing with a large map in his hand within thirty yards of the fort, his company awaiting his directions beside him. Few of them escaped.

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

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

61ST (SOUTH MIDLAND) DIVISION Second Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The despatch of 20th July, 1918, deals also with the Lys battle which began on 9th April, 1918 (see 55th, 49th, 50th and 51st Divisions). Paragraph 58 shows that several divisions were brought straight from the Somme fighting to the Lys area. Among these was the 61st. Dealing with the 12th April, the despatch states: ” On the left of the 51st the 61st Division was coming into action about the Clarence river. Both the 3rd and 61st Divisions had been engaged in many days of continuous fighting south of Arras; but with the arrival of these troops, battle-weary though they were, the enemy’s progress in this sector was definitely checked.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brigadier-General A. W. Pagan, D.S.O.

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

April 1918
” I felt quite confident in the command of this force of men, and General Pagan, the new Brigadier, was kind enough to express his confidence in my ability.”

April 12th 1918
“At nightfall, when the companies D Company had rejoined during the afternoon were settled into a secure outpost position and the Brigadier (General Pagan) had visited and approved the dispositions, an order from Corps was received to retreat a mile
and to dig trenches across the open, hedgeless fields which stretched between Robecq and St. Venant.”

May 1918
“Towards the end of May Colonel Wetherall returned to take command of the Battalion. To be his Second in Command was Both a pleasure and a privilege. Similar feelings were evoked towards the Brigadier, General Pagan, in whose small frame beat a lion’s heart.”

7th July 1918
“At the Brigade sports, held at Linghem on July 7, the Battalion easily carried off the cup offered for competition by General Pagan. In the relay race Sergeant Brazier accomplished a fine performance, while in the boxing we showed such superiority that no future Brigade competition ever took place.”

A picture of Brigadier-General A.W. Pagan in full dress. c.1930 can be purchased from The Soldiers of Gloucestershire.

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.

April 1918
“Brig.-Gen. the Hon. R. White, C.B., had been wounded at Beauvois and his place had now been taken by Brig.-Gen. A. W. Pagan, D.S.O., of the Gloucestershire Regiment. The latter was a born fighter with the heart of a lion. He seemed to have two absorbing interests in life – the Gloucester Regiment and Rugby Football, so it is not to be wondered at that he won the approval of all ranks of the Battalion at once.”

61st (South Midland) Division

From The territorial divisions, 1914-1918 (1922) by John Sterling

61ST (SOUTH MIDLAND) DIVISION
Second Line

The Division went to France in May 1916. On I9th-20th July they and an Australian division made an attack in the Neuve Chapelle district. Ground was gained but could not be held as the guns on the Aubers Ridge had command of it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Sparrow in his The Fifth Army in March 1918, also gives many particulars of the splendid defence put up by the forward battalions of the 61st, on the 21st, as well as of the endless en-
counters they had during the retreat. On p. 239 he mentions that parts of the Division were first attacked at 5 a.m. on the 21st, and were only two miles back at 3 a.m. on the 23rd, although for
48 hours the 6ist was attacked by three German divisions. On p. 102 he refers to it as ” this brave Division ” and says that a Special Order of the day, dated 18th April, stated that between 21st March and that date the 61st had been opposed by 14 German divisions.

At p. 287 Mr. Sparrow remarks that the 61st had been continuously in the line since 27th August, 1917, except when moving from one part to another, and “then fought for twelve continuous days.”

Paragraph 24 of the despatch states that on the morning of the 23rd the Commander of the Fifth Army ordered ” a gradual withdrawal to the line of the Somme.”

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

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

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

Paragraph 44: On 28th March the British were almost back to the Amiens defences and the enemy were seriously pressing the French on our right. “A gallant attempt by troops of the 61st Division to regain Warfusee-Abancourt and lighten the pressure
from the north proved unsuccessful. … At nightfall we held approximately the Amiens defence line on the whole front south of the Somme.”

Fortunately that same day the enemy had been defeated north of the Somme (see 56th, 42nd and 62nd Divisions), and in a few days his offensive on the front south of Arras ceased.

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

In Charles a Court Repington’s Memoirs, The First World War, Constable, vol. ii., p. 269, there is detailed a conversation, on 7th April, 1918, with General Gough, the Commander of the Fifth
Army. After some particulars of the great struggle there occurs the sentence, ” He brought with him some of Maxse’s notes, which mentioned particularly the fine conduct of the 6ist Division, under Colin Mackenzie.” Lieut. General Maxse commanded the
XVIII. Corps.

The despatch of 20th July, 1918, deals also with the Lys battle which began on 9th April, 1918 (see 55th, 49th, 50th and 51st Divisions). Paragraph 58 shows that several divisions were brought straight from the Somme fighting to the Lys area. Among
these was the 61st. Deahng with the 12th April, the despatch states: ” On the left of the 51st the 61st Division was coming into action about the Clarence river. Both the 3rd and 6ist Divisions had been engaged in many days of continuous fighting south of Arras ; but with the arrival of these troops, battle-weary though they were, the enemy’s progress in this sector was definitely checked.”

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

Paragraph 65 deals with the great effort made by the enemy on 18th April on the southern front of his salient. ” At certain points there was severe and continuous fighting. . . . Elsewhere the enemy failed to obtain even an initial success, being repulsed, with exceedingly heavy loss, at all points, by the 4th and 61st Divisions.” And, referring to a few days later: “Further west the 4th Division, in co-operation with the 61st Division, carried out a series of successful local operations, north of the La Bassee canal, resulting in the capture of some hundreds of prisoners, and a considerable improvement of our positions between the Lawe and
Clarence rivers.” The action on i8th April is now the ” Battle of Bethune.”

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

The despatch of 21st December, 1918, as to the final British offensive, paragraph 47, Battle of the Selle River, I7th-25th October, shows that the 61st Division, as part of the XVII. Corps of the Third Army, attacked on 24th October. ” About many
of the woods and villages which lay in the way of our attack there was severe fighting, particularly in the large wood known as the Bois L’fiveque, and at Pom.rnereuil, Bousies Forest and Vendegies-surficaillon. This latter village held out till the afternoon of the 24th October when it was taken by an enveloping attack by troops of the 19th Division and 61st Division.”

Paragraph 49, ” The Battle of the Sambre,” 1st-11th November: As a preliminary to the main attack it is stated that on 1st November ” the XVII. Corps of the Third Army and the XXII. and Canadian Corps of the First Army attacked on a front of about six miles south of Valenciennes and in the course of two days of heavy fighting inflicted a severe defeat on the enemy. During these two days the 6ist, Major-General F. J. Duncan, 49th and 4th Divisions crossed the Rhonelle river, capturing Maresches and Preseau after a stubborn struggle, and established themselves on the high ground two miles to the east of it. On their left the 4th Canadian Division captured Valenciennes and made progress beyond the town.”

The fighting on ist-2nd November is now designated the ” Battle of Valenciennes.”

On the 3rd November the enemy withdrew, and the British line was advanced.

The XVII. Corps was again employed on the left of the Third Army in the Battle of the Sambre on the 4th November when ” the enemy’s resistance was definitely broken.”

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

Sir Harry Edward de Robillard Wetherall, D.S.O., M.C.

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

Late April 1917
“Colonel Bellamy’s successor, H. de R. Wetherall, was a young man whom ability and leadership had already lifted to distinction in his regiment and placed in command of an important military school. From now onwards he is the outstanding figure in the Battalion’s history. In the new Colonel a quick brain was linked with vigorous physique. In spite of his Regular training, Wetherall could appreciate and himself possessed to no small degree the peculiar virtues of the temporary officer, who based his methods on common sense and actual experience in the war rather than servile obedience to red tape and ‘Regulations.’ He had studied during the war as well as before it, with the result that military tradition – his regiment was the Gloucestershire – and his long service in the field combined to fit him for command of our Battalion.”

June 1917
“A totally different spirit characterised training in France. Colonel Wetherall was a master of the art of teaching. His emphatic direction and enthusiasm earned early reward in the increased efficiency of all ranks.”

August 1917
“The capture of this had been assigned to the 48th Division, but as a measure of abundant caution Colonel Wetherall had detailed a special Berks platoon to tackle it. This platoon, assisted by some Oxfords on the scene, captured the gun-pit and nearly seventy prisoners, but failed to garrison it.”

September 1917
“The defence of the three strongholds, Iberian, Hill 35, and Gallipoli provided a striking example of German stubbornness and skill, but added an object-lesson in the squandering of our efforts in attack. Operations upon a general scale having failed to capture all three, it was fantastically hoped that each could be reduced separately. Iberian, Hill 35, and Gallipoli supported one another, nor was it feasible to hold any without holding all. Yet to take Hill 35 on September 9 the 2/4th Oxfords were specially selected. The spirit of A and D Companies, chosen by Colonel Wetherall for the attack, was excellent. We confidently believed that we could succeed where others failed. Optimism, so vital an ingredient in morale, was a powerful assistant to the English Army. It was fostered, perhaps unconsciously, throughout the war by the cheerful attitude preserved by our Generals and staff, but its foundation lay in our great system of supply. The A.S.C.,
which helped to win our victories, helped, too, to temper our defeats.

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. He dispensed the most depressing information about the gun_pits, the machine-guns, the barrages, and last, but not least terrible (if believed), the new incendiary Verey lights used by the Germans to cremate their assailants. The description of a piece of trench, which we were to capture and block, particularly flattered our prospects. ‘Wide, shallow trench, enfiladed from Gallipoli, filled with the Division dead,’ it ran. The tale of horror becoming ludicrous, we soon afterwards clambered on to the wire bunks
and slept, dripped on, till the early morning.”

November 1917
“A series of gas projections. smoke barrages, and raids were to take place. The better to maintain secrecy from the German ‘listening-sets’ no telephones were used. The Battalion bore its share in the programme: already at Arras plans for a novel raid were under contemplation. Cuthbert had devised a scheme, which
Colonel Wetherall adopted and chose B Company,under Moberly, to carry out.”

“Now it was planned by Wetherall to fire lethal gas against the enemy for several nights. On the night of the raid and during it, non-lethal only would be used. The two gases smelt alike and the presumption was that on the night of the raid the enemy would wear gas-helmets.”

21st March 1918
“At Enghien Redoubt Battalion Headquarters had received no news of the attack having begun; the dense mist limited the view to fifty, yards. The earliest intimation received by Colonel Wetherall of what was taking place was enemy rifle and machine-gun tire sweeping the parapet.”

22nd March 1918
“Early on Match 22 Colonel Wetherall, limping and tired, arrived. He bore the tale of his adventure. During the 21st we saw him disappear from Enghien Redoubt to go on a reconnaissance. Near Holnon he was surrounded by an enemy patrol and led a prisoner towards St. Quentin but when the fire of 6-inch howitzers scared his escort into shell-holes, the Colonel escaped, and the same night, choosing his opportunity to slip between the German digging parties, contrived to reach our lines.”

“Colonel Wetherall had already started on the way to Languevoisin but was caught up at Matigny. He the same night (22nd) regained the Beauvoir line and took command of the Brigade.”

24th March 1918
“On the same day of which I was last speaking, March 24–the 184th Brigade, minus those Oxfords who were in action with the 20th Division. though sadly wasted in numbers, formed up again to make a stand. Colonel Wetherall, the acting Brigadier, had received orders to hold the line of the canal east and south-east of Nesle.”

25th March 1918
“At 11 a.m. on March 25 the enemy attacked. As often during these days, when a line was held solidly in one place, it broke elsewhere. By noon the enemy had captured Nesle, and the left flank of the Brigade was turned. During the fight Colonel Wetherall was wounded in the neck by a piece of shell and owed his life to the Brigade Major, Howitt, who held the arteries.”

“The line was driven back to Billancourt and the same night (25th) the remnants of the XVIII Çorps withdrew in darkness to Roye, a town where our hospitals were still at work, evacuating as fast as possible the streams of wounded from the battle. One of the last patients to leave by train was Wetherall, who at this crisis passed under the care of Stobie, the Oxfords’ old M.O.”

From a letter by Brigade-Major Harold Howitt, 183rd Brigade, 61st Division, to his wife Dorothy, 30/3/1918. Found in full in To The Last Man, Spring 1918by Lyn Macdonald, Carroll & Graf, 1998.

“Col. Wetherall got a nasty wound & I am going to boast that he owes his life to me.  An H.E. splinter got him in the throat whilst talking to me and severed one of the main arteries & cut his throat – he gushed all over me & it was a long time before I could stop it, but he was a model of self-possession & I lay with him for over an hour till a doctor could be found. All the time the Hun was attacking & I had to keep one eye on him & the other on messages that were coming in & yet not let Wetherall know. Finally the Hun was right round us for he had taken Vesle on our left & there was nothing for it but to make tracks at once – we had no stretcher so output the old Colonel on a bike and pushed him along. I hear is all right & you can look for his name in the future as one of the soldiers of our day – and I ave never met a finer fellow.”

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

Mid-April 1918
“About this time Colonel Boyle, who had commanded the 6th Oxfords until their disbandment, arrived to assume command of the Battalion. He remained till Wetherall, whose wound had taken him to England, returned.”

End of May 1918
“Towards the end of May Colonel Wetherall returned to take command of the Battalion. To be his Second in Command was both a pleasure and a privilege, similar feelings were evoked towards the Brigadier, General Pagan, in whose small frame beat a lion’s heart.”

7th/8th August 1918
Throughout the night of August 7/8, when things generally were very active, a heavy gas-bombardment was kept up. The Colonel was away from his headquarters at the time. He returned after the shelling to find that gas helmets had been taken off. No harm was expected, but the next day after the sun’s heat had awakened dormant fumes, the Colonel, Symonds (the adjutant), Kirk, who had brought up the rations, and Cubbage, as well as the Regimental Sergeant-Major and many signallers and runners, all round that the were gassed. Their loss was serious. It was known that Wetherall would soon have to leave the Battalion, for he had been appointed to a command in the Machine Gun Corps; indeed alreadv his successor, Colonel Woulfe-Flanagan, had arrived to take his place. Under the present unlucky auspices (for more than half Headquarters were knocked out) the interchange took place.

Herodotus says of the kings of Sparta that the last was always regretted as the best the country had ever had. Colonel Wetherall’s merit did not depend on his being the last of a series. Phrases such as ‘he was worshipped by the men’ have become so hackneyed as to be meaningless, nor shall I use an even worse commonplace, that ‘he was sparing of his words.’ Wetherall was just a rattling good Commanding Officer, a true friend, and a fine soldier.”

Further military career:

Harry Edward de Robillard Wetherall

Sir Harry Edward de Robillard Wetherall (born 1889; died 1979) was an officer in the British Army during World War I and World War II.

Lieutenant-General Wetherall commanded the 11th African Division during the East African Campaign. He was part of the “Southern Front” for this campaign. Wetherall commanded the 11th African Division during the advance from Kenya, through Italian Somaliland, and into Ethiopia.

On 23 November 1941, with the campaign all but over, the 11th African Division was disbanded. Wetherall became the acting General Officer Commanding of the East Africa Force.

In 1943, Wetherall moved on to British Ceylon.

Command history

* 1936 to 1938 Commanding Officer, 1st Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment
* 1938 to 1940 Commanding Officer, 19th Brigade
* 1940 General Officer Commanding, 1st African Division, East Africa
* 1940 to 1941 General Officer Commanding, 11th African Division, East Africa
* 1941 Acting General Officer Commanding, East Africa Force
* 1941 to 1943 General Officer Commanding, Command Area, East Africa
* 1943 to 1945 General Officer Commanding, Ceylon
* 1945 to 1946 Commander-in-Chief, Ceylon
* 1946 Retired

Soldiers of Gloucestershire have a photograph of Lieutenant-General Sir Harry Edward de Robillard Wetherall and Major-General C.E.A. Firth. Service of Commemoration and Intercession. Gloucestershire Regiment. Gloucester Cathedral, 17th June 1951.

Arras and Afterwards, May – July 1917

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

“The next battlefield to which the Battalion’s steps were turned was Arras. Early in May the French came to relieve the 61st Division at St. Quentin. It was said, perhaps with little truth, that the ban which forbade our guns to shell that town in such manner as, from a purely military standpoint, it deserved, induced this re-arrangement of the front. Certainly the French had tried in April, before the German retreat had definitely stopped, to encircle the town and capture it without bombardment, and possibly their staff yet hoped that it might fall undamaged into their hands. The attitudes of English and French artillerymen towards large towns which they saw opposite to them were naturally different. On this particular front St. Quentin was a potent hostage in the enemy’s power and one which accounted for the extremely quiet conduct of the war in that sector after the English had left.

On its backward march – moves by divisions up and down the front were always made at a good distance behind the line through districts known as ‘staging areas’ the Battalion spent a few days close to Amiens, and thence marched through Doullens
to familiar billets at Neuvillette.

The I84th Infantry Brigade reached Arras at the end of May, and went into the line on June 2.”

A Map of the area from a great free resource: The Times History of the War, 1914-18 Volume 14

During this move Colonel Bellamy, who had commanded us since August, 1916, left the Battalion. He shortly afterwards succeeded to the command of the 2nd Royal Sussex, his former regiment. A man of tact and ripe experience, he had done much to improve the Battalion during his stay. He lacked few, if any, of the best qualities of a Regular officer. His steady discipline, sure purpose, and soldierly outlook, had made him at once Commanding Officer, counsellor and friend. Latterly he had been somewhat vexed by illness, but had refused to allow his activity to be handicapped thereby. His stay had not coincided with the brightest nor least difficult epochs in the Battalion’s history, for which reason, since he was not unduly flattered by fortune, his merit deserves recognition.

Colonel Bellamv’s successor, H. de R. Wetherall, was a young man whom ability and leadership had already lifted to distinction in his
regiment and placed in command of an important military school. From now onwards he is the outstanding figure in the Battalion’s history. In the new Colonel a quick brain was linked with
vigorous physique. In spite of his Regular training, Wetherall could appreciate and himself possessed to no small degree the peculiar virtues of the temporary officer, who based his methods on common sense and actual experience in the war rather than servile obedience to red tape and ‘Regulations.’ He had studied during the war as well as before it, with the result that militarv tradition – his regiment was the Gloucestershire – and his long service in the field combined to fit him for command of our Battalion.

The Division’s share in the Arras Battle, 1917, was small. Already at the time of out arrival the later stages of the fighting had been reached. The British advance astride the River Scarpe had stopped on its north side beneath the low ridge spoken of as Greenland Hill and on its south below a wood known as the Bois du Vert……””

The scene around Arras
The pictures below were taken in April 1917 around Arras. They can be found for free at The Times History of the War, 1914-18 Volume 14 It gives a good idea of the landscape the battalion was moving into.

Another image of the locality is from the sketch book of Fred A Farrell, The 51st Division War Sketches

“9th Royal Scots Attack “Crump Trench.” Description below:

“On April 23, 1917, the 9th Royal Scots took part in an attack on Roeux. Advancing along the side of the river Scarpe, with Roeux Wood on the right and Mount Pleasant Wood on the left, they were held up at the edge of the wood. With the assistance of a tank, however, they took the trench which was impeding the advance, together with a number of prisoners.The drawing shows the men rising from “Creek Trench” to attack “Crump Trench,” where the enemy were stubbornly holding out. Monchy is in the distance. Names of Men appearing in the Sketch.— Coy. Sergeant-Major D. Walker; Corporal J. Hanna; Privates R. Jameson and C. Arnott.

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

As on the Somme in November, 1916, local actions were continuing. To prepare for an attack on Infantry Hill, a position held by the enemy south-east of Monchy-le-Preux, the 2/4th Oxfords went into the front line on June 6.

Map of battlefield around Monchy le Preux. From ‘Haig’s Dispatches’, April 1917

Orders were received to advance across No-Man’s-Land and link up a line of shell-holes as a ‘jumping-off place’ for the subsequent attack. A Company successfully accomplished the task, and the Battalion earned a message of thanks from the Division which a few days afterwards made the designed attack.

Apart from this achievement, the confused network of old and new trenches occupied during this period offered few features of special interest.

C and A Companies and part of D were in the front line, which ran through chalk and was unsavoury by reason of the dead Germans lying all about. The enemy’s fire was of that harassing kind which began now to mark the conduct of the war. In the old days conventional targets such as roads, trenches, and villages within a mile or two of our front were generally shelled at times which could be guessed and when such places could be avoided. These methods changed. Wherever Infantry or transport were bound to go at special times during the night, the German shells, reserved
by day, were fired. Roads, tracks, and approaches, where in daylight English nursemaids could almost have wheeled perambulators with confidence, by night became hated avenues of danger for our Infantrymen moving up the line or ration carrying to their forward companies. The fire to which they went exposed was the enemy’s ‘harassing fire,’ and we, in our turn, very naturally ‘harassed’ the Germans. At this time a crater on the Arras-Cambrai road which must needs be passed and a shallow
trench leading there from, known as Gordon Alley, were the most evil spots. Monchy, the hill-village which had cost us so many lives to capture, was heavily shelled by German howitzers both day and night; below its slopes lay several derelict tanks.

Our gun positions, in proportion to the new increase in counter-battery work, were also often shelled. Though unconnected with any artillery, our doctor, Stobie, and with him Arrowsmith had a bitter experience of German shells. One fine summer morning the enemy commenced a programme of destructive fire upon some empty gun-pits where the Doctor had his dressing-station. Stobie and Arrowsmith, with their personnel, received a high explosive notice to quit, and their descent into a wrong-facing shaft was next followed by the partial destruction or their only exit. They escaped safely and arrived in a state of pardonable excitement at the deep cave under Les Fosses Farm, where my Company Headquarters and many others were. This cave, perhaps, will bear a short description. In Artois and Picardy where chalk strata prevailed, deep subterranean passages and caves abounded. Under Arras itself sufficient room existed to hold many thousands of out troops, who were housed underground before the battle opened. The Germans more than ourselves exploited this feature of geology. Under Gommecourt and Serre their reserve troops had lurked deep in caves.

In the Champagne more striking instances occurred of whole battalions issuing from hidden passages and exits to the fight. The cave below Fosses Farm was about 40 feet below the ground. Of most irregular shape, it branched and twisted into numerous alleys and chambers through the chalk. In it lived representatives of the Artillerv, Royal Engineers, New Zealand Tunnellers, the whole of B Cmpany, parts of Headquarters, the Doctor’s personnel, and my own Company Headquarters.

The cave was dimly lit by a few candles. Throughout the day and night there were perpetuaI comings and goings, and it was common to sec men, dazzled by the outside sun, come stumbling
down the stairs and tread unseeing on the prostrate forms of those asleep below. The bare chalk was floor, bed, and bench to ail alike. The shadows, the dim groups of figures, and the rough pillars forming walls and roof, gave the impression of some old cathedral. Atone end a hole communicating with the ground above served as the only chimney for the incessant cooking that was going on. The fumes of this huge grill-room, which did duty, not only for the 400 men or so within the cave itself, but for as many situated at a distance in the outside world, lent a primeval stamp to the surroundings. We were cave-dwellers, living in
partial darkness and lacking even the elements of furniture.
Caves, cellars, and deep dug-outs had a demoralising influence upon their occupants. The utter security below, contrasted with the danger overhead–for often the entrances to these refuges were particularly shelled – and the knowledge that at any moment the former might have to be exchanged for the latter could deal a subtle injury to one’s morale. It was a golden rule, one perchance followed by many of out leaders, to make each day some expedition afield before the sun had reached its meridian. On the whole one was happier without deep dug-outs – and safer, too, for to become a skulker was equivalent to death.

In quoting things to show how little picnicing there was in the war I feel it opportune to mention a fresh shape in which danger now appeared, not only for the Infantry, but for others formerly immune in sheltered positions far behind the front. I refer to bombing aeroplanes. The warm clear summer nights were now, for the first rime in common experience, marked by the loud droning of the enemy’s machines and by the crash of bombs dropped upon huts and transport lines and along roads and railways in our back area. Arras was often severely bombed. The German aeroplanes on any fine night came to be regarded as inevitable. Bombing might be continued until nearly dawn. When no bombs fell close there was always the constant drone announcing their possibility. To men in huts or in the open, without lights or any means of shelter, the terror carried nightly over- head was greater far than that which ever served to depress Londoners.

Another development which was destined to play an ever increasing part in the war and to make its closing phases worse in some respects that its early, was the long-range high-velocity gun. Though fully seven miles behind the line, Arras was shelled throughout the summer with very heavy shells. The railway station was their principal target, but the 15-inch projectiles fell in a wide radius and caused great destruction to the houses and colleges still standing in the city. Yet to the Arras citizens now eager to return and claim their property shells seemed a small deterrent.

Our star up in the line was short, but we had casualties. Lindsey, a new officer in D Company, was killed on his first visit to the trenches, and Herbert, of B, was wounded. D Company also lost as casualties Sergeant Buller and Lance Corporal Barnes and half-a-dozen Lewis gunners in the line. The night of our relief was spent in bivouacs near Tilloy. A violent thunderstorm, which was the expected sequel to the fortnight’s intensely warm weather we had been experiencing, drenched our surroundings and gave the hard earth, trampled by summer tracks, a surface slippery as
winter mud.

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.
I rejoice that the few pleasant phases of the Battalion’s experiences in France elapsed less rapidly than I describe them. At Bernaville the weather continued fine and warm; in fact, some of the hottest weather of the year occurred. A busy training programme was in swing. To escape the heat, companies paraded at 7 a.m. and worked till 11, and again in the evening at 5 and worked till 7. This training must not be judged by readers according to style and methods possibly seen by them on English training grounds during the war.

At home, after the last divisions of Kitchener’s Army went abroad, no officers trained their own men whom they would lead in battle. The men were usually the rawest drafts, while the officers in home battalions were too often those who had never gone and never would go to the front. A totally different spirit characterised training in France.

Colonel Wetherall was a master of the art of teaching. His emphatic direction and enthusiasm earned early reward in the increased efficiency of all ranks.

At Noeux, near Auxi-le-Château, whither we moved on June 23, the Battalion’s midsummer respite was continued; we were in G.H.Q. reserve.

Rumour, not false on this occasion, predicted the Division’s share in a great battle between Ypres and the coast which was due to happen before the autumn. Expectancy was rife to the effect that
cooperation from the sea was to assist in driving the Germans from the Belgian coast. News, big in its effects, was read one morning in the Daily Mail. The enemy had attacked our lines at Nieuport and driven our garrison across the Yser. A valuable footing had been lost. Happy memories are associated with Noeux. It was a pretty village, girt by rolling hills crowned with rich woods. ‘Wood-fighting’ (which I always said should literally mean the fighting of woods, and indeed it often resolved itself into a contest of man verses undergrowth) was a frequent feature
in the training programme. What was sometimes lost in ‘direction’ was as often gained in naughty amusement at the miscarriage of a scheme. For off-duty hours the wild-boars of Auxi woods and
the cafés in that small town provided varied attractions and romance. The General, who was delighted with the war and the Battalion, was more vigorous and inspiring than ever. It was owing
largely to him that the 184th Brigade became the best in the Division. This good time, which had for its object, hot enjoyment, but preparation for more fighting, came all too soon to an end.

On July 26 the Battalion said good-bye to Noeux. Its inhabitants, of whom an old lady called ‘Queen Victoria’ (La Reine Victoria, as she was known even by her fellow-villagers) was typical, gave us a hearty send-off. Three hours after leaving it we again passed through the village, this time by train. We reached St. Orner in the evening and marched to a scattered Flemish hamlet called Broxeele. Here a stay longer than was expected was made; the 61st Division was in reserve to the 5th Army. The introduction bv the Germans of the celebrated mustard-gas at Ypres had caused many thousand casualties in the line and lent new urgency to our gas drill.

At Broxecle on August 6 the Corps Cmmander, General Hunter Weston, paid a memorable visit of inspection to the Battalion. Long waits, succeeded by tedious processions of generals and
decorated staff-officers of every grade, are usually associated with inspections. General Hunter Weston was more than punctual. His knowledge of all military appurtenances was encyclopedic. A
rigorous examination of revolvers, mess tins, and similar accessories at once commenced. Companies, instead of standing like so manv rows of dummies, were given each some task to perform.

Suddenly in the midst of everything a loud crv of ‘Gas’ is emitted by the General. Not unprepared for such a ‘stunt’ as this, the entire party scrambles as fast as possible into gas-helmets. I think we earned high marks for out gas-discipline. This inspection made a strong impression on the men, who afterwards remembered the occasion and often spoke of it.

Towards the end of July the weather, hitherto so fine, broke hopelessly. Torrential rains followed, which inundated the flat country far and wide. After several postponements the Third
Battle of Ypres commenced on July 31. Some two weeks later the Battalion moved forward by train from Arnecke to Poperinghe. We awaited our share in the fighting which was to make this battle
the most bloody and perhaps least profitable of the whole war.

The Attack on Hill 35, 10th September 1917

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

At 4 p.m.’ said the 61st Divisional Summary for the twenty-four hours ending I2 noon, September II, I917, ‘we attacked the Battery
Position on Hill 35. This attack was not successful.’ A grim epitaph. The terse formula, as though wasted words must not follow wasted lives, was the official record of the seventh attempt to storm Hill 35.

Against the concrete gunpits which crowned this insignificant ridge the waves of our advance on July 31 had lapped in vain. Minor attacks designed to take Gallipoli, a German stronghold set behind the ridge, and against the sister position of Iberian on its flank, proved throughout August some of the most costly failures in the 5th Army operations. The defence of the three strongholds,
Iberian, Hill 35, and Gallipoli provided a striking example of German stubbornness and skill, but added an object-lesson in the squandering of our efforts in attack. Operations upon a general scale having failed to capture all three, it was fantastically hoped that each could be reduced separately. Iberian, Hill 35, and Gallipoli supported one another, nor was it feasible to hold any without holding all. Yet to take Hill 35 on September 9 the 2/4th Oxfords were specially selected. The spirit of A and D Companies, chosen b Colonel Wetherall for the attack, was excellent. We confidently believed that we could succeed where others failed. Optimism, so vital an ingredient in morale, was a powerful assistant to the English Army. It was fostered, perhaps unconsciously, throughout the war by the cheerful attitude preserved by our Generals and staff, but its foundation lay, in our great system of supply. The A.S.C., which helped to win our victories, helped, too, to temper our defeats.

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. He dispensed the most depressing information about the gunpits, the machine-guns, the barrages, and last, but not least terrible (if believed), the new incendiary Verey lights used by the Germans to cremate their assailants. The description of a piece of trench, which we were to capture and block, particularly flattered our prospects. ‘Wide, shallow trench, enfiladed from Gallipoli, filled with the Division dead,’ it ran. The tale of horror becoming ludicrous, we soon afterwards clambered on to the wire bunks
and slept, dripped on, till the early morning.

The next day was misty. Our 15-inch howitzers, on whose ability to smash the enemy’s concrete strongholds reliance was staked, could not fire. The attack was postponed until September 10, but that decision came too late to stop our companies quitting the camp according to previous orders and marching up through Ypres. They could have stayed at Wieltje for the night, but the men’s fear that by so doing they would miss their hot tea, decided their vote in favour of a return to Goldfish Château. Tea is among the greatest bribes that tan be offered to the British soldier.
Accordingly the march through Ypres, or rather, round it (for no troops chose to pass its market place) as repeated on the morrow.

The tracks towards the line were shelled on our way up, but we came safely through. Dusk was awaited in a much war-worn trench in front of Wieltje.

As daylight fades we file away, each man with his own thoughts. Whose turn is it to be this journey ?

Along the tortuous track of tipsy duckboards we go for a mile, until acrid fumes tell that the German barrage-line is being passed. This is a moment to press on! To get the Company safely
across this hundred yards is worth many a fall. Presently the shattered pollards of the Steenbeek are left behind and flickering Verey lights cast into weird relief the rugged surface of the earth.

The Shattered Pollards of the Steenbeck

At Pommern Castle our front trenches, in which figures of men loom indistinctly, are reached. At one corner, where the trench is littered with fragments, we are cautioned by a sentry, whose voice is a little shaken, not to linger; the entrance to a pill-box (which faced the enemy) was hit a short rime ago. From the trench we proceed further into No-Man’s-Land, where the Bucks are said to have linked up shell-holes since night-fall. (Those will be our “assemblv position’ for the attack tomorrow afternoon). By now all shells are passing over our heads; we are level with where Verey lights are falling, and the sweep of bullets through the air shows that the enemy is not far off. Figures appear as if by magic. All at once there is a crowd of men, rattling equipment and talking in suppressed voices. A few commands, and the relief is complete. We are in No-Man’s-Land, strung in a line of shell-holes, from which in sixteen hours’ time the attack is to start.

Soon after 3 a.m. I set out to visit all the scattered groups of men to give my last instructions, for from dawn onwards no movement would be possible. It was an eerie situation. The night was filled with multifarious noise–peculiar poops,’ the distant crash of bombs, and all the mingled echoes of a battlefield. At one time German howitzers, firing at longest range, chimed a faint chorus high above our heads; anon a hissing swoop would plant a shell close to our whereabouts. Lights rose and sank, flickering. Red and green rockets, as if to ornament the tragedy of war, were dancing in the sky. Occasionally a gust of foul wind, striking the face, could make one fancy that Death’s Spectre marched abroad, claiming her children …..

Our guns fired incessantlv. Their shells came plunging down with an arriving whistle that made each one as it came seem that it must drop short –and many did. Mist drifted fitfullv around and
hid, now and again, two derelict tanks, at which a forward post of my company was stationed. This post I was on my way to visit, when, suddenly, what seemed trench-mortar bombs began to fall. About twenty fell in a minute, the last ones very close to where I stood. They were gas. It was a sickening moment; surprise, disaster, and the possibility that here was some new German devilry fired at us from behind, joined with the fumes to numb the mind and powers. Half-gassed ] gave the gas-alarm. By telephone I managed to report what had happened. The Colonel seemed to understand at once; ‘l’ve stopped them,’ conveyed everything of which it was immediately necessary to make certain. For it was an attack by out own gas. Some detachment, without notifying our Brigade staff or selecting a target which sanity could have recommended, had done a ‘shoot’ against my company’s position under the mistake that the enemy was in it. Two casualties, which I believe proved fatal, resulted. Many men vomited. I was prostrated for two hours. “The effect on the morale of some of my men was as pitiable as it was amply justifiable.

For this dastardly outrage I fancy that no person was ever brought to book. Infantry loyally condoned the so-called ‘short shooting’ by our guns. Out of thousands of shells fired at the enemy some must and did rail in our lines. But from such condonation is specifically to be excepted this instance of a gas projection carried out with criminal negligence upon my comrades. For or
by its perpetrator no excuse was offered: and yet the facts were never in dispute.

Proverbially the worst part of an attack was waiting for it. On September 10, from dawn till 4 p.m., A and D Companies lay cramped in shell-holes on the slopes of Hill 35- In my own hole,
so close that out knees touched, sat Sergeant Palmer, Rowbotham, my signalling lance-corporal, Baxter, another signaller, Davies, my runner, and myself. With us we had a telephone and a basket of carrier pigeons.

At 8 a.m., while some of us were sleeping heavily, there came a crash and a jar, which shook every fibre in the body. An English shell had burst a yard or two from the hole wherein we lay. Voices from neighbouring shell-holes hailed us- ‘Are you all right?'” and we replied ‘We are.’ We had no other shell as close as that, but all day long there were two English guns whose shells, aimed at the Germans on the ridge in front, fell so near to where we lay- that we became half-used to being spattered with their earth. As the air warmed the error of these guns decreased, but we counted the hours anxiously until the attack should liberate us from such cruel jeopardy.’

The intolerable duration of that day baffles description. The sun, which had displaced a morning mist, struck down with unrelenting rays till shrapnel helmets grew hot as oven-doors. Blue- bottles (for had hot six attempts failed to take the hill ?) buzzed busily. The heat, our salt rations, the mud below, the brazen sky above, and the suspense of waiting for the particular minute of attack, vied for supremacy in the emotions. The drone of howitzers continued all the day. Only at 2.30 p.m., when a demonstration was made against Iberian, did any variety even occur. There was no choice nor respite. Not by one minute could the attack be either anticipated or postponed.

Of the attack itself the short outline is soon given. Promptly at 4 p.m. the creeping barrage started. In a dazed way or lighting cigarettes the men, who had lost during the long wait all sense of their whereabouts, began to stumble forward up the hill. Our shrapnel barrage was not good. One of the earliest shells burst just behind the hole from which I stepped. It wounded Rowbotham and Baxter (my two signallers) and destroyed the basket of carrier pigeons. Of other English shells I saw the brown splash amongst our men. Prolonged bombardment had ploughed the ground into a welter of crumbling earth and mud. Our progress at only a few dozen yards a minute gave the Germans in their pill-boxes ample time to get their machine-guns going, while correspondingly the barrage passed away from our advance in its successive lifts. Heavy firing from Iberian commenced to enfilade our ranks. Long before the objective was approached our enemies, who in some cases left the pill-boxes and manned positions outside, were masters of the situation. The seventh
attempt had failed to struggle up the slopes of Hill 35-

Despite the disappointment of this immediate failure of the enterprise, I realised at once the impossibility of its success. Yet on this occasion less was done by the men than the conduct of their leaders deserved. Almost as soon as bullets had begun to bang through the air some men had gone to shelter. Those who stood still were mown down. A handful of D Company, led by the company commander, by short rushes reached a ruined tank, close to the enemy, but the remainder disappeared into shell-holes, whence encouragement was powerless to more them. Only in A Company was any fire opened.

No sense of anti-climax could be demanded of the English soldier, whose daily shilling was paid him whether he was in rest-billets, on working-party, or sent into the attack.

On the part also of the Artillery less was done than the scheme promised or our attacking Infantry had counted on. By shell-fire the issue of Hill 35 was to have been placed beyond doubt.
When the artillery machine broke down, achievement of success demanded more initiative on the part of the Infantry than if no artillery had been used. In a sense our loss of a hundred guns at
Cambrai a few weeks later became a blessing in disguise, for it restored the scales in favour of the Infantryman as the decisive agent on the field of battle.

So ended the attack on Hill 35- Upon its slopes were added our dead to the dead of many regiments. But our casualties were few considering that the attack had been brought to a standstill by machine-gun fire. Of D Company officers Guest was wounded (he had behaved with gallantry in the attack) and Copinger missing. Viggers, a very brave sergeant, was killed. Three lance-corporals, Wise, Rowbotham, and Goodman, had been wounded. The total casualties to the Battalion, including several in B Company Headquarters from a single shell and others in passing afterwards through Ypres, were, happily, under fifty.
A few days after its attack on Hill 35 the Battalion marched away from Ypres, never to

Nowhere is this truth better expressed than in the words
of “Tommy’s own song, the refrain of which ends :-But you get your bob a day, never mind!” return. What credit had been earned there by the 61st Division was principally associated with the work of the I84th Infantry Brigade and of the 2/4th Oxfords. Improvement in morale flowed from the test of this great battle. The losses of the BattaIion had been heavy; fourteen officers
and 26o men were its casualties. The final winning of the war could not be unconnected with such a sacrifice. Like others before and others after it, the Battalion at Ypres gave its pledge to posterity.

“At this stage in the war the barrels of many of our guns and howitzers in use on the Western Front were very worn. That fact alone and not any want of care or devotion on the part of our artillery or staff would have accounted for the ‘short shooting’ which I record. To locate a worn barrel, when scores of batteries were bombarding together according to a complicated programme, was naturally impossible. Infantry recognised this.”

“Nowhere is this truth better expressed than in the words
of “Tommy’s own song, the refrain of which ends :-But you get your bob a day, never mind!”

Extract From The British Campaign in France and Flanders, January to July 1918, A Conan Doyle.

THE BRITSH CAMPAIGN IN FRANCE AND FLANDERS, JANUARY TO JULY 1918

A. CONAN DOYLE

CHAPTER IV

THE SECOND BATTLE OF THE SOMME

Attack upon the Fifth Army. March 21.

The Fifth Army front — The story of a Redoubt — Attack upon
Congreve’s Seventh Corps — Upon Watts’ Nineteenth Corps —
Upon Maxse’s Eighteenth Corps — Upon Butler’s Third Corps —
Terrific pressure — Beginning of the Retreat — Losses of Guns.

In dealing with the German attack upon the Fifth Army, the first point which should be emphasized is, that heavy as the fighting was in the north, still The it was this southern advance which was the main one. The official account of the disposition of the German forces brings this fact out very clearly. Fifth From the Sensee River to the Bapaume — Cambrai Road they are stated to have had nine divisions in line and eight in close reserve, covering a front of nine miles. In the eight miles from Cambrai Road to La Vacquerie they had four divisions. In the southern area from La Vacquerie down to La Fere they had twenty-three divisions in the line and seventeen in reserve, covering a front .of over forty miles. This front was defended by eleven British divisions, with three divisions of infantry and three of cavalry in reserve. So far as infantry was concerned the odds were 40 to 14, while the German guns numbered about 3500 to 1300 on the British line. These odds were serious enough if directed equally along the whole area, but when thrown in on special sectors they became more crushing. To add to the total picture of German strength, it should be added that twenty -five fresh divisions were thrown into the fight during the first week, nine upon the Scarpe front, three between the Ancre and the Somme, seven between the Somme and Montdidier, and six between Montdidier and the Oise. Against these have to be set British reinforcements, and the influx of French from the south. It was only on the first five days of battle that the odds were so overpoweringly with the Germans.

In this chapter we shall endeavour to gain a superficial view of the general course of events upon the whole front of the Fifth Army upon the fateful March 21. We shall then be in a position to appreciate the situation as .it was in the evening and to understand those decisions on the part of General’ Gough and his subordinates which influenced the subsequent operations.

The front of the Fifth Army extended from its junction with the Third Army in the neighbourhood of La Vacquerie to Barisis, a village some miles south of the Oise, the total frontage being nearly forty miles. This was occupied by four corps. The northern was the Seventh, under General Congreve, a well-known soldier, whose V.C. and shattered arm proclaimed his past services to the Empire. This corps covered the southern part of the dangerous Cambrai salient and extended to the region of Ronssoy. From this point to Maissemy the line was held by General Watts with the Nineteenth Corps.Upon his right, extending as far as north of Essigny, was General Maxse with the Eighteenth Corps. From thence to Barisis lay the Third Corps under General Butler. All four were soldiers of wide experience, their leader, General Gough, had never failed in any Battle task to which he had laid his hand,- and the troops in the line comprised some of the flower of the British Fifth army, so that in spite of all disparity of numbers there was a reasonable hope for success. Arrangements had been made by which the French or British could send lateral help to each other; but it must be admitted that the liaison work proved to be defective, and that the succours were slower in arriving, and less equipped for immediate action, than had been expected.

The fortifications along the front of the Fifth Army were of various degrees of strength, depending upon the nature of the ground and upon the time that it had been in British possession, the north being stronger than the south. The Oise, which had been looked upon as an obstacle, and the presence of which had seemed to justify the extraordinarily long sector held by the Third Corps, had to some extent dried up and had ceased to be a real protection. In the main, the defences consisted of a forward line, a chain, of small redoubts, each with four machine-guns and all connected by posts; a battle-line which was strongly wired and lay about 3000 yards behind the forward line; and a rear zone, the fortifications of which were not complete. If anything were wanting in the depth of the defences it has to be remembered that we are speaking of a vast tract of country, and that to dig a serviceable trench from London, we will say, to Guildford, furnishing it with sand-bags and wire, is a mighty task. There were no enslaved populations who could be turned on to such work. For months before the attack the troops, aided by the cavalry and by Battle several special entrenching battalions, were digging incessantly. Indeed, the remark has been made that Fifth their military efficiency was impaired by the constant navvy work upon which they were employed. There is no room for criticism upon this point, for everything possible was done, even in that southern sector which had only been a few weeks in British possession.

Before beginning to follow the history of March 21, it would be well to describe the position and number of the reserves, as the course of events depended very much upon this factor. Many experienced soldiers were of opinion that if they had been appreciably more numerous, and considerably nearer the line, the positions could have been made good. The three infantry divisions in question were the Thirty-ninth, which .was immediately behind the Seventh Corps, the Twentieth, which was in the neighbourhood of Ham, and was allotted to the Eighteenth Corps, and the Fiftieth, which was in general army reserve, and about seven hours’ march from the line. The First Cavalry Division was in the rear of the Nineteenth Corps, while the Second Cavalry Division was on the right behind the Third Corps. The Third Cavalry Division was in billets upon the Somme, and it also was sent to the help of the Third Corps. Besides these troops the nearest supports were at a distance of at least three days’ journey, and consisted of a single unit, the Eighth Division.

The German preparations for the attack had not been unobserved and it was fully expected upon the morning of the battle, but what was not either expected or desired was the ground mist, which seems _ ‘ to have been heavier in the southern than in the northern portion of the line. So dense was it that during the critical hours when the Germans were pouring across No Man’s Land it was not possible to see for more than twenty yards, and the whole scheme of the forward defence, depending as it did upon machine-guns, placed in depth and sweeping every approach, was completely neutralised by this freak of nature, which could not have been anticipated, for it was the first time such a thing had occurred for two months. Apart from the machineguns, a number of isolated field-guns had been sown here and there along the front, where they had lurked in silence for many weeks waiting for their time to come. These also were rendered useless by the weather, and had no protection from the German advance, which overran and submerged them.

The devastating bombardment broke out along the line about five o’clock, and shortly after ten it was known that the German infantry had advanced and had invaded the whole of the forward zone, taking a few of the redoubts, but in most cases simply passing them in the fog, and pushing on to the main British line. As it is impossible to give the experiences of each redoubt in detail, the story of one may be told as being fairly typical of the rest. This particular one is chosen because some facts are available, whereas in most of them a deadly silence, more eloquent than words, covers their fate. The Enghien redoubt was held by Colonel Wetherall with a company of the 2/4 Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry upon the front of the Sixty-first Division. The redoubt formed the battalion headquarters, and was connected to brigade headquarters by a cable buried eight feet deep. In front were two companies of the battalion in the outpost line; behind was the fourth company ready for counter-attack. Early in the morning heavy trench-mortar fire was raining bombs upon the redoubt, and the wire was flying in all directions. At 6 the redoubt was so full of gas that even the masks could not hold it out, so the men were ordered below and put up gas blankets to fend it off. This could be safely done, as when gas is so thick it is not possible for the stormers to advance. At 6.15, what with fog and gas and blurred respirators, it was hardly possible to see anything at all. At 7.30 the gas cleared and there was a shower of high explosive shells with shattering effect. At 9.30 the barrage lifted and the garrison rushed up from their shelters and manned their posts, but the fog rolled white and thick across their vision. The cloud banked right up to their wire, while from behind it came all the noises of the pit. So nerveshaking was the effect that some of the outlying men came creeping into the redoubt for human company. At 9.40 the whizzing of bullets all around showed that the infantry was on the move. The garrison fired back into the mist, whence came vague shoutings and tramplings. A request was cabled back for a protective barrage, but the inadequate reply showed that the British guns had suffered in the shelling. Suddenly the mist darkened at one point; it broke into running figures, and a wave of men rushed forward, scrambled through the broken wire, and clambered into the redoubt. The Oxfords rushed across and bombed them back into the mist again. There was a pause, during which the attack was reorganized, and then at 11 o’clock the German stormers poured suddenly in from three sides at Battle once. The garrison stood to it stoutly and drove them out, leaving many bodies on the broken wire. The fort was now entirely surrounded, and there was a fresh attack from the rear which added fifty or sixty more to the German losses. At 11.45 therewas some lifting of the fog, and Colonel Wetherall endeavoured to get across to the village, 300 yards behind him, to see if help could be obtained. He found it deserted. Stealing back to his fort he was
covered suddenly by German rifles, was draggedaway as a prisoner, but finally, late in the evening,escaped and rejoined the main body of his ownbattalion. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Cunningham had taken over the defence of Enghien redoubt, assisted by Lieutenant Richards with the machine-guns. Hour after hour fresh attacks were repelled, but showers of bombs fell in the confined space, and the garrison were continually thinned out. Despairing messages—” What shall we do ? What shall we .do ? “—were sent back over the cable, but nothing could be done, for these outliers are the enfants perdus of the army, marked from the first for destruction. Finally, at 4.30, the great deep all around them sentone heavy wave to submerge them, and the cable was for ever silent.

Such is the typical history of a redoubt. Some succumbed more readily, some survived until the afternoon of the next day; but the difference may sometimes have depended upon the various degrees of severity of attack, which was by no means the same upon all sectors. The total effect was the complete destruction of the eleven gallant battalions which held the advanced line of the Fifth Army, and the loss of all material therein. One can but hope that the enemy paid a full price. Occasionally a sudden rise of the mist gave the defence a splendid opening for their machine-guns. On one occasion such a chance exposed a German officer standing with a large map in his hand within thirty yards of the fort, his company awaiting his directions beside him. Few of them escaped.

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