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

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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.

1916, DECEMBER 25th – CHRISTMAS DAY IN FRONTLINE TRENCHES 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)

The Battalion spent December 25, 1916, in the trenches under some of the worst conditions that even a war Christmas could bring. Christmas dinners were promised and afterwards held when we were in rest.

As in previous years, our army circulars had forbidden any fraternisation with the enemy. Though laughed at, these were resented by the Infantry in the line, who at this stage lacked either wish or intention to join hands with the German, or lapse into a truce with him. On the other hand, a day’s holiday from the interminable sounds of shelling would have been appreciated, and casualties on Christmas Day struck a note of tragedy. This want of sagacity on the part of our higher staff, as if our soldiers could not be trusted to fight or keep their end up as well on Christmas as any other day, was a reminder of those differences on which it is no object of this history to touch.

1916, DECEMBER 24th – RELIEVED THE 2/4th ROYAL BERKSHIRE REGIMENT IN THE FRONT LINE ON CHRISTMAS EVE

 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 Christmas Eve, 1916, the Battalion relieved the front line. Brown and Davenport took their companies to Desire and Regina. Battalion Headquarters had an improved position at Zollern Redoubt, and their old dug-out in Hessian was left to D Company Headquarters. Robinson with C Company was also in Hessian, to the left of D. His headquarters possessed plenty of depth but neither height nor breadth. The dug-out entrance was the size of a large letter-box and nearly level with the trench floor.

After the march up, the remainder of the night was devoted to the trying process of ‘getting touch.’ This meant finding the neighbouring sentry-posts on each flank–an important duty, for the Germans usually knew the date and sometimes the hour of our reliefs and the limits of frontage held by different units (we naturally were similarly informed about the enemy). For reasons of security no relief could be held complete before not only our own men were safely in but our flanks were established by touch with neighbouring posts.

In the course of the very relief I have mentioned, a platoon of one battalion reached the front line but remained lost for more than a day. It could neither get touch with others nor others with it. ‘Getting touch’ seemed easy on a map and was often done in statements over the telephone. Tangible relations were more difficult and efforts to obtain them often involved most exasperating situations, for whole nights could be spent meandering in search of positions, which in reality were only a few hundred yards distant. Total absence of guiding landmarks was freely remarked as the most striking characteristic of this part of the Somme area. I refer only to night movement, for by day there were always distant objects to steer by, and the foreground, seemingly a cratered wilderness of mud, to the trained eye wore a multitude of significant objects.

My last topic introduces the regimental guide. Guides performed some of the hardest and most responsible work of the war. Staff work could at time be botched or boggled without ill-effects; for mistakes by guides some heavy penalty was paid. Whenever a relief took place, men to lead up the incoming unit into the positions it was to occupy were sent back, usually one per platoon, or, in cases of difficult relief and when platoon strengths were different, one per sentry-post. Guides rarely received much credit when reliefs went well, but always the blame when they went ill. The private soldiers, who guided our troops into trench and battle, played a greater part in winning the war than any record has ever confessed.

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1916-12-24

Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire

Location France, Trenches

Entry Battn relieved by 2/4 OXFORDS – 1 Coy in support MOUQUET FARM, 1 Coy in dug outs at R26.b.5 9 R26a.27 and R32,g.8 and 2 Coys to WELLINGTON HUTS. Capt Bennett (OXFORDS) returned to his Bn. Draft of 76 arrived.

1916, NOVEMBER 25th – FRONT LINE ALONG DESIRE

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 the evening of November 25, 1916, Robinson of C Company and myself, taking Hunt and Timms (my runner) and one signaller, left for the front line. This was being held along Desire–my fondness for this trench never warranted that name–with a line of resistance in Regina, a very famous German trench, for which there had recently been heavy fighting. Our reconnaissance, which was completed at dawn, was lucky and satisfactory; moreover–I do not refer to any lack of refreshment by the Berks company commander–I was still dry at its conclusion, having declined all the communication trenches, which were already threatening to become impassable owing to mud.

KILLED IN ACTION 25th NOVEMBER 1916

20413 Private Herbert Gerald Montague

Herbert Gerald Montague

Herbert Gerald Montague’s short and adventurous life is detailed below.

 

DeRuvigny’s Roll of Honour, 1914 – 1924

MONTAGU, HERBERT GERALD, Private, No. 20413, 4th Battn. The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, late Lieut. The Royal Munster Fusiliers, 2ns s. of Alfred John Montagu. Of Braeside, Hillingdon, co. Middlesex, formerly of Colnbrook, co. Buckingham, by his Wife Hester Vaudrey, dau. Of the late James Holland, of Manchester; b. Perth, Western Australia, 20 Nov. 1892; educ. St. Paul’s School, London, where he played polo for the school; won the 1909 Bantam Weight, competition at Aldershot the year of its foundation.; was gazetted 2nd Lieut. 5th Battn. The Royal Fusiliers 1 April 1911, and attached to the 4th Battn. At Aldershot, afterwards became a familiar figure at the Regimental hunts in the Curragh, and well known as an excellent shot. On the outbreak of the Turko-Italian War, anxious to see active service, he offered himself to the TurkishGoverment and after a long and adventurous journey reached Turkish Headquarters. During this Journey he and Mr. Seppings Wright, War Artist for the “Illustrated London News” whom he met at Sfax, also on his way to Turkish Headquarters, were owing to rough weather, stranded on an island, where they existed on octopus and porpoise for three days, threatened meanwhile by a mutinous native crew. After leaving the island their fresh water gave out, and suffering terribly from thirst, they finally reached Zwarra, whence Mr. Montagu proceeded by camel to the Turkish Headquarters. Here he was given the rank of Captain, with a command of 3,000 Turkish troops and Arab irregulars comprising the right flank of the Turkish forces. He was three times mentioned in Despatches, and his gallantry and his control over undisciplined Arab troops led Mr. Alan Ostler, War Correspondent with the Turkish forces, to describe him as the “Paladin of the Desert.” He was severely wounded in Dec., and later returned to England suffering from dysentery, having in the meantime been notified that the War Office demanded his resignation for communicating with the Press, as it was he who sent a cable exposing the massacre of women and children whose body he found in a mosque; subsequently he receieved an illuminated address from the representatives of the Moslem community resident in England. Later he visited Constantinople as the guest of the Minister of War, when he was decorated by the Sultan with the Odre Imperial du Medjidie and the Ordre de la Gloire Nichon-I-Iftikhar, who also appointed him an A.D.C. At this time an attempt was made on his life which happily failed; returned to England in March, 1913, suffering from the effects of typhoid; was reinstated as Lieut. In Aug. 1914, being attached to the Royal Munster Fusiliers; served with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, 10th Division, at Gallipoli from july, 1915; took part in the landing at Sulva Bay; was wounded on the ridge at Kislagh Dagh, and invalided home in Sept. with a septic wound and nerous breakdown., being invalided out f the Army after a year’s ill-health. On recovery he enlisted as a Private in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, preferring not to wait in the hope of regaining his commission; proceeded to France 2 Nov., and was killed in action at Moquet Farm, near Thiepval, 25 Nov. 1916, while carrying despatches to the base, only a few days before the recommendation for his reinstatement and consequent return to England. He m. in London, 15 Oct, 1913, Mai Hermoine, only au. Of the late James Cunningham Mitchell, Indian Police, Simla.

Limerick Chronicle, January, 1917.

Romantic Career Ended on battlefield.

The death in action is announced of Herbert Gerald Montagu, a private in the Oxford and Bucks, Light Infantry, formerly a lieutenant in the Royal Munster Fusiliers. Mr Montagu was deprived of his commission in the Royal Fusiliers for joining the Turkish Army in Tripoli without leave. He took a romantic part in the Turkish-Italian war in Northern Africa in 1911, and was subsequently decorated by the Sultan with the Orders of the Mejidie and Nichan-Lftikhar for conspicuous bravery in the field. At the conclusion of the Tripoli campaign he returned wounded to England, and was presented with an illuminated address on behalf of the Moslem community in this country. As Lieutenant in the Royal Munster Fusiliers he tool part in the Suvla Bay landing and in other Gallipoli operations, was wounded at Kislag Dagh, and ultimately returned to England in September 1915, suffering from septic wounds and nervous breakdown. Immediately he was fit he joined the ranks, went to France, and there met his death at the age of 24. He was the second son of Mr and Mrs A J Montagu, of Braeside, Hillingdon, late of Colnbrook. He was educated at St Paul’s School.—“Daily Sketch.”

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

1916-11-25

Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire

Location France, Trenches

Entry Normal artillery activity on both sides.

1916, NOVEMBER 21st – ON THE SOMME

Trenches Near Grandcourt November and Dececember 1916

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

On November 21 the Brigade took over its new sector of the line and with it a somewhat different régime to what it had known before. It was heard said of the 61st Division that it stayed too long in quiet trenches (to be sure, trenches were only really ‘quiet’ to those who could afford to visit them at quiet periods). Still the Somme ‘craterfield’ presented a complete contrast to the old breastworks with their familiar landmarks and daylight reliefs. Battle conditions remained though the advance had stopped. Our recent capture of Beaumont-Hamel and St. Pierre Divion left local situations, which required clearing up. The fragments of newly-won trenches above Grandcourt, trenches without wire and facing a No-Man’s-Land of indeterminate extent, gave their occupants their first genuine tactical problems and altogether more responsibility than before. In some respects the Germans were quicker than ourselves to adapt themselves to conditions approximating to open warfare. The principle of an outpost line and the system of holding our front in depth had been pronounced often as maxims on paper, but had resulted rarely in practice. Subordinate staffs, on whom the blame for local reverses was apt to fall rather heavily, were perhaps reluctant to jeopardise the actual front line by holding it too thinly, while from the nature of the case, the front line was something far more sacred to us than to the enemy. Since the commencement of trench warfare the Germans had held their line on the ‘depth’ principle, keeping only a minimum of troops, tritely referred to as ‘caretakers,’ in their front trench of all, while we for long afterwards crammed entire companies, with their headquarters, into the most forward positions.

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