I came across this great resource that makes G. K. Rose’s book, The Story of 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry very accessible.
I came across this great resource that makes G. K. Rose’s book, The Story of 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry very accessible.
A depiction of the heavily bomb damaged water mill at Fampoux, on the bank of the River Scarpe. The roof has been particularly badly damaged, by Major G. K. Rose, 2/4th Ox and Bucks Light Infantry.
The destruction and devastation at Fampoux, France. There is little left to indicate that a village once stood here. The only evidence is scattered debris and piles of rubble. A small road winds its way through the chaos. The wooden frame of a large building is visible in the distance. On the left of the photograph, a tree offers the only sign of life. Many small towns and villages, due to their proximity to the Front, found themselves caught in the middle of the fighting. In some cases, entire villages were obliterated by the bombing and shelling. [Original reads: ‘OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPH TAKEN ON THE BRITISH WESTERN FRONT IN FRANCE. General view of Fampoux.’]
The photographer was John Warwick Brooke, of the Topical Press Agency. He was the second British official war photographer to go to the Western Front in 1916. The demands placed on he and his colleague, Ernest Brooks, were heavy. They had to take as many photographs as possible, with as much variety as possible, a difficult task for two men covering an army of over two million. Despite this, Warwick Brooke managed to take what would become some of the most memorable images of World War I. As an officially appointed photographer, Warwick Brooke was assigned to the Western Front to follow the progress of the British Army. During his time there, between 1916 and 1918, Warwick Brooke is estimated to have taken over 4,000 photographs.
From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by G.K. Rose
The Battalion’s Relief mid-winter respite was brief. On New Year’s Eve, 1917, the 2/4th Oxfords left the wretched Suzanne huts and marched through Harbonnieres to Caix. No ‘March Past’ was necessary or would have been possible, for so slippery was the road that the men had to trail along it’s untrodden sides as best they could. Old 61st Division sign-boards left standing nearly a year ago greeted the return to an area which was familiar to many.
From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by G.K. Rose
After one night at Lechelle the Battalion entrained at Ytrez and moved back to Christmas rest-billets at Suzanne, near Bray.
Huts, built by the French but vacated more than a year ago and now very dilapidated formed the accommodation. In them Christmas dinners, to procure which Bennett had proceeded early from the line, were eaten. And O’Meara conducted the Brigade Band.
There are a number of photographs of interest on the following Web sites:
From: Over the top, by and American Soldier who went, by Arthur Guy Empey.
“After arriving at this place, I was hustled to the quartermaster stores and received an awful shock. The Quartermaster Sergeant spread a
waterproof sheet on the ground, and commenced throwing a miscellaneous assortment of straps, buckles, and other paraphernalia into it. I thought he would never stop, but when the pile reached to my knees he paused long enough to say, ”Next, No. 5217, ‘Arris, ‘B’ Company.” I gazed in bewilderment at the pile of junk in front of me, and then my eyes wandered around looking for the wagon which was to carry it to the barracks. I was rudely brought to earth by the ”Quarter’ exclaiming, ‘”Ere, you, ‘op it, tyke it aw’y; blind my eyes, ‘e*s looking for ‘is batman to *elp ‘im carry it.’
Struggling under the load, with frequent pauses for rest, I reached our barracks (large car barns), and my platoon leader came to the rescue. It was a marvel to me how quickly he assembled the equipment. After he had completed the task, he showed me how to adjust it on my person. Pretty soon I stood before him a proper Tommy Atkins in heavy marching order, feeling like an overloaded camel.
On my feet were heavy-soled boots, studded with hobnails, the toes and heels of which were reinforced by steel half-moons. My legs were encased in woolen puttees, olive drab in color, with my trousers overlapping them at the top. Then a woolen khaki tunic, under which was a bluish-gray woolen shirt, minus a collar, beneath this shirt a woolen belly-band about six inches wide, held in place by tie strings of white tape. On my head was a heavy woolen trench cap, with huge ear laps buttoned over the top. Then the equipment: A canvas belt, with ammunition pockets, and two wide canvas straps like suspenders, called “D” straps, fastened to the belt in front, passing over each shoulder, crossing in the middle of my back, and attached by buckles to the rear of the belt. On the right side of the belt hung a water bottle, covered with felt; on the left side was my bayonet and scabbard, and entrenching tool handle, this handle strapped to the bayonet scabbard. In the rear was my entrenching tool, carried in a canvas case. This tool was a combination pick and spade. A canvas haversack was strapped to the left side of the belt, while on my back was the pack, also of canvas, held in place by two canvas straps over the shoulders; suspended on the bottom of the pack was my mess tin or canteen in a neat little canvas case. My waterproof sheet, looking like a jelly roll, was strapped on top of the pack, with a wooden stick for cleaning the breach of the rifle projecting from each end. On a lanyard around my waist hung a huge jackknife with a can-opener attachment. The pack contained my overcoat, an extra pair of socks, change of underwear, hold-all (containing knife, fork, spoon, comb, toothbrush, lather brush, shaving soap, and a razor made of tin, with “Made in England” stamped on the blade; when trying to shave with this it made you wish that you were at war with Patagonia, so that you could have a ‘hollow ground” stamped “Made in Germany”; then your housewife, button-cleaning outfit, consisting of a brass button stick, two stiff brushes, and a box of “Soldiers’ Friend” paste; then a shoe brush and a box of dubbin, a writing pad, indelible pencil, envelopes, and pay book, and personal belongings, such as a small mirror, a decent razor, and a sheaf of unanswered letters, and fags. In your haversack you carry your iron rations, meaning a tin of bully beef, four biscuits, and a can containing tea, sugar, and Oxo cubes; a couple of pipes and a package of shag, a tin of rifle oil, and a pull-through. Tommy generally carries the oil with his rations; it gives the cheese a sort of sardine taste.
Add to this a first-aid pouch and a long ungainly rifle patterned after the Daniel Boone period,and you have an idea of a British soldier in Blighty.
Before leaving for France, this rifle is taken from him and he is issued with a Lee-Enfield short trench rifle and a ration bag.
In France he receives two gas helmets, a. sheepskin coat, rubber mackintosh,- steel helmet, two blankets, tear-shell goggles, a balaclava helmet, gloves, and a tin of anti-frostbite grease which is
excellent for greasing the boots. Add to this the weight of his rations, and can you blame Tommy for growling at a twenty kilo route march? ”
Captain Arthur Graeme West was an officer in the 6th Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. His book The Diary of a Dead Officer is in marked contrast to The Story of the 2/4th Oxfords and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by G. K. Rose.
The Introduction of The Diary of a Dead Officer:
ARTHUR GRAEME WEST was born in September 1891. The first few years of his life were spent m the country , but before he was ten years old his people moved to London, where they settled in Highgate, Graeme being sent to the Highgate School. At the age of fourteen he went to Blundells School at Tiverton, with a scholarship.
His school-days were not particularly happy. He was at that time too shy and retiring to impose himself in any marked degree on his contemporaries, and his complete ineptitude at any kind of game I have never seen a man so demonstrably and obviously unathletic, meant that at best he would figure very much in the background in a community where skill at games was the only passport to popularity and the only measure of worth. But worse than this, West was clever at least, he was concerned with books; he was also a naturalist, and concerned with bugs; his study used to crawl with caterpillars, and at that time smelt badly.
These two tastes combined to damn him as a public-school boy. Blunders had one universal designation for anyone who
regarded books as something other than work, and work as something other than an unpleasant method of wasting boring
tracts of time compulsorily inserted in an otherwise interesting existence. This designation was “worm”.
West was a “worm” and there was no more to be said. Being a “worm” at Blunders meant that no one thought of asking your opinion on any matter of importance, and no one went out with you except other “worms” As regards his taste for caterpillars, this was unusual, even a little unorthodox, and therefore an object always of suspicion, and sometimes of active suppression.
At school, then, West was a quiet, effaced sort of individual, alternately bullied by big boys when they wanted to evince their
superiority to “worms” and cajoled when they wanted their exercises done, but on the whole too obscure to be actively disliked.
In July 1910, somewhat to the general surprise, West obtained the School Scholarship to Balliol College, and went up to Oxford for the first time in the autumn of the same year.
At Oxford his personality expanded and developed in a remarkable way. Never in the strict sense of the word a clever man even by the academic Standard (he took only a third in Mods, and a second in Greats, and worked hard for them, too) – he became an extraordinarily well-educated one. His passion for literature was intense. He was one of those rare individuals who a dually liked reading the really great men.
It is always something of a shock to find a man reading Milton and Spenser, Homer and Lucretius, Shakespeare and Chaucer for fun, but West read them all, and liked them. It was all of a piece with his discriminating literary judgment that he disliked Virgil intensely.
His reading, especially in poetry, was wide, and it was always somehow hitched on to his life. It was not so much that he continually bored you by quoting, as that his comments on people and things always might have been quotations, and weren’t. He caught at once the style and spirit of the writer he reverenced at the moment, and in his conversation could not help unconsciously reflecting it. I never met a man who could talk “Meredith” conversation so well as he could.
With all this came an indescribable charm of manner. When people were attracted to West and as time went on they became more and more attracted they would have found it difficult to say what it was they liked in him. He had no outstanding qualities to win you. He was not pre-eminently witty, generous, genial, or hospitable. He knew few anecdotes, and never told them. Perhaps it was more than anything else by all the things that he was not that he charmed. He was so devoid of push and advertisement, so quiet, tranquil, and unassuming,
eminently companionable, and above all, such a good listener that, though these things did not constitute his charm, they went some way to explain it.
He had a great love for beauty in whatever form it came to him. Before he left Oxford he became a really good judge of most things that attract the eye. He knew much of pictures, furniture, china, and would in time have become a connoisseur.
His early predilection for caterpillars developed into a great liking for the country, for spring, for autumn, and the changing
seasons. Summer, however, always seemed to him dull.
I have spoken of him as conspicuously unathletic. He was, but he was a great walker. He prided himself, towards the end of his Oxford time, on his avrapkea, his self-sufficiency which never became self-complacency, and on his lack of dependence upon others. He would go off for prodigious walks by himself lasting the whole day through, or paddle in a lonely
canoe far up the unfrequented upper river. He was, at least until the war came, one of those few people who really liked being alone, not so much because other people bored him, as because he did not bore himself. He was, in fact, sufficiently valuable to be able to stand his own company. But he had none of the more endearing vices: he could never master a pipe, he never got drunk (l am speaking of before the war), beer was a closed book to him, and so were cards. Also he had never heard of any music. He was just coming to music when the war took him.
When the war broke out, it left him for some little time untouched. He had got so detached from the world he scarcely ever read a paper that it took some time for the war to shake him back into it.
He went back to Oxford for the autumn of 1914, his fifth year, with the intention of reading English literature. He found that all his friends had gone, and that his boasted ‘ avrapketa had forsaken him. Oxford was buzzing like a great hive with war preparations, and his poem, “The Owl Abashed” shows how even at Oxford the spell began to weave itself around him. In the Christmas vacation the infection took him. He applied for a commission in a rush of enthusiasm, was turned down for his eyes, and enlisted as a private in the Public
From that time, until his death in April 1917, his life was a succession of training in England and trenches m France, with short intervals of leave.
In November 1915 he crossed to France; thence to the Front. In four months he was home again and on his way to Scotland, where he was trained for an officer until August 1916, when he had a few weeks leave preparatory to going to the Front.
Most of this leave was spent at Box Hill in Surrey, and it was there that the complete change of attitude to the war, (described in Part III. of the Diary), took place.
In September 1916 he went to France with a commission, and was out there continuously until his death.
It is difficult to describe with any exactness the effect of the Army on a man like West, nor is it very necessary to do so, for the extracts speak for themselves.
A few things, however, must be said.
West joined the Army from a feeling of duty and, in the best sense of the word, of patriotism. Violence of any kind was abhorrent to his nature. He was one of that numerous body of schoolboys who had never had a fight, and he hardly ever quarrelled. In the words of an old lady who knew him well, “Mr. Weft wouldn’t hurt a fly”
West enlisted, then, convinced of the rightness of his cause, feeling it his duty to help his country, but distilling, as intensely
as any man that ever put on khaki, the work he had set out to do.
This feeling of hatred for violence rarely comes out in the Diary. It was always there, but somehow it was taken so much for granted, even by himself, that it rarely finds expression, save perhaps in the general longing for peace that comes to every soldier.
The intense abhorrence of Army life which inspires almost every line of Part II. of the Diary sprang from a different cause. West was a man of marked individuality and keen susceptibilities. He had a highly trained mind, and more than that, he had a habit of independent thinking. He was an individualist who hated routine and system as devices for suppressing men’s
differences and reducing them to a common standard of thought and behaviour, and distrusted discipline as an instrument for
forcing men to do things they disliked.
To such a man the Army came to seem a thing of evil. It could not reduce him in thought to the dead level of orthodox
opinion which alone was recognised and encouraged, and his power of mental detachment and independent thinking, driven underground, turned to gall and bitterness, and found an outlet
in the contemptuous and scathing picture of Army life presented in Part II. His leave came in the summer of 1916. The A muttered feelings of dislike and revolt that had been accumulating during the Ian few months had prepared the way for a change in his intellectual convictions. In Part III. will be found I an account of that change. West became, in brief, a pacifist a pacifist who was precluded by his position in the Army from voicing or acting upon his opinions save, as he thought, on the certainty of being summarily shot. None of those who saw him that summer, happy in his few weeks’ leave and the complete intellectual freedom at Box Hill, suspected the emotional crisis through which he was passing. The bottom was being knocked out of all his beliefs: religion and patriotism, m the ordinary senses of these words, went by the board, and God became for him a malignant practical joker, or at best an indifferent spectator of the woes of the world. During this time he wrote most of the quasi-philosophical poems that appear in Part V.
Having scrapped the universe in theory, West had to face the problem of his own line of action. As will be seen, his courage failed him, and he went back to the Army,believing he did wrong, believing it his duty to stand out, hating and despising himself for proving false to his beliefs. From that time until his death, through all the life of the trenches, through all the scenes of marching and fighting described in Part IV, there was always, in a sense, irrelevant to him, something that passed over him not without leaving its traces, not without mattering, but mattering always as a gloomy and sordid background, never occupying the forefront of his mind or interest, never rousing him to enthusiasm, never for a moment appearing
to him as anything but sheer cruelty and waste.
Even his death was irrelevant. He died, it seems, in no blaze of glory, he died leading no forlorn hope, but struck by a chance sniper’s bullet as he was leaving his trench.
The value of the Diary lies in its absolute frankness, its stark realism, its obvious truth and sincerity.
As far as possible it is given just as he wrote it, only names and a few details that were too painful or too private for publication being left out.
If its detailed realism serves to correct in some measure the highly coloured picture of the soldier’s life and thoughts to which the popular Press has accustomed us, it will not have been written in vain. C. J.”
Name: WEST, ARTHUR GRAEME
Initials: A G
Nationality: United Kingdom
Regiment/Service: Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry
Unit Text: 6th Bn.
Date of Death: 03/04/1917
Additional information: Son of Arthur Birt West and Mary Wingate West, of 6, Southwood Lane, Highgate, London. Arthur West was the author of “Diary of a Dead Officer” which was published posthumously.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: VIII. C. 14.
Cemetery:H.A.C. CEMETERY, ECOUST-ST. MEIN
“Arthur Graeme West (1891-1917) was a British writer and War poet. West was born in Norfolk, educated at Blundell’s School and Balliol College, Oxford and killed by a sniper in 1917.
West enlisted as a Private with the Public Schools Battalion in January 1915. He joined from a feeling of duty and patriotism, but the war had a profound affect on him. An individualist who hated routine and distrusted discipline, he developed an intense abhorrence to army life and began to question the very core of his beliefs – in religion, patriotism and the reason for war. This growing disillusionment found expression in two particularly powerful war poems he wrote during this time: “God, How I Hate You” and “Night Patrol” which stand deservedly alongside those of Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen. In August 1916 he became a second lieutenant in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Shortly after, he wrote to his new battalion threatening to desert the army – but he could not bring himself to post the letter. Less than a year later, on 3 April 1917, he was shot dead by a sniper’s bullet near Bapaume.
West is principally known for one book, The Diary of a Dead Officer (1919), which presents a scathing picture of army life and is said to be one of the most vivid accounts of daily life in the trenches. The book was published posthumously and edited by C. E. M. Joad, an Oxford colleague of West’s and an active pacifist (and contemporary of West’s at Blundell’s). The book gives voice to one officer’s struggle to come to terms with the realities of war and is a poignant tribute to a lost generation of soldiers. It was reissued in 1991 by the Imperial War Museum and published again by Greenhill Books in 2007 with an introduction by Nigel Jones. The first edition of the book consisted of an introduction by Joad, extracts from West’s 1915-17 diary, and several essays and poems. Joad edited the book as pacifist propaganda and it was published jointly by the left-wing Herald newspaper and Sir Francis Meynell’s Pelican Press (Meynell’s other publications had included Sassoon’s protest in 1917).
* Das, Santanu (2005). Touch and Intimacy in First World War Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 10-ISBN 0-521-84603-X; 13-ISBN 978-0-521-84603-5
* Cyril Joad (2007), The Diary of a Dead Officer: Being the Posthumous Papers of Arthur Graeme West (Greenhill Books), ISBN 1853677299; ISBN 978-1853677298
* Dennis Welland, Arthur Graeme West: a messenger to Job, Renaissance and Modern Studies, ed. G.R. Hibberd (1966).
* Samuel Hynes, An introduction to Graeme West, (English Literature of the First World War Revisited [Series]), ed. M. Roucoux (Amiens, 1989).
From: War Poets Association by Dominic Hibberd
Arthur Graeme West (1891-1917) is known for one remarkable book, The Diary of a Dead Officer (1919), consisting of an introduction by the editor, ’C.J.’ (Cyril Joad), extracts from West’s 1915-17 diary, and a few essays and poems. Joad, later a well-known Oxford don and in 1919 a keen pacifist and atheist, edited the book as pacifist propaganda. It was published jointly by the left-wing Herald newspaper and Francis Meynell’s Pelican Press (Meynell’s other publications had included Sassoon’s protest in 1917).
Graeme West was born in Norfolk, but his parents soon moved to Highgate, London. His father, a former missionary, was a grimly religious man who must have been appalled by the Diary. Graeme became a boarder at Blundell’s School, where load was his contemporary, and in 1910 both young men went up to Oxford as Balliol scholars. Oxford brought out West’s intellectual interests and his quiet charm.
Joad presents West as shy, hopeless at games and completely unsuited to soldiering. This cannot be entirely true: West’s army file reveals that he was in fact a member of the university’s OTC for his four years at Oxford. Soon after beginning a fifth year in October 1914 he decided to apply for a commission, but he was rejected for poor eyesight. Nevertheless he joined up in the ranks of the Public Schools Battalion in February 1915, soon becoming a lance corporal. Sent to France in November, he was repeatedly in action. His poem, ’The Night Patrol’ (March 1916), makes him one of the first poets to write about front-line actualities from direct personal experience:
We crawled on belly and elbows, till we saw,
Instead of lumpish dead before our eyes,
The stakes and crosslines of the German wire.
We lay in shelter of the last dead man,
Ourselves as dead, and heard their shovels ring…
In April 1916 West was accepted for an officer training course in Scotland. There, as the Diary vividly describes, three or four months of being ordered about by bullying, stupid NCOs did more to turn him against war than the trenches had done. In August he became a second lieutenant in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. His ’The End of the Second Year’ records his loss of religious faith at this time, a loss that seemed to him more momentous than any battle. He visited Joad, met other pacifists, and wrote to his new battalion refusing to rejoin the army – but he could not bring himself to post the letter. He went back to France, rose to the rank of Acting Captain, and was killed by a sniper’s bullet near Bapaume on 3 April 1917.
The few surviving records of West, apart from the published Diary, show that load’s editing has partly obscured the real man. The Diary gives no hint, for example, that by early 1917 West was deeply in love with a girl he had met in England, and that he had written to Bertrand Russell, promising to help build a new world after the war. He was less pessimistic, less ’dead’, than Joad’s portrait of the ’Dead Officer’ suggests. But by 1916-17 he certainly loathed the war. His 1916 poem, ’God! How I hate you, you young cheerful men!’, has a place in the history of 1914-18 verse as a furious denunciation of the young soldier-poets who were still writing about the war as ’epic days’, a happy game:
In heaven above
A genial umpire, a good judge of sport,
Won’t let us hurt each other! …
Ah, how good God is
To suffer us be born just now, when youth
That else would rust, can slake his blade in gore,
Where very God Himself does seem to walk The bloody fields of Flanders He so loves!
The Diary of a Dead Officer being the posthumous papers of Arthur Graeme West (dated 1918 on the title page, but actually published in January 1919). Reprinted with a new introduction by Dominic Hibberd, Imperial War Museum, (Arts and Literature Series) Number 3 (1991).
Dennis Welland, Arthur Graeme West: a messenger to Job, Renaissance and Modern Studies, ed. G.R. Hibberd (1966).
Samuel Hynes, An introduction to Graeme West, (English Literature of the First World War Revisited [Series]), ed. M. Roucoux (Amiens, 1989).
” 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.”
“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
Format: 2003 N&M Press reprint (original pub 1930) 192pp with 39 b/w photos and 12 maps.
“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.”
MAY TO OCTOBER, 1916.
On May 24, 1916, the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry landed in France. Members of the Battalion within a day or two were addressing their first field postcards to England. Active service, of Which the prospect had swung, now close, now far, for 18 months, had begun.
The 61st Division, to which the Battalion be- longed, concentrated in the Merville area. The usual period of ‘instruction’ followed. The 2/4th Oxfords went to the Fauquissart sector, east of Laventie. Soon the 61st relieved the Welsh Division, to which it had been temporarily apprenticed, and settled down to hold the line.
It was not long before the Battalion received what is usually termed its ‘ baptism of fire.’ Things were waking up along the front in anticipation of the Franco-British attack on the Somme. Raids took place frequently. Fighting patrols scoured No- Man’s-Land each night. In many places at once the enemy’s wire was bombarded to shreds.
By the end of June an intense feeling of expectancy had developed; activity on both sides reached the highest pitch. The Battalion was not slow in playing its part. One of the early casualties was Lieutenant Moberly, who performed a daring day-
light reconnaissance up to the German wire. He was wounded and with great difficulty and only through remarkable pluck regained our lines.
That same night the Battalion did its first raid, by B Company under Hugh Davenport. The raid was ordered at short notice and was a partial success. If the tangible results were few, B Company
was very properly thanked for its bravery on this enterprise, which had to be carried out against uncut wire and unsubdued machine-guns. Zeder, a lieutenant with a South African D.C.M., was mortally wounded on the German wire and taken prisoner. The casualties were numerous. Davenport himself was wounded, but unselfishly refused treatment until his men had been fetched in. It was a night of battle and excitement. To the most hardened troops a barrage directed against crowded breastworks was never pleasant. The Battalion bore itself well and earned recital, albeit with some misdescription, in the English press a few days later.
During July 1916 the Battalion was in and out of the breastworks between Fauquissart and Neuve Chapelle. When the 184th Infantry Brigade went back to rest the Battalion had billets on the outskirts of Merville, a friendly little town, since levelled in ruins ; and, when reserve to the Brigade, in Laventie. Brigade Headquarters were at the latter and also the quartermasters’ stores and transport of battalions in the line.
Some favourite spots were the defensive ‘ posts,’ placed a mile behind the front line and known as Tilleloy, Winchester, Dead End, Picantin. Reserve companies garrisoned these posts. No arduous duties spoilt the days; night work consisted chiefly in pushing trolley-loads of rations to the front line. Of these posts the best remembered would be Winchester, where existed a board bearing
the names of Wykhamists, whom chance had led that way. Battalion Headquarters were there for a long time and were comfortable enough with many ‘elephant’ dug-outs and half a farm-house for a mess the latter ludicrously decorated by some
predecessors with cuttings from La Vie Parisienne and other picture papers.
Though conditions were never quiet in the front line, during the summer of 1916 back area shelling was infrequent. Shells fell near Laventie cross- roads on most days and, when a 12 inch howitzer established itself behind the village, the Germans
retaliated upon it with 5.95, but otherwise shops and estaminets flourished with national nonchalance. The railway, which ran from La Gorgue to Armentieres, was used by night as far as Bac St. Maur
an instance of unenterprise on the part of German gunners. Despite official repudiation, on our side the principle of ‘ live and let live ‘ was still applied to back areas. Trench warfare, which in the words of a 1915 pamphlet ‘could and must cease’ had managed to survive that pamphlet and the abortive strategy of the battle of Loos. Until trench warfare ended divisional headquarters were not shelled.
Meanwhile the comparative deadlock in the Somme fighting rendered necessary vigorous measures against the enemy elsewhere on the front. A gas attack from the Fauquissart sector was planned but never carried out. Trench mortars and rifle grenades were continuously employed to make life as unpleasant as possible for the enemy, whose trenches soon became, to all appearances, a rubbish heap. All day and much of the night the
‘mediums’ fell in and about the German trenches and, it must be confessed, occasionally in our own as well. Whilst endeavouring to annihilate the Wick salient or some such target, one of our heaviest of heavy trench mortars dropped short (perhaps that is too much of a compliment to the particular shot) in our trenches near a company headquarters and almost upon a new concrete refuge, which the R.E. had just completed and not yet shown to the Brigadier. Though sometimes supplied, the cooperation of this arm was never asked for.
This harassing warfare had a crisis in July. The operations of July 19, which were shared with the 61st Division by the 5th Australian holding trenches further north, were designed as a demonstration to assist our attack upon the Somme and to hold opposite to the XI Corps certain German reserves, which, it was feared, would entrain at Lille and be sent south. That object was achieved, but at the cost of severe casualties to the divisions engaged, which were launched in daylight after artillery preparation, which results proved to have been inadequate, against a trench-system strongly manned and garrisoned by very numerous machine- guns. The objectives assigned to the 61st Division were not captured, while the Australians further north, after entering the German trenches and taking prisoners, though they held on tenaciously under heavy counter-attacks, were eventually forced to withdraw. ‘ The staff work,’ said the farewell
message from the XI Corps to the 61st Division three months later, ‘ for these operations was excellent.’ Men and officers alike did their utmost to make the attack of July 19 a success, and it
behoves all to remember the sacrifice of those who fell with appropriate gratitude. It was probably the last occasion on which large parties of storming infantry were sent forward through ‘sally ports’.
The Battalion was in reserve for the attack. C Company, which formed a carrying party during the fighting, lost rather heavily, but the rest of the Battalion, though moved hither and thither under heavy shelling, suffered few casualties. When the battle was over, companies relieved part of the line and held the trenches until normal conditions returned.
Soon after these events the Battalion was unlucky to be deprived of Colonel Ames, a leader whose energy and common sense could ill be spared. This was the first change which the Battalion had in its Commanding Officer, and it was much regretted. A change in Adjutant had occurred likewise, Major D. M. Rose having been
invalided to England early in July and his place taken by R. F. Cuthbert, formerly commander of D Company. Orderly Room work passed from safe hands into hands equally safe. Soon after-
wards I joined the Battalion, having been transferred from the 1/4th, and received command of D Company. The new Commanding Officer, Major R. Bellamy, D.S.O., came from the Royal Sussex Regiment and assumed command early in August. Robinson, an officer from the Middlesex and one of the best the Battalion ever had, Callender and Barton also joined about this time. Brucker, of C Company, became Adjutant of the 61st Divisional School, and command of his company passed to Kenneth Brown, a great fighter and best of comrades, the first member of this Battalion to win the Military Cross. Major Beaman was still Second in Command. Two original officers of the 2/4th, Jack Bennett and Hugh Davenport, commanded A and B Companies respectively. W. A. Hobbs, well known as Mayor of Henley, was Quartermaster, and ‘Bob’ Abraham the Transport
Officer. Regimental Sergeant-Major Douglas and Regimental Quartermaster-Sergeant Hedges were the senior warrant officers.
Higher up a new Brigadier in the person of General Dugan arrived and held command for a short while. The General, I regret to say, did not stay long enough for the full benefit of his experience and geniality to accrue, a fragment of a Stokes’ mortar shell wounding him at a demonstration near Merville and causing his retirement to hospital. The new Brigadier, the Hon. R. White, C.M.G., joined us at the beginning of September, 1916, from action on the Somme, and soon made his cheery criticisms felt.
After the operations of July 19 the former methods of trench warfare were resumed. The Division’s casualties in the attack had been over 2,000, and time was required to reorganise and make up these losses.
Early in August an unlucky shell deprived the Battalion of one of its best officers. Lieutenant Tiddy had joined the Infantry in a spirit of duty and self-sacrifice, which his service as an officer had proved but to which his death more amply testified. The regrets of friends and comrades measured the Battalion’s loss.
At 10 p.m. on August 19 a raid upon the German trenches near the ‘Sugar Loaf’ was carried out by A Company. The raid was part of an elaborate scheme in which the Australians upon the left and
the 2 /5th Gloucesters on our own front co-operated. The leading bombing party, which Bennett sent forward under Sergeant Hinton, quickly succeeded in reaching the German parapet and was doing well, when a Mills bomb, dropped or inaccurately thrown, fell amongst the men. The plan was spoilt.
A miniature panic ensued, which Bennett and his Sergeant-Major found it difficult to check. As in many raids, a message to retire was passed. The wounded were safely brought in by Bennett, whose control and leadership were worthy of a luckier
The Battalion was not called upon for much fighting activity in September, 1916. Raids and rumours of raids kept many of us busy. An attack by the 184th Brigade upon the Wick salient was
planned, but somewhat too openly discussed and practised to deceive, I fancy, even the participating infantry into the belief that it was really to take place. Upon the demolished German trenches
many raids were made. In the course of these raids, the honour of which was generously shared between all battalions in the Brigade, sometimes by means of the Bangalore Torpedo, sometimes by the easier and more subtle method of just walking into them, the enemy’s front line was usually entered; and rarely did a raiding party return without the capture of at least an old bomb, an entrenching tool or even a live German. These ‘ identification ‘ raids possibly did as much to identify ourselves to the enemy as to identify him to us, but they proved useful occasions on which to send parties ‘ over the top’ (always an enjoyable treat!) and gave practice to our trench mortars, which fired remarkably well and drew down little retaliation always the bugbear of the trench mortar.
1 A failure of this kind, was far less due to any indetermination of the men than to the complex nature of the scheme, which any misadventure was capable of upsetting-. On this occasion the ‘ order to retire ‘ was said to have been of German manufacture, but such explanation deserved a grain of salt. Owing to the danger of its unauthorised use, the word ‘ retire ‘ was prohibited by Army orders.
The mention of these things may make dull reading to the blase warrior of later battlefields, but, as there are some whose last experience abroad was during Laventie days and who may read these lines, I feel bound to recall our old friend (or enemy) the
trench mortar, the rent-free (but not rat-free) dug- out among the sandbags, the smelly cookhouses, whose improvident fires were the scandal of many a red-hatted visitor to the trenches, the mines, with their population of Colonial miners doing mysterious work in their basements of clay and flinging up a welter of slimy blue sandbags all these deserve mention, if no more, lest they be too soon forgotten.
Days, too, in Riez Bailleul, Estaires and Merville will be remembered, days rendered vaguely precious by the subsequent destruction of those villages and by lost comrades. Those of the
Battalion who fell in 1916 were mostly buried in Laventie and outside Merville. Though both were being fought over in 1918 and many shells fell among the graves, the crosses were not much damaged ; inscriptions, if nearly obliterated, were then
renewed when, by the opportunity of chance, the Battalion found itself once more crossing the familiar area, before it helped to establish a line upon the redoubtable Aubers ridge, to gain which so many lives at the old 1915 battles of Neuve Chapelle and
Festubert had been expended.
It was a fine autumn. The French civilians were getting in their crops within a mile or two of the trenches, while we did a series of tours in the Moated Grange sector, with rest billets at the little
village of Riez Bailleul.
And then box respirators were issued.
Laventie days are remembered with affection by old members of the Battalion. In October, 1916, however, there were some not sorry to quit an area, which in winter became one of the wettest and most dismal in France. The Somme battle, which for three months had rumbled in the distance like a huge thunderstorm, was a magnet to attract all divisions in turn. The predictions of the French billet keepers were realised at the end of October, when the 2/4th Oxfords were relieved in the trenches by a battalion of the Middlesex Regiment and prepared to march southwards to the Somme.”
THE THIRD BATTLE OF YPRES,
In the war-history of all Battalions there is a season when it is possible to say that they have reached their fullness of development, but have not yet lost all original identity. August, 1917, was such a season in my history. Of officers and men who had served with the Battalion in its infancy many were yet remaining. Time and experience of war had moulded these, with the admixture of subsequent drafts, into a Battalion sure of itself and well-developed. But when it quitted the battleground of Ypres most of its old identity had vanished. From that time onward the 2/4th Oxfords were a changed unit, whose roots were set no longer in England but in France, for in France had come to it the officers and men of whom it was afterwards constituted.
On the eve of this great change-importing battle a short review is not amiss of the Battalion’s constitution. A Company still had for its Commander Brown, among whose officers were Coombes, Callender, and Webb. As Company Sergeant Major, Cairns was a tower of strength. John Stockton led B Company, and under him was Moberly. C Company possessed two Captains, Brucker and Harris, and had as platoon commanders, Hawkes, Matthews, and Jones. D Company was still commanded by the author. An acquisition to my company had recently arrived in Scott, the bearer of two wounds received in service with the Oxford Territorials. Scott was the best officer I ever had. Guest, another new officer, before he went into the line showed that he was made of the right stuff; he was commander of No. 16 Platoon. Dawson-
Smith, Copinger, Gascoyne, and Hill were other new arrivals in my company. The N.C.O.’s on whom I most relied were Sergeants Palmer, Leatherbarrow, and Sloper, but the real backbone of the Company were the gallant and determined section leaders whom I had chosen for promotion from the ranks. Of my runners and signallers I was especially proud, and at Company Headquarters there was, of course, the redoubtable Sergeant-Major Brooks, who besides being a great fighter possessed also high organising powers. My total strength on reaching Poperinghe was over 200, which shows that at this time the Battalion was well found in men. It was known nevertheless that some reduction from this maximum fighting force was to take place. One hundred men of the Battalion, including ‘ specialists ‘ like Lewis gunners, signallers and runners, were henceforward ‘left out of the line’ whenever the Battalion went forward to take part in an attack. They were so
left in order that, if the casualties were very high, some nucleus of veteran soldiers would still remain around whom the new Battalion could be built. A like rule applied to officers. A month
ago the Colonel had decided which of these should not take part in the first Ypres attack. Brown and myself stayed out of the line, and in our stead Callender and Scott respectively commanded A and D Companies.
Our stay near Poperinghe was short. Attention was devoted to the final organisation of platoons and sections and to the problem of what kit to carry in the attack and how best to carry it. Varied experiments were made to see whether a pack or haversack was better and which way uppermost a shovel should be slung. Supply of ammunition for the Lewis guns raised many questions for debate. When all the sections the Lewis-gunners, bombers, rifle-grenadiers, and riflemen were finally complete, a new drain was made on our numbers by the demand for seventeen men per Company, who from their duties became known as ‘ Loaders and Leaders.’ Their function was to lead forward during battle mules loaded with rations, water, and ammunition. So little advancing was there that the mules, so far as this Battalion was concerned, were never used, and the loaders and leaders, thanks to their function proving illusory, escaped all share in the fighting.
If Poperinghe and Ypres had quite borne out their reputations I should not here remark on either of them. The former was a most crowded and degenerate-looking town, by a few towers rendered
impressive from a distance, but in reality of mean structure. Besides its club at which I recollect that Heidsieck 1906 was then only ten francs the bottle and its estaminets, the town held few attractions. Damage by long-range German guns around the station had been considerable, but to the town itself, except its windows, not very much had up till now occurred. The surrounding country was neither flat nor uninteresting. The Mont des Cats and Kemmel bounded the horizon on the southeast, while to the west and north gently undulating hills, covered with fields of hops, distinguished this area from the sodden plains commonly credited to Flanders. Ypres, though destroyed past any hopes of restoration, in 1917 still wore the semblance of a town. From previous descriptions of the ‘Salient ‘ I had almost expected that a few handfuls of ashes would be of Ypres the only vestige
left. The portions least destroyed in Ypres compared perhaps equally with the worst in Arras, but of the two the Flemish city had been the less well built. The remains of the great Cloth Hall, cathedral, and other buildings revealed that what had once been, supposedly, of stone was in reality white brick.
On August 18, starting at 4 a.m., the Battalion marched to Goldfish Chateau, close to Ypres, and the Transport to a disused brickfield west of Vlamertinghe. We lived in bivouacs and tents and were much vexed by German aeroplanes, and to a less degree by German shells. On August 20, while companies were making ready for the line, an air fight happened just above our camp. Its
sequel was alarming. A German aeroplane fell worsted in the fight, and dived to ground, a roaring mass of fire, not forty yards from our nearest tents. By a freak of chance the machine fell in
a hole made by a German shell. The usual rush was made towards the scene by those, that is, not already sufficiently close for their curiosity. A crowd, which to some extent disorganised our preparations for the line, collected round the spot and watched the R.F.C. extract the pilot and parts of the machine, which was deeply embedded in the hole. For hours the wreckage remained the centre of attraction to many visitors. The General hailed the burnt relics, not inappropriately, as a lucky omen.
During the night of August 20/21 the Battalion relieved a portion of the front eastward of Wieltje. Three companies were placed in trenches bearing the name of ‘ Capricorn,’ but B was further back. During the night a serious misfortune befell the latter. Three 5.95 fell actually in the trench and caused thirty-five casualties, including all the sergeants of the company. On the eve of an attack such an occurrence was calculated to affect the morale of any troops. That the company afterwards did well was specially creditable in view of this demoralising prelude.
On the following night Companies assembled for the attack. Neither the starting place nor the objectives for this are easily described by reference to surrounding villages. The nearest was St. Julien. The operation orders for the attack of August 22 assigned as objective to the Oxfords a road running across the Hanebeck and referred to as the Winnipeg-Kansas Cross Road. The 48th Division on the left and the I5th on the right were to cooperate with the 184th Brigade in the attack. Shortly before 5 the bombardment started. In the advance behind the creeping barrage put down by our guns, of which an enormous concentration was present on the front, C, D and A Companies
(from right to left) provided the first waves, while B Company followed to support the flanks. The Berks came afterwards as ‘moppers up.’ Half-an- hour after the advance started D, B and A Companies were digging-in 150 yards west of the Winnipeg-Kansas Cross Road. The losses of these companies in going over had not been heavy, but, as so often happens, casualties occurred directly the objective had been duly reached. In the case of C Company, on the right, but little progress had been made. Pond Farm, a concrete stronghold, to capture which a few nights previously an unsuccessful sally had been made, had proved too serious an obstacle. Not till the following night was it reduced, and during the whole of August 22 it remained a troublesome- feature in the situation. Before the line reached could be consolidated or they could act to defeat the enemy’s tactics, our
men found themselves the victims of sniping and machine-gun fire from Schuler Farm, which was not taken and to which parties of reinforcements to the enemy now came. More dangerous still was an old gun-pit which lay behind the left flank. 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. A party of the enemy found their way back and were soon firing into our men from behind.
During the early stages of consolidation, when personal example and direction were required, John Stockton, Scott, and Gascoyne were all killed by snipers or machine-gun fire. Scott had been hit
already in the advance and behaved finely in refusing aid until he had despatched a message to Headquarters. While he was doing so three or four bullets struck him simultaneously and he died.
Throughout the 22nd no actual counter-attack nor organised bombardment by the enemy took place, but much sniping and machine-gun fire continued, making it almost impossible to move about. Our loss in Lewis-gunners was particularly heavy.
Callender, the acting company commander of A Company, had been killed before the attack commenced, and Sergeant-Major Cairns was now the mainstay of that company, whose men were thoroughly mixed up with B. Upon the left the 48th Division had failed to reach Winnipeg, with the result that this flank of A and B Companies was quite in the air. On the Battalion’s right the
failure of C Company, in which Brucker had been wounded, to pass Pond Farm left the flank of D Company exposed and unsupported. But the position won was kept. Ground to which the
advance had been carried with cost would not be lightly given up. Moberly, Company Sergeant-Major Cairns, and Guest – the latter by volunteering in daylight to run the gauntlet of the German
snipers back to Headquarters greatly distinguished themselves in the task of maintaining this exposed position during the night of August 22 and throughout August 23. Some of our men had to remain in shell-holes unsupported and shot at from several directions for over fifty hours. During the night of August 23/24 the Battalion was relieved, when those whom death in battle had not claimed nor wounds despatched to hospital marched back through Ypres to the old camp at Goldfish Chateau.
The attack, in which the Bucks had successfully cooperated on the right of our advance, earned credit for the Brigade and the Battalion. It had been, from a fighting standpoint, a military success. But from the strategical aspect the operations showed by their conclusion that the error had been made of nibbling with weak forces at objectives which could only have been captured and secured by strong. Moreover, the result suggested that the
objectives had been made on this occasion for the attack rather than the attack for the objectives.
The 184th Brigade had played the part assigned to it completely and with credit, but what had been gained by it with heavy loss was in fact given up by its successors almost at once. Withdrawal from the Kansas trenches became an obvious corollary to the German omission to counter-attack against them. Ground not in dispute ’twas not worth casualties to hold. On the Battalion’s front Pond Farm, a small concrete stronghold, remained the sole fruit of the attack of August 22. It was after the 61st Division had been withdrawn, wasted in stationary war, that what success could be associated with this third battle of Ypres commenced. Judged by its efforts, the 6ist was ill paid in results. On August 25 the Battalion, and with it the rest of the Brigade, moved back from Goldfish Chateau to Query Camp, near Brandhoek. The weather, which had been fairly fine for several weeks, now again broke in thunderstorms and rain. Trees were blown down along the main road to Ypres. The clouds hung low or raced before the wind, so that no aeroplane nor kite-balloon could mount the sky. This meteorological revulsion stood the Germans in great stead. Mud and delay, fatal to us, were to them tactical assets of the highest value. As can easily be appreciated, to postpone a complicated attack is a proceeding only less lengthy and difficult than its preparation, nor can attacks even be cancelled except at quite considerable notice. Thus it befell that some of our attacks, before they had commenced, were ruined by deluges of rain when it was too late to change the plans. On August 27 a further attack upon Gallipoli, Schuler Farm and Winnipeg was made by the 183rd Brigade in cooperation with the 15th and 48th Divisions. The mud and enemy machine-gun fire alike proved terrible. The contact aeroplane soon crashed, the advance failed to reach the ‘pill-boxes’ from which the Germans held out, and before night a return had to be made to the original line.
On August 30 the Brigade went forward once again to Goldfish Chateau. The camp had not been improved by our predecessors, who had attempted to dig in. Holes filled with water were the result, and nearly all the tents and shelters had to be moved. Since the stagnation of the battle German shelling in the back area had much increased. The field where the camp lay was bounded on three sides by railways or roads. Some of our 12-inch howitzers were close in front. Despite our best attempts to sever association with such targets we had a share in the shells intended for them. One night especially the long howl of German shells ended in their arrival very near our tents. The latter had been placed at one side of the field in order to escape, as we expected, the shells more likely to be aimed by German gunners at the main road and railway as targets. We changed our ‘pitch,’ but the next morning came a pursuing shell on an old line of fire, which made it clear that the best place was the deliberate middle
of the field.
The passage overhead of German aeroplanes made nights uneasy. Darkness was lit by those huge flashes in the sky, which denoted explosions of our dumps of shells. The ground shook many
times an hour with great concussions. Sometimes the crash of bombs and patter of machine-guns firing at our transport lasted till pale dawn appeared or its approach was heralded by the bombardment of our guns, whose voice pronounced the prologue of attack.
On both sides the concentration of artillery was very great. Though the bad weather had shackled our advance from the start, our staff yet hoped to gain the ridge of Passchendaele before winter set in. The Germans, too, held that the stake was high. Our guns, which were advanced as far as Wieltje and St. Jean andl stood exposed in the open, became the object of persistent German shelling. Sound-ranging and aerial photography had reached a high development, and few of our batteries went undiscovered. For the Artillery life became as hard as for the Infantry. Gunner casualties were very numerous. Our batteries for
hours on end were drenched in mustard-gas. Into Ypres as well large quantities of ‘Yellow Cross’ shells, cleverly mixed up with high-explosive, were fired with nocturnal frequency. The long range of the enemy’s field-guns made the effect of these subtle gas-shells, whose flight and explosion were almost noiseless amid the din of our own artillery, especially widespread. The enemy’s activity against our back area was at its height at the end
of August, 1917. Casualty Clearing Stations were both bombed and shelled. Near Poperinghe nurses were killed. No service forward of Corps Headquarters but had its casualties. Our lorry-
drivers’ work was fraught with danger. The Germans were waging a war to the knife and employ- ing every means to serve their obstinate resistance. The ‘ defence in depth,’ practised to some extent at Arras, had become the enemy’s reply to our destruction by artillery of the trench systems on which, earlier in the war, he had relied with confidence. Destruction of prepared positions had reached so absolute a stage that the old arguments of wire and machine-guns brought up from deep dug-outs to fire over parapets, were no longer present. The ground to a distance of several thousand yards behind the enemy’s front line could be, and had been, churned and rechurned into one brown expanse. For four miles east of Ypres there was no green space and hardly a yard of ground without its shell-hole. Positions where the enemy held out consisted in groups of concrete ‘pill-boxes,’ which had been made from Belgian gravel and cement in partial anticipation of this result of the artillery war. They in all cases were carefully sited and so small (being designed to hold machine-guns and their teams) that their destruction by our heavy shells was almost impossible. These ‘pill-boxes’ were also so designed as to support each other, that is to say, if one of
them were captured, the fire of others on its flanks often compelled the captors to yield it up. Garrisons were provided from the elite of the German army. One cannot but admire the steadfastness with which, during this phase of warfare, these solitary strongholds held out. Indeed, the only way to cope with this defence was to press an advance on a wide front to such a depth as to reduce the entire area in which these pill-boxes lay into our possession. By attacking spasmodically we played
the enemy’s game.
Our methods of attack which had been practised through the spring and summer still consisted, broadly speaking, in the advance of lines of Infantry behind a creeping barrage. These lines were too often held up by pill-boxes, against which the creeping barrage was ineffectual, and once delay which had not been calculated on occurred, the creeping barrage was proved doubly useless, for it had outdistanced the speed of the advance. The change in tactics necessary to reduce these concrete strongholds was soon appreciated, but troops who had been trained in the older methods were slow, in action, to adopt the new ones requisite. Partly from such a reason the 61st Division scored little success against the pill-box defence, but lack of tangible results was not joined with lack of honest attempts. The mud, the nibbling tactics passed down from above, inadequate cooperation by the divisions fighting side by side with us, and the failure of our artillery to hit the pill-boxes which we had hoped could be put out of action by our heavy shells, further combined to paralyse efforts which, had they been directed to more easy
tasks, would now, as often, have earned for the Division the highest military success.”
Lieutenant Colonel W. H. Ames wrote the Introduction to the book. I’ve included it here in its entirety:
The raising of the Second Line of the Territorial Force became necessary when it was decided to send the First Line overseas. The Territorial Force was originally intended for home defence, a duty for which its pre-war formations soon ceased to be available. The early purpose, therefore, of the Second Line was to defend this country.
On September 8, 1914 I was privileged to begin to raise the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, the Battalion whose history is set out in the following pages. I opened Orderly Room in Exeter College, Oxford, and enrolled recruits. The first was Sergeant-Major T. V. Wood. By the end of the day, we had sworn in and billeted over 130 men.
The Battalion was created out of untrained elements, but what the recruits lacked in experience they made up in keenness. The Secretary of the County Association had an excellent list of prospective officers, but these had to learn their work from the beginning. We were lucky to secure the services of several non-commissioned officers with Regular experience; Colour-Sergeants Moore, Williams, Bassett and Waldon*, and Sergeant Howland worked untiringly, whilst the keenness of the officers to qualify themselves to instruct their men was beyond praise.
At the end of ten days sufficient recruits had been enrolled to allow the formation of eight companies, which exactly reproduced those of the First Line, men being allotted to the companies according to the locality whence they came. A pleasant feature was the number of Culham students, who came from all parts of England to re-enlist in their old Corps. Well do l remember my feelings when I sat down to post the officers to the companies. It was a sort of ‘ Blind Hookey,’ but seemed to pan out all right in the end. Company officers had to use the same process in the selection of their non- commissioned officers. Of these original appointments all, or nearly all, were amply justified–a fact which said much for the good judgment displayed.
With the approach of the Oxford Michaelmas Term the Battalion had to move out of the colleges (New College, Magdalen, Keble, Exeter, Brasenose and Oriel had hitherto kindly provided accomodation) and into billets. Training was naturally hurried. As soon as the companies could move correctly a series of battalion drills was carried out upon Port Meadow. This drill did a great deal to weld the Battalion together. The elements of digging were imparted by Colonel Waller behind the Headquarters at St. Cross Road, open order was practised on Denman’s Farm, whilst exercises in the neighbourhood of Elsfield gave the officers some
instruction in outpost duties and in the principles of attack and defence.
The important rudiments of march discipline were soon acquired. Weekly route marches took place almost from the first. Few roads within a radius of 9 miles from Oxford but saw the Battalion some ‘time or other. The Light Infantry step caused discomfort at first, but the Battalion soon learned to take a pride in it. The men did some remarkable marches. Once they marched from the third milestone at the top of Cumnor Hill to the seventh milestone bv Tubney Church in 57 minutes. Just before Christmas, 1914, they marched through Nuneham to Culham Station and on to Abingdon, and then back to Oxford through Bagley Wood,
without a casualty.
At the end of 1914 Second Line Divisions and Brigades were being formed, and the 2/4th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry became a unit of the 184th Infantry Brigade under Colonel Ludlow, and of the 61st Division under Lord Salisbury. Those officers inspected the Battalion at Oxford before it left, at the end of January, 1915, for Northampton.
The move from Oxford terminated the first phase in the Battalion’s history. At Northampton fresh conditions were in store. Smaller billets and army rations replaced the former system of billets ‘with subsistence.’ Elementary training was reverted to. The Battalion was armed with Japanese rifles, a handy weapon, if somewhat weak in the stock, and range work commenced. The seven weeks at Northampton, if not exactly relished at the time, greatly helped to pull the Battalion together.
The period was marked by a visit of General Sir Ian Hamilton, who inspected and warmly complimented the men on their turn-out.
A minor incident is worthy of record. One Saturday night a surprise alarm took place about midnight. The Battalion was young, and the alarm was taken very seriously. Even the sick turned out rather than be left behind, and marched the prescribed five miles without ill effects.
Just before Easter, 1915, the 61st Division moved into Essex in order to occupy the area vacated by the 48th. The Battalion’s destination was Writtle, where the amicable relations already
established with the inhabitants by Oxfordshire Territorials were continued. Though our stay was a short one, we received a hearty welcome, when, on our return from Epping, we again marched
through the village. After a fortnight at Writtle, the Battalion moved to Hoddesdon, to take part in digging the London defences. We left Writtle 653 strong at 8 a.m., and completed the march of 25 miles at 5 p.m., with every man in the ranks who started. Three weeks later we were ordered to Broomfield, a village east of Writtle and near Chelmsford. There was keen competition to take part in the return march from Hoddesdon ; 685 men started on the 29 mile march, which lasted 11 hours: only 3 fell out. The band marched the whole way and played the Battalion in on its arrival at Broomfield.
In the spring of 1915 it was decided to prepare the Territorial Second Line for foreign service. Considerable improvement resulted in the issue of training equipment. Boreham range occupied much of our time. A musketry course was begun but
never finished: indeed, the bad condition of the rifles made shooting futile. Six weeks were also spent at Epping in useful training, at the conclusion of which we returned to Broomfield. The Battalion was billeted over an area about six miles
long by one wide, until leave was obtained for a camp. For nearly three months the men were together under canvas, with the very best results. Strenuous training ensued. I am reminded of a little incident which occurred during some night digging at Chignal Smealy.’ The object of the practice was to enure the men to work, not only when fresh, but when tired. Operations opened with digging with the entrenching tool–each man to make cover for himself. By 8 p.m. this stage had been reached, so tea and shovels were issued. At 9 p.m. serious digging began, the shelters being converted into trenches, and this continued till 1.30 a.m. Coffee was then served, and work went on till dawn, which provided an opportunity to practice standing to. A rest followed, but after breakfast work was again resumed. About 10 a.m. an officer round a man sitting down in the trenches and ordered him to renew his efforts. The man obeyed the order at once, but was heard to remark to his neighbour, ‘ Well! If six months ago a bloke had told me that I was a-going to work the ‘ole ruddy night and the ‘ole ruddy day for one ruddy bob, I’d never ‘ave believed him!’
At the end of October, 1915, I consider that the Battalion reached the zenith of its efficiency during its home service. It was a great pity that the Division could not have been sent abroad then. In-
stead, each battalion was reduced in November to a strength of 17 officers and 600 men. Individual training recommenced, until specialists of every kind flourished and multiplied. At a General’s inspection during the winter a most varied display took place. Scouts were in every tree, a filter party was drawing water from the village pond, cold shoeing was being practised at the Transport, cooking classes were busy making field ovens, wire entanglements sprang up on every side, nor was it possible to turn a corner without encountering some fresh form of activity. I fancy the authorities were much impressed on this occasion, for nothing was more difficult than to show the men, as they normally would be, to an inspecting officer.
In January, 1916, the Battalion, having been recently made up with untrained recruits, moved to Parkhouse camp on Salisbury Plain to complete its training with the rest of the Division. We arrived in frost and show and left, three months later, in almost tropical heat – remarkable contrasts within so short a period. The Division was speedily completed for foreign service; new rifles were issued, with which a musketry course was successfully fired, though snow showers did not favour high scoring. We were made up to strength with drafts from the Liverpool, Welsh, Dorset, Cambridge, and Hertfordshire Regiments, were inspected by the
King, and embarked as a unit of the first Second Line Division to go abroad.
Thus at the end of 18 months’ hard work the preparatory stage in the Battalion’s history was concluded. Its subsequent life is traced in the chapters of this volume.
The period of home service is wrapped in pleasant memory. It was not always plain sailing, but difficulties were lightened by the wonderful spirit that animated all ranks and the pride which all felt in the Battalion. I recall especially the work of some who have not returned; Davenport, Scott, Stockton, Zeder, and Tiddy among the officers, and among the non-commissioned officers and men a host of good comrades. Nor do I forget those who came safely through. No commanding officer was ever better supported, and my gratitude to them all is unending. I think the Battalion was truly animated by the spirit of the famous standing order, ‘A Light Infantry Regiment being expected to approach nearer to perfection than any other, more zeal and attention is required from all ranks in it.’ Equally truly was it said that not by the partial exertions of a few, but by the united and steady efforts of all, was the Battalion formed and its discipline created and preserved.
W. H. AMES, Colonel.”
Sergeant James Walton
* I believe that the Waldon mention above is actually my Great Grandfather, James Walton. I cannot find a Sergeant Waldon in documents relating to the the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. I also know that my Great Grandfather was very active in the establishment of the Battalion. I would be very pleased if someone can shed some light on this.
James Walton is saluting an officer just out of the picture.
James Walton on the left with new recruits being drilled, Museum Street, Oxford, late 1914 or early 1915.
Lieutenant Colonel W. H. Ames continued:
After the Battle of Fromelles, 19th July 1916
“Soon after these events the Battalion was unlucky to be deprived of Colonel Ames, a leader whose energy and common sense could ill be spared. This was the first change which the Battalion had in its Commanding Officer, and it was much regretted.”
From His Earlier Life:
From: Oxford men, 1880-1892: with a record of their schools, honours, and degrees, By Joseph Foster
Ames, William Herbert, born in Remenham juxta Hurley, Berks, 8 July, 1868; o.s. Charles Herbert, late of Remenham, arm., deceased. New Coll., matric. 14 Oct., 87, aged 19 (from Eton), B.A. 91; Honours :—2 classical mods. 89, 3 classics 91.
Admitted on 24 April 1891 was William Herbert Ames of New College Oxford (22), the only son of the late Charles Herbert Ames Esquire of Remenham, Berkshire, late of the Madras Civil Service.