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

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1917, APRIL 29th – RAID BY B COMPANY ON CEPY FARM BEFORE A RELIEF BY THE 2/4th ROYAL BERKSHIRE REGIMENT

By G. K. Rose

By G. K. Rose

Relieved by the 2/4th R. Berks, and marched to reserve billets. Cepy Farm was entered by a strong patrol of our B Company/and had one or two encounters with the enemy, leaving some killed, and obtaining an identification. Two men wounded.

ORDER NO 70. April 29th 1917 (2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment)

1.The Battalion will relieve the 2/4 OXFORDS in the Front Line on night 29/30th as under :-

“A” Coy 2/4 BERKS relieve “A” Coy 2/4 OXFORDS.

“B” Coy “C” Coy

“D” Coy do “B”

“C” Coy do “D”

Guide per platoon and one for HQ will be at the gap in the wire about S.3.b.8.3 at 9.0 pm. Companies will march by platoons at 200 yards distance. A. B. C. D. Coys, Hdqrs.

2.BAGGAGE :- Officers valises and mens packs will be dumped at Coy HQ by 4.0 pm. for collection by Transport. Mess boxes will be dumped at Coy HQ by 7.30 pm.

3.1 Representative per Coy and HQ will go up in the afternoon and take over Stores (except SOS Grenades).

4.The spare Lewis guns with Companies will be carried forward and utilised in the Posts.

5.Trench Shelters and Stores (except SOS Grenades) will be handed over to 2/1 BUCKS and receipts obtained. Receipts will be made out in triplicate for all Stores (except SOS Grenades) taken over from 2/4 OXFORDS and sent to Bn HQ by 6.00 am. 30th inst.

6.Rations for 30th will be carried on the man. Companies will carry their own Petrol cans (filled) for 30th.

7.Code for Completion of Relief :- “HANKEY PANKY”.

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

At night another minor operation preceded the relief. Orders were given for B Company, which held the right of the Battalion’s line, to seize the much-disputed Cepy Farm and hand it over to the incoming Berks. Moberly, who had recently rejoined his old Battalion, was in command of this enterprise. The farm was reached and duly occupied, but when the time for handing over to the Berks arrived our post was driven out by a strong party of the enemy. This was the first of many similar encounters at Cepy Farm. Luckily it did not long prejudice the relief. Though chased a little on the way by shells, the Battalion had an easy march to Holnon Wood, in which a pleasant resting place was found. The trees and undergrowth, just bursting into green, presented happy contrast to the dust and danger of Fayet.

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1917-04-29
Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire
Location France, Bois d’holnon
Entry [This entry covers 29th/30th April 1917] The Battn relieved the 2/4 OXFORDS in the front line on night 29th/30th, relief complete by 1am 30th. A Coy (Capt Willenk) on right. B Coy (Capt Allen) right centre. C Coy (Capt Whitaker) left centre and D Coy (Capt Field) left. Patrols were sent out during night. A patrol under 2Lieut Hinchcliffe A Coy went out to ascertain if CEPY FARM was held by the enemy. It had been shelled by our guns and reported clear but subsequently the patrol reporting this was[driven] in. The guns were again put on, previous to 2Lt Hinchliffe’s patrol, on cessation of the guns his patrol pushed forward to FARM although fired on from the buildings and ascertained that enemy still held it in strength 12 men were seen to enter. 2 Lieut Hinchcliffe again went out on morning of 30th at 7am to reconnoitre FARM and report. He reported no movement at all observed nor was anything heard. The day was little below normal – the enemy’s artillery being not so active with the shelling of posts. At 9.30pm a party of 50 OR of A Coy under Capt Willink together with 2nd Lieut Hinchcliffe, 2Lieut Watson, 5 Lewis guns and 2 Vickers Guns carried out a small operation against the enemy in CEPY FARM. The object of the operation being to drive out the enemy should he be in occupation, and also to prevent him establishing himself there and ultimately creating a strong post there against us. At 9.30pm the guns opened on the FARM with 3 guns putting small barrage behind the FARM in the valley E of it. Directly this concentration on the FARM ceased (which was 10 minutes) the party advanced into the FARM. It was reported at 10.50pm that the enemy fled directly we appeared and relived to trenches on N and E of the FARM. The FARM was thoroughly searched and cellars bombed but no sign of the enemy found there or identification. The party then withdrew leaving a standing patrol of 1 Sgt and 10 men. When the party that had been withdrawn reached our line again, the enemy immediately approached the FARM to the extent of about 50 men. The standing patrol seeing their position made a fight of it but were forced to relive to a position underway between FARM and the Outpost line. Two strong listening posts were then pushed out to prevent the enemy establishing in strength in the FARM or in the valley, E of it. At 4.30am on 1st May Sgt Denton and his 10 men worked forward to the FARM again and reported no sign of the enemy neither was there any noise or movement. Casualties 1 OR killed, 1 OR wounded, 1 OR Shell Shock, 1 OR wounded at duty.

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

By G. K. Rose

By G. K. Rose

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

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

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

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

The Raid on August 28th

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

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

I went on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

KILLED IN ACTION APRIL 28th 1917

2nd Lieutenant T. H. Allden

2nd Lieutenant Herbert Samuel Taylor

200603 Sergeant Herbert Kilby

201083 Corporal Frederick Harris

201477 Corporal Harry Harbud

201373 Lance Corporal Francis Edward Buckingham

203761 Lance Corporal Albert Henry Souch

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

200445 Private Stanley George Covey

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

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

203839 Private Willie Goff

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

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

202654 Private Ernest Roof

200361 Private John Shepherd

202139 Private William Waite

201381 Private George Walker

203762 Private John Thomas Williams

DIED OF WOUNDS APRIL 28th 1917

267483 Private George Henry Williams

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

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

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

Company Sergeant-Major Edward Brooks V.C.

Company Sergeant-Major Edward Brooks V.C.

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