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

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Major H. J. (JACK) BENNETT

SUPPLEMENT TO THE LONDON GAZETTE, 23 JUNE, 1917. 6265

War Office, 23rd June, 1917. TERRITORIAL FORCE. INFANTRY. Oxford, and Bucks. L.I.

Lt. (temp.) (acting Maj.) H. J. Bennett to be Lt. (actg. Maj.), with precedence as from 1st June 1916. 24th June 1917.

Lt. (actg. Maj.) H. J. Bennett to be Capt. (actg. Maj.), with precedence as from 1st June 1916, next below Capt. A. K. Gibson. 24th June 1917.

Captain H. J. Bennett posted to the Battalion as second in command in place of Major W. L. Ruthven.

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

19th August 1916

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 [1]. The wounded were safely brought in by Bennett, whose control and leadership were worthy of a luckier enterprise.

Late August 1916

Two original officers of the 2/4th, Jack Bennett and Hugh Davenport, commanded A and B Companies respectively.

20th November 1916

At Albert, Bennett was taken from A Company to act as Second in Command of the Berks.

Late December 1916

Colonel Bellamy went on leave, and Bennett, amid many offers to accompany him as batman, departed for three months’ instruction at Aldershot as a senior officer.

7th April 1917

The weather cleared, and at 11 a.m. on the 7th I was allowed to return to my version of Montolu Wood. On the same day the Battalion was relieved by the Bucks and marched back through Soyécourt to Caulaincourt. There we found Bennett, who had come from the Aldershot course to be Second in Command. The château grounds were quieter than before, for our guns had now moved further up towards the line.

26th April 1917

During the morning of April 26 I was sent for by the Colonel. I found Headquarters in their new position, an oblong greenhouse over whose frame, destitute of glass, was stretched a large ‘trench shelter.’ They had passed a shell-ridden night. Bennett just now had narrowly eluded a 5.9. This morning shells were falling as usual in Holnon, and pieces occasionally came humming down to earth close by.

Late October / Early November 1917

Another feature of this period was a Brigade school, with Bennett as its commandant, at Arras. A week’s course was held for each platoon in the Brigade. The school was well run and partly recompensed for the lack of training during the long tours in the trenches.

Late December 1917

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.

21st March 1918

When the attack was known to have commenced, all transport, quartermasters’ stores, and men left out of the line were ordered back to Ugny, where Bennett as senior Major present formed all our divisional details into a composite Battalion some 900 strong.

22nd March 1918

As March 22 lengthened out, the tide of battle rolled nearer and nearer towards Ugny, above which air fighting at only a few hundred feet from the ground was taking place. At 7 p.m. Bennett had orders to move his men westwards across the Somme. Soon afterwards a runner came post-haste. He told of the fighting on the Beauvoir line; the intrepid General had been wounded in the head while with his shrapnel helmet in his hand he waved encouragement to his men. Colonel Wetherall had already started on the way to Languevoisin but was caught up at Matigny. He the same night (22nd) regained the Beauvoir line and took command of the Brigade. As we have seen, he moved back with the Brigade on the next day.

23rd March 1918

After the battle for the Beauvoir Line the 184th Infantry Brigade was ordered back to Nesle. At Languevoisin on March 23 we find the relics of the 2/4th Oxfords under the command of Major Bennett, who with a force including other members of the Battalion had been providing rearguards at the crossings of the Somme.

Further developments soon diverted Bennett’s force, whose fortunes we are following. At Matigny he was ordered by the Major-General with half his force to guard the Offoy bridgehead and with the other half to hold Voyennes. The Offoy garrison was despatched under Moberly, who was commanding the details of the 184th Brigade, including a hundred Oxfords. Moberly’s force comprised many administrative personnel. ‘What your men lack in numbers they must make up in courage,’ was the Major-General’s encouragement.

24th / 25th March 1918

On the same day of which I was last speaking–March 24–the 184th Brigade, minus those Oxfords who were in action with the 20th Division, though sadly wasted in numbers, formed up again to make a stand. Colonel Wetherall, the acting Brigadier, had received orders to hold the line of the Canal east and south east of Nesle. On the left of this line stood the Oxfords under Bennett, 200 Berks under Willink were in the centre, while the Gloucesters, about 120 strong under Colonel Lawson, guarded the right. At 11 a.m. on March 25 the enemy attacked. As often during these days, when a line was held solidly in one place, it broke elsewhere. By noon the enemy had captured Nesle, and the left flank of the Brigade was turned. During the fight Colonel Wetherall was wounded in the neck by a piece of shell and owed his life to the Brigade Major, Howitt, who held the arteries.

27th / 28th March 1918

Suddenly moved at midnight of March 27/28 by lorries.

The lorries made towards Amiens, and it appeared that the battered relics of the Brigade were being withdrawn. The belief was disappointed. At Villers Bretonneux Bennett received orders from a staff officer to go to Marcelçave, where the 61st Division was being concentrated for a

counter-attack at dawn against the village of La Motte. In the darkness the route was missed and the convoy drove straight into our front line. Marcelçave was reached eventually, but so late that a dawn attack was impossible. At 10 a.m. on March 28 the forlorn enterprise, in which the 183rd Brigade, the Gloucesters, and the Berks shared, was launched from the station yard. The troops were footsore, sleepless, and unfed. They were mostly men from regimental employ–pioneers, clerks, storemen—to send whom forward across strange country to drive the enemy from the village he had seized on the important Amiens-St. Quentin road was a mockery. Such efforts at counter-attack resulted in more and more ground being lost. Still, the men staggered forward bravely, to come almost at once under fierce enfilade machine-gun fire. The losses were heavy. Craddock, a young officer now serving under Bennett, moved about among the men, encouraging them by his example of coolness and gallantry.

When 350 yards short of La Motte the advance was driven to take cover. It was useless to press on; in fact, already there was real danger of being surrounded. Bennett, whose leadership throughout was excellent, with difficulty extricated his men by doubling them in two’s across the open. Towards evening those that got back were placed in trenches outside Marcelçave.

By now that village was being severely shelled and bombed, and in danger of becoming surrounded by the enemy. Soon after dark it was attacked in earnest. Bennett stayed too long in Marcelçave attempting to get news of the situation and some orders. Brigade Headquarters had in fact already left, before Bennett, instead of returning to his former headquarters, decided to join his men in the trenches before the village. Those trenches were no longer being fought for. Near the railway bridge he ran straight into the enemy as they swarmed towards the village and was captured.

UK, British Officer Prisoners of War, 1914-1918

Name: H J Bennett
Rank: Major
Regiment: 4th Battalion. Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Lig
Date Missing: 30 Mar 1918
Repatriation Date: Dec 1918
Record Number: 2918
Section: Western Theatre of Operations.

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1917, APRIL 26th – BEING BRIEFED FOR A RAID AND RELIEVING THE 2/1st BUCKS NEAR FAYET

By G. K. Rose

By G. K. Rose

The Battalion relieved the 2/1st Bucks in the front line during the night; H.Q. at Fayet; 4 men wounded.

 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 184th Brigade had been warned to carry out an ‘enterprise’ against the enemy. During the morning of April 26 I was sent for by the Colonel. I found Headquarters in their new position, an oblong greenhouse over whose frame, destitute of glass, was stretched a large ‘trench shelter.’ They had passed a shell-ridden night. Bennett just now had narrowly eluded a 5.9. This morning shells were falling as usual in Holnon, and pieces occasionally came humming down to earth close by. I listened to the plan of a large raid which with two companies I was soon to perform. Moore was here to outline the scheme and also Colonel Cotton of the R.F.A., whose guns were to support the operation.

The Battalion was mostly fortunate in the opportunity of its reliefs. One always prayed that the time spent in moving up and changing places with troops in the front line would coincide with a period quiet in regard to shelling. One hoped still more that no hostile attack would clash with the relief.

Such prayers and hopes on April 26, when a quiet, easy relief was specially desired, came near to being falsified. At dusk, just as our companies were starting towards Fayet, the enemy commenced an operation against Cepy Farm, a ruined building near the front line, predestined by its position to be an object of contention. The attack was ably dealt with by Tubbs’ company of the Bucks and had proved abortive for the enemy. The circumstance was accompanied by much erratic shelling from both sides. Orders to stand-to were issued rather broadcast, and as the relief was now in progress a degree of confusion resulted everywhere. The destination of my company and half of C was the sunken road leading down into Fayet, but that I found already crowded with troops. Almost all units of the Brigade seemed to be trying to relieve or support each other, and the front line itself was in quite a ferment, nobody actually knowing what the enemy had done, was doing, or was expected to do. Under these conditions it became impossible for me to send patrols to learn the ground from which the impending raid was to be launched. It happened, in fact, that when the time to move forward had arrived, I alone of all the five platoons about to be engaged knew the route to the ‘position of assembly,’ that is to say, the place where the attacking troops were to collect immediately before the raid. That most severe risk–for had I been a casualty the entire enterprise would have miscarried—was owing partly to the accident of the confused relief, but more to the short notice at which the work was to be carried out. Instead of that thorough reconnaissance which was so desirable I had to be content with a visit, shared by my officers and a few N.C.O.’s, to an advanced observation post from which a view was possible of those trenches and woods we were under orders to raid.

The sunken road proved anything but a pleasant waiting place. The shelling of Fayet–fresh-scattered bricks across whose roads showed it an unhealthy place–was now taken up in earnest by the enemy. Partly perhaps from their own affection for such places, but more probably because it was our most likely route to reach the village, the Germans seldom allowed an hour to pass without sending several salvoes of 5.9s into the sunken road. My men were densely packed in holes under the banks. I was expecting large supplies of flares and bombs and all those things one carried on a raid, and had, of course, orders and explanations of their duties to give to many different parties.

Died  of Wounds April 26th 1917

 33451 Private James Owen Wooster

1916, NIGHT OF AUGUST 19th / 20th – RAID ON THE GERMAN TRENCHES NEAR SUGAR LOAF

Laventie, Showing The Fauquissart Sector 1916 From the The Story of the 2/5th Gloucestershire Regiment 1914-1918, by A. F. Barnes, M.C.

Laventie, Showing The Fauquissart Sector 1916
From the The Story of the 2/5th Gloucestershire Regiment 1914-1918, by A. F. Barnes, M.C.

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 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 [1]. The wounded were safely brought in by Bennett, whose control and leadership were worthy of a luckier enterprise.

[1] [Footnote 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 the 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.]

From The Story of the 2/5th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment, 1914-1918, by A. F. Barnes, M.C.

During this tour of duty C Company made a raid on the night 19th / 20th August.

The rough outline of the trenches that were raided was an inverted T, affront trench of some eighty yards with a communication trench running back from the center.

The raiding party was divided into six sections: two were to act as flank guard; a third was to be the covering party, and was detailed to take up its position on the parapet of the German front line trench at the same point and to work respectively right, left and up the communication trench. The signal for the attack was to be the fist shot from the artillery which, it had been arranged, would open fire on the enemy’s support line and shorten to the front line immediately after the raiders had evacuated the trenches.

Two novelties were introduced into the plan. Firstly the raid was to be made on the same night and an hour or so after a similar operation had been carried out on exactly the same sector by another battalion. Secondly, the preliminary bombardment was to be dispensed with.

In these ways it was hoped to take the enemy by surprise – and this indeed proved to be the case……

In preparation for the raid the Company spent the previous fortnight behind the lines. Each day the attack was rehearsed on some disused trenches which approximately resembled the plan of those to be raided. Each night No Man’s land was carefully reconnoitered………..

Despite the hope that that the war might end on August 18th, the fateful day rolled round (19th). The raiders trudged up to the frontline about 10 p.m. and spent a desultory hour or so quaffing rum and blackening hands and faces. At about 12.45 a.m. they moved out into No Man’s L, and the various sections took up their allotted positions, the three that were to enter the trenches and the covering party, lying down in a ditch which ran nearly parallel to the German line and about forty yards from it……

Everything was depressingly quiet, as is usually the case just before a raid. A light mist hanging over the scene lent an eeriness to the picture: an occasional Verey light alone relieved the darkness; nothing was so audible as one’s breathing; the merest whisper jarred.

Thus they waited. Some dozed nonchalantly; some watched the luminous hand moving slowly yet inexorably towards the hour of zero. One minute still to go – thirty seconds – fifteen – ten! There was a slight brazing of limbs. Suddenly – a sound from far behind – faint, but unmistakable – the guns had opened fire. The raiders rose up and, rushing towards the German trenches, reached them as the first shell burst on the support line. What a moment ago, might have been a meadow outlying some English village, was now a caldron of flames and metal. The night air was riven by screaming shells; hundreds of Verey lights transmuted the darkness into a dazzling carnival; the quivering gun flashes from the German counter-barrage illuminated the distant sky-line; rat-tat-tat of innumerable Vickers guns, the muffled explosion of bombs; the ear-piercing bursts of the 4.9s completed the transformation. The enemy was taken completely by surprise, as is shown by the fact that the first sentry whom the raiders encountered was still looking out over No Man’s Land and was bayonetted through the back. Dugouts were bombed as well as several of the enemy who were endeavoring to escape.

The battle was at its height when  shell from one of our batteries, falling short, burst in the fire bay close to one of the raiding sections. A certain amount of disorganization resulted and taking advantage of the occasion, some cute German shouted “Retire.” The raiders, taking the order to be a genuine on, immediately scrambled out of the German lines. The guns almost at the same time shortened their range on to the enemy’s front line, so that the mistake was of little consequence.

It had been prearranged that the sections would reassemble in the ditch from which the attack started, the flankers naturally remaining where they were. This was done in order that the party on returning might not get caught by the German barrage which was then falling heavily on the Battalion’s front line. Only one member of the entire party disregarded the precaution and unfortunately was killed just before he reached the safety of his own trenches. The rest remained out in No Man’s Land for forty or fifty minutes while the shells from both sides hissed and shrieked overhead. Eventually the British Artillery barrage died down and ceased and the German guns followed suit in a few minutes. When all was quiet again, the party walked back to its trenches without sustaining a single casualty on the journey.

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1916-08-19
Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire
Location France, Fauquissart
Entry Quiet day – Wire cutting by our Artillery and TM’s 9.30 – 9.45pm and 10pm – 1230pm. Two small Raids were carried out on our Right Centre front. The first took place after Artillery preparation at PM by one company of 2/4th OXFORD and BUCKS LI. The second raid was upon the same front without Artillery preparation at AM (20/8/16) by one Company of 2/5 GLOSTERS. Wire was found to be cut and the second Raiding Party entered Enemy Trenches and inflicted loss on enemy with Bombs and Bayonet. Both Raiding Parties suffered slight casualties only. (2nd/Lt S WHITWORTH, 6th Manchesters joined Bn)

1916, NOVEMBER 24th – IN TRENCHES NEAR GRANDCOURT

Trenches Near Grandcourt November and Dececember 1916

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1916-11-24
Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire
Location France, Trenches
Entry Normal artillery activity on both sides. Lt Col R S Salkeld evacuated to hospital sick. Capt H J BENNETT assumed command. Casualties 2 OR killed 2 OR wounded.

Note: Captain H. J. Bennett had only just joined the 2/4th Royal Berkshire regiment from the 2/4th Oxfords on the 19th November 1916.

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.

1917, APRIL 7th – FAILED ATTACK AND RELIEF BY THE 2/1st BUCKS

AdvanceStQuentin

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

Before dawn our troops were in their old positions.

In the attack the sergeant-majors of both A and B Companies were hit. Of the officers, Barton, commanding B, and Tilly, of A, were killed. Aitken and Wayte were wounded. Nearly 40 of rank and file were casualties.

The attack had proved a failure, but, as often happened, hopes of success were reluctantly abandoned by the staff. Thus my company was warned that it might have to repeat the attack at dawn. Pending such a fate, I was sent to bivouac in a windswept spinney known as Ponne Copse. It was still snowing. After their week’s exposure I was loth to inform my men of such a destiny.

But a more favourable turn of events was in store. The weather cleared, and at 11 a.m. on the 7th I was allowed to return to my version of Montolu Wood. On the same day the Battalion was relieved by the Bucks and marched back through Soyécourt to Caulaincourt. There we found Bennett, who had come from the Aldershot course to be Second in Command. The château grounds were quieter than before, for our guns had now moved further up towards the line.

On relief by the 2/1st Bucks, the Battalion moved to Caulaincourt, except B Company, who went into close support at Sailor’s Wood.

KILLED IN ACTION APRIL 7th 1917

Lieutenant C. J. Barton

2nd Lieutenant A. H. Tilly

200230 Company Sergeant Major Cecil Amos Witney

200917 Sergeant Bertie Elliott

200401 Lance Corporal William James Pacey

200864 Lance corporal Richard Yeates

203455 Private Donald Carruthers

200924 Private Frederick Jesse Gulliver

203473 Private Edward Harris (Formerly 2768, R. Bucks Hussars)

201263 Private Francis Walter Salcombe

1917, APRIL 8th, EASTER DAY , ALBATROSS SHOT DOWN AT LE CHATEAU DE CAULAINCOURT

part of "MINISTRY OF INFORMATION FIRST WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION" Photograph by: Brooks Ernest (Lt)  1917-04-21 German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line. Ruins of Caulaincourt Chateau on the River Omignon.

part of “MINISTRY OF INFORMATION FIRST WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION” Photograph by: Brooks Ernest (Lt)
1917-04-21
German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line. Ruins of Caulaincourt Chateau on the River Omignon.

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 3 p.m. on ApriI 8 a curious noise was heard in the air. A German aeroplane had attacked the kite balloon, which hung, suspended by its gas, above the (Caulaincourt) château park. A French machine, not a moment too soon for the balloon’s safety, had swooped and shot the attacker to the ground. All the Battalion was out staring up at the balloon rotating on its wire, and the portions of the German ‘plane, which amid smoke were fluttering to earth. A rush, as always, commenced towards the scene. The aeroplane, brought down from a height, was half embedded in the mud. It was an Albatross, painted all colours, and possessed two machine-guns and several sorts of ammunition for use against balloons. I could see nothing of its former occupant, who must have been removed for burial, except a pool of bright blood upon the ground.

In a film taken soon after called, The German Retreat To St Quentin, officers are seen  the wreckage of an Albatros DIII, no 2234/16, north of St Quentin. (This aircraft was shot down on April 8, 1917 by Lieutenant A de Laage de Meux in his Nieuport Scout of Esc N124; the pilot, Lieutenant d R Roaland Nauck of Jasta 6, was killed and 2234 was given the British “capture number” G21). Please see: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1060022639

Pictures of Caulaincourt château in its prime.

Captain H. J. Bennett posted to the Battalion as second in command in place of Major W. L. Ruthven.

During the night orders arrived for a move forward to support the Warwick Brigade, which had been fighting for several days between Maissemy and Fresnoy.

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