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

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Archive for the tag “Merville”

1918, AUGUST 7th – ATTACK AND CAPTURE OF TRENCHES NEAR MERVILLE. SEARGENT S. J. RAVENSCROFT EARNS THE D.C.M.

Nieppe Forest  7th August 1918 Captain G. K. Rose, M.C.

Nieppe Forest
7th August 1918
Captain G. K. Rose, 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 7 p.m. on August 7 A and B Companies attacked and captured the trenches opposite to them, causing the enemy to retire behind the Plate Becque, a stream as wide as the Cherwell at Islip but far less attractive. We had a dozen casualties in this attack, which was rewarded by half as many German prisoners and a machine-gun. Sergeant Ravenscroft, of B Company, for an able exploit during the advance, received the D.C.M.

Citation of the Distinguished Conduct Medal

 203251 Cpl. (L/Sjt) S. J. RAVENSCROFT (Slough)

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. Without artillery assistance he led his platoon most skillfully and with complete success against an enemy trench, capturing the garrison, besides taking a machine gun. His platoon only suffered two casualties. He displayed the greatest gallantry and ability to command. (30.10.18)

At 7 p.m. A. and B Companies carried out a successful attack on the German front line between the Hazebrouck-Merville road and Bonar Farm. About 12 casualties occurred, but the companies captured 4 prisoners and a machine gun. Total casualties in the Battalion: 2 men killed, 2nd Lieut. A. R. Moore and 12 men wounded.

KILLED IN ACTION AUGUST 7th 1918

265598 Lance Corporal Richard Baldwin

34413 Private Reginald Richard Holloway

1916, SEPTEMBER – MOATED GRANGE SECTOR, LAVENTIE

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)

 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 bug-bear of the trench mortar.

The mention of these things may make dull reading to the _blasé_ 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.

Until the 10th the Battalion was at Robermetz training, and on the 11th took over trenches in the left sub-section of the Moated Grange sector, coming out on the 19th, and going in again on the 29th. The tours in the line were without incident; 2nd Lieut. Buhner was wounded on the 13th and between the12th and the 30th two men were killed and six were wounded.

1916, JULY – IN THE LAVENTIE SECTOR

Winchester Trench Company HQ Front Trenches, Picantin (Laventie),  October 28 1916 Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)  A view along a section of trench immediately before a badly bomb damaged building. The trench has duckboards along the bottom and the walls are supported by a structure of wooden planks.

Winchester Trench
Company HQ Front Trenches, Picantin (Laventie),
October 28 1916
Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)
A view along a section of trench immediately before a badly bomb damaged building. The trench has duckboards along the bottom and the walls are supported by a structure of wooden planks.

 

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

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 ludicrouslv 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 5.9s, but otherwise shops and estaminets flourished with national nonchalance. The railway, which ran from La Gorgue to Armentières, 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 co-operation of this arm was never asked for.

NOTE: I believe the term Wykhamists refers to former students of Winchester College.

Although the 184th Infantry Brigade, to which belonged both the 2/4th Battalion and the 2/1st Bucks Battalion of the Regiment, took no part in the actual battle of the Somme, its task of making demonstrations to assist the Somme operations was arduous in the extreme, and its casualties heavy.At the commencement of the Somme offensive the 2/4th Battalion was at Laventie, holding the trenches and front posts

 

1916, SEPTEMBER 2nd – TRAINING AT ROBERMETZ NEAR MERVILLE

Near Laventie,  September 2 1916 Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)  A sketch of wild flowers growing amongst long grass in the foreground, with open countryside beyond and a few trees on the horizon.

Near Laventie,
September 2 1916
Rose, Geoffrey K (MC)
A sketch of wild flowers growing amongst long grass in the foreground, with open countryside beyond and a few trees on the horizon.

Training Merville, 3rd June 1916

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire

Saturday 3rd June 1916, France, Merville K21

Rifle range, 2 Coys on Range construction.

Training, Merville, 2nd June 1916

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire

Friday 2nd June 1916, France, Merville K21

Rifle range, 2 Coys night march, 2 Coys night patrols.

Training, Merville, 31st May 1916

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire

Wednesday 31st May 1916, France, Merville K21

Coy training, Physical drill, Wiring, Ranges, 7 mile route march 5.30pm.

Training, Merville, 30th May 1916

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshires

Tuesday 30th May 1916, France, Merville K21

Coy training. Lewis Gunners on Range. A and B Coys night patrol in forest. C and D Coys night route march. Gas Helmet drill, Wiring, Rapid Loading.

184th Brigade, North West of Merville, 28th May 1916

War Diary of 2/4th Royal Berkshire

Sunday 28th May 1916, France, Merville, K21

Battn detrained at BERGUETTE at 3.30pm and 5pm. Marched to billets NW of MERVILLE at K21. Remainder of Brigade 2/4 OXFORD AND BUCKS LI, 2/5 GLOSTER Regt, and 2/1 BUCKS Battn billeted in adjoining areas within 1 mile.

In the Line, Neuf Berquin, 25th – 29th August 1918

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

“On August 24 we relieved the 5th Suffolks in the outpost line, which had remained stationary for several days. It lay upon the eastern fringe of Neuf Berquin, through whose scattered ruins one picked a way to find the posts. Headquarters were some distance back, but most wretchedly accommodated in an orchard close to a lonely brick-stack known as Itchin Farm. The German guns showed marked persistency, not actually against the holes which formed Headquarters, but all around. No area more dismal could be imagined than the flat, dyke-ridden country north of Merville. So
thoroughly had our artillery during the last four months plastered the ground behind his former lines that little scope had been left for the retreating frenzy of the enemy. By bombs and shells we had driven the Germans not only from such places as Merville and Neuf Berquin, but from the mere proximity to roads or houses. They had concealed themselves as best they could in ditches and narrow
tunnels made with corrugated iron or planks. The ‘Huns,’ indeed, had been meeting with their deserts. Their life in the Lys salient must have been a nightmare. One required only to read a few of the
notices displayed to realise the difference of life behind their line and ours. Everywhere appeared in big letters the word ‘Fliegerdeckung!’ i.e. cover from aircraft. No testimony more eloquent of British superiority could have been offered.

Further behind, round Estaires and La Gorgue, the Germans were busy blowing up and burning were their retreat ebbed back across the Lys. Black palls of smoke rose daily from where mills and factories were aflame. One day the tall church of Sailly had simply vanished; the next, one looked vainly for Estaires’ square tower. Often, when idly scanning the horizon or watching aeroplanes, eyes were arrested by huge jets which sprang into the air to become clouds as large as any in the sky.

Combining with this present orgy of destruction numerous booby- traps were left behind, whose action was delayed till our advance should provide victims for their murderous art. Cross-roads and
level-crossings especially ‘ went up,’ or were expected to, and so many houses were mined that it became impossible to rest secure in any. In fact, the 182nd Brigade ordered its men out of all buildings. Some measure of vile ingenuity must be accorded to the authors of these booby-traps; but whether bombs under beds or attached to
pump handles can be included in legitimate warfare is a case for judgment.

At short notice we attacked from Neuf Berquin on August 28. In some places the advance was quite successful, but in others not. German counter-attacks obliged A Company, which had made good progress south of the Neuf Berquin Estaires road in the morning, to withdraw its patrols at dusk. A few days later, however, the opposition lessened, and companies went forward several miles. Soon afterwards the 182nd Brigade took turn as the advanced guard, the Lys was reached and crossed, and presently patrols were
passing through the old ‘ posts ‘ and grass-grown breastworks which used to lie behind our front-line system. We followed, and for several days lived in reserve among the scattered farms and houses
north of Estaires, over the ruins of which Crosthwaite, an officer of mature service, who had just joined the Battalion, was appointed Town Major. His task was not entirely enviable. Houses, roofless or otherwise, had to be subdivided into safe, doubtful, or certain to ‘go up.’ I cannot help regarding this Flanders retreat as a subject supremely dull. The constant suspicion of mines and booby-traps rendered doubly sordid the polluted ruins which formed the landmarks of our advance. One feature alone provided interest to
some. We were approaching, from an odd direction as it seemed, the old area where the Battalion had first held its trenches. La Gorgue, Estaires, Laventie were places rich in association. How
much the two former were altered! La Gorgue, where in 1916 Divisional Headquarters and Railhead had been, was heaped in ugly ruin. Its ex- pensive church had been blown in two. Of Estaires proper little more than its charred walls remained. In such shape was victory passing into our hands.”

Story of the 2/5th Battalion the Gloucester Regiment 1914-1918
ed by A.F.Barnes
ISBN: 9781843427582
Format: 2003 N&M Press reprint (original pub 1930) 192pp with 39 b/w photos and 12 maps.

25th August 1918
“On August 25th the Battalion moved forward in support round the Plate Becque. The position was roughly the objective of the attack on the 11th. The Oxfords held a line in the neighbourhood of Neuf Berquin and moved forward considerably in their four days’ tour.”

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