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

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1917, FEBRUARY 23rd – RELIEVED THE 2/4th ROYAL BERKSHIRE REGIMENT – ABLAINCOURT SECTOR

Ablaincourt Sector

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

On the afternoon of February 23, we marched up to relieve the Berks. Near Foucaucourt the cookers gave us tea. There also we changed into gumboots. Guides met us at Estrées cross-roads, a trysting place possible only when dusk had fallen, and the lugubrious procession started along a tramway track among whose iron sleepers the men floundered considerably, partly from their precaution of choosing gumboots several sizes too large. On this occasion the usual stoppages and checks were multiplied by a brisk artillery ‘strafe’ upon the front, accompanied by all manner of coloured lights and rockets. The noise soon dying down we were able to continue a bad journey with men frequently becoming stuck and a few lost.

The Battalion relieved the 2/4th R. Berks in the left sub-section of the Ablaincourt sector. Dispositions : A Company on the left, C centre, D right, B in support.

War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1917-02-23
Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire
Location France, Trenches Deniecourt
Entry Great artillery 7-45pm – 8-30pm. 1 OR killed 1 wounded. Battn relieved by 2/4th OXFORDS.

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Lance Corporal Edwin George Pipe

This is one of the saddest stories I have come across. Edwin was the youngest of four sons, all of whom fell. Their parents were William D. and Emma Pipe, of 9, Queen’s Rd., Beccles, Suffolk.

Name: Edwin George Pipe
Birth Place: Beccles, Suffolk
Residence: Oxford
Death Date: 10 Sep 1917
Enlistment Location: Beccles, Suffolk
Rank: L/Corporal
Regiment: Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
Battalion: 2/4th Battalion.
Number: 200937

Rank:Lance Corporal
Service No:200937
Date of Death:10/09/1917
Age:21
Regiment/Service:Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry 2nd/4th Bn.
Panel ReferencePanel 96 to 98. Memorial TYNE COT MEMORIAL
Type of Casualty: Killed in action

The following letter was sent by Lance Corporal Edwin George Pipe on 26th August 1917, a few weeks before he himself was killed. The letter was to the parents of Private Lewis Heath. The letter was kindly provided by Peter Heath.

Lance Corporal E. G. Pipe, B. Company Signals, B.E.F.

August 26th, 1917

Dear Mr & Mrs Heath

It is my very painful duty to inform you that your dear brave son was killed in Action on the morning of the 22nd. I send you my deepest sympathy and may almighty God comfort you in your great loss. I feel his loss greatly, a better lad one couldn’t find. We had reached our objective when he went with an important message to Battalion Head Quarters. I heard afterwards he got there in 10 minutes. Eager to do his duty he returned to come back when he was hit by shell fire. Our Lane Corporal Stretcher Bearer found him and was with him till the end. Before leaving us with the message he was with me It may comfort you to know that he did his duty bravely. I know how you must feel. It was only a few weeks back that a dear brother of mine was killed.  He was always a cheerful lad everyone liked him and we feel his loss very much. I again offer you my deepest sympathy. Believe Me.

Yours Sincerely

Edwin George Pipe

The brother he was referring to was William John Pipe. Two other brothers, Percy Dalby Pipe and Robert Henry Pipe died in 1918. They were the sons of William Dalby Pipe and Emma Starland.

William John Pipe

Rank: Private
Service No: 9764
Date of Death: 03/05/1917
Age: 28
Regiment/Service: Honourable Artillery Company, 2nd Bn.
Panel Reference Bay 1.
Memorial: ARRAS MEMORIAL
Additional Information:
Son of Mr. and Mrs. William Dalby Pipe, of 9, Queen’s Rd., Beccles, Suffolk; husband of Elizabeth Marion Pipe, of 47, Sutherland Rd., Tottenham, London.

Percy Dalby Pipe

Rank:Private
Service No:200938
Date of Death:21/03/1918
Age:32
Regiment/Service: Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry 2nd/4th Bn.
Panel ReferencePanel 50 and 51.
Memorial: POZIERES MEMORIAL

Sergeant Robert Henry Pipe

Rank: Serjeant
Service No: 200939
Date of Death: 29/03/1918
Age: 26
Regiment/Service: Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, 2nd/4th Bn.
Grave Reference II. B. 11.
Cemetery ETRETAT CHURCHYARD EXTENSION

From the Woodbridge, Suffolk Roll of Honour

Sergeant 200939, 2nd/4th Battalion, Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. Died 29/03/1918. Age 26. Son of William Dalby Pipe and Emma Pipe of 9 Queen’s Road, Beccles, Suffolk. Buried at Etretat Churchyard Extension (near Le Havre).

From the Woodbridge Reporter dated 30th Jan 1919, there are details of Woodbridgians who fell in the Great War. Against Robert H Pipe it says:

Robert H Pipe, assistant teacher at the Council School, died of wounds received in action on 29th March 1918. He was 26 years of age and joined the forces in September 1914.

Please see:

The Attack on Pond Farm, 22nd August, 1917

The Attack On Pond Farm and Other Strong Posts, 21st -24th August 1917

Attack on Strongpoints, South East of St. Julian, 22nd August 1917

The Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele)

Lieutenant Charles John Barton

In G. K. Rose’s book, The Story of 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry it mentions that Lieutenant Barton was killed in action during the attack that was initiated on Good Friday, 6th April 1917. The details below are from the War Graves Commission

Please see: Good Friday Attack of 6th April 1917

Name: BARTON, CHARLES JOHN
Initials: C J
Nationality:United Kingdom
Rank: Lieutenant
Regiment/Service: Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry
Unit Text: 2nd/4th Bn.
Age: 20
Date of Death: 07/04/1917
Additional information:Son of William John and Emily Florence Barton, of “Pynest”, Clifton Rd., Parkstone, Dorset.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: Pier and Face 10 A and 10 D.
Memorial: THIEPVAL MEMORIAL

I would love to find more information on Lieutenant Barton.

Excerpt from the Fifth Army in March 1918, by Walter Shaw Sparrow

No one could see what was happening fifty yards away and, happily, few German divisions knew anything about the country ahead of them.They had been trained to show initiative anywhere except in a fog. Even our own men felt lost on ground that they knew perfectly. Thus, at 6.15 a.m. the commander of one battalion, the 2/4th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, had a baffled adventure. He was in the forward zone of the Sixty-first Division, holding Enghien Redoubt with a company. He had orders to leave his redoubt if a great deal of gas collected there and with the gas becoming worse and worse, he went out in the fog to see whether he could move his company to Champagne trench, a better spot Though the Colonel knew by heart every nook and corner in his neighborhood, he lost his way before he had gone fifty yards; and it took him about fifteen minutes to find his way back. He and his men remained in the dugout, with gas blankets put down, knowing that the Germans would not attack until they believed if gas had cleared away. But an officer went up frequently to put his ear on the bombardment.

At half-past seven gas shelling ceased, and Enghien Redoubt was pounded with high explosives from four batteries. Shell after shell exploded, above all in the quarry, a space about fifty yards by sixty.

Nearly two hours later there were barrage symptoms east-ward that an attack through the fog had begun to play at blind man’s buff with Destiny. How soon would it reach the line of eight redoubts ending the forward zone of Maxse’s Corps? Would the attacking troops have courage enough to keep close to this exploding barrier of projectiles? Every one under-ground in Enghien Redoubt made ready for a rush upstairs.*

The barrage passed over and when our men came up they had to grope their way to their lonely posts.

To be unable to see more than a few yards was a great ordeal — sometimes too great — when a company of young troops in a redoubt was divided between many isolated posts, and attack came all at once from many quarters, with the hiss and ping of bullets. A brave officer, Lieutenant Bassett fell, shot in the head. Not a German could be seen and for several minutes the garrison groped with strained eyes into the fog and breathed almost as swimmers do when tired and cold.

Near the quarry was a sunken road connecting Fayet on the east with HoInon on the south-west ; and suddenly, close by, some fifty Boches climbed out of this road. Bullets welcomed them and about five-and-twenty went down. The rest sought seclusion in the roadway. But Fayet had fallen, and just before ten o’clock the foe entered a part of Enghien Redoubt capturing the sandpit.

At once a bombing reprisal was arranged. It went briskly, led by Captain Rowbotham, and the sandpit was our own again. Only five posts now remained in the enemy’s hands; the rest of Enghien was Oxford and Bucks.

Soon after eleven o’clock the Germans tried their luck with bombs, assailing from three sides, and with a skill that looked menacing. But our men had warmed to their work ;their hearts were in it, for now they were freed from the cold, clammy demon that rules over most young soldiers when the blood is iced before battle by lonely waiting and a troubled consciousness of past joys and present dangers. Set firmly in a proper fighting vein, cool, firm, and fierce, they stopped the attack, then drove it back.

Foiled, the enemy persisted, surrounding the whole ground included in Enghien Redoubt and its posts. A rear post, No.12, only about three hundred yards from Holnon village, was in the thick of it. till a Vickers gun shot more than fifty attackers. They could be seen through the fog, these dead or wounded men, huddled into wire entanglements. No wonder a German war correspondent wrote of the blasts of death that blew around the Holnon district Twelve hours later, when the war correspondent of the Berlin Gazette visited the scene, wounded men were still there in long lines, Germans on one side, our own men on the other ; and near by, in the sunk road, was a terrible wreckage of guns, and horses, and dead soldiers. For both sides had fought their best, each in it’s own way. German platoons and companies came on as blurred targets through the fog, and hour after hour handfuls of British troops held them at bay. Self was lost in duty: and this fact was equally active all along our firm line of redoubts. Tommy had no time to cry : “Outnumbered again! Why ? Isn’t this war nearly four years old? ”

Towards midday the fog began to shred upwards, uncovering Enghien. At any moment enfilade fire might commence from the rear. What was happening to the Fifth Gordons in Fresnoy Redoubt, two thousand yards northward? And to the 2/8th Worcesters in Ellis Redoubt, about a thousand yards due South. Germans had passed between these strongholds ; but had they settled themselves in Holnon village? If so, nothing but a barrage from our eighteen-pounders could save the quarry garrison at Enghien from shots in the back.*

Some one must visit Holnon before the fog dispersed. Some one — but who? The only other offioer at Battalion H.Q. in Enghien, Lientenant Cunningham, had been so busy, with a bravery all of a piece with Chinese Gordon’s, that Colonel Wetherall thought it would be unfair if he did not go himself. So he chose two men and stole across the strip of land separating No. 12 post from Holnon. The village was empty.

On their way back one of our men was shot, while tho Colonel was captured, with his other companion. Captors and captives made their way to a shell-hole; and there they sat peaceably until a quarter to five in the afternoon. The Germans chose many things from their prisoners’ pockets but found no use for the Colonel’s watch.

Cigarettes they liked very much, yet were willing to share them with their owner and Tommy also might have one if his Colonel did not mind. There was no unkindness, but just a compulsive communism in a shell-hole while a vast battle raged. Many bullets were flying about and the Boches were glad to regard two prisoners as quite enough for a day’s peril. At a quarter to five one German went away, while the others took their prisoners to the rear, passing between Enghien and Ellis Redoubts towards the Faubourg St Jean at St. Quentin. All at once, about fifty yards off a British 6-inch shell exploded, and another was heard coming.

The Germans ran forward to a shell-hole. Their prisoners ran back to an old trench, there to begin new adventures. They were surrounded by Boches, who moved here and there by companies and platoons. Yet all went well until they reached our old line between Holnon and Round Hill, where
many Germans were busy on the toil named ”consolidating” and busy so close together that it was impossible to pass between them. An hour toiled through its long seconds. It seemed an eternity. At last a platoon finished its work and moved off, leaving a gap through which an escape could be made into other hazards.

Near midnight the Colonel reached Attilly, his brigade headquarters, where he got his first drink since daybreak,and where he learnt that Enghien Bedoubt had made a big name under Cunningham. Not till half-past four in the afternoon did the position there become hopeless. Then Cunningham, completely surrounded with overwhelming numbers, sent a telephone message to his Brigadier, seeking final orders. On the chateau side his quarry was enfiladed. What was he to do ?

The Brigadier, Robert White, having praised a great defence, told Cunningham to cut his way out after destroying the telephone gear. Parts of the redoubt were strewn with German dead, and its garrison, in proportion to its number of men, had suffered as heavily. Game to the last, it began to cut its way through, and just a few machine-gunners, with Lieutenant Richards, had fortune for their friend, reaching our battle zone more than a mile westward. And Cunningham ? He was captured and, I fear, wounded.

Similar great deeds, let us remember, were achieved by the other redoubts, Enghien is only an example.

Second Lieutenant John Crawford Cunningham

Born in 1894, John Crawford Cunningham was originally with the Bedford Yeomanry and was commissioned from a Private with the army No. of 905 into the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire  Light Infantry. At the time of Enghien Redoubt stand in March 1918 he was a 2nd Lieutenant with the 2/4th Battalion Ox & Bucks Light Infantry.

Lieutenant J C Cunningham was the last officer in charge of Enghien Redoubt on 21st March 1918.

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

Early in March some reinforcements from the 6th Oxfords, who had been disbanded, arrived; they numbered two hundred. Among the new officers who joined were Foreshew, Rowbotham, and Cunningham. Foreshew received command of C Company, whose commander Matthews went to England for a six months’rest. To Hobbs also, our worthy quartermaster, it was necessary to bid a reluctant farewell. His successor, Murray, a very able officer from the 4th Gloucesters, arrived in time to check the table of stores before the opening of the great offensive.

At 12 noon, after several patrols had failed to find out whether the enemy had captured Holnon, the Colonel himself went out to see all that was happening. He did not return, and shortly afterwards Headquarters were surrounded by the enemy, who had made ground on either flank. Nevertheless till 4.30 p.m. Cunningham, the officer left in command, held out most manfully.

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

These redoubts in the forward zone – held by the 5th Gordons, 4th Oxfords and 8th Worcesters fought with splendid gallantry throughout the day and were still holding out at 4.10pm when the buried cable – which had up to this hour remained intact, ceases to operate. The last message received was from Lieut. Cunningham 4th Oxford and Bucks who was then the senior officer commanding in Enghien Redoubt, asking permission for the garrison to try and cut their way out. This permission was granted and also by Corps Instructions to the other redoubts at the same time. Except for a few odd men that came in during the night , none returned from the Battalion fighting in the forward zone.

 

He became a POW, and is listed on the Holzminden Internee List (Sept 1917 – Dec 1918).

UK, British Officer Prisoners of War, 1914-1918
Name: J C Cunningham
Rank: 2/Lt.
Regiment: 4th Battalion. Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Lig
Date Missing: 21 Mar 1918
Repatriation Date: 14 Dec 1918
Record Number: 2910
Section: Western Theatre of Operations.

 

John Crawford Cunningham

He died 27th August 1964.

Bibliography relating to the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry during WWI

Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry

History of the 43rd & 52nd (Oxfordshire & Bucks) Light Infantry in the Great War, 1914-1919 by J.E.H. Neville (Aldershot: Gale & Polden, 1938) [Nothing on Western Front]

War Record of the 1/4th Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry by P. Pickford (Banbury: Banbury Guardian, 1919)

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

Memorial Record of the Seventh (Service) Battalion the Oxfordshire and Bucks Light Infantry Edited by C. Wheeler (Oxford: Blackwell, 1922)

The First Buckinghamshire Battalion, 1914-1919 by P.L. Wright (London: Hazell, Viney, 1920)

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