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

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1917, FEBRUARY 28th – BOMBARDMENT OF THE LINES AND THEN A GERMAN RAID

 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)

Morning and afternoon of the next day, February 28, were fine and ominously quiet. Excessive quietness was often no good sign. Presentiments could have been justified. At 4.15 p.m. a strong barrage of trench mortars and rifle grenades began to beat upon the front line, accompanied by heavy artillery fire against communication and support trenches and the back area. This sequel to the previous registration clearly indicated some form of attack by the enemy. The rhythmic pounding of the heavy howitzers, whose shells were arriving with the regular persistency of a barrage table, suggested that a long bombardment, probably until after dusk, was intended. Under such circumstances it was the part of the Company Commander to ‘stand to’ and await events with the utmost vigilance. This never meant that the men should be ordered out into the trenches and the fire-steps manned, for to do so would have invited heavy casualties and demoralised the garrison before the opportunity for active resistance had arrived. To keep look-out by sentries, to watch for any lifting in the barrage, and to maintain communication with H.Q. and with the flanks were the measures required. Otherwise, except to destroy maps and papers, there was nothing to do but wait, for only in the most clumsily organised shows did the other side know zero. On this occasion, at the moment the German raiding party came over, a patrol consisting of Corporal Coles and Timms had only just returned from D Company front line. They said that though the shelling was heavy immediately behind and on the flanks, the wire was intact and there was no sign of attack. At dusk, therefore, there was nothing save the heavy shelling to report to Cuthbert over my telephone, which by luck held until cut by German wire-cutters.

Within a few minutes, shouts and a few rifle shots were heard, and the next moment bombs were being thrown into my dug-out.

The lights went out and the interior became filled with fumes, groans, and confusion.

A German raiding party had penetrated C Company, seized the front line, which was a bare 80 yards from my H.Q., and, without touching my own front (which indeed was 200 yards distant and to the flank), had picketed my dug-out, and awaited their haul of prisoners.

Now, a bombed dug-out is the last word in ‘unhealthiness.’ It ranks next to a rammed submarine or burning aeroplane. For several minutes I awaited death or wounds with a degree of certainty no soldier ever felt in an attack. But in such emergencies instinct, which, more than the artificial training of the mind, asserts itself, arms human beings with a natural cunning for which civilization provides no scope. Life proverbially is not cheap to its owner.

That everyone inside was not killed instantly was due, no doubt, both to the sloping character of the stairs, which made some bombs explode before they reached the bottom, and to the small size of the bombs themselves. A gas bomb finished the German side of the argument. Hunt’s useful knowledge of German commenced the answer. We ‘surrendered.’ I went upstairs at once and saw three Germans almost at touching distance. In place of a docile prisoner they received four revolver shots, after which I left as soon as possible under a shower of bombs and liquid fire. Shortly afterwards, but too late to follow me, Hunt also came forth and found the enemy had vanished. Afterwards the Sergeant Major and Uzzell, sanitary lance-corporal, who on this occasion showed the genius of a field marshal, emerged and prevented the return of our late visitors.

After an hour’s struggle through mud and barrage I reached the two platoons in Trench Roumains, who (I mention this as a good paradox of trench discipline) were engaged in sock-changing and foot-rubbing according to time table! From there the counter-attack described in Sir Douglas Haig’s dispatch of March 1st was carried out. I fear this ‘counter-attack’ was better in his telling than in the doing, for the Germans had already decamped an hour before, taking with them Lieutenant Guildford and some 20 prisoners from C Company, several Lewis guns, and their own casualties.

Against a front line crowded with untried troops (I refer to the new draft of which the platoons holding C Company front line were principally composed) a well-planned raid powerfully pressed home under a severe box barrage and assisted by gas and liquid fire, was almost bound to succeed. The mud, strange trenches and weak artillery support were other factors for which allowance might have been made before such degree of blame was laid upon the Battalion as was seen fit for it to receive. The only cure for being raided is to raid back. That was happily done exactly two months later against the very regiment to which the German raiding party on this occasion belonged. Nor was it true that the enemy was not fought with. Some parties which attacked Brown’s front were, under the able example of that officer, driven off with Lewis guns, and D Company, whose loss in prisoners was nil, also maintained its front intact. Casualties were inflicted on the enemy, but these mostly regained their own lines or were carried back by stretcher parties. Our loss in killed that night amounted to some twenty. The story of this raid I should not have allowed to reach this length but for the fact that the affair created some stir at the time, and correspondence raged on the subject till long afterwards. Hunt, who was with me during the bombardment and the bombing of my H.Q., was not captured on emerging from the dug-out, but himself, some hour or more afterwards, while wandering among the blown-in trenches in an effort to follow me, entered a German listening post and became a prisoner. As a prisoner he was present at a German H.Q. when the details of an exactly similar raid upon a neighbouring division were being arranged; which raid proved for the enemy an equal success.

The aftermath of this fighting proved a trying experience. The dug-out to which I returned to spend the remainder of the tour was a shambles. The stairs were drenched with blood. Of my companions, Thompson, a signaller, Timms, Smith (Hunt’s servant, a fine lad) and Corporal Coles–one of the bravest and most devoted N.C.O.’s the Battalion ever had–were dead or died soon afterwards. Longford and Bugler Wright were severely wounded. Longley and Short had escaped before the first bombs exploded in the dug-out, but the remaining survivors, the Sergeant-Major, Lance Corporal Rowbotham, Roberts and myself were all partially gassed and hardly responsible for further action. Under these circumstances the task of carrying-on involved a strain, lessened, as always on such occasions, by management of everything for the best by Battalion Headquarters.

KILLED IN ACTION FEBRUARY 28th 1917

201534 Corporal Henry Coles

200453 Private Arthur Church

203732 Private Frank Dann (Formerly 20275, Hants Regt.)

203258 Private Alfred George Eno

202370 Private William Gibbons

200350 Private Edward Leach

200844 Private Walter Smith

202162 Private Trainton Thomas Whiting

Enemy bombardment of our lines very severe for 3 ½ hours, and at 6.15 p.m. they raided our trenches, penetrating the centre company front. A counter attack was organized, and the enemy driven out, but not before he had inflicted heavy casualties, as follows: Officers, wounded, 2nd Lieut. Constable; missing, 2nd Lieuts. Guildford and Hunt. Other ranks, killed 6, wounded 18, missing 19. 2nd Lieut. Guildford was captured, together with some 20 men of C Company, in a dug-out in a front line trench less than 100 yards from the enemy’s lines. 2nd Lieut. Hunt was with Captain Rose and D Company when their dug-out was raided. He was wounded by a bomb, losing a finger, but escaped from the dug-out, only, however, to walk into a German listening post and be taken prisoner.

Died of Wounds February 28th, 1917

2nd Lieutenant, Arthur Charles Fry

Fry died at the age of 24 at No. 5 Casualty Clearing Station in France of wounds received in action at Ablaincourt on 28 February 1917, and is buried at Bray Military Cemetery at Bray-sur-Somme (I.C.16). He was listed as dead in The Times of 7 March 1917.

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61st (South Midland) Division

From The territorial divisions, 1914-1918 (1922) by John Sterling

61ST (SOUTH MIDLAND) DIVISION
Second Line

The Division went to France in May 1916. On I9th-20th July they and an Australian division made an attack in the Neuve Chapelle district. Ground was gained but could not be held as the guns on the Aubers Ridge had command of it.

The despatch from Sir Douglas Haig, dated 31st May, 1917, paragraph 13, Messrs. Dent’s edition, shows that the 61st was one of the divisions employed in pursuing and pressing the enemy when he retreated from the neighbourhood of the Somme
battlefield in March 1917. On 17th March the 61st and 2nd Australian Divisions captured and Bapaume.

The Division was for a time in the Third Battle of Ypres and, as part of the XIX. Corps, attacked on 22nd and 27th August and 5th September, 1917.

The Cambrai despatch of 20th February, 1918, paragraph 9 (Dent’s edition) and map opposite p. 163, shows that the 61st was in reserve on 30th November, 1917, when the enemy made his great counter-attack. On the night of the 1st December
they took over from the 12th in the neighbourhood of La Vacquerie and for some days thereafter had to fight hard to stem the German flood; in this they were successful.

The Division saw a great deal of heavy fighting in 1918 and was frequently mentioned in despatches. It formed part of the XVIII. Corps, Fifth Army, in March of that year and was engaged throughout the whole of the British retreat. At the end of ten
days’ continuous fighting the strength of the Division was down to about 2000. They came out of the battle with a splendid reputation, which was to be enhanced later, on the Lys.

In the telegraphic despatch of 26th March, 1918, Sir Douglas Haig said: “In the past six days of constant fighting our troops on all parts of the battle-front have shown the utmost courage,” and
among divisions which had exhibited “exceptional gallantry ” he mentioned the 61st.

In the written despatch of 20th July, 1918, paragraph 15, which deals with the 21st March, it is stated: “Assisted by the long spell of dry weather hostile infantry had crossed the river and canal north of La Fere, and, south of St. Quentin, had penetrated into the battle-zone between Essigny and Benay. At Maissemy, also, our battle positions were entered at about noon, but the vigorous resistance of the 61st and 24th Divisions, assisted by troops of the 1st Cavalry Division, prevented the enemy from developing his success.”

The Division held its battle position intact against the assaults of three German divisions, and only retired in the afternoon of the 22nd when ordered to do so in consequence of the enemy’s progress at other parts of the line.

In his History of the British Campaign in France and Flanders, vol. v.. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gives a full account of the very arduous work of the XVIII. Corps in the March retreat, and frequently
refers to the conduct of the 61st Division in terms of very high praise. He gives a detailed description of the most heroic resistance of the battalions in the front line on the morning of 21st March and, as an example of what was done, he tells the story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light
Infantry which, under Colonel Wetherall, held out in the Enghien Redoubt until it was finally submerged by the ever increasing waves from the three German divisions which attacked the front of the 61st. This took place about 4.30 p.m.

Mr. Sparrow in his The Fifth Army in March 1918, also gives many particulars of the splendid defence put up by the forward battalions of the 61st, on the 21st, as well as of the endless en-
counters they had during the retreat. On p. 239 he mentions that parts of the Division were first attacked at 5 a.m. on the 21st, and were only two miles back at 3 a.m. on the 23rd, although for
48 hours the 6ist was attacked by three German divisions. On p. 102 he refers to it as ” this brave Division ” and says that a Special Order of the day, dated 18th April, stated that between 21st March and that date the 61st had been opposed by 14 German divisions.

At p. 287 Mr. Sparrow remarks that the 61st had been continuously in the line since 27th August, 1917, except when moving from one part to another, and “then fought for twelve continuous days.”

Paragraph 24 of the despatch states that on the morning of the 23rd the Commander of the Fifth Army ordered ” a gradual withdrawal to the line of the Somme.”

Paragraph 26: A gap occurred in our line near Ham and bodies of Germans succeeded in crossing the river. ” In the afternoon these forces increased in strength, gradually pressing back our troops, until a spirited counter-attack by troops of the 20th and 61st Divisions about Verlaines restored the situation in this locality.”

The fighting between 21st-23rd March is now designated the “Battle of St. Quentin.”

Paragraph 31, ” The Fight for the Somme Crossings”: On the 24th various bodies of the enemy had been able to effect crossings at different points. “During the remainder of the day the enemy repeated his attacks at these and other points, and also exercised strong pressure in a westerly and south-westerly direction from Ham. Our troops offered a vigorous resistance and opposite Ham a successful counter-attack by the 1/5th (Pioneer) Battalion,
Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, 61st Division, materially delayed his advance.”

Paragraph 44: On 28th March the British were almost back to the Amiens defences and the enemy were seriously pressing the French on our right. “A gallant attempt by troops of the 61st Division to regain Warfusee-Abancourt and lighten the pressure
from the north proved unsuccessful. … At nightfall we held approximately the Amiens defence line on the whole front south of the Somme.”

Fortunately that same day the enemy had been defeated north of the Somme (see 56th, 42nd and 62nd Divisions), and in a few days his offensive on the front south of Arras ceased.

In his account of the 28th, Mr. Sparrow deals with the work of ” the intrepid 61st,” and remarks ‘one and all behaved with the greatest gallantry.”

In Charles a Court Repington’s Memoirs, The First World War, Constable, vol. ii., p. 269, there is detailed a conversation, on 7th April, 1918, with General Gough, the Commander of the Fifth
Army. After some particulars of the great struggle there occurs the sentence, ” He brought with him some of Maxse’s notes, which mentioned particularly the fine conduct of the 6ist Division, under Colin Mackenzie.” Lieut. General Maxse commanded the
XVIII. Corps.

The despatch of 20th July, 1918, deals also with the Lys battle which began on 9th April, 1918 (see 55th, 49th, 50th and 51st Divisions). Paragraph 58 shows that several divisions were brought straight from the Somme fighting to the Lys area. Among
these was the 61st. Deahng with the 12th April, the despatch states: ” On the left of the 51st the 61st Division was coming into action about the Clarence river. Both the 3rd and 6ist Divisions had been engaged in many days of continuous fighting south of Arras ; but with the arrival of these troops, battle-weary though they were, the enemy’s progress in this sector was definitely checked.”

The fighting 12th-15th April is now the ” Battle of Hazebrouck.”

Paragraph 65 deals with the great effort made by the enemy on 18th April on the southern front of his salient. ” At certain points there was severe and continuous fighting. . . . Elsewhere the enemy failed to obtain even an initial success, being repulsed, with exceedingly heavy loss, at all points, by the 4th and 61st Divisions.” And, referring to a few days later: “Further west the 4th Division, in co-operation with the 61st Division, carried out a series of successful local operations, north of the La Bassee canal, resulting in the capture of some hundreds of prisoners, and a considerable improvement of our positions between the Lawe and
Clarence rivers.” The action on i8th April is now the ” Battle of Bethune.”

The Division joined the XVII. Corps early in October 1918, and with it took part in the ” Advance to Victory.”

The despatch of 21st December, 1918, as to the final British offensive, paragraph 47, Battle of the Selle River, I7th-25th October, shows that the 61st Division, as part of the XVII. Corps of the Third Army, attacked on 24th October. ” About many
of the woods and villages which lay in the way of our attack there was severe fighting, particularly in the large wood known as the Bois L’fiveque, and at Pom.rnereuil, Bousies Forest and Vendegies-surficaillon. This latter village held out till the afternoon of the 24th October when it was taken by an enveloping attack by troops of the 19th Division and 61st Division.”

Paragraph 49, ” The Battle of the Sambre,” 1st-11th November: As a preliminary to the main attack it is stated that on 1st November ” the XVII. Corps of the Third Army and the XXII. and Canadian Corps of the First Army attacked on a front of about six miles south of Valenciennes and in the course of two days of heavy fighting inflicted a severe defeat on the enemy. During these two days the 6ist, Major-General F. J. Duncan, 49th and 4th Divisions crossed the Rhonelle river, capturing Maresches and Preseau after a stubborn struggle, and established themselves on the high ground two miles to the east of it. On their left the 4th Canadian Division captured Valenciennes and made progress beyond the town.”

The fighting on ist-2nd November is now designated the ” Battle of Valenciennes.”

On the 3rd November the enemy withdrew, and the British line was advanced.

The XVII. Corps was again employed on the left of the Third Army in the Battle of the Sambre on the 4th November when ” the enemy’s resistance was definitely broken.”

Battalions from the Division were selected for the Armies of Occupation, as follows: Western Front, 2/6th and 2/7th Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 2/5th Gloucestershire Regiment and 1/5th Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantiy (Pioneers). For Egypt,
2/8th Worcestershire Regiment, 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment.

Attack on Strongpoints, South East of St. Julien 22nd / 24th August 1917

Sir Douglas Haig’s 4th Despatch (1917 Campaigns), 25 December 1917

“Minor Operations

48. In the interval, on the 19th, 22nd and 27th August, positions of considerable local importance in the neighbourhood of St. Julien were captured with some hundreds of prisoners, as the result of minor attacks conducted under the most unfavourable conditions of ground and weather.”

The ground gained represented an advance of about 800 yards on a front of over two miles.

Below are details from Bapaume to Passchendaele, on the Western Front, 1917 By Philip Gibbs

“The Way Through Glencorse Wood

August 22

There was severe fighting again to-day eastwards of St. Julien (35 miles north-east of Ypres), extending south across the Zonnebake, beyond the Frezenberg Redoubt, while on the right our troops again penetrated Glencorse Copse (due east of Ypres), and fought on that ugly rising ground which the enemy is defending in great strength. The Divisions engaged, from north to south, are the 29th, 38th, nth, 48th, 18th, 61st, 15th, 19th, 47th, 14th, and 24th.

On the left progress has been made from the high road of St.-Julien to the Zonnebeke-Langemarck road, which cuts across it, guarded on the enemy’s side by two strong points with the usual concrete shelters which the Germans have adopted as their new means of forward defence. Below them there is another strong position called Winnipeg, about which our men were heavily engaged in the early hours of this morning, and below that again the same series of pill-boxes and concrete blockhouses against which the Irish battalions went forward with such desperate valour on the 16th of this month, as I described in my message yesterday.

Scottish troops of the I5th Division attacked to-day where the Southern Irish were engaged six days ago. Before them they had those sinister forts, Beck House and Borry Farm, and Vampire Point guarding the way to the Bremen Redoubt, which will be remembered always in the history of the Irish brigades as places of heroic endeavour, just as now this morning they will take their place in the annals of our Scottish fighting. To the left of them are other forts, round which the Ulster men were fighting last week—Pond Farm, Schuler Farm, and others on the way to the Gallipoli Redoubt. About these places Warwickshires and other Midland troops of the 61st Division have been fighting, and have met with the same difficulties, apart from the state of the ground, which has dried a little. It has not dried much, for our shell-fire has broken up the gullies and streams with which it was drained, and the country is water-logged, so that the pools remain until the sun dries them up. The shell-holes and these ponds are not so full of water as when the Irish went across, and the surface of the shell-broken earth is hardening. But it is only a thin crust over a bog, so that the Tanks which went forward to-day here and there could not get very far without sinking in. One Tank was taken by a gallant crew almost as far as a German strong point nearly half a mile beyond our old front line very early in the morning, and did good work up there. The enemy put down a furious barrage-fire soon after the attack had started to-day, and kept the Frezenberg Redoubt under intense bombardment. But as soon as the attack developed he could not use his artillery against our men at many points, not knowing what forts and ground were still held by his own troops. He relied again upon the cross-fire of machine-guns, arranged very skilfully in depth, for enfilade barrages, and upon the garrisons who held his concrete redoubts in the advanced positions. In one of the blockhouses this morning our Warwickshire men captured forty-seven prisoners, who, when they were surrounded, took refuge in tunnelled galleries running to the right of the main fort, called Schuler Farm. Some of our men fought through the enfilade fire of machine-guns as far as the slopes of Hill 35, and to the right of this the Scots made a gallant and fierce assault towards Bremen Redoubt.”


2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

The following details are extracted from a great Web site: http://www.purley.eu/H142.htm. The site details the operations of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment, but within it is contained a wide range of information on the 184th Brigade and the Battalions that made up the Brigade.

“This attack, in so far as it concerns the Royal Berkshire Battalion, was that of the 184th Brigade on the enemy defences S.E. of St. Julien.

On the right of the brigade was the 44th Brigade (15th Division), on the left the 3rd Brigade. The direction of the attack was north-eastwardsand the front-line troops of the 184th Brigade were the
2/1st Buckinghamshire on the right, and the 2/4th Oxford and Bucks on the left.”

The function of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire was to supply thirteen platoons for dealing with the numerous strong points which were known to exist in the area to be attacked. The Berkshire platoons were to follow close up behind the leading battalions, and, as each strong point was approached, were to dash through the leading waves and assault it, leaving the leading battalions to pursue their way without having to consider the risk of leaving
the strong points in rear. These would be either taken by the Berkshire men, or so surrounded and blockaded as to be unable to harass the assaulting battalions in flank or rear.
The Berkshire platoons were thus detailed to deal with the several. strong points.

Platoon. Officer Commanding. Strong point to be attacked.
1. 2nd-Lieut. A. C. L. Hill. Somme
4. 2nd-Lieut. G. W. de St. Legier .Do.
2. 2nd-Lieut. A. K. Glover. Cross Cottages
3. 2nd-Lieut. C. L. B. Kirkland. Aisne House
5. 2nd-Lieut. H. W. Jewell. Schuler
7. 2nd-Lieut. A. E. Saw. To act as left flank guard for 2/4 OBLI
6. 2nd-Lieut. G. A. F. Gilmor Pond Farm
13. 2nd-Lieut. F. A. N. Wilmot Do.
8. 2nd-Lieut. F. Exier. Hindu Cottage
9. 2nd-Lieut. W. H. Stevens. Martha House
12. 2nd-Lieut. A. H. Robinson. Do.
10. 2nd-Lieut. D. Mackinnon Green House
11. 2nd-Lieut. H. S. Griffin Gun positions about centre Pond Farm

The first strong point encountered was Pond Farm towards the left. This was attacked from the right flank by Second-Lieutenant Wilmot with No. 13 Platoon, and from the left by Second-Lieutenant Gilmor and No.6.
Both these officers were wounded at the commencement.
Owing to the strong machine-gun fire, Sergeant
Shackleton (in charge of Wilmot’s platoon after the
latter was wounded) was unable to get into the farm, but
the fire of the platoons from the positions they had
attained so occupied the attention the garrison as to
completely prevent their interference with the assaulting
troops. Sergeant Shackleford, who afterwards received
the D.C.M. for his conduct this day, having reorganized
his platoon, made a second attempt to take the farm, but
was held up twenty yards from it. He succeeded in
surrounding it and keeping the garrison fully occupied
till the afternoon, when he was joined by two platoons
of the 2/5th Gloucestershire whom he helped in the
storm of the farm, where thirty-five prisoners were
taken.
Sgt Shackleford was awarded the DCM – his citation
read:-
No 202908 Sgt Shackleford F “D” Coy, 2/4th Bn Royal
Berks Regt (TF).
“At POND FARM, near WIELTJE in the attack on 22nd
August 1917, when his Platoon Commander was knocked out at the outset, took command of the platoon and
showed the greatest courage and skill in his handling of
it. This strong point was assaulted three times before
being finally taken, and this non-commissioned officer
participated in each attack. In the last attack he took the
residue of his Platoon over with one of the two platoons
of the Gloster Regt, making the final and successful
assault. It was due to his initiative in engaging the
enemy machine guns during the initial stage of the attack
that the casualties in the leading wave were considerably
reduced”. [WD4.2 21/9/17]
Hindu Cottage
The next strong point on the left was Hindu Cottage.
Here Second-Lieutenant Exler was wounded as soon as
the advance began, but the platoon went on. Marshy
ground prevented it from entering from the front, but it
got beyond the strong point and surrounded it, thus
enabling the assaulting waves to go on without
hindrance from it.
Schuler
The remaining strong point on the left was Schuler,
which fell to the lot of Second-Lieutenant Jewell and
No.5 Platoon. Despite the fact that the Division on the
left was held up, and his left flank was consequently
exposed, Jewell pushed gallantly on and stormed the
galleries constituting the strong point. In it were taken
two officers and seventy-four Germans of other ranks.
After despatching these to the rear, Jewell set to work to
consolidate the position which, owing to a retirement on
his right, and a failure to get up his left, was almost
isolated.
In this post he held on for two days, making up three
local counter-attacks of the enemy. After two days he
and Private Pike in Hindu Cottage, was relieved by the
2/6th Gloucestershire. For his exploit Jewell received a
well-earned Military Cross.
His citation read:-
2nd Lieut H W Jewell, 2/4th Bn Royal Berks Regt (TF).
“Near WIELTJE, at SCHULER FARM, on 22nd August
1917, shewed great courage and resource when, after
taking the concrete gallery he came under exceptionally
heavy machine gun and rifle fire, and finding the attack
on the left was held up and his flank badly exposed, he
threw back a protective flank and succeeded in dispersing
an enemy counter-attack which was forming up on his
left front”. [WD4.2 18/9/17]
Somme
We must now turn to the strong points on the right of
the attack. The first of these was Somme. As Second-
Lieutenant St. Legier approached he and two men
rushed ahead through the leading waves and the British
barrage in front of them. This enabled them to enter the
strong point from rear and to kill the whole garrison. St.
Legier also consolidated his position, like Jewell, and
held it till relieved two days later. He repulsed several
counter-attacks during this period, and also received the
Military Cross.
St Legiers citation read:-
2nd Lieut G W de St Legier, 6th Bn Devon Regt attached
2/4th Bn Royal Berks Regt (TF).
“Near WIELTJE on 22nd August 1917, this Officer was
detailed with his platoon to assist in the capture of
SOMME FARM, a strong point known to be very
formidable. On nearing the objective he with two others
rushed through our own barrage and round the flank at
considerable personal risk and bombed the position with
the greatest gallantry from the rear. But for his action this
post might have fallen, and would most certainly have
held out a considerable time and delayed the advance of
the Right attacking Battalion. After taking the post this
officer held it against heavy fire from the strong point
GALLIPOLI on his Right, and also a bombing attack
which he completely defeated, killing every one of the
hostile bombers”. [WD42-18/9/17]
Green House, Cross Cottage and Martha House
Owing to the 15th Division being held up on the right,
there was such a heavy machine-gun fire from that
direction that the attacks on Green House, Cross Cottage
and Martha House were impracticable; but the platoons
detailed for them were able to give valuable assistance
to the 2/1st Buckinghamshire in forming a curved line
which ran from in front of Somme post on the right,
north-eastwards in front of Hindu Cottage and Schuler
posts on the left. On this line three counter-attacks were
repulsed.
Private Pike’s Exploit
In connexion with the attack on Hindu Cottage the
Battalion Diary tells a most extraordinary story to the
following effect: Private Pike, of A Company, who had
lost his own platoon, happened to get into the strong
point, apparently unobserved. In it he found nineteen
Germans, of whom thirteen were unwounded. He took
the whole lot prisoners and remained there alone
guarding them for two days, till he was relieved by an
officer of the 2/6th Gloucestershire. How he managed to
bluff these nineteen men into surrender to a single
private, and to avoid being overpowered by them during
the two days, is almost inconceivable. The only possible
explanation seems to be that they knew they were
surrounded and could not escape.
That the story was substantiated is clear from the fact
that Pike was awarded the Military Medal for his
exploit. There are other points which are mysterious,
such as why the strong point was not entered by the
attackinpgla toon. Private Pike has
kindiy furnished us with his own account of his exploit
of which the following is the substance:
About 5 a.m. his platoon was lying out in No-Man’s
Land, waiting for the barrage, with orders to make a
right incline towards its objective. Pike, however, made
a mistake and went straight forward. He only discovered his error when he found himself alone Presently, he
found himself with some of the Oxfordshire and
Buckinghamshire, and was with them at the clearing of
several strong pomts. He was then asked by a sergeant
of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
to carry back a message. He started with it, hoping to
get back to his own regiment after delivering it. He had
gone some six hundred yards when the fire was so hot
that he got into a shell-hole for shelter and had a shot or
two at a German sniper whom he saw. He then worked
his way over to the strong point, hoping to get his
direction from it. Arriving there he found himself in an
awkward position, as it was in German hands. One of
the Germans came out and attacked him, but was
wounded and got back into the strong point. He
apparently told his friends inside that they were
surrounded, and, when summoned by Pike, they held up
their hands and he was able to remove all their arms and
bombs. After this they began to show symptoms of
resistance, but there was only one entrance to the strong
point, and Pike outside that was able to overawe them,
as he was armed an they were not. There he remained
for two days on guard, unable to eat and not daring to
sleep, for a moment’s unconsciousness meant that he
would be done for.
About 2 a.m. on the second day, when he was utterly
exhausted, he heard footsteps coming round the strong
point and, supposing them to be the enemy, believed he
was lost and prepared for a fight. Fortunately, the
footsteps turned out to be those of an officer of the
Gloucestershire Regiment and his party, and Pike’s
troubles were at an end. The Germans were duly fetched
out as prisoners. It was only when they recounted that
Pike knew how many prisoners he had. The Gloucestershire
officer was wounded and Pike accompanied him as
retired. He then thought of delivering the Oxford and
Bucks sergeant’s message, which was probably not of
much value after two days’ delay. It hardly surprising
that Pike found he had lost it. He was told, with what
truth we do not know, that he had been recommended
for the V.C.
The diary of the 2/6th Gloucestershire Regiment made
no mention of the incident.
Overview
The attack had on the whole not been too successful.
Tanks had been unable to give the assistance intended,
owing to the marshy ground. In the night of the 23rd-
24th the line was taken over by the 183rd Brigade and
the 2/4th Royal Berkshire returned to Goldfish Château.

Please see:

The Attack on Pond Farm, 22nd August, 1917

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

The Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele)

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