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

Research and Resources around the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry during WWI

Archive for the tag “Somme”

1916, NOVEMBER 22nd – IN TRENCHES NEAR GRANDCOURT

Trenches Near Grandcourt November and Dececember 1916

During this time the 2/5th Gloucesershire Regiment was in the front lines.

Captain R. S. B. Sinclair, M.C. and Bar, Officer Commanding A Company  2/5th Gloucestershire Regiment

Captain R. S. B. Sinclair, M.C. and Bar,
Officer Commanding A Company
2/5th Gloucestershire Regiment

 

Captain R. S. B. Sinclair described the conditions as follows:

In the front line the mud made movement of any sort practically impossible until the frost hardened the ground; shaving was not to be thought of; ration parties were held up in the mire and so we were down to one cup of cold tea per man per day, hence the aptness of the code word (of the relief complete, “another little drink won’t do us any harm”). The shelling was so incessant that we were compelled to live more like rats than men.

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1916, NOVEMBER 21st – ON THE SOMME NEAR GRANDCOURT

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 November 21 the Brigade took over its new sector of the line and with it a somewhat different régime to what it had known before. It was heard said of the 61st Division that it stayed too long in quiet trenches (to be sure, trenches were only really ‘quiet’ to those who could afford to visit them at quiet periods). Still the Somme ‘craterfield’ presented a complete contrast to the old breastworks with their familiar landmarks and daylight reliefs. Battle conditions remained though the advance had stopped. Our recent capture of Beaumont-Hamel and St. Pierre Divion left local situations, which required clearing up. The fragments of newly-won trenches above Grandcourt, trenches without wire and facing a No-Man’s-Land of indeterminate extent, gave their occupants their first genuine tactical problems and altogether more responsibility than before. In some respects the Germans were quicker than ourselves to adapt themselves to conditions approximating to open warfare. The principle of an outpost line and the system of holding our front in depth had been pronounced often as maxims on paper, but had resulted rarely in practice. Subordinate staffs, on whom the blame for local reverses was apt to fall rather heavily, were perhaps reluctant to jeopardise the actual front line by holding it too thinly, while from the nature of the case, the front line was something far more sacred to us than to the enemy. Since the commencement of trench warfare the Germans had held their line on the ‘depth’ principle, keeping only a minimum of troops, tritely referred to as ‘caretakers,’ in their front trench of all, while we for long afterwards crammed entire companies, with their headquarters, into the most forward positions.

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.

1916, NOVEMBER 21st – ON THE SOMME

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 November 21 the Brigade took over its new sector of the line and with it a somewhat different régime to what it had known before. It was heard said of the 61st Division that it stayed too long in quiet trenches (to be sure, trenches were only really ‘quiet’ to those who could afford to visit them at quiet periods). Still the Somme ‘craterfield’ presented a complete contrast to the old breastworks with their familiar landmarks and daylight reliefs. Battle conditions remained though the advance had stopped. Our recent capture of Beaumont-Hamel and St. Pierre Divion left local situations, which required clearing up. The fragments of newly-won trenches above Grandcourt, trenches without wire and facing a No-Man’s-Land of indeterminate extent, gave their occupants their first genuine tactical problems and altogether more responsibility than before. In some respects the Germans were quicker than ourselves to adapt themselves to conditions approximating to open warfare. The principle of an outpost line and the system of holding our front in depth had been pronounced often as maxims on paper, but had resulted rarely in practice. Subordinate staffs, on whom the blame for local reverses was apt to fall rather heavily, were perhaps reluctant to jeopardise the actual front line by holding it too thinly, while from the nature of the case, the front line was something far more sacred to us than to the enemy. Since the commencement of trench warfare the Germans had held their line on the ‘depth’ principle, keeping only a minimum of troops, tritely referred to as ‘caretakers,’ in their front trench of all, while we for long afterwards crammed entire companies, with their headquarters, into the most forward positions.

1917, MARCH 16th – GERMAN RETREAT BEHIND THE SOMME AND THE 2/4th OXFORDS MARCH TO LIHONS

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 March 16, 1917, the Germans left their front line and scuttled back behind the Somme. The news of this threw everything into a miniature ferment. The Berks stopped practising a raid which they were to do on the Brigade’s return to the old trenches. The General rode off apace. After orders and counter-orders the 2/4th marched dramatically to a map reference near Lihons and commenced pulling logs out of old French dug-outs. Much good work was done, but I believe the logs were never used.

DIED OF WOUNDS MARCH 16th 1917

201391 Private Albert Harry Timms

Timms was wounded on the 28th February,

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 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.

He died in a hospital round Etaples.

From: http://www.ww1cemeteries.com/ww1frenchcemeteries/etaples.htm

During the First World War, the area around Etaples was the scene of immense concentrations of Commonwealth reinforcement camps and hospitals. It was remote from attack, except from aircraft, and accessible by railway from both the northern or the southern battlefields. In 1917, 100,000 troops were camped among the sand dunes and the hospitals, which included eleven general, one stationary, four Red Cross hospitals and a convalescent depot, could deal with 22,000 wounded or sick. In September 1919, ten months after the Armistice, three hospitals and the Q.M.A.A.C. convalescent depot remained. The cemetery contains 10,771 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, the earliest dating from May 1915. 35 of these burials are unidentified.

Name: Albert Harry Timms
Age: 20
Birth Date: abt 1897
Death Date: 16 Mar 1917
Cemetery: Cemetery Fr 40 Etaples Part Vi U K Graves Senior To Zelley
Burial Country: France
Father: Harry Timms
Mother: Emily Timms
Service Number: 201391
Region or Memorial: France

1916, JULY 19th – THE BATTLE OF FROMELLES

The Battle of Fromelles – Order of Battle for British and German forces.

The Battle of Fromelles – Order of Battle for British and German forces.

Extracted From The Regimental Chronicles of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry

The 61st Division were to attack on the line from Bedford Row to Bond Street, the 184th Brigade on the front from Sutherland Avenue exclusive to Bond Street inclusive, the 183rd Brigade were on the right, and the Australian Division on the left.

The 2/1st Bucks and the 2/4th Berks were in the trenches and were to make the attack, one Company (C) of  the Battalion was in immediate reserve just north of the Rue Tilleloy, and the remainder of the Battalion remained in reserve at their billets. Owing to a misunderstanding of orders, a platoon of C Company, which was destined to carry trench-mortar ammunition across No Man’s Land after the attack had been established in the enemy’s trenches, was kept in the front line and suffered very heavily in the bombardment. An intense bombardment was kept up from 11 a.m. till 6p.m., when the assault was delivered, but owing to the machine-gun fire of the enemy the assaulting Battalion could not get across No Man’s Land and suffered very heavy losses.

About 7 p.m. the Battalion was loaded on to motor-buses and moved up towards the firing-line, and was sent up to take over the line held by the Berks and the Bucks. The relief was completed by 11, and at 11.30 the C.O., who had been ordered to remain at the Battle Headquarters, received orders to organize an attack with two companies on the Sugar Loaf, being told that he would find a party of Engineers with consolidating material at a certain point for which he was to provide a carrying company.

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

This harassing warfare had a crisis in July. The operations of July 19, which were shared with the 61st Division by the 5th Australian holding trenches further north, were designed as a demonstration to assist our attack upon the Somme and to hold opposite to the XI Corps certain German reserves, which, it was feared, would entrain at Lille and be sent south. That object was achieved, but at the cost of severe casualties to the divisions engaged, which were launched in daylight after artillery preparation, which results proved to have been inadequate, against a trench-system strongly manned and garrisoned by very numerous machine-guns. The objectives assigned to the 61st Division were not captured, while the Australians further north, after entering the German trenches and taking prisoners, though they held on tenaciously under heavy counter-attacks, were eventually forced to withdraw. ‘The staff work,’ said the farewell message from the XI Corps to the 61st Division three months later, ‘for these operations was excellent.’ Men and officers alike did their utmost to make the attack of July 19 a success, and it behoves all to remember the sacrifice of those who fell with appropriate gratitude. It was probably the last occasion on which large parties of storming infantry were sent forward through ‘sally ports.’ The Battalion was in reserve for the attack. C Company, which formed a carrying party during the fighting, lost rather heavily, but the rest of the Battalion, though moved hither and thither under heavy shelling, suffered few casualties. When the battle was over, companies relieved part of the line and held the trenches until normal conditions returned.

 KILLED IN ACTION JULY 19th 1916

3560 Lance Sergeant Arthur Lunn

Corporal Reginald Harding

5417 Private Frederick William Bateman

5148 Private Charles Bryden

202028 Private Sidney Butler

2990 Private George Jones

6736 Private William John Jones (Formerly 1347, Welsh Regt.)

4317 Private George Edward L. Simpson

4167 Private William Arthur Taylor

3022 Private George Tolley

From the War Diary of the 2/4th Royal Berkshire Regiment

1916-07-19

Regiment. 2/4th Royal Berkshire

Location France, Laventie

Entry Artillery preparation opened at 11am attack at 6pm 2/1 BUCKS on our LEFT. AUSTRALIAN Division on Left of 2/1 BUCKS. 183rd Bde on our Right and 182nd Bde on Right of 183rd Bde, 8th and 61st Divisional Artillery behind our lines. Casualties Officers 3 Killed (Lt Col J H BEER, 2/Lieut G S ABBOTT and 2/Lieut F C D WILLIAMS) and 2 wounded (Major T SHIELDS and 2/Lieut D R GIBSON). Other ranks 35K, 115W and 8 Shell Shock. Bn relieved by 2/4 OXFORD and BUCKS LI at 1030pm. Marched back into billets at RUE DE LA LYS (G.27.c.2.2 1/2).

1917, FEBRUARY 15th – MARCHED FROM WIENCOURT TO RAINECOURT

Harbonnnieres Church, January 1st 1918

 

On February 15 the Battalion marched through Harbonnières, where the Major-General, Colin (John) Mackenzie (now Sir Colin, K.C.B.) was standing with a French General to see us pass, and on to Rainecourt. The latter village, where the Battalion was billeted, improved on acquaintance. It had lain some 3-1/2 miles behind the old Somme front and had suffered a good deal from German shells. French industry and French materials had, since the advance, converted damaged barns and houses into quite good billets.

1917, AUGUST 22nd – CAPTURE OF POND FARM

Attack Aug 22 1917

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

On the following night Companies assembled for the attack. Neither the starting place nor the objectives for this are easily described by reference to surrounding villages. The nearest was St. Julien. The operation orders for the attack of August 22 assigned as objective to the Oxfords a road running across the Hanebeck and referred to as the Winnipeg-Kansas Cross Road. The 48th Division on the left and the 15th on the right were to co-operate with the 184th Brigade in the attack.

Shortly before 5 the bombardment started. In the advance behind the creeping barrage put down by our guns, of which an enormous concentration was present on the front, C, D and A Companies (from right to left) provided the first waves, while B Company followed to support the flanks. The Berks came afterwards as ‘moppers up.’ Half-an-hour after the advance started D, B and A Companies were digging-in 150 yards west of the Winnipeg-Kansas Cross Road. The losses of these companies in going over had not been heavy, but, as so often happens, casualties occurred directly the objective had been duly reached. In the case of C Company, on the right, but little progress had been made. Pond Farm, a concrete stronghold, to capture which a few nights previously an unsuccessful sally had been made, had proved too serious an obstacle. Not till the following night was it reduced, and during the whole of August 22 it remained a troublesome feature in the situation.

Before the line reached could be consolidated or they could act to defeat the enemy’s tactics, our men found themselves the victims of sniping and machine-gun fire from Schuler Farm, which was not taken and to which parties of reinforcements to the enemy now came. More dangerous still was an old gun-pit which lay behind the left flank. The capture of this had been assigned to the 48th Division, but as a measure of abundant caution Colonel Wetherall had detailed a special Berks platoon to tackle it. This platoon, assisted by some Oxfords on the scene, captured the gun-pit and nearly seventy prisoners, but failed to garrison it. A party of the enemy found their way back and were soon firing into our men from behind. During the early stages of consolidation, when personal example and direction were required, John Stockton, Scott, and Gascoyne were all killed by snipers or machine-gun fire. Scott had been hit already in the advance and behaved finely in refusing aid until he had despatched a message to Headquarters. While he was doing so three or four bullets struck him simultaneously and he died.

Throughout the 22nd no actual counter-attack nor organised bombardment by the enemy took place, but much sniping and machine-gun fire continued, making it almost impossible to move about. Our loss in Lewis-gunners was particularly heavy.

Callender, the acting company commander of A Company, had been killed before the attack commenced, and Sergeant-Major Cairns was now the mainstay of that company, whose men were thoroughly mixed up with B. Upon the left the 48th Division had failed to reach Winnipeg, with the result that this flank of A and B Companies was quite in the air. On the Battalion’s right the failure of C Company, in which Brucker had been wounded, to pass Pond Farm left the flank of D Company exposed and unsupported. But the position won was kept. Ground to which the advance had been carried with cost would not be lightly given up. Moberly, Company Sergeant-Major Cairns, and Guest -the latter by volunteering in daylight to run the gauntlet of the German snipers back to Headquarters-greatly distinguished themselves in the task of maintaining this exposed position during the night of August 22 and throughout August 23. Some of our men had to remain in shell-holes unsupported and shot at from several directions for over fifty hours”.

At 4.45 a.m. the Battalion attacked on a front of 750 yards, the objective being about 900 yards distant. On our left were the l/5th R. Warwicks, and the 2/1st Bucks on the right, with five platoons of the R. Berks acting as moppers-up. The assembly, which was carried out unknown to the enemy, was on a tape line, laid down in advance of our line by 2nd Lieut. Robinson the previous night. The disposition of companies from left to right was A, D, C in front line, and B in support. The Battalion advanced under our artillery barrage, and A and D Companies, closely followed by two platoons of B, reached their objective and consolidated. C Company on the right, with a platoon of B in support, were held up owing to the failure of the mopping-up platoon to take Pond Farm. Owing to casualties among senior officers, the front-line command devolved on 2nd Lieut. Moberly, with whom were 2nd Lieut. Coombes (A) and 2nd Lieut. Guest (D). The battalion on our left was unable to hold its objective, and consequently both flanks of the front line were unprotected; but 2nd Lieut. Moberly decided to hold on, and arranged to provide such protection as was possible. At 4 p.m., with the assistance of two platoons of the 2/5th Glosters, we assaulted and captured Pond Farm.

KILLED IN ACTION AUGUST 22nd 1917

Captain J. G. Stockton.

Lieut. WT. D. Scott. 2nd

Lieut. W. E. Gascoyne

201057 Sergeant Alfred Mobey

202295 Lance Sergeant Albert Barnes

200871 Corporal Albert Margetts

200978 Corporal James William Smith

202440 Lance Corporal Harold William Percival Bolt (Born Sydney Australia)

201270 Lance Corporal Eric George Cheasley

200689 Lance Corporal Frederick Edginton

267405 Lance Corporal William Merrith

201458 Lance Corporal Benjamin Arthur Tyler

201230 Private Harold Bolton

203189 Private Dennis Bush

240310 Private William James Callow

201694 Private Aubrey Castle

14783 Private Albert Thomas Childs

201655 Private William Walter Cox

24484 Private Herbert Charles Date (Formerly 141415 R.F.A.)

202885 Private William Dennis

203867 Private Albert John Drewitt

285020 Private Arthur Henry Drewitt

202393 Private Joseph Eversden

240350 Private James Charles Ferriman

202151 Private Frank Herbert Gardiner

203844 Private William Guess

201358 Private Lewis Heath

266895 Private Edward George Hoare

203475 Private Arthur James Hughes (Formerly 2694, R. Bucks Hussars)

201435 Private Harold Hughes

201864 Private Henry Impey

200931 Private Howard Stanley May

29025 Private George Albert Missen

240409 Private Leve Mitchell

202701 Private George Payne

202768 Private Christopher Piekton

203787 Private William Richard Pitson

22534 Private Jasper Quincey Plumb

204409 Private Ernest William Rolfe

202554 Private Harold Rolph

202661 Private George Roper

201967 Private Ernest John Rose

204413 Private John Elford Soper (Formerly 3457, Berks Yoemanry)

203434 Private Robert John Stratford (Formerly 1794, R. Bucks Hussars)

203535 Private Ernest Walter Sutton (formerly 2777, R. Bucks Hussars)

203811 Private Alfred Fred Taylor

23717 Private Horace White

200270 Herbert Edward Wright

DIED OF WOUNDS AUGUST 22nd 1917

32542 Lance Corporal Arthur Stamper (Formerly 3427, Notts and Derby Regt.)

Wounded: Captain A. H. Brucker. 2nd Lieut. T. A. Hill. 2nd Lieut. H. G. Turrell. 2nd Lieut. F. Dawson-Smith 2nd Lieut. T. W. P. Hawker And 74 other ranks.

Missing: 44 other ranks (3 of whom were afterwards reported to be prisoners, the remainder presumed to have been killed).

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

The attack, in which the Bucks had successfully co-operated on the right of our advance, earned credit for the Brigade and the Battalion. It had been, from a fighting standpoint, a military success. But from the strategical aspect the operations showed by their conclusion that the error had been made of nibbling with weak forces at objectives which could only have been captured and secured by strong. Moreover, the result suggested that the objectives had been made on this occasion for the attack rather than the attack for the objectives. The 184th Brigade had played the part assigned to it completely and with credit, but what had been gained by it with heavy loss was in fact given up by its successors almost at once. Withdrawal from the Kansas trenches became an obvious corollary to the German omission to counter-attack against them. Ground not in dispute ’twas not worth casualties to hold. On the Battalion’s front Pond Farm, a small concrete stronghold, remained the sole fruit of the attack of August 22. It was after the 61st Division had been withdrawn, wasted in stationary war, that what success could be associated with this third battle of Ypres commenced. Judged by its efforts, the 61st was ill paid in results.

TO 1917, AUGUST 23rd

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.

Lieutenant C. B. Hunt

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

November 1916
“On the evening of November 25, 1916, Robinson of C Company and myself, taking Hunt and Timms (my runner) and one signaller, left for the front line.”

“One night about this time a party of us, including Hunt and
‘Doctor’ Rockall, the medical corporal, who had accompanied me round the front posts, lost its way hopelessly in the dark. Shapes looming up in the distance, I enquired of Hunt as to his readiness for hostile encounter, whereupon the reassuring answer was given that ‘his revolver was loaded, but not cocked.’

“Hunt, who at this time, being my only officer not partially sick, has called for somewhat repeated reference, usually devoted the hours after mid-night to taking a patrol to locate a track shown on the map and called Stump Road, his object being to meet another patrol from a neighbouring unit. Success did not crown the work. Stump Road remained undiscovered and passed into the apocrypha of trench warfare.”

28th February 1917
“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 round the enemv had vanished Afterwards the Sergeant Major and Uzzell, sanitary lance-corporal, who on this occasion showed the genius of a fieId marshal, emerged and prevented the return of our late visitors.”

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 br.avest and most devoted N.CO.’s the Battalion ever had, were dead or died soon afterwards.”

UK, British Officer Prisoners of War, 1914-1918

Name: C B Hunt
Rank: 2/Lt.
Regiment: 4th Battalion. Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Lig
Date Missing: 28 Feb 1917
Repatriation Date: 18 Dec 1918
Record Number: 2903
Section: Western Theatre of Operations.

 

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