Company Commanders reconnoitred St.Julien area.
Remained at Watou until the 18th, then marched to reserve camp in Ypres N. area.
From the Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry by Captain G. K. Rose KC (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1920)
On August 18, starting at 4 a.m., the Battalion marched to Goldfish Chateau, close to Ypres, and the Transport to a disused brickfield west of Vlamertinghe. We lived in bivouacs and tents and were much vexed by German aeroplanes, and to a less degree by German shells.
From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by Captain G. K. Rose KC (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1920)
In front-line trenches at St. Julien. At dawn the enemy rushed and captured Pond Farm, but at 8 a.m., assisted by three platoons of the 2/6th Glosters, we recaptured it. Afterwards the enemy made some local counter-attacks; which were repulsed with heavy loss. In these two days we took about 80 prisoners. Casualties today : 2nd Lieuts Webb and Gray and 3 men killed, 29 wounded.
KILLED IN ACTION AUGUST 23rd 1917
2nd Lieutenant Webb
2nd Lieutenant Gray
202109 Private Frederick Berry
24436 Private Thomas John Owen (Formerly 2891, R.F.A.)
32853 Private Thomas William Richards
From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by Captain G. K. Rose KC (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1920)
At night the Battalion was relieved by the 2/6th Glosters, and marched to camp near Ypres (Goldfish Chateau). During the night of August 23/24 the Battalion was relieved, when those whom death in battle had not claimed nor wounds despatched to hospital marched back through Ypres to the old camp at Goldfish Château.
THE THIRD BATTLE OF YPRES,
In the war-history of all Battalions there is a season when it is possible to say that they have reached their fullness of development, but have not yet lost all original identity. August, 1917, was such a season in my history. Of officers and men who had served with the Battalion in its infancy many were yet remaining. Time and experience of war had moulded these, with the admixture of subsequent drafts, into a Battalion sure of itself and well-developed. But when it quitted the battleground of Ypres most of its old identity had vanished. From that time onward the 2/4th Oxfords were a changed unit, whose roots were set no longer in England but in France, for in France had come to it the officers and men of whom it was afterwards constituted.
On the eve of this great change-importing battle a short review is not amiss of the Battalion’s constitution. A Company still had for its Commander Brown, among whose officers were Coombes, Callender, and Webb. As Company Sergeant Major, Cairns was a tower of strength. John Stockton led B Company, and under him was Moberly. C Company possessed two Captains, Brucker and Harris, and had as platoon commanders, Hawkes, Matthews, and Jones. D Company was still commanded by the author. An acquisition to my company had recently arrived in Scott, the bearer of two wounds received in service with the Oxford Territorials. Scott was the best officer I ever had. Guest, another new officer, before he went into the line showed that he was made of the right stuff; he was commander of No. 16 Platoon. Dawson-
Smith, Copinger, Gascoyne, and Hill were other new arrivals in my company. The N.C.O.’s on whom I most relied were Sergeants Palmer, Leatherbarrow, and Sloper, but the real backbone of the Company were the gallant and determined section leaders whom I had chosen for promotion from the ranks. Of my runners and signallers I was especially proud, and at Company Headquarters there was, of course, the redoubtable Sergeant-Major Brooks, who besides being a great fighter possessed also high organising powers. My total strength on reaching Poperinghe was over 200, which shows that at this time the Battalion was well found in men. It was known nevertheless that some reduction from this maximum fighting force was to take place. One hundred men of the Battalion, including ‘ specialists ‘ like Lewis gunners, signallers and runners, were henceforward ‘left out of the line’ whenever the Battalion went forward to take part in an attack. They were so
left in order that, if the casualties were very high, some nucleus of veteran soldiers would still remain around whom the new Battalion could be built. A like rule applied to officers. A month
ago the Colonel had decided which of these should not take part in the first Ypres attack. Brown and myself stayed out of the line, and in our stead Callender and Scott respectively commanded A and D Companies.
Our stay near Poperinghe was short. Attention was devoted to the final organisation of platoons and sections and to the problem of what kit to carry in the attack and how best to carry it. Varied experiments were made to see whether a pack or haversack was better and which way uppermost a shovel should be slung. Supply of ammunition for the Lewis guns raised many questions for debate. When all the sections the Lewis-gunners, bombers, rifle-grenadiers, and riflemen were finally complete, a new drain was made on our numbers by the demand for seventeen men per Company, who from their duties became known as ‘ Loaders and Leaders.’ Their function was to lead forward during battle mules loaded with rations, water, and ammunition. So little advancing was there that the mules, so far as this Battalion was concerned, were never used, and the loaders and leaders, thanks to their function proving illusory, escaped all share in the fighting.
If Poperinghe and Ypres had quite borne out their reputations I should not here remark on either of them. The former was a most crowded and degenerate-looking town, by a few towers rendered
impressive from a distance, but in reality of mean structure. Besides its club at which I recollect that Heidsieck 1906 was then only ten francs the bottle and its estaminets, the town held few attractions. Damage by long-range German guns around the station had been considerable, but to the town itself, except its windows, not very much had up till now occurred. The surrounding country was neither flat nor uninteresting. The Mont des Cats and Kemmel bounded the horizon on the southeast, while to the west and north gently undulating hills, covered with fields of hops, distinguished this area from the sodden plains commonly credited to Flanders. Ypres, though destroyed past any hopes of restoration, in 1917 still wore the semblance of a town. From previous descriptions of the ‘Salient ‘ I had almost expected that a few handfuls of ashes would be of Ypres the only vestige
left. The portions least destroyed in Ypres compared perhaps equally with the worst in Arras, but of the two the Flemish city had been the less well built. The remains of the great Cloth Hall, cathedral, and other buildings revealed that what had once been, supposedly, of stone was in reality white brick.
On August 18, starting at 4 a.m., the Battalion marched to Goldfish Chateau, close to Ypres, and the Transport to a disused brickfield west of Vlamertinghe. We lived in bivouacs and tents and were much vexed by German aeroplanes, and to a less degree by German shells. On August 20, while companies were making ready for the line, an air fight happened just above our camp. Its
sequel was alarming. A German aeroplane fell worsted in the fight, and dived to ground, a roaring mass of fire, not forty yards from our nearest tents. By a freak of chance the machine fell in
a hole made by a German shell. The usual rush was made towards the scene by those, that is, not already sufficiently close for their curiosity. A crowd, which to some extent disorganised our preparations for the line, collected round the spot and watched the R.F.C. extract the pilot and parts of the machine, which was deeply embedded in the hole. For hours the wreckage remained the centre of attraction to many visitors. The General hailed the burnt relics, not inappropriately, as a lucky omen.
During the night of August 20/21 the Battalion relieved a portion of the front eastward of Wieltje. Three companies were placed in trenches bearing the name of ‘ Capricorn,’ but B was further back. During the night a serious misfortune befell the latter. Three 5.95 fell actually in the trench and caused thirty-five casualties, including all the sergeants of the company. On the eve of an attack such an occurrence was calculated to affect the morale of any troops. That the company afterwards did well was specially creditable in view of this demoralising prelude.
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 I5th on the right were to cooperate 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. During the night of August 23/24 the Battalion was relieved, when those whom death in battle had not claimed nor wounds despatched to hospital marched back through Ypres to the old camp at Goldfish Chateau.
The attack, in which the Bucks had successfully cooperated 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 6ist was ill paid in results. On August 25 the Battalion, and with it the rest of the Brigade, moved back from Goldfish Chateau to Query Camp, near Brandhoek. The weather, which had been fairly fine for several weeks, now again broke in thunderstorms and rain. Trees were blown down along the main road to Ypres. The clouds hung low or raced before the wind, so that no aeroplane nor kite-balloon could mount the sky. This meteorological revulsion stood the Germans in great stead. Mud and delay, fatal to us, were to them tactical assets of the highest value. As can easily be appreciated, to postpone a complicated attack is a proceeding only less lengthy and difficult than its preparation, nor can attacks even be cancelled except at quite considerable notice. Thus it befell that some of our attacks, before they had commenced, were ruined by deluges of rain when it was too late to change the plans. On August 27 a further attack upon Gallipoli, Schuler Farm and Winnipeg was made by the 183rd Brigade in cooperation with the 15th and 48th Divisions. The mud and enemy machine-gun fire alike proved terrible. The contact aeroplane soon crashed, the advance failed to reach the ‘pill-boxes’ from which the Germans held out, and before night a return had to be made to the original line.
On August 30 the Brigade went forward once again to Goldfish Chateau. The camp had not been improved by our predecessors, who had attempted to dig in. Holes filled with water were the result, and nearly all the tents and shelters had to be moved. Since the stagnation of the battle German shelling in the back area had much increased. The field where the camp lay was bounded on three sides by railways or roads. Some of our 12-inch howitzers were close in front. Despite our best attempts to sever association with such targets we had a share in the shells intended for them. One night especially the long howl of German shells ended in their arrival very near our tents. The latter had been placed at one side of the field in order to escape, as we expected, the shells more likely to be aimed by German gunners at the main road and railway as targets. We changed our ‘pitch,’ but the next morning came a pursuing shell on an old line of fire, which made it clear that the best place was the deliberate middle
of the field.
The passage overhead of German aeroplanes made nights uneasy. Darkness was lit by those huge flashes in the sky, which denoted explosions of our dumps of shells. The ground shook many
times an hour with great concussions. Sometimes the crash of bombs and patter of machine-guns firing at our transport lasted till pale dawn appeared or its approach was heralded by the bombardment of our guns, whose voice pronounced the prologue of attack.
On both sides the concentration of artillery was very great. Though the bad weather had shackled our advance from the start, our staff yet hoped to gain the ridge of Passchendaele before winter set in. The Germans, too, held that the stake was high. Our guns, which were advanced as far as Wieltje and St. Jean andl stood exposed in the open, became the object of persistent German shelling. Sound-ranging and aerial photography had reached a high development, and few of our batteries went undiscovered. For the Artillery life became as hard as for the Infantry. Gunner casualties were very numerous. Our batteries for
hours on end were drenched in mustard-gas. Into Ypres as well large quantities of ‘Yellow Cross’ shells, cleverly mixed up with high-explosive, were fired with nocturnal frequency. The long range of the enemy’s field-guns made the effect of these subtle gas-shells, whose flight and explosion were almost noiseless amid the din of our own artillery, especially widespread. The enemy’s activity against our back area was at its height at the end
of August, 1917. Casualty Clearing Stations were both bombed and shelled. Near Poperinghe nurses were killed. No service forward of Corps Headquarters but had its casualties. Our lorry-
drivers’ work was fraught with danger. The Germans were waging a war to the knife and employ- ing every means to serve their obstinate resistance. The ‘ defence in depth,’ practised to some extent at Arras, had become the enemy’s reply to our destruction by artillery of the trench systems on which, earlier in the war, he had relied with confidence. Destruction of prepared positions had reached so absolute a stage that the old arguments of wire and machine-guns brought up from deep dug-outs to fire over parapets, were no longer present. The ground to a distance of several thousand yards behind the enemy’s front line could be, and had been, churned and rechurned into one brown expanse. For four miles east of Ypres there was no green space and hardly a yard of ground without its shell-hole. Positions where the enemy held out consisted in groups of concrete ‘pill-boxes,’ which had been made from Belgian gravel and cement in partial anticipation of this result of the artillery war. They in all cases were carefully sited and so small (being designed to hold machine-guns and their teams) that their destruction by our heavy shells was almost impossible. These ‘pill-boxes’ were also so designed as to support each other, that is to say, if one of
them were captured, the fire of others on its flanks often compelled the captors to yield it up. Garrisons were provided from the elite of the German army. One cannot but admire the steadfastness with which, during this phase of warfare, these solitary strongholds held out. Indeed, the only way to cope with this defence was to press an advance on a wide front to such a depth as to reduce the entire area in which these pill-boxes lay into our possession. By attacking spasmodically we played
the enemy’s game.
Our methods of attack which had been practised through the spring and summer still consisted, broadly speaking, in the advance of lines of Infantry behind a creeping barrage. These lines were too often held up by pill-boxes, against which the creeping barrage was ineffectual, and once delay which had not been calculated on occurred, the creeping barrage was proved doubly useless, for it had outdistanced the speed of the advance. The change in tactics necessary to reduce these concrete strongholds was soon appreciated, but troops who had been trained in the older methods were slow, in action, to adopt the new ones requisite. Partly from such a reason the 61st Division scored little success against the pill-box defence, but lack of tangible results was not joined with lack of honest attempts. The mud, the nibbling tactics passed down from above, inadequate cooperation by the divisions fighting side by side with us, and the failure of our artillery to hit the pill-boxes which we had hoped could be put out of action by our heavy shells, further combined to paralyse efforts which, had they been directed to more easy
tasks, would now, as often, have earned for the Division the highest military success.”
From G. K. Rose, The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.
At 4 p.m.’ said the 61st Divisional Summary for the twenty-four hours ending I2 noon, September II, I917, ‘we attacked the Battery
Position on Hill 35. This attack was not successful.’ A grim epitaph. The terse formula, as though wasted words must not follow wasted lives, was the official record of the seventh attempt to storm Hill 35.
Against the concrete gunpits which crowned this insignificant ridge the waves of our advance on July 31 had lapped in vain. Minor attacks designed to take Gallipoli, a German stronghold set behind the ridge, and against the sister position of Iberian on its flank, proved throughout August some of the most costly failures in the 5th Army operations. The defence of the three strongholds,
Iberian, Hill 35, and Gallipoli provided a striking example of German stubbornness and skill, but added an object-lesson in the squandering of our efforts in attack. Operations upon a general scale having failed to capture all three, it was fantastically hoped that each could be reduced separately. Iberian, Hill 35, and Gallipoli supported one another, nor was it feasible to hold any without holding all. Yet to take Hill 35 on September 9 the 2/4th Oxfords were specially selected. The spirit of A and D Companies, chosen b Colonel Wetherall for the attack, was excellent. We confidently believed that we could succeed where others failed. Optimism, so vital an ingredient in morale, was a powerful assistant to the English Army. It was fostered, perhaps unconsciously, throughout the war by the cheerful attitude preserved by our Generals and staff, but its foundation lay, in our great system of supply. The A.S.C., which helped to win our victories, helped, too, to temper our defeats.
On September 7 Brown and myself went up through Ypres to view the scene of the attack. At Wieltje, where Colonel Wetherall and B and C Companies already were, we descended to a deep, wet dug-out and that night listened to a narrative brought by an officer who had participated in the last attempt to take the hill. He dispensed the most depressing information about the gunpits, the machine-guns, the barrages, and last, but not least terrible (if believed), the new incendiary Verey lights used by the Germans to cremate their assailants. The description of a piece of trench, which we were to capture and block, particularly flattered our prospects. ‘Wide, shallow trench, enfiladed from Gallipoli, filled with the Division dead,’ it ran. The tale of horror becoming ludicrous, we soon afterwards clambered on to the wire bunks
and slept, dripped on, till the early morning.
The next day was misty. Our 15-inch howitzers, on whose ability to smash the enemy’s concrete strongholds reliance was staked, could not fire. The attack was postponed until September 10, but that decision came too late to stop our companies quitting the camp according to previous orders and marching up through Ypres. They could have stayed at Wieltje for the night, but the men’s fear that by so doing they would miss their hot tea, decided their vote in favour of a return to Goldfish Château. Tea is among the greatest bribes that tan be offered to the British soldier.
Accordingly the march through Ypres, or rather, round it (for no troops chose to pass its market place) as repeated on the morrow.
The tracks towards the line were shelled on our way up, but we came safely through. Dusk was awaited in a much war-worn trench in front of Wieltje.
As daylight fades we file away, each man with his own thoughts. Whose turn is it to be this journey ?
Along the tortuous track of tipsy duckboards we go for a mile, until acrid fumes tell that the German barrage-line is being passed. This is a moment to press on! To get the Company safely
across this hundred yards is worth many a fall. Presently the shattered pollards of the Steenbeek are left behind and flickering Verey lights cast into weird relief the rugged surface of the earth.
At Pommern Castle our front trenches, in which figures of men loom indistinctly, are reached. At one corner, where the trench is littered with fragments, we are cautioned by a sentry, whose voice is a little shaken, not to linger; the entrance to a pill-box (which faced the enemy) was hit a short rime ago. From the trench we proceed further into No-Man’s-Land, where the Bucks are said to have linked up shell-holes since night-fall. (Those will be our “assemblv position’ for the attack tomorrow afternoon). By now all shells are passing over our heads; we are level with where Verey lights are falling, and the sweep of bullets through the air shows that the enemy is not far off. Figures appear as if by magic. All at once there is a crowd of men, rattling equipment and talking in suppressed voices. A few commands, and the relief is complete. We are in No-Man’s-Land, strung in a line of shell-holes, from which in sixteen hours’ time the attack is to start.
Soon after 3 a.m. I set out to visit all the scattered groups of men to give my last instructions, for from dawn onwards no movement would be possible. It was an eerie situation. The night was filled with multifarious noise–peculiar poops,’ the distant crash of bombs, and all the mingled echoes of a battlefield. At one time German howitzers, firing at longest range, chimed a faint chorus high above our heads; anon a hissing swoop would plant a shell close to our whereabouts. Lights rose and sank, flickering. Red and green rockets, as if to ornament the tragedy of war, were dancing in the sky. Occasionally a gust of foul wind, striking the face, could make one fancy that Death’s Spectre marched abroad, claiming her children …..
Our guns fired incessantlv. Their shells came plunging down with an arriving whistle that made each one as it came seem that it must drop short –and many did. Mist drifted fitfullv around and
hid, now and again, two derelict tanks, at which a forward post of my company was stationed. This post I was on my way to visit, when, suddenly, what seemed trench-mortar bombs began to fall. About twenty fell in a minute, the last ones very close to where I stood. They were gas. It was a sickening moment; surprise, disaster, and the possibility that here was some new German devilry fired at us from behind, joined with the fumes to numb the mind and powers. Half-gassed ] gave the gas-alarm. By telephone I managed to report what had happened. The Colonel seemed to understand at once; ‘l’ve stopped them,’ conveyed everything of which it was immediately necessary to make certain. For it was an attack by out own gas. Some detachment, without notifying our Brigade staff or selecting a target which sanity could have recommended, had done a ‘shoot’ against my company’s position under the mistake that the enemy was in it. Two casualties, which I believe proved fatal, resulted. Many men vomited. I was prostrated for two hours. “The effect on the morale of some of my men was as pitiable as it was amply justifiable.
For this dastardly outrage I fancy that no person was ever brought to book. Infantry loyally condoned the so-called ‘short shooting’ by our guns. Out of thousands of shells fired at the enemy some must and did rail in our lines. But from such condonation is specifically to be excepted this instance of a gas projection carried out with criminal negligence upon my comrades. For or
by its perpetrator no excuse was offered: and yet the facts were never in dispute.
Proverbially the worst part of an attack was waiting for it. On September 10, from dawn till 4 p.m., A and D Companies lay cramped in shell-holes on the slopes of Hill 35- In my own hole,
so close that out knees touched, sat Sergeant Palmer, Rowbotham, my signalling lance-corporal, Baxter, another signaller, Davies, my runner, and myself. With us we had a telephone and a basket of carrier pigeons.
At 8 a.m., while some of us were sleeping heavily, there came a crash and a jar, which shook every fibre in the body. An English shell had burst a yard or two from the hole wherein we lay. Voices from neighbouring shell-holes hailed us- ‘Are you all right?'” and we replied ‘We are.’ We had no other shell as close as that, but all day long there were two English guns whose shells, aimed at the Germans on the ridge in front, fell so near to where we lay- that we became half-used to being spattered with their earth. As the air warmed the error of these guns decreased, but we counted the hours anxiously until the attack should liberate us from such cruel jeopardy.’
The intolerable duration of that day baffles description. The sun, which had displaced a morning mist, struck down with unrelenting rays till shrapnel helmets grew hot as oven-doors. Blue- bottles (for had hot six attempts failed to take the hill ?) buzzed busily. The heat, our salt rations, the mud below, the brazen sky above, and the suspense of waiting for the particular minute of attack, vied for supremacy in the emotions. The drone of howitzers continued all the day. Only at 2.30 p.m., when a demonstration was made against Iberian, did any variety even occur. There was no choice nor respite. Not by one minute could the attack be either anticipated or postponed.
Of the attack itself the short outline is soon given. Promptly at 4 p.m. the creeping barrage started. In a dazed way or lighting cigarettes the men, who had lost during the long wait all sense of their whereabouts, began to stumble forward up the hill. Our shrapnel barrage was not good. One of the earliest shells burst just behind the hole from which I stepped. It wounded Rowbotham and Baxter (my two signallers) and destroyed the basket of carrier pigeons. Of other English shells I saw the brown splash amongst our men. Prolonged bombardment had ploughed the ground into a welter of crumbling earth and mud. Our progress at only a few dozen yards a minute gave the Germans in their pill-boxes ample time to get their machine-guns going, while correspondingly the barrage passed away from our advance in its successive lifts. Heavy firing from Iberian commenced to enfilade our ranks. Long before the objective was approached our enemies, who in some cases left the pill-boxes and manned positions outside, were masters of the situation. The seventh
attempt had failed to struggle up the slopes of Hill 35-
Despite the disappointment of this immediate failure of the enterprise, I realised at once the impossibility of its success. Yet on this occasion less was done by the men than the conduct of their leaders deserved. Almost as soon as bullets had begun to bang through the air some men had gone to shelter. Those who stood still were mown down. A handful of D Company, led by the company commander, by short rushes reached a ruined tank, close to the enemy, but the remainder disappeared into shell-holes, whence encouragement was powerless to more them. Only in A Company was any fire opened.
No sense of anti-climax could be demanded of the English soldier, whose daily shilling was paid him whether he was in rest-billets, on working-party, or sent into the attack.
On the part also of the Artillery less was done than the scheme promised or our attacking Infantry had counted on. By shell-fire the issue of Hill 35 was to have been placed beyond doubt.
When the artillery machine broke down, achievement of success demanded more initiative on the part of the Infantry than if no artillery had been used. In a sense our loss of a hundred guns at
Cambrai a few weeks later became a blessing in disguise, for it restored the scales in favour of the Infantryman as the decisive agent on the field of battle.
So ended the attack on Hill 35- Upon its slopes were added our dead to the dead of many regiments. But our casualties were few considering that the attack had been brought to a standstill by machine-gun fire. Of D Company officers Guest was wounded (he had behaved with gallantry in the attack) and Copinger missing. Viggers, a very brave sergeant, was killed. Three lance-corporals, Wise, Rowbotham, and Goodman, had been wounded. The total casualties to the Battalion, including several in B Company Headquarters from a single shell and others in passing afterwards through Ypres, were, happily, under fifty.
A few days after its attack on Hill 35 the Battalion marched away from Ypres, never to
Nowhere is this truth better expressed than in the words
of “Tommy’s own song, the refrain of which ends :-But you get your bob a day, never mind!” return. What credit had been earned there by the 61st Division was principally associated with the work of the I84th Infantry Brigade and of the 2/4th Oxfords. Improvement in morale flowed from the test of this great battle. The losses of the BattaIion had been heavy; fourteen officers
and 26o men were its casualties. The final winning of the war could not be unconnected with such a sacrifice. Like others before and others after it, the Battalion at Ypres gave its pledge to posterity.
“At this stage in the war the barrels of many of our guns and howitzers in use on the Western Front were very worn. That fact alone and not any want of care or devotion on the part of our artillery or staff would have accounted for the ‘short shooting’ which I record. To locate a worn barrel, when scores of batteries were bombarding together according to a complicated programme, was naturally impossible. Infantry recognised this.”
“Nowhere is this truth better expressed than in the words
of “Tommy’s own song, the refrain of which ends :-But you get your bob a day, never mind!”
From G. K. Rose, The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.
“The Battalion was not slow in playing its part. One of the early casualties was Lieutenant Moberly, who performed a daring daylight reconnaissance up to the German wire. He was wounded and with great difficulty and only through remarkable pluck regained our lines.”
29th April 1918
“At night another minor operation preceded the relief. Orders were given for B Company which held the right of the Battalion’s line, to seize the much-disputed Cepy Farm and hand it over to the incoming Berks. Moberly, who had recently rejoined his old Battalion, was in command of this enterprise. The farm was reached and duly occupied, but when the time for handing over to the Berks arrived our post was driven out by a strong party of the enemy.”
“John Stockton led B Company, and under him was Moberly.”
22nd / 23rd August 1917
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 22and throughout August 23.”
“Equally gallant was the fine stand made by the Oxfords on August 22 and 23, 1917, in front of Ypres. Captain Moberly and his brave comrades, surrounded by the enemy and completely isolated, stuck doggedly for 48 hours to the trench which
marked the furthest point of the Brigade’s objective.”
20th November 1917
“Cuthbert had devised a scheme, which Colonel Wetherall adopted and chose B Company, under Moberly, to carry out.”
“Wallington, the officer in command of the storming party, killed several Germans. As often, there was difficulty in finding the way back to our lines; in fact, Moberly, the commander of the raid, after some wandering in No-Man’s-Land, entered the trenches of a Scotch division upon our right. His appearance and comparative inability to speak their language made him a suspicious visitor to our kilted neighbours. Moberly rejoined his countrymen under escort.”
22nd March 1918.
“The Offoy garrison was despatched under Moberly, who was commanding the details of the I84th Brigade, including a hundred Oxfords. Moberly’s force comprised many administrative personnel. ‘What your men lack in numbers they must make up in
courage,’ was the Major-General’s encouragement.”
23rd March 1918
As always on these occasions, when officers of different services were thrown together, divided counsels were the result. Moberly, an officer who could have been relied upon to make the best of the situation, was wounded in the leg during a moonlight reconnaissance with Davenport.”
In 1914 Walter Hamilton Moberly wrote a book, Christian Conduct in War Time (1914). The book is freely available as a download from www.archive.org. I would love to know how Moberly’s views changed over the course of the war.
Biography of Sir Walter Hamilton Moberly
Sir Walter Hamilton Moberly, GBE, KCB, Kt, DSO (20 October 1881 – 31 January 1974) was a British academic.
The son of Rev. Robert Campbell Moberly, Moberly was educated at Winchester and New College, Oxford. He was later a lecturer in political science at the University of Aberdeen from 1905-06 and served in World War I with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, being twice mentioned in despatches.
After the war, he was professor of philosophy at the University of Birmingham from 1921-24, Principal of the University College of the South West of England from 1925-26, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester from 1926-34, Chairman of the University Grants Committee from 1935-49 and Principal of St Catherine’s Foundation from 1949-55.
Moberly was also an author, having written such books as The Crisis in the University (1949) and The Ethics of Punishment.
Winchester College’s main library is named after him.