At 4-0 p.m. there was no sign of the attack. Instead, a German machine gun crew returned to the now empty "wall and corner" position and started to enfilade our left flank, making the hill side almost uncrossable. The C.O. decided to withdraw at once, and at 4-30 p.m. the runner, Blindley, set off with the message. It was a hazardous journey, but he succeeded in crawling to within a few yards of the end man and passed a message along. Steadied by the R.S.M., the party started one by one to withdraw, while the enemy kept up a heavy fire at them. For a moment it looked as though it would be impossible to get back, but Pte. Caunter—Lewis Gunner of No. 1 Platoon—calmly mounted his gun and "traversed" the whole edge of the wood. The Boche were silenced for the moment, and the party, making a rush at the same time, managed to reach the trenches in safety. Last of all Caunter calmly picked up his gun and came away himself, fired at, but never hit. Half-an-hour later two tanks appeared, and keeping on the West side of the Aisonville Road, climbed the rise towards Retheuil Farm. Whether the enemy imagined a general attack was coming, or merely wanted to make the road dangerous, is not known, but at 5-0 p.m. he started to bombard the area at the foot of the "Z" shaped hedge, where a Company of Staffordshires, our Battalion Headquarters, and our "A" Company were all gathered, and for nearly an hour gas and H.E. shells of every calibre fell all round. There was little or no cover, and had the shells been all H.E. the casualties would have been tremendous. As it was we escaped lightly, but the valley became full of gas and we could see nothing. The position was bad, so Major Dyer Bennet ordered a general withdrawal to a line along high ground on both sides of the Aisonville-road—the remains of "B" Company under Lieut. Ashdowne to the left and "A" Company to the right. Here we once more dug a line of pits, and by 7-30 p.m. had our new position in fighting condition, while a succession of explosions, coming from two blazing heaps near Retheuil Farm, showed how the Tanks had fared. The whole of these operations had been most difficult and, in addition to those who had been conspicuous in the attack on the Chateau in the morning, many other N.C.O.'s and men showed the utmost courage and coolness. A/C.S.M. Smith, of "A" Company, and Serjts. Wilbur and Swift and Cpl. Hubbard of Battalion Headquarters, worked particularly well.
At 8-0 p.m. we were relieved by the 5th South Staffordshires and, after placing Lewis Guns on the limbers, which had been waiting all day for us behind the farm, went to Fresnoy. It can hardly be called a march, and few of us remember much about it. Those on horses slept, those on foot walked in their sleep and woke up whenever there was a halt, because they hit their heads against the haversacks of the men in front. Soon after 11-0 p.m., tired out, we reached Fresnoy and dropped down in the billets the Right half Battalion had found for us, murmuring as we did so—"Now we shall have our rest."
THE LAST FIGHT.
12th Oct., 1918. 11th Nov., 1918.
The following day—the 12th of October—our hopes of the long expected rest were still further raised by the news that General Rowley was going to England on leave, for we all knew that he would never be absent if there were any prospect of a fight, and we accordingly began at once to make ourselves comfortable. Fuel was plentiful, and baths were soon fitted in "C" Company's factory, while in another part of the same building we found and used an excellent concert room. R.S.M. Lovett also went on leave, taking with him to Loughborough one or two small battle trophies, including our Headquarter flag, which had seen so much fighting during the past few weeks. Many of "B" Company's gassed men now returned, and these, with a large draft of N.C.O.'s and men, proved a welcome reinforcement, but we still had very few officers. The new draft was composed mostly of young soldiers who had not seen service before, but fortunately this did not matter, as we still had a number of our experienced junior N.C.O.'s left, and some "new blood" was useful.
Meanwhile the Staffordshires stayed in the line, and, as by the 13th there was no prospect of their being relieved, we were not surprised on the 14th to receive some more battle orders, and consign our rest hopes, like their predecessors, to an early grave. It appeared that all frontal attacks on Riquerval Wood had proved disastrous, and, although the 6th Division on the left had reached the outskirts of Vaux Andigny, our Divisional front was still the same as we had left it on the 11th. The new attack, to take place on the 17th, would therefore be directed against the North West flank of the wood, and would be made by ourselves and the 139th Brigade, while the Staffordshires made a frontal display. The French, on the right, were making a similar movement, and there would be a general attack North of us. It was hoped that by the end of the day, or before if possible, the French and ourselves would meet on the East side of the woods at Mennevret, and so cut off any Germans who remained on the Staffordshires' front. The actual objective for the Brigade was the same Regnicourt road up which the Left half Battalion had advanced on the 11th; this was to be taken by the other two Battalions, while we were kept in reserve near Vaux Andigny.
The usual reconnaissances were carried out on the 15th, and the following morning the customary distribution of bombs, flares, rockets and other warlike paraphernalia took place. This was done with great regularity before every battle, and yet on reaching an objective we could never find the required rockets. The men carrying them seemed invariably to become casualties. It was the same with equipment and other necessaries—we started the day with everything and ended with nothing. A very welcome issue was the new map of Riquerval Woods, made from the most recent aeroplane photographs, and accurate; the old one, compiled from a pre-war survey, still showed as thick forest the ground where the Boche had cut down every vestige of a tree, and its inaccuracies in this respect had been one of our greatest difficulties in the previous battle. With the map came an issue of officers, five reporting during the afternoon, but as they were all new to the Battalion, they remained with the Stores.
Our march to the Assembly position was tedious, but we were not worried at all by the enemy, for, to avoid Bohain, which was at this time frequently shelled, a track had been taped out across country. As we were the first to use this, we escaped the usual slipping and ploughing through mud, which are a bad feature of most tracks in autumn. Lewis Gun limbers and Tool carts went by the road and reached the Andigny-Becquigny Railway line—our assembly position—before us, so that as each Platoon arrived it was able to collect its guns and tools and move straight to its position. We rapidly dug ourselves some excellent cover, and were able to take no notice of some four point twos which arrived during the night, though the other two Battalions, who had to assemble near the Andigny Road, suffered fairly heavily.
At 5-20 a.m. on the 17th the barrage opened and the battle began in a mist, which was thicker even than usual. Many Tanks accompanied by the Highlanders of the 1st Division, came through our position and passed down the hill towards Andigny, but of our own Brigade we could see nothing, and could only judge by the lessening of the enemy's machine gun fire, that the attack was successful. It must be admitted that our attention was somewhat distracted by the appearance of a hare, rather frightened by a Tank, and we forgot the battle to give chase. It was a short but exciting run, and the victim was finally done to death by "D" Company and provided the Serjeants with a good dinner. It was not until 10-0 a.m. that we first learnt how the attackers had fared. On the right our Brigade had taken their Regnicourt road objective, but in the fog several posts of the German front line had been missed and were still causing trouble, preventing the complete capture of the village of Andigny les Fermes, the left of our objective. In the same way the 6th Division had missed posts in the two farms Gobelets and Bellevue on their front, and we were ordered to send two companies to clean up these places and generally assist with the left of the attack. A few minutes later, however, this order was cancelled, as the 5th Lincolnshires and 6th Division both reported that they now held all objectives. Instead, "B" Company (Pierrepont) and "C" Company (Banwell) were placed at the disposal of Colonel Wilson of the 5th Lincolnshires, to exploit his success and patrol the Mennevret road to meet the French, and at 11-30 a.m. these two Companies moved off to the old German front line and waited there for instructions. Col. Wilson decided to use one Company only, and at 2-0 p.m. Capt. Pierrepont moved his Headquarters into Andigny les Fermes and sent off a strong patrol under 2nd Lieut. Davies towards Mennevret. As the enemy was still holding the woods in considerable strength, and the first mile of the road was under direct observation, the patrol met with heavy machine-gun fire at once, and 2nd Lieut. Davies returned for the time, preparing to make another attempt when the advance of the Divisions on our left had made it impossible for the Boche to remain in his positions near the E. edge of the village. Half "A" Company had already been attached to the 4th Leicestershires for carrying work, so that we had now only "D" Company (Hawley) and the remainder of "A" Company with Battalion Headquarters. No more orders came for us, and during the afternoon, as the sounds of war had become more and more distant, Cavalry and Whippets had disappeared Eastwards and there was nothing to do, we lay and basked in the sun, which was very hot and pleasant.
At 6-0 p.m., just as the Boche started to fire gas shells into the valley up which all troops had to pass to reach Andigny les Fermes, orders came that we should take over the Brigade front. Accordingly, "A" and "D" Companies were sent to relieve the 4th Battalion on the right, "C" Company was made responsible for Andigny les Fermes, and the extreme left was held by "B" Company, whose duty it still was to find the French. The relief in the village might have been a very lengthy and difficult proceeding had not Capt. Nichols, of the Lincolnshires, taken great trouble to co-ordinate the work of all their three Companies, and so been able to hand over to Captain Banwell a single complete scheme of defence. Our Headquarters moved into the sunken road between Regnicourt and Vaux Andigny. It was a dark, foggy and bitterly cold night, and, experts as we had now become in the art of living in banks and sunken roads, still it was impossible to be comfortable, and German waterproof sheets spread over slots cut in the banks, failed most miserably to keep us warm. Transport arrived before midnight and the drivers, as usual, saved us endless carrying parties by taking the limbers right up to Company Headquarters in the village. They were unmolested by the enemy, and 2nd Lieut. Davies, seeing this, made another attempt to reach Mennevret. His patrol made much more progress, and was only held up at La Nation, a cross-roads a few hundred yards from his goal, but here he met with bombs and more machine guns and had once more to fall back.
At 1-0 a.m., the 18th, we were ordered to take over the line on the East side of the village from a Battalion of the 1st Division, who had relieved the 6th Division and were now on our left flank. For this purpose the luckless "D" Company, who had just settled down after relieving the 4th Battalion, had to move across our front and take over the new line, which consisted of four large shell holes and a shallow sunken lane. In spite of the difficulties of darkness and fog, relief was complete before dawn when the 1st Division moved forward towards Wassigny, and we were able to look round our new sector. We found a ghastly relic in the sunken lane where a German cooks' wagon had been hit by one of our shells as it tried to escape, and now, in the early morning light, the scattered remains of wagon, horses and cooks, all smashed up, were a horrible sight.
At last, at 5-30 a.m., 2nd Lieut. Davies and Serjt. Whitworth met the French near Mennevret, and after an enthusiastic exchange of greetings, accompanied by much handshaking, arrangements were made for establishing a line along the Nation road, and so cutting out the other two Brigades, who for some time past had been arguing vigorously as to whose duty it was to fill the gap between ourselves and the French. At the same time a single weak-looking Boche came out of the now completely surrounded Riquerval Wood and surrendered to "C" Company, into whose cellar Headquarters he was at once escorted. Here, while being questioned by two officers, neither of whom could speak German, he absent-mindedly picked up a German grenade which was lying on the floor, creating, of course, an immediate disturbance. Revolvers appeared on all sides, and the visitor's life was nearly ended, but as it was really absent-mindedness and not the fighting spirit which prompted him, peace was soon restored, and he explained that there were 24 others who wished to surrender. He wanted to go back and fetch them, and seemed in fact quite pained when we would not let him and sent him down instead. A few minutes later a battery of 8in. howitzers with tractors and motor lorries came along the main road as far as the end of the village, having been told that the road was clear up to Andigny les Fermes. The Colonel of R.G.A. who commanded was surprised to hear of the 24 Boche, who for all we knew might be within 100 yards of his lorries, but instead of withdrawing for the time, he set off with Capt. Banwell into the woods to look for them, happy as a schoolboy engaged in some forbidden adventure. They found no one, but probably, if there were any at all, they had by this time surrendered to the Staffordshires.
From dawn until 10-30 a.m. the enemy bombarded our village with gas and H.E., and the Brigade Major (Capt. D. Hill, M.C.) who tried to go round the front line posts at this time had an unpleasant journey, while, shortly after him, the C.O. and Adjutant were similarly treated and had to hurry in a most undignified manner through an orchard. However, no damage was done, and, when at midday we were relieved by the Staffordshires, we had had no casualties. As we marched out past the little group of houses on the Regnicourt Road, where "D" Company had fought so gallantly on the 11th, the Burial Party were just burying Serjeants Bradshaw, Dimmocks and the others in a little cemetery which had been made in one of the cottage gardens, and they lie now within a few yards of where they fell. The rest of the march was a cheerful affair, for it was a bright afternoon and we were not as tired as usual after a battle. Drums and Band came out to meet us, the people of Bohain greeted us on the way, and our old friends in Fresnoy gave us their customary warm welcome. Here we were a little more crowded than before, but still had plenty of room, and could look forward to a comfortable rest. The following day, after a full Divisional Church Parade to return thanks for our victories, we were definitely promised a fortnight's rest, and General Boyd and many others went home on leave.
For the rest of the month the Battalion remained in Fresnoy le Grand, training, refitting, and playing games. Here, Lt.-Col. A.J. Digan, D.S.O., of the Connaught Rangers came to command us, and Major R.N. Holmes, M.C., of the Lincolnshires to be 2nd in Command. As we had already Major Dyer Bennet and the Adjutant, who had "put up" crowns before going on leave, as aspirants for this position, Major Holmes was transferred to the 137th Brigade. Lieut. T.H. Ball returned from leave, and in addition to the five, nine other officers arrived, including Capt. E.G. Snaith, M.C., from the 2/4th Battalion, and the two "old hands" Lieut. C.S. Allen and 2nd Lieut. J.A. Hewson. Capt. Snaith went to "A" Company, and the other two became Signalling and Intelligence officers respectively as soon as active operations began again. Our work consisted of steady drill, musketry and, in the evenings, lectures, the best of which were Col. Jerram's on the "Royal Navy," and the Brigade Interpreter M. Dovet's on "French Army Life," the latter was particularly interesting. The Drums now under Serjt. Drummer Price performed on every possible occasion, and made an excellent display with the two new Tenor Drums which had arrived during the fighting, and now appeared in public for the first time. The weather throughout the fortnight was not perfect, but might have been far worse, and we were able to play games almost every afternoon. Our fixtures included two football matches against the French. The first, at Seboncourt, was against the 55th Infantry, whose liaison platoon had done such splendid work at Riquerval, and the game, thanks to the efforts of Start and Corporal Shirley Hubbard, ended in a victory, 5-1—a fact which merely increased the fervour of the welcome we received from our opponents. A few days later some French sappers came to play us at Fresnoy, and they, too, were defeated, 5-0, in an excellent game watched by many people. The language on both these occasions would sound as foreign in London as in Paris, but this did not in the least diminish the cordiality of the Entente. In this way the fortnight soon passed, and on November 1st we left Fresnoy.
Our first move was to Becquigny, where we arrived soon after midday, and found good billets with plenty of accommodation. In the evening, orders came that at an early date the IXth. Corps, with 1st and 32nd Divisions in front and 46th in Reserve, would attack the German positions on the Sambre-Oise Canal, which had been holding out for the past ten days. The next day the officers rode through Molain to Ribeauville and, leaving horses there, reconnoitred an assembly position North of Mazinghien. The C.O. and Company Commanders then went forward and reconnoitred a second position near Rejet de Beaulieu, about 1,000 yards West of the Canal. On the 3rd, orders arrived for the attack to take place the following morning, and at 5-0 p.m. we moved off in pouring rain through Vaux Andigny to a bivouac position near the Railway North of Molain—a bad march, for the roads were very muddy and hopelessly congested with traffic, and the men heavily laden. It rained hard all night, but a small house for Headquarters, and the usual tents and "bivvie" sheets kept out some of the wet, and we should have been far worse in the open. Unfortunately, 2nd Lieut. J.A. Hewson, who had never really recovered from his gassing in May and had returned before he was fit, had to leave us, unable to stand the exposure in such weather. It was very bad luck, for there was never a keener officer.
At 5-45 a.m., the 4th, the battle began, and we fell in outside Headquarters, having previously had hot breakfasts and distributed large numbers of bombs and flares, also a generous supply of sickles and bill hooks, as the country was reported to be full of hedges. We marched at once to our first assembly position, Mazinghien, and at midday, as the battle reports were good, moved forward again, passing the Brigadier in the village; he seemed very cheerful, and we saw several droves of German prisoners, so concluded that everything must be satisfactory. In order to avoid the main roads, the C.O. led us round to Beaulieu by a field track which he had reconnoitred; unfortunately the night's rain had made the going very heavy, and this not only tired the men, who were heavily laden, but also proved difficult for the limbers, several of which stuck and had to be man-handled. At Beaulieu we had dinners and rested while parties reconnoitred the Canal crossings and discovered various pontoon bridges built by the Engineers soon after the attack. As no orders came, we waited here until soon after 3-0 p.m., when we were sent forward to support the 2nd Brigade on the right flank of the advance.
The C.O. with the right half Battalion crossed the Canal opposite Bois L'Abbaye, and pushed on into the village untroubled by shell fire, which was at the time mostly directed against the left half Battalion, which, with Battalion Headquarters, crossed further South. The country beyond was very thick, and by the time the left Companies reached L'Ermitage it was almost dark, and consequently communications were difficult between the two half Battalions, more particularly as the C.O. was separated from his runners and signallers. The Companies at L'Ermitage dug themselves in and were fairly comfortable, but they were not destined to remain so for long, for orders soon came that they would relieve the 2nd Brigade. These orders, however, were cancelled before being sent out, and instead the Brigade was ordered to relieve the 1st Brigade, who were on the left. The reason for this was that the 32nd Division, who were on the left of the Corps attack, had not yet reported the capture of all objectives, and it was consequently necessary to secure the 1st Division's left flank. While, therefore, the other two Battalions took over the line facing East, we found a defensive flank facing North—the Battalion being organized in depth on a single Company front. "A" Company (Snaith), with "B" Company (Pierrepont) in close support, was a few yards South of the main Catillon-La Groise Road; behind them came "C" Company (Banwell), while Battalion Headquarters and "D" Company (T. Ball) remained in Bois L'Abbaye. These positions we occupied all night.
At dawn the following day the advance was continued by the 137th and 139th Brigades who passed through us, but, as the 32nd Division had still no definite information, we maintained our defensive flank position—a ludicrous performance in view of the streams of unmolested traffic which passed along the road in front of us. Later in the morning, however, "B" and "C" Companies were sent forward to occupy the line that the Lincolnshires had held during the night, where they found no cover except one large farm house which the Boche was shelling heavily. It was raining hard, and for some time they sat in the fields hoping for the rain or the shelling to stop; the latter did eventually cease, but not until a large shell had gone through the roof of the farm house, making it uninhabitable. During the afternoon the weather became so appalling that they all moved into houses in Mezieres and spent the night there, while the remainder of the Battalion concentrated in Bois L'Abbaye.
The battle still went on the next day in the pouring rain, and our Brigade moved slowly forward in Divisional support, halting for dinners at Erruart, and reaching Prisches late in the afternoon; our only excitement throughout the day was to watch a battery of 60 pounders get into difficulties in a muddy field. At Prisches we learnt that Cartignies had been cleared by the other Brigades, and we were accordingly ordered to move up at once and take over the outpost line which was now just West of the Petite Helpe river. We moved off in fours along the road, and in the same formation marched into Cartignies, a village full of civilians and blazing with lights, although a German machine gun less than 400 yards away kept sending bullets over the main street. No one seemed very certain where the outposts were, nor who was responsible, so we mounted some sentries in the best positions we could find, and soon after midnight Colonel Digan, who had been to Brigade Headquarters, held a conference and explained the next day's plan of attack. It was now obvious that the Boche was in full retreat.
The weather the next day, the 7th of November, was fortunately much better, and we moved down to the Petite Helpe soon after dawn. Patrols had been out during the night to look for crossings, but beyond reporting that the main road bridge had been blown up, which we already knew, they gathered no information of importance, so "C" Company, who were leading, had to make use of tree trunks and cross as best they could. However, the Engineers soon appeared, and the rest of the Battalion crossed by a pontoon bridge. With the French on the right and Lincolnshires on the left, "D" Company (T. Ball) and "C" Company (Banwell) now pushed forward rapidly, and in spite of a thick mist had soon gained the first two objectives and reached the road running North and South through a group of houses called Cheval Blanc. Battalion Headquarters and the right half followed, and at midday were quartered in a group of farm houses about 600 yards West of Cheval Blanc, where they were joined by Capt. Hills, who returned from leave and resumed his duties as Adjutant. As soon as they had had dinners, "A" Company (Snaith) and "B" Company (Pierrepont) moved forward so as to be in closer support to "C" and "D" Companies respectively.
After passing the second objective, the leading Companies soon began to meet with opposition, and a machine gun cleverly concealed at the next cross-roads made further advance by "C" Company impossible. As the Lincolnshires were similarly held up on their left, the flank could not be turned. "D" Company, however, pushed forward further in the mist, and, though there was plenty of machine gun fire, it was unaimed and did no damage. The leading Platoon, under 2nd Lieut. Bettles, crossed a valley and started to climb the rise beyond, on the top of which they expected to find the main Avesnes Road. Suddenly, as they burst through a hedge almost on the road, they came upon a German four gun field battery—officers and men standing round their guns, apparently not expecting any attack, and horses tethered near by. The platoon rushed in with bayonets, captured or killed all they could find and, led by 2nd Lieut. Bettles, dashed across the road into some houses on the far side, where they saw some enemy. 2nd Lieut. Bettles was killed with a pistol bullet, but the Boche were driven out, and Lieut. Ball came up and started at once to consolidate his captured position. One officer, 29 men and eight horses were sent down as prisoners.
"D" Company's position was precarious. Right and left, German machine gunners held the main road, and shooting along it made crossing impossible, while at the same time they took care to prevent any attempt on our part to move the captured guns. This we found impossible, so set about rendering them useless, and had already removed breach block and sights from one when a counter attack was launched from the South East. This was beaten off, but Lieut. Ball, unable to find troops on either flank and already short of ammunition, sent back 2nd Lieut. S.D. Lamming on a captured horse to ask for help. Before, however, he could return, the enemy, intent on recapturing his guns, made two more counter attacks in rapid succession, in the second of which, after losing several men, including Bolton, who had never left his Platoon during four years' service, killed and L/Cpl. Thurman wounded, the little isolated party fired the last of its ammunition and had to withdraw. The Boche recaptured his battery, and, after firing one or two rounds into Cheval Blanc, took away the guns.
At 2-0 p.m., Battalion Headquarters moved up to Cheval Blanc, but the attacking Companies still reported that they were unable to advance, and, to add to our difficulties, we were not in touch with the French on our right nor could our patrols find any trace of them. On the whole of our front the enemy had probably not more than eight machine guns, but so cleverly were they placed and so well were they served that we found it impossible to dislodge them with our weapons. Artillery or better still Stokes mortars would no doubt have cleared the country very quickly, but these were not for the time obtainable, so, until they arrived, Col. Digan determined to make every effort to find the French and protect the right flank. Capt. Pierrepont was ordered to send out frequent patrols towards Etroeungt, and, as we now had no Battalion reserve, Col. Digan asked for two Companies of the 4th Battalion to help us. These soon arrived, and while one, Capt. Holden's, remained with us at Cheval Blanc, the other, Capt. Scaramowicz's, took up a defensive flank position along the Brigade Southern boundary. At last, just as it was getting dark, Capt. Pierrepont reported having found the French in Etroeungt, and so this flank was now secure, though it had cost us the loss of 2nd Lieut. Byles and Serjt. Stretton who were both wounded. In spite of this, the forward Companies were still unable to advance, and we remained in these positions all night.
In view of the fact that the Boche was now running away, our casualties during the day had been heavy, and the Staff therefore decided on a different plan for the next morning. The Cavalry were to come up at dawn and we were not to move until they had reconnoitred the country, so that if they reported the enemy still holding out, the Artillery would be ordered to cover our advance with a small barrage. There was no doubt that the German retreat was continuing and that this was only a temporary check, for all night long the sky Eastwards was lit up with enormous flashes, as dumps, railways, cross-roads and bridges were blown up. This demolition was one of the most remarkable features of the Boche retreat, for hardly a road junction in the country was left untouched, while Railways were so cunningly mined that every single line had to be relaid. The consequent delay to our communications was appalling, and though, thanks to the Engineers and Pioneers, our 1st line Transport always reached us by the evening, and field batteries advanced almost as quickly as we did, yet our heavy Artillery was days behind us, and there was always a shortage of ammunition.
As ordered, the Scots Greys' patrols rode through our lines at dawn the next day, November 8th, and found the enemy's machine guns still very active in the same positions. The barrage was therefore arranged, and, covered by these very few shells, "A" and "B" Companies pushed forward, only to find that the Boche took as little notice of the barrage as he did of our rifle fire. On the left, as before, the attack was soon held up, this time with considerable loss to us, for the Boche allowed "A" Company to come close to his guns before opening fire. When he did, 2nd Lieut. Coleman and ten men were wounded and three men killed, and though the others made a most gallant attempt to rush the enemy with the bayonet, they were held up by hedges, and compelled to dig in once more and wait. On the right, however, we had better fortune. 2nd Lieut. Davies and the leading platoon of "B" Company reached the Avesnes main road, and in spite of very heavy machine gun fire managed one by one to make their way across. Once on the far side, this Platoon Commander, ably helped by L/Cpl. Sharpe, Pte. Beaver and others, soon worked his way from house to house until at 11-0 a.m. the Boche, finding we had a firm hold on the main road, withdrew all his guns. While this took place, Colonel Jerram from Divisional Headquarters visited us, bringing the news that the German envoys asking for an Armistice had been taken through the French lines.
As soon as they found the Germans had gone, the leading Companies pushed rapidly forward, with orders to establish an outpost line along the Zorees-Semeries road as soon as possible, in which position we were told we would be relieved by the 137th Brigade. At the same time, "D" Company moved into the houses on the Avesnes road near where they had captured and lost their battery, and "C" Company occupied the farm house which had held them up so long, being welcomed with coffee and cognac by the inhabitants, who had remained in the cellar. A troop of Scots Greys was also attached to us to act as mounted orderlies, a task which up to the present had been very efficiently performed by our grooms—Huntington, Dennis, Rogers and others. At dusk, as the leading Companies were within a few hundred yards of the Zorees road, Battalion Headquarters and "C" Company moved to the cross roads on the Avesnes road, and occupied a large farm, where the two attached 4th Leicestershire Companies were also billeted. Except for distant explosions in the East, it was a quiet night, and the M.O., Capt. Aylward, to prove we were really winning the war, solemnly went to bed in pyjamas regardless of the proximity of the enemy. Soon after midnight, "B" Company reached their outpost line, and at 7-0 a.m. the following morning, "A" Company were also in position, and we sent off Lieut. Ashdowne to billet for us in the area to which we were told we should go as soon as relieved.
The country here was in a pitiable state, for the Germans as they retired carried off everything—livestock, vehicles, all food, and most of the male population. The civilians that were left behind took refuge in the cellars during the fighting, coming out as soon as the Boche had gone, and bestowing kisses and cups of coffee with great liberality on the leading platoons as they entered each farm house or hamlet. The feeding of all these people had to be undertaken by the British Army, and as our advance continued the French Mission were kept very busily employed.
The Brigade relief was already in progress when, at 10-0 a.m., November 9th, it was cancelled, and instead we were ordered to push forward at once and establish a new outpost line East of Sains du Nord—a small town through which the Cavalry had passed in the morning. The right half Battalion was ordered to concentrate in Zorees, while the rest of us with the two Companies of the 4th Battalion formed up near Battalion Headquarters, had dinners, and at 2-15 p.m. moved off. As we did so, an amusing incident occurred. A certain Company Commander, picking up his box respirator, found that he had thrown it off into a patch of filth; copious oaths followed, and he vowed that he would murder the next Boche he saw. Some half hour later, as we entered Zorees, a cyclist patrol met us, escorting one undersized little prisoner, splay footed and bespectacled. The Company was delighted, and with one accord hailed their Commander with cries of "Now's your chance, Sir." No other enemy were seen, and we marched straight into Sains by the Railway station, to receive a welcome from the civilians which rivalled even Fresnoy in cordiality. They thronged the streets with flags and great bunches of chrysanthemums which they showered upon us, so that by the time we reached the Mairie we looked like a walking flower show—every man having a flower in his hat. The 4th Battalion Companies found the outposts, and we billeted in a large factory which had been used as a Hospital, while Battalion and Company Headquarters occupied various magnificent Chateaux.
Throughout the following day, November 10th, we remained inactive, unable to move because our supplies and rear communications could not move at our pace owing to the German demolitions. All day long reports came in from the East showing the hopeless state of confusion to which the German Army had come. Civilians told us of Artillery drawn by cows, airmen reported roads congested with traffic and columns of troops, it really looked as though at last we should have a chance of delivering a crushing blow. Late that night came the telegram ending hostilities, and the chance was gone for ever.
11th Nov., 1918. 28th June, 1919.
For the first few days after the signing of the Armistice we remained in Sains, the outpost line was maintained, roads to the East were reconnoitred, and everything was made ready for a resumption of hostilities. But it was soon obvious that the Germans had no more fight in them, and our only interest was in whether or no we should form part of the Army of Occupation. It was known that the 4th Army was going to Germany, and some of us hoped to go with it, but it was not to be, and we were transferred to the 3rd Army, XIIIth. Corps. When we went, General Rawlinson, genuinely sorry to lose us from his Army, expressed his appreciation of our services during the past three months, in a farewell letter, copies of which were given to all ranks. Soon after our transfer, we moved to the Landrecies area, and went into billets in the dirty little town of Bousies.
Our duties were now threefold—to clean up France, to get demobilised, and to amuse ourselves in our spare time. Cleaning up was a gigantic and not very pleasant task, for it meant filling up shell holes, collecting empty bully-beef tins, and generally becoming scavengers. Demobilisation, though more congenial, was at first inclined to be slow, and it was with considerable annoyance that we saw among the first to go, young men who had joined us since the Armistice, because they were "pivotal." Coal-miners were soon called for, and under this heading we lost many of our oldest and best soldiers, so that by Christmas the Battalion was no longer the same. To amuse us, various sports meetings were arranged—all rather hampered by the weather, though we managed to gain much credit in football and running, while the Divisional Rugby football side won the Corps Championship. In these games we were lucky to have the assistance of a new Padre, the Rev. H.P. Walton, who came to take the place of Padre Buck. Concert parties became more numerous, and, in addition to the "Whizzbangs," who worked very hard, the Brigade had a show of their own, known as the "138's."
While at Bousies we marched one Sunday to Landrecies, where H.M. the King paid a visit. It was an informal affair, no guard of honour and no lining the road, and none of us will ever forget the scene. The King of England followed by his officers, all on foot, walking down the little street of the old French town, while both pavements were packed with soldiers and French civilians, who cheered, shouted, sang and rushed into the road to gain a nearer view of His Majesty.
In January we moved to Pommereuil, a clean little village, where Mayor and people did their utmost to make us comfortable. Here, under the new scheme, demobilisation became more rapid, and the older soldiers were sent home in consideration of their service. We also learnt for the first time that the Battalion was to be reduced to a Cadre, and all short service or retainable soldiers would be sent to the 11th Battalion on the Rhine. Before this last move could take place, we moved again—to Solesmes, where we stayed for a fortnight and then moved to St. Hilaire. A new feature was now introduced in the "amusements" department, which was much appreciated by all of us. Once or twice a week we were given one or two motor lorries to take parties to Douai, Valenciennes or the recent battlefields. We had many pleasant trips, and saw several towns in France which we should never otherwise have seen.
At St. Hilaire the C.O. left us to rejoin the Connaught Rangers, and we were reduced to a Cadre, consisting of five officers, forty-six men and the Colours. A large draft of 200 all ranks, with Lieuts. Steel, Ashdowne, Todd, Dunlop, Argyle and other officers who volunteered for further service, went to the 11th Battalion, and the rest were demobilised. The Cadre was chosen so as to include as far as possible W.O.'s, N.C.O.'s, and men of long and distinguished service, who would form a suitable guard for the Colours; at the same time we tried to have representatives of each of the larger towns in Leicestershire, and in this we were successful.
In April we moved to Inchy Beaumont, where we stayed until the Cadre finally went home in June. Wagons and all transport were sent to Caudry, and we settled down to a wearisome existence, having too little to do. Cricket succeeded football, and we beat the 4th Battalion at both, and had several other victories. Finally, on the 28th of June, leaving Capt. Nicholson, 2nd Lieut. Griffiths, R.Q.M.S. Gorse and 11 others with the stores, the remnant of the Battalion sailed for England, landed at Dover, and reached Leicester the same night. The next day the Mayor (Ald. Coltman) and people of Loughborough turned out to give us welcome, and our long months of waiting in France were soon forgotten in the fervour and enthusiasm of the greeting we received, as we marched through the old town and placed our Colours in the Hall. Six weeks later the baggage guard returned, and the Battalion was finally disembodied.
OFFICERS WHO SAILED TO FRANCE WITH THE REGIMENT, FEBRUARY, 1915.
Lieut. Colonel C.H. Jones. Major R.E. Martin. Captain and Adjutant W.T. Bromfield.
"A" COMPANY. "C" COMPANY.
Major W.S.N. Toller. Captain T.C.P. Beasley. Captain P.C.J.R. Rawdon Hastings. Captain C. Bland. Lieut. A.T. Sharpe (Machine Lieut. R.D. Farmer. Gun Officer). 2nd Lieut. G. Aked. Lieut. J.D.A. Vincent. 2nd. Lieut. G.W. Allen. 2nd Lieut. D.B. Petch. 2nd Lieut. R. Ward Jackson. 2nd Lieut. J.W. Tomson.
"B" COMPANY. "D" COMPANY.
Captain J.L. Griffiths. Captain H.J.F. Jeffries. Lieut. A.P. Marsh. Captain J. Chapman. Lieut. E.G. Langdale. Lieut. A.G. de A. Moore. 2nd Lieut. C.H.F. Wollaston. 2nd Lieut. R.C.L. Mould. 2nd Lieut. C.W. Selwyn. 2nd Lieut. C.R. Knighton. 2nd Lieut. R.B. Farrer. 2nd Lieut. J.D. Hills.
Transport Officer Lieut. J. Burnett. Quartermaster Lieut. A.A. Worley. Medical Officer Lieut. G.H.H. Manfield, R.A.M.C.
Lieut. J.C. BARRETT.—Pontruet, Sept. 24th, 1918.
C.H. Jones. R.E. Martin.
W.S.N. Toller. J.L. Griffiths.
M.C. & BAR
G.B. Williams. G.E. Banwell. D.B. Petch. J.D. Hills.
A.G. de A. Moore. M.H. Barton. C.H.F. Wollaston. A.N. Barrowcliffe. T.P. Creed. J.R. Brooke. R.H. Stentiford. C.P. Shields. W.M. Cole. H.G. Lovett. A.E. Brodribb. W.B. Jack. C.B.W. Buck. S.G.H. Steel. A.E. Hawley. K. Ashdowne. T.H. Ball. S.D. Lanning. C.H. Davies.
D.C.M. & BAR.
T. Tunks. A. Wilbur.
H.G. Starbuck. W.H. Hallam. R.E. Small. J. Emmerson. C. Hurley. E.M. Hewson. J. Hill. T. Needham. A. Brooks. A. Passmore. J.B. Weir. C.W. Jordan. P. Lane. W. Toon. J. Wardle. H.G. Lovett. J. Cooper. W. Hubbard.
M.M. & TWO BARS.
M.M. & BAR.
J. Burbidge. R. Downs. A. Thurman. W. Lilley. F.W. Gorf.
J.T. Knott. R. Hollingsworth. A. Hewerdine. W.A. Berridge. A.W. Martin. W. Smith. H. Beardmore. J.W. Tookey. G.W. Tomblin. G.A. Bent. H.W. Stone. L.F. Crocker. W. Braybrook. T. Andrews. E. Cooper. F. Clapham. D. Mackey. H. Edge. E. Diggle. H. Whitmore. W. Mouldsworth. E. Foulds. G.O. Pickles. S.W. Taylor. R. Goodman. W. Raven. W. Orton. C.B. Love. J.H. Bullen. W. Powell. M. O'Brien. H. Cato. A. Daniels. W. Pickering. A.H. Culpin. J. Coles. T. Slaymaker. A.E. Palmer. A. Holmes. B. Staniforth. A. Baker. R.B. Haynes. T. Hawkesworth. F.P. Pymm. G. Emmitt. F. Eastwood. E.R. Smith. G. Bedford. A. Passmore. W. Bennett. F. Smith. J. Meakin. J. Balderstone. P. Thompson. T. Marshall. H. Pollard. J.H. Caunter. H. Dawes. J. Ryder. F. Bindley. A. Carr. T. Starbuck. L.H. Fortnum. J.T. Allen. J. Hyden. R. Redden. E.V. Woolley. S.G. Barber. A. Sharpe. E. Crow. F. Bloodworth. A. Beaver. J.W. Putt. A. Wedge. H. Shepherd. A. Hickling. S. Dawson. T. Parker. W.E. Lester. H.B. Garrett. A. Randall. S. Satchwell.
J. Cooper. H. Foster. J.H. Robinson. W. Fairbrother. R. Gorse. N. Yeabsley. C.F. Bailey.
MENTIONED IN DESPATCHES.
C.H. Jones (2). W. Fisher. W.S.N. Toller. H. Swift. W.T. Bromfield. A.A. Archer. J.L. Griffiths (2). J.A. Walton. E.G. Langdale. T. Foster. C.H.F. Wollaston. R. Gorse. M.H. Barton. W. Agar. A.G. de A. Moore. C. Brown. J.D. Hills (2). A. Hurst. J. Burnett (2). T.F. Marston. C.F. Shields. J. Lincoln. G.W. Allen. F.J. Williamson. T.W. Tomson. W.R. Todd. F.G. Taylor.
Legion d'Honneur (Officier) C.H. Jones. Croix de Guerre (with palm) L.H. Pearson. Croix de Guerre (with silver star) A.D. Pierrepont J. Whitworth. Croix de Guerre (with bronze star) J.D. Hills W. Green. Medaille Militaire E. Angrave.
Decoration Militaire A. Wilbur.
THE CADRE AND EQUIPMENT GUARD.
Major J.D. Hills, M.C. Captain G.E. Banwell, M.C. Captain C.S. Allen. Captain and Quartermaster W.A. Nicholson. 2nd Lieut. G.H. Griffiths.
R.Q.M.S. Gorse, R. L/Cpl. Underwood, A. Col.-Serjt. Hanson, A.W. " Caunter, J. Corpl. Lincoln, J. Pte. Lewis, B. Serjt. Yeabsley, N. " Clarke, G.L. Pte. Hughes, E. Corpl. Baker, A. " Ribbons, F. Pte. Deacon, W. " Rawlings, G. " Morley, G. " Mutton, E. " Hunt, G. " Nichols, L. L/Cpl. Tookey, J. " Hewerdine, A. Pte. Wormleighton, R. " Major, T.O. " Sear, W.J. " Bradshaw, R. " Myers, J.T. Corpl. Bartram, E. " Godsmark, G. Serjt. Sills, R. Corpl. Mead, B. Pte. Rock, F. L/Cpl. Law, A.B. " Webbs, H. " Harris, J. " Rogers, A.A. Pte. Allen, W. " Riley. S. " Moule, F.T. " Beards, A. Corpl. Goss, J. " Brampton, T.C. Pte. Smith, E.A. Sig. Rollson, E. " Neaverson, R. C.Q.M.S. Hurst, A. " Hayward, J.R. Serjt. Slaymaker, T. " Ratcliffe, G.