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HISTORY OF THE POST OFFICE RIFLES 8TH BATTALION CITY OF LONDON REGIMENT
PRINTED BY GALE & POLDEN LTD. WELLLINGTON WORKS
|3. THE 2/8TH BATTALION--|
|YPRES, WURST FARM
|4. THE 8TH BATTALION|| |
|ST. QUENTIN||27|| |
|DEFENCE OF AMIENS
|V. SPECIAL ORDER (NOVEMBER 11TH, 1918)||39|| |
|VI. SUMMARY OF CASUALTIES
Troops of the East Yorkshire regiment at Frezenberg 5 September 1917 (C) Imperial War Museum PC0030 Neg No. Q 3014
3. THE 2/8TH BATTALION.
The formation of a second-line Battalion of the 8th London Regiment took place in September, 1914, the first C.O. being Lieutenant-Colonel (then Captain) Owen. The personnel of the Battalion was composed of those who had not then volunteered for foreign service, reinforced by recruits. Training was carried out in Regent's Park and Victoria Park. Shortly after formation Major P. J. Preece, T.D., joined from the 1/8th, and superintended training on Hampstead Heath.
In November, 1914, the Battalion moved to billets in Cuckfield, with Lieutenant-Colonel Labouchere as Commanding Officer, Major Preece as Second-in-Command, and Captain Hoare as Adjutant. Here training continued for six months. During this period the Battalion was called upon to find drafts for the 1/8th in France, and continued to do so until it moved to Sutton Veny in July 1916. Before this date, however, preliminary moves were made to Norwich in May, 1915, and in June to Ipswich (Nan talked about Grandfather's experience during this billeting, click Sutton Veny).
At Ipswich the training of the Battalion as a real unit commenced, though it was not until a later date (the end of 1915) that the third line of the 8th was in a position to send out reinforcements, and relieve the second line from this burden to a certain extent. Lieutenant-Colonel P. J. Preece was now in command, with Major E. de Vesian Second-in-Command, and Lieutenant H. W. Priestley Adjutant.
The final move took place in July 1916, to Sutton Veny, where finishing touches were put to the training preparatory to the Battalion proceeding to France as a unit of the 174th Brigade, 58th (London) Division.
The early days of this Battalion in France were not without interest. After landing at Havre on January 27th and concentrating at Villers l'Hospital, the Battalion proceeded to the Arras Sector and served their instructional training in the line at Fonquevillers and Hannes-camp.
After a short spell in the line at Bellacourt and rest billets at Bailleulmont, the Battalion relieved the 2/7th at Monchy au Bois, and found by reconnoitring patrols that the enemy was retiring. "C" Company, under Captain Ash, promptly worked its way across No Man's Land and occupied Ransart, establishing an outpost line there.
In April the Division was withdrawn to Bullecourt, and spent nearly a month (under canvas), working under R.E. direction, on the Ecoust-Mory Road in the neighbourhood of Bullecourt. This was by no means a pleasant job; there had been very severe fighting around Bullecourt in April and the beginning of May, in which the Australians had taken a conspicuous part, and all communications were plastered continuously with Boche metal.
In Bullecourt itself the situation was extraordinary. Parts of the village were in the enemy's hands, and parts occupied by British troops. The outpost positions changed almost hourly, and when the Battalion was sent up to relieve the remnants of H.A.C., Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and two Battalions of the Manchester Regiment, the situation was, to say the best of it, obscure. Here the situation was, to say the best of it obscure. Here the Battalion had its first taste of real fighting, for within forty- eight hours of taking up this line it was ordered to make a concerted attack with the 2/5th (L.R.B.) and clear the village of enemy. This was successfully accomplished, and a line established on the enemy's side of the village. By this time Bullecourt and its surroundings had become a veritable charnel house; dead bodies and dead mules were lying about in hundreds, and the place was so offensive that it was a question whether it could be retained. Parties were organised to clear up, and in a short space of time, in spite of every adverse condition, it was made tolerably healthy. An amusing incident occurred in connection with five dead mules, which had become peculiarly offensive and defied all approach. The 2/8th undertook to remove the obstruction, and were given carte blanche as to methods. A party of twenty volunteers ("B" Company) were chosen under an officer: their report, which was forwarded to Brigade, is as follows:--
"The five dead mules are no longer offensive. The site of their grave is marked by an empty rum-jar, the contents of which materially assisted in the operation."
Changes took place in the Battalion. In May Lieutenant- Colonel P. J. Preece left to take up an appointment in England, and Lieutenant-Colonel A.D.Derviche-Jones (King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment) took over the command; while Major de Vesian, who had become a Lieutenant-Colonel in the meantime, left to command the 1/8th.
The Battalion moved to the North Bullecourt Sector and took part in an attack made by the 173rd Brigade (Brigadier-General Freyburg, V.C., D.S.O.) on the Hindenburg Line; two companies ("B" and "C") were lent to the 2/1st Battalion (under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Beresford), and attacked from Tiger Trench and "D" Company (Captain Barnes) co-operated on the immediate north of Bullecourt.
The attack, which lasted two days, was partially successful, in securing the first but not the second, Hindenburg Line, but substantially improved the tactical position there.
Late the Battalion volunteered to get in a number of wounded of the 173rd Brigade who had been lying out in No Man's Land for several days. Forty-eight volunteers of "D" Company were selected, and were specially organised and trained during the days for this task. Led by 2nd-Lieutenant Richardson and the Padre (Vernon-Smith), every wounded man was got in, in spite of enemy opposition, and luckily without casualties.
In July, 1917 the Division moved to the Havrincourt Sector, then a delightful spot, were all kinds of fruits and vegetables could be picked during the intervals of enemy artillery strafes. The outpost lines were over 1,000 yards apart, and afforded much scope for skilful patrols. One patrol, under 2nd Lieutenant Richardson, cleverly ambushed a Boche patrol, and accounted for the whole of them. A month's tour in this sector was exceedingly pleasant after Bullecourt, and passed without particular incident. At the end of July the Division moved to a training area behind Arras to prepare for the autumn offensives in the Ypres Salient. The battalion was comfortably housed at Simencourt. Here Lieutenant-Colonel (then Major) C. B. Benson joined the Battalion as Second-in-Command; Captain Priestley, the Adjutant, Captain T. J. Mumford. Training was fairly strenuous. Incidentally the Brigade organised a Sports and Assault-at-Arms Competition, which was won by this Battalion with a first or second in each of the fifteen events. The Silver Cup, suitably inscribed, now forms part of the regimental plate.
Towards the end of August the Division proceeded to Belgium, and on September 3rd this Battalion was in a shell hole outpost line in the Alberta Sector just north of St. Julien. The enemy was exceedingly active with heavy artillery and gas shells. In the first four days' tour of this line the casualties exceeded 100. On September 9th a fairly successful raid was carried out by "D" Company under 2nd Lieutenant Watson, who was unfortunately killed. From September 10th to 18th intensive training on a prepared ground was carried out, and on the night of the 19th to 20th the Battalion assembled on a taped line for the attack on the Wurst Farm Ridge.
The possession of this Ridge was essential to any successful attack on Passchendaele to the east; previous frontal attacks had failed with heavy casualties. A new plan of campaign was accordingly adopted; this ridge which ran almost parallel to our line, north and south, culminating on the south at Wurst Farm, was to be attacked on a small frontage, some 800 yards' front on the north by one Battalion; another Battalion was then to pass through and wheel to the right, and yet a third to pass through again, wheel to the right, and capture Wurst Farm, thus securing in the first place access to the ridge on a small front, while others, by wheeling to the south, would cut off the enemy holding the rest of the ridge. In the meantime another Battalion would "mop up" the enemy who had been cut off. This method was entirely successful. A Boche officer taken prisoner said it was not fair, as a frontal fight all along the line had been expected by them and prepared for. The 51st (Highland) Division were to make an equally important attack on the left, and the 55th to co-operate on the right.
To the 2/8th was assigned the important honour of making the first breach to a depth of 1,000 yards, and securing the northern part of the ridge. The fighting strength of the Battalion (less nucleus) had been reduced to 430 rifles, and with this strength on an 8,000 yards' front a general frontal attack was doomed to failure. Normal formations were thrown to the wind, and, with the exception of a widely extended line of skirmishers, the attack was directed to secure the three main tactical positions of the enemy on this front-- namely, the Marine View and concrete mebuses there; Genoa Farm, in the centre; and Hubner Farm, an extremely strongly fortified and concreted farm, towards the left. The intervening spaces were practically neglected on the basis that if there three main tactical positions were taken the remainder of the line would fall. The difficulties were increased by the appalling state of the ground; to get up to the assembly positions there was a single duck board track, ths position of which was well known to the enemy, who treated it with constant doses of every kind of poison. Across the Steenbeek, which had once been a stream, but was now owing to incessant shelling, a wide morass of wet shell-holes, was a single duck board bridge; a party of men was constantly kept in a concrete mebus by the bridge to repair the bridge whenever and as soon as destroyed. Beyond the duck board track in No Man's Land was a piece of ground, every inch of which had been ploughed up by shells, and with the ever-present danger of finding oneself irretrievably bogged. No shelter was available except in old Boche concrete mebuses or farms, all of which were the target of a succession of 5.9's. To "A" Company which was assigned Marine View and the mebuses there; "C" Company a collection of ten mebuses, wand with a roaming programme to assist "C" and "D" Companies; and "D" Company, Hubner Farm. Battalion Headquarters were in Hibou Farm, a disgusting concrete shelter with the floor consisting of corrugated iron sheets supported on cross timbers, and with water (including two dead Boches) underneath. The assembly, which had been most carefully rehearsed, was accomplished with only one casualty; and the men, who were in excellent spirits and full of confidence, were "out and over" the moment the barrage started, keeping in some instances within 10 yards of the barrage, and with our own shells bursting behind their backs. To recount all the details of the fight would take too long. It is sufficient to say that, in spite of the most strenuous opposition, and by dint of skilful manoeuvres by Company Commanders and the utmost determination of all ranks, all objectives were taken. On the right and left the greatest difficulties were encountered, and all the officers of "A" and "C" Companies became casualties. Many deeds of heroism were performed: 2nd Lieutenants Chencellor, shot through the lungs, stuck to his men until the last objective was taken, and then, when put on a stretcher, crawled off, saying that he would be damned if he would leave his men, and remained with them. 2nd-Lieutenant Richardson (then O.C. "C" Company), wounded in seven places, and 2nd Lieutenant Mortimer, shot through the knees, struggled on with their men until all objectives had been taken and consolidated: and Sergeant Knight , whose heroic exploits gained the first V.C. for the Post Officer Rifles. Hubner Farm, was captured by the skilful command of Captain C. Kelly, of "D" Company, who, making use of some men of the 2/5th and some of the 9th Royal Scots to reinforce his sadly depleted Company, after a severe and protracted engagement, finally captured this farm with only thirteen men, taking over 100 unwounded and 30 wounded prisoners (including two Boche Medical Officers), and leaving a large number of enemy dead in the vicinity. Altogether some 250 unwounded prisoners, including four officers, were captured, together with a large number of machine guns. Great use was made of the bayonet, in which the men had been practised assiduously; and after the battle the famous 51st Division sent a high testimonial to the Battalion in saying that they fought like "bloody savages."
If the fighting was severe, the rewards were great--|
|8 Military Crosses (including 1 Bar);|
|2 D.C.Ms ; and|
|28 Military Medals.|
After the breach made by this Battalion, the rest of the ridge was easily taken, with many prisoners, and five enemy counter attacks were held off.
Casualties were heavy-- three officers killed (2nd Lieutenants Sloan, Blande and Taylor) and six wounded (2nd Lieutenants Chancellor, Richardson, Mortimer, Robinson, Hitch and Edmonds); other ranks, 100 killed and 138 wounded.
After being relieved, the Battalion went to a back area for rest and training. Pleasantly situated in wooded undulating country at Landrethun, the Battalion had a good time. A Battalion Sports and Assault-at-Arms was won by "B" Company, Major Benson had been given the command of the 2/6th, and Major Barnes took his place as Second-in-Command.
About October 24th the Battalion came back to the line (in reserve) just north of where they had fought on September 20th. In the interval Poelcapelle had been captured, and the present line stretched from near Nobles' Farm, through Poelcapelle, Meunier and Tracas, south to the Lekkerbotterbeek.
On October 28th a sudden order was given to the Battalion to attack in co-operation with one company of the 2/6th on the night of October 29th-30th, in order to support the main attack by the Canadians on Passchendaele Ridge. On this occasion the state of the ground was even worse than on September 20th; there had been heavy rains in the meantime, and the duck board tracks were some hundreds of yards short of the outpost line. The ground was almost unknown, and there was practically no time for reconnaissances. The men were guided on to the assembly line by carefully screened coloured lamps placed to show the boundaries of each company's front.
The objectives were Moray House, Papa Farm, Hinton Farm, and Cameron Houses, strong points lying between Poelcapelle and Passchendaele. From aeroplane photos the ground to be traversed seemed like a vast morass of mud and slime, as indeed it turned out to be. But little progress could be made. Men sank to their armpits in mud, and provided easy targets for the enemy. No support was forthcoming on the right. In spite of that progress was made in the course of the day to about 500 yards, and outposts established, which, however, were ordered to be evacuated at night, except Nobles' Farm, which had been captured by the 2/6th on the left.
The casualties were very severe; five officers killed (Captains Wheeldon and Barnett, and 2nd Lieutenants Duncan, McAllister, and Barnes) and five wounded (Lieutenant Shapley, and 2nd Lieutenants Finch, Tinsley, Peacock and Booth); and of other ranks, 34 killed, 173 missing (all believed to have been killed or drowned) and 42 wounded. To illustrate the state of the ground four men tried for two hours with ropes to extricate a comrade, and failed. Though no objectives of this Battalion were taken, the main purpose of the attack was achieved, in that this lone Battalion, struggling against an even more implacable enemy that the Boches, drew so much artillery and machine gun fire as to materially relieve the main attack on the Passchendaele Ridge.
About this time Major Soutten, of the 11th Battalion, joined as Second-in-Command.
After a rest spell at Escouilles ("Squalls") the Battalion returned to the salient, and was mainly used for working parties at Poelcapelle.
The journey from Escouilles is worthy of remark. After staying the first day at Colomby, the Battalion started at 2 a.m., marched twelve kilometres to Wizernes, entrained for Elverdinghe, changed into a light railway for Kempton Park, marched and took up their positions in support trenches at Pheasant Trench by 7 p.m. the same night.
Before leaving the 18th Corps at Ypres, the Corps Commander (Lieutenant-General Sir Ivor Maxse, K.C.B. issued a farewell order to all the Divisions that had fought in his Corps. In this order he stated that, of the thirteen battles in which his Corps had taken part, the red-letter day was that of September 20th, 1917, and he especially praised the 51st (Highland) and the 58th (London) Divisions for their attacks on that day.
About January 6th, 1918, the whole Division was moved into the 3rd Corps, and after detraining at Villers Bretonneux the Battalion moved to Moreuil, and thence at the beginning of February to Pierremande, taking over from the 2nd Royal Scotch Fusiliers the southernmost portion of the British lines, at Barisis, with French troops on the right.
Barisis was a delightful spot, beautifully situated in the forest of Couchy, though it seemed likely to prove a storm- centre. The fact that an attack in force by the enemy was impending was well known to the authorities. The French told us that it would be from Barisis to the south, and the British were inclined to favour an attack from Barisis to the north. As it turned out, Barisis escaped the turmoil of battle, and the grand enemy attack started from some four miles to the north, at La Frere, extending from there to the north.
In the early days at Barisis the amalgamation with the 1/8th took place. There were now no longer two fighting lines of the 8th Battalion City of London Regiment.
4. THE 8TH BATTALION.
The first and primary job of the 174th Brigade was to put their sector into a respectable state of defence. With the exception of a tolerable front line, well wired, there was practically nothing to stop a break-through by the enemy. By arrangement, this Battalion, which had several French-speaking officers, was kept in the front line for long periods, and took on the job of deepening its defences. The 6th took on the battle zone, while the 7th provided working parties for all parts of the defence system.
Captain Mumford, who had been Adjutant of the 2/8th throughout the autumn fighting of the previous year, went home on substitute duty, and Captain Priestley became Adjutant of the 8th. The work was terrific and admirably organised by the Brigade. By the date of the Boche attack formidable defences had been erected, well wired, well stocked, and well garrisoned. The importance of new defence for the Fifth Army front was well appreciated. The front was a very extended one (this Battalion held about 2,800 yards of front) and additional labour was scarce. Frequent visits were paid by all higher staffs, including General Gough in command of the Fifth Army, who came twice to the Barisis Sector, and the Commander-in-Chief, Field-Marshall Sir Douglas Haig, who came personally with his Chief of Staff to see how the defences were progressing-- a visit not without considerable danger to these distinguished personages from enemy "hate." Almost daily interviews took place with the French, and detailed arrangements were made for mutual support in the event of an attack. The relations between this Battalion and the French were most cordial; and if in the course of these three months they acquired an appreciation of canteen whisky, we certainly learned to relish their most excellent wines.
On the night of March 19th this Battalion was taken back to Pierremande to rest and provide working parties when then grand enemy attack commenced at 4.30 a.m.on the morning of March 21st.
At 4.30 a.m. the Battalion was standing to arms, awaiting eventualities, but it was not until 5 p.m. that the order to move arrived, and the Battalion was embussed to Viry-Noreuil. In the ever changing state of the battle it was difficult to get precise orders, and after reconnoitring various areas, it was only at 10.30 p.m. that the Battalion received definite orders to protect the crossing of the Crozat Canal from the Oise to about 3,000 yards north. The exact position of the enemy was unknown; it was possible that these crossings were already in the hands of the enemy. One map only was available for the Battalion, and no guides could be found. Moreover, the night was intensely foggy, though with a moon shining dimly through. A speedy move was urgent to prevent the enemy getting across the Oise and cutting off the 175the Brigade and the rest of the 174th Brigade holding from the Oise to Barisis.
At the last moment the G.O.C. 173rd Brigade (Brigadier- General Worgen), to which this Battalion was attached arrived at Viry, having escaped from his Headquarters at Quessy, east of the canal, with the enemy only 200 yards away.
Plans were discussed and completed, and by midnight the Battalion was on its three mile march to an unknown position in an unknown country-- "C" and "D" Companies, under Captains Gunning and Kelly, on the right and "A" and "B" under Captain Lanes and Lieutenant Lamb on the left. The right companies found their way without difficulty, but the left companies were lost in the fog and open ground beyond the village of Tergnier and it took the Battalion Headquarters Staff four hours to get them in position. Patrols on the enemy's side of the canal had failed to get in touch with the enemy when the morning of the 22nd dawned, though they had penetrated as far as Quessy, and removed important secret paper from Battalion Headquarters. All bridges were blown up by 4.30 a.m., patrols crossing on ruins of bridges or lock gates to rejoin their units. Owing to the fog, visibility was limited to an extreme of forty yards. Throughout the morning stragglers of the 173rd Brigade, who had been lost in the fog, came through our lines. About midday the enemy adopted the ruse of clothing parties of their men in the uniforms of captured or killed men of the 173rd Brigade and by this means were enabled to put about a hundred men across at various places on our flank before they recommenced their attack at 1.15 p.m. Covered by an intense machine-gun barrage on the canal banks, and a bombardment of Battalion Headquarters in the Butte at Vouel, the enemy made a determined endeavour to secure the crossings in this Battalion's sector. On the right they failed, the crossings there being held for thirty-six hours by the remnants of "C" and "D" Companies, who eventually cut their way out after being surrounded on three sides. On the left the attack succeeded, mainly owing to the presence of the Boches dressed in British uniforms, who simultaneously attacked on the left and rear flank of the garrison. Very few of these two companies escaped, both Company Commanders being killed. From Battalion Headquarters at 4.30 p.m. streams of Boches, estimated at three to four battalions, could be seen pouring over the high ground west of the canal, and considerable execution was done amongst them with field artillery and massed machine guns. A line of defence was hastily manned, running from the Oise west to Tergnier, and further enemy attacks were arrested that day. By this time all lines of defence, except the canal crossings on the right, were being held by miscellaneous details; and after the Butte line had fallen, owing to an outflanking movement some two miles to the north, this Battalion was represented only by its Headquarters troops (strength about sixty) in the defence of Noreuil, and, on the 24th, of Chauny. On the right the remnants of "C" and "D" Companies held out to the afternoon of the 23rd and then escaped to Condren, taking part in the defence of that place. At Chauny (night of 23rd to 24th) the men were supplied with food and ammunition both sorely needed. They had been living since the 21st merely on iron rations, while few had as many as five rounds of ammunition left, which were jealously guarded for desperate emergencies. The men were weary, too, from the continuous strain of marching, fighting, and digging in, and at Chauny were too worn our to dig defences, instead relying on ditches and natural folds in the ground. Later, after Chauny had fallen on the 25th, the remnants fell back on Besme, where they were reorganised and sent to hold the crossings of the Oise at Quierzy for three more days.
In the meantime the nucleus, which had been left at Pierremande with the 174th Brigade, were in trenches, covering the withdrawal of transport and stores. French reinforcements came up on the 23rd, but were ineffective in strange country and fog, and the burden of the defence was almost entirely borne by the worn-out British troops, assisted by Schools of Instruction and any able-bodied man who could be scraped up.
The casualties from March 21st had been heavy, and included M.C.thirteen officers, of whom four were killed (Captain Lanes, M.C., Lieutenant Lamb and 2nd Lieutenants Joyce and Edge), two wounded and missing (2nd Lieutenants Odlafson, Wilkinson, Miller, Opet, Wheeler, Barnes and Hewett). Of other ranks, more than 300 were killed, wounded and missing. Splendid work had been done by the Battalion, especially by the right companies ("C" and "D" under Captains Gunning and Kelly) and by Headquarters details amongst whom Major Soutten, M.C., Captain Priestly, 2nd Lieutenant Ward, and the Medical Officer, Captain Massy-Miles were conspicuous.
Major Soutten was now in command, when on March 29th a trek was made to St. Paul-aux-Bois, where the battalion was employed day and night on working parties. On April 2nd and following days further treks were made to Audignicourt, and through the Valley of the Aisne to Dommier, thence to Longpoint, where the Battalion entrained, arriving the same night at Abbé Wood. Here reserve positions were taken up, until on April 13th the Battalion was moved up to the front line at Villers Bretonneus, were a draft of two companies of the 8th Norfolk Regiment, seven officers and 250 men, reinforced the Battalion, and Major Browne became Second-in-Command.
Villers Bretonneux will long live in the memory of those who had the misfortune to be there as one of the most unpleasant and hotly-contested positions in the defence of Amiens. Under continuous bombardment by day and night, by shells of all calibers-- mostly gas-- no place, not even the deepest cellar, afforded security. One gas shell knocked out ninety men of Headquarters' details, of whom fifty died from gas poisoning. From April 17th to 19th there were more than 150 gas casualties, including Lieutenant-Colonel Souteen, Major Browne, 2nd Lieutenants Howes, Bruggemeyer, Ward and Hawley; while Captain Massey-Miles, M.C., one of the whitest and most gallant Battalion Medical Officers in France, died of gas poisoning after an heroic attempt to succour others similarly poisoned, removing his gas- mask in order to do so, and thus courting an inevitable and agonising death. Three Medical Officers were sent in quick succession in one day, two of whom became casualties, one killed and one wounded. The last to arrive, Lieutenant Macbean, of the American Army, survived the ordeal, and remained with the Battalion until the end of the war.
Lieutenant-Colonel Johnston took over the command on the 20th, with Major Edwards as Second-in-Command. Matters were still critical, and after a few days at Boutillerie the Battalion took up positions at Domart, until relieved by the French on the 27th, when they entrained to Neuf Moulin. In the last three days (25th- 27th) one officer (2nd Lieutenant Carter) was killed and two wounded (Captain Faber and Lieutenant Brown); while of other ranks 13 were killed, 83 wounded, and 43 gassed. The defence o of Amiens was now secured, but at what cost! The story, bare of details, of one Battalion during the terrible days of March and April, 1918, may read grimly enough, but this Battalion was one of many, and by no means exceptionally situated.
After a week at Neuf Moulin, the Battalion moved to Warloy, and was employed in digging defence lines. The Division subsequently relieved the 47th Division, the Battalion moving first into the Henencourt and then the Albert sectors immediately in front of that town. About this time Lieutenant Jacob became Adjutant, vice Major Priestley, Second-in-Command.
On June 28th Brigadier-General A Maxwell D.S.O., a former Commanding Officer of the 1/8th Battalion, was appointed to the 174th Brigade.
On July 25th a daylight raid on a large scale was carried out, about 300 men going over the top. The raid met with little opposition on the front attacked, except in the neighbourhood of the Quarry, where some platoons of "A" Company had a very hard time. A few prisoners were brought back, and many more in attempting to escape had to be shot; but during the return journey the raiders received heavy machine-gun fire from the flanks of the attack, and suffered heavily. 2nd Lieutenants Roft and Alexander were killed, and four officers wounded (2nd Lieutenants Tafner, Scarth, Johnson and Hatchett). Casualties to other ranks were 113. On the whole, it seems probable that the casualties on both sides were about equal. One remarkable feature was that the enemy allowed the wounded to be got in without interference.
After a short rest at Round Wood, Franvillers (a place full of interest to those who had fought on the Somme in 1916), the Battalion moved to Baisieux, where they were joined by Lieutenant-Colonel Derviche-Jones who had returned to take over the command of the Battalion from Lieutenant-Colonel Johnston, transferred to command the 7th Battalion.
Plans for the great counter-offensive which was to make history were kept very secret. On August 4th the Battalion was marched and entrained to a back area at Wargnies, near Canaples, and preparations made for a long period of rest and training there. Actually, with the exception of a few days at Neuf Moulin, no opportunity had been given to train the Battalion, a large number of whom consisted of youngsters hurriedly sent out as reinforcements to make good the gaps caused by the enemy offensive. These lads were soon to show their mettle, even without the advantage of training. On the night of August 4th the Battalion was moved by night from Wargnies, and, after entraining and marching, spent the day in a small copse on the Bray-Corbie road. A thick and continuous drizzle made things very uncomfortable, especially as the Battalion had to move up that night to relieve the 2nd Bedfords in the Sailly-Laurette Sector. A Long march in the rain was followed by a long and difficult relief. The condition of communication and front trenches was deplorable and relief had not been completed by dawn, when an assaulting Division of the enemy, specially trained for the occasion, attacked the 18th Division front on the left and the two left companies of this Battalion. These two companies ("A" and "D" under Captain Poulton and Lieutenant Wilkinson) Put up a most praiseworthy defence, and in spite of the fact that the Battalion on their left had been pushed back more than 400 yards, maintained their front line intact, throughout, and, further formed a defensive flank which the enemy was unable to penetrate. Much assistance was afforded by Lewis-gun fire from "B" Company (Captain Thomas) , which swept across the line of the enemy attack and caused them numerous casualties. Some prisoners and machine guns were also taken in a bombing counter-attack initiated by 2nd Lieutenant Pattinson. The enemy, though foiled in their attempt to pierce our lines, kept up an incessant bombardment of the front-line system with 5.9's, gas shells, and trench mortars. By the morning of the 8th, the date fixed for the great counter-offensive, the men of this Battalion were caked in mud from head to foot, had had practically no rest (this was only possible by leaning against the parados, and had repelled a determined attack by the enemy.
In order to keep the impending attack secret and jump a surprise on the enemy, instructions for the attack were not issued until the morning of the 7th. The rô_le of the Battalion was to clear certain copses, and clear and hold the west edge of Malard Wood. Actually this Battalion was in reserve, but circumstances, in the form of a thick mist limiting visibility to ten yard, thrust the Battalion in the forefront of the fight a few minutes after the battle commenced. The three days in the line, exciting and tiring as they were, had given them a better idea of direction that other troops could possibly have. The luck of the weather was with them from the start, and they were able to get right on top of the enemy before the direction of that attack was perceived. Two enemy Battalion Commanders and over 500 prisoners were taken by the Battalion, as well as numerous trench mortars and machines guns. The next day (9th) the Battalion was attached to the 175th Brigade, and ordered to co-operate in an attack by the 174th Brigade on Chipily (which had given much trouble on the 8th), advancing on the left flank of the Division astride the Bray-Corbie road. An American Regiment participated on our right. The attack, which was entirely open warfare, was successful. The casualties to this Battalion were far lighter than the total number of unwounded prisoners taken. Officers killed: 2nd Lieutenants Knell, Constance, Mason and Captain Poulton; and seven wounded-- Lieutenant-Colonel Derviche-Jones, Captains Barratt and Thomas, Lieutenant Wilkinson, 2nd Lieutenants Perry and Crossland; and of other ranks about 290. It is noteworthy that all the officers on Battalion Headquarters were either killed or wounded.
Two days later the Battalion was relieved and marched back to tents in Round Wood. Major Priestley was now in command, and directed the training of the Battalion until it moved on August 22nd to support an attack by the 18th Division on the Albert Sector, and, after concentrating at Morlancourt, the Battalion marched as part of the Brigade advance guard to Billon Wood. The advance was extremely difficult, owing to an intensely dark night, a violent thunder-storm, incessant bombardments of gas shells and high explosives, and the fact that Major Priestley was badly wounded early in the operation. Captain Faber took over the command, and three companies-- "A,", "B" (Lieutenant Porter), and "D" (Lieutenant Newsome)--reached the wood about midnight. During the night "C" Company, who had lost touch, pushed through the wood, and all companies took part in the attack of the 26th. In spite of the greatest difficulties, objectives were taken and held. Major Henneker arrived about midnight to take the command but was shortly afterwards wounded. Owing to the hurried move on the 25th, the Battalion had been compelled to march without water or rations, and owing to the incessant marching, fighting and shelling, and rain, remained without food until the night of the 27th-28th . The attack was renewed on the 27th and objectives taken, and again a further attack on the 28th enabled the line of the Perrone Road by Marrieres Wood to be captured and held. Some 150 prisoners were taken in three attacks, and large numbers of machine guns, and also three field guns and forty enemy pigeons. Our casualties were: killed, two officers (Lieutenant Newsome and 2nd Lieutenant Graham); five officers wounder (Major Priestley, Major Henneker, Captain Gunning, Lieutenant Humphreys, and 2nd Lieutenant Orchard); other ranks, 186 killed and wounded.
After a day's rest and reorganisation, the Brigade became advance guard, this Battalion forming the left half of the main guard, and proceeded past Hem Wood to a valley near Howitzer Wood. An early morning attack was ordered for the 31st, which was completely successful, though not without considerable casualties-- two officers killed (Captain Clarke, M.C., and 2nd Lieutenant Rothwell) and five officers wounded (Lieutenant Porter and 2nd Lieutenants Booth, Everett, L.J. Smith and C. R. Smith). Casualties to other rank, 105. Some 220 prisoners and numerous machine guns were captured by the Battalion.
On September 1st, after six most arduous days' fighting, in which much important progress had been made, the Battalion was relieved and went to Hindley Wood. Here Major Wild (Royal West Kents) joined the Battalion and assumed command.
On September 6th the Battalion moved to Moislains, and thence to Ville Wood, and the next day a further move was made to Guyencourt, in order to attack the enemy at Epehy and Peizieres. On the 8th all four companies, under 2nd Lieutenant Tallin, 2nd-Lieutenant Buck, 2nd-Lieutenant Youngman, and 2n- Lieutenant Pattinson, advanced 1,000 yards without difficulty, when they came under heavy machine-gun fire, after capturing Wood Farm. Further progress was made, and parties of "D," "C," and "B" Companies entered the villages of Peizieres and Epehy. As no support was forthcoming on either flank, and the enemy was in far greater strength, these parties fell back to Tottenham Post, though some small groups remained in the villages until the next day. Great assistance was rended by the 62nd Brigade R.F.A. (under Major Roney-Dougal) who advanced their guns to within 800 yards of the enemy. The Battalion was ordered to hold on at all cost, and did so until relieved on the 10th by the 12th Londons. Casualties from the 6th to the 10th: two officers killed (2nd Lieutenants Fergusson and Riordan), four wounded (2nd-Lieutenants Youngman, Pattinson, Bassett, and Yale): other ranks, 141 killed and wounded.
After a few days spent quietly at Lieramont, the Battalion returned to the Epehy Sector for four days, and afterwards to Ronnsoy, to help the 229th Brigade, relieving a Battalion of the Devons until the 24th, when the 105th American Regiment relieved this Battalion.
On the 27th Lieutenant-Colonel Grover took over the command, and the Battalion spent some days in moving via Villers Faucon, Heilly, Châ_teau de la Haie, to Bully Grenay, in order to go into "peace trenches" at Loos. After the strenuous days of August and September, the Battalion was pretty thin, and looked forward to a period of comparative ease in stationary trenches.
The final stage of the war had now been entered upon. The Boches were being hammered on all side, and, in fact, the great Boche retreat, only prevented by the Armistice from becoming a decisive rout, had already commenced. It was not surprising, therefore, to find that the Division would not be allowed to rest for any length of time. Almost immediately, on the 2nd, the Battalion advanced, and on the 4th an attack was made on the Cité St. Auguste, a suburb of Lens. This place was cleared by "D" Company (Lieutenant Anderson). "A" (Lieutenant Peters) and "D" Companies also secured the Railway Embankment and Coke Ovens, "B" Company (Captain Barratt) forming a protective screen to the advance. "A" and "C" Companies suffered severely from gas shells, the casualties being two officers wounded (Lieutenants Anderson and Hannah), and 94 other ranks. The next day an early attack was made on the Annay switch line, which was not quite so successful, owing to heavy trench mortar and machine-gun fire.
After a brief spell of rest and training at Marqueffles' Farm, the Battalion moved to Montigny, and thence to Courriè_res, where Battalion was directed to secure a bridgehead over the canal. Strong enemy opposition was encountered, and the remnants of two platoons of "D" Company (Captain Buck), after making a gallant fight, were captured on the canal bank. 2nd Lieutenants Powl and Robinson were taken prisoners, and Lieutenant R. M. Kelly and 2nd-Lieutenant Benn were wounded. Casualties to other ranks, 89. During the night Lieutenant-Colonel Derviche-Jones, who had been commanding the 12th Londons for a few days, returned to the Battalion, vice Lieutenant-Colonel Grover, transferred to the 12th.
The attack on the bridgehead was resumed on the 15th and all objectives taken by mid-day (without casualties, in spite of opposition). At night outposts were established well the other side of the canal near Oignies, but patrols failed to find the enemy, who were retiring under the constant pressure from all sides.
After a day's rest in Oignies, the Battalion made a night march to LaRuchonette, and reached Mons-en-Pevelle at 6.30 a.m. Here they met with a rousing reception from the liberated inhabitants. The Battalion became the vanguard: "C" Company (Lieutenant Hallifax) on the right; "B" Company (Captain Barratt) on the left of the main Bersee Road; remaining companies--"A" (Lieutenant Humphreys) and "D" (Captain Buck), with a Machine-Gun Company and Trench-Mortar Company-- and a Battery of Artillery on the main road. Great difficulty was experienced in maintaining direction, owing to the wooded country and thick mists. Bersee was reached with little opposition, and the advance continued towards Wattines. On patrols reporting that the units of both flanks were halted some two miles in rear of our advanced positions, defensive flanks were thrown out, and the Battalion rested until the flank units could come up. In the meantime the enemy were putting up a strong resistance with machine guns and shells and some casualties were suffered. After a sharp struggle, "B" company entered and cleared Wattines at 2 a.m., and a line of outposts was placed outside the village. Again the inhabitants gave the Battalion a splendid reception. The 6th Londons became the vanguard the following day, and the 8th part of the mainguard, spending the night at Wattines Farm. Nomain was reached by the 6th Londons after a short preliminary encounter, and here the Brigade was rested for some days while the 175th Brigade advanced to the River Scheldt. Strenuous training in all forms of open advance was attack was carried out.
The Battalion moved from Nomain on October 27th with battle transport, and relieved a unit of the 175th Brigade at Rue Dombrie. This place was vigorously shelled by the enemy, who were hanging on to the crossings of the Scheldt, and many casualties occurred. Subsequently the 7th Londons were relieved by this Battalion at Maulde, and outposts were held on the banks of the Scheldt. Various schemes were considered for crossing the network of rivers, canals, and floods here, and after a not altogether pleasant ten days, during which it was reported almost daily that the enemy had withdrawn (the receipt of such report being generally the signal for resumption of hostilities by the enemy), a general advance was ordered. After a difficult crossing on hastily improvised rafts, some made out of Boche cylinders and others of the bird-nest type, a crossing was effected at Montagne, and the last Boche outpost went flying. Outposts were established at Flines, and all fighting was practically over. Since the beginning of October there were but few days that this Battalion had not been under enemy fire. Marches were long, in all kinds of weather, and both by day or night. As soon as the region of inhabited houses was reached at Mons-en-Pevelle, the gratitude and hospitality of the people were unbounded, and did much to relieve the strain of the advance. On the Scheldt it was the British who had to evacuate the local inhabitants, owing to the consistency with which the Boche shelled and gassed their villages. Everywhere bridges were systematically destroyed and vast craters blown in the roadways, especially at all cross- roads. The difficulties of transport were enormous, the work done by the sappers magnificent. Sections of sappers were with all vanguards, ready to start on the repair of roads and bridges with the least delay. For them work was continuous night and day.
On the 9th the advance was renewed, and the Canal D'Antoing crossed at Callenelle, where the Battalion slept-- or rather worked on bridging-- most of the night. An early morning start at daybreak, with a picnic breakfast at Brasmenil, where the transport caught up, was followed by a long march to Beloeil, where a halt was made for the night.
On the morning of the 11th, at dawn, a further advance was begun. Many rumours were flying about with regard to an impending Armistice. Nevertheless, all due precautions were taken. The 8th had the honour of being the vanguard on this day. Cyclist scouts were pushed out in front and on the flanks; cavalry were at hand to dash through if wanted. Everyone was in a state of subdued excitement when, about 10 a.m., Brigadier-General Maxwell and his Brigade Major (Captain McConnell, M.C.), with a cavalry escort, galloped up to the head of the Battalion, and informed the Colonel that the terms of the Armistice had been signed, and hostilities would cease at 11 a.m. The news was conveyed to the cheering troops by the Colonel, and confirmed by the compiler of these pages in a message written on the last page of the last Army Book 152 used by him in this war.
The scenes that day almost defy description. Scouts had conveyed the news to the neighbouring villages, where all manner of antiquated musical instruments were unearthed to welcome the British troops. Children strewed the roads with flowers; bouquets and garlands were thrown to the troops. Jugs of hot coffee and bumpers of wine were handed to officers and men as they passed. Flags were dragged out from hidden receptacles, and amidst processions, speeches, and cheering, few escaped being hugged, while many were wept over, by the grateful Belgians. It was indeed a day of triumph, and one long to be remembered.
The last line of outposts of the Battalion was at Waudignies, with advanced posts at Bauffe, on the Mons-Ath road. In the course of a week a move was made to Beloeil, and thence to Peruweiz, where the Battalion stayed for three months until it was practically disembodied by demobilisation and drafts for the Army of Occupation. During these difficult days, when reaction was inevitable and everybody had the natural desire to get home, it is to their credit that the behaviour of the London Territorials was exemplary throughout. Sports, concerts, whist drives, dances, and race meetings helped to pass the time, while the more serious duties of training, education, and ceremonial were not neglected. The many friendships formed with the good people of Peruwelz will remain as more than a mere memory. In a tangible form they are represented by the silk flag presented by the Commune to Brigadier-General Maxwell. On opposite page will be found the special order issued to the Battalion on Armistice Day. It only remains now to say "Au Revoir" to all the gallant comrades who have helped the Post Office Rifles along their way to final victory, and who have added to much lustre to the Regiment. If these pages will serve to remind some of their struggles, and to continue for all the spirit of loyalty and comradeship so magnificently displayed in the Great War, they will have achieved their object.
TO OFFICERS AND MEN OF THE 8TH BATTALION CITY OF LONDON
REGIMENT (POST OFFICE RIFLES)
I WISH to congratulate the Battalion on the splendid spirit, courage, and endurance shown by all ranks, especially during the anxious days of the spring and early summer of this year, and the more stirring times of August, up to the 11th 11th November-- a day which will be for ever famous in history-- and to thank all ranks for the consistent loyalty extended to me both personally and as Commander of the Battalion.
In 1917, when the 1/8th Battalion was magnificently upholding its name as a fine fighting unit, notably at Cambrai the 2/8th was carving a great reputation for itself at Bullecourt and the Ypres Salient.
In 1918, after the amalgamation of the two Battalions, the fighting qualities of the 8th have been well proved during the enemy attacks at the Crozat Canal, Tergnier, Viry-Noreuil, Chauny, and Villers-Bretonneux, during the very strenuous fighting from Malard Wood to Epehy, and later in the pursuit of the enemy from Loos to Bauffe. The success which has always attended the efforts of this Battalion is due to the splendid co-operation between all ranks and to the indomitable spirit and devotion of each individual man.
I am indeed proud to have had command of such a splendid fighting force, and trust that the comradeship engendered by the War may endure during the years to come.
(Signed) A. D. DERVICHE-JONES,
Commanding 8th Battalion City of London Regiment
(Post Office Riles),
IN THE FIELD
November 11th, 1918.
|A. 1/8TH BATTALION||Killed||Wounded||Missing|
|(a) From 17/3/1915 to 31/12/1915||8||117||11||425|
|(b) " 1/1/1916 " 31/12/1916||17||234||22||593||2||160|
|(c) " 1/1/1917 " 31/1/1918||7||182||19||528||1||26|
|Total ... ...||32||533||52||1546||3||186|
|B. 2/8TH BATTALION|
|From 26/1/1917 to 31/1/1918||7||220||29||675||6*||134æ|
|C. 8TH BATTALION|
|From 1/2/1918 to 11/11/1918||14||274||46||1168||12#||315**|
|Total killed, wounded & missing||Officers.||Other Ranks.
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