About the 8th January 1916 the Division was relieved and the Battalion marched back to Allonville, a small village some 5 miles from Amiens. Here we rested and did a certain amount of training. While we were there the steel helmet began to be issued and was regarded with much disfavour. About the end of January Major William Fox very nearly died of pneumonia and was invalided. Captain E. Burris taking over command of "C" Coy. Lieut. Gurney was also invalided home.
The "Whizz-bangs" - our Divisional Concert Party - performed in a large barn. We sent them 2 performers, Smith and Buchanan - who remained with them to the end. Two new officers joined us, 2/Lieuts. Hillborne and Ryland.
Towards the end of February we again got on the move and on the 21st Feby. 1916 arrived at Riencourt, still further back. The village will always be well remembered as being the place from which the first leave party went off - on the 24th Feby.
On the 24th February too, the Battalion got orders to march. It had snowed all the previous night and had frozen afterwards. The march lasted some 3 days. We arrived finally at a suburb of Arras. Soon after our arrival here, Major Lee Warner left the Battalion to serve with the 3rd Army Headquarters, and Captain J.K. Likeman (Adjutant) to 3rd Army School as Instructor. Neither ever returned to the Battalion. Lieut. Webb took over as Acting Adjutant, and Captain Robinson as O/C "B" Coy. Captain John Lang, RAMC joined - no one will forget his work during the Somme: nor that of Corporal Morrish the senior stretcher bearer, and Cpl. Barnes, M.O. Orderly.
On 3rd March 1916 we went into support at the village of St. Nicholas, which included the occupation of certain redoubts such as "Le Redoubt De Bosquet" (soon Anglicised into "Bosky Redoubt"). Here we relieved the French. We were the first English troops to hold this part of the line and it was rumoured that the French, attaching enourmous importance to the town, had stipulated that only first class troops were to be sent.
The principal feature in the scenery in front of us was, of course, the Vimy Ridge. From here the Bosche got a splendid view of everything. Some 10 months before our arrival, the French had attempted its capture, had reached Thelus but had been driven back with a good deal of loss. Here again we were in a salient, the line running round Arras, from Ecurin on the north to Wailly on the south. To the north-east the front line was about 2 and half miles from Arras; to the south-east about 1 mile. The front line had been undermined by the Huns who here had the French "cold" in this respect. In many places the front line had been withdrawn 100 yards or so for this reason. The trenches were fairly good and here we met for the first time the well-constructed dug-out.
Our part of the front line here ran from Roclinclourt on the north to the river Scarpe on the south. Life here was quite different to that at Maricourt. The Bosche was very active with all forms of Minenwerfer from the "sausage", the "rum-jar" etc. down to the humble "pine-apple". Every now and then he would have organised shooting on our trenches and blow them in badly, while both sides did a lot of patrolling. In addition to this one seldom did a turn in the trenches without one or more Camouflets being blown either by us or by the Bosche. A camouflet is a counter-mine exploded with the object of blowing in the galleries that ramify from the enemy's mine-shafts. Our miners came in with us and at once did good work in getting the Huns mining efforts more or less checked.
From here, when not in the front line or support we used to go back to rest to the village of Agnes des Duisans. It was from this place Jim, the Regimental Dog, joined the transport. It was a better village than those we had been billetted in so far.
A curious incident happened while in the front line at Arras. A certain projecting portion of the line - the Gridiron - was so constantly and so badly knocked by the Hun, that it was abandoned and filled in. New wire was put up, one part running in rear of a trench held by "C" Coy. While so doing Sergt. Weeks of "A" Coy. was bombed by the garrison of this trench - who for some reason best known to themselves - suddenly thought he was a German. Luckily no harm was done, though he was a little bored at being told "knowing you were round there, we did not fire, but only threw bombs."
Two of a new draft had an unpleasant welcome. They were escorted to the front line and from there sent on by themselves to their platoons. As they went down the trench, over came a "Minnie". Luckily, their former guide had kept an eye on them and they were promptly dug out and sent down back to Boyot Dizot (or Sunday Avenue) on stretchers.
About the beginning of May we took over a new bit of the front line - from the south of the Scarpe to St. Saveur. Here life was very much more pleasant. A stroll down some of the communication trenches reminded one of a walk in the country. When in support, too, we lived either in Arras, or in one of its suburbs that rejoiced in the name of "Piano Street". All day long various tunes vied with each other. About this time 2/Lieut. Fitzmaurice was invalided home.
Arras had been badly shelled in the beginning of the war and the Hotel de Ville, the Cathedral, and the houses round these buildings and the Railway Station had been completely destroyed. While we were there his activities were confined to putting over a few rounds every night about the time the rations came up. He used to shell St. Catherine - a suburb to the north - very heavily, as here he suspected the presence of our heavy guns.
It was estimated that 700 civilians were at that time in Arras. There had been more; but a good many went away when the French troops left. A few shops were open, selling writing paper, etc. (not forgetting the silk-card so attractive to the soldier). A certain number of estaminets were also open. Movement on the part of the soldiers and civilians were strictly prohibited during the day; nor were shops allowed to open until dark. The Town Major and his M.P's were very strict. While we were here 4 spies were caught by the combined efforts of an English Captain (Intelligence Department) and a French Captain of Gendarmerie. About this time Captain Sants went to the M.G.C.
During June we were relieved and went to Berneville where we spent most of our time in making gun-emplacements, assisting the R.E. etc in preparing for a stunt that did not come off. At this time, too, some of our working parties were up in the line when "Cuthbert", "Clarence", and "Claud" - 3 Bosche mines - exploded under the trenches formerly held by us. On the 2nd July 1916 we marched back to the small village of Oppy. A few days were spent here in very cramped quarters and then we again marched back to Berneville. Here we reconnoitred the front line at Wailly, and carried on with the same old working parties. We remained here about a week.
On the 13th July we marched from Berneville to Wanquetin, where we got into motor buses. Late that evening we were deposited at Iverny. Early next morning 14th July we got on the march and in the afternoon arrived at Candas. Next morning we were off again and in the afternoon arrived at Fuchevillers. Next morning the 16th July we moved to the broken-down village of Becourt-Becordel, near which the whole Brigade bivouacked.
On the 20th July the Battalion moved off along the crowded road and bivouacked near the village of Montauban. The next day we went into Caterpillar Valley, at the eastern end of which showed the trees of Delville Wood. Colonel Archer-Shee almost at once took command of the Brigade (as the Brigadier had been hit). At the end of 2 days he again rejoined on Brigadier-General Lord Gordon-Lennox arriving. Before going forward, we had left at Becourt our "dumped" personnels. These are officers, NCO's and men detailed to remain behind in safety, so that in the event of the rest of the Battalion becoming casualties a nucleus is available from which to reform the Battalion. The following was the composition of the Battalion as we went in:
Lieut-Col. Archer-Shee, DSO, MP
Deputy 2nd i/c. Capt. H.A. Colt
Adjutant, Lieut. Taylor
O/C "A" Coy. Lieut. W.W. Parr
O/C "B" Coy. Lieut. C.A. Beckett
O/C "C" Coy. Capt. E.B. Burris
O/C "D" Coy. Capt. T.M. Allison
We dug ourselves in in Caterpillar Valley and remained there 2 or 3 days. The first day there was nothing doing. Bosche shelled pretty heavily just to the rear of us and occasionally put shrapnel over us. The nest afternoon, however, he made up for this. An aeroplane, with British markings, had been hovering over us in a highly suspicious manner and nothing will ever persuade anyone who was there that this was not a disguised Hun plane. Anyhow, the Bosche that afternoon started shelling our trenches severely, while the plane hovered overhead, occasionally dropping coloured lights. The Bosche varied this by putting over Gas-Shells. We had a good many casualties mostly from "A" Coy. - Pte L. Jarman (the younger) was one of a number killed. About 5.0 pm we were told off to make a Battalion attack on the western side of Longueval (a village near Delville Wood) as a feint, while a serious attack on a big scale was made in Delville Wood itself. Just before zero, however, our part in the attack was cancelled.
On going back to Caterpillar Valley we obtained permission to move back to some higher ground out of the fumes of the gas. Here we spent a disturbed night, punctuated by the continual explosion close around us of 5.9" howitzer and 6" Naval German Shells. It was about this time that a working party of "D" Coy. had a number of casualties while drawing from a dump some bombs that exploded on being moved. They appear to have been damaged in some way - I fancy had been hit by a shell.
The following evening we relieved the 1st East Surreys in the front line. Our line ran from south end of the village towards High Wood. An attempt had that morning been made by the DCLI and the East Surreys to capture certain strong points, in conjunction with an attack on Longueval by some troops of another Division. The East Surreys had captured their objective and some 30 prisoners. As the other units attack had only resulted in very heavy casualties, the East Surreys had to relinquish their newly-captured strong point and fight their way back. The Hun several times massed for counter-attack according to reports of front-line posts and of our aeroplanes. On each occasion, however, our artillery prevented these attacks from materialising.
2 telephone messages we received give a good idea of this:
1st Mesage: "Enemy reported moving down communication trenches from Flers in great numbers."
2nd Message (3 hours later): "Scouting aeroplane reports enemy trenches from Flers full of dead."
The Hun barrage was extremely heavy and scarcely seemed to stop. This meant, of course, very heavy casualties. Battalion HQ was near the Sunken Road not far from a Hill - marked on the map, but of course not actually there. This sunken road was a veritable death trap. It was here that Lieut. Hosegood was killed and Lieut. Ryder wounded, both were attached to our Brigade Trench Mortar Battery.
At the end of 3 days we moved down Caterpillar Valley, through a barrage of gas-shells (phosgene) to Pommiers Redoubt. About the 27th July 1916 the 1st Norfolks took the village of Longueval and the following evening we again went into the line in much the same place as before but further forward. Here the men were ordered to dig themselves in. They did so with a will, and lucky it was that they did so; for during the morning the enemy started up a very heavy bombardment that caused a good many casualties.
The following day - at an hour's notice - we were ordered to take several strong points. We appear to have suffered heavy casualties on the way over, and later the Hun counter-attacked. The attack on our right by another unit failed as it had to go forward without a barrage - all attempts to get in touch with the men who had attacked were prevented by enemy rifle fire and they were given up for lost. That evening we were relieved and went back to Pommiers Redoubt. About 2 days later we were agreeably surprised by the arrival of the missing parties who had attacked the Hun strong points 2 days before. It appeared they had taken their objectives but had been surrounded and not until several attacks had been made did they get into touch with our troops. They stated that our troops who attacked the post actually held them but failed owing to heavy rifle and machine gun fire. For this exploit Sergt. Harris and Cpl. Wetherall were awarded the Military Medal.
Our casualties were about 320 during this period. These included: Killed: 2/Lieut. Hosegood, 2/Lieut. Richards, and 2/Lieut. Painter. Wounded: Capt. Burris, 2/Lieuts Thomas, Bennett, Cooper, Lambert, Ryland, Wilkins, Ellison, and Ryder.
About 2nd August 1916 we marched to a tented camp outside the village of Dernancourt, where we found the "dumped personnel". Two days later we entrained at Mericourt after a long wait at the station, during which the troops occupied their time by throwing cigarettes etc. into the Hun prisoner cage. Early next morning 5th August we detrained at Airaines, bivouacked in a field, and about 10.00 am marched to Vergies, arriving there about noon. This was a very comfortable village. Here we quietly reorganised and filled up with new drafts of officers and men. A good deal of training was done both at musketry and the attack. A little wood fighting was done and considerable attention was paid to the construction therein of strong points.
While here, Lieut. Wilmot, our Transport Officer, whose spirit was stronger than his body, was forced to go sick and invalided home. A year later, however, he contrived to persuade a doctor to let him return. Lieut. Shewell about this time went to the Royal Flying Corps and never again returned to this unit.
On sunday a memorial service was held at which the names were read out of all those who had been killed at Longueval. Both officers and men were allowed to go to Le Treport, on the Normandy Coast, for 2 or 3 days leave.
On the night of 23/24th August 1916 we marched to Bongpre (?) Station. As we approached it heavy rain started to fall. The train was, of course, hours late and the troops had to take what shelter they could. On the morning of the 24th we entrained and that afternoon detrained near Dernancourt and were accomodated in a tented camp. The following day we marched to a camp at the Citadel where Lieut. Taylor, the Adjutant, strained his ankle, Lieut. Webb taking over his duties, and next morning 26th August we went into the support trenches outside Maricourt.
The trenches were in a filthy condition and swarmed with fleas, otherwise they were fairly quiet save for occasional bursts of shrapnel over them, CSM Godfrey was wounded in this way. At the end of the month, the operation being postponed on account of heavy rain, we went back for a couple of days to a tented camp near Bronfay Farm. While here a bomb exploded in the incinerator, wounding one man.
At the end of this time we went into the front line; the Battalion being composed as under:
Lieut-Col. Archer-Shee, DSO, MP
Deputy 2 i/c, Capt. H.A. Colt
Adjutant, Lieut. Webb
O/C "A" Coy. Capt. Robinson
O/C "B" Coy. Lieut. Fitzgerald
O/C "C" Coy. Lieut. Harrington
O/C "D" Coy. Capt. T.M. Allison
On the 3rd Sept. 1916 the 12th Gloucesters on the right and the DCLI on the left attacked the Hun positions as part of a grand attack. Our people went over splendidly; they came under very heavy machine gun fire but pressed on undismayed. A party of "C" Coy. under Sergt. Hughes (afterwards CQMS of "C" Coy and later of "A") went a good bit beyond their objective owing to the obliteration by our shell fire of the landmarks. This party had a bad time from our final protective barrage. The shelling of our support lines was very bad. RSM C.E. Healy, several of the Orderlies and Orderly Room Staff were killed, while Col. Archer-Shee was hit in the area by a shell case.
All Companies, but particularly "A" Coy. had very heavy casualties. Among the dead the writer remembers seeing Ptes L.R. Shorto and F.C. Dearlove (of "A" Coy), and men of the type we lost at Longueval and on Sept. 3rd are not easily replaced. That evening Lieut. Fitzgerald was the only officer left of the 12 that had gone over with the Companies, and the Battalion consisted of 2 parties of men, viz - the remnant of "B" Coy. under this officer, and the remnants of "A", "C", and "D" Coys who were next day commanded by Lieut. Parr (who came up from the transport having just returned from C.C.S.)
following were among the casualties:
Killed - 2/Lieut. Vincent
Died of Wounds - Capt. Robinson
Wounded - Capt. Allison, Lieuts. Reynolds, Gedye, Hillborne, Barrington, L.C. Evans, G.B. Hall, Laird, and Howard.
only honours awarded to Officers for this Battle were:
Lieuts. Fitzgerald and Wilson, the Military Cross (the latter belonged to our Brigade Machine Gun Company and went over with the Battalion).
On 4th Sept. 1916 the East Surreys continued the advance capturing some strong points and the following day the 1st Devons took up the attack capturing the best part of Leuze Wood. Our Brigade during this period had advanced further than any other Brigade had done since the Battle of the Marne.
On the night of 7/8th Sept. we were relieved. On our way out the Huns made a big bombing attack on our front line posts in Leuze Wood and we were nearly called back. As it was CSM Bailey (at this time Acting RSM) had to guide up 2 Companies of relieving unit to counter-attack.
We marched back to camp near the Citadel where we remained for some days during which what was left of the Brigade paraded for a highly congratulatory address from the Corp Commander. We then marched back to the town of Ville Sur Ancre where we re-organised and rested the men. It was not much of a village and we were somewhat crowded.
About 3.00 am on the 18th Sept. we again set forth, reaching at 9.00 am a tented camp pitched in the midst of a muddy waste on the surface of which the rain descended in torrents. The C.O. and 4 Company Commanders proceeded independently, Capt. Colt bringing up the Battalion which now mustered about 200 men - mostly a new draft. At 2.00 pm the Battalion agains set forth in a pouring rain. About 5.00 pm tea was served in the open and the Battalion then proceeded along - or rather through - muddy tracks to the trenches round Bouleau Wood (beyond Leuze Wood), arriving there after midnight.
During our stay in Ville Sur Ancre we had successively been told, first that we should not have to go into the Battle of the Somme again; later, that if we did, however, have to go in it would only be to hold the line for a day or two. Finally, of course, we did go in and were then told to capture Morval as will be seen.
We remained in these trenches some three days during which there was a certain amount of shelling and some sniping. At the end of this time we went into support.
(5 day Gap in Narrative. On 25th Sept. the battalion took part in the Battle of Morval)