On the night of 26th/27th Sept. 1916 we were relieved and went back to a camp in Happy Valley near the old front line. Here we spent a couple of days without incident, save one night when we were bombed by enemy aircraft. The Gloucesters, happily, sustained no casualties from these bombs.
Entraining we reached the small village of Sorrel. About this time Lieut. R.J. Fitzgerald heard that he had been awarded the MC for bravery on 3rd Sept. 1916.
On the night of the 1/2nd October we entrained at either Longpre or Pont-Remy. The night was spent in the train, and early next morning we detrained at Chocques. From here we had a 3 mile march to Bethune where we billetted in the Ecole Des Jeunes Filles. Here we remained for some 3 or 4 days, at the end of which our Brigade took over the line in what was known as the Givenchy Sector (north of the Canal). Our Brigade remained hereabouts until the middle of March. Part of the time we held the Givenchy Sector; part of the time the Cuinchy Sector (south of the Canal); and part of the time the Festubert Sector (north of the Givenchy Sector).
Festubert Sector: The trenches were breastworks, erected on what were locally called "islands", in other words plots of ground 2 or 3 inches above the surrounding water. If you wished to go from one post to another had to wade. Mud was plentiful. On the other hand there were no mines, nor was the shelling severe to those who had come from the Somme. One lived, if lucky, in a leaky iron shelter.
Givenchy Sector: This sector was much drier than the Festubert Sector. The front line was, however, very muddy owing to it constantly being blown in. Along most of it extended a series of mine-craters; each had a name, such as "Red Dragon", "White Horse" etc. Trench mortar fire here was very heavy. The support line was almost entirely destroyed by this means while we were here. A good deal of patrolling went on without a great deal of success. Near Givenchy Church was a spring that proudly advertised that it produced the best water in the Pas De Calais. In these trenches, also, dug-outs were impossible; one lived in shelters made by roofing over a portion of a fire-bay. When it rained, the trenches were usually water-logged for days.
Cuinchy Sector: This was on the south side of the Canal. It was connected, about 100 yards in rear of the front line, to the Givenchy Sector by a foot bridge that was a couple of feet under water. There was also a lock further back and a bridge (iron road) about a mile back adjacent to the Reserve Line. The principal scenery in this sector was brickstacks. Between these ran closely connected mine craters. The front line here was blown in with unfailing regularity in front of the Brickstacks each day. So also was "Edgware Road" the extreme right communication trench. There was plenty of mud. Here, however, one was able to construct a few dug-outs. This sector was a favourite one for raids. Small patrol enterprises etc.
So much for the front line. When in the support we were usually accomodated either in the support line, near the Reserve Line, or in Marley Street which still boasted of a little battered housing. Here working parties went up the line each night either carrying or digging. Four days out of each 16 were spent in the Reserve at small village 3 or 4 miles in rear. Le Quesnoy and Gorre were usually occupied by us.
Occasionally the Brigade would be relieved and we would then go back for a week to Bethune or to villages just outside it. As might be expected - we were on arrival here - very weak in mumbers. Practically all our old, well trained men had become casualties. They had been replaced by about a quarter of the number of badly trained, humble spirited drafts who represented the last expiring effort of the now defuct voluntary system. This, however, did not give us any less line to hold. Soon, too, the new drafts picked up a resolute and soldierly spirit, and became worthy imitations of their predecessors in the Battalion.
On October 2nd, after we had been a fortnight in this part of the line, Col. Archer-Shee, DSO, MP went home on leave to have a bullet - an old wound dating from the beginning of the war - removed. Major W.A.R. Blennerhassett took over the Battalion while Captain Colt went for a fortnight to command the 1st East Surreys during the absence on leave of their C.O.
As a rule things were fairly quiet at night, but on the night of 4/5th November a small party of Bosche succeeded in raiding one of our posts. The raid was well planned and ably carried out. Of the garrison of the post 3 were taken prisoner, 2 escaped, while the 6th man was left bleeding from a dozen knife wounds on our parapet. This was probably revenge for the numerous bombing raids we were carrying out.
As the Division did not anticipate the early return of Col. Archer-Shee, we were surprised on the 9th November - Major Blennerhassett being then on leave - by the arrival of Lieut-Colonel R.I. Rawson of the 1st Gloucesters to take over command of the Battalion. This officer was till then in command of our Divisional Pioneers Battalion, the 6th A&S Highlanders. At this time too, CSM Say joined us from the Warwicks and became our RSM. He is an old Gloucester. Capt. T. Allison and Capt. E. Burris returned from being wounded on the Somme. The latter at once went as Musketry Officer and never returned to us.
At Xmas we were at Bethune in the same billets. The troops spent a happy Christmas thanks to the dainties provided by the Comforts Committee and the large grants made to each Company from the Canteen Funds. Not only were there plenty of shops, but no less than 2 Divisional Concert Parties were performing at theatres in the town. About this time Capt. Colt and Lieut. Parr were awarded the MC, New Years Honours; and the former gazetted Major.