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1917

Little of interest occurred in January. During the latter part of the month the weather became very bright and cold. Luckily, in our sector, tunnels had been constructed that led from the Support Line to the Front Line near the Brickstacks. No digging could be done as the ground was too hard. In the middle of January Colonel Rawson went on leave, Major Colt taking charge of the Battalion - Major Blennerhassett having been given command of a Brigade Reinforcement Camp.

Towards the end of the month Col. Archer-Shee returned once more. Soon after this, however, he again left. In his absence Major Colt was again in command, as Col. Rawson was running the Divisional School.

On 5th March 1917 a most successful raid was carried out by "A" Coy. under the command of Capt. W.G. Chapman, 1st Gloucesters, who had joined the Battalion some 6 weeks before. The section of the enemy's line chosen for this operation was that immediately south of the Hun Brickstacks. "A" Coy. were sent back for a week to train for the stunt. The most difficult part was the assembly - it being found necessary to get the men together in the bottom of "Lunatic" Crater. Zero hour being at 5 am the work of trickling the men forward began at 4.40 am. Unfortunatley the moon was at, or near, its full - the operation had been postponed one week from the original date. Luckily, however, its full light grew dim at the proper time, while by a stroke of luck, snow began to fall. The raid was carried out under a barrage; while smoke was used to prevent any action on the part of the MG's in the enemy Brickstacks; it was very effectual. The raid took about 20 minutes; from zero hour until the last man of the raiders tumbled down the steps into the tunnel that led to the Support Line. In the midst of the continuous stream of men with blackened faces were 2 terrified Bosche. Our casualties were very light - 2 men injured in exploding the 2nd bangalore torpedo (for making a gap in the wire), and one men slightly scratched on the cheek with a comrades bayonet in the rough and tumble of "going over". The enemy's casualties were estimated at: Killed by mobile charges dropped into their dug-outs - 50 (this was judged by the number of rifles standing outside the dug-out), killed by the bayonet - 30. Prisoners - 2. Among the honours awarded for this stunt were: Capt. Chapman, the MC, and Sergt. MacFarlane the DCM.

About this time several officers of the 66th Division, then in England, were attached to us. The most popular of these was the Captain who wished to join us as a 2nd Lieut. After the raid Major Jenkins of the 1st Devons took over command to enable Major Colt to go on leave. In the middle of March we were relieved as expected by the 66th Division, newly arrived from England.

The 18th March found us in billets at Burbure (?), a small village not far from Lillers. On the same day Lt-Col. Rawson took command of the Battalion and Major Colt returned from leave. The principal feature in the local scenery was the enormous slag heaps thrown up from the mine shafts. As we were doing strenuous training these were invaluable for field practice, and full use was made of them for rifle and Lewis gun fire and for rifle grenades. On one occasion another Regiment used them for a grimmer purpose - executing a deserter.

When no training we were either on a makeshift rifle range or practising bombing (live) and trench digging. Captain G.C. Reade, 3rd Gloucesters will be remembered in connection with the range work. It was here that a prematurely exploding bomb blew off the thrower's hand and also wounded Lieut. E.M.T. Burges.

At this time the following were the Battalion Officers:

C.O. Lieut-Col. Rawson
2nd i/c Major H.A. Colt, MC
Adjutant, Capt. J.H. Allen (formerly a subaltern "A" Coy.)
O/C "A" Coy. Capt. Chapman, MC
O/C "B" Coy. Capt. Jeune
2nd i/c Lieut. W.W. Parr, MC
O/C "C" Coy. Capt. Webb
O/C "D" Coy. Major Allison (just promoted)

Many new officers arrived and the Battalion was filled up to full strength; so we knew we should shortly be taking part in a "Push."

Sure enough, the 7th April found us in a hutted camp in the Bois des Alleux near St. Eloi, near Arras (not to be confused with the village of the same name near Ypres). Here our Division was in Reserve to the Canadian Corps in their successful attack on Vimy Ridge on Easter Monday. (Our 15th Brigade went over with a Canadian Division). On our way here - about a mile from the huts - voices in the darkness enquired whether "old Sam Farrington" was still with us. They proved to be the 128th Heavy Battery who were at Ashton Gate with us in the early part of 1915. L/Cpl. Farrington had been MO's Orderly there, hence their knowledge of him.

The weather was abominable while we were at the Bois des Alleux, a good deal of snow falling and making the mud worse than before - if possible. The attack of the Canadians had been a great success in the centre and on the right. They had, however, been hung up on the left near the "Pimple" and there had sustained heavy casualties. About 12th April our Division relieved the Canadian Division affected. The first four days were spent by the Gloucesters in tunnels in the hillside east of Souchez. On its way in, Battalion Headquarters had several casualties as it picked its way over the duck-board track across the river.

About 16th April the Battalion found itself near the Bois de L'Hirondelle. Everyone who was there will remember the approach to this place, through Angres and the railway bridge. It was a nasty place, though the other route by the Fosse was possibly worse. Here the Battalion had a rough time, especially from shelling - one platoon of "A" Coy. being blown up by a shell that penetrated their cellar. In the meantime the dumped personnel and the transport lived in tents, between Carrency and Villers au Bois.

About 23rd April the Battalion came out to a hutted camp near the Chateau de la Hair, to reorganise and refit. It was from this place that Lieut. Lane - our Quartermaster - was invalided home. Lieut. Bray took his place - as Acting-Quartermaster only - as he was a combatant officer.

About a week was spent here and at a small village (Petit Servins) near by, when the Battalion moved up to Maison Blanche, near the Labrinth of evil fame. The transport moved to a spot midway on the Arras-St. Eloi Road. Next morning they were badly shelled by a heavy, high velocity gun (believed to be a 12.2"). These shells did not give the customary warning of their approach. About 20 were fired, one falling in the middle of the camp making a hole in which an ordinary Police Station could have been buried with ease. Capt. Taylor was sitting in his bath while Lieut. Parr was shaving. Casualties, however, were one man scalded by having a "dixin" of boiling water upset on him and 2 injured by large clods of earth. The tranpsort then moved to Ecurie, where they remained until the Battalion left for Mazieres.

This was on the 4th May, the samw day the Battalion took over the line at Fresnoy. Fresnoy is best described as "a pimple on a salient". To its right the line ran back well west of Oppy, while on the left it ran back well west of Lens. It was under complete observation, for the rising ground near the Chez Bontemps - a large quarry on the hillside - looked down into the area. It was stated that 20 Canadians had captured Fresnoy but that 500 had lost their lives trying to hold it. From 4th May onwards, the Hun concentrated all his available hate on Fresnoy. He flattened out all the trenches by an incessant bombardment, while aeroplanes harrassed the defenders with their machine gun fire.

On the night of 7/8th May the Companies in the front line were relieved by "A" and "C", "B" going into support and "D" into reserve. A good deal of rain fell during the night and in the morning there was a heavy mist. The rain formed slippery mud. At dawn a picked Division of Bosche attacked us, while gas shells were plentifully distributed on our Artillery; which had taken over the guns the Canadians had used at Vimy Ridge). In the heavy mist the SOS was not seen by the Artillery - all the telephone lines had been cut by enemy shells. Added to this an inter-battalion relief was in progress on our left.

In the right sub-sector - 1st East Surreys. In the left sub-sector - 12th Gloucesters.
In support - 1st DCLI. In Reserve - 1st Devons.

Officers with the Battalion at this moment:
Lieut-Col. Rawson
Intelligence Officer, Capt. Leicester
"A" Coy. Lieut. Fitzgerald, MC
"B" Coy. Lieut. W.W. Parr, MC
"C" Coy. Lieut. Ticehurst
"D" Coy. Major Allison

The first wave of the attack was repulsed by the garrison on our front line. In many cases the rifles were so sticky with mud that of each pair of men one had to load while the other fired. Here L/Cpl. Civil greatly distinguished himself as a No.1 of a Lewis Gun - within a short time he was a Sergeant. The second wave of the attack broke into our front line. The support company immediately counter-attacked and ejected the Huns from our trenches. The enemy third wave then came forward assisted by small parties of Huns who had worked their way around the rear of our trenches. The support company fought to the last, none of the officers ever being heard of again (Parr, Ryde, Burges, and Merrell).

The reserve Company ("D") assisted by a Company of DCLI went forward to restore the situation. It was in attempting to reconnoitre the enemy's new position that Lieut. Leicester (Intelligence Officer) was killed - shot through the head. The rain had made the ground very slippery, progress was consequently very slow, and it was a long way to the front line. After some distance they met the Bosche, but could make no impression on him, so formed a new line where they were held up.

So ended Fresnoy, where the 12th Gloucesters, for the first and last time, yielded ground to the Hun. During these operations we had lost very heavily. Even before the attack took place Capt. Jeune, Lieut. Ireland, and other officers had been killed, as well as CSM Cruse. Just before the Bosche came over Lieut. Fitzgerald, MC had been left for dead. The Bosche, however, found him still alive, sent him to hospital and thence to a prison camp, from which he escaped within 4 months of his capture.

On the 10th May the Battalion, very depleted in numbers (only one officer, 2nd Lieut. Gillard besides the CO and Adjutant, came out unwounded) but filled with a savage hate against the Hun, arrived at Maroeuil (?). Here the Battalion was brought up to strength and re-organised and training carried out. A fortnight later we went to one of the many camps that had sprung up outside Arras. Here we were in Reserve. About this time Capt. Maywood came to us as Adjutant, from the 1st DCLI. At the beginning of June we went back to the pretty village of Dieval. Here we spent a week of very training.

About 9th June 1917 we relieved the 2nd King's Liverpools in the trenches running round the village of Arleux - in front could be seen the ill-omened village of Fresnoy. About this time the following was the composition of the Battalion officers:

C.O. Lieut-Col. R.I. Rawson
2nd i/c Major H.A. Colt, MC
Adjutant, Capt. Maywood
O/C "A" Coy. Capt. Chapman, MC
O/C "B" Coy. Capt. Kirby
O/C "C" Coy. Capt. Beckett
O/C "D" Coy. Capt. Taylor

When we took over, the front line consisted of a series of scattered rifle pits with an odd strand of wire in front of them. The 12th Gloucesters were always remarkably good at hard work, and when, at the end of August, we handed over the trenches to the 31st Division they took over a highly organised and excellent trench system with splendid communication trenches running back over the Vimy Ridge (5 miles).

During the few months we were there, we were constantly sapping forward and bringing our front line closer to the enemy. At the end of June the 15th Brigade captured the outskirts of the village of Oppy, on our right. The Bosche on this occasion seemed to know the original hour of "zero".

The Hun certainly had a rotten time opposite us, for we were constantly projecting gas and burning oil at him. His retaliation was usually very heavy on our front line and very many casualties were thus caused. Luckily he did not send back much gas while we were there, but he did not stint his shells. The weather on the whole, was excellent during our time here. This was just as well, since, whenever we were not in the front line or in the support line we were under canvas in front of Arras.

In early August Capt. Beckett was appointed 2-in-command of the 4th Leicesters. He never returned to us, his new Division refusing to part with him. At the end of August we were relieved and marched back to the village of Mazieres. A strenuous time was spent here; not only did we work hard but also played hard. Battalion sports, concerts, boxing tournaments and rifle meetings were held in our spare time while the amount of Field Practice, trench-to-trench attacks, carried out was amazing.

On 25th September we entrained and that evening - after a trying march, on top of a train journey - reached Bayenghem, within 20 miles of Calais. About this time Capt. Taylor went to an Army School and Capt. Chapman to command the Divisonal Wing of the Corps Reinforcement Camp. After this came 3 days of heavy marching over hard, high roads; the weather being hot and sultry. Finally on the evening of 29th Sept. we arrived at Meteren.

Leaving Meteren about 8.00 am on 1st October in motor lorries, the Battalion proceeded to the Ypres-Menin Road and took up a position not far from Stirling Castle. Here they were in support of an attack made on 4th October. Previous to this "D" Coy. suffered many casualties (including 3 of their 4 officers) from Mustard Gas, which was very plentiful in this part of the world.

The surrounding country was flat and consisted mostly of shell holes and water, through which wandered "duck-board" tracks broken here and there by shell fire. Spots marked on the map as "Sactuary Wood" and "Glencorse Copse" presented no different appearance than spots indicated on the map as flat open country.

There were at least 3 definite barrage lines and the shelled area ran back to well past Zillebeke. Nor was one free from annoyance further back, for with unfailing regularity the enemy bombed each night all the back areas from Ridge Wood to Calais, Dunkirk, and Boulogne. The first night in this area, no less than 35 horses and mules of our Brigade Machine Gun Company were killed by bombs. Two of their men were also killed. Lieut. Davidson had here a narrow squeak. As he lay sleeping with his head on an air pillow suddenly his head bumped the ground; a splinter from a bomb had pierced his pillow! In our part of the line, the principal feature was Polderhoek Chateau, a fair sized building on a small hill. This was strongly held by the Bosche, as was Gheluvelt immediately to the south of it. Three separate attacks were made by our Division on the chateau. The first captured the place, but the Hun immediately retook it by a counter-attack. The second also got home, but was again repulsed by a counter-attack. The third failed to take the objective. In none of these attacks, however, were the 12th Gloucesters directly affected. Their role was that of the reserve or support on each occasion. This entailed all the arduous work of carrying and of moving from position to position through heavy barrages. As a consequence we lost a very large number of men without getting any particular 'kudos' other than that of being able to stand the maximum amount of punishment.

Well will the 12th Gloucesters who served there remember "Jerk Track", a duck-board walk, broken and shivered, with inumerable curves where new duck-boards had been laid round shell holes. By the side of the track, and often on it, lay corpses torn by the explosion of the 5.9" shells and whizzbangs. The track was about a mile long and started from Brigade Headquarters. Those who walked on it, however, usually felt that its length was nearer 10 miles. There was, of course, no shelter on it; on the contrary, it was raised above the level of the surrounding country.

In the attack of the 4th October among those who fell was 2/Lieut. (Acting Capt) Mainstone O.C. of "A" Company, a most promising officer, who had in July 1917 been given a commission from the ranks of the 1st Gloucesters.

On 9th October Col. Rawson left for England on a 6 months tour of duty and Major Colt took over command of the Battalion. Subsequently getting a Brigade, Col. Rawson did not return to us.

Some days later the Battalion came out of the line. About mid-day they reached Ridge Wood; a long and tedious march for men exhausted by nearly a fortnight under terrible conditions that had obtained in the line. Late in the afternoon, we were luckily able to get a motor bus convoy which ran us down to Curragh Camp near Westoutre. Among those awarded honours for this show were Capt. C.S. Petheram and Lieut. E.M.T. Burges - the MC.

Here some 12 days were spent in reorganising, refitting, and resting the Battalion for the next effort. About this time some considerable advance was made in the Regimental Band. A number of instruments had been purchased by Col. Archer-Shee in the early part of 1916 and good band had been got together. At Longueval, however, most of the band became casualties. The instruments, however, remained but the new players lacked the combination that is as necessary in music as in football. They were referred to by the envious battalions of the Brigade (who had no bands at all) as the "Terrible Ten". Sergt. Underwood - organist by profession - joined about this time and took the band in hand. More instruments and music were bought and in 3 months it rivalled the Divisional Band.

Towards the end of October we again went into the line. This time 2 Companies held the line between the Reutelbeke and Polberbeke, still in sight of Polderbek Chateau. The other 2 Companies were in support to other battalions of our Brigade. Here we spent 4 or 5 days; Battalion HQ being in a small and ill-smelling pill-box named "Jerk House". It had one great and outstanding merit - it defied all types of shells that hit it. Rumour had it that even 8" shells exploded harmlessly on it. Consequently the inmates did not mind its drawbacks; such as the need for constant baleing - water simply poured down the steps - and the dead Bosche under the sandbag steps. During this time Lieuts. Dann and Fowler were killed.

From here we went back to Ridge Wood, where we lived in huts, and again reorganised. Coming out we had had many casualties,not in the least among them being Corporal C.C. Parry, a stout-hearted original member of the Battalion. Lying with his back broken by the side of Jerk Track he flatly refused to be moved, saying he was dying, and cheered his comrades as they reluctantly passed by.

From Ridge Wood we made our way into Brigade Reserve in an underground set of apartments known as Tor Top. "B" Company, however, held the line near Cameron Cover (in front of Jerk House). The DCLI and Devons attacked next day without much success and the Gloucesters, during a counter-attack, had to make their way to different units through a hostile barrage. Luckily the casualties were not as heavy during this journey as they appeared to be. A few more days were spent thus dispersed. Battalion HQ again being at Jerk House. We then moved back into Divisional Reserve at Bedford House and 2 days later (12th November 1917) marched back to Aragon Camp the other side of Westoutre.

From here we moved back to Henneveux and were just starting on a training scheme when the Division was told off to go to Italy and ordered to concentrate near Hesdin not far from St. Poi. We were billeted at Le Parc about 3 miles from the former town. While here Lieut. Fitzgerald who had escaped from Germany, rejoined. Everyone was recalled from leave.