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France 1918

On the 4th April 1918 we detrained at Petit Houvin and marched to billets at Iverny. This time the 2/12th (as "B" and "D" Companies were known) thanks to the train journeys, arrived a few hours only after the 1/12th. We remained at Iverny a few days and then marched to Pommera. Next morning we set off to a Reserve billet in Arras. When the troops reached their billets, however, they had to turn around and march back to Pommera.

On the following day, the 11th April, we entrained at Mondicourt. This time the whole Battalion and the East Surreys were in the same train; the Transport marched. Getting near a nasty bit of loop-line near Choques, we discovered the line had very recently been relaid in one place, and by the side of the line lay 14 corpses and the remains of a truck. We later discovered that the Bosche was not much more than 7 miles away.

Choques looked very much more battered than we had first seen it - in October 1916. About 6 pm we detrained at Triennes and marched to billets near the village of Bosenghem - some 3 miles away. Next day scores of refugees came streaming through. At 3 pm 12th April 1918 we moved off, followed by the 1st East Surreys, and at about 6 pm we reached the Eastern or Hun side of the Forest of Nieppe near the little railway halt of Caubescure, about 2 miles west of Merville.

Just outside the forest were the 1st DCLI and 1st Devons who were to dig and hold a line about 500 yards outside the forest as soon as dusk fell. We dug in about 1000 yards inside the forest, in support; the East Surreys in Reserve further back. As soon as it began to get dark a series of men trooped through - Motor Transport men, Military Woodcutters, etc. Very glad they seemed at getting out of the line.

Around us were estaminets and farms abandoned by their owners, the former full of wine and beer. There was also a Chateau (Les Lavriers). Cattle, pigs, and chickens strayed about in all directions. Tents and hastily vacated huts yielded such articles as joints of beef, M.T. Drivers sheepskin coats etc. Eggs were to be had for the gathering, milk for the platoon who could muster among them a countryman. In Les Lavriers were a pair of Ming Vases. These were destroyed by the Bosche when he blew down the house with 8" shells. Later on we had any amount of peas, beansm potatoes - all of which grew round the front line. Battalion HQ also boasted of an asparagus bed.

The next day the Bosche attacked and the Companies reinforced the 2 Battalions in the front line. We suffered heavy casualties from machine gun fire; but shell fire was not so bad at first. The whole way along the line our Division repulsed the Bosche with very heavy loss. Incidents are related that these Huns were from the Russian front.

On the night 16/17th April 1918 the battalion went back to a small village to reorganise. On the morning of the 18th Battalion HQ were awakened by a shell striking the building in which they were billeted. (This wounded 2 NCO's - the Sergt. Shoemaker and the Master Tailor!)

We moved into the forest and bivouaced there the next 4 days. Here we were at peace. On the 22nd April we took over the line in much the same place (next sector further south). Here we were badly shelled both with H.E. and gas. On the night 22/23rd April the C.O. of the DCLI, their M.O., and our M.O. (Capt. Anderson) were gassed by the same shell.

In front of the centre of our line lay a small farm (Gloucester or Rafia Farm) and the farm of Le Vertbois. The latter had been formerly used as a T.M. School. It was decided that the Gloucesters should take these and occupy a line level with them, while the 1st Bedfords on our left conformed to this move by taking another farm. On the night of 23/24th April Battalion HQ was badly gassed. There were many casualties, among those blinded (temporarily) being Col. Colt who had to go down on the morning of the 25th.

On the evening of the 25th April we attacked, the operation being a complete success, 30-odd prisoners were captured, and a mile of line to the average depth of 500 yards. "A" Coy. bore the brunt of the fighting, ably supported by "B" Coy. "A" Coy. kept so close to the barrage that they completely surprised the enemy. Further on, however, Lieut. Armitage's party was held up by a ditch and suffered heavily from MG fire. "C" Coy. occupied the remainder of the line without a great deal of opposition. "D" Coy. were in Reserve. Lieut. Armitage was killed (?), Lieut. Rogers died of wounds. For this brilliant exploit Capt. Petheram was awarded a bar to the MC and Lieuts. Laird, Guise the MC, and Sergt. Lewis was among those awarded the DCM.

From here we went into support in the forest for 6 days. After that to a camp further back in the forest. At the end of this period we again went into the line this time in front of the village of Caudescure. From here we went into support in the forest near a dug-out called Warwick Castle. It was now about 18th May. From here we went back to Strenbecque for 6 days (where Company Flags were presented and medal ribbons) at the end of which time we went back into the line.

During this period of duty Lieut. Shepherd and CSM Lewis, DCM, and Sergt. Smith were killed by a Trench Mortar. On the 25th June 1918 while again in the line in the neighbourhood of Caudescure 2 newly joined officers attempted a daylight reconnaisance of a supposed enemy house. One officer (2/Lieut. Drew) and the NCO who accompanied were killed; the other officer, 2/Lieut. Abbott gallantly attempting to rescue them found himself in open country under heavy rifle fire at close range. It was certain death to move, so he had to lie "doggo" hoping to get away at dusk. The Bosche, however, had him under good observation, stalked him at dusk, got the drop on him and took him prisoner. But this we did not learn until after the Armsitice; we thought him dead also.

That night we came out of the line and rested for a few days in a camp in the forest. On the night of the 27/28th we again moved up to the Caudescure line. On our way the Bosche gave us a hearty welcome with all sorts of H.E. and gas. Over 40 casualties were incurred before we left the "shelter" of the forest to go into the forest line. On the morning of the 28th April we got our revenge. Attacking with great elan the Gloucesters took part in a 2 Brigade attack on the Germans. Here we took the little village of Corhet Perdu. We penetrated to a depth of over 2000 yards, taking a considerable number of prisoners. Our casualties were not very heavy luckily, for the wounded were hard to find among the corn (waist high).

During the afternoon the Bosche attempted a counter-attack that melted away, and yielded a few more prisoners, under our heavy and accurate fire. It was here that Lieutenant Guise, MC was killed. Among the honours awarded for this show were: Capt. Bray, Lieuts. Greenhalgh and Coombs: the MC.

Nothing of very much interest occured from now onwards. We spent a good deal of time in worrying the Hun in testing his line, and in hard work at the trenches. In the Birthday Honours, Capt. Kirby was awarded the MC.

Finally in early August we were relieved by the 2/5th Gloucesters. At the end of the first week of August 1918 the Battalion found itself in a tented camp outisde a small village. While there Capt. Petheram, MC left us for a 6 months tour of duty in England and Lieut. Cornock went to the Indian Army.

About 12th August we marched for 7 miles to Frevent, entrained, and arrived that afternoon at Doullens. From here we marched to a small village - very tumbled down - where we billeted for a few days. Here there was a large Chateau with beautiful grounds. A certain amount of training was done on an abandoned aerodrome.

About 15th August we moved to a small village some 5 miles away. Here we remained till the 18th August when suddenly we received orders to march to Doullens. We arrived at 3 am on the 19th and were billetted in the Catadelle. This place had, till quite recently, been used as a Casualty Clearing Station, but had been badly bombed.

On the evening of the 19th we marched to Rossignol Farm - a very large and somewhat battered building in the neighbourhood of Hebuterne. The next morning was spent reconnoitring the front line; and that evening we took up position in rear of the front line held by the 37th Division.

The Officers of the Battalion at this time were:

C.O. Lieut-Col. H.A. Colt, MC
Adjutant, Captain Maywood
Intelligence Officer, Lieut. Laird, MC
Signalling Officer, Lieut. Bracher
"A" Coy. Capt. Hathaway
"B" Coy. Lieut. Greenhalgh, MC
"C" Coy. Capt. Russell, DSO (recently joined from the 14th Gloucesters)
"D" Coy. Capt. Webb

At daylight on 21st August the 37th Division and the New Zealand Division attacked and captured the enemy's front and support lines including the villages of Puisieux au Mont and Bucquoy. Shortly after, the 63rd (Naval) Division on the left and our Division - the 5th - on the right, pushed through the frontage of the 37th Division to exploit their success. In our Brigade this attack was carried out by the 1st Devons and 1st East Surreys. The 1st DCLI in support and 12th Gloucesters in Reserve. The attack was carried out in dense fog and the tanks supporting the attack appear to have got quite bewildered. The attacking troops seem also to have lost direction. No troops were going forward on our right; since the New Zealanders were not to move until we reached our final objective - a distance of 3 miles. They were then to sweep forward, swinging half right, and join up on the right flank to the stationary part of the line to the southwards.

At noon, the fog having cleared at 11 am, the situation was very confusing, as no reports as to progress made had been received by our Brigade. The Gloucesters were sent forward to clear up the situation; in other words to take and hold the final objective on the whole Brigade front. Going forward it was found that the 1st Devons were held up on the 'Brown' line about 2 miles from the final objective. On their right was a small valley, on the far side of which the ground rose slightly, from here numerous Bosche machine guns were firing.

"B" and "D" Companies were ordered to attack, with "C" in support, "A" remaining in Reserve. Without any sort of barrage and without tanks, the battalion went forward splendidly. Using their Lewis Guns to provide covering fire, they worked their way over open undulating country for a further mile, under very hot machine gun fire, and a certain amount of shelling from the enemy, to whom their advance was perfectly visible from this rising ground in front of us. Here they were held up by the enemy's fire and had to dig in. As soon as darkness fell, they got in touch on their left with a party of the East Surreys who had followed a wandering tank into the vilage of Achiet le Petit. Among the casualties in this attack were Captains Webb and Russell, wounded - the former subsequently died, and the latter was again that afternoon hit by a stray bullet as he sat in a shell hole between the C.O. and the Adjutant. CSM Crossman of "B" Company was killed that night.

The situation was now that the Gloucesters held most of the Brigade front line with the East Surreys holding the remainder, the whole of our right flank was open save for a defensive flank some 100 yards in length. About a mile in immediate rear of us were the 1st Devons - in line with the New Zealanders. To our front the ground rose to a crest from which the enemy machine guns were still very active.

At daylight 22nd August the Bosche put down a heavy barrage and counter-attacked immediately on our right. There being no one to oppose them - other than the flanking fire of our few Lewis guns there - he swept on past our Battalion HQ till he brought up against the New Zealanders. This movement left his right flank exposed and Lieut. Anstey with 2 platoons of "A" Company was accordingly ordered to attack it. Going forward in a most gallant manner this party cut off a large bunch of Huns - the remainder of whom retired. Of the Huns cut off, some 200 were driven into the arms of the Devons - who had prolonged their line towards the New Zealanders, while Lieut. Anstey and his 40 men returned with 105 prisoners and 5 enemy machine guns. The remainder of the day passed without incident.

At 11 am on 23rd August we again attacked the Bosche - East Surrey on the left and Gloucesters on the right. Lieut. Laird now commanded "B" Company, Lieut. Benjamin "C" Coy. and Lieut. Ibbotson "D" Coy.

The Arras-Albert railway line ran about 300 yards in rear of the Bosche front line. It was not realised how amazingly deep sided was the culvert through which this ran in one place on the Gloucesters front. Going down this and up the other side "D" Coy. got too far behind the creeping barrage. As a result the Bosche machine guns held up this part of the attack and caused very many casualties. Soon, however, a flanking movement mopped these up. In front of the village of Irles we were again held up by machine gun, trench mortar and rifle fire. This village was strongly held by the enemy and it took 6 hours to clear them out. About 7.30 pm we got into the village and swept forward to the final objective. Soon after we were relieved by the 1st West Kents, whose first effort was to claim the capture of the village. This claim was withdrawn when it was pointed out to them that their first storming party reached the village 10 minutes after the Gloucesters had passed through it.

Among the honours awarded for operations on 21st-23rd August were: Lieut. H.A. Colt, MC - the DSO. Lieut. Laird, MC - bar to MC. Lieuts. Anstey, Benjamin, and Ibbotson, the MC.

20 officers had gone into the line on the night of 20/21st August. By 8 pm 23rd three remained - one of these was wounded later. Capt. Maywood was killed and Capt. Webb died of wounds. Among the wounded were: Lieut-Col. Colt, DSO, MC, Capt. Russell, DSO, Lieuts. Laird, MC, Latrobe, MC, Greenhalgh, MC, Gunning, Ibbotson, MC, Anstey, MC.

End of Narrative

Lieut-Colonel Colt, DSO, MC being wounded, was replaced by Captain W. Chapman (1st Battalion) who commanded the Battalion until it was broken up in 1918 and the men distributed among other Battalions, notably the 1st Devons.

Later the 12th Gloucesters were presented with Colours which were handed over to the custody of the City of Bristol and placed in the Art Gallery.