2/6th Bn. GLOUCESTERSHIRE REGIMENT
Awarded 4 battle honours: France & Flanders 1916-18. Ypres 1917. Langemarck 1917. Cambrai 1917.
Died: 296 men.
The sign of the 61st Division: The Roman numerals LXI (61).
Formed in September 1914 with many officers and men being transferred from the 1/6th Bn, including their new commanding-officer, Lieutenant-Colonel T.M. Carter.
Moved to Northampton in January 1915. In April 1915 moved to Chelmsford where it remained almost a year.
February 1916 moved to Salisbury Plain. The 2nd/6th Battalion left for France 23rd May 1916, landing at Boulogne the following day. After service at Neuve Chapelle the battalion ran into heavy fighting at Laventie, and so severe were their losses that it had to be reorganised.
3rd November they were in the Somme sector, at Fienvillers. Moved out of the Somme sector to Ternas on 11th November. Soon they moved to St. Leger and on 17th November to Aveluy (attached to 19th Division).
They fought near the 1st/6th during the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917 and captured an essential German position near Wieltje, before moving to Arras and Havrincourt, and later suffered terribly during the German counter-attack at Cambrai in December. Soon after they were back in the trenches near St. Quentin.
The 2nd/6th Bttalion was disbanded in France on 20th February 1918 with its personnel being transferred to an Entrenching Battalion.
The 2/6th Bn Gloucestershire Regiment, December 1917
(The Back Badge 1981)
"The Cambrai business really started for us up at Arras. The Battalion was in the line for a normal tour of duty, except that we had to do a small raid while we were there, the raiding party was to consist of an officer, myself, and 5 others. The objective was to destroy a German strongpoint which caused some annoyance from time to time. All was going normally when suddenly the Battalion was withdrawn from the line - that is except the small raiding party which was to complete its job and then rejoin the Bn. However, the day before we were due to do our job we were also rushed back to HQ. We were all rather excited because rumour had it that we were off to Italy where at least we thought the weather would be more pleasant! Anyhow it didn't work that way for we were all loaded into old London buses and rattled down to Cambrai.
It is of course history now that an offensive had been launched on the Cambrai front which had gone very well indeed to begin with, then the reserves that should have backed up and carried on the push were all suddenly diverted to Italy - the Germans soon realised the position and made a strong counter-attack and in the absence of any support, our people were soon pushed back to where they had started - in fact the position became critical hence the rushing down of people like ourselves to plug the gap and try to restore the position.
We arrived in the area late and night and bivouacked near a wood - I remember it was bitterly cold - we moved into the line at dusk next day. It was very difficult to find out what and where the line was supposed to be. We took over from some Guards but there were only a handful of them left under the command of a Lance-Corporal - he told me that all his officers had been killed, he and his little party were all that was left of the whole Bn. I little thought then that before long I should be telling a similar story. The slaughter must have been terrible for their were bodies everywhere. The night was spent in trying to establish a defence line and where dumps of ammo and Mills grenades were, but we never found any of them. I wandered into the German part of the line, fortunately it was pretty dark and I was not wearing my tin hat for I don't think even a German could have mistaken that! Anyhow, they didn't seem to be interested to establish contact so I wandered out the way I came.
At dawn next morning things soon started to happen, the Germans tried to rush a trench running at right angles to the one we were holding, we had no grenades at first and things looked a bit awkward, then someone passed a couple of Mills to me, I lobbed one over and that checked things for a bit, but a German grenade landed between me and Sergt. McCadden, he was badly wounded, I got plastered with blood but they were only superficial wounds really. Anyhow other people came along with more grenades and put a stop to the Germans attempt to push us out. We got McCadden out by some good fortune he got to a dressing station and away - he was in hospital for a very long time and it was many years before I saw him again, he is still alive and I met him at our last reunion. Soon after that little skirmish had died down the Germans evidently decided they had better get on with some serious business and it seemed to me that all the German guns in France suddenly opened up on us, the trench became an inferno. They carried out a number of similar attacks but it was not until the afternoon that we were finally driven out. Casualties had been very heavy and by that time I think there were less than 100 of us left.
We did not retire to another position at the rear but moved sideways in the trench to a position beyond a sunken road and made a block at the sunken road end - it made a natural strongpoint in a way. The Germans made a few probing attacks from the end, then shelled it fairly heavily for a while, also gave us a heavy dose of machine gun fire, it was during this period that Capt. Hughes-Game was wounded, we were discussing the situation and wondering what the next move would be when a bullet got him in the shoulder, he refused to have any attention but he was losing a lot of blood and finally collapsed, he solemnly told me "carry on Sergeant Major" just as he used to on any ordinary parade - and passed out. Two stretcher bearers took him away but I never saw them again and feared they had all been killed. It was 50 years before we would find each other again - under the old clock at Victoria Station where, I suppose, so many reunions have taken place. We only met once or twice after that and then to my very great sorrow and loss he died.
For some reason the German attack died away somewhat soon after that and we were able to do a little "stocktaking" .... it was evident that we were surrounded - very definitely on 3 sides but what happened at the other end of the trench we were in, wasn't very clear - there didn't seem to be any activity there, but we hadn't sufficient men to risk pushing out a party to investigate, as it was there was not a single machine gun between us. We did find a box or two of Mills and a little ammo and worse still of course, there were very few of us left now - and no food except the "iron rations". That night I was told to take a patrol out to see what the Germans were up to beyond the sunken road end. I got hit again and spent the night in a shell hole half filled with freezing water, a situation that didn't improve my temper. At dawn I was helped back to our line, this was a horrible "black" because I discovered I had lost most of my men and discovered nothing of value. I suppose I lost a fair ammount of blood with the earlier wounds and others I collected during the day, anyhow I remember suddenly feeling rather indifferent to the whole proceedings. This only lasted a few days and I brightened up again. During this period we were subjected to a number of "niggling" attacks from the Germans at the sunken road end but never any serious frontal attack. We raided the German position too, chiefly to pinch their rations because by then our chief diet was melted snow.
As you will have realised, attempts were being made at all times to make contact with other units of our people, several officers had gone towards the rear hoping to find a way through the German held lines and reach our own lines beyond, but none ever returned and no help came. Then finally, Capt. Gardner decided to make an attempt using a different route - and he succeeded, as he always did - next night soon after dark he turned up together with guides, and later that night we silently left our prison by the unguarded end opposite to the sunken road end. With afersight people will say that avenue of possible escape should have been investigated long before - perhaps it should.
Two problems remained of course, how to disengage from our friends at the sunken road end without raising any suspicion that anything unusual was happening. If we put up too much of a show they might decide to do a counter-raid and that was about the last thing we wanted. If we became too quiet they might decide to investigate, and that would have been as bad. So it was decided to do a mild sort of raid that we often did at dusk and while the main party was moving out the last bloke would chuck over a few grenades just for luck, and that is how it all worked.... I often wondered what they thought when they finally came over to investigate! The other problem was the wounded - the "walking wounded" presented no particular problem, but the serious ones caused a lot of heartaches for we had no stretchers and in any case in these circumstances would have slowed down and impeded the progress of what had to be a rapid and silent operation if in fact it was to succeed at all. So they had to be left - some asked to be shot rather than taken prisoner by the Germans. I never wish to face a situation like that ever again.
After following the guides for what seemed miles we came to another sunken road but a deeper one than "ours" and the block on the other side was very strong and guarded with umpteen troops with batteries of machine guns, etc. We were very, very glad to see British uniforms and faces again - except they were nothing to do with the 61st Division. We remained with them for several days and suffered a lot of seemingly unnecessary casualties for we were just lodgers and took no part in any of the routine trench duties - the trench was always heavily shelled which caused our additional casualties. It was a miserable few days, I collected a few more scratches and was feeling about done in. I think everyone was more than delighted when we finally got out of that bit of line.
We seemed to have to go a long way that night and finally ended up in some caves where the rations for the whole Battalion had been dumped ever since we went in the line on the 2nd December, and I had lost count of how long that had been - some ten days or more I suppose - I don't really know now. None of the troops had seen any food for a long time and it was a bit pathetic to see men like that not knowing what to try first; we were all very tired - we had gone into the line at Cambrai about 1,000 strong I suppose, that night I counted just 43. We remained in those caves that night and guides took us to the Transport Lines/plus Bn HQ on the following day.
We rested there for several days and had much needed clean-ups. Roll Call revealed that only 40 or 50 had come out of the line and all those were wounded in one way or another, a few of the more serious cases were sent off to the Dressing Station, but most of us got patched up and with a few days rest and food were soon in reasonable shape again. As you know, there are usually quite a few people around any Battalion HQ, the usual HQ staff, transport people, cooks, signallers, despatch riders, people returning from courses and leave, and so on. But when all these were counted we only numbered around 200, so to have brought the Battalion upto its normal fighting strength it would have needed a draft of about 1,000 trained men and that, at that stage of the war, obviously was never on. So Cambrai saw the end of the 2/6th Battalion The Gloucestershire Regiment. It has always seemed a great pity to me that no history of the Bn was ever written.
Some time later when the position along the front had become stabilised again, there was a big parade - review I suppose - of the whole 61st Div. with the G.O.C. (Sir Colin Mackenzie) present. I remember we were given a sort of "position of honour" on the parade, and the G.O.C. said that we had lived up to the Glosters reputation of fighting both to the front and back - and so on. He said that the action had helped to save the day in holding up the German attack until reinforcements arrived. I was never very impressed by all that, probably our efforts on the first day delayed the German advance some eight hours, but if he was referring to the week or so when we were bottled up in that bit of trench, then I think he should have thanked the awful German intelligence service for not discovering just what was holding them up in that bit of trench!
Soon after the parade, the Bn was officially disbanded. You may remember that at the end of 1917 the British Army was reorganised into three Battalion Brigades - sorry, badly put - I mean in future a Brigade would consist of three Battalions instead of four as it had done for many before. So the 183rd Brigade had no awkward problems, one Bn - the 2/6th Glosters just dropped off its list. When the Bn was disbanded we were all sent to an "Entrenching Battalion" - odds and ends of troops collected from heavens knows where to dig trenches in preparation for the coming German "Big Push". We were all very sick indeed about this - after Cambrai it seemed an awful slap in the face - also it seemed a stupid waste of experienced Front Line troops (which everyone knew would soon be very badly needed). The job of making reserve defence positions was obviously necessary but there was no shortage of labouring types and better suited for that sort of job too. Fortunately that didn't last very long, the Big Push started and although we were not in the Front Line to take the first blows, we were soon involved. But it was to prove a miserable and frustrating period - you see we did not belong to anyone, no Regiment, no nothing, so we were at the mercy of any junior staff officer who happened to be around and knew of any dicey job that needed doing, so casualties mounted again. Communications were difficult and since we didn't belong to anyone people forgot to pass on essential information - so sometimes we were left holding "fresh air" long after the other troops had gone. This led to quite a few awkward situations - once a section and myself were behind the German lines for the best part of a fortnight! But that is another story.
When things got a bit normal again I found that Capt. Gardner had been transferred to the 2/5th Bn so I put in an application straight away to join the same Bn. By great good luck I was accepted at once and within a few hours I found myself in Capt. Gardner's Company, so we came together again and remained so until I was shot through the lungs during an attack near Merville - near where we first started in France."