The Somme Sector

1st , 2nd & 3rd February 1917

Early in Feb rumours circulated that in a little while the Divn was to take over a portion of the French Line. Operation Orders were issued on the 7th stating that on the nights of the 13th/14th and 14th/15th the 50th Divn was to relieve the 35th and 36th French Divns in front of Belloy en Santerre1 and Berny en Santerre2 . This was part of a gradual extension of the British Front southwards as far as a point opposite the town of Roye3 . (50th Divn)

DERNANCOURT

Bn continued to train as on previous days. A party was detailed to proceed to Rue Des Illieux, Albert to fix up bathing apparatus for the whole Bde. In spite of pipes being frozen the majority of the men were bathed.

4th & 5th Feb

Training continued. Coys were practised in musketry on range allotted to us.

6th Febuary 1917

GOC 149th Infantry Bde inspected the Bn in full marching order.

7th February 1917

Lt T.A.L Thompson returned from leave on the 4th Feb 1917 and resumed duties of acting Adjt. Capt C Stephenson also returned from leave. 2nd Lt W.C Clemitson and seventeen men rejoined from base.

8th February 1917

At 9am the Bn marched off for Mericourt Sur Somme. Progress was very slow on account of having to halt whilst the Divn Train Transport, 2nd Field Ambulance and 446th Field Coy RE caught up with the rest of the column. Route lay via Buire Crossroads4, Ville Morlancourt5, Chipilly6, Cerissy7, Morcourt8and Mericourt Sur Somme9. Bn was billeted in houses and farms around Mericourt. The remainder of the Bde were billeted in large huts in vicinity of village. The intense cold prevailed. An enemy aeroplane flew over about 10.30pm and dropped bombs.

9th February 1917

Coys exercised in Coy drill.

10th February 1917

The Bn marched seven miles via Chuignolles and Chuignes to Bois Touffu. Dugout accommodation was found for the whole Bn.

BELLOY

11th February 1917

2nd Lt T Bonner was the recipient of the Croix de Guerre.

7pm Relieved 123rd Regt (French)

The ground was frozen hard on the 12th of Feb. The trenches occupied by the 4th Bn were in good condition although there were no revettments. At 6pm, ‘D’ Coy moved up in close support to the 7th Bn.
Work. Latrines and sanitary arrangements improved, and trenches cleaned.

Enemy artillery quiet during day and night, village occasionally shelled with 5.9’s.

No casualties

13th February 1917

Trenches and dugouts cleaned, and draining commenced in Boyau Bouchet. Enemy artillery shelled village area N 21 A occasionally with 5.9’s

7pm ‘D’ Coy returned to this sector.

14th February 1917

The trenches were cleaned, but, because the ground was frozen revetting could not start, but material was carried up to Argonne Trench and Bouchot Trench in preparation for when the thaw commenced.

11am to 1pm Area N21 A behind village heavily shelled with 5.9s and occasionally during day and night. 'C' Coy cookhouse blown in.

6pm ‘C’ Coy moved up in support of the 5th Bn in Trench De Hures.

15th February 1917

At 8am work and preparations for revetting Communication Trench No8 commenced l' Argonne Trench10 and Bouchot Trench11. Work continued throughout day, and carried by two parties of fifty from 6th Bn at night. One hundred yards in each trench, sides sloped and 2ft berm about sixty yards each.
Shelling of area N21 A desultory during daytime increasing towards midnight. Ten gas shells were sent over and fell near the junction of Trench De Parc12 and Bouchot. At 4pm a French bomb stores (near dump) at N21 C 80 exploded causing casualties, and a fire amongst RE material, which took until 4am the following morning to extinguish. One man killed and six wounded.

16th February 1917

On the 16th work continued on Argonne and Bouchot trenches and carried on at night-time by two parties from the 6th Bn. More material carried up ready for use ‘C’ Coy commenced work on Boyau II Bis sloping sides, materials carried up from Belloy for their use. Gas shells and 5.9s fell in Belloy during day and night. Much aerial activity and good observation. Casualties – One man wounded.

At 8am work continued on Argonne and Bouchot trenches, about 300 to 350 yards in each trench done with about 150 yards 2ft berm dug. The work was continued by two parties from the 6th Bn at night.
Boyau II Bis. 'C' Coy worked on this, sides sloped, duckboards repaired and laid.

The following RE material carried up from Belloy to Argonne and Bouchot. 800 long pickets, 15 coils wire, 50 sheets expanded metal and 100 trench boards. Our trenches now show signs of falling in owing to thaw. Gas and 5.9s shells fell occasionally in village day and night.

7pm to 12pm Enemy machine guns fired bursts of fire evidently intended for dump, bullets fell near PC Gaudy from direction Barleux.

18th February 1917

Argonne Trench 50 yards revetted 200 yards cleared of mud. Channels cut under duckboards.

Bouchot Trench 60 feet revetted

Trench de Hures 70 yards one side revetted

Marchal Trench 50 wooden stakes driven in

Boyau 2 Bis 200 yards relaid, 50 yards new duckboards laid

Trench du Parc Channels out under duckboards draining

Materials carried up to various trenches for work. Two rolls of rabbit wire, 100 x 6’ posts, 68 pickets, 34 duckboards, 170 pickets, 50 duckboards, 27 trenchboards.

11.30am Activity occasionally shelling in area. Heavy shelling between 11.30am and noon near junction Souville and Bouchot Trench with 5.9s and 4.2s HE and shrapnel.

Two men wounded.

19th February 1917

N34A to T.4A

At 8pm the Bn relieved the 5th Bn. Three Coys moved into the front line and one in support.

8am Work continued on Argonne, Bouchot and Marchal trenches. Thirty yards of revetting were carried out in Trench des Hures, Boyau 2 Bis. Activity occasional shelling Bouchot trench near junction Souville.

20th February 1917

Majority of the communication trenches in almost impassable condition, over knee deep in places. Left sector better. Carrying sent to dump for pump and duckboards. Commenced pumping Trench Martin.

Enemy heavily shelled vicinity of junction B Damloup and Trench Marchal with 5.9s between 9.30 & 10.30am also N33 D central occasionally. Two patrols sent out from the left and centre Coys reported that the ground was very soft and greasy, enemy sentries were thirty yards apart and that our wire in good condition.

Work on the trenches continued on the 21st, left Coy sector much improved, reconnoitred overland route to PC Hedevaux, wire and tape laid. The work of the centre and right Coys was delayed owing to having to clear trenches. Twenty-six trench boards were laid in Specel trench, four hand pumps were carried from Hedevaux to B Damloup. Our 18-pounder guns fired on enemy wire from 2pm until dusk. Two patrols from the centre and right Coys reconnoitred the enemy wire. A sap was discovered towards our lines finishing at T4A97. German wire extended from T4A91 to T4A83 and then to T4A85, and practically untouched Sap showed signs of heavy shelling two feet of water.
Enemy artillery shelled Annamites trench with 5.9s all day at retaliation, also Marchal trench junction with Danloup.

At 7.35pm and 8.30pm there was a short barrage on above trenches. Fish tails 40 fired in ravine 9pm and occasionally machine gun fire. Fish tails 40 fired Annamites trench.

22nd February 1917

The trenches were much improved with the continuing cleaning and pumping out. The communication trenches were still bad; laid six hundred yards of duckboard from N27C95 to N33B05 on the overland route. Twenty yards of Marchal trench were cleared and trench boards laid. Bridge erected over Trench Des Hures13 for overland route, twenty yards of Specel trench14 cleared and trench boards laid. From 1pm our Howitzers and 18-pounders were firing on the enemys’ wire.

Two patrols went out from right and centre Coys at midnight. ‘D’ Coy reported that while going along Sap T4A87, they had discovered a machine gun position at T4A83. Rifle grenades T4B28. Two rows French wire in front of our Specel trench and Couldur trench. One patrol from ‘B’ Coy left N34D11 enemy wire intact. Patrol worked fifty yards north wire very thick. Enemy listening post noted at N34D60, enemy post discovered at N34D93.

Enemy artillery was very quiet. Shelled and trench mortared Annamites trench occasionally at night. Machine gun fires on road N33D central. Enemy has two barrage lines 100 yards west of Annamites trench15, Marchal trench16 and Danloup17 trench.

On the 23rd work continued on clearing and pumping out the trenches, while two hundred more duckboards were laid on an overland track. The communication trenches were still waterlogged. Our Howitzers and 18-pounders on wire all day on enemy wire at points T4B04 N34D81/2 61/2 T4B16. Between midnight and 3am, five patrols were sent out and gaps ten yards wide were found in the wire at T4B04 and T4B16. The existence of sap T4A87 and a machine gun post at T4A83 were confirmed. Listening post suspected N34D60 and post at N34D73

Enemy artillery was quiet during the day but at 7.55pm enemy opened barrage on our front line, intense machine gun and trench mortar fire. Night very dark and communication with centre Coy was cut, they called for artillery retaliation in case of attack by enemy, by sending up an SOS which was repeated from headquarters. Our artillery opened barrage 30 seconds after SOS sent up and enemy fire soon died out about 8.20pm. Slight trench mortar activity during night also machine gun fire. One man killed and two wounded. (1 accidentally).

24th February 1917

Cleaning and draining work continued on all trenches, dugouts and posts in the sector. 95 duckboards laid on new track. Bridge built over trench N33D1.3. Our artillery continued to cut enemy wire at N34D8.6 with good results. Three patrols out report wire at T4B04 gap is ten yards wide, but wire 1’ high. Lamp signalling from Cyprus Road reported at 6.30pm.
Enemy attitude very active keen sniping many trench mortars and rifle grenades on Annamites trench, report little shelling except light barrage on Annamites trench at 8pm to 8.15pm
About thirty 5.9s about area N33, B33. One man wounded.

25th to 26th February 1917

On the 25th Divn HQ received the startling information that the enemy had begun to retire; he had evacuated Pys, north west of Le Sars, that morning. At night a further message stated that the British had occupied Pys, Irles and Serre. The German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line had begun. The 50th Divn, however, was not desperate to follow up the enemy as he fell back to his well prepared defences in the Hindenburg Line, for it was after the Divn had been relieved early in March, that he evacuated his defences south of the Somme

6am to 6am Work on the trenches, posts and dugouts continued. Specel Crabe, Calmon and Marchal trenches where left Coy are now in good condition. Communication Trenches still bad in places. Patrolling all night done by Coys, enemy front line, held by sentry groups thirty yards apart, very nervous, occasional bursts of machine gun fire.

6.30pm to 7.30 enemy trench mortared Annamites trench retaliation by artillery silenced him again repeated at 5.30am, 26th Feb.

Enemy artillery very quiet, occasional field guns on Annamites and only four 5.9s. Three German aeroplanes seen over our lines, two returning towards Horny. Duckboard track, length done now from N27C54 to N33D64.

27th February 1917

28th February 1917

On the 1st of March Divn HQ reported that on the nights of the 6th, 7th, 8th of March, the 59th Divn would relieve the 50th Divn.

FOUCAUCOURT

Working party of eight groups consisting of one NCO and eight men each was provided by the Bn to erect wire entanglements for the support line. The 149th Bde was tasked with erecting a two-mile length. 2nd Lt Emery MF is in charge of this party. Coys reorganised and refitted in the morning and were inspected by the CO in the afternoon.

2nd March 1917

The same strength of working party was sent out for wiring. The remainder of the Bn commenced training, and had baths at Bos St Martin.

3rd March 1917

All ranks available in the Bn were equipped out with the small box respirator and passed through a gas chamber to test their respirators. The rest of the day was devoted to completing the equipment and clothing of the Bn. The wiring party consisting of the same number of NCOs and men was sent out again.

4th March 1917

The usual working party found – Bn. Church parade 10am. Brigadier General Ovens inspected the Bn in billets at 3pm. Operation orders issued 7pm for move on following day.

On the 5th March, the relief of the 50th Divn by the 59th Divn began and continued until the 9th. The 149th Bde at this time was based in the Warfusee area. At 9am on that day the Bn paraded in full marching order and marched the seven miles to Bayonvillers via the main Amiens road. Hut encampment was taken over and occupied at Bayonvillers. In the aft Coys inspections took place.

6th March 1917

BAYONVILLERS

Bn parade Arm drill and hair
Route marches. Afternoon - Coy inspections.

7th March 1917

Routine same as previous day – Afternoon devoted to attention of feet of ‘A’ & ‘B’. Coys Inspection and hot bathing treatment.

8th March 1917

The days routine was the same as on the 6th and 7th - Feet inspection and treatment for remainder of Bn operation orders for proceeding day issued.

On the 9th of March the Bn paraded at 8.45am in full marching order and marched the two miles to Warfusee Abancourt and took over billets of 7th SF, No 2 area being occupied. The camp was composed of huts was very incomplete. Material (RE) was indented for and work was commenced immediately on latrines and cookhouse sheds.

10th March 1917

11.30am

Training and early morning parades at Warfusee commenced. Bn parade and inspections were carried out after camp and equipment etc had been thoroughly cleaned. Close order drill practised. Afternoon - Coy inspection took place.

Brigadier General Rees DSO took command of the 149th Bde on this date.

11th March 1917

10.30am Church parade service. Coy inspections after parade service in Bde canteen. Bde recreational training scheme was put in practise from this date the inter-Coy football matches commencing.

12th March 1917

9.30am Bn parade. Organisation of Coys and platoons into sections of specialists commenced from this date. The whole morning was devoted to specialist training. - Coy inspections and recreational training took place in the afternoon. Gallows for bayonet fighting practise and competitions was commenced.

13th March 1917

The days routine was the same as on the 12th. Officers lecture at Bde canteen 6pm.

14th March 1917

Routine and training as on day previous.

15th March 1917

A large working party of 250 men was assembled at 9am for work in the village from 9am under the orders of the town major. Only Lewis gun instructions was able to be continued on this day.

Specialist training continued after Coy parades on the 16th. Recreational training took the form of platoon cross country running races and football.

On the 17th March the Divn received information that the enemy had begun to withdraw from his position opposite the III Corps front.

Specialist training continued during the morning as on previous days. Afternoon Coy inspections and football match – 1st round of the inter-battalion rounds took place, the 4th Bn playing the Army Service Corps.

18th March 1917

Coy inspections during morning.

2.15pm Church parade service in Bde canteen.

19th March 1917

9.30am Bn parade. Specialist Training continued except for one Coy, which did a practical scheme of platoon attack etc. Lecture by Brigadier General to Officers and NCOs of Bde at 5.30pm in Bde amusement hut.

Training continued on the 20th, two Coys doing general training and the two remaining Coys being out, one on a route march with practise of Artillery formation upon deployment; the other doing a practical open warfare scheme.

21st March 1917

Routine as on previous day, with two Coys on a short march and practising deployment and march discipline etc.

6pm Lecture by OC to officers and NCOs (senior) on practise of open order work and deployment.

Training and routine as on previous day with general training of the two Coys that were marching the previous day, the other two Coys going for a short march and practising deployment and march discipline etc.

6pm Lecture to officers and senior NCOs by Bde bombing officer on rifle grenade work in open warfare etc.

22nd March 1917

9.30am Bn parade and inspection by the GOC 50th Divn General Wilkinson. Field day followed, the Bn going out on a route march. Deploying and advancing from artillery formation.

2.30pm Coy inspections

6pm Lecture for officers and NCOs by Major Robb.

23rd March 1917

8.30 Bn parade – field day – an open order attack practised from the main Warfusee-Villers Carbonnel road to the south east side of Bore D’achiel, a position being taken up and consolidated on high ground overlooking Hamel.

Coy inspections were held at 2pm on the 24th. At 5pm Capt Dixon delivered a lecture to the officers and NCOs. ‘D’ Coy proceeded on a Coy training scheme, ‘B’ and ‘C’ Coys carried out general training. ‘A’ Coy and during the morning another Coys attended the baths at Warfusee.

On the 25th March orders from Fourth Army HQ instructed the Divn to concentrate in the Talmas- Villers Bocage- Molliens area by March 31st.

Coy inspections during the morning – Roman Catholic and Non-Conformist Church parade

Church of England parade service in Recreation Hut (Bde) at 2.15pm. Afternoon Bde cross country runs as teams under arrangement of Lt Stiles from the T.M.B.

6.15pm Lecture by CO to officers.

26th March 1917

The Divn Field day was cancelled due to the bad weather. Morning was spent in giving lectures in the huts and attending to interior economy. Daily inspections and clothing parade in the afternoon.

Two NCOs and 28 men sent as a working party to RTO Warfusee for unloading supplies.

27th March 1917

Field firing exercise carried out by the Bn in the morning between Hamel and Warfusee, unfortunately ‘Sammy’ the regimental pet was killed during the firing.

A working party of two NCOs and 28 men was provided by the Bn for RTO Warfusee for unloading supplies.

At 6pm Major W Robb MC lectured to all officers, Warrant Officers and Sgts on consolidation.

At 9.45am on the 28th the 149th Bde was inspected by the III Corps Cdr - Lt Gen Sir W.P Pulteney KCB, KCMG, DSO. The Bn marched past and then proceeded on a route march via Cerisy with practise of deployment.

At 7.30pm the Bn practised a night attack on the ground between Warfusse and Hamel

29th March 1917

9.30am The CO inspected all Coys in fighting order during the morning.

The Somme 1917 - Military Units

50th (Northumbrian) Division - Consisted of the 149th (Northumberland) Bde, 150th (York & Durham) Bde and 151st (Durham Light Infantry (DLI)) Bde.

The 149th Bde was comprised of the 1/4th, 1/5th, 1/6th and 1/7th Bn - Northumberland Fusiliers.

The 150th Bde was comprised 1/4th Bn - East Yorkshires, 1/4th Bn - Green Howards, 1/5th - Bn Green Howards and 1/5th Bn - Durham Light Infantry.

The 151st Bde was comprised the 1/6th, 1/8th, 1/9th Bn - DLI and 1/5th (Cumberland) Bn - Border Regt.

1st Northumbria Field Coy RE

179th Tunnelling Coy RE

446th Field Coy RE

59th Division - Consisted of the 176th, 177th and 178th Bde.

The 176th (2nd Staffordshire) Bde was comprised of the 2/5th and 2/6th Bn - South Staffordshire Regt. 2/5th and 2/6th Bn - North Staffordshire Regt

The 177th (2nd Lincolnshire and Leicestershire) Bde was of comprised 2/4th and 2/5th Bn - Lincolnshire Regt. 2/4th and 2/5th Bn - Leicestershire Regt.

The 178th (2nd Notts and Derby) Bde was comprised of the 2/5th, 2/6th, 2/7th and 2/8th Bn - Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regt).

Bibliography
























Armentieres

The 4th Bn settled into the typical routine of life on the Western Front. Taking its turn with the other Bns of the 50th Division in the trenches to the east of Armentieres.

1st August 1915

The author has coloured this map for clarity

Trenches - black, roads and tracks - red. Watercourses - blue

Trenches east of Armentieres
Trenches east of Armentieres

Armentieres Casualties

For information on 4th Bn burial and memorial sites for casualties sustained in this sector, select the link.

If would like to read the full story of the 4th NF in World War 1, then please select here

The Lys

Summary of events

Captain J.S.J. Robson
Captain J.S.J. Robson

By the 8th of April the whole of the 50th Divn had move northwards from the Somme to the Merville area and new drafts of men had arrived to replace those lost during March on the Somme. On the 5th Capt Robson had returned with a draft of 250 men for the 4th Bn and on the 6th a further 102 arrived, described in the 4th Bn diary as of poor physique and all under the age of 19.

The 50th Divn were destined to relieve the Portugese Divn in the front line east of Merville on the night of the 9/10th April. The 151st Bde were to be the first in the front line and in preparation for this had moved into billets in the town of Estaires 1. The 149th Bde were billeted north and west of Merville 2 with the 4th Bn centred on the village of Arrewage 3. During the morning of the 9th events led to the relief plans being rapidly amended.

Tuesday, 9th April 1918

At 4am the Germans opened up with a heavy bombardment of the line between Bethune 4 and Armentieres 5. The towns of Merville, Estaires and La Gorgue 6 were continually hit, reducing houses to rubble and the outbreak of fires was widespread. By 4.30am all communication with the Portuguese Divisional HQ by land line had been cut. The relief orders for the Portuguese were cancelled and the 151st Bde carried out a prearranged move to a series of defence posts south of the River Lys. Between 5 and 5.30am the 149th and 150th Bdes were ‘stood to’ and prepared to move forward at an hours notice. A forward 149th Bde HQ was established at the front, while the rear Bde HQ remained with the Divn (map ref: K29.a).

At 6am orders were issued to the engineers to prepare the River Lys bridges for demolition.

2ndLt Kipling
2ndLt Kipling

At 7.30am orders were issued for the 149th and 150th Bdes to move to an assembly point at Chapelle Duvelle 7 (map ref: L.26 Central) on the eastern side of Merville. 2nd Lt Kipling went in advance of the Bn to reconnoitre the route and ascertain that it was still possible to get the transport through Merville in view of the heavy shelling it had been subjected to.

The 4th Bn set off at 9.45am and fortunately, only sustained one casualty by the time it reached the outskirts of Merville. The Bn halted here to allow the 5th Bn to pass, then continued through the badly damaged streets of the town, noting that the bridges were still intact.

At 10am, 50th Divn HQ received reports that the Portuguese were under attack and by 11am it was confirmed that the enemy had broken through the lines of the entire Portuguese sector, and had then turned north and south to attack the flanks of the 40th and 55th Divns (Wyrell). The Portuguese retreated through the lines of the 151st Bde, having abandoned all their guns, therefore the position held by the 151st Bde was now the front line.

The 4th Bn reached the assembly point and received orders to take up concealed positions in nearby farms (map ref: L.30.d). The 151st Bde made contact with the enemy around 12 noon and from thereon were involved in fierce fighting during which they were steadily forced back to the Lys and Lawe rivers.

Meanwhile, at 1.15pm, 149th Bde HQ issued orders for the 5th and 6th Bns to move and occupy positions at Trou Bayard 8 (map ref: G.19.G), to the north of Estaires. The 4th Bn stayed where they were, but were placed under the direct orders of 50th Divn HQ. The Bn was not made aware of the dire situation on the front line until after the arrival of the cookers at 2pm and dinner had been served. The Bn was placed at the disposal of the 151st Bde and in accordance with instructions, marched towards the water tank in Estaires. On reaching the outskirts of Estaires, at 3pm Coys moved off the road and deployed in artillery formation, moving forward to take up position in local farms on the northern side of Estaires (map ref: L.23.d) to await battle orders. Under 151st Bde instructions, 'D' Coy were dispatched to guard the railway at Beaupre. Bn HQ was established at a farm (map ref: L.23.d.6.3) and 'A', 'B' and 'C' Coys dug in near strong points, in the vicinity of the water tank. The Bn was in position by 5pm.

Meanwhile 149th Bde HQ was established at 2.30pm alongside 150th Bde HQ at Pont de Poivre 9. During the afternoon the 150th Bde had been taking up defensive positions on the northern bank of the River Lys to the east of Estaires and as far northeast as Sailly. An enemy column, advancing from the south, reached the River Lys near Nouveau Monde 10 around 3pm and was soon firing on the northern bank with machine guns.

At 3.15pm the 5th and 6th Bns NF were in position to provide support for the 150th Bde, with orders to counterattack any part of the front line that may be breached. The line of the rivers Lys and Lawe was to be held at all costs.

2nd Lt A.N. Lawson
2nd Lt A.N. Lawson

At 3.45pm the GOC 150th Bde received a message from Divn HQ stating that the 4th Bde was also moving up to provide support, with orders to counterattack immediately if the enemy should succeed in crossing the river. The Bn arrived and at 5.15pm were immediately placed under the command of Lt Col G.O. Spence (5th DLI (150th Bde)) who coordinating the River Lys defences.

Sgt Thompson with a patrol of fifty men was dispatched to reconnoitre Pont De La Meuse 11 and to establish contact with elements of the 5th DLI who were holding the bridgehead. 2nd Lt Lawson and a patrol of ….. left to reconnoitre Pont Levis 12 and make contact with the 5th DLI at that location. Capt J.V. Gregory (OC 4th Bn) arranged with Lt Col. Spence to send one platoon to map reference L 29a.O.4. The platoon duly moved off and joined Sgt Thompson and his men who were already at that spot.

Lt W.H. Nicholson
Lt W.H. Nicholson

The remainder of ‘A’ Coy under Lt Nicholson went forward to hold the house on the near side river bank between Pont de la Meuse and Pont Levis.

At 6pm the 6th Bn was ordered to move (map ref: G.15.c) northeast in order to protect the left flank of 150th Bde by patrolling the line of stream running from the north into the Lys (map ref: G.10.b), in case the enemy crossed the river at Bac St Mur 13.

Sgt Wigham led a platoon and two Lewis guns over Pont Levis and reported to the 5th DLI (map ref: G.25.a.8.2).

Captain J.C Gregory
Captain J.C Gregory

Then, under the command of 2nd Lt Lawson, they set up a defensive position on the far bank covering the bridge approaches.

2nd Lt Lawson, who had just rejoined the Bn after from leave, was wounded near Pont Levis and left behind (he was in fact captured by the enemy and made a good recovery from severe wounds in a German hospital).

Around 7pm, Maj. Gen. Jackson ordered the 151st Bde to withdraw to the northern bank of the Lys and the engineers to destroy the Lys bridges, “because the enemy had brought its field guns forward and was systematically smashing up the bridgehead garrisons at point blank range” (). The main bridge at Estaires (Pont de la Meuse?) was successfully blown up, but Pont Levis survived (detonator wires believed to have been cut by shellfire).

At 9.10pm the 5th Bn was ordered to take up a position in strong points near Trou Bayard (map ref: G.19.b) and connect up with the 4th Bn.

At 11.45pm 149th Bde HQ received a message from the 150th Bde stating that the enemy held the Bac St Mur to Croix de Bac road (north and east of Sailly). The enemy was reported to have crossed the canal further north but no definite information was obtained regarding this. The remainder of the night was quite for the Bn and rations were received and distributed to Coys.

For the 50th Divn the first day fighting in the Battle of Estaires was over. The original British line from Givenchy to Bois Grenier had collapsed, and when darkness fell ran roughly Festubert, Le Touret, Le Cason, Vielle Chapelle, Pont Rigneul and round the north of Lestrem. From here the 50th Divn held the northwestern bank of the Lawe and Lys rivers through La Gorgue, passing east of Estaires and on to the west of Sailly aur la Lys. The line then continued to Croix du Bac, north of Fleurbaix and on to just north of Bois Grenier. A big dent on a ten mile front.

Estaires Map

Wednesday, 10th April 1918

At 1.55am, orders were issued for a realignment of the Divn front. These orders, received at 151st Bde HQ at 3.30am, stated that the line was to be realigned before dawn, with the 51st Divn side stepping west and relieving the 8th DLI up to and including Lestrem Bridge 14, the 149th Bde would take over defences currently held by the 5th DLI. This was to be from Pont Levis (incl) to the Lys, opposite Rue de la Lys 15, with one Bn in the front line and two held in reserve. The relief of the 5th DLI was to be carried out by a portion of the 4th Bn, with the remainder of the Bn returning to the command of the 149th Bde. So by dawn the 150th Bde was on the left flank of the Bde front, the 149th in the middle and 151st on the right.

2nd Lt C.M. Davison
2nd Lt C.M. Davison

Due to a misunderstanding between the 149th and 150th Bdes, Pont Levis was left unguarded during the night, however, at 5.40am the 4th Bn was ordered to send two platoons to take up a position at the bridge alongside the 5th DLI (may have been 5th Bn NF). Capt Robson set out with two platoons from ‘C’ Coy at 6.30am to try and strengthen the defences at the bridge, but by this time fighting had recommenced. They were immediately held up by heavy machine gun fire on open ground and Capt Robson was wounded. Another attempt at reinforcement was made by a third platoon from 'C' Coy.

Again enemy machine gun fire prevented this and 2nd Lt Davison (accompanying the CO and 2nd Lt Essex) was wounded whilst reconnoitring the position. Despite tough resistance put up by the 5th Bn, elements of the German 35th Divn finally forced their way across Pont Levis around 7.30am.

Captain W.B.F. Essex
Captain W.B.F. Essex

Meanwhile the rest of the Bn had been ordered to redeploy to Ferme Quennelle 16 and returned to the command of the 149th Bde. The move was supposed to have been completed before dawn, but the Bn did not receive the order until it was light. Bn HQ and ‘B’ Coy were held up on the way, so HQ had to be established at map ref L.19.b.3.4, with the revised position notified to Bde HQs.

‘B’ Coy occupied a position at Pont De Poivre (Harlech Strong Point) 17 and made contact with a Coy from the 6th Bn, commanded by Capt Stafford. They were entrenched 100 yards to the rear of Harlech on the opposite side of the Trou Bayard Road. ‘B’ Coy immediately threw out a screen in front that reported the enemy were endeavouring to push machine guns towards them.

Having crossed Pont Levis, Ferme Quennell fell to the enemy as they forced their way into the south eastern part of Estaires and captured some of the houses on the north side of the main street.

Under very difficult circumstances the Bn was reorganised near the Trou Bayard Road, linking up with Bns on either flank.

C.S.M. E.G. Osborne
C.S.M. E.G. Osborne

Bn HQ were informed at 7.30am that the right flank of 'C' Coy was ‘in the air’ and that they were unable to re-establish a link due the number of casualties they had suffered. Sgt Major Osborne took a platoon from ‘B’ Coy to protect the right flank of ‘C’ Coy and eventually succeeded in establishing a line connecting ‘A’ & ‘C’ Coys, taking a few casualties in the process.

At 9.30am the defensive line was reported continuous and the 6th Bn were ordered to counterattack towards Pont Levis to drive the enemy out of Estaires. They passed through the ‘B’ and ‘C’ Coy lines and succeeded in driving the enemy back to the church in Estaires and Pont Levis, but were threatened on the left flank and brought to a standstill.

There were two or three factories near the river which the 6th Bn were able to use to pour machine gun fire on the bridge approaches. Nevertheless, the enemy continued to pour across the bridge and work their way through the houses, gardens and cemetery on the northern side of Estaires, as well head northeast and to the west.

2nd t H.E. Bull
2nd t H.E. Bull

Two platoons from ‘B’ Coy, commanded by 2nd Lt Bull, were ordered to advance in the direction of Pont Levis and report to Major Temperley (OC 6th Bn), but they were subjected to severe machine gun fire on open ground and were held up before reaching their objective, suffering many casualties in the process. Major Temperley informed them that they were no longer required, so those that were left returned to ‘B’ Coy and manned Harlech Strong Point.

By 10.45am Bn HQ had dug in, to the rear of the 5th Bn position. ‘D’ Coy returned from guarding the railway at Beaupre during the morning and was instructed to dig into the rear of the Bn HQ position. For the next few hours it was relatively quiet, although needless to say the Germans continued to strengthen their bridgehead.

A heavy enemy bombardment and attack commenced around 4pm, forcing the 5th Bn to withdraw and leaving the left flank of the 4th Bn exposed. ‘D’ Coy were sent to cover the left flank, reporting themselves ‘well dug in’ between the crossroads at Trou Bayard and Cul De Sac Farm 18, although taking a few casualties in the process.

'A' Coy of the 5th Bn at 'Harlech Strong Point' came under the orders of the OC 4th Bn and two platoons were placed to link up the left Bn and ‘D’ Coy. OC ‘B’ Coy reported that the enemy was moving forward his machine guns slowly and endeavouring to bring enfilade fire on all the strong points at 'Harlech'. The enemy was unable to do this before nightfall and remained in the positions he arrived at. As soon as it was dark ‘A’ Coy of the 5th Bn exchanged places with 'D' Coy thus bringing the Bn together and simplifying the organisation.

Thursday, 11th April 1918

At midnight orders were received stating that 'A' Coy of the 5th Bn would be relieved by a Coy from the 4th Bn East Yorks, who would take up a position at map ref: L.23.d.6.3. ''D Coy formed up on their left and the remainder of 'C' Coy withdrew to the rear of Harlech strong point, the position just vacated by 'D' Coy . Bn HQ moved back to a new position which was consolidated before dawn.

By 2am the 149th held a line running from the Estaires - Neuf Berquin road to just west of Trou Bayard. The 5th Bn held the right sector, the 4th the left sector and the 6th were held in reserve. When dawn broke on the 11th, the 151st Bde were on the right flank, the 149th in the centre and 150th on the left. At 7am the enemy was reported to have occupied Trou Bayard.

By 10am 'D' Coy on the left and 'B' Coy were holding their positions against repeated attacks supported by heavy trench mortar and machine gun fire. However, the Bn right flank was now exposed because the 5th DLI (151st Bde) had been forced back, the enemy were heading for Neuf Berquin and the 5th Bn NF had been withdrawn. Harlech Strong Point was very heavily shelled at point blank range from the river at Estaires and was subjected to a considerable amount of gas. The 6th Bn was brought forward to try and re-establish a line, but they were unable to progress very far, so by 2pm the line was gradually being forced back. The Bde maintained contact with the 29th Divn on the left flank, but the right flank was now very exposed.

The Bn war diary indicates that at 2pm "a general withdrawal, necessitated the removal of Battn Hdqrs to a farm at L.10.b.9.6. The afternoon and evening were spent in the collection of stragglers, the reconstruction of the line for defence. The withdrawal was made through the 29th Div who were dug in, in our rear, and & became necessary owing to the withdrawals of the right & left flanks”. Unfortunately, the withdrawal was not communicated to the Coys on the Bn flanks, consequently they only became aware of the situation when they realised the enemy was outflanking them. The Bn was given instructions to dig in alongside the 29th Divn, however, when the 6th Bn with two coys moved forward to counterattack the 4th Bn moved forward with them. This position appears to have been held for the rest of the day. However, at a conference between Brigadiers that night, a decision was taken to fall back to a new line.

Meanwhile that evening, the enemy on the right flank had entered Merville.

Friday, 12th April 1918

The withdrawal began at 2.30am and by dawn the 149th Bde had vacated its positions at L10b (sheet 36 .. NE) and was on the march to new positions running from the village of Vierhouck (incl) to the crossroads on the Neuf Berquin-Vieux Berquin road (map ref: K.11d.7.8. to L.13.b.16), just south of Pont Rondin. The 4th and 5th Bns under the command of Lt Col Irwin, provided the flank and advanced guards. They were followed by the 6th Bn and a few from the 4th Bn, under the command of Major Temperley, and then the reinforcement Bn under OC Corps Troops.

Information was received that the enemy had machine guns in Neuf Berquin and was firing down the road towards La Couronne. A party from the 4th Bn was sent out before dawn to engage these machine guns, but they were unable to acquire a position of vantage until nearly daylight and were then unable to move forward.

By 6.30am the 149th Bde was reported to have crossed the Neuf Berquin-Vieux Berquin road, encountering light opposition and a half hour later, the 6th Bn had occupied Vierhouck 19, and were forming a defensive flank along the road leading to Pont Rondin 20, their new line running from south of the village round the western edge (map ref; K.12c). The reinforcement and 5th Bn stretching to the Neuf Berquin-Vieux Berquin road. The 4th Bn dug in behind to provide support, at map ref K.12.d.

“The official despatches record that: "At about 8am the enemy attacked in great strength on a front extending from south of the Estaires - Neuf Berquin neighbourhood. After very heavy fighting ... he succeeded in the afternoon in overcoming the resistance of our troops about Doulieu and La Becque, forcing them back in a north-westerly direction.” (Wyrell, 1939:333).

Due to the failure of the 1st Bn KOSB to link up on the left flank, the 149th Bde was forced to withdraw at 9.30am and take up a position in conjunction with the Guards Bde, who during the night had dug in behind them (map ref: K.12.b and L.7a). At 10.30am, the Guards on the right flank counterattacked the enemy in Neuf Berquin, but were forced to withdraw to their original line. Heavy fighting continued all day and at nightfall (6pm) the relief of the 149th Bde began. The 4th Bn were relieved by the Guards Bde and withdrew to Vieux Berquin where orders were received to march to the transport lines at La Tir Anglais 21 and rest for the night. By this time the 1st Australian Divn were beginning to arrive and were taking up positions in front of the Bois Deval 22 between K 7 b (map ref: 36a N E) and La Couronne.

13th - 16th April 1918

After this much needed respite, the Bn marched to billets in abandoned farms just behind the line and allowed as much sleep as they could get. They had been relieved from actual front line fighting, but along with the rest of Bde were lent to the 5th Divn and set to work digging a defence line through the Bois de Vaches 23. Although returning to billets on the conclusion of work every day, they were under orders to move at ten minutes notice and occupy the defence line if the enemy launched an attack on the Bois de Nieppe 24. These were comparatively quiet days and casualties were few, although there was a certain amount of shelling, particularly from one gun, nicknamed the ‘Silent One’. Its heavy calibre shells arrived before any warning screech was heard, probably due to high velocity.

Summary compiled from:

149th Bde War Diary

4th Bn War Diary






































































More than 70 fusiliers from the 4th Bn were killed in action or died of wounds during the Battle of the Lys. For information on 4th Bn burial and memorial sites for casualties sustained in the Lys Offensive, select the link.

Extract from:

When the Lantern of Hope Burned Low

“Let me here pay my personal tribute to the Ambulance personnel of the Battalion. The conduct of the stretcher bearers was superb. Roads were shelled and swept by machine gun fire alternately. Two or three squads were knocked out – one whilst carrying Lieut Stiles of the Trench Mortar Battery – but, driven off the roads, the indomitable SB’s carried their wounded comrades across the fields, over ditches, sometimes more than two miles. The Regimental Aid Post was hit by a shell when crowded to the doors with stretcher cases from our own and a neighbouring Division. Yet Capt Grierson went about his work of mercy unresting, unhasting, a fine example to all”. 

The Lys - Military Units

1st (Australian) Division - Consisted of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Infantry Bdes

The 1st (Australian) Bde - Comprised of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Bns.

The 2nd (Australian) Bde - Comprised of the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Bns.

The 3rd (Australian) Bde - Comprised of the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th Bns.

29th Division - Consisted of the 86th, 87th & 88th Bdes

The 86th Bde - Comprised of the 2nd Bn - Royal Fusiliers, 1st Bn - Lancashire Fusiliers and 1st Bn - Royal Guernsey Light Infantry.

The 87th Bde - Comprised of the 2nd Bn - South Wales Borderers, 1st Bn - King’s Own Scottish Borderers and 1st Bn - Border Regt.

The 88th Bde - Comprised of the 4th Bn - Worcestershire Regt, 2nd Bn - Hampshire Regt and 1st Bn - Newfoundland Regt.

31st Division - Consisted of the 4th Guards Bde, 92nd and 93rd Bdes.

The 4th (Guards) Bde - Comprised of the 4th Bn - Grenadier Guards, 3rd Bn - Coldstream Guards and 2nd Bn - Irish Guards.

The 92nd Bde - 10th & 11th Bn - East Yorkshire Regt, 11th Bn - East Lancashire Regt.

The 93rd Bde - 15/17th & 18th Bn West Yorkshire Regt, 13th Bn - York and Lancaster Regt.

40th Division - Consisted of the 119th, 120th & 121st Bdes.

The 119th Bde - Comprised of the 13th Bn - East Surrey Regt, 18th Bn - Welsh Regt. 21st Bn - Middlesex Regt.

The 120th Bde - Comprised of the 2nd Bn - Royal Scots Fusiliers, 10/11th Bn & 14th Bn - Highland Light Infantry.

The 121st Bde - Comprised of the 12th Bn - Suffolk Regt, 13th Bn - Yorkshire Regt. 20th Bn - Middlesex Regt.

50th (Northumbrian) Division Consisted of the 149th, 150th & 151st Bdes.

The 149th (Northumberland) Bde comprised of the 1/4th, 1/5th & 1/6th Bn - Northumberland Fusiliers.

The 150th (York & Durham) Bde - Comprised of 1/4th Bn - East Yorkshire Regt, 1/4th and 1/5th Bn - Green Howards.

The 151st (Durham Light Infantry) Bde - 1/5th, 1/6th and 8th Bn - DLI.

51st Division - Comprised of the 152nd, 153rd and 154th Infantry Brigades.

The 152nd Bde 1/5th and 1/6th Bn - Seaforth Highlanders, 1/6th Bn - Gordon Highlanders.

The 153rd Bde 1/6th and 1/7th Bn - Black Watch, 1/7th Bn - Gordon Highlanders.

The 154th Bde 1/4th Bn - Seaforth Highlanders, 1/4th Bn - Gordon Highlanders, and 1/7th Bn - Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

55th Division - Consisted of the 164th, 165th and 166th Bdes.

The 164th Bde - Comprised of the 1/4th Bn - King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regt), 2/5th Bn - Lancashire Fusiliers and 1/4th - Bn Loyal North Lancashire Regt.

The 165th Bde - 1/5th, 1/6th & 1/7th Bn - King’s (Liverpool) Regt.

The 166th Bde - 1/5th Bn King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regt), 1/10th Bn - King’s (Liverpool) Regt and 1/5th Bn - South Lancashire Regt.

Related websites

Cecil Slack & the Great War - www.greatwar.eril.net/diary.htm - Diaries of an officer in the 4th Bn East Yorkshire Regt (150th Bde) during the Battle of the Lys.

http://www.estaires.com This a website devoted to the modern day city of Estaires and includes many aerial photographs of the locations described in the text above.

Bibliography
























 

 

If would like to read the full story of the 4th NF in World War 1, then please select here

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‘G’ (Newburn) Company

Shooting Team (Possibly 'G' Company}
Shooting Team (Possibly 'G' Company}

'Service' Battalion

'G' Coy

'G' Company (Newburn) notes:

HQ -

Coy transferred from 5th Bn - 31st Oct 1910

The 4th Bn adopted a four Coy system during January 1915. 'G' Coy amalgamating with 'B' Coy.

Lt Geraint Lindsey Hunting
Lt Geraint Lindsey Hunting

Officer Commanding: Lt Geraint Lindsey Hunting

Gerald was the grandson of Charles Hunting, a wealthy Victorian businessman who had made a fortune from the coal industry. Around 1870 he turned his attention to shipping and bought stock in several ship owning companies and started the first Hunting Company in 1874. A few years later, he bought his son, Charles Samuel Hunting (1855-1921), a pair of second-hand sailing ships as a 21st birthday present. By 1889 Charles Senior had entered the oil industry and Hunting and Son had around a dozen general cargo steamships which were supplemented by an order for its first oil tanker, the 5,000dwt Duffield, one of the first oil tankers ever to be built.

After his death, his second son (Charles Samuel) took control of the business and expanded the shipping activities. The family resided at 11 Akenside Terrace, Jesmond in 1881 , Deepdene House, Jesmond Dene in 1891 and Westminster, London in 1901. However, in 1911 the Huntings purchased Bog Hall Farm near the village of Slaley and built Slaley Hall on the site, in a style typical of sporting estates in northern England and Scotland at the time. Construction of Slaley Hall began in 1912. and it was completed in 1914. The hall remained with the Hunting family until the death of Charles Hunting, at which point it was bought by Major Priestman.

The Hunting shippimg fleet was pressed into military service during WW1 and was reduced to just four ships by the end of the war. Charles Samuel Hunting died in 1921 but his two sons Percy and Gerald Lindsay rebuilt and expanded the business. They chose to concentrate on the oil trade and ordered a series of new motor driven tankers. To consolidate the move, they decided to relocate the Hunting's HQ down to London, in 1925, and simultaneously to absorb the shipbroking business of E.A. Gibson. (Gibson, n.d.) Determined to rebuild the fleet, Percy as "governing partner" also diversified the business by taking the company into aircraft servicing and manufacturing, and some years later the ‘Hunting Clan’ airline business. With time the Hunting name became synonymous with a range of military and civil aircraft including the Jet Provost and in its nascent days the aircraft that would become one of Britain's most sucessful best export sellers, the BAC 1-11.

Gerald died in 1966, aged 75, was a successful amateur batsman for Northumberland before and after the First World War. In the Loretto XI he headed the batting averages in 1910 and 1911. (Wisden Almanac)
http://www.espncricinfo.com/wisdenalmanack/content/story/228443.html

2nd Lt Robert Allen
2nd Lt Robert Allen

2nd Lt Robert Allen

Born 1890 and living in Bellingham (1901 Census).
Father a grocer, shopkeeper and county court bailiff.

He died in 1962

2nd Lt Norton Butler Napier Good
2nd Lt Norton Butler Napier Good

2nd Lt Norton Butler Napier Good

Assumed command of the Bn Machine Gun Section prior to going to the Front.

Col Sgt Luke Stuart
Col Sgt Luke Stuart

Col Sgt Luke Stuart

Luke had served with the Northumberland Fusiliers at the battle of Omdurman in 1898.

Sgt H Jarvis (Permanent Staff)

'Reserve' Battalion (2/4th)

'G' Coy

'G' Company notes:

The 2/4th battalion became part of the newly formed 188th Bde, 63rd Divn during January 1915. The 63rd Divn was tasked with home defence, but was disbanded in Jul 1916. The 2/4th joined the 217th Bde, 72nd Division, but continued with home defence duties. The 72nd Divn was broken up Jan - Apr 1918

Officer Commanding:

Capt.

Captain Thomas William Gregory
Captain Thomas William Gregory

2nd Lt Thomas William Gregory

Thomas was the son of Elswick grocer William M Gregory (b.1866) (3&4 Studley Terrace, Elswick) mother Ann E Gregory (b.1865), daughter Mary E (b.1891), Violetta (b.1892), Thomas W (b.1895), James H (b.1900).

2nd Lt James Michael Jeslyn Spencer
2nd Lt James Michael Jeslyn Spencer

2nd Lt James Michael Jeslyn Spencer

James was the second son of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Elias Evans Spencer of Walbottle Hall, Newburn, Northumberland. James was born in Oct 1895 and educated at Alnmouth and Clifton College and was about to enter King's College, Cambridge, when war broke out. He enlisted as a gunner in the Northumberland Artillery, then obtained a commission in the Northumberland Fusiliers, receiving his second star in 1915. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in July 1916, and went to the Front in September. Flight - 14 Dec 1916 (www.flightglobal.com)

The Spencer family were early industrialists who changed the face of Newburn. The first John Spencer established a mill for the manufacture of files at the beginning of the 19th century. At the end of the century his son, also named John, was Managing Director of a huge industrial concern employing 1,500 workers. Steel plates, springs and other items were provided for the railway, shipping, armaments and mining industries all over the world. The large steel plates for the ship Mauretania were made in the Newburn factory. After the First World War demand for steel lessened and the factories were closed in 1926 and demolished in 1933. Much of the legacy of John Spencer can be discovered in Newburn Village, which is our next destination. ( www.petersen-stainless.co.uk )

Col Sgt

Newburn Drill Hall
Newburn Drill Hall

Passchendaele

4th Battalion War Diary

APPENDIX X A
OPERATION ORDER NO. 1A.

1. The 149th Infantry Bde will attack on the morning of the 26th inst, 4th NF on the right, 5th NF in centre and 7th NF on left, - 57th Div are attacking on our right, with 4th/5th Loyal North Lancs as their left battalion.

2. The battalion will attack on a 3 company frontage each company being on a platoon frontage.

‘A’ company on right, ‘B’ company in centre and ‘D’ company on left. ‘C’ Company will be in reserve on a 2 platoon frontage.

3. (a) Platoons will leap frog and capture and consolidate the objectives already given them i.e. FIRST WAVE to HUTS, SECOND WAVE to line V.2.3.1.6V.2.c.5.1. THIRD WAVE to final objective V.2.a.3.0 to V.2.d.15.55.

(b) Reserve company will move forward with attacking waves to a point approximately 200 yards west of the HUTS.

(c) ‘A’ company will detail parties to obtain touch with battalion on their right at the following points.

(a) Concrete shelter at V.8.a.1.8.

(b) Ditto at V.2.c.4.1.

(c) ROAD BRIDGE at V.2.d.0.6.

4. Two machine guns will accompany 4th wave of ‘B’ Company.

5. Two Stokes Mortars will be attached to ‘C’ company and will be available to fire at any strong points holding up the attack.

6. Barrage will begin to creep forward at ZERO + 8 minutes and will creep at the uniform rate of 100 yards in 8 minutes throughout. Lifts will be at 50 yards at a time.

7. Taping out of the assembly trench will be carried out under an officer from Battalion HQ. One line of tape will be laid from the Railway Embankment at point V.1.d.0.2. to V.7.b.6.5. Two guides will be left at the end of the tape on Railway Embankment. A short length of tape will be laid at right angles to assembly tape to mark the left of ‘D’ company, short lengths of tape will be laid at right angles to assembly tape every 130 yards to mark company frontages. The assembly tape marks position of leading wave.

8. ‘A’,’C’ and ‘D’ companies will move forward to assembly positions at 7pm tonight each company providing its own covering party. ‘B’ company will withdraw to the assembly tape at 11pm. Completion of assembly will be notified by code word ARRAS, sent by runner to battalion HQ.

9. 1 contact aeroplane will be flying over companies front at zero + 1 hour 30 mins and at zero + 3 hours heading troops will show their position to contact aeroplane only when called for

(a) by Claxon horn

(b) by series of white Very lights dropped from the plane.

10. RAP will be at PASCHAL FARM 1.

11. PRISONERS 1 man as escort to 5 Bosches

12. Reports will be forwarded to battalion HQ at TAUBE FARM as frequently as possible and at least once in the first hour after zero.

13. Battalion HQ will open at TAUBE FARM at 7pm tonight.

14. Zero will be at the fall of the barrage. Time of this will be notified later, also synchronisation of watches.

15. General compass bearing of attack 55 degrees magnetic.

16. Acknowledge.

Issued at 1.30 pm
Copies to CO ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’.

4th Battalion War Diary

CORRIGENDA TO OPERATION ORDER NO 1A

1. Owing to the swampy state of the ground on the right of our attack, it has been decided to attack on a 2 Coy frontage instead of a 3 Coy frontage. ‘B’, ’C’ and ‘D’ companies will have dispositions exactly as laid down in O.O. no 1A.

2. ‘A’ company will NOT go to the assembly tape but will move from TRANQUILLE HOUSE to TAUBE FARM at 9pm tonight, when they will be in battalion reserve.

3. Hot tea and rum will be brought up tonight 1 guide per company to be at TAUBE FARM at 11pm to guide carrying parties.

4. Acknowledge.
Issued at 2pm
Copies to CO, ‘A’,’B’,’C’ and ‘D’

The CO reported the change to Bde HQ:

Summary of events

25th Oct 1917

Communication between Bn HQ and the front line was extremely difficult as the route was under direct observation and subject to incessant shelling by the Germans. This was especially so on the line running parallel with the road north-west and south east of Tranquille House, because it appeared to be an enemy barrage line. There was no cover except for shell holes, so it had not been possible to lay a telephone wire, or for a visual signalling system to be established.

Two runners did manage to reach the front line coy and all operation orders were delivered safely. However, it was a close call, because they had mistakenly overshot the front line by at least fifty yards and had been stopped before they stumbled on the enemy.

Front line company were constantly shelled by our own Howitzers, and some casualties resulted.

At 7pm Bn HQ moved forward to Taube Farm and the R.A.P. moved to Paschal Farm 2 from Olga Houses 3.

Between 7 and 9pm coys moved forward to their assembly positions.

The attack formation was altered twice in 12 hours. The original intention was, to attack on a 3 coy frontage, each coy being on a platoon frontage in depth, in 4 waves (1 platoon in each wave). After the relief it was realised that with the swampy ground on the Bn right flank, there would only be room for a two coy frontage. The CO reported this to Bde HQ (Appendix B).

Map 1 - 149th Brigade positions

25 Oct 1917

Summary of events

When 2nd Lt J.A. Burton actually laid the tape, he realised that there was only sufficient room for an attack frontage of one coy. Therefore, the front line platoon frontage was cut accordingly to one coy, the second coy was positioned to the rear of the right hand coy of the 5th Bn with instructions to wedge between the 4th and 5th Bn Coys at the front once the attack started. The third coy was held in reserve about one hundred yards to the rear of the front line coy (on a two platoon frontage) and the fourth coy under the Bn Cdr was positioned at Taube Farm 4 and Tranquille House 5.

The Coys assembled in shell holes and dug-in, in the formation described above. A piece of tape was laid to mark the boundary between the 4th and 5th Bn. Hot food was packed in hay and carried up to the coys at the assembly points.

A leap frog system of attack, recently practised in training, was to be employed. The lead platoon was to take the first objective, the second platoon was to pass through to take the second objective, the third platoon the final objective. The fourth under the company commander were to be used for counter attack or consolidation according to the tactical situation.

26th Oct 1917

At 3am heavy rain began to fall again and at 4.05am the 4th Bn reported it was in position for the attack.

At zero hour, 5.40am, the barrage opened up and began to creep forward at a rate of one hundred yards every eight minutes. The fusiliers of the149th Bde rose to their feet to advance behind it, with the 4th & 5th Bn Loyal North Lancashires (57th Divn) on the right flank and the 35th Divn on the left. Had the 'going' been good, the troops who lay close up under the barrage (so close indeed that several casualties were suffered) waiting for the first "lift", would not have had a problem advancing at the rate of the creeping barrage.

'The rain had, however, done its deadly work, for all the gallant fellows could do was to drag themselves along through the thick clinging mud and water at a much slower pace than the barrage, which soon got ahead'. Then form "pill box" and shell hole murderous fire was poured upon them. Many fell dead; some of the wounded fell into the gaping holes of water and were drowned; fortunate were those who escaped, but on went the survivors' (Wyrell. p.244).

The allied barrage consisted entirely of shrapnel and was therefore quite useless against the first objective, which consisted of concrete huts. To make matters worse the rain continued to fall heavily and the condition of mud and water were perfectly appalling.

Bn HQ received a wire from the Bde Major at 8.50am stating that a wounded Forward Observation Officer had reported that the first objective had been taken and the men were advancing well to the second objective. This information proved incorrect because 2nd Lt Wood subsequently returned wounded and reported that casualties were heavy and the attack was held up in front of the Huts. The attack had actually ground to a halt about eighty yards west of the line of huts. The machine gun fire and sniping was so severe that any further advance was quite impossible and reporting the situation back to HQ extremely difficult. Two runners were sent to the front line to try and gather information but they both failed to return.

At 11am, 2nd Lt Burton was sent forward to reconnoitre and he confirmed that the attack was held up about one hundred yards short of the Huts. At 1pm Sgt Thompson returned from the front line and confirmed 2nd Lt Burtons’ report stating that casualties were very heavy. Similar news was brought down later by Capt J.V. Gregory. This information was relayed to Bde HQ by pigeon and signaled by Lucas Lamp. Several messages were sent during the afternoon. Two platoons from the Reserve Company, under the command of 2nd Lts Peddie and Scott, were sent forward at 6pm to consolidate the original line held before the attack.

The Bn was relieved about midnight by the 4th Bn East Yorks and proceeded, via the duckboard track known as Railway Street 6, to Rose Crossroads camp 7. The 6th Bn DLI organised straggler posts in likely places to round up men returning from the front line and to guide them to camp.

Roll call revealed the appalling casualties suffered by the 4th Bn. 2nd Lts D.A. Smith, and W. Ruddy had been killed in action with 2nd Lt R.A.A. Simpson later dying of wounds. 2nd Lts G.R. Charlewood, A.W.P. Leary, H.B. Bell, J.R. Ruddock and R. Wood were wounded, and 2nd Lt R.G. Rayner and H. Stobbs were missing. Thirty-six fusiliers had been killed, one hundred and fifty-six wounded and sixty four were still missing. A total of two hundred and fifty six, more than fifty percent of those that had gone into action. The 5th Bn fared even worse with a total of 12 officers and 439 men either killed, wounded or missing. 7th Bn losses amounted to 11 officers and 246 men.

Summary compiled from 149th Bde War Diary, 4th Bn War Diary & History of the 50th Division,

Casualties

Records show that at least 100 fusiliers from the 4th Bn were actually killed in action or died of wounds between the 25th and 27th of Oct 1917. For information on 4th Bn burial and memorial sites for casualties sustained in this battle, select the link.

4th Battalion War Diary

The following is a list of points noted in the attack:-

1. Two machine guns were attached to the battalion in the attack. They went forward with the support company (in rear of 5th Bn) and did excellent work.

2. Two Stokes Mortars were to be attached but did not succeed in getting ammunition forward.

3. Communication to Bde exceptionally valuable and wonderfully maintained under a heavy barrage by the Bn. Signalling Officer (2nd Lt W.C.Clemitson) and the other signallers. The wire to 5th Bn almost instantly maintained, visual to Bde also kept up although the lamp was knocked over three times, and pigeons.

4. Wounded. Appalling difficulty in getting wounded as the slightest movement in the front line was checked by Machine Guns and sniping.

5. Liaison. Lt W.B. Hicks acted as liaison officer between the 4th Bn and the Bde on the right flank. Liaison with the 4th/5th Loyal North Lancashires maintained through 5th Northd Fus, who had an officer from that battalion with them.

6. Rations Cannot be brought up by transport in these conditions. Men must carry two days rations and also two Tommy cookers.

7. Kit as laid down appear the best, though many packs will probably be thrown away.

8. Hot food should always be carried up to the troops the night before the attack - also RUM.

9. Guiding appallingly difficult owing to the scarcity of landmarks, obvious landmarks, such as the railway are dangerous as the enemy naturally concentrates his artillery on them. We suggest a double line of pickets with plain wire on them. This is not conspicuous and very helpful.-

4th Battalion War Diary

APPENDIX C

(i) MESSAGES during the action

L.T.19 timed 12.20pm. Wounded officer left company reports attack on huts in V.1.D held up by many machine guns about 150 yards west of Huts. Right company held up in same position. Right company of SEED (5th NF) held up on same line. Impossible to work round flanks owing to swamp on right and machine guns on left. AAA. I have one company still in reserve in TAUBE FARM and TRANQUILLE HOUSE area AAA I do not propose to make another frontal attack with this company, as this appears to me to be a reliable report. AAA the officer states that Huts are very little damaged and full of machine guns AAA. Unless I receive orders to the contrary I will move Reserve Company up tonight at dusk to take over and reorganise front line AAA. Am investigating this information and will report later. AAA Ground very swampy and casualties very heavy in wounded officers company.

LT.20 timed 12.40pm In continuation of my L.T.19 I am unable to reach front line companies owing to machine gun fire and sniping from Huts and concrete emplacements. South of Huts. AAA There is not the slightest doubt that the whole attack is held up 100 to 150 yards west of Huts. I am unable to ascertain definitely position of troops on my right but they do not appear to have made much progress. AAA I am unable to estimate casualties.

LT 21 timed ? A very reliable Sgt has just brought back a report from front line. He states that 50 of our men and 2 officers are lying about 100 yards west of middle of Huts. Remainder of 3 companies, he thinks, are casualties. Total about 300. BOSCH planes have been flying low over front line shooting at them. Bosches have also sniped majority of our wounded as they tried to get back. Attack started in excellent order and was clear of BOSCH barrage before it came down – a few men succeeded in reaching HUTS but have not come back. Remainder caught by machine gun fire from HUTS and both flanks. Can you please give me assistance of large party to get our wounded out tonight with stretchers. It requires about 6 men per stretcher.

LT 22 timed 3.44pm Ref B.M.871

I am sending up 2 platoons tonight at dusk. They will consolidate original front line held before the attack and remaining 3 company’s will withdraw. I should like to send them out of the line. Is this possible please, and can staff captain arrange billets for them (probably 70 or 80 men). If the other company is not to be relieved, could you send water, rum, hot food and rations up for them and battalion HQ. Guides could meet ration parties and stretcher parties at PASCHAL FARM. I should also like a large carrying party with stretchers. Guides as above. – Sent by pigeon and substance of it by visual.

149th Bde War Diary

Speaking generally, the Bde was ordered to attack in a north-eastern direction between the southern border of the Houthhulst Forest and the Broembeek on a frontage running in an irregular manner through Aden House, and the principal objectives included "Hill 23," "Colbert Crossroads" and the groups of huts about seven hundred yards south-west of Schaap Balie. Aeroplane photographs were unfortunately not very clear, but they revealed an area that was capable of an obstinate defence, and one that might be rendered impassable by heavy rain. The chief obstacles were a double row of concrete huts or "pill-boxes," and ground that was already dangerously full of water- holes.

Heavy rain began to fall again at 3am and the "very few firm pieces of ground" became less in number; the water, trickling at first down the muddy sides of shell holes, soon became small streams, filling the occupants of the shell holes with gloomy prospects of success in the attack; pools of water widened almost to small lakes. Even in the darkness it was possible to discern stretches of water out in No Man's Land across which the attackers would have to pass.

2nd Passchendaele - Locations

1st Objective - Line of huts - approximately 300 to 400 yards distant.

2nd Objective - Approximately 500 yards distant.

3rd (Final) Objective - Colbert Crossroads and Hill 23.

Turenne Crossing - Road junction at railway crossing situated in 5th Bn front line prior to attack (Map1)

Ypres - Medieval Flemish town around which the salient formed in 1914. Known as Ieper in the Flemish language.















































Second Battle of Passchendaele

24th Oct 1917

On the night of 24th the 149th Bde relieved units of the 34th Division south of the Houthulst Forest and astride the Ypres to Staden Railway line. The 4th Bn moved into trenches in the right sub sector and the 7th Bn the left sub sector.

25th Oct 1917

At 8.31am Operation Orders for an attack were received from Brigade HQ.

4th Battalion War Diary

APPENDIX X A
OPERATION ORDER NO. 1A.

1. The 149th Infantry Bde will attack on the morning of the 26th inst, 4th NF on the right, 5th NF in centre and 7th NF on left, - 57th Div are attacking on our right, with 4th/5th Loyal North Lancs as their left battalion.

2. The battalion will attack on a 3 company frontage each company being on a platoon frontage.

‘A’ company on right, ‘B’ company in centre and ‘D’ company on left. ‘C’ Company will be in reserve on a 2 platoon frontage.

3. (a) Platoons will leap frog and capture and consolidate the objectives already given them i.e. FIRST WAVE to HUTS, SECOND WAVE to line V.2.3.1.6 – V.2.c.5.1. THIRD WAVE to final objective V.2.a.3.0 to V.2.d.15.55.

(b) Reserve company will move forward with attacking waves to a point approximately 200 yards west of the HUTS.

(c) ‘A’ company will detail parties to obtain touch with battalion on their right at the following points.

(a) Concrete shelter at V.8.a.1.8.

(b) Ditto at V.2.c.4.1.

(c) ROAD BRIDGE at V.2.d.0.6.

4. Two machine guns will accompany 4th wave of ‘B’ Company.

5. Two Stokes Mortars1 will be attached to ‘C’ company and will be available to fire at any strong points holding up the attack.

6. Barrage will begin to creep forward at ZERO + 8 minutes and will creep at the uniform rate of 100 yards in 8 minutes throughout. Lifts will be at 50 yards at a time.

7. Taping out of the assembly trench will be carried out under an officer from Battalion HQ. One line of tape will be laid from the Railway Embankment at point V.1.d.0.2. to V.7.b.6.5. Two guides will be left at the end of the tape on Railway Embankment. A short length of tape will be laid at right angles to assembly tape to mark the left of ‘D’ company, short lengths of tape will be laid at right angles to assembly tape every 130 yards to mark company frontages. The assembly tape marks position of leading wave.

8. ‘A’,’C’ and ‘D’ companies will move forward to assembly positions at 7pm tonight each company providing its own covering party. ‘B’ company will withdraw to the assembly tape at 11pm. Completion of assembly will be notified by code word ARRAS, sent by runner to battalion HQ.

9. 1 contact aeroplane will be flying over companies front at zero + 1 hour 30 mins and at zero + 3 hours heading troops will show their position to contact aeroplane only when called for

(a) by Claxon horn

(b) by series of white Very lights dropped from the plane.

10. RAP will be at PASCHAL FARM2.

11. PRISONERS 1 man as escort to 5 Bosches

12. Reports will be forwarded to battalion HQ at TAUBE FARM3 as frequently as possible and at least once in the first hour after zero.

13. Battalion HQ will open at TAUBE FARM at 7pm tonight.

14. Zero will be at the fall of the barrage. Time of this will be notified later, also synchronisation of watches.

15. General compass bearing of attack 55 degrees magnetic.

16. Acknowledge.

Issued at 1.30 pm
Copies to CO ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’.

4th Battalion War Diary

CORRIGENDA TO OPERATION ORDER NO 1A

1. Owing to the swampy state of the ground on the right of our attack, it has been decided to attack on a 2 Coy frontage instead of a 3 Coy frontage. ‘B’,’C’ and ‘D’ companies will have dispositions exactly as laid down in O.O. no 1A.

2. ‘A’ company will NOT go to the assembly tape but will move from TRANQUILLE HOUSE4 to TAUBE FARM at 9pm tonight, when they will be in battalion reserve.

3. Hot tea and rum will be brought up tonight 1 guide per company to be at TAUBE FARM at 11pm to guide carrying parties.

4. Acknowledge.
Issued at 2pm
Copies to CO, ‘A’,’B’,’C’ and ‘D’

The CO reported the change to Bde HQ:

25th Oct 1917

Communication between Bn HQ and the front line was extremely difficult as the route was under direct observation and subject to incessant shelling by the Germans. This was especially so on the line running parallel with the road north-west and south east of Tranquille House, because it appeared to be an enemy barrage line. There was no cover except for shell holes, so it had not been possible to lay a telephone wire, or for a visual signalling system to be established.

Two runners did manage to reach the front line coy and all operation orders were delivered safely. However, it was a close call, because they had mistakenly overshot the front line by at least fifty yards and had been stopped before they stumbled on the enemy.

Front line company were constantly shelled by our own Howitzers, and some casualties resulted.

At 7pm Bn HQ moved forward to Taube Farm and the R.A.P.5 moved to Paschal Farm from Olga Houses6.

Between 7 and 9pm coys moved forward to their assembly positions.

The attack formation was altered twice in 12 hours. The original intention was, to attack on a 3 coy frontage, each coy being on a platoon frontage in depth, in 4 waves (1 platoon in each wave). After the relief it was realised that with the swampy ground on the Bn right flank, there would only be room for a two coy frontage. The CO reported this to Bde HQ (Appendix B).

4th Battalion War Diary

APPENDIX B

L.T.3. CO’s report. “From reports received from the 11th SUFFOLKS," the right of my Battalion front is a swamp. Even if it is possible to assemble the right company, I do not consider they would be able to advance, but would have to be dug out. I propose with your permission to attack with two companies.only in the front line, one in support, and to keep the fourth company in reserve in TRANQUILLE HOUSE area. Conditions on rest of the front are such that if a man steps off a firm piece of ground into the slightest hollow he has to be dug out. There are very few firm pieces of ground away from the Railway and Roads.

Map 1 - 149th Brigade positions

25 Oct 1917

Summary of events

When 2nd Lt J.A. Burton actually laid the tape, he realised that there was only sufficient room for an attack frontage of one coy. Therefore, the front line platoon frontage was cut accordingly to one coy, the second coy was positioned to the rear of the right hand coy of the 5th Bn with instructions to wedge between the 4th and 5th Bn Coys at the front once the attack started. The third coy was held in reserve about one hundred yards to the rear of the front line coy (on a two platoon frontage) and the fourth coy under the Bn Cdr was positioned at Taube Farm and Tranquille House.

The Coys assembled in shell holes and dug-in, in the formation described above. A piece of tape was laid to mark the boundary between the 4th and 5th Bn. Hot food was packed in hay and carried up to the coys at the assembly points.

A leap frog system of attack, recently practised in training, was to be employed. The lead platoon was to take the first objective, the second platoon was to pass through to take the second objective, the third platoon the final objective. The fourth under the company commander were to be used for counter attack or consolidation according to the tactical situation.

26th Oct 1917

At 3am heavy rain began to fall again and at 4.05am the 4th Bn reported it was in position for the attack.

At zero hour, 5.40am, the barrage opened up and began to creep forward at a rate of one hundred yards every eight minutes. The fusiliers of the149th Bde rose to their feet to advance behind it, with the 4th & 5th Bn Loyal North Lancashires (57th Divn) on the right flank and the 35th Divn on the left. Had the 'going' been good, the troops who lay close up under the barrage (so close indeed that several casualties were suffered) waiting for the first "lift", would not have had a problem advancing at the rate of the creeping barrage.

'The rain had, however, done its deadly work, for all the gallant fellows could do was to drag themselves along through the thick clinging mud and water at a much slower pace than the barrage, which soon got ahead'. Then form "pill box" and shell hole murderous fire was poured upon them. Many fell dead; some of the wounded fell into the gaping holes of water and were drowned; fortunate were those who escaped, but on went the survivors' (Wyrell. p.244).

The allied barrage consisted entirely of shrapnel and was therefore quite useless against the first objective, which consisted of concrete huts. To make matters worse the rain continued to fall heavily and the condition of mud and water were perfectly appalling.

Bn HQ received a wire from the Bde Major at 8.50am stating that a wounded Forward Observation Officer had reported that the first objective had been taken and the men were advancing well to the second objective. This information proved incorrect because 2nd Lt Wood subsequently returned wounded and reported that casualties were heavy and the attack was held up in front of the Huts. The attack had actually ground to a halt about eighty yards west of the line of huts. The machine gun fire and sniping was so severe that any further advance was quite impossible and reporting the situation back to HQ extremely difficult. Two runners were sent to the front line to try and gather information but they both failed to return.

Captain J.C Gregory
Captain J.C Gregory

At 11am, 2nd Lt Burton was sent forward to reconnoitre and he confirmed that the attack was held up about one hundred yards short of the Huts. At 1pm Sgt Thompson returned from the front line and confirmed 2nd Lt Burtons’ report stating that casualties were very heavy. Similar news was brought down later by Capt J.V. Gregory. This information was relayed to Bde HQ by pigeon and signaled by Lucas Lamp. Several messages were sent during the afternoon. Ttwo platoons from the Reserve Company, under the command of 2nd Lts Peddie and Scott, were sent forward at 6pm to consolidate the original line held before the attack.

2nd Lt F.G. Peddie
2nd Lt F.G. Peddie

The Bn was relieved about midnight by the 4th Bn East Yorks and proceeded, via the duckboard track known as Railway Street7, to Rose Crossroads camp8. The 6th Bn DLI organised straggler posts in likely places to round up men returning from the front line and to guide them to camp.

Roll call revealed the appalling casualties suffered by the 4th Bn. 2nd Lts D.A.Smith, and W.Ruddy had been killed in action with 2nd Lt R.A.A Simpson later dying of wounds. 2nd Lts G.R.Charlewood, A.W.P.Leary, H.B.Bell, J.R.Ruddock and R.Wood were wounded, and 2nd Lt R.G.Rayner and H Stobbs were missing. Thirty-six fusiliers had been killed, one hundred and fifty-six wounded and sixty four were still missing. A total of two hundred and fifty six, more than fifty percent of those that had gone into action. The 5th Bn fared even worse with a total of 12 officers and 439 men either killed, wounded or missing. 7th Bn losses amounted to 11 officers and 246 men.

 

Summary compiled from:






































































Casualties

Records show that at least 100 fusiliers from the 4th Bn were actually killed in action or died of wounds between the 25th and 27th of Oct 1917. For information on 4th Bn burial and memorial sites for casualties sustained in this battle, select the link.

4th Battalion War Diary

The following is a list of points noted in the attack:-

1. Two machine guns were attached to the battalion in the attack. They went forward with the support company (in rear of 5th Bn) and did excellent work.

2. Two Stokes Mortars were to be attached but did not succeed in getting ammunition forward.

3. Communication to Bde exceptionally valuable and wonderfully maintained under a heavy barrage by the Bn. Signalling Officer (2nd Lt W.C.Clemitson) and the other signallers. The wire to 5th Bn almost instantly maintained, visual to Bde also kept up although the lamp was knocked over three times, and pigeons.

4. Wounded. Appalling difficulty in getting wounded as the slightest movement in the front line was checked by Machine Guns and sniping.

5. Liaison. Lt W.B. Hicks acted as liaison officer between the 4th Bn and the Bde on the right flank. Liaison with the 4th/5th Loyal North Lancashires maintained through 5th Northd Fus, who had an officer from that battalion with them.

6. Rations Cannot be brought up by transport in these conditions. Men must carry two days rations and also two Tommy cookers.

7. Kit as laid down appear the best, though many packs will probably be thrown away.

8. Hot food should always be carried up to the troops the night before the attack - also RUM.

9. Guiding appallingly difficult owing to the scarcity of landmarks, obvious landmarks, such as the railway are dangerous as the enemy naturally concentrates his artillery on them. We suggest a double line of pickets with plain wire on them. This is not conspicuous and very helpful.-

4th Battalion War Diary

APPENDIX C

(i) MESSAGES during the action

L.T.19 timed 12.20pm. Wounded officer left company reports attack on huts in V.1.D held up by many machine guns about 150 yards west of Huts. Right company held up in same position. Right company of SEED (5th NF) held up on same line. Impossible to work round flanks owing to swamp on right and machine guns on left. AAA. I have one company still in reserve in TAUBE FARM and TRANQUILLE HOUSE area AAA I do not propose to make another frontal attack with this company, as this appears to me to be a reliable report. AAA the officer states that Huts are very little damaged and full of machine guns AAA. Unless I receive orders to the contrary I will move Reserve Company up tonight at dusk to take over and reorganise front line AAA. Am investigating this information and will report later. AAA Ground very swampy and casualties very heavy in wounded officers company.

LT.20 timed 12.40pm In continuation of my L.T.19 I am unable to reach front line companies owing to machine gun fire and sniping from Huts and concrete emplacements. South of Huts. AAA There is not the slightest doubt that the whole attack is held up 100 to 150 yards west of Huts. I am unable to ascertain definitely position of troops on my right but they do not appear to have made much progress. AAA I am unable to estimate casualties.

LT 21 timed ? A very reliable Sgt has just brought back a report from front line. He states that 50 of our men and 2 officers are lying about 100 yards west of middle of Huts. Remainder of 3 companies, he thinks, are casualties. Total about 300. BOSCH planes have been flying low over front line shooting at them. Bosches have also sniped majority of our wounded as they tried to get back. Attack started in excellent order and was clear of BOSCH barrage before it came down – a few men succeeded in reaching HUTS but have not come back. Remainder caught by machine gun fire from HUTS and both flanks. Can you please give me assistance of large party to get our wounded out tonight with stretchers. It requires about 6 men per stretcher.

LT 22 timed 3.44pm Ref B.M.871

I am sending up 2 platoons tonight at dusk. They will consolidate original front line held before the attack and remaining 3 company’s will withdraw. I should like to send them out of the line. Is this possible please, and can staff captain arrange billets for them (probably 70 or 80 men). If the other company is not to be relieved, could you send water, rum, hot food and rations up for them and battalion HQ. Guides could meet ration parties and stretcher parties at PASCHAL FARM. I should also like a large carrying party with stretchers. Guides as above. – Sent by pigeon and substance of it by visual.

149th Bde War Diary

Speaking generally, the Bde was ordered to attack in a north-eastern direction between the southern border of the Houthhulst Forest9 and the Broembeek10 on a frontage running in an irregular manner through Aden House11, and the principal objectives included "Hill 2312," "Colbert Crossroads13" and the groups of huts about seven hundred yards south-west of Schaap Balie14. Aeroplane photographs were unfortunately not very clear, but they revealed an area that was capable of an obstinate defence, and one that might be rendered impassable by heavy rain. The chief obstacles were a double row of concrete huts or "pill-boxes," and ground that was already dangerously full of water- holes.

Heavy rain began to fall again at 3am and the "very few firm pieces of ground" became less in number; the water, trickling at first down the muddy sides of shell holes, soon became small streams, filling the occupants of the shell holes with gloomy prospects of success in the attack; pools of water widened almost to small lakes. Even in the darkness it was possible to discern stretches of water out in No Man's Land across which the attackers would have to pass.

2nd Passchendaele - Military Units

34th Division Comprised of the 101st, 102nd and 103rd Infantry Brigades

The 101st Bde - Comprised of the 15th and 16th Bn - Royal Scots, 10th Bn - Lincolnshire Regt and 11th Bn - Suffolk Regt.

The 102nd Bde - Comprised of the 20th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd Bn - Northumberland Fusiliers.

The 103rd Bde - Comprised of the 24/27th, 25th and 26th Bn - Northumberland Fusiliers.

35th Division - - Comprised of the 104th, 105th and 106th Infantry Brigades

The 104th Bde - Comprised of the 17th, 18th, 20th & 23rd Bns - The Lancashire Fusiliers.

The 105th Bde - Comprised of the 15th & 16th Bns - The Cheshire Regiment, 14th Bn - The Gloucestershire Regiment and the 15th Bn - The Sherwood Foresters.

The 106th Bde - Comprised of the 17th Bn - The Royal Scots, 17th Bn - The Prince of Wales' Own, 19th Bn - The Durham Light Infantry and the 18th Bn - The Highland Light Infantry.

50th (Northumbrian) Division Comprised of the 149th (Northumberland) Bde, 150th (York & Durham) Bde and 151st (Durham Light Infantry (DLI)) Bde.

The 149th Bde comprised of the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Bn Northumberland Fusiliers.

The 150th Bde comprised 4th Bn East Yorkshires, 4th Bn Green Howards, 5th Bn Green Howards and 5th Bn Durham Light Infantry

The 151st Bde comprised the 6th, 8th, 9th Bn - DLI and 1/5th (Cumberland) Bn - Border Regt

The 149th MGC -

57th (2nd West Lancashire) Division -

The 170th (2nd North Lancashire) Bde - Comprised of the 2/5th Bn - King’s Own, 2/4th, 2/5th & 4/5th Bn - Loyal North Lancashire Regt.

The 171st (2nd Liverpool) Bde - Comprised of the 2/5th, 2/6th, 2/7th & 2/8th Bn - King’s.

The 172nd (2nd South Lancashire) Bde - Comprised of the 2/9th & 2/10th Bn - King’s, 2/4th & 2/5th Bn - South Lancashire Regt.

Second Battle of the Scarpe

Summary of events

With the exception of the 4th Bn (ordered to move to the old German line north of Beaurains) and two sections of the 149th MGC who were to support the attack of the 150th Bde, the 149th Bde was to remain in billets at Ronville 1.

The 151st Bde and the 4th Bn. The Germans were pushed down the hill from the Wancourt Tower 2 and Guemappe 3 was taken. The 4th Bn reached Buck Trench 4, and the Divn frontline was advanced to a point not far from the outskirts of Cherisy 5. HQ was established at Telegraph Hill 6

www.fairmile.fsbusiness.co.uk/odellarras.htm.

23rd April 1917 (St Georges Day)

At 4.15am the front line Bns were reported in position. The 150th Bde attack was to be carried out by the 4th Bn East Yorkshires on the right and the 4th Bn Green Howards on the left. Five minutes before Zero hour two tanks nosed their way to the front and moved slowly in a north-westerly direction.

At 8am the Bn moved forward again to the O.G. 1st line (map ref: N.5.b) and remained there during the day at half an hour notice. The Bn moved forward at five minutes notice at 7.45pm to the Brown Line 7 and for tactical purposes came under the orders of the GOC 151st Bde.

During the early morning of the 24th the 151st Bde relieved the 150th Bde, who moved back into reserve in the Harp area 8; the 4th Bn were attached to the 151st Bde, the remainder of the 149th being in support.

At about 11.30am, the enemy was reported retiring in front of the 30th Divn, and the GOC of the 30th Divn stated that he was going to push on to the Blue line 9.

Wancourt

The Bn moved forward from the Brown Line under the orders of the 151st Bde. ‘B’ Coy were sent forward to the front line and came under the orders of the 5th Bn DLI. They dug and occupied a new trench connected to the right flank of the 9th Bn DLI. Their covering party captured four Germans. No contact was made on the right flank until 3pm at which time communications were established with the 5th Bn Border Regt who were to the rear and slightly right of them. The 5th Bn Borders agreed to come forward at night and dig and occupy a trench that would be connected with ‘B’ Coy on the left.

‘A’, ’C’ and ‘D’ Coys and Bn HQ arrived at the old British front line north of Wancourt Tower (dispositions as per sketch) 2.30am. Rations were brought up to the 5th Bn Border HQ in the Long Lane 10 and brought up to ‘A’, ‘D’ and HQ by ‘C’ Coy. There was insufficient time to deliver rations to ‘B’ Coy before daylight so the men had to consume their second lot of iron rations. ‘B’ Coy were subjected to continuous, heavy shellfire and persistent sniping. 2nd Lt R Johnson and five men were killed and 16 men were wounded.

('B' Coy or the Bn) Lewis Guns identified good targets at ranges varying round 1000 yards and inflicted several casualties on the enemy. One Lewis gun was destroyed by shellfire. The areas occupied by the remaining Coys were also subjected to considerable artillery fire, which was especially violent between 2.30am and 7am and again between 1.30pm and 2pm. No direct hits were obtained on the trench and no casualties were sustained in this line during daylight.

2pm A part of ten stretcher-bearers and ten men were sent out to collect wounded still lying on the battlefield.

The GOC 151st Bde was instructed to advance at 4pm under an artillery barrage. But, meanwhile, the 30th Divn had already reached the Blue line, and was digging in on it, and the 151st Bde was, therefore, ordered to conform immediately to the movement of the 30th Divn. The 5th Borders Regt swung up their right flank and obtained touch at about 4pm. But the 9th DLI, in the centre, with a Coy of the 4th Bn attacked, and had a sharp tussle with the enemy before occupying the Blue Line 11. (50th Divn)

3pm ‘B’ Coy under 9th Bn DLI orders (2.25pm) went forward one platoon to reconnoitre and capture an enemy trench 600 yards long astride the railway. The platoon captured the trench sustaining three casualties in the process.

Bn HQ received Operation Orders at 3.30pm stating that the 15th Divn were advancing on the left and 9th Bn DLI would support their advance with rifle, Lewis Gun and MG fire. Also that they would push forward patrols to reconnoitre and capture the German trench six hundred yards long astride the railway. OC 9th Bn DLI detailed ‘B’ Coy for this work and captured and held the trench as described above.

At 5.22pm 4th Bn HQ received a wire from OC 9th Bn DLI stating that one of the 'B' Coy platoons had just captured an enemy trench (from map ref: O.20.7.6. to O.20.C.1.9) and was holding it. Only three casualties were incurred. Fine piece of work. Lt Col B.D. Gibson and 2nd Lt Burton went forward to reconnoitre the new positions occupied by ‘B’ Coy and ‘A’ and ‘D’ Coys.

Another platoon was sent forward under heavy artillery and machine gun fire to help hold it. Under cover of darkness one more platoon of ‘B’ Coy was sent forward to the trench and three strong points were constructed, two north and one south of the railway.

10pm ‘A’ and ‘D’ Coys dug a new support trench between the railway and the Cojeul River and occupied it. One machine gun was attached to each Coy. At 10.30pm Bn HQ moved to a dugout at the old German gun pits at the north end of old German support line between Cojeul River and the railway. ‘C’

2nd Scarpe - Military Units

15th (Scottish) Division - Comprised of the 44th, 45th and 46th Infantry Brigades

The 44th Bde - Comprised of the 9th Bn - Black Watch, 8th Bn - Seaforth Highlanders, 8th & 10th Bns - Gordon Highlanders, 7th Bn - Camerons.

The 45th Bde -Comprised of the 13th Bn - Royal Scots, 6th & 7th Bn - Royal Scots Fusiliers, 6th Bn - Camerons, 11th Bn - Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

The 46th Bde - Comprised of the 10th Bn - Scottish Rifles, 7th & 8th Bn Kings Own Scottish Borderers, 10th & 11th Bn - Highland Light Infantry, 12th Bn - Highland Light Infantry.

30th Division - Consisted of the 89th, 90th and 91st Bde.

The 89th Bde comprised of the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Bns - The Kings Liverpool Regiment

The 90th Bde comprised of the 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th Bns - The Manchester Regiment.

The 91st Bde comprised of the 20th, 21st, 22nd and 24th Bns - The Manchester Regiment.

50th (Northumbrian) Division Consisted of the 149th (Northumberland) Bde, 150th (York & Durham) Bde and 151st (Durham Light Infantry (DLI)) Bde.

The 149th Bde comprised of the 1/4th, 1/5th, 1/6th and 1/7th Bn Northumberland Fusiliers

The 150th Bde comprised 1/4th Bn East Yorkshires, 1/4th Bn Green Howards, 1/5th Bn Green Howards and 1/5th Bn Durham Light Infantry

The 151st Bde comprised the 1/6th, 1/8th, 1/9th Bn - DLI and 1/5th (Cumberland) Bn - Border Regt.

149th MGC -

 

Summary compiled from:















































Battle of St Julien

Tuesday, 20th April 1915

France

The boat docked in Boulogne 1 at 9.40pm and the Bn 2 marched to St Martins Rest Camp 3.

“The battalion behaved splendidly, rather to the astonishment of the officers. The embarkation officer and disembarkation gave us some encouragement. It took the battalion exactly thirteen minutes to leave the boat, form up and march off. As the record disembarkation for a battalion is twelve minutes, we did pretty well. Had to march about three miles after disembarking, up a very long hill; pretty well cooked when we got into camp, as everybody was carrying blanket and waterproof sheet, in addition to full marching order. Slept in bivouac tents, very cold and wet”. (4th Bn Officer, Hexham Courant - 1 May 15).

 

Wednesday, 21st April 1915

At 11am, after the Bn parade and usual inspection, the entire Northumbrian Divn marched four miles over very dusty roads to Pont de Briques, to await a train. The men were very cheerful, practising their French on everyone they passed. The train arrived after a short while and the Bn discovered that the transport and machine gun sections, under the command of Capt Webster, Lt Bell and Lt Good, were already aboard. They had sailed from Southampton to Le Havre a few days before. The officers boarded first class carriages while thirty men clambered into each of the covered cattle wagons coupled behind. The train departed at 2pm and steamed slowly toward the northeast with the wagon side doors left open, so the men were able to sit on the steps and enjoy the fresh air and pretty countryside. It was only a short distance but it was past 6pm when the Bn disembarked at Bavinchove 4.

‘D’ Coy were tasked with unloading the transport wagons, while the rest of the Bn marched to their billets for the night. With the unloading complete and the wagons harnessed, 'D’ Coy set off in the same direction, but it would seem that the billeting officer had not explained precisely where their billets were located. They had marched two miles before they were informed that they should be in a farmhouse close to the station they had just left. The billets were eventually located and by 9.20pm the entire Coy were crowded, but comfortably settled in one large shed.

Normal protocol was adhered to, with all the Bn officers allocated rooms in the farmhouse while the NCOs and men bedded down on straw in the outbuildings and barns. The outbuildings allotted to ‘A’ Coy were not large enough to accommodate them all, so many had to bivouac outside. It was no hardship on this occasion, because it was a fine and warm night. However, those outside could not fail to notice the flashes of distant artillery fire and shell bursts in the sky to the east.

The Bn interpreter was billeted with the officers of one Coy:

“Monsieur and Madame of the farm were very kind. We had omelettes, coffee and schnapps for supper, and cutlets for breakfast. The old lady made us rather realise that it isn’t all a picnic. Her son had died of typhoid, and she wished us ‘Bonne chance’ and wept over us many times when we left next morning”. (4th Bn officer: HC - 1 May 15)

Thursday, 22nd April 1915

Captain Cruddas
Captain Cruddas

After assembling outside the station at 10am, the Bn marched seven miles northwards, up the steep winding road to the hill top town of Cassel and on to Oudezeele, arriving at 3pm. On the outskirts of Oudezeele they past billets occupied by the York and Durham Bde and DLI Bde. Once again the Bn were billeted in farms, but many of them were quite small, so the Coys were split into platoons and allotted a farm each.

“The Colonel and Cruddas came and inspected the Coy in the evening and read out a list of the field punishments to which men are liable on active service, together with certain death sentences that have recently been promulgated for various offences in the field”. (Bunbury)

“Country very pretty, difficult to realise that war is so near; can occasionally her the boom of a big gun. Each platoon is billeted in a different farm. All within a radius of half a mile. Found two platoons of the 6th Durhams already in our billets. As however, they were allotted to us they move out tonight. The farm I am in is very comfortable and people very kind”. (4th Bn officer, Hexham Courant: 1 May 1915)

Whilst the fusiliers were settling into their billets, twenty miles to the north-east the Germans were preparing to use their latest weapon for the first time. At 5pm, after an eleven hour delay due to a lack of wind, Chlorine gas was released from 6000 cylinders opposite front line trenches occupied by French colonial troops of the 45th (Algerian) Divn. The trenches were near Langemarck in the northern part of a bulge in the front line around the ancient Belgium town of Ypres, held jointly by the French and British army. This bulge, known as the Ypres Salient, covered a low lying farming area criss-crossed by drainage ditches.

A light north-easterly wind blew the greenish yellow cloud of gas towards the Algerians and was accompanied by heavy and concentrated shelling of Ypres, nearby villages and the French forward trenches. The gas was heavier than air so it sank into all the trenches in its path, choking and asphyxiating the occupants.

The effect was devastating:

“Those who were not incapacitated by the gas fled in terror leaving a gap in the line of approximately four miles. Some elements of the French Divn on the right flank managed to hang on. The Canadians were also severely affected by the gas. A four-mile stretch of the front line was left wide open. The German infantry units equipped with respirators advanced behind the barrage fifteen minutes after the gas was released”.

“...the German soldiers simply walked forward through the allied line, over the bodies of the dead, lying sprawled out, faces discoloured and contorted in grimaces of agony. Within an hour the Germans had advanced more than a mile and they had hardly needed to fire a shot” (MacDonald: p.195).

However, the Germans failed to press home their advantage and the pause in the enemy's advance gave the British valuable time in which to push troops forward to fill dangerous gaps in the line. Nevertheless, the threat posed to Ypres and the channel ports beyond would determine the immediate future of the Northumbrian Divn.

News of the German attack reached Maj. Gen. Sir W.F.L Lindsay (GOC Northumbrian Divn 5) at 10.40pm. Ten minutes later orders arrived instructing him to have six coys of the York and Durham Bde fully equipped and ready to move by motor bus. At 11.29pm a supplementary order was received stating that all units of the Northumberland Bde were to 'stand by' in billets, ready to turn out immediately, fully equipped.

At 11.48pm the 10th and 16th Bns (1st Canadian Divn) counterattacked in an attempt to recapture Kitchener's Wood. The wood was of great tactical advantage to whoever controlled it, as it lay on a small ridge running north from the village of St Julien, protecting it from the northwest. The attack was partially successful in that the Germans were cleared from most of the wood and a new line was established on its southern edge.

Friday, 23rd April 1915 (St Georges Day)

During the early hours of the morning a hastily assembled force of part battalions known as Geddes detachment advanced and succeeded in linking the Canadian position, south of Kitcheners Wood, with the Yser Canal.

The French planned to counterattack over the ground lost the previous afternoon. At a meeting in Cassell 6 between the French General Foch and Sir John French, Sir John agreed to co-operate in the attempt. On returning to his HQ at Hazebrouck, Sir John decided to increase the strength of the 2nd Army (GOC - General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien) by placing the three infantry Bdes of the Northumbrian Divn at its disposal.

At 5.30am Northumbrian Divn HQ received orders from General HQ for two Infantry Bdes to be held in readiness to move. At 6.30am Northumberland Bde HQ received orders from Divn HQ, instructing them to concentrate the Bde around the town of Winnezeele. These orders were issued to the four Bns at 6.45am.

The 4th Bn cleaned their billets before assembling at 7.30am, just outside the village on the road east to Winnezeele 7. They marched off under the impression that they were moving a little closer to the front line and to a fresh billeting area, but it was at 9.05am that the Northumbrian Divn was placed at the disposal of the 2nd Army (now under the command of Gen. Sir H. Plumer). At 10.20am the Bde was brought to a halt on the outskirts of Winnezeele, the officers assuming this was so that the colonel and interpreter could inspect and allocate billets to the Bn, but a rumour soon spread that there had been developments at the front, necessitating a change to the programme. In actual fact, all four infantry Bns had been halted alongside Bde HQs, where they were to spend an uncomfortable three hours exposed to a cold wind awaiting orders. Meanwhile, the York and Durham, and Durham Light Infantry Bdes had been attached to the 28th Divn and were moving towards the front line.

Orders for the Northumberland Bde arrived at Divn HQ in Steenvoorde from HQ 2nd Army at 11.45am. They stated that the Bde, accompanied by a RE Field Company and supply section train, were to march from Winnezeele via Doglandt, Watou 8 and Poperinghe 9 and occupy the third line defences astride the Poperinghe-Ypres road near the town of Brandhoek.

Bns received these orders from Bde HQ at 12.30pm, at which time cases of maps were opened by the roadside and distributed among the officers and NCO’s. The Bde marched off shortly after 1pm, the 5th Bn leading the way, closely followed by the 6th, 7th and 4th Bns, 2nd Field Coy RE, 1st Northumberland Field Ambulance, No2 Coy ASC Train. This was a tough march for the fusiliers, over fourteen and a half miles of dry and dusty roads through flat farming country, laden down with heavy packs and equipment and lacking sustenance from a good meal. The troops crossed the Franco-Belgian frontier that afternoon, reaching the GHQ Line trenches astride the Ypres-Poperinghe road by 5.30pm. The Bns took up position, with the 4th and 7th to the north and the 5th and 6th to the south side of the road. Bde HQ was established at a farmhouse three miles east of Poperinghe. Three platoons from each Coy occupied the trenches, while the fourth was positioned in a wood a short distance to the rear.

"We were apparently about five or six miles in rear of firing line. Muttering of guns has developed into a pretty considerable noise”.

"It was not very easy to see our position in the dark, but we were not very long before we were in our places for the night”.

"We started on what proved to be a frightfully long march. We spent the night in the trenches, there was a good way behind the firing line. We could hear the guns very close, and also could see Ypres on fire”.

“At 4.15pm an attack took place between Kitcheners Wood and the canal. It certainly had the effect of stopping the enemy’s advance in this quarter, but the price paid had been very heavy, and actually no ground was gained that could not have been secured, probably without casualties, by a simple advance after dark, to which the openness of the country lent itself”.

Meanwhile, at 4pm the Durham Light Infantry Bde was ordered to move to Poperinghe and Vlamertinghe and at 8pm were placed at the disposal of V Corps.

The heavy losses incurred during the 23rd led to the York and Durham Bde receiving orders late that night to move to Brielen Bridge on the Yser Canal, to the north of Ypres. They were to be attached to, and support if required, the 13th Bde (5th Divn).

Saturday, 24th April 1915

The York and Durhams assembled at 1am and marched towards the canal. Soon after dawn a German bombardment caused the first Northumbrian Divn casualties of the war, when a few shells burst amongst the York and Durhams sheltering on the canal banks. The bombardment preceded a German gas attack and infantry assault, which at 3.30am, was made against a sector north east of St Julien, held by the 8th and 15th Bns (Canadian 1st Divn). This time the Canadian troops were prepared for the gas, as each man had been supplied with cotton wads to soak in water and place over their mouth and nose. Nevertheless, despite stiff resistance from the Canadians, by 6.30am their line was breached. Two York and Durham Bns were ordered forward from the canal bank at 7.40am to man the GHQ line and support the Canadians. By 9am the Canadians were forced to withdraw to Locality 'C', where eventually they were surrounded and either killed or taken prisoner. By 3pm the Germans occupied the village of St Julien.

The Northumberland Bde was left to rest for most of the day, although subject to continual harassment from German spotter planes and artillery . Some of the men were set to work, in the woods to the rear of the trenches, building camouflaged shelters from waterproof sheets and blankets in an effort to avoid the spotter planes and the weather. At 3.45pm the Northumberland Bde received orders to march via Ypres to the village of Potijze to form a V Corps reserve.

“We fully expected that we should be left in the reserve trenches for some days, as up till now all the troops that have come out have been put into billets some way in the rear of the front line, while first the officers, and then the NCOs and men are sent up to the trenches in small parties, or by platoons, to familiarise them with the conditions, previous to the battalion going up as a unit”.

At 6pm the Bde formed up on the road and marched towards Ypres, passing streams of wounded men and Red Cross cars heading in the opposite direction. Rumours were rife in the ranks as to the reason for the advance, most numerous were that the allies had made a successful attack and broken the German lines through which they were to advance. Heavy rain began to fall and the Bde received its baptism of fire on entering Ypres around 11pm. Many of the buildings were on fire and the streets were strewn with corpses because the town was now under continual artillery bombardment.

“By keeping in close to the houses along the edges of the streets and square, and by doubling past places where the houses had been knocked down, we made pretty good progress without suffering any casualties. When we reached the further side of the square, however, were hung up, and had to halt for about twenty minutes exactly opposite the Cathedral and Cloth Hall” .

It would seem that the hold up, which may have been as long as an hour, was due to the Bde in front losing its way. During that halt fifteen men from the 7th Bn were hit, twenty-four horses and mules belonging to the 4th Bn's Transport Section were killed and several wagons were smashed. The personal steeds of Colonel Foster and Captain Cruddas were amongst the casualties and one of the wagons happened to be the Head Quarters section mess cart, which was flung sky high complete with the plates, cutlery and other such comforts.

Meanwhile, General E.A.H Alderson (GOC - 1st Canadian Divn) had issued Operation Order 10 at 8pm, ordering a strong counterattack to be made the following morning, in the general direction of Fortuin, St Julien and Kitcheners Wood. The aim was to drive the enemy back as far north as possible, thus securing the left flank of the 28th Divn. The counterattack was to be made by the 10th Bde, York/Durham Bde and two Bns from the 13th Bde under the command of Brigadier Hull (GOC 10th Bde). The Northumberland Bde and Durham Light Infantry Bde were destined to form a Corps reserve at Potijze, that could be called upon to support the attack if necessary.

Everyone was extremely relieved when the order to march finally came. Marching at quick pace, the Bn reached the village of Potijze. Still under shellfire, they turned into a large field to the right of the road and were ordered to lie down in small groups of about six men so that the risk of suffering heavy losses was minimized.

Sunday, 25th April 1915

At 1.30am the Northumberland Bde was also placed under the command of the 10th Bde and ordered to move to a position near the village of Wieltje, to provide support for them in the forthcoming counterattack. It was almost dawn before the Bn rose to continue the march along flooded and almost impassable roads. By this time approximately 30 shells had exploded in the field around them, one man had been wounded and Lt Scaife temporarily struck dumb through concussion.

After two miles there was another unexplained stop in a narrow lane followed by a further short march before the Bn deployed in the fields immediately to the east of the Ypres-Wieltje and ‘Oxford’ road junction, on the outskirts of the ruined village of Wieltje.

Here they were ordered to lie down in extended order, with a thirty yard interval between Coys, the lead Coys just outside the village, with ‘A’ Coy about one hundred yards to the rear.

The York/Durham Bde (5th Bn Green Howards and 5th Bn DLI) were ordered to move to the right through Fortuin and were there by 5am, but realising they were alone and exposed on both flanks, fell back to their former positions. They were alone because there had been insufficient time to assemble the Bns at the correct start position and unbeknown to them, zero hour had been postponed from 3.30am to 5.30am.

The five battalions of the 10th Bde arrived at the GHQ Line to discover that there were only two breaks in the wire through which they could advance. As soon as they had passed through the wire heavy rifle and machine gun fire from St Julien and the adjacent buildings began to cut swathes through their lines. The attack failed to achieve the objectives set, but a new line was established with its apex at Vanheule Farm, five hundred yards from the edge of St Julien.

When General Hull discovered that the York and Durham Bde were not to the right of his 10th Bde, he ordered the Northumberland Bde, (Corps reserve), to send two Bns to positions south of Fortuin to reinforce the right flank. Bde HQ dispatched the 4th and 7th Bns at 7.30am.

“We got off about 3.30 and took up our position, and at 4am our artillery started to shell the Germans. What a row that was. The German guns replied and several of our fellows were hit. Later in the morning we advanced about 500 yards and in doing so we suffered a few casualties, whilst Joicey and Wilf Robinson were also wounded on that day. We did not get much more to do but were rather troubled by a machine gun and a sniper. Once we took up position along the side of a garden, but an aeroplane spotted us and we soon got shelled out of it”. (4th Bn officer, HC - 1 May 15).

The 4th and the 7th Bns set off in artillery formation, but when they reached the wire entanglements in front of the foremost trench line, just below the village, Colonel Foster was informed that the attack had already failed. At this stage all he could do was to try and save his men by stopping the Battalions from advancing. Unfortunately, he only succeeded in stopping the two companies bring up the rear of the 4th Bn, the other two having passed out of sight in the rear of the 7th Battalion. He ordered these two companies to occupy the front line trenches they had just reached. Unwittingly, instead of strengthening the line they had extended it to the right, but there was still no contact with the 5th Green Howards and 5th DLI, who had by this time returned to their old trenches in front of Fortuin.

“We advanced in artillery formation and then extended into successive lines under machine gun fire, which appeared to be coming from our flank. This became so severe that eventually I had to change direction with the two platoons I had with me, it was here that Joicey and a number of men were hit, and we found it impossible to advance till they were located. This we did after some trouble and were able to get the artillery directed on them, so we remained till dark and dug ourselves in. At 11pm we got the order to return to our original line, where we again entrenched ourselves and got what sleep we could”. (4th Bn Officer, HC - 15 May 15).

It was from these battered trenches that the Canadians had launched their attack, and judging from the numbers of the dead who were lying there, they must have met with murderous fire as they went over the top. The trenches were badly smashed up and consisted of little more than a series of ditches and scrap-heaps, while all around were the saddest indications of the sort of fighting which had taken place. The two Companies spent the afternoon removing the dead and doing what they could to repair the trench.

Meanwhile, at 6.30am Northumberland Bde HQ responded to 10th Bde orders by sending the 6th Bn to the GHQ line east of the farm (map ref: C22t), where they remained until dusk The 5th Bn remained in reserve at Wieltje. At 9.45am General Hull wired GHQ with the news that the attack had failed.

At 7.30pm the Northumberland Bde was placed in reserve under the orders of Lt General E.A.H Alderson (GOC - 1st Canadian Divn). At 7.45pm units were ordered to leave their current positions and to bivouac for the night just to the south of Wieltje. The 4th Bn were relieved between 11pm and midnight and withdrew by Coys under intense artillery fire to their original line near Wieltje. Here they dug in and slept as best they could until 5am.

'A' Coy under Lt Bunbury brought up the rear, but unable to locate the rest of the Bn they had no choice but to lay down and rest by the roadside, within 100 yards of an artillery battery that continued to fire all night. That day Capt Weirs’ arm had been shattered by shrapnel whilst attending a wounded man, Lt Joicey was shot through the leg, Robinson junior, through the foot, while Webster had to return to the lines with a sprained ankle. Thirty-three men had been wounded and twenty were missing, although most reported in the next day.

 

Monday, 26th April 1915

General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien issued Operation Order No8 at 2.15am. The French were to launch an attack with their right flank on the Ypres- Langemarck road.

“At the same time the Lahore Division and troops under General Aldersons’ command, were to recapture much of the ground recently lost. The Lahore Divn was to advance through V Corps positions to attack in the direction of Langemarck, on a thousand-yard front. At the time they were bivouacking near Outerdom, some ten kilometres to the south west of Ypres. They had already marched thirty miles from Bethune to get there and, undisturbed by the clamour of the distant bombardment, most of them were sleeping like logs. By 5.30am they were back on the road, setting off at half-hour intervals to march through Ypres to take up positions north of the St Jean-Wieltje road in preparation for the attack”. (Macdonald: p.251).

‘A’ Coy awoke to find a thick mist covering the ground. As soon as they had eaten, they set off across country to rejoin the rest of the Bn, whose positions near Wieltje were now known. The rest of the Bde was also concentrated around Wieltje, under the orders of the 1st Canadian Divn and ready to act as reserve in the forthcoming attack. Lt Bunbury was in hope that the Bn would be moved further back from the front line, but they soon discovered that they were destined to move forward again. That morning the 4th Bn was placed in good trenches a little to the east of Wieltje and subjected to a heavy artillery bombardment as German spotter planes flew overhead unhindered.

At 10.15am Brigadier General J.F.Riddell (GOC Northumberland Bde) received orders from the GOC 10th Bde to verify a 28th Divn report that stated the enemy was breaking through the front line near Fortuin. At 10.45am the 5th Bn was directed to send forward an officers patrol to verify the report and to move the Bn forward to Fortuin in preparation for a counterattack if the enemy was discovered breaking through. By 12 noon OC 5th Bn was satisfied that the enemy was not attempting to break through at the place indicated. The Bn was subject to heavy shell fire, so they dug in and remained there until dusk, consequently taken no part in the operations of the afternoon.

At 12.15pm General Alderson issued Operation Order No 12, instructing a Bn from the 10th Bde to advance alongside the Lahore Division, between Kitcheners Wood and the Wieltje-St Julien road. At the same time, the Northumberland Bde was to attack St Julien astride the Wieltje-St Julien road. When the artillery barrage commenced at 1.20pm, the Bns detailed for the attack were to advance to the positions from which it would be launched at 2.05pm.

It was not until 1.30pm that Brigadier-General Riddell received these orders, so he had to summon the 4th, 6th and 7th battalion commanders immediately. He stated, that in the opinion of the Commander-in-Chief, it was imperative for the Germans to be kept out of Ypres and that the only way to do this was to fling more men into the breach, make rapid attacks and counter-attacks and to give the enemy the impression that there were large reserves to call upon. Lt Col Foster was instructed to advance an attack with the 4th Bn in a north-easterly direction with their left flank on the Wieltje-St Julien road. The 6th Bn were to advance with their right flank on the road and the 7th Bn were detailed to provide support for the 4th Bn. The fusiliers of the 4th Bn were just finishing their lunch when Colonel Foster returned with the orders, but by 1.50pm they were all on the move. Lt Col Foster called for his four company commanders and issued orders for the battalion to advance in lines of platoons at fifty yard intervals. Two companies, under the command of Major Stephenson, were to be in the first line and two in the rear under the command of the colonel himself.

According to Lt Bunbury no further information or detail was provided, so when the attack began few if anyone in the Bn had any idea where the allied front line trenches were in this part of the line, or what the objective of the attack was. The report submitted by Bde HQ after the action highlights the difficulties:

“The distance from Wieltje to St Julien was approximately 13/4 miles and the ground had not been previously reconnoitred by the staff or any of the officers of the Brigade. No information was received or could be obtained as to the actual position of either our own or the enemy's trenches nor was it known that the GHQ line was strongly wired and that there were only certain places through which the troops would be able to pass.

No communication was ever made with the artillery and no artillery officers got in any way into touch with the Brigadier. The time was short, the order to attack being received at 1.30pm, nevertheless considering that any failure to attack on the part of the Brigade might seriously hamper the operations General Riddell decided to carry out the orders he had received impossible as they seemed”.

The 4th and 6th Bns reached the GHQ line (map ref: C22b & C23c) and were deployed either side of the Wieltje-St Julien road by 2.05pm, immediately coming under heavy shell, machine gun and rifle fire. The thick wire entanglements in front of the GHQ line caused delay and heavy losses, as the men bunched together to squeeze through the gaps. Nevertheless, the wire was negotiated and the advance towards St Julien commenced.

Lt Bunbury wrote:

“We lost no time in getting away, and as soon as we passed through the barbed wire entanglements in front of our trenches, we set off in lines of platoons at about forty yards' interval. Plummer, Turner, and Varvill went with our first line two platoons, and Frank Robinson and myself followed with the other two (Nos 1 and 2).

Practically from the moment we started off we had to face a perfectly hellish shelling, which increased in intensity as we advanced. Shells of every description literally raining on us from our front, right flank and rear, while it seemed to me in the excitement of the advance that our artillery were giving us no support whatever.

The line of our advance lay for about a mile over open ground, and after we had gone a short way, in addition to the inferno of shells in which we were, we became exposed to a very heavy rifle and machine gun fire from the German trenches, which were directly in front of us near a wood at the top of some rising ground, and in such a position that they could fire right over what turned out to be our advanced trench, down on to us. The small arm fire was intense, and the nearest thing I can liken it to is a gigantic swarm of angry bees buzzing all around one. Men were falling on every side, and I felt an intense excitement, but there was no time for thinking, and my one idea was to push on as fast as possible, and to get as many men as possible to follow me, and keep going”.

Under circumstances such as these, Companies and Battalions soon get mixed up, and the last point at which I knew I had the major part of my own men still with me was after I had gone about half way, when we had to cross the St Julien road, and here we lay down for a breather.

“Frank Robinson was the only one of our officers I remember being there, and we appeared to have about a hundred men still with us, though the various lines were already getting mixed, and a good number of them were not belonging to our Company. From here we could see a trench some hundreds of yards in front of us, which with the scanty instructions we had received might have proved to be a German one, but I am thankful to say that I gave orders not to fire, as it turned out to be our own advanced trench occupied by the Seaforths. One could scarcely hear one's own voice for the awful din, and it was only by shouting at the top of of one's voice from mouth to mouth that an order could be conveyed any distance, This was not a very healthy place to stay in, and we did not remain there many minutes, and when FR and I got up to lead forward again the men, who were perfectly splendid throughout, rose and followed us like one man, the order to advance being scarcely needed. From this point on we were in full view of the German position, and men were falling thicker than ever, but we kept plugging along as fast as we could with our heavy packs, etc., and the perspiration was fairly pouring off me, as though I was in bad training, instead of being hard as nails. After we had gone a short way, I fancied that we were being shot at from a farm which was about two hundred yards to our right, and was in the act of swinging some men round to attack this when some RAMC men appeared in the door of the building, and signalling frantically to us not to fire, waved us on in our original direction, which we then resumed. When still about 200 yards behind our advanced trench, we came to a ditch and bank running across our line of advance, and I had a second breather of a few minutes here, and, while peeping over the parapet to choose the line for our further advance, something struck the parapet, sending a quantity of dirt in my face, and simultaneously I felt something hot touch my cheek, and for a moment thought that I had been hit. I turned to a man behind me, and asked him if I was hit, but he told me that it was only a graze, and that there was only a tiny trickle of blood. It was a narrow shave, but left no more mark than a small razor cut would. I then went on again, but by this time I only had a hazy recollection of seeing Frank Robinson somewhere near me still, as we were approaching the trench. Just about this time I had another close shave, as a 'Jack Johnson' burst, as it seemed, just over my head, and the concussion threw me face downwards on to the ground, while when I looked round, previous to rising to go on again, there was a huge hole just behind me, and several of the men following me were lying wounded on either side, while where it had actually fallen there was no trace of a soul and I fear that three or four of the poor fellows were blown into little bits r pounded into the ground. I eventually landed up at our trench, practically I believe at the same time as Frank Robinson, and accompanied by but a few men, several of whom were not even of our Battalion” (Bunbury: p...).

Meanwhile Lt Col Foster had stopped for a breather when several of his men, lying in a shallow ditch behind a hedge, had beckoned him.

“I was very glad to do so for we needed the rest, but the few minutes I could give them seemed to pass in a moment’s flash, and at the word of command; “Now, lads, we have some way to go yet, - we must get on’.” They jumped up on the instant and followed me.

Looking back as I lay upon the ground after one of our rushes, I saw men being blown twenty feet into the air by the bursting shells and, realising that as there was no cover the quicker we advanced the less we should suffer, I sprang up and ran ahead, shouting to the men to come on as fast as possible” (Foster: p.20).

By 2.45pm the remnants of the 4th and 6th Bns had reached the front line trenches (map ref: C17b) and the 7th Bn had joined the attack. Around 3.10pm isolated parties of the 6th Bn pushed forward a further 250 yards to occupy trenches from which the enemy had apparently retired. Elements of the Bn actually succeeded in entering, and for a time occupying the southern portion of St Julien, but they were eventually driven back, mainly due to the effects of gas, and finally occupied a line a short distance to the south.

During the whole of this period the Lahore Divn and the Bn from the 10th Bde were not seen. It was subsequently discovered that their orders had been cancelled and the Northumberland Bde had not been informed.

The 4th Bn fusiliers who were lucky enough to reach the advanced trenches unscathed were surprised to find they were occupied by a few Seaforth Highlanders (2nd Bn, 10th Bde). To Colonel Fosters' distress, he discovered that eight of the highlanders had been wounded by his men during the advance. Hardly surprising because the Colonel had not been informed that there were still British units in his line of attack. A steady trickle of fusiliers were reaching the trench and it was soon full, so some men had to dig into the rear of it.

Crawling along the shallow trench Lt Col Foster was pleased to find Col Jackson and Major Joicey of the 7th Battalion, and Lts Bunbury and Cranage of the 4th had survived. Right at the very end of the trench he found Capt Dixon and Lt Gibson.

At 3.45pm, Brig Gen Riddell left Bde HQ in the support trench (map ref: C23a) and went forward, accompanied by his Bde Major, to confer with his Bn Cdrs. At a point about one hundred and fifty yards south of Vanheule Farm (map ref: C17d) he was shot in the head and died instantly. As the senior officer in the front line, Lt Col Foster (OC 4th Bn) assumed command of the Bde and ordered all three Bns to dig in where they were as best they could. A message was dispatched to Colonel Coles CMS, DSO (OC 5th Bn) informing him of General Riddell's death and that as the senior officer in the Bde, command had now devolved to him. However, the location of Colonel Coles HQ was unknown at the time, so it was not until 7pm that he arrived at Brigade HQ.

At 7.30pm Col Coles, having ascertained that the services of the Bde were no longer required in the first line trench, ordered the troops to retire and to bivouac at Wieltje.

A 4th Bn officer wrote: “After the attack it was a strange sight when darkness fell that night. Although quite close to the German trenches both sides seemed to be tired of fighting for the present, and we were able to get up and walk about with comparative safety and get the Battalions and Companies sorted up ready for everybody else. We had a busy time after that gathering in wounded and burying the dead, and there were many things I saw that night I should be glad to forget. What disgusted me most I think was the way they fired on the wounded crawling back to shelter. There was a farm about half way up used as a dressing station, and this they shelled continuously and any party of stretcher bearers leaving it always came in for a very hot time”. (Hexham Courant: 29 May 15).

Lt Bunbury was ordered to take a party of men and scour the area immediately to the rear of the trench for dead and wounded. Once the wounded had been taken to the dressing station they had passed in the attack, the party set about burying the dead:

"a most gruesome job, as in many cases we could only ascertain to what battalion the poor dead fellows belonged by examining their identity discs, which in most cases are worn suspended round the neck by a cord next the skin, and many of the corpses were in a fearful state and their clothes stiff with blood.

After a long and laborious time we collected five of our own dead, and I then set the working party to dig two graves for them near the dressing station, while I collected their identity discs and pay books, and went through their packs, haversacks, and pockets, and collected and tied together any little personal belongings which I thought their people might like to have”.

“We put two into each grave and after filling them in we put up a little wooden cross to mark where the first men of the 4th Northumberland Fusiliers who fell in action had been buried on the field of battle. The men we buried were Lance Cpl Woodman, of my platoon (who was subsequently mentioned in dispatches for the gallant work yesterday), Privates Herdman, Paxton and Scott” .

The Bde withdrawal began at 7.30pm and all were 'relieved' and on their way back to 2nd line dugouts around Wieltje by 11pm. So ended the first encounter with the enemy.

The first Bn roll call revealed that 19 men had been killed, 188 wounded and 98 were still missing. Capt's Chipper, Hunting and Plummer, Lts Carrick, Speke and 2nd Lt Allen were all wounded ('D' Coy losing three of its six officers). It was impossible to conduct a proper roll call for several days, because the platoons and companies had all become muddled up and many of the men who had become separated during the attack did not report in until several days later.

More than 50 fusiliers from the 4th Bn were actually killed or died of wounds received on that day.

In all, the Northumbrian Bde had lost forty-two officers and 1912 men, two thirds of its strength in one afternoon.

Tuesday, 27th April 1915

For the Northumberland Bde, the day passed practically without incident although enemy shelling did cause further losses in the 4th Bn. The Ypres Salient was now much smaller, more dangerous and subject to German artillery shelling from the south, east and north. Colonel G.P.T.Fielding, previously of the Coldstream Guards, arrived at 5pm and assumed command of the Bde.

L/Cpl John Ord was out searching for snipers who were firing on the stretcher-bearers:

“it was the most awful time of my life. They asked for volunteers and I went, as they could not get our wounded in. One of the wounded lads lay on the field all night, and when he was trying to get a drink from his water bottle the sniper shot him in the back. I helped to carry him in and we were shelled all the way, but we were fortunate in never being hit”. (Hexham Courant: 15 May 1915)

The 4th Bn remained in the Wieltje dugouts for the rest of the week, unable to venture out during daylight due to the continual artillery fire and for fear of snipers. This left them little to do other than improve the dugouts in which they were resting. It was however, an opportunity for the men to write home and attempt to describe the actions of the past few days to family and friends. During the first few weeks in Flanders many of these letters were published by the Hexham Courant and Herald newspapers. Censoring them prior to dispatch became a daily and time-consuming chore for platoon commanders.

Once darkness fell, the Bn began what was to become a routine for the rest of the war. A routine common to all infantry Bns held in support or reserve, that of providing parties of men to work under the supervision of the Divisional RE Coys. Typically these working parties were tasked with carrying raw materials from the supply dumps, digging and repairing trenches and erecting barbed wire entanglements. Many of these nocturnal outings involved hazardous treks over considerable distances, such as the one on the night of the 27th, recalled by Lt Bunbury:

"we went out again on a working expedition, and this time we went by a circuitous cross country route, so as to avoid the Germans favourite spots for dropping shells, to Hill 60, which was at this time in our possession. Got back to our dugouts about 2.30am, having had a pleasant little cross-country walk of about 8 or 10 miles”.

 

Letter from a 4th battalion officer published in the Hexham Courant newspaper on the 15th of May 1915.

“At last we are back from the firing line, where the air is sweeter and one does not need to be continually dodging ‘coal boxes’ shrapnel etc. We are having a rest now after our strenuous ten days right amongst it – in the thick of the biggest artillery fight which has taken place for some time. It is a pleasure to be out of the continuous din of bursting shells and the stink of fumes and dead. Just before we came away last night there was another attack, and those poisonous gases were used by the enemy. (We had respirators over our mouths). I thought the enemy had got through, but some heroes in front of us stuck in and held them back”.

“We were addressed this morning by Field Marshall Sir John French, and he stuck it in very thick, said we had done magnificently all the ten days we were under fire etc etc, and thanked us, and in fact said we were no ‘small beer’. So we are bucked up some. Well we are having good sleeps now and reorganising, as we had practically no sleep when we were in the trenches, could only move about under cover of the darkness, as there was always plenty of Taubes flying about watching for us. We feel a little foot sore, not being able to have our boots off practically since we left Blyth, otherwise very fit. It is very pretty countryside here, thickly dotted with little whitewashed thatched farmhouses, and every inch of ground is cultivated. Everything seems much farther out than at this time at home. Quite a change to the desolation of where we were in the fighting line”.

Wednesday, 28th April 1915

Due to heavy shelling and continual overflights by German spotter planes most of the Bn remained in their dugouts throughout the day. There was some excitement, when a German aeroplane flying over the allied lines was hit by anti aircraft fire:

"It came down quite low over the Bns dugouts, whereupon all our troops anywhere near opened rapid rifle fire on it, with the result that it fell abruptly quite a short distance in front of where we were”.

Thursday, 29th April 1915

At 5.45pm the Northumberland Bde was ordered to provide working parties to dig a line south of the Ypres-Zonnebeke road and astride the Menin Road. At 6pm the 4th and 6th Bns were ordered to provide the first relief for these parties. However, most of the 4th Bn were employed digging trenches at Bellewarde Farm between 8pm and 3am while Lt Bunbury was left with a small party of men to clean up the lines and look after the dug outs until their return.

Casualties

Records show that at least 50 fusiliers from the 4th Bn were killed in action or died of wounds during the Battle of St Julien. For information on 4th Bn burial and memorial sites for casualties sustained in this battle, select the link.

St Julien - Military Units

1st Canadian Division - Consisted of 1st, 2nd and 3rd Canadian Bdes.

The 1st Bde comprised the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Bns.

The 2nd Bde comprised 5th, 7th, 8th and 10th Bns.

The 3rd Bde comprised 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th Bns.

45th (Algerian) Division - French Army Division.

Geddes Detachment - Named after Colonel A.D Geddes and comprised of four Bns from the 28th Divn. 2nd Bn - Buffs, 3rd Bn - Middlesex, 5th Bn - Kings Own and 1st Bn - York and Lancaster.

Northumbrian (Territorial) Division - Comprised of the Northumberland, York & Durham and Durham Light Infantry Brigades.

The Northumberland Bde - Comprised of the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Bn - Northumberland Fusiliers.

The York and Durham Bde - Comprised 4th Bn - East Yorkshires, 4th and 5th Bn - Green Howards and 5th Bn - Durham Light Infantry.

The Durham Light Infantry (DLI) Bde - Comprised the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Bns DLI. Select link to find out more about this Division.

Other units of the Northumbrian Divn

1st Northumberland Field Ambulance - One of three Territorial Field Ambulance units in the 50th (Northumbrian) Division. Staffed by 10 officers and 224 men from the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) personnel.

No2 Field Company RE - Territorial unit of the Royal Engineers (RE). There were two RE Field Companies and a Signals Company in the Northumbrian Division.

No2 Coy ASC Train - No2 Company of the Army Service Corps (ASC) Train. The 'train' was the transport, comprising horses, carts, wagons and bicycles. Four companies in a Division. A company assigned to each Brigade and one to Headquarters.

St Julien - Locations

Bellewarde - Village east of Ypres.

Bellewarde Farm
- East of Ypres.

Brandhoek - Village 8km west of Ypres (Ieper).

Doglandt -

Farm Vanheule
- Near village of St Julien.

Fortuin
- Village north-east of Ypres.

Hazebrouck
-

Kitcheners Wood - West of the village of St Julien.

Langemarck - Village to the north east of Ypres.

Locality 'C' -

Oudezeele - Village 4km north of Cassel.

Oxford Road Junction -

Potijze - Village to the north east of Ypres.

Steenvoorde - 7km east of Cassel.

St Julien - Village to the north east of Ypres, now referred to as St Juliaan. Captured by the Germans - 24th April 1915

Vanheule Farm - Farm buildings to the right of the Ypres to St Julien road, north east of Wieltje.

Wieltje - Village to the north east of Ypres.

Ypres - Medieval Flemish town around which the salient formed in 1914. Known as Ieper in the Flemish language.

Yser Canal - Canal running north north-west from Ypres10.

 

Pont de Briques - Approximately 3km inland from the port of Boulogne.

Bibliography

Summary compiled from:

Northumbrian Bde War Diary, 4th Bn War Diary,






































































Official History of the War - Military Operations France & Belgium 1915,
























“Country very pretty, difficult to realise that war is so near; can occasionally hear the boom of a big gun. Each platoon is billeted in a different farm. All within a radius of half a mile. Found two platoons of the 6th Durhams already in our billets. As however, they were allotted to us they move out tonight. The farm I am in is very comfortable and people very kind”.

4th NF officer, Hexham Courant: 1st May 1915

"We started on what proved to be a frightfully long march. We spent the night in the trenches, there was a good way behind the firing line. We could hear the guns very close, and also could see Ypres on fire”. 

"We were apparently about five or six miles in rear of firing line. Muttering of guns has developed into a pretty considerable noise”. 

"It was not very easy to see our position in the dark, but we were not very long before we were in our places for the night”.

 “At 4.15pm an attack took place between Kitcheners Wood and the canal. It certainly had the effect of stopping the enemy’s advance in this quarter, but the price paid had been very heavy, and actually no ground was gained that could not have been secured, probably without casualties, by a simple advance after dark, to which the openness of the country lent itself”.

'The Bde looked like millers when we finished. We expected to go into billets, but were pushed straight into some reserve trenches'.

If would like to read the full story of the 4th NF in World War 1, then please select here