Gird Trench, Hook Sap

12th November 1916

‘B’ and ‘C’ Coys moved into Snag Trench 1 and Snag Support 2, ‘A’ Coy to Abbaye Trench 3 and ‘D’ Coy the Flers Line 4. The Bn was warned to be ready for an assault on Hook Sap 5. Lt Col. Gibson visited the front line system of trenches and reported that the communication trench was impassable in many places and the condition of Snag front line and support was extremely bad.

Snag Trench was 6ft wide and it was almost impossible to move along. In several instances men had become completely stuck in the mud and took over an hour to be dug out. Rifle fire was fairly heavy during early morning of the 12th. The German 5th Bn Grenadier Guards were now in the trenches opposite the Bn and were much more active than the Saxon Regt who were opposite on the previous tour in the trenches.

At 7.45am the enemy front line very heavily shelled.

At 10am the Bn received word that the attack on Hook Sap was postponed until the 14th and would be carried out by the 6th and 7th Bns. Work continued on Snag new support trench. Front line system was heavily shelled during the morning with the Bn suffering about twenty casualties with several men temporarily buried as well.

13th November 1916

Orders were received stating that the 1st Divn would relieve the 50th Divn between the 17th and 19th of November.

At 6.30pm, Bde HQ issued an operation order, detailing the 5th Bn to attack on the right flank and the 7th Bn on the left. The 4th Bn were to be held in support with two Coys in Hexham Road 6 and two in the Flers Line (with 5th Bn Green Howards attached). The 6th Bn were to hold the front line from the left of the 7th Bn to the Bde Boundary on the left and support the attack with Lewis Gun and rifle fire.

During the night of the 12th/13th Snag new support trench was dug and completed and Pioneer Alley 7 was cleared as far as possible. To make it passable approximately two hundred duck-boards were laid cross wise in Snag Trench.

At 5.45am a Chinese barrage 8 was laid down on Hook Sap and the Gird Line 9. With the artillery suddenly opening and the barrage steadily creeping forward, it gave the Germans the impression that an infantry assault was in progress.

'This of course, alarms the Bosche, who thinks we are coming over, and brings down all his artillery barrages too. These bombardments took place at 6am for several days’

Enemy retaliation was very severe especially on Hexham Road 10, where an intense barrage was put up for an hour. Bn once again had several casualties from shell-fire.

The relief of the Bn by the 5th Bn commenced at 8pm, ‘C’ and ‘D’ Coys moved back to the Flers Line, but ‘A’ and ‘B’ Coys remained at Hexham Road. The relief was completed at 11.45pm.

the 5th and 7th Bns moved into position during the night ready to attack Hook Sap and the Gird Line at 6.45am.

‘The position was now as follows. The 1st Divn had pushed the enemy back to a line running along the top of a ridge running from the Butte of Warlencourt practically due east. This ridge prevented our seeing the enemy’s approaches and support position in Le Barque. On the other hand from Loupart Wood the whole of our approaches and support trenches were in full view of the enemy, as far back as High Wood. Across these two miles no one could move in daylight without being seen by the enemy, and there was practically no position to put our field guns forward of High Wood. The enemys’ front line consisted of two trenches - Gird Line and Gird Support - with a forward trench on top of the ridge, called on the left ‘ Butte Trench and on the right ‘Hook Sap’. Our front line Snag Trench and Maxwell Trench lay this side of the ridge and about two hundred yards away from the German forward trench’.

‘The Butte of Warlencourt was a round chalk hill, rising about one hundred feet above ground level; and had been mined with deep dugouts and made into a formidable strong point. From the Butte, machine guns defended the approaches to Hook Sap, and the Hook Sap and the Gird line, machine guns defended the approaches to the Butte. The ground between and around the opposing trenches had been ploughed up with innumerable shells, some of huge calibre, and it was now a spongy morass, difficult to cross at a walk and impossible at a run. As events proved, unless both the Butte and the Gird Line could be taken at the same time, the one would render the other impossible to hold. This then was the problem that faced the 50th Divn, a problem that would have been difficult enough in the driest of weather, but rendered four times more so by the rain which fell in deluges on three days out of four during the whole of October and November’.

‘A’ and ‘D’ Coy were in Hexham Road and ‘B’ and ‘C’ Coy in the Flers Line when the 5th and 7th Bns went ‘over the top’ to attack Hook Sap, alongside troops from the 2nd Australian Divn. On this occasion mist obscured the attacking troops from the troops in the Flers Line. The enemy defensive barrage was very prompt, opening up within two minutes of zero hour.

The 19th Australian Bn in conjunction with the 5th and 7th Bns took Gird Support. However, the trench was waterlogged, so they fell back to Gird Trench. The 7th Bn appeared to have taken Hook Sap, but they came under severe fire from Butte Trench and nothing more was heard from them. The day wore on and counterattacks were fought off. Two Coys of the 20th (New South Wales) Bn attempted a move against the Maze at 4.45pm but were stopped by machine gun fire. .

At 10am Capt R.W. Cranage was slightly wounded by piece of shrapnel in Flers Line.

On receipt of this news a sap was begun running out from Snag Trench to Hook Sap, the men digging hard. This sap was begun by 'D' Coy of the 4th Bn, who had been detailed for the work in operation orders. But at 11.30am they had to cease digging as the enemy machine gun fire was too heavy (50th Divn)

‘D’ Coy, under the orders of the 7th Bn, proceeded from Hexham Road to the head of Pioneer Alley to continue this Communication Trench towards Hook Sap. Machine Gun fire was so heavy that the party returned to Hexham Road.

At 2.35pm ‘A’ Coy was placed at the disposal of the 5th Bn. At 5pm 2nd Lt T. Bonner and fifty men reinforced the Gird Line on right (held by 5th and 7th Bns) with bombs and occupy left flank portion of line next to enemy. This party was engaged in heavy bomb fighting all next day.

3.30pm Trenches .

CO moves to Hexham Road to meet GOC 149th Bde

At 5pm ‘B’ and ‘C’ Coys move up to Hexham Road. ‘D’ Coy moves up to Snag trench front line.

At 6.30pm ‘B’ Coy moved to Snag trench to dig a Communication Trench from the head of Pioneer Alley to Hook Sap. ‘C’ Coy moved to Snag left of Pioneer Alley. Capt J.W. Robinson (OC ‘B’ Coy) was killed while leading a patrol reconnoitring Hook Sap.

At 11pm Lt Col B.D. Gibson and Maj N.I. Wright (5th Bn) went forward to reorganise the front line prior to an attack. For this task they had one Coy from the 4th and 7th Bns on the left and another Coy from the 4th Bn and the remains of 'A' Coy from the 7th Bn about thirty men.

The two coys in Starfish Trench went forward and occupied positions in Prue Trench vacated by the 7th Bn, who had gone further forward. Later in the day these Coys were recalled as the 7th Bn were returning there. The Bn expected to be relieved that night, but at 3pm orders were received that stating the the 4th and 7th Bn should relieve the Durhams in the front line. The 4th Bn relieved the 8th Bn DLI and 5th Bn Borders. The weather and the mud was appalling and a large number of bombs had to be carried forward, so the men were absolutely exhausted. The relief was not completed until about 9am on the morning of the 3rd.

15th November 1916

Trenches, Hexham Road & Snag Trench

At 12.30am the 4th and 5th Bns launched an attack but owing to intense enemy barrage and heavy rifle and Machine gun fire the attack failed. Capt J.W. Robinson and 2nd Lt F.J. Larken were killed, Lt Col B.D. Gibson and 2nd Lt T. Bonner were wounded and 2nd Lt A.V. Berrick was missing.

At midnight a detachment of the 4th and 5th Bns attacked on the other flank and similar results were achieved. (McCarthy. p.156).

At 2am the Bn was ordered to reorganise and defend Snag Trench. Lt Col Gibson and Wright returned to Bn HQ as nothing more could be done for the present.

Enemy shelling fairly heavy all day.

16th November 1916

The Bn, including the party in the Gird Line, was relieved by the 4th Bn East Yorks and moved back to the Flers Line. The Bn War Diary shows that the operations between the 14th and 16th of November resulted in the 4th Bn suffering 21 men killed, 62 wounded and 5 missing.

On the afternoon of the 17th the Bn was relieved by the 10th Bn Gloucesters (1st Divn) and move back to Bazentin Le Grand 11.

At 12 noon on the 18th the Bn proceeded by rail to Albert and was billeted in Felix Faure.

Casualties

Records show that at least 40 fusiliers from the 4th Bn were killed in action or died of wounds during the fighting for Gird Trench and Hook Sap. For information on 4th Bn burial and memorial sites for casualties sustained in this battle, select the link.

Gird Trench, Hook Sap - Military Units

1st Division - Comprised of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Infantry Brigades.

The 1st Bde - Comprised of the 10th Bn - Gloucestershire Regt, 1st Bn - Black Watch, 8th Bn - Royal Berkshire Regt and 1st Bn - Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders.

The 2nd Bde - Comprised of the 2nd Bn - Royal Sussex Regt, 1st Bn - Loyal North Lancashire Regt, 1st Bn - Northamptonshire Regt and 2nd Bn - King’s Royal Rifle Corps.

The 3rd Bde - Comprised of the 1st Bn - South Wales Borderers, 1st Bn - Gloucestershire Regt, 2nd Bn - Welsh Regt and 2nd Bn - Royal Munster Fusiliers.

Pioneer Battalion - 1/6th - Bn Welsh Regt.

50th (Northumbrian) Division - Comprised 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 Bns - Northumberland Fusiliers.

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

The 151st Bde was comprised the 1/6th, 1/7th, 1/8th and 1/9th Bns - Durham Light Infantry (DLI). 1/5th (Cumberland) Bn, Border Regt.

Bibliography

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Transloy Ridges

Although the 50th Division (including the 149th Brigade) was heavily involved in this action, it was the turn of the 4th Battalion to spend time out of the line. With the exception of four days in the support lines (1st - 4th), the Bn was held in Reserve at the little village of Millencourt 1.

1st October 1916

The Battalion moved up from the OC Line at Bazentin to Prue Trench 2 and Starfish 3 with headquarters in the latter. The 7th NF were also in these trenches, lying to the left. The 5th and 6th Bn NF were attached to the 151st Bde, who were to attack. Zero time was set for 3.20pm. An intense artillery bombardment hit the German front line and then lifted. The German artillery was late responding, so the fusiliers got through with little loss. All took their objectives and pushed forward patrols. The 47th Divn, on the right flank, entered Eaucourt L'Abbaye 4, but were held up and failed to reach all their objectives.

That night the 4th Bn provided carrying parties for the 8th and 9th Bn DLI who were occupying the front line.

2nd October 1916

The two coys in Starfish Trench went forward and occupied positions in Prue Trench vacated by the 7th Bn, who had gone further forward. Later in the day these Coys were recalled as the 7th Bn were returning there. The Bn expected to be relieved that night, but at 3pm orders were received that stating the the 4th and 7th Bn should relieve the Durhams in the front line. The 4th Bn relieved the 8th Bn DLI and 5th Bn Borders. The weather and the mud was appalling and a large number of bombs had to be carried forward, so the men were absolutely exhausted. The relief was not completed until about 9am on the morning of the 3rd.

Transloy Ridges - Military Units

47th (London) Territorial Division - Comprised of the 140th, 141st and 142nd Infantry Brigades.

The 140th Bde - Comprised of the 1/6th & 1/7th Bns- City of London, 1/8th Bn - Post Office Rifles and 1/15th Bn CS Rifles.

The 141st Bde - Comprised of the 1/17th Bn - Popular & Stepney Rifles, 1/18th Bn - London Irish Rifles, 1/19th Bn - St Pancras and 1/20th Bn - Blackheath & Woolwich.

The 142nd Bde - Comprised of the 1/21st Bn - 1st Surrey Rifles, 1/22nd, 1/23rd & 1/24th Bns - The Queens.

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 Bns - Northumberland Fusiliers.

The 150th Bde was comprised 1/4th Bn - East Yorkshires, 1/4th & 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.

Bibliography

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Flers-Courcelette

11th Aug 1916

The 4th Battalion (Bn) left Vth Corps reserve at Meteren1 and entrained at Bailleul2, destined for the town of Doullens3 some 70 km further south. After a three hour march from Doullens they arrived in their billeting area around Fienvillers4. This was the first time that the Bn had left the Ypres area since landing in France sixteen months earlier.

The 12th to the 14th were largely devoted to route marches to raise fitness levels after the such a long period in the trenches. Reveille on the 15th was very early, the Bn setting out on an eight mile to Naours at 4.40am. They were billeted here for the day, then marched to Pierregotte5 for another overnight stop and then on to Henencourt Wood6. Trench attacks were practised in Henencourt Wood until the 28th, when bad weather curtailed training for three days. Training recommenced with night operations alongside the 7th Bn on the 31st, but then the weather deteriorated again and training had to be curtailed for four days. A varied program of training began on the 6th of September, geared principally towards the Bde Sports Day which was held on the 8th.

View of Martinpuich on the road from High Wood – 2008 (Author’s collection).
View of Martinpuich on the road from High Wood – 2008 (Author’s collection).

Saturday, 9th Sep 1916

At 3pm, the 4th Bn moved from Henencourt Wood, via Millencourt7 and Albert8, to Becourt Wood9, situated approximately two miles east of Albert. The 50th Division (Divn) were moving into the front line, between the village of Martinpuich10 and High Wood11, in preparation for an attack. The 149th Bde were assigned the right flank of the sector and the 150th Bde the left. That evening the 5th Bn moved into the front line and the 6th Bn into the support lines.

Sunday, 10th Sep 1916

Little occurred apart from the officers and NCOs reconnoitring the front and support lines.

Monday, 11th Sep 1916

By 7am, the 4th Bn were encamped in Becourt Wood, the 7th Bn in Quadrangle Trench12 and the 6th Bn were established in the support lines. The 5th Bn occupied the front line which consisted of Clark's Trench13 and the posts out in front, notably Eye Trench14. They also occupied part of 6th Avenue East15 and the new Intermediate Trench16, east of its junction with Jutland Alley17.

At 7.25am OC 149th Bde (Brigadier-General Clifford ) set out with his staff captain (Capt D Hill) to reconnoitre the assembly trenches and was shot dead by a sniper whilst he was inspecting Eye Trench. Lt Col Turner CMG (OC ?Bn) assumed temporary command of the Bde. Meanwhile the 4th Bn received a draft of fifty men who had been transferred from the Norfolk Regt.

During the day the 149th Bde front line was extended westwards to include Jutland Alley. The boundary between the 149th Bde and 150th Bde now ran from the junction of Clark's Trench with Jutland Alley to the cross roads (map ref: S.8.b6.9), road junction (map ref: S.8 C.9.7), O.G. Trench (map ref: S.14 A 2.6) and the north-west corner Mametz Wood18.

That night the Bde handed control of the extreme right flank of their sector to the 142nd Bde (47th Divn). The 50th Divn boundary with the 47th Divn now ran from Clark's Trench (map ref: S.3d.2.81/2) to the windmill (map ref: S.9.C.3.9), the road (map ref: S.8.d.9.1), crossroads (exclusive to 149th Bde) (map ref: S.14 b 1.5), point on road (map ref: S.13 b1.0), road inclusive to 149th Bde (map ref: X24 a 8.8) and thence to point in Quadrangle Trench (map ref: X 23 C 4 61/2).

Tuesday, 12th Sep 1916

The preliminary bombardment for the attack commenced, however Bn positions remained unchanged.

Wednesday, 13th Sep 1916

Between 5 and 6am the 4th Bn moved by platoons to the south-west corner of Mametz Wood.

“Mametz Wood presented a terrible appearance. Bitter fighting had take place for the possession of the wood and Contalmaison village west of it. Swept by an awful holocaust of shellfire, first by British guns and then by the German artillery on the wood passing into our hands, it had become a place of evil repute”.

Over the next two days the 4th Bn was supplied with all the equipment necessary to bring it up to full fighting order. Battle formations and artillery arrangements were thoroughly planned by the officers and Brigadier-General Ovens CMG assumed command of the Bde.

Thursday, 14th Sep 1916

At 9.30pm the Bn moved from Mametz Wood via the ‘Quarry19 and then overland to its battle position on the right flank of the 149th Bde sector.

The Battle of Flers/Courcelette continued - go to 15 Sep 1916

4th Battalion War Diary

The author has coloured this map for clarity

Lines British trenches - dark blue, German trenches - red, pre-war road & tracks - yellow, contours - brown.

Shading 4th Bn line of attack - yellow, 7th Bn - purple, 150th Bde - brown

High Wood - green, Martinpuich - red

Page from 149th Bde War Diary

15 Sep 1916

Friday, 15th Sep 1916

By 2.30am, the entire 50th Divn was assembled in its' battle positions. The 150th Bde were on the left flank of the 50th Divn sector with the 15th (Scottish) Divn to its immediate left, the 149th Bde were on the right flank with the 47th (London) Divn to their right, immediately south of High Wood. The 151st Bde was held in reserve.

The 7th Bn assembled on the left flank of the 149th Bde sector and sited its' headquarters (HQ) in Clark's Trench (map ref: S.3a 1,0). The 4th Bn moved into the two lines of assembly trenches on the right flank, connecting Bethel Sap20 and Jutland Avenue, to the north of Clark's Trench (principally Eye Trench) (map ref: S.3b 6.6 - S.3b O5.5.). Running from left to right the 4th Bn Coys were ordered D, B, A and C. Bn HQ was sited in Clark's Trench (map ref: S.3c.4.9). The 6th Bn manned the support line with its' HQ at 'New Quarry' (map ref: S8d 9.9.5). The 5th Bn was held in reserve with HQ at the 'Old Quarry' (map ref: S.8b.8.1). 149th Bde HQ was located in 'The Quarry' at (map ref: S.8b.8.1).

The 50th Divn were given three objectives for the attack planned to commence at 6.20am. The first was Hook Trench21, which ran westward from High Wood along the top of a ridge to a point south east of Martinpuich. On the reverse slope of the ridge at about 500 yards distance was the second objective; Martin Trench22, The Bow23 and a portion of the Starfish Line24. The third objective was Prue Trench25 and the left end of the Starfish Line. These three objectives were known as the Brown, Green and Blue Lines respectively. A communication trench known as Crescent Alley26 linked the enemy first and second lines with their third line and the village of Eaucourt L’Abbaye27. The 50th Divn would attack from a line approximately eleven hundred yards wide, widening to eighteen hundred yards at the final objective.

The 4th Bn were faced with an unenviable task. Earlier fighting had left a 'dog-leg' in the front line, therefore the 4th Bns' assembly (Eye) trench was three hundred yards further forward than those of the 47th Divn on the right flank. If the fusiliers did not delay their advance until the 47th Divn were alongside they would be totally exposed to enfilade fire from enemy machine guns sited in the strongpoint on the ridge top at the north west corner of High Wood (Bois De Foureaux). From this strongpoint it was possible for the enemy to rake the ground between the wood and Martinpuich to the west. The strongpoint had been repeatedly attacked in the weeks preceding, but with no success. However, if High Wood was outflanked by the 4th Bn, there was the possibility of capturing trenches eight hundred yards to the rear of the wood and cutting off the enemy units in it. The decision was taken for the 4th Bn to advance at zero hour.

Captain L.D. Plummer
The assault on the first objective, assisted by tanks for the first time in history, commenced on time. Two of the tanks supported the 150th Bde on the left flank and three supported the 47th Divn on the right. Around 7am, 4th Bn HQ recorded its first situation report from the attacking troops. It was sent by OC 'B' Coy (Capt L.D.Plummer) and stated that; Hook Trench had fallen with little opposition, contact had been established on the left flank with ‘D’ Coy (OC - Capt H.H. Bell) and the 7th Bn and that the 7th Bn were in contact with the 4th Bn East Yorks (150th Bde). Shortly after this message another was received stating that wounded men from ‘B’ Coy were returning to the start point.

Lt H.H. Bell
Lt H.H. Bell
4th Bn HQ telephoned Bde HQ at 7.14am to report that the first objective had been 'made good'. However, the 4th and 7th Bns had just begun to dig in at the first objective when they came under heavy machine gun and rifle fire from the direction of High Wood. The fusiliers took shelter until it was time to advance on the second objective at 7.20am.

The time arrived and the 149th and 150th Bdes climbed out of Hook Trench and advanced behind a creeping artillery barrage moving forward at fifty yards per minute. At the same time a Coy from the 6th Bn, (OC - Capt Tweedy), moved forward to occupy and consolidate Hook Trench.

At 7.27am Bde HQ received a report from the 4th Bn stating that the advance to the 2nd objective had begun in good order and that the enemy barrage was falling almost entirely in front of the 1st objective. This was followed at 7.35am by a report from the 141st Bde stating that they were 'held up' in the front line in High Wood.

The second objective was captured and fusiliers of the 4th Bn entered the Starfish Line, but enemy fire from both flanks inflicted very heavy casualties on them. With the 47th Divn held up in High Wood and unable to provide any support on the right flank, the 4th Bn were forced to fall back to Hook Trench. The severe difficulties experienced by the 47th Divn, in High Wood, meant that the right flank of the 4th Bn was now dangerously exposed and would had to be carefully guarded from attack. Hook Trench and Bethel Sap were strengthened and made secure.

At 7.45am 4th Bn HQ received a message from Bde HQ stating that the 47th Divn attack on High Wood had ground to a halt and that the 5th and 6th Bns were now advancing in order to reinforce the attack.

Col Gibson had no men to spare in Clark's Trench, so at 8.05am he wired for another Coy to be sent forward to Clark's Trench with the intention of forming a defensive flank in Bethel Sap, and sent 2nd Lt Wilson (Bn HQ) to assess the situation to the right of Hook Trench. His report stated that the north end of Bethel Sap and right end of Hook Trench was being swept by machine gun fire from High Wood.

At 8.20am 4th Bn HQ received a further message from Bde HQ, which stated that the London Irish were unable to advance in High Wood, so they were now trying to work round it. The 4th Bn was ordered to assist them by directing Stokes Mortar and Lewis Gun fire from Bethel Sap onto the north western edge of the wood (map ref: S3B 8.6), but not to fire into it.

At 8.25am two Coys from the 5th Bn were sent forward to Brecon Trench28 and Intermediate Trench and shortly afterwards a Coy from the 6th Bn (OC - Capt Demford) were placed at the disposal of Col Gibson by OC 7th Bn. Half of this Coy was sent to Bethel Sap and half to the left end of Hook Trench with orders to work along half right and form a defensive flank. At 8.50am 2nd Lt Wilson's findings were reported to Bde HQ by Col Gibson. However, by 9am further reports were sent stating that Stokes, Vickers and Lewis guns were protecting Bethel Sap and that Hook Trench was held for a few yards east of its junction with Bethel Sap. At 9.05am the 9th DLI were sent forward to assist the 149th Bde.

At 9.15am a wounded NCO from the 4th Bn reported that the 2nd objective had been reached on the right flank, however, they had been forced to retire due to the machine gun fire coming from the right flank.

At 9.25am the 4th Bn reported that the enemy had launched a bombing attack on Bethel Sap from the direction of High Wood, this was quickly followed by a request for bombers to be sent forward to assist with the defence. At 9.39am a Coy from the 6th Bn, who by now were in Clark's Trench, were placed at the disposal of OC 4th Bn and a Coy from the 5th Bn moved forward to take its place.

The 4th Bn received a message at 9.45am, stating that Divn HQ had directed that Hook Trench must be made good and strengthened as far right as the Divn boundary. Hook Trench and Bethel Sap were strengthened and the right flank was secured as far as it was possible, with Lewis Gun and Stokes Mortar fire employed to disperse the continued attacks by enemy bombing parties from High Wood.

At 10am the 5th Bn were ordered to move three Coys forward to Brecon Trench and to be prepared to support 4th Bn should an enemy counterattack from High Wood materialise. Parts of the third objective (Starfish Line) fell to the 150th Bde around this time, but the 4th Bn East Yorks were forced to fall back to Martin Trench because they were so exposed on the right flank. Elements of the 7th Bn had managed to reach 'The Bow' and the sunken road immediately south of it by 10.12am, but the 4th Bn had been cut to pieces by the fire from High Wood

While fighting continued on the right flank to the north-west of High Wood, where the 6th Bn were now providing a defensive flank.

10.10am 4th Bn reported having sent half Coy to Bethel Sap and half Coy to left flank of the 1st objective to bomb down Hook Trench. Enemy still bombing down the right flank of Hook Trench.

10.12am the 7th Bn reported that the Sunken road and Bow Trench, just short of the 2nd objective, had been reached.

“By 10.30am so little progress had been made that Pulteney curtailed the corps' effort for the day and ordered the 50th and 47th Divns to aim only for the second of their three objectives.” (Farrar-Hockley).

At 10.35am a Coy from the 5th Bn (OC - Lt Daglish), arrived in Clark's Trench to garrison it. At 10.40am 2nd Lt Wilson was sent forward once more to assess the situation around Hook Trench. Half of Lt Daglish’s Coy was sent forward to bomb round Hook Trench on the right and make contact with Bethel Sap.

At 11.30am heavy artillery bombarded the north west corner of High Wood at the request of the OC 141st Bde. As the 47th Divn gradually worked round High Wood the enemy began to retire and were again caught by machine gun fire from the 149th Bde. Approximately one hundred Germans who had been caught in this machine gun fire subsequently surrendered. High Wood was then cleared, step by step.

High Wood viewed from Martinpuich - 2005
High Wood viewed from Martinpuich - 2005
News of the frontal attack on the second and third objectives was slow to come in and was principally based on disconnected statements from wounded men for quite some time.

At 11.40am 2nd Lt Wilson returned to Bn HQ and reconfirmed his previous report. Lt Westrope RFA reported that he had taken command of ‘C’ Coy because all of its officers had either been killed or wounded. Lt Westrope was himself then hit, so a Cpl led the 'C' Coy attack against the second objective, which they appear to have reached.

By 12 noon all of the 6th Bn were involved in the action, so the CO (Col Spain) moved his Bn HQ forward into Clark's Trench.

By 1pm the 47th Divn had succeeded in clearing the enemy from High Wood, but it was to late the damage had been done.

By 3.30pm shellfire had forced all of the 4th Bn back to Hook Trench. So when Col Gibson moved his HQ into it he discovered that it was in a poor state with a muddle of fusiliers from all four Bns. However, the men were quickly sorted into their Bns and communications established with the Bn of the 47th Divn on

their right flank. At this time there were also approximately one hundred men of the 7th Bn in the Sunken Road forward of Hook Trench and south of 'The Bow'29. With the exception of a handful of men that withdrew with 2nd Lt Browne (Bn HQ) around 1.30am on the 16th, when part of the 47th Divn arrived, all men of the 149th Bde forward of the Sunken Road had become casualties. This was still the situation reported to Bde HQ at dusk.

At 4pm it was reported to 50th Divn HQ that the 150th Bde had been shelled out of the Starfish Line and were holding on to Martin Alley and Martin Trench.

At 5.45pm General Wilkinson ordered the 151st Bde to launch an assault on Prue Trench between the right boundary of the Divn and Crescent Alley at 7.30pm. The 150th Bde were tasked with occupying the rest of Prue Trench and linking up with the 15th Divn in Martinpuich.

The dispositions of the 149th Bde at 6.55pm are thus given in the Bde diary;

“Scout officers have been in touch with a body of men, strength unknown, holding part of Starfish in M.34.a (second objective on right of Divn front). About one hundred men consolidated strong point M.33.D.26 (this was the sunken road between the first and second objectives, occupied by the 7th Bn).” (50th Divn)

About 7.30pm. The 151st Bde passed through Hook Trench to attack and consolidate the Starfish Line and Prue Trench, where the situation had been unclear all day, but the attack failed.

About 9.40pm the 5th Bn Border Regt, 6th Bn DLI and 9th Bn DLI assaulted Prue Trench east of Crescent Alley following a special bombardment.

Saturday, 16th Sep 1916

At 4.45am a message was received from 149th Bde HQ stating that 151st Bde were making every effort to occupy and consolidate the Starfish Line.

At 6.45am the 4th Bn received a further message stating that, after a fifteen minute long bombardment, the 151st Bde would launch an attack at

9.25am to seize and occupy Prue Trench, east of Crescent Alley. Some parties from the 5th Bn Border Regt and 9th Bn DLI reached the objective, but they were forced back and the attack failed. Not even the Starfish Line was secured. During this time the 4th Bn maintained its position in Hook Trench alongside its HQ under constant bombardment from 5.9’shells.

“West of Crescent Alley, 150th Bde sent the 5th Bn DLI to attack Prue Trench but they were unsuccessful, having swerved to far to the left. Later in the day, attempts were made to bomb along Prue Trench from Martin Alley, but little ground was gained.” (McCarthy, p.110).

From subsequent information it runs clear that the 4th Bn took part of the second objective, and advanced to the third objective (Prue Trench) on the morning of the 15th. Both these trenches were evacuated by the enemy during the attack, and only held afterwards at each end of our front by Machine guns and bombers. In the afternoon 149th Inf Bde was allocated to Divn reserve and the Bn left Hook Trench for Mametz Wood30.

By 2pm the 50th Divn front line ran from the eastern end of Hook Trench - The Bow; part of Crescent Alley; Martin Trench; Prue Trench and Starfish Line and the west of Crescent Alley and Martin Alley.

Casualties

The 4th Bn sent twenty-two officers and six hundred and ninety-five men into action that morning. The subsequent roll call revealed that 10 officers and 110 men had been killed, 7 officers and 229 men wounded and 143 were missing.

Records show that at least 180 fusiliers from the 4th Bn were actually killed in action or died of wounds during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. For information on 4th Bn burial and memorial sites for casualties sustained in this battle, select the link.

In 1934 the body of a British soldier was uncovered near High Wood. It was in the process of carefully removing the body for burial at the nearby London Cemetery Extension that Imperial War Graves Commission staff uncovered the dog tags of Sgt  Surtees Forster.

Sgt S. Forster
Sgt Surtees Forster (Image courtesy: Mrs M Fairless)
Sgt S Forster's dog tags
Sgt S Forster's dog tags (Image courtesy Mrs M. Fairless)

Bibliography

Flers/Courcelette - Military Units

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

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

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

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.

47th (1/2nd London) Territorial Division - Comprised of the 140th, 141st and 142nd Infantry Brigades.

140th Bde - Comprised of the 1/6th Bn - The London Regt (Finsbury), 1/7th Bn - The London Regt (Shoreditch), 1/8th Bn - The London Regt (Post Office Rifles) and 1/15th Bn - The London Regt (Civil Service Rifles).

141st Bde - Comprised of the 1/17th Bn - The London Regt (Popular & Stepney Rifles), 1/18th Bn - The London Regt (London Irish Rifles), 1/19th Bn - The London Regt (St Pancras) and 1/20th Bn - The London Regt (Blackheath & Woolwich).

142nd Bde - Comprised of the 1/21st Bn - The London Regt (1st Surrey Rifles), 1/22nd Bn - The London Regt (The Queens - Bermondsey), 1/23rd Bn - The London Regt (Battersea) & 1/24th Bn - The London Regt (The Queens - Southwark).

50th (Northumbrian) Territorial Division - Comprised of the 149th, 150th and 151st Infantry Brigades.

149th (Northumbrian) Bde - Comprised of 1/4th, 1/5th, 1/6th and 1/7th Bns - Northumberland Fusiliers.

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

151st (Durham Light Infantry) Bde - Comprised of 1/5th Bn - Border Regt, 1/6th, 1/8th and 1/9th Bns - DLI

 

Wyschaete Sector

3rd to 8th Apr 1916

'The Wytschaete sector ran from the neighbourhood of Spanbroekmolen (in the German lines) thence northwards in an irregular line, crossing Vandamme Hill to the Vierstraat - Wytschaete road, just north of Byron Farm; thence the line bent in a north easterly direction to just south of the eastern extremity of Bois Confluent' (Wyrell. p.118).

All three Bdes were in the line, with the 149th Bde in the centre section from the left flank flank of the 150th Bde to just north of Byron Farm - trenches H3 to L5.

The 4th Bn had a relatively quiet six day tour in the trenches compared to the rest of the Northumberland Bde. Nevertheless, on the 8th the enemy scored a direct hit on a dug out (L.7L) with a heavy shell, killing two men and wounding four. Eight men were also wounded by splinters, although the wounds were slight and could have been avoided, if they had been in a properly constructed trench. The Bn was relieved by the 5th Bn on the 8th and proceeded to Locre, for what they believed was six days rest.

During the afternoon of the 3rd the 50th Divn HQ moved from Hooggraaf to Westoutre, and General Wilkinson assumed command of the new sector at 3pm.

9th to 13th Apr 1916

Unfortunately, the rest period was brought to any early end by heavy enemy artillery activity, which began on the 9th, compounded by bad weather on the 12th and 13th. Casualties in the front line were high and led to the relief of the 5th Bn by the 4th on the night of the 13th.

TRENCHES

14th - 15th Apr 1916

Two quiet days.

18th Apr 1916

There were three heavy, but short artillery barrages from the enemy on the 18th and the 50th Divn artillery retaliated. Fortunately there were no Bn casualties. The Bn was relieved in the trenches by the 5th Bn and proceeded to Bde Reserve. Three Coys were sent to farm billets, but one was left in the support trenches. In response to all leave being cancelled and those on leave being recalled, the latter returned on this day.

19th Apr 1916

As this was the first day out of the trenches, Coys were rested and had the use of the baths at La Clytte.

20th Apr 1916

The 20th was the first anniversary of the Bn arriving in France. The CO inspected the Kemmel defences, prior to one Coy being sent there, in accordance with dispositions to be taken up next week.

21st - 22nd Apr 1916

Nothing of note took place other than the church services held on Good Friday (21st) and the relief of the 5th Bn in the front line trenches on the 22nd.

23rd Apr 1916 St Georges Day.

As the patron saint of the Northumberland Fusiliers was St George, all the fusiliers wore roses.

24th - 25th Apr 1916

Except for a daily artillery barrage by the Germans, this was a relatively quiet tour, lasting only three days. The 4th Bn was relieved by the 13th Bn King’s on the night of the 25th and placed in Bde Reserve for one day and night only.

The 50th Divn tour in the Wytschaete sector was of short duration, for on the 25th General Wilkinson handed command to the GOC 3rd Divn, whose troops had taken over the three subsectors of the front line and the area to the rear. 50th Divn HQ then moved back into Corps Reserve around Fletre. By the end of April all units of the Northumberland Divn were in the Corps rest area.

The Divn returned to the Wyschaete Sector on the 24th of May 1916 and stayed until early August. From here all roads led to the Somme.

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

Square Wood

28th - 29th Mar 1916

Once again the Bn had an uneventful tour, with only two men wounded. The Bn was relieved by the 16th Bn Canadians on the night of the 29th and proceeded to Canada Huts 1.

30th - 31st Mar 1916

The Bn prepared to march to a new sector.The relief of the 149th Bde by the Canadians was completed by 11.45pm.

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

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Armagh Wood

19th Mar 1916

The Bn moved into the support lines at at H.30.a, Blaue Pourt Farm1 and Armagh Wood2. Except one NCO wounded and Sgt Maj Sharp killed (see burial book) these were three quiet days. On the night of 21st and 22nd the Bn was relieved by the 4th Bn East Yorkshires and moved back to Dickebusch Huts3. This was a difficult relief due to traffic congestion.

Usual refitting, reclothing and Coy parades. On the 23rd Gen Sir Douglas Haig came and inspected the Bn; it was a wet day and he only saw the men in their huts. A concert was held the same night in the YMCA hut, which went off successfully. The 50th Divn relieved the 3rd Divn in a sector running from the Ypres-Comines Canal at 'The Bluff'4 to Trench '34', the 50th Divn front being held once more by two Bdes and extending from the Bluff to Trench 'A.3'.

25th - 27th Mar 1916

On the night of 24th, the Bn went up to the trenches at Mount Sorrel5 , between Hill 606 and Sanctuary Wood7 . The next two days were quiet, however, on the 26th Canadian officers, from the Bn due to relieve the 4th Bn, visited the trenches. On the 27th the Bn was relieved by the 5th Bn and proceeded to close support positions, with the Bn HQ at Square Wood8.

Sanctuary, Square & Armagh Wood - Military Units

17th Division - Comprised of the 50th, 51st and 52nd Bdes

The 50th Bde. Comprised of the 10th Bn - West Yorkshire Regt, 7th Bn - East Yorkshire Regt, 7th Bn - Yorkshire Regt, 6th Bn - Dorsetshire Regt.

The 51st Bde. Comprised of the 7th Bn - Lincolnshire Regt, 7th Bn - Border Regt, 8th Bn - South Staffordshire Regt, 10th Bn - Sherwood Foresters.

The 52nd Bde. Comprised of the 9th Bn - Northumberland Fusiliers, 10th Bn - Lancashire Fusiliers, 9th Bn - Duke of Wellington’s Regt, 12th Bn - Manchester Regt

24th Division - Comprised of the 17th, 72nd and 73rd Infantry Bdes

The 17th Bde. Comprised of the 8th Bn - Buffs, 1st Bn - Royal Fusiliers, 12th Bn - Royal Fusiliers, 3rd Bn - Rifle Brigade.

The 72nd Bde. Comprised of the 8th Bn - Queen’s, 9th Bn - East Surrey Regt, 8th Bn - Queen’s Own and 1st Bn - North Staffordshire Regt.

The 73rd Bde. Comprised of the 9th Bn - Royal Sussex Regt, 7th Bn - Northamptonshire Regt, 13th Bn - Middlesex Regt, 2nd Bn - Leinster Regt.

50th (Northumbrian) Territorial Division - Comprised of the 149th, 150th and 151st Infantry Brigades.

The 149th (Northumbrian) Bde - Comprised of 1/4th, 1/5th, 1/6th and 1/7th Bns - Northumberland Fusiliers.

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

The 151st (Durham Light Infantry) Bde - Comprised of 1/5th (Cumberland) Bn - Border Regt, 1/6th, 1/8th and 1/9th Bn - DLI.

(Select link to find out more about this Brigade).

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

The 1st Canadian Bde. Comprised of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Bns Canadian Infantry.

The 2nd Canadian Bde. Comprised of the 5th, 7th, 8th and 10th Canadian Infantry.

The 3rd Canadian Bde. Comprised of the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th Bns Canadian Infantry. return

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

 

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Hill 60 Trenches

Extract from 4th Battalion War Diary

7th Mar Trenches

The trenches are in an awful state; after pretty heavy snow and a partial thaw, a great deal of them had fallen right in. We had one or two men wounded today but on the whole things were fairly quiet. Snow fell to a depth of four inches that night.

8th Mar

These two days turned out badly for us, we had two sergeants killed and a good many wounded, and very heavy shelling. The latter did a lot of damage to our trenches, which necessitated a lot of heavy work, especially owing to our very low strength.

The 10th started quietly but grew noisier as time went on, we had a few men wounded though only, although we were strafed heavily by artillery during the day. The Bn was relieved by the 5th Bn and proceeded to Square Wood.

11th, 12th, 13th, 14th

We had two more sergeants wounded, the first day and one man killed; when they shelled heavily in retaliation to ours. These other three days passed very quietly, and we were relieved on the night of 14/15th by 5th Borders; we marched back to just outside of Ypres where they had a train for us down to Poperinghe.

The 4th Bn manned the Hill 60 trenches between 1 - 11 Jan, 14 - 18 Jan, 31 Jan -3 Feb, 7 Mar - 14 Mar 1916.

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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Chapter 2d – Wulverghem

Wulverghem The following morning the officers reconnoitred the front line east of Wulverghem village in readiness for the Bn moving up to the trenches later that day. Foster: “All CO’s and Captains of Companies…

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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

Northumbrian Bde War Diary, 4th Bn War Diary,

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

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4th Northumberland Fusiliers, Annual Camp - Richmond - 1910
4th Northumberland Fusiliers, Annual Camp - Richmond - 1910

Welcome to the 4th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers website!

Introduction

The 4th Battalion (Bn) came into being as a result of the Army reforms of 1908, when 'Volunteer' and Yeomanry Bns were combined to form a new organisation called the Territorial Force. Battalion Headquarters were established in Hexham and detachments were formed along Tynedale at Bellingham, Corbridge, Haltwhistle, Hayden Bridge, Newburn and Prudhoe.

The 4th Bn was one of four Northumberland Fusilier Territorial Bns, all of whom were mobilised when war broke out on the 4th of August 1914. The following day, 17 officers and 660 men from the 4th Bn reported to the war station and embarked on a period of intensive training in Newcastle and later the Blyth area. The 4th Bn sailed for France, as an integral part of the Northumbrian (Territorial) Division, on the 20th of April 1915.

Within a week the 4th Bn was committed to action in the Ypres Salient, suffering heavy casualties in an assault on the German front line during the Battle of St Julien. Over the next three years the Bn fought in most of the British sectors on the Western Front including the Somme, Passchendaele, Arras, the Lys and Aisne. Casualties were typically heavy, with more than 770 fusiliers killed and 2000 wounded, necessitating hundreds of men to be recruited and drafted, primarily from Tynedale during the early months of the war, but eventually from all over the United Kingdom.

The 4th Bn virtually ceased to exist after the Battle of the Aisne (27 May 1918), because so many fusiliers were killed, wounded or captured.

Website Origins

I have been researching the 4th (Territorial) Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers, for the period 1908 to 1919, for a few years now. It began as a family history project, to determine what happened to my Great Grandfather during the 1st World War. However, the lengths to which I had to go in order to reconstruct his short military career, convinced me of the need for a written account of the 4th battalions' exploits. The research also equipped me with much of the material with which to write such an account and to compile a database of all those who served with the battalion. Needless to say my family history project has not resurfaced!

This ongoing research has produced a mass of data relating to:

* More than 6000 fusiliers, 2500 of whom definitely served with the 4th Battalion (Bn) NF between 1908 and 1919.

* The day to day location and actions of the 4th Bn throughout the 1st World War.

This website was originally launched in December 2003; has now attracted more than 90,000 visitors and received a major upgrade in 2016.

Website Aim

To collate data information on the 4th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers and its personnel in order to provide an accurate and detailed account of its exploits during World War One. 

How you can help

This data, which I am sure will be of interest to local and family historians, has been collated from a wide variety of published and archived material, including unit and personal war diaries, newspaper articles, medal rolls and relatives. However, there are periods of the Great War where there is very little recorded on the 4th Bn and its activities. Therefore, the narrative, database and web pages could be significantly enhanced by data from original material such as fusiliers' diaries, letters, photographs and army papers.

If you possess such items and are willing to loan the originals or donate copies to me then I would be very pleased to hear from you. All items will be treated with the utmost respect and returned as quickly as possible.

If you possess, or would like, information on a relative or family friend, who you believe served with the battalion during this period, again I would be very pleased to hear from you.

Content

Please take time to visit some of the 70 pages on this site and learn about:

* The Northumbrian Territorial Division (Referred to as the 50th Division by mid-1916).

* The three territorial infantry brigades of the Northumberland Division. Known as the Northumberland, York & Durham and Durham Light Infantry Brigades. (Referred to as the 149th, 150th and 151st Infantry Battalions by mid-1916).

* The territorial battalions of the Northumberland Brigade: Known as the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th battalions.

* The Companies of the 4th Battalion: The Bellingham, Corbridge, Haltwhistle, Hayden Bridge, Hexham, Newburn and two Prudhoe companies (coys). Otherwise known as: 'A' Coy, 'B' Coy, 'C' Coy, 'D' Coy, 'E' Coy, 'F' Coy, 'G' Coy and 'H' Coy.

* The sectors of the Western Front on which the 4th Bn served, including the Ypres Salient, Armentieres, Somme, Arras, The Lys and the Aisne.

* The battles the 4th Bn took participated in, including: St Julien, Flers-Courcellette, 2nd Passchendaele, Rosieres, Estaires, St Quentin and the Somme Crossings.

* The Officers and men of the 4th (Service and Reserve), 1/4th, 2/4th and 3/4th Battalions NF.

* The memorials and cemeteries where fusiliers of the 4th Bn are commemorated, including the Menin Gate, Thiepval, Tyne Cot, Soissons and Hexham.

* The activities undertaken by the population of Tynedale (Home Front) to support the 4th Battalion and the war effort in general.

If you are searching for information on an individual who served in the Northumberland Fusiliers (NF) during the First World War and the information provided on this website does not appear to fit what you already know, you should bear in mind that the NF Regiment had raised more than fifty Battalions by 1918. This website is devoted to just one of those Battalions.

Select the NF Regiment link for a brief description of the other NF battalions and a list of websites that will provide more information on them.

Terms & Conditions of site use

The information provided on this website is the result of countless hours of painstaking research principally conducted at the National Archives - Public Records Office, British Library - Newspaper Library and the Northumberland Fusiliers Museum. I have taken particular care to ensure all the information presented (published and unpublished works) has been correctly referenced and the authors acknowledged.

Be courteous, request permission to use the information and acknowledge the source.

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