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Hill 60 Advanced parties set off for the rest billets, to the rear of the Hill 60 lines, in the new area on Wednesday the 15th of December. Over the following two days the 5th…
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1908-1914 - Life of a TF Battalion Accounts of notable events in the battalion calendar were published monthly in the St George’s Gazette (SGG), the Regimental Magazine of the Northumberland Fusiliers and in…
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1st , 2nd & 3rd February 1917
Early in Feb rumours circulated that in a little while the Divn was to take over a portion of the French Line. Operation Orders were issued on the 7th stating that on the nights of the 13th/14th and 14th/15th the 50th Divn was to relieve the 35th and 36th French Divns in front of Belloy en Santerre1 and Berny en Santerre2 . This was part of a gradual extension of the British Front southwards as far as a point opposite the town of Roye3 . (50th Divn)
Bn continued to train as on previous days. A party was detailed to proceed to Rue Des Illieux, Albert to fix up bathing apparatus for the whole Bde. In spite of pipes being frozen the majority of the men were bathed.
4th & 5th Feb
Training continued. Coys were practised in musketry on range allotted to us.
6th Febuary 1917
GOC 149th Infantry Bde inspected the Bn in full marching order.
7th February 1917
Lt T.A.L Thompson returned from leave on the 4th Feb 1917 and resumed duties of acting Adjt. Capt C Stephenson also returned from leave. 2nd Lt W.C Clemitson and seventeen men rejoined from base.
8th February 1917
At 9am the Bn marched off for Mericourt Sur Somme. Progress was very slow on account of having to halt whilst the Divn Train Transport, 2nd Field Ambulance and 446th Field Coy RE caught up with the rest of the column. Route lay via Buire Crossroads4, Ville Morlancourt5, Chipilly6, Cerissy7, Morcourt8and Mericourt Sur Somme9. Bn was billeted in houses and farms around Mericourt. The remainder of the Bde were billeted in large huts in vicinity of village. The intense cold prevailed. An enemy aeroplane flew over about 10.30pm and dropped bombs.
9th February 1917
Coys exercised in Coy drill.
10th February 1917
The Bn marched seven miles via Chuignolles and Chuignes to Bois Touffu. Dugout accommodation was found for the whole Bn.
11th February 1917
2nd Lt T Bonner was the recipient of the Croix de Guerre.
7pm Relieved 123rd Regt (French)
The ground was frozen hard on the 12th of Feb. The trenches occupied by the 4th Bn were in good condition although there were no revettments. At 6pm, ‘D’ Coy moved up in close support to the 7th Bn.
Work. Latrines and sanitary arrangements improved, and trenches cleaned.
Enemy artillery quiet during day and night, village occasionally shelled with 5.9’s.
13th February 1917
Trenches and dugouts cleaned, and draining commenced in Boyau Bouchet. Enemy artillery shelled village area N 21 A occasionally with 5.9’s
7pm ‘D’ Coy returned to this sector.
14th February 1917
The trenches were cleaned, but, because the ground was frozen revetting could not start, but material was carried up to Argonne Trench and Bouchot Trench in preparation for when the thaw commenced.
11am to 1pm Area N21 A behind village heavily shelled with 5.9s and occasionally during day and night. 'C' Coy cookhouse blown in.
6pm ‘C’ Coy moved up in support of the 5th Bn in Trench De Hures.
15th February 1917
At 8am work and preparations for revetting Communication Trench No8 commenced l' Argonne Trench10 and Bouchot Trench11. Work continued throughout day, and carried by two parties of fifty from 6th Bn at night. One hundred yards in each trench, sides sloped and 2ft berm about sixty yards each.
Shelling of area N21 A desultory during daytime increasing towards midnight. Ten gas shells were sent over and fell near the junction of Trench De Parc12 and Bouchot. At 4pm a French bomb stores (near dump) at N21 C 80 exploded causing casualties, and a fire amongst RE material, which took until 4am the following morning to extinguish. One man killed and six wounded.
16th February 1917
On the 16th work continued on Argonne and Bouchot trenches and carried on at night-time by two parties from the 6th Bn. More material carried up ready for use ‘C’ Coy commenced work on Boyau II Bis sloping sides, materials carried up from Belloy for their use. Gas shells and 5.9s fell in Belloy during day and night. Much aerial activity and good observation. Casualties – One man wounded.
At 8am work continued on Argonne and Bouchot trenches, about 300 to 350 yards in each trench done with about 150 yards 2ft berm dug. The work was continued by two parties from the 6th Bn at night.
Boyau II Bis. 'C' Coy worked on this, sides sloped, duckboards repaired and laid.
The following RE material carried up from Belloy to Argonne and Bouchot. 800 long pickets, 15 coils wire, 50 sheets expanded metal and 100 trench boards. Our trenches now show signs of falling in owing to thaw. Gas and 5.9s shells fell occasionally in village day and night.
7pm to 12pm Enemy machine guns fired bursts of fire evidently intended for dump, bullets fell near PC Gaudy from direction Barleux.
18th February 1917
Argonne Trench 50 yards revetted 200 yards cleared of mud. Channels cut under duckboards.
Bouchot Trench 60 feet revetted
Trench de Hures 70 yards one side revetted
Marchal Trench 50 wooden stakes driven in
Boyau 2 Bis 200 yards relaid, 50 yards new duckboards laid
Trench du Parc Channels out under duckboards draining
Materials carried up to various trenches for work. Two rolls of rabbit wire, 100 x 6’ posts, 68 pickets, 34 duckboards, 170 pickets, 50 duckboards, 27 trenchboards.
11.30am Activity occasionally shelling in area. Heavy shelling between 11.30am and noon near junction Souville and Bouchot Trench with 5.9s and 4.2s HE and shrapnel.
Two men wounded.
19th February 1917
N34A to T.4A
At 8pm the Bn relieved the 5th Bn. Three Coys moved into the front line and one in support.
8am Work continued on Argonne, Bouchot and Marchal trenches. Thirty yards of revetting were carried out in Trench des Hures, Boyau 2 Bis. Activity occasional shelling Bouchot trench near junction Souville.
20th February 1917
Majority of the communication trenches in almost impassable condition, over knee deep in places. Left sector better. Carrying sent to dump for pump and duckboards. Commenced pumping Trench Martin.
Enemy heavily shelled vicinity of junction B Damloup and Trench Marchal with 5.9s between 9.30 & 10.30am also N33 D central occasionally. Two patrols sent out from the left and centre Coys reported that the ground was very soft and greasy, enemy sentries were thirty yards apart and that our wire in good condition.
Work on the trenches continued on the 21st, left Coy sector much improved, reconnoitred overland route to PC Hedevaux, wire and tape laid. The work of the centre and right Coys was delayed owing to having to clear trenches. Twenty-six trench boards were laid in Specel trench, four hand pumps were carried from Hedevaux to B Damloup. Our 18-pounder guns fired on enemy wire from 2pm until dusk. Two patrols from the centre and right Coys reconnoitred the enemy wire. A sap was discovered towards our lines finishing at T4A97. German wire extended from T4A91 to T4A83 and then to T4A85, and practically untouched Sap showed signs of heavy shelling two feet of water.
Enemy artillery shelled Annamites trench with 5.9s all day at retaliation, also Marchal trench junction with Danloup.
At 7.35pm and 8.30pm there was a short barrage on above trenches. Fish tails 40 fired in ravine 9pm and occasionally machine gun fire. Fish tails 40 fired Annamites trench.
22nd February 1917
The trenches were much improved with the continuing cleaning and pumping out. The communication trenches were still bad; laid six hundred yards of duckboard from N27C95 to N33B05 on the overland route. Twenty yards of Marchal trench were cleared and trench boards laid. Bridge erected over Trench Des Hures13 for overland route, twenty yards of Specel trench14 cleared and trench boards laid. From 1pm our Howitzers and 18-pounders were firing on the enemys’ wire.
Two patrols went out from right and centre Coys at midnight. ‘D’ Coy reported that while going along Sap T4A87, they had discovered a machine gun position at T4A83. Rifle grenades T4B28. Two rows French wire in front of our Specel trench and Couldur trench. One patrol from ‘B’ Coy left N34D11 enemy wire intact. Patrol worked fifty yards north wire very thick. Enemy listening post noted at N34D60, enemy post discovered at N34D93.
Enemy artillery was very quiet. Shelled and trench mortared Annamites trench occasionally at night. Machine gun fires on road N33D central. Enemy has two barrage lines 100 yards west of Annamites trench15, Marchal trench16 and Danloup17 trench.
On the 23rd work continued on clearing and pumping out the trenches, while two hundred more duckboards were laid on an overland track. The communication trenches were still waterlogged. Our Howitzers and 18-pounders on wire all day on enemy wire at points T4B04 N34D81/2 61/2 T4B16. Between midnight and 3am, five patrols were sent out and gaps ten yards wide were found in the wire at T4B04 and T4B16. The existence of sap T4A87 and a machine gun post at T4A83 were confirmed. Listening post suspected N34D60 and post at N34D73
Enemy artillery was quiet during the day but at 7.55pm enemy opened barrage on our front line, intense machine gun and trench mortar fire. Night very dark and communication with centre Coy was cut, they called for artillery retaliation in case of attack by enemy, by sending up an SOS which was repeated from headquarters. Our artillery opened barrage 30 seconds after SOS sent up and enemy fire soon died out about 8.20pm. Slight trench mortar activity during night also machine gun fire. One man killed and two wounded. (1 accidentally).
24th February 1917
Cleaning and draining work continued on all trenches, dugouts and posts in the sector. 95 duckboards laid on new track. Bridge built over trench N33D1.3. Our artillery continued to cut enemy wire at N34D8.6 with good results. Three patrols out report wire at T4B04 gap is ten yards wide, but wire 1’ high. Lamp signalling from Cyprus Road reported at 6.30pm.
Enemy attitude very active keen sniping many trench mortars and rifle grenades on Annamites trench, report little shelling except light barrage on Annamites trench at 8pm to 8.15pm
About thirty 5.9s about area N33, B33. One man wounded.
25th to 26th February 1917
On the 25th Divn HQ received the startling information that the enemy had begun to retire; he had evacuated Pys, north west of Le Sars, that morning. At night a further message stated that the British had occupied Pys, Irles and Serre. The German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line had begun. The 50th Divn, however, was not desperate to follow up the enemy as he fell back to his well prepared defences in the Hindenburg Line, for it was after the Divn had been relieved early in March, that he evacuated his defences south of the Somme
6am to 6am Work on the trenches, posts and dugouts continued. Specel Crabe, Calmon and Marchal trenches where left Coy are now in good condition. Communication Trenches still bad in places. Patrolling all night done by Coys, enemy front line, held by sentry groups thirty yards apart, very nervous, occasional bursts of machine gun fire.
6.30pm to 7.30 enemy trench mortared Annamites trench retaliation by artillery silenced him again repeated at 5.30am, 26th Feb.
Enemy artillery very quiet, occasional field guns on Annamites and only four 5.9s. Three German aeroplanes seen over our lines, two returning towards Horny. Duckboard track, length done now from N27C54 to N33D64.
27th February 1917
28th February 1917
On the 1st of March Divn HQ reported that on the nights of the 6th, 7th, 8th of March, the 59th Divn would relieve the 50th Divn.
Working party of eight groups consisting of one NCO and eight men each was provided by the Bn to erect wire entanglements for the support line. The 149th Bde was tasked with erecting a two-mile length. 2nd Lt Emery MF is in charge of this party. Coys reorganised and refitted in the morning and were inspected by the CO in the afternoon.
2nd March 1917
The same strength of working party was sent out for wiring. The remainder of the Bn commenced training, and had baths at Bos St Martin.
3rd March 1917
All ranks available in the Bn were equipped out with the small box respirator and passed through a gas chamber to test their respirators. The rest of the day was devoted to completing the equipment and clothing of the Bn. The wiring party consisting of the same number of NCOs and men was sent out again.
4th March 1917
The usual working party found – Bn. Church parade 10am. Brigadier General Ovens inspected the Bn in billets at 3pm. Operation orders issued 7pm for move on following day.
On the 5th March, the relief of the 50th Divn by the 59th Divn began and continued until the 9th. The 149th Bde at this time was based in the Warfusee area. At 9am on that day the Bn paraded in full marching order and marched the seven miles to Bayonvillers via the main Amiens road. Hut encampment was taken over and occupied at Bayonvillers. In the aft Coys inspections took place.
6th March 1917
Bn parade Arm drill and hair
Route marches. Afternoon - Coy inspections.
7th March 1917
Routine same as previous day – Afternoon devoted to attention of feet of ‘A’ & ‘B’. Coys Inspection and hot bathing treatment.
8th March 1917
The days routine was the same as on the 6th and 7th - Feet inspection and treatment for remainder of Bn operation orders for proceeding day issued.
On the 9th of March the Bn paraded at 8.45am in full marching order and marched the two miles to Warfusee Abancourt and took over billets of 7th SF, No 2 area being occupied. The camp was composed of huts was very incomplete. Material (RE) was indented for and work was commenced immediately on latrines and cookhouse sheds.
10th March 1917
Training and early morning parades at Warfusee commenced. Bn parade and inspections were carried out after camp and equipment etc had been thoroughly cleaned. Close order drill practised. Afternoon - Coy inspection took place.
Brigadier General Rees DSO took command of the 149th Bde on this date.
11th March 1917
10.30am Church parade service. Coy inspections after parade service in Bde canteen. Bde recreational training scheme was put in practise from this date the inter-Coy football matches commencing.
12th March 1917
9.30am Bn parade. Organisation of Coys and platoons into sections of specialists commenced from this date. The whole morning was devoted to specialist training. - Coy inspections and recreational training took place in the afternoon. Gallows for bayonet fighting practise and competitions was commenced.
13th March 1917
The days routine was the same as on the 12th. Officers lecture at Bde canteen 6pm.
14th March 1917
Routine and training as on day previous.
15th March 1917
A large working party of 250 men was assembled at 9am for work in the village from 9am under the orders of the town major. Only Lewis gun instructions was able to be continued on this day.
Specialist training continued after Coy parades on the 16th. Recreational training took the form of platoon cross country running races and football.
On the 17th March the Divn received information that the enemy had begun to withdraw from his position opposite the III Corps front.
Specialist training continued during the morning as on previous days. Afternoon Coy inspections and football match – 1st round of the inter-battalion rounds took place, the 4th Bn playing the Army Service Corps.
18th March 1917
Coy inspections during morning.
2.15pm Church parade service in Bde canteen.
19th March 1917
9.30am Bn parade. Specialist Training continued except for one Coy, which did a practical scheme of platoon attack etc. Lecture by Brigadier General to Officers and NCOs of Bde at 5.30pm in Bde amusement hut.
Training continued on the 20th, two Coys doing general training and the two remaining Coys being out, one on a route march with practise of Artillery formation upon deployment; the other doing a practical open warfare scheme.
21st March 1917
Routine as on previous day, with two Coys on a short march and practising deployment and march discipline etc.
6pm Lecture by OC to officers and NCOs (senior) on practise of open order work and deployment.
Training and routine as on previous day with general training of the two Coys that were marching the previous day, the other two Coys going for a short march and practising deployment and march discipline etc.
6pm Lecture to officers and senior NCOs by Bde bombing officer on rifle grenade work in open warfare etc.
22nd March 1917
9.30am Bn parade and inspection by the GOC 50th Divn General Wilkinson. Field day followed, the Bn going out on a route march. Deploying and advancing from artillery formation.
2.30pm Coy inspections
6pm Lecture for officers and NCOs by Major Robb.
23rd March 1917
8.30 Bn parade – field day – an open order attack practised from the main Warfusee-Villers Carbonnel road to the south east side of Bore D’achiel, a position being taken up and consolidated on high ground overlooking Hamel.
Coy inspections were held at 2pm on the 24th. At 5pm Capt Dixon delivered a lecture to the officers and NCOs. ‘D’ Coy proceeded on a Coy training scheme, ‘B’ and ‘C’ Coys carried out general training. ‘A’ Coy and during the morning another Coys attended the baths at Warfusee.
On the 25th March orders from Fourth Army HQ instructed the Divn to concentrate in the Talmas- Villers Bocage- Molliens area by March 31st.
Coy inspections during the morning – Roman Catholic and Non-Conformist Church parade
Church of England parade service in Recreation Hut (Bde) at 2.15pm. Afternoon Bde cross country runs as teams under arrangement of Lt Stiles from the T.M.B.
6.15pm Lecture by CO to officers.
26th March 1917
The Divn Field day was cancelled due to the bad weather. Morning was spent in giving lectures in the huts and attending to interior economy. Daily inspections and clothing parade in the afternoon.
Two NCOs and 28 men sent as a working party to RTO Warfusee for unloading supplies.
27th March 1917
Field firing exercise carried out by the Bn in the morning between Hamel and Warfusee, unfortunately ‘Sammy’ the regimental pet was killed during the firing.
A working party of two NCOs and 28 men was provided by the Bn for RTO Warfusee for unloading supplies.
At 6pm Major W Robb MC lectured to all officers, Warrant Officers and Sgts on consolidation.
At 9.45am on the 28th the 149th Bde was inspected by the III Corps Cdr - Lt Gen Sir W.P Pulteney KCB, KCMG, DSO. The Bn marched past and then proceeded on a route march via Cerisy with practise of deployment.
At 7.30pm the Bn practised a night attack on the ground between Warfusse and Hamel
29th March 1917
9.30am The CO inspected all Coys in fighting order during the morning.
The Somme 1917 - Military Units
50th (Northumbrian) Division - Consisted of the 149th (Northumberland) Bde, 150th (York & Durham) Bde and 151st (Durham Light Infantry (DLI)) Bde.
The 149th Bde was comprised of the 1/4th, 1/5th, 1/6th and 1/7th Bn - Northumberland Fusiliers.
The 150th Bde was comprised 1/4th Bn - East Yorkshires, 1/4th Bn - Green Howards, 1/5th - Bn Green Howards and 1/5th Bn - Durham Light Infantry.
The 151st Bde was comprised the 1/6th, 1/8th, 1/9th Bn - DLI and 1/5th (Cumberland) Bn - Border Regt.
1st Northumbria Field Coy RE
179th Tunnelling Coy RE
446th Field Coy RE
59th Division - Consisted of the 176th, 177th and 178th Bde.
The 176th (2nd Staffordshire) Bde was comprised of the 2/5th and 2/6th Bn - South Staffordshire Regt. 2/5th and 2/6th Bn - North Staffordshire Regt
The 177th (2nd Lincolnshire and Leicestershire) Bde was of comprised 2/4th and 2/5th Bn - Lincolnshire Regt. 2/4th and 2/5th Bn - Leicestershire Regt.
The 178th (2nd Notts and Derby) Bde was comprised of the 2/5th, 2/6th, 2/7th and 2/8th Bn - Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regt).
The 4th Bn settled into the typical routine of life on the Western Front. Taking its turn with the other Bns of the 50th Division in the trenches to the east of Armentieres.
1st August 1915
The author has coloured this map for clarity
Trenches - black, roads and tracks - red. Watercourses - blue
For information on 4th Bn burial and memorial sites for casualties sustained in this sector, select the link.
The Tynedale district today (www.tynedale.gov.uk) Introduction On the 20th of April 1915, eleven hundred men from the Tynedale district of Northumberland, embarked for the continent with the local volunteer battalion of the Northumberland…
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Summary of events
By the 8th of April the whole of the 50th Divn had move northwards from the Somme to the Merville area and new drafts of men had arrived to replace those lost during March on the Somme. On the 5th Capt Robson had returned with a draft of 250 men for the 4th Bn and on the 6th a further 102 arrived, described in the 4th Bn diary as of poor physique and all under the age of 19.
The 50th Divn were destined to relieve the Portuguese Divn in the front line east of Merville on the night of the 9/10th April. The 151st Bde were to be the first in the front line and in preparation for this had moved into billets in the town of Estaires 1. The 149th Bde were billeted north and west of Merville 2 with the 4th Bn centred on the village of Arrewage 3. During the morning of the 9th events led to the relief plans being rapidly amended.
Tuesday, 9th April 1918
At 4am the Germans opened up with a heavy bombardment of the line between Bethune 4 and Armentieres 5. The towns of Merville, Estaires and La Gorgue 6 were continually hit, reducing houses to rubble and the outbreak of fires was widespread. By 4.30am all communication with the Portuguese Divisional HQ by land line had been cut. The relief orders for the Portuguese were cancelled and the 151st Bde carried out a prearranged move to a series of defence posts south of the River Lys. Between 5 and 5.30am the 149th and 150th Bdes were ‘stood to’ and prepared to move forward at an hours notice. A forward 149th Bde HQ was established at the front, while the rear Bde HQ remained with the Divn (map ref: K29.a).
At 6am orders were issued to the engineers to prepare the River Lys bridges for demolition.
At 7.30am orders were issued for the 149th and 150th Bdes to move to an assembly point at Chapelle Duvelle 7 (map ref: L.26 Central) on the eastern side of Merville. 2nd Lt Kipling went in advance of the Bn to reconnoitre the route and ascertain that it was still possible to get the transport through Merville in view of the heavy shelling it had been subjected to.
The 4th Bn set off at 9.45am and fortunately, only sustained one casualty by the time it reached the outskirts of Merville. The Bn halted here to allow the 5th Bn to pass, then continued through the badly damaged streets of the town, noting that the bridges were still intact.
At 10am, 50th Divn HQ received reports that the Portuguese were under attack and by 11am it was confirmed that the enemy had broken through the lines of the entire Portuguese sector, and had then turned north and south to attack the flanks of the 40th and 55th Divns . The Portuguese retreated through the lines of the 151st Bde, having abandoned all their guns, therefore the position held by the 151st Bde was now the front line.
The 4th Bn reached the assembly point and received orders to take up concealed positions in nearby farms (map ref: L.30.d). The 151st Bde made contact with the enemy around 12 noon and from thereon were involved in fierce fighting during which they were steadily forced back to the Lys and Lawe rivers.
Meanwhile, at 1.15pm, 149th Bde HQ issued orders for the 5th and 6th Bns to move and occupy positions at Trou Bayard 8 (map ref: G.19.G), to the north of Estaires. The 4th Bn stayed where they were, but were placed under the direct orders of 50th Divn HQ. The Bn was not made aware of the dire situation on the front line until after the arrival of the cookers at 2pm and dinner had been served. The Bn was placed at the disposal of the 151st Bde and in accordance with instructions, marched towards the water tank in Estaires. On reaching the outskirts of Estaires, at 3pm Coys moved off the road and deployed in artillery formation, moving forward to take up position in local farms on the northern side of Estaires (map ref: L.23.d) to await battle orders. Under 151st Bde instructions, 'D' Coy were dispatched to guard the railway at Beaupre. Bn HQ was established at a farm (map ref: L.23.d.6.3) and 'A', 'B' and 'C' Coys dug in near strong points, in the vicinity of the water tank. The Bn was in position by 5pm.
Meanwhile 149th Bde HQ was established at 2.30pm alongside 150th Bde HQ at Pont de Poivre 9. During the afternoon the 150th Bde had been taking up defensive positions on the northern bank of the River Lys to the east of Estaires and as far northeast as Sailly. An enemy column, advancing from the south, reached the River Lys near Nouveau Monde 10 around 3pm and was soon firing on the northern bank with machine guns.
At 3.15pm the 5th and 6th Bns NF were in position to provide support for the 150th Bde, with orders to counterattack any part of the front line that may be breached. The line of the rivers Lys and Lawe was to be held at all costs.
At 3.45pm the GOC 150th Bde received a message from Divn HQ stating that the 4th Bde was also moving up to provide support, with orders to counterattack immediately if the enemy should succeed in crossing the river. The Bn arrived and at 5.15pm were immediately placed under the command of Lt Col G.O. Spence (5th DLI (150th Bde)) who coordinating the River Lys defences.
Sgt Thompson with a patrol of fifty men was dispatched to reconnoitre Pont De La Meuse 11 and to establish contact with elements of the 5th DLI who were holding the bridgehead. 2nd Lt Lawson and a patrol of ….. left to reconnoitre Pont Levis 12 and make contact with the 5th DLI at that location. Capt J.V. Gregory (OC 4th Bn) arranged with Lt Col. Spence to send one platoon to map reference L 29a.O.4. The platoon duly moved off and joined Sgt Thompson and his men who were already at that spot.
The remainder of ‘A’ Coy under Lt Nicholson went forward to hold the house on the near side river bank between Pont de la Meuse and Pont Levis.
At 6pm the 6th Bn was ordered to move (map ref: G.15.c) northeast in order to protect the left flank of 150th Bde by patrolling the line of stream running from the north into the Lys (map ref: G.10.b), in case the enemy crossed the river at Bac St Mur 13.
Sgt Wigham led a platoon and two Lewis guns over Pont Levis and reported to the 5th DLI (map ref: G.25.a.8.2).
Then, under the command of 2nd Lt Lawson, they set up a defensive position on the far bank covering the bridge approaches.
2nd Lt Lawson, who had just rejoined the Bn after from leave, was wounded near Pont Levis and left behind (he was in fact captured by the enemy and made a good recovery from severe wounds in a German hospital).
Around 7pm, Maj. Gen. Jackson ordered the 151st Bde to withdraw to the northern bank of the Lys and the engineers to destroy the Lys bridges, “because the enemy had brought its field guns forward and was systematically smashing up the bridgehead garrisons at point blank range” (). The main bridge at Estaires (Pont de la Meuse?) was successfully blown up, but Pont Levis survived (detonator wires believed to have been cut by shellfire).
At 9.10pm the 5th Bn was ordered to take up a position in strong points near Trou Bayard (map ref: G.19.b) and connect up with the 4th Bn.
At 11.45pm 149th Bde HQ received a message from the 150th Bde stating that the enemy held the Bac St Mur to Croix de Bac road (north and east of Sailly). The enemy was reported to have crossed the canal further north but no definite information was obtained regarding this. The remainder of the night was quite for the Bn and rations were received and distributed to Coys.
For the 50th Divn the first day fighting in the Battle of Estaires was over. The original British line from Givenchy to Bois Grenier had collapsed, and when darkness fell ran roughly Festubert, Le Touret, Le Cason, Vielle Chapelle, Pont Rigneul and round the north of Lestrem. From here the 50th Divn held the northwestern bank of the Lawe and Lys rivers through La Gorgue, passing east of Estaires and on to the west of Sailly aur la Lys. The line then continued to Croix du Bac, north of Fleurbaix and on to just north of Bois Grenier. A big dent on a ten mile front.
Wednesday, 10th April 1918
At 1.55am, orders were issued for a realignment of the Divn front. These orders, received at 151st Bde HQ at 3.30am, stated that the line was to be realigned before dawn, with the 51st Divn side stepping west and relieving the 8th DLI up to and including Lestrem Bridge 14, the 149th Bde would take over defences currently held by the 5th DLI. This was to be from Pont Levis (incl) to the Lys, opposite Rue de la Lys 15, with one Bn in the front line and two held in reserve. The relief of the 5th DLI was to be carried out by a portion of the 4th Bn, with the remainder of the Bn returning to the command of the 149th Bde. So by dawn the 150th Bde was on the left flank of the Bde front, the 149th in the middle and 151st on the right.
Due to a misunderstanding between the 149th and 150th Bdes, Pont Levis was left unguarded during the night, however, at 5.40am the 4th Bn was ordered to send two platoons to take up a position at the bridge alongside the 5th DLI (may have been 5th Bn NF). Capt Robson set out with two platoons from ‘C’ Coy at 6.30am to try and strengthen the defences at the bridge, but by this time fighting had recommenced. They were immediately held up by heavy machine gun fire on open ground and Capt Robson was wounded. Another attempt at reinforcement was made by a third platoon from 'C' Coy.
Again enemy machine gun fire prevented this and 2nd Lt Davison (accompanying the CO and 2nd Lt Essex) was wounded whilst reconnoitring the position. Despite tough resistance put up by the 5th Bn, elements of the German 35th Divn finally forced their way across Pont Levis around 7.30am.
Meanwhile the rest of the Bn had been ordered to redeploy to Ferme Quennelle 16 and returned to the command of the 149th Bde. The move was supposed to have been completed before dawn, but the Bn did not receive the order until it was light. Bn HQ and ‘B’ Coy were held up on the way, so HQ had to be established at map ref L.19.b.3.4, with the revised position notified to Bde HQs.
‘B’ Coy occupied a position at Pont De Poivre (Harlech Strong Point) 17 and made contact with a Coy from the 6th Bn, commanded by Capt Stafford. They were entrenched 100 yards to the rear of Harlech on the opposite side of the Trou Bayard Road. ‘B’ Coy immediately threw out a screen in front that reported the enemy were endeavouring to push machine guns towards them.
Having crossed Pont Levis, Ferme Quennell fell to the enemy as they forced their way into the south eastern part of Estaires and captured some of the houses on the north side of the main street.
Under very difficult circumstances the Bn was reorganised near the Trou Bayard Road, linking up with Bns on either flank.
Bn HQ were informed at 7.30am that the right flank of 'C' Coy was ‘in the air’ and that they were unable to re-establish a link due the number of casualties they had suffered. Sgt Major Osborne took a platoon from ‘B’ Coy to protect the right flank of ‘C’ Coy and eventually succeeded in establishing a line connecting ‘A’ & ‘C’ Coys, taking a few casualties in the process.
At 9.30am the defensive line was reported continuous and the 6th Bn were ordered to counterattack towards Pont Levis to drive the enemy out of Estaires. They passed through the ‘B’ and ‘C’ Coy lines and succeeded in driving the enemy back to the church in Estaires and Pont Levis, but were threatened on the left flank and brought to a standstill.
There were two or three factories near the river which the 6th Bn were able to use to pour machine gun fire on the bridge approaches. Nevertheless, the enemy continued to pour across the bridge and work their way through the houses, gardens and cemetery on the northern side of Estaires, as well head northeast and to the west.
Two platoons from ‘B’ Coy, commanded by 2nd Lt Bull, were ordered to advance in the direction of Pont Levis and report to Major Temperley (OC 6th Bn), but they were subjected to severe machine gun fire on open ground and were held up before reaching their objective, suffering many casualties in the process. Major Temperley informed them that they were no longer required, so those that were left returned to ‘B’ Coy and manned Harlech Strong Point.
By 10.45am Bn HQ had dug in, to the rear of the 5th Bn position. ‘D’ Coy returned from guarding the railway at Beaupre during the morning and was instructed to dig into the rear of the Bn HQ position. For the next few hours it was relatively quiet, although needless to say the Germans continued to strengthen their bridgehead.
A heavy enemy bombardment and attack commenced around 4pm, forcing the 5th Bn to withdraw and leaving the left flank of the 4th Bn exposed. ‘D’ Coy were sent to cover the left flank, reporting themselves ‘well dug in’ between the crossroads at Trou Bayard and Cul De Sac Farm 18, although taking a few casualties in the process.
'A' Coy of the 5th Bn at 'Harlech Strong Point' came under the orders of the OC 4th Bn and two platoons were placed to link up the left Bn and ‘D’ Coy. OC ‘B’ Coy reported that the enemy was moving forward his machine guns slowly and endeavouring to bring enfilade fire on all the strong points at 'Harlech'. The enemy was unable to do this before nightfall and remained in the positions he arrived at. As soon as it was dark ‘A’ Coy of the 5th Bn exchanged places with 'D' Coy thus bringing the Bn together and simplifying the organisation.
Thursday, 11th April 1918
At midnight orders were received stating that 'A' Coy of the 5th NF would be relieved by a Coy from the 4th East Yorks, who would take up a position at map ref: L.23.d.6.3. ''D Coy formed up on their left and the remainder of 'C' Coy withdrew to the rear of Harlech strong point, the position just vacated by 'D' Coy . Bn HQ moved back to a new position which was consolidated before dawn.
By 2am the 149th held a line running from the Estaires - Neuf Berquin road to just west of Trou Bayard. The 5th Bn held the right sector, the 4th the left sector and the 6th were held in reserve. When dawn broke on the 11th, the 151st Bde were on the right flank, the 149th in the centre and 150th on the left. At 7am the enemy was reported to have occupied Trou Bayard.
By 10am 'D' Coy on the left and 'B' Coy were holding their positions against repeated attacks supported by heavy trench mortar and machine gun fire. However, the Bn right flank was now exposed because the 5th DLI (151st Bde) had been forced back, the enemy were heading for Neuf Berquin and the 5th Bn NF had been withdrawn. Harlech Strong Point was very heavily shelled at point blank range from the river at Estaires and was subjected to a considerable amount of gas. The 6th Bn was brought forward to try and re-establish a line, but they were unable to progress very far, so by 2pm the line was gradually being forced back. The Bde maintained contact with the 29th Divn on the left flank, but the right flank was now very exposed.
The Bn war diary indicates that at 2pm "a general withdrawal, necessitated the removal of Battn Hdqrs to a farm at L.10.b.9.6. The afternoon and evening were spent in the collection of stragglers, the reconstruction of the line for defence. The withdrawal was made through the 29th Div who were dug in, in our rear, and & became necessary owing to the withdrawals of the right & left flanks”. Unfortunately, the withdrawal was not communicated to the Coys on the Bn flanks, consequently they only became aware of the situation when they realised the enemy was outflanking them. The Bn was given instructions to dig in alongside the 29th Divn, however, when the 6th NF with two coys moved forward to counterattack the 4th NF moved forward with them. This position appears to have been held for the rest of the day. However, at a conference between Brigadiers that night, a decision was taken to fall back to a new line.
Meanwhile that evening, the enemy on the right flank had entered Merville.
Friday, 12th April 1918
The withdrawal began at 2.30am and by dawn the 149th Bde had vacated its positions at L10b (sheet 36 .. NE) and was on the march to new positions running from the village of Vierhouck (incl) to the crossroads on the Neuf Berquin-Vieux Berquin road (map ref: K.11d.7.8. to L.13.b.16), just south of Pont Rondin. The 4th and 5th Bns under the command of Lt Col Irwin, provided the flank and advanced guards. They were followed by the 6th Bn and a few from the 4th Bn, under the command of Major Temperley, and then the reinforcement Bn under OC Corps Troops.
Information was received that the enemy had machine guns in Neuf Berquin and was firing down the road towards La Couronne. A party from the 4th Bn was sent out before dawn to engage these machine guns, but they were unable to acquire a position of vantage until nearly daylight and were then unable to move forward.
By 6.30am the 149th Bde was reported to have crossed the Neuf Berquin-Vieux Berquin road, encountering light opposition and a half hour later, the 6th Bn had occupied Vierhouck 19, and were forming a defensive flank along the road leading to Pont Rondin 20, their new line running from south of the village round the western edge (map ref; K.12c). The reinforcement and 5th Bn stretching to the Neuf Berquin-Vieux Berquin road. The 4th Bn dug in behind to provide support, at map ref K.12.d.
“The official despatches record that: "At about 8am the enemy attacked in great strength on a front extending from south of the Estaires - Neuf Berquin neighbourhood. After very heavy fighting ... he succeeded in the afternoon in overcoming the resistance of our troops about Doulieu and La Becque, forcing them back in a north-westerly direction.”
Due to the failure of the 1st Bn KOSB to link up on the left flank, the 149th Bde was forced to withdraw at 9.30am and take up a position in conjunction with the Guards Bde, who during the night had dug in behind them (map ref: K.12.b and L.7a). At 10.30am, the Guards on the right flank counterattacked the enemy in Neuf Berquin, but were forced to withdraw to their original line. Heavy fighting continued all day and at nightfall (6pm) the relief of the 149th Bde began. The 4th Bn were relieved by the Guards Bde and withdrew to Vieux Berquin where orders were received to march to the transport lines at La Tir Anglais 21 and rest for the night. By this time the 1st Australian Divn were beginning to arrive and were taking up positions in front of the Bois Deval 22 between K 7 b (map ref: 36a N E) and La Couronne.
13th - 16th April 1918
After this much needed respite, the Bn marched to billets in abandoned farms just behind the line and allowed as much sleep as they could get. They had been relieved from actual front line fighting, but along with the rest of Bde were lent to the 5th Divn and set to work digging a defence line through the Bois de Vaches 23. Although returning to billets on the conclusion of work every day, they were under orders to move at ten minutes notice and occupy the defence line if the enemy launched an attack on the Bois de Nieppe 24. These were comparatively quiet days and casualties were few, although there was a certain amount of shelling, particularly from one gun, nicknamed the ‘Silent One’. Its heavy calibre shells arrived before any warning screech was heard, probably due to high velocity.
149th Bde War Diary
4th Bn War Diary
More than 70 fusiliers from the 4th Bn were killed in action or died of wounds during the Battle of the Lys. For information on 4th Bn burial and memorial sites for casualties sustained in the Lys Offensive, select the link.
When the Lantern of Hope Burned Low
“Let me here pay my personal tribute to the Ambulance personnel of the Battalion. The conduct of the stretcher bearers was superb. Roads were shelled and swept by machine gun fire alternately. Two or three squads were knocked out – one whilst carrying Lieut Stiles of the Trench Mortar Battery – but, driven off the roads, the indomitable SB’s carried their wounded comrades across the fields, over ditches, sometimes more than two miles. The Regimental Aid Post was hit by a shell when crowded to the doors with stretcher cases from our own and a neighbouring Division. Yet Capt Grierson went about his work of mercy unresting, unhasting, a fine example to all”.
The Lys - Military Units
1st (Australian) Division - Consisted of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Infantry Bdes
The 1st (Australian) Bde - Comprised of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Bns.
The 2nd (Australian) Bde - Comprised of the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th Bns.
The 3rd (Australian) Bde - Comprised of the 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th Bns.
29th Division - Consisted of the 86th, 87th & 88th Bdes
The 86th Bde - Comprised of the 2nd Bn - Royal Fusiliers, 1st Bn - Lancashire Fusiliers and 1st Bn - Royal Guernsey Light Infantry.
The 87th Bde - Comprised of the 2nd Bn - South Wales Borderers, 1st Bn - King’s Own Scottish Borderers and 1st Bn - Border Regt.
The 88th Bde - Comprised of the 4th Bn - Worcestershire Regt, 2nd Bn - Hampshire Regt and 1st Bn - Newfoundland Regt.
31st Division - Consisted of the 4th Guards Bde, 92nd and 93rd Bdes.
The 4th (Guards) Bde - Comprised of the 4th Bn - Grenadier Guards, 3rd Bn - Coldstream Guards and 2nd Bn - Irish Guards.
The 92nd Bde - 10th & 11th Bn - East Yorkshire Regt, 11th Bn - East Lancashire Regt.
The 93rd Bde - 15/17th & 18th Bn West Yorkshire Regt, 13th Bn - York and Lancaster Regt.
40th Division - Consisted of the 119th, 120th & 121st Bdes.
The 119th Bde - Comprised of the 13th Bn - East Surrey Regt, 18th Bn - Welsh Regt. 21st Bn - Middlesex Regt.
The 120th Bde - Comprised of the 2nd Bn - Royal Scots Fusiliers, 10/11th Bn & 14th Bn - Highland Light Infantry.
The 121st Bde - Comprised of the 12th Bn - Suffolk Regt, 13th Bn - Yorkshire Regt. 20th Bn - Middlesex Regt.
50th (Northumbrian) Division Consisted of the 149th, 150th & 151st Bdes.
The 149th (Northumberland) Bde comprised of the 1/4th, 1/5th & 1/6th Bn - Northumberland Fusiliers.
The 150th (York & Durham) Bde - Comprised of 1/4th Bn - East Yorkshire Regt, 1/4th and 1/5th Bn - Green Howards.
The 151st (Durham Light Infantry) Bde - 1/5th, 1/6th and 8th Bn - DLI.
51st Division - Comprised of the 152nd, 153rd and 154th Infantry Brigades.
The 152nd Bde 1/5th and 1/6th Bn - Seaforth Highlanders, 1/6th Bn - Gordon Highlanders.
The 153rd Bde 1/6th and 1/7th Bn - Black Watch, 1/7th Bn - Gordon Highlanders.
The 154th Bde 1/4th Bn - Seaforth Highlanders, 1/4th Bn - Gordon Highlanders, and 1/7th Bn - Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
55th Division - Consisted of the 164th, 165th and 166th Bdes.
The 164th Bde - Comprised of the 1/4th Bn - King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regt), 2/5th Bn - Lancashire Fusiliers and 1/4th - Bn Loyal North Lancashire Regt.
The 165th Bde - 1/5th, 1/6th & 1/7th Bn - King’s (Liverpool) Regt.
The 166th Bde - 1/5th Bn King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regt), 1/10th Bn - King’s (Liverpool) Regt and 1/5th Bn - South Lancashire Regt.
Cecil Slack & the Great War - www.greatwar.eril.net/diary.htm - Diaries of an officer in the 4th Bn East Yorkshire Regt (150th Bde) during the Battle of the Lys.
http://www.estaires.com This a website devoted to the modern day city of Estaires and includes many aerial photographs of the locations described in the text above.
By November 1914 the Bns had been divided to form 'Service' and 'Reserve' battalions. The main function of the 'Reserve' battalion was to train new recruits for the 'Service' battalion (for when it was finally deployed overseas) and to continue with home defence. Both battalions were billeted in Blyth, Northumberland, however, staff of the reserve battalion based at the Hexham depot continued to recruit and train new personnel. Early in 1915, after an Army reorganisation, the Service battalion became known as the 1/4th (1st line battalion) and the Reserve battalion as the 2/4th (2nd line battalion). For a few months the 2/4th battalion continued to recruit and train men for the 1/4th, but after a further reorganisation it became part of the 188th Bde, 63rd (Home Service) Division. During Nov 1916, the 2/4th was transferred to the 72nd Division, but continued with home defence duties.
The 3/4th battalion was formed at Hexham during Jan 1915 to continue with the recruiting and training role, however, after another reorganisation in April 1916 the 3/4th became the 4th (Reserve) Battalion and in September 1916 the 5th, 6th and 7th (Reserve) Bns were absorbed by the 4th Reserve Battalion.
An infantry Bn in 1914 was usually comprised of a HQ and eight companies (coys). A full strength coy was as follows:
1 x Captain (Capt)
2 x Lieutenant (Lt) or 2nd Lt
1 x Colour Sergeant (Col Sgt)
2 x Sergeant (Sgt)
2 x Drummer/Bugler
5 x Corporal (Cpl)
100 x Private (Pte)
2 x Driver (Pte)
3 x Batman
(Numbered 149th Inf Bde on 12 May 1915)
HQ - Newcastle-on-Tyne
OC - Brigadier General James Foster Riddell
was comprised of the:
4th Battalion - Northumberland Fusiliers
5th Battalion - Northumberland Fusiliers
6th Battalion - Northumberland Fusiliers
7th Battalion - Northumberland Fusiliers
Select links to learn more about these Battalions
Return to Divisional organisation
HQ - Hexham
CO - Lt Col A.J. Foster
The Companies (Coys) of the 4th Bn were:
'A' Coy - Hexham
'B' Coy - Bellingham
'C' Coy - Haydon Bridge
'D' Coy - Prudhoe
'E' Coy - Corbridge
'F' Coy - Haltwhistle
'G' Coy - Newburn
'H' Coy - Prudhoe
Note: During Jan 1915, the battalion was reorganised to form four companies. 'E' Company amalgamated with 'A', 'G' with 'B', 'F' with 'C' and 'H' with 'D'.
Select links to learn more about these Companies
HQ - Newcastle-on-Tyne
CO - Lt Col A.H. Coles
'A' Company (Coy) - Walker
'B' Coy - Walker
'C' Coy - Walker
'D' Coy - Wallsend
'E' Coy - Wallsend
'F' Coy - Wallsend
'G' Coy - Gosforth
'H' Coy - Gosforth
HQ - Newcastle-on-Tyne
CO - Lt Col G.R.B Spain
'A' Company (Coy) - St Georges Drill Hall, Northumberland Road, Newcastle?
'B' Coy -
'C' Coy -
'D' Coy -
'E' Coy -
'F' Coy -
'G' Coy -
'H' Coy -
HQ - Alnwick
CO - Lt Col R Scott
'A' Company (Coy) - Morpeth
'B' Coy - Ashington
'C' Coy - Belford
'D' Coy - Alnwick
'E' Coy - Amble
'F' Coy - Alnwick
'G' Coy - Berwick on Tweed
'H' Coy - Berwick on Tweed
63rd (2nd Northumbrian) Division comprised the 188th, 189th and 190th Bdes.
The 188th (2nd Northumberland) Brigade - Comprised of the 2/4th, 2/5th, 2/6th and 2/7th Bn - Northumberland Fusiliers.
The 189th (2nd York and Durham) Brigade - Comprised of the 2/4th Bn - East Yorkshire Regt, 2/4th and 2/5th Bn - Yorkshire Regt. 2/5th Bn - Durham Light Infantry.
The 190th (2nd Durham Light Infantry) Brigade - Comprised of the 2/6th, 2/7th, 2/8th and 2/9th Bn - Durham Light Infantry.
72nd Division comprised the 215th, 216th and 217th Bdes.
The 215th Brigade - Comprised of the 28th, 70th and 81st Provisional Bn.
The 216th Brigade - Comprised of the 83rd Provisional Bn, 14th Bn - King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and 10th Bn - Somerset Light Infantry.
The 217th Brigade - Comprised of the 2/4th, 2/5th and 2/6th Bn - Northumberland Fusiliers.
'G' Company (Newburn) notes:
Coy transferred from 5th Bn - 31st Oct 1910
The 4th Bn adopted a four Coy system during January 1915. 'G' Coy amalgamating with 'B' Coy.
Officer Commanding: Lt Geraint Lindsey Hunting
Gerald was the grandson of Charles Hunting, a wealthy Victorian businessman who had made a fortune from the coal industry. Around 1870 he turned his attention to shipping and bought stock in several ship owning companies and started the first Hunting Company in 1874. A few years later, he bought his son, Charles Samuel Hunting (1855-1921), a pair of second-hand sailing ships as a 21st birthday present. By 1889 Charles Senior had entered the oil industry and Hunting and Son had around a dozen general cargo steamships which were supplemented by an order for its first oil tanker, the 5,000dwt Duffield, one of the first oil tankers ever to be built.
After his death, his second son (Charles Samuel) took control of the business and expanded the shipping activities. The family resided at 11 Akenside Terrace, Jesmond in 1881 , Deepdene House, Jesmond Dene in 1891 and Westminster, London in 1901. However, in 1911 the Huntings purchased Bog Hall Farm near the village of Slaley and built Slaley Hall on the site, in a style typical of sporting estates in northern England and Scotland at the time. Construction of Slaley Hall began in 1912. and it was completed in 1914. The hall remained with the Hunting family until the death of Charles Hunting, at which point it was bought by Major Priestman.
The Hunting shippimg fleet was pressed into military service during WW1 and was reduced to just four ships by the end of the war. Charles Samuel Hunting died in 1921 but his two sons Percy and Gerald Lindsay rebuilt and expanded the business. They chose to concentrate on the oil trade and ordered a series of new motor driven tankers. To consolidate the move, they decided to relocate the Hunting's HQ down to London, in 1925, and simultaneously to absorb the shipbroking business of E.A. Gibson. (Gibson, n.d.) Determined to rebuild the fleet, Percy as "governing partner" also diversified the business by taking the company into aircraft servicing and manufacturing, and some years later the ‘Hunting Clan’ airline business. With time the Hunting name became synonymous with a range of military and civil aircraft including the Jet Provost and in its nascent days the aircraft that would become one of Britain's most sucessful best export sellers, the BAC 1-11.
Gerald died in 1966, aged 75, was a successful amateur batsman for Northumberland before and after the First World War. In the Loretto XI he headed the batting averages in 1910 and 1911. (Wisden Almanac)
2nd Lt Robert Allen
Born 1890 and living in Bellingham (1901 Census).
Father a grocer, shopkeeper and county court bailiff.
He died in 1962
2nd Lt Norton Butler Napier Good
Assumed command of the Bn Machine Gun Section prior to going to the Front.
Col Sgt Luke Stuart
Luke had served with the Northumberland Fusiliers at the battle of Omdurman in 1898.
Sgt H Jarvis (Permanent Staff)
'Reserve' Battalion (2/4th)
'G' Company notes:
The 2/4th battalion became part of the newly formed 188th Bde, 63rd Divn during January 1915. The 63rd Divn was tasked with home defence, but was disbanded in Jul 1916. The 2/4th joined the 217th Bde, 72nd Division, but continued with home defence duties. The 72nd Divn was broken up Jan - Apr 1918
2nd Lt Thomas William Gregory
Thomas was the son of Elswick grocer William M Gregory (b.1866) (3&4 Studley Terrace, Elswick) mother Ann E Gregory (b.1865), daughter Mary E (b.1891), Violetta (b.1892), Thomas W (b.1895), James H (b.1900).
2nd Lt James Michael Jeslyn Spencer
James was the second son of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Elias Evans Spencer of Walbottle Hall, Newburn, Northumberland. James was born in Oct 1895 and educated at Alnmouth and Clifton College and was about to enter King's College, Cambridge, when war broke out. He enlisted as a gunner in the Northumberland Artillery, then obtained a commission in the Northumberland Fusiliers, receiving his second star in 1915. He transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in July 1916, and went to the Front in September. Flight - 14 Dec 1916 (www.flightglobal.com)
The Spencer family were early industrialists who changed the face of Newburn. The first John Spencer established a mill for the manufacture of files at the beginning of the 19th century. At the end of the century his son, also named John, was Managing Director of a huge industrial concern employing 1,500 workers. Steel plates, springs and other items were provided for the railway, shipping, armaments and mining industries all over the world. The large steel plates for the ship Mauretania were made in the Newburn factory. After the First World War demand for steel lessened and the factories were closed in 1926 and demolished in 1933. Much of the legacy of John Spencer can be discovered in Newburn Village, which is our next destination. ( www.petersen-stainless.co.uk )
4th Battalion War Diary
APPENDIX X A
OPERATION ORDER NO. 1A.
1. The 149th Infantry Bde will attack on the morning of the 26th inst, 4th NF on the right, 5th NF in centre and 7th NF on left, - 57th Div are attacking on our right, with 4th/5th Loyal North Lancs as their left battalion.
2. The battalion will attack on a 3 company frontage each company being on a platoon frontage.
‘A’ company on right, ‘B’ company in centre and ‘D’ company on left. ‘C’ Company will be in reserve on a 2 platoon frontage.
3. (a) Platoons will leap frog and capture and consolidate the objectives already given them i.e. FIRST WAVE to HUTS, SECOND WAVE to line V.184.108.40.206 – V.2.c.5.1. THIRD WAVE to final objective V.2.a.3.0 to V.2.d.15.55.
(b) Reserve company will move forward with attacking waves to a point approximately 200 yards west of the HUTS.
(c) ‘A’ company will detail parties to obtain touch with battalion on their right at the following points.
(a) Concrete shelter at V.8.a.1.8.
(b) Ditto at V.2.c.4.1.
(c) ROAD BRIDGE at V.2.d.0.6.
4. Two machine guns will accompany 4th wave of ‘B’ Company.
5. Two Stokes Mortars will be attached to ‘C’ company and will be available to fire at any strong points holding up the attack.
6. Barrage will begin to creep forward at ZERO + 8 minutes and will creep at the uniform rate of 100 yards in 8 minutes throughout. Lifts will be at 50 yards at a time.
7. Taping out of the assembly trench will be carried out under an officer from Battalion HQ. One line of tape will be laid from the Railway Embankment at point V.1.d.0.2. to V.7.b.6.5. Two guides will be left at the end of the tape on Railway Embankment. A short length of tape will be laid at right angles to assembly tape to mark the left of ‘D’ company, short lengths of tape will be laid at right angles to assembly tape every 130 yards to mark company frontages. The assembly tape marks position of leading wave.
8. ‘A’,’C’ and ‘D’ companies will move forward to assembly positions at 7pm tonight each company providing its own covering party. ‘B’ company will withdraw to the assembly tape at 11pm. Completion of assembly will be notified by code word ARRAS, sent by runner to battalion HQ.
9. 1 contact aeroplane will be flying over companies front at zero + 1 hour 30 mins and at zero + 3 hours heading troops will show their position to contact aeroplane only when called for
(a) by Claxon horn
(b) by series of white Very lights dropped from the plane.
10. RAP will be at PASCHAL FARM 1.
11. PRISONERS 1 man as escort to 5 Bosches
12. Reports will be forwarded to battalion HQ at TAUBE FARM as frequently as possible and at least once in the first hour after zero.
13. Battalion HQ will open at TAUBE FARM at 7pm tonight.
14. Zero will be at the fall of the barrage. Time of this will be notified later, also synchronisation of watches.
15. General compass bearing of attack 55 degrees magnetic.
Issued at 1.30 pm
Copies to CO ‘A’, ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’.
4th Battalion War Diary
CORRIGENDA TO OPERATION ORDER NO 1A
1. Owing to the swampy state of the ground on the right of our attack, it has been decided to attack on a 2 Coy frontage instead of a 3 Coy frontage. ‘B’, ’C’ and ‘D’ companies will have dispositions exactly as laid down in O.O. no 1A.
2. ‘A’ company will NOT go to the assembly tape but will move from TRANQUILLE HOUSE to TAUBE FARM at 9pm tonight, when they will be in battalion reserve.
3. Hot tea and rum will be brought up tonight 1 guide per company to be at TAUBE FARM at 11pm to guide carrying parties.
Issued at 2pm
Copies to CO, ‘A’,’B’,’C’ and ‘D’
The CO reported the change to Bde HQ:
Summary of events
25th Oct 1917
Communication between Bn HQ and the front line was extremely difficult as the route was under direct observation and subject to incessant shelling by the Germans. This was especially so on the line running parallel with the road north-west and south east of Tranquille House, because it appeared to be an enemy barrage line. There was no cover except for shell holes, so it had not been possible to lay a telephone wire, or for a visual signalling system to be established.
Two runners did manage to reach the front line coy and all operation orders were delivered safely. However, it was a close call, because they had mistakenly overshot the front line by at least fifty yards and had been stopped before they stumbled on the enemy.
Front line company were constantly shelled by our own Howitzers, and some casualties resulted.
Between 7 and 9pm coys moved forward to their assembly positions.
The attack formation was altered twice in 12 hours. The original intention was, to attack on a 3 coy frontage, each coy being on a platoon frontage in depth, in 4 waves (1 platoon in each wave). After the relief it was realised that with the swampy ground on the Bn right flank, there would only be room for a two coy frontage. The CO reported this to Bde HQ (Appendix B).
Map 1 - 149th Brigade positions
25 Oct 1917
Summary of events
When 2nd Lt J.A. Burton actually laid the tape, he realised that there was only sufficient room for an attack frontage of one coy. Therefore, the front line platoon frontage was cut accordingly to one coy, the second coy was positioned to the rear of the right hand coy of the 5th Bn with instructions to wedge between the 4th and 5th Bn Coys at the front once the attack started. The third coy was held in reserve about one hundred yards to the rear of the front line coy (on a two platoon frontage) and the fourth coy under the Bn Cdr was positioned at Taube Farm 4 and Tranquille House 5.
The Coys assembled in shell holes and dug-in, in the formation described above. A piece of tape was laid to mark the boundary between the 4th and 5th Bn. Hot food was packed in hay and carried up to the coys at the assembly points.
A leap frog system of attack, recently practised in training, was to be employed. The lead platoon was to take the first objective, the second platoon was to pass through to take the second objective, the third platoon the final objective. The fourth under the company commander were to be used for counter attack or consolidation according to the tactical situation.
26th Oct 1917
At 3am heavy rain began to fall again and at 4.05am the 4th Bn reported it was in position for the attack.
At zero hour, 5.40am, the barrage opened up and began to creep forward at a rate of one hundred yards every eight minutes. The fusiliers of the149th Bde rose to their feet to advance behind it, with the 4th & 5th Bn Loyal North Lancashires (57th Divn) on the right flank and the 35th Divn on the left. Had the 'going' been good, the troops who lay close up under the barrage (so close indeed that several casualties were suffered) waiting for the first "lift", would not have had a problem advancing at the rate of the creeping barrage.
'The rain had, however, done its deadly work, for all the gallant fellows could do was to drag themselves along through the thick clinging mud and water at a much slower pace than the barrage, which soon got ahead'. Then form "pill box" and shell hole murderous fire was poured upon them. Many fell dead; some of the wounded fell into the gaping holes of water and were drowned; fortunate were those who escaped, but on went the survivors' (Wyrell. p.244).
The allied barrage consisted entirely of shrapnel and was therefore quite useless against the first objective, which consisted of concrete huts. To make matters worse the rain continued to fall heavily and the condition of mud and water were perfectly appalling.
Bn HQ received a wire from the Bde Major at 8.50am stating that a wounded Forward Observation Officer had reported that the first objective had been taken and the men were advancing well to the second objective. This information proved incorrect because 2nd Lt Wood subsequently returned wounded and reported that casualties were heavy and the attack was held up in front of the Huts. The attack had actually ground to a halt about eighty yards west of the line of huts. The machine gun fire and sniping was so severe that any further advance was quite impossible and reporting the situation back to HQ extremely difficult. Two runners were sent to the front line to try and gather information but they both failed to return.
At 11am, 2nd Lt Burton was sent forward to reconnoitre and he confirmed that the attack was held up about one hundred yards short of the Huts. At 1pm Sgt Thompson returned from the front line and confirmed 2nd Lt Burtons’ report stating that casualties were very heavy. Similar news was brought down later by Capt J.V. Gregory. This information was relayed to Bde HQ by pigeon and signaled by Lucas Lamp. Several messages were sent during the afternoon. Two platoons from the Reserve Company, under the command of 2nd Lts Peddie and Scott, were sent forward at 6pm to consolidate the original line held before the attack.
The Bn was relieved about midnight by the 4th Bn East Yorks and proceeded, via the duckboard track known as Railway Street 6, to Rose Crossroads camp 7. The 6th Bn DLI organised straggler posts in likely places to round up men returning from the front line and to guide them to camp.
Roll call revealed the appalling casualties suffered by the 4th Bn. 2nd Lts D.A. Smith, and W. Ruddy had been killed in action with 2nd Lt R.A.A. Simpson later dying of wounds. 2nd Lts G.R. Charlewood, A.W.P. Leary, H.B. Bell, J.R. Ruddock and R. Wood were wounded, and 2nd Lt R.G. Rayner and H. Stobbs were missing. Thirty-six fusiliers had been killed, one hundred and fifty-six wounded and sixty four were still missing. A total of two hundred and fifty six, more than fifty percent of those that had gone into action. The 5th Bn fared even worse with a total of 12 officers and 439 men either killed, wounded or missing. 7th Bn losses amounted to 11 officers and 246 men.
Summary compiled from 149th Bde War Diary, 4th Bn War Diary & History of the 50th Division,
Records show that at least 100 fusiliers from the 4th Bn were actually killed in action or died of wounds between the 25th and 27th of Oct 1917. For information on 4th Bn burial and memorial sites for casualties sustained in this battle, select the link.
4th Battalion War Diary
The following is a list of points noted in the attack:-
1. Two machine guns were attached to the battalion in the attack. They went forward with the support company (in rear of 5th Bn) and did excellent work.
2. Two Stokes Mortars were to be attached but did not succeed in getting ammunition forward.
3. Communication to Bde exceptionally valuable and wonderfully maintained under a heavy barrage by the Bn. Signalling Officer (2nd Lt W.C.Clemitson) and the other signallers. The wire to 5th Bn almost instantly maintained, visual to Bde also kept up although the lamp was knocked over three times, and pigeons.
4. Wounded. Appalling difficulty in getting wounded as the slightest movement in the front line was checked by Machine Guns and sniping.
5. Liaison. Lt W.B. Hicks acted as liaison officer between the 4th Bn and the Bde on the right flank. Liaison with the 4th/5th Loyal North Lancashires maintained through 5th Northd Fus, who had an officer from that battalion with them.
6. Rations Cannot be brought up by transport in these conditions. Men must carry two days rations and also two Tommy cookers.
7. Kit as laid down appear the best, though many packs will probably be thrown away.
8. Hot food should always be carried up to the troops the night before the attack - also RUM.
9. Guiding appallingly difficult owing to the scarcity of landmarks, obvious landmarks, such as the railway are dangerous as the enemy naturally concentrates his artillery on them. We suggest a double line of pickets with plain wire on them. This is not conspicuous and very helpful.-
4th Battalion War Diary
(i) MESSAGES during the action
L.T.19 timed 12.20pm. Wounded officer left company reports attack on huts in V.1.D held up by many machine guns about 150 yards west of Huts. Right company held up in same position. Right company of SEED (5th NF) held up on same line. Impossible to work round flanks owing to swamp on right and machine guns on left. AAA. I have one company still in reserve in TAUBE FARM and TRANQUILLE HOUSE area AAA I do not propose to make another frontal attack with this company, as this appears to me to be a reliable report. AAA the officer states that Huts are very little damaged and full of machine guns AAA. Unless I receive orders to the contrary I will move Reserve Company up tonight at dusk to take over and reorganise front line AAA. Am investigating this information and will report later. AAA Ground very swampy and casualties very heavy in wounded officers company.
LT.20 timed 12.40pm In continuation of my L.T.19 I am unable to reach front line companies owing to machine gun fire and sniping from Huts and concrete emplacements. South of Huts. AAA There is not the slightest doubt that the whole attack is held up 100 to 150 yards west of Huts. I am unable to ascertain definitely position of troops on my right but they do not appear to have made much progress. AAA I am unable to estimate casualties.
LT 21 timed ? A very reliable Sgt has just brought back a report from front line. He states that 50 of our men and 2 officers are lying about 100 yards west of middle of Huts. Remainder of 3 companies, he thinks, are casualties. Total about 300. BOSCH planes have been flying low over front line shooting at them. Bosches have also sniped majority of our wounded as they tried to get back. Attack started in excellent order and was clear of BOSCH barrage before it came down – a few men succeeded in reaching HUTS but have not come back. Remainder caught by machine gun fire from HUTS and both flanks. Can you please give me assistance of large party to get our wounded out tonight with stretchers. It requires about 6 men per stretcher.
LT 22 timed 3.44pm Ref B.M.871
I am sending up 2 platoons tonight at dusk. They will consolidate original front line held before the attack and remaining 3 company’s will withdraw. I should like to send them out of the line. Is this possible please, and can staff captain arrange billets for them (probably 70 or 80 men). If the other company is not to be relieved, could you send water, rum, hot food and rations up for them and battalion HQ. Guides could meet ration parties and stretcher parties at PASCHAL FARM. I should also like a large carrying party with stretchers. Guides as above. – Sent by pigeon and substance of it by visual.
149th Bde War Diary
Speaking generally, the Bde was ordered to attack in a north-eastern direction between the southern border of the Houthhulst Forest and the Broembeek on a frontage running in an irregular manner through Aden House, and the principal objectives included "Hill 23," "Colbert Crossroads" and the groups of huts about seven hundred yards south-west of Schaap Balie. Aeroplane photographs were unfortunately not very clear, but they revealed an area that was capable of an obstinate defence, and one that might be rendered impassable by heavy rain. The chief obstacles were a double row of concrete huts or "pill-boxes," and ground that was already dangerously full of water- holes.
Heavy rain began to fall again at 3am and the "very few firm pieces of ground" became less in number; the water, trickling at first down the muddy sides of shell holes, soon became small streams, filling the occupants of the shell holes with gloomy prospects of success in the attack; pools of water widened almost to small lakes. Even in the darkness it was possible to discern stretches of water out in No Man's Land across which the attackers would have to pass.
2nd Passchendaele - Locations
1st Objective - Line of huts - approximately 300 to 400 yards distant.
2nd Objective - Approximately 500 yards distant.
3rd (Final) Objective - Colbert Crossroads and Hill 23.
Turenne Crossing - Road junction at railway crossing situated in 5th Bn front line prior to attack (Map1)
Ypres - Medieval Flemish town around which the salient formed in 1914. Known as Ieper in the Flemish language.