The History of the Canterbury Regiment, N.Z.E.F. 1914 - 1919
Chapter XIII. — The German Offensive of 1918
The German Offensive of 1918.
On February 23rd the 2nd Brigade entrained at Ypres for Caestre, a village on the main Cassel-Bailleul road. The brigade detrained at 9 p.m., and found the Y.M.C.A. waiting with very-welcome hot tea and biscuits. After tea, the battalions marched to their billetting areas, the 1st Canterbury Battalion to St. Marie Cappel, and the 2nd Battalion to St. Sylvestre Cappel. The quarters were good and the weather was fine; and everyone was relieved to get away from the Ypres Salient, which had not belied its evil reputation. In these circumstances, the prospect of a month's spell put all ranks in the highest spirits. The first two days after arrival were spent in "interior economy," and active training did not begin until the 26th.
The training was very much on the lines of that done in the Quelmes area in September, 1917, and at Lottinghem and Quesques at the end of October, 1917, so that no detailed description is necessary. The General Officer commanding the Division (Major-General Sir A. H. Russell) inspected the Canterbury Battalions on March 1th, and expressed his satisfaction with the turn-out and appearance of the men. The maintenance and improvement of morale was achieved by the encouragement of sport and other recreations. On March 4th the 1st Battalion defeated the 2nd Battalion at football, by thirteen points to six, and the following day the 2nd Battalion ran second to the 1st Otago Battalion, in a brigade cross-country run of three miles. The same afternoon the 1st Battalion won the brigade football championship, by defeating the 1st Otago Battalion by six points to three.
A great deal of time was given to musketry, and on the 8th the Canterbury Battalions left for a week's shooting in the Houlle and Moulle area, about six miles to the north-west of St. Omer. The journey was done in two stages, the 1st Battalion being billeted for the night at Campagne, and the 2nd Battalion lying at Wardrecques. Both battalions reached their page 226billets at Houlle the following day, having had splendid weather for the march. In addition to the usual target practice, much time was spent in field practices, under as near an approach to actual service conditions as possible. The battalions left this area on the 16th, and were back in their old billets in St. Marie and St. Sylvestre by the night of the 17th. Training proceeded on the usual lines, and on March 22nd the Corps* Commander (Lieutenant-General Sir A. J. Godley) was present at training operations, and afterwards inspected the battalions. Lieutenant-Colonel H. Stewart had returned from leave on the 20th, and resumed command of the 2nd Battalion.
Meanwhile, the German offensive of March 21st had commenced, and the Otago Battalions, which were at Houlle, were hurriedly recalled. On the 23rd orders were issued for the 2nd Brigade to begin entraining at Caestre the next day. Brigade headquarters and advance parties from the battalions left by the first train, at 3.25 p.m. The 2nd Company of the 1st Canterbury Battalion, which had been detailed as a loading party, also went on this train. The remainder of the 1st Battalion followed in the second train, three hours later; but the third train, with the 2nd Battalion, did not leave till 10.30 p.m. The rest of the brigade entrained the next day.
The railway journey was by way of Calais, Boulogne, and Abbeville, and it was originally intended that the brigade should detrain at Edgehill, a railway siding to the east of Amiens, and about half way between that town and Albert. But when the first train arrived at St. Roch, on the outskirts of Amiens, at 1 a.m. on the 25th, the Brigadier was informed by the French railway officials that the train could go no further, as the track near the town had been destroyed by an enemy aircraft attack. At 4 a.m. orders were received that brigade headquarters was to detrain at St. Roch; and at 7 a.m. motor lorries arrived, and took the troops to Chipilly. a village on the Somme between Corbie and Bray. On arrival there, it was found that no accommodation was available; but orders were received from Division that the brigade group was to go on to Morlancourt and Ville-sous-Corbie, midway between Chipilly and Albert. The Division was now attached to the VII Corps, which formed part of the Third Army.
* The name of the Corps had been changed to XXII Corps as from January 1st. 1918.
On account of the cutting of the railway at Amiens, the detraining point for the remainder of the 2nd Brigade had been altered to Ailly-sur-Somme, five miles west of the town. As the battalions arrived there, they reduced their kits to fighting order, and left their valises and other surplus gear under guard there. The three companies of the 1st Battalion which were on the second train arrived at Ailly at 6.30 a.m. on the 25th. One and a half companies were at once taken by motor lorries to Sailly-Lorrette, a mile west of Chipilly, and the lorries returned for the remainder of the battalion. From Sailly-Lorrette the two parties marched independently to Morlancourt, and the whole battalion (except the 2nd Company, which was still at St. Roch) was in billets there by 11.30 p.m.
Three companies of the 2nd Battalion arrived at Ailly at 9.30 a.m. on the 25th, and bivouacked in a field all day. The service of motor lorries was disorganized; but at 3 p.m. battalion headquarters and the 1st Company and a platoon of the 2nd Company were taken by lorries to Ville-sous-Corbie, where they arrived at 9.30 p.m., and went into billets for the night. Shortly before midnight, orders were received that the Division was to be transferred to the IV Corps (Lieutenant-General Sir G. M. Harper, K.C.B.) and was to concentrate at Hédauville, on the Albert-Doullens road, five miles north-west of Albert.
All troops at Ville-sous-Corbie and Morlancourt immediately began to march to Hédauville; and the motor lorries carrying the 13th Company and the remaining three platoons of the 2nd Company of the 2nd Battalion were diverted to that village, and reached there at 7 a.m. on the 26th. The remaining company of the 2nd Battalion (the 12th Company) had detrained at St. Roch, and had travelled by motor lorry as far as Pont Noyelles, on the Amiens-Albert road; and from there had a twelve miles march to Hédauville, which it reached at 7.45 a.m. By 9 a.m. the 2nd Company of the 1st Canterbury Battalion had come from St. Roch by motor lorry, and the two Canterbury Battalions, with the 2nd Machine-Gun Company and the 2nd Light Trench Mortar Battery, formed the 2nd Brigade Group. The two Otago Battalions were on the march from their detraining points; and the motor lorry service having proved completely inadequate, these battalions did not reach Hédauville till late on the evening of the 26th, and were then put into Divisional reserve.page 228
It is now necessary to examine the general situation on this portion of the British front. Before the German attack of March 21st, the line had run from the Vimy Ridge to a point six miles east of Arras; and after crossing the Arras-Cambrai road had swung south-east, and ran roughly parallel to that road almost to Marcoing, where it turned south again to St. Quentin, forming a wide salient called the Flesquières Salient. About ten miles south of this turning point, the right flank of the Third Army joined the left flank of the Fifth Army.
The success of enemy attacks delivered on March 21st, in a south-westerly direction between the Cambrai-Bapaume road and the Sensée River, and in a westerly direction on the whole front of the Fifth Army, threatened to cut off the troops holding the Flesquières Salient, and made it necessary for the Third Army to withdraw along the whole of its front south of Arras. The withdrawal had been accomplished in an orderly manner, but losses had been heavy; and as the line gradually began to swing back towards Amiens, the front became longer and required more troops to hold it.
The situation on the morning of March 26th was that the Third Army was still retiring, and the IV Corps was falling back to a line Puisieux-Buequoy-Ablainzeville, where the 62nd and 42nd Divisions had been ordered to make a stand. Further to the south, the 12th Division (V Corps) was moving up to hold the line of the Ancre River from Albert to Hamel Between the 12th and 62nd Divisions there was therefore a gap of five miles.
This gap between the IV and V Corps had appeared on March 24th, when the Third Army had fallen back to the general line Ham-Longueval-west of Bapaume-Ervillers. From Ervillers the line ran roughly due south for thirteen miles to Hardecourt. Attacks on the 25th caused the two Corps to fall back a distance of about five miles in the centre of this line, while maintaining their positions at Ervillers and Hardecourt; thus lengthening their line to about twenty miles between those places. This operation made a deep re-entrant on the front of the two Corps, and the gap between them naturally had increased greatly at the end of the day—to a width of five miles, as stated above.
It was to fill this gap that the New Zealand Division had been brought in such urgent fashion from the Bray-sur-Somme area; page 229for though the remnants of the 51st and 19th Divisions were being collected at Sailly-au-Bois, and those of the 25th and 41st Divisions at Gommecourt, none of these troops were sufficiently organized to take such a determined offensive action as was required. The enemy was closely following up the retiring troops of the Third Army, and on the night of the 25th had reached Miraumont and Beaucourt, on the River Ancre. The last-named village was less than two miles from the line which the New Zealand Division had been ordered to take up.
At 2 a.m. on the 26th the first battalion of the Division arrived at Hédauville. This was the 1st Battalion, 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade, which had marched from Pont Noyelles. After a short rest of four hours, this battalion was sent on to occupy Englebelmer and Auchonvillers and the intervening country, so as to cover the advance of the rest of the Division. There were at this time only four other battalions at the disposal of the General Officer commanding the Division—the 1st Auckland and the 1st and 2nd Canterbury Battalions and the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade. These battalions were formed into two brigade groups, the two Canterbury Battalions forming the 2nd Brigade Group, and the other two battalions the 1st Brigade Group. To each group was attached one machine-gun company. The groups were ordered to move forward at noon, and to fill the gap between Hamel and Puisieux.
Before the battalions moved off that morning, Brigadier-General Young (commanding the 2nd Brigade) appointed Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart (for the time being the senior battalion commander in the brigade) to take command of the transport and "B" teams of the four battalions. The fact that the brigade was engaged in open warfare and the battalions were scattered, necessitated a good deal of separate marching, by the transport especially; and rendered it essential that there should be an experienced senior officer to supervise their work closely. Lieutenant-Colonel Mead took command of the 2nd Canterbury Battalion in place of Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart.
The Division's objectives were divided into two parts, and to the 2nd Brigade group was allotted the southern part, which consisted of practically the old British line, as it existed before the Battle of the Somme in 1916, from west of Hamel to north-west of Beaumont-Hamel. The 1st Battalion of the 3rd (Rifle) page 230Brigade, which had established a line of outposts north and south of Auchonvillers, was now attached to the 2nd Brigade. The two Canterbury Battalions left Hédauville at noon, the 2nd Battalion leading, and advanced along the Mailly-Maillet road, by platoons at one hundred yards distance, with a protective screen of scouts in front.
The 2nd Battalion reached Mailly-Maillet without opposition, but there obtained information from the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade that nothing was known with regard to the situation to the north. One company (the 2nd) was therefore sent along the Serre road, to take up a position on the high ground known as "The Apple Trees," about half a mile north-east of the village, in order to protect the left flank from attack. At the same time the 1st Battalion had assembled in a valley to the south-east of Mailly-Maillet, and patrols had been sent forward to cover the advance of the battalion and to get in touch with the 12th Division on the right.
At about 4 p.m. the 1st Canterbury Battalion, on the right of the brigade frontage, moved forward, by platoons in artillery formation, through the outpost lines held by the 1st Battalion of the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade. The order of battle, from right to left, was 1st, 2nd, 12th, and 13th Companies. The battalion met with no opposition, beyond very light shelling as they crossed the ridge between Englebelmer and Auchonvillers and the ridge to the north of Mesnil, and captured all the brigade objectives from west of Hamel to the south-west of Beaumont-Hamel.
The 2nd Battalion had moved forward in similar formation, rather earlier than the 1st Battalion; and as it approached the western outskirts of Auchonvillers, it came under a certain amount of machine-gun fire and light scattered shelling, which necessitated the platoons deploying into sections. The 2nd Company was kept in its position to the north of the village, to protect the left flank, and the order of battle of the remaining companies (right to left) was 1st, 13th, and 12th. The battalion moved through Auchonvillers at about 3 p.m., and on reaching the eastern outskirts of the village encountered heavy machine-gun fire and considerable shelling. The advance continued, however, and the battalion's objectives were reached and taken by 4.30 p.m.page 231
The battalion was now in the old British trench system to the west of Beaumont-Hamel, and its right was in touch with the 1st Canterbury Battalion, in the same trench system. To the south again, the 1st Battalion was in touch with the 12th Division at Hamel. To the north, however, the situation was not so satisfactory: the 2nd Battalion's left flank was "in the air," and resting on a point due east of the Apple Trees, and the enemy was in possession of One Tree Hill (between Beaumont-Hamel and Colincamps), and was reported to be even in part of Colincamps itself. It was evident that the advance had taken place just in time, for had it been delayed even a few hours, the enemy would have been encountered in force, and would have had to be ejected from trenches lying ready for occupation. The difficulty of capturing these trenches would have been very great, as up till this time the Division had no artillery to support its advance.
During the evening of March 26th the position on the north of the 2nd Brigade was cleared by the advance of the 1st Brigade group, though the left flank of the 2nd Canterbury Battalion was still a considerable distance in front of the 1st Brigade. That Brigade, in its turn, had its left flank "in the air" for some time; but meanwhile other battalions of the Division had arrived, and a 3rd Brigade group, consisting of the 3rd Battalion, 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade and the 2nd Wellington and the 2nd Otago Battalions, had been formed. This group was sent forward on the left, and closed the gap between the 1st Brigade and the 62nd Division. The New Zealand Division was now holding a line from Hamel to the south of the village of Hébuterne (to which the 62nd Division had retired from Puisieux).
The night of the 26th was a quiet one, and the troops in the line had no interference from the enemy in the work of consolidating the position. The trenches found there were in good order, so not much work was required to be done. During the night fighting patrols were pushed out along the whole front and the enemy was found to be in occupation of Beaumont Hamel, and in his front line system of trenches of 1916. Several of these patrols had brushes with the enemy, inflicted casualties on him, and captured machine-guns and prisoners.
About 9 a.m. on March 27th the enemy began to shell the 2nd Brigade's line with field guns and light howitzers. The page 232shelling was light at first, but it gradually increased in intensity, and extended to the battalion in support. By the end of the morning the shelling was heavy, and the enemy had added to its intensity by using light trench mortars and "pine-apple" grenades against the front line trenches. At noon the enemy attacked along the whole brigade front.
The attack was heaviest in the centre, against the 12th and 13th Companies of the 1st Battalion and the 1st and 2nd Comoverland, and others up the communication trenches, but they overland, and others up the communication trenches, but they were beaten off by rifle and machine-gun fire; and although some parties succeeded in getting within bombing range, none reached our trenches, and the surviving attackers retreated to their original position. Several prisoners and three light machine-guns were captured.
During this attack the brigade on the right of the New Zealand Division evacuated Hamel, and fell back till its forward posts were as far back as the 1st Canterbury Battalion's support line. In order to restore the line, the 1st Battalion had to take over another two hundred and fifty yards of trench to its right.
The shelling eased off at 1.30 p.m., and practically ceased at 2 p.m. During the afternoon there was much movement in the enemy back areas: but though a further attack seemed imminent, the remainder of the day passed quietly. The 3rd Brigade of the New Zealand Field Artillery arrived late in the day: and its guns were placed in position that night, and registered at dawn on the 28th. Throughout the day their shooting was excellent, and interfered greatly with the enemy's freedom of movement: and the feeling of confidence, inspired by the knowledge of artillery support, did much to keep up the men's spirits.
There were no further enemy attacks during the rest of the month of March. This was no doubt in part due to the rain, which began to fall on the afternoon of the 28th, and continued over the end of the month. The trenches became in a very bad state, and there was a great risk of trench feet becoming prevalent. The front line troops took advantage of the lull in hostilities to block the saps, up which the enemy had advanced in the previous attacks.page break page 233
On the night of the 29th/30th the 2nd Canterbury Battalion was relieved by the 1st Otago Battalion, and moved back to the brigade support lines, which extended from the west of Auchonvillers down to Englebelmer. The 1st Battalion remained in the line till the following night, when it was relieved by the 2nd Otago Battalion, and went into bivouacs in Englebelmer, as battalion in reserve of the brigade. The brigade now consisted of its four proper battalions, and the 1st Battalion of the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade had returned to its own brigade.
|1st Battalion.||Officers.||Other Ranks.|
|Killed in Action and Died of Wounds||15|
|2nd Battalion.||Officers.||Other Ranks.|
|Killed in Action and Died of Wounds||2*||24|
Total casualties for both battalions: 2 officers and 39 other ranks killed, 8 officers and 146 other ranks wounded and 10 other ranks missing.
While the Canterbury Battalions were out of the line, the 1st Brigade advanced its front to level with the left flank of the 2nd Brigade, which consequently was no longer "in the air."
Apart from an unsuccessful attempt by the 1st Battalion to establish a post in Hamel, which had been reported as not being occupied by the enemy, but which was found to be held in some force, nothing of importance took place until April 5th. On the night of the 4th/5th the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade had taken over the portion of the Divisional front which was held by the 1st Brigade, and the latter brigade had moved into Divisional reserve. Two of its battalions occupied the "Purple Line," a system of trenches which ran from east of Sailly-au-Bois, and thence south-west, between Courcelles-au-Bois and Colincamps, to the southern end of Beaussart: and the remaining battalions were in bivouacs about a mile behind.
At 5 a.m. on the morning of April 5th the enemy began a heavy bombardment of the Divisional area, as far back as Bus-les-Artois, and launched several attacks on different parts of the front during the day. Only one attack was successful, and in this the enemy overwhelmed the garrison of La Signy Farm, in the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade's sector, and succeeded in holding his gains there.
The 1st Canterbury Battalion was attacked at 9 a.m., the enemy working up the saps leading towards our front line trenches, till the blocks established by us forced him to come into the open. Although our trenches had been badly damaged by the bombardment, and casualties had been rather heavy, the attack was beaten off by fire from rifles, Lewis-guns, and machine-guns, with severe loss to the enemy. The attack was renewed at 2 p.m., but in a half-hearted way: the attackers were again driven off by small-arms fire, and the attack was not pressed.
One party of the enemy succeeded in entering the line, on the front of the brigade on the right flank of the 1st Battalion, where the garrison of a post had withdrawn without giving information of their movement. Corporal White, of the 2nd Company, promptly led a bombing party against this party of the page 235enemy, and drove it out, taking ten prisoners. During the day a Lewis-gun of the 12th Company of this battalion brought down a low-flying enemy aeroplane, which had been obtaining very useful information all the morning, and the pilot and observer were captured. There were no attacks made against the 2nd Battalion during the day.
The attacks of April 5th were the last the Canterbury Regiment was called upon to repel: for though, during the rest of the month (notably on the 13th and 17th), there were several occasions on which the enemy was expected to attack, and all preparations were made to receive him, yet these turned out to be false alarms. On looking back, therefore, the conditions may be said to have returned to those of trench warfare: but of trench warfare where the enemy was in a highly offensive temper. On the night of the 6th/7th the 2nd Canterbury Battalion was relieved by the 1st Otago Battalion, and moved back to its former position in the brigade support lines. Next night the 2nd Otago Battalion relieved the 1st Canterbury Battalion, which went back to its old bivouacs as reserve battalion of the brigade. Typical April weather prevailed, and conditions were little better than in the line, for the enemy artillery was continually searching the back areas for our artillery positions.
To quote Sir Douglas Haig's Despatch of July 20th, 1918:—
"With the failure of his attacks on the 4th and 5th April the enemy's offensive on the Somme battle front ceased for the time being, and conditions rapidly began to approximate to the normal type of trench warfare, broken only by occasional local attacks on either side."
The estimation in which the New Zealand Division and its Commander was held by the French is shown by the following translation of a French Army Order, which was issued shortly after the Armistice of November, 1918. It is quoted here, since it bears particularly on the part which the Division took in holding up the German offensive of 1918.
The translation reads as follows:—
"Minister's Office, Paris, 28th November, 1919. The President of the Council of the Ministry of War mentions in Army Orders the name of the following English Officer: Major-General Sir A. H. Russell, New Zealand Division. Has led to countless page 236victories a splendid Division whose exploits had not been equalled, and whose reputation was such that on the arrival of the Division on the Somme Battlefield during the critical days of March, 1918, the departure of the inhabitants was stopped immediately. The Division covered itself with fresh glory during the Battle of the Ancre à la Sambre, at Puisieux-au-Mont, Bapaurae, Crèvecour, and Le Quesnoy.—For and by the order of the President of the War Council of the Ministry of War. Boeker, Colonel, Adjutant-General to the Cabinet."
On April 13th came the turn of the 2nd Brigade to go into Divisional Reserve. Accordingly, at dusk, the 1st Canterbury Battalion moved to the "Purple Line," in front of Bertrancourt and in rear of Courcelles; and the 2nd Battalion went into bivouacs further north, midway between Bus-les-Artois and Sailly-au-Bois. The brigade remained in reserve till the 17th, when it relieved the 1st Brigade in the northern half of the Divisional sector, immediately on the left of the sector which the 2nd Brigade had held when last in the line. The order of battle was now altered, the 1st Canterbury Battalion being in the front line, on the right of the sector, with its left flank at Waterloo Bridge (south of La Signy Farm), with the 1st Otago Battalion on its left, opposite La Signy Farm. The 2nd Canterbury Battalion was in support, in bivouacs to the east of Colincamps, and the 2nd Otago Battalion in reserve.*
Enemy attacks were still expected, and though they did not come, the troops in the line lost no opportunity of undermining the enemy's morale, by active sniping and vigorous offensive patrol work by day as well as by night. The numerous hedges and disused trenches in No-Man's-Land gave good cover for small daylight raids on outlying enemy posts. The fine achievements of Sergeant R. Travis, D.C.M., of the 2nd Otago Battalion, inspired the rest of the Division, and gave the enemy good cause to feel nervous.
* The order of battle of the various companies of the two Canterbury Battalions will henceforth be found in Appendix "C" till the cessation of trench warfare.
A relief took place on the night of April 27th/28th, when the 1st Canterbury Battalion relieved the 2nd Otago Battalion in the same sector as before, on the right flank of the Division. The same night the 2nd Canterbury Battalion was relieved by the 1st Otago Battalion, and went back to its former position in support. The 2nd Brigade was relieved by the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade on the night of April 30th/May 1st, and went into Divisional reserve. The 1st Canterbury Battalion was accommodated in tarpaulin-covered bivouacs, about a mile to the north-east of Bertrancourt, whi 1st the 2nd Battalion garrisoned the "Purple Line" forward of Sailly-au-Bois, with battalion headquarters in the village.
|1st Battalion.||Officers.||Other Ranks.|
|Killed in Action and Died of Wounds||3*||29|
|2nd Battalion.||Officers.||Other Ranks.|
|Killed in Action and Died of Wounds||2†||18|
Total for both battalions: 5 officers and 47 other ranks killed, 7 officers and 161 other ranks wounded, and 9 other ranks missing.
While the 2nd Brigade was in reserve, much useful work was done on the communication trenches to the front line, and also in improving the reserve line. The 2nd Brigade relieved the 1st Brigade in the left of the Divisional sector, on the night of May 6th/7th, and the 2nd Canterbury Battalion took over from the 2nd Auckland Battalion the right half of the brigade's sector, with its left flank resting on the southern boundary of the village of Hébuterne. The front line trenches were in poor condition, with few duck-walks, and were very wet. But the remainder of the area occupied by the battalion was much better; the country was grassy and not cut up by shell-fire, and movement was possible overland without observation by the enemy. The back part of the battalion's area and its approaches were so free from observation that transport could come up in daylight.
† Lieutenant D. Green (killed 5th April), 2nd Lieutenant M. B. O'Connor (killed 5th April).
The brigade held a horse show and military tournament at Vauchelles on May 20th. The 1st Battalion scored more points than any other battalion in the brigade, gaining first places in officers' chargers' jumping (Lieutenant-Colonel Row, on "Britomart"), relay race, hurdle race, travelling kitchens, water carts, pack horses, and mules in G.S. limbers; 2nd places in battalion transport, light draughts in G.S. limbers, officers' chargers ("Britomart"), and non-commissioned officers' riding horses; and 3rd places in officers' chargers (Captain Lascelles' "Esther"), guard mounting, driving competition, pack mules, and maltese carts. The 2nd Battalion was only moderately successful.
On May 24th/25th the 2nd Canterbury Battalion relieved the 2nd Auckland Battalion in the front line, in the sector opposite La Signy Farm, and the 1st Canterbury Battalion became brigade reserve, taking over from the 1st Auckland Battalion in front of Colincamps. A relief on the night of June 1st/2nd sent the 1st Canterbury Battalion into the line to the south of La Signy Farm: the 2nd Battalion coming back into brigade support, to the east of Colincamps, in the same position as it had occupied when acting in the same rôle in the previous tour of the brigade in this sector.
The Division was relieved in the line by the 42nd Division on June 7th/8th, and went into Corps reserve. The relief of the 1st Canterbury Battalion by the 1st/5th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment was completed by midnight, and the battalion marched to billets in St. Leger-les-Authie. Earlier in the evening the 2nd Battalion had been relieved by the 1st/8th Battalion Manchester Regiment, and had moved to a camp on the hilltop to the south-west of Authie. Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart resumed command of the 2nd Battalion on the 8th, and on the 21st Lieutenant-Colonel Mead left for England, to take command of the Reserve Battalion, in place of Lieutenant-Colonel Griffiths, who had been appointed to the command of the Base Depôt at Codford.
While the Division was out of the line,. four hours in the morning were devoted to training on the usual lines, and there page 240was one hour's recreational training in the afternoon. The rest of the day was free. A new feature of the training was the practice of tactical schemes, based on the supposition that the enemy had attacked and penetrated our front line. The battalions practised on the actual ground the rôles assigned to them in the defence schemes, in accordance with several imaginary situations. As these movements must have been observed by enemy balloons, no doubt they gave rise to much speculation, and possibly anxiety, behind the enemy's lines.
During this period, one brigade of the Division was acting as reserve brigade for the 42nd Division, with two battalions garrisoning the "Purple Line" and the Chateau de' la Haie switch line, and the remaining battalions in bivouacs behind those lines. On June 22nd came the 2nd Brigade's turn for this duty: on the afternoon of that day, the 1st Canterbury Battalion moved to the same bivouac area between Sailly-au-Bois and Bus-les-Artois as the 2nd Battalion had occupied in the middle of April. The 2nd Battalion garrisoned the Chateau de la Haie switch, with its right flank in front of the village of Sailly-au-Bois, and battalion headquarters in the village.
The Divisional military tournament and gymkhana was held on June 23rd. The Regiment's representatives were not successful, the only place gained being by the 1st Battalion's team in the relay race, which came third. The Regiment made a much better showing on the 27th, however, when the Divisional band contest and boxing tournaments took place. The band contest was won by the 2nd Battalion's band, which gained 130-5 points (out of a maximum of 150) for its marching, and 110 points (out of the same number) for its music. The heavy-weight championship was won by 10/1199 Private P. L. Caldwell, of the 2nd Battalion, and the light-weight championship by 63755 Private A. Musson, of the 1st Battalion.
Sergt. C. W. Stobie, D.C.M.
Sergt. E. E. Fairhall, D.C.M.
Sergt. J. P. Cunneen, D.C.M.
In this sector the front line ran for the most part in a north-easterly direction, passing about a quarter of a mile to the south-east of Hébuterne, and rather more than a mile to the south-east of Gommecourt. A mile to the south-east of Gommecourt is Rossignol Wood, about twenty acres in extent. This wood was still held by the enemy, in spite of attempts to drive him out; and though it had been constantly and heavily shelled, there still remained in it many large trees and a good undergrowth. Our front line ran parallel to and about two hundred yards distant from the north-western edge of the wood: but, once past the wood, turned at right angles and ran parallel to its north-eastern edge, at about the same distance from it. This turn changed the direction of our line to south-east, and it ran in this direction for over a half mile, before it turned north-east again. As a result, the northern part of the Division's sector was a very nasty salient, against which Rossignol Wood, with its cover for the assembly of attacking troops and its good observation, remained a constant menace.
The relief took place on July 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, the 2nd Brigade being in reserve to the Division in its new position. The 1st Canterbury Battalion moved back to Couin Wood, on the night of the 2nd/3rd, and the 2nd Battalion moved to huts on the hill to the south of Coigneux. There the battalions remained engaged in training till the 9th/10th, when the 2nd Brigade relieved the 1st Brigade in the northern half of the Divisional sector, with the Puisieux-Gommecourt road as its southern boundary. The 1st Canterbury Battalion relieved the 1st Wellington Battalion in the right half of the brigade sector, and the 2nd Battalion relieved the 2nd Auckland Battalion on the left, the point of junction of the two Canterbury Battalions being the angle at Rossignol Wood. An attack by the enemy on a large scale was confidently expected on the morning of the 10th, but did not take place.
The Division now applied itself to the task of gaining possession of Rossignol Wood. On the afternoon and evening of July page 24215th, the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade, which was in the right half of the Divisional sector, advanced its line by six hundred yards to the east of Hébuterne. On the same evening, the 1st Canterbury Battalion established posts almost on the north-western edge of Rossignol Wood, at its northern corner, and the 2nd Battalion co-operated by establishing posts on the left of the 1st Battalion's new posts, close to the north-eastern edge of the wood. The actual establishment of the posts was done by the 12th Company of each battalion. The casualties in each battalion were light, in spite of fairly heavy machine-gun fire: but the 1st Battalion lost its assistant adjutant (Lieutenant F. Richardson), who was killed while superintending the wiring of the new positions.
The battalions were relieved on the night of July 17th/18th, the 1st Battalion going into brigade reserve, in the old German trenches in and to the west of the village of Gommecourt; and the 2nd Battalion becoming battalion in brigade support, with headquarters in Gommecourt Wood and the companies in the old German trenches between that wood and Pigeon Wood to the north-east. While the battalions were here, the line was pushed still further forward: for on the 20th Rossignol Wood was found to have been evacuated, and was occupied by the 2nd Otago Battalion, which established its front line a quarter of a mile east of the wood. The 1st Brigade, on the right, also moved forward its left flank to conform with the 2nd Brigade, and next day advanced its right flank to a mile beyond Hébuterne.
A further advance by the Otago Battalions, on July 24th, took our front line to the road five hundred yards south-east of Rossignol Wood; and this line was held, in spite of heavy counter-attacks on the 25th. The result of the operations cannot be better summed up than in the words of the congratulatory message received from Sir Julian Byng (commanding the Third Army):—"This operation …. has reduced the extent of our front line, and placed the enemy in an extremely difficult position."
It was during this period that United States troops were for the first time attached to the Canterbury Battalions. One or two officers with their "strikers" (batmen), and a few non-commissioned officers were attached to each company; and their keenness and apparent efficiency made a very favourable impression.page 243
The 2nd Brigade came into reserve on the night of July 25th/26th, and the 1st Canterbury Battalion garrisoned the "Purple Line," east of Sailly-au-Bois, the 2nd Battalion returning to its former camp near (Coigneux. There they both remained until August 2nd/3rd, when the 2nd Brigade relieved the 1st Brigade in the right half of the Divisional sector. On that night the 1st Canterbury Battalion took over the right of the brigade's sector from the 2nd Auckland Battalion, and the 2nd Canterbury Battalion relieved the 1st Wellington Battalion on the left.
The new sector consisted of derelict enemy trenches, in very bad repair, full of mud, and with very little sleeping accommodation. More United States troops came into the line with the battalions: at first one platoon of Americans was attached to each company, but on the night of August 6th/7th, the 1st Battalion was relieved by the 1st Battalion 317th U.S.A. Regiment (Black Fox). The acting Commanding Officer (Major Stitt), with the assistant adjutant and works officer, four company officers, and a hundred and forty-four other ranks, remained in the line with the Americans; and the rest of the battalion moved back to Sarton, on the Doullens-Albert road, some eleven miles behind the line.
A similar relief of part of the 2nd Battalion (50 men from each company) by the same U.S.A. Regiment was arranged for the same day; but as only half of the American troops arrived the relief was cancelled. On the 6th Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart took over the temporary command of the 2nd Brigade, and Major N. R. Wilson took command of the 2nd Canterbury Battalion.
The 1st Battalion remained at Sarton till August 14th, when it moved to billets in Vauchclles. On the 18th it moved to a canvas camp at Couin; but the following day it was ordered to move again to billets in St. Leger-les-Authie. Lieutenant-Colonel Row returned from Fort Mahon on the 19th, and resumed command of the battalion, which remained at St. Leger till the opening of the final British offensive.
In the meantime, the 2nd Canterbury Battalion had remained in the line till August 10th/11th, and on relief that night by the 1st Otago Battalion had occupied billets in and around Sailly-au-Bois. Working-parties were supplied daily, and while they were out on the morning of the 14th, information came from page 244brigade headquarters that the enemy was withdrawing on the Divisional front, and that the 1st Otago Battalion had moved up to regain touch. At 10 a.m. the Brigadier sent orders that one company of the 2nd Canterbury Battalion was to be sent up, to pass through the outpost line established by the 1st Otago Battalion. As all the men were then still away, it was noon before any company was ready to start. At that hour the 2nd Company, under Major D. A. Dron, left Sailly: it arrived at the outpost line at 3 p.m., and rested there for an hour. Meanwhile, the other companies had been assembled and had left Sailly between 2.30 and 3 p.m.
The outpost line established by the 1st Otago Battalion included the German trench called on our maps "Kaiser's Lane," and ran from there north-east to Box Wood—roughly parallel to, and seven hundred yards north-west of, the Serre-Puisieux road. The enemy's posts were about this road, and on the high ground to the south-east of it.
At 4 p.m. the 2nd Company pushed out fighting patrols from the outpost line, on a frontage of two thousand yards, with the object of capturing an enemy trench running from Serre to Puisieux, and lying to the south-east of the road which connected these villages. The enemy's posts were strongly held, and offered determined resistance, so that by 6 p.m. the 2nd Company had not reached its objectives. The Commanding Officer thereupon decided to put in the 1st Company on the right and the 12th Company on the left; and at 7.50 p.m. these companies left the outpost line, in line of sections in file. A heavy enemy barrage came down between the advancing sections and the Serre-Puisieux road, but it lasted for five minutes only, and caused no casualties.
Meanwhile, the 2nd Company patrols had outflanked the enemy posts, killed or captured the gunners, and were on their objectives. The three companies consolidated on a line from four hundred yards to six hundred yards south-east of the Serre-Puisieux road, and were relieved there, during the night, by the 1st Otago Battalion and the 317th U.S.A. Regiment. Besides pushing the enemy off the high ground, the operation had resulted in the capture of thirty-five prisoners, three machine-guns, and one light minnenwerfer gun, at a cost of five other ranks killed and ten other ranks wounded.page 245
On relief, the 2nd Battalion moved back to trenches a thousand yards east of Hébuterne, till the 18th/19th, when it was relieved by the 3rd Battalion of the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade, and returned to its old huts at Coigneux. The following night, after dark, the battalion moved to tents in the Bois de Warnemont, east of Authie, and remained concealed there the whole of the next day. It was not till then that it became generally known that a great attack had been planned for August 21st.
|1st Battalion.||Officers.||Other Ranks.|
|Killed in Action and Died of Wounds||2*||28|
|2nd Battalion.||Officers.||Other Ranks.|
|Killed in Action and Died of Wounds||3†||32|
|Canterbury Regiment Details (since the beginning of April—pre-sumably with the Entrenching Group).||Officers.||Other Ranks.|
|Killed in Action and Died of Wounds||2‡||9|
Total for Regiment: 7 officers and 69 other ranks killed, and 2 officers and 137 other ranks wounded.