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Regimental History of New Zealand Cyclist Corps in The Great War 1914-1918

Chapter XII. — Enemy Offensive of March, 1918

page 55

Chapter XII.
Enemy Offensive of March, 1918.

March 21st, when the enemy started his big push, found us still working at cable laying, and many conjectures flew around as to what our next job would be. The N.Z. Division hurriedly left our area and went south, where they finally added fresh glories to their record near Albert, and we regretted their leaving our special front.

On the night of the 26th March we received orders to be ready to move at short notice, and next morning our CO. received orders to report to 63rd Brigade, 21st Imperial Division, at Bedford House, near Ypres, and be prepared to take over a Battalion sector that night. The line was reconnoitred by Major Evans, D.S.O., Major McLeish (A.L.H.), Captain McHugh, M.C., and Captain Mitchell, M.C. (O.M.R.) that morning. The whole of Corps Mounted Troops were formed into a composite Battalion named the 22nd Corps Mounted Troops Composite Battalion.

Re-organisation was necessary to bring our formation to correspond with an ordinary Infantry Battalion, so four Companies were formed.

  • A Company, comprising Nos. 1 and 2 Coy.'s Cyclists, under Capt. H. D. McHugh, M.C, with 2nd Lieuts. Coe, Dickinson and Branson.
  • B Company, comprising No. 3 Coy.'s Cyclists, under Capt. G. L. Comer, with Lieut. McLean and 2nd Lieut. Highet.
  • C Company, comprising D and part of B Squadrons, A.L.H., under Major R. McLeish, with Capt. Birnie, Lieut. Apps and Pearse.page 56
  • D Company, comprising the rest of B Squadron and O.M.R. Squadron, under Capt. Mitchell, M.C., with Capt. Pleasants, Lieuts. Biggar and Herbert.

Companies were about 150 strong.

The following were the composition of Battalion Headquarters:—

Major C. H. Evans, D.S.O. in command
Major S. Armstrong, A. I.F. 2nd in command
Captain —Fox, A.I.F. M.O.
Captain C. A. Dickenson, M.C. Adjutant
Lieut. C. G. Johnson Quartermaster
Lieut. G. Clark Walker I.O. and M.G.O.
Lieut. —Alder, A.I.F. S.O.

The Battalion was organised in a remarkably short time, as it was late in the forenoon before the Commanders were back from their reconnaissance. The mounted squadrons, minus their horses, assembled at Vancouver Camp (our Headquarters.).

The whole Battalion moved off at 6 p.m in two trains (light railway) and arrived at the detraining point at 8 p.m., thence by route march to trenches—three or four miles—taking over from a Battalion of the 63rd Brigade. A and B Companies went into the front line outposts, C Company into support, and D Company in reserve. Battalion Headquarters were situated in a dugout near Hill 60.

The sector was known as Shrewsbury Forest and was part of the ground recaptured in July-Sept., 1917. by the 8th and 10th Corps.

The front line consisted of a line of organised shell holes and Pill Boxes (German concrete dugouts) at the foot of a fairly steep hill. No lateral communication trenches were in existence, and as the enemy overlooked us in daylight no movement was allowed, only in the dark. Rations had to be sent out overnight, and as the page 57ground was nothing but a sea of shell holes and water, the going was very difficult. A back lamp from Company Headquarters was flashed at night to guide parties in the line to Headquarters. We remained in for nine nights, having a comparatively quiet time, and were relieved by the 146th Brigade. We journeyed out to Scottish Wood Camp for two days and then back again into the same sector, being finally relieved on the night of 12th-13th April. During our stay in this sector we had very few casualties, Private Potter being killed and six wounded.

At this time the awful cannonading going on just south of our sector in the direction of Armentieres told us of further advances of the enemy. Things began to become anxious with us, and when on the 11th April the troops on our right withdrew their front line posts, it necessitated an alteration in our defences to protect our right flank which was "in the air." However, the enemy attack did not reach as far north as our sector.

On the afternoon of the 12th April, Captain McHugh and No. 1 Company were withdrawn from the line and ordered to proceed to Vancouver Camp where orders awaited them to proceed mounted and report to the 33rd Division at Mont Blanc, near Bailleul. That night the Battalion was relieved in the line by the 7th Leicesters (21st Division) and marched to Lambton Siding near Zillebeke Lake, where a train took them to Vancouver Camp, where orders awaited them that the Composite Battalion was disbanded and Mounted men were to get their horses at Reninghelst, and Cyclists their cycles at Vancouver, and be ready to move at 7 a.m., 13th.