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

Chapter XVIII. — The Second Battle of The Somme

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Chapter XVIII.
The Second Battle of The Somme.

Reinforcements arrived for us at Conteville to the number of 60; also 2nd Lieuts. Bowron and Evans. We were also favoured by the attachment of a Padre, Captain Rev. L. A. Knight. Up to the present time our spiritual welfare had not been attended to except occasionally by Padres belonging to other Units, so we welcomed his arrival with pleasure.

2nd Lieut. T H. Dickinson, who had been acting Adjutant in the absence of A. Capt. G. Clark Walker, to Hospital, sick, went for a six weeks' course of instruction to 1st Army Infantry School, Hardelot, and Lieut.-Quartermaster C. G. G. Johnson, was appointed to carry on his duties in his absence.

Lieut.-Gen. Sir A. J. Godley, who had taken over the duties of the G.O.C. III. Corps (on sick leave) sent for his Corps Mounted Troops on the 20th August, and we accordingly packed up and moved south at 8 p.m., arriving at Reomaisnil, our halting place, at midnight, the transport arriving three hours later

We continued our march next evening, starting at 6 p.m., arriving at Villers-Bocage (where 3rd Corps Headquarters were situated) at 9 p.m. and bivouacked in an orchard.

Our retaliatory push had commenced to regain the ground lost in March and April, and up to the present good reports were received, and the arrival of bands of German prisoners, told us that the first phase of the advance was successful.

During the forenoon of next day we received orders to move forward in the direction of Albert. No. 1 Coy., under Captain McHugh, M.C., was detailed to report to a work under orders of 18th Division, the rest of the Battalion to go into bivouac at Bois de Escard-Onneuse and await orders.

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No. 1 Company left at 1 p.m. to report to 54th Infantry Brigade (18th Division) near Albert, the rest of the Battalion proceeding via Querrieu to La Houssoye, where it obtained billets in abandoned and ruined houses.

Next day, the 24th August, 1918, No. 2 Company, under Temp. Capt. Blomfield, M.C., and No. 3 Company, under Temp. Capt. Knubley, M.C., were detached and sent to report to 58th Division at Heilly and 12th Division at Ribemont respectively for employment in reconnaissance and patrol work.

The description and report on the Companies' work follows.

Captain H. D. McHugh, M.C., O.C., No. 1 Company, reports as under:—

On the 22nd August the Company left the Battalion at Villers Bocage, and proceeded to near Albert, where the Company occupied some trenches and dugouts by the road side, the O.C, reporting personally to the G O.C. Fifty-fourth Infantry Brigade. Captain McHugh was then given orders that the Company would be used for the purposes of reconnaissance and patrol work to supply a steady source of information to the G.O.C. Brigades attached to. On the 23rd, Sergeant H. M. Carr M.M., was despatched with a patrol to ascertain the enemy positions at La Boisselle, and successfully carried out his mission. The same evening Lieut. Randall, D.C.M., and a patrol proceeded to the left of the Divisional front on a similar mission, and obtained the necessary information. On the 25th the Company was ordered to follow up the retiring enemy and moved out as an advanced guard to Longueval. The enemy was met with in considerable force at Mametz Wood and the advance held up. Nevertheless valuable information was obtained for Brigade by flanking movements. The advance continued each day when our patrols were on the heels of the enemy. On page 83the 29th, forward to Combles, under full view and heavy M.G. fire, a reconnaissance in force made a dash and succeeded in reaching Combles and obtained very reliable information. The following day patrols were sent forward in three directions towards Sailly, Saillisel and Rancourt, and good reports sent in. From 2nd to 5th September, operating in the direction of St. Pierre Vaast and Vaux Woods, where the enemy made a stand, our patrols gained very useful information, being at times 2,000 yards in advance of our attacking infantry. Reconnaissances were daily continued until the 12th September, where Peiziere had been reached by that time.

On the above date the Company was withdrawn to join the Battalion. For the last 22 days they had been employed continually on reconnaissance, and in every case the patrols succeeded in gaining their objectives and in securing the special information asked for.

Captain McHugh in his report to the CO. states:—

"I cannot praise the Company enough for the loyal support they have given me. The latest joined men worked with the older hands and soon acquired the principles of patrol work. Splendid work was carried out by the N.C.O.'s, who were my chief support, with so many new men. My officers, Lieuts. Cody and Randall, D.C.M., have had the bulk of the work to do, and I cannot praise them too highly. They had some very tough corners to investigate, and did their job thoroughly.

"The valuable work done by Sergt. Carr, M.M., Midgley, Brown and Lance Sergt. Ryan, cannot be passed by in these fines; their coolness in tight coners, and daring on patrol work earned for them the praise of officers on Divisional and Brigade Staffs we have been attached to."

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The Corps Commander directed a letter of apprecia tion of the work done by the advance guard to Brig.-Gen. Wood, the A.G. Commander, and the Brigade Major of the 55th Infantry Brigade wrote to Captain McHugh as follows:—

"General Wood has directed me to inform you how delighted he was with all the work done by your command during the period attached to him. Reconnaissances ordered were always carried out quickly, and absolutely valuable information obtained and good reports sent back. He hopes that you will be attached to his Brigade in any future operations he may be entrusted with."

T. Capt. E. H. Blomfield, M.C., O.C., No. 2 Company, reports as under:—

On the 24th August the Company was ordered to report to the 58th Division, when operating on the right of the Corps front, and the O.C. Company reported to Divisional Headquarters at the Heilly Chateau, and was ordered to take his Company in the vicinity of Happy Valley near Bray Sue Somme. The Company left the Battalion billets at 10 pm., and travelling by moonlight arrived at 1.30 a.m. at its destination, where good quarters had been found in German dugouts by an advance party. The Company remained in this place all day, and next morning were ordered forward to the Citadel on Fricourt-Bray Road. It had rained during the night; and the roads were in a very bad mess, necessitating the cycles being carried for a considerable part of the way. Sergt. Hughes, in charge of a patrol, had been sent forward, and had been out and working with the Northumberland Hussars, and had done some good work and gained valuable information. At 10 p.m. that night, 26th August, we were engaged with D Squadron A.L.H. in holding the line with Lewis guns south and west of Maricourt. 2nd Lieut. Bowron was page 85in charge of the guns, and his teams went over the top with the 3rd London Infantry next morning at dawn. Sergt. Coats and three men were wounded in the advance A patrol under 2nd Lieut. Ewan was sent out N. and N.E. of Maricourt and obtained useful information.

This work continued without cessation until the night of the 28th, when patrols were withdrawn to Company Headquarters, and remained until 2 p.m. on the 29th, when the Company was ordered to move forward and occupy positions in front line. This, however, was altered, and the Company remained in reserve at Battery Copse.

Patrols were sent out and kept busy obtaining information for Brigades and Division. On the 31st patrols were out all day in the direction of Marriers Wood and operated in front of our Infantry. One patrol captured 11 prisoners.

On the 3rd September the Company was transferred to 74th Division and moved to dugouts in Marriers Wood. There was little doing until the 6th when the Company again moved to a new position south o Bouchavesnes; remained in this Camp doing small patrol work till next day, when we moved again to near Aziecourt. Nothing further eventuated on the front to require the Company's services, as the Infantry had been unable to get forward. On the 12th September orders were received to rejoin Battalion at Combles, so the Company moved out and arrived at the latter place at 3.30 p.m.

During the period the Company was on detachment its work was of high order and the difficulties of roads, long distance, wire and enemy fire of all sorts were overcome and the object of the stunt, whether it was reconnaissance, defence or advance, was, without exception, carried out to the letter.

The officers were all new in their positions. T. Captain E. H. Blomfield, M.C., had only had command a month, and the two subalterns, 2nd Lieuts. F. L. page 86Bowron and J. F. Ewan had only just joined the Battalion. Still they took to the work as in manner born and earned high praise from the Divisional and Brigade Commanders. The N.C.O.'s were mostly newly appointed —many of the men counted their service with the Battalion by days. Nevertheless the aim of all was to give good service and they amply succeeded in their desire, for nothing could be finer than the work done by the other ranks.

T. Capt. H. C. J. Knubley, M.C., O C., No. 3 Company, reports:—

The Company was attached for work under a Division —in this case the 12th—a Welsh Division, and on the evening of the 24th August the O.C. Company reported at Ribemont to Divisional Headquarters and the Company went into bivouac for the night, along with B Squadron 4th A.L.H., with whom the Company worked throughout the operations.

Next morning at 3 a.m. orders were received to follow up the enemy's retirement which had started during the night. Accordingly the Company moved off via Meaulte to the high ground between Monteban and Carnoy near Mametz. The enemy was met with and the Company and L.H. dismounted for action. A lively little fight ensued in which we came off best, killing several and taking prisoners. It was here that Private W. G Cavenett performed a very plucky action. An enemy machine gun in Pommiers Redoubt was annoying us and he and others were told off to silence it. Cavenett alone worked round the rear and, ignoring the heavy machine gun fire, rushed the position single handed bayonetted three of the garrison and took one man prisoner, the remainder of the garrison escaping. It was a very plucky action and earned for this soldier the cheers of his comrades and the award of the D.C.M.

The Company held their position till 5.30 p.m. when the 35th Infantry Brigade went through and took the page 87ridge (Monteban). The Company then withdrew to Ville sur Ancre, where they bivouacked for the night.

Later orders were received transferring the Company from the 35th to the 37th Brigade and ordering a concentration at Carnoy at 6.0 a.m. the following morning. The Infantry were attacking Maricourt and had a stiff fight. The Company, being reserve, were not used, but got a good gassing from the enemy before they withdrew to their bivouac.

On the 29th, a further change took place, the 47th Division taking over from the 12th Division, and the Company attached to 142nd Brigade. The Company was not used, as the enemy was putting up a stiff fight at Priez Farm and Cavalry and Cyclists could not get out.

At 8.0 a.m., the 30th, the Company moved to Le Foret Marepas, and took position on high ground, over-looking where they held on till relieved by Infantry in the evening. The first and only casualty occurred in this sector, Private Thacker being so badly wounded by a shell that he subsequently died. Private Shand, the Battalion nightingale, was wounded at the same time.

On the 31st August the Company was moved forward to Maricourt, and remained in reserve till next night when 2nd Lieut. Nicholson and 20 men were sent to the 24th Londons to act as flank guard, during their advance from Priez Farm, which they had captured with 170 prisoners. The party moved out at 2.0 a.m., 4th September, and "hopped over" with the 24th Londons at 5.30 a.m., carrying out their job all day and remaining entrenched that night and all next day, being relieved at 5.0 p.m. The officer and his party received the thanks of the G.O.C. 142nd Brigade for their good work. It was here that we lost our only prisoner to the enemy, Private J. Fisher being captured whilst on patrol. (He was, however, released after the Armistice.)

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On the 4th September an inter Division change took place, the 58th relieving the 47th, and the Company was transferred. No operations took place, but the Company bivouac was moved forward to Bois de Hem, where very good quarters were secured.

Received orders to report at 5.30 a.m. next day, the 5th, to 141st Brigade at Bouchavesnes, and on doing this were ordered to send a patrol to Bois de Epinette and Aziecourt, to ascertain the position with regard to our troops and the enemy. This was successfully accomplished, the enemy having left. On this information the Infantry moved up and took possession of the village of Liermont. The patrol returned at 6.30 p.m.

On the 6th, no orders being received in regard to operations, the Company moved forward again to Moislains, where quarters were obtained in what was a British C.C.S. prior to March, '18. The Canal du Nord was close by and all ranks indulged in the luxury of a swam—the first for many days.

On the 7th there was nothing doing, except the supply of Cyclist runners between the Brigade and Battalions.

On the 8th, the Division the Company was working under was withdrawn from the line, and the Company was sent back to the Battalion near Mametz to be in Corps reserve.

In common with Nos. 1 and 2 Companies, this Company earned the highest praise for its faithful and complete work. Its officers, like No. 2, were new to their positions. T. Capt. Knubley, M.C., had only been Company Commander since the battle of Marfaux, and 2nd Lieut. E.C.E. Nicholson only joined the day before going into action. Nevertheless, their work was of high order, and they were ably and faithfully assisted by the N.C.O.'s and men of the Company, who, to a man, worked hard amid trying and unpleasant conditions in a manner characteristic of The New Zealand Cyclist Corps.

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After the departure of Nos. 2 and 3 Companies on 24th August, Battalion Headquarters with Transport settled down. The Companies' packs were all stored away and the only personnel left were a few sick, besides the Headquarters Signallers and details. The C.O., Adjutant, and acting Q.M. (2nd Lieut. D. H. Evans) and the Padre were the only officers with Battalion Headquarters.

The C.O. visited one or more of the Companies daily, and as the line' was advancing rapidly the distance of travel increased. On the 7th September, Battalion Headquarters moved forward and occupied some German dugouts near Mametz, and again on the 10th moved still further to Bois Douage near Combles, where German dugouts were again used.

Consequent on the Corps front being held by two Divisions, one Company (No. 3) was withdrawn from the front line on the 8th September, and joined the Battalion at Mametz and held in Corps reserve. A much appreciated consignment of gift parcels from the Lady Liverpool Fund arrived, and were very welcome to the boys in a part of France where such foods and comforts as were contained in these parcels were quite unobtainable. The receipt of these gifts from the women of New Zealand were always most acceptable and the thanks of the soldiers are heartily given to the donors.

Lieut.-Gen. Sir A. J. Godley, K.C.B., K.C.M.G., our Corps Commander, who had been commanding 3rd Corps during the absence of Lieut-Gen. Butler, on relinquishing command of the Corps sent a letter to all Units in the Corps, in which he expressed his appreciation of the work done during the advances E. of Albert from the 11th August till the 12th September, and thanked all troops for their support and assistance. Inter alia he says: "The Mounted Troops and Cyclists of the 3rd and 22nd Corps have rendered conspicuous service in patrolling, reconnaissance and liaison work.

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The advance referred to covered 22 miles on a 4¼ mile front (Corps front) and recaptured 28 towns and villages, 7,300 prisoners, of whom 146 were officers, 43 guns and numerous M.G.'s, T.M.'s and stores.

On the 12th September our Corps Commander having returned to resume Command of our Corps (22 nd) we received orders to return also, and having concentrated the detached Companies, packed up once more, and at 9.0 a.m. on the 13th September, left Combles on route march northwards, our first day's journey being to Couin. As the roads in the old Somme battlefield, Poisieres, etc., were in bad repair, we went the longer way round via Albert, Bouzincourt, Betrancourt, and made our destination in good time despite the heavy head wind.

Continuing next day we found our final destination in Stewart Camp, about 1½ miles west of Arras, on the ST. POL Road. The Camp was composed of N.B. Huts, and there was splendid horse standings which were occupied by the Corps Mounted Regiment, who were also with us in the Camp.

The good work done by Officers, N.C.O.'s and men in the advance on the Somme in August and September, were rewarded by the following decorations being awarded:—
M.C.2nd Lieut.F. L. Bowron
D.C.M.PrivateW. G. Cavenett
Bar to M.M.SergeantH. M. Carr
M.M.CorporalI. W. Weston
M.M.SergeantF. E. Brown
M.M.PrivateF. Barlow
M.M.Lance.-Sergt.R. Ryan
M.M.SergeantH. L. Midgley