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

Chapter XIX. — Arras—Mons

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Chapter XIX.

By 14th September, 1918, the Unit was comfortably settled down, the Camp being well suited for our requirements.

The Corps front extended from Gavrelle, N.E. of Arras, to a point near L'ecluse on Arras-Cambrai Road, and the nature of our duties requiring a knowledge of the front, parties of officers and the N.C.O.'s were attached to Lovatt's Scouts (who man the Army O.P.'s) in order that they might become acquainted with the position of the roads, trenches, etc. A number of men under 2nd Lieut. Bowron were also sent to guard Railway tunnels and bridges on Aubigny Arras railway. Another detachment of Lieut. Highet and 27 men was sent to 11th Division for reconnaissance and liaison work.

On the 16th September Captain H. D. McHugh, who was commanding the Battalion in the absence of the CO., Major Evans, D.S.O., in England on duty, was sent to hospital suffering from gas burns received on the Somme, Captain G. L. Comer taking over command of the Battalion.

It being found that the name this Unit was known by, viz., XXII. Corps Cyclist Battalion was confusing, it was decided by Headquarters that in future, the Battalion, being a purely N.Z. Unit, should be known as:—

"New Zealand Cyclist Battalion."

On the 6th October the Battalion was inspected by G.O.C. 22nd Corps (Lieut.-Gen. Sir A. J. Godley, K.C.B., K.C.M.G.) who expressed himself pleased with the turnout and smartness displayed.

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The victorious advances being made on our immediate front foretold a move forward, and on the 10th October a warning order came that the Battalion was to be ready to move on short notice. Next day at noon the order came, and at 1.0 p.m. the Battalion moved out with its destination Bourlon. This village was reached at 6.0 p.m. after a trying march, owing to the traffic on the roads and bad going, it being necessary to push the cycles the greater part of the way.

On arrival billets were found in this town, which was very much damaged by shell fire, and next morning two Platoons of No. 1 Company were sent out to Divisions in the line to act as Scouts, etc., Lieut. D. G. Cody going with his platoon to 49th Division and 2nd Lieut. W. E. Randall, D.C.M., to 51st (Highland) Division.

That afternoon the remainder of the Battalion was ordered forward to Ramillies, north of Cambrai, and after a particularly trying march, the cycles having to be pushed all the way, arrived at 9.15 p.m., and after some difficulty found billets; this village, having been the scene of heavy fighting two days earlier, was in ruins.

Next morning at 10.0 a.m. orders were received to send out all available fighting men to increase platoons with 49th and 51st Divisions to Company strength. This was done and Battalion Headquarters and transport was left at Ramillies.

Major Evans returned from duty in United Kingdom on the 14th instant, resumed command of the Battalion.

On the 16th October all personnel of No. 1 Company were withdrawn from Divisions, leaving No. 2 Company (T. Capt. Blomfield, M.C.) with 49th Division and No. 3 Company (Capt. Comer) with 51st Division.

These Companies continued with above and other Divisions until the Armistice was signed on the 11th November, 1918, and their doings are recorded separately.

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Dispositions of the XXII. Corps, 11/11/18.

Dispositions of the XXII. Corps, 11/11/18.

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Narrative of No. 1 Company, 12/10/18.-11/11/18.

At Bourlon on 12/10/'18, at 6 a.m., orders were received for two platoons to move out for attachment to Divisions operating in advance on the Corps fronts. Accordingly Lieut. D. G. Cody, with his platoon, went to 49th Division, and 2nd Lieut. W. E. Randall, with his platoon, to 51st Division. Both Divisions were at Escaudoevres near Cambrai. The roads were particularly bad, and very congested with the traffic necessary to an advancing army, and riding was impossible, the cycles having to be pushed all the way—a heavy task with a full pack up.

On arrival at Divisional Headquarters it was found that Divisions were moving to Naves, and the two platoons moved to that village and billetted.

Next day Lieut. Cody's platoon was engaged as runners between Division (51st) Headquarters and the forward Brigades.

Lieut. Randall's platoon (with 49th Division) was similarly engaged, also finding patrols along Naves-Villers Road. Whilst so engaged Lieut. Randall was slightly wounded and returned to Battalion Headquarters at Ramillies, Sergt. F. E. Brown, M.M., taking charge of the platoon.

This platoon received "special mention" from the Brigadier 147th Infantry Brigade for its excellent work. This sort of work went on until the 17th October, when the two platoons were ordered back to rejoin their Company at Battalion Headquarters, where the Company remained in reserve until the 28th October, when it was sent to Thiant to relieve No. 3 Company, then attached to 51st Division (152nd Infantry Brigade).

On the 29th, the 49th Division took, over the 51st Division front and the Company was transferred to former Division.

On the 30th and 31st the Company supplied runners for Brigades, and the Officers and N.C.O.'s page 94made reconnaissances of the country forward in view of the continuation of the advance on the 1st November. The village of Thiant was well shelled by the enemy, but no casualties to our men resulted.

Early on the morning of the 1st November the attack commenced with certain objectives, and our orders were that on those objectives being gained we were to push out strong patrols (in conjunction with the Corps Cavalry) and exploit the successes gained.

2nd Lieut. Greville with No. 1 Platoon was attached to the 146th Infantry Brigade and moved forward at 5.45 a.m. from Thiant to Famars, where cycles were left, as roads were bad and shelling was heavy. This platoon was heavily engaged by Machine Gun fire near Aulnoy, but did good work in obtaining information finally returning to Company Headquarters at 9.30 p.m.

No. 2 Platoon, under 2nd Lieut. C. C. Southey, M.M., worked forward on the left of 147th Brigade and near Saultain, engaged three enemy field gun teams engaged in removing some light guns. The Lewis gun, worked by Lance Corporal Wharton and Private M McMeeking, shot the teams and forced the gunners; to take shelter and kept them there until the platoon had to withdraw, owing to our Infantry having withdrawn. When withdrawing Lieut. Southey saw an enemy counter attack coming, so he again got his gun into action, the N.C.O. and man (Wharton and McMeeking) working the gun to such effect that the counter attack was stopped; the party maintained their positions until dark and then withdrew to Brigade Headquarters, where the Brigadier met them and made very complimentary reference to the excellent work done by them.

2nd Lieut. Southey was afterwards awarded the M.C, and the two gunners (Lance Corporal Wharton and Private D. McMeeking) the M.M., for their gallantry and devotion to duty, on the Brigadier's recommendation.

On the 2nd November the Company was attached to 148th Infantry Brigade, but was not used.

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On the 3rd the Company was ordered to report to Monchaux to XXII. Corps Mounted Troops, and finally, after much difficulty, owing to bad roads, made Famars. Next morning moved on to Saultain and billetted there, and beyond finding a few runners was not used.

On the 6th moved to Sebourquiaux and billetted. On the 8th moved out in direction of Autreppe on reconnaissance and patrol work, and the men had a very difficult and unpleasant time owing to heavy rain and bad roads. However their work was most successful, and all patrols accomplished their missions. When preparing to move from Sebourquiaux, the enemy shelled the village, and a shell bursting near by wounded Sergt. Midgley so badly that he subsequently died.

On the 10th instant Captain H. D. McHugh, M.C., rejoined the Company, having been away in hospital for a brief period suffering from gas burns.

The Company was on that day ordered to Fayt le Franc to report to 56th Division, by whom it was employed in controlling and directing traffic, and on various duties. Subsequently it was moved on to Athis where it remained until hostilities ceased.

On the 12th instant orders were received by the Company to rejoin the Battalion, but owing to location being incorrectly given, it marched to Harvengt, where the Corps Mounted Troops had their Headquarters, and from there was directed to Aulnois, the location of the Battalion.

Narrative of No. 2 Company, 12/10/18-11/11/18

On the 12th October, the Company, with the rest of the Battalion, arrived at Ramillies late at night from Bourlon. On the morning of the 13th, under command of T. Capt. E. H. Blomfield (who had with him Lieuts. Highet and Knubley, M.C.) the Company page 96marched out to Iwuy and reported to 51st Division. Billets were found, and next morning the Officer Commanding was instructed to report to 152nd Infantry Brigade, who ordered a change of location to Naves.

On the 16th Captain A. H. Richards, who was wounded at Marfaux in July, rejoined, and took over command of the Company. There being no offensive operations, the Company was employed with the D.A.C., 51st Division, loading ammunition, and between whiles indulged in football, though the village was under shellfire.

Meantime the 49th Division had taken over the 51st Division and the Company was transferred. On the 19th, the 4th Division relieved the 49th and again the Company transferred, and it was under orders of the 4th Division that 2nd Lieut. Bowron's Platoon went to the 10th Brigade, and 2nd Lieut. J. F. Ewen's platoon to 11th Brigade, who were at Villers En Cauchies on the 19th instant.

These two platoons were employed by the respective Brigades on patrol and reconnaissance duties in front of the advancing infantry, and were constantly on the move forward.

On the 21st 2nd Lieut. Ewen's platoon moved to Haspres, and from there made a reconnaissance of Monchaux village. In carrying out their mission 2nd Lieut. Ewen was wounded. Nevertheless the party carried on and obtained the required information, Lance Corporal Hasting and Private Prenderville giving very good service in bringing their wounded officer back over difficult ground.

On the 22nd 2nd Lieut. L. H. Browne and his platoon relieved 2nd Lieut. Ewen's men, who had had a very strenuous time. 2nd Lieut. Bowron's men had meantime been operating forward on Saulzoir with success.

On the, 23rd the Company moved its Headquarters (with the Division) to Asvenes-Le-Sec Captain page 97Richards left the Company at this place, he having been granted a "course" in England in Staff duties, and Lieut. E. H. Blomfield again took over the Company.

On the 25th, 2nd Lieut. Browne moved up to Saulzoir and from there made a very successful reconnaissance of the village of Artres and the surrounding country, ascertaining enemy dispositions and enabling our artillery to deal effectively with them. Nos. 5 and 6 Platoons (2nd Lieuts. Bowron and Ewen) moved to La Travise, and the Company Headquarters remained at Asvenes-Le-Sec.

No further operations were undertaken until the 1st November, when the Company moved to Haspres, Nos. 4 and 5 Platoons being sent on ahead to reconnoitre ground near Preaseau and towards Curgies, but owing to strong enemy opposition this patrol did not accomplish its mission. Next day the advance continued, and the Company Headquarters moved forward, the Platoons with Brigade continuing their work and in succession reconnoitring and occupying Artres and Curgies with the Infantry. The going for cyclists over all this country proved very difficult owing to bad roads and the frequently met mine craters at road junctions.

On the 7th the Company moved to Roisin and was engaged in operations with a Lincoln Regiment towards Autreppe which were quite successful. Lieut. Bowron was wounded in this advance.

The Company, its mission finished, withdrew to Roisin, and next day moved again to Autreppe, and on the 9th to Aulnois. Patrols were sent on ahead to ascertain the position, and this village was found unoccupied. The patrols received a great reception from civilians as each village was reached, particularly at Blaregnies.

On the 10th the Company moved on to Quevy Le Grand, at which village the 33rd Infantry Brigade (Brig.-Gen. Spring) had its Headquarters.

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On the 11th November instructions were received from G.O.C. 189th Brigade that Armistice would start at 11.0 a.m., and that the Company was to proceed to Givry and form a right flank for 189th Brigade. This was done, and at 11.0 a.m., when the Great War finished, this Company was in battle position in the front line. Outposts were established and maintained on the night of 11th-12th November. On the morning of the 12th, orders were received to rejoin Battalion at Aulnois.

Narrative of No. 3 Company, 13/10/18-11/11/18

On the 13th October the Company under command of Captain G. L. Comer, moved from Ramillies to Iwuy, and reported to G.O.C. 51st Division. Not being required, billets were secured for the night. Next day moved to Naves. Lieut. Knubley, M.C., took over command from Captain Comer, who returned to Battalion Headquarters sick.

The Company was not used except as working parties until the 18th, when patrols were sent forward to Asvenes Le Sac.

On the 19th moved to Iwuy again, and at 5.0 p.m. a platoon was sent forward along the Valenciennes Road as scouts for the Brigade (153rd) which was advancing.

On the 20th moved to Pave de Valenciennes, one platoon being sent to each of Infantry Battalions in the line as Scouts. Their work merited a message of appreciation from the Brigadier, who was very pleased with the resource and dash displayed by the Scouts.

On the 21st the Company moved to Douchy, and at 8.30 a.m. three patrols were sent out in the direction of Valenciennes to locate enemy. The patrols were respectively under Lieut. Highet and Corporals I. W. Weston, M.M., and C. Gerrard, and all did good work, resulting in the Brigadier expressing himself very pleased with the reports.

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The Battalion Flag.

The Battalion Flag.

Official Entry into Mons,15/11/18. N.Z. Cyclists in the van.

Official Entry into Mons,15/11/18. N.Z. Cyclists in the van.

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On the 22nd one platoon (Lieut. H. A. Highet) was sent to Novelles and the remainder of the Company moved to Asvenes Le Sec where a brief rest was obtained.

On the 24th the Company moved to Novelles (to 153rd Infantry Brigade) and afterwards to Douchy again. 2nd Lieut. C. C. Southey, M.M., reported with a platoon to 6th Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders at Thiant for patrol duty but not being required returned to the Company.

On the 28th No. 1 Company, which was in reserve at Ramillies, moved in relief of No. 3 Company, which returned to Ramillies for a rest.

The Company remained with Battalion Headquarters, moving on the 3rd November to Haspres and from there on to Artres for attachment to 33rd Infantry Brigade. On the 4th November, moved on again to Curgies via Preseau. Next day on again to Le Triez, where billets were secured with difficulty. The roads en route were simply awful, and progress was slow and difficult owing largely to the continual stream of traffic.

On the morning of the 6th November the Infantry continued their advance and our men were used in small patrols ahead of the Infantry, after objectives were gained, to ascertain enemy positions. The Bois de Dandois was reconnoitred (E. of Autreppe and our own dispositions, as well as those of the enemy, marked and reported to Brigadier, who sent for the Company Commander and thanked him for the clear and useful reports.

On the 7th moved to Roisin, and next day to vicinity of Bois d'Angre where patrols were sent out to locate enemy who was found at Eugnies and engaged, the Infantry (9th South Staffs) then advanced and relieved our patrols.

On the 9th the Company moved to Aulnois, and being the first troops in this village received a great reception from the inhabitants.

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On the 10th moved on to Quevy Le Grand and patrols were sent out in direction of Ihy and S. of Harvengt to ascertain positions of enemy and gain possession of high ground in that vicinity. This was accomplished with very little opposition, and on Infantry arriving our patrols returned to Quevy Le Grand.

Next morning, the 11th, news was received at 10.0 a.m. hat hostilities were to cease at 11.0 a.m. and that the Company was transferred from 11th Division to 63rd (R.N.) Division.

The G.O.C. 33rd Brigade (11th Division) sent to the Company Commander (T. Capt. H. C. Knubley, M.C.) a letter of appreciation of the consistent good services given by all ranks.

Next day the Company rejoined the Battalion at Aulnois.

Battalion Headquarters remained at Ramillies and carried on its administrative duties to Companies from there until the 3rd November, when orders to move forward were received The destination was Haspres which was reached by noon. No. 2 Company was in that village and they with No. 3 were sent on to Artres that afternoon.

The Battalion Headquarters only stayed the night in Haspres and next morning marched out with Querenaing for destination. Arrived at 11.0 a.m. and there received orders from 11th Division (to whom we were attached) to go on to Preseau which village was reached at 4.0 p.m. and billets secured with difficulty as the village was very badly damaged and there was hardly a sound house left. However, with our customary luck, we managed to get fairly good quarters.

The roads from Haspres were in bad order—the enemy did not keep his roads in nearly as good order as we did—and the traffic was tremendous—lorries, wagons, guns, cars, etc., and made a continuous stream for the whole of the way from Haspres.

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The inhabitants of Valenciennes, wishing to mark the occasion of the release of the town from German domination, invited the Army Commander to receive an address in company with representatives of all troops concerned in the capture. Accordingly, on the 8th November, representatives of the Army assembled at the Grand Place and an address was presented to Sir H. Home. H.R.H. the Prince of Wales was present. This unit was represented by one officer and twelve other ranks.

At Preseau Battalion Headquarters remained for several days and on the 9th November moved on to Roisin, where it only stayed for the night, trekking further forward to Aulnois next day, where good quarters were secured, and it was in this village that we were when the news of the Armistice being signed reached us.

The day following all the three Companies which had been out with Divisions rejoined, and were accommodated in a large unfinished factory.

At 11.0 o'clock on the 11th November, 1918, when hostilities were suspended, the Battalion was distributed as follows:—

Battalion Headquarters at Aulnois attached 11th Division.

  • No. 1 Company (Captain H. D. McHugh. M.C.) at Athis attached 56th Division.
  • No. 2 Company (T. Capt. Blomfield, M.C.) at Girvy attached 63rd (R.N.) Division.
  • No. 3 Company (T. Capt. Knubley, M.C.) at Quevy Le Grand attached 11th Division.

The Corps occupied a front extending from half-a-mile W. of Estinne au Mont northwards to a point about a mile north of Villers-Saint-Chiclain, and this line formed the outpost line at the Armistice hour.

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The news of the signing of the Armistice and cessation of hostilities was received with great joy by all ranks. The thought that our object after fighting for over four years, had been gained, and our enemy, the enemy of all civilization, had been forced to his knees, gave a sense of great relief to us all, and the joy of every soldier and the inhabitants of the village was manifested by cheering, flag waving, music, etc. Aulnois Village hailed our men as its saviours because our No. 3 Company was the first of the British troops to enter in pursuit of the flying enemy a few days earlier, and our boys got a great reception.

The operations of the various Companies of the Battalion throughout the advances from Cambrai to Mons during the period 10th October to 11th November were carried out under unfavourable conditions of weather and roads, long hours and marches, indifferent billets, often short rations, but the unfailing energy and resource of all ranks, characteristic of our army, prevailed, and never once was a job, however difficult and trying, left undone or half done. Each successive Divisional or Brigade General we were under (and we served 5 Divisions during the advance) expressed himself very pleased with the troops. To the N.C.O.'s and men concerned in the supply of rations a special mention is due—their work entailed long journeys at all hours over bad roads, frequently shelled, and their devotion to their duty earned for them the hearty thanks of all ranks.

As a reward for the work done the following decora tions were awarded:—

Military Cross:
Lieut. H. A. Highet
Lieut. G. D. Cody
2nd Lieut. C. C. Southey, M.M.
2nd Lieut. L. H. Browne
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Bar to Military Medal.
Sergt. F. A. Sutherland, M.M.
Corpl. S. C. Forrester, M.M.
Private H. Gallagher, M.M.
Military Medal.
Lance Corpl. J. Wharton
Private D. T. McMeeking
Sergeant L. F Lees
Sergeant W. G. Brown, D.C.M.
Sergeant C. E. H. Dass
Corporal C. D. Matthews
Sergeant C. E. Hounsell
Corporal G. McGregor