The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade
Part 3.—In Corps Reserve
Part 3.—In Corps Reserve.
Rest and training in the Staple Area—Back to Ypres as Labour Brigade—Work and play—Sudden call to battle.
On February 24th, 1918. the Brigade left Dickebusch by rail for the Corps Reserve Area about St. Omer. Brigade Headquarters and the 2nd and 3rd Battalions detrained at Ebblinghem and went into billets in and around Staple, while the remaining units continued the jonrney to St. Omer and then marched to Moulle and Houlle, some four miles to the north-west.
Training' was at once commenced. The men were very stiff after their long tour of nearly four months in the line, and, in addition, a large proportion of the reinforcements received since Passchendaele were raw and inexperienced. It was intended that the period in the area should extend over four weeks, with a break for construction work in the Ypres Salient, The first fortnight was devoted mainly to training page 269of n recreational nature, and competitions in drill and sports formed a very important and highly-beneficial part of the work. The two battalions at Moulle had a five days' course in musketry and open-warfare practice on the rifle range there, and then changed over with those at Staple, the units route-marching the fifteen miles between the two areas. Though there was some rain and snow the weather generally was good; and as a result of the rest and training a marked daily improvement was noted in the state of physical and general fitness of all ranks. The scheme of sports and competitions was based on the principle of team-work, the contests being first between sections, and so progressing, until finally, when the two units returned from Moulle, battalions competed against one another. The work in all stages was closely inspected by the Divisional Commander. Larger schemes of training were to be taken up when we should have returned from the forward area, but, as we shall presently see, our next field-work in the open was to be the real thing, and not mere practice against an imaginary enemy.
On March 9th, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions, and, on the following day, the remainder of the Brigade, returned by rail to Ypres and relieved the 1st Brigade in Corps employ.* Each battalion supplied 500 men daily for work on the Corps defence line behind the Salient. The camps first occupied were somewhat scattered. West Farm being a mile and a half east of Ypres, Forrester the same distance south-west, while Halifax and Vancouver were midway between Ouderdom and Vlamertinghe, some four miles west of the city; but later a move was made to newly-constructed camps close to the south and south-east of Ypres.
The work was hard and involved long marches, but the men were now in fine form. Time was found for general recreational training. The final football match for the Brigade Championship was played off on March 19th, the 4th Battalion beating the 2nd by eight points to nil. Other final competitions were held on the 21st, the 2nd Battalion proving victorious in page 270wiring, hand-grenade and bayonet fighting; the 1st Battalion in physical drill; the 3rd battalion in boxing; and the 4th in rifle-grenade shooting. Again, on the 22nd the 4th Battalion played a football match with the 2nd Brigade New Zealand Field Artillery, the latter winning after a finely-contested game. The Brigade School re-opened at Dominion Camp, under Capt. H. E. Barrowclough, twenty-five non-commissioned officers from each battalion attending for general training and special instruction in musketry.
On March 20th and 21st the enemy very actively shelled, gassed and bombed the area, the camps of our 2nd, 3rd and 4th Battalions being badly knocked about. Then came, on the latter date, news of the enemy push in front of Amiens, followed by orders for the Brigade to cease work in the Corps Area and to concentrate. Battalions accordingly moved back in the evening to the old camps and made the necessary preparations for taking the field at short notice.
* At the end of 1917 all the Australian Divisions were grouped in one formation, which was known thereafter as the Australian Corps. The IInd Anzac, now composed of the 49th, the 66th, and the New Zealand Divisions, changed its name on 1st January, 1918, to XXIInd Corps.