The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade
Part 5.—Stationary Trench Warfare
Part 5.—Stationary Trench Warfare.
In the "Purple Line" as Divisional reserve—Back to the Line, new sector—Patrols—Snow—To reserve—The "Red Dinks"—Rear defence systems—Sound-ranging apparatus—Fighting strength—To the old sector of the front line—Enemy raids—Relief—Band returns from Amiens—Training—To the Hebuterne Sector—Patrols and raids—Casualties from hostile shelling—Americans—A midsummer month in reserve about St. Leger—General and recreational training—Horse Shows—Concerts—Details' Camp at Marieux Wood—Into the front line east of Hebuterne —Patrols—2nd Battalion's silent advance.
On being relieved in the line by the 1st Brigade, the New Zealand Rifle Brigade became Divisional reserve, with Headquarters at Bus-les-Artois. The 1st and 2nd Battalions garrisoned the Purple Line, behind Colincamps, and the 3rd and 4th went into a bivouac camp north-west of Courcelles-au-Bois. The two forward units supplied 300 men each daily for work on the reserve lines under the Engineers. Divisional Baths were already in operation, and every man had a much-needed bath and a change of underclothing.
The Brigade went into the line again on the night of 13th/14th April, during very heavy rain. The 1st Battalion relieved 2nd Otago in the right sub-sector of the front line, and the 2nd Battalion took over the left sub-sector from 2nd Canterbury. The 3rd Battalion went into support, and the 4th to reserve, relieving 1st Canterbury and 1st Otago, respectively.page 311
This was a new sector, the front line of which lay about 1,500 yards beyond the outpost positions taken up in front of Englebelmer and Auchonvillers by the 1st Battalion on the morning of the memorable 26th of March. It overlooked Hamel on the right, and faced the famous St. Pierre Divion; to our right front, beyond Hamel, were Thiepval Ridge and Wood, while "Y-Ravine" projected towards the centre of the position. The trenches occupied were mainly those of the old British front line as it existed before the 1916 offensive. A Brigade of the Naval Division was in line on our right, and the 1st Brigade, occupying the sector we had last held, was on our left. Brigade Headquarters were in the Chateau on the southern outskirts of Mailly Maillet. Naturally enough the trenches were in bad order, but the subsoil being of chalk, they rapidly improved in condition as our work developed, especially so on the right, where drainage could be carried out with some degree of ease.
The period on the whole was quiet. At the outset unusual movement amongst the troops on the opposite ridges gave rise to suspicion, but no action followed. In addition to the usual constant night patrolling m No Man's Land, there were several daylight reconnaissances by officers' patrols operating down the old saps. By this means accurate information regarding the position and strength of the enemy's posts was obtained, either from close observation or by drawing the fire of the garrisons. These expeditions were not without their exciting incidents. Sergeant R. Fogarty was a member of a patrol consisting of one officer and two other ranks that had discovered a somewhat advanced enemy post. In order to estimate its strength they took up a position in a shell-hole and threw a bomb into the post. The enemy replied with rifle-fire, followed by a shower of stick-bombs. One of the latter fell fairly into the shell-hole, and as Fogarty stood up to throw it back it exploded, wounding him slightly in the hands and face. The patrol then moved to a trench to engage the post with rifle-grenades. After firing the first round they found they had inadvertently left the remainder of their supply in the shell-hole. These were retrieved by Fogarty, and after some very satisfactory shooting the patrol returned, well pleased with their morning's work. Next day Fogarty went page 312out on patrol again, and this time had the misfortune to be blown up by a shell-explosion; but, though badly shaken, he remained out till the patrol had accomplished its mission.
The 3rd and 4th Battalions interchanged with the 1st and 2nd on April 18th, the relief being completed by midnight. The 2nd Battalion went to support and the 1st to reserve. The cold, wet weather continued throughout the 18th and 19th, snow falling heavily during the forenoon of the latter date. A spell of fine weather commenced on the 20th, and on the following day the enemy heavily shelled the sector, particularly the reserve positions in the vicinity of Englebelmer Wood.
During the nights 23rd/24th and 24th/25th April the Brigade was relieved by the 35th and 36th Brigades, and Headquarters removed to Bus-les-Artois on the 25th. The 1st Battalion, relieved by the 7th Royal Fusiliers, went to the bivouac camp north-east of Acheux on the 23rd, and on the following day cleared up this camp and moved to Coigneux, where they bivouacked in the grounds of Rossignol Farm. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions, on handing over to the 7th Royal Sussex and the 5th Royal Berks, moved back, the former to the Purple Line at Beaussart, and the latter to Bertrancourt. The 4th was relieved by a battalion of the 35th Brigade, and went to the Purple Line near Sailly-au-Bois. These various moves were entailed by a redistribution of the forces on this part of the battle front. The Vth Corps to the south of us extended its left, the Australians were withdrawn from the Hebuterne Sector, and the New Zealand Division side-stepped to the north, holding now a sector extending from One Tree Hill to the east of Hebuterne. The other Divisions of the IVth Corps, the 42nd and the 37th, were on our left in that order.
The Brigade supplied the usual large parties daily for work under the Engineers on support and reserve lines. The Brigade School reopened at Louveneonrt on April 30th, twenty-five men from each unit, and also all officers in excess of twenty-five per unit, being drafted to it for special training, and remaining there while the Brigade was in the line.
Encamped at Coigneux and Couin we found battalions of the 170th Brigade that had relieved us in the Cordonnerie Sector in February, 1917, and we were glad to renew acquaintanceship with the "Red Dinks," as our fellows nicknamed the page 313men of those units, from the red diamonds, squares and triangles worn by them on the sleeve as distinguishing marks.
* The admiration of out men for the Maoris of the Pioneer Battalion was unbounded, and they will heartily applaud the words of commendation in the following letter from the Divisional Commander to the Minister of Defence on the departure of the unit for New Zealand in March, 1919:— "I have just heard that the Maori Pioneer Battalion is on the eve of embarking on its return to New Zealand. Having had the honour and good fortune to have the Maoris under my command, both as the Maori Contingent on Gallipoli and later in France as the Pioneer Battalion of the New Zealand Division, I should like to express my appreciation, which I know is shared by all ranks of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, of the fine qualities shown by the Maoris during the war. On Gallipoli, where they took a full share in the initial operations on the 6th August, 1915, in the Battle of Chunuk Bair, and later in the fighting on Hill 60, the Maoris proved themselves true representatives of those fighting tribes from which they are descended. In France their work as Pioneers may not have been so dramatic, and therefore perhaps not so easily recognized by the public. But those of us who have benefited by the labours of the Pioneer Battalion—not only on the Somme in 1916, at Messines, at Ypres, and on the battlefields of 1918, but also during the monotonous months of trench warfare—will readily acknowledge what we owe to this Battalion. I am not going too far when I say that their work on communication-trenches and in the preparation of defence lines has saved the Division many lives; and this work was carried out under conditions as arduous and as dangerous as those attending any other duty which soldiers are called upon to perform, while their opportunities for rest and relief were fewer than is the ease with Infantry in the line……Right through their period of active service the Maoris have shown themselves to be brave and well-disciplined, and to possess in a very marked degree that cheerful and willing spirit which goes so far towards the making of a good soldier. I am confident that I speak for the whole Division when I say we are proud of the Maoris as our countrymen and as brothers-in-arms."
At Coigneux our officers had an opportunity of inspecting in operation the sound-ranging apparatus of the Heavy Artillery. The main station was in electrical communication with observation-posts in the forward area, and the records coming through from these were so analysed and combined by the ingenious apparatus that the precise locality of any hostile battery in action at the moment was ascertained with absolute certainty. By this means counter-battery work was carried out by our Heavy Artillery with that accuracy so dreaded by the German gunners.
Our total casualties for the month of April were:—
The fighting-strength of units at the end of the month was:—
"Fighting-strength" is not to be confounded with "trench-strength." The former denotes the total number available for fighting in an emergency, and includes all men at schools, details at the transport lines and with the quartermasters, and so forth. "Trench-strength" represents the number of men actually taken into the line in ordinary circumstances.page 315
The Brigade went into the trenches of the old La Signy Sector, east of Colincamps, on the night of 30th April, with headquarters in the dug-out by the sunken road south of Saillyau-Bois. The 2nd Battalion relieved 1st Canterbury in the right sub-sector of the front line, and the 1st relieved 1st Otago in the left sub-sector. The 3rd Battalion went to support in relief of 2nd Canterbury, and the 4th took over the reserve positions from 2nd Otago.
The position of both battalion fronts was generally satisfactory except in the vicinity of La Signy Farm. Here the enemy occupied a small salient, and steps were taken to reduce his area of occupation by pushing forward our own posts and trenches; but before this improvement had proceeded far, the Germans attempted to raid a post which the 1st Battalion had brought close up to the hedge on the northern side of the Farm. At 3.30 a.m. on May 2nd, after a hurricane bombardment by artillery and trench mortars, about sixty of the enemy attacked this position in four parties. The situation was capitally handled by that Lance-Corporal McMurray who, a month before, had so distinguished himself in single-handed patrol work in the same locality, but who was now a sergeant with a D.C.M., and in charge of the platoon forming the garrison. Possibly he felt more than ordinary interest in the position, seeing that he had been mainly instrumental in its establishment; at any rate he dealt with the attack without calling for artillery support, and succeeded in driving off the raiders after inflicting heavy casualties. The only German, an officer, who entered our trench, was promptly killed. Our listening-post here was driven in, but was immediately re-established. In the repulse of the raiders particularly gallant work was done by Lance-Corporal M. Willets, who was in command of one of the sections. Though severely wounded during the bombardment, he continued the active direction and control of his men, carrying out to the letter the instruction to hold on at all costs. Three days later the enemy made a similar attempt on a neighbouring post, but this also was a complete failure.
The 4th and 3rd Battalions changed over with the 2nd and 1st, respectively, on the night of 6th/7th May, during heavy rain. The weather cleared on the following morning and continued fine for the remainder of the tour, and, as a result, a page 316considerable advance was made in the improvement and strengthening of the front and support lines, a work in which parties from the support and reserve battalions assisted.
On the early morning of the 7th a strong party of the enemy succeeded in overwhelming an advanced Lewis gun post on our extreme right. While one section of the raiders attacked the position from the front, another entered the communication-sap in rear unobserved. We immediately retook the post, but the enemy carried off five prisoners.
Throughout this tour of duty we on our part frequently subjected the German trenches to like attentions; and although our minor sorties failed to yield a similar haul of prisoners yet important identifications and other valuable information were almost invariably obtained. In these small raids the support of the trench mortar sections attached to battalions was a special feature, the entry into the enemy's line being effected after a short concentrated bombardment of the point selected for investigation.
The period otherwise was uneventful. On May 12th we were relieved by the 1st Brigade, and moved into Divisional reserve. The 1st and 2nd Battalions went into the Purple Line east and south of Sailly-au-Bois, the 3rd Battalion to Rossignol Farm, and the 4th to the bivouac camp north-west of Courcelles-au-Bois. Brigade Headquarters were at Bus-les-Artois.
The 1st Battalion Band now rejoined the Brigade, after an absence of three weeks on duty as baggage-guard. It will be remembered that on arrival at Amiens or in its vicinity on March 25th, all units discarded overcoats and other gear surplus to the fighting-kit. The extra clothing and material belonging to the three battalions that had succeeded in reaching Amiens was handed over to the care of the band, and was, appropriately enough, stored in a twine and cordage factory containing a stock of New Zealand hemp.
The bandsmen were able to render considerable service to the Maire and the Town Major, and the first few days of their stay in the city were not without their stirring events. Piteous streams of refugees passed through from the forward area, and spies were arrested on every hand. On March 26th German aeroplanes heavily bombed the place, inflicting severe page 317casualties. On the following day the Maire ordered the civilian population of 90,000 to evacuate the city, and in the subsequent entraining operations our men worked unceasingly in the assistance of the unfortunate people. These brought with them the usual strange collection of household gods, front which they could not he parted. There was little time for ceremony. One poor family arrived at the station with its belongings heaped upon a donkey-cart, and in a twinkling the burly Riflemen lifted the whole outfit, donkey and all, and placed it in the truck amongst, its owners and their friends. March 28th saw the city completely emptied of all but soldiers and those few civilians who, as was so often the case, preferred to remain by their own hearths till the bitter end. A brighter side of the picture was the passing through of English, French and Australian troops bound for the firing-line.
Motor lorries arrived from Division on the 27th, and in these the great-coats were sent up to battalions. Some days later the remainder of the equipment was taken forward by train to Beauval, in the vicinity of Doullens, and some fourteen miles west of Colincamps. Here the remainder of the kits of the Division had been stored, awaiting the turn of events. In the meantime the men were exceedingly glad to have their coats again, for the weather then was still cold. Certainly the New Zealanders had been fortunate enough to happen upon a store of waterproof coats in Colincamps apparently part of the equipment of some vanished Labour unit; but unluckily the supply was limited, and not a large proportion of the find came the way of the men of the Rifle Brigade.
On May 14th the Divisional Commander held with the Brigadier and battalion commanders a conference regarding the scheme for a counter-attack in case of a possible enemy advance, and traversed the programme of tactical exercises to be carried out by battalions while the Brigade was in Divisional reserve.
Attack in open warfare was practised by the 4th Battalion on the 15th, and by the 3rd Battalion on the 16th. The Corps Commander (General Harper) watched these exercises, and at the conclusion of each reviewed the work done. The weather was hot and bright, and the ground over which the page 318battalions manœuvred, being in the vicinity of the Heavy Battery positions, was subjected to much disconcerting attention from the enemy's long-range guns.
We moved into the line again on May 18th, this time relieving the 2nd Brigade in the northern sector of the Divisional front. The 4th Battalion went into the right sub-sector south of Hebuterne, while the 3rd held the village and the trenches to the east. The 2nd Battalion was in support and the 1st in reserve, with Brigade Headquarters in Sailly-au-Bois.
This being for us a new locality, both battalions in the line at once embarked upon an active policy of patrolling with a view to gaining first-hand knowledge of No Man's Land and of the enemy's position.
On the first night after coming into the line, a 3rd Battalion patrol of two non-commissioned officers, working down the sunken road leading eastward towards Puisieux, located a number of enemy posts, and at two o'clock next morning 2nd Lieut. M. Macdonald, with a party of ten men, moved out to raid the nearest of these and secure prisoners for purposes of identification. After assembling in No Man's Land they discovered some twenty Germans extended across their front. The latter threw bombs at our men, scattered, and returned to their line, from which heavy machine-gun fire was directed upon the assembly point. Not to be denied, 2nd Lieut. Macdonald brought his party back, increased the strength to thirty, and set out again to renew the attempt. The position was successfully rushed, seven Germans were killed, and three prisoners and the two machine-guns brought in. The remainder of the garrison of thirty succeeded in making good their escape. The fine work of Sergeant B. J. Pemberthy contributed greatly to the success of this undertaking. In the German trench he attacked one of the gun-crews single-handed, and, though wounded, covered the withdrawal of the party when their object had been attained.
On May 21st Sergeant W. Methven, also of the 3rd Battalion, went out in daylight with one companion and succeeded in rushing an enemy sentry-post and capturing two prisoners. Again, at 3 p.m. on the 24th, this sergeant, with two men, worked through the wire and entered a post occupied by three Germans, two of whom were shot and the third taken prisoner.page 319
The alarm had been given, however, and from a trench behind the crest some thirty of the enemy moved up towards the post. The prisoner now gave trouble and had to be shot. Methven ordered his two companions back, held up the pursuers with bombs and revolver-fire, and finally succeeded in making his way back to our lines. The Stokes mortars, which had been trained upon the post, opened fire as soon as the patrol was clear, and one bomb was observed to land fairly in the midst of a group of twelve Germans. The discomfiture of the enemy was completed by the fire of their own light field guns and trench mortars, which was now directed upon the point raided.
On the last morning in the line still another prisoner was taken by the 3rd Battalion, but not from the enemy's trench; for twelve Germans came out from Fusilier Trench to meet our raiding party of one sergeant and nine men. There was a sharp fight here and also on the flank, where the covering party came in contact with a listening-post. In addition to the capture of the prisoner, some eight of the enemy were accounted for, our raiders on the other hand coming through unscathed.
The 4th Battalion patrols and raiding parties were similarly active. Their most successful minor operation was that conducted on the night of 21st/22nd May by 2nd Lieut. A. O. Williams and twenty men, who attacked under cover of a trench mortar bombardment. While flanking patrols with Lewis guns worked down the Jean Bart and Nairn Street saps, the main party got into position in Home Avenue, and on the cessation of the trench mortar fire, which was expected to rake the enemy forward from the suspected post in the sunken road, rushed the position. Here they found the strong-point battered to pieces, and two Germans buried up to the neck in the debris. Fifteen others were kept back by rifle fire while the two were dug out, and our men then worked back to the line. Besides the casualties caused by rifle and Lewis gun fire, it is estimated that of the thirty of the enemy engaged at wiring near the sunken road, and caught by the barrage, the greater number were killed. On our own side only one man was wounded, his injury being caused by a flying fragment from a Stokes mortar bomb.
On the night of May 25th/26th, the 1st and 2nd Battalions relieved the 3rd and 4th in the front line.page 320
Hostile shelling throughout the month was on the whole below normal, the enemy confining himself in the main to periodical shell-storms. On the 8th the 4th Battalion aid-post near the Sugar Factory was wrecked by a heavy shell, both the medical officer, Capt. A. M. Tolhurst, and the chaplain, the Revd. A. Allen, being killed. During a bombardment of Sailly-au-Bois a week later, two eight-inch shells fell upon one of the 1st Battalion headquarters' dug-outs, killing all the occupants, including the Lewis gun sergeant, the signalling sergeant and a number of signallers.
Brigade Headquarters in the village were bombarded on the morning of the 31st, when the Brigade Major, Capt. P. W. Skelley, N.Z.S.C, was mortally wounded.* The most serious shelling took place on the 25th and 26th, the enemy seeking to divert attention from his great thrust of the 27th against the French near Rheims.† On these two days the whole of the Third Army front was subjected to counter-battery work, shelling of rear areas by high-velocity guns, gas-shelling of villages, and fierce bombardment of forward trenches. Except in the case of those units in the line close to Hebuterne, our casualties were not heavy.
Two officers and one non-commissioned officer of the American Expeditionary Force, and six officers of the 74th (British) Division, were attached to the Brigade on May 26th for the purpose of gaining experience in trench warfare.
Lieut.-Col. Austin was evacuated, sick, on May 20th, Major H. S. N. Robinson, N.Z.S.C., assuming command of the 1st Battalion until the arrival of Major N. F. Shepherd‡ from the 4th Battalion on the 23rd.
The casualties suffered by the Brigade during the month of May were:—
* The duties of Brigade Major were taken over later by Major D. E. Bremner, M.C., N.Z.S.C, from the Divisional Staff.
† See p. 342.
‡ Major Shepherd had recently been transferred to the Brigade from the Canterbury Regiment.
On the evening of June 1st we were relieved in the front line by the 1st Brigade, and moved back to Divisional reserve, with headquarters at St. Leger. The 1st Battalion went to billets in this village, and the 2nd to Rossignol Farm, while the 3rd and 4th occupied bivouac camps in Warnimont Wood.
We were now out for what was virtually a month's mid-summer holiday, for in less than a week the Division went into Corps reserve and was not due for its next tour in the line until the beginning of July. There was certainly a considerable amount of movement, but never farther forward than the Purple Line. This we occupied for three days, from June 4th to 6th, taking over from the 111th Brigade when the 37th Division moved for active operations farther south, and then handing over to the 1st Brigade. We went into the same defensive position from the 14th to the 22nd, coming for the time being under the command of the 42nd Division, now in the line. The trench-system itself was held by two battalions at a time, the remainder of the Brigade being in billets or camps about Courcelles, Rossignol Farm and Warnimont Wood. When not in occupation of the defensive lines, we were comfortably quartered in the billets of St. Leger, Authie, Couin and Henu, or in the bivouac camps of Warnimont and Authie Woods. The Woods were delightful spots, and the days spent therein were in the main quiet and peaceful; but even this remote area was occasionally searched by the German long-range guns, and an unlucky shell from one of these fell upon the 4th Battalion's transport lines, destroying a large number of the horses and mules.
The programme of training was comprehensive and thorough. Units availed themselves of every opportunity for holding the smartening-up drills usually found so necessary after a long period in the line, but on the larger scale the work was based on definite and detailed operation orders issued as to the part to be played by the reserve troops in connection with an expected enemy attack on Colincamps and Hebuterne. This involved frequent practices in manning the Purple Line, or in occupying the Reserve Corps system in rear to meet the exigency of a breach of the former. Much attention was also given to tactical exercises in open warfare, both by individual battalions and by the Brigade as a whole. Ex-page 322cept for occasional showers, the weather was fine throughout the month, and the training proceeded practically without interruption on this score.
The signallers were able to put in some fine practice, for they had the opportunity of working in conjunction with the 59th Squadron, Royal Air Force,* especially in contact-aeroplane work introducing the new signalling panel. An evening lecture was given by an officer of the squadron, and one by an officer of the Tank Corps.
Recreational training bulked large in the syllabus, and to sports of all kinds, based mainly on the principle of team-work, section competing against section, platoon against platoon, and so forth, much time was devoted. One whole day was set aside for Divisional sports. The programme, excellent in all respects, was carried through in admirable style, and the day was one long round of enjoyment.
Then there were two Horse Shows, one held by the Brigade alone, and one by the whole Division. At both of these our 3rd Battalion came an easy first for the best transport. Brigade show-day was not one of unalloyed pleasure. It entailed a long route-march to and from Vauchelles followed by a further march in the evening, for on that day, June 6th, we were relieved in the Purple Line by the 1st Brigade, and it was a very tired lot of Riflemen that finally settled down in the billets of Henu and Couin.
Evening concerts were frequent. In addition to programmes played by the regimental bands, always a delight, performances were given by the "Kiwis," the "Tuis," and parties from the l/7th Lancashires and the Entrenching Group. At the Divisional Band Contest, held at St. Leger on the 27th, the 2nd Canterbury band took first place, followed by the band of our 2nd Battalion. In this competition, which was judged by Capt. Williams, of the Grenadier Guards, no fewer than thirteen bands took part. That of the 1st Battalion, which had been confident of an easy victory, had to withdraw at the last minute owing to the ravages of influenza. The bands of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions came first and second in drill.
* The Royal Air Force had only just come into being as such, the Naval and Military air services having been combined under that name in April. Even these were of no very great age, the R.N.A.S. dating from four and the R.F.C. from two years before the war.
Just before the close of our rest period the Rt. Hon. W. F. Massey and Sir Joseph Ward inspected the Brigade at a parade in Warnimont Wood, and on the last evening all officers attended a lecture given by the Corps Commander.
Now that we were to move again to the forward area, the Brigade School and "B Teams" were detached under the command of Major J. Murphy, who established a camp at the hangars and huts in Marieux Wood. Capt. D. W. McClurg was placed in charge of the instruction at the school. Life in the Details' Camp was by no means a soft and easy one, for training there was carried out with the utmost vigour, and the hours were long. The general conditions, however, were usually good, and the men were able to enjoy to the full that great blessing temporarily denied to their less fortunate comrades in the line,—the music of the bands.
It was at Marieux that our own pierrot troupe was organised, its personnel being drawn mainly from the members of the bands, augmented by other vocalists of the Brigade. A piano for its use was provided by the New Zealand War Contingent Association; while the costumes, including a specially-designed black-and-green dress for the inevitable "lady," were presented by the T.M.C.A.
In many respects the New Zealanders deserved their reputation for silence; but as far as music was concerned, excepting always the absence of singing on the march, they surely made no little noise in the world. The Artillery, the Entrenching Group, and each of the twelve infantry battalions in France had its brass band; two of the latter rejoiced in the possession of pipe bands in addition; and there were, of course, the bands of the Base in France and of the Depots in England. Then, too the New Zealanders produced at least five pierrot parties, each with an orchestra, that had a more or less lengthy lease of life,—the "Kiwis" of the Division (a development from the original 3rd Field Ambulance orchestra), the "Tuis" of the 4th Brigade (now attached to the 2nd), the "Guns" of the Artillery, the "Eyes Front" of the Entrenching Group, and the "Dinks" of the Rifle Brigade. Our own party came into being much too late to achieve lasting fame; for, soon after its establishment, the old order of stationary trench-warfare gave place to the new and more desirable fighting mainly in the open, and page 324the conditions which then obtained were not favourable to the full development of a troupe of entertainers.
The period of comparative rest, extending throughout the month of June, and spent amidst pleasant surroundings in glorious weather, served to reinvigorate us all after the trying activities in the line since the 26th of March. The only drawback of moment was an outbreak of influenza which temporarily decimated our ranks. The epidemic fell earliest and most heavily upon the 1st Battalion, whilst the unit was in camp at Authie Wood, and soon nearly a hundred of its men were down with it. The medical officer, Capt. S. H. Ward, collected the sufferers in isolation tents, in the hope that by this expedient the necessity of sending them out to hospital would be obviated; but when the battalion was ordered forward he was at a loss to know how his scheme would fare. Desiring to have the experiment carried to a conclusion, he interviewed Col. McGavin, the A.D.M.S. of the Division, with the object of obtaining permission to continue the isolation at the Details' Camp in Marieux Wood, and of securing the services of a medical officer from the Ambulance to watch the patients, at the same time suggesting that infected men from the other battalions of the Brigade might be collected in the same camp and similarly treated. The request was at once acceded to, and the scheme was extended to cope with the outbreak throughout the whole Division, the isolation camp in the Wood being given a full staff of medical officers and orderlies. A great saving in man-power was thus effected, for, in the ordinary course of events, patients formerly evacuated to hospital had, on their recovery, to pass through the Reinforcement Base and the Entrenching Group before rejoining their units, a procedure entailing a considerable loss of time; whereas, by adopting the new isolation system, the interval of absence was reduced to a period covering the duration of the infection together with a short rest at the Details' Camp.
On July 2nd, the Brigade returned to the front line, relieving units of the 152nd and 172nd Brigades in the IVth Corps' centre sector. The new Brigade front covered Hebuterne, while on our right the 42nd Division occupied the old New Zealand sector south of the village. The 1st Brigade was on our left, and beyond that again was the 37th Division. The page 3252nd Battalion took over the right, and the 3rd the left sub-sector of the front-line trenches, the 4th was in support behind Hebuterne, and the 1st in reserve at Sailly-au-Bois. Brigade Headquarters occupied the Catacombs, a deep dug-out and eave on the outskirts of the latter village. Part of the work that fell to the lot of the support and reserve battalions here was the harvesting of crops on the abandoned land forward of the Purple Line, from which zone many loads of fine rye and clover were sent back.
We were now close up to the northern angle of the salient caused by the German advance in March. Beyond the Gommecourt-Puisieux Road, which, at the front-line trench, marked our left boundary, the 1st Brigade's front ran roughly east Land west, with a salient pushed down past the eastern side of Rossignol Wood.
When the great Somme battle had opened on 1st July, 1916, Gommecourt, directly to the north of Hebuterne, was in a German salient that successfully withstood a powerful subsidiary attack launched with a view to holding part of the enemy's reserves. Now it was so far within our lines as to be behind the main trench of the Purple System, and the old German front and support lines along the south-western face of the original salient were now used by our left battalion as communication trenches. The immense quantity of rusty wire lying about the trenches of Gommecourt village and park, as well as the large number of deep dug-outs that abounded there, testified to the great strength in which this locality had been held. To the south-east of Hebuterne the British front line of pre-Somme days was well over in German territory.
Our front line battalions commenced a minute investigation of the sector, now for the first time occupied by us. No Man's Land was closely reconnoitred, and, as no identifications had been secured for some time past, small fighting-patrols were sent out with the object of entering the enemy's line, dealing with his posts, and taking prisoners. Our men found, however, that much wire had recently been erected in the open and piled up in the old saps, and their efforts were not attended with the usual success; but the information obtained, especially by those patrols that went out by day, indicated the possibility of advancing the line held by the 2nd Battalion.page 326
This operation was silently carried out by that unit on July 5th. From the right of the 2nd Battalion line a spur jutted forward into the enemy's territory. It obstructed the view and did not appear to be strongly held. Nicholson Sap, an old communication-trench, ran up the slope from our front line to Carency Trench, which crossed the spur. During the morning a patrol reconnoitred both of these, finding little trace of enemy occupation in either; and in the afternoon a platoon pushed up the sap, and with no opposition beyond heavy sniping, occupied Carency Trench. After dark the position gained was put into fighting order, the old saps improved, and a close support trench dug.
The advance thus made greatly improved the observation, and brought our right within a few yards of the enemy's line, into which, however, no entry could then be made owing to the amount of new wire recently put out. But our men were not to be denied. Three days later the howitzers hammered this point, which was at the junction of Carency and Pasteur Trenches, and following the bombardment a party of fourteen 2nd Battalion men under the intelligence officer, 2nd Lieut. T. A. Snelling, rushed the post situated there. The struggle with the garrison was short. After three Germans had been shot the remainder made off to the rear, but in the ensuing chase one of these was caught and brought back in triumph; and from him, the first prisoner taken in the neighbourhood for a period of five weeks, information of the utmost value was obtained.
On July 5th each unit sent a party of seventeen men to Paris to represent the Brigade with the New Zealand Divisional contingent taking part in the French National Day celebrations on the 14th.
The 1st and 4th Battalions relieved the 2nd and 3rd in the front line on July 10th, taking over the right and left sub-sectors, respectively. Lieut.-Col. Austin, from hospital, had resumed command of the 1st Battalion at the beginning of the month; the 4th was under the temporary command of Major H. E. Barrowclough, Lieut.-Col. Beere being on leave.