The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade
Part 2.—The Capture of le Quesnoy, November 4th, 1918.…
Part 2.—The Capture of le Quesnoy, November 4th, 1918.
Condition of the enemy—Opening of the Battle of the Sambre—Preliminary attack: Valenciennes taken—Main attack, November 4th—Conditions—Task of New Zealand Division—New Zealand Rifle Brigade orders for the capture of Le Quesnoy—Attack opens 5.30 a.m.—1st, 4th and 2nd Battalions clear the railway and reach the first objective—3rd Battalion companies pass through the 1st and gain the second objective south of the town —3rd Battalion advances to the final objective—1st Auckland from the north links up—Le Quesnoy completely encircled, 9.30 a.m.—Repeated attempts to enter the town, 3rd Battalion from the east, 2nd Battalion from the north, 4th Battalion from the west—4th Battalion's assault successful—The rampart scaled at 4.15 p.m.—Le Quesnoy mopped up.
The cumulative effect of the heavy blows that had been rained upon the enemy in rapid succession was now becoming more and more apparent in the lowered morale of his fighting men. His losses in men and material had been huge. Turkey and Bulgaria had capitulated, and the collapse of Austria was daily expected. Germany was undoubtedly beaten, and it only remained to strike such a blow at a vital centre as should prevent the enemy from shortening his lines and protracting the struggle over the winter.
In our position before Le Quesnoy we were fifteen miles almost due west of the great railway centre of Maubeuge, which, it will be remembered, was the main objective of the British offensive. The city of Valenciennes, however, still in German hands, lay nine miles north-west of Le Quesnoy, and its capture was a necessary preliminary to the continuance of the main British attack. On November 1st, therefore, the Third Army delivered an assault on six miles of the enemy's front south of Valenciennes, and made such a successful advance that during the second day of the fighting the Canadian Corps of the First Army without great difficulty took the city page 436and made progress beyond it. Thus began the series of engagements officially styled the Battle of the Sambre.*
On various sections of the front there were signs of approaching enemy withdrawal, but our preparations for a decisive attack were complete, and the blow fell on the morning of November 4th, when the Fourth, Third and First Armies delivered an assault on a thirty-mile front from Oisy to Valenciennes.
"The nature of the country across which our advance was to be made was most difficult. In the south, the River Sambre had to be crossed almost at the outset. In the centre, the great Forest of Mormal, though much depleted by German wood-cutting, still presented a formidable obstacle. In the north, the fortified town of Le Quesnoy, together with several streams which cut across the line of our advance, offered frequent opportunities for successful defence. On the other hand, our troops had never been so confident of victory or so assured of their own superiority."†
The task of the New Zealand Division was to envelop the town of Le Quesnoy and carry the line forward a total distance of five and a half miles on a frontage of 3,000 yards. The capture and mopping-up of the town was allotted to the New Zealand Rifle Brigade, the advance beyond being entrusted to the 1st Brigade. On our right we had the 37th Division, and on our left the 62nd. The 1st Brigade assembled in rear by Beaudignies, to pass through as the attack developed. As this proved to be our last fight, the Brigade orders for the attack are here recorded in detail.†
* The canalized Sambre River leaves the valley of the Oise near Longchamps, about twenty miles south of Le Cateau. It takes a winding course to the north until it approaches the latter town, where it turns north-east, passing behind the Mormal Forest, and so on through Maubeuge.
† Sir Douglas Haig's Despatches.
† The various task-maps referred to are not reproduced.
3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade. Order No. 197.Ref Maps: Sheet 51A, S.E. Sheet 51, S.W. Headquarters, 2nd November, 1918.
1. The Fourth, Third and First Armies are resuming the advance on November the 4th. Zero Hour will be 05.30 hours, November 4th. 2. The New Zealand Division, in conjunction with the 37th Division (on the right) and the 62nd Division (on the left), will attack and establish itself on the line Franc a Louer (M.36.a.)–Herbignies—Tous Vents (M.24.a.) and, if opportunity offers, will exploit success Eastwards through the Foret De Mormal towards the Sambre River. 3.
(a) Objectives and boundaries will be as shown on the attached Map "A." (b) The town of Le Quesnoy will not be attacked, but troops moving North and South of it to the Blue Dotted and Green Line will form a flank to encircle the Ramparts, which will be screened by smoke. 4. The attack will be carried out by the 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade Group, on the right, and the 1st New Zealand Infantry Brigade Group, on the left.
Battalion tasks are as shown on attached Map "A."
The attack will be carried out in five phases as under:—
The 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade Group will attack at Zero and Capture the Blue Line. The timing of the advance South of Le Quesnoy will be co-ordinated to conform with that of the 37th Division, viz.:—1st lift, Zero plus 4 minutes, followed by seven lifts of 100 yards in 4 minutes, then at the rate of 100 yards in 6 minutes. The rate of advance North of Le Quesnoy will be for 3 lifts of 100 yards in 3 minutes, and then at the rate of 100 yards in 4 minutes. After reaching the Protective Line for the Blue Line, the barrage will search the Ramparts of Le Quesnoy for 15 minutes, and then cease on the West and North-west faces while patrols push forward to ascertain if the town is still occupied; if patrols are unable to penetrate the Ramparts, smoke will be fired intermittently from P bombs and No. 36 Rifle Grenades from Zero plus 60 minutes until Zero plus 180 minutes.page 439
(b) Phase 2.
The 3rd Battalion, N.Z.R.B., will advance from the Blue Line South of Le Quesnoy to the Dotted Blue Line, in conjunction with the 37th Division, at Zero plus 119 minutes.
Troops will be on the Blue Line by Zero plus 100 minutes.
Rate of barrage, 100 yards in 6 minutes.
The 1st Battalion, N.Z.R.B., will, immediately after the advance to the Dotted Blue Line, take over the frontage facing towards Le Quesnoy from R.36.a.7.2. to M.31.b.7.6.
The 1st New Zealand Infantry Brigade Group will pass one battalion through troops of the 62nd Division and 3rd N.Z. (Rifle) Brigade Group, on the front R.18.c.2.0.–R.18.a.0.0., at Zero plus 141 minutes, and, in conjunction with the 62nd Division, will advance and establish itself on the Dotted Blue Line, forming a flank facing Le Quesnoy as it progresses.
Rate of barrage, 100 yards in 3 minutes.
For the purposes of this operation the Inter-Divisional boundary will run from R.18.a.00.00. to M.14.d.20.00.
A smoke screen will be put down on the line R.24.a.8.0.–M.20.c.3.2.–M.20.d.5.3. to cover this advance.
(c) Phase 3.
The 3rd Battalion, N.Z.R.B., will continue the advance from the Dotted Blue Line to the Green Line, in conjunction with the 37th Division, at Zero plus 197 minutes, at the rate of 100 yards in 6 minutes, until its right reaches the Green Line, when it will swing up to the Green Line, the rate of the barrage on the left conforming with the lifts of the barrage covering the 1st New Zealand Infantry Brigade Group.
The 1st N.Z. Infantry Brigade Group will move forward two battalions to advance in conjunction with the 62nd Division, from the Dotted Blue Line, at Zero plus 206 minutes, to the Green Line. The barrage will move at the rate of 100 yards in 3 minutes, and will pick up the barrage covering the 3rd N.Z. (Rifle) Brigade Group at the corner of the Lake, M.26.c.65.80.
Junction between the 1st N.Z. Infantry Brigade and the 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade will be effected at Cross Roads M.26.d.l.9. and at M.27.c.1.5.page 439
On reaching the Green Line, the 1st New Zealand Infantry Brigade will extend its right flank to the Southern Divisional boundary in readiness to continue the advance; troops may be moved South of Le Quesnoy for this purpose if desired.
(d) Phase 4.
The 1st New Zealand Infantry Brigade Group will, at Zero plus 290 minutes, continue the advance from the Green Line to the Red Line, under a barrage of all available artillery, moving at the rate of 100 yards in 3 minutes.
This barrage will die out on reaching the limit of the range of the guns, and the advance will be continued without a barrage, but supported by Forward Sections or Batteries.
The 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade will mop up Le Quesnoy.
(e) Phase 5.
Should enemy resistance weaken on reaching the Red Line, patrols will be pushed forward to secure the Dotted Red Line, whence the 2nd New Zealand Infantry Brigade Group from Divisional Reserve will continue the advance.
Should opposition be met with, a definite line will be established by the 1st New Zealand Infantry Brigade Group, and artillery brought forward preparatory to an attack by the 2nd New Zealand Infantry Brigade Group during the afternoon.
(a) The attack will be carried out under a Field Artillery barrage, for which barrage-maps and instructions will be issued separately. (b) The IVth Corps Heavy Artillery are co-operating in the attack by bombardment on special points to be notified later. (c) One Forward Section, Field Artillery, will accompany the 3rd Battalion, N.Z.R.B., going forward to the Green Line. (This section will be supported as soon as possible by batteries and brigades which will be moved forward on completion of their barrage tasks.) (d)
The attack on the Blue Line will be carried out covered by twelve 6-inch Medium Trench Mortars and two batteries of Light Trench Mortars, the 2nd New Zealand L.T.M Battery having been placed at the disposal of the 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade Group for this purpose.
Tasks: 2 guns, 3rd L.T.M. Battery, will be attached to the 3rd Battalion, N.Z.R.B., and will report at 3rd Bat-page 440talion Headquarters at. 17.00, 3rd November. The 3rd Battalion, N.Z.R.B., will detail two carriers to accompany each gun.
Tasks of remainder of 2nd and 3rd New Zealand L.T.M. Batteries and "X" and "Y" Medium T.M. Batteries are as shown on attached Map "B."
Barrages of M.T.M.'s and L.T.M.'s will conform to and keep 300 and 100 yards respectively in advance of the Field Artillery barrage.
The 3rd New Zealand L.T.M. Battery will, in addition, detail the following to accompany Battalions after completion of the barrage task:—
- 1st Battalion, N.Z.R.B., 2 guns.
- 4th Battalion, N.Z.R.B., 1 gun.
- 2nd Battalion, N.Z.R.B., 2 guns.
The advance of the 1st Battalion, N.Z.R.B., will be covered by the Otago Machine Gun Company, opening on line R.35.c.6.6.–R.29.c.6.6., conforming to the artillery barrage to full range, and then ceasing, except those guns covering Square R.30., which will place a barrage on the Southern out-skirts of Le Quesnoy.
Upon completion of the barrage tasks the O.C. Otago M.G. Company will place 1 section at the disposal of the O.C. 3rd Battalion. N.Z.R.B., to accompany the battalion in its advance to the Green Line.
The advance of the 2nd Battalion, N.Z.R.B., will be covered by a barrage by the Auckland Machine Gun Company, which will open on line R.23.d.00.70.–R.17.d.00.60, conforming to the artillery barrage to full range, and then ceasing.
In addition, two sections (8 guns) of the Canterbury Machine Gun Company will carry out the special task of enfilading the streets and Ramparts of Le Quesnoy from Zero to Zero plus 30 minutes.
On conclusion of the above tasks, the Auckland Machine Gun Company will be placed at the disposal of the 1st N.Z. Infantry Brigade Group, and the two sections Canterbury Machine Gun Company will rejoin the 2nd N.Z. Infantry Brigade Group.
(a) "Q" Special Company, R.E., is arranging to project oil drums on to the Ramparts of Le Quesnoy at Zero hour. (b) No. 5 Special Company, R.E., is arranging to fire smoke on to:—
1. R.29.d.0.9., from Zero plus 15 minutes to Zero plus 35 minutes, and from Zero plus 110 minutes to Zero plus 140 minutes. 2. R.23.d.4.2., from Zero to Zero plus 20 minutes.
8. The C.R.E., New Zealand Division, will arrange for the following:—
(a) A proportion of N.Z.E. and Tunnellers to investigate for mines, etc., in Le Quesnoy. A party of 1 N.C.O. and 6 Sappers will be attached from the 3rd Field Company, N.Z.E., to each of the 2nd and 4th Battalions for this purpose. (b) A similar party to work in the area East of Le Quesnoy. (c) Field Companies, N.Z.E., and Pioneers (less parties detailed above) to be concentrated in the vicinity of Beaudignies by Zero plus 2 hours, in readiness to commence work on Roads and Bridges as soon as the situation permits. An Officer will be detailed to keep touch with the situation at Headquarters, 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade. (d) A special party to prepare crossings for Field Artillery over the Railway in R.35.c. 9. For the above operations the 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade Group will be constituted as follows:—
- 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Bde.
- Otago Machine Gun Company.
- 2 sections O.M.R.
- Detachment N.Z.E. and Tunnellers.
The 59th Squadron, R.A.F., is arranging for a Contact Aeroplane at the following hours:—
Zero plus 110 minutes; Zero plus 170 minutes; Zero plus 270 minutes; and at intervals of 2 hours afterwards.
A counter-attack machine will also be in the air during the hours of daylight.
11. Liaison with 37th Division will be established at Road on Blue Line, M.31.d. 12. Watches will be synchronized on November 3rd at Headquarters, 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade, X.2.a. central, at 16.00 hours. 13. Battle Headquarters will be as follows:—
- Brigade Headquarters: R.28.c.3.6.
- 1st Battalion, N.Z.R.B.: R.28.c.7.4.
- 2nd Battalion, N.Z.R.B.: R.16.d.6.0.
- 3rd Battalion, N.Z.R.B.: M.31.b.7.5.
- 4th Battalion, N.Z.R.B.: R.22.d.30.75.
14. Brigade Headquarters will close at present location at 22.00 hours on the 3rd November, and re-open at Fme du Fort Martin, R.28.c.3.6., at the same hour.page 442 15.
The strictest measures will be taken to maintain secrecy.
All movements of troops and dumping of ammuntion will take place in darkness. There will be no increase or decrease of artillery fire.
D. E. Bremner, Major.
Issued at 23.00 through Signals:
Copy No. Brigadier 1 1st Bn., N.Z.R.B. 2 2nd Bn., N.Z.R.B. 3 3rd Bn., N.Z.R.B. 4 4th Bn., N.Z.R.B. 5 3rd L.T.M. Batt. 6 2nd L.T.M. Batt. 7 Otago M.G. Coy. 8 Auckland M.G. Coy. 9 Canterbury M.G. Coy. 10 "X" M.T.M. Batt. 11 "Y" M.T.M. Batt. 12 N.Z. M.G. Bn. 13 3rd Field Coy., N.Z.E. 14 New Zealand Division 15, 16 63rd Inf. Brigade 17 187th Inf. Brigade 18 1st N.Z. Inf. Bde. 19 2nd N.Z. Inf. Bde. 20 C.R.A., N.Z. Divn. 21 C.R.E., N.Z. Divn. 22 1st Bde., N.Z.F.A. 23 3rd Bde., N.Z.F.A. 24 2nd (A) Bde., N.Z.F.A. 25 Signals 26 Intelligence Officer 27 Staff Captain 28 Liaison Officers 29, 30 War Diary 31/33 File 34
Briefly stated, the operation was to be conducted as follows. The three battalions in the line would advance simultaneously and capture the railway line running roughly parallel with their front. This would bring the 4th Battalion, in the centre, to its appointed sector of the first objective, its front exactly corresponding in length to the width of the town and earthworks. The two flank battalions had much more to do before their first phase would be completed. The 1st Battalion, to the south, would pivot on its left flank near the railway, bringing up its right to the Landrecies Road, so covering the town from the south-west. The stiffest task confronted the troops of the 2nd Battalion, on the left, for, swinging on their right flank, they had to clear up, not only the railway triangle of evil fame, but also an area of similar shape and size north of the main railway, and including a stretch of the Orsinval Road. This would bring them facing the town from the northwest. Thus half the encircling operation would be completed. page 443Now the 3rd Battalion, coming forward, would pass through the right of the 1st and continue the advance eastwards eventually to the Green Line, moving, of course, in co-operation with the troops of the southern Division, first with the 13th Rifles, and then with the 1st Essex. To the north of the town a battalion of the 1st Brigade, starting about half an hour later than the 3rd Battalion, would pass through the left of our 2nd Battalion there, swing round and close in near the railway on the north-east. Fresh troops of the 1st Brigade would pass through to the Green Line, take over the whole of the Divisional front, and continue the advance. This would leave our 3rd Battalion free to join with the rest of the Brigade in the task of mopping-up Le Quesnoy, which by this time would be isolated and completely enveloped. Excellent artillery support was provided. The advance was to be covered by a creeping field artillery barrage of a density of one gun to thirty yards, but no artillery fire was to be directed on the buildings of the town.* Twelve light and twelve medium trench mortars would fire on selected targets from zero hour, ceasing when the troops approached the limits of trench mortar range. In addition, heavy artillery, would bombard special points of resistance eastward of the town; and three hundred drums of burning oil were to be projected on to the western outworks at zero. We were also to have a fine machine-gun barrage. Two machine-gun companies were to put down a creeping barrage covering the advance of the two flank battalions at a density of one gun to sixty yards of frontage; and an additional eight Vickers guns would direct their fire on the principal streets of the town, and then lift for a considerable time to the eastern exits to prevent the garrison from running away.
* During the whole period of our activity about Le Quesnoy, every care was taken, as far as was possible, to avoid causing any damage to the houses or injury to the civilian population of the town. The burning, some two or three days before the 4th, of a building with a tall tower from which our line could be overlooked, was a mysterious occurrence of which the records give no explanation.
All adjustments in the line were completed in good time during the evening of November 3rd. Enemy shelling was normal except on the northern battalion sector, where it repeatedly became intense. Here eleven men of a platoon of the 2nd Battalion moving into the line were killed by one shell. A hot meal was served during the early hours of the 4th. The rain, which had come on at 6 o'clock on the previous evening, ceased at 3 a.m., and there was every promise of favourable weather. The usual patrols were out during the night, and their reports showed that there had been no diminution in the enemy's strength and activity. Half an hour before zero our forward posts were withdrawn clear of the barrage line, swords were fixed, the final muttered orders and cautions given, and, with spirits high, our men awaited the signal to advance.
At 5.30 a.m. there burst forth the first part of our reply to the sackful of peace propaganda dropped on our lines from a German aeroplane on the previous afternoon. This took the form of a deafening crash of artillery and an opening barrage, almost perfect in density and alignment, falling between us and the railway. Immediately after the commencement of the artillery fire a sheet of flame rushed skywards from behind the waiting troops, and following a pause during which a mighty rushing noise seemed to drown all other sounds, huge flames burst from hundreds of points beyond the railway and about the outworks of the town. This was the special burning-oil bombardment which, though it resulted in little material damage to the enemy's position or to his men, had, nevertheless, a most important moral effect on both attackers and defenders.*
* The oildrums were fired each from a separate tube fixed in the ground at the required angle, the projecting charge being exploded electrically. The same method was employed when a concentrated discharge of gas was required on a particular spot at some considerable distance within the enemy's line, as, for example, when Becelaere was so bombarded during the 2nd Brigade's attack on Polderhoek Chateau in December of 1917.
In the 1st Battalion's sector two companies led, "A" (2nd Lieut. V. G. Hunter) on the right, and "B" (Capt. E. A. Harding) on the left. The railway was not carried without considerable fighting, but, for the most part, the positions of the posts on the railway were well known, the plans had made special provision for dealing with each, and on the whole there was no undue delay in the advance of the forward companies. Emergencies were well handled. Near the centre, Corporal M. J. Mulvaney was in charge of a Lewis gun section. His own advance was proceeding satisfactorily, but he discovered a machine-gun firing across the front of the company on his right, and at once took action to remove the obstruction. Directing the fire of his men upon the position, he himself worked round to a flank and presently rushed it, capturing four prisoners. A similar fine piece of work stands to the credit of Sergeant R. L. Fergusson, whose whole company was being held up by a machine-gun firing from a flank.
Soon the railway was passed, and, as "A" and "B" moved forward again, "C" Company (2nd Lieut. L. M. Blyth) advanced to complete the mopping-up of the railway and establish itself there as battalion reserve. As "C" Company approached the position, a machine-gun that had not been discovered by the leading companies suddenly burst into activity, and for some time succeeded in holding up one of the platoons. This pressure, however, was relieved by the fearless action of one man, Rifleman E. W. Hallett, who with a Lewis gun moved on alone, fired a long burst upon the post at close quarters, and then, dropping his gun, dashed in and captured the whole of the crew at the point of the revolver. The only German who fell to his weapon was one who at this moment blundered into the post with his rifle at the ready and made no response to the usual demand. There was little other opposition during the process of clearing up the line generally, and the company was soon disposed in readiness for further action as required.
It was now the turn of "D" Company (Lieut. H. J. Thompson), whose immediate objective was the remainder of the battalion's portion of the Blue Line between the Ghissignies and Louvignies Roads. Moving through "A" Company's positions in the small orchards, "D" Company advanced across the open country beyond. As soon as the leading platoons emerged from the cover of the hedges, they came under heavy fire from machine-guns operating at close range. It was a steady, sweeping fire, in the face of which the advance was continued with great difficulty; and mingled with the rattle of the machine-guns, the crack and boom of the guns, and the crash of bursting shells, was a peculiar "clink-clink," the nature of which was altogether new and mysterious. The morning mist, combined with the smoke of the barrage, made it impossible to see more than a few yards ahead; but if satisfactory progress were to be made it was imperative that the troublesome machine-guns should be bombed and silenced. The situation was ably handled by the company commander, who, getting his men down into such poor cover as existed, went forward himself to reconnoitre. His investigations revealed the fact that the fire was directed from a number of houses standing close together on the far side of the Louvignies Road, just beyond which our barrage was then falling, and that in the neighbouring orchard was a considerable number of the enemy. A few moments sufficed to take in the details of the situation and to formulate plans for dealing with it. While the posts in the houses were engaged from the front, a Lewis gun section under Rifleman J. H. Mason got into position on the flank, and under cover of their fire a platoon commanded by 2nd Lieut. J. L. Brown worked round to the rear of the houses. Peering through the back door of page 448the first of these, 2nd Lieut. Brown discovered two Germans with a machine-gun busily firing through a hole in the wall. These he promptly despatched, and the gun being silenced, a loud chattering revealed the presence of a number of the enemy in the cellar beneath. Orders to come up not being obeyed, a smoke-bomb was thrown down and the platoon passed on to deal with the remaining houses. No fewer than four posts, each equipped with a heavy machine-gun, were cleared from this row of buildings. An interesting experience now fell to the lot of Rifleman Mason and his companions on the flank. In the intervals of their firing they could still distinguish that curious and mystifying clinking sound, but whether the cause of it, whatever it might be, were near or distant, it was impossible to determine. Suddenly the fog lifted, and from the ditch by the roadside where they had taken up their position they saw, not ten yards away, a light field gun standing out in the open and being served and fired with great rapidity. But Mason's men were discovered also, and in a twinkling the gun was trained upon them. Mason was too quick for his opponents, however, and a burst from his Lewis gun settled the contest. Some little distance along the road a second field gun was still in action, the gunners all unconscious of the fate that had befallen their friends. Upon these Mason moved stealthily until a favourable point was reached, and, bringing his Lewis gun to bear once more, laid the whole crew low. In the clearing of this position about the road, a remarkably fine achievement in which Company Sergeant-Major E. Olsen played a distinguished part, no fewer than forty unwounded prisoners were taken; and the successful issue enabled the company to complete with little further trouble the capture of the whole of its objective on the Blue Line.
The 4th Battalion, in the centre of the brigade front of attack, reached its first objective over the railway without difficulty. The three forward companies were in their normal order from the right, and "D" Company was held in reserve. As soon as the movement of the barrage permitted, patrols worked forward over the narrow stretch of ground between the Blue Line and the western outworks of the town. Streams of machine-gun bullets and even shell-fire from the 77 mm. guns posted on the ramparts, were a sufficient indication that the garrison had no intention of quitting the town, and that our attempts to enter it would be strenuously resisted.
On the left the 2nd Battalion advanced against the railway triangle, which maintained its sinister reputation. The three leading companies were, in order from the right, "D," "A" and "C," under the command, respectively, of Lieuts. J. G. McGhie and F. T. Bennington and Capt. G. R. Jamieson. "B" Company (Lieut. T. H. Denniston) was in reserve, with orders to follow in fairly close touch with the leading companies. The battalion followed the barrage in good order, but on nearing the first railway line the centre company met with disaster. Machine-guns brought enfilade fire to bear upon the leading line, almost annihilating the right platoon. A section from the support platoon worked round to deal with the guns; and when the remaining sections were called for to reinforce the front, they too were found to have shared the fate of the forward platoon. Thus, within the first few minutes, this one company had lost more than a third of its strength. In the endeavour to close the gap, Sergeant J. Grubb, of the left platoon, extended his right section and at page 450once proceeded to deal with two machine-gun posts on his immediate front. These he succeeded in silencing, but the advance of the company was still being held up by the enfilading post. Rifleman C. Birch, of the trench mortar battery attached to the battalion, now came up to locate this nest. This done, he brought a Stokes gun to bear upon it and reduced its fire to fitful bursts. With Rifleman W. Ferguson, another of the gun team, he advanced to the position bombarded, took prisoner the whole garrison, consisting of an officer and twenty-seven men, and captured its three guns. By this time, however, Lieut. L. H. Denniston, on observing the disorganization of "A" Company, had brought his reserve company forward, passed through the centre company, joined up with those on the flanks, and pressed on with them towards the objective. The right company also had to fight hard to gain ground and, in rooting out the many machine-gun posts on the nearer railway line, suffered somewhat heavy casualties. Despite the fact that one platoon lost direction almost as soon as the advance commenced, the company reached its goal in good time, and pushed out patrols to the sunken road curving round the outworks of the town. "C" Company, on the left, had first to clear the area about the well-known railway junction and then swing round to complete the advance eastward to the Orsinval—Le Quesnoy Road. Several enemy posts were dealt with in succession, but, fortunately, in nearly every case resistance was so slight that the garrison surrendered on closer approach. Near the extreme left, however, one machine-gun post held out with grim determination. Against the post, Sergeant W. P. McGillan, moving across the open, brought his gun to bear; but under this pressure the garrison, instead of surrendering, retired smartly to a house in rear. McGillan, not to be outdone, followed up as quickly, rushed the house, and bombed the inmates; and when five had been killed the remaining fourteen gave up the contest. Thus the 2nd Battalion, like the others, had secured its objective within the time limit, and all along the Divisional front the Blue Line was securely held. Shortly after the left company had got into position, the troops of the 62nd Division came up and established contact.
The stage was now set for the opening of the second phase of the battle. To the south, the 3rd Battalion troops page 451had left their assembly position just west of the railway in sufficient time to enable them to follow closely in rear of the attacking companies of the 1st Battalion. Some gas-shelling just before the advance made it necessary to wear respirators for some little time, and during the forward movement from the railway the smoke of the barrage rendered the keeping of direction so difficult that compasses had to be used. Lieut.-Col. Allen, of the 1st Battalion, with 2nd Lieut. R. A. Ridley, his intelligence officer, had gone forward to reconnoitre the positions taken up by his companies, but, bearing away too much to the south, he found himself slightly beyond the flank of his line. Here the two almost ran into some fifty Germans, who promptly opened fire from the cover of a hedge, and they dropped into a shell-hole to discuss their predicament. The possibility of a successful charge was being considered, but at the crucial moment a company of the 3rd Battalion reached the position. These, coming under a brisk fire, also lay down. One of the men, however, immediately afterwards rose to his feet and moved calmly forward with his pipe in his mouth and his rifle at the "ready." Alternately raising and lowering his rifle as though stalking a rabbit, he advanced to the hedge, and to this one rifleman the whole party surrendered.* The incident caused but a few moments' delay, and in good time the 3rd Battalion was in position on the Blue Line and ready to commence its advance. "A" Company (Capt. F. E. Greenish) was on the right, and "D" Company, plus two platoons of "B" (Lieut. J. H. Irvine) on the left; "C" Company (Capt. A Thomson) in support, and "B" Company, less two platoons (Lieut. A. J. C. Angus), in reserve.
* Lieut.-Col. Allen was shortly afterwards wounded, and Capt. E. A. Harding assumed command of the 1st Battalion.
The short advance to the Dotted Blue Line was accomplished without great difficulty, and there now ensued a wait to allow for the completion of the 1st Brigade's more extensive movement round the north of the town in continuation of our 2nd Battalion's line. Promptly at the appointed time, 8.47 a.m., the three forward companies of the 3rd Battalion advanced again towards the Green Line some 1,500 yards to the eastward. All efforts to secure touch with the troops of the 37th Division having failed, the support company watched the flank in case it should prove to be exposed. Considerable resistance was met with in the remaining stretch of orchard land. "A" Company, on the right, encountered particularly heavy machine-gun fire from the Chateau Montout and the high ground beyond. The Chateau position was, however, skilfully enveloped by the two platoons under Capt. Greenish's personal direction, and the momentary check was overcome. Both companies now pushed forward to the Jolimetz Road, sweeping up some posts in the hedges on the way. Beyond the road the country was more open, with awkward glacis-like slopes on the hilly, ploughed land. By this time, too, the barrage, hitherto good, had thinned out considerably, and it was clear, from the volume of machine-gun fire coming from the page 453direction of Jolimetz, that the right flank was "in the air." After a brief pause about the road, during which Lieut. Irvine disposed his two attached platoons across the south-eastern exit of Le Quesnoy to provide against a possible sortie against the rear of his company, the advance was continued in short rushes across the open country. Here the main difficulty was to locate the machine-gun posts, for, once marked down, they were dealt with promptly enough, and much had to be left to good leadership in the various sections. Corporal W. Linton accomplished a brilliant feat with his Lewis gun team, out-flanking and capturing a strong post containing two machine-guns. At another point Rifleman J. Currie, who was in charge of the battalion scouts, on his own initiative took forward three of his men and rushed an awkward nest, killing twelve of the garrison and capturing three guns. Again, Rifleman N. Coop, the No. 1 of a Lewis gun team, despairing of otherwise locating a troublesome machine-gun, moved out into the open to draw the fire upon himself, and the plan worked so successfully that his No. 2, Rifleman Pedersen, was able to bring such a burst of fire upon the enemy as effectually to silence the gun. On the extreme right of the line the flank platoon of "A" Company swung out beyond the boundary line and dealt with the enfilading gun down the Jolimetz Road, thus enabling the company to hasten its advance. Almost immediately it was confronted by posts about the Maison Goffart. The sight of a few German helmets here led to an exciting chase by the company runners, who, however, proved less fleet of foot than their quarry. The house itself was found to be unoccupied, but two machine-gun posts in the vicinity held out for some time. They were eventually cleared by parties under Sergeants J. T. V. Snowden and J. H. Williams, but not before both these leaders had been wounded. The resistance thus smartly overcome, "A" Company swept onwards and established itself on the final objective. "D" Company had a somewhat greater distance to cover, and at one stage was temporarily held up by the sweeping fire from machine-guns concealed in a dip on the far side of an extensive ploughed field. These had to be dealt with by a flanking movement by two sections sent round the left through the cover afforded by the orchards. Noting "D" Company's delay, Capt. Thomson promptly took his company forward from the support posi-page 454tion and prolonged "A" Company's line towards the left, thus enabling Irvine's men, though still under heavy fire from the high ground about the railway, to move forward with greater freedom, and presently "D" Company, by a final rush, completed the capture of the Green Line. Touch on the left was soon afterwards made by troops of the 1st Brigade, but connection with the 1st Essex on our right was not secured for some time. Apparently, maintenance of direction had been difficult; a tank, sent up to assist the Essex men in rooting out machine-gun nests about Jolimetz, even went so far astray as to crash its way into the garden of the Maison Goffart, where our right company commander was calmly writing his situation report after the taking of the objective. Two of our battalion runners, Riflemen J. Jenkins and W. A. Craven, were sent out to locate the nearest troops. This they were unable to do, but instead they encountered fire from an enemy machine-gun. Their errand was not entirely fruitless, however, for they attacked the post, killed some of the gunners, and brought back to battalion headquarters the four survivors and their gun.
Meanwhile, as the advance to the Green Line progressed, "B" Company worked up to its position close in to Le Quesnoy, mopping up a triangle of considerable area in doing so. Linking up with the two platoons previously detached, it was finally established astride the Jolimetz Road leading into the town, with posts close up to the twin lakes south-east of the outworks, and the centre opposite the Landrecies Gate. On the right, the troops of tins company were in touch with 1st Auckland, and on their own left they joined up with the right of "D" Company of the 1st Battalion, which had also moved up to this general inner line and was facing the town.
Thus, by 9.30 a.m., four hours after the opening of the battle, Le Quesnoy was completely and securely invested. The 1st Brigade now extended to the right, and at 10.20 a.m. continued the advance along the whole Divisional front, the next objective being the Red Line, about a mile and a half to the east.
Our task, however, was not yet finished. The orders read: "The New Zealand Rifle Brigade will mop up Le Quesnoy," but Le Quesnoy was objecting strongly to being mopped up; as our men put it, the garrison "hadn't got the war news up page 455to date." The 1st Battalion's positions were from 500 to 800 yards from the outer bank of the moat, and every attempt to trickle men across the intervening ground, utterly devoid of cover, was at once frustrated by heavy machine-gun fire. The line of the 3rd Battalion was 700 yards away, and there was no means of approach but by the single main road between the two lakes. Patrols, hoping against hope, repeatedly endeavoured to negotiate this passage, only to be caught in the withering tire from the machine-gun which guarded it. One of the earliest of these, consisting of two men, worked its way through the outer gate and, creeping from doorway to doorway of the houses that lined the causeway on either side, moved towards the main entrance of the town. In one of these houses they came upon a medical officer holding a sick-parade, some forty or fifty Germans being present under inspection. The whole party was captured and was being brought back to our lines, when from the inner walls machine-gun fire opened on friend and foe alike. Both our men were wounded. One with a broken leg took shelter in a house, while the other succeeded in getting back with his report. Persuasion was tried with no better result. Soon after 10 a.m., when the town was completely encircled and the troops of the 1st Brigade were commencing their triumphant march eastward towards the Mormal Forest, "B" Company sent a German officer into Le Quesnoy with an oral message explaining the position and advising instant surrender, but there was no diminution in the fire from the walls, and the messenger did not return. Again, at 3 p.m., two other prisoners were sent in with a written message to the Commandant. Whether or not the message was actually delivered is not known, but the prisoners returned with the information that though the men realized the hopelessness of the situation and were willing to give in, the officers were obstinate and refused to yield. No better response was made to the offer of higher authorities, who, half an hour earlier, had sent over an aeroplane to drop the following message within the walls:—
"To the Commandant of the Garrison of Le Quesnoy:
"The position of Le Quesnoy is now completely surrounded. Our troops are far east of the town. You are there-page 456fore requested to surrender with your garrison. The garrison will be treated as honourable prisoners of war.
"The Commander of the "British Troops."
Closer approach had been made by the 2nd Battalion on the north. All three companies had pushed patrols forward into the sunken road close up to the moat. "B" Company, at first in reserve, but now holding the centre of the line, succeeded in getting a patrol of four men across the moat to the outer ramparts at about 8 a.m. Here they held on for a time, but were finally driven back by machine-gun fire, though not before they had taken and thrown down into the moat one of the German guns. The attempt was repeated shortly afterwards by a platoon from the same company, who, covered by a platoon of "D" on the right, forced their way into the moat; but intense fire caught the covering platoon in their exposed position and not only compelled their withdrawal, but also pinned the advanced platoon down till late in the afternoon. At 9.30 a.m. the Factory, where the enemy, now within our lines, had stubbornly held out since daybreak, was cleared, yielding seventy-five prisoners. Half an hour later, a party from "C" Company, on the left, under 2nd Lieut. J. H. Boles, moved eastward to attempt to approach the ramparts by means of the road-bridge over the railway. The bridge had been mined by the enemy, but the Engineers attached to the battalion, working under heavy and sustained fire, safely withdrew the charges, and Boles and his men seized the bridge and a section of the road beyond. The German machine-gunners, however, had this prominent position well commanded; the fire proved to be too hot, and further forward movement was blocked. At 1 p.m. another small party from this company, under 2nd Lieut. B. Kingdon, secured the Orsinval cross-roads close up to the moat, and a prisoner they held was sent into the town with a demand for surrender. It was now considered possible to rush the northern gate, for the bridge leading to it was found to be intact. All available men were concentrated about the cross-roads for this effort at 1.45 p.m., but, when everything was ready for the assault, the enemy blew up the span nearer the gate. A dash was essayed, however, and one man actually made his way across by means of a plank, page 457reached the gate, and shot one of the garrison, but this forlorn hope was otherwise without result. The hostile machine-gun fire from this quarter continued to be intense, though the effect of the steady fire from our Lewis guns and from the Stokes mortar at the railway triangle was becoming more and more marked. One of the mortars was now brought round to a position opposite the gate, and at 3.30 p.m. fire was opened upon the ramparts on either side. From this moment the hopes of the 2nd Battalion men rose as rapidly as the volume of hostile machine-gun fire diminished; but it was getting late in the day, and the persistent efforts of the 4th Battalion on the western side were beginning to bear fruit.
Our account of the movements of the 4th Battalion left those troops approaching the outer defences of the town after the capture of their section of the railway, "A," "B" and "C" Companies being in the leading line and "D" in reserve along the railway bank. "C" Company (Lieut. C. N. Rabone) on the left succeeded in establishing itself in that sunken road reached later by patrols from the 2nd Battalion, but when the kindly smoke-barrage, under cover of which the company had made this advance, drifted away, the enemy machine-guns so swept the open ground both before and behind them that the men were prevented from making any further movement either forward or backward. Here they were pinned down for the rest of the day, and had to be content with engaging as fully as might be the attention of the enemy troops on the fortifications to their immediate front.
The scouts of "B" Company (Lieut. V. F. Maxwell) in the centre reached the outer edge of the moat, and were followed by Major Barrowclough, who went up to make a personal reconnaissance. As a result of the investigation it was seen that for the time being the best position was this outer bank, and "B" Company was accordingly brought up at once. Smoke and fog were still thick, and the advance was made without much difficulty, the few occupied rifle-pits in the level ground being quickly cleared. The garrison of one post, followed into the moat itself by 2nd Lieut. F. M. Evans and a handful of men, eluded capture by passing in rear of one of the bastions and mounting to the commanding position at the top. On the right, "A" Company (Lieut. H. S. Kenrick) had a longer advance, but presently joined up with "B," 2nd Lieuts. P. A. page 458 Lummis and L. C. L. Averill leading the way and bringing with them a party of seven German machine-gunners whose activities had been delaying the advance of the company. This capture had been neatly effected by the two officers with the assistance of a runner, Rifleman W. E. Lowe, the barrage-smoke enabling them to execute a flanking movement and a final dash without being observed.
"C" Company in the sunken road was now visited, and it was found that beyond the continuance of the holding-attack no further assistance in the general assault could be expected from these troops, for in addition to machine-gun and rifle fire they were now experiencing a smart bombardment from minenwerfer and a 77-mm. gun firing from the walls. Clearly any further advance must be made from the position occupied by "A" and "B" Companies, whose men were enjoying a near view of the obstacles still to be overcome. Before them lay the broad outer moat with its maze of low, intersecting banks and its many bush-crowned "lofty islets"—those disconnected bastions, shaped in some cases like the head of a broad-arrow, in others like the familiar flat-iron; and beyond these again were the deep waters of the inner moat, and finally the sheer forty-foot walls of the main ramparts. Truly the prospect was not cheering, and the problem as to how they might eircumvent the machine-gun posts stationed upon all the important high points and ultimately scale the inner defences seemed to bristle with difficulties.
In company with his intelligence officer, 2nd Lieut. Averill, and a runner, Major Barrowclough now set out on a close investigation of the ground between "B" Company's position and the inner wall, the smoke still hanging about the trees on the floor of the moat rendering this movement fairly easy of accomplishment. Two Germans encountered were taken prisoner, and one was persuaded to lead the little party towards a suspected entrance to the town. The route taken, however, wound about so circuitously amongst the crisscrossed walls and banks that suspicion, quite unfounded, as it transpired, was aroused as to the guide's real intentions, and the mission was abandoned. The way back had to be made through heavy shelling which the enemy now directed upon the area, but fortunately his own people in the locality frantically sent up their signal lights for a lengthening of the page 459range, and from that time onward his artillery ceased to give trouble here. At this stage, however, the smoke barrage began to thin out, and the reconnoitring party came under hot machine-gun fire from several quarters.
Major Barrowclough now bethought him of the cork mats and the scaling-ladders that had been provided by the Engineers for the passage of the moat and wall. Fortunately the floats would not be required, but it was certainly possible to put the ladders to immediate use. His conscience pricked him as he recalled that at the preliminary Brigade conference he had lightly scoffed at this provision, and had laughingly put forward a request for a spare copy of "Ivanhoe" so that the ancient mode of assault might be closely studied. For it was just the old-fashioned plan, to be prosecuted with the aid of modern weapons, that was finally decided upon. It was evident that if a general advance were made towards the walls, the attacking troops would inevitably be drawn in between the outlying bastions and enfiladed while meeting fire from the front, and the commanding officer determined to avoid this by capturing these same outworks one by one and making use of them to eover his further advance. This involved a series of frontal attacks on positions presenting to our men sheer faces of masonry from thirty to forty feet high, and to secure a footing on the tops the attackers must needs follow the example of the mediaeval men-at-arms and use the scaling-ladders. While the necessary dispositions Were being made the ladders were sent for, but it was found that all but one had been destroyed by shell-fire at the opening of the battle. An additional drawback lay in the fact that the one trench mortar attached to the battalion had been similarly put out of action. However, it was decided to carry on and make shift with the means available.
From the moat-bank the top of the nearest island bastion was raked with Lewis gun fire, and at shorter range bombarded with rifle-grenades; and at a given signal a platoon from the centre company, led by 2nd Lieut. F. M. Evans, a dashing young officer who had but recently been commissioned in the field, rushed forward with the ladder. They gained the summit without further opposition, for the garrison had hastily retreated, leaving behind a portion of their machine-gun equipment and a large quantity of ammunition. Evans was page 460anxious to push on, but was not permitted to do so until two neighbouring positions had been similarly captured. This accomplished, he moved with characteristic boldness against the bastion immediately to his front, but, passing beyond with his platoon to take the position from the rear, he lost touch with his company. Barrowelough and a party of men scaled this bastion soon afterwards, but could neither see Evans nor get into touch with him, and no further action could be taken in this direction for fear of firing inadvertently into his platoon. It was afterwards ascertained that Evans and his men had pushed on right up to the inner wall, where, however, they came under such intense cross-fire that they were compelled to take cover in a slight hollow from which they were unable to escape for many hours. Any movement brought upon them a shower of bullets, but Evans, fretting at this inactivity, dedecided to seek a way out. Together with his runner, he wormed his way up to the edge of the hollow, only to be met there by a burst of fire in which this gallant officer and his devoted companion perished.
The uncertainty as to the position of Evans's platoon, together with the increasing activity of the enemy machine-guns and minenwerfer, made it necessary to hold over any further exploitation of the partial success gained at this point. The right company could for the moment do little to assist, and upon a survey of the whole situation it seemed clear that to persist in the endeavour to force an entry was to take risks not altogether justifiable. The noon hour was approaching, and the defenders as well as the attackers knew that the town was practically isolated and must presently fall without direct assault. The battalion had done all that it had been asked to do, and more, and the final task of mopping-up Le Quesnoy would follow in due course. Still, it was a provoking business. Moreover, the officers of the artillery were becoming importunate, for, owing to the general success of the advance they were now anxious to get their guns forward, but all roads in the Divisional area led through or closely skirted Le Quesnoy, and it was useless to attempt to pass while fire poured from the walls. Partly for this reason, and partly out of sheer doggedness, Major Barrowclough determined to renew the attempt to enter the town.page 461
Reconnoitring patrols had as a matter of course continued their activities, those from "A" Company being especially successful; and from information received it was considered probable that success might attend an attempt to penetrate the inner fortifications at a point between the two prominent main bastions on the south-west corner. It had been ascertained that in this locality two of the disconnected bastions lay directly one behind the other, and that, situated behind these again, was a number of comparatively low walls and banks which appeared to form a means of approach to the wall of the inner rampart, as they would afford considerable cover for strong fighting patrols. Movement along this line, from the projecting angle of the moat to the wall itself, meant an advance of nearly three hundred yards against a succession of strong posts having a commanding situation, and covered, further, by machine-gun fire from the two prominent salients of the principal fortification; but the favourable features had a compensating value where determined men were concerned, and preparations were at once set on foot for the prosecution of an assault in accordance with this plan.
The reserve company, Lieut. C. Birch, was brought forward to the general line along the moat, and with them a Stokes gun and crew that had till now been attached to the 1st Battalion. Under a barrage of Stokes mortar bombs and rifle-grenades, Lewis gun sections detailed for the purpose worked forward with the ladder, drove the enemy back, and occupied the two principal "lofty islets" and one of the higher of the subsidiary walls beyond. These, as well as the sections in rear, directed their fire upon the top of the inner rampart, while the mortar bombarded the two great salients on either side, and by 2.30 p.m. the hostile fire had so far been reduced as to warrant a further advance.
2nd Lieut. Averill, with a Lewis gun section from the centre company, was accordingly despatched to reconnoitre forward towards the wall. Carrying with them the precious scaling-ladder, the party moved on to a mass of earth and masonry beyond the two nearer "islets." This they scaled, and from their new vantage-point they discovered that nothing lay between them and the last rampart but a few low banks and the deep inner moat. The Lewis gun section took up its position here, and Averill passed down to a bank near page 462the edge of the moat, where he joined 2nd Lieuts. Lummis and E. P. Canavan, who, with a strong patrol from "A" Company, had worked up under cover from the right and had just reached the same spot. Fortune seemed to smile upon these intrepid advanced parties, for, just at this point, a narrow masonry wall crossed the inner moat and led along the sheer wall beyond to the opening of a stairway which evidently passed up through the rampart and so gave access to the town. Apparently the masonry structure was the wall of a dam by means of which the flow of water in the moat was regulated, for it was provided with a sluice-gate, and the stairs no doubt served for the convenience of the attendants. Closer scrutiny, however, disclosed the fact that the stairway had been hastily but effectively blocked with baulks of timber thrown down from within. There remained the scaling-ladder, which, given a footing, precarious though it might be, on the narrow causeway, might reach to the top of the wall, here somewhat lower than elsewhere. Cautiously the party, led by 2nd Lieut. Canavan, moved out from cover to place the ladder in position and try their fortune; but, taking advantage of a momentary decrease in our covering fire, a party of Germans returned to their post immediately above, and a shower of stick-bombs caused our men to drop the ladder and dash back to cover.
This was not encouraging, but on the whole the situation was considered to be very satisfactory. All the platoons of the three companies had been steadily working forward and were now close at hand under cover, and the supporting fire had already effected a very noticeable diminution in the enemy's resistance. Every Lewis gun in the battalion, with the exception of those with the fire-harassed "C" Company in the sunken road, was now trained on the summit of the inner wall, which was "combed" with intermittent bursts of fire. The effect of this, supplemented as it was by frequent volleys of rifle-grenades, soon became most marked. The hostile fire rapidly diminished, and the enemy at this point was finally driven from the rampart and compelled to seek shelter in the underground barracks whieh had been constructed beneath. A platoon from the reserve company, under 2nd Lieut. H. W., Kerr, was detailed to continue the operation, the plans for which were carefully worked out. The platoon was divided into three parties, one of which would secure the position on page 463the rampart about the head of the ladder, and then the two others, working right and left from this, would seize and hold the two flanking bastions. This done, a firing-line would be built up under cover of the bank of earth which rose to a height of five or six feet above the brickwork of the wall, and from this position a final rush would be made down the slope into the streets of the town. Further rifle sections were posted in commanding positions to augment the volume of covering fire, the Stokes mortar was brought within closer range of its important targets, and shortly before 4 p.m. all preparations were complete.
Our Lewis guns and rifles opened intense fire, sweeping the bank along the top of the rampart; the trench mortar bombarded the point to be assaulted and then directed its attention to the salients; and under cover of this fire the stormingparty, led by Averill and Kerr, took forward the ladder to the moat. Working calmly, yet swiftly, our men laid the ladder with its foot over its appointed place on the causeway. Two men weighted and steadied this end, and the others, with a running lift, had it erect in a twinkling. Averill was half-way up the ladder before the top reached its resting-place on the wall. A moment later he was clambering over the grassy bank, where he was met by an astonished German who turned and ran for the dug-outs below. Joined instantly by Kerr and two men with a Lewis gun, he followed in the fugitive's tracks and rounded up the party to which he belonged. Now the light and flimsy ladder was being severely tested, for, following closely upon the heels of the assaulting platoon, the whole available portion of the battalion, led by its commanding officer, who had personally directed these operations to their conclusion, was passing up in one continuous stream in single file. Platoons were rapidly reformed and steps taken to deal with any resistance, but these precautions proved to be quite unnecessary, no serious opposition being anywhere encountered. Telephonic communication with Brigade Head-quarters had been maintained throughout, and at 4.15 p.m. Major Barrowclough, on stepping from the ladder, sent a message stating that he had just entered Le Quesnoy. At this time also Lieut.-Col. Jardine's men on the north were reaping the fruit of their long and persistent effort, and at 4.30 p.m. they stormed the Valenciennes Gate and set foot within the walls.page 464
The systematic mopping-up of the town now claimed attention, and in this we were both aided and hindered by the civilian population. They gladly pointed out the known hiding-places, but, unable to restrain their expressions of joy at deliverance, they repeatedly broke into the ranks, thrust flowers and cakes and flags upon our men, and freely embraced them in the manner peculiar and common to the French, but most embarrassing to the stolid New Zealanders. Even these difficulties were finally overcome, however, and the place, now gay with innumerable tricolour flags, which fluttered from every window, was cleared up by nightfall. The German commander with 100 men surrendered with full ceremony to one of the 4th Battalion officers. Others were added to these from time to time, till eventually the number of prisoners assembled in the square reached the total of 711. Parties of Germans were organized into bucket brigades to extinguish the many incendiary fires they had started, and into squads for the removal of mines and booby-traps; and when these duties had been satisfactorily completed the prisoners were drafted off in batches to the Divisional cage, where they joined the 532 that had been captured by the Brigade at the first objective. Five 77-mm. guns, twelve minenwerfer, eighty machine-guns, two anti-tank rifles, a travelling-kitchen and a number of horses were taken, together with a whole limber-load of optical instruments, mainly telescopic periscopes, to say nothing of an unusual number of field-glasses and revolvers unofficially collected by the men as souvenirs. Amongst the 77-mm. guns was one captured while still engaged in firing into the lines of the New Zealanders to the east of the town. Curiously enough, this eventually found its way to Dunedin, where it was identified by Lieut. H. S. Kenrick, whose men had captured it.
The faithful cooks of the 4th Battalion were not long in following their victorious comrades into Le Quesnoy; for when word was got back that the place had been taken they immediately set off with their travelling-kitchens, which, after the manner of a triumphal procession, presently passed through the streets with full steam up, and a hot meal was ready before the rounding-up of the garrison had been fully completed. That night discipline was relaxed to the extent of permitting page 465the men to find billets where they chose, and the grateful citizens saw to it that these were the best the town had to offer.
The day's operations cost the Brigade 6 officers and 37 men killed, and 13 officers and 238 men wounded.