The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade
Part 1.—In The Trenches
Part 1.—In The Trenches.
First tour in the line—A battalion sector—To reserve—First raid, 2nd Battalion—Australians relieved in the Rue Marle sector —Armentieres bombarded—Inter-battalion relief—4th Battalion raid—Germans raid 2nd Battalion—Enemy bombardments—
Fighting patrols—Relieved by 18th Division.
On the night of 22nd/23rd of May the New Zealand Rifle Brigade commenced its first tour of duty in the trenches in France, taking over from the.2nd Brigade part of the sector due east of Armentieres. During the previous day or two a careful reconnaissance had been carried out by officers and non-commissioned officers, who made themselves as thoroughly acquainted as possible with the whole area, and more particularly with the front-line trenches and No Man's Land. Specialists, such as Lewis gunners and observers, went in on the 21st, thus ensuring that there should be no break in their particular work. The 1st Battalion relieved 2nd Auckland in the Epinette sub-sector—the point of the salient—while 2nd Otago was relieved by the 3rd Battalion. The 2nd and 4th Battalions came in on the night of 23rd/24th, the former relieving 2nd Canterbury in the Pont Ballot sub-sector on the left of the lst Battalion, and the latter taking over from 2nd Wellington the remainder of the Brigade sector from Hobbs' Farm to the River Lys. The battalions were now in their normal order from right to left, and the area occupied by the Brigade formed the left sector of the Divisional front. The lst Brigade was on our right, and across the River Lys on our left were troops of the 9th Division.
All ranks were fairly familiar with the sector generally, for, in addition to the preliminary visits paid by officers and non-commissioned officers, the battalions had, since the 19th, been supplying working parties for the trenches up to sixty per cent. of their total strength. It was, nevertheless, a strange experience, this first taking-over of a sector of the line, page 88with all that it meant in the matter of responsibility, to say nothing of the possibilities before us. Yet, to many, these serious aspects bulked less largely than such immediate difficulties as the passage of the narrow communication trenches, in the darkness, and encumbered by the loads of impedimenta of various kinds, for in those days we took a good issue of blankets into the trenches, and the cooking was done even in the front line itself. The finding of dug-out quarters, the exchange of sentries in the fire-bays, the relief of trench-officers, the checking of stores and equipment, and a hundred other duties and formalities, were to us by no means an easy task; but all was successfully accomplished, and in good time we had returned the "Cheerio!" of the last of the outgoing troops, and had sent off in code the message "Relief complete."
The sketch-map opposite page 96 shows the more important details of a battalion sector of the front-line trench System. It is that occupied by the 1st Battalion when the Brigade first went into the line. The heavy lines represent the trenches, and those of the Germans opposite the sector are also shown, but in lesser detail. As an indication of the low-lying nature of the ground, it may be pointed out that what appear to be narrow roads are really drains as they originally existed, the water from most of these finding its way into a larger drain, the Becque de la Blue, and thence into the River Lys at Armentieres. With this word of explanation in mind, the two or three roads leading forward, as well as that along which the front trench had been constructed, will easily be distinguished. The roads, of course, even if they had not been broken up by shell-fire, were useless as ordinary means of access to the various parts of the sector, for, as the ground rose behind the German line, the enemy had our area well under observation. The actual front-line trench, some 1300 yards in length, extended from Auckland Avenue on the right to Hepbura Avenue on the left, where the 2nd Battalion sector began. As will be seen, it followed the line of scattered houses, or rather their remains, that once formed the hamlet of l'Epinette. It was not held continuously throughout its whole length, but was divided into four "localities" separated by "gaps," with the object of breaking up any attack the enemy might make. The localities were sited and constructed in such a way that not only were they practically self-contained, and so expected to hold page 89out for a considerable time unaided, but they were also able to bring crossfire to bear in support of one another. The gaps were so placed that the enemy breaking through, which he would more easily do at these points, would be dealt with conveniently by the garrison of the covering trenches in rear, while at the same time he would be subjected to flanking fire from the localities. The gaps were not occupied, but were systematically patrolled under arrangements made by the officers in charge of the neighbouring garrisons; and every precaution was taken, by means of construction work and camouflage, to ensure that any difference between the occupied and the unoccupied trenches should be imperceptible from aeroplane or other observation.
As the soil-water level practically corresponded with the surface of the ground, all the trenches, whether in forward or rear lines, were formed of earthworks. The fighting trenches were broken up into fire-bays, the spaces between being solid and thick enough to minimize the lateral effect of shell-fire as well as to afford protection from flanking fire. Where the construction was well advanced, a travel-trench was added to and connected with the fire-trench, so that it was possible to walk along the trench either by winding in and out of the fire-bays, or by moving along the travel-trench without disturbing the men in the bays.
The earthworks were supported to a certain height on the inner side by means of wooden frames lined with boards or corrugated iron or "expanded-iron" netting. The most effective frame was made somewhat in the form of an inverted capital A; the "duck-board" flooring rested on the cross-bar, which at the same time acted as a strut and the drainage collected and flowed beneath. Above the framing the required height of cover was secured by resorting to sandbagging. Owing to repeated bombardments and reconstructions the most advanced earthworks developed into an intricate maze of abandoned masses of tumbled timber and clay, with new fire-bays pushed into the most unexpected places. In the parados, the bank of earth forming the rear part of the trench, were little "dug-outs" where the men not on duty snatched their brief periods of fitful sleep. In general they were large enough to hold four men. The walls, formed of bags of clay, were sometimes lined with timber, while the discomfort was in some de-page 90gree lessened by covering the earthen floor with sections of duck-board. The roofs were formed of corrugated iron resting on iron or wooden rails, with earth piled on top in sufficient thickness to afford protection from shrapnel. They were usually entered from the passages connecting the fire-bays with the travel-trench. Occasionally, where the parapet was unusually thick, these so-called dug-outs were constructed in that bank. In similar structures stores of water, rations and ammunition were kept. In the front line of the battalion sector there were two Vickers machine-guns in concrete emplacements which were sited to sweep the two sides of the angle forming the salient. As they were intended for defensive purposes only, they were normally silent. The positions of these and also of the Lewis guns are indicated in the diagram.
For the sake of clearness the belt of wire entanglement that ran along the forward side of the advanced trench is not shown; lines of crosses mark the position of barbed wire in other parts.
Behind the front line ran a close-support System, and in rear of this again a second support line. Much farther back was a reserve or subsidiary System. Owing to the peculiar shape of the front trench-line, the rear trenches had to be sited so as to cope with an attack on either or both sides of the salient.
Between the support and the reserve systems we had in this sector two strong-points known as S.P.X. and S.P.Y., and in the sector held by the 2nd Battalion there was a third, called S.P.Z. These were little all-round systems constructed on slightly-rising ground, and designed to break up the enemy's attack if that should succeed in breaking through the forward lines. The garrison of each was one platoon, strengthened by a Vickers gun and crew.
Access to this part of the Brigade sector was had mainly through the communication trench known as Buterne Lane, which, from the main road of Houplines, a suburb of Armentieres, led to the subsidiary line. Byrne's Boulevard led forward from this, and branched off to Plank Avenue, connecting up with the right of the forward system, and to Willow Walk and Japan Road, by means of which the other face of the salient was most conveniently reached. Each of these was well constructed, and was provided at intervals with fire-steps page 91so that the communication trench could be used to form an effective flank if the need should arise.
The battalion sector was garrisoned as follows: "A" Company held the locality on the right, and found its own supports. "B" Company was responsible for the three smaller localities, namely, one consisting of the Retrenchment, with its advanced posts at 5th and 6th Houses, a second locality at 2nd House, and a third forming the miniature salient east of Japan Farm. Two platoons of "D" Company were in support to "B." These were located in the support and second support lines, supplied posts in the Pioneers' Retrenchment then under construction, and were to be prepared to reinforce the garrison of either face of the main salient. The remaining platoons of this company occupied S.P.Y. and S.P.X., which they were to hold at all costs. "C" Company, in reserve, had two platoons in the trenches of the subsidiary line and two in Quality Street. Battalion Headquarters and the Regimental Aid Post were in Willow Walk.
Rations and general supplies came up from Houplines by way of the tramway constructed along the road marked "Australia Avenue;" but as the forward portions of the tram-line were frequently out of repair owing to shell-fire, supplies were usually dumped near the junction of Willow Walk and Japan Road, and from this point distributed by carrying parties.
A word might be added as to the mode of indicating exactly positions on the map, and thus on the ground. A sheet to the scale of 1 in 20,000 would represent an area of, roughly, ten miles by six. This itself would be one-fourth of a larger rectangle, the four parts of which were distinguished by the terms N.W., N.E., S.W., and S.E., respectively. This greater division was numbered, and the particular sheet used by us for general purposes was known as 36 N.W. This sheet was divided into a number of large squares, bearing the letters A, B, C, etc., in capitals. Each of these was again divided, by what were known as the "grid-lines" of the map, into thirty or perhaps thirty-six squares, numbered accordingly. Finally, each of these was subdivided into four squares, the two upper being a and b, and the two lower c and d, but there was, of course, no necessity to show these letters on the map. The side of the quarter-square always represented a length of 500 yards. By judgment, or by means of a cardboard scale, the page 92sides were again subdivided into ten, or where greater accuracy was required, into one hundred imaginary parts; but in maps drawn to a large scale the tenths were shown on the gridlines. Now, to state the position of a given point within the square, the eye runs along the bottom of the square from left to right until it reaches the part of the line immediately below the point, and the subdivision here is noted; similarly, the eye runs up the left side until opposite the point, and this subdivision is noted also. Thus, on the accompanying sketch, which is based on a small portion of Sheet 36 N.W., and covers part of the C and I rectangles, Chicken Farm is at point I. 5.c. 35.70. So, also, the map reference for Strong-Point Y would be given as I. 4.b. 95.65, and that for Strong-Point Z as C. 28.d. 80.25. The point of the salient would be stated as being at I, 5. central.*
* The printed trench-maps usually gave no details in the area occupied by the British, beyond what could be obtained from any ordnance map drawn to the same scale. On the other hand, they showed the German trench-system in great detail, information regarding which was obtained from aeroplane photographs, and, in the preparation of the plates, superimposed upon the ordinary French ordnance maps. The use of an ingenious prismatic instrument enabled this to be done by hand with great ease and exactitude.
The reproduction of an aeroplane photograph, facing page 97, to show the locality of the 2nd Battalion's raid, covers also a portion of the ground referred to in the description given above. It was taken about a fortnight before we went into the line. In this the bright, even lines of the roads are clearly contrasted with the dark lines of the drains. The abandoned fields in our own territory as well as in No Man's Land are plainly marked, and the practised eye may distinguish the shadows cast by orchard and hedge trees. The embankments forming the communication and fighting trenches show, as usual, with great clearness. Buterne Farm and the three strong-points, X, Y, and Z, may readily be picked up, as also may the patch of trampled ground between the tramway on Australia Avenue and Willow Walk, over which. Innumerable carrying parties had passed by night as they took supplies to the front-line trenches. The effects of artillery bombardment appear to be more striking on the German side of No Man'a Land than on our own; Box Farm, for instance, had been so battered as to be almost indistinguishable, but it will be seen, also, that Buterne Farm had not escaped attention of this kind.
Our casualties for the month of May were:—
The first officer to become a casualty was 2nd Lieut. J. H. Cock, 3rd Battalion, who was wounded on May 31st.
Included in this list were three men of the 3rd Battalion killed and two wounded through the small dug-out they were occupying being struck by a high-explosive shell during a concentrated enemy bombardment of the trenches. The occupants were buried in the debris, and the Company commander (Capt. Drummond), who happened to be in the vicinity on his round of inspection, proceeded, with the assistance of Sergeant S. F. Breach and Riflemen W. B. Thomson, J. H. Cannon and T. Barrow, to dig out the buried men—a task which, in spite of the continued heavy shell-fire and of the fact that they were in full view of the enemy owing to the breaching of the parapet, the fearless little party succeeded in accomplishing, fortunately without further casualties. Actions such as this were common enough in later days. Mention of the incident is made merely to indicate not only the fine spirit with which our men, as yet inexperienced and unseasoned, were imbued, but also that adaptability to strange circumstances which was to stand them in such good stead in the varied experiences that lay before them. page 94At the beginning of June we were relieved by the 2nd Brigade, 2nd Auckland and 2nd Otago taking over from the 1st and 3rd Battalions on the night of lst/2nd, and the 2nd and 4th Battalions being relieved by 2nd Canterbury and 2nd Wellington on the following night. We were again billeted in Armentieres. The Brigade became Divisional reserve, and the 3rd Battalion was detailed as Brigade reserve to the left sector, the 1st Battalion as garrison of the Armentieres lines of defence.
The period spent out of the line was by no means one of slothful ease. Large parties were regularly supplied for construction and repair work in the forward lines, these duties being carried out under the general supervision of Engineer officers, and having for their object the rapid improvement of the defences of the sector. Thus our men, while having the advantage of better living-quarters, still had to face the same difficulties and dangers that formed part of their lot while holding the trenches. Certainly the strain was not so constant, but the opinion was often expressed—for it is the soldier's privilege to grumble—that they were better off in than out of the line. Training was carried on whenever possible, but this was perforce usually confined to practice in rapid wiring and the further instruction of specialists in their important work. In addition the 1st Battalion was employed in preparing to occupy the inner defences of the town in case of emergency, while a party of the 2nd Battalion was busily engaged perfecting its arrangements and training for a raid.
* The Division's earliest raid was that undertaken by a party from the 2nd Otago Battalion under Capt. Alley and Lieut. Espiner, on June 16.
The orders for the raid, which are given below, indicate the extent to which every point was thought out and every emergency provided for. The various blanks in the orders were kept open till the very last convenient moment. Lieut.- Col. Stewart's temporary headquarters were in the front-line trench. All subsequent raids were executed along similar lines, though later on, as units became accustomed to this class of work, the written instructions gave less and less attention to minute detail.
How successful this operation proved to be will be seen from the report of the raid, which is also given in full.
3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade. Order No. 8.Headquarters, 18th June, 1916.
Reference Map: Armentieres, Sheet 36, N.W.2, 1/10,000 and attached sketch 1/2,500.
On the night of…… June, 1916, the 2nd Battalion, N.Z.(R.) Bde., will carry out a raid on the enemy's trenches opposite Pont Ballot, from C.29.a.4.1½ to C.29. a. 5.4. (where ditch enters trench), with the following objects:—
(a) To take prisoners and secure identifications. (b) To capture or destroy any machine-guns or trench mortars found. (c) To report on enemy's trenches and dug-outs. (d) To decrease enemy's morale. (e) To obtain all information possible. 2.
The following information has been obtained by reconnaissance:—
(a) The stream running from C.29.a.1½.2¾. in N.E. direction to C.29.a.3.4½. is about 3 ft. wide and shallow, with a hedge on the eastern bank. (b) The ground rises slightly in a S.E. direction from the stream to mid-way to the "Four Daisies" Road (C.29.a. 2½.2.), and then falls to the road. (c) The "Four Daisies" Road (C.29.a.2½.1½. to C.29.a.4¾.) is a flat turf road, wired along its length except for a passage way on western side. The wire is composed of page 96knife rests covered with thick barbed wire. These rests could easily be lifted aside by hand or destroyed by T.M. bombs. From C.29.a.2½.1½. there is a shallow ditch 6 to 8 feet wide, filled with two-strand galvanized barbed wire, which runs for 50 yards along eastern face of road where the ditch ends. This wire is continued to within 20 ft. of C.29.a.4.3½. (d) The ditch running from C.29.a.3¾.4½. in a S.E. direction through the enemy's trenches is dry throughout its length, but blocked with earth where "Four Daisies" Road crosses it. (e) From S.E. of "Four Daisies" patch to the Pont Ballot— Brune Rue Road the ground is a mass of barbed wire. (f) There are two saps running out from the enemy's trenches, one on either end of the portion to be attacked. The northern end is known to be occupied as a listening post, and is guarded at its head by knife rests. (g) The grass is long between Assembly Point, C.29.a. 3.4½. and "Four Daisies" Road, but is shorter on the German side of the road. (h) There are not thought to be enemy machine-guns in the portion of the trench to be raided, and the trenches are reported to be lightly held. 3.
The reasons why this portion of the enemy's line was chosen are as follow:—
(a) Impossible for enemy to bring enfilade fire from the Southern trenches on our right, or near enfilade fire on our left flank. (b) Our artillery can establish a barrage on flanks and support line. (c) Only one communication trench (C.29.a.5¼.3.) into firetrench. (d) Nearest point of support trench is 120 yards in rear. (e) Ground in No Man's Land is suitable for an Assembly Point in at least two places. (f) Roads and hedge on flank to keep direction. 4.
The following troops, under Capt. A. J. Powley, 2nd Battalion, N.Z.(R.) Bde., will take part in the advance and attack:—
(a) Patrol—1 N.C.O. and 4 men. (b) Left Bombing Party—Lt. Castle, 2 N.C.O.'s and 10 men. (c) Assault Party—Lt. Davidson, 2 N.C.O.'s, 10 men and 2 Engineers.page break
- E: the point of exit from our trench;
- B: the assembly-ditch;
- A and C: the flank point of the section raided;
- D: the group of shell-holes known as the Four Daisies.
(d) Intelligence—2 men. (e) Right Bombing Party—2 N.C.O.'s and 10 men. (f) Left Flank Party—1 N.C.O. and 2 men, with Lewis gun. (g) O.C. Raid and Signallers—Capt. A. J. Powley, 1 N.C.O. and 3 men. (h) Stretcher-Bearers—1 N.C.O. and 8 men (4 stretchers). (i) Right Flank Party—1 N.C.O. and 2 men, with Lewis gun. (j) Messengers—6 men.
Total: 3 Officers, 11 N.C.O.'s, 59 men.
5. Patrol will leave our trenches (T.80 and 81) at C.29.a. ½.¾., and wait at Assembly Point until rest of party arrive; and after bombardment has lifted, they will move forward and will cut the wire at point selected. When wire is cut, they will inform O.C. Assault and guide the Assaulting Party through the gap. When Assaulting Party has entered the trenches, the Patrol will collect under the parapet and prepare an exit for Assault Party; they will take charge of any prisoners.
Assault Party will leave our trenches at C.29.a.½.¼., and will move to the point of assembly, C.29.a.3.4½, eastern bank of stream. When the Patrol moves forward, the Assault Party will follow in rear to within 30 yards of "Four Daisies" Road, where they will wait until Patrol has reported wire to be cut. The O.C. Assault Party will give the order to move through the wire and enter the enemy's trenches.
The Assault Party will move through the gap in single file, extend on a frontage of one man per yard, and enter the trench to their front. They will take one prisoner at once, and then kill any other enemy met with there. When this has been done, half the party will move to either flank and get in touch with the bombing parties on our flanks, forming connecting links down the trench. The prisoners will be passed along the trench to O.C. Assault Party at the point of exit from the trench. The Assault Party will not take more than 3 prisoners in all.
As soon as the enemy's trenches are entered, the O.C. Assault Party will send back a runner to report to O.C. Raid. O.C. Raid will send back the word "entered" by telephone and lamp to O.C. Attack. As soon as the parties have returned to the Assembly Point after the raid, the O.C. Raid will send "returned" by telephone and lamp to O.C. Attack.page 98
Right Bombing Party will follow the Assault Party and, on reaching the wire, will move up on their right in single file and enter the trench. Half the party, with senior N.C.O., will at once move along the trench to C.29.a.4.1½, killing any enemy met with. On their point being reached they will block the trench, and prevent anyone giving assistance to portion of trench raided. The remainder of the party will work up the trench from point of entry to the blocking party, clearing dug-outs and taking prisoners. Not more than 3 prisoners to be taken.
Left Bombing Party will follow Assault Party and, on reaching the wire, will move up on their left, in single file, and enter the trench. Lt. Castle, 1 N.C.O., 2 bayonet men, and 6 bombers will move along trench, killing any enemy met with, to C.29.a.5.4. (ditch), where they will block the communication trench just South of the ditch, and also the main fire-trench. The remainder of the party will act in a similar manner to the remainder of the right bombing party.
Intelligence Men will move in rear of Assault Party in the trench and search enemy dead and dug-outs, and will remove and bring back pay-books, identity discs, shoulder-straps, letters, pocket-books, specimen of flares, revolvers, gas helmets, etc. They will pay particular attention to the construction and design of trenches and dug-outs.
Messengers. One each with O.C. Assault Party, Right and Left Bombing Parties, and 2 to remain with O.C. Raid. The messenger with O.C. Assault Party will carry with him a luminous tape, which he will pay out from a point 30 yards in front of enemy's wire up to enemy's parapet and into trench.
Left Flank Party will move out from our trenches in rear of Right Bombing Party to the Assembly Point C.29. a.3.4½., and will take up a position at junction of road and stream. They will be prepared to deal with any enemy who move out North of the raiding area.
Right Flank Party will move out in rear of stretcher-bearers from our trenches, keeping to the North side of Pont Ballot—Brune Rue Road to junction of that road with the "Four Daisies" Road, where they will take up a position to deal with any enemy who move out South of the raiding area.
Signallers will move out in rear of Left Flank Party and lay out two lines along stream bank to Assembly Point. They will take with them three telephone sets and two electric signal lamps.page 99
Parties will move out from our trenches at C.29.a.½.¾. in the following order:—
- Left Bombing Party.
- Assault Party.
- Intelligence Party.
- Right Bombing Party.
- Left Flank Party.
- O.C. Raid and Signallers.
- Right Flank Party.
7. O. C. Raid will remain at Assembly Point C.29.a.3.4½. with signallers, 2 messengers and stretcher-bearers. 8. O.C. Attack, Lt.-Col. A. E. Stewart. 2nd Bn., will be at………with signallers and messengers. With him will be the Divisional Trench Mortar Officer (Capt. White) and Artillery Liaison Officer. 9. Dress. All ranks will wear general service uniform with boots and puttees. Steel helmets will be worn. Faces and hands will be blackened. Every man will have a piece of white material 3 inches broad on each arm. These will be covered with a piece of dark cloth, which will be removed on entering the hostile trenches. Gas helmets will be carried by all ranks. 10. The Raiding Party will assemble at.…p.m. at the head of Fiji Avenue at junction of "stop" in Locality 6a. Six spare men will also parade. O.C. Attack will carefully inspect all ranks to see that they are carrying nothing likely to be of value to the enemy. 11.
Action. Parties will move out to the Assembly Point from C.29.a.½.¼. at the following times:—
- 0 (Zero)*—Patrol.
- 0.15—The remainder of the Raiding Party in the order given in Para. 6. They will collect at the Assembly Point and there remain.
- 0.45—The artillery will open fire on the portion of the trench to he raided, and also on the flanks and supporting trenches in rear. At the same time the Trench Mortar Batteries will cut the wire as nearly as possible at C.29.a.4½.3.
- 1.00—The barrage will he lifted and concentrated on enemy's flank and support trenches. The raidingpage 100party, preceded by the patrol, will advance to within 30 yards of the enemy's wire, in 3 columns in single file from right to left: Right Bombing Party, Assault Party, Left Bombing Party. They will then carry on as in Para. 5.
* Zero hour was 10.30 p.m. The remaining times are given in horns and minutes after zero.
No One is on any account to move forward from the Assembly Point until 1.00.
The right flank party will not move from our trenches up to its position until 1.00, and, on the signal for withdrawal being received, will remain another 5 minutes in their position and then withdraw to our trenches.
12. Should the N.C.O. in charge of the Patrol find that all the wire has not been cut, he will send back to O.C. Assault and at once start cutting the wire. The O.C. Assault is responsible for keeping touch with the Patrol. 13. Wounded men will either walk or be carried back at once. 14. Prisoners will be handed out at once from the point of exit, and will be taken over by the Patrol, who will escort them to O.C. Raid. 15.
Withdrawal. The raiding party will not remain in the enemy's tranches more than 10 minutes, but may be withdrawn earlier on a signal given by the O.C. Assault. The signal for withdrawal will be two long and two short blasts on the whistle, which will be passed along the trench by the Assault Party, and repeated by Officers and N.C.O.'s in charge of parties. All parties must return to the point of exit within one minute of signal, and Officers or N.C.O.'s in charge must ensure that no man is left unwarned. There must be no delay in returning to exit after signal for withdrawal has been made; should any party be actively engaged they should hold on for a short time longer, but must send a man to report at once to O.C. Assault Party.
The Left Bombing Party will be the last to leave, and will cover the retirement of the party. After passing through the wire, parties will move back to the Assembly Point as rapidly as possible, and report at once to O.C. Raid.
16. The O.C. Raid will decide whether parties are to remain at Assembly Point until retaliation has ceased, or return to our trenches. Should he adopt the former course, he will inform the O.C. Attack as to his action and the situation, so that our barrage can be discontinued. He must make similar arrangements for wounded and prisoners. 17. The O.C. Attack will arrange to evacuate prisoners and wounded to the rear, and to provide the escort for prisoners, who should be taken to Advanced Brigade Headquarters, together with any captured documents. Prisoners should not page 101be allowed to converse with each other, and should be kept apart. As soon as possible after return to the trenches, the O.C. Attack and all officers engaged in the raid, together with Intelligence men, will report to Advanced Brigade Headquarters. 18. The Raiding Party, on returning to our trenches, will give their names to O.C. Attack and move off to their billets. The names will also be checked again at exits from Spain and Gloucester Avenues. 19.
The following special telephone wires will be laid:—
(a) 1 line from Advanced Brigade Headquarters to O.C. Attack. (b) 1 line from artillery group to Liaison Officer. (c) 1 line from O.C. 2nd Auckland Bn. to O.C. Attack. If these lines fail runners will have to be employed where possible. 20. All watches will be synchronized at 9 a.m., 3 p.m., and 8.30 p.m. on the day of the raid, by telephone with Brigade Headquarters. 21. In order to warn all units concerned, and also neighbouring units, of the night selected for the raid, the following message will be sent: "..……" the hour named being the approximate time the patrol will leave our trenches. Should the operations be postponed, the following message will be sent: ".……" 22. The O.C. Attack may at any time decide not to proceed with the operations, and if he so decides, must inform Advanced Brigade Headquarters at once. 23. The Brigade Grenade Officer will provide all the bombs necessary for the Raiding Party, and will carefully inspect these both before and after being fused. 24. O.C. 2nd Battalion will arrange with his Medical Officer for spare stretchers to be at hand. 25. A countersign will be arranged for all parties going over the parapets. 26. Major R. St. J. Beere, 2nd Bn., will remain in the vicinity of O.C. Attack during operations, and will take over the duties should the latter become a casualty. He should, however, not be in the same dug-out. 27. O.C. Artillery Group and O.C. Machine Gun Company will report to Advanced Brigade Headquarters at.…p.m. 28. Reports to Advanced Brigade Headquarters at 2nd N.Z. Infantry Brigade Headquarters, 5 Rue Jesuit.
Report On Raid On Enemy's Trenches By Party Of 2nd Battalion, 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade. Narrative.
The raid was carried out in accordance with Brigade Order No. 8, dated 18th June, 1916.
The scouts went out at 10.30 p.m., cut a way through our wire, reconnoitred the ground to front and flanks, and heard a wiring party working on the wire at the point to be raided.
At 10.45 p.m. the Raiding Party commenced to leave the trenches for the Assembly Point. All ranks were in position, at 11.9 p.m., and bombardment commenced at the appointed time, 11.15 p.m.
Both telephone wires to the Assembly Point were broken immediately bombardment commenced—it is thought by "blow-backs" from our own trench mortars, as the enemy's retaliation had not commenced. Enemy's retaliation commenced at 11.25 p.m., and fell on support trenches S 80 and 81.
At 11.30 p.m. our bombardment on front line trenches lifted.
The Assaulting Party, preceded by scouts, advanced, and found all enemy's entanglements broken up with the exception of three strands on a width of 20 yards at the nearest point and 20 feet at the parapet. The ditch in front of the enemy's trench was found to be about 8 feet wide and 5 feet deep, and was difficult to cross.
11.36 p.m. The party assaulted the trenches and carried out the programme arranged.
11.51 p.m. They remained in the trenches for fifteen minutes and then withdrew.
Up to this time there had been no casualties. While withdrawing, an enemy's bomb, carried by one of the men, Rifleman McPhee, exploded, killing him and wounding three others. These men were amongst the last seven or eight to leave, and there was some difficulty in getting them away. A large quantity of papers, equipment, etc., was left in No Man's Land in consequence. An attempt will be made to recover some of this to-night. During the withdrawal five other men were wounded.
The party came into our trenches between 12.5 and 12.30 a.m.
At 12.33 a.m. the artillery bombardment was stopped. The artillery should have stopped at about midnight, but, owing to telephonic communication breaking down, information could not be sent that all men were in.
From a careful estimate, 29 Germans were killed by the Assaulting Party, and 9 prisoners were brought in; 7 were page 103handed to the A.P.M., and 2 Germans (wounded) are in the hospital.
Artillery.—Support was excellent. No damage, however, was done by the howitzers to the portion of the trenches assaulted. Just beyond the northern end, the enemy's trench was well broken up by the howitzers.
The medium trench mortar fire was very good and effective. The enemy was completely cowed, and put up practically no resistance.
Trenches. The enemy's trench is dug out of the ground—in fact is a trench with a parapet of about one foot, and a glacis to the ditch in front. It is revetted with hurdles, and is very narrow. The ditch was 8 feet wide and 5 feet deep, and, though quite dry, was found a difficult obstacle to negotiate. The width of his parapet was about 20 feet. The parados is solid earth. Fire-steps were similar to our own. Under the parapet was a good dug-out, with table and electric light; also a number of "funk-holes," lined with timber, and large enough to hold two or three men. The duck-boards were of the same kind as ours.
Two sappers were taken with the party, and were instrumental in doing considerable damage to the enemy's works. They located a gas-engine, similar to a Lister engine, used for pumping purposes, and absolutely wrecked it with five slabs of gun-cotton. The dug-out was also wrecked, and two bomb-stores blown up.
No machine-gun emplacement was found, nor any machine-guns. There was a wire from the trench to the support trenches, with a "pull," probably for a bell. In the trench was a big bell, probably for a gas alarm. No sign of mineshafts could be found.
A large quantity of papers, bombs, five gas helmets, and five rifles were collected. The attack was carried out under the orders of Lt.-Col. A. E. Stewart, O.C. 2nd Battalion, 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade.
The raiding party was commanded by Capt. A. J. Powley, and the assaulting party was under Lieuts. A. P. Castle and C. J. H. Davidson.
The raiding party consisted of 3 officers and 70 other ranks, 2nd Battalion, 3rd N.Z. (R.) Bde., and 2 other ranks N.Z. Engineers.
I desire to express my appreciation of the excellent work done by all ranks and the cool manner in which all the details were carried through.
(Signed) H. T. Fulton, Brigadier-General, Commanding 3rd N.Z. (R). Bde.
In connection with this achievement, undoubtedly brilliant, and all the more noteworthy for the fact that it was a first attempt, only one modest recommendation was made for immediate recognition of meritorious service, and Capt. A. J. Powley was in due course awarded the Military Cross. Later, however, the special services of Lance-Corporals H. G. Le Comte and W. W. C. Bedggood, upon whose excellent work as scouts and patrols much of the success of the enterprise depended, were recognized by the award of the Military Medal.
Of the many commendatory messages received by the Brigade, probably the most highly prized was that sent through Divisional Headquarters by General Birdwood, commanding the 1st Anzac Corps, who telegraphed as follows:—
"Well done, New Zealand! Congratulations on success of your raid. Please convey congratulations to Rifle Brigade."
For the month of June the casualties in the Brigade were:
|Other Ranks||21 90|
It will be noted that although we were engaged in stationary trench warfare, the casualties were somewhat heavy. They were caused almost entirely by shell-fire, which was intermittently active both on the trenches and on the town.
The New Zealand Rifle Brigade relieved the 6th Australian Brigade in the Rue Marle sector, south of Armentieres, at the beginning of July. The 2nd Battalion took over from the 23rd Australian Battalion in the front line on the right, or Bois Grenier, sub-sector on the night of 2nd/3rd July, the 1st Battalion at the same time going into the subsidiary line at Bois Grenier, relieving the 22nd Australians. A very heavy bombardment of Armentieres rendered relief difficult, one company of the 1st Battalion being cut off in the town for an hour.
This was a lurid night. The artillery activity on both sides was more intense than anything we had yet experienced; and to make matters worse, the enemy's incendiary shells ignited buildings in various parts of Armentieres. The 4th Battalion Headquarters were repeatedly struck, and Major A. E. Wolstenholme, and the medical officer, Capt. F. E. page 105Guthrie, were killed by the explosion of an 8-inch shell. On the following night the 4th Battalion relieved the 24th Australians in the front line on the left, or Lille Road, sub-sector, and the 3rd Battalion went into Brigade reserve in Rue Marle, in which village Brigade Headquarters were established. The 4th Australian Brigade was in the line on our right, and the 1st New Zealand Infantry Brigade on our left. All three Brigades of the New Zealand Division were now in the line, and there was practically no reserve. During the night of 8th/9th July the Germans raided the "Mushroom," in the 1st Brigade's line, a good deal of the enemy's bombardment falling on our trenches.
At this time, in the deserted fields within the trench-system, poppies, began to bloom, and the whole countryside, including even some parts of No Man's Land, was soon a blaze of scarlet. Here and there these gay flowers showed themselves in masses on the edges and down the sides of the other wise prosaic communication-trenches; while in places whole stretches of barbed-wire belts behind our front line were transformed into delightful banks of brilliant silky bloom.
An inter-battalion relief was effected on the night of llth/12th July, the 3rd Battalion * from Rue Marle changing places with the 1st in the Subsidiary Line at Bois Grenier. General Plumer, commanding the Second Army, in company with G.O.C Division, visited the Brigade on the 13th and expressed his appreciation of the successful efforts made in carrying out his general instructions as to holding the opposing force in position.
* The 3rd Battalion was now under the command of Major A. Winter-Evans. Lieut.-Col. J. A. Cowles, who had been evacuated sick a few days previously, did not return to the unit.
Before moving out, the 4th Battalion launched a successful raid on the enemy trenches opposite the Lille Road Salient on the night of 14th/15th July. The party consisted of three officers and 118 other ranks, Major J. Pow being in command, with Capt. H. C. Meikle and 2nd Lieut. A. J. Price in charge of the assaulting parties.
The plan of attack was generally on the lines of the raid by the 2nd Battalion, but in three respects it was somewhat unique. In the first place the artillery bombardment was divided into two phased, separated by an hour's interval, the first of these constituting what was known as a dummy raid, and the second, immediately preceding the real attack, being designed to catch the enemy at work while effecting repairs to his trenches. Then a machine-gun barrage, the idea of which originated with Lieut. L. S. Cimino, of the 3rd Machine Gun Company, was used for the first time, and this proved so satisfactory as to become a recognized feature in most subsequent operations, major as well as minor. In the third place, the troops participating in the raid had had no special training whatever, and the admirable smoothness with which the operation was carried out is sufficient indication of skilful planning, fine leadership, and excellent discipline. Our men, however, were somewhat disappointed at the results of their endeavours, for the double bombardment had been so intense and accurate that both the trenches and their garrison were found to be completely obliterated. Not a little of the success of the undertaking was due to the excellent work of the scouts and patrols, conspicuous among whom were Sergeant J. A. Martin and Rifleman D. P. Geaney. On the night prior to the raid, the patrol of which Geaney was a member was fired upon and an officer and a sergeant wounded. These, after almost superhuman effort, he succeeded in bringing into our lines. Again, on the night of the raid, Geaney was scouting on the left of the party, when he observed a number of Germans leave their trench and endeavour to work round our flank, but he attacked these single-handed and bombed them back. Unfortunately, on the return of our raiders Geaney was seri-page 107ously wounded. Sergeant Martin, who saw him fall, bound up his wounds under heavy fire and brought him safely into our lines.
Our third raid was carried out on the night of 19th/20th July, when two officers and 60 other ranks of the 1st Battalion, operating from the sector held by the 2nd Battalion, entered the German trenches opposite a point just south of the Rue du Bois Salient. Capt. J. R. Cowles was in charge of the raid, and Lieut. N. J. Reed and 2nd Lieut. N. L. Macky commanded the two assaulting parties. The artillery fire was not so accurate as usual, the batteries operating having moved in only the night before, but it had the effect of shaking the Germans, most of whom retired to their dug-outs and refused to come out. As a result no prisoners could be brought in, but 33 of the enemy were killed by our men. Identifications and other valuable information were obtained. Owing to the skilful handling of his men by Capt. Cowles, who took full advantage of cover in No Man's Land, both before entry into and after withdrawal from the enemy's trenches, the casualties were very slight, only six of our men being wounded, most of these cases occurring as the party was leaving our parapet.
Sergeant J. R. Miller had a peculiarly exasperating experience. In charge of a section of bombers, he was rather seriously wounded on entering the German trench. Notwithstanding this, he led one group of his men to their appointed place, bombing the enemy along the trench as they went, and established a block as planned. This accomplished, he moved to where another group was carrying out a similar task in a branch of the trench and assisted them to complete this work also, thus rendering the flank secure. Presently the signal for the recall was sounded, and Sergeant Miller, though in great pain, struggled back with an inanimate form in his arms. On closer inspection at the first rest, he discovered that the object of his solicitude was not a wounded comrade, but a dead German. Lieut.-Col. W. S. Austin, who was in charge of the attack and had taken up his position in the front line, was wounded during the progress of the raid, and upon his evacuation the following day Major J. G. Roache assumed command of the 1st Battalion.
In connection with this operation some very fine preparatory reconnaissance work in No Man's Land had been carried page 108out by the intelligence officer, 2nd Lieut. A. Hudson, who, unfortunately, was killed on patrol on the 14th July.
The 1st Battalion was also much indebted to Lance-Corporal H. E. Le Comte, a 2nd Battalion scout of conspicuous ability. This non-commissioned officer having thoroughly explored No Man's Land both by day and by night, was able to supply much valuable information. He had already located during daylight the bodies of two men killed on patrol, and was instrumental in bringing these in. On four different occasions he accompanied patrols of the 1st Battalion reconnoitring the area over which the raiding party was to operate, and by his intimate knowledge of the ground the work of these patrols was greatly simplified. In the raid itself he commanded the little group of scouts, consisting of Riflemen W. S. Howell, E. Erickson, W. Dean and F. C. O. Griffiths, who covered the assembly and moved up to the enemy's wire after the preliminary bombardment. The entanglements being found insufficiently broken, the party proceeded to complete the opening with wire-cutters. Though under heavy rifle fire, they succeeded in their task and returned to the assembly position to report, carrying back with them Rifleman Howell, who had been wounded. This done, they guided the attacking parties forward to the breach, and so on to their objective.
Before the whole of the raiding-party had returned, the trenches of the 2nd Battalion were subjected to intense artillery and minenwerfer fire, and an enemy raid developed on the Rue du Bois salient just to the left of the sally-port. Some twenty Germans effected an entrance into part of the forward trench known as the Dead End, but were immediately ejected, leaving prisoners in our hands. That the enemy penetration was not more extensive was largely due to the heroic work of Corporal H. Ashton, who, the only unwounded man of the sentry group at the block in the Dead End, kept the Germans at bay and thus facilitated their expulsion by parties under Lieutenants A. P. Castle and G. K. Dee. The effect of the bombardment by the German heavy trench mortars was so great that it was thought at first the enemy had sprung a mine. One of our light trench mortars was destroyed, and the officer in charge, together with nine men of his section, was killed. Other casualties numbered 38, including three missing. The redoubtable Le Comte, in company with Lance-Corporal W. page 109W. C. Bedggood and Rifleman Muff, followed the Germans across No Man's Land, and brought in mobile charges, bombs and equipment dropped in their flight.
It was during the enemy bombardment in connection with this raid on the 2nd Battalion's trenches that Capt. Cowles displayed such fine judgment in extricating his men from a difficult position. The assembly line for Cowles' parties, both before and after the assault, was a few short lengths of old trench in the middle of No Man's Land. From this position Cowles had sent back some small groups of his men, when the German barrage covering the enemy raiders came down and involved that part of the line to which our men had to return. Sizing up the situation with that readiness and certitude for which he was already noted, he held the remainder of his men with him until the bombardment slackened and then quickly withdrew them, thus escaping both the shelling on our lines and that which the Germans put down in No Man's Land to cover the retirement of their own men.
On this night also the 1st Brigade sent over a raiding party which met with considerable success.
These operations by the New Zealand Division, which included the liberation of smoke and gas at various points, were intended to distract attention from an attack made by the Australians against Fromelles from Fleurbaix and Laventie, just to the right of the New Zealand sector.*
An inter-battalion relief took place on the night of 24th/25th July, the 3rd Battalion relieving the 1st in the Bois Grenier sector on the right, and the 4th taking over from the 2nd in the Rue du Bois salient on the left.
* See p. 116.