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The Official History of the New Zealand Rifle Brigade

Part 2.—Training For The Somme

Part 2.—Training For The Somme.

Training at Armentieres—Second Army Training Area—Fourth. Army Training Area—To the Somme Battlefield.

At the end of July and the beginning of August the Brigade received frequent visits from officers of the 18th Division, which was under orders to take over the section of the line held by the New Zealand Division.

The 55th Brigade commenced relieving on August 4th, when the 8th East Surreys took over from the 1st Battalion. On the following day the 2nd and 3rd Battalions were relieved respectively by the 7th Royal West Surreys and the Royal West Kents. The 4th Battalion was relieved by the 11th Royal Fusiliers on the 7th. Our battalions went into billets in Armentieres, and the Brigade became Divisional reserve. The 1st Battalion formed the garrison for the inner defences of the town. During the quiet days of the first week of page 111August we had no fewer than 20 casualties, including one killed.

Intensive training now began, and it became evident to all ranks that the Brigade was destined to participate in active operations at an early date, especially as contact aeroplane work formed an important part of the exercises. General Sir A. Godley, now commanding the IInd Anzac Corps, together with the G.O.C. Division, watched the battalions at work, and on August 12th inspected the Brigade.

On August 14th the New Zealand Rifle Brigade was relieved in Divisional Reserve by the 154th Brigade, and entrained at Steenwerck for the Second Army Training Area. Brigade Headquarters and the 1st and 2nd Battalions were quartered at Wallon Cappel, and the 3rd and 4th Battalions at Ebblinghem. While the various units were marching to the entraining station from their billeting-areas at Armentieres, the King passed in his car. His Majesty was greeted with the cheers peculiar to the New Zealanders—never vociferous, but none the less hearty and genuine. In the Second Army Training Area the Brigade, in the intervals of training, assisted the inhabitants in their harvesting work.

Having been farewelled by the Second Army Commander, General Plumer, the Brigade, on August 20th, marched to St. Omer, and there entrained for Abbeville. By the following day we had joined the Xth Corps of the Fourth Army and were settled down in the new training area, with Brigade Headquarters at Velma Chateau, Limercourt; the 1st Battalion in Doudelaineville; the 2nd Battalion in Fresne Tilloloy, and the 3rd and 4th in Huppy. Here training was continued at high pressure until the end of the month, the battalions specializing in the trench-to-trench attack and embodying in their work every possible lesson that could be learned from the fighting that had been for some time in progress on the Somme. In particular, the new attack formation was carefully rehearsed, and special training given in contact-plane work. Of the many specially-instructive lectures with which the period of intensive training were interspersed, our own Somme veterans will not readily forget that delivered in the fields of Doudelaineville by Col. Campbell, a British officer familiarly known as the "G.H.Q. Bayonet Agitator." The possibilities of the bayonet were so vividly portrayed by this fire-eater that page 112every officer and man amongst his hearers "saw red" and positively ached to get to work with the cold steel.

We commenced the move from this area to the Somme Battlefield on September 2nd, the various units marching by road and reaching Dernancourt, two miles south of Albert, on the 8th. The lst Battalion moved by stages through Le Quesnoy- sur-Airaines, Vaux and St. Gratien; the 2nd Battalion through Le Quesnoy-sur-Airaines, St. Sauveur and Alonville; the 3rd through Longpre, Fremont and St. Gratien; and the 4th through Longpre, St. Vast and Alonville. On September 4th. 5th and 6th, the units for the time being at rest continued their traininig, contact-plane work again receiving special attention.

The Brigade made the final march on September 9th. when Fricourt Camp, east of Albert, was reached.

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