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Official History of the Otago Regiment, N.Z.E.F. in the Great War 1914-1918

Chapter IV — Bois Grenier.

page 155

Chapter IV.

Bois Grenier.

The Regiment had now barely settled down in the belief that a period of pleasant rest was ahead of it, when on the morning of January 26th advice was unexpectedly received that the 2nd New Zealand Infantry Brigade was to relieve the 101st Brigade of the 34th Division, immediately adjoining the left of the New Zealand Division. This really meant an extension of the Divisional front to the north. The relief was to be completed by midnight on the 26th, and it fell to the lot of the 1st Battalion of Otago to forthwith get into marching order and take the road for the new area.

The sector to be taken over was known as Bois Grenier, and was situated approximately midway between the Sailly and Armentieres sectors. Otago went into the line direct after a long and vigorous march, and by 10.45 p.m. the relief of the 10th Lincolns was accomplished without hitch or interruption. The night was bitterly cold and the front line accommodation was of the most meagre description. On the following morning, the 27th, the enemy artillery raked our front line and communication trenches for several hours.

The new area was similar in many respects to the one held at Cordonnerie, the country being low-lying and flat, but as a result of the continued hard frosts was now very much drier under foot. The enemy's activity here was confined for the most part to exceedingly heavy minenwerfer "shoots," which in most instances were fortunately directed to a section of the line that was never actually garrisoned, and known as Jock's Joy. One result of minenwerfer fire was the existence of craters of extraordinary size and depth, there being few projectiles used during the war that were more effective for battering down or destroying defences in the shortest possible time. It will also be generally agreed that their moral effect was not inconsiderable.

page 156

The 2nd Battalion had followed the 1st Battalion on the 26th to the vicinity of Erquinghem and relieved the 11th Suffolks; 4th, 8th, and 10th Companies going into billets and 14th Company occupying a series of four posts in the sub line. On February 3rd the 1st Battalion was relieved in the line by the 2nd Battalion, and on the 11th a further interchange was effected. Commencing on February 4th, a number of officers and non-commissioned officers of the 57th Division, which had recently arrived from England and was to relieve the New Zealand Division at an early date, were attached to the battalion in line in order to gain knowledge of the sector and the method of holding it. At this stage the low-lying country of Flanders was frequently enveloped in dense fog throughout the day, and while this fact afforded working parties protection from enemy observation, it proved exceedingly disconcerting to patrols, there being occasions when our patrolling parties, having completely lost their sense of direction, had found it necessary to lie out in No Man's Land until a late hour in the morning, when a momentary lifting of the fog revealed the relative positions of the lines.

The frosts experienced at this period were so severe and had been so continuous that the ground was frozen hard to a considerable depth; and although fatigue parties were despatched at an early hour every morning from the battalion in billets, it was practically impossible to make any impression on the ground with pick or shovel, and much of the time and energy so expended might have been better employed. This was the most severe and prolonged European winter experienced over a period of 30 years, and it exacted the last ounce of vitality to withstand it. For weeks in succession the sun failed to show itself through the dense fog, several inches of snow lay over the country-side, and the general outlook was depressing in the extreme. The only compensating feature was that while during the earlier months of the season almost the whole area of Flanders was under water and deep in mud, the ground was now dry and hard under the influence of the continued frosts.

On February 16th, between 8 and 8.30 p.m., the left group of the New Zealand Artillery, together with trench mortars, carried out a "dummy" raiding bombardment of the enemy's page 157 lines in view of a projected operation. The enemy's response was immediate and heavy, more particularly on the right of the Brigade sector, indicating that he was thoroughly alarmed; but the damage to that part of the line held by Otago was inconsiderable. On February 19th the 1st Battalion was to have been relieved by the 2nd Battalion, but owing to the assumed capture of some of the members of a patrol which had entered No Man's Land at the apex of the Bridoux Salient on the right of the line held by Otago troops, the relief was postponed for a period of 24 hours. The 2nd Battalion of Otago thus took over the line on the 20th, and four days later the Regiment was relieved as a whole by troops of the 172nd Brigade of the 57th Division; the 1st Battalion in reserve handing over to the 2nd-5th South Lancashires, and the 2nd Battalion to the 2nd-4th South Lancashires. Command of the Brigade sector passed on the following day. The 1st Battalion moved off to billets at Noveau Monde, and two days later proceeded to Nieppe; while the 2nd Battalion, after spending a night at Sailly, marched to De Seule.

The Regiment, now in Divisional reserve, remained in these localities for a period of approximately three weeks, and spent a very profitable and enjoyable time in training, which was for the most part of a recreational order. Football matches were played, sports meetings held, and cross-country races run. The military side of training was not neglected, many useful lessons being learned on the area selected near Bailleul, particularly in regard to the new fighting organisation of a battalion; Brigadier-General W. G. Braithwaite, Commanding the 2nd New Zealand Infantry Brigade, critically noting the operations.

On March 9th the Regiment paraded on the Bailleul-Nieppe Road for inspection by Major-General Sir A. Godley, who was accompanied by the Right Hon. Walter Long, Secretary of State for the Colonies. The morning was exceedingly cold and bleak, and on this account and because of the fact that everyone had to stand for an unduly long time under the weight of full packs, the occasion did not excite any particular enthusiasm. The period of rest and training finally came to a close, and although the weather was at times bad and the billets only passably good, the complete respite from the line and from fatigues was very welcome; while the attempts, page 158 ultimately successful, of an enemy aeroplane to bring down in flames a British observation balloon over Nieppe, probably ranked first as a diversion for troops behind the line. On March 3rd Major D. Colquhoun left the 1st Battalion and proceeded to the United Kingdom for the purpose of organising and taking command of the 3rd Battalion of the Regiment about to be formed with the establishment of the 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade.

On March 10th orders were issued for the relief by the New Zealand Division of the 36th Division in the area extending from St. Yves Avenue on the right to the Wulverghem-Wytschaete Road on the left, generally known as the Messines or Douve sector.