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The Wellington Regiment (NZEF) 1914 - 1919

Chapter XLVII

page 297

Chapter XLVII.

Welsh Ridge—Bonavis Ridge—La Vacquerie Valley —Lateau Wood—The Enemy is Demoralised.

THE general battle had been resumed on the 27th September, by the II. and IV. Armies, and., by the afternoon of the 28th, the IV. Corps had reached Gou-zeaucourt and Couillet Valley. Patrols of the 42nd Division on the left, had advanced towards Welsh Ridge, and, although opposition had been met with, it was expected that, before darkness, Welsh Ridge would be carried and possibly Bonavis Ridge as well. Those expectations, however, were not realised, and the New Zealand Division was now to be thrown into the battle.

A start was made by both Wellington battalions bright and early on the 28th, reveille being at 2.30 a.m. Both battalions arrived in the Neuville sector about 7.30 a.m., the 1st Battalion occupying trenches on the Ypres-Neuvill. Road, with a fighting strength of 20 officers and 512 other ranks, after the "B" teams had been withdrawn. We remained there till 5 o'clock in the afternoon, when a move was made by road through Neuville-Metz-Trescault to the Hindenburg Line, which was reached some three hours later. On the march, Lieut. W. Perry, who bad by now become quite one of the old identities with the 1st Battalion, was wounded. Although the wound was thought but slight at the time, it was to cost him his right arm.

The information was that the enemy still held Welsh Ridge, and the First Brigade (2nd Wellington and 1st Auckland leading) was ordered to attack that Ridge and page 298on to Bonavis Ridge, and then push on to the St. Quentiu Canal, with the Second Brigade on its right. If the attack was successful, 1st Wellington, with 2nd Auckland on its left, was to follow through across the canal. Zero was fixed for 4.30 o'clock the following morning.

It was fine and misty on the 29th, when the First Brigade's share in the attack was launched by 2nd Wellington on the right, and 1st Auckland on the left. The operation was carried out with splendid dash by all ranks. Shortly after 5 o'clock, our men were down in La Vacquerie Valley and pushing up the slopes of Bonavis Ridge. One of 2nd Wellington's companies being held up by machine-gun fire at close range, Lieut. D. G. B. Morison crawled along a sap and threw bombs into the enemy post, and so enabled his platoon to advance above ground and capture the enemy gun and crew, although he himself was wounded.

Early in the advance, on his platoon commander being wounded, Corporal W. E. Cooksley took command of his platoon, and, in the course of the attack his men captured machine-guns and forty prisoners. Later on, Cooksley again led a platoon to the final objective and formed a defensive flank, which protected a wide gap. Leading a section, Corporal J. H. Griffiths attacked ten of the enemy, who were working four field guns over open sights, being mainly responsible for the capture of both men and guns.

By six o'clock, the leading companies of the First Brigade were beyond the northern edge of Lateau Wood and over the Cambrai Road, and in those advanced trenches on the forward slopes which the British had captured and held for ten days in November 1917.

Taranaki and Hawkes Bay Companies of the 1st Battalion had followed up the 2nd Battalion and, later, the rest of the 1st Battalion moved forward to Welsh Ridge. There they were fired on by concealed machine-guns from the left; but these were soon dealt with by our men and the Auckanders. Before 7 o'clock in the morning, the 1st Battalion had established its headquarters in La Vaequerie Valley.

page 299

The First Brigade front was now re-organised for, owing to the darkness and unexpected swiftness of the advance, battalions were a good deal intermingled and disorganised. The two original assaulting battalions (1st Auckland and 2nd Wellington) assumed responsibility for the front line and pushed out strong patrols to the St. Quentin Canal. Later in the morning, Hawkes Bay and Taranaki Companies of the 1st Battalion were sent forward to fill up a gap between the two front line battalions and remained there until relieved during the evening. By noon on the 29th September, the whole of our gains were well consolidated.

After the objective had been reached, it was discovered that a party of nine of our men had pushed forward and was practically surrounded by the enemy. On his own initiative, Corporal T. R. Crocker worked his way forward and reached the party of which he took command, and, on his way back, mopped up such of the enemy as came in his way, capturing four, killing three, and inflicting heavy casualties on the rest.

It had been a day of wondetrful success for the First Brigade. Our fellows practically over-ran the enemy to a depth of four thousand yards. 2nd Wellington alone captured 285 prisoners, 20 field-guns and 29 machine-guns while its casualties were only 43. Two officers in Lieuts. J. R. Taylor and D. G. B. Morison had been wounded, and Lieut. W. Carruthers, who had returned to the battalion with his commission only a fortnight before, had been killed.

Bonavis Ridge had been the limit of the British advance in the Battle of Cambrai in November 1917, and the First Brigade was now occupying the trenches which had then been dug by the 12th Division. In front of us now lay a new world, beautiful green fields as yet unscathed by war.

Our patrols pushing down towards the St. Quentin Canal were able to see what dire straits the enemy was in. His transport was moving rapidly hither and thither. Gun page 300teams were being galloped up to guns; guns were being rapidly limbered up and removed. Our machine-gunners did not lack for targets, and horses and men were scattered by their fire. However, later in the day, small parties of German Infantry moved back to the banks of the canal, and enemy guns began to shell the ridge.