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The Maoris in the Great War

Meeting the German Push

page 136

Meeting the German Push.

On the 21st, news came through of the German offensive in the Cambrai area, and next evening, after nearly three months' stay in Ypres, the Battalion was on the road to camp near Ouderdom. The Maoris were not disturbed on the march except by a few parting shots as they passed Shrapnel Corner. On the 25th, the Battalion entrained, and went by a loop line round Hazebrouck, and arrived at Amiens about noon next day. Immediate orders were received to move out in fighting kit with 220 rounds S.A.A. per man and all Lewis guns. After a meal the men left by motor lorry for Pont Noyelles, thence on foot to Hedauville, where they spent a very cold night. Many refugees were on the road, and parties of labour troops. Our Division was at first intended to march for a position towards Bray, but events moved quickly, and a gap was found in the line between Puisieux and Hamel through which the Germans were coming without opposition. By the time our infantry came up the enemy was in Hebuterne, Colincamps, and Mailly Maillet. Our people very soon cleared the two last named places and Auchonvillers, and the Australians pushed him out of Hebuterne. A line was established with a slight westerly bulge from east of Hebuterne to west of Hamel. It was a fine quick piece of work for which our Division got great credit. The Battalion moved on on the 27th from Hedauville to Bertrancourt and then to Sailly au Bois. By dark all available men were at work, and by 1 a.m. the Battalion had finished and handed over to the infantry garrison a line of posts from the rear of Colincamps to near Hebuterne. There were no casualties but the enemy's machine-gun fire was decidedly annoying. Next day similar posts were dug from Beaussart to near Forceville. The New Zealand Engineers looked after the country between Colincamps and Beaussart, so that by the night of the 20th there was a line of posts dug right across the New Zealand Divisional area.

On the 28th, A Company commenced digging a continuous trench line from Colincamps north to Hebuterne and had 800 yards of this finished when the work was handed over to the 3rd N.Z.R.B. On the 29th D Company commenced cleaning out and enlarging deep dug-outs for the Left Brigade headquarters, page 137 while C Company spent the 29th and 30th digging machine-gun posts all over the Divisional back area.

The casualties during the month were light—one man died of wounds, and one officer and nine other ranks wounded. Three officers and 97 men were evacuated sick.

The month of April at Bertrancourt was spent almost entirely on defensive work digging trenches and wiring, for the most part working on reverse slopes and away from the enemy's observation. The scheme was to provide a defensive system in depth line after line of prepared and wired defences with hidden machine-guns covering every avenue of approach. The Divisions on the Battalion's flanks had also put in an immense amount of work on their rear defences, but while our Divisional scheme had been more a succession of small posts often arranged checkerwise with wire so placed that it could all be enfiladed, they had dug deep solid continuous lines with a belt of wire running in the old style parallel to the front trench. In our case the enemy would have to distribute his fire, while with the continuous line he could concentrate.

Entry by the Battalion Commander in his official diary for April:—

“As Sailly au Bois was just outside our northern country we shifted on the 2nd, to Bertrancourt, and have since been deluged with claims for the frightful excesses our men did not commit in the former village.

“One platoon, though accused of consuming between 2 a.m. and 8 a.m. 10 bags of flour, 2,000 kilos of potatoes, 200 kilos of grain, and all a French gentleman's furniture, did not show any excessive corpulence, while it was a mystery what another platoon had done with 1,000 francs' worth of straw they were accused of annexing for bedding.”

The weather was damp and showery and so for once in our favour. There was a gradual increase in shelling until on April 5th the line Hamel-Hebuterne was bombarded in depth, and an infantry attack developed with the probable objective Colincamps or the high ground east of that village. The enemy occupied La Signy Farm, but otherwise failed to improve his position. He harrassed all roads and communication with artillery and paid particular attention to the valley running page 138 south from Colincamps towards Mailly Maillet. Some 60-pounders beside C Company billets were heavily shelled with big stuff and so the Company was shifted out into the fields. The casualties were, 2nd Lieut. Thompson, badly wounded and 2nd Lieut. Amohanga slightly wounded; four men killed and seven wounded. Lieut. Thompson was wounded east of Colin-camps. L.-Cpl. Tamati Taiapa showed a great deal of pluck in getting him out through the barrage; he was awarded the Military Medal.

On the 6th, C Company and two platoons D Company, dug platoon posts to command the Hedauville Valley in case the right flank Division gave way. A, B, and C Companies then concentrated on wiring until the 20th. On the 11th, the Battalion had 11 men wounded in billets, and as it appeared that the enemy were going to make all villages within range uncomfortable, the Battalion shifted out into bivvies in the paddocks where there was less danger from the German area shoots.

On the 25th, the Battalion side-stepped one Brigade front, handing over the Mailly Maillet sector and taking over the Hebuterne part.

The casualties for the month were:—Killed four, died of wounds two, wounded 41; total 47.

Particularly good work was done by D Company under Captain C. W. Salmon in making the underground headquarters at the Sailly-Colincamps Road.