The Maoris in the Great War
Chapter XVII. — Final Stages of the War, 1918
Final Stages of the War, 1918.
The first part of August, 1918, was spent in getting the lines ready for winter. The Cod Trench-Forbes Trench line was wired by C and D Companies, with only five casualties (all wounded, C Company). A Company worked at the Pasteur communication trench, and C Company on Cross Street, and they gave good well-protected access to the Forbes-Welcome line, while C Company pushed ahead Nameless and Biez Switch to provide good communication forward for the left Brigade front. B Company worked the tram trench, and other communication trenches, and also laid a continuation of the tram line to Biez Switch. This rail-laying work was done at night under an annoying machine-gun fire. Lieut.-Col. Saxby wrote of this line:—“The Bosche had this so well ranged that I do not think any use could be made of it by our infantry.”
On the 11th, an officer and 150 men of the United States Army Pioneers were attached to the New Zealanders for duty. They were just newly landed and were very keen. The Americans got on very well with the Maoris, and both parties were sorry when the time came for the new-comers to move on.
When the Maoris went out to their trench and tramway tasks on the 14th, they found the New Zealand infantry patrols pushing forward to occupy positions which the enemy had occupied during the night. They could see their comrades working up to Serre and past La Louverie Farm, and the Pioneer officers therefore put parties on at once repairing the roads forward. D Company succeeded in making the Hebuterne-Crucifix Road passable by 3 p.m., and it was at once used by the artillery. B and D Companies each sent a platoon out at night and repaired the Crucifix-Biez Wood road sufficiently for gun and limber traffic. Next day A Company cut a new dry-weather track—which was named Dead Horse Trail—from Hebuterne towards Serre and on the following day, with the assistance of C Company continued this to the page 144 Puisieux Road. This proved a most useful track and carried a great deal of artillery and rations traffic. D and C Companies carried out a similar track to Luke Copse, but as this route ran into the 42nd Division Area, it was not of so much use to the New Zealanders, though the 42nd Division used it a great deal. B Company repaired the Sixteen Poplars road from Hebuterne to La Louverie Farm and later continued it down the valley to Box Wood. From there D Company carried on through Puisieux as soon as the situation allowed.
The enemy continued to fall back steadily, and on the 22nd C Company went out to work on the forward part of the Puisieux-Achiet-Le Petit road. This was rather premature, however, as the Germans were still holding the Irles Ridge, Miraumont, and the slopes east of the Dovecote, and he gave the working parties a hot reception. They were withdrawn immediately, but one man was killed and two were wounded. The ground about Achiet-Le Petit was heavily shelled during the day.
On the 23rd, infantry patrols were on the Bihucourt-Irles road. The Engineers and Pioneers were left out with orders to stand by, and it was not until the 25th that orders were received to move forward to Achiet-Le Petit. Late at night further orders altered this to Irles. On the 30th the Battalion moved forward to Grevillers, transport remaining at Irles.
When the Pioneers marched into Irles on the 26th, after a muddy tramp, they set to on “bivvies” for themselves, and as was the way with the resourceful colonials, their neighbours were soon levied upon for material. Lieut.-Col. Saxby made a diary note:—
“The boys got busy pinching iron from the very irate Tommies, and were soon coming in from all directions with sufficient material to house twice their number.”
On the 30th, Captain Chapman and three other ranks left the Grevillers camp as the Battalion's first detachment for New Zealand duty leave. Lieut. Dansey took over the duties of Adjutant.
The weather during August was on the whole good and helped the British advance considerably. The Germans did very little in the way of demolition, though from the number of prepared but uncharged land mine boxes found at the large dump near Miraumont, it was evident that had they had more time roads and railways would have suffered considerably. As it was, there was not a crater blown in any road in our area either in Bapaume or west of it. In this advance the New Zealanders passed just north of Flers and Gueudecourt, two villages well remembered, from the Somme battles of 1916, when we approached them from the south. The country was still an absolute desert. Dark patches of weeds and thistles covered the remains of demolished dwellings. These, with a very few shattered tree-trunks, were all that remained to mark the sites of what were once prosperous and happy homes. No attempt appeared to have been made after the Bosche fell back in 1917, to renew the occupation of territory.
The losses during the month were two killed and 15 wounded. The total evacuations, sick and wounded, were 98.
In the early part of September the enemy's retirement continued slowly, and on the 3rd the British infantry worked through Haplincourt and on to Bertincourt. Communications were left in good order, and the few hasty attempts made to mine the roads were discovered before any damage was done. The Battalion road patrols followed the infantry closely and the roads were quickly made fit for traffic.
The Maoris moved forward on the 4th, as far as Haplincourt. The water supply was a big problem, as there was none in the stream courses, and the Germans had destroyed pumping plants and many of the wells. Their demolition was not carried out very thoroughly, however. In the attempt to destroy deep bores they simply blew a crater at the top, whereas half the charge lowered fifty feet down the piping and then page 146 exploded would have ruined the bore completely. As the Pioneers' transport was in rather an uncomfortable place owing to long-range shelling (which cost the Battalion two wounded horses), it was shifted on to Haplincourt, where good protection was at once built for the horses.
As it appeared the enemy intended making a stand on the Canal Du Nord-Haplincourt Wood line, the Pioneers began a defensive line of trenches on the ridges east of Barastre and Haplincourt. After a day's work had been put in on these our infantry pushed forward through the wood and beyond Metz, establishing themselves on the ridge just east of that village. It was there that the Pioneers found the first thoroughly demolished roads. Large craters had been blown at the cross roads in Metz and on all roads leading from the village. Effectively placed, these delayed transport considerably and the Pioneers had a great deal of hard work ahead of them. Risky work, too, for the German gunners devoted special attention to places where they knew the foe would be at work repairing the damage they had wrought. B Company tackled these craters first, while D Company was moved forward into bivouacs near Ruyaulcourt. D Company took over the work while B Company also shifted camp forward, and the two companies took over the repairs of advanced roads while A and C Companies were employed on back area work and the construction of new quarters for the Division.
The 3rd Brigade delivered a further attack on the German line early on the morning of September 12th, and at 7 a.m. reports showed that they had reached their objective. But neither of the flank Divisions had come up, and this compelled a slight retirement. That evening B and D Companies of Pioneers each sent out two platoons and they spent what was described as “a filthy night,” very dark and raining, helping the infantry to consolidate the positions won.
On the 14th, the Division was relieved by the 5th Division, and the Pioneers of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders took over from the Maoris, who shifted back from their comparatively comfortable dug-outs to a particularly dirty camp at Sapignies. A Company went into rather better billets at Fremicourt.page 147
On the night of the 16th, the Pioneers were nearly flooded out in a great downpour of rain. Next day some one in high authority found that half the Battalion was camped in the area of the next Corps. Though these warriors had, as the Maori O.C. remarked, most of France available for camping ground, they decided that the spot the Maoris occupied—which with much labour had been made moderately clean and sanitary—was just the very spot they required. So out the Pioneers had to go; but it did not matter very much, as they shifted into clean ground and took most of their salvaged iron with them. The next few days were spent in reorganisation and in training, mostly of a recreational character.
As A, B and C Companies were all under strength and D Company well over strength, the Ngati-Maniapoto and Waikato men were transferred to C Company and the Ngati-Raukawa to B Company, making the four companies fairly equal.
The Germans were now strongly posted in the Old Hindenburg Line on our front, though their positions were being flanked from the North. Preparations were made for another general advance, and as our Corps and that to the north of us were very dependent on the one road through Bertincourt and Metz, the Pioneers were sent forward on the 25th to widen the way in places and make the Ytres-Neuville road fit for two-way lorry traffic. The Maoris camped near Ytres, and Fritz made himself disagreeable by throwing shells at them every night. The work required was quickly done and the road was put in a satisfactory condition. The attack by the 5th and 42nd Divisions on our front was moderately successful on the left but was held up for a time on the right. After Beaucamp and Villers Plouich had been taken the New Zealand Division came in again and took Welsh Ridge and Bonavis Ridge, which put us right through the Hindenburg Line. The left flank Corps secured Marcoing and Masnieres while our Division came up to the line of the Canal, the right Division forming a defensive flank facing Gonnelieu, which for a time held out. The Pioneers moved forward to Trescault, and then (less D Company) to Welsh Ridge, where they dug in in the Hindenburg trench system. The Bosche had been pretty roughly page 148 handled here, and his dead were freely scattered about, while many dead horses and abandoned guns showed that he was not at all willing to lose his very strong position.
The Divisional communications forward were very bad, and the artillery had to depend on cross-country routes. Luckily the weather remained passably fine; had it been otherwise, there would have been great difficulty in getting transport forward. A great deal of use was made of the Trescault-Ribecourt road, which was in a very bad state. D Company, with 20 waggons, kept continually patching it with brick and kept it from going altogether to pieces. Our infantry got across the canal, and the enemy fell back on our Divisional front to the Masnieres-Beauvoir line, a shallow but well-wired line which had been constructed as a support to the Hindenburg Line. We were now just south and slightly east of Cambrai, which was gradually being pinched out. Our infantry had a particularly severe time of it at Crevecoeur; the Auckland and Wellington Battalions suffered many casualties. The Pioneers' work still consisted of keeping the roads repaired as close up behind the infantry as possible.
The September casualties among the Maoris were 13 wounded and 45 sent out sick.
During the month of October, the Battalion was for the most part engaged on road work, but before the advance on the 9th a considerable amount of work was also done on approaches to bridges erected by the New Zealand Engineers over the Canal De L'Escaut. On the New Zealand Division taking Welsh Ridge and Bonavis Ridge, the Battalion went forward to Trescault, then to Welsh Ridge, there the Maoris were employed on the repair of roads leading to Crevecoeur and Les Rues des Vignes, and the preparation of bridge approaches thereabouts.
A German Shell bursting on a road which the N.Z. Pioneers were repairing.
Photo taken at Puisieux on the morning of its capture, August 21st, 1918.
On the night of the 5th, the infantry attacked and captured that part of the Masnieres-Beauvoir line opposite the Divisional front. In preparation for this operation B Company made a cross-country track from the Dressing Station at Ribecourt to Brigade headquarters, and on to Masnieres while C Company repaired the road from Masnieres to Crevecoeur. These tasks completed the two Companies prepared the approaches to bridges on the Canal De L'Escaut. Lieut. Wilkinson (B Coy.) was slightly wounded here on the 6th and was evacuated to hospital. Two platoons of C Company were working in conjunction with a Royal Engineers bridging train on approaches to tank bridges at Masnieres. The weather had been fairly good, with very little rain, but at times it was foggy and very cold.
On October 9th, the New Zealand Division again attacked with great success, capturing Lesdain and Esnes, and taking a large number of prisoners. Our casualties were very light. That afternoon the Pioneer Headquarters and B and C Companies moved forward to a position in front of Esnes. There was an encounter with an unexploded shell when part of the transport was returning to the Trescault camp. One of the waggons passed over a “dud” shell stuck in the ground with the nose cap protruding. The shell exploded, wounding the driver, and also a horse which was so badly hurt that it had to be shot. The transport and A and D Companies moved up and joined the Battalion at Esnes on the afternoon of the 10th. A lot of work was done on the surrounding roads. The Germans had blown mine-craters in all important road junctions, and all culverts were demolished. However, had the British advance been delayed a few days the roads would have been in a far worse state, as many mines were being made ready but were not completed when our attack was delivered.
The hard-fighting infantry carried on their brilliant advance on the 11th, reaching the line of the Selle River. That night the New Zealand Division was relieved by the British 42nd Division, and went into reserve for ten days at Beauvois and page 150 Fontaine. The Pioneers moved from Esnes to Beauvois, where the Maoris all found billets in houses. It was a mighty agreeable change for the boys after the rough bivouacs. Another good thing highly appreciated was the abundance of vegetables in the gardens, and the supply of potatoes, cabbages, etc., was very welcome. During the period spent in Beauvois all the work done was on the roads. The enemy had made a good job of his demolition; mines had been blown in all important road junctions, and there were two particularly large craters on the road to Caudry and one at the entrance to Fontaine.
A pleasant incident this month was the inspection of the Battalion by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales. The Prince made a little speech complimenting the Maoris on their smart and soldierly appearance.
There was another change of scene on the 20th, when the Battalion moved on to Viesly, where most of the men were billeted in the village. That morning the 42nd Division renewed the attack on the German lines, and by 4 in the afternoon, had taken their final objective (the Brown Line). The enemy had thrown a lot of gas shells into Viesly in the morning, and when the Pioneers arrived the place was reeking with it. However, it soon cleared and evidently was not thick enough to injure anyone. Next day D Company moved into billets in the village. The Battalion still carried on with road repairs, but most of the roads hereabouts were in fairly good condition, and the only explosions—craters—were small ones near Quievy and one large one at Fontaine au Tertre Farm. A large amount of work was done on the roads and approaches to bridges over the River Selle near Briastre. The country was very wet and boggy here, as the river had been dammed up by the Germans, and the roads near the Selle all had to be fascined.
The casualties for October were 10 wounded, besides 41 sent to hospital; 91 men returned from hospital and base.