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The Maoris in the Great War

Chapter IX. — The Pioneers' Work on the Western Front. (1916)

Chapter IX.
The Pioneers' Work on the Western Front. (1916).

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On August 12th, orders came for the New Zealand Division to move to Blaringhem area to rest prior to a move south, presumably for active operations. The Pioneers were alloted to the 3rd Brigade group for the transfer. The Division was being relieved by the 51st (Highland Division), and the Maoris' ground was to be taken up by the 5th Battalion, Royal Scots (Pioneers).

On the 14th, the Battalion with other troops marched to Steenwerck, six miles, and entrained for E'taple, where the Pioneers detrained and found billets waiting, in a very clean little village, surrounded by rich farming land all in crop. Some days were spent here, a pleasant relief from the trench work under shell-fire. Captain Ennis took over the position of Adjutant vice Captain Cooper, evacuated sick from Armentieres.

On the 19th, orders were received to move to the region of the Lower Somme, near Abbeville. Next day the Battalion marched to St. Omer, and there entrained for Longpre, and the Somme. From Longpre the route was an easy march to Hallen-court, where good billets had been made ready. A syllabus of training was laid out, to cover six days, but was not finished, as there was another move in a few days to Fricourt cross-roads. Here the Battalion was about five miles behind the front line, but there were big guns all round and there was the continual roar of artillery battle. The Germans were very busy shelling Fricourt Wood, just in front of the Pioneers' position. The traffic on the roads was continuous. There was a continual stream of all kinds of vehicles passing all the time and the never-ceasing procession of infantry and guns.

“I don't care for the position of our bivouac very much,” Lieut.-Col. King wrote in his diary, “as it is on the forward slope of a hill running north to Ancre Brook and alongside cross-roads, which seem pretty sure to be shelled sooner or later.”

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The Pioneers were not long in commencing trench and dugout work. The allotted ground was in Delville Wood, where old trenches were cleared up. The trenches were in a very bad state and mud was everywhere. The road to Montauban was particularly bad. The roads and trenches were under heavy shell-fire and there was much gas from exploding shells, mostly lachrymatory.

On the 31st, one man was killed and five wounded and a sergeant and three men were gassed. Nearly everyone was affected by the tear shells which, as an officer expressed it, “were a damn nuisance, but otherwise pretty futile.” About seven o'clock that evening, the Germans shelled the cross-roads beside the camp. There were no casualties, but the O.C. decided to move camp next day to a more comfortable spot.

Various details of trench and road work occupied the force at Fricourt for some days. A number of the men in A Company were feeling the effects of gas, and on September 2nd, Sergeant Duff died of gas poisoning. On the same day Pte. Barton was killed and one man was wounded by a bomb. This occurred when the Corps was sent to fresh ground just west of Fricourt Circus. The C.O. and Company Commanders laid out the lines for new communication trenches, French and Turk Lanes, from Montauban to the front line between High Wood and Delville Wood. There was very heavy fire from our guns (the Australian heavy howitzer battery included) all the afternoon, but not much return fire.

On September 3rd A, B, and C Companies each worked one shift on Turk Lane. DCompany worked one shift on dug-outs for themselves on the ridge behind High Wood. There was very heavy fighting this day all along the front from French Right trench past Bezantin Le Petit. The British flammenwerfen was in action in High Wood, and the C.O. remarked in his diary that he “would not like to be at the wrong end of it.” Huge volumes of flame at least 100 feet long and 50 feet high, tore through the wood and must have had a terrible effect on the garrison of the German trenches. Many German prisoners passed through the camp during the evening. At ten o'clock that night, all the companies started on Turk Lane, and full shifts were worked, each platoon being away from page 90 camp for 10 hours. Work on Turk Lane went on well for some days, the men digging into it in good style. There was very heavy firing at times towards Pozierés and Givinchy. On September 8th, General Russell came up to see the Battalion's work and expressed his appreciation and that of the Commander of the 15th Corps of what had been done. On the 9th, all the companies were engaged in cleaning up and “duck-walking” Turk Lane, which was now fit for traffic from Montauban Alley to Black Watch Trench, and duckwalks had been constructed to the bottom of Devil's Valley, the junction of Turk and St. George Lanes. No work was done after noon on the 9th, owing to an attack by our British left flank Division on High Wood and Wood Lane. The C.O. and Major Buck went up and watched the attack from Pommiers Redoubt but could not see much, owing to the smoke and dust of the bombardment. The attackers took Wood Lane and held it, but the attack on High Wood was only partly successful; the Germans still held the N.E. corner, where Great Trench starts from. The camp, near the transport lines, was shelled at about 4 p.m., from the direction of Martinpuich, and three men were killed and nine wounded. A horse and a mule were killed and a G.S. waggon was smashed. This damage was caused by the explosion of one shell. Major Buck, describing his observations of the British attack, which was preceded by severe bombardment, wrote:—“We were sitting near a Brigade H.Q., and it was interesting to see an aeroplane fly low over it sounding a horn to attract attention and then dropping a message with a red, white and blue streamer on it. We also saw one of our' planes come circling down slowly and (then) precipitately with a little flicker of light noticeable. She struck the hillside rather suddenly on the opposite side from us and burst at once into flames. There were two German' planes up a little while before, but whether they were responsible I do not know.”

Twenty reinforcements arrived in camp on September 8th, all for the Maori companies. They included some Samoans.

Orders came through on the night of the 10th, that work could be recommenced after midnight, so Major Buck went out with Lieuts. H. Dansey and Kaa, and set various jobs in page 91 hand. A deep dug-out for Brigade H.Q., 20 feet below ground, was finished by D Company, assisted by R.E. miners. Several shells were put on Turk Lane, and there were fears of gas at times. The platoons came off work at 8 a.m. (Sunday, the 10th). One man was killed by H.E.. General Russell went round with Colonel King and the R.E. officer and it was decided to take Turk Lane trench forward to Wood Lane, and the position of assembly trenches for the coming attack was also fixed. This day the 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade took over the trenches on Bezantin Ridge, and the 2nd Brigade moved up to Fricourt and Mametz Wood.

On September 11th, the Battalion moved up and dug-in east of Pommiers Redoubt, so as to be nearer the work. One platoon from each company was still employed on Turk Lane, making it six feet deep through from Black Watch Trench to Worcester Trench. This day 2nd. Lieut. D. Bruce arrived from the base with forty reinforcements, mostly Maoris. Entry in Major Buck's diary: “Went on to end of Turk Lane into Black Watch Trench and found the work D Company had been shelled out of. Put men on work and explored down trench to the right, the previous front line. Dead men, Germans and English, everywhere in the trench, in the sides of the trench and about in the open, unburied,, and smell fearful. Our artillery started putting in to the German front line stuff like shrapnel but which sprayed out fire like fireworks; it seemed like liquid fire. Fritz sent up distress rockets and the Germans started sending over heavy H.E. We hurried back to our men, who were fairly deep. They went on working, and the bombardment ceased without our men being hit. Captain Harris and I explored to the left and decided on trench to follow on. Everyone thinks highly of our trench, Turk Lane. Got home at 2 a.m.”

Next afternoon (September 12th) the C.O. and Majors Saxby and Buck went up and laid off work in advance of Wood Lane ready for the advance, also the line of an assembly trench from Tea Trench to Coffee Lane, which A Company was to dig that night. Heavy shelling started, and hung up the work for about an hour, causing several slight casualties in the 3rd Brigade trenches. The country between Black Watch Trench page 92 and the German front line (Great Trench) was in what the C.O. described as “an awful state.” The shell craters were so thick that they overlapped one another, and there were men of both sides lying unburied all over the place. Some had been dead since the British cavalry first took High Wood in July.

“The trenches,” wrote Colonel King, “are nothing but a wreck, and no one seems to consider it his job to clean them up. Truly the British are a wonderful people. They would rather sit in a busted trench and get shot than do a little work on the end of a pick and shovel. The 3rd Brigade are digging new trenches to live in, which will serve as assembly trenches for the advance.”

Of that day's experience under shell-fire, Major Buck wrote:—“While we were looking round the Germans started heavy bombardment with H.E. Saxby and I got into a little bit of old trench about three feet deep and hung it out. It lasted about an hour. The Colonel was over on the left, also in for a hot time. All heartily pleased when it stopped—the severest thing I have experienced and not at all pleasant. Glad to get out…. In the evening we saw some more of the fiery shells [British] going over High Wood. Spirits of men good and we are in for a big push on the 15th.”

Next day there was more shelling, but the Maoris kept their work going. On the 14th, work was suspended; all hands had a spell before the offensive of the morrow. Orders for the Battalion's share in it were got out and issued, and in the afternoon all the officers met and talked the whole programme over so that everyone knew what his job was and how to do it. About a dozen tanks, the new armoured caterpillars, passed the camp on their way to Green Dump ready for the next day's work. This diary entry of the C.O. indicates that these engines of warfare had then been seen for the first time by the Battalion:—“They are weird-looking things and ought to scare hell out of Fritz.” That evening the camp was shelled from the direction of Morval, and the bombardment while it lasted was severe. Six men were killed, 2nd.-Lieut. Henare Mokena Kohere was severely wounded, and ten other ranks were wounded. The casualties were sustained mostly by C Company.

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Lieut. Kohere died of his wound on September 16th at the Casualty Clearing Station, and his Ngati-Porou and other comrades deeply mourned him. He was a grandson of Major Mokena Kohere, who with Major Ropata Wahawaha fought the Hauhaus on the East Coast from 1865 on; the two Ngati-Porou leaders received swords of honour from Queen Victoria. Kohere had command of a full platoon of Ngati-Porou, and his cousin Lieut. Pekama Kaa, commanded a platoon that partly consisted of men of that tribe. He was thus the senior Ngati-Porou officer. His wound was in the groin, but the high explosive fragment had been deflected up into the abdomen. He soon realised the hopeless nature of his injury. Before being removed by the Field Ambulance his last request was that Pekama Kaa should be given command of the Ngati-Porou Platoon. The request was acceded to. Thus on a far-away battlefield in France, there was re-enacted a scene that had occurred on many a Maori chieftain's death-bed in the homeland of Aotearoa. Whether college-bred platoon commander or old-time tattooed chief of a tribe, the warrior's last dying thoughts and instructions were for the welfare of the people he commanded.

The Battle of Bezantin Ridge. (September 15th, 1916.)

Early in the morning of the 15th, the advance began. Colonel King moved the Battalion headquarters to an old communication trench between the Savoy and Carlton trenches, and just after 5 a.m. the various companies moved to various forward positions. Brigade headquarters watched as much of the advance against the Crest and Switch trenches as was possible from the Savoy Trench. At 10.37 a.m. the C.R.E. issued orders through Captain Shera (liaison officer with 3rd Brigade) to carry on work on various rear portions of communication trenches as detailed in operation orders. A and B Companies moved out at once and marched on to their jobs. At this time things looked fairly quiet along the rear front.

Early in the afternoon casualties began to come back from B Company, mostly slightly wounded, and Captain Harris reported that his company was coming under shell-fire. At 2 page 94 p.m. Major Saxby reported that A Company's digging task was well in hand, and that things were comparatively quiet on his side.

Colonel King went off to reconnoitre the road from Longueval towards Flers and found a battalion of English Pioneers working on it just north of Longueval cross-roads. The road towards Flers was under fairly heavy shell-fire, but was passable for waggons so far as the surface was concerned. B Company of Maoris was having a hot time of it. The workers were heavily shelled, and the trench they were at was being blown in as fast as it was done. Captain E. Harris was dangerously wounded and Lieut. Sutherland slightly. Twelve men were killed, and forty wounded. Total Maori casualties for the day's advance, fifty-two—a heavy list. The facts were reported to the Royal Engineers' commanding officer and Colonel King withdrew the company to bivouacs at about 5 p.m. Previous to this B and C Companies had been sent off to work on a road from Caterpillar Road to Longueval in accordance with the C.R.E.'s orders. A Company reported their communication trench work completed, so Colonel King went out and inspected it and found it was rapidly being blown in again by the German shells. All the workers were back in the bivouacs by dark after a day of hard work and many losses. The Battalion diaries naturally are confined to details of trench and road operations in this battle, which is described so well in Colonel H. Stewart's excellent History “The New Zealanders in France” (pages 69-85).

In the operations, the village of Flers was captured by the 41st Division and made secure by the New Zealanders, and other ground was won, which was quickly consolidated and held strongly under severe bombardment.

The battle was renewed on September 16th, and as a part of the general attack by the Fourth Army. Colonel King went out at daylight and made a careful reconnaissance of the ground in front of that won the previous day, and marked the lines for the Pioneer working parties who would go out that night. Most of the trench work done on the 15th had been destroyed by the enemy's shell-fire, more particularly B Company's work, and it was hard to see where they had been

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Map of Entrenchments, Bezantin Ridge—Flers—Gueudecourt, September, 1916

Map of Entrenchments, Bezantin Ridge—Flers—Gueudecourt, September, 1916

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except for the dead who were lying about. A Company's work had escaped more lightly, and it was continued that night towards Flers via the line called Coffee Lane. All day C and D Companies were employed working on the roads; D Company later, working under shell-fire, put through the now famous Turk Lane trench from the Crest to the Old Switch Trench. B and C Companies put in eight hours' work on the road between Caterpillar Wood and the top of Bezantin Ridge. The machine-gun section was employed in putting in dug-outs for the 3rd Brigade Headquarters in the Carlton Trench. On the night of the 17th, a lot of hard work was done, following up the further success of the Army (the advance line had been moved a mile forward over a front of six miles). D Company completed Turk Lane to the New Switch, and cleaned up a lot of B Company's old work knocked about by shell-fire. A Company dug the approach trench called Fish Alley, from Switch Trench to Point 41 (Ferret Trench). This was all new work, as the Pioneers found that the old German Fish Alley was simply a line of old pot-holes, mostly filled in and altogether useless. Colonel King and Major Buck, after a visit to the advanced works, were coming back when they were shot at by snipers. The men in the trench said the snipers had killed Captain Jennings and wounded another. The Pioneers picked up another of their dead, Poule, and also a R.F.A. officer, 2nd.-Lieut. Leggat, lying dead in the trench.

Early on the 18th, the Colonel and Major Buck went out to the right. Major Saxby was unable to finish his side owing to shell-fire. New German trenches which were inspected were full of enemy dead and so was the country in front of it. Most of the dead were without equipment, an indication of their complete surprise by the attack; a great many had been killed with the bayonet. Everything now was very wet and muddy, and the work of consolidating the trench positions won was hard and dirty.

Trench work on Bezantin Ridge occupied some days. On the night of September 20th, 1917, the Battalion was much worried by tear-gas shells in the bivouacs, and in the morning every depression seemed full of the stuff. That afternoon, General Russell came up and told Colonel King to ask the page 96 First Infantry Brigade for as many men as he liked; so he obtained the assistance of several hundred men to carry duck-walk material. Turk Lane and Fish Alley were duck-walked over the crest of the ridge.

On September 21st, Major Buck and Lieut. O'Neill had a marvellous escape. They were returning to camp down Fish Alley when a “whizz-bang” grazed O'Neill's right shoulder, knocking him down, and burst in the ground just in front of Buck's feet. O'Neill, who was walking behind the Major, escaped with an abrasion of the shoulder; his tunic, cardigan, shirt and singlet were cut. That day the 1st Canterbury Regiment distinguished itself by taking a portion of the trenches at Flers. They had a stand-up fight with bombs, killed 250 of the enemy and sustained 150 casualties.

On September 24th, operation orders were circulated for the Battalion's share in the new advance on Flers by the 4th Army. The 55th Division was on the right, and the 1st Division on the Left. The objective of the New Zealand Division was to capture Factory Corner and establish a line thence to a spur running N.E., in conjunction with the general advance, and to maintain touch with the 3rd Corps. The Pioneers' special job was to construct various advanced lines of communication trenches. The advance was begun by the 1st Infantry Brigade at 12.35 p.m. on the 25th. At 5 a.m. that day, Colonel King went up to the back of Flers with the Company Commanders and reconnoitred the ground as well as possible for the evening's work; and the officers also went over to Turk Lane and had a look at the country from there. During the morning the companies moved up to their positions of readiness as ordered, each man with his pick and shovel, and the Battalion headquarters moved up to Crest Trench.

The afternoon's attack by the infantry was watched by the Colonel from Switch Trench, and there was a good view of the whole operations, as it was a very clear day. The artillery barrage opened exactly at 12.35 p.m. It was a tremendous afternoon of noise and fire. The thunder of the guns was deafening, and as far as the eye could range there was a line of bursting shrapnel and H.E. The artillery work page 97 was marvellously accurate, and Major Buck noted in his diary that the shells seemed to be bursting six inches apart. The watchers saw the infantry leave their trenches and advance leisurely behind the creeping barrage, travelling at a rate of 50 yards a minute. Factory Corner, our objective on the right, was reduced to a mass of ruins, shattered into fragments which were hurled hight into the air by the big shells. It was soon obscured by smoke, and the advance of the 1st Canterbury Infantry Battalion could not be followed. The Auckland men in the centre and Otago on the left could plainly be seen. The various waves of men were soon formed into one irregular line. They could be seen hunting about in the gully and the sections of trenches looking for “Fritz.” The barrage remained stationary for a few moments in order to allow the infantry to do their work and then went creeping on again, with the men following steadily behind it.

Now and again a high explosive projectile came over from the Germans, and the line could be seen to open out or bend to this side or that to avoid what looked like a shelled area.

The Black Watch Highlanders, who belonged to the 1st Division on our left, could be seen working along Flers Trench; some of them ran along the top of the trench to where they were to junction with the New Zealanders; they then planted a flag to show that they had reached their objective. Our men had further to go, having to sweep up-hill and incline to the left. While they were yet some two hundred yards away, the Germans in Goose Alley climbed out at the rear of the trench and fled ignominiously without attempting to put up a fight. They bunched together, and seemed to hesitate, as if some officer was endeavouring to rally them. Then shrapnel burst over them and they ran for the valley beyond. Our men could not chase them owing to the intervening artillery barrage. The line advancing up the hill extended on either flank and went leisurely on. Any bits of trenches or holes were dealt with on the way. Everything was done in a most systematic orderly way, splendid to see, quietly except for the artillery thundering, rocking and crashing. None of our men seemed to fall, but a wounded man now and again was seen coming back. Goose Alley was reached but page 98 the Germans had fled, with the exception of a few, and there was no fight in them.

Our troops reached their objective on the left with hardly a casualty, and up went a red flare to announce the victory. This was at 35 minutes after zero. Almost immediately afterwards, through the smoke and dust on the right, up shot two red flares to show that Canterbury had gained the shell-battered Factory Corner. Away to the right again could be seen flags in the advanced trenches. The 4th Army had reached its objective all along the line.

Later a few prisoners came along, carrying stretchers. They were Bavarians and poor specimens of soldiers, being mostly either young or fairly old men. There was some excitement later when British cavalry were seen coming over, but they took up a position somewhere behind Flers, waiting for the right moment. All night the Pioneers laboured with pick and shovel, at the new trenches. Some very deep dug-outs found in sunken roads were utilised by our people. In some parts our artillery interfered with the pushing on of the lines. Some of the 8-inch howitzer shells fell short and made it very uncomfortable for the working parties. The infantry in the firing line immediately in front was very pleased to know the Pioneers were behind them, as the line was very thinly held. King, Saxby and Buck went out in the hope of seeing the cavalry attack, but there was “nothing doing.” The news came later that some cavalry went through, and the Germans started a counter-attack, but the artillery crumpled them up. In the evening the report came that Gueudecourt, on the right flank, had been captured by the 55th Division, and also Theipval, and that patrols had entered Combles.

During the night of the September 25th-26th, Lieut. Stainton's party from A Company, completed their digging task to Factory Corner, a standard-size trench 160 yards long. C Company, under Lieut. Dansey, dug 650 yards northwards and joined the North Road up with the outpost line. D Company, under Captain Gibbs, dug in 500 yards of standard-size along Abbey Road connecting up the outpost line on Ridge. Next day all these parties rested, and the rest of A and B Companies carried on with the duck-walks in Fish Alley and page 99 Turk Lane. On the 27th, the works were pushed on with vigour. C Company were pushing on with Turk Lane when they got shelled off the job, with four casualties. That afternoon the 1st Brigade and 55th Division captured Gird Trench and Gird Support. No work was done by the “Diggers” that night, everyone standing by for orders. At a late hour the orders came from the C.R.E. to return to the bivouacs, as the position of the Gird line was too obscure to carry on work. The following day saw various jobs pushed on well. A party consisting of men from all companies, under Major Buck, after knocking off work on Turk Lane, towards Gird Support, were heavily shelled as far as North Road and had two men mortally wounded (Pte. Ovens, D Coy., and Pte. Pineaha, C Coy.) and seven wounded. Next night 250 men from all companies completed Turk Lane through to Gird Support except for 40 yards in the centre only down three feet. There was heavy German shelling part of the day, from Factory Corner to Abbey Road, and about 450 yards long. but it quietened down, and there were no casualties during the night. The work on hand having been completed, Colonel King, at the C.R.E.'s request, set the Pioneers at a communication trench and assembly trench combined from Turk Lane to the recently captured Goose Alley, parallel with the road via Factory Corner to Abbey Road, and about 450 yards long. 250 men started on the job at 8 p.m. and finished it by early morning. Major Buck made a diary entry: “All worked well, especially the Rarotongans.” These men suffered several casualties during the month.”

The British push forward was renewed on Sunday, October 1st, and the Colonel and principal officers watched the great attack from Switch Trench. The Pioneers had no part in the action beyond carrying on with Turk Lane and Fish Alley. The attack was very successful along the New Zealand front, but the 47th Division got hung up badly just past Eaucourt L'Abbeye. Our casualties were pretty heavy. Two tanks took part in the operations on the New Zealand left flank, but later went over towards Eaucourt and got bogged out of action. During the battle the Maoris kept steadily at work. Turk Lane was duck-walked as far as Grove Alley, and Fish Alley page 100 to within 250 yards of Flers. Turk Lane was completed right through to a depth of five feet in the solid, and four feet wide.

Describing the day's battle, as seen from Switch Trench, Major Buck wrote:—

“We saw plenty of big guns in the gully, including 9.2-inch howitzers. There was not time to form a fixed emplacement, and after each shot the guns worked backwards and forwards on their wheels. The 18-pounders have moved forward, and the valleys round Flers are full of them. At 3.15 p.m., a very intense bombardment began. We have a far larger number of guns than when we started. Saw the infantry leave the trenches and advance in great style behind the creeping barrage. Two tanks going along slowly, crossing trenches, like huge antediluvian monsters nosing round for what they could kill.

“The Tommies went across very thick. Saw 47 prisoners come back from the left. Fritz sent some H.E. on to the ridge behind us, and we had to scale forward. Saw the yellow flares go up, showing that the position was taken. Saw the tanks disappear into the valley near Eaucourt L'Abbeye. Six German aeroplanes came over, and there was much firing in the air. One was hit and fell straight down into Gueudecourt.”

On the following day, the shell-fire was very heavy, and some damage was done to the trench work.

Next morning (October 3rd) the Battalion shifted camp via Pommiers Redoubt to a site near its first camp at the cross-roads near Fricourt, and on the 5th moved on again, to a reserve camp at Fontaine-sur-Somme, en route back to the A.N.Z.A.C.

The trench work done by the Battalion during the strenuous period from August 28th to October 2nd, totalled 13,163 yards. In addition, brigade headquarters had been built at 4 places, dressing stations built at 3 places, and two companies worked 5 days on the roads. The best work was done in Pioneer Lane, where 210 men dug 482 yards of trench 5 ft. x 3ft. in 5½ hours.

On the morning of October 3rd, Lieut. J. O'Neill, the Battalion's machine-gun officer, who had been lent to the page 101 Brigade, was killed by a shell when coming out of the front trenches and crossing over from Goose Alley to Abbey Road, after having been relieved. “Bad luck, as he was one of the best men we had,” wrote Major Buck. O'Neill was hit in the back and had a leg broken. Five other men (No. 2 Machine-gun Coy.) were killed and several wounded. O'Neill had been reported as left dying near a deep dug-out, and on the 5th, Major Buck took out a cross which had been made and made a search for his late comrade. Dead machine-gunners were seen lying on Abbey Road but no sign of O'Neill. The cross was put up at the junction of Abbey Road and North Road near his last resting-place. The Pioneers of the Middlesex Regiment were seen at work near there on the trenches. A machine-gun officer later informed Major Buck that the men had carried Jack O'Neill down to the deep dug-outs in Abbey Road, but as they had so many wounded they left him on the side of the trench and asked the English soldiers to bury him. This was evidently done, and the spot must have been quite close to the cross the New Zealanders set up for him.

General Russell expressed himself very pleased with the Maoris' work. He announced that he was putting the Pioneers on the same footing as an infantry battalion as regarded the number of honour awards, viz., 2 D.C.M.'s and 10 Military Medals.

On October 11th, after a rest of several days at Fontainesur-Somme, the Battalion with transport entrained at Longpre for Caestre (west of Armentieres), and from there the men went on by motor lorries to Neuf Berquin. On arrival there, in good clean billets, word was received to prepare to take over from the 5th Australian Pioneers, who were in the Sailly-sur-la-Lys section, as the New Zealand Division was to relieve the 5th Australian Division there. Arrangements accordingly were made for renewed hard work. A, B and C Companies went into billets at Rue de Bruges, and D Company to billets at L'Attargette—Armentieres, as the 2nd N.Z. Brigade was to be attached to Frank's Force now holding the Armentieres section. Each company and platoon were allotted the respective frontages along the subsidiary line which the Battalion took over. Each company had a total frontage of page 102 2,000 yards, and each platoon 500 yards. The total length taken over was 6,000 yards. Each Company had three platoons in the line and one in billets at Rue de Bruges. Of these, one platoon was at the disposal of the C.R.E. and two for drainage jobs under the direction of the Section Drainage Officer (Captain Perrett). The subsidiary line consisted of a series of strong points in fairly good repair, connected by a system of trenches only small patches of which were completed. The rest of the line was dug out to an average depth of 3 feet, without any revetting. The trench system consisted of a traversed fire trench, with a winding traffic trench about 20 feet in rear. From October 16th to October 31st, the Companies each worked one platoon on the subsidiary line and two platoons on winter quarters for themselves in rear of the line. The roads also were put in good order. The men housed themselves comfortably, and a cinema theatre was built at the junction of the Rue de Bruges and Rue de la Lys. Screens for traffic on the road between Sailly and Estaires were constructed. D Company (two platoons) ran a sawmill and burster factory, and one platoon ran the trench tramways and railways; the fourth platoon did emergency work about the town. October 31st was medal decoration day. General Godley arrived with Mr. Massey, Prime Minister of New Zealand, and Sir Joseph Ward, and the Canterbury men and the Pioneers were inspected by them. During November and December the various works were quietly carried on. Among the details a lot of barb-wire entanglements were erected along the 1st Brigade support line.

Christmas was spent peacefully in good winter quarters, and the men enjoyed a bountiful Christmas dinner, consisting chiefly of pigs and fowls bought locally. All the meat and vegetables were steam-cooked in hangis in the good old Maori way and were pronounced tino pai. “Our guns,” wrote the O.C., on Christmas Day, “were very active during last night, and today and this evening, especially the 60-pounders.”