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The History of the Canterbury Regiment, N.Z.E.F. 1914 - 1919

Chapter X. — After Messines: la Basse Ville: Training for Passchendaele

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Chapter X.
After Messines: la Basse Ville: Training for Passchendaele.

On its relief in the line on June 18th, the 2nd Brigade came into Divisional reserve. It had suffered badly during the battle and had worked hard since then, and now was not fit for anything but rest. The remaining officers and men of the "B" teams returned from Morbecque, and with them came reinforcements: in spite of this, however, both the battalions, and especially the 2nd, were much below strength. After a few days' rest, during which the men were re-equipped as well as possible, a programme of training was issued by the brigade commander. On the 21st, Lieutenant-General Sir A. J. Godley, General Officer commanding the II Anzac Army Corps, and two days later, Major-General Sir A. H. Russell, General Officer commanding the New Zealand Division, inspected the brigade.

Meanwhile, the New Zealand Division had been holding a three brigade front from the River Lys to the River Douve (south of Ferme de la Croix). This arrangement had been made possible by the arrival of the 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade, which had been attached to the Division. On the 30th, the Division was relieved in the line by the 4th Australian Division: and as the latter had only the normal number of brigades, the 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade, being fresher than any of the other brigades, was detached from the New Zealand Division and temporarily attached to the 4th Australian Division. The 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade continued to hold the line in the sector between the River Lys (exclusive) and the River Warnave (inclusive).

Later, when the New Zealand Division again went into the line, the 4th Brigade took the place of the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade, which on July 2nd had been detached from the Division, and sent north to work with the 1st French Army in its preparations for the great attack there.

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This is a convenient place to record the doings of the 3rd Canterbury Battalion. On being relieved in the line east of Ploegsteert Wood, on June 13th, the battalion marched to a bivouac area near Pont de Nieppe village, on the main road between Armentières and Nieppe, Here it carried on training till the 19th, when it marched to billets at Nieppe. From these billets it supplied working-parties to the line and forward areas, which were not interrupted by a move on the 22nd to billets at Brune Gaye, near Romarin. On June 30th, the battalion relieved the 3rd Otago Battalion in the front line, on the whole of the brigade's sector. Relieved by the 3rd Auckland Battalion on July 8th, the battalion occupied billets at Nieppe, and carried on training there: on the 21st it was inspected by the General Officer commanding the brigade.

On July 20th, the 4th Brigade again became attached to the New Zealand Division, and on the 23rd it was ordered to take over from the 2nd Brigade the portion of the line which lay between the 4th Brigade's existing left flank and a point on the River Lys, half a mile south of the sugar refinery at La Basse Ville. On the date last mentioned, the 3rd Canterbury Battalion relieved the 2nd Otago Battalion in this portion of the line.

To return to the 2nd Brigade: on relief on June 30th. the Division came into Corps reserve, and Divisional Headquarters and the 1st and 3rd Brigades moved to the Berquin area, north-west of Estaires. The 2nd Brigade was left in the Corps area, to carry out certain work that was required in view of a further advance. Both Canterbury Battalions had moved—the 1st to Aldershot Camp, near the Neuve Eglise-Steenwerck road, on June 28th; and the 2nd to Regina Camp, west of the village of Ploegsteert, on the following day.

The work was carried out under the direction of the engineers: the 1st Battalion laid water-pipes and the 2nd Battalion buried telephone cables. The work of the 1st Battalion was at Kemmel, well behind the line, and the parties were not molested even though they did all their work by daylight. The 2nd Battalion parties had quite a different experience: casualties were numerous, for the working areas were well forward, work could be done only at night, and the enemy, being uneasy as, to our page 175 intentions, shelled everywhere frequently. Lieutenant-Colonel R. Young resumed command of the 1st Battalion on July 1st.

His Majesty the King visited the Messines battle area early in the month, and on the 4th the 2nd Brigade was lined up on the Neuve Eglise-Steenwerck road, and cheered His Majesty as he drove past.

On July 7th the 2nd Battalion was shelled out of Regina Camp, and moved to tents at Canteen Corner. Here it stayed till the 12th, when the brigade had finished its work and rejoined the rest of the Division in the Berquin area. The 1st Battalion was billetted at Doulieu and the 2nd at Neuf Berquin: the mornings were spent in smartening-up drill and training under company commanders' supervision, and the afternoons in games and other forms of recreational training.

On July 18th the 1st Battalion marched back to the Divisional sector, spent the night in the Catacombs (as the deep dug-outs in Hill 63 near Hyde Park Corner were called), and the following day relieved part of the 49th and 50th Battalions of the 13th Brigade of the 4th Australian Division in the front line west of La Basse Ville, from La Truie Farm to a point midway between Trois Tilleuls and Loophole Farms. There was no continuous line of trenches in this sector: the most advanced troops were in small outposts, which consisted of shell-holes connected up and adapted for defence, and which as a rule could not be approached by daylight. The intention was to extend each post from either flank, as time went on, till all met in a continuous line.

The battalion held its sub-sector with the 12th Company in the front line posts, the 13th Company in support, the 1st and 2nd Companies in reserve, and battalion headquarters at Lewisham Lodge. From the evening of the 21st till the 23rd, battalion headquarters was at Laurence Farm, but was forced to return to Lewisham Lodge. as the enemy heavily shelled the farm and set it on fire.

The big attack from the Ypres salient to the sea was fixed for July 31st; and in order to deceive the enemy as to where the real blow was to fall, the II Anzac Army Corps was ordered to take certain steps calculated to lead him to believe that a further advance was intended on the Corps' front—that is, between north-east of Armentières and north-east of Messines. On the page 176 New Zealand Division's front the 2nd Brigade was ordered to establish posts threatening Pont Rouge, a village on the western bank of the River Lys, where the Warneton-Quesnoy road crosses that river: further south, the 4th Brigade was ordered to dig dummy trenches covering other likely bridge-heads on the River Lys; while the 1st Brigade was to capture the village of La Basse Ville.

The operations against Pont Rouge were undertaken by the 3rd Canterbury Battalion, as on June 23rd it had relieved the 2nd Otago Battalion of the 2nd Brigade opposite that village. Operation orders issued to the 3rd Canterbury Battalion on the 22nd gave instructions for two new posts to be established, on the night of July 26th/27th, on the north-east side of the Warneton-Quesnoy road—one a few yards from the road and about seventy yards north-west of the river-bank, and the other about a hundred yards to the west of the first post and about seventy yards north of the river-bank—to command and threaten the bridges over the river.

The orders also laid down that three short dummy trenches were to be dug—two further to the east near the river-bank, and the other between them and our front line—and guiding tapes to be led back to our front line. The object of these and the other operations of the 4th Brigade was to lead the enemy to believe that we contemplated crossing the river at the points opposite the new works.

These operations were duly carried out on the appointed night, when two strong enemy patrols were encountered. These were dispersed, with an estimated loss of fourteen to the enemy, while no casualties were sustained by the battalion.

The 1st Brigade attacked and captured La Basse Ville on July 27th, but was driven out again by an enemy counter-attack. A second attack by the same brigade, on July 31st, was completely successful. Between these two dates the 1st Canterbury Battalion was relieved by the 1st Otago Battalion: battalion headquarters and the 12th and 13th Companies, on relief on the night of the 29th/30th, moved out to Regina Camp (where they joined the 2nd Company, which had been relieved on the 27th) and the 1st Company went to the Catacombs. On August 7th Lieutenant-Colonel Young was appointed temporary brigadier of the 3rd page break
Major N. Wilson, D.S.O., M.C.

Major N. Wilson, D.S.O., M.C.

Major F. Starnes, D.S.O.

Major F. Starnes, D.S.O.

page break page 177 (Rifle) Brigade, in place of Brigadier-General F. E. Johnston, C. B., who had been killed that morning; and Major Shepherd took over the command of the battalion. During the night of the same day, the battalion relieved the 1st Otago Battalion in the front line, to the south of La Basse Ville.

The defences here were similar in character to those which the battalion had occupied when last in the line; the 1st Company (on the right) and the 2nd Company (on the left) occupied outposts, the other two companies were in support, and battalion headquarters was again at Lewisham Lodge. The weather was wet, the trenches were very muddy and without duck-walks or any means of drainage, and consequently sickness soon became rife. The enemy's uneasiness made him shell the whole battalion area at all hours of the day and night with high-explosive and gas-shells.

Meanwhile, the 2nd Battalion had left Neuf Berquin on July 19th, and had returned to its old quarters at Romarin, from where it supplied working-parties to the front line. After the capture of La Basse Ville, it carried up the wire and standards required by the Pioneer Battalion for the work of wiring in front of the new positions. On the night of August 5th/6th, the battalion relieved the 2nd Otago Battalion in the outpost line at La Basse Ville and to the left of that village, having the 1st Canterbury Battalion on its immediate right.

The 13th Company occupied the newly established posts to the east and north-east of La Basse Ville, with company headquarters in the village; and on its left the 1st Company held other new advanced posts, with company headquarters in what had been the front line before the capture of the village. The 12th Company was in support, in the neighbourhood of Au Chasseur Cabaret, while the 2nd Company, in reserve, occupied the old German trench-system near St. Yves, Battalion headquarters was still further back, in the deep dug-out underneath St. Yves post office.

The conditions of weather and mud were the same as the 1st Battalion was experiencing, but as the enemy's shelling was concentrated mainly on La Basse Ville and its immediate neighbourhood, the 2nd Battalion's casualties were heavier than those of page 178 the 1st Battalion. Inter-company reliefs took place every three days: particulars of these, and the reliefs of the 1st Battalion, will be found in Appendix "B,"

In the middle of the spell in the line the enemy's artillery fire slackened considerably on the 1st Battalion's area; but the 2nd Battalion had no respite, and it was the general opinion that this period in the line was the worst in its experience on an inactive front. For the twelve days in the line the casualties were one officer (Captain M. J. Morrison. M.C.) and thirty-three other ranks killed, one officer and one hundred and thirteen other ranks wounded, and thirty-five other ranks evacuated to hospital.

The 1st Brigade took over the line on August 17th, and both Canterbury Battalions were relieved on the night of August 17th/18th by the 2nd Auckland and 1st Wellington Battalions respectively. On relief the 1st Battalion moved back to Bulford Camp, and the 2nd Battalion went to billets at Nieppe. Shortly after arrival there, orders were received that the New Zealand Division would be relieved in the line at the end of the month, and in the meantime the 2nd Brigade would go to the La Motte area for training. The 1st Canterbury Battalion marched out on the 21st, and was followed by the 2nd Battalion on the 22nd. Both battalions were accommodated partly in billets and partly in tents and shelters at Caudescure, on the western outskirts of the forest of Nieppe. The weather was fine, and after three easy days spent in bathing, short route marches and recreational training, the brigade settled down to training under company arrangements.

On the 27th, Lieutenant-Colonel G. A. King. D.S.O., New Zealand Staff Corps, took command of the 1st Canterbury Battalion; and the following day the brigade marched to Caestre, and there entrained for the Lumbres area, west and south-west of St. Omer. Both the Canterbury Battalions detrained at Wizernes that same afternoon, and the 1st Battalion marched to billets for the night at Lumbres, and next day went on to its permanent billets at Coulomby. The 2nd Battalion went all the way to Bayinghem from Wizernes, arriving at its billets there at 2.30 a.m. on the 29th. On September 26th Lieutenant-Colonel G. C. Griffiths left for England on duty, and Major O. H. Mead took command of the 2nd Battalion.

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The 3rd Battalion had been relieved in the line by the 3rd Auckland Battalion on July 31st. The battalion now adopted a new arrangement, under which two companies of the battalion were to supply all the working-parties required, and the other two companies were to devote their whole time to training. Accordingly, the 1st and 13th Companies were sent to Support Farm and provided working-parties, while the 2nd and 12th Companies trained at their billets at Brune Gaye. The companies changed places on the 4th. and on the night of the 5th/ 6th the Battalion relieved the 3rd Auckland Battalion in the same sector as it had previously occupied. There was no offensive action on either side, and the sector was gradually quietening down.

Further reliefs as shown in Appendix "B" took place before the end of the month, when the 8th Division relieved the New Zealand Division. On the night of August 31st/September 1st the 3rd Canterbury Battalion handed over its trenches to the 2nd Battalion Devon Regiment, and moved back to Bulford Camp. On September 2nd it marched to Steenwerck and entrained for Wizernes, and thence marched to Coulomby for billets for the night. The following day the battalion moved again by road to its training billets at Surques. All the New Zealand Brigades were now in the training area, excepting the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade, which had been temporarily detached from the Division, and was engaged in burying telephone cables and other work in the Ypres salient.

Besides the casualties suffered in the Battle of Messiues, mentioned in Chapter IX, the Regiment had suffered the following casualties while it was holding the trenches in the sector between Messines and the Lys:—
1st Battalion.Officers.Other Ranks.
Killed in Action and Died of Wounds19
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2nd Battalion. Officers. Other Ranks.
Killed in Action and Died of Wounds 2* 61
Wounded 1 153
    Total 3 214
3rd Battalion. Officers. Other Ranks.
Killed in Action and Died of Wounds 27
Wounded 5 97
    Total 5 124

Total for three battalions: 2 officers and 107 other ranks killed, and 7 officers and 365 other ranks wounded.

These casualties include those mentioned earlier in this chapter.

The training of the Division for the attack east of Ypres differed very little from what had been done before the battle of Messines, except that, as the General Staff hoped to break clean through the enemy's trench systems before the Division was used, more attention was given to open warfare than to trench-to-trench attacks. The enemy's use of "pill-boxes," or small concrete machine-gun positions, as a substitute for trenches, had evolved a new style of fighting which needed practice; and the possibility of fighting in wooded country made it necessary for all troops to be taught the best means of advancing through woods. In other respects the training was on much the same lines as before, and there is no need to describe it again in detail.

A good deal of time was devoted to ceremonial drill, in preparation for an inspection of the Division by Sir Douglas Haig, K.T., G.C.B., G.C.V.O., K.C.I.E., Commander-in-Chief of the British Armies in France, which had been fixed for September 14th. On that date the 1st, 2nd, and 4th Brigades were massed near Harlettes, a mile north of Coulomby, and on the main Boulogne-St, Omer road. The inspection was a thorough one, page 181 and lasted from 10 a.m. till about noon, when the Division marched past the Commander-in-Chief in column of platoons, and returned to its billets.

On September 24th, the Division received orders to move the following day, by route march, to the battle area. The 1st Canterbury Battalion left Coulomby early on the 25th, and was billetted that night at Arques, two miles south-east of St. Omer. Marching on again about ten miles the next day, the battalion spent the night at Queue d'Oxelaere, two miles south of Cassel. A march of about the same distance the following day (the 27th) brought the battalion to billets for the night near Watou, five miles west of Poperinghe. The next day the battalion completed its march, and arrived at 4 p.m. in the Ypres North area, to the west of the town and close to the Ypres-Poperinghe railway.

The 2nd Battalion left Bayinghem on the 25th and reached the Watou area on the 27th, spending the night of the 25th at Renescure (on the St. Omer-Hazebrouck road, seven miles west of the latter town), and the night of the 26th at Terdeghem (two miles east of Cassel). From Watou, the battalion was carried on the 28th by motor-bus to Goldfish Chateau, in the Ypres North area: and in the evening marched to the old German front line at Wieltje, two miles north-east of Ypres.

The 2nd Brigade was now ordered to take over from the 59th Division the whole of the New Zealand Division's new sector, and to put all four battalions in the line. Accordingly, on the night of September 29th/30th the 2nd Battalions of the Canterbury and Otago Regiments took over the whole of the left subsector of the front line from the 178th Brigade, the 2nd Canterbury Battalion relieving the 2nd/5th Battalion South Stafford Regiment; while the 1st Battalions of the same regiments relieved two battalions of the 177th Brigade in the right of the 59th Division's support lines. The following night the 1st Canterbury and 1st Otago Battalions took over the right subsector of the front line, the 1st Canterbury Battalion having its headquarters in Pommern Castle, a thousand yards south of the Wieltje.Gravenstafel road. The order of the four battalions in the line (right to left) was: 1st Canterbury, 1st Otago, 2nd Canterbury, 2nd Otago.

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The brigade held the line, with but slight casualties, till the night of October 2nd/3rd, when it was relieved by the 1st and 4th Brigades. The 1st Canterbury and 1st Otago Battalions, on relief by the 3rd Auckland and 3rd Otago Battalions respectively, moved into the old British front line near Wieltje, where they remained in reserve to the 4th and 1st Brigades respectively. The 2nd Canterbury Battalion, on relief by the 1st Wellington Battalion, moved back with the 2nd Otago Battalion to the Ypres North area.

At this stage the movements of the 4th Brigade claim attention, as it was now on the eve of making its first attack. It had left its training area with the rest of the Division on September 25th, to march to the Ypres area. The 3rd Canterbury Battalion moved that day from Surques to Bayinghem; and thence marched successively, on the 26th to Campagne (four miles south-east of St. Omer), on the 27th to Eecke (about midway between Cassel and Bailleul, but north of the main road between those towns), and on the 29th to the Watou area. There the battalion remained till October 1st, suffering several casualties from enemy aeroplane-bombs; and then marched to the Ypres North area, and bivouacked near Goldfish Chateau.

Before going into details of the further movements of the 4th Brigade, it is desirable to begin a new chapter with a review of the general situation at the Ypres salient at this time.

* 2nd Lieutenant E. S. Cornford (8th July), and Captain M.G. Morrison, M.C. (Died of Wounds, 15th August).