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

Chapter XI. — Passchendaele

page 183

Chapter XI.

The third Battle of Ypres had now been raging continuously for nearly two months; but though the first day of the attack had seen the enemy's defences captured to a maximum depth of over two miles on a front of about fourteen miles, the attacks during the rest of the period had advanced our line little over a mile on any part of the battle front. At the date when the New Zealand Division reached the battle area, the British front line ran north from La Basse Ville, passed just east of Gapaard and of Holbeke, crossed the Ypres-Menin canal near Holbeke and the Ypres-Menin road half a mile north-west of Gheluvelt, swept round the eastern side of Polygon Wood, cut through the eastern end of the village of Zonnebeke, and (still running more northerly than westerly) passed to the west of Gravenstafel and midway between the villages of Poelcappelle and Langemarck. Crossing the Ypres-Staden railway about half a mile to the north of Langemarck, the line turned more towards the west and ran in almost a straight line to Drie Grachten, on the Ypres-Yser canal, west of the Forest of Houthulst. This was the northern limit of the battle area at this period.

After his experiences of the effect of artillery concentration on trenches, which he had gained on the Somme and at Messines, the enemy had abandoned continuous lines of trenches for his inner lines of defence, and had substituted groups of small machine-gun posts, which mutually supported each other, and were protected as well by belts of wire. These posts were called "pill-boxes": being constructed of concrete, with overhead cover usually at least three feet thick and not uncommonly six feet thick, reinforced by steel rods, they were indestructible except by direct hits by heavy shells. As a rule, they were not larger than nine feet square, and were thus small targets; and even though their position was betrayed in aeroplane photographs by page 184the tracks leading up to them, they were usually so well camouflaged that it was difficult for artillery observers to see them, or to report whether they had been hit by the shell aimed at them.

Though the attack of July 31st had succeeded in overwhelming the enemy's front line system and the subsidiary line of trenches behind it, the advance had been held up beyond the trenches by the pill-boxes, which had been unharmed by the creeping barrage. From then on, the rate of advance had depended upon the number of pill-boxes which had to be previously dealt with by the heavy artillery; and every attack was ultimately held up by enemy defences of this nature. As a rule, the pill-boxes were scattered in an irregular manner wherever the ground provided suitable sites; but there were also regular defensive lines of pill-boxes sited in positions where, under the old conditions, defensive systems of trenches would have been placed.

In places these lines of pill-boxes were connected by fighting trenches, and the lines were further defended by very strong belts of wire. In the sector to which the New Zealand Division had been sent, a line of this kind ran from south of Potsdam on the Ypres-Roulers railway (close to where the Ypres-Zonnebeke road crosses the railway) north through Zevenkote and Kansas Cross, and skirting to the east of Winnipeg and Vancouver ran round the east and north of Langemarck. Behind this was another strong line of a similar nature, known as the Staden-Zonnebeke line.

A survey of the British advance during the battle up to the end of September shows a fairly substantial gain of ground; but on closer examination it will be seen that the number of strategical positions captured was by no means proportionate to the additional area enclosed in the British lines. In other words, the ridge east of Ypres, which was one of the objectives of the battle, and which, if the original attacks had gone as it was hoped they would, would have been merely the starting point for a shattering blow destined to pierce the whole of the enemy's system of trenches and to destroy all his armies in Belgium—this ridge had fallen into the hands of the British only from east of Zillebeke to Polygon Wood. All the British gains north of the latter point consisted of ground which was still dominated, to a greater or smaller degree, by the ridge.

page 185

The newly gained ground gave us, however, jumping-off places for attacks on the rest of the ridge; and although at this late season of the year there was exceedingly little hope of the battle gaining the results for which the Staff had hoped when it began, there seemed no reason why we should not at least take the ridge. Its capture would mean not only dominating positions and trenches which could be easily drained and kept reasonably habitable during the winter, but would also give us a good starting-point for operations in the spring. These were doubtless some of the reasons which led Sir Douglas Haig to persist in the battle: he also suggests in his despatch of 25th December, 1917, that he was anxious to keep the enemy's attention diverted from Cambrai, where his next blow was planned to fall, and from operations in preparation by the French at Malmaison.

The general lie of the main ridge is from north-east to southwest, so that while on the right of the battle front the British line tended to run along the forward (or south-eastern) slopes of the ridge, it crossed the summit at Polygon Wood, and from there descended into the lower ground to the west of the ridge. From Polygon Wood, however, to where the Ypres-Roulers railway crosses the hills, the ridge runs due north, and the Becelaere-Passchendaele road runs along its summit; but half a mile before this road crosses the railway, the ridge turns north-east again. From this point a broad and low spur, two miles long, runs to within a mile to the east of St. Julien: half-way down the spur is the site of Gravenstafel, and south-east of that village, on the upper slopes of the spur, is the low plateau christened "Abraham Heights" by the Canadians in the second Battle of Ypres.

The objectives of a further attack from the line above described naturally included the ridge from Polygon Wood to the Ypres-Roulers railway; but north of the railway the high ground was too far from the front line to be attempted in one day's fighting, and the objective decided on was a straight line from Nieuwemolen, near where the railway crosses the ridge, to Poel-cappelle. From this village the line of objectives closed in again towards the front line, which it met at the Ypres-Staden railway, north of Langemarck. The ground to be captured thus included the whole of the spur on which stood Gravenstafel and Abraham Heights.

page 186

Accordingly, when the Second and Fifth Armies issued orders for a joint attack on October 4th, the objectives above described were assigned to the various corps to be engaged. The II Anzac Army Corps, the left flank Corps of the Second Army, divided its share of the objectives into two, and ordered the 3rd Australian Division to capture the right portion and the New Zealand Division to take the remainder. On the left of the New Zealand Division the attack was to be carried out by the 48th and 11th Divisions of the XVIII Corps, Fifth Army.

The New Zealand Division's sector was a strip of country about a mile wide running north-east, with the Wieltje-Gravens-tafel road sub-dividing it into two almost equal strips. The absence of natural boundaries makes it difficult to describe the limits of the sector, but the boundary lines and objectives are shown on the map at the end of the chapter. The final objective for the day was a line running across the sector, immediately beyond Berlin Copse (or Wood), Waterloo Farm, and Kronprinz Farm.

The attack of the New Zealand Division was to be made by two brigades, the 1st and the 4th: but though, as has been stated, the Wieltje-Gravenstafel road roughly divided the Division's sector into two, it did not form the inter-brigade boundary. This boundary was a straight line drawn through Waterloo and Riverside Farms (both of which were inclusive to the 4th Brigade) and continued on towards the rear, passing to the south-east of the cross roads called Kansas Cross. The British front line in the sector was to the north-east of the Zonnebeke-Langemarck road, Dochy Farm on the right flank being inside our line, while Riverside Farm was in the enemy's territory. The front on which the 4th Brigade was to attack was eight hundred yards in width, and on its left the 1st Brigade was allotted a similar frontage.

The usual creeping and stationary barrages were to support the infantry in the attack, while the heavy guns had been engaged in searching for enemy pill-boxes ever since they had been moved forward to their battle positions. Besides heavy artillery, thirty batteries of 18-pounder guns (one hundred and eighty guns), ten batteries of 4·5-inch howitzers (sixty guns), and sixty-eight machine-guns had been detailed to support the page 187New Zealand Division alone. The creeping barrage was to move forward by jumps of fifty yards every two minutes for the first two hundred yards, and after that by jumps of fifty yards every three minutes. Twenty-nine minutes, after zero, the barrage was to halt for twelve minutes* and then to move on again at the rate of fifty yards every three minutes till the first objective was reached. A hundred and fifty yards past this objective, the barrage was to pause for an hour, and would then move on at the rate of fifty yards every four minutes up to the second (and final) objective. After the final objective was reached, the barrage was to halt a hundred and fifty yards beyond it, to protect the infantry while it consolidated its gains, and was then to die away gradually.

The 4th Brigade's plans for the attack provided that two battalions, the 3rd Auckland on the right and the 3rd Otago on the left, would capture the first objective (or "Red Line") which extended along the south-eastern slopes of the Gravenstafel spur, short of Abraham Heights and Gravenstafel village. Immediately after the capture of the first objective, the 3rd Canterbury Battalion on the right and the 3rd Wellington Battalion on the left would pass through the two leading battalions, and form up ready to advance against the second objective (or "Blue Line") directly the barrage moved on. On the capture of the second objective, these battalions would establish there a line of posts, and would also dig a continuous support trench across the whole brigade front on the "Blue Dotted Line," three hundred and fifty yards short of the final objective, to link up with trenches dug in like manner by the 10th Brigade of the 3rd Australian Division on the right, and the 1st New Zealand Infantry Brigade on the left.

The 3rd Canterbury Battalion's objective consisted of the portion of the final objective which lay between the intersection of Dagger Trench by the right divisional boundary, and the northern corner of Berlin Copse. In order to reach the objective, the battalion had first to capture Abraham Heights, the highest point in the Division's sector, and then to take Berlin Copse with Dagger Trench leading into it from the south-east. At the

* The reason given in orders for this pause was to allow of "leap-frogging" if necessary.

page 188same time, the 3rd Wellington Battalion, on the left, would be occupied with the capture of Gravenstafel village and Berlin and Waterloo Farms.

The assembly for the attack began on the night of October 2nd/3rd, when the 3rd Auckland and 3rd Otago Battalions relieved those troops of the 2nd New Zealand Infantry Brigade who were garrisoning the portion of the front line which lay within the 4th Brigade's boundaries. The same night, two sections from each platoon in the 3rd Canterbury and 3rd Wellington Battalions moved forward to the old German support line in the neighbourhood of Wieltje, battalion headquarters and the rest of the troops of each battalion staying behind at Goldfish Chateau. We will now follow the doings of the 3rd Canterbury Battalion.

The troops of the 3rd Canterbury Battalion who had stayed at Goldfish Chateau left there at 5 p.m. on October 3rd, and joined the rest of the battalion in the old German support trenches east of Wieltje. From there, all officers and noncommissioned officers went forward to reconnoitre the assembly position and the routes to it. Broad white marking tapes were laid on a line running through Zevenkote, Delva Farm, and Elms Corner,* on which the battalion was to assemble later that night; and a similar tape was run forward for about five hundred yards, along the brigade's right boundary, to help the troops to keep their proper direction as they advanced. At 11 p.m. on the night of October 3rd/4th, the battalion moved forward, assembled on the tapes, and bivouacked for the night in shell-holes about the assembly line, with battalion headquarters near Pommern Castle, five hundred yards south-east of Bank Farm. During the night the enemy shelled the assembly area, but caused only two casualties; a light rain also fell.

That the enemy was uneasy was shown by the heavy barrage he put down at 5 a.m. on the 4th, along the whole Divisional front. Zero hour for the attack was fixed for 6 a.m., but before that time the enemy's barrage had died away, enabling the 3rd Canterbury Battalion to leave the assembly line in artillery formation at 5.50 a.m., and to move forward towards the brigade's

* So in Battalion Diary. This point is not shown on the map, but is presumably somewhere about Gallipoli.

page 189front line posts,* twelve hundred yards ahead of the battalion's assembly position.

The formation adopted was rather a peculiar one: the two leading companies of the battalion, the 1st on the right and the 2nd on the left, moved in line of platoons in fours, spread over the whole of the battalion frontage of four hundred yards, with fifty yards' interval between platoons. Close on the heels of each platoon came a section either of moppers-up or of carriers (four sections of each), of which one was supplied by each of the leading companies, and the other six came from the remaining companies of the battalion. At a distance of thirty yards behind the leading line of platoons with sections attached, the 12th and 13th Companies followed, also in line of platoons, in fours, in support to the 1st and 2nd Companies respectively. The places of the two platoons which had been detailed for carrying and mopping-up were filled by groups made up of all the stretcher-bearers of the battalion and the battalion signallers, and the line of platoons was closely followed by four carrying sections—two left over from the carrying and mopping-up platoons, and two others supplied by other platoons.

Risky as this formation appears to have been, it was maintained until well after the front line had been passed, and till just before the battalion reached the Red Line, which had meanwhile been captured by the 3rd Auckland Battalion. The 3rd Canterbury Battalion then deployed into extended order, and on passing the Red Line met with some opposition from parties of the enemy in shell-holes with machine-guns. After disposing of these without undue difficulty, the leading troops of the battalion reached the top of the spur (Abraham Heights), and came under direct machine-gun fire from the high ground to the north and north-east.

This was the place where the barrage time-table called for a halt for an hour. During this time the troops lying in the open suffered a good many casualties, nearly all from machine-gun fire. On the barrage moving forward again, however, little resistance was met till the first line reached Berlin Copse. Two pill-boxes held up the 2nd Company here for a short time, until

* The leading battalions of the brigade did not begin their advance from the front line posts, but from a taped line between two and three hundred yards behind these posts.

page 190two platoons were detailed to outflank the position, and captured it together with a machine-gun and seventeen prisoners. By 9.10 a.m., (one hundred and ninety minutes after zero) the battalion had captured the whole of its objective, and straightway began to consolidate its gains.

The work of digging a trench on the "Blue Dotted Line" (three hundred and fifty yards behind the final objective) was completed by dusk, in spite of considerable interference by enemy machine-guns and snipers, which were active on Bellevue Spur; and the trench was successfully joined up with the trenches of the Australians and the 3rd Wellington Battalion on the two flanks. This work was done by the 12th and 13th Companies, the leading companies being engaged in digging the front posts. The battalion diary states that the task of these latter companies was increased by the failure of the 3rd Wellington Battalion to come right up to its objectives on its right flank, and that two platoons of the 2nd Company were sent to fill the gap.

It had been the intention of the Commanding Officer of the battalion to hold the line of advanced posts with two platoons of each of the leading companies, and to bring back the remaining platoons to the Blue Dotted Line, but on account of the extra length of the line of posts, and the heavy casualties suffered by the 1st Company, he decided to leave the whole of both companies where they were. Battalion headquarters was established at Boethoek, just behind the centre of the Red Line.

Along the remainder of the battle front the attack had met with equal success: the enemy infantry and artillery both appeared to be thoroughly disorganized,* and the spirits of our troops rose in proportion. Besides inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy, we had taken numerous prisoners and machineguns, and the 3rd Canterbury Battalion was credited with eighty-six prisoners and eight machine-guns.

Throughout the rest of the day the enemy's shelling was continuous; but as it was scattered over the whole battle area, and was not concentrated as usual on the more advanced troops, it did not cause many casualties in the battalion. The S.O.S.

* Report of the Brigade-Major, 4th Brigade. on operations.

A signal rocket carried by the front line troops to warn the artillery of an infantry attack by the enemy.

page 191was put up by troops on the right of the battalion at 3 p.m. and again at 6.45 p.m.: our barrage came down immediately on both occasions and no enemy attack was made. Towards the evening the enemy shelling diminished considerably. The night of the 4th/5th passed quietly, though the S.O.S. was again put up on our right, at 9.45 p.m., 12.30 a.m., and 3.30 a.m. Again our artillery put down a protective barrage, and no counter-attack came.

Frequent showers fell on the 5th; but in compensation for the discomforts caused by the rain, the enemy's artillery was not active, and the battalion was able to improve its trenches and bury its dead with little interference. By nightfall on that day the Red, Blue Dotted, and Blue Lines were continuous trenches, traversed and dug to an average depth of four feet six inches.* At 9.30 p.m. on the same date, the 1st/5th Battalion West Riding Regiment relieved the 3rd Canterbury Battalion, which marched back to Goldfish Chateau. The march was a long one and through heavy rain, but at the end of it there was rum and a hot meal, and tents which, though crowded, afforded a place for the sleep which everyone very badly needed. Leaving the chateau at 7.30 p.m. on October 6th, the battalion marched to Vlamertinghe, and from there was carried in motor-buses to Eecke, where it was billetted till the 11th.

During the attack the battalion's casualties had been:—
Officers.Other Ranks.
The 1st Canterbury Battalion remained in the old German front line, in reserve to the 4th Brigade, during the whole of October 3rd; and early the following morning battalion headquarters and the 2nd and 12th Companies moved forward to Bank Farm. Later in the day, as counter-attacks threatened,

* Report of the Brigade-Major, 4th Brigade, on the operations.

* 2nd Lieutenant A. Deans and the Rev. G. S. Bryan-Brown, C.F. 4th class.

page 192the 1st Company also came up from the old German trenches; but the attacks were broken up by artillery fire, and the battalion was not drawn into the fighting. The 2nd Battalion did not move from its quarters near Wieltje, which it had taken up on October 2nd.

On the relief of the New Zealand Division by the 49th Division, on October 5th, the 1st and 2nd Battalions marched to Goldfish Chateau, and from there both battalions were carried by motor-buses to Winnezeele, four miles north-east of Cassel. On the 7th, the 2nd Brigade moved to the Eecke Area, to the west and north-west of the Mont des Cats, where the 1st Canterbury Battalion was billetted at Godewaersvelde, and the 2nd at Eecke. The Division had been ordered to make a further attack, in which the 2nd and 3rd Brigades would be the assaulting brigades, and the period in the back area was spent in organization and preparation for the attack.

Meanwhile, on October 9th, the British had made another attack on a front of six miles extending from a point east of Zonnebeke to the left flank of the Fifth Army, north-west of Langemarck, and in conjunction with operations with the French Army on the left of our Fifth Army. This attack, while fairly successful on the left (in the neighbourhood of the Forest of Houthulst) had been held up practically at its starting point on the right; though the villages of Nieuwemolen and Keerselaarhoek had fallen into our hands. The first orders issued to the New Zealand Division assumed that the attack of October 9th would succeed; and when the attack failed on the Division's frontage, amended orders had to be issued.

The new attack was fixed for October 12th, and the New Zealand Division's sector had been altered slightly: as before, it was about a mile in width, but it lay about a quarter of a mile further to the north-west than the previous area over which the Division had attacked. Across the front ran the Ravebeek. which crossed the "Wieltje-Mosselmarkt road about two hundred yards beyond the line established in the attack of October 4th. Before crossing the front, the Ravebeek flowed from east of Passchendaele straight down the valley between the main ridge and the Bellevue Spur, at right angles to the British front line, and page break page break
Capt. W. J. Rodger, M.C., D.C.M.

Capt. W. J. Rodger, M.C., D.C.M.

Lieut. J. Vincent, D.C.M., M.M.

Lieut. J. Vincent, D.C.M., M.M.

2nd Lieut. T. Stockdill, D.C.M

2nd Lieut. T. Stockdill, D.C.M

2nd Lieut. W. E. Smith, D.C.M.

2nd Lieut. W. E. Smith, D.C.M.

page 193turned towards the west only on encountering the lower slopes of the Gravenstafel Spur. Under normal conditions this stream would have been a small one, just large enough to drain the valley between Passchendaele on the main ridge and the Bellevue and Gravenstafel Spurs; but now it had been clogged by constant shelling, its waters had been dammed up, and its bed had become a swamp. The rain since October 4th had made the low-lying ground about the stream into a sea of mud, which every shell made more impassable.

The upper course of the Ravebeek (before it took its westward turn) now formed the right Divisional boundary; and when the source of the stream was reached, the boundary continued to run north-east in a straight line roughly parallel to and about six hundred yards to the south-east of the Wieltje-Mosselmarkt road, crossing the Westroosebeke-Passchendaele road about six hundred yards north of the centre of Passchendaele village. The left Divisional boundary was a purely artificial one, that is to say, it did not conform either to roads or to natural features of the country. It was determined simply by a straight line drawn on the map roughly parallel to and distant about a thousand yards to the north-west of the Wieltje-Mosselmarkt road.

As before, the choice of objectives was governed by the position of the main ridge, on which stood the village of Passchendaele. In the attacks of October 4th and 9th, the British line had been advanced to east of the Becelaere-Passchendaele road (which runs along the summit of the ridge) from a point due east of "the Butte" in Polygon Wood to Nieuwemolen, just south of the Ypres-Roulers railway. The object of the forthcoming attack was to establish a new line east of the Becelaerte-Passchendaele road, on the forward slope of the ridge, from Nieuwemolen to east of Passchendaele, and thence round the north-east and north of the latter village, where the ground began to fall again. On the right of the New Zealand Division, the 3rd Australian Division was given the task of capturing Passchendaele, while on the left the Fifth Army was to push forward to work round the southern outskirts of the Forest of Houthulst. The right flank Division of the Fifth Army the 9th Division, was on the immediate left of the New Zealand Division.

page 194
The objectives assigned to the New Zealand Division were four in number:—
1.The Red Line: A road running from north-west to south-east across the whole Divisional front and crossing the Gravenstafel-Mosselmarkt road two thousand yards north-east of Gravenstafel village.
2.The Blue Line: A line at an average distance of eight hundred yards in front of the Red Line, crossing the Bellevue spur four hundred yards south-west of Mosselmarkt and then swinging round towards the west.
3.The Green Dotted Line: which is more conveniently described by reference to the Green Line (the fourth objective described below).
4.The Green Line: In the II Anzac Army Corps' area this line began at the Ypres-Roulers railway, two thousand yards north-east of its point of intersection with the Becelaere-Passchendaele road, passed six hundred yards east of Passchendaele church and, curving away towards the west, encircled the village and crossed the Passchendaele-Westroosebeke and Wieltje-Oostnieuwkirrke roads about two hundred yards north of their point of intersection. From there it ran almost due west to the left Divisional boundary. The "Green Dotted Line" was a straight line running inside the north-eastern curve of the Green Line, the two lines forming a segment of a circle with the Green Line as the arc and the Green Dotted Line as the chord. The length of the Green Dotted Line was fifteen hundred yards, and its greatest distance from the Green Line was three hundred yards, at the point where the Green Dotted Line crossed the Passchendaele-Westroosebeke road. Half of the Green Dotted Line was in the New Zealand Division's area, and the remainder in the 3rd Australian Division's area.

The 49th Division had attempted to take the Red Line on October 9th, but had been held up by uncut wire, and had advanced its line for a very short distance. The Staden-Zonnebeke page 195Line, a series of mutually supporting pill-boxes, protected by at least two belts of wire, guarded the western slopes of the main ridge, and crossed the Ravebeek at the point where that stream turns towards the west, as above described. In the attack of October 4th, the right flank of the 3rd Canterbury Battalion's final objective had rested on this line, which, running due north and south, consequently lay diagonally across the uncaptured territory in front of the New Zealand Division on that date. In the same attack, the 3rd Australian Division captured the part of this line which lay to the south of the 3rd Canterbury Battalion's right flank.

The ground gained in the attack of October 9th included the Staden-Zonnebeke Line, as far north as the point at which it crossed the Ravebeek. In ordinary circumstances, the fact that part of the line was in our possession would have enabled attacking troops to work round its flank, and take its defenders in the rear. Now, however, the muddy bed of the Ravebeek protected the uncaptured portion of the line against attacks from flank or rear.

The attack of the New Zealand Division was entrusted to the 2nd Brigade on the right and the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade on the left. The latter brigade had been detached from the Division since the end of August, and had meanwhile been engaged on work under Corps orders, and had not had any rest or training in preparation for the battle. It had returned to the Division early on October 8th, when the 1st Brigade relieved it in Corps employ. The 4th Brigade was held in Divisional reserve.

Each attacking brigade had half the Divisional frontage, and was to attack in depth; that is, one battalion was to take the first objective, a second battalion was then to pass through to take the second objective, and so on till all the objectives had been captured. So, in the 2nd Brigade, the 2nd Otago Battalion was to capture the Red Line, the 1st Otago Battalion the Blue Line, and the 1st Canterbury Battalion the Green Dotted and Green Lines.

The 2nd Canterbury Battalion was held in brigade reserve; however, it was not to be kept intact in the rear till there was occasion for its use, but each company had its own special task allotted it. Thus the 2nd and 12th Companies were to follow page 196the 2nd Otago Battalion, and assist in capturing the Red Line, if their help were to be required; and they would then return immediately and be ready to move to Meetcheele to form a defensive flank, if the Australians on the right were held up. Likewise, battalion headquarters and the 13th Company were to assist the 1st Otago Battalion, and the 1st Company was to move with the 1st Canterbury Battalion; but on these battalions gaining their objectives the headquarters and 1st and 13th Companies of the 2nd Canterbury Battalion were to return to Meetcheele, to form a brigade reserve there ready to repel counter-attacks. If necessary, this battalion was to send a company to help the 10th Australian Brigade to capture Passchendaele.

On October 10th the 2nd Brigade concentrated at Eecke, and from there was carried by motor-buses to Ypres, and settled down in "Y" camp. The same day the 1st Canterbury Battalion moved on to bivouacs at Bank Farm, two thousand yards north-east of Wieltje, where it remained till 6 p.m. on October 11th. Then this battalion, with the 1st Company of the 2nd Canterbury Battalion (which with the 13th Company of the same battalion had passed the night of the 10th in the old German front line. south of the Wieltje-Gravenstafel road) moved to its assembly area on the south-east side of the Ravebeek, and by 8.30 p.m. was in position. The 2nd and 12th Companies of the 2nd Battalion went forward on the night of the 10th/11th with the 2nd Otago Battalion to the rear of the latter's assembly area, and dug in near Korek and Boethoek on the Gravenstafel Spur.

The 13th Company joined the 1st Otago Battalion late in the afternoon of the 11th, and moved to its assembly position on the line Delva Farm-Sehuler Farm, south-west of the Langemarck-Zonnebeke road. The ground was very heavy after the recent rains and much cut up by shell-fire, and as the night was very dark the journey to the assembly positions was a trying one. Showers fell during the night, and at 3 a.m. a fairly heavy and steady rain came on and lasted till slightly before zero hour. The 1st Canterbury Battalion's assembly area was heavily shelled at 5 a.m.

At 5.25 a.m. our barrage opened on a line behind the forward assembly lines, and continued for four minutes before moving forward. Luckily for the troops under it the barrage was a page 197feeble one; but naturally neither the inaccuracy of the fire nor the scanty sprinkling of shells tended to increase the confidence of the infantry. However, as the barrage moved forward it was followed by the leading troops of the 2nd Otago Battalion, who at once came under very heavy machine-gun fire. An enemy barrage also came down on his edge of the Ravebeek; but it was not a very heavy one, and was not sufficient to prevent our men from crossing the stream. On the other hand, our barrage did very little towards keeping down the enemy machine-gun fire, which was causing such heavy casualties among our leading lines that they soon were unable to keep up with what barrage there was. Immediately after crossing the Ravebeek, the advancing troops found themselves confronted by the Staden-Zonnebeke Line described on page 194.

In the report of the General Officer commanding the 2nd Brigade on the operations, it is stated that a patrol sent out by the 2nd Otago Battalion on the night of October 10th/11th under Sergeant Travis. D.C.M., had discovered that tie wire in the Staden-Zonnebeke Line was impassable; and that this was reported to brigade headquarters at 9.30 a.m. on the 11th. The Brigadier goes on to state that the artillery liaison officer at his brigade battle headquarters was requested at about 10 a.m. on that date to arrange for the wire and the pill-boxes to be dealt with by heavy artillery.

The report continues:—"This was not done. Again in the afternoon I requested this same officer to get the heavy artillery to deal with these obstacles: after a long period heavy artillery did open up on the Bellevue Spur, but the damage they did was negligible, and they only tried for a very short time. I do not consider that Major—did his best to get a prompt reply from the heavy artillery when my brigade major asked him on the morning of this day. and he did not display much enthusiasm or initiative."

It was these masses of uncut wire, in many cases fifty yards across, and the pill-boxes inside them just beyond the enemy's side of the Ravebeek. which held up the 2nd Otago Battalion; and it was clear by 6 a.m. on the 12th that this battalion could not get on. The artillery barrage, such as it was, had gone on; and there was nothing to hinder the activities of the enemy page 198machine-gunners but the weapons of the infantry. Small parties of Otago men attempted to get at the pill-boxes by crawling under the wire, but all their heroic endeavours were in vain. The 2nd and 12th Companies of the 2nd Canterbury Battalion, attached to the 2nd Otago Battalion, were called up from reserve, and tried to work round the flanks of the pill-boxes at Bellevue, on the Gravenstafel-Mosselmarkt road.

Party after party made the attempt from either flank; and though some got as close as fifteen yards from the pill-boxes, none succeeded in reaching them. There can be no praise too high for these troops, who, with the example of failure after failure before them, undauntedly threw themselves against the impenetrable wire, raked by the heaviest machine-gun fire. Nor did the efforts of the brigade cease with the leading troops: the 1st Otago and 1st Canterbury Battalions, with the remaining companies of the 2nd Canterbury Battalion, now advanced against the wire. Some men got through the first belt, but all were held up by the second belt and by the machine-gun fire from the pill-boxes immediately behind it.

Once the main attack was broken, the task of the enemy defending the line became easier: isolated attempts to advance received the concentrated fire of all machine-guns within reach, and the enemy's snipers became bolder. At last even the smallest movement became impossible, as any man who exposed himself became the target not only of numerous snipers, but even of machine-gun sniping.

With regard to the part played by the Canterbury Regiment in this struggle, the Brigadier makes the following remarks in his report:—

"The 2nd and 12th Companies of 2nd Canterbury Battalion in reserve now pushed up level with the 2nd Otago Battalion. and a party of the 2nd Company under Lieutenant Rawlings also made an attempt by working round to the left; this was also unsuccessful, Lieutenant Rawlings being severely wounded in the attempt.

"Another party from the 13th Company under command [of] Captain Fawcett made an attempt on the right, but was also unsuccessful—Captain Fawcett being severely wounded. page 199Other parties from these two reserve Canterbury Companies also made attempts, one or two getting within 15 yards of the pillboxes.

"The bravery and determination of these men were magnificent."

And later on:—

"The remaining battalion, the 1st Canterbury Battalion, followed immediately in rear of the 1st Otago Battalion. As they crossed the Ravebeek they came under heavy shell and machine-gun fire. Lieutenant-Colonel King was killed, and his Adjutant, Captain Dean, wounded within a few minutes of crossing the stream, Colonel King being on the road at the time.

"Captain Dobson then took over command.

"The 1st and 2nd Companies after crossing the Ravebeek moved over the road to the south side to get into their proper position.

"It had been impossible to assemble on the south of the road west of Ravebeek, as the ground was under water.

"The 12th and 13th Companies moved straight ahead across the Ravebeek, and got into line with the 1st and 2nd Companies.

"After crossing the creek the battalion at once saw that both the Otago Battalions in front had been held up. (At this moment Captain Dobson was wounded by a sniper, and Lieutenant Hunter took over command). Thereupon the 1st Canterbury Battalion dashed forward to assist the two Otago Battalions. Some men managed to crawl under the first belt of wire within a few yards of the pill-boxes, but owing to the volume and accuracy of rifle and machine-gun fire, no further progress could be made; the troops were obliged to dig in where they were, close up to the enemy's wire, and wait for the hours of darkness before they could move. The machine-gun fire and sniping was so accurate that anyone showing himself was immediately shot."

The Commanding Officers of all four battalions (with the exception of Lieutenant-Colonel King, of the 1st Canterbury Battalion, who was killed at 5.40 a.m.) were now at "Waterloo Farm; and all realized and agreed that it was impossible to advance till the wire had been cut and the pill-boxes destroyed. All communications with brigade headquarters had failed, and after a reconnaissance by Lieutenant-Colonel G. S. Smith, of the page 2002nd Otago Battalion, the Commanding Officers decided to consolidate where they were, especially as the 10th Australian Brigade and 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade on the flanks were also held up. At noon the brigade-major arrived at Waterloo Farm, and agreed that the decision of the battalion commanders was the only practical one: Major Stitt arrived at the same time, and took command of the 1st Canterbury Battalion.

At 12.45 p.m. orders were received from brigade headquarters that the battalions were to be re-organized and the attack renewed at 3 p.m. The orders were issued by the General Officer commanding the Second Army, in view of the fact that elsewhere the attack appeared to have succeeded. Both General Godley and General Russell had protested against these orders, but to no purpose. The battalion commanders and brigade-major conferred again, and decided that any attempt to attack would only end in worse disaster: the battalions were mixed up, sniping made re-organization out of the question, and to attempt to attack in their present disorganized state was folly. Apart from these considerations, the men were exhausted by fighting and floundering in the mud, and casualties had been very heavy, especially among officers and non-commissioned officers.

These facts and the opinion of the conference of battalion commanders were submitted to the Brigadier; in the meantime the morning attack had not fulfilled its promise on other parts of the front, and the orders for a further attack were cancelled by Army Headquarters.

In the middle of the afternoon the brigade was ordered to re-organize after dark, and to take up a defensive position with the two Otago Battalions in the front line, and the two Canterbury Battalions in support. The 1st Canterbury Battalion moved back to part of the front line trench established by the 3rd Canterbury Battalion on October 4th, on the forward slopes of Abraham Heights, and was in touch on the right with the 10th Australian Brigade, and on the left, at the Gravenstafel-Mossel-market road, with the 2nd Canterbury Battalion. The latter battalion had its 1st and 13th Companies in the same trench line as the 1st Battalion but to the north of the road, and its 2nd and 12th Companies two hundred and fifty yards behind, also to the north of the road. As a great number of the officers page break page 201 had become casualties, the greatest part of the re-organization was carried out by the surviving non-commissioned officers; and it reflects great credit on them that the work was completed by 9 p.m.

The night of October 12th/13th was quiet, considering that it was the night following an attack, but the weather conditions were exceedingly bad. Heavy rain fell, accompanied by a high cold wind. Yet in spite of the darkness of the night and the desperate weather, and the mud that, if anything, was worse on the road than off it, rations and water were brought up to the men in the trenches.

There was only one road to the rear from the Divisional sector, and it had been a poor one at its best. Up this road had to come all the traffic to the line—troops, guns, ammunition, and supplies of all kinds—and there was no other return route for this traffic. Many of the guns intended to fire the barrage for the attack had become hopelessly bogged on the way up, and could not be extricated in time to be brought into position; and the road was strewn with abandoned ammunition and stores, waggons and dead horses and mules. It was obvious to the enemy that this road was our only means of approach, and he shelled it heavily day and night.

The problem of the collection of the wounded and their conveyance to hospital, which is no light one even in a successful advance, was now a very grave one. The 49th Division had had heavy casualties during its unsuccessful attack on October 9th: and when the New Zealand Division relieved it on the night of October 10th/11th, many of its wounded were still lying in the dressing-station at Waterloo Farm.

Some of these were removed on the night of the 11th by the 3rd Canterbury Battalion: it had arrived from Eecke that day, and had bivouacked at "Y" camp. St. Jean sector; and the 13th Company provided a party of two officers and a hundred other ranks to carry the wounded. On the 12th the battalion moved to the old German front and support lines near Wieltje, and in the afternoon went further forward to Pommern Redoubt (Pommerm Castle), and supplied a party of four hundred and fifty other ranks, under Major D. A. Dron, to carry wounded from Waterloo Farm.

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In spite of this battalion's work, however, the stretcher cases at Waterloo Farm accumulated, till at one time there were two hundred badly wounded men lying in the open round the dressing-station, besides those inside. This was in addition to the wounded, several hundred in number, who were still lying where they had fallen. Many wounded who might have been saved under better conditions of weather must have died as a result of exposure: and it is to be feared that some were smothered in the mud, from which they were unable to extricate themselves. The ground and road were so heavy that six men were required for each stretcher, and even then their progress was very slow.

On the 13th, parties from the 1st and 2nd Canterbury Battalions were organized as stretcher-bearers, and cleared the ground over which the brigade had advanced the previous day. The enemy was experiencing similar difficulties in collecting his wounded, and refrained from his not unusual practice of firing on our stretcher-bearers. So an informal armistice was observed; though the enemy fired on anyone who appeared without a stretcher. Bain fell at intervals during the day, and hampered the work of rescue.

On the 14th. all the wounded had been removed from the battle-field; but the work was by no means completed, for they all had to be carried from the regimental aid post at Waterloo Farm to the field ambulance's advanced dressing station at Wieltje, the furthest point to which motor ambulances could come. So bad was the road that the carry from the regimental aid post to the advanced dressing-station took from four to six hours, even with six men to a stretcher. By nightfall, however, the regimental aid post had been cleared of wounded.

During the afternoon of October 13th, the 2nd Canterbury Battalion had been ordered to fill a gap in the front line between the 2nd and 3rd Brigades; and after dusk the 12th Company was sent up to establish two strong-points m the neighbourhood of Peter Pan. By 9.30 p.m. this had been done, and the 13th Company had dug and occupied a support line a hundred and fifty yards to the rear of the 12th Company. The rest of the 2nd Battalion and the 1st Battalion remained in the trenches on Gravenstafel Spur. Heavy showers fell at intervals during the night, but it was comparatively quiet.

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After another fairly quiet day on October 14th, the 4th Brigade relieved the 2nd and 3rd Brigades at dusk on the whole of the Divisional front, and the 3rd Canterbury Battalion took over the trenches of the 1st and 2nd Battalions on Gravenstafel Spur. The 2nd Brigade became brigade in support, and the 1st and 2nd Canterbury Battalions moved back respectively to Bank Farm and to Capricorn trenches north of Bank Farm. Here the battalions remained during the 15th, resting, re-organizing, drying clothes, and re-equipping themselves from salvage from the battlefield; and moving the following day, the 1st Battalion to the old British and the 2nd Battalion to the old German trenches near Wieltje, spent the rest of that day in a similar way. During the four following days, working-parties were called for from both battalions, and were engaged on different work in the back area, such as burying dead, mending roads, salvaging material, and laying duck-walk tracks. The men were also sent to the baths at Ypres. On the whole the enemy was quiet, but at intervals he shelled the back areas, and his aeroplanes dropped bombs all night and in some places by day also.

The 3rd Canterbury Battalion, on Gravenstafel Spur, suffered from heavy bombardments on October 15th and 16th, and on the 17th relieved the 3rd Auckland Battalion in the right of the line. Here it remained till the evening of October 19th, when the 1st Brigade relieved the 4th Brigade; and the battalion, on handing over its trenches to the 1st Wellington Battalion, moved back to the trenches between Pommern Redoubt and Spree Farm.*

The total casualties for the Regiment in the battle (exclusive of those of the 3rd Battalion mentioned above) had been as follows:—
1st Battalion.Officers.Other Ranks.
Killed in Action and Died of Wounds5121

* On the Wieltje road, a quarter of a mile due north of Bank Farm.

Lieutenant-Colonel G. A. King. D.S.O. (12th October), Captain L. G. O'Callaghan (12th October), Captain J. Graham (Died of Wounds, 4th October), Lieutenant McK. Gibson (12th October), Lieutenant W. J. Stone (Died of Wounds, 13th October).

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2nd BattalionOfficers.Other Ranks.
Killed in Action and Died of Wounds6103
3rd Battalion.Officers.Other Ranks.
Killed in Action and Died of Wounds47

Total for the Regiment: 11 officers and 271 other ranks killed, and 26 officers and 592 other ranks wounded.

Total (including those of the 3rd Battalion to October 6th): 13 officers and 310 other ranks killed, and 35 officers and 791 other ranks wounded.

Major W. H. Meddings (11th October), Captain L. J. Ford and 2nd Lieutenants W. R. Foden, J. L. Green, and A. Talbot (12th October), 2nd Lieutenant M. K. McLeod (Died of Wounds, 13th October).