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

Trench Warfare

Trench Warfare.

The 2nd Canterbury Battalion remained at Walker's Camp till December 5th, when the 2nd Brigade came into support to the Division, and the battalion moved forward to about two miles east of Ypres. There it was housed in deep dug-outs—battalion headquarters and the 12th and 13th Companies at Halfway House Dug-outs, half a mile to the south of Birr Cross-Roads, and the 1st and 2nd Companies at Railway Wood Dug-outs, the same distance north of the Cross-Roads.

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The Division's sector had now been altered slightly, the northern boundary being moved a quarter of a mile further north, while the Reutelbeek remained the southern boundary.

The area between the Reutelbeek and the Polygonbeek was known as the Cameron Covert sub-sector. It differed from the other sub-sectors held by the Division in that it had no front line or support trenches, but was defended by a series of isolated posts which had not yet been connected into continuous lines. The two streams of the Reutelbeek and the Polygonbeek, converted by shell-fire in fairly wide marshes, flanked Cameron Covert and met in front of it. As the marshes were impassable for large bodies of troops, the sector was secure from attack during the early months of the winter; but later on, when the marshes had frozen, their natural protection disappeared.

The Divisional sector was now too long to be held by one brigade, and there was no accommodation or shelter for two brigades, so an extra battalion was attached to each brigade when it held the line.* The brigade then held the line with four battalions in the front line and one in support. Reliefs took place on the average every six days: the front line battalions then moved to the back areas with the exception of the battalion holding Cameron Covert, which exchanged places with the support battalion. This happened every relief till a brigade went into Divisional reserve, when all four of its battalions were withdrawn from the front area.

On the night of December 9th/10th, the 2nd Brigade relieved the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade in the Divisional front line system between the northern boundary and the Polygonbeek, with three battalions in the line and one in support. The 3rd Battalion of the Rifle Brigade remained in the front line, between the Reutelbeek and the Polygonbeek, and came under the command of the General Officer commanding the 2nd Brigade.

The 1st Canterbury Battalion took over the 2nd Brigade's centre sector, called "Judge Cross Roads," and extending from a point opposite "Judge Cottage," five hundred yards south of the point where our front line crossed the Becelaere-Passchendaele road, to a point just north of "Joiner's Rest," and two

* The 1st Brigade had been detached from the Division for work under Corps direction, so that tie Division had the normal number of three brigades to hold the line.

page 220 hundred and fifty yards north of the same road. It held the line with the 13th Company on the right, the 2nd Company on the left, the 1st Company in support, and the 12th Company in reserve, and with headquarters at "the Butte." This was a large mound of earth about a quarter of a mile north-east of the northern end of the racecourse in Polygon Wood.

The presence of tree stumps on the mound, as well as its distance from the racecourse, showed the unsoundness of the almost universal belief in the New Zealand Division that it formed the foundation of a grand-stand. Colonel H. Stewart has since ascertained, after much research in the British Museum and correspondence with French archæologists, that the mound was constructed about the beginning of the nineteenth century, for the purpose of training in musketry the Belgian infantry stationed at Ypres barracks; and that it had been disused since 1870. It had been extensively tunnelled by the Germans, and was now used as headquarters not only by the brigade in the line, but also by one of its battalions.*

On the right of the 1st Canterbury Battalion was the 2nd Otago Battalion and on its left the 1st Otago Battalion; and the 2nd Canterbury Battalion, in support, occupied bivouacs in Polygon Wood, of which scarcely a stump remained. Much work was required on the front line system, and while the line battalions improved their own trenches, the 2nd Canterbury battalion was set to work on the trenches immediately behind the front line.

Except in a few places close up to the front line, there were no communication trenches in the Divisional sector and on account of the mud all the traffic in the area was confined to a few duck-walk tracks, the position of which was well known to the enemy, who shelled them constantly. In ordinary circumstances, these tracks would have been exceedingly unsafe; but the mud which rendered them necessary also smothered the enemy shells, and greatly reduced their danger area. However, obviously these tracks were at all times much more unsafe than communication trenches, and when the frosts came, even very badly-aimed shells could cause casualties to troops using the tracks.

* After the Armistice the Butte was purchased by the Australian Government, as a site for a memorial to the 5th Australian Division.

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On the relief of the 2nd Brigade by the 4th Brigade on the night of December 15th/16th, the 2nd Canterbury Battalion moved from its bivouacs at Polygonveld as battalion in support, and in accordance with the practice mentioned above, relieved the 3rd Battalion of the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade in Cameron Covert, coming under the command of the 4th Brigade. There was very little accommodation near the front line, so while one company held the posts and another was kept in support close up, the two remaining companies were held in reserve close to the bivouacs which they had occupied at Polygonveld when the battalion was in support to the 2nd Brigade. The 1st Canterbury Battalion was relieved by the 3rd Canterbury Battalion, and moving out with the two Otago Battalions, went to Howe Camp, whence it moved on the 21st to the New Hutting Camp, half a mile south of Ypres.

It is not necessary to record here all the reliefs of the three battalions from now on: details are to be found in Appendix "B." The trench warfare in the Ypres salient differed from the Division's earlier experiences at Armentières only by the greater discomforts with which the troops had to contend at Ypres. The trenches were muddy and were as a rule without duck-walks, which meant that the feet of the garrison were almost always wet. There was very little weather-proof sleeping accommodation; and though hot food was sent up from cook-houses behind the line, it usually arrived fairly cold, on account of the long distance it had to be carried.

Snow fell before Christmas, but as it froze it did not add much to the discomforts; though the frozen ground increased the danger zone of shells to as great an extent as the mud had previously reduced it. Later on, when frosty nights were followed by sunny days, numerous casualties were caused in the mornings by the contents of gas-shells fired during the night, which had remained in liquid form till the heat of the sun caused them to evaporate. In this manner the whole of the headquarters of the 2nd Brigade and of the 2nd Canterbury Battalion were gassed in the Butte on the morning of February 18th. The casualties evacuated to hospital from the 2nd Battalion included the Commanding Officer (Major N. R. Wilson),* the adjutant,

* Major Wilson had commanded the 2nd Battalion since just before Christimas, when Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart took over the temporary command of the 2nd Brigade. The latter returned to the command of the battalion for a few days in February, leaving on the 15th to go on leave. Major Wilson then again took command of the battalion.

page 222 three other officers, and thirty-seven other ranks. None of the cases were serious, and caused more amusement than sympathy in the rest of the battalion, which had just received a severe "strafe" for having had similar casualties.

On January 17th and 18th, the 4th Brigade had relieved the 1st Brigade as Corps working brigade; but now the time had arrived when the supply of reinforcements from New Zealand was insufficient to keep four brigades up to full strength in the field. The actual date of disbandment of the brigade was February 7th: on February 4th its brigadier, Brigadier-General H. E. Hart, D.S.O., took over the command of the 2nd Brigade. The officers and other ranks of the four 3rd Battalions who were not immediately required as reinforcements for the line battalions were formed into four Works (or Entrenching) Battalions, which together made up the New Zealand Works Group, available for work under Corps direction. All reinforcements on being sent from England to France were henceforward sent on by the New Zealand Reinforcement Wing to the Works Group, and there were drafted to their proper works battalion. Demands from the line battalions for reinforcements were supplied by drafts from the corresponding works battalions.

The commanding officer of the 3rd Canterbury Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel R. A. Row, did not, however, remain with it when it was converted into a works battalion. On February 13th he took over the command of the 1st Battalion from Captain E. M. Cuddon, who was acting Commanding Officer in place of Lieutenant-Colonel O. H. Mead, on leave. On his return, on the 19th, Lieutenant-Colonel Mead took command of the 2nd Battalion, in place of Major Wilson, who had been gassed the previous day. The same day Brigadier-General R. Young (formerly Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion) took command of the 2nd Brigade, replacing Brigadier-General Hart, who had also been gassed at the Butte.

The New Zealand Division had now been in the line for over three months, and was due and quite ready for its turn in Corps Reserve, when orders came for the relief of the infantry brigades by the 49th Division, between February 21st and 24th. At this time the 2nd Canterbury Battalion was in the line at Judge Cross roads, and the 1st Battalion in brigade reserve with headquarters page 223 and two companies at Railway Wood Dug-out, a mile north-west of Hooge, and two companies half a mile to the west, at West Farm Camp. Relieved on the 22nd by a battalion of the 147th Brigade, the 1st Canterbury Battalion moved to Belgian Chateau, a mile and a half south-west of Ypres, where it received reinforcements and was rejoined by details from the brigade school. The 2nd Battalion was relieved in the line by the 1st/6th Battalion

West Riding Regiment on the night of the 22nd/23rd, and moved to West Farm Camp, where its strength was increased in the same way as the 1st Battalion's. The following day both battalions marched to Ypres to entrain for the training area.

The following is a summary of the casualties sustained by the Regiment since the return of the New Zealand Division to the Ypres salient in November, 1917, including the casualties suffered in the Polderhoek chateau attack:—
1st Battalion.Officers.Other Ranks.
Killed in Action and Died of Wounds5*124
2nd Battalion.Officers.Other Ranks.
Killed in Action and Died of Wounds53
3rd Battalion.Officers.Other Ranks.
Killed in Action and Died of Wounds49

* Lieutenant W. N. Elliott (killed 3rd December, 1917), 2nd Lieutenant E. G. Bristed (killed 3rd December, 1917, Lieutenant J. A. McQueen (killed 11th December, 1917), Captain S. L. Serpell, R.M.O. (Killed 15th December, 1917), 2nd Lieutenant H. F. Dyer (killed 8th January, 1918).

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Total for Regiment: 5 officers and 226 other ranks killed, and 24 officers and 523 other ranks wounded.

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Sergt.-MajorA. A. Atkins, D.C.M.

Sergt.-MajorA. A. Atkins, D.C.M.

Sergt.-MajorJ. L. Shackleton, D.C.M.

Sergt.-MajorJ. L. Shackleton, D.C.M.

Corpl. F. M. Dodds, D.C.M.

Corpl. F. M. Dodds, D.C.M.