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Official History of the New Zealand Engineers During the Great War 1914-1919.

Chapter XII. — German Offensive, 1918

page 178

Chapter XII.
German Offensive, 1918.

It is not to be assumed that the success attending the opening stages of the German drive in March, 1918, was due to the fact that the Allies had not foreseen that such an attack was practically a certainty, or that they had taken no steps to withstand the onslaught when it should eventuate. As early as the previous December the inevitable result of the Russian collapse in reinforcing the German Divisions on the Western Front with hundreds of fresh battalions had caused a definite change of Allied policy from attack to defence. It was fully realised that, until the arrival of the American Armies, the initiative must pass once more to the enemy, and that the German War Lords were not the men to neglect any means of improving their unexpected opportunity.

That Ludendorff would strike hard and strike soon was a foregone conclusion; where the blow would fall was the unknown crux of the situation. The point of junction of the French and British Armies on the Cambrai front, though by no means the only spot suitable for attack, seemed to present the most attractive possibilities for the definite success so essential to the "strong peace" overtures which would assuredly follow from the time-pressed leaders of the Central States. British military opinion determined on Cambrai as the most probable danger point, but was equally decided that a temporary loss of ground there was fraught with less serious possibilities than at Ypres or at any other point of the British line likely to be selected by the enemy. The whole front was in progress of energetic fortification, but in view of the foregoing conclusion the Cambrai area was not especially strengthened until February, either by material means or by large reserves of troops.

Three defensive zones were contemplated, of which the third was only a skeleton at the moment of attack. These lines were confidently expected to hold up any assault long enough to enable adequate reinforcements to arrive. Special defensive measures had been undertaken at Peronne to guard the crossings of the Somme.

During the winter, while the British Armies laboured on their fortifications, the very number of the German Divisions had ensured quick reliefs and long periods of rest and training in the special methods devised by Ludendorff for this, his last page 179desperate throw for victory. On the eve of attack, more than 70 German Divisions, every man fresh and rested, lay over against the British Third and Fifth Armies. Even the uncertain chances of the weather favoured the enemy. A particularly heavy fog on the morning of 21st March covered the advance of the van battalions until they were almost upon our front line. S.O.S. signals, obscured by the mist, brought no assistance in time, communications were cut and, before the waiting batteries had any clear knowledge of the position in front, they too were enveloped by the overwhelming rush of the massed hordes of the enemy. By evening on the 21st, the remnants of the British garrisons and all local reserves on the greater part of this front were struggling desperately to preserve a footing in their second zone of defence; on the extreme right of General Gough's Fifth Army south-west of St. Quentin, the Boches were already clear of all obstacles.

The 22nd was another day of fierce fighting against hopeless odds, marked by several forced withdrawals further north to conform to the increasing German success in the extreme south. On the 23rd General Gough abandoned the Peronne bridgehead, and withdrew the whole remainder of his Fifth Army across the Somme, leaving the V Corps, on the extreme right of the Third Army, more or less in the air. The Germans drove through the gap thus created between the Armies with great energy and skill, the ensuing compulsory retirements in the Third Army in the next two days causing further inevitable loss of touch and co-ordination between the IV and V Corps.

Meanwhile the New Zealanders formed one of the reserve Divisions which were being hurried to the scene from less active fronts as soon as the weight of the German thrust made it apparent that their main enterprise had been definitely launched. The first destination proposed for the Division was on the left of the Third Army, but the constant changes in the situation altered this to the Bray area on the Somme, where Divisional Headquarters came under VII Corps at Corbie on the 24th. A further change on the 25th occasioned removal to. Ribemont in the Ancre Valley, where Divisional Headquarters arrived the same night, the Division being now under Third Army control.

German pressure was still being maintained with extreme vigour and a good deal of success, notably as regards the gap existing between the IV and V Corps already mentioned. At 10 p.m. on the 25th, General Russell received orders to move by way of Hedauville to establish a line between Hamel and page 180Puisieux, with the object of closing this highly dangerous and still widening gap between the Corps. At 1.30 a.m. on the 26th, Divisional Headquarters, including C.R.E., were established at Hedauville. While these preliminary arrangements for their reception were going on in the south, the scattered units of the Division were losing no time on the road. The speed and skill with which the administrative staffs pushed them through to the new front left little to be desired.

Beyond Amiens, the railway line was already cut by hostile bombers, and the majority of the New Zealanders, including 1st and 3rd Field Companies, detrained at St. Roche Station on the outskirts of the town. The 2nd Company detrained at Ailly-sur-Somme. In all cases the orders were to leave all baggage at the detraining stations under guard, and to move independently in the order of arrival, making all possible speed to Hedauville. After a short halt and a meal, the Field Companies, among many others, took the road eastward under full packs on the morning of the 26th. Some of the earlier units had been pushed forward in motor lorries, but the supply of those conveyances soon broke down under the extraordinary demands of the moment and the difficulties presented by the congested roads.

From every farmhouse by-way and country lane, streams of unfortunate refugees were debouching on to the main roads, causing an unimaginable tangle of bewildered traffic. Here would be the gigantic waggon of a more prosperous farmer drawn by the splendid staunch horses of the French agricultural districts, and laden with a mountainous pile of household gear; there some poor labourer was dragging his miserable store of scanty possessions in a hand-cart, aided perhaps by a large dog harnessed underneath and pulling like a demon, or by the less vigorous efforts of wife or daughter. Numerous children complicated matters, save when too young to run beside the caravan. In that case they were slung precariously on top, along with aged relations, the household cat, or a few stray fowls. One cart passed with two babies swinging in an old bath beneath one corner of the tailboard, while the family coffee pot and a broken lantern clinked cheerfully on the other side. The large mattress surmounting another wobbly erection was shared by a grandmother, a babe and a goat, not equally by any means—the goat was securely settled in the centre. Occasionally some crazy load would collapse, causing a temporary stoppage of the whole procession, when the shrill cries of the women and children and the violent altercations of the old men made up a scene that might have been sufficiently amusing had not tragedy brooded so darkly page 181over the whole occasion. The prevailing expression on each face, especially the old people, was one of bewildered despair; that this thing could happen to them after passing them by for three years seemed quite unbelievable. The fact that it had happened to thousands of others made no difference. At such times each individual family appropriated the whole pathetic burden of misery and sorrow to itself.

The extraordinary tenacity of affection with which the French peasant clings to his poor little patch never failed to excite the sympathy of the troops, but could hardly strike any chord of complete understanding in the mind of the average colonial, well used, in many cases, to seeing the "old home" sold once a year, and not in the least dismayed by change of scene, often electing in fact to carve out a new home from the inhospitable bush, with the nearest neighbour 10 miles away.

In France estates descend equally to all children and not to the eldest son, which partly accounts for the extreme smallness of the farms, and the poverty of the peasant class, whose piece of land is virtually their all. By nature and tradition their whole life is bound up with the soil they are reared on, and the passage of centuries has made little change in either their customs or surroundings. At Messines and in many other parts of the Front Line the numerous hedges of the countryside had to be trimmed and passages cut through them to facilitate the free movement of attacking troops. It is on record that Caesar's legions in Gaul found in the same hedges or their predecessors a similar difficulty and overcame them in the same way.

Meanwhile, hour after hour, with no sign of a halt, the long columns pushed steadily forward. At the village of Pont Noyelles, the C.R.E. was awaiting the arrival of the Field Companies and, during a short conference of the commanding officers, the jaded sappers threw themselves down by the wayside, hoping the end of the march had come. However, there were still many weary miles to Hedauville, which was finally reached the same evening. The diary of the 2nd Company records the fact that, during the whole long trek of 24 miles under heavy packs, not a straggler had left the ranks.

From dawn on the 26th such units as were then on the spot had been sent on to check the advancing enemy in front of Englebelmer, securing the right flank of a further main advance on Hamel and Serre which was to be made as soon as ever sufficient men arrived on the scene. The 1st Rifles successfully achieved the first requirements of the situation, and by noon a considerable number of additional troops had arrived at Hedauville, as expected. After a hasty meal and the inevitable small delays consequent on preparation for page 182battle, a composite brigade of various battalions moved off under General Young, and after numerous encounters of more or less magnitude with scattered bodies of the advancing enemy, were able to establish themselves just short of Beaumont-Hamel, in what had been the original British front line before the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Northward of this satisfactory position the situation wore a much less favourable appearance. No troops had become available for the attack towards Serre until evening, and by that time the Germans were established in force as far westward as La Signy Farm, half way between Colincamps and Serre. Despite small local successes, our main line of defence was forced to establish itself still west of that position, and with a gap of a mile or more still existing between our northernmost troops and the 4th Australians at Hebuterne, who were fulfilling the same mission as ourselves in trying to close the gap from the northern side.

All the evening up to 9 p.m. belated battalions were still concluding their long march at Hedauville. At midnight a further composite brigade under Lieutenant-Colonel A. E. Stewart moved out to close this gap. Forgetting natural fatigue under the stimulus of a clear call to immediate action, this force was in position to make the final dash at dawn on the 27th. The enemy, evidently unprepared by their recent successes for such decisive opposition, though in superior numbers, fell back at once, abandoning both personal gear and material, and by early morning touch was established with the Australian flank, and the gap between the IV and V Corps was definitely closed. Executed by men who had suffered the fatigues of no sleep for two nights, with makeshift arrangements as to food, and who in every case had come weary and footsore straight from a forced march, these exploits were sufficient tribute to the spirit of the Infantry, and an earnest of their sound physical condition.

In spite of the comparative ease with which the Division had completed this important first commission on the new field, it was quite obvious that the German troops, still in large numbers, and all flushed with the exhilaration of a successful advance and the promise of speedy victory, could not in any way be considered as finally held. Even before the inevitable commencement of the hostile attacks which continued all day on the 27th, Corps had decided on the location of a reserve position which, under the name of the Purple Line, ran in rear of Mailly-Maillet, Colincamps, and Hebuterne. To this urgent work, at daybreak on the 27th, the energies of the three Engineer companies were directed, accompanied by the Pioneer Battalion and by all three Light page 183Trench Mortar batteries, who were debarred from their share of the more interesting events further forward by the non-arrival of their special Stokes ammunition.

A continuous line of defence was of course impossible, and the proposal aimed at was the establishment of a series of strong supporting posts. Marching by Forceville, the working parties moved northward, and reached their allotted positions about midday. The afternoon and night were spent on constructing posts, a sufficient number of which were ready towards dawn, and were then manned by the tired constructors in view of a possible enemy attack early on the 28th. This failed to materialise, though heavy fighting took place during the day, and on relief by infantry garrisons later in the morning, the Field Companies moved on northward to billets in the region of Sailly-au-Bois. The transport and headquarters sections of each company had moved up to Sailly-au-Bois during the preceding day, and were now ready with such food and accommodation as the circumstances permitted. By evening the sappers were once more at work on the posts, and after a night's toil the same routine as before was carried out, Engineers remaining in garrison until their completed posts were taken over by Infantry. Each post was built to hold a platoon of 40 men, with at least six firebays in each, properly revetted and duckboarded. Drainage and wiring were completed on succeeding evenings. By the end of the month the Purple Line could count on some 60 posts, mutually supporting, and together capable of putting up a stiff resistance to any further enemy enterprise in that locality.

Till the afternoon of the 28th, right from the hour of entrainment in Flanders, the weather had been perfect, and the fact that both contending parties were far in advance of their artillery and forced to rely on their own efforts, had given a pleasant personal turn to the proceedings which, at least on our side, was a very welcome change to men straight from the stagnation and restriction of trench warfare. It was not that our men considered themselves at a disadvantage when both sides had their artillery in support, but the open style of warfare, with its greater opportunities for individual enterprise and dash, seemed to place a higher premium at once on the personal element, and for that reason alone was entirely acceptable to the New Zealanders, who had come to regard themselves as quite able to take care of any Boche on fair man-to-man terms. That they were not alone in this comfortable opinion, somewhat inflated though it may appear, is witnessed by the following translation of a French Army Order, issued shortly after the Armistice in November, 1918. page 184Portion of the Order deals particularly with the part taken by the Division in holding up the German offensive of 1918.

"Minister's Office, Paris, 28th November, 1918. The President of the Council of the Ministry of War mentions in Army Orders the name of the following English officer: Major-General Sir A. H. Russell, New Zealand Division. Has led to countless victories a splendid Division, whose exploits had not been equalled, and whose reputation was such that on the arrival of the Division on the Somme Battlefield during the critical days of March, 1918, the departure of the inhabitants was stopped immediately. The Division covered itself with fresh glory during the Battle of the Ancre a la Sambre, at Puisieux-au-Mont, Bapaume, Crevecoeur, and Le Quesnoy. For and by the order of the President of the War Council of the Ministry of War.—Boeker, Colonel, Adjutant-General to the Cabinet."

Meanwhile, by the evening of the 28th, rain had set in heavily, which, with the increasing arrival of artillery, the inevitable mud, and considerable shortcomings in the way of rations and dry quarters due to the rush and bustle of the last few days, combined to invest proceedings with more of an air of the usual dull and hard routine associated with trench warfare in country ill-supplied with the necessary trenches and attendant conveniences. Continued heavy fighting marked the close of the month, but the German efforts to advance were everywhere successfully held up in or about the front line, without any recourse to the emergency positions now standing ready in the support area.

On the 28th, C.R.E.'s Headquarters moved up from Hedauville to Bus-les-Artois, where they were more in touch with operations in front. On the 30th all front line transport was ordered to the rear, and the Engineer sections bivouacked in the fields round Coigneux and Louvencourt. At the same time the sappers were forced to withdraw from Sailly-au-Bois, which was now out of the Corps Area. 1st and 2nd Companies moved to Bertrancourt, the 3rd to Louvencourt.

Material at this stage was naturally very hard to obtain, supplies being sent for as far as Doullens and Arras. A Divisional dump was gradually being established at Bertrancourt, and a fortunate find of considerable R.E. stores at Euston, east of Colincamps, formed the basis of a very useful local supply in that area.

The Divisional sector was by this time definitely fixed, which enabled an allotment of ground to be made among the Field Companies. A further line of defence forward of the Purple Line had been mooted as soon as the results of the German attacks on the 28th to 30th made it apparent that page 185the Division had their measure, at any rate for the time being. By the 3rd April, the line was traced out, running from Hebuterne to Englebelmer, passing eastward of Colincamps and Maillet-Mailly, and the three Field Companies were placed on the job forthwith, operating on right, centre, and left sub-sectors respectively. In addition to this new line of defence, parties were continually at work joining up the separated posts of the Purple Line and converting the whole into a continuous fortified line. Trench labour here was considerably lightened by the fortunate fact that the Divisional front area included many lines of the original British systems of 1916, many of which required little attention to enable them to be incorporated with the new systems.

An important concession to the urgency of the trench needs of the moment was allowed by an alteration in design. Instead of right angled traverses as heretofore, an oblique layout was now adopted, thus securing an additional 30 per cent, of length in the trench for the same outlay of time and labour. Furthermore no trench was dug lower than the depth of a convenient firing stand at the first operation, leaving further improvements to a later stage if conditions remained favourable. A greatly increased width of trench was a special feature of the new design, and was intended to hold up enemy tanks. Whether it would have succeeded in that worthy purpose we cannot say, but, from the ease and frequency with which British tanks crushed many of the new lines, it seems highly uncertain.

Reconnaissance had been a feature of the Engineering measures taken ever since arrival in the area, and this was systematically continued on allotment of definite sub-sectors. Search for suitable dugouts was carried on and revealed a great scarcity of any that were at all shell-proof, but the principal object in view was the location and survey of all objects likely to assist a German advance which could be destroyed by us before withdrawal, if such became necessary. Roads and railway lines obviously came under that category, but, in addition, arrangements were made by which convenient buildings could be blown down and utilised to block thoroughfares and cause delay; while note was also made of the possibilities for defence of all commanding points, and such outstanding features of the landscape as the tall chimney at Acheux cross roads, now used as an Artillery O.P., were marked for immediate destruction should need arise.

Apart from shells only two types of explosive material were used to any extent on the British front in France— guncotton and ammonal. For sudden and severe shattering action, nothing could compete with guncotton, but the regular page 186shape of the rectangular block in which it was made often acted against complete contact with the object sought to be destroyed, and without close contact much of the power of this explosive is wasted. No such handicap was met with in the case of iron rails, steel bridge girders, iron doors of dugouts, water pipes, and so on, and with them guncotton could be absolutely relied upon for a faithful job. Ammonal, compounded principally of nitrate of ammonia and aluminium, has a.somewhat slower explosive action and therefore exerts a better lifting effect than guncotton, and was always used in mining operations and to blow up buildings or tall chimneys or for similar purposes. Dynamite is more powerful than either of the two explosives mentioned, but is not so safe to handle or store, and was seldom used.

The prudence of the defensive measures which had been undertaken was unquestionable, but it soon became increasingly evident that the Division was firmly established on the line held, with little risk of very summary ejection. It appears now, from sources of German information available since the war, that Ludendorff definitely abandoned serious aggressive action on the Somme in April in favour of other attempts further north at Arras and in Flanders.

Be that as it may, while his attacking battalions were yet in the first flush of their victorious march, the New Zealanders, brought to the scene piecemeal and pushed into battle within an hour or two of arrival, had stopped them in their tracks from the outset of the fight. Not content with that achievement, they had turned the tables on their opponents and taken back sufficient of their newly-won gains to ensure a strong position overlooking much of the remainder, while reserve positions heavily wired lay ready, quite competent to deal with anything short of a grand assault. To crown all, a distinct feeling of confidence and exhilaration was most noticeable in all units; fatigue and discomfort were overshadowed by a pleasing presentiment that in the class of fighting now in evidence the Boche was due for some long unpaid scores. Numerous congratulatory messages from past and present Corps commanders expressed high commendation of the Divisional exploits.

As the stability of the position increased, so the energies of the technical troops were more distributed to works other than those of pure defence. From the 9th April, the Divisional sector was held by two Brigades in line and one in reserve, the C.R.E. conforming to this arrangement by employing 1st and 3rd Field Companies on right and left brigade sectors respectively, with the 2nd Company in reserve employed on the hitherto neglected requirements of the rear areas.

page 187

Such dugouts as existed in the area were now furnished with gas-proof doors, water supplies were investigated, and all roads were repaired and drained. It seemed probable that the coming summer would disclose a serious shortage of water facilities, and considerable time was spent in selecting new water points for men and animals and in installing the necessary conveniences. The scarcity of accommodation and the obvious character of the country, combined with persistent vague rumours of the existence of old chalk workings underground, quickened a general search for ancient galleries. Success at Louvencourt, where some 50 caves were found at a depth of 50 feet, and also at Bus-les-Artois, where shafts were driven into old workings from two wells in the very grounds of Divisional Headquarters, made it almost certain that good shelter was only awaiting discovery in the more forward villages. The 1st Field Company, guided by records discovered in the parish church at Maillet-Mailly, and by the excellence of its chalk construction, concentrated on that locality. Various unfortunate inhabitants were put through a mild species of third degree, but all were unanimous that no caves existed. At this point in the explorations, information was received that a Frenchman had been seen to disappear suddenly in a certain locality. That was the end of the secret of the good staunch folk of Maillet-Mailly. An inclined stairway 2ft. 6in. wide was discovered running down to a depth of some 60 feet below the surface, where a large dry catacomb was found cut out of clean chalk. A vertical shaft discovered later provided perfect ventilation. Larger entrance shafts were immediately driven and gas-proofed by the 1st Company, and accommodation was forthwith available for about 1000 men.

A day or so later on an aged civilian was found, who, for various minor considerations, consented to point out the entrance to another old well, with shaft and cave, which had stood him and other villagers in good stead in 1870. Situated under the floor of an old building, the opening had been well concealed and was finally discovered bricked up. The air in the shaft when opened was found quite impossible, and lighted candles or paraffin torches were extinguished immediately on entry. Soundings showed the well to be 150 feet deep with 4 feet of water. Mirrors salved from nearby houses were used to deflect sunlight down the well, and a shaft was clearly seen leading off at a depth of 60 feet.

Eventually the well was cleared of foul air by means of a blacksmith's blower and a long length of rubber hose. Investigation then disclosed several galleries 15 feet high and 12 feet wide, most of which had fallen in. The best remaining page 188chamber was effectually blocked by a built-up brick wall, and speculation as to the possible nature of the concealed wealth ran rife. However, some treacherous villager visited the scene of operations on the night preceding the projected opening of the treasure chamber, and removed every stick of the ventilating and elevating tackle. Two days later the sector passed to an English Division, and the secrets of 1870 remained undisturbed.

Other underground caverns were discovered later, but many of them were in poor repair and of no use as accommodation. Several dugouts for battalion and other headquarters required in and about the Purple Line were now dug into the chalk in preference to the system necessary in Flanders, and mining became such an every day job in this area that tunnelling officers from the N.Z. Tunnelling Company at Arras were attached to the Engineers for expert supervision. Sets were manufactured by the Company carpenters from salvaged material in the villages, and the ordinary pick cut down and re-pointed made an excellent substitute for proper mining tools. In general about 30 feet of head cover was allowed, which was quite safe from ordinary shelling, though the Tunnellers at Arras could remember a 17in. shell which came through 40 feet of cover, and then went some distance into the floor of an unlucky dugout.

As the new works and other features of the Divisional sector increased in number and complexity, it became increasingly difficult to move about with speed or certainty. Numerous overland tracks and communication trenches were in existence by this time, and the Field Companies carried out a comprehensive scheme of local survey and marking with notice boards. The maps thus obtained gave complete information of each sub-sector, and were of great assistance to the brigades concerned. From this time onwards, the frequent changes of the situation made it necessary to revise these local detail maps continually, and each Field Company kept one or more surveyors continually at work.

A noteworthy feature of Army organisation was the fine supply of maps of any sector of the front continually available any time after the first. year of the war. Originally great difficulties were experienced on this score, because none of the great military powers had foreseen the need of large scale trench maps, nor had entertained the possibility of making them while hostilities were in progress. Pre-war policy in Britain and the Continent was to maintain a stock supply of maps of likely theatres of war, drawn on a scale of about half an inch to the mile. The British Expeditionary Force went to France armed with one of these maps and was promptly page 189driven off it. Similar small scale maps were then borrowed from the French Army. Belgium was better off than any other belligerent, having recently completed a fine series of maps of her territory on a 1/20,000 scale. After the battle of the Aisne, with the advent of stationary warfare, large scale maps became an absolute necessity, and an enlargement of the somewhat out-of-date French 1/80,000 was tried with poor success.

The map makers were now faced with an unprecedented problem—how to make accurate maps on a large scale showing all local detail without going on the ground. The only possible groundwork available for such maps was the records of the cadastral surveys of each Commune, done in Napoleon's time, which had been lodged in the principal towns of the Communes, such as Cambrai, and had been in enemy hands since the early days of the war. Fortunately, copies of these cadastral maps were discovered in Paris, and from them the war maps were built up, and were surprisingly accurate. As time went on, of course, they were amended and improved as the result of further local surveys, of aeroplane photographs, and of constant topographical interpolation, all of which work constituted a great separate enterprise conducted by special Field Survey Battalions of the Royal Engineers, and cannot receive more than passing mention here.

Mention of Napoleon recalls the fact that he was primarily responsible for the paved roads which abound all along the north-east frontier of France, and without which extensive military movement in that low-lying and often waterlogged area would have been impossible. There can be little doubt that the military aspect of affairs was more in his mind than the mere provision of good roads, and it seems to suggest that there were some far-sighted military experts in the world even before 1914.

In rear areas work of every kind was plentiful, though the unsettled conditions were not rendered worse by approaching winter, as had so often been the case on former occasions. Many men, nevertheless, especially in the early days of April, were still short of blankets and extra clothing, due to misadventure to the kits stacked at Amiens on the road in, and there were few of the small amenities generally in evidence under a more organised state of affairs. The Y.M.C.A., well to the front now as ever, did its utmost to provide small comforts for the troops, and before long the Divisional Entertainers resumed their wonted role on numerous improvised stages erected by the sappers according to programme.

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Bath-houses at Bertrancourt and Louveneourt absorbed a fair amount of technical labour, and were erected on an extensive and detailed scale hitherto unapproached. Timber, with many other appliances, was mostly salvaged from the ruined villages round about. These baths were able to deal with 100 men an hour, including the issue of clean clothing. Very few new dugouts were urgently required in fear; large numbers of men were housed in catacombs, and, for smaller units and Headquarters, slight repairs and gas-proofing were generally sufficient to enable some former building to be inhabited. Deep shell-proof quarters were provided later as time and labour permitted.

About the middle of April the three Field Companies were at last relieved of their pontoons and other special bridging equipment, which were parked at Rosel, and later transferred to a Pontoon Park near Abbeville until necessity arose for their use, when they would be returned by motor transport. The waggons and horses remained with their units to assist in supplying the heavy daily cartage demands, due both to great need of material and the fact that much of it was unobtainable from adjacent dumps and had to be salvaged over a wide area. Road needs in particular were causing great demands on the transport at this stage, and no less than 34 extra Corps lorries and waggons were engaged on carting R.E. stores and road metal for use on the various highways of the Divisional area.

On the 22nd all transport was again moved to a new camp close to Bus-les-Artois. Next day the Division side-stepped northward, taking over the Hebuterne sector from the 42nd Division. The 3rd Company remained on its present subsector, now on the right, while the 1st transferred its energies to the area taken over from the 42nd Division, and established new headquarters and billets near Sailly-au-Bois. The 2nd and 3rd Companies were still camped about Bertrancourt.

During the whole of May, work in the Divisional area, extending now from One Tree Hill north-west of Beaumont Hamel to east of Hebuterne, varied only in location from what had gone before. Front and reserve lines were in constant process of improvement, extension and wiring, and far behind, outside the sphere of Divisional influence, were supported by line upon line of carefully selected trenches, which, well wired and provided with numerous posts, lay ready for any possible renewal of enemy operations.

After many rebuffs and false scents, the patient searchers at Sailly-au-Bois were at least rewarded by the discovery of excellent caves at a depth of some 72 feet. The entrance, as usual, led in from an old disused well. On completion of a page 191new inclined drive for more convenient access, very slight repairs were necessary to render the eaves suitable for habitation, the available accommodation being sufficient for 2000 men. Underground workings of more or less magnitude were also discovered at Hebuterne and Bertrancourt.

During May, the number of American officers and N.C.Os. attached to the Division for first-hand experience of the art of war was a good indication of the efforts being put forth by our latest Allies to place their men in the field as soon as possible. The Engineering units received their quota of the visitors, whose invariable good spirits and keenness to share the fortunes of the day, combined with a modesty of demeanour not previously considered typical of the average American, made very favourable impression on their hosts. Certainly their experiences were not so severe at the moment as those of their comrades fighting further south. A member of one of the coloured regiments there was asked by a new chum friend to tell him what an attack was like. "Well," said he, "it's like dis. De guns start, an de officer says, 'Come on!' an you jus' climb outer de trench an say, 'Good mornin' Jesus!'"

On the 21st, the 152nd Company R.E. from 37th Division also came under the New Zealand C.R.E. as a reserve unit, and was allotted all work on the Purple Line. The 2nd Field Company was thus free to devote more time to Divisional requirements in rear, of which deep dugouts still formed the principal item. Despite the number of catacombs now available, a register of all deep dugouts required for the Division, compiled in order to arrive at an order of precedence in construction, disclosed the fact that 122 of these structures were either completed or in course of excavation. From these and other sources great quantities of chalk were now available, and were freely used to provide clean, hard flooring for all horse standings of the Divisional transport.

By the end of May a tremendous transformation had been effected in the whole area. The Front and Support System now consisted of series of posts practically joined up by continuous lines of trenches, well wired and in good fighting trim. Communication trenches were numerous and generally in good order, though there was room for more clearing and duckboarding, while the addition of fire steps to facilitate flanking fire had been noted for early attention. The ultimate aim was to render all communication trenches capable of defence in the event of attack from either flank, and to this end they were wired both sides, and frequently made the sides of fortified localities. Behind lay the Maillet-Mailly— Colincamps—Hebuterne Switch, a system of posts in depth page 192except at Hebuterne, where it was a continuous trench. The whole of this Switch was well wired and practically completed, save in the town of Hebuterne, where measures had still to be taken to improve the field of fire. Many buildings had been demolished, and long swathes or rides cut through the woods in front, to provide for intersecting streams of fire from the Switch and the forts established on the outskirts of the village. The original Purple Line, greatly extended and improved, had by this time expanded into a Purple System of Front, Support and Reserve lines, all based on the original posts, and with numerous connecting trenches since cut to join them up. The whole of the Purple Reserve was a continuous line of trench, dug to a depth of 3 feet 9 inches. More wiring still remained to be done here. The Beaussart-Colincamps Switch was an additional short defensive length lying between the two villages named, running somewhat obliquely to the Purple Front and immediately in front of it.

The forts already mentioned on the outskirts of Hebuterne were yet another expansion of the defensive policy of the time. Where the ground was suitable for a prolonged stand, series of posts and communication saps were amalgamated into fortified areas of considerable size, ready to meet attack from any quarter, well wired all round, and provided with machine-gun emplacements, cross communications, and at least some degree of internal shelter and other conveniences. So numerous had the various posts and forts now become that confusion was only averted by a scheme of numbering, which was forthwith shown on all local trench maps, and carried into practical operation by numerous painted signboards and notices erected by the sappers.

Of the large programme of dugout construction in hand, an appreciable portion was complete and the remainder well in hand. Search for underground workings at Colincamps and Courcelles had proved vain. Dry weather tracks were all pegged and named and in constant use, roads were in fair repair, wells and waterpoints were well up to requirements, while further in rear, camps, baths, transport lines, and other phases of Divisional requirements had all received a fair share of attention. Reference in one works diary, of this period to oven doors and fly-proof meat safes indicates an attention to detail which would suggest that all was well with the domestic economy of the Division, unless these contrivances were merely noteworthy on account of their rarity.

Enemy artillery, save for periodic bursts of fire of short duration, had now become surprisingly quiet, a state of mind faithfully reflected by the Boche front line garrisons, which were showing none of the dash exhibited a month earlier. No page break page 193 Man's Land was practically a British preserve, while the few hostile raids attempted were either repulsed with heavy losses or abandoned by the attackers after a very half-hearted showing. As enemy morale appeared to wane, so did that of the New Zealand infantry increase. The class of country occupied, no less than the general conditions obtaining, lent itself easily to offensive enterprise. The welter of old trenches and broken shell holes, overgrown with the luxuriant vegetation of another summer, furnished excellent cover and supplied opportunities for individual effort which appealed irresistibly to the sporting instincts so strongly developed in the colonial troops. Before long, forays, ranging from organised raids down to a silent swoop by one or two bold adventurers, were taking place daily, and always with marked success. The entertainment of watching German sentries caught and hustled across to our lines was constantly enjoyed-by our Front Line garrisons in broad daylight. The atmosphere of conscious superiority thus engendered had marked effect on the spirits of the whole Division, whose cheerful outlook of life was further enhanced by the removal of certain leave restrictions.

An increased allotment of leave was now granted to Paris and other French centres, and compensated in some part for the continued cancellation of all leave across the Channel. Numbers of men were also sent to military rest camps established on the coast at Wimereux and other places round Boulogne. Apart from the exciting presence of numerous W.A.A.Cs, there was nothing here to disturb the peaceful round of ten summer days by the sea, and the fortunate travellers derived great benefit from the change of scene.

On 7th June, some six weeks after arrival on the Somme for the second time, the New Zealand Division was relieved by the 42nd Division and withdrawn to Corps reserve area, taking over there from 37th and 42nd Divisions. The C.R.E. was established at Pas-en-Artois, the 1st and 3rd Field Companies at Couin and Henu respectively, while the 2nd Company remained in the same billets and took over work on the Purple system under control of C.R.E. 42nd Division.

Any delusion laboured under by the companies in Corps reserve as to the amount of rest involved was soon dissipated by the discovery of numerous jobs awaiting improvement and completion, though a fair amount of sport and amusement was squeezed into the programme withal. On the 20th, the Engineering units, including the New Zealand Tunnellers, held a most successful military tournament and gymkhana, a secondary motive being the "spotting" of likely representative talent to compete in the Divisional sports a few days later. page 194The talent was there all right and in surprising quantity, but there is no record of the Divisional prizes being scooped entirely by sappers.

On the 21st, a further short move found the C.R.E. at Authie, with the 1st and 3rd Companies in the Bois du Warnimont, where various small works of no particular importance were carried out. At the end of June, a party of 20 other ranks per Company left for a course of exchange duties at the Reserve Depot in England. At the same time, the Engineers among other units were honoured by a visit of inspection from Mr. Massey and Bir Joseph Ward. The familiar sight of these intrepid statesmen, now visiting the very battlefields to assure themselves that all went well with the brave boys of their island Dominion, was a tremendous solace to many a home-sick warrior. The general appropriate atmosphere of affection and esteem was further heightened by the many expressions of genuine approval which were bestowed on the troops, who might have been a trifle less fractious, and more attentive, had not most of them put in a long march to attend this compulsory parade. However, in reality, all were pleased to see "Bill" and "Joe" in tin hats, and to hear that on the home front, anyway, the fires were still burning merrily.