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The New Zealand Division 1916 - 1919: A Popular History Based on Official Records

Chapter VIII — Winter at Ypres

page 298

Chapter VIII
Winter at Ypres

Warning notice was received from the Army on 4th November that the Corps would presently relieve I. Anzac in the area south of the Ypres-Roulers railway which had formed the boundary between the 2 Corps in the attack on Passchendaele. On General Birdwood's right the X. Corps were being withdrawn to rest, and part of their line also was added to the new front. The 3rd Australian Division was marked for transference to I. Anzac, leaving the Corps composed of the 49th 66th and New Zealand Divisions, with various Corps troops. On 8th November, after a period of training and rest marked by cold and wet weather, the first 2 Divisions set out towards Ypres to relieve the 2nd and 1st Australians on the right and left of the I. Anzac front respectively. Corps Headquarters moved from Hazebrouck to the village of Abeele, south-west of Poperinghe.

The New Zealanders began to entrain 4 days later, and on the 13th the 4th Brigade marched up to the left subsector of the 21st Division in that part of the X. Corps area which was now included in the II. Anzac front. The Rifle Brigade followed into the right subsector the next evening, and on 16th November the command of the whole Divisional front passed to the New Zealanders. Divisional Headquarters were established in the hutted Anzac Camp at Chateau Segard, about. 2 miles south-west of Ypres, and the headquarters of the 2 brigades in the trenches occupied deep dugouts in Hooge Crater. The 2nd Brigade was held in support. The 1st was placed under Corps control as working troops, to be used at the moment mainly for cable-burying. The artillery brigades, after supporting the Canadian attacks, had only on the night 2nd/3rd November been withdrawn from their positions behind Gravenstafel to the vicinity of Hazebrouck.1 There they remained for the time, but Div-

1 The assistance given. by the New Zealand batteries to the Canadians is acknowledged in the following letter from the C.R.A., 3rd Canadian Division. “Now that the New Zealand Artillery are leaving my command, I wish to place on record my appreciation of the high standard of efficiency maintained by them while they were assisting to cover the offensive operations of the 3rd Canadian Division, In spite of the difficulties of bad weather and almost impassable roads, they kept their guns in action and their ammunition dumps filled with a regularity which would have been impossible without a high standard of discipline energy and efficiency. I should be glad if you would convey my thanks to all officers, n.c.o.s, gunners and drivers of the N.Z. Divisional Artillery for their gallant and faithful work in trying circumstances.” On the night 31st Oct./1st Nov. the 15th Battery lost 20 horses from aeroplane bombs.

page 299isional
Artillery Headquarters accompanied the Division and assumed control of the 3 English (Army) brigades which covered the Divisional sector.

The northern limit of the Corps front was at the pillboxes called Tiber, 1000 yards south of Passchendaele and a mile south-east of Marsh Bottom, where a month previously the New Zealanders had suffered their tragic reverse. Thence it extended for 4½ miles south along the vital key position of Broodseinde Ridge and in front of Polygon Wood to the stream of the Reutelbeek which, rising on the slopes of the main ridge north of the Menin Road, flowed, or rather oozed, first eastwards and then south-eastwards to the Lys at Menin. Of this front the Division occupied the right sector of about a mile and a half. Their line was marked in the north by a pronounced salient at the In de Ster Cabaret between the ruins of Noordemhoek and Reutel. Beyond Reutel it trended back south-westwards, falling to the marshes of a stream that rose in the Polygon Wood and was called the Polygonebeek. This stream joined the Reutelbeek in extensive flats about 500 yards in front of our positions. From the south bank of the Polygonebeek the line, still bending to the south-west, mounted the forward slopes of Cameron Covert, which we held with a series of posts, and then descended again towards the Reutelbeek. Here at its southern boundary it joined the IX. Corps trenches at a point less than a mile short of the famous and terrible Menin Road.

In front of the Division the Germans held a line of posts in and about the copses known from north to south as Joiners' Wood, Journal Wood, Judge Copse, and largest, if not most important, of all, Juniper Wood. They had advanced positions also in the outskirts and cemetery of Reutel. Their main defences, however, lay along the high ground 1000 yards further east at Becelacre. Owing to the western trend of our line south of the Reutelbeek they enfiladed our positions at Cameron Covert and Reutel. The whole country recalled memories of the unequal but stubbornly contested struggle of 1914, when the sacrifices of the old Army made Cameron Covert, Black Watch Corner, Hooge, Westhoek, Polygon and Glencorse Woods for ever consecrated ground. It was further hallowed by magnificent instances of Australian gallantry in its recent recapture in September.

Polygon Wood, with its racehorse training track, lay about a mile behind the front line. On the north-eastern edge of the destroyed wood was a very prominent artificial page 300mound called the Butte de Polygon, originally constructed in connection with the musketry training of the Belgian infantry in the Ypres barracks and now honeycombed with German dugouts.1 Just west of Polygon Wood the ground fell away to a smaller copse whose name, Nonneboschen, or the Nuns' Wood, fold of long abandoned convents of which no trace now survived. Between these woods and the Westhoek Ridge, whose outliers dominated the flats beyond Ypres, rose the head waters of a sister stream to that same Hanebeck which the New Zealanders forded to capture Abraham Heights, called by the same name,2 and eventually mingling its waters with the other in the neighbourhood of St. Julien.

Never a picturesque country, it now presented an aspect of desolation that seemed devoid of affinity with either man or nature. Every yard was a yawning shellhole. The trees were lopped by explosive, and of the young saplings in the spinneys not a single trace survived. The basins of the Hanebeek and other streams, choked by the walls of shell craters and by dead mules, were noisome and repellent morasses. Derelict and abandoned limbers littered the sides of the corduroy roads, and innumerable ugly tanks, knocked out by artillery or bogged in the mud, were strewn over the wastes. Only when snow mantled the landscape did it present to one looking eastwards from the Westhoek Ridge a mournful beauty of its own. In winter nights of hard frost and full moon, the Butte, scintillating with a million diamonds, evoked memory of snowy ranges thousands of miles away Over the whole battlefield shells and war material of all descriptions lay in profusion, and one of the most pressing duties that faced the Corps was the organisation of a definite salvage scheme. Reserve units were systematically employed, and the Division alone saved several hundred thousand pounds' worth of Government property. The need of economy, indeed, accentuated as it was by the shortage of shipping was now being inculcated with increasing emphasis in every branch of the administrative services. Much could be effected by a thorough system of salvage, and the appeal for individual effort, painted on the Corps motor lorries “What have you salved today?” was but one method of driving the principle home.

Patrols at once reconnoitred No Man's Land and the enemy positions. As a rule they met no Germans and

1 Apparently disused since about 1870. Lately purchased by the Australian Government and converted after the Armistice, by the labour of German prisoners, into a memorial of the 5th Australian Division.

2 In the case of both streams the maps are inconsistent in spelling.

page 301returned safely, but on 21st November a 3rd Auckland patrol came within close range of machine guns, and several men were hit. Fortunately most of the wounds were light, but one man was seriously disabled. Unable to move, he was carried by Pte. K. Campbell, himself wounded, all the 300 yards back to our lines. The general attitude of the enemy's infantry was not aggressive, but his artillery activity was still above normal. On the very evening on which the Division assumed command, a wireless message was intercepted which gave indications of a German gas bombardment to be delivered at midnight along the Corps front. Time allowed adequate warning to be given, and more damage was caused by explosive shells in the back areas than by the gas bombardment, which lasted from 11 p.m. till 1.30 a.m. Two nights later there was an encounter between an enemy patrol and a 3rd Wellington post a little south of the In de Ster Cabaret. Our sentries had just been exchanged, and the men relieved were sitting, quietly smoking, at the rear of the dugout. It was about 9.30 p.m., and the night was quiet. Suddenly by the light of a flare one of the smokers saw, about 15 yards away, a strong German patrol, with their unmistakable caps and helmets. He at once jumped up to snatch his rifle. A bomb exploded harmlessly at his feet. The other men in the shelter ran out, and the whole party opened rapid rifle fire which dispersed the enemy.

Similar patrol enterprises and local raids by the enemy must be expected here as elsewhere, and the probability of their occurrence occasioned no misgiving. Serious consideration, however, had to be paid to the possibility of an attack on a large scale on this all-important sector of the front. Our communications and gun positions were exposed and congested, and our defence lines far from being satisfactorily organised. The enemy possessed concealed ground for assembly of counter-attacking. Divisions and had a mass of artillery already in position and registered. It was well within the range of possibility that he might launch a surprise offensive on the whole or part of the Corps front, extending also to the areas of the neighbouring Corps. Such an attack might have a limited objective in the recovery of the high ground from the Menin Road at Clapham Junction along Broodseinde to Passchendaele, or as a preliminary to a renewed effort to capture the coastal ports, might aim at deener penetration and at the defeat of the troops committed to the defence of the Ypres salient. On the north of the page 302Corps sector the loss of the Broodseinde Ridge would make our positions at Passchendaele untenable. Owing to their situation, however, the New Zealanders were more concerned with the southern portion of the Corps line. A local attack here was possible on the In de Ster Cabaret, whose possession would give the enemy a footing on the plateau and yield observation, but the acute danger was at the extreme south. There owing to the failures in the Ypres battle1 our lines swung, as we have seen, sharply back, and there the capture of the high ground southwards in the IX. Corps area between the Reutelbeek and Clapham Junction would immediately threaten our positions and communications.

To meet such hostile action the general policy had already been laid down in the beginning of November, but the Australian had had little opportunity for translating the paper scheme into wire and trenches. The necessary work was now vigorously taken in hand. The Army defence system had been defined immediately east of Ypres. Beyond it the Corps zone was planned in depth with the object of providing supporting points to stop or localise a breach of the Divisional defences in front, and of affording a line to cover the assembly of Corps and Divisional reserves, or, at the worst, should the Reutel-Broodseinde-Passchendaele Ridge fall, of furnishing a fresh line of defence. Further in front, the sitting and consolidation of the defensive systems of the Division in the line were pushed on with the utmost possible despatch. They comprised 3 lines of trenches. The front line was in the nature of an outpost system. It consisted at first of groups of shellhole posts placed at selected points as inconspicuously as possible with enfilade machine gun and Lewis gun fire covering the gaps. These posts were intended to be linked together eventually to facilitate lateral movement and mask the localities actually held. Some 200 to 400 yards in rear a support line was sited with continuous lateral communication and with organised localities covering the gaps of the front line. About half a mile behind the support trench the third Divisional line was organised as a reserve position. The whole scheme, in which could be traced "open warfare" principles of defence, was based on a policy of depth, with successive lines of trenches, supplemented by the liberal employment of groups of machine and Lewis guns echeloned in rear of each other, the object being to effect economy of man-power

1 p 270

page 303by an organisation of sufficient flexibility to ensure the repulse of all hostile attacks. In view of the awkward situation south-wards, where the enemy were in a position of great advantage for an attack on the IX. Corps from the south-east up the spurs which ran parallel to the Menin Road, the Divisional reserve line and the Corps system were specially sited to secure the left flank of the neighbouring Corps. Close reserve troops also were earmarked to refuse this flank, if need be, or to execute an immediate counter-attack in a southerly direction outside the II. Anzac area. Unfortunately the high ground at this southern Boundary was narrow, and the Corps and Divisional systems overlapped. Towards the end of February, after the Division was withdrawn, the enemy did seriously propose a limited offensive here, but it was frustrated by violent artillery counter-preparation.

In addition to depth of lines and impenetrability of wire, successful defence against a surprise attack depended on the morale and vigilance of the troops; on their training and confidence in their weapons, particularly rifles, Lewis guns, and machine guns; on the initiative and leadership of subordinative commanders, especially in the execution of local counter-attacks and provision of mutual support; and finally on the excellence of the arrangements made for the rapid deployment of local reserves. Accommodation was arranged east of Ypres for at least 6 battalions of each Division holding the line. It was a point of honour with Divisions that they should hold their defensive system against heavy and continuous attack without inconveniencing Corps by an appeal for assistance which might upset the plans of the Higher Command. The same principle applied in a less degree to the smaller units. Troops were therefore so disposed in the forward areas that a proportion was always available for immediate counter-attack on the front line, a platoon in each company, a company in each battalion, and a battalion in each brigade. These were kept stationed not further back than the reserve line, and were held entirely distinct from the garrisons of the support line who would not leave their positions for this purpose. The company and platoon counter-attacked on their own initiative, and the battalion in brigade reserve under orders GP the brigadier, either with or without artillery preparation, according to circumstances. The reserve brigade at the disposal of Division was used in case of need for deliberate counter-attack after artillery preparation and under an artillery barrage.

page 304

Specially designed to form the framework of this system of defence was the tactical organisation of the Divisional machine guns. They too were so arranged in depth as to provide 3 belts of fire covering the area from No Man's Land right back to the Corps system. In the protection of the front line the infantry were assisted primarily by their Lewis guns, but also by the direct fire of "silent" machine guns, carefully concealed in or about the front line, and opening only in an emergency, and by indirect fire from machine guns further in rear, which formed a barrage across the front and engaged special1y important approaches Close cooperation was arranged between machine guns and Lewis guns, both for the repulse of an infantry assault and against enemy aircraft. To prevent reconnaissance and aggressiveness on the part of the German airmen over our foremost positions, a line of Lewis gum was placed between 100 and 500 yards from the front line and not more than 500 yards apart. In rear was a second line of machine and Lewis guns not more than 800 yards apart, and from 500 to 1500 yards from the front line. The policy of anti-aircraft defence aimed at engaging aeroplanes flying under 3000 feet with direct fire when seen to be within range, and barraging a definite area by night when direct fire could not be used. Lewis or Hotchkiss guns were similarly mounted to protect battery positions, transport lines and back areas. On more than one occasion the New Zealand light trench mortars also were used with conspicuous success. Only a week after the Division went into the trenches, one of the mortars blew off the wing of a low flying hostile aeroplane and forced a crippled descent into the German lines. 2 of the 3 field artillery brigades were emplaced primarily with a view to defence of the front ad support trenches, while the positions of 1 brigade were sited to cover the divisional reserve line. At this period the heavies were employed almost exclusively on counter-battery work.

In their defence policy the Division had not merely to face the possibility of an enemy attack at some time in the future on the IX. Corps area beyond their right flank Owing to the sharp reentrant of our line at this point they were also already actually exposed to continuous and pressing discomfort caused by enfilade fire from the south. Just beyond the Divisional boundary a well-marked spur ran eastward like a finger. From the edge of the general plateau down to the flats. On the north its sides drained into the page 305Reutelbeek, and on the south to the corresponding valley of the Scherriabeek. These 2 streams divided by the spur wound round its eastern end and united in the flats. Beyond the Scherriabeek the ground rose again to Gheluvelt on the Menin Road. The British line had been arrested at the edge of the plateau, and the spur remained in German possession. From it the enemy not only enfiladed our forward trenches about Cameron Covert and Reutel, but fully commanded and incessantly harassed the whole of our approaches to this sector of the front. On it were perched the piled ruins of Polderhoek Chateau and groups of pillboxes which occupied sites of the attached buildings and the shattered trees of the once luxuriant and beautiful pleasances. The Ypres Battle had seen 3 assaults delivered on the spur, and the Chateau bad been temporarily won, but only to be lost again to German counter-attacks.

For the satisfactory occupation of the Division's sector, it was highly desirable that a fresh effort should be made to capture the Polderhoek Spur. A combined attack on it and on Gheluvelt had been contemplated as one of various local operations designed to continue our offensive during the winter, to add depth to our defence along the Army front, and to facilitate the initial phases of a resumed offensive on a large scale in the spring. Eventually, however, the scope of the operation was confined to the Polderhoek Spur alone. The area affected was about 400 yards wide, and all advance of some 600 yards would carry the line as far down its forward slope as was necessary to deprive the enemy of his commanding and enfilading position. Further examination also showed that, owing to the height of the spur and general configuration of the ground, the new lines proposed about the Chateau would not to a like degree be exposed to similar enfilade fire from the Gheluvelt Spur on the south. Though the Chateau lay opposite the IX. Corps front, it was the II. Anzac troops who specially suffered, and it was fitting that they should strike the blow for its capture. The Corps therefore submitted a proposal to the Army that the New Zealanders, immediately affected, should carry out the attack and, on the conclusion of the, operation, hand over the territory won to the IX. Corps.

Two alternative lines of attack offered themselves. The Chateau might he carried from the flank and rear by troops advancing from the Anzac positions across the Reutelbeek, or, secondly, a frontal assault could be delivered straight page 306down the spur from the IX. Corps position on the plateau. The former alternative was naturally at first considered, as involving no change of dispositions, but various factors compelled its abandonment. Deadly fire would rake the Reutelbeek valley from the direction of Becelacre and the positions in Juniper Wood. There would also be difficulty in slewing our own guns round from the north to obtain a barrage which at the best would have to be in enfilade. There was no satisfactory assembly position, and above all the Reutelbeek itself was practically unfordable. The deep, all but continuous shellholes which replaced its stream formed an obstacle from 20 to 30 feet wide, and from the left bank stretched an extensive black morass of soft mud, into which patrols sank to their knees within 100 yards from our advanced posts in Cameron Covert. For these reasons recourse was had to the second alternative, which offered several advantages. Assembly trenches were available directly opposite and in close proximity to the Chateau. A frontal barrage could he obtained. The IX. Corps heavies could carry out the preparatory bombardment, and the telltale registration by a large number of new guns could he avoided.

These proposals mere sanctioned by the Army. The New Zealand attack was entrusted to the 2nd Brigade, and on the evening of 25th November during a snow-storm 2nd Canterbury, with a section of machine guns, took over from the IX. Corps troops the front opposite the Chateau from the Scherriabeek to the Reutelbeek. The command of the sector and the artillery brigade covering it was assumed by the New Zealand Division on the following day. The necessary additional assembly trenches could fortunately be disguised as a continuation of the support system already in process of energetic construction on the New Zealand front north of the Reutelbeek and these were dug in the sandy soil without delay.

The first heavy artillery concentration shoot on the Chateau and the pillboxes about it was carried out on 28th November. To avoid enemy retaliation, the bulk of our garrison, both opposite the Chateau itself and north of the Reutelbeek, was withdrawn before daylight. Several hits were scored on the ruins, and the 4th Brigade observers to the north could see large numbers of Germans rush out of the cellars into the open to escape the concussion caused by our super-heavies' shells. Enemy stretcher-bearers under the page break
Sergt. H. J. Nicholas, V.C., M.M. [Photo H. H. Clifford

Sergt. H. J. Nicholas, V.C., M.M. [Photo H. H. Clifford



page break
A Snow-covered Battlefield

A Snow-covered Battlefield

The Butte de Polygon, Sept. 1919[Photo Capt. S. Cory Wright

The Butte de Polygon, Sept. 1919
[Photo Capt. S. Cory Wright

page 307Red Cross flag were busy all the afternoon carrying the wounded down towards Red Cross wagons visible on the Becelacre road. An artillery demonstration was also made on the German system north of Becelacre. The hostile batteries retaliated heavily, particularly in the vicinity of the Butte and at Cameron Covert, where our vacated posts were completely “blown in” On the 29th enemy howitzers destroyed a pillbox which formed the Canterbury regimental aid post and was assumed to be battalion headquarters, inflicting casualties. Our bombardments were repeated on the 30th. The destruction of the wire entanglements strung among the tree-stumps was also taken in hard by howitzers using instantaneous fuses, and the success of their work was established by Canterbury patrols. Our single duckboard approach, known as "E" track, was improved and extended. Engineering material and ammunition were stealthily accumulated in the trenches. The garrison of the Chateau was confident aggressive. Both on the '26th and 30th they attempted small raids which were completely repulsed. They had, however, no suspicion of the impending attack and exposed themselves injudiciously about the spur to our snipers.

The date of the attack was fixed for 3rd December. Two battalions, 1st Canterbury (Lt.-Col. Mead1) and 1st Otago (Major W. F. Tracey, M.C.2) were considered adequate for the task, and their companies were in addition reduced to the strength of 100 all ranks. The selected personnel, who included a large proportion of reinforcements without previous experience of battle, rehearsed the operation behind Ypres on ground laid out to scale, with the buildings and pillboxes numbered as on the map and represented by heaps of material. Parties were also sent up to reconnoitre and observe the ground from the 2nd Canterbury lines and from Cameron Covert. The leading waves of the attacking companies moved into the line on the evening of 1st December, and the remainder of the battalions on the following day. The support companies took over the front line. The attacking companies were placed in the rear trenches to familiarise them with their assembly positions, avoid daylight movement and secure them a night's rest. On relief, 2nd Canterbury, who had fulfilled their part and would not be called on further, moved out of the line. The role of reserve was given to 2nd Otago.

1 vice Lt.-Col. King, killed 12th Oct. Lt.-Col. Stewart had meantime resumed command of 2nd Canterbury. See also p. 330

2 vice Lt.-Col. Charters at advanced brigade headquarters with General Braithwaite.

page 308

It had been a matter of consideration whether the enterprise should be carried out in combination with the attack to, be delivered east of Passchendaele by Corps to the north. The tactical objects in view, however, bore no correlation, and in addition the zero hours selected were different. For whereas the II. and VIII. Corps proposed to attack at dawn, the New Zealand assault was fixed for noon. In the end, therefore, it was decided that the 2 operations should be executed independently. It was hoped that the obvious disadvantages of a daylight attack would be more than neutralised by the surprise effect of an assault delivered at a moment when the enemy would least anticipate it, and when he might be expected to be taking shelter underground from the daily heavy artillery storm with which he was now being familiarised at this hour. Extensive smoke barrages would be employed to blind his troops on the Becelacre positions and on the Gheluvelt Spur, and they would in addition be subjected to a heavy concentration of gas and the fire of field artillery, 6-in. howitzers, machine guns and trench mortars. An immediate preliminary bombardment might, on account of their proximity to the targets, be dangerous to the congested troops in our line, and at the same time would reduce the potent effect of surprise. It was therefore dispensed with. At one and the same moment the barraging guns would open and the infantry would rush to the assault.

Three field artillery brigades were allotted for co-operation. One barrage of 18-pounders would immediately precede the infantry; 150 yards in front of it would be another fired by 18-pounders and 4.5-in. howitzers. Our artillery activity would embrace either flank. On the right, field artillery of the IX. Corps would extend the covering barrage southwards and weep Gheluvelt, the railway line, the Menin Road, and the Scherriabeek valley. Opposite the New Zealanders' proper front to the north of the Reutelbeek, the enemy's occupied shellholes and emplacements would be similarly kept under fire. From that direction 2 machine gun barrages were arranged to deal with the German trenches and approaches and with the loopholes on the northern side of the Chateau. In addition to light mortars, 5 of the new 6-in. medium trench mortars were also placed in position at Reutel to neutralise, by gas shells, machine guns operating from the vicinity of Juniper Wood; and personnel of the 2nd and 3rd Rifles, who now garrisoned the Divisional page 309sector, toiled to carry up the massy projectiles 2½ miles through the mud.

The actual plan of attack was simple. It would be made by 2 companies in each battalion advancing abreast in 2 waves. The first wave would carry the line to an intermediate objective beyond the Chateau, and the second, following 50 yards behind, would then “leap-frog” through, and push on to a final objective, some 300 yards further, sufficiently far down the eastern slope to give observation of the flats. After the assaulting troops crossed No Man's Land, the support company waiting in the trenches on each battalion front would occupy the present front line to meet counterattacks. The reserve company would be kept well in rear to relieve the victors in the captured line. Eight machine guns co-operated directly in the attack. Of these, 2 were in position in the front trench, 2 in the support line, and 2 were allotted to each battalion for the purpose of providing covering fire during consolidation and of engaging enemy counter-thrusts. The Chateau itself fell within the area of 1st Otago on the left, but 1st Canterbury were faced with a series of strong pillboxes, including those at the stables and at the Manager's House which was suspected to be connected by a tunnel with the Chateau.1For coping with these, 1st Canterbury were given the assistance of 2 light trench mortars. From the outset of the attack, Canterbury would form a defensive flank on the south overlooking the Scherriabeek valley and facing Gheluvelt. Definite parties had been allotted to and practised in the attack and mopping-up of each pillbox and dugout. To others was assigned the duty of taking up posts at each angle of the Chateau and of watching for concealed outlets, while the eviction of the enemy was in progress.

At the beginning of December the weather was bright and frosty with a cold biting wind, against which, however, the trenches gave protection. The right boundary of our front line, on the small rise which formed the lip of the plateau, was marked by a conspicuous tower-like pillbox called Jericho. Beyond it the ground began to fall to the Scherriabeek. The left flank was similarly delimited by another old German shelter in the cellar of a demolished house, known as Joppa. Behind this rise the ground fell gradually towards a desolate expanse of shellholes, broken only by the cluster of dreary pillboxes at Veldhoek. Through them the duckboard track

1 Subsequent investigation showed that no such tunnels existed.

page 310ran past battalion headquarters at the pillbox known as the Tower and led up the slopes of the main ridge to the Menin Road. The Road itself lay, scarcely distinguishable, to the south. It ran diagonally away from our sector towards Gheluvelt, so that at Veldhoek it was only 500 yards distant, but at the front line was separated from our trenches by the Scherriabeek valley and a full 1000 yards of battered country.

In the trenches every precaution was taken to avoid a premature betrayal of the surprise. When enemy aeroplanes patrolled over Jericho in the morning of 3rd December, our men lay still in the bottom of the saps or took cover under the corrugated iron of their rough shelters. No exposure over the parapet or loud talking was permitted. The Chateau itself, where incautious Germans still fell victims to our snipers, was only some 200 yards distant, and there were enemy shellhole positions still nearer. For this reason our artillery barrage was arranged to fall close to our own front line. The attacking waves assembled in the support line, leaving in the front trench a few Lewis gunners and snipers till close on zero to maintain "normality." Each man was in the lightest possible fighting order. His greatcoat was dumped under a guard in the assembly trench, but he carried his waterproof, and in addition to his fighting kit and invaluable leather jerkin, he took with him in his mess tin a soup square and a tin of solidified alcohol.

The precaution taken to assemble the troops in the support line proved a wise one, for even there on the opening of the barrage 1 battery dropped unwelcome shells, causing heavy casualties among the attackers just emerging into the open, especially in the left company of Otago. Undismayed, however, the first wave pushed on, crossed our front line, and were rapidly among the wilderness of tree stumps where the wire was found demolished. Our hopes of catching the enemy off his guard were doomed to disappointment. The fear of our heavies' daily forenoon bombardment had not driven the garrison into underground refuge. His pillboxes were occupied as usual, and his sentries were normally vigilant. Almost as soon as our artillery opened, his machine guns cracked vociferously, both from the pillboxes about the Chateau and from the Gheluvelt Ridge. A few moments later his artillery put down an intense barrage on the duck-board track and about Veldhoek, but the proximity of the opposing trenches, which had in part compelled the abandonment of our preliminary heavy bombardment so too now page break page 311prevented his shelling our assembly position with appreciable weight.

The right 1st Canterbury company was faced at the outset by a ruined pillbox and dugout, from which a machine gun poured a stream of lead that threatened to hold up the line. Seeing the check, the company commander, Capt. G. H. Gray, rushed the position with a handful of his men and captured the gun and 8 prisoners. The work of this 12th (Nelson) company was of an extremely high order. They, more than the others, were exposed to the blast of machine gun fire from the Gheluvelt Ridge. For in that direction our plans had miscarried. A strong west wind dissipated and rendered useless our protective smoke barrage, and all our artillery activity was powerless to subdue the well-posted and well-protected Gheluvelt machine guns. Their fire indeed became steadily more intense. None the less, though the Nelson company suffered severely from this enfilade fire and were met by strong opposition in front, they continued to fight their way forward. As they advanced, they threw out sections to form the defensive flank and deal with the enemy on the southern slopes. Nor were these little posts ineffective. Their rifles and Lewis guns inflicted heavy casualties, and one Lewis gun had the satisfaction of engaging and putting out of action an enemy machine gun.

It was but fitting that the good work of the company should be crowned by a heroic action which was recognised by the award of a Victoria Cross. An enemy Strong Point garrisoned by 16 Germans with a machine gun offered stubborn resistance. The section commander and several of the men attacking it were killed. Then Pte. Henry James Nicholas, M M., rushed forward, followed at about 25 yards by the remainder of the section. A moment's hesitation would have cost him his life, but he was on the parapet before the Germans realised it. Firing point-blank at the German platoon commander he shot him dead, and then instantly leapt down among the remainder. Those nearest him he bayoneted. At the others further up the sap he flung with deadly effect his own bombs and the German bombs lying about him. He thus killed the whole of the garrison, except 4. These were wounded, and these he took prisoners. The machine gun remained in our hands. After winning the V.C., Nicholas, who was in every respect a particularly fine soldier and man, remained with his company till his death,1setting

1 p. 551.

page 312always an invaluable example of steadfastness and faithfulness.

Shortly beyond this point, however, the dwindling numbers of the company were definitely held up by an exceedingly strong pillbox, which equally frustrated the attempts of the left Canterbury company. First 2 sections, and then a full platoon were sent up from the support company to assist, but were unable to make impression. To take their place in the weakened line about Jericho the reserve company was now brought up through a heavy barrage at Veldhoek.

Meantime on the left 1st Otago received valuable support from the Rifle Brigade machine guns, which repeatedly dispersed hostile parties on the Becelaere road. The medium mortars, too, fired no less than 850 rounds, drawing on themselves intense retaliation by shells of all calibres, which destroyed 1 mortar and damaged another. Nor were Otago raked to the same extent as Canterbury by the devastating flank fire from Gheluvelt. They made at first good progress and captured a pillbox, but from the Chateau came an overwhelming barrage of machine gun fire, which effectively held them up on the same line as Canterbury, about 150 yards short of their first objective. As with Canterbury, supports were sent up, their places in our old front line being taken by the reserve company. Neither individual nor concerted attempts at outflanking the enemy positions availed anything. Three of our machine guns had been put out of action and heavy casualties inflicted on the personnel.

Both battalions had now lost half of their effectives, including many officers and senior n.c.o.s, and once progress was arrested, the lack of battle experience on the part of many of the men was not without result. The strength of the undamaged pillboxes and the tremendous volume of fire which beat against the confined area of assault had proved insuperable. Only some 30 prisoners had been taken. The decimated stormers had no alternative but to dig in. For the moment at least there was no hope of taking their objective or even securing the Chateau, but the ground actually won was of great value, yielding as it did full command of the Scherriabeek valley. Thanks to this advantage of observation, the concentration of an enemy force after midday in the upper part of the valley between Polderhoek and Gheluvelt was immediately detected. A light trench mortar was moved to Jericho, rapid fire was opened, and the enemy fled, discarding rifles and equipment. Full requital was now exacted page 313by the Nelson company, and few of the retreating Germans reached Gheluvelt. The enemy attack never developed, and the German stretcher-bearers coming down from the Menin Road under the Red Cross flag were busy at the spot for some hours afterwards.

In the evening strong enemy reinforcements came up to the Chateau, some of whom were caught by our Lewis guns. General Braithwaite had urged a further effort after dark, and suggested an enveloping movement from the Reutelbeek slopes, but the arrival of these reinforcements, together with the continued alertness of the enemy and the activity of his machine guns did not favour surprise. Moreover, even after darkness fell, the situation about the left flank was still uncertain. Again, the only troops available for a repetition of the attack were the reserve companies and some elements of the support companies, whose advance would leave our positions unguarded against any possible awkward development on the left. Later in the night this position towards the Reutelbeek was cleared up, largely through fearless reconnaissance by Pte. G. Gilbert, M.M., but a full moon now rode in the sky, and the advantage of the darkness was lost. Our wounded lay thick where they had fallen, but the terrible experiences on the Bellevue Spur were not to be repeated. During the night the stretcher-bearers, with their usual devoted courage, searched the shellholes among the trees, still under heavy machine gun fire, and cleared the whole area by dawn.

In the morning of 4th December enemy forces mustering on the eastern and south-eastern declivities of the spur were driven back in disorder by our artillery towards Becelaere, and a very heavy toll was taken by our snipers on individuals about the Chateau, who appeared astonishingly unconscious of our proximity. Throughout the day hostile artillery raged on our new positions and on the approaches from Veldhoek. After dark the assaulting troops were relieved by the other companies, and the work of consolidation was completed. A strong line was constructed with characteristic energy and thoroughness by a company of the Maori Pioneers under Major P. H. Buck, D.S.O. The garrison connected the advanced posts into a continuous line, and deepened to a proper depth 2 communication trenches to our old position, commenced the previous evening. Patrols worked to within 50 yards of the Chateau and saw a German relief in progress.

At dawn on the 5th a party of about 80 Germans, who page 314had assembled during the night, endeavoured to surprise our left flank. Penetrating to within 30 yards of our position, they bombed and destroyed the Lewis gun there, but the Otago section commander lost not a moment in replacing it with another. Under its fire and that of the infantry rifles the attackers lost at least half their numbers. When our men were later questioned as to why they had not put up the S.O.S. signal, they admitted that they had not thought of it. They had, they said, been too busy with their rifles and bombs to remember about a S.O.S. signal. Despite the reverse they had experienced on the 3rd, there was evidently plenty of fighting spirit left in. these men.

Following on these repeated repulses of his infantry counter-attacks, the enemy had recourse to his artillery, and with balloon observation in the beautifully clear frosty air carried out a systematic bombardment of the whole area, causing grievous damage to our trenches and inflicting casualties. This bombardment, as was later confirmed by prisoners, was intended to be followed by an attack about 5 p.m. But our guns, which in response to messages for counter-battery work had already been extremely active throughout the day, now redoubled their rate of fire and crushed the assembling enemy before the attack could develop. Thereupon the volume of the German artillery fire waned. Our blocked trenches were then cleared and repaired, and the wounded were evacuated.

In the evening the position was handed over to IX. Corps troops, and the 2nd Brigade battalions withdrew to reserve. The advance won, though of distinct advantage to the local garrison, would not effect an appreciable improvement with regard to the exposed slopes of Cameron Covert, Reutel, and Polygon Wood, where protection from the Polderhoek fire would have to be won by the labour of the spade. Nor were the IX. Corps long to look down from the spur on the Scherriabeek valley. The ground captured was recovered by the Germans 9 days afterwards.

On the Divisional front north of the Reutelbeek the system of holding the line with 2 brigades had been modified toward the end of November, with a view to presevation of man-power and to a frequent rotation of reliefs. It was now held by 1 brigade, reinforced with 1 battalion from the Corps working brigade. Headquarters were transferred from Hooge Crater to the Butte, to which buried cable was extended without delay. Shortly afterwards, however, page 315the Corps front was reorganised on a 2-Division basis, and the 66th Division was withdrawn to form a Corps reserve. This readjustment involved at the beginning of December an extension of the Divisional front to the north for a further 500 yards east of Molenaarelsthoek, and the reversion to a garrison of 2 brigades. Of these, I held the short southern flank in Cameron Covert between the Reutelbeek and the Polygonebeek with 1 battalion, maintaining 3 in reserve. The other brigade held the northern subsectors of Reutel Judge and Noordemdhoek with 3 battalions in the line. A brigade would pass 6 days in the subsector on the left, 6 days in the right subsector, where the former support battalion would hold the line, and 6 days in reserve.

The artillery zones were correspondingly readjusted. The 1st and 3rd Field Artillery Brigades had come into the line a few days previously, replacing 2 of the English brigades. They had been followed by the 2nd (Army) Brigade, which had been relieved by French artillery on 20th November, after a long sojourn under constant counter-battery work from the German large-calibre guns in the sand-dunes on the-coast.1In the first days of January the remaining English brigade was to be withdrawn and the front covered by purely New Zealand artillery, With artillery support an attempted enemy raid before dawn on Christmas Day, aiming at the demolition of one of our pillboxes, was repulsed. A 2nd Otago patrol under Pte. H. Boreham engaged the raiders outside our parapet with bombs, pursued them and captured a loquacious and informative prisoner. In the following afternoon too (26th December) the batteries co-operated with 1st Canterbury's fire and bombs in crushing a further assault. Preceded by a heavy and prolonged bombardment, this attack had as its object the recapture of a remarkable square crater which had been excavated by the Germans for the construction of a large pillbox, and had been included in our line some days previously. An attempt to enter a 4th Rifles' post at Joiners' Avenue on the night lst/2nd January was easily driven off, Cpl. A. Adamson greatly distinguishing himself. The body of a dead raider was found in No Man's Land.

Up to the end of 1917 the elaboration of our defensive arrangements had been subordinated to preparations for a resumption of the offensive. By that time, however, it had become apparent that the Russian collapse was to be followed.

1 p. 226.

page 316by a German drive on the Western front in the spring. The augmentation of the German forces, together with our unsatisfactory position with regard to man-power and the probability that America would not be able in the near future to put large forces in the field, involved the consequence that for a period of 5 or 6 months the enemy would be in numerical preponderance on the Western front. This situation vitally affected the British policy. At an Army conference held on 9th December General Rawlinson1intimated to his Corps commanders that the resumption of the Flanders offensive was no longer feasible, and that our immediate future policy was the strengthening and, where necessary, the revision of our defence systems with a view to making them capable of withstanding a heavy and sustained hostile attack. The carrying out of this policy formed the basis of the Division's activities for the remainder of their stay on the Ypres ridges. Jt was the first occasion since its arrival in France that a defence scheme was drawn up in real and serious anticipation of an enemy attack on a large scale.

In view of the reduction of material caused by the submarine campaign and of labour by the loss of manpower in the Battle of Ypres, the necessary economy in the construction of defences could best be achieved by a continuity of policy and by resisting the temptation to multiply unnecessarily the lines of trenches in the forward areas. It was laid down as a general policy that Divisions in the line should construct and maintain not more than 3 lines. The New Zealanders had taken over their area under the disadvantages of battle conditions. The trenches had been either shellhole posts or untraversed and unrevetted ditches. Tracks and tramways had not been developed, and above all there was a woeful lack of wire. A systematic policy of construction had been drawn up immediately on our entering the line. Divisional H.Q. had undertaken to employ reserves in the extension of tramways and duckboard tracks, in the construction and wiring of the reserve line, and of a switch portion of the reserve line, and in the opening of such communication trenches in rear of the support line as were necessary. The brigades in the trenches would wire and improve the 2 front lines and maintain all communication trenches forward of the second.

Owing to the strongly marked flank position of the sector there had been a tendency for all lines of communication

1 p. 327.

page 317constructed during the battle to run parallel to the refused southern flank, and the lack of communications running at right angles was already felt. To communication trenches, however, in view of the vast amount of more important work, no great attention would be paid. Only on the forward slopes, where the enemy enjoyed direct observation, would they be constructed, and there wide and unrevetted and as inconspicuous as possible. Behind the crest, duckboard tracks must suffice, with room left for deployment in case of shellfire at the points where they passed through our entanglements. Later, as labour would become available, it was proposed that protection against splinters should be afforded by sinking these tracks and constructing banks alongside. Of the other work undertaken, priority of importance was assigned to wiring, drainage, the construction of localities, and the accommodation of troops, in that order. Wire was, indeed, in view of the possibility of an enemy counter-attack, absolutely essential. As it was, odd German ration-carriers and patrols, losing their way in No Man's Land, frequently penetrated within our area, to be made not unwilling prisoners.

By the end of December immense improvement had been effected in all respects. North of the Polygonebeek the front line was protected by 2 rows of nearly continuous "double-apron" wire, and substantial progress had been made in the erection of 3 continuous belts before the support and reserve lines. Posts and occupied pillboxes, converted to our own use by alterations in the concrete, were protected by wire on their front flanks and rear. In addition entanglements were erected running diagonally to the enemy lines of advance in such a way as to break up his troops, lead them on to our garrisons, but interfere as little as possible with the deployment of our own counter-attacking troops. In the same proportion as this work developed, it received increasing attention from the enemy's artillery. Considerable maintenance parties had to be set aside for the exclusive purpose of repairing the gaps in the wire caused by his shells.

In the trenches the improvements were no less marked. An advance of the line in the middle of December reduced the sharpness of the In de Ster Cabaret salient and allowed wider observation of the approaches from Becelaere. The front line was strengthened by traverses, and was made continuous, and drained forward into several shallow gullies which fell towards the enemy. Its "localities" were revetted page 318by material brought up with great exertion over ice or mud by the support battalions. As a result of well-directed and assiduous labour in the support line, the strong Papanui Switch, and the reserve line, as well as in the Corps system, the series of blue-coloured trenches in being' rapidly extended across the Engineers' maps. Only on the Cameron Covert slopes south of the Polygonebeek, where the enormous marshes of the overflowing Reutelbeek and Polygonebeek made an impassable No Man's Land of nearly 800 yards, was the front line left in the post system; and here too a strongly wired support line guarded against irruption from Polderhoek. All this solid work was in the end to prove useless owing to a necessary withdrawal from this area in the spring.1

Behind the Divisional system multifarious tasks were allotted to technical troops and the reserve infantry brigades. The light railway was with splendid and successful audacity brought up to within half a mile of the Butte, alleviating the labours of and reducing distances for carrying and working parties. Tunnellers increased existing underground accommodation in the great shell-proof electrically-lit underground dugouts. Additional hutments were constructed east of Ypres to bring units near their work, and in rear of Ypres the draining of camps, the erection of Nissen huts, baths, and drying stores for gumboots, the repair of roads, the construction of stables and horsestandings,2the building of protective walls against aeroplane bombs, and a thousand other tasks claimed continuous attention.The Train companies were utilised to the fullest extent in conveyance of engineer stores and road material.

The artillery, too, had to make much necessary provision for the winter in the construction of platforms and cover for the guns, and of shellproof protection for battery commanders' and observation posts, as well as for personnel and ammunition, which near the guns was stacked in small dumps about 25 yards apart and separated by traverses. Certain guns were brought far forward and concealed under the brow of the crest to deal with enemy tanks. Elaborate arrangements were made for the defence of the sector by artillery in depth covering narrowing zones. Reserve positions were constructed for the heavy artillery in case of a withdrawal. The consumption of material by a single New Zealand Field Company

1 p. 978.

2 Bricks rubble and debris could be taken from destroyed towns and villages only for certain specified services. Uninhabited houses in good order or slightly damaged could not be used.

page 319allotted to the supervision of this task indicates the scale on which these defensive measures were executed. In a single fortnight they used nearly 800 trucks of material, comprising fascines, sleepers, slabs, concrete blocks, cement, shingle, sand, reinforcing rods, sandbags, duckwalks, and iron dugout segments. Their work elicited warm commendation from Army and Corps Commanders.

All this work was pushed on under generally adverse conditions. In December a series of snow-storms and frosts made the labour of digging the hard earth at once costly in tools and excessively arduous. On the icy duckboard tracks carrying and working parties, moving in single file, slipped and stumbled, and splinters from the enemy's high-explosive shells flew incredible distances. Even more difficult were conditions during the period of rainy weather, which starting in January lasted with scarcely a break till the first week in February.1 Parapets fell in, despite carefully made berms, and drains became choked. Under cover of fog or occasional sleety storms, trenches were drained into No Man's Land. Thus L.-Cpl. W. G. Bowers of the 3rd Rifles in broad daylight and in full view of the enemy's positions 150 yards distant worked for an hour and a half on 16th January in No Man's Land in front of Judge subsector. Many bays, however, remained waist-deep in mud, and by the middle of January large tracts lay under water. In the muddy wastes of the Reutelbeek patrols endured extreme hardships. For preserving the health of the troops in the line, minute arrangements were made by provision of gum-boots, of hot food and hot drinks, and of camphor treatment as a precaution against "trench feet."

Following on a decrease of our own harassing fire in January the violence of the enemy's shelling also abated, and his groups at Waterdamhoek Dadizeele and Terhand, though maintaining activity on our wire and the Butte and his old pillboxes, paid more particular attention to the roads and tracks and battery positions further in rear. On Christmas Day they had carried out well-organised and particularly severe counter-battery work.2 There was an inevitably steady and accumulating roll of casualties in the front trenches, but our losses were still more severe on the unsheltered tracks and at thedumps.

1 On the edge of the Ypres Moat, where the two famous white swans, impervious to the cold, still remained, some N.Z. Engineers had built themselves, during the frost, bivouacs on a small island. They woke one morning to find themselves, owing to the unexpected thaw, marooned. They were rescued by means of the pontoons,

2 Contrast p.140.

page 320

About the beginning of February the enemy began definitely to imitate our policy of an irregular series of sharp brief "shell-storms" on cross-roads and other known centres of activity. Rations for the front line troops were for this reason not infrequently delayed. In one of these concentrated local bombardments as early as December, the 2nd Otago limbers were caught at the transport-head at Wattle Dump. Twenty 5.9-in. shells were hurled at the dump in a few minutes, and in addition to other casualties in men and animals, Otago lost 3 company-quartermaster-sergeants of whom 1 was killed and 2 wounded. On these rear tracks many valuable lives were lost. Major V. Rogers, D.S.O., O.C. 5th Battery, was killed on Jabber Track near Railway Wood. Capt. L. S. Serpell, M.C., the Regimental Medical Officer of 1st Canterbury, with the orderly-room sergeant and other members of the Headquarters staff were killed at Jargon Cross Roads, a place of particularly evil associations, behind Glencorse Wood. Near Wattle Dump Major R. D. Hardie, D.S.O., Divisional Machine Gun Officer, was severely wounded.

To these rear areas, and the battery positions, and especially to the wagon lines and camps west of Ypres, Gothas also paid continual attention. In clear frosty nights the sky was often asound with the low-pitched drone of enemy aircraft and stabbed with the shafts of our searchlights. The Division, however, never again experienced such misfortune from the air as it had suffered in the autumn,1and the casualties in men and animals that were incurred in January and were to be incurred in March were due, not to bombs, but to high-velocity long-range guns.2 About this time the use of aircraft and balloons for propaganda purposes was stimulated on both sides, and on several occasions the insidious "Gazette des Ardennes" and pedantic and ineffective declamations in laboured English fell about our batteries and trenches.

In view of our preponderating artillery, the Germans in their front system refrained from organising their shellhole posts into a continuous line.3 Their wire was generally formidable, but gaps existed, and through these from time to time individual Germans, failing in the dark to locate the isolated posts, wandered into No Man's Land and were

1 p. 245.

2 2 On 10th Jan. the artillery brigades and the D.A.C. lost 40 men killed and wounded and 18 horses killed.

3 pp. 220, 248.

page 321rounded up before our lines. Towards the end of January opportunities given the 2nd Brigade of inflicting heavier losses were taken advantage of with avidity. The evening of the 19th was lit by clear moonlight, and relieving Germans coming too far forward were discovered by Lewis gunners and snipers who poured in fire which loud groans indicated to be effective. Two nights later the enemy repeated his mistake, and a whole platoon with their packs up moved right across the front of one of the 2nd Otago posts at Rentel. Our sentries opened fire, and the Germans dispersed. A patrol was immediately sent out and shot one man whom they found crouching behind a mound. His identifications were brought in together with a dozen boxes of explosives and a machine gun, which the party had dropped in No Man's Land.

Later in the night the Germans sought revenge in the same vicinity. A sharp trench mortar bombardment prepared the way for their infantry. Otago stood at once to arms and had not long to wait before 4 enemy parties, about 100 strong in all, appeared in No Man's Land. Our S.O.S. rocket was fired, and before it burnt out the artillery shrapnel fell on the invaders. They threw a shower of bombs, but most fell short, and the affair was over in a few minutes. The barrage, the deadly machine gun fire, and the weapons of the garrison were too much for the Germans to face. Only 1 man got through our wire and none into the trench. A patrol sent out later found 7 dead in front of our entanglements and great pools of blood where wounded men had fallen.

As a result of these successes 2nd Otago forgot cold and mud and wet. Their sentries waited with their rifles trained on the enemy parapet, and the unwary German who exposed himself either in the trench system or by running from a pillbox on its bombardment by our howitzers could deem himself fortunate if he saw the Fatherland from the windows of a Red Cross train. Otago's patience was to be well rewarded ere they left the trenches. On a bright, moonlight night their rifles and Lewis guns secured many victims in a relieving company of the enemy. A raid by about 20 Germans on the 1st Rifles' position on the evening of 2nd February was dealt with equally drastically. The Germans had succeeded in rushing a listening post and wounding all 4 occupants. They then bombed our front line and opened fire with revolvers. Cpl. J. G. Hart's section repelled them, and page 322under cover of his men's fire Hart dashed forward, bombed the enemy and prevented them from obtaining any identifications from our wounded men in the listening post. Four enemy dead were left entangled in our wire.

At the end of January the Army redistributed the Corps areas. The II Anzac front was "side-stepped" southwards to include the positions hitherto held by the IX. Corps, beyond whom in turn, it may be noted, lay I. Anzac (now the Australian Corps1), guarding Messines. The 20th and 37th Divisions, formerly under the IX. Corps, now passed under General Godley's command. Early in February this extended line was reduced by the transfer of half the left sector of the old front to the VIII. Corps on the north. The new Corps front was reconstructed on a 2-Division basis. On the south the 20th Division troops replaced the New Zealand garrison in Cameron Covert, and the New Zealanders similarly sidestepped north, up to the new Corps boundary, taking over the Broodseinde Ridge from the 66th Division, for whom the 49th had made way in the middle of January. Relieved thus partly by the VIII. Corps and partly by the New Zealanders, the 66th Division was withdrawn for transfer to the Fifth Army.

The New Zealand Division, which had originally been on the right of the Corps front, now found itself on the left flunk. This readjustment involved a redistribution of infantry brigade frontages. The right brigade front now comprised the Reutel and Judge subsectors. Noordhemhoek, hitherto held with Reutel and Judge, was now attached to Broodseinde as the charge of the left brigade. Each brigade occupied the line with 2 battalions, holding 1 in close support, and 1 in deep dugouts in reserve. The front system taken over on the Broodseinde Ridge was still only a line of posts just beyond the crest. The shallowness of our position left us; with but an insecure hold on this all-important high ground. Without delay our posts were advanced some little distance, and work was started on the construction of a continuous line, preparatory to our pushing still further forward down the slope to give us greater depth and to command wider observation over the Keiberg valley. The continuous line would then serve as a support position near the crest. The northern brigade staff lived in grandiose pillboxes, known as. Potsdam, on the Ypres-Roulers railway. The staff of the right brigade shared the Butte dugouts with its left battalion H.Q.

1 p. 328.

page 323

Towards the end of the previous year, shortly after the Polderhoek operations, General Braithwaite had been compelled by a breakdown in health, overtaxed by volcanic energy, to say farewell to his brigade and to sever long and fruitful association with the New Zealand forces. The qualities of enthusiasm and mastery over detail which he had shown as General Godley's Chief of Staff in New Zealand and on Gallipoli stamped also his command of fighting troops. Never sparing himself, he demanded a high standard of duty from his subordinates, and appreciated results rather than the effort which made for them. A professional soldier, adjutant in turn of a regular battalion in the British Army and of Sandhurst, he was intolerant of slackness or indecision, and could rend an offender with blunt expression of dissatisfaction. Hardly less marked characteristics were an intense pride in his brigade, a keen sense of humour a faculty for the creation of bon-mots, speedily retailed with relish throughout the Division, a warmness of heart, and an untiring activity in promoting the advancement and interests of all under his command. Few men were better known throughout the Force. Not seeking popularity he achieved it, and genuine affection survived his departure.

After an interval the vacated appointment was given in the first week of February to General Hart, whose 4th Brigade had, as we shall see, ceased to exist. Their new brigadier, however, was not to command the South Island battalions for long. In the second week of February they went in due course of relief into the right subsector of the line, with brigade headquarters at the Butte. Always a magnet for hostile gas as for high-explosive, special measures were adopted by the brigade gas officer to ensure that its anti-gas defences were satisfactory. On the windless night of 18th/19th February it was heavily bombarded with mustard gas shells. The gas alarms were blown, the weighted blankets at the doorways lowered on their rollers, and all other precautions taken. No ill effects were noticed that night, but on the following day, when the heat of the sun melted the frozen ground, the gas gradually and imperceptibly filtered through the open doorway and filled the Butte. The whole Headquarters of the brigade and of 2nd Canterbury, who chanced to be the left battalion in the line, were poisoned and had to be evacuated. The total casualties amounted to 14 officers and over 160 men, fortunately only a few cases proving fatal.

page 324

General Hart's evacuation was followed by a reshuffling of commands. General Fulton had returned to the Rifle Brigade from Sling in November. He had been succeeded in the English appointment by General Young, now happily recovered from his wound. In December the latter was in turn succeeded by General Melvill, and on returning to France had taken command of the 1st Brigade. He was now transferred to the 2nd Brigade, and General Melvill was recalled to his old command. The duties at Sling could wait for General Hart's convalescence.

Neither Ayrton Fans nor Vermoral Sprayers could cleanse the polluted Butte, and General Young occupied fresh headquarters in dugouts further back at Westhoek. Some little time afterwards Capt. Falconer was appointed Brigade Major of the 2nd Brigade in place of Major Richardson. The appointment of Staff Captain held by Capt. H. Holderness, who had succeeded Capt. Wilkes in September on the latter's proceeding to England for a course of training with the R.F.C., was now filled by Major J. E. Barton, N.Z.S.C.

In General Young's 2nd Brigade, 2nd Canterbury held at the moment the northern Judge subsector. Reutel was garrisoned by 1st Otago, whose advanced posts lay on the fringe of Juniper Wood. The shattered wood itself extended over the miry slopes falling towards the Polygonebeek, and continued in a straggling plantation down the Reutelbeek valley. Through its northern extremity near the Otago line had run a German defence system, and here a pillbox by the enemy trench and a disabled British tank, which the enemy had included in his defences, still formed one of his advanced Strong Points. A well-defined track led back from the tank to the pillbox. Amid the mangled tree-stumps both stood out conspicuously to direct observation and were prominent also in aeroplane photographs. They had long been marked for a raid when the ground should have recovered from the rains.

As early as 17th January the 6th Battery had fired 40 rounds in the afternoon at the tank and adjoining sector of the old trench, now largely destroyed, which ran from the pillbox toward the Reutelbeek. Immediately afterwards, under cover of a mist, which succeeded a heavy fall of snow turning at midday to rain, a 2nd Rifles patrol of 4 men under Sergt. W. B. Bowles, went out to investigate results. Under distant machine gun fire from the Polderhoek Spur and direct rifle fire from a post 50 yards down the German trench the page break
Brig.-Gen. C. W. Melvill, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O.

Brig.-Gen. C. W. Melvill, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O.

Brig.-Gen. R. Young, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O.

Brig.-Gen. R. Young, C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O.

page break
An Artillery Observation Post

An Artillery Observation Post

Gunpits Near Westhoek

Gunpits Near Westhoek

page 325patrol reconnoitred and entered the Strong Point. The shooting had been splendidly accurate. The sides of the tank were smashed. Twelve dead Germans were found inside with a number of dead and dying in the slush outside. It was impossible to bring back any of the wounded, but shoulder-straps and discs yielded the necessary identifications, and with these and a machine gun the patrol returned safely.

The Strong Point was again bombarded on 26th January, and a daylight patrol of 2nd Otago found the dead still lying there. The entanglements round the tank were broken, and there was but a little crescent, wire round the pillbox. The latter itself was undamaged, and a ladder beside it suggested that its roof was still used for observation. As the patrol felt its way nearer, they were spied by a sentry in the trench. He gave a loud shout of alarm. Twenty Germans doubled out from the pillbox. The patrol withdrew under their fire. At the same time 7 flares bursting into 2 green lights were shot up from behind the pillbox or through a hole in its roof, and shortly afterwards 2 enemy aeroplanes flew over the position.

By the middle of February the ground, although still wet, presented reasonably firm going. A Division freshly arrived from Russia and adept in methods of fraternisation was believed to be opposite the Corps front. A suitable welcome had been given in a concentrated bombardment fired by the Corps artillery at the beginning of the month. To establish its definite location identifications were wanted, and the Strong Point at the tank was selected for the purpose. It was arranged that 1st Otago should raid it a few days after relieving their sister battalion on 15th February.

2nd Otago, however, were not to leave the line without a trophy of their own. Some 50 yards from their front line, between the wood and the brick heaps that marked the site of Reutel, a German post was pushed out in Reutel Cemetery on the night of 14th/15th February. Fresh earth and snipers' plates were noticed in the morning by an Otago observer, Pte. A. Macdonald. He pointed them out to Sergt. B. W. Crosker, and the two determined that the enemy should pay for his presumption. They crawled out from the Otago trenches in full view of the Germans and reconnoitred the new post. They found it held by 5 occupants. They shot the n.c.o. in command and brought back the other 4 as prisoners. These proved to be Bavarians, the Division from the East having taken over a sector further north. The page 326Rifle Brigade on the left, too, were not inactive, and a 3rd Battalion patrol, under Sergt. J. W. Clayson, actually penetrated over 900 yards into the enemy's territory. A German party sought to intercept their return, but was beaten off by covering Lewis guns.

On coming into the line 1st Otago scouts lost no time in reconnoitring the Strong Point and established the fact that the tank was occupied at night, A party of 30 raiders, under 2nd Lt. W. O'Connell, was selected from the 4th (Otago) Company. They were given special training at the brigade school.

The raid was carried out at 3.30 a.m. on 21st February. With a view to diverting the enemy's attention and causing him losses, his trenches and dugouts at other neighbouring points were bombarded by 18-pounders, 4.5-in. howitzers, and medium trench mortars. Light mortars provided the barrage for the raid. By 3.30 a.m., O'Connell and his men were crouching in shell holes some 30 yards in front of our parapet. As the light mortars opened, they moved forward in separate parties. It was not their purpose to attack frontally from the north but to work round from the west. Rain had fallen heavily during the night, and No Man's Land was a squelching quagmire. Through this the parties pushed to within 130 yards of the bursting mortar bombs and then knelt, waiting for the barrage to cease.

The moment the mortars' fire died away they splashed forward over the slippery ground, leaving a Lewis gun to safeguard their flank towards the Polygonebeek. The tank was soon surrounded and its 6 occupants accounted for. Two were killed and the others, who again proved to be Bavarians, were captured. The track to the pillbox, some 70 yards distant, was a mere bog full of treacherous shellholes. Struggling through the deep mud its attackers were only 30 yards away when the specified 7 minutes allotted for the enterprise expired, and the green recall flare shot into the sky. Before withdrawing, the disappointed section flung its bombs in a salvo at the pillbox. Only one member of the whole party was slightly wounded through a splinter from one of our light trench mortar bombs.

During the following evening (22nd February) the 2nd Brigade front was taken over by troops of the 49th Division. On the same night the Rifle Brigade executed, without casualties, the carefully prepared plan for strengthening the left of the Divisional sector by advancing their lines a further page 327distance of 200 yards beyond the crest, so as to overlook satisfactorily the Keiberg valley. They were relieved the following evening. On the 24th the 49th Division assumed responsibility for the sector. The New Zealanders' casualties for the winter months had amounted to 3000, of whom 19 officers and over 450 men had lost their lives.1 The comparatively high wastage was chiefly due to the great numbers of troops employed on working and carrying in the forward areas, and to the lack of communication trenches and shell-proof cover at the beginning of the period.

By the evening of 24th February the relieved units of the Division had been conveyed by train into the Corps reserve area about Staple, west of Hazebrouck, with Divisional headquarters at Renescure. The 1st Infantry Brigade, the 1st and 3rd Field Companies, and the Pioneer Battalion were left in the forward area for employment on the Corps defence system. The 2nd (Army) Brigade was relieved on 25th February and ceased to be controlled by the Division. The other 2 artillery brigades remained in the line, the 1st Brigade coming under the orders of the 49th Division on the left, and the 3rd Brigade, after a short interval at the wagon lines, under those of the 37th Division, who had previously relieved the 20th Division astride the Menin Road.

Certain important features of organisation must be here briefly summarised. On General Plumer's going to Italy in November, General Rawlinson handed over the Fourth Army area to the XV. Corps and assumed command of the Second Army. His Fourth Army Headquarters ceased to exist as an independent unit and was absorbed in Second Army Headquarters. In December the Second Army was designated the Fourth Army and retained that name under General Birdwood's temporary command, which followed General Rawlinson's appointment to Versailles in February. In March General Plumer returned from Italy and restored its former title.

By the end of 1917 all the Australian Divisions had been transferred to I. Anzac, and Australasia in II. Anzac was represented only by the 1 Division of New Zealanders,

1 As given in monthly states:—

Off.O. Rs.Off.O. Rs.Off.O. Rs.

* Includes attack on Polderhoek Chateau.

page 328the Corps Mounted Regiment, and the Cyclist Battalion. On 1st January the former Corps was redesignated the Australian Corps and the latter the XXII. Corps. To replace the Australian Cyclist Company,1 a third New Zealand company was formed from men of long infantry service in the Division, and the battalion, now completely a New Zealand unit, changed its name with the Corps and became the XXII. Corps Cyclist Battalion.2

In the New Zealand Force itself an important reorganisation was now necessary, for it, had become apparent that the maintenance of 4 infantry brigades exposed to the wastage of battle was no longer feasible. The formation of the 4th Brigade had been sanctioned by the New Zealand Government with express reservations.3 By this time the unexpected strain of 3 years' warfare under modern conditions was felt by all the combatants. The British authorities had been constrained to disband formations and adopt the Continental organisation of 3 instead of 4 battalions in an infantry brigade. It was possible for the New Zealand administration to follow the same policy and maintain 4 brigades of 3 battalions, which the uninterrupted flow of reinforcements was adequate to keep up to establishment strength. On the grounds, however, of efficiency and simplicity of organisation it was preferable to adhere to the normal 3-brigades establishment, although the New Zealand brigades, unlike the corresponding British units, would consist each of the unreduced number of 4 battalions.

The 4th Brigade therefore with its affiliated units, relieved in the line by the 1st Brigade in January and thenceforward utilised as Corps employment troops, ceased to exist as from 7th February, and its personnel was drawn on to bring the "Division up to strength. It was not the policy to increase the Division beyond establishment, and there consequently remained a considerable surplus. This was formed into a New Zealand Entrenching Group of 3 battalions. Command of the group, originally given to Lt.-Col. A. E. Stewart, was shortly afterwards taken by Lt.-Col. G. Mitchell, D.S.O. The battalions were organised as follows:—

1st N.Z. (Inf. Brigade) Entrenching Bn., Capt. G. Dittmer, M.C. 2nd N.Z. (Inf. Brigade) Entrenching Bn., Capt. J. F. Tonkin.

3rd N.Z. (Rifle Brigade) Entrenching Bn., Capt, S. J. E. Closey, M.C.

1 p. 59.

2 p. 601.

3 p. 163.

page 329

The Group became a reservoir for the Division, receiving from the New Zealand Reinforcement Wing at Corps Headquarters drafts not merely of infantry but of all branches of the service, as certified to be trained satisfactorily. It thus largely superseded the Etaples Base. It was also available for employment under Corps.1

Up to this time the New Zealand Machine Gun Corps had consisted of a Mounted Section in Palestine, the 1st 2nd 3rd and 4th Companies allotted to the respective infantry brigades, the 5th (Divisional) Company and the 6th (Reserve) Company at Grantham.2 On arrival at the Staple training area a Divisional Machine Gun Battalion was formed. The 5 companies in France were now reorganised into 4 companies (Auckland Canterbury Otago and Wellington), and their administration passed from brigade commanders. Lt.-Col. Blair was given command of the new battalion. In September the Pakeha Company of the Pioneer Battalion, in which all the Europeans had been previously incorporated, had been disbanded, and the unit, now consisting wholly of Maoris, had been designated the New Zealand Maori (Pioneer) Battalion. In February the heavy and 3 medium trench mortar batteries were reorganised into two 6-in, Newton batteries.

In addition to the changes of appointments mentioned in the course of the narrative, certain others have still to be recorded. On the Divisional "G" Staff all 3 appointments had changed hands. Lt.-Col. Livesay, whose work was G.S.O.l had been marked by consummate finish and qualities at once brilliant and solid, now left the Division, with which he had been associated since before the Battle of the Somme, for duties with the American Army. He was succeeded by Lt.-Col. II. M. Wilson, D.S.O., (British) Rifle Brigade. Capt. Newnham, G.S.O.2, had been wounded in October and succeeded by Major Eastwood, the vacant appointment of Brigade Major in the 4th Brigade being filled by Major R. Logan, N.Z.S.C Major Jennings, G.S.O.3, had become Brigade Major of the 1st Brigade in place of Major Thorns, wounded at Gravenstafel, and his post was filled first by Major Barton and subsequently by Major D. E. Bremner, N.Z.S.C.3 Major W. L. Robinson, N.Z.S.C, had been appointed D.A.A.G. vice Major Chesney in. August, In the

1 The Group followed the Division to (tip TV. Corps area in the spring, 1918, was reorganised into 2 battalions at the end of August, and disbanded in October.

2 p. 19.

3 p. 324.

page 330artillery, Major Daltry relinquished in December the appointment of Staff Captain for work of national importance in England and was succeeded by Capt. W. G. Stevens, R.N.Z.A. Lt.-Col. Symon returned to his brigade in December.1 In March, on Lt.-Col. Sykes' rejoining the British Army, Lt.-Col. Falla assumed command of the 2nd (Army) Brigade, being succeeded in the 3rd Brigade by Major (now Lt.-Col.) K. S. McQuarrie, M.C.

On the infantry brigade Staffs Capt. Falconer's2 vacated appointment as Staff Captain in the 1st Brigade was filled by Capt. D. S. Chisholm, who had previously succeeded Major H. S. N. Robinson in the same capacity in the 4th Brigade. In the battalions, Lt.-Col. Cunningham exchanged command of 2nd Wellington in January for that of the reserve battalion and was succeeded by Major (now Lt.-Col.) J. L. Short. On the breaking up of the 4th Brigade, Lt.-Col. Row assumed command of 1st Canterbury, held temporarily by Lt.-Col. Mead. Through ill-health, Lt.-Col. Smith relinquished command of 2nd Otago in November to take command of the reserve battalion, and was succeeded first by Major (now Lt.-Col.) J. B. McClymont, and on the latter's evacuation through sickness by Lt.-Col. Colquhoun, of the disbanded 3rd Battalion. In the Rifle Brigade the 3rd Battalion was now commanded by Lt.-Col. E. Puttick, in succession to Lt.-Col. Winter-Evans,3 and the 4th Battalion by Lt.-Col. R. St. J. Beere (Reserve Battalion), who exchanged duties with Lt.-Col. Roache in December. Lt.-Col. G Craig was now in command of No. 1 Field Ambulance vice Lt.-Col. Holmes, who had been invalided in September. Mention should be made, too, of the specially selected party of 12 officers and 25 other ranks who left the Division during this period for a secret mission which eventually took them over the Mesopotamian frontier into the wilds of Persia and the Caucasus and to the shores of the Caspian.

1 p. 252. footnote.

2 p. 324.

3 p. 284.