The New Zealand Medical Service in the Great War 1914-1918
Chapter XIX. The Final Campaign on the Western Front
Chapter XIX. The Final Campaign on the Western Front.
The victorious campaign of the Allied Armies which opened in the last days of September, 1918, comprised the greatest battles recorded in History. Seven nations in arms contested the western field with millions of skilled fighters possessed of weapons and engines of destruction which even at the outset of the Great War were unknown and undreamed of. The objective of this world clash was the immediate and utter destruction of the field forces of the Germanic League. Heretofore no such operations planned to end the war by a succession of rapidly falling strokes had been possible; equality in means and will to fight made the contestants so evenly matched that for years there could could be no decision. But now, in the autumn of the fifth year of the war, conditions on the western front were changed; the breaking down of the German Armies, aggravated by their fruitless offensive in the summer, had been made manifest by the Entente successes in August and early September. The united Allied Command could now at long last, previse the speedy overthrow of their opponents and, with all confidence possible in warlike ventures, hope for decisive results from their well matured and skilfully devised scheme of operations.
The central idea in this great strategic concept was the seizure of that knot of railway communications which is included in the triangle Valenciennes—Maubeuge—Mons, into which the British Expeditionary Force had been hurried in 1914, and once driven out, had ever since striven to regain. It was the central ganglion of the German communications that controlled the maintenance of their armies in France from Lille to Metz. Such a stroke, if successful, would end the war by breaking the military power of Germany and that instantly. The position of the German Armies in France was indeed critical: added to the losses in men and material which they had sustained during their six months summer offensive, was the manifest loss of morale caused by the knowledge that the Entente Powers were waxing daily in strength by the reinforcement of American Divisions. The collapse page 425of the Balkan and Palestine fronts, which was brought about by the surrender of the Bulgars and the ruin of the Turkish Armies, and the avowed exhaustion of Austria, were catastrophies of the gravest moment to the German Higher Command. Above all the smashing of the Drocourt-Queant or Wotan line by tanks early in September and the consequent turning of the Siegfried zone from the north made it ominously clear that the Hindenberg defences in front of Cambrai were not impregnable; nor would they even hold out against determined assaults for so long a period as was necessary for an orderly retirement.
The task elected by Sir Douglas Haig for his central Armies in the final campaign was the old time-worn British endeavour: to get back to Mons, which objective Ludendorf says was at the root of all British offensives since 1915. The German Valhalla, the Siegfried field fortresses, although turned from the north, still barred the way to Cambrai on the front of the Third and Fourth Armies. Constructed at leisure and so sited as to give the maximum defensive advantages on ground already strong by reason of its physical configuration, the seven mile deep zone of steel and concrete was originally designed to give a temporary respite to the German armies reeling back from the Somme battlefield in 1916, and so to shorten the German front as to enable the formation of new reserves by the manning of incredibly strong positions with weak divisions. Ten miles of country was laid waste in front of the Hindenberg line, the wells, the roads, the villages, all were destroyed during the German ordered retirement of March, 1917, and so inadequate were the communications available to the British and French who followed, as to forbid indefinitely the mounting of further attacks. Like the positions of Torres Vedras or the earthworks thrown up by Maréchal Villars between Arras and the Somme, which saved France from Marlborough's invasion in 1710, the Siegfried lines were originally only a temporary halting place for the gathering of fresh momentum; but now they had become vital to the safety of the German Armies; they were indeed the last ditches of a forlorn resistance. Confronting these heroic retrenchments and their determined defenders, the British Armies much reduced in strength and wearied by months of hard fighting, although inferior in numbers and divisions, yet were composed of veteran fighters and commanded a greatly superior war equipment. Our tanks could overrun almost any obstacles, clearing a pathway for the Infantry through a jungle of barbed wire in a fraction of the time previously demanded by heavy artillery; a factor making page 426for surprise,—above all, our troops were heartened by their recent successes and were confident that the defeat of their opponents was at hand. They had achieved and realised a great moral superiority.
The final campaign opened on the 26th September in the Argonne to the west of the Meuse, where powerful American and French Armies attacked towards Mezières on a wide front. On the 27th Haig's First and Third Armies broke through the Hindenberg line on the Canal du Nord at Moeuvres, gaining the east bank of the canal and extending their front from the Sensée innundations to Burlon Wood. On the 28th the battle line included Gouzeaucourt; 10,000 prisoners and 200 guns had been taken and the left shoulder of the British battle front was brought up level with the right. The Fourth Army struck on the 29th and the whole British front from St. Quentin to the Sensée was ablaze. In Flanders the King of the Belgians was leading his Armies up the road to Paaschendaele, and directing Plummer's Second Army towards Messines, Ploegsteert Wood and Armentières. Everywhere on the Allied fronts from Baghdad to Dixmude the Entente forces were advancing. By the 1st of October New Zealand machine-gunners were entering Damascus, the Serbian Army was on the banks of the Danube; the Hindenberg line was broken; while at Spa, in the Ardennes, Ludendorf was solemnly announcing to his War Lord that the end had come and that Germany must sue for peace—and that instantly.
The principal events in the Battle of St. Quentin-Cambrai in which the New Zealand Division was concerned comprise the passage of the Hindenberg line at Welsh Ridge and Bonavis spur on the 29th of September; the advance to the Scheldt Canal south of Cambrai on the 30th; the establishment of a bridge head at Crèveeoeur on the 1st October; and the final passage of the canal on the 5th.
During the short rest period close attention had been directed to anti-gas training as the daily harassing fire with blue and yellow cross gases had materially increased the casualties in the IVth Corps, from which, in one week, no less than 188 gassed casualties had been evacuated to C.C.S. Artillery units were chiefly affected, and in most instances, owing to the men continuing to work in areas where low concentrations of gas persisted. Lectures and gas drills were given daily to all units and particular care was devoted to the gas training of the ambulance personnel, who were very liable to suffer from want of attention to necessary precautions. The equipment of the field page 427ambulances was revised and renewed, and the motor ambulance cars were fitted with the exhaust heating apparatus in use during the winter months. The D.R.S., near the old sugar factory about a mile from Bapaume Station on the Cambrai road, had been in turn the site of a C.C.S., and later a German feld lazaret, and during the occupancy of the 2nd Field Ambulance it had been reconstructed so as to provide good accommodation for 150 patients in huts and tents protected by low walls against aeroplane bombs. Large cellars in the sugar factory were available and occasionally were required as there was some shelling by long range naval guns in the vicinity, happily without casualties to the patients or personnel. A lecture by Colonel Pilcher, C.B., consulting surgeon to the Third Army, given at the D.R.S. was attended by all medical officers. The methods recommended for first aid to the compound fractures of the humerus and femur were discussed, especial stress being laid on the advantages of slight flexion of the knee in the thigh cases, and the use of "Tapson" heel clips for counter extension. The treatment of shock by seven per cent. gum saline solution was also dealt with and the advantages of using sphagnum moss for dressings and pads were emphasised, not only on account of the saving of cotton wool, of which there was a scarcity, but because of the suitability of the substitute. Several medical officers were attached for duty at the C.C.S.'s, others were employed at the corps walking wounded post at Bihucourt The rest period did a great deal of good: the sick wastage rate which had been as high as 12 per 1000 in the middle of September, fell to 8 per 1000 towards the end of the month.
On the 26th orders were issued for the concentration of the Division in the Havrincourt area, and at 6 p.m. the same day the 2nd Brigade group accompanied by the 1st Field Ambulance were on the march. During the day a conference of field ambulance commanders was held at the A.D.M.S.'s office. It had been arranged that No. 1 Field Ambulance under Lieut.-Col. Craig should take over the duties of forward evacuations and man the A.D.S. in the forthcoming operations, and that Lieut.-Col. Murray, D.S.O., should hand over the D.R.S. to Lieut.-Col. Hardie Neil, and assume the duties of the M.D.S. On the 27th the 2nd Brigade was still moving up by lorries to the vicinity of Bertincourt The IVth Corps was attacking with the 42nd Division on the following day. The A.D.M.S. inspected the 2nd Field Ambulance in marching order, and the advance parties of No. 2 and No. 3 Field Ambulances were on the move. In the evening No. 1 Field page 428Ambulance opened a temporary A.D.S. at Neuville, and sent runners and squads of bearers to each of the R.M.O.'s of the two brigades. The 1st Brigade with the 2nd Field Ambulance were moving up to Ytres on the 28th. Advanced Headquarters opened this day at Trescault and issued orders for the forthcoming battle to be engaged at 3.30 on the following morning. The New Zealand Division was to pass through the 42nd Division to advance to the Canal de St. Quentin between Crèvecoeur and Vaucelles and seize the eastern banks of the Canal and Scheldt river, which ran parallel in the valley south of Cambrai.
During the day Colonel McGavin had reconnoitred Trescault with Lieut.-Col. Craig and it was decided to establish the A.D.S. in the ruins of the village whence somewhat damaged roads led forward to Ribecourt and Villers Pluich in the direction of the advance of the attacking brigades. A dense network of trenches, part of the main Hindenberg line, ran diagonally through the divisional front from Laffaux. Wood towards Ribecourt and Trescault. At Ruyaulcourt a site for the M.D.S. had been visited by Lieut.-Col. Murray and the A.D.M.S., and the 42nd Divisional Ambulance parties there were to hand over to our No. 2 Field Ambulance that evening. It had rained during the day, the weather was cold and the sky overcast, but the rolling character of the terrain suggested little danger of mud interfering with the evacuations. All available transport and personnel were now sent forward to Trescault providing Lieut.-Col. Craig with 106 extra N.Z.M.C. bearers, four small and six large ambulance cars in addition to his own transport, besides some horsed ambulance waggons. That evening the A.D.M.S. wrote the medical corps orders, which follow, and which are reproduced in full because they represent what may be considered to be typical divisional medical orders of this important period and because of their brevity so markedly in contrast to the very voluminous medical arrangementst of the years of static warfare.
Copy. Secret Copy No. 11 New Zealand Division. Headquarters, 28th Sept., 1918. N.Z.M.C. Order No. 71 Reference Map:—57.D: 1: 40,000.page 429
(A) On the night September 28th/29th the New Zealand Division will pass through, the 42nd Division and continue the advance:
(a) To complete the capture of the Bonavis Ridge; (b) To secure the bridgeheads across the Canal de St. Quentin and Escault River between Vaucelles and Crevecoeur sur L'Escault, both inclusive. (B)
In the event of La Vacquerie and the Bonavis Ridge being in the enemy's possession, the 2nd New Zealand Infantry Brigade (on right) and 1st New Zealand Infantry Brigade (on left) will attack in conjunction with the 5th Division on that night by moonlight.
Zero Hour will be 3.30 a.m.
(C) The 3rd (Rifle) Brigade Group will be prepared to move at 6 a.m. on September 29th to relieve reserve brigades of 42nd Division in an area east of Trescault. 2. O.C. No. 1 New Zealand Field Ambulance will:
(a) Establish advanced dressing station at Trescault forthwith; (b) Detail one bearer squad and runner to each battalion of 1st and 2nd New Zealand Infantry Brigades forthwith; (c) Place bearer relay posts and car posts at suitable locations with reference to regimental aid posts when these are established. 3. O.C. No. 2 New Zealand Field Ambulance will take over the main dressing station at Ruyaulcourt from 42nd Division forthwith. 4.
Evacuations of wounded from R.A.P.'s to M.D.S. will be by hand carriage, wheeled stretchers and field ambulance cars.
O.C. No. 1 New Zealand Field Ambulance will have, at his disposal all cars of No. 2 New Zealand Field Ambulance and all except two large cars of No. 3 New Zealand Field Ambulance. These cars will be sent forward to Trescault by O's.C. Nos.
2 and 3 New Zealand Field Ambulance forthwith. He will also have at his disposal the horsed ambulance waggons of Nos. 2 and 3 New Zealand Field Ambulance.
5. From main dressing station stretcher cases will be evacuated by cars of 21st M.A.C. and walking cases by:
(a) Light railway from walking wounded entraining post at Ruyaulcourt (P.9.d.8.2.); (b) by busses and lorries provided by 21st M.A.C. 6. The A.D.S. will be established and be prepared to open at 5 a.m. on 29th September. 7. Office of A.D.M.S. will open at Velu on 29th September at an hour to be notified later. 8. New Zealand Field Ambulances to Acknowledge.
(Sgd.) D. McGavin, Colonel, A.D.M.S., New Zealand Division.
Distribution: (9.30 p.m.):—
1. D.D.M.S., IVth Corps. 2. "G" New Zealand Division. 3. "A" and "Q" New Zealand Division. 4. O.C. No. 1 New Zealand Field Ambulance. 5. O.C. No. 2 New Zealand Field Ambulance. 6. O.C. No. 3 New Zealand Field Ambulance. 7. A.D.M.S. 42nd Division. 8-10. War Diary. 11. File. 12. Headquarters. 1st New Zealand Infantry Brigade. 13. Headquarters. 2nd New Zealand Infantry Brigade. 14. Headquarters. 3rd New Zealand (R) Brigade
No. 1 Field Ambulance on receipt of these orders moved into Trescault and despatched N.Z.M.C. runners and bearers to the 1st Brigade. Both brigade headquarters were near Ribecourt, two miles further north on the road to Marcoing. By some strange accident to the motor cyclist Lieut.-Col Murray did not get his orders until 1.30 a.m. on the 29th, he was then at Bus, west of Ytres but by 3 a.m. he had opened at Ruyaulcourt in some Nissen huts and farm buildings previously used by the 42nd Division as a main dressing station.
At 3.30 a.m. in moonlight, our Infantry battalions advanced across the Couillet Valley and in conjunction with the 5th Division on the right and the 62nd on their left, attacked the Bon Avis Ridge and La Vacherie at daybreak. By 9 o'clock the ridge was firmly held and our patrols were pushing down to the canal banks; our losses were not heavy. The wounded of our own and neighbouring divisions and German wounded were passing through Trescault A.D.S. early in the morning, but the first waves did not reach the M.D.S. at Ruyaulcourt until 8 a.m. The delay was due in part to the distance—four miles to the A.D.S., but mainly to the bad conditions of the forward roads from Metz-en-couture to Ribecourt. There was no difficulty however, in evacuating; car posts were pushed forward towards page 431Ribecourt and the neighbourhood of Beauchamp and the bearer relay posts forward, found ample cover in the innumerable trenches leading across the Couillet Valley. By 2 p.m. 151 wounded had been admitted to the M.D.S., of these 65 lying. The wounds were chiefly due to machine-gun fire; there was a considerable number of German wounded on stretchers. At 6 p.m. the wounded of the New Zealand Division evacuated amounted to 11 officers, 154 O.R., and the total treated was 19 and 289, including Germans. 8 M.A.C. cars attached to the M.D.S. kept it clear; the walking wounded were evacuated by lorries to the light railway embarkation point, where a section of the New Zealand Y.M.C.A. provided refreshments and minor comforts.
The weather had been fine all day but rain came on in the evening and continued throughout almost the whole of the night. Owing to persistent shelling in Trescault the A.D.S. was advanced at 7 p.m. to a sunken road half way between Trescault and Ribecourt where a car post had been established earlier in the day. The main German trenches crossed the road at this point affording cover and shelter in the deep dugouts which were plentiful. Apart from this move and some slight delay in clearing stretcher cases from Trescault the evacuations proceeded smoothly. Up to 10 p.m. another 100 wounded had reached the M.D.S but during the remainder of the night few wounded came in. The day had been a successful one, much ground had been gained and well over 1000 prisoners taken. During the night the orders were to continue the advance, but it rained incessantly until 2 a.m. and the night was very dark. The enemy held the eastern bank of the canal and river, and appeared to be increasing his numbers. Our further advance was consequently delayed until daylight. According to Corps information the Germans were retiring to eastwards of the water ways and the chief opposition, it was anticipated, would be met with in the passage of the Canal. This information must have been accurate else the brigades could not have penetrated the trench zone with such apparent ease and at so slight a cost.
Rain ceased at 2 a.m. on the 30th, and two hours later the enemy artillery fire fell upon the assembly points of our infantry who just before daylight were advancing against Crèvecoeur and Vaucelles. Small parties penetrated across the stone bridge at Crèvecoeur but beyond this no further progress was made that day. The ground had dried up during the morning; the evacuation of the wounded presented no difficulties. A car post was established in the Couillet Valley, at the junction of the roads page 432leading south from Ribecourt and Marcoing, about two miles south of the latter village; the route to the A.D.S. running through Villers-Plouich and Beaucamp. Close touch was maintained with the R.A.P.'s by a bearer relay in the German trenches further east. There was no dearth of bearers as the O.C. No. 1 Field Ambulance was able to maintain a reserve of 40 bearers at the A.D.S. including a party of 20 prisoners attached for stretcher bearing. At the M.D.S. over 200 wounded passed through; it seemed a quiet day. Rain fell again at 9 p.m. but the night passed without incident, few wounded coming in to the dressing stations.
At 5.30 a.m. on the first of October, the 1st and 2nd Brigades were pushing on in their attempt to cross the Canal. Part of the 1st Brigade passed the water ways by the bridges at Les Rues Vertes and emerging from the village of Masnières made a bold stroke for the northern outskirts of Crèvecoeur. Rumilly to the north was still in German hands, the 3rd Division were attacking there. By 8 a.m. the 2nd Wellington Battalion had joined hands with the 2nd Brigade in Crèvecoeur, but the 1st Auckland Battalion to the north met with stubborn resistance about the road to Cambrai and pushing on beyond with considerable losses were met by a strong counter attack from Serainvillers which drove them back to the Cambrai road at a point where it passed through a cutting just about half a mile north of Crèvecoeur. A wayside crucifix looked down on the road at this point which became a calvary for many of the Aucklanders. After 11 a.m. a car post had been pushed forward to the south of Rue Vertes at the junction with the Marcoing road. At 1 p.m. a message from the 1st Brigade reached the A.D.M.S.
"Namo casualties estimated 60 O.R. R.M.O. unable to cope with situation can Deri send doctor and strong stretcher squads to mon Plaisir Farm G 27d.9.7. to assist and cars to cross roads G 32 b.oo.7o aaa addsd Fetu reptd Deri (signed) Huni 1300."
This obscure missive was quite clear print to the A.D.M.S. whose code name was Deri and explained that Huni, the 1st Brigade, wanted help at a farm just a mile east of Masnières on the road to Crèvecoeur where casualties of the 1st Auckland Battalion had accumulated. Captain Ardagh, M.C., N.Z.M.C., had moved his medical detachment across the canal about 10 a.m. and pushing on in rear of his battalion established his aid post at a farm curiously named "Mon Plaisir." The heavy fighting about the crucifix brought down a large wave of wounded to page 433this very exposed position which was subjected to a constant and severe bombardment during the afternoon. There was no protection in the farm buildings which were in clear view of the Germans occupying the rising ground above Crèvecoeur only a mile and a half to the eastward. Much difficulty was experienced in clearing the post. Up to 6 p.m. 33 stretcher cases and 63 walking wounded had cleared the M.D.S., and a further 42 stretcher cases with 90 sitting, up to 10 p.m., at which time the A.D.S. reported all aid posts cleared and provided with necessaries and the A.D.S. clear save for 20 stretcher cases being loaded at the moment.
At 10 p.m. Rumilly was reported to be occupied by the 3rd Division and on receipt of this information the A.D.M.S. issued instruction for the M.D.S. to move forward to Ribecourt and for the A.D.S. to be advanced to Rues Vertes to positions which he bad reconnoitred during the day. It had been a day of hard fighting, over 1000 prisoners had been taken. We had succeeded in making a secure lodgment in Crèvecoeur; but towards Vaucelles no advance was made beyond the Canal line—the Beaurevoir-Masnières defensive system, heavily wired, was still intact south of Crèvecoeur.
It rained hard during the night but all wounded were safely in. and a fine clear morning followed. The New Zealand Division found its line thrust eastwards into a sharp salient about Crèvecoeur so that no further advance on our part was desirable until the supporting divisions made progress on our right and left. At 10 a.m. the M.D.S. opened at the southern end of Ribecourt village in farm buildings much battered by shell fire. A party of 50 New Zealand Pioneers under an officer was attached for the purpose of clearing the rooms of debris and making roads through the large farmyard which was littered with broken material fallen from the damaged barns. The A.D.S. was in a quarry by the side of the road just at the southern entrance to Rues Vertes; a large dugout offered shelter for about 40 stretcher cases and operating tents provided the necessary dressing rooms. On account of the exposed position and shelling of the road no reserve of ambulance transport could be maintained at this post, all of it was sent back to the M.D.S. At a ear post, pushed forward along the road south of the canal and about two miles west of Crèvecoeur, one small car was kept and was fed by a bearer relay on the eastern edge of Masnières, north of the canal.
Up to the 5th no further move was made, the medical posts remaining unchanged, the number of wounded collected well page 434under 50 a day; the weather remained fine but cool and in most eases the roads were in passable condition. On the 3rd the 1st Brigade was relieved by the 3rd Brigade, and Captain Ardagh, M.C., was at last able to leave the farm of Mon Plaisir after 36 hours of very dangerous and trying work which merited for him an immediate award of the D.S.O.
Signs of a German withdrawal were clearly seen on October the 5th: the IVth Army to the south had penetrated and turned the Beaurevoir-Masnières line, the Germans were shelling Vaucelles; it was time to be up and doing. Our patrols pushed forward across the bridge at Vaucelles and climbed the wooded heights beyond. By 1 p.m. the 3rd Brigade had reached the old Mill of Lesdain and another pleasant farm named Bel Aise while the 2nd Brigade were clearing the Cheneaux Wood. The weather was fine and warmer, and casualties were few, the total for the day was under 70, of which 41 were New Zealanders; but the following day owing to heavy shelling of the back and front areas our casualties were somewhat increased: over 100 were evacuated and we had two stretcher bearers killed. No important moves except a readjustment of the divisional front took place, and on the 7th the A.D.M.S. whose office had moved from Bertincourt to Trescault was making arrangements in view of a combined attack on the Masnières line timed for 4.30 am. on the 8th. Winter time had been introduced on the night of the 6th so that the zero hour now corresponded to mean solar time.
On the 8th the Third and Fourth Armies were resuming the attack with the object of exploiting their penetration of the Hindenberg defences. On the IVth Corps front the 37th Division on the right about Vaucelles, the New Zealand Division at Grèvecoeur and the 3rd Division on the left in the neighbourhood of Serianvillers were to advance to objectives about Esnes. No change in the medical dispositions was necessary as the advance was of limited depth. The night passed quietly, only 17 wounded were admitted to the M.D.S. The morning was dull, favouring our movements. By 8 a.m. the 3rd Brigade reported all objectives attained; they were in Esnes and patrols were in | Longsart, nearly a mile further east. Many prisoners had been taken and much of our artillery was across the canal and in action on the east bank by 1 p.m.
At 7 a.m. all the horsed ambulance waggons were brought up to the A.D.S. and a car post was advanced to the north of Crèvecoeur in close touch with the B.A.P.'s. By 8 a.m. the walking wounded and some stretcher page 435cases were reaching the A.D.S. and half an hour later the first waves of walking cases, brought down by lorries, were in the main dressing station. A light railway siding had been established in the farmyard and the first trainload was despatched at 9 a.m. at which time stretcher cases were coming in freely. The distance by road to Esnes was about 8 miles, no lying wounded from beyond Crèvevoeur, six miles distant, could as yet be in and there was a great congestion of traffic on the Rues Vertes-Marcoing roads delaying the wounded convoys. By 10 a.m. the M.D.S. was fully occupied, stretcher cases coming in in rapid succession, although up to this hour only 24 wounded in all had cleared Ribecourt. Two dressing rooms were in use: one for stretcher cases with four tables; the other for walking wounded; there was adequate accommodation in the large rooms in the farmhouse. But in the afternoon the flow of wounded had reached highwater mark—over 250 had come in since 6 a.m.—and owing to the long distance run to be covered by the M.A.C. cars there was delay in evacuation. The wounded on stretchers were accommodated in the farmyard, but the afternoon was bright, sunny, and warm, an ample supply of blankets was available and all appeared comfortable as they were well plied with hot cocoa and such food as they cared to eat.
Especially happy and patient were the German wounded; a burly Saxon lying contentedly on his stretcher, ravenously munching a large chunk of bread and butter and drinking with gratitude from a mug of cocoa, was jocularly asked by one of our medical officers to sing the hymn of hate while he was inspecting the injury—a flesh wound of the thigh. "Give us a Gott Straafe Fritzy," said the major. "Nein! nein!" beamed the Saxon through his wide horn rimmed glasses, "a Gott Straafe vil I not gif," and went on volubly to explain that he was a Saxon of the blue eye and fair hair, that Saxons and Anglo-Saxons were cousins, that the war was a cruel business in which only the capitalist thrived while the worker suffered and died to save the plutocrat, and a lot more of Lord Northcliffe's propaganda stuff with which the German soldiers had been fed by our aeroplanes for weeks past. Happily wounded, and away from the hunger and misery of it all the Saxon soldier, in a torrent of broken English, expressed his gratitude and proclaimed aloud the universal brotherhood of man. Of such thoughts and intense sensations—for the Saxons are a kindly sentimental people, but little less so than the Anglo-Saxons—the German revolution of November, was born.page 436
At 7 p.m. a second trainload of walking wounded was despatched, but the number of stretcher cases awaiting evacuation was considerable, there were very large numbers of German stretcher cases coming in. Evidently the fighting had been severe. Lieut.-Col. Craig managed to get cars up to Crèvecoeur late in the afternoon, which greatly facilitated the evacuations and reported all R.A.P.'s clear at 6.30 p.m., but the A.D.S. was not clear until 10.30 by which time the stream of wounded had dried up somewhat. The A.D.M.S. reported his medical arrangements as working without a hitch, and the numbers of wounded of the New Zealand Division cleared by 7 p.m. as 17 officers, 181 O.R. and, in all, 476 casualties evacuated during the 24 hours. But at the M.D.S. the work continued during the night, the dressing tables were just able to keep pace with the evacuations and at 11 p.m. there were still 60 stretcher cases in the yard awaiting attention: many of these German wounded recently come in from the A.D.S. Towards midnight a few extra cars were obtained from the 30th M.A.C. which helped to relieve the temporary congestion, but the station was not wholly clear until 6 a.m. the following morning. In the 24 hours ending at 10 a.m. on the 9th the M.D.S. had evacuated 843 wounded, of which 50 per cent. were stretcher cases; the New Zealand Division had sustained in the neighbourhood of 460 casualties exclusive of killed. We had now definitely smashed through the Hindenberg line and the whole division was across the canals and the Masnières line; in front lay open country towards Le Cateau, whither the Germans were hurriedly withdrawing through wooded lands untouched by war.
If we include the penetration of that portion of the Beaurevoir-Masnières system with its 50 yard deep belts of heavy German wire which still barred our way to open country on the morning of the 8th, the passage of the Hindenberg system by the New Zealand Division may be said to have occupied 10 days from the 29th September to the 8th of October, both days included, during which period of continuous fighting, some 7 miles of trenched positions was passed with a total casualty list of under 2000 killed, missing or wounded; actually the M.D.S. evacuated 1399 wounded of the New Zealand Division from the 29th to the 9th of October. The number of wounded reported to the A. and Q. Branch by battalions was 1345, while 238 were reported killed and 365 missing. A large proportion of the missing, no doubt, were killed as we lost few prisoners; but some of the missing had passed through extra-divisional dressing stations. The casualtiespage 437 recorded in these operation compare very favourably with those sustained by the Division at, say, Messines in a three-day battle but the conditions were wholly dissimilar: smaller assault formations were used and the defence, more especially by artillery fire, was much less powerful, while shelter in the trench systems was everywhere available.
On the 9th before dawn, a touch of early frost whipping the air the 2nd Brigade were advancing under a barrage, but they met with no resistance, the Germans had withdrawn to the line of the Selle River. Through Longsart our Brigade passed at nine and by dusk had pushed patrols into Fontaine-au-Pire and Caudry, having covered three miles during the day. Very few wounded came in to the A.D.S. which at 3.30 moved up to Longsart and opened in small farm buildings. A site for the M.D.S. had been selected during the morning and late in the afternoon Lieut.-Col Murray took over a large farm at Le Grand Pont hamlet half a mile west of Esnes. Divisional headquarters were at Lesdain in the evening; the A.D.M.S. reported 26 wounded admitted for the day. At the M.D.S. the buildings were undamaged by shell fire and afforded warm billets for the ambulance personnel in the out houses and barns; bunks with fine wood shavings used by the German troops provided beds, a luxury unknown for many days past. A party of eight unwounded Germans was found to be hiding in the barn, and was, for the nonce, attached to the field ambulance for general duties.
During the two following days the advance continued until Briastre and the crossings of the Selle were reached, where a halt was imposed by stern Jägers, who held the eastern banks. Our advance guard was over the river by the night of the 11th having passed by an improvised bridge thrown across by our Engineers, but a formal attack was necessary to force the stoutly held positions; this was arranged for on the 12th. At the M.D.S. the German prisoners proved useful, two of them were engineers employed in demolition work, and in gratitude for their kindly treatment by the ambulance no doubt, they extracted two large unexploded mines from the farm precincts. No. 3 Field Ambulance was now ordered up from Bapaume, and on the 11th took over the Grand Pont station from Lieut.-Col. Murray who advanced his M.D.S. to the A.D.S. site at Longsart in a small cluster of farm buildings providing only limited accommodation. The A.D.S. moved to Fontaine au Pire.
The battle of the 12th was to establish the Division on the eastern banks of the Selle in front of Briastre. The attack was page 438to be carried out by the 1st Brigade under an artillery barrage, the 37th Division on their right, the Guards Division north about Solesmes. Our ultimate objectives were to be a high spur to the east of the railway to Solesmes—over a mile from Briastre. Extra bridges and pontoons were to be thrown across the stream by our Engineers during the day. The Medical Corps stations were not altered except that a corps walking wounded post was to be established by the 3rd Field Ambulance near Crèvecoeur where an entraining point on the light railway would be available.
The 1st Wellington Battalion had to fight hard to make good the bridge head, and it was not until 6 p.m. on the 12th that they captured the Bellevue Station on the railway running to Solesmes. The Jäger Division which had previously rough handled the 3rd Brigade at Dead Man's Corner had to give way, but they fought to the last and very few of them surrendered. At the A.D.S. some 100 casualties from the Division were brought down from a car post west of Veisly and a bearer relay in the vicinity of the village. The M.D.S. was moved into Beauvois during the afternoon and opened at 5 p.m. in a large building, evidently a school, which had been used as a hospital for lightly wounded and sick by the German Medical Corps. There was good accommodation: the buildings being untouched by shell fire, the windows even intact and above on the top floor were warm rooms furnished with bunks where the personnel found comfortable quarters. Shortly after midnight the station was clear; the run to C.C.S. was now consuming seven hours but there was no congestion of wounded as the numbers fell off considerably after 6 p.m. That night command of the sector passed to the 42nd East Lancashire Division and the New Zealand Division went into reserve in the area which they had captured about Beauvois Esnes and Longsart where the few civilians remaining did their best to make them welcome.
During the operations which had been initiated on the 29th of September, up to the 13th of October, a period covering a fortnight's constant and at times severe fighting, the A.D.M.S. reported that the evacuation of wounded had invariably been carried out rapidly without any apparent difficulty and without serious losses to medical personnel, a success which he attributes to the satisfactory condition of the roads which enabled motor cars to be pushed well forward and allowed the bearers to use wheeled stretchers to the fullest extent. During 16 days of September 94 officers and 2264 O.R. wounded passed through the dressing stations and for page 439the first 12 days of October 75 officers, 1934 O.R. These results were not achieved by good roads and forward car posts only, but the experience of the N.Z.M.C. N.C.O.'s and the forward evacuating officers counted for much. Close touch with the R.A.P.'s was maintained by detailing parties of bearers to each R.A.P. and the daily personal visits to the R.A.P.'s by the officers, more especially Lieut.-Col Craig and his forward evacuating officer, Captain Wyllie, N.Z.M.C., were the chief means of securing smooth and rapid evacuations. The principle of using one field ambulance reinforced by the pooled bearers and transport for forward evacuations and another for service at the M.D.S. was adhered to by the A.D.M.S. with excellent results. A summary of the work done at Lieut.-Col. Murray's M.D.S. during the period 29th September to the 13th October shows that a total of 2501 wounded were dealt with; of these, 1202 were stretcher cases, that is to say 48 per cent. lying, 52 per cent. sitting or walking. Included in the total were 1572 New Zealand wounded; 605 British and 324 German wounded. For the period under review the following casualties were reported to the A. and Q. Branch of the New Zealand Division:—
Of the missing many were killed, a. few admitted to other formations as we lost an insignificant number of prisoners. The discrepancy between the numbers of New Zealand wounded evacuated from the M.D.S., 1572, and the figures reported to the A.A. and Q.M.G. may be accounted for in several ways. Many wounded suffering from trivial wounds remained on duty; a few would be discharged from the A.D.S. to their unit, others after an injection of A.T.S. at M.D.S. would go back to their battalions.
There was no alteration of importance in the medical dispositions during the period of rest, except that a dental hospital was opened at Beauvois and one dental section was attached for duty to No. 3 Field Ambulance. With rest and the usual training the health of the Division improved considerably, the sick rate being 8.8 per 1000 on the 19th October, well below the average of the Third Army. Already some grumblings of the winter influenza epidemic, much more severe than the summer affliction, were heard: it was prevalent in all European countries page 440by the middle of the month and warnings had been issued by G.H.Q. The grave broncho-pneumonic complications with high mortality of 21 per cent. had already been observed in small numbers in the British Armies. German prisoners of war had been attacked shortly after capture. The prevention of over crowding in billets and a sharp watch on the rise of the epidemic were enforced in all divisions; special orders as to the admission to C.C.S. of all cases of influenza were issued; and the sterilization of all contact material such as blankets and utensils, was particularly stressed. Already New Zealand troops had suffered heavy casualties from this mysterious plague. In January, February, and March, 1918, a severe type of purulent bronchitis associated with rubella or morbilii had broken out at Sling Camp amongst the 32nd Reinforcements. It is stated that the infection arose at Newport News. There was a high mortality rate exceeding one-third fatalities. Owing to the demonstrated lack of immunity to the Pneumococcus shown by New Zealand soldiers it had been agreed to immunise the incoming reinforcements with a mixed catarrhal vaccine prepared by Dr. Eyre of St. Thomas' Hospital in collaboration with Captain Lowe, N.Z.M.C., bacteriologist at No. 2 New Zealand General Hospital.
The prophylactic inoculation with two doses of the original vaccine caused little disturbance and was made obligatory for incoming reinforcements. But the very serious late autumn outbreak of purulent bronchitis on the transport "Tahiti," carrying the 40th Reinforcements stated to be associated with I influenza, and the summer epidemic of influenza in England, brought universal immunisation for New Zealand troops in England into practice at the end of September, 1918; but rather late, as it proved, for the winter epidemic, which caught some of the camps during the very process of immunisation. The advisability of immunising the New Zealand troops in France was suggested to Colonel McGavin by Colonel Parkes, but the opinion of the consulting physician of the Third Army, Colonel Heringham, was not then strongly favourable to the proposal, nor did the A.D.M.S. of the New Zealand Division consider the moment opportune for such immunisation, as the Division was engaged in active operations of a critical nature. The proposal was not adopted in France, although in England, Lowe and Eyre claimed encouraging results from the prophylactic injections. In the last weeks of October the first wave of the epidemic was upon the Division and was considered to have been introduced by men returning from leave in the United Kingdom as the spread was page 441simultaneous through many dissociated units; bat the full virulence of the pandemic was not demonstrated until November.
But the passage of the Selle river was not yet completed: the enemy was holding the crossings in strength and seemed to have adequate artillery support. The line of the Sambre and Oise Canal to the south of the Selle was forced on the 19th by the Fourth Army and American troops, and on the 20th the Third Army was again attacking the disputed crossings of the Selle north of Le Cateau. That day the 42nd Division, on our Corps front, marched at 2 a.m. from Briastre, and although held up by serious resistance, much wire, and frequent counter attacks, advanced to positions a mile east of Solesmes. It was now the turn of the New Zealand Division to exploit the success.
Sir Douglas Haig was determined to strike such a blow upon the badly demoralised and diminished German armies as would compel them to lay down their arms before winter came. His goal was the line Valenciennes-Mormal Forest and to these ambitious objectives he was directing his tired divisions in his final battle of the 23rd. Germany was groggily hanging to the ropes, Britain was preparing a solar plexus punch.
Our Division was to pass through the 42nd at 8.40 a.m. on the 23rd, a determined advance was to be pushed through under barrage with the object of seizing bridges across the Ecaillon river at Beaudignies near Le Quesnoy. Our brigades were concentrating on the 22nd, the 2nd Brigade was to lead the advance. At a conference of field ambulance commanders at the office of the A.D.M.S. at Beauvois on the 22nd there was a final revision of the medical arrangements. No. 1 Field Ambulance had by now taken over the M.D.S. at Beauvois as a D.R.S. and was instructed to admit and hold all sick collected during the operation. Lieut.-Col Murray, was ordered to take the duties of forward evacuating officer; already a site for an A.D.S. at Solesmes had been reconnoitred by Major Jory, N.Z.M.C. and advanced parties sent on in the early afternoon. No. 3 Field Ambulance under Lieut.-Col. Hardie Neil, that day decorated with the D.S.O. for his good work about Bancourt, was to open a M.D.S. at Veisly; his advanced party of one tent subdivision under Major Goldstein, M.C., was moving up to take over. Lieut.-Col. Murray returned to his unit, now marching in heavy rain to Solesmes, the bearers, without packs, on foot, the tent subdivisions with light stores transported in motor ambulances. The packs and heavy equipment had been stored at Beauvois. 40 bearers were detached to the 2nd Brigade; one runner, eight bearers to each R.M.O., page 442extra bearers and all available transport had been forwarded to the A.D.S. with the exception of two larger motor ambulances remaining at the D.R.S. Special instructions had been issued with regard to the disposal of civilian casualties who were to be evacuated by M.A.C. to the C.C.S. At Ytres, or in case of urgency to the 59th C.C.S. at Awoingt, near Cambrai, 4½ miles west of Beauvois along the main road from Le Cateau; the distance from Solesmes about 11 miles, or from the M.D.S. at Veisly, under 10 miles; whereas to Ytres the distance exceeded 35 miles. Much difficulty had been experienced in bringing up the casualty clearing stations sufficiently rapidly in rear of the advancing Armies. In many instances these units, long immobilised by static warfare, were obliged to pack up at short notice and to open in tents with a diminished staff and equipment and were in consequence unable to operate on as many cases as seemed desirable, but in spite of all difficulties their technical work suffered little by these rapid moves. The general hospitals, owing to the very broken state of road and rail communications in the devastated country, could not be moved forward, at least until some considerable time had been allowed for a readjustment of the traffic conditions in the battle areas.
No less than four divisions of the IVth Corps were advancing on the same narrow front on the 23rd and at the appointed hour the New Zealand Division represented by the 2nd Brigade with the 37th Division on their right, passed through the 42nd and 5th Divisions respectively. Our 2nd Brigade, from in front of Romeries astride the road to Baudignies met no opposition until descending the western slopes of the St. Georges River: here they had casualties from artillery and machine-gun fire, but pressing on they found the enemy resistance rapidly failing. Baudignies was taken, and through the night the two bridges at that village across the Ecaillon were made secure by outposts 1000 yards to the eastwards of the crossing. The casualties had not been heavy. At 8.30 a.m. the A.D.S. opened at the Brasserie L'Abbaye in Solesmes: a fine, roomy building with good cellars, but as the Germans had recently used it for stabling their horses, it needed vigorous work through the night to prepare for the reception of wounded. In the cellars, which were well lighted, and well ventilated, a dressing room capable of accommodating 100 stretcher cases was made ready with a reception room for walking wounded in the office. Lightly wounded were arriving by 10 a.m. and a car post had been established in a sunken road south of Romeries. The bearer relay post occupied a farm at the page 443southern boundary of Vertigneul and after the passage of the St. Georges River in the afternoon, the R.A.P.'s of 1st Canterbury and 1st Otago were located by Major Jory near Pont a Pierre at the site of the bridge across the St. Georges on the road to Baudignies from Romeries. By 6 p.m. the tally of wounded was only 5 officers and 55 O.R. The weather kept fine all day but there was much delay in clearing wounded from the A.D.S. to the M.D.S. at Veisly owing to the great congestion of traffic all converging to a temporary bridge constructed by the New Zealand Engineers at Briastre. The transport of four divisions moving in opposing streams produced a condition similar to that seen about Ypres in 1917, the destruction of the Selle bridges was the cause of the congestion, most noticeable about Briastre.
Divisional headquarters having moved into Solesmes in the afternoon the A.D.M.S. proceeded to reconnoitre an advanced position for the A.D.S. and selected the farm at Vertigneul at present used as a bearer relay. As the result of the fighting about Baudignies, many more wounded came in through the night. The following morning the A.D.S. advanced to Vertigneul where the farm buildings offered only moderate accommodation, the M.D.S. moved up to Solesmes taking over the Brasserie previously occupied by No. 2 Field Ambulance. There was considerable shelling of the divisional area during the day, increasing our casualties, and by 6 p.m. the wounded of the Division admitted was over 200 for the previous 24 hours, or about 300 for the two days. Amongst the wounded there was a high percentage of gas casualties. We had 1 killed and 4 wounded in the N.Z.M.C. owing to heavy shelling of the forward areas during the day. The car post had been advanced to Pont-a-Pierre and the bearer relay close in to Baudignies, but the same congestion of traffic delayed evacuations and the roads were in poor condition. All R.A.P.'s were reported clear by 6.30 p.m.
The days that followed until the end of the month were occupied in semi-trench warfare, a gradual infiltration of the German rearguard positions; the daily casualties not exceeding 40 to 50; there were no concerted operations and no alteration in the medical dispositions. By the 27th the New Zealand outposts had crossed the vital railway to Valenciennes. That, day there were many gas casualties, and so serious was the gas concentration that it became necessary to remove all civilians in the vicinity of Baudignies in our ambulance cars; while we lost a car post, blown up at Pont-a-Pierre, with four casualties to the N.Z.M.C. party there. In order to avoid the shelled area a road page 444to the north had to be used for evacuation of wounded on Caudry where the 59th C.C.S. was established on the 28th. The total casualties brought in to the field ambulances for this period from the 23rd to the end of the month was over 400.
Valenciennes was entered by the Canadians on the 1st of November, but as yet no signs of a German retirement were evident in front of the Third and Fourth armies between the Scheldt and the Sambre. Too much valuable war material was lying just behind the German front now on the point of withdrawing to the Antwerp-Meuse position. The war material they were attempting to salvage but, above all, the 80,000 German wounded in feld lazarets and forward hospitals must be removed to safety. Marshal von Hindenberg tells us that the wounded could not be left behind for the honour of the German Armies; while Ludendorf curiously deplores the loss of his delousing stations, which had to be abandoned. At no point in the advance of the New Zealand Division did we overrun any German field hospitals yet open, the wounded that remained in our hands we gathered in from the field, casualties of the day. Great indeed must have been the energy and determination of the German Sanitats Kompagnien who so faithfully evacuated their wounded, and with very poor transport, from the rapidly crumbling rear guards. In order to hasten and to demoralise the retreat a general advance by the First, Third and Fourth Armies over a 30 mile front from Valenciennes south to Oisy on the Sambre, was ordered for the 4th November; the final operation of the Great War.
The part to be played by the New Zealand Division was to capture Le Quesnoy, clear part of the Mormal Forest, and advance to objectives beyond it on the road to Bavais and Mons. The last battle fought by the New Zealanders in the Great War, the most successful operation of the Division, was graced with a tincture of romantic adventure. Guarding the high road to Bavais and Mons lay, pathetic anachronism, an 18th century fortress, perfect miniature of Vauban's geometric art. The last in the chain of frontier fortresses which barred Marlborough's road to Versailles after Malplaquet and from whose walls the sullen shamefaced British troops were drawn off by secret pact in 1712, while Prince Eugene pursued the siege alone. Those were the spangled days of Pompadour warfare and sieges "according to the art"; and if the battles were few, the slaughter and the sufferings of the wounded were great. Both armies had combined to clear the battlefield of wounded, two days after the costly victory at Malplaquet where 20.000 dead and wounded lay page 445in great part untended; and down the road from Bavais to Quesnoy, some 200 waggons bearing French wounded had streamed, grinding their piteous wheels towards Solesmes. Quesnoy had already suffered many sieges; it stood on Roman highways that led into France from Cologne through the narrow way between the Scheldt and the Sambre; great swamps and primeval forests—of which some islets still remained—had once flanked the way. On the same ground where all the races of Europe had at one time or another struggled throughout the centuries, in the cockpit of Europe, men from the most remote marches of the world, their feet set in the tracks of 1914, were mustering to fight the last battle of the greatest war.
But Quesnoy was not to be attacked; too many defenceless civilians mostly women and children were within the walls. Le Quesnoy, the strong place, was to be denied the last rites, the rubric and ritual of a siege according to the decencies of the art, not battered by a siege train nor approached by sap and parallel but gently veiled in a smoke screen projected from our guns while our brigades brushing swiftly by and joining hands to the eastwards broke through the forest beyond, leaving Vauban's masterpiece in the hands of a mopping up party!
Such in brief were the battle orders of the Division examined at a conference of ambulance commanders in the office of the A.D.M.S. at Solesmes on the 3rd of November. The medical dispositions included the advance of the A.D.S. to Baudignies where it was to open at 8 a.m. on the 4th, and, as the battle line went forward, was to push on about midday to the eastern vicinity of Quesnoy in a locality to be decided upon by reconnaissance in the morning. A car post to be established at the eastern outskirts of Baudignies would serve a bearer relay posted in the sunken road leading to Orsinval near the Fort Martin farm. All the bearers of No. 1 Field Ambulance and all available ambulance waggons were to be placed at the disposal of the commander of the A.D.S. and the usual complement of N.Z.M.C. bearers and runners was to be distributed over night to the R.M.O.'s about to be engaged.
At 5.30 a.m. on a misty morning the 30 mile battle line advanced: the New Zealanders, hidden by the smoke screen and sheltered by their barrage, completed the envelopment of Le Quesnoy, taking many guns and prisoners. By noon the 1st Brigade passing through the 3rd was advancing from Herbingnies but Le Quesnoy, now several thousand yards in rear of our front line, still held out. By 6.30 a.m. walking wounded and stretcher page 446cases carried down by German prisoners were entering the A.D.S. and by 10 a.m. 34 stretcher cases, 138 sitting and 127 walking wounded had been evacuated to the M.D.S. Owing to the unexpected resistance of Quesnoy still spitting fire from its ravelins and bastions the A.D.S. could not, as was hoped, be advanced at midday and owing to the congestion of traffic on the roads the evacuation of wounded was so delayed that at least two and a half hours were spent in transporting the wounded down to Solesmes less than seven miles by road from Baudignies. To add to the transport difficulties the forward roads had been mined here and there by the retreating Germans and large craters had destroyed the road Surfaces. Our patrols were well beyond the appointed objectives by 3 p.m. and at this time all R.A.P.'s were reported clear of wounded.
Le Quesnoy, not to be denied, after the customary summons to the garrison—our trumpet was an aero plane—was ultimately taken by assault and escalade. With ordnance strangely suggestive of the top boots of my Uncle Toby, the fire from the ramparts was beaten down; the covered way was crowned; the outer ditch crossed; the garrison driven from the ravelin. And at 4.30 p.m. impatient riflemen crossing the caponier and the tenaille, gained the foot of the curtain by a stone weir—said to have been erected by a bishop who wanted a carp pond and who evidently cared nothing about the art of fortification. Two officers planted their ladder against the 30 foot curtain, so gaining the ramparts, other riflemen at their heels drove the garrison into the casemates and flung open the Valenciennes gates to our advance. If we except the taking of Ulm which was surprised in 1706 by young personable officers camouflaged as ladies, no such headlong wooing of a fortress is recorded in history: the siege lasted four and a half hours only from the investment to the capture by assault. History repeating itself could again say, as the French had written when they retook Le Quesnoy in 1712, "A warmer siege was never seen."
By 6 p.m. 98 stretcher cases and 193 sitting had been evacuated and 7 mortally wounded had died in the A.D.S. Three German R.M.O.'s and their dressers were now attending to the German wounded, but it was not until 10.30 p.m. that the A.D.S. was clear. Lorries coming up in the evening assisted in removing the last of the German walking wounded. During the 14 hours that had elapsed since zero hour, the total of wounded treated and evacuated was 860, of these, 246 stretcher cases. Close touch had been kept with all R.A.P.'s of the 1st Brigade, now far to page 447the east of Quesnoy in the villages we had captured, where a few delighted civilians gave what help they could. Very few wounded came in during the night and by 9 a.m. on the 5th the A.D.S. had opened at Villerau a mile beyond Quesnoy on the road to Bavais.
At daybreak the 2nd Brigade passing through our outposts worked their way along the northern fringe of the Mormal Forest and by evening had emerged on the eastern limits within a few miles of Bavais. Heavy rain coming on about 9 o'clock clogged the roads for transport and delayed the passage of wounded to the M.D.S. now pushed on to Baudignies. At midday the 3rd Field Ambulance took over the "Hospital Civil et Militaire" in the Rue Thiers in Le Quesnoy. The building had been recently used by the Germans as a military hospital and was found littered with debris and in a very untidy condition. A sister of charity was the only attendant left. The military side of the hospital built in brick was modern and had five good wards of 20 beds each with a well fitted operating theatre. The civilian hospital had several wards and side rooms; the administrative block, out offices, and kitchen, were all of a useful and commodious type. No such ambulance location had ever before fallen into our hands. Wounded came in during the afternoon from our own and other divisions, and later a large batch of German wounded with their medical officers and orderlies were discovered in the casemates of the town ramparts, evidently the regimental medical detachment; in. all 20 German stretcher cases were brought in. The heavy rain prevented the evacuation of the hospital during the night, but comfortable quarters and an abundance of palliasses stuffed with fine shavings, spoils of the victors, aided by the enraptured attentions of the liberated civilian townsfolk, made all snug and comfortable. At 6.30 p.m. command of the sector passed to the 42nd Division and the New Zealand Brigades had orders to withdraw into billets in the neighbourhood of the captured city. By 10 p.m., when Lieut.-Col Murray closed his A.D.S. and opened a temporary M.D.S. for the 42nd Division, he had evacuated for the previous 24 hours: 50 stretcher cases and 79 sitting. The total wounded treated by the ambulances from the 4th to the end of the operations at Le Quesnoy as reported by the A.D.M.S. was: officers, 25; O.R., 436; the total evacuated: 785, including 165 wounded prisoners of war; while the N.Z.M.C. casualties included in the total were 3 wounded, 1 critically. Amongst the wounded was an odd case needing special lines of evacuation: page 448a sergeant of the 3rd Brigade was bitten in the hand by a German messenger dog on the 4th, the faithful hound escaped after his exploit and our damaged sergeant had the pleasure of a trip to Paris, where the Pasteur Institute watched over his convalescence, which was uneventful—the dog clearly was not mad, except in fighting a forlorn hope.
Our last battle had been extraordinarily successful. The Division had advanced seven miles in two days, had captured a fortress and several villages, had taken over 2000 prisoners and many guns; and our losses were very light in proportion to the gains achieved. The 2nd Field Ambulance continued to function as an M.D.S. until early on the 6th, as the 42nd Divisional R.A.M.C. had difficulty in getting up stores owing to the congestion of the roads. Bridges across the Prechettes stream had been destroyed and at one point near Pont Billon it was found necessary to drag one of our light ambulance waggons across a railway bridge as the only practicable route for the returning advanced bearers who came in by 10 a.m. By midday all New Zealand wounded were clear of the 2nd Field Ambulance, only some German wounded in charge of their own medical officers and orderlies remained; these were the last wounded to be admitted and discharged from a New Zealand Field Ambulance. At Le Quesnoy No. 3 Field Ambulance was busily engaged in making ready for any emergencies at the hospital. By orders of the Maire a bevy of women and children all armed with brooms, besoms, and other implements of cleanliness, appeared in the wake of the town crier and fell upon the wards and rooms of the Hospital which Lieut.-Col. Hardie Neil had taken over under very unsatisfactory conditions from the outgoing unit—as he states in his diary. But a detail of 50 German prisoners, presumably the after party, materialised from the divisional cage and in a short while wards and rooms and yards were brought to a condition of passable cleanliness and in this guise were duly handed over to the 3rd Canadian C.C.S. on the 9th.
M. Poincaré visited Le Quesnoy on Sunday, the 10th, when the troops including No. 3 Field Ambulance paraded in the Grande Place and there was martial music and much rejoicing in the old town; and still greater rejoicings on the morrow: for the end of the Great War had come. Sister Divisions of the IVth Corps had pushed on manfully beyond Bavais but the 8th Division of the First Army had beaten them in the race, and reached the goal of long desire: and so the five year battle of the British Armies ended where it began—at Mons.page break page break