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Official History of the Otago Regiment, N.Z.E.F. in the Great War 1914-1918

An Incident with Consequences

An Incident with Consequences.

In the ordinary course of events the 1st Battalion of Otago would have relieved the 1st Battalion of Auckland Regiment on the night of the 3rd-4th July, but fearing that the enemy might have received information from the deserter previously referred to, the relief was at the eleventh hour postponed for a period of 24 hours. By that precaution Otago certainly escaped the disaster which overtook Auckland. At dusk, which was the usual time of effecting reliefs, a whirlwind bombardment suddenly burst over the front and support trench systems of Localities 74, 75, and 76, garrisoned by troops of the 1st Battalion of Auckland. The bombardment was continued with great intensity, so much so that it was considered that an enemy attack was about to be launched against the garrison of L'Epinette. Two platoons of 8th (Southland) Company, under Lieut. R. R. Gow, were accordingly despatched to the front line, and proceeded overland in order to relieve the assumed pressure on Auckland. On nearing the support line they were forced to pass through heavy shelling, and several casualties were sustained, but on arrival at the front line it was found that their services were not required. The party thereupon returned to the reserve line.

The following morning at daylight three working parties were despatched from the Battalion to the front line to assist in clearing the wreckage. An extraordinary scene of destruction presented itself. The unfortunate Auckland page 101 garrison had sustained 150 casualties, many of them buried alive in the fire-bays, and these the working parties had to assist in digging out. Had the intended relief not been cancelled, Otago must have shared a corresponding fate. When the Battalion took over the line from Auckland Regiment on the night of the 4th-5th, the parapet was found to be practically flattened out; there was no evidence of wire in front, no bivouacs remained undamaged, and a travel trench extending from right to left of the sector had to be dug during the hours of darkness. The communication trenches, Plank Avenue and Second House Avenue, the former hitherto presumably unknown lo the enemy, were damaged beyond description, and on every side was evidence of the fury and extraordinary destructiveness of the enemy's bombardment.

Thus, by a postponement of the date of relief, the 1st Battalion of the Regiment had escaped the disaster which befell Auckland, but strangely enough, the tour now commenced was destined to be marked by an event even more calamitous in its consequences.