Official History of the Otago Regiment, N.Z.E.F. in the Great War 1914-1918
On June 9th preliminary orders were issued for the 4th New Zealand Infantry Brigade to take over the front held by two battalions (Royal North Lancashire troops) of the 57th Division during the night 10th- 11th June, the 4th Brigade to come under the command of the G.O.C. 3rd Australian Division. The 3rd Battalions of Auckland and Canterbury Regiments were to occupy the line from right to left, with the 3rd Battalion of Wellington in support; while the 3rd Battalion of Otago was to find all Corps working parties. The sector to be taken over by the 4th Infantry Brigade on this, the first occasion of its holding a part of the line on the Western Front, extended from the River Lys on the south to Westminster Avenue on the north, and was immediately south of Messines.
On June 12th it was discovered that the enemy had retired from his forward system of trenches along the Brigade front. The line thus vacated was occupied without opposition, and incidentally the trenches were found to be in a much better state of repair than our own. Further slight advances followed; and on the night of June 13th-14th the front occupied by the 4th Brigade was materially shortened as a result of the New Zealand Division extending its sector to the south, and the 2nd and 3rd Brigades taking over the line as far south as the Warnave River. This left page 248 the 4th Brigade holding a front from the Warnave River to the Lys.
In the meantime, the 3rd Battalion of Otago had met all requirements of Corps in the matter of working parties. These were maintained until the 18th, when the relief of parties was commenced and the Battalion concentrated in its area at Bailleul in readiness to move. Camp was struck on the morning of the 19th, and the Battalion set out for Brune Gaye. On the following day company commanders reconnoitred the Le Bizet sector, lying between the Lys and the Warnave, which the Battalion was to occupy in the course of the next few days.
On the night of the 22nd-23rd June the Battalion carried out the ordered relief, and thus entered into possession of front line trenches for the first time. This was in relief of the 3rd Battalion of Wellington, and the change-over was successfully accomplished by 2 a.m. on the 23rd, although the road approaches were under shell fire as the Lewis gun limbers were moving up.
The Le Bizet sector lay to the south of the Bois de Ploegsteert, with Armentieres still further to the south. The main geographical and tactical feature of the sector was the River Lys, which ran practically parallel to the front and separated the German defences from ours. The Lys was from 20 to 30 yards broad, normally six or seven feet deep, and liable to flood on its western bank. To a certain extent its presence modified some of the conditions of trench warfare, and security of our position and complete check of the enemy depended largely on active patrolling. The forward area of the sector was low-lying and in several places water-logged. Across the river, to where the enemy had retired only since the Battle of Messines, were the villages of Frelinghien on the right and Deulemont on the left, both strongly held by the enemy.
On the afternoon of June 26th a small patrol which was operating along the river bank from a point near Frelinghien bridge, was fired upon by the enemy from the opposite side. The n.c.o. in charge of the patrol was severely wounded in the thigh, whereupon Pte. E. Grieve, who accompanied him, proceeded to assist him to a place of safety. He persisted in his task until it was accomplished, although it was necessary to cover a considerable distance, the enemy meanwhile firing heavily on the retreating party. For this worthy action, Pte. Grieve was recommended and awarded the Military Medal.
The Battalion was relieved in the Line on June 30th by the 3rd Battalion of Canterbury, having acquitted itself creditably in the line, and having effected a great deal in the way of trench improvements. By way of familiar rising the Battalion to some extent with general conditions of the line, and in view of the fact that it was to take over a front line sector for the first time, the work carried out immediately prior to and during the Messines operations had certainly proved of great value.
On being relieved the Battalion proceeded to billets at Les Trois Tilleuls, near Pont de Nieppe, and there embarked on a programme of training. At this period enemy night-flying aeroplanes were active and frequently dropped bombs over the billeting area.
On July 16th the Battalion moved up to Brune Gaye, and from there supplied all working parties for the line. On the 24th the Battalion returned to the line; 10th, 8th, and 14th Companies occupying the front system, and 4th Company being in reserve. This was the sector which the Battalion had previously occupied, and it was noticeable that a still further improvement had been effected in the state of the defences.
In order to assist in the operations of the Second Army, which in turn were designed to further the offensive of the Fifth Army set down for July 31st, orders were issued at this stage for the maintenance of increased activity in the page 250 patrolling of No Man's Land, and the display of special interest in the River Lys; also for digging short fire trenches which might suggest the construction of posts to cover a projected crossing of the Lys. All this was given effect to; and as part of the harassing and disturbing programme to which the enemy was subjected, increased artillery fire of a suggestive nature was maintained; while small forward posts, commanding and threatening the bridges over the Lys, were established by the Battalion on our left. Furthermore, at midnight on July 30th, a special company of Royal Engineers carried out a heavy gas projector bombardment of Frelinghien. The enemy gas alarm was sounded, but there was no retaliation, and the actual damage occasioned was not known. By these and other means the threatened area of attack in what was known as the Third Battle of Ypres was increased.
On August 1st the Battalion was relieved in the line and returned to billets. Owing to the bad weather conditions and the discomfort of the billets, improved accommodation had to be sought at Pont de Nieppe. The Battalion returned to the line on August 9th. The weather, previously unsettled, had now improved, and there was a corresponding increase in artillery activity on both sides. Our back areas shared in these attentions pf the enemy, and as a consequence the Divisional baths at Pont de Nieppe were forced to close and many of the civilians found it desirable to leave the area. During the course of the shelling of the front line the enemy discharged a number of mustard-gas shells over the centre company's sector, presumably by way of retaliation for a light trench mortar bombardment of his machine gun positions in Frelinghien on the previous evening.
On August 16th the artillery in immediate support fired 5,000 rounds, mainly gas shells, in connection with operations being conducted further north, the enemy retaliating on our lines with heavier shelling than usual. On the 17th the Battalion was relieved and went back to billets for the periodical rest. A good deal of constructive work had been accomplished during the tour; while the increase in artillery activity was exemplified by the fact that the casualties amounted to four killed and 10 wounded. At this stage the civilian population was ordered to leave Pont de Nieppe owing to the continued enemy shelling.page 251
A warning order was now issued that at an early date the 4th Brigade would be relieved entirely in the sector then occupied; but the projected move was subsequently postponed, and a week later the Battalion was again in the line. On this occasion portion of the sector on the left was taken over by the 3rd Battalion of Canterbury Regiment, and the reduced frontage was held by 4th and 8th Companies, with 10th Company in support, and 14th Company in reserve. The continuance of fine weather led to considerable aerial activity over the forward and rear zones. The relief of the New Zealand Division along this front was carried out on August 27th by the 8th Division, but the 4th Infantry Brigade remained in the line and temporarily came under the command of the latter Division. On the closing day of the month the Battalion was relieved by troops of the 2nd Middlesex Regiment, and moved back to hutments and tents at Canteen Corner.
On September 1st the Battalion transport left Nieppe by road for the new Brigade area at Henneveux, and on the following day companies entrained at Steenwerck, and proceeded to Wizernes, detraining there and continuing the journey by road and motor-lorries to the Surques area. On the following day a move was made to Cremarest, where the Battalion finally settled down in billets, the transport arriving the same evening after a trek of three days. The Battalion was now committed to a complete course of training, the value of which was enhanced by the peaceful nature of the surroundings. The weather was he and warm, and training was continued without interruption. Particular attention was paid to attack practice in view of pending operations. There was an inspection by General Sir A. H. Russell, who was accompanied by Sir Thomas Mackenzie. The period of training, which was valuable in both a military and physical sense, terminated with a Brigade practice attack in the presence of General Godley.
On September 25th the Battalion set out for the Lumbres area. The Eecke area was reached two days later, and from this point a party of officers made a reconnaissance of the line east of Ypres. The Battalion had covered a considerable distance by road, and while the comparative ease with which the march was accomplished, notwithstanding the warmth page 252 of the weather, proved the effectiveness of training operations, the two days rest which followed were greatly appreciated. The march was continued to a point two miles west of Poperinghe, where the Battalion entered Forth Camp.
Orders were now received to move to the Ypres North area and the old British and German front line systems, Saint Jean sector. Less transport and cookers, Companies moved out at noon on October 1st, travelling by road and then by 'bus to Vlamertinghe, thence winding slowly in the evening light through the desolation of stricken Ypres, and finally reaching and bivouacking over the appointed area.