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

A Bitter Experience

A Bitter Experience.

The attack for the 27th, to which the 1st Infantry Brigade was committed, was timed to commence at 2.15 p.m., and at 7 a.m. the preliminary bombardment opened. The 1st Battalion of Otago was again on the left of the attack, and when the barrage came down deployed in the following order: 14th Company on the right; 4th Company on the left; 8th Company in support; and 10th Company moving north along the line of Goose Alley on the left of the attack.

Punctually to time and in good order the Battalion advanced to the attack, and with only a moderate number of casualties crossed the line of Factory Corner-Eaucourt L'Abbaye Road, From this stage the ground fell away abruptly and the attacking troops almost immediately came under a withering blast of fire from enemy rifles and machine guns posted along Gird Trench and Gird Support. The two leading Companies, 14th and 4th, valiantly endeavoured to press on against this hail of fire; but it was only a question of distance when they were literally swept away by it. Every officer and almost every man became a casualty. The 8th Company, following in rear, now advanced into the breach. With equal gallantry the endeavour to reach Gird Trench was renewed, only to find that the protecting wire in the low lying ground was uncut. Here the attack withered away, and the few survivors, the remnant of three shattered Companies, took refuge in the shell-holes. A few of our men, joining up with the 1st Battalion of Auckland on the right, had succeeded in reaching Gird Trench.

In the meantime, 10th Company, advancing up Goose Alley on the left of the attack, found this enemy trench almost obliterated, an example of our artillery's incessant pounding. Posts were established at intervals of about 150 yards in order to form the left flank of the Division. On crossing the road, Goose Alley was found to be so utterly wrecked by shell fire that it practically ceased to exist. The required strength page 132 for a post pushed down the forward slope overlooking Gird Trench and there dug in.

It was now realised by Captain Hargest, commanding 10th Company, that the frontal attacking Companies had failed to gain their objectives; had in fact been practically destroyed; and as there were no officers it was decided to dig in on the line gained. Assuming command of the remnant of the four Companies, for 10th Company had also suffered heavily, Captain Hargest established a line which extended across to the right, thus forming a junction with Auckland, whose left Company had also received very severe punishment and had been equally unable to reach its objective. When darkness came down the line was further consolidated; sergeants were placed in command of the various posts; all the wounded that could be collected were brought into Goose Alley, and as many of the dead as possible were buried. Owing to the high total of losses in killed and wounded this was a bad day for the 1st Battalion. About one o'clock on the following morning a company of Wellington Battalion, together with a section of the 1st Trench Mortar Battery, came up and assisted to strengthen the position.

A further attack was contemplated with the object of capturing portion of the Gird system to right and left of Goose Alley, as well as an extension of Goose Alley itself. The attack, timed for 3 a.m. on the 28th, was to be carried out by Wellington troops, with the assistance of a tank, with the 55th Division on our right co-operating. On their way up to position of assembly so large a percentage of the troops intended for the operation was cut off by heavy artillery fire that when daylight broke it was decided not to persist in the attack. A reconnaissance subsequently made of the area covered by the junctions of Gird Trench and Gird Support with Goose Alley disclosed the fact that it was actually at the bottom of what might be described as a saucer, and practically untenable in itself. At a later hour a successful attack by troops of the New Zealand Division gave us possession of Gird Trench, Gird Support, and Goose Alley extending to the lip of the saucer, a distance of about 100 yards, and under cover of darkness the three trenches were junctioned.

The 1st Battalion's attack against the Gird system of page 133 trenches and along Goose Alley on September 27th unquestionably represented the Regiment's most bitter and costly experience on the Somme. When the Battalion marched out of the line on the night of the 28th it was reduced to a strength of 113, which was considerably below that of a company. The fire encountered by the leading companies almost immediately after crossing the line of the Factory Corner-Eaucourt L'Abbaye Road was of a nature such as only those who had gallantly, though vainly, endeavoured to struggle through it could realise; and the line which the attack reached was only gained because of the extraordinary spirit of self-sacrifice of officers and men in face of overwhelming odds; Gird Trench, and Gird Support in particular having been densely packed with an enemy liberally supplied with machine guns. The problem presented by having to handle such a number of wounded called for the greatest exertions of the stretcher parties, who worked unceasingly throughout the night under almost insuperable difficulties of mud and distance. Many of the wounded succeeded in staggering back unaided, but there were others who were so sorely wounded as to be beyond the aid of the bearers when their turn came.

The 2nd Infantry Brigade took over the line on the night of the 28th, and it fell to the lot of the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment, then resting south of the Longueval-Bazentin Road, to relieve the 1st Battalion. The relief was apparently discovered by the enemy as it was being effected, and it was only the proximity of cover afforded by Goose Alley that saved the Battalion from the artillery fire that followed. During the night a communication trench was constructed in order to improve the junction with the 2nd Battalion of Auckland on the right. On the left we were in touch with the 2nd Battalion of the Rifle Brigade.

On the 29th the 1st Battalion of Otago had moved over to Mametz Wood, and was there afforded the rest so sorely needed.

The enemy, now obviously out of temper at being compelled to give ground at so many points, viciously shelled the locality of Goose Alley throughout the day following the inter-change of Battalions, and machine gun and sniping fire added to our casualties. This was maintained over the 30th, page 134 indicating on the part of the enemy a state of increasing nervousness and fear of further attacks. And, indeed, he had good grounds for alarm, for an attack, in which the New-Zealand Division was concerned, had already been planned for Sunday, October 1st. This operation was directed towards sweeping the enemy out of his positions in the Gird system in the neighbourhood of Goose Alley, and attacking and capturing a line of trenches over a front of approximately 1,000 yards westward to a point known as the Circus. The 47th Division (of the III. Corps) on our immediate left, was co-operating, with Eaucourt L'Abbaye as its main objective. The New Zealand Divisional task was allotted to the 2nd Infantry Brigade, to which two Battalions of the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade were attached for the purposes of the attack. The Brigade was also responsible for the left flank, and for a communication trench running from the Circus south to the L'Abbaye Road. In the further allotment of tasks Otago and Canterbury were selected as the two assaulting Battalions, while Wellington Battalion was detailed to follow Otago as an immediate support; Auckland meantime holding our front line in Gird Trench on the extreme right of the attacking Battalions.