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

A Final Effort

A Final Effort.

At seven o'clock on the morning of October 1st a heavy preliminary bombardment of the enemy's defences over the Corps front was commenced. Zero hour was fixed for 3.15 p.m., and in order to deceive the enemy it was decided that at zero hour an additional and intense bombardment should be put down over his lines on a part of the front on which no attack was to be launched.

The 2nd Battalion of the Regiment assembled in Goose Alley for the attack, and under cover of an artillery barrage extending over a line parallel thereto, moved forward at zero hour to the assault in four waves, each perfect in line and interval, and with rifles at the slope. Almost immediately, 4th Company on the right, together with portion of 8th Company, came under heavy machine gun fire from the direction of Gird Trench. The 10th and 14th Companies on the left were at this stage advancing across a depression which afforded comparative cover, and thus escaped the page 135 gruelling fire which confronted the right companies. The 4th and 8th Companies had moreover a difficult manoeuvre to execute. After advancing for a distance of about 200 yards to their front it was necessary to incline to the right and then eventually to change direction to that quarter; and despite the heavy fire encountered the movement was effectively carried out.

As the last Otago company went forward two companies of Wellington Battalion moved up Goose Alley and then forward in two waves in rear of and in support to Otago. Advancing to the crest of the ridge after changing direction, 4th and 8th Companies were seriously depleted in strength under the blasts of machine gun fire which swept their ranks. Every officer was a casualty, and non-commissioned officers and men were heavily hit. But with unfailing determination they pressed on, successfully reaching their objective and passing some distance beyond it. The terrific nature of our artillery barrage had so completely destroyed the enemy trench line that the objective was not recognisable; and soon afterwards the remnant of the attacking force were required to withdraw from under the line of our stationary barrage to what constituted the laid down objective, and there dug in with the supporting Wellington troops. In the meantime the two left companies of Otago, with equal determination, had pushed forward and past the Circus and established themselves along the road about 300 yards in advance of it, and there gained touch with the 19th London Regiment. It was near the Circus that Sergt. Donald Forrester Brown, of 10th (North Otago) Company, attacked and killed single-handed five enemy machine gunners and put the gun out of action. For his extraordinary courage and daring, and his equally worthy performance in the first attack on September 15th in rushing and knocking out enemy machine guns which were holding up the advance, this very gallant fellow was awarded the Victoria Cross. His death in action at a subsequent period of operations extinguished an heroic spirit and deprived the Regiment of a splendid soldier. Closely and actively associated with Sergt. Brown, and contributing to the success gained in the Battalion's opening attack, was Sergt. J. Rodgers, a soldier possesssing great courage and determination and equal to every emergency.

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The 10th and 14th Companies had fared badly in the matter of losses. The first real opposition encountered was from a trench south of the Circus, where the enemy was finally either shot down or ran away. Touch had now been lost with 8th Company owing to the gaps created in its ranks and the dense smoke of battle which obscured the outlook. Furthermore, the extent to which the enemy trenches had been smashed by our artillery fire made it a difficult matter to determine the actual objective. The Circus was naturally thought to be a well defined point, but from a defensive point of view it had ceased to exist, and the men of Otago, together with those of the Wellington Company who had come up in support, pushed on to the ridge about 300 yards ahead and established themselves on what was certainly a very strong position, this step being taken as the result of a decision arrived at by the officers on the spot after a careful reconnaissance. Orders were subsequently received, however, to bring the flank back to the Circus in order to conform to the general line; and at 10 p.m. Captain W. G. A. Bishop, M.C., succeeded in getting into touch with our right Companies and Wellington troops, and before daylight the whole position was consolidated and made secure by punctuating the front with strong-points and the aid of machine guns. The entire attack had been splendidly carried out under galling fire and consequent severe losses, its success being entirely due to the dash of the assaulting troops under conditions of a most exacting nature. The artillery's part in the attack was certainly gruelling work for the men behind the guns; but even in spite of their devastating fire the enemy showed surprising quickness in getting his machine guns into action once the barrage had lifted. A very considerable number of the enemy were killed, and the prisoners taken totalled 200. Otago entered the attack with a strength of 19 officers and 314 other ranks; and the casualties sustained in the operation and while holding the line on October 2nd amounted to four officers and 33 other ranks killed, six officers and 93 other ranks wounded, 49 other ranks being recorded as missing; making a total of 10 officers and 175 other ranks.

On the right of Otago the 2nd Battalion of Canterbury sustained heavy casualties from rifle and machine gun fire while advancing across the open. On approaching the page break
Sergt. Donald Forrester Brown, V.C.(Killed in Action).

Sergt. Donald Forrester Brown, V.C.
(Killed in Action).

page break
Lieut.-.ColonelG. S. Smith, C.M.G., D.S.O., (d.)

Lieut.-.ColonelG. S. Smith, C.M.G., D.S.O., (d.)

page 137 enemy's trenches they were also subjected to heavy fire; and severe fighting took place before they finally drove the enemy out and established themselves on the line of their objective. One minute before the attack was launched 36 oil mortars were discharged against the enemy from the front occupied by Canterbury, and 30 of these projectiles were observed to burst in Gird Support 400 yards away, covering the front with dense smoke and flame. When the trench was captured several groups, one of 20 and one of 15, of enemy dead were found badly scorched and charred by the oil flames. Some of the prisoners, as might have been expected, complained bitterly of the use of burning oil, and told of the terror excited by the fear of being caught by the flames. On the left of Otago men of the 19th London Regiment connected up at 5.30 p.m., but actually they were cut off from their own Division, the 47th, north of Eaucourt L'Abbaye; and arrangements had to be made by the New Zealand Division for the temporary feeding of 80 men. The day of October 2nd, when Otago continued in line, was characterised by persistent and heavy shelling over a wide area. On October 1st an attack was launched against Eaucourt L'Abbaye and the enemy defences east of it, and by the evening of the 3rd the whole of the village had been wrested from the enemy.

At two o'clock on the morning of October 3rd the 2nd Battalion of Otago was relieved by the 1st Battalion of the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade. Darkness, the heavy rain, the appalling mud and the distance to be covered, made the relief operation a most trying one, and save for the hot meal which was issued on getting back, Carlton Trench offered little more in the way of comfort than any other part of the battle-field; most of the men being destitute of ground-sheets or great coats. During the day the Battalion trekked down to Fricourt, six miles away, and there rested until 3 p.m. on October 6th.

In the meantime the 1st Battalion had moved up on the 2nd from Mametz Wood to Switch and neighbouring trenches in relief of the 4th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade as support Battalion. The holding of this position was quite a brief affair, for on the following day the Battalion was relieved by troops of the 124th Brigade of the 41st Division and went back through the ooze and mud to Pommiers Redoubt, where it bivouacked over the succeeding three days.