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

Fontaine and Viesly

Fontaine and Viesly.

Orders were issued for a resumption of the attack by the New Zealand Division, in conjunction with the 37th Division on the right and the Guards Division on the left. The 2nd and 3rd Brigades of the New Zealand Division were still in the line; the two Battalions of the 2nd Brigade appointed to carry out the attack on the 9th being the 2nd Battalion of Otago on the right and the 1st Battalion of Canterbury on the left. The former unit was to pass through the 1st Battalion of the Regiment and attack up the valley towards Caudry behind a creeping artillery barrage starting from the eastern side of Esnes. The final objective laid down for the 2nd Battalion was the sunken road connecting with the Cambrai - Le Cateau railway, with exploitation of success towards Fontaine - au - Pire. The Battalion moved into position of assembly over-night. The leading Companies were 4th and 8th, with 10th Company in support, and 14th Company in reserve.

At zero hour, 5.20 a.m. on October 9th, the attacking troops, now facing a direction more northerly than easterly, moved forward without opposition, either from enemy infantry or artillery. It soon became evident that the Germans had effected a deliberate withdrawal during the night. The factory on the Esnes-Haucourt Road was reached and found to be deserted, and our troops pushed on as fast as our artillery barrage would allow them. The first objective, the sunken road north-east of Haucourt, was gained and passed; but from this stage onwards the barrage became ragged and indefinite, and the left flank was for some time held up by it. When the second objective had been passed, the barrage was stopped by orders. The Battalion now halted for a few minutes, and after reorganising and attending to the inner man, the leading Companies sent forward patrols, and deploying, followed them. The immediate objective was the high ground north of the railway and south-west of Fontaine. The patrols quickly reached this point, and on continuing their advance over the crest regained touch with the enemy, page 360 being heavily fired upon from the direction of Fontaine and Caudry. One patrol held on to its position on the forward slopes of the crest until about 4.30 p.m., when it was deemed expedient to withdraw to the reverse side, the patrol having served its purpose.

In the evening Lieut.-Colonel Hargest established his headquarters in a house alongside the railway line, and due south of Fontaine. It was at this point that 2nd-Lieut G. Cuthbertson, M.M., and Sergt. W. Morrow, M.M., were killed by shell fire. During the night the enemy fire died down, and at midnight a patrol under 2nd-Lieut. A. E. Inkster pushed forward and entered Fontaine, and also Caudry, in both of which places there were large numbers of civilians, but no evidence of the enemy. Earlier in the day a patrol of 3rd Hussars had endeavoured to enter Fontaine, but as was the case with the infantry patrols at that stage, was forced back by machine gun fire.

On the left of the day's advance, the 1st Battalion of Canterbury had met with corresponding absence of opposition, and by the afternoon its patrols were established on the road half a mile beyond and parallel to the railway line, where machine gun fire prevented further advance for the time being. Later, patrols entered Fontaine; but further advance was checked by machine gun fire from the large factory on the western outskirts of Beauvois-en-Cambresis. Similarly, to the left again, troops of the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade were retarded in the early stages of the advance only by the pace of our artillery barrage, and did not encounter opposition until they had reached the high ground west of Fontaine.

In view of the altered situation consequent upon the enemy withdrawal, orders were issued during the morning that the 2nd Infantry Brigade, plus one battalion of the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade operating on the left, and one squadron of the 3rd Hussars, would become the advance guard of the New Zealand Division. During the same night the Rifle Brigade troops were withdrawn, the 2nd Infantry Brigade thereupon taking over the whole of the Divisional front; the 2nd Battalion of Otago and the 1st Battalion of Canterbury being called upon to extend their frontages.

Plans had now been prepared for an advance in the dark. The 10th and 14th Companies of the 2nd Battalion of Otago, page break
The 2nd Battalion of the Regiment Reviewed by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales.N.Z. Official Photograph.

The 2nd Battalion of the Regiment Reviewed by H.R.H. the Prince of Wales.
N.Z. Official Photograph.

page 361 passing through the leading troops, moved over the crest, their first objective being the Cambrai-Le Cateau Road from north-west of Caudry on the right to north-east of Beauvois on the left. This represented a distance of approximately two miles from the starting point. Canterbury moved in unison on the left. Fontaine and Beauvois were both clear of the enemy, who had apparently effected a further retirement. Without opposition, excepting for desultory shelling of Beauvois, Otago's advance was continued in a northeasterly direction on a two-company frontage, with the leading platoons covered by patrols. The Carnbrai-Le Cateau Road was reached without incident at 5.40 a.m., while it was still dark. As there was yet no appearance of the flanking troops, the Battalion remained in this position until 9.30 am., when Canterbury having also gained the line of the road the advance was resumed and continued through La Guisette Farm on the right and Aulicourt Farm on the left. On reaching the road between these two points, the leading troops were fired upon by machine guns and rifles from the direction of Quievy, to the north-east, and from the trench system to the south of it. Four Vickers guns were brought up to open covering fire, enabling the advance to be continued down the valley and on to the ridge north of Bethencourt. At this juncture troops of the 1st Battalion of the Regiment passed through the 2nd Battalion, and a line was formed running north from Bethencourt.

Up to this stage the 1st Battalion had been keeping pace in rear with the general movement. On the 9th it advanced as far as the sunken road south of Haucourt. On the morning of the 10th the Battalion pushed on to the north-east, skirting Fontaine-au-Pire, Beauvois-en-Cambresis, and Jeune Bois, and then over the high ground between Guisette Farm and Aulicourt Farm. By 10.30 a.m., as previously indicated, the leading Companies had passed through the line held by the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment.

The 1st Battalion was now to carry on the advance. To the north a party of the enemy, about 30 in number, could be observed carrying out a retirement. On the right, 10th Company advanced along the north-western side of Bethencourt and Clermont Wood and over the high ground towards Visely. Enemy artillery, firing from the direction of Solesmes, page 362 was now shelling the valley north of Clermont Wood. Our patrols enterd the village of Viesly and encountered opposition in the locality of the Cemetery. On the left., 10th Company experienced machine gun fire from the direction of Quievy and from Fontaine-au-Tertre Farm. The left flank now became rather dangerously exposed; and to meet this situation, Lieut.-Colonel Charters moved 4th Company into position there, strengthening the flank still further by covering it with Vickers guns and the mobile section of Field Artillery at his disposal. The 14th Company gained the high ground to the north of Viesly; the consolidated line then extending across the eastern side of that village, through the sandpit on the northern outskirts, and thence in a north-westerly direction for a distance of 500 yards. The right flank also demanded attention, and to definitely secure it from attack 8th Company was moved into position there. The general line, gained after an exceedingly rapid advance, was thus firmly established.

At 3 p.m. the 2nd Battalion of Canterbury, which had experienced some delay owing to enemy strength in Fontaine-au-Tertre Farm, and the less rapid progress of the left flank Division, reached a line more approximating to that held by Otago. At 5 p.m. advice was received that the 37th Division would endeavour to reach the high ground northcast of Neuvilly, and in order to afford protection to the left flank of this operation our line was advanced, without opposition, a distance of about 750 yards in the direction of Briastre; 8th and 4th Companies again covering the right and left flanks respectively. Among the day's casualties, increased slightly by enemy shelling of Viely, was Captain J. N. Hines, M.C. (commanding 10th Company), who was wounded by shell fire.

A feature of the advances now being made from day to day over the open country was the effective co-operation of a mobile section of the New Zealand Field Artillery, which kept pace with the utmost limits of the advance, and time and again, firing over open sights, dealt with enemy rearguard pockets, and generally afforded the infantry splendid support.

During the night of the 10th the 2nd Infantry Brigade was relieved in the line by the 1st Infantry Brigade. The page 363 Regiment thereupon moved back over the newly won ground to Beauvois, where, in splendid billets, acquaintance was renewed with such luxuries as sheets and feather mattresses. The Regiment remained there for several days under conditions which included good living and undisturbed rest.

On October 14th H.R.H. the Prince of Wales visited Beauvois and inspected the Regiment. A few days later General Sir A. J. Godley was in the area, and took advantage of the occasion to present medals to non-commissioned officers and men who had won distinction during the operations just concluded.

On the 17th the Officers of the 1st Battalion entertained the 2nd Battalion Officers at dinner and a convivial evening; this being the first occasion on which practically the whole of the Officers of the Regiment had been brought together under such pleasant circumstances.

During the period in reserve a large number of reinforcements arrived, and with the military and recreational training carried out daily the Regiment gained considerably in strength and efficiency.

A brief survey of events subsequent to the Regiment passing into reserve on October 10th will indicate the situation across the Divisional front when the Regiment's tour in reserve terminated. On taking over the line on October 10th, the 1st Infantry Brigade was ordered to secure the crossings of the River Selle which ran immediately east of Briastre, establish the line of the Solesmes-Le Cateau railway 600 yards still further to the east, and finally exploit success to the ridge south-east of Solesmes. Reconnoitring patrols were accordingly pushed forward, and moved on to the defined objectives practically unopposed. Briastre, in which there were 172 French civilians, all of whom effusively demonstrated their joy on relief, was occupied and the line of the Selle River reached. Small parties of the enemy were observed on the eastern bank of the river; and at an early hour two companies of infantry effected a crossing by means of a bridge thrown across by the Divisional Engineers, but came under heavy machine gun fire on endeavouring to work along the bank. There was considerable enemy shelling over the forward area during the day, to which our heavy artillery page 364 effectively replied; at the same time dealing with hostile concentrations. The situation was unchanged over the 11th. At 5 a.m. the 1st Brigade attacked in conjunction with troops of the 37th Division on the right. Strong resistance was experienced from enemy strongholds adjoining the road east of the Selle; and though all available artillery was concentrated on these pints the effort proved singularly ineffective. Abut 3 p.m. the enemy heavily counterattacked the 37th Division and drove it from the high ground. One result of this development was that the 1st Brigade was forced to withdraw to the line from which it had jumped off in the morning. A further attack on our part was ordered for 6 p.m. the same day. Preceded by about two hous' artillery bombardment directed an Belie Vue and the copse just north of it, the assault was successfully driven home. At 10 p.m. the line was reported as along the Solesmes-Le Catem railway east of Briastre, where touch was gained with the 37th Division, thence north to Belle Vue and copse, northwest to the River Selle, and along the west bank to a point on the south-western outskirts of Solesmes, where the Guards Division joined up. During the same night the New Zealand Division was relieved by the 42nd Division.