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

Polderhoek Chateau

Polderhoek Chateau.

From the tragic area of Bellevue the Regiment moved back on the night of October 14th into Divisional support. The 1st Battalion took up a position on the line Delva Farm-Schuler Farm, south of the Gravenstafel Road, with headquarters at Pommern Castle. The 2nd Battalion was established on the same line, but north of the Gravenstafel Road and with headquarters at Corn Hill. As long as the Regiment remained there, it was to be in readiness to move forward at half an hour's notice to the line Berlin-Calgary Grange, with the 1st Battalion south of the Gravenstafel Road and the 2nd Battalion north of it. This provision was in view of the 4th Brigade being compelled to move its supporting battalions to repel counter-attacks, in which event Otago would become responsible for the defence of the Abraham Heights. But there were no counter-attacks to contend with, and on the 15th the Regiment secured some respite. On the following day it was relieved by the 1st Battalions of Wellington and Auckland Regiments, and thereupon marched back to camp quarters near Saint Jean. The Regiment remained at this pint until the 20th, and was rested, reorganised, and refitted.

On October 17th Lieut.-Colonel G. S. Smith, C.M.G., D.S.O., commanding the 2nd Battalion of Otago, proceeded to La Motte, and thereafter to the United Kingdom on duty, which, in accordance with the practice then recently introduced, afforded the complete change which a continuous and exacting period as commander of a front fine Battalion demanded. By this departure for England, Lieut.-Colonel Smith, it so eventuated, was, for reasons of health, to definitely terminate his service with the Otago Regiment in the Field, dating from the commencement of the Gallipoli Campaign, during the course of which he shared with ability and distinction in many page 230 of the major operations with which the Regiment was vitally concerned. Command of the 2nd Battalion was now taken over by Major J. McCrae.

During the early morning of October 21st the Regiment moved out of camp at Saint Jean, and entrained at the Ypres railway siding. On reaching Wizernes, the 1st Battalion proceeded by motor-lorries to Harlettes, and the 2nd Battalion by road to Affringnes and billets. On the 23rd the 2nd Battalion marched to the Selles area.

On November 1st Lieut.-Colonel Charters assumed temporary command of the 2nd New Zealand Infantry Brigade, and on the 12th presented medal ribands to those officers and other ranks whose gallantry during the Passchendaele operations had been recognised in the conferring of Awards. The 1st Battalion was now under the command of Major W. F. Tracy, M.C.

Following upon the issue of orders for a return to the Ypres area, the Regiment moved on November 13th. On reaching the Chateau Segard area, the 1st Battalion proceeded to Brewery Camp, and the 2nd Battalion to Cafe Belge Camp.

On November 23rd the Staff of the 2nd Infantry Brigade had proceeded to Zillebeke, and from there to the Headquarters of the 118th Brigade at Stirling Castle, where arrangements were made for temporarily; taking over from that unit the front line of the sector extending from the Reutelbeek on the north to the Scherriabeek in the south, and fronting Polderhoek Chateau. The new sector was immediately south of the Reutel and Noordemdhoek sectors and, incidentally, about four miles south of Passchendaele. On the night of the 14th-15th the New Zealand Division had relieved the 21st Division in its holding of the line from the Reutelbeek in the south to Noordemdhoek in the north, the Otago Regiment, as part of the 2nd Brigade, being then in Divisional reserve at Chateau Segard. On the night of the 25th-26th; as previously indicated, the Division entered into possession of the sector immediately to the right, the 2nd Battalion of Canterbury occupying the front line.

Preparations ware now being advanced for launching an attack by troops of the 2nd New Zealand Infantry Brigade against the enemy stronghold known as Polderhoek Chateau, standing on the high ground overlooking our line and page 231 situated at a pint about 1,000 yards north of Gheluvelt, which was also within the enemy's lines.

Following upon the attempt against the Passchendaele Ridge on October 12th, arrangements were made for continuing operations, though of a more limited nature, over the same area. On October 25th Canadian and English troops attacked on a front extending from the Ypres-Roulers Railway in the south to a pint beyond Poelcappelle in the north. On the right, the Canadians attacked on both sides of the Ravebeek, which included the area of the enemy defences with which the Regiment was concerned on October 12th. The defences of Bellevue Spur had over the intervening period been subjected to the concentrated fire of heavy artillery, but even with this preparation still presented a formidable obstacle to success, and it was only after a second attack had been delivered in the afternoon that the enemy's resistance was beaten down. In a subsidiary attack launched at the same time to the south Polderhoek Chateau was captured, only to be wrested back by the enemy the same day.

On November 25th the 1st Battalion of the Regiment marched out of Brewery Camp, and proceeded to Walker Camp, south-east of Ypres. The projected attack against Polderhoek Chateau was to be delivered by the 1st Battalions of Otago and Canterbury. This made it necessary that they should train in conjunction, and on November 30th a combined practice attack was delivered over ground which was a facsimile of the real objective. Meanwhile our heavy artillery was actively engaged pounding the defences of Gheluvelt; while 18-pounders and 4.5in. howitzers concentrated on Polderhoek Chateau; but it was noticeable that many of the shells fell short. A practice barrage over the area of the Chateau and vicinity, in which short shooting was again reported, drew heavy retaliation. There was further considerable artillery activity on the 29th. A second practice barrage was carried out on the 30th, and on this occasion many direct hits were registered on the Chateau buildings, Towards the close, however, the shooting deteriorated in accuracy, and a number of shells fell so far short of the mark as to cause casualties in our own lines. During the period over which this concentrated artillery fire was being maintained, every effort was made by the troops in line to prevent the enemy repairing damage done to his wire.

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Operation Orders for the attack on Polderhoek Chateau and grounds were issued on December 1st. The assault was to be delivered on December 3rd with two Battalions of the 2nd Infantry Brigade in line, namely, the 1st Battalion of Otago on the left, and the 1st Battalion of Canterbury on the right. The number to be thrown into the attack by each Battalion was two officers and 100 other ranks per Company. The Brigade boundaries were approximately defined by the Reutelbeek on the north, and the Scherriabeek on the south. The first objective, the Red Dotted Line, was represented by a line running north and south immediately to the east of the Chateau. The second or final objective, the Red Tine, was at its deepest point 200 yards ahead, and aimed at encircling the whole of the grounds and ruins and at the same time covering the southern and south-eastern flanks. Each Battalion was to attack in depth, two companies being in the front line, one in support for dealing with any counter-attack that might develop, and one in reserve. The front he companies were to attack in two waves, with an interval of depth of 50 yards between each wave. The first wave was committed to the task of capturing and clearing the enemy's trenches and block-houses as far as the Red Dotted Line inclusive, on which it was to consolidate. There was then to be a pause of ten minutes in the advance of the barrage, after which the second wave was to pass through the first wave, clear the Chateau grounds between the two objectives, and finally establish and consolidate the Red Line. The assaulting troops were to be dressed in the lightest fighting order.

In addition to the artillery barrage which was to support the attack, arrangements were made for the operation to be covered by a barrage of machine gun fire, by trench mortars, including the 6in. Newtons, which were used for the first: time, and by a discharge of gas by 4in. Stokes mortars. At the same time Becelaere and Gheluvelt were to be kept under the fire of heavy artillery and machine guns. In the light of recent events, every precaution was adopted to ensure adequate stretcher-bearing and first-aid arrangements. In this connection the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment, in Brigade reserve near Ypres, was to have 400 men in readiness to he sent forward as stretcher-bearers if called upon.

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The two leading Companies of the 1st Battalion of the Regiment selected for the assault were the 10th (commanded by Captain C. Bryce) on the right, and the 4th (commanded by Captain J. N. Hines) on the left. The 8th Company (commanded by Lieut. D. McAuley) was to be in support, and the 14th (commanded by Captain J. P. Hewat) in reserve.

The troops of Otago and Canterbury Battalions who were to lead in the attack moved up and took over the front line system west of Polderhoek Chateau on the evening of December 1st, and relieved the garrison of the 2nd Battalion of Canterbury, who on their first occupation of the front a few days previously had found that considerable constructive work was required as a preliminary to assembly and attack. On the evening of December 2nd the support and reserve Companies of Otago and Canterbury Battalions were moved up, and the front line temporarily taken over with the object of moving the assaulting Companies into and familiarising them with their assembly positions. By daylight on December 3rd all troops had been withdrawn to their positions of assembly, with the exception of Lewis gunners and snipers of the counterattacking Companies, who were left in the forward trenches with instructions to fire freely on all enemy movement in order to maintain a normal atmosphere. These elements were gradually withdrawn, and by 11.50 a.m. the front line was vacant of troops.

The dispositions of the 2nd Brigade troops immediately prior to the attack were as follows:—1st Battalion of Otago: Two Companies in Chord Line and in Chord travel trench, one Company in Timaru front and travel trenches and support line, and one Company at Clapham Junction. 1st Battalion of Canterbury: Two Companies in Chord Line and Chord travel trench, one Company in Timaru front and travel trenches and support line, and one Company at the Tower. 2nd Battalion of Otago: In dug-outs at a point about 750 yards E.S.E. of the Lille Gate, Ypres. 2nd Battalion of Canterbury: At Walker Camp.

Zero hour was fixed at 12 noon on December 3rd. The enemy wire entanglements had been destroyed by our bombardments of November 28th and 30th, a fact which had been confirmed by exhaustive patrolling.