The Wellington Regiment (NZEF) 1914 - 1919
Chapter XXXVI. — New Year 1918
New Year 1918
Reutel Sector—Manawatu Camp- Enemy Aeroplanes—Walker Camp—Otago Camp —Breaking up of the 4th Brigade—3rd Wellington Ceases to Exist—Bavinhove—Staple.
New Year's Day 1918, found the 3rd Battalion still in the line in the Reutel Sector. There was intermittent shelling during the day, and Lieut. A. T. Duncan was wounded. On the 2nd, we were relieved by the 3rd Battalion Rifle Brigade and proceeded to Manawatu Camp. On the journey out, our front and support line companies met with fairly heavy shelling, and five were wounded. The battalion was at once called upon for working parties. Very early one morning, enemy aeroplanes flew over our camp, one bomb being dropped on one of the huts, but, fortunately, it was a "dud." Verily is it better to be born lucky than rich! Whether as a result of our early morning visitor or not, the enemy shelled the camp at short intervals all day, ceasing at 7 p.m., only to open out again at 11 p.m. for an hour. By great good fortune, we had no casualties; nor did we have any a few days later, when the vicinity of the camp was shelled for fifteen minutes with gas shells. On the 8th January, it was snowing hard, and the 3rd Battalion was conveyed back to Walker Camp on the light railway, taking over from 1st Otago.
As for our 1st Battalion, the New Year found Battalion headquarters still at Hoograaf, with the majority of the battalion detached on various working parties in the vicinity. That state of affairs continued until the 17th January, when battalion headquarters marched to Walker Camp, and the Battalion relieved the 3rd Battalion there in Divisional Reserve. All working parties detached from the battalion now rejoined and the battalion was reorganised. Early in the month, Major H. Holderness bad left the Battalion to attend the Senior Officers' course at Aldershot, and Major W. F. Narbey was appointed temporarily second in command. On the 20th, the 1st Battalion marched to Manawatu Camp and there took over from 1st Canterbury and formed part of the brigade in support. Owing to lack of accommodation in Manawatu Camp, surplus personnel were camped at Scottish Lines. During its slay at Manawatu Camp, the 1st Battalion suppled working parties daily and we had one killed and seven wounded.
About this time, Lieut.-Col C. H. Weston was awarded the D.S.O. for his gallantry and skill at La Basse Ville and Gravenstafel while, shortly afterwards, Capt. A. T. White, Capt. B. H. Morison and Lieut. H. Dallinger were to receive the Military Cross for their services in the field during 1917.
The 2nd Battalion's spell of cable burying came to an end on the 17th January, and on that day we left Belgian Chateau, which had been our home for many weeks, and moved to Howe Camp where Battalion Headquarters joined us the following day. A few days later, we moved to Otago Camp, and from there, one working party wired a reserve line, another party built a cookhouse in Cambridge Road, another built dugouts at Westhoek, while others were engaged in draining Cambridge Road, in salvage work in the vicinity of Glencorse Wood, and in carrying parties from Westhoek to the support line.page 242
Otago Camp was on the outskirts of Ypres, and it was a sad sight to look back at that ruined city from our lines. From near our camp, observation balloons used to be sent up, and the enemy was often prompted to shoot at them. Usually the shells would be very wide of the mark; but, on one occasion, he managed to cut the rope tethering one of the balloons to the ground. Our balloon immediately ascended, and it was not long before its occupants jumped out and slowly parachuted to the ground near our lines. The no longer captive balloon ascended higher and higher in the sky, and, as soon as the parachutes were clear, our "Archies" and the enemy's also opened fire upon it. It was good practice for them, but seemingly, little harm was done to the balloon, and the last we saw of our huge "sausage" was a mere speck high in the sky, rapidly proceeding towards Germany.
From Otago Camp, the 2nd Battalion moved into the line, taking over from 2nd Otago in the Reutel Sector. Trench warfare was quite a novelty, and for those who had joined up with the 2nd Battalion since Gravenstafel, it was their first experience of the trenches.
On the night of the 26th January, the 1st Battalion relieved 1st Canterbury in the front line trenches, Judge Sub-sector, Reutel Sector, moving up along the Pioneer- Helles-Glengorse tracks via Chateau Wood and Crucifix Dump. The relief was completed by 9 o'clock p.m. with only one man slightly wounded. On the first two nights of our occupancy of the front line, active patrolling was carried out; but, on the following nights, a bright moon made this duty difficult. The 1st Battalion remained in the line until the 1st February, its casualties being one killed and eleven wounded. It was about this time that Major R. D. Hardie, D.S.O., now Divisional Machine-Gun Officer, was severely wounded near Wattle Dump.
On the 18th January, after having been relieved by the 1st Battalion at Walker Camp, the 3rd Battalion head- quarters had moved to Hoograaf. The Fourth Brigade was now to be Corps Troops for work. Wellington-West Coast, page 243Hawkes Bay and Ruahine Companies of the 3rd Battalion moved to Busseboom for work with the 3rd Canadian Tunnellers, while Taranaki Company moved to Dranoutre for work with the 1st Australian Tunnellers, while six Lewis gun teams went to various anti-aircraft posts. At Busse- boom and Dranoutre, the men were in splendid quarters. The work they were engaged on was mostly tunnelling, the building of shelters in support and reserve lines. The 3rd Battalion remained on such work until the 7th February, on which date the 4th Brigade ceased to exist.
Ever since the Division's October losses at Belle Vue Spur, the maintenance of four brigades of infantry in the field had been a matter of concern and, early in the New Year, it was considered no longer feasible. The Fourth Brigade, therefore, ceased to exist on the 7th February and with it, of course, the 3rd Battalion of the Wellington Regiment went out of existence. Our 3rd Battalion had been eight months in France. It had borne a full share of the burden and always acquitted itself with credit. Those associated with it will always look back upon that battalion with pride and satisfaction as, indeed, they have every right to do. Such of the personnel of the former 4th Brigade as was not immediately absorbed into the Division, was now employed under the name of the New Zealand Entrenching Group, commanded by Lieut.-Col. G. Mitchell, D.S.O.
On the night of the 1st February, the 1st Battalion was relieved by 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade, in the Judge Sub- sector, and marched back to Manawatu Camp, the relief being carried out without casualties. On the 3rd February, Lieut.-Col. C. F. D. Cook, D.S.O., left to take charge of the First Brigade School at Scottish Lines, and Major W. F. Narbey assumed temporary command of the battalion, only to fall sick a few days, later, and to hand over to Captain H. Oram. During daylight on the 8th February, 1st Wellington relieved the 2/6th Lancashire Fusiliers in support in the Judge Noord sub-sector. From the 8th to the 13th February, companies were employed on work in the forward area, salving, improving accommodation, etc. This page 244period passed quietly, and there were only two casualties. On the 14th February, we were relieved in the Judge Noord sub-sector by 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade, and moved back to Dickebusch by light railway from Birr Cross Roads. From Dickebusch during the following week, we supplied daily strong working parties for work with our own. Engineers. On the 23rd February, we marched to Manawatu Camp, and became Corps troops for work on the Corps Line, and, after a few days there, we moved to Forrestor Camp, and from there went on with the same work as before. On the 8th March, the 1st Battalion was relieved by 3rd Battalion, Rifle Brigade, and marched to Halifax Camp. On the following day the battalion proceeded by motor buses from Halifax Camp to Bavinchove, and went into billets there.
The 2nd Battalion, having gone into the line on the 26th January, remained in the Reutel Sector until 1st February. The weather was fine but very misty. On the 1st February, we were relieved by the 4th Battalion Rifle Brigade, temporarily commanded by Major L. H. Jardine, M.C., so well known in 2nd Wellington a year before. From Otago Camp, numerous working parties were supplied, digging a trench in support line at Cameron Covert, building dugouts at Westhoek, and draining Cambridge Road. After a week so employed, we again moved back into the line in the same sector. Things were now very much quieter than during our previous spell in this sector. A fighting patrol of one officer and twelve other ranks searched Celtic Wood, but found no sign of the enemy; but, a few nights later, one of our patrols dispersed an enemy patrol, four of whom were taken prisoner by the battalion on our left. One day, when the enemy artillery was a little more active than usual, Captain F. D. Gaffaney was wounded. On the 14th, after a quiet day, we were relieved by 4th Battalion Rifle Brigade, late in the afternoon. We marched out as far as Birr Cross Roads, and there entrained on the light railway for Walker Camp, Dickebusch. At Walker Camp, the Battalion was in divisional reserve, and as the weather page 245was fine, and the battalion not called upon for working parties, we were able to put in a few days recreational training. It was not long, however, before working parties were in full swing again. On the 21st February, Major F. K. Turnbull, M.C., rejoined from hospital, and assumed command of the battalion, taking over from Major H. E. McKinnon, M.C., who had been in command since his return from leave at the end of January. On the 23rd February, the 2nd Battalion was attached to the 49th Division as Corps troops for work, and moved to Vancouver and Winnipeg Camps, and next day, Sunday, a combined Church Parade with 1st Auckland was held in Vancouver Camp, at which Lieut. General Sir A. J. Godley was present. A working party, nearly four hundred strong, was now supplied daily for the task of building strong, points in the Corps line. This work lasted a fortnight with little to relieve the monotony, except a very enjoyable concert one evening by a party from 2nd Canadian C.C.S. On the 10th March, the 2nd Battalion moved to billets in Staple.
The 1st Battalion in billets at Bavinchove, and the 2nd Battalion at Staple now spent their time in reorganising and training, both battalions receiving a good many reinforcements. The weather was delightful, and it was not long before we were all in high spirits. A good deal of football was played. The 1st Battalion played both 1st Auckland and 2nd Auckland, and won both games, while the 2nd Battalion held inter-company football matches, which aroused the keenest rivalry, and also played 1st Auckland who narrowly beat them. A football match was also played between teams of officers from each battalion. This was followed in the evening by a dinner given by the 1st Battalion, at which Brigadier-General Melvill (First Brigade Commander) was present. At Staple also, a combined Church Service was held for both Wellington Battalions.
While at Staple, a very sad accident occurred in Hawkes Bay Company of the 2nd Battalion, resulting in the death of Corporal H. C. Pattison and Private A. A. Rossi-page 246ter, M.M. That Company was practising musketry one evening in gas helmets, loading with dummy cartridges and aiming, when by some mischance a live cartridge was loaded into one of the rifles and fired. Pattison and Rossiter were in a squad on the other side of the field, and were both struck by the bullet, one being killed out-right and the other expiring very shortly afterwards. Both Pattison and Rossiter were splendid fellows, and very popular, and their death in this unfortunate way was a sad blow to the whole battalion.