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The Wellington Regiment (NZEF) 1914 - 1919


page 253

Chapter XXXVIII.

The Trenches at La Signy Farm—A Dump Blows Up—We Relieve the Australians — Hebuterne—A Patrol from the 2nd Battalion is Captured—Death of Col. Cook in England —A Minor Operation Astride the Road to Puisieux-du-Mont—A Gallant Corporal — Sailly-au-Bois — Rossignol Farm — Brushes with Enemy Patrols —Horse Show at Vauchelles—1st Battalion Wins a Guard Mounting Competition.

On the 2nd April, the 1st Battalion was relieved by 1st Auckland in the line, moving on relief into billets in Mailly-Maillet. Two days later the 1st Battalion moved from Mailly-Maillet and became part of Divisional Reserve, bivouacing in the open. We were now able to bathe and rest, and no training of any kind was attempted. The health of all ranks was good and the spirit splendid. Here, unfortunately, Hawkes Bay Company had one man killed and four wounded through an enemy gun shelling the back area. While in Divisional Reserve, Major H. Holdeness returned from England and assumed command of the battalion, taking over from Major W. F. Narbey.

Second Wellington remained in line in front of La Signy Farm until the 5th April. The enemy was quiet, our machine- gun fire keeping him well under, except in back areas where a good deal of movement could be seen. Owing to recent rain, the trenches had become very muddy and difficult to walk through, and the front line companies had plenty to do in cleaning up the trenches, while other companies were engaged in digging a new support line. Daylight patrols, reconnoitring in front of La Signy Farm, page 254found a trench there unoccupied which we proceeded to occupy by posts. On the 5th, the 2nd Battalion was relieved in the front line by the 4th Battalion Rifle Brigade, and thereupon took up a position in the Divisional Reserve Line. Before completion of relief, the enemy attacked hi the mist under cover of a very heavy barrage; but was completely repulsed with heavy losses. Our casualties were light, but in consequence of this attack two platoons of Ruahine Company and Battalion Headquarters were not relieved till the following morning.

Lieut.-Col. W. H. Cunningham, D.S.O., now returned to the 2nd Battalion from England and took command. A large number of officers and men joined up from the Entrenching Group and from the Base, including Captain J. MacMorran, who went back to Hawkes Bay Company, and Lieutenant S. A. Murrell, who was appointed assistant adjutant and bombing officer.

On the 9th April, 1st Wellington relieved 3rd Battalion Rifle Brigade, in the line, while 2nd Wellington relieved 2nd Battalion Rifle Brigade in support. At this time, the enemy was very inactive and our casualties were but slight. On the 14th, the 1st Battalion was relieved by 1st Auckland, and went into the brigade reserve line west of Colimcamps. On the same day, 2nd Wellington relieved 2nd Auckland in the front line in La Signy Farm sector. The weather was still very foggy and misty. Several daylight patrols from the 2nd Battalion worked down saps towards La Signy Farm, and had bombing encounters with the enemy, inflicting casualties. One morning, about a battalion of the enemy were seen some 3000 yards away moving in our direction; but no attack developed and nothing untoward followed. Again, early one morning, the enemy shelled the front line, several shells falling in our trenches, and in the afternoon an enemy shell landed on a large dump of Stokes Mortar bombs, causing a tremendous explosion. One platoon of Ruahine Company had several wounded and others were badly shaken. Shortly afterwards, a big enemy dump was blown up, and burnt fiercely for nearly page 255an hour. Our 6 inch Howitzers fired for over an hour on La Signy Farm buildings, registering about ten direct hits, and completely blocking up the doorway of the big cellar. For the rest of the day, our guns contented themselves with firing short rapid bursts on enemy positions. On the 17th, 2nd Wellington was relieved in the front line by Ist Otago and then marched to a canvas camp. During the relief, Capt. R. L. Evatt was badly wounded. On the same day, 1st Wellington was relieved by 2nd Otago in Brigade Reserve, and now became part of Divisional Reserve for the following week. There was little of incident. The weather was cold and showery with a little snow. The usual working parties were being supplied, and baths could now be had at Bertrancourt.

On the 24th April, our 1st Battalion relieved the 13th Battalion, A.I.F., in Brigade: Reserve north of Sailley-au-Bois, while the 2nd Battalion relieved the 15th Battalion, A.I.F., in the front line south of Hebuterne, making the same dispositions as the Australians. At this time, the 15th Battalion, A.I.F., was commanded by Lieut.-Col. McSharry, D.S.O., M.C., an old friend of the Wellington Regiment in the days of Quinn's Post. Gallipoli. The trenches were left in excellent order by the Australians and the relief went through smoothly, although limbers with Lewis guns were held up in Sailly by traffic control police and this delayed the relief. We lent two of our limbers to the Australians to take out their Lewis guns, their own transport having left the previous day for their new billeting area.

Next day, the enemy was quiet except for an occasional shelling. On the other hand, our artillery was particularly active with harassing fire. The 2nd Battalion headquarters' mess had a small dinner to celebrate the third anniversary of the Gallipoli landing, and a pleasant evening was spent in the capacious dugout. Only two members of the mess had been at the landing, Colonel W. H. Cunningham and Major F. K. Turnbull. The following day, the weather was misty and one of our 2nd Battalion patrols page 256consisting of five men led by Lieut, J. T. Thomas, M.C. 1 met with disaster. The patrol reported at a listening post near the front line at 3.30 a.m.; but was not seen nor heard from afterwards. Bombing and rifle fire were heard some distance away at 4 a.m., and it was conjectured that, having lost its way in the mist, the whole patrol was either killed or captured. The 2nd Battalion sent out search parties as soon as the patrol was reported missing but no trace of it could be found. Lieut. Thomas was an excellent officer and was greatly missed. Unhappily, S.S.M. J. D. G. H. Durand 2 of the A.S.C., attached to the 2nd Battalion for experience before going for a commission, had gone with the party at his own express wish. It was indeed bad luck, for he was a Main Body man.

During the next few days, both battalions did a good deal of work improving their positions. On the 30th, 1st Wellington relieved 1st Auckland in the front line at Hebuterne, while the same night 2nd Wellington was relieved in the front line by 2nd Auckland and moved back into Brigade Reserve at Sailly-au-Bois.

The whole Regiment was now to receive a grievous blow by the death of Lieut.-Col. C. F. D. Cook, D.S.O., the Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion.

The death of Lieut.-Col. C. F. D. Cook in England at the beginning of May, removed one of the Regiment's most revered commmanders. Charles Frederick Denman Cook had had a distinguished career, both at work and at games. At the University he had won a Senior University Scholarship in Latin and Greek, and had secured first class honours in classics for his M.A. degree. At games, in addition to being a very able cricketer and footballer he had, for several years, represented Canterbury College at athletics, his specialty being the high jump, for which he long held the University record. His all-round excellence was such that he was chosen as the first candidate, from Canterbury College for the Rhodes Scholarship. That page 257Cook should be one of the very first to offer his services to his country on the declaration of war was, therefore, in keeping with the man. The outbreak of war found him an officer in the Territorial Forces and, joining the Main Body as a Captain, he was posted to Hawkes Bay Company. During the Gallipoli campaign, Cook served as Staff Captain to the New Zealand Infantry Brigade and, For his services in that capacity, never ostentatious but unvariably efficient, he was mentioned in despatches. On the formation of the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment early in 1916, Cook became second in command of the 1st Battalion, and served with that Battalion on the Somme of 1916. On Col. Hart's appointment to the command of the new 4th Brigade in April 1917, Cook was appointed to the command of the 1st Battalion, an appointment he held right up to the time of his death. In April 1917, he had been again mentioned in despatches and, early in June, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. In March 1918, very much against his will, Col. Cook was sent across to England for a rest. He was very run down; but it seemed to be nothing more than war weariness. At Brockenhurst, however, disease gripped him and he passed away at Netley near Southampton on the 2nd May. Alas! Like so many more, he was not to see the triumph of our Arms, to which object he had so faithfully and unsparingly devoted himself. The memory of his fine character, quiet, dignified and manly, will not soon be effaced.

On the night of the 4th May, with a view to the improvement of our position in front of Hebuterne, a minor operation was carried out astride the road to Puisieux-Au- Mont by 1st Wellington in conjunction with l/5th Manchester Regiment. Our 1st Battalion's attack was entrusted to Taranaki Company. At the same time, in order to distract the attention of the enemy artillery, two feints were made, one at La Signy Farm and the other at Rossignol Wood. Taranaki Company advanced at S.52. Within a few minutes, Minny Trench was captured, unoccupied except for two men who were taken page 258prisoner. Advancing from Minny Trench, a portion of Fusilier Trench was captured, while some of our men advanced up Warrior Sap. Some thirty yards in advance of Minny Trench, our men were held up by two enemy machine-guns firing from a sunken road and sustained heavy casualties. The two sections in Fusilier Trench moved along to the left, meeting an enemy bombing post, and coming under the fire of two machine-guns in Fusilier Trench. The majority of our men reached the final objective and altogether ten prisoners were taken. Owing to lack of co-operation between the assaulting troops, drawn as they were from two divisions, and to the intensity of enemy machine-gun fire, the enterprise was not wholly successful. Arrived at their objective, our men found themselves subjected to enfilade machine-gun fire, and to showers of bombs from bombing posts that they were not able to drive out. After losing five men killed, and eighteen wounded, two of whom died, the position was considered untenable, and we evacuated Fusilier Trench and came back to Minny Trench and there established touch with the l/5th Manchesters on the left. We had, at all events, substantially advanced our positions and shortened our line. A narration of this minor operation would not be complete without recording the devotion to duty of Corporal A. Bradley of Taranaki Company. As our men were nearing their objective, Bradley had one of his feet blown off by a bomb. Suffering intensely, as he must have been, this gallant N.C.O. continued to urge his men forward and refused all offers of assistance. Crawling back to our lines unaided, he came upon two Germans attempting to return to their lines, and shot them both.

On the following night, the 1st Battalion was relieved in the line by 2nd Otago, and then went into reserve at Rossignol Farm.

Meantime, 2nd Wellington at Sailly-au-Bois was supplying the Engineers with working parties daily for work on strong points. On the 6th, the 2nd Battalion relieved 2nd Canterbury in what was called the Purple Line, a page 259trench system running in rear of Mailly-Maillet, Colin- camps and Hebuterne, while 1st otago took over the vacated position as counter-attacking battalion.

The next few days slipped quietly by. The 1st Battalion in huts at Rossignol Farm was still resting, while the work of the 2nd Battalion's parties was not onerous. The weather was fine and large numbers were able to go to the baths daily, while one afternoon a good many officers attended a lecture on tanks at Bus-les-Artois. It was not long, however, before we found ourselves in the line again, for, on the 12th May, the 2nd Battalion moved once more into La Signy Farm sector, relieving 3rd Battalion Rifle Brigade. On the same night, 1st Wellington relieved 1st Battalion Rifle Brigade in the support line. Here our 1st Battalion remained in support for six days and had only one man wounded. The 2nd Battalion too, in the front line, found the enemy quiet enough, but, as ever, the New Zealand Division was not content to let sleeping dogs lie. On the 13th, a fighting patrol of one N.C.O. and eighteen men from the 2nd Battalion attempted to get into an enemy post north of La Signy Farm buildings; but was driven off by machine-gun fire and bombs. One of our men was missing and two wounded. The following day, a valuable reconnaissance of La Signy Farm ruins was made by Lance- Corporal R. Smith (2nd Battalion), who crawled out through the enemy posts after dark and located enemy machine-gun posts. The 15th was the day 1st Auckland Battalion carried out a successful raid on the enemy positions. Things were normal again the following day, except that several heavy minenwerfers were fired on our front line, and our own artillery was active against enemy positions. On the night of the 18th May, 1st Wellington relieved 1st Auckland in the front line, while 2nd Auckland relieved our 2nd Battalion, who thereupon moved back from the front line into support. The 1st Battalion remained in the front line for six days. The weather was fine, warm and sunny: the enemy inactive and our casualties slight. On the night of the 21st May. a page 260patrol from the 1st Battalion encountered a strong enemy party in No Man's Land, and, although one prisoner was brought back to our lines, we lost Lieut. C. J. McHardie, Sergeant R. Freeman* and Private A. R G. Kenny (wounded and missing). On the night of the 24th May, the 1st Battalion was relieved in the front line by 2nd Otago, and marched to Rossignol Farm. On the same night, the 2nd Battalion was relieved in the support line by 1st Otago and marched back to tents in the Bois au Warmi- mont. The weather had broken and hot cocoa, biscuits and cigarettes supplied on arrival in camp by the Y.M.C.A. were much appreciated alter the long march in the rain.

On the 28th May, both battalions marched to the First Brigade Horse Show held near Vauchelles. Here, the 1st Battalions won one first prize with its horses, and six other prizes, while the 2nd Battalion's horses won nine ribbons, including three first prizes. Here, also, the 1st Battalion won the Silver Challenge Cup for Guard Mounting, presented by Brigadier-General C. W. Melvill, with 88 points, 2nd Wellington being second with 78 points.

1 (1) Lieut. J. T. Thomas became a prisoner of war.

2 (2) S. S. M. Durand was killed.

* Afterwards found to be killed.