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Great Work Accomplished

British Isles Genealogy | 23rd Service Battalion Royal Fusiliers

From the official narratives available it is possible to amplify, in some few instances, the great work accomplished by the Battalion, and which is told but tersely in the War Diary from which the previous pages have been collated.

Taking May 3, 1917, as an instance, when the 23rd Royal Fusiliers formed a part of the attacking force, we are told it was determined to capture:

  • Fresnoy Trench on a front of 1,400 yards.
  • Oppy Support, by a bombing attack, over a length of 200 yards.
  • Crucifix Lane, by a bombing attack, over a length of 200 yards.
  • Form a defensive front facing south on a front of 400 yards, and
  • Form eight strong points and four posts.

The above, it may be explained, entailed the Brigade having, on the whole, a fighting front of no fewer than 2,200 yards.

"The task of the 23rd Royal Fusiliers, forming the left assaulting battalion, was to capture a certain sector of Fresnoy Trench, to form two strong points, and to form four posts....

"The whole of 'C' Battalion (the 23rd Royal Fusiliers) gained their objective, but, owing to a slight loss of direction, found the enemy still occupying Fresnoy Trench to their north.

"A strong bombing party was immediately organized, the trench cleared, sixty to seventy prisoners and a machine gun captured, and touch established with the Canadians at the south end of Fresnoy Wood. At about 5.45 a.m. a strong enemy counter-attack developed from Oppy, which, coming up over Oppy Support and Crucifix Lane, and over the top by several well-covered approaches, worked its way north, and attacked the right company, whose flank was left bare owing to the retirement of 'B' (another) Battalion.

"This attack was pushed home with the greatest energy and determination, and succeeded in driving the right two companies and part of left centre company out of Oppy Trench. At this point, however, it was brought to a halt by a strong bombing and sniping post of the 23rd Royal Fusiliers, who not only stopped it, but counter-attacked in their turn, and regained some 400 yards of the trench.

"This party then halted owing to numerical weakness and lack of bombs, and retiring a short way, formed a block and a post, and occupied a shell-hole line from the first point named through the second and a little beyond it, thus forming a defensive flank in close touch with the Canadians.

"This party held out all day, until relieved by the 15th Warwicks at 3.30 a.m. A strong point was also formed immediately after dark and handed over to the 15th Warwicks on relief...."

"In one instance the garrison of a post calmly watched an enemy machine-gun team establish a machine gun in position; they then opened rapid fire, killed all the team, and brought in the gun...."

Amongst the gallant services mentioned by Major-General Pereira in the special order of the day, dated December 17, 1917, is the following:

"No. 1,079 Lance-Sergeant James Cochrane, M.M., and No. 2,852 Private Frank Hemington: In the enemy lines west of Bourlon Wood there was a derelict tank, from which enemy snipers were very active at only 70 yards from our line, causing many casualties.

"On December 1, Lance-Sergeant Cochrane and Private Hemington volunteered to deal with them. Creeping out through our wire, they succeeded in reaching the tank in spite of heavy enemy fire. They put two Mills' bombs into the tank, and on the bombs exploding they came under heavy machine-gun fire, but returned in safety. No further sniping came from this tank. By their gallant work we were saved many casualties, and this daring feat cheered and encouraged the men in the line...."

In the desperate fighting in March, 1918, the Battalion also distinguished itself.

"Hexham Road," says the narrative of the morning of the 25th, "where the headquarters of the 23rd Royal Fusiliers was in a dug-out, had been swept by machine-gun fire all the morning, and as the Divisions on the right had retired, the 23rd Royal Fusiliers were left in a very precarious and isolated position, from which only small bodies of men were able to extricate themselves...."

Then, however, came March 28, and here our men were afforded an opportunity of getting their own back. It is with delight that we consequently read:

"The old trenches were, on the whole, in surprisingly good condition, the men had ammunition and had had some sleep and food, and orders had been received that this was to be the line of resistance, and that there would be no further retirement.

"It was a day of anxiety, but still a day on which our men could at last settle down to shooting down the enemy. This they did with great relish."

Bald, perhaps, these details may appear to those who have judged the war from the pen pictures of the various war correspondents, but they possess the ring of real reality to those who have known what it is to be shelled day after day and night after night in the trenches, to have advanced in the face of a rain of machine-gun bullets, or to have been forced to take shelter in an all too small shell crater, when to show an inch of head or body meant death or a serious wound.

23rd Battalion

The 23 (Service) Battalion Royal Fusiliers, 1920

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