On January 9 a move was made from Oneux to Candas, to Beauquesne on the 11th, to Bouzincourt on the 13th, and to Aveluy on the 20th. From there it went into the trenches at Courcelette, "A" and "C" Companies being in the front line, and "B" and "D" in support.
On February 1 the Battalion moved from Courcelette to Ovillers Huts, and on the 5th went on to Senlis, moving to Wolfe Huts on the 15th, and into the line for operations a day later.
Intense cold was experienced at this time. The ground, like iron, was covered with snow. The frost was intense, one man being actually frozen stiff at his post on sentry, and drinking water carried to the front line arrived as lumps of ice, from which bits were chipped for eating.
An attack on the German trenches was made on February 17. Unluckily a day before the attack the frost gave way, a very rapid thaw set in, making No Man's Land deep and heavy with slush and mud. Moving to the attack over such ground was terrible; the objective line was reached, but the following casualties were sustained:
Other ranks killed
Other ranks wounded
Other ranks missing
The Battalion held the Red Line on February 18, and in the night was relieved and moved to Ovillers Huts again. On the 24th it moved to Bruce Huts, and on the 26th to Albert, returning to Ovillers Huts on the 27th.
March 5 found the Battalion back in the trenches at Courcellette, and on the 10th "D" Company cooperated with the 1st Royal Berks and the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps in an attack on Grevillers Trench and Lady's Leg Ravine, taking the ravine, killing about 20 of the enemy, and capturing 30 men and 2 machine guns. The casualties of the company amounted to 7 other ranks killed, 26 wounded, 1 accidentally wounded, and 2 died later from their wounds.
The following day the Battalion moved to Wolfe Huts, and on the 19th to Albert again, proceeding from there to Contay, Amplier, Bonnières, Framecourt, Aumerval, and Bailleul les Pernes.
Vimy Ridge. From Bailleul les Pernes the Battalion moved up to Larosette, behind Vimy Ridge, ready to go in and take over a part of the Ridge after its capture in the coming battle for its possession. On the night of April 11, in a blinding snowstorm, the Battalion relieved the 1/5th Gordons on the captured Ridge, and on the 13th continued the advance to the line of the railway, captured the village of Bailleul, established a line on the enemy side of it, and sent out patrols
to Oppy, which was found to be very strongly held by the enemy.
Lt.-Col. E.A. Winter, D.S.O., M.C.
Owing to a mistaken order, one platoon of "C" Company actually advanced on Oppy to capture it, but were themselves taken prisoners after severe fighting. During this advance one 77mm., two field guns, and one 4.2 howitzer were captured, and whilst moving forward, at the Colonel's side, to the railway embankment, the Adjutant of the Battalion, Captain Lissaman, was killed by an enemy shell.
Being relieved on the 14th by the 1st Royal Berks, the Battalion moved into support and reserve lines, but on the 18th were in the trenches west of Ecurie, moving to a tent camp on the Roclincourt-Maison-Blanche road on the 22nd. Another move, to Maroeil, was made on April 23, and on the 25th the 17th Royal Fusiliers were relieved in the trenches west of Bailleul.
On April 29, at 4 a.m., "B" Company took part in an attack on Oppy by the 1st Royal Berks and the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps, and then the Battalion moved back into reserve trenches.
On May 1 a composite battalion was formed of two companies of the 23rd Royal Fusiliers and two companies of the 1st Royal Berks, and moved forward to a position in front of Oppy to deliver an attack on the Oppy-Fresnoy line.
Attacking on May 3, Fresnoy trench was captured with between sixty and seventy prisoners and a machine gun. Heavy counter-attacks were made by the Germans during the day, and, in view of these and the retirement of the troops on the right, it became necessary to retire along Fresnoy trench. At 3.30 a.m., on the night of May 3-4, the Battalion was relieved by the 15th Warwicks, and moved back to disused enemy trenches in the Roclincourt area, the total casualties
sustained being 7 officers and 122 other ranks.
On May 5 Lieutenant-Colonel Vernon having proceeded on leave, Major E.A. Winter assumed command, and on May 24 Lt.-Colonel Vernon having to report to the War Office on promotion to Brigadier-General, Major Winter was promoted Lieutenant-Colonel, and appointed to the command of the Battalion. On the same day the Battalion moved into the line again, relieving first the 1st Royal West Kents, and then the 22nd Royal Fusiliers.
June 1 saw the Battalion relieved by the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps in the front line (Oppy-Arleux line), and moved back to Deutscher House and Thelus Wood, working parties for the front line being provided each night. On the 4th, the 22nd Royal Fusiliers came in as the relief, and the Battalion moved to St. Aubyn for rest.
This did not last long, for on June 8-9 the Battalion relieved the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps in immediate support, Oppy-Arleux line, the casualties sustained being one other rank killed and two wounded. Then, relieving the 22nd Royal Fusiliers, the Battalion went into the front line, being relieved in turn on the night of June 13-14 by the Royal West Kents, and proceeded to Bray.
On June 20 the Battalion was taken by omnibus to Beuvry, and on the 21st relieved the 2/5th Manchester Regiment in the front line, Cambrin left sub-sector, the casualties being two other ranks killed and six wounded. A German raid on the Battalion right was repelled at 3.30 a.m. on the 27th, and the 22nd Royal Fusiliers came in as relief on the evening of that day, the Battalion proceeding to Noyelles for rest.
July opened with the Battalion training at Noyelles under company arrangements, so far as it was possible, having in view its proximity to the line and liability to observation by the enemy. On July 3 the Battalion went into the front line, Cambrin left sub-sector. Six days later it went into support with headquarters at Annequin.
July 5 saw the Battalion, less two companies, in the Cambrin left sub-sector front line, Major N.A. Lewis assuming command in the trenches, with 100 Corps cyclists attached, while Lieutenant-Colonel Winter remained at Annequin for the purpose of training "C" and "D" Companies for a raid.
About 3.30 a.m. an enemy raiding party, about fifteen strong, entered the front line, wounding and carrying off one man. Bombing parties at once bombed along the trench, driving the raiders out, who came under Lewis gun and rifle fire both on entering and leaving their objective. On returning to their own lines they left our wounded man, who was brought in. The body of one of the enemy was found in No Man's Land, but a complete search could not be made owing to the light. At
night, however, a patrol went out and brought in the body of the dead German. Other bodies had apparently been dragged back to the enemy trenches. Our casualties were only four wounded.
On July 20, at 10.30 p.m., a raiding party, consisting of two officers and about a hundred other ranks, crossed to the enemy's front and support lines, the object being the capture of these two lines, the infliction of loss on the enemy, and the securing of prisoners and identifications. The raid was preceded by a hurricane barrage from our artillery, Stokes' mortars, and machine guns, being also accompanied with a discharge from oil projectors.
Very few of the enemy were found in the front and support lines, but small parties who were in dug-outs were bombed. Five of the enemy were also bayoneted in a communication trench. The main garrisons of the lines had apparently retired, and no prisoners were taken. Our casualties during the raid were two killed, fifteen wounded, and five wounded and missing.
Then came a move into reserve at Annequin, but from the 27th the Battalion moved into the front line of the Cambrin left sub-sector again up to, and including, August 1. From then until the night of August 25 the Battalion were doing duty in the trenches and in reserve, but on the 26th was relieved by the 8th Sherwood Foresters, and moved to Oblinghem.
There training was carried on, and on September 6 the C.O., accompanied by the company commanders and specialist officers, reconnoitered the Givenchy support line. On the following day the Battalion proceeded to the village support line, no shelling being experienced during the relief of the 17th Middlesex. On September 13 the Battalion relieved the 22nd Royal Fusiliers in the Givenchy left sub-sector front line, a battalion of the Portuguese troops being attached for
Gas was projected upon the enemy on the 14th; there was no retaliation, and on the following day the Portuguese were relieved by another of their battalions.
About a hundred enemy heavy shells fell on September 16 near the right company's headquarters at Barnton Tee, Barnton Road, blowing in the trench in five places. A bombardment on the left, which commenced later, ceased on our retaliating. On September 17 the Portuguese troops left the trenches and returned to their billets, while on the night of the 18th-19th the Battalion was relieved and proceeded to Beuvry.
Training there until September 26, the Battalion then relieved the 22nd Royal Fusiliers in the Cambrin left sub-sector, and finding the enemy to be ominously quiet, a patrol was sent out to Railway Craters. On the following night eight small patrols were sent out into No Man's Land, and on the 28th two patrols reconnoitered the enemy wire. On the following day eight small patrols were established in No Man's Land to cover work in the trenches, and, ensuing upon this,
the German artillery became fairly active.
A move into support, following relief, was made on September 2. On the 5th the Battalion was relieved, and the companies marched independently to the Orphanage, Bethune, then on to Raimbert, the Battalion being watched on the line of march by Generals Pereira and Kellett.
At Bourlon Wood, Training was carried on, and on November 5 the Battalion made a move through Busnes, Merville, and the Eecke area to the Herzeele area. More training ensued, and a strong rumour was in the air that the 2nd Division was "for Italy." The Battalion was equipped up to the last button, all ranks were looking forward to a change of scenery and new phases of fighting; the medical officer lectured the Battalion on the perils to be avoided in relation to
charming Italians, and spirits were high and merry.
But the first attack on Cambrai took place, and instead of going to Italy the 2nd Division was hurriedly moved south by road and rail to take over the line from troops which had conducted the attack.
On the night of November 26-27 the Battalion had reached Beaumetz-les-Cambrai, from which it was moved up to the slopes of Bourlon Wood to take over from elements of the 2/4th King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and the Bays. The march along the Cambrai road, across the captured Hindenburg Line, and on to the Sugar Factory will long be remembered by those who took part in it.
Again it snowed—it is curious how many important moves of the Battalion took place in a snowstorm. This time, however, it was a blessing, for it deadened the sound of moving troops, and certainly saved the Battalion being heard and shelled by the enemy.
On the line (if a few scattered posts in shell-holes can be called a line) being taken over, the Battalion at once set to work to dig itself in, profiting greatly by the recent training it had received in "intensive digging." On the left was the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps, and on the right the 62nd Division, the battalion in support being the 1st Royal Berks. The Battalion held the line on the 27th, and on the 28th changed places with the 1st Royal Berks, going into support
positions to them.
On the 30th the heavy enemy attack developed, and the Berks being hard pressed, three companies of the 23rd were moved up to their support. The enemy gained a footing in their line, and one company of the 23rd was used to counter-attack and re-establish the line, which it successfully performed.
The 17th Royal Fusiliers, on the Berks' left, having severe fighting, a section of the 23rd was sent to strengthen their posts, and help was given in supplying them with bombs and S.A.A. On the evening of December 1 the line was readjusted between the 1st Royal Berks and the 23rd Royal Fusiliers—the Berks taking the left and the 23rd the right. On the night of December 1 the position of the Battalion was: two companies and two platoons in the line; two companies, less two
platoons, in support.
On the night of December 2 the unit on the right of the 23rd Royal Fusiliers pushed forward its line. In order to keep touch with them, one company from the support positions went over with them at 8.10 p.m. The advance was successful, the objective duly gained and rapidly consolidated—one prisoner and one machine gun being taken in the advance.
Then came a great disappointment to the troops who had fought so well. Further south the enemy's counter-attack had proved successful, converting the position held by the 2nd Division into a very dangerous salient, from which it was imperative to retire.
The necessary orders were issued, and at dead of night, December 4-5, the Battalion retired through Graincourt to Hermies. To cover the retirement two sections per company were left in the line with orders not to retire until just before dawn, and to spend the night in moving up and down the vacated line, firing Verey-lights and rifles to delude the enemy into thinking the line was still held.
By this ruse the Battalion was enabled to carry out the difficult operation of withdrawing in the face of the enemy without his knowledge. The sections so left behind gallantly carried out their tasks and safely rejoined the Battalion at Hermies.
From December 5 the Battalion was in support, but on the 11th it relieved the 21st Londons in the Hindenburg Line, and, after relief, marched on December 20 to Gropi Camp, where Christmas was spent in tents in the snow. In reserve until the 30th, it then relieved the 22nd Royal Fusiliers in the left canal sector (Canal du Nord) of the Hindenburg Line.
The 23 (Service) Battalion Royal Fusiliers, 1920