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Service Overseas - 1918

British Isles Genealogy | 23rd Service Battalion Royal Fusiliers

On January 3 the Battalion, relieved, marched independently by companies to Barastre for Divisional rest. January 23 found them at Villers Plouich in the Vacquerie right sub-sector, the Battalion headquarters being in Farm Ravine. On February 3 they entrained on the light railway for Equancourt, where they were placed in Divisional reserve. Not much time was spent in this way, though, for on the 9th the Battalion entrained for Trescault, and proceeded from there to the Vacquerie right sub-sector, remaining in the line there until going into reserve at Equancourt again on the 15th.

On February 22 a move was made to the line again in the Vacquerie right sub-sector. On the night of March 6-7 the Battalion was relieved, and marched to Metz, where they were billeted in huts. It was impossible, however, to secure any real rest here, for the camp was shelled intermittently both during the day and the night.

The afternoon of March 12 saw the Battalion back in the trenches again at Lincoln Reserve and Midland Reserve, "D" Company being in Snap Trench. There was a heavy gas-shell bombardment by the enemy on the nights of the 12th, 13th, and 14th, the Battalion suffering heavy casualties, also intermittent shelling during the day and night, while there was, as a welcome change, a raid on the enemy front line by the Battalion on the night of March 13-14. Then came the relief of the Battalion, which marched back to Equancourt, a rest for the Battalion being absolutely necessary owing to the fact that all the remaining members were suffering from gas poisoning.

The German Offensive. Next came the great offensive by the enemy—the time when the Germans almost thrust their way right through by force of numbers.

The first indication of the break-through which the Battalion received was enemy bullets actually falling in the camp. Every man turned out, the Battalion took up a line north of Equancourt in an attempt to hold up the advance of the enemy, patrols being sent forward into Fins, where it was found the Germans had succeeded in establishing themselves.

On the following morning an enemy attack was beaten back with heavy loss, but both its flanks being "in the air" the Battalion received orders to retire on Le Transloy. Moving though Hayettes Wood, Ytres, Bus, and Rocquigny, Le Transloy was reached late at night, where the Brigade from which it had become separated was rejoined.

Moving again before dawn, a line was taken up round Gueudecourt, which was held during the day. Making another move at dusk, a fresh line was established at Eaucourt l'Abbaye. Very heavily attacked on the following day, the Battalion was forced to fight a rearguard action, retreating through Le Sars on Pys, where another stand was made.

Again slipping back at night, a position was taken up near Beaucourt sur Ancre. From this position the Battalion again moved back and occupied the old British trenches known as White City trenches near Beaumont Hamel. In spite of many heavy enemy attacks this position was held until the Battalion was relieved by New Zealand troops.

On relief it marched out to the wood at Mailly-Maillet only four officers and seventy men strong.

Resting at Englebelmer for a day or so, it was again moved into the front line at Aveluy Wood, where a German attack was beaten off, the enemy being badly mauled. During the fighting round Gueudecourt, Brigadier-General Barnett-Barker was killed, and, as senior Colonel in the 99th Brigade, Lieutenant-Colonel Winter assumed command, the command of the 23rd Royal Fusiliers devolving upon Major Lewis.

In his anxiety to hold up the enemy for as long as possible and to get the battalion back safely to a line being formed behind him, Major Lewis was taken prisoner at Eaucourt l'Abbaye. The command then devolved upon Captain C.H. Bowyer, who kept it until the return of Lieutenant-Colonel Winter, who rejoined the Battalion on General E. Ironside (now General Sir E. Ironside, who earned fame in Russia) taking over the Brigade.

It only remains to add that the gas casualties from March 12 onwards amounted to 11 officers and 240 other ranks, while the casualties in action from the 22nd to the 31st were:

Officers killed 1
Officers wounded 2
Officers wounded and missing 1
Officers missing 10
Other ranks killed 15
Other ranks wounded 59
Other ranks wounded and missing 6
Other ranks missing 210

During the early part of April the Battalion was busy in moving, being in turn in Hedeauville, Beauval, Houvin, Houvigneul, Ivergny, Coullemont, La Cauchie, and on the 14th relieved the 1st Coldstream Guards in Brigade Reserve in front of Blaireville. Two days later it was in the front line, right sub-sector, in front of Adinfer, doing alternate front line and support duty until the end of the month.

It was not until May 12 that the Battalion marched back to billets at Berles au Bois, where training was carried on until June 7. On that date it relieved the 1st Grenadier Guards in the Ayette left sub-sector. Relieved on the night of June 10-11, it marched back to reserve position near Monchy au Bois, going into the line again in the Ayette sector on the night of 13th-14th.

During the night of June 24-25 "A" Company carried out a raid on the enemy front line, and at 2 a.m. on the 26th "B" Company also carried out a similar operation. July came round, and on the night of the 22nd-23rd the Battalion supplied a flanking party to a raid carried out by the 1st Royal Berks. On the 30th the Battalion was in the Ayette right sub-sector, but on August 5 and August 6 there was a reorganization of the Brigade front, and it went into support.

Then came the British advance, and on the night of August 20-21 the Battalion moved up for an attack by the 3rd Army. Leading off in a dense fog, the 23rd Royal Fusiliers went over the top at Ayette, capturing Aerodrome Trench, and so clearing the way for other troops to leap-frog over them and capture Courcelles.

Moving forward again in its turn, two companies of the Battalion, under Major W.B. Cluff, captured Behagnies. On the night of August 23-24, being relieved by the Loyal North Lancs, the Battalion moved back to bivouac near Courcelles, where it remained until September 2. Moving forward on that day to Vaulx-Vraucourt, it attacked at dawn on the 3rd and reached Morchies, bivouacking near Doignes.

On the 6th-7th the Battalion took over the front line from the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps and delivered an attack on Slag Avenue, suffering casualties of 3 officers killed and 100 other ranks killed and wounded.

Relieved on the 8th by the 52nd Light Infantry, a bivouac was made at Beaumetz-les-Cambrai, moving on the 15th to Mory. On the 27th the Battalion moved forward in support to the Brigade which was fighting its way onwards, and spent the night in the Hindenburg Support Line just west of Flesquières.

The advance continuing, the Battalion moved again at dawn on the 28th, reaching Nine Wood just west of Noyelles. From here one company was sent forward and assisted the King's Royal Rifle Corps in capturing Noyelles. Then the remainder of the Battalion moved up and took over the front line from the 1st King's Royal Rifle Corps. Attacking on the 30th, the Battalion found itself up against the strong position of Mount sur l'Ouvres, suffering casualties of two officers and sixty-four other ranks. This position could only be subsequently captured by the use of a whole new brigade for the purpose.

German Tanks Unsuccessful, Relieved at night, the Battalion moved back to bivouac at Nine Wood. Remaining there, resting, till October 7 the Battalion moved up to east of Rumilly on the night of 7th-8th, and delivered a successful attack on Forenville at dawn on the 8th. During a counter-attack the enemy used tanks against the Battalion in an endeavour to oust it from the positions secured, but without success.

On one tank, indeed, getting close to our line an officer, Lieutenant Anderson, armed with a rifle, and accompanied by his batman, got out of the trench, went forward under heavy fire, reached the oncoming tank, hammered at its side with his rifle-butt, and called on it to surrender. The iron door opened, and out came the crew, to be escorted back in triumph as prisoners!

On the early morning of the 9th the Guards' Brigade "leap-frogged" the Battalion and continued the attack, the Battalion moving back to bivouac at Flesquières. Remaining there for a few days, a move was made on the 13th to keep in touch with the general advance, Wambaix being reached after a long march.

Training was carried out here until the 19th, when the Battalion marched to Boussières. At midnight on October 22, under the command of Major H.P. Rogers, it moved up to St. Python, and on the 23rd to Escarmain, taking over the front line from the 52nd Light Infantry. At dawn on the 24th it attacked and captured Ruesnes, and established a line of outposts on the railway beyond. This was the last actual fighting done by the Battalion. Relieved on the 26th by the 7th King's Shropshire Light Infantry, it moved back into reserve.

With the signing of the Armistice came a welcome change. Duty was relaxed so far as was possible, and the Battalion employed the rest of the year in fitting itself out, and getting back into something approaching its old condition, and marching into Germany, a distance of 200 miles.

23rd Battalion

The 23 (Service) Battalion Royal Fusiliers, 1920

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