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Every Effort made to tell Brigade of our Success

British Isles Genealogy | Fifth Leicestershire

Meanwhile every effort was being made to tell Brigade of our success, and, while one aeroplane with British markings bombed us (in spite of numerous red flares), another took down a message from the "Popham" sheet, which Serjeant Signaller Wilbur was operating. Soon after 4.0 p.m. Captain D. Hill, the Brigade Major, appeared and told us that the 32nd Division would soon arrive, and at 5-15 p.m. their leading Battalions came through us. However, they found it was now too late to go forward, so put out Outposts just in front of our line. Their appearance provoked the Boche to further shelling, and an unlucky hit killed Serjeant Taylor, an experienced and valuable platoon Serjeant of "C" Company. Serjeants Marshall of "C" Company and Clarke of "D" Company, were also wounded, but our total casualties for the day were under 25. We had reached our objective at all points and captured 8 guns and about 100 prisoners. The Division altogether had taken 4,000 prisoners and 80 guns and had smashed the Hindenburg Line.

Though the machine-gun fire from low flying aeroplanes was somewhat troublesome at dusk, we had a quiet night after the battle, and were able to distribute rations and ammunition to the companies soon after midnight. At the time, we hardly gave a thought to this last, but it was a feat deserving of the highest praise. We had advanced some four miles into the enemy's country across a canal, and by dusk bridges and roads had been built sufficient to enable horse transport to carry rations and ammunition to the most advanced units. Ours were delivered just outside Battalion Headquarters, and the Companies fetched them from there. The admirable organization of the Staff, and the skill and pluck of our Transport Drivers, had enabled us to go into action carrying only our rations for the one day—very different from the Germans in their March offensive, when each man was loaded up with food for five days.

The following morning, the 32nd Division continued the advance, with a small barrage, against Sequehart, Joncourt and, in the near centre, Levergies. The enemy had found it impossible to remain in their positions at Pontruet and South of the Canal, and hustled by the 1st and French Divisions, had evacuated them. The French were now therefore continuing our line Southwards from Lehaucourt. The attack started at dawn and soon afterwards the valley past Fosse Wood was thronged with Whippet tanks and cavalry, waiting in case of a possible "break-through." It was the first time most of us had seen Cavalry in action, and they made an imposing sight as they filed along the valley in the morning mist. At the same time several batteries of Horse Artillery trotted up and taking up positions near our "D" Company, opened fire to assist the attack. Levergies, overlooked from two sides, was soon taken and several prisoners were captured on the left, but elsewhere the enemy had been strongly reinforced, and the attacks on Sequehart, Preselles and Joncourt broke down under heavy machine gun fire. Apparently a stand was to be made along the "Fonsomme" trench line—running N. and S. along the next ridge. After waiting all day, the Cavalry and "whippets" slowly withdrew again in the evening.

That night and the following day, as the 32nd Division had now definitely taken over the outpost line, the Companies were brought into more comfortable quarters near Magny la Fosse and Headquarters moved into an old German Artillery dug-out on the hill. In these positions "A" Company had the misfortune to lose Serjeant Toon, a most energetic and cheerful Platoon Serjeant, who was wounded by a chance machine-gun bullet, but otherwise we had a quiet time. Reorganization and refitting once more occupied our minds, and, as "B" Company's gas casualties had made them so weak, all "battle details" were ordered to join us. The following day they arrived under C.S.M. Cooper, who resumed his duties with "D" Company. 2nd Lieuts. Todd and Argyle also rejoined us from leave, and the Stores and Transport moved up to Magny village. The same afternoon there was a Battalion parade and General Rowley complimented us on our work during our two battles. He had visited Pontruet since the attack and was unable to find words to express his admiration for our fight in the village. The arrival of the "Daily Mail," and the discovery that at last the name "North Midland" figured in the head lines cheered us all immensely, and the fall of St. Quentin to the French gave a practical proof of the value of our efforts. We were all very happy and said "Now we shall have a good rest to re-fit."

Nothing, however, appeared to be further from the intentions of the Higher Command, and on October 2nd the other two Brigades came through us to take over the line from the 32nd, and again attempt to break the "Fonsomme" Line—on the 3rd. The French would attack on the right, the 32nd Division would be responsible for Sequehart, and the 46th, with Staffordshires on the right and Sherwood Foresters on the left, would sweep over Preselles, Ramicourt and Montbrehain, and make a break for the cavalry and "whippets." Joncourt had already been captured and the left flank was therefore secure. Our Brigade was in support, and would not be wanted to move until 8-0 a.m. There was not much time for making preparations, and the Artillery, who had particularly short notice, spent the night before the battle getting into position near our Headquarters.

Sketch Map Of Cambrai - St. Quentin-Avesnes Area

Once more a thick morning mist covered our attack and the first waves, advancing with the barrage at dawn, quickly got possession of Preselles and the Fonsomme Line, killing many Germans and taking large numbers of prisoners. There was considerable resistance in the centre, but the Sherwood Foresters, led by such men as Colonel Vann, disposed of it, and by 10.0 a.m. all objectives were gained and everything ready for the Cavalry. Meanwhile, soon after 8-0 a.m., the Battalion was ordered to move up at once and support the Staffordshires. We were to be under the orders of General Campbell, but would not be used for any purpose except holding the Fonsomme Line, to which we were now to go. We had been warned the previous evening that, if used at all, it would be on the right flank, and reconnoitering parties had already gone forward to get in touch with the Staffordshires; these had not yet returned, so we started without them.

Soon after 9-0 a.m. we left Magny la Fosse and moved down the hill towards Levergies, which we decided to leave on our right flank, as it was full of gas. We were in lines of platoons in fours—"D" Company (Corah) and "C" (Banwell) leading, bound for the Fonsomme Line, "A" Company (Petch) and "B" (Hawley) following with orders to find support positions to the other two. The Headquarters moved by the railway line N.E. of Levergies to take up a position as near as possible to the Support Battalion Headquarters of the Staffordshires. All went well until the leading Companies were beginning to climb the hill E. of Levergies, when a runner from Brigade Headquarters caught us up with a message to say that the 32nd Division had not taken Sequehart in the first attack, and that it was uncertain in whose hands the village now was. Every effort was made to warn the Companies, but we could not reach "D" and "A" in time, and we could only hope that if Sequehart was still in the enemy's hands, they would be warned of it in time to deploy their right platoons, which would otherwise march in fours close to the edge of the village.

Sequehart, however, if not at this time actually in our hands, was at all events clear of the enemy, and our right flank had no trouble. The mist and smoke made communication between the Companies very difficult, and so each moved, more or less independently, to its allotted station. "C" was the first to reach the "Fonsomme Line," only to find that the line was nowhere more than six inches deep, and, except for its concrete machine gun posts, was only a "big work" when photographed from the air. Captain Banwell accordingly took up his position in a sunken lane running between Sequehart and Preselles. Meanwhile, the other leading Company, "D," had moved too far to the left, a very fortunate circumstance, because Colonel Griffiths was able to change their direction and dispose them facing right, to form a defensive right flank opposite Sequehart. "B" Company was also ordered to face right in support to "D" Company. "A" Company, however, had not made the same error as "D," and Captain Petch, keeping his direction, found, as "C" Company had, that the "Fonsomme Line" gave him no cover. He, therefore, occupied the same sunken lane, about 300 yards south of "C" Company. Soon afterwards an intercepted message told Captain Petch of our changed dispositions, and, to protect his right, he too moved his Company to conform with "D." Battalion Headquarters had by this time occupied a large bank at the bottom of the hill, where Colonel White, of the 5th South Staffordshires, had already planted his flag.

From our new positions we had an extensive view to the East. Mannequin Ridge was on the right flank with Doon Hill at the end of it, held by the enemy, though we could see the Staffordshires holding the ridge. In the foreground was a valley, and on our left another ridge stretching from Preselles to Ramicourt. The Staffordshires did not appear very numerous for their large frontage, and it was clear that unless the Cavalry appeared soon, there was danger that they would be counter-attacked. But at 10-0 a.m. the leading Cavalry were only just beginning to appear over the Magny heights. The enemy was fairly quiet, except for one field gun, 2,000 yards away on our extreme right, beyond Sequehart. C.S.M. Angrave kept sniping at the gunners, who replied to each of his shots with a whizz-bang.

It soon became obvious that so long as the enemy remained on Doon Hill, the Cavalry could not advance, and shortly after midday we received orders to place two Companies at the disposal of the 137th Brigade, to assist in an attack on the Hill. Colonel Griffiths decided to use "A" and "D" Companies, and Captain Fetch and Lieut. Corah were at once summoned to Headquarters, when we were told the attack was to be made by the North Staffordshires, Colonel Evans, and that our Companies would be in support. Accordingly Colonel Griffiths and the Company Commanders set off for Colonel Evans' headquarters while the two Companies moved over the open to "C" Company's sunken lane, where they formed up for the attack. A few of "A" Company under 2nd Lieut. Whetton crossed the lane and reached the Staffordshires' front line. There was no fixed time for the assault, but the hill was to be shelled by our Artillery until 2.30 p.m. This shelling ceased as our Companies reached the lane, nearly a mile from the objective, and Colonel Evans tried in vain to have it renewed.

Meanwhile the enemy had been assembling out of sight behind Mannequin Ridge, and now suddenly attacked the Staffordshires heavily, driving them from their positions on the crest. At the same time the valley was swept from end to end by bursts of machine gun fire, and it was obvious that an advance across the open could only be made with very heavy loss. Colonel Griffiths wished to stop the attack at least until Mannequin Ridge was retaken, but, before anything could be done, the enemy opened a heavy artillery barrage on the lane, and the Colonel was badly wounded. Some of "A" Company had pushed forward a little, and Captain Petch and 2nd Lieut. Dennis managed to find some cover for No. 4 Platoon about 200 yards East of the Lane. It was now about 3-0 p.m. and Colonel Evans, probably intending to alter his plans, sent for the Company Commanders. As they arrived a shell fell on the party, killing the Colonel, Lieut. Corah and 2nd Lieut. Christy, wounding Captain Petch. A few minutes later 2nd Lieut. Mace was hit in the leg with a bullet, and both he and Captain Petch were sent down. "D" Company was officerless, "A" had three isolated groups, two forward and unapproachable, the third under 2nd Lieut. Edwardes in the Sunken Lane. There were no orders and no one knew what to do, so C.S.M. Cooper collected "D" and 2nd Lieut. Edwardes and C.S.M. Smith collected all they could find of "A," and both prolonged "C" Company's line to the left. The lane here was less sunken than on the right, and the cover was very poor, affording little protection against the enemy's shells, which came from front and flank.

We were now very short of officers. The Adjutant, Captain J.D. Hills, was in command, with Lieut. Ashdowne as Adjutant; 2nd Lieut. Argyle was acting Liaison Officer with the Staffordshires, so there was no one else except the M.O. at Headquarters. Captain Jack, it is true, was a host in himself, for, when not tying up the wounded, he was always ready with some merry remark to cheer us up; we needed it, for our railway line was as heavily shelled as the sunken lane. In addition to the killed and wounded the Companies had also lost two new subaltern officers who had joined the previous day and gone away slightly gassed, while 2nd Lieut. Griffiths, who had gone forward with the reconnoitering parties, had not been seen since. Captain Banwell was therefore alone with "C" Company. Lieut. Steel was at once sent to command "D," and, on arrival at the sunken lane, at once received a shell splinter in the leg; fortunately, however, this was not serious, and he and C.S.M. Cooper were soon hard at work straightening out the Company. This Warrant Officer and C.S.M. Smith of "A" Company were admirable; it was largely due to them that both Companies, badly shaken after their gruelling, were within a few hours once more fit for anything. Our shortage of officers was likely to continue, for our only "battle detail," Major Burnett, had just gone to England, to the Senior Officers' School at Aldershot. Our casualties during the afternoon included one who could ill be spared. A direct hit with a shell on "C" Company Headquarters wounded C.S.M. Angrave in the back. He died a few days later. One of the original Territorials, he had served with us the whole time, and even four years of France had failed to lessen his devotion to "C" Company.

Company Headquarters, Loisne, 1918 The Bathing Pool, Gorre Brewery, 1918

Soon after 3-0 p.m. General Campbell himself rode up to Battalion Headquarters and after explaining the situation, pointed out the importance of holding a little group of trenches on some high ground three-quarters of a mile E. of Preselles. Accordingly "B" Company (Hawley), now only 25 strong, were sent there with two Lewis Guns; at the same time some of the Monmouthshires were sent to help him. Meanwhile, all the afternoon and evening, the enemy kept making small attacks on Mannequin Ridge and towards Sequehart; several of these were broken up by Artillery fire, and after his first efforts he had no further successes. Our Cavalry, having arrived too late in the morning to pass through when the enemy was really disorganized, waited all day in the valley behind Preselles, and after losing several men and horses in the shelling, had once more to withdraw at dusk. Their horses were sent back, but as many men as could be spared were sent up dismounted, with rifles and bayonets, to help hold the "Fonsomme Line" in case of strong enemy counter attacks. They did not move up until dark and, of course, could not find the "Fonsomme Line," any more than we could in the morning, so started to dig where they could. Fortunately the Commanding Officer, going round the line, found them, and, sending one party up to help "B" Company, who were now alone, he and Captain Banwell guided the rest across the valley, where they could find some cover on the hill side. Had they been allowed to remain where they had started to dig, they would probably have suffered very heavily in the morning from the Ridge opposite, whence the enemy would have had a beautiful view of them.

Rations arrived soon after dark. During the afternoon 2nd Lieut. Todd had reconnoitered a route for his limbers, and, after a narrow escape from some heavy shells, had managed to find a passable road. With the limbers came also 2nd Lieut. Griffiths, who had been wandering all over the countryside in his efforts to find us. By midnight the companies had their rations and their mail, and, even in the sunken lane, a smile could be seen here and there. The night was quiet, and we were able to collect all scattered parties and see what our casualties had been. Fortunately the loss of other ranks was not in the same proportion as of officers, but we had started so weak that we could ill afford to lose the seven killed and 30 wounded which were our total casualties for the day. "A" and "D" Companies had been hardest hit and Lance-Corporal Meakin was amongst the killed; Serjeant Ward had been wounded, Serjeant Peach of "B" Company had also been killed, while "C" Company, in addition to their C.S.M., lost Serjt. Bond gassed and Cpl. Foulds wounded.


At dawn on the 4th, as there was no sign of any attempted counter-attack on the part of the enemy, most of the dismounted cavalry were withdrawn, and we remained in our positions of the previous day. The morning was slightly misty and Battalion Headquarters had one bad scare. The Commanding Officer and Adjutant were out looking for new quarters, when they suddenly saw coming over the hill W. of Sequehart—behind their right flank—a number of Germans in open order. A battery of 60 pounders in Levergies saw them at the same time and opened fire at point blank range. It was fully five minutes before a few leisurely French soldiers appearing over the same crest, showed that the Germans were merely a large batch of prisoners collected by the French at dawn. Throughout the day the enemy shelled various parts of the back area, and in this respect Headquarters came off worst, being more bombarded than even the sunken road. The bank under which they sat did not give them much cover, and the Boche managed to drop his shells with great accuracy on the Railway line and even hit the R.A.P. By the afternoon they were so tired of being chased backwards and forwards along the bank that they followed the example of the M.O., who with a wonderful display of calmness, which he did not in the least feel, sat reading a book of poems and refused to move. He admitted afterwards that he had not read a line, but it looked very well, and as usual he kept us all cheerful.

Late in the afternoon the long expected orders for relief came and we learnt that we were to come out that night with the Staffordshires. "B" Company on the left were actually relieved, but the other Companies had merely to wait until the front line Battalions were clear and then march out. The Boche shelled Headquarters once more just as they were going and fired a considerable amount of gas shells all over the countrywide, but no one was hurt, and eventually, some by Magny, some by Joncourt, all arrived at the little village of Etricourt. Some of us rolled into dug-outs, some into ruined houses, some in the road; all of us murmured "Now we shall have our real rest at last," and went to sleep—tired out.

The Fifth Leicestershire

The Fifth Leicestershire
A record of the 1/5th Battalion the Leicestershire Regiment, T.F., during the War, 1914-1919

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