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Gorre and Essars at War

British Isles Genealogy | Fifth Leicestershire

Gorre And Essars At War
10th Aug., 1918 - 12th Sept., 1918.

The enemy started his withdrawal North of the Lawe Canal, and it was not until the latter half of August that the Gorre sector was affected. However, all preparations for more open warfare were made, and the supply of rations and ammunition was reorganized in such a way that either limbers or pack animals could be used at short notice. During our tour in the Right Sector from the 14th to 18th of August all rations for "Route A" were taken up to forward Company Headquarters on mules and ponies; the latter, under the skilful handling of their drivers, showed a most admirable fortitude in the face of machine-gun fire. Each night a little column of heavily laden ponies under Corporal Archer or Lance-Corporal Foster could be seen moving slowly along the Tuning Fork Road, first with rations then with water; towards midnight they returned ("drivers up") at a much brisker pace.

On the 18th we left trenches and came into support for three days at Le Quesnoy. Colonel Wood was away Commanding the Brigade for a short time and Major Griffiths was in Command. All available men were set to work cutting the corn, which was now ripe and would soon spoil if not cut and carried in. Bayonets took the place of scythes as the latter were almost unobtainable, and it was surprising to find what progress was made with these weapons. In a few days several train loads were sent down on the light railway to Fouquières. All this time the news from the South was most encouraging. The great attack of the 8th had freed Amiens and each day brought us news of further successes. On the 20th the Staffordshires on the left found some of the enemy's advanced posts unoccupied, and the same day prisoners taken on the Lawe Canal spoke of an impending retreat to the Le Touret-Lacouture line. On the 21st the Commanding Officer returned, and the same day the Brigade moved into and occupied the old German front line near Cense du Raux Farm. That night we relieved the 4th Battalion in the old Right Sector and occupied the Liverpool Line as Support Battalion to the other two, both of whom were in and forward of the old front line. On the 22nd General Rowley decided to have one outpost Battalion for the whole frontage, and the following day we took over the line from the junction with the 55th Division (in the old front line E. of "Route A Keep") to the junction with the Sherwood Foresters N.E. of Le Touret village.

On the extreme right we had pushed forward across the road where they were opposed in the centre by Epinette East Post, and on the left by some houses in the Rue itself, to both of which the Boche was still clinging tenaciously. On the left the line was continued by "D" Company (Lieut. T.H. Ball in the absence of Captain Brooke) who held positions astride the Rue du Bois. The extreme left platoon was about 200 yards up the Rue de Cailloux and occupied one of the old keeps in the Sailly—Tuning Fork—Vielle Chapelle Line. Here, and on the Rue de L'Epinette, the enemy was active with snipers and trench mortars—in the centre thing's were very quiet. "C" Company (Hawley) and "B" Company (Tomson) were in Support in the old front line; Battalion Headquarters lived in Loisne Chateau, now "Railhead" for the light railway. There was no front line in the old sense—it was simply "outposts" as laid down in Field Service Regulations. Very few of the Company Officers had had any previous experience of this work, but Colonel Wood soon put us straight, and organized things himself. He was absolutely indefatigable and day and night was up in the line sighting good positions and studying the enemy. The latter were distinctly alert as they showed by their behavior on the 24th and 25th when we not only made no progress, but had several casualties. First, on the extreme right, an "A" Company patrol tried to reconnoiter the Epinette East Post by night. They were seen and fired at heavily and had to come back leaving one of their number dead behind them. Soon afterwards, in an attempt to recover his body, Lance-Serjeant Clamp was himself hit and died a few hours later. "A" Company could ill afford to lose this N.C.O., who had shown himself as gallant a leader in battle, as he was an efficient instructor on the Parade ground. The following morning, accompanied by his runner, Lance-Corporal Collins, and the Adjutant, the Commanding Officer started on a tour round the outpost line. He visited "A" Company's posts and passed on to "D" Company. On reaching the Rue du Bois he got on to the road, and, as it was misty, started to walk Westward along it. Whether the little party was seen or not will never be known; what happened would seem to show that they were. They had not gone seventy yards before a "whizz-bang" burst a few yards North of the road hitting a Stretcher Bearer. Another followed, this time the burst was only a few yards behind the party. The others escaped, but Colonel Wood was hit in the back of the head and was thrown stunned on to the road. More shells followed, and the three lay in a ditch till it was over, and then made their way back to Battalion Headquarters. The Colonel refused to be carried and walked all the way to the Aid Post, where the Doctor found that a shell splinter had grazed the back of his skull, and had only been prevented by the steel helmet from doing more damage. The Colonel wished to remain with the Battalion, but the Medical Officer was obdurate, and he was finally evacuated, and a week later sent to England. He had been in Command only a short time, but we had learnt in that time what a very gallant soldier he was, and how his one care was to make us the first Battalion in the Division. His place was taken by Major J.L. Griffiths who had been Second in Command since 1916, while Captain John Burnett took over the latter's duties.

The same afternoon we had further bad luck. On the extreme left No. 13 Platoon (Christy) had been very actively sniping the enemy on the Cailloux Road, and soon after midday, came the retaliation in the form of heavy shelling which lasted about an hour. There was little cover, and one post was wiped out, including a promising young soldier, Lance-Corporal Harries, whose name had been recommended for a Commission. 2nd Lieut. Christy managed, in spite of the difficulty of moving men in daylight, to get the majority of his Platoon out of the Keep, and took up positions on either flank; this action undoubtedly saved many casualties. Corporal Hamill, one of the old soldiers of the Battalion and a well-known long distance runner, was killed at the same time. The Platoon was naturally rather shaken, and its place was therefore taken by a Platoon of "C" Company. The following night we were relieved by the Sherwood Foresters and went back to Vaudricourt. The Relief was carried out without interference from the enemy except for Battalion Headquarter Officers, who had to leave Loisne Chateau at the gallop. Salvoes of whiz-bangs were arriving at frequent intervals, and there was just time to mount and gallop 300 yards down the road between the bursts.

The next six days at Vaudricourt were delightful; we all needed a rest, and the weather for once was excellent. At this time Major General W. Thwaites, C.B., who had Commanded the Division since 1916, was appointed Director of Military Intelligence at the War Office, and his place was taken by Major General G.F. Boyd, C.M.G., D.S.O., D.C.M. It is impossible even now to estimate all that General Thwaites did for the Division, and it was very bad luck for him that he had to leave just at the time when the Division was to reap the fruits of his training. He took us over after the Gommecourt battle, and we were tired and weak, as is to be expected after heavy casualties; if he had stayed another month he would have seen us doing as no Division had done before. There are many of us who would cheerfully have been "crumped" to escape a "G.O.C.'s Inspection," but we have lived to be thankful even for these; they made our Platoon and Company organization perfect.

On the 30th we all went and listened to a lecture on Co-operation with Tanks, given by an Officer who had taken part in the recent fighting down South. It was a bloodthirsty and blood-curdling recital, and at the end of it we all felt ready for an enormous battle, provided we could have a tank or two to help. The following day, being the Brigade Boxing Tournament Finals, some of the N.C.O.'s and men got an opportunity of slaking their battle lust. This they did very successfully, as at the end of the day we were equal with the 5th Lincolns, who had previously always been winners. Serjeants Wardle, Ptes. "Mat" Moore and Martin, all won their weights, and in addition Serjeant Wardle won the open catch weight championship. This N.C.O. then challenged any one of the 5th Lincolns' side to fight a "one round" deciding bout, and, beating his opponent, won the day for the Battalion. The Brigadier gave away the prizes and also the Sports Cup which we had won. There was a very gratifying predominance of "yellow rings" throughout this part of the proceedings.

The following day—the 1st of September—we returned to trenches, and went into support with Battalion Headquarters in Le Quesnoy and the Companies in and around Gorre village. As the new Divisional Commander had not yet arrived Brigadier General Rowley was still in command of the Division and Lieut.-Colonel Foster, of the 4th Battalion, commanded the Brigade. The Germans were withdrawing very slowly, and by the 3rd the Staff decided that as soon as the 5th Lincolnshires had gained "Rum Corner" on the Rue du Bois, where the Boche had a strong pill box, we should go forward with a barrage with Princes' Road as our objective. Orders did not arrive until after midday and then Rum Corner had not fallen; it was, however, expected to fall by 4-0 p.m., and our attack was ordered for 8-0 p.m. the same evening. There was no time for reconnaissance and little for getting out orders, but we managed to arrange for an assembly position and a barrage, which was to advance in jumps of 100yds. every 4 minutes. Everybody had a hurried tea and set out between 5-0 p.m. and 6-0 p.m. for the line. It was not very satisfactory and we were all glad when, owing to the stout resistance of Rum Corner the advance was postponed until 5-15 the following morning—the 4th of September. It was a warm night and the Companies remained in the trenches round Loisne and were able to have a good meal before starting. Late that night the 5th Lincolnshires reported the taking of the "Corner," so that all was now ready for the battle. We did not expect much resistance. Shortly before midnight fresh orders arrived making our objective the old breastwork through Tube Station and Factory Post (the support line in 1915). If possible we were to push patrols on to the old British front line in front of Fme. Cour D'Avoué and Fme. du Bois.

Soon after 4-0 a.m. we were all in our assembly positions—the three attacking Companies along a line running N. and S. about 300 yards E. of Epinette Road, with our left just North of Rue du Bois; the Support Company 100 yards behind them. "D" Company (Brooke) was on the right with orders to protect that flank, if necessary facing right to do so as they advanced, "A" Company (Petch) was in the centre, and "B" Company (Pierrepont) left, astride the Rue du Bois, "C" Company (Hawley) was in support. Battalion Headquarters were in Epinette East Post with an Orderly Room and rear Headquarters in Loisne. About an hour before we were due to start a curious thing happened: It was suddenly discovered that a considerable number of the 5th Lincolnshires were now some distance E. of our "jumping off line," and consequently beyond where the barrage was due to start. The Brigadier tried to get the barrage advanced, but it was found impossible to tell the Artillery in time, and in the end the Lincolnshires, much to their disgust, had to be withdrawn. As their leading men had gone as far as Princes' Road, it did not look as though we should have much opposition that far at all events.

Promptly at 5-15 a.m. the barrage came down and the advance began. Princes' Road was reached and crossed, the breastwork was found empty, and, after a short pause in the latter, the right centre Companies went on to the old front line. The left Company had slightly more difficult ground, and arrived half-an-hour later; nowhere had a German been met, though one or two had been seen making for the Aubers Ridge. It was a bloodless victory, and by 7-0 a.m. the Battalion was occupying the identical sector that it occupied in 1915. The barrage had not been needed, but it was none the less very useful, for we all learnt how close we could keep and how to judge the "lifts." Consolidation was not a difficult matter except on the right flank, where we could not until evening get touch with the 55th Division. It was consequently necessary for "D" Company to swing back their right through Tube Station and Dead Cow Post and face South. On the left Colonel Currin with his Sherwood Foresters was in touch with us at the Factory Keep. Battalion Headquarters moved up just before midday to a small shelter 200 yards west of Princes' Road. In most of the captured dug-outs the following notice was found:

Dear Tommy,

You are welcome to all we are leaving, when we stop we shall stop, and stop you in a manner you won't appreciate. Fritz.

It was neatly printed in English block capitals and caused much amusement. The whole day was in a way one great joke—the un-needed barrage, the empty trenches, these farewell notices, all combined to make us very happy.

At first we thought we were going to be let off without any retaliation at all, but the following morning at "stand to" a fairly heavy barrage came down for half-an-hour on the breastwork support line—presumably to break up any intended attack. "B" Company Headquarters most unluckily received a direct hit causing six casualties. Two Serjeants who could ill be spared, A. Cross and E. Bottomley were both badly wounded, the latter mortally; two servants, C. Payne and L. Brotheridge, were wounded not very seriously, and the two runners, G.S. Bott and G. Dewsbury were hit, Bott so badly that he died in Hospital. These two runners, inseparable friends, had long been associated with "B" Company Headquarters, and had always done yeoman service, for there was probably never a better pair. In the afternoon orders came that we should be relieved at dusk by the 19th Division, but that we must be certain that we were in touch with the enemy when handing over. Accordingly orders were sent up to Captain Petch to try and locate the exact position of the enemy. At first the patrol sent out was unable to draw fire, so, taking C.S.M. Passmore, Serjt. Bowler and others with him, Captain Petch went out himself, and the two waved their arms and shouted to imaginary platoons to make the enemy think an attack was coming. The ruse was successful, a machine gun opened fire from close quarters. The two dropped into a shell hole and started to crawl their way back; there was plenty of cover, and if they had been patient all would have been well. Unfortunately C.S.M. Passmore thinking it was sufficiently dark, got up and walked towards our lines. He was hit and killed outright. This warrant officer joined us at Gommecourt in 1917; his energy and fearlessness at once brought him to the front, and he soon rose from Serjeant to be Company-Serjeant-Major. His place in "A" Company was taken by Serjeant Wardle, of "C" Company. As soon as they were relieved Companies marched to Loisne Chateau, where they were to entrain. Trains were not ready, but after a long wait, the well-nigh frantic efforts of Captain Schiller produced them, much to everybody's delight, and somewhere about midnight we marched back to Vaudricourt Park.

Two days later the new Major-General was introduced to us, and at once won his way to our hearts by his wonderful charm of manner. He must have been surprised to see outside the mess a long line of horses and mules all waiting saddled up. We had arranged an officers' paper chase and every officer attended; those who couldn't find chargers had perforce to ride mules. The hares (Captain Burnett on "Mrs. Wilson" and 2/Lieut. Todd on the frisky black) were given ten minutes' grace and then, led by "Sunloch" (Lieut.-Colonel Griffiths "up") the rest of us swung out of the Park and off towards Labuissière. The pace was very hot and most of us soon dropped behind, though the mules, keeping as usual all together and led by Padre Buck, managed to stay the whole course. Four riders, finding they were getting left behind, started to make a short cut through Hesdigneul and there on the village green met the hares on the way home. It was a dramatic moment witnessed by large crowds of gunners, and Lieut. Brodribb on the Colonel's pony, and Lieut. Hawley on the faithful and well-intentioned "Charlie," dashed after the hares. The effect, however, was somewhat spoilt by "Lady Sybil," unused no doubt to audiences, throwing the Adjutant over her head on to the middle of the green. The hares were finally caught after a 9-mile run within a few hundred yards of home. It was a great performance.

Our stay at Vaudricourt was not a long one, and we soon moved to Béthune, preparatory to entrainment for the South, for it was now no longer a secret that we were going down to fight a real battle at last. The new General introduced a "Blob" formation, which was both easy and effective, and we practiced this once or twice outside the town. Our first line transport was also reorganized in such a way that each Company had its own two limbers with Lewis Guns and ammunition, bombs and all necessaries. On one small Field Day the Signallers with their flags turned out as Tanks, and we practiced everything as realistically as possible. We were all very keen, and better still, very fit; in fact, the Battalion never looked in better form than on one of these training days when we marched past the Brigadier.

From the 9th to the 11th of September we remained in Béthune, a depressing town now, to those of us who had known it in its days of prosperity. We managed to have one very good concert in the Barracks and it was surprising how much really good talent we found, conjuror, humorists and sentimental singer were all ready to amuse us. At midnight 11/12th we fell in on the Parade Ground and marched to Chocques—the irrepressible Drums giving us one or two tunes on the way. It rained hard at the Station and there was a terrible shortage of accommodation. At length, with much shoving, swearing and puddle-splashing we got on board, and at 4-0 a.m. left the Béthune Area. We had been on the Lens-La Bassée Sector for seventeen months: we never saw it again.

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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