October 1st, 1915.— October 17th, 1915.
We packed up during the afternoon of October 1st, and in the evening marched to Abeele, where we entrained for a destination unknown to most of us, but presumed to be somewhere in the far South. We made ourselves as comfortable as we could for the expected long journey, only to be rudely awakened after what seemed to be a five minutes' sleep, and turned out into the cold dark night at Fouquereuil, a suburb of Béthune. The remainder of the night was spent at a somewhat elusive Orphanage in the town itself. On the following day we moved into billets at the Northern end of the town on the banks of the La Bassée Canal, where we were joined by the Transport which had come from Ouderdom by road. October 3rd saw us once more on the move to Mont Bernenchon, a clean, attractive little village, a few miles N.W. of Béthune. Our hopes of spending a day or two in peace were soon shattered, for on the following day we made what seemed to be another emergency move to Béthune, where we embussed for regions unknown. Shortly after dark we arrived at Vermelles, and picked up guides, who led us as only guides can, to what proved to be a portion of the German front line system captured in the fighting a few days before. The trenches, which were near the "Lone Tree," and within sight of the famous "Tower Bridge" at Loos, were little damaged, and seemed to have been captured without a great deal of fighting, but the incessant rain and scarcity of habitable dug-outs made our stay as uncomfortable as the most hardened stoic could have desired. Our work consisted of reversing portions of the original German support trench to form a fire trench facing the other way. Owing to the distance to the then German line (1,000 to 1,500 yards) and the low visibility, we were able to work openly and practically unmolested. Our only casualties were the result of an unlucky shell which fell on the morning of October 5th, amongst a party of Signallers, killing L.-Sergt. C. E. Harrison, Signalling Sergeant, and three men, whilst another man died of wounds a few days later.
The same evening we got orders to leave the trenches, and after a thoroughly unpleasant tramp, in heavy rain and thick darkness over the slippery chalk tracks, which were guess-work to most of us, we arrived soon after midnight at Mazingarbe, which for dirt, damp, and general cheerlessness, almost rivalled our never-to-be-forgotten billets at Bac-St. Maur. So ended a beastly, tiring, and, for all we ever learned, quite purposeless expedition.
After a short meal and much needed rest we felt fit for anything, and made light of the trek on the early morning of October 6th, to our rest billets, which we found at Fouquières, a nice clean little village about a mile west of Béthune. Here we found ourselves, for a short time, in peace and something approaching luxury.
Our move South had brought us into the First Army (General Haig) and XI Corps. (Lt.-General Haking), which had been busy in the recent fighting, and we now learned definitely for the first time that in the further fighting that was shortly to take place we were to play a prominent part. On Saturday, October 9th, preliminary orders and plans were issued, and we learned that our task was to be the capture of the "Hohenzollern Redoubt" and "Fosse 8," an admirably constructed scale model of which had been made on the ground outside Divisional Headquarters at Gosnay, where Officers and N.C.O.'s (and stray inhabitants) spent some time in a careful and interested examination of it.
In addition, a somewhat hurried reconnaissance of the position itself was made by Col. Fowler and the Company Commanders from our trenches in front of Vermelles, from which the attack was to be made. In the short space of a couple of hours they endeavoured to get a working knowledge of the maze of communication trenches, and the hostile ground over which, if all went well, we should have to advance. Sunday was spent in Church Parade, and in going again through the preliminary orders and plans, and in the afternoon the Corps Commander interviewed the Officers of the Division at Divisional Headquarters. We were then told something more as to the reason and general plan of the attack, and were informed that we should be supported by the heaviest concentration of artillery yet known in the war—400 guns of all calibres,—that all contingencies had been provided for, and that in spite of the strength of the position, we should probably encounter very little opposition before reaching our objective.
The object of the attack, which was to be undertaken by the XI Corps, was to establish the left flank of the First Army, and to render possible a further advance in conjunction with the French on the South. The objective included the "Quarries" and Fosse 8, the 46th Division being allotted the task of capturing the Hohenzollern Redoubt and Fosse 8, whilst the 12th Division was to attack on our right, and be responsible for the Quarries. The Fosse and surroundings had already been in our hands once, having been attacked and captured during the last week in September by the 9th Division, who unfortunately, however, had been compelled to withdraw, and a subsequent attempt by the 28th Division to recapture it had also proved a dismal failure. What, we wondered, was in store for the 46th Division?
Fosse 8 is, or rather was, a typical colliery pit, with the usual winding and head gear and other plant, and pit-head pile of slag (called in this case "The Dump"), which like its neighbour, the famous Tower of Wingles, overlooked the whole position, whilst in rear there were the usual rows of miners' cottages. These cottages (called "Corons") had cellars, and were thus very easy to defend with machine guns, which could fire with great effect, and comparative safety, from ground level. In front of the Fosse and protecting it lay the Hohenzollern Redoubt, consisting of a salient trench system shaped rather like a big bean, and projecting well in front of the German main system, to which it was connected by communication trenches, and by two flank trenches known as "Big Willie" and "Little Willie." The importance of the position lay in the fact that it was on the top of a gentle rise, giving command and good observation of our position on either side. Its capture was rendered difficult by the fact that the ground in front of it was level, and almost devoid of cover, affording a very fine field of fire, which could be swept from practically every direction. From our trenches very little could be seen except the Dump, and the roof of the manager's house.
The attack was to be carried out by the 137th Brigade on the right under Brigadier-General E. Feetham, C.B., and the 138th Brigade on the left under Brigadier-General G. C. Kemp, whilst the 139th Brigade were to be in Divisional Reserve under Brigadier-General C. T. Shipley. To the 137th Brigade were attached 100 Grenadiers from the 139th Brigade, two sections Divisional Cyclist Company, and the 1/2nd Field Company, Royal Engineers (less one section), and to the 138th Brigade, the 1st Monmouthshire Regiment (Divisional Pioneer Battalion), 125 Grenadiers from the 139th Brigade, two sections Divisional Cyclist Company, and the 1/1st Field Company, Royal Engineers (less one section), whilst General Shipley's Divisional Reserve consisted of the 139th Brigade (less 225 Grenadiers), one Platoon Divisional Cyclist Company, and two Troops Yorkshire Hussars. The covering Artillery consisted of three groups of heavy Artillery under the Corps Commander, and one group of Divisional Artillery (six Brigades of 18-pounders, and one Brigade of 4.5 Howitzers).
To his immense pleasure, 2nd Lieut. R. E. Hemingway, our Battalion Grenade Officer, was put in charge of the Grenadiers attached to the 138th Brigade, the party also including the Battalion Grenadier Sergeant, G. F. Foster. Bombing was now entering on the period of its greatest importance—always in our humble opinion greatly exaggerated. The Mills bomb was rapidly ousting all other kinds, and shortly became almost the only one in normal use. Much time was put in at throwing practice, and every kind of artifice was adopted by instructors to make it interesting, and at the same time improve the aim and distance thrown. A "platoon" of "grenadiers," as they were at first called, was formed in each Battalion, consisting of a Grenadier Officer, a sergeant and 32 men, (eight from each Company), and to show how much we respected them, we put them when on the march at the head of the Battalion. There was a Brigade Grenadier Officer too, who made himself generally responsible for the training and work of Grenadiers throughout the Brigade. The first Officer appointed to this post in our Brigade was Lieut. A. Hacking, who had taken over the duties just before the Hohenzollern battle. The task allotted to the Grenadiers in this fight, was to bomb the various communication trenches leading from "West Face" to "Fosse Trench," clear dug-outs and establish blocks in "Fosse Alley."
Information regarding the enemy, gained by Corps Intelligence during the attacks of September 25th, and following days from our own Officers, and from the examination of prisoners, was to the effect that the enemy trenches in the Redoubt, with the exception of "Dump Trench" and "South Face," were badly damaged and not strongly wired, that previous attacks had been exposed to heavy enfilade fire from "Mad Point" or "Madagascar," that it was not thought there would be much enfilade fire from the South-East, and that it was not necessary to waste a lot of heavy shell on the Dump, as it could be made untenable by both sides. How far this was justifiable will be seen.
Our few days at Fouquières passed very quickly in the bustle of completing equipment, going again and again with all ranks through the maps and plans of attack, detailing and organising bombing squads in the place of those detached for duty with the other Brigades, and writing last letters home "in case——" There was little or no excitement. We had most of us seen too much by this time to be either unduly pessimistic or over-confident about our own chances, so that everything seemed to go quietly and smoothly. The first steel helmets had just arrived—quaint, antique, Japanese looking things, with ingenious corrugations to catch the bullets—and were issued to the Machine Gunners, who had also received the first supply of the new Box Respirator, issued in place of the Smoke Helmet. The Machine Gun section was now commanded by Lieut. Adams.
It was at 3.45 p.m. on October 12th, after making our final inspections and collecting blankets, packs and other surplus stores at a convenient barn, that we moved off from Fouquières on a fine Autumn afternoon, leaving behind only 2nd Lieut. Gray, and a few odd men, who were not fit to go into action. Transport marched in rear of the Battalion to temporary lines behind Noyelles, where it remained until after the battle.
We had a very pleasant and easy march up to Vermelles, where a halt was made for tea. Here we were passed by one of the Stafford Battalions who were to make the assault. It was too dark to see their faces, but their voices were full of confidence and cheeriness, which it did one good to hear.
A temporary Quarter-Master's Stores was fitted up at "Clarke's Keep," Vermelles, where Companies picked up their rations for the 13th, water in petrol tins, grenades, Vermorel sprayers, and other odds and ends likely to be required. An emergency ration of cold bacon and bread was also issued.
Eventually after a very slow march through Vermelles, which was a seething mass of men and transport, we arrived about 11 p.m. at our assembly position in "Sussex Trench," where space was allotted to us by Lieut. C. L. Hill, Signalling Officer, who had gone on ahead with a few Signallers for that purpose. We soon settled down and made the best we could of what remained of the night. This was not long, for the carrying parties for the 138th Brigade, and others had to report for duty at Clarke's Keep at 6 a.m. on October 13th. In all we provided a total of five Officers and 300 other ranks for this duty, and they were busy most of the morning taking up to the front line such necessary articles as rations, water, grenades, and rum. His devotion to the last-named duty was too much for one bloodthirsty, but very ill-disciplined member of the Battalion, who became "non-effective" in consequence, and was reported by someone, who saw him lying in the bottom of a communication trench, as "dead—shot through the head." He was "dead" right enough, but he lived to fight—and, it is feared to "die" again—another day!
Our artillery fire during the morning was normal, "so as not to arouse the suspicions of the Germans," who, as a fact, probably knew quite as much as most of us about the time and nature of our attack. But at 12.0 noon, every gun began in real earnest, and it was possible to stand on the firestep of our trench, and get an undisturbed, if rather distant, view of the shells bursting all over the German trenches. After half-an-hour of this most unusual, but very pleasing spectacle, one felt that there would be little left for us to attack.
At 1 p.m. the greenish yellow clouds of smoke and chlorine gas (known for some time as "The Auxiliary") discharged from cylinders in our front line began to roll towards the enemy lines, the breeze being exactly right both in strength and direction, and we became happier still at the thought of paying the Germans back in their own coin. During the whole of our bombardment we could hear very little reply from the German guns, though from time to time we could see a few "woolly bears" and other shell-bursts, at odd points about the forward trenches. Probably they were saving most of their fire for the actual assault, and except for a stray machine gun bullet or two, we ourselves were in no kind of danger. One of those, however, which must have dropped at a steep angle, slightly wounded Regimental Sergt-Major Mounteney, who was standing in the trench with the Officers of Battalion Headquarters. He had only rejoined from England a few days before, and was our first casualty in the attack.
At 1.50 p.m. the gas discharge ceased, but the smoke was continued until 2.0 p.m., when our guns "lifted" from the enemy front line, and the 137th and 138th Brigades began the assault. As the smoke cleared away, we could get a fair view of a portion of the attacking troops (Staffords) on the right as they went steadily, and apparently in excellent order over the top, but, almost at the same time we heard with surprise and dismay, the somewhat slow "tap-tap" of numbers of those enemy machine guns, which were to have been so completely silenced by our bombardment! We watched the Staffords for a few moments until they disappeared from view.
Then followed a period of anxious waiting, and the only information we got was to the effect that the 138th Brigade on the left had practically gained their portion of the Redoubt.
Soon after 3 o'clock, we received orders to move forward, and began to proceed by way of "Inverness Trench," "Bomb Alley" and "Left Boyau" to "Reserve Trench." Movement was very slow, owing to the congestion of the traffic, and the narrowness of the trenches, and took a long time to complete. There we were destined to remain for several hours, and suffered a few casualties from shell fire, apparently directed at the junctions of the trench with "Central" and "Right Boyaux." We were now nominally at the disposal of General Officer Commanding 137th Brigade, but never received any orders from him, and eventually drifted to the command of General Officer Commanding 138th Brigade.
Traffic became more and more congested by the stream of wounded which was now pouring down Central Boyau and "Barts Alley," and by carrying parties and supports endeavouring to get along the Reserve Trench up to the Redoubt.
Soon we began to gather scraps of information from those who were coming down, and to realise that things were going far from well. The usual answer was "Don't ask me, all I know is it's Hell up there!" It was now getting too dark to see, and we could only gather that at any rate we were holding the West Face and having a pretty bad time in doing so; also that our Grenadiers attached to the 138th Brigade, had suffered heavily. Sergt. G. F. Foster was carried down dying from wounds in the body, and Hemingway was reported to be dangerously wounded, if not already dead.
Things had not gone well. As we learned afterwards the attack of the Staffords on the right had been held up almost immediately by machine gun fire, and very little ground had been made. On the left, the Lincolns and Leicesters at first were more fortunate, and reaching West Face with comparatively few casualties, began to make their way up to Fosse Trench. But the further they advanced, the more heavy became their losses, until eventually the advance came to a standstill, the furthest point reached being about 100 yards from Fosse Trench. From these more advanced positions they were gradually forced back, until only the West Face was in our hands. It is abundantly clear that the effect of our bombardment did not come up to expectations, and that many machine guns were untouched, and, worst of all, that the Dump, on which "heavy shell need not be wasted, as it could be made untenable by either side," proved to be a miniature Gibraltar, honeycombed with shafts and galleries leading to concealed machine gun emplacements. Small wonder that little ground could be made or held in the face of such defences.
The news that things were going badly induced a Battalion Commander of another Brigade, whose Battalion had been taken from him piecemeal and scattered to the four winds of heaven, to order A Company, in the absence of Col. Fowler, to go across to the Redoubt to reinforce the troops there. Information, however, was brought by L.-Corpl. Simpson of A Company (killed a few hours later), who made a rapid and courageous journey over the open to West Face, to the effect that that trench was already overcrowded, and that the troops there required thinning, rather than reinforcing.
It was now getting late and things seemed to be in a very unsatisfactory state, when orders were issued by Col. Fowler, who had met General Kemp in the trenches, and received verbal instructions to be prepared to carry out an attack at short notice on the right portion of the Redoubt, for Companies (except B who were detached for other work) to begin to move up in readiness to our front line trenches. This movement began about 9.0 p.m. very slowly along Reserve Trench and "Hayward's Heath." The difficulty of moving a Battalion at night, in single file, through a maze of unfamiliar trenches without losing touch, may be better imagined than described, and it was after midnight before we had covered the 400 or 500 yards, which was all we had to do.
Whilst this was going on Col. Fowler and the Adjutant, accompanied by the Staff Captain, Major Wordsworth, made a hasty reconnaissance of the position, and found that elements of the 138th Brigade and Monmouths were holding the North-Western portion of West Face, whilst the Eastern portion of Big Willie was held by the 6th Battalion. Except for a short distance near the barricade on each flank, the trench between these points was held by the enemy.
At 2.45 a.m. on October 14th, we received from General Officer Commanding 138th Brigade, written orders to attack and consolidate "as soon as possible" the South-Eastern portion of West Face, the junction of South Face and Big Willie (shewn on the map as Point 60), and if possible the "Chord" of the Redoubt. The order stated that the 6th Battalion in Big Willie would co-operate by a bombing attack along that trench "at the same time." Owing to the difficulty of getting messages to and fro, in the maze of unknown trenches in the dark, it was quite impossible to get in touch with the 6th Battalion so as to give them any idea when our attack would begin, so that we were not able to rely on getting much help from them. The Commanding Officer decided that two Companies would be sufficient for the attack, which was of course going to be without artillery support, and A Company (Major A. L. Ashwell), and D Company (Capt. B. W. Vann), were detailed. A hasty conference was arranged at a small dug-out at which Col. Fowler, who intended himself to lead the attack, gave the few orders that were possible in the circumstances:—"A quiet advance, no firing, and in with the bayonet."
Owing to the darkness and the unfamiliar ground, it was necessary to make some arrangement for keeping direction. Major Becher was, therefore, sent across to the West Face, with instructions to stay at the extreme right flank of the 138th Brigade position, and there to show a light from a flash lamp on which the left flank of our attack would be directed.
As soon as this was settled, and Company Commanders had issued their instructions, we began to deploy in front of our original front line trench, as nearly as possible opposite our objective.
It was again a very slow job getting the men out of the deep and narrow support trenches, and over a single duck-board bridge across the front line into position; indeed many men of D Company never received the order at all, and remained in the support trench in ignorance of what was going on. The men were extended to about four paces, D Company on the right, A on the left. This movement was carried out very quietly, with entire absence of hesitation or confusion, and the men were then dressed as nearly as possible on the required alignment—no easy matter when one has only a map, and has never seen the objective or the ground in front of it. Rifles were loaded and bayonets fixed, Col. Fowler with characteristic unselfishness, giving his rifle to an Officer who had a bayonet, but no rifle to put it on. All these preliminaries were carried out without attracting the attention of the enemy, who were about 250 yards away. Finally at about 3.45 a.m. the order was given to advance, keeping our left flank on Becher's lamp, which we could see from time to time across the intervening ground. It was a strange experience, this slow night advance through the darkness and mist in the almost uncanny stillness which, sooner or later, always follows heavy fighting; so like what many of us had done in peace-time "night-ops," that it was difficult to realise that this was war, and would end in hand-to-hand fighting; that, however quietly we went, we must eventually be discovered, and perhaps swept away by machine gun and rifle fire. The ground was for the most part level, and not badly cut up, and there was little wire. A few of our dead, one or two severely wounded still struggling painfully back to our lines, and a number of abandoned rifles were all that were left to show what had happened on the previous day. When we were about half-way across it was realised that we were getting too far to the left, and direction was changed half-right. It was not until the right of the line was close up to the old German wire, that we were discovered. Fire was opened from somewhere half-right, probably in the neighbourhood of Point 60, but it was not severe, and only a few casualties were caused. On arriving at West Face it was found to be practically empty on the right, the few Germans who had been there having probably left hurriedly as we approached. On the left we found a mixed crowd of Lincolns, Leicesters, and Monmouths, with a few Robin Hoods, all under the command of Col. Evill, of the Monmouths. Many of them were wounded, and nearly all were exhausted by their dreadful experiences of the previous day. Our arrival was, therefore, very opportune and put fresh life into them.
It was now quite evident that we had come too far to the left, and although we had gained 100 yards or so of the West Face, our right flank was not in touch with the 6th Battalion in Big Willie. In their eagerness to get at the Germans, and urged on by the shouts of the Lincolns and Leicesters, the left half of A Company ran through the West Face and began pushing on. The enemy, however, were waking up, and our men were met with much heavier fire, which, although unaimed, caused a number of casualties. Edge was severely wounded in the arm and chest, and Everard Handford was killed instantaneously by a bullet in the head, whilst numbers of men also fell. It was then seen that any further advance was out of the question. The only thing to be done was to consolidate what we had, and try to extend our gains laterally by bombing along the West Face. Grenadiers and grenades (English and German) were collected, parties were organised by Ashwell and Vann, and several more yards of trench were gained. Strachan leading one of these along the trench with utter fearlessness was never seen again, and was probably killed at once. Shortage of grenades soon made it clear that we must stop and build a barricade to hold up the Germans, who as usual seemed to have a never-ending supply.
On the extreme right, Vann and others of D Company had come across some Boches out of the trench, apparently preparing to make an attack over the open. Most of these were slaughtered, and the rest made all possible haste back to their trench. This appears to have been part of an organised counter-attack, as the enemy tried a similar attack on the left as well, which also failed. Nothing was heard of the bombing in Big Willie by the 6th Battalion, but we learnt afterwards that they had made several attempts to progress along that trench without success.
All available tools and sandbags were got together in the trench to build a barricade at the right flank. It was now getting light, and this was attended with much danger, and in the work of filling sandbags and placing them at the barricade, we had several men killed in a very short time.
Vann had already been wounded by a bullet in the left forearm, and had gone down to be dressed, returning with his usual courage and tenacity, after having his wound attended to. The Commanding Officer, however, would not let him stay, and he had to go down again to hospital. Ashwell was hit by a bullet in the right shoulder a few minutes after Vann, and he, too, had to leave us.
The enemy were not more than fifty yards away, and the least exposure brought a bullet with deadly aim, though in this respect they did not have things entirely their own way. We could distinctly see the tops of their helmets over the parapet, and at one time there was such a collection that we thought they were going to attack, but nothing came of it, and we settled down to work again. There was no wire or obstacle of any kind between the two trenches. We were too close to get our guns on to them, otherwise we could have done much execution. Practically all the work on the right was done by men of D Company, who eventually made a barricade, which was more or less bullet-proof, and dug a length of trench to protect that flank. Here Sergt. W. L. Green did excellent work, encouraging everyone by his fine example. For nearly 24 hours he stuck to his post in spite of bombs and rifle fire. He was ably assisted by Sergt. Turgoose and Pvtes. Keeling, Hubbard, Dickinson, Offord and Sly of D Company, also Pvte. F. Attenborough of A Company, whilst L.-Corpl. Skelton did splendid work in attending to wounded.
Meanwhile Col. Fowler had made arrangements for the defence of the trench on the left, from which, much to their relief the Lincolns, Leicesters, and Monmouths, had been withdrawn during the early hours of the morning. Their place had been taken by A Company, which having lost all its Officers, was now commanded by Sergt. L. Bell. Parties were set to work to improve the trench, which was badly knocked about, and during the following night the Company dug a new trench a few yards in front, in order to get a better field of fire and for better protection. The Northern end of West Face was all this time held by the 7th Battalion.
C Company (Capt. H. B. S. Handford, in place of Capt. G. S. Heathcote, who had left to do duty at the Base) who had been left behind in Hayward's Heath when A and D Companies went over to attack, stayed there until 5.0 a.m. when 2nd Lieut. R. A. Abrams and a party of 15 were detailed to carry grenades up to A Company in the Redoubt, where many of them remained. The rest of the Company moved up to a communication trench near the original front line, where they received orders from a Battalion Commander of another Brigade, to carry water and grenades over the open to the Redoubt. They started shortly after 7.30 a.m., but as it was quite light, they were seen immediately, and heavy machine gun and rifle fire was opened on them at once. Basil Handford and several others were killed instantaneously, and several were wounded. The attempt was foredoomed to failure, and the men were ordered back into the trench. For the rest of the day they helped to carry stores to the Redoubt by way of a new communication trench and to fetch in and attend to the wounded. Very gallant work was done in this operation by Comp. Sergt.-Major Haywood, Sergts. Leivers and Bexton, and Pvtes. Winterbottom, Allen, and Eyre.
B Company (Capt. Turner) had been detached about 5.0 p.m. on October 13th, and ordered to proceed over the open to reinforce the garrison of our original front line. They remained for some time in the old support line, from which all the Company Grenadiers were sent up to reinforce the men in the Redoubt. One of these, L.-Corpl. G. W. Moore, did very gallant work in remaining alone for three-quarters-of-an-hour on the enemy's side of a barricade, which was being built up behind him, and then continued to bomb the enemy for eight hours. The Company was later ordered to dig a communication trench to link up the Redoubt with our old front line. They started about 9.0 p.m., and worked continuously on it throughout the night, much of the time under heavy rifle fire, and by dawn a serviceable trench had been dug, and a very important communication established. Capt. Turner was congratulated by the Officer Commanding the 7th Battalion on the very good work of his Company, in the supervision of which he had been most ably assisted by Sergt. Rawding.
October 14th seemed a never-ending day for those in the Redoubt. Fortunately in a way, the lines were too close together for us to be shelled, but bombing went on almost uninterruptedly, and our casualties mounted rapidly. Grenadier reinforcements were sent along from time to time from every Company in the Battalion, also from the 5th Battalion, whilst 2nd Lieut. G. H. Fisher, who was acting as Grenade Officer in the absence of Hemingway, came up during the morning, and at the right barricade displayed the greatest courage until he was badly wounded and had to leave, dying a few days later. Bombing was also going on at the left barricade, and throughout the day from one flank or the other, the cry was ever "more bombs" or "more Bombers." We had fortunately been able to get a signal line up to the Redoubt, and a station established there, in a fairly deep dug-out, so that most of the time we were in telephonic communication with those behind.
Our relief promised for the night of October 14th, never came, and we were compelled, alas, to remain in the Redoubt. Everyone was tired out, having had little or no sleep, and very little food, for 48 hours. As soon as it was dark the Sappers put out some wire in front of West Face, which encouraged us considerably, and we got through the night without any untoward incident. About 6.30 a.m., on the morning of October 15th, we were relieved in West Face by portions of the 5th and 6th Battalions, and by Grenadiers of the Irish Guards, and withdrawn to "Railway Reserve Trench," where we joined up with the remainder of B and C Companies. By the tragic irony of fate, as the Guards were actually filing into West Face and the relief was nearly complete, Col. Fowler, who was taking a last glance over the top to see if he could find any trace of Major Becher, the last signs of whom had been the flashes of his lamp, to guide us across to the Redoubt—was killed instantaneously by a sniper's bullet. So determined had he been to find Becher, that he had himself gone out during the night with Sergt. Stokes in a gallant but unsuccessful endeavour to find him.
Major J. E. Blackwall of the 6th Battalion took over the remnants of the Battalion the same evening, and shortly before midnight we were devoutly thankful to be relieved by the Irish Guards. As the relief was taking place, the enemy attempted an attack against the garrison of West Face, but as this was now swelled by the relieving troops, they got rather more than they bargained for, and were beaten off with heavy loss. At the same time they put down quite a barrage on the reserve trenches, and made our relief distinctly unpleasant, but eventually we got it completed without further casualty.
Much to our delight, just before leaving, we heard that Becher had been found. It appears that whilst we were going over to the attack, he had been bombed by the Boches, and badly wounded, as also had Daniels, his batman, who was with him. They got separated, but both managed to crawl away, though Becher eventually had to lie by in an old bit of trench near the German lines. It was from here that, after having been discovered by an Officer of the Leicesters, he was eventually rescued on October 15th, by Comp. Sergt.-Major Haywood, and L.-Sergt. T. Martin, who carried him a distance of 200 yards under more or less continuous rifle fire. Alas, however, he was not to recover, and after lingering on for ten weeks, he died in hospital on January 1st, 1916. In John Becher the Battalion lost one who was beloved by all, who had throughout ever had at heart the welfare of his men, whether in or out of the trenches, at work or at play. What he did in the early trench days at Kemmel, was known to few. Often and often he was out on patrol at night in "No Man's Land," mainly for the sake of example, for it was part of his creed never to tell a man to do anything that he would not dare to do himself. He lies buried in the British cemetery at Abbeville. It was a hard fate that struck down John Becher and his two brothers-in-law, Basil and Everard Handford—two of the most promising young Officers in the Battalion—within a few hours of each other.
Much untiring energy and devotion were shewn by many during these strenuous three days, not by any means the least by our Medical Officer, Capt. C. B. Johnstone, and his stretcher bearers. Johnstone himself worked almost incessantly for over 48 hours in attending the wounded, and in many cases helped to carry them long distances, often under heavy fire. To him and all his helpers are due our grateful thanks for their work on that occasion.
On relief we marched out to the Transport Lines behind Noyelles, where, in the early hours of October 16th, we got some most welcome and refreshing tea, supplied by Torrance and his followers, and then moved on, most of us more asleep than awake, to Vaudricourt, where we arrived about 6.30 a.m., and at once got down to sleep in some of the poorest billets it was ever our misfortune to strike.
Thus ended the more or less fruitless battle of Hohenzollern Redoubt. Though we held a portion of the Redoubt as a result of the fighting, it was of no tactical value, and indeed later on was evacuated or blown up. The 12th Division fared no better, and we can only look back on the whole attack as, through no fault of our own, a dismal failure. The battle caused us enormous casualties, all to no purpose. Our Battalion alone lost seven Officers and 35 other ranks killed or died of wounds, three Officers and 132 other ranks wounded, and 14 missing, all of whom were afterwards found to have been killed. Amongst the casualties were Sergt. H. Hall, killed, and Sergts. Archer, Burn, Barrow, and I. B. Bell and Corpl. Bruerton wounded.
It was a pleasure to all to hear a little later that for his gallantry and splendid work in this attack, and on many other occasions, "Pat" Ashwell was awarded a well-deserved D.S.O.
At 5.0 p.m. on the afternoon of October 17th, the whole Battalion and many Officers of the Brigade and Division, attended the funeral of our beloved Colonel in the English cemetery, under the Church at Fouquières, the service being taken by his old friend Padre Hales. Some 18 months afterwards the Battalion arrived in billets six miles away from this spot, after a long and tiring march. They were expected to move into the line the next day, and some Officers who were lucky enough to be mounted, rode over to see the Colonel's grave. Around the grave, which had been carefully looked after by the Curé and other kind friends, and was covered with snowdrops and daffodils just in bloom, they found a number of the old Warrant Officers and N.C.O.'s of the Battalion paying a silent tribute to their old Commanding Officer. Such a tribute, surely is the finest testimonial to the character of a man who ever inspired in all ranks an affection and respect, which can never have been exceeded in any unit of the army.