London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories

The 1/4th Battalion in the Battles of the SOMME, 1916 - Battles of September and October

4TH Battalion, The London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) in the Great War 1914 - 1919


THE 1/4TH BATTALION IN THE BATTLES OF THE SOMME, 1916

II. The Battles of September and October

As we have pointed out in the preceding chapter, the 1st July was a day of ahnost complete check to the British attack from Fricourt northwards. Between Fricourt and the Somme, however, a certain measure of success had been attained, while south of the river the French had made a considerable advance.

This limited success was exploited to the fullest extent during the first half of July, and by the 14th, after very fierce fighting, in which eleven British Divisions were engaged, our lines were pressed forward through the series of fortresses forming the first German system of defence.

The Main Ridge of the Somme watershed runs east-south-east from Thiepval, above the Ancre, across the Albert-Bapaume Road, towards the Peronne-Bapaume Road. About a mile and a half west of the latter road it is completely severed by a narrow and deep ravine in which lies the small township of Combles ; and about half way between Combles and Thiepval it is deeply indented by a valley which separates the villages of Bazentin-lc-Grand and Bazcntin-le-Petit, the head of this valley being dominated by the high ground on which stands High Wood. The ridge, therefore, divides itself into three sections, all on the same general alignment, as follows : In the west, from Thiepval, astride the Albert-Bapaume Road to High Wood ; in the centre, from High Wood to the Combles Valley ; in the east, the high ground about Sailly Sailliscl on the Peronne- Albert Road.

The German second system of defences followed roughly the near side of the crest of this Main Ridge, including the villages (from east to west) of Maurepas, Guillemont, Longueval (with Delville Wood), the Bazentins and Pozieres. The third system lay on the further slope of the ridge and included the villages of Morval, Lesboeufs, Flers and Gueudecourt.

On the 14th July the British attacked the second system on a front from Bazentin-le-Petit to Longueval. This attack, which was successful, was pressed forward to High Wood, of which practically the whole was captured, and thus secured for us a footing on the Main Ridge, dividing the German forces on the west and centre portions of it. The advance was consolidated and rounded off locally in the direction of Guillemont ; but the new positions formed an abrupt and narrow salient in our line, and before a further advance to the German third system could be contemplated it was necessary for the British hold on the Main Ridge to be widened. It was considered by G.H.Q. that the Pozieres -Thiepval series of fortresses at the western extremity of the ridge was too powerful to yield to frontal attack, and it was therefore decided to extend the hold on the centre portion of the ridge. This postulated the capture of Guillemont, Ginchy and Combles, and a swinging-up of the British right flank which rested on the Combles valley. The French were to co-operate on the right of the Combles valley by the capture of Fregicourt and Rancourt. Combles itself, immensely fortified and strongly garrisoned, was too formidable an obstacle to be likely to fall into our hands by direct attack, except at an appalling cost of life ; and it was therefore to be enveloped, the British advancing on the heights west of it and the French to its east.

It is with this great outflanking movement for the capture of Combles and the securing of the Main Ridge immediately west of it that the 56th Division and the l/4th Londons are concerned.

Guillemont was first attacked on the 23rd July, but it was not until after repeated attempts that it finally fell into our hands on the 3rd September. On that day the line was advanced to the outskirts of Ginchy and to the Wedge Wood-Ginchy Road, Falfemont Farm falling to us on the 5th.

Meanwhile local improvements had been made in our positions in various parts of the line, and the bitter fighting of August, though productive of no very deep advance was of the greatest value. It not only widened our hold on the ridge, but also by a series of unrelenting sledgehammer blows had a cumulative effect on the German morale and thus paved the way for the greater successes of September.

The 168th Brigade continued training in the St Riquier area until the end of August, the l/4th Londons retaining their billets at Le Plessiel. The training was rendered peculiarly interesting by reason of the first appearance of the " Heavy Section Machine-Gun Corps," better known as Tanks. These engines of war, which were regarded at first by the troops with a good deal of wonderment and not a little misgiving, only arrived in France on the 25th August. No time was lost in testing them and giving infantry troops an opportunity to co-operate with them in practice prior to their employment in action.

The 56th Division received the compliment of being one of the units selected by G.H.Q. to co-operate with Tanks on the occasion of their first appearance in battle, and accordingly a series of practice schemes was begun on the 26th August, the Brigades of the 56th Division being employed in turn. Needless to say the interest aroused by the strange appearance of these iron monsters was intense and speculation was rife as to their potential value in action, not only among the troops, but also among the many staff officers who were present at the demonstrations. Unfortunately the time allowed for " tuning up " the engines was inadequate, the result being that during the first practices the Tanks showed a most undesirable predilection for breaking down — a habit not calculated to inspire with confidence the infantry who were expected to follow them. However, these difficulties were largely overcome, and by the 2nd September, when the 168th Brigade's turn for practising with them arrived, the Tanks were working well.

In spite of the misgivings as to the tactical value of the Tanks which presented themselves to the minds of those incUned to pessimism, their arrival undoubtedly gave enormous encouragement to the troops who were enabled at last to realise that the enemy were not always to be first in the field with new inventions ; and the anticipation of a great surprise effect when the Tanks should first appear before the enemy trenches brought all ranks to the tip-toe of expectation. The strict injunction which was issued to avoid mention of the Tanks in correspondence was most loyally obeyed.

On the 2nd September a warning order was received that the Division would move forward to the battle area, and the following day the 168th and 169th Brigades moved to the Corbie area. The Battalion left Le Plessiel in the afternoon of the 3rd, marching to St Riquier, where it entrained for Corbie, a town of some size at the confluence of the Ancre and the Somme. Here the Battalion detrained at 11.15 p.m., marching, with the Rangers, to billets at Vaux-sur-Somme. The remainder of the Brigade was accommodated a mile further forward at Sailly-le-Sec, the Division now came under the orders of the XIV Corps (Cavan), the extreme right of the British Army, consisting of the 5th, 16th and 20th Divisions, which had this day been operating on the Guillemont front in the action already alluded to.

On the morning of the 4th orders were received, without any previous intimation that they might be coming, for the Battalion to move forward at once. The whole Battalion, less personnel of the transport and vehicles, marched out of Vaux-sur-Somme within one hour of the receipt of these orders — a credit to the high state of organisation to which the Battalion had been trained since leaving the Hebuterne area. Boutall writes : " The march was a long and tedious one and I think I am right in asserting that not a single man fell out on the way. I distinctly remember Lieut.-Col. Wheatley congratulating himself on the fact."

This march terminated at a large concentration camp known as the Citadel about two miles north of Bray. At the Citadel the Battalion was able to form a vague idea for the first time of the enormous effort being put forth by the British in this aheady long drawn-out struggle. The concentration camp covered an enormous area on the rolling hillsides above the Somme and presented an astounding spectacle of numbers of units from every arm of the Service — gunners, infantry, engineers — besides vast stores of materials of all kinds. The roar of the guns in the inferno of the battle line seemed to speak to the troops of the great and yet increasing power of the British Armies, and filled every heart with hope and confidence. To many of those who remembered the lean days of 1915 when the British battle line was starved for men and shells, this first contact with the reality of the Empire's strength was almost overpowering.

On the 5th September the Division took the place in Corps Reserve of the 20th Division, which had been withdrawn from the fighting line, and in the evening of the same day the relief of the 5th Division in the line began.

The front taken over from the 5th Division was the extreme right of the line from its junction with the French, overlooking the Combles valley to the left of Leuze Wood. The 169th Brigade (relieving the 15th) took over the right sector and the 168th Brigade (relieving the 95th) assumed responsibility in the left sector.

September had set in with steady rain which had already converted all the roads, tracks and camping grounds into seas of liquid mud. The Battalion, which since arrival at the Citadel had been held at short notice to move, advanced during the afternoon of the 5th, in full battle kit in the direction of the line. The state of the ground made marching an impossibility, and after sliding along for some time uncomfortably in the mud, orders were received for the Battalion to return to the Citadel. The change of plan was, as usual, received with philosophical resignation, and the men turned in to take advantage of the short respite only to be roused again a few hours later the same evening when the advance to the line began at 11.15 p.m.

At this hour the Battalion, which with the Rangers was in Brigade support, left the Citadel, arriving in its allotted position in Casement Trench at 5.30 a.m. on the 6th September. This trench was now reduced to a series of shell holes which the bad weather had rendered most uncomfortable, and was a part of the original German system opposite Maricourt.

The departure from the Citadel was marked by a most unfortunate accident. As the column began to move the explosion of a bomb which had been left buried in the mud occurred at the head of D Company, and this very seriously wounded Capt. A. L. Long, the company commander, and 2/Lieut. A. G. Sharp, and caused casualties to 19 N.C.O.'s and men.

With the advent of daylight the Battalion first came face to face with the ghastly desolation of the Somme battlefield. In all directions every sort of landmark seemed to be obliterated. A few torn stumps marked what had been Bernafay and Trones Woods, the village of Guillemont was practically effaced, and the only signs of life in the neighbourhood of the Battalion were numerous batteries of artillery in action. Here the nucleus personnel left the Battalion and returned to the Citadel, where the Q.M. stores were established. At 2 p.m. the Battalion changed its position to Chimpanzee Trench in the neighbourhood of the Brickfield, south of Bernafay Wood, and here it received a foretaste of the German barrage. After dark the forward move was resumed, and the Battalion entered the support trenches in rear of Leuze Wood, on the Wedge Wood-Ginchy Road, relieving the 4th Gloucesters. This trench formed a " switch " in the second German system which had fallen into our hands on the 3rd September.

Tlie Battle of Ginchy, 5th~10th September

The disposition of the Brigade was now as follows :

In front line, Leuze Wood : — London Scottish.

In support, Wedge Wood-Ginchy Road : — l/4th Londons.

In reserve, Maltzhorn Farm : — Rangers.

The Kensingtons were attached to the 169th Brigade, and were in line to the south of Leuze Wood.

During the night the enemy's bombardment of the front Hne and Wedge Wood Valley increased in intensity and two platoons of the l/4th Londons, under Lieuts. Oldrey and Garratt, were ordered forward to reinforce the Scottish in Leuze Wood. This advance was successfully accomplished, the platoons managing to get through an unpleasantly heavy barrage with only one casualty. No enemy attack materialised, and towards dawn, the hostile bombardment having subsided, the two platoons rejoined the Battalion.

Throughout the 7th September and far into the night the enemy shelled Wedge Wood Valley and the support line heavily, and the Battalion suffered a good many casualties, chiefly among ration and water-carrying parties, while communication with Battalion Headquarters was exceedingly difficult. The Wedge Wood-Ginchy Road which ran immediately in front of the trench was sunken at this point, and the bank was honeycombed with German dugouts, among them one which had been used as an aidpost, and which produced an ample supply of bandages, lint and field-dressings, and also cigars and tobacco — trench stores which were promptly taken on charge by the Battalion.

The road itself was littered with German dead, the remnants of the battle of the 3rd, who had apparently been caught by our barrage, of the destructive nature of which evidences were everywhere to be seen. " Unfortunately," writes an eyewitness, " the sunken road was an attraction to countless flies in the daytime. So numerous were they that from the road arose a continuous hum which was audible at a considerable distance. They swarmed over into the trench and settled on our food in such numbers that they often found their way into our mouths at mealtimes."

During the afternoon of the 7th orders were issued for the 56th Division to extend its front to the left by taking over the sector held by the right Brigade of the 16th Division. This consisted of a trench following the Leuze Wood-Guillcmont Road, from near the north corner of Leuze Wood, for about 500 yards to the left. This relief was to be effected by " side-stepping " the 168th Brigade to the left, its trenches in Leuze Wood being handed over to the 169th Brigade. In pursuance of this scheme the BattaUon took over with A and D Companies the advanced front hne — ^about 200 yards' frontage on the immediate left of Leuze Wood — from the 7th Inniskilling Fusiliers. Immediately after relief these companies began to dig assembly trenches for the impending continuance of the offensive, and this task was completed before dawn on the 8th September. The Rangers meanwhile had come up in line on the left of the l/4th Londons, while the Scottish on relief in Leuze Wood by the 169th Brigade had withdrawn into Brigade support, where they were joined by the Kensingtons.

The 8th September was occupied in improving the assembly trenches, and in establishing an advanced report centre in a German dugout at the south-west corner of Leuze Wood — by now corrupted by the ever-ready wit of the Cockney into " Lousy " Wood — while under cover of darkness the Cheshire Pioneers connected the Wood with Wedge Wood by a communication trench. In addition a great deal of work was carried out in collecting advanced dumps of tools, bombs, ammunition and water, in the west edge of Leuze Wood. All this work was effected under very heavy shell fire under which the Battalion sustained some loss.

Orders had now been received for the resumption of the offensive on the 9th, and during the night the l/4th Londons and Rangers occupied their newly dug assembly trenches, while the Kensingtons advanced to the Wedge Wood support trench, the Scottish remaining at Maltzhorn Farm. The advanced report centre in Leuze Wood was taken over by the l/4th Londons and placed under charge of Capt. Houlder (17th Londons attached). Capt. Houlder, who could speak German fluently, was instrumental during the action in gaining from prisoners much useful first-hand information which he was able to pass back to Battalion and Brigade Headquarters. The terrifying aspect of this huge British officer, coupled with the fact that he always had a loaded revolver conspicuously displayed during his investigations, no doubt increased tiie desire of liis victims to respond to his enquiries !

The battle of the 9th September was an attack on the whole front of the Fourth Army, the French co-operating on our right. The object of the XIV Corps, of which the 56th and 16th Divisions were in line, was to advance the British positions from the Combles valley on the extreme right well to the east of Leuze Wood on a line running from south-east to north-west as far as the Ginchy-Morval Road, which formed the left of the 56th Division front. From this point the 16th Division was to reach a line which ran due west for some 800 yards along the road towards Ginchy and then bent northwards to include the whole of the village.

Map No. 5 shows the objectives of the 56th Division, the 169th Brigade on the right being responsible for forcing our lines forward of Leuze Wood on its north and east sides ; and the 168th Brigade continuing the line as far as Point 141 "7 on the Ginchy-Morval Road. The map also indicates that nearly every battalion taking part in the assault would have to make a change of direction from its starting point in order to advance to its objective.

So far as the 168th Brigade was concerned the advance was to be made in two stages, the first objective being a line of German trenches, running from the north corner of Leuze Wood towards Ginchy, and the final objective being as above described. For this purpose the dispositions of the Brigade remained as they had been on the eve of the battle, that is :

Right Assaulting Battalion — l/4th Londons.
Left Assaulting Battalion — Rangers.
Support Battalion — Kensingtons.
Reserve Battalion — London Scottish.

The l/4th Londons were disposed for attack as follows :

Right — B Company (Lieut. H. W. Vernon).
Centre — D Company (Lieut. G. H. Davis).
Left — A Company (Capt. J. R. Webster).
Support — C Company (2/Lieut. W. E. Osborne).

Each company occupied a two-platoon frontage, so that the whole BattaHon was on a front of six platoons and in a depth of four waves.

The morning of the 9th September dawned mistily, but by 10 o'clock the sun's rays had dispersed the haze and disclosed to the enemy the new earth thrown up in front of our hastily dug assembly trenches. A heavy bombardment of the assembly areas on the whole Divisional front followed, lasting all the morning and causing a good many casualties. The assaulting companies having already formed up over night, the trenches were crowded with troops waiting for the hour of attack, and the experience of having quietly to endure this remarkably accurate and heavy shoot was one of the most trying of the whole engagement.

At 4 o'clock the enemy put down a heavy barrage on our lines. A quarter of an hour later our preparatory bombardment, which had opened at 10 a.m., increased to " hurricane " intensity, and for half an hour the German positions were subjected to a frightful ordeal under which it seemed that nothing could live. At 4.45 p.m. the British columns, on a front of several miles, moved to the assault.

The l/4th Londons on getting out of their assembly trenches had to make a change of direction, pivoting on their right flank, and this accomplished, they moved forward steadily, keeping well up to their barrage and suffering comparatively little loss.

In consequence of the conflicting reports which were received during the action, the heavy toll of casualties in all ranks, and the resultant intermingling of companies in the positions gained, it has been a matter of considerable difficulty to elucidate the position and to extract from the mass of evidence a fair and impartial account of what really occurred.

It seems evident, however, that the position marked as the l/4th Londons' first objective was innocent of the trench which it was expected to find there. At all events if a trench had ever existed on the line of the Leuze Wood-Ginchy track it had been so battered by shell fire as to be no longer recognisable as such ; and it appears that the greater part of the assaulting companies overshot the mark and moved straight on to what was really the second objective, which they occupied under the impression that it was the first objective. It had been arranged that A Company on the left should consolidate a strong point on the left of the real first objective at its point of junction with the sector to be captured by the Rangers. Evidently 2/Lieut. Brodic, to whom was allotted this task, in making his change of direction to the right took a somewhat wide sweep and struck the east end of the Rangers' first objective, where a trench did actually exist, and here he formed his block practically in the position where it was intended to be. Subsequently Brodie, finding himself, no doubt, out of touch with the remainder of the Battalion, who had gone too far, came forward in the attempt to clear up the situation, but unhappily was killed, together with all his men.

The too rapid advance of the Battalion naturally brought them under the fire of our own barrage, and during the forty minutes' pause which was ordered after the capture of the first objective before the resumption of the advance on to the second, a good many casualties did in fact occur from our own shells which were dropping in and uncomfortably close to the trench which was occupied. This trench — the real second objective — was subsequently known as Bully Trench. We will therefore so refer to it in order to avoid confusion.

At 5.25 p.m. the Battalion, now including elements of all companies, once more advanced in a commendably steady manner on to a trench just topping the rise of the Main Ridge. This it occupied with very little opposition. This advanced position — Beef Trench — was an isolated trench about 150 yards ahead of Bully (the real second objective) with both flanks in the air. It was shallow and evidently only in course of construction. It afforded magnificent observation over the rearward slopes of the Main Ridge on to the German third line system in front of Morval, and in this position the work of consolidation was begun, two Lewis gun posts being pushed forward overlooking the Morval-Lesbceufs Road. Middle Copse, a small spinney about 200 yards to the front, was seen to be teeming with Bosche who were effectively dealt with by our Lewis guns.

In the meantime the right platoon of B Company under 2/Lieut. Garratt, which, in keeping touch with the Queen Victorias, had got ahead of the rest of the Battalion, had evidently become deflected slightly to the right during its advance and had dropped into the communication trench connecting Leuze Wood with Bully Trench. Apparently somewhat confusing his direction in the total absence of landmarks, Garratt moved along this trench and turned the corner to the left along Bully Trench. Here he came in contact with a Bosche bombing party, and attacking them vigorously pushed them back for some considerable distance, and eventually constructed a temporary block in the trench, probably about the centre of the Battalion's sector, i.e. about 200 yards short of the Quadrilateral. In this bomb fighting the men of B Company displayed great courage and dash, and their accurate throwing contributed largely to their success. Among these gallant men Corpl. Udall was conspicuous, and for his devotion to duty he was awarded the Military Medal.

During the advance of the assaulting companies of the Battalion from Bully Trench to the advanced position in Beef, a somewhat determined attack was delivered against B Company's block by a large party of the enemy led by an officer. Fortunately the shallowness of the trench exposed the enemy's advance and after a brisk exchange of bombs, in the course of which some loss was inflicted on the attacking party, including the officer who was shot by Garratt, the survivors surrendered with the exception of a few who fled pursued by the fire of our men and the Rangers. Garratt was subsequently awarded the Military Cross for his good work.

On the Battalion's left the Rangers, whose line of advance was dominated by the Quadrilateral and a small spur running from it in a south-westerly direction, had been faced with a withering machine-gun fire under which advance was utterly impossible. Their left company was unable to make progress, and by 8.30 p.m. was compelled to withdraw to its assembly positions in conjunction with the right Brigade of the 16th Division who had also been unable to overcome the German resistance. The right company of the Rangers pushed gallantly forward losing heavily, but was finally brought to a stand in the vicinity of the temporary block which was being held in Bully by Garratt. Here they were forced to take such cover as shell craters afforded them, and to reply to the Bosche fire, in which they were assisted by the party of B Company at the block. Under the gathering darkness a good many of the Rangers were able to make their way into Bully trench.

While all this was taking place two companies of the Kensingtons had occupied the assembly trenches vacated by the l/4th Londons, and the commanders of these, appreciating the situation of the Rangers, at once made a gallant attempt to fill the gap on the left. Their gallantry, however, cost them dear, and the German barrage took a heavy toll of casualties before they reached Bully Trench. The bravery of Major Dickens was in particular remarkable. Mortally wounded some time before he reached his objective, he continued to advance at the head of his men, cheering and encouraging them until he collapsed into the trench. Later in the evening the two remaining companies of the Kensingtons were also thrown into the fight and became absorbed into the l/4th Londons' position in Bully Trench.

Darkness had now fallen, and the position of the companies in the advanced trench was far from happy. Both flanks were in the air and heavy losses had been suffered ; of the officers who had started with these companies, only four — Cooper, McCormick, Qucnncll and Burford — were still standing. News from Garratt showed that he was doubtful as to whether he could hold out against another attack.

Fearing to lose the advantage already gained. Cooper, who had assumed command of the force in Beef Trench, decided to reoccupy Bully temporarily, and finally clear it of the enemy. The withdrawal was successfully accomplished in the dark, but the enemy was found to be firmly established with an apparently ample supply of bombs on his side of the block, which had now been completed with the help of the Kensington and Ranger reinforcements ; and further attempts to extend our gains northward in Bully were abandoned. Communication being now re-established with Battalion Headquarters, orders were received in Bully for the reoccupation of the advanced positions in Beef ; and the Bully position being now much strengthened by Rangers and Kensingtons, the l/4th Londons moved forward alone to Beef Trench.

During the remainder of the night a good deal of work was necessary in reorganising the somewhat mixed force by which the forward position was now occupied. One or two enemy patrols approached the position but were fired on and dispersed, and apart from continued shell fire and sniping the night passed comparatively peacefully.

Captain Cooper gives the following account of a remarkable incident which occurred during the night : —

A glow was seen in a shell hole some distance to the front and on investigation this proved to be from the cigarette of a battalion N.C.O., a corporal (Fergusson), who had formed part of one of the forward posts. He had become separated from his men and wounded in the back so that he was unable to walk. He stated that he had been uncertain of his position and so had crawled into a shell hole. A Bosche patrol had found him and removed his shoulder badges and taken the contents of his pockets, but had propped him up in a comfortable position and had left him his water-bottle, cigarettes and matches. He was calmly and coolly enjoying a cigarette when found. He was sent on a stretcher to the Aid Post.

While these events were taking place on the Battalion's front, the Queen Victorias, the left of the 169th Brigade, had occupied their objective, and were in touch on the right of Bully. The enemy, however, had hitherto successfully resisted all efforts of the London Rifle Brigade to emerge from the east side of Leuze Wood. At about 7 p.m. the Bosche at this part of the line had launched a vigorous bomb attack along the sunken road leading from Combles, and the L.R.B. had been forced back after a most stubborn resistance which cost them heavily. During the night the
Queen's Westminsters took over the extreme right of the Division.

The 16th Division on the left had also met with varied fortunes. The 47th Brigade on its left had successfully advanced through Ginchy and established itself on its objective ; but the right brigade, the 48th, whose objective lay along the Ginchy-Morval Road, met with most stubborn resistance from the spur already referred to. In spite of the most gallant efforts the Brigade was unable to make progress, and eventually fell back with the left wing of the Rangers at about 8.30 p.m. and reoccupied their original position on the Wedge Wood-Ginchy Road. About this time the London Scottish were ordered into the fight in order to endeavour to clear up the situation in this part of the field. After the march forward from Maltzhorn their preparations were completed at about midnight, and shortly after they attacked from a position to the left of the Rangers' assembly trenches towards the Quadrilateral. The enemy was still vigorous in his defence, and after losing their direction in the intense darkness, the Scottish were ultimately withdrawn, having first rendered a good account of themselves in a lively little hand-to-hand fight with a party of the Bosche. During the night the 16th Division was relieved by the 3rd Guards Brigade.

Shortly after dawn on the 10th 2/Lieut. McCormick, who had come back to Battalion Headquarters with a report of the situation, returned to Beef Trench with orders for the immediate evacuation of the advanced position. Accordingly, after establishing two Lewis gun positions in Beef Trench, the withdrawal was proceeded with as rapidly as possible, the activity of the German snipers in the growing daylight making movement difficult except in the smallest parties. The return of the l/4th Londons to Bully Trench caused congestion which was subsequently intensified by the arrival of a large reinforcement of London Scottish. This Battalion made efforts during the day to prolong the line in the direction of the Quadrilateral, while the Guards, working eastward along the Ginchy-Morval Road, sought to join hands with them, but the Germans were well supplied with bombs and put up a very gallant resistance. The continued occupation of the spur — which on the previous day had stopped the 16th Division — moreover forced an unpleasantly deep reentrant in the British line, leaving the left flank of the l/4th Londons dangerously exposed. An effort to rout out the pertinacious defenders of this spur was made during the afternoon by the 168th Stokes mortars, who fired 35 rounds with good effect into the enemy trenches.

The position on the right flank of the Battalion was still less satisfactory than had been hoped for. At 7 a.m. and again at 3 p.m. the Queen's Westminsters had made local attempts to gain the previous day's objective, but each time without success.

Throughout the day the Battalion's position was kept under heavy German shell fire which caused the already heavy casualty roll to mount higher and higher, and it was found necessary to relieve the congestion in Bully by withdrawing the Rangers and Kensingtons to the rear. Communication with Headquarters was rendered exceedingly difficult, though, as always, there was no lack of brave volunteers to try to pass through the German barrage, and these in some cases succeeded in reaching the report centre in Leuze Wood. Moreover the trench, only a shallow and half-finished work to start with, was becoming badly shattered and was filled with wounded men, whom there was no means of evacuating, for all the stretcher-bearers with companies had themselves become casualties. Throughout this trying day all ranks displayed magnificent spirit and clung to their hardly won gains with grim determination. That night the 168th Brigade was relieved, the l/4th Londons handing over their objective to the 8th Middlesex of the 167th Brigade. Following the relief, which was complete by midnight, the Battalion, moved by companies — by now sadly reduced in numbers — to Casement Trench, whence the Battalion moved as a unit to Billon Farm, near Carnoy, arriving in bivouacs there at 5.30 a.m. on the 11th September.

The five days' duty just completed were perhaps the most strenuous the Battalion had yet experienced. Almost all the time exposed to bad weather conditions and to very heavy and accurate artillery fire, the spirit of the men was magnificent ; and their steadiness, after the loss of 15 out of the 20 officers who led the companies into action, as well as a large proportion of N.C.O.'s, was unsurpassed. Their fighting qualities too were firmly established, for they had taken their objectives up to time-table and handed them over intact twenty-four hours later. The total casualties during the five days amounted to 22 officers and about 250 other ranks.
The officer casualties were as follows :

7th and 8th September — Capts. F. C. J. Read and H. G. Stanham, 2/Lieuts. W. Richards, A. Potton, J. T. Middleton, 0. H. T. Heaver and L. W. Archer, wounded.

9th and 10th September— Capt. J. R. Webster, 2/Lieuts. C. J. Brodie, F. J. Foden, W. E. Osborne, C. E. Lewis, C. S. G. Blows and C. F. Mortleman, killed ; Lieuts. H. W. Vernon and G. H. Davis, 2/Lieuts. J. W. Price, V. R. Oldrey, C. F. English, N. A. Ormiston and J. C. Graddon, wounded ; and
2/Lieut. W. H. Davey, D.C.M., missing, pi^esumed killed.

Throughout the 11th and 12th heavy fighting continued in which the 167th Brigade co-operated with the Guards on the left in numerous efforts to clear out the re-entrant and reach the Ginchy Quadrilateral. This magnificently defended position, however, held out against the most gallant attempts of the attackers. During the night of the 11 /1 2th September the 167th Brigade was also relieved, the line being taken over by the 16th Brigade of the 6th Division.

The Battalion remained at Billon Farm for three most welcome days of rest and reorganisation during which the weather, which now once more became fine and warm, was of inestimable value in cheering the troops after their somewhat trying experience. The relief to the men's spirits on emerging even for a short spell from the ghastly featureless waste of the battle area to surroundings where trees still bore their leaves, roads still crossed the hillsides, and houses were not completely effaced, was immense ; and by the time the period of rest was over the Battalion was once more braced up to continue the struggle.

One or two changes occurred during this period among the officers of the BattaHon, of which the most important was the assumption of the Adjutancy by Lieut. W. J. Boutall on the evacuation to hospital of Capt. R. L. Herring, who had occupied this trying position practically since the Battalion joined the 56th Division. 2/Lieut. Garratt assumed the duties of Assistant Adjutant almost immediately afterwards. Capt. J. T. Sykes left the Battalion for attachment to the Indian Army, and the signalling officer, Lieut. E. W. Monk, to join the R.A.F. The latter's duties were taken over by 2/Lieut. S. J. Barkworth, M.M. In addition to these 2/Lieut, A. C. Knight was evacuated to hospital.

The Battle of Flers-Courcelette 15th-18th September

The renewal of the offensive was not long to be delayed. The object of the High Command was to follow up the blows delivered against the German positions as rapidly as possible, and to leave the enemy little respite for reorganisation and rest. The constant hammering on his defences had already had an appreciable effect on his morale, and it was hoped that before long the strain on his resources would prove so great that the situation would develop rapidly in favour of the Allies.

The next general attack was arranged for the 15th September, the assault being launched on the whole battle front from Morval to Le Sars on the Albert-Bapaume Road. The great pivoting movement by which the British right flank was to be swung forward in line with the left on the Main Ridge had now reached an important stage, and the operations of the XIV Corps were now more than ever bound up with the fortunes of the French south of Combles. The French were aiming at establishing themselves astride the Bapaume-Peronne Road at the village of Sailly Saillisel, about two miles north-east of Combles ; but the task presented unusual difficulties owing to the restriction of the lines of possible advance between the deep Combles ravine on the one flank, and the extensive wood of St Pierre Vaast on the other. The evils of this confinement were aggravated by the fact that the enemy position about Morval at the extreme east end of the Main Ridge dominated the whole of our AlHes' hne of advance. It was therefore essential to the success, not only of the French in their ultimate object but also of the combined " squeezing-out " process which was being applied to Combles itself, that the British should at once possess themselves of such portions of the Main Ridge as remained in the enemy's hands. This entailed the breaking of the Third German systein on the line Morval-Lesboeufs-Flers, and this was the task of the XIV and XV Corps on the 15th September.

The positions held by the Division at the opening of the battle were as follows :

167th Brigade — On the line north of Leuze Wood and intersecting the south end of Bonleaux Wood which had been captured on the 9th by the Queen Victorias, and thence along the sovith-east edge of Leuze Wood for about half its length.

169tli Brigade — On the right of Leuze Wood, in a line running due north and south, between the 167th and the French.

168th Brigade — In reserve bivouacs in Angle Wood Valley, the Battalion being at the head of the Valley near Wedge Wood.

The position which the Battalion had captured on the 9th September was now held by the 6th Division, who formed the centre of the Corps while the Guards were on the extreme left.

The general idea of the attack was that the Guards and 6th Divisions should attack positions in the German third line facing Lesboeufs, while the 56th Division was to form a defensive flank facing the Combles ravine.

To establish this defensive flank the 169th Brigade on the right was to push forward of Leuze Wood and occupy a position roughly north and south with its left flank astride the sunken road from Combles, about 300 yards east of the edge of Leuze Wood. The 167th was to clear Bouleaux Wood in two stages and establish a line parallel to and about 100 yards in front of its east edge. The l/4th Londons were to follow up the advance of the 167th Brigade and then " leap-frog " through it on to the German third line immediately in front of Morval whence they would connect up between the left of the 167th Brigade and the right of the 6th Division.

The 15th September was on the greater part of the battle front a day of big successes. At an early hour Flers fell before our assault, and by the afternoon the British line had been pushed far beyond it ; the whole of High Wood was taken, and before nightfall Martinpuich and Courcelette on the left had been added to the gains of the day.

On the extreme right, however, the advance suffered a rather severe check. The Guards, who occupied the left of the Corps front, were able to make solid advances between Flers and Lesboeufs, but the 6th Division adjoining them were held up by the Quadrilateral at Ginchy, whose brave defenders still maintained their position most stubbornly ; and this failure naturally reacted on the 56th Division who occupied a narrow wedge between the Quadrilateral and the Combles ravine.

At 5.50 a.m. the three tanks which were to make their debut with the Division left their departure points for the first objective, and at 6.20 a.m. the infantry assault was launched. Almost three hours later, at 9 a.m., the l/4th Londons left their bivouacs in Angle Wood Valley and moved forward in artillery formation towards the battle position on the crest between the north edge of Leuze Wood and the west face of Bouleaux Wood. Progress was not rapid owing to the heavy state of the ground, and under the German shell fire a good many casualties were sustained. The advance was made, however, in good order, and with admirable steadiness.

The 169th Brigade made very slight advances on the south of Leuze Wood ; while the 167th managed to secure the part of its first objective which lay outside Bouleaux Wood. The 8th Middlesex of the latter Brigade even made a heroic attempt to reach the second objective, but had to be brought back. The enemy barrage was heavy and fell, as it so often had in the Somme battles, between the assaulting columns and their starting-point, thus cutting them off from supplies and reinforcement, while the accurate intensity of their machine-gun fire from their positions in the Quadrilateral made advance an utter impossibility. After ten hours' fighting, during which the assaulting Brigades did all that men could do, the Corps Commander telephoned to Gen. Hull tliat the Division would make no further attempt against Bouleaux Wood that day.

The l/4th Londons luckily avoided the slaughter of the battle line this day, for a few minutes prior to its advance from Angle Wood Valley an order had been despatched to Brigade Headquarters to the effect that in consequence of the check of the 6th Division in front of the Quadrilateral the 168th Brigade would not occupy its battle position. This order was transmitted by Brigade and reached the Battalion during its advance. Upon receipt of it the Battalion was at once brought back to its assembly area at Angle Wood Valley where, in common with the remainder of the Brigade, it remained in bivouacs till the early hours of the 18th September. This operation cost the Battalion a large number of casualties among N.C.O.'s and men from the German shell fire, and one officer, 2/Lieut. J. W. Chapman, wounded.

During these days Angle Wood Valley was a distinctly unhealthy locality. The German artillery maintained a searching fire over the whole area, and exacted a fair toll of casualties. The weather, which a few days previously had shown signs of mending, had once more turned wet and the shell holes, which formed the only available cover, became not the most desirable resting-place for the troops. The strain was great, but the situation was as usual not only borne by all in the Battalion with an almost stoical resignation, but enlivened occasionally with those rare flashes of humour which have made the London soldiers famous during the War in three continents.

The story of the tanks on the 15th September is too well-known to need elaboration here, and is, moreover, too much outside the actual experience of the Battalion to allow of more than a passing reference. The moral effect on the Germans was immense, and considering that their employment had scarcely passed the experimental stage.

the success gained by them was conspicuous. As was anticipated, however, the tanks promptly became a mark for a tremendous concentration of enemy fire which made their room far more desirable than their company. Of the three attached to the 56th Division one did useful work in the vicinity of the Quadrilateral, and after trampling down a good deal of wire and putting an enemy machine-gun team out of action returned to make a personal report of its adventures. The careers of the other two were sadly abbreviated, and the end of the day found them derelict — one west of Bouleaux Wood, and one south-east of Leuze Wood — though not before they had dealt out a certain amount of destruction to the German defences.

Orders were received while the Battalion remained in Angle Wood Valley for the resumption of the offensive on the 18th September. The objectives on the XIV Corps front were on this occasion very much more modest than they had been three days earlier, and so far as the 56th Division was concerned were as follows :

169th Bingade — -Tho sunken road from Leuze Wood to Conibles, between the east edge of the wood and the orchard west of Combles.
67th Brigade — The east edge of Bouleaux Wood for a distance of 6(X) yards from its southern extremity, and thence a line through the w'ood to Middle Copse. From Middle Copse the objective was continued in a northerly direction by the 6th Division.

The 168th Brigade remained in resei've in Angle Wood Valley, but the l/4th Londons and the London Scottish were attached to the 167th.

For this operation the Battalion was detailed as the left assaulting battalion of the 167th Brigade, its objective being the portion between Middle Copse (which was held by an advanced post of the 7th Middlesex) and the east edge of Bouleaux Wood. For this purpose its assembly position was the old German communication trench connecting Bully Trench with the north corner of Leuze Wood. The right of the Brigade frontage was taken up by the 3rd Londons.

The hour of assault was fixed for 6.15 a.m. on the 18th, and to enable it to reach its assembly position by 5.15 a.m. as ordered, the l/4th Londons moved from Angle Wood Valley at 3.30 a.m. But the ground was impossible. All vestige of tracks had long since disappeared, and the countryside in every direction was a vast slippery quagmire in which so far from keeping any sort of march formation it was next to impossible for the men, laden as they were with battle equipment, to stand upright at all.

Zero hour arrived, but the Battalion as well as the 3rd Londons was still slipping and struggling a long way short of its assembly area. The British barrage opened and was at once replied to by a withering machine-gun fire by the enemy. Seldom has the Battalion been exposed to so accurate and devastating a fire. The only alternative to complete destruction was to take cover in the water-logged shell holes, which movement was carried out with alacrity by all ranks : in this unexpected position an order reached the Battalion abandoning the attack and recalling it to Angle Wood.

On the right the much suffering 169th Brigade was able to achieve a series of local bombing successes which carried their line appreciably nearer Combles. From the 6th Division on the left, shortly after midday came the cheering news that the Quadrilateral had at last fallen, together with the trench to the north of it.

This important success, which had so long eluded the grasp of the successive Divisions who had sought it, paved the way for the magnificent achievements of the 25th September, which will be recounted later, its especial importance being that it was practically the last heavily fortified stronghold on the central portion of the Main Ridge to resist the British attacks.

The abortive operation of the 18th cost the Battalion a good many casualties in N.C.O.'s and men, and one officer, 2/Lieut. W. H. Calnan, wounded.

The same evening the 168th Brigade relieved the 167th in the Leuze Wood trenches, the London Scottish occupying the front system, which comprised Beef and Bully Trenches. The l/4th Londons took over from the 3rd Londons the support line, which ran diagonally through Leuze Wood in a north and south direction. Leuze Wood was at all times an unhealthy locality and formed an unfailing source of attraction for every conceivable sort of German projectile. The 3rd Londons had already suffered heavily here, and the night of the relief proved to be no exception to the rule. Throughout the evening the wood was plastered with high explosive shell, and even the inadequate shelter of the trenches hastily dug, damaged and water-logged as they were, was exceedingly welcome. The position was, without exception, the muddiest that had yet fallen to the lot of the Battalion. " To stand still," writes a company commander, " was to sink gradually until the whole of the legs to well above the knees were immersed and movement was correspondingly difficult." Lewis guns and rifles had become choked with mud so as to render the Battalion practically defenceless, but with much labour they were cleaned, and some rations which were found in the trench distributed. Dawn broke on a chilled but yet remarkably cheerful Battalion. The continued strain of heavy shell fire and conditions of physical misery were, however, beginning to have their effect, and several men who in earlier actions had given ample proof of their courage, collapsed. " One man of D Company who had previously shown himself one of the stoutest-hearted, lost his mental balance and suddenly became possessed of the idea of kUling all the Germans in the German Army, and had to be forcibly restrained from mounting the parapet. 2/Lieut. Barkworth, who came up from Battalion Headquarters, succeeded by sheer strength of personality in restraining him and getting him back to H.Q."

The 19th September was a day of comparative quiet on the battle front, though shelling and sniping continued in a desultory fashion. Rain fell steadily and the condition of the trenches, appallingly bad to start with, became so wretched as to defy description.

During the night of the 19th a large working party of the 5th Cheshire Pioneers, under the supervision of the Brigade Major (Capt. R. E. Neame, V.C, D.S.O., R.E.), and covered by a screen of one and a half companies of the Scottish, dug a new trench 800 yards long. This new work, Gropi Trench, ran forward from Beef Trench towards the German Hne, parallel to the west edge of Bouleaux Wood, as far as the Morval tram-line. The task was successfully completed before dawn, but with the advent of daylight and the consequent exposure of the newly turned-up earth, the whole brigade area was again subjected to a heavy bombardment by the enemy's artillery. The German snipers again became particularly active, and every rash movement was promptly punished. Under this gruelling there was nothing for the Battalion to do but to keep quietly in its trenches and make the best of an unpleasant state of affairs. That night the Kensingtons came forward from Angle Wood Valley and took over the support line from the Battalion, and also Bully Trench in front of it. The relief was completed by 9.80 p.m., and never was relief more welcome. The Rangers at the same time took over the Beef and Gropi system from the London Scottish. On withdrawal from the trenches the Battalion moved by companies to bivouacs at Falfemont Farm, arriving there at 10.45 p.m.

No further movement was made during the 21st and 22nd September, and these two days were fairly quiet as the principal target for the German guns was provided by the numerous British batteries in Angle Wood Valley, which received heavy punishment.

Between the 20th September and the 2nd October the following reinforcements joined :

Capt. R. N. Keen, Lieuts. W. H. Vernon and A. Bath, 2/Lieuts.

C. A. Speyer, C. Potter, AV. R. Gilford, H. W. Spiers, L. C.

Haycraft, L. J. R. Atterbury, C. P. Russell, T. R. Fletcher and S. A. G. Richardson.
2/Lieut. T. Siddall (25th Londons).
100 N.C.O.'s and men.

A few days after joining Lieut. A. Bath and 2/Lieut. C. P. Russell were evacuated, the former with a broken ankle, the latter sick.

The men of this draft represented so far as the l/4th Battalion was concerned the firstfruits of the " Derby " scheme, and it must always be a matter for regret that the dreadful losses already incurred by the Battalion made it inevitable to pitchfork this fine material straight into the inferno of the Somme without any opportunity for it to become previously assimilated into the ranks of the Battalion. The Somme battles were a severe ordeal even to the most veteran soldiers ; and the bearing of these young and inexperienced troops in the trials of the latter half of the Battalion's Somme fighting stands to their lasting credit.

As we have already remarked, the Cockney soldier, however wretched his conditions, is never so depressed by his surroundings as to be unable to find humour in the situation of the hour. The Battalion had now spent seven consecutive days in the desolation of the battle area practically without shelter from the pitiless torrents of rain which combined with the German shells to churn the whole surface of the ground into a disgusting glutinous mass ; the troops were soaked to the skin and plastered with mud from head to foot ; but the unconquerable spirit of cheerfulness held them together, dirty and dishevelled as they were, a well-knit and disciplined fighting unit. The condition of the ground, which added so vastly to the labours of the troops, is illustrated by a story told by an officer who was present :

A man attempted to cross the valley and started to plough his way through the mud, but rashly omitted to lace up his boots, which he had previously removed. His negligence was quickly visited upon him, for scarcely had he begun his journey when the mud claimed one of his boots, which became stuck fast. His powers of balance were unequal to the task of putting his foot back in the boot; and he toppled over, both his hands becoming firmly embedded. His efforts to regain a standing position were prolonged and violent, but after a time successful, and finally, boots in hand, he proceeded on his way amid the cheers of the onlookers, who accepted his performance as being arranged for their especial amusement, and were particularly interested in the man's lurid observations on the subject of boots, mud and war generally.

There were a few occasions, however, when circumstances seemed too strong even for the l/4th Londons, and one of them occurred that night when the rum jars which arrived with the rations were found, alas, to contain — Hme juice !

On the evening of the 22nd September the 168th Brigade was reheved in the left subsector by the 167th and the Battalion moved back to the comparative peace of Casement Trench, where it occupied bivouacs until the afternoon of the 24th, making preparations for the next bout in the battle line.

The Battle of Morval, 25th September

The continuance of the offensive had been arranged for the 21st, but the weather conditions placed such a handicap on the chances of success that it was postponed, first until the 23rd and again till the 25th September, when once more the battle broke out on a front from the British right at Combles to a point half-way between Flers and Martinpuich. The French were to co-operate in this attack on the right of Combles ravine. The objectives of the XIV Corps included the villages of Lesboeufs and Morval, and, as on the occasion of their earlier attempt on the 15th, the 56th Division was to form a defensive flank facing south-east over Combles.

A series of local bombing operations was conducted on the 24th by the 169th Brigade on the extreme right in conjunction with the French, which gave them an increased hold on Combles Trench immediately in front of the village, and appreciably improved their jumping-off positions for the following day. During the night also the two tanks allotted to the Division moved forward to their rendezvous in the quarry west of Leuze Wood.

For the battle of the 25th the three Brigades of the Division were all in line, the 169th on the right, with the 167th in the centre and the 168th on the left. The l/4th Londons were the right assaulting Battalion of the 168th, their duty being to clear the northern end of Bouleaux Wood and to establish a line of posts overlooking the ravine, while the London Scottish on the left continued the defensive flank in the direction of Morval

At 4.30 p.m. on the 24th the BattaHon marched from Casement Trench to occupy positions of assembly, relieving the 7th Middlesex in the Gropi-Ranger system as follows :

C Company — Left front, in Ranger Trench.

B Company — Right front, in Gropi Trench, and the small communication trench leading forward to Ranger Trench.
D Company — Support, in Gropi Trench.

A Company — Reserve, in the southern part of Gropi Trench and Middle Copse.
Battalion Headqua^rters were established in a dugout west of the north part of Gropi Trench and the Aid Post in the quarry west of Leuze Wood.

The evening of relief was fortunately fairly quiet, but owing to the complete obliteration of all landmarks some difficulty was experienced by the guides provided for the companies in locating the positions to be occupied. However, Middle Copse was eventually reached, and this point being gained a little prospecting discovered Gropi Trench, after which the relief proceeded smoothly and was completed without unusual incident. Gropi Trench, which had been dug by the Cheshires, was found to be very well constructed, and the excellent cover it afforded was the means of sparing the Battalion a good many casualties from the enemy snipers, who were active from the direction of Bouleaux Wood during the morning of the 25th.

After a preliminary bombardment by all available batteries the British attack opened at 12.35 p.m. on the 25th, but the 168th Brigade's positions being well in advance of those occupied by the 5th Division on its left, its attack was deferred until seven minutes later in order to allow the 5th Division to come up into line. The creeping barrage, under which the Brigade's advance was made, was supplied by batteries firing from Angle Wood Valley, and being thus in enfilade was particularly efficient and accurate ; and under its excellent protection the l/4th Londons and the London Scottish advanced steadily at 12.42 p.m.

The advance of the Battalion was led by C Company (Grimsdell) in two waves at 50 paces distance, followed by D Company (Cooper) in similar formation. B Company's role was to conform to the advance and protect the Brigade's right flank against any possible hostile action from the southern half of Bouleaux Wood, while A Company in reserve moved forward to occupy the positions vacated by the assaulting companies.

The Battalion reached its objectives in the northern fringe of the Wood with little opposition, and with slight loss, killing a large number of Germans in the western edge of the Wood. A great many of the enemy were also put to flight, and these were caught on the open hillside on their way to Comblcs by the Lewis gunners of the Scottish advancing on our left, who did great execution among them. The consolidation of the strong posts allotted to the Battalion at once began, but was considerably interfered with by German snipers, who were still clinging to their posts farther south in the Wood. Under their fire Grimsdell (in charge of C Company) fell, shot through the head. This harassing fire rendered communication with Battalion Headquarters a matter of some difficulty, and continued through the night, as the 167th Brigade on the right had not been successful in pushing through the southern extremity of Bouleaux Wood. By nightfall the new posts were completed and occupied as follows :

Post A — By 30 men and Lewis gun of C Company.

Post Bl — By 25 men of D Company.

Post B2 — By 30 men and 1 Lewis gun of D Company.

These posts were improved and wired by parties from the Royal Engineers and the Cheshire Pioneers, while A Company subsequently constructed an additional post in the tram-line embankment north of the Wood.

Meanwhile the London Scottish had been equally successful on our left, and had taken possession of the German trench running north-east from Bouleaux Wood in the direction of Morval ; and farther still to the north the Guards Division had captured Lesboeufs, while the 5th Division were hammering at the western outskirts of Morval.

The positions now occupied by the Brigade were of immense importance, as they secured excellent observation over the northern exits of Combles ; and information received through the French from a German officer prisoner being to the effect that the Combles garrison was making preparations to fight its way out north-eastwards, the further operations of the Brigade were directed towards working round the north side of Combles and cutting off its communication with Morval. This scheme naturally affected the left flank of the Brigade more than the right flank, on which the Battalion was posted.

Shortly after midnight the 167th Brigade gained a foothold in Bouleaux Wood on the right of the Battalion, and a reconnaissance made by Lieut. -Col. Wheatley soon after dawn on the 26th showed that the Wood was finally cleared of the enemy. Touch was rapidly gained with the 1st Londons and the line established in front of the east edge of the Wood.

A few hours later definite information was received that the enemy had evacuated Combles and that troops of the 56th Division had entered it and had met in its deserted streets patrols of the 56th French Division.

The remainder of the day passed quietly for the Battalion, and a distinct lull occurred in the enemy's shell fire, while owing to the clearance of Bouleaux Wood the ground west of it, which had been on the previous afternoon so much swept by snipers, was now quite peaceful.

Combles having fallen into our hands the most immediate need was to improve touch with the French and carry the united line forward east of the village. Early on the morning of the 26th Sept. the French captured Fregi-court and succeeded in establishing themselves in touch with the 169th Brigade south of Combles, thus securing the whole of Combles Trench ; while on the north of the village they managed to push patrols forward towards the sunken road leading to Morval. The road was occupied by the Rangers who had orders to occupy if possible the main German third line between Morval and Fregi-court. This was found still to be strongly held and the assistance of the Division's two tanks were requisitioned. Unfortimatelv both these machines became badly " ditched " before reaching their objective, and the Rangers' attack was therefore abandoned.

That evening the Battalion was reUeved in Bouleaux Wood by the Kensingtons, and withdrew to Bully and Beef Trenches with feelings of immense elation at having contributed materially to this striking and solid success.

During the 27th September the trenches held by the Battalion were heavily shelled, but no attempt was made by the enemy to launch a counter-attack on the Brigade's front, and the Germans were evidently content to accept the loss of Combles as irretrievable. In the evening the 168th Brigade handed over its positions to the 2nd French Division, and the Battalion, without relief in Bully and Beef Trenches, withdrew to Casement Trench.

The casualties sustained by the Battalion during this highly successful operation were remarkably few, amounting to 2 officers (2/Lieuts. R. E. Grimsdell, killed, and E. McD. McCormick, wounded), and about 30 N.C.O.'s and men killed and wounded.

During the evening of relief reports of the full success of the battle of the 25th September reached the Battalion, including the splendid news of the fall of the famous series of German redoubts on the Thiepval Ridge. This welcome intelligence, combined with the knowledge of the Combles success, put all ranks into the highest spirits, and created the pardonable expectation that a " break-through " on a large scale was imminent. How premature these high hopes were the Battalion was to learn to its cost on the 7th October.

Mention should be made here of the tasks performed by R.S.M. Harris during the period the Battalion was operating in the Leuze Wood and Bouleaux Wood area. He was responsible for organising all carrying parties up to advanced Battalion Headquarters with water, rations and munitions. These duties he carried out in a highly praiseworthy manner, both he and his small band of carriers being continually called upon day and night to tramp up the long Angle Wood Valley, often in the rain, on practically impassable tracks and more often than not under shell fire. "As Adjutant," writes Boutall, "I highly appreciated the assistance he gave me in thus relieving me of a considerable amount of additional work and anxiety. I do not remember a single instance during this whole period when he failed us, in spite of the difficult and heavy tasks we were obliged to impose on him."

The Battle of the Le Transloy Ridges lst-18th October

Owing to the shortening of the line consequent upon the fall of Combles, and the extension to their left of the French, the 56th Division was now withdrawn and moved out of the battle area, the Battalion marching at 2 p.m. on the 28th Sept. from Casement to Ville-sur-Ancre, where rough but welcome billets were occupied. The Division's rest was destined to be short-lived, for the following day a warning order was received that it would take the place in the line of the 6th and Guards Divisions, which had suffered considerably during a prolonged period in action.

The Battalion at this stage was unfortunate in losing Lieut. -Col. Wheatley. The prolonged exposure had already undermined his health, and at this period he was recommended a rest by the Medical Authorities. He refused to go to hospital, and compromised by going to the Divisional Rest Station, Major H. J. Duncan-Teape taking command, but so keen was the Colonel to be with his unit, that without having sufficiently recovered he returned on October 2nd.

The sector to be occupied was about 2000 yards in frontage, running in a north-west to south-east direction through the eastern outskirts of Lesboeufs, and was taken over on the evening of the 30th September with the 169th Brigade on the right, and the 167th on the left, the dividing line being the Lesboeufs-Le Transloy Road. The left subsector (or northern half of the line) lay just below the crest of the ridge above Lesboeufs, and orders were issued for the advancement of this part of the line to positions from which direct observation could be obtained over the German positions in front of Le Transloy, in preparation for an early renewal of the offensive.

The 168th Brigade remamed in Divisional reserve, and on the morning of the 30th the Battahon, together with the London Scottish, moved forward to their former bivouac area between Trones and Bernafay Woods, the Kensingtons and Rangers remaining at the Citadel.

The Battalion remained in the Trones Wood area during the 1st and 2nd October, and a Brigade relief having been ordered for the following day, moved forward at 4.30 p.m. to Lesboeufs, relieving the 2nd Londons. The positions taken over by the Battalion formed the left subsector of the Brigade front and extended from the Lesboeufs-Le Transloy Road, which formed the left boundary, for some 800 yards southwards to the junction with the London Scottish, who were in line on the right, the latter battalion being the right flank of the British Army. The Kensingtons moved into Brigade support in the old Morval-Flers line, and the Rangers occupied bivouacs at Ginchy.

The main position taken over by the Battalion was a roughly constructed trench known as Shamrock, about 50 yards east of the sunken road leading from Lesboeufs to Morval. In advance of this main position, which was allotted to A and B Companies, were a number of embryo trenches in varying stages of construction and quite isolated from the main line. Of these isolated trenches the chief was Rainy, which adjoined the Lesboeufs-Le Transloy Road, about 300 yards ahead of Shamrock, and Foggy, some distance farther south and separated from Rainy by a gap of probably 300 yards. C and D Companies and Battalion Headquarters took up positions in the old Lesboeufs-Gueudecourt line west of the village.

The resumption of the offensive was imminent ; and it was indeed first fixed for the 5th October, though subsequently postponed till the 7th owing to the continuance of adverse weather conditions.

A great deal of constructional work was immediately necessary in assembly and communication trenches, as well as in the completion of the necessary advanced dumps of munitions and stores of all kinds. Working parties from the Battalion, of the greatest available strength, began work on part of these tasks on the night of the 4th, the new trenches to be dug comprising communications to join Rainy with Shamrock and with a small advanced position on the crest of the ridge overlooking Le Transloy. In addition the road at Rainy was barricaded. Large working parties were also provided by the Kensingtons to provide an advanced assembly position for the attack by connecting Rainy and Foggy, and by the Cheshire Pioneers and the R.E.'s on other tasks. This latter task, however, could not be completed in one night and was continued the following evening. The shocking state of the ground prevented it from ever being finished, and on the day of the attack only about 150 yards of trench had been added to Foggy. On the night of the 6/7th also a fresh assembly trench for the use of the centre battalion was taped out by the Brigade Major, and dug by the Kensingtons. This work was called New Trench.

Although the weather once again had embarked on a dry spell the long continued rains had rendered working tasks immensely difficult of accomplishment, and the tenacious character of the mud added incalculably to the labour of digging and of reaching the site of the work. The isolation of the various tasks in this appalling swamp, from which every landmark had been swept out of existence, and the constant harassing fire of the enemy's machine-gunners, caused great delays to working parties in even locating their work, and all these factors together tended to reduce the work actually carried out far below expectations.

The Battalion, not being originally detailed for the assault, was relieved in the trenches on the evening of the 5th by the Rangers and moved by companies on relief to bivouacs between Ginchy and Guillemont, leaving A and C Companies in line for the completion of their tasks begun the previous night. The following day, however, intimation was received of a change of orders, and the Battalion returned to the trenches that night as the centre assaulting battalion of the Brigade, its place in brigade support being taken by the Kensingtons.

So far as the 56th Division was concerned the attack of the 7th October was for the purpose of advancing the hne some 1400 yards farther down the reverse slope of the Main Ridge, in order to provide a suitable " jumping-off " line for a further offensive to be launched later against the fourth German line in front of Le Transloy, which guarded the Bapaume-Peronne Road. The advance was to be made under a creeping barrage, in two stages, to objectives which were not marked by enemy trenches, but on the farther of which the Division would dig itself in. On the Division's right the French line would also be advanced by the 5Gth French Division, with whom touch was to be gained on the Fregicourt-Le Transloy Road.

The 168th Brigade's assault was entrusted to the London Scottish (right), l/4th Londons (centre) and Rangers (left), the dispositions for attack of the Battalion being as follows :

D Company — (W. H. Vernon) two platoons in New Trench and two platoons in 25 Trench ; in touch with London
Scottish.
C Company — (Speyer) in Foggy Extension ; in touch with Rangers.
B Company — (Gifford) in Shamrock.
A Company — (Keen) in support in the sunken road.

Battalion Headquarters (Col. Wheatley) were in dugouts south-west of Leshoeufs, and an advanced report centre (Major Duncan-Teape) was established in the southern outskirts of the village.

The plan of attack was for D, C and B Companies to advance at two minutes after zero to the first objective, the two platoons of D in New Trench being especially detailed to the task of " mopping up " some German gun pits some 150 yards to the front which were believed to be held by a few enemy snipers. At the same time A Company was to occupy Foggy Extension. After about fifteen minutes' pause on the first objective, the assault on the second objective would be pursued by C and B Companies only.

Reference has already been made to the difficulty experienced prior to the attack by working parties in locating their tasks, and similar difficulty was met with by all troops throughout the operations. The consistently bad atmospheric conditions had rendered aerial photography ahnost impossible, and all through the action the doubt which existed in the minds of commanders as to the exact position of trenches, our own as well as the enemy's, was a fruitful source of confusion and loss. The assembly of the companies for attack was indeed only accomplished after serious delay owing to the extraordinary but largely justifiable bewilderment of the guides detailed to the Battalion. C Company only reached its position just before dawn after having been led several hundred yards out of its way, to find on arrival that its assembly trench was only knee deep and already filled with wounded. Add to these obstacles to success, the fact that, owing to the previous terrible losses in commissioned ranks, it was impossible to avoid sending into the battle as many as nine officers who had not been previously in action with the Battalion at all, having only a few days earlier arrived from England, and it will be appreciated that the probabilities of success were not great. Zero was fixed for 1.45 p.m., and at that hour the barrage dropped. Two minutes later the Battalion rose out of its trenches and made a gallant attempt to advance. The story of the remainder of the day is a pitiful tragedy. The gun pits which had been allotted to the two platoons of D Company in New Trench were found to be alive with bravely-manned machine-guns, and under their withering fire D Company simply melted out of existence. C Company, following slightly to its right, was able to avoid total extinction by taking cover in shell holes in dead ground close by, but 2/Licut. C. M. Taylor fell under this fire at the head of the leading wave of the Company. B Company, following on from Shamrock, met the full blast of the enemy counter-barrage, and suffered heavy losses, but pushed bravely on and eventually filtered into the same general line as was already held by C Company and the remains of D. Under the devastating fire from the gun pits further advance was impossible, and the troops continued to suffer loss where they lay. The afternoon wore on and the Battalion remained clinging to its position, about 50 yards from its starting-point, until after dark. Sergt. H. F. Page of D Company displayed magnificent coolness, and from his shell hole passed a busy afternoon picking off the German gunners in the pits with great deliberation. He was subsequently commissioned to the King's Own Regiment (Royal Lancaster). All ranks alike were exposed to the fire and all suffered proportionately. L. C. Haycraft, a promising young subaltern of D Company who had already proved his worth with the bombers of the Civil Service Rifles in the Hairpin at Hulluch, made an attempt after dark to ascertain the enemy's position, but he never returned from his reconnaissance.

Gifford, in charge of B Company, also fell, as did his platoon commanders, Fletcher and Richardson, the two last wounded ; and C.S.M. James, who received the Military Medal for his good work, took charge of the Company and brought it out of action at the end of the day.

On the left the Rangers had met with a similar fate at the hands of the machine-gunners in Dewdrop Trench, before whose fire they had been stopped dead with ghastly loss immediately they rose from the assembly trench.

The London Scottish, on the right, gained a little success, their right flank achieving a maximum advance of about 400 yards, but their left felt the blast of the deadly guns in the pits, and they were kept out of all except the southern extremity of Hazy.

At about 8.30 p.m. the enemy delivered a counter-attack from Hazy and Dewdrop under heavy artillery support, which had the effect of forcing the Brigade definitely back to its starting trenches.

In the meantime a company of the Kensingtons had been brought up to Burnaby with the idea of forcing the Dewdrop position by outflanking it from the north, but the Germans being found still strongly in possession of Spectrum, north of the road, the attack was cancelled.

It having become obvious that the assaulting battalions were dangerously weakened, immediate reliefs were arranged, and the Battalion that night handed over its position to the Queen Victorias, who were attached to the Brigade, and withdrew to the bivouacs at Trones Wood. Here it was joined by the London Rifle Brigade. The withdrawal of the Battalion was supervised by Major Duncan-Teape, who managed by great efforts to get the whole of the remnants of the companies back over the Ridge just before daylight broke. The roll call at Trones Wood was a gloomy spectacle, for neither the l/4th Londons nor the London Scottish could muster more than the strength of about one company.

The total losses in all ranks sustained by the Battalion on this unfortunate day amounted to about 300 all ranks, the casualties among officers being :

Killed-Lieut. W. H, Vernon, 2/Lieuts. C. M. Taylor, W. H. Gifford, L. J. R. Atterbury and L. C. Haycraft.
Wounded— Capt. R. N. Keen and 2/Lieuts. T. R. Fletcher, H. W. Spiers and S. A. G. Richardson.

Of this, the last of the Battalion's actions in the great Somme battles, but little more need be said. The position which it had been proposed to carry with three weak battalions was attempted again the following day with equal lack of success ; and subsequently other Divisions suffered heavy casualties in the unsuccessful endeavour. Indeed the position never did fall into our possession until the enemy deliberately gave it up in his retirement of the succeeding February on to the Hindenburg line.

Lieut.-Col. L. L. Wheatley, D.S.O., had led the Battalion through many trying ordeals with the unfailing confidence of all ranks who had the honour to be under his command ; but as already indicated, the strain of the long-protracted struggle, especially of the last few days, combined with continually wet clothes, had proved too much for him, and he now contracted an acute attack of dysentery and was evacuated to hospital on the 10th. He never returned to the Battalion which his compelling personality had made essentially his own.

On the 11th October the Battalion moved to the Citadel Camp, the gateway through which thirty-five days earlier it had entered the inferno of the battle ; and the Division being concentrated here after relief by the 4th Division, it marched the following morning to Ville-sur-Ancre, moving thence by motor-buses to a rest area north-west of Amiens, billets being provided for it at St Vaast-en-Chaussee.

Of all the great series of actions of the War the battles of the Somme in 1916 stand out perhaps in the public memory as the most heroic, and at the same time the most appalling, and we cannot leave the subject finally without a few remarks generally reviewing the Battalion's experiences. Of the thirty-five days spent in XIV Corps area only four had been spent in rest bivouacs, and during the remaining thirty-one the Battalion had taken part in active operations five times. The losses incurred amounted to the enormous total of nearly 700 in all ranks, of whom 40 were officers.

It would be unfitting to close our account of the Somme battles without paying some tribute to the magnificent work performed throughout by Rear Headquarters under Major H. J. Duncan-Teape. The administrative ranks of a battalion in action are invariably worked to the limits of human endurance, but usually with inadequate recognition of their importance ; for it is no exaggeration to say that on the efficiency with which they maintain the stream of supplies, whether of rations or munitions, to the fighting ranks, depends not merely the success, but the very existence of the troops in advanced positions. On the Somme the consistently atrocious weather increased tenfold the fatigue and strain of the administrative portion of the Battalion : the mud swamps which had to be traversed, the severe shell fire which plastered all back areas, the wretched misery of the whole struggle, and above all the vast responsibility which rested on them, all combined to make the work of Rear Headquarters an enormous strain both mental and physical. But throughout the battles Major Duncan-Teape was constantly alert and constantly at advanced Headquarters, ascertaining exactly what was wanted, and getting it done. In Lieut. H. B. A. Balls, the Acting Quartermaster, and in R.S.M. Harris he found able and devoted lieutenants whose cool handling of all difficulties was invaluable.

The transport sections of all battalions were brigaded under Capt. L. G. Rix at the Citadel, and the l/4th Londons' transport section under Lieut. G. V. Lawrie worked throughout magnificently and never once failed to deliver the day's supplies. Those who were present will fully appreciate what this means. The work for horses and men was exhausting and incessant ; and oftentimes the limbers returned from the forward area to the transport lines only just in time to load up once more for the upward journey. The results that were obtained could only have been achieved by the whole-hearted devotion of all ranks.

Of the men in the companies on whom day after day fell the burden of physical discomfort and mental strain it is impossible to speak adequately. The record of their achievements speaks, and can be left to speak, for itself.

The decorations awarded for services rendered between the 1st July and the 7th October were :

M.C.— Lieut. W. J. Boutall, 2/Lieuts. O. D. Garratt, S. J. Barkworth, M.M., E. McD. McCormick and Rev. R. Palmer, O.F.
D.C.M.— C.S.M. R. Davis, Sergt. T. Clark, Ptes. J. O'Brien and H. S. Payne.
M.M.— C.Q.M.-Sergt. R. Forbes, Sergts. H. C. Gearle, H. H. Merrell, R. Hebberd, R. R. L. Hyde, C. James and T. Lock, Corpl. J. Castle, L.-Corpls. H. Whitehead, A. Sergeant, A. J. Moger and L. R. Webb, Ptes. H. E. Hyde, W. Buckingham, A. E. Colvin, F. Hedger, W. Lawrence and C. F. Collins.