HISTORY OF 1/8th BATTALION
March 17th, 1917.— July 4th, 1917.
After relief at Gommecourt we spent two days at Souastre, and then marched via Bayencourt and Courcelles-au-Bois to Contay, where we arrived on March 23rd. The roads for much of this journey were in an appalling mess, partly as a result of constant shelling, and partly through being cut up by the masses of transport which had passed over them during the recent wet weather either in following up the retreating enemy or in withdrawing to back areas. Vehicles were often up to the axle in mud, whilst bicycles gave an immense amount of trouble, and this was not the only occasion on which we found it far preferable to foot-slog, even with heavy packs, than to be Signallers with bicycles, which practically had to be carried. Loaded with pack and other paraphernalia, the heavy army pattern bicycle is not a lovable companion, except on a more or less perfect road. A really first-class exhibition of bicycle manoeuvring was given during the move by Pvte. Bunce, who always seemed to be in trouble, and was a source of much amusement to his fellow Signallers. We stayed one night at Contay, moving the following day to Bertangles, and on March 25th to Revelles, a delightful village about seven miles West of Amiens. We were taken through Amiens itself in motor 'buses, which picked us up just North of the town, and deposited us on the other side, leaving us to finish the journey on foot.
On passing through one village during this backward march we saw some men wearing Sherwood Forester badges. They turned out to be men of the 2/8th Battalion, and proved the correctness of rumours we had recently heard that that Battalion was actually in France. One of the 2/8th men accosted a fellow man of our Battalion, as he passed, with the remark "Who are you?" "1/8th" was the reply, "Who are you?" "2/8th"—"Right", said our friend—we believe a Signaller—"You can tell your mother you've seen some real soldiers now!"
We were supposed to entrain for the North almost at once, but as five or six other Divisions were being moved besides ourselves it was not surprising that trains were running a day or two late, so we were able to have a short rest at Revelles, which was much enjoyed, especially as we were able to make trips to Amiens, which at that time had only been slightly damaged by bombs, and was full of life. The chief centres of attraction were the Hotel Godbert, The Savoy, Charlie's Bar, and the Café du Cathédral.
Eventually we entrained at Bacouel Station in the afternoon of March 28th, the entrainment being one of the most expeditious ever carried out by the Battalion. Not so, however, the journey! Times without number we came to a stop with a succession of jerks, not on account of signals—indeed it would appear that few, if any, existed—but because other trains were in front. During a tedious night of such progress, we passed through Abbeville, Boulogne, Calais and St. Omer, and arrived about 9.0 a.m. on March 29th, at Hazebrouck. Being told there by a French Railway Official that the train would stop for 15 minutes, most of the Officers dashed for the buffet on the opposite platform and ordered "Omelettes et café." As one might have imagined, the train began to move without warning just as breakfast was started. There was a wild dash, but all to no purpose, for the train was well under way. By the best of good luck, however, a supply train was found, which apparently was going in the same direction, though the guard and driver appeared to have different views on the subject, which led to a decidedly heated argument between them. At any rate our party boarded the train and fortunately found it brought them very shortly to Berguette Station, where the rest of the Battalion were just detraining.
The Adjutant's duty of seeing the Battalion safely across the railway, near the station, was indeed a pleasant one, and less fortunate members of the Battalion have accused him of carrying on in an unseemly manner with the fair keeper of the level crossing. We have his assurance, however, that though he felt proud indeed at having such a charming young lady by his side, his behaviour was beyond reproach! A few hours' march brought us to Westrehem, where we found most comfortable billets, and were welcomed and treated in the most cordial manner by all.
This move brought us into the First Army (General Horne), of which we were now to form part for many months, and into the II Corps, and though we only remained in this Corps for a few days the Commander, Lieut.-General Sir C. Jacob, lost no time in coming to make our acquaintance, having all the Officers paraded to meet him at the School at Westrehem, two days after our arrival.
We spent about a fortnight there refitting and training, the most important part of the latter being practice in the new Company and Platoon formations for attack, in which much attention was paid to the question of the numbers and positions of the personnel attached to Company and Platoon Headquarters. Practice advances were also carried out with these formations behind a creeping barrage represented by flags and drums. Outposts and advance guards were practised, as well as tactical open warfare schemes, with Officers and N.C.O.'s, and firing was carried out on a range near the village. One day was devoted to a Divisional Route March, in which every unit in the Division took part. It was carried out as a tactical scheme, the Division supposed to be pursuing a retreating enemy, and the 8th Battalion forming part of the Advance Guard.
On the recreational side, football was the chief feature, and several very interesting matches were played, in one of which the 7th Battalion Officers got their revenge by beating us three—nil at Nédonchelle. Westrehem was also the venu of a Rugby football match, between a team from the 6th and 8th Battalions, and one from the 5th and Machine Gun Company, which ended after a hard fight in a draw. Padre Uthwatt, who had recently joined us, did his best to try and organise amusements, and the Divisional Cinema came over and gave one or two shows. There was small attraction in the village except one or two shops and estaminets, but you could get anything from chewing gum upwards at "Lane's Emporium," and the inhabitants were so extremely kind that we lacked little. The chief drawback during our stay at Westrehem was the weather, which at times was very cold, and on several days there were heavy falls of snow.
On April 13th, we began to move towards the line once more, spending that night at Vendin-lez-Béthune, and proceeding the following day to Houchin. There we went under canvas, sharing a camp with the 7th Battalion, and had a comfortable if chilly stay of three days.
Changes which took place about this time included the departure of our Medical Officer, Capt. C. B. Johnstone, who was replaced for a brief period by Capt. Walsh, and later by Capt. W. C. Gavin; Capt. E. M. Hacking, and Lieut. Moore were invalided to England, and "Weetie", who had been our Adjutant for over 18 months, handed over his duties to Lieut. Whitton on being attached to Brigade Headquarters. A little later he succeeded "Peter" Wordsworth, who left to take up a higher appointment after being Staff Captain for over three years, during which we were grateful for his kind help on many occasions. Regimental Quarter-Master Sergt. Dench went home to train for a commission, but we met him again in the later stages of the war, when he did excellent work with the 5th Battalion, gaining the M.C. and two bars. His place was taken by Comp. Quarter-Master Sergt. Pritchard, who was succeeded in D Company by Sergt. Gammon; Armourer Quarter-Master Sergt. Loughman went to hospital, and from that time onwards no official armourer was allowed.
We left Houchin on April 18th, and soon found familiar signs of our proximity to the front. In Noeux-les-Mines, a not exactly encouraging notice said "These cross-roads are registered." Needless to say we did not loiter there, especially as it had been shelled several times during the preceding few days. Passing Petit Sains and Aix Noulette—the latter mostly in ruins—another notice warned us that "Small box Respirators must be worn in the alert position East of this point". A little further on we found parties of men at work making good the roads, and laying temporary corduroy tracks across what had recently been No Man's Land. Passing over this waste we descended to Angres—known later as "Angry Corner"—and entered Liévin, where we took over billets from the 13th Middlesex.
Liévin had only been evacuated by the enemy and occupied by the 24th Division two days before our arrival. This evacuation was not part of his general scheme of withdrawing from some of his salients and shortening his line, which we had experienced at Gommecourt, but had been forced on him by the capture by the Canadians early in April of Vimy Ridge.
Included in the line now held by the enemy West of Lens were the strong positions of Fosse 3 and Hill 65, opposite the South of the front taken over by the 46th Division, and Hill 70 on the North. His outpost line ran through the Cité-de-Riaumont and Eastern outskirts of Liévin, across the Lens-Liévin Road, through Cité-St. Laurent to Hill 70. Lens itself was one of the most important centres in the mining district and the whole area was a mass of mining villages or "Cités," with their rows of cottages and neat gardens, pits or "puits," slag-heaps, and other usual features of a colliery district.
The town of Liévin lay astride the Souchez river, about three miles West of Lens. Previously a thriving mining centre, it had now been badly knocked about by shelling, though large numbers of houses were still more or less intact. The Boche had done much work in strengthening the cellars of the houses by covering them with concrete, paving setts torn up from the road, bricks and other material, the only drawback being that much of the extra strengthening had been put on the side facing the old front line, so that we now got little advantage from it, and felt we should like to turn the houses round, as the side towards the enemy was often none too strong. The evacuation had been so hurried that the enemy had not had time to destroy or remove much of the furniture and clothing from the houses, in many of which we found all the available beds collected in the cellars, which were also well furnished with chairs, tables, cupboards, cutlery and much other civilian property and made very comfortable billets. Sappers made an inspection of all these cellars, and of the dug-outs recently evacuated by the enemy before we occupied them, in order to ensure the absence of "booby traps," and in this respect we had no excitement.
Information from prisoners indicated that a further retreat behind Lens was imminent, and the impression of the Higher Command was that only slight pressure was necessary to push the enemy outposts out of Cité-de-Riaumont and Hill 65, and to establish a line East of that town. Unfortunately this information was true only up to a point. It has transpired since that for a day or two before the 46th Division came into the line there really was something approaching a panic in the German Command in this sector, and that all preparations had been made to evacuate Lens. By the time of our arrival, however, the panic was at an end, and the enemy were undoubtedly holding the Southern portion of Cité-de-Riaumont and the strong defences of Hill 65 in considerable strength. Corps and Army Intelligence refused, however, to believe this to be more than a show, and the general trend of orders was that attacks by small numbers should be made at once to clear the enemy out of Cité-de-Riaumont and finally from Hill 65. The loss of this last covering position should, it was thought, necessitate their withdrawal from Lens.
The flexibility of the position is indicated by the fact that a Divisional Commander, in making a reconnaissance in Riaumont Wood, had run against an enemy patrol. History does not relate which was the more surprised, but both escaped without casualties.
On April 19th we took over the left sub-sector of the Brigade sector from the 7th Northamptons, commanded by that gallant sportsman, Col. Mobbs. The main defence just established was on the Eastern edge of the Bois de Riaumont. The Northern two rows of houses in the village of Riaumont were occupied by our outposts, and the enemy were reported to be holding the remainder in force. A Company (Capt. A. Hacking) took over the outpost line; B Company (Lieut. G. Wright, during the absence on leave of Capt. Turner) were in support in the Bois de Riaumont and Cité des-Bureaux, whilst C Company (Capt. A. Bedford) and D Company (Capt. Simonet) were in billets in the "River Line," not far from Battalion Headquarters, which were at the White Château.
It was clear that no attempt to capture Hill 65 would be possible until the whole of Riaumont village was in our hands, and instructions to this effect were given to Capt. A. Hacking, operations to secure which were carried out on the night after relief in conjunction with the 6th Battalion on our right. The advance took place quietly in pitch darkness. Several parties of the enemy were encountered, some being killed and one captured. By midnight the Battalion's objective had been secured, and posts established in the Railway Cutting along the Company front. In this difficult and rather uncanny work of clearing and searching the houses and cellars of the village, Lieut. Geary, Sergt. Stokes and Corpl. Brett did splendid work, for which the first-named—who was the last Officer of the Battalion to be killed, a fortnight before Armistice—was awarded the Military Cross. Later in the night the enemy opened a sudden and very heavy bombardment, and parties were seen advancing down one of the streets, but were driven off with loss. We had no casualties during this operation.
Meanwhile the 6th Battalion were not able to make good the remainder of the village South of the cross roads, which the enemy were holding in greater strength, and it was apparent that he intended to hold the trench on the South side as part of his Lens outposts.
The work put into the cellars of the colliery houses here was quite extraordinary. In several cases, fifteen feet under the cellars, were found subterranean passages with large dormitories and rooms capable of accommodating large numbers of men. These were well furnished, but owing to their depth and the proximity of the enemy, we were unable to use them as much as we should have liked.
Further fighting and a good deal of shelling took place during the night of April 21/22, causing us several casualties, but not any material alteration in the situation. Particularly good work was done during that time by Sergt. Bolton.
It was in these circumstances, and rather to the surprise of those who were acquainted with the position, that orders were received that we were to attack and capture Hill 65 in conjunction with the 6th Battalion, who were at the same time to attack Fosse 3, and make good the remainder of the village and the enemy trench to the South. The attack was to be carried out by C Company, starting from the railway cutting, so far as this had been established by A Company. There was little time to make any preparations. A hasty reconnaissance was made from an old Boche reinforced observation post East of the railway cutting, just off "Absalom" Trench, kindly placed at our disposal by a Gunner Officer, from which an excellent view was obtained of Hill 65, a bare hill with a row or two of colliery cottages on the top, later found to contain the inevitable deep cellars. The rest of the details were fixed at hurriedly summoned conferences of Officers and N.C.O.'s. The final objective was "Advance" Trench, just beyond the Hill. The 137th Brigade on the left were to send patrols to gain touch with us at "Abode" Trench, and the 6th Battalion on the right were to meet our parties in "Admiral" Trench. Their attack was not in line with ours but was more or less echelonned in rear.
As soon as it was dark the Company moved up from their quarters in the River Line to Cité-de-Riaumont, where the men were safely got into the cellars of the houses, relieving part of A Company. Pvte. Bradshaw, a most excellent Company cook, having decided that a Company Mess in Advance Trench would be a dreary place for his Officers without whisky, slung on his back a bottle which the Mess President had thought of leaving behind for the incoming Mess. Unfortunately it proved to be a case of "Love's Labour Lost," for the man, and it is feared the bottle too, fell into the hands of the Boche!
D Company, who were to "mop up," took over the rest of A Company's area, the latter Company returning to Liévin, and two platoons of B Company occupied Absalom Trench. The imminence of our attack was evidently known to the enemy, whose artillery during the night liberally shelled Absalom Trench, Riaumont Château, the Eastern edge of the village, and the approaches from Liévin. Trench mortars were also very active on the village, in fact, at one time it was thought that the Boche himself might be attacking, and shortly after midnight C Company were got out of the cellars and ordered to stand to. During that time Comp. Sergt.-Major Haywood was slightly wounded and had to go back. Nothing further happened, however, and the Company eventually took up their final position in the railway cutting about 4.0 a.m. on April 23rd (after waiting for the rum and tea which were delayed by the shelling and arrived too late). Several casualties were caused now by our own artillery firing short, one shell, which luckily was a "dud," burying itself in the side of the embankment amongst a group of men.
Leaving a right flanking party to deal with the enemy in the railway cutting, the remainder of the Company, deploying from the cutting at Zero, 4.45 a.m., changed direction half-right and moved forward under a barrage of artillery and trench mortars. The preliminary bombardment had more or less destroyed the houses on the hill and cut good gaps in the wire, which the party had little difficulty in getting through. The right leading platoon under Lieut. Skinner got into one of the numerous trenches and at first met with little opposition, but being separated from the rest of the Company, were rapidly surrounded by large numbers of the enemy, and practically all were killed or captured. The left platoon, under 2nd Lieut. Hopkinson, reinforced by the remainder of the Company, were held up by machine gun fire, which caused many casualties, until Corpl. Fletcher managed to get a direct hit on one of the guns with a No. 23 grenade. A message was meanwhile taken by C Company runner, the redoubtable "Mungo" Marsh, to D Company, asking them to try and work a party round to the North side of the houses. Further attempts made to rush another gun which was doing much damage, were met now with bombs thrown from a trench just in front of the houses. The folly of attempting the attack with the Southern half of the cutting still in the hands of the enemy, now became apparent, for at this moment large parties of the enemy appeared on the right rear, with which the flanking party had apparently been quite unable to deal. Then from the cellars of the houses on top of the hill also emerged many of the enemy, and the now small remains of the Company were in imminent danger of being completely surrounded. Orders were given to withdraw, but few returned to tell the tale. Duff, one of the most heroic and stout-hearted Officers the Battalion ever possessed, was last seen firing his revolver amid a horde of the enemy. Hopkinson was never heard of again. Sergt. Cox died of wounds and Sergts. Curtis, Sansom and Chalk were amongst the 70 missing, whilst the wounded numbered 34. The highest praise is due to all ranks of C Company for their magnificent efforts and especially to Capt. A. Bedford, who throughout worked incessantly and led the attack with the utmost gallantry. It was only through a hard fate that his endeavours did not meet with the success they so well deserved. Very good work was also done by the mopping-up platoon of D Company, under Sergt. Painter, which helped to cover the withdrawal of the remnants of C Company.
The 6th Battalion fared no better, and the attack produced, what was suspected by those who knew the ground, exactly nothing except a total of casualties which are felt to have been sacrificed on the altar of faulty intelligence.
It is easy, perhaps, to be wise after the event. All information received by Corps Intelligence indicated an imminent retreat by the enemy. On no other premises could an attack by so small a force on so strong a position have been justified. One further principle of warfare, by no means new, was justified to the hilt—no frontal attack should ever be attempted unless all counter attack from a flank is impossible, or unless sufficient forces are available to render such an attack an impracticability. The ultimate capture of the Hill necessitated nearly two months' artillery preparation and the employment at intervals of two Brigades. Perhaps there is one further illustration of the uncertainty of modern warfare in the history of Hill 65. With that Hill in our hands, and later on the dominating position of Hill 70, all the tenets of war would conclude that Lens would be completely untenable, and yet it was not until more than a year afterwards that the enemy, in the last stages of the war, evacuated a town which will, in the history of the Battalion and of the 46th Division, be for ever associated with the fortunes of Hill 65.
On April 24th we went back into Brigade Support with Battalion Headquarters at the Red Mill, and Companies billeted in cellars. Some readjustments had to be made the following day, when Battalion Headquarters moved to cellars on the Lens Road. This spot seemed to be a favourite target for a Whizz-bang, which fired straight down the road, and was responsible for many sprints and much language at different times on the part of various members of Battalion Headquarters.
Three days later the Brigade was relieved by the 137th Brigade and moved into Divisional Reserve, the Battalion proceeding to a delightful little spot known as Marqueffles Farm, nestling under the wooded slopes of the Lorette Ridge. Here we were extremely comfortable, and on this and a future occasion spent a most agreeable time, being especially fortunate in the matter of weather. It was a stiff climb to the top of the ridge, at the Eastern edge of which were the remains of Notre Dame de Lorette. This was the favourite spot of the Gipsy bomber, whose story was told in Punch a few years ago:—
"But most he loved to lie upon Lorette
And, couched on cornflowers, gaze across the lines
On Vimy Ridge—we had not Vimy yet—
Pale Souchez's bones, and Lens among the mines.
Till, eagle-like, with hoarse indignant shrieks.
Gunners arose from some deep-delved lair.
To chase the intruder from their sacred peaks
And cast him down to Ablain-St. Nazaire."
Torrance on one occasion climbed the ridge with Col. Blackwall, and can testify that the view from the top was worth the walk! It formed a perfectly ideal observation post, and we now understood why the Hun had fought so strenuously to maintain a footing on the ridge.
The chief item whilst at rest was the reorganisation of C Company, which was practically non-existent. Each of the other three Companies contributed a quota, the transfers including Sergt. Stokes, from A Company, who was appointed Comp.-Sergt. Major. A little later Sergt. H. J. Wilson, who for a long period had ably superintended the Battalion cooking arrangements, was appointed Comp. Quarter-Master-Sergt., and was succeeded as Sergt.-Cook by Corpl. Bateman. In addition to other casualties we had lost Lieut. G. Wright, who injured his knee up in the Riaumont sector and was now invalided to England, whilst 2nd Lieut. White went to England for temporary duty as a Bombing Instructor, and 2nd Lieut. Mitchell was appointed Adjutant of I Corps School. Our strength was thus considerably reduced, whilst reinforcements at the moment were exactly nil.
On May 6th we relieved the 5th Lincolns in the left sub-sector of the left Brigade sector, with Battalion Headquarters in the remnants of some mine galleries at the back of Hart's Crater, just in front of Loos. There were only two Brigades of the Division in the line at this period, and each Brigade went to each sector in turn. We always went into the left sub-sector of each sector, relieving with the 7th Battalion. The trenches here were very bad, so shallow that it was almost impossible to get round by day, and considerably overlooked by the enemy, particularly from the tower of Fosse 14. Their names began with the letter N, the best known being "Nero," "Novel," "Netley," and "Nash." They were old Boche trenches taken in the recent advance. The whole sector had a very desolate appearance and life was not pleasant there. The discomfort was increased by the enormous number of wing bombs and rifle grenades and occasional deluges of gas bombs and shells fired by the enemy, which in our first six-day tour there, caused us 39 casualties. This was followed by six days in support, when we lived in dug-outs in some trenches between Loos and the famous Colliery slag heap, known as the "Double Crassier." Battalion Headquarters were at an exceptionally fine dug-out known as "Elvaston Castle," which had been dug by the 2nd Sherwood Foresters. Here, in addition to ordinary work, we amused ourselves at times by cutting the vetches which were thriving on some parts of the area, and sending them back for the transport animals. It was here also that a certain Padre was overheard one day by the I-Tok, arranging for a funeral at Maroc, with the result that he was requested to attend at Brigade Headquarters to explain his indiscretions.
After a short rest at Noeux-les-Mines, we went back to the Liévin sector again on May 25th and took over the line from Fosse 9 and Cité-St. Théodore to just South of the Liévin-Lens Road. Battalion Headquarters were at the corner house near the "Marble Arch" in Liévin. Here the monotony of trench life was varied by long distance patrols, and an enemy raid on the night of May 29/30th on our post at the junction of "Crocodile" Trench and the railway cutting, when we lost two men captured, three killed and seven wounded. Casualties during the whole of this period unfortunately were heavy and reinforcements few, one Officer, 2nd Lieut. H. C. Orton and 36 men who joined in May, being our sole additions. We also lost Sergt. Burton, who had done much excellent work as Signalling-Sergeant. He went for a Commission, and was succeeded by Corpl. J. T. Templeman. Our strength at this period was so small that for some time Companies had to be organised in three platoons instead of four. About the same time, much to the regret of all those who had been privileged to serve under him at any time, during the long period in which he so successfully commanded the Brigade, both in England and France, General Shipley left for a tour of duty at home, and was succeeded by Brigadier-General G. G. S. Carey, C.B., R.A.
The first six days of June were spent in Brigade support in Liévin, at the end of which time we went back into the line in front of Cité-St. Théodore, where the only excitements were the pushing forward of advanced posts to help to protect the left flank of the 138th Brigade in an attack on Fosse 3, and a number of long distance patrols in which Lieut. Martelli and his Scouts always played a prominent part. After another short rest at Marqueffles Farm, where on June 12th we won first prize for the best Transport turnout at the Brigade Horse Show, we went back for a short tour in Brigade support in front of Loos on June 15th.
We had now fairly sampled most of the area and found little of it to our liking. Hart's Crater sector was the most monotonous for both front line and support work, there being nothing but trenches to live in. In Liévin sector, though the front line work was more interesting and we had fairly comfortable billets when in support, the enemy shelled the town itself so incessantly both with high explosive and gas, that one had to take more than ordinary precautions. Apart from the fact that our own Division and the Canadians on the right were carrying out "stunts" of one kind or other almost every day, provoking considerable retaliation, we had an immense number of batteries tucked away amongst the houses in Liévin, and under almost every bank round about it, besides many more or less in the open. The Boche located these batteries with considerable accuracy, and from time to time literally rained shells (principally 5.9's) on to them, and almost every day knocked out numbers of guns.
Many of the gardens in the area close behind the front line were now in full bearing and provided a very welcome addition to our rations, and more than one has pleasant recollections of the excellent dishes of early asparagus and stewed gooseberries gathered from the garden of Riaumont Château. Strawberries, currants, gooseberries and rhubarb were also plentiful in Cité-St. Pierre. Indeed the attractions of the first were too much for one greedy German, who was so much occupied in filling his helmet with this luscious fruit that he walked into one of the outposts of the 6th Battalion. It is doubtful if he was allowed to reap the fruits of his labour, at any rate when he eventually arrived at Battalion Headquarters both the helmet and the strawberries were conspicuous by their absence!
The Transport and Quarter-Master's Stores were back in a very nice spot at Sains-en-Gohelle, but their journeys to the line with rations and stores were almost as unpleasant as they could be. In going to Liévin they usually got shelled with high explosive and at Loos with gas, and it says much for the excellent way in which Capt. H. Kirby and Sergt. Blunt handled the Transport on these occasions that they never failed to deliver the stores and had scarcely a single casualty. For a short period in the Liévin sector, stores were sent up by light railway from Bully Grenay or Aix Noulette.
The Higher Command all this time had the fixed idea that the enemy could be driven out of Lens, and all the efforts of the 46th Division and of the Canadians on the right were concentrated to bring this about. The idea was probably strengthened by the fact that fires and explosions were observed almost daily in Lens itself, evidently due to the enemy's desire to leave as little as possible in the event of his having to withdraw. Numerous small enterprises carried out from time to time enabled some slight advance to be made, but towards the end of June operations took place more frequently and on a larger scale.
The Canadians having just captured the Generating Station and the high ground around it, South of the Souchez River, which overlooked the Boche positions about Fosse 3, the 138th Brigade were ordered to attack the Fosse again on June 19th, and this time succeeded in taking it, and on the night June 21/22nd, we relieved the 5th Leicesters in their new outpost line in "Boot" and "Brick" trenches, having spent the last three days at Calonne, to which place we had moved from the Loos area on June 18th. The two days spent there were two of the most unpleasant in the history of the Battalion. All four Companies were in the line, there was little accommodation or shelter, the enemy shelling and trench-mortaring were intense, and there was the constant fear of a counter-attack from the right—altogether rather a nightmare. We were lucky in not getting more casualties than we did; as it was we lost ten killed and 31 wounded in the two days, during which we were attached in turn to the 138th and 137th Brigades. We were relieved on the night June 23/24th and went back to Calonne. A Company had a particularly unpleasant relief, as the enemy chose that time to send over a number of gas shells and trench mortars, most of which fell amongst that Company, causing them several casualties.
On June 25th the 137th Brigade, with little or no trouble, at last occupied Hill 65, and the same night we were again attached to that Brigade, and moved into Liévin, with Headquarters at the Red Mill.
Here we got orders for working parties required for carrying and digging assembly trenches at Cité-de-Riaumont for the 137th and 138th Brigades, who were to carry out further operations. Company Commanders assembled at the Red Mill to get their orders for this work at the same moment that the Boche had planned to shell a battery of our guns almost adjacent to it. Heavies arrived in salvoes for some time; several direct hits were obtained on the guns, the ammunition dump just behind it was hit and explosions continued for days. It caused considerable inconvenience to Company Commanders and further entailed the hasty exit of Lieut. Tomlinson from the delightful bathing pool which had been made in the stream adjoining the Mill. It was whilst out with one of these working parties at Riaumont that Moffat Johnston, temporarily in command of B Company, got badly knocked about by a shell and had to leave, the Company then being taken over by 2nd Lieut. Day, Capt. Turner being away with the 46th Division Depôt Battalion. On the night of June 27/28th we moved back to billets in Maroc. The following evening the 137th and 138th Brigades made further progress in another successful attack, the Canadians also pushing on South of the River Souchez, practically into the outskirts of Lens itself. At the same time the 6th and 7th Battalions co-operated with considerable success North of the Lens-Liévin Road.
The Higher Authorities were now more convinced than ever that the Germans opposite us were completely demoralised, and that with a small push we should capture Lens itself. Hasty plans were accordingly devised, and, although we were now lamentably weak in numbers, it was resolved to put the whole Division into a final effort on the morning of July 1st. The 137th and 138th Brigades were to attack South of the Lens-Liévin Road and the 139th Brigade North of it. For this attack the 2nd Sherwood Foresters and the 9th Norfolks from the 6th Division on our left were attached to our Brigade. The assaulting Battalions were the 2nd, 5th and 6th Sherwood Foresters. We were in support and late on June 30th moved into St. Pierre. A and D Companies were attached to the 6th Battalion, A being now commanded by Capt. Andrews, who had recently succeeded Capt. A. Hacking on the latter's appointment as Second-in-Command of the 5th Battalion. This Company held the 6th Battalion left Company front, whilst D Company remained in support. B Company were attached to the 2nd Battalion, but were not required until the following afternoon, when they were taken up to "Crook Redoubt." Owing to casualties this Company came under the command of Sergt. Cobb, who carried out his duties and looked after the Company during a rather trying time in a most excellent manner. C Company were attached to the 5th Battalion and were in support in "Cowden" Trench.
The attack was launched at dawn on July 1st and part of the objective taken, but an enemy-counter attack found our men too weak to hold the position, and apart from a small portion in the neighbourhood of Crocodile Trench, the ground gained had to be evacuated. The 137th and 138th Brigades on the right met with no greater success and Lens remained in the hands of the enemy. July 1st is not a lucky day in the history of the 46th Division.
We remained in St. Pierre, with some Companies still detached, until the night of July 3/4th, when we were relieved by the 23rd and 27th Canadian Battalions, and went back to the Square at Bully Grenay, where 'buses picked us up soon after dawn on July 4th, and took us back to the delightful little village of Chelers.
In spite of considerable shelling our casualties during the last few days had only been two Officers (Day and Hammond) and four men wounded. Our total casualties during the Lens operations amounted to five Officers wounded, three missing, 42 other ranks killed, 180 wounded, and 72 missing.
The whole history of the Lens operations proves, if proof were needed, how important a part intelligence plays in modern operations. Intelligence is gained by reconnaissance by land or from the air, and from information from prisoners and captured documents. The responsibility of the Officer, who must judge the truth from what must often be conflicting reports from these sources, is serious indeed. On his appreciation of the position depends to an extent not always recognised the success or failure of active operations. The Infantry in the line unfortunately take the hard consequences of faulty information or false appreciation.
In reviewing the short history of these operations we are inclined to forget other occasions in which the credit of successes was due not only to the dash and courage of the Infantry but to the information sifted from one source or another, weighed in the balance, and finally put forward as the premises on which operations have been based. In our humble judgment the Army of the future should take care that this branch of technical training receives a greater measure of attention than it had received up to the commencement of the Great War.