HISTORY OF 1/8th BATTALION
ST. ELIE AND HILL 70
July 4th, 1917.— January 21st, 1918.
After nearly three months' strenuous fighting, it was a great relief to us to find ourselves back once more in the quiet regions, and the change was thoroughly appreciated by all. The weather was delightful and the country was looking its best, and altogether the 18 days spent at Chelers were extremely enjoyable. There was not much in the way of amusement, as there was little opportunity for it, and we were so far in the heart of the country that visits to towns were impossible, except for the few lucky ones with horses, for whom the journey to St. Pol and back was a pleasant afternoon's ride. Billets were quite comfortable, and Battalion Headquarters were certainly in clover at the Château, where it was one of their pleasures to bask in the delightful garden and regale themselves on peaches brought by the small daughter of the house. Otherwise there was little attraction in the village, though in "Lizzie Five-Nine," it possessed a pearl of great price. Major Lane was in command for part of the time, as Col. Blackwall was on leave. The latter on his return, not being fortunate enough to be met at Boulogne by a car—Battalion Commanders only got cars when they were not wanted by the gilded Staff—found, as so often happened, that Railway Transport Officers knew nothing of our movements, and sent him off to quite the wrong place, about 30 miles from Chelers, to which he had to get as best he could. On a hot summer day this was not a nice experience to pile on to that "end of leave feeling" that most of us had at getting back. and to make matters still worse he found on his arrival that the supply of lime-juice at the Headquarter Mess had run out! The truth of course was that not being in demand during his absence, it had not been replenished!
In training special stress was laid on bayonet fighting, taken by Comp. Sergt.-Major Lowe of the Canadian Army Gymnastic Staff, musketry, and firing practice on the Rocourt Range, where a two days' Divisional Rifle Meeting was held on July 19th and 20th, at which our representatives shot remarkably well, and carried off amongst other prizes two silver bugles, which now repose with the Battalion Plate at Newark. A large marquee was erected on the ground, where refreshments could be obtained, and a band was in attendance each day. All the arrangements were admirable, and the programme was carried out without a hitch. Teams from B Company won the Inter-Company Snap-Shooting and Rapid-Firing competition, and the Lewis Gun competition, whilst a knock-out competition for Officers was won by our team composed of Lieut.-Col. Blackwall, Capt. A. Bedford and 2nd Lieuts. Tomlinson and Martelli. In the final round this team beat the one from Divisional Headquarters, which included Major-General Thwaites. In the General Officer Commanding's Cup competition for revolver shooting for Officers, our team won second prize. On the whole the results from this competition and the practice leading up to it, were extremely good, and had a marked effect on the shooting all round, both with rifle and Lewis gun. Two ceremonial inspections were carried out, one by the Brigadier on July 11th, and another by the Divisional Commander on July 17th, both of which went off successfully.
Our stay at Chelers came to an end on July 23rd, when we started back once more to the forward area, marching that day to Verquin, where we billeted for the night. The next night we relieved the 1st Leicesters (6th Division) in the St. Elie Left sub-sector trenches. We were not very strong at this time, about 650 all told. Four new subalterns who had just joined, were 2nd Lieuts. J. H. Hofmeyr, C. J. Elly, W. H. Sutton, and R. W. Clarke. Second Lieut. White rejoined from duty in England, and further Officer reinforcements who came up shortly afterwards, included 2nd Lieuts. H. G. Kirby, F. C. Tucker, C. J. Wells, D. Tanner, and J. A. Pearce.
We now entered on what was to be the longest continuous period of trench warfare that it was ever our lot to take part in, for we were destined to remain in the forward area, holding trenches with but short reliefs, for a whole six months, and there was little to break the monotony except one or two changes of trench areas and the interspersal, now and then of raids carried out either by ourselves or the enemy. Raids had now become part and parcel almost of trench warfare routine. The Divisional Commander's wishes were that they should be carried out frequently, and he was strongly supported by General Carey, who insisted on each Battalion preparing a scheme for a raid, either large or small, as soon as it took over the line, so that no time should be wasted in preliminary arrangements after the order was given for a raid to be carried out. The drawback, perhaps, was that raids were apt to be of much the same type, for it was not easy to introduce variations. In the normal raid there was always the cutting of gaps in the enemy wire, which was almost bound to give them the intimation that something was going to happen, the bombardment about "Zero" of the area to be raided, and the forming of a "Box Barrage" round it, to prevent the enemy bringing up reinforcements, whilst our men dealt with any enemy found within the barrage.
This sub-sector of trenches, "St. Elie Left," was named after the village of St. Elie, the remains of which were in the enemy lines opposite. This sector was just South-East of the Hohenzollern Redoubt, and was entirely overlooked by that old enemy of former days "The Dump," which had now for some reason changed its name to "Slag Heap." It was difficult at first to recognise the front lines, so changed was their appearance. Instead of a more or less level tract between the front line trenches, No Man's Land consisted of a chain of whitish chalk peaks, the sides of huge mine craters, which had entirely changed the aspect of the area. There were not so many, perhaps, in the sector in which we were immediately interested, as there were opposite Hohenzollern itself, but the general appearance of the so-called front line was much the same in both. All this part of the front had remained practically unmoved since the finish of the fighting in the Autumn of 1915. The withdrawal of the enemy further South early in 1917, and our attacks later at Messines and other parts to the North, had not affected this portion. Mining had been begun and carried on pretty regularly by both sides so long as that kind of warfare was thought worth while,—a method in which the Boche, who was a nervous miner, had been completely beaten—but for some time before our arrival it had lapsed, and the only visible signs of it were the craters, on each lip of which sentry posts had been established by ourselves and the enemy respectively. A certain amount of excavation was still going on underground, under the supervision of Australian Tunnellers, but this was mainly connected with the somewhat complicated system of "listening" in vogue. Apparatus was fitted up, and men were always on duty so as to notify at once any indication of mining operations being started by the enemy. Nothing more as a matter of fact did happen in the way of mining, which had already had its day.
Behind the chain of craters all along this area was another feature peculiar to this part of the line, an extraordinary system of tunnels. It is believed that these first originated owing to the necessity for finding ways up to the front line by day, without using the communication trenches, which were mostly overlooked from the Slag Heap, and other prominent points, from which the enemy could get an excellent view over most of our forward area. Behind the trench system attempts had been made to obviate this drawback by the erection of long lengths of camouflage screens, which were a great feature of this part of the front. In the trench system itself underground passages were dug some 15 to 25 feet deep, from about the Reserve Line up to the front. These in due course got connected with the mine levels and shafts, and eventually rooms were excavated off the passages, timber and wire beds put up, electric light plant installed, cook houses and cooking apparatus fixed, wells sunk, and in fact a sort of underground barracks was formed, and all within 100 to 400 yards of the Boche front line. It was a remarkable development.
The posts in the so-called front line were arranged almost entirely round about the craters, and were reached by flights of steps from the tunnels. These posts were some distance apart, the system of holding these trenches being a thin front line of posts well wired in, with No Man's Land protected by active patrolling, and a strong, well-built, and well-wired support line or "Line of Resistance," where every effort would be made to hold up any big attack which might develop. An elaborate arrangement of doors and gas blankets fixed at entrances, and at various intermediate points in the tunnels, was made to protect them in case of gas attack, and a carefully arranged system of electric bells was fitted up from the sentry posts to the garrison living in the tunnels, so that warning could be given immediately in case of an enemy attack. These tunnels served an excellent purpose, but there is no question that had they been in use to any extent they might easily have become a great source of weakness, as they undoubtedly had a very demoralising effect on the troops who had to live in them.
The Battalion sector extended from "Fosse" and "Stansfield Posts" on the right, through "Hairpin Craters," "North" and "South Craters," "Border Redoubt" and "Rat Creek" to "Hulluch Alley" and "Russian Sap" on the left. Communication trenches in this sector were the best we ever met, floorboarded and revetted practically throughout their entire length. The support trench was also fairly good, and the front posts not too bad, though they frequently got knocked in with heavy trench mortars, and required constant repairing. Work in the trenches, therefore, normally consisted more of general upkeep, than of any extensive new work. Three companies were in the line, with the fourth in support, living mostly in "Stansfield Tunnel." Battalion Headquarters was in a dug-out in "Stansfield Road." Company Commanders were:—(A) Capt. Andrews, (B) Lieuts. Tomlinson, Lomer and Day in succession, followed a little later by Capt. Turner, (C) Capt. A. Bedford, (D) Capt. Simonet. We only had two tours in these trenches at this time, one of six days, and one of four, during which the enemy were active mainly with trench mortars, including a large number of "Wing Bombs" or "Pineapples." A raid which we were ordered to carry out during this period was left in the capable hands of Capt. Simonet, and fixed to take place at 11.30 p.m. on August 4th. It was all carefully rehearsed beforehand, on ground near the support billets at Philosophe. In addition to his own Company, Simonet had the help of B Company under Lieut. Tomlinson. The raid was made against the enemy's first and second line trenches nearly opposite North Crater, and was intended in addition to inflicting casualties to obtain identification, and destroy suspected trench mortar emplacements and dug-outs. Unfortunately success did not attend their efforts on this occasion, for, though B Company reached the enemy trenches, and a few men got as far as the second line, they had to be recalled, as D Company were unable to make any headway owing to heavy machine gun fire from the flanks. Both Companies suffered a few casualties in withdrawing.
It was on the following day, August 5th, when the Battalion was in Brigade support in Philosophe, that we got what was probably the heaviest shelling of billets that we ever experienced, for the Boche deliberately shelled the village without a break from 6 to 10 p.m. with 4.2's and 5.9's. As soon as the bombardment began, everyone withdrew to the open fields behind the village, and remained there until it was over. We were fortunate in escaping without a single casualty. Some of the billets were badly knocked about, but we saved our skins, which after all was the main thing. We must confess to having felt on this occasion almost a suspicion of satisfaction in seeing Brigade Headquarters get a full share of this shelling. Their mess was so shaken and upset that the Brigadier had to dine at a much later hour than usual off cold bully beef. It is perhaps difficult to understand exactly the reason, but there is no shadow of doubt that in every formation there was a feeling almost of delight when a unit saw the Headquarters of the next higher unit being "straffed!"
On the night August 10/11th, we moved back into support with Battalion Headquarters, A and C Companies at Noyelles, and B and D Companies in support trenches. On August 14th, the half Battalion at Noyelles handed over to the 5th Leicesters, and moved back to billets at Fouquières, and on the 16th to Verquin, where they were joined by B and D Companies.
By a brilliant attack on the previous day, August 15th, the Canadians finally captured Hill 70, which had so often been a bone of contention, but was now to remain always in our hands.
We now had ten very enjoyable days in comfortable and homely billets at Verquin. Some of the Officers were fortunate enough to be invited to play tennis at the château, both there and at Fouquières, and owe a great debt of gratitude to the kind ladies at both those places, for many acts of kindness and hospitality. It was almost like being at home to be playing "mixed doubles," and after dinner to have music in the drawing room. The men, too, had a very nice time in the miners' cottages in Verquin, and other mining villages. Shops and village life always had their attraction, and we felt very much at home in this part of France, which in the end we came to know almost by heart. The French miner was always particularly kind to us all. It may be that many of our miners, by exchanging views on their calling, enlisted the sympathies of the Frenchmen in the Battalion as a whole. Whether this is so or not, in no part of France did the inhabitants behave to Officers and men with such invariable kindness and courtesy, as that exhibited in the various French colliery districts, in which we were so fortunate as to be billeted at this time. In addition to the village attractions, we were getting splendid shows given by the "Whizz-bangs," who were now in good form once more, and did much to liven things up, whilst Béthune with its many attractions, was within easy walking distance, and always a popular resort for all ranks.
There were several training grounds within easy reach, and pleasantly situated. Training consisted mainly of musketry and attack practice, whilst the usual Ceremonial was introduced in the shape of a Brigade Parade, at Vaudricourt Park on August 18th, when the General Officer Commanding distributed medal ribbons. On August 24th, Regimental sports were held in a field at Drouvin, in conjunction with the 139th Machine Gun Company, and 139th Trench Mortar Battery. Perhaps the most entertaining and amusing feature of a most successful day, was the winning of the Victoria Cross race on a pack pony by "Doc" Johnstone, whom we found stationed at Verquin.
We now entered on the second phase of this long trench warfare period, relieving the 23rd Battalion Royal Fusiliers (2nd Division) in Cambrin Left sub-sector on August 26th. There we remained until September 13th, with the exception of a short interval in Brigade support, when Battalion Headquarters were in billets in Annequin, and Companies in dug-outs in the reserve trenches in front of Cambrin. It was here that we first came across our Portugese Allies, who were holding the trenches North of the La Bassée Canal.
This sector extended from just North-West of the Hohenzollern Redoubt, nearly to the Béthune-La Bassée Road, and was of a similar nature to the St. Elie sector we had recently held, except that it was not so much overlooked by the enemy. Familiar names in the front line, are "Railway Craters," "Twin Sap," "Minehead Sap," and "Fusilier Sap." The support trench was named "Old Boots." There were two main tunnels, "Munster" on the right, and "Wilson" on the left. The main communication trenches were "Railway Alley," "Lewis Alley," "Munster Parade," and "Dundee Walk." After a little rearrangement on first taking over, all Companies were in the line, finding their own supports, Battalion Headquarters being in dug-outs just off Railway Alley. The first tour was very quiet, but was marred by the unfortunate loss on patrol of 2nd Lieut. D. Tanner, and Corpl. Wright on August 30th. Tanner very gallantly undertook to reconnoitre a Boche post, and took out with him Corpl. Wright and two men. The two men got back safely, but Tanner and the N.C.O. were missing, and were reported later to have either been killed or to have died of wounds. Another misfortune occurred in our next trench tour on September 11th, when a raid was attempted by Capt. Martelli, in command of a party consisting of C Company and half A Company. The raid was to be carried out against enemy trenches opposite Railway Craters, at 11.45 p.m. It was carefully practised beforehand over a taped model. Unfortunately, the enemy were evidently aware of our intentions, probably divining that a raid was in prospect from the fact of our having cut gaps in the wire, and whilst our men were forming up in No Man's Land, they suddenly opened an intense bombardment, mostly of gas bombs, which fell right amongst them. Our men immediately put on their box respirators, but in the dark it was quite impossible to advance with them on, and seeing that progress was impossible, Martelli, who was himself wounded, withdrew his party, suffering in casualties during the whole operation, three other ranks killed, and 30 wounded. C Company were again unfortunate the following night, when they were bombarded with heavy trench mortars, and suffered nine more casualties.
On September 13th, we left this sector on being relieved by the 7th Battalion, and moved back to Fouquières, where we spent a very enjoyable week training and refitting. Leaving there on September 20th, we marched to Mazingarbe, where we spent a night in huts, and the following day took over the support trenches in the Hill 70 sector, just North of Loos. Shortly after its capture by the Canadians, Hill 70 had been handed over to the 6th Division to consolidate, and it now fell to the lot of the 46th Division to complete the consolidation.
Just before the change, we had been joined by a new Medical Officer, Lieut. St. G. L. M. Homan, who replaced Capt. Gavin, and three new subalterns, Lieut. C. Cursham, and 2nd Lieuts. S. Bridden and E. W. Hartle; but on the other hand, we lost Lieut. Michie, and 2nd Lieut. Orton, invalided to England, and 2nd Lieut. Pearce, who joined the 139th Trench Mortar Battery. Comp. Sergt. Major Haywood had also gone home to train for a commission, only to be killed later when serving with another Battalion.
It was an agreeable change for us to occupy such a position as Hill 70, as observation could be got from there over the enemy country for many miles, and it was pleasant after having almost invariably been overlooked, to be able now to see something of the other side of the picture. The enemy, however, had good observation from Hulluch and Wingles, over our approaches through Loos, in the valley, and movement was mainly by that never-ending communication trench "Railway Alley," running from the top of the ridge behind Loos, through the outskirts of that village up to Hill 70, where it joined up to "Humbug Alley," the main communication trench of the left sector. The front line which was in none too good order, was known mainly as to its position with regard to the remnants of woods in its neighbourhood, "Bois de Dix-huit" opposite the right, "Bois Rasé" in the centre, and "Bois Hugo" on the left. All the forward trenches bore names beginning with H, two of which were "Heaven" and "Hell," but the former was not quite the Paradise one might expect from its name. Such dug-outs as were usable, were deep, but small. Many had been blown in, and practically all the entrances faced the wrong way, which was a distinct drawback.
For seven weeks, probably the most monotonous in the history of the Battalion's trench warfare, we helped to hold Hill 70, relieving in the line with the 7th Battalion. When in Brigade support, we lived in dug-outs in the old British and German front line trenches in front of and behind the Loos-Hulluch Road, with Battalion Headquarters in "Tosh Alley." When in Divisional Reserve, we lived in the Mazingarbe huts, which were fairly comfortable, but capable of much improvement. Battalion Headquarters occupying a house in the aristocratic street known as "Snobs' Alley." Tours in the trenches, in support and reserve were each of six days. Life in the trenches was of a most humdrum nature. There was not even a raid of any kind, so far as our Battalion was concerned. We simply slogged on week after week at real trench work, making fire-bays and fire-steps, thickening the barbed wire in front, improving dug-outs, and making good the communication trenches and reserve line, by revetting and trench gridding. The latter was probably the most important work carried out, and many were the "A" frames that were fixed, and trench grids that were placed in position during those tedious times, to say nothing of the tons of earth that were dug out in order that this might be done, for the trenches had mostly been flattened out by our bombardment before the hill was captured, and needed the expenditure of untold energy and hard work to get them in good order. Great keenness in connection with this work was shewn by Capt. E. J. Grinling, M.C., of the Lincolns, who had recently succeeded that most energetic Officer Capt. Buckley, as Brigade Major, when the latter left to take up a higher appointment.
The weather during the early part of October was fine, hot and dry, but with the inevitable rain which set in later, the trenches, where not cleaned and floorboarded, soon became in an almost impassable state, for the mud and chalk together made a sort of paste, two or three feet deep, of an extraordinarily sticky nature, almost impossible to get through, so that the carrying of all kinds of stores was extremely exhausting work. Fortunately we got some slight assistance by the use of Tump Lines—a leather arrangement by which the load was carried on the back, but the weight taken by a broad leather across the forehead—and Yukon packs—a kind of wooden framework covered with canvas, on which the material was fastened with thin rope, and the whole carried on the back, and held in position by straps round the shoulders. Constant practice in their use was carried out when back at the Mazingarbe huts, and in the end a number of men became quite expert, and could carry big loads with either of these devices, with much less fatigue, and in a much shorter time than was possible in any other way.
Water was supplied here, as in the Cambrin sector, by a system of pipes. These were the only two instances we met with where this system of supply was in vogue. To supply the Hill 70 sector, Australian Engineers had tapped the water from the mine at the end of the Loos "Crassier," and pumped it up to tanks fixed at different points in the trenches. The chief drawback of course was that the pipes were apt to get broken by shells. It was a drawback to be short of water for more reasons than one, as an essential part of trench discipline was to shave regularly, and the visitor to Battalion Headquarters must have noticed on more than one occasion a petrol tin labelled "Shaving Water," put in a prominent position so as to catch the eye (of the Brigadier!) Two of General Carey's pet orders in connection with trench routine, were that all ranks as far as reasonably possible should shave every day, and that tea leaves should not be deposited in or on the sides of the trenches.
Rations and supplies were mainly brought up by pack mules, the only sector in which this method was used regularly. The mules were taken from the Transport lines at Sailly-Labourse by road to Fosse 3, thence over a cross-country track past Brigade Headquarters at Prèvite Castle, to the Battalion dumps at Tosh Alley, and the old British front line. This was a perfectly silent method, and one which, with little practice, soon became a very expeditious one. During our stay, work was begun on the laying of tramlines up to Hill 70, but whilst we were there they were not used to any great extent.
There was a normal amount of shelling in the area, and an uncomfortable amount of heavy trench mortaring, particularly of the Left-Company front, whilst machine gun bullets along the front line, and about the Tosh Alley dump, which was enfiladed from Hulluch, often took much dodging. Otherwise the sector so far as we were concerned was fairly quiet. Our most unpleasant experience undoubtedly was on October 4th, when we got caught in the bombardment connected with an attempted Boche raid on the 7th Battalion, whom we were relieving. They had been very heavily shelled and trench mortared, and suffered numerous casualties, the clearing of which caused the relief to be a long and difficult business. Several dug-out entrances were blown in, and the front line in many parts was almost unrecognisable. B Company unfortunately got mixed up with some of the shelling, and lost several men, including Sergt. Drabble, who was killed. Pvte. Frank Green did very good work on this occasion, in rescuing buried men, working for five hours on end, though severely shaken as a result of the trench mortaring, and L.-Corpl. Stewart did excellent work in repairing broken telephone wires.
A very good daylight patrol was carried out on November 11th, by 2nd Lieut. A. C. Fairbrother, a newly joined Subaltern, who managed to get into the enemy trenches, shoot a Boche, and return with the two men who were with him without casualty. For this he was awarded the M.C. A decoration of a different kind ought to have been awarded to another Officer, who on a perfectly quiet night in the line, when we had nothing to disturb our peace of mind, boldly sent off the cryptic message "G.A.S."—only to be used in case of cloud gas attack, and likely to cause every Officer and man, horse and mule, back almost to General Headquarters to have their box respirators or gas masks put on! Not content with that, he turned on a Strombos Horn, which was also to be used only on occasions of cloud gas, but fortunately it could not rise to anything more than a painful kind of wheeze. The cause of all his excitement apparently was that he imagined he heard another Strombos Horn some miles away!
Whilst we were in the Hill 70 sector, the 59th Division (our second line Territorials) took over a portion of the line about Avion, just South of Lens, and it was a great pleasure to welcome some old friends who came over to see us, including A. C. Clarke commanding the 2/6th Battalion, M. C. Martyn commanding the 2/7th Battalion, and F. W. Johnson, commanding a Field Ambulance in the 59th Division. Over an excellent little dinner, at Béthune, arranged by our good friend Col. Barron of the 1/1st North Midland Field Ambulance, we were able to compare notes, and go over many items of interest.
We were not sorry when news came that the Divisional General had decided that, as the Hill 70 sector was the most unpleasant one of the three held by the Division, an inter-Brigade relief should be carried out with a view to giving another Brigade a chance of "doing its bit" there as well. The lot fell on the 138th Brigade, and on November 15th, we were relieved by the 5th Leicesters, and moved back once more to support in the St. Elie sector, with Battalion Headquarters and two Companies at Philosophe, and two Companies in trenches, one in support to each of the two Battalions holding the line. This was the beginning of the last phase of this trench warfare period.
Much to the regret of all ranks we now lost Major Lane, who left us for a tour of duty at home, and was succeeded as Second-in-Command by Major E. M. Gingell, of the Wiltshires. Capt. A. Bedford also went to England for a rest at the beginning of November, and Capt. Geary then took command of C Company. Lieut. Lomer went to Brigade Headquarters, where he later became Intelligence Officer. Second Lieut. Hofmeyr unfortunately had been killed whilst we were at Hill 70, and Capt. Vann after holding various appointments during the summer, had finally left to take command of the 6th Battalion at the end of September. Several reinforcement Officers, however, had arrived, including 2nd Lieuts. T. Saunders, W. B. Newton, A. D. Sims, N. Martin and C. M. Bedford, and our strength in Officers was consistently kept up to something over 30, and in other ranks to about 650.
Our second period in the St. Elie Left sub-sector lasted until the middle of January, 1918. We continued the old system of six days in the line, six days in Brigade support at Philosophe, and after a further six days in the line the same period in Divisional reserve at Verquin. The weather was now getting very bad, and as few troops as possible were kept on duty in the front line, which as usual was held by posts at considerable intervals, the defence of the line being assured by the activity of patrols which were out in No Man's Land much of the night, and did some excellent work, on several occasions getting right inside the enemy lines.
We were lucky in being out of the line for Christmas, which was spent at Verquin with much feasting and merriment. There seemed to be no shortage of good things, and we feel sure that the inhabitants of Verquin will not think that at any rate at Christmas time we take our pleasures seriously. Of course tales of all kinds are told of our doings, and though perhaps some of them may have been exaggerated, there is no doubt we did ourselves proud. It was a memorable sight to see the four Company Commanders slogging back to the trenches on December 28th, to relieve the 7th Battalion in the line. Jack White in temporary command of A, John Turner of B, Geary of C, and "Simmy" of D. Passing Brigade Headquarters at Philosophe they wore a look that seemed to say "another little drink wouldn't do us any harm," and after a refresher there, they went on looking as if they didn't care two straws if the Boche attacked or not. As a matter of fact on January 2nd, 1918, the enemy did actually attempt a raid on our front, but thanks mainly to much careful planning by Simonet, and supervision by Major Hacking, who was in temporary command of the Battalion, the raid was successfully beaten off. The first intimation of anything of the kind being likely to happen, was a message received from Col. Vann of the 6th Battalion, on our right, at 3.30 p.m. on that day stating that an obvious gap had been cut by the enemy in their wire opposite "Breslau Sap," on the 6th Battalion front, and asking for co-operation in the event of a raid at that point. Steps were accordingly taken to cover the front between Breslau and Hairpin Craters with Lewis gun fire, whilst trench mortar co-operation was also arranged, and all Companies warned to be particularly alert. The raid was attempted as anticipated, the intention apparently being to surround Hairpin Crater post. The barrage began at 9.30 p.m. with heavy trench mortars and whizz-bangs, opening South of Breslau and gradually extending North. A barrage was also put down on the front of the Battalion on our left. The heaviest bombardment was on Hairpin Craters. Lewis gun fire was at once opened by us along the whole of the front, from Breslau to Border Redoubt. Various groups of the enemy attempted to push through to our posts when their barrage lifted, but it was evident that they had lost direction, and got very disorganised, and we had no difficulty in driving them off with rifle and Lewis gun fire and bombs, and eventually things quietened down. Our casualties were only one Officer, and seven other ranks wounded, all slight, whilst we captured two unwounded prisoners, and a third was brought in dead. For his excellent preliminary arrangements, and for his wise judgment and control of the situation during the attack, Capt. Simonet was awarded the M.C. Great gallantry was shewn on the same occasion by Sergt. W. H. Martin, L.-Sergt. Turner, and Pvte. Wildsmith, and good work was also done by L.-Corpl. Rowley, and Pvte. Crouch.
During our stay in the St. Elie sector, much more use was made than on any previous occasion of trench light railway and tram systems. At first rations and stores were brought up nightly by our own Transport to the "Mansion House" at Vermelles, and there transferred to small trench trams, which were taken up to forward dumps by pushing parties found by the Battalion. As we were so short of men, however, mules were requisitioned for this purpose. Later on, stores were brought up all the way from Sailly-Labourse on the light railway. The larger trucks on this railway were also available on one or two occasions to take the Battalion on relief to Sailly, a ride which was much appreciated, and saved some part, at any rate, of the weary tramp back to billets.
The chief recreation in these days was as usual football. A "league" was formed, including practically every Unit in the Division. So that the notices of matches might not give direct evidence of our identity, each Unit was allotted a code name. We rejoiced in the name of "County," whilst teams we played included those having such aristocratic names as "Dragons," "Miners," "Tigers," "Wyverns," and "Maconochies." We were not very fortunate and occupied a somewhat humble position in the final league table.
Our losses in personnel during the last two months of this period included Capt. Turner, who after a wonderfully successful and lengthy period in command of B Company, left to take a commission in the Indian Army. He was succeeded by Lieut. Day. Second Lieuts. Tucker, Bridden, Sims, Wells, and E. A. Palmer (a newly joined Subaltern) were wounded, and Lieut. Cursham went to the Machine Gun Corps. We were also constantly losing N.C.O.'s on transfer to England to train for commissions. Fresh Subalterns who joined were 2nd Lieuts. C. P. O. Bradish, T. R. Christian, H. L. Kennett, A. S. Judd, A. Spinney, J. S. Whitelegge, A. B. Miners, C. G. Druce, A. Jewell, E. H. Seymour, J. Bloor, M.M., V. L. Morris and L. Bromham.
On January 17th, we were relieved in the St. Elie sector and moved to billets at Verquin, where we spent a few days cleaning, and were lectured on the all-absorbing topic of "War Savings." Leaving there on January 21st, we marched to Burbure preparatory to a long period of training, the 46th Division having been relieved in the line by the 11th Division.