4TH Battalion, The London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) in the Great War 1914 - 1919
THE 1/4TH BATTALION IN THE DEFENCE OF ARRAS, 1918
On the 11th March 1918 the l/4th Londons took over the Oppy Trenches from the Kensingtons.
There was no room for doubt now that the Germans intended sooner or later to launch a big attack in this area, and the only thing was to ensure that the troops holding the line should be ready whenever the storm might burst. The dispositions now taken up were, therefore, those which had been finally decided on for the scheme of defence, and it was arranged that companies should henceforth always occupy the same positions in order the better to know their ground. These positions will be stated in detail later.
So far as the infantry in the line were concerned the period of suspense was mainly characterised by very hard work on the defences and by particularly active patrolling. Each front line post nightly pushed forward to the enemy wire a listening patrol to give early warning of signs of the enemy's assembly for attack. On the evening of the 12th March 2/Lieut. G. G. Lewis took a patrol into the German trenches near Crucifix Corner, but found them unoccupied. The tour of duty passed quietly, with the exception of a very severe bombardment with mustard gas shells, which began at about 7 p.m. on the 15th March and continued till about 8 a.m. the following morning. At the time this caused little damage, but the heat of the sun later in the day accentuated the effects of the gas, and Lieuts. A. Bath and O. D. Garratt, M.C., 2/Lieuts. G. W. Fisher, E. A. Ratcliffe and 109 other ranks became casualties.
Intelligence reports pointed to the probability of the attack developing on the 12th March ; but although nothing occurred, from this date onwards the whole Division daily stood to arms from one hour before dawn till 8.30 a.m., while the Divisional and Corps artillery put a slow barrage on the enemy lines at daybreak. The " stand-to " order was strictly enforced as far back as the transport lines and the Quartermaster.
On the 18th the l/4th Londons were relieved by the Kensingtons and withdrew in Brigade reserve to Roclin-court, leaving two platoons in support attached to the Kensingtons, and one in front trenches attached to the London Scottish. A rearrangement of the method of holding the line was now ordered by Corps, and the necessary changes which were effected on the night of 21st/22nd March resulted in each division holding its sector with two brigades in line and one in reserve. Each front line brigade had two battalions in trenches and one in support. The effect of this in the 56th Division was to leave the 169th and 168th Brigades in the line, while the 167th was withdrawn to the support area.
The 21st March saw the opening of the great German offensive on the Fifth Army front, but no attack developed opposite the 56th Division. The day was marked by very greatly increased artillery activity on the enemy's part, gas shell being freely used on the Bailleul- Wilier val line. This indication of the imminence of active operations caused the cancellation of the relief of the 56th Division by the 62nd. The next day warning was received that the 2nd Canadian Division would take over the line, but this order was also subsequently cancelled.
No definite news of the offensive was received during the 21st March, though it was reported that the enemy had gained the high ground near Wancourt Tower, and was likely by his assault on Monchy to lay the Corps right flank open to attack. Arras was heavily shelled, and all the civilians were cleared out. St Pol also was bombarded by a long-range gun, while low-flying Bosche aeroplanes were over the lines and at night dropped bombs on Thelus.
On the evening of the 24th the l/4th Londons returned to the front line. Aerial reports of great activity behind the German lines now made it clear that the attack was imminent, and final preparations for the struggle were completed. All spare Lewis guns and magazines were brought up from the transport lines. The men were in splendid fettle, and the high probability that the long weeks of suspense would shortly be over increased their good humour. All were absolutely confident in themselves and each other, and their only anxiety was as to whether they would have the good fortune to be in front trenches to meet the enemy.
At this time Gen. Loch and Lieut. -Col. Marchment made strong representations that the three front line posts ought to be much more lightly held, and that the Company Headquarters in Beatty should be withdrawn to the Marquis line, on the grounds that it was useless to pack men into posts only 100 yards from the enemy, where they were certain to suffer severely from the hostile bombardment and where they had no room to fight. These representations were not received favourably by Corps though the event showed they were well founded. As it was Lieut. -Col. Marchment moved one platoon from Oppy Post, but even with this alteration the Marquis line was too lightly held.
News from the area of battle in the south was still vague, though it was known that the Fifth Army had been forced to give a great deal of ground, and that the Third Army on its left had also retreated, though to a less degree, and to conform to the movements of its neighbour. As the day wore on, however, the enemy's pressure on the Third Army south of the Scarpe increased and by the 27th he had captured Monchy-le-Preux. It became evident that he was aiming at a movement to envelop Arras from the south. A reasonable deduction from this situation was that the blow at Arras would shortly develop also on the north of the Scarpe, by means of an assault on the Vimy Ridge.
In the early hours of the 25th March, shortly after the l/4th Londons had taken over the line, 2/Lieut. C. H. Board and Coy. Sergt. -Major Matthews of B Company were visiting the sentry groups in Beatty Post when two of the enemy, who had entered the trench by stealth, tried to drag the Coy. Sergt. -Major out of it. A scuffle ensued in which another officer and an N.C.O. joined. The two Germans unfortunately got away after slightly wounding both Board and Matthews.
During the day the artillery on both sides became more active, though no infantry action occurred, and the men were kept busy in constructing trench blocks and improving firesteps. The right flank of the l/4th Londons' sector had always been regarded as a rather weak spot in the defence, and in view of the expectation that the enemy would assault the Vimy Ridge from the south, it was desirable to provide for the formation by the Battalion of a defensive flank facing south should this area become threatened. To this end work was pushed forward in constructing and improving firesteps in Ouse Alley for its possible use as a " switch line." This precaution, as will be seen, was justified by events.
During the evening a report was received of the examination of a prisoner of the 471st Infantry Regiment, who had been taken near Mill Post on the previous evening. This was to the effect that the attack was to be made on the morning of the 26th, and that the 219th and 23rd Reserve Divisions had been brought forward for the purpose. These troops were accommodated in the Drocourt-Queant line. They had just arrived from Riga and would attack in conjunction with the 240th and 5th Bavarian Reserve Divisions. They would assemble in the front line system and would advance to a depth of four miles with their right flank on Oppy, then swing round towards Vimy. Three special divisions would capture the Vimy Ridge the next day. The 471st Regiment had already 60 trench mortars in position, and 8 more trench mortar companies were to arrive on the night of the 25th ; most of the ammunition was already in the line.
This message, bringing as it did a hope that the wearisome suspense was at last at an end, was received with satisfaction, and instructions to prepare for battle were issued. All night our artillery maintained a heavy fire on the enemy's supposed assembly positions, while No Man's Land was occupied by our listening patrols. At 4 a.m. these came in and the heavy artillery placed a slow barrage on the German front lines. At 4.45 a.m. the Battalion stood to arms, blocks were lowered in the communication trenches and all made ready. No attack developed, and at 7.30 a.m. the order to stand down was received from Brigade, the remainder of the day passing comparatively quietly.
In the evening, in response to urgent appeals from Corps for an identification, all battalions in the line sent patrols to the enemy trenches to try to get prisoners. From the l/4th Londons two parties went forward at 10.30 p.m. after wire-cutting preparations by the field artillery. 2/Lieut. G. G. Lewis with a platoon of A Company entered the enemy line opposite Oppy Post, but the sentry group was heard running away and no bag was obtained. From C Company 2/Lieut. R. E. Campkin took two men to the German trenches near Crucifix Corner, and had a lively little scrap in the dark with the sentry group. In this case also the Bosche took to their heels, and, in spite of a good set to with fists, managed to get away pursued by Campkin. After remaining two hours in the enemy line both patrols returned bringing some trench notice boards.
The 27th March passed remarkably quietly, nothing of interest occurring beyond the movements of a low-flying Bosche 'plane which appeared to be particularly interested in our trenches. A relief of the German division opposite the Battalion was suspected, but the report was incorrect.
On the night 27th/28tli March orders were received that the XIII Corps boundary was to be extended north-wards as far as the Souchez River, and that the 56th Division would " side-step " northwards. The side-step was effected by transferring the Kensingtons from the right flank of the l/4th Londons to the left flank, the Kensingtons taking over two new posts north of the l/4th Londons from the 8th Canadian Brigade. The gap thus created on the right flank of the Battalion was filled by the 169th Brigade, which extended its left flank. Why this redistribution was effected at the eleventh hour we do not know : obviously it must have been for some very important reason. But whatever the cause, the result was distinctly weakening to the defence. We have already alluded to the well -recognised risk of the l/4th Londons' right flank being laid open, and now at the last moment the area was occupied by a Battalion entirely strange to the ground. The relief in fact was not completed before the battle opened, for when the Bosche barrage fell on the morning of the 28th March the L.R.B. had not taken over Bailleul East Post, while a company of the 1st Canadian Rifles in the Brown line was still awaiting relief. By the courtesy of the Canadian Brigadier this company was placed under the orders of Brig. -Gen. Loch.
In addition to this eleventh hour change of dispositions a certain difficulty appears to have beset the High Command in reconciling the roles of the three divisions composing the Corps, and this resulted in a stream of orders each of which altered its predecessor. The Corps order, under which the extension of the 56th Division's line was carried out, laid down that the Bailleul-Willerval line (Red line) was to be the line of resistance, and that the front line system would be regarded as outposts. Later in the evening the front line system was ordered to be held at all costs to conform with the 4th Division on our right ; but still later a modification of this was made on the left of the line in order to conform to the defensive line of the 3rd Canadian Division on our left, and the garrison of Arleux Post was ordered, if heavily attacked, to withdraw to the Arleux Loop.
The final dispositions therefore provided five lines of defence, each to be defended at all costs in default of a Divisional order to withdraw. There were :
1. Front line system.
2. Red line (Bailleul-Willerval).
3. Brown line (Farbus-Vimy).
4. Green line (Thtilus).
5. La Targette line.
The order of battle of Brigade was as follows
169th Brigade (bight) :
Front line system :
Red line :
Brown line :
168th Brigade (left) ;
Front line system :
Queen's Westminsters in Towy Post on the right.
London Rifle Brigade in Mill,
Bradford and Bird Posts on the left.
1 coy. l/5th Cheshire Pioneers,
2 coys. 1st Londons (attd. from 167th Brigade).
Wood and l/4th Londons in Beatty, Oppy Posts on the right.
Kensingtons in Tommy and Arleux Posts on the left.
Red line : London Scottish.
Brown line : 2 platoons l/5th Cheshire Pioneers.
Green line : 2 coys, 1st Londons, IJ coys. l/5th Cheshire
Divisional Reserve :
167th Brigade (less 1st Londons) and 3 field coys. R.E.
The companies of the l/4th Londons were disposed as
Right : B Company (Spicer) H.Q. and 2 platoons in Beatty
Post. 1 platoon in Marquis and Earl line.
Centre : C Company (Duthie) 1 platoon in Wood Post. 1
platoon in Marquis line. H.Q. and 1 platoon in
South Duke St.
Left : A Company (H. N. Williams) 1 platoon in Oppy Post.
1 platoon between Oppy Post and Marquis line.
H.Q. and 1 platoon in Marquis line.
Advanced Battalion H.Q. : (Major F. A. Phillips) in South Duke
St. (with C Coy.)
Support : D Company (Cooper) in Bow Trench.
Battalion H.Q. : (Lieut.-Col. Marchment) in Ouse Alley west of
During the night 2/Lieut. R. E. Campkin with two men of C Company again crossed No Man's Land and returned shortly before 3 a.m. on the 28th March reporting that he had seen long lines of men carrying up to the enemy front line what appeared to be large biscuit tins — doubtless the trench mortar ammunition coming in. Evidently this was The Day !
At 3 a.m. on the 28th March the enemy opened an intense high explosive shell fire on Bow Trench, Ouse Alley and Rear Battalion Headquarters, as well as on all the rearward defensive posts. This bombardment, which continued throughout the day, was at first mingled with mustard gas. The forward area was hardly affected by this shelling except for the fact that the wind carried the gas eastward over the front line posts, the garrisons of which had to wear masks for over an hour.
At 5.40 a.m. a terrific trench mortar fire fell on the forward posts doing very severe damage, and causing many casualties. Ouse Alley and the Earl-Marquis line at first escaped this, though later the area of bombardment was extended and they received a full share of it.
A strictly chronological account of an action such as this, in which different parts of the Battalion became involved in the fight at varying hours, is almost an impossibility if the reader is to glean anything but the most confused impression of what occurred. We propose, therefore, to deal first of all with the fight for the front line posts gradually working our narrative westward.
The S.O.S. signal was received in Battalion Head-quarters from Oppy Post by wire at 7.15 a.m., and a few moments later flares were sent up from Wood and Beatty. The signal was repeated backwards to Brigade by Battalion Headquarters. " We stood on top," writes Lieut. -Col. Marchment, " to have a look round but could see very little as it was not fully light. We could, however, hear a pleasant noise — very heavy rifle fire ! "
Oppy Post on the left had been very badly knocked about by the trench mortaring and the garrison seriously reduced before the enemy came over. A gallant attempt at resistance was put up and rifle and Lewis gun fire were opened as soon as the attacking lines made their appearance. One Lewis gun team was seen from the rear to have climbed on to the parapet, and the gun was being fired from the hip. But it was hopeless from the first. The enemy lines were very close, and by sheer weight of numbers the Post was quickly swamped. Of a garrison of 2 officers and 48 other ranks but 1 officer (2/Lieut. Athey) and 5 other ranks were able to make their way back to the Marquis line which they did by way of Boyne Trench.
On the right Beatty Post had suffered from the trench mortar fire more severely than any, and by the time the Germans appeared its trenches were practically effaced. The attackers appeared in fairly close formation, and in considerable depth, some of the leading wave firing rifle grenades from the hip. Apparently the enemy's trench mortar preparation, severe as it had been, had not dealt effectively with our wire, for the leading wave of attackers was delayed in getting through it, causing those following to bunch up to it. The rapid rifle and Lewis gun fire opened by the garrison of the post was thus able to inflict very severe loss. For about fifteen minutes the garrison stoutly held its own, but at the end of that time it was found that the enemy had already swept over the posts to the right held by the L.R.B., and was working into Marine Trench and Ouse Alley in great numbers. Again sheer weight of numbers made further resistance impossible, and 2/Lieut. G. R. Pitman brought the six surviving men back to the Marquis line over the open, leaving 2 officers (Capt. E. E. Spicer and 2/Lieut. Coombes) and 78 other ranks fallen at their posts.
In the centre a magnificent stand was made by the garrison of Wood Post under Lieut. H. F. Dade and 2/Lieut. H. O. Morris. The night position of the post had been changed a few days before the battle, and the German trench mortar preparation therefore fell harmlessly on the former position. When the trench mortar fire ceased the enemy was seen advancing in an extended line over the open ground left of the Wood and coming through the Wood in groups of about 10 men 50 yards apart. This line was followed by groups of about 30 men some 200 yards in rear. The whole garrison (2 officers, 45 other ranks and 2 Lewis guns) at once opened a heavy fire which undoubtedly caused very severe loss to the enemy. A party of Germans tried to force the block in the trench leading from the new post to the old, but they were effectively disposed of with rifle grenades. For a full hour this gallant garrison held their own, completely checking the enemy in the wood. On the right, however, the enemy had, as aheady recounted, swept over Beatty Post and was now working his way round Wood Post from the south. Ammunition and bombs were beginning to run short. After a consultation Dade and Morris decided that the position was no longer tenable, and they withdrew their men along Bedford Row and Boyne Trench to the Marquis line. This withdrawal was skilfuly executed, the move of the riflemen down Boyne Trench being covered by Lewis guns in Bedford Row. That the garrison held their own to the last is evidenced by the fact that before the post was finally evacuated the Headquarters dugout was in the hands of the enemy, while our own artillery was already shelling the post. The defence of Wood Post cost 25 casualties in other ranks.
The value of the defence of Wood Post can hardly be overestimated. Apart from the heavy losses which the fire of its garrison undoubtedly inflicted on the enemy, it is certain that its prolonged resistance saved the Marquis line from being overrun in the vicinity of Advanced Battalion Headquarters.
As soon as Williams reported the men back from Oppy Post Lieut. -Col. Marchment had a 6-inch howitzer battery turned on to Oppy Wood.
The forward posts having fallen, the Marquis line became almost immediately engaged, and Capt. H.N.Williams (A Company) displayed great qualities of leadership in his defence of the position. We cannot do better than to relate this phase of the battle in the words of the official account of the action submitted by Lieut. -Col. Marchment :
The Marquis line easily held up the advancing enemy after the posts had gone. On the right the enemy was strongly established in the Earl line and Viscount Street about fifteen minutes after zero. Major F. A. Phillips at once gave orders to 2/Lieut. O. C. Hudson, whose platoon was in the Marquis line astride Ouse Alley, to form the defensive flank at once. This had been rehearsed previously and consisted not only in manning the block in Ouse Alley to the front, but also in Earl to the right, and manning firesteps facing to the right along Ouse Alley. 2/Lieut. Hudson maintained this position with great gallantry and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy, whom he caught in enfilade as they broke through over Earl to Viscount Street. The defensive flank was prolonged by Headquarter details who continued on the firestep in Ouse Alley and held a block near the Aid Post in South Duke Street.
At about 9.30 a.m. a strong party was seen working up Ouse Alley from Viscount Street towards Forward Battalion Headquarters. Major F. A. Phillips at once attacked over the open with about 20 Headquarter details, the men following most gallantly under heavy fire. The enemy were ejected and a block established in Ouse Alley towards Viscount Street. A block was established here and successfully defended with grenades by a party under Sergt. Udall.
In the centre of the Marquis line the attack was not pressed until the Wood Post Garrison had withdrawn. After this the enemy gradually built up a large volume of rifle fire from Oppy Wood, but was prevented from debouching by well-directed rifle and Lewis gun fire from the Marquis line. Rifle grenades were also used on New Cut and Baker Street where the enemy had established himself.
On the left of the Marquis line excellent targets were presented on the left of the Wood, the Lewis gun in the bank (near the junction of Clarence Trench and Kent Road) doing most excellent work.
During the next three hours the enemy twice broke into the line near Boyne, but was thrown out, leaving a good many dead in the trench. Rifle and Lewis gun fire was opened whenever a good target presented itself, and a large number of dead were seen between Wood and Beale Trenches.
Later on the enemy broke in on the left from Clarence Trench. The Lewis gun on the left had finished its ammunition, but reinforced by a few men, the team ejected the enemy with rifle fire and grenades.
Thus, at about 11 a.m., the forward troops were holding the Marquis line beating off attacks to the front and holding a block on the left. On the right, although the enemy pressure was considerable, he was held up splendidly in Earl and South Duke Street and in front and behind in Ouse Alley ; the enemy holding Viscount Street on the right and pushing on towards the Red line.
During the whole of this fight information as to the situation came in to Rear BattaUon Headquarters rapidly, thanks to a buried cable, and throughout the battle communication was maintained with the troops in front and with Brigade Headquarters and the artillery in rear. Advantage of this was taken when definite news of the fall of the post line was received, and the artillery barrage was dropped to conform to the situation, Earl Trench being shelled with good effect.
We must now turn for a moment to the course of events in the rearward area. The enemy's preparatory bombardment had fallen heavily on Bow Trench, but the garrison (D Company, Cooper) was kept in dugouts, sentries being changed each half -hour, and few casualties were sustained. At 5 a.m. the blocks in Ouse Alley were lowered, and rum and extra S.A.A. issued to the men. On the S.O.S. signal being received the trench was manned ; and at the same time Lieut. -Col. Marchment sent the Headquarter Company round to join D Company, retaining with him only a few signallers to work the line, two clerks and a few scouts, in addition to Boutall (Adjutant), Lorden (Works Officer) and Padre Green " to create a calm atmosphere." Lorden was hit here at about 7.45 a.m.
From about 8 a.m. the Headquarters area was quite in the air. The front line system in the adjoining sector on the right (169th Brigade) had gone, with the exception of Towy Post held by the Queen's Westminsters ; and the Bosche had worked up the valley on the left and was also for a time in Ouse Alley, and attacking Bailleul East Post in the Red line (held by the London Scottish).
For a time trouble was caused by low-flying enemy aeroplanes, but these went back as soon as our own R.E. 8's appeared. Good contact work was done throughout the day with these machines which called at intervals for flares. Luckily all flares were carried on the men, and they were thus available to show our positions to the aeroplanes. At one time the Battalion code and position call, Q.J.B., was sent to the contact aeroplane by Lucas Lamp worked by Sergt. Hurst, and satisfactorily received.
At about 9 a.m. the enemy was in Viscount Trench, and as stragglers from the L.R.B. reported that he was also working down Ouse Alley, D Company was ordered to despatch one platoon to man Ouse Alley forward of Bow Trench. This was quickly done, and the men, taking up positions on the firesteps facing south-east, were able to engage small parties of the enemy who appeared over the crest in front of Bailleul East Post.
Later in the morning when news was received of the severe odds against which the gallant Marquis line garrison was struggling, the remainder of D Company was ordered to bomb up Ouse Alley to try to join hands with Major Phillips and thus complete the defensive flank. At the same time a carrying party was detailed from Head-quarters to carry S.A.A. to the front line should D Company succeed. The place of D Company in Bow Trench was taken by two platoons of the London Scottish placed at Lieut. -Col. Marchment's disposal.
The bombing attack was pushed forward for some 400 yards. Enemy opposition was not very severe and about a dozen were killed. The Germans were, however, continuing to press forward over the open from the right and it seemed likely that D Company would get cut off. A block was therefore made in Ouse Alley which was held by a few men, while another small party manned the firesteps to the right to engage the advancing enemy. The remainder of D Company moved over the open in the valley north of Ouse Alley towards Boyne Dump to carry S.A.A. to the Marquis line, taking full advantage of the ground.
By 11.30 a.m. the situation of the Marquis line troops had become precarious in the extreme. The Germans in Oppy Wood were being reinforced and were developing a considerable volume of fire from that direction. The right and right rear of the position were almost enveloped and an attack was being launched against the left flank. Bombs and ammunition were giving out. It seemed clear that further resistance could only lead to useless loss of life. Influenced by these weighty considerations Major Phillips, after a consultation with his senior officers, decided to try to save the remnants of the garrison by a withdrawal to the Red line. The only available trench for withdrawal, Oiise Alley, was, however, already occupied by the enemy in rear of the position, and the valley from Boyne Dump on the left offered the only loophole of escape from the closing pincers. Lieut. -Col. Marchment writes of this withdrawal :
The withdrawal was witnessed by myself from my headquarters. I watched it through my glasses. It was carried out in a very steady and orderly way, the men leaving in groups of about a dozen. Although exposed to heavy fire from the front and flanks, they made excellent use of the ground and had few casualties.
The men of D Company, who were meanwhile carrying S.A.A. up to the Marquis line, met the survivors returning and covered their withdrawal.
It is hard to find adequate words in praise of this gallant defence and skilful and well-timed withdrawal. All ranks alike behaved with the greatest spirit under very trying circumstances.
A great loss was suffered in this defence in the capture by the enemy of the Regimental Aid Post. Capt. Maloney, the M.O. was a most popular man in the Battalion, and Sergt. Rossington and the two orderlies, Palmer and Simpson, had all done excellent work. By an irony of fate 2/Lieut. Morris, who had done such good work in the defence of Wood Post earlier in the morning, was hit later, and was having his wounds dressed in the Aid Post when it was captured.
Major F. A. Phillips who, at Forward Headquarters, was in charge of the whole defence of the forward system, did excellent work. He was continually up and down the lines encouraging the men, and was able to keep Rear Battalion Headquarters constantly in touch with the rapid changes in the situation.
The enemy was now in great force in Viscount Street and was beginning to bomb heavily down Ouse Alley, while he showed increasing signs of strength on the ridge to the right of that trench. The party of D Company in Ouse Alley was therefore withdrawn as soon as the survivors of the Marquis line garrison had reached Bow Trench, to avoid the risk of being cut off. Later the enemy appeared in great strength against the block in Ouse Alley forward of Bow Trench. This block was defended by a " slit " cut in the side of Ouse Alley which was covered by a Lewis gun post in Bow Trench and seven of the enemy were killed by Lewis gun fire.
As soon as the Battalion was concentrated in Bow Trench and the Red line, the artillery barrage was dropped to a line about 400 yards in front of Bow Trench, and arrangements were made to increase it to intense should the S.O.S. signal be sent up from Battalion Headquarters.
The enemy skirmishers having been definitely checked the situation now became quieter, and for the next hour there was a distinct lull in the battle.
The Kensingtons on the left had not been attacked but had withdrawn to the Red line to conform to the l/4th Londons' new position.
In Towy Post, the extreme right of the Divisional front, the Queen's Westminsters had put up a most gallant fight, but the remainder of the 169th Brigade front had rapidly been swamped by weight of enemy numbers, and in this sector the 169th Brigade troops were thrown back to the Red line while the Wood Post garrison was still holding its ground.
The development of this great German attack was a remarkable confirmation of the statement which had been made by the prisoner captured on the 24th March. All the troops mentioned by him were identified in the course of the fighting. On the l/4th Londons' front two German regiments were identified : the 249th I. Regt. at Oppy Post, and the 10th R.I. Regt. in the shape of a gentleman who broke into Sergt. Plumblcy's canteen in Ouse Alley. But having armed himself with a tin of pineapple this luckless marauder fell into the arms of D Company bombing up the trench !
Eleven German divisions took part in this great battle, but they were all checked by the divisions holding the line, the 56th and 4th north of the Scarpe and the 3rd and 15th south of it. That the almost complete failure of the enemy on the 28th March was a severe blow to the German High Command there can be no doubt, and Ludendorff says, " It was an estabhshed fact that the enemy's resistance was beyond our strength."
The regiment has every reason to be proud of its defence this day. For over four hours it retained the front line system under the weight of heavy shell fire and repeated attacks by vastly superior numbers, and, when finally it was forced to give ground to avoid extinction, it withdrew fighting. The casualties were heavy, but considering the enormous service rendered the price paid was not unduly great.
At about 4 p.m. the enemy began to shell the Red line rather heavily, but no infantry attack matured. Shortly afterwards the l/4th Londons were withdrawn, and by 6 p.m. were under cover of the Railway Embankment north-east of Bailleul, reorganised in two companies (Cooper and Williams). S.A.A. was replenished and arrangements made to man the Brown line and posts south of the Bailleul Road should the enemy break through the Red line. Bow Trench had been handed over to the London Scottish.
The experience of this battle showed the need for holding front line posts lightly, and purely for observation purposes. The uselessness of locking up large garrisons in them — unless they can be effectively concealed as in the case of Wood Post — was clearly demonstrated. The system of trench blocks to which much thought had previously been devoted fully proved its value, while the advantage of rehearsing companies in the roles they may be expected to play, and especially of acquainting all ranks with the " overland " routes within the area was much in evidence.
The casualties sustained by the l/4th Londons in this action were :
Officers: Capt. E. E. Spicer, 2/Lieuts. R. E. Campkin, H. T. Hannay and H. V. Coouibes, killed ; Capt. A. M. Duthie, D.S.O,, and Lieut. H. M. Lorden, Wounded ;
Capt. Maloney, 2/Lieuts. C. W. Denning (attached to 168th L.T.M. Battery), H. O. Morris and C. S. Richards, captured.
N.C.O.'s and men : 15 killed, 43 wounded and 168 missing.
Decorations were awarded to the following :
Lieut.-Col. A. F. Marchment, M.C., and Major F. A. Phillips, the D.S.O. ; Capts. A. M. Duthie, D.S.O., T. B. Cooper, M.M., and H. N. Williams, the M.C. ; O.S.M. T. Lock, M.M., the D.C.M. ; L.-Corpl. W. J. Hutchin, M.M., Bar to M.M. ; Sergts. F. G. Udall, H. V. R. Randall and C. J. Gibbs, Corpls. G. Hayes and A. Parker, L.-Corpls. S. G. Coates, C. L. Husk and A. J. Deadman, and Ptes. W. A. G. Battershall, P. C. Swinchatt, A. J. Sellars and J. R. Phillips, the M.M.
During the 29th March the l/4th Londons remained in Brigade support. Much movement was observed in the enemy's lines during the morning, and our artillery was active in anticipation of a renewal of the attack, but as the day wore on it became evident that the enemy was engaged in relieving the attacking divisions. That evening at 7 p.m. the Battalion handed over its trenches to the 87th Canadian Battalion (4th Canadian Division) and marched out to billets at Mont St Eloy, arriving there at 2 a.m. on the 30th March.