4th Battalion, The London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) - Final Advance The 2/4th Battalion Battles of Amiens and Bapaume

London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories

4th Battalion, The London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) - Final Advance The 2/4th Battalion Battles of Amiens and Bapaume

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

THE FINAL ADVANCE

I. The 2/4th Battalion in the Battles of Amiens and Bapaume, 1918

The middle of 1918 witnessed the veritable low water-mark of the Allied fortunes. All the protracted sledge-hammer offensives of 1916 and 1917, which had indented the enemy's line at such ghastly cost of life, had within a few short weeks been swept aside as if they had never been, and the advancing tide of the Germans' offensive had carried their eagles forward to the furthest positions they had ever reached in 1914. In Italy the laborious advance of our Allies towards Trieste had been turned, when the coveted goal seemed almost within their grasp, into a defeat which was almost decisive. Roumania had long been utterly overrun, Austria given a new lease of life, and Russia's debacle completed. Scarcely anywhere was there a ray of light on this very gloomy horizon.

We have endeavoured to show that, bad as the situation was, the Allies by no means accepted the crushing blows which had been inflicted on them as decisive, and week by week the position was gradually improving, and the numerical superiority of the enemy was being overcome. In July so great was the British recovery that offensive operations on a small scale were undertaken with a view to local improvement of our positions. Among these the capture of Hamel and Meteren may be mentioned.

The bulk of the fighting, however, was on the French front, where the enemy was endeavouring to enlarge the salient which he had driven down to the Marne. On the east side at Rheims and on the west in the Foret de Compiegne his pressure was great but weakening. The French powers of resistance were gradually becoming more equal to their task and the German progress correspondingly slower till at last, on the 15th July, the enemy received a definite check. Three days later Marshal Foch had brought forward the reserves which he had jealously conserved through these trying days, and the enemy was in retreat on a front of 27 miles from the Oise to the Marne. Of the French offensive we can say nothing, for our task lies with the British Fourth Army under Rawlinson.

Immediately Marshal Foch had set his own armies in forward motion he ordered the British and American armies to open the offensives they had prepared. The first object of British G.H.Q. was to disengage Amiens, and the vast offensive movement therefore began in Rawlinson's army, which was on the right of the British line from its junction with the French near Moreuil to the north of Albert.

In this part of the great series of victories we have to follow the operations of the 2 /4th Battalion, and we shall deal with them in the first instance from the opening of the offensive on August 8th until their final disbandment on September 12th. We shall then proceed to follow the unrolling of the battle northwards and the engagement in it successively of the Third and First Armies, with both of which the l/4th Battalion fought until the Armistice.

The date fixed for the great attack was 8th August, and on that day Rawlinson's Fourth Army, comprising from left to right the III, Australian and Canadian Corps, would combine with Debeney's First French Army in a supreme effort to relieve Amiens from the menace of the Huns. With the details of the battle beyond the 58th Division's area we are not concerned but we must, in order to understand the role which the Division was expected to play, offer some brief description of the terrain and its effect on the Australian advance on the right.

The main advance was to be made on the south bank of the Somme by the Canadians and the Australians, while the III Corps, including the 18th and 58th Divisions in line, operating solely on the north bank of the river, would secure the left flank of the attack as far north as Morlancourt. The establishment of this defensive flank entailed the capture of a very strong naturally defended position, the possession of which was vital to the success of the troops south of the Somme.

The Somme, like the Oise, is a winding canalised river running through a marshy valley. Its south bank, though undulating, has no specially marked hill features, but on the north the adjoining land rises to a considerable height on the spur which traverses the narrow wedge between the Somme and the Ancre. This plateau is furrowed by a number of deep gullies running northward from the river, and the sharp hills between these valleys, falling in places by abrupt chalk cliffs to the Somme, form very commanding features from which it would be possible for a determined enemy to play havoc with any attempt to advance south of the river, for they completely dominate the south bank. The most marked of these spurs is the long saddle immediately east of the village of Chipilly. This feature is almost girdled by the Somme (which makes a narrow sweep round the east, south and west sides of it), and projects almost a mile south of the general line of the river. It thus forms a barrier across the ground for which the Australians would be made responsible.

The capture of the Chipilly Ridge was the task allotted to the 58th Division, while the 18th would complete the defensive flank from the north end of the Ridge at Gressaire Wood to Morlancourt.

The line of advance from the British front trenches was full of obstacles. Immediately in front of the line, and on the river bank was the village of Sailly Laurette, the garrison of which, if not immediately overcome, would be able to enfilade the whole advance as the troops crossed No Man's Land. A mile and a half east of Sailly Laurette lay Malard Wood, covering both slopes of one of the declivitous gullies already alluded to ; while half-way between the Malard Wood valley and the final objective on the cliff of Chipilly Ridge, lay a second gully, badly enfiladed from Chipilly village and completely overlooked from the Ridge itself. Heavy going all the way, up hill and down dale, through features eminently suited to machine-gun defence, culminating in a breathless scramble up a steep slope to meet an enemy who would probably defend it to the last ; a total advance of about two and a half miles ; altogether no light task for a single division.

In view of the obvious difficulty of carrying so strong a position by frontal attack alone it was arranged that the Australians should advance ahead of the 58th Division and occupy the high ground near Mericourt south-east of the Ridge, by the time the 58th was due to deliver its final assault. By this means it was hoped to squeeze the enemy off the Ridge in the direction of Bray without making a fight for it, in order to avoid complete envelopment.

Such was the general idea : and we must now return to the 2/4th Battalion which we left in the preceding chapter at Pernois on the morning of 2nd August, in order to trace how the idea worked out.

The 2nd and 3rd August were spent in resting and cleaning, and on Sunday, the 4th, after company commanders had been admitted to the rumour that large operations were imminent, sudden orders to move were received. At 9.30 p.m. that night the Battalion again embussed to La Houssoye on the Amiens-Albert Road, whence it marched to bivouacs in a wood near Bonnay (two miles north of Corbie, on the Ancre). Fortunately the weather was fine and warm, for the only shelter provided was one bell tent per company.

The 5th August was passed in close cover in the wood in order that our intentions might not be revealed to prying Bosche aeroplanes, and in the afternoon Lieut. -Col. Grover explained the plan of attack to the company commanders. At zero (4.20 a.m.) the 174th Brigade would advance from Assembly line and dig in on the Green line 200 yards east of Malard Wood. The 2/10th Londons (175th Brigade) were especially attached for the capture of Sailly Laurette. The 173rd Brigade would follow close on the 174th in artillery formation, halt in Malard Wood for one hour and adopt attack formation, and then passing through the Green line would take Chipilly Ridge, Red line. The 18th Division would advance on the left of the 58th, the 54th Brigade going as far as the Green line, when the 53rd would leap-frog through it to the Red line . The advance would be made under a creeping field artillery barrage provided by ninety 18-prs. and thirty 4"5 howitzers, while the deep valleys would be dealt with by a heavy howitzer barrage jumping" from valley to valley. Twelve tanks were to cover the advance, two of which were allotted to the 2/10th Londons for Sailly Laurette, the remainder leading the 174th Brigade to Malard Wood, where the 173rd would pick up one per company for the final assault. The 4th Suffolks (Pioneers) would consolidate a position slightly in rear of the final objective.

The order of battle in the 173rd Brigade was : 3rd, Londons on the right, 2 /4th Londons on the left, leading battalions ; 2/2nd Londons, reserve battalion. In the 2/4th Battalion the order of advance was : leading D (Rivers Smith) on the right and C (Parslow) on the left ; supporting B (Croll) on the right, A (Brissenden) on the left, with Battalion Headquarters in rear.

Another conference followed on the morning of the 6th, after which company commanders went forward ta reconnoitre the point of assembly. On arrival at the 54th Brigade Headquarters it was found, however, that the enemy had just delivered a sharp attack and possessed himself of the very trenches from which we were to " jump-off " the following morning : rather disconcerting and possibly very serious for the whole attack, for the Huns had reached some of the dumps and gun positions prepared for the 8th, and it might be that they would guess our intentions. To guard against any possibility of failure on this score the barrage lines were completely rearranged. Prisoners subsequently captured stated that the British intention to attack had not been discovered, but the extraordinary defence which the Bosche made on 8th, combined with the fact that his field guns were withdrawn east of Gressaire Wood throws some doubt on this.

At all events the company commanders were forced to return without seeing anything of their assembly position or of the ground over which they were to advance, and reported accordingly. The attack, however, could not be postponed as the remainder of the Army and the French also were involved, and final preparations were therefore made for a plunge in the dark.

Battle surplus in charge of Capt. Hetley, who that day returned from hospital, was sent back to Mirvaux, and at 9.30 p.m. the Battalion moved forward to a gully half a mile north-east of Vaux-sur-Somme.

The 18th Division was able to re-establish its position during the 7th, though after such losses that the 36th Brigade (12th Division) had to be put into the attack on the first objective in place of the 54th Brigade. The recovery was too late for reconnaissance, which had therefore to be limited to viewing the approaches to the assembly, and at dusk, laden with all the usual impedimenta of battle, the companies set out on their two and a half mile trudge to the starting-point. The move was made "overland," but alongside a communication trench known as Cootamundra. The advance was not easy ; gas masks had to be worn for some distance ; intermittent shelling caused delays ; tanks now and then drifted through the columns, breaking them up ; and as usual shell holes in the dark proved a fruitful source of annoyance ; but with all these drawbacks it was a cheerful and optimistic, if blasphemous. Battalion that arrived in the front line well up to time.

Dawn broke at last and the company commanders, eagerly expecting to see the positions which they had never yet viewed, were dismayed to find the sun rising on a dense fog which enshrouded the whole landscape and limited vision to about 20 yards ! However, there was nothing for it but to get up and try to keep touch with the assaulting troops. The enemy's barrage came down quickly and heavily and the companies moved forward rapidly over No Man's Land, though a good many fell. By bad luck most of the Battalion Headquarters, including Lieut. -Col. Grover and Capt. Walker the Adjutant, both severely hit, were knocked out within a few minutes, and this misfortune dogged the Battalion through the day. Moving forward slowly, trusting to a compass bearing to bring them to the north edge of Malard Wood, the companies pushed on, our barrage roaring on far ahead and no troops in sight right or left of them.

Adverse comments have been made on the Division for a serious loss of direction this day. As a matter of fact it was not so serious as has been stated by some writers, but it is true that the 2/4th Battalion at first drifted about 500 yards over its left boundary into the 18th Division territory. This divergence was also followed by the 2/2nd Londons, who encroached on what should properly have been our right company front. This is regrettable, but comprehensible if a close study be made of a contoured map. The gullies which had to be crossed ran obliquely across the line of advance. If anyone cares to try hill climbing in a fog he will realise the extreme difficulty of maintaining a sidelong direction.

Another cause of divergence from the correct direction lay in the numerous small pockets of enemy who had to be mopped up by the companies on route. These small parties offered comparatively little opposition, but they necessitated a cautious advance. Moreover, as they were not all in the exact path of the advancing platoons, it was inevitable to make a deliberate deflection to deal with them, after which the idea of direction in the fog became still more nebulous.

After some time Croll and Parslow, whose companies were in touch, reached a trench lately occupied by the enemy, badly smashed and full of dead Huns. Here a parley was held, and they decided that they were off the line. The advance was resumed in a south-easterly direction, extended order being used owing to the very severe machine-gun fire at this point. Parslow, having received news of the Colonel's casualty, assumed command. During this second advance the enemy's fire began to slacken and the mist showed some signs of lifting. After about 200 yards these companies found one of the tanks which was due to meet them at Malard Wood roaming about disconsolately, having completely lost its bearings, but this was put on the right track and began to follow the companies, though it soon vanished again in the mist : a passing ship !

At about 8.30 the mist began to thin rapidly and B and C Companies reached the hedge at the north end of Malard Wood, where they gained touch with Rivers Smith (D Company), and Parslow pushed out to the right to link up with Brissenden (A Company), who had gained the west edge of the Wood. The 174th Brigade were still in the Wood and had not yet reached the Green line, and the lifting mist disclosed no troops east of it. A company of 8th Royal Berkshires (53rd Brigade) were strung out in a north-easterly direction on the left of the Battalion, while immediately in front was the head of the Malard Wood Gully, about 40 yards wide, and beyond it a cornfield breast high with crops which stretched as far as Gressaire Wood. Sharp bursts of machine-gun fire from Malard Wood and shrapnel bursts from Gressaire Wood took a steady toll of our men and rendered further advance without artillery support impossible. But our artillery had carried its barrage forward to the final objective, believing that the infantry were following it, and was now silent.

At about 9.30 a.m. the Berkshires informed Croll, who had taken charge of the left half of the Battalion, that they were going to attack Gressaire Wood, and asking the 2/4th Battalion to advance with them. Croll immediately sent runners to Parslow and Brissenden in the Wood warning them of this intention ; and, swinging half right to conform to the Berkshires, the advance began, but was brought to a standstill on the east edge of the gully by parties of the enemy working forward with machine-guns from Gressaire Wood.

Further advance was out of the question, and leaving three Lewis gun posts east of the gully, Croll withdrew his troops to the hedge previously occupied ; there the Battalion began to dig in. After a conference of the few remaining officers it was decided to send 2/Lieut. E. P. Higgs back to Brigade to explain the position and ask for fresh orders and for artillery support to a further advance. Almost immediately after this parley broke up poor Rivers Smith was killed by a piece of shell which hit him in the neck. In the meantime, runners sent out to the right flank returned with the information that the 2/4th and 3rd Battalions were mixed up in Malard Wood, that the 2/2nd had come up and that Lieut. -Col. Miller of the 2/2nd was reorganising the troops.

A gap of 300 yards between the two halves of the Battalion had occurred in the last attempt to get forward, and the position at noon was that Brissenden (Parslow had been hit) was in charge of the right half Battalion on the east edge of Malard Wood, and Croll with the left half lined along the hedge north of the Wood. The Wood was now completely cleared of enemy, but egress from the east edge of it was impossible. Barkas (Intelligence Officer) now came forward from Headquarters to take over command, being cognisant of the position on the right and acquainted with the H.Q. Staffs of the other Battalions. He agreed with Croll that further attempts to push forward were useless without further support. Col. Urquart (L.T.M. Battery) was reported on his way up to take over from Barkas.

While this was happening the barrage had, as already stated, moved forward from the Green line at the scheduled hour on to Chipilly Ridge, but owing to the loss of direction only a few small parties were available to follow it and of these probably none reached the Ridge. The Huns on the Ridge were holding up by machine-gun fire the Australians on the south of the river, and they failed to reach the high ground from which the position was to be outflanked. Unfortunately aerial reports to Divisional Headquarters persisted that the Ridge was in our hands, and this mistake led to serious casualties in the afternoon. The 2/2nd Londons were ordered to advance at 3 p.m., but owing to the false report artillery support was refused them. In these circumstances the attack, though pushed forward by the 2/2nd with great gallantry, was inevitably withered by enemy machine-gun fire from Gressaire Wood.

No further move was attempted that day. At about 4 p.m. Major Sutcliffe of the 2/2nd took over the 2/4th Battallion — the fifth CO. within twelve hours! — and the positions already occupied were consolidated, Lewis gun posts being pushed forward across the gully. The night positions of the Battalion are shown on the map.

South of the Somme the day had been — except in the area next the river swept from Chipilly Ridge — one of immense success, an advance of about seven miles being made by the Canadians. On the left of the 58th Division the 12th had reached the Green line but had been unable to progress beyond it.

An immediate resumption of the attack to reduce the Chipilly stronghold and so remove the one remaining obstacle to an important advance was obviously necessary, but in view of the restricted success on the previous day a modification of the original intention was essential.

The main object of the attack of the 9th August was to gain the line Bray-sur-Somme — Dernancourt. To ensure that the assault should have sufficient weight to carry it through successfully, and in view of the serious losses of the Division on the previous day, the 133rd American Regiment (Col. Samborn) then in Army reserve some miles in rear was attached for the operation. The main attack on the Divisional front was to be carried out by the 175th Brigade on the left and the Americans on the right ; while in conjunction with it the capture of Chipilly and the Ridge was to be entrusted to the 174th and 173rd Brigades.

The distance which the Americans had to advance to reach their starting line necessarily caused a postponement of the operation till late in the afternoon, the earlier hours of the day being employed in side-stepping the 173rd Brigade to face its new objective, and to leave room for the Americans to come into line.

At 6 a.m. Major Sutcliffe issued orders to the Battalion to reorganise and prepare for a further advance, and these orders were followed later, as a result of reports received by aerial reconnaissance, by instructions to push forward fighting patrols to ascertain whether Gressaire Wood were still occupied. The sharp machine-gun fire with which these patrols were met left no room for doubt as to the situation. Brigade received orders for the afternoon attack at 1 p.m., but owing to the lack of telephone communication it was two hours later when Lieut. -Col. Miller, who was in charge of the whole of the advanced troops, sent for Croll. The grim humour of the situation was succinctly summed up in Lieut. -Col. Miller's greeting. " Hullo, Croll, aren't you dead yet ? " " No sir ! " replied Croll. " Then you damned soon will be ! " And orders for the attack were issued : " You will withdraw all patrols and posts at once, move your men under cover of Malard Wood and take up a position as soon as possible in a line of trenches extending for about 400 yards southward from the Quarry. Lieut. Brissenden has similar orders. You will occupy this position and be prepared to advance at 5.30 and capture the original objective, Chipilly Ridge. You will advance in two waves, Brissenden with his half Battalion in the first wave, and you with the remainder of the Battalion in the second wave. The position must be taken at all costs."

This assembly position south of the Quarry was that occupied by the 9th Londons on the previous night, but on arrival it was found to be only a line of shell holes. The 173rd Brigade was to attack with the 3rd Londons on the right, the 2/4th in the centre and the 2/2nd on the left, with the 2/10th attached in reserve. The assembly proceeded as rapidly as possible, though time was short and the barrage could not open until all patrols were in. The Americans, who were rushed up from the rear, had to double nearly a mile to reach their assembly position at Malard Wood, but by a few minutes after zero every unit was moving forward. The side-step of the 2/4th Battalion was carried out under very heavy machine-gun fire from Celestin Wood, the enemy having doubtless seen the movement, and delay was caused by searching for the trench (non-existent) which had been fixed as the start line. Our barrage opened well up to time but the shells fell harmlessly in Chipilly Valley instead of on the Ridge, which again became a hornet's nest of Hun machine-gunners.

Under this heavy fire the Battalion began the advance, much harassed also from Celestin Wood on their right flank. Brissenden was seriously hit early, and Mansel-Howe (B Company) killed. Croll took over the whole remnants of the Battalion and pushed forward, the men behaving mith magnificent coolness and advancing by rushes. Every party which rushed forward, however, lost men, and Croll himself was hit in the knee though he bravely struggled on in the endeavour to get his men into some sort of cover. The Americans on the left were not yet up in line, and the fire from the right flank continued. Casualties were now so numerous that it was clear the Battalion could never reach the Ridge in anything approaching assaulting strength, and Croll decided to dig in in the shelter of the Chipilly gully, sending back a runner to Lieut. -Col. Miller with a report of the situation. In this position the Battalion was badly enfiladed from Chipilly village, and to make matters worse groups of Bosche could be seen running down from the crest of the Ridge, evidently in preparation for a counter-attack. This attack, however, was never delivered, for a change of the situation, almost miraculous in its suddenness, occurred. On the right the 2/10th Londons had been fighting stubbornly, and before dark managed to clear Chipilly village and began to work up the south end of the Ridge. Here they were held up by a nest of Bosche machine-gunners firing southwards from the head of Chipilly Valley, but the Americans, advancing on the left with magnificent dash towards Gressaire Wood, mopped up this position. Further tenure of the Ridge was impossible for the Bosche, who promptly retreated to avoid being caught by the pincers which were closing on them.

By 11 p.m. the Brigade was firmly established on the Ridge, while the main operation had proved completely successful.

The casualties of the two days' fighting were as follows :

Officers : Capt. B. Rivers Smith and Lieut. C. I. Mansel-Howe, killed ; Lieut.-Col. A. Grover, D.S.O., M.C., Capts. W. H. Parslow, F. W. Walker, D.S.O., and A. G. Croll, Lieuts. G. de G. Barkas, M.C., and C. C. Brissenden, 2/Lieuts. W, N, M. Girling, H. G. A. Leach, J. W. George, A. L. D. Bold, H. Slater, S. T. Morris and J. Horsfield, wounded.
N.C.O.'s and men : 38 killed, 228 wounded and 20 missing, a total of all ranks of 301.

For his excellent work in this action Capt. A. G. Croll was awarded the M.C.

The experience of these two days' fighting had demonstrated clearly that the River Somme was an unsatisfactory boundary between the III and Australian Corps. The hill slopes on each bank formed tactical features so inter-supporting that it was deemed essential to bring both banks into the area of one command ; and accordingly on the 10th August the Australian Corps took over with the 3rd Australian Division a sector immediately adjacent to the north bank. This redistribution involved a shortening of the 58th Divisional sector, and the 173rd Brigade, handing over its line to the Australians at about 2 p.m., withdrew to the reserve area, the 2/4th Londons concentrating in bivouacs near Bonnay.

During the 10th an enemy counter-attack set back slightly the positions gained by us the preceding day, but the situation was soon re-established and strong patrols pushed forward by the Division brought them to the line of the outer Amiens defences.

The following day the III Corps was taken over temporarily by Sir A. J. Godley.

This practically brought to a close the first phase of the Fourth Army's great advance, which is officially known as the Battle of Amiens, 1918. Amiens, for so long threatened by a victorious enemy, was now liberated, and, important as was this result of the three days' struggle, other results accruing from the battle were still more vital. The actual loss inflicted on the Huns — upwards of 23,000 prisoners and 400 guns were captured — were in themselves a matter of great moment ; but the captures themselves showed that already the Germans were flinging their reserves into the fight. This undoubtedly had the effect of paving the way for the successful French advance which began south of Montdidier on the 10th August. Perhaps the most cheering moral of all was the establishment of the fact that three anxious months of constant strain, following on a retreat of unprecedented rapidity and loss, had left the fighting qualities of our troops unimpaired — perhaps to the surprise of some gloomy folks at home — while evidence was already abundant that the enemy was not standing to it as he had done in former British offensives. His morale was beginning to crack. This is evidenced by actual numbers : 13 British divisions and 3 cavalry divisions had defeated 20 German divisions and secured an advance of 12 miles in 5 days' fighting. To enable us to judge of the enormous effect of this great victory we have the evidence of Ludendorff himself :

" The Emperor told me that after the failure of the July offensive and after the 8th August, he knew the war could no longer be won."

A good deal of severe criticism has been levelled at the III Corps in general, and at the 58th Division in particular, for the lack of success attained on the first day of battle. It is undoubtedly a fact that the failure to eject the Bosche from Chipilly Ridge on the 8th August caused the infliction of severe loss on our Australian neighbours on the right flank. We do not pose as apologists for the Division or for the 2/4th Londons, and are satisfied that no excuses for them are needed. But we feel justified, in view of what has been said, in pointing to certain circumstances of the battle as contributing towards the restriction of their success. We propose not to argue these circumstances but merely to state them :

1. The enemy attack on the 18th Division on the 6th August not only deprived our company commanders of any opportunity of reconnoitring their ground, but also entirely disposed of the surprise effect gained south of the Somme, for undoubtedly the Bosche expected a counter-attack from us.

2. The mist of 8th August, which made success depend largely on a correct compass march over unseen and shell-torn ground.

3. The fact that no tanks arrived on the Green line to lead the Battalion forward to the second objective, whereby the enemy machine-gun defence was not impeded. We do not wish to pass the blame on to the tanks ; their difficulties in reaching the start line were as acute as our own, and the ground much more difficult for them than it was south of the river.

4. The startling rapidity with which the Battalion command changed during the battle.

These are not excuses for failure. We are prepared to leave to the judgment of impartial critics the decision as to whether the Battalion, and the Division as a whole, did all in its power to perform its duty. That the operations of the Division during these two days' fighting were not altogether unfruitful is evidenced by the fact that their total captures amounted to 1925 prisoners, 68 guns, 190 machine-guns and 36 trench mortars, while the whole area of advance was littered with enemy dead.

A lull in the active operations now occurred while heavy batteries, dumps and all necessary material were advanced in preparation for the next phase of the struggle, which would involve the ejection of the Hun from a strongly defended system of trenches.

After a night's rest the Battalion marched on the 11th August to a wood at Heilly (near Ribemont), where it was joined by the first line transport and the battle surplus, returning on the afternoon of the 13th to Pont Noyelles. Here it was accommodated in billets, the most comfortable quarters since the few days at
Guignemicourt.

A few days' rest at Pont Noyelles, now some eleven miles in rear of the battle line, were devoted to reorganisation and to assimilation of several reinforcements of officers, N.C.O.'s and men. On his return from short leave on the 14th August Major Tollworthy assumed temporary command of the Battalion, but a week later Major W. McC. Crosbie, M.C., Royal Munster Fusiliers, arrived and took over the command. The adjutancy of the Battalion was taken over by Lieut. H. J. King, M.C.

During this period the Battalion was inspected successively by the Brigadier and by the Corps Commander, who saw the troops at training.

The reinforcements received between the 10th and 22nd August were :

2/Lieuts. R. E. Glover, L. A. Still. W. J. Till and F. J. Paterson {4th Londons) ; and officers of other units attached as follows :

2/Lieuts. C. O. W. Goodale, L. A. Palmer and A. W. Tucker (1st Londons) ;

2/Lients. P. F. Royce, W. C. B. Hall and T. R. A. Maynard (2nd Londons) ;

2/Lieuts. J. C. Wood and H. Irvine (3rd Londons) ;

2/Lieuts. G. Gilson, H, Lelyveld, J. Slattery, M. F. Giles and H. B. Bartleet (5th Londons) ;

2/Lieuts, J. T. Spencer and E. S. McKittrick (8th Londons) ;

2/Lieut. W. A. Davies (9th Londons) ; and 480 N.C.O.'s and men.

The majority of this large reinforcement consisted of men from the 14th Division, which had suffered very severely in the battles of March 1918. The drafts of young soldiers on which the Battalion had been depending of late, though of excellent material, were obviously not so desirable as fully seasoned soldiers ; and the 14th Division men were therefore particularly welcome. With a seasoning of old 2/4th London men and the remnants of the K.O. Y.L.I. , who had come from the 16th Entrenching Battalion, they helped to make up once again a really fine Battalion.

On the 21st August the offensive was resumed and though, as we have stated, we propose to continue the record of the 2/4th Battalion's operations in the Fourth Army, it should be borne in mind that henceforth the Army instead of having an inert neighbour on its left flank had an active one in the Third Army, which was now also on the move.

This new great battle (21st August to 1st September), known as the Battle of Bapaume, 1918, extended the area of fighting to the Somme-Scarpe salient.

The increasing enemy resistance at the termination of the Battle of Amiens had drawn G.H.Q. to the decision to break off the battle and transfer their attention to another part of the front ; a method which throughout the closing period of the war proved its value. The Germans were kept always in doubt — as the British had been in March 1918 — as to whether each fresh offensive was in reality only a feint, in doubt as to where to place their already dwindling reserves. Moreover, the British Armies were now no longer faced by line upon line of almost impregnable trenches as they had been in 1916, and frontal attacks were not the only possibility open to them.

G.H.Q. therefore decided on a vast turning movement. An attack in a south-easterly direction between Albert and Arras would turn the flank of the Somme line of defence about Peronne, and would constitute a distinct forward step towards the further objectives of Cambrai and St Quentin.

The immediate object of the III Corps was to free Albert and to oust the Bosche from the strong defensive system which he had built up round the town during the summer months. On the first day of the III Corps battle, 22nd August, the 58th Division was in Corps reserve, the divisions in line being from right to left, the 47th, 12th and 18th.

The 2/4th Battalion remained at training on the 22nd August, but an early move was made the following morning, when it marched at 4 a.m. to a sheltered valley half a mile south of Mericourt-l'Abbe. In this position it remained all day together with the rest of the Brigade ; the 174th Brigade being in the old British line at Morlancourt, at the disposal of the 18th Division. In the centre the 47th Division carried the line forward to the high ground east of the Happy Valley, while on the right the Australians occupied the high ground immediately north of Bray.

The exploitation of this success was ordered by Army H.Q. for the following day, but the situation was altered by a strong German counter-attack, which late in the afternoon drove the 142nd Brigade (47th Division) almost back to their start -line, leaving the Australians at Bray in an awkward salient. That night the 175th Brigade moved from its reserve area near Tallies Wood and took over the line from the 142nd. The following day was occupied in reorganisation, though the advance was continued south of the river, and orders were received for the pressure to be continued on the whole army front on the 24th August.

At 1 a.m. that morning the attack was prosecuted by the 47th Division, in conjunction with the 3rd Australians on the right and the 12th on the left. The 47th Division attack was carried out by the 175th (attached) and 140th Brigades, the battalions of the 173rd Brigade being ordered to sup23ort the 175th. For this purpose the 2/4th Battalion was turned out at midnight on the 23rd/24th August and reached a position of assembly in the old Amiens defence line east of Morlancourt at 4 a.m. on the 24th. The attack was entirely successful. The Happy Valley once more passed into our hands, and the 47th Division established itself finally on the farther crest. The Australians occupied Bray, while on the left the 12th Division pressed forward in the direction of Fricourt. The enemy opposition was not severe though between 3 a.m. and 8 a.m. a large amount of high explosive and gas shelling was experienced. The day brought forth further evidence of the increasing demoralisation of the enemy troops, and intelligence reports pointing strongly to the probability that the enemy was fighting a delaying action preparatory to a big retreat, the immediate exploitation of the success was ordered.

This day the 175th Brigade remained in line but came once more under orders of the 58th Division which took over the Divisional sector, the 174th Brigade going into line on the right of the 175th.

During the morning a conference of commanding officers in the 173rd Brigade was held and orders were issued for the further advance. The attack was to be made with two brigades in line, the 175th on the right and the 140th on the left, supported by the 173rd Brigade. This latter was to be led by the 2/2nd and 3rd Londons with the 2/4th Londons in support, the last-named with the role of being prepared to support any part of the front and carry it on to the final objective. Owing, however, to the situation remaining obscure on the left flank this operation was postponed till 2.30 a.m. on the 25th, when rapid developments took place.

In accordance with the orders already issued the 2 /4th Londons moved from their Assembly position near Tallies Wood, the order of march being A, B, C, D Companies with Headquarters and one section Brigade Machine- Gun Company bringing up the rear, and with 100 yard intervals between companies. In this order it reached a position in the Happy Valley under cover of a dense mist at 4 a.m. on the 25th August. Here it was to stand fast awaiting further orders from the Brigadier.

But in the meantime the Division, evidently still bearing in mind the experience of February 1917, had issued instructions to the effect that should the leading battalions lose touch with the enemy an advanced guard should at once be formed to push forward rapidly and regain contact. This was the contingency which materialised.

At 6.30 a.m. the attacking units reported themselves on their objectives, but in the mist touch with the enemy seemed to be lost, and all units of the 173rd Brigade were ordered to advance. The Brigadier at once issued orders for the formation of the advanced guard, and the 2 /4th Battalion, which was more or less definitely located in the Happy Valley and was thus the battalion most easily to be reached in the mist, was selected for this duty.

The advanced guard troops were :

No. 2 Troop Northumberland Hussars,

2/4th Londons,

1 Section 86th Brigade R.F.A.,

1 Section M.G.C.,

the whole under Major Crosbie.

The line of advance ordered was cross-country as far as Bronfay Farm and thence along the Bray-Maricourt Road. The Battalion was to advance in column of route until ordered to deploy. At 8.30 a.m. the guard was formed and the advance began, A Company under Lieut. V. C. Prince forming the Vanguard with Headquarters, B, C and D Companies following as Main Guard. This was an entirely new role for the 2/4th Battalion, and the sudden development of open warfare conditions, the realisation that the Battalion was in close formation on a road with cavalry operating ahead and the guns following, raised everyone's hopes and expectations to the highest pitch. The move was of course made without artillery support, and until Bronfay Farm was nearly reached very little sign of his existence was vouchsafed by the Bosche, beyond a little desultory shell-fire.

About this time the mist dispersed and the cavalry were checked by severe machine-gun fire from Billon Wood and the high ground to the north of it. The company commanders showed great initiative and dash, and a valuable reconnaissance was made by 2/Lieut. Prince and Cooke, his Sergt. -Major, to ascertain where the bulk of the firing was coming from. Quickly grasping the situation. Prince deployed his company and led it against the south-west edge of the Wood. The rear companies deploying in turn, the whole Battalion became committed to the attack, which, owing to the conditions under which it started, developed a little raggedly as regards the frontages occupied by companies, but still with good discipline and plenty of dash. Hetley (B Company) made for the left or north edge of the Wood along the Maricourt Road, while the gap between him and Prince was promptly taken up by C and D Companies. Observing the action taken by the 2/4th Londons, Brigade promptly pushed forward the 2/2nd Londons to the left flank to deal with the high ground north of Billon Wood, and ordered the 3rd Londons to support the attack.

The enemy shelling had now assumed very severe proportions, and though little resistance was met with by the 2/4th Battalion in Billon Wood, which it cleared without much difficulty, the Bosche gunners were able effectually to prevent it from emerging from the east edge of the Wood. Hetley says about this bombardment, " The shelling of Billon Wood was one of the heaviest I have ever undergone, being quite comparable to Bulle-court or the Salient in 1917." The line in the Wood was rather patchy and Hetley, leaving Grimsdell in charge, returned to Battalion Headquarters where Major Crosbie provided him with a couple of Lewis guns and about twenty-five men. With these he returned, and having got the Battalion into a deep trench, put out observation posts on the east edge of the Wood. The Battalion is credited by Division with having gained a hne this day some 200 yards east of the Wood, but it seems doubtful whether this conclusion can be supported.

On the left flank, however, the 2/2nd and 3rd Londons made a good deal of progress up the long spur leading to Maricourt, and at the end of the day had established themselves in a chain of small copses about 500 yards west of the village. Their further progress was here arrested, owing to the fact that the 12th Division on the left was held up before Carnoy, which remained for the time in the enemy's hands.

At midnight the 2/4th Battalion was relieved by the 7th Londons of the 174th Brigade, which side-stepped to the left, and on relief was concentrated at Great Bear Wood north-east of the Happy Valley.

The casualties of the day, due almost entirely to shell-fire, were :

2/Lieuts. H. Lely veld, J. C. Wood, A. Irvine and O. C. W. Goodale, wounded, and in N.C.O.'s and men 15 killed, 166 wounded and 14 missing.

The good work of 2/Lieut. Prince and C.S.M. Cooke has already been referred to. Prince was rewarded with the M.C. Cooke was killed in the Wood, and a few days after his death notification was received that he had been awarded the M.C. for his work on the 8th August. Mention must also be made of Pte. Campion, a battalion runner, who performed invaluable work in locating the scattered parties of the Battalion in the Wood, thereby enabling Hetley to assume proper control of the firing line.

On the 26th August the following congratulatory message was issued by the Brigadier (Brig. -Gen. Charles Corkoran) :

" The Major-General commanding the Division in congratulating you all wishes me to tell you that Sir Douglas Haig, the Army Commander and the Corps Commander have all expressed the highest praise for the way in which the Brigade is fighting. For myself I cannot say how proud I am to be in command of such a brigade as the Fusilier Brigade."

Orders were issued on the night of the 25th/26th August for the prosecution of the attack on the following day, but the 26th proved a day of check. The 3rd Londons, who led the attack, reached Maricourt, but, the flanking brigades being held up, they were unsupported and had to fall back. A threatened German counter-attack south of Maricourt having failed to materialise, the remainder of the day was occupied in consolidation on a line about 500 yards west of the village.

The 2/4th Battalion was moved from Great Bear Wood at 9 a.m. on the 26th in anticipation of a successful attack, and took up a position in considerable depth in the vicinity of Bronfay Farm, where it was occupied in preparations for the battle of the 27th August. This day the Battalion was joined by Lieut. H. P. Lawrence and 2/Lieut. R. Grey, attached from the 10th Londons, and two days later by 2/Lieuts. H. H. Gant (2nd Londons), H. Hearnshaw (7th Londons) and C Brandram (9th Londons).

The objectives of the projected attack of the 27th August were the capture of Maricourt and the establishment of our line in the old British trenches of July 1916 on the eastern fringe of Maricourt Wood, east of the village. Exploitation of the success into the old German trenches as opportunity should allow was also arranged for. The leading battalion of the Brigade was the 3rd Londons, with the 2/4th Londons in close support and the 2/2nd Londons in reserve. Simultaneous attacks were to be made by the 3rd Australians in the direction of Vaux on the right and by the 12th Division towards Maltzhorn Farm on the left.

Early in the morning the 2/4th Battalion was assembled in artillery formation on the line consolidated the previous day, and twenty minutes after zero (4.55 a.m.) it followed the 3rd Londons towards Maricourt. The greater part of the advance was through the village itself and the Battalion soon got rather mixed up with the 3rd Londons in the course of mopping up the numerous dugouts in its ruins. The defence put up by the Germans, at least on the 2/4th Battalion's front, this day showed marked deterioration. It was sporadic and on the whole poor, and with comparatively little difficulty and remarkably small loss to itself, the Battalion gained its final objective east of the Wood, a message from Capt. Hetley to this effect being received in Battalion Headquarters at 7.30 a.m.

The inevitable breaking up of attack formations consequent on passing through a ruined village resulted in a good deal of disorganisation, and on arrival on the objective, which the 2/4th Battalion reached on the extreme left of the Brigade sector, no touch was found with either the 3rd Londons on the right or the 12th Division on the left. Hetley, however, who again assumed control on the spot, soon set this to rights, and leaving C.S.M. Bonser, D.C.M., to reorganise the platoons immediately available, sent C.S.M. Cowland to pick up the 12th Division on the left, while he himself pushed out to the right flank with a patrol. These efforts were entirely successful, and both the neighbouring battalions being found to be well up and the flanks thus secured, Hetley returned and established his headquarters in the railway cutting.

The rapidity of this advance and the completeness of its success leave one breathless after the weary and sanguinary struggles with which this ground had been hardly wrung from the enemy's grip in 1916. Maricourt Wood was full of German dugouts, and evidently these had not been quite completely dealt with during the advance, for later in the morning a couple of German gentlemen, feeling a desire to take the morning air, came quietly strolling down the hill from the Wood to Hetley's headquarters, where his unexpected presence caused them painful surprise.

During the morning C.S.M. Bonser was entrusted with the task of collecting isolated groups of men and with them filling up gaps and forming a support line in case of counter-attack. At this work he proved invaluable. Hetley writes : " He led party after party round dugouts in Maricourt clearing out Bosche, and was later perfectly splendid in organising the men and fetching up reinforcements, that is, rallying isolated parties in the town and Wood, all this under heavy if somewhat wild shell fire." Bonser received a bar to his D.C.M. for this day's work, and later, after the disbandment of the Battalion, when attached to the 2/2nd Londons gained a second bar on September 18th at Epehy.

On our flanks the day was equally successful, Vaux falling to the Australians, and the high ground at Maltzhorn Farm passing into the 12th Division's hands. No counter-attack was delivered by the Bosche and we were left in undisputed possession of our gains which amounted to some 1700 yards of ground. Orders were issued during the day that the advance should be pressed on to Maurepas Station, but these were subsequently cancelled, as the €nemy were found to be holding their old 1916 line in strength with three fresh divisions.

At 8 p.m. Major Crosbie made a reconnaissance of the line and organised the Battalion in two companies ; A and B being placed under Capt. Hetley and C and D under 2/Lieut. Grimsdell, the Battalion's right flank resting on the point at which the railway crossed the front trench. Throughout the night the position was heavily shelled, but with very little loss to us.

In spite of the fatigue of the troops Army H.Q. was fixed in its determination to allow the Bosche no breathing space, and at 1 a.m. 28th August orders were received in the line that the attack was to be continued that day. The 3rd Londons were to lead the Brigade again, while the 2/2nd and 2/4th Londons were to remain in reserve in the old British front line. At 4.45 a.m. the attack was launched. The day resolved itself into a series of patrol encounters, in the course of which some very stubborn opposition was met with, notably in the Bois d'en Haut. By the evening the Divisional line had been established another 1000 yards further east, in front of the Bois d'en Haut and in touch on the left with the 12th Division, who had taken Hardecourt after stiff resistance, while the Australians had possessed themselves of Curlu.

That evening the Battalion was relieved, the 175th Brigade taking over the sector, and withdrew to reserve in a valley north of Bray-sur-Somme, a few hundred yards from the site of the old Citadel Camp, a spot well known to the Somme veterans of the l/4th Battalion.

During the whole of these days in fact the 2/4th Battalion, though a little distance south of the Guillemont heights, had been crossing the tracks of the l/4th Battalion in the earlier battles of this historic district, but under what extraordinarily different conditions ! The painful steps of 1916, which gained perhaps a few hundred yards a week at appalling cost of life, amid the wretchedness of mud and rain, were now victorious strides which had carried our lines forward like an irresistible tide. Since the 2/4th Battalion had moved into the Happy Valley on the 24th August it had advanced some 8000 yards and already half the devastation of the old Somme battlefields was left behind.

The losses of the two days' fighting at Maricourt were, considering the extent of the gains, remarkably light, Lieut A. R. Muddell and 2/Lieuts. E. C. McKittrick and R. Grey were wounded, while Lieut, and Adjt. H. J. King, M.C., and Lieut. H. P. Lawrence were also hit but remained at duty. 114 N.C.O.'s and men became casualties, 9 being killed, 74 wounded and 29 missing.

For their splendid leadership Capt. G. H. Hetley and 2/Lieut. E. V. Grimsdell were rewarded with the M.C.

After the 173rd Brigade came out of the line the 58th Division remained in action and on the 29th August it carried the line forward, against an ever-increasing opposition, to the east of Maurepas. The following day the 47th Division having taken over from the 12th on our left, the two divisions of Londoners again pressed on shoulder to shoulder. The enemy resistance this day was as stubborn as had been experienced for some time and the advance was eventually checked with the 58th facing the west edge of Marrieres Wood, and the 47th extending the line to Priez Farm.

The 29th August was occupied by the 2/4th Battalion in cleaning and resting, and the necessary reorganisation consequent on its losses in the battle were effected. This day Major Crosbie left to take charge of the Battle Surplus Camp and Major F. G. Tollworthy, M.C., once more assumed command of the Battalion. On the 30th August Lieut. A. B. Carpenter (25th Londons) with 29 other ranks joined the Battalion.

The Fourth Army Line was now approaching Peronne, and from Clery to St Christ the Australian Corps had reached the west bank of the Somme. The stiffening of the enemy resistance which had been so noticeable during the last two days' fighting, and the natural strength of the Somme as an obstacle, made it clear that the enemy was determined to hold out at Peronne as long as possible ; and true to its scheme of allowing the Hun no respite, the Army at once made its plans for forcing a bridgehead over the river, with the object of reducing Peronne and the Somme line of defence.

The most favourable point of attack appeared to be the river between Peronne and Clery, and the capture of the eminence of Mont St Quentin, though likely to be arduous, would give us complete command of Peronne itself and enable us to enfilade the whole of the enemy positions south of the city on the east of the river. The actual capture of Mont St Quentin was entrusted to the Australians in whose path it lay, and the movements of the III Corps to their north formed a part of the scheme for widening the bridgehead once gained. The two days' fighting of the 31st August and the 1st September may therefore be described as the Battle of Mont St Quentin, -and our task is now to deal with the part taken in it by the 2 /4th Battalion.

The 31st August saw a good deal of heavy fighting by the 175th Brigade, which was still in line, the chief feature of the enemy's resistance being the severity of the shell fire with which his heavy guns plastered the whole Brigade area. Marrieres Wood was captured and the line pushed on to a position west of the Peronne-Rancourt Road and overlooking the slope leading down to Bouchavesnes.

At 7 p.m. that night unexpected orders were received by the 173rd Brigade to return to the line and deliver an attack at 5.30 a.m. the following morning. From Bronfay Farm the battalions were conveyed by bus to Hem Wood, whence they marched to assembly in the line, taking it over from the 175th Brigade.

The immediate objective of the attack was the village of Bouchavesnes, after which the line was to be pushed forward to a position overlooking the valley of the Tortille River and the Canal du Nord. The order of battle was : 2/4th Londons on the right, 3rd Londons on the left, with the 2/2nd Londons following in close support. In spite of the short notice for the operation the Battalion was duly assembled without delay on a line 300 yards west of the Peronne-Rancourt Road, and at zero, 5.30 a.m., 1st September, moved forward under a creeping barrage. The advance was made with two companies (A and B, under Capt. F. J. Griffiths and 2/Lieut. C. C. Gibbs) in front and two in support (C and D, under 2/Lieuts. V. C. Prince, M. C, and G. C. Ewing, M.C.). Each company moved in artillery formation with three platoons in front and one in support.

For once we were favoured with good weather conditions, and though cold the morning was fine with good visibility. On the western outskirts of Bouchavesnes the enemy put up a rather stiff fight, but on being tackled with determination, he once again showed signs of weakening morale, and the remainder of the village was occupied and mopped up with very little opposition.

Although the Bosche infantry showed weakness his artillery work was, as usual, excellent. His counter-barrage came down promptly and heavily, and the bulk of our casualties this day were caused by his shell fire. On several occasions, indeed, during these successful days of August and September the enemy displayed prodigious skill in handling his guns. Field guns remained in action in the copses which are scattered all over this countryside, firing over open sights till the last possible moment ; and when these were forced to limber up the fire was promptly taken up by high velocity guns firing at extreme ranges in the rear. On the 1st September, however, the advance was particularly rapid, and several field guns were unable to get away, and fell into our hands. After passing the village the Battalion pressed forward rapidly up the hill to the east of it, collecting a good many machine-gun posts on the way, and by 10.45 a.m. was on its final objective, organised and established on a definite line under the personal control of Major Tollworthy. This line was on the western crest of the Tortille Valley overlooking Moislains, and about 1000 yards short of that village. Some little difficulty was experienced by the divisions on the flanks, but touch was soon gained, the Australians being still on the right and the 47th Division (who captured Rancourt and gained the western edge of St Pierre Vaast Wood) on the left.

No counter-attack developed during the day, and the Bosche seemed to resign himself to the loss of ground. His acquiescence in our success was doubtless partly due to the fact that this day the Australians, after three days' magnificent fighting, captured Mont St Quentin and entered Peronne.

The casualties of the 2/4th Battalion were again extremely light when compared with the importance of the success achieved, but unfortunately they included the loss of two company commanders (Capt. F. J. Griffiths and 2/Lieut. V. C. Prince) killed. Both of these officers had done splendid work and shown themselves capable leaders, and in them the Battalion sustained a serious loss. In addition to these, 2/Lieuts. H. H. Gant and G. Gilson were killed, Lieut. H. P. Lawrence and 2/Lieuts. F. E. Rogers, C. Brandram and R. E. Glover wounded ; while 11 N.C.O.'s and men were killed, 49 wounded and 30 missing, making a total list for the day of 99 all ranks.

The captures of the Brigade amounted to 325 prisoners, 40 machine-guns, 8 field guns and one motor ambulance, and once again the prisoners showed that reserves were being flung wholesale into the enemy fighting line. Measured solely by the depth of ground taken, the 1st September was the most successful action ever fought by the 2/4th Battalion, the advance being over 3000 yards, and the achievement was the subject of a congratulatory message from the Brigadier.

The same evening the 58th Division was relieved by the 74th and passed into Corps reserve after a week of hard fighting. The 2/4th Battalion withdrew, after handing over its objectives intact to the 14th Black Watch, to a valley a mile west of Marrieres Wood. The Battalion remained in this valley for five days, employed in resting and training, fortunately under weather conditions which were fine and warm except on the 5th September. During this period 2/Lieut. D. A. S. Manning and drafts of 21 other ranks joined the Battalion. 2/Lieut. Bidgood was appointed Intelligence Officer (vice 2/Lieut. Davies, sick).

The days succeeding the relief of the 58th Division were marked by hard fighting, but by the evening of the 4th September the 47th and 74th Divisions had advanced the line east of Moislains and well up the long slope leading to Nurlu. As was to be expected now that the line of the Somme had been turned the enemy began to fall back towards the next defensive position, the outposts of the Hindenburg line, and on the 5th September the pursuit began in earnest, though it was met at many points with stubborn resistance.

At 7 a.m. on the 7th September the 2/4th Battalion embussed at Hem Wood and were conveyed to St Pierre Farm on the Peronne-Nurlu Road, the whole Division being on its way back to the fighting line. The spectacle of the roads during this forward move was most impressive. Packed with troops, guns and stores of every description moving eastward, it seemed to convey to the troops a greater realisation of the importance of their victories than the actual advances they had made in action.

The Battalion lay in Villa Wood, south-west of Nurlu, during the day, and at 6 p.m. marched to a bivouac area immediately north of Lieramont, where it arrived at 9.30 p.m.

On the 8th September the fine weather of the preceding week gave way to heavy rainstorms, and the Battalion moved into shelters in Lieramont, and in this position it remained resting until a late hour in the evening of the 9th.

The 74th Division (Girdwood) was a Yeomanry Division which had been employed in the East. This was its first appearance in the French theatre of war. The 14th Black Watch was formerly the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry.

During the 8th September troops of the 58th Division endeavoured to advance against the large and strongly-defended villages of Epehy and Peizieres, but the position was stubbornly held by the Alpine Corps, and the line became stabilised in trenches on the south and west slopes of the hill on which the villages stand. The following morning determined counter-attacks by the Alpine Corps drove back the Divisional line a short distance.

This stiffening of the defence made it essential for Army H.Q. to be informed as to whether the enemy rear-guards were fighting a delaying action, or whether the defence was organised in depth ; and to test this an attack by the III Corps was ordered for the 10th September.

The 58th Division was directed on Epehy-Peizieres while the 74th was given Ronnssoy Wood as its objective.

The 173rd Brigade was detailed for this attack with the 3rd Londons on the right, the 2/2nd on the left and the 2/4th in close support. The great frontage of the two villages, which topographically are really one, and the high state of their defences made the operation one of great difficulty, and the plan of action was to deal with it in two stages. For the first objective the two leading battalions were to gain the line of the eastern road of the villages, the 3rd Londons in Epehy and the 2/2nd in Peizieres. The 2/4th Londons were to follow the 2/2nd closely in the initial stages and then, turning southwards, were to mop up the area between the inner flanks of the leading battalions and establish themselves in Fishers Keep as a link between the two.

In the second stage the leading battalions were to gain the line of the railway east of the villages where they would join hands, the 2/4th Battalion remaining in the villages. On the left the 21st Division was to push forward immediately after the villages were captured and secure the position by occupying the high ground which dominated them a mile to the north.

This very complicated operation was to be carried out under two creeping barrages, one for each leading battalion, and a machine-gun barrage, while the heavy batteries would engage distant targets.

At 11 p.m., 9th August, the 2/4th Battalion left its position in Lieramont and moved forward to assembly, which, considering the vileness of the weather, the lack of reconnaissance and the extreme darkness, was completed satisfactorily ; and at 5.15 a.m. the Battalion advanced to the attack.

The leading battalions met with a good deal of opposition, which on the left flank was centred on Wood Farm. In the 2/4th Battalion A and B Companies, respectively under 2/Lieuts. C. C. Gibbs and G. C. Ewing, M.C., gained their objective at Tottenham Post on the western outskirts of Peizieres with comparatively little difficulty. B Company under Capt. Hetley, whose role was to penetrate the villages to Fishers Keep, had a much more difficult task. The fighting through ruined streets inevitably led to some disorganisation of platoons, and the villages, moreover, were stiff with Bosche machine-gun posts, which, once the barrage had passed over them, were free to do their worst on the attackers. Severe casualties were sustained, among whom were numbered two platoon commanders, 2/Lieuts. H. B. Bartleet and P. F. Royce, killed. Finding progress impossible among the cunningly concealed Bosche machine-gunners Hetley collected and organised his company on the west edge of the village. A similar fate met D Company (2/Lieut. D. A. S. Manning) which endeavoured to enter Peizieres from the west. After gallantly struggling against impossible odds Manning withdrew his men to swell the garrison of Tottenham Post.

The 2/2nd Londons under Capt. Wright made a magnificent attempt to carry out their task, and did in fact reach the railway embankment, but a sharp counter-attack drove them back to the fringe of the village. Unfortunately the flanking movement of the 21st Division on the left failed to materialise, and this doubtless contributed to the failure of the 173rd Brigade. The fact, however, was clearly established that the resistance of the enemy was organised and deliberate, and it became patent that an attack with tank co-operation would be necessary to reduce it. The rifle strength of the three battalions set against these villages on the 10th September was only about 900 in all, and their attack, therefore, lacked the weight essential to success.

In spite of the lack of success, however, the day was not entirely fruitless, for the captures amounted to 80 prisoners, 20 machine-guns and 3 anti-tank guns.

The 2/4th Battalion's losses were : 2/Lieuts. F. Bidgood, P. F. Royce and H. B. Bartleet, killed; 2/Lieut. F. J. Paterson, wounded ; 5 N.C.O.'s and men killed, 19 wounded and 3 missing.

During the night following the battle the 2/4th Battalion was relieved by the 12th Londons, and was concentrated in trenches at Guyencourt. Here it remained till 8 p.m. on the 11th September, when it withdrew to shelters in Lieramont.

We may here remark that on the 18th September the 173rd Brigade captured Epehy and Peizieres and thus helped clear the road for the advance to the Hindenburg line.

We have now come to the end of the 2/4th Battalion's story. Owing to the increasing difficulties of maintaining units at fighting strength it had been decided by G.H.Q. to make still further reductions in the number of formations, and to swell the ranks of those remaining with the personnel of those disbanded. This dismal fate befell the 2/4th Londons, and on the 12th September 1918 the whole of its personnel was transferred to the 2/2nd Londons, and the Battalion as a separate entity ceased to exist, after twenty-one months of active service life. Its place in the Brigade was taken by the 2/24th Londons from the 32nd Division.

The last action in which the Battalion fought was admittedly a "feeler," and as such undoubtedly served a useful purpose in the scheme of the Fourth Army's great advance ; but perhaps we maybe be pardoned for regretting that it was not a more successful close to the Battalion's history. It was bad luck. Yet there was a certain degree of poetic justice in the fact that the Battalion had helped fight the Germans back to what had been on 21st March 1918 the British line of resistance, and it can, therefore, justly claim to have redeemed in full its losses in the awful battles of the retreat.