London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories
Final Advance II. The 1/4th Battalion in the Battle of Bapaume, 1918
4TH Battalion, The London Regiment
(Royal Fusiliers) in the Great War
1914 - 1919
THE FINAL ADVANCE
II. The 1/4th Battalion in the Battle of Bapaume, 1918
The extension northward of the battle line, which marked the opening of the
Battle of Bapaume on the 21st August 1918, involved Byng's Third Army,
comprising from right to left the V, IV and VI Corps. As we have indicated in
the preceding chapter, the object of the Third Army was to conduct a vast
enveloping movement which should turn the flank of the German defence of the
Somme line, and throw open the road to Cambrai and St Quentin.
Already the enemy had shown signs of nervousness in the area of the Somme-Scarpe
salient and had withdrawn from his most advanced positions at Serre ; and it was
clear, therefore, that any attack on this front by the British must be
prosecuted rapidly to avoid a repetition of the skilful German retreat of
February 1917. For an offensive in this area the British troops were far more
favourably placed in August 1918 than they had been on the former occasion. They
possessed the Bucquoy Ridge, with the consequent advantages of observation which
had formerly been denied to them ; and the terrain over which the battle would
be fought, though certainly devastated and a mass of trenches, did not present
the colossal system of inter-supporting fortresses which it had in 1916. The
time for a big attack had come, and G.H.Q. decided to strike. The 23rd August
saw the Fourth and Third Armies advancing on a front of 33 miles from Lihons to
The suddenness of the German collapse in these latter days of the War is
probably unique in the annals of military history. At the beginning of June
their star was still in the ascendant. They were occupying ground which they had
never previously held during the whole War ; their successes of March and April
had shaken the Allied defence to its very foundations ; and it seemed still
doubtful whether they had reached the limit of their capabilities of offence.
Yet by the middle of August the whole face of the War had changed. On a wide
front the Germans were in retreat ; vast masses of material, thousands of
prisoners had fallen into our hands ; the British morale had been proved
stronger than ever, while that of the enemy was giving indications of a serious
Whether the High Command anticipated the completeness of this lightning change
we cannot say ; that the vast bulk of regimental officers and men scarcely
contemplated it, is almost certain. Early in July General Hull, in a
conversation with Lieut. -Colonel Marchment, expressed the opinion that very
little would be done in 1918 by way of retrieving the losses suffered during the
The 8th August found the l/4th Londons at a strength of 42 officers and 892
other ranks withdrawn in Brigade reserve to billets at Arras. Here a quite
pleasant week was spent in which the routine of training was varied by a
Battalion sports meeting, and a most successful swimming gala — a new feature of
recreation — for which purpose the moat at the Citadel formed a splendid bath.
Between the 16th and 18th August the 56th Division was relieved from the Tilloy
trenches and passed into Corps reserve, the l/4th Londons handing over their
Brigade reserve billets to the l/9th Royal Scots and moving to Berneville on the
17th August. For a few days changes of station followed on each others' heels
with startling rapidity, and after having been quartered successively at
Houvin-Houvigneuil and Magnicourt-sur-Canche, the Battalion reached Grand
Rullecourt at 11.30 p.m. on the 20th August.
On the 19th orders had been issued to the Division to take part in an attack
with the XVII Corps in the area of the Scarpe, but these were subsequently
replaced on the 21st August by a transfer of the Division to Haldane's VI Corps,
and orders to join with it in the Third Army attack
A day of rest at Grand Rullecourt was occupied by the Battalion, in the absence
of attack orders, with speculations as to its chances of soon being called upon
to fight. Preliminary arrangements were made to march into battle at short
notice, and the same evening, the 21st August, the Battalion marched thirteen
miles to Berles-au-Bois, arriving at 2 a.m. on the 22nd.
About 10 o'clock that morning Lieut. -Colonel Marchment and the company
commanders were ordered to Humber- camp to receive battle orders, but after an
hour's fruitless waiting the company commanders returned to prepare their
companies for action, and the Colonel went to try and get what orders he could
at Brigade Headquarters. Here he was informed that the attack would take place
in sixteen hours' time — early on the 23rd August ! The general idea of the
Battalion's role was explained to Lieut. -Colonel Marchment to be the capture of
the village of Boyelles and the Marc system of trenches immediately north of it,
the attack to commence at 4.55 a.m. on the 23rd August, two companies in line,
one in support and one in reserve. Artillery support would be provided by 6
brigades of field guns firing an unregistered barrage, while 21 tanks would take
part in the attack. A section of the Divisional Machine-gun Company would be
attached to the Battalion. With this somewhat sketchy information Lieut.
-Colonel Marchment hurried back to the Battalion to set it in motion, and by 5
p.m. it was on its way to the first assembly position at Blairville. Here it
occupied the old German trenches exactly opposite the first trench sector ever
held by the 2/4th Battalion in February 1917.
The line facing Boyelles was at this time occupied by the 59th Division, and the
168th Brigade was detailed to attack through them, with the Guards Division
opposite Hamelincourt on its right, and the 52nd Division north of the north
branch of the Cojeul River on its left. The Brigade order of battle from right
to left was Kensingtons (south of Boyelles) ; l/4th Londons (Boyelles) ; and
London Scottish (Boiry-Becquerelle) ; the 1st Londons being attached in Brigade
reserve for the operation.
Leaving the Battalion on the march Lieut. -Colonel Marchment hurried on to
Blairville by car to see the Brigadier of the brigade in line (59th Division)
and was at once faced by another difficulty in finding that the 59th Division
had themselves taken over the front trenches only the preceding night ! Clearly
not much possibility of assistance from them ; but they arranged to provide
guides to lead our platoons to the positions of final assembly.
The sudden transfer of the 56th Division from the XVII to the VI Corps, and the
subsequent difficulty in obtaining orders must have been caused by some reason
of great importance : we are not aware what it was. Certainly the effect was not
to make things easier. Indeed, when the Divisional attack order was issued by
Gen. Hull at 3 p.m. on the 22nd August he had not received the written
instructions of VI Corps. But, starting under such inauspicious circumstances,
all the more credit is due to the battalions, and in particular to the
commanding officers, for the signal successes which were ultimately achieved.
Reconnaissance of the ground by officers and N.C.O.'s was obviously out of the
question, and Lieut. -Colonel Marchment had to content himself with explaining
the situation to them while battle stores were issued to the men.
At 10.30 p.m. the Battalion moved off by platoons in charge of the 59th Division
guides, who, considering their own scanty acquaintance with the ground, did
well, for they brought almost the whole Battalion to its assembly positions in
Falcon Trench well on time, though one platoon of A Company and the Headquarter
details went sadly astray and did not turn up till long after zero hour. The
Padre believes he was taken for a long walk somewhere round Albert ! During the
march up the enemy was using gas shell freely, and masks had to be worn at
times, but little loss was caused.
The Battalion was drawn up as follows :
Right front — B Company, Capt. R. S, B. Simmonds.
Left front — D Company, Capt. C. W. Rowlands, M.C.
Support — C Company, Capt. H. A. T. Hewlett.
Reserve — A Company, Capt. H. N. Williams, M.C.
The hour or two of darkness before zero was spent in cutting lanes through our
wire, and at 4.55 a.m. the barrage opened, intense and well distributed. Lieut.
-Colonel Marchment describes it as the best and most tremendous he had ever
seen. The scene from Headquarters was extraordinary : the intense shrapnel
barrage and smoke on the German front line, the medium howitzers firing on
Boyelles village beyond, and the heavies cutting up the distant landscape in
dense black clouds ; and behind it all the sun just rising.
At 5.7 a.m. the companies moved forward. The right company (B) made good use of
the railway embankment, and following the line on its south side advanced on a
one-platoon frontage to Boyelles Station, while three tanks entered the village.
Here the railway was crossed and a good deal of opposition was met with from
enemy machine-guns, heavy and light, firing from the eastern half of the
village. These were, however, skilfully outflanked and rounded up to the number
of 3 heavy and 8 light guns, after which the company pushed forward and caught
up the barrage.
Two platoons halted approximately on the Blue line (first objective) on the
eastern edge of Boyelles, while two pressed on to Boyelles Trench 500 yards
further east. But few enemy were encountered in this advanced position. B
Company being now well distributed in depth, the work of consolidation was put
in hand. The right flank was not yet in touch with the Kensingtons and was
therefore rounded off by pushing two Lewis gun sections and one subsection
M.G.C. southwards towards the railway.
D Company on the left met with more stubborn resistance in the Marc system, and
the leading platoons were temporarily held up in No Man's Land by enemy firing
from the Marc saps. Moreover, the tank allotted to this part of the front failed
to reach the Marc front system at all, having apparently lost its way. The
support company (C), however, pushed a platoon forward into the sunken road
leading northwards from Boyelles, whence it was able to enfilade the Marc
trenches, while the right platoon of the London Scottish advancing on our left
managed to turn the position similarly from the north. Being practically
surrounded the enemy surrendered en masse, the bag amounting to 2 officers and
80 other ranks. Little further opposition was encountered, and D company-
continued the advance to Boyelles Trench, where touch was gained with C Company
on the right and the London Scottish on the left. The dugouts in this line were
energetically mopped up and many Germans sent marching westward. Two patrols
were sent forward towards Boyelles Reserve.
In the meantime the support company mopped up the neighbourhood of the cemetery
and the sunken roads in its vicinity, while A Company in reserve occupied the
Marc system. This latter proved a very sound move as our start-line was heavily
shelled all the morning.
The first news of the attack at Battalion Headquarters was received in the shape
of Private Cohen, who appeared wounded but carrying a German light machine-gun —
a good omen of success ! At about 9 a.m. the lost platoons turned up and their
arrival, including as they did the Padre and the Medical Officer, was extremely
welcome, for by now the wounded were beginning to filter through, and the small
band of five under Lieut.-Colonel Marchment were encumbered with some 200 Bosche
prisoners — not to speak of their duties of conducting the battle. Communication
by wire was rapidly established with brigade and also forward to the companies,
a report centre being formed north of Boyelles.
At 9.15 a.m. 56th Division issued orders that the attack would be pressed at
11.30 a.m. into Boyelles Reserve, but owing to temporary dislocation of the
signal service these orders did not reach the l/4th Londons until 11.15 a.m. To
start at the scheduled hour was out of the question, but arrangements were made
at once for the further advance, which ultimately began at about 5 p.m.
The advance was made by the left front and support companies, the right front
company extending to its left to cover the area vacated by them. This second
attack met with complete success. The two attacking companies were led by a line
of scouts followed by one platoon in extended formation. The remaining platoons
followed in artillery formation by sections. Some resistance was offered by
light machine-gun teams in Boyelles Reserve, but the widely extended formation
saved the attackers from severe loss. The enemy artillery was also active during
the advance, but again the formation adopted enabled the rear platoons to pick
their way with but few casualties. The whole of the allotted portion of Boyelles
Reserve was captured, and patrols pushed forward 500 yards to the east of it.
The enemy shell fire now became more intense, but a protective barrage was put
down by our guns, and no counter-attack developed. After a while activity on the
whole area subsided.
The same evening the 168th Brigade handed over the captured positions to the
167th and passed into Divisional reserve, the l/4th Londons concentrating north
of Hende-court. By noon on that day the Battalion was back at Blair ville.
It is impossible to speak too highly of the men by whom this great success had
been gained. The long approach marches in exceptionally hot weather brought the
Battalion to the point of battle in an already tired condition ; the hurried
orders and the total lack of previous reconnaissance created difficulties which
were surmounted by the splendid response made by all ranks to the demands
imposed on them. The rapid appreciation of the situation by company commanders
and the careful dispositions of the commanding officer all contributed in full
measure to this important victory, while the skilful use of ground and of
suitable formations was the means of securing the gains at a minimum of loss.
The excellent work performed by signallers and runners, all of whom had a hard
day's work, were of incalculable value to Battalion Head-quarters, and enabled
Lieut.-Colonel Marchment at all times to keep a firm grip of the situation of
The casualties of the Battalion were extremely light, only 18 being killed, but
by ill luck it lost three company commanders, Capts. C. W. Rowlands, M.C., and
H. A. T. Hewlett being killed, and Capt. R. S. B. Simmonds, wounded. 2/Lieuts.
A. W. Chignell, T. Yoxall and F. S. C. Taylor were wounded. The captures made by
the Battalion amounted to 3 officers and 240 other ranks, of the 1st and 2nd
Battalions 87th R.I. Regiment, 24 light and 8 heavy machine-guns, 6 light, 1
medium and 1 heavy trench mortar.
After the relief of the 168th Brigade the offensive was continued by the 167th,
at first with considerable success, the Division being once again attached to
the XVII Corps. An advance in the northern area of the Divisional front of some
2500 yards was made into Summit and Fooley Trenches, but on the south flank the
most strenuous efforts of the 56th and Guards Divisions failed to eject the
enemy from Croisilles, which was held in great force by machine-gunners. South
of the Cojeul River the enemy resistance was increasing, and information was
obtained from prisoners to the effect that three fresh German divisions had been
brought into the Bullecourt-Hendecourt area. North of the Cojeul, however, the
52nd and Canadian Divisions had registered important successes. The old Wancourt
line fell to them on the 26th, and this advance was rapidly followed up by the
recapture of Monchy-le-Preux, and a penetration into quite new ground at St
Rohart Factory — hardly fought for by the 56th Division in May 1917 — and at
Boiry Notre Dame. By the evening of the 26th August the 52nd Division had
cleared the Hindenburg line from Henin to the Sensee River, and was reported to
be east of Fontaine-lez-Croisilles .
Croisilles, however, still held out and the Guards had been pressed back
slightly towards St Leger. The result of this fighting was to swing the Corps
line round facing roughly south-east astride the Hindenburg line, with a strong
pocket of most stubborn Bosche in the ramification of trenches around Croisilles
itself, and on both banks of the Sensee River to the north-east.
The 169th Brigade which had now taken over the Divisional front was getting worn
by its constant fighting and losses, and reinforcement was needed. After a few
hours' rest at Blairville the l/4th Londons marched at 7.45 a.m. on the 25th
August to trenches in front of Boisleux St Marc, moving the following evening to
the trenches east of Boiry-Becquerelle, which had been captured by the London
Scottish on the 23rd.
A good deal of gas shelling occurred here during the night. A signaller was
killed and several men were wounded, among whom the Battalion was unfortunate in
losing Sergt. Johnson, the excellent orderly-room clerks and Corpl. Coates,
M.M., of the Scouts.
On the afternoon of the 27th the Battalion moved forward in close support to the
169th Brigade, and occupied Summit Trench immediately north of its junction with
Hill, and on the extreme left of the Divisional sector.
It is rather curious to note that in these fights and marches the l/4th
Battalion was in an area which had been traversed by the 2/4th Battalion during
the actions of March 1917, while at the same time the 2/4th Battalion in the
Fourth Army was bearing its share in recapturing spots familiar to the l/4th
Battalion during the 1916 Somme battles !
The l/4th Battalion had settled down in Summit Trench to make the best of a very
wet evening, when, after dark, orders were received to move at once into the
Hindenburg line and to concentrate at River Road, near the banks of the Sensee
River for an attack the following morning on Bullecourt. It had been determined,
owing to the prolonged resistance of the enemy at Croisilles and the resultant
holding back of the right flank, to pursue the operation by an advance towards
Bullecourt straight down the Hindenburg line. This would have the effect of
completely enveloping and " squeezing-out " the pocket of Germans in the
Croisilles-Guardian Trench area.
The concentration of the Battalion was effected successfully, but not altogether
without difficulty. A and B Companies moved direct to the point of assembly,
while C, D and Headquarters proceeded by way of the Henin-Fontaine Road, and
then down the Hindenburg trenches,. The whole area was horribly congested. Two
brigades of the 56th Division (the 168th and 169th) were moving up for attack,
while at the same time a relief was proceeding on the left flank between the
52nd and 57th Divisions. For a time the confusion was rather distressing, and
Lieut. -Colonel Marchment writes, " It seemed to me that the battalions were
forming up to attack north-east, south-east and south-west."
The plan of attack was as follows : — The advance was to be led over the open by
the 169th Brigade, the Queen's Westminsters in the van with the line Queen's
Lane-Jove Lane, as a first objective, and the trenches south-east of Bullecourt
as a final objective.
The 168th Brigade was to follow the 169th in the order l/4th Londons,
Kensingtons and London Scottish, advancing by bounds at a distance of about 1000
yards in rear of the rear battalion of the 169th Brigade. The particular duties
of the 168th Brigade were to support the 169th and mop up in rear of their
advance, and to protect the right flank should Croisilles remain untaken — a
rather difficult and quite unsatisfactory job.
The l/4th Londons were disposed as follows : —
D Company (2/Lieut. J. L. Backhouse) on the right — to advance over the area
west of the Hindenburg line by way of Sens^e Avenue, Nelly Avenue and Queen's
B Company (2/Lieut. G. G. Lewis) to advance down Burg Support, the old
Hindenburg front trench.
A Company (Capt. H. N. Williams, M.C.) and C Company (Capt. J. W. Price),
Headquarters and 1 section M.G.C. attached, to advance down Tunnel Trench, the
old Hindenburg support trench.
The attack was to be launched at 12.30 p.m. on the 24th August under a creeping
The fight throughout the day proved a laborious and confused affair. Trouble
developed which doubtless originated on the previous evening when the Queen's
Westminsters, relieved by the London Scottish in the Summit area, had moved
forward to assembly. This gallant regiment had been fighting already for a
couple of days and was getting worn — Lieut. -Colonel Savill describes his men
as " dead beat " — and it had to move up to assembly positions in Burg Support,
where it occupied a trench at right angles to the line of its advance. A change
of front during an advance had been proved on the Somme in 1916 to be an
operation extremely difficult of accomplishment, and so it proved here. True,
the attack did not start till 12.30 p.m., but even the hours of morning daylight
gave little chance to the Queen's Westminsters to get their bearings. Our map
shows the villages of Bullecourt and Hendecourt, but it must be borne in mind
that the whole terrain was actually a featureless waste. The ground everywhere
was " crumped " to pieces and covered with high grass and rank weeds, while the
existence of a village was not suspected till one found oneself stumbling among
the heaps of bricks which had formerly been its cottages. As a consequence of
all this, two companies of the Queen's Westminsters, followed by a part of the
l/2nd Londons, went hopelessly astray and became entangled in the 57th Division
troops near Hendecourt. To add to the confusion the company commander sent back
word to 169th Brigade that he was in Bullecourt.
Meanwhile, Lieut. -Colonel Savill of the Queen's Westminsters advanced along the
Hindenburg line, and having fallen in with the Headquarters of the l/2nd Londons
and the London Rifle Brigade, soon came in touch with strong enemy forces,
believing that his companies were ahead of him, and that mopping-up had not been
well done. The weak force at his disposal was unable to shift the stubborn
Germans opposed to him, and the attack was held up.
The l/4th Londons moved off from assembly as ordered in rear of the 169th
On the right D Company was held up badly at Nelly Avenue where it closed on to a
party of the London Rifle Brigade. Several efforts to shift the enemy proved
abortive, and it was not until about 7.30 p.m. that, with the help of two Stokes
Mortars brought up by the Kensingtons, further progress could be made. By this
hour, however, the opposition was overcome, and, with 40 prisoners and 4 light
machine-guns to its credit, the company pursued the advance after dark to
B Company in Burg Support overtook the Headquarters of the three 169th Brigade
battalions, held up as already described, about 200 yards short of the Hump, and
a platoon was at once placed at Lieut. -Colonel Savill's disposal to help clear
the trench. We must remark parenthetically that B Company's fight began almost
precisely in the sector of trench which had been first captured by A Company of
the 2/4th Battalion on the 15th June 1917 : how often, we wonder, has such a
coincidence occurred ?
The Germans in Burg Support were of a remarkably obstinate variety and progress
by bombing was slow. The trench was very full of men, and the congestion was
later increased by the arrival from nowhere in particular of a company of the
Royal Munster Fusiliers (57th Division), who had quite lost their direction. By
6.30 p.m. the enemy's resistance was overcome by hard fighting, and B Company
advanced down Burg Support to the Knuckle, where it established itself in touch
with D Company on its right.
A and C Companies on the left, in the Hindenburg Support line, also overtook the
169th Brigade, the remnants of the l/2nd Londons being held up about Juno Lane.
The enemy was in strength in this trench also. At the time it was presumed that
by zealous use of his dugouts he had escaped the moppers-up of the leading
battalion, but probably, owing to the deflection of the greater part of the
l/2nd Londons, he had not been previously attacked. Progress was slow and the
l/4th London Companies pushed through and engaged the enemy. The resistance at
Juno was soon overcome, and the enemy retired leaving us a few prisoners and two
light machine-guns. A second check was experienced at the Hump but the enemy was
driven back, strenuously debating every inch of ground, till at last by 9.30
p.m. the two l/4th London Companies reached Jove Lane and the remainder of the
Battalion. Attempts were made to gain touch with the 57th Division on the left
but without success.
The stubbornness of the enemy resistance in the Hindenburg line this day was
remarkable, and we cannot deny a brave enemy an acknowledgment of his valour.
Croisilles had been reported vacant by 8 o'clock in the morning but the
occupants of the Guardian pocket put up a day-long fight. It was not till late
in the evening that the whole area was cleared. Probably the need to the enemy
of gradually evacuating this area was the cause of the opposition offered to our
advance down the Hindenburg line.
This was a hard day's work for everyone. The l/4th Londons had bombed their way
down about 2000 yards of the Hindenburg line, excellent leadership to the bombing
parties being provided by Lieut. V. R. Oldrey and by Capts. H. N. Williams and
J. W. Price. The great difficulty throughout the day was for local commanders to
get any sort of grip as to what was going on, as so often occurs in trench
fighting. The mass of trenches, nearly all stubbornly defended, with which the
whole area was pitted, in effect broke up the brigade attack into a series of
numerous and more or less isolated scraps in which no one knew much of how his
neighbour was faring. And all the time Division believed that the Hindenburg
line was clear, and that Bullecourt was in our hands.
The night of the 28th and the morning of the 29th August were occupied in
clearing up the situation, and assembling the Brigades on the line Pelican
Avenue-Pelican Lane for a continuance of the attack, which was pursued by the
168th Brigade on the right and the 169th on the left.
The l/4th Londons remained on the 29th August in support with the 1st Londons
(attached), the attacking battalions being the Kensingtons on the right and the
London Scottish on the left. The Battalion was disposed in Queen's Lane, Burg
Support and Borderer Trench. The objective allotted to the Brigade roughly
coincided with the Riencourt-Queant Road, and the whole of the village of
Bullecourt, inclusive to the Brigade, was allotted to the London Scottish.
The attack, which was launched at 1 p.m. on the 29th August, met with stubborn
resistance, especially on the right where the Kensingtons were held up at
Bullecourt Station. After hard fighting the London Scottish managed to capture
the village, and by dusk the Divisional line formed a sharp salient, with its
horns on Bullecourt Station and the high ground west of the Factory on the
Hendecourt Road, and its apex following Tower Reserve and Gordon Reserve
The l/4th Londons were not called upon as a Battalion, Taut D Company was sent
forward to reinforce the London Scottish, and later to fill a gap in the forward
positions between that Battalion and the 169th Brigade on the left.
The enemy resistance this day was extremely stubborn and Tank Reserve was
strongly held by the enemy, who resisted effectually the most gallant attempts
of the Scottish to emerge from Gordon Reserve.
Late at night the 167th Brigade took over the whole Divisional front, and the
l/4th Londons moved back at 5.30 a.m. to positions in Queen's Lane, Knuckle
Avenue, Stray Reserve and Burg Support, where they remained throughout the 30th
August. During the withdrawal to these positions the whole area was intensely
bombarded with high explosives and gas shell, and it was no surprise to the
Battalion to learn that the enemy had delivered a sharp counter-attack in the
early morning and driven the 167th Brigade out of Bullecourt back to the Pelican
Avenue-Pelican Lane line. The posts north of the village stood firm. This
counter-attack was a big affair which affected the divisions right and left,
both of them being pushed back a certain distance.
The immediate recapture of Bullecourt was promptly ordered by XVII Corps, and no
one in the Battalion was especially delighted to learn that the l/4th Londons
were detailed for the duty.
After a day spent in obtaining such rest as was possible, the Battalion wearily
crept off after dark to assembly in Pelican Lane and Borderer Trench in
readiness to assault Bullecourt at dawn on the 31st August. The 168th Brigade
was drawn up for battle with the London Scottish on the right, the l/4th Londons
in the centre and the 7th Middlesex (167th Brigade attached) on the left, each
battalion having a section M.G.C. and a section L.T.M. Battery at its disposal.
The Kensingtons were in Brigade reserve.
The morning of the 31st August was dark, and at 5 a.m. the assaulting battalions
moved forward under an excellent barrage to which the enemy gave a quick and
On the right, C Company, on a two-platoon front, reached the cross-roads at the
extreme western edge of Bullecourt, but was here held up for some time by
machine-guns in the village. At the same time D Company, on the left, advancing
on the north side of the village penetrated about half-way across it and almost
reached the cross-roads on the northern edge, but here they also were checked by
machine-gun fire, principally from their right flank.
The support company (B) now entered the village, or rather advanced against the
site of the village (for no single building was visible), and began to mop up in
the endeavour to form a link between the two leading companies. Progress was
slow owing to the overgrown nature of the ground, but by 8.40 a.m. touch was
gained between B and C Companies, and together they slowly fought their way
forward till C Company v/as able to join hands with the 7th Middlesex on the
Hendecourt Road. In the course of this fighting B Company managed to take 15
prisoners and put 5 machine-guns out of action.
At about 9 a.m. the reserve company (A) was put into the fight to endeavour to
fill in the gap across the village between the leading companies.
The right company was still held up on the southern fringe of Bullecourt by two
machine-guns mounted in a derelict tank east of the village, and it was not
until after noon that, with the aid of two Stokes Mortars, progress was made by
bombing up Tower Reserve as far as a point level with the east edge of the
village. Here all further advance was definitely checked. Gordon Reserve was
strongly held and stubbornly defended, and, moreover, no touch could be gained
with the London Scottish on the right.
By 3.30 p.m. the village of Bullecourt was reported clear of the enemy and a
line of Lewis gun posts was established on its eastern fringe from Tower Reserve
to the Hendecourt Road on the left. During the remainder of the day no material
change in the situation occurred. Three several attempts were made by the
leading companies to get into Gordon Reserve but the position was too strongly
held, and, the trenches leading to it having been flattened out by shell fire,
an advance by bombing was impracticable. Shortly after mid-day aerial reports
were received that the enemy was assembling in Tank Avenue and Tank Support. All
field guns and heavies at once turned on to this target and the projected
counter-attack was promptly broken up. The activity of the enemy in this region
continued till late at night, and it was evident that any attempt at further
advance would be strenuously disputed.
After nightfall arrangements were made for one company of the Kensingtons to
rush Gordon Reserve under cover of Stokes Mortar fire, but the situation
remaining somewhat obscure the attempt was abandoned.
Very little progress was made anywhere this day. On the right the London
Scottish gained Bullecourt Avenue and the 7th Middlesex on the left captured the
factory on the Hendecourt Road. But all along the line the enemy's resistance
was stiffening, evidently in view of the near approach of our positions to the
junction of the Hindenburg line with the Drocourt-Queant Switch.
Moreover the country was difficult for the attackers ; it had been fought over
many times and was utterly broken up, and the assaulting companies were all
tired. In the circumstances it was a good day's work, and a day of peculiar
satisfaction to the 4th London Regiment, which has a special claim to
association with the village of Bullecourt. Here in 1917 the 2/4th Battalion
occupied Gordon Reserve in the successful defence of Bullecourt against a heavy
German attack after it had first fallen into British hands, and in August 1918
it fell to the lot of the l/4th Battalion, after the village had been recaptured
and again lost, to capture it for ever.
Casualties in officers this day were : Lieut. V. R. Oldrey and 2/Lieut. R. T.
Stevenson, killed ; 2/Lieuts. W. G. Hook, A. Hollo way and A. F. Potter,
wounded. 2/Lieut. E. H. Garner was killed on the night 27th/28th August, after
having been ten days only with the Battalion. In the ranks the total casualties
for the period 23rd to 31st August were 30 killed, 150 wounded and 12 missing.
Having regard to the enormous importance of the successes achieved and the depth
of the advances, these comparatively light figures are a matter for much
One shudders to think of what the losses would have been for equal results in
the hard slogging of the Somme in 1916 or at Ypres in 1917.
Late at night on the 31st August the 56th Division handed over its positions to
the 52nd and withdrew into Corps reserve, the l/4th Londons reaching the
Boyelles Reserve area at Boiry-Becquerelle at 7 a.m. on the 1st September, with
a strength of 32 officers and 710 other ranks.
In view of the gallant share which the l/4th Londons had borne in this splendid
series of victories we may perhaps be permitted to quote an extract from an
article on the subject of the 56th Division's achievements which appeared in The
Times of the 16th September 1918 :
" . . . This year it was one of the divisions which beat off the German attack
towards Arras on March 28th when the enemy suffered one of the bloodiest defeats
of the whole War ; so that with this fighting and that at Cambrai to its credit
it has probably killed as many Germans as any division in the British Army. Now
to this proud record is to be added the splendid advance of which the
Commander-in-Chief has told. The 56th Division has proved itself a great
The Divisional record in the Battle of Bapaume 1918 may be summarised as
advancing through 6 miles of very strongly fortified country in nine days ;
meeting and defeating three German divisions, and capturing 29 officers, 1047
other ranks, 3 guns, 210 machine-guns and over 50 trench mortars. Of this large
booty the share of the l/4th Londons amounted to 3 officers and 390 other ranks
prisoners, 70 machine-guns and 10 trench mortars — a very fair proportion of the
With this action the share of the Battalion in the great envelopment of the
Somme line closes.
The following were decorated for services during the period 23rd-31st August :
2/Lieuts. C. L. Henstridge and A. Holloway, the M.C.
Pte. E. Clark, the D.C.M.
Sergt. F. G. Udall, M.M., Bar to M.M.
Sergts. F. A. Dove, J. T. Norris, F. C. Nickless, Corpls. W.
Frost, F. Nash, C. Robbins, Lance-Corpls. J. T. Couchman,
J. R. Greenwood, Ptes. G. H. Andrews, G. A. Allen, W. W.
Boulstridge, A. C. Barnes, J. Eccles, A. E. Dickerson, G. J.
Grant, W. H. Hart, H. H. Mills and W. Ryan, the M.M.
This great battle as a whole resulted in the defeat by 23 British divisions of
35 German divisions, and the capture of 34,000 prisoners and 270 guns. Its
importance lay in the ever-increasing signs of the enemy's failing morale ;
while the captures bore witness to his indiscriminate thro wing-in of reserves.
The following day Peronne fell to troops of the Third Army, and two days later
the enemy's general retirement from the east bank of the Somme began.
We have already alluded to extensive captures of ground made in the area of the
Scarpe at Monchy-le-Preux and other places. These important victories
constituted the Battle of the Scarpe, 1918, in which, beginning on the 26th
August, the battle front was still further widened and the British First Army
also became involved. By the 3rd September the Canadian Corps of the First Army
and the XVII Corps of the Third Army had carried the battle line forward through
the famous Drocourt-Queant line, and the enemy had fallen back to the general
line of the Canal du Nord from its junction with the Sensee River, east of
Lecluse to Peronne.
During this hasty retirement large numbers of prisoners and vast quantities of
stores fell into our hands. In the extreme south the French armies also
continued to advance, and by the 6th September had regained the line of the
Crozat Canal at La Fere.
In the meantime the gradual relinquishment by the enemy of his advanced
positions in the Lys salient had begun on the 18th August, and the retirement
rapidly becoming general, he had been driven back by the 6th September to the
line Givenchy-Neuve Chapelle-Ploegsteert.