Seventh Manchesters index
Hammering the Hun.
SERRE RIDGE AND WARLENCOURT.
After a fortnight at Louvencourt the brigade went into the line again on August 18th, this time on the right of the divisional front. During our period in reserve important events had taken place south of the Somme. A lightning stroke, chiefly delivered by the Canadian Corps who had been suddenly and secretly rushed down from the Lens area, had altered the whole aspect of the war, for the German Army, which not long before had entertained such high hopes of reaching the coast and Paris, was driven to anxiously defending his line. Weak spots in the Hun armour were being sought out and pierced so that on the whole the enemy was having a bad time. Anticipating trouble on the third army front he had withdrawn his outposts to a safer line all along the Ancre and up to Puisieux, and our men had been able to walk cautiously forward several hundred yards.
Such was the situation when the 7th took over the front line, at the moment quite unsuspicious of the stirring events in which they were shortly to take a share. Major Rae commanded the battalion, the C.O. being away on Paris leave, while Capt. Barratt had resumed the duties of Adjutant. The Company Commanders for this tour of duty were Lt. C. B. Douglas, "A," Capt. Grey Burn, "B," Lt. Abbott, "C" and Capt. J. Baker, "D." Suddenly, without previous warning, operation orders were received on August 20th for a big attack to commence along the whole army front the following morning. This was rapid work indeed, and the hurried state of preparation can be better imagined than described, especially in view of the extraordinary nature of the barrage which called for most accurate timing and an elaborate barrage table. The manner in which Major Rae and Capt. Barratt swiftly dealt with all these details and communicated their wishes to the people concerned, a task of no small magnitude under more favourable conditions, calls for the keenest appreciation from all who took part in that first important battle.
The division expected to cover, in the first day's fighting, the large mass of high ground which is flanked on its western edge by Serre and overlooks Miraumont on the eastern side. A Prussian division was known to be defending this part of the line. The 7th were to take part in the initial assault in the right brigade sector, while the 125th brigade were on the left. A thick mist enshrouded the land in the early morning of August 21st, and doubtless many men on both sides thought of the similar conditions which prevailed on the 21st of another month when the Hun attacked with such terrible results. Here was the revenge and it was to take place, curiously enough, under like circumstances. At 4.50 a.m. the attack commenced, preceded by a short but destructive barrage over the enemy position. For the Fleur de Lys "C" and "D" companies led off, their objective being a part of the sunk road running across the front from Puisieux to Beaumont Hamel. It was impossible to see more than forty yards, and this rendered control by the officers practically out of the question. The section commanders, however, in many cases Lance-Corporals and even privates, rose magnificently to the occasion, with the result that touch was maintained and the direction of advance preserved. Short, sharp struggles took place at various points, but the Boche were overpowered, and eventually a good line was established on the objective. "C" company lost 2nd-Lt. Harland, M.C., and Lt. Lofthouse, both wounded, while "D" company, although keeping their officers, had Sgt. W. Brown killed.
The next phase of the battle comprised the attack of "A" and "B" companies who passed through the first objectives and advanced to the top of the ridge. Lieut. H. N. Kay of "B" company was shot dead at close range during the clearing of a dug-out in the early stages of this fight, while later on this company suffered heavy casualties, Sgt. Green, D.C.M., M.M., being killed and Sgts. Guttery and Gleeson wounded. On reaching the final objective Lt. Douglas carried out work of the greatest value in the organisation of his company. In spite of the strongly increasing enemy shell-fire he moved about amongst his men with such coolness and disregard for personal danger that his example inspired the men for the strong counter attacks which later took place. For his splendid leadership and initiative he was afterwards awarded the Military Cross. Capt. Grey Burn and his company on the right were having an awkward time from enemy snipers, but he organised his now small numbers very carefully, and personally kept the enemy under close observation. Seeing an enemy concentration in progress, evidently for a counter-attack, he quickly gave information, and the gunners were able to disperse the enemy with a very effective barrage.
The conduct of all ranks during the counter-attack, which was launched early in the afternoon, was so splendid that it broke up the Hun effort. Later in the day the enemy made another attack with a strong body of picked storm-troops from another division brought up specially from the reserves, but the greeting they received from our rifle, Lewis gun, and machine-gun fire caused enormous casualties, and the attack collapsed. Capt. Grey Burn was decorated with the M.C. for his share in this splendid day's work. The ground captured in the first day's fighting, representing an advance of 5,000 yards, was consolidated and held for the next two days, during which time the left of the division was executing a turning movement to encircle Miraumont from the north. The work of the signallers, under Lt. Smith, cannot be too highly praised for their contribution to the success of this battle, because communications throughout the operation were excellent and twice served to bring down a barrage in short time, so assisting the infantry to smash the enemy attacks. The stretcher bearers nobly performed their work under most trying conditions, what with the heavy mist followed later by intense heat, the badly broken ground and the long distances they had to carry the wounded under shell fire. Lce-Cpl. Twist, M.M., of "D" company, performed prodigies of strength and valour in this way, receiving a bar to his M.M., and Pte. Greer, M.M., of "B" company, proved an able second to him. Lt. Stanier was badly wounded whilst with "A" company, losing the sight of one eye.
The next movement was the crossing of the River Ancre in the early hours of August 23rd. This was well done by "B" company, "A" company, now under the command of Capt. Nelson, being in support with "C" company. During the advance, and with the co-operation of the East Lancs. north of Miraumont, large bodies of prisoners were cut off and rounded up on the far side of the Ancre. When the ground had been made good and it was ascertained that the Hun had definitely retired, it was thought that the day's work was done. This, however, proved to be wrong, as a further advance to Warlencourt was ordered, and it was to commence as soon as possible. The 6th moved off about dusk with the 7th in support, and although the right flank was exposed this did not hinder the advance. The greater part of the movement was carried out in darkness and over strange ground, but the leadership was very skilful and the brigade came in contact with the enemy on the outskirts of Warlencourt about 10.30 p.m. Boche M.G. nests quickly opened a terrific fire, but few casualties were caused. A rapid deployment took place and positions quickly occupied in case of a surprise. The enemy fire, however, increased in intensity, and the cover afforded being of the scantiest, it was decided to withdraw a short distance to a line of trenches and there await daylight. Fortunately no serious losses had been incurred, and when dawn broke it was found that the enemy had retired still further during the night.
At this point the division was pinched out of the line by the Naval Division on the right and the N.Z. Division on the left converging across our front in the next day's advance, and we were enabled to take advantage of a short respite from the struggle. The vigour and effectiveness of the 42nd division's attack has been since proved by an unexpected tribute from the enemy. The following extract from Ludendorf's "Memoirs of the War, 1914-1918," Vol. II., page 692, refers to the fighting at this time:--
"On August 21st the English attacked south of Arras between Boisleux and the Ancre.... As the offensive developed, the enemy succeeded on the north in pushing us back from the Ancre. At this point a Prussian division ... given a sector covered by the river, had failed badly. This threw the whole line into confusion.... The situation there became extremely critical about August 25th."
The 7th marched back a short distance to Irles, and made themselves comfortable in the German dug-outs there for a day and a half. Looking back over those days of new experiences for the battalion one realises the valuable work accomplished by Lt. Wilkinson and his transport section. When out of the line he invariably carried off the honours in the "spit and polish" transport competitions frequently held in the division, but it was on difficult occasions such as these that he showed up to prouder advantage. The transport lines had been brought up to Colincamps, and the distance from there to Warlencourt was about twelve miles. The roads were in an impossible condition so that all supplies had to be carried on pack animals, and the fact that nothing failed reflects the greatest credit upon the administrative arrangements of Capt. and Q.M. Wood and the transport officer.
During our few hours' absence from the line the Naval Division had been in some heavy fighting as we saw when we arrived on the night of August 27th in the support position near Loupart Wood. Skilfully sited machine guns had taken terrible toll of the brave naval men, and their bodies still lay where they had fallen, so that one of our first jobs was to bury them. The front line ran along the western outskirts of Ligny-Thilloy, but it was suspected that the enemy would not make a vigorous stand here. His shelling was particularly beastly, however, and if he did intend to retire further he was at least taking the necessary artillery precautions. By August 30th preparations were complete for another forward move, but early morning showed us that the Hun had gone, so we were merely required to follow him up.
The pre-arranged plan was carried out, and after the 127th brigade had made good the high ground east of Thilloy, in face of some opposition, the East Lancs. came through and took up the advance on what had now become a one brigade front. They had not gone far before they encountered the enemy in strength holding Riencourt, and they promptly attacked it. The 8th Manchesters bore the brunt of this attack and they suffered very heavily, little ground being gained. A brilliant night show by the 10th the next night, however, subdued Riencourt, and this rendered the line sufficiently straight to be able to continue the advance. The 127th brigade took over the front again and rapid preparations were made to co-operate in an attack which was to take place along the whole army front. It was now clear that our higher command were not disposed to allow the enemy to settle anywhere, if possible. It promised to be ding-dong work amidst ever-changing scenes, with the guns making the most of their opportunities and struggling over the torn ground behind the infantry as best they might. But the supply services experienced the biggest demand upon their wits and resources, uprooted from their comfortable and secure villages and cast out upon the shelterless land of the devastated area just like the infantry. Their work was wonderful, however, and very rarely had Tommy occasion to grouse about either the quality or the quantity of the food that was served up to him under these trying conditions. It was common knowledge that when the Boche had come over in March, he had not been so well treated, and had been forced in the urgency of his plight to eat horses and mules killed in the fighting.
It was evident that we had now got the full measure of our foes, and were in the comfortable position of being able to give battle when and where we pleased, and be practically confident of success. The front was becoming shorter also, with the result that a divisional sector was considerably smaller than formerly, and this entailed of course longer periods out of the line for the soldier. Leave also continued to flow, and proved an important factor in keeping up the morale of the troops. How different from the old days, when we used to advertise our intentions to the Hun when a stunt was impending by stopping leave in the army concerned! Capt. Grey Burn, M.C., went to England for a month on August 31st, and Lt. S. J. Wilson was put in command of "B" company for the coming operations, while in the continued absence of Capt. Palmer, Lt. Hammond was in charge of "C" company. Lt. Smithies, recently joined from the second line, took over the duties of intelligence officer. Col. Manger was required to temporarily command the 126th brigade, and this left Major Rae in command of the battalion once more.
The next village in our line of advance, now practically due east, was Villers-au-Flos, and this, with the high ground beyond it, was to be taken in the first stride of the coming battle, a matter of 2,500 yards. After this the L.F's. would leap-frog through and exploit success as far as possible. This time the 5th and 6th were detailed to execute the first shock of the assault with the 7th in close support. As a matter of fact "C" company were sent forward to act under the orders of the 5th in view of the extra opposition which was expected on the right sector. On the night of September 1st the remainder of the battalion, in order "B," "A," "D," companies moved up close to Riencourt, to occupy old, shallow trenches, and await the needs of the brigade either during or after the assault.
Soon after dawn the barrage opened, and simultaneously the Manchesters advanced accompanied by a single tank. The New Zealanders were carrying out a similar task on the left, while the 17th division had to get through Beaulencourt and over a large stretch of bare country on the right. The 6th Manchesters progressed in fine style, and everything went according to plan. The enemy put up a stiff fight for it and hung on to the last in the cunningly concealed machine gun posts. It was in this part of the fighting that Lieut. Welch (a one-time 7th officer) with a section of Stokes' mortar men performed a gallant deed that earned for him the D.S.O. The progress of events on the right, however, was not so clear and straightforward. As was expected the 5th encountered strong opposition, for they advanced along a double row of old German trenches which contained a large number of dug-outs, and disconcerting masses of wire at irregular intervals. It was thus difficult to maintain cohesion in the attack, while every dug-out contained machine gun crews who had been unharmed by the barrage, and who, owing to the delay in getting ahead, had been able to come out and man their positions without interruption. The 5th, therefore, lost heavily, particularly on their right flank, and before very long "C" company of the 7th found themselves in the front, almost isolated, and taking a stern part in the assault.
They pushed on until all the enemy trenches had been cleared to the south-east corner of Villers-au-Flos, and then stayed in order to get in touch with the remnants of the 5th on their left, after which Lieut. Hammond reported progress. In view of the danger from this flank, for we were already well ahead of the troops on our right, "B" company was ordered forward to protect the southern and eastern sides of Riencourt, and so prevent any Hun attempt to get in behind our forward line. Later it was found that the 5th positions required more strength, and "A" company were sent up for that purpose, while Capt. Baker was ordered to take his company to form a defensive flank behind the 6th, for the New Zealanders were still echeloned to the rear. Evening of September 2nd thus found the 6th at the tip of a sharp salient, and the enemy still very active in front, with his shelling steadily increasing in intensity. "B" company were thus ordered to continue the advance on the right and attain the final objective, slow and complicated work for it all took place in the dark. First the 1,500 yards from Riencourt to "C" company had to be traversed, and from there it was another 1,000 yards to the required position; meanwhile the enemy was continually shelling with 5.9's at important points and with whizz-bangs promiscuously. Nothing was known of the enemy in front, and the situation on the right was equally obscure. Patrols worked cautiously ahead however and fortunately no opposition was encountered, so that the final objective was made before dawn.
As daylight broke on the 3rd Sept. it was found that the next village, Barastre, had been rapidly evacuated by the enemy who had left a quantity of material behind him. Although the men were dog-tired "B" company sent out a large fighting patrol to try to get in touch with him, but they traversed well beyond Bus, the next village, and returned according to orders without seeing him. Meanwhile a squadron of cavalry (Scots Greys) had been ordered up, and they preceded the advance of the 125th brigade who by this time were marching through in accordance with previous plans. They encountered Hun rearguards near Ytres, but the attack was resumed at once, and in the course of the next two days the enemy was pressed back into the Hindenburg system in the vicinity of Havrincourt.
The Manchesters had now the opportunity of seeing how great an organisation must follow in the wake of advancing infantry. First came the field guns, drawn by teams of mules, followed by the 6-in. howitzers, bouncing along in jolly fashion over the uneven roads behind motor lorries containing their ammunition. Then the observation balloons appeared, still observing, at a height of about 100 feet, being pulled steadily by motor conveyances. Intermingled amongst these were staff cars, ambulances, motor lorries for all purposes, infantry transport, D.A.C. waggons and various other impedimenta of a moving army. Most of these people took up their abode around Barastre, occupying old British huts, or erecting tents and bivouac sheets, so that ground which twelve hours previously had been Hun land, gingerly approached by us, had become a huge camp seething with an active soldier population of Britishers.
On September 6th the division came out for a long-delayed rest, and marched back to Warlencourt in Corps reserve. A few tents were provided, but only a small portion of the battalion could be accommodated in them, so it was necessary to dig in once more. There was quite a quantity of material about, however, and it did not take us long to make ourselves weather-proof and more or less comfortable. Fortunately, the Huns had not had time to destroy the two wells in the village, although the explosive charges had been laid, so that water did not prove the difficulty it might otherwise have done. A special order of the day from the brigadier admirably epitomised our feelings of satisfaction with our work in the war up to this date, so it would be as well to quote it at length:--
You have added a new anniversary to those which your gallantry has already made famous. On 4th June, 1915, in Gallipoli, you forced your way like a spearhead into and through line upon line of Turkish trenches. On 25th March, 1918, at Achiet and Bucquoy, you stemmed and stopped the onrush of the tide of Huns that was to have found its way to the Coast.
Yesterday, after three months of unbroken fighting in trenches and in the open, and in face of stubborn resistance by Huns more than equal in numbers, you stormed and took Villers-au-Flos with the utmost dash and determination; a feat which would have been notable if performed by battalions at full strength and fresh from a period of rest.
When Manchester hears of this new proof of your prowess, she may well be as proud of her sons as I am of commanding such soldiers.
ANTHONY HENLEY, _Brig.-Gen._,
Commanding 127th Inf. Brigade.
_3rd September, 1918._
The fortnight at Warlencourt was spent in refitting, and intensive training in attack. One day was occupied by a demonstration of an assault by a company, using live ammunition. This was carried out by "D" company in the presence of the corps commander and large numbers of officers and N.C.O's. of the division, and was followed by educational criticism by the General.
THE HINDENBURG LINE.
It was obvious that all this had a specific purpose, and we were not left long to wonder what the purpose was. A tremendous battle was brewing, and rumours placed its magnitude at from three army fronts to the whole allied front. Anyhow, the chief thing that concerned us was that the 42nd was to take part in the cracking of the hardest nut in the German defence, namely, the Hindenburg system. The enemy had had three weeks in which to consolidate his already perfected ramification of trenches and dug-outs, and there was no doubt as to their determination to definitely stop the British advance there. If this failed they had lost the War.
On September 22nd the division marched up, and took over the front from the 37th division, the 125th brigade occupying the forward positions just east of Havrincourt Wood. The 7th found themselves out in reserve just north of the Canal du Nord behind Hermies, and it was pleasing to see the old haunts again. Men thought grimly of the experiences we had been through since those happy days more than a year ago, and these sights served to call up the memory of many a pal who had since made the big sacrifice. And now, perhaps, we should get an opportunity of seeing those mysterious lands beyond Flesquieres, Marcoing and so on, that we had gazed upon so long. As far as possible training was continued and a certain amount of company re-organisation took place. Owing to the weakness of companies they had been reduced to three platoons, some of these being much below strength. Reinforcements had been expected, but they did not materialise to an appreciable extent. However, the exigencies of the task in hand demanded that the four platoon formation should be adopted in spite of the small numbers. In view of this, therefore, it was necessary to crowd in rapid training in attack on this principle, so that each man should be well acquainted with his function. After the battle surplus had been eliminated the company commanders were as follows:--"A" company, Capt. Nelson, "B" Lt. S. J. Wilson, "C" Capt. Allen, M.C., and "D" Lieut. Gresty, M.C. Lt.-Col. Manger commanded the battalion, while Capt. Creagh had returned and was Adjutant. Two days before the attack Capt. Nelson went into hospital with dysentery which had frequently recurred in a violent form during the preceding weeks. A slight re-adjustment was thus demanded amongst the officers to give every company a fair share of leadership and Lieut. Hammond was sent to command "A" company.
Briefly the plan of attack was as follows. The divisional frontage was covered by the 125th brigade on the right and the 127th brigade on the left, with the remaining brigade in support. As far as the 127th brigade was concerned, the attack was to be accomplished in five bounds. The first objective, along the whole of the brigade front, was the work of the 5th Manchesters, and consisted in capturing the German front line which ran chiefly along Chapel Wood Switch. The next four objectives, called for convenience the Red, Brown, Yellow and Blue Lines, were to engage the attention of the 7th on the right and the 6th on the left of the brigade front, and were to be taken by the leap-frog method by companies. Thus, in the 7th, "C" company's objective was the Red Line, "A" the Brown, "D" the Yellow, and "B" the Blue Line. These lines were by no means parallel to one another, their shape being largely controlled by the configuration of the ground and the German trenches. It is also important to note that the Hindenburg system was being taken in enfilade on this part of the front. Two or three great parallel trenches ran along in the direction of the advance, and they were full of deep dug-outs capable of holding thousands of men. Our main security lay in the fact that a simultaneous attack was taking place along a widely extended front, and the enemy would not be able to fill these dug-outs with counter-attacking troops drawn from other fronts.
Space does not allow of a detailed description of the orders for attack, but it can easily be imagined that they were pretty considerable in view of the heavy work to be accomplished by the artillery. As this portion of the German line was known to be powerfully defended by large numbers of troops, extensive trench systems, dug-outs and wire, it was part of the strategy of Foch to concentrate artillery here, and records showed that on the two days September 27th and 28th shells were consumed at an unprecedented rate. In our sector alone, the programme comprised the capturing of 3,500 yards in depth of the most strongly defended ground in France, including the vicinities of the famous Highland and Welsh Ridges of terrible memory in the Battle of Cambrai. Every yard of this ground was subjected to a continuous creeping shrapnel barrage lasting for almost three hours, while moving steadily ahead of this was a terrific bombardment by all calibres from 4.5 howitzers upwards upon the enemy's main trenches and supposed defence points. The brigade frontage, measured north to south, was 1,250 yards, and this was equally divided between the 6th and 7th. As we were going over one company behind another, each company was responsible for nearly 700 yards--a very large front considering our depleted numbers. There is no doubt, as far as we were concerned, the task looked formidably ambitious.
On the morning of Sept. 26th final operation orders were issued, and that night we moved up to our assembly positions in a huge dug-out near Femy Wood, capable of holding the whole battalion. It was slow work moving along the canal and across the Trescault-Havrincourt road, and it is not surprising that eventually the intervals between platoons closed up and the four companies were strung out in one long line. The confidence felt in the success of the operations, was evident by the fact that the 6-inch howitzers were installed in front of the Trescault road within 500 yards of the enemy. Whilst we were assembling there were motor lorries on the road unloading stacks of ammunition for them! By the time the battalion had been packed into the dug-out dawn was swiftly approaching, which meant the commencement of the battle, for Zero for the third army was 5.25 a.m. The VIth corps, the 62nd division of which touched up with our left, were to have three hours' fighting before we commenced, and for this reason we welcomed the shelter of the dug-out while it was in progress. The configuration of the ground was responsible for the manner in which the battle was to grow along the whole front. The advance of the 127th brigade was to take place along the shoulder of a long hill running broadly east to west. North of this high ground was a long valley stretching through Ribecourt towards Marcoing. Another shoulder similar to but higher than ours flanked the valley on the north, and it was this, together with the commanding village of Flesquieres, that the VIth corps were to make good before our attack commenced. Again, the 125th brigade, who were on our right, and also on the higher part of the shoulder, were to open the 42nd divisional assault half an hour ahead of ourselves.
About 8 o'clock "C" company led the way out of the dug-out and took up their assault positions near the front line. At the appointed hour, following behind the 5th, they moved forward to the attack, in the formation which we had practised so frequently, and which was the most suitable for the large frontage that had to be covered. All four platoons were in line, and each platoon was divided into four sections, the two rifle sections on the flanks, and the two L.G. sections in the middle and echeloned to the rear. This was the artillery formation useful for covering the ground previous to the actual assault, each section moving in file (_i.e._, two ranks) well opened out. When close to the enemy position the platoons extended and formed two lines, with a L.G. in the centre of each line, and riflemen on the flanks. Every Company went over in this formation, and strict orders were issued that no man was to enter the enemy trenches for the purpose of covering the ground, but to keep out in the open, otherwise great confusion would arise, and officers would lose control of their men.
Misfortune greeted "C" company from the start. Capt. Allen, M.C. and 2nd-Lt. Ray were killed immediately, and casualties were soon very heavy. It was evident the enemy was making the most of his superior position and the clear sweep of ground. The remnants of the company pushed on, however, and reached their objective. "A" company followed and they also suffered severely from the moment they advanced out of Ferny Wood. Then it was noticed that most of the machine gun fire was from the right flank, and our men were being subjected to a terrible enfilading fire as they moved across the open. All the officers became casualties, Lt. Hammond wounded, 2nd-Lt. McAlmont wounded, 2nd-Lt. T. Woods wounded, and 2nd-Lt. Carley, killed. The few men of the company, now led by C.S.M. Joyce, reached the Red Line and joined "C" company, which, Lt. Edge, M.C., having been hit, was now under the command of 2nd-Lt. Jones. It was impossible, with the small number of men, scattered over a wide front, to continue the advance for the moment. "D" company, moving up according to programme, were treated similarly to the previous two companies and men began to drop long before they anticipated meeting any resistance. Thus, before they had gone very far 2nd-Lt. Thrutchley and 2nd-Lt. Wright were wounded, which left Lt. Gresty, M.C. and 2nd-Lt. Milne to carry on the leadership, a task which they performed in fine style. They quickly arrived at the Red Line, and then took cover for a short period. Soon after this, "B" company came along, but on nearing the Red Line, they found many men of "D" turned about firing rifles and L.G. towards their right rear. It was now obvious that the ground to the right of us had not been cleared at all, and the enemy was left free to work his will upon us from the higher ground. By this time a tank had arrived and materially assisted us in dealing with the problem. Gresty then decided to push on and his company mounted the rising ground in front. From this point they unfortunately swerved to the left, probably being influenced by a road which ran diagonally across the front towards Ribecourt, but nothing could stop their irresistible dash. As they crossed this road Milne, with a handful of his platoon, added to our already considerable number of prisoners, by capturing a large crowd of Huns.
With characteristic impetuosity, reminiscent of the La Signy Farm days, Gresty and the men of "D" following up under the barrage, rushed across the Brown Line and made for the Yellow Line. They were now only a small gallant band but they were undaunted. Prisoners captured were told to go down to the rear, which they did right gladly without an escort, so that the assaulting party who now in formation and well-nigh in size, began to resemble a Rugby football team, could preserve their strength. Two 77 m.m. guns lay in their path, and at their approach the Boche gunners spiked them and made off, leaving them an easy prey to the 7th. After this, Gresty decided that he was on his objective, as indeed he was, but he was more or less in the 6th sector, and when he was quickly joined by a company of the 6th he began to realise it. There was trouble on his right, however, as well as from the front, and the small party of men were disposed to defend the ground they had captured, a difficult enough task in view of the fact that they had to find positions to face in two or three different directions. Touch was obtained with the 62nd division in Ribecourt, and it was found that the VIth corps had had great success in their part of the battle, so that already the advance was proceeding towards Marcoing.
"B" company's effort was really a separate story. As soon as "D" company had disappeared over the crest in front of the Red Line they continued the advance. 2nd-Lt. Pearson was on the extreme right and he had been instructed to keep touch with the L.F's. From the beginning, however, he had not seen them, and his platoon was moving along "in the air," and naturally meeting with strong resistance. They had not expected to meet the enemy for another 1,500 yards if events had worked out "according to plan," but they were now fighting them at every step. Gallant deeds were performed in dealing with Hun machine guns, and many prisoners were taken, but greatest of all were the achievements of Pte. Jack White. Single-handed he rushed a machine gun post, bayonetted the man on the gun and pursued the remainder of the team with fire, inflicting casualties. Later on he again rushed forward alone to a strongly held trench, but was killed practically on the parapet. His name was recommended for a V.C., but unfortunately nothing more was heard of it. In view of the heavy casualties, Lt. Wilson went across to Pearson and told him to close his platoon slightly towards the left, in order to keep a cohesion in the company, for it was evident that the Hun resistance promised to be strong, and there was no hope now of assistance from the right flank. In this manner the high ground near the Brown Line was reached, but the company was suffering from fire both from the front and the right flank. 2nd-Lts. Siddall and Gapp were wounded, as well as three platoon sergeants, and there was no knowledge as to what had happened to "D" company. At this moment the Germans developed a counter-attack from the right in a manner to be expected from an intelligent and courageous enemy. The obvious thing for them to do was to cut in behind "B" company's right flank and attempt to regain a footing in "Unseen Trench" which had just been taken from them. From an offensive force we were suddenly transformed into a defensive force, and the men were still out in the open. Wilson drew back his right flank so as to face the Huns, but kept his left in touch with the 6th on the road in front of the Brown Line, and from this position, the men being disposed in shell holes, "B" company held up the enemy attack and defended the ground won. The Huns were on higher ground and when they had been finally driven to earth they kept up vigorous sniping at very close range, a form of fighting that we returned with interest. Pearson was hit in the stomach and later died on the way down, so that Wilson and C.S.M. Shields were left to control the remainder of the company.
The arrival of 2nd-Lt. Smith with signalling apparatus enabled communication to be obtained with battalion H.Q. Lt. Wilson outlined the situation and was told in return that the L.F's. had not yet reached Boar Copse, having met with powerful resistance. He was further ordered to hang on to his position and wait until the L.F's. had drawn up in line. Meanwhile a company of the 5th was sent up to strengthen the flank. Continuous touch by means of patrols were kept with the enemy, and his movements were carefully watched. Within 300 yards were a couple of German 77 m.m. guns, pluckily worked by the gunners at point blank range until our machine gunners, who had now arrived, co-operated with L.G's. from the 6th and ourselves in putting them out of action. They were taken by the 10th in the night. Meanwhile Gresty and the company of the 6th on the Yellow Line had been ordered to fall back 300 yards to a less isolated position, and a sound front and flank was thus
The battle had now reached a stage when the next move would be ordered by the brigade or even by the division. Careful observation of the enemy led us to suppose that he was weakening and Gresty and Wilson intimated that when the L.F's. arrived at the Brown Line, having re-organised their companies, they should be prepared to continue the advance in the 7th sector. Division had decided otherwise, however, and had ordered up a battalion of the 126th brigade. Rapid preparations were made for a night attack to complete the divisional task, the 10th Manchesters to cover the 127th brigade front and the L.F's. to continue on their right. Before nightfall, the enemy having withdrawn from the trenches immediately in front, "B" company pushed on again and established a good line running north and south in front of the Brown Line, and touching up with the L.F's. who had now arrived. This considerably simplified the work of the 10th, who were able to assemble in the night on an even front.
The night attack was a success. The Huns were evidently demoralised and put up no fight at all, surrendering in large batches without firing a shot when our men arrived at their dug-outs, so that the Blue Line was made good before dawn. Then came the work of exploiting success, and on the 42nd divisional front this was carried out by the 8th Manchesters, and the 5th East Lancs., the 126th brigade having taken over the front during the afternoon of Sept. 28th. They were able to make good progress over Welsh Ridge before encountering serious resistance. Later in the day the New Zealand Division marched through to follow up the enemy, so that the 42nd could go down for a rest. Gladly did the Fleur de Lys pack up their traps and march back over the ground that had recently seen such stern work. The brigadier had been up and personally thanked Lts. Gresty and Wilson for the work achieved by "D" and "B" companies, remarking that having seen the ground, and knowing the difficulties which had to be encountered, he thought all the men were heroes in having accomplished so much. Such praise coming from so sound a soldier was naturally received with gratitude and pride, and we felt that once again the name of the 7th Manchesters had been scored honourably and deeply in the records of warfare. The battalion reassembled in the big dug-out and there realised sadly the abundance of accommodation now afforded.
It had been a glorious fight but won at a terrible cost. Out of the 450 or so men who went over there had been more than 300 casualties. Of the sixteen officers who started out four only remained. 2nd-Lt. Pearson's death was particularly sad. He had gone out in the ranks in 1914 with the 7th, and had been twice wounded on Gallipoli, after which he served continuously with the battalion till the winter of 1917, when he went home for a commission. He had returned as an officer only a few weeks previously, and in this fight proved himself a courageous and skilful leader of men.
About 600 prisoners had been taken by the battalion, as well as the two field guns, large numbers of machine guns and other booty. More important was the death-blow to the German resistance. The Hindenburg Line had been smashed, the enemy was obviously demoralised, and they were in full flight for the next piece of ground which could offer a suitable position for delaying our rapid advance. The awards to the 7th for this battle included a bar to his Military Cross for Lt. Gresty, and Military Crosses for Lt. Wilson, 2nd-Lt. Milne, 2nd-Lt. Siddall, and 2nd-Lt. Thrutchley. C.S.M. McHugh, M.M., C.S.M. Tabbron, and Sgt. Mather received the D.C.M., while twenty N.C.O's. and men obtained the M.M., Pte. Greer being given a bar to his M.M.
The following Special Order of the Day indicates the value of the work done by the Manchesters in this day's fighting:--
_29th September, 1918._
For the second time in this month of September you have struck the enemy a heavy blow. It has brought us appreciably nearer to the complete victory which our country is determined to achieve.
I do not yet know the full amount of our booty. It can be estimated from the two miles of our advance, and from the prisoners, considerably more than a thousand in number.
I wish to record my admiration for the splendid behaviour of all ranks. The victory was won under conditions of exceptional difficulty, and, as at Villers-au-Flos, against an enemy superior in numbers to the attackers; and it was won by the magnificent determination and devotion of the troops.
ANTHONY HENLEY, _Brig.-Gen._,
Commanding 127th Inf. Brigade.