Seventh Manchesters index
Worrying the Hun.
Never since the weary entry into Katia did the 7th Manchesters present such a sorry appearance as they did when they straggled into Soustre in the grey hours of April 8th. It was an effort to drag one leg in front of another, and our feet were sodden and painful. Almost every particle of clothing and equipment was smothered with red, clayey mud, and thin, tired faces were covered with a many days' growth of beard. Here we struggled into a row of lorries and were carried off to Vauchelles to be housed in huts vacated by some army school. After a good meal and a sleep we were roused in the middle of the afternoon to be told that another move had to be accomplished. With imprecations on the staff and all its works we fell in and marched off to Louvencourt to occupy billets, and were at last assured that we had settled for a rest.
The next few days we spent in recuperation and cleaning up. The rapidity with which the men recovered their smart appearance was one of the striking features of the war, and indicated the wonderful desire for fitness that the Britisher had acquired in his soldiering days. Col Bromfield, however, had not been able to withstand the strain, and to the regret of everyone departed to hospital with pleurisy, a circumstance made all the more depressing when we learnt that his return was highly improbable. A more popular C.O. never commanded the 7th, and we were always proud of his high opinion of us. In his dealings with all ranks, from the second in command to the lowest private, he had ever proved himself a perfect gentleman, while his control of matters during the most anxious times inspired an unswerving confidence. As a gallant leader and commander his name stands high in the records of the
It was by no means certain that the enemy would not open out with another onslaught on this front, for he was making desperate efforts to reach Amiens further south, and a break through here would make his task much easier. With the assistance of Chinese labour lines of trenches had been dug, and they were speedily wired in by batches of Royal Engineers and Labour Corps. The first system to be defended if the front line collapsed was called the Purple Line. Behind that was the Red Line, while further back still was the Brown Line, protecting Doullens. It was here during these troubled days that the historic meeting took place between Sir Douglas Haig and Marshal Foch, when the latter took over supreme command. As well as regaining lost energy the 42nd division had to be responsible for a portion of the Red Line in the event of a break through, so at various times parties of officers and N.C.O's. made trips to it for reconnaisance purposes, and schemes were evolved for the possible disposition of companies and the siting of L.G. posts, etc., under the leadership of Major Higham, now commanding the battalion.
After a week at Louvencourt we moved up into the line again, the division relieving the 37th division in the Hebuterne and Rossignol Wood sector. No one was sorry to get into a fresh part of the line. We felt that we did not wish to see the Bucquoy-Ablainzevelle road again! For some time now the 42nd had been one of the divisions of the IV. Corps, commanded by Lt.-Gen. Harper, the one-time commander of the famous 51st (Highland Territorial) division, and as such we were to remain until Germany was defeated. We were in goodly company, for the other divisions were the New Zealanders, the 37th and eventually the 5th, but we were never put to shame at any time. Indeed, the spirit of "Go one better" was always amplified by deeds, and by none more assiduously than the 7th Manchesters.
Hebuterne and the immediate district was the "happy hunting ground" of the division until the final grand hunt in August. As in 1914 the village stood on the high-water mark of the advancing tide of Huns. In their last effort they had captured it but the Australians had driven them out again. If a visit be paid to this part of France the reason for its importance to either side will be seen at once, for it stands near the northern end of a commanding ridge which runs north and south, and from which good observation is obtained for many miles in all directions. This was the ridge over which the Huns had swarmed in March, to be thrown back again, after a severe dispute, by the newly arrived Anzacs, so that the present position was good for us but poor for "Jerry." Hebuterne was the culminating point of a very pronounced Hun salient, and our line swept round in a noticeable curve from the corner of Bucquoy to Beaumont Hamel, almost touching the south-eastern edge of the village. Looking north was the famous ground where Gommecourt had once stood. In 1917 the French had decided that Gommecourt should be preserved in its battle-scarred state as a national monument, for the blood of many brave soldiers had there been shed during the fierce Somme fighting of 1916. Notices were put up, huge white boards with black printing in French and English, enjoining no one to interfere with the trenches and wire, etc., but to leave things just as they were. Oh, the irony of it! Here was the Hun again pounding, pounding with fierce wrath and insistent desire to smash his way through. Those self-same notices were shell-shattered, while in his zeal to destroy the dug-outs which he knew so well in Gommecourt, for he had made them, he dropped, in one morning, more than thirty 15-inch shells in the village. To the right of Gommecourt could be seen the naked stumps of Rossignol Wood, a beautiful name reminiscent of delightful summer evenings. But the song of the nightingale was now gone, and the only tunes to be heard were the deadly rat-tat-tat of Boche machine guns and the fierce hissing of our shrapnel bullets through the decayed undergrowth, the time for this devil's music being regularly thundered out by the crash, crash, of heavy howitzers.
East of our ridge, and parallel to it, was a long gentle valley. In the old days the Germans had been content to build their trenches half-way up the eastern slope, and the French had faced them on the opposite side, but now the Huns in the foolish arrogance of their hearts must needs swarm over the whole valley, and offer themselves and their works as targets for our searching gun-fire. On the summit of their ridge and due east of Hebuterne is Puisieux-au-Mont, in almost the same condition of devastation as Gommecourt, while further beyond, the trees of Achiet can be seen. During the summer months those who wished could reckon up the times of arrival and departure of trains at the German railhead at Achiet, for the smoke from the engines could be distinctly observed. Night after night our planes droned heavily over to the accompaniment of wonderful displays of "flaming onions," parachute flares, searchlights, and anti-aircraft gun-fire, and bombed these back areas with demoralising effect. Further along the enemy ridge to the right, and closer in, was what the trench maps grimly described as "Serre (site of)." If you want testimony of the complete destructive power of British shell-fire, go to Serre. The roads round about were marked on these maps, but ironically labelled "Damaged by shell-fire." I think the word "obliterated," openly admitted in the case of one or two, would have applied to all. In other words the whole terrain bore the traces of the thunderous days of 1916, and nothing of value was left standing. Thus, when keen observers set their maps and scanned the low ground for Mark Copse, Luke Copse, Touvent Farm, Observation Wood, or Red Cottage, there was nothing visible. It was all a myth. Further south the masses of white chalk thrown up by the historic crater at Beaumont Hamel were useful for they served as a landmark and helped to locate other points of interest.
Compared with the enemy we were in a relatively happy position. The ridge which contained the front line shielded all the immediate back area from direct observation, so that even the garrisons of the support trenches could wander about in the open, while if there was "nothing doing," the men back in reserve could lie out in the long grass and bask in the sunshine. This was all very comforting and relieved the strain of war very considerably, but the advantages in the matter of organisation were illimitable. Rations came up in the middle of the day, and the limbers and water carts, in singles of course on account of balloon observation, trundled up the road in the afternoon to a point within four hundred yards of the front line! As the men put it "We were laughing"--especially when the enemy once or twice attempted a relief before darkness over their exposed ground, and were severely knocked about for their pains.
But to return to Hebuterne and the days of our first acquaintance with it. Many people were convinced that the Hun would attack again, and our higher command had found support for this gloomy prospect amongst their archives, so that we were enjoined to remain on the strictest qui vive. The first day's work consisted in re-organisation of the line, based upon the principle of defence "in depth." This meant that a battalion, for instance, did not expose the whole of its personnel in the front line to be obliterated in the first shock of attack, but they must be disposed in the best tactical positions, with a slight garrison in front and the remainder ranged along behind. Speaking very generally a unit was made responsible for the defence of an area, and the principle of defence was to hold it, not by successive lines of defence, but by a series of mutually supporting posts arranged chequerwise and in depth. This arrangement was intended to break up the enemy's attack formation, to stop parts of it and to allow other parts to advance, but to advance only in such places as would make them most vulnerable to counter-attack. This principle applied also down to the company and even the platoon. It is easily seen that a good deal of organisation was demanded from the battalion commander, while the smallest unit commander, perhaps a lance-corporal, was left with much responsibility. In view of the possibly impending attack, Hebuterne was hurriedly put into a sound state of defence by the untiring energy of Gen. Henley and his subordinates. Whilst all this was going on our patrolling was excessively active, and every night No Man's Land fell into our hands right up to the enemy posts. If possible we were to "Snaffle a Hun" with a view to identification and information about the supposed attack, and when it was discovered that the Boche was too alert in spite of persistent small attempts by the Manchesters and the L.F's. this was regarded as good proof by the attack theorists. However, nothing materialised beyond the steady arrival of Boche shells of all calibres, and we were not sorry.
When the brigade moved out into reserve the 7th had to dig themselves into the earth near Chateau-de-la-Haie north of Sailly-au-Bois. In less than twenty-four hours small groups of men had made a hole for themselves, covered it with an elephant shelter, and camouflaged it with sods. It was heavy work while it lasted, but it was necessary to work quickly because of hostile aircraft. A neighbouring battery of 60-pounders were righteously indignant at our invasion, but still the staff said we were to go there, and there we went. On the other hand it was by no means comforting to realise that once the Hun spotted the 60-pounders we should be partakers in the unwelcome attention that would probably follow, so we were quits anyhow. Luckily the enemy did not see us, or he was displaying a lofty contempt, for after five day's residence the battalion moved up into the line at Gommecourt, having had no mishap. During this period our lists of "Bucquoy decorations" came through, and they were very gratifying. In addition to the M.C's. already mentioned, Capt. Nidd and 2nd-Lt. Harland were similarly rewarded for their work as company commanders. Sgt. McHugh, who had acted as C.S.M. of "C" company, received a bar to his M.M., and Sgt. Heath, who had died of wounds, was decorated in like manner. Twenty-four other men received the Military Medal, their names being recorded in the appendix at the end of the book.
On April 30th the new C.O., Lt.-Col. Manger, of the Durham L.I., arrived. A regular soldier of many years' standing, he was pleased to be sent again to a territorial battalion, for he had learnt the value of these troops whilst commanding the 2nd 9th King's Liverpool Regiment of the 57th division. He joined the battalion at Gommecourt and Major Higham immediately went down for a rest. There was very little of outside interest during the succeeding days beyond the usual work of consolidation and keeping the enemy under closest possible observation. Still, the battalion was glad to be relieved on May 6th, the whole division coming out for a good period of rest.
The 127th brigade were given camp areas around Henu, divisional headquarters being at Pas. We made the most of these May weeks, filled with delightful sunshine, and, as events worked out, it was as well we did, for it was the last long rest period we were to get until after the armistice. Important changes took place in the battalion about this time. Major Higham and Capt. Townson, both pre-war officers of the 7th, severed their active service connection with us by being invalided to England, the former's place being taken by Major Rae of the Liverpool Scottish. Amongst a draft of officers that we received from a division that had been broken on the fifth army front was Capt. Allen, M.C., whose original unit was the 6th Manchesters. He was put in command of A" company. R.S.M. Anlezark, of the 1st battalion, was posted to us for duty, and A/R.S.M. Clough succeeded R.Q.M.S. Ogden, who had returned to England after a long period of hard and useful work with the 7th. It was not many weeks after this period of rest that another long-standing and popular officer was lost to the 7th; this was Capt. Nidd, M.C. We had always known that his grit and determination exceeded his physical capacity, but his splendid sense of duty led him to ignore this fact, although it was common knowledge that had he so wished he could have been invalided out of the army long before. After severe trials on Gallipoli, a campaign he went through from June to the evacuation (he was one of the very few men to whom that evacuation was irksome), he had had a relapse in hospital in Egypt for some weeks. The Bucquoy fight, however, had proved too much for him, and he never really recovered from the ill-effects of it. This was accentuated by the death of two of his near and dear friends--Lt. W. Thorp for whom, as one of his subalterns, he had a particular esteem, and Capt. Tinker. The latter was a pre-war officer of the 7th, while Thorp had gone out to the Sudan in the ranks, served through Gallipoli with distinction (vide Major Hurst's book) and then received a commission early in 1916. Capt. Tinker's record with the battalion was one of steady confidence. After being invalided to England from a wound received on Gallipoli, he rejoined in Egypt in Feb. 1916, and was immediately given command of "A" company. From that day he had always been amongst us, and, except when on leave or on a course, he was with his company, in the line or out of it. In fact, it was a record of "full steam ahead" until the day he was killed amongst his men. What Tinker was to "A" so was Nidd to "B" company, and his greatest regret, when at last hospital claimed him, was in leaving the men whom he knew so well. His departure was followed by a long illness, and it was a great blow to his friends to hear of his death after the armistice in his own home at Cheadle Hulme. His name can be added to the long list of victims of the great German offensive in March.
Strict training was indulged in during these weeks, and in addition hot, laborious days were occupied by rehearsals of the manning of the Red Line in the neighbourhood of Souastre, to say nothing of skeleton counter-attacks upon Beer Trench, Rum Trench, and Stout Trench, near Gommecourt. We never knew the point of these names unless they were to act as a stimulant to the vigour of our thrusts, the troops labouring under the delusion that the trenches were filled with the liquids indicated. At all events they were not there during the rehearsals in spite of the hot weather. But if these diversions caused us to attain the boiling point of excitement, the arrival of General Byng on May 21st to witness a special stunt by the 7th almost burst the thermometer. A source of some interest was the presence of an American battalion consisting of raw troops of three weeks' New York training, to which the 127th brigade was acting as godfather. They worked diligently and with a keen appreciation of any hints supplied to them by their British friends. Also, not to be outdone by our frequent displays of football, they regularly utilised our ground for baseball, of which game they possessed a few brilliant exponents. We soon grew to like our new allies, and we were rather sorry when they departed to join their own division.
On June 6th the 42nd division took over the line once more and were not relieved of responsibility of the front until Sept. 6th, sixteen days after the big offensive had commenced. The 7th occupied the part of the front which we knew so well at Hebuterne, relieving a battalion of the New Zealand Division. The "Diggers" had worked hard upon these trenches with the result that they were now in excellent condition. A good spell of weather also assisted in the comfort of the troops. Col. Manger's policy was to give the Hun no rest, and he began to put his principles into practice at Hebuterne. As soon as we arrived, a thorough reconnaissance of the enemy positions was made, and we began to make preparation for a raid of some magnitude. This was carried out by "B" company, of which Capt. Grey Burn was now in command, and the officers selected to go over with the raiders were Lieut. Wender, D.C.M., who had previously served with the 1st Battalion in Mesopotamia, 2nd-Lt. Milne and 2nd-Lt. Goodier. Goodier had been a sergeant in "C" company, and for his excellent services at Bucquoy had been recommended for promotion in the field to the commissioned ranks, a distinction which came through while we were at Henu.
It was known that the enemy held his front line in a series of isolated posts, each armed with light machine guns. Curiously enough, whether through lack of material or not we never knew, he paid little or no attention to wiring in these days, except in utilising what old wire lay about. One of these posts was located within one hundred yards of our front line in Fusilier Trench, and this, it was decided, should be raided. At 1 a.m. on the morning of June 16th a three minutes' shrapnel barrage was opened on the enemy's trench, while a box barrage of H.E. was placed all round the portion to be raided. At the end of this time the boys leapt over in four parties, three to make for the trench and the fourth to act as support and as a covering party for withdrawal. Then it was found that the shelling had hardly been sufficient for numerous enemy flares went up, throwing daylight over the whole scene, and our men were greeted by heavy machine gun fire. Wender, who was on the right, jumped over first and rapidly dashed off for the Boche trench, leaving his men well behind. He was never seen or heard of again, and it must be presumed that he was killed in the trench. Goodier got his men across on the left and they jumped into the trench, only to find it filled with concertina barbed wire, so they came out again and worked their way along the top to the centre, being by this time heavily bombed. They came to a party of Huns who immediately fled, but Goodier seized one and he and his now tiny party returned triumphantly with their prisoner and with fragments of bombs in their bodies. Milne, having ranged over part of the Boche trench to find no one, covered the withdrawal and then brought his party in. It was an extraordinary show in which everyone had displayed considerable pluck, and the taking of one prisoner had just converted it into a success, but we had sustained a large number of casualties, most of them, fortunately, only slight. Of the officers, Goodier was scratched, and Milne had a bullet through his arm, whilst among those who were not actually with the raiders Lt. C. S. Wood, the signalling officer, was somewhat badly wounded, his work being taken over later by 2nd-Lt. Smith, and Lt. S. J. Wilson was slightly wounded. 2nd-Lt. Goodier was awarded the M.C., Sgt. Fleetwood and Sgt. Green the D.C.M., while five others received the M.M. for this night's work. This was the concluding page of our first chapter in the front line, for we then moved out to Sailly in reserve.
When the brigade went into the line again it was to take over the sector to the right of Hebuterne on the ridge previously mentioned. The most important feature about this part of the line was La Signy Farm, which lay just below the crest on the eastern side of the ridge. The ruins of the farm building were in Boche hands, but the eastern side of the five hundred yards square hedge that surrounded the grounds ran along our front line. North of the grounds our line was echeloned forward and then ran due north to the corner of Hebuterne. Skeletons of large trees stood up like tall sentinels over the piles of bricks and stones which had once made up the farm buildings. At the farthest corner of the hedge was a shell-pitted patch of ground in a slight depression marked on the map as Basin Wood. This was known to be honeycombed with deep dug-outs and galleries and was therefore a frequent target for our heavy howitzers. Further south the two opposing lines were almost parallel as far as the vicinity of Watling Street--then a Boche trench. In the dead ground behind our line was Euston Dump, which had gone up with a tremendous roar in the early days of the March fighting, leaving a large hole. Stoke's mortar shells, "footballs," etc., were scattered about in all directions. Not far away from here was the Sugar Factory, which, from the attention it received, the Hun regarded as more important than we did.
The C.O. maintained his policy of worrying the Hun in every possible manner, the fullest use being made of the artillery liaison officers and the Stokes and Newton trench mortars for this purpose. Every night little strafes were planned which must have kept Fritz in a constant state of speculation as to what might happen next. To assist in these annoying tactics a special company of R.E., whose particular devilry was gas, came up and dug in 1,000 gas projectiles behind the support lines. On two separate nights, after everything had been considered favourable, they gleefully let them off at La Signy Farm and its environs, and then disappeared down their dug-outs to gloat over the picture of choking and writhing Huns. We consoled ourselves with the probability that the enemy had sustained more casualties than we had.
On July 8th Corps had a sudden recurrence of "attackitis," and, doubtless at the instigation of a junior intelligence officer, they sent out a frantic request to "all whom it may concern" to ascertain who the enemy were in front. They had feared a relief by large German soldiers who were anxious to smell the blood of the Hated English. This message, or an adulterated form of it, filtered "through the usual channels" and so reached the 7th in the late afternoon. Two hours before darkness it had been answered in the following manner.
Reconnaissance had indicated an enemy post within eighty yards of our line close to where the Serre road crossed it, but it was protected by concertina barbed wire. "D" company were holding that part of the line, and they were asked to furnish a party prepared to go over almost at once for a Hun. An enterprising artillery liaison officer, Lt. Bates, obtained permission to make use of a couple of 4.5 howitzers which he said were new and very accurate, and these, firing graze fuse shells at his correction would smash the wire. The only place from which observation on this wire could be obtained was in our front line directly opposite to it, and here a temporary O.P. with telephonic communication to the battery was rigged up, the garrison of this part being moved off left and right for safety. It was a nerve-racking experience in that O.P., as may be gathered from the fact that we were trying to hit an object less than 70 yards away! It took over an hour to get a satisfactory result, and then 2nd-Lt. Gorst, Sgt. Horsfield and seven other men, in shirt sleeves and armed with revolvers, hopped quickly over, ran along a shallow trench or ditch, and entered the Hun post. It was empty with the exception of one dead man who had just been killed by one of our shells. He was quickly carted back, but with great difficulty for he was a big heavy fellow, while Gorst and Horsfield searched along the trench both ways for more Huns. None were to be found, however--evidently our inexplicable shelling had scared them off altogether. Still the dead man was good enough for the purpose, for he furnished the required identification, and his regiment was immediately wired to H.Q. There had been no relief, so calm reigned once more.
The spirit of "Go one better" inspired Lieut. Wilkinson and a few of his transport men to perform deeds of "derring do" in the line, for one night they came up and captured a German G.S. wagon from No Man's Land. It lay just in front of our line near the Serre Road and had evidently been abandoned during the New Zealand counter attack in March. A bridge of duck boards was put over the trench and Wilkinson and his men went out and skilfully dragged their prize back to safety. Its arrival at the transport lines next morning was naturally the occasion for great rejoicing and hero-worship, after the sensation caused by dressing up the driver in a Boche tin hat and great coat. On another night Sgt. Aldred with a small party made an exceptionally plucky effort to enter an enemy post and was afterwards awarded the M.M. After eight days of such work as this in the front line we moved out to Bus in divisional reserve to enjoy a most pleasant few days under canvas.
We lost Padre Hoskyns at this period. He had received an order which filled him with chagrin to report for duty as Senior Chaplin to the 6th division, so he journeyed at once to the divisional H.Q. and told the major-general he would sit on his doorstep until he got permission from him to stay with the battalion. Efforts were made but they were of no avail, and a more peremptory order than the last was received, so he took a sorrowful farewell and departed, followed by the regrets of the whole battalion, and indeed of a good number of the division. "Some have greatness thrust upon them," was applicable in his case, for he had not sought promotion but preferred to remain a "parish priest" and live amongst the men. Much the same remark applied to the C.O. who, in the absence of General Henley at Divisional Headquarters, was called upon to take command of the brigade during the succeeding weeks, for he always expressed his preference for battalion work. Owing to the fact that Major Rae was in hospital at this time with the "flue," Capt. Creagh assumed command of the battalion, and Lt. Barratt being on a month's leave in England, Lt. Wilson was temporarily appointed Adjutant. Capt. Palmer, an old officer of the 7th, who had been carrying out important work in England since his recovery from a wound obtained in Gallipoli on June 4th, returned to us some weeks previous to this and was put in command of "C" company.
During our period in reserve the 126th brigade had continued our worrying tactics and had attempted to raid La Signy Farm. They found the place strongly held, however, and after repeated efforts to get to the Hun positions had been forced to abandon the attempt. When we took over the front line from the 10th Manchesters for a continuous spell of sixteen days, we found that we were expected to co-operate at once in a forward movement with the New Zealanders, who were in the Hebuterne sector, and who intended to occupy a shorter line across the valley. The first day, July 19th, found us making preparations for this operation at express speed ready for evening. Lieut. Edge, an old second line officer, was put in charge of a party supplied by "C" company, and they were expected to capture and hold a Boche post about 500 yards away. It was decided that the silent method would be the best, so artillery support was declined. Edge displayed consummate skill and patience in carrying out this hazardous enterprise, and his difficulties were not lessened by disturbing events on both flanks. All along the New Zealand front, from Hebuterne to Rossignol Wood, an advance was taking place, while immediately on the left the 6th were moving forward and in the process had met with considerable resistance so that a pitched battle had arisen. To add to the troubles the Naval Division on our right had selected this night for a raid near Beaumont Hamel, accompanied with noise, with the result that the Hun put down his protective barrage all along our ridge. Our front line was packed with men who were to go over and dig a communication trench and generally assist in the consolidation when the post had been captured, and how they escaped casualties from this shelling was nothing short of a miracle. Meanwhile, Edge and his men were creeping steadily forward, and were encountering difficulties amongst huge shell holes, loose tags of wire and a very irregular hedge which they were trying to follow as a guide. Eventually they reached the post and took the enemy completely by surprise. A short rush carried them in and one Boche was captured, but the rest got away in the darkness, leaving their gear behind them. The consolidating party followed up quickly, and covered by a protective screen who lay out well in front in the vicinity of Red Cottage, they dug L.G. positions, fire steps for riflemen and placed coils of wire out in front and on the flanks. A good deal of the C.T. was also dug--quite sufficient at any rate to enable a careful man to crawl down to the new post in daylight. It was a good night's work, and earned a well-deserved M.C. for Lieut. Edge and M.M's. for Sgt. Banahan and three others.
Next day, brigade considered the necessity for careful consolidation of the ground gained by the 6th and 7th, but Capt. Creagh intimated that he wished to make his position more secure by capturing the Triangle, a strong triangular redoubt which lay in the grounds of La Signy Farm, and which dominated the post we had just taken. Permission was granted to carry out this enterprise, and once more preparations were rushed forward and orders made out for the operation to be accomplished that night. This time "D" company, temporarily commanded by Lt. Douglas, was selected to provide the attackers. They were back in reserve, close to Batt. H.Q., and on suitable ground for carrying out a quick rehearsal. Also it was decided that the best method of clearing the Boche would be by bombing. The battalion bombing officer was Lieut. Gresty, who belonged to "D" company, and he was put in command of the attacking party, 2nd-Lt. Gorst, at his own request, being detailed to assist him.
The post captured the previous night was the "jumping off" place, and the plan was to work along the enemy trench to the right, clear it by bombing, and so get to the Triangle. The whole operation was a huge success, and never did the eager fighting qualities of the Fleur de Lys show up to prouder advantage than in the display given by "D" company that night. The unexpected direction of approach took the enemy completely by surprise, for our men had not proceeded far before they caught a working party out in the open. There was a short scrap, but most of the poor Jerries had no weapons handy, and they ran off squealing and chattering like a lot of monkeys, leaving their dead and wounded behind. Our men pushed on quickly, anxious to make the fullest possible use of the surprise element, until the northern corner of the Triangle was reached. Here they split up into two parties, Gresty continuing the original direction, and Gorst turning along to the right. The latter party found the trench strongly occupied, but the enemy were so oblivious of what was happening that they were busy "dishing out stew" for the evening meal. When they were surprised a few of them indeed showed plucky fight, hurriedly seizing bombs and throwing them wildly in the direction of the attackers. Others succeeded in grasping their rifles, and Gorst received a nasty bullet wound in the shoulder, but not before he had accounted for one or two Huns with his revolver. Sgt. Horsfield, who understood perfectly the meaning of "Carry on, Sergeant!" continued this part of the show, and the Huns were chased along the trench to the western apex. Here a pitched bombing battle ensued, and very soon the enemy got out and raced across the open in the direction of the farm. Meanwhile, Gresty had led his men over a sort of switch back trench, for it had been so heavily pounded by our Newton T.M's. that it was difficult to make it out at all in the dark. Nevertheless they struggled along, and finding the far corner of the Triangle occupied, quickly bombed the enemy out of it and proceeded to consolidate. At the same time other parties, each of one N.C.O. and six men, had been detailed in the work of manning various posts en route, digging L.G. emplacements, and wiring and constructing of communication trenches. In fact, in a very short time the whole place, which had been a Hun strong point, was swarming with British soldiers busily working to turn round the defences.
Just as dawn was breaking a few Huns effected an entrance into one of the trenches and commenced to bomb the post at the far corner, whereupon the late Lce.-Cpl. Lockett of "C" company, who was in charge of the post at the apex, took a couple of men and promptly counter attacked them. Their leader, an N.C.O. with the Iron Cross and another man were captured, while the rest made off again. Lce.-Cpl. Lockett was awarded the D.C.M. for his sensible and courageous action. A good many casualties must have been inflicted on the enemy during this night's work for they left a number of dead and wounded behind, whilst several others suffering from slighter wounds must have got away. They left booty in our hands, and the large number of rifles and machine guns alone indicated the strength of the garrison. Our men obtained plenty of souvenirs, but they were sensible enough to hand over anything of military value, which was returned to them after examination by competent authorities. Useful disposition maps, and intelligence reports, to say nothing of piles of letters and post-cards were thus sent up for inspection, while during the next few days when visiting the area occupied by "D" company one was greeted by the unwonted scent of cigar smoke, for the Hun was ever a connoisseur on cheap cigars.
Heavy rain during the following days converting our new trenches into a quagmire, the necessity for digging and cleaning up became all the more urgent, although it entailed a heavy strain upon the men under most uncomfortable conditions. As "B," "C" and "D" companies had each "had a stunt" and covered themselves with glory, it now remained for "A" company to do likewise. Their turn came on the night of July 27th, when it was decided to push forward and occupy Cetorix Trench, about 300 yards beyond the Triangle, and so make our position even more secure. Unfortunately there was very heavy rain in the early evening, but the party went out, and after a serious dispute with the enemy, in which 2nd-Lt. Goodier, M.C., was wounded again, gained their objective. What was supposed to be a trench, however, was found to be a sunken road, frightfully shell-pitted, and in a most appalling condition of mud and water. It was not considered worth holding and the whole party was wisely withdrawn.
The La Signy Farm fighting was not yet over, for on the morning of August 3rd, while "B" company were in the front line, the enemy put down a heavy barrage on all our positions, particularly on the Triangle. Then, just as dawn broke, a party of about forty Huns rapidly started across No Man's Land, but the 7th were too much for them. They stuck to their posts and rapidly emptied Lewis guns and rifles amongst them, and when they were sufficiently close greeted them also with bombs. The Boche became disorganised and scattered, some groping about for gaps in our hastily constructed wire, but it was a hopeless business and the remaining plucky ones cleared off in disgust. Then Lt. Pell-Ilderton followed out with a small party, and finding a couple of dead brought them in. The Huns had carefully removed all evidences of identification before the venture, but one man had a black and white cockade in his cap, which proved him to be a Prussian. As the previous division was known to be Wurtemburger, we immediately notified this fact to H.Q. Further proof was afforded by a slightly wounded Boche who, having apparently got lost, had wandered into a post occupied by the 6th.
That day we were relieved by the L.F's. and went back into divisional reserve, this time to billets in Louvencourt, and there received congratulations from various people for our excellent work during the last long spell in the line. The final incident furnished Col. Manger with an extra battalion motto: "What we have, we hold." For the attack on the Triangle, Military Crosses were awarded to Lieut. Gresty and 2nd-Lt. Gorst, while Sgt. Horsfield, who had already earned the D.C.M. and Belgian Croix de Guerre when with the 9th Manchesters, received a Military Medal. Five other ranks were similarly decorated.
The battalion was augmented about this time by the arrival of the cadre of the 2nd 7th Manchesters. The 66th division had suffered severely in March and as it was undergoing re-organisation, all the second line units, or what remained of them, were sent to the 42nd division. Capt. Nelson also returned after a long absence since his wound in May, 1915, and was given command of "A" company, Capt. Allen, M.C., having been detailed to take charge of a divisional L.G. school.