London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories

1/4th Battalion - Operations during the Summer of 1915

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


In spite of the severe tax placed on his resources by the ever-increasing weight of the enemy's assaults at Ypres, and the consequent difficulty of finding sufficient reserves of men and material to embark on a new attack on a large scale, Sir John French decided early in May to adopt the bold course of launching a fresh offensive at the southern extremity of the British front. He was led to this resolve partly by the hope of diverting the enemy's attention towards the south and thereby easing the pressure against Ypres, and partly by the desire to assist the French who were launching an offensive south of the La Bassee Canal.

The ultimate objective of this new undertaking was the opening of the road to Lille, and the necessary preliminary to this was the expulsion of the enemy from his defences on the Aubers Ridge and the establishment of the British troops on the La Bassee-Lille Road.

This attack was entrusted to the First Army, whose operations were divided into two separate zones. In the north the assault was to be made by the IV Corps at Rouges Banes with the object of turning the Aubers defences from that flank ; while farther south the I and Indian Corps were to secure the line Ligny-le- Grand — La Cliequeterie Farm.

The Indian Corps attack was to be carried out by the Meerut Division — the Lahore Division still being weak after its recent fighting in the salient — on a front from the right of the Corps sector near Chocolat Menier Corner to Oxford Road (on the left of La Bassee Road). The role of the Lahore Division, which would occupy the line in front of Neuve Chapelle with the Jullundur Brigade, was to support the Meerut Division's attack with artillery, machine-gun and rifle fire, and particularly to secure the left flank of the assaulting columns during their advance by being prepared to operate as occasion might arise against the Bois du Biez.

The attack was launched on the 9th May at 5.40 a.m after a forty minutes' bombardment of the enemy lines by all available guns.

The assaulting columns advanced with the greatest valour, but were met by a murderous machine-gun and rifle fire, under which they were literally mown down. The survivors struggled on in spite of the frightful losses they were suffering, but practically none of the 1st or Meerut Divisions reached the enemy's front trench. Farther north the 8th Division effected a lodgment in the enemy's trenches, but after hanging on gallantly throughout the day were forced at night to return to their original positions after suffering appalling casualties. From all along the line came reports of what amounted to total failure. The surprise effect which had proved so valuable at Neuve Chapelle in March was wanting this day, and our artillery had been inadequately supplied with high explosive shells to enable them to destroy the German machine-gun emplacements.

Meanwhile reports were received from the French of some considerable degree of success. On the following day Sir John French decided not to pursue his offensive in the north, but to limit his further efforts to the area south of the La Bassee Road, and accordingly preparations were made for the resumption of operations on the 12th.

The Lahore Division had reached the Neuve Chapelle area after its march back from Ypres on the evening of the 4th May, the Ferozepore Brigade finding accommodation in its former billets at Paradis, which it left the following day for Riez Bailleul.

On the evening of the 8th the Brigade moved forward to take up its pre-arranged position of assembly in support to the Jullundur Brigade.

The position taken up by the l/4th Londons and the 9th Bhopals was in shallow assembly trenches in the orchards about the junction of Sign Post Lane with Rue Tilleloy. These trenches were hastily dug and very shallow, without either traverses or any sort of shelter ; and it was therefore fortunate that the weather was unusually warm and fine for the time of year. The Connaughts and the 57th Rifles occupied the old British front line (as it had been before the battle of Neuve Chapelle) astride Sign Post Lane.

During the whole of the 9th, 10th and 11th May the l/4th London remained in these trenches under continual heavy shell fire : though owing to the lack of success with which the main operation had met it was not called upon to advance.

On the evening of the 11th it was withdrawn with the rest of the Brigade to billets at Riez Bailleul. On return to billets great discomfort was caused to All ranks by the discovery that the billet in which the packs had been deposited during the three days spent in trenches had been burnt to the ground, involving the total destruction of its contents together with a mail from home. The following day the Indian Corps Commander (Sir James Willcocks) visited the Battalion and expressed his deep appreciation of its conduct at Ypres.

The 12th May dawned dull and misty and artillery observation was exceedingly difficult ; and for this and other causes the renewal of the attack was again postponed until the 15th. The Meerut Division was again responsible for the Indian Corps attack. The Lahore Division adopted a role similar to that which it had played on the 9th, and the Ferozepore Brigade moved forward once more on the evening of the 15th May to its former assembly positions about Sign Post Lane.

In order to endeavour to secure the surprise effect which had been lacking on the 9th it was decided this time to deliver the attack at night, and after a preliminary bombardment the assaulting columns dashed forward at 11.30 p.m. on the 15th. On the right of the attack in the region of Festubert and La Quinque Rue considerable success was achieved by the 7th Division, and some advance was also made by the 2nd Division which was operating on the immediate right of the Indians.

The Meerut Division, however, was again faced with a hail of lead from the enemy lines under which it was impossible to live, and though the troops did all that men could do, by 4 a.m. on the 16th, after two gallant efforts, the attempts of the Indians to advance were definitely checked and the remains of the assaulting columns were once more back in their original trenches.

From this date onwards operations were confined to the southern area in the neighbourhood of Festubert, and though the battle continued to rage until the 25th May, the Indian Corps was no longer concerned in it beyond the preparations necessary to enable it to conform to the advance on its right flank.

During the early part of the month the l/4th Londons received further officer reinforcements as follows :

Capt. A. A. N. Haine. ; Lieut. D. C. Cooke.
Lieut. S. G. Monk. ;  2/Lieut. J. S. B. Gathergood.

The Battalion remained in its shallow trenches until the 18th May under less favourable conditions of weather than previously, and the exposure caused a large number of casualties through sickness, including Lieuts. Rivers Smith and Cooke, and 2/Lieut. Gathergood, who were evacuated to hospital.

On the evening of the 18th May the Ferozepore Brigade took over the front line from the Jullundur Brigade, the l/4th Londons relieving the 4th Suffolks on the right, between the La Bassee Road and Oxford Road, the subsection including Port Arthur Keep where Battalion Headquarters were established. This tour of duty was uneventful and the troops were occupied principally in repairing the damage done to the entanglements and defences by the enemy's shell fire during the days of the battle. A certain amount of shell fire was, however, experienced causing a few casualties, including Captain Haine, who was hit on the 22nd. The enemy also paid a good deal of attention to the back areas and the regimental transport now established at Rouge Croix was heavily shelled on the 25th, and again on the 26th, with such severity that it was compelled to change position to Riez Bailleul.

During this period also the issue of gas masks to all ranks was completed.

On the 30th the Sirhind Brigade, which had been in divisional reserve during the battle, came forward and took over the line from the Ferozepore Brigade, the l/4th Londons handing over their trenches to the 1st Manchesters and withdrawing to billets at Riez Bailleul.

After the end of May no further attempt was made on the Indian Corps front to conduct operations on a large scale. The difficulties under which the Indian battalions were labouring in the supply of reinforcements to replace casualties were extreme. The Indian concentration camp at Marseilles was continually receiving reinforcements from India, but of these an increasing proportion was found to be unfit for despatch to the front, and as the summer wore on the native regiments of the Corps gradually ebbed in numbers until amalgamations began to be effected to maintain units at anything approaching war strength. In these circumstances offensive operations against so strongly defended a position as the Aubers Ridge were out of the question, especially having regard to the continued shortage in the supply of shells. At the same time the general situation did not permit of the Indian Corps being entirely withdrawn from the line for a prolonged rest and reorganisation. The story of the next three months is, therefore, one of unceasing hard work in and out of the line without any of those opportunities of distinction which are as necessary to the well-being of a battalion — and especially a native battalion — as a regular supply of rations.

This increasing numerical weakness of the native battalions threw a greater burden of work and responsibility on the British units, both Regular and Territorial, though even they experienced the greatest difficulty in obtaining the regular supplies from home of that fresh blood which was so earnestly desired. The l/4th London returned from Ypres in May at a strength well under 300 all ranks, and at no period during the remainder of its attachment to the Indian Corps did its strength approach even 450 ; in other words, for months on end, in sentry-go, working and carrying parties, and patrols, every man was doing two men's work ; and this with a very scanty proportion of rest behind the line. Out of 126 days from the end of May to the beginning of October the l/4th Londons spent 92 days in trenches, and of the remaining 34 in billets not one was spent beyond the reach of the enemy's guns.

With the exception of one tour of duty in the Min House Farm sector the l/4th Londons spent this summer on the right of the La Bassee Road either in the trenches in front of the Rue du Bois, which included the well-remembered positions of the Orchard Redoubt and Crescent Trench, or in reserve, usually in Lansdowne Post, a large redoubt on Forrester's Lane. The summer months saw very great improvements in the Rue du Bois trenches. The isolated listening posts, like grouse-butts, which had formed the advanced positions in March were now joined into a continuous line of breastwork, connected with the Rue du Bois by numerous communication trenches. Shelters for the trench garrisons were also constructed, but these gave protection against nothing more serious than rain — and not always that. In this water-logged area the sinking of a deep dug-out was an impossibility, and the shelters were in consequence mere " rabbit-hutches " built into the breastwork and covered with corrugated iron and a few sandbags, which imbued the occupants with an entirely unjustified sense of security. At the same time the wire entanglements in No Man's Land were constantly extended and strengthened. With all these defences steadily growing, the duties of the Battalion on working parties, both when occupying the line and when in reserve billets, were onerous and unceasing. Patrolling work by night was vigorously prosecuted as being practically the only available means of fostering the growtli of the " offensive spirit." Trench routine in 1915 was marked by a feature which in subsequent years almost entirely vanished — the constant employment of rifle fire. At this period the infantryman had not succumbed to the insensate craze for bombs which later ruined his powers as a rifleman ; and every night, in one part of the trenches or another, saw something in the nature of an organised shoot by the infantry, bursts of rapid fire being directed on the enemy's parapet. These practices were of great value, not only in keeping the men skilful with their rifles, but also in maintaining their moral superiority over the enemy which might otherwise have become seriously impaired through their knowledge of the inequality of our strength in artillery.

The enemy's activity during this summer was for the most part confined to artillery fire which at times attained serious proportions and inflicted severe loss ; indeed throughout the period under review the toll of casualties was steady and continuous.

Out of the trenches the l/4th Londons withdrew to reserve billets either at Pont du Hem, L'Epinette, or La Fosse, and while in reserve were invariably called upon for working parties in the forward area, so that the opportunities available for training and repairing the damage inevitably caused to parade discipline by long-continued trench life were almost entirely wanting. At this period, moreover, " back -of- the -line " organisation had not reached the high pitch attained in later years. Baths were an infrequent luxury, concert parties — of an organised type — unheard of, recreational training still without its proper recognition. Such infrequent rests as were granted to the troops were thus of comparatively small recuperative value.

But in spite of these numerous difficulties the Battalion was steadily increasing its military efficiency and its morale throughout the summer was high.

One of the most unpleasant tours of duty was at Min House Farm, already alluded to, a sector on the left of Neuve Chapelle, facing Mauquissart, which the Battalion took over for a week in July as a temporary measure during a readjustment of Brigade boundaries. The breastworks here were especially weak and very much overlooked from the Aubers Ridge. Wire was embryonic and communication trenches poor. Moreover, the area appeared to be the subject of particular hatred on the part of the Bosche, who shelled it frequently and heavily. Min House (or Moated Grange) Farm, where Headquarters were established, was perched on the crest of a little knoll which afforded the Headquarters staff a good view over the sector, but, probably for this very reason, the Hun objected to it. In fact before the tour of duty came to an end the farm was totally destroyed by shell fire and Battalion Headquarters had been forced to make a hasty exit to Ebenezer Farm, which, being outside the sector and unprovided with signal communications, was not ideal for the purpose of a Headquarters.

An extraordinary incident occurred during the last week of June, which seems worth recording. One night a patrol of the 129th Baluchis left the British lines to investigate the condition of the enemy's wire. On its return one man, Ayub Khan, was missing and all endeavours to recover his body were fruitless. The following evening Ayub turned up again, and being taken before his company commander related how he had entered the German trenches and passed himself off as a deserter. As is well known the Germans were always anxious to secure the defection of the native troops, and Ayub Khan's arrival was therefore hailed with enthusiasm. He was taken to the rear and examined carefully. Having kept his eyes open and seen all he could, Ayub Khan persuaded the Germans to let him return to our trenches in order to bring more of his friends over. In a weak moment the Germans agreed to let him go ; but instead of greeting Ayub and his party of fellow-deserters, they were faced a few days later with a notice board which was displayed on our parapet commenting on the incident in suitable terms. Not being a humourist, the Hun lost his temper, and it is at this point in the story that the l/4th Londons become concerned. The luckless notice board was displayed on Crescent Trench then occupied by D Company. At 8.30 a.m. on the 27th June the enemy opened on the board with 5.9 howitzers, and almost the first shell hit Capt. Cart de Lafontaine's Headquarters, causing him a severe attack of shell-shock and killing his subaltern 2/Lieut. F. F. Hunt. All the morning the " hate " was continued with great loss to D Company, and by midday the Crescent Trench was practically obliterated. Company Sergt. -Major Risley showed great coolness in controlling his men and withdrawing them as far as was practicable out of the zone of fire, and set an excellent example of steadiness under a most trying ordeal. He was subsequently awarded the D.C.M.

On the 16th June Major L. T. Burnett, who had been in temporary command of the l/4th Londons since the 26th April, was promoted Lieut. -Colonel and appointed to command. Major G. H. M. Vine assuming the duties of second in command.

At the beginning of September, however, the Battalion was exceedingly unfortunate in losing Major Vine, who was sent to hospital with eye trouble, and Lieut. -Col. Burnett being on leave at the time the command of the Battalion was assumed until his return by Lieut. -Col. Murray of the 89th Punjabis.

Early in August Capt. and Adjt. G. B. Scott also said farewell to the Battalion on taking up an extra-regimental employment, and the Adjutancy was given to Capt. W. G. Clark, D.S.O., and subsequently to Capt. E. Giles.

The following officers joined during August and September :

Lieuts. R. V. Gery, D. J. Leonard, C. Gaskin, 2/Lieuts. S. E. Lyons, H. B. A. Balls, H. Jones, C. C. Spurr, A. G. Sharp, R, Johnstone, W. J. Boutall, F. C. Fanhangel, S. B. H. Walmisley, A. S. Ford, G. L. Goodes and H. J. M. Williams.

In N.C.O.'s and men the Battalion was less fortunate, and up to the end of September 3 N.C.O.'s and 14 men, all veterans of Neuve Chapelle or Ypres, were the only reinforcements from home.

The casualties in officers for the same period were :

2/Lieut. F. F. Hunt, killed.
Capt. H. P. L. Cart de Lafontaine, wounded (shell shock).
Capts. H. W. Weathersbee and H. M. Lorden, and 2/Lieut. A. G. Sharp, to hospital.

Arrangements had now been completed for the launching of an offensive on the high ground south of La Bassee Canal in the direction of Loos and Hulluch. The opening day of the offensive had been fixed for the 25th September, and as the Indian Corps was not concerned with the main action it will be needless for us here to review the course of events south of the Canal.

North of the Canal, however, a subsidiary operation of some magnitude had been organised with the strategic object of increasing the pressure on the German defences north of La Bassee to such an extent that he would be compelled under the strain of our main offensive in the south to relinquish the La Bassee line altogether and retire to the east of the Aubers Ridge.

To this end an ambitious programme had been drawn up for the Indian Corps which temporarily included the newly arrived 19th Division. The preliminary attack was to be made by the Meerut Division under cover of a smoke and gas attack to the north of Neuve Chapelle, with the object of establishing a new line in the first instance along the road from the Ducks Bill to Mauquissart. The experience of previous actions having clearly shown that initial success had frequently been converted into subsequent failure by a delay in following up the first advance, it was arranged that the Jullundur and Ferozepore Brigades and the 19th Division should be prepared immediately to exploit whatever success should be gained by the Meerut Division by pushing forward at once to the line Moulin d'Eau — La Tourelle — east edge of Bois du Biez, while the Sirhind Brigade " leap-frogged " through them to Lorgies. It was hoped that considerable moral effect might be obtained by the use of poison gas against the Germans, and to magnify this as much as possible arrangements were made for the building up of smoke screens, one by the Meerut Division to cover the left flank of its attack and one by the Jullundur Brigade on the right of the attack ; for the projection of a heavy smoke cloud by the Ferozepore Brigade on the Rue du Bois and by the 19th Division (holding the extreme Southern Section, south of the Boar's Head salient) ; and for an attempt simultaneously to set fire to the Bois du Biez by means of incendiary bombs.

Systematic wire cutting on either side of the La Bassee Road was begun on the 21st September, and a feint attack was conducted by the Ferozepore Brigade late in the afternoon of the 22nd in conjunction with the divisional artillery. This feint attack took the form of a heavy bombardment of the enemy's front line by all available guns, starting at about 5 p.m. After five minutes the guns lifted on to the enemy's support line and the infantry in the line (Connaughts and 57th Rifles) by means of rifle fire, lifting dummies on to the parapet and flashing their bayonets, endeavoured to produce an impression among the Germans that an attack was imminent. In the midst of the confusion caused to the Germans by this demonstration our artillery once more shortened its range, firing shrapnel on the enemy's front line. It was believed that this feint attack had the desired effect : the fire of our guns was certainly accurate and well distributed, and elicited but little reply from the enemy. The hostile machine-gun fire, moreover, betrayed some perturbation inasmuch as it was extremely erratic, the bullets passing high over the Rue du Bois and doing no damage. The l/4th Londons were at this period in Lansdowne Post.

On the 23rd the weather changed, and the favourable dry season which had given such promise of success for our schemes gave way to heavy rains. The wind, too, veered round to the south-east so that it blew towards our lines instead of towards the enemy's. This was particularly disastrous as it would nullify the effect of the smoke screens and render the use of gas impossible. It was determined, however, to do all possible to carry the offensive through to success, and the Lahore Division was ordered to be completely ready to move forward by 6 a.m. on the 25th September.

Once more, however, the attempt to advance on this front was foiled. Possibly the feint attack on the 22nd had been somewhat too theatrical to impress the enemy and had merely indicated our intentions to him. Certain it was, however, that on the 25th he was holding his trenches in particular strength and there remained stolidly throughout the day in spite of our smoke screens and demonstrations, to which he replied with vigorous machine-gun and shell fire. The attempt of the Meerut Division to push forward proved abortive, and the Lahore Division was unable to get forward, there being not the least sign of weakening on the enemy's front opposite to them. There is no doubt that this failure was in part at least due to the treachery of the elements. The smoke screen was utterly ineffective ; gas could not be used at all.

The 26th saw the general situation unchanged and the enemy still sitting in his front line and showing not the least disposition to leave it.

On the evening of the 26th the l/4th Londons relieved the 57th Rifles in a line of reserve posts on the Rue du Bois in the vicinity of Chocolat Menier Corner (Dog, Cat, Pall Mall and " Z " Orchard Posts).

The weather had now definitely broken and heavy rains fell, reducing the trenches to veritable seas of mud. The Battalion continued to occupy the Keeps until the evening of the 30th, the duty having passed quietly with the exception of a small amount of enemy shell fire ; but a large proportion of the shells being " blind " no casualties were caused. On relief on the 30th the l/4th Londons once more withdrew to Lansdowne Post. On the 2nd October the Ferozepore Brigade was relieved by the 19th Division and moved out to billets in the La Gorsfue-Riez Bailleul area. Here it remained resting and training for a week, throughout which the weather remained vile in the extreme.

On the 11th October the Ferozepore Brigade once more took over the Neuve Chapelle sector from the Jullundur, the l/4th Londons occupying the right sub-sector with a detachment of the 89th Punjabis ^ in Hills Redoubt and Battalion Headquarters in Sandbag Alley. On the left of the l/4th Londons the Brigade sector was taken up as far as Chateau Road by the 57th Rifles while the Connaughts were on the extreme left as far as Sunken Road.

^ The 89th Punjabis reached France in June and replaced the 9th Bhopals in the Ferozepore Brigade.

Two days later the Ferozepore Brigade conducted a second feint attack in conjunction with other operations which it is not necessary to detail. On this occasion the feint was timed to take place shortly after midday, the morning being occupied by our guns in a systematic wire-cutting shoot, which was followed by a heavy bombardment of the enemy trenches during the projection of the smoke screen. Following the smoke screen, smoke barrages were formed on the flanks of the feint attack at 1.45 p.m., and simultaneously with them the infantry in the line operated with rifle fire and demonstrations similar to those employed on the former occasion to give the illusion of a pending attack. The wind again was unfavourable, this time blowing the smoke along No Man's Land between the lines instead of over the enemys' trenches ; and owing to the strength of the wind the smoke screen never became dense enough to conceal the bomb guns by which it was delivered. During the whole period of the operation our front and rear lines were subjected to a heavy fire from the enemy's artillery, which caused very great damage to our breastworks and wire, guns as heavy as 8-inch being employed with great intensity between 12.45 and 1.30 p.m. This bombardment caused large numbers of casualties in the l/4th Londons, it being impossible to clear, even temporarily, the bombarded trenches owing to the necessity of maintaining as intensely as possible the bursts of rifle fire in accordance with the scheme. It is a matter of grave doubt as to whether these demonstrations were worth the casualties they cost ; and it seems abundantly evident that no useful purpose can have been served by carrying through a prearranged scheme essentially dependent on the weather when the conditions on the appointed day were unfavourable. Perhaps the best comment on the undertaking is to be found in the orders for the operation, which included a warning to the effect that " dummies must not be raised too high so as to show the sticks, as they were before " !

After the disturbance caused by this operation the sector relaxed to a condition of remarkable calmness, which was maintained during the remainder of the tour of duty. This came to an end on the night of the 27th October when the Ferozepore Brigade was reheved for the last time in France by the Jullundur. The l/4th Londons were relieved by the 4th Suffolks and withdrew to billets on the Merville Road at Estaires, the remainder of the Brigade concentrating in the same area.

The casualties for the month of October included Lieuts. C. Gaskin and D. J. Leonard, both wounded, the latter accidentally. During this rest a reinforcement of about fifty N.C.O.'s and men joined the Battalion.

Rumour had been active for some time as to the possible transference of the Indian Corps to another theatre of operations, and on the 3lst notification was received that the Lahore Division would embark at Marseilles early in November, but that the Territorial units would not accompany it. The gradual withdrawal of the Division from the line had in fact begun, and when the l/4th Londons returned to the reserve trenches in Loretto Road on the 4th November it had said good-bye to its good friends of the Ferozepore Brigade and was temporarily attached to the Jullundur. The following day its attachment was transferred to the Sirhind Brigade, the Jullundur having also made its final withdrawal from the line.

On the 7th the Battalion relieved the 27th Punjabis (Sirhind) at Ludhiana Lodge, and provided detachments to hold Church and Hills Redoubts and Curzon Post, the front line being held by the 4th King's. The three Territorial battalions of the Division, the 4th Londons, 4th King's, and 4th Suffolks were all now unattached and were handed over to XI Corps, who were taking over the line from the Indians with the Guards and 46th Divisions, and a few days of constant change of positions ensued during the progress of the relief.

On the 8th the l/4th Londons withdrew to Loretto Road. This day the long connection of the Battalion with the Indian Corps, with which it had passed through pleasant and rough times alike on terms of the closest friendship, was finally severed. Lieut. -Col. Burnett, Capt. W. G. Clark, D.S.O., and a detachment of the Battalion marched to Croix Barbee to bid good-bye to the divisional commander, Major-Gen. Keary. In the course of an address to the detachment the General said that on the occasion of the departure of the Indian Corps from France and the consequent severance of the Battalion from the Division, he wished to express his thanks to the regiment for the good work they had done. Their loyalty and devotion to duty had been worthy of all praise, their bearing in action left nothing to be desired, and their discipline had been excellent throughout. On conclusion of this address the General handed Lieut. -Col. Burnett a written Order of the Day.

On the 10th the Battalion moved forward into Brigade reserve at Pont Logy, and this day was attached to the 137th Brigade of the 46th Division. The weather was still exceedingly wet, the trenches full of water, and the conditions in the line owing to the lack of dug-outs were unusually uncomfortable. On the evening of the 14th the Battalion finally left the Neuve Chapelle area, billeting at Croix Barbee for the night and continuing its journey the following day by motor-bus to Lillers, where it became attached to the 140th Brigade of the 47th (London) Division.

This concludes the first phase of the 4th London Regiment's service in France. The year 1915 all along the line had been one of equilibrium after the defensive battles of 1914.

We have said enough of the Battalion's life in the Indian Corps to indicate that the year 1915 was one of very hard work and continued strain on all ranks. Out of 255 days spent in the Lahore Division the Battalion was actually in trenches for 142 days, in reserve billets providing working parties for 76 days, and at rest only for 37 days ; and although it was worn out and weak when it withdrew to Lillers in November it was a thoroughly seasoned fighting battalion, every officer and man of which was an experienced soldier.