London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories
4th Battalion in the 47th Division, 1915 - 1916
4TH Battalion, The London Regiment
(Royal Fusiliers) in the Great War
1914 - 1919
THE 1/4TH BATTALION IN THE 47TH DIVISION
The 47th (London) Division to which the l/4th Londons were now attached had just
withdrawn for a period of rest and reorganisation from the trenches around Loos
where they had seen a good deal of heavy fighting in the battle of the 25th
September. The Division had come out from England in March 1915 and had first
been engaged as the extreme right Division of the British Army at Festubcrt in
May. Although serious losses had been suffered in the attacks on Hill 70 in
September, the battalions of the Division had subsequently received strong
reinforcements from home, and the majority of them were far larger than the
l/4th Londons who, at the date of attachment to the Division, numbered only 24
officers and 435 other ranks.
The Division, which was under command of Major-Gen. C. St L. Barter, K.C.B.,
K.C.V.O., comprised the following Infantry Brigades :
140th Infantry Brigade — Brig.-Gen. G. Cuthbert, C.B.
l/4th Ijondon Regiment (Royal Fusiliers).
l/6th „ „ (Rifles).
l/8th „ ,, (Post Office Rifles).
l/15th ,, ,, (Civil Service Rifles).
141st Infantry Brigade
l/17th London Regiment (Poplar and Stepney Rifles).
l/18th ,, ,, (London Irish Rifles).
l/19th „ „ (St Pancras).
l/20th „ „ (Blackheath and Woolwich).
142nd Infantry Brigade
l/3rd London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers).
l/21st „ „ (First Surrey Rifles).
l/22nd „ ,, (The Queen's), Kennington.
l/23rd ,, ,, (East Surrey, Clapham Junction).
l/24th „ ,, (The Queen's), Bermondsey.
Pioneer Battalion : 4th Royal Welsh Fusiliers.
The Division was attached to the IV Corps (Rawlinson) of the First Army (Haig).
The first day after arrival at Lillers (16th November 1915) was devoted by the
Battalion to cleaning up uniforms and equipment which had, through the prolonged
duty in water-logged trenches, become caked with weeks of mud. The general
discipline of the 47th Division and of the 140th Brigade in particular was
exceedingly good ; and although the battle discipline of the Lahore Division had
been excellent, and the training and experience which the l/4th Londons had
gained while attached to it of the highest order, yet it cannot be gainsaid that
the parade discipline among the Indian Brigades had not been given that amount
of attention which the long years of war showed to be necessary, even in the
field, to ensure the best results in action. We have already indicated that this
weakness in the Indian Brigades arose through their continual deficiency in
numbers and the consequent long periods of trench duty which had been imposed on
The sudden change, therefore, from trench duty to a period of rest, in which
ceremonial mounting of guards and drill were prominent features, created a
totally new environment for the Battalion which was entirely beneficial.
The whole Battalion, from the Commanding Officer to the most recently arrived
draft, was determined to maintain the reputation of the Battalion ; and by dint
of hard work on and off parade the 4th Londons became rapidly second to none in
the Brigade in all the duties they were called upon to carry out — and they were
the more impelled to this effort by the realisation that they were the senior
Battalion of the Brigade, not only in precedence, but also in point of active
At Lillers the Brigade spent about a month, passed for the most part in very
cold and wet weather, in a thorough course of training, in which particular
attention was paid to drill and bombing. At this period the question of the
thorough organisation of bombing — or as they were then called " grenadier " —
sections with the proper quota of bayonet men, throwers and carriers was
attracting a great deal of thought, and the time devoted to this particular
branch of the art of war was subsequently found, as will be seen later, to have
been well spent.
Each Battalion mounted daily a quarter guard and an inlying piquet of one
officer, two sergeants, and thirty rank and file, and the ceremonial mounting of
these duties was carried cut with all possible pomp on the Grande Place at
In addition to this the peace-time system of " extra drills " as a minor
punishment was reinstituted — not perhaps an altogether pleasant recollection
for some — but in spite of the disadvantages such a system must always have in
the eyes of those for whose particular benefit it is devised, there can be no
question that this tightening of discipline had in the end a beneficial effect
on all ranks, the extent of which it is impossible to overestimate.
The training period was varied by inter-battalion sports and football matches in
which the l/4th Londons achieved some success, beating the 7th Battalion 3-1,
and the 6th Battalion 3-1. On the whole the month passed smoothly with very
little incident worthy of mention beyond a two-day divisional route march which
took place on the 1st and 2nd December.
On the 6th December the l/4th Londons suffered a loss in the death of Sergt.
Bench, who had very efficiently carried out the duties of Transport Sergeant
since the Battalion's arrival in France, his death being the result of injuries
caused by a fall from his horse.
During the training at Lillers a most gallant action was performed by Lieut. H.
Jones. While practising throwing with live bombs one of the men dropped a bomb
with the fuse burning. At great risk Lieut. Jones picked up the bomb and threw
it out of the trench, where it at once exploded. His bravery undoubtedly saved
In January, the Battalion was joined by Lieut. V. C. Donaldson.
The front of attack in the Battle of Loos had extended from the La Bassee Canal
on the left, where our lines were faced by the village of Auchy, to the village
of Loos on the extreme right. In this attack the first objective was the line of
the Lens-Hulluch-La Bassee Road, the frontage being divided more or less equally
by the Vermelles-Hulluch Road, which ran directly out from our trenches towards
North of this dividing line were three very serious obstacles, namely, Auchy
itself defended by impassable wire entanglements ; a work of large area and
enormous strength known as the Hohenzollern Redoubt ; and a group of Quarries
close to the Lens-Hulluch Road.
The 9th and 7th Divisions had met with great initial success on the 25th
September 1915, the former over-running the Hohenzollern Redoubt and gaining a
position beyond it on a large slag-heap known as Fosse 8, while elements of the
7th Division sweeping the enemy's defence of the Quarries before them had gained
the outskirts of Cite St Elie and Hulluch beyond the Lens-Hulluch Road. The
unfortunate check to the advance of the 2nd Division at Auchy, however, had
exposed the left flank of the 9th Division, who were afterwards ejected from
Fosse 8, while the 7th on their right had been unable to retain their advanced
positions across the main road.
Desperate fighting ensued for the possession of these strongholds until the
conclusion of the battle about 13th October. At that date the Germans retained
possession of the whole of the Quarries and the greater part of the Hohenzollern
Redoubt. Between the two the British had driven a wedge so that the part of the
Hohenzollern which remained in the enemy's hands formed an abrupt salient, of
which the west face was formed by a trench irreverently named by the British
"Little Willie," and the south face by its obvious companion " Big Willie."
Connecting the eastern extremity of Big Willie with the north-west corner of the
Quarries the Germans remained in possession of Potsdam Trench, while the
Quarries themselves formed another but smaller salient in the enemy's lines,
well flanked on the south-east side by our positions, which caused a second
abrupt turn to the east in the enemy lines.
The whole area between these confused positions was a vast maze of earthworks,
for they were in the midst of what had, prior to the battle, been a strong
German third system of defence and No Man's Land was traversed by innumerable
short communication trenches and saps, held by the opposing garrisons by means
of barricades, for the possession of which an unceasing and murderous struggle
with bombs and trench mortars was still proceeding. In addition to these deadly
conflicts a still more subtle warfare was being waged underground, where our
Tunnelling Companies were fighting a battle of wits with the Germans by mining
and counter-mining, and the blowing of mines followed by fierce local infantry
fights for possession of the craters thus formed were of frequent recurrence.
A reference to a large map will render clear the extreme importance to the enemy
of the possession of these two positions. Situate as they were, one on each of
the two lowest spurs of the Vermelles-Hulluch Ridge, their capture by the
British would have involved a very serious threat to the German defences on the
line Auchy-Haisnes, and might easily have been a prelude to the outflanking of
La Bass6e itself. The enemy was obviously alive to these possibilities, and the
daily intelligence reports gleaned from our patrols and observers made it
abundantly clear that he was strengthening his trenches and wire, and was
burrowing strenuously in opposition to our mining operations.
This severely contested part of the front was taken over by the 47th Division
from the 9th between the 13th and the 15th December, C Section opposite the
Quarries and D Section opposite the Hohenzollern Redoubt being occupied by the
141st and 142nd Brigades, the 140th Brigade remaining in reserve.
For some time after the return to the line the l/4th Londons did not enter the
trenches as a battalion, but on account of its small numbers was retained in
reserve, where it performed a great deal of heavy labour in working and carrying
parties for the rest of the Brigade.
On the 15th the l/4th Londons moved from Lillers at 8.30 a.m., entraining for
Nceux-les-Mines, whence it marched to billets at Labourse, training being
continued while the Brigade remained in reserve.
This move was followed by a further approach to the line which took place on the
19th December, when the 140th Brigade relieved the 141st in C 1 and C 2
Sections, opposite the Quarries, the 6th and 15th Battalions occupying the front
trenches with the Tth Battalion in support at Le Philosophe and the 4th and 8th
Battalions in Brigade reserve at Noyelles-les-Vermelles.
Here the l/4th Londons' duties in carrying and trench working parties in the
forward areas were severe as the reserve billets were some three miles from the
front line trenches.
The most active part of the Brigade's new front was C 2, the subsection now
garrisoned by the 15th Londons, where on the left of the Quarries the continuous
struggle already referred to in sapping, bombing and mining was proceeding with
particular violence. The centre of this fighting was a work held by the British,
known as the Hairpin, and two saps, Essex Trench and Shipka Pass, which pushed
forward from the Hairpin towards the German lines. Essex Trench in particular
was the scene of much hard fighting, for the Germans were in occupation of the
further end of it and were separated from our garrison by a double barricade.
This trench and Shipka Pass were coveted by the Germans, as it was through them
that they hoped to obtain a lodgment in the Hairpin, the possession of which
would secure the right flank of their salient at the Quarries and render their
precarious tenure of that feature much more secure. With this object they had on
the night of the 17th launched a determined bombing attack along Essex Trench
and Shipka Pass, the enemy bombers being well supported by trench mortar and
rifle grenade fire. Our garrisons, how^ever, were ready, and none of the enemy
reached our barricades, and their attack was finally dispersed by our artillery.
This attempt was renewed in the early hours of the 20th, when so vigorous an
attack was delivered that the 15th London bombers in Essex Trench were forced
back from their barricade for some 20 yards, and were unable for the moment to
organise a counter-attack as the Germans had constructed " arrow head " trenches
flanking his sap, so that he was able to bring fire to bear on our garrison from
three points simultaneously.
After a personal reconnaissance the Brigadier decided on making the same evening
a bid for the recovery of the lost trench. The 15th London bombers having
already suffered considerable loss, they were reinforced during the day by the
Battalion bombers of the l/4th Londons, who moved up to the Hairpin. The day
passed quietly but for some accurate shelling of our positions to the right of
the Quarries, which was stopped by our heavy guns. At 9.45 p.m. our attack was
delivered by three parties of bombers simultaneously — one in Essex Trench, one
in a neighbouring sap, and one moving over the open, flanking support being
given by machine-guns posted in Shipka Pass and west of the Quarries.
The first attack failed, the Essex Trench party on reaching our old barricade
coming once more under a shower of bombs from three directions, while the sap
party found progress impossible owing to the water-logged condition of the sap,
and the party in the open were brought to a standstill by machine-gun fire.
Second and third attempts proved equally unsuccessful, and after the 23rd
December attacks were discontinued though the enemy portion of Essex Trench was
kept under constant trench mortar fire.
Through all these days the l/4th London bombers remained in line, taking an
active part in the unceasing battle of bombs which was pursued between the
barricades, practically without intermission, and unhappily a large number of
casualties was caused.
On the 22nd December a special Order of the Day was received in which Sir John
French said farewell to the troops on the occasion of his relinquishment of the
Commander-in-Chief ; and on the same day Sir Henry Rawlinson handed over command
of the IV Corps to General Wilson.
Orders were received on the 23rd that in consequence of certain signs of
activity on the enemy's part, the line would be held in greater strength for the
ensuing forty-eight hours, and in accordance with the prearranged defence scheme
the l/4th Londons occupied the old British front line in front of Vermelles
early on the morning of the 24th. At 8 a.m. a mine near the Hohenzollern Redoubt
was blown by the British, the crater being successfully occupied by troops of
the 141st Brigade. The Artillery activity caused by this operation dying down
shortly afterwards, the l/4th Londons and other units in reserve returned to
their billets later in the day.
During this tour of duty the Brigade Light Trench Mortar Battery, which was in
line in the Hairpin sector, was joined by 2/Lieut. Goodes. The Battery did
exceedingly good work during the fighting in the Hairpin. When the l/4th Londons
left the 47th Division Goodes remained with 47/1 L.T.M. Battery, and was killed
at High Wood in September 1916, having been decorated, for his consistently
gallant service, with the Military Cross and Bar.
Christmas Day passed in the line without particular incident beyond the daily "
hates " of shells and bombs, and this year, in consequence of special orders, no
attempt was permitted to indulge in the remarkable fraternisation with the enemy
which had occurred during the first Christmas of the war.
On the 26th the relief of the 140th Brigade by the 142nd in C Section commenced,
and the following day the l/4th Londons withdrew to new billets at Sailly
In Divisional reserve the Brigade devoted a few days to the usual routine of
baths, cleaning, refitting and training, and on the last day of the year once
more entered the trenches, but on this occasion in D Section, the left sector of
the Divisional front, which it took over from the 141st Brigade, the 6th and
15th Battalions once more occupying the front system, the 8th Battalion in
support to them, while the 7th who joined the 4th at Sailly Labourse were with
the 4th in Brigade reserve. The new sector included the trenches opposed to the
Hohenzollern Redoubt, and extended to the left to the vicinity of the
Vermelles-Auchy railway. During the Brigade's short tenure of the sector the
usual shelling and trench mortar activity continued but without incident of any
particular interest. The l/4th Londons continued in the wearisome and
unpicturesque task of supplying working parties.
During the 2nd, 3rd and 4th of January 1916, the relief of the 47th Division by
the Dismounted Division took place, the 140th being relieved on the morning of
the 3rd by the 1st Dismounted Brigade, withdrawing on relief to a group of
villages some seven miles behind the line in the Bethune area, the l/4th Londons
billeting at Drouvin, and the remainder of the Brigade being distributed between
Verquin and Mouchin.
This relief was merely the first stage of a " side-step " which the Division was
making towards the south, and on the following day the Brigade moved via
Noeux-les-Mines to Les Brebis and made arrangements for the taking over of a
sector of the line south of Loos from the French.
The l/4th Londons' service in the Hulluch area had been arduous owing to the
long marches imposed on the working parties in addition to their tasks, but it
had fortunately, except among the bombers, not been a costly one, and its
strength had not very much decreased since the date of its joining the Division.
During December a few officer reinforcements were received as follows :
2/Lieuts. H. G. Beal, C. W. Cragg, J. Elliott and E. W. Monk, and during January
the Battalion was joined by 2/Lieut. C. F, P. de Pury (to D Company).
During December also the Quartermaster (Lieut. E. S. Tomsett) went on leave
during which he fell sick, not returning to the Battalion until the 15th March
1916. In his absence his duties were carried out by 2/Lieut. S. E. H. Walmisley.
In the New Year's Honours List the names of Lieut. - Col. L. T. Burnett, Capt.
W. G. Clark, D.S.O., and Capt.
J. R. Pyper
were mentioned in despatches and a
few weeks later the award of the Military Cross to Captain
The new sector taken over by the 47th Division involved relief of the 18th
French Division, and a consequent extension southwards of the British lines.
This sector roughly comprised the lines in front of the villages of Maroc and
Loos, and had first been taken over from the French in June 1915. The 47th
Division had fought in this part of the line in the battle of Loos, and carried
the British positions forward through Loos village up to the famous Double
Crassier, and on to the lower slopes of Hill 70. Subsequently the French had
once more taken the position over from them. This sector was divided into two
subsectors known respectively as Maroc and Loos, the Maroc subsector on the
right including some 1000 yards of trench extending from the vicinity of the
Grenay-Lens railway to the extreme southern limit of the British advance in
September 1915 and also about 1700 yards of the new positions then gained ;
while the Loos sector comprised entirely new positions gained in September and
extended for some 1700 yards to the left completely covering Loos village and
the well-known " Tower Bridge."
On the night of the 5/6 January the 140th Brigade entered the Maroc sector, the
141st occupying the Loos sector with the 142nd in Divisional reserve. The
difficulties of the relief were somewhat increased owing to the fact of taking
over French troops, and the difference of language was the inevitable cause of
some delay, but finally, however, matters were successfully adjusted and the
140th Brigade was left in possession with the l/4th Londons occupying the right
subsection, on a frontage of some 800 yards opposite the " Fosse 16 de Lens " ;
the 7th Londons in the right-centre subsection, the 15th Londons in the
left-centre subsection, which included the Double Crassier, and the 6th Londons
on the left. The 8th Battalion were in reserve with two companies in South
Maroc, and two in the old British front line just in rear of the Double
Crassier, which was the danger point of the Brigade sector, not only on account
of the observation of our lines which it afforded the enemy but also because it
lay at the apex of an abrupt re-entrant in the British front line.
In this sector the l/4th Londons found their own supports which were billeted in
cellars in South Maroc, a mining village built on the unattractive " square "
plan of American cities, and consisting of innumerable rows of artisans'
dwellings, then unhappily in a state of complete ruin. The cellars of these
dwellings, however, still afforded sufficient cover for the concentration
unobserved by the Germans of a considerable body of troops, and the Germans were
evidently somewhat disturbed at the prospect of this for their artillery, both
light and heavy, paid continual attention to the village both day and night.
This sector having once more come into occupation by British troops an enormous
amount of work was immediately necessary to complete the front line and company
supplies of small arms ammunition, bombs, rifle grenades and trench stores of
all sorts ; and this support and reserve companies were kept busily engaged in
this work throughout the tour of duty.
In this sector also the steel shrapnel helmet first made its appearance, so far
as the l/4th Londons were concerned. It is amusing to look back on the distrust
with which its advent was first regarded by all ranks alike — although
afterwards, when once its efficiency and protective qualities had been tested,
it was as highly prized as it had been previously sliunned. The first issue was
made at the rate of one helmet per fire bay, the honour of wearing it falling to
the man on sentry duty for the time being, and most remarkably disinclined the
men were to assume this undesired badge of office.
On the 9th the 140th Brigade was relieved in the line by the 142nd, moving on
the 13th into the Loos sector, where it took over the trenches of the 141st
Brigade. The l/4th Londons did not take part in this relief but remained in the
right subsection, temporarily under the orders of the 142nd Brigade, with the
22nd Londons on their left. Here the Battalion remained until the 16th, when it
was relieved by the 17th Battalion, rejoining the 140th Brigade in rest billets
On the 19th January Lieut. -Col. L. T. Burnett left the Battalion on short
leave, and as it unfortunately proved, permanently, for he fell seriously ill
while on leave and was unable to return to duty for nearly a year. The command
was assumed during his absence by Major W. G. Clark, D.S.O., while Major S.
Elliott became temporarily second in command. The loss of Lieut. -Col. Burnett
was keenly felt. His nine months' command had been marked by a striking advance
in the Battalion's efficiency and by the unswerving loyalty of all ranks under
his command. Later he joined the Reserve Battalion in England, being
subsequently transferred to employment in the War Office.
At Haillicourt the Battalion spent a few days in rest and training and returned
to the trenches on the 24th January, occupying the same subsector as on the
previous occasion with the 7th Londons once more on its left.
This tour of duty was marked by particularly heavy artillery activity on both
sides, the Germans shelling our trenches and Maroc daily with great accuracy and
using a good deal of gas shell. A certain number of casualties inevitably
occurred, but, having regard to the continued intensity of the bombardment, the
number was remarkably small.
On the 27th January the Kaiser's birthday was celebrated, and it was somewhat
confidently anticipated that, as in 1915, the Germans would endeavour to score
some success against the British. It had been known for some time that enemy
mining operations in this area had been proceeding apace, and it therefore
appeared not improbable that the Germans would endeavour to time the firing of
their mines for the 27th. Preparations to meet this possibility were made. The
Kaiser's birthday did indeed prove to be a day of considerable activity, and
though the Germans delivered an abortive attack against the 15th Division on the
left no infantry movement occurred opposite the 140th Brigade ; and their
activity was confined to shell fire, which assumed serious proportions on the
27th and again on the 28th. Our artillery, however, was ready with heavy
retaliatory fire and by the evening of the 30th conditions in the Maroc sector
had reverted to something approaching quietness.
During this period the newly arrived 16th (Irish) Division of the New Army was
attached to the 47th Division for instruction in trench warfare, the l/4th
Londons taking over the supervision of the 8th Munsters, among whom
unfortunately several casualties were caused by hostile shell fire on the 30th.
The 31st January was marked principally by heavy British artillery fire, which
elicited but little response from the enemy and inflicted considerable damage on
his wire and defences generally.
The following day the 140th Brigade handed over its trenches to the 142nd, the
l/4th Londons being relieved by the 21st Londons and proceeding to rest billets
This tour of duty really brought to a conclusion the Battalion's service with
the 47th Division, for though it did not part from the Brigade until the 9th
February, the intervening days were spent in training, route-marching and
On the 8th Brig.-Gen. Cuthbert — then in temporary command of the Division—
inspected the l/4th Londons prior to their departure, and addressed the troops ;
and the following day the Battalion marched to Bethune, entraining for Pont Re
my (near Abbeville), and marched via Hallencourt to Citerne, where it went into
billets attached to the 168th Brigade of the newly formed 56th (London)
Division, an attachment which remained unbroken to the end of the War.