London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories
1/4TH Battalion during the Winter 1916/17
4TH Battalion, The London Regiment
(Royal Fusiliers) in the Great War
1914 - 1919
THE 1/4TH Battalion during the Winter 1916/17
On arrival at St Vaast-en-Chaussee the l/4tli Londons were reduced in strength
to about 275 all ranks, and although the morale of the troops was not impaired
by their recent experiences, the Battalion was seriously in need of rest,
reorganisation and reinforcement. A few days of light training, which occupied
the mornings only, with games in the afternoon, went far towards recreating the
troops physically ; but the reorganisation of the Battalion was necessarily a
more lengthy and difficult matter. No company had more than two officers, and
N.C.O.'s were very few. Lewis gun teams and bombers were newly detailed to their
respective duties and untrained, and the building up once more of the fine
fighting battalion which had entered the trenches at Hebuterne three and a half
months earlier, added to the proper assimilating of the reinforcements which
were expected from England, presented a task the completion of which was likely
to occupy the greater part of the winter months.
After Lieut. -Col. Wheatley had succumbed to sickness the command of the
Battalion devolved on Major H. J. T. Duncan-Teape, who was appointed acting
The few days' rest at St Vaast were enlivened by an entertainment given by the
Bow Bells, which had an excellent effect in cheering up the men.
On the 20th October the Division moved to the Hallen-court area, where it had
originally been formed, the Battalion arriving in billets at Citerne at about
5.30 p.m. after a march which, in the reduced physical condition of the troops,
proved to be exceedingly trying. Probably never has the Battalion been accorded
a kindlier welcome in billets than from the good people of Citerne, who, having
received it in February and sent it out to battle, took a quite proprietary
interest in the laurels which it brought back to them.
At St Vaast and Citerne the Battalion was joined by Capt. F. C. Grimwade, who
assumed the duties of second in command with the acting rank of Major, 2/Lieuts.
C. E. V. Richardson and P. Pyne. Capt. L. G. Rix also returned to the Battalion
from Brigade Transport Officer, and 2/Lieut. O. D. Garratt was appointed
A course of light training was continued for a few days at Citerne under weather
conditions which continued bright and frosty until the evening of the 24th
October, when the Battalion marched at 8 p.m. in a veritable deluge to Longpre
Station to entrain for a fresh area. The pitiless rain drenched all to the skin,
but the men's spirits remained completely undamped, for the rumour had gone
forth that the new area was far from the Somme, among the marshes of Flanders.
The move from Longpre was made by tactical train shortly after midnight, and
about midday on the 25th the Battalion detrained at Merville, whence it marched
straight to billets between Neuf Berquin and Estaires, being now attached to the
XI Corps (Haking) of the First Army (Home).
No prolonged rest was, however, in store, for although the Battalions of the
56th Division were momentarily not prepared for active operations, they were
perfectly capable of holding trenches. No surprise, therefore, was caused by the
receipt the day following arrival at Neuf Berquin of orders to relieve the 61st
Division in the Neuve Chapelle-Fauquissart area.
A preliminary reconnaissance of the trenches by officers of Battalion
Headquarters and company commanders took place on the 26th, and on the 27th the
l/4th Londons and London Scottish moved forward and took over reserve bilkts in
Laventie from the 2/7th and 2/8th Royal Warwickshires.
On the 28th October the 168th Brigade completed the relief of the 182nd Brigade,
the l/4th Londons and Scottish moving into the right and left subsections
respectively of the Fauquissart sector, there relieving the 2/6th and 2/5th
Royal Warwickshires, while the reserve billets in Laventie were taken over by
the Kensingtons and Rangers.
The new Divisional frontage covered some 7000 yards from the neighbourhood of
Richebourg I'Avoue on the right to a point opposite Rouges Bancs on the left,
all the Brigades being in line and each finding its own supports and local
reserves. The 168th Brigade held the extreme left of the Divisional front, the
169th being on its right, while the New Zealand Division was on its left. This
extreme deployment of a numerically weak Division was justified by the quiet
character of this area, and the fact that the German divisions opposed to it
were equally with ourselves somewhat exhausted by recent efforts in the Somme
battles and not anxious to venture on active operations. To such an extent
indeed had our continued pressure in the south drained the enemy's resources
that his lines opposite the 56th Division were but feebly held, and at the
moment not capable of being strongly reinforced ; and this area was therefore
eminently suited to the recuperation of a battle-worn Division and to the
training in active service conditions of the young troops from home who were
shortly to join it.
The Fauquissart breastworks were in every way similar to those in the Neuve
Chapelle area already described in connection with the Battalion's service in
the Indian Corps, though being opposite the village of Aubers, which is on the
highest part of the Ridge, were even more seriously subject to observation from
the enemy lines than the Richebourg breastworks.
The village of Fauquissart, at this period in a condition of total ruin,
consisted of a scattered collection of houses extending for about half a mile
along each side of the Rue Tilleloy, which ran parallel with the British front
breast-works and about 200 yards in rear of them. A thousand yards in rear of
the Rue Tilleloy, and parallel to it, was the Rue Bacquerot, these two roads
forming good lateral communication within the sector, though the former could
only be used under cover of darkness. The sector was also served by three
communication trenches starting from the Bacquerot, Elgin Street, Masselot
Street and the Strand, the last named during the winter months usually
consisting of a chain of unfordable lakes.
This sector was held by the Battalion with three companies in line and one in
reserve, the reserve company holding three keeps on the line of the Rue
Bacquerot, called Road Bend, Wangcrie and Masselot Posts. Battalion Headquarters
was accommodated in shelters near Temple Bar on the Rue Bacquerot.
The German lines opposite were heavily wired, and included two strongly marked
salients, the Devil's Jump and the Wick. But although the enemy had the
advantage in observation owing to his possession of the Ridge, his front
trenches were far from comfortable owing to the presence behind his lines of the
Riviere des Laies which, as the winter wore on, became more and more swollen,
finally bursting its banks and rendering his forward defences completely
Our wire entanglements were exceedingly poor, and immediate attention was
directed to the improvement of this important part of our defences ; the
parapets also were thin, firebays sadly in need of revetment, and the whole
sector seriously lacking in shelter for the men. No time was lost in evolving an
extensive works programme, wliich was promptly put into execution, the more
important work being carried out under Royal Engineer supervision. The urgency
of the Brigade works programme rendered the supply of large working parties
necessary, and it was therefore arranged that of the two battalions for the time
being in Laventie one would act as " Works Battalion " finding all working
parties, while the other would devote itself to training.
The most peculiar feature of this sector lay in the immunity from shell fire of
Laventie behind the British lines and of Aubers in the German territory. Each
village layabout 2000 yards in rear of the respective front trenches, and both
were used as reserve billets for the troops holding the line. By mutual and
tacit consent the artillery on each side refrained from bombarding the other's
billets ; any infringement of this unwritten law on one side being met with
immediate and severe retaliation by the other.
During the period therefore spent in the Laventie area, the BattaHon on coming
out of the Hne had the enjoyment of occupying tolerably wind- and water-tight
billets without molestation, although they were distant little more than a mile
from the enemy lines. A considerable number of civilians still clung to their
battered homes in Laventie, and it was strange to see French soldiers, whose
divisions were serving in Alsace or the Argonne, come to Laventie " on leave
from the front " !
The l/4th Londons now settled down to a regular routine of four days in the
right subsection breastworks followed by four days in billets in Laventie, tours
being later extended to six days, and as this routine continued until the middle
of December we need not follow it in detail.
The sector had been particularly quiet prior to the 56th Division's arrival, but
almost from the day of its taking over the line conditions began to change.
Possibly a certain undesirable aggressiveness on the part of the Londoners began
to annoy an enemy who, but for interference, was content to conduct a perfectly
peaceful war ; possibly the change was due to the recovery of both sides from
the fatigue and over-strain of the Somme. Whatever the reason, certain it is
that as the winter wore on the whole Neuve Chapelle-Fauquissart area began to
become much more lively than it had been. On our side the most vigorous system
of patrolling, of daily organised shoots by guns of all calibres, trench mortars
and machine-guns, and of an intensive course of sniping, quickly gave us the
ascendancy and caused the Germans a pardonable irritation under which they
showed themselves less and less disposed to take their punishment quietly.
In the line the Battalion was busily occupied with its share of the works
programme and in patrolling in which the infrequeney of encounters with the
enemy in No Man's Land gradually led to the belief that his front breastwork was
not occupied. This was probed further on the last evening of November when a
fighting patrol of twenty men under 2/Lieut. W. H. Webster (Intelligence
Officer) entered the enemy lines at the Wick Salient and found it untenanted, in
a shocking condition of flood and affording ample evidence that no attempt was
being made to repair the serious damage caused by our artillery fire.
During the third week in November the Battalion's frontage was extended to the
right, involving the occupation by the right company of an extra 400 yards of
breast-work and an additional supporting post, Erith, and by the reserve company
of a fourth keep on the Bacquerot line called Lonely Post. This new piece of
breastwork was usually subjected to a good deal of enemy trench mortar fire,
especially about the point at which Erith Street communication trench joined the
front line. This was an unpleasant spot. Erith Street sunk into a slight
depression so that all traffic using it was plainly visible to the Germans ; and
as it came to an abrupt end some fifteen yards sliort of the front line an
undesirable gap occurred which had to be traversed with more than ordinary
agility by those whose duty took them that way. A good deal of extra trench
repairing work was imposed on us in consequence of the enemy's attentions at
this point, and unfortunately some casualties occurred.
The enemy's activity was rather marked on the 26th November, during the morning
of which day over seventy 5*9-ineh shells fell near the Convent observation post
but without a direct hit being obtained. The Convent, together with two or three
other posts along the line of the Rue Tilleloy, used by the forward observation
officers of our supporting artillery, consisted of a substantial brick tower
some 25 feet in height, like an attenuated Martello Tower. These had been
erected behind the cover of the houses of Fauquissart before the village had
been destroyed. But the subsequent demolition of the houses had exposed the
towers, which consequently stood up naked and unashamed within 200 yards of our
front line, and their presence, possibly combined with his evident inability to
hit them, seemed to be a constant source of annoyance to the enemy.
All this tim.e the Battalion strength was steadily increasing with
reinforcements from home and with the return of many who had been wounded on the
Somme, till by Christmas it mustered some 700 all ranks. Officer reinforcements
followed on each other's heels with surprising rapidity, and the following
joined during November :
Captains V. S. Bowater and H. M. Loiden, Lieuts. H. Jones (appointed Brigade
Bombing Officer) and H. J. M. Williams, 2/Lieuts. E. G. Dew, L. W. Wreford, S.
P. Stotter, H. W. Spiers, R. W. Chamberlain and W. A. Froy ; 2/Lieuts. H. N.
Williams, L. W. N. Jones, H. D. Rees, Bradley (to 168th L.T.M. Battery) and A.
L, Harper (attached from 4th Royal Welsh Fusiliers) ; 2/Lieuts. F. H. Hutchins,
A. G. Davis and L. E. Ballance (attached from 11th Londons) ; Captain H.
Pentelow and Lieuts. T. Coleman (Works Officer) and H. D. Beeby (attached from
Hunts Cyclist Battalion).
Captain Pentelow was unluckily hit and sent to hospital two days after his
At the end of November the Rev. R. Palmer, M.C., left the Battalion to take up
the duties of Divisional Chaplain in the 24th Division, his place being taken a
few days later by Rev. S. F. Lcighton Green, who remained with the Battalion
until after the Armistice.
About this period a Divisional Musketry Camp was formed at Le Sart, near
Merville, and 2/Lieuts. Wreford and Pyne were appointed to it as instructors.
2/Lieut. E. G. Dew was also appointed Battalion Bombing Officer
On the 21st December a readjustment of the Battalion sector was effected, and in
the afternoon the sector as originally taken over from the 182nd Brigade was
handed over to the l/3rd Londons, and the Battalion marched to billets at Bout
After three days occupied in cleaning up and training, Christmas Day was
celebrated as a holiday, and, the billets being beyond the range of any but
heavy guns, with which the Germans were not well supplied on this front, the
rest of the Battalion was quite undisturbed. But every effort was made to render
the Germans' Christmas as uncomfortable as possible. At 6.30 p.m. on Christmas
Eve a continuous steady bombardment of his defences by all available batteries
up to 6-inch guns began, and lasted for forty-eight hours. This action was
evidently much resented by the enemy, and after Christmas the trench warfare in
this area was conducted with greater fierceness than it had been previously.
The Bow Bells were now established in the theatre at La Gorgue, and it was found
possible to provide a free visit for every man in the Battalion to its splendid
Christmas pantomime " Aladdin," which was most heartily-appreciated.
During the temporary absence of 2/Lieut. O. D. Garratt, the duties of
Intelligence Officer were taken by 2/Lieut. J. R. K. Paterson (Argyll and
Sutherland Highlanders, attached), who remained with the Battalion for about a
On New Year's Day 1917 the 168th Brigade received the 169th Brigade in Moated
Grange sector, the Rangers and Kensingtons occupying the trenches, with the
London Scottish in support, about Rouge Croix and Pont du Hem on the La Bassee
Road, while the l/4th Londons remained in Divisional reserve billets at Riez
A week here was spent in supplying working parties, of which the labour was
considerable owing to the long distance — about four miles — which had to be
covered each night in each direction by parties going up the line for work. The
weather, moreover, had taken a marked change, and a very severe frost had set in
which increased tenfold the labour of digging. Towards the end of the week snow
fell adding further to the fatigue of the long night marches.
On the evening of the 9th January 1917 the Battalion took over from the
Kensingtons the right subsection of the Moated Grange sector. This sector had
seen a good many changes both as regards defences and boundaries since the
Battalion's previous occupation of it in the summer of 1915, and the lines now
taken over extended from Sign Post Lane on the right for a frontage of some 1400
yards to a point opposite the village of Mauquissart which lay just within the
The sector was held with three companies in the front breastworks and supporting
posts and one in reserve on Cardiff Road. Battalion Headquarters occupied
shelters at Ebenezer Farm. These positions were far from ideal. The strength of
the Battalion was much scattered and difficult of control in emergency, owing to
the exceedingly bad communications within the area. The supporting platoons of
the front Hne companies, at Bristol House, Cornwall Siding and Pump House,
occupied the only remaining tenable portions of what had originally been the
German second line prior to the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, and were separated
from each other by about 100 yards of broken down and almost impassably wet
breastworks. For communication from front to rear only one trench, Tilleloy
South, was passable with any degree of safety in daylight. Between Pump House
and the front line, a distance of about 250 yards, it was seriously oyerlooked
from the German positions in the Bois du Biez, with the result that traffic up
and down it was frequently sniped with trench mortar and 5'9 shells.
Always an area of considerable activity, the Moated Grange possessed several
unpleasant features as a result of the active mining operations which had begun
in 1915, and were still proceeding with unabated energy. The Duck's Bill Farm
had given place to an enormous crater of the same name, linked with the British
lines by a defended sap which left the front line at Sunken Road. The defence of
this crater and sap took a platoon, whose arduous duties of continual listening
and constant preparedness for an enemy raid were carried out under exceedingly
rough conditions, as both the crater and the sap were full of water and shelters
were conspicuous by their absence.
On the front occupied by the left company the German lines were invisible from
the British breastworks owing to the lips thrown up round the Colvin craters, a
series of some thirty or more of immense size which covered half the area of No
Man's Land at this point. The largest of this series, the Mauquissart crater,
occupied the site of what had once been our front line, and the breastwork now
ran round its nearer lip. Tliis mined area was the most uncomfortable part of
the line, since the Germans were continually searching with trench mortar fire
for the heads of our mine shafts while the cover afforded to enemy patrols by
the crater lips themselves necessitated constant vigilance and
counter-patrolling activity on the part of our trench garrison. Add to this the
extreme hardship which the troops in this part of the hne inevitably had to
undergo owing to the total lack of dugouts and the perishing cold. The blowing
of so many craters had, moreover, cut off the ditches between fields which had
formerly been used for draining the trenches, with the result that there was no
means of getting rid of the water which in a large number of firebays rose
higher than the firestep. Under these conditions cooking in the neighbourhood of
the front line was out of the question, and all cooked food had to be carried by
permanent headquarter carrying parties from the Battalion cook-house near
Ebenezer Farm ; in the case of rations destined for the flank platoons this
meant a trudge for the food carriers of over a mile in each direction at each
The defences generally had suffered severely both from the enemy's shell fire
and the effects of the alternation of sharp frost and heavy rain, and an immense
amount of labour was called for in working and carrying parties for the
breastworks as well as for the wire entanglements, which were in a very weak
condition. The single communication trench, therefore, became frequently
congested with long lines of troops "humping" material and food to the front
line, and altogether the Moated Grange was a hard sector to run efficiently and
a remarkably unpleasant one to live in.
Two tours of six days each were spent in this sector, broken by six days — not
of rest, but of most exhausting working parties — in Riez Bailleul. The days in
line saw a good deal of shelling and the Battalion suffered some loss, but in
spite of this and of exposure to intense cold the men were probably more happy
in the line than in billets. Further heavy falls of snow had occurred. The
working parties supplied from Riez Bailleul were largely engaged in drawing
trench stores and material at a dump on the La Bassee Road between Pont du Hem
and Rouge Croix, itself nearly two miles from billets ; and thence pushing it up
to the front trenches on the tram-line dignified with the title of Great Eastern
Railway, a further distance of upwards of 3000 yards. From railhead this
material consisting of trench boards, rolls of barbed wire, revetting frames,
hurdles and other heavy stuff had to be distributed to companies in the line.
These fatigues were obviously exhausting, and seldom did a party leaving billets
at 5.30 p.m. return before midnight.
The most difficult task of all, however, which may not yet have quite faded from
the memories of many, was connected with an ingenious scheme for draining the
craters with heavy cast-iron water mains each about 16 feet long. With infinite
labour these were brought to tram railhead, but at this point the difficulty of
carrying pipes, each weighing some 200 pounds, along 500 yards of quagmire
proved too much even for the stout hearts of Cockneys ; and the high hopes which
the author of the scheme had entertained of draining the craters vanished as his
pipes sank in the mud. A change from this routine to the comparative peace of
trench mortaring in the line was not unwelcome.
An act of gallantry occurred during the first tour which must be recorded.
During one of the enemy's midday bombardments a time-fuzed medium trench mortar
shell fell on the parapet of our breastwork on the lip of Mauquis-sart crater,
and lodged in the revetting hurdle at the side of the trench. The firebay
happened to be crowded with men working on the defences, and heavy casualties
must inevitably have been caused but for the bravery of 2/Lieut. W. H. Webster,
who rushed forward and, seizing the shell, flung it over the parapet into the
crater, where it immediately exploded. For this gallant action 2/Lieut. Webster
was awarded the D.S.O.
The enemy's artillery and trench mortars showed a marked increase of activity
during the second occupation of Moated Grange, the craters, the Duck's Bill and
Pump House, coming in for most of the punishment. The 23rd January was perhaps
the most trying to the troops. During the morning " hate " a well-placed
minenwerfer completely cut off the left platoon in the craters, the only
approach to them being by way of an exposed and little used trench, Min Street,
which involved a detour of about 3200 yards from Headquarters. Shortly after
midday a second lucky German shell lighted on a dump of medium trench mortar
shells which were lying within a few yards of a shelter occupied by several men
of the right company. A terrific explosion took place and caused a large crater
which cut off the Battalion's right flank also, but, strange to say, without
inflicting so much as a scratch on any of the men in the vicinity. These
incidents are recounted merely as instances of the constant annoyance caused to
the troops in line by the enemy's harassing tactics, as every bit of damage
caused in this way involved extra work to the already over-burdened troops in
repairing it. On the last evening in the line, the 25th, an attempt was made by
a fighting patrol of the reserve company (C) under 2/Lieut. Ballance to obtain
an identification from the enemy. Wire-cutting shoots had taken place for two
days previously in preparation for this, and arrangements were made to support
the patrol with artillery fire as occasion should arise. The enemy were found,
however, to have made efficient counter-preparations, and the surprise effect of
the patrol having failed, the project had to be abandoned with the loss of 1 man
killed and 2 wounded.
During this tour the Battalion sustained 1 officer casualty, 2/Lieut. W.
On the 26th January the Battalion was relieved by the l/8th Middlesex at 10.5
p.m. and withdrew to rest billets at La Gorgue, the 168th Brigade having passed
into Divisional reserve with Brigade Headquarters at MervUle. The 168th Brigade
in rest in the Merville area settled down to such training as was possible, the
ground being covered with snow. One or two useful instructional schemes with
contact aeroplanes were carried out, but the weather conditions prevented
serious outdoor work, and the training hours were, for the most part, devoted to
repolishing the parade discipline of the Brigade. According to the usual custom
of the Battalion when opportunity offered itself, the drums beat Retreat daily
and the Regimental Quarter Guard and inlying picket mounted in the Grande Place
at La Gorgue.
Two further drafts of about 70 N.C.O.'s and men joined the Battalion in January.
It had been the intention that the 168th Brigade should pass fourteen days in
rest, but this idea had to be unexpectedly abandoned owing to a concentration of
troops near the frozen inundations of the Yser, where it was feared that a
sudden German advance over the ice might have somewhat disturbing effects on the
Allies' positions. This caused the services of the 168th Brigade to be
requisitioned once more, and on the 1st and 2nd February it relieved the 111th
Brigade of the 37th Division in the Neuve Chapelle sector, the Rangers and
Kensingtons occupying the line, while the Scottish moved as Works Battalion to
billets at Croix Barbee and the l/4th Londons as Training Battalion to Fosse.
On the 1st February 2/Lieut. C. E. V. Richardson was admitted to hospital.
After training at Fosse for six days the l/4th Londons took over from the
Kensingtons the right subsector of Neuve Chapelle sector on the 8th February.
The Battalion now found itself after a lapse of over a year once more in the
area in which it had passed so many months with the Ferozepore Brigade. The
sector taken over comprised the old Rue du Bois (right, centre and left)
sections, and extended from a point opposite the German Boar's Head Salient on
the right to some 250 yards north of the La Bassee Road on the left.
Considerable changes had now taken place in the method of holding the line ; old
well-known trenches had fallen into disuse and fresh ones had taken their
places. Those who looked for the Crescent, Orchard Redoubt, and other well
-remembered spots found them broken down and no longer occupied. The front line
breastwork was now occupied in isolated posts at intervals of about 150 yards,
each garrisoned by a platoon. Each post was protected on its flanks as well as
in front by wire entanglements, while the intervening firebays had been either
filled in or choked with barbed wire.
The communications within the sector were tolerably good, but the breastwork was
thin and in many places low, a natural result of leaving long portions of it
unoccupied for several months.
The main line of resistance was now in the reserve or " B " line which, on the
right of the sector, was represented by Guards Trench in front of the Rue du
Bois, and on the left by the old British front line (as it had been before the
Battle of March 1915) in Edgware Road. Battalion Headquarters in 1915 had
occupied dugouts on the Rue du Bois, but were now at Lansdowne Post, which
formerly had housed a whole battalion. The defence scheme provided for holding
the " B " line at all costs in the event of serious attack, so that the front
line became virtually a line of outposts. This method of holding the line in
great depth was not only far sounder than the former method of crowding the
whole strength into the front trench, but was also more economical, as the
sector which formerly had demanded a garrison of a whole brigade was held by one
The line was held with two companies in the front line posts and two in support
in the " B " line.
On the right of the La Bassee Road the German trenches were about 100 yards
distant, and it was soon found that the enemy snipers had been allowed to gain
the ascendancy over the British, a state of affairs which all battalions of the
Brigade promptly set to work to correct.
The first day's occupation of this sector passed without incident, but on the
evening of the 9th February, at about 7 p.m., the enemy opened a heavy trench
mortar and machine-gun bombardment on the front line from Pioneer to Pope Posts,
astride the La Bassee Road. The trench mortar fire was well directed, and the
breastwork on the right of Pope Post was badly breached. At about 7.30 p.m. this
preparatory shelling was followed by a heavy " box " barrage, and an enemy
raiding party entered our lines between Pioneer and Pope Posts. An S.O.S. signal
was sent up from the left company Headquarters, and our artillery responded
promptly with a heavy barrage on the German front line and communication
The raiders, about twelve in number, divided into two groups, of which one
attacked Pope Post and the other Pioneer Post. The attack on Pope Post was
driven off by the garrison, three of the raiding party being bayoneted by Sergt.
Gardiner, whereupon the others turned and fled, being followed back to the
German lines by the second group.
Capt. Rix, commanding B Company, accompanied by his Sergt. -Major (Shelton) and
his runner, gallantly endeavoured to pass through the barrage on Hun Street in
order to take control of affairs in the front line ; but all were unfortunately
hit by the same shell, Shelton and the runner being killed outright while Rix
died in hospital a few days later. The raiders were successful in capturing
2/Lieut. Webster, D.S.O., who was with the Lewis gun post at Pioneer Post ; he
is believed to have been mortally hit prior to his capture, and died in the
enemy's hands the following day. In addition to these regrettable casualties
about a dozen men were slightly wounded, the bulk of the loss on our side being
sustained by a carrying party from the Rangers who were caught by the German
barrage at Edgware Road tram railhead. 2/Lieut. Stotter (B Company) was also
slightly wounded. He remained at duty for some days, but was admitted to
hospital about ten days later. The reorganisation of the line was promptly taken
in hand by Capt. Stanbridge (A Company) in support, who temporarily reinforced
the front line with one of his platoons under 2/Lieut. Harper, and subsequently
took over B Company vice Rix. The raiding party belonged, as was found from the
three enemy dead left in our hands, to the 2nd Battalion, 13th Bavarian
Regiment. For his coolness and good work during the raid Sergt. Gardiner was
awarded the Military Medal.
The remainder of the night passed without incident, and the bright moonlight
during the later hours enabled our working parties to make considerable headway
in repairing the breaches in our breastwork.
On the morning of the following day an observed shoot — which caused very great
material damage — was carried out by our trench mortar batteries on the enemy
first and second lines. This shoot produced a certain amount of trench mortar
retaliation on Guards Trench, in the course of which an unlucky shell destroyed
a Stokes mortar section under 2/Lieut. Bradley, and the whole of its team,
causing a block in our line at Mole Post.
No further incident of importance occurred during the remainder of this tour,
though our lines were daily subjected to heavy bombardments by the enemy medium
trench mortars, especially in the neighbourhood of Pioneer Post, where very
considerable damage was caused to our breastworks and wire. On the evenings of
the 12th and 13th, however, when this activity of the enemy began to assume
somewhat serious proportions, they were effectively silenced by prearranged
retaliatory shoots by our supporting artillery on the German front and support
The following afternoon the Battalion handed over the right subsection to the
Kensingtons, and withdrew as Works Battalion to billets at Croix Barbee. Here
the Battalion supplied large working parties nightly, the principal tasks being
the raising and thickening of the weak portions of the breastwork and the wiring
of the new parts of the " B " line.
Throughout this winter the prosecution of the works programme placed a heavy
strain on all ranks and totally deprived the periods spent out of the line of
any semblance of rest. Even on the night of relief the working parties were
carried out, and many times during these months companies which had held front
line trenches for six days marched back to reserve billets and within an hour
were paraded again for a working party from which they were not dismissed till
after midnight. The necessity for this extreme pressure of work was doubtless
real, but the unceasing drudgery of it could not be conducive to good work while
the efficient recreation of the men by games out of the line received so little
However, on this occasion it was found possible to make progress with the
Brigade boxing competition, a good ring being available at the Brigade Lewis Gun
School at Croix Barbee, and in this competition the Battalion gained several
On the 20th February the Battalion returned to the trenches, taking over the
right subsection from the Kensingtons.
This tour of duty was marked by an all round increase of activity both in trench
mortar and artillery fire on both sides, the points which received the majority
of the shelling being the front line about the much battered Pope and Pioneer
Posts, Port Arthur and the " B " line in the neighbourhood of the Rue du Bois.
The enemy was also active by day with rifle grenades, and at night with
Owing to the particular discomfort of living in Pope and Pioneer Posts an
inter-company relief between the two left companies was effected on the 23rd
February, A Company withdrawing into supi3ort in favour of C Company, which took
over Port Arthur sector.
An attempt was made on the evening of the 26th by the 5th Division on the right
to raid in force the enemy's lines to the south of the Boar's Head Salient. The
enemy had exhibited numerous signs of nervousness, and it was not altogether
surprising to find him quite prepared for the attempt by the 5th Division. The
exact point against which the raiding party was directed, however, did not
coincide with his anticipations, for the bulk of his rather sharp
counter-barrage came down on the sector held by this Battalion. This barrage
lasted with intensity for twenty minutes, and, trench mortars being freely
employed, caused a good deal of further damage to our already weak breastworks,
but inflicted practically no loss of personnel.
The following morning the Kensingtons once more relieved the l/4th Londons,
taking over the right subsection and extending it to the left as far as the
outskirts of Neuve Chapelle village, the adjusted line being known as the left
subsection of Ferme du Bois sector.
On relief the Battalion occupied billets as training battalion at Fosse, C
Company being detached in hutments at Les Huit Maisons. Training was proceeded
with uninterruptedly though the weather remained intensely cold and further
falls of snow occurred. The opportunity was taken to hold a Battalion
cross-country run, which passed off as satisfactorily as the arctic conditions
permitted. The frost, which had lasted for several weeks, was indeed now
becoming a little serious as it was utterly impossible, owing to the hardness of
the soil, to carry out repairs to the trenches which were daily being more
knocked about by the enemy's fire. The appalling destruction which must later be
caused by the inevitable thaw filled the hearts of those who would form part of
the subsequent working parties with feelings of misgiving, mingled with
On the 5th March the Battalion relieved the Kensingtons in the left subsection
of Ferme du Bois, the order of battle in the front line being from the right, B,
D and A Companies, with C in support in the " B " line. The additional frontage
between La Bassee Road and Neuve Chapelle was also held in isolated posts.
As before the " B " line was the main line of resistance ; but the great length
of the " B " line sector — some 2300 yards — which had to be held in eight
separate posts,. with three additional posts at night, presented a difficult
problem in defence to one weak company of about 120 fighting ranks. The solution
of the problem was not, however, actually called for as the enemy remained
unusually quiet for the whole of this tour of duty, during which the snow fell
thicker every day. After an occupation of four uninteresting days the Battalion
was relieved in the left subsection on the afternoon of the 9th March by l/6th
Duke of Wellington's Regiment (49th Division). On relief it withdrew to billets
at Bout Deville, marching the following morning at 8 a.m. to Merville, where the
Brigade entrained for the Le Cauroy area. Detrainment took place at Doullens,
and the Battalion marched some six miles to billets at Le Souich, arriving
shortly before midnight.
The Battalion, which had left the Somme battlefields in an exhausted condition
in the previous October, had undergone a good schooling in the Flanders
breastworks. The strength had been increased to some 850 all ranks, and all new
drafts had become not only well assimilated but also well trained in a rather
trying trench warfare. The physical strain on the troops throughout the winter
had been exceptionally severe, owing to the terrible intensity of the winter
weather, and the very great amount of trench work for which the Battalion had
been called upon ; and of this side of the incidents of the winter sufficient
has already been said for it to be reaUsed without difficulty that, although the
Battalion still had a clean bill of health, the prospect of a rest before
embarking on active operations was welcomed by all.
The great retirement of the (Germans was now in progress, and as the l/4th
Battalion was not actively concerned in this we may turn for the moment to
follow the fortunes of the 2/4th Battalion, who had recently arrived in France
with the 58th Division and were now in action in the Arras sector.