London 1918, the Armistice and Regimental histories

4th Battalion, The London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) - German Retreat and the Battle of Arras

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


The Battle of the Somme, which had formed a more critical episode for the Germans than was at the time appreciated, had obviously gravely weakened them, and Sir Douglas Haig felt that it was desirable to allow them no respite during the winter. There was consequently little rest either in the Somme area or beyond it. The mere routine of trench occupation at this period involved much more than mere alertness. The movements and disposition of troops were carefully watched by means of repeated raids. One of these may be mentioned for a singular coolness that marked its execution.

The 26th Battalion were in the line towards the north of the Wytschaete Ridge. On December 15th, 1916, Lieutenant C. R. W. Jenkins took a patrol to the German front line trench in order to secure identifications. Leaving a corporal on the parapet, he went into the trench alone, and, meeting two German sentries, promptly shot one ; but the other ran back and gave the alarm. Jenkins, seeing how things were shaping, jumped out of the trench, but, after waiting a few minutes, returned and took the desired identifications from the body of the sentry he had shot. For this act of coolness and courage he was awarded the M.C. But the night was not yet over. About 11.30 a party of Germans raided the battalion's front line, and a number of men who were out attending to the wire were caught in the barrage. The Germans got into the front line, and there Private H. Jones, though isolated, continued to handle his machine gun to such effect that the raiding party were beaten off. He was awarded the D.C.M., and Lieutenant M. B. Maude won the M.C. for his persistent courage in helping to bring back the men who had been caught in the German barrage. The mud dragged his boots off, and his feet were badly torn by the wire, but he continued to help until the work was done.

There were many similar incidents on other parts of the front. Just north of Loos a more elaborate raid was carried out in broad daylight on January 26th by the 12th Battalion, in conjunction with the 8th Buffs. Of the Fusiliers 4 officers and 100 other ranks were engaged. The German front and support lines were reached, machine gun emplacements were destroyed, dug-outs were bombed, many Germans were killed and 16 were taken prisoner. The German barrage on No Man's Land and the Fusiliers' front and communicating trenches was accurately placed- All the officers were wounded. Lieutenant Murless died on February 8th, and Second Lieutenant A. E. Hughes was severely hurt. There were 24 other ranks casualties. The British communique of February 1st included * the 12th Battalion among those who had specially distinguished themselves during January ; and they were also warmly congratulated by the Army Commander.

* Only eighteen battalions were thus mentioned.

Many, too, were the deaths which had no obvious savour of heroism about them. Such was the death of Captain R. L. Roscoe, M.C, who was mortally wounded on February 3rd during his sleep in the company head-quarter's post (Courcelette Sector). He was only nineteen years of age and one of the 22nd Battalion's most efficient officers. Two days later the 22nd Battalion carried out with the Berks a successful bombing raid. The men wore white overalls, and guns and hats were whitened. The ground was covered with snow, and the raiders brought back 57 Germans at a very light cost.

A more important series of incidents from the point of view of the German retreat was that which began with a raid by A Company of the nth Battalion on the night of February 10th. Second Lieutenants B. G. Sampson and B. P. Webster led the platoons in an attack on a German strong point between Miraumont Road and Sixteen Road. The position was captured, but the Germans concentrated a very heavy machine gun and grenade fire on the garrison. Both officers and the N.C.O.'s became casualties, and the Germans recovered the position in a violent counter-attack. The few remaining men were compelled to retire. The battalion was relieved, but after a few days out of the line moved up once more for the first concerted action of the year 1917. The object of this attack was to carry our line forward along the spur which runs northward from the main Morval-Thiepval Ridge about Courcelette, and so gain possession of the high ground on its northern extremity. This would give us the command of the approaches to Pys and Miraumont from the south, and observation over the upper valley of the Ancre and its concealed batteries. While immediately regarding Pys and Miraumont, the operations were also designed to weaken the defences of Serre, which these batteries supported.

Boom Ravine. — The three divisions engaged all contained battalions of Royal Fusiliers ; but the 7th Battalion, in the 63rd Division, was not called upon. On the right of the 63rd Division, and south of the Ancre, lay the 18th Division, with the 2nd Division on its right. The nth Battalion (18th Division) was the left assaulting battalion of the 54th Brigade, and their role was to advance from in front of Desire Trench to South Miraumont Trench, crossing Grandcourt Trench and the deep sunken road called Boom Ravine — a name which the Fusiliers and the brigade always associate with the action. A thaw had just set in. The night was dark and misty. In fine, all the conditions were against the attack ; but the wire was cut, and forming-up lines taped in the forming-up place, the Gully, during the night. The assembling place was very crowded at 4.45 a.m. on February 17th, and, unfortunately, the Germans had discovered the plan in detail. A heavy barrage was opened upon the Gully just before zero and the Fusiliers suffered very heavily. It was raining, pitch dark, the Gully was slippery with mud and packed with troops. Such an ordeal, gallantly overcome, speaks volumes for the spirit and discipline of the troops ; for the Fusiliers leapt forward at zero as though no hour of horror had preceded it.

At zero only Captain Morton and Captain Colles Sandes, of the officers of A and B Companies respectively remained un wounded. At 5.45 came the barrage and the men followed closely ; but little progress had been made before these two officers joined the others, Captain Morton with a serious foot wound and Captain Colles Sandes with a wound in the neck. The two leading companies were now without officers ; and the men continued their advance over the shell-pitted slippery front in the darkness and rain. Some delay occurred at Grandcourt Trench, where the wire was not sufficiently cut, though it was less uncut than in front of the battalion on the Fusiliers' right. The men pressed ahead and reached the 40-feet deep cleft called Boom Ravine. There was now not an officer in the four companies who had not become a casualty. The battalion was held together by the sergeants. C.S.M. Fitterer (B), although wounded in the thigh, reorganised the companies and directed the advance ; and Sergeants Choate, Berry and Hazell, of A, C and D Companies respectively, ably assisted him.

It was hardly light till 6.5 a.m., but by 6.30 Fitterer had got the Fusiliers to resume their advance from the Ravine, where they had taken over 100 prisoners. The Middlesex were left in the Ravine to mop up. But already there had been a serious delay and the barrage had got too far ahead. As a consequence, the Germans were ready in South Miraumont Trench ; and the weak force, facing uncut wire in a heavily manned trench, could only take refuge in the muddy shell-holes. At about 8.30 a.m. a German counter-attack compelled the men to retire, and it was while steadying the withdrawal that Lieut. -Colonel R. J. F. Meyricke, who had only left the nth Battalion a fortnight before to command the Northants, was killed. For some time Second Lieutenant G. S. Pearcy, the signalling officer of the battalion, rallied the Fusiliers during this part of the battle until Lieut. -Colonel C. C. Carr, D.S.O., and Captain Cumberledge, D.S.O., the Adjutant, took control and the line was halted. The remains of the assaulting battalions, with two companies of the Middlesex, went forward once more in the afternoon and recovered some of the lost ground. This battle was one of the most tragic episodes in the battalion's history. Of the officers 2 were killed, 1 died of wounds, and 11 were wounded ; of other ranks 36 were killed, 162 wounded and 69 missing. But, on the whole, it was not an exorbitant price to pay for an advance which carried the troops so near the defences of Petit Miraumont.

The 22nd and 23rd Battalions (99th Brigade, 2nd Division) were also engaged on the same day. The 22nd assembled in battle position between East and West Miraumount roads and began the assault with A and B Companies, D forming a defensive flank from the old British line to the final objective. In so doing, the company advanced along the east side of East Miraumont road and came under a heavy fire from machine guns on the right. For a moment it looked as though the attack would fail utterly because of this check ; but Sergeant Palmer cut his way through a stretch of wire under a heavy and sustained machine-gun fire, and rushed the trench running up to the north-east, on the company's right. He established a block at a point where the trench turned eastward and thus covered the right flank of his battalion's advance. With a handful of men he held the position for three hours, during which the Germans delivered seven heavy attacks. When the supply of bombs gave out he went back to headquarters for more, and while he was away the post he had won and so skilfully defended was driven in. He was badly shaken by a bomb explosion ; but he collected a few men, drove back the Germans and restored the essential flank-guard. He was granted a well-deserved V.C. for this act of courage and skill.

Meanwhile A and C Companies found the wire uncut in front of them. One platoon west of West Miraumont Road was surrounded and captured. But the troops had reached the road south of South Miraumont Trench when an outflanking movement from the right caused them to fall back to the first objective, which was consolidated with elements of the 1st King's Royal Rifles and the 23rd Royal Fusiliers. This engagement was marked by numerous acts of gallantry. The Lewis gun section, who bore the brunt of the German counter-attack from South Miraumont Trench and brought back eight of its fourteen guns, though three-quarters of the team had been killed or wounded, deserves mention ; and the fine work of D Company had its influence on the action to the end. Well posted in an advanced position, it prevented the Germans debauching on East Miraumont Road. But the battalion lost very heavily. At noon only three officers remained. Major Walsh, who had joined the battalion in February, 1915, and had had command of a company since March, 1916, was mortally wounded. A natural leader of men, he was a great loss to the battalion. The 23rd Battalion, who co-operated on the right and carried their objectives, were also severely hit, losing 13 officers and 227 other ranks. The battalion held their final position during the following day until relieved.

Retreat. — It was only a week after these actions that the enemy was found to be evacuating his positions. The 17th Battalion, in the Courcelette Sector, on making this discovery, advanced their front line to new positions. The 7th Battalion patrols had found evidence of the enemy's withdrawal north of the Ancre the day before, February 24th. Strong battle patrols were therefore pushed forward in co-operation with the neighbouring units. After a thorough reconnaissance the battalion advanced early in the morning of the 25th in artillery formation. The eastern edge of Miraumont was reached without opposition, and an outpost line was established and a further reconnaissance was made by scouts. The advance was later continued under a weak artillery fire. The battalion had advanced nearly two miles when, on the night of February 25th, they were relieved.

Three days later this process of testing the German grip on various positions was extended southwards. The 2nd Battalion, whose march discipline while making a move had been recently pronounced by the G.O.C. 29th Division " fit for an inspection parade," delivered a successful attack in the Combles area. The advance was finally held up by a shortage of bombs, and the battalion had to fall back under pressure of a heavy counter-attack.

By the end of February the enemy had been driven back to the Transloy-Loupart line, with the exception of the village of Irles, which formed a salient in their position. The 2nd and 18th Divisions were ordered to attack the village, in preparation for a larger operation against the whole of the Switch Line. The 22nd Battalion assisted in this engagement by supplying carrying parties, a covering company and several Lewis guns. The 23rd gave more active assistance, taking the feature known as Lady's Leg Ravine. They killed 20 of the enemy, captured 30 and also a machine gun. The casualties were slight, hardly more than the number of prisoners captured ; and this was the case over the whole of the battle front. Not long after this the general withdrawal took place, and the Germans fell back to the Hindenburg Line.

Arras. — Part of Sir Douglas Haig's pre-arranged plan was not disturbed by this retirement of the Germans. As far south as the Arras- Cambrai road, the position was completely unchanged, and it was north of Arras that the Canadians and seven of the British divisions were to deliver their blow. The weather broke in April ; it was cold, and on the 2nd it began to snow. At the end of that day the snow lay an inch deep in Arras. Numerous troops had been moved up to this part of the line and found easy accommodation in the cellars. They were dark and damp, but stoves made them a little more comfortable. Some of the cellars were very deep, and these accommodated battalion headquarters. To some of the Fusiliers this cellar life proved an amusing episode, and it was not sufficiently prolonged to become irksome. Zero was at 5.30 a.m. on Easter Monday. Wire-cutting had begun nearly three weeks before, and on April 4th the preliminary bombardment started. On the 8th, a fine cold day, the shelling seemed to die down ; but in the dark of the Monday morning it began with extra-ordinary intensity, and the troops moved forward. Strange but very welcome rumours were heard by those Fusiliers left behind in Arras, and the troops of cavalry trotting by seemed to give point to them.

On the Arras battle front there were a number of Fusilier battalions waiting to take their part in the struggle. Farthest north were the 8th and 9th Battalions (12th Division), just above the Arras-Cambrai road. Behind this division was the 37th with the 10th and 13th Battalions. Below the Arras-Cambrai road lay the 3rd Division with the 4th Royal Fusiliers ; and farther south, before Neuville-Vitasse, was the 56th Division with four battalions of the London Regiment R.F. (Territorials) .

The 8th and 9th Battalions reached their objectives, and with small loss took a considerable number of prisoners. The 8th was the left support battalion of the brigade, and the men moved off so rapidly after the barrage that in many cases they became merged in the assaulting battalion, the 7th Royal Sussex. The front German line was reached without a single casualty. The attack went exactly according to programme.* The enemy put up a resistance at two strong points, but they were outflanked, and at 10 a.m. the whole objective was taken with two machine guns and 129 prisoners. The total casualty list was 175 killed, wounded and missing (only 7 of these last). On the right, the 9th Battalion also gained all objectives and captured two machine guns and 220 prisoners. C Company captured 150 of these in one dug-out. But the dug-outs were unhealthy places. One of them, in the nth Middlesex area, was suddenly blown up by the explosion of a mine ; and as a consequence German dug-outs were afterwards forbidden. These positions, the " Blue Line," were at once consolidated.

* Message from Brig. -General C. S. Owen : " Please convey my very best congratulations to all ranks who took part in the attack to-day. They did magnificent work. They went forward and carried out their job as if they had been on the practice trenches. . . ."

The 4th Battalion, south of the Arras-Cambrai road, moved off with the 9th Brigade after the 76th had taken the first objective. Advancing at 7 a.m. the battalion came under heavy shell fire as they moved across the open ; but they kept on until they had covered about a mile, the men keeping their ranks and formation in spite of casualties. In their path lay the highly organised defensive system below Tilloy called the Harp, and in conjunction with other battalions the 4th Royal Fusiliers swept across it. Such a position in the Battle of the Somme frequently remained a stumbling block for days and weeks. W Company, leading on the right, suffered very heavily from rifle and machine gun fire, and also partly from our own barrage. All the officers were wounded, Captain Furnie severely, and the command devolved on Second Lieutenant the Earl of Shannon, who, though wounded, led the company from Nomeny Trench and was the first man to enter String Trench. Before this trench, with its wire only partially cut, many losses were sustained. A portion of the company carried on with the 9th Rifle Brigade to Neuilly Trench. Z Company were caught by the fire from the north-east corner of Tilloy village, but, with the help of two platoons of X, assisted in the capture of Lynx and String Trenches. Captain A. E. Millson (CO., X Company) was mortally wounded as he entered the latter trench. X and Y Companies supported the two assaulting companies mopped up Nomeny Trench and carried the battalion forward to the final objective. The battalion gained little support from the tanks, although one sat down upon Nomeny Trench after they had carried it. Among the captures of the day were 5 officers and 70 other ranks, three machine guns, two minenwerfer and four granaten-werfer. But the battalion lost 225 officers and men. Besides Captain Millson, Second Lieutenant Paddock died of wounds, and seven other officers were wounded, Captain Furnie and Second Lieutenant K. C. Marlowe severely.

The Territorial battalions had more obvious objectives, and carried out their task well. The 3rd Londons lay before Neuville-Vitasse, and with the 8th Middlesex early got a hold on the village, and pushed on until at 10.30 the whole of it was in their hands. On this the 1st Londons went ahead against the Cojeul Switch Line. For a short time they were held up at a belt of uncut wire, where they lost very heavily. Colonel Smith, with most of his officers, became a casualty ; but, reinforced by the 7th Middlesex, the battalion held on until the line was captured. The 2nd Londons entered the battle during the night, and, by an advance to the trench junction at Rum Jar Corner, and thence to the high ground surmounted by Wancourt Tower, secured the flank.

Monchy le Preux. — Meanwhile the 37th Division had moved up. The 13th Battalion reached Blangy at ir.30 a.m. without casualties, and at 1.10 p.m. orders came to move forward and take up positions in Battery Valley, along the line of Fred's Wood, which lies about 200 yards north of the railway, and east of Blangy. At about 6.45 p.m. the battalion moved to the point from which they were to begin the attack on Monchy le Preux, a village standing on a small hill about 90 feet above the surrounding country. Up to the " Blue Line," which had been taken and consolidated early in the day, there was no shell fire ; but on crossing it the Fusiliers soon saw that the next line had not been taken in their immediate front and there was no alternative but to attack it preparatory to the final advance. With the ioth Royal Fusiliers on the right, the troops advanced steadily for about 2,000 yards and were at length brought to a halt just east of the Feuchy-Feuchy Chapel road. Their left was in the air, and the 13th Battalion had to form a defensive flank there. In this position they dug in at nightfall. Shortly before dawn they were withdrawn to near Broken Mill and another brigade took over the positions. The 10th Battalion had fallen back to Feuchy Chapel at 4 a.m., and then later to the "Brown Line," farther back.

About noon on April ioth the Royal Fusiliers moved forward once more. The 13th Battalion crossed the northern end of Orange Hill and then swung half-left towards the outlying woods west of Monchy. The 101th Battalion on the right were in touch, and both units continued to advance under a heavy barrage until the 10th were only 600 yards west of Monchy. The losses of both battalions had been very heavy. At 7.40 p.m. only three officers besides the CO. and the adjutant remained with the 13th Battalion, and a provisional line of trenches had to be dug west of the village, after consultation with the Royal Engineers. This line was completed by about 4 a.m. on April nth. About an hour and a half later the ioth and 13th Battalions made a last spurt forward and the 13th established themselves north of the village, about a hundred yards west of Hamers Lane ; and this position they held throughout the day. The ioth Battalion, now commanded by Major A. Smith, stormed the village itself and occupied it under a heavy barrage. The west side was entrenched and a small advanced post was established on the east of the village. The cavalry entered the village about n a.m. and were heavily shelled.

The Royal Fusiliers held these positions until relieved at 11 p.m. that night. It was a memorable day. At one time there was a blinding snowstorm ; but the troops ignored such small inconveniences, and, though the Arras front changed considerably in the subsequent operations, the positions at this point were little changed. In December the line was not 1,000 yards farther east than that achieved on April nth by the Fusiliers. When Lieut.-General Sir R. C. B. Haking, G.O.C. XI. Corps, inspected the 10th Battalion on January 5th, he said it was the best-turned-out unit he had seen for twelve months. Their achievement at Monchy le Preux must place them in the front rank for courage, tenacity and skill. Their losses were twelve officers (including Lieut.-Colonel Rice, wounded) and 240 other ranks. The 13th Battalion had also suffered very heavily, and Colonel Layton's words, in reporting the detail of the action, " I consider that the battalion behaved magnificently, and I have nothing but praise for every one in it," were well merited.

Other divisions were now appearing in this area bringing with them Fusilier battalions. On April nth the 2nd Division moved up to the left of the Canadians and the 24th Battalion entered the forward trenches in the Farbus line. On the following day the 20th Battalion took over the trenches won that day about 1,000 yards west of Heninel. On the 13th it was discovered that the battalion on the left of the 24th Royal Fusiliers had found the railway line unoccupied and it was decided to advance at once. Under heavy artillery fire the Fusiliers reached the railway line and then a line from the eastern edge of Willerval to Bailleul. This line covered the sugar factory in the orchard of which a German naval 6-inch gun was captured. This line was consolidated for the night. On their left the 23rd Battalion, who on the nth had relieved the 1/5 Gordons west of Bailleul, advanced with the 24th to the railway, and, pushing farther on, occupied Bailleul. A line was established on the east of the village and patrols were sent forward towards Oppy. A platoon of C Company, misinterpreting orders, went out to attempt the capture of Oppy, and was itself captured, after a spirited fight before the village. The 23rd captured four guns in this advance. But they lost heavily, for, in addition to the platoon cut off at Oppy, Captain Lissmann, the adjutant, was killed by a shell as he walked with the CO. towards the railway. They were relieved on the following day. But the 24th continued their advance at 3 p.m. on April 14th, and, despite a heavy artillery and machine-gun fire, succeeded in getting to within about 500 yards of the Arleux en Gohelle-Oppy line. This was a formidable sector of the German front, and the 24th had to lie facing it with both flanks refused, since the units on neither side had advanced.

Guemappe. — It was on April 13th, also, that the 4th Battalion were sent forward against Guemappe. Monchy lay in an uneasy salient, and its importance suggested that the sooner it was finally secured the better, if there were any expectations of further advance or even if the position was to be held easily. The attack was launched hurriedly and was unsuccessful. The order (cancelling a previous order and) directing the attack to take place that evening was only received at 5.55 p.m. and zero was to be at 6.20 p.m. The battalion were formed up about ten minutes before the barrage lifted and they advanced very steadily although they encountered three German barrages. When they approached the spur lying about 750 yards north-west of Guemappe they came under a very sustained rifle and machine-gun fire from both flanks, but particularly from the direction of Wancourt. They continued to advance and crossed the spur. But by this time most of the officers who had gone into action had been wounded. Captain Gibson, in charge of the right leading company, was severely wounded ; Second Lieutenant the Earl of Shannon, commanding the right support company, was killed ; Second Lieutenant B. C. Martin was killed ; Second Lieutenant C. A. Brasher and Captain K. J. Barrett were both wounded. Still the battalion advanced and the sunken road was reached. They had pushed forward nearly 3,000 yards, an apparently irresistible advance in defiance of all the enemy could do.

But now Captain Barrett, who had continued in command though wounded, was again severely wounded, and was carried out of action. Before leaving, however, he gave instructions in writing. It was now 8 p.m. Lieutenant Hiddingh and Second Lieutenants Thoday and Burr were the only officers left. The King's Liverpools, who had started off fifteen minutes before the 4th Royal Fusiliers, had not been seen since. The 12th West Yorks whom it was intended to support were not seen at all. The Royal Fusiliers had passed through some of the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers during the advance, and this unit's right was found to be on the cross-roads north-west of Guemappe, and practically in line with the 4th Battalion, halted on the sunken road facing the village about 500 yards away. This advance, launched almost at a moment's notice, without any time for preliminary reconnaissance, was a very wonderful performance. Success could have added but little to it. The battalion were ordered to withdraw at 1 a.m. on April 14th ; and the movement was carried out steadily and skilfully. Of the 12 officers who went into action, five became casualties, and there were 86 other ranks casualties.

It was on the same day, April 13th, that the 12th Battalion made a striking advance near the extreme left flank of the Arras battle. About 9-30 a.m., the Germans were observed to be shelling their own third line. Major Neynoc and Lieut. -Colonel Mobbs (7th Northants) thereupon went forward to the 3rd line positions north-east of Souchez. The trenches were found to be almost smashed out of recognition by our fire, and unoccupied. At midnight Nos. 3 and 4 Companies, in close support under Neynoc, relieved the units in the front line, and at 8 a.m. on the 14th patrols were pushed ahead. On a report that all was clear, No. 3 Company proceeded through Calvary Trench and No. 4 Company, under cover in the Bois de Rollencourt, advanced and occupied the sunken road up to the mill in the outskirts of Lieven. At 2 p.m. the companies went through Lieven and occupied the line of the Souchez River. The latter part of this advance was over open country, under the observation of low-flying aeroplanes which directed a heavy fire. At night the left of the battalion were in contact with the 17th Brigade at the north corner of the Bois de Riamont and their right with the 5th Division at the bridge on the Souchez river in Cite de l'Abattoir. This flank was slightly drawn back. Two fighting patrols under Second Lieutenants A. H. Lee and Deakin were pushed forward on the 15th into the Cite - de Riamont, but they were later ordered to withdraw, as it was not intended seriously to engage the enemy in this quarter. But this very decisive and skilful exploitation of a chance discovery won warm praise from the divisional commander, who told the commanding officer that he had a battalion he might be proud of.

Oppy. — On April 16th another attempt was made to test the strength of the Oppy line. A daylight raid was ordered to be made by the 17th Battalion, and Lieutenant Brodie and three men moved out at 3 p.m. It was not the sort of adventure which encourages the soldier. The small party were sniped from Arleux and never had a chance of doing more than swell a casualty list. Brodie was wounded and taken prisoner. Corporal Town was killed. Another man was wounded and made prisoner. Only one returned to report that the wire was thick and unbroken. The battalion were ordered on the following day to find three companies to enter the Oppy switch line and bomb it clear with the help of the 2nd Oxford and Bucks. Fortunately the division prevented this project being carried out. Four separate brigades attempted to take this line later on, and all failed. The defence had, in fact, made a recovery, as the 20th Battalion also discovered when they attacked south-east of Heninel on the same day. This small operation attained no success. Second Battle of the Scarpe. — On April 23rd, the second Battle of the Scarpe began. The 7th Battalion's share in this battle was an attack north of Gavrelle which assisted the other units of the division to capture the village. Even in the preparatory stage of the battle the battalion fared badly. A new line, about 200 yards from the German positions was dug ; but it was no sooner ready than a sustained bombardment beat the trenches to pieces, and a new line had to be constructed during the night. The battalion proceeded to take up positions for attack at 8-30 p.m. on the night of the 22nd, and at 4.45 a.m., zero, the infantry began the advance. The men followed the barrage closely ; but on reaching the front line found that the wire was only cut in one place, forming a narrow south-easterly lane. The men were thus congested and lost direction ; and they encountered bombing parties and a very heavy machine-gun fire. Many casualties were sustained from this cause until a party was organised to attack and capture them. The guns were rushed and twenty-three prisoners were captured. The Fusiliers then pressed on to the support line, and established a post against the Germans' bombers, who were shepherded back up the trench. The battalion had now got forward to the railway where it was hoped to dig a trench under cover of darkness. Posts were established about 25 yards from the railway and were maintained in spite of the activity of the low-flying German planes which signalled the Fusiliers' position. At 8 p.m. the line was linked up with that of the 6th Brigade on the left, and at daybreak the battalion had been relieved after a successful engagement. The number going into action was, 18 officers ; other ranks, 358. Four officers, Captain Gast, Captain Granville, Lieutenant Wood and Lieutenant Randall were killed, eight others were wounded. The battalion had been practically wiped out.

The 10th Battalion also attacked at 4.45 a.m. on the same day and took the German second line without much difficulty, but further advance was held up by machine-gun fire and snipers until the 13th Battalion came up on the left flank. The advance was then resumed ; but the 10th Battalion lost touch with the right and left units later on. At 9.30 a.m. the 10th, now consisting of 3 officers and 50 other ranks, had occupied Cuba Trench, and the 13th Battalion came up again about half an hour later. But the 63rd Brigade on the right were not found again until 9.55 p.m. The 10th Battalion had advanced up to the road running due south of Gavrelle and established a line not far from the north-western slopes of Greenland Hill.

On the same day the 29th Division had gained ground east of Monchy. But the attack as a whole had been brought to a standstill short of the success which had been expected, and orders were given for the resumption on the 24th. The 2nd Royal Fusiliers advanced on a three-company front from Shrapnel Trench at 4 p.m., zero. Some 60 yards from the starting point, the battalion were turned towards the right in order to avoid some British, troops in front of them. At about 600 yards west of the Bois du Vert, the right (Z) Company were held up by machine-gun fire, and the left Company (X) turned half right to take the wood in flank. But at this point the company were very weak, and contact could not be achieved with the troops on either flank. There was one officer left, and he had 30 men with him. At 6.50 p.m. the position became untenable and they withdrew ; but W Company went round the north side of the wood, took up the position X had occupied, and beat off the enemy attacks, while Z Company on the right at length succeeded in overcoming the German resistance. The positions were consolidated and many German dead bodies were found on the ground with much equipment, packs, rifles, etc. If the 2nd Battalion had paid heavily for their success, the Germans found their resistance even more expensive.

The 20th Battalion on the same day took over the advanced positions in front of Fontaine les Croisilles, from which the Germans had just retired. An outpost line consisting of ten strong points was organised and patrols were pushed out up to the Sensee.

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On April 28th began that series of attacks which aimed principally, if not wholly, at assisting the French. The 13th Battalion attacked from the trenches about 300 yards east of the Gavrelle-Roeux road. Their objective was the Whip cross-roads, south-east of Gavrelle. The attack began at 4.25 a.m. About four hours later No. 3 Company were sent up to the right of the 13th Rifle Brigade, who had secured their objective ; but the company could not get into contact with any troops on the right, and a German machine gun was in action at the cross-roads. At 10.15 a.m., however, the position had been cleared up and the two companies, Nos. 3 and 4, held the road, including the cross-roads, for some 250 yards. The success was complete though the Fusiliers had been constantly harassed by fire from snipers and machine guns. The positions were retained intact until the battalion were relieved on the night of the 29th. While the Fusiliers were on their objective a body of the 63rd Brigade swept across their front leading towards Square Wood from the south-west. They had lost direction, but they succeeded in carrying a body of Fusiliers with them until they were recalled. The 10th Battalion, in support of the 13th on their right flank, had made persistent attempts to get into touch with this brigade, but without success.

Oppy. — The attack was continued on April 29th, and four battalions of the Royal Fusiliers made another attempt to conquer the Oppy defences. The Canadians took Arleux on the left and the 24th Battalion formed the left of the attack on Oppy Wood. They went forward at 4 a.m., and A and B Companies reached their objective, the sunken road between Arleux and Oppy, capturing 64 prisoners, only to find that the right battalions had not reached their positions in the wood. Their right flank was therefore in the air. A furious bombing attack took place on the left flank, and such were the losses that it was decided to swing the right flank back to Oppy Trench, west of the sunken road and gradually retire along it. This was successfully accomplished. C and D Companies were sent that night to relieve the 2nd Highland Light Infantry, immediately north of Oppy Wood, who had suffered very terribly from the fire from Oppy Wood. The 17th Battalion, who had been supporting the 24th during the day with B Company, finding their right in the air, formed a defensive flank. The line along this front was, in fact, pitted with gaps. Farther south the 22nd Battalion advanced in perfect order, but were held up against dense wire, and when this was partly cut came under heavy machine-gun fire.

On the right B Company found the wire still unpenetrable and Second Lieutenant J. Steele had a whole platoon shot down. At this juncture Second Lieutenant S. F. Jeffcoat, a newly-joined officer, found a gap, and with a handful of men jumped into the trench and throughout the morning was engaged bombing up it to the right. At every traverse the Germans resisted, but Jeffcoat, assisted by a few men of the 63rd Division, cleared a considerable length of the trench by sheer personal courage and leadership. He was mortally wounded, and was recommended for the V.C. C.S.M. Roger also ably assisted. The whole objective of the battalion was taken chiefly owing to Jeffcoat's fine work, and the 23rd Battalion reinforced on the final line. The 7th Battalion on the right had gallantly fought to the sunken road just north of the railway. Repeated bombing attacks on the left flank were beaten off, and a strong post was established near the ruined cottage, south of Oppy and 300 yards north of the railway. At one time the Bedfords, whom the 7th Battalion were supporting, were in touch with men of the 22nd Battalion. But for the most part the battalions engaged this day fought small engagements under peril of envelopment from both flanks ; and in the final result the general position was little changed. Three days later a company 100 strong of the 22nd attacked north of Oppy as part of a composite battalion, but with little success.
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On May 3rd another attack was launched for the same purpose as that of April 28th, but on this occasion the battle front totalled sixteen miles. The 8th and 9th Battalions were engaged just south of the Scarpe and fought a very amazing battle. Together they totalled no more than 900 men and their role was to cross about 1,000 yards, and their objective was almost 9,000 yards long. The 9th Battalion on the right started off from a trench which was partly in German hands, with a block dividing them from the Fusiliers. Zero was at 3.45 a.m. Scabbard Trench, the first objective, was reached by both battalions, and the line held for the moment lay just south of Roeux, south of the Scarpe. But a bombing attack along the river pushed both battalions out of the position, and at noon the British artillery put a 12 minutes' barrage on Scabbard Trench. A small party of the 9th had gone ahead and were now cut off, in advance of this line. Surprisingly enough they rejoined the battalion in the evening. They had been taken prisoner, but, caught by our own machine-gun fire on the road to Douai, they had escaped as the Germans ran away. Major Coxhead,* the acting CO., was killed in this battle. He had gone out into the open, as the trench was packed and he wished to reorganise. When he left the trench the first waves were well ahead ; behind them a desperate fight was going on for the possession of Scabbard Trench, and in the starting-off trench the Germans were counter-attacking from the block. Few positions have been as involved as this ; and it was due to Coxhead's courage and decision that something solid emerged at the end of the day. The 8th Battalion had gone through a similar train of vicissitudes. The machine-gun fire from Roeux caused numerous casualties and there was the same bold advance, a sudden and temporary crumpling in the intermediate positions, and active fighting on the jumping-off position. They took 1 officer and 44 other ranks prisoners. At night they formed one company, and the 8th and 9th were joined under the command of Lieut. -Colonel N. B. Elliot-Cooper. The 8th alone had lost 282 officers and men. The unit on the left had failed to carry Roeux and there was no support on the right.

* Major Coxhead's diary, dispassionate, critical and detailed, has been almost invaluable for the period it covers.

It was the strange vicissitudes of this engagement that provided Corporal G. Jarratt, of the 8th Battalion, with the opportunity for a splendid act of heroism. He had been taken prisoner with some wounded men, and was placed under guard in a dug-out. In the evening the troops drove back the enemy and the leading infantrymen proceeded to bomb the dug-outs. A grenade fell into the dug-out in which were Jarratt and his companions ; and, without a moment's hesitation, he placed both feet on it. He had instantly seen that the lives of all were at stake and he risked his own to save those of his companions. In the subsequent explosion both his legs were blown off. The wounded were later safely removed to our line, but, before this, Jarratt was dead. " By this supreme act of self-sacrifice the lives of the wounded were saved." He was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross.

Farther south, the 4th Battalion had attacked from a line about 1,000 yards east of Monchy, and had reached positions 100 yards east of the Bois des Aubepines. The men followed the barrage closely ; but the 1st German line had apparently been missed, and heavy loss was experienced there. A hostile counter-attack from the east and north-east was beaten off ; but a second counter-attack got round the flanks of the 13th King's Liverpools and 4th Royal Fusiliers. The two leading waves, with all the officers casualties, were cut off ; but the remainder of the battalion held their ground till nightfall, when, with only one officer left, they retired to the original position. It had been impossible to maintain communication with the front line. Runners were almost invariably shot down ; and one who got through took five hours to make the journey. The battalion on this day had 299 casualties, including 11 officers. About 1 a.m., on May 4th, Second Lieutenant E. M. Buck returned from beyond the German front line system. He had lost all his men and had himself been blown up. On the night of the 9th, six days later, there also returned three men who had been east of Infantry Hill since the morning of May 3rd.

The 11th Battalion were engaged opposite Cherisy in mopping up, moving dumps and supporting the assaulting battalions of the 54th Brigade. B Company, under Captain Neate, were to mop up the village. The Middlesex with B Company got into and cleared Cherisy ; but the small band who had accomplished this serviceable achievement were practically wiped out in a counter-attack from the right. No officers of either regiment returned. Neate, a young, spirited, and very efficient officer, was last seen with his revolver in his hand at the head of his men. C Company made an unsuccessful attempt to take Fontaine Trench which had not been captured by the assaulting companies, and merely sustained heavy loss.

Another gallant but abortive action was fought by the 2nd Londons who, with the 56th Division, lay on the left of the 3rd Division. The battalion went forward gallantly in the darkness, and took Cavalry Farm on the Arras-Cambrai road and the German position 100 yards to the east of it. The left battalion had not advanced in step and the 2nd Londons' left flank wavered a little before it got into its stride, when, after the farm buildings had been taken, it formed a defensive flank. These positions were held, despite heavy losses for nearly twenty-four hours, when, both flanks being exposed, they had to be abandoned. A sergeant on this occasion distinguished himself by an admirable piece of bluff. In his endeavour to find the left flank battalion he crossed the Cambrai road and walked into a German dug-out where he was taken prisoner. Before dawn on May 4th he had persuaded the seventeen Germans to surrender. By this time the battalion had retired ; but the sergeant safely brought his little flock across to the British line. On the north of the 2nd Londons, the 1st Londons had fought a very costly engagement to as little purpose as most of the units attacking that day ; but on May 14th Cavalry Farm was recaptured by them with practically no loss. It was in May that the 3/4 Londons and the 3/3 Londons took over from the Australians a sector of the line on the right of Bullecourt. On the 14th of the month, after a bombardment of nineteen hours, they were attacked by the 3rd Prussian Guard. The two battalions fought magnificently and crushed the attack with rifle and machine-gun fire before it reached the trenches. Both of them suffered heavy loss ; but the line was maintained intact, and Lieut. -Colonel Beresford, who directed the 3/3 with great courage and skill, was awarded the D.S.O.

This long-drawn-out narrative may be terminated here. The battle had been initiated for distinct and valuable objectives ; but it was continued from loyalty to the French. It was in the latter period that the smallest gains and the greatest losses were recorded. But the struggle called on the gallantry and skill of the Fusilier battalions, who gave of both very remarkably.