4TH Battalion, The London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) in the Great War 1914 - 1919
THE 1/4TH AND 2/4TH BATTALIONS DURING THE SUMMER MONTHS OF 1918 THE RESERVE
In the preceding chapters we have endeavoured to describe the part played by each of the battalions in resisting the mighty German offensive.
As we have seen this gigantic thrust was finally brought to a standstill in front of Amiens at the end of April, while the enemy's hopes in the Arras area had been finally shattered by the magnificent resistance of the 28th March. The German offensive capabilities were, however, by no means exhausted ; and in the north the enemy once more taxed the British resources to the uttermost in the Battle of the Lys, which raged from the 7th to the 30th April and bent our lines back to Hazebrouck. With this action, or rather series of actions, we are not directly concerned as the 4th London Regiment had no part in it, and we may therefore turn at once to consider the situation in which the British Armies found themselves when the German attacks were finally spent.
The enormous weight of the German attacks of March and April had involved practically the whole of the British divisions in France, and all were in consequence seriously reduced in numbers and sorely in need of rest and re-organisation. The magnificent efforts which were made at home to replace the lost guns and other material are well known and were of immediate effect ; but the task of filling up the gaps in personnel was necessarily a longer one, especially having regard to the waning man-power of the Empire and its commitments in other theatres of war. Moreover, after their arrival in France it was necessary for reinforcements to be thoroughly assimilated into their new units before active work could be expected of them. The serious depletion of force at this time is illustrated by the fact that after temporarily writing off as fighting units no fewer than 8 divisions, and handing over to the French a further 5 at the urgent request of Marshal Foch, there remained but 45 — and most of these much reduced in numbers — available for service on the British front.
The enemy's successes had, of course, cost him dear, but it was believed to be by no means beyond the bounds of possibility that he would make yet another effort to achieve a decisive victory, and the position was thus full of anxiety for G.H.Q.
In the meantime the American Army was being poured into France as rapidly as the whole available mercantile marine of the British Empire could bring it across the Atlantic, but here again it was a question of time before these well-trained but inexperienced troops would be .sufficiently valuable and numerous to turn the scale against Germany.
The story of the months of May, June and July 1918 is one of preparation, in which the British Armies were being gradually reorganised and used in active defence of the new positions until an equilibrium of strength between the Allies and the enemy was attained, and it was possible once more for the Allies to take the offensive and roll back the tide of invasion in the most remarkable series of victories which the world has ever seen.
We propose, therefore, to deal in this chapter, as briefly as possible, with the operations during this period of reorganisation of each Battalion in turn, until the opening of the Allied offensive in August 1918.
The l/4th Battalion
Arriving at Mont St Eloy early in the morning of the 31st March 1918 the l/4th Londons settled down to a few days of so-called rest, days which, for officers at least, are usually quite as hard work as those spent in battle. Companies have to be reorganised and fresh " specialists " trained to their duties, the completion of the men's clothing and equipment, and replenishment of all company stores have to be looked to, in addition to a large amount of clerical work in writing up the official account of the battle and in submitting names for awards, mention in despatches and promotion. The Battalion on this occasion was fortunate in getting the gaps in its ranks rapidly filled. On the 2nd and 3rd April two drafts arrived numbering together 420 fully trained N.C.O.'s and men. Fine drafts which later did gallant service, but which transformed the camp into a mild imitation of the Tower of Babel, for among them could be traced the accents of London, Kent, Surrey, Berkshire, the broader dialects of Yorkshire, Cheshire, Lancashire and Wiltshire, and even the unmistakable tones of Scotland and South Wales. Regulars, Territorials and New Armies were all represented, and the rejuvenated Battalion provided a living example of the unity of the Motherland in a great cause.
This great accession enabled an immediate reconstruction of the four companies to take place, and they were accordingly reformed and the reinforcements absorbed, A Company under Capt. H. N. Williams, M.C., B under Capt. R. S. B. Simmonds, C under Capt. S. J. Barkworth, M.C., M.M., and D under Capt. T. B. Cooper, M.C., M.M.
The troops were largely kept busy in digging new lines of defence round Haut Avesnes, and all were much encouraged by the congratulations received from G.H.Q., Army and Corps on their recent great stand.
Divisional rests, however, have ever proved a snare and a delusion, and those who count on prolonged peace in billets are invariably disappointed. In spite of its so recent gruelling the morale of the Division was high, and on the 6th April it was called upon again to go into the line, this time in the XVII Corps (Fergusson), but still in the First Army, which now extended as far south as Neuville-Vitasse. After spending the night 5th/6th April at Villers au Bois the l/4th Londons marched on the afternoon of the 6th to Agnez lez Duisans, and proceeded the following afternoon to Ronville Caves. The march through the streets of Arras in the dusk was a great surprise to those who had known this pleasant httle city even as recently as the late summer of 1917. The civilians were now all gone, hotels and shops were shut and scarcely a house had escaped the German shell fire. The beautiful Cathedral had met the same ghastly fate as that of Albert, and the Levis and Schramm barracks were but ghosts of their former selves.
In Ronville Caves, a remarkable series of underground chalk quarries, the Battalion found dry and adequate quarters. The caves are of considerable extent, the limits east and west being a crater in old No Man's Land and Levis barracks ; but, lighted by electricity and tolerably ventilated, they formed quite healthy billets and, in the wet weather then prevalent, far superior to bivouacs or trenches.
The trenches now to be taken over by the 56th from the 1st Canadian Division lay south of the Arras-Cambrai Road just in front of the village of Tilloy, for as far as this had the German offensive bent our lines back. The front line, Tilloy Trench, ran between Tilloy and the Bois des Boeufs and then southwards towards Neuville-Vitasse, roughly following what had formerly been the east side of the famous German redoubt. The Harp. In rear of the front trench were successively Tilloy Support, View Trench and Tilloy Reserve. Communication trenches were Scottish Avenue, Stokes Lane, Fusilier Lane and Wye Lane, the last named forming the right boundary of the sector. The front and support trenches lay on the forward slope of the hill well under observation from the enemy lines. View Trench was on the reverse slope of the hill, and probably acquired its name in the days when its defenders wore field-grey and looked in the other direction : for us it was well sited with a good field of fire of about 200 yards. Trenches, wire and dugouts were fair. The fact that but a few days earlier this had been a back area was forced on one's attention, for the line ran through ruined Nissen hut camps and horse standings, while in the German front line opposite stood the remains of a Y.M.C.A. hut.
After four days of working parties at Ronville, in which the Battalion was digging a new line, Telegraph Hill Switch, the l/4th Londons relieved the 8th Middlesex in the line. This tour of duty lasted six days during which the enemy remained inactive on this front, but which saw the outbreak of the Battle of the Lys to which we have already alluded. To those who knew the Neuve Chapelle area it seemed strange to hear of " fighting in Riez Bailleul and Laventie," "the struggle for Estaires," "the fall of Merville." Ruined though some of these places had been in 1916, they had afforded shelter to many hundreds of l/4th London men, and it was now impossible to refrain from wondering what had become of the villagers who had hitherto clung to their homes, and especially of the little children.
On the last day in the line, the 19th, a raid on a large scale was carried out by one company of the London Scottish on the right, and one platoon of the l/4th Londons on the left, with the object of advancing the outpost line on the whole sector, and establishing it an average of 500 yards in front of Tilloy Trench. The assaulting platoon was drawn from C Company under 2/Lieut. E. L. Mills, M.C., and afterwards (Mills having been hit) under 2/Lieut. J. L. Backhouse. Zero was at 4.30 a.m., and eight minutes later the l/4th London platoon rushed their objective after Stokes Mortar preparation. Unfortunately the enemy garrison bolted and no identification was obtained, though they left a machine-gun and many documents and maps in our hands. The London Scottish also reached their objective and touch was gained with them. This advanced line was held all day under German artillery fire, which steadily increased until the Battalion was compelled to call for protective fire from our guns in retaliation.
After 7 p.m. the enemy launched some heavy bombing attacks against the new positions. These were vigorously resisted. A withdrawal to the original line was, however, ordered by Brigade, and by 8 p.m. all the assaulting platoons were back. A good deal of loss was undoubtedly inflicted on the enemy, and the effect of this minor operation on the spirit of the men fully justified its execution. Five N.C.O.'s and men of the Battalion were killed and 24 wounded.
Late that night the Battalion handed over its trenches to the l/2nd Londons and withdrew in support to Ronville Caves, moving in the evening of the 20th April to Dainville in Divisional reserve.
About this period the l/4th Londons were unfortunate in losing Major F. A. Phillips, D.S.O., who had been an able second in command for nearly eight months. He was much out of health principally through having swallowed rather too much mustard gas at Oppy, and he did not rejoin the Battalion. His place was taken by Major R. B. Marshall, 8th East Surrey Regiment, whose battalion had been disbanded in January. Capt. Maloney's duties as Medical Officer had been taken for a few weeks by Capt. J. Ridley, M.C., and subsequently by Capt. E. Woody eat, a retired naval surgeon, who had served in 1915 and 1916 with the Coldstream Guards.
Casualties in April were light beyond those sustained during the raid of the 19th. Lieut. L. E. Ballance was wounded this month. On the 24th April a draft of officers joined as follows :
Lieut. J. W. Price, 2/Lieuts. H, W. Attenborrow, C. L. Henstridge, A. Holloway, C. R. Mason, J, D. Miller, A. H. Millstead, W. P, Humphrey and F. S. Wise.
2/Lieut. R. T. Stevenson (5th Londons) ; 2/Lieuts. S. Blackhurst, M.C., A. F. Potter, J. A. Voskule, W. Roughton (7th Londons) ; 2/Lieut. A. M. Bullock (15th Londons).
On the 24th April Major-Gen. Dudgeon fell sick and went to hospital. He had commanded the Division since August 1917 and brought it through two of its most successful actions. A few days later Major-Gen. Hull resumed the command.
On the night 3rd/4th May the Divisional front was extended northwards as far as the Arras-Douai railway, the additional frontage being taken over from the 1st Canadian Division. Thereafter the sector was held with two brigades in line (each with two battalions in trenches and one in support), and one brigade in reserve. Of the reserve brigade two battalions were billeted at Dainville and one at Berne ville.
The l/4th Londons now settled down to their share of the routine of working this sector, and through May and June were in and out of the trenches, in line, in support and in reserve alternately, the tours of duty varying between six and nine days. These summer weeks form on the whole a pleasant memory for all who passed through them. The general situation was indeed grave, and though for G.H.Q. the summer months of 1918 must have been a period of unceasing anxiety, the infantryman in the line saw life from a different angle. The trenches were comfortable, the weather good, the men well fed and clothed. Mornings in the trenches were spent in hard work on the defences, afternoons in resting, evenings under a summer moon divided between digging and wiring. With the added spice of patrolling and raiding, in which a lot of useful work was achieved, and the enemy kept well on the alert, and wishing he was not opposite to the 56th Division, the tours of duty in line passed pleasantly enough with very few casualties. The Battalion was in fine fettle and in good conceit with itself, a wholesome feeling which scored heavily when the time came for the final advance.
The enemy's chief activity was shell fire, and at times this developed to great intensity. On the 27th May in particular, when the l/4th Londons were in trenches, a very heavy bombardment, high explosive and mustard gas together, burst on the area in the early morning. The Battalion stood to and prepared to receive an attack, but no infantry movement occurred, and it subsequently transpired that the disturbance was to cover an enemy raid on the division on our right. For a time most of the Battalion had made up their minds that they were about to fight. The Londoner is full of superstition, and this day the Battalion was to have boiled rabbit for dinner. Boiled rabbit had figured in the menu on the 28th March ! . . . Throughout the day the enemy artillery carried out hurricane bombardments of various parts of the sector, and it was no surprise to learn later that his offensive against Rheims had broken out.
During the period under review the Battalion paid five visits to the trenches at Tilloy, with one tour of three days in Arras, spent in heavy working parties carrying wire to Telegraph Hill and digging, and six days in support at St Sauveur similarly occupied.
Rests in Divisional reserve were spent at Dainville, in which much good training work was carried out and the routine broken occasionally by excellent sports meetings, shooting matches and concerts. In connection with the concerts we must again refer to the Quartermaster's string band. This excellent orchestra had given its first public performance at St Aubin in January 1918. Receiving every encouragement from the Colonel and the keenest support from the Padre, this band had had an unbroken career of success and given the greatest pleasure to all ranks of the Battalion. At Church Parades when out of the line the band always played the hymns and voluntaries, and many a shattered barn in the villages behind the trenches has re-echoed with the strains of the l/4th London string band. The keenness and pride of the Quartermaster in his band were as delightful to observe as his remarks when a cornet player was put out of action at Oppy were startling. A portable harmonium was purchased to complete the equipment, and when demobilisation broke the band up early in 1919, this harmonium, decorated with the names of all the villages of France and Belgium in which the orchestra had performed, was presented to the Padre for use in his parish at home.
The general efficiency of the Battalion at this period reached a remarkably high pitch, of which everyone associated with it had reason to be thoroughly proud. It was well equipped, well drilled and disciplined, and a fine fighting unit. This efficiency was not confined to the fighting ranks. At an inspection of the Battalion Transport (Lieut. G. V. Lawrie), the Divisional Commander, was so impressed with its turn-out that his remarks were circulated to other units as an example. A fine fighting battalion cannot exist without fine administration, and this was supplied in full measure by the Adjutant (Boutall), and by the rear Headquarters under Mosely, Stanbridge, Faulkner, the Quartermaster, and Lawrie, whose unceasing service to the fighting ranks were of immeasurable value.
Faulkner was a man of peculiarly lovable disposition. " Le gros papa," as he was known to the little children in Dainville, forms in the minds of many French peasants a picture of all that is kind and chivalrous in the British soldier. Mosely writes : " Many is the night when the Huns were dropping bombs on the village " — by no means an infrequent occurrence — " that Faulkner has deliberately set himself to amuse a family of youngsters and keep them screaming with laughter so that their merriment should drown the noise of the explosions."
The following officers joined the Battalion during May, June and July :
Capt. H. A. T. Hewlett ; Lieut. G. E. Stanbridge (recalled from six months' home duty "on exchange"); 2/Lieuts. A. W. Chignell, T. Yoxall and G. H. Sylvester.
In the early days of June the influenza epidemic began to make its ravages, but the Battalion suffered comparatively little. No men were allowed to rejoin in the line from back areas, but were kept at Berneville until the Battalion came out of the trenches. Casualties for May, June and July were very light. 2/Lieuts. W. P. Humphrey and T. H. Mawby were killed, 2/Lieut. A. W. Chignell wounded, and about 12 N.C.O.'s and men killed and 40 wounded.
Early in July Capt. and Adjt. W. J. Boutall, M.C., was appointed to 168th Brigade Headquarters as Assistant Staff Captain, and his duties in the Battalion were assumed by Capt. S. J. Barkworth, M.C., M.M. Boutall had filled the appointment of Adjutant since September 1916 with conspicuous success. His organising ability was high and the standard of his work throughout had been excellent. C Company was taken over about the same time by Capt. H. A. T. Hewlett. 2/Lieut. F. S. Wise was seconded to the Machine-gun Corps. 2d
On the 13th July the 56th Division was relieved in the line by the 1st Canadian Division, and passed into Corps reserve. The l/4th Londons, who had already been in billets at Dainville for a week, moved to Lattre St Quentin, and during the ensuing fortnight further changes of stations followed each other with rapidity. The Battalion was quartered successively at Grand Rullecourt, Tincques and Marqueffles Farm, the days being occupied with training interspersed with sports and games. While the Battalion was at Tinques the railway station was visited on the night of the 17th July by enemy aircraft, which dropped eight bombs, but caused no loss of personnel.
The last night of July found the Division once more taking over the Tilloy trenches from the Canadians, the l/4th Londons being at St Sauveur in Brigade support until the 4th August, when they relieved the Kensingtons in the front trenches. On the 8th August, the opening day of the great British advance, the Battalion was relieved by the London Scottish and withdrew to billets in Arras. At this point, therefore, we may leave the l/4th Battalion until the time comes to deal with its role in the great battles of August and September 1918.
The 2/4th Battalion
The experience of the 2/4th Battalion during the summer months was very similar to that of the l/4th Battalion.
The Battalion spent the whole period in the area of the Amiens defences, where the Germans had penetrated most deeply into our positions. The Amiens defences were now far in rear of the old 1916 line, and the work involved in constructing new defences in what, up to five weeks earlier, had been a line of communication area was immense. Shell hole defences had to be linked into continuous trench lines, provided with support and reserve lines and communication trenches, furnished with dugouts and shelters, and defended with wire entanglements.
This formed the greater part of the Battalion's work when in the line ; but it certainly laboured during these months under disadvantages which the l/4th Battalion did not suffer. The upheaval of the British organisation had been much more widely extended in the Amiens area than it had been in the vicinity of Arras, where the withdrawal of our forces had been comparatively shallow, and for a time " back-of-the-line " organisation was inevitably weak. Billets were few and bad, and for the most part the Battalion bivouacked when out of the line. The same opportunities of resting during periods spent in reserve did not, therefore, occur.
We have also recorded that the casualties suffered by the l/4th Battalion at Oppy were made good promptly by a veteran draft which was thoroughly absorbed into the unit during the period of waiting for the final advance. The 2/4th Battalion, which had been more knocked about in the great battles of March and April, was reinforced very slowly, and indeed its losses of the early part of the year were never completely replaced. Such reinforcements as it did receive consisted chiefly of immature youths from home — all endowed with magnificent spirit and courage, but by the nature of the case, less valuable soldiers until they had had a good deal of training in the line. The recuperation of the 2/4th Battalion was thus effected under not the most favourable conditions : a consideration which should count in their favour when we come later to consider the victories they helped to gain in August and September.
A few days of rest in the St Riquier area were allowed the 58th Division after relief from the action at Cachy. The 2/4th Londons were billeted at Le Plessiel between the 27th April and the 6th May, and though no large drafts were received, the accessions of strength were sufficient to allow of a four-company organisation being retained. These were organised : A under Capt. F. J. Griffiths, B under Capt. G. H. Hetley, C under Capt. W. C. Morton, M.C., and D under 2/Lieut. E. V. Grimsdell. Ribands were awarded to those who had recently been decorated, by the Divisional Commander, who also inspected the Battalion Transport and commended it most highly on its turn-out.
The III Corps, which comprised the 18th and 47th (London) Divisions, besides the 58th, was now responsible for the Amiens defences on the line west of Albert from the Ancre to Aveluy Wood.
On the 7th May 1918 the 58th Division came from Corps reserve into the line, and from this date until the 8th August, the beginning of the final advance, was continually in action. The 2/4th Battalion's tours of duty were somewhat irregular owing to the constant changes of position which occurred during this period. The first sector for which the Division was responsible was almost due west of Albert, in front of the ruined village of Bouzin-court. For a fortnight the 2/4th Battalion was in reserve positions, either bivouacked at Molliens au Bois or Warloy or in astonishingly bad billets in Mirvaux, and was given a role as counter-attack battalion to be employed as occasion should arise in the event of a renewed enemy offensive. This involved constant readiness and much reconnaissance work by officers. The last ten days of May were spent in trenches, at first in support and afterwards in the front system. Working parties formed the principal item of routine, but a great deal of very valuable patrolling work was carried out. Over the whole Corps front No Man's Land was indeed nightly occupied by our patrols, who were always ready for a scrap with the enemy and endeavouring to pick up an identification. This was partly to train up the young soldiers in the way they should go and partly for the essential purpose of ascertaining the enemy's intentions as to a further attack.
On the last night of May 2/Lieut. George took a fighting patrol across to the enemy front line after heavy trench mortar preparation. It was found that much damage had been done, but though the trench was searched for 200 yards no enemy were met and the patrol withdrew without having suffered loss.
At this period the enemy was comparatively quiet, confuiing his activity to shell fire in which gas shell figured prominently.
Reinforcements received in May were :
Lieut. B. Rivers Smith (recalled from six months' duty "on exchange ") ; 2/Lieuts. H. G. A. Leach and J. W. George (4th Londons) ; Lieut. H. C. Platts and 2/Lieut. A. L. D. Bold (7th Londons) ; 2/Lieuts. A. J. N. Sievwright and J. Horsfield (12th Londons) ; 2/Lieut. A. R. Armfield (20th Londons) ; 2/Lieuts. H. M. Bradley and W. N. M. Girling (21st Londons). At the end of the month 2/Lieut. Sievwright rejoined his own regiment. Drafts of N.C.O.'s and men totalled 142.
The casualties in May were comparatively light. 2/Lieut. H. M. Bradley and 1 man were killed by the falling in of the dugout they were occupying, and in addition 2 men were killed and 12 wounded.
At the beginning of June the 2/4th Battalion moved back to Contay in Divisional reserve, and resumed its counter-attack duties. Here a severe loss was sustained in Lieut. -Col. W. R. H. Dann, D.S.O., who was appointed to command the 60th Infantry Brigade with the temporary rank of Brigadier-General. Lieut. -Col. Dann had been in continuous command of the 2/4th Londons since November 1916, and during the Battalion's seventeen months of active service he had held the confidence and affection of all ranks. His great skill as a commander, his imperturbable coolness in action, his unfailing care for the welfare of his men, had endeared him to all, and the Battalion said good-bye to him with genuine sorrow. The command was taken temporarily by Major Tollworthy, but on the 8th June Major Grover, D.S.O., M.C., who had been hit at Cachy, rejoined and assumed command with the acting rank of Lieut. -Col.
On the 5th June the Battalion moved to tents and shelters at Mirvaux, where attempts were made to carry out a few days' training. Standing crops, which might on no account be damaged, interfered sadly, and but little was accomplished. The plaint of the Divisional Staff made at the time is rather pathetic : " Training areas have not yet been allotted. As is usually the case the hiring of these is a very lengthy procedure, and is not likely to be completed before the Division leaves the area." Apparently even the full tide of the German offensive had beat in vain against the massive structure of regulations.
The end of May had witnessed the recrudescence of fighting on the French front on the Chemin des Dames. Once again the weight of the enemy's assault had overtaxed our Allies' resources in defence, and by the 4th June the Germans had reached their 1914 line on the Marne at Chateau-Thierry, and were threatening Paris. It was firmly anticipated that this fresh German success would mean another blow against the British front at its junction with the French, and to meet this new menace the XXII Corps was reconstituted under Sir A. J. Godley, in G.H.Q. reserve. To this new formation were posted the 12th, 37th and 58th Divisions, the whole of which were held in readiness to move at two hours' notice. In accordance with this scheme the 173rd Brigade was moved to the Amiens area, the 2/4th Londons being billeted — this time in comfortable quarters — at Guignemicourt on the 10th June.
The German attack between Montdidier and Noyon did in fact develop, and the 37th Division was moved southwards. The 58th Division was, however, not called upon, and, the danger being passed, returned to the line after a week, the 2/4th Battalion moving on the 17th June to Molliens au Bois.
For the remainder of June and the whole of July the 2/4th Battalion remained in forward areas. At first the 173rd Brigade was in line astride the Amiens-Albert Road and the Battalion successively occupied positions in reserve in the La Houssoye line, in support in the Dodo-Hill-Darling system, and in front trenches in the Ethel-Dandy system.
The work on defences and the patrolling activity of the previous month were here continued without abatement, but with very little incident of interest. During the last week of June the weather, which had been uniformly good, was broken by some heavy showers, which at once developed the extraordinary propensity of French mud for turning into glue on the least provocation. This hampered work on the defences but had no effect on the spirit of the Battalion, which with careful training was now developing once more into a well-knit and disciplined fighting unit full of good cheer and confidence.
On the 25th June Capt. F. W. Walker, D.S.O., who had been wounded at Cachy, rejoined and resumed his duties as Adjutant.
The following officers joined in June :
Lieut. A. R. Muddell (4th Londons) ; Lieut. G. de G. Barkas, M.C. (to Intelligence Officer) and 2/Lieuts. T. G. Owen and S. T. Morris (1st Londons) ; 2/Lieut. H. Slater (3rd Londons) ; Lieut. J. D. Morrison and 2/Lieuts. G. H. Main, R. D. Cotton and K. W. Gauld (14th Londons) ; 2/Lieut. F. Bidgood (16th Londons) ; Lieut. O. I. Mansel-Howe (23rd Londons) ; and Lieut. C. C. Brissenden (A.S.C.).
Reinforcements of 181 N.C.O.'s and men— mostly young soldiers — were also received.
A few days spent in reserve at Baizieux in the first week of July brought the 2/4th Battalion for the first time into contact with American troops, a battalion of whom were bivouacked here.
The month of July was passed in similar fashion to those which had preceded it. From the 6th to the 18th the Battalion was in the Ethel-Dandy system, astride the Amiens-Albert Road, at first in front trenches and subsequently in support. On the 18th a withdrawal to reserve lines at Baizieux and Lavieville was effected, and here the Battalion remained for nine days. After one day spent in cleaning up in Behencourt the Battalion moved into line again on the 27th July, relieving the 30th Australian Battalion in support trenches around Ribemont, between that village and Buire-sur-Ancre.
Life in the Ribemont sector was comparatively peaceful. As before the men were principally occupied in working parties on the defences and the officers in reconnoitring lines of approach to the front trenches. On the whole the enemy was quiet, though he frequently added insult to injury by dropping on the Battalion gas shells evidently intended for the batteries which were in action just in rear of it. The trenches were comfortable, for all these months of hard work had been to some purpose ; and the presence of ruined villages in the near vicinity was the means of adding touches of home life in the shape of a few odd sticks of broken furniture which had formerly graced a cottage home in Buire. An inter-platoon boundary in one of the trenches was marked by what had once been a handsome perambulator, while a little further on a basket-work dressmaker's model stood sentry over a shell hole in ludicrous isolation.
The ravages of the influenza epidemic of June and July were severe, and casualties from this cause far exceeded those inflicted by the enemy. Between the battle at Cachy and the end of July no fewer than 427 other ranks of the Battalion were sent to hospital, though most of these rejoined after a week or two of absence.
On the 19th July the Battalion lost Lieut. S. A. Seys (15th Londons attached), the assistant adjutant, who had served with it since February 1917, and who left for attachment to the staff of the 60th Brigade. An able administrator, Seys, who, though not a 4th London officer, had loyally made the regiment his own during his service with it, left behind him many friends who sincerely regretted his departure.
During July Lieut. A. G. Croll and drafts of 92 other ranks joined the Battalion. 2/Lieuts. Gauld and Cotton rejoined their own regiment. While the Battalion was at Baizieux the medical officer, Lieut. Dunaway, U.S. Army, was presented by the Corps Commander with the Military Cross, awarded him for services in March and April. It is believed that Dunaway was one of the first American officers to receive a British decoration for gallantry in the field.
At the end of July companies were commanded as follows : A by Lieut. C. C, Brissenden, B. by Capt. A. G. Croll, C by Capt. W. H. Parslow and D by Capt. B. Rivers Smith.
All who served in the Albert sector during the summer of 1918 will remember the Albert Road. This was very largely used at night by incoming and outgoing troops who used to join it somewhere in the neighbourhood of Pont Noyelles. The journey up it was an experience which it would indeed be hard to forget. On both sides of the road was ranged battery after battery ; it seemed impossible that so many guns could be massed in so small a compas. " A succession of blinding flashes alternated with inky blackness. The road itself was encumbered with ammunition lorries, ration limbers and field ambulances. Thundering detonations from the guns and a continued grating roar from the traffic made the journey a nightmare." So writes Croll. The picture is indeed sufficiently disturbing. But in spite of the noisy horror a Battalion such as the 2/4th Londons, who had made close acquaintance with the seamy side of war in the retreat from La Fere, could not but be heartened by the realisation that already past losses had been made good, and that night by night the roar of the British guns was becoming louder and yet louder, till at last they were ready to roar forth the barrage which was to lead our troops to final victory.
The whole experience of July 1918 indeed, though devoid of exciting incident, was such as to impress the Battalion with the realisation that the time of waiting was nearly at an end, and that the equilibrium, to gain which we had been straining every nerve for three months, was almost attained. Heavy as the German bombardments had been from time to time, our guns with increasing frequency demonstrated their power to silence the enemy artillery. The results achieved by patrolling had shown that in growing measure we were becoming masters of No Man's Land, and encounters with enemy patrols afforded conclusive proof of the individual prowess and courage of our men as well as their superior morale.
Relieved from the trenches at Ribemont by the 1/lst Cambridgeshire Regiment, the 2/4th Londons concentrated at Behencourt on the evening of the 2nd August, and, embussing at once, reached Pernois, in the Domart area, in the early morning of the 3rd. Here it remained till brought back to the line to take part in the great battle of the 8th August.
The Reserve Battalion
In April 1918 the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion moved from Blackdown Camp to Maida Barracks, Aldershot. The reason for this move was primarily to provide troops for use in tactical schemes by students at the Senior Officers' School, then stationed at Oudenarde Barracks.
While carrying out this duty the Battalion was called upon to supply large parties daily for the School where they were commanded by Student Officers. It cannot be said that this duty, which fell largely on the "A IV " platoons, was beneficial to training. The regular course of instruction was interfered with, and a large amount of field work was carried out before the recruits engaged in it were sufficiently advanced to appreciate what they were supposed to be doing. The individual training was thus delayed and its resumption rendered proportionately difficult when at last the attachment to the School ceased. During the period spent at Maida the Expeditionary Company practically ceased to exist, as all N.C.O.'s and men who rejoined from hospital or the Command Depot were posted temporarily to the 1st (Reserve) Battalion, which remained at Blackdown.
The German offensive of March completely revolutionised the Reserve Battalion. The frightful losses at the front had to be made good immediately at all costs. Training staffs were reduced to a minimum, and every fit officer and N.C.O. as well as every recruit, whose training was advanced enough to lend colourable justification to it, was at once sent overseas. The call for men did not cease here. The General Order forbidding the despatch of " young soldiers " overseas was, under pressure of circumstances, revoked, and volunteers were called for from the "A IV " boys. The response was, as may be expected, magnificent. Under age, under-trained, these gallant boys had but one thought — to join their overseas battalions in the fighting line. At the end of a week the Battalion was almost denuded of recruits under training, while the orderly room and training staffs were on the point of breakdown from almost continuous work and strain.
Among the first to answer the call was Lieut. -Col. Hanbury Sparrow, the Commanding Officer, who rejoined his regiment. His place in command was taken by Lieut. -Col. Sir Hugh Lacon, D.S.O., the Warwickshire Regiment, who retained the appointment till shortly before the Armistice.
So reduced in numbers was the Battalion that it was no longer useful to the Senior Officer's School, and it was accordingly relieved by a stronger battalion and returned to Blackdown early in August, being quartered in Frith Hill Hutments. At the end of August the duties of second in command were assumed by Major H. J. Duncan-Teape, who rejoined from hospital.
Training was resumed on the usual routine at Frith Hill, and at the end of August the emergency order as to despatching "A IV " boys on draft was rescinded. The young soldiers, therefore, reverted to the former scheme of more gradual training. The staff was, however, busily employed with 400 coal-miners, enlisted into the Welsh Regiment, and sent to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion for training. These miners were excellent material, but their training was not completed until the week following the Armistice, so that they were deprived of the opportunity of seeing active service and were rapidly demobilised. These Welshmen were endowed in large measure with the national gift for part-singing, and were thus enabled to contribute materially to the social life of the Battalion.
During Armistice week a further reduction of Home Cadres involved the amalgamation of the 1st and 3rd (Reserve) Battalions, under the title of 1st (Reserve) Battalion, so that the one reserve unit was made responsible for supply of drafts (few of course were needed) to the whole Fusilier Brigade. The combined unit was commanded by Col. Vickers Dunfee, V.D., until his demobilisation early in December, when command was given to Lieut. -Col. A. Mather (Leinster Regiment).
Shortly after Christmas 1918 demobilisation began to thin the ranks of the Battalion, while further ravages were made by the transfer of most of the "A IV " boys to Young Soldier Battalions, preparatory to their despatch to join the Army of the Rhine. In February 1919 the Battalion moved to Shoreham-by-Sea, and by the end of the month its disbandment was completed.