HISTORY OF 1/8th BATTALION
THE LAST FIGHT
October 4th, 1918.— November 11th, 1918.
Such impromptu cleaning up as was possible, was carried out during what remained of October 4th, and we felt much better. We also carried out a certain amount of reorganisation of Companies, which were now thinning rather more rapidly than we cared for, but the opportune arrival of 85 reinforcements at this moment, helped us considerably. The enemy caused a certain amount of annoyance, and a few casualties, by every now and then firing in our direction with a high-velocity gun, and at night dropped a few bombs uncomfortably near, so that it was not quite as peaceful as we should have liked.
The next morning we were rather disturbed at hearing that there was more work to be done. The 32nd Division on our right had suffered heavy casualties in trying to get hold of Sequehart, and the 139th Brigade was now detailed to relieve some of their exhausted troops. At this moment our Brigade was attached to the 6th Division. Rapid reconnaissance was made during the day, and at night we relieved the 97th Brigade. So heavy had their casualties been that our three Companies for the front line and support each relieved a Battalion. These were Dorsets, Highland Light Infantry and Royal Scots.
The line taken over ran through the village of Sequehart, and was the extreme right of the British front, next to the French. C Company were on the right, D on the left, astride the cross roads, with B in support and A in reserve. C Company had the unusual privilege of forming an "International Post" with the French, and Corpl. Simpson, who spoke the language, was put in charge of our part of the garrison. We cannot say that after our visits to the French Headquarters, we felt we quite knew where their front line was, but possibly it was our fault. When they suggested "we are here," we certainly thought they were somewhere else, but we managed very well, and materially assisted them in an attack on the 7th, by conforming to their movements and giving them flank support, and their Commanding Officer expressed his grateful thanks for our help.
We have before spoken of "Bloody Ypres." The Officer Commanding D Company is reported to have applied the superlative of the same expressive word to this sector, but then he had cause for doing so, for during the two days the Battalion held it, his Company Headquarters got five direct hits. Perhaps under such circumstances, he was slightly embittered! During the time we were there, the enemy hardly ceased to shell the village—not desultory shelling, but veritable barrages from end to end. It had already changed hands three times, and we wondered if they were going to try and turn us out! Signs of fierce struggles were on every hand. In the streets and all around lay bodies still unburied, both of our own and the enemy's. It was a ghastly place to be in. Signallers and linesmen had a particularly rough time, and lines were down almost continuously.
October 6th, was a particularly bad day, as we lost Col. Dempster and the Second-in-Command (Capt. C. P. Elliott), both wounded. They had gone to see how things were going on in the forward area, and on returning to Headquarters, which was in a dug-out behind Levergies, they were unfortunate enough to be in the neighbourhood of a dump of shells by the roadside at the same moment as a Hun gunner dropped a shell right on the dump. The result was that both these Officers began to soar skywards, as if off for their "harp and wings divine," but eventually found themselves on mother earth once more, the Commanding Officer badly shaken and cut about the face, the strap of his tin hat broken by the force of the explosion, and Pynsent Elliott finding that for some little time he would have to take his meals off the mantelpiece! The Commanding Officer was anxious to be allowed to remain with us, but eventually was persuaded otherwise, and they both left for the Dressing Station, and Major V. O. Robinson, M.C., of the 6th Battalion, was sent to take over temporary command.
The following night we were relieved by the Monmouths, who had orders to clear out the Boche from some machine gun nests on the Sequehart-Mericourt Road the next morning, in conjunction with an attack by the 6th Division on the left, and French on the right. Relief was complete about midnight, and we marched back to Lehaucourt, where we spent the following day. On October 9th, Col. Dempster returned, though not looking at all well. Major Robinson remained with us as Second-in-Command, as Major Andrews had left a few days previously, to attend the Senior Officers' Course at Aldershot. A day or two later Capt. Miners was appointed Adjutant, and was succeeded in command of C Company by 2nd Lieut. Druce.
Things were now moving rapidly. Although the gallant attack by the Monmouths had been repulsed with heavy casualties, their action had enabled the 6th Division to get on, and eventually surround the enemy and capture the lot. The enemy then withdrew more quickly, closely followed by the 138th Brigade, who led the pursuit. On October 9th, we moved to Levergies, and the next day to Mericourt, where we went into bivouacs. This village was just on the West of Fresnoy-le-Grand, which was entered by the 138th Brigade the same morning.
We now took a little more interest in life. Everyone was feeling better for the rest, and found the rapid movement quite entertaining, especially as we were now approaching civilisation again. Fresnoy was the first town of any size that we reached; though showing distinct signs of shelling here and there, it was not badly damaged. It was interesting to see the Boche "War Savings Campaign" posters, and probably the most interesting specimen, painted all over the gable end of a house, represented "John Bull" on his Island, tearing his hair in a perfect frenzy, with "U" Boats all around him! Here, too, there were many inhabitants, who were of course delighted to see us. Much of the land was under cultivation, and we had really come to the end of that desolate region which was so distasteful to us all.
On October 12th, we moved a further step forward, and that afternoon reached Jonnecourt Farm, between Fresnoy and Bohain. Just before leaving we had all welcomed back Col. Currin, more or less recovered from his wound, and with his arrival Col. Dempster left us. Jonnecourt Farm was somewhat damaged, and said to be mined, so we put up our bivouacs and tents in the open just by it. The farm had been captured only a few days before by our Cavalry, and we had the uncongenial task of burying the bodies of those who had been killed in the attack. We now had a few days peace, and were able to refit, bath at the old German baths in Fresnoy, which were excellently fitted up, and reorganise our diminished forces. A pleasing little ceremony was performed here, when the "Congratulatory Cards" from the Divisional Commander for the N.C.O.'s and men, who had been recommended for good work during the recent fighting, were presented to them by the Commanding Officer at a Battalion Parade, ending up with the Battalion marching past the recipients whilst the band played the Regimental March.
We were not left here for long, there being more "dirty work" to be done yet. The 138th Brigade had been joined by the 137th Brigade, and together they were now held up about the Bois-de-Riquerval, East of Bohain, where some tough fighting had been going on, the enemy rear-guard making a stout defence, so as to give his main body time to get away. With the object, therefore, of clearing the whole of this front and pushing the enemy back to the Sambre-Oise Canal, a general attack was arranged to take place on October 17th, by the IX Corps in conjunction with the French on the right, and the Americans on the left, the 46th Division being ordered to clear the enemy from the Bois-de-Riquerval and the Andigny-les-Fermes Ridge.
On October 16th, we received orders for the attack, which was to take place early the following morning. The 138th Brigade were to attack on the left of the 139th Brigade whilst the 137th Brigade were to hold their present line on the right. The attack of the 139th Brigade was to be on a one Battalion front, and we were selected to carry out the attack, with two Companies of the 5th Battalion in close support, the remainder of the Brigade being in reserve. The objective (The "Blue Line") was the line of the Andigny-les-Fermes-Bohain Road, the consolidation of which was to include two strong points, one being the hamlet of Regnicourt. Royal Engineers were allotted to us to help in the consolidation, and posts were to be pushed forward South of this road. The two Companies of the 5th Battalion had two tasks allotted. One was to move through our right Company, after the objective had been captured, occupy a small length of trench there, and seize a small wood, so as to protect our right from possible counter-attack from Hennechies Wood. The other was to follow our centre Company, mop up any enemy left in the elements of trenches in that Company's area, and help to mop up Regnicourt itself.
Tanks were to assist in the operation, one moving down our right boundary, and helping to mop up the trenches on the extreme right, and two others working along the high ground on the left, and assisting if required in the capture of Regnicourt, proceeding thence to help the 138th Brigade at Andigny-les-Fermes.
A glance at the map will show that the attack was at right angles to the general line of our advance, which was North East. It was therefore impossible for our guns to fire the normal barrage, and the attack had to be carried out under an enfilade barrage, working forward on the leap-frog principle. This was difficult to lay correctly, and the greatest care had to be taken that troops forming up were well clear of it. After three minutes on the opening line it was to advance at the rate of 100 yards every three minutes. One round of smoke shell was to be fired at each lift, which obviously would not be so easy to identify as in the case of an overhead barrage. A smoke curtain was also to be fired on the Northern edge of the Forêt d'Andigny. The Life Guards Machine Gun Battalion were to help with their barrage, also a Company of the 6th Machine Gun Battalion. Three sections of our own Machine Gun Battalion were allotted to us, to be used mainly in defence against possible counter-attacks, and a section from the 139th Trench Mortar Battery, to assist in the capture of Regnicourt.
In order to help matters on our front a "Chinese" or "Dummy" attack was arranged to take place on the front of the 137th Brigade on the right. Dummy Tanks and figures were to be placed in position during the night, so as to appear at dawn as if attacking the Bois-de-Riquerval from the West, whilst a rolling barrage was arranged to move through the wood in order to give a further idea of an attack being in progress there, and, it was hoped, bring down some of the enemy's barrage in that quarter.
During the afternoon of October 16th, a reconnaissance was made by the Commanding Officer, Second-in-Command, and Company Commanders. During this operation, which was interrupted by a fierce bombardment of our lines, an old lady could be seen quietly moving her household effects on a wheelbarrow down that portion of the Vaux-Andigny Road running between our lines and the enemy's.
Leaving our surplus stores, bivouacs and other paraphernalia at Jonnecourt Farm, we moved off about 10.30 p.m., Col. Currin having previously harangued us in no uncertain way, and in a manner truly characteristic. On reaching the outskirts of Bohain, we turned off to the right and proceeded by a track previously taped out by the Royal Engineers, so as to relieve the roads of traffic, and avoid going through the town. On reaching the quarry East of Bohain, just off the Bohain-Vaux-Andigny Road, we halted, and had an excellent issue of hot porridge, tea and rum—our cookers having gone up to that point beforehand. Pack mules and limbers with ammunition and other stores, were a little further behind, but near enough to be got forward quickly if required during the battle. On this occasion the ammunition supply was well arranged, thanks to the good work of "Bedder" and "Tommy" Tomlinson, who got pack mules forward in the attack with Lewis gun "drums" just at the right moment, to the accompaniment of some very expressive language on the part of the Transport men.
We moved on again between 2 and 3 a.m., and without difficulty reached and formed up on our jumping-off line, which had been previously taped out by the Brigade Major, Capt. Grinling, about 70 yards South of the Bohain-Vaux-Andigny Road. We had three Companies in the front line, A (Toyne, in the absence of Thomas on leave) on the right; B (Geary) in the centre; and C (Druce) on the left; whilst D (Warner), in support behind C Company, was in the vicinity of Vallée Hasard Farm. Battalion Headquarters and the Regimental Aid Post were at a house near the road. A and B Companies each had attached half a section of Royal Engineers from the 465th Field Company. Two Companies of the 5th Battalion were in rear, and the rest of that Battalion were more or less dug in under the woods on our right. The 6th Battalion were in reserve North-West of the road. All troops were in position by 3.45 a.m. on October 17th. Our actual forming up line was in the area of the 6th Division, who had been holding the front we were attacking; they withdrew from this line some time before "zero" so as to give us a free course.
The frontage allotted to us was about 1,200 yards, each of the leading Companies thus having approximately 400 yards. This was a long space to cover, especially now that our numbers were so diminished that we had been forced to reduce platoons to three sections instead of four. Each of the leading Companies had three platoons in the front line, with sections in blobs, and one platoon in support, whilst D Company was formed in a rectangle with a platoon at each corner, and Company Headquarters in the centre, the three sections of each platoon being arranged in a kind of arrowhead.
Zero was 5.20 a.m. The barrage came down punctually, and we started forward to our last attack. There was a certain amount of mist which developed into a dense fog, and was doubtless intensified by our own smoke shells. A troop of our Cavalry in the vicinity of the Vaux-Andigny road put their gas masks on, and were last seen moving along the road in that "get-up."
It is pretty safe to say that everyone was lost almost immediately, and as a consequence we wandered out of our course, a fact which was destined to give us much trouble. It was also impossible to judge the lifts of the barrage, so that there was great confusion, and things for a long while did not go at all well. On this occasion, too, compasses do not appear to have proved of great avail. C Company on the left kept going for some time alright, and got possession of some high ground after overcoming, under the excellent leadership of 2nd Lieut. Druce, some opposition from machine gun nests, though some of these were missed owing to the fog. Then they wandered off in an Easterly direction and got on to the 138th Brigade area on our left, and later, when the fog cleared, they found themselves nearly at Andigny-les-Fermes. B Company in the centre went on until they were held up by unbroken wire, and heavy machine gun fire from the Regnicourt Ridge, and from a clearing in the centre of the Battalion area. Their Commander, Capt. Geary, was killed by machine gun fire after leading his men with the greatest bravery. On many previous occasions he had done excellent work, and his loss was most keenly felt. A Company on the right soon lost touch with B, but got on until they reached a position near the railway track, in spite of having had a very nasty time and many casualties from the machine guns in the same clearing.
D Company lost touch with everyone at first, and got completely split up. Company Headquarters were lucky enough to run into a Boche machine gun post, which they cleared with much skill, capturing 11 men, and putting the two guns out of action. Then they decided to try and find Battalion Headquarters, as they concluded they must have got too far forward. By a somewhat circuitous route they eventually succeeded in doing so, and found that Col. Currin had also had difficulty in getting to his advanced Headquarters, which was no more than a "Map Reference." Of the rest of D Company, three platoons got across to the right of our front and did good work there, particularly 2nd Lieut. Newton and his platoon, who were of great assistance to A Company. A great feat was performed by some members of the other platoon of D Company, who had kept their direction on the left towards Regnicourt. Having run up against a couple of machine guns, Sergt. Robinson and L.-Corpl. Harper went forward to reconnoitre the position, and finding it strongly held, went back for the rest of the platoon. With a combination of "fire and movement" they succeeded in getting round the flank of the post and rushing it. L.-Corpl. Harper, who stood up when only a few yards from the post in order to be able to aim more accurately, was shot through the head, and L.-Corpl. Coombes at once rushed forward, shot six Germans with his revolver, and finished off the last man who was trying to run away with his Lewis gun.
When news of all these happenings duly reached him by runners, stragglers and other means. Col. Currin collected all the oddments who had wandered to his Headquarters, and sent them forward under Major Robinson to push the enemy out of the clearing between B and C Companies. The fog had to a certain extent cleared by this time, but it was still not easy to keep direction. Very soon, however, it lifted altogether, and the party found itself on the Western edge of the clearing and fired at by the enemy both from the clearing and from the ridge towards their right front, from which the enemy were also firing into the rear of B Company, who had gone past them.
The party now advanced by bounds, and was throughout most gallantly led by Major Robinson, who went out absolutely unarmed, but later managed to get a Boche pistol lent him, which he very soon lost. Knowing him as we do we are not surprised that such a small matter did not worry him in the least! Eventually they got possession of a trench on the ridge, which afforded them a certain amount of cover. The garrison of this trench, about 10 men with a machine gun, were very fortunate in receiving quarter, as they fired on our advancing line up to the last minute, and then threw up their hands. Most of the trouble now came from machine guns about half right, and it was determined to round them up. At this point Sergt. Winson, of C Company, did most excellent work. Regardless of all risk he kept his Lewis gun trained on the enemy, whilst a party worked round their right flank, first by crawling over to a small clearing, and then rushing the post from there. This manoeuvre was entirely successful, six machine guns, and about 40 prisoners being captured.
At the same time that part of C Company, which had wandered away to the left, turned back and moved towards the high ground East of Regnicourt. The enemy in the clearing now realised that they were more or less surrounded, and after little more resistance surrendered, 27 machine guns and 140 prisoners being taken from this small area. A Company of the 5th Battalion under our old Regimental Quarter-Master Sergt., now Capt. Dench, arrived shortly afterwards and took up a position in the clearing as a reserve.
A Company on the right had fared very badly, having met with heavy machine gun and rifle fire and suffered many casualties, including their commander. Lieut. Toyne, who was wounded, and 2nd Lieut. Jacques, killed, leaving the Company under the command of 2nd Lieut. Shackleton. Eventually, owing to their exposed position they had to retire slightly, but later were reinforced by two Companies from the 5th Battalion, and together they were able, after some very stiff fighting, to dislodge the enemy and get their objective. Lieut. Thomas of the 465th Field Company, Royal Engineers, did some very gallant work here in reorganising parties and leading them forward in attempts to get on, and the greatest praise is due to him for his splendid efforts.
Major Robinson's party, after getting the Ridge, pushed on to Regnicourt Village, where they found some of the Leicesters, who had wandered on to our front. Just beyond, one of our Tanks had broken down, and had a very rough time before its crew could be rescued. It was now about 10.15 a.m. Capt. Warner was put in charge of the front line with orders to consolidate, and he accordingly reorganised the odd parties of men he found under his command, and began to establish strong points South of the Andigny-les-Fermes-Bohain Road. Some trouble was caused at this time by a German field gun inside Hennechies Wood, which was firing on these parties at point blank range. Once its position was located, however, it was not long before our Gunners forced it to withdraw, and the posts were eventually established.
About 11 a.m. the enemy were seen massing for a counter-attack about 1,500 yards away on our right front, but we got the guns of the whole "group" turned on to the area in a very short time, and the Boches were completely broken, only a half-hearted attempt being made, and only one man reaching our lines.
By noon the enemy in the Forêt d'Andigny must have begun to feel that with the 138th Brigade—who had now captured the village of Andigny-les-Fermes—on their right flank, and the 137th Brigade and ourselves on their left, it was time they were moving, for a patrol which we pushed out towards the wood found it occupied only by a few odd machine guns. Major Robinson himself took charge of this patrol, which consisted of a platoon of B Company, under Comp. Sergt.-Major Cobb. On one or two occasions, owing to their small numbers they had to creep round to avoid these machine guns, but they escaped without accident, and after proceeding a distance of something like 2,000 yards in a South-Eastern direction, they eventually found a French post about 100 yards South of "Forester's House." The "poilus" were delighted to see them, and shewed their appreciation by giving our men the whole of the contents of their water bottles.
About 5 p.m., Companies having been to some extent reorganised, an outpost line was formed running due North and South from Hennechies Wood, East of Regnicourt, and joining up on the left with the 138th Brigade. Later on, the 137th Brigade moved up a Battalion through the wood to fill the gap between our right flank and the French.
During the attack we captured something like 220 prisoners, and nearly 100 machine guns, besides inflicting many other casualties. Our own losses, too, were heavy—the heaviest in Officers that we had experienced in the recent fighting. Besides Geary, we lost 2nd Lieuts. Plant and Jacques killed, and Lieuts. Toyne and Whitelegge, and 2nd Lieut. John H. Smith wounded, whilst in other ranks we lost 25 killed or died of wounds, and 54 wounded, including Sergts. Oldham, Sharrock and Wicks. Deeds of gallantry were conspicuous on all sides, and especially good work was done by several N.C.O.'s in charge of platoons. Amongst the following, who did particularly well and have not already been mentioned in connection with the Battle of Regnicourt, are several who had previously displayed conspicuous courage in other recent battles: Sergts. Shepperson, Sharrock, Wallis, Scrimshaw, and H. Wilson; Corpls. Watson and Francis; L.-Corpls. Slater, Creamer (killed), Robinson and Beech, and Pvtes. Wesley, Houghton, Martin, Draper, Jackson, Berresford, C. Smith, Vipond, Lees, Turpin and Roe.
In a way it was an unsatisfactory day, and we feel we have hardly had our deserts for the gallant work done by all ranks against an enemy holding in much greater strength much more strongly fortified positions than had been anticipated. The fighting was extremely hard, if anything harder than at Ramicourt, and the greatest possible credit is due to all for the gallant way they fought, and the great dash and determination they displayed to get their objective. Regnicourt is apt to be looked on as a small matter, but for the 8th Battalion it was one of the most strenuously fought battles of the war.
About midnight, we were relieved by the 6th Battalion, and rested for the night just behind Regnicourt. The following day, as the Brigade had been squeezed out of the line altogether by the further retirement of the enemy, we were able to withdraw, and in the evening marched back to Fresnoy. We were met on the road by our Drums, under the leadership of Corpl. (shortly to become Sergt.-Drummer) Coupe, who had got them to a wonderful state of perfection. They cheered everyone up, and considerably helped the last part of the march. We were glad to see General Harington waiting for us just before reaching the village, and his brief "Well done, Sherwoods" as we passed, was the fullest appreciation of our efforts that we could wish for.
We now had several days complete rest, and were fortunate in getting, almost at once, a draft of 120 reinforcements, mostly men of the Northumberland Hussars, who had not previously seen service abroad. They were a good lot, and with their addition we felt more like ourselves once more; in fact our paper strength now totalled 34 Officers, and 745 other ranks. We had quite a pleasant time doing a little training, as well as reorganising and cleaning, and devoting the afternoons to football.
The fighting moving further off each day, we had to move forward on October 29th to Bohain. This was carried out as a Brigade march, and we entered Bohain with bands playing, and the civilian population in the streets to welcome us. The town had been knocked about very little, and the billets were extremely comfortable. Our training here included a route march across the scene of our recent fighting, in order to imbue the newly arrived with a sense of the honour they should realise had been done them in posting them to such a fine Battalion!
A great drawback to our advance all this time was the business-like way in which the Boche had mined the roads and blown up railways. Every railway and river bridge had been systematically blown up, and mines had been put at every cross roads, and usually in the deep cuttings and high embankments, so as to give the maximum of trouble in filling and getting past. In many cases, these mines had actually been blown and all we found were huge craters. In a few cases delay-action mines had been laid, which did not explode for some little time. All this gave our Sappers much work to do in reconnoitring road crossings, and other points for signs of mining where they were not blown, or in arranging for temporary roadways to be constructed, or craters to be filled in where they had been exploded. But on a larger scale the enemy's very clever system of working his delay-action mines on the railways, was the biggest nuisance we had to contend with. The railway having been repaired well forward, a mine would suddenly go up miles behind, thus preventing trains getting on to the appointed railhead, and so causing endless worry to the authorities who had to arrange for our supplies coming up. To them this disorganisation must have been extremely disconcerting, and it went on altogether for nearly a month. The mines were so cunningly concealed that it was impossible to locate them. In spite of everything supplies reached us in some marvellous way without a hitch.
On November 3rd, in order to support the 1st and 32nd Divisions, who were to attack the line of the Sambre-Oise Canal on the following day, and to exploit the success if they broke through, we moved to the little village of Escaufort. It was a heavy march, the roads were bad, and we arrived late in the evening soaked through to spend a dreary night in poor billets, many of which had suffered during the bombardment of the last few days, and in bivouacs. Early the following morning we pushed on to St. Souplet, where we prepared to stay for the night in a few old barns. Later in the day, however, news was brought that the attack had been successful, and we moved on to Catillon, on the Canal. Transport, Quarter-Master's Stores and Battle Details moved to Mazinghien. The same night we got orders that we were to pass through the 1st Division and 138th Brigade, and take up the pursuit, the following day.
We had been informed that owing to the "blowing" of the bridge over the Canal at Catillon, we should have to make a détour of several miles with cookers and Lewis gun limbers to get across by a pontoon bridge, in order to arrive at our point of assembly on the Catillon-La Groise Road, which was only about 1,000 yards away! We determined to see if we could not find some other means of doing this, and thanks to a reconnaissance by Major Robinson, we found that it was possible for Infantry to cross the Canal over débris from the blown up bridge, though the Transport would have to go round. This was a great boon, as it enabled us to get breakfast before starting considerably later than would otherwise have been necessary. Capt. A. Bedford arrived with the rations about 3.0 a.m., we had breakfast at six, and at eight moved off, being across the Canal, and in our proper position by 8.30. Limbers and cookers joined us about nine, A Company's cooker having fallen overboard in crossing the pontoon bridge but having been extricated without damage. We were the only Battalion in the Brigade that day to start out with a full stomach and our day's rations with us!
Late in the afternoon we moved into poor billets in the village of Mezières, where we stayed the night, and were joined by Transport, Stores and Battle Details. Bedford worked uncommonly well, as did also the Quarter-Master's Branch, in getting up rations, which they had to man-handle over the canal crossing—still impossible for traffic—and reload into our transport limbers. For all their efforts we were duly thankful.
On November 6th, the 5th Battalion were to attack as the 6th had been held up just West of Prisches, and we were to move up in support. The method adopted was for the attacking troops to pass round the village, whilst the support Battalion, pushing one Company on the road as an advanced guard, moved by platoons at about 50 yards interval. This was now true open warfare, and there was no organised line of defence. The day's objectives were Prisches and Cartignies. After an early start we continued our march towards Prisches, the attacking troops meeting with little opposition, and our advanced guard, A Company, were quickly in after them. The enemy had gone and we had got possession by 10.30 a.m.
We shall never forget the reception by the inhabitants of Prisches! We were the first of the relieving troops they had seen, and their feelings at being thus released after four years of oppression and slavery at the hands of the Hun, found expression in many demonstrations of joy and gratitude. Civilians of all ages came out to greet us. Their national flags—Heaven only knows where they came from or how they were concealed from the enemy—were displayed on all sides, and even before the enemy were clear of the village the Tricolour was floating from the Church Tower! It was truly a wonderful sight, and a day never to be forgotten. We were surrounded by offers of coffee and fruit, cider and cognac, plentifully mingled with the tears and kisses of the grateful inhabitants. Indeed, so insistent were they that progress became difficult. We eventually, however, managed to establish Battalion Headquarters in a farmhouse at the East end of the village, where we again had a great reception, and stayed for some refreshment during a temporary hold-up of the advanced troops.
The attacking troops were to push on through the next village, Cartignies, and establish an outpost line on the other side of it. So rapid was the retreat, and so certain were we of success, that whilst at Prisches we despatched Bradish and a party of N.C.O.'s to get our billets there for the night! In the afternoon we were able to push on with the rest of the Battalion, B Company forming the advanced guard. On arriving at Cartignies we were met by Bradish, who informed us that he had made arrangements for billeting us, but that half the village was still in the hands of the enemy, who were firing on the 5th Battalion with machine guns. The Commanding Officer whilst reconnoitring near the Church, soon discovered this for himself, so withdrew diplomatically, deciding that it was not "our war" just then. Accordingly we got into our billets and posted sentries and Lewis guns at windows and other points for our protection. Owing to some of the Staffords who were also in the village, deciding to hold their outpost line in the village, instead of on the other side the river, the clearing of the village was a longer process than it should have been. It caused us no trouble, but we doubt if Tomlinson and Tebbutt would have slept so comfortably had they known that their billet was in No Man's Land! However, all was well; we had had another great reception from the delighted inhabitants, and after a long and tiring day we were soon asleep in good, comfortable billets.
For the next three days we stayed there, being joined by the Transport and Stores, Battle Details and several Officers from England, who had never been out before.
The Hun was now going away rapidly, and it was very doubtful if we should be required again. We never were, and were glad to find we had done with him.
There was talk of an Armistice, and we were also warned that German Envoys were expected, and might come through our lines. This they did not do and we were not sorry.
On November 10th, we had to move out of Cartignies to a small village, Boulogne-sur-Helpe, near by—the most Easterly point the Battalion ever reached.
November 11th came in just the same as any other day, but quite early a wire from Brigade Headquarters stated that the Germans had agreed to our Armistice terms, and the Great War was over.