H. C. (Herbert Charles) O'Neill.

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On taking up position at the Bremen Redoubt the Fusiliers
again suffered heavily. The barrage was now on the
redoubt, and it was with the utmost difficulty that the
men could be got to their positions. In front of them this
determined German resistance had produced some dis-
organisation in the attacking force, and it was decided to
move the battalion forward to a ridge some 300 yards in
front of the Bremen Redoubt. This position was taken
up and all stragglers in the neighbourhood were rallied.
The shell fire continued to be severe, and the losses heavy.



194 ROYAL FUSILIERS IN THE GREAT WAR

The ground was very bad, and it was difficult to collect
the men in the midst of the heavy bombardments when
the battalion were ordered to move forward at i a.m. on
the 27th. Their new position was between 200 and 300
yards west of the road running north-west from Zonnebeke,
with the right flank about 400 yards north of the railway.
In the morning the battalion had two companies in front
and two in rear, with the 13th King's on the right and the
59th Division on the left.

At 2 p.m. the battalion were ordered to move forward
and occupy a line some 200 to 250 yards west of the road
from Zonnebeke station to Jacob's House and to connect
up with the East Yorks and K.S.L.I., still keeping touch
with the 13th King's on the right. In spite of the heavy
machine-gun and rifle fire from Hill 40, which caused
many casualties, the movement was carried out in good
order. The two battalions on the left, holding a line of
shell-holes to Jacob's House were relieved by the Royal
Fusiliers on the night of September 28th ; and the bat-
talion dug and consolidated two lines of trenches along
the whole of their front to the left of the 13th King's. On
September 30th they were relieved, after a tour of four
days, during which time they had carried out every duty
allotted to them with perfect discipline and efficiency.
Their casualty list totalled 205, but they had found a
crumbling position and they left one established and
organised.

It was on September 30th that the 13th Battalion were
called upon to deal with a local counter-attack. They
were lying at the time astride the Menin road, with an
advanced blockhouse near the western edge of Gheluvelt
Wood. At 5.30 a.m. a heavy bombardment by trench
mortars was opened by the Germans on the whole position,
and the support lines as far back as Bassevillebeek valley
came under a heavy barrage. Ten minutes later the
advanced post, which was held at the time by Second
Lieutenant Shorman and 10 other ranks of No. 2 Company,
was attacked by about 300 Germans, armed with jlamm en-



13TH BATTALION AT MENIN ROAD 195

werfer. After a short and fierce struggle the post was
captured, all the garrison being killed or wounded. An
immediate counter-attack was organised by Captain T.
Whitehead, commanding No. 2 Company, and very swiftly
the blockhouse was cleared of all the enemy. Second
Lieutenant Shorman, who was badly burned and was last
seen fighting, was missing. Second Lieutenant H. C.
Bevan, who had been on patrol at the moment of the
attack, was found beside the post badly wounded ; and
the total casualties were 26 in an operation which occupied
a very short space of time, but was carried out with bitter
hand-to-hand fighting. The morning mists had prevented
the rifle grenade rocket from being seen, and there was
consequently no artillery support, though the whole
battalion on the right had a barrage put down on their
front. Captain Whitehead was awarded the M.C. for his
skilful and energetic leadership, and C.S.M. J. Edwards
and Private W. Digby, both of No. 2 Company, received
the D.C.M. The battalion also received the congratula-
tions of the Brigadier,* the Divisional f and the Corps
commanders.

Battle of Broodseinde. — Five similar attacks were
delivered by the Germans on October 1st. Yet another
was launched on the morning of the 3rd, and that night
there was a heavy gale with much rain. But the advance
was resumed once more. The 13th Battalion took part
in the attack with the 10th supporting. Since repelling
the German attack on September 30th, they had lost
heavily from the enemy bombardment. No. 2 Company
in Bodmin Copse suffered very seriously on October 2nd,
when No. 1 Company was practically wiped out, and
No. 3 Company's carrying parties lost heavily. The
remainder of No. 2 Company was divided between Nos. 1
and 3 ; and when the battalion attacked its total strength
was 13 officers and 233 other ranks. The role of the

* " You have worthily upheld the traditions of your regiment."
t " For very gallant defence and prompt and successful counter-
attack."

© 2



196 ROYAL FUSILIERS IN THE GREAT WAR

battalion on October 4th was to seize the dug-outs strung
across the northern part of Gheluvelt Wood and form a
defensive flank to the 5th Division who were engaged
north of the Menin road. The battalion were in position
at 5.15 a.m., and a quarter of an hour later a heavy German
barrage was put down. Fortunately for the battalion it
fell chiefly north of the Menin road. Zero was at 6 a.m.,
and at that moment the battalion advanced, following
the barrage so closely that though the German artillery
were very prompt in their counter-barrage the assaulting
troops suffered very little. But they encountered a heavy
rifle and machine-gun fire from a blockhouse and also
from Lewis House which had escaped the bombardment.

The 13th King's Royal Rifle Corps, who were to have
raided Lewis House, were therefore unable to effect much
there, and this unreduced centre, lying to the right front
of the Royal Fusiliers, was chiefly responsible for their
failure to carry the objective. Their original line faced
roughly east. To capture the line of blockhouses in
Gheluvelt Wood they had to wheel so as to take up a final
position facing towards the south. This operation brought
them more and more under the fire from Lewis House, and
Second Lieutenant A. A. Allen's leading platoon were at
one point reduced to two. Later on he collected 14 men,
but the flanking fire from Lewis House and the blockhouses
compelled him to dig in. No. 3 Company suffered heavily
from the short firing of our own field guns, but established
their line with less difficulty. It was not until night that
touch was gained with the Royal West Kents on the left.
At first their right flank had been in the rear of the
Fusiliers' left, but towards the end of the day the advance
was continued, and finally their right forward post was
some 100 yards in front of the Royal Fusiliers. Though
the 13th Battalion had not secured their final objective,
they had covered the flank of the 5th Division, and the
major part of the task given them was carried out. In
killed, wounded and missing they lost 208 officers and men
out of the 246 who had gone into battle.



ATTACK OF OCTOBER qth 197

Battle of Poelcapelle. — The weather now appeared
to have definitely broken. In the early days of October
it had been intermittently rainy. On the 7th heavy rain
again fell all day. These conditions interfered with the
artillery preparations ; and, though it was possible to
crush two hostile attacks on the 7 th, the perfection of
counter-battery work, which was needed to cover a further
advance, was impossible. The night of the 8th was
almost as terrible as any experienced in the campaign. It
was impenetrably black. The ground was deluged with
rain, and a high wind drove the rain into the men's faces
with the sting of whips. It was perilous to stray from the
path, for the ground was now for the most part a trough
of mud. Under such conditions it was not easy to
assemble for the attack in the early hours of the 9th. But
somehow the troops had become inured to such conditions,
and the 2nd Battalion were in their places at zero. The
attack was launched at 5.20 a.m. in conjunction with the
French. Once more there was little from which to draw
satisfaction in the role of the battalion. They were in
support to the Lancashire Fusiliers, on the right of the
29th Division, about 500 yards south of the Ypres-Staden
railway. Captain Hood, with two platoons of Y Com-
pany, pushed forward to reinforce the leading battalion
and came under severe rifle fire after crossing the Conde
House- (or Houthulst-) Poelcapelle road. But, advancing
from shell-hole to shell-hole, they got forward about 200
yards east of the road and were then brought to a stand-
still by sustained fire from the right front. The 4th Divi-
sion on the right could not be located, and Corporal Floyd
sent out with a patrol reported a gap of 300 yards on this
flank. The second objective had not been made good ;
there were no supports, and, accordingly, Captain Hood
consolidated the line from about 250 yards north of Conde
House to about 100 yards north of Miller's House.

Second Lieutenant Saul, with the right platoon of Z
Company, followed Y Company. The other officers of Z
became casualties ; and Saul followed Hood, passing



198 ROYAL FUSILIERS IN THE GREAT WAR

through a few groups of Lancashire Fusiliers in shell-holes,
until he was drawn off to the right, near the huts, about
300 yards north-east of the Mill on the Poelcapelle-
Houthulst road, where he was held up by rifle fire. On the
left X Company, followed by W, advanced by the watch,
passed through a line of Lancashire Fusiliers in shell-holes
and prepared to advance on the third objective. They
were in contact with the Worcesters on the left, but could
not locate any one on the right ; and the line of Lanca-
shires who were thought to be in front did not exist. They
went forward once more by the watch ; but the right was
held up by short shooting of our own barrage at Conde
House, and when they could advance again the protection
of the barrage had been lost.

It was at Conde House that Sergeant J. Molyneux won
the V.C. From the trench in front of the house a machine
gun kept up a persistent fire on the advancing troops.
Molyneux, who belonged to W Company, seeing that the
attack was completely checked, at once organised a
bombing party to clear the trench. Many of the Germans
were killed, and the machine gun was captured. Molyneux
then jumped out of the trench, and, calling on the men to
follow, rushed forward against Conde House. He was
well in front, and, when the others arrived, he was in the
thick of a hand-to-hand fight. So swift and impetuous
had been the assault that the struggle was soon over.
Some 20 to 30 prisoners were taken, and the position,
which had threatened to bring the whole battalion to a
standstill, was captured. His action was as serviceable
as it was daring.

But despite the heroism of the advance, the final
objective could not be reached. No troops were found
ahead, and the second objective had not been taken. A
line was therefore established with the right about 200
yards below the road which runs from the Poelcapelle-
Houthulst road north-east to the Ypres-Staden railway,
and the left resting on the Poelcapclle-Houthulst road
about 200 yards below the railway. It was literally a




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CONDITIONS OF 1HE FIGHTING 199

filthy advance ; it was costly ; it was unsatisfactory.
The battalion had advanced according to plan, but
apparently no one else had. There was no obvious land-
mark to stake out the day's work and round off their
ordeal. But it was not so much a misfortune of the
battalion's as a general characteristic of the operations in
this phase of the battle.

" By this time the persistent continuation of wet
weather had left no further room for hope that the condi-
tion of the ground would improve sufficiently to enable us
to capture the remainder of the ridge this year. By limited
attacks made during intervals of better weather, however,
it would still be possible to progress as far as Passchen-
daele, and, in view of the other projects which I had in
view, it was desirable to maintain the pressure on the
Flanders' front for a few weeks longer.

" To maintain his defence on this front the enemy had
been obliged to reduce the garrison of certain parts of his
line to a degree which justified the expectation that a
sudden attack at a point where he did not expect it might
attain a considerable local success. The front for such an
attempt had been selected. . . ." *

Such thoughts, however, were not the inspiration of the
troops, who had only their determination to see the thing
through to carry them over an ordeal that remains almost
indescribable. Another local attack was made on October
12th despite the heavy rain that continued almost through-
out the day. There was a further attack on October 22nd,
and the nth Battalion were called upon to hold the posi-
tions taken by the 10th Essex, who had successfully
attacked the brewery east of Poelcapelle, until the 24th.
They were then relieved and passed to Dirty Bucket Camp,
a very aptly described place.

Second Battle of Passchendaele. — On October 25th
a strong west wind somewhat dried the surface of the
ground and the night was fine. The stars shone out with
the sharpened clarity of a frosty atmosphere. Another

* Despatch.



200 ROYAL FUSILIERS IN THE GREAT WAR

small attack was planned for the 26th ; and the 2nd line
battalions of the London Regiment took up their positions
with the 58th Division, below the Poelcapelle-Spriet road.
The 2/2 Londons, attacking at 5.40 a.m., reached Cameron
House — about 250 yards below the Poelcapelle-Spriet
road — at 7.15 a.m. A Company under Captain Harper
cleared three of the four " pill-boxes " at this point and
sent back 17 prisoners. D Company, in command of
Second Lieutenant J. P. Howie at 6.30 a.m. reached a
" pill-box " about 200 yards above the Lekkerboterbeek
and stormed it, capturing 32 prisoners ; and three-quarters
of an hour later had to repel hostile counter-attacks
directed against this point and Cameron House. A Com-
pany, finding their flank uncovered by the retirement of
the unit on their left, were compelled to withdraw ; but
D clung to the mebus they had captured until the end of
the day. Moray House, lying about 550 yards due east of
this "pill-box," held up C Company all the day. The
casualties were 11 officers (3 killed) and 386 other
ranks.

The 2/3 Londons were not so fortunate. The men were
up to their waists in mud, and it was almost impossible
to reach the enemy, who shot down the men as they
struggled to advance. Nevertheless they managed to
push their way, on the left of the 2/2nd half-way to the
final objective, but were then unable to withstand the
prompt and violent counter-attack. The Germans in
the later stages of the battle depended much on wearing
off the edge of the attack by light advanced troops, and
then endeavoured to wipe out any success by immediate
and heavy counter-attacks. Part of the 2/2 Londons
had been able to hold their own against these tactics.
But the 2/3rd were forced back, and their retirement
involved the left of the 2/2nd. The 2/3M fell back to
the assembly positions where, with the help of the 2/ist,
they were able to beat off the enemy. The 2/3rd lost so
heavily on this occasion that when the battalion were
relieved only two officers and 17 men returned. Among



7th BATTALION'S A1TACK, OCTOBER 30TH 201

the casualties were Lieut. -Colonel P. W. Beresford, D.S.O.,

who was killed.

Somewhat similar was the fate of the 2/4th, who made

some headway, but could not capture their objectives.

D Company, under Captain C. A. Clarke, seized and held

advanced positions, and the battalion, with a casualty

list of 11 officers and 368 other ranks, had to be content

with this result. The Londons all suffered very terribly

from the state of the ground. Many men were drowned

in the shell-holes.

* * # *

Another attack was delivered on October 30th, and the
7th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, who took part in it, suffered
from the conditions that had so gravely affected the
second line Londons. They too, were fighting in the
trough of mud and water while other battalions advanced
along the main ridge, where it was at least possible to
move. The 7th Battalion moved up to their position
below the Lekkerboterbeek, about 1,000 yards west of
the Paddebeek, on the afternoon of the 28th, and on the
following morning a practice barrage was put down about
200 yards beyond the line of the advanced posts. The
German counter-barrage came down on the support and
reserve companies, but it was fortunately not very heavy.
A strong position on the left of the front gave considerable
trouble and was reported to the brigade. It was then
arranged that this point should be attacked by C Company,
under Second Lieutenant Snelling.

The barrage came down at 5.50 a.m. on the 30th and
the advance began. The men soon lost touch with
headquarters, and this proved a serious handicap. Five
runners were sent up, but only one returned. Later, by
interrogating the wounded it was found that the right of
the line had got as far as the Paddebeek, though the left
was still held up by the strong point which had been
marked down before the beginning of the attack. The
resistance of this single focus conditioned the battle on the
63rd Division's front. At 12.55 P m - Second Lieutenant



202 ROYAL FUSILIERS IN THE GREAT WAR

Wells, who arrived at headquarters wounded, reported
that heavy machine-gun and rifle fire was coming from
this quarter. Men of all companies were lying out in
front of it and there had been heavy loss already in the
fruitless attempt to capture it. At 2.0 p.m. it was
arranged that Second Lieutenant Hawkins, with two
Stokes guns, should assist in another attack. Part of
C Company were to make a feint from the front while
Second Lieutenant Tricker led the attack from the flank.
Every effort was strained to make this assault successful.
It was arranged to deliver the attack at 5 a.m. on the
morning of October 31st, and about four hours before
Captain Ogle and Second Lieutenant Hawkins went forward
to complete the arrangements. But at 7.45 a.m. they
returned to report that the attack had again failed. Before
the attack began, a shell destroyed one of the guns and its
double crew of 20 men. The other fired six rounds and then
ceased to function owing to the mud. A withering machine-
gun fire was opened from the strong point, and Second
Lieutenant Tricker was compelled to abandon the attack.
The battalion had to hand over their positions on relief
with this obdurate focus of resistance still defiantly active.

But in the meantime the men had pushed forward on
the right, though they failed to cope with the main enemy
of the area and the time — the deep, adhesive mud.
Officers and men tried to find some feasible pathway
through it, but when they contrived to get forward the
mud and water had robbed them of the advantage of the
barrage. A small " pill-box " on the right was captured
and an escaping German shot. They pressed up to within
about 100 yards of Sourd Farm, about 600 yards east of
the obdurate strong point and not 150 yards south of it.

At 10.30 p.m. on the 30th it was arranged to relieve the
battalion by the Royal Marine Light Infantry, but this was
later changed to the Hawke Battalion. Arrangements
were completed by 1.15 p.m. on the 31st, and the Hawke
Battalion began to arrive at 7.30 p.m. The 7th Royal
Fusiliers were still lying in their advanced positions.



THE BATTLE OF YPRES ENDS 203

Stretcher bearers had been active since noon and practically
all the wounded were evacuated. Corporal Hancock, who
was wounded on the 30th, had been taken prisoner by the
Germans. He was removed to a dug-out where his wounds
were dressed and he was fed. Later on he was handed
over to the Fusiliers' stretcher bearers with the condition
that he gave no information as to the German dispositions.

It was 10.45 P m - on tne 3 Ist before the relief was
complete. A desultory shelling was taking place at the
time, and the battalion passed through a gassed area on
their way to Irish Farm, where German aeroplanes
greeted them. Fortunately there were no additional
casualties ; for the battalion had already lost heavily.
Captain Seward, Second Lieutenants Snelling and T. L.
Williams, and 65 other ranks were killed, Second Lieu-
tenants D. Bishop, M. A. Townshend, C. R. Wells and
S. W. Dunthorn, and 148 other ranks wounded, and 19
missing. Both of the attacking divisions were congratu-
lated by the XVIII. Corps commander, who stated that
" Nothing but the impossibility of crossing the mud pre-
vented their usual complete success." The condition of
the ground could not be exaggerated, as the commanding
officer could testify from personal observation. " No
troops could possibly pass over it." The seal is set on
this statement by the fact that the line, on this sector of
the Ypres front, lay at the end of the campaign very much
as the 7th Battalion left it.

But the long-drawn-out battle had now reached its last
stage. On November 6th, the Canadians carried Pas-
schendaele together with the high ground immediately to
the north and north-west. The nth Battalion returned
to the area in time for the ringing down of the curtain.
On this occasion (November 10th) they took over positions
south of Houthulst Forest. The ground was water-
logged. Beyond the duckboard tracks, drowning was
an ordinary risk, and it was hardly decent drowning.
The water in the shell-holes was strongly impregnated
with Yellow Cross gas. There was a considerable amount



204 ROYAL FUSILIERS IN THE GREAT WAR

of gas shell expended on this area, and in their first tour
of the trenches the nth Battalion had 21 gassed to 13
wounded. The latter included Lieut. -Colonel Sulman.
On November 22nd, the adjutant, Captain O. C. White-
man was killed on the way up to the front. He was
walking up with Major Ford, the second in command, a
few minutes before the battalion arrived, and finding
that one part of the track was being persistently shelled,
they took refuge behind a " pill-box," intending to wait
for the next shell and then dash across the dangerous spot.
Unfortunately the next shell fell just over the " pill-box "
and Whiteman was killed at once.

An incident that was marked with better luck will serve
to round off the narrative of the campaign. " In the
Houthulst Forest sector on the night of November 24th-
25th, 1917, Private T. Wright was accompanying his
platoon officer who was visiting his front line posts, when
an enemy patrol was seen approaching. The officer and
Private Wright, who were in No Man's Land at the time,
allowed the patrol to get close to the post, and then placed
themselves between the patrol and the enemy's lines and
called upon the patrol to surrender.

" The patrol, consisting of an officer and a corporal,
attempted to get away, but were prevented from doing
so by Private Wright, who shot the German officer in the
thigh and then knocked down the corporal, who offered
considerable resistance, and, moreover, was a strong
opponent, standing at least six feet one in height, and
strongly built. The two were made prisoners and valu-
able documents and other information was obtained from
them." Such is the official account of the incident which
gained for Private Wright the Military Medal.

But by this time the other project to which Sir Douglas
Haig had referred in his despatch as the chief reason for
maintaining the pressure on the Flanders' front had seen
fulfilment. At Cambrai the troops had gone through the
German line, and, attaining complete surprise, had secured
a remarkable success.



CHAPTER XI



THE BATTLE OF CAMBRAI



At 6.20 a.m. on November 20th the Battle of Cambrai
began, the troops moving forward without any previous
artillery bombardment, on a front of six miles from the
east of Gonnelieu to the Canal du Nord, opposite Hermies.
Three battalions of the Royal Fusiliers were included in
the attacking divisions ; and it may be said, with due
reserve, that they and other Fusilier units who were
involved before the operations died down in December
won for themselves undying honour.

Noyelles. — The second battalion began to move up
to the area in the second week of November. On the
18th they lay at Peronne. The following day they



Online LibraryH. C. (Herbert Charles) O'NeillThe Royal fusiliers in the great war → online text (page 17 of 38)