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

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Lindi. Captain Buchanan established an outpost on the
north-west approach to Lindi, but the twenty-four days
spent on this work were without incident. In the first
days of August the enemy were holding a strong position
on the left bank of the Lukuledi River, five or six miles
south-west of the site of the battle of Ziwani and on the
Ziwani ridge. Its southern flank lay on Tandamuti hill.
The battalion moved out against this position on the night
of August 2nd, and came into contact with the enemy
about 6 a.m. on the 3rd. Two companies of Fusiliers

* Extract from a letter from an officer of the 25th Battalion pub-
lished in the Frontiersman, War Number, 191 8.



LAST BATTLE OF THE 25TH BATTALION 279

reinforced the King's African Rifles in the attack on the hill
fortifications. A gallant charge brought the men to a
dense thorn obstacle, and they had to withdraw under
intense fire. Some fifty yards away the machine guns
and Stokes guns opened a galling fire, and at 3.30 p.m.
the enemy's reply had ceased. At this moment, when
the enemy were retiring, the battalion were ordered to fall
back. The British had fared badly on the rest of the
battle front. The Fusiliers found Germans in their rear,
and had to fight a brisk skirmish to open up the way to
Ziwani. On the 10th the position was occupied without
opposition after the monitors Mersey and Severn had
heavily bombarded the hill.

Narunyu. — On August 18th the Fusiliers marched out
with the 1/2 King's African Rifles to attack Narunyu,
about twenty miles south-west of Lindi. They moved
north, then west, and then south, to take the position from
the west. Near the hill overlooking Narunyu the King's
African Rifles were heavily engaged, and the Fusiliers at
once formed with them a hollow square. It was as well
they had taken the precaution, for very soon they were
attacked from all sides. In this confined position they
fought for five days, with very little water, no cooked
food and hardly any undisturbed rest. On the night of
August 22nd they were ordered to retire, and did so under
cover of darkness. The battalion, as usual, were really
suffering more from the terrible climate than from the
enemy. On September 4th they took over the front line
at Narunyu from the 8th South African Infantry, who
were suffering still more. About six weeks later the
Kilwa and Lindi columns joined hands, and another action
was fought in the Lukuledi Valley on August 18th. In
this action the troops found themselves suddenly con-
fronted by an overwhelming body of the enemy, and in
covering a temporary retirement the Fusiliers were cut
to pieces.

In many ways this was a supremely fitting ending of the
25th Battalion's work in Africa. The enemy were at their



280 ROYAL FUSILIERS IN THE GREAT WAR

last blow. Six weeks later Von Lettow was over the
frontier, and before the end of the year the colony was
clear of Germans. It was the Royal Fusiliers' last action.
They had sprung into existence quite suddenly ; they
passed cleanly when the work was done. A romantic
body of adventurers, they desired no better fate. Colonel
Driscoll, their commander, had a genius for the sort of
warfare which filled this campaign. Swift in decision,
resolute, ingenious and experienced, he directed his
battalion with marked ability, and the 25th won for itself
great fame in the most trying campaign of the war.




Major-General Sir Sydney Lawford, K.C.B., who commanded

THE 22ND BRIGADE, AND LATER THE 4 1ST DIVISION.



CHAPTER XVI

THE HUNDRED DAYS — FIRST BATTLES

The German offensive had spent itself for the time being
at the end of April, but the British Army had been
seriously weakened numerically and strategically. Every
effort was strained to make good the grave impairment of
the Allied positions by the loss of the full use of the impor-
tant junctions of Amiens, Bethune and Hazebrouck, which
had been brought under the effective fire of the enemy's
guns ; and incessant labour was applied to the construction
of a new defensive system. Between April and August
these were the most important preoccupations of the British
Army ; and to such purpose were their energies directed
that at the end of the period over 200 miles of broad gauge
track had been laid, and " a complete series of new defen-
sive lines had been built, involving the digging of 5,000
miles of trench." Apart from these labours, the period
saw many operations of a minor character, and witnessed
a definite and significant change as the inevitable phase
of active defence approached its close.

Though the Royal Fusiliers delivered numerous raids,
in only one of the minor operations mentioned in Sir
Douglas Haig's despatches did any of them figure. Many
of them shared one experience which will not easily be
forgotten. An epidemic of influenza played havoc with
the troops in June. Thus between the 16th and 21st June
inclusive some yy officers and men of the 1st Battalion
went sick, and other Royal Fusilier battalions also had
a sick-rate that began to resemble the malaria inroads in
the Balkans.

The Lys. — In the attack of June 3rd, when the Mont de
Merris was captured, the 2nd Battalion co-operated by



282 ROYAL FUSILIERS IN THE GREAT WAR

capturing Lug Farm. Major Tower and Second Lieutenant
Stokes went out after dark on the night of June 2nd and
taped the assembly positions. The attack was delivered
by Y Company, commanded by Second Lieutenant W. E.
Stokes, at i a.m., and in twenty-seven minutes the capture
of the farm was signalled. Fifteen prisoners were taken,
and a considerable amount of equipment. The position
was consolidated by daylight, and was improved on the
following night, when the Lewis-gun posts were pushed out
eastwards to conform to the general alignment. The
small operation, which was carried out with great rapidity
and at a small cost, won the congratulations of the corps,
divisional and brigade commanders. The latter wrote :
" It upholds the finest traditions of your regiment."

On the night of June 14th another operation took place
in the Lys area. The 4th Battalion were still lying on the
southern face of the salient made by the German advance,
and the purpose of the attack was to secure better positions
across the canal. The ground was open, and the chances
of success depended upon the possibility of securing the
advantage of complete surprise. It was accordingly
planned to strike at night and without preliminary bom-
bardment. Dumps of material for consolidation and two
days' rations were accumulated across the canal in case
the enemy's barrage should prevent movement across it ;
and after dark on the night of the 14th the position of
the canal foot bridges was changed.

The 4th Royal Fusiliers with three platoons of the
Northumberland Fusiliers represented the 9th Brigade
on the right of the attack, and there were two other
battalions of the 3rd Division on their left. Zero
was at 11.45 p.m., and the barrage was intense and
accurate. It lifted after about eight minutes, and the
battalion advanced, X Company (Captain Mabbott,
M.C.) being on the left, and Z (Captain Lord, D.S.O., M.C.)
on the right, with W (Captain Attewell) in support to both
companies. Advancing in three shallow columns, wearing
white armlets, the men quickly reached their objective.



SUCCESSFUL RAIDS, JULY, 1918 283

On the extreme left of the battalion Lieutenant Brasher's
platoon was held up for a time before a machine-gun post,
but the garrison were eventually bombed out. One
platoon of Y Company, under Second Lieutenant B. D.
Robertson, with two platoons of the Northumberland
Fusiliers, attacked and cleared two posts in the German
front line. By dawn the objective had been taken and
consolidated. The line had been lifted forward an average
distance of 500 yards, support posts had been dug (by W
Company), about 60 prisoners and 7 machine guns had
been taken, and the battalion were in touch with the units
on both flanks. The total casualties were 3 officers and
94 other ranks. But the operation had been very success-
ful, and the battalion received the congratulations of the

divisional commander.

* * * *

During the month of July the 7th Battalion were
exceptionally active and daring in their raids. They were
still in the Mailly area, and their raids were instrumental
in causing the whole divisional front to be advanced. A
raiding party on the night of July 4th did considerable
damage in the German front line, killed 5 and captured 4
of the enemy for a casualty list of 1 wounded. Sergeant
West became separated from the main body of the patrol.
He had taken a prisoner, and the two wandered about in
No Man's Land. They were completely lost, but West
stuck to his prisoner and at length brought him in to the
Drake Battalion. West was awarded the M.M. for this
exploit. This and further raids during the month won
the congratulations of the G.O.C. division, and the front
of the division was carried forward about 400 yards. On
July 27th, when the new forward positions had been taken
up, the battalion received the following message : " The
divisional commander is extremely pleased with the good
patrolling work done by the 7th Battalion Royal Fusiliers
during their last tour of duty in the trenches, which reflects
great credit on the officers and other ranks concerned. He
is also pleased with the manner in which this battalion



284 ROYAL FUSILIERS IN THE GREAT WAR

advanced their line and occupied the forward posts in the
vicinity of Hamel on the night of 22nd — 23rd, which was
also very creditable."

The men had never lost their spirit even in the darkest
moments, and this increased activity and growing success
on various parts of the front indicated the approach to
equilibrium through the waning of the German superiority.
Some excitement was caused when, on the 29th July, the
C.O. of the 2nd Battalion received a wire stating that the
French had captured 500,000 prisoners and 600 guns.
The battalion were enjoying a concert during a period of
training. No one knew whence the news had come, but
it seemed appropriate and obviously acceptable, so it was
read out. It was discovered later that the signallers had
been sending a test wire ! But these were days when
such stories appeared good enough to be true. General
Mangin had delivered the great counter-attack which,
threatening the German communications in the Marne
salient, compelled a retreat under risky conditions. The
plans for the attack destined to disengage Amiens were
soon to be put to the test.

The Battle of Amiens. — The share of the Royal
Fusiliers in the great battle that first, beyond all ambi-
guity, marked the turn of the tide, is apt to be overlooked,
sharing in the quite undeserved criticism that has been
applied to the work of the 3rd Corps on this occasion.
By an unfortunate coincidence the Germans anticipated
the advance of the 3rd Corps, and the nth Royal Fusiliers
lost very heavily in this undesigned prelude to the Fourth
Army advance. A reorganisation of the sector north of
the Somme was in progress in the early morning of
August 6th when the Germans suddenly attacked. This
part of the front had been the scene of a striking Australian
victory on July 29th, and the fresh 27th Wurttemberg
Division had been brought down from the Lille area to
restore the moral of the neighbouring troops by a sharp
local attack. To the normal difficulties of a relief were
added those of a side-stepping relief. The Bedfordshires



GERMAN A1TACK, AUGUST 6th 285

were relieved by troops of the 58th Division, and they
themselves were engaged in relieving the East Surreys
lying to the north. The attack in such circumstances was
assured of success ; and, in fact, it penetrated about half
a mile into the British positions and secured 200 prisoners.
This was not the worst of the attack, for it had changed
the starting point of the infantry and also the artillery
programme for August 8th. An attempt was therefore
made to restore the original situation, though even this
prejudiced the battle of Amiens by exhausting troops who
were to have taken part in the advance.

During the night of 6th — 7th a persistent drizzle fell,
and the trenches were filled with mud. The counter-
attack was delivered by two companies of the nth Royal
Fusiliers, north of the Bray road, with one company each
of the Bedfords and Northants, of the same brigade.
But misfortune continued faithful. B Company, on the
left of the nth Battalion, could not locate the unit on their
left, and the gap of 300 yards in this part of the front had
to be filled up by two platoons. The whole plan was
vitiated by this mischance. When the barrage opened at
4.40 a.m. the company had 300 yards of front more than
had been allocated to them. An attempt to advance with
two platoons proved a failure, and the men returned
without taking the objective. In effect they filled the
role which had been given to a company of the East
Surreys on the left. D Company, in command of Captain
P. Baker, had meanwhile captured their objective.

But the barrage died down at 5.10 a.m., and at 6 o'clock
four attacks were delivered by the Wurttemberg troops.
All of these were beaten off, but one platoon, having ex-
hausted their bombs, had to fall back. The enemy gained
a footing in Cloncurry Trench, the German front line,
and began to bomb down it. Private Maloney's Lewis
gun had been knocked out by a direct hit from a trench
mortar ; but after a search he discovered another, and
promptly bringing it into action, checked the enemy
advance. Both flanks of D Company were now in the air,



286 ROYAL FUSILIERS IN THE GREAT WAR

but Captain Baker held on until all his bombs were
exhausted and only three men remained. He was
wounded, but crawled back and reorganised Croydon
Trench. Lieutenant Wixcey with two platoons of B
Company pushed up this trench shortly afterwards and
recaptured part of Cloncurry Trench. They were working
north and south when another heavy German attack at
3 p.m., after a sharp fight, pushed them back. The
brigade had decided to make a carefully prepared counter-
attack in the evening, but before this could be rearranged
officers on the spot delivered a counter-attack, which com-
pletely exhausted the battalion ; and at the end of the day
they had to fall back to the original positions. Many were
the acts of gallantry in this action. Captain Baker was
awarded the M.C., as also were Second Lieutenants
Measures and Ross for their courage and skill. Private
Maloney secured the M.M. But the net effect of the
gallantry and skill was not to be measured by positions.
The battalion inflicted heavy loss on the enemy, and
thus had their part in the success of the morrow
without the glamour which that victory threw over the
battle.

The 9th Royal Fusiliers were lent with their brigade
to the 1 8th Division to take the place of the 54th Brigade,
who, as we have seen, had been badly handled on the two
preceding days. They had had no time for preliminary
reconnaissance of the ground, and the Somme Valley, with
its gashes of deep ravines, was pre-eminently an area for
careful study. The early morning was very misty, and
with the night's gas bombardment this proved an addi-
tional handicap. The tanks were rather effectively mixed
up through these conditions, and the 9th Battalion had to
attack without them. The battalion were assembled on
the starting line by 3.30 a.m., but three officers and the
bulk of two platoons had been placed hors de combat by
the heavy shelling while moving up. Indeed, the enemy
expected a counter-attack after their advance on the 6th,
and the element of surprise was unfortunately lacking on



ADVANCE ON AUGUST 8th 287

the sector which most needed some adventitious counter-
poise to its inherent difficulties.

Zero was at 4.20 a.m., and the barrage fell ten minutes
earlier. At this moment the men could see only about
ten yards ahead owing to the mist. Yet in these condi-
tions A and B Companies promptly gained the first objec-
tive, and D and C passed through to the second battalion
objective, i.e., the first objective for the day. The 53rd
Brigade then passed through towards their objective,
assisting in their stride in establishing the units on the first.
But a prompt German counter-attack drove them back,
and in the afternoon the 9th Battalion found that they
were holding the front line. This was a little to the west
of the first objective of the day ; and in this position the
battalion consolidated in touch with troops on the right,
and eventually with the 5th Royal West Kents on the left.
They had lost 6 officers, including Lieutenant W. E.
Hill and Second Lieutenants R. T. Eagar and A. Nicholson,
killed, and 350 other ranks ; but they had captured 300
prisoners, 30 machine guns, and 8 trench mortars. Taking
into account the extraordinarily difficult conditions under
which they attacked, this must be held a very creditable
performance.

To the south the 174th Brigade (58th Division) played
a similar role to that of the nth Royal Fusiliers, and the
173rd or Fusilier Brigade went through towards the
second objective of the day. The three battalions were
all engaged in this phase of the battle. The thick fog
nearer the river caused the 3rd Londons to lose direction,
and they became involved in fighting before the 174th
Brigade had gained their objective. Battalion head-
quarters pushed forward and attacked the quarry beyond
Malard Wood. After a sharp struggle they captured
four machine guns and over 70 prisoners. But when the
first objective had been captured by the 174th Brigade, the
3rd Londons were already too weak to go further. The
2/4th, on the left of the 3rd Londons, fared no better ; and
a final attack of the 3rd, 2/4 and 2/2 Londons in the



288 ROYAL FUSILIERS IN THE GREAT WAR

evening, though it carried them on to the Chipilly Spur
could not achieve success. An outpost line was taken
up during the night. On the following day the attack
was renewed. At 5.40 p.m. the three battalions moved
forward again, and captured Celestine Wood and Chipilly
Spur, north of Chipilly. They were relieved on the 10th,
by which time they had lost 680 officers and men. On
this day, while the 3rd Londons were in close support,
Lieut. -Colonel S. E. Saunders, M.C., was severely wounded,
a serious loss to the battalion.

Morlancourt fell on the 9th, and the 9th Royal Fusiliers
moved to the east of the village to consolidate. At
10 p.m. on August 10th they too were relieved and moved
back to the old British front and support lines north-west
of Morlancourt.

Further action on this part of the front was of a local
character. The 9th Battalion on August 13th took part
in a useful little engagement, which gave their division a
foothold on the highest part (Hill 105) of the ridge which
rises above Morlancourt, Dernancourt and Meaulte. The
attack was delivered at 4.55 a.m., covered by a heavy
barrage, and was immediately successful. But a German
counter-attack drove back the 7th Sussex on the Fusiliers'
right, and the 9th Battalion, retaining their positions,
swung round their right flank to the original front line,
where they achieved contact with the Sussex. This small
engagement cost the 9th Battalion only four casualties,
all wounded.

The Battle of Bapaume. — The resistance of the
enemy in front of the Fourth Army having stiffened, Sir
Douglas Haig determined to transfer the front of attack
to the sector north of the Somme, where an attack seemed
unexpected, and " it was arranged that on the morning of
the 2 1st August a limited attack should be launched
north of the Ancre to gain the general line of the Arras-
Albert railway, on which it was correctly assumed that
the enemy's main line of resistance was sited."* The

* Despatch.



CAPTURE OF ABLAINZEVILLE, AUGUST 2ist 289

forward positions across the Ancre, including Beaumont-
Hamel, Serre, Puisieux and Bucquoy, had been evacuated
a week before. The 13th and 10th Royal Fusiliers formed
up in the newly recovered ground ; and at 4.55 a.m. the
13th, lying south-west of Bucquoy, for a loss of only 13
captured their objectives, which consisted of part of the
high ground east of Bucquoy and Ablainzeville.

The 10th Royal Fusiliers had a more eventful day, though
their right companies, B and D, reached their objectives
and consolidated within thirty-five minutes. B's role
was to move south of the village of Ablainzeville, followed
by D, and assist in cutting off the village from the east.
The heavy ground mist enabled the men to assemble un-
observed, and very little opposition was encountered. C and
A Companies pushed through the village with eight tanks,
C on the left and A on the right. The latter also had a
very quiet journey, and cleared their part of the village
without a casualty. C, on the other hand, was under
machine-gun fire from the very beginning. The starting
point lay so near the village that the north-west corner
escaped the barrage. But after a brisk fight, assisted by
the tanks, the village was completely cleared, 56 prisoners
(including 2 officers), six machine guns, and one trench
mortar were captured.

In the second stage of the advance the fog proved a
greater handicap than in the first phase. The leading
brigades of the 63rd Division who passed through to
continue the advance became confused. It was difficult
for the platoons, in artillery formation, to keep in touch.
The tanks lost their bearings, and when the brigades
re-formed for attack their barrage had stopped, and they
were held up. The 7th Royal Fusiliers with the 190th
Brigade passed through the leading brigades, and with
some difficulty were able to consolidate positions on a
line parallel with the southern edge of Logeast Wood.
But this was not achieved until soon after dark. Mean-
while the 23rd Royal Fusiliers, starting at zero from before
Ayette, advanced about 2,000 yards to Aerodrome Trench.



2Q0 ROYAL FUSILIERS IN THE GREAT WAR

At this point the 3rd Division passed through the 2nd,
and with them went the 4th Royal Fusiliers. The
battalion had already suffered heavily on the way up to
assembly positions when in a burst of shell fire they lost
their CO., Lieut. -Colonel Hartley, severely wounded,
another officer and 50 other ranks. The whole brigade,
moreover, found the greatest difficulty in finding their
positions in the Blue Line, secured by the 2nd Division.
By a diligent use of the compass they at length arrived,
after reducing a few machine-gun posts on the way.
For the next stage of the advance the 4th Battalion were
in the rear of the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers, the right
battalion of the 3rd Division.

Very little opposition was encountered in reaching the
railway, but in the 2,500 yards between it and the Blue
Line the utmost difficulty was experienced in keeping
touch with the other units. The 4th Battalion com-
pletely lost the 1st Northumberland Fusiliers, and
advancing by compass, marched direct upon the railway,
which they reached before the " leading " battalion.
They were then lying some 2,000 yards east of the north-
east corner of Logeast Wood. But the 63rd Division
had not come up on their right. The right front (Y,
Captain Royle, M.C.) and support (Z, Lieutenant Evans)
companies both lost their commanders ; and Lieutenant
F. A. Hicks, M.C. was also killed. By 10.20 a.m. the
Northumberland Fusiliers were signalling that the railway
crossings were fit for whippets. The position was estab-
lished and consolidated, with the Northumberlands* right
flank drawn back from the railway towards Logeast Wood.

The 4th Royal Fusiliers were now drawn back to
support. During the following day several attacks were
delivered on the new positions, and shortly after noon
the Germans pushed into the gap between the right of
the 3rd Division and the left of the 63rd Division. The
7th Royal Fusiliers found their position turned, and there
was a fierce struggle before the gap was filled and the
original line restored. The day was very hot, and the



THE CROSSING OF THE ANCRE 291

7th Battalion suffered much from lack of water and small
arm ammunition. The expenditure of ammunition was
very heavy, and the arrangements for supply by aeroplane
did not work very well. Some was dropped in No Man's
Land, some in Logeast Wood, where it could not be found.
At one point the battalion had to borrow 3,000 rounds
from the Bedfords, and at 6 p.m. the brigade supplied
20,000 rounds.

Of the heavy casualties suffered in these two days
the bulk in the 2nd Division units were caused by



Online LibraryH. C. (Herbert Charles) O'NeillThe Royal fusiliers in the great war → online text (page 24 of 38)