1st Battalion War Diary, May 1917

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    1st Border Regiment War Diary Transcriptions (1915-1918)
The National Archives WO/95/4311 & WO/95/2305    
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Place Date Hour Summary of Events and Information
Completing kit & drawing up battle stores.
ARRAS 2/5/17 5 PM
Battalion paraded & marched to ARRAS into comfortable billets.
ARRAS 3/5/17 4 AM
Stunt today by 1st 3rd & 5th Armies II Corps in the central area - i.e.
MONCHEY LE PREUX – commenced at 3.45 AM heavy barrage. 29th Div were in GHQ reserve 87th Brigade moving up at 9.45AM (i.e leaving ARRAS at this time) moving into the old Boche support line opposite TILLOY on the N. side of the road on OBSERVATION HILL – sat down and waited for orders, gleaned little [?] a saw small parties (25?) of huns coming [?] as [?], very comfy - delightful day and everybody happy. Spent night in Boche dug outs.
Moved back to ARRAS to billets about noon today. Draft of 1 officer 2LIEUT. T.S. MIDDLETON & 57 other ranks joined the battalion having joined the 10% 3/5/19 from base via St Pol ST POL
ARRAS 5/5/17
Arrangements made for cleaning up drawing today Cleaning up today, warned to stand by ready to go back to line if requested.
Arrangements made for training – but cancelled & whole day devoted to cleaning all billets, streets etc. which really were filthy
ARRAS 7/5/17 10.15 AM
Moved from ARRAS to DUISANS into B camp in Nissen huts. LIEUT D. ELLIOT joined with draft of 23 other ranks joined today from ST POL.
Congratulatory message from G.O.C 29th Div. for excelent work of 23rd/4/17.
" 8/5/17
Training was hampered by wet weather but specialists did training in huts & companies held inspections. Battalion paraded 2 PM – Bathing in DUISANS.
" 9/5/17 8 AM
2LIEUT R.E.S JOHNSON proceeded to general course at XVIII Corps school at AUX LE CATEAU. This morning Battalion Training – all specialists under specialist officers remainder did physical training, musketry bayonet fighting.
Lieut Col AJ ELLIS DSO commanding. Lieut Cargill, Capt H Bunting MC and Lieut D McCloud MC went to BEAMONT HAMEL to see positions attacked captured on 1st July 1916. LIEUT HALL P.A. RAMC joined the battalion for duty as MO.
" 10/5/17
Training during morning. Hockey match in the afternoon BORDER & INNISKILLING officers V. M.G and R.A.M.C
" 11/5/17
Training today.
DUISANS 12/5/17
Brigade sports today under ideal weather conditions, Lieut Gen Haldane commanding VI Corps, Major General Sir Beauvoir De Lisle commanding 29th Division & Brig Gen Lucas 87th Brigade being present. The guard mounting parade competition being easily won by The Border Regiment.
ARRAS 13/5/17 4.30 PM
Moved to ARRAS today arriving at 6 PM & going into billets. Preliminary preparations for attack being made
Weekly strength variation
Officers Other ranks
Draft from St. Pol 2 11
Evacuated sick 7
DUISANS 13/5/17 4.30 PM
Preparing to move. Moved off at 4.30 for ARRAS arriving 6 PM and going into billets. Preliminary arrangements for an attack were made.
ARRAS 14/5/17
Quiet restful day, moved off at 10 PM & moved into the BROWN LINE near FEUCHY cross ROADS (part of the German line captured on April 9th & part of the HINDENBURG switch) relieving the 1st Suffolk Regiment getting into position about 2.30 AM.
TRENCHES 15/5/17
Spent the day improving the trenches & making latrines which were non-existent.
A patrol of 1 offr. LIEUT CRANE & 6 other ranks went up the line, attached to the 1st K.O.S.B tonight to patrol DEVILS TRENCH, which will be one of our objectives in a few days, returning early the following morning with good information.
The trenches were fairly heavily shelled about 4pm resulting in 7 casualties (wounded).
TRENCHES 16/5/17 8 PM
Two platoons of A Coy & two of B Coy moved into strong points (N&S of MONCHY LE PREUX) D.E.F & G. the remainder of the battalion remained in the BROWN LINE.
TRENCHES at MONCHY LE PREUX 17/5/17 9.30 – 2.30 AM
The Battalion relieved the 1st K.O.S.B. in front line and support from BIT LANE (the MONCHY – PELVES road) to TWIN COPSES inclusive, order N to South. D Coy S.W.B. (attached) B Coy BORDER. C Coy BORDER in SNAFFLE TRENCH A Coy. BORDER TWIN TRENCH. D Coy BORDER in support in SHRAPNEL TRENCH. Battalion Headquarters were in the red house ("THE GOLF HOUSE") MONCHY LE PREUX. The battalion just got in as dawn was breaking about 3.30 AM.
TRENCHES 18/5/17
Preparations were made tonight, digging an assembly trench for A Coy. Through to a copse behind the front line, which latter was to be evacuated prior to the barrage falling. Jumping off steps were cut in the rest of the line & generally all final preparations made. D Coy established a battalion dump just behind the firing line at the junction of ARROW TRENCH and the front line

[signed] Arthur W Sutcliffe Capt.

TRENCHES 19/5/17
[Page title] The Second battle of MONCHY LE PREUX
The conditions under which the 1st Battalion the Border Regiment were called upon to go into action EAST of MONCHY LE PREUX in the evening of May 19 1917 were simply these. After the 29th Division had fought itself to a standstill on the night of April 23rd - the date of the first Battle of MONCHY. The remnants of the 87th Brigade dug in where they finally stopped advancing. From these positions they had been relieved, & this line more or less consolidated. [?] these positions were however, distinctly bad from the point of view of observation & the enemy’s in front were very good, it was patent that by means of a short advance, if these positions could be wrested from the enemy the positions would be greatly improved.

The British line from which the assault was to take place is shown in the attached sketch map. It will be seen that they it presented no systematic or organised trench system for either defensive or offensive action, but were mostly extensions of the "digging in" of the assaulting advanced troops where they were finally held up on 23/4/17. The front line was disjointed, there being no connection at all from North to South across the line running E & W between the two TWIN COPSES. Also, the trenches being cut chiefly through clay or clay and chalk at all points where they passed through depressions they were wet and muddy while in many parts they were shallow, in others deep and very narrow so that passage was difficult also there was no communication through to the front line by day under cover, to SNAFFLE & TWIN TRENCHES. The nearest point to SNAFFLE accessible by day was where CHAIN trench cuts BIT LANE from here it was a case of duck & run and to reach this point from MONCHY village meant going via ORANGE TRENCH, GRAPE TRENCH, RIFLE TRENCH, CHAIN TRENCH, to BIT LANE while to get to D Company’s line the route was via VINE LANE. Battalion headquarters had to be established at the "RED HOUSE" (or THE GOLF HOUSE) MONCHY as there was no other possible place for it there being no dug outs of any sort in the trenches for officers or men.

The objectives of the 87th Brigade were in conjunction with an attack on their right, to attack on the evening of 19/20th May and capture

and establish a line of strong points running along a line DEVILS TRENCH. E edge of CIGAR COPSE & BOIS des AUBEPINES. MAY TRENCH LONG TRENCH, TOIL TRENCH.
East of MONCHY LE PREUX May 19/20 1917
The 87th Infantry Brigade 6 Platoons R. Innis Fus, 8 Platoons 1/Border Regt & 1 Coy 2/SWB were given objectives between HOOK TRENCH and BIT LANE and the 1st Battalion The Border Regiment (under command of LIEUT COLONEL A.J. ELLIS D.S.O.) was allotted the line MAY TRENCH NORTH to 50y north of BIT LANE, in DEVILS TRENCH. No attack would take place on the regiment’s left flank.

Consequently objectives were allocated as follows
A Company under command of CAPT. H. BUNTING M.C. would attack & capture the positions in front, push through, and establish

(1) a platoon strong point about the enemy positions in map square O.2.b.6.5. This platoon was under the command of LIEUT. P. NEW.
(2) a 2 platoon strong point on the EAST side of the BOIS des AUBEPINES these two platoons were under the command of 2Lt AMSTRONG LW. and 2Lt W.E.B. DUNLOP.

B Company under the command of 2LIEUT F.S. LAYARD M.C. were to capture the enemy positions in front and establish strong points.

(1) a platoon strong point in the vicinity of the EASTERN edge of the CIGAR COPSE this platoon was under the command of 2LIEUT T.S. MIDDLETON.
(2) a platoon strong point near the SOUTHERN end of DEVILS TRENCH.
MONCHY LE PREUX 19/20 May 1917
C Company, under the command of LIEUT. TE THORBURN BROWN. (K.O.S.B attached BORDER) less one platoon were to extend to their left on the assault taking place to occupy the line vacated by B Coy and "D" Coy under command of Capt CAPT H. PALMER. were to advance over the open from SHRAPNEL TRENCH into the line vacated by A Company.

One Platoon of C Company was lent to "A" company as a carrying party. This platoon was under the command of 2LT S. CAMPBELL. A party of 10 RFs of the West Riding Field Company R.E. under 2LT BALL were also attached as wiring party to A Company.

D Company South Wales Borders were attached under command of CAPT DAVIES and were set objectives in DEVILS TRENCH, with orders to dig strong points on either side of BIT LANE in this trench about 50y N&S respectively of BIT LANE.

It will be seen that "A" Company was allotted the most difficult task and that the most minute details had to be considered with regard to the BOIS des AUBEPINES which was known to be strong as the front edge of this wood was only about 50y from our front line trench running round the NE corner of TWIN COPSE, and this front edge was discovered, by patrol, to be fortified a new jumping off trench was required for A Coy. behind the original front line so as to allow a safety margin for our barrage & artillery fire. This trench was therefore dug about 60y inside the copse from the E edge, also the short piece of open ground between CHAIN TRENCH and SNAFFLE TRENCH was to be run through by a communication trench giving a makeshift communication, which was as much as could be hoped for in the limited time. This latter was dug through on the night of the 17th/18th by the S.W.B but the assembly trench through TWIN COPSE was found on taking over the line on the 17th to be very "scratchy" so that A company & 2 platoons of C Coy had to dig all night on the 18/19th to make it tenable by day during the preliminary bombardment.

The relief of the K.O.S.B. on the night 17/18 was only just completed by dawn so that no patrolling or work could be done that night but on the night of 18/19th in addition to work already [?], D Coy established a battalion dump at the junction of ARRON TRENCH and the front line containing 80 coils barbed concertina wire, 10 boxes SAA 10 boxes mills (No 5) hand grenades, screw pickets etc. The whole front was also patrolled & positions to be assaulted generally reconnoitred, resulting in this being found to be fairly strongly held with numerous machine guns, but not wired with the exception of BIT LANE DEVIL’S TRENCH where it cuts BIT LANE. Here the S.W.B. found wire running Northwards, and reported it with a request that it should be specially treated before the advance. This was accordingly reported to Brigade HQ.
MONCHY LE PREUX 18/19 May 1917
At dawn both on the 18th and 19th parties of the enemy had been seen going into CIGAR WOOD and the BOIS des AUBEPINES from shell holes between these two woods. This was also reported, and as a result of these two pieces of information the Commanding Officer sent the a/adjutant (CAPT A.W. SUTCLIFFE M.C.) to Brigade Headquarters with a special message to request that the Barrage might be amended to deal with these two matters, and this was assayed. During the night of the 18/19th barbed wire [?] knife rests had been placed in front of our lines with gaps through which the attacking troops could pass, and these were to be picked up by the wiring wave & carrying parties, carried across to the objectives & assembled in front of the positions being consolidated, concertina barbed wire being run out between the knife rests completing the wiring. Jumping off steps were also dug. Dawn of the 19th May then, saw all the preparations, so far as the infantry were concerned completed, men in position & all required stores to hand. The day was perfect a clear bright cloudless sky hot and dry with scarcely a breath of wind & so it continued throughout the day and night. The assault was not to take place till 9PM so final orders etc. were issued.
Operation Orders were issued as follows

        Operation Orders by Lieut Col A.J. ELLIS D.S.O Cmd 1st The Border Rgt.

  1. The operations already detailed will take place on the 19th May 19th 1917 inst.
  2. The hour of zero will be 9PM.
  3. Artillery barrage will be in accordance with artillery barrage programme map already issued. Two trench mortars from O.2.b.O.O will go forward when the barrage has ceased to the strongpoint in the NE corner of BOIS des AUBEPINES.
  4. At zero if the wind is favourable gas will be discharged into the BOIS du VERT and sunken road north.
  5. of it in O.3.C. If gas is to be released the code word Folkestone will be sent. If not, code word BOULOGNE will be sent.
  6. A contact aeroplane will be up shortly after dawn on the 20th inst. Advanced troops will light GREEN flares when the plane calls for them by claxon horn or by firing white lights.
  7. If for any reason the barrage doesn’t fall, the attack will not take place, but unless something very unforeseen does take place the barrage will fall.
  8. O/C A&B Companies RASHER (code name for 1st Border Regt) will communicate these orders to the platoons of C Company that are working with them.

(signed) AW Sutcliffe Capt. A/Adjutant

19/20 May 1917
Arrangements for Barrage had been made as follows.
An intense barrage would fall along the enemy’s front line at zero - this was the signal for the assaulting troops to get out of their trenches & close up to the barrage. At zero plus 5 this barrage would lift to the second line i.e. final objectives, in the case of heavy guns, while a drifting barrage would creep at the rate of [?200y] in 2 minutes back to the final objectives, then heavy & shrapnel barrages would lift to a new S.O.S line running across all suspected points of danger, at a safe distance from our final objectives. As a result of the patrol report from Capt. Davies commanding the attached company of the S.W.B. with effect that there was wire in front of DEVILS TRENCH N. of BIT LANE special request was made by the C.O that this should be blown to bits before the attack. For this purpose, and also for registration there was intermittent fire from 15 pounders, of shrapnel & HE during the morning of May 19th. At 11.45 am a message was received from CAPT BUNTING o/c A Company that one or possibly two 18 pounders were firing short & in enfilade of Twin Trench at 0.2.a.7.7. 0.2.a.87 & he enclosed a fragment of shell marked 18.
MONCHY LE PREUX 19/5/17 11.47
A message was immediately sent to Brigade reporting this & sending on the fragment of shell. A code message was also sent over the phone.
At 13.47 Capt Davies o/c D Coy S.W.B reported the wire in front of DEVILS trench all uncut and that the nearest rounds had been about 70y short & suggesting that he should alter his plan of attack by [?] [?] his left; attacking with his left on BIT LANE & then on taking DEVILS TRENCH bomb up the requisite distance to establish his post. He was ordered, in the event of the wire not being cut by further efforts, to do this
LIEUT L. MACHELL was sent in to the front line as Battalion Liaison officer with the telephone there and at 15.10 he reported that as a result of the short shooting of our 18 pds. we had had several casualties in A Coy. 3 in C Coy & our RF including 2 stretcher cases. Major DOLPHIN o/c 26th Battery R.F.A who was doing F.O.O on SNAFFLE TRENCH at the time corroborated this. This again was communicated by code over telephone to Brigade. From this time till several hours later nothing of marked importance occurred. The utmost concern was felt for the troops suffering from the erratic shooting of our artillery, & every effort was made to stop it but as no F.O.O or liaison officer was present little or nothing could be done [?] reporting each occurrence immediately to Bde HQ.
MONCHY LE PREUX 19/5/17 20.55
The climax came at 8.55 20.55 when a messenger arrived from the front line with two messages one in code & one in clear from o/c A Coy stating that at about 8PM (20.00) a battery of heavies or howitzers had opened fire, & the shells had all fallen short, mainly into the new assembly trench dug in rear of our front line & in which our troops were massed for the assault – through TWIN COPSE. As only 5 minutes remained to zero, the commanding officer spoke to the Brigade major in clear as follows. Heavy battery is firing 100y short of W edge of BOIS des AUBEPINES AAA they must lay?? them at once.
This message had scarcely been sent when the barrage, punctual to a second, fell, and then gave the signal for the attack to commence [?] [?] was known for some time. Fire of all kinds was heard. Maxim gun, Lewis gun & German machine guns could be heard.
The Brigade major informed the commanding officer by phone that a [?] [?] had been sent up by the enemy (a S.O.S signal for barrage) apparently in the vicinity of BOIS des AUBEPINES.
Pte Crook, an orderly who had been sent up to S.W.B (D Coy) arrived back at headquarters & stated that he had arrived at the front line just in time to see the attack start & the men go over. They went over splendidly, officers leading & the rear parties picked up the wire trestles & carried them forward.
MONCHY LE PREUX 19/5/17 22.30
The Brigade major reported that he had had a report passed from the gunners that our attack was held up between CIGAR COPSE & the BOISE DES AUBEPINES at 1015 – the very spot that the C.O had requested should be particularly treated by the barrage, & the barrage altered to accomplish this.
The G.O.C. Brigade telephoned for any news we had. None was to hand however. The C.O therefore decided to send the a/Adjudant – CAPT A.W. SUTCLIFFE M.C. round the front of the battle to ascertain the situation & report. He accordingly moved off with two orderlies at 23.18.
20/5/17 00.15
Capt H BUNTING M.C. reported at Battalion Headquarters, wounded in the eye by a bomb. He reported that our attack was completely spoiled by our own barrage, it completely absolutely failed to do any damage to the Boche defences, knock out machine guns, or keep the enemy’s heads down & by shelling our own men disorganised the attack. The companies had however led on & reached close to their objectives, where in "A" company’s case they were met by a line of enemy bombers who rained bombs on them. Capt BUNTING therefore started to organise flanking attack when he was hit by an enemy bomb cutting his eye which temporarily blinded him just before he was hit, however, he saw 2LIEUT E.B. DUNLOP standing up just close to the enemy trench with a rifle picking off the enemy who were throwing the bombs.
Whilst doing so this gallant officer was killed. The R.E. officer Lt BALL had been killed by our barrage before he left our front line. CAPT DAVIES, Capt H. PALMER, 2Lt DURHAM were also known to be casualties. Lt DANIELLI reported that he was carrying on as o/c D Company – his company being in position & in touch with C Coy on left but no touch with right, front or rear
As the general situation by this time clearly indicated that the attack had not succeeded the Commanding Officer sent a message to the senior officer in the firing line Lt T.E. THORBURN BROWN, who, tho’ wounded in the early afternoon morning of the 19th was still carrying on as o/c C Company, to make every effort before dawn to get everyone back to our original front line & reorganise for defence in case of counter attack. Reports came in to the effect that B Company’s attack had also been held up. 2LT MIDDLETON killed, 2LT CRAINE wounded & 2LT LAYARD M.C. o/c company wounded & missing, also the S.W.B. attack had failed Capt Davies being wounded & missing.
Capt AW SUTCLIFFE M.C. returned from front line & amplified his message of 00.50AM stating A Company had been held up at the edge of BOIS des AUBEPINES by strong bombing party in the strong point. There CAPT BUNTING M.C wounded, no news of Lt ARMSTRONG. B Coy attack had failed, having met with very heavy machine gun fire from between CIGAR COPSE and BOIS des AUBEPINES, LT LAYARD had been wounded & was missing. 2LT MIDDLETON killed. 2LT CRAINE wounded. 2LT RAE was safe, & had [?relined] all available men to the original front line & was reorganising.

With regard to the plight of A Company very little was known. Lt DUNLOP was known to be killed, most of his men casualties. Lt P NEW was seen leading on his platoon but as they too came under very severe machine gun fire it was feared that he too had been killed & most of his platoon become casualties. C Company had extended to fill up the vacated lines as far as possible but two platoons supporting the advance of A. Coy had been badly cut up.

D Company. CAPT H. PALMER had been wounded, also Lieut DURHAM they had been under heavy fire while in trenches, & came under a barrage on moving over the open to occupy the vacated front line. Lt DANIELLI was in charge of the company, what was left of it, in the front line, reorganising for defence. The whole line was being put in a state of defence, Vickers guns put in the line where weakly held. D Company S.W.B had lost CAPT DAVIES wounded & missing.
Having come under very heavy machine gun fire from DEVILS TRENCH and THE CART on BIT LANE the attack had been broken up & a few men had gained ARROW TRENCH and were holding out, but a general retirement to our original line was ordered.

The line which the S.W.B. had vacated had been occupied by another company of S.W.B but these had not got touch with either flank and in [?recovering] the hill, they were ordered to shake out about 50y to their right to gain touch with C Coy BORDERS & also to their left. Thereby about 4 AM the line was established as strongly as the number of troops would allow, and with two Vickers guns in the front line.

Patrols worked from the time the retirement to our original line was ordered & stretcher bearers worked unceasingly to clear casualties, with the result that by dawn the majority of our wounded were brought back to our line, & throughout the day the evacuation of stretcher cases, though necessarily slow, was continued. It was reported at dawn that at dawn the enemy were also taking in our wounded who had fallen near their line.

Owing to the heavy casualties arrangements were made, during the day for us to be relieved by the Lancashire fusiliers. These troops arrived about 11 PM & relief was reported complete by 3.15 AM – The Battalion moving back to ARRAS to billets.

The determined and unconquerable spirit of the Battalion was exemplified in the behaviour of CAPT. H. BUNTING M.C. and LIEUT T.E. THORBURN BROWN both of whom were wounded, but refused to leave the regiment, tho’ their wounds were such that they might reasonably have done so.

Casualties eventually proved to be as under.
19 116 49
TOTAL 10 officers & 184 other ranks

[signed] Arthur W Sutcliffe Capt.
1st The Border Regiment

ARRAS 21/5/17
The Battalion arrived back into ARRAS to billets this morning about 6 AM & rested all day, cleaning up in the evening.
" 22/5/17
Reorganising the remaining men of the battalion into platoons with compliments of specialist.
" 23/5/17
Still at ARRAS reorganising & training. Requiem Mass for RC’s and special service for the men who had fallen on the 19th.
" 24/5/17
ARRAS in billets – training.
" 25/5/17
Party of 15 men & CAPT H BUNTING MC went to Rest Camp BOULOGNE.
" 26/5/17
ARRAS in billets.
" 27/5/17
Lt COL WORRALL BORDER REGT and CAPT E.R. CHETHAM-STRODE visited the Battalion from 2nd Battalion – church parade.
" 28/5/17
Training at ARRAS.
" 29/5/17
— DO —
" 30/5/17
Warned to stand by to go into the line. Subsequently cancelled so carried on training.
" 31/5/17
Moved up to trenches tonight – battalion relieving S.W.B in MONCHY defences – very quiet

[signed] Arthur W Sutcliffe Capt.
1st The Border Regiment

1st Border Regiment, May 1917 (Monchy-le-Preux).png

References / notes[edit]

  • National Archives Catalogue Reference: WO/95/2305/1
  • The transcription above is available under the National Archives Open Government Licence for public sector information.
  • War diary transcribed by Hugh Fulton