1st Battalion in France and Belgium (1916)

A couple of months in Belgium[edit]

On the 25 July the 1st Border Regiment arrived in Amplier and then from there entrained at Doullens for Proven,[1] arriving there on the 28th. They spent August in it entirety and the majority of September in Belgium, doing very little in the way of fighting. Officers and NCO's were sent to courses of instruction mainly for bombing and sniping. On the 19 August the following men were awarded the Military Medal:

On the 22 August Major A.J. Ellis of the 1st Battalion and 2nd Lieutenant A.W. Fraser of the 3rd Battalion (attached) were awarded the DSO.[2] The remainder of the month saw little action. One entry in the diary that stands out is on the 28th, which states: Extract from Battalion Orders: - The Commanding Officer wishes it to be made known to all ranks that he is greatly pleased with the conduct of the Officers, NCOs and men of the working party on the night of the 26/27th inst., who completed their task under very trying circumstances. This was on the new Monmouth Trench. He has had great pleasure in bringing their conduct to the notice of the G.O.C. Brigade. [3] September continued with wet weather and daily bursts of action. On the 9 September they moved back to ‘A’ Camp at Brandhoek. Towards the end of the month they were back on the firing line taking part, on 30 September, in a successful raid on the German trenches opposite.

Successful Raid on German Trenches[edit]

The report of this raid is as follows:[4]

The Covering Party consisting of a sergeant and 6 riflemen to guard the left flank, a Sergeant and 7 men with Lewis gun to guard right flank, were posted at about 7.45p.m. in the nearer line of trees opposite Wielyje Salient. At 8.10p.m. the raiding party began to leave our trench and were all position in No Man's Land as arranged by 8.15p.m. During the first 15 minutes of the bombardment the party worked forward to the line of big trees without mishap, and crossed to the line of willows in front of enemy trench by 8.50p.m. During the second stage of the advance one lance-corporal sustained a slight wound in the hand from a fragment of one of our shells.
At 8.50p.m. the O.C. Raid left the head of our column by the willows and went forward to reconnoitre the wire. There were a great many enemy flare lights, but there was no firing from the enemy front line and it is probable that enemy were on the flanks or in the support trenches. The wire proved to have been very successfully knocked about by trench mortar fire but some inner belts of wire remained too high for easy passage. Accordingly wire-cutters were tried, but this method seemed slow, and at 8.55p.m. the O.C. returned to party to begin advance through wire prepared to use bangalore torpedoes for any considerable obstructions near parapet. On a roll of a concertina wire which remained little damaged in the line of advance, 3 bangalore torpedoes were tried. The fitting of the torpedoes in concertina wire turned out to be quite simple and was well done. Each of the torpedoes failed, however, to detonate owing to the dampness of fuzes. They had evidently been injured in the journey across No Man’s Land, as the very light cases used to protect them had come off.
The O.C. Raid then noticed an easy gap which had been blown in the wire to the right, and the party trampled down what was left of the wire, and made a rush for the parapet. All arrangements worked as they had been planned, the point of entry being only a matter of yards away from that intended. The Right and Left Blocking Parties both experienced some bombing from enemy on flanks. The trench on right of point of entry had been rather badly blown in by our artillery, and a group of men protected by the blockage sent up very lights, and brought rifle fire and bombs to bear on right blocking party, from trench in rear of our right. Our bombers retaliated with evident effect, as the enemy party retreated and the sending up of very lights ceased. The right searching party found in the main communication trench for some 30 yards to the right of the point of entry, 2 dug-outs under the parapet. These were securely built, but small, and had merely wooden frames. They were carpeted with straw. In one of these a man was found who was made prisoner. The right communication trench was badly knocked about, and the large dugout shown in the aerial photo, was entirely demolished.
Several dead or unconscious bodies were found in the barbed wire in front of this sector, and several of the enemy who retreated down the communication trenches were fired on and chased, one at least was killed.

Left Blocking Party[edit]

This party got into position opposite the left communication trench noticed in the aerial photo. The enemy threw a large number of bombs at them, but without effect. Our men replied vigorously throwing almost all the bombs they had kept the enemy on the flank at bay, even if they did no further damage. Four dugouts were found in this section of trench and produced 6 prisoners. The dugouts were of the same pattern as these noted above and all under the parapet. Two of the enemy were killed, one shot and one bayoneted. All prisoners (8 in number) seemed unwilling to surrender themselves but were obviously frightened.

General[edit]

The trenches were slightly deeper and wider than our front line, they had no trench boards but a good wooden fire step. The revetting was for the most part, wooden trellis-work. The floor of the trench was covered with straw. A considerable quantity of bombs, equipment, clothing and papers were found. A large bell for Gas Alarm was found on the parapet at point of entry, and the trench seemed liberally supplied with long-handled bombs. About 25% of the men seen in the trench wore metal helmets. Uniforms and equipment were in very good state of repair, and everything was noticeably clean and tidy.

The Sap search party[edit]

A recent reconnaissance of the Boche front line by daylight had led us to suppose that this sap was now very little used, and would not produce anything of interest. This was confirmed in fact, and the junction of the sap and the trench had been so blown in by our shells as to be hardly recognizable. Accordingly the sap party which had been sent to search it returned to the main party for working the front line trench.

For further notes on the raid see General Notes on the recent raid carried out in the Salient.

Back to France[edit]

By October the Battalion was still in Belgium. On the 10 October they had returned to Buire in the Picardy region of France. From there they marched to Fricourt where they billeted in very cold weather for six days before moving on to Bernafay Wood. Within ten minutes of arriving a shell exploded in the vicinity of 2nd Lieutenant Johnson and killed him. Two days later they found themselves in the firing line again at Guedécourt where they became resident in the trenches there known as Grense, Gap Trenches, Pilgrims Way and Sunken Road. Here they stayed for about a week with casualties in that time totalling 83.

On the 29th, the Battalion was on the move again to Albert, via Mametz, then on to Allery, Carnoy and Les Beouf on the 16 November, where there was little to no accommodation for either the men or the officers. The following day there was snow and things, at least for a short while, did not get any better. The frost turned to rain and many of the trenches were in a very bad state, which the men had to maintain as best they could in the harsh winter conditions. It wasn’t until the 21 November that the Battalion moved back to Mansel Camp, south of Mametz where they were given accommodation, officers in huts and the men in tents, each one with a brazier to keep warm. The diary simply states "Everybody quite comfortable." [5] This was a welcomed improvement form some of their former residences. The men would have made the most of this luxury for the reason it would not last for very long.

By December the Battalion was on the move from place to place: Guillemont, Corbie, Condé, Picquigny and finally on to Hangest where they saw the remainder of the year to it conclusion.

See also[edit]

References / notes[edit]

  1. A small village in the western province of Flanders, Belgium
  2. Distinguished Service Order.
  3. 1st Battalion War Diary, August 1916.
  4. 1st Battalion War Diary, September 1916.
  5. 1st Battalion War Diary, November 1916.