The following quotes are by Colonel H. C. Wylly – from The Border Regiment in the Great War (1925). Gale & Polden Ltd. ISBN 1847342728. The majority of these quotes relate directly to the Lonsdale Battalion, however, some relate to more general events such as the state of affairs prior to a battle. These have been included to provide some background information about what was about to transpire in the battles the Lonsdales would, in some form or another, take part in.
From the British front line the ground sloped upwards to the strongly held village of Thiepval, with a ridge in rear of it whence the Germans could sweep the whole approach. At 10pm on the 30th June the Lonsdales moved from dug-outs at Crucifix Corner to assembly trenches, which had been specifically dug for them in the thickest part of Authuille Wood, where it had not been so far much shelled, and in these the Battalion spent the remainder of the night incurring no casualties.
The task assigned to the 97th Brigade in general and to the 11th Border Regiment in particular was a very difficult one; the objective was Mouquet Farm, but in order to effect its capture the 97th brigade on the right of the 32nd Division – the 96th brigade being on the left and the 14th in support – had first to move north east and then swing to the east, while the Lonsdale battalion had to move north out of Authuille Wood for some little distance and then swing due east; this movement, moreover, had not only to be calculated exactly as to time, but had to be done under heavy fire. The companies moved out from the wood in "blob" formation[a]....On leaving the trenches in the wood, even before arriving at the front British trench, the Battalion came under terrific machine-gun fire – the shell fire was practically negligible while such musketry as came in its direction was too high. There was no question of flinching; the companies, men dropping every moment, moved steadily on, and, on leaving the advanced British trench, pushed on straight to their front for a time and then, as had been ordered, wheeled eastward. The attacking line, supported by the Lonsdales, was having a hard fight to try and reach the German trenches, but few were able to get so far since the enemy machine guns were taking a terrible toll, mowing down the men in scores and causing very heavy losses.
Colonel Machell, gallantly leading his men, was shot dead almost immediately after leaving the forward trench; his adjutant, Lieutenant Gordon, was severely wounded, as he stooped over his body; Major Diggle, the second in command, was already wounded, and within a very short time out of 28 officers and 800 other ranks who left the wood, 25 officers and some 500 non-commissioned officers and men were out of action. Men could do no more.
At the end of July the 'Lonsdales' were at Noyelles, finding carrying parties for the 8th Division to which they were attached....then about the 15 November the battalion was called up with the 32nd Division to take part in the final operations of the Battle of the Ancre. It was on the 17 November, the day Somme Battle came officially to an end, that the 32nd Division took over the front-line trenches, relieving the 18th Division which moved further to the left, and the advance therefrom commenced on the morning of the 18 November, the 14th Brigade being on the left and the 97th Brigade on the right; but the battalions composing these started off very short of bombs, while the state of the ground was so awful that the rate of advance could not exceed one mile an hour. [see 18 November for details of action this day]
When dusk fell those that were left of the Battalion were collected and reorganized and Wagon Road placed in a state of defence, and here the Lonsdales held till a little after noon on the 19 November, when they were relieved and went back to billets at Mailly-Maillet. There can be no doubt that some officers and men fought their way right through to the objective; some like Sergeant-Major Johnstone and Private Dixon, broke back again and rejoined after dark., but Captain Welch and others were cut off and held out until overwhelmed, though several rescue parties were sent out to try and discover their whereabouts and help them in. During the whole of December the Battalion was in rest billets at Puchevillers; it was a long and cheerless winter, with much to be done, gaps to be filled, men to be trained, and every preparation made for the battles still to come.
The 11th, Lonsdale Battalion, which at the beginning of 1917 was stationed in the Mailly-Maillet area; but in early February it was withdrawn to Lythan Camp near Beaussart, where the attack was practiced over ground which had been carefully laid out so as to correspond in every detail with an attack which was shortly to be made on the enemy position. The whole of the 9 February was spent in making the necessary preparations, equipment and bombs were drawn, and the operation orders were read and discussed, and the following afternoon the 'Lonsdales' paraded and marched to Beaumont Hamel, the 97th Brigade being detailed to drive the enemy off the ridge and out of Ten Tree Alley on the night of the 10th–11th....The Battalion was in position by 7.30pm on a frontage of 350 yards, while the Headquarters was established at Franfort Post. At zero hour (8.30pm) the artillery barrage opened when the Battalion moved forward from its position and followed closely behind a creeping barrage towards the objective.
- Wylly continues to state: On a front of two men, each half-platoon being in a little column of its own, not immediately in rear of the one in front, but slightly to one flank, this being considered the best formation under distant shell fire.