Record of the XIth (Service) Battalion (Lonsdale) - In France
Nov. 23rd The Battalion left Folkstone for Boulogne at 9-30 a.m. by the “Princess Victoria”. Spent the night at the rest-camp, and on train the following evening to…
Nov. 25th (early a.m.) - Longpré, marching thence to Ergnies, arrive 7a.m. (A Company), and to Gorenflos (B, C and D Companies), billets.
“Very good moving on gradually, so the men get used to billeting; it’s a big change for these lads, accustomed to having everything done for them. Their minds move slowly and they think it’s still training; so far we have got along first rate, much better than others. Gerald Spring-Rice very good at getting the transport along” (Note by C.O.) Marched to…
Nov. 28th Villers-Bocage. Billets for the whole Battalion. Sharp frost.
Dec. 2nd Molliens-au-Bois. Lectures, inspections and physical exercises.
Dec. 7th “It is settled that we go on for practical training, attached to old units, and then relieve them gradually”. (Note by C.O.)
Dec.12th Left half Battalion (C and D), under Major Diggle, to Millencourt; Right (A and B), with Headquarters and Transport, to Bouzincourt.
Dec. 13th Battalion marched through Albert to the trenches.
Dec. 14th Right half back to Bouzincourt.
“They are in very good form, and prepared to look smiling under all possible circumstances. I had a talk yesterday on the futility of grousing and the necessity of making the best instead of the worst of everything. Sandbags much wanted. I have been in the trenches a lot to-day, and see how useful a private supply would be. Difficulty in keeping the walls standing, owing to the quantity of water, and there is nothing like sandbags”. (Note by C.O.)
Dec. 16th Left half back to Millencourt.
Dec. 17th, 18th, 19th Relieving Companies of F2.
“All my Companies in the firing-line now as Companies attached to other Battalions, and I go out daily to see them. Am glad ????? was pleased with his glimpse of the Lonsdales. They certainly are behaving extremely well, and it is a very severe trial at first” (Note by C.O.)
“All will be more comfortable when our division takes over. C.O.’s are well enough off always apparently, having pretty good dug-outs and a chance of drying up, but I feel very bad about the men, and one can’t do enough for them”. (Note by C.O.)
Battalion took over F1 Sector for Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
“The trenches we had first to take over were very bad, the soil was chiefly a loamly clay, with chalk only on the extreme left of our sector. In many places there were no duck-boards, and, in consequence, the mud and water was four or five feet deep. It was impossible to get all along the front line trench without going “overland”, as there were two stretches of about 100 yards each that were impassible. However, we got them right eventually. The men used at times to get quite stuck and unable to move in the mud. Then the gum-boots had to be left” (Note by P.G.W.D.)
Dec.22nd Captain Clart invalided. Captain Harrison took over B Company.
“The men are excellent. I am very energetic, as you may imagine, and they respond splendidly. I am quite delighted with them. They are not foolish at all, just sensible, and do their job without the smallest fuss, though the hardships for them are demandable. For us it is much better, as we can generally get dry socks and a better place to lie in…I have nothing to complain of at all. I am working day and night”. (Note by C.O.)
Dec. 23rd Battalion relieved by the H.L.I. Proceeded to Bouzincourt.
“First week in trenches, only six casualties, one, Nicholson (of Carlisle), since died. The 51st Division, to which we were attached, especially thanked Rycroft for the way the 11th Borders had played up” (Note by C.O.)
Dec.27th F1 Sector, relieved H.L.I.
F1 Sector, special attention to repairing trenches and construction of dug-outs.
“For the first six months there was never a night that the C.O. did not go round the trenches. Not a casual walk round, but four or fives hours out. I took the other part of the night. But he was a man of 53, and then he did not sleep in the day. Breakfast was always at 8 a.m. We had the name of being the best Infantry Battalion in France, among any of those who had to do with us. One man told me here in England, only the other day, what a reputation we had…The C.O. put system and organization into everything he came in contact with. We organized a drainage party, whose job it was to keep the communication trenches drained and in repair, under the supervision of the R.E. The garrison was responsible for the front line only. The C.O. put protection first, then rest, and then work” (Note by P.G.W.D.)
Dec. 31st Relieved by H.L.I. Battalion to Aveluy billets, close behind the lines. R.E. fatigues.
Jan. 3rd Routine. Seven days in trenches, seven in very close billets as support, then seven days trenches, and then seven in Brigade Reserve, 2 miles back. The K.O.Y.L.I. have joined the Brigade instead of the — H.L.I.
Jan. 7th-14th F1 Sector
“It is delightful how easily all the working parties can be arranged, and how satisfactorily an immense amount of work is done with a minimum amount of fatigue to the men, by careful and systematic arrangement beforehand. We do more than twice what the others do, and our men do it twice as easily. It is all very small, but it is good to see the result, both in the work and in the men themselves…I have three patrols every night. They go cautiously at first, and I get them to go a bit wider every night, so as gradually to get confidence” (Note by C.O.)
“One of our patrols bumped into a German one a few night ago. Germans retired and we got our machine-gun on to them; one German got left, and was brought in in triumph, everyone much pleased. Last night patrol, under Matthews, the police sergeant, got right inside the German wire and located a big working party in the open. Got back and put a M.G. and a lot rifles on to them—groans, lights flying about, silence for half an hour, and then retaliation with whizz-bangs and rifle grenades—no effect. Quite good. It has given them a start, so much turns on the way the first things go. We have located a spot where I believe they are making a trench mortar battery, so we have arranged for our artillery to flatten this place quite out to-morrow. The new R.A. is first class” (Note by C.O.)
Jan. 13th “McKerrow (Lieut.) was out with a small patrol, bumped into sniper—all Germans started to shoot—McKerrow told the men to crawl, and got back with corporal and two men. Two other men were missing; they lost their way, keeping too much to the right, climbed carefully over what they thought was our parapet, and found good steps inside, trenches 12 feet deep, all well walled up, and the floors boarded, clean and dry. One said to the other, “These ain’t our ????? trenches!” - saw a fine dug-out, and wanted to throw a bomb in, and the German wire had been so awful to get through they knew they wouldn’t be able to. They just had time to skip up on top of the parapet when 40 men passed within a yard of them. They got through the wire with some noise, the Germans firing as the wire rattled, but got back safely”
Jan. 14th “Two batteries, 18-pounders, one battery trench mortars, and some 4.5 howitzers, H.E. shells, all on to 100 yards of German front. They made beautiful shooting, and blew mud and wood quite 100 feet high. Guns then started at us from behind their line, and they sent a lot of shells all about us; luckily only one man hit” (Note by C.O.)
Jan. 15th-21st Bouzincourt.
Jan. 21st F1 Sector.
Jan. 22nd Lieut. T.S. Gordon Killed in F1 Sector, in front of Aveluy.
Jan. 27th-31st Aveluy billets. One man killed here; eight shells fell here.
Feb. 1st-4th Aveluy. Battalion in reserve. Fatigues, R.E.
Feb. 5th Relief of H.L.I. in F1. Postponed from 4th, owing to our artillery bombardment.
Feb. 9th-10th Heavy bombardment on left of F1 and F2. Several casualties.
“Edge of a nig strafe; an anxious time; d the people who have been here for months and made no proper dug-outs; the Germans are 16 feet underground. Lachrymaotry shells, 9 inch, filled the valley with dense smoke which entailed the use of gas helmets instantly…This business near us was no small matter. The battalion that go it (K.O.Y.L.I.) had been at Loos and Ypres, and never saw anything like it. I hear the Boches have traveling outfits of very heavy guns, which go about and make hay at different points”. (Note by C.O.)
Feb. 11th Albert. Billets.
Feb. 17th-24th Billeted in huts in Hénencourt Wood.
“Five weeks on end out of trenches. First move to be deep mud and leaky huts in a wood, no shells, but no water anywhere. The French villages have no water supply except doubtful wells and fish ponds. Brigadier temporarily while General Jardine away”. (Note by C.O.)
Feb. 24th Millencourt.
Mar. 1st “Leave all stopped; going back to another part of the line”.
Mar. 10th “A working party shelled yesterday while cleaning out a trench. Someone threw the dirt over the top, inevitable result six 7.7 shells” (Note by C.O.)
2nd Lieut. Robinson killed, with Sergt. Alderson and three men.
Mar. 12th Captain A.J. Dawson invalided home. Captain Corbett took over command of D Company.
Mar. 23rd Dernancourt. Rest billets.
“Last night a beastly rifle grenade fell in the middle of a party of our men who were putting out wire. Pitch dark night and a chance shot, as they had no idea anyone was out. It got five. One of my best Sergeants killed dead and another so badly hurt that he died before we could get him back over our parapet. Both personal friends. Harrison, the Captain, is splendid. I was anxious not to have anyone outside, and with another man was laboriously dragging in the Sergeant, when he, Harrison, took him on his back and walked in with him…We have been extremely ‘fortunate’, and I believe we are supposed to have done very well all along…so if anything goes wrong at any time we shall have something to our credit in the past”. (Note by C.O.)
Mar. 26th 32nd Division moved into 4th Army (General Sir Henry Rawlinson).
Captain Brown took Captain Rivington’s place, commanding C Company.
Mar. 28th “Getting short of officers. The regular battalions are always changing, but these North-Country men want to know their officers thoroughly or they count for very little”. (Note by C.O.)
Mar. 29th E1 Sector. Draft two officers (2nd Lieuts. Davidson and Monkhouse), and 20 other ranks.
Apr.4th-12th Senlis. After two days in the trenches again, at Aveluy, the whole battalion moved into an isolation camp (measles) in Contay Wood, where they remained for a month.
Apr. 15th 2nd Lieut. Taylor accidentally killed. His horse slipped on a dark night and came down with him. He was an Australian, a fine rider, and “one of the best officers we had”. Training continued during the whole period of isolation.
May 17th Battalion moved from Contay Wood to Bouzincourt, taking over Authuille Sector the next day from Lancashire Fusiliers.
“New sector hotter in every way than any we have been in yet, but have far better dug-outs for Headquarters”. (Note by C.O.)
“Out for three days, then four in, then a bit back for twelve days, and right back for twelve more, that is now our usual routine”.
May 26th Lieut. Gerald Spring-Rice, Transport Officer to the Battalion, killed by a spent bullet. He was 52 years of age.
“Before he joined he had done splendid work as Secretary of the Executive Committee, and from the time of his appointment as Transport Officer until the day of his death he devoted his entire energies to the welfare of the Battalion, in the formation of which he had such an important share”. (Note by C.O.)
May 30th Mentioned in despatches……..Lieut. Colonel P.W. Machell.
Mentioned in despatches, the 11th (Service) Border Regiment, “for consistent good work” (v. Appendix H)
June 1st Bouzincourt. Battalion in Divisional Reserve.
June 5th Party under Lieut. Barnes raided German trenches opposite the Leipzig Salient. Zero time, 11pm.
June 6th “Complete success last night, only unfortunately Barnes, the O.C. Raid, was killed just before they got back, with five others. We took 11 prisoners alive, about 25 others killed. Men did splendidly, and I have telegrams from Division—(Major-General Rycroft), Corps—(Lieut.-General Sir T. Morland), and Army—(General Sir H. Rawlinson) Commanders to-day. A party of correspondents was sent down from G.H.Q. to-day to get information about it, brought here by a staff Officer” (Note by C.O.)
(A full report of the raid, furnished by one of the officers who took part in it, is given in Appendix B)
June 8th The Corps Commander, Lieut.-General Sir T. Morland, inspected the raiders and congratulated them.
June 12th Divisional Exercise. Battalion returned billets, Contay Wood; continuous training of every kind.
Meanwhile the date was rapidly approaching on which the British armies, from the Somme in the south to Gommecourt in the north, were to advance in force and endeavour to drive through the enemy's line.
June 21st On the 21 June, Brigade Orders (some extracts given in Appendix C) for the attack were issued. Four days were to be devoted to a heavy bombardment, and the assault was to take place on the 5th, but the actual days had not been specified.
The part of the enemy's line which the 32nd Division was to attack (with the 97th Brigade on the right and another on the left) was the large salient (v. sketch map below), reaching from the north of Thiepval village to a point 1,800 yards due east of Authuille. The chord of this salient was about 1,900 yards long, and the portion of the front German trenches, allotted as the first objective of the 97th Brigade, was about 850 yards long from north to south, including the formidable Leipzig Redoubt (K), near the southern point of the Salient; besides this, the trenches leading thence due east were to be captured by a company of the leading right battalion of the H.L.I.
The attack of the 97th Brigade was to be carried out by the two H.L.I. Battalions in the front line, each on a front of two platoons (i.e., about 300 yards per battalion). The Battalion K.O.Y.L.I. was to be in support, and the Londales in reserve, echeloned to the right rear of the right H.L.I. Battalion.
When the third first line of enemy’s trenches had been captured, the K.O.Y.L.I. and the Lonsdales were to pass through the H.L.I. and capture the 4th line, including Mouquet Farm.
June 23rd Bouzincourt.
“Preparation for the big push. Things out to go 1,000 times better than ever before” (Note by C.O.)
June 24th Battalion took over Authuille Sector from Manchester Regiment (12-30am).
June 26th “Relieved to-night by K.O.Y.L.I. Continuous bombardment by both sides. We go out for a day or two’s rest preparation, into a lot of dug-outs under a big bank close behind. The locum tenens doctor is astonished at the efficiency of our stretcher-bearers, who, he says, are as capable as they are devoted; say he never has to undo anything. We certainly owe a great deal to S__ and to Kirkwood. Quite a few casualties to-day, very strenuous” (Note by C.O.)
2 O.R. killed, 30 O.R. wounded, 9 shell shock.
Relief completed at 12-40am, 27th.
June 27th Crucifix Corner. Bombardment continued, battalion issuing S.A.A., grenades, & c.
June 28th “Tremendous bombardment for four days. We have had a comparatively safe two days behind this big bank, but the poor people who relieved us have suffered terribly” (Note by C.O.)
Zero time postponed for 48 hours. Remaied in dug-outs at Crucifix Corner. Our artillery bombardment less intense.
Battalion Orders of the 28th are attached (Appendix D). Owing to the deferring of the attack as mentioned above they held good for the 1st July
June 29th German retaliation slight.
June 30th No fresh written Battalion Orders for the morrow were issued, but at some time during the day the notes given in Appendix E were issued verbally by the C.O., and every man made thoroughly acquainted with the task that lay before him. The Battalion moved up at 10 p.m. from dug-outs at Crucifix Corner to the assembly trenches which had been specially dug for it in Authuille Wood. These were in the thickest part of the wood, where it had not been much shelled, and a transverse trench led through them for communication purposes. They were hardly shelled at all during the night, and no casualties occurred.
A Brigade of the 8th Division lay in the trenches surrounding the Northern end of the wood, a Battalion of the Dorsets being the left-hand battalion, and, therefore, next to the Lonsdales where they advanced.
Messages re Zero Time (the hour for attack). i.e., 7-30 a.m., are given in Appendix F. The task assigned to the Lonsdales - and in fact to the whole Brigade - was a peculiarly difficult one. (See sketch map below)
The frontage to be attacked by the 97th Brigade was from A to B, but the Brigade was not opposite this frontage. The two attacking battalions (of the H.L.I.) were aligned somewhat to the South-West, i.e., from C to D, with the K.O.Y.L.I. in support behind them. The Lonsdales, in reserve, were in assembly trenches in the wood at E, for the ground in the right rear of the H.L.I. was very much exposed, and there was no room for them. The Brigadier was at F.
We thus see that the Brigade had to attack “on the slant”, i.e., move North-Eastwards and then swing due East. The task of the Lonsdales was still more complicated, for they had to move Northwards out of the wood until they got in the rear of the right company of the H.L.I. and then swing due East. And this movement would not only have to be exactly calculated as to time, to bring them in the rear of the H.L.I., but would have to be done under heavy fire which was certain to be directed on the H.L.I.—not only from German trenches A to K but almost certainly from H to L, which would undoubtedly be bristling with machine-guns in order to enfilade the No Man’s Land immediately south of H to A. The British trenches M to C were occupied by the left of the next Brigade, who were to attack the portion L to H.
The Lonsdales were to make their exit from the front trench on a strip about 100 yards long at G. We have the following note, made by Lieut.-Colonel Machell at about 8-30 a.m.: -
At Pt.—(in N.E. corner of Authuille Wood). Battalion has debouched from the wood as follows:-
|Carrying party for Stokes guns in charge of one officer, T.M.B.||+ 15’|
|D Company for Strong Point Int. line||+ 20’|
|B Company for Mouquet farm and Mouquet Switch A Company for Mouquet Farm and Mouquet Switch||+ 25’ + 25’|
|C Company for Mouquet farm S. Pt.||+ 35’|
|Battalion Headquarters||+ 40’|
|I go forward now to point—(i.e., well inside German lines) and thence to point—about half a mile on line to M.F. (Mouquet Farm).|
And the following brief note in the Battalion War Diary: - “Battalion advanced from assembly trenches at 8 a.m. and came under very heavy machine-gun fire, suffering over 500 Casualties”.
It is difficult, where so many officers and men were killed or otherwise put out of action, to make out precisely what occurred. The only thing that is clear is that the Battalion moved out exactly in accordance with the C.O.'s orders of the day before. On leaving their trenches in the wood, even before arriving at the front British trench, they came under a terrific fire. mostly, it would appear, from machine guns on their right front and flank; one account indeed speaks of a triple tier of machine-guns.
The companies moved out in “worm” or “blob” formation, i.e., on a front of two men, each half-platoon being in a little column of its own, not immediately following the one in front, but a little to the one side or the other. (This is deemed the best formation under shell fire form a distance).
Before they had reached the front British trenches, moving over the open and across the various trenches in the way, they had lost very heavily, mostly from machine-guns. There appears to have been but little shelling from the enemy, and the rifle-fire directed on them generally went high and only splintered chips off trees in the wood.
Yet there was no question of flinching. The companies, men dropping every moment, moved steadily on in their “worm” formation, an on leaving the trench at G pushed on straight to their front for a little, and then swung round facing eastwards. The H.L.I. meanwhile were having a hard fight to get into the German trenches A to K, and were pluckily supported by the men of the Lonsdales who got so far. But there were not many who reached these trenches. Coming not only from the front at H to A and H to L, but apparently from the new right front as well, i.e., from L to the south, the German machine-guns mowed down the men in scores, and caused most terribly heavy losses.
In pursance of his intention expressed on the previous day, ”If things go badly, I come up and see it through” (Appendix E), the C.O. pushed on through the rear companies in order to put himself at the head of his men and lead them on. He had however hardly left the forward British trench when he was shot through the head and instantaneously killed.
His adjutant was severely wounded immediately afterwards; the Second in Command was already wounded. Out of 28 officers and 800 men or so who left the wood, 25 officers and about 500 men were out of action, killed or wounded.
(died of wounds)
The Battalion was organised for a short time in two companies, i.e.:-
- (A & B) under 2nd Lieut. Ross and
- (C & D) under 2nd Lieut. Welsh
On 14 July Major Girdwood, D.S.O. (late G.S.O. 2, Divisional Staff) took over Command of the Battalion.
References / notes
- The Leipzig Redoubt was located at K