Son of the late Thomas and Annie Mary Dukes, of 21, King's
was born in Doncaster, South Yorkshire in 1896 to parents Thomas, occupation, Confectioner/Baker, and Annie Mary Dukes (nee
Allan). The 1901 Census details record at this juncture that the family had relocated to Bridlington, East Yorkshire, shortly
after the birth of another son, Allan, in 1898.
the family residence in premises located at Number 67, High Street, Bridlington, Thomas Dukes occupation as well as being
described as that of a Confectioner/Baker is also in addition recorded as that of a Shopkeeper, Own Account.
Shortly after the above Census was recorded, Walter's father unfortunately
died in the winter of that year, Annie and her two sons then relocating back to Doncaster.
In the intervening years following the death of her husband, Annie placed
her two sons in further education at the Yorkshire Society School located at Westminster Bridge Road, London. The school was
founded in 1812 for the education and maintenance of boys born in Yorkshire or of Yorkshire parents. A charitable institution,
the placement of both Walter and Allan at the school may have been as a direct consequence and financial reflection of the
untimely death of their father. Annie, with her sons at school in London, was at this period in 1911 residing with her brother,
John W. Allan, described as a Commercial Traveller, at premises located at 21, King's Road, Doncaster.
At some period after 1911, Walter moved northwards to Wetherby, the town
expanding with numerous business opportunities. With the Great War now raging for over one year, Walter Dukes attested for
Military Service at Wetherby in either late November or early December 1915. Initially posted to the ranks of the West Yorkshire
Regiment and allocated the serial number 23916, service with the Regiment is ambiguous and may have been of a short duration.
Transferred to the 13th Training Reserve Battalion, the origins of this unit require further explanation.
The Training Reserve were formed in September 1916 as a consequence of the
reorganisation of Regimental Reserve units. The T.R., with no affiliation to any particular county regiment, was formed for
the purpose of providing drafts to any unit of the British Army as their needs arose for replacements. A further reorganisation
of this force would take place in mid 1917 that would result in the creation of both Graduated and Young Soldier Battalions
and in due course, the affiliation to specific regiments would be re-established.
Upon transfer from the West Yorkshire Regiment to the Training Reserve, Walter was duly
renumbered and allocated the serial number 8708.
part of the 3rd Reserve Brigade, initial service with the 13th Training Reserve Battalion would have been conducted at Brocton
Camp, Staffordshire. Due to an absence of surviving service documents the exact date of Walter's posting is unknown but
one would surmise that service commenced with this unit on or about September 1916 upon formation of the Training Reserve
establishment. Serving within this formation, Walter would ultimately be posted to join the ranks of the 2/5th Battalion,
Lincolnshire Regiment however this eventual posting will be examined later during the course of this commemoration.
2/5th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment
The 2/5th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment, were formed at Grimsby in February
1915. A Second Line Territorial unit of the Territorial Army, in July 1915 the battalion were attached to the 177th Infantry
Brigade, 59th (2nd North Midland) Division, this brigade also comprising of the following units:
2/4th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment
2/4th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment
2/5th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment
Following the Easter Rising in Ireland by the Irish Republicans in an attempt
to establish an Independant Irish Republic, the 59th Division were ordered to proceed overseas to assist in the suppressing
of the uprising on the 25th April 1916. Returning to England in January 1917, the division moved to Fovant Camp, Wiltshire,
whereupon a programme of training was initiated. In February, orders were issued for the division to concentrate prior to
movement overseas, their destination was now to be the Western Front.
Western Front: The German Retirement To The Hindenburg Line
On the morning of the 23rd February 1917, an advance party of the 2/5th Lincoln's,
Officer Commanding Lieutenant-Colonel Harold Bowyer Roffey, entrained at Dinton Station, Wiltshire, destination, Southampton.
With the remainder of the battalion entraining one hour later, the men upon arrival at the port began embarkation on the S.S.
Connaught, departing Southampton for Le Havre, France, which was reached early on the morning of the 24th, battalion
strength being recorded as 29 officers and 907 Other Ranks.
By train and route of march, the battalion, in division, proceeded to Bayonvillers, located
to the south-east of Corbie and south of the Somme river. With companies sent up to the front line in turn for a period of
trench familiarisation, it was on the 7th March 1917 that the battalion first entered the British line in this sector at Triangle
Copse, to the north of Fay, the division now being contained in Fourth Army, Third Corps.
|Trench Map Extract, Sheet 62c, Edition 4, March 1917
At this juncture, the German Army had commenced a strategic retirement
to a prepared defensive position, the Hindenburg Line (Siegfriedstellung), various factors influencing the Oberste
Heeresleitung (Supreme Army Command) to order the withdrawal.
The failed offensive against the French at Verdun, then the subsequent launching of the Allied offensive on the Somme
had resulted in an acute shortage of available manpower on the Western Front despite the transfer of divisions from the Eastern
Front. In addition, German arms production fell far short of the projected capacity required to combat the Allies build up
of men and materiel, the Hindenburg Programme, instigated to double arms production, estimated to be at
about 60% capacity by mid 1917.
to British advances on both the east and west banks of the Ancre river, Somme, in the first two months of 1917, localised
withdrawals were made in this sector by the German Army resulting in the instigation of "Operation Alberich,"
the first phase of the retirement conducted in late February. Destroying the infrastructure, poisoning water supplies
and laying booby traps for the unwary as they retired, frequently, small yet costly engagements were fought as the Allies
tentatively followed the withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line, this defensive network only being fully penetrated in
the winter of 1917.
of the Siegfriedstellung had begun in September 1916, this defensive position commencing near Neuville Vitasse to
the south-east of Arras and continuing southwards to the east of St. Quentin and then Laon, ending to the north of Reims on
the Chemin des Dames at Cerny-en-Laonnois. A formidable construction, this defensive line comprised of three distinct
'Zones,' the Outpost Line, the Battle Zone and a Rear Zone. Adopting this 'defence-
in- depth' strategy, the Outpost Line was constructed utilising the topography of the landscape and located
on high ground. Lightly manned and on average of about 650 yards in depth, this zone would disrupt the impetus of any attack
the main battle it was envisaged, to be fought in the Battle Zone.
Again, utilising topographical features, the Battle Zone was constructed
on the reverse of high ground, about 200 yards behind the Outpost Line. Protected by vast belts of barbed wire, sited
to channel any attacker into a killing zone, this position also contained numerous concrete shelters and machine
gun posts, the latter, sited to offer an unparalleled field of fire in conjunction with the placement of the barbed wire defences.
Should any attack breakthrough the initial line, units were also made available in reserve positions ready to perform counter-attacks.
The Rear Zone had extensive communications to the Battle Zone,
telephonic cable being laid at depth in addition to an array of communication trenches connecting the two zones together.
Concrete observation posts for the artillery were also located in the rear, sited to provide commanding views forward and
in communication with artillery batteries further to the rear. To supply this almost seemingly impregnable position, light
railways had been laid to transport forward all the materiel necessary for defence.
This defensive line, with the front now reduced by twenty five miles, also
made available thirteen divisions of infantry plus numerous artillery pieces for deployment elsewhere on the Western Front.
The scene was set as the Allies cautiously followed a retiring enemy across a devastated wasteland of ruined villages, trees
that had been felled and roads mined. An iconic image of a notice hung on a ruined building in the Grande Place, Peronne,
simply reads, "Nicht argern nur wundern!" ("Don't be annoyed just marvel.")
|Reproduced By Kind Permission Of The I.W.M. Copyright I.W.M. (Q 4965)
Triangle Copse: Trench Familiarisation
relief of the 1/5th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, 50th (Northumbrian) Division, the 2/5th Lincolns now occupied the front
line. The trenches inherited were in a deplorable state with men up to their knees in mud and with access to the front line
virtually impossible other than overground. Immediately the battalion set about attempting to improve their situation, scoops
being employed to remove the mud from the communication trenches.
touch being maintained on their left flank with the 2nd Battalion, Munster Fusiliers, 1st Division, and on their right with
the 2/4th Lincolns, their sister battalion, the battalion were bombarded with grenades throughout the day resulting in the
wounding of five men. One of these men, Corporal Bertie Nicholson, 241185, of North Street, Gainsborough, was later pronounced
killed in action. Bertie had enlisted at Gainsborough in June 1915 aged just 19 years, the first man of the battalion to fall
on the Western Front on the 8th March, 1917. Bertie has no known grave, the latter possibly having been destroyed in later
fighting, therefore, he is now commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, Somme.
As casualties steadily began to mount, an unfortunate term referred to as
"trench wastage," it was on the 12th instant that fires were observed in the German reserve lines. Withdrawn from
the line upon relief by the 2/5th Leicesters, working parties were furnished for the repair of the Estrees - Villers-Carbonnel
Road, this maintenance of an arterial west to east road vital in the following up of an enemy now fully ascertained by the
Allies to be retiring eastwards.
With the retirement being
followed closely but rather tentatively, where it was initially thought that contact with the enemy would be made, they had
yet once again slipped away. It was on the 9th April that the battalion, in division, had by now advanced to the east of Peronne,
the latter having been entered on the 18th March.
the east of Hargicourt, the 2/5th Lincolns had made preparations for numerous proposed attacks on the enemy however these
were subsequently postponed as the enemy continued his retirement. During the following day, orders were issued to follow
an advance that was to be conducted by the 1/7th Worcestershire Regiment, 48th (South Midland) Division on various enemy strong
points located to the east of Hargicourt. Liason was established with the Worcesters on the Lincolns left flank and orders
exchanged, artillery support for the advance being allocated to 295th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, 59th Divisional Artillery.
Brigade Headquarters now
issued orders at 11 p.m. on the evening of the 10th that stated that the Germans were now reported to be retiring on the Hindenburg
Line so as a consequence, patrols were sent out to ascertain the situation. These patrols reported that the Quarry and
ground in the vicinity of Cologne Farm were devoid of enemy forces, orders at once being issued to Company Commanders
to prepare for attack.
now dictated that the Quarry and Cologne Farm should be seized, thereupon, an enemy trench running from
Hargicourt to Malakoff Farm, "A" Company were allocated to take the former position whilst "C"
Company would sieze the latter. The intended artillery support for the operation was cancelled and a different tactic employed
no doubt to maintain the element of surprise. Despite the lack of a preparatory bombardment, the attacking companies were
informed that upon themselves launching an S.O.S. signal, a barrage would be put down along a line drawn from the
village of Villaret to the south of Hargicourt to the Quarry. "Zero" hour being set for 4.30 a.m. on the
morning of the 11th April, the launch being set to coincide with the attack of the 144th Infantry Brigade, 48th (South Midland)
Division in position on their left flank.
|Trench Map Extract, Sheets 62c N.E. & 66b N.W,, Dated 14/3/17
At 4 a.m. on the morning of the 11th April, "A" Company,
formed up for the attack. Disposed on a two platoon frontage comprising of two waves to each platoon, bombers and riflemen
extended to three paces in the front wave. Lewis guns and their associated crews would accompany the second wave with supporting
platoons moving forward in small columns by section.
The chronology of events as they now unfolded is somewhat lacking in the pages of the War Diary but it is clear that
on the commencement of the attack the enemy artillery put down a heavy bombardment. Casualties were initially reported as
few due to the formation of advance adopted, the line of this advance commencing from the south-west heading direct for the
Quarry, located just to the south-east of Cologne Farm.
The origins of the Quarry are unclear, but this position, one of
a number of quarries, is annotated on some trench maps as Quarry, 'Slag.' The enemy it would appear were
caught unawares, possibly due to no preliminary bombardment, and many of his dug-outs were bombed along the raod passing south-east
of the position, the latter it is recorded, a larger feature than at first assumed on available maps.
A platoon of "A" Company, forcing entry into the position, made
good progress capturing about forty prisoners in the process however the diary records that these captured men "could
not be subsequently held," their fate not being recorded.
As the engagement in the Quarry progressed, the attackers were met with heavy machine gun and rifle fire
which unfortunately resulted in the death of Captain Thomas Bryant who was killed whilst encouraging his men forward from
the bank at the top of the position. As enemy resistance stiffened, the Lewis guns were brought forward from the second wave
in succession under the command of Second-Lieutenant Morris Tonge Chambers. Held up by a machine gun, Chambers led his men
through the enemy barbed wire "with great dash and initiative," charging the gun and shooting dead the
gunner. Turning the captured weapon on the enemy who had by now began to flee the position, he set a fine example to his men
that resulted in the award of the Military Cross, London Gazette dated 20th June, 1917.
Casualties at this period of the attack numbered about 40, Lieutenant John
Sladen Simons being wounded twice. A strong enemy counter-attack now developed from the direction of Villeret to the south
forcing "A" Company to withdraw from the Quarry but this was carried out in good order and a post with
a Lewis gun was established, no doubt covering this retirement with good effect.
On the left flank of the attack, "C" Company had also adopted a
similar formation for their advance on Malakoff Farm. With the enemy barbed wire defences cut, this company proceeded
to bomb their way down the enemy trench from Hargicourt to the farm but were almost immediately met by a counter-attacking
force of about 250 of the enemy, this counter stroke eminating from the direction of Cologne Farm. For the men of
this company, there was little chance of success, cut off and virtually surrounded by a superior enemy force, little information
could be obtained as to their exact fate, the remainder of the company withdrawn to positions held the night previously.
Casualties sustained in this, the first major contact with the enemy made
by the 2/5th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment were heavy, so much so, that what remained of "A" and "C"
Companies had to be frmed into a composite company and placed in reserve.
One officer had been killed and both Lieutenant Simons and Second-Lieutenant John Holland Shrewsbury were wounded.
Two further officers, Lieutenant Rowland Wright Alston had been wounded and subsequently made prisoner, whilst Lieutenant
John West Walker was posted as wounded and missing, later to be confirmed as killed in action. In Other Ranks, the War Diary
of the 2/5th records that 254 men were either killed, wounded or missing.
analysis of both Soldiers Died in the Great War and that of the Commonwealth War Graves Database confirms that of
this number, 60 Other Ranks were either killed or died of wounds during the action, the vast majority of the men now commemorated
on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, Somme.
remainder of April and the month of May would witness the battalion rotating in and out of the line. The losses in 'specialists,'
namely bombers, rifle grenadiers and Lewis gunners were replaced but there proved to be an immediate necessity for the battalion
to be brought back up to strength in Other Ranks after the losses incurred in the attack at Hargicourt, trench strength being
recorded on the 24th April as only 350 Other Ranks. N.B. Actual strength including those on training and other duties numbering
29 officers and 542 Other Ranks.
spent out of the line were not without their disadvantages as working parties were constantly required to maintain roads as
well as the construction of defence systems in the front line. Training in various methods of attack, drill and gas discipline
i.e. use of the Box Respirator and Helmet were also performed with afternoons being devoted to recreational activities.
Sanitation also proved to be a fundamental problem as the French villages
of Jeancourt and Cartigny were in turn occupied by the battalion. Large amounts of manure both on the roads and in dung heaps
necessitated a rigorous programme of 'burning,' usually carried out in the afternoon, a most unwelcome fatigue but
one that had to be carried out to minimise the spead of infectious disease.
It was on the 25th May whilst at Cartigny that camp was struck at 5.45 a.m.,
the battalion proceeding by route of march at 8 a.m. to a camp located near Equancourt, some distance to the north-east of
Peronne. The march proved to be most trying as the weather was hot and as a consequence 60 men fell out due to the effects
of the heat these men rejoining the battalion during the afternoon and during the evening. Upon arrival at the camp, the brigade
were welcomed by the Divisional Commander, Major-General Cecil Francis Romer.
On the evening of the 27th May the 2/5th Lincolns moved up to Gouzeaucourt
Wood in support to the 2/5th Leicesters who were holding positions in the front line. The wood had been used as stables for
the enemy's horse drawn transport, large heaps of manure and refuse being covered over by earth. The stench must have
been appalling and it was probably no doubt with some sense of relief that the battalion in brigade moved up to take over
the front and immediate lines on the evening of the 30th.
battalion now occupied trenches in the Left Sub-Sector near Beaucamp, to the north of Gouzeaucourt and south-east
of Trescault. Fighting strength of the battalion as recorded on the 1st June comprised of 31 officers and 534 Other Ranks,
of this number however, 6 officers and 92 O/R's were absent due to either being on working parties or other duties.
|Image Courtesy Of McMaster University Library
|Beaucamp, Parts of 57c N.E. & S.E. Trenchesd To 10/10/17 (Cropped Image)
It was on the 1st June that a draft of 50 Other Ranks was received
by the 2/5th Lincolns, this draft also being accompanied by one officer, Second-Lieutenant Walter George Fenton.
Due to the condition and depth of the trenches, working parties were furnished
under the cover of darkness to improve the trench system in addition to the to improvement and lengthening of the barbed wire
defences. Sanitation was also of paramount importance and fly proof latrines were constructed in both the front line and intermediate
trenches. Three advanced posts were constructed in advance of the front line, these being constructed so as to be able to
contain a garrison of 1 officer and 12 Other Ranks, plus a Lewis gun, but due to further improvement required to deepen the
positions, they were unable to be held in daylight hours.
first of many patrols was also conducted when on the 1st, presumably at night, Second-Lieutenant George Joyce Pearson led
a party of men out into No Man's Land to gather intelligence as to the strength of the enemy and his defences. The enemy,
thoughtful of any such attempts and trying to ascertain information themselves, also had a patrol out wandering between the
lines. The two patrols inevitably met, the German party throwing bombs that resulted in the wounding of Second-Lieutenant
Pearson and two O/R's.
the following day, German artillery shelled the village of Beaucamp and the trench systems in the neighbourhood. Although
this shelling was described as desultory, a burst of shrapnel resulted in the death of 1 man and the wounding of two others.
This man, although his date of death is recorded as occuring on the 1st June, possibly due to the fact that this unfortunate
death happened during the night, was one Sergeant William Henry Chandler, 240020, a married man of Gainsborough, Lincolnshire.
The familiar pattern of working
parties and desultory shelling characterised the month as the enemy, it was noted, appeared to be very inactive. It was on
the 3rd June that another draft arrived to the battalion, this consisting of 130 Other Ranks.
Opposite the British Line, the enemy too were improving their positions,
patrols reporting that rifle pits were under construction about 500 yards beyond the Lincoln's advanced posts but still,
the situation remained quiet with no contact being made with any German patrols.
A relief was commenced on the 7th by the 2/4th Lincolns, this being completed
by 12.50 a.m. without incident. In the days that followed, the latter battalion performed a series of patrols that gained
vital reconnaissance as to strength of the German barbed wire defences as well as continuing to improve the front line and
immediate trenches and the construction of dug-outs.
enemy also were curious as to the Lincoln's endeavours and as a consequence at 2.30 a.m. on the morning of the 16th, they
approached one of the forward posts under cover of darkness. Men of "C" Company, occupying this forward post were
alerted to their presence driving the enemy force away with Lewis gun and rifle fire. Casualties were no doubt sustained by
the enemy party but a search for dead and wounded revealed neither apart from the discovery of discarded rifles and a number
of enemy hand grenades of the 'stick' variety, the stielhandgranate.
Although the action had been short and sharp, the War Diary records that 2 Other Ranks were
unfortunately killed and 2 wounded. An analysis of both Soldiers Died in the Great War and that of the Commonwealth
War Graves Database reveals that there was in fact only one Other Rank casualty killed, Private Fred Faulkner, 201896, a native
of Spalding, Lincolnshire.
battalion were now about to exact their own revenge for the attempted enemy incursion. Orders were now issued to the 2/4th
Lincoln's to make preparations for a raid of their own, the objective, to capture prisoners so as to ascertain unit identification.
This raid was to be mounted by a total of four officers and 60 Other Ranks. The party consisted of Captain Alfred George Hooper
and Lieutenant Richard Berwyn Wilmshurst, "D" Company plus 20 Other Ranks, and Second-Lieutenant Frederick William
Durance and Second-Lieutenant Charles Alfred Stanley Everett, "C" Company plus 40 Other Ranks respectively.
raiding party, it was proposed, would enter the German front line at two points, this being performed by two parties comprising
of one officer and 20 Other Ranks. To negotiate the enemy's barbed wire defences, each party would be armed with a Bangalore
Torpedo, to blow a hole in the wire and force entry into the position. In addition to the parties who would perform the
raid, a further party consisting of one officer and 20 Other Ranks would cover the withdrawal of the force once their objectives
had been completed.
men made their final preparations, faces were blackened and all unit insignia was removed as a precaution against identification.
Personal items such as papers and photographs would have also been handed in as the hour of the raid approached, each man
clear as to what role he was about to perform in the battalion 'scheme.'
At 11 p.m. on the night of the 16th June the raiding party left Number 3
Post, the latter position the one that the enemy had tried to infiltrate previously. As the raiders crossed No Man's Land
and approached the German barbed wire defences, at about 50 yards from the wire the party detected what appeared to be an
enemy fighting patrol just exiting their front line. The raiders then stopped and waited, hidden from vision in the long grass.
As the enemy patrol came within range, rapid fire was opened on the unsuspecting party and a fire and bombing duel quickly
developed. The duration of the fight was only a few minutes as the German patrol began to retire after suffering numerous
casualties, two Germans, one wounded, falling into the hands of the raiders. Second-Lieutenant Durance, who had showed great
determination already, quickly grabbed the wounded German soldier and carried him back to the British lines but the unfortunate
prisoner died of his wounds before he reached the Regimental Aid Post.
During the course of the raid however Second-Lieutenant Everett had been seriously wounded.
Seeing his officer fall, Sergeant Frank Burgess, 200671, went to his assistance and although under heavy rifle and machine
gun fire, carried the wounded officer back some distance, then, he remained behind, covering the withdrawal of the party.
The raid had been a success
and it was ascertained that the German prisoner belonged to the 31st Infantry Regiment, 18th Division. The prisoner was described
as of the '1918 Class,' i.e. he had been called up early for military service and had only been with his battalion
for a couple of weeks, such were the losses sustained by the German Army on the Western Front.
The enemy, it was estimated, had suffered about 30 killed or wounded. Of
the 2/4th Lincolns, Second-Lieutenant Charles A.S. Everett unfortunately succumbed to his wounds at one of the Casualty Clearing
Stations located at la Chapelette just to the south of Peronne and is now buried in the military cemetery located there. In
Other Ranks, the Lincoln's suffered 3 men wounded, and one killed, Private Albert Genney, 203193, a native of North Thoresby,
Lincolnshire and a resident of Watkin Street, Grimsby. Albert now lies in Metz-en-Couture Communal Cemetery British Extension,
2/4th Lincolns were relieved by the 2/5th Battalion on the 17th, this relief being completed by 1.50 a.m. without incident.
The departing battalion had vastly improved the front line positions during their tenure, the front line posts having been
extended and connected by an almost continuous trench.
the battalion continued to improve and extend the trench system, the enemy attempted to harass the working parties at night
but their attempts to disrupt the work were silenced by Lewis gun fire from the battalions covering parties. The enemy opposite
were also busy in their endeavours to improve their line, aerial observation noting that their rifle pits now formed a more
or less continuous trench line, listening parties of the Lincolns maintaining a silent vigil and noting their every move.
His activities were not just
confined to further construction when on the night of the 20th at 1.30 a.m., he sent forward yet another patrol towards Number
3 Post. Challenged by the listening post and upon the latter receiving no reply, the men opened fire forcing the enemy party
to retire leaving one of their number wounded who was brought in and made prisoner.
Relieved on the 21st by the 2/7th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire
& Derbyshire Regiment), 178th Infantry Brigade, 59th Division, the 2/5th Lincolns moved back into Divisional Reserve at
Equancourt whereupon they proceeded to camp.
the battalion commenced a training programme whereupon 236 men fired a short course of musketry on a range of 30 yards. Emphasis
was also placed on specialist training including the firing of the Lewis gun and bombing instruction but for some, the training
was to be carried out elsewhere, "D" Company being sent on a Musketry Course at 4th Army School at Flixecourt, north-west
To The Line
a period of five days spent in Brigade Reserve at Neuville-Bourjonval, south-west of Havrincourt Wood, the battalion returned
to the trenches on the 5th July, the relief completed without incident at 12.15 a.m. Now occupying the Right Sub-Sector
of the 59th Division's front, the trench strength of the battalion at this juncture was recorded as 21 officers and
500 Other Ranks.
commenced almost at once however no contact was made with the enemy. This proved to be most fortunate as the line inherited
was by no means deep enough for an adequate state of defence, in some places the trench was only two feet deep neccessitating
immediate improvement. It was also found that although the wire defences on the left company frontage were "good,"
they were by no means thick enough. Construction therefore began on a double apron of wire commencing on the right during
the hours of darkness as well as additional wire being put out on the left.
To the east of the front line lay Boars Copse. Reconnoitered by
Lieutenant Richard Berwyn Wilmshurst and Second-Lieutenant Maurice J.M. Gale of the 2/4th Lincolns some days previously, invaluable
information was ascertained as regards the strength of the enemy's positions beyond the Copse and including a feature
referred to as the Ravine.
a consequence of this intelligence, on the night of the 6th July the 2/5th Lincolns sent out a patrol comprising of one officer
and 25 Other Ranks to occupy Boars Copse and the Ravine. Having encountered no enemy, this patrol returned
to the British line at 2.30 a.m. leaving a small party consisting of one N.C.O. and six men behind no doubt with the objective
of gathering more intelligence as to the enemy's movements during daylight hours.
As the remainder of the battalion concentrated their efforts on further improvement
of the front line positions, this active patrolling continued during the nights of the 7th/8th attempting to provoke a response
from the enemy, but still, there were no encounters from an enemy that it would seem to have appeared to adopted a 'live
and let live' attitude to trench warfare. As a precursor to a relief that was due to commence on the 9th, the day patrol
withdrew before the night patrol had advanced to meet them at Boars Copse, in the resulting confusion the enemy moved
forward as the patrol retired and occupied the Copse, massing, it would appear with the intention of performing a raid. The
situation now became one of a critical nature as units of the 58th (2/1st London) Division were now moving into the rear prior
to the relief commencing. Due to this factor, it was decided not to call for a bombardment on the massing enemy at Boars
Copse due to the inevitable retaliation by the enemy's artillery that this would incur. It was with luck, more than
judgement, that this relief was completed without incident, the front line companies being relieved by the 2/7th Battalion,
London Regiment, and the support companies by the 2/6th London's, 174th Infantry Brigade.
It is of interest to note that the War Diary of the 2/5th Lincolns states
that "the officer of the night patrol showed little initiative or the copse might have been seized before the enemy
at times, is the difference between success and disaster and no doubt a few 'words' were exchanged between the Colonel
and the officer in question over the matter.
from the line and proceeding to Equancourt, during the following day the battalion, in brigade, struck camp and proceeded
by route of march to Barastre Camp, south-east of Bapaume. A programme of specialist training was initiated, a particular
emphasis being placed on the training of 'specialists' as well as training in trench to trench attack and musketry.
Brigade and divisional exercises were also
conducted but recreational activities were also encouraged with numerous inter-battalion competitions being played out through
the remainder of the month of July.
was on the 22nd of the month however that the battalion moved to Hedauville, north-west of Albert. The battalion, in two sections,
making the journey each half-way by motor-bus such was the distance to travel.
Training continued but now a new emphasis was placed on platoon based attacks
on small fortified strong points, the War Diary recording that this was with a view to the roll that the division was about
to play in the "new area." It was not long before the 2/5th Lincoln's found out where this "new
area" was as on the 31st August the battalion entrained at Albert, "A" Company of the 2/4th Lincolns travelling
ahead on the 30th so as to act as a Detraining Party for the Brigade Group.
With an offensive imminent in the Ypres Salient, one must assume that the
men of the 59th Division had a pretty good idea which sector of the Western Front they were now destined to fight on. This
offensive's aims were to sever the logistical hub of the German Army in Flanders by the capture of the major railway centre
at Roulers (Roeselare) and in turn push northwards towards the Belgian coast to capture the U-Boat bases located at Zeebrugge
and Ostend thus eliminating the enemy's submarine threat. As a precursor to these objectives, the enemy dominated high
ground around Ypres would at first have to be seized.
At this juncture, the Author will conduct an analysis of recorded drafts
to the 2/5th Lincolns. In June the battalion had received, between the 1st June - 3rd June, a draft comprising of 180 Other
Ranks. During the month of July the battalion received no drafts however during August, between the 11th - 24th, there were
a total of 219 Other Ranks who joined the battalion. It is most likely that Walter Dukes was one of the men included in one
these drafts during this latter month but due to an absence of surviving service documents, the exact period cannot be determined.
Amongst one of the drafts
was Harry Fowers, a native of Derby. Harry had originally enlisted into the Derbyshire Yeomanry in May 1915, declaring his
age as being 19 years and 2 months. This was in fact a false statement as Harry had enlisted underage having being born on
the 26th November 1898, his parents intervention resulting in his discharge on the 5th November 1915 whilst serving with the
2/1st Derbyshire Yeomanry at Narford Camp, Swaffam, Norfolk.
Harry would later enlist into the ranks of the Leicestershire Regiment, number 22873. Posted to the ranks of the 13th Training
Reserve and allocated the number 9066, he would be renumbered 41402 before being posted to the 2/5th Lincolns only to be killed
16th March 1918 by enemy shell fire near Ecoust-St-Mein, France, aged 19 years.
On the 1st September, Walter and the men of the 2/5th Lincolns found themselves
under canvas at Winnezeele to the north of Steenvoorde. Training continued primarily in the formation of attack upon concrete
blockhouses as well as bombing, signalling, scouting and the use of the Lewis gun. This further programme of training was
no doubt implemented as a direct response to the arrival of new drafts to the battalion, these being described as "General
physique - good, lacking in individual training, e.g. Lewis gun, bombing, rifle grenades, signalling."
Moving to Helhoek located to the north-east of Abeele on the 21st September,
the battalion remained in this location continuing their training programme. On the 23rd, the Lincolns moved eastwards to
a location referred to as Goldfish Chateau, this actually being the Chateau Rozelaar, located about one
mile west of the town of Ypres on the Vlamertinghe Road.
Walter and the men of the battalion proceeded to camp under canvas, the officers and men awaited orders to proceed up to the
line. With an attack imminent, a practice attack was carried out across ground annotated with their objectives. The attack
was due to take place just west of Zonnebeke, the 2/5th Lincolns moving to Saint Jean at 10 p.m. on the evening of the 24th
whereupon they proceeded to take up positions in trenches south of Wieltje.
During the following day, the Commanding Officer, Adjutant and Company Commanders
allocated to take part in the attack commenced a reconnaissance of the ground over which the advance was to be made. Due to
a mist, visibility was limited in addition to the fact that the whole capture of Hill 70, to the north-west of Delva
Farm had not been completed. The position for Battalion Battle Headquarters was recorded, this was to be established
at Iberian to the west of Delva Farm however there appeared to be some confusion as to the actual point
of assembly prior to the attack.
was at 2 p.m. on the afternoon of the 25th September that final Operation Orders arrived at Battalion Headquarters but these
were not issued until finally assembly positions for the attack had been confirmed. Upon confirmation of these orders, the
battalion moved forward along an allocated track in single file to their positions at 11 p.m. on the night of the 25th. The
men formed up on a line extending from Zevencote to a position 50 yards south-east of Delva Farm, this line
extending for a length of 400 yards. To assist in forming up, tapes had previously been laid, marking out the limits of each
platoon, these, in turn, being marked out by pegs denoting the number of the platoon and its allocated jumping off point.
The officers and men were well versed in the operation and the planning had been meticulous, now, all the men had to do was
wait for the preliminary bombardment.
|Trench Map Extract, Belgium, Edition 8, Sheet 28 N.E.
The 59th (2nd North Midland) Division
would launch their attack with the 177th Infantry Brigade on the right flank, and the 178th Infantry Brigade on the left respectively.
Each brigade would attack on a two battalion frontage with both brigades being augmented by one battalion each of the 176th
Infantry Brigade (2/1st Staffordshire) Brigade.
the 177th Brigade, 2/4th Leicesters would advance on the right flank with the 2/5th Leicesters on the left. Behind these two
leading battalions would be positioned the 2/4th Lincolns and the 2/5th Lincolns, right to left respectively. Once the leading
wave had attained its objectives, both Lincolnshire battalions would pass through and on to the final objective, "Zero"
hour being set for 5.50 a.m. on the morning of the 26th September.
Two hours prior to "Zero," the preliminary bombardment of the enemy's positions commenced and then
began to fall 150 yards to the front of the old British lines upon the rise to the advance. As the 2/5th Leicesters moved
forward through the dust and smoke the 2/5th Lincolns followed on attacking on a two company frontage. These two lead companies
comprised of "B" Company on the right flank, Officer Commanding Second-Lieutenant Hugh Cecil Warren Chambers, and
"D" Company, left flank, O.C. Captain Gerard Leader Hill. In support to these two leading companies would be "C"
Company under the command of Captain Clement Neill Newsum whilst "A" Company under the command of Second-Lieutenant
William Parvin would remain in reserve and furnish carrying parties.
As the barrage consisting of high explosive interspersed with smoke shell to cover the advance crept forward, the
men followed on closely behind this protective screen towards their objectives. On the right flank, little opposition was
met from the enemy ensconced in concrete "pill-boxes" but where opposition was met, these positions were outflanked
resulting in the garrisons of two strongpoints surrendering. The 2/4th Lincolns then passed through the line of the Leicesters
at about 8.05 a.m. until they were held up by the final barrage whereupon they proceeded to dig deep but narrow trenches in
an irregular. Although these were deemed as satisfactory and were subjected to the attentions of the enemy's artillery,
few casualties were sustained as patrols were pushed out and prisoners obtained from a strongpoint located to the south-east
of Dochy Farm however in the vicinity of the latter it was found that the excavation of trenches was impossible due
to the ground being extremely wet.
On the left
flank, the advance of the 2/5th Lincolns was conducted in accordance with the 2/4th Lincolns on their right and the 2/5th
Sherwood Foresters of 178th Infantry Brigade on their left. Following on the heels of the 2/5th Leicesters, "D"
Company of the Lincolns on the left moved forward with little or no opposition from concrete "pill-boxes" these
strong points being neutralised. This company now proceeded to dig in and create a strong point however one platoon were sent
to assist "B" Company on their right in the capture of Dochy Farm, this company's final objective.
As the remainder of "D" Company began to consolidate behind their strong point, the attack on the Farm was
met by machine gun and rifle fire eminating from blockhouses but upon performing outflanking manoeuvres the garrisons of these
positions surrendered resulting in the capture of some 50 prisoners. Once consolidation of the captured positions was completed,
Lewis gun posts were established in front of each companies positions.
By 8.30 a.m., strong points were under construction at Dochy Farm whilst shell holes were connected together
and deepened for the remainder of the assault companies of "D" and "B" to the rear of these points. The
support company, "C" respectively, also commenced to consolidate a line of shell holes whilst "A" Company
busied themselves performing duties as carrying parties and providing runners.
A synopsis of the operation was detailed in the War Diary of the 2/5th Lincolns by the Adjutant, Captain John Crammond
Urquhart. The Captain noted that the enemy's bombardment fell fairly heavily during the advance but by this time the troops
were well clear of their assembly positions. More casualties were incurred however by the enemy barrage as it fell on the
newly gained positions and it was noted that this appeared to concentrate on the blockhouses that the enemy perceived or judged
to have been taken, avoidance and occupation of these structures being recommended. This summary continues but the most profound
testimony to the actions of the men on this day concludes that:
"The men behaved with great gallantry througout, and on several occassions had to be checked from passing
through our own barrage to their objectives, especially during the wait behind the 2/5th Leicesters until Zero plus 100 minutes,
when the Battalion passed through the 5th Leicesters to our own objectives."
Despite an attempted counter-attack on the 27th and a gas attack on the 28th, the 2/5th Lincolns were relieved in
the line at 10 p.m. on the night of the 29th September by the 1st Otago Battalion, 1st New Zealand Brigade, New Zealand Division.
Casualties sustained during the operation and
the subsequent shelling of positions amounted to one officer killed, Second-Lieutenant Ernest Archer Lowe and in officers
wounded, Second-Lieutenants Robert Henry Turner, Reginald Charles Ingram, Hugh Cecil Warren Chambers, James Henry Gouldby,
Robert J. Brooke, William Parvin and Gilbert Houlden.
Now withdrawn from
the line, the 2/5th Lincolns began a series of movements to various camps, Derby Camp, located near Vlamertinghe
on the 29th September where the latter installation had suffered from the attentions of enemy aerial activity previously,
and then to Tay Camp, located near Poperinghe, the Battalion being transported by motor-bus and arriving at the latter
camp 10.30 p.m. on the evening of the 30th.
the following day the Battalion moved by motor-bus to Bas Hamel, a small hamlet located to the south of the Foret de Nieppe.
Here, a training programme was initiated, particular emphasis being placed on the training of specialists as well as the ever
present performance of close order drill. Moving by bus and route of march the 2/5th Lincolns now proceeded on the 6th October
to Lugy, north-east of Fruges. Continuing their training schedule, on the 10th the Battalion moved by route of march to Pressy
(Pressy-les-Pernes) some distance to the north of St Pol. It was whilst the men made themselves comfortable in billets that
the Commanding Officer accompanied by the Adjutant and Intelligence and Signalling Officers took the opportunity to visit
the 3rd Canadian Brigade, 1st Canadian Division who were holding a section of the line in the Lens Sector.
On the 11th, the Battalion now proceeded to Divion south-west of Bethune
followed by a march to Petit Servins on the 12th and then to Souchez on the 13th. Relieving the 16th (Canadian Scottish) Battalion
in the Right-Sub Sector of the Avion Sector, south of Lens.
|Trench Map Extract, France, 11A, Sheet 36c. Trenches Corrected To 23/11/17
With the relief passing without incident, the men settled into
their new surroundings. The line consisted of a series of posts, evenly distributed along the length of frontage manned by
the Battalion. "A" Company held the Right Sector, 19 posts in total, manned at night by a garrison consisting
of one N.C.O. and between four to six men, half of the posts being withdrawn during daylight hours to Avion Trench however
Lewis guns were to remain in situ at all times.
a similar disposition the Left Sector was held by "C" Company, this frontage consisting of 12 posts, half
of these posts were withdrawn during the day also to Avion Trench but as darkness fell the men returned to their
allocated positions. One platoon were accommodated by day in cellars which by night held 3 posts whilst the Company Headquarters
details were located in Avion Trench.
support were "B" Company, located in Avion Trench and distributed in the relative safety of 6 dug-outs.
Company Headquarters were also located in this position accompanied by one Lewis gun.
A reserve company was also stationed in dug-outs located in Beaver Trench along with their Company Headquarters
and three Lewis guns. This company alo furnished two Lewis guns mounted to perform an anti-aircraft roll, so as to deal with
the threat of low flying enemy aircraft.
Headquarters were situated in Souris Road.
Covering the flanks of the 2/5th Lincolns were a battalion of the Canadian Infantry on the right flank, whilst the
2/5th Leicesters of the 59th Division adopted positions on the left respectively. Touch was maintained with both flanks by
means of patrol and in addition to the numerous positions occupied by the 2/5th Lincolns Lewis guns, 8 Vickers machine guns
and 6 Stokes mortars were located in the immediate vicinity of the Battalion should the need arise for them to be brought
trenches were described as being in a "fair condition." The main Communication Trench, Cyril,
had been fitted with 'Duckboards' (an elevated wooden platform constructed in an attempt to keep the men's feet
dry and aid passage) to within 400 yards of the front line. Some trenches however were described as being in a muddy condition
and non of the trench system had been revetted.
During the first days occupation of the line the battalion were subjected to the attentions of the enemy's artillery,
the German guns shelling the area it would appear indiscriminately with shells of 4.2 and 5.9 inch calibre between the hours
of 8 a.m. to 7.30 p.m. From the latter time, enemy minenwerfers (trench mortars) also commenced a bombardment from
positions at the Railway Embankment located to the north-east however both these and enemy artillery were replied to effectively
and efficiently by attached artillery units and quickly silenced.
One Other Rank is reported as being sustained by the War Diary during this bombardment. Soldiers Died in the
Great War records one man of the 2/5th Lincolns as killed in action on this day, Private James Moffet, 41414, aged just
19 years and a native of Gateshead. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission now commemorates James as being buried at the Sucrerie
Cemetery, Ablain-St-Nazaire, just south of the village of Souchez.
The enemy in this sector were found to be unusually quiet with his activities mainly confined to the use of his artillery
fire. A patrol did make contact with one of the enemy's parties on the night of the14th/15th but the latter withdrew almost
seemingly reluctant to put up a fight.
men now concentrated their efforts on improving the trench system with most of their activities being performed under the
cover of darkness. Cleaning and repairing the front line and communication trenches as well as fire steps and parapets were
the orders of the day with little interference by the enemy infantry apart from his usual daily 'hates' by his artillery.
At dawn on the morning of the 15th October the enemy opened up his artillery
on communication trenches and support trenches wounding three men in the process. Enemy trench mortars also bombarded front
line positions during the day but this was responded to by request for artillery support and the offending minenwerfers
were quickly silenced. Aerial activity was also on the increase both friendly and foe but the men continued their tasks
improving and clearing the trench system with little hinderance from the enemy lines opposite their positions.
It was on the 17th that the 2/5th Lincolns completed their first tour of
duty in this section of the line, subsequently being relieved by the 2/4th Leicesters, 177th Infantry Brigade, 59th Division,
the relief being completed by 11.50 p.m. without incident. Walter and the men of the Lincolns now took up positions as the
Right Support Battalion to Brigade, moving into dug-outs located in Red Trench.
Providing working parties numbering 200 men each night on communication trenches,
by daylight hours, this party was reduced to 50 men. Relieved by the 2/7th Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby Regiment),
178th Infantry Brigade, 59th Division, on the 21st October, the Battalion upon relief moved to Souchez Camp north
of Arras. Now in Divisional Reserve, the Battalion continued to provide working parties for duties in the communication trenches
and forward areas but when men were free from these tasks, there continued a programme of training of Lewis gunners, Battalion
Bombers, Snipers and Signallers.
was on the 29th October at 11.50 p.m. that the Battalion proceeded back into the line relieving the 2/6th South Staffordshires,
176th Infantry Brigade, 59th Division. This tour passed without incident, that is, until 6 a.m. on the morning of the 31st.
With the 2/5th Lincolns occupying the Right Sub-Sector of the 59th Division's frontage, all posts except one
being located east of the Lens-Arras Road, six of the enemy approached one of these posts and threw either an incendary or
some form of charge against the position. With thick smoke and flames produced on detonation of the device, it was observed
that one of the enemy party had been wounded by retaliatory fire but that the injured man had managed to escape under the
cover of the smoke. Upon examination of the bomb, it was found to contain a pitch-like substance with a distinctive sweet
odour, its detonation fortunately resulting in no casualties to the defenders.
The last day of the month of October would witness a discharge of gas on the Divisional front, the gas being discharged
on to selected enemy positions in addition to a series of artillery bombardments on the enemy's entry points into his
line as a relief was suspected to be in motion. During the month, a number of officers joined the 2/5th Lincolns to replace
losses sustained during the attack on the 26th September:
Major Frederick D. Harrison, 3rd Leicesters
Major John Claude Lyon, 2/6th North Staffords
Second-Lieutenant William Arthur Ball, 3rd Lincolns
Second-Lieutenant Arthur John Healey, 3rd Lincolns
Second-Lieutenant W.E.C. Jones, 3rd Lincolns
Second-Lieutenant Percy Connaught Renshaw, 3rd Lincolns
Second-Lieutenant Leonard George Moss, 3rd Lincolns
Second-Lieutenant John Wyer, 3rd Lincolns
Second-Lieutenant Leonard Wells Herbert Hawkins, 3rd Lincolns
Second-Lieutenant Joseph Charles Myers, 3rd Lincolns
Second-Lieutenant Marshall Alfred Norton, 3rd Lincolns
Second-Lieutenant Frank Sharpe, 3rd Lincolns
November: A Move To The South
Moving back into the line on the night of the 2nd/3rd November, this tour of duty was described by the War Diary
as being a"very uneventful tour." Once again the enemy seemed to be reluctant to offer any active resistance,
his habits at times even proving to be rather 'bizarre' as he walked about in the open in full view of the British
line. Offering a tempting target, his inclinations to do so were soon curtailed after sniping over a period of two days resulted
in 9 'hits,' his activities then being confined to sending over gas shells that were fired from his trench mortars,
this resulting in five casualties presumably gassed by chemical agent.
As a result of this incident, the importance of maintaining a constant alertness against gas and its subsequent delivery
by whatever method was re-emphasised to the men of the Battalion with utmost importance.
On the 6th November the 2/5th Lincolns were relieved in the line by the 2/4th
Leicesters, 177th Infantry Brigade, whereupon they proceeded into Brigade Reserve at the Cite de Rollencourt north
of Angres. Although in reserve, the Battalion furnished the usual working parties both day and night for improvement of the
communication trenches in the forward areas.
by the 3rd Battalion, Canadian Infantry, 1st Canadian Brigade of the 1st Canadian Division at 7.30 p.m. on the 13th, the Lincolns
entrained at Red Mill Siding, Rollencourt, and proceeded by rail to the area of Servins, west of Aix Noulette.
Headquarters plus "A" and "B" Companies now billeted at Grand Servins whilst "C" and "D"
Companies respectively took up billets at Petit Servins a short distance to the east. Cleaning up equipment and performing
Advance Guard drillls in the days that followed, the Battalion then proceeded by route of march to Wanquetin located to the
west of Arras at noon on the 17th, a trying march for some in fine weather with the result that a total of 9 men fell out
of the order of march, 3 having to complete the remainder of the journey in a horse drawn ambulance.
With the weather conditions being described as fine, companies and specialist
officers took the opportunity to carry out a stocktake of various stores and equipment as well as officers and men practicing
their skills at rapid reconnaissance techniques and the quick appreciation of various situations.
At 4 p.m. on the 19th a further movement was commenced whereupon the Battalion
by route of march proceeded to Bellacourt located just to the south of the St Pol - Arras Road. Here, the Lincolns were accommodated
in billets, the Headquarters in the palatial Chateau.
During the following day movement orders were issued stating that the Battalion were to proceed by route of march
to the Achiet area north-west of Bapaume.
build up of men and materiel even in the rear areas no doubt pointed to one fundamental conclusion if Walter and
his comrades did not know already; an offensive was imminent. The Battle of Cambrai, the third and final offensive of 1917,
was due to be launched at 6 a.m. on the morning of the 20th November 1917.
Responding to movement orders issued previously, on the 21st the village of Achiet-le-Petit was reached whereupon
the Battalion moved into accomodation located at Bedford Camp.
Upon further orders being issued, the Battalion then marched to Achiet-le-Grand at 4 a.m. on the morning of the 23rd
November whereupon they entrained for the village of Fins, east of Equancourt. Arriving at Fins at 12.30 p.m., Walter and
the men of the Lincolns then proceeded into tents located in Dessart Wood to the north-east of the village.
Despite stunning advances made on the opening day of the battle, on the 23rd
intensive fighting now raged around Bourlon Wood and its associated ridge. The Lincoln's now set about cleaning up camp
and as the battle still ebbed and flowed the Battalion continued its specialist training in all aspects of warfare until orders
were issued on the 27th to proceed via Trescault to bivouacs and tents located to the north of Havrincourt Wood.
At 1.45 p.m. on the afternoon of the 28th November the 2/5th Lincolns in
Division proceeded by route of march to the village of Flesquieres, Second-Lieutenant George Grenville Hillery, 2/4th Lincolns
assuming duties as Town Major.
The 2/5th Lincolns
now took up positions south-west of the village in the Hindenburg Support Line. During the day enemy artillery
sent over about a dozen rounds that fell in the vicinity of a dug-out occupied by Battalion Headquarters fortunately resulting
in no casualties.
Between the hours of 2-3
a.m. early on the morning of the 29th November, German artillery once again sent over a number of shells into the front line
positions held by the Lincolns, this time, these salvoes truly found their mark. A direct hit resulted in the first casualties
to the Battalion in this sector. Captain Cecil Otway Reid Jacob, attached 3rd Devonshires being unfortunately killed by shell
fragments to the head, whilst Captain Thomas Arthur Richardson, Second-Lieutenants Frederick C. Stewart, attached 4th Norfolks,
Sidney Plowman, Keith A.S. Fowler, Leslie Mason, Leonard W.H. Hawkins and Marshall A. Norton were wounded, most of these wounds
being recorded as "slight."
The Enemy Counter-Attack
After a conference held at Le Cateau, the location of the Headquarters of the German Second Army, Crown Prince Rupprecht
and General Erich Ludendorff formulated plans to launch an audacious counter-attack that would commence on the 30th November.
The British now occupied a precarious position,
a salient stretching over nine miles and about four miles in depth. The plan was to strike westwards towards Metz-en-Couture
capturing the villages of Flesquieres and Havrincourt. To the north, units of the German Army would attack from the west towards
Bourlon Wood and then swing southwards as the units to the south simultaneously began to roll up the British in a northerly
direction. In effect an attack on two flanks of the salient from the north and south, the position would also be threatened
from the rear. Following a barrage of high explosive and gas that grew in intensity between the hours of 6 and 7 a.m. on the
morning of the 30th November, the enemy made rapid progress against exhausted troops, forced to remain under cover due to
the effectiveness of the enemy's barrage, supplemented by the use of smoke to obscure his advance.
At noon, orders were issued for Walter and the men of the 2/5th Lincolns
to prepare defensive positions to the north-west and west of the village of Flesquieres should the enemy break through. These
trenches were dug and a thin apron of barbed wire was erected to protect the positions. As the storm raged around them, it
seemed as though the hard won gains of the previous days battles were to be lost in an instant. With "D" Company
placed in reserve in the Hindenburg Support Line close to Battalion Headquarters, now all they could do was wait.
It was not until the the
2nd December that the Battalion were ordered to move, relieving the 2/5th North Staffs, 176th Infantry Brigade, 59th Division
in positions near Bourlon Wood.
With a strength
now comprising of 29 officers and 655 Other Ranks, the Battalion now held the line with three companies, "A" Company
on the right, "B" Company in the centre, and "C" Company on the left. "D" Company were placed
in support in dug-outs with touch being maintained on the left with the 2/4th Leicesters and on the right with the 2/5th Leicesters,
also of the 177th Infantry Brigade respectively.
line now held roughly ran from the south-east corner of Bourlon Wood, to the east of the Quarry, and then in a south-easterly
direction for a distance of about 1000 yards.
position constituted of a series of posts alternating from a Lewis gun position to that of rifle, the enemy line opposite
appearing to be undefined however he seemed to be holding a section of a trench but a small copse in the vicinity was unoccupied
by his forces.
|Image Courtesy Of McMaster University Library
|Extract Of Moeuvres Special Sheet. Trenches Corrected To 1/11/17.
During the evening of the 3rd December the 2/4th Lincolns commenced
a relief of the 2/4th Leicesters on the left flank, "B," "C" and "D" Companies moving into the
line whilst "A" Company were placed in close support positions.
During the hours of darkness Bourlon Wood was subjected to a heavy bombardment of gas shells containing phosgene
gas, this agent consequently being blown by the wind to the position held by the Headquarters of the 2/5th Lincolns necessitating
all personnel to don their Box Respirators for a period of one hour. As well as this liberal use of gas, enemy machine guns
opened fire at various intervals throughout the course of the night and by the end of the 4th December, the Battalion had
suffered two casualties; Private William Munsey Smith, 41365, who had originally enlisted at Croydon into the Army Service
Corps before being transferred to the 12th Training Reserve Battalion and ultimately the 2/5th Lincolns, and Private William
Barnes, 260018, who had originally enlisted at Birmingham into the South Staffordshire Regiment who was to succumb to wounds
received. William Munsey Smith is now commemorated on the Cambrai Memorial, his body unfortunately not identified after the
War whilst William Barnes now lies buried at Rocquigny-Equancourt Road British Cemetery, Manancourt.
On the 2nd December both Haig and his Chief of the General Staff, Launcelot
Kiggell, discussed the feasibility of a withdrawal from the Bourlon - Marcoing Salient. There was no doubt that the enemy's
intentions were to launch more attacks in this sector and furthermore intelligence suggested that he was also planning to
conduct a large scale offensive at some stage during the following year.
It was on the 3rd that Haig conferred with General Sir Julian Byng, Commander Third Army at Albert, Byng's conclusion
that to continue to hold the Salient he would require at least another two divisions, there was, however, an alternative strategy.
To best maintain a good defensive position to be held throughout the winter months, Byng had chosen a position that would
incorporate the already existent Hindenburg Support Line positions as well as the defences that had been constructed
around Flesquieres. With this sound military doctrine that Byng often exhibited, the decision was made to commence this tactical
withdrawal on the 4th December.
cover the withdrawal of the 59th Division, a rearguard was formed consisting of two companies, minus one platoon of the 2/4th
Lincolns, plus "A" and "D" Companies from the 2/7th Battalion, Notts & Derby (Sherwood Foresters).
Placed under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Cleeve Martyn, Officer Commanding 2/7th Sherwood Foresters, his orders
were to form part of a line constructed for temporary defence on the la Justice - Graincourt Road.
In forward positions at Bourlon Wood, Captain Kenneth Forsyth Howes of the
2/4th Lincolns took command of operations whilst one platoon of "B" Company under the command of Second-Lieutenant
John Gilbert Pippet would remain in the Wood acting as a rearguard.
Before the withdrawal commenced, pack ponies and limbers were brought up into position to remove stores and ammunition
as the first company of the 2/5th Lincolns commenced its withdrawal at about 9.45 p.m. from the Battalion's left flank
positions, one platoon remaining behind in the centre company's positions to cover the retirement that proceeded in good
order. With platoons moving independently in the darkness across country, the Battalion took up its positions in the Flesquieres
Line under the cover of the party tasked with covering the withdrawal.
The whole operation had been carried out without incident and it was not
until the afternoon of the 5th that parties of the enemy were observed in the vicinity of Fontaine-Notre-Dame and Bourlon
During the early evening and at night,
patrols were sent out by the 2/4th Lincolns, a patrol of some 20 Other Ranks under the command of Second-Lieutenant John Cox
being sent out under the orders of the Commanding Officer to search the farm buildings at La Justice however there was no
enemy force to be found in occupation.
During the night, the 2/5th Lincolns commenced the digging of a new front line trench thus moving the line forward
and up to advanced positions on the left flank held by the 1/6th London Regiment, 140th Infantry Brigade, 47th (2nd London)
Division, the 2/5th Leicesters of the 177th Infantry Brigade, 59th Division, occupying positions on the right flank respectively.
As the men continued to complete their defensive
positions they were harassed by enemy shell fire throughout the course of the 5th December, the 2/4th Lincolns Transport Lines
also being subjected to the attentions of enemy aircraft resulting in several casualties and losses in animals.
The Enemy Attack The Salient
Also exposed to the effects of enemy artillery fire, the men of the 2/5th
Lincolns suffered about a dozen casualties as they toiled away constructing their new positions to a depth of 3 feet, 6 inches,
the fruits of their endeavours resulting in the construction of 7 Lewis gun posts. During the course of the day however Captain
Henry Neill Newsum, who had joined the Battalion in August, succumbed to the effects of 'shell gas' that necessitated
evacuation from treatment.
the morning of the 6th, numerous small parties of the enemy were observed moving in the direction of Anneux and Graincourt.
Enemy aircraft were also spotted flying at a very low altitude and dropping signals, possibly supplying information to an
enemy patrol that had been observed reconnoitering positions the latter now laying down out of view about 300 yards to the
front of the position. Further patrols on the left flank were also observed and it would appear with an attack imminent, a
request for instructions as to how to respond to this threat was sent forth.
In the mid afternoon the enemy opened up a barrage and at about 3 p.m. they
appeared in large numbers necessitating the withdrawal of the left flank of the 2/4th Lincolns. Of the men of the 2/5th Lincolns,
their outpost line fell back on to their front line trenches as the attack developed, the 2/5th Leicesters on the right flank
bearing the brunt of the assault. With no attempts made by the enemy on the 2/5th's positions, they were then able to
assist the right flanking battalion by bringing fire to bear on the advancing Germans despite suffering casualties due to
the the effects of enemy artillery.
enemy force numbering about 200 men now commenced an advance near Orival Wood arriving on the eastern side of the latter at
the same time as the 2/4th Lincolns and Headquarters were withdrawing through the confines of the Wood. This force was now
engaged at close quarters and it was observed that the fire of the Lincolns caused several casualties to the advancing enemy.
As "A" Company and Headquarters
of the 2/4th withdrew to the western edge of Orival Wood they came under increasing fire as units of the German 24th Reserve
Division continued their advance, several men being wounded including Second-Lieutenant John William Edison Johnson who was
wounded both in the foot and in the arm.
halt was now ordered on a line of disused gun pits where the men reformed. Still, the enemy continued to advance albeit being
subjected to heavy fire as half of the retiring "A" Company continued to withdraw followed by the remainder of the
company under the command of Second-Lieutenant Percy Everitt Cottis. This officer, rose to the challenge. Engaging the enemy
in hand-to-hand fighting, Cottis led 20 men of his party along with men of the 2/7th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters, and forced
the enemy to retire. But, as is so often the case, the enemy still pressed on though their losses were now heavy. Occupying
trenches near the Beet Factory, Cottis's party of the 2/4th Lincolns along with men of the 2/5th Leicesters counter-attacked
the enemy and drove them from the position, three prisoners being taken as well as a machine gun during the action. Cottis,
a native of Bury St. Edmonds, would be awarded the Military Cross for his energy and intiative and survive the War
|Trench Map Extract, France, Edition 2, Sheet 57c. dated November 1917.
The enemy still continued to advance but was engaged by machine
gun and rifle fire from the Flesquires defences. The German artillery maintained a constant barrage on these positions as
their depleted ranks still pressed forward, this incessant bombardment resulting in numerous casualties to the defenders.
The enemy too had suffered significant casualties with little or no gain. Of the 2/5th Lincolns, although not directly engaged
by the enemy, casualties suffered during the course of the day amounted to about 20 men, 6 recorded as killed, two men commemorated
on the Cambrai Memorial whose bodies could not be identified after the war whilst the remaining men now lie buried, after
concentration or exhumation, in Orival Wood Cemetery, Flesquieres.
One of these men, Lance-Corporal Ernest Tunstall, a native of Derby, had originally enlisted
into the ranks of the Lincolnshire Regiment (Special Reserve) in 1911. Serving in Gibraltar in 1913 and then Bermuda the following
year with the 2nd Battalion, Ernest was posted to France on the 5th November 1914. Possibly wounded or evacuated sick to the
United Kingdom in October 1916, Ernest would serve with the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment at Grimsby
before being posted to France to join the ranks of the 2/5th Lincolns on the 29th May 1917. Originally buried in Flesquieres
Chateau Cemetery in the same grave as one Private Harold Charles Jordan of the 1/22nd London Regiment who had been killed
in January 1918, his body along with that of Private Jordan was exhumed in April 1930 and concentrated into Orival Wood Cemetery.
One of a number of men identified collectively but not individually, Ernest is now commemorated with a simple Commonwealth
War Graves headstone that bears the inscription "Buried near this spot."
Due to the enemy barrage, communication with battalions on both flanks proved
to be problematic, patrols being sent out to each flank to maintain contact. Later during the evening work resumed on a front
line trench that had been commenced the night previously and in addition to this a new communication trench was opened and
dug. Patrols of fighting strength were also sent out during the night to prevent the enemy from digging in close to the line
and gaining valuable intelligence, the task of these patrols being supplemented by harrasing fire both from artillery and
machine guns however there was one further casualty when Lieutenant Ernest William Garrad had to be evacuated owing to the
effects of shell gas.
the days that followed, this routine of patrolling and harrassing fire continued, the enemy constucting a number of small
posts 800 yards to the front that he continued to construct until the 2/5th Lincolns were relieved in the line at 11 p.m.
on the night of the 9th December by the 2/6th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters, 176th Infantry Brigade.
Upon this relief being carried out the Battalion moved to Trescault where
they were accomodated in shelters in the Old British Front Line, a rather an unhealthy'spot' for men just
out of action not only due to the inadequate shelter but also due to the activites of enemy aircraft that became very active
during the early morning of the following day dropping bombs and firing their machine guns.
It was no doubt with some relief that shortly after midday on the 10th December
the Battalion proceeded by route of march to Lechelle whereupon the men were found accomodation in huts affording some protection
from the vagaries of the winter weather. Whilst here, Walter and his comrades had the first opportunity to take a bath and
a welcome change of clothing was issued but once more a routine of training was implemented, the emphasis being placed on
bayonet fighting, Lewis gun, bombing and signalling as well as the ever present parade for drill.
Moving back to Trescault on the 13th and into the shelters they had vacated
previously, working parties were furnished for a variety of duties until at 4.30 p.m. on the 17th the Battalion commenced
a relief of the 2/6th Sherwood Foresters moving into the Left Support in the Flesquieres Section, the 2/5th
Lincolns being disposed in the Old Hindenburg Support Line.
parties continued to be formed constructing dugouts whilst some were placed under the supervision of the Royal Engineers digging
Communication Trenches to connect the support lines to the front, vital arteries for the safe transport of both men and materiel
to the forward line. As this work continued, desultory shell fire by German artillery batteries resulted in the wounding
of Second-Lieutenant Harold William Wright as well as 6 Other Ranks.
On the 22nd December the Battalion were about to break this long standing familiarity with
this sector of the Western Front. Relieved by the 3/4th Royal West Kent Regiment, 52nd Infantry Brigade, 17th (Northern) Division,
the 2/5th Lincolns then proceeded into support positions before moving to Rocquigny, south-east of Bapaume on the 23rd whereupon
the Battalion were found accomodation in huts, one officer, Second-Lieutenant Frank Bartholomew Smith now joing the ranks
of the 'Poachers.' Smith was no stranger to trench warfare and how the latter had developed having previously served
with the Lincolnshire Regiment on the Western Front since March 1915.
The Dawn Of 1918: Ambrines
The stay at Rocquigny was just of 24 hours duration, the time spent cleaning
guns and equipment after a period of weather in the line that had proved to be extremely cold with frequent snow showers.
At 5.20 a.m. on Christmas Day the 2/5th Lincolns proceeded to Bapaume whereupon
the Battalion entrained for Tincques located west of Arras and east of St. Pol. Upon detraining, the men proceeded by route
of march a short distance to the south arriving at the village of Ambrines, a small agricultural village containing an eighteenth
century church and an elegant chateau, the remainder of the 177th Infantry Brigade being billeted in the vicinity.
No sooner had the men settled into their new surroundings, the Battalion
commenced a programme of training, the emphasis being placed on drill and bayonet fighting and individual instruction in Lewis
gun, bombing, signalling and scouting.
continued until the end of the month and although the vast majority of the men had now been away from home and their loved
ones for nearly a year, Christmas festivities were celebrated on the 30th of the month, thoughts of home no doubt being most
prevalent amongst Walter and his comrades.
Lieutenant-Colonel Roffey was keen to smarten and steady the men after a long period in the trenches. To this end training
was continued on a daily basis but as well as close order drill and bayonet fighting, recreational activities were encouraged,
football, boxing and running being the primary sports contested. As training continued, the health and appearance of the men
improved, the availability of bathing facilities and a frequent change of clothing virtually eradicating the ever present
body lice that plagued the men whilst both in and out of the line.
On the 15th January, Second-Lieutenant Eric Edward Bunyan, 3rd Lincolnshire Regiment, joined
the Battalion. The following day however Bunyan was admitted to hospital suffering from a gun shot wound to the foot, the
War Diary recording "accidental" but the exact circumstances as to this wounding are unfortunately not
recorded. Lieutenant Robert Henry Turner was to rejoin the battalion on the 23rd, his return also coinciding with the arrival
of 38 Other Ranks.
at this juncture of the War that a major reorganization of the British Army was about to take place. Due to a shortage of
available manpower it was decided to reduce the composition of an Army Infantry Brigade from that of four infantry battalions
to three. As a result of this restructure, 115 battalions were disbanded and in turn 38 battalions amalgamated, all these
reforms falling on battalions of the New Army and the Second Line Territorials that had been raised after the outbreak of
In late January 1918, the 1/4th Battalion,
Lincolnshire Regiment, 138th Infantry Brigade, 46th (North Midland) Division transferred to the 177th Infantry Brigade, 59th
(2nd North Midland) Division. Upon transfer, the 1/4th Battalion absorbed the 2/4th and was redesignated the 4th Battalion,
Lincolnshire Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel George Alexander Yool taking over command of this newly formed battalion from Lieutenant-Colonel
Thomas Hutchinson Sabine Swanton who would now take up duties as Second-in-Command. With this reorganzation commencing as
early as the 29th of the month, Battalion Headquarters plus twelve officers and two hundred Other Ranks of the 1/4th amalgamated
with the 2/4th, whilst twelve officers and two hundred and sixty Other Ranks proceeded to join the ranks of the 2/5th Battalion
respectively. (Authors note: Sources and dates vary as to actual number of officers and men taken on the strength of the 2/5th
and amalgamated with the 2/4th, however, the War Diary of the 2/5th Lincolns states that the actual number of officers and
men taken on strength equated to 9 officers and 186 Other Ranks).
Harold O. Simpson
Lieutenant Allen Woodward
Second-Lieutenant Ernest Arthur Dennis
Second-Lieutenant Robert Edward Creasey
Second-Lieutenant Frederick Ralph Gibbons
Second-Lieutenant George Taylor
Reginald George Eedes
Second-Lieutenant Cyril Victor
At the end of the
month of January the following officers and men were mentioned in Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig's Despatches dated 18th
Major (Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel
Harold Bowyer Roffey
Captain Gerard Leader
Hill (Missing but later pronounced to have been killed in action on the 26th September 1917 at Ypres)
Lieutenant (Acting Captain) Clement Neill Newsum (Missing but later pronounced
to have been killed in action on the 26th September 1917 at Ypres).
Francis Freeman, 240251
Sergeant Oliver B.
In addition to the above,
Lieutenant-Colonel Roffey was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (London Gazette dated 28th December 1917) and Colour
Sergeant Major (Temporary Regimental Sergeant Major) William Coldwell, 4963, the Distinguished Conduct Medal (London Gazette
dated 28th December 1917, Citation published L.G. dated 17th April 1918).
Training continued throughout the early days of the month as before in addition
to the implementation of two musketry courses, each man firing a course of 25 rounds on the 30 yards range and a second course
of 50 rounds on the 300 yards range. With the reorganization of the Brigade from four infantry battalions to three, a particular
emphasis was also placed on close order drill as well as the practice of field operations in relation to small groups of men
at platoon or company level.
Roffey was at this juncture posted to the temporary command of the 177th Infantry Brigade due to the absence of Brigadier-General
Cyril Henry Leigh James, Major John Claude Lyon assuming command of the battalion.
Complying with operation orders issued on the 8th February, it was on the following day
that the 2/5th Lincolns marched southwards to the village of Gouy-en-Artois located to the south-west of Arras. An advance
party under the command of Second-Lieutenant Gale and accompanied by one N.C.O. per company proceeded on ahead, reporting
to the Town Major at Gouy to acquire billets for the night.
the following day, the battalion continued their march southwards to Hendecourt-les-Ransart located to the south of Arras,
the advance party proceeding ahead as per the day previously. Journeying via Le Bac-du-Sud, Basseux, Bellacourt and Bretencourt,
upon arrival at Hendecourt the battalion then took over Camp Number 4 located to the west of the village chateau
whereupon they proceeded to billet.
the march to the front continued. Operation orders issued on the 10th February now ordered that the battalion were to proceed
to Mory located to the east of the Bapaume - Arras Road. Once again, Second-Lieutenant Gale was sent forth with his advance
party but in this instance no lorry was available for the transport of this officer and his billeting party. This problem
was addressed by the procurement of five bycycles from the battalion's signallers and in a parody of a bike ride in the
country, Gale and his men set off to rendezvous with "X" Battalion of the 120th Infantry Brigade, 40th Division,
who were at present located in the village of Mory.
via Boiry-Saint-Martin, Mory was reached whereupon the 2/5th Lincolns were found accomodation in huts at Mory South Camp
located just to the south-east of the village.
59th (2nd North Midland) Division were now ordered to relieve the 40th Division in the front line to the east of Bullecourt.
Consequently on the 12th February, the 2/5th Lincolns commenced a relief of the 20th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, 121st
Infantry Brigade, in the Left Sub-Sector of the Centre Brigade, Front Line in the Bullecourt Sector.
In addition to the relief of the Middlesex, three companies of the 13th Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards) who
were in support positions in the same sector were also relieved, the intention being to hold the front line thinly but in
As the men took up their
positions, the battalion was disposed as thus:
Front Company "A" Company Captain Gerald Raleigh Sherwell Map Reference U.22.c.
Left Front Company "C" Company Acting
Captain Arthur Ralph Wintour Skipp U.21.d.
Support Company "B" Company
Second-Lieutenant Ernest Arthur Dennis
U.26.b. - U.26.d. (1 platoon in Station Redoubt U.27.c.)
Company "D" Company Captain Bertram Harry Challenor
U.26.c. & C.2.b.
Railway Reserve U.27.d.4.4.
The distribution of the men was complex but effective, "A Company for example occupying
four posts with two Lewis guns and with an average strength of 1 N.C.O. and 12 men. In support to the forward posts were also
one platoon with a Lewis gun in a central position (U.28.a.) and in reserve, a further platoon also supported by
a Lewis gun (U.27.b.)
the men in their allocated positions, Lewis guns were also placed in Tower Reserve (U.27.a. - U.27.b.) in
an anti-aircraft role should enemy aircraft attempt to bomb or strafe the trench system. As the men settled down for the night
in this sector of the line, touch was maintained on their left flank with the 2/5th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters, 178th Infantry
Brigade, and on the right, with the 2/4th Leicesters, 177th Infantry Brigade respectively.
|Trench Map Extract. War Diary 2/5th Lincolnshire Regiment. T.N.A. WO95/3023/4
The first day in this sector of the line proved to be uneventful,
however, German artillery shelled the positions intermittently throughout the day. This fire increased in intensity after
the hours of darkness, fortunately, no casualties being sustained due to the bombardment.
The trench system 'inherited' was found to be generally in a bad state of repair. The trenches were, in most
places, not revetted, mud being a constant problem due to the actions of frost and then a subsequent thaw. Posts at the front
were in a relatively good state of repair but access between the latter was found to be problematic.
At night working parties set about their tasks of improving the trenches,
wire being erected at various points in the line but no enemy were encountered and his active patrolling proved to be non
existent. His activities were confined to the use of his artillery shelling the British lines with both 77mm, the "Whizz
Bang" field gun shells, and that of his 105 mm howitzers, these bombardments being replied to "vigorously."
The enemy's front line positions
in this sector were about 500 yards from the British line but under the cover of darkness this line moved forward to about
250 yards and despite regular patrolling at night, he still remained reluctant to force an encounter.
On the night of the 18th as the men still continued their labours improving
the trench system unmolested, an inter company relief was carried out. "D" Company under the command of Captain
Challenor now proceeded to relieve Captain Sherwell's "A" Company in the Right Front Line, the latter
now moving into reserve. A relief was also commenced on the Left Front Line whereupon Second-Lieutenant Dennis and
the men of "B" Company relieved "C" Company under the command of Captain Skipp, this company moving into
support positions. Dispositions remained unchanged but in the Right Front Line two posts previously held by the 2/4th
Leicesters were taken over by "D" Company, the former battalion also being relieved in the line by the 4th Battalion,
was on the 19th/20th February that the activities of the German artillery took a more sinister turn. Gas shells were now fired
on positions all along the line and it was found that the presence of gas was difficult to detect due to the shells bursting
like high explosive rounds, the smell of the smoke on detonation masking the odour of the chemical agent. Five men were affected
by the gas and evacuated but it was a conventional artillery round hitting one position that caused death and destruction.
A direct hit on Number 4 Post in the Right Front Line at U.22.c. and occupied by men of
"D" Company, resulted in the deaths of two men and the wounding of three others as the explosion wreaked havoc destroying
their fire bay.
Lance-Corporal Joseph Osgerby,
240230, a native of Barton-on-Humber and Private William Catherall, 242039, a married man from Dublin, Ireland, now lie in
adjacent graves located in Mory Abbey Military Cemetery, Mory, Pas-de-Calais, France.
The pattern for the next few days remained unchanged with working parties
being formed and patrols sent out as the enemy's artillery continued to remain fairly active. Colonel Roffey D.S.O. took
over command of the 177th Infantry Brigade on the 20th due to the absence of Brigadier-General James, Major Lyon once again
assuming command of the battalion.
platoon relief was carried out by front line companies during the following day, "B" Company taking over Number
4 Post from "D" Company, fortunately, the relief passed without incident.
It was on the 24th February that the 2/5th Lincolns were relieved in the line by the 2/4th Leicesters and upon this
relief they proceeded to L'Abbaye Camp located at Mory, the battalion now being placed in Brigade Reserve.
Whilst at Mory, specialist training was implimented in bombing and the Lewis
gun in addition to respirator drill, a stark reminder of the effects of the gas attack of the 19th/20th.
As large working parties were furnished, two companies, "A" and
"C" respectively, were moved into the Intermediate Line at Ecoust-St.-Mein and disposed as follows:
"A" Company Railway Embankment U.26.c.7.1.
& Trench at C.2.b.7.7.
Company Sunken Road C.9.a.
Whilst Battalion Headquarters and the two remaining companies of the 2/5th
Lincolns remained at Mory, both "A" and "C" Companies began construction of accomodation in the localities
stated above near Ecoust.
On the 28th, Headquarters
and "B" and "D" Companies moved up to relieve the reserve companies of the 4th Lincolns in the right of
the line at C.9.a. and the 2/4th Leicesters at U.26.c.7.1.
The War Diary of the 2/5th Lincolns now concludes the month of February 1918 with a list of officers who had joined
the battalion during the month. Both Challenor and Sherwell of the 2/4th Lincolns the reader of this commemoration will be
already acquainted with, however, a further four officers joined the battalion during the month, dates not stated:
Lieutenant Martin Sylvester Payne (4th Lincolns, Medal Index Card,
Entry, 4th February 1917)
Victor Butler (Army Service Corps, Medal Index Card, Entry, 25th July 1915)
Second-Lieutenant Percy Everitt Cottis (Suffolk
Regiment & 4th Lincolns, Medal Index Card, Entry, July 1916)
Second-Lieutenant Frederick Joseph Levi (Royal Warwicks, 1st & 4th Lincolns, Medal Index Card, Entry,
21st November 1915)
The Right Sub-Sector, Bullecourt
At the beginning of the month the battalion dispositions in Brigade Reserve remained unchanged, activities being
limited to the formation of large working parties both by day and night.
It was on the 2nd that the 2/5th Lincolns moved up into the Right Sub-Sector of the Brigade Sector
upon relief of the 4th Lincolns, the battalion being disposed as follows:
Right Front Line "A" Company
Left Front Line "C" Company
Support Company "D" Company
Reserve Company "B" Company
Battalion Headquarters Railway Reserve
The positions held in the front line comprised of a series of posts with mutual support positions, both companies
also held one platoon each for counter-attack purposes.
With the 2/6th South Staffordshire Regiment, 176th Infantry Brigade on the right flank and the 2/4th Leicesters on
the left, 177th Infantry Brigade respectively, the general policy of defense of the line was to hold the main line of resistance
at all costs viz the trenches Joy Ride Support, Fox Trot and Fox Trot Support. A counter-attack was to only
be launched to recover the front line posts if an attack was judged to be a small scale raid and not a large scale attack.
It was noted on "A" Company's frontage that the enemy in positions
that were only a few yards away were quite "acquiescent" and made frequent attempts at fraternization,
these attempts being replied to by either bomb or bullet. It appeared that the German infantryman would do anything to acquire
"Bully Beef" in exchange for cigarettes but after a few days of sniping, the numbers of the enemy willing to show
|Right Sub-Sector, Bullecourt. War Diary 2/5th Lincolns. T.N.A. WO95/3023/4
In general, the situation remained quiet, German artillery shelling
the lines intermittently but with no casualties being sustained. It was suspected that the enemy were on the verge of launching
an offensive and as a consequence of this active patrolling was increased particularly before dawn to try and gain any intelligence
as to when and where the enemy would strike. Prisoners and deserters all stated that an attack was imminent on this sector,
some indications, not recorded in the pages of the War Diary, being observed in the German line.
Intelligence was vital and to this end at 5 a.m. early on the morning of
the 6th March, a party of the 4th Lincolns set forth to raid the enemy's trench system at U.23.c.2.5. Exiting
the trenches held by their sister battalion, the party led by Lieutenant Harry Ryley Greenwood and consisting of 40 Other
Ranks headed out across No Man's Land towards the enemy line located to the west of the Six Cross Roads. Placing
Bangalore Torpedoes under the German barbed wire defences, these detonated and the raiding party made their incursion
into the enemy's posts however these were found to be empty as though the enemy had fled the position. It was stated that
if the enemy even suspected a raid was about to commence, the garrison had been issued orders to flee, even if this required
them to leave behind their weaponry and equipment. Despite any of the enemy being captured, the raid must have at the very
least boosted the mens morale as they witnessed at first hand the actions of an enemy reluctant to fight and who chose to
flee the battlefield rather than engage the opposing force.
It was on the 5th that Major Harold Ward, late of the 2/4th Lincolns, joined the 2/5th as
Second-in-Command. A native of York and a married man residing in Grantham, Major Ward had already been mentioned twice in
despatches, an experienced soldier, he was indeed a valuable asset to the battalion.
An inter company relief commenced on the 6th whereupon "B" Company relieved "A"
Company in the Right Front Line whilst "D" Company relieved "C" Company in the Left Front
Line respectively. With "A" Company now taking up support positions, Walter and the men of "C" Company
now moved into reserve in positions at the Railway Reserve due south of Bullecourt at U.28.c.3.3.
Due to fine weather, the work on improving the line had moved apace. Trenches
had been improved and the wire defences in front of the line strengthened considerably. In addition to this work, the trench
Joy Ride Support was re-wired and fire bays had been excavated in the communication trenches, the trenches in general
being cleared of mud and opened up.
the enemy opposite, he too had been at work cutting one or two saps in his own wire but still his intentions were unclear.
On the 10th a German deserter stated that an attack was due to take place on the 13th and as a consequence of his statement
during the night of the 12th/13th March a heavy artillery and machine gun barrage was put down on his lines and rear areas
to prevent him assembling for the anticipated attack. No attack materialised however it was observed that stretchers were
employed to remove the enemy wounded from his lines, the British line being subjected to the usual retaliatory artillery bombardment
resulting in the wounding of one man.
further attempts by the 4th Lincolns to penetrate the enemy's lines were conducted on the 13th and 14th when Lieutenant
John Richard Neave M.C. accompanied by six scouts attempted to gain an identification of the German unit holding the line.
Despite these attempts being unsuccessful, one man, Private Walter H. Evans, 200852, was awarded the Military Medal for his
actions on the 14th.
These attempted probes,
artillery and machine gun barrages were responded to by one post in the enemy's front line in the form of the erection
of a board, it simply stated, "Business as usual."
It was on the 14th that the battalion were relieved by the 2/4th Leicesters whereupon they
moved back into Brigade Reserve, Headquarters and two companies moving into positions located at U.26.c.7.1. just
to the north of Ecoust whilst the remaining two companies moved into positions located at C.3.c.7.0. in the what
was referred to as the Firing Line of the Second System at Longatte, just to the south-east of Ecoust.
From the 15th - 19th March the 2/5th Lincolns remained in Brigade Reserve,
working parties being furnished both day and night to work on the rear defences digging trenches for telephonic cables and
constructing dug-outs. A most welcome opportunity during these days enabled the men to take a bath at the Brigade Baths located
at Ecoust, possibly the site of an old Brewery/Malthouse located on the southern exit of the village.
Despite the chance to bathe and to get some essence of normality, the men
still had to return to their positions and were exposed to the effects of intermittent shelling by German artillery. During
this tour of duty, even though in reserve, the battalion suffered two casualties. One of these men, Private Harry Fowers,
we have met previously during the course of this commemoration. The young lad from Derby who had originally lied about his
age to enlist into the Army, now killed aged just 19 years. Harry now lies buried in Mory Abbey Military Cemetery, his epitaph
chosen by his grieving parents simply reads, "Thy Will Be Done."
Relieved by the 2/6th North Staffordshires of the 176th Infantry Brigade
on the 19th March, the 2/5th Lincolns then proceeded to Mory South Camp where they moved into Divisional Reserve.
With the threat of attack imminent, the battalion was ordered to 'Stood To' one hour before dawn should they be required
to assist in repelling an assault.
the 2/6th South Staffordshires also of the 176th Brigade manned their positions in the Left Sector of the Right
Sub-Sector, one of their ranks must have wondered if he would come out of this action alive; this soldier was one Private
William Leonard Fozzard, 42147, of Wentworth Terrace, Wetherby. Only time would tell as the allocated day for the enemy's
offensive was at hand.
early November 1917, Erich Ludendorff began to formulate a plan for an offensive that he believed would destroy the Allies
ability to continue the war.
Bolshevik revolution in Russia ultimately resulting in the collapse of the Eastern Front, units that were released
from this front were now to be utilised in a forth coming offensive to be conducted on the Western Front that was planned
to commence in the spring of 1918.
believed that the Allied offensives of 1917 had so weakened the Allies, in particular the British Expeditionary Force, that
a concentrated attack westwards north and south of Saint-Quentin across the Somme against a weakened B.E.F., would turn the
tide of the War before America could assemble and train a significant military presence.
If the advance across the Somme was indeed successful and made significant gains, Ludendorff
would then commence an advance in a north-westerly direction driving the British away from their vital logistical ports located
on the channel coast and cut their lines of communication behind the Artois front. With the British trapped in Flanders, starved
of supplies and surrounded, ultimately the B.E.F. would be forced to surrender.
As part of an overall strategy for 1918, the German Army would conduct a
series of offensives. Operation Michael, the thrust westwards, north and south of Saint-Quentin against the British
Third and Fifth Armies would be given priority. This was due to a number of tactical considerations taken into account by
Ludendorff. Foremost, the line was thinly held with inadequate or uncompleted defences and secondly, the terrain offered no
difficulties and was passable at all times of the year. Time was also a factor and to this end, the launch of Operation
Michael was scheduled to take place on the 21st March 1918.
German Armies were to launch their attacks on a frontage of fifty miles, this front stretching from a point just to the south
of Arras in the north, and to the south, on the Oise river, south of Saint-Quentin.
Innovative tactics were to be employed by the German infantry, in particular,
the use of 'Stosstruppen' (Stormtroopers), well trained, lightly equipped assault troops. Infiltrating the
first line of defence, their role was to continue their advance with great rapidity, ignoring any stubborn pockets of resistance
in the process that would be dealt with by a second wave comprising of infantry battalions equipped with mortars, light machine
guns and flamethrowers. Once both these leading waves had progressed, a third wave comprising of regularly equipped infantry
battalions would consolidate and clear any remaining areas of resistance.
The offensive was to be supported by a massive concentration of artillery
numbering over 6000 pieces of all calibres in addition to over 3,500 trench mortars. Under the command of Colonel Georg Bruchmuller,
nicknamed "Durchbruchmuller" ("Breakthrough Muller"), his innovative use of artillery dictated
a doctrine of sudden, accurate bombardments as opposed to preparatory bombardment techniques as well as Fire in Depth,
artillery assigned specific targets such as communications, known headquarters and counter-battery work. To support the
advance of the infantry, Bruchmuller had also perfected the use of the Creeping Barrage, the barrage as a whole also
comprising of chemical and lachrymatory shells. Once the barrage commenced, each gun or group of guns would follow a specific
fire plan with strict adherence to a set timetable.
peparations for this onslaught of steel completed in upmost secrecy, the gun crews waited for the signal to open fire.
The signal would be one white rocket fired from the city of Saint-Quentin
at 4.40 a.m. early on the morning of the 21st March.
|A Heavy German Gun On Railway Mounting, March 1918
|Reproduced By Kind Permission Of The I.W.M. Copyright I.W.M. (Q37888)
Allied Defensive Strategy
The vast build up of men and materiel by the enemy had not gone unnoticed, aerial reconnaisance, deserters
and prisoners providing a wealth of intelligence as to the enemy's intentions. To the rear of the German front, the enemy
were observed improving and expanding road and railway networks, the interrogation of prisoners confirming that the back areas
were now full of troops massing for an offensive.
newly constructed gun positions and objects covered by tarpaulins had also been observedby the R.F.C. between Moeuvres and
Inchy west of Cambrai, but no confirmation of actual artillery pieces in situ were reported.
On regular 'shoots' however by British artillery batteries into the
German rear areas, large secondary explosions were observed suggesting that the enemy were in the process of stockpiling large
quantities of munitions. All these factors now confirmed the fact that his offensive would fall on the sectors held by the
Third and Fifth Armies, it was now just a question of when.
At this juncture of the war, the British had adopted the German strategy of Defence
in Depth or an Elastic Defence strategy. This strategy, designed so that any attack would lose forward momentum
as it advanced, required that the battlezone be divided into three specific points of resistance, each zone allocated a specific
1. The Forward
Zone. This consisted of outposts, redoubts and trenches protected by barbed wire defences. Artillery pieces were also
located in this zone in well prepared defensive positions. This forward line of defence, it was perceived, would remove the
impetus of any attack.
2. The Battle Zone.
Located at a distance of about 4000 yards behind the Forward Zone and consisting of heavily defended redoubts
protected by barbed wire. These defences contained machine gun and mortar positions plus artillery. It was in this zone that
the main battle was to be fought. 3. The Rear Zone. Located at some distance behind the Battle Zone and
consisting of reserve units ready to be launched into any attack as and when required.
In reality, some areas of the Battle Zone were incomplete and construction
on the Rear Zone in some sectors had not even begun. To compound these factors, the shift of strategy from one of
offense to defence had called into question the tried and tested methods employed by the guns. The artillery would therefore
have to adapt to this change of strategy, the emphasis being placed on good intelligence, maximum use of concentrated fire-power
and effective counter-battery work.
21st March, 1918: VI Corps, Third Army Sector
The night of the 20th March remained uncannily quiet as the forward units of the 176th and
178th Infantry Brigades, 59th Division, settled into their positions however the situation remained tense as the men stared
out across No Man's Land maintaining a constant lookout for any movement from the enemy lines opposite.
Throughout the course of the night, enemy artillery shelled the sector intermittently
but at about 4 a.m. early on the morning of the 21st, the magnitude and the ferocity of the bombardment increased as a storm
of high explosive and gas shells began to smash into the Hirondelle Valley, approach routes to the front and on positions
to the rear.
Opposite the Third Army whose
frontage stretched from just south of the Scarpe river east of Arras to Cambrai in the south, a distance of 26 miles, the
German Seventeenth Army, 24 Divisions in total under the command of General Otto von Below were poised and ready to strike
against the 10 British Divisions that were holding the line.
In their front line positions, north to south respectively, the 5th North Staffordshire's
and the 2/6th South Staffordshire's of the 176th Infantry Brigade and the 2/6th Sherwood Foresters and the 7th Sherwood
Foresters of the 178th Infantry Brigade bore the full brunt of the enemy's artillery. The situation in the front line
was unclear to the officers and men of the 177th Infantry Brigade in Divisional Reserve at Mory however orders were issued
for all men to 'Stand To,' orders being received to this effect from 177th Brigade Headquarters.
The situation on the right and left flanks of the forward units of the 59th
had now developed as the German infantry commenced their assault. On their right flank, the Forward Zone occupied
by the 6th Division had come under infantry attack between 8 and 8.30 a.m. and on their left, the 102nd Infantry Brigade,
34th Division were subjected to an assault about an hour later, in part due to the forward units of the 59th Division coming
under increasing pressure by an enemy determined to force its way through the line.
|Extract Of Map From The Official History
The Advance Of The 2/5th Lincolns
The following account of operations conducted by the 2/5th Lincolns on the 21st March is based primarily on a narrative
compiled by Lieutenant-Colonel Harold Bowyer Roffey D.S.O. Authors note: Some of Roffey's terminology differs at times
as to the various zones of resistance but in general his account refers to the Forward Zone as the '1st System,'
the Battle Zone, the '2nd System' and the Rear Zone as the '3rd System'
At 7 a.m.
on the morning of the 21st the battalion were ordered to advance at once to the assembly position located at B.24.a. to
the north-east of Vraucourt, a position located just behind the Support Line of the 3rd System. Upon arrival
at the assembly point accompanied by the 4th Lincolns and the 2/4th Leicesters, the battalion now formed up in Artillery
Formation, this movement being performed by men either moving forward in sections or platoons, often in single file dependant
on the terrain to be traversed.
formation being completed by 7.36 a.m. and with the situation at the front still uncertain, it was not until 8.50 a.m. that
two patrols were sent out under the commands of Second-Lieutenants Ernest A. Dennis, "B" Company and Frank Sharpe
and of "C" Company. These patrols proceeded along the Ecoust Spur and Track to Vraucourt Copse
respectively and reported that the enemy artillery were shelling Ecoust heavily and that the both the Firing and
Support Lines of the 3rd System were also being subjected to a heavy bombardment. Information was also received
from a Runner? of 178th Brigade who informed them that no enemy infantry attack had developed by 9 a.m. on the Front System.
|Map Extract, War Diary T.N.A. WO95/3023/4
With visibility impossible due to a prevailing mist, the fate
of the men of the 176th and 178th Infantry Brigades was still unknown as the ferocity of the enemy's bombardment showed
no sign of abating. As the men remained in their positions, it was not until noon that orders were received for the 2/5th
Lincolns and the 2/4th Leicesters to advance and to occupy the Support Trench of the First Battle System in
C.9., 4th Lincolns were to remain in reserve in the 3rd System.
the Leicesters on their left flank, the Lincolns advanced along Track 3 until they passed through the barbed wire
defences of the 2nd Battle System whereupon they extended into artillery formation with "A" Company on
the right leading a line roughly along the Noreuil Switch whilst "B," "C" and "D" Companies
extended to the left, Battalion Headquarters being 200 yards in the rear. As Colonel Roffey and Headquarters passed through
the wire of the Firing Line of the 3rd System it soon became apparent that the companies were easing too
much to their right so as a consequence orders were drafted to rectify the situation.
Casualties, particularly in officers had been suffered throughout the course of the advance.
Second-Lieutenants Reginald G. Eedes, Frank B. Smith and George Taylor were all wounded whilst Regimental Sergeant Major William
Coldwell D.C.M. had received a gunshot wound to the right thigh.
arrival of Battalion Headquarters at the Noreuil Switch in C.14.b. it soon became apparent to Colonel Roffey
why his companies had moved off to their right. Large bodies of the enemy were now advancing over the ridge to the south-east
of Longatte, the southern extension of the village of Ecoust-St-Mein and they were by now already in possession of the battalions
initial objective, the Support Trench of the First Battle System. With this objective lost, it now appears
that the Company Commanders on their own initiatives decided to take up positions in the Noreuil Switch in an attempt
to outflank the masses of the advancing German infantry.
then took the decision to establish Battalion Headquarters in the Switch accompanied by two platoons of "D"
Company who would take up a position a little behind the front line. With the time now 12.20 p.m., an officer patrol under
the command of Second-Lieutenant Robert Creasey was sent forth along the Noreuil Switch however after a short distance
this patrol came into contact with parties of the enemy between Battalion Headquarters and the companies out in front. Creasey
and most of the patrol were wounded but valuable intelligence was gained as to the position of the enemy who were by now advancing
from the direction of Noreuil up the Hirondelle Valley and on the spur beyond.
Situation In The Forward Zone & Second System
an intense bombardment of gas and high explosive on the front line positions held by units of the 176th and the 178th Infantry
Brigades of the 59th Division, the enemy had been observed at some period after 9 a.m. moving in masses along the spur located
to the south of Noreuil in the sector of the line held by the 6th Division. Engaged by two Lewis guns of the 2/5th Sherwood
Foresters who were occupying positions in support in the Firing Line of the 2nd System just to the north
of Noreuil, the range was found to be too far to be effective as the hoards of the enemy continued their advance. Shortly
afterwards a message was intercepted from the Forward Zone by the Battalion's Signallers on their 'Power
Buzzer,' a wireless telegraphy apparatus. This message reported that Lieutenant-Colonel Harry Sidney Hodgkin, Officer
Commanding the 2/6th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters, that the battalion's lines had been penetrated by enemy infantry.
The fate of the men manning the forward positions in front of the village of Noreuil was sealed. With their lines overun,
they were cut off and surrounded, many either being killed or taken prisoner, Hodgkin himself, falling into the hands of the
Between the hours of 10 and 11 a.m.,
the front companies of the 2/5th Sherwood Foresters under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Harry Read Gadd were now engaged
by the enemy infantry who were advancing on either flank of the position. As a consequence, Gadd had now thrown back the battalions
right flank, the flank that fronted the Hirondelle Valley, and his left flank took up a position along the line of the Longatte
Road, facing in a north-easterly direction. Bitter hand-to-hand fighting now ensued as the front companies, "A"
and "B" respectively, became engaged in a desperate fight to hold onto their positions but ultimately they were
attacked by the enemy from the front, rear and flanks resulting in the position being 'rolled up.'
As the enemy artillery fire grew in intensity, Colonel Gadd now ordered forward
"C" Company, his reserve, to garrison positions in the Noreuil Switch and the Sunken Road, the
latter, a position just to the north-west of the village along the line of the Longatte Road. It was observed that that the
enemy were now consolidating and 'digging in' on the captured trenches of Dewsbury and Pontefract, just
forward of the village. With the defensive flank now formed to the right with a commanding view over the
Norieul Valley, the valley on the left flank, south of Longatte, was placed under observation by patrols, Gadd's
force at this juncture only numbering about 150 men.
then appeared to be a lull in the fighting enabling the 2/5th Foresters to continue to organise the defence of the Sunken
Road position. Stragglers now arrived providing various accounts as to the fate of the units holding the forward positions.
One of their number, Captain Harry Percy Greaves Officer Commanding 178th Light Trench Mortar Battery had managed
to escape the advance of the enemy as they overan the Railway Reserve Trench located in the Forward Zone.
His timely arrival along with Second-Lieutenant William Ernest Myton and 12 men enabled Colonel Gadd to strengthen his garrison
that was under the command of Major Charles Reginald Chenevix Trench in the Sunken Road.
Upon leading forward a Bombing Party and already wounded, Major Trench, Second-in-Command
of the 2/5th Sherwood Foresters, was unfortunately shot through the head, dying shortly afterwards. A married man aged 30
years and a resident of Camberley, Surrey, his body was unfortunately not identified after the war therefore Major Trench,
Mentioned in Despatches, is now commemorated on the Arras Memorial as well as the memorial located in his home town.
Outflanked & Surrounded
Despite severe losses to his battalion, Colonel Gadd believed that the advance
of the enemy had received a stopping blow, and to all intents and purposes he felt quite optimistic that the situation on
his front had now stabilised despite continual enemy activity being observed on his right flank in the area occupied by the
6th Division. Furthermore, the enemy were observed digging in near a position on the ridge occupied by the Headquarters of
the 7th Sherwood Foresters, Gadd concluding that the battalions positions had fallen and the enemy were now consolidating.
Authors note: The position had indeed been taken between the hours of 9.30 - 10 a.m. with the battalion suffering over 650
officers and men either being killed, wounded or captured including Lieutenant-Colonel William Shirley Northcote Toller, Officer
Colonel Gadd noted that his left flank,
i.e. the road to Ecoust, "seemed pretty quiet" however unbeknown to him the advancing enemy infantry had
at this juncture captured the village of Ecoust. Actual intelligence as to the movements of the enemy was vague, in part due
to the fog that had persisted throughout the morning in addition to virtually all telephonic communication being severed by
the enemy bombardment.
At about 1 p.m., a message
was received from Brigade Headquarters by the beleaguered 2/5th Sherwood Foresters that supports had advanced forward to a
trench located 400 yards to the rear behind the village of Noreuil. The supports in question were in fact the forward movement
of the 2/5th Lincolns, confirmation of their advance being received from a runner who stated that men were now in occupation
of this trench.
Of the 2/5th Lincolns, owing to
the rapid advance of the enemy infantry Colonel Roffey now made the decision to take up a defensive stance in the Firing
Line of the 3rd System in C.14.c., close to Track 3. As to the fate of the companies in front,
communication had been lost and due to the topographical nature of the terrain, visual contact could not be obtained. In an
attempt to obtain and clarify the situation a further patrol was sent forth under the command of Sergeant John Watmough, 1071,
along the Noreuil Switch to try to ascertain the exact position of the companies of the Lincolns in the front and
to establish the dispositions of the enemy forces in the sector. Watmough's patrol immediately met with large parties
of the enemy and no further progress could be made.
retiring to the 3rd System it was ascertained that the 4th Lincolns were holding positions on the left flank of the
battalion but it was found that a large gap had developed between the two battalions, this situation being resolved using
the few men who were available for the task. With contact made with the 4th Lincolns, Major Henry Gordon Dean of the latter
battalion communicated the disposition of his unit and the situation in general to Colonel Roffey however the positions of
the 2/4th Leicesters were unknown at this present time.
infantry were now moving in large parties across the front occupied by the Lincolns. Moving from the right flank and across
to the left into the valley west of Vraucourt Copse, the enemy were engaged by two of the battalions surviving machine guns
and rifle fire. The enemy pressed on reaching the wire in front of the Lincolns position but were fortunately beaten off however
this was to prove to be only the commencement of a prolonged assault.
the situation now critical and for want of support, Major Harold Ward was now sent forth to the left flank in an attempt to
once again ascertain the positions held by the 2/4th Leicesters. A native of York and a married man residing at Grantham,
Lincolnshire, Major Ward aged 31 was unfortunately killed whilst trying to establish contact. A sad loss to the battalion
but one of many during the course of the day.
Of The Survivors of the 2/5th Sherwood Foresters
both flanks of the 2/5th Sherwood Foresters being encircled with great rapidity, at about 2 p.m. Colonel Gadd now made the
decision to commence a retirement to the positions that had been reported at 1 p.m. to be held by the forward units of the
2/5th Lincolns. Unbeknown to Gadd, these companies had already been enveloped and overwhelmed but orders were issued to the
effect to retire to this position located about 400 yards to the rear.
In the Sunken Road, Captain Greaves and his dwindling band of men of the 178th Light Trench Mortar Battery somehow
managed to keep the enemy at bay. Organising a few firing bays and continuing to defy the odds, the enemy infantry still continued
their relentless attempts to encircle the position, Greaves noting large numbers of Germans advancing down the Norieul
Valley to their right. Despite being hit in the left thigh by a lump of shrapnel, the Captain brought the one remaining
Stokes mortar he had from Battalion Headquarters into action and ordered Second-Lieutenant Myton to take about six men, all
that could be spared, to attempt to defend the right flank, that facing the valley.
In his narrative of events, Captain Greaves now states that this was the last he saw of
Second-Lieutenant Myton and underlined in the aforementioned narrative he declares, "He certainly received no orders
from me to go back." The reason as to why the latter statement is emphasised are unclear. An analysis of the Red
Cross records regarding Prisoners of War indicate that Myton was not reported as being captured and a search of the Silver
War Badge records concludes that he was not wounded during the course of the action. It is pure conjecture but the most likely
scenario is that in the widespread confusion of such an intense action, Myton received the order to retire from some unknown
Captain Greaves realising the gravity
of the situation ordered one Lance-Corporal Fretwell to take his Stationary Box and papers to Brigade Headquarters and report.
Shortly afterwards the Sunken Road was subjected to the attentions of an enemy machine gun located on the right flank.
Greaves turned his last remaining mortar onto the position knocking out the enemy gun that had been enfilading his flank but
unfortunately several men were killed or wounded during the engagement. It was at this point that Gadd made his decision to
withdraw the survivors to the next line of defence after a conference with Captain Greaves. Upon exiting the Headquarters
dug-out, Greaves managed to rally what men he had with orders to retire to the rear but by this time the enemy infantry had
nearly accomplished his encirclement of the position. With enfilade fire from machine guns now sweeping the Sunken Road,
a lack of ammunition eventually forced the defenders to destroy their one remaining Stokes mortar, Captain Greaves receiving
a machine gun bullet to the head shortly afterwards. In a state of virtual unconsciousness, Captain Greaves survived his wounding
and was taken prisoner as the German infantry enveloped the position. Imprisoned at Karlsruhe Prisoner of War Camp, Baden-Wurttemberg,
Germany, Harry Percy Greaves would eventually be repatriated in December 1918 and die in 1966 aged 74 years.
|Masses Of British Prisoners Captured
|By Kind Permission Of IWM. Copyright: Q 23671.
Colonel Gadd now issued his final orders dictating that the survivors
of his much depleted force should attempt a retirement to the rear defences, this withdrawal to be conducted in small groups
no doubt so as to maintain some form of defensive stance to cover these parties as they retired. At about 2 p.m. Gadd, accompanied
by Second-Lieutenant Francis Ernest Andrews, made their breakout from the beleaguered position but on attempting to reach
the last known positions of the 2/5th Lincolns in the Norieul Switch, Colonel Gadd and 2/Lt. Andrews were met head
on by an enemy force numbering over 200 men who were advancing from the rear and were subsequently made prisoner. Upon Colonel
Gadd being taken prisoner he noted numerous prisoners of the Lincolnshire Regiment being marched to the rear, Gadd surmising
that their positions had been mopped up about two hours previously.
The Battle Continues
At about 3 p.m. Sergeant Robert Garnham, 42426, who was commanding the extreme right platoon near the junction of
the Noreuil Switch with the Firing Line System (Authors note: Firing Line 3rd System) reported considerable
numbers of the enemys forces in Vraucourt Copse on their right flank. Lewis gun and rifle fire was now brought to
bear on the massing German infantry, Garnham sating that this fire "Did considerable execution." With the
position of the enemy force now apparent on this flank, a message was subsequently dispatched to Brigade Headquarters so as
to inform the artillery.
A decision was now
taken to move the Battalion Headquarters and as a consequence of this order at 3.15 p.m. the Firing Line System was
vacated until a position was reached on the Ecoust - Beugnatre Road. It was here that Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Iain
Colquhuon D.S.O., Officer Commanding 2/4th Leicesters was joined who reported the situation on the left flank. Continuing
down the road, Battalion Headquarters now proceeded towards the Support Line of the 3rd System whereupon
arrival to the to the north-west of Vraucourt, Colonel Roffey met and discussed the situation with the Officer Commanding
4th Lincolns, Lieutenant-Colonel George Alexander Yool. After conferring it was decided to establish a joint Battalion Headquarters
at C.19.a.3.5. close to the commencement of Track Number 3.
As the hours ticked by it was vital to obtain up to date intelligence as
to the exact location and movements of the enemy. Consequently at 5 p.m. a patrol was sent out under the command of Sergeant
Watmough with orders to proceed along the Hirondelle Valley so as to ascertain the positions and movements of enemy forces
in the immediate locality. As Watmough's patrol crept along the valley, no further progress could be made beyond the point
C.20.a.7.7. to the west of Vraucourt Copse owing to heavy machine gun and rifle fire from this position.
At this juncture of Roffey's narrative of events, mention is now made
of the treatment of the wounded with particular reference to the actions of Captain Leonard M. Webber, the Battalion Medical
Officer. Webber had established his Aid Post in the front line at the commencement of the battle realising that if the post
was positioned further to the rear, there would be no chance of casualties reaching the post for treatment until after the
hours of darkness. With limited first aid techniques being administered by the battalion's stretcher bearers, Captain
Webber carried out his treatment of both officers and men in what was described as a "gallant manner" until
he himself was seriously wounded.
note: The Webber family of Horley, Surrey, would witness the service in the Great War of three further family members; Norman
William, Henry Hulton and their father, Henry, a member of the London Stock Exchange. Leonard and his brothers would survive
the conflict however their father was to unfortunately die due to wounds received whilst serving as a Battalion Transport
Officer with the 7th South Lancashire Regiment on the 21st July 1916 during the course of the Somme offensive. Aged 67 years,
Henry Webber was the oldest man known to have died during the battle and is now buried in Dartmoor Cemetery, Becordel-Becourt,
At 5.20 p.m. the enemy
began to press the right flank and it soon became apparent that this flank was in danger of being turned. A request was therefore
sent for more men to fill the gap between the right flank facing the Hirondelle Valley and that of the left flank of the 16th
Infantry Brigade of the 6th Division. As a response to this request the 6/7th Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers, the 59th Division's
Pioneer Battalion were sent forward, Officer Commanding, Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Parsons Hart.
As the opening day of the German offensive drew to a close, orders were received
at 8 p.m. that the 177th Infantry Brigade were to be relieved in the front line by the 14th Battalion, Argyll & Sutherland
Highlanders, 120th Infantry Brigade, 40th Division and a battalion of the Highland Light Infantry. This relief was completed
at 5 a.m. on the morning of the 22nd March, the 177th Infantry Brigade taking up positions in the Support Line of
the 3rd System and being disposed as follows:
4th Lincolns Right Flank
2/5th Lincolns Centre
2/4th Leicesters Left Flank
The Fate Of The Wetherby Men
Sergeant Walter Dukes, 41400, along with many of his comrades of "C" Company now lay dead on the field
of battle, killed as they fought desperately to defend their positions in the Norieul Switch from the advance of
the German infantry.
Like so many parents
who had received no news as to the fate of their loved ones, Walter's mother, Annie, contacted the Prisoners of War International
Agency located in Geneva, Switzerland, in the hope that Walter had survived and been taken prisoner. This request was simply
stamped on a card requesting enquiries from the families of missing soldiers with the words "Negatif Envoye,"
the fact being that Walter was not registered as being a prisoner by the Agency.
As regards the fate of Private William Leonard Fozzard, 42147, "C" Company, 2/6th South Staffordshires,
the news was no doubt received with great relief at 29 Wentworth Terrace, Wetherby, that William had survived this brutal
encounter and had been captured and imprisoned at Munster Number 1 Camp, Westphalia, Germany.
First Day Casualties
Casualties sustained on the first day of the German offensive had been severe.
On the 22nd March, the survivors of the 2/5th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment comprised of Lieutenant-Colonel Roffey, Captain
and Adjutant John Cramond Urquhart, Second-Lieutenants Ernest Arthur Dennis, William Arthur Ball, Edward George Vincent Righton
and 80 N.C.O.'s and men.
An analysis of
Soldiers Died In The Great War Database and the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission confirm that the
Lincolns suffered in killed or died of wounds on the 21st March 1918, 5 officers and 43 N.C.O's and men. Authors note:
Officers killed; Major Harold Ward, Second-Lieutenants Leonard George Moss, Frederick Joseph Levi, Acting Captain Arthur Begg
(Attached, Norfolk Regiment) and Second-Lieutenant Henry James Gale (Recorded by CWGC as 1st Battalion but possibly attached).
Of the 43 men who died, only two have known
graves such was the severity of the action. Private George Louis Landucci, 266226, aged 30 years and Private Henry William
Skipper, 16528, aged just 19. Both men succumbed to wounds upon evacuation from the front line and died at either the 3rd
or 29th Casualty Clearing Stations located at Grevillers near Bapaume. For Walter Dukes and his comrades whose bodies
were lost or could not be identified after the War they are now commemorated on the Arras Memorial, Arras, Pas-de-Calais,
|Henry Skipper, A Native Of King's Lynn
|Grevillers British Cemetery Plot XI., Grave A. 9.
The Defence of The Line Continues
Although Walter lay dead on the battlefield, Colonel Roffey and his small band of officers and men remained in the
Support Line of the 3rd System. The battalion were well entrenched but during the morning and early afternoon
of the 22nd March the enemy appeared to be continuing their advance towards Vraucourt on the Lincolns right flank.
It was at 3.45 p.m. that a message was received from the 177th Infantry Brigade
Headquarters reporting that the enemy had now entered Vraucourt and at the same time a further message was received stating
that the enemy had penetrated and were in occupation of the Firing Line of the 3rd System. Of the men of
the 120th Infantry Brigade, 40th Division, who were holding this position, under increasing pressure from the advancing enemy
they were forced to retire as were those men in occupation of the Support Line of the 3rd System. The situation
had to be rectified at once or else the whole of the trench system would no doubt be overun so as a response to the rapid
advances of the enemy orders were issued to collect the 177th Infantry Brigade together and to re-establish themselves in
their former positions. Colonel Roffey now collected his men in the road at B.24.b.5.1. to the north-west of Vraucourt,
the 2/5th Lincolns being placed in General Reserve.
As the fight for Vraucourt drew to a bitter conclusion, it was at 5.30 p.m. that the last of the defenders of the
village were driven out after intense fighting. The capture of the village made the position occupied by the Lincolns untenable
therefore after consultation with the Officer Commanding 4th Lincolns, Colonel George A. Yool, it was decided to withdraw
to the Firing Line of the 4th System. Upon completion of this withdrawal at about 7.30 p.m., the 2/5th Lincolns
now established and dug themselves in about B.23.a. on a frontage of 300 yards due east of Mory, the 4th Lincolns
occupying positions on their right flank whilst the 2/4th Leicesters took up positions on the left respectively.
At 8 p.m. the situation had suddenly become critical. An officer of the 2/4th
Leicesters, breathless due to his exertions, came into the line held by the 2/5th Lincolns and reported that he had been sent
by his battalion to report that units of the 34th Division on their left flank had been driven in after intense and protracted
fighting. Consequently, the Leicesters left flank was now threatened and furthermore the enemy had continued their advance
and were almost in Mory. The officer also reported that the Officer Commanding 2/4th Leicesters, Colonel Colquhuon, had now
ordered a withdrawal of his battalion to the Arras - Bapaume Road.
The enemy at this juncture had now virtually encircled the positions held by the 177th Infantry Brigade and were
shooting into their positions from the rear. A further withdrawal was then ordered to the south-west side of the village of
Mory, both the 2/5th and 4th Lincolns halting in a position at B.27.a. Central. With the position of the 2/4th Leicesters
as yet unknown, Colonel Roffey then proceeded to Dysart Camp located near Ervillers to report to Brigade
Headquarters. Orders were then received from the Brigade to attempt to re-establish the line in the 4th System; 2/4th
Leicesters were to advance through Mory, arrangements being in progress to maintain contact, whilst the two battalions of
the Lincolnshire Regiment were to advance to the right of the village.
At 11.30 p.m. the advance commenced but the village of Mory proved to be too strongly held by enemy forces and the
2/4th Leicesters could progress no further. At 1.a.m. however it was reported that the Leicesters had managed to establish
themselves in the centre of the village, Colonel Roffey, O.C. 2/5th Lincolns then establishing a defensive position on high
ground at B.27.b. It was a sound tactical decision whereupon the men occupied a series of posts, sited and constructed
so as to put down fire on Mory and to cover positions on their eastern flank facing Vraucourt, the 4th Lincolns providing
mutual support in the Sunken Road located at B.27. Central.
|Extract Of Map, France, Edition 7B, Sheet 57c, N.W.
As dawn broke on the morning of the 23rd orders were received
at 6.20 a.m. ordering a withdrawal to a spur of high ground located in B.20., south-east of the village of Ervillers.
As Colonel Roffey and his men commenced the withdrawal, they were subjected to a heavy barrage by enemy artillery and machine-guns
from the direction of Mory but upon reaching the spur the men proceeded to dig in along the line B.20.c.3.0. - B.20.c.5.6.,
Battalion Headquarters being established at B.25.b.8.8., the 4th Lincolns taking up a position on their right
flank, the 2/4th Leicesters on their left respectively.
remainder of the day passed relatively quietly as the men set about improving their positions as Small Arms Ammunition and
water were brought forward and distributed amongst the posts.
At some point during the day, Lieutenant George Victor Butler was unfortunately killed.
A native of Sutton, County Dublin Ireland, George had originally enlisted in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers upon the outbreak
of the War before receiving a commission in the Army Service Corps in February 1915. Posted to France in July of that year,
George was transferred to the Lincolnshire Regiment in February 1918 and killed aged 29 years. Believed to be buried in Douchy-les-Ayette
British Cemetery to the south of Arras, he is now commemorated in this cemetery by a Special Memorial located near the War
Stone, his epitaph chosen by his grieving parents simply reads "Faithful Unto Death."
The Enemy Breakthrough
As the men tried to settle down as best as they could regarding their circumstances,
it was during the hours of darkness that an unfortunate yet common occurrence befell the battalion. The positions held by
the 2/5th Lincolns suddenly came under heavy artillery fire from both German artillery batteries and those of the British,
the latter whose rounds were falling short. Repeated messages were sent forth to Brigade requesting the artillery to lengthen
their range but no doubt casualties were sustained during this 'friendly fire' incident.
During the night the frontage occupied by the 2/4th Leicesters was attacked
by enemy forces from the direction of Mory. Despite a gallant counter-attack by the Leicester's, the enemy took the position
during the early morning of the 24th March.
the family of one of the men who had fallen, a War Office telegram was delivered to 7, Alpha Street, Dewsbury Road, Leeds,
reporting the death of Private Oswald William Cain, 202194, "A" Company, 2/4th Leicesters, killed in action on the
24th March, aged 20 years. The Cain family were no stranger to the horrors of the Great War as their eldest son, Private Stanley
James Cain, 25577, 2nd Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment, had fallen in the Ypres Salient on the 29th July 1917 on the eve
of the Battle of Pilkem Ridge. Stanley now lies in Hooge Crater Cemetery, Belgium, whilst Oswald, denied a known grave, is
now commemorated on the Arras Memorial, France.
line held by the 2/5th and the 4th Lincolns however still remained intact but due to the collapse of the left flank the battalions
positions had become dangerously exposed. To protect this flank, trenches were hastily constructed and touch was established
with men of the 40th Division near Ervillers.
the morning of the 24th enemy infantry were observed emerging from the ruins of Mory and at about 1 p.m. large numbers of
the enemy were seen to be advancing over the high ground on either side of the village. It was about 3 p.m. that a message
was received from the Officer Commanding 4th Lincolns to the effect that he was now about to conduct a strategic withdrawal
due to troops on his right flank falling back, his intention, to form a defensive flank facing Behagnies, the latter, now
in possession of the enemy.
both flanks exposed, it was at 3.30 p.m. that Colonel Roffey took the decision to withdraw his men or what remained of them.
The latter, who had stood their ground against unsurmountable odds were exhausted and the position was now untenable without
additional support. Orders were then issued that a withdrawal was to commence to trenches about 600 yards east of Gomiecourt.
Consequently at 5 p.m., further orders were received that the 2/5th Lincolns were to be relieved by a battalion of the East
Lancashire Regiment, this relief being carried out during the hours of darkness whereupon the Lincolns proceeded by route
of march to Bucquoy, south of Arras.
Both the British Third and Fifth Armies had stood the onslaught of the German
Spring Offensive. On the frontage occupied by the Third Army, the situation had more or less stabilised but to the south,
the exhausted Fifth Army suffered in particular from a lack of communication and direct orders from their French allies. A
gap ultimately developed between both the British Armies necessitating the strategic withdrawal of Byng's Third Army to
conform with the retreat of Gough's Fifth Army. Despite further offensives and large territorial gains, the German Army
had not achieved its strategic aims. Furthermore, the territory they had now overun was in the most part a battle ravaged
wilderness, all gained at an extremely high cost in experienced and well trained men, personnel that could not be replaced
at a sufficient rate before the American Expeditionary Force massed in strength and brought to bear its full influence on
of the 59th (2nd North Midland) Division represent a microcosm of just one divisions struggle against overwhelming odds during
Kaiserschlacht. In this 'battle within battles,' the Author has covered only a fraction of the events that transpired
during the battle and one would hope that this inspires the reader of this commemoration to look in greater detail into the
actions of the 59th Division on the 21st March 1918 and the days that followed the commencement of the German offensive.
Colonel Roffey's narrative compiled on the 30th March 1918 concludes
with a list of casualties sustained by the 2/5th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment during the fighting. Notes are included
by the Author where applicable:
Captain (Acting Major) Harold Ward, Killed, 21/3/18
George Victor Butler, Killed, 23/3/18
Lieutenant Robert Henry Turner, 21/3/18
Reginald George Eedes, 21/3/18
Robert Edward Creasey, 21/3/18
Frank Bartholomew Smith, 21/3/18
George Taylor, 21/3/18
Morris Webber (R.A.M.C.), 21/3/18
Captain Edmund John Roslin Hett, 21/3/18 (Prisoner of War, Rastatt, Baden)
Lieutenant (Acting Captain) Bertram Harry Challenor, 21/3/18 (Prisoner of War, "D"
Company, Langensalza, Thuringia)
(Acting Captain) Arthur Begg, 21/3/18 (Later Pronounced As Killed)
Henry James Gale, 21/3/18 (Later Pronounced As Killed)
Frank Sharpe, 21/3/18 (Prisoner of War, Karlsruhe, Baden)
Frederick Ralph Gibbons, 21/3/18 (Prisoner of War)
Frederick Joseph Levi, 21/3/18 (Later Pronounced As Killed)
Percy Everitt Cottis MC, 21/3/18 Prisoner of War, "A" Company, Rastatt, Baden)
Second-Lieutenant Leonard George Moss, 21/3/18 (Later Pronounced As Killed)
Second-Lieutenant GW Allen, 21/3/18
(Wilfred Gay Allen, Prisoner of War, Rastatt, Baden)
Albert James Elston, 21/3/18 (Prisoner of War, "D" Company)
4963 R.S.M. William Coldwell D.C.M. (Wounded 21/3/18)
Other Ranks Killed, Wounded or Missing (21st - 25th March) Estimated
the missing, Sergeant Walter Dukes, 41400, of "C" Company. Walter's body, like those of so many of his comrades
could not be identified after the War. Denied a known grave, these men are now commemorated on the Arras Memorial, Arras,
in the Faubourg-d'Amiens Cemetery in a western suburb in the town of Arras, the Arras Memorial commemorates nearly 35,000
service personnel from the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand who died in the Arras sector between the spring of
1916 and the 7th August 1918, the latter date, the eve of the Advance to Victory, who have no known grave. Canadian and Australian
service personnel who were killed during this period are commemorated on their own respective memorials located at Vimy Ridge
to the north of Arras and Villers-Bretonneux, Somme. For those who were killed in the Battle of Cambrai in late 1917, these
servicemen are now commemorated on the Cambrai Memorial located at Louverval, Nord, France.
|Arras Memorial: Panel Number: Bay 3 & 4
|Image Courtesy Of The CWGC