The brigade began to register on various targets in the locallity in the days that followed,
D/64 Battery engaging a 'Loophole' that was believed to contain an enemy machine gun position.
On a lighter note,
A/64 Battery reported that there was enemy activity of the canine variety when a small black dog was observed on the parapet
of the 'Birdcage.'
Generally, the situation remained quiet with the enemy even seeming reluctant to mount any
offensive activity. At 6.00 p.m. on the 20th July, the 7th Norfolks holding Trench 120 reported that the enemy had erected
a board displaying the message "We are going to attack at 7 o'clock," however by 7.30 p.m. no activity
by the enemy had materialized.
At 10.45 p.m., all batteries received a 'Test S.O.S.' signal and duly opened
fire. This seemed to provoke the enemy in to action and in the days that followed there was a mounted increase in his artillery
activities, eventually resulting in the first fatallity to be suffered by the brigade on the Western Front. At 9.45 p.m. on
the evening of the 27th July, enemy artillery began to shell Ploegsteert Village as he had done for the majority of the day.
Unfortunately in this particular barrage, Corporal George William Starmer, 85934 of "C" Battery fell severely wounded
and died the following day.
Corporal Starmer, a native of Kennington, Lambeth, London, is now buried at Bailleul Communal
During the months of August and September the brigade continued to fire on various locations
in and around the Ploegsteert sector. To the south, the British offensive at Loos had commenced on the 25th September and
the brigade had now received orders to move southwards to this sector, relief taking place on the 28th by the 111th Brigade
R.F.A. 25th Division.
The following day at 7.30 a.m., the brigade proceeded southwards by route march through Armentieres
finally arriving at Fouquieres located to the south-west of the town of Bethune where they took up billets. The town of Bethune now
thronged with multitudes of men and materiel of First Army under the command of General Sir Douglas Haig. As new
units arrived and those that had been involved in the early stages of the battle were relieved, the brigades stay in the area
was to prove short as on the 30th they once again took to the march arriving at Maxingarbe the same day.
After suffering severe casualties in the First Battle of Artois in the autumn of 1914, the French
Army continued on the offensive in both the Artois and Champagne regions of France that resulted in little territorial
gain with heavy loss.
General Joffre, Commander-in-Chief of the French Army now proposed a strategy that would consist
of two offensives with an emphasis placed on a combined operation by the British Army. The first, would consist of a
French thrust west and east from Reims, the second would see the further continuation of the Artois offensive to
the north and south of Arras.
In order for the French Army to reconstitute a suitable sized reserve to prosecute any
further offensive, Joffre proposed in early June that the British Army should take over the sector occupied by the French
astride the Somme river. The British he proposed, would then mount an offensive operation, in conjunction with French attacks,
against the German Army holding positions to the north of Lens. To these initial proposals, Field Marshall Sir John French,
Commander-in Chief of the British Army agreed and he therefore ordered that plans were to be formulated by General Sir Douglas
Haig, First Army Commander for an attack south of the La Bassee Canal, however, French did not commit to any timescale for
any forth coming operation due to a number of factors.
Haig however, expressed his concerns about an offensive launched
to the south of the La Bassee Canal due to the topography of the landscape. The land south of the canal comprised of a flat
industrial landscape punctuated by mines or 'Fosses' as they were referred to by the French that had rapidly expanded
during the latter part of the nineteenth century exploiting rich coal deposits. Associated pit villages had been constructed
to house the miners and the area was also dominated by numerous slag heaps that provided an ideal situation for defense by
the enemy. Haig, therefore recommended that any breakthrough of the enemy line by the First Army would be more likely
to succeed to the north of the canal.
At an Anglo-French conference held at Boulogne on the 19/20th June, it was agreed
that any successful offensive would have to be launched on a wider front. In addition, the British Munitions Minister Lloyd
George and his French counterpart Albert Thomas concluded that the need for the production of more artillery ammunition
and the neccessity to address the shortage of heavy calibre artillery pieces was of a paramount importance. Due to heavy
British losses sustained at Neuve Chapelle and Aubers Ridge during the spring, it was also a factor that the British
Army would be in a more effective position to launch an offensive in early 1916 with the arrival of more New Army Divisions
on the Western Front.
Conference was held again at St. Omer on the 11th July where Joffre declared that the French would
launch any projected offensive once the take over by British Army of the Somme sector had been completed. Once again, Sir
John French stated that only when the French succeeded in breaking the German line to the north of Arras would he commit fully
to any combined operation.
Joffre now changed 'tack' with an approach to Lord Kitchener himself. On the 16th
August, Kitchener was invited on a two day tour of the French lines by General Joffre and Alexandre Millerand, the French
Minister of War.
Exactly what transpired during this meeting is not recorded, however, The Times dated August 20th, 1915,
suggests that most pressing 'matters' were addressed and that some agreement was reached.
Facing a battle on
unfavourable ground, Kitchener spelt out his intentions to Sir John French in no uncertain terms. The British would co-operate
in a joint offensive operation to maintain the entente cordiale even if the outcome resulted in severe losses.
To compensate for the lack of available heavy artillery, the British, would, for the first time in the War, deploy gas as
a means of warfare. However, Haig, realising that if weather conditions i.e. wind speed proved unfavourable for the discharge
of gas, set about formulating two plans of attack for the First Army. If weather conditions allowed a successful discharge,
I Corps, Lieutenant-General Hubert Gough and IV Corps Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Rawlinson respectively, would launch
an attack with a strength of six divisions. In reseve XI Corps under the command of General Richard Haking would continue
the attack if the enemys line was successfully penetrated.
The second attack scenario, if the use of gas was not possible
due to unfavourable weather conditions, would see First Army attack with only two divisions on commencement of the offensive.
One division of I Corps would be tasked with the capture of a heavily fortified quarry known as the Hohenzollern Redoubt
and the position known as Fosse 8 consisting of a colliery and associated pit buildings sited to the rear of the latter
position. One division of IV Corps would then assault two German strongpoints located to the east and north-east of Loos.
Preliminary bombardment of the German front line commenced on the 21st September, although the expenditure of shell
was limited to both heavy and field calibre artillery pieces. Weather conditions in the days that followed can be only described
as 'changeable' ebbing from periods of relative dry weather and good visibility to those of wet with no favourable
wind to expediate the release of gas.
On the evening of the 24th meteorological reports stated that for the following
day a favourable wind was anticipated. Men of the Special Brigade Royal Engineers had by now manhandled over 1,500 cylinders
of chlorine gas into specially prepared positions and waited for a decision as to release. At 5.00 a.m. on the morning of
the 25th, Haig and his senior Aide-de-Camp Major Alan Francis Fletcher stepped outside into the garden of Hinges Chateau,
First Army Headquarters located to the north of Bethune. Haig requested that Major Fletcher should light a cigarette, and
on doing so they watched the smoke drift off in a north-easterly direction. The decision was made. Gas was to be released
at 5.50 a.m. with the infantry advancing forty minutes later.
The Battle of Loos, with its many controversial aspects
that ultimately led to the removal of Field Marshall Sir John French, was about to commence.
Of The 64th Brigade R.F.A.
As the battle ground on, some gains had been made in the German line
whilst others had been lost due to determined counterattacks by the enemy. The actions of the infantry during the course of
the battle warrant a more in depth study and are therefore not included in this commemoration. The Author wishes to recommend
two books that cover this subject most admirably: Loos - Hill 70 and Loos - Hohenzollern, both by Andrew Rawson and published
by Pen & Sword Books, Barnsley.
On the 1st October, the 64th Brigade proceeded into action sending forward
a section from both "A" and "C" Batteries to relieve "A" and "C" Batteries, 94th Brigade
of the 21st Divisional Artillery at G.32.c. This position is located to the north of North Maroc in the vicinity
of Corons du No. 5. At 6.00 p.m. during the following day the two remaining sections of both respective batteries already
in situ also moved forward along with "B" and "D" Batteries to previously reconnoitered positions although
it is evident that there was some need to prepare or construct suitable gun pits if any existed previously.
Wellesley C.M.G., Officer Commanding now assumed command of the Left Group Artillery, Major Osmond C. Du Port taking over
temporary command of the 64th Brigade.
On the 3rd all batteries began registration on targets stretching from the northern
edge of Bois Hugo to the south, and Hulloch village to the north respectively. The War Diary records the condition of the
enemy's defences when a report was received by the Forward Observation Officer of B/64 from an officer of the 9th Royal
Fusiliers, 36th Brigade of the 12th Division who had sent out a party of men the night previously. The men had approached
the enemy's barbed wire defences at a cross-roads just to the south of Hulloch village, the officer subsequently reporting
that "the enemy's wire was not formidable."
During the days that followed the brigade continued
a steady bombardment of registered targets and enemy communication. On the 5th October, Lieutenant-Colonel Wellesley C.M.G.
was appointed to the rank of Brigadier-General and assumed command as C.R.A. (Commander Royal Artillery) 21st Divisional
Artillery. During the following day, it was announced that Lieutenant-Colonel Patterson Barton D.S.O., posted from the
Lahore Division, would now assume command of the 64th Brigade.
Far from remaining in a static position, the Officer Commanding
A/64 Battery was ordered to reconnoiter the position known as the Chalk Pit located to the north-west of Bois Hugo. It was
proposed to have a gun placed in this position that would fire northwards along the length of the Lens - La Bassee Road in
an attempt to cut the enemy's barbed wire defences as far as a small salient held by the infantry just west of Hulloch
Desultory enemy artillery fire continued as it had done in the days previously consisting of high explosive
and shrapnel shell. In particular it had been observed that there were two 77 mm batteries firing from the direction of Wingles
to the east of Hulloch village as well as reports received from observers at the rear of a single German Kite balloon that
remained airborne all day on the 4th.
At 11.30 a.m. on the morning of the 8th the German artillery commenced a heavy
bombardment of Posen Street and associated trenches in the vicinity with field guns and howitzers. In addition to this strafe
the Chalk Pit and Chalk Pit Wood with associated trenches were also shelled by a 15 cm howitzer firing high explosive and
gas shells. Rear areas were also subjected to this bombardment with Loos and Maroc being shelled by an 8 inch howitzer.
At 1 p.m. the artillery barrage ceased but later in the afternoon at 3.45 p.m. heavy rifle and machine gun fire commenced.
No doubt as a response to this German 'hate,' orders were received by the 64th Brigade from the Left Group Commander
at 4.30 p.m. to open up an intense bombardment of Bois Hugo with a high rate of fire which was to last for a period of
five minutes. The rate of fire was to be gradually reduced and by 5 p.m. consisted of Section Fire for the period of one minute.
By this hour, the War Diary records that the enemy's machine gun and rifle fire had virtually ceased. At 6 p.m. as the
64th Brigade's rate of fire was reduced even further to Battery Fire for the period of one minute the enemy once again
opened up a rifle and machine gun barrage on the trenches in front of the Hulluch Sector however this ceased at about
6.30 p.m. Ten minutes later, 64th Brigade received the order to cease shooting.
On the 9th October the brigade moved
out of action and relocated to a position east of Annequin located to the north of Vermelles. During the following days
the men set about improving their positions and selecting suitable sites for the location of Observation Posts which the War
Diary records were difficult to obtain. These preparations did not pass without incident as on the 10th, Gunner George Kingshott,
38995 of C/64 Battery and a native of Croydon, was unfortunately killed.
The positions taken by the batteries
are recorded by the War Diary. It is of interest to note that the brigade Adjutant has a stylistic way of writing the letter
'b' that almosts resembles the letter 'G.'
A/64 G.2.a. 4.4
B/64 A.25.d. 7.7
C/64 A.25.b. 19
D/64 A.25.b. 18 (One section in a forward position at G.3.b. 4.7)
of the guns of the brigade as can be calculated from the above coordinates were in close proximity to a location known as
Brar Keep. A/64 Battery however was positioned further forward just south of Railway Alley and further forward still was the
section of D/64 located just south of Quarry Alley.
Registration began on the 11th October with the following targets:
A/64 Fosse 8 and the Cemetery (Expending 54 rounds)
B/64 Managers House, Transvaal Cottages,
Cemetery, Lone Farm and Pekin Alley
C/64 Managers House, Fosse Trench, Cemetery, Lone Farm and Fosse Cottage
D/64 had one gun out of action however the reason is not stated. The remaining gun was consequently moved forward
to join the Section located south of Quarry Alley. Orders were issued that there was to be no registration of fire by D/64
due to the forward nature of the position. This solitary group would remain inactive until the launch of a proposed attack
on the German lines located at the Hohenzollern Redoubt.
This heavily fortified
position formed one of the objectives of the 26th Brigade, 9th (Scottish) Division on the 25th September. In the days that
followed, numerous divisions attempted to exploit gains made in this sector but the positions held were gradually retaken
by the enemy at heavy cost to the British. Initially an attack was scheduled to take place on the 9th October, but, due to
determined enemy resistance, this was postponed until the 13th October. The task of securing the redoubt now became the objective
of the 46th (North Midland) Division under the command of Major-General the Honourable Edward Montagu-Stuart-Wortley.
note: For a comprehensive account of the fighting the reader may wish to refer to the commemoration of George Miller, 1/5th
At 11.00 a.m. on the morning of the 12th Otober "A," "B" &
"C" Batteries began to register and verify various points in the enemy line with shrapnel and high explosive shell.
At midday on the 13th, the date of the proposed attack, the bombardment of the enemy's positions along the whole of the
During the first phase of the opening bombardment the active batteries of the 64th Brigade concentrated
their fire on the following points:
A/64 Hohenzollern Redoubt
B/64 Trench G.5.a.5.5.-7
G.5.a.1.5.-7.5. (The above coordinates, originally annotated in the War Diary as fractions of one half as opposed
to .5) equate to a 'combing' barrage from The Dump to Corons Alley.
C/64 South-West face of The Dump
The rate of fire during this initial phase consisted of Section fire every fifteen seconds from the commencement
of the barrage until Zero Hour at 2.00 p.m. However, the use of high explosive shell ceased at 1 p.m. whereupon only shrapnel
was used to coincide with the release of gas by companies of the Royal Engineers (Special Brigade) and the lighting
of smoke candles as a prelude to the attack by the infantry.
To the left of the 46th Division, the 2nd and 7th Divisions
would cooperate with the attack on the redoubt. As an aid to visual recognition bombing parties of the 2nd Division carried
yellow streamers with the reverse side coloured khaki and in addition to this they also placed their caps on the tips of their
bayonets. Patrols of the 7th Division would also carry streamers but these were red and blue, both colours aligned in the
diagonal with the reverse side khaki.
At 2 p.m. the infantry rose to the assault whereupon the 64th Brigade commenced
the second phase of the bombardment. The batteries of A/64 now lifted onto Fosse Trench but both "B" & "C"
Batteries maintained their bombardment as per the first phase. It was at this time that the guns of D/64 Battery in their
forward position came into action under the command of Lieutenant Gordon Stafford Woodhouse with the intention of reacting
to any situation that impeded the advance of the infantry assault. At 2.09 p.m. Lieutenant Woodhouse reported that the infantry
were now advancing over the Hohenzollern Redoubt and that the assault seemed to be progressing well, however, shortly after
this report, Lieutenant Woodhouse, a native of Ealing, Middlesex, was wounded and evacuated to a position in the British trenches.
Due to reports that the infantry had now successfully gained the German first line, the second phase timetable of bombardment
was extended until 2.30 p.m. Just before the initiation of the third phase of the bombardment due to commence at 3 p.m., "A,"
"B" & "C" Batteries were ordered to open fire on the enemy position known as The Dump for a period
of just over five minutes.
On commencement of the third phase of the bombardment, the batteries opened up on the following
coordinates as follows:
A/64 A.28.c.7.4. through Lone Farm and along enemy trench
at A.29.a.5.6. (This equates to the enemy front line north of Mad Point, in an easterly direction to Lone Farm and
then a stretch of enemy trench located to the north of Lane Alley)
B/64 A.29.c.2.4 -
(Bombardment of positions to the north and west of the Corons de Pekin)
A.29.a.5.6. - A.29.c.2.4.
(Trench north of Lane Alley to positions to positions west of the Corons de Pekin)
The batteries duly commenced Section Fire of a period of one and a half minutes until 4 p.m. when the
rate of fire by Section was decreased to two minutes and maintained until 5.30 p.m. The War Diary does not record the fire
plan of "D" Battery but one can only assume that this did not alter with the latter still adopting the tactics as
per the second phase.
At 8.15 p.m. the 64th Brigade reverted to the fire plan as per the second phase of the bombardment
with a rate of fire of twenty rounds per battery per hour.
By dawn of the 14th, the casualties
sustained by the 64th Brigade R.F.A. became apparent. Lieutenant Woodhouse unfortunately succumbed to his injuries at 4.30
a.m. and Bombardier Orchard, a telephonist and also of "D" Battery had been wounded whilst laying a telephone cable.
Lieutenant Woodhouse and Corporal Charles Dipnall, 93883 were forwarded for recognition in the field to Headquarters, Corporal
Dipnall being Mentioned In Dispatches, however, Lieutenant Woodhouse, the first officer of the brigade to fall received no
The following day two guns of D/64 battery were withdrawn from their exposed
forward position with one piece being left in situ. Captain James Colin Dundas posted from the 6th Division now assumed command
of the battery whilst the other batteries of the brigade continued to fire on their pre-arranged sectors.
On the 15th,
Driver Ernest Cockayne, 72998, of "C" Battery, a native of Belper, Derbyshire was killed by "an exploding
bomb." This incident probably relates to an enemy trench mortar bomb launched from a Minenwerfer as orders were
issued during the following days for Forward Observation Officers to report any suspected emplacements immediately to Headquarters
suggesting an increase in the use of this form of weaponry.
As the Battle of Loos gradually closed down with the onset
of winter, the last act of the brigade during the offensive was to put down a barrage in support of a bombing attack by the
2nd and 3rd Guards Brigades at 5 a.m. on the morning of the 16th October.
During the rest of the month the brigade carried
out routine bombardments of various targets until the 28th October when the brigade exchanged guns and positions with the
74th Brigade of the Guards Divisional Artillery. Remarking on this exchange of guns and positions the War Diary lamentably records:
"This arrangement was supposed to leave the various registrations unaffected, but certainly did not find favour
with the Commanding Officers."
the month of November continued consisting primarily of the interdiction of enemy working parties who were seen to be working
on various points in the line close to the Hohenzollern Redoubt.
On the 14th November the brigade now came under the
control of the 2nd Division at 4 p.m. and in addition to this change in command, personnel of the brigade were assigned new
roles or transferred to other units.
Major Ralph Smythe, transferred to Heavy Artillery
Samuel A. Ferrier, transferred from Adjutant to Brigade Ammunition Column
Lieutenant Grig Devenish, Brigade Adjutant
Lieutenant Harold Cotterill, Orderly Officer
On the 17th, relief commenced of the Infantry Brigades on each flank
of the 64th Brigade R.F.A. Units of the 6th Brigade, 2nd Division now moved into the line with the 1/5th King's Liverpool
Regiment and the 2nd South Staffordshire Regiment occupying the right and the left flanks of the brigade respectively.
On the evening of the 22nd November the brigade finally commenced a long overdue relief with one Section from each
battery being relieved by Sections that comprised the 71st Brigade R.F.A. a unit of the Divisional Artillery of the 15th (Scottish)
During the following day the remaining sections of the brigade were relieved and proceeded to the Wagon Lines
located at Sailly-Labourse to the west of Vermelles whilst a Billeting Party was sent forth to Lambres, located
to the south of Aire-sur-la-Lys to find suitable accommodation. In conjunction with this movement the Brigade Ammunition Column
proceeded to their allocated billeting area located at Mazinghem to the south of Lambres.
At 8.40 a.m. on the morning
of the 24th the brigade marched forth from Sailly-Labourse arriving at their allocated billets at Lambres at 2 p.m.where the
remainder of the month was spent in a general clean up. Apart from this general routine inter-brigade sports, namely football,
and an inspection by the General Officer Commanding Royal Artillery took place, however, it was not long before the brigade
once again made preparations to move back into action. On the 30th, Battery Commanders were sent forward to reconnoitre new
positions. The next period of operations by the 64th Brigade R.F.A. would take place on the Festubert Sector to the east of
As a precursor to the move eastwards to the Festubert front the brigade was rearranged on a temporary
basis on the 1st December. One Section of "C" Battery was consequently sent to "D" and "B"
Batteries, effectivley increasing the strength of the latter batteries to that of six guns each. "A" Battery
was to be unaffected by this subsequent change, i.e. remaining at a strength of four 18 Pounder guns.
following day, one Section from each of the three remaining batteries marched into new positions subsequently relieving one
Section each of the outgoing batteries of the 14th Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery of the 7th Divisional Artillery.
the 3rd December, the remaining Sections of the 64th Brigade plus the Brigade Ammunition Column occupied their new positions,
Headquarters being established at the former position of the 35th Brigade H.Q.
Authors note: The War Diary is vague to
say the least as to the recording of accurate positions of the batteries plus associated brigade echelons, however, annotations
record Gorre to the west of Festubert possibly suggesting that all units are located in the vicinity of the
The brigade by the 5th December were now in support of the 33rd Division with "A"& "B"
Batteries forming part of the Right Group commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Vallentin and "D" Battery under
the control of the Left Group commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Lyonel Hext.
Different roles were to be adopted by the
64th Brigade during this period of assignment. Headquarters and Staff being utilized for administration purposes only whilst
"A" Battery was to be alloted the task of counter-battery work.
On the 6th, "D" Battery sprung into
life in what is described by the War Diary as "Considerable retaliation," however no instances of enemy
artillery activity are recorded in the days previously. One can only presume that before assuming their new positions, this
sector was subjected to considerable enemy artillery fire and that "D" Battery was performing a fire demonstration
that resulted in the expenditure of 281 rounds of 4.5 inch calibre.
Positions that were occupied by all batteries
of the brigade were described as extremely wet this necessitating much improvement in the days that followed. If these positions
were considered unsuitable for the artillery, in the front line things were much worse. It was impossible to dig more than
a few feet into the earth without any form of construction becoming flooded due to the underlying nature of the terrain and
the presence of a high water table. As a consequence, the front line consisted of a series of posts with the parapet of each
being built up with sand bags rather than one continuous row of trench. In effect the men occupying the front line were
living on isolated 'islands' and due to this these positions were lightly held.
On the 8th, enemy artillery commenced
a very heavy bombardment with 5.9 inch howitzers on positions near to the location of "D" Battery. It was concluded
that their target was a 60 Pounder gun battery located in a farm close by and this 'hate' resulted in the death of
one civilian and the wounding in the hand of Gunner Henry of D/64, (Possibly Gunner Christopher J. Henry, 86789). On this
date also, "A" Battery ceased to be employed on counter-battery work and now performed a supporting role to the
2nd Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders of the 33rd Division.
The weather had by now deteriorated into thick
fog and mist and as work continued on improving all the batteries positions the 33rd Division were relieved in the front line
by the 12th (Eastern) Division on the 10th with "A" Battery now moving into a support role for the 11th Middlesex
of the 36th Brigade.
During this period of relative calm by the enemy no doubt due to restricted visibility, a cadre
of the 3rd East Anglian Brigade artillery joined for a period of instruction. This artillery, originally attached
to the 54th (East Anglian) Territorial Division had remained in the U.K. whilst the infantry of the division had sailed
for the Dardanelles in July 1915. This instruction period commenced on the 12th December with the registration of
various targets, retaliatory fire, and for good measure a few rounds were 'loosed off' for the benefit of the Territorials!
Far from adopting a fire plan of intermittent shelling, the 64th Brigade made a serious attempt at 12 noon on the 14th December,
in, as the War Diary records, "To annoy the enemy." This bombardment lasted for two hours with the rate
of shell expenditure being recorded as 100 rounds per hour however the response, if any, by the enemy is not recorded.
|German Trenches To The North Of The German Ducks Bill
The guns of "B" Battery
commenced to fire on Communication Trench (annotated in shorthand writing in the War Diary as "Comm" from
points A.9.b. 1.9 - A.9.b. 8.8. This bombardment being reported as completely wrecking this stretch of trench. "A"
Battery commenced a bombardment to the north of the latter on a point at Mackensen Trench and moving to the rear, references
A.3.d. 5.7 - A.4.c. 6.6 respectively.
It was now the turn of the heavy calibre artillery pieces and howitzers.
Both commenced a bombardment of the enemy line just to the north of the crater(s), presumably the 'Crater Field' or
a crater located to the west of Crater Trench. This bombardment proceeded to create a gap either in the crater zone itself
or in the enemy's defences the precise results unfortunately being not recorded.
After this initial two hour long attempt
to antagonize the enemy into action the barrage commenced once again at 2 p.m. at a rate of 12 rounds per hour and this was
to be maintained throughout the night.
During the following day 2 Officers and 24 Other Ranks of the 2nd East Anglian
Brigade were attached to "A" Battery for instruction whilst the battery continued a programme of retaliatory fire.
Units in the front line were also rotated during the day with the 11th Middlesex being relieved by the 9th Royal Fusiliers,
the latter, also contained in the 36th Brigade, 12th (Eastern) Division.
The weather continued to comprise of days of
mist and fog that curtailed most firing however on the 17th "D" Battery opened fire on an enemy machine gun post
located in the Popes Nose.
Once again the infantry manning the front line rotated when on the 19th the 6th Buffs of the
37th Brigade relieved the 9th Royal Fusiliers. The situation during the following two days as regards the support of the infantry
was to be as follows:
A/64, supporting 6th Buffs, 37th Brigade
B/64, supporting 7th Norfolks, 35th
D/64, supporting 7th East Surreys, 37th Brigade
An attempt at cutting the enemy's barbed
wire defences was proposed on the 22nd but this was abandoned due to poor visibility. This proposal seems to suggest that
the infantry were about to perform some offensive action against the enemy. The latter scenario seems the most likely,
though the actions of the infantry are not recorded in the War Diary. At 9 p.m. the 35th Brigade launched a gas attack on
the German Ducks Bill positions with the release of this agent being recorded as "Went over well." At 9.20
p.m. a call was received by the artillery for a barrage to be put down and maintained at XF10 "for a period of two
minutes and then XF30 till 9.29 p.m." Then the barrage was maintained at Battery Fire, 15 seconds, from 9.56 - 10.25
It is of interest to note that the annotations XF may refer to pre-registered points where a barrage was
to be put down in the event of any request by the infantry. These points however do not appear to be annotated on any Trench
Maps suggesting that they were allocated specifically by the 64th Brigade.
During the 23rd, the infantry battalions holding
the front line once again rotated. The 6th Queens relieved the 6th Buffs whilst the 6th Royal West Kents relieved the 7th
East Surreys, all battalions contained in the 37th Brigade. The relief it would seem did not go un-noticed as at 1.20 a.m.
German artillery opened up a heavy bombardment on Givenchy. In reply, the 64th Brigade commenced to open fire on the XF
positions allocated, this barrage being maintained for the period of twenty minutes.
As Christmas Eve dawned, the
grim reality of war continued as orders were issued for a general bombardment of the German rear lines. The message was simple,
and the War Diary records this in no uncertain terms:
"Organised shelling in rear of German lines to remind
him it is Christmas Eve..."
Also, there was to be no repeat of the so called 'Christmas Truce'
that took place the year before near Ploegsteert Wood. This bombardment would;
"Also with a view to checking
any tendency to fraternising tomorrow."
Accordingly, the barrage commenced once again on Christmas Day as it
had done the day previously. This set the pattern for the remainder of the month and the closing of the year 1915, however,
there is one note worthy incident that could have resulted in the loss of an experienced officer. On the night of the 27th,
Second-Lieutenant Arthur J. Gardiner whilst trying to erect a board in the front line, possibly some form of target indicator
("A" Battery performed a firing test the next day), lost his way and stumbled out into No Man's Land. Wandering
around for some time between the infantry 'islands' he eventually found his way back without incident. The scenario
could have been much worse but no doubt the Second-Lieutenant received a quick lesson from the C.O. as regards navigation
So, as the year closed, George spent his first Christmas away from Wetherby. As the New Year was about to dawn,
plans were already put into place for an Allied offensive. The bitter lessons of 1915 were about to be tested on the
chalky uplands of Picardy.
1916: The Cuinchy - Hohenzollern Sectors
new year dawned the 64th Brigade, R.F.A., O.C. Lieutenant-Colonel Patterson Barton D.S.O., found itself still
located to the north-east of Bethune at Gorre in support to the 12th (Eastern) Division. It was whilst here that the
brigade played host to a variety of naval personnel who were attached so as "to get an idea of what things were like
here." For their benefit and 'entertainment' several rounds were fired by the brigades batteries on various
targets on the 2nd January as well as standard retaliatory fire and registration procedures. Before leaving on the 5th, the
attached naval personnel commented that while their life was much more monotonous than that of an artillery man, they were
at least much more comfortable!
It would appear that this part of the front was 'plagued' by the actions
of a hostile battery that despite numerous attempts to find its location evaded registration. "A" Battery however
after days of fruitless searches finally reported on the 8th that the gun or guns had been located in a house to the north
of Violaines and this location was duly registered. With their 'prey' now detected, during the following
day Captain Halliday's gunners proceeded to fire 80 rounds of 18 pounder shell into the target. The results of their
endeavours are not recorded but one would assume at the very least that the house would never be fit for habitation by man
or gun again.
On the 12th the guns of "A" and "B" Batteries were taken over by the 33rd Divisional
Artillery. For a period of one week the gunners of the 33rd D.A. were placed under the guidance of Lieutenants Norman A. Black
and Raymond D. Belcher of "A" and "B" Batteries respectively whilst the officers and men of these
batteries were posted back to the Wagon Lines.
The days that followed remained relatively quiet until the 15th January
when "D" Battery, along with other heavy calibre guns commenced a bombardment of Violaines. During the following
day the personnel of "A" and "B" Batteries returned to their guns consequently relieving the gunners of
It soon became evident that the brigade was about to relieve personnel from another Artillery Group when
on the 19th January the first section of each battery, personnel only, proceeded to relieve one section each of the batteries
of "A" Group, the Left Group, comprising of the 2nd Divisional Artillery. This divisions guns were at this period
supporting the infantry of the 33rd Division whose own artillery had as yet not moved into the line. The 64th R.F.A. would
therefore remain in support to this division until the latter were relieved by the infantry of the 12th Division who were
at present conducting training manoevres.
With the relief duly completed on the 20th, the brigade occupied the following
positions located to the east of Bethune:
D/64 Battery Southern Part Of The 'Tourbieres Loop'
(Northern Outskirts Of Cambrin)
C/62 Battery (12th D.A.) Alongside The Above Battery
B/64 Battery South Of The Aire - La Bassee Canal
A/64 Battery Northern Bank Of The Canal
Headquarters Annequin North
* C/64 Battery (Divided; one section with "B" Battery, one gun behind
Cuinchy to act in enfilade for "Z" Group, right flank, O.C. Lieutenant-Colonel William A. Short. One other gun was
intended to be placed at the Water Tower at Vermelles to enfilade "A" Groups frontage but had as yet to be
placed in this position.
"A" Group now consisted of the following batteries:
C/64 3 guns
D/65 Battery (4.5 inch howitzers)
The objective of this group was to support the left flank of the infantry, the 19th Infantry Brigade, 33rd Division.
All Observation Posts, O.P.'s, were connected by wire to a central exchange located at Cuinchy that enabled
these positions to communicate with one another. In addition to this network, each battery could also communicate direct with
Infantry Brigade Battle Headquarters, these lines being layed by the 64th Brigade R.F.A. eminating from Camp Signalling Stations,
two for "Z" Group on their front, and two on that of "A" Group. The Receiving Station being located in
the ruin, possibly referring to a ruined windmill at Burbure to the east of Cambrin.
As the men and the guns
commenced a programme of registration, one of the enemy's vast array of armaments began to materialise itself and became
rather troublesome. A Minenwerfer, an enemy trench mortar positioned behind the infamous Cuinchy Brickstacks, began
to open fire. This location as the name suggests was the site of a former brickworks turned into a veritable fortress by the
enemy who had utilised the supply of bricks to create various strong points. To counter this threat, D/65 Battery commenced
to fire upon its suspected location on the 22nd but this retaliatory fire failed to silence the mortar.
During the following
day enemy shelling became considerable in particular on the points Pont Fixe, to the west of Cuinchy on an arterial road running
north to south and referred to as Harley Street, Cuinchy Church and the Cambrin-Cuinchy Road.
On the 26th,
the troublesome trench mortar once again erupted into life however, the 64th Brigade R.F.A. were about to turn up at a party,
uninvited. The 27th was to be the Kaiser's birthday and plans were already in place to provide a few fireworks.
Author will now quote the Brigade's Adjutant, Lieutenant George Weston Devenish and his entries in the War Diary as regards
the 'spoiler afoot.'
"The lull before the storm! Kaiser Wilhelm II's birthday tomorrow, and
feverish activity on the part of the Germans at Mad Point coupled with air reports of unusual movement on the railway at Don
(Authors note: To the east of La Bassee on the Canal de Deule) suggests that the enemy contemplates celebrating
the occasion by an attack on our trenches opposite Mad Point + neighbourhood. A "birthday" scheme is prepared to
meet this situation should it arise."
26th to 27th
"The 1st Corps Artillery ushers in the
Kaiser's birthday with an all night bombardment of enemy's lines of communication. "A" Group fires on Auchy
and Haisnes with Howitzers (D/65) and on the roads + exits there to with field guns from 6 - 9 p.m., from 10.30 p.m. to midnight,
from 1.30 to 3 a.m. and from 4.30 a.m. till daybreak. To this acute form of invitation, the enemy Artillery makes a very feeble
response. A few salvoes from 7.7 cm Field Guns were fired into Cambrin about 10.30 p.m., the BSM of D/64 being hit."
"Nothing doing. Any plans the enemy may have had for celebrating Kaiser's birthday appear
to have been disorganised by last nights bombardment."
After this 'amusement,' the sector once
again continued what it had gained a notorious reputation for when the enemy exploded a mine in the neighbourhood
of Mine Point during the following day. This detonation was then followed by a heavy enemy bombardment of British trenches
in the locality and in the vicinity of the Hohenzollern Redoubt as well as to the rear of the Brickstacks.
continued all day with a slight relaxation about midday when the War Diary records that "the enemy had his mittagessen."
By about 4 p.m. the barrage had now become intense and it was feared that an attack on the trenches opposite the Hohenzollern
Redoubt was imminent. As a consequence of a suspected attack, orders were received for the "Birthday Scheme"
to be carried out; D/65 Battery fired on Madagascar Trench located just to the north and behind Mad Point, D/64 on Communication
Trench, presumably leading into the latter trench and C/62 on Chateau Alley running westwards form the north-west corner of
Auchy to the German front line. Opposite the Redoubt where the percieved threat was suspected, "Z" Group concentrated
its attentions, the War Diary recording rather 'tongue-in-cheek,' "Result:- No German attack today."
On the 28th the diary records that in the last 24 hours "A" Group had expended over 3000 rounds with
the infantry not surprisingly reporting that they were suffering from deafness!
Despite a discharge gas on the evening
of the 29th by the enemy, this being due to the wind blowing from the east and the gas itself being reported as "pure
gas," the month closed with inactivity by both sides.
The month of February commenced much the same as
the end of the previous month with both artilleries relatively inactive. B/64 Battery however attempted to take the fight
to the enemy on the evening of the 2nd when, assisted by a searchlight, they opened fire on the enemy's position
known as The Tortoise located due north of the Brickstacks on the northern bank of the Canal although results proved to be
|Trench Map Extract, La Bassee, Edition 7 A, Corrected To 10/6/16
As they days ground on, the enemy attempted to find
the location of the batteries by means of aerial observation. In due course B/64 Battery received the unwelcome attentions
of various calibres of shell, one falling close to Number 3 Gun that fortunately resulted in only one casualty, a Signaller
who in his haste to seek cover in a dug out, dislocated his shoulder.
The infantry too were attempting to gather intelligence
as to German dispositions when on the night of the 3rd February a British patrol traversing No Man's Land, unit
not recorded, wandered by mistake into the enemy's front line thinking it was their own. An officer and one or two Other
Ranks did not return and were consequently posted as missing. There must also have been a 'wit' present in the German
front line when during the following day a board appeared in the enemy front line with the following wrote in neat writing;
"FURTHER KOMRADES. QUITE WELCOME."
Strafes by "A" Group were responded to
during the following days by the German artillery as British units rotated in the line on the 13th instant when the 100th
Infantry Brigade relieved the 98th Brigade, both brigades belonging to the 33rd Division.
As a precursor to a relief,
Colonel Harper, Officer Commanding Howitzer Brigade, 33rd Divisional Artillery, visited "A" Group on the 18th to
"make himself acquainted with it's internal arrangements."
Harper would, on relief of the 12th
Divisional Artillery that comprised "A" Group, command the incoming relieving artillery units.
21st February, General Erich von Falkenhayn, the German Chief of Staff, launched the German Fifth Army under the command
of Crown Prince Wilhelm into an all out attack on the fortress town of Verdun located on the banks of the Meuse River.
Almost as if to herald this monstrous battle that would rage on for nearly ten months, German miners detonated a mine just
north of "A" Group at the position known as the Ducks Bill. Alert to the possibility of an enemy attack, A/64 opened
up a barrage on the night lines but no attack materialised.
It was during the 23rd that a section each of "A,"
"B" and "C" Batteries of the 64th Brigade were relieved by the incoming sections of the 156th Brigade
R.F.A. of the 33rd Divisional Artillery. No doubt looking forward to a rest and with the gunners of the brigade being transported
in comparative luxury on motor buses, the outgoing men proceeded to Mazingarbe. It was ordered that these sections were to
remain here until joined by the remainder of the brigade however much to everybody's disappointment orders were received
later that evening that the 12th Divisional Artillery were to take over from the 2nd D.A. opposite the Hohenzollern Sector.
The positions to be occupied were viewed by Colonel Barton accompanied by Lieutenant Devenish, the Brigade Adjutant. The
positions were familiar as they had been previously occupied by the brigade but it was now just a question of where to place
each battery for optimum strategic performance.
All batteries were now grouped under the overall command of Lieutenant-Colonel
Short, Officer Commanding 63rd Brigade R.F.A. apart from 1/2th of A/64 who were attached to D/64 Battery.
Group was now placed under the command of Colonel Harper whereupon 64th Brigade Headquarters moved to Bethune on the 25th.
New Wagon Lines were established at Labourse to the south of the town and these were duly inspected by the Colonel and the
Adjutant during the following day.
During the following days the batteries registered and took over their new positions
as the "Column," one would presume this refers to the Brigade Ammunition Column, continued slightly northwards
to take up positions at Verquigneul. It is of interest to note that the War Diary records that the intended purpose of the
processes of registration were for yet another 'scheme' or as the diary records, a "show." To yet
strengthen the batteries positions, two guns of "A" Battery under the command of Captain Halliday moved into an
enfilade position in front of Le Rutoire to the south-east of Vermelles.
Mines & The Hohenzollern
As the batteries completed registration on the 2nd March, it was soon to become quite clear
what the intended 'show' was to comprise of as at 5.45 p.m. three mines comprising of 7000-lbs, 8000-lbs and
10,055-lbs of ammonal were detonated by 170th Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers under the command of Captain Frank
Preedy. One was exploded in front of Little Willie Trench in the northern sector of the Hohenzollern Redoubt whilst
the other two were detonated north and south of the enemy position known as The Chord.
The task of seizing the newly
blown craters was allocated to the 12th (Eastern) Division under the command of Major-General Arthur Scott. The division had
recently arrived in this sector after a period of training and manoevres and it was to be the 36th Infantry Brigade under
the command of Brigadier-General Lionel B. Boyd-Moss that would rise to the assault. Artillery support would be provided
by batteries of "D" Group who would fire to a pre-arranged programme that would cease at 18.05 hrs. After this period,
fire would be directed by the Officer Commanding "D" Group according to the wishes of the G.O.C. 36th Infantry Division.
The northern most mines i.e. that opposite Little Willie and the mine at the northern most arm of The Chord were to be assaulted
by the 8th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, Officer Commanding, Lieutenant-Colonel Albermarle C. Annesley. To the south of
the latter, the mine detonated at the southern most point of The Chord was to be attacked by the 9th Battalion,
Royal Fusiliers, O.C. Lieutenant-Colonel Stamer Gubbins respectively.
As the Royal Fusiliers rose to the attack,
"B" Company of the 9th Battalion under the command of Captain The Hon. Roland E. Philipps and comprising of about
50 men seized their objective, a section of The Chord, in conjunction with "A" Company of the 8th Battalion, also
comprising of 50 men under the command of Captain Arthur E.K. Mason and Second-Lieutenant John Wardrop.
Prior to the
assault however the resulting explosion of the mine had buried 20 of Captain Philipps men in their assembly trench, Philipps
himself being wounded in the face but gallantly the men pressed home their attack.
The 8th Battalion had suffered greatly
in their advance to their objective, Captain Mason had unfortunately been killed and only Second-Lieutenant Wardrop and one
man reached The Chord. Despite the losses sustained by "A" Company reinforcements were sent forward that enabled
the men to bomb along the length of the enemy trench, now a trench in name only, to within 30 yards of the southern most crater
whereupon it was ascertained that the position was held by men of the 9th Battalion. It was then that Major Thomas G. Cope
sent forward 24 men to reinforce Wardrop and with the men proceeding to dig in and consolidate, the position was held for
the remainder of the day.
Captain Robert A.F. Chard leading "C" Company had by now occupied the northern
most crater opposite Little Willie along with "A" Company who had by now occupied the crater at the northern arm
of The Chord, i.e. south of "C" Company. It soon became obvious though that the enemy still held on tenaciously
to some length of the trench. The fight for The Chord was far from over.
With the enemy now pouring into the The
Chord from the north and the east, "C" Company of the 9th Battalion under the command of Major Neville B. Elliott-Cooper
rushed the newly blown southern mine crater and two old craters to the west of a position known as The Triangle, seizing yet
another mine crater in the latter position. Bombing their way eastwards, this attack lost direction until Sergeant Edward
M. Cronyn hurried forward with a small party of men down the south-east face of The Triangle bombing their way into Big
Willie Trench. The enemy had taken shelter in a number of dug-outs and these were subsequently bombed but further progress
was halted on meeting a determined party of the enemy. There then ensued a bombing duel but further progress proved to be
impossible due to a shortage of bombs. Despite further attempts by the enemy to eject the attackers, The Triangle was consolidated
resulting in the capture of some of the entrances to the German mining system under the Redoubt. The attack had been a success
but in the days that followed the enemy would attempt to retake his lost positions.
As this drama unfolded in the
Redoubt, British artillery fire upon the southern sector of the position was reduced by 7.50 p.m. as, the War Diary of the
64th Brigade records, "as the parties there were not badly harassed." On the northern sector of the Redoubt
however it was reported that the British parties holding their positions needed more assistance so consequently the rate of
fire was increased. At 10.10 p.m. bombing, presumably by the enemy as they attempted to regain their lost positions, slackened,
and the rate of fire reduced albeit at various rates during the course of the night until all batteries ceased firing at 9.30
a.m. on the morning of the 3rd.
The G.O.C. 36th Infantry Brigade passed on his compliments to the men of the 64th Brigade
R.F.A. whose response he described as the attack unfolded as "energetic," however, the enemy would not
give up his positions lightly, even more so, the key to his tunnel system that had been located in The Triangle.
It was late on the afternoon of the 4th March that the enemy counter-attacked the position after a series of intense
bombardments. Despite calls from the 36th Infantry Brigade, the enemy once again regained The Triangle and in the days that
followed the fight for the numerous craters around the Hohenzollern Redoubt ebbed and flowed.
For the remainder of the
month the sector would see the detonation of mines by both the British and the Germans as each tried to gain an upper hand
in this deadly form of subterranean warfare. On a day to day basis however the enemy's trench mortars became more
active as was his aerial activity spotting for the artillery.
April continued much as had the previous month but
the increase in the enemy's aerial observation of the British positions was about to reap severe consequences. It was
on the 1st of the month that a German aircraft was observed airborne for a considerable length of time during the morning
and its motives for the flight soon became apparent. The aircraft was ranging for a German 15 cm howitzer trying to locate
the positions of the 64th Brigade's batteries. The inevitable happened; shells began to fall just short or over the positions
occupied by the batteries however one smashed into the corner of a gun pit occupied by men of B/64 Battery resulting in four
men wounded. One of their number, Gunner William Nutt, 95330 and a native of Brentford, unfortunately succumbing to his
wounds the following day.
On the following
evening the enemy sprang a mine on the right flank of the batteries positions but despite a short bombardment by his artillery
that covered a small party of his force, the latter were dispersed by B/64 Battery. As the sector settled down once again
into a standard routine of fire and counter-fire, the enemy's Minenwerfers still troubled the lines as well as
the attentions of a search light that had been forced to move twice under the fire of D/64 Battery, this being engaged by
the right group. With batteries being rotated, the troublesome searchlight was engaged once again on the 7th without direct
results being observed however it appears that the illumination of the aforementioned now proved to be sporadic.
With the enemy still firing mines on the 8th and 9th respectively,
the batteries still continued their unending task of the dispersal of enemy working parties as they attempted to consolidate
their positions in the vicinity of the Hohenzollern Redoubt. At 6.30 p.m. on the evening of the 13th April, two large mines
were detonated by the 170th Tunnelling Company in the centre of the Redoubt. A systematic barrage with pauses between salvoes
then commenced with the intention of luring the enemy opposite out of their defensive positions. Due to a lack of communication
between the trench mortar batteries firing and those batteries of the artillery engaged, the time table of roughly half an
hour duration was somewhat compromised resulting in only the partial success of the destruction of enemy forces opposite.
As the month continued, the weather deteriorated
proving accurate registration of known targets and artillery fire as a whole impossible. The weather conditions somewhat improved
on the 23rd after almost a week of rainfall but this improvement led to increased aerial activity by both enemy aircraft and
those of the Royal Flying Corps. To protect the aircraft of the latter as they flew sorties across the German lines, 64th
Brigade's batteries frequently engaged known enemy machine gun positions as they attempted to bring down an aircraft.
In the days that followed, various attempts
were made by the enemy infantry to advance their positions in the Redoubt commencing early on the morning of the 27th. Initially
attempting to gain a foothold in Number 4 Crater, an intense barrage was placed on the position and those around
and in a period of about one and a half hours the situation returned to normal. It was surmised that this 'stunt'
by the enemy, may have been attempted as a direct response to the rotation of brigades of the 15th (Scottish) Division in
the line, this movement taking place in daylight hours and under direct observation from his positions located at The
Dump and at Wingles. The enemy attempted yet again to advance their positions on the following day firing lachrymatory
shells (tear gas) and a discharge of a "whitish" gas but once again they were repulsed all along the length
of the line. (Authors note: A mixture of phosgene and chlorine gas had previously been used in the previous days discharged
from cylinders located in the German front line positions).
Shells of 10.5 cm calibre fired by enemy artillery field guns began to rain down on positions west
of the Cambrin - Noyelles Road and into Annequin itself at 7 a.m. on the morning of the 28th. It was soon ascertained that
his attentions were directed against the northern batteries and with fire directed by an aeroplane flying overhead, his fire
gradually began to concentrate in a steady rate of fire on these positions. It would appear however that his aerial observation
was inaccurate or devoid of up to date intelligence as his fire fell on both disused gun positions and dug-outs. "B"
Battery of the 64th Brigade it would appear received the particular attentions of his fire as shells smashed in and around
their positions. Lieutenant George William Thomas Glasson, a native of Melbourne, Australia, was subsequently wounded by a
shell splinter flying through his room as he looked through his window dressed in his pyjamas. For the men in less comfortable
surroundings and sheltering in their far from adequate dug-outs, their fate lie in the hands of the gods. One dug-out of "B"
Battery was hit resulting in the deaths of Gunner Arthur Wilson, 106562, Died of Wounds, Corporal Albert James Wells, 95324,
and Gunner William Wood, 51577. Wilson now lies buried in Bethune Town Cemetery whilst both Wells and Wood are now buried
in Cambrin Churchyard Extension, close to where they were unfortunately killed. The War Diary remarks rather tersely as regards
the structure that ultimately led to them being killed:- "a dug-out which would not have kept out a projectile from
The much waited relief
of the 64th Brigade was also due to commence on this day but owing to the recent activities by the enemy to gain the upper
hand in the sector and speculation that he may launch another gas attack, the relief was postponed. No doubt with the objective
of intensifying the fire of artillery batteries available, the batteries of the 64th Brigade were now divided into sections,
these being then distributed amongst the batteries of the 71st Brigade, 15th (Scottish) Division so as to increase the establishment
of each battery available to six guns. A further comment was added by the Adjutant, Captain Robert William Duff, regarding
the so-called rest billets, "If they exist," he wrote, they "are a Fata Morgana for the 64th Brigade."
A further attack was launched by the enemy
on the Loos front at 3.45 a.m. on the 29th, this attack being directed mainly against the 16th (Irish) Division to the south.
Gas was once again discharged by the enemy but his attack was thwarted due to the combined artillery fire of the batteries
assembled resulting in heavy loss to the attacking formations. The 64th Brigade, although dispersed across the front, suffered
no loss in personnel or equipment however one Gunner, William Brizell, 75068, "C" Battery attached to 71st Brigade,
was unfortunately killed. A married man with three children, William, a resident of Everton, now lies in Vermelles British
|The Ruins Of le Chateau de Vermelles Circa 1914 - 1915
Relief, Training & The Brigade Football Shield
At 7 p.m. on the evening of the 29th April the relief of the 64th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, had been completed
by the 70th Brigade, 15th (Scottish) Divisional Artillery. Batteries were now divided amongst the 16th (Irish) Divisional
Artillery, resulting once again that each battery now comprised of six guns, B/64 Battery however remained at Vermelles performing
counter-battery work. Headquarters under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Patterson Barton D.S.O. now moved to Bellery, south-west
of Lillers, whereupon the Brigade Staff now commenced a period of instruction in various disciplines. It was not until the
7th May that "A," "C" & "D" Batteries were relieved from their duties whereupon they departed
Nouex-les-Mines at 11 p.m. to commence the march to Bellery which was reached the following day. B/64 Battery also commenced
a move from Vermelles to Grenay however they would remain at duty performing their counter-battery role, a task that they
would eventually cease on the 11th and proceed by route of march to join the remainder of the brigade at Bellery.
men set about cleaning their kit and equipment, George Telford no doubt busy in the task of accessing the horses for shoe
replacement and materials for the manufacture of the latter. The 10th May would witness the opening round of the Brigade Football
Shield, Headquarters beating the Brigade Ammunition Column by three goals - one. The second match of the first round commenced
on the following day with "D" Battery whopping "C" Battery by four goals - one, the third being played
on the 13th, "B" Battery beating "A" Battery by three goals - one, the football proving a welcome distraction
after their trials in the line.
Training for the
men in all disciplines had also commenced but orders had now been received for the brigade to proceed to the First Army Manoeuvre
Area located at Therouanne, south of St. Omer. Commencing their march at 11.30 a.m. on the morning of the 17th, the brigade
proceeded via Auchy-au-Bois, Estree-Blanche before arriving at billets at Therouanne at 3.30 p.m. The terrain proved to be
conducive to the performance of large scale operations by both artillery and the infantry and it was on the 18th that D/64
Battery took part in operations with the 65th Brigade, R.F.A. under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel William Ambrose Short
who supported a mock attack by the infantry. "A," "B" & "C" Batteries also commenced practice
operations during the following day under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Lyonel John Hext supporting an infantry attack
from the direction of Bomy on Hill 40 located between Delettes and Enguinegatte.
With the batteries sharpening their skills and with the training programme ongoing, the evening of the 20th would
witness the Second Round of the Brigade Football Shield, B/64 Battery being convincingly beaten by D/64 by a score line of
four goals - one. With simulated infantry attacks being the order of the day, changes were afoot in the structure of the brigade
itself. On the 21st, the Brigade Ammunition Column became absorbed by the Divisional Ammunition Column, a restructure that
was implemented throughout the brigades of the Royal Field Artillery. Thus, 64th B.A.C. was now redesignated as Number 3 Section,
D.A.C. under the command of Captain George Renwick, the surplus officers of the B.A.C. now being distributed amongst the batteries
of the brigade.
After further manoeuvres in the
Coyecques/Dohem area, the long anticipated final of the Brigade Football Shield took place on the 24th. With a large crowd
assembled, the teams, D/64 versus H.Q., did not disappoint those cheering on their respective teams. At the final whistle,
D/64 were the convincing victors, beating the Headquarters team by seven goals to one. Much to the delight of the 'fans,'
the Shield was presented to D/64 by Colonel Barton.
reorganisation of artillery brigades continued when on the 25th May, D/64 Battery comprising of howitzers, was broken up in
accordance with a fundamental restructure of artillery formations. A brigade would now from this juncture be comprised of
three, 18 pounder batteries and one 4.5 inch howitzer battery. With D/64 now being taken away from the brigade and designated
C/65, the 64th Brigade now just consisted of three 18 pounder batteries respectively.
redesignated C/65, the battery was now posted to the 65th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel
Lyonel John Hext. The 65th Brigade was now also reorganised with the howitzer batteries being distributed amongst the 18-pounder
brigades with the latter absorbing their artillery pieces. Thus, 65th Brigade were now reorganised and designated as follows:-
A/65 (Formerly D/62)
B/65 (Late D/63)
Note: Above All 18-pounder Batteries)
D/65 Howitzer Battery
now comprised of the following officers:-
Major James Colin Dundas
Lieutenant Owen Macauley Eicke
Herbert Adolph Hambledon
Second-Lieutenant Alfred Leslie Joyce
Second-Lieutenant Thomas Christmas Russell
The 65th Brigade R.F.A. now reorganised, moved to Lieres located to the west
of Lillers, on the 25th May. Upon receipt of orders, A/65 & C/65 Batteries proceeded to reinforce the 1st Division, B/65
& D/65 respectively reinforcing the 16th (Irish) Division. With Headquarters located at Les Brebis to the south of Mazingarbe,
Colonel Hext now proceeded to take command of a Sub-Group consisting of A/65 & C/65 Batteries, along with D/62
& B/102, under Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Frederick Lewin, Officer Commanding Left Group, R.A. 1st Division.
At the close of the month, the batteries remained in situ apart from B/102
who were replaced by C/238 in the Sub-Group. The changes in organisation were far reaching. As for George Telford,
in the absence of surviving service documents, one can only surmise that he, along with the personnel of D/64 Battery, made
the transition to the 65th Brigade. For the surviving batteries of 64th Brigade, a new episode was about to begin, one that
would witness service with the French Army. In the course therefore of this commemoration, it would be incomplete if the Author
did not explore the posting and eventual return to the 12th (Eastern) Divisional Artillery of the brigade, a period that would
witness them serving with their French allies for a duration of nearly four months.
The 64th Brigade: Back To The Front
Still licking their wounds after the
thrashing by D/64 Battery, the officers of the brigade, no doubt containing members of the defeated team, arranged a football
match on the evening of the 26th. If this match was played at the insistence of the C.O. to attempt to regain some pride,
this is a matter of pure conjecture. With Major William J.F. Halliday of "A" Battery and Captain Humphrey Le Fleming
Fairfax Harvey of "B" Battery 'picking' the teams and the Colonel acting as referee, there may have been
some 'professional pride' at stake but the outcome resulted in "A" Battery defeating "B" by one
goal to nil.
After a drill performed at Therouanne
under the watchful eyes of the G.O.C. 12th Division ( Authors note: Major-General Arthur Binny Scott C.B., D.S.O. who had
replaced Major-General Frederick Drummond Vincent Wing C.B., killed in October 1915) and the G.O.C.R.A., Brigadier-General
Edward Henry Willis, orders were issued at 6.30 p.m. on the evening of the 27th for the brigade to proceed at once to Bellery.
Setting forth and proceeding by route of march, Bellery was reached at 11.30 p.m. whereupon the men moved into billets. The
following day was spent at rest, that is, until further orders were received at 5 p.m. stating that "A" & "B"
Batteries accompanied by Headquarters were to march at once to Sailly-Labourse, south-west of Annequin, and upon their arrival
report to the 15th (Scottish) Division. Marching via Lillers, Chocques and Bethune, the batteries arrived at their destination
at midnight, "A" Battery immediately going into action near Vermelles. One Section of "B" Battery was
directed to proceed to Annequin and another to Vermelles, both being attached to the 15th Divisional Artillery. With Headquarters
bivouacked at Verquigneul, Colonel Barton took up duties with the 15th D.A. whilst Lieutenant Harold G.K. Cotterill took up
his station with the Right Group. At 8 a.m. on the 29th, "C" Battery received orders to proceed by march,
one would presume also from Bellery, to take up positions with the 15th D.A. on the front. One section of the battery upon
arrival then went into action at Annequin whilst another section followed suit at Vermelles.
With the batteries Wagon Lines now maintaining station at Labourse, at the close of the month of April the situation
was reported as "quiet." The sector as a whole had remained far from quiet in the weeks previously with
continued attempts by the enemy to advance his line westwards. This concentration of firepower it was envisaged, would in
essence contain his activities as infantry divisions were withdrawn from the line in preparation for the Allied offensive
on the Somme. With the line now 'stretched' to the limit with minimal infantry forces holding the sector, it was to
the guns that they would now turn to for secure......
Guns! Thank Gawd, the Guns!" ( "Ubique" by Rudyard Kipling)
the brigade still reinforcing the 15th Divisional Artillery, Colonel Barton D.S.O. now took up residence at the latters headquarters
located at the Chateau des Pres, Sailly-Labourse. The Orderly Officer, Lieutenant Cotterill, however, would reside in a rather
less palatial surroundings, he, being attached to the Right Group, 15th D.A. at Philosophe, east of Mazingarbe and
placed under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Willie Andrew Christie C.M.G.
Although the front remained relatively quiet, reports were constantly being received that the enemy opposite the
positions held by the 15th Division were bringing up troops to the sector. As Lieutenant Harry Edwards Attkins relieved Lieutenant
Cotterill of his duties on the 6th, it was now the concensus of opinion that the movement of troops by the enemy was in fact
a 'bluff' covering his movements as units were relieved in his lines.
It was on the 10th June that Brigade Headquarters commenced a move to Rimbert via Verquin - Hesdigneul (Hesdigneul-les-Bethune)
- Gosnay - Marles-les-Mines and Auchel. The constituent batteries of the brigade also followed suit, their relief being commenced
by sections of the 40th Divisional Artillery, the relief being so arranged that their batteries came into action as 'complete'
batteries, i.e., not attached by sections to artillery brigades already in position.
Billeted in this rather unprepossessing industrial town, once again the men set about cleaning their kit and equipment.
A scheme was arranged, as they often were, by higher command to hone the men's skills. Under the orders of the G.O.C.R.A.
12 Division, Brigadier-General Willis, batteries were to co-operate in an attack to be launched by an infantry brigade on
an imaginary line representing the enemy's positions. Essentially the scheme was designed to concentrate on the skills
of those performing forward observation so as to co-ordinate fire with the advancing infantry. Therefore, each brigade sent
forth a F.O.O. (Forward Observation Officer) advancing with the infantry and in turn sending back information to
the Battery Commanders as regards correction of fire, fall of shot etc. Initially postponed due to bad weather, no doubt much
to the men's delight, the scheme was carried out "successfully" on the 14th, A/64 Battery being detailed
for the 'attack' from the 64th Brigade.
'Army Rumour Mill' must have been in full flow when on the 16th, surplus stores were transported to Lillers Station.
It was common knowledge that a move was in the offing but to what destination? At this juncture the infantry of the 12th Division
were entraining to move southwards to take their part in the Allied offensive on the Somme so it was probably surmised that
this was the destination of the artillery also. Headquarters, A/64 and 1/2 of B/64 entrained at Lillers in the first train,
C/64 and the remainder of B/64 entraining three hours later. Moving southwards, the brigade arrived at Longueau Station, south-east
of Amiens during the evening and then proceeded to bivouac in a field and awaited orders. These did not arrive until the following
evening whereupon the brigade entrained once again, in the same order, and in two trains at a three hours interval. The destination,
known only to those of rank, was to be the Compiegne area of France to the west of Soissons in support of the French Army.
Detraining at Rethondes Station to the east of Compiegne after a journey of 8 hours duration, the men were now in unfamiliar
surroundings but the sound of the artillery no doubt reminded them why they were here and for what purpose.
Attachment To The French Army
As the 64th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery detrained, they were welcomed
by Colonel Edouard Malesset of the 13th Corps d'artillerie. With pleasantries exchanged, the men then proceeded by route
of march to billets located at Venette, to the west of Compiegne on the banks of the Oise river. Here the brigade were joined
on the following day by the 113th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, formerly of the 25th Division, Officer Commanding, Lieutenant-Colonel
Edgar Alan Lambart. (Authors note: Both brigades now being attached to the 26th Division,13th Corps d'armee).
Colonel Barton, accompanied by an interpreter, then proceeded to 13th Corps
Headquarters located at Pierrefonds on the south-eastern edge of the Foret de Compiegne to meet the commander of the French
26th Division, General Gabriel Pauffin de Saint Morel at Choisy-au-Bac. No doubt receiving his orders, Colonel Barton, accompanied
by brigade and battery commanders, then proceeded to reconnoitre positions at St. Hubert located about 7 miles north-east
of Compiegne in the Foret de Laigue.(Authors note: About 1/2 a mile to the west of Saint-Leger-aux-Bois located on the northern
edge of the forest). Brigade commanders then visited infantry battalion commanders and were taken to observation posts to
ascertain the terrain and the situation as a whole.
brigade then moved to Le Plessis-Brion located on the banks of the Oise river, due west of the Foret de Laigue, Headquarters
being established in the magnificent fifteenth century chateau. On the 22nd, General Henri Alby commanding 13th Corps d'armee
accompanied by General Pauffin inspected the brigade, complimenting most favourably on the men, the horses and the guns. No
sooner had the inspection been completed, the batteries assembled and proceeded northwards to take up their allocated positions.
|Chateau du Plessis-Brion
|By Kind Permission Of Monsieur Daniel Debeame, www.daniel-debeaume.com
With the French engaged in the bitter struggle at Verdun since
the commencement of the German offensive in February, this section of the Western Front to the north-east of Paris was held
by the French Third Army under the command of General George Louis Humbert. Their front commenced from a position to the north-west
of Noyon and continued southwards to cross the Oise river and on westwards to the west of Soissons. With the French Fifth
Army on their right flank and the Tenth Army on their left, opposing them was the German Seventh Army under the command of
General Josias von Heerigan whose lengthy front stretched from banks of the Oise in the west to a point on the Aisne river
to the east, north-west of Reims.
to dig themselves in at St. Hubert, one gun per battery was placed in position. Rations for the men and fodder for the horses
were now being drawn from the French and it was noted that for senior officers, the amount of the rations available was very
"liberal" to say the least. As for the men, the rations issued were a far cry from the tinned bully beef
and the ever present plum jam that they were accustomed to. This new diet must have proved for some to be a godsend after
spending nearly one year consuming British army rations, for others, thoughts must have turned to home and a longing for more
position now registered whilst the men continued the construction of the gun pits needed for the remainder of the brigade.
Timber proved to be plentiful due to the large expanse of forest, and as regards communication, wires were laid to the Observation
Posts in addition to the British group of artillery occupying positions on the left flank of the brigade. A command and control
centre was established at Saint Leger-aux-Bois who in addition to maintaining contact with the infantry of the French 26th
Division in the sector, should they need to call for artillery support, also maintained contact with the respective Divisional
Headquarters and important centres located to the rear.
the men of the batteries continued their labours constructing the positions for their batteries, the latter laid down wires
to their allocated infantry battalions and by June 25th, all the guns were placed in position and several targets were registered.
With this task completed by all batteries during the course of the following day, the 64th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery
were ready to support their allies with their available fire power and experience.
Brigade Headquarters now moved to a position about 200 yards behind the batteries
on the edge of the wood, accommodation comprising of a number of small log built huts. As if in a parody of someone holidaying
in a swiss style chalet, the officers and men of the H.Q. took up their stations and initiated a scheme of liason with their
French counterparts. Allocated to the Infantry Brigade Headquarters located at Saint Leger was a French speaking officer,
his opposite number being a French officer who could speak English. Both "A" and "C" Batteries had the
services of a French speaking N.C.O. at the headquarters of the infantry both these batteries were supporting, the headquarters
referred to as the Centre de Resistance (C.R.). 64th Brigade also had a wire to Saint Leger and to the English artillery
group occupying positions to their left as previously stated, the exchange located at the latter location being able to connect
the brigade to the infantry brigades, infantry battalions, the division and important centres to the rear respectively. B/64
Battery had a direct line to the left infantry battalion whilst "A" & "C" Batteries maintained a line
to their respective battalion. Regarding mutual artillery support, B/64 were complemented by a battery of the left group due
to this sector of the front, Secteur A2 being described by the War Diary as "un pen tendre," whilst
"A" & "C" Batteries mutually supported the right infantry battalion in Secteur A3.
The trenches were described as being wide apart, particularly in Secteur
A3, visual signalling being established between the C.R. and the Battery Observation Posts using 'Shutters'
in the hours of daylight and lamps by night. With the logistics in place and guns ready for action, the men waited.
|Source: Official History Of The War
|Situation On The Western Front, 30th June 1916
At about 10 p.m. on the evening of the 27th June, the brigade
were called upon to act as firing had broken out on the lines to their left occupying Secteur A2. On the left of
this position, red rockets were sent up, the signal for a barrage to be put down, the infantry requesting specifically that
this be a 'slow barrage.' B/64 Battery commenced firing accordingly, and after a period of one hour, the sector was
reported as quiet.
was then a rotation of the French infantry holding the line when on the 28th, the 26th Division were relieved by the 81st
(Territorial) Division, under the command of General Leon Celine Marius Bajolle, the men comprising the division it was noted,
mostly in their forties. As a consequence, the 52nd Brigade, 92nd Regiment, were relieved by the incoming 162nd Brigade, 14th
Regiment, General Bajolle inspecting the batteries on the last day of the month.
Although not recorded in the pages of the War Diary or the act for which
it was granted, the London Gazette dated 23rd June 1916 reported the award of the Military Cross to one Second-Lieutenant
Cyril John Benest, possibly for his actions in the Loos Sector in April. A native of St. Brelade, Jersey, the citation reads:-
"2nd. Lt. Cyril
John Benest, Spec. Res. (attd. B.By., 64th Bde.), R.F.A.
For conspicuous gallantry. When a dug-out was blown in by a heavy shell he at once, under heavy fire, began to
dig out the buried men, and showed great coolness in organising the rescue party and in tending the wounded under fire."
With observation now being
extended to the Fosse Cadot, a ditch heading eastwards from the village of Tracy-le-Val in preparation for an assault
by the infantry, C/64 Battery registered on enemy battery positions with the assistance of observation from a balloon. In
the light of future operations, a line was connected from B/64 O.P. Line to the Headquarters of Commandant Armand located
at Cosnes, just to the north of Tracy-le-Mont, Second-Lieutenant Benest being detailed as Liason Officer to the H.Q. On the
5th, the intention was to launch an attack by the infantry in the vicinity of Tracy-le-Val and as a consequence C/64 Battery
laid down fire as per operation orders. Second-Lieutenant Benest arrived at Cosnes to test the communications but at some
point during the day the operation was suspended and the artillery ceased fire.
The enemy it would appear were beginning to get quite careless. Smoke was
observed on the 10th eminating from the village of Bailly to the north, B/64 firing just a few rounds whereupon the smoke
from whatever source ceased. During the following day, the smoke was observed once again, B Battery opening fire at the houses
with a similar outcome to the day previously. Small detachments of the enemy were also observed at Ourscamp Station (Chiry
Ourscamp some distance to the north-west of Bailly) but due to the range the French artillery were informed of their presence
who duly fired five rounds from a Lahitolle 95mm gun.
In the whole, the sector remained largely quiet, mostly in part due to days of rainy and dull weather followed by
fine days which provided good observation. Second-Lieutenant Benest proceeded to Headquarters to take up duties as Temporary
Orderly Officer on the 12th, as the men continued to work on burying cables and the construction of gun pits. Tests of battery
barrages for attacks on different fronts were carried out on the 21st under the watchful eyes of Colonel Barton and it was
noticed in several instances during the course of this exercise that the batteries were slow in getting into action, no doubt
much to the Colonel's frustration.
The Brigade received preliminary orders by phone at 8 p.m. on the evening of the 30th July informing them that more
concise orders were to follow as regards a movement to a different sector. Upon receipt of the orders, preparations were made
by Colonel Barton to reconnoitre the new positions to be occupied. Battery commanders and one officer from each battery in
addition to signalling N.C.O.'s then being issued orders to make ready for the following day. Proceeding at first to the
Headquarters of the 87th (Territorial) Division, General Maurice Joppe, located at Marest-sur-Matz on the western bank of
the Oise river, the 64th Brigade R.F.A. were to take over the positions and artillery duties of Groupe "Jacquin,"
an assembly of artillery under the command of Commandant Pascall.
The positions were described as "good," Headquarters being located in dug-outs between the batteries
about 500 yards from C/64 Battery occupying positions on the left and a similar distance from "A" & "B"
Batteries on the right respectively. To finalise and receive more complete instructions, Colonel Barton met Colonel Francois
Auguste Gustave Husson, 87th Division Artillery in the afternoon. The orders stipulated that they were to fire on the same
plan as had the French artillery but instead of acting as an independant group, they were to come under the direct orders
of the Divisional Artillery. Between the hours of 9 - 11 p.m. on the 31st, the three batteries moved to their respective positions,
these being located on the edge of clearings of the wood above the village of Machemont on a hillside, north-west of Le Plessis-Brion
and on the western bank of the Oise river. Dispositions were as follows:-
"A" Battery 400 yards N.E. of Chateau St. Amand
"B" Battery 600 yards N.N.E. of Chateau St.Amand
"C" Battery 700 yards S. of La Cense Farm
|North West Europe Sheet 4
|War Office Revised Edition, February 1915
moving onto the hillside above Machemont, the batteries began to register their fire, telephonic communications were already
in place but a line was laid to the Wagon Lines who now took up station at Thourotte to the south. An unfortunate accident
occurred on the 2nd August that resulted in the death of one Driver. Although not recorded in the pages of the War Diary,
Driver John Armet, 97020, of "C" Battery drowned although the exact circumstances surrounding his death are unknown.
A native of Inverkeithing, Fife, John, aged 18 years was originally laid to rest in Thourotte Churchyard but due to structural
problems as regards the church itself, his body was exhumed and reburied at Noyon New British Cemetery in 2011.
At 11 p.m. on the 3rd, the brigade fired a salvo aimed at Orval cross-roads,
south of Cannectancourt, to herald two years of war. Possibly in response, "C" Battery were shelled during the course
of the following day but no significant damage was sustained other than a few holes in the water cart and a dug-out roof blown
in and miraculously, all telephonic cables/wires remained intact despite being buried at a shallow depth. The German artillery
had however 'shown their hand' in a certain respect; ranging was slow, about one round every five minutes and possibly
directed or corrected by aeroplane. It was noted that about 100 rounds had been fired by the enemy, a mixed 'bag'
consisting of 10.2 and 15 cm howitzer shells. The enemy now sent up green rockets, it was not known that the enemy had fired
them at this juncture, so as a consequence "C" Battery responded by opening fire and were met by yet another barrage
of shells. One gun carriage was hit and put completely out of action when a shell came straight through the entrance of the
gun pit and exploded, fortunately, with no casualties being sustained. It was not ascertained by aerial or ground observation
which battery or batteries were being utilised by the enemy. In due course, no doubt to remedy this lack of intelligence,
the French commenced to install a wireless receiving station the following day so as to improve communications with aerial
observation be it either by balloon or aircraft.
interdiction of the supply of men and materiel in the vicinity of Ourscamp was the order of the day when on the 10th,
"B" Battery fired several rounds during the night, the roads being previously registered as the enemy attempted
under the cover of darkness to hide his movements. In respect of targets to be registered, "C" Battery had also
been previously visited by a Lieutenant of a French observation balloon, his 'charge' possibly being that of the Caquot
type, a tear-drop shaped measuring 92 feet in length (Authors note: There were variations in design). The purpose of
his visit was, in the best traditions of the entente cordiale,' to ascertain if the Officer Commanding the battery
would like any specific points registered that he and his balloon could assist with. This brings to the fore what role the
battery was expected to perform as regards its spheres of operations and liason and support of the French infantry holding
this sector of the line.
Except for about a distance
of just over one mile to the left flank covered by "C" Battery, 64th Brigade covered the whole front occupied by
the infantry of the 87th Division. There were no set borders or zones of fire between each of the batteries, a "Normal
Barrage" i.e. either moving or static and delivering a constant rate of fire was to be employed in the order "C,"
"A" & "B" left to right respectively. There were also varied fire plans for instance if there were
localised attacks on other parts of the divisional front not covered by the "Normal Barrage." An annotation
in the margin of the War Diary refers to "Barrage Reinforcement," this annotation possibly alluding to
the support of French artillery in zones not covered by the brigade, these zones being covered by the fire of batteries of
French 75 mm artillery pieces of Groupe Pascall. It is of interest to note that prior to the arrival of the 64th
Brigade R.F.A., Commandant Pascall had the whole of the Groupement Sud at his command (Authors note: 113th Brigade
R.F.A. at this juncture forming part of Groupement Ouest) but the 64th Brigade were now allowed to operate independently
owing to rank i.e. O.C. 64th holding the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Batteries were now supporting the following infantry
"A" Battery, the Centre
de Resistance, Attiche ( Authors note: This possibly refers to Attiche Farm located to the west of the Bois
de Dreslincourt) occupied by the 74e regiment d'infantrie territoriale (74th Territorial Regiment, 1 Battalion).
"B" Battery, C.R. located at Le Hamel (directly
to the north) and C.R. "Point D" occupied by the 74e and 73e regiments d'infantrie territoriale respectively.
"C" Battery, C.R. located at L'Ecouvillon (west of Le Hamel) and occupied by the 11e regiment d'infantrie
territoriale (1 Battalion).
|The First Children Return After Evacuation
Headquarters of the Divisional Artillery, Colonel Husson, were
located at Marest-sur-Matz, close by the divisional headquarters of the infantry. Apart from the batteries of the 64th Brigade
registering their various fire plans the 'zone' remained 'quiet' to say the least, some targets of opportunity
being engaged when they presented themselves but other than this, it would appear that a 'live and let live' attitude
had appeared to manifest itself both amongst the French and British artillery units assembled. To break the apathy, Colonel
Commandant Husson ordered the commencement of a programme of firing to provoke the enemy into some form of response.
"B" Battery were ordered to engage two concealed machine gun positions in an attempt to destroy them and with a
liberal amount of ammunition at their disposal they commenced to fire at these targets on the 15th August however their location
is not recorded. The 18-pounder shells it was observed did little damage and upon switching to H.E. with the timed 100 Fuze
set to delay, little damage was achieved, the shells just bouncing off what one would presume were possibly ferro concrete
constructions and detonating to the rear. As "B" Battery continued their attempts to destroy the concealed posts,
"A" Battery were ordered to effect 'surprise' salvos at irregular times throughout the day on quarries located
in the lines of the enemy with what was described as with "much effect." (Authors note: The area was littered
with subterranean networks due to quarrying. Each cave/quarry being utilised as an underground refuge for garrisons, hospitals
A system of visual
signalling was now permanently installed and to test the latter, "C" Battery fired on the quarries in addition to
registering an enemy observation post that was subsequently destroyed on the 23rd. In response, the enemy opened up fire with
his trench mortars on the trenches occupied by the infantry, these in turn continuing to fire their mortars in the general
programme intitiated to harass the Germans in the sector. As this duel of mortar and artillery fire continued, shells of various
calibre were directed on the roads by the enemy artillery for a period of about four hours. His shell fire concentrated in
the locality of Marest-sur-Matz falling close to Headquarters but fortunately there was no damage and no casualties sustained.
For the 64th Brigade, aerial reconnaissance was now providing numerous targets such as clearings in the woods that it appeared
were frequently used by the enemy in addition to machine gun and trench mortar emplacements. Towards the close of the month
the villages of Orval, Cannectancourt and Thiescourt received the attentions of the 'surprise' bombardment with very
little response by the enemy. It would appear that the artillery, at least in this sector, were gaining the upper hand for
the time being.
On the first day of the month
the German artillery were woken from their slumber and began to retaliate. Attiche and Belle Farms to the west of the Bois
des Dreslincourt came under fire primarily from 77 mm Feldkanones (Field Guns), 64th Brigade R.F.A. responding to
this sudden 'hate' by the enemy.
now began yet another reorganistion of the brigade that would witness the latter being formed into two six gun batteries consisting
of 18-pounders and one four gun battery of 4.5 inch howitzers. As a consequence of this restructure, C/64 Battery was divided,
one section joining A/64 Battery, the other, to B/64 Battery respectively. The original nucleus of "B" Battery now
proceeded to take over the positions occupied by the former "C" Battery, the two now detached sections of "A"
& "B" Batteries taking up stations at the former position of the original "B" Battery. This battery
was now redesignated A/89 with reference to its map location and was placed under the command of Captain Geoffrey Neame for
tactical purposes. As for the fate of the howitzers, late D/63, they were to remain with the 12th (Eastern) Divisional Artillery
and were now placed under the command of Captain Arthur Travers Saulez in the Arras area. (Authors note: (1) Lieutenant Peter
Neville Muriel sent to D/64 Battery, Lieutenant S.W. Lewis to 12th D.A.C. (2) 65th Brigade R.F.A. were broken up in
began to up the ante when on the 2nd September his artillery began to shell the areas of the Bois de l'Ecouvillon
and trenches near Attiche with various calibres of artillery pieces. A/89 Battery responded during the following day, the
target being an enemy shelter, once again, possibly of concrete construction, but alas with little effect. There was also
a departure from the brigade when on the early morning of the 7th, Captain Neame departed Compiegne and was ordered to proceed
northwards to join the British Fourth Army under the command of General Sir Henry Rawlinson. A departure of a more mortal
nature occured during the following day when Colonel Francois Auguste Gustave Husson, Commandant regiment d'artillerie
coloniale died rather suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage. His funeral service was conducted at Marest-sur-Matz on the 10th
September, Colonel Barton and the officers of the 64th Brigade, R.F.A. in attendance and also accompanied by a party of 30
men under the command of Lieutenant Benest. A wreath was then laid whereupon the brigade fired a salute for their fallen comrade
On the 12th, both
Colonel Barton and the Orderly Officer lunched with a flying squadron and were then 'taken up' and shown the positions
of the brigade fronts from the air, however the manner of this aerial observation, be it conducted by either balloon or aircraft,
is unfortunately not recorded in the pages of the War Diary.
to the unfortunate death of Colonel Husson, the Divisional Artillery was now placed under the command of the Chef d'Escadron
Goujon, of Groupe Complement Nord.
the 13th, "B" Battery opened up on an enemy shelter firing about 150 rounds and obtaining several direct hits. This
invoked a direct response from the enemy artillery who became rather more active with his 77 mm guns. Primarily targetting
Attiche, the fire increased in intensity with 105 mm calibre artillery pieces being added to the bombardment, "A"
& "B" Batteries then retaliating against targets located in Orval and Cannectancourt however the situation once
again returned to 'normal' during the course of the following day.
the threat of gas ever present, the men now practised firing whilst wearing their gas helmets with all batteries firing two
salvoes. Reports obtained from the respective batteries gunners concluded that the wearing of the gas helmets during operations
proved to be an "inconvenience" but of course, this was a necessary evil no doubt enforced by the sporadic
behaviour of the enemy artillery.
was almost as if two opposing players at a game were probing and attempting to find each others weaknesses whether it be in
the line held by the infantry or the positions of each others artillery. As well as both opposing combatants, civilians were
also observed in the area of operations. On the 20th a party of civilians numbering between 40 and 50 were observed by A/89
Battery working on a long line to the east of Noyon and it was suspected that this supposed party of forced labour were actually
being put to work constructing a trench. Continuing to observe this activity, it was later reported that it was now believed
that the civilians were in fact digging up vegetables, such was the need for accurate observation as one may surmise that
if they were in the act of constructing a trench, would this have been a legitimate target?
There were also changes in the command structure on the horizon when on the
20th September, Colonel Georges Le Diberder arrived to take command of the Divisional Artillery. In addition to this change
of command, the French Army were now informed that the 64th Brigade R.F.A. were about to depart this sector of operations
on or about the 25th. As a consequence of this impending move it was on this date that General Humbert, French Third Army,
paid a farewell visit to the brigade whereupon he inspected both "A" & A/89 Batteries remarking most favourably
on their appearance and discipline.
cooperation also continued when on the 25th, A/89 Battery opened fire on a house located at Chiry Ourscamp. With the assistance
of the observer of the aircraft it was noted that percussion shrapnel was difficult to observe however timed shrapnel, i.e.
fired with a timed fuze set at a low burst proved to be more visible and throughout this 'shoot,' it was reported
that signalling worked quickly and efficiently.
acquisition of suitable targets was primarily confined to the enemy's rear areas towards the close of the month however
"B" Battery began to shell villages to the rear on the 26th in retaliation for Zeppelin raids on London during the
month of September.
As the weather began to
turn more autumnal, dull and wet days were about to witness the commencement of the month of October. With activites confined
to correction shooting and the cleaning of kit, the men busied themselves as best they could. As the Somme battle raged on
to the north, was this the unknown destination that the brigade was now about to be sent to? Once again, the 'Army Rumour
Mill' no doubt sprang into operation but with the 12th (Eastern) Division infantry battalions fighting to the north, the
journey to Picardy would seem the more likely destination.
|Courtesy Of The McMaster University Library
|Extract Of France, Editon 1, Sheet 70E, S.W.
October: Relief And The March To The Somme Battlefield
The weather finally began to improve on the 7th and by the afternoon in good light conditions all the batteries fired
1000 rounds on enemy trenches, his communication trenches and dug-outs in the vicinity of La Carmoy Farm just to the south
of L'Ecouvillon in preparation for a "Coup de main" which was due to take place on the 9th.
On the morning of the following day, the relief of the 64th Brigade, Royal
Field Artillery commenced by one section at a time, their positions being taken over by batteries of French 75 mm guns.With
the relief being completed without incident at 1 p.m., Headquarters and the respective batteries of the brigade now proceeded
into billets located at Thourotte. Prior to the movement of the men, horses and guns, during the afternoon 2000 rounds of
ammunition were loaded on to motor lorries and then transported to Compiegne Station, the men making final preparations for
the orders to move.
At 7.15 a.m. on the morning
of the 9th October, the batteries proceeded by route of march to Montdidier located to the south-west of Roye. The weather
and roads were good as the 64th Brigade journeyed across the French countryside marching via Longueil-Annel, Coudun, Braisnes,
Cuvilly (where the men were fed and the horses watered), Mery (Mery-la-Bataille), Tricot, Ayencourt before billeting at le
Monchel (Ayencourt-le-Monchel), about 1 1/2 miles south of Montdidier at 4 p.m. The brigade had marched a distance of about
25 miles with no incident, quite an achievement for both men and horsses that had remained in rather static positions for
a number of months.
a short rest at Ayencourt, the brigade commenced their march northwards at 7 a.m. on the morning of the following day. Proceeding
via Montdidier, Moreuil, Demuin, Villers-Bretonneux, Corbie, Bonnay on the north-west bank of the Ancre river was reached
at 3.30 p.m., once again, a distance of about 25 miles being covered without incident, watering and feeding points being taken
at Demuin and Moreuil respectively. The weather and roads had once again proved to be conducive for marching however
on arrival at Bonnay the billets were found to be "poor" but fortunately for the men and the horses, their
stay here was to be of a very short duration.
At 7 a.m. on the morning of the 11th, the brigade began to march eastwards along the northern bank of the Ancre river.
Passing through Heilly, Buire-sur-l'Ancre, Meaulte, Fricourt, Mametz and Montauban, a position was taken up in the open
about a 1/4 of a mile west of Delville Wood, Longueval. The ground had been heavily fought over in the months previously,
and as a consequence great difficulty was experienced to bring the guns into action due to the shell pocked ground. There
was no time to construct shelters or dug-outs in this exposed position due to the need to bring the guns into action, this
being done at 1 a.m. early on the morning of the 12th. As dawn broke, the day was overcast and dull as the batteries attempted
to register their fire on Ligny-Thilloy Chuch, the village, by now almost a pile of rubble, being located to the south of
Bapaume. Due to the weather, great difficulty was experienced in the process of registration but it was of paramount importance
to conclude this act as the infantry were about to attack near Le Transloy during the afternoon. The 18-pounder batteries
of the brigade were now assembled in trench map reference S.11.c (Central) whilst for administrative purposes and
for the first time, "D" Battery (4.5 inch howitzers) now came into action at S.10.c.7.5.
|Extract Of Longueval, Edition 3A, Sheet 57C, S.W.3. Dated September 1916
At 2.05 p.m. on the afternoon of the 12th, units of the 4th and
6th Divisions, Fourth Army, attacked to the east of Gueudecourt in a further attempt to advance the line to the north of the
latter and gain a foothold on the spurs that formed the Le Transloy Ridges to the south. In support of the attack, each battery
of the 64th Brigade expended 500 rounds of ammunition. (Authors note: 30th R.F.A., 41st R.F.A. and 2 Brigades of the 12th
Divisional Artillery and 15th Corps Heavy Artillery supported this attack). The assault made by the infantry achieved some
localised gains but on the whole failed with heavy losses mainly in part due to a regrouped enemy due to initial delays in
the launch of the attack and the condition of the ground across which the infantry advanced. (Authors note: For a more in
depth analysis, the reader may wish to refer to the commemoration of John Starmond Crossley).
In this exposed position, the batteries set about improving their positions
as well as conducting fire both by day and night, expenditure of ammunition for the 24 hour period of the 13th October being
recorded as 300 rounds per battery. Positions of the batteries were then altered on the following day whereupon a section
of each battery was subsequently relieved by a section of the 15th Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery of the 29th Division. Upon
relief, the allocated sections of the 64th Brigade now took up positions formerly occupied by the 21st Divisional Artillery,
"A" Battery moving to S.11.a.8.3. and "B" Battery to reference S.11.c.0.6. As firing
continued both day and night, Headquarters were relieved by the incoming 15th Brigade on the 15th October, the remaining sections
of 64th Brigade being relieved under the cover of darkness. In accordance with orders, the last sections of both "A"
& "B" were allocated a forward position; 1 Section "A," at reference S.6.a.8.7., 1 Section
"B," M.36.d.4.8., to the south-west and due west of the village of Flers respectively.
Headquarters were now in placed in reserve at the wagon lines, the latter
being located about 3/4 mile north of Montauban on the northern slope of Caterpillar Valley. (Authors note: A position
established in close proximity to Mametz Wood).
now registered on new zones, south of Ligny-Thilloy, better light conditions assisting in the process. As the roads were in
such a terrible condition due to the rain, it was necessary to transport ammunition from the wagon lines to the guns by pack,
presumably carried by horses. A thankless task over terrain not only sodden by the weather, but cratered and scarred by the
hand of war.
of the brigade now came under the command and control of the following units:-
"A" Battery 62nd Brigade Group
"B" Battery 17th Brigade Group
"D" Battery 3rd Brigade R.H.A. Group
Casualties suffered by the brigade at this juncture had been slight, with just one Corporal of "A" Battery
being wounded and a Signaller of "B" Battery, the latter battery however suffered a most unfortunate accident when
on the 17th, a horse kneeled on some unexploded ordnance resulting in the wounding of two animals.
It was on the 18th/19th October that the 30th Division, in conjunction other
divisions including the 12th Division, resumed their attacks upon the Le Transloy Ridges and environs. With the attacks commencing
early in the morning, 64th Brigade maintained a barrage as the assaults continued intermittently throughout the day but the
results were depressingly the same with localised successes albeit with heavy casualties, the infantry of the 12th Division
being relieved on the 19th October by the 29th Division.
Once again the weather turned for the worse with incessant rain that deterioated the roads and tracks to the front
to such an extent that operations were postponed but despite the weather, the batteries continued to fire normally during
the day. On the 20th, the sky cleared although the temperature plummeted but this window in the weather offered an opportunity
for good observation both on the ground and in the air and firing continued. At 4.45 p.m. an S.O.S. signal was reported
on the front of the 9th (Scottish) Division who were conducting operations south of the Butte de Warlencourt and as a response,
groups on the left of the batteries of the 12th Divisional Artillery opened fire for a short period on the S.O.S. Lines
of the infantry division. About 5 p.m. on the following day the enemy replied with his field guns along the front for
a duration of about 3/4 of an hour. Once again on the part of the front held by the 9th Division, an S.O.S. signal
was observed and batteries responded by placing a barrage on all approaches to that front, this ceasing on information received
that no attack had developed.
shelling was experienced on the 22nd near the positions held by "A" and "B" Batteries west of Flers resulting
in the wounding of one Sergeant of "A" Battery but fortunately no damage was sustained to any of the guns. Confusion
also arose as regards the method of the S.O.S. signal fired for artillery support. Consisting of a series of coloured
rockets, at 8 p.m. this signal was observed but it later transpired that either by accident or as a ruse, the enemy had fired
the exact sequence!
the 4th and 8th Divisions resumed attacks to the east of Lesboeufs on the 23rd attempting to advance further towards Le Transloy.
Operation Orders were issued for another attack on the 25th October by the Reserve and Fourth Armies, Colonel Barton being
detailed as Liason Officer to the 14th Infantry Brigade, 5th Australian Division, O.C. Brigadier-General Clarence John Hobkirk
D.S.O. Upon visiting their Headquarters, it was already made clear that the attack was postponed for a period of 24 hours,
the Brigadier-General later informing Colonel Barton that the postponement had been extended to a period of 48 hours primarily
due to the weather but also to some extent due to the exhausted state of his men. (Authors note: The attack was to be conducted
on Bayonet Trench and The Maze, 14th Brigade, left flank attack, 8th Brigade, right flank respectively,
Operation Order Number 42, Dated 25th October 1916, Source: Australian War Memorial, RCDIG1007882, War Diary, 14th
attack initially ordered to take place on the 28th October, fire laid down by D/64 Battery continued as normal with telephonic
communication being established and completed from the C.R.A. (Commander Royal Artillery) through the 1st New Zealand Brigade,
New Zealand Division as far as the left brigade by 64th Brigade R.F.A. staff. This line was further extended on the 26th from
the left brigade to the right battalion, the 54th Australian Battalion, 14th Infantry Brigade, the battalion under the command
of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles John Holdorf V.D.
As the weather deterioated further making roads and tracks impassable, supplies including ammunition for the guns
became even more difficult to transport to the front. Battery observation posts located on the ridge near Switch Trench
in the vicinity of High Wood were heavily shelled on the 26th by German 10.5 cm howitzer fire, this fire it was surmised
being brought to bear on the position by troops marching in the open over the crest of the ridge. Fortunately with no casualties
being sustained, the batteries responded to this and other hostile barrages in the days that followed however the supply of
ammunition and rations remained a constant problem as the weather became even more worse. An exercise in visual signalling
was conducted on the 28th by Headquarters staff between the Left Infantry Brigade Headquarters and B/64 Observation Post located
near High Wood using 'Flapper & Lamps.' It was ascertained that the most efficient method of visual signalling
could be obtained using the French projector lamp apparatus, messages being clearly visible to the naked eye when not in direct
sunlight as opposed to the 'Flapper' system that could only be read with the aid of binoculars.
Offensive operations remained postponed until further notice but on the final
day of the month of October the weather improved with the temperature being recorded as mild with bright sunshine. Despite
this improvement in the weather the roads and tracks still remained in a deplorable condition. If a window of opportunity
existed in the weather, there could be a chance to mount offensive operations. With the French making gains near Sailly-Saillisel,
it was now the turn of the Australians to launch their delayed attack.
On the night of the 3rd/4th November, the 14th Infantry Brigade were relieved by the 7th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Australian
Division, G.O.C., Brigadier-General John Gibson Paton. The 6th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Division, G.O.C. Brigadier-General John
Gellibrand, also moved into the line to complete a relief of the 8th Infantry Brigade, this being completed by 9.15 p.m. on
the 4th without incident. The Australians were now assembled in the line as follows:-
7th Brigade, A.I.F. Left Flank (151st Infantry
Brigade, 50th (Nothumbrian) Division on their left)
6th Brigade, A.I.F. Right Flank (1st Australian Infantry Brigade on their right)
N.B. 6th Brigade would not be committed to the attack but would assist the
assault of 7th Brigade with artillery and machine gun fire.
The objectives of the attack were the capture and consolidation of Bayonet Trench, The Maze, Gird Trenches and
its associated support systems. With "Zero" hour being set for 9.10 a.m. on the morning of the 5th November, Colonel
Barton visited the G.O.C. 7th Brigade on the 4th to arrange liason early the next morning.
It was as if the attack was ill-fated before it had even commenced. Due to
the late arrival of some battalions, new orders had to be issued resulting in the reorganisation of the units that were to
form the attack in the Centre Sector, this attack being placed under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel James Walker,
25th Battalion, A.I.F. (Authors note: Reorganisation and the late arrival of 28th Battalion dictated that one company each
of the 25th, 26th, and 27th Battalions respectively would carry out the attack). To compound matters further, Brigadier-General
Paton was sniped and wounded in the back whilst supervising the change in arrangements early on the morning of the 5th, command
now devolving on Lieutenant-Colonel Walker, the senior officer, who decided to remain in command of the centre and direct
the attack from his Battalion Headquarters.
|Extract Of The Official History
|The Somme 1916. Fourth Army Operations, 23rd October - 5th November 1916
With the men in position at about 9 a.m., the barrage that had
been falling on the German trench system for some days previously grew in intensity, the cacophony augmented by the firing
of trench mortars from front line positions. As the barrage fell on the objective and a line 150 yards in front of it, the
infantry rose to the assault promptly at 9.10 a.m. Struggling across the morass and already exhausted after their march to
the front, they now came under intense machine gun and rifle fire and men began to fall almost immediately. At "Zero"
plus 3, the barrage proceeded to creep back at a rate of 50 yards per minute until it reached a line 250 yards behind the
objective whereupon it halted. Ordered to keep as close to the barrage as possible, there is no doubt that some casualties
were incurred by what we would now term as 'friendly fire' but still they pressed on and messages were received about
an hour into the attack that Gird Trench had been captured and a foothold gained in The Maze by
the 26th Battalion. About half an hour later, 27th Battalion reported that they had captured Bayonet Trench and
they too were fighting in The Maze trenches but had suffered heavy casualties in the process, ultimately,
they would be driven from the position by an enemy bombing attack little over an hour later forcing them to retire to their
original jumping off position. Of the 25th Battalion A.I.F., their attack was simply just 'stopped' as they crossed
No Man's Land, the survivors taking cover as best they could in shell holes.
The attack had failed for a number of reasons. The exhausted state of the
men even before they even attacked was one factor plus the state of the terrain which the attacking force had to negotiate
that ultimately slowed their forward movement and led to them not being able to keep up with the barrage. On the whole, the
artillery barrage performed well but in hindsight due to the conditions that prevailed, it should have lifted at a slower
rate. The German front line was also found to be relatively intact despite the previous days bombardments and on the flanks
the barrage was reported by 7th Infantry Brigade Headquarters to be "thin." In the artillery's defence,
the guns were worn and the shells they fired failed to detonate in the mud, furthermore, the guns crews were also exhausted.
Both arms were 'learning' or adapting
to both tactics and new technologies, as 1916 and the war progressed, it was if one would have to fall down to learn to pick
On the 13th November,
the Battle of the Ancre commenced by Gough's Fifth Army. 64th Brigade, R.F.A., commenced a short barrage at 5.45 a.m.
in cooperation with the attack on their left flank, this barrage ceasing 40 minutes later. Barrages were conducted on their
immediate front in the days that followed primarily directed against the German trench system west and north-west of Eaucourt
l'Abbaye but it was on the 21st November that preliminary orders were received by the 64th Brigade and their respective
D.A. to prepare for relief by the 1st Divisional Artillery. As a precursor to this relief, the brigade commenced or attempted
to commence the extrication of their guns on the night of the 21st/22nd. The work continued to perform this task during the
day but this proved to be a most difficult exercise due to the mud and exacerbated by the numerous shell holes that marked
the terrain. With all ammunition distributed to nearby batteries, the guns were finally dislodged from their positions on
the afternoon of the 23rd, all personnel being sent back to the Wagon Lines located at Caterpillar Valley where they no doubt
spent a more comfortable night in comparative safety.
It was on the 24th that the men of the 64th Brigade, R.F.A. departed their Wagon Lines at Caterpillar Valley with
orders to proceed to Morlancourt. Commencing by route of march at 8 a.m. the brigade journeyed via Montauban, Carnoy, south
of Fricourt, Meaulte and then to Morlancourt, a distance of about 9 miles. The journey proved to be most trying at first due
to the condition of the roads but as men and horses proceeded further west, the going improved, the brigade arriving at Morlancourt
at 1 p.m. whereupon the men billeted in tents.
On the following day, the men commenced to march again departing Morlancourt at 7.15 a.m., destination, for Villers-Bocage
located to the north of Amiens. The journey across the rear areas away from the Somme battlefield would no doubt prove to
each man, as he passed by intact villages and peasants still working their land, a world away from the mechanical slaughter
that they had witnessed on the front line. Marching a distance of about 17 miles via Ville-Sous-Corbie, Buire, Querrieu and
Rainneville, Villers-Bocage was eventually reached, the War Diary recording that the billets were "Good." (Authors
note: Vaire-sous Corbie, Buire-sur-l'Ancre and via the main Amiens-Albert Road westwards).
The march continued on the following day at 9.30 a.m. Orders now dictated
that the brigade were to proceed to onwards to Remaisnil located to the north-west of Doullens, a distance once again of about
17 miles. Marching northwards from Villers-Bocage, the column passed through Beauval and through Doullens, before heading
westwards through Hem (Hem-Hardinval), Mezerolles before billeting for the night at Remaisnil. The 64th Brigade however had
to leave durng the course of their journey "A" Battery, who, due to a shortage of billets at Remaisnil, spent the
night at Frohen-le-Grand to the west.
The men now rested and no doubt set about cleaning their equipment and looking after their charges. So as not to
repeat a shortage of accommodation at their next destination, billeting parties were sent forth to Beaudricourt, south-west
of Avesnes-le-Comte, to prepare billets in advance of a march to this location due to commence on the 28th. Promptly at 9
a.m. on the morning of the 28th, the brigade once again proceeded to march journeying via Neuvillette, Bouquemaison, Ivergny
before arriving at Beaudricourt, a distance of 12 miles being covered. The accommodation was described as "good."
"D" Battery however took up billets close by in the small village of Oppy as preparations were now made for
a good rest, the cleaning of equipment and a refit.
On the first day of the month of December, orders were received by the 64th Brigade to prepare for a relief of the
14th Divisional Artillery. As a consequence, Major Halliday, Officer Commanding A/64 Battery accompanied by one officer, were
despatched by motor bus to reconnoitre a new position to be occupied by the battery. Departing the brigade on the 3rd, Major
Halliday and the men of A/64 proceeded by route of march via Sus-Saint-Leger, Warluzel, Sombrin, Barly, Gouy-en-Artois and
Monchiet. At the latter place, the Wagon Lines were established whilst the guns and their respective crews proceeded on to
their new positions located on the railway line half way between Wailly and Dainville.
|Extract Of Arras N.E. Ordnance Survey Dated February 1917 (Position Approximate)
As "A" Battery took up their new positions, the remaining
personnel of 64th Brigade contined a programme of training at Beaudricourt. Recreational activities were also enjoyed by the
men, "B" Battery playing "D" at football on the afternoon of the 4th December, "D" Battery eventually
winning the game. On the following day, Headquarters, no doubt out for revenge due to earlier defeats by "D" Battery
played a game. Once again, the battery beat the opposition and it is not surprising that the actual result is not recorded
in the pages of the War Diary!
training and recreational activities completed, preparations now commenced for a relief by the brigade of the 14th Divisional
Artillery. It was during the afternoon of the 6th that one section each from both "B" & "D" Batteries
as advance parties set forth from Beaudricourt. Journeying via Sombrin, Barly, Fosseux and Gouy-en-Artois, Monchiet to the
west of Beaumetz-les-Loges was reached whereupon a relief of the 14th D.A. was commenced. On the following day, the remainder
of the batteries and Headquarters also proceeded to Monchiet journeying via the same route and with the Wagon Lines for all
units of the brigade established at the latter place, Headquarters at lines at Beaumetz, the men and guns went into action.
B/64 Battery were now in
a position about 300 yards north of A/64 and D/64 Batteries who were now located in a quarry just to the south of Achicourt,
south of Arras. A 'new' battery also joined the brigade, formed as a direct result of the reorganisation of artillery.
Designated C/64 Battery, this unit consisted of four howitzers and was placed under the command of Captain Murphy, the battery
only being in France for about two months previously. (Authors note: Captain John Murphy)?
The Headquarters of 64th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, now took over control
of G Group, the centre and largest artillery group in the area. On each flank of this group were assembled both H
and F Groups, these being placed under the commands of the Officers Commanding 63rd and 62nd Brigades, Colonel
Lyonel John Hext and Colonel Henry Ernest Singleton Wynne, 12th D.A. respectively. Headquarters of G Group were now
established on the main Arras - Doullens Road to the east of Dainville, the Group comprising of the respective four
batteries of 64th Brigade, C/62 Battery and B/47 Battery of the 14th D.A., the latter, adopting a role as a reinforcing battery
with both taking up positions in Achicourt. In addition to the artillery, heavy and medium trench mortars in the sector were
also placed under the command of the Group for tactical purposes. D/64 Battery although assigned to the Group,
also performed a dual function conducting counter-battery work in conjunction with the 35th Heavy Artillery Group (H.A.G.).
The infantry of the 12th
(Eastern) Division were now holding the line in this sector, a sector to which they had returned to after their exertions
during the Somme offensive, an offensive that had cost the division nearly 11,000 casualties. Forming part of Sixth Corps
under the command of General Sir Aylmer Haldane, the Corps being contained in the Third Army under the command of General
Sir Edmund Allenby. The routine of the infantry occupying this sector, as Per The Bloody Infantry, the P.B.I.,
was characterised by raids and patrols across No Man's Land in attempts to harass the enemy and to glean vital intelligence.
To this end, G Group covered 36th Infantry Brigade, 12th (Eastern) Division, A/64 & C/62 Batteries supporting
the right flank battalion whilst B/64 & B/47 were in support of the left flank battalion respectively. As C/64 Battery
came under a programme of instruction and with Wagon Lines established at Beaumetz, D/64 were then detailed to cover
the whole of the front temporarily.
The batteries began to register but it was soon apparent that the enemy in this sector of the front were "extraordinary
quiet." Observation from any of the established O.P.'s (Observation Posts) proving to be very limited beyond
the enemy's front line however it was noted that his defence system was heavily protected by thick belts of barbed wire.
As the batteries continued to register on the 10th, D/64 Battery sprang into action at the request of the 35th H.A.G. engaging
an enemy battery with a few shells in an attempt at counter-battery work. Two enemy aircraft were reported as brought down
on the following day but as the weather deteriorated with snow, observation proved to be nigh on impossible and operations
were limited in the following days with the engagement of the previously noted hostile battery and the bombardment of known
On the 17th
December, C/47 Battery relieved B/47 Battery whilst C/64, despite the weather being misty, fired for instructional purposes.
Concentration of fire was also tested by both A/64 & C/64 on the front covered by F Group and in the days that
followed, D/64 conitinued to engage enemy batteries in counter-battery work. The infantry of the 12th Division were relieved
by the infantry of the 14th Division on the 17th, 42nd Infantry Brigade of the latter now taking up positions in G Sector,
the 9th Battalion, King's Royal Rifle Corps taking up positions on the right flank whilst the 5th Battalion, Oxfordshire
& Buckinghamshire Light Infantry took up positions on the left flank respectively.
A variety of targets were engaged in the following days, D/64 Battery firing
a new incendiary shell at the Dump, anotated on trench maps as being in or near the ruined village of Beaurains,
with the assistance of aerial observation but there was no report of the effects. The Redoubt (Authors note: Location
not recorded) was also registered by D/64 with further assistance provided by observation from the air. Parties of
the enemy were also observed manoeuvring at some distance behind the lines and as a consequence the H.A.G. were informed but
shots on this distant target subsequently fell short. There was also to be no respite for the gunners over the Christmas period.
On Christmas Eve the Redoubt was once again subjected to a bombardment by D/64 Battery, Trench Mortars and 178 Battery
(6 inch Howitzers) however the results were not recorded. On Christmas Day, rounds were fired at "odd intervals"
on designated weak points in the enemy trench system no doubt in an attempt to keep the enemy unsettled. A lens
was spotted, possibly due to being reflected by the sun, on Boxing Day, this being duly engaged by C/62 Battery, rounds being
observed to burst near the location. Despite the attentions of one enemy aircraft who dropped a bomb on Dainville, C/62 once
again became engaged firing on an enemy searchlight, possibly the source of the reflection observed earlier, this, erupted
in a yellow flame and the light was observed no more.
It was as if the enemy artillery had now been provoked into action as on the 27th December, hostile artillery fire
now began to increase, searchlights also being most active during the hours of darkness. On the following day, D/64 fired
200 rounds during a bombardment of F Sector as hostile artillery fire increased throughout the day, searchlights
once again became most active during the night however their operations ceased upon being subjected to fire. As regards the
infantry, a rotation in the line commenced when on the 28th, the 5th Ox. & Bucks. were relieved in the line by the 9th
Battalion, Rifle Brigade, 42nd Infantry Brigade, 14th Division.
Cross-bearings were exchanged between batteries, this act being continued for a number of days, but for raids across
No Man's Land and incursions into the enemy trench system to gather intelligence, wire cutting of the enemy's barbed
wire defence was also of paramount importance. To this end, A/47 Battery was allocated 170 rounds for the purpose of wire
cutting but it was the efforts of C/62, augmented by trench mortars on the 28th, that a breach in the wire measuring 30 yards
was observed. Further observations to the rear also noted that trains were arriving between Croisilles and Saint-Leger deep
in enemy territory, this intelligence being duly noted. Suspected enemy Observation Posts (O.P.'s) were also engaged,
146th Seige Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery attached to the Group, receiving direct orders from the Officer Commanding
to engage a house south of Beaurains suspected as being used for this purpose. Over 30 rounds were expended and four direct
hits were observed as D/64 Battery under the orders of the 35th H.A.G. expended 12 rounds in the performance of counter-battery
work. Wire cutting also continued throughout the 30th December, C/62 Battery achieving most notable results. The enemy were
also observed working on what were assumed to be gun pits to the south-west of Neuville Vitasse, this party being engaged
by 60 pounders under the orders of the 35th H.A.G. Smaller working parties were also observed during the course of the day
and it was noted that there had been a marked decrease in searchlight activity during the hours of darkness. The enemy artillery
though still remained active but as the last day of 1916 dawned, the weather had taken a turn for the worse with an overcast
and squally rain showers that inhibited 'shooting.'
The year of 1917 would witness three major offensives, the first, commencing in the Arras Sector in April. The 64th
Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, were once again about to be reorganised and for George Telford and his comrades, they would
be in the thick of the action.
|German Trench System (Red)
|Extract Of Map Neuville Vitasse, Edition 3A, 51B, S.W.1. Dated 3rd October 1916
Conversion To An Army Field Artillery Brigade
As the year of 1917 was about to dawn, the guns that comprised G Group
fired New Year 'greetings' at 11 p.m. and 12 a.m. Despite the celebrations, D/64 Battery continued its programme
of counter-battery work under orders of the 35th H.A.G. firing 24 rounds BX (Authors note: High Explosive 4.5 inch
shells) and it was duly noted that hostile artillery fire slackened off slightly.
In the days that followed, a normal routine of 'shoots' were carried out as enemy fire increased slightly.
His activities were not however confined to occasional strafes by his artillery as about fifty men were observed digging at
Cojeul Switch Trench to the east of Neuville Vitasse. For others, their behaviour appeared to be rather careless
as three men were observed on the parados of a trench south of Mercatel. Searchlight activity was now recorded as minimal
however hostile artillery fire now began to increase when on the 4th January between the hours of 10 - 11 p.m. gas shells
were fired into Arras itself, parties of the enemy also being observed once again to the south of Mercatel and to the south-east
Enemy aircraft were also
observed on the 5th as they flew on as far as Dainville but for the most part the enemy remained relatively inactive apart
from three enemy searchlights which, when engaged, ceased their activities for remainder of the night. C/62 Battery under
the command of Major Dundas however were engaged by a hostile battery that fired about twenty rounds into their position at
Achicourt but fortunately no casualties were sustained.
It was on the 6th January that G Group assisted in a heavy bombardment, actually a feint, as the infantry
of both the 14th Division and the 9th (Scottish) Division performed raids on the enemy's trench system. The raids as a
whole were successful and penetrated as far as the third line in the German system. Trenches were reported to be severely
damaged by the effects of the artillery, the 14th Division raid accounting for no prisoners but the raid conducted by the
men of the 9th Division secured one of the enemy.
It was at this point that the 64th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, in essence, ended their association with the 12th
Divisional Artillery. Now designated as an Army Field Artillery Brigade, the unit would now come under higher echelon orders
either at Corps or Army level. The brigade were now reorganised into three six gun batteries of 18-pounders and one six gun
battery of 4.5 inch howitzers, the whole unit supported by a Brigade Ammunition Column. Batteries were also redesignated,
B/158 Battery now became C/64 Battery and were to be allocated to the 64th Brigade Army Field Artillery Brigade once the latter
came out of action. D/64 Battery were also now to comprise of a six gun battery by being allocated one section of D/158. Of
the fate of the 'old' C/64 Battery, this would be divided up with one section being sent to the 62nd Brigade
and another to the 63rd respectively. Number 2 Section, 12th Divisional Ammunition now also became subject to reorganisation
in that with some restructure implemented, they now formed the 64th B.A.C.
A relief of the brigade by sections commenced on the 8th January by the 14th
Divisional Artillery. With this relief completed being completed during the following day, the 64th Army Field Artillery Brigade
proceeded by route of march under battery arrangements to Lattre-Saint-Quentin west of Arras, Brigade Headquarters being established
Noyellette just to the north.
weather had now become exceptionally cold and conditions as a whole were deplorable with mud ever present. Marching proved
to be an impossible task and the cleaning up of equipment etc. was hindered by the conditions. On the 10th, C/64 section of
D/64 Battery joined the unit from the 158th Brigade as the attempted clean up continued. Despite the weather, football was
practised by all constituent units of the brigade in respect of a forth coming brigade football competition but in addition
to this welcome distraction, 60 men under the command of Lieutenant Baker, D/64, were sent to the Arras sector to prepare
positions under Sixth Corps Army Orders, Third Army. On the 14th January, the brigade were placed under Seventeenth Corps
Orders from midnight but what with the brigade football tournament looming, the men had other more sporting concerns on their
It was on the 15th
that "B" Battery played the Brigade Ammunition Column, the B.A.C. winning the match five goals to two, the returning
working party from Arras unfortunately missing this sporting spectacular. On the following day, the dismal 'run' of
Brigade Headquarters at football continued with the latter being convincingly beaten by "C" Battery three goals
to nil. Heavy snowfall that froze curtailed any further matches, the War Diary of the 62nd Brigade, R.F.A., 12th D.A. recording
that whilst in the vicinity of Arras, the temperature dropped as low as -11.6 degrees celsius.
New positions were inspected by Colonel Barton on the 17th instant north
of Arras and to the south-west of Ecurie near the Arras-Bethune Road. The positions were far from ideal with only four howitzer
pits constructed, positions for the other guns and Brigade Headquarters having as yet to be built. Battery commanders were
therefore taken up the line to view the proposed new positions whilst billeting parties were sent north to Acq, to the west
of Ecoivres to arrange accomodation. On the 22nd January, the brigade proceeded by route of march via Habarcq and Haute-Avesnes
to Acq whereupon they established their Wagon Lines and took over billets previously occupied by the Canadians. Brigade Headquarters
were established some four miles distant at Maroeuil but what with the weather delaying the construction of the new positions
due to snow and a hard frost, George Telford and his fellow comrades settled as best they could into their new surroundings.
Preparations for the construction
of the gun pits did continue however with material being sourced and dumped ready for the moment that there was an improvement
in the weather. On the 28th, General Christopher Reginald Buckle C.M.G., D.S.O., G.O.C. of Seventeenth Corps R.A. visited
Brigade Headquarters at Maroeuil. Verbal orders were issued to the brigade for them to go into action on the night of the
1st/2nd February in temporary positions presently occupied by Canadian batteries, a location quite close to where the proposed
brigade positions were to be constructed. As Battery Commanders inspected these new positions on the 29th and with preparations
in hand to move, construction finally started on the Brigade Headquarters dug-outs near Ecurie on the last day of the month.
As orders came and went to proceed into action, these were ultimately rescinded
time and time again due to the weather. Construction of the new gun positions was, as a consequence, impossible due to the
state of the ground hardened by frost but on the 6th February, orders were received for the brigade to move into action on
the night of the 7th/8th. On the 7th, "B" & "D" Batteries plus two sections of "A" Battery
moved forward into their respective positions and reported that they were in situ at 8 p.m. Commencing registration on 'new
zones' during the following day, the guns now covered a sector of the front north of Arras near the village of Roclincourt,
this sector of the front at this period being held by the 26th Infantry Brigade, 9th (Scottish) Division.
Registration was carried out in the days that followed with a 3rd Section
of "A" Battery also coming into action on the 9th. "D" Battery commenced an engagement of of suspected
enemy trench mortar positions on the following day in addition to the men of this battery continuing their work on the improvement
of their dug-outs and gun pits.
On the 11th,
an inter-divisional relief took place, this relief being completed by 9.30 p.m. The 64th Army Field Artillery Brigade forthwith,
now covered the 152nd Infantry Brigade, 51st (Highland) Division on a two battalion frontage. Checking registration on S.O.S.
Lines, "A" Battery also engaged a suspected Observation Post at the request of the infantry however the results
of this 'shoot' are not recorded. A more important task lie ahead as the 9th Division made preparations for a raid
and as a consequence, all batteries began to register on 'special points' during the course of the 13th.
|Extract Of Map, France, Edition 6A, Sheet 51B N.W. Dated 25th April 1917
On the 14th February, Major Maxwell Hanton Forsyth M.C., 9th Scottish
Rifles, led a large raiding party consisting of 20 officers and 320 Other Ranks out across No Man's Land. A daylight raid
commencing at 11 a.m., the party were divided into two groups, each assigned specific tasks once the enemy trench system was
entered. After a barrage of just one minute by artillery and trench mortars, the men passed through two gaps previously blown
in the enemy's barbed wire defences and upon entering the trench system set about blowing in dug-outs and machine gun
emplacements and destroying a mine shaft. Protected by a 'box barrage' effectively sealing off the area, for about
forty minutes the party wreaked havoc and successfully returned with 43 prisoners, 2 machine guns and 1 trench mortar along
with a quantity of rifles and trench materiel, the prisoners it transpired, were soldiers belonging to the 104th
Infantry Regiment, Saxons of the 40th Division. Of the raiders, 2 men were killed, two officers and 13 O/R's
wounded, and one O/R 'missing.' 64th Brigade reported that they had expended about 1472 rounds during this 'enterprise,'
and that visibility was good as they continued to engage enemy trench mortar positions.
The weather now deterioated in the following days with poor visibility but
despite this, the brigade commenced a programme of wire cutting and a series of 'shoots' at the request of the infantry
as work continued constructing their new positions. With an inter-divisional relief on the 22nd, the 1/4th Battalion, Seaforth
Highlanders relieving their sister battalion the 1/5th in the Left Sector, both "A" & "B"
Batteries continued their wire cutting programme however there were apparent problems. Neither battery cut an entire 'lane'
and it was found that fuzes behaved irregularly resulting in several rounds falling short. It was surmised that this 'irregularity'
was possibly due to damp NCT (Nitrocellulose Tubular) charges, a smokeless propellant, not surprising, due to the
vagaries of the weather conditions experienced during the course of the month.
In the Right Sector, the 1/6th Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders relieved the 1/6th Battalion, Gordon Highlanders
on the 23rd, as the artillery continued to engage trench mortars and troop movements. A concrete machine-gun emplacement was
engaged by "D" Battery on the 24th with two direct hits being observed. Such was the force of these direct hits
that the structure was tilted over rendering this position untenable.
Towards the close of the month, Colonel Barton proceeded on leave, command now devolving on Major Arthur Travers
Saulez. Hostile aerial activity now increased over the sector most notably and in addition to more general activity by enemy
artillery, his troops were observed moving in considerable numbers to the rear, these parties being engaged by all batteries
of the brigade. Once again an inter-divisional relief commenced when on the 27th, the 1/5th Seaforths (Author: Typo error
and should read 1/4th) were relieved by the 1/9th Battalion, Royal Scots in the Left Sector.
With the aerial war becoming more intense over the Arras sector, it was inevitable
that there were bound to be casualties. On the 27th February various War Diaries record that a British aircraft was brought
down, the diary of the 64th Brigade recording "one of our aeroplanes was brought down in flames near Roclincourt."
(Authors note: Possibly one of two B.E.2 aircraft brought down on this day by the German ace Werner Voss).
As the month drew to a close, once again the weather deterioated with visibility
poor due to mist. For George Telford and the men of the 64th Army Field Artillery Brigade, construction continued on their
positions. An offensive was looming and it was imperative that all guns were to be in suitable positions to support the infantry.
For The Arras Offensive: Raiding Parties
On the opening day of March 1917, visibilty had improved with what was described as "beautiful weather."
The enemy had also become more active with small parties being regularly observed and dispersed by artillery fire. In
reply, hostile artillery fire became more frequent in addition to regular forays over the front by enemy aircraft and the
putting up of observation balloons.
and observation were key priorities for both combatants and to this end, yet another raid was about to be launched on the
German trenches. As the 1/8th Battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders relieved the 1/6th Seaforth Highlanders in the
Right Sector on the 3rd, preparations for another raid on the enemy trenches were already well in hand.
A raiding party numbering 13 officers and 300 Other Ranks of the 6th Gordon
Highlanders were to assault and infiltrate the enemy's front and support line on a frontage of nearly 500 yards. With
the date of the raid set for the 5th March, the objectives were twofold; the destruction of dug-outs and the elimination of
the enemy garrison in this section of the German trench system. A sufficient period of time was alloted for the parties to
complete their objectives but prior to the launch of the raid, artillery and trench mortars had conducted a programme of wire
cutting however the wire protecting the British positions, in fact an old French trench, would be cut by hand no doubt to
would be launched in two waves, the force being divided into eleven groups with each of these groups being placed under the
command of a subaltern officer. Each group was then further sub-divided into squads, each of these being placed under the
command of an N.C.O. and with each squad being assigned a specific task and objective once a footing in the trench system
had been gained.. It was a complex plan and with "Zero" hour being set for 6.10 a.m. the raiding party, under the
command of Captain Ian Grant Fleming M.C. waited for the pre-arranged artillery barrage.
|Extract Of Map Point Du Jour (Various Sheets)
As the barrage, consisting of 18 pounders, Stokes and 60lb trench
mortars augmented by heavy calibre artilllery crashed down, the first wave of the raiding party crossed No Mans Land to the
east and north-east of the cemetery and into the German trench. (Authors note: Allgauer Weg trench roughly dictated
the centre of the raid).
The enemy, for the
most part, were completely surprised in their dug-outs as the second wave of the raid followed on about fifty yards behind
the first. Bitter hand-to-hand fighting now ensued as the various groups now set about their allotted tasks. Mills bombs alone
would have no effect on destroying dug-outs so an ingenious method of approach was adopted using firstly a charge ammonal
explosive to blow in the entrance whereupon a one gallon tin of petrol would then be thrown down the dug-out. A phosphorus
bomb would then be thrown in thus igniting the petrol and the unfortunate occupants, an horrific act but deemed to be necessary
to deal with an enemy who was reluctant to surrender. Of those who chose to fight, fight they well did putting up a stoic
resistance that was to be held in high esteem and respect. Sixty six of the defenders were counted as killed and 21 prisoners
were taken including one officer, their identities revealing that they were men of the 2nd Bavarian Reserve Infantry Regiment,
1st Bavarian Reserve Division, the regiment having only been in the line for a number of hours.
Casualties to the raiders numbered 10 Other Ranks killed, 6 missing and 32
wounded. In officers, one was reported as missing and five wounded (Source: War Diary T.N.A. WO95/2868/1). An analysis of
the Commonwealth War Graves records now reveals that 15 Other Ranks were killed or died of wounds during the raid, of the
officer posted as 'missing,' Second-Lieutenant James Gaspar Gordon, attached from the 5th Battalion, was later reported
Of the actions
of the 64th Army Field Artillery Brigade, the infantry reported that their H.E. (High Explosive) and wire cutting barrages
on all lines was excellent, the retaliatory barrage by the enemy mostly consisting of 77 mm guns being described as "poor."
Later in the evening the enemy artillery placed down a heavier barrage on the battalion holding the left, this battalion
requesting artillery support whereupon the brigade responded by the firing of 500 rounds. The 256th Brigade, R.F.A., Officer
Commanding Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel Louis Morgan Dyson, (51st Divisional Artillery), now took over the front from the
64th Brigade however the latters batteries still remained in position.
On the following day the brigade moved into their 'new' positions but the weather had once again taken a
turn for the worse making forward movement of the guns nigh on impossible due to the softness of the ground. Despite the vagaries
of the weather, the men started to dump ammunition as work on the positions still continued but orders were received on the
9th from Corps stating that the men cease the carrying of ammunition to the positions.
To assist in the camouflage of the new positions, aerial photographs were taken by the R.F.C. on the afternoon of
the 10th March but an analysis of these photographs proved to be most disconcerting. Gun pits and dug-outs were quite visible
from the air despite the attempts by the men of the brigade to disguise them with 'fish netting' and various forms
of camouflage to hand.
freezing conditions and some snow in the days previously, the morning of the 11th dawned with glorious weather but with some
rainfall recorded in the afternoon. As work continued on the new positions, the dumping of ammunition commenced once again
in the evening, 6000 rounds being dumped at the positions. Finally on the following day, the guns prepared for action, "A,"
"B" & "C" Batteries calibrating and registering from their positions as a further 1,500 rounds were
deposited at each of the batteries. As "C" Battery registered on the front line on the 13th, yet more ammunition
was brought forward and this would prove to be the pattern for the next few days with work continuing on gun pits and dug-outs
in addition to all batteries checking their lines and correction of fire.
It was on the 17th March that yet another raid on the enemy's trench
system was carried out in the same location as that conducted on the 5th. This time the raid had different objectives and
would comprise of an even larger force with a longer duration of time alloted to acomplish their tasks. The raid had but one
objective, to demoralise and undermine the enemy's morale but due to intelligence gathered on the previous raid, there
was an opportunity also to strike at his command and control capabilities. The raiders of the 5th March had made extensive
maps of this sector and it was believed that one particular dug-out was utilised as an officers mess with attached clerical
personnel. The raid, to be conducted by the 1/8th Battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, was definately 'on.'
The raiding party was to
comprise of 12 officers and 382 N.C.O.'s drawn from both "B" & "D" Companies, the party under
the command of Captain Murdoch Archibald McTaggart. With "Zero" hour being fixed for 6.15 a.m., just prior to the
launch of the attack two aircraft flew over the sector in addition to a number of rounds being fired early by the artillery,
both incidents no doubt alerting the enemy.
pre-arranged barrage when it did commence at "Zero" fell short but was rectified, the raiders, assisted by the firing
of Stokes mortars up at the enemy's barbed wire defences before the barrage lifted. At this point, the raiders encountered
intact wire as the various parties attempted to enter the trench and it soon became apparent that the enemy had replaced his
barbed wire defences on both the right and the left flanks. On these flanks, the various parties were held up but in the centre,
the raiders managed to enter the trench just as the enemy was emerging from his dug-outs. Two prisoners were taken and a dead
German observed but was imperative that the dug-outs were dealt with swiftly as it soon became apparent that the raiders were
in for a bitter hand-to-hand fight. Dug-out entrances were blown, cans of petrol thrown down the steps, followed by phosphorous
The situation on the left flank now
became critical with some groups of men being driven back by bomb and rifle fire. Of those men that remained relatively unmplested,
they engaged the enemy with close range rifle fire, an effective tactic that was duly noted, and many of the Germans were
killed at close range. As all three officers on this flank had become casualties, Captain MacTaggart sent forward Company
Sergeant Major Donald McKinnon, 209, to re-organise the men on the left and due to his leadership, he managed to get parties
of the men into the trench via gaps in the wire opposite Allgauer Weg and a gap to the left of it. Working down to
the left, McKinnon and the men captured the whole of the First Line Objective and as the men progressed, large numbers of
enemy dead were found, estimates averaging over one hundred. Dug-outs were subsequently dealt with and the raiders were aware
that these still contained a garrison of men so the actual estimates of enemy casualties made by the men during debriefing
were no doubt higher. For his actions C.S.M. McKinnon was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, London Gazette dated 26th
On the right
flank of the raid, the men were intially held up by the wire but upon finding a small gap that was partially closed by concertina
wire, the men effected entry. Due to the barrage, the enemy had no time on this flank to exit their dug-outs and these were
subsequently destroyed by charges of ammonal. For those 'lucky' to be confronted in the open, six were taken prisoner,
for those who chose to remain underground, their fate was already determined.
In the German Second Line, twenty-one of their dead were found in Kommandeur
Graben and in the line to the left of this position. Large numbers of the enemy were observed retiring from the right
sector of the line in an attempt to take succour in the Third Line but these were engaged with rifle fire and some casualties
were reported. Of the remainder trying to flee, these were caught and suffered greatly due to the effects of the barrage.
Once again, dug-outs were blown in but it was soon apparent that the raid conducted on the 5th had already taken its toll
on the defences with many dug-outs already being destroyed or damaged beyond repair.
The centre party had only managed to advance halfway up to thier objective
but tenaciously they held on until the end of the raid. It was on the left flank that the men encountered severe fighting
despite some parties of the men not even penetrating the barbed wire defences. The three parties that had actually managed
to enter the line however completed their objectives, bombing dug-outs etc, but the fight on this flank, for both defender
and attacker, proved to be the most vicious encounter of the whole raid. Due to the ferocity of the melee, it was
impossible to secure any prisoners however some were taken at some point in this sector of the line. The War Diary records
that "only 10 passed through Battalion Headquarters. 12 more were claimed but could not be traced."
It became apparent that after the raid, the fate of five prisoners who were sent back on the right had been observed
(they), "were shot down by the enemy between the First and Second German lines."
In conclusion, the War Diary records that the officers leading the raid acted
"splendid throughout." Many of the men had not even experienced an artillery barrage but their fighting
prowess, as in the best traditions of a Scottish regiment, were beyond doubt despite the many difficulties encountered during
the course of this incursion into the enemy's lines. Casualties sustained numbered 2 officers killed, 1 wounded and missing
and 5 wounded. In Other Ranks, casualties numbered 14 killed, 76 wounded and 12 missing (Source: T.N.A. WO95/2865/2). An analysis
of Commonwealth War Graves records now concludes that in officers, Lieutenant Alwyn Ronald MacFarlane-Grieve, Second-Lieutenant
Robert Lyon and Second-Lieutenant Charles Tolme Brown were killed in action. In Other Ranks, the battalion suffered 32 casualties
killed or died of wounds.
the actions of the 64th Army Field Artillery Brigade, the War Diary records that the infantry were "very pleased"
with the barrage with no 'short' rounds being reported. The barrage had been conducted in fair visibility and
the response by the enemys artillery was recorded as not very heavy and no casualties were sustained.
On the 18th March, the brigade received orders from the C.R.A. (Commander
Royal Artillery) to commence construction on positions for a brigade, these positions being located to the north-west of Ecurie
and at Roclincourt.
As the men of the batteries
set about their work with picks and shovels, an inventory of ammunition was taken. Nearly at the point of reaching their allocated
number of rounds, dumped at their respective positions were 12,000 18-pounder rounds and 8,000 4.5 inch howitzer rounds.
Work continued in the following days on their own positions, a trench being
continued and completed from Ecurie to connect up to a long communication trench, Anzin Avenue, the latter running
from the south of Ecurie in a south-westerly direction to the northern outskirts of Anzin-St-Aubin. Cable was also laid from
the Forward Brigade Headquarters position located 200 yards north of Madagascar, a point on the main Sainte-Catherine
- La Targette Road (Authors note: The position now destroyed by a large roundabout located on the intersection of the modern
day D937-D937 Roads).
work continued in the numerous tasks allocated to the brigade, visibility improved initiating more activity by the enemy in
the sector. On the 23rd, six enemy balloons were observed and his artillery became rather more active than of late. A cable
was also laid from an O.P. (Observation Post) near Neuville-St-Vaast to Battle Headquarters located just to the north of Roclincourt,
a considerable distance, but vital to maintain constant touch and communication during action. The working party assigned
to the construction of the new brigade position at Roclincourt were recalled upon receipt of orders from the C.R.A. on the
24th and as enemy aerial activity also increased, two Allied aircraft were brought down over the sector.
(Authors note: With heavy losses to the R.F.C. on the day in question, one
crew who made the ultimate sacrifice were Air Mechanic 2nd Class, Hubert Victor Gosnay and his pilot, Lieutenant James Russell
Middleton. Their machine, an F.E.2b of 11 Squadron, was brought down behind enemy lines whilst conducting a reconnaisance
mission. Gosnay, aged 22 years and a native of Wakefield was unfortunately killed whilst Middleton, although severely injured,
was made prisoner. Middleton would eventually succumb to his injuries on the 21st June and would be originally interred in
Mulheim Cemetery, Cologne, Germany. His body would later be concentrated along with that of others who had died whilst Prisoners
of War, in Cologne Southern Cemetery).
Hostile air and artillery activity began to mount in the next few days and with the weather raining but with good
visibility, between showers, it was on the 26th that both "B" and "C" Batteries registered on the German
front and support lines as a precursor to yet another raid to be made by the infantry.
As work still continued on the 'new' brigade positions, the men carried
forward vast amounts of ammunition to the latter positions and with the weather improving with good visiblity, an unfortunate
incident occurred as "B" Battery was firing. Gunner Harry Thomas, 12988, was fatally injured by the burst of a 'premature,'
the detonation of a shell inside the gun before it was intended to fire. Harry, a married man and resident of Athlone, West
Meath, Ireland, now lies buried in Maroeuil British Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France.
The raid by the infantry that was originally planned for the 27th March was
now postponed until the 31st. Conducted by the 1/6th Black Watch (Royal Highlanders), 153rd Infantry Brigade, 51st (Highland)
Division, the raiding party would consist of 49 men of all ranks, under the commands of Second-Lieutenants Robert John Menzies,
George Scott and Norman Keith Boyd. The objective was to raid a small salient opposite the left brigade front and this was
to be performed by two parties. The tasks assigned were of the same nature as the two raids made previously and prior to the
launch of this 'scheme' at 8.20 p.m. on the 31st, the enemy's barbed wire defences had been, or it was perceived
have been, sufficiently cut.
a brief summary of the raid, despite gaps in the wire, one party could not force entry into the German trench system, of the
remaining party, entry was gained and fighting ensued with two dug-outs being bombed. As the raiders departed, Second-Lieutenant
George Scott returned to the lines to bring in a wounded man, for his actions he would be awarded the Military Cross, in addition
to this award for gallantry, Lance-Corporal James Menzies, 265523, and Private Christopher Devlin, 268506, would be both awarded
the Military Medal.
War Diary (T.N.A. WO95/2876/2) records that in Other Ranks, 1 man was killed, 6 wounded and missing and a further 17 wounded.
An analysis of the Commonwealth War Graves records now determines that 6 men were killed during the 31st March however the
true casualty figure is possibly unknown due to an unfortunate incident upon relief by the 1/7th Black Watch on the 1st April.
As the battalion proceeded to billets located at Maroeuil, the village was shelled by an enemy high velocity artillery gun
resulting in 13 men killed, 8 succumbing to wounds received and 28 wounded. (Source: War Diary).
A soldiers survival often depended on 'luck' and on the 1st April,
for 15 men of the 1/6th Black Watch, 'luck' had simply 'run out.'
The Battle Of Arras:- The Artillery Bombardment Commences
In the days that proceeded
the raid by the Black Watch, the men of the 64th Army Field Artillery Brigade had carried and deposited substantial amounts
of ammunition at the artillery batteries of the 255th, 256th and the 84th Brigades R.F.A. respectively. From the 21st March
- 27th, a total of 17,256 rounds had been carried forward and dumped, "D" Battery of the 64th Brigade also receiving
1,600 rounds at their position on the 31st. With the weather recorded as fair with occasional showers, on the 1st of the month,
64th Brigade continue to improve their positions, "D" Battery receiving a further 1500 4.5 inch howitzer rounds
at their position. On the 2nd, the weather proved to be fine in the morning but deterioated during the course of the afternoon
with heavy showers of snow bust despite the atrocious weather conditions, ammuntion numbering 1,500 rounds was carried forward
to "A" Battery whilst a further 1,300 were distributed to the 84th Brigade located at Ecurie. The weather turned
windy on the 3rd however visibility was fair and improved during the course of the afternoon. From the gun positions at Madagascar,
south-east of Ecurie, the guns of the 64th Brigade now began to register and check their corrections. Brigade Headquarters
now moved their position to a point north of Madagascar occupying the latter with a headquarters of the infantry.
The timetable of the artillery bombardment now commenced on the 4th of April.
Designated "V" Day, in visibility that was described as fair, the batteries fired about 3,500 rounds but
during the course of the 5th, "W" Day, a ground mist persisted that did not clear until about 11 a.m. Despite
the lack of observation, the skill of the Gunners was tested at 8 a.m. when an Army Test Barrage was launched for
the duration of thirteen minutes, the infantry reporting that the barrage was "satisfactory". This "Test
Barrage" was in fact a rehearsal for the day of the attack. Replicating the first eleven minutes of the barrage
to be employed, this barrage would then come back onto the German front line trenches for a further two minutes. With "C"
Battery of the 255th Brigade moving to forward positions at Roclincourt, the artillery now covering this sector comprised
of Number 1 Group, comprising of the the 64th Brigade, 34th Brigade and the 255th Brigade, Officer Commanding, Temporary
Lieutenant-Colonel Louis Morgan Dyson. On "X" Day, the 6th, the weather remained fair during the morning
but rain fell during the course of the afternoon. The batteries of the 64th Brigade fired in all 2,000 rounds and during the
afternoon another Test Barrage was fired which was described as 'heavy' with good effect being observed.
Retaliatory fire was also experienced from enemy artillery, his guns raining down a fairly heavy bombardment of 150 mm, 105
mm and 77 mm shells but fortunately no casualties were sustained. The day of the attack had subsequently been postponed on
the day previously for twenty four hours but the batteries of the 64th Brigade continued their bombardment of the enemy's
positions firing about 2,000 rounds in total.
At this point it is also worthy to note the actions of the trench mortars and their activities in the days previously.
Early on the morning of the 4th of April at 6.15 a.m., a discharge of Livens Gas Projectors and 4 inch Stokes Mortars
was commenced. Of the Gas Projectors, 200 had been installed by "Q" Special Company, Royal Engineers, in
two positions north of Roclincourt but due to 100 bombs not arriving in time for their launch and with 71 detonators being
destroyed, only 29 Projectors were fired, the result of their discharge not being known. The Stokes, numbering 8
in total, were operated by Number 3 Special Mortar Company, Royal Engineers, under the command of Temporary Second-Lieutenant
Henry Edgar Marshall. On the 17th Corps front, gas was discharged as follows:- 51st Divisional Front, 150 rounds of P.S.
Gas Shell (Chloropicrin), 161 rounds on the 34th Divisional Front, and 280 rounds of C.G. Shell (Phosgene) on
the 9th Divisional Front. These 'gas attacks' were repeated both in the morning and the evening of the 5th, P.S.
Shells numbering 286 rounds fired on the 9th Divisional frontage, 315 rounds, 34th Divisional frontage, and 280 rounds
on the front occupied by the 51st Division respectively.
On the 9th Divisional front, it was found that a relief had taken place in the German lines to the south of the Scarpe
river and one was expected to also take place to the north. With 17th Corps eager for an identification, orders were issued
to the battalions in the line, the 9th Scottish Rifles, 10th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and the 1st South African Infantry,
to secure an identification by means of strong patrols. Consequently at 6 p.m. on the evening of the 6th, Second-Lieutenant
Francis Thomas Goble and 13 Other Ranks of the Scottish Rifles departed the line from the vicinity of Cuthbert Crater
and crossed No Man's Land. Covered by a smoke barrage that fell on the enemy line and then lifted as the raiding party
advanced, the point of entry into the German trench system was located south of the site of Bailleul Road West Cemetery, map
reference G.12.a.70.15, a point also known as Sap V.13.
|Extract:- Arras, Edition 7A, 51B N.W.3,
Disaster struck the party as soon as they even departed the secure
of the British Front Line, six of their number being killed and one man being wounded by what was recorded by the Brigade
War Diary as a "short smoke shell". Despite this, the remainder entered the enemy trench system and proceeded
down a length of the trench for about 50 yards until they discovered an undamaged dug-out. At this point in time, one of the
enemy was observed ascending the stairs from the dug-out and in the heat of the moment he was shot by an officer. As his body
fell down, shots rang out from deep underground and as a consequence it was not possible to retrieve the body for identification
however it was noted that the unfortunate soldier wore a green and white cockade in his cap. The party eventually withdrew
to the British line without securing an identification but important lessons were learned with particular reference to artillery
observation. It transpired later that the 'short' that killed the men of the party was of 8 inch calibre fired from
a 'friendly' howitzer. Of the six men killed, they all now lie in the Faubourg d'Amiens Cemetery, Arras. Amongst
their number was Private Michael Lane, 43486, a native of Dublin but a resident of Blantyre. Prior to the war he was employed
as a Miner at the Craighead Colliery and had been recommended "for bravery in the field" when he brought in several
wounded comrades under heavy shell. He would leave a widow and two young children to mourn his death. Private Gavin Allan,
7743, a resident of Hamilton aged 33 years. Previously wounded at Neuve Chapelle whilst serving with the 2nd Battalion, Scottish
Rifles, he was shot in the legs and was unconscious for four hours. When he came around, he found the body Lieutenant John
Douglas Alston of Airdrie lying across him. Returning to the front in June 1916, Private Allan was wounded again at the Battle
of the Somme returning to the front in October of that year. Before the war he was also employed as a Miner at the Hamilton
The matter of
the identification of enemy units was still of the upmost priority. To this end, the 1st South African Regiment planned to
raid the enemy trenches in daylight. It was, without stating the obvious, a rather "reckless brandishing" to coin
a term, but the the men were determined in their objective to raid the German trenches between two points located
in map reference G.12.c. and G.12.b. The party was divided into three columns; One comprising of a 'Blocking
Party,' Two, a 'Clearing Party,' and Three, a 'Reserve,' the total force numbering 5 officers and 50 Other
Ranks. With "Zero" hour set for 3.p.m. on the afternoon of the 7th, the party reached the German front line without
suffering a casualty and after bombing dug-outs and shooting several of the enemy, they returned to the British lines at 3.12
p.m. Although one man had been killed and three wounded, the party had in their possession three prisoners of the 6th Company,
8th Bavarian Regiment, of the 14th Bavarian Division. Witnessing actions in the Verdun and Somme Sectors, the division had
but recently arrived on the Arras front. Regarded as one of the 'better' divisions in the German Army, the capture
of these prisoners no doubt yielded valuable information. Of the one man lost in the raid, this was one Private William Ballam,
9880, of "C" Company, originally a native of Bristol. Serving as William "Harris," his body was brought
back to Arras for burial. Aged 36 years, William now lies in the Faubourg d'Amiens Cemetery, Arras.
Designated "Y" Day, the 8th of April dawned a fine day
with good visibility. During the course of the day, another Test Barrage was fired at 11.15 a.m. till 11.30 a.m.
and on the whole, the barrage throughout was described as very good and satisfactory, the 64th Brigade firing a staggering
8,000 rounds. As the movement to assembly positions continued by the 152nd Infantry Brigade, 51st (Highland) Division, Colonel
Barton D.S.O., O.C. the 64th Brigade, R.F.A., took over his duties as Liason Officer with the brigade at Roclincourt. Finally,
"Z" Day dawned, the day of the attack.
The Attack:- "Z" Day, 9th Of April, 1917
It is beyond the scope of this commemoration to cover the attack of the 51st
Division in detail but to concentrate more on the actions of the artillery supporting their attack. Regarding the infantry,
the 51st Division would launch their attack on a limited objective, this being referred to as the Brown Line, with
two intermediate lines between this objective, the Black and the Blue Lines respectively. To supplement
the 51st Divisional Artillery, four Army Field Artillery Brigades would support the attack, the 34th, 64th, 84th and the 315th.
These brigades would subsequently be divided into two Groups as follows:-
Number One Group Officer Commanding Lieutenant-Colonel
Macbeth Moir Duncan, C.M.G., V.D. (O.C. 255th Brigade, R.F.A., 51st Division)
255th Brigade, R.F.A.
This Group would
cover the right flank of the Divisional Zone.
Number Two Group Officer Commanding Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel Louis Morgan Dyson R.F.A. (O.C.
256th Brigade, R.F.A., 51st Division)
256th Brigade, R.F.A.
This Group would cover the left flank of the Divisional Zone.
|Extract Of Map From The Official History
With the Canadian Corps on their left flank and the 34th Division
on their right, operation orders for the artillery, as always, were of a complex nature. In essence, the two Groups supporting
the attack of the 51st (Highland) Division would perform a variety of tasks delegated to the various calibres of guns. The
War Diary of the 64th Brigade is sadly lacking in information however that of the 34th A.F.A. formerly of the 2nd Division
provides a fascinating insight into how the barrage was planned and executed. For the 18-pounders, the 152nd Brigade area
of attack, a Brigade Lane was created which was subsequently divided into two Zones. In the case of the
34th Brigade, both the 50th and the 70th Batteries would fire in accordance with a general table of Lifts, times,
and rate of fire that would form part of the Creeping Barrage protecting the advancing infantry. Firing over the
whole of the Brigade Lane would be C/34 Battery, searching out communication trenches in addition to other
tasks in advance of the Creeping Barrage. Granted some degree of autonomy, C/34 was also at hand to reinforce
the barrage at any point if required, and as it was specially tasked with these requirements, it was referred to as the "Swinger
Battery". The 56th (Howitzer) Battery would keep up a constant rate of fire 200 yards in front of the 'real'
barrage targeting trenches and trench, road junctions and tracks, the following features of the barrage for all calibres of
guns as follows:-
Lifts:- At the
time planned for the infantry to commence various stages of the advance, including the launch of the attack at 'Zero hour,'
a salvo of shrapnel was to be fired by every 18-pounder battery. After this salvo, the barrage would move on in a series of
timed 'Lifts' in order to allow the advancing troops to follow on closely behind it until a designated line/objective
was reached, normally about 300 yards beyond the next line/objective. A protective barrage, i.e. allowing no interdiction
by enemy forces, was then fired for a pre-arranged period of time whilst the infantry then consolidated the position gained.
The artillery then simply repeated their programme for the continuing advance by the infantry on the next objective.
Rates of Fire:- The rate of fire would ultimately vary throughout
the course of operations, the 34th A.F.A. for example varying from four rounds per gun per minute to one round per battery
per minute, the latter rate taking place during late periods of the protective or consolidation barrage.