T.E. Sandall, History of the 5th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment (1922)


The Attacks on Fresnoy and Andigny

At 5 a.m. on October 8th the Battalion moved forward to the railway cutting and sunken road in front of Ramiecourt in support of the 6th Division, who attacked in conjunction with the French on our right and the Americans on our left. The allotted positions were reached at 8 a.m., and we remained there for the whole day, the C.O. being summoned to Brigade Headquarters at Preselles at 3 p.m., where instructions were given to the effect that the 138th Brigade would relieve a Brigade of the 6th Division at once. During the night we moved forward, and relieved the 2nd York and Lancaster Regiment, the relief being completed just before dawn on October 9th, all four companies being in line in the trenches 800 yards N.W. of Mericourt. At dawn patrols, who were pushed forward, reported that the enemy had evacuated his positions, and pursuit was at once taken up, A Company under Captain J. S. Nichols pushing forward into the western outskirts of Fresnoy Le Grand. Orders were now received from Brigade that the first objective would be the railway E. of Fresnoy, and touch having been obtained with the 1/5th Leicestershire Regiment on the right, and the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment on the left, the whole Brigade advanced, Battalion Headquarters being established in Mericourt.

The advance was held up about 10.30 a.m. along a line N. and S. through the centre of Fresnoy by [p182] heavy machine gun fire from the railway E. of the village, and the high ground in the rear, the disposition of the Battalion being C, A and D Companies in line from right to left with B Company in support on the Beauregard-Mericourt road. Owing to the fact that our artillery support was late, and the enemy artillery active in Fresnoy and Mericourt, our advance was slow, but was steadily pushed forward during the afternoon, and by 6 p.m., C Company, in touch with the 1/5th Leicestershire Regiment on the right, were on the railway S.E. of Fresnoy, A Company occupied the village, D Company in touch with the 1/4-th Leicestershire Regiment on the left along the railway cutting E. of the village, while B Company remained in support on the Beauregard-Mericourt road.

Private G. Briggs localised a machine gun, the fire of which was chiefly responsible for delaying the advance, and leading his section forward to a flank succeeded in knocking out the gun by his Lewis gun fire, and then, after reaching his own objective, by skilful handling of his gun succeeded in neutralising another enemy machine gun, which was holding up the company on his flank. He exhibited great coolness under fire, and displayed considerable initiative, and earned the Military Medal, which was also awarded to Private R. L. Hind for conspicuous gallantry as a runner during the day, and to Private R. Conroy, who, although himself wounded, continued to perform his duties as a stretcher bearer with marked gallantry. Our casualties were 12 wounded, and the enemy opposition during the day was practically confined to machine guns, and only small detachments were seen.

At 6.30 p.m. the Battalion took over the whole Brigade frontage; C Company extended to the right, faking over the 1/5th Leicestershire frontage and [p183] gaining touch with the 55th French Infantry; D Company extended to the left taking over the 1/4th Leicestershire frontage and gaining touch with the 6th Division on the left flank; picquets and patrols were pushed well forward. At 8.30 p.m. a readjustment of frontage was ordered, the French taking over on the right as far as Fresnoy railway station, but there was some delay in carrying this out as the 6th Division did not move till later; however, by 4.30 a.m. on the 10th, the new line was occupied. At 5.45 a. m. our patrols reported Landricourt Wood clear of the enemy, and this information was passed to the French, who subsequently attacked the Bois D'Etaves from that direction. In co-operation with this advance our line was pushed forward, and at 9 a.m. on October 10th was established on the Bohain-Seboncourt road, with forward platoons from 500 to 1, 000 yards in advance. At 12.30 p.m., the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment passed through our line, and continued the advance, the Battalion thus coming into support. At 5.30 p.m. the 1/5th Leicestershire Regiment passed through, thus bringing the Battalion into reserve and our dispositions remained unchanged during the night. There was little or no opposition to the advance, although desultory enemy shelling caused a few casualties. At 7 a.m. on October 11th the Battalion was relieved by the 1/6th North Stafford Regiment, and moved back into Divisional reserve in billets in Fresnoy-le-Grand.

From October 11th to 16th we rested in these billets, two hours' training being carried out each morning, and the afternoon being devoted to football and tug-of-war competitions. At 9.30 p.m. on October 16th the Battalion left Fresnoy to take up assembly positions for a further advance next day, A Company on the right 200 yards E. of the [p184] Bohain-Vaux-Andigny road, D Company prolonging the line to the left, with B and C Companies in support W. of the road. The assembly positions were occupied at 3.30 a.m. on October 17th, the first objective of the attack being the village of Vaux- Andigny. At 4.30 a.m., the assembly positions were shelled and some casualties caused. Zero hour was 5.20 a.m. when the barrage opened and our troops moved forward in touch with the Essex Regiment (6th Division) on our left and the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment on our right. There was a very thick mist, nothing of the ground could be seen, and the advance had to be conducted by compass bearing, which had previously been taken on the objective.

Two of the Battalion scouts, Privates H. Moore and J. F. Ivatt, did excellent work in assisting to lead the companies in the fog, and subsequently in locating hostile machine guns, and showed great courage and determination under heavy fire. Owing to the thick mist there was some inevitable loss of direction, but a general line was maintained. A trench in front of the village was found to be strongly held, and some close fighting took place, the trench being carried and a few prisoners and some machine guns captured. Our casualties were rather heavy and three officers were wounded, one of whom subsequently died of wounds. Subordinate leaders, however, rose to the occasion, and great courage and initiative was shown by several N.C.O.'s and men.

Corporal A. Wilson, when his platoon officer and sergeant were both killed, took command of his Platoon, led it forward with skill and determination, and captured 2 machine guns and several prisoners: Sergeant W. Clarke, when the platoons got somewhat disorganized in the fog, rendered very great service in organizing scattered bodies of men under heavy [p185] fire, and led them forward to the objective. Private S. J. Meanwell, when all the N.C.O.'s in his platoon had become casualties, took command of the platoon, and led them forward with great ability. Corporal A. Jacklin also did excellent work in collecting and organizing parties of men in the fog, and led his platoon forward with great gallantry, subsequently attacking and capturing an enemy machine gun.

In spite of the fact that the mist continued, A Company on the right, brilliantly led by Captain J. S. Nichols, although under heavy fire from Bellevue ridge, succeeded in reaching its objective, the Andigny Les Fernes-Regnicourt road just W. of the former village. The left Company (D) losing direction, moved across the front and found itself in front of Regnicourt village, which it captured in conjunction with a company of the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment. B Company now moved up to replace D Company on the left of A, but could not get into the village of Andigny Les Fernes owing to heavy machine gun fire from the village and wood, and the barrage by this time had been lost. The 6th Division on our left was also held up by machine gun fire, and our left flank being exposed was slightly withdrawn in order to keep touch. At 9 a. m. units of the 1st Division, passing through the 6th Division, cleared the Bellevue Ridge, and secured our left flank; the companies were reorganised for a further advance on Andigny Les Fernes, and the enemy resistance weakening, our line was established at 3.30 p.m. on the south side of the village, and strong points constructed under R.E., each being manned by a platoon with a Vickers gun.

During the advance on Andigny Les Femes, Private T. Atkins won the Distinguished Conduct Medal, when all the rest of his section having become casualties, he pushed on alone, having [p186] located an enemy machine gun at the edge of the village, and by fire with his Lewis gun put it out of action; he was wounded, but continued to serve his gun until the objective was obtained. Lance-Corporal P. Stockdale in the face of point blank fire from an enemy field gun firing from a wood beyond the objective made repeated attempts to dislodge two enemy machine guns, and by his courage and determination in attack at length enabled other troops to advance and silence them. Private E. Smalley took command of the remainder of his section and having located an enemy machine gun worked round the position, attacked and captured the gun.

Patrols were now sent forward along the Menevret road where it was hoped to gain touch with the French, but enemy machine gun fire prevented further movement in this direction. At dark, a company of 1/5th Leicestershire Regiment pushed through to explore in the same direction, but no advance was made until a late hour. At 5 p.m. the Battalion was relieved by two companies of the 1/5th Leicestershire Regiment and moved into support in the sunken road and railway cutting. The day had been exacting, the enemy made a stubborn resistance, and each advance was only made after considerable fighting. Our casualties were rather heavy, three officers were wounded: 2nd Lieuts. Barton, J. Harris and W. Simpson, the first-named dying of wounds; 17 Other Ranks were killed, and 50 wounded. The Battalion during the day captured 150 prisoners and 20 machine guns.

A party of prisoners was being conducted back by Private J. Towers and another man, but lost their direction in the fog and walked into a detachment of 3 enemy machine guns under an officer. Private Towers immediately threatened the officer, and told [p187] him he was a prisoner. The German officer, who could speak English, said, "No, you are my prisoner". Private Towers argued with the officer, told him he was surrounded, then went up and kicked over one of the machine guns, when the officer and his men surrendered. By his coolness and confidence in an awkward situation, Private Towers was enabled to extricate himself from a difficult position, and bring in an officer and 40 more prisoners, and he well deserved the Military Medal, which was subsequently awarded. Captain J. S. Nichols was awarded the Military Cross for his conspicuous gallantry and fine leadership.

On the next day, October 18th, the Brigade was relieved by the 137th Brigade, and the Battalion was withdrawn and marched to billets at Fresnoy le Grand, where we remained till the end of the month, the mornings being occupied by platoon and company training, and the afternoons by recreational training as usual. On the 26th a Divisional parade was held for the presentation of French decorations by the G.O.C. 126th French Division, when Private J. Beeby received the Croix de Guerre for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty on September 29th, when although twice buried by shell fire he continued to carry out his duties as a Battalion runner under heavy fire, and never failed to deliver his messages.

On November 1st, the Battalion moved to Becquiny, where a draft of 63 Other Ranks joined, and the next day was spent in reconnoitring the route to the assembly positions for the next advance, an attack by the IX. Corps, to which the 46th Division was now attached, on the Sambre-Oise Canal.