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


The Final Advance

At 4 p.m. on November 3rd the Battalion left Becquiny and marched to a field just W. of St. Martin-Riviere, arriving at 7.30 p.m. The march was conducted in pouring rain, but fortunately the weather cleared before it was completed, and the Battalion bivouacked for the night. At 6.30 a.m. next morning, November 4th, in a thick mist we moved to our assembly positions just W. of Mazinghien, the 46th Division being in support to the 1st and 32nd Divisions, who were attacking the enemy positions on the Sambre-Oise Canal. At 11 a.m. the Battalion moved forward to the position near Louviere which had been previously fixed as that from which a subsequent move would be made, depending on the success of the attack. At 4 p.m. orders were received for the Battalion to relieve the Black Watch in the line of the 1st Infantry Brigade, and although the sector had not been reconnoitred the relief was conducted smoothly being completed at 11 p.m., A, B, and C Companies being in the line with D Company in support. From midnight onward it rained heavily, but during the hours of darkness A and B Companies pushed forward patrols who at dawn advanced 800 yards, capturing four 77mm and three 10.5cm guns, as well as four machine guns. As soon as it was light on November 5th, the forward companies pushed ahead and occupied a line through Toaillon Farm and Zobeail. At 8 a.m. the 137th Brigade passed through our lines, and [p189] continued the advance, while the Battalion withdrew to billets in Mezieres La Grosse.

On November 6th, the advance was continued, the 138th Brigade being in support to the 137th and 139th brigades. The Battalion left Mezieres La Grosse at 6.30 a.m., and marched to Lagoelle, where a halt was made until 2 p.m. It rained hard all day and the men were wet through and very glad to reach Priches, where billets had been arranged for the night. On reaching Priches, however, orders were received to continue the march to Cartignies, and be ready on the following morning to pass through the 137th and 139th Brigades and continue the advance. A quiet night was spent at Cartignies in comfortable billets, although the Germans were only just outside the town.

Soon after midnight on November 6th-7th, our patrols passed through the outposts of the leading Brigades, who were holding a line along the west bank of the Petit Helpe River, to reconnoitre the river banks and find a means of crossing. It was found that all the bridges had been destroyed by the enemy except one small foot bridge, which could take Infantry in single file. The C.O. therefore decided that the four companies should cross this bridge just before dawn and get into position on the east side of the river, ready to move forward at dawn. At 5 a.m. on November 7th the 138th Brigade took over the whole Divisional front, passing through the 137th and 139th Brigade out-posts, the 1/5th Leicestershire Regiment on the right, the 1/5th Lincolnshire on the left, and the 1/4th Leicestershire in support. At 4.30 a.m. a patrol was sent forward to the foot bridge to reconnoitre for any signs of the enemy, and had instructions to report to Battalion Headquarters as soon as the companies had crossed and were in position on the further bank. When [p190] the patrol arrived at the site of the bridge they found to their dismay that the river had risen in flood, and had washed away the foot bridge leaving no means whatever of crossing, but there were no signs of the enemy, and civilians who appeared on the east bank stated that the Germans had left at 3 a.m. When the companies reached the river bank, A Company on the left rapidly constructed a rough temporary bridge by throwing carts into the river, and putting planks and ladders on them, the French civilian inhabitants doing the same from the opposite bank. The bridge was not very safe but A Company managed to cross without accidents and were very shortly in position on the east bank, where they were rapturously greeted by the inhabitants. On the right B and C Companies were less fortunate in finding carts and other material for an improvised bridge, so trees were felled and placed across. There was great difficulty owing to the strength of the current in getting the trees into position, and Captain Dunn, O.C. B Company, who had jumped into the river to try and fix them, was nearly swept away; Captain Goodall, O.C. C Company, then sprang into the river to his assistance, and between them they managed to fix the trees so that a foot bridge could be made. While it was being completed Captain Dunn walked forward to Bellevue and found it clear of the enemy. By 8 a.m. the whole Battalion was across the river, and the advance began, C and D Companies in front with A and B in support and the first objective was reached without any opposition. As soon as touch was established on either flank the advance was resumed to the second objective, which was reached at mid-day. Patrols were sent forward and reported that the high ground in front was strongly held. Our line tried to advance, but the enemy line was strongly held [p191] by numerous machine gun posts, which were cleverly placed commanding the valley and low ground, and it was found impossible to take the position without artillery support. Accordingly our line was slightly withdrawn, and an outpost position taken up for the night, and dug in, A, B and C Companies in the line, with D in support. Our casualties were 2 officers, Captain Dunn and Captain Bull, wounded and 4 Other Ranks killed and 6 wounded.

During the night of November 7th-8th, touch with the enemy was kept by means of patrols, who reported at dawn on the 8th that the enemy were still holding the same line. At 11 a.m. a light artillery barrage was put down on the enemy position, but we only had a few field guns across the river, and the barrage was so weak that it had little or no effect, and when our troops tried to advance, they were again met by heavy machine gun fire, and also by some trench mortar bombs. A Company however got in contact with two or three enemy posts and inflicted casualties. Lance-Corporal W. Griffiths, when his platoon was held up by two machine guns, took a Lewis gun, went forward to a position from which he could fire on them, and so enabled his platoon to advance. Later in the day owing to all his superiors becoming casualties, he took command of the platoon, and showed great skill in consolidating the position he gained. He was awarded the Military Medal as was also Private J. W. Adams, who set a fine example of courage and determination as a Company runner, carrying messages and reconnoitring under heavy fire. Lance-Corporal A. F. Brown, who had already distinguished himself on previous occasions, especially before Andigny on October 17th, when his platoon was held up went forward alone with a Lewis gun to a flank under heavy fire, brought his fire to bear on [p192] the enemy machine gun, and so enabled his Platoon to advance, and was also awarded the Military Medal.

When it was found that the Germans intended to hold on to the strong position they occupied in our front, it was decided to wait until more guns could be got across the river, and then make an attack in force; the barrage and attack was fixed for 4 p.m. Meanwhile the 32nd Division on our left were at 1 p.m. advancing in close formation, and it was also reported that the French on our right were also advancing; in both cases the enemy had retired in front of them, but continued to hold on to the position on our front until 1.30 p.m., when he evacuated it. Our troops followed up closely, but met with no further opposition, and the final objective for the day was reached at 6 p.m. An outpost line was taken up and orders were received that the Brigade would be relieved by the 137th Brigade at dawn, but before the relief was effected our Brigade was ordered to take up a fresh outpost position further forward on a line E of Sans Du Nord and Semeries. The Battalion was accordingly pushed forward, C and D Companies establishing an outpost line east of Semeries, while A and B Companies with Battalion Headquarters found billets in the village. The enemy were rapidly retiring and were reported at the time to be 15 kilometres away, touch with him being kept up by the cavalry and armoured cars.

On November 10th, D Company took over the whole of the outpost line, and C Company withdrew to billets in Semeries. At 11.45 p.m. orders were received that hostilities would cease at 11 a.m. next day. At 8 a.m. on November 11th this order was confirmed, and the whole Brigade outpost line was taken over by the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment. [p193] At 9.30 a.m. the Battalion left Semeries and marched to Sans Du Nord arriving at 10.30 a.m., where we were billeted in two large factories, two Companies in each, with Battalion Headquarters in the chateau. In the evening in celebration of the Armistice the Brigade Staff was entertained by the Battalion Headquarters Mess. The morning of the 12th was spent in cleaning up and in preparation for an inspection and presentation of medal ribands by G.O.C. 46th Division in the afternoon. On November 13th the Battalion left Sans Du Nord and marched to Avenes, taking over billets from the 32nd Division, and next day left at 9 a.m. for Bousies, the march of 25 kilometres being completed at 4.30 p.m., and billets taken over, which were to be our home for the next three months.