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


Trenches During The Spring and Summer of 1918

After a day spent at Beuvry in bathing and cleaning up generally, we were relieved by the 6th York and Lancaster Regiment on January 19th and marched to L'Ecleme near Lillers, where we spent the first two days in refitting and interior economy, together with the improvement of billets, and on the 22nd began the usual training programme, musketry practices being carried out on a range at Allouagne about three miles away. On the 26th the Battalion formed the Guard of Honour for a special medal riband presentation by the G.O.C. 46th Division, who afterwards inspected the Battalion and expressed himself in very complimentary terms.

The reorganization of the British Army, with the reduction of a Brigade from four to three Battalions, necessitated the disbandment of one Battalion in our Brigade, and the 1/4th Lincolnshire Regiment had been chosen as the one to be broken up. On January 30th a voluntary parade was held, which was attended by practically the whole Battalion, to march to Busnes to bid farewell to our sister Battalion; we gave three cheers and marched past before leaving. Twelve officers and 250 other ranks were posted from the 1/4th Lincolnshire Regiment to us, but temporarily remained at Busnes. On February 1st the Battalion was inspected in full marching order by the Brigadier, and in the afternoon [p157] moved into fresh billets at Mt. Bernenchon, where we were joined by the draft from 1/4th Lincolnshire Regiment. Training continued and working parties were supplied for constructing defensive lines of wire until February 16th, when we returned to our old billets at L'Ecleme, moving next day as part of a Brigade column in accordance with a Divisional scheme to Febrin Palfart. On the 9th the Battalion moved as part of the main guard of the 138th Brigade, acting as the advanced guard of the Division in the Divisional scheme, via Erny St. Julien and took up an outpost line on the Lys from Delette to Le Wammel, and then at 5 p.m. occupied billets in Delette, which we retained until the end of the month, Captain Madge rejoining us on the 15th. Nothing of interest occurred, the weather remained fine but cold, and steady progress was made with the training programme until March 1st, when we left Delette and marched, taking part in a Brigade operation, to Estrée Blanche, where we billeted for the night. On the 2nd we marched to Ham-en-Artois, and next day to Noeux-les-Mines, and were once more in the front line area.

On March 3rd we relieved the 6th Yorks and Lancaster Regiment in the trenches of the Cambrin North sector, the Battalion strength at this time being 24 Officers and 582 Other Ranks. The tour passed without any noteworthy incident, but a number of casualties were sustained; we were relieved by the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment on the 12th, two Companies and Battalion Headquarters being in support at Annequin and two Companies in Sailly-la-Bourse. On March 14th the Battalion moved back to Beuvry in reserve, and on the 16th relieved the 1/5th Leicestershire Regiment in the trenches in the Hohenzollern sector for a short [p158] tour of four days, being relieved on the 20th by the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment.

While in support, two Companies were in dug-outs in the reserve line, and two Companies with Battalion Headquarters at Sailly-la-Bourse. On the 21st the Battalion was ordered to stand to during the night owing to an expected attack, but this did not materialise on this portion of the front, although the next few days were spent under a considerable degree of strain, and active preparations to meet an attack were made. On March 24th we were withdrawn into Divisional Reserve at Beuvry, marching to Maroc on the 27th, where we billeted for the night, and next day relieved the 44th Canadian Infantry in the Hill 70 right sector. A very quiet tour passed, and we were relieved on April 1st, moving to the Village line in support. After one day's rest we returned to the trenches relieving the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment in the Hill 70 left sector, which we held to the 12th; no special incident occurred and our only casualties were due to gas with which the enemy favoured us at intervals. On April 12th we were relieved by the 1st Canadian M.R. and proceeded into Army Reserve at Bracquemont.

Training in open warfare took place daily, the weather being dull and cold. On the 18th, when the enemy attacked at Givenchy, the Battalion was placed on one hour's notice to move, but were not called upon. About April 21st a virulent epidemic of influenza attacked the Battalion, and the whole Division, and for the next few days the number of sick removed to hospital was very large, from 20 to 40 daily, which reduced our fighting strength to such low numbers, that the efficiency of the Battalion was very seriously impaired. The whole Division suffered in the same way, and its [p159] numbers for a long period were terribly below establishment.

On April 24th the Battalion marched to Bruay, and the next day to Verquin, the Brigade being in Divisional Reserve. On the evening of April 28th we returned to the front line, relieving the 1/6th Sherwood Foresters in a line from Les Facons to the swing bridge S.W. of Le Casan, C and D Companies being in the front line, with A in support and B in reserve. The relief was completed under heavy shelling and we were lucky to sustain only three casualties. The general conditions in this Sector approached open warfare, as although the trenches were fairly continuous they were narrow and shallow, and no movement was possible by day. Early next morning a German of the 12th Reserve Division wandered into our lines, having lost his way. The enemy were inactive, and we sustained no casualties, and were relieved on May 2nd by the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment, going into support with two Companies at Le Hamel, one at La Motte Farm and one in the Newcastle line, the two forward Companies coming under the command of the O.C. 1/5th Leicestershires. The usual working parties were supplied until May 6th, when we were relieved by the 1/6th North Staffordshire Regiment, and moved to billets in Verquin, the Brigade coming into Divisional Reserve.

After a day devoted to interior economy, Company training was begun while the officers reconnoitred the La Bassée Canal and the Bridge-head defences. On the 9th, in view of an expected hostile attack, We occupied defensive positions about the bridge-head at 10 p.m. But the night passed quietly and the Battalion returned to billets at Verquin at 7.30 a.m. on the 10th, and all ranks endeavoured to get as much rest as possible, as we relieved the 1/5th [p160] Sherwood Foresters in the Gorre right sub-sector in the evening, A and B Companies in the line, D in support, and C in reserve, with Battalion Headquarters at Gorre Chateau. During the next two nights a continuous trench was dug and wired, to connect our right flank with the 55th Division. Captain M. Robinson rejoined the Battalion on the 13th, and on the 14th we were relieved by the 1/5th Leicestershire Regiment, becoming Battalion in support with Battalion Headquarters and A Company at Le Quesnoy, B Company in the eastern edge of Gorre and C and D in the Reserve line E. of Gorre, the latter two Companies being under the command of O.C. 1/5th Leicestershire Regiment in case of attack. After four days in this position, we were relieved by the 1/5th North Staffordshire Regiment and moved to Verquin, being held at two hours' notice to move in case of attack, which, however, did not materialise; 2nd Lieut. Murray and two Other Ranks were wounded by shell fire. Training was carried on on the usual lines until we relieved the 1/5th South Staffordshire Regiment in the Gorre right sub-sector on the 22nd.

The distribution of Companies was unchanged, but Battalion Headquarters were moved to the Brewery near Gorre bridge, as the Chateau and wood had been heavily shelled and were still full of gas. With the exception of intermittent artillery activity the enemy were quiet and much work was done on improvement of the trenches. At 3.30 a.m. on May 26th a party of the enemy 15 to 20 strong, crept up to within a few yards of one of A Company posts, under cover of a ditch and long grass, and attempted to rush the post, firing revolvers and throwing bombs, and shouting "hands up". Lance-Corporal W. J. Burdass, although the enemy were almost on the top of the post, immediately got his Lewis gun into [p161] action, killed two of the enemy, both N.C.O.'s, and assisted by rifle fire from the other men at the post drove the enemy back; he was awarded the Military Medal for conspicuous gallantry, as his coolness and prompt action certainly saved the garrison from suffering severe casualties before the enemy could be driven off. The identifications obtained from the dead enemy N.C.O.'s showed them to belong to the 6th Reserve Infantry Regiment. Later on the 26th an inter-company relief took place; enemy artillery was very active both on the trenches and on Battalion Headquarters for the next two days.

The morning of May 30th was very misty and at 2.30 a.m. an enemy barrage of trench mortar bombs was put down on the right Company front, and subsequently switched on to Route A Keep, garrisoned by D Company, and at the same time movement in front was observed and the S.O.S. was sent to our artillery. Two minutes later an artillery barrage was put down behind the trench mortar barrage, and the enemy was seen to be advancing. It was difficult in the mist to determine the enemy strength, but he appeared to have a large party, stated afterwards by a prisoner to number between 40 and 50 men. The enemy advanced to our wire, but lost formation in trying to get through, and was met by steady rifle and machine gun fire; our own artillery and machine gun barrage was very quick and good, being put down just in front of our wire, and the enemy quickly abandoned the attempt. Only one man got through the wire and was made prisoner, so that an identification of the 395th I.R., 9th Reserve Division, was obtained. Throughout the operation the men behaved splendidly, and 2nd Lieut. Utting and Lance-Sergt. G. E. Gorringe showed conspicuous gallantry and coolness under [p162] the heavy barrage, passing along from post to post in the line and setting a fine example. 2nd Lieut. Utting was wounded and Lance-Sergt. Gorringe knocked down and shaken by a trench mortar bomb but both remained on duty until the enemy had retired, and the former was awarded the M.C. and the latter the Military Medal. Two other men also distinguished themselves: Private R. Vacey, a stretcher bearer, on his own initiative went up through the barrage from Company Headquarters to the front line, attended to the wounded, and did most useful work; Private E. Tuplin volunteered to carry a message from the front line to Company Headquarters through the barrage, and after delivering the message returned again to the front line showing courage of a high order; both men were awarded the Military Medal.

A patrol was sent out as soon as the enemy had retired, and the body of a German officer was brought in; it is certain that the enemy suffered many other casualties but the mist gave him the opportunity to get his dead and wounded away. Our casualties were 3 Other Ranks killed, and 1 Officer and 7 Other Ranks wounded. On the evening of the same day we were relieved by the 1/8th Sherwood Foresters, and proceeded to billets in Verquin, where we remained under two hour's notice to move to Assembly positions W. of the Bethune-Beuvry road. On June 2nd a Brigade Church Parade was held in Vaudricourt Park, when the Divisional Commander was present and addressed the Brigade, which afterwards marched past in fours. On the morning of June 3rd a draft of 73 Other Ranks joined the Battalion, and in the evening we relieved the 1/6th North Staffordshire Regiment in support in the Essarts sector, when the enemy artillery was very active but caused no casualties. The distribution [p163] was D Company S. of Le Hamel, A and C Companies in the Newcastle line N.E. of Le Hamel, B Company between La Motte Farm and the La Bassée Canal, with Battalion Headquarters in Essarts. On June 4th the Battalion Transport was inspected by the G.O.C. 46th Division, who expressed himself as very satisfied.

The following complimentary memo was received on the same day from I. Corps.:

The Corps Commander has made the following remarks on the report of the attempted hostile raid on Route A Keep forwarded on May 30th, 1918.

"The garrison appears to have been thoroughly on the alert and are to be congratulated on the stout defence they put up, and upon their courageous endurance which enabled them to man their defences immediately the hostile bombardment lifted. It is this soldierly behaviour, coupled with expert use of rifles and machine guns, which constitutes our real safety. Please have the garrison congratulated for me on their defence."

G. V. Hordern, B.G., General Staff, I. Corps. June 1st, 1918.

The enemy were fairly quiet until June 7th, when we relieved the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment in the line in the Essarts left sub-sector, A Company at Mesplaux Farm and B Company at Les Facons in the front line, D Company in support holding the Liverpool line, and C Company in reserve. The dispositions had been altered since our last tour in this sector, the outpost line being less strongly held, and the centre patrolled only, while the main line of defence, the Liverpool line, was more strongly garrisoned. On the morning of the 8th the enemy artillery was very active on our front in retaliation [p164] for a gas projection on our left. Enemy activity was observed in a group of houses 500 yards E. of Mesplaux Farm, and a patrol reported that a large party was wiring in front of the houses, so our artillery was brought to bear. During the day, Major H. G. Wilson rejoined the Battalion and resumed the duties of 2nd in Command after several months absence in England after his accident. On June 9th our heavy artillery bombarded the houses mentioned above and at night a party of A Company under Lieut. Madden attempted to carry out a silent raid on the area, but the houses had been set on fire by our artillery and the enterprise had to be abandoned. On the 10th the Army Commander presented ribands at Gosnay to the recipients of Birthday Honours (Lieut. I. C. A. Perrott, M.C. and Sergt. G. Odlin, D.C.M.) and on the 11th we were relieved in the line by the 1/8th Sherwood Foresters, and proceeded to billets at Verquin, two Companies being in Vaudricourt Wood, the Battalion being under two hours' notice to move to the Bridge-head line about Le Quesnoy and carrying out daily training, including one hour's marching wearing box respirators, a most useful but disagreeable exercise.

On the evening of June 15th we relieved the 1/6th North Staffordshire Regiment in the Gorre Right sub-sector, C and D Companies in the line, B in support, and A in reserve, with Battalion Headquarters in Gorre brewery. A patrol on the 17th found an enemy post 150 yards in front of the trench unoccupied but five rifles and a number of Verey lights, which had been left there, were removed. On the 19th the whole sector was heavily shelled, causing some casualties, and in the evening we were relieved by the 1/5th Leicestershire Regiment and went back to support, two forward Companies being along the W. bank of the Beuvry river, one Company [p165] in cellars in Gorre, one Company with Battalion Headquarters in Le Quesnoy, assembly positions being on the N. bank of the canal.

We were relieved on the night of the 23rd by the 1/5th Sherwood Foresters and proceeded to the former reserve billets in Verquin and Vaudricourt Wood, the Battalion being under two hours' notice to move to the Beuvry-Cambrin line, while training proceeded as usual. On June 26th a party of officers visited St. Pol to witness a night tank demonstration, while the Battalion indulged in another hour's marching wearing box-respirators as part of the training programme. We relieved the 1/6th North Staffordshire Regiment in the Essarts left sub-sector on the night of June 27th, completing the relief at 1.30 a.m. on the 28th, on which date the 46th Division was transferred from I. to XIII. Corps.

On the 30th Lieut.-Col. H. A. Waring, D.S.O., relinquished command of the Battalion on his appointment as an Instructor at the Senior Officers' School in England, and Major H. G. Wilson took over the temporary command. On July 1st an inter-company relief was effected and with the exception of shelling of Battalion Headquarters on the 4th the tour passed quietly until our relief on the 5th by the 1/5th Sherwood Foresters, when the Battalion returned to the reserve billets at Verquin and Vaudricourt Park. On the morning of July 8th, the XIII. Corps Commander inspected the 138th Brigade at Gosnay and presented medal ribands to R.S.M. F. Credland and Sergt. F. Darley, who had been awarded the Meritorious Service Medal in the Birthday Honours List, and to various recipients of the Military Medal. In the afternoon the Battalion sports in Vaudricourt Park were very successful, D Company obtaining the highest number of points and securing the special prize. Captain H. Bell [p166] , Labour Corps, a former officer of the Battalion, joined for a month's course of instruction in trench duties, and Major H. G. Wilson was appointed Lieut.-Col. and confirmed in the command of the Battalion.