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


Trenches During The Summer and Autumn of 1917

The Battalion preparatory to a period of three weeks rest and training spent July 4th in refitting and reorganizing companies, and then carried out the programme laid down, which included ceremonial drill and musketry. On the 17th the Brigade was inspected by the Divisional Commander, and after the inspection was addressed by General Horne, the Commander of the First Army. A draft of 96 men joined the Battalion the same day and platoons were re-organized incorporating the new draft. On the 19th and 20th, the Divisional Rifle Meeting was held, and the Battalion took 1st place in the running man team shoot, second in the officers' team shoot, third in the Lewis gun team competition, and first in the running man individual. On July 21st, while the C.O. and Company Commanders went up to reconnoitre the trenches to be taken over on the following day, the Battalion marched to Verquin and billeted for the night, leaving next morning for Mazingarbe, where we rested for the afternoon, and in the evening relieved the 8th Bedfords (16th Brigade, 6th Division) in the line in the Hulluch sector, B and C Companies being in the front line, and A and D in reserve. The sector was fairly quiet, but a smoke barrage was put out from our trenches on the evening of the 23rd to assist a raid made by the 1st Leicestershire Regiment on our left, and this was followed by increased artillery [p138] and trench mortar activity causing some casualties, 2nd Lieut. Gilliatt and Sergeant H. Doughty, who had led the Scout Section with great ability for many months, being killed on the 26th. The weather was very wet, the trenches flooded, and much repair work was necessary. We were relieved by the 1/4th Lincolnshire Regiment on the 28th, and retired to Mazingarbe, the usual night working parties being supplied until August 3rd, when we were relieved by the 1/5th North Staffordshire Regiment, and moved to billets in Verquin for a further short period of training.

On August 5th a detachment of six Officers and 200 Other Ranks under Captain W. H. G. Smyth attended the special service at Ranchicourt conducted by the Archbishop of York on the 3rd anniversary of the beginning of the war, at which the Army Commander and representatives of various Corps were present. Training was carried on on the usual lines, 2nd Lieuts. W. Simpson and J. T. Moran joining for duty. The Battalion sports were held in a field near Drouvin on the afternoon of the 11th, followed by a concert in the evening, the musical talent being supplied by D company, and aquatic sports were held at Bethune on the 12th, and a Battalion concert was given on the 13th. In view of instructions to take over a new trench sector on the 16th, the C.O., Adjutant and Company Commanders went up to reconnoitre on the 14th, when 2nd Lieuts. H. F. Hawkeswood, R. B. Fluck, T. S. L. Barrett, R. B. Harris, and A. E. M. Greswell joined for duty. On the 15th advanced parties of one officer per company and one N.C.O. per platoon went up to the trenches, and the Battalion was put under orders to move at two hours' notice in view of the Canadian attack on Hill 70, but were not called upon.


On the 16th the Battalion left Verquin by Companies at 12 noon, and were met by guides at Philosophe cross-roads, marching thence by Platoons to relieve the 1/5th Sherwood Foresters in the St. Elie Right Sub-Sector, three Companies being in the line, and one in reserve. All the front line Companies were in tunnels, with posts at the tunnel exits, the reserve Company occupying a trench immediately in the rear of the tunnel entrances. The tour was a quiet one generally, but occasionally enemy trench mortars were troublesome, 2nd Lieut. Thomson being dangerously wounded, and subsequently dying of wounds. On the evening of the 20th, however, the Mansion House Dump at Vermelles, where rations were transferred to small trucks which were man-handled up to the front line, was heavily shelled, the metals being torn up in many places, and the ration train was only able to reach a point half a mile from the Dump. C.Q.M.S. E. W. Rushton, Corporal A. Lawson, Lance-Corporal A. Epton, and Privates G. W. Clarke and J. W. Beeby behaved with great gallantry and showed conspicuous devotion to duty in remaining at their posts, and carrying all the Battalion rations into safety under heavy shell fire. The Brigadier gave instructions that their conduct on this occasion was to be considered an act worthy to be entered on their conduct sheets and in the Regimental records.

On the 22nd we were relieved by the 1/4th Lincolnshire Regiment and moved to billets in Noyelles, where we remained till the 28th, when we began another tour in the trenches, which passed without incident, enemy trench mortar acitivity causing no casualties on this occasion. On September 3rd we were relieved from the front line, and the Battalion disposed with A and D Companies as forward support [p140] in Noyelles, with Battalion Headquarters and B and C Companies at Philosophe. A raid was arranged to be carried out by the Battalion on the 8th, and the companies selected (B and C) were carefully practised over a taped course at Philosophe during the next few days.

At 4.15 p.m., the raiding party completed their fitting out and left Noyelles for the trenches, Zero hour being fixed for 7.55 p.m. The party consisted of Captain S. C. W. Disney in command, 2nd Lieut. G. H. Quantrill, O.C. right front party; 2nd Lieut. R. C. B. Harvey, O.C. right rear party; 2nd Lieut. B. G. English, O.C. left front party; and 2nd Lieut. H. E. Hawkeswood, O.C. left rear party, and 100 Other Ranks. The assembly in Boyeau 78 was carried out without a hitch, and was evidently not noticed by the enemy as not a shot was fired. The barrage started punctually, and the men started off well, the advance being made in three lines at 30 yards distance, the objective being the enemy's third line. The German wire had been fairly well cut, but the enemy had made efforts to mend it with barbed concertina wire in places, and the men had to bunch to get through. However, it was passed everywhere without much difficulty, and there were no casualties previous to entering the front line trench. The enemy barrage came down quickly in No Man's Land behind the raiding party at Zero plus two minutes, and later increased in intensity—the preliminary wire cutting had probably put the enemy on his guard, and he was expecting an attack, as the first two lines of trenches were found unoccupied, but the third line was strongly held, and heavy rifle and machine gun fire was opened on the raiding party. An attempt was made to advance on this trench under cover of rifle and Lewis gun fire, but it was found to be strongly wired, [p141] and some of our own shells were falling short, so the party withdrew our casualties being two killed, 16 wounded, and 3 missing. Captain Disney led the raid with great dash, and conducted the retirement with ability, remaining in the enemy trench until all the wounded had been evacuated, and being the last to leave. Several N.C.O.'s showed conspicuous courage and ability for leadership during the raid. Acting C.S.M. A. C. Needham led his party up a communication trench until checked by a barricade, from which fire was opened, close to the enemy third line; he at once attacked the barricade with bombs until his supply was exhausted, and then did valuable work in organizing parties and directing their fire, showing no regard for his personal safety. Sergeant H. Lewin also led his party with much ability, was the last of them to leave the enemy trench, covering their withdrawal by his fire, and then helping wounded back to our own lines. Corporal J. Austin mounted his Lewis gun in an exposed position, and maintained it there under heavy fire as long as our party remained, staying to cover their withdrawal, while Private C. W. Eckles, when the party of which he was leader were checked by fire from a barricade, remained in the trench opening rapid fire on the loophole and covering the retirement of his party, although bombed by the enemy from the barricade. Unfortunately no identification could be obtained on this occasion as the two front enemy trenches had been evacuated before the raiding party got across to them.

The Battalion returned to the trenches from September 9th to 15th, and had a quiet tour; on the 14th the C.O. left to command the Brigade temporarily, while the Brigadier was on leave. On the 15th we were relieved by the 1/4th Lincolnshire Regiment, and after a halt at Noyelles, where a [p142] meal was supplied to the men, marched to billets in Fouquieres as Brigade Reserve, where training was carried on until the 21st, when we again returned to the trenches, halting at Noyelles for a meal and a rest as before. The only casualty during this tour was C.S.M. Harrison, a most gallant and useful Warrant Officer, who was unfortunately killed by a bomb. On the 25th 2nd Lieut. Rose joined the Battalion for duty, and the C.O. returned from Brigade. At 1 p.m. on the 28th gas was projected from our front on the enemy trenches, but the enemy did not retaliate in any way, and we were relieved at night by the 1/4th Lincolnshire Regiment, B and C Companies remaining as forward support in Noyelles, while A and D and Battalion Headquarters occupied billets in Philosophe.

After the usual first day's rest working parties were supplied daily while out of the trenches, bathing and medical inspections were carried out, and the Battalion beat the 468th Company R.E. by two goals to one in the first round of the Divisional Football League. On October 3rd we relieved the 1/4th Lincolnshire Regiment in the same trench sector, A, B, and D Companies in the line, with C Company in support. The following night gas was projected on to the enemy front from our line, but there was little retaliation. On the night of October 5th, which was cold and wet, the enemy made a silent raid on K Dump, garrisoned by A Company. Heavy rain clouds made the night darker than usual, and enabled the raiders to crawl along the disused trenches in front of K Dump to within 20 yards of the centre post before they were observed about 7 p.m. At the moment that they were first seen they threw bombs into all three posts, causing momentary confusion, then made a rush for the parapet of the trench, fired in to it, and immediately [p143] retired. The whole affair only lasted half a minute and fire was at once opened on them as they ran back. After they retired 2nd Lieut. Rose was found to be missing; he had just visited the right post, and was walking to the centre post, when the raid took place. Patrols were at once sent out, and remained out during the night, but no trace of the missing officer was found. On the evening of the 7th K Dump was heavily trench mortared; at 10 p.m. gas was projected from our front, and again very little retaliation by the enemy artillery occurred. On the evening of the 9th, we were relieved by the 1/4th Lincolnshire Regiment, and went into Divisional Reserve at Fouquieres, halting at Noyelles for a meal on route.

On October 12th the Battalion furnished the Guard of Honour for the President of the Portuguese Republic at the First Army Headquarters at Lillers. The Guard under the command of Captain M. Robinson, with 2nd Lieuts. Simpson and Harvey, was composed of 100 men, 25 men being selected from each company. Both the Army and Corps Commanders sent messages expressing their appreciation of the turn-out and smartness of the Guard. The Battalion were beaten in the Divisional Football League by the 1/5th South Staffordshire Regiment by 1 to 2. The weather continued cold and wet, but a certain amount of Company training was carried out daily. On the 13th, the Battalion paraded at 12.30 p.m. for a ceremonial presentation of medal ribands by the G.O.C. 46th Division, and on the 15th we returned to the trenches, A, B, and C Companies being in the line, and D Company in support. On the way up to the trenches Major H. G. Wilson fell and unfortunately broke his leg, which caused him to be invalided to England, and Captain S. C. W. Disney took over the duties of [p144] 2nd-in-Command, Captain Surfleet assuming command of B Company.

On the night of the 16th a small party attempted to raid a look-out post of C Company, but were driven off by rifle fire, and on the 18th another enemy party attempted a silent raid but were discovered, fired at, and quickly withdrew. On the 20th the G.O.C. 46th Division, and the B.G.C. 138th Brigade, accompanied by Major-General Bell of the U.S. Army, and other American officers, made a tour of our sector, which was enlivened by an enemy bombardment, causing our visitors to take refuge for 20 minutes in the tunnels, with which they were suitably impressed, especially as the lights went out. Lieut.-Col. Waring proceeded home on leave, and Major Fielding-Johnson, 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment, took over the temporary command of the Battalion during his absence. Next day we were relieved in the trenches, and became Brigade support, Battalion Headquarters with B and C Companies being in Philosophe and A and D Companies in the forward support positions. On the 23rd Lieuts. Dawe, M.C., and Mowson, joined the Battalion, and on the 26th we lost to the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment in the Divisional Football League by 1 to 2. The weather was wet during these few days and nothing of interest occurred until we returned to the trenches on the night of the 27th, C Company being in support and the other three Companies in the line. Captain Haseldine rejoined the Battalion, and Captain Dowling R.A.M.C., replaced Captain Condy, R.A.M.C. as M.O. On the 28th 2nd Lieut. Moran, who had gone sick on the 26th, was found to be suffering from diphtheria, and orders were received from the A.D.M.S. of the Division for A Company to be isolated in consequence. On the 31st, the Battalion on our [p145] right carried out a successful raid, which we assisted by Lewis gun fire.

On November 1st our trenches were subjected to a heavy bombardment for three hours from 8.30 a.m. by trench mortars and shells of all calibres up to 5.9; some damage was done, but there were no casualties. About 3.30 p.m. on the same day, 2nd Lieut. Simpson and Private J. T. Tilley crawled out of our trenches over a crater into the enemy's front line to a post which was known to be occupied at night. They found the post unoccupied, removed the bombs lying in it, and returned to our line. About 4.30 p.m., accompanied by Lance-Corporal J. Dixon, they again crawled out, and took up a position close to the post, Lieut. Simpson first going forward to reconnoitre and ensure that their previous visit had not been detected. About 5.45 p.m. a party of six Germans entered the post. Private Tilley opened fire on them, and Lieut. Simpson rushed in firing his revolver, closely followed by Lance-Corporal Dixon and Private Tilley . A hand to hand struggle ensued, three of the Germans were killed and the others fled, one being wounded. The enemy opened intense machine gun fire at close range, but the party succeeded in returning to our trenches with valuable identifications; immediately afterwards the enemy put down a barrage for a time on our front line, but no casualties were sustained. The operation above described was entirely conceived and carried out by 2nd Lieut. Simpson, and his report was forwarded in the usual manner. The following complimentary memorandum was subsequently received from the Corps Commander:

I have perused the report with great interest and desire that 2nd Lieut. Simpson, Lance-Corporal Dixon, and Private Tilley be commended for the courage, audacity, and coolness displayed [p146] by them, qualities which will always ensure success in any military enterprise.

I was particularly pleased to note that the patrol depended upon their fire arms both in attack and defence.

A. Holland, Lieut.-General. Commanding I Corps. I Corps Headquarters. November 2nd, 1917.

and the following memo was received from Headquarters First Army:

The Army Commander has made the following remarks on the report of the patrol enterprise carried out by 2nd Lieut. Simpson and two other ranks of the 1/5th Lincolnshire Regiment.

"I associate myself with the remarks of the Corps Commander."

2nd Lieut. Simpson was awarded the Military Cross and Lance-Corporal Dixon and Private Tilley the Distinguished Conduct Medal. During the night of November 1st-2nd movement in No Man's Land in front of trench 78 was twice observed by our sentries, and rifle and Lewis gun fire opened, after which Lieut. Dawe took out a patrol, but could find no signs of the enemy. After daybreak, however, Sergeant J. Mountain observed an object, apparently a body, about 70 yards in front of our line, and after warning the neighbouring posts, crawled out to investigate, and found it to be the body of a German N.C.O. He was observed by the enemy as it was now full daylight, and machine gun fire was opened on him. In spite of this he dragged the body into a shell hole, searched for and obtained an identification of great importance, the 13th Jäger Regiment R.I.D. having been previously unknown in the sector, and succeeded in [p147] regaining our lines. He was awarded the Military Medal for conspicuous gallantry.

On the evening of November 2nd we were relieved by the 1/4th Lincolnshire Regiment and proceeded to Divisional Reserve billets at Fouquieres, when Lieut.-Col. Waring resumed command on his return from leave. Training and work on billets occupied the time during the next few days, another round was played in the Divisional Football League, when we drew, 1 all, with the Divisional Supply Column; on the 8th, we returned to the trenches, B Company being in support during the tour, which passed without any noteworthy incident. A warning order was received to the effect that we were shortly to occupy a new trench sector on Hill 70, which was accordingly reconnoitred by the C.O. and other officers, while the officers of the Sherwood Foresters who were to take our sector visited our lines. On the evening of the 16th we relieved the 1/6th Sherwood Foresters in Brigade support at Hill 70, Battalion Headquarters being at Tosh Alley on the Loos-Hulloch road. Work on improvement of the trenches was carried on daily until the night of the 21st, when we relieved the 1/4th Lincolnshire Regiment in the line in Hill 70 Right Sub-Sector, B Company in Quarry and D Company in Hugo trench being in the line, with C and A Companies in support. On the 22nd at 5.45 a.m. the enemy opened a heavy barrage on our front, and on the sector on our left held by the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment, subsequently raiding the latter's position, but our Battalion front was not affected and our casualties were nil.

On the 24th the C.O. 6th Yorkshire Regiment visited the sector to arrange for our relief by his Battalion of the 11th Division, which was about to relieve the 46th Division. The relief took place on [p148] the evening of the 26th, and the Battalion proceeded to billets for the night at Noeux Les Mines, halting at Mazingarbe for a meal, and arriving at billets about midnight.