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


Trenches During The Winter of 1917-18

On November 27th a general cleaning up was undertaken, and the Battalion marched to rest billets in the Tobacco Factory in Bethune. The 28th was spent in cleaning up and refitting; Captain Haseldine rejoined, and Lieut. Lepine and 2nd Lieut. Alston joined for duty. The usual training programme during a rest was arranged, together with boxing contests and football as recreational training. On the 30th the Battalion beat the 138th Brigade Headquarters in the Divisional League by 2 to 1. Bethune was shelled at intervals of a day or two, but we sustained no casualties. On December 3rd the Transport was inspected by the G.O.C. 46th Division, who was very pleased with the turn-out. On the 4th the Battalion was the Guard of Honour at a Medal Riband presentation by the G.O.C. and turned out well. The C.O. and Company Commanders reconnoitred the fresh trench sector to be taken over in the Cambrin sector, and on the 6th the Battalion drew, 2 all, with the 1/5th Sherwood Foresters in the Divisional League. Training was continued up to December 8th, on which date our short rest ended, and we once more returned to the front line under command of Major Disney, who took over the temporary command during Lieut.-Col. Waring 's absence in temporary command of the Brigade. The distribution in the Cambrin left sector was two Companies in the front, [p150] and two in support, with Battalion Headquarters just off Railway Alley.

On December 9th about 5 p.m. Captain Goodall, of C Company, observed a party of the enemy about 30 strong, getting out of their trenches and lying down in No Man's Land, and at 5.15 a heavy trench mortar bombardment began which gradually increased in intensity, forming a "box" on the area on the top of Railway Alley, with the rear side about 50 yards in front of our Reserve Line. Captain Goodall had warned our artillery, and at 5.35 asked for their support; our barrage was put down, and all possible supporting fire was brought to bear on the front of the suspected raid, and as a result no enemy infantry attack ensued. It seems clear that the enemy intended a raid, which was stopped by the ready action of our artillery on Captain Goodall 's initiative. The following memos were subsequently communicated.

I. Corps. I forward herewith detailed reports of the action taken in repelling an attempted raid on the night of the 9th inst. I have informed the B.G.C. 138th Brigade that I consider the action of all concerned most creditable.

W. Thwaites, Major-General. Commanding 46th Division." December 12th, 1917.

46th Division. "The Corps Commander wishes to associate himself with the remarks made by the G.O.C. 46th Division with reference to the action taken by the 5th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment in repelling a raid as reported December 11th, 1917.

G. V. Hordern, B.G. General Staff I. Corps. December 13th, 1917.


The next day passed quietly, but at 12.50 a.m. on December 11th, the enemy suddenly projected gas on to our front and reserve lines, principally on the right, with a simultaneous heavy artillery and trench mortar barrage which extended to the Battalion on our flanks. The projection was a complete surprise being the first occasion on which the Germans used projectors on the British Front; the projectors were apparently fired in four groups of about 100 each. The casualties were not so serious as might have been expected, 2nd Lieut. Stevens and 8 other ranks were gassed, of whom two afterwards died. During the day the damage done to our trenches by the bombardment was repaired, and at 8.30 p.m. gas was successfully projected from our front line to which no immediate reply was made, but at 10 p.m. the enemy put down a heavy barrage on our front, and that of the Battalion on our right. At 11.35 p.m. an enemy party of 8 men attempted to raid one of our posts. Corporal W. Vassey who was in command of the advanced posts, having been cut off from his Platoon Commander by the bombardment, accompanied by Private W. Allen, at once rushed forward, and with bombs and rifle drove the enemy from the sap, while Private W. Robinson rushed forward and took up a position on the top, and opened fire with his Lewis gun. All three had behaved with great coolness and gallantry during the bombardment on the previous night, and were awarded the Military Medal. The enemy bombardment continued until 1.30 a.m. on the 13th, when it died gradually away, and all available men set to work to repair our trenches which were badly damaged, our casualties being 2nd Lieut. Mitchell and 13 Other Ranks wounded.

Private H. Gross attached to the 138th Brigade Trench Mortar Battery performed a most gallant [p152] action during the night, when engaged in firing a Stokes Mortar. He noticed that the lever of one of the Stokes bombs had been knocked off, thereby causing the fuse to burn, and realised that in 12 seconds the bomb would explode. He placed it in the mortar with the intention of firing it at the enemy but the cartridge misfired, and the bomb remained in the mortar with the fuse burning. In order to avoid an explosion, which would have wrecked the mortar, endangered the lives of other men, and probably destroyed the emplacement, as 300 detonated bombs were close at hand, Private Gross quickly raised the base of the mortar, and catching the bomb as it slid from the muzzle, threw it out of the emplacement, when it immediately exploded. For this gallant action he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, and afterwards the Croix de Guerre.

The next few days passed quietly, and on the evening of the 14th we were relieved by the 1/4th Lincolnshire Regiment and went into Brigade support, Headquarters and two Companies at Annequin, B Company in Factory Dug-outs, and D Company at Maison Rouge dug-outs, where Lieut.-Col. Waring rejoined and took over command. During this tour in support large night working parties were employed in digging cable trenches; two football matches were played, when the Battalion beat the 138th M.G.C. by 12 to 0, and the 465th Company R.E. by 2 to 1; intimation was received that the Battalion Transport was first in the Divisional Awards for the half-year, thus winning a prize of 250 francs.

The following memo was received from the 138th Brigade:

The B.G.C. congratulates the C.O., Transport Officer, and personnel of the 1/5th Lincolnshire Regiment on winning the first prize [p153] for the Transport competition. He hopes that this will encourage them to exert themselves to the utmost to maintain the Transport and Transport lines in the highest possible state of efficiency.

On the 20th we returned to the trenches, the dispositions being, B Company (right) in Railway, A Company (centre) in Munster, D Company (left) in Lewis in the front line, with C Company in support in Old Boots trench. During the tour, which was comparatively quiet, Lieut. Doyle, U.S. Army Medical Corps relieved Captain Dowling, R.A.M.C, as M.O. Christmas Day, marked by a heavy fall of snow, passed quietly, but was saddened by the accidental death of 2nd Lieut. Harvey, who was killed by the premature explosion of a rifle grenade which exploded 6 feet from the muzzle. More snow fell on the 26th, when we were relieved and proceeded to Divisional Reserve at Beuvry. On the 27th the Battalion bathed, cleaned up, and provided an advanced party for wiring the village line, and a draft of 55 other ranks joined. On the 28th the Battalion celebrated Christmas; the Company dinners were a great success, as were the concerts in the evening; the gifts from the Christmas Comforts Fund raised by Mrs. Sandall in Lincolnshire as in previous years added to the enjoyment of all ranks. Lieut.-Col. Sandall, the former C.O. who was on temporary duty at Divisional Headquarters, visited the Battalion during the day. On the 29th, after a lecture from Lieut. Squire on War Savings in the morning, large parties from the Battalion wired the village line in the evening, and Captain Surfleet and Lieut. Stevens rejoined.

On January 1st, 1918, the Battalion relieved the 1/4th Lincolnshire Regiment in the same sector, three Companies being in the front line, and B Company in support. On the 2nd the day was [p154] quiet, but a heavy trench mortar and artillery barrage was put down on the centre Company, causing some casualties and damage. About 11.30 a small party of the enemy attempted to raid one of our posts, but were driven off by our fire. Private W. Reynolds showed conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty, when it was impossible to get news from the front line to Company Headquarters owing to the heavy barrage; he patrolled the whole of his Company front above ground and then reported the situation to his Company Commander, and later worked for five hours under heavy machine gun fire to rescue two men who had been buried. Private H. Phelps, who was on an important post in front, also exhibited marked courage and devotion to duty. When the other four men with him were buried by a Trench Mortar explosion, Private Phelps, although badly shaken, remained on his post by himself, observing the enemy until found alone after the bombardment was over. Both these men received the Military Medal.

The enemy were inactive after this until the 6th, which was marked by a long continuous bombardment on our front until 6 p.m., causing considerable damage but no casualties. The weather continued cold, with snow at intervals, and on the 7th we returned to Brigade support at Annequin, finding wiring parties and other fatigues during the next week until we returned to the trenches on the 13th. On the 15th owing to a thaw the trenches began to fall in, and by the next day some of the communication trenches became impassable and food had to be conveyed to the front line at night over the top. A terrible thunderstorm occurred during the night and steady rain fell all next day. On the 17th, as it was found impossible with the men available to clear the trenches, two companies of our Pioneer [p155] Battalion, the 1st Monmouthshire Regiment, were sent to our assistance. The Division was now being withdrawn from the line for a time, being relieved by the 11th Division, and we were expecting to be relieved in the trenches by the 6th York and Lancaster Regiment in a few day's time. Owing to the bad weather, however, and the awful condition of the trenches our tour was shortened, and the Battalion were only too pleased to be relieved on the night of January 17th by the 1/4th Lincolnshire Regiment, and proceeded to billets at Beuvry. The rest from the line was very welcome, as the sector was by no means a quiet one, our casualties had been numerous, the weather for the past few weeks atrocious, the work very heavy, and the strain on the health of the men severe.