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The 1/4th Battalion in the Battles of the SOMME, 1916 - Attack on Gommecourt

4TH Battalion, The London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) in the Great War 1914 - 1919


I. The Attack on Gommecourt

The spring of 1916 was marked by two enemy offensives, at Verdun and on the Italian front, both of which tried the resources of our Alhes severely. In order to draw off German troops to the East the Russian offensive against the Austrians had been started in May, but in spite of this the German pressure against Verdun continued to increase.

Sir Douglas Haig had for some time intended to undertake an offensive operation on a large scale during 1916 in conjunction with the French, and in view of the continual increase in the strength of the British Armies it was clearly desirable that the launching of the battle should be delayed as long as possible consistent with the advance of the summer. But in view of the great pressure at Verdun it was decided that the British attacks should begin at the latest at the end of June, with the objects of reheving our Allies and of pinning as many enemies as possible to the front opposite the British Armies, in addition to the tactical improvement of our positions.

The part of the enemy's lines selected for attack was the right of the British front, opposite which the Germans occupied high ground forming the watershed between the River Somme and the rivers flowing north-east into Belgium. The general direction of this watershed, which consists of a chalk country of broad swelling downs and deep well-wooded valleys, is roughly from east-south-east to west-north-west. The aspect of this country bears a general resemblance to parts of Wiltshire, and the gentle undulations of the higher slopes of the hills, which descend with unexpected abruptness into waterless valleys lined with banks whose declivitous sides seem to have been shaped by human agency, cause the resemblance to be one also of detail. From this watershed a series of long spurs runs south-westerly towards the Somme, and on their lower slopes the German lines ran from Curlu near the river at first north and then almost due west to Fricourt, a distance of some 10,000 yards. At Fricourt the lines took an abrupt turn northward for a further 10,000 yards when they crossed the Ancre, a tributary of the Somme, near Hamel. From this point they continued in a generally northerly direction, passing through Beaumont Hamel, west of Serre and between Hebuterne and Gommecourt. In the neighbourhood of the two last-named villages the lines crossed the summit of the main watershed, and thence descended gently in a north-easterly direction towards Arras.

On the 20,000 yards between the Somme and the Ancre the enemy had already prepared a strong second system of defence about two miles in rear of the front system ; and on the whole front from Gommecourt to the Somme he had spared no effort in the nearly two years of his uninterrupted occupation to render these positions impregnable. The strengthening of woods and villages into fortresses, and the skilful use of the ground in siting trenches and gun and machine-gun emplacements, had in fact woven his successive lines of trenches into one composite system. Yet further in rear he was still at work improving existing defences and constructing new.

The front of attack on which the British armies were to operate covered the whole of the above described line from Gommecourt to Curlu — a total of about 17 miles — while the French were to co-operate on a wide front immediately south of the River Somme.

The story of the struggle which, lasting from the beginning of July until the early part of November, gave us possession, first of the forward trench systems, then of the crest of the ridge, and finally of the whole plateau and parts of the further slopes, divides itself into phases, which can be dealt with in turn to such an extent as the record of the l/4th Battalion is concerned with them. For the present we are concerned with the enormous preparations which preceded the opening of the struggle and of the first phase of the battle which began on the 1st July 1916.

Dealing with the preparations for the battle generally, an enormous amount of work was required in improving road and rail communications ; in digging assembly trenches and dugouts, for use not only as shelters but also as aid posts and stores for ammunition for small arms and trench mortars ; and in constructing many additional machine-gun and gun emplacements. The water supply for the assaulting troops presented a serious problem, and Sir Douglas Haig records in his Despatches that in this connection over a hundred pumping plants were installed and over 120 miles of water mains laid.

During most of the period in which this preliminary labour proceeded the troops were working under most trying weather conditions and frequently were harassed by heavy enemy fire.

The particular tasks for which the 168th Brigade, and in particular the l/4th Londons, were called upon will be referred to in their places at greater length.

After remaining in training in the Prevent area for the latter half of March and the whole of April the 56th Division moved forward on the 3rd and 4th of May into the VII Corps area (D'Oyly Snow) and took over from the 46th Division a sector of the line in front of the village of Hebuterne and facing Gommecourt.

The line was occupied by the 167th Brigade, the 168th moving in reserve to Souastre, a small village some three miles west of the front trenches. The Battalion moved by march route from Beaufort on the 6th and arrived at Souastre after a ten mile march at 9 p.m.

Two or three days were occupied in training, and on the 11th May the Battalion began to supply working parties of considerable size. Of these, one of 200 all ranks was despatched to Pas and employed in felling and sawing trees to form props for gun pits and dugouts ; and another of 250 all ranks went to the chalk quarries of Henii, where they were given a task in digging road material. These working parties, the first of many weary tasks, constituted so far as the Battalion was concerned the first direct active preparations in the area of battle for the Somme offensive.

The Battalion's duty at Souastre lasted a fortnight. Work, however, did not take up the whole of the Battalion's time, and opportunity was found for a foot-ball match with the Kensingtons, which was played on the 12th May and resulted in a draw at one all. A few days later the Battalion entered representatives at the London Scottish sports at St. Amand, securing second and third places in the " open " 200 yards.

On the 15th Major H. J. Duncan-Teape rejoined the Battalion and was appointed second in command. The works programme was now beginning to be operated by Brigade Headquarters to the fullest extent and the greatest possible working strength was daily employed, the chief tasks being the digging of cable trenches for the signal services, the construction of new dugouts and the deepening and strengthening of existing communication and fire trenches.

D Company and one platoon of B Company in fact were despatched on the 18th to Hebuterne, where they were billeted for night digging work ; and every available man of the remaining companies was detailed for work of one sort or another. So insistent was the demand for more labour that on the 20th May the band and every available man of the transport section had to be put to work on digging parties.

On the 20th and 21st May a series of Brigade reliefs took place, the trenches being occupied by the 169th Brigade, who replaced the 167th ; while the 168th withdrew in Divisional reserve to Grenas, a hamlet near the Doullens-Arras Road, where Brigade Headquarters opened on the 21st. The Rangers and Scottish were billeted close by at Halloy ; but the l/4th Londons and the Kensingtons remained in the forward area attached to the 169th Brigade, the latter battalion occupying W sector, on the right of the Divisional front. The l/4th Londons moved on the 21st in Brigade reserve to Bayencourt, about a mile and a half south of Souastre and slightly nearer the trenches.

On the 22nd the detachments in Hebuterne were relieved by C Company, who took over their tasks. Each night of the period of duty in Bayencourt the Battalion continued to supply large numbers of men for fatigues of various sorts, the parties being small and divided amongst a large number of tasks. These working parties were equipped as lightly as possible, the men carrying water-bottles and respirators over the left shoulder ; a bandolier of fifty rounds over the right shoulder ; and their rifles with bayonet in scabbard fixed. But although the troops moved " light " the duties were onerous, partly from the long hours of work and the strain induced by the short available time in which to complete apparently impossible tasks ; and not least by the bad weather, the season from the middle of May onwards being for the most part wet. Hitherto practically no casualties had been sustained, the first recorded casualties at the enemy's hands during the Battalion's attachment to the 56th Division occurring on the 24th May, when two men were wounded at work in Hebuterne.

On the afternoon of the 28th May the l/4th Londons relieved the Kensingtons in W subsector of the Divisional front, the Battalion still being under the orders of the 169th Brigade. The Kensingtons took over on relief the billets at Bayencourt.

The Divisional sector as taken over from the 46th Division early in May had consisted of the original line taken up by the French troops in October 1914 during the extension of the battle line from the Aisne to the sea. This line the French had continued to hold until they were finally relieved of responsibility for it in June 1915, when the British extended their lines southward to the Somme. The frontage of the sector extended as shown on Map No. 4 from the Bucquoy Road on the right to a point opposite the most westerly point of Gommecourt Wood on the left, being divided into two subsectors, W and Y, by an imaginary line running roughly parallel to, and 200 yards north of, the Hebuterne-Bucquoy Road. Opposite the British lines the Germans held a position of enormous strength bastioned by the enclosure of Gommecourt Wood which marked an abrupt salient in their line. As was only too frequently the case the enemy possessed considerable advantages of observation over the British lines, the ground rising steadily in rear of his front trenches to the Gommecourt-Bucquoy ridge, which, although not a hill of outstanding pre-eminence, formed the summit of the Somme watershed described earlier in this chapter.

Except in the neighbourhood of villages such as Hebuterne, which are surrounded by orchards and enclosed in a ring fence, the Somme country is, like most of Picardy and Artois, devoid of hedges, and from road to road the swell of the hillside is unbroken by fence or ditch. The roads themselves, however, are in many cases " sunken," that is, contained in a deep cutting, the cover afforded by the banks playing an important part in the actions fought in this area.

A glance at the map will help to make the position clear. The trench line shown as a reserve position on the map and marked as the WR and YR lines was at the date of the 56th Division's advent the most advanced trench, so that No Man's Land varied in width from 800 to 600 yards. This fact is most important and a full realisation of it is essential to a correct understanding of the enormous task performed by the 56th Division.

In view of the impending attack the great width of No Man's Land was clearly a great disadvantage, as the time which must necessarily be occupied by assaulting columns in advancing an average of distance of 700 yards before reaching the German front line would expose them to risk of very serious loss and possibly deprive the attack completely of the weight necessary to enable it to be driven home. Nothing daunted by this difficulty, however, the 56th Division at once proceeded to make arrangements to push the lines forward and roughly to halve the width of No Man's Land. This audacious scheme was put into operation, and before the end of May the construction of the new front line — that shown as the front line on the map — was begun.

The operation of digging a new front line at no great distance from the enemy was one of considerable difficulty. It was clearly essential to perform the work at night, and in view of the importance of the work it was equally clearly a matter of necessity to have the task set out with tapes as a mark for the troops to dig to. It was further reasonable to anticipate that as soon as the enemy became aware of the existence of the new line he would shell it violently, and therefore the new trench must be sunk deeply enough in the first night's work to enable its completion to be carried on from inside without the need for moving troops about in the open. This aim postulated a working party of great strength, for the front to be covered was nearly 2000 yards, and the noise which must inevitably arise from over a mile of shovels and picks hard at work was likely to bring down a hail of machine-gun bullets and cause very severe casualties, and even, in the presence of an enterprising enemy, the probability of a surprise attack in the middle of the work. The attempt was clearly fraught v/ith great risk, but with characteristic boldness Gen. Hull determined to make the attempt.

On the night of the 25/26th May the setting out of the work was safely accomplished by the Royal Engineers under cover of a screen of scouts, and the following night a working party of 3000 men got to work on the digging, a line of outposts being established for their protection within 200 yards of the German line.

The Battalion responsible for W — the right or southern — sector of the new line was the l/4th Londons, the work being under the control of Major Duncan-Teape, while the L.R.B. undertook the work in Y sector. The night luckily passed quietly, and all ranks working with a will the new trench, shown on map as W 47, W 48, W 49 and W 50, was opened and sunk to a depth sufficient to provide cover.

When the Battalion, therefore, took over W sector on the night of the 28th May, the new front line was becoming fit to occupy and had, moreover, reached the anticipated stage in which, the Bosche being alive to what had been done, it was becoming a favourite target for his shells and trench mortar bombs of all calibres. From this time onwards, in fact until the battle, the Divisional sector and in particular the new trenches were daily harassed by the enemy's fire, and constant repair work on the part of our trench garrisons was called for in addition to the continuance of new construction.

The front line of W sector was taken up by A Company (A. R. Moore) on the right with B Company (S. Elliott) on the left, supports to both front line companies being found by D Company (Giles), while C Company (Long) was in reserve at Hebuterne. Battalion Headquarters occupied dugouts beneath a roller flour mill in Hebuterne. The move forward from Bayencourt for this relief being made in daylight was carried out across country along tracks, platoons moving separately at 300 yards distance.

After relief the Kensingtons in Bayencourt remained at the disposal of the l/4th Londons for working parties, for the construction of the new front line was but a small beginning of the task which still remained to be completed before the opening of the battle. In addition to the first line there was to be dug a control trench immediately in rear of it, and a new support line — the WS line — and all these were to be connected up by the advancement from the old WR line of Warrior, Welcome, Whisky, Woman and Wood Street communication trenches. These defensive works completed, there was also the erection of the necessary wire entanglements in front, the construction of dugouts for shelters, company head-quarters, ammunition stores, and signal offices ; the laying of armoured signal cable from all headquarters dugouts back to battalion and brigade, the digging of cable trenches for lines of particular importance, the collection of the necessary supplies of small arms and trench mortar ammunition and bombs in dumps ; and other tasks of varying importance and interest. Enough has been said, however, to indicate that with only a month in which to do all this work it was clear that the Battalion was not likely to find time hanging heavily on its hands while in the line, — and indeed it did not.

The tour of duty proved somewhat unpleasant. The works programme was, of course, the outstanding duty, and all ranks put their shoulders to it with a will, but the heavy rains which fell each day made it hard to keep pace with the time-table set for the work, while the remarkable aggressiveness of the enemy's guns added to the digging scheme by providing much undesired practice in trench repair work.

During the night following the relief the Battalion's positions were heavily bombarded by heavy guns and trench mortars, which caused much damage and several casualties, especially in the left company front. Capt. Elliott had to be dug out of the trench which was blo\vn in on him, and he was sent to hospital suffering from severe concussion ; and 3 N.C.O.'s and men were killed and 12 wounded. Capt. Elliott was unhappily never able to return to France, and in him the Battalion lost an officer of remarkably cool and sound judgment and of wide sympathy with the welfare of his men.

The 30th May opened with a heavy bombardment of our lines at 12.15 a.m., which was repeated half an hour later. About 2.50 a.m., following further bombardment, the S.O.S. signal was received from the Queen Victoria's Rifles in Y subsector, who reported the enemy advancing. A very quick response to the call was made by our artillery, which laid down a barrage on S.O.S. lines ; but no infantry movement developed on our front. At about 5 p.m. the enemy turned his attention to Battalion Headquarters in H6buterne, which were heavily shelled and severely damaged. The sentry on duty was badly wounded, as were also four other men of the Headquarters staff and four of D Company billeted in an adjoining dugout. The total casualties for the day amounted to 31, of whom 16 in B Company were cases of severe shell shock following tlie previous day's bombardment.

This unpleasant degree of Bosche activity continued during the night, when our working parties were harassed and seriously delayed ; and the 31st May saw no abatement of the shelling. Battalion Headquarters again received a " hate " at about 5 p.m., and the casualties for the day were Lieut. H. B. A. Balls, wounded at duty, and in N.C.O.'s and men, 1 killed and 3 wounded.

Throughout this tour of duty the promptness with which the Divisional artillery responded to calls for retaliatory fire against the enemy's activity was excellent and did a great deal to inspire all ranks with confidence in the gunners.

Further heavy bombardments occurred on the 1st June, which caused a very great deal of damage to the new trenches. On the afternoon of the next day the l/4th Londons were relieved by the London Scottish, withdrawing on relief to Bayencourt, where tea was served and valises picked up from the stores. In the evening the Battalion was concentrated in huts at Souastre. The Kensingtons had also been relieved by the Rangers, who with the Scottish now came under the orders of the 169th Brigade.

A day was spent' in Souastre by the Battalion in cleaning trench mud from uniforms and equipment, and in the evening it moved by march route via Henu to Halloy, where it came once more under the orders of the 168th Brigade in Divisional reserve.

During this period of preparations for the battle the strength of the Battalion had been steadily creeping up with reinforcements from home and from the disbanded 2/4th Battalion. The drafts from the 2/4th Battalion were particularly valuable ; they had all seen active service and, moreover, they were rich in potential N.C.O.'s. Throughout the hard fighting which followed the Battalion was fortunate in having so great an internal reserve of strength in this respect. As already recorded the 2/4th Battalion had been on overseas service for nearly eighteen months without the grant of any home leave. Through the special intervention of Lieut. -Col. Wheatley several large allotments of leave were made to the l/4th Londons, and these were used chiefly for the benefit of the 2/4th Battalion reinforcements, but it was of course inevitable that large numbers of men should be unable to obtain leave before the 1st July.

The drafts received were :

7th May— 2/Lieuts. F. R. C. Bradford, C. S. G. Blows, J. W. Price and S. Davis, and 214 other ranks from the 2/4th Battalion.
14th May— 44 other ranks from the Reserve Battalion.
24th May — 130 other ranks from the 2/4th Battalion.

When the last-noted draft joined, the Battalion was treated to the annoying spectacle of watching a further 100 men of the 2/4th Battalion marching by en route for the Kensingtons.

The day following arrival at Halloy being Sunday, a parade service was held, the first since the 14th May ; and later in the day a further reinforcement, this time composed entirely of officers, reported to the Battalion from the disbanded 2/4th Battalion, as follows :

Capts. R. N. Ai-thur and H. G. Stanham, Lieuts. W. R. Botterill and W. A. Stark, and 2/Lieuts. H. W. Vernon, B. F. L. Yeoman, H. G. Hicklentou and N. W. Williams. The two first-named officers had been mobilised with the l/4th Battalion in August 1914, and were thus particularly welcome. The officers of this draft were distributed among the companies, and Capt. Arthur took over the duties of Works Officer as Major, an appointment he continued to fill until the 27th June, when he was evacuated to hospital seriously ill.

The 5th, 6th and 7th June were spent in training, of which the principal feature was a practice attack over trenches constructed to represent those opposite the sector of line which the Battalion had just left, in preparation, of course, for the coming battle. Following the last day's practice the Battalion was inspected by the Third Army commander, Sir Edmund Allenby, who was accompanied by Major-Gen. Hull and Brig. -Gen. Loch, and expressed himself satisfied with all that he had seen and also with what he had heard of the Battalion's behaviour during its recent tour of duty. A report of this kind may read curiously at first in view of the fact that the Battalion had been in France for eighteen months and had proved its steadiness in the line on many occasions : but remember that the 56th Division was brand new, and commanders so far did not know how their troops would shape in action. Praise from Allenby at this stage was therefore praise indeed.

The same day the Battalion was once more sent adrift from its own Brigade and became attached for duty to the 169th Brigade, though it retained its billets at Halloy, and the 168th Brigade took over W and Y sectors. Head-quarters moving from Grenas to Sailly.

The Battalion now became responsible for the various works duties in the back area, relieving the L.R.B. in this monotonous task ; and from this date onwards remained hard at work on various tasks until almost the eve of battle. B Company was despatched to Mondicourt, an important and vast R.E. dump on the Doullens-Arras Road, for work under the R.E.'s. The remaining companies were split up to supply parties for the daily work, the total numbers found each day being 8 officers and 350 other ranks, employed on such varied tasks as digging road material in Halloy quarries ; carrying logs at Pas for gun emplacements ; shifting and loading timber at Mondicourt ; and working in the R.E. workshop at Pas. This programme was pushed forward without a break until the 12th June, the only intermission being an inspection on Sunday the 11th, of such remnants of the Battalion as were available, by Sir Charles Wakefield, then Lord Mayor of London, who was accompanied by Major-Gen. Hull and Col. Evelyn Wood, and addressed the troops.

On the 13th a further redistribution of Brigades took place, the 168th remaining in line but retaining W sector only ; Y sector was handed over to the 169th Brigade ; while the 167th moved back into reserve. This move placed the Brigades in the positions they were destined to occupy on the day of battle. The same day the l/4th Londons moved forward, leaving Halloy at 5 p.m., and marching via Authie, St Leger and Coigneux to Bayen-court, where it was joined in billets by B Company from detachment at Mondicourt. A Company was pushed straight on to Hebuterne, when in spite of its long march and late arrival in billets it set to work on its share of the Brigade works programme at 5 a.m. on the 14th June.

The remaining companies were also set to work on the 14th in H6buterne on parts of the Brigade scheme, working hours being nightly from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. The parties were much split up, 280 being detailed to the 2/2nd Field Company R.E., 140 to the 5th Cheshires and 140 to the Brigade Signal Officer for digging cable trenches. The tasks were various, but were all directed in one way or another to the completion and repair of the new trench system and the necessary dugouts for the impending offensive. Night after night, for fourteen nights in succession, did the Battalion continue these stiff working parties. Each night there was a march of nearly three miles in each direction between billets and work, each night the Bosche was unpleasantly active with machine-guns, and nearly every night it rained steadily. That the Battalion carried out this depressing duty — for there is nothing with which the average infantryman gets more quickly "fed up" than continual working parties — with such efficiency and keenness is all the more to its credit. Conditions were not comfortable and the men were beginning to be tired ; but they stuck to it well for they knew the urgency of the work and how much remained to be done in an impossibly short time.

On the 21st June the 167th Brigade took over the whole Divisional sector for six days in order to give a final rest to the 168th and 169th and to keep them as fresh as possible for battle. The 168th withdrew to its old rest billets at Halloy, but again the l/4th Londons were left behind as works battalion, remaining in Hebuterne attached to the 167th Brigade and sticking to its works programme.

On the 23rd June Lieut. W. J. Boutall rejoined the Battalion from home and was posted to D Company, but almost immediately took up the duties of Assistant Adjutant.

A draft of the 2/4th Battalion arrived on the 24th, consisting of Lieut. J. R. Webster and 40 other ranks.

Affairs in the line had now begun to " tune up Some days previously the British 9*2 batteries in Bayen-court had begun to register, while on the 24th the preliminary bombardment of the enemy's lines began systematically, with occasional intense periods, alternating with intervals of quiet. This continued daily — and nightly — ^much to the discomfort of those who were lucky enough to occupy billets with more or less sound ceilings, for their nights were continually disturbed by large pieces of plaster falling on them at each concussion ! The attack had been originally projected for the 29th June, and in preparation for this the 168th and 169th Brigades returned to the line in the afternoon of the 27th, the l/4th Londons advancing from Bayencourt, taking over the whole of W sector from the 8th Middlesex.

The sector was occupied on a three -company frontage as follows :

D Company — (Giles) with two platoons in W 47 and 48, one platoon in W 47 S and one in billets in Hdbuterne.

A Company — (A. R. Moore) with two platoons in W 49, one in W 49 S and one in billets in H(^buterne.

C Company — (Sykes) with two platoons in W 49 and 50, one in W 50 S and one in Napier Trench.

B Company — (W. Moore) with two platoons in reserve dugouts in Cross Street. The two remaining platoons of B were detailed for special duties as Brigade carrying parties respectively under the Bombing and Machine-Gun Officers.

The Somme Battle was the first important offensive in which steps were taken to reduce the number of officers actually taking part to the smallest possible limits, and a " battle surplus " of officers and also of warrant officers, N.C.O.'s and men was therefore left behind in bivouacs near Souastre when the Battalion moved into the line. This precaution, which was always afterwards adopted, was the means of avoiding unnecessary casualties and of providing an immediate reinforcement, as might be required, of fresh officers who would be acquainted with the men. The officers left in " battle surplus " were Capts.

H. G. Stanham and A. L. Long, Lieuts. J. R. Webster and H. W. Vernon, and 2/Lieuts. C. S. G. Blows and N. W. Williams ; and these were joined on the eve of battle by Major H. J. Duncan-Tcape and Lieut. W J. Boutall, both of whom remained in the line until the last possible minute. Lieut. W. R. Botterill also left the line before the battle to proceed to Woolwich R.M. College.

During the day of relief the British bombardment of the German lines was still proceeding, occasional intensive bursts being used. At about 7.45 p.m. on the cessation of a burst the enemy put down a very heavy retaliatory barrage on the W and WR lines, causing a good deal of damage, especially to the latter. In the course of this shelling D Company's headquarters were blown in and Capt. Giles was seriously wounded, one of his company staff killed and another wounded. Poor Giles, who had done magnificent work as platoon commander, adjutant and company commander, and had never missed a day's duty since August 1914, died in hospital from his injuries a few days later. He was a gallant and unselfish officer. His place in command of D Company was taken by Stanham, who came forward from surplus.

During the evening two patrols were despatched from New Woman Street to examine and report on the condition of the enemy's wire and front line trenches. They returned at 12.30 a.m. on the 28th, bringing samples of German wire, which was reported as too thick to admit of access to the front line. About the same time a rocket signal was sent up from the Bosche line, a red light followed by two more in quick succession, and this was the prelude to a sharp bombardment of our lines for about fifteen minutes. Somewhat later, about 3.45 a.m., a second barrage came down, this time on Hebuterne, but the damage caused was not great. As the day wore on the enemy's activity became less intense though he exhibited great persistence all day in his efforts to locate our batteries near Cross Street and our trench mortar emplacements in W 47. At night working parties were set on to the almost final preparation of cutting gaps in our own wire at intervals of about 50 to 70 yards to allow egress to the assaulting columns. This work is naturally rather tricky, and the gaps, the cutting of which was left till the last minute, must be so concealed if possible as to avoid the risk of the enemy marking them down and plastering them with shell fire.

The day's casualties amounted to 2 officers, Lieut. W. A. Stark and J. W. Price wounded, and 2 men killed and 11 wounded.

During the evening patrols had again been despatched to investigate the enemy's wire and trenches, and this night greater success was achieved. The right patrol which approached the Bosche line in front of Farm.
Farmyard was under 2 /Lieut. W. H. Webster, who on looking over the enemy's parapet found he had selected a firebay containing a party of Bosche hard at work. Unfortunately the alarm was given and the presence of the patrol being disclosed by Very lights it was forced to withdraw.

Late on the evening of the 29th the warning was received that the attack was postponed for forty-eight hours, until the 1st July.

Throughout the 29th our preliminary bombardment continued with gradually increasing intensity ; but it was noticeable that in spite of the damage it was clearly doing to the enemy's defences it was not by any means successful in silencing his batteries. The German artillery was in fact unpleasantly lively, and from 6.30 a.m. until about 4.30 p.m. W sector was subjected to intermittent harassing fire from field and machine-guns. This more or less desultory fire was followed at 6 p.m. by a sharp enemy barrage. All the evening the enemy's activity continued, and the remarkable number of Very lights which he put up indicated his growing nervousness. There was indeed now every reason to believe that the Bosche expected our attack. The long-continued British bombardment of trenches, dumps, cross roads and battery positions, the systematic wire-cutting, and the activity of our air forces, could have left no room for doubt in the enemy's mind that an important offensive was being launched. In some parts of the battle front, indeed, the Germans had displayed notice boards inviting the British to start their attack ; and though probably these emanated from individual bravado they formed some indication that surprise effect was not to be expected, and that there was good reason to believe that the Germans would with their usual thoroughness have made preparations to offer the most stubborn possible resistance to our projected advance.

The 29th also demanded its toll of casualties from the Battalion, and this day 28 N.C.O.'s and men were wounded.

The 30th June opened with a heavy barrage on W sector and Hebuterne at about midnight, but this subsided after a few minutes and little further activity was displayed by the enemy during the early morning hours. As dawn approached the enemy's nervousness evidently increased, and he maintained an almost continuous discharge of Very lights. From 7 a.m. onwards, however, the enemy artillery once more began to show signs of liveliness which increased as the day passed. The WR line in the vicinity of Woman and Cross Streets was in particular heavily shelled, and altogether a great amount of damage was done to our trench system. This action of the enemy did not call for any particular retaliatory measures from our artillery, which proceeded with the preliminary bombardment according to its programme. The losses sustained by the Battalion on this day amounted to 2 N.C.O.'s and men killed and 21 wounded, making a total of 69 casualties during the three days the Battalion had held the line.

Little has been said of the actual occupation of the Battalion during these three days ; there is so much to relate of the battle day itself that space does not permit us to dwell overmuch on the preceding period. But be it understood that all the time the works programme was being pushed on with feverish haste, though progress was slow owing to the continued rain and the great delay caused in the projected new work by having to divert from it a large proportion of the available strength to repair the damage caused by the daily German bombardments.

During the evening the Battalion formed up in its prearranged assembly areas in readiness for the attack on the following morning.

The part which the 56th Division was called on to play in the offensive was that of a combined operation on a comparatively small front in conjunction with the 46th Division, which was in line opposite the northern flank of the Gommecourt Salient and adjoining the 56th. These Divisions which, with the 37th (not engaged), formed the VII Corps and were the right flank of Allenby's Third Army, were the two most northern divisions operating in the Somme offensive.

Adjoining the 56th on the right lay Hunter-Weston's VIII Corps, comprising from left to right the 31st, 4th and 29th Divisions in line, with the 48th in support. One Brigade of this last-named Division — the 143rd — was in line between the 56th and the 31st, and its sector formed a gap on which no forward move was attempted. The Gommecourt operation was therefore entirely isolated, though forming an inherent part of the one great offensive plan.

South of the VIII Corps the British battle front was taken up by the X Corps (Morland), III Corps (Pulteney), XV Corps (Home) and XIII Corps (Congreve), these forming with the VIII, Rawlinson's Fourth Army.

The 56th Division's objectives, which will be easily followed from the map, were to capture and consolidate a line running almost due north from a strong point at the south end of Farm-Farmyard, through Fame, Felon, Fell, Fellow, and the Quadrilateral to the junction of Fillet and Indus. From this point the line was to be continued to the " little Z " (a point about 2000 yards north of the apex of the Gommecourt Salient) by the 46th Division, who were to clear Gommecourt village and park.

The 168th Brigade on the right of the Divisional sector attacked on a two-battalion front from the strong point on the right to the junction of Felon and Epte on the left. Strong points were to be consolidated on the extreme right and also at the junctions of Felon with Elbe and Epte. From this point the 169th Brigade was to continue the line to the junction of Fir and Firm and also to the point of union with the 46th Division.

The 167th Brigade was in Divisional reserve, and one battalion, the 1st Londons, was detailed to supply 600 men to dig communication trenches across No Man's Land after the attack.

The 168th Brigade group was disposed as follows :

Headquarters in Mardi Trench

Assaulting Battalions—

Right— London Scottish.
Left — Rangers.

Supporting Battalions—

Right — Kensingtons, with a special task of digging a fire trench to form a defensive flank across No Man's Land from the head of Welcome Street.
Left — l/4th Londons.
168th M.G. Company — In tunnelled emplacements in the WR line for overhead covering fire.
3-inch L.T.M. Battery (Stokes), (with half the 167th Brigade Battery) — In emplacements in the front line control trench.

In addition the following troops were at the disposal of the Brigadier for the operation :

One Company 5th Cheshires (Pioneers).

One Section 2/2nd London Field Company, R.E.

Y 56— 2-inch Mortar Battery.

The artillery affiliated to the Brigade consisted of four 18-pr. batteries and one 4*5-inch howitzer battery, comprising the southern group.

Similar attachments were made to the 167th Brigade, and over and above these there remained at the disposal of the Divisional artillery, a counter-battery group consisting of two 18-pr. and one 4"5-inch howitzer batteries ; and two 18-pr. batteries in reserve ; while of trench mortars there were one 2-inch battery (X 56) and two heavy (9^-inch) mortars.

During the evening of the 30th June the other battalions of the Brigade began to move into W sector to take up their assembly positions. The assembly areas are marked on the map in Roman numerals as follows :

I, London Scottish (right front).
II. Rangers (left front).

III. Kensingtons (right support).

IV. l/4th Londons (left support).

As each battalion arrived and took over its area the various companies of the l/4th Londons withdrew to No. IV area in rear of the Rangers. In order to avoid congestion and cross traffic in the communication trenches several platoons of the l/4th Londons had to withdraw to assembly position over the open, and by 10 p.m. this operation was completed.

The 1st July was a glorious summer day, and the light haze which tells of great heat hung over the rolling hills of this great plain which was destined to become the scene of so great a struggle. With the earliest grey of dawn the Germans opened an intense bombardment on all our trenches, to which no reply was made by our artillery. This severe shelling started at about 2.45 a.m. and lasted for nearly an hour : in the course of it part of the Rangers were blown out of their assembly trenches and compelled to make a temporary withdrawal to our area, causing a good deal of congestion and confusion.

At 6.25 a.m. our week old bombardment increased to " hurricane " intensity and every gun, trench mortar and machine-gun on the British front from Gommecourt to the Somme came into action, pouring a hail of shot and shell into the enemy lines with merciless precision and rapidity. Under such a colossal weight of metal it seemed that nothing could live, and it was confidently hoped that the bombardment would go far towards breaking down the enemy's morale and power of resistance to our attack.

At 7.25 a.m. a smoke barrage was raised along the whole front of the attack by firing smoke bombs from the front trenches, and under this at 7.30 a.m. the British battalions moved to the assault under cover of a creeping barrage, a moving curtain of fire.

On the 168th Brigade front the attack was made by each assaulting battalion on a four-company front, each company in column of platoons in extended order. The attack as a whole, therefore, moved in four " waves," and following as a fifth wave moved a trench-clearing party consisting of two platoons of B Company of the l/4th Londons.

These platoons under 2/Lieuts. L. R. Chapman and H. G. Hicklenton had the duty of completing the capture of each trench line by killing the remaining garrison, clearing the dugouts, and collecting and sending back the prisoners ; thereby saving delay to the assaulting waves, who would otherwise have had to perform these duties themselves to avoid the risk of an attack from the rear after they had passed the first objective. These platoons were made up to a strength of 1 officer, 3 N.C.O.'s and 36 men organised in four sections (clearing, bombing, blocking and communicating), but during the hours of waiting after assembly had already lost 26 men hit.

At the same time as the assaulting waves moved forward the Battalion, less the two platoons of B Company above, advanced and occupied battle positions in the area vacated by the Rangers, as follows :

A Company — (A. R. Moore) two platoons in front line trench and two platoons in Boyau de Service, Sector W49, between Whisky Street and Woman Street.

C Company — (J. T. Sykes) two platoons in W 50 and two platoons in the Boyau de Service, north and south of Bucquoy Road.

D Company — (H. G. Stanham) formed up in line in trench W 49 S and W 50 S.

The WS line occupied by D Company had been very severely damaged by the German bombardment and communication was therefore extremely difficult. The company was inevitably much split up under the two platoon commanders, G. H, Davis and B. F. L. Yeoman, while Stanham took up a central position where he hoped to keep in touch with both flanks.

The two remaining platoons of B Company were employed as follows :

1 Platoon— Carrying party under Brigade Bombing Officer.
1 Platoon — 1 Section — Carrying party to 168th M.G. Company.
3 Sections — In reserve in Napier Trench.

Battalion Headquarters (K Company) were disposed as follows :

Clerks, signallers, pioneei-s. In dugout and control trench snipers, etc. (34 other ranks) of Woman Street.

Company runners (16 other In a sap adjoining,

Battalion Bombers In a "crump" hole near the Woman Street Battalion H.Q. dugout.

Battalion Trench Pioneers W 50 R.

M.O. and Staff Aid Post (Junction of Wood Street and Cross Street).

Band Ditto.

Reserve Lewis Gunners Divided betvreen A and B Companies.

Regimental Police In control posts, chiefly at inter-section of fire trenches with communication trenches through-out the sector.

A runner from the right company (A) reporting it in position arrived at Headquarters at 8.15 a.m., but no report was received from any other company, and from this time onwards throughout the day communication was exceedingly difficult on account of the very heavy German barrage which fell on all lines in W sector immediately after zero. It was reported, however, by observers that all had successfully formed up on their battle positions.

We must now turn for a moment to the leading battalions.

On the right the London Scottish advanced under the effective cover of the smoke barrage, which was in fact so thick as to render the maintenance of the correct direction a matter of difficulty, and occupied Farm, Fall and Fate as far north as the Bucquoy Road, and also the greater part of the strong point at the southern extremity of attack. The blocking of the adjoining trenches and consolidation of the captured lines was at once put in hand. The left companies appear to have been drawTi off somewhat towards Nameless Farm but seem to have kept in touch with the Rangers on their left.

Shortly after 8 o'clock the Scottish were joined by a company of Kensingtons, who did good work in the consolidation of Farm-Farmyard.

On the left four companies of the Rangers also crossed No Man's Land, and although the position is obscure there can be no doubt that parties of all companies succeeded in reaching the final objectives in Felon, Elbe and Epte, and gained touch on Nameless Farm Road with the 169th Brigade on the left.

At these advanced points bomb fighting in the communication trenches began and the struggle was pursued along the line with varying success. Realising the pressure that was being brouglit to bear on his now dangerously weak companies the O.C. Rangers asked for two companies of the l/4th Londons to lend the weight necessary to carry forward his attack again.

This order was received by Lieut. -Col. Wheatley at 8.45 a.m. and at once he ordered A and C Companies to reinforce the Rangers in Fetter, and D Company to move up to the W front line in their place. Telephone communication having been cut by the enemy shell fire this order was despatched by runner to the front companies ; but of six runners despatched by different routes, and two additional runners sent after fifteen minutes' interval, only one returned after an unsuccessful attempt to find the left company. The others were all killed. We must pause here to offer a tribute to the bravery of runners, a class of soldier whose gallantry was only too seldom adequately rewarded ; their duties compelled them to attempt to pass through impossible barrages without the moral support of comradeship, and to face almost certain death in the forlorn hope of getting through with a vital order. But never once did they flinch from their duty.

At 9.5 a.m. a report was received through the Rangers that Rangers and l/4th Londons were together in the German front line, and this was followed at intervals by other reports indicating their further progress, till at 10.25 a.m. a message from the Rangers reported parties of both battalions in the second German trench. Following the receipt of this information at 10.45 a.m. Lieut-Col. Wheatley despatched the Battalion Trench Pioneers to help consolidate the trenches gained.

The above messages probably convey a substantially correct idea of what occurred, but owing to the failure of all means of communication on account of the intensity of the German shell fire, the movements of A and C Companies will probably never be known in detail. At 11.50 a.m. an untimed message was received from Capt. A. R. Moore (A Company) reporting that he was still in W 49, his battle position, though at 9.5 a.m., as we have seen, he was reported to have crossed to the German line ; and probably this latter report is correct. The situation, however, evidently required clearing up, and a patrol consisting of L.-Corpl. Hyde and Pte. Lear despatched from Battalion Headquarters succeeded in returning with the information that A Company had gone forward. L.-Corpl. Hyde was awarded the Military Medal for his good work, and subsequently recommended for a commission by Lieut. -Col. Wheatley ; he was unfortunately killed in action later in the Somme Battle whilst completing his training with C Company.

At 1 p.m. a message was received from Stanham (in reserve) that his Company had suffered about fifty per cent, casualties and that his position had become untenable. He was ordered to maintain his position.

By this time the situation on the other side of No Man's Land was becoming desperate. The work of consolidation was almost impossible owing to the German barrage, and the sustained bomb fighting was rapidly becoming an unequal struggle owing to the impossibility of replenishing the dwindling supplies of bombs. Again and again with unsurpassed devotion the carrying party endeavoured to pass through the barrier of German shells with the coveted supplies of bombs to our harassed troops — but passage was impossible and the gallant carriers only added to the roll of casualties.

At 1.30 p.m. a patrol returned from the German lines to Battalion Headquarters. This had been despatched at 11 o'clock on a demand from the Brigadier for information as to the left of the Brigade in the German line, and Ptes. Whitehead and Buckingham had volunteered for the duty. According to this patrol a party of the Rangers under Lieut. Harper were holding on to the junction of Et and Felt, but was urgently in need of bombs. Further, none of the 168th Brigade were then in the German third line. This report was passed on to Brigade and to the Rangers, and a special bomb carrying party from the Battalion was ordered across to relieve Harper's need. But none reached the German line, all being killed or wounded in No Man's Land. For their bravery and devotion to duty Ptes. Whitehead and Buckingham were rewarded with the Military Medal, and the former was subsequently granted a commission.

At 2.30 p.m. the front of the Battalion Headquarters dugout was blown in by a shell, which killed seven and wounded seven men. At the time the dugout was occupied by a large number of Headquarters staff, including the Colonel, the Adjutant, the Signalling Officer and Major Moore, but of these luckily none was hit.

All this time the German shell fire continued without abatement, and at 3.30 p.m. further heavy casualties were reported by D. Company. At 3.45 p.m. Brigade Head-quarters ordered D Company to withdraw to the WR line, and a report was received from Stanham at 4.45 p.m. that his withdrawal with 1 officer and 20 men was complete.

Meanwhile the Brigade was gradually being compelled to give ground and, owing to its lack of bombs, to loose its slender hold on the enemy's positions. At about 2 p.m. the remnants of the Rangers, together with a few l/4th Londons and some Queen Victorias from the 169th Brigade on the left, were driven into Fate, where they made a last determined stand ; but at 3.10 p.m. they were finally ejected from the German lines and withdrew to the British trenches.

On the right the Scottish and Kensingtons met with a similar fate. A gallant fight was put up by the remains of the Battalion under Capt. H. C. Sparks in Farm-Farmyard, but by 4 p.m., both his flanks being in the air and his whole force being in imminent danger of extinction, Sparks decided to withdraw, this operation being stubbornly and successfully carried out after the removal of as many wounded as possible.

At 6.30 p.m. the l/4th Londons reformed in the WR line between Wood Street and Woman Street, and later in the evening moved into the trenches west of Hebuterne.

The other battalions of the 168th were also withdrawn and the sector was taken over by the 167th Brigade.

The story of the 169th Brigade attack is, like that of the 168th, one of initial success which could not be maintained. The line Fell-Feud was carried in the early hours of the morning by the Queen Victorias and London Rifle Brigade, but the intensity of the German shell fire and the enfilading of the captured positions by machine-guns in Gommecourt Park prevented the Queen's Westminsters from carrying the Quadrilateral. Later in the day lack of bombs, as in the case of the 168th Brigade, proved the deciding factor, and resulted in a gradual loss of the Brigade's grip on the enemy trenches, and after desperate struggles the late afternoon hours found them also beaten back to their original lines.

So ended the first day on which the 56th Division had been in battle, a day on which after the most stubborn fighting and unsurpassed devotion the gain of ground was nil, and which dealt London the severest blow in loss of personnel that it ever suffered on any single day throughout the War.

The losses in the Division during the period 24th June to 3rd July amounted to 4749 all ranks, of whom 35 officers and 412 other ranks were killed, 107 officers and 2632 other ranks wounded, and 40 officers and 1532 other ranks missing. In the l/4th Londons the losses for the same period totalled the appalling number of 16 officers and 534 other ranks. These dreadful losses were borne fairly equally by all companies, for all had been exposed to the same deadly and unrelenting shell fire throughout the day.

Of A Company, gallantly led to the second German line by Capt. A. R. Moore, M.C., but 18 returned. Moore himself and one of his subalterns, F. C. Fanhangel, were killed, the other subaltern, A. G. Blunn, being captured with 7 others. The rest of the company were killed. Moore's end, like his life, was one of courageous devotion, and has been simply told by one of his own sergeants :

" Capt. Moore was wounded in the wrist about thirty minutes before we went over. Nevertheless he led the company, revolver in hand, and on the sunken road at the rear of Nameless Farm I saw blood flowing from his back. He still pushed on, and then I was shot through the leg and took shelter in a shell hole. The last I saw of Capt. Moore he was still going ahead. . . ."

The two platoons of B Company which went forward as clearing party were severely handled. Both the subalterns, Chapman and Hicklcnton, were hit and only 10 men got back from the German line. 2/Lieut. A. S. Ford on carrying party duty was also hit.

Of C Company only two platoons got forward as the order to advance failed to reach Sykes, the company commander. But its casualties under the terrific German barrage were as heavy as in any company, and after Sykes had been wounded and both his subalterns, T. Moody and F. R. C. Bradford, killed, the remnants of the company were brought steadily out of action by Company Sergt.-Major Davis, who was rewarded with the D.C.M.

D Company, which remained in reserve all day, had perhaps the most trying time of all. From 2.30 a.m. until withdrawn at 3.30 p.m. it sat still under the most intense artillery bombardment, but was kept splendidly in hand and ready to move by Stanham and his only remaining subaltern, G. H. Davis. B. F. L. Yeoman became a casualty early in the day.

Of the Headquarters officers Major W. Moore and 2/Lieut. V. C. Donaldson were wounded.

Magnificent work was done throughout the day by the Medical Officer, Capt. Hurd, and his staff, M^ho, though the number of casualties far outmeasurcd the facilities for dealing with them, continued their work Mdthout a break throughout the day and the night following. In this work splendid help was rendered by the Padre, Rev. R. Palmer, who organised and led search and carrying parties in No Man's Land and brought in many wounded who were unable to move.

The morning of the 2nd July was spent in the dreary duty of ascertaining the casualties and reorganising the companies, and in the afternoon the Battalion marched to billets at St Amand.

With the results of the day's fighting on other parts of the front we are hardly concerned here. From Fricourt to the Somme the day was successful and the bulk of the objectives were captured and held. But from Fricourt northward the tale throughout was one of complete check. Everywhere our troops met with initial success which everywhere was later changed into disaster with appalling losses.

There is no doubt that in the northern half of attack the British offensive was fully anticipated by the Germans. It would indeed have been difficult to carry out such immense preparations over a period of several weeks prior to the battle without permitting indications of the impending attempt to become visible to hostile serial scouts. But it had been hoped that the weight and long continuance of the preliminary bombardment, even though it disclosed its own purpose, would prove so intense as to nullify all the German efforts to resist.

We must here make some reference to the battle of the 46th Division on the northern face of the Gommecourt salient. Against this ill-fated Division the German fire was terrific. On the right the South Staff ords were completely shattered by the enemy's machine-guns before they could cross No Man's Land ; on the left the Sherwood Foresters succeeded in gaining the German front line, and isolated parties appear even to have struggled forward as far as the second trench, but were rapidly ejected. Soon after zero the whole of the 46th Division's assaulting troops were back in their own line after suffering appalling losses : their attack was a complete failure. At the time, therefore, that the 56th Division was making headway into the German positions, instead of the enemy feeling, as had been hoped, the pincers closing on him from both sides of his salient, he was relieved from all menace on his right flank facing the 46th Division, and free to throw the whole weight of his artillery and infantry against the 56th Division.

But the causes of the 56th Division's failure must be looked for deeper than this.

Primarily it may be said to have been due to the shortage of bombs. The great distance which carrying parties had to traverse over No Man's Land with fresh supphes and the intensity of the German barrage through which they had to pass were both such that the facihties for getting bombs forward were inadequate. It should be remembered that the 168th and 169th Brigades captured three lines of German trenches and held them against all attacks in spite of the gruelling enemy fire for many hours. It was only when bomb supplies failed that they were ejected.

There are three other factors in this battle to which we may refer as having contributed to the failure.

First, the enormously strong deep dugouts in the German lines, which were large enough to give shelter to the whole trench garrison except the few necessary sentries, had proved too strong for all except the heaviest guns ; and those of the heaviest calibre had not been directed against them. The German garrisons were therefore able to remain in safety until the last moment when our barrage lifted off their front lines and they were able to man their parapets. The strength of the German defences was increased by the density and depth of their wire entanglements, which had been most skilfully sited with the support of machine-guns firing in enfilade.

Secondly, the insufficient attention paid on our side to counter-battery work. The batteries told off for counter-battery fire were too few and of too light calibre. Throughout the day the cry arose from all Headquarters to silence the German guns, but the few batteries available, though served magnificently by splendid gunners, could not cope with so gigantic a task.

The third and most important cause lay in the cunning skill with which the German barrage was used. We have referred above to the manning of the German parapets by their garrisons after our barrage had passed over ; but not in every case did this happen. In many instances a greater refinement of skill was exhibited. As the British barrage lifted off the first objective and the leading waves of the assault poured over it, down came the enemy barrage like a dense curtain, cutting them off for ever from their supports and their supplies. The barrage having thus trapped them, the front trench filled with Germans swarming up from their subterranean shelters, and these poured a hail of machine-gun fire into the backs of our waves which were pushing forward to the next line.

After the experience of two more years of organised trench to trench attacks, it may be that failure for the reasons detailed above seems a little obvious ; but it would not be fair to pass them over without pointing out that this was the first trench to trench attack of the whole War which had been organised on so vast a scale, and it was clearly impossible to provide against all eventualities when there was no previous experience to act as a guide. It should be remembered that in the south, where a greater degree of surprise was attained, the arrangements for attack — which were substantially the same as in the north — worked splendidly and resulted in marked success. And in subsequent attacks attention was paid to the experience gained on this great opening day of the First Somme Battle in increasing the strength of counter-battery artillery and in making more eflficicnt arrangements for " mopping-up " captured lines.

As regards the 168th Brigade attack, in addition to the above general criticisms, it may be remarked that the event showed that on the left of the Brigade at least there was insufficient weight in the attack. The Scottish on the right had to advance 250 yards and were able to carry their objectives ; but on the left the depth to be penetrated was about 450 yards, and this proved too great for the available strength of the Rangers, who were organised in five waves, even when strengthened by two additional waves supplied by the companies of the l/4th Londons.

A deal of congestion in the trenches and a great many casualties were caused by the lack of those deep dugouts with which the Germans were so well supplied, and in the case of the l/4th Londons at any rate it seems likely that they might have been of more use when called upon had they been able to obtain efficient shelter during the hours of waiting.

We have sufficiently elaborated the causes of failure. It must not be forgotten that a very real and important result was achieved by the Londoners this day. The strategic object of their attack was not primarily the capture of ground but the holding of German troops and guns from the area of our main attack. This was an unpleasant role, but a highly important one, and there can be no manner of doubt that it was to a very large degree fulfilled. The Division's achievement is summarised concisely in the message of congratulation issued by Lieut. - Gen. D'Oyly Snow on the 4th July :

The Corps Commander wishes to congratulate all ranks of the 56th Division on the way in which they took the German trenches and held them by pure grit and pluck for so long in very adverse circumstances. Although Gommecourt has not fallen into our hands, the purpose of the attack, which was mainly to contain and kill Germans, was accomplished, thanks to a great extent to the tenacity of the 56th Division,

A remarkable incident occurred on the Divisional front on the 2nd July. At about 2.30 p.m. that day a number of German stretcher-bearers were seen to issue from their trenches and begin collecting the many British wounded who were still lying round about their first three lines of trenches. Prompt measures of precaution were taken by the Division, and all guns were made ready to open fire on barrage lines should any intention be shown by the Germans to take advantage of the temporary truce. As, however, the enemy stretcher-bearers continued their humane work quietly, our own stretcher-bearers followed their example and began collecting casualties from No Man's Land. During this extraordinary armistice no attempt was made by the Germans to come outside or by our men to go beyond the line which had formerly been the German wire entanglements. After about two hours of this work, which was the means of saving many lives, the stretcher-bearers returned by mutual and tacit consent to their own lines and the War was resumed !

The casualties suffered by the 46th Division were exceedingly heavy, and the treatment it had received was so severe that it was deemed necessary to withdraw it from the Hne temporarily, and arrangements were made for the 56th Division to assume responsibility at once for the 46th sector as well as its own.

This arrangement unfortunately deprived the 168th Brigade of its well-earned rest. But though tired and in need of reorganisation after the heavy losses it had sustained the Brigade's morale was good, for it felt justifiably proud of its effort of the previous day. The relief of the 46th Division began on the evening of the 2nd July when the Scottish and the Kensingtons took over the line from the left of the 56th sector of the Fonquevillers-Gommecourt Road.

The l/4th Londons remained at St Amand during the 3rd July, busily engaged in reorganising its platoons and making up as far as possible deficiencies in equipment and ammunition. In the evening the l/4th Londons and Rangers took over from the 138th Brigade the remainder of the 46th Divisional sector, the Battalion relieving the 5th Lincolns on a front adjoining that occupied by the Kensingtons the previous night.

The condition of the trenches was found to be shocking and the material damage caused by shell and trench mortar fire was severe, but the number of dead whose bodies had not yet been removed, and of wounded who still were lying out in No Man's Land provided a great deal of work of the utmost urgency. Fortunately the enemy did not interfere with this work of clearing up the battlefield, and his lack of activity was doubtless due to his being similarly employed. Reports were received at night that enemy patrols were active in No Man's Land, but no encounters took place and the Germans seen were probably covering patrols for stretcher-bearing parties.

The following day passed without unusual incident except for a certain amount of enemy shelling during the afternoon, which did considerable further damage to the Battalion's trenches. During the night a storm of terrific intensity burst over Fonquevillcrs, adding to the general discomfort by filling the trenches with water. The two remaining days spent by the BattaHon in this sector were occupied in continuing the work of removing the dead, bahng out and clearing blocked trenches, and generally attempting to reorganise the broken-down defences as well as possible.

On the evening of the 6th July the 168th Brigade was relieved in Z sector, as the 46th Divisional line was called, by the 169th, and the Battalion, handing over its trenches to the Queen's Westminsters, moved by platoons into billets at St Amand, a welcome issue of dry underclothing being issued to the troops on arrival.

At this point the Battalion may be said finally to have finished its share in the battle of the 1st July. Although not detailed as one of the assaulting battalions in the attack, the strain to which it was subjected both in actual hard work prior to the battle and by reason of the enemy fire during the action, was as heavy as that borne by any unit of the Division, while its casualties were among the most severe. Starting at Bayencourt on the 13th June the Battalion had supplied heavy working parties with long hours of work and with a three-mile march in each direction to and from work for fourteen nights in succession, always harassed by the enemy fire and frequently wet through. For three nights of unusual enemy activity they had held the line prior to the battle, and this duty was followed without respite by the day of battle itself. After a brief interlude of two days in billets it had once more returned to the trenches on the additional and unexpected duty at Fonquevillers, and had there passed a further four days in extreme discomfort — a record of which we think any battalion might justly be proud.

The extended front now held by the Division rendered a prolonged rest for the Brigade out of the question, and the Battalion's sojourn at St Amand was of only three days' duration. Of these days the first two were occupied in refitting the troops as far as possible, and in cleaning up and drying clothing after the days spent in the line. The last day, Sunday 9th July, was occupied with Church Parade and, in the afternoon, a Brigade Parade at Souastre for inspections by the Corps and Army Commanders, both of whom addressed the Brigade in congratulatory terms.

On the afternoon of the 10th the 168th Brigade returned to the trenehes at Hebuterne, there reheving the 167th. An adjustment of sectors was now effected as a result of which the 168th Brigade held the right sector of the Divisional front, comprising the old W sector and the part of Y sector south of the Hebutcrne-Gommecourt Road ; in the centre was the 167th Brigade between the Hebutcrne-Gommecourt and the Fonqucvillers-Gomme-court Roads ; while the 169th Brigade held the left of the Divisional front.

The 168th front was occupied by the London Scottish in the right subsector and the Kensingtons on the left. The l/4th Londons took over billets at Bayencourt, while the Rangers moved to Sailly.

On the 17th the Battalion relieved the London Scottish in the right subsector of the Brigade front, the relief being complete by 6 p.m. The same day the Rangers took over the left subsector from the Kensingtons.

The principal operation carried out by the Battalion during this tour of duty was the filling in of the advanced front line. This had been so seriously damaged during the battle as to become almost untenable, and the labour v/hich would be involved in its repair and maintenance did not appear to be justifiable. Accordingly the task of filling it and the communication trenches as far back as the WS line was carried out on the night 18/1 9th July. The portion from Whisky Street southwards was dealt with by 2 officers and 140 men of C Company, while the part north of Whisky Street was filled in by 120 men of the Kensingtons. A covering party in No Man's Land of 2 platoons' strength secured the safety of the working party.

This step clearly indicated that all ideas of an advance on this front were — for the moment at any rate — given up, but the role played by the Division during the remainder of its duty at Hebuterne was such as to foster an offensive spirit in the troops by m-cans of constant patrolling activity and a general policy of aggression against the enemy's defences and working parties. This role was the more important on account of the striking developments which were occurring in the British offensive operations nearer the Somme, where the pressure which was being brought to bear on the Germans was severe and continually increasing. Gradually the enemy was being compelled to push his reserves into the fight and limit as far as possible his activities on other parts of the front. Any action at Hebuterne, therefore, which could prevent the withdrawal of the opposing garrison to the battle area further south had a direct and important bearing on the fortunes of the British arms.

On the nights of the 20th, 21st and 22nd July strong patrols were sent out from the Battalion under 2/Lieuts. W. E. Osborne, H. W. Vernon and J. C. Graddon respectively, with the object of securing a live prisoner captured from a German patrol. No success, however, was achieved.

On the 23rd July an inter-battalion relief again took place and the Battalion was relieved by the London Scottish withdrawing on relief to Brigade support billets at Sailly, but leaving B Company in the Keep in Hebuterne to furnish working parties.

The Battalion remained in Sailly supplying working parties in the forward area until the end of July. Advantage was taken of this period out of the line to straighten out some " cross-postings " which had occurred among drafts of N.C.O.'s and men recently sent up from the Base, and drafts of Queen's Westminsters and 3rd London men were despatched from the Battalion to rejoin their own units. At the same time the Battalion received drafts of 4th London men from the Queen Victorias and the Kensingtons, to whom they had been sent in error.

On the last day of July the Battalion once more took over from the London Scottish the right subsector of W sector, B and C Companies occupying the WR line as the most advanced position with A Company in support and D in reserve.

During the ensuing tour of duty the work of trench repairing, wiring and patrolling was actively prosecuted, but no incident worthy of record occurred. The enemy's activity, both in artillery and trench mortar fire, became rather more marked, and Hebuterne itself attracted more attention than had been the case prior to the battle. The enemy's shell fire produced, however, an ample measure of retaliation from our guns, which bombarded his trenches with good results.

On the 4th August the Battalion withdrew again to Brigade reserve at Bayencourt, handing over its trenches to the London Scottish, and was employed in furnishing working parties and in training.

Since the 1st July the Battalion had received some very valuable reinforcements of officers which repaired the deficiencies caused by the battle, as follows :

13th July— Capt. F. C. J. Read from the 2/4th Battalion, Lieut. A. G. Sharp, 2/Lieuts. P. F. Smalley, J. C. Graddon, V. R. Oldrey, W. H. Calnan, C. E. Lewis, W. E. Osborne, J. W. Chapman, F. J. Foden, C. F. English and J. T. Middleton from the Reserve Battalion.

16th July— 2/Lieut. G. E. Stanbridge from the Reserve Battalion.

6th August— 2/Lient. F. R. R. Burford from the 3/lth Battalion, 2/Lieuts. C. J. Brodie, O. D. Garratt, C. H. T. Heaver, A. Potton, W. Quennell and C. M. Taylor from the Reserve Battalion.

7th August— 2/Lieuts. C. W. Denning, M.M., S. J. Barkworth, M.M., E. McD. McCormiek, T. B. Cooper, M.M., W. H. Davey, D.C.M., C. F. Mortleman commissioned direct from the l/20th Londons.

9th August— 2/Lieuts. N. A. Ormiston, R. E. Grimsdell and W. Richards from the Reserve Battalion.

10th August— 2/Lieut. J. W. Price from Hospital and 2/Lieut. L. W. Archer, commissioned from the ranks
of the Battalion.

On the 5th July a draft of 60, of whom 58 were N.C.O.'s, arrived from the 2/4th Battalion, a particularly welcome addition to the strength in view of the losses which had been sustained. Early in July Lieut. L. G. Rix, the Transport Officer, had been appointed Brigade Transport Officer, and his place in the Battalion was filled by Lieut. G. V. Lawrie, attached from the Scottish Rifles.

2/Lieut. N. W. Williams was wounded at Fonque-villers on the 6th July, and on the 18th the Battalion suffered a further great loss in the Quartermaster, Lieut. E. S. Tomsctt, who completely broke down in health and was invalided to England. Tomsett had filled the appointment of Quartermaster with great credit since November 1913, and had served over thirteen years with the Battalion, his previous service having been with the Rifle Brigade. On recovery from his illness Tomsett was granted a combatant commission in recognition of his services and appointed to command the depot at Hoxton. His duties as Quartermaster in the l/4th Battalion were taken over by Lieut. H. B. A. Balls.

The 10th August found the Battalion once more — and for the last time — resuming possession of W sector, the relief of the London Scottish being completed by 4.45 p.m. During the progress of the relief Hebuterne was intermittently shelled and a direct hit was scored on Battalion Headquarters, though fortunately without inflicting casualties. A six-day tour of duty produced but little of interest beyond the usual trench routine. Patrolling in No Man's Land was actively pursued, and resulted in establishing definitely the energy being displayed by the Germans in repairing their defences, and also their acquiescence in our possession of No Man's Land, which seemed to be undisputed. The German artillery continued to shell Hebuterne and the Orchard, near Cross Street, a good deal, while his constant machine-gim fire at night interfered seriously with our work of wiring in front of W 48.

On the 12th Major-Gen. Hull presented ribands to those who had been decorated for their work on the 1st July, the presentation being made on the football field at Bayencourt.

A warning order had now been received that the Division was to be relieved by the 17th Division and to withdraw for training in rear of the line, in the St Riquier area near Abbeville.

The 168th Brigade was to concentrate at Halloy before proceeding to the new area, and the first step in this concentration was the relief on the 16th August of the l/4th Londons and Rangers by the London Scottish and Kensingtons respectively. On relief the l/4th Londons moved to billets in Sailly, leaving C Company at the Keep in Hebuterne for working parties until the 18th, when the whole Battalion marched at 7 p.m. to Halloy, arriving in huts there at 11 p.m. By the 21st the whole Brigade group was completely out of the line and the following day moved to the new area, the Battalion entraining at Doullens at 11.40 a.m. and, detraining at St Riquier shortly before 6 p.m., marched thence to billets at Le Plessiel.