August to September 1917

The Brigade is put at the Disposal of 41st Division.

On Monday 30th July, the Brigade was put at the disposal of 41st Division and the Battalion moved up to Ridge Wood near Dikkebus and bivouacked there.

Prior to the move, the nature of the forthcoming operations were explained to the men and the objectives indicated by maps and air photos.

At 350am on 31st July, in conjunction with Divisions on the right and left, the 41st Division attacked in a heavy rainstorm,after an extremely violent bombardment of the enemy trench system and defensive works. The Battalion stood to arms but was not called upon.

The 141st Brigade stood by in Corps Reserve at the disposal of 41st Division until 8th August. During this period, rain fell almost continuously and the operations, which commenced on 31st July, were stopped by the unfavourable weather. On 8th August, the Battalion returned to Ontario Camp on the La Clytte Road.

Out of Reserve and Rest.

The Battalion paraded at 830am the following day and marched to L’Abeel via Reningelst. At L’Abeele station, the Battalion en-trained at 1pm and proceeded to St Omer, where a terrific downpour of rain occurred during de-trainment but the Battalion quickly formed up and marched in fine style through St Omer to their destination: Esquardes via Wizernes and Hallines.

The Battalion was inspected on the road by the 2nd Army Commander: General Sir HCO Plumer. While at Esquerdes, the Battalion spent some time in reorganising and re-equipping and carried through a serious programme of training, in which musketry and open order work predominated. During this period, the weather was fine and the countryside attractive and the men benefited from the rest.

Return to the Front Area and Major Murphy takes temporary Command.

On 17th August, the Battalion marched to Wizernes Station and en-trained or Ouderdom. At 4pm, the Battalion arrived at Ouderdom sidings and marched to Halifax Camp near Vlamertinghe and, at 8pm the same day, the Battalion marched onto Ypres and billeted in the Ramparts at Lille Gate. The Ramparts were honeycombed with tunnels fitted with wire bunks and, in these tunnels, the men made themselves comfortable. Puddles of evil smelling water covered the floors and the conditions were extremely filthy but, owing to the depths of the tunnels, there was little risk of damage from shell fire.

The cookers failed to arrive until midnight but the men were very tired after their long day, most of them turned in quickly so for them breakfast was the only meal of the day. On this day, 17th August, Lt Col DB Parry DSO was admitted to hospital sick and the command of the Battalion was devolved upon Major WH Murphy.

The usual conditions of the Salient were experienced and, at night, there was an immense volume of harassing fire directed against troops and transport on the roads. Enemy aircraft were very active and, in spite of about 18 searchlights, numerous machine guns and anti-aircraft batteries, bomb dropping continued all around the Salient throughout the night.

Orders were received by Brigade to proceed to the line and to take over a portion of 8th Division’s front – the date of the move being the night of 18th/19th August. In the line, the Brigade front extended between the Ypres/Roulers Railway and the Westhoek-Zonnebeke road on a rough north and south line – midway between the roadway Frezenberg-Westhoek and the stream further east, known as the Haanebeek.

Relieving the 2nd Northants and 2nd Sherwood Foresters in the Line.

The Battalion moved up to the front line on 18th August and relieved the 2nd Northants and 2nd Sherwood Foresters in the right sector of the Brigade front, with Headquarters in Jaffa Trench. The journey to the line was very trying, the route Menin Gate – Birr Crossroads was used by thousands of men and transport and the crowded condition of Menin Road and the dreadful wet and mud and enemy harassing fire made the relief one of appalling discomfort.

Many casualties were sustained, including Lt EDR Pinkerton wounded. Daylight revealed the front line: a medley of rough trenches and fortified trench holes in a desolate, sodden area, everywhere a quagmire and the ground littered with the debris of battle. Various pill boxes were scattered about and the most conspicuous landmarks were a number of derelict tanks, hopelessly bogged.

During the day, heavy shelling of the Battalion’s line occurred and three officers: 2nd Lts CHJ Stewart, SA Thodaye and CF Havord were wounded and 2 other ranks killed and 9 men wounded.

Similar conditions obtained on 20th August and the day’s casualties were 3 other ranks killed, 2 missing and 13 wounded.  One of the killed was Cpl Scipio, a very gallant South African, who had done sterling work with the Bombing Platoon before going to a company.

Relief to Support Positions Prior to Attacks.

Instructions for the relief of the Battalion, to take place during the night of 21st/22nd August, were received together with details of certain offensive operations. In accordance with orders, the Battalion was relieved on the night of 21st/22nd August by the 20th London Regiment and moved back overland to support positions on Bellewaerde Ridge. Casualties during the day and relief were 3 killed and 30 wounded. Capt MB O’Brien – wounded – was the only officer casualty.

At 445am on 22nd August, the flank Divisions, the 14th and 15th, attacked and 19th Battalion – in collaboration – pushed strong patrols forward to connect up the line at Sans Souci, before being checked just west of the Haanebeek stream by enemy machine guns.

During the attack, enemy shell fire was very severe on the front and support positions and German aircraft flew low and machine gunned the infantry. The London Irish stood to on Bellewaerde Ridge and came under fierce artillery fire, during which Lt REA Mallet was wounded, 7 other ranks killed and 15 other ranks wounded.

Return to Divisional Support.

The London Irish remained in Bellewaerde Ridge until the night of 24th/25th August when 21st Battalion London Regiment moved back to Divisional support at Swan Chateau. On 23rd August, 2 other ranks were killed and 10 other wounded; on the 24th August, 9 other ranks were wounded.

Up to 1st September, the Battalion remained at Swan Chateau and, during this time, working parties were supplied by day and night as carrying parties for the RE and 177 Tunnelling Company. The daytime working parties were chiefly concerned with road repairs and the construction of a rifle range in the vicinity of Swan Chateau. The men performed their tasks in very wet and windy weather, heavy rain falling every day.

Enemy Gotha planes were very active and seemed to make a special point of attacking horse lines with machine guns and bombs. During one raid, on 31st August, about 40 horses were killed and injured in the horse lines situated just south west of Dikkebus on the La Clytte Road.

The Battalion was relieved on 1st September by 24th Battalion at 515pm and moved to the support area via Café Belge, Ouderdom and Busseboom.

A further move took place on 3rd September when the Battalion moved via Busseboom and Ouderdom to Mic Mac Camp in Divisional Reserve.

47th Division under Orders of 1st Anzac Corps.

The Division came under orders of 1st Anzac Corps at noon on 5th September and the Battalion moved at 1045am from Mic Mac Camp to Dominion Camp, via the tank track to Ouderdom.

Colonel Parry Resumes Command.

Lt-Col Parry returned from hospital on 6th September and resumed command of the Battalion.

Enemy aircraft were extremely active every night at this time and bomb dropping on an unprecedented scale was experienced. The planes flew very low and, in addition to bombing, raked camps and other targets persistently with machine guns.

Relieving the Loyal North Lancs in the Line.

On 8th September, the Battalion, under Major Murphy, moved up to the line at Westhoek and relieved 9th Battalion Loyal North Lancs in the right section of the front with 20th Battalion on the left. Again, nightmare conditions prevailed and the movement of large bodies of men and transport, over waterlogged and ruined roads and tracks in the dark, was made doubly irksome by the severe artillery fire on the main roads, junctions and valleys. Nearer the line, rifle fire and bursts of machine gun fire swept across the open, searching the approaches to the front line and outposts.

In the line, the Battalion struggled hard against difficult conditions to consolidate and improve their positions. By night, battle patrols were sent out to reconnoitre the morass of no-man’s land and to establish new posts with particular regard for the needs of the Australian troops, who were detailed for the forthcoming operations in the sector.

Relief and Conclusion of Work in the Ypres Salient.

The Battalion was relieved on the night of 12th/13th September by 17th Battalion and moved back to Cavalry Barracks and Ramparts at Lille Gate, Ypres. During the tour in the line, the Battalion’s losses were very moderate having regard to the conditions: the casualties being 3 men killed, 1 missing and 15 wounded.

On the Battalion’s last day in the line, a Brigade dump was set on fire by an enemy shell. At great personal risk, Sgt Loveless put out the fire and prevented the discovery of an important position. For his gallantry, Sgt Loveless received a bar to his Military Medal.

After spending a few days in Brigade reserve, the Battalion was relieved on 17th September by 27th Australian Infantry Regiment and moved back to Montreal Camp.

Conclusion of Work in the Ypres Area.

On the following day, the Battalion marched from the Camp to Godewaersvelte and established Headquarters in Estaminet de la Forge. The Division’s work in the Ypres area was concluded and, on 21st September, the Division moved south on transfer to General Horne’s 1st Army for inclusion in Lt Gen McCracken’s XIII Corp. On leaving the 2nd Army, the following farewell messages were received, addressed to the 47th Divisional Commander:

From General Sir Herbert CO Plumer GCMG, GCVO, KCB, ADC.

“Before your Division leaves the 2nd Army, I should like to express to you and ask you to convey to all Commanders and Staff, my appreciation of the excellent work the Division has done and of the way in which they have carried out all duties assigned to them.

They have taken part in a highly creditable manner in an important offensive operation they have carried out some successful raids and have throughout the whole period maintained their positions efficiently.

I am sure they will do well wherever they may be sent and I wish you all the best of luck.”

From Lt Gen Sir WR Birdwood KCB, KCSI, KCMG, CIE, DSO.

“I must write, however, to thank you again so very much for all the real cordial and great help which you have given us while your Division has been with me. All my people have recognised this very fully and we are one and all most grateful to you for it. If you will let your Brigadiers and Regiments know this and how gladly we shall welcome the opportunity of having the 47th Division with us again one of these days, I shall be grateful. I went round this morning to see what I could as to how things were going on and was delighted to see the real progress which has been made in every direction.”

From Lt-Col S Thunder AA and QMG, 47th (London) Division.

“The Divisional Commander, in publishing the above, desires to express to all under his command his grateful thanks for the loyal help and support which he has at all times received from them and his high appreciation of their gallantry and devotion to duty since taking over command of the Division.

One and all have carried out their duties with which he has entrusted them in a highly creditable and soldierly manner. He congratulates them most sincerely on their splendid record and successes which they have achieved, both in various operations and in the different branches of work, no matter how difficult or dangerous, which they so devotedly carried our during the past eleven months in the Ypres Salient – a  record of which they may indeed well feel proud.

Signed: S Thunder, Lt-Col, AA and QM, 47th (London) Division, September 22nd 1917.”

Chapter 11 – Return to Arras area.