Relief and the move away from the Line.
On the way back to Gorre, the Battalion had a very unpleasant journey. The night was very dark and, owing to the rain, the men slipped and slithered on the sticky clay into water filled shell holes. The enemy, who probably knew that a relief was taking place, shelled the road so vigorously that the men were ordered to scatter. In due course the Battalion resumed the journey and reached their billets rather tired, but quite cheerful nevertheless.
By 730pm the next morning (the 5th), the Battalion was up and busy packing in readiness for a move. At 215pm, in a sweltering and breathless atmosphere, the Battalion moved off via Essars and Bethune to Labeuviere, arriving at 6pm. The next day (the 6th) was a rest day but the following day was a busy one – Reveille at 4am, breakfast at 5am and on parade at 6am for kit inspection. This was followed by further inspections of gas masks, identity discs, ammunition and, later, greatcoats and blankets were returned to store.
It was clear that something unusual was afoot and there was, as usual, no scarcity of rumours. Ypres, Dardanelles and Rouen were named as the probable destination of the Battalion. Knowledgeable individuals said that a question had been asked in the House of Commons as to why there was no battalion of London Irish when there was in fact, a London Scottish Battalion. The same individuals said that, to prove its existence, the London Irish were to make a single handed assault on the German Army. The fact of the matter was that the Battalion was being moved up into position with other units in readiness for the assault, which was about to be launched.
As far as the British Amy was concerned, the attack was to be made by the First Army (Sir Douglas Haig), comprising 1st, 4th and Indian Corps, on a front extending from Bois Grenier, to the south of Festubert, with the object of capturing the high ground known as Aubers Ridge. On the right of the British line, the French 10th Army was to collaborate by an assault on the enemy line between Loos and Vimy with the intention of securing the rich mining area of Lille.
The Assault at Neuve Chapelle.
On the evening of 8th May, the Battalion turned in, fully clothed, with the expectation of a move forward at short notice. At midnight on 8th/9th May, the Battalion was paraded on the green outside the Convent and the Commanding Officer made a short, but inspiring, speech, in which he exhorted the London Irish to keep up their reputation during the forthcoming operations.
The Brigade rendezvous was Les Glaugmes (west of Le Touret) and the Battalion arrived there at 340am (the 9th) and took cover in barns and orchards as part of 1st Corps reserve.
The offensive was launched, at 5am on 9th May by a bombardment on the British Front, supplemental to a bombardment by the French during the previous 30 hours. Rumours soon began to trickle through; stories of advances and failures. As it went on, it was evident that the hoped for success had not been achieved and the Battalion remained under cover awaiting orders. When the bombardment was resumed at 2pm, hopes were again entertained of progress, which would warrant the Division being thrown into the action to follow a retiring enemy. No movement took place, however, until 945pm, when the Battalion and the rest of the Brigade proceeded eastwards to a point in the Rue du Bois, about five hundred yards west of Le Touret, to stand by as reserve under orders of the 2nd Division.
The roads were very congested and streams of wounded moved back from the line, giving lurid and bitter accounts of fearful slaughter occasioned by German machine guns – firing from the shelter of undamaged trenches – on the assaulting troops, who were struggling to force their way over wire, which was left intact through ineffectual shrapnel bombardment.
On arrival at their appointed place, the Battalion rested for an hour by the roadside and then turned into a field to bivouac. At daybreak (the 10th), wet and cold after a night’s exposure, the men prepared for the day. One casualty was sustained during the cleaning up process, a rifleman managing to accidentally shoot himself in the foot while cleaning his rifle.
During the day, which was warm and sunny, the Battalion remained concealed but, at 330pm, the Brigade moved westwards and billeted in Les Facons At 5pm, the billeting area was changed and the Battalion moved to fresh quarters in the Rue du Bois, about 450 yards west of Le Touret, with HQ at the estaminet: “Le Plus”. At 1130pm, orders were received to vacate billets by early morning and to bivouac at a point nearby on the north side of Rue du Bois. The move was accomplished without incident at 630am on 11th May and, throughout the day, all ranks “stood to”, while streams of men and guns went forward and a procession of ambulances and walking wounded returned from the battle raging a little further to the east.
The Battalion was called upon to provide a working party of 450 men at 910pm. The task was trench digging in the Rue du Bois near Richebourg on what was reputed to be the site of a disastrous repulse on Sunday 9th. Work was continued during the night with a considerable amount of rifle and machine gun fire taking place immediately ahead, while star shells provided sufficient illumination to reveal the blighting effect of war on the vicinity.
During the night, stretcher bearers combed the area and a number of wounded – Sunday’s casualties – were brought in and carried to the dressing stations. The digging party, tired out by their exertions and the long march to and from their work, re-joined the Battalion at 4am and, before bivouacking under the trees, enjoyed a substantial meal of tea, bacon, biscuits and marmalade.
At 2pm on the 12th May, the Battalion, with the rest of the Brigade, returned to Bethune and bivouacked on the Canal side and later moved to billets in the vicinity of the cemetery. In spite of unexampled gallantry and lavish expenditure on ammunition, the offensive operations of the preceding four days (later known as the battle of Neuve Chapelle/Aubers Ridge) had brought only local successes to British arms.
The failure was due to an overwhelming concentration of machine guns, skillfully positioned and efficiently served by the German infantry. Firing behind belts of impassable barbed wire from fortified positions – merely scratched by the bombardment – the enemy machine guns and riflemen had preserved their line almost intact. In spite of the severe repulse of the attack, at the behest of the French commander in Chief, the British High Command prepared to continue operations.
After a night of heavy rain, which swamped the men billeted in the Rope Walk, the day was spent in making good deficiencies. An emergency call was received in the evening and orders were issued by Brigade for the Battalion to proceed forthwith to relieve the Scots Guards (1st Brigade) in B 2 Sector, Givenchy. By 8pm (13th), the Battalion was en route for the firing line, proceeding via the south side of the Canal.
The relief of the Scots Guards took place in pouring rain and, in consequence of darkness, the very narrow and intricate system of trenches, some enemy shelling and guides losing their way, there was much confusion and relief was not finally reported until 2am on the 14th. The front line was held by “A” Company (left) and “C” Company (right); “B” Company occupied reserve dug outs, while “D” Company was split up with two sections in the front line, with “A” Company, one platoon in the Keep, one platoon plus one section in Gunner Siding, three sections in Mairie Redoubt and two sections in HQ dug outs. Four machine guns (two taken from 20th Battalion) were posted in the front line.
Messages were taken from Brigade regarding a resumption of the offensive, but a notice of 24 hours postponement followed. In the evening of the 15th, an inter-Company relief was carried out. “C” Company was relieved by “D” Company and “A” Company by “B” Company. A confidential order was received from Brigade regarding the new attack, to be carried on the morrow, by the Indian Corps, 2nd and 7th Divisions, with instructions that the role of the 47th Division at Givenchy was to hold on for the time being.
The Indian Army Attack.
Early on Sunday morning on 16th May, after a showery night and preceded by an intense bombardment, the battle to the north of Givenchy opened by an assault on the enemy positions. The German reply was prompt and vigorous and their bombardment ranged well beyond the limits of the assault and the section of the line held by the Battalion was subjected to a good deal of fire. As the day advanced, the enemy’s artillery fire on the Battalion front slackened and was chiefly confined to the Keep, where 2nd Lt Houston was wounded and two other ranks killed. During the day, Rfn Lloyd of No 2 platoon, who had been killed on the 15th, was buried.
An Attack Cancelled.
Details of the action further north came in and a fair measure of success appeared to have been gained. On 17th May, an attempt was made to exploit the actual situation to the north by an enveloping movement, the left of the line being swung round to permit an echelon movement to Violaines.
In the London Irish line, the day proceeded normally until the afternoon. At 410pm, orders were received by the Battalion to prepare to assault the enemy line. “A” Company was ordered up from reserve to make the attack. The portion of “C” Company holding the Keep and Mairie Redoubt were to remain in position while the rest of the Company was to support “A” Company’s advance. On the left, the 19th London Regiment was to attack and the London Irish advance was to be commenced as soon as the 19th Londons had reached the enemy front line.
“A” Company assembled in the reserve position and, after being addressed by OC of the Company, Captain Hobbs filed up, in fighting order, through the communication trenches to the front line. Orders were issued for the men to fix bayonets, to see to their ammunition and to cut footholds in the trench to facilitate a rapid exit from the trench to the open. Meanwhile, the enemy line was shelled and rapid rifle fire was proceeding on the left. Through periscopes, and by glances over the parapet, the assaulting troops examined no-man’s land and the objective. Since the German, and our own, barbed wire entanglements were absolutely intact, there appeared to be only possible outcome: a perfect target for the enemy machine gunners and a complete failure, owing to the impossibility of passing our own wire. However, the troops were keyed up for the task and were ready to make the attempt.
One youthful fire-eater, while demonstrating what his intentions were on arrival at the other side, managed to shoot himself through the foot with the revolver with which he intended to wreak fearful execution. In spite of the precarious conditions, the accident caused a roar of laughter in the fire bay.
At this time, the enemy machine gunners were cutting the parapet, with bursts of fire, and the artillery was steadily pounding the trenches and bursting shrapnel overhead. From the observation post, it was stated that lorry loads of reinforcements could be seen rushing to the line.
Word to unfix bayonets and to stand by was suddenly passed along the line and, a little later. the attacking party was moved back to a support trench immediately in the rear of the front line with orders, however, to be prepared to attack from there. When night fell, heavy rain set in and, devoid of shelter, the men were soon soaked to the skin and half frozen with cold. The enemy guns continued to pound the line and there was many direct hits on the trenches and the Keep, one man being killed and five wounded.
An Enemy Mine Explodes.
At 9pm on 17th May on the left front of the Battalion, the enemy fired a mine and immediately opened rapid fire. Instantly, the parapet was manned by the London Irish and a hot fire poured in to the enemy line. Fortunately, the mine exploded 300 yards outside the front line and caused no actual damage to our trenches. No infantry attack developed and gradually the conditions reverted to normal.
At night, a message was received from General Barter, GOC 47th Division, who complimented the Brigade on their work during the preceding two days. After a miserably uncomfortable night, the Battalion stood to at 3am on the following morning (the 18th). To the north, the offensive continued but the enemy was resisting the pressure stubbornly and was known to be reinforcing strongly. During the morning, the Battalion resumed the dispositions which had been altered by the proposed assault and the day passed quietly except for desultory shelling.
Relief, Relaxation and Readiness.
The early hours of the next day (the 19th) were distinguished by the violence of the enemy’s bombardment of the Battalion’s area, during which rain continued to fall heavily. Orders were received to prepare for relief and, by 1pm, the 29th Battalion had taken over the line and the London Irish were en route for Le Preol.
The village was found to be a pretty and straggling collection of cottages situated on the banks of the waterway connecting with the Aire-La Bassee Canal. After the turmoil of the previous few days, the comfort of the barns and the houses of Le Preol was much enjoyed. At the rear of the village, stretched green marshes, dotted with little woods and groups of mellow brick cottages. Clusters of blue and yellow iris grew at the water’s edge and the rich pastures were thickly bestrewn with bright hued wild flowers. Bathing in the canal was excellent and very few men missed the opportunity of a daily swim.
During the next four days, the 20th to 23rd, the Battalion was held in a state of constant readiness. Company commanders reconnoitred the enemy positions and studied the ground between the lines. Training was carried out during the day time and, at night, large parties proceeded to the line to work in B 3 Section, north of Givenchy.
On the night of the 21st/22nd, the Battalion was detailed to dig a communication trench in the vicinity of the Indian Village, between the old and the new front line. On arrival at the site, the men were quietly and quickly spaced out and the task began without delay. In spite of heavy shelling, which necessitated a temporary withdrawal, good work was done. During progress of the digging, an attack was made on the left by Canadian troops and much yelling and cheering was heard above the racket of the guns. The Battalion was commended for the manner in which they executed their job and the new trench was named ‘Irish Trench.’
Colonel Concanon leaves the Battalion.
Saturday 22nd May was a day of alarms. The Battalion was ordered at 7am to stand to at a moment’s notice to proceed to the line. Later, the notice was increased to half an hour. A conference of Commanding Officers was held at Brigade Headquarters at 10am to discuss an attempt proposed to be made, on 23rd May by the 140th and 142nd Brigade and verbal orders were issued. At 2pm, the Battalion paraded in full marching order in readiness to proceed to the line but, subsequently, the men were dismissed to billets.
On this day. Colonel Concanon was compelled, through illness, to relinquish command of the command of the Battalion to Major Healy. The Colonel, who was firmly established in the affections of the officers and men, unfortunately never returned to the Battalion. Under his kindly and skilful guidance, the Battalion had been built up into an efficient fighting machine and, under his leadership, the Battalion had received its baptism of fire. Colonel Concanon inspired the confidence and esteem of the men and was remembered by all ranks with pride and affection.
The Front Line at Givenchy.
On 5pm on 23rd May, the Battalion paraded and marched up to the front line at Givenchy and took over from the 20th Battalion, relief being completed by 7pm. “A” and “C” Companies with two sections of “B” Company occupied the front line and the remainder of “B” Company held Mairie Redoubt Gunner siding and HQ dugouts. “D” Company took over the reserve position at Harley Street. Major HM Healy TD was in command.
During the shelling, which took place in the evening, the Battalion Medical Officer, Dr Spooner, was hit and slightly wounded by a fragment of shell. Fortunately, the wound, which was in the shoulder, was not serious. The next day (24th) the enemy continued the bombardment and, all day long, the Battalion area was shelled. There was a good deal of heavy shrapnel but, for the most part, the enemy used heavy calibre high explosive shells. In spite of the severity of the fire, only four men of the Battalion were wounded.
On the left of the Battalion, the line was held by the 22nd Battalion, London Regiment. During the day, they were subjected to particularly heavy fire, the bombardment being severe and continuous. At 7pm, Brigadier General GC Nugent toured the line and made careful reconnaissance in readiness for the forthcoming operations. Later, the 22nd Battalion was relieved by the 23rd Battalion.
The 47th Division in Action.
Instructions received indicated that on the morrow, the battle would be renewed and, this time, the 47th Division were to take an active part in the fight. To the north, the Canadian Division was to attack towards Rue de Ouvert and, to the south, the 142nd Brigade was to assault the German positions lying to the west of Chapelle St Roche. The 142nd Brigade, with the 23rd and 24th Battalions in the fighting line, was timed to advance at 630pm, while the Canadian Division was to join in the fight at 9pm.
On the right of the 47th Division, in the front line and their flank resting on the Canal, were the men of 17th Battalion. On their left was the London Irish occupying Givenchy B2. In support, in Gunner Siding, the 19th Battalion was in position with 20th Battalion in support. On the left of the London Irish, the 23rd and 24th held the line (B3). The 21st and 22nd Battalions were placed in Sidbury as reserve.
At stand to, on the morning of the 25th, the enemy shelled the line with heavy calibre shells, the bombardment being particularly heavy to the left of the Battalion front (23rd and 24th Battalions). During the morning, “B” Company relieved “A” Company in the front line, “A” Company going back to Gunner Siding and later to Piccadilly. Subsequently, “A” Company returned to the front line in readiness for the battle which was imminent.
Details of the Battalion’s part in the attack were circulated. Their principal duties were to secure the flank of 141st Brigade, to simulate an attack on their front by employment of artifices likely to deceive the enemy and to assist the assault of the 141st Brigade by covering fire. At 6pm, the enemy was alive to the danger and his heavy guns pounded the line while light high velocity guns, trench mortars and rifle grenades played effectively on the whole of the forward area. At 615pm, the London Irish, who had previously made a conspicuous show of bayonets and movement in the front line and had drawn much fire on themselves, lined the parapet and poured hot fire into the enemy trenches with rifles and machine guns.
At 630pm, the 23rd and 24th Battalions, in splendid order, vigorously assaulted and were quickly in the enemy forward trenches. During the assault, the London Irish continued a rapid and accurate fire on the enemy and aided the advance with conspicuous success. 2nd Lt P Maginn, acting as observing officer on the left, carried out his duties with marked ability and passed frequent and accurate reports of progress. 2 Lt Steele, who had previously distinguished himself in reconnaissance patrols in no-man’s-land, was hit in the forehead by a rifle bullet, but gallantly stuck to his post in the advanced trenches, for several hours, before reporting to the first aid post.
The assault by the 142nd Brigade resulted in a great increase in the enemy’s artillery fire and, for hours, a rain of shells deluged the Battalion area. Direct hits by heavy calibre shells practically destroyed the Battalion Aid Post and HQ Mess. Rfn Ryan and the orderly room clerk, Cpl Winslett being wounded in the latter place.
The Keep, the Church and Mairie Redoubt were subjected to special attention and, at least, three hundred projectiles crashed in to those defences in short time. Major Healy was slightly wounded in the head, three riflemen were killed and eleven other ranks were wounded. A sapper of the RE, working in the Keep was killed at about the same time.
Meanwhile, the 142nd Brigade on the left, who had made some progress at first, encountered severe opposition and had practically come to a standstill. Moreover, their advance reached positions, which were badly enfiladed by rifle and machine gun fire and by artillery firing from Auchy-les-Mines and La Bassee. Enemy guns firing from Canteleux were also being used with deadly effect.
The 21st Battalion ran out a defensive flank along the Sunken Road from the left of the London Irish line to the point where the Sunken Road met the German front line, while London Irish Bombers stood by on the flank ready to deal with any emergency. The machine guns and rifles of the Battalion continued to fire with good effect on the enemy front line and communication trenches and succeeded in silencing the machine gun, which was giving a great deal of trouble of the position known as I 3. During the night, the enemy reinforced his line with troops, which could be heard singing as they marched along the roads. Streams of wounded came in during the night and stretcher bearers and the aid post had a busy time.
In the early morning of the 26th, the sounds of attack and counter attack were heard on the left. Later, it became clear that the positions gained were won at heavy cost, and that holding on was a matter of difficulty and expensive in lives. In the London Irish line, artillery fire had badly holed the Keep and blown breeches in the front line and communication trenches. The necessary repairs were undertaken without delay and promptly made good. Every effort was made to limit enemy activity by use of rifle and machine gun fire, while trench mortars were employed as fully as possible.
At 917am, the Battalion reported to Brigade that a part of the captured line on the left was untenable and that men were moving back to the front line in twos and threes. To cope with possible developments, Brigade issued suitable emergency orders. During the action, our own artillery during the action was inadequate to deal with the requirements of the situation owing to the scarcity of guns and shortage of shells. Neither of these disabilities afflicted the enemy, who used his guns freely.
During the day, the Battalion effected an inter-company relief, during which many wounded passed through our lines. Forward, the enemy sniped the wounded lying between the lines and threw incendiary bombs. During the evening, the enemy bombarded the forward area severely and sentries were especially alert in case of counter attack. A good deal of enemy transport could be heard on the roads around La Bassee and marching troops could again be heard singing.
To the south, the French were active and a heavy cannonade lasted for a considerable time. On the 27th, the Battalion stood to between 230am and 330am and, as an enemy counter attack was expected, every precaution was taken. A gentle breeze blew from the east and instructions were given for gas masks to be kept in readiness, in case the enemy took advantage of the favourable wind to discharge gas.
On the left, in spite of a bombardment by our guns and trench mortars, the enemy still held the high ground known as the Orchard and, from there, dominated the captured area. Enemy shelling drew a weak response from our guns, otherwise the day passed quietly.
At night, the Battalion carried out an inter-company relief and, on the left, the 20th Battalion took over the trenches captured by the 142nd Brigade. During the night and following morning (28th), there was little offensive activity by either side. Brigadier General Nugent, GOC 141st Brigade undertook a reconnaissance of the tactical situation.
Later the following special order of the day was circulated:
“In the field, 27/5/15.
The Brigadier has much pleasure in announcing to the Brigade that Major General Barter, commanding the 47th (London) Division personally congratulated him on the work of the Brigade during recent operations. The GOC was especially desirous that all ranks of the Brigade should be made aware of his great appreciation of all they did and the way they did it. The Brigadier wishes to add that he is proud of having the honour of commanding them.
George C Nugent, Brigadier General, Commanding 141st Infantry Brigade.”
An Enemy Bombing Attack.
The comparative calm of the afternoon was broken by a bombing attack made by the enemy who had tried to rush the barrier across the Sunken Road immediately in front of the left of the Battalion, the Barrier marked the right flank of the capture territory and was of considerable tactical importance. In spite of the fact that the enemy pressed the attack with great determination, the bombers of the 20th Battalion, who were holding the Barrier, put up a spirited resistance.
The 20th Battalion asked the London Irish for assistance and a bombing detachment from “A” Company was immediately placed at their disposal, while a steady fire of trench mortars and rifle grenades was maintained from the London Irish lines. The 20th Battalion not only succeeded in holding on but were able to push along the enemy front line until they had secured a footing on the high ground on the right of the Sunken Road – no mean achievement.
About this time, Major Beresford (OC “B” Company) reconnoitred the position and, realising that the enemy’s occupation of the section of trench adjacent to the barricade jeopardised the safety of the garrison of the….. in the German front line, asked permission to lead an attack to secure a further length of the German line. Battalion HQ, however, withheld their consent. During the day, five other ranks were wounded.
Exposure to Sniping.
On Saturday 29th May, a review of the situation on the Battalion’s left showed that there was reason for considerable anxiety. The captured line (held by 20th Battalion) was commanded and enfiladed by the German positions on higher ground. It had been persistently shelled and bombed and, although much time and labour had been spent on consolidation, the enemy guns were reducing it to a state of ruin. In the vicinity of the bombing block (right flank), enemy snipers had a sight along a considerable length of captured trench. As this trench was practically devoid of buttresses, men of the garrison were picked off with great ease by German snipers and a considerable number of casualties occurred.
At intervals, the enemy fired enormous trench mortar shells in to the line. These exploded with a terrific roar and with devastating effect, wrecking trenches and killing by concussion. The London Irishmen, with trench mortars and rifle grenades, continued to do their utmost to keep down enemy fire and to harass the enemy – to relieve the 20th Battalion, but the situation remained acutely dangerous.
“A” Company’s bombers, while relieving the 20th Battalion bombers at the barricades, suffered a casualty, Rfn Sam Shipley being shot through the head and killed. This rifleman was the first member of the London Irish to be killed in captured enemy lines.
During the afternoon, the 19th Battalion arrived to relieve the 20th Battalion. When the leading platoon emerged from the front line to pass up the Sunken Road to the new front line, they were observed by the enemy. Immediately, the Germans brought their trench mortars into action. The first few bursts caused casualties in the head of the 19th Battalion column and checked progress. The old British front line, crowded with the normal garrison and the relieving troops, was heavily shelled and many casualties caused.
The London Irish reported the situation to Brigade and 19th Battery (London) RFA was requested to silence the enemy mortars with shell fire. While acting as observing officer, 2nd Lt Orr was wounded. Later in the evening the Divisional Trench Mortars (Vickers 1½ inch) arrived and prepared for action.
During the night, “A” Company relieved “C” Company in the trenches on the left and “B” Company relieved “D” on the right of the line. Special vigilance was observed all night and it was evident that the enemy on the right of the Battalion were quite cheerful since they shouted across no-man’s-land and sang songs. On the left during the night, the enemy was active. Although their line was strongly wired, they were evidently apprehensive of being attacked and frequently threw bombs which, however, burst on their own wire.
Casualties in the Captured Lines.
30th May dawned bright and sunny. “A” Company’s Bombers continued to hold the barricade in the enemy front line and, apart from being bombed with trench mortars, had a fairly uneventful time. For the greater part of the day, the enemy kept up a heavy shell fire on the Battalion’s area. The Keep was hit several times and one rifleman fatally injured and another wounded. Elsewhere, another rifleman was killed and 2nd Lt Maginn was wounded in the head by shrapnel. The opening of a new telephone line gave the Battalion direct communication with 22nd Battery (TF) Howitzer Brigade and frequently, on request, the gunners rendered valuable service by shelling the enemy positions opposite the left flank of the Battalion. In the captured line, many casualties occurred as snipers had easy targets.
During the day, CQM Sgt J Dillon (temporarily acting as Coy Sgt Major) proceeded to the bombing block to visit the Bombers and to arrange for the removal of Rfn S Shipley’s body. Within 30 seconds of his arrival, the CQM Sergeant was shot through the back and expired almost immediately. CQM Sgt Dillon was an experienced soldier of unfailing good humour and efficiency. He was considerate to the men and a tower of strength to the officers and his brother NCOs. His loss was keenly felt throughout the whole Battalion.
The assistance afforded by the Battalion to the 20th Battalion was recognised by the receipt of a letter from the OC, Lt-Col Habback, expressing his thanks for the services rendered by the London Irish bombers.
In the evening Lt-Col Mitchell, a Canadian Staff Officer, arrived to reconnoitre the line with a view to relief by the Canadians on the night of 1st/2nd June.
Brigadier General Nugent is killed.
On 31st May, the Brigade suffered a severe blow when the GOC 141st Infantry Brigade, Brigadier General GC Nugent, was killed by a stray bullet, while inspecting work in progress at Sidbury Mound. The funeral took place in Bethune at 530pm on the same day and, in addition to various Staff Officers, two officer and six men from all the Battalions in the Brigade attended.
Later the same evening, the body of CQM Sgt John Dillon was laid to rest near the reserve billets at Pont Fixe Road. There were three casualties during the day, one rifleman being killed and two others wounded.
Relief from Action by Scots and Canadians.
Also on this day, the 6th Battalion Gordon Highlanders relieved the left half of the Battalion (from the Shrine northwards) and, on the following day, 1st June, the remainder of the Battalion (Shrine to the point dividing B1 and B2 sub-Sectors) was relieved by units of the Canadian Division. The whole Battalion then proceeded by march route, along the canal side to billets in Rue d’Aire in Bethune, witnessing en route an air fight in which he enemy plane was shot down.
Reviewing the past few days, it may be said that the Battalion was not sorry to leave the Givenchy line. While they had not actually participated in a bayonet assault, they had been on the fringe of an attack and, in consequence, had suffered a good deal from the enemy’s gun fire. Fearful of the extension of the attack, the Germans had heavily bombarded the Battalion’s line. Giving covering fire for the attack by the 142nd Brigade was a responsible and hazardous task and lying across the parapet, with heads and shoulders exposed, the men formed admirable targets.
The enemy, replying with rifle and machine-gun fire from the security of a well looped trench, were much more happily placed. Bursts of shrapnel, comparatively ineffective against men in deep and narrow trenches, assumed a much more serious aspect against men without the shelter of their parapets.
The sojourn on the line was not, however, without its lighter moments and there were times when the men in the support lines were able to forage in the gardens of the village for vegetables to augment the rations. It was possible to pick flowers and from the Keep and elsewhere, despite the racket of the guns, the cheerful song of the lark was heard.
The Transport also indulged in a little “scrounging”. On a report by Captain Trinder that there was a useful looking covered wagon in the Keep, it was decided to investigate. Accompanied by Captain Trinder, Lt Mahon and a party from the Transport Section, under cover of darkness, removed a brick wall and succeeded in getting the wagonette out on the road. Taking the iron shod vehicle down a cobbled street pitted with shell holes was a perilous adventure. The enemy line was only a short distance away and, although the Germans must have heard the rumbling of wheels at such short range, the removal was accomplished safely. The old wagonette stayed with the Battalion until the Somme in 1916 and was extremely useful. However, it might have been lost to the Battalion much earlier when it ran away and crashed through the plate glass window of a Bethune shop.