Chapter 11 – Arras, Opry, Gavrelle and Bourlon Wood.
Transfer to the 1st Army, Reorganising, Training and Sport.
On 21st September, the Battalion rose at 630am and prepared for a full marching order inspection but this was cancelled and a rifle inspection and pay parade substituted – to the great satisfaction of the men.
The transfer from the 2nd Army to the 1st Army involved a journey southward and the Battalion left the troop crowded village of Godewearsvelde and entrained at 5pm.
Alongside the Battalion’s train was another packed with German prisoners and the men promptly engaged the Germans in conversation. It transpired that the Germans had only been in the trenches for two days, having previously been on the Eastern Front. They seemed to be unanimous that the Western Front was not the embodiment of comfort and were quite reconciled to their lot as prisoners.
The journey southward, although short in actual mileage, took about seven hours and, between 1am and 2am on the 22nd September, the Battalion de-trained in a very chilly early morning atmosphere at Savy Berlette, a village situated on the Arras-St Pol road about fifteen kilometres west of Arras. A sharp invigorating march of about four kilometres westward took the Battalion to the village of Vandelicourt and, on arrival, the men lost no time in turning in – the billets being comfortable barns.
The Battalion paraded at 630am on 25th September and moved along the St Pol – Arras road. In consequence of the heat, the troops rested for the period between 1030am and 330pm and were able to conclude the march in comfortable conditions. After a journey of fourteen miles, the Battalion arrived at Aubrey Camp at 630pm. The camp was pleasantly situated alongside the Roclincourt – Arras road about two miles from Arras.
The first important duty performed by the Battalion in their new camp was to crush the prospects of 17th Battalion who had hoped to become Brigade football champions. The match was played in the evening of 26th September and 17th Battalion were beaten by 3 goals to 1.
Until the end of the month, the Battalion employed its time in reorganising and training, improving Camps and assisting in cable burying operations in the forward area. For the latter task, a party of 200 men was supplied nightly.
Inspection and Medal Presentations.
Major General Gorringe, Divisional Command, visited Aubrey Camp on 2nd October and inspected the Battalion. After the inspection, the General addressed the men and presented the DSO ribbon to Lt Col Parry and Military Medals to Sgt Murphy, Sgt Hatt, Cpl Esthill and Rfn Macnamara.
Return to the Line at Gavrelle.
The Battalion moved into the line on 3rd October and relieved the 15th Battalion on the right of the Brigade front with Headquarters in Naval Trench. The Battalion’s line was situated east of Gavrelle and consisted of a number of well wired posts covered by day from strong points in the rear, well equipped with machine guns. By night, the gaps were patrolled constantly. Observation of the enemy’s lines was good and the artillery FOOs had excellent control over the whole front. Normal trench routine was followed and a good deal of work in trench improvements carried through.
Considerable movement was observed behind the enemy lines on 9th October and, as a relief was suspected, the enemy lines opposite the Brigade front was heavily bombarded between 315pm and 545pm. Enemy retaliation took the form of rapid fire with 77 mm guns and during the later stages of the Battalion’s tour in the line, there was considerable shelling by day and night. The Battalion came in for a good deal of retaliatory shelling on 11th October, occasioned by a heavy and successful discharge of gas at 3am into Oppy village from projectors in the line.
After a wet and cold period, the Battalion was relieved at midday on 11th October and moved back to Roundhay Park in Brigade reserve. The Camp was a thoroughly miserable place and consisted of a number of dilapidated dug outs in a sea of mud. A heavy programme of work was performed by the Battalion and, night after night, practically every man was engaged in some form of working party.
On 18th October, the 17th Battalion carried out a successful raid, assisted by a party of two NCOs and twenty other ranks from the London Irish attached to the TM Battery for the purpose of the operation.
At about midday on 18th October, the 21st London Regiment relieved the London Irish, whereupon the Battalion moved back to Aubrey Camp into Divisional reserve.
Life at Aubrey Camp was occasionally enlivened by the enemy’s long range shelling of an observation balloon, which floated over the Camp. On two occasions, the enemy scored hits and shells often burst right over the Camp. The Battalion had a fairly comfortable time in spite of incessant working parties and the men were able to pay frequent visits to Arras. The town was somewhat knocked about, the Cathedral, Town Hall and beautifully arcaded square having suffered severely. A large number of civilians remained and the estaminets, cafes and other amusements were well patronised.
Inspection by the Lord Mayor of London.
The Battalion, under Major Murphy, was inspected on the morning of 25th October by the Lord Mayor of London. After inspection, which took place in pouring rain, the Lord Mayor addressed the officers, NCO and men as follows:
“Major Murphy, Officers, NCOs and men. It affords me the greatest possible pleasure and pride to come here and inspect your splendid regiment. I congratulate you on your historic share in the great and glorious war for the defence of Liberty and the Homeland.
As Chief Magistrate of London, I am very proud to have seen you today and congratulate you on your splendid and soldierly bearing and on your smart turn out. Yours is a splendid record of gallant service in which we all take a very proud interest. Whether you come from London or Ireland makes little difference. You are representations of Erin and she has stood nobly by the Empire. I wish you all good luck and look forward to the great day when we can welcome you home once more. I congratulate you, Major Murphy, on your splendid regiment.”
The Battalion football team played three successful matches as under:
2nd October: London Irish v RE. Won 3-1.
24th October: London Irish v Divisional HQ. Won 1-0.
25th October: London Irish v 20th Battalion. Won 2-1
The match against the 20th Battalion was played in a deluge of rain at St Aubin after the inspection by the Lord Mayor. The game was a most strenuous one and, in spite of the weather and the fact that two penalties were missed, the form shown by both sides was of a high order.