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47th (London) Division – April/May 1916

The armies of our Allies and of our enemies developed likewise. But the Boche was still ahead of us, and the new methods first appeared in the storm that broke at Verdun on February 21st. On that fateful day the Division was grazing in the pastures of G.H.Q. reserve — cold comfort, for the ground lay deep in snow, and brigades sent successively for training to the Bomy area found it impossible for the next fortnight to accomplish much in the way of training.

As a result of the pressure on the French at Verdun the British Army took over the sector held by General Foch’s army southwards from Loos. The 47th Division was restored to the IVth Corps, and on March 16th Major-General Barter assumed command of the Souchez sector, which we had taken over from the 23rd Division, who had relieved the French a few days earlier.

The Carency and Souchez sectors, which the Division now held, included the commanding Lorette Spur, the valley of the Carency, and the west slope of the northern spur of the Vimy Ridge. Near the crest of this spur the French had maintained a precarious footing, and the foremost position was a line of detached posts, accommodated in grouse-butts. Behind our forward system of trenches lay the long Zouave Valley, along which the Boche could put down an almost impassable barrage. He overlooked our front trenches from the Pimple — a little eminence at the extreme north of the Ridge; we had magnificent observation from the east point of the Lorette Spur of the ground behind his line, and of the country east and north for many miles. (Observers from this point saw the Loos Tower Bridge fall on the afternoon of April 16th).

We found the new area very peaceful at first. The enemy, used to a policy of “live and let live,” exposed himself very freely, and made efforts at friendly conversation. The 18th Battalion unbent so far as to give him “The Times” in answer to a request for news. One or two deserters came over to us. His trench-mortars, however, worried us from the first, though we pointed out that this was inconsistent with the conciliatory attitude of the infantry, and retaliated by energetic sniping. As time went on, and the Saxon division in this sector was relieved, the Boche became more and more aggressive, and the first peaceful weeks only served to conceal great activity underground. The 176th (Tunnelling) Coy., R.E., under Major E.M.F. Momber, were allotted to the divisional area. They found the enemy’s work well advanced, and were confined to operations mainly defensive.

The first German mine went up on April 26th. The 140th Brigade were about to relieve the 141st Brigade at the time, but the danger had been anticipated, and a supporting company of the 6th Battalion was sent up in advance. Our front line was broken by the explosion, but the crater was immediately seized, and the near lip consolidated. Rifle-fire from the 17th and 18th Battalions protected the consolidation, and prevented any counter-attack. The crater was called New Cut Crater. On the 29th, our miners blew a camouflet some hundred yards north of this, which detonated a Boche mine, and formed Broadridge Crater. By way of retaliation, the enemy sprang a third mine between the two. This destroyed part of the front line, and the 6th Battalion suffered over eighty casualties from the explosion and subsequent very heavy bombardment; but, under Colonel Mildren’s command, the crater was successfully occupied, and the new line through Mildren Crater ran roughly where the old line had been.

Just south of these operations the mining situation suddenly became critical. No fewer than eleven German galleries were suspected, and our front line was in imminent danger. The 176th (Tunnelling) Coy., R.E., started counter-mining, and the work was pushed on with all possible speed. Increased shifts of miners worked all night May 2nd-3rd, burrowing forward from old French listening galleries; large parties of the 141st Brigade brought up timber, and every available man from the trenches carried soil from the mine-shafts.

The 21st Battalion were occupying the area affected (A section, Carency sub-sector) and were warned to be ready to seize the craters; they were to be helped in the work of consolidation by the 2nd/3rd London Field Coy., R.E. At 4.45 p.m. on May 3rd, four mines were fired, and our guns opened an intense bombardment, to pay back with interest what the 6th Battalion had suffered so heavily three days before. After the bombardment the 21st Battalion parties rushed forward, and held the far lips of the craters. The R.E. and Pioneer detachments then came up, and the night was spent consolidating the near lips. Excellent progress had been made by dawn, when the infantry withdrew to the new positions. Three big craters had been formed, and were named, from right to left. Member, Love, and Kennedy Craters, after the tunnelling company, field company, and battalion commanders concerned. A fourth mine blew back and only just broke the ground. The whole operation had been very successful, and everyone played up splendidly in the emergency.

Read May 1916.