On November 4th, the Duke of Connaught inspected the 18th Battalion (London Irish Rifles), of which battalion he was Honorary Colonel, and the Commanding Officer, Lieut.-Colonel B. McM.Mahon, M.C., was presented to him. The same day, our miners succeeded in blowing in an enemy gallery that had been driven under our front line, and the mining situation became easier. The enemy’s trench-mortars having devoted considerable attention to Marshall Walk, and a good deal of damage having been caused, a prearranged scheme of immediate retaliation was introduced which succeeded in largely abating the nuisance.
On November 18th, the first frost occurred. Reinforcements, especially of officers, had been steadily trickling in, so that by the 25th the “trench strength” had increased to 352 officers and 8,635 other ranks.
The 1st Canadian Tunnelling Company on December 11th, blew a large camouflet in rear of the enemy’s gallery, which was threatening C and D craters, and on the following day they broke into this from our own workings, occupying 500 feet of enemy workings, which contained much mining material and two dead Germans. No prisoners were, however, captured.
The enemy bombarded the whole Divisional front on December 15th. This was followed by the SOS going up on the 23rd Divisional front on our left at 4.25. This signal was mistaken for our own, with the result that both artilleries expended much ammunition before the situation again became normal.
Two days later, a patrol of one N.C.O. and one man returning from Glasgow to Berry post was captured by the Germans, the N.C.O. subsequently escaping and returning to our lines. Next day a ticklish operation was successfully performed by the tunnellers, who blew a large camouflet at Hill 60 without detonating the large mine. On December 21st, the Commander-in-Chief inspected in the rain the 18th, 19th, and 20th Battalions, chatting informally with many officers and men, and expressing himself as much gratified with the appearance and steadiness of the units under unfavourable conditions.
On the following day a raiding-party of the Civil Service Rifles succeeded in entering the enemy’s front line between the Bluff and the Shrine after a two minutes’ bombardment. The trenches were found to be considerably damaged and several dead and wounded Germans were found. Owing to their violent resistance none of the enemy was brought back alive, but the raiders accounted for about a dozen Germans, and a shoulder-strap identified the troops opposite as belonging to the 416th Regiment of the 204th Division, which agreed with our existing information. The losses of the raiders were two other ranks missing, believed killed, and two officers and nine other ranks slightly wounded.
During the night of the 23rd-24th, a series of patrols went out along the Xth Corps front. One near the Bluff encountered a party of about twenty of the enemy and drove them off with bombs. Another south of the railway cutting was fired on and lost three men, but much useful information was gained as to the condition of the enemy’s wire, his method of holding his trenches, and the state of No Man’s Land.
Meanwhile, the 141st Brigade, which had the good fortune to be in Divisional Reserve, made the most of their opportunity of celebrating Christmas. With vivid recollections of 1915 and the Hohenzollern Redoubt, they determined to go while the going was good, and company dinners started officially as early as the 21st. The hutted camps proved invaluable for this purpose, as many of the larger huts were just large enough to have a complete company packed into them before dinner. Their removal afterwards was not always so simple.
The supply of turkeys was insufficient to provide everybody with this seasonable delicacy, but an excellent substitute was found in the shape of roast pork, which could be obtained locally “on the hoof.” Dinners in camp had this further advantage over celebrations in “Pop,” that the dispersing revellers were spared the well-meant but sometimes embarrassing attentions of the A.P.M. and his zealous assistants. Mess carts had scoured the country as far afield as Bailleul and Hazebrouck to such good purpose that the resultant menus would have been no discredit to many a London restaurant, though the cooks were without almost everything in the way of apparatus that a chef is supposed to want. The troops in the line were less fortunate, the enemy bombarding fairly heavily, and causing considerable alarms, damage, and casualties. The signallers had to repair one buried cable in thirty places and then lay a new one.
Two changes occurred in the command of infantry brigades on December 28th, Brigadier-General F.G. Lewis, C.M.G., commanding the 142nd Infantry Brigade, went sick, and Lieut.-Colonel H.B.P.L. Kennedy, D.S.O., commanding the 21st Battalion, took over temporary command. Brigadier-General R. McDouall, D.S.O., commanding 141st Infantry Brigade, went on a month’s leave, handing over to Lieut.-Colonel W.C.W. Hawkes, commanding 4th Battalion R.W.F. (Pioneers).
The year closed quietly, the only disturbance being a little celebration at midnight, arranged by the gunners. First one round of 9’2-inch, a pause; nine rounds of 6-inch, a pause; one round of 8-inch, a pause; and then seven rounds from the 60-pounders to ring in 1917. The infantry added five rounds rapid as their contribution.