1917

Place: BEAUFORT
Date: 04/01/17
Summary of events and information: Working party of 7 Officers and 189 other ranks proceeded to FLEURY, for working with the Heavy Branch M.G.C.

Date: 16/01/17
Summary of events and information: Draft of 200 other ranks joined the Battn. consisting chiefly of men of average height and over.

Date: 21/01/17
Summary of events and information: Draft of 94 other ranks joined the Battn., the majority being men of average height and over.

Date: 22/01/17
Summary of events and information: The Divn. was ‘De-Bantamized’.

Date: 23/01/17
Summary of events and information: Draft of 30 other ranks joined the Battn., the majority being men of average height and over.

Date: 24/01/17
Summary of events and information: 13 unfit men proceeded to 181st Tunnelling Company.

Date: 25/01/17
Summary of events and information: 163 other ranks left the Battn. and were sent to the 25th Labour Company BOULOGNE and 30th Infantry Base Depot, according to the scheme of ‘De-Bantamization’. During the month training was carried out when possible, but was seriously interfered with, owing to detached working parties, the arrival of drafts and departure of ‘unfits’.

[Signed off by] L. M. Stevens Lieut-Col. Commdg 23rd Service Batt. Manchester Regt.

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘It had been stated that we were to be given about two months to get the Battalions thoroughly organised and trained, but the military situation did not admit of this and at the end of January we got orders to take over the line from the French in the neighbourhood of Rosières.’

February, 1917  – LIHONS & ROSIERES 

According to the History of the 35th Division, the division now passed under control of the IV Corps.

Place: BOUQUE-MAISON
Date: 06/02/17
Summary of events and information: Moved from BEAUFORT to BOUQUE-MAISON.

Date: 07/02/17
Summary of events and information: Moved to AMPLIER.

Place: NAOURS
Date: 08/02/17
Summary of events and information: Marched to NAOURS for training purposes.

[War Diary of 17th Lancs. Fus. records that in Naours platoons were being reorganised ‘under the new Trench method, providing that specialists be abolished and every man be capable of using effectively  every infantry weapon.’]

Date: 16/02/17
Summary of events and information: 2/ Lieut Barker was wounded and 1 man killed at Bombing practice.

History of the 35th Division: ‘Thaw had now set in, and there was slight rain which made walking difficult.’

Date: 17/02/17
Summary of events and information: Marched to FLESSELLES and entrained for MARCELCAVE proceeding from there to WIENCOURT CAMP.

[War Diary of 17th Lancs. Fus.:  ‘Church service in morning. Concert was held in the evening in conjunction with the 23rd Manchesters.’]

Place: CAMP DES BALLONS (AMIENS)
Date: 19/02/17
Summary of events and information: Marched to CAMP DES BALLONS, in order to take over the French line before CHAULNES.

chaulnes

chaulnes2

Date: 20/02/17
Summary of events and information: Marched to ROSIERES and on to the LIHONS sub-sector, taking over from the 2nd 414th Regt. of France. This relief commenced at 7AM but was not completed till 12.15PM on the 21st. The trenches were deep in water and mud and the guides furnished by the French got confused in the dark [‘unreliable and misleading’ is deleted]. The 18th Lancs. Fus. went in on our right and the 20th Lancs. Fus on our left.

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘Owing to the extraordinarily bad condition of the trenches, and to the fact that some of the French guides lost their way in the very complex French system, the relief was not completed until noon of February 21st – over 24 hours after the Battalions had left their billets.’

[War Diary of 18th Lancs. Fus.: ‘Took over new line from the French. These trenches were poor and extremely wet and muddy, the average depth of water and mud being 2 feet in front line and communication trenches. Men very exhausted… It was extremely difficult to get up the communication trenches, or to carry and Lewis guns, ammunition or rations up. The rapid thaw had caused the sides of the trenches to fall in.’]

[War Diary of 18th Lancs. Fus.: 21/02/17 ‘Great difficult experienced in bringing up rations to front line.’] 

[War Diary of 18th Lancs. Fus.: 22/02/17 ‘It was found that the only way to bring up ammunition and rations was over the top during the night or early morning.’] 

[War Diary of 20th Lancs. Fus.: ‘Trenches generally are in a very bad state, mud and water in places reaching to a man’s thigh. Enemy activity slight.’] 

History of the 35th Division: ‘The front extended from a point on the north between Bois Triangulaire and Chaulnes to a point 1,500 yards south of Chilly. Each brigade held approximately 2,000 yards of front. The infantry found the trenches in very bad condition. The rapid thaw had caused a great portion of the parapets to fall in, and the debris at the bottom of the trenches had become glutinous mud, which in some cases was as much as three feet deep. The reliefs, therefore, became extremely difficult, and after that was concluded the supply of rations and ammunition taxed the endurance of the men to such an extent that they were frequently heard to remark that they would prefer a heavy bombardment.’ 

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘As bad luck would have it, the frost gave way just as we were going into the line, and a heavy thaw set in. The French had told us that the trenches were quite good, but the thaw was so rapid that by the time our men were up, such trenches as still existed were nothing better than ditches full of mud and water.’ 

Date: 23/02/17
Summary of events and information: Our front was heavily bombarded between 7.45AM and 9AM. We lost 2 men killed and 2 wounded. One man was killed by the accidental discharge of a rifle. Our left company was relieved by a company of the 17th Lancs. Fus. and moved back to ROSIERES.

[War Diary of 18th Lancs. Fus.: ‘Considerable bombardment of front and support line by enemy between 7.45 and 8.30 p.m. Good retaliation from our own and French guns.’]

[War Diary of 17th Lancs. Fus.: ‘Trenches are exceedingly bad, going being difficult. Relief completed finally at 10 a.m.’] 

History of the 35th Division: ‘The next few days were marked by bombardments and counter-bombardments.’

Date: 24/02/17
Summary of events and information: One man wounded.

Date: 25/02/17
Summary of events and information: One man wounded (self-inflicted).

Date: 26/02/17
Summary of events and information: The Battn. was relieved in the line by the 17th West Yorks and in support by the 19th Durham Light Inf., moving back to ROSIERES.

Date: 27/02/17
Summary of events and information: The Battn. moved into Divisional Reserve at CAMP DES BALLONS and commenced training.

[Signed off by] L. M. Stevens Lieutenant Colonel Commanding 23rd Service Batt. Manchester Regt.

History of the 35th Division: ‘No Man’s Land, according to reports of patrols, was a mass of waterlogged shell holes. At this time our men began to suffer from “Trench Feet” and many had to be evacuated in consequence.’ 

A footnote details: ‘A medical officer in Rosières weighed the clothes of one of the stretcher-cases brought to him. They were clogged with mud and water and turned the scale at 90lb.’ 

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘In spite of everything we could do for them, the men suffered badly from the conditions, as it was impossible to prevent frost-bite. This was probably the last time that the Brigade ever wore their great-coats in bad trenches. When a man took his greatcoat off at Rosières, it was as much as he could do to lift it off the ground, owing to the weight from the plastered mud.’

Date: 06/03/17
Summary of events and information: The Battn. moved from CAMP DES BALLONS to the CHILLY Left Sub-sector taking over from the 16th Cheshires, and the 17th Lan. Fus. were on our right and the 17th West Yorks on our left. One man was wounded during the relief by a Rifle Grenade.

History of the 35th Division: ‘Snow fell at this time which altered conditions for the worse.’

Date: 07/03/17
Summary of events and information: Seven men were wounded.

Date: 09/03/17
Summary of events and information: 2 Lt. C. R. Chaffey was mortally wounded by a hostile sentry when patrolling the enemy wire.

Date: 10/03/17
Summary of events and information: Were relieved by the 17th Royal Scots and moved into the Brigade Reserve at VRELY. Note: During the above tour of duty numerous successful patrols were carried out by the Battn. We received the compliments of the Divnl. Commander for this work

[War Diary of 18th Lancs. Fus.: 11/03/17 ‘Trenches muddy and wet. All reliefs and rations carried up at night over the top.’] 

[War Diary of 20th Lancs. Fus.: ‘Mud and bad conditions generally.’]

Date: 14/03/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved the 18th Lan. Fus. in the CHILLY Right sub-sector. The 16th D.L.I. were on our right, and the 17th Lan. Fus. on our left.

[War Diary of 17th Lancs. Fus.:  ‘Enemy very quiet.’]

History of the 35th Division: ‘Evidence on an impending enemy retirement now became more apparent. Fires were observed behind the German lines, and the counter battery fire diminished. In was plain, however, that the lines were still held, as patrols were fired upon and shelling of the trenches by field guns continued as before.’

Date: 15/03/17
Summary of events and information: One man was wounded.

Date: 16/03/17
Summary of events and information: One man of a patrol at the enemy wire was killed by rifle fire. One man was wounded. We were relieved by the 17th West Yorks. and moved to ROSIERES to prepare for a Bde. attack on the enemy trenches south of HALLU.

Date: 17/03/17
Summary of events and information: During the night of 16th/17th the enemy retired from his old lines on this front, and the Battn. moved to MEHARICOURT, occupying cellars.

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘Early on March 17th, St Patrick’s Day, the first man of the 104th Brigade got into the enemy’s front line and found not a single man there.’

With patrols pushing ahead, the brigade advanced forward.

History of the 35th Division: ‘The cavalry corps reported that the enemy had retired across the Somme, blowing up bridges. He had, also, laid waste the whole countryside. Every tree had been felled and every house demolished; large craters were found at all cross roads and the wells were reported to have been poisoned. In addition certain “booby traps” were left behind for the purpose of deceiving the innocent and causing loss of life.’

Date: 18/03/17
Summary of events and information: Marched to CHILLY and later moved on to FONCHES.

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘The advance had a wonderful effect on the men, who appeared entirely to forget the wretched conditions under which they had been living. The situation was so novel that many had visions of marching straight into Germany, and ending the war. To march along real roads and across real grass fields was a pleasant change for everyone.’

On the 18th orders were received that the division was not to push any further forwards. Attention was now to be turned to repairing the infrastructure of the newly gained territory. Parties were put to work on roads and railways.

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘The next week or so was spent in finding large working parties to fill up craters, and to improve communications by road and railway. The Brigade became expert at crater-filling, and there must still be many officers and men who look back with horror at places like Beauvois, where the number and size of the craters were enough to make even a perfect optimist despair of ever getting the work completed.’

History of the 35th Division: ‘The weather during this time was most inclement. The trenches in the Rosières-Lihons sector had suffered from thaw and rain, but as soon as the German lines were crossed, snow fell, and, from this date until the April 20th, there was a continuous repetition of frost, snow, sleet, and rain, which would have been unwelcome even to those who could house themselves in comfort, and who did not require to spend their lives in the open air. Owing to the wholesale destruction of the countryside, very few villages afforded any shelter at all for the advancing troops until they had leisure to provide some for themselves.’

Date: 19/03/17
Summary of events and information: Moved to PARVILLERS and were attached to the 32nd Division for road repairing in the DAMERY area.

Date: 28/03/17
Summary of events and information: Marched to FONCHES and billeted.

Date: 29/03/17
Summary of events and information: Moved to VOYENNES and worked upon the roads between VOYENNES, MATIGNY and TOULLE.

[Signed off by] L. M. Stevens Lieut. Colonel Commanding 23rd Service Bn. Manchester Regt.

Place: BEAUVOIS
Date: 01/04/17 – 05/04/17
Summary of events and information: At BEAUVOIS finding working parties for filling Craters and repairing Roads.

[War Diary of 20th Lancs. Fus. notes that the weather is wet and cold while they are in Beauvois. Snow arrives on the 4th of April.]

Place: DOUILLY
Date: 06/04/17
Summary of events and information: The Battalion marched to DOUILLY and went into Billets there.

Date: 07/04/17
Summary of events and information: Finding working parties for filling in Crater at VAUX.

Place: ETREILLERS and VAUX
Date: 08/04/17
Summary of events and information: The Battalion marched to ETREILLERS and VAUX and went into Billets. Headquarters and one Company being at VAUX, the other three Companies being at ETREILLERS.

etreillers

The ruined village of Etreillers (above); ruins of the Church in the background. 25 April 1917. Source: MINISTRY OF INFORMATION FIRST WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION

Etreillers (2)

Cycle orderlies under fire in the ruined village of Etreillers (above). 25th April 1917. Source: MINISTRY OF INFORMATION FIRST WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION

Etreillers (3)

British soldier with a sunshade found in the ruined village of Etreillers (above). 20th April 1917. Source: MINISTRY OF INFORMATION FIRST WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION.

[War Diary of 18th Lancs. Fus. notes snow between the 8th and 11th.]

Date: 09/04/17
Summary of events and information: Finding working parties for filling in Craters.

APRIL, 1917  – VERMAND-GRICOURT 

On the 9th April orders were received to move up to the front. The 104th Brigade took over the line from Fresnoy-le-Petit to the river Omignon.

Vermand map

Omignon

Ruins of Caulaincourt Chateau (SW of Vermand) on the River Omignon (above). 21st April 1917. Showing the work of clearing a passage for the stream in progress. Source: MINISTRY OF INFORMATION FIRST WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION

Place: VILLECHOLES

Date: 10/04/17

Summary of events and information: Marched to VILLECHOLES and relieved 2/6th Royal Warwicks in Brigade Reserve.

Place: MAISSEMY
Date: 11/04/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved 2/8th Royal Warwicks at MAISSEMY. Two Companies in the front line, remaining two Companies in support. One man wounded by Shell Fire.

Date: 12/04/17
Summary of events and information: One Company in front line relieved by Highland Light Infantry and withdrawn in support. The other Company in front line moving further to the right. The remaining Companies took up positions behind FRESNOY LE PETIT in support of the 17th Lancashire Fusiliers.

Date: 13/04/17
Summary of events and information: Position same as on the 12th.

Date: 14/04/17
Summary of events and information: Two Companies returned from position behind FRESNOY LE PETIT. One man killed and one officer and one man wounded by Shell Fire.

Date: 15/04/17
Summary of events and information: After successful attack by 20th Lancashire Fusiliers, the Company in the front line was withdrawn. One man wounded by Rifle Fire.

In support, two men killed and one officer and thirteen men wounded by Shell Fire.

[War Diary of 20th Lancs. Fus.: 15/05/17 The battalion was ‘formed up on a tape line laid by the 23rd Manchester Regiment 50 yards W. of the BERTHAUCOURT-FRESNOY Road.’ Objectives were achieved. ‘A Bombing party of 1 Officer and 10 men were sent to work in conjunction with the 23rd Manchester Regiment and instructed to work down the old communication trench to PONTRUET, starting at 3.15 a.m. This party got to within 50 yards of PONTRUET and saw no enemy but destroyed and aerial torpedo thrower on the way.’]

The following plan is taken from the War Diary of the 17th Lancs. Fus.:

Plan Fresnoy

Place: MAISSEMY
Date: 15/04/17
Summary of events and information: Party consisting of 9 officers and 160 other ranks under cover of Artillery and Machine Gun Barrage raided PONTRUET. The village was thoroughly searched and no enemy was discovered but freshly Blood Stained Bandages were found. There was no enemy opposition. No casualties to this party.

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘In the sense that Pontruet was swept bare of the enemy, the raid was entirely successful, but it did not result in the capture of prisoners, as the  garrison of the village, unfortunately, did not wait for the Manchesters. These operations had a splendid effect on the Brigade, and greatly raised its fighting value.’

Place: TERTRY
Date: 16/04/17
Summary of events and information: The Battalion relieved by 16th Cheshire Regiment and went into Billets at TERTRY.

Date: 17/04/17 – 23/04/17
Summary of events and information: At TERTRY finding working parties for filling Craters and repairing Roads.

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘Here [Tertry] a Divisional Horse Show was held, which, as regards the entries, was a great success, though the enthusiasm of the spectators was rather dampened by torrents of rain which fell throughout the day.’ 

Place: BIHECOURT
Date: 23/04/17
Summary of events and information: The Battalion relieved the 19th Durham Light Infantry. Two Companies in front line and two in support.

The following plan is taken from the War Diary of 104th Machine Gun Company.:

Pontruet plan

Date: 24/04/17
Summary of events and information: In conjunction with operations by 59th Division on our left posts were established at the LONE TREE (M2a 1.9 Sheet 62b 3.W.) and about M18 65.

The History of the 35th Division details that Lone Tree was on high ground, a mile north of Pontru.

Date: 25/04/17
Summary of events and information: A Patrol of one officer and ten other ranks proceeded to Crater at M2d 9.7 (Sheet 62b S.W.) and awaited enemy whom it had been previously ascertained occupied it at night. On the enemy appearing the patrol engaged them killing one man and driving the others off. No casualties.

The History of the 35th Division details that this crater was west of Ste. Helene. The patrol succeeded in obtaining identification of the enemy (156th I.R.).

Date: 26/04/17
Summary of events and information: One man wounded by Shell Fire.

Date: 27/04/17
Summary of events and information: In conjunction with operations by the 59th Division on our left a party consisting of 3 officers and 60 men operated against the ST HELENE defences of the enemy and found that same were strongly held. Casualties 2 missing and 6 wounded.

Place: VERMAND
Date: 27/04/17 – 30/04/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved by 20th Lancashire Fusiliers and returned to Billets in Brigade Reserve. At VERMAND finding working parties for work in trenches (BROWN LINE) in front of BIHECOURT.

[Signed off by] L. M. Stevens Lieutenant Colonel Commanding 23rd Service Batt. Manchester Regt.

Vermand

Trees cut down by the Germans on the main road from Vendelles to Vermand (above). 25th April 1917. Source: MINISTRY OF INFORMATION FIRST WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION

Vermand2

Lorries passing round a mine-crater on the main Amiens-St.Quentin Road, near Vermand, 21st April 1917 (above). Source: MINISTRY OF INFORMATION FIRST WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘Anyone who was at Vermand at this period must remember the first two days of spring, when every tree and flower seemed suddenly to bud, and the whole countryside was changed as if by magic. The change was even more noticeable after a miserable winter, which had seemed to us almost interminable… There were times when it was almost impossible to believe that a war was going on, when we used to walk amongst the flowers and across the bridges over the artificial pond in the Chateau grounds [Chateau de Vadencourt] and watch the fish swimming about in beautifully clear water…’ 

‘These were great days for the siting and completion of the “Brown Line”. Everyone seemed to have a different idea as to where the “Brown Line” was, and as to what it was supposed to be for, but we finally arrived at some sort of conclusion and carried on…’ 

‘It was at this period that the Brigade first achieved a reputation for raiding and patrolling, which it maintained up till the Armistice. The conditions were ideal for patrolling, the weather was good, the going consisted of sound turf, and there were plenty of natural landmarks. It was no uncommon thing for patrols to go for a distance of 1,000 yards beyond the front line posts.’

Place: VERMAND
Date: 01/05/17 – 04/05/17
Summary of events and information: At VERMAND in billets in Brigade Reserve finding working parties for work on the BROWN LINE at VADENCOURT.

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘The Manchesters carried out a very successful minor operation in the capture of a small wood together with four prisoners. This wood, named “Somerville” after the officer who led the attacking party, was of considerable tactical importance.’

Date: 05/05/17
Summary of events and information: A party consisting of 6 officers and 189 other ranks raided and captured SOMERVILLE COPSE in G3W central (Sheet 6Wb N.W.). The main attacking party consisted of 5 officers and 159 other ranks left the jumping off place on the South Eastern side of PURPLE COPSE (not marked on map) G.31d (Sheet 62b N.W.) at 2.30 a.m. under cover of heavy artillery barrage at the same time a demonstration by one officer and 30 other ranks was opened against the South Western side of the copse from about G 32 c 5.3 (Sheet 62b N.W.) consisting of Lewis Gun fire and Rifle Grenade barrage this party completely deceived the enemy and the main attacking party entered the copse at the North Western end after very slight resistance, bombing all Dug-outs and shelters and driving the enemy out, capturing four prisoners one of whom was seriously wounded. At 3.15 a.m. the party withdrew to our own lines, posts having been established in the Copse by the 17th Lancashire Fusiliers who were in waiting. Our casualties were 9 wounded including 3 wounded at duty. About 60 dead Germans were found in the wood.

[War Diary of 17th Lancs. Fus.:  ‘23rd Manchester Regt carry out a raid on SOMERVILLE WOOD (G32 central) at 2.30 a.m. 4th/5th May. Result capture of Wood and four Prisoners. Our ” Z” Coy provided 3 POSTS for the Wood during the consolidation thereof. We captured 2 prisoners of 15th Regt who approached the wood.’ 

5th May: ‘Germans attached SOMERVILLE WOOD with 70 men at 9.30 p.m. and our POSTS were driven out. A counter-attack at 12 midnight regained the wood for us.’]

Date: 06/05/17 – 08/05/17
Summary of events and information: At VERMAND in billets finding working parties.

Place: VADENCOURT
Date: 09/05/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved 20th Lancashire Fusiliers in PONTRU sector two Companies in front line and two in support with outposts in SOMERVILLE COPSE.

Date: 11/05/17
Summary of events and information: One officer wounded in reconnaissance in front of our outpost line.

Date: 12/05/17
Summary of events and information: Five other ranks wounded at left front Company Headquarters by shrapnel.

Date: 15/05/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved by Strathcona’s Horse and Royal Canadian Dragoons of the Canadian Cavalry Brigade commanded by Brig-Gen. Seely and went into camp in POEUILLY VALLEY (Q29.c central Sheet 62c). One other rank killed in SOMERVILLE COPSE.

Place: POEUILLY VALLEY
Date: 16/05/17
Summary of events and information: In camp at POEUILLY VALLEY.

Date: 19/05/17 – 20/05/17
Summary of events and information: In camp at POEUILLY VALLEY. Military Medals awarded to three other ranks as an immediate reward for gallant conduct on the taking of SOMERVILLE COPSE.

A Lancashire Brigade in France relates that while in camp at Poeuilly Lieut.-Colonel Mills arranged ‘a splendid gymkana for the 18th B.L. [Bengal Lancers] and the Central India Horse, which pleased and interested our men very much. Very few in the Brigade had even seen native troops before, let alone really good tent-pegging and trick riding.’

With the divisional sector now being handed over to the French, the 104th were moved towards Peronne and came under orders of the XV Corps.

MAY, 1917  – GONNELIEU & EPEHY 

This area of the line was about eight miles to the north of that recently held, and about 15 miles east of the area in which the division had been active in July 1916.

History of the 35th Division: ‘The country in which the division was now operating was similar to that which it had just left except that it was less wooded. Wide stretches of open grassland interspersed with woods, the remains of important villages, and valleys, which varied in depth from 50 to 300 feet, formed the chief features.’

Place: PERONNE
Date: 21/05/17
Summary of events and information: Moved from camp in POEUILLY VALLEY to billets in PERONNE.

A Lancashire Brigade in France notes that Peronne ‘although badly knocked about, still looked more or less like a town’.

Peronne

Peronne2

Peronne3

Peronne4

Date: 22/05/17

Summary of events and information: In billets at PERONNE. Finding working parties.

Place: TEMPLEUX LA FOSSE
Date: 23/05/17
Summary of events and information: Moved into camp at TEMPLEUX LA FOSSE.

Date: 24/05/17
Summary of events and information: In camp at TEMPLEUX LA FOSSE.

[War Diary of 20th Lancs. Fus.: ‘In the evening the officers of the battalion played the officers of the 23rd Manchester Rgt at cricket and won by three overs. The weather is very hot.’]

Place: SORRELL LE GRAND
Date: 25/05/17
Summary of events and information: Moved into camp at SORRELL LE GRAND.

Date: 26/05/17 – 27/05/17
Summary of events and information: In camp at SORRELL LE GRAND working parties on BROWN LINE.

Place: HEUDECOURT
Date: 28/05/17
Summary of events and information: Moved to camp at HEUDECOURT working parties on BROWN LINE.

Date: 29/05/17 – 31/05/17
Summary of events and information: In camp at HEUDECOURT working parties on BROWN LINE.

[War Diary of 20th Lancs. Fus.: ‘23rd Manchester Regt held some very successful sports in the evening to which the Bn were invited.’]

[Signed off by] John P. Foulkes, Major for Lieutenant Colonel Commanding 23rd Service Batt. Manchester Regt.

Place: HEUDECOURT
Date: 01/06/17
Summary of events and information: In camp at HEUDECOURT. Working parties on BROWN LINE.

History of the 35th Division: ‘Behind the centre of the position held by the division lay the village of Villers-Guislain, situated on a prominent feature of the landscape and half-a-mile in rear of it lay Gauche Wood, which extended to about thirty-five acres and afforded useful cover for guns and reserves… The front line was not continuous, and, in some places at first merely consisted of a series of detached posts which in other fronts would have been impossible. The enemy, however, was not aggressive, and officers of higher commands were able to ride most of the way up to the front line and the walk over the open to the trenches. The weather was fine and the exercise was appreciated.’ 

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘The conditions were much the same as those experienced at Vermand. The enemy were distinctly on the defensive, and trenches in the real sense hardly existed… Although the approaches to the front line were fully exposed to view from the enemy trenches, sniping was unknown. Occasionally Villers Guislain used to be fairly heavily shelled, but taking it all round it was a quiet sector… the enemy had not any very warlike intentions.’

Place: GAUCHE WOOD SECTOR
Date: 02/06/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved 17th Lan Fus in GAUCHE WOOD Sector, “A” Division. One man wounded by shellfire, and subsequently died.

Date: 03/06/17
Summary of events and information: One man wounded on patrol and subsequently died.

Date: 04/06/17
Summary of events and information: In the line.

Date: 10/06/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved by the 18th Highland Light Infantry, and moved to camp at TEMPLEUX la FOSSE.

Place: TEMPLEUX la FOSSE
Date: 11/06/17
Summary of events and information: In camp at TEMPLEUX la FOSSE.

Place: TEMPLEUX la FOSSE and HEUDECOURT
Date: 13/06/17
Summary of events and information: Half of the Battalion moved to HEUDECOURT for working parties.

Date: 14/06/17
Summary of events and information: Training and working parties.

[War Diary of 18th Lancs. Fus.: VILLERS GUISLAIN 17/06/17 ‘Trenches wet and muddy. Sleeping accommodation for officers and men poor.’] 

[War Diary of 20th Lancs. Fus.: 16/06/17 ‘Brigade attack practiced… Two companies of 23rd Man R acted as moppers up and carriers.’]

Place: VILLERS GUISLAIN Sector
Date: 18/06/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved 15th Bn Cheshire Regt in Brigade Reserve in VILLERS GUISLAIN Sector. Finding working parties for front line.

Date: 20/06/17
Summary of events and information: One company moved to HEUDECOURT for work.

Date: 21/06/17
Summary of events and information: Finding working parties.

Date: 26/06/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved 17th Lan Fus in Right Subsector.

Date: 27/06/17
Summary of events and information: In the line.  5 men killed and 4 wounded by shell fire.

Date: 28/06/17
Summary of events and information: In the line.

Date: 30/06/17
Summary of events and information: At 6 a.m. the enemy raided the Right Company Front. Taking advantage of a thick mist a raiding party, of 20 to 30 strong, crept up under cover of artillery and trench mortar barrage. They were speedily ejected from the line, leaving behind one of their number who was very badly wounded and subsequently died. They are also believed to have suffered other casualties. They captured one Sergeant who only joined the Battalion the night before.

This section of the line – Fawcus Avenue – having been subject to heavy bombardment for several days, a raid was expected here (an alert was issued on the 29th June).

History of the 35th Division: ‘Lewis guns from both flanks opened on the enemy and caused some loss, but owing to a thick mist it was impossible to estimate the casualties.’

[Signed off by] L. M. Stevens Lieutenant Colonel Commanding 23rd Service Batt. Manchester Regt.

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘The plague of small frogs will always be remembered by those who were in the line at this period. There were literally myriads of frogs, hopping and crawling about in the trenches, and it was impossible to walk a yard without squashing several under foot.’

Place: VILLERS GUISLAIN
Date: 01/07/17
Summary of events and information: In the line in the VILLERS GUISLAIN Sector, with the Cavalry on our right and 20th Lancashire Fusiliers on our left.

Date: 02/07/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved by the 12th Suffolks of 40th Division and moved back to Divisional Reserve at TEMPLEUX la FOSSE.

Place: TEMPLEUX la FOSSE
Date: 03/07/17 – 15/07/17
Summary of events and information: Training at TEMPLEUX la FOSSE.

[War Diary of 20th Lancs. Fus.: 05/07/17 ‘Training in Bayonet fighting, Company drill, Lewis gun teams and musketry on range. The Officers of the Battalion played the Officers of the 23rd Manchesters and were beaten. We have now won one and lost one match against them.’]

Date: 06/07/17
Summary of events and information: Inspection by Corps Commander.

JULY, 1917  – EPEHY & THE BIRD CAGE 

History of the 35th Division: ‘The division was now to side-slip to the south and relieve the cavalry corps which was in the Epéhy sector. The new line to be taken over was composed of a series of detached posts… These posts were situated on the high ground west of the canal, except at two points, Gillemont Farm and The Knoll, features rising to a height of about 400 feet and 35 to 40 feet above our nearest posts. The area around Gillemont Farm was held by both armies, but The Knoll was in the hands of the enemy. It commanded a good view of our positions to the south and also, to a lesser extent, to the north… About a mile to the north-west, and in front of Vendhuille, was The Birdcage, a network of trenches on the reverse slope of a hillock. The post had originated in the process of sapping up to obtain view from the crest, which had not achieved success. The duty of holding it was not highly esteemed. 

‘The Germans on this front did not appear to be more combative than in the sector recently vacated, and several posts which were expected to be held were, when visited by patrols, found to be unoccupied.’ 

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘The Birdcage was one of the freaks of the war. It had originally been a front line post when the fighting was still of an open character, and had been held ever since by the cavalry. The original post was about 500 yards in front of the next defensible line, and possessed one miserable communication trench, leading into it down the forward slope from Grafton Post.’ 

‘As soon as the Division took over the Birdcage a second communication trench was constructed, and then a cross trench called the “Perch”. Dug-outs were started, and soon, from being a work which was simply asking for capture, the Birdcage became a regular little stronghold.’ 

‘The Birdcage has always figured in illustrative aeroplane photographs as an example of the gradual evolution of a defensive work.’

Birdcage

epehy

(Above: Epehy. All that remained of the main street at the end of the war).

Date: 15/07/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved 16th Cheshires, 105th Brigade, in the left Battalion Front of the EPEHY Sector. The 40th Division on our left & 20th Lancashire Fusiliers on our right.

Date: 16/07/17
Summary of events and information: One man killed returning from Patrol.

Date: 18/07/17
Summary of events and information: One man wounded returning from patrol.

[War Diary of 20th Lancs. Fus.: 20/07/17 ‘The 23rd Manchester Rgt took over CATELET COPSE relieving our ‘Y’ coy.’] 

[War Diary of 20th Lancs. Fus.: 21/07/17 ‘The attitude of the enemy was different than the preceding five days. His artillery and MGs were much more active and aggressive. He shelled practically all our posts during the day but did little or no damage.’]

Date: 23/07/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved by 17th Lancashire Fusiliers and moved back to support, with Head Quarters at X21.O 90.50 (sheet 5 7 o)

Date: 24/07/17 – 28/07/17
Summary of events and information: Finding working parties for the front line.

Date: 26/07/17
Summary of events and information: Germans raid the right Battalion of the Division on our left (13th Yorkshires) at 6 a.m. after intense bombardment with shells of all calibres and smoke Barrage.

[War Diary of 20th Lancs. Fus.: 26/07/17 ‘The enemy put down a very heavy Barrage all along the front and in the back area causing considerable casualties to the Battalion in the front line.’] 

Date: 29/07/17
Summary of events and information: A party of four officers and 60 other ranks successfully raided HAWK TRENCH running from X23d 95.30 to X30a 10.90 (sheet 57c) immediately north of OSSUS WOOD, capturing two enemy Machine Guns (one a 1917 light pattern) and inflicting several casualties on the garrison. The raiding party was divided into four groups, each consisting of one officer and 15 Other Ranks. Nos. 1 and 2 groups entered the enemy trench at 2.30 a.m., after a heavy artillery barrage. No.3 covered their right flank and no. 4 group made a demonstration against the enemy trench at X23d 5.6 (sheet 57c). At 3.15 a.m. the party withdrew to our own lines. Our casualties were:- one man missing and 9 wounded (7 slightly).

[War Diary of 18th Lancs. Fus.: ‘Enemy T.M.s active in BIRDCAGE at 2.45 a.m. in retaliation for raid by 23rd Manchester Regt in left subsector.’]

Birdcage larger

[War Diary of 20th Lancs. Fus.: 29/07/17 ‘The Manchesters raided the enemy lines at 2.30 a.m. and the retaliation came down partly on the Birdcage and supports.’] 

The History of the 35th Division provides further detail regarding the raid. It was ‘preceded by an intense artillery bombardment and machine-gun barrage of five minutes duration, after which the guns formed a protective barrage round the point of entry.

‘The raiding party, under Captain Gibbon, was divided into four groups, of which the two centre ones, under Lieutenants Burkett and Mason, were the principal elements, the others being largely for protective purposes. These groups started from points in front of our line about 400 yards from the enemy’s position, and both parties reached it without opposition. Lieutenant Burkett’s party was delayed by the wire and suffered a few casualties before breaking through. Those composing Lieutenant Mason’s party had no such difficulty. At the point of entry they found a machine-gun with the crew of  4 men lying dead beside it. Turning northwards up the trench they counted 30 dead Germans of the 124th Regiment, and at a point about 150 yards on they secured a second machine-gun. Then, having bombed a dug-out, they returned to our lines, bring both machine-guns with them. The casualties were slight. No prisoners were captured nor were any of the enemy seen alive. If any survived the barrage they apparently fled.’ 

A Lancashire Brigade in France notes that Lieut. Mason was awarded the Military Cross for his part in this operation.

Date: 31/07/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved 17th Lancashire Fusiliers in the Left Battalion Front of the EPEHY Sector.

Between the 15th and 23rd whilst the Battalion was in the line, much patrolling was carried out, both by day and by night, useful information being gained, upon which the Battalion was highly complimented.

[Signed off by] L. M. Stevens Lieutenant Colonel Commanding 23rd Service Battalion Manchester Regt.

Date: 01/08/17 – 06/08/17
Summary of events and information: In line, left battalion front, EPEHY Sector. 18th Lan Fus on our right, and 40th Divn on our left.

[War Diary of 18th Lancs. Fus notes that this is a week of very wet weather.]

Date: 07/08/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved by the 4th Dismounted Cavalry Brigade, and moved back to Divisional Reserve at GURLU WOOD.

A Lancashire Brigade in France details that preparations were at this time being made for an attack on the Knoll and Gillemont Farm. This attack had been assigned to the 105th and 106th Brigades, but the 104th was required to make a diversionary raid on a front between Ossus Wood and Canal Wood. The Division was taken out of the line in order to practice the attack.

The Manchesters and the 17th Lancs. Fus. had been told that they were each to provide 10 officers and 250 men for this raid. They were to attack in six columns, covering a front of 1,000 yards.

Date: 08/08/17 – 18/08/17
Summary of events and information: In Divisional Reserve at GURLU WOOD, training.

[War Diary of 17th Lancs. Fus. records that whilst in Gurlu Wood the Bde practiced a raid and, had boxing competitions and concerts. On the 8th of August Brg. Gen Sandilands gave an address on the Battle of Minden. ‘All ranks wore red and white roses in their Steel Helmets, & under authority of the G.O.C.  the rest of the day was set aside for the usual Minden Day celebrations.]

Date: 19/08/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved 4th Dismounted Cavalry Brigade, EPEHY Sector. 18th Lan Fus on our right & 17th Lan Fus on our left.

Date: 20/08/17
Summary of events and information: In line.

Date: 21/08/17
Summary of events and information: A party of 14 officers and 259 other ranks successfully raided HAWKE TRENCH and CANAL WOOD TRENCHES, X24 c 9.1 to X24a 1.1 (Sheet 57c S.E.) The raiding party was divided into four groups, and advanced covered by a heavy artillery and machine gun barrage. After cutting their way through formidable wire entanglements the party entered the enemy trenches at 4.30 a.m., inflicted severe casualties on the enemy and bombed and blew up dug-outs, ultimately withdrawing at 4.55 a.m. The total casualties suffered were 4 officers wounded (two very slightly), other ranks 5 killed 3 missing and 44 wounded.

 [War Diary of 17th Lancs. Fus.: ‘ In conjunction with the 23rd Manchester Regt. the Battalion raided the enemy trenches S. of CANAL WOOD. Result of raid was in every way most satisfactory, “W” Coy all reaching their final objective. 11 Prisoners were brought back  & large numbers of dead & wounded Germans were left behind. Many more Prisoners were actually taken, but had to be dispatched whilst our men were returning across “NO MAN’S LAND”.’]

The plan below is taken from the War Diary of the 17th Lancs. Fus.:

Ossus wood

The History of the 35th Division provides further detail: ‘In spite of a considerable amount of intermittent shelling during the night the forming up of the raiding parties was carried out without a hitch. Unfortunately, at 4 a.m. an S.O.S. went up from The Knoll. The subsequent barrage drew retaliation from the enemy, and the 23/Manchesters suffered severe casualties whilst the parties were waiting to start off. 

‘In order to give no indication of the coming raid, it had been decided that no preliminary wire cutting should take place, but that the raiders should trust to the artillery barrage to enable them to cross the wire, which was reported to be thin. It was, however, found to be much thicker than had been anticipated, and this caused such delay that the barrage had been lifted off the trenches before it had been cut. 

‘As a result the enemy was able to man the parapet and to open fire and throw bombs. In spite of this, the raising parties forced their way into the trenches where a sharp fight ensued. The hostile resistance was overcome and the parties proceeded to their second objective, but time was not sufficient to allow of their completing it. Several dug-outs were bombed and considerable casualties inflicted on the enemy. Ten prisoners belonging to the 10th Bavarian Division were brought up. 

… in this battle the men of the Lancashire Fusiliers went into action with red and white roses in their steel hats.’ 

This was the diversionary raid detailed in A Lancashire Brigade in France. Meanwhile the 105th and 106th attacked the Knoll and Gillemont Farm and gained all their objectives. The Manchesters raid was carried out under a ‘very sudden and heavy bombardment’ and ‘was not as successful as had been hoped, as the German wire had been greatly thickened during the period the Brigade was out of the line.’

Date: 22/08/17 – 31/08/17
Summary of events and information: In the line.

As the 105th and 106th had suffered heavy casualties during the fighting over the Knoll and Gillemont Farm, the 104th ‘were compelled to do a long spell in the Birdcage-Ossus sector.’ (A Lancashire Brigade in France)

[Signed off by]
L. M. Stevens Lieutenant-Colonel Commanding 23rd Service Battalion Manchester Regt.

Place: EPEHY
Date: 01/09/17 – 05/09/17
Summary of events and information: In line, EPEHY Sector. 18th Lancashire Fusiliers on right and 17th Lancashire Fusiliers on left.

Place: TEMPLEUX la FOSSE
Date: 06/09/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved by 17th Royal Scots and West Yorkshire Regt, and returned to camp at TEMPLEUX la FOSSE in Divisional Reserve.

Date: 07/09/17 – 10/09/17
Summary of events and information: In camp, training.

Place: VILLERS FAUCON
Date: 11/09/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved 14th Gloster Regt in Brigade Reserve at VILLERS FAUCON. One company at L’EMPIRE.

Place: ST. EMILIE
Date: 12/09/17
Summary of events and information: Moved to billets at ST. EMILIE. Finding working parties.

Date: 13/09/17 – 18/09/17
Summary of events and information: In billets at ST. EMILIE. Finding working parties.

Place: GILLEMONT
Date: 19/09/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved 17th Lancashire Fusilier in front line, Right Subsector, GILLEMONT Sector. 34th Division on right and 20th Lancashire Fusiliers on left.

Date: 20/09/17 – 25/09/17
Summary of events and information: In line as above. One officer and three other ranks wounded.

Place: AIZECOURT le BAS
Date: 26/09/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved by 18th Highland Light Infantry and moved to camp at AIZECOURT le BAS.

Date: 27/09/17 – 28/09/17
Summary of events and information: In camp as above.

Place: DOINGT
Date: 29/09/17
Summary of events and information: Marched into billets at DOINGT (PERONNE).

Date: 30/09/17
Summary of events and information: In billets at DOINGT.

[Signed off by]
L. M. Stevens Lieutenant-Colonel Commanding 23rd Service Battalion Manchester Regiment

Place: DOINGT
Date: 01/10/17
Summary of events and information: In billets DOINGT, (PERONNE).

Place: HAUTEVILLE
Date: 02/10/17
Summary of events and information: Marched to PERONNE and entrained for AUBIGNY. On arrival, marched to billets in HAUTEVILLE.

Date: 03/10/17 – 12/10/17
Summary of events and information: In billets in HAUTEVILLE. Training.

OCTOBER, 1917  – HOUTHULST 

History of the 35th Division: ‘In the beginning of October the infantry brigades moved to the area west of Arras… Whilst in the area battalions and batteries refitted, and the former went through a course of training in the conditions prevailing in the battle area of the Passchendaele Ridge, to which the division was now due to proceed…

Houthulst

‘The front extended from the Ypres-Staden railway to a point 250 yards south-east of the Faidherbe Cross Roads. 

‘The division was now to take part in what afterwards became known as the Third Battle of Ypres, and it was fought under conditions of bad weather and a heavy concentration of hostile fire which tried the spirit and endurance of the troops engaged in it to the very utmost. August had been very wet, and that, and heavy shells had turned the battlefield into a sea of mud, thickly pitted with water-logged shell holes… 

‘Four miles to the north of Pilckem lay the wooded area known as Houthulst Forest, a domain of irregular shape, extending to about 1,500 acres and composed of enclosures of deciduous trees in various stages of growth and divided by roads, rides, ditches, and fences, into rectangular portions from ten to twenty acres in extent. For the most part these enclosures were covered with thick undergrowth, and movement off the rides was difficult. The infantry of the division were destined to become well acquainted with this. 

‘With a view to keeping pressure off the French in the southern portion of the war front, and also in the hope of denying to the enemy the use of the Belgian coast, it was decided to capture the high ground.’

Place: ZEGGERS CAPPEL
Date: 13/10/17
Summary of events and information: Marched to AUBIGNY and entrained for ESQUELBECQ. On arrival marched to billets at ZEGGERS CAPPEL.

Date: 14/10/17
Summary of events and information: In billets ZEGGERS CAPPEL.

Place: PROVE [Proven]
Date: 15/10/17
Summary of events and information: Marched to ESQUELBECQ and entrained for PROVE. On arrival marched to camp.

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘At Proven night bombing was experienced for the first time, but luckily none of the bombs fell particularly close.’ 

‘At this time the congestion of traffic behind the lines was amazing. A continuous stream of lorries and of all kinds of horse-drawn vehicles moving three abreast passed ceaselessly along the main roads about Poperinghe.’

History of the 35th Division: ‘Approach to the front line from the canal was obtained by means of two duckboard tracks known as Clarges Street and Hunter Street, which maintain a devious course between large shell holes filled with water. To step off these usually meant immersion, or at best and extra coating of wet mud, and this accident was by no means rare, as it is not attractive to anyone to maintain a vertical position on a narrow board when shells fall close, particularly at night. These tracks crossed two marshy streams named the Steenbeek and the Broembeek, on which were many of the battery positions. They were persistently shelled with high explosive, and gas, especially at the points where the tracks crossed them. These bottoms were full of gas three nights out of four, and it will therefore be deduced that the management of reliefs and supplies to the front line was a matter of some difficulty. Assistance was obtained from the light railway which ran along the Staden railway line nearly as far as Langemarcke Station, and supplied the dumps of trench stores, bombs, and ammunition for heavy guns, but ordinary supplies were carried forward on the two tracks referred to.’ 

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘Here the Brigade had its first experience of pill-boxes. Everyone was surprised to find that a pill-box, instead of being, as supposed, a small concrete shelter from which a machine gunner could fire, capable of sheltering at the most two or three men, was in reality a bomb-proof building capable of protecting anything up to 20 or even 100 men…’ 

‘The whole neighbourhood was full of ammunition dumps, and of guns and howitzers of all sizes. It was a mystery how the gunners could keep their guns in action at all in the valleys of the Steenbeek and Broembeek, as the guns were frequently up to their axles in mud and water, and there was little cover from shell fire for officers or men.’

Place: BOESINGHE
Date: 16/10/17
Summary of events and information: Entrained at PROVE for BOESINGHE, took over front line – N.E. of LANGEMARCK – from West Yorkshire Regiment. 17th Lancashire Fusiliers on left and 21st Northumberland Fusiliers on right. 2 other ranks missing, 4 other ranks killed and 2 wounded.

A Lancashire Brigade in France notes that there was heavy shelling during the relief.

[War Diary of 17th Lancs. Fus.: In Houthulst Forest sector.  ‘Conditions extremely bad’. ‘Duckboard tracks led from BOESINGHE to VEE BEND. From that point to the Front Line was a sticky morass of muddy shell-holes with only tapes to show the routes to the forward lines.’]

Langemarck

A battery of British 60-pounder guns firing near Langemarck, 12 October 1917 (above). Source: MINISTRY OF INFORMATION FIRST WORLD WAR OFFICIAL COLLECTION

Date: 17/10/17
Summary of events and information: In line. 1 officer wounded. Other ranks 1 missing and 7 wounded

A Lancashire Brigade in France records that orders were received on the 17th that the Division was to attack on the 22nd. A decision was made to take the Brigade out of the line in order to explain the orders to them. ‘It was a choice of evils between remaining in the line or going back for only one complete night; but although the men had a long and tiring march both ways, it at least got them out of the mud and shelling for a few hours…’ 

‘The enemy evidently suspected a further attack as there had been a spell of two or three days’ fine weather; the shelling, in consequence, became very severe.’ 

‘The general appearance of the country surpassed anything any of had seen even at the Somme. The whole place was practically under water and blown to bits; dead men and anmials lay about everywhere; the scene was worthy of Dante’s inferno.’ 

‘Whenever a heavy shell fell, a column of water, 50 to 100 feet high, was raised, and it was no uncommon thing for dozens of shells to fall in the space of a few minutes within a few hundred yards’ radius of the spot where one happened to be. There was no such thing as a safe place in those days; nothing approaching a trench or breastwork existed; duck-board walks on top of the ground were the most luxurious form of communication.’ 

‘In addition to unlimited shells, low-flying aeroplanes had become very fashionable at this period. After being well machine-gunned by aeroplanes by day in the forward areas, and bombed by a fleet of anything up to a dozen Gothas round about Elverdinghe, the average infantryman used to reflect deeply on the British air superiority; but we were assured that our aeroplanes were doing excellent work at altitudes which rendered them invisible to the naked eye!’

Place: DE WIPPE CAMP
Date: 18/10/17
Summary of events and information: In line. Relieved by 17th Royal Scots and returned to DE WIPPE CAMP (BELGIUM, Sheet 28 N.W. A11 b 3.2). 22 [?unclear] other ranks wounded.

[War Diary of 17th Lancs. Fus.: ‘Relief was reported complete about 10 p.m., but the Companies experienced the greatest hardship in crossing the 1200 yds to VEE BEND, which owing to a steady rain had now become a soggy mass of mud through which the men could move only with the greatest difficulty. A party of Stretcher Bearers carrying a wounded man down from “Y” Company took nearly 6½ hours to reach VEE BEND and arrived completely exhausted. At about 11 p.m. the enemy commenced a violet gas-shell bombardment with “mustard gas” shell and all ranks were compelled to put on their Respirators. Even so, many cases of blisters and sores were reported – none of them, fortunately, serious.’]

Date: 19/10/17
Summary of events and information: In camp.

History of the 35th Division: ‘In order to provide a strong left flank for the main advance it was arranged that the XIV Corps in conjunction with the French should advance northwards into Houthulst Forest… Accordingly, on the 20th, the 104th Brigade took up the line from Aden House to 5 Chemins.’

Place: NORTH EAST LANGEMARCK
Date: 20/10/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved 17th Royal Scots in front line. 17th Lancashire Fusiliers on left, 18th Lancashire Fusiliers in close support, 20th Lancashire Fusiliers in Reserve, 34th Division on right.

[War Diary of 17th Lancs. Fus.: ’There was considerable shelling on the way up.’] 

[War Diary of 18th Lancs. Fus.: ‘Bn proceeded to forward area and bivouacked between the BROOMBEEK and STEENBEEK for the night. Enemy shelled continuously during the night.’]

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘On the night of October 21st, the Brigade formed up for the attack. The final objective was a distance of about 1,000 yards from the forming-up line, and the advance had to take place through the swamps and thick undergrowth of the Houthulst Forest.’

Date: 21/10/17
Summary of events and information: In line.

[War Diary of 17th Lancs. Fus.: ‘Throughout daylight of the 21st October the Battalion lay quiet in its shell holes and avoided the attention of numerous enemy aeroplanes flying low over the Front Line.’] 

[War Diary of 18th Lancs. Fus.: ‘Preparing for the attack. About 10.20 p.m. the battalion moved off to take up position for the attack.’] 

History of the 35th Division: ‘The whole of the artillery carried out a heavy bombardment throughout the day of the 21st to which the enemy replied… 

‘Although for a few days prior to the attack the weather had been fine, a change occurred at the time when everyone desired the best of climatic conditions. The night 21st/22nd was bitterly cold. Rain commenced to fall about midnight and continued at intervals throughout the next day. The troops waiting in wet shell holes suffered severely, but their ardour was not dampened although their clothing was. Hopes of having fairly dry ground for manoeuvre were quickly dissipated and, in addition, the mechanism of the rifles suffered from rain and mud, and in many cases Stokes guns could not be brought forward. 

‘At 2 a.m. on the 22nd the battalions formed up on tapes in advance of the original line. This was done in order to escape the hostile shelling which covered the front line at dawn. The objective was the lie from Six Roads to the junction of Conter Drive and the Colombo House road which was about 500 yards longer than the line then held and necessitated a diverging attack. 

‘The attack was launched at 5.35 a.m. under an artillery creeping barrage at the rate of 100 yards per 8 minutes. The 23/Manchester had been unable to gain touch with the 101st Brigade, 34th Division, on the right and this unfortunate accident had a serious influence on the succeeding operations1. The battalion, nevertheless, pushed on and reached the first objective in an advance of about half a mile. From this point the resistance became more stubborn, and the battalion was exposed to heavy machine-gun fire on the flanks from sets of huts which appear to have been overlooked in the advance. 

All the officers and a large proportion of the N.C.O.’s were either killed or wounded, and the men were unable to make further progress. The survivors of the leading waves, in all about 50 men under command of a company-sergeant-major, were gradually withdrawn to the original line.2 

  1. The reason of this was that the 101st Brigade was unable to take up a forward starting point owing to the heavy hostile fire, and afterwards the barrage of its own artillery was reported as being so close in that the assaulting companies had to withdraw slightly until the barrage moved forward. Touch was never properly obtained although the left company reached, and for a small time held, the ultimate objective.
  2. It is to be noted that the 16/Royal Scots, 34th Division, reported having given fire support to some of the 23/Manchester who were attacking a pill box near Six Roads. Reports from the battalion make no claim of having reached this point. The Royal Scots were forced to withdraw and no further information is available.

Houthulst1

Date: 22/10/17
Summary of events and information: At 5.35 a.m. the Battalion attacked, in conjunction with another Battalion of this Brigade on our left and 34th Division on our right, from the line ADEN HOUSE (V 1 c 55.35) to ANGLE POINT (U 6 a 6.4), the final objective being on a line running from SIX ROADS (V 1 b 3.7) to V 1 b 3.8. The first objective running from V 1 central to the road junction at V 1 a 50.15 was reached with slight casualties. From this point however the resistance was more stubborn and very heavy rifle and machine gun fire was experienced from both flanks. All the officers, with one exception who was acting as liaison officer with 34th Division on our right, and a large proportion of N.C.O.s and men were either killed or wounded and the Battalion was unable to make further progress. The survivors who could be collected, that is about 50 other ranks under a Company Sergeant major, withdrew to our original line, and later in the morning were relieved by two companies of the 20th Lancashire Fusiliers who had been in reserve, and withdrew to the vicinity of EGYPT HOUSE (U 1 b 3.9). That evening the Battalion moved back to PASCAL FARM (U 1 b 5.3) [?] and the following day were withdrawn from the line. The casualties sustained were: Officers 1 missing 8 killed and 5 wounded. Other ranks 55 missing, 20 killed and 115 wounded. (The above map references are taken from SCHAAP-BALIE Map, Edition 1,10/0000).

[War Diary of 17th Lancs. Fus.: ‘Battn. H.Q. at EGYPT HOUSE became aware of a straggling crowd of men falling back on them from the direction of the YPRES-STADEN Railway. The officers at H.Q. immediately turned out and stopping the rot, put the men – a mixture of Manchesters, and 16th Royal Scots from the Division on our right – into a shell-hole line immediately covering EGYPT HOUSE. From what could be learnt from these men, it appeared that the left of the Right Division had for some reason or other failed to come up, and has consequently left uncovered the Right of the MANCHESTERS, who in their turn went wide and lost touch with the 18th LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS… the Brigade ordered up two companies from the reserve Battalion (20th LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS) to fill up the gap from ANGLE POINT to ADEN HOUSE, and to try and get touch with the Right Division on the Railway… All this work was done under continued sniping and Machine Gun fire, and towards the afternoon as the situation became clearer, the German Artillery began shelling the new positions… Consolidation was carried out on this line during the hours of darkness and rations, water and fresh S.A.A. were brought up over most difficult country and under exceptional difficulties by a special party of Headquarters men under the Transport Officer. The men also each received a ration of rum, the value of which can be understood when it is realised that they had lain all day in shell holes up to their waists in water. There were still large numbers of wounded lying out as the supply of stretcher bearers was lamentably inadequate and continual sniping during daylight made the collection of the wounded exceedingly difficult. Advantage was taken on the darkness to bring in a number of these men… Some of the men were so exhausted however by the frightful conditions of wet and cold, that they could scarcely be got out of the line.’]

Houthulst schematic1

Houthulst schematic2

Houthulst schematic3

[War Diary of 18th Lancs. Fus.: ‘the battalion formed up immediately S of ANGLE POINT, S of HOUTHULST WOOD at 2.30 a.m., in close support to the 23rd MAN R on right, 17th Lan Fus on left… the lines of advance of the 17th LF, 23rd Man R were slightly divergent and it was the duty of the 18th LF to fill up the gap thus formed and to keep touch with both of these two Btns. While waiting for Zero hour a light barrage was put down by the enemy between the Btn and EGYPT HO., but no casualties resulted. At Zero hour 5.35 a.m. Battalion moved off keeping close to our barrage which was found too slow (8’ for 100y) and in consequence we suffered several casualties. In addition the barrage was very ragged, one shot in four falling short. This was probably due to the bad gun platforms. Lts PRITCHETT & BOWERS were conspicuous in their efforts to keep their men back. Shortly after the attack started the MAN. R. suffered very heavy casualties and were held up. Our line continued to advance but owing to its right flank being unprotected began to suffer heavy casualties. At about 6.15 a.m. Capt M. R. WOOD M.C. who was in command of the two leading coys realised that he had worked too far over to the left., so moved his own coy (X) back a short way and then over to the right in order to try and re-establish touch with the MAN. R. but moved forward to attack the wood under very heavy M.G. and rifle fire from his front and right flank… about 11 a.m. two coys of the 20th LF were sent up to fill the gap on our right flank and took up a position on the ANGLE POINT, ADEN HO. line.’] 

[War Diary of 20th Lancs. Fus.: ‘The attack was launched at 5.35 a.m. by the other three Battns of the Brigade. At this time the Battn was in Brigade Reserve… at 8.38 a.m. orders were received from the G.O.C. 104th Inf Brigade to send two coys to the line ADEN HOUSE – LES CINQ CHEMINS, with a view to reinforcing the 23rd Manchesters & gaining touch with the troops on right and left. The telegram containing the order also gave the information that the 23rd Manchesters were believed to be back in our original line. W & Z Coys were ordered to move up under the command of Capt. W. A. Swarbrick, who was instructed to report to O.C. 23rd Manchesters at EGYPT HOUSE. Capt. Swarbrick reached EGYPT HOUSE at 10.15 a.m. & received the following information from O.C. 23rd Manchesters: 1. The 23rd Manchesters, having suffered severe casualties, had withdrawn to our original line. 2. Nothing was known of the 101st Brigade on our right. 3. The 18th Lancashire Fusiliers had advanced but the position of their right flank was unknown. 4. The 17thLancashire Fusiliers had reached their final objective. The two Coys then took up a position organised in depth on the line U 6 d 9.8 to V 1 c 5.4. This movement was carried out under heavy hostile fire.’]

The following operation order is copied from the War Diary of 104th Machine Gun Company:

Order

Houthulst map

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘It had been realised that the Division on our right had made some mistake in their orders, as before zero no trace of them could be seen. What actually happened to this Division has never been discovered, but their failure to start in close touch with the 23rd Manchester Regiment was the cause of that Battalion being practically annihilated, as their right flank was completely in the air, and fully exposed to the most devastating machine-gun fire. Through no fault of their own the Manchesters were brought to a complete standstill.’ 

Lieut.-Colonel J. Shakespear’s The Thirty-Fourth Division, 1915-1919 gives an account of the battalion that were to go into action to the right of the 23rd Manchesters – the 16th Royal Scots. This battalion had lost its commanding officer on the 20th October (he was gassed, along with the commanding officer of the 15th Royal Scots, while they were reconnoitring). ‘Their loss just at this moment was very unfortunate,’ reflects the The Thirty-Fourth Division, ‘as the operation before their battalions was a difficult one.’ The account continues: ‘Not only was the state of the ground such as to make any attack most difficult, but, owing to reasons which were unknown to us, the line of our opening barrage did not conform to our front line… In the absence of any landmarks in the waste of mud, it was a very difficult task to form up a battalion on such a line on a dark wet night, and the difficulty was increased by the heavy shell fire under which the assembling had to be done. The 16th Royal Scots were on the left, next to the 23rd Manchesters of the 35th Division. The 15th Royal Scots wre next to them, each with two companies in front, and two in support. Both battalions suffered many casualties from heavy shell fire on the way up, and during the day and night previous to the attack. Their front was Aden House to Gravel Farm, about a thousand yards, and that had, in the attack, to pivot on the right of the 15th, swinging the line round till the left of the 16th, in touch with the 23rd Manchesters, rested on the Six Roads. This entailed the left flank advancing about one thousand one hundred yards.’ 

Major C. Anderson of the Royal Scots later wrote: ‘Our positions were simply a line of shell holes full of water. The conditions were past speaking about, mud and filth up to the neck.’ 

‘Owing to the peculiarity in the barrage line already mentioned,’ The Thirty-Fourth Division goes on, ‘the assaulting waves only just got into position in time.’ While forming up the 16th Royal Scots ‘were heavily shelled by the enemy, and also coming under our own barrage (due to the difficulty in forming up correctly already alluded to).’ They suffered such heavy casualties that only enough men remained for one wave, ‘but these advanced at zero, in line with the Manchesters of the 35th Division, and the left companies, “C” and “D”, reached the final objective – the pill-boxes about Six Roads – where they came under heavy machine gun fire. Thence they covered with rifle fire the advance of the Manchesters, who tried to get round the left of the pill-boxes, but were held up by wire. A Lewis gun crew of the 16th pushed on and captured a pill-box, taking six prisoners, but trace of them was afterwards lost. At seven a.m. the enemy made a strong counter-attack, but the rifles of the Scots were used with deadly effect, and the attack failed.

‘For some of the time the gallant little party of Manchester men and Scots held on, but they suffered heavily, and at last the survivors had to give way, retiring sullenly to a position east of Egypt house.’ 

Egypt House was being used as battalion headquarters. Wounded were also brought back here. The History of the 35th Division describes it as ‘a group of small pill boxes.  The accommodation was quite inadequate, and being in a conspicuous position, it was heavily shelled by the enemy. But there was no alternative.’ 

A Lancashire Brigade in France described Egypt House as ‘a group of pill-boxes. It was the only conspicuous place in the immediate neighbourhood, and was well-known to all the men. This resulted in all the wounded being brought there.’ 

‘The inevitable result was that the enemy, seeing constant movement round the pill-boxes, shelled them continuously. It was almost impossible for anyone to come out of Egypt House to help the wounded, and it was not possible to carry a stretcher through the narrow door-way.’ 

‘It was a ghastly scene; dozens of men – dead, mutilated, or dying – were lying round the walls. Such a sight one would think was calculated to drive a young boy fresh from home clean out of his mind, and one marvels that this was not the common result…’ 

‘The fact that the so-called creeping barrage went forward at the rate of 100 yards in eight minutes seemed to indicate that an attack could not be a real success. Let anyone try to take eight minutes to walk 100 yards, and then form an opinion as to what his feelings would be in taking part in a great and glorious advance.’ 

‘Many of the shell-holes were as much as 20 feet deep, and in those days it was no uncommon thing for men to disappear into these death-traps and be drowned.’

Houthulst map2

Place: DE WIPPE CAMP
Date: 23/10/17
Summary of events and information: Returned to DE WIPPE CAMP.

[War Diary of 18th Lancs. Fus.: ‘Remarks: The nature of the ground made all movement very difficult and the evacuation of even walking wounded was intensely difficult. Bombs were found to be entirely useless in shell hole fighting… the importance of keeping direction in the attack cannot be overestimated and every possible precaution must be taken to ensure this such as laying tapes, taking compass bearings, noting landmarks etc. Special parties should be detailed in each coy to ensure that direction is kept.’] 

History of the 35th Division: ‘As General Sandilands considered that the huts situated 1,000 yards north of Aden House had been overlooked in the advance, and that the heavy losses of the 23/Manchester were partly attributable to this fact, he gave orders that the 20/Lancashire Fusiliers should raid them.’ This raid was ordered for the 23rd October.

Date: 24/10/17 – 29/10/17
Summary of events and information: At DE WIPPE CAMP.

[War Diary of 18th Lancs. Fus.: De WIPPE CAMP ‘Church parade. Band played Funeral March & Buglers sounded The Last Post.’]

Place: ELVERDINGHE
Date: 30/10/17
Summary of events and information: Marched to LARRY CAMP, ELVERDINGHE (BELGIUM Sheet 29 N.W. [remainder illegible]) Working party on light Railway, forward area.

Date: 31/10/17
Summary of events and information: The like. Four other ranks wounded – Two in camp by bomb.

[Signed off by] W. Rennison Maj.

Place: ELVERDINGHE (LARRY CAMP)
Date: 01/11/17 – 02/11/17
Summary of events and information: At LARRY CAMP finding working parties for the line.

History of the 35th Division: ‘During the first three days of November the enemy heavily bombarded all the batteries on the Broembeek, the Steenbeek, and Wijdendrift Road with gas and heavy shell. Gas shelling continued practically all night and the high explosive bombardment began at dawn. At midnight, 3rd/4th, an intense bombardment was opened on the front line on our right, to which the batteries replied. A hostile infantry attack followed but failed.’

Date: 03/11/17
Summary of events and information: Left LARRY CAMP and marched to ELVERDIGHE Station. Proceeded by rail to PROVEN, and marched to PRIVETT CAMP at X 25 c 8.5.

Place: PROVEN (PRIVETT CAMP)
Date: 04/11/17
Summary of events and information: Battalion was inspected by Divisional Commander.

Date: 05/11/17 – 07/11/17
Summary of events and information: Training.

Place: HERZEELE
Date: 08/11/17
Summary of events and information: Marched to HERZEELE.

Date: 09/11/17 -16/11/17
Summary of events and information: Training.

Date: 15/11/17
Summary of events and information: Presentation of Medal Ribands by Divisional Commander.

Place: SIEGE Camp
Date: 17/11/17
Summary of events and information: Preceded by rail to SIEGE Camp, near ELVERDINGHE, as Brigade in support.

Date: 18/11/17 – 19/11/17
Summary of events and information: SIEGE Camp.

NOVEMBER, 1917  – POELCAPELLE 

History of the 35th Division: ‘The conditions of mud and water in this sector were not in any way superior to those which had been so noticeable on the fringe of Houthulst Forest, and the means of communication were equally bad. Heavy rain fell on the following day [20th Nov], and the state of affairs did not appear to favour an attack. Nevertheless…’

Date: 20/11/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved 18th Highland Light Infy in Right Battn Front of Divl Sector, with 18th Lancs Fusiliers on our left and 2nd K.R.R. of 1st Divn on our right.

[War Diary of 17th Lancs. Fus. notes that this position was right of the POELCAPELLE-PADDEBEEK sector.]

Date: 21/11/17
Summary of events and information: Front line. 2 other ranks wounded.

History of the 35th Division: ‘At 6.15 p.m. on the 21st lieutenant Short of the former battalion [18th Lancs Fus], who was on patrol, observed about 250 Germans advancing on Tracas Farm, and sent information to 2nd Lieutenant Parry who made immediate preparations to repel the impending attack. The S.O.S. signal was sent up at 7.10 and again at 7.20, but it was not answered for half an hour. The Very Lights revealed the enemy advancing in several waves and the fire was withheld until these were within close range. Then rapid fire from machine-guns, Lewis guns and rifles threw the enemy into utter confusion. The attacking troops withdrew in disorder having suffered heavy casualties. Fifteen dead were counted close to our posts and one wounded man was brought in who subsequently died also. The identifications were the same as before, namely, the 466 I.R.’

Place: CANAL BANK
Date: 22/11/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved by 17th Lancs Fuslrs  and moved into Brigade Reserve in CANAL BANK. Three other ranks wounded (Gas).

History of the 35th Division: ‘The next few days were wet, misty, and comparatively quiet. The only peculiar incident being that Kempton Park was shelled by a high velocity gun.’

Date: 23/11/17
Summary of events and information: In Brigade Reserve.

Place: KEMPTON PARK and ‘P’ Camp
Date: 24/11/17
Summary of events and information: Moved into Divisional Reserve. Battn H.Q. and two coys moved in camp at KEMPTON PARK and were employed on work by R.E. Two coys and Transport lines moved back to ‘P’ Camp at A 6[?] d 5.5 (Ref. Map Sheet 28 N.W).

Date: 25/11/17 – 27/11/17
Summary of events and information: Battn. H.Q. and two coys finding working parties. Two coys at ‘P’ Camp training.

Date: 28/11/17
Summary of events and information: Battn. H.Q. and two coys moved from KEMPTON PARK by rail to ‘P’ Camp.

Date: 29/11/17 – 30/11/17
Summary of events and information: Training at ‘P’ Camp.

[War Diary of 18th Lancs. Fus.: 29/11/17 Brigade sports held near HOUTRERRE. Marching and shooting competition won by 23rd Manchester Bn.]

[Signed off (04/12/17) by] L. M. Stevens Lieutenant-Colonel Commanding 23rd Service Battalion Manchester Regiment

Place: ‘P’ Camp
Date: 01/12/17
Summary of events and information: Battalion in Divisional Reserve at ‘P’ Camp – training.

Place: CANAL BANK
Date: 02/12/17
Summary of events and information: Battalion moved to CANAL BANK – Battn in Bde Reserve.

Date: 04/12/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved 17th Lancashire Fusiliers in the line. 20th Lancashire Fusiliers on our left and 32nd Division on our right. One officer and one other rank killed, and 6 other ranks wounded during relief.

[War Diary of 17th Lancs. Fus. notes that this position was the POELCAPELLE-PADDEBEEK sector.]

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘Poelcapelle, except for the pill-boxes, was hardly recognisable as the remains of a village, and was even worse than Langemarck, which at least possessed a mound of white stone which had once been the church.’

Place: ‘P’ Camp
Date: 06/12/17
Summary of events and information: Relieved by 4th North Staffords on 106th Brigade, and returned to ‘P’ Camp – training.

History of the 35th Division: ‘The rain now ceased and the weather became fine and frosty. The country dried up considerably and the change was very welcome. Even a thaw brought comparatively little rain, and the temperature became mild.’

Place: HOUTKERQUE
Date: 08/12/17
Summary of events and information: Proceeded by rail to rest camp in Corps Reserve Area, near HOUTKERQUE – training.

History of the 35th Division: ‘The relief was welcome. Although the weather had become dry, a fog generally hung over the country, and the atmosphere in that desolate region was depressing. Frequent reliefs were a necessity, but the infantry, in carrying them out, had to walk long distances on duckboard tracks and men entering the line had, generally, no better billet to look forward to that a damp and chilly shell hole. The ground became hard, and digging was toilsome. It was hoped, chiefly by those who did not know Flanders, that better conditions would prevail when the division next took over the line.’ 

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘Here, in spite of the very cold weather, the men enjoyed themselves and got plenty of amusement combined with a minimum of training.’ 

Place: NOUVEAU MONDE
Date: 11/12/17
Summary of events and information: Moved by road to rest billets at NOUVEAU MONDE near HERZEELE.

Date: 11/12/17 – 31/12/17
Summary of events and information: In rest billets at NOUVEAU MONDE – training.

A Lancashire Brigade in France: ‘The Brigade had their Christmas dinner in Houtkerque… The Officer’s Restaurant just behind the Church at Houtkerque probably forms the outstanding feature of December, 1917, in the recollection of many second-lieutenants, and, perhaps, even in that of those of more exalted rank.’

[Signed off (01/01/18) by] W. Rennison, Major for Lieutenant-Colonel Commanding 23rd Service Battalion Manchester Regiment

[To continue on to 1918, please click on the link at the top of this page]

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