Away from the Western Front 1st – 11th September 1917

The Indian Army and the EEF

Punjabis at a camp fire Mcbey1595

Two Punjabi men of the Indian Army standing close to a camp fire for warmth. James McBey© IWM (Art.IWM ART 1595)

Some 1.8 million soldiers from the Indian Army were sent overseas during World War One. 200,000 served in Egypt and Palestine, over 95,000 in combatant roles.

The main role of the Indian Army in peacetime had been to defend its North- West Frontier. Its commissioned officers  were all British while other ranks were recruited from the north of India ( especially amongst the Sikh community)  and in Nepal (the Gurkhas). But the war effort needed far more men than this method could provide and by 1917, Indian soldiers were drawn from all over the country.

Sending out reinforcements to the EEF from the UK became harder and harder during 1917. There was a constant need for fresh manpower on the Western Front and Italian defeats meant that divisions had to be transferred to Central Europe. Some Indian battalions were already successfully serving in the communication lines in Egypt and so the chosen solution was to replace British battalions with ones newly arrived from India . They would be trained for the fighting and terrain ahead while the British battalions would be sent to France.

In the reorganisation that followed, the  54th (East Anglian) Division was the only division in the EEF that remained all British.

Gen Allenby watching bombardment Gaza 1704

Two Generals, including commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force Edmund Allenby, stand at an observation post along with other senior and staff officers. Allenby stands looking into the distance with a pair of binoculars in his hands. Two men look on from the left at the group of officers, with another man standing in the immediate right foreground. All of the officers stand behind a thick earth wall, with a sandbagged command post in the background . James McBey © IWM (Art.IWM ART 1704)

 

 

Location LEES HILL LEFT SECTOR Date 1/9/17

Bn engaged on trench improvement work. Work continued on new piece of forward trench (1900 -0100) working parties heavily sniped and 1 man wounded. Usual night patrols.

Date 2/9/17

Holy Communion 0830 in Nantwich Gully. No work being done today by order of Brigade Commander. Slight reciprocal shelling. MAJOR CAMPBELL 1 BO 8 IO and 8 Indian NCOS attached for instruction in patrol work and trench duties returned for duty to their battalion. (2/23 SIKH PIONEERS).

Date 3/9/17

Work on trenches (both fire and communication) being carried out under direction of Coy commanders. Work also continued from 1900 to 2400 on new piece of forward trench work. 100 Sikh and 50 Bedfords being employed. 2nd Lieut Parry and patrol of men fired on by Turkish snipers concealed in old British trenches in front of our lines and the enemy also threw a bomb on our party inflicting head wounds on 2nd Lt Parry and wounding and killing two other men of his party. Patrol under SERJ ANDERSON encountered enemy patrol in front of left of Battn line. Our patrol fired a rifle grenade, whereupon enemy retired hurriedly, dragging with them 2 men presumably killed or wounded by our bomb. Slight reciprocal shelling. Draft of 120 men reported from EGYPTIAN BASE DEPOT.

Date: 4/9/17

Trench improvement work (Traffic and communication) Usual night patrols. MAJOR HAMMOND returned to Battn after 4 weeks senior officers’ course at Cairo and Alexandria.

Date: 5/9/17

Bn employed on trench improvement work. Usual night patrols. Night work continued on forward trench from OIRE BAY f-15-1 Slight reciprocal shelling during early morning and evening. Our own enemy snipers active. GAST G M HOOPER returned from service.

Location LEES HILL Date: 6/9/17

Work on trench improvements, widening Traffic and communication Trenches. Night Patrols as usual. CAPT. A.T. LEWTHWAITE proceeded to ALEXANDRIA en route for 3 weeks English leave. Turkish Trenches heavily bombarded by our artillery during afternoon.

Date: 7/9/17

Work on fire bays, Traffic and communication Trenches by day and by night. Line quiet. Usual rifles patrols.

Date: 8/9/17

Bn engaged with assistance of working party from 1/10 LONDON BN, widening Traffic and Communication Trenches. Turkish artillery active along our front during early part of morning.

Date: 9/9/17

Holy Communion by Chaplain at 9.30 in Regtl Aid Post. No work on defences and communication by order of Brigade Commander. Front Line quiet.

Date: 10/9/17

Bn engaged on Trench improvement works, working parties from 1/10 LONDON employed on widening communication trenches and improving approaches. Usual Night Patrols. Slight reciprocal Shelling. Night work on Front Line Trenches and work on new forward trench to over wire.

Date 11/9/17

BN engaged on Trench improvement works, working parties from 1/10 LONDON employed on widening communication trenches and improving approaches. Usual Night Patrols. Slight reciprocal Shelling. Night work on Front Line Trenches and work on new forward trench to over wire.

Date 12/9/17

Usual working parties employed on general improvement work. Instructional Demonstration in the Small Box respirator given at H.Q of 54th Divs attended by the C.O.M.O. and 2 Coy Comdrs and 2 cos per company. Slight enemy shelling during the morning. No damage to our line.

Location LEES HILL Date 13 to 15/.9/17

Bn engaged on general improvement of front line trenches. Working parties from 1/10 LONDONS engaged (0700-1000) and (1900-2200) on widening and deepening Communication and Traffic Trenches. Usual Night Patrols. Reciprocal Shelling morning and evening, no casualties or damage sustained by us.

 

 

Away from the Western Front : 25th August – 31th August, 1917.

Back into the Front Line

shells bursting at dawn Gaza McBey 1506

Shells Bursting at Dawn on the Trenches round Ali-el-Muntar, on the outskirts of Gaza. James McBey © IWM (Art.IWM ART 1506)

 

In order to allow soldiers to cope with the stress of trench life and fighting,  British army practice was to rotate divisions between the front and rear lines for rest periods. However, although the troops were away from direct shelling or carrying out trench raids, these  ‘rest’  periods often included working on defences and intense training. Neither activity was welcomed by the soldiers who often complained in letters or diaries.

The 1/4 Cheshire Regiment were part of the 53th (Welsh) Division – hence the naming of the Flint, Merioneth and Caernarvon Redoubts along the defences facing Gaza.

This start of this period in the front line was relatively quiet for the Finsbury Rifles  but worse was to follow…

 

Date 25/8/17

Battn training. CO and Adjutant visited HQ 1/4 CHESHIRE RGT to arrange re relief. Reciprocal shelling of front line.

Location RIGHT SECTOR (Coastal section) LEES HILL Date 26/8/17

Holy Communion 0800 (Battn HQ) Bttn preparing to move into front line. Bn proceeding by companies commencing at 1830. Coys take over respective areas and front line trenches. Relief of ¼ CHESHIRES completed by 2330. CAPT the REV MARRIOTT reported for duty.

Date 27/8/17

Battn engaged settling down and squaring up generally. Trench improvement work carried out under direction of company commanders. Line quiet all day. Slight rifle and machine gun fire at night. Patrols found by coys in front line.

Date 28/8/17

Battn engaged on trench work. Repairs and general trench improvement. Small night time patrols sent out.

Date: 29/8/17

Trench work. Slit trenches being dug. Traffic trenches being improved. No Man’s Land patrolled by our Patrols. 2nd Lieu MACKAY and 2 Lt HOLLANDBY re-joined from hospital.

Date: 30/8/17

 

Work on traffic and.

Date: 31/8/17

Trench improvement work being carried out. The trench forward from front line commenced with a view to advancing our line. In the first place our two platoons post moved forward on much of land connecting LEES HILL and OUTPOST HILL about 200 yards in advance. Slight reciprocal shelling. slit trenches. PATROL under 2nd Lieu Driver found telephone wire and attacked our barbed wire. Our artillery active. Located enemy M GUN emplacement. Patrol heavily fired on. 2nd Lieut Driver and many slightly wounded. LT W S OWEN proceeded on English leave

 

 

Away from the Western Front : 12th – 24th August, 1917.

Major-General S W Hare

and the

54th Divisional Training Camp

 

Maj Gen Hare at Fusiat

Major-General S W Hare at Fusiat, 1917.  ©IWM (Q57799)

 

Major-General Steuart Hare, the regular army officer commanding the 54th Division, believed strongly that Territorial soldiers could reach the same standard as those in the regular army. This was not a widespread view – the pre-war prejudice against the  ‘Saturday night soldiers’ or the ‘town clerks’ army’ of the Territorial Force lingered on.

Training had been an important part of battalion routine ever since the 54th Division had arrived in Egypt. It had brought up the fitness level of the existing troops and the new drafts. This had been crucial in crossing the Sinai Desert at the start of 1917. Technical training had been delivered through courses at Imperial School of Instruction at Zeitoun near Cairo. Those who attended had then passed on their knowledge once back with their units – an early example of the ‘trickle-down approach’.

After the failure to take Gaza in spring 1917, it was clear that training needed to be expanded and refined. The 54th Division set up its own training camps, nicknamed Regent’s Park and St James’ Park. These were designed to train companies ‘for active offensive operations’ and included some ‘intense physical training’ to improve stamina. Between June and October 1917 every company in the division  had spent a fortnight in one or other of the camps.  This preparation for battle would be ‘tested’ by small scale raids on enemy trenches.

Date 12/8/17

Holy Communion Bn HQ 0800.Bn HQ and parties from C and D coy proceeded to 54th Div T School.

Date 13 to 23/8/17

Officers and NCOs and Divt school engaged at different classes daily on Lewes gun, bombing, bayonet and fighting and musketry. Hours of work 615 to 715, 845 to 945, 1615 to 1830. Lectures were given during morning of 3 days on cooperation of various arms with infantry via Artillery, Flying Corps and Machine Guns. Remainder of Battalion in Resume at Dorset House area engaged on musketry and company and platoon training. Three officers with eight NCOs and 40 men from A and B coys doing a 5 day course on trench construction work under RE.

Date 24/8/17

Orders received for all ranks of divisional school to rejoin their units prior to 54th Divs relieving 53rd Div in the line on the coastal sector. BHQ and remainder of party returned to battn at 1700.

 

 

 

 

Away from the Western Front : 30th July – 11th August, 1917.

Reinforcing the Redoubts

and

Reinforcing the Battalion

 

Gaza from Raspberry Hill

Gaza from Raspberry Hill. James McBey © IWM (Art.IWM ART 150

 

By summer 1917, the drafts of men sent out to join the 54th Division were no longer drawn automatically from the training battalions of the Finsbury Rifles and the other battalions in the division. Conscripts rather than volunteers were replacing men who had a local or regional link to their unit. Once they had arrived at the lines around Gaza,  new drafts trained separately at first so men could develop the level of fitness needed for the harsh conditions and unforgiving climate.

However, each battalion still kept up its own ‘regimental identity’  which gradually focused on the achievements and history of each unit as local ties weakened.The Finsbury Rifles certainly had an active ‘Old Comrades Association’ for many decades after the end of the war.

Date 30/7/17

Battn finding working parties of 1 officer and 50 other ranks each for work under orders of LADLE HQ OC WELSH Redoubt OC FLINT REDOUBT. Remainder of Battn training. Specialist classes as usual. Night working parties of 2 officers and 200 OR found for defence works (1930-0045). Battn engaged on musketry in afternoon. Slight reciprocal shelling during day DRAFT training separately.

Date 31/7/17

Battn finding working parties of 1 officer and 50 other ranks each for work under orders of BURY HQ (Suffolk) Flint and WELSH REDOUBT and LADLE HQ. Remainder of Battn training. Specialist classes as usual. DRAFT training separately. TEMP/RSM C A KING left the Bn for ALEXANDRIA for passage home for checking on Home establishment. Our artillery active during the morning shelling TURKISH position.

Date 1/8/17

Battn engaged by companies on rifle ranges (0600 to 1230).Night working parties of 2 officers and 100 other ranks for work under authority of OC Welsh and Merioneth Redoubts respectively. Men of draft inoculated against cholera. Orders received regarding move into reserve area.Belah.

Date 2/8/17

Battn training in morning and engaged in the rifle range during afternoon. Eight working parties found (1930-0015) of 1 officer and 50 other ranks. Each to Welsh and Flint redoubts. 2 officers and 100 other ranks to Caernarvon Redoubt. Reciprocal shelling.

Date 3/8/17

Battn engaged packing up and clearing area generally preparatory to moving tonight on relief by 2/4th WEST KENTS (53rd div) 2300 Battn relieved by 2/4th WEST KENTS and proceeding to new bivouac DEIR-EL-BELAH.

Location   DEIR-EL_BELAH  Date 4/8/17

Battn engaged squaring up new bivouac area.

Date 5/8/17

Holy Communion at Battn HQ at 0800. Battn bathing and resting.

Date 6.8.17

Company inspections and usual routine. Orders received for Bn to move to DORSET HOUSE (WADI REUBEN) in relief of Fife and Forfar Yeomanry.

Date 7/8/17

Battn engaged in packing up and preparing for move tonight to new area. Battn moved off 1715. Relief supported in new area 2300. Lieut Sanderoff HG and 2nd Lieut Hockloney rejoined for duty.

Location DORSET HOUSE (WADI REUBEN) Date 8/8/17

Battn engaged in settling down and generally improving dugouts. New area very precipitous and dusty. Dugouts in good condition and well built. Front line quiet. Slight reciprocal shelling during morning.

Date 9/8/17

Battn training under coy arrangements (9-1200). Specialist classes as usual.

Date 10/8/17

Company and specialist training.

Date 11/8/17

Company and specialist training. Preparations being made for all officers and NCOs D and C Corps with a proportion of Bn HQ to proceed to 54th Div Training Camp (Gaza and Shellal Maps 5 30 C) for training. Our guns shelling enemy positions. (2315 to 2400)

 

Away from the Western Front : 28th – 29th July, 1917.

        Captain Tattersall DSO

Captain Tattersall DSO

Captain Philip Charles Paul Tattersall © IWM (HU 118871)

The warning recorded about the dangerous currents off the beaches near Gaza proved to be horribly accurate. The war diary, usually so concise and impersonal, recorded the death and funeral of Captain Tattersall with more detail than usual.

Philip Tattershall had grown up in the Gray’s Inn Road in Holborn, not far from the Finsbury Rifles drill hall in Pentonville. His father had run a small business as an ecclesiastical furnisher and the family lived above ‘the shop’. After the death of his parents in the 1890s, he moved with his siblings, an aunt and cousin to Acre Lane, Brixton. He was still at school -possibly the City of London School for Boys- aged 15 in 1901 but by 1911 was working as a clerk in a bank.

A well-liked officer in the battalion, he had served in Gallipoli. He was promoted from Lieutenant to Captain in July 1916 and was awarded the DSO after the first two battles of Gaza in spring 1917. He was mentioned in dispatches in the list of honours put forward by Lt-Gen Murray in June 1917. This only came through in January 1918, some 5 months after his death. Perhaps it offered some comfort to his surviving sisters and brothers.

 

Date: 28/7/17

Battn finding working parties of 1 officer and 50 of ranks for defence works of Welsh and 7 LINT Redruths respectively also parties of 1 officer and 50 of ranks such for Barry HQ (Suffolk) and 270 Bde RFA – remainder of Batt employed on training. Draft inspected by commanding officer at 09.00. A most regrettable accident occurred about 16.15, Capt PCP Tattersall DSO being accidentally drowned whilst bathing from the foreshore here. Capt Tattersall was a non-swimmer and was carried into deep water by the backward of an exceptionally large wave. The surf on this coast being at all times heavy, with very powerful currents and …wash. It was noticed to be under in difficulties by the other officers bathing at the time but inspite of everything, that was done and very gallant personal efforts on the parts of 2/LT.H.L Windsor and 2/LT A. Smith to save him (the latter nearly losing his own life in the attempt) he was carried into deep water and drowned. Valuable aid was also rendered by the following all of this Battn. 2 /LT MORGAN RFN LEE WELTONWR 4511SY 450232 RFN LINNEY AJ 451145 Rfn MARTIN WN, 2 LT A SMITH was pulled from the water in the nick of time and was only revived by artificial respiration ,he has since been sent into hospital

Capt Tattersall’s body was recovered about 5 or 6 minutes after the time he was first noticed to be in difficulties. …. endeavour was made to restore life. Artificial respiration being resorted to for over 1 ½ hours with no avail. The M.O (Capt Cummins) who was present throughout then pronounced life to be extinct.  Being confirmed in his opinion by the M.O of the 1/5 Bedfords who was sent for at the time the accident happened.

Date: 29/7/17

(Sunday) Holy Communion celebrated at 08.00 by Chaplain 1/10 London at these HQs – Capt Tattersall’s body conveyed to DEIR.EL.BELAH MILITARY CEMETERY. Funeral was conducted by the chaplain (The Revd DIXON SPAIN) and the mourners were Lt Col AH WINDSOR CMG, MAJOR F S HAMMOND CAPT W S OWEN CAPT HEILGERS, LIEUT ROBERTSON 2ND LIEUT WYNN EVANS 2ND LIEUT HL WINDSOR and a representative party of NCOs and men from B coy( the late officer’s company). The MO was also present, as also was Lt Col BIEDSO from 2/25 BN LONDON REGT and late adjutant of the BN. The funeral took place at 0915 at which time BRIGADIER GENERAL A MUDGE, COMMANDER OF 162nd INF brigade accompanied by 2nd Lt WB GOSTLING