Away from the Western Front : 17th – 26th November 1917

Marching North

 

Q12813 Village of Ludd c1918
The village of Ludd near which was the British railhead from February 1918. This is the ancient “Lydda”. Ludd was entered by the 1st Light Horse Regiment, 15th November 1917.© IWM (Q 12813)

 

While other divisions of the EEF advanced east into the Judean Hills, the 54th (East Anglian) Division now marched north along the coastal plain.  It was now the rainy season which at least gave the Finsbury Rifles a chance to catch up with some long overdue laundry.

However, the retreating Ottoman army was not a spent force. They had engaged the New Zealand Mounted Rifles near Ayun Kara only a few days before 162 Brigade arrived.

 

War_memorial_for_New_Zealanders_at_Ayun_Kara
A memorial erected by the people of Richon Le Zion to the memory of the New Zealanders who fell at Ayun Kara on November 14, 1917.

 

Date: 17/11/17
Bn (here 2 companies) left MEJDEL 0830 for ESDUD arriving 1245 Bivouac formed and rations for meal issued. Bn preceded again 1500 for JEBNAH.
Location IN THE FIELD Date 18/11/17
Bn arrived JEBNAHIGOO and bivouac formed for the night. Men and animals much fatigued after long march but all ranks extraordinary cheerful. Weather fine but overcast. Brigade group overtaken.
Date 18/11/17
Brigade packed up and proceeded with Bde Column for AJUN KARA further 9 miles northwards. Left bivouac at 13.30 reached destination 17.30 and bivouac formed for the night. AJUN KARA a French Jewish settlement (ZIONIST) of modern and European appearance. Good rye bread obtained for all ranks from the inhabitants who welcomed the appearance of a BRITISH force. Turks reported as having commenced retiring through township fourteen days previously.
Date 19/11/17
Bn proceeded with brigade group eastwards to LUDD leaving Bivouac at 0845 reaching LUDD 1230 and bivouacking in olive groves NORTH of the town. Men much fatigued. Remainder of day spent in squaring bivouacs and washing.Very wet night.
Location LUDD Date 20/11/17
Bn resting. Kit inspection and washing during morning. Weather dull and overcast much rain about at intervals. 2 companies from BEIT HANUN caught up with the Bn and reported (1200) Bde on an advanced outpost here. 1/11 London in reserve.
Date 21/11/17
Bn in reserve. Day spent in bathing and washing and kit inspections.
Date 22/11/17
Bn in reserve. Day spent in bathing and washing and kit inspections. Company training for 1 hour during morning. Quiet day. Weather fine but cold. 2nd Lieut Tierce and 20 of other ranks rejoined the Bn from BEIT HANUM.
Date 23 to 24/11/17
Company and specialist training
Date 25/11/17
Holy Communion at Bn HQ at 0800 Quiet day in bivouac. Voluntary camp fire service in evening at 17.30
Date 26/11/17
Company and specialist training

Away from the Western Front : 9th – 16th November 1917

After the 3rd Battle of Gaza

 

Q12897 carts and limbers captured after 3 Gaza George Westmoreland
Turkish guns and limbers captured in the Third Battle of Gaza, November 1917. George Westmoreland © IWM (Q 12897).

 

After the fighting and an all too brief time to recuperate the Finsbury Rifles were  directed to support the Royal Engineers  –  providing labour for the construction of prisoner of war camps. While this work was often resented by the men of the EEF it was a welcome change from the horrendous noise of the artillery barrage that had preceded the third battle for Gaza.

Date: 9/11/17

Portion of Bn left behind at 54 Div, details rejoined.

Date: 10/11/17

Bn bathing and resting – quiet day.

Date: 11/11/17

Holy Communion at Bn HQ 0800. Quiet day. Bn Bathing and resting.

Date: 12/11/17

Orders received for Bn to move to Beit Hanun for construction work under RE. Bathing parades and preparing to move.

Date: 13/11/17

Bn moved to Beit  Hanun 1300. A&B Coys sent onto DEIR SINEID for work under RE. D&C Coys employed constructing P of W compound at BEIT HANUN.

Date: 14/11/17

½ Bn employed on building P of W compound. 40 prisoners arrived during afternoon from front line.

Date: 15/11/17

Work on P of W compound continued. No further prisoners, previous 40 sent onto A.P.M GAZA. Orders received to move forward.

Date: 16/11/17

Bn HQs moved 1230 and proceeded to DEIR SINEID leaving 2 companies to received and guard further P of W. Remaining 2 companies being picked up at SINEID the whole proceeding to MEJDEL where Bivouac for the night was formed

 

 

Away from the Western Front : 6th – 8th November 1917

  The Third Battle of Gaza (2)

 

GAza Minaret McBey
Gaza: 9th November 1917. A view across a heavily bomb-damaged part … the foreground is littered with rubble and a single British soldier on horseback stands in the middle ground. In the background a shard of a wall is all that remains of a minaret. An observation balloon is visible in the sky above.James McBey© IWM (Art.IWM ART 16

It was no secret that casualties in fighting were highest in the rifle companies of the army . The 54th (East Anglian)  Division had had to rebuild itself twice – after the Gallipoli Campaign and more recently after the disasters of the first two battles for Gaza.

The changes brought in under General Allenby also aimed to avoid this happening again. Units were required to keep a nucleus of officers and men in the rear so that a battalion could be rebuilt if necessary. Reinforcements would take too long to train and in any case, the Western Front was swallowing up much of the available manpower.

Although the Finsbury Rifles suffered some casualties during the Third Battle of Gaza, they were not as high as before. They were fortunate that the Ottoman forces on Belah Ridge were withdrawn to pre-arranged positions further north. This undoubtedly saved many lives – on both sides.

Location GUN HILL AREA Date: 6/11/17

Consolidation work still proceeding. MAJOR HAMMOND visited Bde Battle HQ and received orders to attacks and take BELAH Ridge with this Bn at all costs 161 Bde co-operating on our right the 1/5 BEDFORDs on our left. Enemy heavily shelled our positions during the day up to about 1500. Rumours received of Turkish retreat – arrangements for attaching BELAH completed and the Bn relieved in the trenches by the ¼ ESSEX and brought down on the beach to rest by 2100.

Date: 7/11/17

Attack on Belah Ridge by the 54 Divs at 0100. 1/11 London attacked the Northern position as for orders attached to appendix.A.X

Attack carried out with great dash. Enemy trenches reached and enemy found to have fired leaving only a few snipers. Consolidation at once proceeded with.0430. Consolidation work stopped. General Turkish retreat. ¼ Essex withdrawn from GUN HILL and position taken over by 1 company 1/11 London Rgt ,other companies of this Bn withdrawn to beach for breakfast after which Bn to move to 300 yards NE of SHEIKH HASSAN. 1030 Bn move into Reserve of 162 Bde outward line received – Bn moved on to beach at G22 A Nuzzle 1/20000. And bivouac formed. Lt Col A.H WINDSOR CMG

Location SEASHORE G22.A.NUZZLE 1/20000. Date: 8/11/17

Bn resting and squaring up Bivouac. Moving baggage re: from various dumps formed after the equipment. Quiet day bathing parades only.

Orders by Major F.S.Hammond commanding 1/11 London Regt. Order No 3. 6/11/17

Reference Gaza 1: 20000. A

  1. Enemy dispositions have not materially changed.
  2. The 54th Divn is attacking the line RAFA BELAH RIDGE – TURTLE HILL. 161 Bde on the night. 162 Bde on the left. The dividing line will be the wire running from RICHARD to BELAH.
  3. The 11th London Regt (les 1 Coy) will attack BELAH works from P8d88 to Pqa 2.4.
  4. On relief tonight at 1900 by ¼ Essex Regt this Battn will bivouac over the beach for the night just below present Battn HQ.
  5. At zero – 60 the Battn will move forward to a position at about P8 6 1.8. At zero – 15 it will move forward to take up a position immediately in front of our own trenches. At zero it will advance to the attack.
  6. When the positions have been won, they will be immediately consolidated a strong work being established in each objective: at the same time a second line will be consolidated on the reverse slopes. The front line will only be held lightly during the day.
  7. The Battn will be dressed and equipped in only those articles actually required for fighting purposes plus one day’s water and rations.
  8. Each officer will carry a Very Pistol sights. Bombers and rifles Grenadiers will each carry 10 bombs. Lewis gun teams will carry 20 magazines per team. The balance of bombs L/G. Magazines will be carried by carriers detailed from ¼ Northants Regt and will move in near of the Battn during the attack dumping their loads with the last Coy who will be digging in on the reverse slope of BELAH RIDGE. The O.C of this Coy will at once take steps to push forward the bombs and magazines brought up. Ground flares will be carried by the leading Coys.
  9. Each Coy will detail runner to report to Battn signal office before Coys leave the beach.
  10. Watches will be synchronised at Battn H.Q at 1815 and 2115 tonight.
  11. Battn H.Q will remain at P7 6 7.5 to-morrow with an advanced station established by P8 and 2.5 (near B Boys’s present HQ) to which place all messages and runners must be sent.
  12. Barrages. The positions to be assaulted will be heavily bombarded the final 18 pds protective barrage lighting from all objectives except FRED at zero and 15 when the infantry will assault in accordance with details already arranged. At zero and 20 the barrage will lift from FRED enabling the first wave to complete their work on WALTER. A protective barrage will remain in front of the position till zero and 120. MG barrage from RICHARD and CRICKET WELL will give overhead covering fire during the assault and will lift to form a protective barrage at zero and 10.
  13. Collecting points for wounded are being formed at SEA POST and SHEIKH HASSAN to either of which wounded will be evacuated. The Battn and post will remain into present position.
  14. Two stokes guns will follow in near of the third wall and dig in on reverse slope as arranged.

Issued at 1800

Copies to 3 Coys

162 Bde

¼ Essex Regt

1/6 “ “

¼ Northants Regt

1/5 Bedfords Regt

1/10 London Regt

162 MG Coy

162 LJ M.B

1 – office

Capt Adjutant 1/11 London Rgt.

 

 

 

Away from the Western Front : 31st October – 5th November 1917

           The Third Battle of Gaza (1)

3rd Gaza Gun Hill 1-2 Nov

 

The 3rd battle for Gaza lasted for over a week. This time the bombardment  from the Royal Navy and the Royal Artillery was calculated correctly and began ahead of the actual attack. As the 54th Division moved up along the coastal strip to the west, they came under heavy fire from the Ottoman defences.  In spite of the disorientating effects of the artillery barrage and thanks  to the effective supply lines,  food & the all important water rations were able to  reach the Finsbury Rifles & the other  units in 162 Brigade. Lessons had been learned from previous failures….

 

 

Location REGENTS PARK AREA Date: 31/10/17

Bn: Squaring up bivouac, drawing clothing for forthcoming operations. Enemy lines heavily bombarded from land and sea batteries. Bn order no II in connection with forthcoming attack on Gaza attacked.

Location REGENTS PARK AREA and Gun Hill area ref Gaza 1/20000 P.Y.B-57.Date: 1/11/17

Bn preparing for move forward on enemy’s left. Objective of this Bn – the Turkish position of Gun Hill. Bn moved forward 0245 to the attack. Bn under the command of MAJOR FS HAMMOND.

Date: 2/11/17

0245 Bn moving to the attack along the Beach, came under heavy shrapnel fire at about 0330, 200 yards NE of SHEIKH AJLIN. Several casualties sustained, 2/LT BRIMFIELD signalling officer being killed. Bn halted under cliff ……pack animals, all animals were then sent back to starting point. Bn proceeded along the Beach under heavy shrapnel, rifle G fire. Very little cover was attainable and in some place none at all. Seaport in front of which the Bn had to deploy was reached at about 0400 and found to be in our hands. Bn HQ formed and Bn drawn up in readiness for the advance. 0430 Bn deployed D company leading and advanced on objectives,…..objectives taken 0500 2nd objective taken 0505 final objective occupied by D Company at 5.10 (GUN HILL). Slight opposition, enemy retired to usage our artillery tarry to SHEIKH HASSAN and there fell into the hands of 1/5 BEDFORD who had advanced along the Beach and the left of our positions. Our casualties slight – all companies engaged on consolidation work, enemy heavily shelling the captured positions all day. Rations and water reached the Bn about 2030 in spite of the beach being in enemy view and constantly sniped in consequence. Everyone very cheerful and satisfied 1/5 Bedfords at HASSAN. Casualties for the day about 55 NCOs and men and 5 officers killed and wounded.

Date: 3/11/17

Consolidation work proceeded with all day under heavy shell and rifle fire.

Date: 3/11/17 (contd)

Several casualties incurred. Attack at dawn on Turkish position of BELAH Trench Line by ¼ Essex. This work the final objective of the 1/10 London was strongly resisted by TURKS, and was not taken during the initial attack or by a subsequent attack during yesterday afternoon by ¼ NORTHANTS. The Essex attack at dawn failed with heavy loss and the position remained in the hands of the Turk who sniped and MG  [ machine gunned] GUN HILL positions and the beach from it all day. Enemy heavily shelled by both land and sea batteries day and night. Rations and water reached us in excellent time. Also large quantities of REM admiral for consolidation work.

Date: 4/11/17

Bn engaged on consolidation work, several casualties incurred from enemy shell fire. GOC 162 Brigade visited and inspected the GUN HILL area – our ships busily engaged shelling enemy works and positions in rear of GAZA.

Date: 5/11/17

GUN HILL and area heavily shelled by enemy 5.9 batteries from an easterly and north easterly direction. Several direct hits attained on our trenches, no casualties or damage done. Consolidation still proceeding and 4 guns from LTMB attached for ……CRICKET VALLEY.

Away from the Western Front : 17th – 30th October 1917.

 

 

shells exploding over Gaza McBey IWM 2940
Gaza : the shells on the left are bursting on El Arish Redoubt: a view from the slot of an observation post at shells exploding over Gaza. There are two large explosions on the far left and another two on the far right, with the buildings and minarets of the city visible in the middle. James McBey © IWM. (Art.IWM ART 2940)

 

Training intensified in the lead up to Gaza. In October those skills learned and practised in  platoons and companies during the summer, were developed at  battalion and brigade level. The message for the soldiers of the EEF whether they were peacetime territorials  or wartime conscripts was that  bravery and courage alone would not bring success. The key to victory would come through training as an efficient fighting force being able to put everything they had learned into action whatever the circumstances  .

 

Practice attacks were carried out in the Belah area. A model of the El Arish redoubt was constructed and used by the 54th (East Anglian) Division – nothing would be left to chance!

 

Date: 16/10/17Bn Parade 0745, operations on prepared area 1600-1700 specialists training.

Date: 17/10/17

Bn Parade 0645. For Brigade operations on prepared area. Specialists training 1600-1700

Date: 18/10/17

Specialists and company training (6.15-700)(800-1100) 1100 Kit Inspections.

Date: 19/10/17

Combined brigade operations on prepared area (0700-1200) Specialist training 1600-1700.

Date: 20/10/17

Brigade operations at dawn on prepared area. Bn paraded 0245 returned to Bivouac area 0800. Address by GOC to all officers, W.Officers and sergeants in the Brigade 1645.

Date: 21/10/17

Brigade Parade for divine service 0830 Remainder of day quiet.

Date: 22/10/17

Company and specialist training during morning. Bathing for all ranks during the afternoon. Lt HHA GOLDSCHMIDT entered hospital.

Date: 23 to 24/10/17 (24)

Company and specialist training. Inter platoon competitions in Lewis gun, bombing and rifles, signalling and s(tretcher) bearers competitions. Conference.

Date: 25/10/17

Company and specialist training. Final competitions in various specialist branches. Regt Boxing Tournament during afternoon. GOC and staff of 162 Brigade present.

Date: 26/10/17

Practice attack on prepared position by Bn (0700-1200) Bathing parades during afternoon. 2 LT HORDER attached 486 CORE to hospital.

Date: 27/10/17

Company and specialist training during morning. Regimental sports and concerts. Heavy thunder storm with torrential rain. 1st rain of the season.

Date: 28/10/17

Celebration Holy Communion 0730. Confirm of C.O at Bde HQ. Capt L.H Newton rejoined from Delta and W.Force HC Cairo.

Date: 29/10/17

Company and specialist training during morning. Orders received for Bn to move to Regents Park area prior to operations.

Date: 30/10/17

Company and specialist training (830-1100) remainder of day spent getting ready to move. Bn moved 1800 by March Route to Regents Park area. Enemy lines heavily bombarded by our artillery.

 

 

 

 

Artilley Officer in OP
A young British artillery officer stands within an enclosed and covered observation post, observing British artillery fire through a device positioned on the parapet. He looks through a small loophole, the upper wall of the parapet partly made from sandbags.James McBey © IWM (Art.IWM ART 1451)

 

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Away from the Western Front: 30th September – 16th October 1917.

                               The Allenby Effect

Gen Edmund Allenby mcBey 1552
General Sir Edmund Allenby KCB : 1918 James McBey © IWM (Art.IWM ART

 

 

After the failures to take Gaza in March-April 1917,  it was clear that the Egyptian Expeditionary Force needed a fresh approach and a new command structure. General Sir Archibald Murray was posted back to the UK to be head of the army  in Aldershot while General Sir Edmund Allenby took over as Commander-in-Chief of the EEF at the end of June 1918.

General Allenby had served for 3 years on the Western. He had learned the hard way what was needed to fight a modern technological war. One crucial aspect of this was listening to subordinate commanders . General Murray had failed to do this at Second Gaza with disastrous results.

General Allenby re-organised the EEF into 3 corps -2 infantry and 1 cavalry. This allowed heavy artillery units to support the infantry corps more effectively. He moved the HQ to Cairo to Khan Yunis, south of Gaza which was far nearer the front line . He also  introduced relentless and focused training throughout the EEF to bring up  levels of fitness and technical knowledge. Everyone would know exactly what they should be doing for the forthcoming third attack on Gaza.

 

Location CENTRE SUB STATION RESERVE (COASTAL SECTOR)

Date: 30/9/17

Bn: engaged in settling down and generally improving bivouac area. Working parties found of 2 officers and 160 men for works under RE direction, 1430 and 1900 (respectively 40 and 120 men). CAPT G.R.MELLOR attached from 1st (KINGS) LIVERPOOL RGT LEFT today to rejoin his original Bn: under orders from DAG.GHQ. Voluntary Service by Chaplain 1600.

Date: 1/10/17

Bn engaged on Training. Special classes of Bombers and Lewis Gunners formed. 2 officers and 160 men engaged under RE for work on defences.

Date: 2 to 3/10/17

Bn Training. 3 officers and 300 men onward morning training on defence works under orders O.C front line sections. 2 officers and 200 men engaged under direction of RE on defence works vc. Lieut ROBERTSON (transport officer) necessary personnel proceeded for duty to 92b by ASC 75th division.

Date: 4 to 5 /10/17

Bn finding big working parties for Front Line Commanders and RE defence works.

Orders received to move to Northern BELAL area to train for coming operations.

Date: 6/10/17

Entire Bn on working portico and Brigade fatigue work. C.O proceeding along cont. Northwards, by steam drifter for reconnaissance work.

Date: 7/10/17

Communion service 0900. Remainder of day spent in in packing up and otherwise getting ready to move. Bn relieved by 1/4 R Scots at 1800, and proceeded by March Route to new Bivouac area at Belah, there to train for forthcoming operations.

Date: 8/10/17

Day spent in squaring up camping area at BELAH. Kit inspections and bathing under company arrangements. 11 Other Ranks rejoined from hospital.

Date: 9/10/17

Inspection of Bn by C.O followed by company training and battalion close order drill. Conference of C.O at Brigade ND.

Date: 10/10/17

Bn: engaged in training in attack formation based on new organisation (0800-1200) all officers attending C.O conference at 1630.

Location BELAH N AREA Date: 11/10/17

Bn under training 0630-0700. Bayonet fighting 0800-1200. Bn Parade. 1600-1700 Bn classes in bombing and Lewis gun.1800-2000 Night work.

Date: 12/10/17

Bn Parade 0700. Practice attack on prepared positions. Specialist classes as usual.

Date: 13/10/17

Bn practising attack on prepared positions 0700-1200.

Date: 14/10/17

Divine service in conjunction with the 1/10 LONDON at 0830. 2LT G.A. PARRY rejoined from hospital.

Date: 15/10/17

Bn Parade 0700 practice attack on prepared positions. 1600-1700 specialists training – Lieut F HEILGER rejoined from hospital.

Date: 16/10/17

Bn Parade 0745, operations on prepared area 1600-1700 specialists training.

 

 

 

Away from the Western Front: 12th – 29th September, 1917.

Reciprocal shelling, night patrols and anti-gas training

British Small box respirator ww1

The Small Box Respirator was the most advanced and successful anti-gas equipment used by the British and Dominion forces during the First World War. Introduced in 1916, it became standard issue during 1917. The respirator consisted of a face mask with glass eye-pieces connected to a metal ‘small box’ filter (containing  active charcoal and granules) via a flexible hose. Its practical design meant it could be put on and used very quickly in case of a gas attack.

General Murray had obtained permission to deploy gas to increase the striking power of the EEF  in early 1917. However, there were many misgivings about this amongst officers and men. Gas shells were fired quite ineffectively against the enemy during the disastrous second battle for Gaza. As part of the intensive training that followed  this defeat, ‘gas schools’ were set up to train soldiers to cope with gas attacks. The EEF feared  that it was  likely that Germany might provide the Ottoman forces with gas shells of their own and prepared accordingly.

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.

Date: 16/9/17

Celebration of Holy Communion at Regtl Aid Post by Chaplain at 0930. No work performed. Front Line quiet during day. Our artillery very active between 2200 and 2300.

Date: 17/9/17

Work on Trench Improvements, small working party from 1/10 LONDONS assisting. Heavy Turkish Shelling of our Front Line. Slight damage to Trenches and wire cut in several places. 4 men wounded of this bn.

Date: 18/9/17

Quiet Day, slight reciprocal Shelling in Evening. Work as usual on Trench Improvements.

Date: 19 to 20/9/17

Work on Trenches, widening and deepening. Line quiet. Usual night Patrol work.

Date: 21/9/17

Continuance of Trench improvement work. Slight reciprocal Shelling at intervals during day. Lieut Sander wick commended by G.O.C. for good Patrol work in neighbourhood of MIDDLESEX HILL. Party heavily fired on by Turks. Lieut Sanderwick slightly wounded, also one rifleman, otherwise Patrol returned to our lines intact. Sergt RALPH recommended for reward for good work performed and coolness displayed on this occasion. CAPT L.M. JONES reported from Hospital. CAPT F.J.F.H. HEILGERS to Hospital. Orders received for relief of this Bn by 1/4 NORTHANTS, this Bn taking over area vacated by 1/5 BEDFORDS who relieve 1/4 NORTHANTS in Redoubt Line.

Date: 22/9/17

Work as usual improving Trenches and communication. Usual Night Patrol work. Slight reciprocal shelling during the day.

Date: 23/9/17

Celebration of Holy Communion in Regt Aid Post by Chaplain at 0930. No work performed. Draft of 26 of Ranks reported from Egyptian BASE DEPOT. Orders for relief cancelled.

Date: 24 to 25/9/17

Work on Trenches and communications as usual. Usual light Patrols. Slight reciprocal shelling morning and evening.

Date: 26/9/17

Work on Trenches and communications as usual. Our artillery active during day. Turkish Positions on Outpost Hill heavily Bombarded early morning of 26/27th (0345) by our artillery. Turkish retaliation during our bombardment and for a short while afterwards caused us no damage and inflicted no casualties.

Date: 27/9/17

Bn: engaged on Trench improvement work. Usual Nightly Routine Patrols. Comdr in Chief awarded MILITARY MEDAL to 450005 Sgt S.C.RALPH for coolness and gallantry on patrol night 21/22nd  Sept 1917.

Date: 28/9/17

Bn engaged on Trench improvement work. Usual patrols. Orders received for relief of 1/5 A and S HIGHLANDERS, (relief by 1/4 Northants cancelled).

Date: 29/9/17

Bn engaged preparing to leave LEES HILL. Relief effected by 1300 and Bn proceeded to temporary bivouac area to await nightfall before moving across Kurd and BORDER VALLEYs to new bivouac area on the LEFT of the coastal section. 1/11 LONDON relieved the 1/8 HANTS.

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

 

 

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