21st Battalion History


The Third Battle of Ypres.


On the night 21-22nd September we relieved the 18th Battalion (5th Brigade) in the left sector in front of Garter Point. We spent an inactive but wet time in the front row until relieved by the 32nd Battalion (5th Division) on the night 23-24th when we marched back to Dominion Camp (10 miles). Here we stood to under orders for an hours notice from the 26th till the 28th but did not finally move till early morning on the 30th when we billeted in what was left of the Infantry Barracks, Ypres, by 10.30 am.

Our next move was to take part in the assault on Broodseinde Ridge in conjunction with the 1st and 3rd Australian Divisions with several other divisions on right and left. The attack was part of a right flanking movement preparatory to the attack on Passchendaele, which was carried out by the Canadians. We spent the 3rd of October in Gordon Area just south of Ypres making final preparations and promulgating orders and the same night moved forward to out assembly position in a valley behind Garter Point and about a mile north of Hooge. At 3.10 am on the 4th we set out for the J.O.T (Jumping Off Tape) arriving an hour before Zero which was at 6 am. The Huns put down a murderous barrage thirty-five minutes be fore we started, we found out as the attack progressed that he intended to attack at the same zero hour as we did. That he used a thirty-five minute barrage indicates his different method of fighting and also the fact that when zero hour came it was the British who advanced and not the Hun. It shows the difference in the mettle of the opposing sides.

In spite of the units being disorganised by the pre-Zero Bombardment and all signalling gear having been destroyed our lines advanced from a position near Garter Point to the 2nd Objective on the forward slope of Broodseinde Ridge, a distance of nearly two miles, by far the greatest advance we had ever made.

The main characteristics of the battle were the pre-Zero German bombardment, which forced out troops right forward through our own barrage and the new experience of encountering "pill boxes". This pill box method of defence is very effective as long as the whole system hangs out but as soon as one or two are captured or put out of action, the others can be approached from their "blind spot" which is no longer covered by machine gun fire from the flank. The troops quickly discovered this weakness and took full advantage of it. It was a fair battle, the enemy having the advantage of half an hours concentrated artillery fire on our lines but the fact that we reached our objectives according to plan and held or improved them speaks for itself. Our casualties would not have been heavy but for the towelling up we got on the tape which caused heavy losses while it lasted.

We remained in the line consolidating till the night 5-6th when the 18th Battalion relieved us and we moved to reserve at Kit and Kat in the old front line. We only stayed here till the afternoon of the 7th when we relieved part of the 20th Battalion in support at De Knoet Farm. The Brigade was very low in strength and orders were issued to attack as a composite battalion on the morning of the 9th. The 21st Battalion was to provide a composite company of six platoons with 9 officers. This show, known as the "Daisy Wood Stunt" or the "9th October was another of out worst experiences. Rain had fallen and the ground was muddy. Our artillery or most of it had been bogged and was unable to put over anything but a meagre barrage. The only purpose the barrage served was to let the enemy know we were coming.

Zero was at 5.20 am and the J.O.T. on the line of our previous advance. All officers became casualties early in the engagement and the remainder of the action was carried on by the N.C.O.’s with a mere handful of men. We reached the out skirts of Daisy Wood and Busy Wood as a very disorganised brigade but working from shell hole to shell hole, the position was held under exceptionally heavy machine gun and sniping fire. By 8.45 am, what was left of the brigade was roughly on its objective and the 7th Brigade coming up in support made the position more secure. The Brigade was relieved by the 49th Battalion (4th Division) the same night and was collected and reorganised as a composite battalion in the old support line. On the 10th October the composite battalion was withdrawn to the Canal Area at Ypres arriving about 11pm.

On the morning of the 12th, the unit entrained at Ypres for Abeele and marched thence to billets in the Steenvoorde Area. We stayed there reorganising, training, playing games and cleaning up till the 27th October. The whole Division was depleted and reinforcements were sent from England as quickly as they came available. Rain fell throughout the month and the mud was ankle deep round the billets. On 2nd November we moved to camp in the Swan Area, Ypres where the conditions were even worse and on the 7th November relieved the 18th Battalion in supports at Garter Point, the Division having once more taken over the line. For four days we worked on carrying parties and cleaning up the area when the Division was relieved, the 6th Battalion, West Yorks. Regiment taking over out position and we moved back to the Swan Area once more.

This was our final tour in the Ypres sector and in the morning of the 12th November we marched to billets near Wippenhoek. Ypres in the autumn in 1917 was an area of muddy shell holes over which only the paths were corduroy roads and duckboard tracks. These were all well registed by the enemy and movement was difficult in the forward areas. The battle on the 4th October was a Triumph as also was the following show on the 9th; both however cost us dearly. In the two shows we lost particularly heavily in officers, thirteen killed outright. The casualties for this period were: -

Officers, 10 killed, 10 wounded, 3 missing, Total 23

Other ranks, 62 killed, 330 wounded, 24 missing,

Total 416

X   Winter in the Ploegsteert Sector