21st Battalion History

VIII.

The Summer of 1917.

 

Leaving Le Sars on the morning of the 9th May, we marched straight to Mametz Camp. The 2nd Division in fact, the whole Corps was withdrawn during the next few days and we started on our first spell as a Corps. A week at Mamenz sufficed to rub the rough edges off our appearance so that when we moved to Millencourt on the 17th via M aulte, Ville-sur-Sucre, and Lavieville, the Battalion had recovered its old swing.

Millencourt proved a good home. The summer months provided perfect weather as they had the previous year. Training was carried out mainly in Lewis gun work and musketry, a full size range being constructed. We were here billeted and working in country which in 1918 became our battlefield. The knowledge gained of the locality in addition to what we knew of it already proved of inestimable value when we called upon to hold up the enemy on the self same hill overlooking Albert the following April. During May we were extensively reinforced from England and the companies began to look like companies again. Brigade sports and football matches were held. The sports meeting in Henencourt Wood where the terraces provided a natural grandstand was an afternoon’s enjoyment, which carried us far from thoughts of war.

On the whole we were disappointed when ordered to entrain at Varennes for the Bapaume district on the 15th June. Whilst at Millencourt our C.O. (Lieut_Col. Forbes) was sent to England for duty at the Training Battalion and Major Duggan rejoined from England and took over command with the rank of Lieut.-Colonel. Colonel Duggan retained the command until disbanded in October 1918.

When we arrived at Bapaume and had settled down under canvas near Beaulencourt, we found that our shift had been for the better. The weather was perfect; we had the Divisional Baths next door and soon constructed a matting cricket pitch. The ruined villages of Beaulencourt, Le Transloy, Villers-au-Flos, Haplincourt and many others provided an ideal training ground where something like the real thing could be practiced. Our field days aroused the keenest interest in the troops who increased in efficiency and morale daily. Work was usually over by mid-day and the afternoons were devoted to sports, cricket having the largest following. Many took the opportunity of revisiting our battlefield of the previous winter and of viewing our old positions as the Hun had seen them from his old line.

Small drafts of reinforcements continued to arrive so that towards the end of July we expected to move back to the line any day. Our move came on the 24th July after six weeks summer camp when we marched to Avelny and a few days later entrained for the north arriving in Campague near St. Omer late on the 28th.

But we were not for the line yet and stayed in billets till the 12th September. Campagne proved as good a home as Beaulencourt, if not a bit better as we were right alongside the Canal Neufosse where a Brigade swimming carnival was held. Also being near St. Omer leave was granted which enabled us to catch glimpses of civilisation again besides which the inhabitants of our own village were vert hospitable. We always found that the civilians in the St. Omer-Armentieres region were much easier to get on with than those on the Somme or round Ypres.

In September we heard rumblings in the north –east and we knew we were for it. Leaving at 5.30 am on the 12th we were billeted in Steenvoorde by 3 pm via Renescure, Ebbinghem, Staple and St. Sylvestre. Next day we marched to Dominion Camp near Reninghelst via Abeele. Here we had our first taste of regular aeroplane bombing and all huts were surrounded by banks of earth to localise the explosions. On the 16th we moved again, this time to the Halifax Area and on the 19th to the Canal Area outside Ypres. At 7.40 am on the 20th we moved to China Wall as reserve for a Divisional attack which, being successful to our great satisfaction, left us with out further shifting.

Our Division was now well embroiled in the fighting and we will leave our part in the Third Battle of Ypres to the next chapter.

IX   The Third Battle of Ypres