21st Battalion History


The Somme, 1918.


We arrived at St. Roch Station; Amiens at 6.30 am on 5th April and marched to billets at Coisy. Amiens was not the town we had known of old, being almost deserted, and marked with the desolation of war. Early next morning we were taken in buses to La Houssoye on the main Albert Road and after marching round the country all day, found ourselves in the support trenches in front of Lavieville, where we relieved the 4th Pioneer Battalion about 9 am. The Huns had just been thrown back off the hill into Dernancourt and Albert, and the line was in a disorganised state. Rain fell, to make things worse and we spent a miserable few days.

The Brigade held the line in front of Albert all that month. We did three trips to the front row and effected many improvements, which greatly strengthened the position. Our patrols were active and we raided once, the Hun showing no inclination to renew his onslaught. We were at this time a very thin Khaki line and knew it, with the 7th Brigade on our right and English troops on our left.

On the night 1-2nd May we were relieved by the 15th Civil Service Rifles (London Regiment) and marched back to Warloy and next day to Querrien. Here we rested in billets till the 9th, putting in most of our time on Lewis gun training. The Division moved into the Sailly Laurette-Ribemont sector on the 9th, the 6th Brigade holding the left half of the "Bloody Triangle" between the Anere and the Somme. Our Battalion spent a week in reserve at Ribemont (our rest village) and while here we heard that were to make the first definite offensive move undertaken by the British Army since the opening of the German offensive. This was to capture Ville-sur- Ancre.

We relieved the 22nd Battalion in front of Treux on the night of 14-15th April and had five days in which to study the position. The plan of attack was for the 22nd Battalion to outflank Ville-sur-Ancre on the right by capturing the "Caterpillar", a strongly held sunken road leading from the village on the river bank, up to Corbie road. The23rd and 24th were to push bridges across the Ancre and out flank the village in the swamps to the north. Our part was to fill the gap opposite the village and when the rest of the brigade was well established, to mop up the village and dig a line beyond it.

Zero hour was 2 am on the 19th May and under good barrage everything went according to plan. We entered the village much earlier was expected at 4.30 am and cleaned up about 150 prisoners besides inflicting many casualties. Our losses were very light. Finding the swamp untenable, we pushed out Lewis gun posts, sat in the Caterpillar under heavy shell fire all day and dug in past the village on our appointed objective the same night. The Hun made two attempts to counter attack, one in the afternoon, which was driven off by Lewis gun fire, and a stronger one at night, which faded away when sighted by our patrols. We cite this as the neatest little action in which we have been engaged.

Relieved on the night 20/21st May by the 7th Brigade, we moved back to La Houssove Switch line where were we were in Divisional Reserve for 10 days. This time was mainly spent in the popular (?) form of amusement, cable burying. On the 31st we took over from the 25th Battalion in the Ville-sur-Ancre sector. During this tour the enemy attempted to raid the 19th Battalion on our right but was repulsed with very heavy losses. We caught the backwash and were heavily shelled during the operation. After a week in the front row we moved to supports, round Marret Wood and again struck heavy shelling. Luckily our casualties were light as we were in good trenches.

At 12.30 am on the 15th June a battalion raiding party made a successful raid at Morlancourt obtaining identifications and capturing a machine gun with a loss of one man killed and six wounded. Next night the 2nd Division was withdrawn and we were relieved by the 60th Battalion (5th Division), moving back first to La Housssoye Switch and then to Querrien. This time we camped outside the village near a lake, as the Hun had formed the habit of shelling and bombing in the vicinity. The weather was hot, and we enjoyed swimming in the lake. The battalion won the cup at the Brigade Swimming Carnival.

Our next sector was to be the celebrated Villers-Bretonneux and we moved up into reserve near Blangy-Tronville on the 28th June. On the night 2/3rd July we took over the line north-east of Villers-Bretonneuz from the 5th Brigade, preparatry to taking part in the attack on the 4th July on Hamel, with the 3rd and 4th Divisions in conjuction with a few Americans who were attached for experience.

We were near the right flank of the attack and had to advance about 1000 yards across the flat Villers-Bretonneux plateau towards Warfusee-Albancourt. The two Divisions on our left were to capture the village of Hamel and Vaire Wood, and thus straighten out the corps line all the way from Villers-Bretonneux to north of the Ancre.

As this battle has been held up ever since as an example of how a limited objective attack should be carried out, we will say no more than we reached our objective with very light casualties and by night the situation as far as we were concerned was normal again. During the day we indulged in "peaceful penetration" which we had been practicing on a small scale since April and improved our position by mopping up a few small enemy posts. In this action we first saw tanks used to their best advantage. We had seen then often before but they either were not in great enough numbers or got bogged in the mud. Aeroplanes also dropped ammunition to us in parachutes and an enemy plane dropped into our lines some bottles of coffee intended for the Huns. At both Hamel and Villers-sur-Ancre we captured enemy documents which were of great value to the intelligence department.

On the 5th July our front line "peacefully penetrated" a further 200 yards into the enemy defences and on the night 5/6th we were relieved by the 20th Battalion and came back to reserve in trenches near Blangy-Tronville where we stayed for a fortnight. In reserve we made friends with the French 3rd Regiment of Zouaves across the Viller-Bret road, attending their sports meeting and playing them soccer football on 14th July.

The Brigade took over the line at Villera-Bretonneux on the night 27/28th, the 21st Battalion relieved the 27th Battalion in and round the village itself. The line had been advanced about a mile in front of the village and we moved to the front line to releive the 22nd Battalion on night 29/30th July. At this time each battalion had an American company attached for training and they stayed in the line with us till 5th August. Our sector extended from the Mound on the Villers-Bret- Marceleave railway nearly to the St. Quentin main road. At the Mound the lines were only 80 yards apart and rifle bombing was lively. On the rest of the sector activity was confined to patrols and machine gunning. We were relieved by the 22nd Battalion in nigh 6/7th and moved to close supports.

XII   8th August 1918