21st Battalion History

XIII.

The Hindenburg Line.

 

Marching back to Cappy, we settled down for another short spell. Sports occupied most of our time, the Divisional sports meeting on the 16th September being the best gathering of its kind held by us in the field. On the 20th we suddenly were informed of the intention to disband the 21st Battalion to reinforce the other units in the Brigade.

What followed is known to the Brigade as the "Battle of Cappy". The field was a bloodless one, but the esprit de corps and discipline shown have never been surpassed in the face of the enemy. Immediately the decision of the higher command was made known, a chorus of protest arose from all sections of the unit. After 3 years of active service, to break up was to break our hearts. Deputations both officers and men waited on the Divisional and Brigade Commanders to put our views before them.

Orders were finally received on the 24th that we were to march out to the other Battalions the following day at 9.00am. We felt so strongly on the matter that the whole unit took the extreme step of refusing to carry out the order. After consultation, it was decided that the officers should report to their new units. The men, who were not now officially recognised, held a meeting and decided to maintain order, to carry out all routine and to obey every order with the exception of marching out to another unit. It was also decided that any man who gave offence or went absent without leave would be drastically dealt with by his comrades.

For the whole of the 25th September, the Battalion was under the command of C.S.M. W. Trevascus. D.C.M. and during that time we carried on with all the usual duties, the smartness of the unit being even greater than usual. In short, the whole ‘battle’ was a triumph of discipline.

At 6.30 pm on the 25th, the C.O. was informed by the Brigadier that the disbandment would remain in abeyance, which news was received by the assembled unit at Battalion Headquarters with deafening cheers.

On the evening of the 27th we marched to Doingt in the dark as mentioned in a previous chapter and the following night continued our move to Roisel, where we billeted in the ruins and remained as Division in reserve for the 3rd and 5th Divisional attack on the Hindenburg Line at Bullicourt. On the 1st October we moved twice, first to the Hindenburg outpost line above Bellicourt and then to trenches near Nauroy, which is through the main Hindenburg Line, near the St. Quentin Canal Tunnel. On the 3rd October the 5th and 7th Brigades attacked and broke the Beaurevoir Line, and we moved up to Folemprise Farm. The same night we made an un-reconnoitred move in the dark to the trenches at Astrees as reserve for a Brigade attack and on the night of the 4th side-stepped to a J.O.T. near Ramicourt from which we were to attack Montbrehain with the 24th Battalion on our left and the 2nd Pioneer Battalion (for the first time in the line) on our right.

Montbrehain was a key position in the last line of the Hindenburg defences, and the Huns had brought up extra artillery an infantry to defend it. With the aid of a rather erratic, though very intense barrage we got away at Zero 6.5 am on the 5th October. Apparently our numbered, the three Battalions in the attack carried all objectives and held them in spite of vigorous opposition and heavy artillery fire. Our sector comprised the village itself and all through the day the enemy tried to dribble troops up to counter attack, but they would never face the music of our sniping and machine gun fire.

Both Mont St. Quentin and Montbrehain were carried out on very short notice, a few hours only. These actions serve to show the pitch of efficiency to which the Australian soldier had developed. With only information obtained from maps, we had on both occasions fought straight through strong enemy positions and dug in as directed on our objectives, which were always held. The casualties at Montbrehain were greater than at Mont St. Quentin, mainly because our numbers were so small. In fact in the earlier days we would have looked on these two performances as impossible for the number of men engaged. The Battalion consisted of Headquarters and three Companies, barely 100 strong, each in the line.

At Montbrehain for the first time we rescued French civilians who had refused to leave the village.

On the night 5-6th October we were relieved by the 118th American Regiment. Our Headquarters left the line at 2.35 am on the 6th, being the last Australian Infantry unit to leave the line in war. We moved out to Nauroy and the nxt morning marched toHervilly Area at Roisel on the 7th for the back areas. The casualties during these operations were:-

Officers killied, 3-Wounded, 5-Total 8

Other Ranks killed, 21- Wounded, 102-Total, 123.

XIV   Last Days in France