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The Battle of Bailleul

    Bailleut-Nieppe.

The British and French Commanders were determined that the inevitable onslaught would be met with the same invincible spirit that had impelled their forces for almost four years. Along with the numerous other units that went to make up the British armies, the Newfoundland Regiment was rebuilt during the winter months. After spending 25 days in the Paschendaele sector, it left for the Somme on April 10, but when news of the Armentieres reverses were received it was diverted to that area. A position was taken about midway between Bailleul and Nieppe, a short distance to the south of Armentieres.

    On the morning of the 13th, A Company, under Lieutenant E. Chafe, went into the line between the Hampshires and the Monmouths, and about noon, C Company was sent up in support of A Company. B and D Companies were in reserve. Everything went well until about 4:30 when the battalion on the left fell back, and exposed the left flank to a strong enemy attack.

    Lieutenant Moore and his platoon faced the enemy onrush and put up a gallant and stubborn fight until they were surrounded and taken prisoners. Their sacrifice, however, was not in vain. Their heroic resistance completely took the edge off the German attack, and the remainder of C Company and Headquarters were able to hold their position along a light railway line. Practically the same situation existed on the right flank. A Cornpany lost its left wing, and for a time nothing could be heard of it. Later, however, it formed up, and with the assistance of Headquarters, stopped the enemy advance and formed a junction with C Company on the right. Both Companies put up a gallant fight, and too much credit cannot be given the heroic troops and the commanders for the high soldier-like spirit which they displayed in defending their position. B and D Companies, under command of Captain C. S. Strong, came up to the line about 6 o'clock in the evening and were assigned to a position on the left where the enemy showed signs of working around. They successfully counter attacked a small wood close to our line in which the enemy had penetrated.

    On the following day, owing to a dangerous situation developing on the high ground at Neuve Eglise, a general withdrawal to the Ravelsburg Heights was decided on, and was successfully carried out. The Newfoundland Battalion, in its position near DeBroeken, was entrusted with covering this withdrawal. The day passed quietly until 5 p. m., when the enemy attacked with great force and penetrated the British line near LeSeau. Their advance continued until about 6:30, when they were stopped by D Company. Captain J. Clift, who commanded D Company showed great judgment and ability in meeting the enemy onrush. He caught them in mass in the open, and had so arranged his men with Lewis guns that very few of the Germans escaped. More German infantry rushed up, however, and for a time it looked as though part of the Battalion would be surrounded. A Company and half of B Company were deployed to the right, the other half of B Company being sent to fill a gap between A and D Companies. The left wing of D Company was being hard pressed and showed signs of being turned, but again Captain Clift showed great presence of mind and initiative in handling a dangerous situation. He immediately extended his left, and as soon as C Company could be escheloned on the left flank, Captain Clift personally collected some remnants of the Northumberland Fusillieres and filled a gap between C and D Companies. By Captain Clift's great energy and ability, and the invincible courage of the men under him, the situation was saved. The Germans were only 25 yards from our line when they were stopped.

    Under cover of darkness the remainder of the 88th Brigade withdrew to the Ravelsburg Heights along a previously laid tape line. The order was then given for the Newfoundland Battalion to fall back, which done successfully and with perfect discipline.

    The Battalion passed through the line taken by the Hampshires and 4th Worcesters, and took a position in the rear, forming a counter-attacking battalion. The 15th passed quietly, and at 5 o'clock on the morning of the 16th the Regiment marched back to Croix de Poperinghe, where some much needed sleep was obtained. Owing to the threatening advance of the enemy, however, the Newfoundland Regiment was hurried back to the line during the afternoon, and was not again relieved until the 21st. During this late period there was no fighting, apart from two intense bombardments by the Germans. Only one shell fell in the trench occupied by our Battalion, and that was not attended with any casualty.

As in previous engagements in which the Regiment had taken part, so in this engagement many men were decorated because of conspicuously gallant conduct and valuable services, and four or five typical instances are taken to illustrate their individual heroism and ability. The remarkably fine work of Captain J. Clift has already been mentioned.

GULLIKSEN.

On April 13, Sergeant E. Guilliksen was in charge of a platoon on the left flank, and after the Battalion on his left had withdrawn, he held on to his post until he was practically surrounded. When the order was given him to withdraw, he did so in a most skillful and orderly manner, and although subject to heavy machine gun and rifle fire he got back to his new position with remarkably few casualties under such circumstances. His own work in the withdrawal was a fine display of courage and ability.

CURNEW.

On the same day Sergeant C. Curnew and Private W. R. Saunders did splendid work. When Sergeant Curnew was advancing over the open he showed great bravery and coolness in leading his platoon. After he had reached his objective he kept moving, up and down the section of the line held by his men, directing their fire and watching the movements of the enemy.

SAUNDERS.

Private Saunders was wounded during the advance, but he wouldn't give in. He was determined to carry on, and he did so until he brought his Lewis gun carriers to their objective. Private Saunders, apparently, gave no thought to his personal safety, but thought only of carrying out the work that was assigned to him however great the danger and the hardships involved, in. order that the operations of his platoon might be successful.

BENDALL and YETMAN.

After an intense bombardment on the 18th, Privates F. Bendall and N. Yetman volunteered to reconnoiter forward positions which were supposed to be occupied by the enemy. Both men carried out their work coolly and successfully, though with extreme danger to themselves, and returned with valuable information to their commander.

WHITE.

Private S. White showed great resourcefulness when occasion demanded it of him. The non-Commissioned Officer in charge of his party was wounded and Private White took chars, and with great courage and initiative successfully defeated several enemy attacks on his position. He held his ground until the order was given to withdraw to another Position. During the whole engagement, the Regiment maintained its high reputation as a fighting unit and made the Germans pay heavily for every foot of ground given up.

Regiment Taken Out of Line.

In this action our Regiment suffered in casualties, 50 killed. 133 wounded, and 16 missing. The loss of 200 men was a severe blow to the Regiment at this time. The trained men available were not sufficient to bring it up to fighting strength for some time. Also there was the fact that a number of the men of the first contingent, The Blue Puttees, those who had survived the strain and hardships of three years' severe fighting, should be given leave to return home, at least, for a brief holiday. This course was decided on. The result of the two circumstances was that our Battalion had to be taken out of the famous Twenty-Ninth Division, and replaced by another unit.

High Tribute to Regiment.

No greater tribute could be paid any unit than that contained in the words of Major-General D. E. Cayley, commanding the Twenty-Ninth Division: "in bidding goodbye to the Royal Newfoundland Regiment on their departure from the Twenty-Ninth Division, I wish to place on record my very great regret at their withdrawal from a Division in which they have served so long and so brilliantly. The whole of their active service since September, 1915, has been performed in this Division, and during all that time the Battalion has shown itself to be under all circumstances of good and bad fortune, a splendid fighting unit. At Suvla, Beaumont Hamel, Gueudecourt, Monchy, Ypres, Cambrai, and during the last fighting near Bailleul, they have consistently maintained the highest standard of fighting efficiency and determination. They can look back on a record of which they and their fellow-countrymen have every right to be proud. "I wish Lieutenant-Colonel Woodruffe and all ranks the best of luck in the future."

    The Regiment went back to rest, and became rebuilt with small drafts that were slowly arriving from England. It was more than four months, however, before it went back to the line again, and during that time it was given the honor and privilege of being guards to the Commander-in-Chief.

    It should be noted in passing that on May 11, 1918, the Newfoundland Government passed a "Military Service Act," which was a form of selective conscription. The measure was adopted too late to be of any benefit, a fact, of course, which was not known at that time. It was long realized that sufficient volunteers were not forthcoming to maintain the Regiment as a separate fighting unit, but it remained for our legislators to cast the one dark blot on the enviable military record of our Battalion, that of having to be taken out of the line because sufficient trained troops were not available to bring the Battalion up to fighting strength.

    Meanwhile, the tide had turned. The mighty avalanche of infantry, guns and ammunition that was let loose at the junction of the British and the French armies on March 20 had been brought to a complete standstill, and when our Regiment again entered the line in September, the Allied avalanche had started a counter-sweep, which was destined to culminate in victory.


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Military Records Contact: Daniel B. Breen

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