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When the campaign opened on the Western Front in the spring of 1918, the outlook for the Allies was anything but bright. The Germans had completed their preparations for a last desperate effort to defeat the British and French armies. Their plan was to separate the British from the French. The Russian exit had almost doubled the number of German infantry available for the west, and from November, 1917, until March, 1918, when the whole German military genius and power were let loose, an endless succession of troop trains bore the divisions which had extended from the Baltic to the southern boundary of Russia to swell the formidable array already marshalled across France and Belgium. By the middle of March, when the German preparations were completed, there were pitted against the British from the Scarpe to the Oise about five German troops to every two British. The outlook was most pessimistic, but the situation was handled by the Commander-in-Chief and his Generals in a way that reflects great credit on their almost unlimited resourcefulness. It was obvious from the outset that much ground would have to be given up, but it was sold at such an enormous price that before many months the British and French could begin an offensive that knew no let-up until victory was proclaimed, and the Central Powers were obliged to accept an inglorious defeat. 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. Page Seventy-Seven
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.
genial spirit of comradeship made him one
of the best liked officers of the Regiment
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.
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. Page Eighty
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." Page Eighty-One
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. Ypres.
On September 20, the Newfoundland Regiment took over a line of trenches in front of Ypres, about 2000 yards behind the line occupied by our Battalion in the Steenbeek engagement, 1917. The Regiment now formed part of the 28th Brigade of the Ninth Division. No actual fighting took place until the 28th, when, in conjunction with a Belgian unit on the left and the Twenty-Ninth Division on the right, the Ninth Division was ordered to attack and capture a line running from Zonnebeke through Polygon. At 5.30 on the morning of the 28th, the British guns opened a terrific bombardment, and half an hour after, the Newfoundland Battalion went over, D Company moving in artillery formation with its centre on Plank Road and B Company in the direction of Rifle Farm. A and C Companies were in support. The advance progressed steadily, and, except for a short duel with a machine gun in Chateau Wood, was uninterrupted during its early stages. By noon the first objective was captured and organized for defense. During, the evening an enemy counter-attack was expected from Keiberg, and the front line platoons were ordered to put up a single line of trip wire. The attack did not materialize, however, and the evening passed quietly. Page Eighty-Two
Advance Continued on Second Day.
Shortly after 7 o'clock on the morning of the 29th, the advance was continued in conjunction with the Belgians on the left, whose objective was Moorsledge, and with the Thirty-Sixth Division on the right, whose objective was Terhand. In the Newfoundland Battalion the front line was comprised of A Company on the right, C Company in the centre and two platoons of B Company on the left. D Company and the remainder of B Company were in support. There was practically no artillery support, and when our Battalion crossed the Broodseind-Bacelaere Road it came under heavy enemy machine gun fire. On the left the enemy put down a heavy barrage, while on the right there was considerable rifle fire from Celtic Wood. Along the whole of the forward slopes the advance had to be carried out by rushes. At Keiberg Ridge, especially, did the enemy troops put up a strong resistance, and it was only by the most determined pushing that the Regiment was able to cross the valley. For a time B Company was held up by a six-inch gun with open sights and supported by machine guns. After much difficulty and great personal risk, half a platoon worked around and succeeded in gaining superiority over the machine guns. They then rushed the six-inch gun and killed the gun crew. This was a highly important piece of work. It enabled the Belgians to get north of Keiberg, and it enabled B Company to continue its advance in line with the other troops. It was reported by the artillery that the road was so blocked with German dead after the brief but fierce contest that all traffic was held up for a considerable time. About noon, A Company was held up by enemy machine guns which were in a commanding position, and by 2 o'clock the advance of the Newfoundland Battalion had ceased. Later in the day, B Company and parts of A and C Companies went forward with the 26th Brigade and helped to capture the village of Dadizeele. FROST.
The advance during these two days again brought out the fighting qualities with which the Royal Newfoundland Regiment was endowed. At several points, where the enemy showed strong resistance, individual initiative and courage enabled the advance to continue. On the second day of the engagement there were several such instances for which decorations were awarded. Captain C. S. Frost was in command of the left flank company of the Battalion. He led his company with great dash, and kept Head-quarters well informed as to the situation. When the advance was held up at Keiberg Ridge, by a six-inch gun and two machine guns, he pushed his Lewis guns out to both flanks, and made a direct attack by short rushes with a platoon. He assisted in capturing the three guns, and his prompt action led to the capture of the ridge. Page Eighty-Three
After the capture of Keiberg Ridge, an enemy machine gun opened fire about 80 yards in the rear. With one runner, 2nd Lieutenant H. Williamson dashed towards the spot and opened fire with his revolver, shooting both gunners. Later in the day when his company commander was killed, he took command and led the company successfully to its final objective. TAYLOR.
Second Lieutenant A. E. Taylor acted in conjunction with Captain Frost in the capture of Keiberg Ridge. He led his platoon forward by short rushes, and played a very important part in capturing the enemy guns that were holding up the advance. STANFORD.
On the same day, Sergeant R. F. Stanford distinguished himself by his conspicuous courage and coolness. When the right flank of his company was held up by machine gun fire from a farm house about 200 yards away he took six men with him in an attempt to outflank the guns. By the time he had gone 100 yards all the party except one man and himself, were casualties. As soon as he got near enough, he threw a bomb, and then dashed into the farm house. He defeated the enemy gunners and captured the two guns. O'QUINN.
Private J. H. O'Quinn displayed a spirit of heroism and sacrifice of a very high order. During the attack on Keiberg, Ridge he voluntarily went forward 100 yards in advance of his company to reconnoiter thick grass and bushes in front. He came upon three enemy snipers, all of whom he bayoneted. Later he carried an important message to Brigade Headquarters through heavy machine gun and shell fire. In the afternoon of the same day, although wounded, he carried on with his platoon until he fell, weak from loss of blood. Several runners and stretcher-bearers were also decorated for their heroic and valuable services.
Throughout the two days' fighting, the Royal Newfoundland Regiment lived up to its high reputation. Although the weather conditions were very unfavorable, the ground for the most part being a mass of heavy mud and the troops' clothes soaked by the torrential rains, the advance was carried out with admirable regularity. The whole British line was moving on to victory, and the part held by our Battalion was moved forward in conjunction with the rest. Page Eighty-Four
During the following two weeks, the Regiment was in the line continually, except for short relief periods, but saw no close fighting until October 14, when an advance from the north of Ledgehem was begun. On the night of October 13, the Battalion marched from Keiberg to the front line, along a railway just north of Ledgehem. The attack started at 5.30 on the following morning, with B Company on the right and D Company on the left in the front wave, and A and C Companies in the second wave. The advance, for a considerable distance, was carried out under the most extraordinary circumstances. The smoke and high explosive barrage, together with the very thick mist which was rising from the ground, made it impossible to see more than a few yards distance, and the advance had to be carried out by compass bearing. Owing to this condition a large number of prisoners were captured in cellars and pill-boxes without putting, up any fight whatever. At this stage of the advance one platoon alone captured 34 machine guns. As the Battalion neared the village of Neerhof, however, a light breeze sprang up and dispersed the fog, and smoke. The whole Brigade was immediately reorganized on a line running north and south in front of Neerhof, and the advance was continued. All through the Regiment's advance to the high ground its operations were hampered and at points severely contested by heavy artillery fire. This was greatly intensified when the high ground was reached. A platoon of B Company undertook to outflank the hostile artillery, and after many daring and difficult undertakings succeeded in putting it out of commission and inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy troops who operated it. During the day, the Newfoundland Battalion captured over 500 prisoners and 100 machine guns. Lys River.
At 9 o'clock on the 15th, the advance was continued with the whole 28th Brigade in reserve, and very little opposition was met until the Lys River was reached. The Newfoundland Battalion did not again co into the front line until the night of the 19th, when it took a position near the west bank of the Lys. At 5.30, on the morning of the 20th, the Lys was crossed, and half an hour afterwards the advance was continued under a sweeping barrage. During the day the Regiment was subject to machine gun fire almost continually, and, although the front line was steadily pushed forward with great courage and determination, it was not without heavy casualties. At 4 p. in., the railway at Vichte was crossed, but owing to advantageous positions being held by enemy guns and the left flank of our Battalion being exposed to a very heavy enfilade fire from machine guns, the advance was temporarily halted. Page Eighty-Five
For a whole day the left of the Battalion was out of touch with any other unit, being about 600 yards from the 26th Brigade, the nearest unit. Shortly after a connection was effected with a unit of the Thirty-Sixth Division, the Newfoundland Regiment was relieved by the 12th Royal Scots, and marched back to Harlebeke, at which place it arrived about 2 o'clock on the morning of the 22nd.
After a short rest, the Regiment again marched up to the front line on the 24th, and prepared for its last full day's conflict with the enemy, which took place on the following day. The Battalion, except B Company, was in reserve until about noon, when A and C Companies were ordered up for the purpose of taking a strong position held by the enemy southeast of Scheldt. To capture the position by a direct attack, however, was deemed to be too costly an undertaking, and about 5 o'clock it was decided to hold the line then occupied. After dark the Regiment withdrew to the support trenches. On the following day, after a patrol of the front line, the Regiment marched back to billets at Harlebeke, and when next it started to move toward Berlin it was with unqualified victory stamped indelibly on its gallant and determined efforts.
Regarding this last engagement in which the Newfoundlanders took part it must be said that although the Regiment was considerably weakened by the long period of severe fighting, individual courage and initiative were at no time more persistently conspicuous. It was in this engagement that Sergeant Ricketts won his V. C., the only V. C. awarded to the Newfoundland Battalion. Alongside the record of Sergeant Ricketts must be placed the great courage and ability of Lance-Corporal M. Brazil, the gallantry and quick resourcefulness of Lieutenant A. S. Newman and Lieutenant F. H. Hopson, the self-abnegation and great ability of such men as Corporal A. Whelan, Private T. Cobin, Private J. E. Mooney, Private M. Walsh, Private H. Trask, Private E. O'Brien and Private J. Clark, and the invincible soldier-like spirit of such men as Corporal P. C. Mew, Private M. Power, and Private R. Powers. These men and many others displayed such high soldierly qualities that the Royal Newfoundland Regiment will forever be admired by those who best knew it as a fighting unit. In many ways the engagement was a fitting conclusion to the splendid record that the Regiment had so persistently maintained in every action in which it was called on to take part.
Following is a list of the decorations awarded for conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in the three engagements reviewed in this chapter: Page Eighty-Six
Military Records Contact: Daniel B. Breen
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