War Diary of the 18th Battalion: April 1917

Place Date Hour Summary of Events and Information
Bois-des-Alleux 1  

 

 

 

8 am

Battalion billeted in huts Bois-des-Alleux near Mont-St-Eloy.

Battalion marched to training ground near Estree Cauchie, where exact taped replica of enemy frontage to be attacked, laid out. Four other ranks admitted to Hospital (Sick).

  2   A complete rehearsal of the contemplated attack was carried out by the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade over the taped area representing the German frontage. Fighting equipment worn by all ranks. Reorganization and consolidation practiced when objective reached. 15 O.R.’s attached to the 4th Canadian Trench Mortar Battery as carrying part for offensive.
  3   Company and Platoon inspection of ammunition and equipment. Extra water-bottles were issued to each man for reserve supply of water.
  4   Battalion Pay-parades. Two Platoons “D” Company relieved 2 Platoons of 31st Canadian Bn., for the purpose of digging “jumping off” trenches in front of our own line and cutting lanes in our wire, ready for the Battalion’s advance.[i] These Platoons were under the Command of Lieut’s W.K. Rooney and J.M. Fisher and the fact that these two difficult operations were carried out successfully without the slightest casualty reflects the highest credit upon all concerned. Major L.E. JONES rejoined Battalion today from Senior Officers’ Course in England.
  5   Battalion training and inspections. Completion of Pay-parade. Lieut. W.T. Bartlett admitted to hospital (sick). 2 O.R.s returned from hospital.
  6   Final training of Battalion in attack over taped area. During the night of 6th/7th Lieut’s. Rooney and J.M. Fisher with small party made careful reconnaissance of “Jumping-off” trenches and wire, the preparation of which, for the attack, was almost complete. This party reconnoitered under heavy rifle and M.G. fire s they were observed owing to the bright Moonlight, but no casualties occurred. This inspection was necessary as before Companies could assemble on their respective formations an absolute assurance that the work was complete, had to be rendered. The Commanding Officer, Lt-Col. G.F. Morrison, and Battalion Scout Officer Lieut. V.M. Eastwood, made personal reconnaissance of enemy front from O.P.s, and reported that both lines of enemy wire were sufficiently cut, as to offer little obstacle.
  7   Battalion resting. 6 O.R.’s admitted to hospital (Sick). 5 O.R.’s Casuals rejoined.
Maps for Reference. Thelus N.W. and Thelus N.E. 1/5000. 8 Easter Sunday.

 

7.45 p.m.

Rendezvous of 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade at Bois-des Alleux.

Battalion commenced to move to its battle position on frontage A.10.b.2.7. to A.10.b.1.1. with Battalion H.Q. located at ZIVY CAVE. The battalion, comprising 12 Platoons, approximately 600 strong, moved into the line by Platoons at 100 yds interval. Bombs and shovels were picked up en route, and despite the fact that the enemy heavily shelled all routes and [C.T.s][ii] all the night, the assembly was completed without a casualty. All Companies reported by messenger to Battalion H.Q., their being in position. “A” Coy. 2.20 a.m. “B” Coy. 2.25 a.m. “C” Coy. 3.45 a.m. & “D” Coy. 3.40  a.m.

  9[iii]   At Zero hour, vis 5.30 a.m., the advance was made. Simultaneously with the opening up of the Artillery Barrage the Battalion left the “Jumping-off” trenches and attacked the German front lines. Very little opposition was met with whilst capturing the first line system of trenches. The enemy barraged “No-man’s-land” for about 15 minutes, after which his Artillery fire became very indiscriminate. The support line was captured without any difficulty and the Battalion Objective (black), a line of trench from A.11.1.70.31/2. To A.11.45.75., finally reached. At 6.05 a.m. a message was received at Bn. H.Q. saying that the Black Objective had been captured and was in the act of being consolidated.

The casualties up to this point had been very slight, considering the magnitude of the operations. Major C.C. Gwyn, on of the most popular and efficient of Officers was killed by a M.G. bullet, about 100 yards from the objective and Lieut. W.J. McLean was also killed while leading his men across “No-man’s-land”. After the death of Major Gwyn, Lieut. P. Jerdan[iv] assumed Command of “B” Company, and did splendid work in consolidation and reorganization, as also did Lieut. D.A.G. Parsons[v] who Commanded “A” Company.

An act of conspicuous gallantry[vi] performed by Sergt. E.E. Sifton of “C” Company. A M.G. was holding up his Company and doing considerable damage. Sergt. Sifton, single-handed, attacked the Gun crew and bayoneted every man, but was unhappily shot by a dying Boche.

At 10.50 a.m. a message was received from Major W.J. Gander, now senior Officer of the line reporting that the consolidation of the objective and reorganization of the Battalion was complete. Telephone communication from the Report Center, which was established in the PELSENKELLER WEG, to Bn. H.Q. and Brigade, was successfully maintained throughout. A tunnel with a 4’ gallery was dug beforehand, with an exit in the PHILIP CRATER, within 20 yards of the German front line, and telephone lines laid to this point before Zero [hour].

Lieut’s W.H. Lewis and V.M. Eastwood secured much valuable information, and established an advanced Bn. H.Q.’s at A.10.b.85.35.

Major K.H. McCrimmon finally established Bn. H.Q.;s at A.11.d.1.8. and performed most efficient work in handling all information and superintending the process of reorganization.

Several large straw-stacks were discovered just ahead of the Black Objective and were found to have been the means of hiding concrete M.G. emplacements. The night of 9/10th being spent in the Black Objective and funk-holes being the only shelter, the straw was a great help to the men in making their shelters comfortable. The approximate casualties for the whole operation were:- 2 Offices killed (already mentioned). Lieuts. W.G. Worth, S.C. Kirkland, C.E. Tuck, W.K. Rooney (Wounded). 40 O.R.’s killed and 120 wounded.[vii]

  10   Battalion in Black Objective during daylight improving trench and funk-holes as much as possible. At dusk 18th Cdn. Bn. relieved 1st R.W. Kents[viii] in captured line., with Bn. H.Q. at CRAMER HAUS, A.5.b.8.4. and elements of the 29th Cdn. Bn. with H.Q. at A.6.c.8.8. Reliefs moved of by Sections with 50 yards interval between each. This relief was difficult and very complicated owing to the nature of Divisional boundary,[ix] and being made at night the finding of the map locations and the placing of the men in new positions was no light task for the Officers concerned. On completion of this relief the disposition of the Battalion was “A”, “B” and 1 Platoon of “C” Coy in front line, “D” Coy and the remaining 2 platoons of [“C”] in support. The frontage being from B1.d.f.2 to S.30.d.4.5. Bn. H.Q. being located at A.6.c.8.8.
  11   Position of Battalion as shown yesterday. This prove to be a very difficult and trying tour, the enemy constantly shelling our defences and putting up frequent barrages. The position being a very commanding one the enemy did not attempt a counter-attack although we found it necessary several times to call for retaliation[x], with was always promptly given and satisfactory.
  12   At dusk an Internal relief was completed, disposition of Battalion being 2 Platoons of “C” coy, and all of “D” coy in front line, and remaining 7 platoons in support. This considerably weakened our front line garrison but was approved by the G.O.C. 4th Brigade owing to our commanding position.[xi] During the night, Patrols under Lieut. Eastwood covered our frontage no enemy being seen or encountered.
  13   Strong daylight patrols from H.Q. and Coy scouts pushed out and [succeeded] in penetrating beyond railway track (LENS/ARRAS Rly.) no enemy were encountered and our observers reported parties of Germans seen retiring along the roads between VIMY AND WILLERVAL. Parties disappeared from view at MONT FORET Quarries. Parties did not appear to be evacuating villages and were seen to be digging in, in front of ACHERVILLE. These facts were immediately reported to Brigade H.Q. and we were ordered to establish outpost 400 yds in font of the railway track, which was done under the direction of Lieuts. Eastwood and Parsons.
  Night 13/14   During the night 18th Battalion was relieved in the line by the 24th Canadian Battalion and moved back to Divisional reserve in old German trench, ZWISCHEN STELLUNG (A.5.a.6.E.)
  14   At daylight Battalion was moved to Rest billets at BOIS-DES-ALLEUX. Lieuts. H.W. Smith and A.E. Cock[xii] joined the Battalion as reinforcements.
  15   Battalion resting. Church service and Muster Parade. 22 o.rs. rejoined from Divisional Training coy.
  16 9 a.m. Battalion moved into Divisional reserve relieving the 25th Canadian Battalion in PATMESLEY TUNNEL (A.4.c.2.7.) Iron rations were issued at 8 a.m. and coy cooks detailed to take in their Dixies[xiii] with them. Bombs to complete required number were picked up en route. Completion of this relief was notified to Bn. H.Q. by numbers as follows, – “A” coy No [4] “B” No 5 “C” No 6 and “D” 7. Lieut. D.R. MacDonald arrived as a reinforcement.
  17   Position as stated yesterday. Nothing unusual occurred. Enemy shelling back areas. 48 o.rs. arrived as reinforcements.
  18   Position same. 12 o.rs. returned to Battalion from T.M.By. carrying party.[xiv]
  19   Position same. Lt.Col. G.F. Morrison admitted to hospital (sick) 8 ors admitted to hospital (sick).
  20   Position unchanged. At this time in conjunction with advance made all the Battalion Transport were moved forward. 18th Bn. Transport being located at 8.a.3.3. (Map Roclincourt 51b N.W.1)
  21   Battalion relieved 31st Canadian Bn. in Brigade reserve at CRAMER HAUS. Nothing unusual occurred. Enemy still shelling back areas but doing little damage.
  22   Position as show yesterday. Lieut. W.K. Rooney (wounded) rejoined from hospital. 5 o.rs admitted to hospital (sick).
  23   Position same. Nothing unusual to report. Battalion Transport had to move back owing to enemy shelling, and now being located at 8.c.3.2.
  24   Position unchanged. 16 o.rs attached to 4th Canadian M.G. Coy. Lieut. C.J. Jackson admitted to hospital.
  25   Enemy heavily shelling defences and lines of Communication. 2 o.rs Wounded and 4 o.rs admitted to hospital.
  26   18th Battalion relieved by 24th Battalion. 18th Bn. moved into rest camp at 8.c.3.2. (Map Reclincourt 51b N.W.1).
  27   Battalion pay parades. Lieut P Jerdan and 4 o.rs admitted to hospital (sick).
  28   Company and platoon inspections and drill. Sports were held the afternoon organized by Lieuts. Dougall and Smith.
  29   Church service and recreation during day. 4 o.rs returned from hospital.
  30   Commanding Officer’s Parade and inspection. Lieuts. A.R. Mackedie, L.C. Jarvis, H.E.F. Ralph, and W.R. Wright arrived as reinforcements.

 

[i] See blog post “The Stress of Combat: Captain Lloyd at Vimy Ridge” for an article relating to the impact this task had to the men who were engaged in doing this arduous task.

[ii] The text is obscured but it may be a reference to communication trenches.

[iii] An attempt is made to maintain the format of the War Diary but as this date’s entry is unusually long and one uninterrupted paragraph it will be formatted for clarity. Please see images of the War Diary attached to this post for original formatting.

[iv] Lt. Jerdan was to earn the Military Cross for this action: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He assumed command of the company, and led them with great coolness and initiative. He single-handed bombed a rifle grenade battery which was holding up one of the platoons, and forced them to surrender. Source: Supplement to the Edinburgh Gazette, July 1917, page 1429.

[v] Lt. D.A.G. Parsons was to earn the Military Cross for this action: For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He led it company with great courage and success. His splendid example in the face of stubborn resistance largely assisted in the capture of the objective. The London Gazette Publication date:17 July 1917 Supplement: 30188 Page: 7258.

[vi] Lance-Sergeant Sifton was to earn the Victory Cross for this action.

[vii] Thus 42 men of the battalion are estimated to be K.I.A. that day with 124 wounded. The casualty rate was 28% for April 9, 1917.

[viii] Most probably a Queen’s Own Royal West Kent battalion.

[ix] The 18th Battalion was the right flanking battalion of the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade and its right side abutted the boundary of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade. The left flank of the 16th Battalion of the 3rd Cdn. Inf. Bde was beside the 18th Battalion. During the attack the Brigades would want to keep their unit cohesion and not “step” into the boundaries of their neighbouring Brigades.

[x] The War Diary in referring to calling up Canadian and/or British artillery resources to shell the German guns.

[xi] In addition to the G.O.C. (General Officer Commanding) 4th Cdn. Inf. Bde. the G.O.C. of the 2nd Division visited the forward area on this date and the tone of the 4th. Cdn. Inf. Bde. War Diary is one of confidence.

[xii] There is some confusion from the Soldiers’ Pages in the blog as to the actual dates of these two officers arrival to the Battalion. They are listed here as being reinforcements but the War Diary seems to indicate that they joined the Battalion earlier. Smith is notated as being mentioned in the War Diary September 1916 being wounded and Cock is noted as being taken on strength August 1916 and is later mentioned in October 1916.

[xiii] A Dixie was a steel pot with a lid used for carrying food in. Its entomology may be for the Hindu work for pot.

[xiv] Note that the original complement of this party was 15 men. 3 men are unaccounted for at this time.

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