The 1st Battalion, the Essex Regiment
War Diary - November, 1917

There follows a faithful copy of the 1st/Essex battalion diary for the period of November 1917. I viewed a typewritten copy of this diary at the Essex Regiment museum in Chelmsford, from which this is taken. The original handwritten version can be seen at the Public Records Office in Kew. The PRO also hold copies of the maps from which the map references herein are taken. The diary gives a fascinating insight into front line fighting. It is particularly interesting to note that the nature of the fighting in the Cambrai offensive was actually very open, and not at all the static trench warfare that so dominated the Western Front (note the part where German troops snipe at the Essex men from the tops of buildings). Another interesting incident is where a "treacherous shot" kills an Essex officer while he was engaged in accepting the surrender of a number of German soldiers. Note that "artillery formation" is actually "Indian file", and was designed to minimise losses while advancing under artillery fire.  

Chris Shepherd

1917 November POMMIER

At Pommier. Presentation by G.O.C 29th Division of medals for operations on October 9th.

to Training.

16th 17th
Left Pommier. Marched to BOISLEUX an MONT and entrained. Detrained at PERONNE and marched under cover of darkness to MOIFLANS.

Left Moislans at 6.30 pm and marched to SOREL le GRAND.

In order to ensure concealment of operations men were kept in huts during the day.

2 a.m. The Battalion marched to place of assembly W. of GOUDEAUCOURT. arriving 21st at 4.40 am. At 6.30 (zero hour) the battle was commenced by three Divisions advancing in line preceded by lines of tanks of which in these operations some 200 were employed. Their objectives were the 1st & 2nd trenches of the HINDENBURG LINE on the capture of which the two outer divisions were to form defensive flanks to the advance of the 29th Division. The task assigned to the 29th Division was to push through the ST QUENTIN Canal, seize the crossings at MARCOING and MASNIERES and thus allow the cavalry to go through to CAMBRAI. At 6.30 am the Battalion moved to the forming up Area about FARM RAVINE (H.20.a) and at 6.45 am the Companies moved off to take up their positions as advance guard to the 88th Brigade, "Y" Coy forming the 20th-21st Vanguard in the first captured German (contd) line and the other Coys in our old front line. This was completed by 9.20 am. At 11am the advance was sounded by bugle and the Battalion went forward, "W" Coy on the right, "Z" Coy on the left & "X" Coy in support. The four tanks preceded the Vanguard, themselves guided by eight Battalion scouts; all Coys in artillery formation until the 2nd objective was passed, when they extended into two lines. Opposition was first encountered from a strong point about L.35.d. just beyond the HINDENBURG Support line and a this strong point base was captured at 12 noon, 70 prisoners being taken. 2/Lieut Davies was wounded by a treacherous shot during the surrender of the prisoners. Shortly after this a platoon under Captain Hobday captured three field guns and two machine guns were also taken in the Strong Point. Enemy troops still held the suburb of LES RUE VERTES South of Masnieres but was soon dislodged by the combined operations of the ESSEX and WORCESTERSHIRE Regiments. At 1 pm the Canal was reached, but unfortunately the bridge which had apparently been prepared for destruction collapsed under the leading Tank thereby blocking all advance, and the advance was subsequently held up by heavy Machine Gun & Rifle fire from houses on the Northern side of the Canal. In spite of all efforts to get across under covering fire from 5 or 6 tanks no progress was possible at this point and thr Southern bank of the Canal was accordingly lined by troops under whose covering fire efforts were made to cross by one or two foot bridges. Under cover of the fire from platoons of Y and W Coys Capt. Morison, crossing a small foot bridge, established his company in a mill on an island between the river and the Canal and endeavoured by his fire to cover further attempts to cross. At 4.30 pm, by the aid of 2 tanks which gave covering fire, 2/Lieut Narchant with some of his men made a gallant attempt to rush a small pontoon bridge, but was killed with several of his men in the effort. Further gallant ettempts were made by Capt Morison commanding Y Coy and Lieut: Hoysgood with small parties, but 20th-21st without success, both of these officers (Contd) being killed & Lieut Reid wounded with many of their men. It was therefore decided to cease these efforts & organise the defence of the Canal for the night. In the meantime the lock Bridge in L.24.6 to the West and another in G 27 to the East had been occured by the NEWFOUNDLAND and WORCESTER Regts and who effected crossings at these points. A number of Cavalry united in LES RUE VERTES till a late hour in the hopes of being able to get across, but were then withdrawn, a small party actually crossing by the lock bridge in G 27. At 11 pm mopping up parties from all four Battalions were sent North of the Canal to clear out the snipers, a party of Essex under Lieuts: Curson, Hope and Vaughton crossing by the lock in L 24 co-operating with the Newfoundlands in clearing as far as the main MASNIERES - CAMBRAI Road. They returned at 3 am reporting all clear. Under orders received from Brigade to form a Bridge-head, Y and Z Coys moved off at 3.45 am to cross by the lock at L.24. and established themselves along the Railway G 19 central, G 20 central. At 4 am 2/Lieut Miles (Intelligence Officer) set out with some scouts to reconnoitre the positions selected and at 6.30 am returned and reported that finding the enemy in occupation, Y and Z Coys had dug in along the Railway about L 19 central in touch with the Newfoundland Regt on their left. At 9 am W Coy was sent off conducted by the Intelligence Officer with instructions to establish themselves in rear of Y & Z Coys, to send patrols across to the East of the Cambrai Road, and should the front trenches of the MASNIERES - BEAUREVOIR Line be found unoccupied by the enemy, to establish themselves therein. It was notified that at 11 am a combined attack by the 87th & 88th Brigades would advance and capture the MASNIERES - BEAUREVOIR Line. At 11.30 am W Coy was held up West of the Cambrai Road and engaged the enemy, having found it impossible to get scouts across the Cambrai Road. At this juncture Tanks appeared to be moving in an Easterly direction from MARCOING 20th-21st along the ridge L.24 Central, G 19 (Contd) Central leading the attack of the 87th Brigade. W Coy attempted to advance parallel to these Tanks in a North Easterly direction but on reaching the German wire G 20 b they were stopped by a Cross Machine Gun fire and being unable to proceed further formed a line on the Southern slope of the ridge in prolongation of the South Wales Borderers. There were many casualties from the heavy enemy fire and 2/Lieut Vaughton was reported "Missing" after this action. Meanwhile at 10 am Headquarters and X Coys started up the main Cambrai Road through Masnieres with a view to taking up their position in front of the German line about G 20 d 5.6 to G 21 C 2.6. However, on reaching the point G 20 d 5.5 they came under heavy Machine Gun and Rifle fire from housetops on both sides of the road and several men fell. Headquarters and X Coy opened a hot fire on the buildings from which the sniping came and under cover of this were withdrawn to the West of the village since their orders did not admit of delay. At 11 am the attack of the 87th Brigade commenced and having failed to get to their appointed positions East of the Cambrai Road, Headquarters and X Coy cooperated with the 87th Brigade covering their right flank during the advance. When the advance of the 87th Brigade ceased, held up by resistance on the Cambrai Road, Headquarters marched, acompanied by X Coy, via the Canal bank to a position near the Sugar Factory at G 27 a, got in touch with Brigade HQ and awaited further orders. At 3 pm 2/Lieut Miles returned to Headquarters and reported the situation of the other 3 Coys. At 5 pm orders were received to take up a position on the left of the HAMPSHIRE Regt. between the MASNIERES - RUMILLY and MASNIERES - CAMBRAI Roads about G 21 d 2.7, G 20 b 6.1 in touch with South Wales Borderers on the West of the Cambrai Road. Whilst this position was being reconnoitred and a tape got out 2/Lieut Miles was despatched to the West of Masnieres to bring up W, Y and Z Coys and by 6.30 pm all Coys were in position 20th-21st digging in. Casualties on the (Contd) 20th/21st amounted to - Killed 3 officers, 21 men; Wounded, 2 officers, 107 men; Missing, 1 officer, 31 men.

The line occupied on the 21st was maintained until 6pm when the Bn was relieved by a Bn of the LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS and marched to Marcoing where it went into billets.

In billets & dugouts at MARCOING. On afternoon of 24th the shelling was so heavy that the whole Bn was moved into one big dugout.

6pm The Bn relieved the INISKILLING FUSILIERS in trenches N.W. of Marcoing.

Previous night spent in developing a position and digging a strong point. Situation normal except for good deal of Machine Gun fire.

Situation normal. A few casualties from Artillery & Machine Gun fire.

Situation normal. Relieved at 5.30 pm by INISKILLING FUSILIERS, returning to Marcoing.

Town heavily shelled all day.

The day opened with heavy bombardment with Gas Shells lasting from 7 to 9 am. A heavy German counter attack having driven in the Division on our right at 10 am the Bn was ordered to assemble on ground to the South of Marcoing Copse. Owing to the very heavy shelling, Headquarters & Coys proceeded independently choosing their own routes. By 10.30 am H.Q. had arrived at L 29 central and Y Coy had already advanced from that point Southwards against the enemy some of whom had reached the sunken road immediately South of Marcoing Copse bu t were now retiring again Southwards leaving a number of dead, wounded and prisoners in our hands. W and Z Coys arriving shortly afterwards were ordered to prolong the line Eastward & join up with the Newfoundlands who were forming a defensive flank S.E facing S.E. about L 30 d. At this moment Capt Goddard (the Adjutant) 30th was wounded and Captain Hobday who (Contd) had taken over y Coy was being brought back mortally wounded. During the advance of W and Z Coys Capt Grant, commanding Z Coy was killed and 2/Lieut Cramer severley wounded. As fighting was becoming severe, and much ammunition was being expended, parties were sent down from Bn HQ to the outskirts of Marcoing to bring up ammunition and take it up to the front line. Several trips were made and tools were also sent up. HQ now dug themselves in at L 29 central and Brigade HQ established themselves at L 26 d 8.7. About 3 pm X Coy who had been in reserve was pushed up to a position just East of Bn HQ in L 29 d central where they dug in. The Hampshire Regt which was also in the line was withdrawn into Brigade reserve and the remaining units of the Brigade were ordered to reorganise and dig in; Worcesters on the right, Essex in the Centre & Newfoundlands on the left. A good line of strong points was therefore established along the line L 30 d 7.5 L 35 b 0.2 and afterwards linked into a continuous trench and during the night a small amount of rations & water & much ammunition was sent up to them. Casualties during the evening of the 30th - Killed 1 officer, 14 men; Wounded, 4 officers (1 mortally), 60 men, Missing, 31 men.

Lt-Colonel STIRLING cmdg 1st Battalion Essex Regiment

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