Friday 28 July 2017

Patrols to See if the Enemy are Retiring

The area patrolled by the 2nd Battalion - Jeffrey Trench shown in red, Jeffrey Support Trench in yellow and Jeffrey Reserve Trench in blue. The objective for B Company is the trench line immediately north of Jeffrey Support Trench and continuing it north-east

Saturday 28th July 1917

Last evening, 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, in the front line east of Zillebeke received a report that the enemy was evacuating his front line trenches north of Ypres. Accordingly, at half-past midnight this morning two strong patrols were ordered to go out and reconnoitre the enemy's front line to ascertain if they were withdrawing on the front opposite the Battalion.

Lieutenant Jacob [X550/1/81]

Patrols from A and B Companies went out. A Company patrol, under Lieutenant G R Jacob, was 3 officers, 14 non-commissioned officers and 43 men. Each man carried two bombs and 220 rounds of small arms ammunition. Nearly all men had shovels and two boxes of bombs were sent to the second line to be carried up as a Company Reserve. The Company went out into No Man’s Land under their platoon sergeants.

Second Lieutenant Collins [X550/1/81]

Jeffrey Trench was safely reached and men came back with the message that it was clear. On this supposition Second Lieutenant I T M Collins and three men were sent out to link up with them and move on to Jeffrey Reserve Trench. He sent back a runner with a message. The runner was wounded and lost the message. All the other patrols in Jeffrey Trench came back without orders and it is assumed that Second Lieutenant Collins is left now with two men somewhere in front of Jeffrey Trench(1).

Captain Holbrook [X550/1/81]

B Company patrol under Captain W J Holbrook consisted of one other officer and forty other ranks with the intention of occupying the enemy line as shown above. With this party were two Lewis Gun Teams. The sentry on duty in an advanced sap reported six Very lights fired from 11 pm to midnight from the enemy’s first line, second line, and also behind the ridge, this was confirmed by Captain Holbrook’s own observation.

He despatched immediately a patrol of five men. On returning they reported having reached enemy wire wire roughly at the spot marked on the map by a pink cross. A Very Light was put up and several forms were seen moving in the trench. They were this time lying on the parapet. As only half of the party returned Captain Holbrook sent out a second patrol to find the remainder. Both parties however returned individually but their reports were identical, additionally one party heard mumbling in the enemy front line and movement on their duck boards. The other party was sniped at on their way back.

At 1.15 a.m. British artillery shelled the enemy’s front line system and fifteen minutes later machine guns fired into No Man’s Land. At 1.45 the battalion on the left of the Bedfords reported that none of them had gone over from their front and said the enemy was still there. At 2 a.m. the enemy traversed the whole of Captain Holbrook’s front line some few times with machine-guns so he dedcided not to go forward.

At 2.30 a.m., however, he sent out two patrols each of five men, with instructions to establish themselves in the enemy's front line. Both parties going to different parts of the trench reported they were fired on by machine-guns and rifles. Captain Holbrook got into touch with the Trench Mortar Officer who arranged to put a barrage on the enemy system from 5 a.m. to 5.15 a.m. This he did, and at 5.15 a.m. our own Artillery barrage opened. The enemy then opened heavy artillery fire on the front line system combined with machine-gun and rifle fire.

Captain Holbrook told me on the telephone: “I did not consider it advisable for a party to leave the trench until 5.35 a.m. when matters had eased somewhat. This they did under cover of smoke and dust and got through the wire and on to Bosche parapet. A sentry on their left immediately shot at them, shouted, and our patrol heard answering shouts in the near neighbourhood. They retired and reached our front line without casualties”.

So it seems the enemy is not making any retrograde movement.

Yesterday 1st/5th Battalion in Palestine carried out another raid on Umbrella Hill. We are still awaiting details.

Source: X550/3/WD

(1) He seems to have been taken prisoner, at any rate he is not listed as dead by Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

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