Wednesday, 31 October 2018
Thursday 31st October
This Halloween has indeed been another horrible experience for the enemy. No apple-bobbing parties for them. Rather, they have had to face another allied assault.Our Second Army, now well free of the shackles of the Ypres Salient launched an attack to reach the banks of the Schelde, in conjunction with the French VIII Corps. The objectives were all taken and now this army takes its place with the others at the bridgehead of another triumphant advance.
Tuesday, 30 October 2018
Wednesday 30th October 1918
The armistice with the forces of the Ottoman Empire has taken effect. The Turks have laid down their arms and, in a slightly disbelieving voice the adjutant of 1st/5th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, currently at a place called El Hadeth near Beirut, simply said "Our war is over". The battalion will take part in a ceremonial entry into Beirut tomorrow.
This battalion has been fighting the Turks since late 1915 when they were landed at Gallipoli. They were evacuated to Egypt and, with 54th (East Anglian) Division marched along the Mediterranean coast, through the Sinai peninsula and fought their way up through Palestine to reach their current location.
It has been a very different war to that here on the Western Front, hotter, more mobile, more flies, more stomach troubles, more fear of the local wildlife, such as scorpions but, it seems, ultimately less bloody. The hard fighting has come, the adjutant reflected, at greater intervals than it has in France and Belgium though when it has come, as at Gallipoli, it has been grim indeed.
On this day, it seems only right to pause and remember the individual cost of war. My colleagues at The Bedfordshire Times reports on a military funeral at home. Lance Sergeant Arthur Gentle of 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment died at his home in Beeston Green, near Sandy on 18th October and was given a funeral at Sandy with full military honours.
"Full military honours were given to Sergeant A Gentle. The body was conveyed from
and arrived at
his home on Beeston Green on Tuesday. The funeral took place today, when
detachments from the 2nd Beds and the Royal Engineers (Signal Depot), with a
gun carriage drawn by six black horses, arrived at the home. The coffin,
covered with a Union Jack and floral tributes, was conveyed via Chelsea and the High Street, to the
parish church and met by Canon A Sloman. The path from the churchyard gate was
lined by the Parish Council and the firing party. The Union Jack floated
half-mast from the church tower. Whilst the large congregation were being
seated the organist, Mrs Kempe, played "O rest in the Lord". The
choir consisted of men from the Royal Engineers stationed at Girtford Bridge and the hymns "Nearer my God to
Thee" and "Peace, Perfect Peace" were sung. The bearers
consisted of six men of the 2nd Beds Regiment. En-route from Beeson Green to
the cemetery blinds were drawn in all windows. At the cemetery the paths were
again lined by the military and civilians. After the committal the firing party
fired three volleys and Trumpeter S E Russell gave the Last Post". Sandy
Bedfordshire Times 1st November 1918
Monday, 29 October 2018
Tuesday 29th October 1918
Here in France we have all been caught up in the story of the great allied advance and the wild hope that the war will soon be over. It seems that, in another part of the World, it is over. News has reached us this evening that Turkish forces will declare an armistice and lay down their arms tomorrow.
This news has had an electrifying effect on the men here at the front. Many of them have brothers, cousins, friends in Palestine, in shallow graves in Gallipoli or lying below the desert sand in Egypt. They feel the enemy has "had his hash settled" in no uncertain fashion and see these events as a hopeful prelude to victory here in a few days or weeks.
Sunday, 28 October 2018
Monday 28th October 1918
With our armies paused along the line of the River Schelde preparations are under way for the next series of attacks on our tiring foe. If this war were to be trivialised as a boxing match then the Germans are definitely on the ropes, like a punch-drunk fighter at the end of his tether. He may have one or two more punches in him, but, provided his opponent is careful and clinical, he will soon be on the canvas.
Saturday, 27 October 2018
Sunday 27th October 1918
Today the allied armies stand on the brink. The Germans have retired to the east bank of the River Schelde and now First, Second and Fifth Armies are poised to swarm over the river and drive on into the heart of the enemy forces.
Friday, 26 October 2018
Saturday 26th October 1918
After their great effort in the last few days 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, has moved back into reserve. It is close enough to the front line to observe what is going on and is, according to its commanding officer, "keen for another scrap".
Meanwhile, for the last week Second Army has been hung up along the Schelde Canal, trying to get across in the face of determined opposition. It seems, this evening, as if the successes by First, Third and Fourth Armies further south have done the Second Army a favour, as the enemy has begun to retire from its positions along the canal, fearing being out-flanked from the south.
Thursday, 25 October 2018
Friday 25th October 1918
Today we have heard more of the 2nd Battaion, Bedfordshire Regiment's exploits on 23rd and 24th. The commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Arthur Percival read to me over the telephone remarks he has made in an account of the actions to his Brigadier. He noted that, as the operations began in the early hours of the morning and in a thick mist, there had been confusion but it had been overcome by good training and leadership: "Although no opposition was encountered, I consider Lieutenant R. I. Edwards' performance in moving forward his Company a distance of over a mile on a very dark night without loss of direction and again establishing contact with the enemy is worthy of considerable praise".
"I wish to mention the excellent work done by the Tanks both on the 23rd and 24th October. They frequently appeared on the scene just when they were wanted and assisted the advance of the Infantry and they also displayed a fine spirit in returning to the fight in spite of having the majority of their crew wounded by Armour Piercing Bullets".
18th (Eastern) Division has received a congratulatory wire from General Sir Ivor Maxse (late Commander of 18th Division) now Inspector General of Training and fromthe French general Morland. the latter wrote: "Hearty congratulations to yourself, staff and all ranks on their great success of last two days which reflects the greatest credit on all concerned". Sir Ivor wrote: Hearty congratulations to 18th Division on their splendid fighting successes this week".
Wednesday, 24 October 2018
Thursday 24th October 1918
Yesterday's successful attack has continued today. At nightfall most of the objectives seem to have been taken and the armies have fought their way, often against grudging and doubty opposition, to the verge of the Germans' defensive line based on the Sambre-Oise Canal and other natural features.
The 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, after its success yesterday, has withdrawn to rest and regroup. Today the 2nd Battalion was in action north-east of le Cateau and the adjutant tonight reported that in the last few days the battalion has lost forty men dead and close to two hundred officers and men wounded. However, they have captured around a hundred men, one 4.2 inch and two 77mm artillery pieces, one trench mortar, sixty machine guns and two anti-tank rifles.
Tuesday, 23 October 2018
Wednesday 23rd October 1918
The enemy are reported to have their last defensive line a little to the east of where our armies are currently grouped, close to the border of France and Belgium(1). Accordingly, today, a major assault has been underway. First, Third and Fourth Armies have been at work, though the main effort has been by the Third Army.
The attack began at 1.20 this morning, with a bright moon but also with ground mist. The 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment went over the top at 3.20. They were initially held up by machine gun fire from their right flank but, after the judicious use of mortars, managed to capture the village of Beaurain, two officers and fourteen other ranks were killed and a total of 112 men, including the padre, Rev J B Mayal, were wounded; five men are missing.
The Bedfords were not alone. Fighting was hard in places and at times but this evening it is clear that advances of up to five miles have been made and ,most objectives seem to have been taken.
(1) The so-called Hermann positions, based, not on constructed defences but on natural obstacles such as the Sambre-Oise Canal, Schelde Canal and River Selle.
Monday, 22 October 2018
Tuesday 22nd October 1918
The adjutant of 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment told me this afternoon that they are at the village of Beaurain, five miles or so north of le Cateau. As noted in yesterday's piece the pace of the advance allows commanders to rotate units, resting those which have been in action and introducing fresh ones for the next attack. The Bedfords are part of 5th Division and have not played a major part in the latter part of the great offensive and so are now fit, rested, trained and ready to take their part in the next attack, probably tomorrow.
Sunday, 21 October 2018
Monday 21st October 1918
Today Second Army has been engaged in heavy fighting east of Ypres. It has had the impossible task of trying to bridge the Schelde Canal against vigorous opposition. Word is that this is a fight which may take some days to resolve.
Further south, following the successful attacks of yesterday, today has been a day to reorganise, plan, bring up guns and ammunition and rotate units. In a sense it is the same pattern we have seen on the Western Front since at least 1916, where our divisions attack, gain their objectives and then hold them whist preparing to fight off enemy counterattacks and prepare for the next attack. The tactics have become known as bite and hold.
In the past the tactic has been partially successful at best. Now it is resulting in effective attacks and significant advances. What has changed? Many things, of course, are different in this Autumn of 1918 but the overwhelming difference is that the fight is going out of the enemy. The German soldier has always been a formidable opponent. Well led, he has been tenacious in defence and ever ready to counter-attack with determination. In places that still applies, but across the battlefront we are seeing some German units giving up after perfunctory resistance and retiring from the fight.
In many ways this great allied advance mirrors that by the enemy in the Spring. The one great difference was that their advance aimed to smash our armies by continuous assault, an unremitting series of attacks which gave little rest to the defender. The weakness of this plan was that it also gave no respite to the attacker so that after a week or so the enemy units attacking our men were approaching exhaustion, allowing our line to recover. The enemy also outran his supplies - food, water, ammunition. Bite and hold tactics allow units to be shuffled and, where necessary, replaced and allow all necessary supplies to be brought up for the next onslaught. All reasons why there is a very real belief here that the war will die with the light and that before Winter is upon us Peace will have returned to this scarred continent.
Saturday, 20 October 2018
Sunday 20th Octbober
Today Third Army has crossed the River Selle in force, captured the village of Solesmes and taken all its objectives. One of the battalions in involved in this operation was 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, whose advance took place without incident. Elsewhere there was heavy fighting but all along the line the enemy has given way. An attack by First Army on the left flank of Third Army has also met with success, though the Canadians, in taking Denain, met with considerable resistance.
The pattern of strong defence in some parts of the line and a readiness to fall back without a struggle in others, which has been apparent for some weeks, thus continues. It is simply another factor of chance in war, whether the individual soldier will have an easy day or a hard one, will live another day, or lose his life. War seems to be an activity in which luck plays a greater part than in almost any other.
Friday, 19 October 2018
Saturday 19th October 1918
Today's attack by Fourth Army went as the armchair generals of the press corps predicted. Outflanked to the south the Germans providing stiff opposition for American 27th and 30th Divisions had retired overnight allowing the Americans to capture the village of Mazinghien. Further progress took place to the south of the Americans meaning that in the last three days, though the fighting has been as hard, at times, as any in this war, an advance of up to eight miles has been made, we are told some 5,000 enemy combatants have been taken prisoner and sixty or so guns have been taken. It has been a satisfactory advance.
Thursday, 18 October 2018
Friday 18th October 1918
Fourth Army's attack today has again met with stiff resistance with the American 27th and 30th Divisions managing little forward movement. On the right, however, things went much better, with the village of Wassigny falling. Touch has been made with the French to thesouth who have cleared the Andigny Forest and so the enemy resistance in the centre will not long hold things up as they find themselves out-flanked from the south.
Wednesday, 17 October 2018
Thursday 17th October 1918
As good as his word yesterday General Rawlinson's Fourth Army attacked the enemy positions along the River Selle today, after a four-day bombardment by over a thousand guns. During the misty light of dawn the men of seven divisions (including the American 27th and 30th Divisions) went forward.
It has been a tough fight all day across the swollen river, the Americans, for example, could not even take their first objective and an enemy counter-attack prompted 50th (Northumbrian) Division to give up some of the ground it had taken. However, 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division, with the South African Brigade to the fore, has taken the village of le Cateau. Tomorrow will see the attack resumed and there is a determination that the enemy are not going to prevail.
Tuesday, 16 October 2018
Wednesday 16th October 1918
As Second Army pushes towards and crosses the River Lys, to the south Fourth Army is preparing to push on after a rest of a few days, over the River Selle and through le Cateau to countryside not seen in four years. In a briefing to the press corps (1) today Fourth Army commander General Rawlinson has set the scene for us: "The valley of the Selle, which the Bosche has fortified to some extent, and, what is more inconvenient, has dammed at many of the mills and bridges, causing inundations which limit the front on which attack is possible. However I am having a go at this position tomorrow, with some seven divisions in line, and I have no doubt that we shall penetrate, and give the enemy another nasty knock"
(1) actually a letter to the King's private secretary Colonel Wigram
Monday, 15 October 2018
Tuesday 15th October 1918
For most of this war the Menin Road has been a byword for suffering, terror and death. It is the road running east from Ypres towards the town of Menin, the road which cuts the Ypres salient into two - the salient consisted of the area north of the Menin Road and the area south of it. It was the axis of advance for the Germans towards Ypres in 1914 and 1915 and the axis of Second Army's attack in 1917. Menin itself, a comparatively trivial little town, assumed an aspect almost rivalling that of Shangri-la - a place which was thought to exist, though no soldier had ever seen it - a place which, if reached, would signal happiness and a rest for toil. Today Menin has been reached and, indeed, captured, the enemy having evacuated it. The town of Comines has also fallen into Second Army's hands. And, while the toil will continue for a while yet, there is a palpable sense that this is yet another sign that it will not, now be prolonged.
Sunday, 14 October 2018
Monday 14th October 1918
Today General Plumer's Second Army resumed their advance out of the Ypres salient. On its left, to the north, the Belgians and French also took up the challenge. In the days leading up to today Second Army has carried out bombardments of the enemy positions and feint, probing attacks to keep him off-balance. Word has reached us the Germans are evacuating the biggest city in this region - Lille, which they have held since the first days of the war in August 1914.
As the French and Belgians advance up the Belgian coast towards the city of Ghent,Second Army will protect their right flank. Today all objectives have been taken. there has been some serious fighting but in places the enemy's resistance has been perfunctory. All seems set fair.
Saturday, 13 October 2018
Sunday 13th October 1918
With the British and Imperial forces at the River Selle and Second Army, we understand will continue its break-out from the four year long siege of Ypres tomorrow. With their Belgian allies great strides were made earlier in the month with an advance in one day equivalent to the advance in the whole of the latter half of 1917. With Passchendaele and its ridge once more in out hands General Plumer's troops will hope for similarly spectacular progress in the days ahead.
Friday, 12 October 2018
Saturday 12th October 1918
There has been some fighting around the River Selle today, but it seems to be of a type which might be described as "tidying up the battlefield"(1). The British armies wish to line the River Selle prior to another advance. Third Army has had the hardest fighting but has now reached the river.
(1) A concept central to Field Marshal Montgomery's thinking in World War Two.
Wednesday, 10 October 2018
Thursday 10th October 1918
Today Fourth Army has continued its advance towards le Cateau and the River Selle. They have had fast going and the line of the river has been reached. The enemy seem to be holding the far bank in strength. The river itself, it is reported, is usually not much of an obstacle being up to 18 feet wide and up to 4 feet deep, though Autumn rains have swollen it and deepened it, making it, for the moment, a more difficult proposition. Both banks seem to be somewhat marshy, too.
Tuesday, 9 October 2018
Wednesday 9th October 1918
The city of Cambrai, so nearly liberated in November last year has finally been yielded up by the enemy after just over four years of occupation. The German troops left managed to sneak out during the night though almost entirely surrounded. At least, this way, a potentially very costly fight has been avoided. Sadly the centre of the city and much of the suburbs has been almost totally destroyed but, as one local has been reported as saying, sadly shaking his head, "At least they are our ruins now".
The capture of Cambrai has not caused any pause in the advance. Resistance was fierce at times yesterday, with a number of enemy counter-attacks utilising tanks they had captured from our armies in weeks and months past. All these were beaten off and today there have been none to speak of. Cavalrymen have even been in action on the army's left, or northern, flank where no barbed wire has impeded their progress. The Canadian Cavalry Brigade mounted a successful charge south of Cambrai and took the village of Reumont only four miles or so from le Cateau.
First Army also advanced today and all three British and Imperial armies have achieved stunning advances. Few can now doubt that the end of German resistance is near. This evening it has been announced that the Prime Minister, Mr Lloyd-George has sent a length congratulatory telegram to Field Marshal Haig: "I have just heard from Marshal Foch of the brilliant victory won buy the First, Third and Fourth Armies and I wish to express to yourself, Generals Horne, Byng and Rawlinson and all the officers and men under your command my sincerest congratulations on the great and significant success which the British Armies, with their American brothers in arms have gained during the two past days. The courage and tenacity with which the troops of the Empire, after withstanding the terrific enemy onslaught of the spring of this year, have again resumed the offensive with such decisive results is the greatest chapter in our island history. The smashing of the great defensive system erected by the enemy in the west and claimed by him to be impregnable is a feat of which we are justly proud and for which the Empire will always be grateful".
Monday, 8 October 2018
Tuesday 8th October 1918
Today Fourth Army launched attacks in conjunction with Third Army to the north and the French and Americans to the south. The initial attack was by Third Army, which overran the last elements of the Beaurevoir Line in the enemy's hands and achieved an advance of three miles. For the first time since 1914 British troops are within twenty miles of le Cateau, scene of Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien's heroic stand against the triumphant enemy on 26th August of that year.
Fourth Army launches its attack forty minutes after Third Army and all along the line there was early success except that the French failed to take a strongpoint at their junction with our own 6th Division, however, British troops took the position allowing the French to get forward. By this evening there have been advances of up to four miles, with American 30th Division, perhaps, advancing further than anyone else.
4th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment, part of 63rd (Royal Naval) Division was in support to 188th Brigade which attacked and took the village of Niergnies. It is felt that this will have proved vital in causing the final fall of Cambrai, which is now encircled, Niergnies being south-east of the city. The Division was counter-attacked twice by the enemy with captured British tanks but this was in vain for the Bosches. This evening the division is being relieved and will return to Cantaing.
Sunday, 7 October 2018
Friday 11th October 1918
There has been a pause in the great advance today. There enemy seems to have come to a halt in a new defensive line. It is reported that Field Marshal Haig met with the commanders of First, Third and Fourth Armies today (Generals Horne, Byng and Rawlinson) to discuss future operations. Clearly it is the army's job to push the enemy out of France and Belgium but timing and location of the main thrusts must still be decided.
Monday 7th October 1918
The adjutant of the 4th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment spoke with me on the blower this afternoon and confirmed that they have moved into positions near Noyelles for an attack tomorrow. The major attacks keep coming, with short intervals in between for planning, reorganisation and registering the guns
In Palestine yesterday the 1st/5th Battalion drew company cash from Haifa to pay the men. Meanwhile a draft of 68 other ranks arrived to join the battalion, just in time for payday.
Sources: X550/5/3; X550/6/8
Saturday, 6 October 2018
Sunday 6th October 1918
Yesterday in Palestine the 1st/5th Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment moved their bivouac to the edge of the sea north of Haifa. The mosquitoes at the former campsite would descend in clouds on the men and on any exposed flesh, the adjutant told me on the telephone, adding that he was absent-mindedly scratching a bite as he spoke to me!
The battalion is helping to control access to this port town, with a detachment of three non-commissioned officers and six other ranks on the Haifa Gate and five picquets each of one non-commissioned officer and nine other ranks to prevent inhabitants leaving the town. A system of permits has been arranged by which villagers can enter and merchants can leave the town between 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. The gate guard has the assistance of the local Palestinian gendarmerie. Men from the battalion are allowed in the town without a pass between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m.
Friday, 5 October 2018
Saturday 5th October 1918
Yesterday Field Marshal Haig, in a meeting with senior officers, outlined his appreciation of the current state of affairs on the Western Front. A small amount of it has been made available to the press corps and perhaps the most telling paragraph is reproduced below.
"The recent offensive operations of the Allies on the Western Front have met with success at all points. The enemy has lost heavily in men and material and has been compelled to use his reserves piecemeal to retain his line intact. He is now faced with necessity of maintaining a wide battle front with depleted reserves and dispirited troops".
Victory, we all feel, cannot now be far off.
Thursday, 4 October 2018
Friday 4th October 1918
More attacks have been made on the Beaurevoir Line today but little progress has been made. french promises of support failed to materialise. After all the success this has created a mood of frustration, as may be imagined.
As the year turns through Autumn we have noticed a good deal of illness amongst the troops. A good many men seem to have a kind of infuenza, lacking strength, feeling hot and cold by degrees and, as the disease takes hold their breath becomes increasingly short and their breathing increasingly laboured. It has to be said that there have been fatalities. It would be cruel indeed if final victory were to be denied by illness but I have heard tell, whether truly or not, that some enemy prisoners seem to have it to(1).
(1) The Spanish Flu epidemic, as it was known, lasted for two years, from January 1918 to December 1920. By the start of October it was beginning to affect the armies in striking numbers. Its effect was particularly devastating on the young, fit and active as the disease turned their immune systems against them. It is estimated that between 50 and 100 million (2 to 3 per cent of the World's population) would died from the flu and that nowhere was unaffected.
Wednesday, 3 October 2018
Thursday 3rd October 1918
Today Fourth Army resumed operations. They have been attacking the reserve trenches of the Hindenburg Line known as the Beaurevoir Line. It is clearly hoped that after the right jab on the Saint-Quentin Canal a left jab in the area to the north will keep the enemy off balance and take pressure off Third Army divisions attacking the canal. 46th (North Midland) Division, 2nd Australian Division and 50th Division have all been in action. Early gains were lost to fierce counter-attacks, nevertheless the Beaurevoir Line has been penetrated along its entire length and so, whilst not all objectives have been taken sufficient progress has been made.
Monday, 1 October 2018
Tuesday 1st October 1918
Today the 1st battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment has moved back to huts at Neuville. They are still close to the action, however. The transport was heavily shelled resulting in the deaths of three horses, with three others being wounded, as well as one man in each category.
Operations at Vendhuile have continued for 2nd Battalion but they are due a relief tonight and a move back to Ronssoy. 4th Battalion duly took their strongpoint, Faubourg-de-Paris which they consolidated before moving back to Cantaing to become battalion in divisional reserve.
Elsewhere the splendid New Zealanders have taken the village of Crevecoeur and other davisions have taken Rumilly. Four other villages have fallen, but at some cost, particularly to the Canadians. The men from the prairies and mountains now have a clear view into Cambrai where it looks as if the enemy are preparing for a fight.
Sources: X550/2/5; X550/3/wd; X550/5/3