The History of the Canterbury Regiment, N.Z.E.F. 1914 - 1919
Chapter VII. — The Battle of the Somme
The Battle of the Somme.
The Battle of the Somme had opened on July 1st, 1916, while the New Zealand Division was at Armentières; and by the time the Division arrived on the battlefield the enemy's defences had been penetrated to a maximum depth of about four miles, on a front of about twenty miles.
The enemy's position in this part of the front is described in Sir Douglas Haig's Despatch of the 23rd December, 1916, as being
"of a very formidable character, situated on a high, undulating tract of ground, which rises to more than 5,000 feet above sea-level, and forms the watershed between the Somme on the one side and the rivers of south-western Belgium on the other. On the southern face of this watershed, the general trend of which is from east-south-east to west-north-west, the ground falls in a series of long irregular spurs and deep depressions to the valley of the Somme. Well down the forward slopes of this face the enemy's first system of defence, starting from the Somme near Curlu, ran at first northwards for 3,000 yards, then westwards for 7,000 yards to near Fricourt, where it turned nearly due north, forming a great salient angle in the enemy's line.
"Some 10,000 yards north of Fricourt the trenches crossed the river Ancre, a tributary of the Somme, and still running northwards passed over the summit of the watershed, about Hébuterne and Gommecourt, and then down its northern spurs to Arras.
"On the 20,000 yards front between the Somme and the Ancre the enemy had a strong second system of defence, sited generally on or near the southern crest of the highest part of the watershed, at an average distance of 3,000 to 5,000 yards behind his first system of trenches.
"During nearly two years' preparation he had spared no pains to render these defences impregnable. The first and second page 109 systems each consisted of several lines of deep trenches, well provided with bomb-proof shelters and with numerous communication trenches connecting them. The front of the trenches in each system was protected by wire entanglements, many of them in two belts forty yards broad, built of iron stakes interlaced with barbed wire, often almost as thick as a man's finger.
"The numerous woods and villages in and between these systems of defence had been turned into veritable fortresses. The deep cellars, usually to be found in the villages, and the numerous pits and quarries common to a chalk country were used to provide cover for machine-guns and trench mortars. The existing cellars were supplemented by elaborate dug-outs, sometimes in two stories, and these were connected up by passages as much as thirty feet below the surface of the ground. The salients in the enemy's line, from which he could bring enfilade fire across his front, were made into self-contained forts, and often protected by mine fields; while strong redoubts and concrete machine-gun emplacements had been constructed in positions from which he could sweep his own trenches should these be taken. The ground lent itself to good artillery observation on the enemy's part, and he had skilfully arranged for cross fire by his guns.
"These various systems of defence with the fortified localities and other supporting points between them, were cunningly sited to afford each other mutual assistance and to admit of the utmost possible development of enfilade and flanking fire by machine-guns and artillery. They formed, in short, not merely a series of successive lines, but one composite system of enormous depth and strength.
"'Behind this second system of trenches, in addition to woods, villages, and other strong points prepared for defence, the enemy had several other lines already completed; and we had learnt from, aeroplane reconnaissance that he was hard at work improving and strengthening these and digging fresh ones between them and still further back.
"North of the Ancre, where the opposing trenches ran transversely across the main ridge, the enemy's defences were equally elaborate and formidable."
The Commander-in-Chief divides the period of active operations at the Somme into three phases:—
"The first phase opened with the attack of 1st July, the success of which evidently came as a surprise to the enemy, and caused considerable confusion and disorganisation in his ranks. The advantages gained on that date and developed during the first half of July may be regarded as having been rounded off by the operations of the 14th July and three following days, which gave us possession of the southern crest of the main plateau between Delville Wood and Bazentin-le-Petit.
"We then entered upon a contest lasting for many weeks, during which the enemy, having found his strongest defences unavailing, and now fully alive to his danger, put forth his utmost efforts to keep his hold on the main ridge. This stage of the battle constituted a prolonged and severe struggle for mastery between the contending armies, in which, although progress was slow and difficult, the confidence of our troops in their ability to win was never shaken. Their tenacity and determination proved more than equal to their task, and by the first week in September they had established a fighting superiority that has left its mark on the enemy, of which possession of the ridge was merely the visible proof."
On September 13th, the British front line ran from south-west of Combles (still held by the enemy), between Leuze and Bouleaux Woods, round the east and through the north-western end of the village of Ginchy, on the enemy side of Delville Wood, through High Wood (part of which was still held by the enemy), thence west midway between Martinpuich (in enemy hands) and Pozières (in ours) and across the Albert-Bapaume road to the head of the valley south-east of Thiepval. Turning there towards the south-west, the line ran along the spur on the south-east side of the valley, and then crossed the latter to a point five or six hundred yards east of Authuille. Thence it ran north again, midway between the river Ancre and Thiepval, to Hamel, where it crossed the river. From Authuille northwards the attack had gained no ground.
When this line had been gained, Sir Douglas Haig considered that "the way was then opened for the third phase, in which our advance was pushed down the forward slopes of the ridge and page 111 further extended on Loth flanks until, from Morval to Thiepval, the whole plateau and a good deal of ground beyond were in our possession. Meanwhile, our gallant Allies, in addition to great successes south of the Somme, had pushed their advance, against equally determined opposition and under most difficult tactical conditions, up the long slopes on our immediate right, and were now preparing to drive the enemy from the summit of the narrow and difficult portion of the main ridge which lies between the Combles Valley and the river Tortille, a stream flowing from the north into the Somme just below Peronne."
Such was the position when, on the night of September 8th/9th, the New Zealand Division was placed under the command of the XV Corps of the Fourth Army (General Sir Henry Rawlinson). Two nights later, the 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade relieved part of the 55th and 1st Divisions in the front line, between Longueval and High Wood. The trenches taken over ran from a point about six hundred yards north of the northern end of the village of Longueval, thence almost due west to a sunken road which ran down the north-eastern edge of High Wood towards Longueval; and from there the front line turned at right angles and ran up the road for about five hundred yards, eventually swinging away to the east of the road till it met another trench (called Cork Alley) which ran through High Wood. The New Zealand Division's front ended at Cork Alley, and in consequence its left boundary was a hundred and fifty yards east of the eastern corner of High Wood. On account of the presence of the enemy in the northern part of High Wood, however, the line was not held as far as Cork Alley; but a defensive flank was formed, facing the south-eastern edge of the wood, and distant from it about two thousand yards.
The 3rd Brigade remained in the line till the night of the 12th/13th, and dug a line of posts across the angular re-entrant in the line, and also made them into a continuous new front line by joining up the posts by shallow saps. On the 2nd Brigade relieving the 3rd Brigade on the night of the 12th/13th, the 2nd Auckland and 2nd Otago Battalions took over the front line. The 2nd Canterbury Battalion, seven hundred strong (including twenty officers), was with the 2nd Wellington Battalion in brigade reserve; and bivouacked in Savoy and Carlton Trenches, page 112 midway between Longueval and Bazentin-le-Grand. The remaining details of the battalion returned to the transport lines near Fricourt. On the 13th and 14th the reserve battalions completed the new front line (Otago Trench) and dug communication trenches to it.
The opening attack of the third phase of the Somme Battle took place on September 15th. On the right of the British, the French had begun an attack on the 13th, which continued until the 18th. On the British front, the whole of the Fourth Army attacked, with the I Canadian Corps of the Reserve Army (afterwards known as the Fifth Army), also attacking on its left. The objective of the Fourth Army was the enemy's third system of defences, on a front which included the villages of Morval, Les Boeufs, Gueudecourt, and Flers, and extended beyond that village to north of High Wood. The attack was preceded by three days' continuous bombardment. A detailed account of the operations of this day is unnecessary, as neither of the Canterbury Battalions took part in the fighting. The first objective, half a mile of the German switch trench,* with its left flank half a mile from High Wood, was taken by the 2nd Auckland and 2nd Otago Battalions; and the 3rd Brigade then went through, and by the end of the day had dug in north and west of Flers.
Upon the 3rd Brigade getting clear of the switch trench, the 2nd Canterbury Battalion moved forward to Otago, Fern, and Tea trenches, the front line and support trenches from which the attack had been launched. Shortly after the battalion had arrived there, large parties were detailed for carrying forward ammunition, and for work under the Engineers near Flers, The rest of the battalion was sent to complete the digging of the new switch trench, which had been sited about fifty yards in advance of the German trench; and also to dig a series of strong points on the left flank, facing High Wood. The latter works were required to protect the flank, as it was not until late in the afternoon that the wood was definitely reported cleared of the enemy.
* A switch line is a trench connecting diagonally two parallel trenches. This particular switch connected the second and third main German defensive positions, and ran south of Flers, through High Wood to Pozières.
Lieut.-ColonelG. A. King, D.S. O.
Lieut.-Colonel H. Stewart, C.M.G., D.S.O., M.C.
The battalion continued to dig hard during the whole of the 17th, and was reinforced by the arrival of the details which had been left at the transport lines on the 12th. The trenches were very heavily bombarded during the day with high-explosive shells of large calibre; but the troops were now so well dug in that the casualties were light.
The 1st Canterbury Battalion spent the afternoon of the 16th in digging a trench from the right flank of the Wellingtons to its own right flank in the work known as "Box and Cox," on the east of the Flers-Ligny Thilloy road. The battalion remained in front of Flers throughout the 17th, being shelled during the afternoon and right up to the following dawn. It was relieved on the afternoon of the 18th in Box and Cox by troops of the 41st Division, since these trenches formed part of that Division's area, but had been occupied by troops of the 3rd New Zealand (Rifle) Brigade on the 16th, as the troops of the 41st Division were not then far enough advanced to occupy them. On the night of September 18th/19th the 2nd Brigade took over the front line, and shortly after midnight the 2nd Wellington Battalion relieved the 1st Canterbury Battalion, which then moved back to Savoy Trench.
* For position of this trench, see below.
On September 19th, the 47th Division had been ordered to take the Flers Line as far as its junction with Goose Alley, and to hand it over to the New Zealand Division; but the attack had not been a success. The 2nd Auckland Battalion, however, by the night of the 20th/21st, was in occupation of the Flers Line up to within two hundred yards of Goose Alley.
About half a mile to the north-west of Flers, the Abbey Road was crossed by the North road, which continued on towards Longueval, but forked into two branches before crossing the Flers Line. About 8 p.m. on September 20th, the 1st, 2nd, and 13th Companies of the 2nd Canterbury Battalion, which had been detailed for the assault, left their trenches and formed up on the two branches of the North Road. At 8.30 p.m. they advanced to the attack without any barrage. Under cover of the darkness, they crept up to within fifty yards of Goose Alley before they were detected. The enemy then immediately opened heavy machine-gun and rifle fire; but in spite of heavy casualties our men rushed the trench, cleared it of the enemy, and established blocks beyond it in both Flers Trench and Flers Support, and also on the north-east of the captured junction of Goose Alley. On their left flank they were joined by bombing parties of the Black Watch, who had worked their way up Drop Alley. Punctually at 8.45 p.m., our artillery placed a box barrage round the captured positions, in accordance with the arrangements that had been made. Twenty prisoners and four machine-guns were taken by the battalion.
In spite of the barrage, at 10 p.m. the enemy launched a determined counter-attack down all the trenches leading to the page 116 position. Armed with the new light "egg" bomb, his bombers outranged ours; and the Black Watch bombing parties, which had not been reinforced, were driven back down Drop Alley. At the same time, the Canterbury men were pushed from the blocks they had established, and a party of the enemy penetrated into Flers Trench, in the rear of our left flank. Two platoons of the 12th Company were sent up to support the line; but owing to the darkness, and the confused hand-to-hand fighting, they could do very little to help, and soon became mixed up in the general melee. The enemy had now encircled both flanks, and there was grave danger of the battalion being cut off.
At this juncture Captain F. Starnes arrived with the remaining platoons of the 12th Company. Finding men of all companies mixed together, and in many cases without leaders, he organized small parties and set them to clear the enemy out of definite areas. Captain Starnes personally led party after party, and after some very desperate fighting he at length cleared the trench from our original right flank to the northern end of Drop Alley. He then led attacks on Drop Alley, till by 4 a.m. the whole of it was in our hands, and he was able to hand it over to the Black Watch.
There was no rest for the garrison, however, as much hard digging was required to fit the position for defence. Nor was the enemy content to leave the trench in our hands; for at 5.30 p.m. on the 21st he made a most determined counter-attack. Altogether about two hundred of his men worked up Goose Alley on the right flank, and up Flers Support and Flers Trench in the centre and on the left. The enemy bombers were well organized, bold and expert, and were much fresher than our men, who had been fighting all night and digging all day. The attack penetrated our line in several places; but the rest of the line stood firm, in spite of heavy fighting. Finally, led again by Captain Starnes, our men got out of the trenches, and from the open bombed the enemy parties which were still holding out in our trenches. Taking advantage of the confusion caused by this unexpected attack, our men charged with the bayonet, and cleared the trenches. During the fighting, a party from the 2nd Auckland Battalion, led by a private, without orders came overland from the North road to assist our right flank.page 117
Any comment that the writer of this record might make would be impertinent beside the following unique telegrams of congratulation, sent as an acknowledgement of the 2nd Battalion's fine achievement::—
From the III Corps Commander:
"The Lieutenant-General Commanding III Corps has requested the Corps Commander to convey to the New Zealand Division his appreciation of the good work done by them on the right of the III Corps, and of the assistance rendered by them to the III Corps during the last few days."
From the Fourth Army Commander:
"Please congratulate the New Zealand Division from me on their excellent work in Flers Line and Drop Alley. They deserve every credit for their gallantry and perseverance."
From the XV Corps Commander:
"The Corps Commander congratulates Major-General A. H. Russell and the New Zealand Division on the success gained last night (20th/21st inst.) by the 2nd Battalion Canterbury Regiment. The repeated attacks, renewed and delivered with such energy and determination speak highly of the fine fighting qualities displayed by all ranks. The Corps Commander particularly desires to express to Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart his high appreciation of the sound conception of the plan, and to Captain Starnes his admiration of his gallant and courageous leading."
On the night of September 21st/22nd the 2nd Canterbury Battalion was relieved by the 1st Battalion Munster Fusiliers, and went back to trenches just north of the Longueval-Bazantin le Grand road, with headquarters at Thistle Dump. The weather was wet, but there was little rest, as working parties had to be supplied to repair the roads. In the period during which the battalion was at Thistle Dump (September 22nd to 28th) it received from the base reinforcements of five officers and ninety-four other ranks.
The 1st Brigade remained in Divisional reserve till the evening of September 24th, and during this period the 1st Canterbury Battalion, in Savoy Trench, received one hundred and thirty reinforcements from the base. On the night of the 24th/25th, the Brigade relieved the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade in the front line, with orders to take part in the Fourth Army's attack the following day. The Army objectives, from right to left, were the villages of Morval, Les Boeufs and Gueudecourt, and from the north-west of Gueudecourt a line running through the junction of the Flers-Ligny Thilloy and Gueudecourt-Eaucourt 1' Abbaye roads (Factory Corner) along a spur, which ran in a north-easterly direction between Flers and Eaucourt l'Abbaye, to the junction of the High Wood-Le Barque road with the Flers Line. From here the line of the objectives ran generally west across the forward spurs of the high ground to Courcelette, where the Fourth Army joined the Reserve (or Fifth) Army. The task allotted to the XV Corps was the capture of these objectives from Gueudecourt (inclusive) to the junction of the Flers Line with the High Wood-Le Barque road; and the New page 119 Zealand Division's objectives extended from Factory Corner (inclusive) to the left flank of the Corps.
The 1st Brigade was ordered to capture the Division's objectives, the 3rd Brigade being in support and the 2nd Brigade in reserve. The attack was divided into two stages, during the first of which the three leading battalions, the 1st Canterbury (on the right), the 1st Auckland (in the centre), and the 1st Otago (on the left), were to capture Factory Corner and the general line of the North Road (leading from Factory Corner and west of Flers to Longueval) as far as Flers Support. During the second stage the 1st Otago Battalion was to capture Abbey road* as far to the north-west as its junction with Goose Alley, and also the uncaptured portion of Goose Alley south-west of Abbey road. On the completion of the two stages, a line of outposts was to be established on the high ground between Factory Corner and the junction of Goose Alley and Abbey road, and between the latter point and the junction of the High Wood-Le Barque road and Flers Trench. These posts, situated as they were on the Corps' final objective, were to be connected during the night into a continuous front line.
The 1st Canterbury Battalion assembled with its first line for the attack in Grove Alley, to the left of the Flers-Ligny Thilloy road, and its second line in a trench about two hundred yards to the rear. The weather was now fine. The attack was preceded by a bombardment which began on September 24th; but, unlike previous bombardments, it was not increased in intensity immediately before the attack. The 1st Light Trench Mortar Battery assisted in the preliminary bombardment by shelling the enemy strong-point at the junction of Grove Alley and the Flers-Ligny Thilloy road, inflicting heavy casualties and putting out of action two enemy machine-guns. These guns were captured by the 1st Canterbury Battalion during the advance, and used later against the enemy.
* See page 114.
The rest of the 1st Brigade also gained their objectives; and the night of the 25th and the whole of the next day were spent in consolidating the new line. Patrols were sent forward after dark on the 26th to examine the wire in front of Gird Trench: that in front of the Canterbury Battalion was found to be destroyed, but the Auckland patrols reported that the wire on their front was practically intact. During the same night, the Canterbury Battalion handed over the strong-points on its right flank to troops of the Royal Irish Rifles (55th Division).
The village of Gueudecourt, which had held out against the attacks of September 25th, was captured by the 21st Division on the following day. This prepared the way for an advance by the remainder of the XV Corps against the German main fourth defensive line, which ran north-west from Gueudecourt and crossed the Albert-Bapaume road between Le Sars and Warlen-court-Eaucourt. The line consisted of two trenches, called in this locality Gird Line and Gird Support, and was protected by a thick belt of wire.
The 55th and New Zealand Divisions were ordered to capture this line from west of Gueudecourt to its junction with the right fork of Goose Alley, about a quarter of a mile east of the High Wood-Le Barque road. The boundary between the two Divisions was the Flers-Ligny Thilloy road, which was inclusive to the 55th Division. The 1st Brigade was again detailed to perform the task of the New Zealand Division, and the Canterbury, Auckland, and Otago Battalions were ordered to attack, in the same relative positions as before. The 1st Canterbury Battalion's objectives were Gird Trench and Gird Support, between the two page break page 121 roads which led up to Ligny-Thilloy from the Gueudecourt-Eau-court l' Abbaye road, one on the east and the other on the west of Factory Corner. The western road was inclusive to the battalion. On the brigade's left flank, the 1st Otago Battalion had to take Goose Alley, from where that trench crossed the Abbey Road to its junction with Gird Support, and to form a defensive flank along Goose Alley, facing west. The 1st Auckland Battalion's task was the capture of the Gird Line and Support, between the inner flanks of the Canterbury and Otago Battalions.
The attack was preceded by an artillery bombardment, and was made under a creeping barrage. At 2.15 p.m. (on the 27th) the 1st Canterbury Battalion advanced behind the barrage, with the 12th and 13th Companies in the first wave and the 1st and 2nd Companies in the second wave. The right company overran the objective, but was withdrawn later to its proper position. On the left, the attacking company was held up for a short while by bombers and machine-guns; but the latter were silenced by our Lewis gunners, and all the objectives of the battalion were captured by 2.38 p.m., with slight casualties. The right flank was in touch with the 55th Division, which had taken its. objectives.
On the left, however, the rest of the 1st Brigade did not have so easy a task as the Canterbury Battalion. The Auckland Battalion was held up by the wire, the existence of which it had reported the previous day, but which had not been cut; but it finally gained its objective. Three companies of the Otago Battalion came under a very heavy artillery and machine-gun barrage while advancing, suffered very severe casualties, and were unable to capture their objectives. The remaining company captured Goose Alley to a distance of six hundred yards north of Abbey Road, and with the help of a company of the reserve battalion built strong-points there. It was not till the 28th, however, that the front line was joined up with the left flank by a company of the reserve battalion.
During the interval, several unsuccessful attempts had been made to capture the junction of Gird Trench and Gird Support with Goose Alley; but the ground at this point formed a saucer-shaped depression, a hundred feet deep and a hundred yards page 122 across, but open on the north-east, which was not shown on the map, and which rendered the trenches in it untenable without the possession of the high ground beyond them. A new trench was therefore dug round the south-east rim of the saucer, joining the Auckland Battalion's left, in Gird Trench and Gird Support, with the Otago-Wellington Battalions' right in Goose Alley. This trench denied to the enemy the trench junction which our troops had found untenable.
The 1st Canterbury Battalion consolidated its new position unmolested, and remained there till the night of September 28th/29th, when the 2nd Brigade relieved the 1st Brigade. On relief by the 2nd Wellington Battalion at 1 a.m., the 1st Canterbury Battalion moved back to Savoy Trench—the 1st Brigade being now in Divisional reserve. There the battalion remained till the night of October 2nd, supplying working parties for road repairs; and then it relieved the 1st Battalion of the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade in trenches south-west of Flers (the "Brown Line"), on the 1st Brigade relieving the 3rd Brigade in Divisional support. The battalion was not called on to move again from its trenches, and on the relief of the Division by the 41st Division on the night of the 3rd/4th, handed over to the 32nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers and marched back to bivouacs at Pommiers Redoubt.
The 2nd Canterbury Battalion had gone into the line on the night of September 28th/29th, and being the reserve battalion of the brigade, had occupied Grove Alley. Orders were issued on September 29th for the capture of Eaucourt l'Abbaye by the 47th Division (III Corps), on the New Zealand Division's left flank; and the New Zealand Division was ordered to co-operate, by establishing a line from its westernmost positions in Gird Trench to a German strong-point, known as "the Circus" by reason of its circular shape, about five hundred yards north-east of Eaucourt l'Abbaye. After passing Goose Alley, the Gird Line swung away to the north-west, so that the New Zealand Division's objectives included a small portion only of this line, and consisted mainly of a general line running due west from the junction of Goose Alley and Gird Support to the German strong-point near Eaucourt l'Abbaye mentioned above.page 123
The 2nd Brigade, being ordered to take the New Zealand Division's objectives, divided the front into two at the High "Wood-Le Barque road, and allotted the right portion to the 2nd Canterbury Battalion and the left portion to the 2nd Otago Battalion, with the 2nd Wellington Battalion in support of Otago. On the right of the 2nd Canterbury Battalion, the 2nd Auckland Battalion was ordered to hold the remainder of the front line, hut was not to make any advance. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade were attached to the 2nd Brigade and were held in reserve.
The objectives assigned to the 2nd Canterbury Battalion included the deep depression at the junction of Goose Alley and Gird Trench, and the strong positions on the high ground to the north and west of the hollow. In places, the steep banks on the enemy side of the hollow in themselves were a formidable obstacle; and beyond them the enemy held his trenches in great strength. The battalion was not asked to do more than obtain a secure footing on the north of the hollow; for here Gird Support began to run in a north-westerly direction. The battalion's objective therefore followed the line of Goose Alley across to Gird Trench, and then followed the line of Gird Trench towards the west for some two hundred yards. Here Gird Trench also turned towards the north-west; but a new trench, which the enemy had hastily dug within the last few days, ran from Gird Trench in a south-westerly direction for about two hundred yards, then turned west and crossed the High Wood-Le Barque road, and finally swept north-west again to the Circus. The brigade objective followed this trench, which had been christened "Circus Trench," but the 2nd Canterbury Battalion's objective stopped on the western side of the High Wood-Le Barque road.
Three companies made the battalion attack—the 12th, 2nd, and 1st Companies—while the 13th Company was held in reserve. The objectives of the assaulting companies were:—
12th Company: Gird Support from the westernmost part already in our hands to its junction with Goose Alley; and Goose Alley to its junction with Gird Trench (inclusive); together with the ground beyond the trench-objectives as far as the crest of the high ground behind the trenches.page 124
2nd Company: Gird Trench from Goose Alley (exclusive) to its junction with Circus Trench (inclusive), together with the high ground beyond.
1st Company: Circus Trench from Gird Trench (exclusive) to the High Wood-Le Barque road (inclusive).
Besides the 13th Company, two other reserve companies, the 15th and 16th Companies of the 2nd Auckland Battalion, were placed at the disposal of Lieutenant-Colonel Stewart.
The assaulting companies assembled in the new trenches on the south-east edge of the hollow, in Gird Trench and in Goose Alley. At 3.15 p.m. on October 1st they advanced under a creeping barrage, and at the same time a special detachment of Royal Engineers discharged oil drums from trench-mortars in the front line trenches. These fell short on the left, but reached the enemy trenches on the right; and besides causing numerous casualties had a great moral effect. In spite of this, however, the 12th Company and the right half of the 2nd Company met some rifle and machine-gun fire as they left the trenches; and while they waited in the hollow for the barrage to lift off the enemy's positions, they were heavily bombed by the garrison. Owing to the inaccuracy of the aim of the bombers, however, few casualties were caused by the bombs; and on the barrage lifting the assaulting troops charged the trenches. The remaining company and a half did not have the advantage of dead ground, and suffered severe casualties from machine-gun fire from their right and front. They reached their objectives; but, probably owing to their losses, they did not cover their whole front, and left a considerable gap between their left flank and the 2nd Otago Battalion.
Consolidation was begun at once—on the right at the top of the high ground, and on the left along Circus Trench. Within half an hour of the opening of the attack, the reserve company had been sent forward to reinforce the attacking companies: two platoons were sent to the junction of Goose Alley and Gird Trench, one platoon to the right of the 1st Company, and one platoon to the extreme left. The 16th Company of the 2nd Auckland Battalion was also sent to the junction of the centre and left companies, at about 4 p.m. Early in the evening a page 125 platoon of the 15th Company of the same battalion was used to strengthen the left flank.
During the night, at about 11 p.m., a bombing attack developed down the enemy trenches leading to the junction of Gird and Circus Trenches, but it was not pressed with any determination. However, the 3rd and 5th Companies of the 2nd Auckland Battalion, which had been sent up to support the 2nd Canterbury Battalion during the night, were at 1 a.m. on the 2nd put into the line, and into the trenches in rear of the line at this point. The 2nd Otago and 2nd Wellington Battalions on the left had over-run their objectives, but were brought back to their proper positions.
The morning of October 2nd found the companies of the 2nd Canterbury Battalion very much mixed up; so at 8 a.m. a reorganization was ordered. The front line was thereafter held in the following order from right to left:—12th Company, 3rd (Auckland) Company, 13th Company, 2nd Company, 1st Company, with 16th (Waikato) Company in support. No enemy counter-attacks were made during day; and during the night of October 3rd/4th the battalion was relieved by the 4th Battalion of the 3rd (Rifle) Brigade. Owing to the heavy state of the ground, the relieving battalion was nine hours late, and the relief was therefore not complete till 5.30 a.m. on the 4th.
The strength of the battalion engaged in this attack (including forty-nine other ranks who arrived on the 1st), had been nineteen officers and four hundred and eighty-seven other ranks.
The losses inflicted on the enemy, however, were much greater than ours; for, in addition to fifty prisoners (including a battalion commander and several other officers) and four machine-guns, the enemy lost in dead, counted in the captured positions, at least three hundred. Besides these, many more were killed by fire from our rifles, Lewis guns, and machine-guns, while attempting to retire over the open. One alone of the machine-gun sections attached to the battalion claims to have destroyed to a man two retreating parties, one of about fifty and the other of about forty.
|1st Battalion.||Officers.||Other Ranks.|
|2nd Battalion.||Officers.||Other Ranks.|
Total casualties for the two battalions (out of twelve infantry battalions, one pioneer battalion, artillery, engineers, etc., engaged)—1,132.page 127
On October 5th the General Officer Commanding the Division received the following message from General Headquarters:—
"A copy of a telegram sent to-day from the Commander-in-Chief to the New Zealand Government is forwarded herewith for your information and communication to the Division, The Commander-in-Chief desires to add his warm congratulations to the Division on the splendid record they have achieved. Message:—"The New Zealand Division has fought with greatest gallantry in the Somme Battle for twenty-three consecutive days, carrying out with complete success every task set, and always doing even more than was asked of it. The Division has won universal confidence and admiration. No praise can be too high for such troops."