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THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS, 1914-1918
THE BATTLE OF MESSINES
..
~lESSINES,
1917"
9th and 11 th Battalions
One of the purposes of the Battle of Arras--and the only purpose
of its continuance-was, as has been explained earlier in this chapter,
to distract German attention from the preparations which were
being made for the Commander-in-Chiefs main offensive of the year
1917 near Ypres.
An
essential part of those measures was the
capture of the Messines ridge, which afforded the enemy good
observation over the ground on which any guns would be stationed,
and over which
all
troops and transport must pass, for an attack
launched east of Ypres. Until that feature was in British hands, it
would be foolhardy to proceed further with the principal plan. Pre–
liminaries to its seizure had, in any case, been in progress from early
in 1916 and more intensively since January, 1917. There is not the
space to recount in detail the care expended on the planning of the
work by the Second Army Commander, teneral Sir Herbert Plumer,
his chief of staff, Major-General
C.
H.
Harington, and their team
of devoted helpers; the digging of twenty mines under the German
positions, the countermining and the subterranean fights between
the rival tunnellers; the realistic rehearsals by all of the parts they
were to take on "the Day"; or the meticulous time-tables for the
approach of the many units involved and the imaginative thorough–
ness with which the administrative arrangements were made.
It
was
one of the most perfectly planned and executed battles of the whole
war. Two battalions of the Regiment were involved in it, the one
actively, the other passively.
11TH
BN.
After the Battle of the Ancre Heights in October, 1916, the nth
Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel E. C. de
R.
Martin, M.C. , King's Own
Yorkshire Light Infantry) moved to Ploegsteert, near Armentieres,
and spent a winter and spring of routine in and out of the trenches
there and at Neuve Eglise, going to the back area for five days in
May, 1917. On 5th June it moved to bivouacs at Breemeerschen,
near Neuve Eglise, where the stores required for a big attack were
issued. At 8.15 p.m. the next day it moved to assembly trenches at
Souvenir Farm, just east of Wulverghem, behind the 13th Cheshire
Regiment (commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel
L.
H.
K.
Finch, who
was to command the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers at Colchester nearly
twenty years later). All companies were
in
position by 12-45 a.m.
on 7th June, in spite of German shelling of the assembly positions
from
II
p.m. to 3 a.m. with gas and tear-gas shells which caused
few casualties but much inconvenience. At 1.10 a.m. came a welcome
issue of rum, a contrast to the mixture of cold tea and lemon with
which every man's water bottle had been filled under divisional
arrangements. (One wonders whether there was much difficulty
during the battle in enforcing the standing order that no soldier shall
drink from his water bottle without an officer's leave.)
The battalion's final objective was, in effect, the main road from