Page 235 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

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19 16- 19 17
Messines to Ypres running south and north along the top of the
Messines ridge.
lay about 3,000 yards from the British front
line east of Wulverghem, from which there was a gentle slope
downward towards the enemy, followed by a sharp drop to the
River Steenbeck. This watercourse was about four feet in width and
lay in ground which was very marshy during the winter or wet
weather but was usually quite dry in the summer except for
occasional pools. The "river" was therefore not a natural obstacle.
But it might be made into an awkward obstruction by skilful labour .
Moreover the valley was so deep and the river itself consequently
so hidden from direct observation that there could be ne certainty
t hat the wire, which was known to be there, had been properly cut
by the artillery fire . On the east side of this valley the ground rose
steeply at first to a series of farms, two of which (Middle Farm and
Four Huns Farm) were situated on the crest of the ridge and on the
main road. The buildings were all naturally strong and had been
turned into small forts.
The plan was for the two leading battalions of the 74th Infan try
Brigade to take all the German trenches up to the Steenbeck,
followed closely by the other two battalions, which were then to
"leap-frog" through them and capture the trench running along the
crest and known as October Support Trench. Another division was
then to pass through and capture the final objective of the operation,
about 1,500 yards farther east. Zero was at 3.10 a.m. on 7th June,
when nineteen mines exploded under the German front-line trenches
on the six miles attacked. At the same moment the artillery opened
fire: that covering the front of the 25th Division consisted of 126
I8-pounder guns, 35 3.5-inch howitzers and 72 "heavies." There
was an almost simultaneous soaring upwards of SOS rockets from
the German lines a few seconds later : as far as the eye could see,
the effect was that of a gigantic display of fireworks. The 13th
Cheshire Regiment advanced behind the barrage, followed closely
(Major E. Munday) and "B" (Lieutenant E.
Companies of the IIth Lancashire Fusiliers in artillery formation.
The German counter-barrage came down on the British front-line
system and No Man's Land in about four minutes.
missed these
companies but caused some casualties among the carrying parties
behind them. At 3.25 a.m.
(Captain M. A. Ward) and "D"
(Lieutenant C.
Hadfield) Companies left the assembly trenches
in rear of the 9th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, the left
leading unit of the brigade.
A strongish wind was blowing. Dawn was breaking, to the
accompaniment of a slight mist. The half-light and the mist, when
added to the dust thrown up by the barrage and to the obliteration
by the latter of German trenches which should have served as land–
marks, made it very difficult for the troops to maintain their
direction, and several parties of them lost their way for a time. But
they had carried out several practices on similar ground and they had
studied the operation so carefully both on the ground and on a large-