Page 272 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

Basic HTML Version

THIRD BATTLE OF YPRES-BATTLE OF CAMBRAI
24I
efforts to trace them had failed. He therefore put "D" Company on
the fonning-up line in order that it should replace "B" in the attack
on the first objective. Fortunately at about 4.30 a.m. the missing
platoons were found and he reverted to his original plan , though this
step involved both companies assembling on the tapes. The whole
battalion was in position by 5.10 a.m.-a close shave as zero was at
5.20
a.m.
At this hour, just as dawn was breaking, the barrage opened and
the attacking waves moved forward. Seven minutes later a somewhat
ragged German counter-barrage came down, but it did not cause
as much inconvenience as the enemy's machine guns and rifles.
These offered considerable opposition from a strong point south of
Olga Houses and from another to east of them. Here, Serjeant W.
Brain, D.C.M., M.M., who had joined the battalion in Malta in
I910
and served with great gallantry as a stretcher-bearer in Gallipoli
and in France, gave further proof of his courage and initiative.
When his platoon was held up by machine-gun fire from the first of
these "pill-boxes," he rushed forward alone and managed to reach
the door at the back of it. He disposed of the garrison by using
bombs and his bayonet and enabled his platoon to go forward.
They were then held up by the other "pill-box." Once again Brain
dashed forward alone and forced the whole garrison of twenty-five
Germans to surrender. Other centres of resistance in this area were
rushed by Downes, whose action helped to prevent a check in the
advance. Unfortunately, during this fighting he was badly wounded
in the elbow by a bomb and had to withdraw. Two of his platoon
commanders, Second-Lieutenants E. F. Marriott and
J.
Bird, were
also wounded; but N.C.Os. promptly took their place and the
command of "A" Company was at once assumed by Lieutenant
S. H. Winterbottom, who led it on towards the first objective. Soon
he was confronted by Olga Houses, whence a galling machine-gun
fire was being directed on the attackers. Realizing that any
prolonged delay would cause the troops to lose the barrage, Serjeant
J.
Lister rushed ahead of his men and found a machine gun firing
from a shell hole in front of the strong point. He disregarded it and
went on to the "pill-box" itself, where he shouted to the occupants
to surrender. Only one man refused and him Lister shot dead; the
rest came out, whereupon more Germans, to the number of about a
hundred, emerged from shell holes behind and gave themselves up.
The effect of Lister's prompt initiative was to enable the advance to
continue with a barely perceptible check and the troops to keep up
with the barrage, at a moment when serious delay might easily have
occurred.
If
the line had been held up here and the barrage lost, it is
very probable that the first objective would not have been reached
over a wide area, with incalculable consequences to the operations.
Instead, "A" Company was able to establish itself on the "Dotted
Green Line" as early as 5.58 a.m.
It
at once got in touch with "B"
Company on its left, and with the 2nd Battalion on its right near
Millers Houses.
R