Page 337 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

Basic HTML Version

H. Keenlyside during the greater part of the March operation
as he himself was in command of the I04th Infantry Brigade during
the absence on leave of Brigadier-General
W. Sandilands until
26th March. Similarly, Lieutenant-Colonel F. J. F . Crook, D.S.O.,
was on leave until 29th March and the I7th Battalion was com–
manded by Major
E. Jewels, M.C., until that date.
Late on 2Ist March, General Headquarters issued orders for the
35th Division, which included the I7th and I8th Battalions, to move
down to the Fifth Army forthwith. The two battalions entrained
at Peselhoek on the morning of 23rd March and detrained on the
following day at Corbie, whence they marched to billets at Vaux–
sur-Somme and Sailly-Laurette, one company of each being left at
the station for a day for detraining duties. Later the same day the
situation had become so serious north-west of Peronne that the two
units, and all other available troops in the division, were rushed
forward in motor buses. The moves were seriously delayed through
the congestion of the roads, which were
of columns of transport
moving back, troops moving forward and civilians fleeing for safety
with such belongings as they could transport on farm vehicles.
When the two battalions reached Maricourt, the enemy was
approaching it, and they were placed in support with orders to man
the Maricourt defence line (which was in effect the old British front
line before the Battle of the Somme in 1916) in the event of an
attack. At 9 p.m. a false alarm of a German attack was received and
the defences were manned, the 17th Battalion being complimented
by the brigade commander for the speed with which it turned out.
When the situation had been cleared up, units returned to their
original positions.
At 7-45 a.m. on 25th March the Germans opened a heavy barrage
over a wide area and followed it with a determined attack in several
waves about
a.m. The 17th and 18th Battalions occupied their
sectors of the Maricourt defences, but, although many gas shells fell
amongst them, the attack did not reach them. One hour later,
however, the enemy renewed his attacks and made such progress
on each side of Maricourt that eventually the 18th Battalion was
involved. Confused fighting followed in which every available man,
including the clerks and cooks of brigade headquarters, was used to
stem the flood. When the situation had been to some extent
stabilized, a counter-attack was delivered in which a company of
the 17th Battalion was led by Lieutenant H. G. Leaver with great
dash and promptness and succeeded in relieving a very critical
situation at the Bois de Maricourt, to the east of the village. He
was well supported by Company Serjeant-Major H. Colligan, who,
owing to the shortage of officers, was commanding a platoon and
led it very gallantly and effectively. Serjeant F. Snow also was of
great help to Leaver in keeping the men together under heavy fire
and, when the position had been regained, in going from post to
post encouraging them and seeing to the wounded. At the same
time, two platoons of the 18th Battalion under Captain W. E.