Page 338 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

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Rigby came forward and, handled by him with great ability,
succeeded in completing the line. Lieutenant A. S. MacIver, the
intelligence officer of the 18th Battalion, also played a useful part
in the operation by collecting some stragglers and organizing them
into a platoon which he led to another threatened part of the line,
accounting for two of the enemy himself. He then remained in the
position which he had taken and sent back information which
proved of considerable value.
At about 6 p.m. the two battalions took over responsibility
for the outpost line of the brigade. But they were not destined to
remain there for long. Farther to the north, as the story of the
Ioth Battalion has shown, the Germans were already approaching
the valley of the Ancre; and there was a risk that they might
advance down it and cut off the retreat of the forces lying between
it and the Somme. Orders were therefore issued for the line to be
withdrawn at once to the Bray-sur-Somme-Albert road, all troops
except rear guards being clear of Maricourt by 1 a.m. on 26th
March. The 17th and 18th Battalions, with part of the I59th Brigade,
Royal Field Artillery, were entrusted with the difficult duty of
acting as rear guard and were ordered to hold the Maricourt defences
until 2-45 a.m. The withdrawal was carried out in an orderly
manner, in spite of units being considerably mixed; but the fact
that it was taking place was betrayed to the Germans by the glow
of burning dumps which had been set on fire to prevent them being
of use later to the enemy. Rigby again displayed great ability in the
handling of his company during this phase of the operations and set
a splendid example of coolness to his men until he was severely
wounded. The movements of the rear guard were not seriously
molested by the enemy, though they were not helped by the
desultory but accurate shelling of the roads which they had to use.
Eventually the brigade reached its allotted position on the Bray–
Albert road, with its right about half a mile north of Bray. The 18th
Battalion were on the right and the I7th in the centre, near " Happy
Valley," so often used by troops in reserve and at rest during the
Battle of the Somme. The Germans were not slow in following up
the withdrawal and the first shell arrived about 9.30 a.m. A little
over an hour later, mounted German scouts appeared over the
ridges to the east of the road, followed by larger bodies of troops
who advanced with evident caution but soon
to probe various
parts of the new line. By now the troops were very short of rations,
water and ammunition. The weather was hot and the long marches
which they had had to make since they detrained at Corbie had
given many men sore feet, though this trouble was to some extent
lessened by the finding of a quantity of socks in a deserted Ordnance
store. At about 1 p.m. the Germans attacked the whole of the line
held by the brigade. Again confused fighting occurred for several
hours, though several incidents stand out. Captain W. B.
who commanded the outpost line of the 17th Battalion, showed
great skill and helped greatly in keeping the enemy
check. At one