Page 35 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

Basic HTML Version

22
THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS,
I9I4-I9I8
opportunities for observation and concealed positions for artillery,
those of the south are less steep, more open and so shaped that it was
very difficult for our artillery to find positions from which to support
the infantry without exposing themselves to superior German
artillery fire.
During the night of I2th/I3th September, Brigadier-General
A. Hunter-Weston, then commanding nth Infantry Brigade and
soon to be the Divisional Commander of the Ist Battalion at Gallipoli,
was ordered to push forward and seize a crossing over the Aisne at
Venizel bridge, three miles east-south-east of Soissons. The bridge
had been partially destroyed by the Germans; but General Hunter–
Weston, a Sapper himself, decided that there was enough of the
roadway left to enable infantry to cross
in
single file, though all
ammunition and other transport loads would have to be passed over
by hand and carried thence on the man till a stronger bridge was
available. Accordingly, between I and 3 a.m. on I3th September,
the nth Brigade crossed the river, pushed rapidly forward, surprised
the German outposts on the crest two miles north of the river and
established themselves on a line running westward from Ste. Mar–
guerite. At 5.30 a.m., the 12th Brigade left Septmonts and moved
through Billy-sur-Aisne to Venizel, where it halted. The enemy
began to search the village with heavy guns, using shells nick-named
"coal-boxes," one shell landing
in
the middle of a company of the
King's Own about twenty yards from the battalion on the other side
of a road, causing half a dozen casualties. This was the battalion's
first experience of heavy shells. As other shells came uncomfortably
near, the battalion and the 2nd Essex Regiment were moved for–
ward. "A" Company (Captain Woodrnan) was ordered by a staff
officer, who did not inform Major Griffin, to cross the river.
It
did so
by Venizel bridge and, having no orders what to do on reaching the
northern bank, went into a small wood near the far end of the
bridge. The rest of the battalion followed and became a more or less
confused crowd in the wood. As the effect would have been disastrous
if the German guns had chanced to open fire on such a tempting
target, Major Griffin sought the permission of Colonel F. G. Anley,
who was temporarily
in
command of the 12th Infantry Brigade, to
move the battalion elsewhere. He was ordered to advance towards
Bucy-Ie-Long and accordingly collected parties of men, put the
nearest officer in command of each, and dispatched them in extended
order towards the objective. A succession of skirmishing lines was
thus formed to the right and left of the road running northwards to
Bucy-Ie-Long, the leading wave being commanded by Second–
Lieutenant G. F. Page. The lines moved forward across the open
valley under a heavy fire of shells from the heights to the north–
west and about Chivres. How this advance appeared to the enemy is
graphically told by the German author WaIter Bloem, who saw it as a
captain of the 12th Brandenburg Grenadiers from Chivres spur, in
his book "Vormarsch" (translated into English as "The Advance
from Mons, I914") :