Page 36 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

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THE MARNE AND THE AISNE
23
"Stretched out across the broad expanse of meadows
between us and the river was a long line of dots wide apart,
and looking through glasses one saw that these dots were
infantry advancing, widely extended: English infantry, too,
unmistakably. A field battery on our left had spotted them,
and we watched their shrapnel bursting over the advancing
line. Soon a second line of dots emerged from the willows along
the river bank, at least ten paces apart, and began to advance.
More of our batteries came into action; but it was noticed that a
shell, however well aimed, seldom killed more than one man,
the lines being so well and widely extended. The front line had
taken cover when the shelling began, running behind any hedges
or buildings near by, but this second line kept steadily on, while
a third and fourth line now appeared from the river bank, each
keeping about two hundred yards distance from the line
in
front. Our guns now fired like mad, but it did not stop the
movement : a fifth and sixth line came on, all with the same wide
intervals between and the same distance apart.
It
was magnifi–
cently done. . .. We watched the tactical excellence of this
attack with such interest that we had forgotten that we were
... damnably exposed."
Captain Bloem was right about the casualties, the battalion
losing only one killed and two wounded during this stage of the
battle, and about the extensions as the leading platoon was at exactly
ten paces interval.
At about
I
p.m., the battalion reached Bucy-Ie-Long, where it
re-fonned into its proper platoons and cdmpanies, turned eastward
and marched without incident to Ste. Marguerite as advanced guard
to the 12th Brigade. Shortly after 3 p.m., Colonel Anley decided to
attack the high ground east of Chivres from which troublesome
rifle fire was coming. The 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers were to lead,
with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
in
support, covered by the
machine guns of the 2nd Essex Regiment from a position on the
high ground north-east of Ste. Marguerite. (It must be remembered
that the battalion had lost at Le Cateau the only two machine guns
then held by a British infantry battalion.)
It
was not realized that
what confronted them was an enemy well entrenched in carefully
chosen positions and, as an officer of the battalion wrote shortly
after:
"On reflection, it is somewhat astonishing, after our experi–
ence of trench warfare, to think of a very weak battalion
advancing over the open to attack Gennan trenches, without
artillery preparation of any sort, but it was done by a weak
battalion of well-trained soldiers, with high traditions behind
them. "
The battalion moved through the back gardens of the houses of
Ste. Marguerite and then entered the wood east of the village. The
undergrowth in it was very thick and the ground swampy, so that