Page 378 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

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employed in digging a communication trench from the rear towards
the south-eastern corner of Mount Kemmel. At 2.30 a .m. on 2Sth
the German artillery opened a heavy bombardment with high
explosive and lachrymatory and mustard gas, as had been foretold
by a prisoner taken by the French the previous evening. The
infantry assault followed at 6 a.m. when the Germans overran the
French positions and, in a little over an hour, had seized Kemmel
village and Mount Kemmel with its invaluable observation. "A"
Company (now commanded by Captain H. W. Huxley) had also
largely disappeared. Lieutenant-Colonel Ambrose-Smith, in an
attempt to save the situation, sent his Lewis-gun officer (Lieutenant
Mutch) towards the top of the hill and disposed the rest of the
battalion from a farm on the spur of the Mount known as Little
Kemmel, out to the right. In this position the battalion was
attacked continuously until the Germans succeeded in working
round both its flanks. The Germans surrounded the battalion
headquarters, the assistant adjutant (Lieutenant G. O. Thomas),
Regimental Serjeant-Major W. Garner and Orderly Room Serjeant
G. Griffiths being killed, and only I officer and I7 men escaped
unharmed. The Commanding Officer, who was wounded about
midday, and I4 other officers and 333 N.C.Os. and men were missing,
9 men were known to have been killed and 48 to have been wounded.
In spite of a gallant and prolonged resistance against overwhelming
odds, the battalion had met with disaster owing to a German advance
of a rapidity which could not have been foreseen and which should
not have been possible.
The nth Battalion, to the command of which Lieutenant-Colonel
F. T. P. Ward-McQuaid had just been appointed, took part in an
attempt made on the following day to recapture the lost ground.
After its exhausting experiences ten days before, that battalion had
enjoyed a few days of rest, mingled with reorganization and training,
at Dirty Bucket Camp near Brandhoek. At I.IS p.m. on 2Sth April,
in consequence of the events which have just been described, the
battalion marched round Poperinghe to the vicinity of the cross–
roads north-west of Reninghelst, whence an officer's patrol was sent
out to ascertain the situation on the north side of the
Kemmel road. This reported that the enemy were holding the
valley of the Kemmelbeek stream but that some British troops
were in position against them. Late that day the battalion was
ordered to be in support to the 3rd Worcestershire Regiment and
the 9th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, the other two battalions
of the 74th Infantry Brigade, which were to attack at 3 a.m. on
26th April in conjunction with French troops on the right and other
British troops on the left with a view to retaking Mount Kemmel
and Kemmel village. The troops moved off at II.SO p.m. A few
minutes later heavy rain came down and by 3 a.m. it had become
a drenching downpour which soaked the men to the skin and made
the going very bad. The Kemmelbeek proved to be a serious
obstacle as it was flooded and its banks were steep. On the other