Page 383 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

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had more honourably or gallantly justified the epithet than the 25th
Division to which belonged the nth Lancashire Fusiliers-had been
sent to what purported to be a quiet and restful sector in exchange
for French divisions sent to the north to help the British in their
efforts to prevent the Germans from reaching the Channel ports.
The battalion spent over ten days in rest and training in a camp at
Coulonges, six miles east of Fere-en-Tardenois, where Lieutenant–
Colonel G. P. Pollitt, D.S.O., Royal Engineers, assumed command.
Training was continued near Montigny-sur-Vesle, twelve miles north–
west of Reims, whither the unit moved on 23rd May. Nor was this
training an unnecessary intrusion upon a period of rest, for the
battalion had received a large number of only partly-trained drafts
from England during the month.
There seemed every prospect that these recruits (for they were
little more) could be thoroughly trained while the battalion was in
reserve, as it was at Montigny, and could then have a more or less
kindly initiation into the conditions of the front line when its turn
came to take over the somnolent trenches on the Chemin des Dames,
the long ridge which lies to the north of the River Aisne and whose
western end the 2nd Battalion had gallantly attempted to take on
13th September, 1914. But on 26th May two Germans, captured
by the French, stated that a formidable attack was to be delivered
next day. The French staff for the most part refused to believe this
warning; but the British, convinced also by other indications,
acted on it as far as they were able in the short time available. The
nth Battalion was ordered to "stand to" at 7.30 p.m. on 26th and
to be in readiness to move at ten minutes' notice. At 10 p.m. it was
put on the road to billets at Muscourt, a mile south of the Aisne,
where it arrived at 3 a.m. on 27th. Two hours earlier one of the
heaviest bombardments of the war was opened along a wide front
which included three British divisions. Many gas shells fell on the
areas behind the line. At 5 a.m. the "S
S" was seen to go up and
soon afterwards hordes of Germans poured over the forward positions.
Much uncertainty prevailed as communications failed at an early
stage. As, however, it soon became clear that the enemy had broken
through the original line, reserves were moved to secondary
positions with a view to stopping his further advance. The nth
Battalion was accordingly ordered at 9 a.m. to occupy a frontage
of four hundred yards on the high ground south of the River Aisne.
At about 10.50 a.m. the Germans reached that obstacle opposite
the battalion. Shortly after, the 9th Loyal North Lancashire
Regiment, the left unit of the 74th Infantry Brigade, became
engaged and by 1.30 p.m. the Germans had succeeded in crossing
the Aisne and the Aisne Canal immediately to the south of it by a
bridge at Maizy and were advancing rapidly along a valley towards
Muscourt. The nth Battalion was involved but succeeded in
holding up the attackers on the road leading south from Concevreux.
The German parties which had moved up the valley succeeded,
however, in entering Muscourt; and as the battalion's flank was thus.