Page 384 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

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THE GERMAN ATTACKS IN THE NORTH AND ON THE AISNE
351
turned it was forced to withdraw to a ridge near Meurival. Its stay
here could not be long on account of the heavy shelling to which the
Germans subjected the position. It was here that Lance-Corporal
] oel Halliwell won his Victoria Cross. He galloped forward on a
stray horse captured from the enemy and, under very heavy
machine-gun and shell fire, brought back unaided and single–
handed to a place of safety an officer and nine men who had been
severely wounded and were unable to move . In each case he saw
personally to their evacuation by stretcher-bearers towards medical
aid. Three times he made unsuccessful attempts to make what
would have been his eleventh rescue, but the enemy was by now
advancing so rapidly that he had to retire to avoid capture. All
accounts · agree that Halliwell's courage and fearlessness were
exceptional throughout this trying day. Lance-Corporal H.
Thompson also showed great coolness and courage throughout this
day in collecting and organizing men. He too made several journeys
into No Man's Land to bring in wounded. His example did much
to stiffen the resistance to the German advance.
Although the battalion was shelled off the ridge, its withdrawal
was a short one and it found another position along a road five
hundred yards to the south of it. Between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. the
Germans launched three local attacks against the IIth, but were
repulsed with heavy losses each time. In the meanwhile, however,
the enemy had succeeded in turning flanks at other points on the
battlefield, and at
10
p.m. the brigade was ordered to withdraw to
Romain, two miles farther south, to conform with similar move–
ments on each side of it . The battalion moved to Breuil-sur-Vesle,
where its quartermaster, Lieutenant]. Gower, with the help of the
transport serjeant, Serjeant W. Barnett, managed to supply it with
hot tea. During the day the losses had been 6 men killed and 6
officers and 79 other ranks wounded.
The night was quiet, but at
5.30
a.m. on 28th May, a very hot
d?-y, the battalion was ordered to
fill
a gap in the line along a ridge
near Huit Voisins, one mile north of Breuil. At 7 a.m. the Germans
broke through on the right. Its commander ordered the 74th Infantry
Brigade to withdraw, keeping touch on both flanks, and gave
the IIth Battalion the task of covering the withdrawal of the 3rd
Worcestershire Regiment and the 9th North Lancashire Regiment.
Hard, desperate fighting ensued, with the Commanding Officer
leading repeated counter-attacks, and remnants of those two units
succeeded in reaching the south bank of the River Vesle which lay
behind Montigny. The rest of the story cannot be told better than
in the words of the War Diaries. "The last report of the nth
Lancashire Fusiliers," recorded the brigade headquarters, "was that
they were almost surrounded and heavily engaged. . .. There is
little doubt that the C.O. carried out his orders to the letter in
maintaining his position to the last." "Nothing further has been
heard of the battalion," in the words of its own War Diary, "and it is
presumed they have been taken prisoners or killed."