Page 57 - The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

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42
THE LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS,
19I4-I9I8
was a very weary and jaded band, dotted about at wide intervals,
which faced the dawn of 3rd May, although two officers came up and
some men of "C" and "D" Companies attached themselves during
the night. Before morning, the SthArgyll and SutherlandHighlanders
took over the whole of the battalion's sector except that originally
heJd by "B" Company, in which the survivors were concentrated.
This party carried on as best it could for the next thirty-six hours,
encouraged and sustained by the arrival each night of the Quarter–
master, Major W. Bowes, and Serjeant H. Bibby with generous
rations gallantly brought up by the transport and with such scanty
news as there was, including a story that Second-Lieutenant G. C.
Martin had somehow fallen into the moat of Shell Trap Farm and had
to swim in it. But nearly half of this small group had to be evacuated
to hospital suffering from the effects of gas.
The 3rd of May was not without its anxieties. For the enemy
shelled the area intermittently from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. ; and at about
midday parties of the enemy came out of their trenches and set
about mending the wire which the artillery had cut the day before.
One man seemed suddenly to go mad and charged towards the
British lines all by himself. But the survivors were in no mood for
jests or for mercy and his race was ended after fifty yards. At one
period, another gas attack was thought to be coming; but what had
been suspected to be gas turned out to be a field of mustard waving
in the sultry air.
It
is not surprising that it was decided that the line as it was then
supposed to run could no longer be held, but must be shortened by
giving up the position so gallantly held by "B" Company, which
nevertheless formed, with the trenches to its right, a dangerous
salient. This operation was carried out during the night of 3rd/4th
May, another sleepless stretch spent by the survivors of the battalion
in collecting all the spare ammunition, bombs, rifles and equipment
that could be of any further use .
It
was a long task; and dawn was
breaking when the I75 officers and men who then constituted the
garrison of the battalion's sector assembled behind Shell Trap Farm
and marched down towards Vlamertinghe, the new position being
taken over by another unit . The enemy moved into the deserted
lines two hours later.
If
the march of the battalion up to the line late on 29th April had
been tedious and dangerous, the march out of the remnants was
painful and arduous.
It
began at 3 a.m. in pouring rain.
It
was
soon daylight, but fortunately the enemy held his hand and every
advantage was taken of the scanty natural cover of the ground.
At the end of a mile, the party had become a long, straggling line of
coughing and spitting men, mostly crawling on their hands and
knees, who still found it hard to breathe as their lungs were not yet
free of gas. They halted at
La
Brique to enable the hot and gasping
column to recover its breath and its cohesion. On they went again,
past the French guns near the Canal which had done so much for
them. Progress was slow and men frequently fell out. As known