This, the second volume of Rudyard Kipling’s history of the Irish Guards in the First World War, focuses attention on the activities of the Second Battalion and its total war service. This junior battalion first saw action in 1915 and it is in the first pages of the book that we read of the death of Kipling’s son John. The battles of the Western Front are described in detail from the battalion’s perspective and there is much within the narrative to remind us that this is the work of a master writer. This volume contains a comprehensive honour roll of the men of both 1st and 2nd Battalions and the Reserve Battalion of the Irish Guards who were killed in action or died of wounds or disease during the war; also included is a full list of those decorated – making this book an invaluable resource for genealogists.
And at half-past six, tired, very hungry, but otherwise in perfect order, turned up at Brigade Headquarters Sergeant Moyney with the remainder of No. 3 Company's platoon which had been missing since the 12th. He had been left in command of an advanced shell-hole post in Ney Copse with orders neither to withdraw nor to let his men break into their iron ration. The Wurtembergers' raid had cut off his little command altogether; and at the end of it he found a hostile machine-gun post well established between himself and the duckboard-bridge over the river. He had no desire to attract more attention than was necessary, and kept his men quiet. They had forty-eight hours rations and a bottle of water apiece; but the Sergeant was perfectly definite as to their leaving their iron ration intact. So they lay in their shell-hole in the wood and speculated on life and death, and paid special attention to the commands of their superior officer in the execution of his duty. The enemy knew they were somewhere about, but not their strength nor their precise position, and having his own troubles in other directions, it was not till the dawn of the 16th that he sent out a full company to roll them up. The Sergeant allowed them to get within twenty-five yards and then ordered his men to 'jump out and attack.' It was quite a success. Their Lewis-gun came into action on their flank, and got off three drums into the brown of the host while the infantry expended four boxes of bombs at close quarters. 'Sergeant Moyney then gave the order to charge through the Germans to the Broembeek.' It was done, and he sent his men across that foul water, bottomed here with curly barbed-wire coils while he covered their passage with his one rifle. They were bombed and machine-gunned as they floundered over to the swampy western bank; and it was here that Private Woodcock heard cries for help behind him, returned, waded into the water under bombs and bullets, fished out Private Hilley of No. 3 Company with a broken thigh and brought him safely away. The clamour of this fierce little running fight, the unmistakable crack and yells of the bombing and the sudden appearance of some of our men breaking out of the woods near the German machine-gun emplacement by the river, had given the impression to our front of something big in development. Hence the SOS which woke up the whole touchy line, and hence our final barrage which had the blind good luck to catch the enemy as they were lining up on the banks of the Broembeek preparatory, perhaps, to the advance the St. Julien prisoner had reported. Their losses were said to be heavy, but there was great joy in the Battalion over the return of the missing platoon, less several good men, for whom a patrol went out to look that night in case they might be lying up in shell-holes. But no more were found. ('Twas a bad mix-up first to last. We ought never to have been that side the dam river at that time at all. 'Twas not fit for it yet. And there's a lot to it that can't be told. . . . And why did Moyney not let the men break into their ration? Because, in a tight place, if you do one thing against orders yell do anything. And it was a dam tight place that that Moyney man walked them out of.)
They were relieved with only two casualties. The total losses of the tour had been one officer missing (Lieutenant Manning), one (2nd Lieutenant Gibson ) wounded; one man wounded and missing; eighty missing; fifty-nine wounded and seventeen killed. And the worst of it was that they were all trained hands being finished for the next big affair! Rations and ammunition came up into the line, and from time to time a few odds and ends of reinforcements. By the morning of April 14th the Australians were in touch with our left which had straightened itself against the flanks of the Forest of Nieppe, leaving most of the Brigade casualties outside it. Those who could (they were not many) worked their way back to the Australian line in driblets. The Lewis-guns of the Battalion and this was pre-eminently a battle of Lewis-guns blazed all that morning from behind what cover they had, at the general movement of the enemy between La Couronne and Verte Rue which they had occupied. ('They was running about like ants, some one way, some the other the way Jerry does when he's manuvring in the open. Ye can't mistake it; and it means trouble.') It looked like a relief or a massing for an attack, and needed correction as it was too close to our thin flank. Telephones had broken down, so a runner was despatched to Brigade Headquarters to ask that the place should be thoroughly shelled. An hour, however, elapsed ere our guns came in, when the Germans were seen bolting out of the place in every direction. A little before noon they bombarded heavily all along our front and towards the Forest; then attacked the Guards salient once more, were once more beaten off by our Lewis-guns; slacked fire for an hour, then re-bombarded and demonstrated, rather than attacked, till they were checked for the afternoon. They drew off and shelled till dusk when the shelling died down and the Australians and a Gloucester regiment relieved what was left of the 2nd Irish Guards and the Coldstream, after three days and three nights of fighting and digging during most of which time they were practically surrounded. The Battalion's casualties were twenty-seven killed, a hundred missing and a hundred and twenty-three wounded; four officers killed (Captain E. D. Dent, Acting Captain M. B. Levy, Lieutenants J. C. Maher and M. R. FitzGerald); three wounded in the fighting (Captain Bambridge, 2nd Lieutenants F. S. L. Smith and A. A. Tindall) as well as Captain C. Moore on the 16th, and Lieutenant Lord Settrington and 2nd Lieutenant M. B. Cassidy among the missing.