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1/5th Battalion the Leicestershire Regiment in the Great War

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1/5th Battalion the Leicestershire Regiment in the Great War
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Author(s): J. D. Hills
Date Published: 2011/03
Page Count: 280
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-518-6
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-517-9

Tigers on the Western Front

The 5th Leicestershire Regiment rallied to the colours almost to a man as so many Territorial units did at the outbreak of the First World War. It served on the Western Front as part of the 46th (North Midland) Division which consisted of the Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Lincolnshire and Staffordshire brigades. The Leicestershire's were in the 138th Brigade commanded initially by General A. Taylor and subsequently by General R. Clifford. In the pages of this book Actions are described on the Salient, on Vimy Ridge, at Gommecort, Monchy, Lens, Hill 65, St. Elie, Pontruet, Fresnoy, Riquerval Woods and many other engagements where the men with the tiger cap badge distinguished themselves. This history of the regiment was written by a serving officer who has produced a thorough and engaging account of the regiment’s time during the Great War which will be of interest both to students of the British infantry at war and those who wish to trace their ancestors to those momentous days in world history. The book includes honour and roster rolls of especial interest to genealogists. Available in softcover and hardcover with dustjacket for collectors.

In the St. Elie sector we had been three months almost without an incident of any importance; we were only six weeks in Cambrin, and every tour contained some item of interest. We started disastrously. On the night after relief Lieutenant Watherston was visiting B Company’s posts in the centre sector, when a party of the enemy crept up to and suddenly rushed the Lewis gun section he had just visited. Lieutenant Watherston turned back, drew his revolver, and rushed into the fight, but was himself shot through the head and killed instantaneously. He had fired three shots with his revolver, but was unable to stop the enemy who, having wounded the sentry and blown the N. C. O. off the firestep with a bomb, now escaped, taking the Lewis gun with them. The N. C. O., Corporal Watts, got up and gave chase, but lost touch with the enemy amongst the craters, and after being nearly killed himself had to return empty-handed. Our predecessors in the line seemed to have made no effort to wire this part of the line at all, presumably thinking the line of craters a sufficient protection. A few nights later 2nd Lieutenant Boarland reconnoitred the whole area with a patrol, and found that not only had the Boche got a well-worn track across No Man’s Land between two craters, but close to the raided post had fitted up a small dug-out with a blanket and a coat in it. This would, of course, have been impossible had the previous occupants of the line done any patrolling; we suffered through their gross negligence.<br>
Towards the end of the same tour, the enemy made another very similar attempt against our extreme right pasts held by A Company. Lance-Corporal Beale and Private Foster were with their gun on the parapet, when they were suddenly rushed by three or four of the enemy who had crept close up to them, and were on top of them before they could open fire. Lance-Corporal Beale used his fists on a German who seized him round the throat, but was then shot in the chest and fell backwards on the rest of the section who were coming to help. The Germans tried to carry off the gun, but Foster put up a fight, and they dropped it just outside the trench. However, one of them managed to knock Foster on the head, and, before help could arrive, he was carried off as a prisoner. Once again we suffered through the carelessness of our predecessors, for in this case, too, there was no protective barbed wire. We spent every night of the tour wiring hard, but could not of course finish the whole sector in five days.
The tour also contained a very severe artillery and trench mortar bombardment, which seriously damaged our left and centre trenches. But more serious than this was the loss to B Company of Lance-Corporal J. T. Pawlett, one of the best Lewis gun N. C. O’s in the battalion, who was mortally wounded during the shelling. A few days later we lost another excellent Lewis gun N. C. O., Lance-Corporal Stredder, of D Company, who went to England wounded, fortunately not very seriously.<br>
The tour ended on the 8th, and for the next six days we remained in brigade support, Annequin, Maison Rouge, and Factory Dug-outs. Even here we were not left in peace, for on two occasions the enemy opened very heavy bombardments against the Cambrin sector. The second occasion, the night of the 12th/13th of December, this was so terrific, and so much gas was used, that we had to stand to at midnight, while many messages, “Poison Cambrin” etc., were flying about. The damage to trenches, and more particularly to the tunnels, caused by this bombardment was very great, as we soon learnt when, two nights later, we returned to the line. Savile tunnel was blown in in several places, and the company headquarters completely cut off and unusable. The tunnel entrances were shattered, and the whole system so badly damaged as to be almost useless except as dug-outs for the various posts. Quarry tunnel was not so badly damaged, but several of the left posts had been isolated by having the main connecting tunnel blown in behind them. Fortunately the front line trench on the left was still in existence, and could be used instead of the tunnels. Finally, Northampton trench was literally obliterated in the centre, and a famous “island” traverse, no small earth-work, so completely wiped out that we could never afterwards discover its exact whereabouts. <br>
Once more we had bad luck at the start of the tour, for we had only been a few hours in the line when a shell on Quarry Alley caught a small party of men coming down. Signaller Newton and Stretcher Bearer Cooke were killed outright, and Sergeant Woolley, acting sergeant signaller while Sergeant Wilbur was away, was wounded and had to go to hospital. In addition to the wiring we now had the tunnels to dig out, and there was so much work to do that we had to have assistance from brigade; this took the form of a brigade wiring platoon and a company of Monmouthshires. On one occasion these two parties, both of course working “on top,” saw fit to imagine each other were Boche, and a small fight ensued. Fortunately no one was injured, though one of the Monmouthshires was only saved from a bullet through the head by his steel helmet.
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