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Monday, 23 April 2012

Diary Entry - 23rd April, 1917

Walford: Another bright sunny day and at four forty five a.m. the 68 Div (Naval) attacked Gavrelle, gaining all objectives and holding the town against many large counter attacks. We put up rather a novel smoke barrage on the left to avoid the Hun in Oppy from seeing what was happening. It proved quite successful as a barrage and covered the left from flanking machine gun fire and snipers in Oppy wood. It was a good light and BCs at the OP were taking on all targets that came in view. The Hun drew a lot of men from behind Oppy for a counter attack and had the face to march straight across the open in column of lumps[?] in range of our field guns. Our brigade being the first to see him got onto him at gun fire and gave him a bad mauling, killing many. But he went one better than this; he formed up about three battalions in the open in attacking order and advanced to the attack under our eyes. We were all waiting for him, heavies included, and opened a murderous fire on him when he came within range, and I believe we killed hundreds. The nine twos with their 101 fuse were making terrible gaps in the ranks. The first wave was wiped out and remnants of the secnd turned and fled, while the third faced it for a few yards and turned. Four times they attacked like this and four times we mowed them down in hundreds. By the end of the day the ground they advanced over was littered with dead. No-one could understand why Bosche attached so much importance to Gavrelle, as it held no ground from a tactical point of view, being in a hollow. This was the most wonderful sight I have seen since I came out and is the opinon of every officer I saw watching it. How the Hun officers got their men to march into such a Hell I can't imagine, unless they had machine guns in rear of them to scotch them up. I forgot to add that Siggers, who was with his guns this morning, in trying to help the No. 1 to move his trail, strained his back and was helpless, not being able to walk. He was helped down to the main position by Bailly and from there went on to the Brigade and thence to the WL. But for a time it is said he commanded the section from on his back.

Bee: A straf on Gavrelle this morning. It is on our right. It started at four thirty a.m. I was on duty at the group OP and had one of the most interesting days I have ever had. The light was bad up till eleven a.m. Then improved steadily until it was perfect. About eleven a.m. there was a tremendous movement of infantry from Oppy, a village on our left. From the OP we got a beautiful view, looking right down on the open plain. This movement was a good distance back, about 6,000 yards range. At first everybody thought the Hun was retiring but found our attack in the earlier part of the morning was a success, which the Hun resented and he was preparing a counter attack. All the 18-pounders on the front lit off at anything that was within range and Huns were running in all directions. Our Major got into them splendidly. The old Hun got a hell of a time. He formed up in the open and advanced in open order. We could practically see everything and waited for him, then mowed them down as they advanced. They made five different attempts too, but were driven off every time. It was the most wonderful sight I ever saw. In fact, we were shooting at moving targets all day. During the afternoon, the Hun brought down two of our planes just in front of the OP, but they came down under control, one landed all right, the other turned turtle and finished up with his wheels on top, but both men were unhurt, There is no doubt the Hun planes do what they like these days and are miles faster than ours, but they always take good care, when attacking, to take on our slow machines. They also fire [illegible 'tear?'] bullets and nearly always set our machines on fire. They bring down, on an average, three of ours a day on our front. It is awful to see these fellows jumping and getting dashed to bits. Yesterday the Hun straffed the 71st Battery very badly with 8-in from ten a.m. and knocked out three guns and properly chewed up their position, but all the men got away although had to move their quarters that night. An interfering Colonel came along while the straff was on today and asked Thorburn if he was firing. He said no. 'Well I shall report you'. So Thorlburn is now hoping he will.

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