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Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Diary Entry - 26th March, 1918

The Colonel visits us at one p.m. and gives us a message for the major which is that we have to supply a liaison officer in the morning to be with the sixth brigade at seven a.m. The major details me for the job so at six fifteen, after having walked to the horse lines, had a bite of food and some tea, I set out, with two signallers, two mounted orderlies and my horses. The map reference given us by the Colonel is wrong and after half an hour's hunt, we find we have to go forward through Auchonvillers instead of to the rear and to Mailly Maillet. I find my destination is down through Beaumont Hammel and down the road to Beaucourt. After leaving my horses in a small quarry, the signaller and self walk on down the road, meeting two infantry men only, who, though they belonged to the sixth brigade, could not find them and said they had been almost hit by a four point five How bursting on the road. Bryant and I wandered on and when only about 400 yards from Beaucourt two 4.5 How shells almost did for us, so, concluding we were in No Man's Land, we wended our way back to the horses. Just as we were mounting, a captain of the Fusiliers who was also looking for the sixth brigade, came along, so, thinking he would find them, I followed. But we only made a long detour over rough country and eventually recrossed the Auchonvillers road above Beaumont Hammel and, as we had followed the trench all the way, which was presumably the front line, I set out to remove my horses from No Man's Land and proceeded to the fifth infantry brigade whom I knew were in Auchonvillers. They tried to direct me to the sixth brigade, as did the TGOC division Major General Perrire but, as two and a half hours had been lost trying to find them, I thought it best to stick to the fifth, whom I had found by accident, and I sent a note to the Colonel to tell him what I had done. It was a memorable day full of incident. At ten thirty a.m. the Bosch was reported to be coming on in large numbers, both from Serre and across the Ancre from Grancourt and although we intended fighting, things were very grave as the brigade Major had been out on reconnaissance in front of Serre to find the people on our left. His report was that there was no one there and the 51st div who were supposed to be there could not be found. The Hun soon began to put down a barrage with one or two batteries five nine four two and pipsqueak and as we were simply in an open house with no dugout I thought we should soon be blown kite high. He made it too hot for the batteries and they withdrew to the orchard and slope behind Mailly Maillet station. The Hun was reported in the Sucrerie about eleven fifteen a.m. and pushing on towards Collincamps. This village was due north of us. Things were looking very blue, but we were determined to hang on at all costs. About twelve p.m. the Germans were reported in Collincamps. In fact, they were placing indirect fire on our men's back who held the line facing the Ancre in front of our village. Orders for withdrawal were written out but held for a quarter of an hour in case anything turned up in the way of support. Two very strong units turned up just in the nick of time and our hopes went high when we heard a division of New Zealanders were advancing to our support as well as a new type of tank named whippet. The whippet tank is about 30 feet long, about three feet above ground, with a turret at the rear end of it wherein are a number of machine guns and their main feature is their speed – 12 miles an hour or 18 miles an hour under favourable conditions. About one thirty p.m. the tanks advanced on Collincamps, followed by a battalion of New Zealanders, and they put the Hun back 2,000ards y, driving him out of this village and taking 1,000 prisoners. By three p.m. the position was well in hand and everyone was very pleased with themselves. In the meantime the guns had been doing great execution, especially fifteenth battery, who came into action to the north of Auchonvillers with a section and fired with open sights. Siggers, with a gun, also dropped into action near the cemetery (Mailly) and fired at Collincamps Avenue with open sights. In the meantime the seven ones in action near the Larry [?] were being machine gunned from their left flank and Captain Scott did great work in stopping a civilian train from being captured, by stopping them and making them go back the way they had come, but they took a lot of persuading. If they had gone on they would have been captured at Beaumont Hamel or Beaucourt and most of them were bound for Albert. At five p.m. the New Zealand Brigadier arrived very cool and collected and informed us he was coming up to relieve us and so ended a very thrilling day during which I had often thought of either being captured or fighting to the end. The brigade major Wardel was splendid and had the whole thing at his fingers' ends and in my opinion saved the situation for the infantry. At eight p.m. they were relieved and I proceeded to the New Zealand headquarters in Mailly Maillet where the Colonel met me and said I could go back to the wagon lines. It was a three-mile walk to Beausart and I can tell you as soon as I had a bite I was fast asleep, not needing any rocking.

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