During the spring and summer of 1918, both the War Office and GHQ in France faced a difficult dilemma. Having already reduced infantry brigades from four to three battalions, the German offensives of March and April had thrown further strain on British manpower. The liability for conscription had been increased but, although the BEF could still expect drafts, many of the reinforcements would be below A1 medical category. The military authorities had to decide whether to maintain the current number of active divisions, albeit with a growing proportion of less physically able men within their battalions, or accept that a number of divisions should be composed of lower category men who would be more suited to the less demanding task of line holding or even of becoming little more than labour divisions. Disbanding yet more battalions was sure to have an impact on morale but such was the need for a degree of reorganization the decision was made to reduce seven New Army (NA), one 1st Line and two 2nd Line Territorial Force (TF) divisions to cadre and to use their men as drafts to other fighting formations. All but one of the reduced divisions were in due course reformed. Four of them were reconstituted with lower grade battalions, some with existing battalions transferred from other divisions, one which still included two of its original battalions, and others with units withdrawn from Salonika or Palestine. All nine of those reconstituted returned to active operations but as four of them were categorized as  B divisions their roles in the final advance was more restricted than those of the other five formations.

Beginning the Process

The 10 divisions destined to be reorganized or reconstituted had all been severely mauled at least once during the spring and early summer. As elements of Fifth Army during the March Offensives, 14th (Light) and 16th (Irish) were reduced in April; 30th, 34th, 39th, 40th, 59th (2nd South Midland) and 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Divisions in May; 25th and 50th (Northumbrian) Divisions in June. When these formations had finally been withdrawn from the line and into either reserve or rest there was, for some, a delay in being informed of their fate. Even once decisions had been made as to which divisions were to be affected there remained a lack of clarity about their future composition and function. An avalanche of instructions and at times contradictory orders arrived at the various divisional headquarters (DHQ) until, eventually, a degree of certainty emerged.

The first considerations when units were withdrawn to the rear were to find billets and baths, and receive replacement clothing and drafts. In view of the disruption caused by the German offensives it was hardly surprising the reorganization and refitting of divisions was fraught with difficulties. Brigades of 66th Division had “considerable difficulty” in obtaining billets as the villages allocated were already filled by refugees. The battalions were redirected to another area which was fully occupied by army and corps troops. Troops of 14th Division were quickly issued with replacement boots, clothing and waterproof sheets but problems with rail transport, delayed cookers and mess carts, and plans to have bathing facilities quickly organized were stalled by staff work at XIII Corps. The billets finally secured were described as “overcrowded.” When the remnants of 59th Division were withdrawn at the start of April they might have expected a rest but the battalions were quickly made up to almost 900 men. Drafts, according to 2/5th Lincolnshire were “constantly received” between 1-4 April. Such a large proportion of the battalion was “so new” that the five days spent in the Zonnebeke sector proved essential because they served to “do much to fit them for the fighting that followed.”[1] The division had another week of brutal fighting before again being withdrawn. Two weeks later DHQ was warned the formation was to be reduced and reorganized. Battalions within the division were told the reason was a shortage of recruits but that the measure was only temporary.[2] By 9 May all surplus personnel had left and a week later the first of a clutch of Provisional Garrison Guard Battalions had begun to arrive.

Battalions of 14th Division had been reinforced by troops from entrenching battalions in early April but by 10 April, shortly after they had been withdrawn from battle, “Rumours were current that the division was to be broken up.”[3] A draft of returned wounded former members of 9/King’s Royal Rifle Corps (9/KRRC) gave some hope that the battalion was to be kept intact, but without its artillery, its MG battalion and two of its field companies, and with the amalgamation of 5/Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (5/Ox&Bucks) with 6/Somerset Light Infantry (6/SLI), by mid-April the division had joined with 16th Division to work on a new defence line near Aire.[4]  The Irish Division had begun work on the GHQ Line by 16 April and was reduced to four battalions and six trainings cadres (TCs). Like most of the other divisions, it formed a composite brigade of the remaining four battalions, the strength of which amounted to the not insubstantial totals of at least 48 officers and 3,540 other ranks (ORs). Any hopes that the division would be swiftly re-formed were dashed, however, when two battalions were posted to other divisions and a draft of over 1,500 was quickly ear-marked for digging. Additionally, DHQ was warned the remaining men were likely to be despatched elsewhere at any moment.

By 11 April, DHQ 39th Division had moved to Eperlecques but its composite brigade remained in action and only rejoined the division on 6 May. This was the only one of the 10 divisions which was not to be reconstituted as a fighting formation in one form or another. Some battalions had left by 9 May and the reduction to cadre of the remaining units was completed by the beginning of June. The reduction of 30th Division was a little swifter. What was left of eight battalions formed a composite brigade at the beginning of May. This was relieved on 9 May and withdrawn to Lederzeele. Within a week two battalions had been posted away, unit TCs selected from those battalions to be reduced, three TCs of battalions from other divisions joined, and surplus personnel sent to the Base for reposting. Finally, all TCs were instructed to become quickly acquainted with American systems and personnel.[5]

No composite brigade was formed by 40th Division in mid-April when it was withdrawn from the line. DHQ was informed, “Circumstances demand the immediate withdrawal for drafting purposes of all available infantry and MGC personnel.”[6] Little time was lost and by 2 May the reduction to training cadre had begun. By 6 May, having been transferred to VII Corps, its TC staffs were supervising the construction of the Winnizeele Defence Line. It was a similar series of events for 34th Division. It was relieved on 21 April and went immediately to the Poperinghe area to dig a new line. In early May DHQ was told it would be used to train US troops; by 13 May the TCs had reconnoitred suitable training sites and were awaiting the arrival of their new charges.

The March fighting had taken a heavy toll of 66th Division. It received drafts during the last week of the month but with battalion strengths down to about 230 the division was withdrawn on 1 April. Major General Bethell was summoned to GHQ on 9 April and told his division was to be reduced and the TCs used to train American troops. Nonetheless, two days later it still decided to form a composite brigade as a precautionary measure.[7] Composed of three battalions formed by companies from each of its constituent battalions, the formation had a short existence and was disbanded on 22 April. By that time, battalion TCs were in the process of formation and within two days the surplus personnel had gone. In early May the TCs were selecting areas for training and accommodating the incoming US divisions.

Repeatedly battered in March, April and May, 25th and 50th Divisions were other likely candidates for rest and reorganization. The two divisions returned from the French to the British Zone in late June and early July and quickly learned what their future status would be. On 27 June, 25th Division’s DHQ was told that it, together with its three brigade HQ (BHQ), 11 battalion TCs, and 12 motor cyclists of the divisional signal company were to return to the UK on 30 June and re-form.[8] On 3 July, 50th Division was informed it was to be reduced to TCs; within two days units began to leave. By 11 July, GHQ had produced a list of which units would in future be administered by the division.[9] This list indicated the formation’s transition from a 1st Line Territorial Force division to a composite one of six nominally Regular Army and four NA battalions.

The decision to reduce or disband created a substantial manpower resource available for virtually immediate redeployment. Reinforcement drafts from the UK were also flooding into France. Many of these were despatched to those divisions whose future was already in doubt. The artillery of the reduced divisions generally stayed in the line attached to other divisions, corps or armies. The field companies were often centralized or sent elsewhere to work under corps command, and most of three field ambulances within a division were also attached elsewhere. Several, such as 135 and 136 Field Ambulances of 40th Division were, however, reduced to cadre and used to train the Americans.[10] What was left of the men of the divisional MGC battalions and trench mortar batteries usually left for reposting soon after the decision to reorganise was announced. When the time came for the divisions to send their surplus infantry personnel for reposting, battalions first selected those officers and men who they wanted to form their TCs. The remainder were then sent to the base camps. Casualties during the spring fighting had been severe in all the divisions concerned but drafts arriving during the battles and those which came once the divisions had been withdrawn meant that, for example, three battalions of 14th Division returned 382, 417 and 486 men respectively to the reinforcement camps.[11] Battalions in 39th and 66th Divisions were not as strong, returning figures of between the 186 of 2/6th Manchester to the exceptional 367 ORs of 11/Sussex.[12]  In the equally hard hit 59th Division the fighting strengths of 487 officers and 9,998 ORs of 1 March had by the end of the month fallen by 57 percent and 50 percent respectively.[13] Reinforcements had again swelled fighting strengths and even with casualties of 68 officers and 2,295 ORs during the further fighting of 14-20 April, the three Sherwood Forester battalions still sent an average of 615 ORs to the base camps. The three Staffordshire battalions in the same division despatched an average of 620.[14]

Training Cadres

Battalions usually had only two days notice to prepare for the departure of the surplus personnel and to select those who were to remain as elements of the TC. The diarist of 4/Lincolnshire outlined the problems of selection: “It was with a great deal of heart searching that the selection was made choosing as far as possible the men who had the most call on the Battalion and were at the same time the best instructors.”[15] Similarly, the CO of 8/Durham Light Infantry (DLI) picked “as many original battalion men as possible...having due regard for the efficiency of the staff.”[16] When it received orders to form a TC, 6/Connaught  Rangers (6/ConnR) immediately recalled one officer and 12 NCOs who were temporarily attached to 2/Leinster and, following a conference of battalion COs, 2/Royal Munster Fusiliers (RMF) decided the regimental sergeant major, the regimental quartermaster, four company sergeant majors and the four company quartermaster sergeants, had also to be included in its TC.[17] The official establishment of a TC seems to have finally settled at 10 officers and 55 ORs but many units managed for several weeks to get away with rather more than the specified numbers.[18] For example, 2/8th Lancashire Fusiliers (LF) maintained a TC of 13 and 96 for a month and then reduced it to 12 and 56; 2/6th Manchester successfully enlarged its group temporarily by deciding also to include the four company commanders (OsC), 12 senior NCOs, and four batmen,[19] At the other end of the scale, 13/Yorkshire formed a TC of only six officers and 37 ORs, a similar number to its 5th Battalion, while 6/Northumberland Fusiliers (NF) initially formed its cadre with a mere one officer and 24 ORs.[20] This latter number was only marginally smaller than the 26 selected by 2/Royal Dublin Fusiliers (RDF).[21] Field ambulance TCs appear to have amounted to the CO, OsC sections, the quartermaster, one senior warrant officer, five sergeants, and 15 ORs.[22] Surplus medical officers (MOs) were despatched to other divisions. In addition to 40th Division’s two field ambulance TCs sent to train the Americans, two of 66th Division were also allocated the same task. The remaining unit, 2/3rd East Lancashire Field Ambulance, was instructed to form two TCs and then send all remaining men to the Base. There, the divisional assistant director of medical services (ADMS) was assured the surplus would remain together for future posting.[23] While he waited for more definite information as to his unit’s future the diarist of 2/3rd (North Midland) Field Ambulance recorded, “Rumours are rife of working for labour battalions or training Americans.”[24]

Some early attempts to form battalion TCs met with a poor response from higher authority. GOC 41 Brigade decided the TC of 8/KRRC was “not up to standard” and that its interior economy was “bad”.[25] Most, however, seem to have been formed with minimum fuss and began training for their forthcoming work. There were no immediate instructions from corps or army as to how this was to be done but some TCs in 66th Division were sent to 2nd Army School for six day courses while 14th Division sent numbers of its TC personnel to First Army School. Others in the latter division arranged what were called ‘refresher courses’ for their men,[26]  while the divisional pioneers of 11/King’s appear to have decided to instruct themselves.[27] What was common across the division was, however, the frequency with which the TCs were inspected or observed by the GOC division and his three brigadiers. In 59th Division, 2/6th North Staffordshire quickly opened an infantry school for two of its attached battalions, 4/RWF and 4/Provisional Garrison Guard Battalion.[28] In contrast, personnel of 2/6th Sherwood Foresters’ TC, in the same division, had over a month to train each other before being required to share their expertise.[29] In 40th Division, TC officers tended to spend a good deal of May and June reconnoitring new defence lines and occasionally supervising Portuguese, Chinese and other attached labour units working on the new systems. The ORs apparently played football and practised PT.[30]

Several of the reduced divisions had at times a bewildering number of TCs passing through their brigades for deployment or disposal. Initially 39th Division, which was ultimately to dispose of 40 battalions, was told it would have four TCs in each of its three brigades.[31] That number, as in other divisions, quickly expanded to six and occasionally more. TCs, especially those involved with instructing the American formations, were often shuffled about between divisions. For example, in order to assume responsibility for training 80th US Division, in mid-June, 34th Division took over eight TCs administered by 16th Division. Five of those were not original units of 16th Division. At about the same time, 34th Division also took over the administration of four TCs originally from 14th Division and another 13 TCs temporarily attached to the division were then sent to 39th Division. This division had just assumed responsibility for instructing 78th US Division. On one day alone, 66th Division despatched four TCs to 59th Division and five to 30th Division. Two days later it sent another four to 25th Division just as that division was leaving for the UK. When TCs themselves were disbanded, COs were ordered to report to the Officers’ Pool at Etaples for reposting; ORs were usually sent to a battalion of their own regiment.[32]

In the same way as other battalions of 34th Division, 11/Suffolk received orders to reduce to TC on 15 May. Preparations and selection of personnel began immediately but four days later battalion HQ received a strong hint that it would not, after all be disbanded. On 22 May GOC division delivered a farewell speech to the battalion but again hinted it might actually be kept intact. He told the assembled companies, “It is probable that you will shortly be going to another division. It is very sad for me and I hope it is for you; but you might have had a worse fate.”[33] Three days after the major general’s address, the battalion was sent to join 61st (2nd South Midland) Division. A similar roller-coaster of emotions was experienced by 10/Lincolnshire. In mid-August the TC was told it was to be disbanded and that all personnel were to be at the disposal of the Adjutant General (AG). “Everyone was very downcast now that the worst has happened for there is not another battalion like the 10th Lincs or ever can be.” One day later the diarist noted, “Everyone rejoices as our orders for breaking up are cancelled.”[34] These two battalions had been fortunate not to be disbanded but many others, some of which had for a time thought they were to be reprieved,[35] were not so favoured. Their diarists recorded in different ways what the decision meant to the unit.

As unit war diaries were never intended to be the depository of a diarist’s emotions most adhered very much to the principle of recording only the necessary. Purely factual phrases such as, “Weather fair. The Battalion was broken up” and “Battalion disbanded...Finis” abound.[36] The diaries of 66th’s units are probably the most consistent in recording only statements of unembroidered fact. Two battalions of 199 Brigade, for example, noted their demise equally succinctly: ‘Battalion disbanded from today’ and ‘The Battalion was disbanded as from this date.’[37] In contrast, some diarists wanted to ensure that any red-tabbed reader knew the battalion regretted or even resented the decisions made by the authorities. One wrote, “No necessity could make it other than a very tragic ending...and there was no one who would not have wished that the Division should have been given the opportunity of going into the line for a final show rather than that it should have been broken up as it was.”[38] Officers of two disbanding battalions of the “first hundred thousand” organized a farewell dinner and another recorded, “All ranks felt most deeply the tragedy...and were loud in their protests which were, nevertheless, unavailing.”[39] One unit just returned from Salonika was particularly upset when warned it was to be disbanded. The companies were to be posted to separate battalions of their own regiment but as “splendid news” from Salonika came through of the Allied advance the diarist thought it was a “terrific pity” the battalion had been “taken away only to be disbanded” rather than to have been able to take part in the final advance. He closed the diary by stating that as all voucher receipts for stores and transport had been handed in, “So ends the 10th Black Watch.”[40]

Undoubtedly some battalions thought, or at least hoped, they might eventually be re-formed. Several diarists noted they were told the reason behind their reduction or disbanding was a shortage of recruits. In 14th Division, the chronicler of 5/Ox&Bucks certainly believed that, “When sufficient drafts [became available] the battalion will be reformed.” The GOC division’s message to 6/Northumberland Fusiliers (NF) gave its troops hope that “when the time comes it [would] be made up.”[41] The lack of available manpower and the need for some reorganisation of brigades and divisions was recognised by several diarists such as those of 5/King’s Own Scottish Borderers (KOSB) and 18/NF (Pioneers) (P). The annoyance of having lost the personnel, and with the frustration of the TC having to instruct the Americans, proved too much, however, for the diarist of 23/NF. He wrote: “All want to be made up – scrapping is 10 times better than this.”[42]

The departure of the bulk of the battalions’ personnel to the reinforcement camps was usually preceded by a medal parade. This gave the GOC division and GOC brigade the opportunity to thank the men for what they had done and to express regret at what was now being forced upon them. Field Marshal Haig despatched a duplicated hand written message to at least one senior commander in which he said he wanted it to be known by the troops that their disbanding had nothing to do with a lack of gallantry but was “solely on the grounds of the impossibility of their maintenance.”[43] In his address to 149 Brigade, Major General H C Jackson regretted the departure of “good soldiers” but urged them to take advantage of the period of training which would come. He wanted them to “Learn to kill Bosche. Many of you have killed your Bosche and know what a serious thing it is to miss your enemy. It means that a Bosche has been left alive, who has no right to be so...Killing Bosche is the only way to end the war.”[44] Battalion COs also usually addressed their departing men to express their discontent with the situation, to thank them, wish them well, and to reassure them that it reflected no discredit on the unit. It was, as Lieutenant Colonel Porter told 2/6th North Staffordshire, “purely due to the exigencies of the Service.”[45]

Battalion transport sections usually remained with the TC for a week or two before being sent for reposting. Because so many sections were still composed largely of 1914-15 originals, their departures were perhaps even harder felt than those of the companies. One battalion diarist noted, “Many pathetic sights [were] witnessed...as nearly all personnel had been with the Division since formation.”[46] Equally disconcerting for one officer was the news that they would also lose their chargers, “Many of whom had come out with the battalion in 1916.”[47]

During the hiatus between the departure of the bulk of the troops and the arrival of the Americans or fresh batches of British troops from home or abroad, some TCs created a demonstration platoon. With many of their officers away on construction sites, this was more difficult for those units involved in supervising the digging of the new defence lines. There does not, however, appear to have been any real policy as to how some divisions set about the task of forming their platoons. When they were instructed to raise demonstration platoons officers from the TCs of 17/ and 18/King’s travelled to Etaples to try to retrieve men from their already despatched surplus personnel.[48] Even before his troops had gone to the Base, GOC 66th Division explained to his brigade commanders a possible training scheme for when the Americans arrived.[49] Detachments from three brigades and the pioneer battalion were then selected with the intention of forming a divisional demonstration platoon. Having observed the assembled men, the GOC decided they were not up to standard and instructed his brigadier generals to look for more suitable personnel.[50] Some of the division’s battalions next formed their own platoons, most if not all of which had a very short existence. At the end of April what was described as the Brigade Demonstration Platoon was disbanded and sent to the Base.[51] This small unit may have been replaced by temporarily attached demonstration platoons of the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC). These units were certainly attached to various divisions for a time but when towards the end of May the division was warned it was to train elements of an additional American division, DHQ sought permission to establish another two TCs from its remaining battalions. Whether these TCs were allowed to form their own demonstration platoons is unclear but from the available evidence it is more likely that the HAC platoons were used to demonstrate platoon tactics while the TCs carried out the day-to-day instruction.[52]

In 39th Division there are mentions of 116 Brigade forming the 39th Division Demonstration Platoon with men drawn from several units, and also of 117 Brigade forming a demonstration company. The company, however, was composed of two officers and 31 men whilst, somewhat incongruously, the brigade’s demonstration platoon had one officer and 44 ORs.[53] When 13’Gloucestershire, the division’s pioneer battalion, was ordered to form a demonstration platoon, the order was quickly rescinded and replaced by one which instructed it to raise a demonstration section rather than a platoon.[54] In contrast, 66th Division’s pioneers, 5/Border (P), formed a demonstration platoon which was to remain with the division for several weeks even after the rest of the battalion had been sent to join 32nd Division.[55] An entry in the divisional war diary of 50th Division noting that a warrant officer of the Grenadier Guards had been employed to instruct three sergeants in training methods may suggest that the division also raised a demonstration platoon.[56]

Constructing Defence Lines

While the process of raising TCs and possibly demonstrations platoons proceeded, five of the divisions quickly became involved with supervising the construction of defence lines. This was generally done simultaneously with reconnoitring areas which could be used by the arriving US divisions. By mid-April, units of 14th Division, together with elements of the Portuguese forces, were working on the construction of the GHQ Line under the general supervision of 16th Division. There were some reported problems of looting by troops of the amalgamated 5/Ox&Bucks but progress was made.[57] By the end of April several of 16th Division’s battalions had been posted to 29th and 63rd (RND) Divisions and resumed active operations. At about the same time some units of 66th Division, whose move to Candas and to rest had been temporarily suspended owing to the enemy offensive on the Lys, were ordered to supervise the construction of the Winnizeele Line. About 300 men of labour companies had earlier been attached to the division as fighting troops[58] and, in May, it began to receive the first of the Provisional Garrison Guard Battalions. This work also involved the use of German prisoners and labour companies. Construction of the Winnizeele Line was, however, quickly superseded by orders to begin preparing for the arrival of US troops. Similarly in May, the cadre of 34th Division was informed it would be involved in training US divisions. Its units began work on the Brandhoek and East Poperinghe Lines as well as reconnoitring potential areas for US training grounds.[59]

The issue of insufficient labour had been a pressing problem for the BEF, and particular Fifth Army, in the months before the enemy offensives of March. The attack on the Lys had exacerbated the shortages. Any available units were forced into service to prepare the new lines of defence to the west of the former forward areas. The elements of 14th and 16th Divisions which had begun working with 1 Portuguese Brigade and attached units in mid-April had, by mid-May, become frustrated by their ally’s approach and attitude to work. If it was raining, the Portuguese failed to turn up and often did not appear in the mornings following a nocturnal enemy bombing raid near their camps. Even more frustrating was the apparent failure of the Portuguese to appreciating the concept of defence in depth. During practices for manning the lines under construction, instead of deploying their companies in depth they “strung them out in one long line.”[60]

Troops from three of the reduced divisions also had Chinese working under them. Small groups of officers and ORs of several TCs of 66th Division were sent to supervise Chinese labour companies. Another 400 Chinese and three companies of white labourers worked with the field companies of 40th Division.[61] Having observed their working practices and habits, one OC recorded suggestions on how his sappers should treat the Chinese so as to get the best from them. As a means to further inter-Allied relations local French citizens were invited to a fete organized by the Chinese labourers and enhanced by contributions from troops of 16th Division.[62] The imported labour did cause some cultural problems to the supervising TCs but so, too, did the frequent passage of BEF units through the division. In June, 16th Division, for example, experienced an almost continual transfer of TCs and battalions both to and from the division. Several of these units were freshly arrived in France and others were en route for other divisions. This continuous flow disrupted work on the defence lines because newly-arrived units needed to be instructed as to what was to be done. Some of the arriving officers were also not entirely useful in solving the practical problems posed by the policy. When the TC of 8/Rifle Brigade was posted to Steenbecque to administer various troops in that area, one of its officers was appointed to command 7/8th RInnF. This was an amalgamated battalion composed of details of several units of 16th Division. Over a few days in May, 15 “very nervous” B1 and B2 category officers, all suffering from shell shock and who “appeared to dislike the comparative proximity of the line,” were appointed to the battalion. A neighbouring TC recorded its satisfaction with the ORs of what they called this “Irish Reinforcement Battalion” but concluded the battalion’s officers were “too fearful as to their own safety.”[63]

In May, the construction of parts of the Winnizeele Line and other associated systems was taken over by TCs of 40th Division. At least two of the division’s three field companies worked with or supervised the attached Chinese and white labour companies. In addition to constructing the new line, which involved digging posts and continuous trench lines, wiring, and clearing fields of fire, the division was tasked with developing a defence scheme on how the lines should be defended.[64] When drawing up the defence scheme for its particular sector, 59th Division was instructed to “assume [conditions of] normal siege warfare.”[65] Brigades and supporting arms of the divisions involved produced their respective schemes as scheduled by late May. CRE 40th Division identified where mines should be blown across road junctions, the sites for telephone exchanges, and where his field companies would garrison the line. ADMS of the same division ordered his three field ambulance TCs to establish dressing stations (DS) for the medical officers of the labour companies, allocate the number of stretcher bearers to be supplied by the companies, identify locations for relay posts, and map evacuation routes.[66] His counterpart in 59th Division drew up similar plans and also included sections on water supply and dealing with vermin and scabies.[67] The role of a pioneer battalion in the defence of the line was explained in no fewer than 11 pages of typescript.[68] The principal defence of the positions relied, however, on the personnel of the labour companies, the numbers of which varied during the month. Each company had an establishment of about four officers and 350 men. Their training was extremely patchy and there were doubts about resilience and whether they would be prepared to fight as the schemes insisted “to the last round and last man.” The companies were inspected regularly by the corps Labour Commandant and Chief Engineer, and their working hours adjusted as the summer temperatures rose. Nonetheless, their general state of training and health remained of considerable concern to the authorities.[69]

Training American Forces

By early June, further decisions had been made as to the future role and composition of the several reduced divisions. Before, however, they were to reach their final form TCs of most of the formations spent much of the next two months or longer training the American forces who were, according to one officer of 39th Division, “arriving in boat loads at Calais.”[70]

Several officers of that division were attached to US units very soon after they had come out of the line; others such as the TC of 4/Lincolnshire had a “very enjoyable” fortnight waiting for their new charges to arrive.[71] In the very short time between effectively losing his brigade and the arrival of American troops, GOC 89 Brigade, 30th Division, produced Notes on Training for the Guidance of Officer Commanding Training Cadre Units. Brigadier General Currie laid great emphasis on the development of what today would be called the moral component of fighting power and on how the personnel of the TCs should set the example of the standards and values expected of their students.[72] In early April, GOC 66th Division was called to GHQ to be told he would soon be receiving copies of training schemes and programmes which he and his division should employ for instructing the Americans. Sheaves of information followed swiftly.[73] The East Lancashire Division’s TCs were to base the instruction around principles laid down in a recently published pamphlet General Training, Administration and Interior Economy. Initial courses organised for US officers and NCOs who would afterwards assist the British TCs in instructing their men, were to begin immediately and once general training was underway the Americans would be instructed in the use of the British rifle and the Lewis gun, and in field engineering, bayonet work, the Stokes mortar and, although their equipment was “radically different” to the British, signalling. Information came through explaining the composition of an American division and its regiments, and their officers’ and NCOs’ badges of rank. One training scheme drawn up by 197 Brigade was clearly based on one devised and submitted by General Pershing. The American general’s paper was, however, by no means a prescriptive or definitive instruction on how he wanted his divisions to be trained.[74] Although unit TCs had been supervising the construction of camps and training facilities since April there remained seemingly insurmountable problems in securing adequate grounds and the labour to construct the camps. In late May, bemoaning the “very small number of cadres allotted...and the indifferent training area” 198 Brigade decided “it is impossible to attempt to do more than assisting in the training of instructors.”[75] Despite the shortcomings, however, and like those of other divisions, the four infantry TCs of the brigade managed to run courses ranging from the usual musketry and bombing, to cold shoeing and cooking.

In mid-May, after he had been informed his division’s TCs would soon be training Americans, GOC 34th Division visited 39th Division to seek advice and information on methods and practices of training the US formations.[76] The day after his visit, large numbers of one American regiment arrived at 39th Division’s training ground having thrown away their kit. The heat and the rapid pace of march from the detraining station had proved too much for them.[77] Similarly, when the first regiment of US arrived at 66th Division’s training area, “a great number were exhausted.”[78] Incidents such as these provoked a letter to GHQ from 39th Division suggesting that as the Americans were so inexperienced, British formations should assume command of US divisions for the first phase of training while the US staff acted as understudies.[79] Rational as this may have sounded to the receiving British TCs, for reasons of Allied cohesion and cooperation the idea was understandably refused.

The relationship between the British TCs and their students was very good. There had, of course, been significant numbers of American MOs serving with British units since 1917 but the arrival of tens of thousands of Americans was something of a culture shock. It was also a welcome realisation of the enormous potential their new ally represented. From the start, both sides worked to foster a relationship of amiable cooperation. The band of 14/Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders met the arriving US regiments at the railway station and played them to their staging camp; divisional concert troupes performed regularly to the Americans. The band of 319th Regiment reciprocated by playing nightly in Desvres town square.[80] Regular conferences and lectures on training and management policies were delivered to senior British and American officers, who also socialized in combined messes. The need for flexibility was paramount, especially when TCs were unexpectedly withdrawn or if anticipated arrivals failed to appear. For example, in May, 89 Brigade was informed it would receive the TC of 7/Bedfordshire. When it was later told the Bedford TC was no longer available the brigade had swiftly to improvise and reorganise in order to create two new TCs from the personnel of its existing three.[81]

The overall naivety and inexperience of the Americans formations was blatantly obvious but there were also significant differences in the quality and the extent of the pre-existing training of their personnel. Some regiments had had longer than others to train in the US and their experience was evident to their trainers. Probably the majority, however, were assessed as being very raw and innocent. The troops’ physique was a wonder to many observers and their keenness and understanding unquestioned. Their ability and enthusiasm to learn quickly was impressive, and they were ever-willing to adopt British methods and practices if they were clearly superior to their own.[82] British officers and NCOs were initially bemused at the “unsoldierly manner” in which the US troops walked about camp. They decided the slow, deliberate manner and the independent spirit shown were probably national characteristics and admissible because when under orders they responded well. Officers and NCOs lacked authority when giving orders,[83] range discipline was frequently poor, musketry was often only “satisfactory”, travelling kitchens and utensils lacked thorough cleaning, and because they had so much kit, billet discipline was well below standard.[84]  In open warfare drills they had a tendency to pay too much attention to what were described as “fancy tricks” such as “crouching and rolling over.” Officers were acknowledged to know their men, which “promised well”, but there was a “lack of life and spirit” in drill.[85] This was thought to be the result of long working hours and suggestions were made to the Americans that they should allow a reduction in training to permit more “recreational training on a competitive basis.” Staff work was assessed as “indifferent” and communications as “not good.”[86]

The British TC staff had to strike a fine balance over how they approached their duties. They had to combine the voice of experience with that of friendly advice. Cynical and frustrated as many of them may have grown, they had to encourage optimism yet not shy away from addressing the realities of modern warfare. They had also to generate a professional attitude in their students. In early guidance from either the War Office or GHQ, British officers and NCOs were strictly forbidden to command US troops on parade. In June, one battalion TC acknowledged this and described its task as being available to make suggestions rather than “to lay down a precedent.”[87]  By July, 10/Lincolnshire recorded that its training staff was only allowed to supervise and make suggestions and that its NCOs were not permitted to instruct classes or squads.[88] The British role was to work with and observe the US officers and NCOs who had been taught instruction methods at British schools and to act as discrete mentors if and when required. There were exceptions, such as when the legendary Lieutenant Colonel Campbell delivered his exuberant demonstration on the use of the bayonet, and when GOC divisions such as Major General Bethell lectured on topics ranging from ‘Moral’ to ‘Lessons learned from the recent German Offensives.’[89]

Above: Hugh Keppel Bethell (National Portrait Gallery)

Despite the limitations, the system does seem, however, to have worked. There are numerous examples of letters from American GOCs and COs expressing their warm and grateful thanks for the assistance provide by the British TCs. The British staffs too, seem to have enjoyed the experience. There were expressions of regret at not being allowed to go into the trenches with their students and “Much profitable time” was also spent in salvaging the US camp when the Americans had moved on. The Americans, in turn, were thought to have “treated our staff splendidly”, with only one war diary expressing any real disquiet at the time spent with them. When rumours circulated of yet another move to yet another camp, the diarist sarcastically noted “nothing like a change”, and a few days later, having condemned the American Expeditionary Force as “a mess” and unable to make up its mind about billeting, the diarist concluded his July entries with “End of an uninteresting month.”[90]

Back to the UK

Elements of three of the reduced divisions returned to the UK in June 1918. On 11 June DHQ 14th Division was told that together with its three brigade HQ (BHQ) it would sail to the UK with 10 battalion TCs and be made up to strength with B1 and B2 men. Personnel in these medical categories, DHQ was informed, would be “fit for fighting and trench duties.”[91] All but two TCs of the original 14th Division, 7/Rifle Brigade (RB) and 11/King’s (P), had already been posted or were about to be posted elsewhere. The TCs of the RB and King’s remained with the division and were to be joined at Boulogne or immediately afterwards at Pirbright by eight TCs from disbanded or reduced battalions. The division’s cadres arrived at Brookwood on 17 June.

A day after the cadres of 14th (Light) Division sailed, what remained of 16th (Irish) also left Boulogne for the UK. During the period between April and June when it had worked on the new defence lines or instructed US divisions, something like 13 TCs had served with the division. Of those still with it, eight were attached to other divisions on 17 June; eight other TCs joined the division at Boulogne.[92] Among those of other formations, three TC of battalions from 14th Division now constituted part of 16th Division. With the exception of the TF battalion, 2/4th Lincolnshire, all were New Army battalions. During the course of the next month these 10 battalion TCs were to be amalgamated with freshly raised battalions of B Category men.

Although their eventual outcomes may have been different, the two divisions and their units underwent several common experiences whilst in the UK. No other unit, however, recorded such a disquieting journey to Boulogne as that noted by the TC of 5/Ox&Bucks. Having served with 14th Division since its creation, the TC was ordered to travel to Boulogne to join 16th Division. Travel orders were supposed to have been made by 14th Division HQ but when the TC arrived at Hesdin railway station it discovered the divisional staff had failed to make any arrangements. Consequently, the railway transport officer (RTO) at Hesdin had no authority to allow them to board a train. With 14th Division’s HQ now already crossing the Channel, the RTO finally secured authority from First Army to move the TC. The TC was ordered to catch the 2100 train. This train, however, proved never actually to have existed but, by “providential accident”, the staff managed to board an empty supply train and eventually reached Boulogne at 0200. The cadre embarked later that day and at Folkestone gathered with the other TCs scheduled to join 16th Division. A four mile march in rain to Crookham followed the detrainment at Aldershot. The GOC division next handed the TCs instructions which, “appeared that most of the battalions to be formed were other than those for whom cadres had been sent.” For example, to its dismay the TC of 5/Ox&Bucks discovered it was to form a battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment. The OC immediately complained to his GOC brigade, who promised to pass on the protest. Not content with that, the OC took himself off to the War Office to complain there. He returned the following day having apparently been partly appeased by the explanation that while the manpower position currently made it impossible to maintain Ox&Bucks battalions, Gloucestershire units could still be kept to establishment.[93]

Given the means by which the contemporary recruitment process was operating, this was something of a facile explanation. Most of the battalions which the TCs of the three divisions were to absorb, or be absorbed by, had themselves only just been formed. Initially they appear to have been created from drafts of B1, B2 and B3 men, with a fairly cursory nod to any sort of provincial or regional homogeneity. The TC of 11/Hants (P) took over a battalion which had been formed from personnel of Home Service Labour Companies.[94] Many of the men in the other battalions had also previously served in such units but a good proportion of them were partially recovered wounded soldiers. In 14th Division, for example, 18/York & Lancs was created very largely by men drawn from four, and 29/DLI from eight, Northern regiments. In contrast, although it did have a proportion of men posted from the London Regiment, 33/London had substantial numbers of men transferred to it from the Gloucestershire and Devonshire Regiments, the Denbigh Yeomanry, and the DLI. When it was re-formed 20/Middlesex became a unit drawn principally from several Southern regiments. Nonetheless, the Adjutant General’s Department could not resist the temptation to mix it up a little by including a draft from the Montgomery Yeomanry. The first companies of the battalion reported at 14th Division’s assembly area completely unexpectedly and in the middle of the night. The other companies later also marched into camp without warning and had to be hurriedly organised and accommodated by a reduced number of TS personnel.[95] Because there had been little indication of when drafts might appear TCs immediately sent about 50 percent of their ORs on five days home leave.

The battalions joining 16th Division appear to have arrived in a reasonably orderly fashion. Although separate drafts continued to arrive after these dates, the bulk of all units joined the division between 26 June and 7 July. They had been collected from their training camps in Eastern and Northern Commands by their respective TCs and brought to Aldershot. The War Office had decided how the nine infantry battalions should be brigaded and informed DHQ on 20 June. DHQ immediately protested at the groupings and asked that the allotment it had decided and submitted before the TCs left France should be approved. The differences between the two brigading schemes were significant but the WO acquiesced and accepted the division’s original allotments.[96] Changes, although not quite so drastic as those of 16th Division, were also made to the brigade composition of 14th Division. When DHQ and the three BHQ arrived at Brookwood on 17 June they were told which TS would go where. Alterations were made to the compositions on the following day and then again the day after.[97] Rather more radical changes were, however, to take place within the wider composition of 25th Division in August.

DHQ 25th Division, its three BHQ, and the TC of its one remaining battalion, 10/Cheshire, were joined on board the ship carrying them back across the Channel by nine other TCs. Whereas 14th and 16th Divisions were both to return to France with B battalions, 25th Division was to undergo a different experience. Like the other two divisions, once in the UK it did absorb recently raised battalions of lower category personnel but, when the time came for the division to return to the Continent, those units remained at home. The various HQ and TCs arrived in the UK on 30 June and immediately sent some of their staff on leave. On 12 July, the TCs were supposed to go to camps of Eastern Command to absorb their new personnel. On arrival at the camps the TCs were informed there were no men currently available for posting and the move was postponed for almost a week. The three BHQ and DHQ followed the TCs about a week later.[98] The new personnel were absorbed, 14 men from each battalion were selected to form their brigade’s light trench mortar battery (LTMB), several battalions moved camps, and there were endless inspections and a constant stream of observing senior officers. In late August, the three battalions of 75 Brigade were despatched to Aldershot where they were inspected by the CIGS. His purpose was to ascertain “the general type of man and state of the division as a whole.”[99] On 28 August, CIGS expressed himself “satisfied” with what he saw. Evidently not quite as satisfied as CIGS, the day following the inspection, GOC 75 Brigade produced analyses of his three battalions. Other ranks strengths ranged from the 583 of 11/R.Sussex to 906 of 6/Yorkshire. Of the brigade’s totals of 69 officers and 1,753ORs, 25 percent and 24 percent respectively were awaiting examination by a medical board, and 36 percent of ORs were classed as Category A. There was an acknowledged shortage of NCOs and, while another 400 were undergoing training, the brigade could muster only 173 trained Lewis gunners.[100] In order to boost its fighting power for the brigade’s proposed new role, in early September DHQ was ordered to nominate a battalion “prepared to proceed to Northern Sphere of Operations.”[101] A few days later 75 Brigade, now expanded to four battalions by the addition of 13/Yorkshire and renumbered as 236 Brigade, was warned for Murmansk. DHQ, 11/South Lancashire (P), and the BHQ of both 7 and 74 Brigades were told that they were would be going to Italy. There, they were informed, they would be joined by the division’s supporting arms which had been left in France when DHQ returned to the UK and also by nine British battalions already serving in Italy. The B personnel of the existing battalions of 7 and 74 Brigades were to go to France, but only as drafts.  Two days later, on 12 September, the authorities issued fresh orders. DHQ, 7 and 74 BHQ, which were still at that time in Eastern Command’s area, were now ordered to be ready to proceed to France rather than Italy.[102] On 14 September, DHQ and the two BHQ met at Waterloo and travelled to France where, at St Riquier, the division began to reform.[103]

Nine battalions from Italy, three each from 7th, 23rd, and 48th Divisions, were now to form 25th Division’s three infantry brigades. Four of the TCs involved in the brigades’ first reformation were by then in Russia, the TC of the reconstituted pioneer battalion would join the division in France in October, and the other five TCs were absorbed into the new battalions created in Eastern Command. All of these battalions were eventually disbanded just before the Armistice. The 10 TCs had come originally from seven different divisions, five having served briefly as TCs with one or two of the other reduced divisions before joining 25th Division. The names of the original battalions of the five TCs which stayed with Eastern Command passed into oblivion. With the absorption of 10/Cheshire’s TC into the new 15/South Wales Borderers (SWB), by August 1918, nine of 25th Division’s battalions which had landed in France in September 1915 had completely disappeared. Not one of the original battalions remained with the division.[104] In the other two divisions which returned to France, the TC of one original battalion of 14th Division, 6/Somerset L.I., retained its name; eight had been disbanded; four were absorbed and thus disappeared. In 16th (Irish) Division, only one original unit, the reconstituted 11/Hampshire (P), the only non-Irish battalion in the division, retained it name and remained.[105]

When the TCs of the three divisions learned that most of them would lose their current battalion’s name, the annoyance felt by the CO of 5/Ox&Bucks mentioned earlier was probably echoed, but not officially recorded, by the officers and men of all of the TCs. To add to the disappointment of having lost their former identity the TCs faced the immense problem of trying to organise and then train vast numbers of men, “a large proportion of who appeared to be physically unsuitable for Active Service.”[106] This was made even more challenging as the attempts came in the middle of what was at first recorded by 41 Brigade as a “curious illness.”[107] This “curious illness” quickly developed into an exceptionally severe flu epidemic which greatly disrupted the training programmes. Unit and formation diaries are replete with comments about the poor physical state of the men of the new battalions and how “very backward” they were in their training.[108] Rather than just the expected B1 and B2 men, a great many B3 also arrived. Their presence “very much hindered training” and made organising them “very difficult.”[109] One diarist recorded his frustration at trying to get his battalion assembled and ready for overseas service within the scheduled 10 days. “Training [is] impossible owing to equipping and enormous sick parades of 200 and above...large numbers [are] quite unable to carry arms and exempted from wearing equipment [owing] to old wounds.” There was insufficient equipment because battalions’ strengths quickly soared beyond the official war establishment levels. Additional annoyance and frustration was caused because the camp was so badly laid out. The haphazard planning meant that men could “abstain from work of any kind and not be detected.” Most battalions were hopelessly short of officers with any form of previous experience and many of those who were on establishment were “not very keen to get to France.”[110]

Although time on the square to smarten them up was thought to have worked for one battalion, and reports that the men were “looking better” and “showing more interest” were encouraging, the constant turnover of men must have been demoralizing for the instructors and officers.[111] The numbers of men sent back to depots or the Home Service Mixed Brigades were enormous. Of a draft of about 500 men to 18/Scottish Rifles, 60-70 percent was adjudged to be unfit.

On 12 July the battalion paraded with a total of 906 ORs, including 341 known to be unfit for duty; five days later it paraded with 12 fewer officers and only 396 ORs.[112] During July, over 1,500 joined 34/London, of whom more than 800 were classified as unfit and sent away.[113] A medical board decided almost 60 percent of those posted to 41 Brigade in late June were B3 and consequently sent back for home duties; 11/King’s (P) returned 254 on 2 July and another 80 four days later.[114] When ADMS 25th Division inspected 848 men of five battalions he concluded a mere 29 percent were fit enough for duty.[115] As the time for departure approached and the most obviously unfit had been returned to their training camps, the figures improved. For example, when the three now much reduced battalions of 48 Brigade totalling 1,245 ORs went on a route march of just under six miles five days before embarkation, 6 percent of them fell out. On a similar march five days after they had landed, of the 1,487 men a mere 0.6 percent could not finish.[116]

Because divisions continued to get rid of as many of their unfit men as possible before they sailed, embarkation strengths varied considerably. The three battalions of 42 Brigade, 6/Wiltshire, 16/Manchester and 14/A&SH, for example, arrived in France with only 629, 504 and 574 ORs respectively. Within 10 days of their arrival drafts of 269, 395 and 118, respectively, joined them.[117]  Welcome as the numbers were, the quality of the training of many of the draftees did not match even the fairly rudimentary levels of those they now joined. The number of officers travelling abroad with their battalions was reasonably consistent within divisions. Most battalions of 14th Division had about 35 officers, while those of 16th Division had 41. The largest recorded number of embarked ORs in one battalion was the 1,036 of 11/Hants (P). With only 27, the same battalion did, however, also have the lowest number of recorded embarked officers.[118]

The Return to France

Predictable events occurred when 14th and 16th Divisions disembarked at Boulogne. On the first night, troops of 49 Brigade were bombed by enemy aircraft, the officers of 20/Middlesex were “excessively charged” at the Grand Hotel and, owing to a mistake by the RTO at Boulogne, the staff of 7 Brigade were sent to Amiens rather than Abbeville.[119] When 41 Brigade arrived at the detraining point of Terlincthun, “Chaos reigned” because there were insufficient trained drivers to manage the horses. It was also discovered that four cookers and four limbers of 29/DLI had been left behind at Le Havre.[120] Once, however, the units had found their training areas, things began to settle down. Men were said to be in “fairly good spirits” and the last minute combing out of the not so fit was thought to have caused a “great improvement.”[121] Officers and NCOs went off on courses and the usual practice was for one battalion in each brigade to work for a week while the other two trained. The training was described by some diarists as “intensive” and included the skills required by the many centrally-produced training pamphlets by then in circulation. There was emphasis on company and platoon attacks, defence of strong points, counter-attacks, Lewis gun skills and trench reliefs. Moves from one camp to another frequently interrupted training sessions and squads were sometimes tasked to guard prisoners and bridges and undertake what were described as “anti-sabotage patrols.”[122] Home leave was granted to nearly 500 all ranks of 5/RIF which caused 18/Scottish Rifles to be attached to 47 Brigade until the fusiliers were able to take their turn in the line.[123] There were the occasional courts martial for absentees when the divisions left the UK, and a court of enquiry into the loss of saddlery by 6/Somerset L.I.[124] Torrential rain sometimes proved that tents were not “always as good as they looked,” concert parties were organized, bathing parades were held in the nearby canals or sea, and platoon competitions were run for martial skills and for football. In the latter competitions the inter-platoon rivalry was sufficient to ensure, according to one officer, that there was “not much sign of medical unfitness.”[125] A reducing number of men classified as below B1 were returned to the Base. Drafts had to be assimilated but one seemingly almost contented officer noted that the 200 men of one group were, “On the whole not a bad lot despite being B1.”[126] As might be expected, those battalions returned from Italy and posted to 25th Division received rather more fulsome praise. GOC 75 Brigade congratulated his men for their turn out, their “steadiness”, the condition of their kit and equipment, and of their transport.[127] There seems to have been no universal scheme of trench acclimatization, although some battalions do appear to have had a short time attached to an experienced division in the line. When it was adjudged the two B divisions and 25th Division were ready, they moved up towards the front. On arrival, and to the disgust of the diarist of 20/Manchester, his battalion was housed in some “poor and filthy” billets; his counterpart in 11/Sherwood Foresters was a little kinder, referring to their billets simply as having been “rather knocked about.”[128]

Reconstituting B Divisions in France

As the reformed 14th and 16th Divisions returned to France, two other divisions, 40th and 59th, were also in the process of reconstitution with men of below A1 medical category. These were in a mixture of battalions either already formed or about to be formed in France, and some newly-raised units from the UK. The first stage was completed in April when five battalions numbered as 1st-to-5th Provisional Garrison Guard Battalions (PGGB) were formed in Third Army and designated as 199 (Garrison) Brigade. With one exception, each battalion was created by amalgamating four area employment companies.[129] Another battalion, 4th (Garrison) Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers (RWF), which had been in France since June 1916, quickly joined the brigade. Towards the end of May, another six battalions were raised in France from B1 Labour Corps men who had previously served as infantry. These were known initially as 6th-to-11th Garrison Guard Battalions (GGB). Finally, another eight garrison guard battalions were raised in the UK and were in France by the end of the month.[130] Eight of the original PGGB and GGB went to the reforming 40th Division and three to the 59th Division. The brigades of 59th Division were then completed by six battalions from the UK and the original 4/Garrison Guard Battalion RWF which had become 26/RWF.[131]

The process by which the battalions attained their new status had been difficult. DHQ 40th Division may have received orders to reduce the formation as early as mid- April because on 26 April the WD of 12/Yorkshire (P) noted that the orders to disband were to be suspended until 4 May. On 2 May, 40 Battalion MGC recorded the “suspension of breaking up of division cancelled.”[132] Certainly, on 3 May orders for battalions to reduce to TC were issued and the process began. At least two TCs of 59th Division were administering and “assisting and advising” three of the newly-formed provisional battalions before the end of May. On 9 June, 40th Division DHQ was informed the division was to be made up with garrison guard battalions as “a temporary measure.”[133] The following day six of the now renamed provisional garrison battalions arrived. Four days later, DHQ was told it was to be reorganized as a semi-mobile Garrison Division and that the process was to be completed by the end of the month. DHQ 59th Division was also informed that as a “temporary measure” it was to be rebuilt as a garrison division capable, after training, of being able to hold the line.[134] Its new battalions, created from largely untrained B men drawn from a number of labour companies and with several below 100 strong, began to arrive in mid-May.[135] There were the usual errors and confusion in staff work between the various levels of HQ which resulted in, for example, 11th (Garrison Guard) Somerset L.I. arriving unexpectedly at the division’s assembly area. The CO and adjutant reported their arrival to a surprised Major General Romer who asked who they were.

Above: General Sir Cecil Francis Romer, (1869 – 1962) 

The CO told him and added “We have no father.” Romer assured the CO that he and his battalion were his children and that he would be “both [their] father and grandfather.”[136]

The condition and composition of 1/PGGB was typical of many about to join the two divisions. The battalion had been sent on a march with the object of determining to what extent they might be useful in operations of varying sorts in or near the front line. The accompanying MO’s subsequent report made uncomfortable reading. He listed the numbers of men suffering from chronic heart defects, deformities, asthma, bronchitis, old wounds, rheumatism, and general debility. The “great majority” were unable to march more than eight miles a day on two successive days. Dozens of them would be incapable of holding the line even in quiet sectors, and others who were already suffering from shell shock and heart troubles were likely to be unreliable.[137] It was decided that marches for such battalions should be no more than eight miles a day and that the men were to rest between 1030-1600 hours. On one occasion, 59th Division arranged for 40 busses and all the horsed wagons of one field ambulance to be available to pick up those who fell out and to their carry packs. Battalion MOs were instructed to march with the troops and to examine on the spot any man who fell out.

The priorities for DHQ were to continue digging the defence lines they would garrison in an emergency, training the men for that eventuality, and establishing a degree of physical fitness for those who were thought to be of some future use. COs were instructed to explain to their troops why the manpower shortage was forcing them to trained as potential fighting soldiers. The men were told they were expected to fight to the last round and man but that their physical limitations were recognized.[138] A pamphlet was issued to brigades and COs laying down how any defence was to be in depth and in accordance with the doctrine stated in training pamphlet SS210.[139] COs had to be aware of the limited mobility and the reduced number of Lewis guns which could be brought to bear by the low percentage of fully trained men. Unsurprisingly in view of the men’s lower medical category, basic training procedures and methods had to be modified. Emphasis was to be put on musketry, bombing and rifle bombing, gas drills and route marches but “no attempt [was to] be made to practise open warfare.”[140] Officers and NCOs were to be tested on compass work and map reading, and inter-platoon competitions were to be encouraged. GOC brigades and their COs were to have frequent conferences about how the training was progressing, with weekly reports submitted by COs. Regular practices of manning battle stations (MBS) and trench tours of three to four days were to be undertaken, some of which were interrupted by enemy aircraft and others handicapped by a lack of military knowledge on the part of the officers. The exasperated diarist of 25/King’s recorded that the sites chosen by platoon commanders for their Lewis gun sections “showed in most cases a lack of common sense.”[141] In July, troops of 11/Somerset L.I. were suddenly despatched on a wild goose chase for a reported downed German pilot. Because the order from BHQ instructing the men to eat their dinners before they left camp failed to reach them in time, after seven hours of fruitless searching the battalion returned annoyed, tired, and hungry. Two weeks later in the expectation of receiving some trench instruction from an experienced front line battalion, two companies arrived at the village of Tramecourt. The troops of a battalion resting and billeted in the village expressed surprise and claimed no knowledge of their supposed role as instructors. On enquiries being made, it was discovered the companies should have marched to Framecourt rather than Tramecourt.[142] Regular lectures on such subjects as Germany’s war aims, the role of the Royal Navy, infantry cooperation with air and artillery, and lessons learned from the recent enemy offensives were delivered to officers and NCOs who then cascaded to their platoons and sections. The HAC demonstrations platoons were used extensively and recreational activities and concert parties were encouraged and developed. The difficulty was, however, to reach a reasonable and sustainable balance between the need to complete the defences and secure sufficient time for training. This dilemma was made worse by the flu outbreak.

In addition to devising the medical evacuation scheme for the defence lines, ADMS 59th Division, Lieutenant Colonel Lindsay, was constantly on the move inspecting camps, observing the men as they trained, and medically examining those whose fitness caused concern. His first reports insisted working hours had to be altered because the initial schedules meant that the men would be unable to consume any food 1630 and 0430 hours. He also argued that troops needed a regular hot stock pot supper and more frequent changes of underclothes. In 177 Brigade’s camps there was some overcrowding in tents and sanitary sections were finding it difficult to acquire the materials for latrines and ablution benches. Seating capacity in the latrines was only about 2 percent of unit strength. Latrines in 176 Brigade’s camps were even worse. What facilities existed were too close to the men’s tents and cooking areas, and the pits were fouling nearby ground. Because very few men had been inoculated with the typhoid-paratyphoid A and B (TAB) vaccine, ADMS was very concerned about the conditions causing outbreaks of enteric fever.  Food was reasonably varied but its storage was inadequate and much of it was of necessity being cooked in the open. There were no officers’ messes and, like their men’s, their tents were overcrowded. In general, the brigade’s men were of “poor physical appearance.” There were, however, exceptions. Troops of 11/RSF of 178 Brigade who “for their category” were well turned out, looked healthy and gave a “thoroughly good appearance on the march.” Overall, Lindsay decided the garrison guard battalions were fit enough to carry out their current duties but that they would be unable to man a quiet part of the line even in the summer months. An OC one of his field ambulances recorded that in one battalion there were, “about 200 men, too old and decrepit for their work. It is regretted that they ever left England.”[143]

On addition to investigating a complaint from the CO of 23/Cheshire that the battalion’s MO was unfit for duty, ensuring his field ambulances were well protected against bombing, dealing with “much promiscuous fouling” of the ground, and that the attached labour companies could supply sufficient stretcher bearers (SBs), ADMS had to deal with a severe and sudden outbreak of diarrhoea in 25/KRRC. He ascribed the outbreak to contaminated corned beef but the more pressing issue in mid-June was the flu epidemic. The highly contagious disease swept through the division. It varied in intensity and timing from unit to unit with, for example, 25/King’s having 409 men hospitalised in one week while 17/R.Sussex had only two during the same period. It was commonly called “three to five day fever” and, provided men were allowed rest, they usually recovered. Lindsay insisted training hours must be restricted and men should not be exposed to dust from roads or too much sun. He ordered troops to be supervised whilst gargling three times daily with a solution of Boracic Acid, that all infected must be sent to the field ambulances, and that their contacts should be isolated in specific tents. Pressure on staff of the field ambulances was intense but by the end of June the epidemic had peaked and normal training gradually resumed. Lindsay continued to examine drafts as they arrived in July and regularly condemned a large percentage of each as unfit. They were promptly returned to the divisional reception camp.[144]

Another OC of one of the supporting arms, Major Bright, the assistant director of veterinary services (ADVS), also found his work load increased as the B battalions arrived. Not only did their men lack military knowledge and skills, they were also lacking in those of horse management. So many units had fallen under the administration of 59th Division, and so widely were they spread, that Bright succeeded securing the services of an additional veterinary officer. The new battalions had arrived with horses of a good stamp but Bright’s regular visits to their horse lines showed that the condition of many animals was deteriorating through a combination of inadequate grooming and a poor dietary balance. There was a shortage of field forges, suitable shoes, and of shoeing smiths capable of fitting them. Some units’ shoeing was so appalling that their transport was “hardly fit to take the road.” To alleviate the problem Bright arranged for the corps’ horse master to be temporarily attached to the division. In his attempts to improve horse welfare, Bright also became embroiled in a dispute with 177 BHQ over how the horse lines should be protected from enemy bombing. Although they may not have been too au fait with routine horse management, the transport section of 2/6th DLI had made “excellent progress” in protecting their animals by building sod walls around the standings. When BHQ discovered what was happening they ordered the work to stop because it was damaging the field and would probably lead to claims for compensation. Bright took the issue to DHQ because, he argued, “the actual damage represents about a tenth of the value of the most indifferent animal they have in the transport of the battalion.”[145]

In June, both divisions selected a battalion to convert to a pioneer unit. It was probably a fairly arbitrary decision in both cases but 40th Division opted to let 17/Worcestershire absorb the TC of 12/Yorkshire (P).[146] This at least gave the Worcesters a core of officers and men experienced in pioneering work. Both converted battalions continued to train as conventional infantry as well as in the skills required for pioneering duties.[147] As the allotted two months’ training period passed, and the more physically unable men were weeded out, B troops in all units became more accustomed to their working hours, camp conditions, and anticipated future duties. Route marches, which for some battalions had begun at about two miles in length, were extended to six and then eight. Nonetheless, some men continued to suffer. On two days of marching, 43 men of 11/Somerset L.I. fell out; after a day’s rest, another 162 could not finish the next march. In preparation for its next attempt a fortnight later the battalion arranged for two companies to be lorried for the first half of the march. Those two companies then swapped with the other two who had marched the first half.[148] Other battalions were clearly better suited to such trials. By July, 11/RSF was doing a regular weekly march of up to eight miles with full pack and ammunition.[149]

By just after mid-July, and after a short period of trench acclimatization with the Australians, 40th Division began to take over its own sector of line. About a week later 59th Division relieved 3rd Canadian Division and began its first solo trench tour. To help foster a degree of cohesion and identity all battalions of 59th Division were ordered to wear the Cross of Offa on the back of their tunic.[150] In 40th Division, a deliberate redistribution of men between several battalions meant that many troops were transferred to the battalion which bore the name of their original regiment. Furthermore, in exchange for 221 soldiers of English and Irish extraction, 251 ‘Scotchmen’ (sic) were transferred from various battalions to 11/Cameron Highlanders.[151] Battalion names in both divisions had also been altered to suggest they were no longer units of only marginal use. Permission to drop the word “Guard” in the title had been authorized in late May; in June a conference of COs in 40th Division had discussed whether “Garrison” should go as well. The decision was made and passed on to GHQ. It applied to the War Office on 30 June and on13 July permission was granted to eliminate “Garrison”. All the B units were now indistinguishable by name from any other battalion of their regiment.[152]

Battalions from the Near and Middle East

At about the same time as 40th and 59th Divisions were again becoming operationally active, the reconstituted 30th and 34th Division took their places in the line near Locre and in the French sector respectively. There had been a constant flow of TCs arriving at and departing from the divisions as they instructed the Americans; in June alone, something like 20 TCs served with 34th Division. In mid-June, DHQ of both formations were told their divisions would be made up again as first-line formations.[153] In 34th Division, 14 of the existing TCs were transferred to 39th Division, two to lines of communications, and one to 14th Division.[154] As these TCs were leaving and the division shed its responsibility for the Americans, battalions drawn from other formations which had served overseas began arriving in the assembly area near Samer. In what was to become the division’s final configuration all battalions, with the exception of the regular 2/Loyal North Lancashire (LNL), were technically TF units. They were drawn from either 52nd (Lowland) or 53rd (Welsh), with one battalion, 2/4th Somerset L.I., which eventually became the pioneers, coming from 45th (2nd Wessex) Division. The Loyals had served in East and South Africa before arriving in Egypt, the Somersets in India, and the other eight on Gallipoli and in Egypt. By the last day of June, all 10 units had concentrated at Bambecque. There, the artillery of the original 34th Division rejoined, LTMBs were re-formed, and the infantry trained and underwent some trench acclimatization. Drafts arrived regularly and by the time the division moved, several of the battalions were almost 1,000 strong.[155] It entrained for the south on 16 July and came under orders of French XXX Corps in the Soissons area.

To an extent, the reconstruction process of 30th Division was influenced by the progress of 34th Division’s reconstruction. The first intended configuration of 30th Division was to have seven 2nd Line TF London Regiment battalions from the recently “Indianized” 60th (2/2nd London) Division, and three Irish battalions, 5/R.Irish Fusiliers (RIF), 5/R.Inniskillin Fusiliers (RInnF), and 6/RDF. The latter unit was nominated to become the pioneer battalion.[156] GHQ stipulated that three London battalions should be in the same brigade but that the two Irish units must be brigaded separately. Three Irish battalions were also detailed for 34th Division: 6/RIF, 5/Connaught Rangers, and 6/Leinster. It transpired, however, that as the six Irish battalions were in such a poor state of medical fitness, they were instead initially posted to 66th Division as line of communication units. Fresh battalions were found for 30th and 34th Divisions. Three battalions from 52nd (Lowland) Division were next ear-marked for 30th Division and three London units from 60th Division detailed for 34th, but the authorities changed their minds and decided to swap those around. To replace the three Irish battalions sent to 66th Division, 30th was told it would receive either 13/Black Watch and 14/King’s, or 7/R.Irish Regiment (RIR) and 7/8th RInnF as conventional infantry, and 5/RIR as the pioneer battalion. The decision as to which of the two-battalion options would join depended on their medical states. The next stage was for Second Army to decide that instead of seven London battalions, the division should have only five. Thus, the much travel1ed and recently re-built 1/6th Cheshire, and 2/South Lancashire from 21st Division were to be substituted for 2/20th and 2/24th London. By early July it was decided the division would have both 7/RIR and 7/8th RInnF, in different brigades, and 6/SWB (P), formerly pioneers to 25th Division, as the pioneer unit.[157] The reformed division thus comprised one regular, three New Army, and six TF battalions.[158] While overseas the London Regiment units had been unaffected by malaria[159] and because they had only gone to Egypt in October 1916, leave, as far as the authorities were concerned, was not as pressing for those battalions as it was for some of the others returning from the East. The usual daily allocation of four men per battalion began in early July. The battalions practised manning the Berthen Line and their intended role as a counter-attack division from those defences.[160] Battalions were reorganized according to their changed war establishment and began to accustom themselves to conditions on the Western Front. By mid-July, with all supported and supporting arms assembled, the division, with most battalion strengths in excess of 900, moved towards the front. It relieved 35th Division in the front line towards the end of the month.[161]

Two other reduced divisions, 50th (Northumbrian) and 66th (2nd East Lancashire), like 30th and 34th Divisions were to be made up again as front line formations by incorporating battalions or personnel returned from the East. Having posted the personnel of its nine brigaded battalions to the reinforcement camps, on 14 July the divisional TCs of 50th Division moved to Martin Eglise, near Dieppe. Several of the battalions which were now to become part of the division had already assembled at Martin Eglise by the time DHQ arrived.[162] The only battalion which had not technically come from the East was 2/RDF. That unit had, however, been reduced to cadre before being reconstituted with personnel of its 7th Battalion. This battalion had served in both Salonika and Egypt. On 16 August the TCs of the nine infantry battalions of 50th Division were transferred to 39th Division.[163] They were told that as TCs were no longer needed to train American troops, they would next be used to train reinforcement officers at schools which were soon to be established near Rouen, Etaples and Le Havre.

The reconstitution of 66th Division was a little more complicated than that of 50th (Northumbrian). TCs of numerous battalions from several divisions continued to serve with 2nd East Lancashire Division between May and July but, on 18 July, DHQ was warned of a move to lines of communication.[164] Instead of training Americans its new role would also be that of training battalions returned from the East. During the next few days, DHQ moved to Gaillefontaine and the three BHQ to the Serqueux – Abancourt area.[165] Eight battalions from Salonika assembled with many of their men suffering from the effects of malaria. To exacerbate their already substantial difficulties, their arrival also coincided with the outbreak of flu. On 22 July, the division sent 12 TCs to the base for drafting, another two went in early August, and then 10 arrived from 39th Division on 16 August.[166] Two of the newly-arrived battalions were quickly sent to other divisions[167] and three of the units from Salonika were amalgamated with the TCs which still remained with the division. Two of these, 9/Manchester and 6/Lancashire Fusiliers, were former 1st Line TF units which had absorbed their 2nd Line battalions and had only moved from 42nd to 66th Division in February 1918.[168]

Those battalions arriving from the East had either landed at Marseilles or travelled by train from Taranto. The train journey had, for some, been difficult and tedious.[169] The diarist of 4/KRRC railed against the almost non-existent sanitary and feeding arrangements, while that of 10/Black Watch was more content. Having been escorted by a strong destroyer screen from Itea, the battalion left Taranto at 0020 on 8 July. It was asked to parade through the town of Faenza “to improve the townsfolk’s moral” (sic), it lost Private Ross who drowned when the battalion was taken off the train for a midday halt to bathe in the sea at Ventimiglia, and managed to leave the QM at Malsherbes when the train departed unexpectedly. Nonetheless, it arrived about on schedule at Abancourt on 14 July. There, 13/Manchester, which had arrived three days earlier, “very kindly had tea ready for the battalion.”[170]

Several of the battalions bound for either of these two divisions had first gone into camp at Serqueux before moving about 25 miles towards the coast. There they helped to build their own camps at Martin Eglise. ADMS 50th Division was busily occupied in assessing the troops’ fitness, especially the degree to which they had suffered from malaria. In early July he visited a convalescent camp at Le Trepot to learn more about the treatment of cases and twice met Lieutenant Colonel Dalrymple, one of the leading experts on the disease.[171] All three battalions of 151 Brigade were initially said to be “slightly suffering from the effects”, 3/Royal Fusiliers (3/RF) was described as having “suffered much” from the disease, and “practically all” of 2/RDF (actually the men of 7/RDF who had been absorbed by the regular battalion) were subjected to malarial attacks.[172] More than 100 of the Dublins fell out from a march soon after landing at Marseilles on 1 June. Twenty of those were admitted to hospital and by the second week of July, 360 of its men had been completely struck of strength.[173] The daily quinine parades, however, did generally work effectively and quickly. When 12/Lancashire Fusiliers left Sarigol, GOC 22nd Division told the battalion he knew it had “suffered more from malaria than any other regiment.” It reached Serqueux on 16 July and within three days it was “looking much fitter” and the sick rate was falling. During July, only three officers and 64 ORs were admitted to hospital.[174] Similarly, 6/Leinster, which had landed on 1 June, sent 324 ORs to hospital during that month. By 31 July the diarist reported, “Health of the battalion has improved and is directly due to the quinine treatment daily, which is rigorously enforced.” Only 77 were admitted to hospital that month, with 212 rejoining the battalion.[175]

Deciding which men would be capable of front line service was a priority but, so too, to the men was home leave. Something like, for example, 596 men of 3/RF had had no leave for 12 months, 249 none for 24 months, and 98 none for 36 months. The figures for 2/RDF were not as bad but still substantial: 301 no leave for 12 months, 106 none for 24, and 25 none for 34 months.[176] The usual leave allocation of a paltry four ORs per day was begun but quickly suspended until troops had received 28 consecutive daily doses of quinine. Leave allocations were then increased with the result that in August, 451 ORs of 1/KOYLI and 305 of 6/RInnF were on leave; by the end of the month “practically all” of 13/Black Watch had been back to the UK.[177]

While the men appreciated their much delayed home leave, the absence of such large numbers of men, in addition to those required as working parties for the new camp and its practice areas, hampered their training and acclimatization. To instruct senior officers in some of the ways and means of conducting tactical warfare on the Western Front, those of 50th Division took part in a two-day staff ride to examine the battle fought by the Australians on 4 July at Le Hamel. Officers of both divisions also received regular lectures on subjects which had not been particularly relevant to the character of the war against Bulgaria.[178] Topics echoed those delivered to 40th and 59th Division’s troops, ranging from infantry cooperation with air, artillery, and tanks, to how the RN was conducting its anti-submarine campaign. Officers and NCOs of battalions of 66th Division were also successively addressed by Lord Denbigh on “Germany’s War Aims”, a lecture which one officer noted, with either sycophantic or sarcastic intent, was “a most welcome instructive, interesting lecture, thoroughly appreciated by all.”[179] The ubiquitous Lieutenant Colonel Campbell’s demonstrations on bayonet fighting to all battalions inevitably went down well with his audiences. Training personnel from HQ IX Corps were posted to several of the supported and supporting arms to assist and lecture on training methods and tactical schemes. These were followed by analytical discussions on how well the planning and inter-arm cooperation had gone by senior commanders of both formations. Other ranks spent much of their time on the ranges (the intention was to have every man trained as a Lewis gunner), or involved in gas drills, specialist skills, and competitive recreation to assist platoon and company bonding.

By mid-September both divisions were considered to be ready for combat. In 66th Division, 6/Leinster was disbanded in order to reinforce three other battalions within the division. As a result, 350 Irish troops were divided between 6/RDF and 5/Connaught Rangers., and 185 English went to 9/Gloucestershire.[180] That battalion’s role was almost immediately afterwards converted from one of conventional infantry to that of divisional pioneers. The ten remaining TCs were attached to the now detached 197 Brigade as lines of communication troops.[181] On 18 September, DHQ, less 197 BHQ and 10/Black Watch,[182] was warned the division would be moving to First Army in about two days. As a preparatory measure it ordered the immediate closure of its pioneer and signals schools. On 23 September, the South African Brigade joined the division at Cauroy and by 1 October the division had assembled in the Montauban area.[183]  Between 15-16 September, 50th Division moved to Lucheux and GHQ Reserve. Its troops left Martin Eglise with resounding praise for its behaviour from its divisional commander, the base commandant of Dieppe, and the town’s sous-prefect.[184] It continued training until 28 September when, now under XIII Corps, Fourth Army, it prepared for its assault on Prospect Hill.

Active Operations

A. Reconstituted Front Line Divisions

Once they were considered to be sufficiently trained for active operations, the five divisions reconstituted as front line formations took an anticipated and full part in the final stages of the war. There was no reason why they should have been treated in any special or different way to the bulk of other British or Dominion divisions. Three of the divisions, 25th, 50th and 66th, served in XIII Corps, Fourth Army, and were involved in some very heavy fighting during the Hundred Days. The first two formations attacked the Beaurevoir Line and then all three were involved in the push towards the Selle and the Sambre. In October, 66th Division, operating with tanks near Villers Outreaux, met with and successfully overcame considerable resistance. There was some ferocious hand-to-hand fighting for 25th Division at the Herman Position II, and flexibility, deception, improvisation, and agility were all required in an action near Hachette Farm. As late as 9 November, the corps was still fighting hard ESE of Mormal Forest. In late September, 30th and 34th Divisions in X Corps, Second Army, experienced difficulties when attacking Messines and Wytschaete. Determined enemy resistance, confused orders, and being hit by their own barrage complicated the advance but, by mid-October, and again after hard fighting near Gheluwe, they had taken Wevicq and Menin. A lack of bridging materials hampered progress but mixed success in a subsidiary action at Moen eventually allowed 34th Division to take Bossuyt. By the end of October both divisions were on the west bank of the Scheldt, with 34th Division having just been transferred to II Corps and pulled into reserve. Early on 9 November, elements of 30th Division crossed the river and by the Armistice were close to Ellezelles, some 12 miles further east.

B. Reconstituted as 'B' Divisions

Command:

The four divisions reconstituted as B formations might have expected a somewhat less active role than the majority of the BEF’s divisions. If classified as B1, in addition to being fit enough for garrison duty and line holding, personnel had also to be able to see and hear sufficiently well to fire a weapon and receive orders. If B2, they could withstand garrison duty and work in labour units, although their hearing and sight might be questionable. It was not anticipated men in either of the two categories would be capable of undertaking offensive action. What constituted offensive action was, to some commanders, open to interpretation. Given their anticipated limited role in future operations it might have been expected they would receive senior commanders of a lesser calibre than those of other divisions. The evidence, however, suggests this was not the case. Three of the four divisions, which all together had six different GOCs between reconstitution and the Armistice, were commanded by men with considerable pedigrees. The one exception was 14th Division, whose single GOC was Major General Percy Skinner.

Above: Major-General Sir (Percy) Cyriac Burnell Skinner  (1871-1955)

He was not as experienced as the other individuals but was promoted internally to divisional command having been GOC 41 Brigade since April 1916. His appointment came just as the division came out of the line and about to be reduced to cadre.  Major General Cecil Romer had commanded 59th Division since April 1917. It was probably thought he could do with a rest and the division a change. He was replaced in June 1918 as GOC 2nd North Midland Division first by Robert Whigham, the former Deputy Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and later by Nevill Smyth VC. Smyth had previously commanded both 2nd Australian and 58th (2/1st London) Divisions.[185] Romer’s career was, however, far from over because in 1935 he became Adjutant-General to the Forces. In July, Major General Sir William Peyton was appointed to command 40th Division. Peyton had had extensive combat and administrative experience and had served as Haig’s military secretary for nearly two years. The remaining formation, 16th Division, was also commanded by another experienced major general. Archibald Ritchie had been promoted to command a brigade in May 1915 and was GOC 11th Division from late 1916. He was wounded in May 1917 and on recovery was appointed to command what had been the Irish Division.  

The crucial position of GSO1 in the four divisions was filled by experienced staff officers. Of the five appointees (Follett served as GSO1 in both 14th and 59th Divisions), three of them had passed Staff College. All had been commissioned between 1895 and 1901, with all but two having served previously as brigade major. This post was considered as an integral element of the apprenticeship towards a staff career. All five had served as GSO2 and one, Hill-Whitson of 14th Division, also as DAA&QMG. Their experience in coping with the administration and day-to-day running of a division, and the availability of their considered advice, would have been essential to the development of divisions as they attempted to enhance their efficiency and fighting power.

Many of the GOsC infantry brigades were, like their divisional commanders, experienced soldiers. There were a few slightly older gentlemen, for example, the later explorer and adventurer George Pereira, and Cyril James, both of whom were commissioned in the early 1880s. Both had commanded brigades since 1916. There were four younger high flyers: Cope of 59th Division had been a lowly second lieutenant in 1906; Dobbin had been CO of three battalions before being given a brigade in February 1918; Nash of 16th Division had been a brigade major and commander of two battalions; Dent had commanded three battalions before transferring to the MGC and later becoming GOC 47 Brigade. These first appointees still had a lot to learn about command but following the losses sustained during the German spring offensives so did many other brigade commanders across the BEF. In October 1918, Hore-Ruthven of the Scots Guards who had been a temporary brigade commander for six months before again reverting to a GSO1 in January 1918, was brought out of a divisional HQ and given a brigade in 40th Division. Others, like Stansfield of 59th Division and Tempest of 14th Division had proved their ability since early 1917 and remained with their existing brigades. Apart from Periera, probably the best known of the GOCs was Frank Crozier.

Above: Frank Crozier

Having had several cheques bounce, in 1908 this colourful character was forced to resign his commission. He rejoined on the outbreak and was soon appointed to command a battalion in 36th (Ulster) Division. He was promoted to GOC of a brigade in 40th Division in November 1916.

The first COs of the newly raised or reconstituted battalions were something of a mixed selection. There was a handful of TF officers, such as Spain of 2/6th DLI, Woodhead of 11/Somerset L.I., and Davies-Evans, who had come from the yeomanry. Others, for example Hodson and Grogan (who had retired in 1909) were to leave their newly raised battalions after a mere few days in command. Several, such as Colquhoun of 14/Leicestershire, were pre-war regulars who had been subalterns when mobilized in 1914. Richards of 20/Middlesex and Lloyd of 12/Suffolk retained their commands through the process of reduction to cadre and reconstitution. One of the most widely-known of the COs was Archer-Shee, the half brother of the celebrated Winslow Boy. Archer-Shee had retired from the army in 1905, became a MP in 1910, rejoined the army on the outbreak, and became a temporary GOC brigade in 1916. He had commanded two other battalions before becoming CO of 10/KOSB in 40th Division.

Probably the bulk of the remaining COs came from what Crozier called the “fed-ups from the pot-luck pool” at the Base.[186] Applying the old adage of “there are no bad battalions, just bad colonels”, Crozier later claimed he told “the staff” (which ‘staff’ is unclear) that he wanted good colonels, majors, adjutants, QMs, “and fair, but not soft” MOs. He went on to explain that two of his COs had by dint of his reputation and their perseverance contrived to get themselves appointed as COs in his brigade. He had come across Plunkett as a CSM at Mons in 1914, and the “old fire-eater” Andrews as an officer in 36th Division. Crozier later claimed he had recruited the CO for his third battalion whilst they shared a shell hole during a bombardment. At the time of his shell hole encounter O’Connor, late CSM of the Irish Guards, was a captain in the Royal Munster Fusiliers.[187]

The battalion officers were, like those of the ORs, drawn from a variety of regiments and regions. There does perhaps seem, however, to have been something of an effort to post officers to battalions of their own regiment. It is clear from war diaries that significant numbers of recently commissioned junior officers from, for example, reserve battalions of the North Staffordshire, RWF and Cameronians, did arrive at their respective battalions in the reconstituted divisions. At the Armistice there were still sufficient Scottish officers present in 9/Black Watch knowledgeable enough to perform a celebratory eightsome reel.[188] Although difficult to confirm, the mixture of 20/Middlesex’s officers may have been reasonably typical. Of its 38 officers when it re-formed in July, 11 percent (including the CO) were regulars, 35 percent were TF commissioned, and 54 percent held temporary commissions. Eighteen of them, or 49 percent had been commissioned into the Middlesex Regiment, 16 percent came from the yeomanry, 14 percent from the Suffolk Regiment, and the remainder from seven different regiments.[189]

By the time they went into the line, most but not all of the four divisions’ supporting arms had rejoined their infantry brigades. Although field companies could be detached for other duties, most of the divisions operated with three field companies and a pioneer battalion. The three field ambulances also rejoined, albeit with sections sometimes detached elsewhere. The artillery brigades and their ammunition columns had been attached to army, corps, or other divisions since their own divisions had been reduced. Three of the four divisional CRA, and later their RFA brigades, rejoined their divisions just before the infantry took over a stretch of line. The artillery of 40th Division’s did not rejoin its infantry brigades for almost another eight weeks. Machine-gun battalions joined, or original companies rejoined now as part of a MGC battalion, and brigade TMBs were raised by taking men from the three battalions within a brigade. Two of the divisions, 14th and 40th, spent a good part of the approximately three months of active operations in the same XV Corps, Second Army; 16th and 59th also spent a proportion of their time serving together in XI Corps, Fifth Army.

16th Division:

Before it undertook its first real operation, 16th Division, holding the line to the south of La Bassee Canal, conducted a strategy described as one of “frequent aggressive patrolling.” These enterprises involved some sharp encounters with the enemy, not all of them successful: one platoon-sized patrol from 34/London went out on 2 September and was never seen again. On 11 September, two battalions of 49 Brigade attacked without either an artillery or machine-gun barrage and took the Railway Triangle. The advance continued as far as the Vermelles-Auchy road but an enemy counter-attack recaptured all of the ground later in the day. In the early evening, and this time with the support of an artillery barrage and in the face of “feeble resistance” and a weak counter-barrage, 6/Somerset L.I and 18/Gloucestershire retook the earlier objectives.[190] By 13 September Auchy and Fosse 8 were occupied but frequent enemy counter-attacks and gas barrages forced temporary withdrawals.[191] Patrols continued to operate and in the next few days the forward posts were gradually advanced. On one occasion, and demonstrating a commendable degree of dash and enterprise, a squad of 5/RIF charged an enemy post which caused its garrison to cast aside their weapons and flee.[192]  By the end of the month orders had been issued as to how the pursuit of a significant enemy withdrawal would be conducted. RE were to be attached to battalions to deal with booby traps and ruses, divisional staff had worked out how transport and supplies were to be organized, where ammunition dumps, refilling points and traffic control measures were likely to be located, how salvage would be collected and how the postal service was to be maintained.[193] ADMS issued instructions emphasizing how regimental MOs had to report frequently the location of the RAPs, field ambulance sections, relay stations, and walking wounded posts.[194]  When out of the line training involved practising battle patrols, tactics for attacking strong points, conducting advance guards, “attacking in bounds”, and how to mop up.[195] At least one battalion also witnessed a demonstration by tanks.[196]

The division’s progress across the partly industrial landscape to the south of Lille was steady rather than spectacular. The Germans continued a staged withdrawal and by 3 October the division had reached the Haute Deule Canal. The Germans were in strength on the east bank and prevented attempts to cross the canal by concentrated and systematic fire. A pause set in and a provisional defence scheme was issued in case the enemy counter-attacked across the divide.[197] Patrols were active and sometimes attacked enemy machine-gun posts concealed in houses and protected by substantial belts of wire. Water levels began to rise which caused several of the advanced posts on the west bank area to be withdrawn but on 15 October, prisoners told their captors their comrades had withdrawn from the eastern bank. Crossings were made and after a day of “heavy marching” 48 Brigade entered Provin.[198] On 18 October, 18/Gloucestershire’s diarist recorded the battalion marched 11 miles and then another 14 the following day. In total, only16 men fell out. Assisted by regular RAF reports on the state of the roads and bridges further east the advance continued despite the activities of enemy air and armoured cars. DHQ moved to Phalempin on 19 October and two days later to Templeuve. There, because Germans remained in prepared defensive positions on the west bank of the Scheldt, the advance came to a halt

Casualties for the month were low. There were almost 100 Yellow Cross cases in 34/London when about 1,500 shells were fired on their billets in St Maur; a day earlier, five men of the same battalion had been killed and another 20 gassed by Green Cross.[199] Nonetheless, between 28 September and 28 October, battalion strengths averaged an impressive 760 ORs and fighting strengths of the three brigades had been reduced by only 16, 43 and 236 ORs respectively.[200] Substantial drafts had arrived: 214 for 34/London and 73 (“apparently a very good lot”) for 18/Gloucestershire. Their quality, however, did generally remain very variable. A later draft of 128 B1 men for the Gloucestershire battalion, mostly Lancastrians posted to the battalion via the RWF, were all returned to the Base as unfit. Several of the men were even noted to have been rejected by the battalion whilst it was forming in England.[201]  The opening days of November were quiet save for patrolling and exchanges of gas and artillery. One minor operation on 5 November by a company of 34/London to clear Antoing and secure a crossing point was repulsed by a combination of machine-gun fire, gas and shells directed from a slag heap close to the village. The enemy’s resolution to hold his bridgeheads continued until the morning of 8 November when patrols by units in I and III Corps discovered he had gone. Plans for a follow up operation were in place but when patrols of 5/RIF tried pushing on to the river bank they were met with fire from the other side. The fusiliers were held up until the afternoon when, in a well organized and well executed operation which demonstrated adaptability and initiative, 18/Sco.Rifles and 22/NF crossed in boats and by two floating bridges erected by the divisional sappers and pioneers.[202] In the early morning of 9 November the fusiliers were east of Antoing and the support brigade was through the “disgracefully looted” Wez-Velvan. At news of the Armistice “Respirators, small box, were all cast aside with many sighs of relief.” To the obvious disappointment of one diarist, however, “Beyond the usual diminutive issue of rum, no stimulating beverages of any description are available.”[203]

14th Division:

During October, operating to the north of 16th Division, and in Second rather than Fifth Army, 14th and 40th Divisions (XV Corps) had also worked their way through to the Scheldt. The two divisions had begun their advance south of Ypres and crossed the lower part of the Flanders Plain and the coal mining region of Artois. In September, and as part of II Corps, 14th Division held the line close to the Bluff and astride the Ypres-Commines Canal. Its units were weak with 43 Brigade mustering a fighting strength of only 63 officers and 1,667 ORs.[204] The initial trench tours were very much a learning experience. Several German patrols and raids were beaten off but one night, four of 20/Middlesex were killed and another five evacuated with shell shock.[205] One of their own nocturnal patrols managed to skewer one of its own officers and two ORs with the bayonets of other members. When out of the line a battalion was “squashed” into Nissan huts because “as usual, tents were unfit for habitation.”[206] Training was undertaken when time and working parties allowed. During September battalions managed about nine days training, with the sessions divided into three blocks of three days.[207]

The division’s first significant operation came at the end of September. As would be expected by that stage of the war, operational orders were extensive and exhaustive. Barrage timings and type, rates of fire, the number of batteries involved, etc, were all detailed, as were the instructions concerning the accompanying sappers of 184 Tunnelling Company, the brigade TMB, three sections of 14 Bn MGC, prisoner management, and evacuation routes for the wounded. Intelligence reported morale in 40th (Saxon) Division opposite to be “poor.” The operation was to be undertaken by 43 Brigade on the left, with 12/Suffolk and 20/Middlesex assaulting and 10/HLI in support, and 42 Brigade on the right with 6/Wiltshire and 14/A&SH leading. The assaulting battalions of the two brigades were all to attack on a two company front, with the platoons advancing in “worms”. The tactics to be employed by the infantry, the role of the artillery and the other supporting arms were all very much in accordance with current offensive doctrine. The division’s contribution to the wider attack was, however, more of a supporting than a leading role. The divisions on both flanks, 34th on the right and 35th on the left, had slightly more ambitious objectives. The division’s principle objective was the much-contested Bluff. This mound of blasted earth “bristled with machine guns, trench mortars and, if held with determination, should have proved an insurmountable obstacle.” While taking the Bluff and the grounds of the White Chateau were considered essential, the key to overall success was for 16th Division to maintain touch with the divisions on its flanks and provide them with covering fire if required or requested. When 34th Division did ask for assistance from 42 Brigade, the battalions were ordered to fire in support but “in no case to get involved in the battle.”

The division’s post-battle reports on the engagement of 28-29 September were written with enthusiasm and obvious satisfaction. Major General Ritchie quickly congratulated all arms on their “first fight since re-organization.” Although when they were withdrawn on the evening of 29th, it was raining torrents, the accommodation was “extraordinarily bad and insufficient”, and there were no baths or any available means of cleaning up, the troops were reported as being “very cheerful.” This may have been something of an exaggeration but there is no doubt that the diarists, COs and GOC brigades were very pleased with the way the action had gone. Brigadier General Pereira even went so far as to call it a “brilliant success.”[208]

Above: Brigadier-General George Edward Pereira  (1865-1923)

Because the broken ground, littered with water-filled shell and mine craters, together with the smoke barrage and darkness had hindered direction-keeping, the advance was made by compass bearings. The creeping barrage was effective, giving the troops “the greatest confidence” and the indirect machine-gun fire “excellent”. Leadership in 42 Brigade was “untiring in supervision” and the initiative shown by one OC company in managing an envelopment of the Bluff’s defences was hailed as “the event of the day.” Opposition was sporadic, touch was maintained with the flanks, reporting was considered to have been sound, surprise had been achieved, and all objectives taken. Despite orders that the division “will not be asked to go further” some patrols pressed on beyond their objectives and ran into their own protective barrage falling on Dammstrasse. Casualties were reasonably light, with initial figures thought to be three officers and 26 ORs killed and four and 230 respectively wounded and missing.[209] In its report to BHQ, 12/Suffolk estimated between 80-100 Germans had been killed and around 200 captured.

After the action, two of the division’s infantry brigades were immediately put to work on roads. This was by no means unusual and made practical and operational sense to use the B division for a less stressful task while it recovered from its first prolonged period in the line. The lone forward brigade made a slow advance from about Messines to the Bas Warneton area, keeping in touch with the two divisions working either side and maintaining pressure on the enemy. There was limited large scale offensive action in the immediate area, the main theatre of operations currently being further south. Most of the battalions of the two brigades repairing roads were based in and around Potijze where the usual problems of accommodation quickly became evident. There were insufficient tents so corrugated iron and wood were necessarily salvaged for make-shift shelters. When 20/Middlesex arrived at the “camp” the lorries carrying their blankets, greatcoats and kit went somewhere else. An uncomfortably wet two weeks followed.[210] Those troops with earlier front line experience were probably able to improvise and possibly fared better than some of their more recently conscripted comrades. The road work was fatiguing and lasted until the brigades were ferried to Wulverghem to relieve 41 Brigade in the line near Bas Warneton.

By early October the advance had reached the River Lys beyond the Houplines sector. Patrols had pushed forward and began reconnoitring potential crossing points of the river. The Germans had continued to withdraw but left rearguards as they did so. A raid on a platoon post of 29/DLI close to Comines on 12 October succeeded in capturing at least 17 of the garrison. Patrols searched for them next day but no trace was found of bodies or captives.[211] In coordination with the brigades on it flanks, the division’s next operation was to cross the Lys and establish bridgeheads. While important as its role was, 14th Division’s tasks were essentially to keep patrols in touch with what progress was being achieved on its left (northern) flank by 30th Division. If opportunities did present themselves, however, they were to be exploited. The field companies had prepared bridges made from petrol tins and barrels to throw across the river and in the days before the operation artillery bombardments, gas, TM salvoes, and machine-gun fire had been exchanged by the opposing sides. On 14 October, having received news that 30th Division was advancing, the CO of 29/DLI ordered his patrols to cross on two bridges to the south of Comines. They were to comply with corps orders to keep in touch with his flank and with the enemy. Covering fire and a TM bombardment to cut the wire on the southern bank were organized. As soon as a Lewis gun team established a post on the other side, heavy fire came down on the sappers and the Durhams tasked to protect them. For the next few hours the bridges and the positions of the sections which had managed to cross continued to attract a great deal of heavy fire. By the early evening it was clear the enemy was still resisting and in some strength. To avoid them being either wiped out or cut off, the bridgeheads were withdrawn. Orders were received at 0100 on 15 October that the operation was to be repeated on a larger and more organized scale at 0530. Both 33/London and 29/DLI this time crossed against no opposition and Comines was cleared. Aware that 30th Division on his left “for no apparent reason” had not made any attempt to push up and align, and because his men were exhausted after an 18 day tour, the CO of 29/DLI ordered his troops to halt and consolidate.

The small operation by two battalions, and which had begun as something more of a supporting role than the one which had eventually evolved, had worked well. The enemy certainly cooperated on 15 October but the tactics employed were appropriate if the defenders had decided to make it more of a battle. Furthermore, despite the puncturing of the floats of one bridge which rendered it unusable, 33/London showed flexibility and improvisation in managing to continue its advance and to remain in contact with 29/DLI. On 41 Brigade’s southern flank, 31st Division took considerably longer to establish itself on the southern bank and link up with 33/London’s more advanced position.[212]

During the next few days, 14th Division did the same work and kept up the same rate of advance as other divisions in its own and adjoining corps. The speed of the enemy withdrawal created problems of supply for all formations. There may have been a degree of naivety or lack of experience among some of 14th Division’s staff captains because they seem to have come off worst in a competition with other units for billets in Roncq. Rations were described as “lost” on at least one occasion but QMs and transport sections in all divisions faced the same problems of traffic jams, destroyed bridges, and cratered roads.[213] Enemy resistance did sometimes result in small engagements, 10/HLI, for example, had to clear several machine-gun rearguards from houses in Mouscron but, in general, the division maintained the same pace as formations on either side. Divisions of XV Corps were fortunate in discovering that the Germans had not constructed a section of what was known as the Courtrai Switch on their corps front. By 20 October several brigades of XV Corps had reached the Scheldt. In the face of significant hostile fire and strongly wired banks, a halt was made. For 14th Division this allowed time for banquets organized by thankful and liberated civilians, for battalion bands to entertain crowds in town squares, for helping townsfolk to repair their damaged houses, for road reconstruction, for football, and for training.[214] This tended to concentrate on tactics for open warfare, conducting advanced guards, manning outposts, and map reading. One brigade garrisoned the forward posts to maintain pressure and provide harassing fire on the other side of the river when required whilst the other two trained. Patrols were active daily and in what was termed a “minor operation” on 29-30 October three assault parties of 16/Manchester successfully established a series of posts near Helchin on the eastern bank. [215]

A slightly more involved operation was scheduled for 2 November. Major General Skinner was informed 40th Division, on the right of 14th Division, was to establish posts across the river. He instructed 33/London to cooperate by advancing simultaneously. Very poor liaison between the two divisions resulted in a confused and unintentionally staggered operation. No agreement about timing had been discussed so it came as a surprise to 41 Brigade HQ when at 1620 it received a message from 121 Brigade announcing that the latter’s assault had begun at 1555. The unilateral decision of 40th Division to start the operation without having previously informed 14th Division made it impossible for 33/London immediately to cooperate. Four hours later the battalion launched its own assault and with the assistance of sappers managed to throw across two bridges east of Helchin. Another was established a little further north near Bossuyt.[216] Intelligence had determined the marshes lying to the east of the divisional front would impede and probably prevent any further progress. Consequently, when 40th Division began to cross the river on 8 November, 14th Division spent the daylight hours reconnoitring possible routes across the marshes. Having decided that transport would need to be diverted, 12/Suffolk crossed the river largely unopposed by means of some  convenient sluice gates.[217] On 9 November, with 29th and 40th Division converging across its front, 14th Division was pinched out and the battalions of 43 Brigade withdrew to seek billets in Helchin. Freshly liberated, the town’s civilians were already returning to their homes. Many of them expressed discontent with their homes doubling as billets and requested the soldiers be removed.[218]

40th Division:

Working to the immediate south of 14th Division, 40th Division, the other formation in XV Corps, had also advanced from its starting positions south-east of Hazebrouck to the Scheldt without meeting any really substantial resistance. The start of its participation in field operations had been disappointing: in August, 85 ORs, including 48 from 13/East Lancashire, had been returned to the Base as unfit for service.[219] Furthermore, 136 Field Ambulance, which was running the two southern corps of Second Army’s Advanced Army Dysentery Centre, was reported to be “very full.” ADMS requested permission and equipment to increase accommodation by another 50 beds.[220] Like that of all ADMS of the reconstituted divisions, the ceaseless round of inspections, conferences, advisory sessions, medical boards, and arguments between Colonel Humphry and higher authority, underlines the fact that the divisions were not commanded by second-rate officers. Humphry regularly complained about the presence of lice eggs in clean clothes returned from the army laundry. When he could get no satisfaction from lesser beings he involved the corps DDMS and then the DADMS Second Army. They toured the laundry together and agreed certain standards had “been allowed to drift.” Humphry pursued the issue and instituted various trials to address the problem. Before these could bear fruit, however, they were necessarily abandoned because the enemy had begun to retreat.[221]

The commencement of the division’s offensive action was also not entirely convincing. The first two weeks of August were neatly summed up by the diarist of the TMB. His forward gun was “Inactive because of lack of targets and lack of personnel.”[222] On 22 August, GOsC 119 and 120 Brigades were instructed to devise a minor operation to straighten the line and advance a few posts. The GOsC were to arrange directly with the OsC of the two artillery groups made available to support the attack. The objectives were positions known as Bowery Cot and Becket Corner. Intelligence gathering had been scanty and had failed to determine the extent of the wire along the banks of the small Laudick. The artillery barrage did little to weaken it. Preceded by fighting patrols, companies advanced in artillery formation and met first with only light resistance. The situation changed when enemy snipers and machine-gun in isolated positions well in advance of their known outpost line fired on 120 Brigade’s companies. The enemy tried to outflank the advancing patrols and were even frequently heard to shout “what were presumably uncomplimentary words.” Assistance was requested from 119 Brigade but the message was long delayed and did not reach 119 BHQ before a German counter-attack had forced 120 Brigade back almost to its start line. In something of an understatement DHQ decided the attack had been “not completely successful.”[223]

DHQ decided that a bigger and more organized effort was required to take the positions. It drew up a plan and submitted it to corps HQ for approval. The proposed attempt involved much more enhanced support from the artillery and the machine-gun battalion. Fifty-four 18 pdrs would fire a creeping barrage advancing 100 yards every three minutes while the heavy artillery  put down a standing barrage on various points until Z + 110.[224] Smoke was to be laid to shield the two assaulting companies which were attempting to turn the enemy positions from the north. These would be followed by two further companies acting as mopper ups. All would be assisted by three batteries of machine guns firing an overhead protective barrage. The preparation and planning looked adequate for what was still only a minor operation. The barrages and initial advance by 13/RInnF began as scheduled at 1000. Machine-gun posts on the way were dealt with by “good individual effort” but the Inniskillin had to draw in their right flank which had become “dangerously extended.” The cause was the late start of 120 Brigade’s advance on the right. This was supposed to have begun at 1130 but 119 Brigade believed it did not get underway until 1400. For its part, 120 Brigade noted the attack of 15/KOYLI did start as scheduled but that it was held up by wire in front of Bowery Cot. It also recorded that because 119 Brigade’s attack on the ruins “did not materialize” its own advance could not proceed. The KOYLI also had to throw back its right because 183 Brigade of 61st Division had failed to get forward from Cochin Corner. DHQ ordered the gap of about 500 yards between 119 and 120 Brigades to be closed and the enemy machine guns there to be eliminated. One battalion of 121 Brigade was sensibly moved forward a little to act as brigade reserve. One company of 13/East Lancashire, which was under orders of 119 Brigade as an anti-counter-attack force, and two platoons of 12/N.Staffordshire, were ordered to close the gap. At 2030 this order was cancelled by DHQ because wires reported the gap had in fact, been closed at 1900. Consolidation of Bishop's Corner began but Bowery Cot remained in German hands.[225]

DHQ later reported 50 German dead had been counted and about 30 prisoners captured. Two heavy and seven light machine guns were also taken but the little action had proved costly for 13/RInnF. Initial reports noted two officers and 15 ORs killed, with nine and 60 wounded. The battalion’s final fatality roll amounted to three officers and 36 ORs. The advance was made over flat, largely featureless open ground, crossed in places by drainage ditches. The substantial artillery arrangements should have been sufficient to cover the advance but the enterprise and initiative of the defending infantry and the enemy’s effective artillery response, together with the inter-brigade communication difficulties of 40th Division, prevented the capture of two of the three principal objectives. The division was forced to try for a third time two days later. On 28 August the artillery targeted Bowery Cot and Rue Provost for most of the day but nocturnal patrols discovered they were still held strongly. It was decided another attempt would be made to turn the positions from the north. At 1330 the artillery opened fire and two companies of 11/Cameron Highlanders took both objectives with little difficulty at the cost of 39 wounded. The garrisons had clearly been told not to make a stand and had withdrawn to positions further east. In anticipation that the withdrawal might continue the division formed an advance guard of one infantry brigade, two batteries of 18 pdrs, one section of howitzers, a company of 104 Bn MGC, and one company of corps cyclists On 1 September, elements of this unit captured the hamlets of Doulieu and Le Verrier and continued to push on towards Armentieres.[226]

The enemy withdrawal was staged and selective, with stiff resistance offered at tactically important points. An entire company of 8/RIR advanced through Pont de Nieppe and was never heard of again. Patrols sent to look for it found no trace and DHQ could only assume it had been surrounded and captured.[227] When the enemy decided they had withdrawn sufficiently for the time being, the activity reverted for some days to patrolling and the exchange of artillery shoots. It was not until 10 September that a bridgehead was established over the Lys east of Pont de Nieppe. Several attempts to get along the Lys made slow progress, often being halted by ferocious machine-gun fire. It was not until 28 September that a major attack by Second Army allowed the division to penetrate the enemy’s outer screens and throw bridges across the Warnave. On 3 October 13/RInnF crossed the Lys north of Armentieres and entered the maze of trenches in what until April had been the British forward systems.[228] On 18 October news was received that the enemy was withdrawing through Roubaix and Tourcoing. When 121 Brigade liberated Croix, a township within Roubaix, Brigadier General Stubbs won the accolades and gratitude of the civil authorities.[229] The divisions on either flank had advanced further than 40th Division and had, in effect, pinched it out. As a later writer noted, “The category troops of 40th Division had fought nobly...and were now to have a rest.”[230] The rest was to be short-lived and when again ordered forward brigades alternated as the advanced guard. When not in the line battalions worked on roads and bridges or trained. At a conference convened by GOC 120 Brigade and attended by his brigade major, battalion COs, second-in-commands, and OsC companies, discussion centred on what lessons had been learned during the three months of active service. The consensus was that more emphasis had to be put on training officers and NCOs in leadership skills, to encourage them to use initiative, and to ensure they delivered clear and explicit instructions to sub-commanders. At a later meeting the low strength of battalions necessitated the reorganization of companies on a three platoon basis and, if it was thought necessary, to divide platoons into three rather than four sections.[231]

By 26 October the division was on the west bank of the Scheldt from Warcoing to Pecq. Posts were established on the east bank on 2-3 November but all attempts to push away from the river were resisted. Preparations were thus made for forcing a resisted passage but on 8 November a patrol got across, established a post west of Herinnes and, supported by companies of 12/N.Staffordshire and 13/East Lancashire, worked forward in the early hours of 9 November to the Tournai-Herrinnes railway line.[232] Anticipating a withdrawal, and with another crossing effected east of Pecq, the forward troops advanced a total of seven miles from dawn of 9th. The following day the division was withdrawn.[233]

59th Division:

To the south of 40th Division, and sometimes on its immediate right flank, 59th Division had also advanced from the Flanders Plain to the Scheldt. When in August it returned to the line as the reconstituted division it began its new campaign in the area to the south of Arras and in the company of two rather more august formations. Lieutenant General Haldane’s VI Corps comprised the Guards, the regular 2nd Division, and 59th. The two former took part in a deliberately modest advance on 21 August; 59th was instructed to push patrols forward and occupy any ground which offered itself. Although factually correct, the Official History dismissed in stark terms the division’s contribution: “The actions of this division can be described in a few words: it established six posts, five without difficulty, on a line six hundred yards out and no counter-attack was made against it.”[234] Two days later, rather than using 59th Division in a major assaulting role, Haldane opted to employ the Guards and two other divisions loaned to VI Corps. The attacking divisions passed through the sedentary 59th. Haldane was evidently using the division for its designated role as a line holding formation. On 26 August the division was transferred to XI Corps and moved north from Basseux to the Laventie – Pont-du-Hem sector.

When it took over its sector of line near Laventie the division’s behaviour immediately began to mirror the activities of the formations on either side of its forward brigade. There was a similar amount of patrolling and of small scale actions, and in the first few days of September two battalions were tasked to attack in support of the neighbouring divisions.  Cooperation between 36/Northumberland Fusiliers and 2/Wiltshire of 19th Division was good. In order to prevent gaps developing, troops were to overlap on the divisional boundary and the respective barrages were coordinated. The Northumberlands advanced in artillery formation and reached their objectives. When subsequently consolidating their gains they were fortunate in that an estimated 50 percent of the reprisal enemy shells were duds. A similar operation by 2/6th DLI resulted in some “sharp fighting” along the River Lawe and a congratulatory telegram from Major General Smyth.[235] Patrols continued to push forward and by 4 September, 178 Brigade had taken Laventie and moved into the old British front system. Traffic delays hindered the advance as did stiffening enemy resistance at Two Tree Farm. This resistance spread across the corps front and caused a temporary slowing of the division’s offensive activity. The weather was not good and as early as 10 September the troops were described as “entirely exhausted” and “completely tired and worn out.”[236]  A defence scheme was produced and, when working parties were not required, training undertaken by battalions out at rest. A conference of senior officers in 177 Brigade sensibly decided understudies for all specialist officers should be trained together with a surplus of 25 percent for OR specialists. There was also the usual appeal for urgent improvements in communications. Furthermore, officers were instructed to manage their men to ensure those in the forward zones were allowed sufficient sleep and to reply to any enemy activity with vigorous machine-gun fire and volleys of rifle grenades. In the words of GOC brigade, the enemy had to be given a “bad time.”[237] Training schemes were devised although whether these were produced by divisional, brigade or battalion HQ is unclear. To foster regimental traditions and esprit all officers were ordered to wear the badges and regimental emblems of the regiments in which they now served.[238] A limited number of drafts arrived and a small number of men returned to the Base for reclassification. The weather and long periods spent in shell holes resulted in a “great deal” of sickness in 13/West Riding; 36/NF recorded what had been a steady daily increase to a total 121 sick on 14 September. Nonetheless, with the low numbers of casualties in the first three weeks of the month, battalion strengths remained at between 700-800 ORs.[239]

By about 6 September the enemy had halted his withdrawal. For the next few days he raided and exchanged area shoots and harassing machine-gun fire with the North Midland. The division did manage to push the odd post forward but the main obstacle to any further advance on its front was Two Trees Farm. An initial and unsuccessful attack on the farm had been made by 25/King’s on 4-5 September. Such was the garrison’s resistance that it was quickly realized another purely improvised attempt would fail.[240] A planned and formal attack was thus prepared. Over a period of about 10 days, drums of boiling oil, gas, heavy and prolonged shell “crashes”, and raids invested the farm until, on 2 October, under cover of smoke and clouds of innocuous gas, 25/King’s tried again and took the ruins against some still determined resistance. Fewer than 10 prisoners were taken at a cost to the King’s of 10 dead and 37 wounded.[241] This minor action did show, however, that with proper planning and preparation the division possessed an offensive capability. The farm’s capture was part of an action coordinated with another battalion of 176 Brigade and one of 177 Brigade on the right. This pushed the line forward over 350 yards to positions east of Aubers. This success helped to alleviate the disappointment of an attack three days earlier by three companies of 11/RSF in support of 19th Division. The attack went well, with all objectives being taken without any serious opposition. Twenty-five dead Germans were counted, seven prisoners sent back and an advance made of 650 yards. The difficulties came when the fusiliers began consolidating the gains. Enemy snipers caused numerous casualties and then the garrison of one post was suddenly surrounded by about 40 Germans and forced to surrender. The casualty list was recorded as two officers and 11 ORs killed or died of wounds, 24 wounded and 16 missing.[242]

For the first few days of October there was, as one diarist noted, “a continuous gentle advance.”[243] The tactics were “to push forward with strong patrols closely supported with utmost energy.”[244] A battery of 18 pdrs kept up with the infantry but the roads were poor and the traffic heavy.  On 4 October, 26/RWF occupied part of the old British front line south-west of Wez-Macquart; on the following day, and on a very broad front, a three company attack by 17/RSussex was ordered to be “in the nature of peaceful penetration.”[245] The Germans declined to cooperate and the attack was swiftly brought to a halt by frontal and enfilade fire. The Sussex withdrew to their start line under an enemy barrage and a pause in the push followed for several days. DHQ vetoed a proposed attack by two companies on a wood to the south-east of Wez-Macquart, a village whose garrison was offering determined and aggressive opposition. A raid on a post of the Sussex took one prisoner and one on a post occupied by 25/King’s lost one officer and 11 ORs as prisoners. To add salt to the wound a five man patrol of the King’s then disappeared together with an artillery officer who accompanied it.[246]

Above: Wez-Macquart, 1918

The next reasonably significant operation was conducted on 14 October and aimed to advance the lines south-west of Wez-Macquart. Companies of 36/NF and 13/Duke of Wellington’s had to conduct a fighting withdrawal when the enemy three times counter-attacked their newly-won ground. The operation had begun well, with strong and well spaced forward patrols of the Northumberlands taking a number of “completely demoralized” prisoners. They disposed of one man in a pill box who refused to surrender but were then forced back by the first counter-attack. Lewis guns were turned on the charging enemy who were halted. The Germans regrouped and tried again, and once more failed to dislodge the Northumberlands who were being organized and commanded by Second Lieutenant James Johnson. Snipers in trees added to the Northumberlands’ difficulties and a box barrage effectively cut them off. The divisional artillery did not offer any support for most of the morning but together with some machine guns eventually did bring down a barrage which allowed the surviving 17 of the original 42 of Johnson’s party to return to comparative safety.[247]  It was a similar story of a fighting withdrawal for 13/Dukes. The advance had initially netted so many prisoners that there were not enough spare men to escort them back. In its report 178 Brigade bluntly noted, “The patrols were unable to cope with them and many were shot.”[248]

The enemy did not press his temporary advantage and prisoners declared their forces were about to make another withdrawal. Warning orders about how the next stage of any advance should be conducted had been issued by DHQ on 12 October; on 16 October the forward brigade advanced 3,000 yards and revised orders were issued. The former instructions of “advancing in bounds” on limited objectives were replaced by those which ordered troops to push on as fast as possible to the banks of the Haute Deule Canal. For the sake of speed artillery formation was largely abandoned and the advance was practically in column of route. A march of five miles brought them to the canal where, “the novelty was experienced of having an outpost line with support and reserve in billets.”[249] Given the speed of travel there had been understandable errors. For example, a 30 minute barrage fired to cover an advance by 11/RSF proved “very ineffective” because many of the shells fell short. But, overall the men had marched well, the rations and artillery had kept pace, and there was the uplift provided by marching through crowds of cheering, liberated citizens in largely undamaged villages and towns.[250] One diarist noted: “The spirit of the 2/6th DLI this day was something to be proud of, marching a distance of 17 miles, singing practically the whole distance.”[251]

The next few days were hectic. The canal was crossed on 18 October, Lille received them with open arms and by 20 October the division was on the west bank of the Scheldt. The enemy showed little sign of wanting to stand and fight for any period, but the rapidity of the advance again produced its own problems. The disjointed communications meant the cavalry screen was sometimes operating behind the advancing infantry; battalions occasionally encroached on each others’ boundaries; orders were not always received as promptly as intended by all supposed recipients. Delays in setting off meant one battalion might be miles ahead of those on its flanks and would then have unnecessarily to expend energy in organizing defensive flanks until neighbouring units caught up.[252] Nonetheless, the Scheldt was reached but to the frustration of the patrols the bridges were destroyed and there was a lack of local material to improvise replacements.[253] Corps realized a halt had to be made to allow the artillery and supply columns to catch up.  The pause was intended to be only brief and battalions were told to get patrols across and, if possible, to establish bridgeheads.

Extemporized attempts such as that by Second Lieutenant Paton of 11/RSF were made on 21 October. Paton clambered across the ruined bridge at Pont a Chin and with a length of telephone cable succeeded in pulling into place a small footbridge tied against the east bank. Several men crossed but shelling prevented any practical number from following. Similarly, three men of 36/NF managed to get across but shelling again thwarted attempts by others to follow. On the left, troops of 25/King’s began building a makeshift bridge until the “Royal Engineers turned up” and began constructing a pontoon west of Obigies. One company scrambled across but was then confronted by marshes of waist-deep water. Brigade HQ ordered all but one Lewis gun post to withdraw to the west bank and despatched patrols to reconnoitre alternative crossing points.[254] Besides the difficulties offered by enemy machine-gun fire and shelling, the river itself presented others. Some of the approaches were down steep banks, the water level was generally low, and the revealed mud exceptionally deep. Trying in some sectors to throw across pontoons was thus impracticable.

So intense was the enemy shelling on the division’s west bank positions – nine men of 11/SLI were killed and nine wounded when a shell landed on their billet – that the forward battalions kept only one company in what constituted the front “line.”[255] Patrols went out regularly and the number of posts on the hostile bank gradually increased. By 25 October, on 177 Brigade’s front there were two footbridges and three rafts available.[256] The enemy defences were commanded from observation posts on Mont de la Trinite and consisted of shielded battery positions on its eastern side, and trenches, wire and TMB emplacements running along the railway line at the foot of its western slope. The number of North Midland posts on the eastern bank grew as the close of the month approached but the German gave no indication they were about to conduct another withdrawal. With such small numbers of troops in the forward zone, training was restarted and baths became available. Training was generally done under the supervision of company commanders who were required to present a scheme to battalion HQ for approval. Most continued to concentrate on open warfare, reporting, direction keeping, and musketry.[257] At brigade level an artillery brigade major gave a lecture on infantry-artillery cooperation to officers and senior NCOs and, in the role of 1/Prussian Guards, 25/King’s was used in an experiment to discover how this might work during an enemy retreat. The idea was to have not only an artillery liaison officer accompanying the infantry’s van but also to have an infantry officer in situ with the supporting batteries. The experiment came to nought when it was realized there was no spare horse available for the infantry officer. More useful was a brigade tactical scheme designed to advance through gaps in the enemy’s line and turn his positions from the flanks.[258] The opportunity was also taken to reorganize battalions on a three-company basis. At strengths of over 700, however, unlike those of 40th Division to its north, the division’s platoons were able to retain four sections.[259]

The railway line on the east bank running parallel to the river had a level crossing at the eastern edge of the hamlet of Cabinet Lietard. The approaches to the hamlet from the west were hampered by the river, a stretch of marsh, and a large crater made by a destroyed culvert. DHQ wanted the cluster of houses taken and occupied but, “owing to an error on the part of the company commander” of 11/SLI, no permanent posts were established.[260] Over the next few days there were repeated attempts by troops of 177 and 178 Brigades to raid the hamlet. On skirting the marshes and negotiating the broken culvert the raiders on some occasions found it empty; on others the enemy was back in occupation. One patrol of 15/Essex was ambushed and cut off by the enemy in the nearby loop of the river but four men eventually managed to find their way back. The bodies of their two killed comrades were recovered a few days later.[261] The period of raiding lasted for about a week but it was clear the river would have to be crossed in strength at some stage. Initial orders and preparations for the operation were issued on 25 October. Artillery brigades closed up, divisional trains brought forward ammunition, rations, RE materials, and mobile forges, and a system of food provision was established for civilians. Those brigades out of the line training, working on roads, or helping to repair houses, remained on 30-60 minutes warning to move. 

The day before the scheduled assault was described as “remarkably quiet.”[262] Intelligence suggested the enemy artillery had withdrawn and the main divisional bridge at Esquelmes was declared capable of taking field artillery. When the operation began on 9 November, forward patrols found the enemy had gone and the division advanced 12,000 yards in one day. Mounted troops screened ahead and at Anvaing civilians assisted by building two replacement bridges from felled trees.[263] The reserve and support brigades met so many jams when approaching the river that they were told to leave their transport to find alternative routes and to cross without them. Some battalions did, and advanced without their transport; others were instructed to stay on the west side until the traffic cleared.[264] On 10 November, XI Corps HQ was told the corps would be squeezed out by III Corps. The forward units held fast on 11 November and awaited further orders. Troops of 17/RSussex were entertained that day by the villagers of Vellaines who retrieved their long-concealed musical instruments. In Rumez, the band of 2/6th DLI played the French and British national anthems at 1100 and then attended church parade.[265] Be they regular, new army, 1st or 2nd Line TF, or reconstituted divisions, the fighting was now officially over.

Conclusion

The reduction of 10 divisions and the reconstitution of nine had served a purpose. The disruption caused by the enemy’s spring offensives had necessitated a further reform of the BEF. Troops had been made available for reposting, others had been brought to France from overseas theatres, and four divisions especially created to make use in a limited fighting capacity of men classified as B category. Five of the divisions had been easily absorbed into the BEF’s ORBAT; the remaining four also provided a valuable but perhaps a less dramatic contribution to final victory. It was probably not coincidence that none of them fought in Third or Fourth Armies,[266] that two served for some time as the only divisions in one corps (XV Corps, Second Army), and that another two served with Fifth Army. Indeed, details of the four divisions’ activities in the Official History’s final volume are sparse. In James’ record of the principle operations and engagements 59th Division, for example, does not warrant a mention as a component element of XI Corps of Fifth Army.[267] Although all four did engage in active, offensive operations, the sectors in which they operated were not the most intense theatres. They did more than their original intent of merely line holding, with their main function evolving as divisions capable of maintaining contact with and suppressing enemy rearguards. That role sometimes required the daily ability to march greater distances than the men were officially supposed to be capable.

The time spent in training appears to have been utilized appropriately. There are regular references to the official centrally-issued pamphlets being used as the syllabus on which the training periods were based. There was also a very clear shift over time from the initial pre-operational concentration on defensive skills to those of the tactical agility required for open warfare. It is difficult to assess how efficient platoons and their sections really were at clearing enemy posts, out-flanking actions, and shaking out into different formations but the numbers of prisoners and booty acquired suggests that against what was sometimes a less than resolute resistance, the tactical doctrine had been learned and applied. There are certainly examples of flexibility, initiative, and acuity during the advance and the artillery of 40th Division, at least, seems to have rejoined its division with glowing reports from those corps to which it had been attached since April.[268]  There is nothing in the war diaries to imply consistently poor liaison or indifferent cooperation between the artillery and infantry of the advanced guards, although there are occasional and, given the operational scenario entirely predictable, mentions of the artillery firing short. Because the selected strategy was to press on as fast as possible, tactical surprise was often not easy to achieve. In the pursuit of speed, concentration of force and force security were sometimes jeopardized for the sake of accepting operational risk. With the end of the war perhaps in sight and with having to fight at the end of ever-lengthening lines of communication, economy of force (in modern parlance the judicious exploitation of manpower, materiel, and time leading to the right result – in other words, the right tool in the right place, at the right time, leading to the right outcome) was paramount. Understandably, however, things could and did occasionally go wrong: the enemy haul of 17 prisoners during a raid on 14th Division; 16th Division’s less than confident start close to La Bassee Canal; in 40th Division, the deaths of 36 Inniskillins in a minor operation and the disappearance of an entire company of 8/RIR; 59th Division’s messy and costly action at Wez Macquart.

Descriptions of the troops’ physical disabilities were at times uncompromising but largely true. There is mention of a draft of A1 men to 178 Brigade in the closing weeks of the war but, if accurate, this was unusual and even possibly exceptional. In the early weeks of reconstitution and in order to weed out the men who were “half blind, deaf and with practically no teeth”[269] troops were deliberately marched almost to the point of exhaustion. Equally brutal, the stated “main point” of the early trench tours was an experiment, according to one ADMS, to see “how B1 personnel would endure the hardships of living in wet trenches.”[270] When the battalions began to take the offensive the reports of their behaviour are almost invariably sound. This may have been simply because proud battalion diarists had no desire to betray possible short-comings to any reader higher up the chain of command. The diarists often admitted their men were tired but usually added comments such as “they had done uncommonly well” and displayed “great energy and enterprise.”[271] Following a difficult action which had come after two nights of no sleep, one CO observed his men in their makeshift camp. He thought they had done “exceptionally well” but were now “absolutely dead beat.”[272] With the right remedy, however, they did possess good powers of recovery. Although “exceedingly tired” an issue of rum to one recently relieved battalion “awoke their interest in life.”[273] As we have seen, some of the distances marched by battalions during the mid-October pursuit period were well in excess of their prescribed restrictions. On two successive days 18/Gloucestershire marched 11 and 14 miles; only a total of 16 men did not finish the second day on their feet.[274] In 59th Division, 25/King’s marched 30 miles in 33 hours and, according to one report, then went straight into action. GOC 176 Brigade called it a “wonderful performance” and praised the “spirit and determination [which] surmounted apparently insurmountable obstacles.” The achievement allowed the battalion be the first troops to cross the Scheldt as a tactical unit.[275]

In addition to the men seemingly being able to march further than their medical condition warranted, the numbers of sick and those returned to Base as unfit were, according to one ADMS, “low.”[276] This was certainly borne out in July when for the fourth successive week 59th Division had the lowest but one roll for sick wastage of any division in First Army.[277]  Similarly impressive, in October the daily sick rate of a brigade in 14th Division was recorded as a mere four per battalion.[278] As in all divisions external circumstances could also sometimes affect the numbers of men available for trench duties. ADMS 40th Division, for example, recorded his frustration at the length of time it took Second Army’s Dental Centre to issue dentures for those requiring them. Until the Centre could fulfil its obligations and supply the 131 men of 121 Brigade who had had extractions and could not wear a box respirator, ADMS insisted they should not be sent into the line.[279] There were the usual scabies outbreaks and continuing problems with lice but in September the total of sick and unfits sent away from 40th Division totalled only three officers and about 80 men. During the same period, when several small scale actions took place, the number admitted to all three field ambulances for all reasons totalled only three officers and 107 ORs.[280]

A low numbers of sick is often taken as an indication of good unit morale. Once the physically weakest had been returned to Base, the weeks of training gave the battalions time to build esprit. There was clearly an emphasis placed on recreational training including the usual football tournaments and inter-platoon skills competitions. These activities all helped to build trust and cohesion. Performances by divisional and occasionally battalion concert parties “went with an extraordinary swing [and] delighted the whole audience,” and sergeants entertained officers at “very merry” smoking concerts.[281] One division ran competitions with rewards paid in Francs to the units which could monthly collect the most dripping, jam cartons, and waste paper,[282] When out on rest, and with mixed results, 178 Brigade organized daily nail hunts, and in the early period of reduction special courses were run for signallers to qualify for higher pay before they were posted elsewhere.[283] Company commanders of 10/KOSB delivered lectures to their men on the meaning and fostering of esprit, and the day following the Armistice, 18/Scottish Rifles decided to introduce the rifle drill of a rifle regiment.[284] Following their attempt to cross the Scheldt on 21 October, troops of 59th Division were perhaps encouraged and bucked by a wire from Lieutenant General Haking, GOC XI Corps which declared: “A division which has shown such energy and determination cannot be described as a ‘B’ Division, and the Corps Commander directs that henceforward, in the XI Corps, the 59th Division shall never be referred to in that manner.”[285]

Drafts did continue to arrive during October but with casualties and sickness levels low, not only could the men continue easily to develop platoon and company esprit but battalions managed to maintain what were in relative terms good fighting strengths. There were occasional requests to discover how many miners and agricultural labourers there were in the ranks, probably with a view to sending them back to the UK. The request elicited a terse response from AA&QMG 40th Division who argued that if the agricultural workers were withdrawn, the division would be reduced to a “non-fighting capacity.”[286] No war diary actually notes any departures of men for UK agricultural employment but working parties to assist local French farmers were sometimes provided by battalions at rest.

Several of the battalions were officially described as TF units. By that stage of the war any remaining links TF units had to their county association were tenuous and largely concerned with Comfort Funds. Any claim to a TF status these newly-raised battalions may have had lay in their antecedents. Some of the battalions had descended from the TF supernumerary companies and provisional battalions formed in 1915 from low category and home service TF men. For example, on 1 January 1917 those formerly home service TF personnel in 65th Provisional Battalion who had not yet been drafted overseas following the introduction of conscription, overnight became troops in the newly-created 15/Essex. In April 1918 it became a GGB, went to France in May, and joined 59th Division.[287] Because the London Regiment had no regular or NA battalions, the two newly-raised units, 33rd and 34th Battalions were, technically, TF units. Furthermore, their personnel had been very largely drawn from TF 2nd Line and provisional battalions of several regiments. Like all London Regiment battalions they were affiliated to either the Rifle Brigade or King’s Royal Rifle Corps.[288] The County and City of London Associations, however, had no formal control or links to the new units.

Casualties in those reduced divisions reconstituted as front line formations during the Hundred Days were in some cases substantial. The Official History’s (OH) table of estimated casualties for 27 September to 12 November are, as the text notes, only estimations, but they are considerably lower than those computed when all sources became available.[289] The three divisions which suffered the greatest losses, 25th, 50th, and 66th, all served with Fourth Army, with the first two recording the highest totals of any formation under Rawlinson’s command. In Second Army, casualty figures for 30th and 34th Divisions were substantially lower than those of Plumer’s other A divisions. The OH does not offer any figures for casualties in 16th Division but registers a total of neatly rounded numbers of 200 ORs for 40th and 100 ORs for 14th. These were by a large margin the lowest totals in Plumer’s army. Total OR casualties in Fifth Army’s five divisions are given as 530; the figure of 50 ORs of 59th Division ties for fourth place with 74th (Yeomanry) Division. When computed from Soldiers Died and compared with those given in the OH the number of the B divisions’ 10 battalions’ fatalities rises substantially above the OH’s figures for overall casualties.[290] For the period between the dates when the divisions first became responsible for their own sectors of line and 12 November, OR fatalities for 14th, 16th, 40th, and 59th Divisions were: 274, 213, 397, and 301 respectively.[291]

These figures are relatively small when compared with many of the front line divisions but are, nonetheless, still considerable. What evidence there is on fighting strengths suggests that on 12 November numbers were generally lower, but not hugely so, than they had been when the brigades entered the line in July or August.[292] If the generally accepted ratio of about three wounded to one fatality is applied, individual battalions’ battle casualties would perhaps have been between the approximately 92 in 16th Division to the 176 in 40th Division.[293] With the sick wastage lower than might be expected amongst such battalions, it means that a substantial number of men in each company will have continued to serve together during the months of training and active operations. This would have allowed the longer serving officers to get to know their men and for cohesion and trust to develop within companies and platoons. There may well be a degree of exaggeration and a glance back to those days with a feeling of nostalgia, but the sentiments expressed about their men’s morale in post-war divisional histories cannot be entirely disregarded. The B divisions were never engaged in the same hard fighting as that experienced by the bulk of the British divisions, but for the lower category troops to have maintained the often rapid advance and to have almost continuously employed the tactic of aggressive patrolling, the moral and physical components of their fighting power must have been at least sound, if not good.

If command and control had been inadequate or unsuitable in the B divisions there would have been a greater turnover in senior officers and unit COs. Of the 40 battalion commanders in post when the divisions first went into the line, probably only five were not still in command at the Armistice.[294] There are no extant reports condemning a lack of weaponry, ammunition, or basic rations and supplies, although transport would inevitably have been delayed on occasions by broken bridges and cratered roads.  There are mentions of the occasional lack of liaison between divisions on the flanks and of the not unusual communication difficulties which sometimes resulted in the disrupted distribution of orders. Staff work in general, however, seems to have worked well. This is hardly surprising as the divisions’ senior staff officers were experienced and well-practised. What the reports do repeatedly stress, however, is that the troops’ resolve remained consistently good.

An early assessment of their ability was made by GOC 43 Brigade following 14th Division’s return to the line and its supporting role in the attack near the Bluff:

“Although looked down on before the fight as ‘B’ men, of an inferior type to the ‘A’ men they showed all the energy, keenness and fighting spirit of ‘A’ men and although they may not be physically capable of undergoing the same hardships for a long strain, I feel the utmost confidence in them, and that, if some allowance is made for their physical disabilities by giving these men more rest than the ‘A’ men they will hold their own with the latter when it comes to fighting.”[295]

In a typically flamboyant piece in his autobiography Brigadier Crozier claimed that such was the aggression engendered within his brigade that one of his COs insisted he never “saw” flags of truce and that Crozier and his COs all wanted to attack on 11 November.[296] In another assessment of his men Crozier said they:

 “Fought, marched and behaved like ‘A’ men. Their extraordinary effort is deserving of special record...The ‘B’ men crossed the Scheldt on improvised rafts, pushed back the German rearguards and marched many miles...The ‘A’ standard is dependent entirely on where the heart is situated.”[297]

Impressive as these valedictions were, the men’s conduct was not entirely free of criticism. In several of the references to what they achieved there are hints of a caveat. One such record noted that after a training session the men had worked “remarkably well considering everything.”[298] During September Brigadier General James told his COs, “It did not appear the men were filled with the proper spirit of aggression.”[299] This lack of aggression did, presumably, prove to be only temporary because within a month the division had been lauded for its initiative and valour by the GOC corps.[300] 

The reconstruction of nine BEF divisions was a component in a ways and means strategy devised to address the problem of British manpower shortages. The reconstitution of five front line divisions was intended as an immediate response to that exigency. Vast numbers of US troops were soon expected to swing the balance of forces in the Allies’ favour but, and until their arrival, the reconstitution of the five front line divisions was intended as an immediate response to the existing exigency. For their part, the reconstitution of the four other formations as B divisions was an element in the ways and means of confronting the possibility of further German offensives by maximizing what limited manpower was accessible for defensive operations. By harnessing category manpower from labour and reserve units the task of these divisions was to dig and garrison the defensive systems on which future enemy assaults were to be halted. Furthermore, anything else which could be done to expedite the Americans’ involvement in active operations, such as attaching experienced British officers and ORs to units undergoing training, would serve as another means of achieving that objective.

The five front line formations were used as intended during the Hundred Days. The B divisions were barely required to act as line-holders but played instead an active role beyond their original expectation. With the added advantage of the short term way having evolved into a longer term means, the twin objectives behind the reconstitutions had thus been achieved. The decision to break up seven New Army and three Territorial Force divisions had been difficult. It caused an emotional reaction but, in wartime, emotion can be an ill-afforded luxury. The decision was pragmatic, necessitated by the stark reality of a possible Allied defeat. As there was never any question that Regular Army divisions or battalions should be reduced the blow inevitably fell on New Army and TF formations. Although their re-formed infantry brigades bore little resemblance to their original compositions, the work of the reconstituted divisions offered further proof that the BEF remained an evolving, adaptable, and flexible fighting organization.[301]

Article submitted by Dr KW Mitchinson

 

Appendix I: Infantry Fatalities in B Divisions

From their entry to the line (Taken from Soldiers Died)


14th Division: 29 August – 12 November 1918
         TOTAL: 274

    Fatalities   Fatalities   Fatalities
41 Bde: 18/Y&L 24 29/DLI 48 33/Lond 23
42 Bde: 6/Wilts 54 16/Manc 22 14/A&SH 16
43 Bde: 12/Suff 20 20/Midd 37 10/HLI 15
  15/LNL (P) 6        

 

 

16th Division: 22 August – 12 November 1918         TOTAL: 213

47 Bde: 14/Leics 8 18/Welsh 13 9/B.Watch 35
48 Bde: 22/NF 46 18/Sco.R 7 5/RIrF 13
49 Bde: 6/SLI 18 18/Glouc 36 34/Lond 34
  11/Hants (P)   3        

 

 

40th Division: 18 July – 12 November                       TOTAL: 397              

119 Bde: 13/RInnF 69 13/E. Lancs 69 12/N.Staffs 67
120 Bde: 10/KOSB 15 15/KOYLI 32 11/Cam.H 27
121 Bde: 8/RIrR 45 23/Lancs Fus 46 23/Ches 51
  17/Worcs (P)   1        

 

 

59th Division: 24 July – 12 November 1918              TOTAL: 301

176 Bde: 25/King’s 45 26/RWF 20 17/Sussex 21
177 Bde: 11/SLI 51 15/Essex 18 2/6th DLI 38
178 Bde: 36/NF 19 11/RSF 52 13/Dukes 28
  25/KRRC (P)  9        

 

 

 

[1] TNA.WO95.3023. WD 2/5th Lincolnshire, 10 Apr.1918                                                                                                  

[2] TNA.WO95.3020, 4 May; WO95.3025. WD 5/Sherwood Foresters (SF), 6 May 1918

[3] TNA.WO95.1900. WD 9/KRRC, 10 Apr.1918

[4] 9/Scottish Rifles, (Sco.R) which had only joined the division in February 1918, received a draft of 450 “very young” men. The battalion returned to 9th Division in April.

[5] TNA.WO95.2314, Jun.1918

[6] TNA.WO95.2593, 1 May 1918

[7] TNA.WO95.3135, 11 Apr.1918

[8] TNA.WO95.2227, 27 Jun.1918

[9] TNA.WO95.2811, Jul.1918

[10] TNA.WO95.2597. WD ADMS, 28 May 1918

[11] TNA.WO1880. WD A&Q, April 1918, In total 14th Divisions sent 39 officers and 3.522 ORs to the Base.

[12] April casualties in 66th Division, when the worst of its fighting was almost over, amounted to 48 officers and 1,230 ORs. It had received 38 and 1,182 during the same period but these were used to reinforce already substantially under strength battalions. (TNA.WO95.3123)

[13] TNA.WO95.3012. WD A&Q, 30 Mar.1918

[14] TNA.WO95.3025. WDs of 2/5th, 2/6th, 2/7th/SF, 6-7 May 1918; WO95.3021. WDs 5/N.Staffs, 2/6th N.Staffs, 2/6th S.Staffs, 5-6 May 1918

[15] TNA.WO95.2590, 6 May 1918

[16] TNA.WO95.2842, 6 Jul.1918

[17] TNA.WO95.1970. WD 6/ConnR, 15 Apr.1918; WO95.1975. WD 2/RMF, 19 Apr.1918

[18] The 55 ORs usually comprised 6 WOs, 15 sergeants, and 24 ORs. These included 6 batmen, 3 store men and 5 musketry sergeants. There were also 10 horses and 3 bikes. (TNA.WO95. 3012) Any CO who remained in post when his battalion was reduced to a TC was able to continue to draw command pay.

[19] TNA.WO95.3136. WD 2/8th LF, 16 May, 31 May 1918; WO95.3144. WD 2/6th Manchester, 17 Apr.1918

[20] TNA.WO95.2616. WD 13/Yorkshire, 6 May 1918; WO95.2836. WD 5/Yorkshire, 15 Jul.1918; WO95.2829. WD 6/NF, 15 Jul.1918;

[21] TNA.WO95.2831. WD 2/RDF, 6 Jul.1918

[22]  TNA.WO95.2597, 3 May 1918

[23] TNA.WO95.3123. WD A&Q, 5 Jul.1918. The transport and equipment of 2/3rd F.Ambulance. were sent to an American division.

[24] TNA.WO95.3018. WD 2/3rd F.Ambulance, 7 May 1918

[25] TNA.WO95.1894, 5 Jun.1918

[26] Ibid, 28 Apr; WO95.1910. WD 7/KRRC, 2 May 1918

[27] TNA.WO95.1890. WD 11/King’s (P), 27 Apr.1918

[28] TNA.WO95.3021. WD 2/6th N.Staffs, 24 May 1918

[29] TNA.WO95.3025. WD 2/6th SF, May-Jun.1918

[30] See, for example, TNA.WO95.2607. WD 18/Welsh, 10 May; WO95.2606. WD 21/Middlesex, 17 May 1918.

[31] TNA.WO95.2568, 16 May 1918

[32] For example, with the exception of the COs and QMs, all the officers and ORs of the 12 TCs attached temporarily to 66th Division and disbanded on 25 July were transferred to battalions of their own regiment. The movements and transfers have been taken from ORBAT Parts 2 and 3 and the divisional WDs.

[33] TNA.WO95.2458. WD 11/Suffolk, May 1918

[34] TNA.WO95.2465. The battalion’s TC was sent to 197 Bde, 66th Division but was engaged on line of communication duties rather than being reconstituted as a fighting battalion.

[35] In 40th Division, the orders to disband 13/Yorkshire were suspended in late April, but were reactivated seven days later. TNA.WO95.2616

[36] TNA.WO95.1900. WD 14/A&SH, 7 Apr.1918; WO95.3023. WD 2/5th Lincolnshire, 31 Jun.1918

[37] TNA.WO95.3144. WD 2/5th Manchester, 31 Jul; WO95.3145. WD 2/7th Manchester, 31 Jul.1918

[38] TNA.WO95.1900. WD 9/KRRC, 27 Apr.1918

[39] TNA.WO95.1900. WD 5/Ox&B, 16 Jun; WO95.1895. WD 8/KRRC, 1 Aug.1918

[40] TNA.WO95.3136. WD 10/Black Watch, Sep-Oct.1918

[41] TNA.WO95.1900. WD 5/Ox&B, 27 Apr.1918; WO95.2590. WD 6/NF. Letter from GOC, 23 Aug.1918

[42] TNA.WO95.2466. WD 5/KOSB, 27 Jun; WO95.2451. WD 18/NF, 18 May; WO95.2463. WD 23/NF, 31 Jul.1918

[43] TNA.WO95.3136. WD 10/Black Watch. Copy of a letter sent by Haig to Lieutenant General J Asser, Commanding Line of Communications Area, dated 20 Sep.1918.

[44] TNA.WO95.2828. WD 5/NF. Transcript of address by Major General Jackson, 11 Jul.1918.

[45] TNA.WO95.3021. WD 2/6th N.Staffs. Valete by CO,31 Jul.1918

[46] TNA.WO95.1894, 12 May 1918

[47] TNA.WO95.1900. WD 5/Ox&B, 15 Jun.1918

[48] TNA.WO95.2332, 22 May 1918

[49] TNA.WO95.3121, 9-10 Apr.1918 WD

[50] Ibid, 10 Apr.1918

[51] TNA.WO95.3144. WD 2/5th Manchester. This battalion’s demonstration platoon existed for about six days WO95.3139, 30 Apr.1918

[52] This is suggested in a series of documents and appendices to the May WD in WO95.3121.

[53] TNA.WO95.2581, 23 May; WO95.2585, order attached to May WD.

[54] TNA.WO95.2577. WD 13/Gloucestershire (P) , 5-6 May 1918

[55] TNA.WO95.3121, 1 May 1918

[56] TNA,WO95.2833. Sep. WD 150 Bde.

[57] TNA.WO95.1900, 14 Apr.1918

[58] TNA.WO95.3139, 14 Apr.1918

[59] Detail taken from DHQ WDs and ORBAT Parts 2 and 3

[60] TNA.WO95.1894, WD May 1918

[61] TNA.WO95.3135, 27 Apr.1918; WO95.3145. WD 9/Manchester, 27 Apr.1918; WO95.2600. WD 224 F.Company, May 1918

[62] The OC 229 F.Company stressed that the instructions needed to be made interesting and delivered carefully. Competition between the working groups was to be encouraged because this made the labourers more committed and happier. TNA.WO95.2600; WO95.1957, 26 May 1918

[63] TNA.WO95.1894, 24 May; WO95.1895. WD 8/Rifle Brigade (RB), May 1918

[64] See, for example WO952600. WD 229 F.Company, May-Jun.1918

[65] TNA.WO95.3014, 1 Jun.1918

[66] TNA.WO95.2597, 8 May 1918

[67] TNA.WO95.2597; WO95.3018. WD 2/1st F.Ambulance

[68] TNA.WO95.2601. WD 13/Worcestershire

[69] Concern about the likely resilience and ability of the labour companies is mentioned in many WDs. So, too, is the official desire that they should fight to the last.

[70] TNA.WO95.2568, 3 Jun.1918

[71] TNA.WO95.2582. WD 11/RSussex, 4 May 1918; WO95.2590. WD 4/Lincolshire, 2 Jun.1918

[72] TNA.WO95.2332, Scheme date 19 May 1918

[73] TNA.WO95.3121, 9 Apr.1918

[74] TNA.WO95.3135. Scheme in May WD

[75] TNA.WO95.3139. 198 Bde No.602/1.G, 31 May 1918

[76] TNA.WO95.2567, 16 May 1918

[77] Ibid, 17 May 1918

[78] TNA.WO95.3140. WD 6/LF, 16 May 1918

[79] TNA.WO95.2567. Letter to GHQ, 22 May 1918

[80] TNA.WO95.1900. WD 14/A&SH, 14 May; WO95.1910. WD 20/Middlesex, 15 Jun.1918; WO95.1957, 18 Jun.1918

[81] TNA.WO95.2332, 25 May 1918. The Bedfordshire TC did eventually arrive three weeks after its original date. Four TCs of 90 Bde had to devise a similar structural reconstruction when they were faced with having to train six US battalions. WO95.2338, 26 May 1918.

[82] The poor operational methods of US QM stores and Orderly Rooms were frequently improved by the adoption of British methods.

[83] One report compared the difficulty faced by NCOs with those experienced by the first of the New Armies. NCOs then found it problematic to get a grip on their sections because so many had been pre-war workmates and comrades. Report by 90 Bde, 2 Jun.1918. WO95.2338.

[84] When 40th Division was again being made up to strength, albeit as a B division, DADOS noted that in the month of  July he had received 71 tons of stores, 88 cycles, 59 wagon wheels and 27 field kitchens. In May, AA&QMG 66th Division, noted that in one day, arriving US units brought with them 130 tons of baggage as well as an unknown weight of  divisional stores. Much of June was spent by AA&QMG in trying to dispose of the excess US baggage. WO95.2597, Jul.1918; WO95.3123, Jun.1918

[85] Many British officers found it difficult to understand why US officers and NCOs preferred to eat with their men rather than in separate messes. See, for example, WO95.2338, Report of 25 May 1918.

[86] TNA.WO95.2585. A series of progress reports by 117 Bde, May-Jun. 1918.

[87] TNA.WO95.3139.Jun.WD, G803/24 of 10 May 1918; WO95.1895. WD 8/KRRC, 26 Jun.1918

[88] TNA.WO95.2457. WD 10/Lincolnshire, 24-31 Jul.1918

[89] TNA.WO95.3135, 2 Jun.1918

[90] TNA.WO95.2463. WD 25/NF, Jul.1918; WO95.2457. WD 10/Lincolnshire, 24-31 Jul.1918; WO95.1910. WD 20/Middlesex, 11 Jun.1918; WO95.2463. WD 23/NF, Jul.1918

[91] TNA.WO95.1875, 11-14 Jun.1918

[92] The remaining TC, that of 7/RDF, had joined the division in France a week earlier.

[93] TNA.WO95.1900. WD 5/Ox&B, Jun.1918

[94] TNA.WO95.1966, 21 Jun.1918

[95] TNA.WO95.1896. WD 18/Y&L, 11 Jun; WO95.1895. WD 29/DLI, 19 Jun; WO95.1895. WD 33/Lond, 7 Jun; WO95.1910. WD 20/Middlesex, 18-19 Jun.1918

[96] TNA.WO95.1956, Jun.1918

[97] TNA.WO95.1875, 17-19 Jun.1918

[98] TNA.WO95.2227, 12-29 Jul.1918

[99] Ibid, 25 Aug.1918

[100] TNA.WO95.2249. Assessment of brigade, 31 Aug.1918

[101] TNA.WO95.2227, 3 Sep.1918

[102] 225 Employment Company was also to travel to France with DHQ.

[103] Ibid. 8-15 Sep.1918

[104] Four of the original battalions of 76 Brigade had been swapped with four from 7th Brigade in October 1915. Three of those still served with 3rd Division and the 6/SWB (P) served with 30th Division.

[105] So difficult was the recruiting situation in Ireland that 16th Division had had 10 of its original battalions disbanded or amalgamated. In 14th Division, The TC of 11/King’s (P) appears to have been unsure as to whether it was being absorbed by the newly-formed 15/LNL, or whether that battalion was absorbing the King’s TC. On 19 June the diarist recorded, “Battalion definitely named 15/LNL.” TNA.WO95.1890

[106] TNA.WO95.1894, 20 Jun.1918

[107] Ibid, 8 Jun.1918

[108] TNA.WO95.1895. WD 29/DLI, 19-21 Jun.1918

[109] TNA.WO95.1910. WD 10/HLI, 22-30 Jun.1918; WO95.1910. WD 20/Middlesex, 19 Jun.1918,

[110] TNA.WO95.1910. WD 20/Middlesex, Jun.1918

[111] TNA.WO95.1895. WD 29/DLI, 21-24 Jun.1918

[112] TNA.WO95.1973, Jul.1918

[113] TNA.WO95.1979. WD 34/London, Jul.1918

[114] TNA.WO95.1894,  Jun.1918; WO95.1890, Jul.1918

[115] TNA.WO95.2231, Aug.1918

[116] TNA.WO95.1973, 24 Jul, 2 Aug.1918

[117] TNA.WO95.1899, 4 & 14 Jul.1918

[118] When 14 Bn MGC sailed from Folkestone on 5 July, it became the first complete MGC battalion to leave England. It had been raised on 14 June at Grantham and left with 49 officers and 879 ORs. In addition to some of the ORs at battalion HQ, 35 percent of the machine gunners were also Category B. TNA,WO95.1890, 5 Jul.1918

[119] TNA.WO95.1976, 1 Aug.1918; WO95.1910. WD 20/Middlesex, 5 Jul.1918; WO95.2242, 16 Sep.1918

[120] TNA.WO95. 1894, 4 Jul.1918

[121] TNA.WO95.1895. WD 29/DLI, 3 Jul.1918; WO95.1979. WD 34/London, Jul.1918

[122] TNA.WO95.1899, 7 Aug.1918

[123] TNA.WO95.1975. WD 18/Sco.R, 28 Aug.1918

[124] Ibid, 17 Aug.1918; WO95.1979. WD 6/SLI, 8 Aug.1918

[125] TNA.WO95.1920. WD 20/Middlesex, 20 Jul.1918

[126] Ibid, 1 Aug, 20 Jul.1918; WO95.1979, 34/London received a draft of 165 from the recently established Garrison Battalion Base Depot.

[127] TNA.WO95.2251. WD 1/5th Gloucestershire, 21 Sep.1918

[128] TNA.WO95. 1910. WD 20/Manchester, 27 Sep.1918; WO95.2247. WD 11/SF, 27 Sep.1918

[129] 5/Provisional Garrison Guard Battalion had three area employment companies assigned. The battalion’s fourth company was drawn from 1st (Reserve) Garrison Bn Suffolk Regiment. J.Starling & I.Lee, No Labour, no Battle, (Stround: Spellmount, 2009) p123, 146

[130] Some sources refer to several of these battalions as TF units. Technically this is correct as some of them were created from the provisional battalions raised in 1915 from home service TF personnel. If the provisional battalions had retained any links with the TF county associations, it was emotive rather than practical.

[131] The two missing battalions needed to bring 40th Division to establishment, 8/Royal Irish Regiment (originally 2(/GG) Bn R.Ir.Regt) and 23/Cheshire, were initially posted to 59th Division but posted to 121 Bde on 20 June.

[132] TNA.WO95.2601. WD 40 Bn MGC, 2 May 1918

[133] TNA.WO95.3023. WD 2/5th Lincolshire, 27 May; WO95.2593, 9 Jun.1918

[134] TNA.WO95.3011, 13 Jun.1918

[135] TNA.WO95.3014. WD ADMS, 18 May 1918

[136] TNA.WO95.3023. WD 11/(GG)SLI, 11 May 1918

[137] TNA.WO95.3014. Series of reports by ADMS, Jun.1918

[138] There is only one mention in the war diaries of this letter which, anecdotally, caused some concern to senior officers. 11/SLI notes that it was read to the troops. WO95.3023, 2 Jul.1918

[139] TNA.WO95.3025. Copy in WD 36/NF of Training of Garrison Divisions, 13 June 1918.

[140] Several WDs lay out the details and objectives of the training schemes. The intent was essentially to train for line holding and general defence.

[141] TNA.WO95.3021. WD 25/King’s, 26 May 1918

[142] TNA.WO95.3023. WD 11/SLI, Jul.1918

[143] TNA.WO95.3014. ADMS Series of reports Jun-Jul.1918; WO95.3018. WD 2/3 F.Ambulance, 5 Jun.1918

[144] TNA.WO95.3014. ADMS. Reports, Jun-Jul.1918

[145] TNA.WO95.3015. WD ADVS, Jun-Jul.1918

[146] TNA.WO95.2593, 28 Jun.1918

[147] In 59th Division, 25/KRRC was converted to pioneers on 16 June. It appears to have continued to train as conventional infantry and did not convert to what had become the required three companies for a pioneer battalion until 4 July.

[148] TNA.WO95.3023. WD 11/SLI, 15-16 Jun, 8 Jul.1918

[149] TNA.WO95.3025, 1 Jul.1918. Despite the general improvement, however, a lorry was provided to carry those men who were still having difficulty in marching to the station to catch the leave trains. WO95.3012, 4 Jul.1918

[150] TNA.WO95.3012, 22 Jul.1918

[151] TNA.WO95.2611. WD 11/Cam.Highlanders, 29 Jun.1918

[152] TNA.WO95.2594, 30 Jun.1918; WO95.2610, Agenda for Conference, 21 Jun.1918; ORBAT Part 3, p104

[153] TNA.WO95.2436, 13 Jun.1918

[154] The division had also been host for eight days to three battalions which had come from 10th (Irish) via 14th (Light) Divisions. Having come from service in Gallipoli, Salonika and Egypt, these battalions, 6/R/Inn.F, 5/ConnR. and 6/Leinster, were wracked by outbreaks of malaria. In reports of 23 Jun.1918, ADMS 34th Division concluded the battalions were not fit for front line service and recommended they undergo light training on the coast, a liberal allotment of leave, and courses of quinine. (WO95.2443). The battalions were posted to L.of C on 27 Jun.1918.

[155] Bizarrely, 1/5th KOSB received a draft which contained two Russians recently discharged from hospital and entirely unable to speak English. It may be that the men were members of one of the Russian labour companies or battalions who had become victims of a clerical error.

[156] Detail following comes from WO95.2314, Jun-Jul.1918

[157] 7/RIR absorbed over 500 men from the RDF, 250 from the RMF and 85 from another battalion of its own regiment. The composition of 7/8th RIF is a little obscure. The WD of 8/RB notes that on 15 May its TC took over 7/8th RIF. The 11 officers and 707 ORs were described as “details from battalions of 16th Division.” (WO95.1895). The WD of 7/8th RIF, 26 June, records, “Training staff moved to Steenbecque and took over from 8th Bn Rifle Brigade.” It refers to the 18 officers and 857 ORs as the “Reinforcing Battalion.” James, British Regiments p111 notes that the Official History claims that on 26 June 18 officers and 857 ORs left the TC of 8/RB to reconstitute 7/8th RIF.

[158] The reformed 90 Bde assumed the character of an almost reincarnated pre-war “Grey Brigade”. Although the 1918 creation now comprised their 2nd Line TF battalions, it contained three of the original Grey Brigade’s battalions. The early formation was, officially, 4 London Infantry Brigade and was part of the pre-1908 2nd London Division of the Rifle Volunteers, and then also 2nd London Division of the TF. Until September 1914 its original battalions were the Kensington’s (13th), London Scottish (14th), Civil Service Rifles (15th) and Queen’s Westminsters (16th).

[159] Where they are recorded, daily admissions to hospital average below two.

[160] 6/SWB (P) undertook some pioneer training but spent most of its time concentrating on tactics for open warfare, fire control, extending and advancing, Lewis gun practice, and musketry. WO95.2323.

[161] Detail from WO95.2314, Jun-Jul.1918

[162] TNA.WO95.2811, Jul.1918

[163] ORBAT  Part 2, 50th Division.

[164] TNA.WO95.3121, 18 Jul.1918

[165] This area is SW of Amiens and SE of Dieppe.

[166] It seems likely that the imminent disbanding of the division’s own battalion TCs and the departure of their ORs to other battalions of their own regiment gave the opportunity for last minute promotions. For example, 2/8th Lancashire Fusiliers noted several promotions form sergeant to CSM in the days preceding disbandment. (WO95.3136). The new TC arrivals were those of: 17/KRRC, 16/RB, 18, 23, 25/NF, 10/Lincolnshire, 7/Suffolk, 13/Gloucestershire, 16/Notts&Derby, and 14/HLI.

[167] Two 2nd Line TF London battalions from 60th (2/2nd London) Division, 2/20th London and 2/24th, went to 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division and 58th (2/1st London) Division respectively.

[168] The other units concerned were 18/Kings, originally of 30th Division, which absorbed 14/Kings of 22nd Division. Both 9/ and 13/Manchester had been raised in Ashton-u-Lyne but as the latter battalion had itself absorbed 17/Manchester two weeks earlier, and the original 1/9th Battalion had suffered very heavily on Gallipoli and then France, how many Ashtonians remained in the amalgamated battalion remains questionable.

[169] Because the U-boat threat from both the German and Austro-Hungarian fleets operating in the Mediterranean had not been effectively countered, units travelling from Salonika were sent as far as possible overland rather than by sea. The final leg from Itea (on the Gulf of Corinth) to Taranto had to be done by maritime transport.

[170] TNA.WO95.2843. WD 4/KRRC, Jul.1918; WO95.3136. WD 10/B.Watch, Jul.1918

[171] TNA.WO95.2815, 19 Jul.1918

[172] TNA.WO95.2839, 14 Jul.1918; WO95.2831. WD 3/RF, Jul.1918; WO95.2831. WD 2/RDF, 6 Jul.1918

[173] TNA.WO95.2831. WD 2/RDF, 12 Jul.1918

[174] TNA.WO95.3140. WD 12/LF, Jul.1918

[175] TNA.WO95.3140. WD 6/Leinster, Jul.1918

[176] TNA.WO95.2831. WD 3/RF, Roll in July WD; WO95.2831. WD 2/RDF Roll in July WD. At the time the report was compiled, 2/RDF noted that because it had treated those soldiers as a priority and had already sent them home, the battalion did not currently have any men who had had no leave for 35-36 months.

[177] TNA.WO95.2843. WD 1/KOYLI, Aug.1918; WO95.2843. WD 6/RInnF, 29 Aug.1918; WO95.2831. WD 13/B.Watch, 25 Aug.1918; WO95.3140. WD 6/LF, 15 Aug.1918. The unfortunate Pte A Davies of 6/Lancashire Fusiliers was killed when his leave train was involved in an accident.

[178] TNA.WO95.2833, Aug.1918

[179] TNA.WO95.3145. WD 13/Manchester, 1 Aug.1918

[180] TNA.WO95.3140. WD 6/Leinster, 10 Sep.1918

[181] 197 Bde left 66th Division for L.of C. duties on 20 Sep.1918

[182] 10/Black Watch went as a battalion with 197 Bde to L.of.C. but was disbanded on 15 Oct.1918

[183] The division’s artillery did not rejoin the division until 8 Nov.1918.

[184] Major General Jackson thanked the division for its “excellent behaviour” which, as he said, having spent three years in Salonika and now posted close to a major town, “might have been otherwise.” The base commandant and the sous-prefect spoke of the excellent relations between the troops and the French civilians. Letter dated 21 Sep.1918 in WD 7/Wiltshire, WO95.2836. Events such as Retreat played by the amalgamated bands of 6/ and 8/DLI, which had been retained by the battalions’ TCs, were much appreciated by the French.WO95.2842, WD 8/DLI, 4 Aug.1918

[185] Smyth wrote a chapter for the post-war divisional history. His account, in passionate prose, of the last month’s fighting tells of “heroic advanced guards,” the “dour and disciplined soldiers who bore the sacred King Offa’s Cross,” the civilians’ “long years of degradation under the tyranny of Kaiserdom,” the “disgraceful flight” of German rearguards, and “the notorious, the brutal and despicable Prince Rupert of Bavaria.” Complied, 59th Division, pp103-06

[186] F.P.Crozier, A Brass Hat in No Man’s Land (New York: Jonathan Cape & Harrison Smith, 1930) p214

[187] Ibid, p223-4. Plunkett ended the war with DSO and 2 bars, MC and DCM.

[188] TNA.WO95.1970, 11 Nov.1918

[189] TNA.WO95.1910. WD 20/Middlesex, Jul.1918

[190] TNA.WO95.1956, 11 Sep.1918. According to Soldiers Died, the ‘feeble resistance’ still managed to kill 18 of 18/Gloucestershire.

[191] Ibid. 17-19 Sep.1918. There were reported to be 3 officers and 235 OR gas cases in 49 Brigade in the month of September. WO95.1976

[192] TNA.WO95.1975. WD 5/RIF, 29 Sep.1918

[193] TNA.WO95.1957. WD A&Q. Notes on Administration in the Event of an Advance, Sep.1918

[194] TNA.WO95.1960. WD ADMS, Sep.1918

[195] TNA.WO95.1975. WD 18/Sco.Rifles, 20 Sep1918; WO95.1971. WD 14/Leicestershire; WO95.1979. WD 6/SLI, Oct.1918

[196] TNA.WO95.1975. WD 5/RIF, 17 Sep.1918

[197] TNA.WO95.1956. Defence Scheme issued 10 Oct.1918

[198] TNA.WO95.1795. WD 18/Sco.Rifles, 17 Oct.1918

[199] TNA.WO95.1979. WD 34/London, 28-29 Oct.1918

[200] TNA.WO95.1957. WD A&Q

[201] TNA.WO95.1979. WD 34/London, Oct.1918; WO95.1977. WD 18/Gloucestershire. 22 Sep.1918

[202] TNA.WO95.1979. WD 18/Sco.Rifles, Report on Operations 7-11 November 1918

[203] TNA.WO95.1977. WD 18/Gloucestershire, 8-11 Nov.1918

[204]  J.E.Edmonds, Military  Operations 1918, Vol.V, p67

[205] TNA.WO95.1900. WD 16/Manchester. One particularly large enemy attempt with up to a reported 100 raiders on 26 September was repulsed by 16/Manchester.

[206] TNA.WO95.1910. WD 20/Middlesex, Sep.1918

[207] TNA.WO95.1902. WD 6/Wiltshire.

[208] WO95.1910. WD 20/Middlesex, 28 Sep.1918

[209] The detail on the attack and its aftermath comes from WO95.1876, WO95.1899 and WO95.1905 ie post-battle reports by 42 and 43 Brigades. ADMS reported 2 officers and 191 ORs of 14th Division had been admitted to the division’s field ambulances in the 24 hours from 0530hrs 28 September. WO95.1884

[210] TNA.WO95.1910. WD 20/Middlesex, Oct.1918

[211] TNA.WO95.1895. WD 29/DLI, 12-13 Oct.1918; WO95.1877, 12 Oct.1918

[212] TNA.WO95.1895. WD 29/DLI. Report on Operations 13-16 October 1918, 17 Oct.1918; WD 33/London, 14-15 Oct.1918

[213] TNA.WO95.1910. WD 20 Middlesex, 19 Oct.1918; WO95.1894. The diarist of 41 Brigade noted that his units were turned out several times by corps staff officers and by a division which should not even have been in the locality. Oct.1918

[214] See for example, WO95.1894, Oct.1918

[215] TNA.WO95.1877. Intelligence Report, 29-30 Oct.1918; WO95.1900. WD 16/Manchester, 29-30 Oct.1918

[216] TNA.WO95.1894, 2-3 Nov.1918

[217] TNA.WO95.1905, 9 Nov.1918

[218] TNA.WO95.1910. WD 20/Middlesex, 11 Nov.1918

[219] TNA.WO95.2597. WD ADMS, 3 Aug.1918

[220] Ibid. 9, 13 Aug.1918

[221] Ibid. Aug.1918

[222] TNA.WO95.2599, 2-14 Aug.1918

[223] TNA.WO95.2610. WD 120 Bde; WO95.2612. WD 15/KOYLI; WO95.2594, 23 Aug.1918

[224] The barrage required the loan of two artillery brigades, one each from the divisions on the flanks.

[225] TNA.WO952594, Appendices XIII & XVI for reports by 119 & 120 Bdes and DHQ.

[226] TNA.WO95.2594, 29-31 Aug- 1 Sep.1918; WO95.2610, 29-30 Aug.1918

[227] Post-war, a mystery remained over what happened to the company. The divisional history noted rather vaguely: “Apparently it had been sent on some mission from L’Epinette...” F.Whitton, History of the 40th Division, (Gale&Polden: London, 1926) p288

[228] TNA.WO95.2594, Sep-Oct.1918

[229] For a translation of the fulsome praise offered by the mayor, see WO95.2614. Oct.1918

[230] F.Whitton, 40th Division, p298

[231] If that did come to pass, there was to be two rifle and one Lewis gun section.

[232] F.Crozier, A Brass Hat in No Man’s Land, p227 claims his brigade was specially put into the line, out of its turn, in order to force the passage over the river.

[233] TNA.WO95.2594, 1-11 Nov.1918

[234] J.Edmonds, Military Operations 1918, Vol.4, p185

[235] TNA.WO95.3023. WD 2/6th DLI, 2 Sep.1918

[236] TNA.WO95.3025. WD 13/W.Riding, 3 Sep.1918; WO95.3025. WD 11/RSF, 10 Sep.1918

[237] TNA.WO95.3022. Conference minutes, 23 Sep.1918

[238] TNA.WO95.3024. 178 Bde, Routine Orders, 16 Sep.1918. There was a fairly regular turnover of subalterns. Many of them, for example 6 to 26/RWF and 5 to 13/W.Riding, were posted from their own regiments.

[239] TNA.WO95.3025. WD 13/W.Riding, 10 Sep.1918; WO95.3025. WD 36/NF, 14 Sep.1918

[240] TNA.WO95.3021. WD 25/King;s, 4-5 Sep.1918

[241] WO95.3011, 21 Sep; WO95.3020, 2 Oct; WO95.3021. WD 25/King’s. 2 Oct.1918

[242] WO.95.3025. WD 11/RSF, 30 Sep.1918; WO95.3011, 30 Sep.1918. Figures from Soldiers Died puts the total of OR kia on 30 September at 14. When out of the line on 7 October the officers of 11/RSF held a commemorative dinner for the attack.

[243] TNA.WO95.3023. WD 2/6th DLI, 4-6 Oct.1918

[244] TNA.WO95.3020. Signal of 5 Oct.1918 to 17/R.Sussex

[245] TNA.WO95.3021. WD 17/R.Sussex, 5 Oct.1918

[246] TNA.WO95.3021. WD 17/RSussex, 9 Oct.1918; WO95.3021. WD 25/King’s, 9 Oct.1918

[247] WO95.3025. WD 36/NF, 14 Oct.1918. In the evening, a barrage was put down to protect patrols sent out to recover bodies. A further nine were collected when the ground was re-occupied on 17 Oct. Second Lieutenant Johnson was awarded the Victoria Cross for his action that day.

[248] TNA.WO95.3025, Report dated 14 Oct.1918; WO95.3025. WD 13/W.Riding, 14 Oct.1918

[249] TNA.WO95.3021. WD 17/R.Sussex, 17 Oct.1918. On 17 October, two civilians brought word the Germans had evacuated Lille. 

[250] TNA.WO95.3025. WD 11/RSF, 16 Oct.1918

[251] TNA.WO95.3023. WD 2/6th DLI, 18 Oct.1918

[252] TNA.WO95.3025. WD 11/RSF, 19 Oct.1918

[253] TNA.WO95.3021. WD 17/R.Sussex, 20 Oct.1918

[254] TNA.WO95.3025. WD 36/NF, 21 Oct.1918; WO95.3021. WD 25/King’s, 21 Oct.1918; WO95.3020, 21 Oct.1918

[255] TNA.WO.95.3023. WD 11/SLI, 23 Oct.1918. As with some of the other of the division’s casualties during this period the nine dead were buried in the nearby Remgenies-Chin churchyard. Those which were located after the war were recovered and re-interred in Tournai Communal Extension.

[256] A successful patrol by 11/SLI on 25 October, which took four prisoners, was acknowledged with a wire from BHQ. Brigadier General James expressed the hope that the CO would “see his way to afford special indulgences” to those who took part. WO95.3023. WD 11/SLI. Wire from BHQ, 26 Oct.1918

[257] TNA.WO95.3025. WD 13/W.Riding, 23 Oct.1918

[258] TNA.WO95.3020, 1 Nov.1918, 7 Nov.1918 

[259] TNA.WO95.3021. WD 17/R.Sussex, 28 Oct.1918

[260] TNA.WO95.3022, 1-2 Nov.1918

[261] TNA.WO95.3023. WD 15/Essex, 2 Nov.1918

[262] TNA.WO95.3022, 8 Nov.1918

[263] TNA.WO95.3011, 10 Nov.1918

[264] TNA.WO95.3020, 9-10 Nov.1918

[265] TNA.WO95.3021. WD 17/RSussex, 11 Nov.1918; WO95.3023. WD 2/6th DLI, 11 Nov.1918

[266] 59th Division did serve with Third Army for a short time but, as noted above, was used only as a line holding formation.

[267] E.A.James, A Record of the Battles and Engagements of the British Armies in France and Flanders, 1914-1918  (Gale&Polden: Aldershot, 1924)

[268] F.Whitton, History of the 40th Division, pp300-06

[269] Complied, 59th Division, p66

[270] TNA.WO95.3018. WD 2/3rd F.Ambulance, 23 Jul.1918

[271] TNA.WO95.3023. WD 2/6th DLI, 6 Oct.1918; WO95.3021. WD 17/R.Sussex, 18 Oct.1918

[272] TNA.WO95.3025. WD 11/RSF, 16 Oct.1918

[273] TNA.WO95.1977. WD 18/Gloucestershire, 12 Sep.1918

[274] Ibid. 18-19 Oct.1918

[275] TNA.WO95.3021, 21 Oct.1918

[276] TNA.WO95.2597, Aug.1918

[277] TNA.WO95.3014. ADMS, 28 Jul.1918

[278] TNA.WO95.1905, Oct.1918

[279] TNA.WO95.9597, 19 Jul.1918

[280] Ibid. Of the 107 ORs, at least 26 are known to have been wounded rather than sick.

[281] TNA.WO95.1977. WD 18/Gloucestershire, 12-16 Oct.1918

[282] In May, 3,325Ibs of dripping had been collected and 1,163 Francs paid out. In August, a total of 11,999lbs was sent to railhead. WO95.2594, Jun.& Aug.1918

[283] TNA.WO95.3024. Sep-Oct.1918. For w/e 27 Oct., 13/Black Watch collected 20lbs of nails; 36/NF and 11/RSF produced ‘Nil’ returns; WO95.2601. WD 40th Division Signals Company, May 1918.

[284] TNA.WO95.2611. WD 10/KOSB, 29 Jul.1918; WO95.1975. WD 18/Sco.Rifles, 12 Nov.1918. It seems unlikely the 133 paces per minute march of a rifle regiment was also introduced.

[285] TNA.WO95.3024. Letter dated 23 Oct.1918 from XI Corps. The note added that “a representation to the same effect has been forwarded to Army.”

[286] TNA.WO95.2594, 4 Oct.1918

[287] After the war, the Secretary of the Somerset  TA Association believed the use of “TF” in the title of 11/SLI must have been “an unofficial, local” designation as he claimed he had never seen it before. Like 15/Essex, on 1 January 1917, 11/SLI had been formed from a provisional battalion (85th). In April it 1918 became a GGB and joined 59th Division in May. WO95.3023. WD 11/SLI. Letter from the county association dated 5 Dec.1922

[288] To add to the confusion, in some war diaries 33/London (RB) is referred to as the “London Rifle Brigade.” That was in fact the familiar name of an entirely different battalion, 5th (City of London).

[289] J.Edmonds, Military Operations 1918, Vol.5 p561

[290] These figures include those of the pioneer battalions. See Appendix I for a breakdown of the figures.

[291] Those dates for the four respective divisions begin at: 29 August; 22 August; 18 July; 24 July.

[292] There are not a great number of figures available. What there is suggest that at the end of September battalions across three divisions may have had a trench strength of 500-550 and a full battalion strength of up to 800. By the end of October, trench strengths look to have fallen to about 400 rifles. Unlike the other three divisions, 16th seems to have had stronger fighting strengths at the end of October than at the start of September. WO95.1957, returns of 7 Sep. & 28 Oct.1918.

[293] These figures have excluded fatalities in the pioneer battalions, whose losses were generally considerably lower.

[294] One of those, Lieutenant Colonel Spain of 2/6th DLI, who had been in command for 23 months, left in July only three days after 59th Division took over its section of the line. His equally long-serving second-in-command also left at the same time. He was deemed unfit for front line service and became a town major.

[295] TNA.WO95.1876. Report on Operations of 28 Sept,1918,  by Brigadier General G.E.Periera

[296] F.Crozier, Brass Hat in No Man’s Land, p254. Crozier seems to have forgotten that the division had been withdrawn on 10 November.

[297] TNA.WO95.2602. WD of 13/E.Lancashire. Letter written by Crozier to Major General Sir Lothian Nicholson, 25 Jan.1925. Strangely, in his letter Crozier was not entirely sure of the number of the East Lancashire battalion under his command. For an opinion of what the liberated citizens of Croix (Roubaix) thought of the “valour and bravery” of the men of 121 Brigade, see WO95.2614 for a translation of the mayor’s speech of welcome and thanks.

[298] TNA.WO95.1977. WD 18/Gloucestershire, 10 Oct.1918.

[299] TNA.WO95.3022. Minutes of 177 Brigade conference, 23 Sep.1918

[300] See FN 285

[301] Of the 10 reduced divisions, only 50th (Northumbrian) Division TF was recreated after the war. It resumed its original infantry configuration from 1921 until 1938. In September 1939, 59th (Staffordshire) Division was created as a motor division.