The battle of Arras: An obscure situation: Gavrelle and the windmill: Men
who went mad: The Cadorna Raid: Deeds of bravery : Defending the Ridge.
0N March 31st there was a strong rumour that the Canadians were about to
capture Vimy Ridge and Lens, and this, together with the vigorous preparations
for offensive action already taking place, created the impression that the 31st
Division was bound for the Arras front. But this fact was never confirmed before
the actual event, owing to the excellent precautions taken to prevent espionage.
A move was made to Oblinghem, a village near Bethune, on April 8th. The same day
Lieut. E. L. Moxey and three subalterns, together with fifty other ranks, were
dispatched to the 13th Corps Reinforcement Camp at Robecq, to assist in the
training of the drafts from England.
On April 9th the First Army attacked the enemy's positions on the Vimy
Ridge, in conjunction With the attack delivered by the army on the right. The
operations were completely successful and all objectives were taken. The
Battalion heard the rumble of the terrific bombardment at Oblinghem, and
thereafter there was never a day that was not accompanied by the steady thunder
of the distant battle.
Under orders to move at short notice, the Battalion next marched to La
Bourse, a straggling village near Noeux-lesMines, and reconnoitred the Bully
Grenay sector. There was general excitement over the reports of the battle,
record being taken of the big captures of prisoners, long-range guns, howitzers,
field guns, machine-guns, trench mortars,
ammunition of all kinds, railway material, dumps of stores and timber, &c.
A further move nearer to the line was made on April 14th, when the Battalion
marched to Hermin. The weather continued to be splendid, and enabled much field
training to be carried out.
The noise of the battle now became more pronounced, and at times one could
almost feel the vibration of the intense hurricane bombardments. The skies at
night were always alive with gunflashes. Possibly the fiercest fight of the
whole war, so far, was taking place on a ten-mile front between Gavrelle and
Croisilles, astride the Arras-Cambrai road. The Germans brought up huge
reserves, amounting to 100,000 men, to win back their lost positions; but,
though they obtained temporary possession again, the final victory rested with
the British Army. The enemy suffered tremendous losses.
On the edge of this fatal whirlpool the Battalion stayed until April 29th,
when a long march to Ecoivres, near Mont St. Eloi, was made under a blazing sun.
The following day the destination was Maroeuil, and on May 1st, a hot day, the
Battalion moved off to trenches in " G 6 Central "-Vimy Ridge and beyond
Roclincourt. The Battalion, well up to strength, came under the orders of the
G.O.C. 93rd Infantry Brigade.
The battle of Arras provided one of the greatest battle pictures in modern
history, and in the mass of hundreds of thousands of men, obedient to the High
Command, which used them as parts of the great war machine, was the individual,
with his own separate experience and initiative,' with his sense of humour and
his suffering, with his courage and his fear.
The scene of battle had changed during the last few days of April, because
spring had come and warm sunshine. It made a tremendous difference to the look
of things and to the sense of things. Before, the men were marching through rain
and sleet, through a wild quagmire of old battlefields which stretched away
behind our new front lines through miles of shell-craters and dead woods and
destroyed villages. They fought hot and fought cold, and their craving was for
hot drink. Now, after a few days of warmth, our troops on the march were
powdered white With dust, and they fought hot and fought thirsty, and the
wounded cried for water to cool their burning throats.
More frightful now even than in the days of winter was the way up to the
front. In all the great stretch of desolation left behind, the shell-craters
which were full of water, red water and green water, were now dried up, and were
hard, deep pits, scooped out of powdered earth, from which all vitality had
gone, so that spring brought no life to it.
One thought, perhaps, some of these shell-slashed woods would put out new
shoots when spring came, and watched them curiously for any sign of rebirth; but
there was no sign, and their poor, mutilated limbs, their broken and tattered
trunks, stood naked and stark under the blue sky.
Everything was dead, with a white, ghastly look in the brilliant sunshine,
except where here and there in the litter of timber and brickwork which marked
the site of a French village, a little bush was in bud, or flowers blossomed in
a scrapheap which once had been a garden.
All this was the background of the battle of Arras, and through this vast
stretch of barren country our battalions moved slowly forward to take their part
in the battle when their turn came. They rested a night or two among the ruins,
where other men, who worked always behind the lines, had made their billets on
the lee side of broken walls or in holes dug deep by the enemy and reported safe
Dead horses lay on the roadsides or in great shell craters. Dead Germans, or
bits of dead Germans, were in old trenches, and bones of Frenchmen, who had
fought here with the old army, were around.
Farther forward the earth was green. The bombardment had not yet torn it and
pitted it, and the shell-craters were spaced and their sloping sides were fresh.
So it was that the Battalion got closer to the fighting.
Our guns were firing steadily, so that the sky was filled with invisible
flights of shells, and always there came down the humming song of aeroplanes,
their wings dazzling and diaphanous as they were caught by the sun's rays.
That was the picture.
At a heavy cost the 63rd (R. N.) Division had pushed the enemy back to the
villages of Oppy and Gavrelle, some kilometres east of Vimy Ridge, and the 31st
Division had to exploit this success if possible; if not, to consolidate the
position. The Divisional Staff had only seventy-two hours in which to take over
the line and plan and carry out a big attack. This took place in the early hours
of 3rd May. The onerous task was confided to the 92nd and 93rd Infantry
Brigades, with the 94th Infantry Brigade in support. The preliminary bombardment
was terrific, and it seemed as if we were blasting our way through, but 'twas
not so. For, though the extremely heavy bombardment by H. E. shells and T.M.'s
destroyed the old enemy trenches, it made fresh defences for him in the shape of
crater holes as fast as it destroyed the old ones. It literally blasted the
whole countryside, destroyed the surface of the soil, and so enormously
increased the difficulties of rapidly following up the initial success.
The enemy reinforcements were continually arriving, and, despite heroic
deeds, the enemy line was not broken. The brigades lost many men, and so did the
enemy. The ground was strewn thick with corpses.
During this endeavour the 12th Battalion had been in reserve to the 93rd
Brigade, who were in the line at Gavrelle. It had been ordered to hold itself in
readiness to move anywhere at a moment's notice. At 6.10 a.m. on May 3rd, in
view of a possible counter-attack by the enemy from the direction of Oppy, "A"
and " C " Companies, under Captain V. S. Simpson and Captain R. W. Leamon
respectively, proceeded to Hill 80, well in front of Bailleul, and were followed
an hour later by the remainder of the Battalion.
Information regarding the operations in front was very obscure, and at one
time or another the commanding officer (Lieut-Col. Riall) received orders to
reinforce all the four battalions in the brigade. The situation seemed
particularly alarming when the Battalion was ordered to go to the aid of the
16th West Yorkshire Regiment, which reported that the enemy was turning the left
flank of the brigade. This order was cancelled a little later, however, and
eventually the Battalion took up a position in reserve just behind the line
Oppy-Gavrelle, the men taking cover in adjacent trenches and shell-holes.
Headquarters were established in German gunpits at " RC 2 " in advance of
The advance of the Battalion in artillery formation from the railway cutting
near Bois de la Maison Blanche to Hill 80 and neighbourhood of " RC 2 " was well
carried out, and there were few casualties. The hostile shelling on the new
positions was fairly heavy, but owing to the excellent siting of the trenches
casualties were only slight.
The unit came under the command of the General Officer Commanding 94th
Infantry Brigade on May 4th, and returned to its former position in the rear.
Incidentally, one might mention the fire at the corps ammunition dump in St.
Nicholas, Arras, on the evening of the 4th May. The flames, with which were
intermixed thousands of Verey lights and rockets, leapt to a tremendous height.
Bursting shells flew in all directions. The crackle of the small arms ammunition
was heard for hours. Periodical explosions gave an added grandeur to the sight.
Until May 20th the Battalion existed under conditions of
Tunnel and trench, smoke and stench;
Hail of Hell to make a man blench;
Pains that pierce and hands that clench;
Horrors that scream and hiss.
The hottest times, perhaps, were from May 9th to 14th and May 18th to 20th,
when the Battalion defended Gavrelle and the famous Windmill. The boys
afterwards said that the enemy " sniped the front line with 5.9's." In the day~
time no man dared to move more than was absolutely necessary, as the Germans
were quick to spot movement and were lavish with their barrages. Practically
every dug-out had a shell burst on top of it.
The Windmill spur was of great tactical value, as its retention by us
seriously threatened any enemy attack from Oppy or the east and facilitated the
defence of Greenland Hill to the south. It also denied the enemy observation of
Gavrelle and its valley. The spur had to be held at all costs.
The village of Gavrelle was of great moral importance, and was of value. The
gradual slope forward to the southern end of Vimy Ridge gave good observation,
but had two great 104 History of The Sheffield City Battalion.
disadvantages. One was that the artillery could not be brought up into close
support positions, and the other that the forward movement of troops and
supplies was very difficult.
The method of defence adopted by the Battalion was one of shell-hole
positions, which, as time progressed, became strongly fortified posts, and
ultimately became linked up by trenches. The preparation of the shell-hole
position is rather interesting. Digging was commenced on each side of the
shell-hole to cut a narrow slit trench in a direction outwards and slightly
rearwards. The earth taken from this slit was put into sandbags, and the
sandbags used to build up the interior of the shell-hole.
The agonies of the defenders of these posts and frontline trenches will
never be realized by those who were always in England. The trenches in rear of
the posts were practically levelled to the ground, and were only called trenches
by courtesy. Men had to dig cubby-holes in which to shelter, and then suffered
in addition the frolics of the German " Red Devils," who used to steal across
the sky, swoop down, and fire at the troops whilst our " Bing Boys " in their
triplanes were away.
The Windmill could not be reached by day, and in the night, owing, to the
heavy fire, it was a matter of great difficulty to get rations and water to the
garrison. It was not an unusual thing for ration-carrying parties to be almost
blotted out by the shelling; in some cases only one or two men returned.
Occasionally men would be " missing " for several days, and there is still one
soldier whose fate will never be known. He was seen at Company Headquarters,
after which he disappeared, and nothing has since been heard of him. It is
presumed that he was hit direct by a shell and blown to atoms. One cannot pass
this point without mentioning the fine work of the Transport Section of the
Battalion. Every night they took rations and water to the line, across dangerous
shell-pitted roads and country, and often the little convoy missed disaster " by
a miracle," as they would say.
On May 18th Lieut. F. H. Westby and his platoon were going down a
communicator to take over Windmill defences when the enemy dropped a barrage on
the trench. The party immediately stopped and dropped into the bottom of the
trench. After a time they got up and moved on. They came across a "
slaughter-house." There was a " C Company sergeant named Gould standing by.
" Where is your platoon, sergeant? " asked the officer.
"All dead, except three of us," was the reply.
The officer had been killed, but the fatal casualties among the men were
only two, though the number of those buried and wounded was high. It would be
unfair not to record the fact that the Sgt. Gould referred to personally dug out
bodies with his hands and later reorganized the remnants of his platoon and took
it forward to the line.
With such things happening the reader will well understand why water was
always short at the Windmill. On hot days the garrison wept for water, and two
or three men went mad. When they asked for water, all the officer could say was
" You can have some rum." The rum had been sent for use in the cold nights, but
was not often used just then.
The dead round the Windmill seemed numberless, and there were bodies in all
stages of decomposition. All were either grinning black or ghastly blue. The
stench was awful. Once, when digging out a trench a body of men came across
something round. The men hit it, and it wobbled. They dug a bit further, and it
was found to be a dead German, with arms folded. He had been killed in his
"cubbyhole." They covered him up with a ground-sheet and sandbagged him in.
Naturally, much fine work was done by both officers and men.
Major D. C. Allen was most conspicuous in maintaining the moral and spirits
of the men under most adverse circumstances. He would sit with the garrison of
the Windmill during bombardments and cheer them up, and would also act in a
similar manner with parties going out on a dangerous enterprise.
Captain N. L. Tunbridge, the adjutant, rendered most valuable work in a very
thorough manner. He was untiring in his attention to the smallest detail, and he
did much to maintain the efficiency of the Battalion. He often shouldered big
responsibilities with success.
Captains V. S. Simpson and M. B. Wallace became noted for their sound
consistency and coolness in various tight corners, while Lieut. G. C. L. M.
Pirkis invariably showed total disregard of personal danger, volunteering for
every dangerous job on hand.
12/631 Lce.-Cpl. A. Dale, M.M., on 3rd May, when the position was so
uncertain and shells were falling fast, went forward to reconnoitre the ground
in front of Hill 80 to see if there were any troops between his company and the
enemy, and to find out if the enemy was following up his smoke shells. His
escapes from disaster were many, but he kept steadily on and obtained the
12/730 Pte. H. Newton acted as a runner to " D " Company when the company
was isolated from the rest of the battalion and defending the Windmill. During
the nights Newton took several important messages through drum-fire to Battalion
Headquarters. On one of these occasions he returned with tins of water, which
seemed a godsend to the men. At all times he showed great fortitude and
cheerfulness, and particularly when only one officer was left to control the
company, owing to casualties.
12/1337 Pte. W. Chaddock, 12/982 Pte. W. C. Long, 147 Cpl. J. Breathwick,
12/272 Pte. P. M. West showed great courage in dealing with the wounded when the
areas they were in were being shelled to destruction. Pte. West was killed.
13/074 Sgt. T. H. Harper, of " B " Company, was recommended for bringing up
the company rations from Le Point du Jour at 3.30 a.m. on 10th May through a
curtain of fire. His coolness and control saved many lives.
13/515 Lce..Cpl. H. Heatley and 2482 Pte. E. Kitching on three separate
occasions dug out their comrades who had been buried by shell-fire, and then
attended to the wounded. They showed no fear and little care for their own
In all this there is not much individual adventure, except in narrow squeaks
of death and the mental experience of each man; but it was a great adventure of
men in the mass-inspired by a common purpose, fighting, suffering, and dying
together, bound by a comradeship and discipline which gave them, by some strange
spell, a greater courage than any man could have alone.
The casualties of the period were:
Officers. Other Ranks.
Killed ... 3 29
Died of wounds 1 1
Wounded ... 4 127
Wounded (at duty) 1 11
On May 18th Col. Riall had to be evacuated, owing to the strain, and Major
D. C. Allen was in command of the Battalion until June Ist, when Lieut.-Col. F.
J. Courtenay Hood, D.S.O., from the 13th York and Lancaster, took the reins in
hand, Major Allen being the Battalion second-in-command.
Lieut-Col. Hood went through the South African War as lieutenant in Paget's
Horse, and later in the Imperial Yeomanry. He resigned at the end of that war
and was re-commissioned captain on the commencement of the European War and
appointed adjutant of the 9th Buffs. He was promoted major on February 16th,
1915, and in November, 1915, applied for transfer to a division proceeding
overseas. He joined the 14th York and Lancaster on December 8th, 1915, was
appointed second-in-command on April 4th, 1916, and in that capacity was
immediately in support of the 12th York and Lancaster at Serre on July Ist,
Lieut.-Col. Hood first commanded the City Battalion from December 5th, 1916,
to January llth, 1917, and afterwards became commanding officer of the 13th York
and Lancaster. From June 1st, 1917, he commanded the 11 Twelfth 'I till its
Returning to England for six months home duty on the disbandment of the "
Twelfth," he commanded the 7th King's Liverpool, at Oswestry, till September
29th, 1918, when he returned to France and was appointed to the command of the
1/5th K.O.S.B. He was in the Second Army push with the K.O.S.B. from Menin to
the Lys and the Scheldt, and after the Armistice went on to Germany, where his
battalion had a section of the bridgehead, the unit headquarters being at
During the final stages of the war he commanded on various occasions the
102nd and 103rd Infantry Brigades.
He was awarded the D.S.O. in the New Year's Honours of Ist January, 1918, on
account of his fine work in connexion with the Cadorna attack, and during the
war was mentioned in dispatches three times, the last time being in the final
During the months of May and June the troops made acquaintance with Arras,
and from such health resorts as Ecurie and Roclincourt saw our ammunition dumps
go up, saw enemy airmen with tremendous audacity bring down observation
balloons, saw shells burst near Thelus and reckoned how far off they were
according to the travelling of the sound. They used to hear the fifteen-inchers
travel down the valley, and extend sympathy to the men billeted in Arras because
of the dust raised by the shells. Maroeuil was also visited.
On June 28th the Division made a huge raid on the Oppy sector, and won with
little loss an important trench called Cadorna. This attack was magnificently
organized from D.H.Q. downwards, and was so successful that even Royalty in
England forwarded congratulations. So great was the success that the enemy had
retired about a mile behind our objective, and afterwards stated that they had
repulsed the attack " with heavy losses to the British." They could not
understand why no further advance beyond Cadorna was made. Everything was
carried out so well that it might have been an exhibition " stunt ' " behind
at an Army training camp. It is a remarkable fact that the City Battalion alone
in six hours filled 7,000 sandbags and consolidated A- trench that was
afterwards a picture. Special reports were rendered to G. H. Q. on the way the
task had been accomplished, for the benefit of other troops. The late Captain V.
S. Simpson, M.C., was the principal organizer for the City Battalion.
Nearly 300 prisoners were captured by the division, the Sheffield Battalion
securing almost fifty. The German casualties were exceedingly heavy in killed
and woundedestimated to be about 500 or 600.
July Ist was avenged in some slight measure.
The City Battalion casualties when going over the top were nil, and the
whole division's losses were exceedingly low.
On the 30th June the German Wireless delivered the following quaint message:
"At one point the British succeeded in forcing their way into our foremost
position, but were again ejected in heavy hand-to-hand fighting. At 8.35 p.m.
the British attacks began on the line Fresnoy-Gavrelle. Since the middle of
April the British attacks have been delivered on the same old spot; the park of
Oppy and the windmill of Gavrelle have been shot to pieces and are to-day no
more than heaps of ruins level with the ground-these are memorials of German
heroism. Every British attack which ever succeeded in gaining ground at this
point has always been repulsed by elastic counter-attacks.
" The trenches at this point have been bombarded most intensely for twelve
days. In spite of all their heavy losses, the British continually brought up
fresh reserves; but the German supports received each attack, and it was only
between the western edge of the park of Oppy and Gavrelle Windmill that the
enemy succeeded in maintaining his possession of about a thousand yards of the
ground captured in his assault."
The following recommendations for honours were submitted:
Captain and Adjutant N. L. Tunbridge-Did most valuable work during the
preparations for the offensive and during and after the attack. He was untiring
in his attention to the smallest detail, and by the very thorough manner in
which he carried out his duties was largely instrumental in ensuring the smooth
working of operations.
Captain V. S. Simpson, M.C., who commanded one of the assaulting companies,
did very excellent work during and after the attack. He was first of his company
in the enemy trench, and engaged in a hand-to-hand fight with the enemy. Later,
the manner in which he organized his company for the work of protection and
consolidation was praiseworthy in the highest degree.
2nd Lieut. F. H. Westby was very prominent, showing complete disregard to
personal danger and setting a splendid example. He was one of the first in his
company to be in the German trench, and engaged in a hand-to-hand fight with the
enemy. His work later, during the night of consolidation, was alone worthy of
the highest praise.
40177 Cpl. J. McDonald.-This N.C.O. was left in command of his platoon on
the day of the attack owing to his platoon sergeant having become a casualty. He
showed considerable ability whilst in command in organizing his platoon for the
assault and in consolidating and constructing a strong point after the capture
of the objective. He displayed the greatest energy in urging on his men in the
work of consolidation and wiring of his strong point, and his example was
throughout highly creditable.
14/464: Pte. J. Briggs-This man was employed as company runner during
operations, and made several journeys, under heavy shelling, from the captured
objective to our old front line and delivered important messages and reports to
the battalion relay post. When not running, he worked hard on the work of
consolidation, digging and directing other men. He had been blown up the day
before, when one shell caused a dozen casualties in his company. This did not,
however, affect his pluck or determination.
18582 Sgt. R. A. Jarvis, M.M.-This N.C.O. led his section in the assault
with conspicuous dash and determination. He personally engaged several of the
enemy in a hand-to-hand struggle with the bayonet, with complete success,
killing his man in each case. His example to the men was excellent.
235226 Lce..Cpl. B. Manterfield and 2421 Pte. J. W. Clark.-These two, part
of a Lewis gun section during the attack, established an advanced post in front
of the objective and used their gun with considerable effect against the
retiring enemy. On their gun being knocked out by shell fire, they went back and
obtained a reserve gun to replace it, and maintained the post under heavy shell
fire. Pte. Clark particularly rendered valuable services to his section
12/1293 Pte. R. C. Addey. -Organized a party of signallers and completed a
telephone line which had been partly run out by company signallers from our old
front line but had been broken up by the enemy barrage. He established signal
communication from the captured German trench to a relay post in our old front
line, and did good work subsequently in maintaining it. This man had previously
done consistently good work as a linesman under most adverse conditions.
12/1096 Pte. J. H. Widdowson and 6/13331 Pte. A. Bowyer-These men were
employed as Battalion runners during the operation, and delivered reports
regularly once per hour to the brigade forward signal office. To perform this
duty it was necessary for them to pass through a communication trench which was
more heavily shelled by the enemy than any other part of the line, and they
showed the highest quality of courage and determination, never failing to
deliver their messages.
12/372 Cpl. J. S. Froggatt-For good work whilst in charge of the Battalion
observers throughout the tour of duty in the trenches before and after the
assault. He submitted useful and reliable reports regularly throughout the
attack, in spite of the fact that the Battalion O.P. was in one of the most
dangerous parts of the line and was kept continually under shell fire.
The division then went out to rest, the battalion being stationed at Bray,
near to Ecoivres and Mont St. Eloi.
Whilst here we heard of the tremendous amount of gas which the Canadians
were discharging the other side of Vimy and on the Lens front; and certain
members were sent to see H.M. the King on July 9th as he passed along the
ArrasSouchez road. Our troops lined the route at the Madagascar cross roads.
At this point the man-power question became very acute. It was known that in
future the Battalion strength would never get beyond 700 owing to lack of men,
and this necessitated reorganization. Fighting companies were reduced to three
and the personnel of H.Q. formed into a separate company. Platoons were
On July 11th the XIII. Corps relieved the Canadian Corps of the defence of
Vimy Ridge, and to the end of its existence the City Battalion worked in this
area. The division made a splendid reputation for its powers of consolidation,
and it is worth noting that when the enemy sprang his Spring offensive in 1918
the only portion of the British line which never gave way was that east of Vimy.
it roved the pivot of our line. It is impossible to give in detail the scheme of
defence, but a few words are necessary. The actual front line was over five
miles in front of the famous ridge, and by the end of December the whole area
from the line to the ridge was honeycombed with trenches and wire. Miles upon
miles of trenches were dug, strong points-some underground-were made.
Communication trenches were six and seven miles in length, for in the daytime no
man was able to show himself above ground. Looking from the top of the ridge
towards Douai and Lens, not a soul could be seen in the daytime, yet one knew
there were probably 100,000 men burrowing like rats, and that daylight
camouflage patrols were out in No Man's Land. There were concealed batteries
In the night-time all became alive. All the weapons of war spoke, and
gun-flashes swept the sky and never ceased. The fighting patrols went out; the
bombing 'planes of both sides sallied forth; barrages fell every few minutes;
men, pack-ponies, and transport escaped as if by habit, though now and again
some went up into the air. Gas attacks were regularly made, and folks in the Bee
Hive near Willerval stood and listened to the whistling gas-shells going over to
Petit Vimy and Vimy or Farbus Wood, and so on. There were the burning oil and
And the working parties! They must not be overlooked. Long trails over
desperate roads, with heavy loads and failing tempers, and then hours of solid
work. No wonder one of the few privileges of a soldier is that of " grousing." A
fellow must have some outlet.
Brigades held portion of the line, battalions being disposed as follows:
Front line, six days; Red line (close support), six days; Brown line (support),
Roberts Camp or Springvale Camp or Cubit Camp (reserve), six days. The camps, by
the way, were pitched on the battlefields of the winter, and it was common for
identification discs to be picked up; while Frenchmen were always employed
digging up little mounds which disclosed equipment and bodies. 1 recollect that
on January 24th, 1918, one mound disclosed equipment (French), a blue mug, a
wrist watch which had stopped at 4.20, and disc-a " missing " man found. The
subterranean galleries from Arras, which stretched right through to the ridge,
were full of interest. La Targette, Neuville St. Vaast, Ecurie, Willerval,
Bailleul, Arleux, Le Tilleul's crossroads, Fresnoy, Acheville, Thelus Cave are
names which call up wholesale dangerous experiences.
At this time divisional cinema huts were drawing their crowds from troops
out on " rest," and one could see Charlie Chaplin on the screen while shells
flew overhead. Later, brigades and divisions organized concert parties, and the
one in which men of the 12th Battalion played a prominent part was that styled "
The Nissen Nuts " and run as a. 94th Infantry Brigade show. Quite a number of
the performers belonged to the City Battalion, which also provided the artist
for the scenery in Pte. G. L. Tirebuck. The reputation of the " Nuts " and its
orchestra grew rapidly, and when the 94th Brigade was broken up the division
claimed the lot, bag and baggage. Thereafter to the end of the war it was known
as the 31st Divisional Concert Party.
The standard of the entertainment may be judged from the fact that
selections nightly were given from nearly all the leading musical comedies, such
as " High Jinks," " The Maid of the Mountains," " Bing Boys " &c., &c. One
cannot praise too highly the excellent services which these concert parties
rendered. They brought a light of happiness into the lives of the fighting men
which had an inestimable influence. The occasional hour's gaiety lifted men from
out that pit of misery and pain into which they had often fallen.
The Battalion suffered rather badly in a couple of gas attacks, losing over
200 men. The first was on the night of August 5-6, when the enemy sprang a
surprise gas bombardment, the Battalion suffering 120 casualties, including 2nd
Lieut. F. B. Wilson, who unfortunately died in hospital a day or so later. To
prevent an alarm he gave his life.
The second bombardment of out line was on the night of September 30th, and
on this occasion casualties numbered one officer and 108 other ranks. This
attack was particularly annoying, as most of a special party trained to carry
out a raid soon afterwards were put out of action. The raid had to be entirely
reorganized, and when it was attempted on the night of October 5-6 a Bangalore
torpedo failed to explode and the enemy wire could not be broken down. It was
most discouraging in view of the tremendous amount of labour which had been put
into the scheme to make it a great success.
In December, by the way, the Battalion was under orders to proceed to
Cambrai, but at the last minute the order was cancelled. Captain A. N. Cousin
was killed by a German sniper when visiting the front-line posts on December
6th, and his loss was keenly felt.
There was a strange similarity in the deaths of Captain Cousin and
Lieut-Col. H. B. Fisher. just as Col. Fisher had returned from a course of
instruction at Boulogne, to meet his doom, so did Captain Cousin. Towards the
end of November, Captain Cousin rejoined the Battalion and immediately took over
the duties of adjutant, owing to the departure of Captain N. L. Tunbridge, who
had been promoted to the rank of staff captain.
He tackled his duties with characteristic thoroughness and would have made
as excellent an adjutant as he was Brigade Intelligence Officer. He was an
officer of marked ability, and had he lived would have made further progress.
In January and February, 1918, the British Army was reorganized on account
of dwindling manpower, and the City Battalion, owing to its numerical weakness,
was disbanded, much to the sorrow of the men. Drafts were sent to the 7th
Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment, the 13th Battalion York and Lancaster
Regiment, the Grenadier Guards, and the Base. The band was transferred intact to
the 2/4th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment.
Thus the part of the City Battalion in the Great Euro pean War was ended. It
is a great pity that there are no Battalion colours to be enshrined in the
Sheffield Cathedral, but, if every other memory dies, the sacrifice of July Ist,
1916, alone will be a perpetual memorial.