HQ and ‘C’ Company were in Gouzeaucourt. Nothing very unusual was noticed except fairly heavy gun fire from about 6 AM onwards. About 8 AM, Gouzeaucourt was being shelled a certain amount, but it did not seem heavy enough to cause uneasiness. About 9.15 AM the CO noticed Garrison Artillery men and odd people rushing about excitedly and horses galloping in the direction of Fins. A rumour came down that the Germans had broken through. The Signalling Sergeant telephoned to Divisional HQ who reported everything OK. Just then heavy machine gun fire was heard close to Village and bullets were coming through. The CO then asked a Sergeant Major of the RA [Royal Artillery] what was the matter and he reported that the enemy was coming over in masses from the direction of VILLERS-GUISLAIN. Every man fell in at once, and the CO led them out in the direction of Hill 135 about 500 yards SW of Gouzeaucourt. The CO, who went up on the Hill then saw the Germans advancing in the most perfect order with absolutely no opposition of any kind. They were also sweeping the crest of Hill 135 with machine gun fire from QUENTIN RIDGE. The first waves of hostile infantry were then across the railway, and the others were in force on the QUENTIN RIDGE. There was a line of our infantry retiring South Westward on Chapel Hill being followed up by the German Infantry. The CO ordered platoon to fight the houses in the southern end of Gouzeaucourt to cover this left flank. Two platoons were placed along HEUDICOURT-GOUZEAUCOURT road in W6a to check the hostile advance from QUENTIN RIDGE, and the remaining platoon was sent over further to the right to about W5d central to protect the right flank which was open. The men were well led by Lt Bushell. About 3 sections of Royal Engineers under Major Robinson then came and were ordered two sections to reinforce the left flank and one section to fill in the gap between Hill 135 and the platoon on the right. There was great confusion, troops of all kinds pouring down the Fins road in a blind panic, also many standing about doing nothing. Major Robinson, whose men were ignorant of open warfare training handled his men with great coolness and courage. The machine gun fire was by now very heavy indeed and hostile machine guns were now enfilading from the south. The enemy’s infantry had broken through the village of Gouzeaucourt and were also firing from the houses. The platoon sent there had been unable to hold up the hostile advance, as the German Infantry was already in the houses when they got there and there was indescribable confusion. The CO ordered Sergeant Major McEvoy to take 20 men at once and place them in the old Brown Line south of the GOUZEAUCOURT-FINS road at about W4b.85 and to hold that to the last man. This party would also cover retirement of others. The remainder of the Company and the RE then got back to the Brown Line under heavy machine gun fire from GOUZEAUCOURT and Hill 135 and from the Ridge south of this.
There was a certain amount of confusion due to the surprise, heavy fire and lack of training, but the party reached the Brown Line and was rallied here astride the main road. Here every man was collected and put into the trench. Lt Symms of the 27th Siege Battery, RA, rendered splendid service in rallying men and in organising a defence. He had fought his Howitzers until the enemy was almost on him and then after rendering his guns useless, joined the mixed party of ‘C’ Company and RE. He was extremely cool throughout. The casualties under the circumstances were very light due to the bad shooting of the Germans. When the party formed up in the Brown Line the enemy seemed to come in very cautiously and pushed patrols out, which, when fired on, returned. He made a slight effort to reach the Brown Line south of the road, but this was easily repulsed. The CO sent an urgent message to SOREL for machine guns and ammunition; the Adjutant, Captain Tollitt, also went down to explain situation. At 12.10 PM, the CO and Lt Symms went along the Brown Line in the direction of Queen’s Cross, leaving Major Lloyd (who had sprained his ankle) in temporary charge near the main road. Lt Symms collected stragglers and placed them astride the METZ-GOUZEAUCOURT road. By this time the local rout showed signs of checking.
The 20th Hussars reinforced and occupied the Brown Line on the south of the existing Line. The party in the Brown Line was a mixed party of about 250 rifles. The CO of the 20th Hussars then came over and conferred with the CO of the Battalion and offered assistance with Hotchkiss guns. As the 2nd Coldstreams were now coming up in support, these were not needed. The 2nd Coldstreams in the early afternoon came through in the most perfect order and counter-attacked. The CO did not push the mixed party forward with the Guards as they would have hindered them more than helped them. About 16 men of ‘C’ Company on the right of the road attached themselves to the dismounted cavalry and advanced with them.
The lack of training was very noticeable though on the whole the men were willing and steady when collected by an officer. The shooting was wild in the extreme. If ‘C’ Company had had Lewis guns, the German casualties would have been very heavy. Lt Bushell commanding ‘C’ Company showed conspicuous coolness and courage throughout. Lt Freeman, who was killed early on, also showed great gallantry.
Casualties, ‘C’ Company and HQ:
1 officer killed
1 officer wounded (slightly)
6 OR killed
34 OR wounded
The RE lost more heavily in proportion to numbers engaged. The chaplain, the Rev HP Walton went out with ‘C’ Company and rendered excellent service to the wounded under heavy direct machine gun and rifle fire. He also collected stragglers and brought them back to the Brown Line. The Adjutant, who had returned to the Orderly Room after having been out on the Hill with the CO, managed to get the confidential papers and made his own escape, He was sent to SOREL for machine guns and reinforcements for the Brown Line and then returned.