30 November 1917

From 27 November onwards the Pioneer battalion 11 DLI was under orders to build a new defensive line based on the old Hindenburg line, including all the necessary communications trenches, roads, tracks, trenches and a dugout for each infantry brigade HQ. Early on the morning of 30 November the various Companies were returning from night work. Travelling along the high ground of Welsh Ridge, they became aware that something was going on below – Captain Jee of B Company noticed large groups of stragglers making their way back in some disorder. He quickly formed a defensive line and sent messengers to make contact with the 20th Division infantry brigades nearest to them. Each of the men in charge of the other Companies on work detail did something similar and Lt Colonel Hayes at battalion HQ also organised the men at his disposal, and any others he could press, into a defensive arrangement around the village of Gouzeaucourt.

The Companies along Welsh Ridge and Borderer Ridge, in many cases linked up with infantry battalions from 20th Division, helped create a backbone that stemmed what had been a surprise German counter-attack that had already overwhelmed three British Divisions. Things were rather more frantic at Gouzeaucourt, since the Germans had pulled off one of their flanking manoeuvres. Fortunately HQ Company had been joined by C Company and Hayes commandeered a company of Royal Engineers, along with support from Field Artillery men who had been driven back from their guns, and anyone else he could gather. He managed an orderly retreat to a defensive line created by CSM McEvoy and a platoon of 11 DLI. With the support of some dismounted cavalry he managed to hold the line and create the conditions from which a battalion of Coldstream Guards were able to launch an attack.

It was not yet the end of the story, but there is no doubt that the quick thinking of Lt Colonel Hayes and his Company Commanders, Captains Jee, Sear and Pemberton and Lieutenant Bushell had avoided a total disaster as December dawned.

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