21 March 1918

General Hubert Gough, commander of the Fifth Army occupying the front at St Quentin, woke up at 5.10 am, disturbed by the sound of artillery bombardment. One can only assume that he was a heavy sleeper or had dined well the night before. The German bombardment was ferocious, worse than anything inflicted by either side up till this date, and it had started at 4.40 am. He was clearly not under the direct effects like his front-line soldiers.

20th Light Division was the reserve Division to Maxse’s XVIIIth Corps, and within the Division, 11th DLI was the reserve battalion. They were all ordered to battle stations. By 1 pm the divisional troops were plugging potential gaps in the forward lines, let alone the rear defences along the Somme Crossings.

At 6.20 am, 11th DLI gathered at Golancourt. A and B Companies were ordered forward to Villers-St-Christophe, under the command of the CO, Lt Colonel Hayes and HQ Company. Captain Jee with six officers and 133 men went to help form a new reserve battalion at Matigny under the command of Major Storr from 12th King’s Royal Rifle Corps (12 KRRC). D Company led by Lt Myles Cooper were despatched to help 61st Brigade dig in across the road between Dury and Tugny-et-Pont, close to the Somme Crossings, before forming up with 12th King’s (Liverpool) Regiment (12 Kings) to provide a defensive line.

Ahead of them everything was in a state of madness and confusion. The forward lines, made up of loosely connected strongpoints, had been breached under the impact of fog, gas and artillery. The Germans used storm troop tactics, by-passing and then encircling the hapless and virtually helpless defenders. They had chosen their point of attack with maximum efficiency, where the Allied troops were least well prepared and defended. [See Martin Middlebrook: The Kaiser’s Battle, for a detailed description and analysis of this first day.]


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