22 March 1918

Thursday had produced two fatalities – Privates George Berry and James Oakley – simply in establishing positions under fire. There was no let-up overnight into the Friday morning. 20th Division covered the withdrawal of other Divisions, while dealing with units of the enemy that had broken through. The men of 11th DLI were in three separate groups. The largest was comprised of HQ Company, plus A and B Companies, under the overall charge of Lieutenant-Colonel Hayes. HQ Company was officered by Lieutenant Cooke (Acting Adjutant), 2nd Lieutenant Ellwood, Lieutenant Bushell (Scouting and Intelligence), with Captain Turnbull RAMC as Medical Officer. Captain Endean was in charge of A Company, supported by 2nd Lieutenants Craig, Galley, Rutherford and Alexander. Captain Kemp commanded B Company, supported by 2nd Lieutenants Martin, Morris, Naylor and English. Lieutenant Cooper led D Company. The fourth and smallest unit was the reserve group equivalent to about half a company, in command of Captain Jee.

D Company was seconded under the orders of Major Norman, Royal Engineers. He sent them forward to Tugny to report to Lieutenant-Colonel Vince of 12th Kings prepared to do some rapid and heavy trench digging. They had finished their trenches by 3 p.m., and took up positions in old German trenches astride the Tugny-Dury road with 12th Kings. During the late evening, they were ordered south of the Canal de la Somme and made a bivouac by the road around Ollezy-Sommette-Eaucourt. They continued in support of 12th Kings, covering and defending the Canal crossings.

During the evening, Captain Jee and his men had dug in to form a rearguard north of the Matigny-Douilly road, facing north-east. Coming under attack, they were forced to retire to Voyennes.

Lieutenant-Colonel Hayes established touch with 59th Infantry Brigade and dispersed his troops at their disposal, including the Battalion transport. In the afternoon, A and B Companies were sent forward to occupy a trench system protecting the village of Germaine. As soon as they arrived there, they were ordered by Divisional HQ to join up with 60th Brigade to plug a gap between 60th and 61st Brigades at Tugny-L’Avesne. This was supposed to be a reserve line, but, by the time the DLI men arrived, the KRRC had retired from Tugny and this was now the front line. Although trench lines had been marked out, no digging had been done.

Apart from Jee’s half company, this brought the battalion temporarily into one consolidated line, though not under unified command. They covered the gap with 6th KSLI to the left adjoining B Company, while A Company formed the right, adjacent to D Company. Lieutenant Cooper with D Company remained technically under the orders of 12th Kings, just ahead. At 8.30 p.m. Captain Endean reported that A Company was exposed on their right, the 12th Kings having had to pull back, taking D Company with them. In order to protect the right flank, two outposts were quickly dug at an angle, facing right.

Thick fog had descended. Up ahead, the Germans were moving around in Tugny, shouting in English and generally making a lot of noise. Patrols were sent forward to investigate. In the fog and darkness, Germans (following the retreat of 12th Kings) had outflanked the DLI and worked round into their rear. Suddenly, around midnight, B Company came under attack from behind, as did 6th KSLI to their left. The whole formation had been surrounded and confusion quickly ensued. It was hard to know which way to fire in case it was aimed at comrades. Urgent efforts were made to regroup, gathering everyone, including the Machine Gun Corps, regardless of which battalion or unit they belonged to. About a hundred men in this party were brought together in this way. Counter-attack in the conditions was hopeless, so Hayes decided to pull them back down the main road towards Ham, while 2nd Lieutenant English with twenty men and a pair of Vickers machine guns formed a rearguard. Despite being almost completely surrounded, Captain Endean and A Company managed to hold out long enough to help the others and then, down to about forty men, fought a way back through Dury and to Ham. Company Sergeant Major Craggs and a section of B Company linked up with some men from 12th RB and fought their way back in parallel. The shape of the battalion was being rapidly broken up under the pressure of events.

Twelve men were killed. Second Lieutenant Ralph Galley of A Company was one of these. He was 27 years of age, from Monkwearmouth. Three others have named burials. Private George Beilry is buried a long way north at Serre Road No. 2 cemetery, presumably as a result of a post war concentration of graves. Private W. Hurst is buried at Mézières Communal Cemetery Extension, another concentration. Similarly Private John Kennedy’s remains have been moved to Bouchoir New British Cemetery. The other eight are all recorded as ‘missing’ and are commemorated on the Pozières Memorial. All privates, these were Ernest Clover, Frank Donoghue, William Hughes, William Leadley, Joseph Sadler, George Shephard, Tommy Smith and Sam Thompson.

Four officers were taken prisoner: 2nd Lieutenants Rutherford, Alexander, Morris and Craig. Craig of A Company died in captivity, of influenza, on 5November 1918 in Germany, where he is buried in the Poznan Old Garrison Cemetery. It is not known exactly how many men from the other ranks were captured. Confusion was the norm during the next few days and any attempts to keep track of numbers involved creative mathematics rather than controlled counting. Many were wounded and taken back to dressing stations. Scores of men became detached and mixed up with other units, perhaps managing to regroup with their own days later. Scores more fell into the hands of the Germans, either wounded or forced to surrender. Unfortunately records of prisoners among the other ranks are virtually non-existent.

Using the admittedly suspect information contained in the battalion war diary, we can make a rough calculation that perhaps a hundred men of B Company, forty men from A Company, two hundred men from D Company and a further hundred men with Captain Jee’s detachment, led by about twenty remaining officers, had survived the first two days. This was less than half the battalion. The experience they had been through, the confusion caused by a mixture of fog, darkness and the speed and guile of the German strategy, illustrates well the problems faced by the British forces in the face of the onslaught.

 

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