23 March 1918

Saturday morning found A and B Company, now combined as one, covering Offoy, while the remnants of Jee’s detachment were with 12th Rifle Brigade (12 RB). The rest of the Division had successfully withdrawn across the Canal, blown the bridges and formed a new defensive line. Divisional HQ had re-grouped at Nesle. Overnight, D Company had been on the far right of the line covering the Canal Bank near Ollezy with 12 Kings. Early in the morning, the Germans crossed the canal nearby and D Company was obliged to form a defensive line facing east towards Canizy, to the right of 12 Kings. Beyond them, further right, there was no contact with other British troops.

D Company

Three platoons led respectively by Lieutenant Cooper, 2nd Lieutenant Banks and 2nd Lieutenant Gibson held a strong point in front, just west of Annois, with a fourth platoon about a mile behind led by 2nd Lieutenant Duckett and CSM Robson. By 2 p.m. the three forward platoons were in action in support of 12 Kings. Since the attacks appeared to be fairly light, 12 Kings moved forward to engage the enemy. However sections of the German units had skirted round the main formation and were attacking their second line company. Second Lieutenant Duckett’s platoon advanced in support of the other three 11th DLI platoons but was never seen again, having walked straight into the ambush.

At about 6 p.m. the main units from D Company remained linked to 12 Kings, and were joined by about twenty men, remnants from 7th Somerset Light Infantry (7 SomLI). The latter reported that there were no troops to their left, a fact soon confirmed by scouts. Almost at the same time it was reported that troops to the right had pulled back towards Cugny. D Company retired in good order to Cugny Railway Cutting where they came across a party from an Irish regiment of the 36th Division. Information from their officer was confusing. He stated that they were in touch with men on both flanks, but Lieutenant Cooper checked and found no-one to their left. Meanwhile two Irish Sergeants reported that the troops to their right had fallen back on Cugny village. D Company did the same only to find it completely deserted. The officers discussed the situation and decided to continue retreating towards Guiscard. 2nd Lieutenant William Banks and a small group of men were detached to help the Irish officer, described as ‘in a highly excited condition’, to get his men out. When Banks failed to return, Lieutenant Cooper and 2nd Lieutenant Gibson took a small group of men back through the village but found no trace of Banks or the Irish. Banks was reported missing the next day, but had been badly wounded, dying a few days later in a German field hospital. Finally D Company managed to link up with units of 61st Brigade digging in north-east of Villeselve. Cooper was only able to obtain three boxes of ammunition. There were no decent rations to be had, only biscuits and tinned meat. Here they rested overnight, their numbers badly depleted but lucky to have made it this far. By now most of the British forces were fragmented into relatively small groups, desperately trying to keep in some kind of contact with other units. Much depended on luck and on the native wits of often quite junior officers with comparatively little battle experience.

A&B Companies

Meanwhile, at about 4 a.m., 12 KRRC took over the Offoy defences from 11 DLI. Lieutenant Bushell was given charge of a joint company made up mainly from B Company, with a few stragglers from A Company, assisted by 2nd Lieutenants Martin, Naylor and English, and CSM Craggs. They extended the line to the right from 12 KRRC as far as Canizy, assisted by twenty six men from 6th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry (6 KSLI). The combined strength was about 120 men. On their right they linked up with the 30th Entrenching Battalion, an illustration that semi-fit men were already being drafted into the line to help make up the rapidly dwindling numbers. Battalion HQ was dug in about 200 yards behind this trench line, from where telephone communication was re-established with 60th Brigade HQ. There followed a comparatively quiet day, broken by intermittent sniping from the other side of the Canal. The firing increased towards evening and, as darkness fell, there were bursts of machine gun fire and trench mortars. The Entrenching Battalion was having difficulty holding their position and Lieutenant-Colonel Moore of 12 KRRC secured the assistance of men from a neighbouring Division to help reinforce them.

Captain Jee’s detachment remained fairly intact. They covered the withdrawal of 2nd Scottish Rifles across the canal and at 9 a.m. marched back to dig a defensive line facing north-east near Languevoisin. Until mid-day, Lieutenant King and about twenty men held a forward position to the left of the Scottish Rifles. By 5 p.m. Captain Jee’s detachment was supporting 59th Brigade, facing north and about a mile north of Rouy-le-Petit.

The day ends

The infantry battalions of 61st Brigade were faring badly and forced to retire, fighting all the way. Overnight the remnants of the brigade were withdrawn to Neuvilly to rejoin the rest of 20th Division, where they were re-organised into a composite battalion of four companies, with a total strength of 9 junior officers and about 440 other ranks. A brigade of three battalions had been reduced to less than half a normal battalion. The relentless pace of the German attack, in conditions that made communications difficult, was taking a heavy toll.

All but two of the 18 men from 11 DLI who died on this day are commemorated on the memorial to the missing at Pozières: George Arthurs, Jonathan Bainbridge, Arthur Bell, Frank Crofts, Henry Curd, Tom Dobson, 2nd Lieutenant Vincent Duckett, Mark Farn, George Longstaff, Sergeant Llewellyn Monger, Robert Morrill, CSM David Robson, Fred Toll, Corporal Lawrence Uttley, George Watson and George Wray. The exceptions are Private G. N. Cook who is buried at Grand-Seraucourt British Cemetery south west of St Quentin (which suggests he died of wounds having been captured previously), and Private H. Kitchen who is buried at St. Souplet British Cemetery, which was close to a hospital on the coast (indicating that he was one of those lucky enough to be shipped out by the battalion medics). Second Lieutenant Naylor was taken prisoner, as probably were many other ranks, as well as the scores of wounded.

 

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3 thoughts on “23 March 1918

  1. Martin, thank you very much for sharing your excellent research. It was so good, but also so sad to read accounts of the battle in which my great uncle was killed and to learn more about him from the Roll of Honour page. Elizabeth

    • Thanks for your comments, I guess that the next few years will see more people like yourself re-discovering their ancestors. If that is the case, then that is what this website is all about.

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