29 March 1918

The 20th Division was transferred to the command of Lieutenant General Watts and XIX Corps to reinforce their right flank. They occupied a defensive line in between the villages of Mézières and Démuin, with 59th Brigade on the right up to the main Amiens road, the 61st on the left and the 60th (including 11 DLI) in reserve west of the road from Démuin to Moreuil. The French held Mézières itself. The reserve positions came under heavy artillery fire, which killed Lieutenant-Colonel Welch of 6 KSLI.

During the morning of Good Friday, 29 March, the Germans drove the French out of Mézières. At 3.15 pm, 11 DLI was ordered to take part in the recapture of the village. Their ranks consisted of ten officers and about 130 men. The men of 12 KRRC and 12 RB attacked the village from the southwest, while 11 DLI and 11 RB worked through the wood on the northwest, with a company from 2nd Scottish Rifles on their right. There was little in the way of artillery support.

At 4 pm, they launched their attack out of the wood that had been their overnight bivouac. Emerging from the trees, the Durhams faced a dash across open ground directly into trench mortar and machine gun fire. Nevertheless Captain Pemberton managed to reach the village with about twenty men, and remained there in an attempt to hold the village until only two men were left, before pulling back. Similarly, 2nd Lieutenant King reached the village with a Lewis gun, but by then all his men had been hit and they were forced to retire. Both officers were awarded the MC for their actions. A third group got into the village square and put three German trench mortars out of action. Despite the brave efforts by all the units involved, none were able to hold the village. Finding themselves trapped from behind by concealed parties of the enemy, they were forced to fight their way back to their original lines. The survivors were ordered back to take up a defensive line between Thennes and Hourges.

Inevitably the losses were heavy, in terms of those killed, wounded and captured. The battalion now consisted of a mere four officers and thirty-four men. Four of those killed are commemorated at Pozières: 2nd Lieutenant Frederick Arnott, and Privates Joseph Barnard, John O’Brien and Clifford Pollard. Sergeant J. M. Craggs is buried at Mézières. Private Victor Anderson died of wounds from a previous day and is buried at Namps-au-val. Lieutenant Bushell, 2nd Lieutenant Ellwood and 2nd Lieutenant Applegarth were taken prisoner. Applegarth had been shot in the chest and died from a tetanus infection on 8 April in a German Field Hospital near Beaufort-on-Somme. His remains were exhumed after the war and buried at Caix, north east of Moreuil, not far from where he fought his last battle.

On repatriation after the war, both Bushell and Ellwood were interviewed to provide accounts of their capture. Bushell (originally from B Company) had command of one officer and twenty-five men. They had worked their way through a dense copse, but as they emerged came under such heavy fire that they had to lie down. The other officer was missing and several of the men were out of action. Bushell kept the others down in the hope of being able to make another advance when the enfilade fire died down. As they were only about fifty yards from the German machine guns and in plain view, neither advance nor retreat were options. When the firing did cease, it was because the Germans had worked their way round into the copse behind. Bushell had little option but to surrender.

Ellwood was in charge of what was referred to as D Company, consisting of himself, two officers and about thirty men, of whom some twenty-five were recently acquired reinforcements and new to action. His party worked their way through the wood into heavy machine gun fire, coming from the houses directly opposite. He was hit and concussed. As with Bushell, he found himself surrounded by Germans who had worked their way round behind and he and his two surviving men were forced to surrender. Lt Col Hayes wrote later to reassure the family that there was hope that their missing son would be found: ‘I am writing to you about your son, The only news that I can give you is not good. He fell badly hit and fell into German hands, consequently is reported wounded and missing. He was on my headquarter’s staff as Lewis gun officer and was not only a fine subaltern, but a personal friend, and as a friend I refuse to believe the worst till I get proof of it.’ He continued in much the same vein, praising Ellwood’s coolness under fire and qualities as a friend and comrade: ‘All we know is that he got up under terrific machine gun fire and walked forward and said “Come on you fellows” and then he fell hit in the body.’ Hayes was relying on second hand testimony or imagination, as he had been away recovering from the effects of gas poisoning and did not arrive back to the battalion until the morning of 31 March.

 

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