Bowes, William



1st East Yorkshire War Diary; Report on Operations 22nd March 1918

During the morning 16th Division on our right seen to withdraw thus leaving our right flank in the air. Pushed out Officers patrol to CAPRON COPSE and VILLERS FAUCON and withdrew my right to join up with 39th Division at Jean Copse.

Some shelling on our positions. Remains of ‘A’ and ‘B’ Coys re-joined from 110th Brigade and were put into the left of Battalions line on N.E. of SAULCOURT. These were in position by 2.30pm. 6 Machine Guns reported and took up position in our lines. During the afternoon the enemy were seen massing for attack along our front and right flank as far as VILLERS FAUCON. This was reported to 9th KOYLI at 3.45pm who were asked to notify Brigade.

About this time our Artillery shelled left Battalion 39th Division in reply to SOS causing a number of these to run back into the trenches on my right Coy (‘C’ Coy) Lieut WAITE Commanding ‘C’ Coy pushed up his reserve Platoon into the flank position thus vacated. During this period enemy machine gun fire was very heavy on our line from the ridge CAPRON COPSE – VILLERS FAUCON making communication and command very difficult.

Enemy were now reported to be working down VILLERS FAUCON. LIERAMONT ROAD so 98th Field Company sent a party to hold South edge of SAULCOURT WOOD.

5pm – Enemy came on in large numbers against our right and the men of 39th Division who were then mixed up with my right Company streamed back along our trenches carrying men of the Company with them. The remainder of the two right Company’s ‘C’ and ‘D’ were now driven into the village and I had to order Lt MANSFIELD who was holding a hedge with Battalion HQ to withdraw. This was about 5.30pm. The enemy pushed through the village and into AMBUSH CAMP on the heels of the party and brought a very heavy machine gun fire to bear across the open ground.

The posts at N.E. end of the village put up a very strong resistance and no Officer got away, only isolated parties of men working their way back.

I tried to get across to OC 9th KOYLI in GUYENCOURT to inform him of the situation but was cut off by advancing enemy and had to abandon the attempt.

The Battalion was reformed at Brigade HQ at the Quarry at LONGAVESENS and withdrew and occupied positions in the Green Line being in position by nightfall from KINGS COPSE on right to D.30 c.1.7. Where we were in touch with 9th KOYLI. On our right we were in touch with a Battalion of KRR (39th Division). During the night gaps in the wire were filled in and trenches improved. Enemy patrols reached our wire but were driven off with loss of one prisoner. Nucleus Party joined during the night.

History of the 1st Battalion East Yorkshire Regiment 1914 – 1919

On the morning of the 22nd March 1918 the German attack started again, and now we were to be introduced to low-flying aeroplanes in large numbers, and these were not countered by our men, who seemed to have vanished. Silent was the voice of our artillery. Incessant rifle fire, however, indicated that fighting was in progress. During the previous day the line had been badly breached in front of Roisel to the south, and beyond Chapel Hill to the north, and the enemy was slowly but surely working round our right flank. Epehy and Peziere, held by the Leicester Brigade, had not been captured; this being the only point on the British line attacked which had not been breached that day, and this fact

(The brave defence of Epehy) was proclaimed in the enemy accounts of the battle in his newspapers.

However, Epehy was taken in the flank and rear on the 22nd, and the two guarding tanks taken and put out of action by small enemy guns, which rushed up and fired at them over open sights. The Leicester Brigade slowly returned to the Yellow Line, and held off the advancing enemy until late in the afternoon. Whilst this was in progress his planes flew low down over our heads, and we could see his troops marching, as it appeared .then, in column of route out of Epehy along the sunken road to Saulcourt. He was chivalrous, as we found out later, for when he entered the Dressing Stations in Epehy, the German and British doctors continued to work together in dressing the wounded, some of which he allowed to escape to our lines. He appeared to think that the British resistance was broken, and that he could afford to let the prisoners escape with impunity, but subsequent events proved his mistake. We saw the Germans drive a small field gun at the gallop into Jacquavenne Copse; about 2,000 yards away to our front, and it immediately opened fire over open sights on our Battalion H.Q. with great accuracy. Our artillery had vanished, and we were powerless to do anything in the matter, except admire the way in which he was able to rush his guns into action, and thus annoy us. Late in the afternoon Germans seemed to spring up from nowhere, in Front of us, and to the right, and to the left, and our only alternative was to retreat. However, before withdrawing, our men did consider able execution. The Adjutant—Lieut. (A/Capt.) A. H. Ewing who was unarmed, was “flushed” by two Germans, who shouted “Hands up!” to him in guttural accents, but he managed to get away, although they fired rapidly at him. We made back over the football field at Saul-court, and across the road leading to Longavesnes to the next high ground, about a mile in the rear. The German Infantry advanced in extended order, and their low-flying aeroplanes, to the number of four or five, peppered us with machine gun bullets, and gave directions to the troops on the ground. One could not help admiring the perfect co-operation of his Airmen and his Infantry on this terrible evening. During this retreat young Mansfield {2nd Lieut. G. S. Mansfield), the Lewis Gun Officer, was hit through the femoral artery by an aeroplane bullet, and died in about three seconds, near the goal-posts in the football field. He was an officer of great promise, and very popular with every one. On hearing the news of his death, his father, in England, was so overcome with grief that he died almost at once. Second Lieuts. P. Wadsworth and T. A. Stockham were killed in action on the same day. As dusk was falling, the remains of the 64th Brigade took up positions in the Green Line, to the north of the Longavesnes-Saulcourt Road, with H.Q. in a dug-out, at the point where the road and the trench meet. In the meantime the Germans contented themselves in our old camp, and Capt. Raine, R.A.M.C. (M.O.), was able to collect numerous wounded men, carrying them back on stretchers, gate posts, and pieces of corrugated iron. Most of the H.Q. Company took part in this melancholy procedure, and the Brigadier put all his signallers and orderlies to the same task. At dusk all enemy activity ceased absolutely, and not a shell or a bullet disturbed the peace of a beautiful but frosty evening. During the night the Germans slowly took up positions in front of our wire. A British Ordnance dump, somewhat ahead of our position, blazed furiously, and in the lurid light we could see parties of the enemy walking about. A British motor ambulance drove up about midnight, and we were only just able to warn the driver to turn round, or he would have driven straight on into the enemy’s lines. They offered no hindrance to his turning, and he was able to get away with a full load of wounded.

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Pozieres Memorial, Somme, France