Bravery Acknowledged

Source: Birmingham City Battalion; Book of Honour page 10

Praised by the General

The General Commanding the Division addressed the Brigade on September 8th, thanking them for the part they had played in an offensive which had been, on the whole, successful, making special mention of the bravery of the 14th Warwicks. To them he specially addressed these words :

“The 2nd King’s Own Scottish Borderers and the 14th Royal Warwickshire Regiment advanced gloriously and with the utmost gallantry. Their advance was witnessed by officers of the General Staff. I am sorry that the Brigade failed to carry through their objective, through no fault of yours. The advance was pressed on with the utmost determination and perseverance.

You have had bad luck in the last three shows, the two previous ones being in the High Wood and Wood Lane area, but I know that whatever the 13th Brigade are asked to do in the future they can be relied upon to carry through as they have done in the past. Thank you very much for all you have done. By advancing as you did under hellish artillery and machine-gun lire you did something better than if you had succeeded. I can trust the 13th Brigade to do anything on earth.”

These consoling words were uttered near Luzewood, a place the Battalions were glad to leave. The wood had ceased to exist as such, although a few bare and battered tree trunks stood amongst the churned-up network of shell craters. Broken and twisted masses of timber littered the ground, hiding to some extent the bodies of the slain – Briton and Bosche – many of which remained when the Battalion was relieved.

At this time the Colonel took over the command of the Brigade for a period, and a major temporarily commanded the 14th Battalion. He had under him only 20 officers and 537 other ranks (about half strength) until drafts arrived from home. And then only young and inexperienced officers were available; but the spirit of the men remained good, even while bivouaced in a “sea of stinking mud,” to quote the words of one of their officers.

In spite of those hard times the Battalions showed no sign of staleness when again called upon to join in the offensive early in September. They were then in the neighbourhood of Morval, half way between Bapaume on the north and Peronne on the south, and although their part of the day’s work was made easier on this occasion by the demoralisation of the enemy, it is satisfactory to read in the official record that “all ranks acted splendidly and carried out orders as if on parade.” The price paid for this praise was fifty casualties. On this occasion there was a creeping barrage to support the advance. On the other hand, the enemy’s heavy artillery, machine-gun fire and rifle volleys showed that this was by no means a surprise attack.

A few men reached their objective, but they were not strong enough in numbers to hold the ground they had gained without further support. In other parts of the line less opposition was met with and the artillery preparation was better, so, on the whole, the affair was successful. The Battalions had the satisfaction of seeing many German prisoners brought in through the Quadrilateral, and soon afterwards, with their ranks again depleted, they took over some of the captured trenches north of the Quadrilateral. ’They advanced again during the afternoon, and dug themselves in on the slopes west of Morval and east of the Sunlien Road. This difficult piece of work was completed in pitch darkness, without a hitch and without a casualty.

In October the Battalion occupied waterlogged trenches near Givenchy, and had much ado to make them safe. By way of relieving the monotony a second lieutenant led a party of men into some German saps. Bombs were thrown in three of these saps and about a dozen Germans were put out of action. When proceeding down a fourth the young officer shot a German sentry with his revolver, and as this did not prevent the Bosche from showing fight, he finished off the German with his last bomb. The lieutenant stayed in this sap a quarter of an hour trying to capture a prisoner, but he was only able to secure two rifles, one of which lie brought back for identification purposes.

The weather in November was against such ‘stunts,’ but valuable information was obtained by a lieutenant and a private, who entered the enemy’s trenches to reconnoitre. In December, the first of these two again led more patrols, but, owing to, the thickness of the enemy’s wiring, he did not get far on these occasions.

Any exchange of courtesies on Christmas Day was prevented by an intense bombardment which was kept up by the British Artillery for four days. The beginning of 1917 was ushered in with New Year’s honours, the Colonel getting the D.S.O. and a sergeant the D.C.M. Special mention was made in despatches of two officers. The occasion was celebrated by consuming a postponed Xmas dinner in a rest camp. There the Battalion bade ‘Au Revoir’ to its second in command, he having been put in charge of a training depot for the Brigade.