RFA West Lancs Bdes
In January 1918, 276Bde was moved north from Orville to Robecq.
55th Division relieved 42nd (East Lancashire) Division in the front line at Givenchy and Festubert on 15 February 1918. Here, it faced numerous strong enemy raids in March.
Early April was at first much quieter but this was the quiet before the storm. The second phase of the German Spring Offensive, variously known as Operation Georgette or the Battle of the Lys, was launched on 9 April 1918. 55th Division were located at the southern end of the front under attack and while the Germans managed to make huge advances in the northern sector, they failed to break the British defence of Givenchy and Festubert.
From the War Diary:
9 April 1918
4.15am Enemy opened heavy H.E. and Gas bombardment on all Battery areas, Headquarters, and Wagon Lines. Batteries opened on “Counter preparation” and later on S.O.S. Hostile infantry reported attacking, and pressing back our Infantry on the Left. 164th Infantry Brigade still holding GIVENCHY. Continuous hostile shelling throughout the day. Enemy infantry at one time reached forward gun of A/276 Battery in GUNNER SIDING, but counter-attacked and driven off.
6.42pm A/276 Bty report all guns destroyed and personnel manning trench in front of position. Ordered to move personnel to Wagon lines with all material that can be salved. D/276 Battery moved forward gun back to main position. Throughout the day information received of enemy concentration. Batteries opened fire on all occasions, and with the exception of local encounters no further attack on a large scale developed on Group Front.
8.00pm Information received that 800 prisoners captured to date.
680149 Whl/Cpl Walter Stephen Ward, 9 April 1918
10 April 1918 7.30am FESTUBERT heavily shelled and enemy attacking in neighbourhood of LOISNE. (The enemy attack continued throughout the day but by) 8.30pm Infantry report enemy attack driven off. All Batteries ceased fire on S.O.S. lines but continued harassing fire at slow rate.
681755 Sgt Frank Thomas, 10 April 1918
680681 Dvr John Thompson, 10 April 1918
241964 Gnr John Thomas Dolphin, 10 April 1918
11-14 April The enemy attacked, were repulsed, re-grouped and attacked again, but the ferocity of the attacks slowly diminished. They make another effort on 18 April but again are repulsed. On 26 April 164th Infantry Brigade feel confident enough to mount a counter-attack which was initially successful but they were later forced back to their original line.
631909 Gnr Andrew Forbes Edward, 18 April 1918
The enemy attack continued until 18 April, when it slackened off then ceased. On 20 April, the Division re-captured a number of trenches near Givenchy and skirmishes continued until the end of the month but neither side made any gains.
680950 Dvr/Sdlr Edwin Moorhouse, 23 April 1918
681829 L/Bdr Eric Evans, 13 May 1918
681877 Bdr George Bickers, 20 May 1918
680513 Sgt Frank Holt Whitehead, MM, 20 May 1918
680554 Dvr William Crook, 29 May 1918
L/35729 Gnr Samuel Archibald Bastick, 3 June 1918
During May, the Brigade remained near Givenchy but there were no more attacks and on 27 May they were relieved from the line and withdrew to bivouac at Bois des Dames. They moved back into the line between 9-12 June and between 13-20 June they supported a number of infantry raids. Throughout July, August and September they engaged in harassing fire, mainly by night. Some relatively minor infantry raids were mounted but the action was mainly to disrupt the enemy and prevent any counterattack.
895614 Cpl John William Holland, 21 July 1918
2nd Lt Francis Clifford Aspinall, 17 September 1918
680890 Gnr Samuel Banks, 19 September 1918
680288 Dvr William Henry Brown, 24 September 1918
On 2 October, the Brigade received information that the Germans had begun to withdraw and the Brigade then began its advance. They reached Hantay on 4 October,
681275 Dvr Robert Parkinson, 10 October 1918
681831 Gnr Joseph Odgers, 13 October 1918
then Hocron on 16 October, Allennes and Seclin on 17 October,
681747 Gnr Thomas Lunt Oxton, 17 October 1918
680293 Dvr William Lord, 17 October 1918
Fretin on 19 October, and Esplechin on 20 October (they were now in Belgium). Here they encountered some resistance and they were still in Esplechin at the end of the month.
681775 Dvr Thomas Thompson, 21 October 1918
205713 Gnr Thomas Elliott, 21 October 1918
133699 Bdr Joseph Edgar, 28 October 1918
In early November, the Brigade continued to support infantry raids and on 7 November the Germans launched a final barrage and the following day they withdrew. On 9 November, the Brigade advanced to Pont à Rieux and prepared to cross the Escaut then took up position in the vicinity of Gaurain-Ramecroix. On 10 November, Brigade HQ was at Leuze and the batteries took up positions at Pipaix. They made preparations to attack but these were not carried out as the enemy withdrew. After the Armistice, the Brigade took up billets at Maffles.
The map below shows the route taken by 276Bde in the final advance, from 2 October to 11 November 1918.
A number of men who were initially recruited to the West Lancashire Brigades and have 680*** service numbers were at some point transferred to 21st Brigade and sent to Quetta, then in British India, now in Pakistan, near the boarder with Afghanistan.
In May 1918, the flu pandemic was taken to India aboard troop ships from Europe. There was an initial bout of infections in the summer but this was followed by a much more severe outbreak in the autumn. By the time the pandemic was over in the spring of 1919, almost 14 million people had died in British India.
680406 Dvr William Henry Thirtle, 25 October 1918
681141 Dvr Fergus Walsh, 26 October 1918
680532 Dvr John Hosker, 5 November 1918
On 1 January 1918, the Division began preparations to return to Armentières. On 5 January, batteries took up their positions at Erquinghem, about 3kms west of the town. At the start of the year, brigade numbers were: 29 Officers, 795 Other Ranks and 656 horses.
681722 Gnr Denis Lynch, 6 January 1918
681502 Dvr Thomas James Moorcroft, 6 February 1918
In March 1918, the Brigade was in training at Haverskerque and on 3 March they moved to Nédonchel where they worked on calibrating their guns and engaged in further training. On 10 March they returned to action at Sailly-sur-la-Lys and on 22 March they moved to Fleurbaix. The Germans launched the first phase of their Spring Offensive on 21 March 1918. 57th Division were not directly involved.
2nd Lt John McCreadie, 21 March 1918
681622 Gnr Fred Keeley, 22 March 1918
680912 Gnr Robert Cross, 27 March 1918
680656 L.Bdr Stanley Grundy, 5 April 1918
286Bde were caught in the second phase of the German Spring Offensive, Operation Georgette or the Battle of the Lys. During the Battle, 286Bde started off near Nieppe, a few kilometres west of Armentières. Over the course of the next 10 days they were forced to retreat about 25 kilometres further west. They managed to halt the German advance at Borre, just outside Hazebrouk.
From the War Diary:
9 April 1918
At 4.15am an intense bombardment of hostile gas shells commenced on the whole of the Corps front. Our batteries, which were standing to, to support a raid by the 121st Infantry, were immediately ordered to open counter-preparation fire. The gas shell bombardment lasted until about 9.00am when the enemy placed an intense barrage on the front line system. The enemy broke through the British line on the Right at the 40th Devonshires at front and turning to his Right outflanked our Batteries. The guns of B and C Batteries and two howitzers of D/286 were captured. A/286 were able to withdraw their six guns and D/286 four howitzers, after engaging the enemy up to within 300 yards of the position. The Brigade withdrew and took up position on the north side of the river LYS near to POINT MORTIER where batteries engaged the enemy with harassing fire. When a battalion of enemy infantry were reported in CROIX DU BAC a further withdrawal was made to positions near LE VERRIER. 7 Other Ranks killed. 2 Officers and 26 O.R.s wounded. 3 Officers and 22 O.R.s missing.
680012 Gnr Albert Dewhurst, 9 April 1918
680923 Gnr Charles Finch, 9 April 1918
680818 Dvr William Molyneux, 9 April 1918
681361 Bdr Robert Standing Smith, 9 April 1918
681526 Cpl John Edwin Smith, 9 April 1918
680871 Dvr Frank Sumner, 9 April 1918
681845 Gnr Joseph Furlong, 9 April 1918
10 April. The Brigade engaged the enemy throughout the day with harassing fire.
11 April. The enemy pushed our infantry back to a line about 1000 yds in front of the Batteries and as the right flank was threatened the Brigade withdrew to positions on the METEREN BECAVE just south of OUTTERSTEENE. A/286 covered this retirement. The enemy were held during the night.
12 April. In the early morning the infantry withdrew to a prepared line. The Batteries on being shelled took up new positions about 1000 yds in the rear. Again the left flank was being threatened and the Brigade withdrew to positions N. of MERRIS. Here they engaged the advancing enemy with intense fire. A further withdrawal was necessary later in the day and the Batteries took up good positions in PRADELLES. Harassing fire was brought to bear on the roads and main approaches. 5 O.R.s wounded, 1 O.R. missing.
13 April. Batteries were employed in harassing fire by day and night.
680991 Sgt Francis Schultz, MM, 13 April 1918
14 April. The Brigade supported the 2nd Battalion Australians in rushing a farm house near MERRIS. This operation was successful, 40 of the enemy being killed. The Btteries were shelled and they withdrew to positions 1000 yds more WEST. Harassing fire was carried out by day and night. 4 O.R.s killed; 13 O.R.s wounded.
680325 Dvr. George Willoughby Drinkwater, 14 April 1918
680683 Dvr Norman Grime, 14 April 1918
680610 Cpl. Richard Taylor, 14 April 1918
15-16 April. Harassing fire by day and night, also counter preparation fire. 3 O.R.s wounded.
680655 Cpl/S.S. James Titterington, 16 April 1918
17 April. Counter preparation fire was put down at 4.30am. The enemy put down a very heavy barrage on a large front scorching and weaving back from the front line to the Batteries. This was followed by an attack which was completely repulsed by artillery fire. The enemy heavily shelled the Brigade HQ and a new HQ was opened N.W. of BORRE. 1 O.R. killed; 12 O.R.s wounded.
680665 Sgt. Wilfred Partington, 17 April 1918
18 April. Harassing fire was employed by day and night. Orders were received to relieve the 1st Australian Divisional Artillery but the situation did not allow of any movement of guns.
19-20 April. Fairly quiet days, our usual harassing fire and counter preparation was brought to bear on the enemy. 1 O.R. wounded.
681463 Gnr. Percival Frederick Owen, 19 April 1918
On 21 April, the Brigade relieved the 1st Australian Bde on the 31st Divisional front. By this time, the German attack was coming come to an end.
29 April 1918, the Germans abandoned their attempts to break through the Allied lines in Flanders. They had made significant territorial gains in the preceding month but at enormous cost, and they had failed to make a decisive breakthrough.
680109 Gnr Stephen Dewhurst, 29 April 1918
680743 Dvr Thomas Coulthard, 21 May 1918
After a period of rest and training, on 12 May, 286Bde returned to the front line at Sailly-au-Bois. The rest of May and all of June were relatively quiet, with some exchanges of shell fire by both sides but no major raids or attacks. The Brigade was back up to a reasonable strength, with about 30 Officers, 760 Other Ranks and 600 horses. July was also relatively quiet and at the end of the month the Brigade moved from Sailly, first to Couin then on to Fosseux, west of Arras.
680594 Gnr Thomas Whittle, 28 July 1918
On 1 August, Brigade headquarters were established in Arras and after a quiet few days, there was heavy shelling on 9-10 August. On 10 August 2nd Lt. Waldegrave was killed when a bomb dropped on their new positions. 12-17 August was again relatively quiet, and on 17-18 August the Brigade moved to new positions at Anzin-St-Aubin, where Bdr Thomas Wells and 2nd Lt H. L. Smith were killed on 17 August. The Brigade was withdrawn briefly, to return on 23 August at Boisleux-au-Mont.
2nd Lt Edmund John Waldegrave, 10 August 1918
2nd Lt Henry Leslie Smith, 17 August 1918
680526 Bdr Thomas Wells, 17 August 1918
681990 Gnr Edmund Cole Walter, 24 August 1918
The Brigade then supported the Infantry as they attacked Croisilles, which they captured on 27 August. Two days later they captured Bullecourt. From 1-3 September, the Brigade supported the Infantry as they captured first Hendicourt then Cagnicourt before crossing the Hindenburg Line north of Quéant. Quéant and Pronville fell on 3 September. The Brigade then rested at Cagnicourt before resuming harassing fire in support of attacks on the Canal du Nord at Pronville on 11 September.
680798 Gnr Wilfred Green, 9 September 1918
680922 Dvr Thomas Emmett, 13 September 1918
On 27 September, the Brigade supported 4th Canadian Division as they attacked and crossed the Canal du Nord and advanced to Bourlon.
681698 Gnr George Robert Whalley, 27 September 1918
220438 Gnr Archibald Rogers, 27 September 1918
The Brigade continued in support of the Canadians as they advanced towards Cambrai, attacking and finally holding Blécourt at the end of the month.
680868 Gnr Thomas Aloysius Pearson, 29 September 1918
680739 Dvr Thomas Towers, 1 October 1918
In early October, intense fighting took place to capture then lose then retake Abancourt and Cuvillers.
680680 Gnr Sidney Naylor, 8 October 1918
2nd Lt H G Jones, 8 October 1918
680774 Gnr Arthur Robinson, 9 October 1918
On 9 October, the villages of Morenchies, Ramillies and Eswars were taken and Cambrai was finally occupied.
681721 Gnr/Sig Francis Andrew Hagerty, 11 October 1918
680711 Dvr/S.s John Fisher Davies, 12 October 1918
The Brigade continued to support the advance, taking Restrun and Iwuy, then Avèsnes Le Sec on 12 October, after which they were withdrawn to Estaires by 16 October. They were not involved in any more attacks that month, moving first to Fromelles, then to Annappes, then to Le Cazeau, where they ended the month. On 1-2 November they moved to Breucq where they engaged in rest and training. They were here when the Armistice was signed on 11 November and they remained here for the rest of the month.
680792 Dvr Robert Croskell, 11 November 1918
The map below shows the progress of 286Bde's advance from 23 August to 11 November 1918.
Towards the end of the War, a number of men who originally enlisted with the West Lancashire Brigades were transferred to other brigades.
681541 Gnr Herbert Calvert, 26 October 1918
681525 Dvr James Jones, 26 October 1918
680738 Gnr Michael Jackson, 29 October 1918
2nd Lt Will Barnes, 2 November 1918
681717 Gnr Ernest Slater, 2 November 1918