Insignia, Medals & Books
Remembering The Cambs
1917 - 1/1st at War
1917 - St Julien
The Cambs stay at the 3rd Army School at Flixecourt continued and in the typical style of the previous month New Years day was spent practising bayonet fighting. Much of the rest of the month was spent doing similar drills, demonstration attacks and lessons on subjects such as "Sniping" and "How they can take cover" as well as "How to attack in a wood".
Much of February was spent in a similar manner to December and January with the Cambs still at Flixecourt. Several big demonstration attacks took place and there were numerous days of trench digging. The officers marked the one year anniversary of the Battalion setting of for France with a dinner for the "relics". Out of the original twenty seven officers that sailed with the Battalion only seven remained.
The time at Flixecourt came to an end on the 26th February and the Cambs set off to Wallon Cappel near St Omer. Here the Battalion joined the 118th Brigade part of the newly arrived 39th Division. To bring the 39th up to strength (and possibly give it some experienced men) the 118th Brigade was reformed from TF Battalions that had been serving in France with various other non TF brigades.
Much of the month was spent on various exercises, drills, working parties and inspections. This was giving the division time to arrive, adjust and settle to life in France. In mid March the Battalion's Machine Gun Section left the Battalion and was transferred over to the Machine Gun Corps as part of the newly formed 118th Company. More information on these men and the section can be found by clicking here. On the 24th the Cambs left St Omer and marched to Merville. The rest of the month was spent intensively training for the Battalion's return to the front line.
On the 1st April The Cambs returned to the trenches for the first time since the 25th October 1915. For first few days they were kept as Brigade Reserve before going into the front line positions around the Neuve Chappelle on the 4th April. On the 16th April the Cambs moved a short way south to a section of the front line around Festubert. In late April 160 Cambs men who had not had leave since arriving in France 15 months earlier were given leave to the UK. A more detailed account of the Cambs time in April 1916 can be found by clicking here.
In early May the Battalion moved a short way to the Givenchy sector. They spent their time in the front line or assisting the Royal Engineers. Once again the issue of German rifle grenades led to numerous casualties. On the 17th May the Battalion left the front line and spent time training and on various working parties while acting as Brigade Reserve. During this time the CO, Lt Col Archer, was informed he was being replaced and returned to the UK. He was replaced temporally by Maj Few. Further details about the Cambs during the early summer of 1916 can be found by clicking here.
The Cambs returned to the front line around Givenchy on the 6th June. German activity had increased since their last stint in the area and casualties were sustained most days. On the 10th June the new CO arrived. He was Lt Col Riddell, an experienced Rifle Brigade officer. His arrival brought about numerous changes in the Battalion but they were accepted and all helped to prepare and shape the men for the coming months. For further information on Riddell, please click here to go to his biography.
The Cambs were still in the Givenchy sector on the 1st July, a week later they moved back to billets around Vielle Chapelle and then Le Preol. On the 14th July they returned to the front line around the village of Festubert. During July various diversionary attacks and raids were taking place in the area trying to draw some attention away from the Somme Offensive.
At night on the 19th July the Cambs sent out a raiding party on the German trenches to their front. The raid proved costly for the Cambs and two officers and one other rank was killed. The raid would have been far more costly had it not been for the actions of 2nd Lt Looker who, although wounded several times, held the enemy back with grenades while the party escaped. On the 27th the Battalion was sent to billets around Le Hamel.
On the 1st August the Cambs returned to the line around Givenchy. They remained in that area until the 10th August when they were relieved and ordered to prepare for going to the Somme. The next two weeks were spent training for trench attacks in order to prepare for offensive operations on the Somme. The Cambs finally arrived on the Somme near the River Ancre on the 26th August and took up their positions in the line just north of Hamel. A more detailed account of the Cambs first few days on the Somme can be found by clicking here.
The Cambs were pulled back on the 2nd September and were put in reserve. The following day a large British attack was launched. The attack started well in front of the Cambs and some ground was taken. However elsewhere it failed and before too long supporting fire from enemy positions further south caused havoc amongst the advancing men and the captured ground was lost.
The Cambs, who were still in reserve, were rushed up into the front line to secure and hold them from the incoming German counter attack. As they pushed up through the communication trenches the wounded and dead from the attacking battalions were everywhere. The counter attack was beaten back and the line remained as it had the previous day save for the countless dead and wounded. For more details about the Cambridgeshires part in this battle please click here.
On the 6th September the Cambs moved back from the line to Maillywood and spent some time resting and training. They returned to the line at the Hamel on the 12th. The sector was very active and plans were drawn up for a raid by C Coy with the intention of capturing prisoners for intelligence gathering, more details can be found here and in the biography of one of the men involved, Sgt Bert Death.
The Cambs remained in the line around Hamel in the weeks following the raid. It was from these positions that they watched the 18th Division attack and capture Thiepval village off to their right on the 26th. The Cambs men gave as much supporting fire as they could especially on the Schwaben Redoubt.
Over the next few days the Cambs had front row seats to the repeated attacks on the shattered earthworks that made up the Schwaben Redoubt. Time and time again men would occupy a section only to be pushed out by ferocious German counter attacks. It was quickly becoming clear to the Cambs men that it would soon be their turn to attack.
The Cambs left the trenches around Hamel on the 3rd October. They moved back from the front line to dugouts around Authuile and assisted in bringing up supplies. They also had the unenviable task of burying many of the dead from the previous attacks. While in this location another attack was launched on the Schwaben, this time by the 117th Brigade, the result was much the same as before except for a small corner of the redoubt that was held.
On the 11th October Riddell was informed that the Cambs were to lead the next attack on the Schwaben, scheduled for the 13th. Riddell formulated a plan of attack and it was quickly approved by the Corps Commander. The planned attack had to be postponed a day after a random German artillery shell landed in the middle of A Coys officers killing or wounding them all. Officers from the other Coys were moved around to fill up some of the spaces but it was a bitter blow and unfortunate timing.
The attack was launched at 2.47pm on the 14th October. The men left their trenches and advanced behind an intense artillery barrage. The Schwaben was quickly reached and after some bitter fighting was cleared. Unlike the previous attacks and per Riddell's orders the men advanced beyond the redoubt and took up quick defensive positions in the ground behind it. The majority of the German artillery fire was zeroed in on the captured redoubt behind them and the men were able to halt the German counter attack. The Schwaben was taken and held at last. For a more detailed look at the attack please click here.
The attack on the 14th was a great triumph for the Cambs, it came at a cost though. The Cambs lost 50 officers and men killed and nearly 200 wounded. Riddell was exhausted and suffering from shock, he was temporally replaced as CO by Major Murray of the Black Watch. The Cambs were pulled back into reserve on the 17th and on the 23rd were in dugouts around Thiepval.
The Cambs returned to the captured Schwaben on the 8th November and carried out much needed work on the shattered defences. Early on the 13th November the 39th Division launched an attack on the German held positions around St Pierre Divion. The Cambs attacked from the high ground of the redoubt down into the Ancre valley. The attack was a total success and the village was captured with casualties very light compared to what had been expected. For more information on the Cambs role in the attack please click here.
After the success of the St Pierre Divion attack the Cambs left the Somme area on the 15th November and headed back to the Ypres Salient. The temporary CO, Maj Murray was replaced by another temporary CO, Lt Col Methuen of the King Royal Rifle Corps. The Battalion finally arrived at Elverdinghe near Ypres on the 29th November. A more detailed account of the winter of 1916-17 at Ypres can be found here.
The Cambs remained around Elverdinghe till the 13th when they moved into dugouts along the Ypres Canal Bank. The rest of December was either spent in the front line trenches or in the Canal Bank dugouts.
Menu of 1916 Related Pages
Cambs men in winter goatskins early 1916.
Group of men from D (March and Ely) Coy.
Two Cambs men from B Coy.
Lt Looker DSO photographed after the war.
This site went live on the 14th February 2015 to mark 100 years since the 1/1st Cambs went off to war.
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM
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