Preparing for Victory - June & July 1918

Having absorbed more than 400 men of the reduced 7th Suffolks , the 1/1st Cambridgeshires spent May and early June training, with an emphasis on open warfare – it was a taste of things to come and, in August, the beginning of what became known as the Advance to Victory.

By mid-June, the Cambs, now in 12th Division, were at full strength and back on the Somme acting as the reserve battalion for 35th Brigade. Finally, on June 22nd the Battalion went into the front line in the left sub-section of the 35th Division’s front south of Martinsaart. It was an area any men who had served on the Somme in 1916 would have remembered, being close to Aveluy Wood.

Here everything was fairly quiet except when somebody or other was making a raid, which was pretty frequent, remarked Capt Charles ‘Chick’ Warren. Identification of the enemy in front was so badly needed that 14 days leave was offered by Brigade to anyone bringing in a live prisoner.

A few familiar faces rejoined, such as Capt Edmund Walker MC, who had been sent to England to recover from wounds received in November 1917, and Capt Charles Harold Hollis, who had been posted to the battalion during the March 1918 fighting and awarded a Military Cross for his bravery at Voormezeele in April; he would go no to be awarded two bars to his MC. Another previously wounded officer to rejoin was Lt Ted Hay, who had been wounded at the Tower Hamlets attack on September 26th, 1917.

At the close of the month, the battalion mounted a raid, led by Lt Edward Hope and vicar’s son 2nd Lt Edward Francis, with 32 other ranks in a bid to capture prisoners and machine guns. Francis, who had been posted to the 1/1st Battalion in April, and three men were wounded when they encountered heavy machine gun and trench mortar fire. They were out for three hours, but forced to return empty handed.

Another raid was made on July 3rd, this time with 2nd Lt Hugh Finding, who had also been at the front since April, being wounded. One other rank was killed that day, that being Pte Frank Mews, a pre-war boy bugler who finally made it to the front in June and was serving as a stretcher bearer with B Company.

According to Warren, a prisoner was eventually captured when a hapless and hungry young German made the mistake of venturing out to collect a loaf of British bread thrown out as ‘bait’.

One of them eventually came and was immediately grabbed by the leg and pulled down into our trench, said Warren, who was also acting as sniping officer. With his corporal he had regularly crawled into No Man’s Land looking for targets in the enemy line.

Two days later, a draft of 40 men arrived under RSM George Henry Benton, from Ely, who would take over as the battalion’s Regimental Sergeant Major. A career soldier, Benton has served in the army for nearly 30 years, becoming a Clr-Sgt Instructor for the original H Company at Ely. He replaced the wounded RSM, Basil Matthews. His tenure as RSM would last little more than a month, when he was wounded on August 6th and died of his wounds a day later, aged 41.

There was yet another raid on an enemy post during the night of July 8/9th, with Lt Sidney Taylor, a farmer from Woodditton who had seen service on Gallipoli with the Suffolk Yeomanry before being commissioned into the Cambs Rgt, leading 28 men. Three enemy posts were located but the barbed wire was found to be an obstacle to their progress. As one party cut the wire, they were spotted and bombed by the Germans, which resulted in two casualties. The following day the battalion was relieved and moved back to Rumigny for intensive training for two weeks.

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Capt 'Chick' Warren, from Wilburton.

RSM George Benton, from Ely.

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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