102nd Bn Tac Sign102 Bn Gif102nd Bn Tac SignBC COAT OF ARMS 1906102nd Bn Tac Sign102 Bn Gif102nd Bn Tac Sign
The Story of the 102nd Canadian Infantry Battalion
From BC to Baisieux by Sgt Leonard McLeod Gould HQ 102nd Canadians WW1


  

CHAPTER IX.

Frevillers-Training for Open Warfare-Huclier. Conteville and Berthonval-Intensive Training Intensified-Life in Rural France-On the Oppy Front Again-The Eve of Open Warfare

PATIENCE was needed for that drive to Frevillers, since we had been kept waiting on the road so that the whole Battalion could proceed together; consequently it was a cramped and tired crowd that "debussed" at Frevillers. Of all the weird and horrible words that ever crept into the War Vocabulary the two worst were "embuss" and "debuss"; to take the last syllable of a Latin trisyllable, graft on a prefix and, as compensation, to double the final consonant in order to force the accent on the last syllable, constituted an outrage on all the "ologies," but it afforded a cheap and effective method of describing the desired act, and was found in all Orders emanating from Higher Up. We "debussed," then, in the early hours of a beautiful spring morning, to find the country looking its best, and breakfast looking and tasting just three hours old-which it was, as our arrival had been expected earlier; and so, to bed.

It was soon made abundantly clear that our period out of the line was to be spent in hard intensive training to fit the Battalion for the open warfare which it was expected that we should be called upon to carry out later in the year, and an exceedingly comprehensive scheme of training was immediately drawn up by Brigade, the principal features of which were the time to be spent on Musketry and the arrangements made for regular field operations to be carried out under the conditions which we should meet in the real thing. In addition, it was desired to harden the Battalion physically as much as possible; exercise and open air were to be enjoyed to the full, and the time not actually spent in military training was to be devoted to open-air sports of every kind. It was absolutely necessary that by the time the call came the Battalion as a whole should be able to stand the fatigue of long and continuous marches. That this system of training was successfully carried out was proved up to the hilt during the following August, when a series of grueling night marches was immediately capped by a brilliant offensive and the quick following up of a retreating enemy. It is unnecessary to deal in detail with the events of the next two weeks; on days when there were no manoeuvres the mornings were devoted to drill or musketry practice and the afternoons to athletics. In this connection the following, paragraph from the Regimental Diary may prove of interest: "A great deal more zest and keenness in the matter of athletics was observable amongst the men than had been the case in 1917. This may have been due to the greater interest shown by the officers throughout the Battalion; moreover, we now had a sportsman as Chaplain, in the person of Capt. C. A. Fallon, who entered keenly into the men's pleasures." It is certainly true that if we had had more chaplains in the Corps of the type of Capt. C. A. Fallon the Cause of Religion would have benefited; he was not merely a chaplain and a good fellow out of the line; he figured that a chaplain had his uses when fighting was going on, and during the succeeding campaign he did invaluable work in the way of locating the wounded in open country and ministering to them under fire, and no award of the Military Cross was more popular throughout the unit than the one which bestowed that decoration on Capt. Fallon for his services rendered in the 2nd Battle of Cambrai.

Another entry in the Diary dated May 21st may be quoted: written as it was on the spot, it illustrates well the general feeling obtaining throughout the unit amid our then surroundings, and reads as follows: "Seldom have we felt so cut off from the war when in Corps Reserve as we have done in this village. On the eve of the 'Third Great Hun offensive, within earshot of our guns, which most nights can be heard muttering their barrages, close enough to St. Pol to hear the German bombs crashing therein at night, we seem to live in a world apart from the war itself. Never has our training been more severe; every day makes it clearer that when we move it will be to enter the bloodiest fight in which we have yet taken part, but our hours of rest seem to belie all this. This is probably due to the season and also to the phenomenal weather. We were in the Forward Area during the first beginnings of spring, and came out to find ourselves plunged suddenly into summer in an unravished part of the country where summer is at its best. A large number of men desert their billets at night and sleep under the trees in the open. This rest has put new life into the Battalion."

The weather was perfect; so hot that all training was carried out without tunics. Fortunately we were, for once, able to indulge in good bathing. Frevillers was situated close to La Comté, the village where we billeted before entering the Vimy Sector, and just beyond La Comté was an enormous quarry which had been flooded by springs with water. This formed a magnificent bathing pool; it was more than a pool; it was more like a lake, 450 yards by 150, and nightly it was crowded with enthusiastic swimmers.

On the 25th of the month we left Frevillers with its flowering cactus and charming denizens, some of whom we had known in Hersin whence they had fled to a more secure refuge when the March offensive began, and moved off to the Dieval area; here we were quartered in three villages, all about a mile apart, Headquarters, with "A" and "B" Coys., being billeted in Conteville, "C" Coy, and the Transport Lines in Berthonval, and "D" Coy. in Huclier. Brigade Headquarters  were situated at Dieval, about nine miles away; the 54th Bn. was at La Comté and Ourton, the 75th at Camblain Chatelain, and the 87th at Valhoun. The last-named was nearest to Brigade, and even the 87th was a good five miles away; never had the Brigade been so scattered. The training-ground selected for the use of the 11th Brigade was near Magnicourt, about nine miles from Conteville, and about six miles from the nearest Battalion, the 87th. Here the four units used to assemble twice a week between 'eight and nine o'clock in the morning; this meant rising at 2:30 a.m. in order to have time to get breakfast over and cover the distance in comfortable time to rest before the strenuous part of the day's work began; when the latter was over there was the long march home to billets. It may be imagined that after a few of these manoeuvres, carried out in hot weather over a dust-laden, country, the units began to feel physically fit. On days when there were no manoeuvres there was perpetual drill or inspection in the mornings and good hard physical exercise at games or athletic sports in the afternoons and evenings. On Sundays a Church Parade would be frequently held over at Brigade Headquarters in Dieval, necessitating a long day's march. In short, nothing was neglected which might serve to harden the troops and fit them for long marching under the severest conditions. Incidentally, about two miles from Conteville was a creek which served admirably as a swimming-bath. On June 15th, Divisional Sports were held at Pernes, where Capt.T.R. Griffith, M.C., and Sergt. R. L. Algie, both of the 102nd, won the 100 yards' and 200 yards' events respectively. We had a first-class Lacrosse team at this time, which won its way through to the Finals, but failed to beat the 47th Bn. Our Baseball team, which had previously held a good record, fell to pieces during the early part of the season and rallied too late to redeem the ground lost. At a later date Battalion Headquarters Massed Football team covered themselves with glory by winning the Brigade Championship. On Dominion Day, when a Corps Sports Meet was held at Tinques, Sgt. Algie, our only representative, ran second in the 100 yards' final.

No amount of physical perfection, however, sufficed to save the Battalion from an epidemic of "Spanish Influenza," which during June, made rapid strides throughout the Allied Armies in France. We-were fortunate in having within our area a disused aerodrome on which the hangars had been left, and we obtained permission to fit two of these up as temporary hospitals. Consequently we were able to-attend to almost all cases, who numbered something like 75 per cent of the unit, on the ground, without having to send them out to Field Ambulance. Very few cases were serious enough to need further attention than the Battalion Medical Detail was qualified to bestow and long before we were moved into the line the epidemic had subsided.

Seeing that we remained in Conteville for nearly six weeks it may not be out of place to try and give some description of the surrounding country and of life in general in French farming villages as seen by visiting troops. Conteville is a typical village, consisting of one main street and a couple of side issues, and was inhabited solely by a farming community. As is usual in France and Belgium, the farmers live in the village as a community and go out to their fields by day; it is rare indeed to find an outlying farmhouse. This system tends to wasting a certain amount of time in the coming and going; but it gives the farmer the advantage of living amongst his own kind instead of being isolated in the midst of his acres. The principal industry in the agricultural districts would seem to be the manufacture of manure, which is the pride and delight of every prosperous farmer; the more successful the agriculturist and the higher his standing in the community, the bigger and richer his manure heap. Every farmhouse is built round a large court-yard which is constructed after the fashion of a big swimming-bath, being graded from the level of the ground at the street end to a depth of about four feet at the other. In this excavation, which measures approximately 100 feet by 30, is heaped the valued treasure; here it festers in the rains of winter and the hot sunshine of summer, and it advertises the wealth and social standing of its owner by the richness of its effluvia. How it is that the natives do not die of typhoid is one of the mysteries which confronts the visiting Canadian, As may be imagined; in farms where the manure pile reaches up to within three feet of the front door and the dining-room windows no special sanitary precautions are taken to ensure the cleanliness of the cows and to prevent the infection of their milk. And yet the children thrive! Verily it raises a doubt as to whether our elaborate precautions on this continent are really justified. Whether or not the microbe is indigenous to the American Continent, it is very certain that his presence does not in the least annoy the inhabitants of rural France. Every village is dependent for its water supply on wells which are sank to an incredible depth; sometimes the rope on which the bucket hangs is broken and the villagers are content to use another well until a beneficent Providence sends along an Engineer unit to billet in the place, or some other military formation which will take steps to supply a new rope. Another thing which amazes the Canadian is that though the interior of the houses and all their fittings are kept scrupulously clean, and though the people themselves on Sundays and holidays appear in snowy linen and with well washed faces, no house is ever found to be equipped with anything in the shape of a bath; a tin tub big enough to wash clothes in, but by no means big enough to sit in, apparently suffices for any ablutions    which might seem to demand more accommodation than a hand basin can supply. These observations apply to every village in the agricultural district we visited during our period of service in France and Belgium.

Conteville itself has quite a standing in the neighbourhood, owing to the presence in its midst of a patron saint in effigy, St. Benoit by name. This was a vary devout person who lived in mediaeval times and made a pilgrimage to Rome, and his fame seems to have rested principally on some wonderful letters which he wrote home to his parish priest. A wax model of the good gentleman now lies in a shrine adjoining the church, very badly dressed in a shabby gown and a really disgraceful pair of socks, though the latter may possibly have been substituted for a good pair when the villagers heard that the Canadians were coming to live amongst them. The scenery round Conteville is beautiful in the extreme; the country is wide and rolling, well treed and apparently very fertile, though during our stay we saw no farming being done except by the wonderful French women, who from early womanhood to crabbed old age seem imbued with an absolutely tireless energy, and by a few old men and children. About three miles away over the fields lies St. Pol, quite a good-sized town, which showed many evidences of the proximity of the Hun artillery; moreover, his airmen made frequent visits in their big bombing machines, but the material-damage they did was very slight. At Martin l'Eglise, which lay close to our village of Berthonval, a Tank Corps was established, and it was here that we first became at all well acquainted with these strange monsters. Berthonval during our sojourn enjoyed quite a local reputation, though for a very different reason from that which gave Conteville its place in the sun; at Berthonval dwelt Juliette, and Juliette was a very fair damsel and exceedingly good to look upon, and what was far more important, Juliette managed to get, by means unknown, a regular supply of excellent liqueurs, which made life very pleasant for "C" Coy. and the personnel of the Transport Lines, who usually contrived to finish up each stock on arrival before the outlying companies had a chance to participate.

At length, on July 10, our time at Conteville came to a close, and we received orders to move forward. Lieut.-Col. Lister had left for England on leave eight days before, and when our move orders came Major Ryan was in command of the Battalion. There were some other changes to be chronicled; Lieut. J. L. Lloyd, who had just completed a six-weeks course, was promoted from the position of Assistant-Adjutant, which he had held, when he was not acting as Adjutant, almost continuously from the beginning of 1917, to the position of Second-in-Command of "D" Coy., and Lieut. W. W. Dunlop, M.C., was transferred to Headquarters to fill the vacant position. Lieut. C. V. McDermid was created Scout Officer in place of Lieut. R. Adams, transferred to the R.A.F. Lieut. W. H. C. Stanley undertook the duties of Bombing Officer during the absence of Lieut. R. Perry, sick, and Capt. W. McL. Walwyn was appointed Second-in-Command of "C" Coy.

It was 8.00 p.m. when we pulled out of Conteville on July 10th. Strange to say, we had few regrets at leaving; though we had been there much longer than in any other settlement we had never succeeded in establishing really friendly relations with the villagers; on our arrival they had stood aloof, and they maintained the same attitude throughout our stay. They were the only people with whom we came into close contact throughout our 33 months in France or Belgium who did not shed a few tears on our departure or with whom some correspondence was not later maintained. An hour before midnight we arrived at Dieval, where we entrained for Mt. S. Eloy, which we reached at 5.00 a.m, on the following morning, marching off immediately to Brant and Cliff Camps at Ecoivres, close at hand; here we found breakfast, after which we turned in for a few hours sleep, proceeding at 3.45 p.m. through pouring rain to a camp at Maison Blanche, the Transport going ahead to Ecurie Corner for the night, but returning next day, owing to excessive shelling, to a position next Headquarters. On the same day "B" and "D" Coys. went forward to Blanche Post, in the Reserve Line, where they were joined on the 13th by Headquarters, "A" and "C" Coys. being billeted in Roclincourt, The general lay-out of the ground round Blanche Post was slightly reminiscent of Zouave Valley in the days before the capture of the Ridge, but there was one added feature which was immensely popular, viz,, four cold water showers with heaps of water laid on. On the 17th we moved up to the Front Line in relief of the 87th. We were now back on the Oppy front, just to the right of the positions we had occupied in April, so close, in fact, that our Medical Detail used the same quarters for their Regimental Aid Post.

The feature of this tour was a successful raid carried out on the night of June 23-24 by "D" Coy. Two days were spent in preparation, during which some very valuable work was done by the Battalion Scouts, under Lieut. R. L. Gale, Intelligence Officer, in the course of a daylight reconnaissance of the trenches leading N.E. from our Front Line in the vicinity of the intended raid. When close to the block in the trench which marked the dividing line between the Hun and ourselves the Scouts noticed first a trap bomb and later a trap alarm; these they carefully avoided, and Pte. E. W. Fenton, carefully and quietly climbing the parapet, was enabled to observe the enemy's dispositions on the other side of the block in great detail. Had it not been that a raid was in course of preparation it would have been easy to kill or capture the Hun outpost, but this would have entailed increased vigilance on his part and would have imperilled the success of the larger operation. The raid itself followed the barrage at midnight, and was carried out by three parties, one under Lieut. J. H. French, a second under Lieut. T. W. Peers, with a third party in support, under Lieut, A. M. Morrison. The first party found more wire than had been anticipated, as the high grass had hidden it from view, and some difficulty was encountered in negotiating it; finally they cut their way through and entered the enemy trench, where they captured six prisoners and inflicted many casualties. The second party unfortunately lost time owing to the intense darkness, entering the trench on our own side of the block; by the time this mistake had been rectified the Hun had had time to escape, and only three prisoners were captured, though heavy casualties were inflicted. On our side we lost one Other Rank killed and 12 wounded, but the result of the raid was net gain, including, as it did, nine prisoners, the certainty of from 15 to 20 Huns killed, and the knowledge that many more had been wounded. Half the object of these raids was to weaken the enemy's morale, and now more than at any other time it was necessary to carry on this good work; on that account alone the raid would have been deemed successful; in addition, we brought back prisoners who afforded identifications and useful information. Illustrative of the spirit of our men after their nine weeks out of the line the Diary has the following:-"Pte. Wren lost his rifle in the wire, but he leaped into the trench and tackled the enemy with his bare hands; he seized two Huns by the throat, and dashed their heads together till they surrendered. Pte. Twell saw a comrade fall mortally wounded; he dragged him to a shell-hole and with his rifle fought off all efforts of the enemy to surround him; eventually he obtained assistance and brought the man in."

The Higher Command was more than well pleased with the work of the 102nd Bn. in this raid, as is shown by the following messages received: "My dear Lister,-Hearty congratulations to all concerned on your good work. The nine prisoners and the dead Germans leave a fine record. I am very much pleased. Your raid was as neat a one as has been pulled off. Special credit is due Ryan and Gale. Please congratulate all concerned for me. Congratulations have also come in for you from the Divisional Commander and from the G.O.C. 10th and 12th Brigades. Very sincerely, V. W. Odlum." Later the Brigadier forwarded this second message: "11th C.I.B. 28/7/18, My dear Colonel Lister,-I have just received a letter from Sir David Watson from which I quote: 'I have much pleasure in enclosing you herewith copy of a letter which I have received from Lieut.-General Sir A. W. Currie, Commanding Canadian Corps, in connection with the recent raid of the 102nd Bn. In speaking with me on this matter General Carrie expressed himself as greatly delighted with the splendid work carried out by this Battalion, as well as with the effort of the 54th on the same night. Would you be good enough to transmit these messages to the respective Battalions.' The letter from Sir Arthur Currie to which the Divisional commander refers is as follows: 'Dear Watson,-Please convey my congratulations to the G.O.C. 11th Brigade and to the 102nd Bn. for the splendid raid carried out by them, a few nights ago. I consider the operation a splendid success, showing in all concerned fighting qualities of a high order, Yours ever, A. W. Currie.' It gives me a great deal of pleasure to be able to add this message to the other congratulations I have already forwarded you, Victor W. Odium, Commanding 11th Canadian Inf. Brigade."

On the evening of the 23rd we moved out to Support, taking the place of the 87th. Our quarters here were distinctly poor and needed much improvement, some of which they received; incidentally the Hun made them more uncomfortable by throwing over a lot of gas shells every night. Whilst we were in this area we began to see signs of the times in the movement of tanks and cavalry, "The Day" for us was now approaching fast, but it was not to find us in the area where we expected to be, and when we were relieved by the 7th Bn. Royal Scots on July 31st and moved out to Ecoivres, we did not realize that we were taking the first step in a series of operations which were still further to enhance the fame of the Canadian Corps.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TOP

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 

Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Images The Author The VC Uncle Bob 29th Battalion Links

BATTLE HONOURS

"SOMME, 1916", "Ancre Heights", "Ancre, 1916", "ARRAS, 1917, 18", "VIMY, 1917", "Hill 70", ", 1917", "PASSCHENDAELE", "AMIENS", "Scarpe, 1918", "Drocourt-Queant", "HINDENBURG LINE", "CANAL du NORD", "VALENCIENNES", "France and Flanders, 1916-18".

Be sure and visit the 102nd Battalion`s Sister Unit - the 54th Kootenay Battalion

Visit the 21st Battalion from Eastern Ontario

In Memory of LEONARD MUNROE, Lance Corporal, 634116, 21st Bn., Canadian Infantry (Eastern Ontario Regt.), who died on, Saturday, 3rd November 1917. Age 22. Son of Peter Munroe and his wife Ellen McDermid, of Maxville, Ontario, resting at PASSCHENDAELE NEW BRITISH CEMETERY, Zonnebeke, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, Grave Reference, IX. E. 11., all Canada in Khaki  pictures courtesy of Leonard Munroe' s descendant Maj Don MacLean, Canadian Armed Forces.