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1st/5th Battalion Gordon Highlanders

Battalion War Diary May 1917


Date         Diary
ORLENCOURT  1st - 11th May [Battalion out of the line - Parades, inspections and training held] 
ARRAS 12th  The battalion moved into billets at Hospice des Niellards in Arras. 
H13 d 9.4  13th  The battalion moved from Arras to the railway  embankment north of the Arras - Fampoux Rd where bivouacs were taken over.
H13 d 9.4  14th  The battalion devoted its time to cleaning the camp, improving cover and musketry training in the valley H13 d central.  Platoon training in the attack was also practised on the slopes in the NE corner of H13 d. 
H13 d 9.4  15th At 11.45 am, the battalion was ordered to proceed to move at 20 minutes notice as a hostile attack was expected on the Divisional front. 
  16th  At dawn, the enemy attacked our front trenches N and S of the Railway Embankment and at the same time placed a heavy barrage on the roads to the front line.  The camp at H13 b was shelled at the same time and the men were ordered to scatter along the embankment South of the road and North of the River Scarpe. An order was received at 4.15 am ordering the battalion to move off at once to the OPPY LINE (H16 d). The battalion moved off across country by platoons at 100 yards distance, along an overland track parallel to the ARRAS-FAMPOUX Road and about 300 yards north of it. The enemy was shelling the whole area with considerable violence, but with the exception of 15 men of ":D" Coy, who were hit at the railway H13 b the battalion reached the OPPY LINE safely. On arrival a message was received from the 152 INF BGDE, under whose orders we now came, to the effect that the German attack had succeeded in penetrating beyond the CHEMICAL WORKS and through ROUX and that the battalion was to move up at once to counter attack along the north of the Railway Embankment, retake the station buildings and then push on to CUPID and CURLY trenches.

The events of 16th-17th May are described in "The Life of a Regiment" pp.148-149:

The 5th Gordon Highlanders, detached from the 153rd Brigade and put under command of the 152nd arrived on the scene and was ordered to counter-attack to restore the situation at the Chemical Works and astride the railway. It was given no time to draw grenades or extra ammunition. Attacking with extra-ordinary gallantry and fresh by comparison with most of the infantry of the division, it regained all the ground lost as far as north as the railway, including the Chemical Works, and shot down many Germans as they streamed back.  At one moment it had recoiled in the face of a fierce barrage but had simply shaken out, waited for another chance, and gone forward again as soon as the fire slackened.  This again was a feat worthy of remembrance in regimental annals.

The 5th Gordons had more work yet to do.  North of the railway the British front line (Cupid Trench) remained in German hands. The Gordons were ordered to retake it in conjunction with a battalion of the 17th Division on their left.  They had only a few minutes notice, but they rushed Cupid Trench.  Unhappily, the battalion of the 17th Division was too far away when the orders reached it and never got to the scene.  This left the left flank of the Gordons open and they abandoned Cupid Trench. 

In a congratulatory message to the 51st Division, Sir Charles Ferguson gave special praise to "General Burns and the 152nd Infantry Brigade, whose tenacity and pluck saved an awkward situation."  The losses of the 5th were very high, 11 officers (4 killed and 7 wounded) and over 200 other ranks (38 killed, 179 wounded, 19 missing.) 

Place        Date           Diary
  17th  On the night of 17th/18th May, the battalion was relieved by 1/6 Black Watch, and returned to the OPPY LINE.
  17th - 21st  The battalion remained in the OPPY LINE, cleaning the lines, making shelters, improving cover, making latrines, collecting salvage etc. Small working parties and carrying parties were provided for work at Bde Hq and on CAMEL TRENCH, the new communications trench running from Bde Hq to CROW TR, the new front line. 
  22nd  B & C Coys relieved two Coys of 1/7 Argyll & Sutherland Hlds in CRUSH TR and came under orders of 1/7 Black Watch. 
  23rd - 27th  Companies in PANSY TRENCH carried on improvement of trench, shelters, latrines etc; and firnished one Coy per night as working party, deepening and improving forward trenches. 
  27th   Battalion was relieved on night of 27th/28 by 6th Black Watch in PANSY and CRASH TRENCHES and moved to FIFE CAMP [Not sure if CRUSH and CRASH are meant to be same trench. CM]
  28th  On evening of 28th site of FIFE CAMP was moved from BLANGY to G16.b.8.7 
  28th - 31st  During this period Interior Economy, bathing, Musketry and Bayonet Fighting were carried out.  On evening of 30th Battalion was entertained at Divisional Theatre. 

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Carolyn Morrisey