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The first hint of retreat came at half an hour after midnight, when an officer of the Machine Gun Corps arrived at " Clarence " with orders to take away the two Vickers guns which were there and with the information that a general withdrawal had been ordered to a position west of the canal. This was confirmed shortly afterwards by patrols of the 7th Queen's. These patrols had been sent up from the battle zone by the brigadier to deliver the orders to all the scattered parties of the Buffs and others which could he reached. Even now Colonel Ransome would not go back unless the order was confirmed, and his adjutant bicycled into Remigny to telephone for instructions. He, however, got a clear and distinct order that the Buffs were to retreat. So at 1.10 a.m. on the 22nd March the battalion head_quarters retired by small parties to the brigade at Liez, after destroying all papers and leaving behind many useful and pleasant stores. C Company had already arrived here with fragments of B, and soon after D Company came in, and before daylight in the morning the battalion had concentrated about La Faisanderie, but it now consisted of only three companies. The 55th Brigade Headquarters moved from Liez to Rouez.
It was later ascertained that the 7th Battalion The Buffs was the only unit of the 3rd Corps that was, on the afternoon of the 21st March, still holding out in the forward zone, and that its doing so resulted in other units being enabled to reorganize behind the Crozat Canal. At 2 o'clock in the afternoon the Buffs withdrew into a wood a little to the south and started to dig in on very empty stomachs. It was not, however, till 3.30 a.m. on the 23rd March that the battalion occupied its new position, as it had been called away to the support of the Queen's, and indeed very early on this date, too, C and D Companies had to be again placed at the disposal of the C.O. of that regiment, in order to fill a dangerous gap that existed between the left of the Queen's and the right of the East Surrey.
Everybody prepared himself for a new day's fighting, the 55th Brigade being now in support of the forward troops. At 6 o'clock a French regiment, which had been expected, duly arrived. This unit had been de_tailed to make a counter-attack on the town of Tergnier and was to be supported by the Queen's, who fought that day under the command of Lt.-Colonel Bushell. This counter-attack was duly attempted, but the Frenchmen were very shortly back amongst the Buffs again. They seemed a fine, resolute lot, and they said they had gone up with only thirty five rounds of ammu_nition per man and had expended it all. Moreover, they had lost their way in the mist. The story of this counter-attack is not the history of the Buffs, but it may be here mentioned that Lt.-Colonel Bushell of the Queen's was the hero of the attempt. He appears to have led his own fellows and Frenchmen too with the greatest gallantry, and he was rewarded with a V.C.
From 8 o'clock in the morning there was confused fighting in the wood, where nothing beyond a range of fifty yards or so could be observed. Wounded men kept coming back to where Colonel Ransome's little party was, and all brought with them the same tale of the enemy's steady advance. Both Captain Morrell and 2nd Lieut. Halliday of the Buffs were badly wounded. Both were very gallant officers and a great loss at such a time. It appeared to Colonel Ransome, who com_manded the Buffs, that it was not much use stopping in the wood: nothing could be seen, and it was thought that its northern edge was being passed by the enemy; so it was decided to take up two old lines of trenches and pits which existed in an orchard two hundred yards in rear, and the headquarters of both Buffs and Queen's, with all sorts of fragments of companies and other small units, fell back to this place and there remained all day fighting a grim battle with the advancing foe. There were nine machine guns with the party, but only just enough personnel to work them. It was principally a machine gun fight and for a long time our weapons did very well, but the enemy kept bringing up more and more, while our supply of ammunition began to fail as the afternoon drew on. Every effort was made to get up more from the rear, but the difficulties were too great to overcome, and the enemy gradually began to gain fire superiority. During the afternoon those com_panies of the Buffs which had gone forward by direc_tion of the O.C. the Queen's, as well as other advanced parties of British troops, had rallied on Ransome's posi_tion, which proved an invaluable post for the purpose. The opinion of the brigadier of the 55th Brigade on this point is as follows :
Part 5 ....
In the light of subsequent knowledge it is clear that the stand made here by Lt.-Colonel Ransome's force was of the greatest value not only to the rest of the brigade, but to the whole line in this vicinity. . . This stand was due in the first place to the skill and foresight of Lt.-Colonel Ransome in establishing a line outside the wood on which the withdrawing troops, scattered and dis_organized by the confused fighting in the wood, could be rallied and reorganized. In the latter part of the work Lt.-Colonel Ransome was assisted princi_pally by Major Tortise and Captain Snell of the 7th Queen's, and by Captain Black and Lieut. Howcroft of his own battalion. All these officers behaved with the utmost gallantry."
About 6 o'clock a French battalion which had come up behind the English party during the afternoon essayed a frontal counter-attack. There was no artillery preparation. The attempt was beyond praise as regards the gallantry of the soldiers who made it, but the brave Frenchmen were met with a perfect storm of machine gun bullets and they could not go on. After lying down for a few moments they got up and retired, and the retirement took the whole of the English first line troops with it. This was by no means a misfortune. Anxiety had been felt already about the possibility of holding the position till nightfall, but it seemed to be suicidal to attempt to retire before the German machine guns by daylight. However, fortunately these ceased fire as the hostile infantry came forward to pursue, and so our retirement was far less costly than could have been expected. It was a very mixed lot of men that went back through Rouez Wood. Frenchmen and all sorts of English units mixed up in great confusion as regards their ranks. A fresh line was formed inside the wood and Captain Black actually led a small party for_ward to check the pursuit, which prevented any great pressure before darkness set in, and the fugitives were able to collect, reorganize and march back to Villiguier Aumont. During this final phase Sgt. Browne and Pte. Coleman, two signallers who had greatly distinguished themselves on the 21st by mending the line from " Clarence " to the Fort under quite extraordinary difficulties and heavy shell fire, were wounded.
The march to Villeguier was without incident, though it was thought by some that the party was sur_rounded. On arrival, the details belonging to the 55th Brigade were directed on to Bethancourt, where Br.-General Wood, commanding, already was, as was also the 8th East Surrey Regiment. About 10 a.m. on the 24th March the 55th Brigade was ordered to withdraw to a line approximately east of Calomel; here it had the 53rd on its right flank and the 54th Brigade on the left. The Buffs, who were the supporting battalion of their brigade at first that night, withdrew later into divisional support, and at 7 a.m. on the 25th the whole division fell back to the line Grandru-Mondescourt_-Appilly and later to a position covering Baboeuf, these retrograde movements being carried out in good and soldier like order by platoons in artillery formation. At 2 p.m. on this day the Buffs were sent back to a position west of Baboeuf, to cover the canal bridge at Varesnes, and later to Varesnes itself, which was reached at 10 p.m. On the 26th March the whole of the 55th Brigade marched to Caisnes. The casualties suffered by the 7th Buffs between the 21st and 26th March amounted to :—Officers : killed, 1; wounded, 5; miss_ing, 11. Other ranks : killed, 17; wounded, 108; miss_ing, 410. When a force has to retire after fighting, it is generally quite unknown whether a man who fails to answer his name afterwards is dead or a prisoner of war. He is simply described as missing.
There are no photographs of him that I’m aware of
Wow Mick! thank you so much for the amazing reply. I've printed it as I know others in my family will be fascinated to read the account. I didn't know what battle and quite where, so this has filled in some massive gaps.
I hadn't been able to find out any information on where Philip worked and who for prior to WW1 so thank you for including that. Interesting to note when he went into hospital in 1939 he gave his profession then as chauffeur, he was by then living in Watford so not sure who he would have worked for then.
My search still goes on to find where he is buried but this is an amazing account of his time during the war which I've not seen before. Thank you so much.
A shame there are no pictures, hoping if there wasn't one of him alone maybe there would be one of the battalion.