The HAC in the Great War - March 1917

The Imperial Mounted Division’s ammunition column on its way to Gaza, March 1917; the division’s 19th Brigade included the HAC’s A and B Batteries (Image courtesy of HAC Archives)

For the first half of March 1917 the 1st Battalion provided work parties supporting engineers in the construction of roads and railways behind the Somme front, before moving away from the area for training in the vicinity of L’Ecleme.

The 2nd Battalion spent the first two weeks preparing for an attack on Bucquoy. The Battalion replaced the Queens and Manchesters in the line on 13th March, after each had been reduced to 200 effectives, and were ordered to make a ‘strong patrol’ towards Bucquoy.

The Commanding Officer protested that the village was held in strength by the enemy but the patrols were ordered forward anyway and lost heavily in open ground in daylight. The Germans then abandoned the village two days later as part of a major and pre-planned withdrawal to a shorter line.

In their wake the country was devastated with great thoroughness: houses, barns, wells, cross roads and churches had been destroyed. Much work had to be done to repair the damage, particularly to the roads before the Battalion went back into the line at the end of the month.  
For A and B Batteries, March 1917 was the beginning of operations in earnest. They both  took part in the attack on Gaza which began on 24th March. The general plan was for two cavalry divisions to encircle Gaza from the east and north whilst infantry fixed the position from the south. The encirclement complete, success seemed to be assured with ANZAC troops actually fighting their way into the edges of Gaza, but Turkish reinforcements broke the ring and caused the Imperial Forces to retreat.

The two batteries completed exhausting night marches over deeply broken ground to find their new positions and there was a strong sense of missed opportunity and deep disappointment.