The HAC in the Great War - April 1917



The Battalion had been in and out of the trenches since November 1914. It has suffered particularly at Hooge in 1915, and again around the Somme in October 1916 and many of the soldiers who had marched out of Armoury House on 12th September 1914 had been killed, wounded or posted to other units as officers. It had deployed 740 strong, had received many reinforcements, sent many men to become officers in other Regiments and had many killed and wounded. But although the individuals of the battalion had changed, the spirit had not; indeed under the pressure of constant operations it had strengthened even more as the fighting around Gavrelle was to prove.

As part of the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division’s 190th Brigade, the 1st Battalion operated alongside the 7th Royal Fusiliers (also a London regiment) and the 4th Bedfordshire Regiment.

Having sent a cable to the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, rejoicing in the United States joining in the war, on 15 April the 1st Battalion arrived at Bailleul on the frontline north-east of Arras, moving up to take part in the eventually successful attack on the German defences on the village of  Gavrelle. During this tour, the 1st Battalion’s support helped capture Gavrelle village and more than 2,000 yards of trenches.

After the first, largely successful attack on Gavrelle on 23-24 April 1917, the battalion only had about forty men left in each of its four companies. But the fight was not over. Gavrelle was now a British salient, jutting into the German lines but threatened from the north, and on 28 April the Battalion supported a second attack to neutralise this threat. Attacking over two days along the German trench systems, the Battalion seized positions that a frontal attack by an entire Brigade had previously failed to capture. D Company worked north along the old German support trench whilst Second-Lieutenant Reginald Haine led C Company on a parallel axis along the old German frontline and, after four attempts and many losses, captured a railway post, a key and thus well-defended strong point of 100 men. This was lost in a counter-attack that sought to surround the British garrison in Gavrelle itself but seven more German attacks were repulsed by accurate and sustained 1st Battalion fire. Then on the morning of 29 April Haine and his men retook the strong point and B Company, passing through Haine’s position and led by Second-Lieutenant Alfred Pollard, not only stopped the enemy counter attack in its tracks but drove them back beyond their start point with a sustained hail of mills bombs.  The threat to Gavrelle was thus removed.

Both Pollard and Haine were awarded the Victoria Cross. 
 
Second Lieutenant Haine was awarded his Victoria Cross for his actions at Gavrelle on the 28-29 April 1917. His citation reads:  our troops, occupying a pronounced salient, were repeatedly counter-attacked. There was an ever-present danger that if the enemy attack succeeded, the garrison of the salient would be surrounded. Second-Lieutenant Haine organised and led with the utmost gallantry six bombing attacks against a strong point which dangerously threatened our communication, capturing the position together with fifty prisoners and two machine guns. The enemy then counter-attacked with a battalion of the Guard, succeeded in regaining his position, and the situation appeared critical. Second-Lieutenant Haine at once formed a block in his trench, and for the whole of the following night maintained his position against repeated determined attacks.  Reorganising his men on the following morning, he again attacked and captured the strong point, pressing the enemy back for several hundred yards, and thus relieving the situation.  Throughout these operations, this Officer’s superb courage, quick decision and sound judgement were beyond praise, and it was his splendid personal example which inspired his men to continue their efforts during more than thirty hours of continuous fighting”.
 
Second Lieutenant Pollard was awarded his Victoria Cross for his actions at Gavrelle on 29 April 1917. His citation reads: “The troops of various units on the left of this Officer’s battalion had become disorganised owing to the heavy casualties from shell fire; and a subsequent determined enemy attack with very strong forces caused further confusion and retirement, closely pressed by hostile forces. Second-Lieutenant Pollard at once realised the seriousness of the situation and dashed up to stop the retirement. With only four men he started a counter-attack with bombs, and pressed it home till he had broken the enemy attack, regained all that had been lost and much ground in addition. The enemy retired in disorder, sustaining many casualties. By his force of will, dash and splendid example, coupled with an utter contempt of danger, this Officer, who has already won the DCM and MC, infused courage into every man who saw him”. 

During this month he 2nd Battalion was involved in fighting around Bullecourt whilst in Palestine A and B Batteries played a significant part in the 2nd attach on Gaza which, unlike the first, never seemed to have much prospect of success.