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Remembered Today:

Bucy-le-Long and the caves there


Tom Morgan

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Bucy-le-Long is about 7 km north-east of Soissons on the D925.

In or near the village there are some caves, and these caves are said to have been used by the British during the Great War.

Has anyone visited these caves, or does anyone know anything about the British use/occupation during the war?

I'd be grateful for any information.

Tom

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Hi Tom

This is from my "Modern History of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment 1914-1918' and concerns 1st Bn, 10th Brigade, there in 1914....

On September 13 10th Brigade crossed the Aisne at the damaged bridge at Venizel and joined 11th and 12th Brigades on the other side. 11th Brigade were the first British unit to cross the River Aisne. At 10 p.m. they arrived at Bucy Le Long, a village on the high ground to the north of the river. The Official History called 11th Brigade’s advance bold and that of 4th Division as ‘enterprising’. Brigadier General Haldane noted that since leaving Chevry, near Brie Comte Robert, on September 6 the 10th Brigade had marched 90 miles. Adding the retreat from Le Cateau the total was now 260 miles in 22 days.

DIGGING IN – BUCY LE LONG ON THE AISNE

The first battalion now spent 23 days from September 14 to October 6 just on the hills north of Bucy Le Long village which itself was just north of the River Aisne. This was the real beginning of trench warfare for the battalion as the ‘scrapes’ at Haucourt do not count. At night, or once during the day because of fog, they improved existing trenches and even dug a new one. There was a front line and a supporting line. ‘Entanglements’ were also put up; at this stage they were improvised and many farmers lost their wire fencing. They moved up to the line in the early hours of September 14 “under cover of the village, heavily shelled by the enemy’s artillery”. C and D companies were immediately thrown into a position called The Cave to reinforce the Rifle Brigade of 11th Infantry Brigade. The Cave was part of a network of sandstone caves which occurred at intervals behind the front line and provided ‘admirable cover for supporting troops’. The Warwicks HQ was in a cave. On September 25th Hamilton thought it was becoming foul with 300 men usually in it smoking and sleeping. On September 28 the position was visited by General Henry Rawlinson; he was a short-lived commander of 4th Division as Snow had been injured when his horse fell during the advance to the Aisne.

During the whole period the battalion regularly came under attack from German shelling, including heavy siege guns (90 pounders) at thirteen miles easily out of range of British howitzers, and sniper fire which caused casualties; 8 men killed and 24 wounded. Further casualties were probably avoided as the front line was ‘tucked into the hill’. One of those killed was 26 year old Private Joseph Myatt, whose father lived at Selly Oak and was very much the ‘old soldier’ with a service number of 68. He was killed when ‘B’ company was being relieved in the evening of September 22. Four days earlier Lieutenant Odber Knapton was killed – the first officer death in the battalion. He had joined the Warwicks in 1913. One other man was killed and 15 others were wounded by gunfire on that day. On September 17 German shelling left Bucy in ruins.

The third reinforcement joined on the 20th; one officer and 91 men. Men were still rejoining from Le Mans; 60 over September 23/24. On September 30 Lieutenant James and 167 joined from England to make the battalion strength 1045 other ranks and 20 officers.

For much of the time the battalion was unsure how strongly the Germans were holding their positions. However, on October 4 a French aeroplane drew sufficient German fire for Major Poole, now in command, to record that they were ‘fully occupied’.

Division required intelligence about Vregny Wood by the capture

of prisoners only using the bayonet and with a raid of about company strength and 10th Brigade chose the battalion as the wood was north of their trenches. Major Poole pointed out that no reconnaissance had been made by day. The order was now watered down to platoon strength with unloaded rifles. The eventual operation was led by Major Christie and six men just before dawn on September 26. They discovered that the wood was very dense and unoccupied. Also along the front line were positions called La Montagne Farm and the Muck Heap. Battalion headquarters were at the hamlet of Le Moncel, east of Bucy.

On September 15 Montgomery had written to his mother “I command my own company now as my major got his leg broken in our first fight; so I ride a horse as all company commanders are mounted”. Five days later he wrote again to his mother after receiving a parcel from his sister

“We get letters in strange situations. I eat the peppermints with a dead man beside me in the trench. I have been lucky so far as I have had some very narrow shaves.; on two occasions the man standing up next to me has been shot dead. ….I had an awful night in the trenches last night; it poured with rain all night & the trenches became full of water. I had to go forward visiting sentries etc all night to see they kept alert. Some were very far out to the front towards the German trenches & I crawled about on my stomach in mud & slush and nearly lost myself. The advanced German trenches are only 700 yards from us so I might easily have been captured by one of their patrols”.

On September 22 he noted that “it is no small responsibility being in command of 250 men on active service; it is really a major’s command and I am lucky to have it. I have two officers

under me but the responsibility rests on me & I am glad it does”.

On September 14 Hamilton noted that Captain Bentley was still under arrest. He benefited from the situation when he was promoted to captain two days later although it did not take effect for six weeks. On the 18th Bentley was still ‘with the Serjeant Major’ but ‘returned’ later in the day to resume command of ‘A’ company. On the same day Hamilton was sent to ‘reconnoitre in front and got up into a hayrick. Was seen. One shell struck the rick full and down I came quicker than when I went up’. On the following day Hamilton confided to his diary that “I wish I might command this company or had a captain I could trust to keep sober”. That day he had eaten in ‘an enormous cave’ which was explored but ‘could not get to the end of it’. On September 22 Captain Bentley was clearly frustrating Hamilton for he recorded ‘another hopeless dream about Bentley’. That day ‘A’ company spent the whole day in the cave before moving into the trenches near the other cave. On September 29 Bentley featured in another Hamilton dream. He noted ‘Couldn’t they find him a staff job?’ On October 4 Captain Bentley was court martialled and “given a chance and told that if his conduct was alright for the rest of the war the entry would be washed off his records altogether…..I feel sorry for him but can never forgive him for the risks he runs when drunk. The men will not follow him but nothing will induce him to believe this”. Unfortunately, as we shall see, Bentley did not see out the war.

Private R.G Hill described the Aisne position. “We dug in on top of the ridge beyond the river. We were 1100 yards from the enemy; and every four days we retired to a vast, evil-smelling cave,

where we got hot meals and remained for two days. Most of our casualties were caused when fetching water and rations from the village below”.

Montgomery had referred to Major Poole as a ‘first class regimental officer’. This is supported by his entries in the war diary at the end of the month where he writes down his ‘Notes on Campaign & Suggestions’. On October 1 he made the following remarks about the Bucy situation…..

“Very limited field of fire…..Forward trench too far in front of General line to be of much use….Right flank very insecure on account of 12th Brigade being echeloned too far in rear of it…Good skyline for repelling night attacks…Trenches not in direct view of anyone….The casualties occurred through men not taking cover in the trenches’ ……Equipment – cartridge pockets fastenings work loose and ammunition is lost…….Discipline. Noticeably worse than in South Africa probably due to socialistic ideas imbibed by reservists. Suggest do a week’s training & mustketry annually so do not get quite out of touch with discipline…….Outposts. Patrols by night are practically useless seldom going where ordered unless posted by an officer & falling back later close to sentry line…”

On October 6 orders were received to leave the Bucy area as the line was to be taken over by Chasseurs d’Alpine of the French Army. That evening B and C companies marched the 13 miles south to Hartennes; A and D companies followed the next day. At 10.20 p.m. that day the 10th Brigade marched a further 8 miles to Rozet St Albin. On October 6 the 2nd Battalion, also regulars of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, landed at Zeebrugge on the Belgian coast.

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Alan, thanks very much indeed for this reply and especially for taking to trouble to post such a full record. I'm really grateful to you.

Tom

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Tom

Send MJohnson a PM he might have some stuff

Cheers, Michelle

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Tom ,

Read your post with nostalgia . I believe the cave/quarry used by the Royal Warwicks is at point 134 on the Soissons IGN 2611O . It is easy to spot from a track from Ferme de le Montagne with woods on your right . I believe the track was driveable the last time I was there . As you leave the village on the D95 there are caves in the woods to your left past the cemetery which are huge and have badges of three regiments carved above the entrances , one German , one French and ours is of the Hampshires . There is graffiti in the caves . Would you like to see the badges if I can find them ?

Michelles Dad

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I certainly would, MD - but please don't go to any trouble. The information you have given about location is excellent so I could be looking at the real thing later this year.

Thanks very much for your input.

Tom

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Hello Tom ,

Will post the map and photos tomorrw first class so you should get them by Thursday at the latest .

No I haven't read the book but will have to discuss a copy when you get back . Have a great trip

Maurice

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