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Remembered Today:

C Coy, 2 RIR at Cugny 23 Mar 1918


askar-perisikan
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Morning,

I'm researching my grandfathers part in the Great war, and I am looking for some help as to the location of C Coy 2 RIR on 23 Mar 1918. I know the Bn was deployed east of Cugny along the road to Flavy, and were in contact during the late evening and night of the 23rd. They also at some point withdrew through Cugny and deployed approx 500 yards west of the village.

The reason for the specific location and movement of C Coy are that my grandfather was a Cpl in the Coy and was taken prisoner at some point on the 23rd (according to red Cross details). I am visiting the area in ten days and hope to locate the approx position (from his, unfortunately vague, discription), but obviously if I knew the line of withdrawal I might be able to tie it down.

I know there is a huge amount of experience in the Forum, and I hope that someone might be able to help.

Thanks.

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From March 21 through to conclusion of Cugny action - source 'Falls'

The 2nd Battalion, meanwhile, had moved out at 6.30 am. to the Quarries vacated by the 1st, to await events. At 10 a.m. 2nd-Lieutenant McFerran, M.C., the intelligence officer, who had gone forward to reconnoitre, was killed near Grugies, in the Forward Zone. Lieutenant C. R. W. McCammond was wounded about the same time. About 2 p.m. orders were received to take up a position on the Essigny - Grand Séraucourt road. But the move was unnecessary. The 1st Battalion was holding its difficult post faithfully and well, and repulsing every effort of the enemy to advance. At 4 p.m. the 2nd Battalion, which was suffering from the heavy shell-fire, was ordered back to the shelter of the Quarries.

At 7 p.m. there came orders for a company to attack Contescourt and recapture it. "D" Company was selected. Advancing with the greatest gallantry, it reached the village. The enemy, however, at the same moment poured considerably superior numbers into Contescourt, evidently for a new attack on the 1st Battalion's position. Great losses were inflicted on him, but the odds were too heavy. Both officers with the company, Lieutenant G. E. Lynch and 2nd-Lieutenant W. L. P. Dobbin, M.C., were killed, and there were not more than forty survivors left to fall back.

The division on the right had been meanwhile completely broken.

The enemy had burst through its Battle Zone about noon, and made steady progress thereafter, completely turning the 36th Division's flank at Essigny. Finally the situation grew so serious that the Fifth Army decided to withdraw the III Corps behind the Crozat Canal. And in conformity with this withdrawal, the 36th Division, which had hardly lost a foot of ground in its Battle Zone, had to go also. It was a bitter moment. The 1st Battalion was ordered to retire across the Somme to a position at Hamel, the 2nd to Happencourt, alter which the bridges would be blown. The move began at ii p.m. the 2nd Battalion covering the withdrawal of the 1st, and not completing its own move till 11 a.m. next morning. The Battalion's losses, with the exception of unlucky " D " Company, had been light hitherto, though it had fierce fighting before it could be disengaged that night. The 1st Battalion, on the other hand, had lost nearly half its fighting strength. Captain J. Brown was wounded and missing; Lieutenants S. Kerr, P. O'Kane, B. I. Hodgson, 2nd-lieutenants J. Kennedy and J. C. Thompson, killed; 2nd-Lieutenants H. Oliver, T. A. Valentine and J. Aiken wounded.

March 22nd dawned in mist almost as thick as that of the preceding day, but became clear rather earlier. The Division's right flank, represented by the 61st Brigade, of the 20th Division, which had been put at General Nugent's disposal, was behind the barrier of the Crozat Canal, and was held all day. The other flank, however, was now in trouble. The 1st Battalion was heavily engaged all day, but, with its flank on the marshes of the Somme, and with the 1st Inniskillings, of the 109th Brigade, most gallantly holding out in Ricardo Redoubt to the north, it was beyond the enemy's power to dislodge it, Across the river valley large bodies of enemy troops could be seen moving southwards from St. Quentin.

About 2 p.m. Ricardo Redoubt was surrounded, and the 1st Battalion ordered to fall back to Happencourt, where it maintained itself till dusk. That afternoon, however, the Higher Command decided on a further withdrawal, behind the line of the Somme, from St. Simon to Ham, in consequence of which all positions north of the river had to be abandoned.

The retirement began as soon as there was darkness enough to cover it. The 2nd Battalion marched along the river road, through Tugny, to Pithon, where it had billeted nine weeks earlier, and there crossed the river, marching into Cugny. Here, as the 107th Brigade was for the moment in reserve, the 61st and 108th holding the lines of the Crozat Canal and the Somme, the Battalion went into billets, posting piquets round the village, and had a much needed rest. Its commanding officer, Major Rose, had been wounded about the time the retirement began, and Captain T. Thompson, D.S.O., assumed command. The 1st Battalion followed across the bridge at Pithon, and reached Eaucourt at 3 a.m. after a march of eight miles. It likewise had a few hours' rest.

The great break-through had begun, and was to be completed the moment the Germans forced the line of the Somme and the Crozat Canal, as they did very early on the 23rd. Returned civilians were fleeing for the second time from their homes. From Ham many of the lightly wounded in the hospital had had to begin their movement to the rear on foot, the nurses walking beside them, as there were not enough ambulance cars for all. It goes without saying that vast quantities of food and munitions had been and were to be abandoned. A great proportion of the shell dumps were found intact when the French had advanced over this area in October.

Owing to an error on the part of a brigade on the left of the 36th Division and of some engineers, not only was the main bridge at Ham not properly demolished, but the crossing of the river at this point was not guarded. The enemy speedily crossed here, and was also across the Crozat Canal at several points at 11.30 a.m. The two battalions of the Royal Irish Rifles were summoned from their rest at 10 a.m., and each moved out of its village, the 1st digging in north and north-west of Eaucourt, the 2nd north-east of Cugny.

In the latter case the remains of " D" Company, strengthened by a draft of sixty-seven other ranks from courses and leave which had arrived that morning, was put in reserve, just outside the village. At noon word came that the enemy was in Flavy-le-Martel, two miles east down the road and well west of the Crozat Canal. The Brigadier, General Withycombe, told Captain Thompson that Cugny was to be held at all costs.

In early afternoon there were a couple of minor attacks, mere " feelers by patrols, which were dealt with suitably. Then comparative quiet fell. At 11.30 a.m. the 1st Battalion also received orders to move towards this threatened point on the main road, and took up a position on the right of its sister battalion, but with its right considerably refused. On its right were dismounted French dragoons. Second-Lieutenant W. N. McNeill was wounded here.

At 6 p.m. a general attack astride the road was launched by the enemy. The 2nd Battalion did not yield a foot, though a few men temporarily fell back into the village. The troops on the right of the 1st Battalion retired. The enemy got round its flank and tried to rush the headquarters, Lieut.-Colonel McCarthy-O'Leary being wounded, but remaining at his post.

It eventually fell back upon Beaumont-en-Seine, where it consolidated its position. And now the enemy had penetrated between the 2nd Battalion and Cugny, and the position was desperate. As darkness drew on, " A " Company was ordered to cover the withdrawal of the rest to a point west of the village. The enemy infantry pressed forward to the attack with the great dash and boldness shown by the Germans throughout this offensive, but "A" Company, and particularly its Lewis gunners, did magnificent work, raking the advancing waves and killing men in clumps. It then withdrew, skirting Cugny, now in enemy hands, and losing several prisoners by the way.

A party of "C,' Company trying to approach the village was challenged by a body of the enemy. Lieutenant R. B. Marriott-Watson, M.C., called out a reassuring answer in German, and quietly approached. There was a short and bloody scuffle in the darkness, and the Germans were bayoneted. Throughout the night the position just west of Cugny was consolidated by men who, though worn out and hungry, were strung up by good leadership to a point at which they were almost literally unconquerable. During the night the 1st Battalion got orders to take up a line in support of the 2nd. It dug in 700 yards behind the latter astride the Villeselve - Cugny road, with battalion headquarters in a sunken road near Montalimont Farm. Had it been known that the troops on the 2nd Battalion's right had retired in the darkness before enemy pressure, the 1st Battalion would doubtless have been moved farther forward to cover that flank. As it was, the 2nd Battalion was isolated.

About 10 a.m. on the 24th a new attack developed on the 2nd Battalion, the enemy making desperate efforts to debouch from Cugny, and also sweeping in on the flanks. Once again the attack was beaten off. By this time, however, there was a shortage of ammunition, and orders were given to fire at good targets - that is, at considerable groups of Germans - only. In view of the isolation of the position, orders were likewise issued for the companies on the flanks to be slightly refused. In executing this movement, D" Company had heavy losses, Lieutenant Marriott-Watson being among the killed. Soon afterwards Captain Thompson met a like fate, courting death in his efforts to inspire his men. The bravery and good leadership of this fine officer on the Messines Ridge has been recorded in an earlier chapter.

Captain J. C. Bryans now assumed command, and took advantage of a short lull to reorganize the line. This had hardly been completed when a new attack began. Colonel McCarthy-O'Leary sent forward messengers with orders for the 2nd Battalion to withdraw through the 1st. No answer was received, runners being all killed or wounded. In any case, Captain Bryans had orders to fight to the last, and had, more-ever, come to the conclusion that an attempt to retire over open ground, with machine guns on either flank, would mean annihilation. If his little force was to be destroyed ii: should die to better purpose.

The attack, accompanied by a flight of low-flying aeroplanes, swept in in overwhelming strength from the left, and a desperate hand-to-hand fight ensued. Sergeant-Major Ferris, commanding " B " Company, stood out as one of the most heroic of an heroic band. When the Germans finally closed, many men had not a round left to fire. They sprang from their entrenchments and met the enemy with their bayonets. In a few minutes all was over. The defenders were simply engulfed by superior numbers. It is impossible to give exact figures, but Captain Bryans estimates that there were some hundred and fifty men in the final fight, and that over a hundred were killed or wounded in the last hand-to-hand struggle, among the former being the Acting-Adjutant, Lieutenant M. E. J. Moore, M.C.; Lieutenant J. K. Boyle, M.C., aid and-Lieutenant E. C. Strohm were wounded and taken prisoner with Captain Bryans.

There cannot be many instances, even in the late war, of a battalion being blotted out so completely as this. Only the transport, a handful of employed with it, a few officers kept back, and those on leave were left. And if the incident was exceptional in this respect, it also stands out as an example of supreme heroism that should live for ever in the Regiment's memory. While the war lasted its details could only be guessed at, and it never received the public recognition it deserved. *

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Thanks very much for that, I will go through this on a map to orientate myself properly and relate it to the ground, when I get there.

My grandfather's story was he and some mates were seperated from the other members of the Coy during the confusion, and took up a position in a ditch in the dark. During the night they heard troops marching along the road , and thinking they were british stood up - you can guess the rest! He and his mates had only recently been subsumed into 2nd Bn RIR, having served in 10th Bn RIR up until the amalgamations in Feb 18.

Hopefully I will have some pics from my visit to post on the forum, as I suspect it's not an area often visited.

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  • 2 years later...

Has anyone got an exact location for the 24th March stand by the 2nd Battalion? The D56 runs east -west from Cugny, I wonder if the stand took place north or south of the road? Lieutenant Strohm's account gives little away in respect of position.

Jerry

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  • 3 years later...

Have just got back from visiting Cugny. My grandfather John Muir was captured here 24/3/1918. The Red Cross lists him as being "C" Company 2nd RIR. Having read and re-read what accounts I have found, they moved back to a line from the eastern Flavy side of the village late at night to a point 300 yards west of Cugny on the D56 Villeselve road. This I thought may have been by a present day memorial on the north side of the road. Captain Bryans account tells us that they were surrounded on three sides making the retreat to Villeselve far too risky. To see it for myself this side of the village is very exposed, flat, open country. And HQ at Montalimont Farm which is on this northern side further back.

Is this the point of the last heroic stand?

What has thrown me is Lt E Strohms account where they are a distance South of the village. He says the German officer assured them that the officers would get a burial in the cemetery which was only 200 yards away. I visited the cemetery and it is definitely on the southern edge of the village.

What is for sure is that it must have been pandemonium, I would have thought units would have been scattered and mixed up.

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