Howitzer that!


24th September 1914

The Bedfords joined the Dorsets in the morning along with the remnants of the Cheshires. the Norfolks had been attached to the 3rd Division on the 21st September. To bolster their dwindling ranks, Gleichen had a rag tag mix of troops attached to his command. He recalls “the K.O.Y.L.I., and West Kents (of the 13th Brigade), already holding the eastern edge of Missy, were put under my orders, besides the 15th Brigade R.F.A. under Charles Ballard (a cousin of Colin’s*), and a Howitzer Battery (61st)** of Duffus’s 8th Brigade.”

The History of the 1st Bn. The Dorsetshire Regiment highlights the danger they were in at this time: two battalions totally unprotected from attack with only one bridge to retire across without any supporting troops. This is a bit of a false claim, as there were a lot more than two battalions on the north bank of the Aisne, but the precariousness of their situation cannot be denied. It made everyone very edgy.

The Dorsets busied themselves during the day by developing a better defensive position, connecting support lines with lateral trenches, deepening existing trenches and blockading the streets of the village with anything they could get their hands on.

Perhaps it’s worth drawing back from Missy for a moment to get a better picture of why the 5th Division were here at all. High above the south bank of the River Aisne, in possibly the same cave the Cheshires had hidden in on the 13th September, we find Sir John French, Commander-in-Chief of the BEF, watching the action unfold over the Chivres spur and Missy. He observed “the clearance of this hill by our high-explosive shells. We found see the Germans flying in all directions to the rear, and we subsequently got reliable information that their losses on this occasion were very heavy.” It was here that he became convinced that observation of the enemy’s position was crucial to success. It was therefore critical, in French’s mind at least, that the 5th Division held onto the north bank of the Aisne in order for the BEF to maintain this supposed superior position over the enemy.

* Brigadier General Colin Robert Ballard was the Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment.

** Probably the outdated BL 6-inch 30 cwt howitzer

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