First World War Project
Soldier Stories - 2nd Battle of Ypres
Letter of 8th December 1925, from A. Tong C.S.M. to the Editor of "The Dragon". ["C" Company Captured]
With reference to your article on page 390 entitled "An unrecalled counter-attack" I wonder if it could possibly be the small attack made by No.9 Platoon on the evening of the 24th when it was getting dusk. The Platoon Office I believe was 2/Lt. Jackson, or 2/Lt. Frampton, who had not long joined the 2nd Battalion. I am a bit doubtful about the officer's name as he was only with us a few days before he was killed. In any case he was a 2/Lieut. And was killed on the 3rd May. The only other officer it could have been was 2/Lt. Frampton. The original officer 1/c No. 9 was Lieut. Wilkins who had temporarily taken over Adjutant before being wounded on the 23rd April. At that time I was platoon sergeant and one of the L/Cpls I know was L/Cpl. Beck, and about 25 men. The object was, I believe, to go out to our right front to get in communication with "B" Company if possible, or other troops on our right flank. We came in contact with the enemy on the left of St. Julien, and cleared this portion, which appeared to be two or three farms close together.
L/Cpl. Beck was one of the wounded, he being shot in the leg when we were entering one of the barns. The doors were off and I suppose the Germans could see our forms entering, against the light through the doorway for they fired a volley through this as we were entering, wounding one or two, of which I know L/Cpl. Beck was one. After having cleared this place we built up a series of small posts around these farms and consolidated them with sandbags which we got from the packs of dead French Colonial troops (Zouaves). This position I should estimate to be about 800 yards in front of where the company ("C") had dug itself in, but to the right more (N.E.). This position was held until about 2 a.m. on the 25th April. 2/Lieut. Jackson or Frampton sent out pairs of men to right and left flanks but came in contact with the enemy. He made personal reconnaissance on several occasions to try and get in touch with our troops which were thought to be in the vicinity of St. Julien, but on all sides only enemy were encountered.
I personally accompanied Lt. Jackson or Frampton on the final attempt to establish communication with "B" Company, but no sigh or sound of our troops could be found, and as the enemy appeared to be getting active on both our flanks the officers decided to withdraw to the Company line before daylight, and at about 2 a.m. withdrew. L/Cpl Beck being wounded early in the evening was evacuated before this hour, I think it was somewhere about 8 p.m. when he was taken back, but he was alive, I know, after the war, although his wound was so bad he did not come out again. At the present time I believe he is drawing a disability pension. He might be able to make a statement if found.
Lieut. Port, D.C.M. (now retired) was C.S.M. of "C" Company and I should think he remembers the officer and myself with about 25 men being sent out on the evening of the 24th April 1915 from the line which we had reached on the morning of the 23rd April 1915, when we were sent up as part of Colonel Geddes' detachment. Colonel (then Major) Power, D.S.O. was in command at this time, but it is quite possible that all small happenings of those eventful days did not reach him, especially as our company commander (Capt. Ronald) was killed about that time. The officer of my platoon was killed on the 3rd May when we were left behind in the Salient to cover the evacuation of the Horseshoe with No.10 Platoon under Lieut. Howe (now Capt. G.R. Howe, 2nd Battalion). On the above date I was wounded in the leg and before being captured buried my platoon roll under some earth. It is quite possible had the officer kept a diary it would have been lost on that date, when he was killed, for the Germans occupied that position after the 3rd May 1915. Had our troops obtained the position, and had the salvaging of that area, a record of the counter-attack, I am sure, would have been found.
I am, Sir,
Your obedient Servant,
A. TONG, C.S.M.
Narrative by Captain Tomlinson – "B" Company 2nd Bn. Buffs
22nd April: As I was strolling back to my billet at St Jean in the late afternoon of April 22nd, dressed in my great-coat and a pair of camp slippers, after taking a hot bath in an adjacent farmhouse, I noticed a lot of excited looking Black fellows hurrying towards Ypres; some kind of native French soldiers – Turcos, we used to call them. Everybody seemed rather amused at them, as I was. However when I got to my billet by servant told me that the order had come round to fall in at once, so I dressed and went to my company. After a time the battalion moved off-not very far-and lay down. Soon after 9 p.m. I received orders from Major R.E.Power (who had assumed command of the battalion when Colonel A.D.Geddes took command of the troops in St. Jean) to reinforce the Canadians and report myself to the senior officer at St. Julien.
It took some time to collect my company which was lying in open order some little distance from Battalion Headquarters.
As we went along the Wieltje-Poelcappelle Road we met a staff officer who told me to report to 3rd Canadian Brigade H.Q. on the way; this was at the house in C22b, and, having left my company on the road, here I arrived between 11 and 11.30 p.m. (At any rate the Canadian counter-attack which had been timed to commence at 11p.m. had not yet been launched. I passed the Canadians, already formed up, on the way to Brigade H.Q.
The General to whom I reported myself said that I was to go on to St. Julien; report to the senior officer there and inform him that he suggested that my company should be used to safeguard the line between St. Julien and Brigade HQ. This suggestion, however, was scarcely discussed when I reported to St Julien. It was decided that I should go up to the front line trench, and the only question was how I should get there. The first idea was that I should march straight up the St Julien-Poelcappelle Road, brushing aside any Germans we might meet on the road. We actually debouched from the village and advanced some way up the road; the village was being plastered with shells. A Canadian Major (Kirkpatrick?) was with me and some of his men in rear of my company. When we had got a little way along the road we met a Canadian patrol retiring towards us, who reported that Germans were in strength on, and on both sides of the road. It was therefore decided to seek further instructions from the senior officer in St Julien, who then ordered that we should make a detour and enter the front-line trench further along (i.e. east). We were handed 15 boxes of S.A.A. to take up to the Canadians' front-line. By this time it must have been considerably past midnight.
We ultimately reached a point about 400 yards east of the St Julien-Poelcappelle Road, where we entered the Canadian trench. Here the Major & his men stayed. We were told to file along the trench towards our left, that is towards the gap left by the French retirement.
The Canadians left had just vacated the portion of trench actually abutting on the gap, and this portion we re-occupied. My left was thus on the St Julien-Poelcappelle Road. It was almost daybreak. Major McQuaig, who was in charge of the Canadian left, told me that he had begun to fix up a breastwork on the road to protect it from the Germans on the flank and in rear.
A breastwork certainly had been begun; it may even have consisted of two rows of sand-bags, but we had scarcely had time to improve it at all when it became light; and a few minutes later I realized that it was quite untenable. The Germans, in a French communication trench, were only about 40 or 50 yards away on our left flank (they shouted to us in French and were clearly audible) and, about 300 or 400 yards to our rear they lined the edge of a wood, along nearly the whole length of the company.
On the road, behind this breastwork (sic) we had, I suppose, about a dozen men. Three or four were killed (including Lieut. Laing) and as many wounded in less than 10 minutes. Laing and I both got hit through the cap and as we were examining them he got shot through the head. I was also shot through the right sleeve. I gave the order to withdraw, man by man, along the trench (i.e. to our right) about 20 yards to where the rest of Laing's platoon was. One man was killed (by fire from the rear) and another wounded whilst running along the trench.
Practically speaking there was no paradox; I lost, during the day, a considerable number, but, I think, all from fire from the rear or from "whizz-bangs", bursts of which were directed against different parts of the trench during the day.
Major McQuaig came along and remained at my end of the trench all day. We could not, of course, engage the German trenches in front, because in doing so we exposed ourselves to fire from the rear; so we kept our eye on the trenches with periscopes, and dealt with the enemy in rear.
As it became dusk Major McQuaig received orders that, under cover of darkness we were to bend our line back, pivoting on a point some way to our right, so as to connect up with ? Bn(Bde) Headquarters. This point I should estimate at from 300 to 400 yards along the trench from where I was - in fact the point where we originally entered it. The movement began the moment it was dark enough to move. Immediately afterwards, just long enough not to hurry us, the Germans started bombing up the trench - i.e. from our left. At one time my covering party was so near the advancing Germans that I was lightly wounded by a splinter of a bomb.
Arrived at the pivotal point, I was allotted the apex of the acute angle made by the new line with the old, and about the first 100 yards of the new line. Here we dug ourselves in with our entrenching tools which were all we had. The German bombing attack stopped about 100 yards short of our new alignment, and we were very little molested while digging. We made passable cover, but could not, in the time and with the tools available, make a continuous trench.
As soon as it began to get light, about 4 o'clock, we were subjected to a very severe bombardment, a continuous storm of shells of every description. I heard no Allied artillery firing. The bombardment lasted a considerable time, and when it was over the Germans made their assault against my front )i.e. from the left flank of the original front line trench) and left flank. At the same time they launched gas from their front line against the Canadians opposite them.
A certain number of my men had got mixed up with the Canadians the previous night and some of these managed to get away - perhaps a dozen. Most of my wounded had also succeeded in getting away, although, in spite of repeated requests, I had not been able to secure any stretchers.
I estimate at about 50 the wounded and unwounded men of my company who were taken prisoner. I was wounded about 1/2 an hour before the assault.