4th August 1914 - Britain declares war on Germany
On 4th August 1914, the Church Lads’ Brigade was on their annual summer camp at Ripon Yorkshire.There was hundreds of Leicester Lads gathered there when it was cut short with orders to immediately return home. There was much talk on the train journey back and rumours that the Army was to create a special battalion of which only CLB personnel would be enlisted.
In early September Lord Grenfell, the governor and commandant of the CLB, formally applied to the war office for permission to raise a service battalion of past and present CLB members. This was passed and on the 19th of September the 16th Battalion of the Kings’ Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) was formed at Denham, Buckinghamshire. After initial training close to home they moved to Rayleigh, Essex in March 1915 then returned to Denham in May. In June 1915 they moved to Clipstone Camp, Nottinghamshire and came under orders of 100th Brigade in 33rd Division and later moved to Perham Down, Wiltshire for final training in August.
17th November 1915 - Arrival in France
The Battalion landed in France at Le Havre on 17th November. A total contingent of 30 officers, 994 other ranks, 64 horses and mules, 19 vehicles and 9 bicycles. From the Le Havre, the battalion first moved, by train via Abbeville, to Thienne on 19th November and then after a few days in Boesegham they marched on to Annezin by the 30th November. Various course and training continued while different parts of the battalion are given some trench familiarisation in rotation. They moved to St.Hilaire on the 12th December, where they remained until the 28th December.
On 2nd January 1916, the first Sunday of the New Year, the battalion moves into the firing line for eight days in trenches near Bethune.The battalion's position comes under an intense bombardment that lasts for hours. As the firing and shelling dies down, the damage has to be repaired. The battalion is relieved on the 10th January. Their losses for that first Sunday alone were 9 killed and 27 wounded, and four others perish before the relief, with yet more added to the wounded list.
This deadly tour of the trenches sets the pattern for the coming months of warfare. Interspersed with periods of relief when training, working parties and organised activity never really stops. In one of their last actions before moving from the Cuincy sector, 2 officers and 40 men mount a night raid on the German trenches on 1st July 1916. In a bitter reminder of the perils of such actions, the raiders are caught by enfilade machine gun fire. Five are killed outright, 11 are missing or wounded, 15 are wounded and brought in.
On the 8th July the battalion receives orders to move by train from Lillers to Saleux. Their total strength is 27 officers and 877 other ranks. A series of marches takes them to Bercodel-Bercourt by the 13th July and the battalion “stands to” at 3.25am on the morning of the 14th. Picks and shovels are drawn (for trench digging), extra ammunition is issued at 220 rounds per man and each man is given two sand bags. The battalion marches to Fricourt at 10.30am. Orders are received for a Divisional attack on 15th July to take place on the enemy's switch line in front of Martinpuich. Zero hour is 9.00 am. The assault is to be carried out by the 9th Highland Light Infantry on the right and the 1st Queens on the left with the 16th KRRC in support and the 2nd Worcesters in reserve.
15th July 1916 - Attack on High Wood p>
7am. Commanding Officer and Company commanders received orders to go up and survey the ground of attack. The CO proceeded to headquarters of 1st Queen’s at the cemetery at Bazentin le Petit village.The three remaining Companies followed later and took up their position and were ready for attack at 8am. Orders were received, to act as circumstances required but attack must be closely supported and any gap between 1st Queen’s and 9th HLI must be filled when assault starts.
‘A’ Company, upon arriving at High Wood, took up positions along south east edge of wood. Here they received orders to advance through the wood to the further edge under the cover of our artillery barrage. At 9am when ourartillery barrage lifted, they were to rush through wood and capture a far trench at north corner of wood. The Company advanced in one line and after crossing the first glade in the wood they were fired upon by machine guns in a blockhouse. This blockhouse was reported to contain two or three machine guns which held up ‘A’Company's line of advance, causing many casualties.
When our barrage lifted, B and C Companies were ordered to advance. C Company came under hostile machine-gun fire directly as they began to advance and lost heavily. The Company advanced to the old line vacated by the 1st Queen’s along a sunken road running from north east corner of Bazentin le Petit village to north-west corner of High Wood. After reaching this position they remained there, awaiting further orders.
However upon seeing the 1st Queen’s retire owing to being held up by the enemy's wire being uncut and hostile enfilade machine gun fire, C Company joined up with the 1st Queen’s right flank. Here they remained during the whole day under fire from enemy’s machine guns and hostile sniping.
B Company advanced in lines of half companies on the right of C Company. The objective of the right flank of this Company was north-west corner of wood. Both lines passed over a line where the enemy had previously dug themselves in and went up hill, at the top of which they came in touch with the 9th HLI most of whom were lying wounded or killed. Here they met the enemy’s machine-gun fire and only a small party of 10 reached a position within 25 yards of the sunken roadway. Eventually only two of this party arrived back untouched.
At 11:30am ‘D’ Company was sent up to reinforce the 9th HLI. The 2nd Worcesters who were in reserve were also sent up to help the HLI. D Company held a position along south edge of High Wood. Here they remained all day under intermittent shellfire and continual machine gun sniping. At 8pm they withdrew to a line 50 yards back from the edge of the wood and dug in and made a support line in conjunction with the 2nd Worcesters, which ran from south corner of wood to HLI trench.
The next morning at 2:10am, orders had been sent out from Brigade that they should be relieved by the 19th Brigade. The 20th Royal Fusiliers came up and took up the line of support previously held the previous morning.
Information compiled and written by High Wood 2016 History group.