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Imperial War Museum War Partnership logoFirst World War - On this day...... 30th November 1917

 

Remembering the men from the Kingsdown and Creekside Cluster
who gave their lives in the First World War

On the centenary of their death, we remember

Fergus William Christmas (of Teynham)
b. 1893
d. 30th November 1917. Aged 24


Lance Corporal, TP/240830 [Enlistment Number 1047]
1st/8th Battalion - Middlesex Regiment
Remembered with Honour
Cambrai Memorial, Louverval
Panel 9, Stone D

Killed in Action

Cambrai Memoiral Louverval


Son of William Thomas (retired Royal Navy Pensioner in 1911 Census) and Frances Edith Christmas. The family home was shown in the record (1919) as Station Road, Teynham (his father's address, later crossed through in favour of 18 Barnesbury Park, Islington (1917) - the same address as Fergus's cousin, Dupree Christmas), but appears to have remained his mother's address? However, the CWGC gives "Sunnyside," Teynham, Kent, and yet Mrs Christmas is also shown as living in "Sunnyside", next to Wanstalls, Lynsted Parish. He could equally have been memorialised in either Parish!

Born in The Mariners, Kingston, Dublin. Residing on enlistment at No.14 Drayton Gardens, South Kensington, Middlesex. Here he identified his occupation as "footman". His surviving military records show he was 21 years and 5 months old and in "good" physical shape. He stood as 5 feet 6¼ inches with chest measurements of 31 and 33 inches.

In the kinship papers signed by Miss Dupree Christmas (cousin), 18 Barnsborough Park, Islington Fergus's full-blood relations were: brother, Albert Edward (20) HMS "Commonwealth"; sister, Lora [indistinct?], 28 Croftdown Road, Highgate; Victoria Mary [indistinct ?Raptalion?], Station Road, Teynham.

The War Gratuity for Fergus was £14 in addition to £8 5s. 5d effects that were mostly made over to his mother, Frances. Unusually, in this record, a share of the Gratuity payments (14s. 2d. each) went to: half-brothers William C., Edwin J., Christie. Initially, the same amount was made out to half-sister Eveline Duckpitt but later voided. This left £2 2s. 3d. "unissued".

Military Experience of Fergus William Christmas

Serving as Lance Corporal in the 1st/8th Middlesex Regiment, Fergus had the Regimental Number 240830; as a private, he was embodied in the 2nd/8th Middlesex Regiment his enlistment number was 1047, then 3631. This Battalion was a "second line unit" initially located at Hampton Court, then Staines. During his service, the 1st/8th Battalion remained in the 8th Division until 9th February 1916 when it transferred to the 56th (London) Division. It joined different Brigades in that time: the 85th Brigade until 27th August 1915; 25th Brigade until 23rd October 1915; 70th Brigade until 9th February 1916 after which the 1/8th Battalion sat in the 167th Brigade, 56th (London) Division.

Fergus was attested at Ealing Recruiting Office on 2nd October, 1914 - the date of his Medical Examination that allowed for his confirmation. He enlisted initially for four years. He was embodied and posted into the 8th (Reserve) Battalion on 3rd October; he was later assessed again as "fit for action" on 1st February 1915 before being posted into the Field (1st/8th Battalion) on 24th July 1915. Fergus was promoted to (unpaid) Lance Corporal on 22nd August 1917. At his death, he had served for 3 years and 59 days.

Initially, Fergus went to Gibraltar until he embarked on 22nd July 1915 aboard the H.T. "Nessian", bound for Marseilles where he disembarked on 25th July 1915 to join his Battalion "in the field" on 30th July 1916.

On 10th January 1916, he found himself in hospital with jaundice but returned to duty on 20th January.

He was wounded in action on 19th May 1917 with a gunshot wound to his right leg at Prévent. He was wounded again on 24th May in the right shoulder, at Le Treport, from which he was admitted to Étaples on 19th June. He later rejoined his Battalion, arriving on 6th July 1917.

Circumstances of the death of Fergus William Christmas

Fergus Christmas saw very intense fighting from 20th November 1917 until his death some ten days later. Prior to 20th November, 1917, 56th (London) Division was holding the LOUVERAL, MORCHIES and LAGNICOURT Sections of the Left Divisional Sector IV Corps, a total frontage of about 11,000 yards, the 3 Infantry Brigades being in the Line.

He was part of a significant battle that took place across that front, pushing towards Cambrai. For this purpose, command and control for the 8th Battalion Middlesex Regiment was transferred from the 167th Infantry Brigade to the 168th Infantry Brigade. Initial progress was made and proved costly to both sides. One narrative account (discussing the role of the 1st Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps) tells us through the "intense volume of fire delivered from rifles, Lewis guns and machine guns, the enemy were literally mown down in heaps after topping the rise some 200-300 yards from our front line." The same narrative account gives an account of great courage under extreme pressure.

"Farther west, the enemy's advance broke upon the 17th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, 2nd Division, which was in the act of withdrawing from an advanced sap and trench, judged too exposed to be maintained in the face of so powerful an attack.
Owing to the enemy being concealed in some dead ground, the attack developed with unexpected speed and the company holding the advanced position was ordered to leave a rear-guard to cover the withdrawal of the remainder. Captain W.N. Stone, who was in command of the company, sent back three platoons, and himself elected to remain with the rear-guard together with Lieutenant Benzecry.
This rearguard, assisted by our machine guns, held off the whole of the German attack until the main position of the 17th Battalion Royal Fusiliers was fully organised, and they died to a man with the faces to the enemy."

Scene of 30th November 1917The critical consolidation and blocking of counter-attacks could only take place by using all reserves of men, including cooks! The 8th Middlesex was fighting almost continuously from 20th November. A Commentary (below) describes the position - "At this time, from MOEUVRES westward to TADPOLE COPSE, a desperate struggle was taking place for the possession of the HINDENBURG LINE, in the course of which the enemy at one time reached the Battalion Headquarters of the 8th Battalion Middlesex Regiment, attached to the 168th Brigade, 56th Division. Here the German infantry were stopped by the gallant defence of the officer commanding the battalion, who, with the assistance of this headquarters staff, held off the enemy with bombs until further help was organised and the trench regained." The Brigade War Diary includes a formal Report for this period that gives insights into the case facing 8th Middlesex (the full transcription of this Report is transcribed below):

30th November: On 30th inst. Brigades in the line were disposed as follows:-

169th Infantry Brigade:
Q.W.R. on right of Brigade front
2nd London Regiment on left of Brigade front.
London Rifle Brigade old front line.
9th London Regiment (Queen Victoria Rifles) old front line.
168th Infantry Brigade:
4th London Regiment holding the defensive flank.
8th Middlesex Regiment (167th Brigade, attached) on right of Brigade Front.
London Scottish on left of Brigade front.
Rangers BEUGNY.
Kensingtons old front line.
167th Infantry Brigade: (less 8th Middlesex Regiment) FREMINCOURT, having arrived there about 4 a.m. after relief.

A German Division was seen to enter MOEUVRES that morning and more further North so a protective barrage was opened up all along the S.O.S. Line. "[The enemy] was also reported to be bombing down SHORT STREET but was being held. 168th Infantry Brigade reported at 1.8 p.m. that the right of the London Scottish had been cut off, the enemy having got in between them and 169th Infantry Brigade, and at 2 p.m. a pigeon message timed 12.30 p.m. came in from the 8th Middlesex Regiment, but that the H.Q. retired into the short C.T. E.19.a.3.8. where a block was built and the enemy held off, and subsequently a counter attack bombed the enemy back. Both battalions of the 168th Infantry Brigade stated they were hard pressed and in urgent need of reinforcements."

From these accounts of the action on 30th November, it is likely that Fergus died somewhere in the trenches or No Man's Land between TADPOLE COPSE and SHORT STREET. At a time when the German forces had broken the connection of front line British troops on the right flank, forcing the Headquarters of the 8th Middlesex to fall back to a Communication Trench from Short Street.

The events leading up to and including 30th November - 56th Division War Diary.

56th DIVISION: G.3/643

Report on Operations in Third Army from 20th November to 3rd December 1917

Preparatory Measures
1. Prior to 20th November, 1917, 56th Division was holding the LOUVERVAL, MORCHIES and LAGNICOURT Sections of the Left Divisional Sector IV Corps, a total frontage of about 11,000 yards, the 3 Infantry Brigades being in the Line.
On the 31st October the G.O.C. attended a Conference at H.Q. IV Corps when the scope of the Operations was explained. The role of the Division was ordered to be to hold its line and to be prepared to advance on the West of the CANAL DU NORD, should the attack have far-reaching results. Also with a view to distracting the enemy's attention and inducing him to scatter his artillery fire, the Division was to carry out feint ordered to improve the BAPAUME-CAMBRAI road from the D.G.T. lines up to the front line.
On the 6th November by order of the Corps wire cutting was also begun by Trench Mortars in order to deceive the enemy, and an average of 250 rounds of 6" T.M. and H.T.M. were fired daily about the QUEANT BIRDCAGE and on the wire of the HINDENBURG LINE in front of QUEANT.
The construction of dummy figures and dummy tanks commenced at once, so that by 19th November 12 full size dummy tanks were ready and from 200 to 300 dummy figures on each Brigade front.
On the 9th November IV Corps No. 17/4G of 8th November was received, and the Division received warning to be prepared to throw temporary bridges across the CANAL DU NORD, to take field guns on the MOEUVRES-BOURLAN and BAPAUME-CAMBRAI Roads.
It was also explained that the first object of the operations was to establish a line through PONTAINE-BOURLON and INCHY to join our present front line on the high spur in D.22.d., and that if the enemy failed to evacuate the HINDENBURG LINE near MOEUVRES and INCHY owing to the threat of a portion of 36th Division East of the CANAL, the 56th Division and Brigade of 36th Division West of the CANAL assisted by Tanks would have to attack between TADPOLE COPSE and the CANAL.
On the 9th November the Division received orders to repair the LAGNICOURT-QUEANT Road as far forward as possible.
On 15th November orders were issued by IV Corps to the effect that from 19th November the frontage of 56th Division was to be covered by 281st F.A. Brigade only, the 280th Brigade being placed to support the attack of the 36th Division.
On 14th November, the Corps issued orders for 56th Division to be prepared to join hands with 36th Division at whatever point it reached in its attack West of the CANAL, the dividing line being the N&S grid line dividing squares K.7. & 8. It was also ordered to patrol actively on 20th to get early information of a German retirement, and, in order to have a concentrated force ready to act in case of necessity, it was to relive one of the Brigades in the line on the night 18th/19th and hold the front with 2 brigades.
The above preparations were duly carried out and on the night 18th/19th inst. 167th Infantry Brigade extended its left and took over the frontage of 188th Infantry Brigade making a frontage of about 7,000 yards held by 167th Infantry Brigade. 168th Infantry Brigade concentrated in FREMICOURT and BEUGNY.
20th November: At 2 a.m. gas drums were projected into the HINDENBURG LINE opposite QUEANT and into the QUEANT and into the QUEANT BIRDCAGE.
At Zero hour smoke was successfully discharged along the whole Divisional front and a rapid bombardment was carried out opposite QUEANT. The enemy seeing the dummy tanks and figures through the smoke in the dim light was completely deceived and shelled heavily along the front. The dummy tanks were shelled up till about midday.
During the progress of the attack of the 109th Infantry Brigade on the West of the CANAL close touch was maintained by means of a Divisional O.P. (Officer Observer) and by 169th Infantry Brigade.
By 9.15 p.m. 169th Infantry Brigade reported verbally that 36th Division had reached a line about 200 yards North of the BAPAUME-CAMBRAI Road and that it had joined hands with it about K.1.b.8.7. having three Companies holding a line of posts North of the road with supports just South of it.
167th Infantry Brigade also established a post at D.23.d.2.8.
At 7.10 p.m. IV Corps issued orders for the 109th Infantry Brigade (36th Division) to hold the trenches it had gained and to join up on both flanks.
21st November: During the night patrolling was active, the enemy's outpost line being tested at many points but found to be still held as usual.
During the day 109th Infantry Brigade (36th Division) continued to work up the HINDENBURG LINE towards MOEUVRES, 169th Infantry Brigade keeping close touch with it by working strong patrols up the German outpost line. An attempt was made to get into the HINDENBURG LINE south-west of MOEUVRES but it was found to be strongly held.
Orders were issued to the Brigade at 11.5 p.m. to carry out a bombing attack up the HINDENBURG LINE on 22nd inst. With the object of capturing it from the dividing line between 36th and 56th Divisions as far as the LOUVERVAL-IPCHY Road. An entrance to the line was to be effected by following up troops of 36th Division then in the HINDENBURG LINE just West of the CANAL and also by a C.T. running from the German Outpost Line to the main line (E.25.b.7.4 – E.20.c.4.4.).
22nd November: At 11 a.m.169th Infantry Brigade commenced the attack on TADPOLE COPSE.
The 1/16th London Regiment (Queen's Westminster Rifles) entered the HINDENBURG LINE by the C.T. which enters the HINDENBURG LINE at E.20.c.4.4. and turned Northwards.
The 1/5th London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade) assembled at 9 a.m. in K.3.c. with orders to closely follow the troops of 36th Division, and to enter the HINDENBURG LINE at E.20.d.0.0. and follow up the Q.W.R. The attack was supported by a creeping barrage provided by an enfilade battery of the 36th Division on the East side of CANAL at a rate of 50 yards in 5 minutes.
At 2.40 p.m. observers reported that the enemy was shelling TADPOLE COPSE.
At 7 p.m. 188th Infantry Brigade reported that a reconnoitring patrol of the 14th London Regiment (London Scottish) had gained touch with the Q.W.R., and that it was apparently correct that the COPSE had been captured, also that the London Scottish were forming a defensive flank from the crater in D.24.c. to our old front line in D.22.d.
At 10.30 p.m. and 10.40 p.m. messages were received from 169th Infantry Brigade tending to confirm this and adding that about 3 Officers and 70 men had been captured together with 2 heavy and 1 Light M.G.
Orders were issued for 168th Infantry Brigade to carry on the attack on the 23rd as far as ADELAIDE STREET.
167th Infantry Brigade was also ordered to carry out a demonstration on its left flank with dummy tanks and figures as on 20th. At the same time 169th Infantry Brigade was to carry out a bombing attack up the C.T.'s leading from the HINDENBURG LINE to the HINDENBURG SUPPORT LINE with a view to gaining a footing in them and by thus isolating the garrison of MOEUVRES to help the 36th Division attack on that place.
On this night the 416th Field Company, R.E. threw a light bridge over the CANAL DU NORD on the CAMBRAI Road, the work, in spite of persistent shelling of the road and of the site, being completed by 6.30 a.m. 23rd inst. The road was also repaired to take horse transport from BOURSIES to the CANAL by the 512th Field Company R.E.
23rd November: Zero hour for the operation of 168th Infantry Brigade was 6.20 a.m. The main idea was to gain a footing in the HINDENBURG SUPPORT LINE between SHORT STREET and TADPOLE LANE and transform it into a strong locality, whilst at the same time making ground along the HINDENBURG Front Lien System as far West as ADELAIDE STREET. 169th Infantry Brigade on the right, after severe bomb fighting, was able to progress up the C.T.s, leading to the Support Line as far as E.20.a.0.6., E.13.d.5.0., E.13.d.0.5., E.13.a.4.4. but could not make further ground owing to the opposition encountered and the fact that the C.T.s beyond these points had been filled with wire by the enemy and been heavily reinforced.
As regards 108th Infantry Brigade, the attack was made by the London Scottish, who on starting operations found the enemy holding a strong prepared position on the East side of the LOUVERVAL-INCHY Road. At 11.45 a.m. the opposition had not been overcome and it appeared as if during the night some ground wad been lost in the Support Trench, and that the Germans had come back to D.18.d.8.8.
Here there was a high bank overlooking a deep valley running up into TADPOLE COPSE from INCHY which is not shown on our maps but was apparent from the contours on a captured German map.
By 3.45 p.m. it was reported that in spite of stubborn resistance the London Scottish had reached D.18.c.5.9. and D.18.b.2.1. and were pushing on, having captured 49 prisoners of 604th and 77th Regiments.
At 8.40 p.m. it was reported that the enemy was counter attacked vigorously the left flank of 168th Infantry Brigade between ADELAIDE STREET and BRISBANE STREET (D.18.a) and that our bombers had suffered heavy casualties. The B.G.C. 168th Infantry Brigade reinforced with 1 Company of 4th London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) and at 8.50 p.m. had to send another. Artillery support was given by shelling enemy lines of approach.
In accordance* with IV Corps orders, a second temporary bridge was thrown over the CANAL by the 313th Field Company R.E. and was completed by midnight. The first bridge was shelled and hit badly, three times, but was repaired satisfactorily under fire. [*At 4.15 p.m. 168th Infantry Brigade took over from 167th Infantry Brigade the frontage of its right battalion in our old front line.]
24th November: The situation of 168th Infantry Brigade was cleared by and it appeared that, as a result of the counter attack during the night 23rd/24th November the London Scottish were driven back along the Support Trench of the HINENBURG Front Line System as far as the INCHY Road, but hold their gains in the front trench to about D.18.c.0.9. In consequence of this, an attack, which 168th and 169th Infantry Brigades had been ordered to undertake with a view to making good the whole of the objective allotted to them for the 23rd isn't., was postponed & IV Corps ordered the position to be consolidated.
At about 3.5 p.m. the Germans again counter-attacked under a very severe barrage and the London Scottish were driven out of the Support Trench North of TADPOLE COPSE to as far as E.13.c.4.3.
They still held the front trench from D.18.c.2..9. on the left and were in touch with 169th Infantry Brigade on their right at the Brigade Boundary (E.13.c.4.3. – E.19.a.3.8.). Later a report timed 6.35 p.m. stated that they had drawn back their left in the HINDENBURG Front Line to just West of the INCHY Road, as they were too weak to hold such a long line.
On the 169th Infantry Brigade front no serious hostile attack developed but the heavy barrage caused casualties.
On the 167th Infantry Brigade front, the enemy shelled posts opposite QUEANT, and as it was thought that he might be preparing a raid or attack, the Brigadier reduced the battalions holding his frontage (5,500 yards) from 3 battalions to 2, so as to keep 2 battalions in hand for emergencies.
One R.H.A. Brigade was placed at the disposal of the Division to support it about TADPOLE COPSE and began to move up in the evening.
At 12 midnight the Division passed from IV Corps to VI Corps command.
At 11 p.m. VI Corps issued orders to the Division to endeavour to recapture the Support Trench of the HINDENBURG front line system as far as we held the front line in D.18.c.2.9., to consolidate the remainder of its gains, and to join up with our old front line in D.22.d.
During the night the London Scottish were relieved by 12th London Regiment (Rangers) in view of an attack next day to recapture our previous gains.
25th November: All reports at 12 noon showed that TADPOLE COPSE and MOEUVRES were absolutely quiet.
At 1 p.m. an attack was carried out by the Rangers and 4th London Regiment in order to regain the second trench of the HINDENBURG Front Line System up to the INCHY Road.
At 2.30 p.m. 3 Companies of the Rangers attacking up the C.T.s leading from the front trench had reached approximately E.13.c.10.75., D.18.d.6.8. and D.18.d.05.90, while a Company of 4th London Regiment attacking Westwards from E.13.c.4.4. was making progress but had not then reached far enough to join up.
26th November: The night was quiet except for desultory bomb fighting about TADPOLE COPSE.
The G.O.C. represented to VI Corps that he considered the Division too extended; that it had captured and was holding about 1 mile of the HINDENBURG Front Line System, that the right flank was not secure until MOEUVRES had been captured, and that the left flank on the TADPOLE COPSE Spur was exposed and was being constantly counter-attacked. He stated that 2 Infantry Brigades were involved in this fighting and in holding a defensive flank 2,000 yards long connecting up to our old front line, that the remaining Brigade was holding a front of 5,500 yards and had, in addition, to supply a battalion nightly for consolidation of the captured position.
There was, therefore, no Divisional Reserve, nor could any reliefs be arranged for the troops who had been fighting. [400 Gas Projectors installed in C.12.c. were projected into enemy lines opposite QUEANT at 10.10 p.m.]
27th November: By orders of VI Corps, 3rd Division placed one battalion of their Reserve Brigade at the disposal of 167th Infantry Brigade to be used only to reinforce in the event of an enemy attack. At about 3 p.m. the enemy again heavily attacked the trenches we held in the HINDENBURG Lien.
At 5.5 p.m. it was reported that the attack opened with a heavy barrage, that all lines were cut and that hostile fire had since died down.
At 5.30 p.m. a report was received by wireless from TADPOLE COPSE, and at 6.5 p.m. a verbal message to the effect that the attack had been repulsed by the Rangers and 13th London Regiment (Kensingtons).
On the night 27th/28th the 8th Middlesex Regiment (167th Infantry Brigade) was placed at the disposal of 168th Infantry Brigade.
28th November: There was heavy shelling about 7 a.m. particularly on the portion of line where the enemy attack had failed on the 27th. Reliefs of troops in the front line were carried out on night 27th/28th November.
29th November: The night of 28th/29th and the day of the 29th were particularly quiet.
A patrol of 167th Infantry Brigade captured 2 prisoners near MAGPIE'S NEST (D.13).
On the night 29th/30th the front of 167th Infantry Brigade was taken over by a Brigade moved 3 battalions to FREMICOURT.
30th November: On 30th inst. Brigades in the line were disposed as follows:-

169th Infantry Brigade:
Q.W.R. on right of Brigade front
2nd London Regiment on left of Brigade front.
London Rifle Brigade old front line.
9th London Regiment (Queen Victoria Rifles) old front line.
168th Infantry Brigade:
4th London Regiment holding the defensive flank.
8th Middlesex Regiment (167th Brigade, attached) on right of Brigade Front.
London Scottish on left of Brigade front.
Rangers BEUGNY.
Kensingtons old front line.
167th Infantry Brigade: (less 8th Middlesex Regiment) FREMINCOURT, having arrived there about 4 a.m. after relief.

At about 10 a.m. the 2nd Division on our right reported a heavy concentration of the enemy in Squares E.9.c. and d., W.15.a., c. & c. and E.14.b. & c. Also that a large body of the enemy estimated at one Division was entering MOEUVRES. These reports were confirmed by our own observers (Infantry and Artillery) and our Artillery opened a protective barrage on S.O.S. lines.
About 10.45 a.m. the S.O.S. went up all along the line.
From a message received at 11.30 a.m. from 169th Infantry Brigade it was evident that the enemy had gained a footing in his old support trench, and also in the front trench on the left flank of the 2nd London Regiment (R.F.). He was also reported to be bombing down SHORT STREET but was being held. 168th Infantry Brigade reported at 1.8 p.m. that the right of the London Scottish had been cut off, the enemy having got in between them and 169th Infantry Brigade, and at 2 p.m. a pigeon message timed 12.30 p.m. came in from the 8th Middlesex Regiment, but that the H.Q. retired into the short C.T. E.19.a.3.8. where a block was built and the enemy held off, and subsequently a counter attack bombed the enemy back. Both battalions of the 168th Infantry Brigade stated they were hard pressed and in urgent need of reinforcements.
At 12.50 p.m. 169th Infantry Brigade reported that the position was being restored in the old German Front Line, and that touch had been regained with 168th Infantry Brigade on the left by 2nd London Regiment, while the Q.W.R. were getting the front line back on the right.
At 1 p.m. the London Scottish were still in our old front line – touch had been regained with 8th Middlesex Regiment on the right but they were very hard pressed.
At 3.45 p.m. 169th Brigade reported they were definitely in touch with 168th Brigade on the left and with 8th Brigade (2nd Division) on the right – all were holding the old German front line. 168th Infantry Brigade also reported to the same effect.
Meanwhile at 10 a.m. 167th Infantry Brigade (less 1 battalion) in Divisional Reserve at FREMINCOURT, was placed in a state of immediate readiness.
At 1 p.m. 1st London Regiment (R.F.) moved to BEUGNY.
At 3.20 p.m. P.C.C. 167th Brigade received orders to send that Battalion on to DOIGNES, and to bring up his other 2 Battalions to BEAUMETZ & BENCHY. The DOIGNES battalion was to get into touch with 159th Infantry Brigade, but to still remain in Division Reserve.
At 3.40 p.m. 167th Infantry Brigade was ordered to place the DOIGNES battalion (3rd London Regiment) at the disposal of 169th Infantry Brigade.
At 4.35 p.m. owing to the heavy losses of 169th Infantry Brigade. 168th Infantry Brigade placed 2 Companies. Rangers, at its disposal to hold our old front line, and 3 Companies 1/5th Cheshire Regiment (Pioneers) were also ordered to join that Brigade for the same purpose.
At 5.20 p.m. 167th Infantry Brigade was ordered to bring up the 1st London Brigade (R.F.) and 7th Middlesex Regiment to LOUVERVAL from BEAMETZ and BEUGNY respectively.
At 5.45 p.m. the remaining company of Pioneers was placed at the disposal of 168th Infantry Brigade to hold our old front line, and 1 Company was supplied by 167th Infantry Brigade from the battalion at LOUVERVAL for the same purpose.
At 7.10 p.m. as it was realised that the battalions of 168th & 169th Infantry Brigade (including 8th Middlesex Regiment attached to 168th Infantry Brigade), had suffered heavy casualties, one of the battalions of 167th Infantry Brigade at LOUVERVAL, was placed at the disposal of 168th Infantry Brigade for purposes of relief.

Reliefs were arranged as follows:-
169th Infantry Brigade.
L.R.B. to relieve Q.W.R.;
3rd London Regiment (167th Brigade) to relieve 2nd London Regiment
168th Infantry Brigade.
Rangers to relieve London Scottish.
1st London Regiment to relieve 8th Middlesex Regiment.
The most worn battalions of those relieved (vis Q.W.R. & 2nd London Regiment) were ordered to join the Division Reserve at LOUVERVAL under B.G.C. 167th Infantry Brigade.

1st December: By 5 a.m. the relief was complete.
At about 3.30 p.m. the enemy commenced a heavy bombardment of the trenches we held in the HINDENBURG LINE and outpost line. The S.O.S. went up and our artillery put down a heavy barrage. From movement noticed beforehand on the N.W. of TADPOLE COPSE it appeared likely that he would again attack that flank, but the attempt was crushed by our Artillery and no attack developed.
By 6 p.m. all was quiet. The shelling was very severe and the casualties heavy.
At 11.30 a.m. VI Corps wired to say that 31st Division would commence the relief of 56th Division on the night of 1st December. Two battalions of the leading 2 Brigades commenced the relief after dark of troops in our old front line, but 168th and 169th Infantry Brigades were ordered to keep one battalion in hand (3 Battalions in all) so as to be able to reinforce troops in the HINDENBURG LINE in case of necessity, and avoid involving the 51st Division before the night 2nd/3rd, when they would automatically relieve the front line.
2nd December: The relief by 51st Division proceeded after dusk, units of 56th Division being withdrawn to camps and bivouacs about FREMINCOURT ready to entrain.
3rd December: The relief was complete about 4 a.m.

The total casualties during the operation from 20th November to 3rd December, were:-

  Officers Other Ranks
Killed 9 202
Wounded 43 1,003
Missing 17 352


General Remarks

Bomb Supply: Although up to Z day the role of the Division was to carry out an attack over the open with the aid of tanks, the fighting which developed was almost entirely trench fighting with bombs.
No shortage of bombs, however, occurred, but the men employed at the Divisional Dump (11 men) were employed day and night detonating, and at one time the D.A.C. echelon had to be drawn on.
Preparations for Bridging: Both the light Bridges put up were of squared timber. The material having been obtained beforehand and sections of the sites obtained from Intelligence Sources and Maps, the bridges were erected at VELU several days before-hand, and all parts and joints carefully marked with luminous paint. The bridges were then taken down and packed on horse transport wagons so organised that the material arrived in proper order.
Communication: It was found that pigeon messages were very slow, probably due to the season of the year.
Trench Wireless Sets were used with success from positions within 200 yards of the Germans, being erected only at night and dismantled by day.
On account of the shelling, power buzzers were found unsatisfactory. The reliable method of communication was by runner from the captured trenches to our old line, viz: over about 2,300 yards of NO MAN'S LAND, and a series of relay posts was arranged. Visual Signalling was finally established and worked well.
Communication Trenches: 168th Infantry Brigade with the help of, on an average, 2 Companies 1/5th (E. of C's) Battalion Cheshire Regiment (Pioneers) and one Battalion of 167th Infantry Brigade (occasional help) dug a communication trench from D.29.a.8.0. to the Crater at D.24.a. central (about 1,300 yards as the crow flies). This trench being rather in line with the INCHY Road was somewhat subject to shell fire. 169th Infantry Brigade also with the help of 1 Company Pioneers, and 1 Field Company dug a trench from about J.5.b.3.5 to D.30.b.0.7. (1300 yards) which was less shelled. The BARBICAN and HOUNDSDITCH provided some cover, but in most cases reinforcements and supplies had to go over the open in full view of MOEUVRES from which it was impossible to obtain concealment.
Dugouts: It was found that the enemy had the position of his dugouts in the captured trenches carefully marked down, and was able to blow in the entrances of ¾ of them by shell fire, as they faced the wrong way.
Dummies: The dummy tanks were exact replicas of a real tank. They were made of light framework and canvas, and could be carried on a wagon or by 4 men. They were painted so as to appear to have sponsors etc. They were not supplied with wheels.
Smoke: A satisfactory smoke screen lasting 5 to 10 minutes was produced by us of "P" bomb and smoke cases.
Men at intervals of 25 yards had each 2 "P" bombs, and 6 single smoke cases, which were lit as rapidly as possible commencing with the "P" bombs.
A smoke screen was produced round the dummy tanks, which were some 300 yards in front of our trenches, by the use of mortars. This had been arranged so that they might be independent of the wind.
Machine Guns: During these operations the 56 Machine Guns in the Division (2 Companies of 16 guns and 2 Companies of 12 Guns) were used as follows:-
On 20th November: With each Infantry Brigade 8 Guns 24
In Divisional Pool 32
The 32 guns of the Pool were employed on 20th inst. In barrage work outside the Divisional Area to cover the attack of the 36th and 62nd Divisions.
They returned to Divisional control on the night 20/21st November.
On 21st November and subsequent days.
H.Q. of the Divisional Pool were in a central position at BEAUMETZ.
For the operations of 22nd inst. A battery of 8 guns were established in D.28.a. to provide a flanking barrage for the defensive flank which was formed from D.22.d. towards the enemy outpost line in D.24.a.

On subsequent days the guns in the pool were used for
(a) Protection of the flank – a maximum of 10 guns were employed on this.
(b) Protective barrage in D.18.a. & b. on HINDENBURG LINE, and D.18.c. on HINDENBURG SUPPORT LINE.
(c) Machine gun defence behind the Infantry in positions approximately near the Old German outpost Line in D.24., E.19 and 23. Some of these guns also brought an enfilade S.O.S. barrage on the HINDENBURG SUPPORT LINE, and on to the ground between that the Front Line.
(d) Holding our original line.
On the 30th November two defensive lines echeloned in depth were organized, so that a break through by the enemy would have been impossible without a prolonged bombardment.
The defensive flank was very strongly protected by M.G.s, in fact by day there was no other defence.
The M.G. barrage in response to S.O.S. was said by the Infantry to be effective.

Signed – F.A. Dudgeon, Major-General, Commanding 56th Division.
15th December 1917


Serving overseas from 25th July 1915, Fergus William Christmas was posthumously awarded the 15 Star, Victory and British War Medals:-

1915 Star
British War Medal
Victory Medal
1914-15 Star
British War Medal
Victory Medal

Family of Fergus William Christmas

Fergus Christmas Family

Click on image for larger version


Other Family Members and WW1: Brother - Albert Edward Christmas

He first served as an apprenticeship as "boy artificer" at HMS Indus from 29th July 1914. This was a shore establishment from 1906, which was the mechanics' training establishment and workshops at Devonport between 1906 and 1922. A number of ships were renamed whilst serving as depot and base ships for the establishment.

He then enlisted as an adult on 19th October 1916 for 12-years to complete on 19th July 1928.
By the close of the war, he was rated Engine Room Artificer, 5th Class (E.R.A.5): 1st July 1918 - equivalent rank to Leading Stoker; finishing his service as ERA Class 2, at the top of his chosen profession.
He appears to have spent most of his career in landside engineering including Chatham (HMS Pembroke II).
He received "very good" character references throughout his career.

Physically he is briefly described as: 6' (5' 10½" as boy artificer); Chest 39½" Hair-black; eyes-grey. Complexion: Fresh. He lived until he was 77 years old.


Additional Documents

[Contained in War Diary – an anonymous contemporaneous narrative account. The language is 'of the time'.]
THE STORY OF A GREAT FIGHT
(Being an account of the operations of the 47th, 2nd and 56th Divisions in the neighbourhood of Bourlon and Moeuvres, on the 30th November, 1917)

On the morning of the 30th November, 1917, the 47th (London) Territorial Division, were holding a front of about 5 miles extending from the eastern edge of Bourlon Wood to TADPOLE COPSE, in the HINDENBURG Line, west of MOEUVRES. From TADPOLE COPSE, the left brigade of the 56th Division formed a defensive flank across No Man's Land to our old front line.
The 56th Division has been in line prior to the British attack of the 20th November, in which its right brigade had taken part, and since that date had captured and held about a mile of the HINDENBURG Line west of Moeuvres, including TADPOLE COPSE. Almost constant fighting had taken place in this area since our attack, and the division, which at one time had been holding a front of 11,000 yards, had already been subjected to a very severe strain.

THE VALUE OF WORK
On the night of the 26th/27th November, the 2nd Division had taken over from the troops engaged in the original advance the portion of our front laying between BOURLON WOOD and MOEUVRES. The Division had recently completed a short period of progressive training, the great value of which at once became apparent.
Work had been begun immediately to restore order to the line gained in our attack. Our positions had been straightened out at certain points and consolidated. Communications had been re-established and improved strong posts constructed and wired, and supplies of ammunition and stores of all kinds brought forward. Had it not been for the promptness and energy displayed by all ranks in these tasks, it is doubtful whether the division could have weathered the storm which broke on its front on the morning of the 30th November, when the concentrated attacks of three German divisions were beaten off with most severe losses to the enemy.
The 47th Division, which had previously been holding another part of the line, on the night of the 28th/29th November had taken over our positions in Bourlon Wood and immediately to the west of it. Though the time at its disposal proved limited, on the 29th November much had been done to strengthen and reorganise the defences, and, in particular, batteries of machine guns had been arranged in depth to cover the approaches to the Wood.

A PROUD DAY FOR ENGLISHMEN
The story of the subsequent fighting on the BOURLON-MOEUVRES front is one so brim full of heroism that it deserves to take its place in English history for all time. The most determined attacks of four German divisions, with three other German divisions in support, were utterly crushed by the unconquerable resistance of the three British divisions in line. The 30th November, 1917, will be a proud day in the lives of all those splendid British soldiers, who, by their single-hearted devotion to duty, prevented what would have become a serious situation had they given way.

THE ATTACK BEGUN.
After considerable shelling during the night on BOURLON WOOD, the enemy's artillery barrage opened at about 8.45 a.m., being directed on our front line of posts and also with great intensity on the line of the BAPAUME-CAMBRAI road, severing all connection with the two right battalions of the 2nd Division.
Soon after 9 a.m. large numbers of the enemy were seen coming over the ridge west of BOURLON WOOD, against the junction of the 2nd and 47th Divisions. Our Artillery barrage, which at that time was intense, caught this advance, but, in spite of their losses, the German infantry pressed on. The left of the London Territorials was being forced back. Four posts on the right of the 2nd Division were wiped out. The situation was critical.
As the enemy's infantry appeared over the crest of the hill, however, they were engaged with direct fire by our field artillery. Machine guns in position in a sunken road south-west of BOURLON WOOD and in the SUGAR FACTORY on the BAPAUME-CAMBRAI road swept their advancing lines. The survivors of the 2nd Division's posts succeeded in getting to shell holes farther back and held on. While the artillery of both British divisions maintained a constant and accurate fire, rifle, Lewis gun and machine-gun fire inflicted enormous losses on the enemy, held up his advance, and eventually drove him back after three hours' hard fighting.
Farther west, the enemy's advance broke upon the 17th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, 2nd Division, which was in the act of withdrawing from an advanced sap and trench, judged too exposed to be maintained in the face of so powerful an attack.
Owing to the enemy being concealed in some dead ground, the attack developed with unexpected speed and the company holding the advanced position was ordered to leave a rear-guard to cover the withdrawal of the remainder. Captain W.N. Stone, who was in command of the company, sent back three platoons, and himself elected to remain with the rear-guard together with Lieutenant Benzecry
This rearguard, assisted by our machine guns, held off the whole of the German attack until the main position of the 17th Battalion Royal Fusiliers was fully organised, and they died to a man with the faces to the enemy.
It is impossible to make comparisons in an action such as was fought on this day, in which so many glorious deeds were performed, but the report of the Officer Commanding the 17th Battalion Royal Fusiliers concerning this incident adds distinction to the history of the regiment, and will be remembered as a devoted example of the greatest of all sacrifices. It runs:-
"Of the heroism of the rearguard it is difficult to speak. Captain Stone and Lieutenant Benzecry, although ordered to withdraw to the main line, elected to remain with the rearguard. The rearguard was seen fighting with bayonet, bullet and bomb to the last. There was no survivor. Captain Stone by his invaluable information as to the movements of the enemy prior to the attack, and his subsequent sacrifice with the rearguard, saved the situation at cost of his life. Lieutenant Benzecry was seen to be wounded in the head. He continued to fight until he was killed."

THE IMPORTANCE OF STRAIGHT SHOOTING.
The 1st Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps, on the left of the 17th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, were in action throughout this period, and masses of the enemy moved against them; but by their well-directed and intense volume of fire delivered from rifles, Lewis guns and machine guns, the enemy were literally mown down in heaps after topping the rise some 200-300 yards from our front line. Throughout the day formed bodies of Germans never got nearer than this to our position' though many individuals endeavoured to creep forward, until disposed of by our snipers and Lewis gun detachments.
Before mid-day the enemy again attacked on the whole front of the right brigade of the 2nd Division but was once more hurled back with great slaughter, offering very favourable targets at from 50 to 200 yards range to machine guns, Lewis guns and rifles.

PROMPT ACTION BY LOCAL COMMANDERS
Early in the afternoon, large masses of the enemy attacked on a front of nearly a mile west of BOURLON WOOD. On the left of the front attacked he was once more driven off with heavy loss by the accuracy and volume of our fire; but three posts on the extreme right of the 2nd Division were captured, and on the left of the 47th Division a gap was formed between the 1/6th Battalion and 1/15th Battalion London Regiments. This gap was closed by the prompt action of the officers commanding these battalions, who, with a reserve company and the staffs of their respective headquarter, including runners, signallers, orderlies and cooks, led immediate and successful counter-attacks.

GOOD WORK BY SMALL POSTS.
The garrisons of the three posts on the front of the 2nd Division fell fighting to the last and when the line at this point was restored, such a heap of German dead lay in and around the posts that it was impossible to find the bodies of our men.
In this locality, five other posts held by a company of the 1stBattalion Royal Berkshire Regiment, repulsed all the enemy's attacks and maintained themselves until our reinforcements had restored the situation. This company showed the utmost valour and steadfastness in a most critical period, extending over some 6 hours. The enemy made attack after attack, always in vastly superior numbers, and time after time came right up to our posts, only to be mown down by our fire and driven back in disorder. The casualties of this company were 46 all ranks. They claim to have killed over 500 of the enemy.
The story of the gallant fight against odds put up by the garrisons of these posts, both those who survived and those who died valiantly, constitutes one out of the many examples furnished by the fighting of this day of the supreme importance of the resistance that can be offered by small parties of determined men who know how to use their weapons and are resolved to use them to the last.

INFLICTING HEAVY LOSSES ON THE ENEMY.
As the result of their effort on this occasion, the 17th Battalion Royal Fusiliers reported at 1 p.m. that their line was intact, that they were in close touch with the units on either flank, and that the men were really enjoying the novel experience of killing Germans in large numbers at point blank range.
During the afternoon, a strong hostile attack was made upon the 141st Brigade on the right of the 47th Division. For some days the German artillery had been steadily pouring gas shell into BOURLON WOOD, until the thick undergrowth was full of gas. Many casualties were caused to our troops; and gas masks had to be worn continuously for many hours. None the less, when the enemy attacked, he was again hurled back with heavy loss. A distinctive feature of the defence was the gallantry of the Lewis gunners who, when the attack was seen to be beginning, ran out with their guns in front of our line and from positions of advantage in the open mowed down the advancing German infantry.
Later in the afternoon, the enemy made two other attacks against the right brigade of the 2nd Division. In each case he was beaten off with great slaughter, his losses being materially increased by the fire of an 18-pounder battery which got right on to his infantry in crowded trenches.

THE ATTACK AT MOEUVRES
Similar events were happening meanwhile on the left of the 2nd Division and on the right of the 56th Division. At 9.20 a.m. the enemy had been seen advancing from the north towards the Canal du Nord, and subsequently attack after attack was delivered by him on both sides of the canal against the 6th and 169th Infantry Brigades.
South of MOEUVRES the enemy succeeded in affecting an entry, but was driven back by a bombing attack after heavy fighting in this area Captain A.M.C. McReady-Diarmid of the 17th Battalion Middlesex Regiment greatly distinguished himself. When the enemy had penetrated some distance into the position and the situation was extremely critical he led his company forward through a very heavy barrage, and engaged the enemy with such success that the Germans were driven back at least 500 yards with the loss of many casualties and a number of prisoners.
On the following day this officer again led a bombing attack against a party of Germans who had broken into our positions and drove them back 300 yards, himself killing some 80 of the enemy. Throughout this attack he led the way himself, and it was absolutely and entirely due to his marvellous throwing that the ground was regained. Captain McReady-Diarmid was eventually killed by a bomb when the Germans had been driven back to the place from which they had started.
At this time, from MOEUVRES westward to TADPOLE COPSE, a desperate struggle was taking place for the possession of the HINDENBURG LINE, in the course of which the enemy at one time reached the Battalion Headquarters of the 8th Battalion Middlesex Regiment, attached to the 168th Brigade, 56th Division. Here the German infantry were stopped by the gallant defence of the officer commanding the battalion, who, with the assistance of this headquarters staff, held off the enemy with bombs until further help was organised and the trench regained.
Though much reduced in strength by the fighting of the preceding days, and hard pressed by superior forces, the troops of the 168th and 169th Brigades beat off all attacks. Queen's Westminsters, London Scottish and men of the 1/2nd Battalion London Regiment and 1/8th Battalion Middlesex Regiment, vied with one another in the valour of their resistance.

ANOTHER MOST GALLANT EXPLOIT
Later in the evening, another attack in force was made south-east of MOEUVRES, and the enemy once more affected an entry. In doing so, he isolated a company of the 13th Battalion Essex Regiment, 2nd Division, which was holding a trench along the west side of the Canal du Nord. Repeated efforts made by the enemy to gain further ground failed through the determined efforts of the 13th Battalion Essex Regiment and the 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment.
Their successful defence was undoubtedly greatly assisted by the heroic resistance of the isolated company of the 13th Battalion Essex Regiment. It would appear that at 4 p.m. this most gallant company, realising the improbability of being extricated, held a council of war at which the two surviving company officers, Lieutenant J.B. Robinson, and 2nd Lieutenant E.L. Corps, the Company Sergeant-Major A.H. Edwards and Platoon Serjeants C. Phillip, F.C. Parsons, N. Fairbrass, R. Lodge and L.S. Legg were present. It was unanimously determined to fight to the last, and have no surrender. Two runners, who succeeded in getting through, were sent back to notify Battalion Headquarters of this decision.
Throughout the night of the 30th November many efforts were made to effect the relief of these brave men, but all attempts failed against the overwhelming strength of the enemy. The last that is known of this gallant company is that it was heard fighting it out, and maintaining to the last a bulwark against the tide of attacking Germans.
It is impossible to estimate the value of this magnificent fight to the death, which relived the pressure on the main line of defence.

OUR LINE MAINTAINED
At the end of this day of high courage and glorious achievement, except for a few advanced positions, some of which were afterwards regained our line had been maintained intact. The men who had come triumphantly through this might contest felt, and rightly felt, that they had won a great victory, in which the enemy had come against them in his full strength and had been defeated with losses at which even the victors stood aghast.