Battle of Messines Ridge
Road near Spree Farm - Battle of Langemark - Ypres
16th Btn. Royal Irish Rifles - Pioneers.
Preparations for the attack were well advanced and were to include 5 days of bombardment prior to the advance. As the ground over which the attack would take place was considerably churned up the Pioneers had prepared materials to help open roads and tracks very quickly behind the advancing troops, keeping them well supplied with essential ammunition and supplies. They were able to prepare markers for routes in advance including named signposts.
Another major surprise for the enemy was a line of mines which had been tunnelled under the German Front Line along the Messines Ridge – three of which were in front of the Ulster Division. The pioneers carried out additional work around Divisional HQ and communication trenches to the forward lines.
The Battle of Messines – June 1917
After dusk on Y, 6th June, the assault troops moved to their assembly areas and the 16th moved up to their Battle HQ. on Kemmel Hill, all in readiness for Z which was timed for 0310, 7th June. The Pioneers were to move to their forward positions the next morning.
At Z every gun on the 10 mile front opened fire and the semi-circle of mines exploded throwing debris half a mile into the air. The Pioneers reached their positions at 0630 and were given orders to proceed with their road and track clearance works at 0820.
Most of the roads and tracks were ready for wheeled traffic by dusk that evening.
At 1630 orders were given to start building communication trenches over the top of the ridge. That night over 1300 yards of trenches up to 5 feet deep were finished all signposted with previously prepared names to assist movement of relief forces in further waves of attack. On the 9th June the artillery track was finished to allow forward movement of Supporting Artillery.
The 36th Division was relieved by the 11th Division but once again the work of the Pioneers carried on givng their vital support to the new troops with the building of another 2 miles of new trench railway. The enemy had now recovered and consolidation of the newly gained positions was the order of the day. Work on the new trench railway continued between the 10th and 20th June and progressed well despite being a target for German Artillery particularly in the vicinity of L’Enfer Wood.
From the 21st to the 28th June, the Battalion was back on communication trenches and roads in the following areas.
No. 1 Company, communication trench north of Oostaverne running in a south easterly direction.
No. 2 Company, repairing and clearing road from Estaminet crossroads to In de Sterkte Cabaret.
No. 3 Company, Bob trench between Black Line and Mauve Line.
No. 4 Company, Bob trench between Mauve Line and Support Trench.
All this work was carried out at night and good progress made despite heavy enemy shelling.
During this period the Battalion was informed that on 30th June it would be transferred to the Fifth Army. Entry in war diary on 29th June was just one word “Rest!” with great emphasis on the exclamation mark.
At 0430 on 30th June the Battalion moved to new areas. Battalion HQ , 3 and 4 Companies to Watou with 1 and 2 Companies to Poperinghe.
All ranks could look back with satisfaction on the successful operations during the battle. There is little doubt that the support work by the Battalion greatly enabled the forward troops to hold on to the gains made, but in turn owed much to the meticulous preparation insisted upon by the Army Commander, General Plumer and to the achievement of tactical surprise. This would sadly not be the case in the next campaign where poor planning had a profound effect on the Battalion’s ability to provide adequate support.
Monthly Reports .
Battalion strength. 1st June, 43 Officers, 956 ORs.
30th June, 44 Officers, 930 ORs.
June Casualties. Other Ranks, 9 killed, 23 wounded.
Training and inspections 6th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment
Diary page is very faint and difficult to read. Due to this, a report of events during the Battle of Messines, is entered in a separate page on the 30th June 1917, which helps to clarify events.
1st Jun. 1917 - Battalion in training. Demonstration of physical training by Captain Kelso(?) Army Gymnastic Staff on grounds of the Border Regiment.
2nd Jun. - Battalion training. Battalion in attack.
3rd Jun. - Church Parade Service. Clothing inspection by second in command. Sport during afternoon.
4th Jun. - Battalion and Brigade rehearsal of Brigade scheme took place in the afternoon followed by conference.
5th Jun. - Battalion training conference during day. Retiring by sections practiced by company commanders. Front lines reconnoitered by company commanders. Brigade interactions rehearsed by officers as general guide lines for coming attack. (Best interpretation of difficult section)
6th Jun. - Battalion moved to Butterfly Farm for operations in the Brigade area on high ground. At 1130 attack from Messines and Wytschaede Ridge commenced preceded by heavy bombardment. Battalion awaiting orders at Butterfly Farm hadn't moved forward by 1130. (again best interpretation)
7th - 9th Jun. - A restricted report of events during the operations (unreadable) narrative ------ on other operations.
10th Jun. - Battalion ------ by 3rd Brigade
11th Jun. - Battalion ----- (unreadable)
12th-13th Jun. - Battalion ----- (unreadable)
14th Jun. - Battalion employed on ----- work. Kit ----
15th Jun. - Company Commanders ----- (unreadable)
16th Jun. - Battalion road marches.
17th/24th Jun. - Battalion in the reserve. Arrived in Tipgues(?) Area in the afternoon at 1400. -----(unreadable)
25th Jun. - Battalion commenced training. Order for reconnoitering by company commanders.
26th/27th Jun. - Intensive Training
28th Jun. - Intensive training. Battalion in the attack. 1730 demonstration by Infantry school of musketry.
29th Jun. - Marching in open order in the attack. All officers attended training with second in command.
30th Jun. - Disruption to training. Heavy mist all day.
A separate report on the 30th June is very enlightening and confirms that the war diaries were completed in pencil and are almost illegible through the passage of time.