Extract from war diary of 158 Brigade RFA
This section of the Long, Long Trail will be helpful for anyone wishing to find out about the day to day activities of the army.
This summary of the brigade war diary covers the whole period of its life from formation in April 1917 until well into 1919. Note that this was teh secodn 158th Brigade RFA to be formed; the first had already been disbanded by 1917..
The brigade was formed at Heytesbury on 13 April 1917 under Lieutenenat Colonel H. E. Hanson DSO. Batteries under command were 2/1st Shropshire RHA, 2/1st Berkshire RHA, 380 Battery RFA and 381 Batter RFA. The Brigade Ammunition Column was found from men of the two RHA batteries.
On 7 May 1917 the brigade moved to West Down on Salisbury Plain for firing practice.
The brigade sailed from Folkestone to Boulogne on 24 May 1917 and moved at first to one of the camps at nearby St Martin. Three days later a move was made by rail to Bailleul. Here the 2/1st Shropshire RHA was temporarily placed under command of the New Zealand Division for instructional purposes; the Berkshire RHA went to 4th Division and the others to 25th Division.
The brigade’s first casualty was sustained on 30 May, a man from 380 battery who was wounded. Gunner J. Courtenay of the same unit was killed next day. The first loss to the Shropshire battery was Gunner E. S. Cooper, wounded on 2 June 1917.
Subsequent movements made by the brigade are listed below. The locations given are those of brigade HQ; the batteries would have been close by.
22 June: Le Vean.
26 June: Ouderdom, by lorry. This is an area of camps, dumps and similar facilities, south east of Poperinge in the Second Army area of Ypres.
30 June: 2/1st Shropshire RHA attached to 113 and 149 Brigades. Camps shelled.
1 July: some men left battery to go to X/30 Trench Mortar Battery.
9 July: Ypres. Batteries take up positions near Zillebeke Lake, under orders of 8th Division.
13 July: move by lorry to Ouderdom and then on to Malo-les-Bains, near Dunkirk. Brigade HQ moves into casino. [The brigade was one of several moved to the coast to form the artillery for a forthcoming operation to land tanks and troops further up the coast – Operation Hush. This was a part of planning for a British offensive now known as the Third battle of Ypres, or “Passchendaele”. In the event the advance from Ypres did not achieve its objectives and the landing was cancelled. The brigade remained in the area for a considerable time, covering the British bridgehead over the estuary of the River Yser at Nieuport/Lombardsijde].
16 July: Batteries moved by canal barge to Nieuport-les-Bains (today known as Nieuwpoort-Bad). A period of intermittent enemy shellfire and responses to infantry SOS signals.
13 September: pulled out for rest and moved to La Panne.
18 September: returned to positions at Nieuport.
25 October: relieved and moved to area of Coxyde, brigade HQ being at St Idesbald.
27 October: by lorry to Vlamertinge, halfway between Ypres and Poperinge, taking over 32 Nissen huts.
31 October: relieved 64 Brigade in Gravenstafel area, near Zonnebeke. [Fighting still intense in Ypres area; ground conditions at Gravenstafel simply appalling]. Firing on Passchendaele village area.
8 December: relieved and returned to huts at Vlamertinge.
15 December: personnel marched to Oudezeele area near Steenvoorde and moved into billets in scattered farms.
29 December: moved to Busseboom near Ouderdom.
1 January 1918; moved “near Poperinge”.
7 January: moved to Brandhoek, a railhead halfway between Poperinge and Ypres.
9 January: moved by train from Brandhoek to Calais, going into “Overflow Camp” at Beaumarais while re-equipped with new guns.
19 February: moved by train from Calais to Arras.
March: brigade in intensive action against German offensive on Somme. See attached war diary.
12 April: moved to Gauchin-Legal.
13 April: to Robecq, north of Bethune, and taking up positions at Bois de Pacaut. [Arrived to strengthen this area, which had seen intensive fighting againt the second German attack, now known as the battle of the Lys, since 9 April. Very anxious time].
8 June: move to Givenchy.
The period June-July was spent in frequent moves between the lines at Givenchy and rest at Houchin.
29 July; to Festubert, north of Givenchy.
1 August: to Beuvry. Month and first half of September spent in moves between Beuvry and Houchin.
14 September: moved to Philosophe (north of Lens, near Loos) and relieved 4th Portuguese Artillery.
5 October: moved to Chapel Alley.
15 October: advanced to Hulluch [on old 1915 Loos battlefield, in wake of successful infantry advance that did not halt until the Armistice].
16 October: advanced to Meurchin, working with 44th Brigade of 15th (Scottish) division.
21 October: moved to Petit Rumes.
8 November: advanced on successive days to Paradis, Bourgeon, Tourpes, Huissignies. At latter place when fighting halted. These places are in Belgium, east of Tournai.
18 November: returned to Tourpes.
16 December: moved to Ormeignies, south of Ath.
17 December: moved to Horrues.
18 December: moved to area of Virginal-Samme and Hennuyeres, between Tubize and Braine-les-Comtes, south west of Brussels.
May 1919: diary ends with brigade at same location.
This extract from the Brigade war diary is from the original held at the National Archives in piece WO95/538.