West Yorkshire Regiment badge

THE LEEDS RIFLES

Territorial Army

South Africa 1900-1902

France and Flanders 1915-1918
Ypres 1915, 1917; Aubers; Somme 1916, 1918;
Albert 1916; Pozières; Arras 1917, 1918;
Bullecourt; Poelcappelle; Cambrai 1917, 1918;
Bapaume 1918; Messines; Kemmel; Marne 1918;
Tardenois; Hindenburg Line; Canal du Nord;
Selle; Valenciennes; Sambre.

Honorary Distinction Badge:

A Badge of The Royal Tank Regiment
With year dates 1942-1945
and two scrolls North Africa, Italy.

The French Croix de Guerre avec Palme en Bronze

The Emblem of the Canadian Maple Leaf

_________________________________

 

The Award of the

Croix de Guerre avec Palme en Bronze

An extract from

The Leeds Rifles 1859-1993

produced for

Bligny Sunday, July 16th 2000

© A. J. Podmore MBE, TD, July 2000
(reproduced by kind permission of the author)

 

 


 

THE LEEDS RIFLES (TERRITORIAL FORCE)

 

The Leeds Rifles were raised in the City of Leeds in 1859 when the Volunteer Force

was formed. Before war was declared in 1914 the Leeds Rifles deployed two

infantry battalions being the 7th Battalion and the 8th Battalion The Prince of Wales's

Own (West Yorkshire Regiment)(Leeds Rifles)(TF). Both battalions, each with an

establishment of 1,020 all ranks, had Headquarters in their traditional home of

Carlton Barracks, Leeds. The Volunteer Force had become the Territorial Force in

1908. At that time the West Riding Division was wholly formed by the Territorial

units in the West Riding of York. It was composed of three Infantry Brigades and

was self-sufficient in Artillery, Engineers, Transport, Medical Services - all those

Arms which would enable the Division to conduct operations in wartime. The two

Leeds Rifles Battalions formed part of the 1st West Riding Infantry Brigade (TF) [1]

 

THE GREAT WAR

The West Riding Division was at Annual Camp on Yorkshire's East Coast as war

clouds loomed in the Summer of 1914. War Office orders came through whilst they

were at camp and the Territorials were ordered back to their drill halls there to

prepare for embodiment. On 4th August 1914 the Territorial Force was embodied

and the Leeds Rifles mustered at Carlton Barracks. Former Leeds Riflemen and new

recruits flocked to enlist. As a result of the influx the two original Leeds Rifles

battalions were designated as 'First-Line' units and were renumbered as the 1/7th and

1/8th Battalions. Shortly after the Division was numbered as the 49th (1st West

Riding) Division (TF) and the Brigade became 146th (1/1st West Riding) Infantry

Brigade (TF).

Expansion was enabled by existing Leeds Rifles personnel forming a trained nucleus

on which an additional two 'Second-Line' battalions, designated as the 2/7th and

2/8th Battalions, were raised. Together with the Second-Line units formed by the

West Riding Division these two battalions became part of the 62nd (2nd West

Riding) Division (TF) and their Brigade became 185th (2/1st West Riding) Infantry

Brigade (TF).

The First-Line units in the 49th (1st West Riding) Division (TF) began their active

service in France and Flanders in April 1915. The Second-Line units of the 62nd

(2nd West Riding) Division (TF) at first carried out training and supplying

reinforcement drafts to replace casualties in the 49th (1st West Riding) Division (TF),

before proceeding on active service in France and Flanders in January 1917. By

1918 the British Army had sustained high numbers of casualties. As one result only

two of the four Leeds Rifles battalions still existed; the 1/7th Battalion with the 49th

Division and the 8th Battalion with the 62nd Division

 

THE MARNE 1918

March and April 1918 had seen two massive German offensives on the River

Somme and the River Lys. They then turned their attentions to the southern part of

the Allied flank on the River Marne near Rheims. Here the third German attack in

late May forced a huge bulge into the French Lines.

Amongst the defenders were the Yorkshire Territorials of The Green Howards and

The East Yorkshire Regiment in the 150th Brigade, 50th (Northumbrian) Division.

They had been sent to the French sector to rest, but the German offensive resulted in

their Brigade being massively outnumbered, and completely overwhelmed.

An embattled French Fifth Army needed urgent help, and called upon the British

Army to supply reinforcements. On 14th July 1918 two famous Territorial Force

formations, the 51st (Highland) Division and 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division, were

ordered to the Marne to act as a counter-attack force, and relieve a hard pressed

French Army.

It was as a result of the French call that the 8th Battalion (Leeds Rifles), commanded

by Lieutenant Colonel N A England, began their attack along valley of the River

Ardre on the morning of 20th July. On their left flank were their comrades in York's

2/5th Battalion. To their rear, in support, were Territorials of 1/5th Battalion The

Devonshire Regiment who had recently replaced the 2/7th Battalion (Leeds Rifles)

in the 185th (2/1st West Riding) Brigade. The ground was totally unlike the muddy

wreckage they were used to, the area was as yet unspoiled by war.

The Leeds riflemen steadily advanced through ripe fields of corn and rich

woodlands:

 

 "The valley of the Ardre varied from 2,000 to 3,000 yards in width. Much of it was gently undulating corn land, with the crops ripe for cutting, and of sufficient height to afford excellent cover for attacking or defending troops. The villages of Marfaux, Chaumuzy and Bligny lay on the slope to the river, bounded by steep ridges and spurs, and thickly wooded crests."

"Fighting of a kind vastly different from anything they had previously gone through now faced the West Yorkshiremen, and the 62nd Division generally. It could hardly be called open warfare for the attack would in places, have to be made through thick forests, and even to take up their assembly positions the attacking troops had to move up through almost impenetrable woods, in which the enemy still lurked. Guerilla warfare was a more appropriate term." [2]

 

A hail of enemy fire rapidly dispelled the seemingly peaceful illusion of their

surroundings, and brought back the reality of war. Supporting artillery fire came

from French and Italian gunners, whose barrage had fallen much too far ahead

leaving countless German positions untouched:

   "It was not long before the enemy's machine-guns joined their barking to the scream of the shells of the French barrage passing overhead. And soon men began to fall rapidly. Cross-fire, from the edges of the woods high up above the right flank, and from Cuitron and Marfaux villages, swept the front of the attack and it was very evident that the barrage had affected the enemy not at all, for everywhere his machine-guns poured a perpetual hail of bullets into the waves of advancing Yorkshiremen. The Lewis gunner was our first casualty. Birkell was killed by a sniper who seemed only a few yards away and somewhat in our rear. Connor was the next to be hit by another sniper just a few yards away who must have been hidden in a small clump of trees. Any slight move I made was immediately rewarded by a sharp crack from my attentive sniper and a neat little furrow curved along the rim of my shell-hole refuge. They suddenly began to shell this area of the copse. Heavies and gas shells followed each other in quick succession and I became covered with wet, muddy earth and almost choked with poison gas." [3]  

Within an hour the attack was held up, 43 Leeds Riflemen had been killed and 219

wounded or missing for little tactical gain. They attacked again on 23rd July, and

succeeded in gaining the high ground above Marfaux from where they could

dominate the enemy's positions:
 

 "There was no time for reconnaissance, and the troops were led to their assembly positions which were reached without loss. Almost from the outset of the advance at 'Zero' hour [6am] No. 2 Company, on the left, was held up by machine-gun fire, and suffered severe casualties."

"Within half-an-hour all officers were out of action, and command of the company taken by Sergeant J Horne who, with great skill and gallantry, handled his men well, leading them after some stiff fighting to the outside of the wood and establishing a post which afterwards proved of great value. No 1 Company, on the right, was more fortunate. Advancing in small sections and keeping touch as much as possible, the company cleared the edge of the wood of hostile machine-guns thereby enabling 186th Brigade, on the left, to go forward without being enfiladed by murderous machine-gun fire." [4]

 

This enabled the 'Dukes' Territorials of the 186th (2/2nd West Riding) Brigade to

attack. The 8th Battalion (Leeds Rifles) was relieved on the night of 26th/27th July

and moved slightly back to Ecueil Farm where it was reinforced with a draft of 10

officers and 200 men. The 8th Battalion (Leeds Rifles) was back in the attack on

28th July when their 185th Brigade had the task of recapturing the recently lost

French front-line at the Montaigne de Bligny (Bligny Ridge). The Battalion

attacked with the 1/5th Devons on their right and the 2/5th West Yorks in support.

The 8th Battalion had only just absorbed a large reinforcement draft. Many of these

were straight from England and had not experienced enemy fire. Amongst the 'old

hands' Lance Corporals had been made Sergeants, and Lewis guns manned by the

more experienced veterans. The Germans were skilfully concealed deep in the

woods, and the Riflemens' advance soon encountered heavy enemy fire from

numerous positions along the vital ridge:
   "It was still dark when the 8th advanced with only the faintest suggestion of the approaching dawn. All went well until the foot of the Montaigne [de Bligny] was reached. But by this time dawn had broken. Suddenly the sharp report of a rifle rang out, and then from all sides rifles and machine-guns spluttered and cracked from scores of hidden emplacements on the hillside." [5]  

Tactics quickly changed from being a massed battalion advance into a series of

rushes, in which section commanders steadily controlled the assault through a

seemingly endless series of deadly enemy machine gun posts:
   "Gradually progress was made and the line crept slowly up on the hill. Soon there was hesitation amongst the enemy troops and the West Yorkshires, rushing in with the bayonet, completed the discomfiture of the Germans for, though they gallantly tried to stay the advance of the British troops, they could not do so; eventually they turned and fled, and the whole line of attacking troops pressed on and drove the enemy from the crest of the hill Thus the Montaigne de Bligny fell to the victorious 8th West Yorks of the 62nd Division. It was a grand fight. Nothing could have been finer than the way in which all ranks went forward and, after the first check, resolutely set to work to sweep the enemy from the side of the hill." [6]  

The 8th Battalion (Leeds Rifles) losses were 14 killed, 96 wounded and 11 missing.

It had captured 69 prisoners, 9 machine-guns, as well as the all-important Bligny

Ridge. Their dash and gallantry was recognised by the Commander of the French

Fifth Army who decorated the 8th Battalion with the Croix de Guerre avec Palme

en Bronze [7]. The victorious 8th Battalion was relieved on the night of 30th July

1918 by Territorials of the 51st (Highland) Division.

The grateful Commander of the Fifth French Army insisted upon reviewing the West

Riding Territorials who had reversed the previously desperate situation of the French

Army on the Marne. The 'Dukes' Territorials of the 186th Brigade were selected to

represent the 62nd Division, and all members of the Division set-to to make them

something like presentable. The parade was so hastily prepared that only the gun-

carriage, and transport, wheels on the side visible to the inspecting officer were

polished; wheels on the other side remained crusted with the grime of battle.

Having achieved their task, the 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division left the Marne on

31st July 1918, and moved north to the British sector between Amiens and Ypres.

The succesful Allied counter-attack on the Marne brought about the collapse of the

German Spring Offensive of 1918. The bold German plan had failed. The

remainder of 1918 was to see the Allied advance to victory in which both Leeds

Rifles battalions, and both their West Riding Divisions, were to play an active part.

Of the 1/7th and 8th Battalions (Leeds Rifles) few Territorials remained who could

remember the idyllic annual camp spent at Scarborough over four years before.

Some 2,050 Leeds Riflemen had been killed on active service in France and

Flanders, thousands more wounded. Both Battalions later served as part of the Army

of Occupation in Germany. The Pelican [8] of the West Riding Territorials at last

placed its long poised foot firmly upon German soil on 15th December 1918. The

62nd (2nd West Riding) Division was the only division of the Territorial Force to

enter Germany. Whilst in Germany the 8th Battalion was formally decorated with

the French Croix de Guerre avec Palme en Bronze. It was received on parade by

Major W H Brooke MC, who had been commissioned with the Leeds Rifles in 1909,

and who had served continuously with the 8th Battalion throughout the whole of its

active service in France and Flanders.

In November 1922 the War Office recognised officially the award of the French

Croix de Guerre to the 8th (Leeds Rifles) Battalion. By 1922, only three [9] other

British Infantry Battalions were entitled to bear the medal. All these Battalions bore

the medal pinned upon a Cockade of the ribbon which was attached to the Battalion's

Regimental Colour. This was in line with the ruling that the award may only be

borne by the successor unit, rather than by the Regiment of which the battalion

formed part.

However, the Leeds Rifles had retained their 'Rifles' traditions in 1909 when the War

Office authorised Territorial Force infantry battalions to bear two Colours, King's

and Regimental. In keeping with custom, the Leeds Rifles therefore declined

Colours and chose to wear the French Croix de Guerre distinction in the form of an

authorised 'Cockade' [10] of the ribbon, which was worn on headdress. In time, the

wearing of the Cockade was limited to ceremonial occasions alone, and the honour

maintained by wearing the medal ribbon on shoulder straps, and later on the sleeve.

On the amalgamation of The Leeds Rifles into the Yorkshire Volunteers in 1969 the

custom of wearing the Croix de Guerre ribbon on uniform was continued.

In 1925, the 8th Battalion (Leeds Rifles) was awarded the battle honours Marne

1918 and Tardenois [11] for its part in the action. These two battle honours were

subsequently borne in the Regimental List of The West Yorkshire Regiment (The

Prince of Wales's Own) with 'Tardenois' also being selected by the Regiment as one

of the ten Great War battle honours to be uniformly emblazoned upon the King's

Colour borne by each battalion of the Regiment. In keeping with its traditions as a

Rifle Regiment The Leeds Rifles bore Tardenois on their cap-badge on a scroll on

the lower arm of the Maltese Cross.

The original Croix de Guerre decoration and citation was laid up by the 8th (Leeds

Rifles) Battalion within York Minster in 1921. Subsequent years saw the decoration

being taken out and Trooped by the Leeds Rifles during annual camp in order that

succeeding generations might see the award whose ribbon they proudly wore.

The decoration is today in York Minster and is displayed in the Chapel of The West

Yorkshire Regiment (now The Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire).

______________________________

 

 

AUTHORISATION OF THE CROIX DE GUERRE

 

 

 

 

 

CITATION

 

V° Armé

Etat Major

Bureau de Personnel
No. 5575/p    QC le 1 Decembre 1918

Extract of General Army Order No. 430

The General Commanding the Fifth Army cites in General Army Orders the
8th Battalion The Prince of Wales's Own (West YorkshireRegiment)
(Leeds Rifles).

This élite Battalion under the forceful command of Lieutenant Colonel Norman
Ayrton England, from July 20th to July 30th, took a brilliant part in the heavy
fighting that won us the Valley of the River Ardre.

On the 23rd July 1918, having cleared a path through the dense thickets of the
Bois du Petit Champ, it captured a vital position despite continuous fire from
enemy machine guns.

On July 28th 1918 with magnificent spirit it captured the Montaigne de Bligny,
strongly defended by enemy forces superior in number, and maintained the
position in spite of heavy losses and the desperate efforts of the enemy to
regain the ground.

(GHQ Decision No. 22389 dated 16th October 1918.)

Signed Guillaumat
General Officer Commanding V° Army.

________________________________

 

 

WAR OFFICE ARMY ORDERS - NOVEMBER 1922

 

 

 

 

Army Order Number 431

Grant of Honorary Distinction

His Majesty The King has been graciously pleased to approve of the

officers, warrant officers, non-commissioned officers and men of the

8th (Leeds Rifles) Battalion The West Yorkshire Regiment (The Prince

of Wales's Own) being permitted to wear in their headdresses on all

ceremonial parades, a Cockade of the Colours of the French Croix de

Guerre in commemoration of their exploits at La Montaigne de Bligny

in 1918, for which they were 'cité' in the Orders of the 5th French

Army.

 


 

ARMY ORDERS - NOVEMBER 1968

 Army Order Number 63    A/20/GENERAL/7239

 

Honorary Distinctions T&AVR

Her Majesty The Queen has been graciously pleased to approve that the

Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve units named below may be allowed

to wear distinctive emblems of dress to denote honorary distinctions

awarded to their predecessors as set out below:

The Ribbon of the French Croix de Guerre 1914/1918

The Light Infantry Volunteers

Battalion Headquarters and Headquarters Company (Shropshire)

The King's Shropshire and Herefordshire Light Infantry (Territorials)

The 51st Highland Volunteers

Battalion Headquarters and Headquarters Company

3rd (Territorial) Battalion The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment)

211 (Wessex) Casualty Clearing Station, Royal Army Medical Corps

(Volunteers)

The Leeds Rifles Territorials

 

 

Map showing Bligny

The capture of Bligny and Montagne de Bligny

 

 

NOTES:

[1] The establishment of the 1st West Riding Infantry Brigade was completed by the four TF Infantry Battalions of The Prince of Wales's Own (West Yorkshire Regiment):- 5th Battalion (Headquarters at York); 6th Battalion (Headquarters at Bradford); 7th Battalion (Leeds Rifles) and 8th Battalion (Leeds Rifles) (Headquarters at Leeds).

[2] [Source: The West Yorkshire Regiment 1914-1918. E Wyrall. Published by John Lane The Bodley Head Ltd. 1923.]

[3] [Source: The 62nd (West Riding) Division 1914-1918. E Wyrall. Published by John Lane TheBodley Head Ltd. 1920.] An account by Officer Command i n g ' D ' Company - probably Captain T P Reay. Oddly, neither Birkell nor Connor are listed as casualties in the Appendix to Wyrall's History of The West Yorkshire Regiment, nor in 'Soldiers Died in the Great War - The West Yorkshire Regiment'.

[4] [Source: The West Yorkshire Regiment 1914-1918. E Wyrall. 1923.] The 'Sergeant J Horne'mentioned might be 303966 Sergeant J Horner MM.

[5] [Source: The West Yorkshire Regiment 1914-1918. E Wyrall. 1923.]

[6] [Source: The West Yorkshire Regiment 1914-1918. E Wyrall. 1923.][7] The Croix de Guerre was established on 8th April 1915 by the French Government tocommemorate Mentions in Despatches, both to individuals and to units. The different class of Despatch may be recognised by the emblem on the ribbon:- Army despatch - Palme en Bronze; Army Corps despatch - Silver gilt star (etoile en vermeil); Divisional Despatch - Silver star; Brigade/Regimental/Unit Despatch - Bronze Star. The medal ribbon for the 1914-18 Campaign was green with seven narrow red stripes but for the 1939-45 Campaign was changed to green with two broad red stripes on the outer edges and three narrow stripes between. The Croix de Guerre is a common award to individuals and units of the French Army. However, it is the comparative rarity of the collective award to units of the British army which is the source of pride to the select few which received it. So far as it is possible to trace only twelve units of the British Army received the award. [Source: The Award of the Croix de Guerre to units of the British Army. G Archer Parfit. Gale and Polden. November 1973.]

[8] The Pelican was adopted as the badge of the 62nd (2nd West Riding) Division (TF). It wasdepicted with one foot poised and the Division vowed that the Pelican would not place its foot flat until it was on German soil.

[9] 2nd Battalion The Devonshire Regiment (2nd Battalion at Bois des Buttes, Aisne, 27th May 1918); 4th Battalion The King's Shropshire Light Infantry (TA) (1/4th Battalion at Montagne de Bligny, 6th June 1918); 6th/7th (Perth and Fife) Battalion The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders)(TA) (1/6th (Perthshire) Battalion at Chambrecy, 20th-30th July 1918).

[10] Cockade authorised by War Office Officers Dress and Equipment, Pattern Room No 0137/5/1816 (QMG7) dated 1st January 1923.

[11] Although the Regiment refers to the battle of 'Bligny Ridge' (as termed in the Croix de Guerre citation) the 'War Office Battles Nomenclature Committee' named the battle as Tardenois with qualifying dates of 20th-31st July 1918. The Battle Honour Bligny was awarded by the War Office but with the qualifying date of 6th June 1918 as part of the Battle of the Aisne 1918 (27th May - 6th June 1918). Only one battalion qualified for Bligny - 1/4th Battalion The King's Shropshire Light Infantry (TF).

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