How a Trench Raid V.C. was won
MUNSTERS’ PROWESS WITH THE SHILLELAGH
- HALF HOUR WITH THE HUNS.
The other day I read that among the list of new V.Cs was the following:
Lieut. Arthur Batten-Pooll, Royal Munster Fusiliers. For most conspicuous bravery while in command of a raiding party. At the moment of entry into the enemy’s lines he was severely wounded by a bomb, which broke and mutilated all the fingers of his right hand. In spite of this he continued to direct operations with unflinching courage, his voice being clearly heard cheering on and directing his men.
He was urged, but refused, to retire. Half an hour later, during the withdrawal, while personally assisting in the rescue of other wounded men, he received two further wounds. Still refusing assistance, he walked unaided to within 100 yards of our lines, when he fainted, and was carried in by the covering party.
I well recall the incident in connection with which Lieutenant Batten-Pooll won the highest decoration that can be awarded for valour in the field. We were up somewhere in the north of France preparing those series of preliminary bombardments which paved the way for the grand offensive later, and which I imagine worried the life and soul out of the German Headquarters Staff. Many will probably remember that in one of the official dispatches of the time special mention was made of the successful raids made by the Munsters and the Anzacs, precedence being given to the former, and right well they deserved it.
- ROMANCE OF THE WAR.
The story of that raid will yet constitute one of the romances of the war – how carefully it had to be prepared, how thoroughly every detail had to be thought out, how well practised the men had to become in the duties assigned to them, and how perfectly the co-operation of artillery and infantry had to be arranged. It is of the more human side of the story , however, that I would write. Though it was towards the end of June the rain was continuous, and I have seldom seen the trenches in a worse condition of slush and mud. The men cracked jokes at one another as they endeavoured to negotiate some particularly deep pool, and, as is their way, treated the worst side of life in the most good humoured manner.
We had completed our reliefs and made all our dispositions in good time, leaving some hours on our hands before the raiding party were to advance to their dangerous adventure.
Eight officers were to go out on the raid – this will give some idea of the magnitude and importance – and Lieutenant Batten-Pooll himself being a most modest and unassuming young fellow – a most kind and admirable gentleman, though I say it as one who had but a very brief acquaintance with him. There is not one of his comrades who will not rejoice at the signal honour that has come his way.
- THOUGHTS FOR HIS MEN.
Some refreshments were sparingly discussed, and just before leaving Batten-Pooll remarked to his company commander, Captain Humphreys: “By the way, here is 5 pounds which my mother sent me to be spent on the men of our company. I only got it today. Will you take charge of it ?”
There was no pessimism about him even then. He knew he was engaged on a desperate hazard, but it was not his way to talk about it. He only wanted to see that the gift intended for the men of his company should not fail in the event. His last thought before going over the parapet was one of consideration for the troops. Yes, Batten-Pooll deserved that Providence should be kind to him.
And what about the raid itself ? Well, the Munsters once again covered themselves with glory. While our men were out in No Man’s Land at the point of assembly, our artillery, at a given moment, belched forth such a fury of shot and shell as I have never seen before .. I have seen worse since, but this was the beginning of those great demonstrations of our artillery superiority which will finally, more than anything else, determine the issue in this war.
To hark back. Our men got into the enemy’s trenches with irresistible dash. They met with a stout resistance. There was no stopping or stemming the dash of the men of Munster. They rushed the Germans off their feet. They bombed and they bludgeoned them. Indeed, the most deadly instrument of destruction in this encounter was the short, heavy bludgeon in the shape of a shillelagh, the use of which, we are led to believe, is the prescriptive and hereditary right of all Irishmen.
- SUCH A DUBBING.
There is some verse, I believe, which speaks of – “The sprig of shillelagh and shamrock so green.”
The shamrock is the special badge of the Munster Fusiliers and it was the “sprig of shillelagh and shamrock so green” which gave the Huns such a dressing and dubbing on that night as they are not likely to have since forgotten.
Half an hour in their trenches and all was over. Dug-outs and all were done for. Of the eight officers, four were casualties, two, unhappily, killed, and two severely wounded, of whom one was Lieutenant Batten-Pooll.
Next day at the little cemetery behind our lines I saw the remnant of the raiders paying their last tribute of respect to those who had died that liberty and love and all happiness may live. Could those simple , silent, tender men who stood beside the rude graves be the fierce fighters who carried all before them in a mad and daredevil charge a few hours before?
Yes, they were, for though my countrymen are hot in war and reckless of everything, never did God give to any race tenderer hearts or gentler natures.