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1st Battalion Irish Guards – Report on the actions No. 4 Company and HQ Company 29th/30th January 1944

An account of the part played by No. 4 Company and Battalion HQ, in the night advance of 29/30th January 1944.

On the night of the 29th January the battalion had formed up behind the railway embankment with No. 1 and No. 2 Companies in front and No. 4 Company and the main body of Battalion HQ, bringing up the rear. At 2100 hrs under cover of an artillery barrage the battalion moved forward following the line of the railway which runs parallel to the main road. For three-quarters of an hour all went well and the advance was fairly rapid although it was a moonless night and the only formation possible was single file. Apart from the firing of our own guns everything was quiet.

By about 2150 hrs we calculated we must have reached, or all but reached our allotted position although no contact had been made either with the enemy or our own troops. Just at this moment firing broke out on our left flank, simultaneously a succession of verey lights and flares lit up the ground all around, and a moment later we were being shot at and shelled with a vengeance. Fortunately there was a cutting straight ahead of us and this provided good cover - at least against the machine gun fire. After the initial surprise an all round defensive position was rapidly organized by Captain D. Drummond, Commanding No. 4 Company. This defence was based on the cutting and around a railway man's cottage immediately to the left and slightly in rear. Lieutenants Boyd, White and Bland being each made responsible for a sector. At this time the machine gunning and shelling of our positions continued unabated, causing several casualties, including Lance Corporal O'Donnell (HQ), mortally wounded, and it seemed very possible that this might be accompanied by an attack by infantry. The probability of such an eventuality mode the need of our own support of first importance. In spite of continuous fire along the length of the railway line Major Young and Lieutenant J. F. Bell at once set out to bring up some mortars and machine guns.

Meanwhile wireless communication had been established with the battalion command post located at the Scots Guards HQ. By this means it was possible to get some idea of what had been happening to the other companies, but the situation still remained confused and Captain Drummond decided to send Lieutenant Lambert and Sergeant Bennett to contact the nearest Company, and thus, indirectly, it was hoped, the other two.

The next and greatest need was to evacuate the wounded of which there were by this time about half a dozen. An attempt to do this was made by the Intelligence Officer with two casualties, one of these a stretcher case, but an intensification of small arms fire along the railway line made any movement of this kind impossible and the project had to be abandoned, a little later another attempt was made by the same officer and Guardsman Miles to reach the RAP, and bring up a carrier. This attempt was successful and just before first light all the wounded were evacuated.

By this time the company locality had been considerably strengthened and platoon well dug-in. In the darkness and owing to the inaccuracy of the map it had been difficult to pinpoint our whereabouts but by daylight it was possible to get a better idea of the ground and to confirm that the position we had occupied was in effect, the one intended.