Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Killed In Action during the British Counter-attack at Champagne

Oswald Dykes Riddell Dick served as a Lance Corporal with the 152nd Brigade of the 51st (Highland) Division. He regiment was known as the 1/5 Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders. During the night of 18-19 July the division troops were in action near Epernay, Champagne, France.

Oswald Dykes Riddell Dick was killed in action during the counter-attack at Champagne on 21 July 1918. That day's fighting was described by Major F. W. Bewsher in his book about the 51st (Highland) Division in World War I:

"It was arranged that the 152nd Infantry Brigade should take over the 153rd Brigade front and carry out a second attack. The general plan was that the brigade should advance on a one battalion front, the 5th Seaforth Highlanders leading, the 6th Gordon Highlanders next, and the 6th Seaforth Highlanders in the rear. Three objectives were selected for the attack, the first being the northwest edge of Bois de Coutron, the second the southern slopes of the Bois de Eclipses, and the third the northern slopes.

The 153rd Brigade were to form such defensive flanks as became necessary during the progress of the attack, the 7th Gordon Highlanders on the right and the 7th Black Watch on the left. On the right of the Highland Division the 62nd Division were to attack with a view to encircling the Marfaux locality from the north while the 9th French Division were attacking on the left, the village of Paradis being the particular stumbling-block in their path which they hoped to remove.

Disposition of the 52nd (Highland) Division troops at the beginning of
the Counter-attack at Campagne; map on page 330 of the division
history written by Major Brewsher

The artillery barrage fell, as had been planned, south of Les Haies-La Neuville road; but as the enemy had closely followed our troops during their last withdrawal, he had been able to establish many machine gun posts close to the jumping-off line. The result was that the barrage fell behind the enemy's foremost troops, and the machine guns of his outposts were untouched.

In consequence, the 6th Gordon Highlanders met with the stoutest opposition from the outset of the attack, a storm of bullets greeting them as soon as their advance began. Nevertheless, the troops on the right, with fine determination, brushed back all resistance supported numerous and well-sited machine guns and trench mortars. 

In spite of many gallant attempts made by the battalion to carry this line, it held firm, the Germans defending themselves skillfully and courageously with rifles and hand grenades. For an hour the 6th Gordon Highlanders tried to come to close grips with them, and drive them from their position, but without results.

Champagne, France battlefield in 1918; photograph courtesy of

Meanwhile the enemy displayed on his part the greatest initiative, making repeated attempts to filter through gaps in our front line and on the right flank, and ultimately became so threatening on the right rear of the 6th Gordon Highlanders that they were compelled to fall back to on that flank to a position some 200 yards in advance of their jumping-off line.

On the left the advance was held up after the wood had been cleared for some 500 yards. Paradis had successfully withstood the repeated attempts of the French to storm it, so that the left flank of the Division's attack was again in the air. In consequence leading troops in this part of the battlefield also fell back onto the same line as the right flank had done, the 7th Black Watch forming a defensive flank to connect the left of the 6th Gordon Highlanders with the right of the French.

A company of the 5th Seaforth Highlanders was also sent forward to fill gaps that had occurred in the center of the 6th Gordon Highlanders line. 

As had been the case on the previous day, the difficulties of the operation were greatly increased by the blindness of the country, it being almost impossible to locate exactly the positions and flanks of the advance parties in the wood.

However, by noon a continuous line had been formed joining the left of the 154th Brigade to the right of the French. 

The troops were closely engaged throughout the day, and it became necessary to move forward companies from all three battalion of the 152nd Brigade to strengthen the line in places where it was becoming weakened. On the left the successful resistance of the Germans in Paradis had made it necessary to occupy a line which curved round the eastern side of that village some 300 yards from it, while on the right flank the 6th Seaforth Highlanders, after some fighting with enemy machine guns, established themselves on a line facing north some 700 yards south of Espilly.

So ended another day of severe fighting. The 152nd Brigade had taken over the whole of the front on the left, the 5th and 6th Seaforth Highlanders having been employed, either in strengthening the line held by the 6th Gordon Highlanders, or in protecting their flanks.

The day's operations ended with 81 prisoners with a number of machine guns and trench mortars captured." 

On 21 July 1918, the day Oswald Dick was killed, the British Corps commander sent the following message to the commander of the 51st (Highland) Division:

"The Corps commander wishes to convey to all the ranks of your division his appreciation of the great work that has been done during the past two days' fighting.

The French Army commander told me today that he was entirely satisfied with the result and the good bag of prisoners obtained in the face of the most obstinate resistance by picked troops of the enemy, who are under special orders to hold the front in order to allow for the safe retreat of the German troops beaten and driven back by the French across the Marne and on the Soissons front. 

Tactically, strategically and politically the gallant fighting of your division may have far-reaching results."


Bewsher, F. W., The History of the 51st (Highland) Division, (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1921), pages 321-355
"Champagne, France, battlefield, 1918", Great War Photos
Regiments, Long, Long Trail, http://www.1914-1918.net

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