In September, 1918 the Royal Newfoundland Regiment found itself attached to the 28th Infantry Brigade, of the 9th Division. The 9th was one of the ‘New Army’ divisions created by Lord Kitchener in 1915 and it had a distinguished record in all the major battles. The divisional commander was Major-General Hugh Tudor. All the other battalions in the 28th Brigade were Scotttish units.
The 9th Division’s role in an upcoming offensive was to occupy the left flank of a force that was to advance from the Ypres salient.and were engaged in a general offensive along the Ypres Salient. The Newfoundlanders were moved forward on the night of the 19th to an area east of Ypres, numbering over 724 all ranks.They occupied a position on 20 September just north of Hellfire Corner next to Menin Road, extending 700 yards north. On their right were their old friends of the 88th Brigade, 29th Division. It was frustrating for all to look ahead to their next objective, Passchendaele Ridge, which had won at such great cost by the Canadians in 1917, and then lost in the German Spring Offensive.
Zero hour was 0530 on the 28th. There was no preliminary bombardment by the British artillery, but the Belgian Army on their did fire a 3-hour preliminary bombardment. Rain was falling, and visibility was poor at dawn. The Germans seemed to be surprised, probably expecting the warning of a preliminary bombardment. The Regiment was in support of the two leading battalions.
Over a ten day period the Newfoundlanders managed to advance from Hell Fire Corner nearly nine miles.
Led by B and D companies, and assisted by heavy rain and poor visibility from smoke and low clouds, the Regiment climbed Bellwaarde Ridge, and by noon was in Polygon Wood in defence. They then moved forward at 4 pm to Polygon Racecourse, which they occupied for the night. Spirits were high; they had moved forward three miles and lost only 15 casualties.
The next morning the advance resumed, but things started to go askew. First, the Corps Commander overnight inserted a new Division, the 36th, between the Newfoundlanders and their old friends, the 29th, on their right. Orders for the Regiment to move at 9 am were somehow delayed and everyone else moved out ahead of the Newfoundlanders. As Syd Frost noted, orders were rushed and vague: “March on a bearing of 102 degrees. Zero will be 9:00 and there is no time to be lost.” No objectives were given. No patrols had been sent out during the night, and there was no indication of enemy strength. There was no artillery support as they advanced, passing through the leading Brigade who attempted support with smoke rifle grenades, which was little help. This serves as a good example of grossly poor generalship and lack of planning and preparation.
The Regiment was facing strongly held Keiberg Ridge, in turn overlooked from the east by the commanding Waterdamhoek Ridge. Keiberg village lies on the end of a spur of Passchendaele Ridge, which extended south from Passchendaele. Any troops advancing on Keiberg would be observed from Waterdamhoek Ridge to the east. Casualties mounted. Three direct artillery hits wiped out nearly a whole platoon.
B company, on the left, under Capt Syd Frost, came under fire from a 6 inch gun firing point blank over open sights. B company was in the valley, about 1000 yards short of Keiberg village. The gun was protected by two machine guns on each side, so a frontal attack was out of the question. Capt Frost immediately deployed Lewis guns to both flanks to give covering fire and to suppress enemy fire. A platoon under Lt Taylor was ordered to work its way to the south flank of the gun position and attack from there. Pushing forward in short bounds in groups of two and three, Taylor’s platoon captured the gun and the machine guns.
For this day’s action, and for maintaining the momentum of the advance, Taylor won a Bar to his M.C., and Frost was awarded an M.C.
In less than an hour, B company had captured Keiberg and the ridge was securely in the hands of the Belgians on the left and the Newfoundlanders. Many Germans surrendered in Keiberg, including a concrete pillbox (which was still there when Frost visited 35 years later).
The Regiment was now looking down on the valley between Keiberg ridge and Waterdamhoek ridge, previously untouched in the war. The Regiment was nearly 50% its normal strength by this time, but continued advancing into the valley. Reaching the valley, they suddenly came under heavy fire from the first of two fortified defence lines (see Flanders I Stellung on the map) consisting of reinforced farm house posts behind thick barbed wire belts. In addition, a German plane strafed the leading troops. The Regiment had left its support artillery 2 miles behind, and they had no trench mortars. Casualties increased and the Regiment could advance no further. Now senior officer because battalion HQ was not in contact, Capt Frost sent back for reinforcements, and troops of 26th and 27th Brigades came over the crest of Keiberg ridge about 3 pm. A welcome sight indeed.
All three brigades of 9th Division now moved forward, taking this fortified line and, advancing until 4 pm, consolidated near the Menin-Roulers road in front of the second fortified line (see Flanders II Stellung on the map). Ledeghem lay a short distance to the east. The Newfoundlanders and the remainder of 28th Brigade were relieved the next day (dawn of 30 Sept.) to Keiberg for much needed rest after 48 hours of fighting and marching. In that time they had advanced nearly 12 km, and lost over 100 soldiers. The reason for these comparatively low numbers were the better use of fire and movement tactics in small groups (at Beaumont-Hamel the tactic ordered was a massed line). Tactics had been changing for the better.
Ledeghem was next.