Medal & Mortality index
The Military Cross was instituted as a Decoration on December 28th, 1914, to
reward Distinguished Services rendered by Officers of certain ranks in the army
in time of war. Bars may be added for additional acts of gallantry. Since August
1st, 1918, it has, like the D.S.O., been awarded for "services in action" only.
In the latter part of January 1917 the long awaited order arrived for the 58th Division to proceed overseas. On the 23rd of that month the 2/4th Battalion left Sutton Veny with a strength of 32 officers and 976 other ranks and proceeded to Southampton, where it embarked on the Viper, and crossed to Havre, arriving the following morning at daybreak. Disembarkation took place at once and the Battalion, preceded by its pipe band, marched to the Reinforcement Camp at Sanvic. The following officers accompanied the Battalion overseas :
2/Lieut. S. G. Askham.
Shortly after the Battalion had taken up its position a party of some 12 Germans with a machine-gun attempted to attack C Company's line. The attack completely failed owing principally to the great gallantry of Capt. Leake. 2/Lieut. S. G. Askham, who was in the trench with Leake at the time, writes :
We were inspecting the sentry posts and our attention was drawn to considerable movement near our front line. Without a moment's hesitation Capt. Leake leapt over the parapet and in a few seconds we heard revolver shots being fired. He had single-handed attacked a German machine-gun team who were on the point of establishing a post in a position overlooking the whole of our front Hne. He killed four of the team and the remainder were wounded by our rifle fire. Leake returned with three prisoners and their machine-gun, which he also secured. . . . Leake was a tower of strength to both officers and men in the Company and we all felt that he richly deserved the V.C, for which he was afterwards recommended.
On the 23rd October the 2/4th Londons returned by train to the Vlamertinghe area and took over quarters in Siege Camp, moving the following day to the concentration area on the canal bank, whence the battle surplus under 2/Lieut. Askham left the Battalion for the Divisional Depot Battalion.
Fargniers North Locality : B Company less 2 platoons (Capt. S. G. Askham).
About the same time the enemy advanced in large numbers all along the line, especially against the Farm Rouge and Triangle Localities. The former of these had always been regarded as a weak spot in the defences, and two reserve machine-guns were at once turned on to the enemy advancing against it. By 3.45. p.m., after a stubborn resistance against overwhelming numbers. Clarke's weak company was ejected from the Farm Rouge itself, and its grip on the remainder of the Locality much weakened. The assaulting columns continued to press on in the direction of the Quessy Locality, thus isolating the Fargniers position in the corner between the two Canals and completely cutting off Lester, who was still hanging on to his position in the Triangle against impossible odds.
A prompt endeavour to counter this very serious turn of events was taken by Brigade, who sent forward two platoons of the Suffolks to reinforce Clarke and fill the gap between him and Askham. The 3rd Londons also were drawn on again, and a second company was sent forward through Quessy to strengthen the Farm Rouge Locality. Of this company, however, only two platoons ever reached their objective, the others being destroyed by the enemy's fire at the crossing of the Crozat Canal.
On arrival in the Vouel line in the early hours of the 22nd March, the Battalion, which occupied the north end of the position near the Butte, was reorganised in three companies, with A Company under 2/Lieut. F. G. Williams on the right, B under Capt. Askham in the centre and D under Capt. Clarke on the left. As on the 21st, a dense mist appeared with the early hours, and until it rose, shortly after midday, no infantry movement took place. Under cover of the mist the Battalion was able to do a good deal of work on the Vouel line, and in this they were not much interfered with, as most of the German shells were falling on the road in front.
For several hours Grover's details and the tiny Condren force maintained their fight, but in the afternoon the withdrawal began in accordance with the orders already issued. Under Grover's command the mixed force was skilfully withdrawn, fighting a stubborn rearguard action, to a prepared position about 1000 yards east of Abbecourt, while the detached portion of the 2/4th Londons on Grover's left, now about CO strong, fell back to Ognes, and marched into Besme across the Oise about midnight. Early in the afternoon Major Grover was wounded and Capt. Askham took over his command. By 4.30 p.m. the Abbecourt position, being no longer tenable, was vacated and the whole of the 173rd Group, including 2/4th and 8th Londons, 503rd Field Company, R.E. and the 6th Dismounted Cavalry Brigade, had crossed the Oise at Manicamp. About the same time the Condrcn garrison which had held manfully to its positions since the opening of the battle got clear across the river.
The same night (25th/26th March) this composite force was reheved by the 246th French Regiment and withdrew to Besme to refit, Lieut. -Col. Dann taking charge of another composite force of troops of the 175th Brigade. In the meantime the remainder of the 2/4th Londons, which had formed part of Grover's Force and were now under Askham, took up a defensive position under orders of Lieut.-CoL Chart, 18th Entrenching Battalion, east of Manicamp, on the south side of the Canal and the Ailette River. At night this party was also relieved by Lieut.-Col. Dann's force and joined the remainder of the Battalion at Besme.
So far as can be ascertained about six tanks were directed on the 2/4th Battalion's sector, and it was the only Battalion of the Brigade against which they advanced. The tanks seem to have been uncertain of their bearings in the mist and not too skilfully handled. One at least devoted its energies to describing small circles, firing wildly into the ground where none of our troops were posted.
In spite of this unskilful manoeuvring, however, there is no doubt that the sudden appearance of these monsters shook our defence for a moment, and the men fell back a short distance. They remained perfectly under control, and were rapidly rallied by their officers a short distance in rear of the front trench, after which the German infantry, advancing in three waves close behind the tanks, were hotly engaged with rifle and Lewis gun fire, which inflicted heavy loss on them. Askham was hit about twenty minutes after the attack began, and after his departure to the Aid Post charge of affairs in the firing line, so far as control was possible over a wide front in the mist, was assumed by Morton of No. 1 Company. The first news of what was occurring in front was received at Battalion Headquarters from Morton in a message timed 6.30 a.m. : " Tanks have crossed front line trenches, front line has fallen back, have rallied them at Coy. H.Q. line."
During the 25th April the 2/4th Battalion was not engaged, though it was all day long subjected to severe artillery fire, which inflicted a good many casualties. On the evening of the 25th the 2/4th Battalion was relieved by troops of the French Moroccan Division, and withdrew on relief to bivouacs in open country east of Boves.
The casualties of the two days' action were :
2/Lieut. J. W. Docking, killed; Capts, S. G, Askham, M.C., B. H. C. Hettler, M.C., 2/Lieats. S. F. G. Hears, P. J. Payne and L. H. Sheppard, wounded
Lieut. (A/Capt.) S. G. Askham ; London Gazette 26. 7.18