Posted 13 June 2003 - 10:30 PM
I'm not sure of the exact battle, but they were massacred.
Interview with Rifleman Ross of the Fiji 1st Contingent, on his return to Fiji.
Fiji Times; January 12, 1916
Fijians fill Post of Honour and safeguard a battalion ; Hero Loder.
A representative of this paper had an interesting chat with ex-Rifleman Ross, of the 1st Fiji contingent, who returned to Fiji on Friday with his wounds and honours. Mr Ross is at present the guest of Mrs. MacDonald, of whose kindness and generosity he speaks gratefully.
Off to the trenches
Skipping the long period of training, Mr Ross explained that the 1st Fiji Contingent left England on the1st April, and went into the trenches near Ypres on the 6th April. They remained in the trenches for three days, and then were relieved, and marched to Ypres. After a brief rest they returned to the trenches, spending three days in the front line, then three days in the second line, followed by three days in the first line again. At the end of the nine days they prepared to leave the trenches as arranged, but the relief, which it appears had been cut up in a charge meantime, did not arrive. And for thirty-two days on end the lads of Fiji remained at their grim post in the firing line.
At this stage of the war, said Mr Ross, the Germans were overwhelmingly superior in guns and ammunition. On the small front partly held by Fijians, they had at least one hundred guns, which would bombard the British troops incessantly for as long as three days together. By way of reply, a British gun or two would spurt here or there, very much like a popgun. It was practically rifles against abundant artillery, and a mighty bad time the riflemen had of it All that was now changed, thank God. But during the time the Fijians were in the trenches, the odds were completely with the enemy. Most of the time the Britishers could do nothing but lie low, suffering from the Germans’ bombardment, and being unable to return the compliment.
The Post of Honour
Four days before the 8th May (that grim morning that saw the end of the Fiji Contingent) the Fijians performed a feat of arms and valour of which little had been heard, said Mr Ross. The simple words in which Mr Ross records this deed gives a thrill. It was the time, he explained, that the French Algerians fell back on the left. The Canadians were pushed forward to save the situation, and were ”gassed”. The Germans were within an ace of surrounding the British army. Word was passed around that forty volunteers were required to hold the line while the battalion, in which the Fijians were included, beat a retreat. Sergeant Bayly begged that the Fijians should be given the post of danger, and his request was granted. This meant that forty Fijians had to hold the whole of the trenches previously held by a whole battalion. Let the Germans guess the truth, and a single charge would have ended the forty. But the Germans never guessed. The forty Fijians, alone in that long line of trenches, sprang from post to post, firing rapidly. Each man was given a traverse to himself, in which he lit a fire. He fired from one end of the traverse, then from the centre, and then quickly from the end; and so on, backwards and forwards, rushing and firing for hours, until the retreat of the battalion had been safely effected. It was a great feat, and saved the battalion, not a man of which was injured. Then came the final act of heroism. Six of the Fijians were called upon to hold that long line while the balance of the forty retired, and this they did so effectively that the whole contingent was ultimately withdrawn without the loss of a single man. The Fijians were given great praise for this feat; in fact, one well-known Army officer, meeting a Fijian in London, shook hands with him, and said, with tears in his eyes “If all my men had been Fijians, what could I not have accomplished!”
The Day of Reckoning
On the 8th May, the great day of reckoning for the gallant boys of Fiji, Mr Ross speaks with diffidence; he cannot bring himself to speak at all of the carnage that took place in the Fiji and British trenches. It had to be remembered that at this time the Germans were so overwhelmingly superior in artillery that they could inflict punishment pretty much as they pleased, provided they knew the position of their opponents. Prior to the 8th May the bulk of the British forces had been silently withdrawn a couple of miles; the trenches were there for the Germans to take if they knew they were practically empty; this they did not know; and for fear of punishment did not advance. The British troops were quietly pushed forward again. In the early morn of the 8th May a German aeroplane succeeded in discovering the position of the army, and the Germans, who had the range to a yard, commenced a terrific bombardment. Mr Ross’ own experience on that occasion was somewhat unique. About 7 o’clock in the morning he was lying down in the traverse of the trench reading a newspaper. He thinks he must have dozed off, though he remembers remarking to his comrades that the shells were coming nearer. The next thing he remembers was sitting up, to find his boots blown off his feet, and he apparently the only survivor in the traverse. He lay, with his wounds, for about three hours, and then Rifleman Loder came along and told him to get out as quickly as he could, as the Germans were about to charge. He thereupon crawled out of the back of the trench, and got behind a tree, where he remained safely without being hit. He remained there for fourteen hours. And was then conveyed to the field dressing station; thence, after the dressing of his wounds, he was removed to the base hospital at Versailles. As evidence of German brutality, Mr Ross remarked that, although he was obviously wounded, covered with blood, and was crawling along the ground, the Germans repeatedly fired at him; later, when he was being carried to the dressing station, he was again repeatedly fired at, and the ambulance men had to drop him in the middle of the roadway, and seek safety in a ditch. There was no question about it, said Mr Ross, that the Germans were more inhuman than any other race he knew of.
The heroic six
Mr Ross speaks in terms of keen admiration of the gallantry of his comrades during the retreat on the 8th May. As soon as the order was given, he saw many British troops leave their trenches quickly, and retire with the utmost despatch. But not so the remnants of the gallant little Fiji Contingent. Lying down behind the tree, Mr Ross saw plainly what was proceeding. Standing out alone, in relief, on the top of a small hill, a dozen survivors of the Fijians gave the oncoming Germans a taste of lead; and, he was sure, said Mr Ross, that the behaviour of that half-dozen saved many lives. The Fijians, on their little hilltop, were in a fine shooting position, and their presence and splendid shooting delayed the whole German advance in that section. When finally they were so pressed that they had to move, they did not run, but retired step by step, blazing as they went, as gallant and touching a picture as ever the eyes of man wished to look upon. Lying there, said Mr Ross, his heart throbbed with excitement and pride, and he never would forget the sight as long as he lived. For quite a while that little band seemed to stand alone out of that whole section of the British army, and long afterwards officers and men of other battalions talked about it. But it was only one of the incidents of the great battle and retreat, and little apparently had been heard of it on this side of the world.
Harry Loder, Hero
Harry Loder, said Mr Ross, was a hero, as brave a lad as ever wore uniform. For at least twelve hours he kept coming and going to Ross, bringing him water and cigarettes, every journey exposing him to the enemy. At one time when he (Loder) was holding up Ross’ head, and forcing a little water between his lips, a bullet went through the top of the water bottle; but the gallant lad only remarked about the closeness of the shave, and went on with Samaritan work. A little later, exposing himself all the way, he carried another injured Fijian out of the trench into safety. And between every little act of sacrifice and kindness, Loder would pick up his rifle, run to the parapet of the trench, and pick off one of the advancing Germans. It was a memory that stuck. Loder was V.C in the hearts of his comrades, whether he got the honour or not. Two days later, said Mr Ross, Loder, wounded in the leg, was taken prisoner. He, (Ross) had received a letter from him, from Germany; it was guarded in tone, but cheery.
The Beginning of the End
It was a general opinion amongst the soldiers, said Mr Ross, that if the Allies could hang out for another twelve months, they would wear down the Germans. Individually, the German was a poor fighter; but collectively, he fought stubbornly and well. Latterly. He believed that the opinion was gaining ground that the Allies would never break through the Germans’ line. However that was merely an opinion.
He had no doubt himself that the Germans would be beaten
As regards his future, said Mr Ross, he had arrived at no determination. He would like to get back to the Front, and did not think that his injury would retard him from serving with, say, the artillery. In reply to a suggestion, Mr Ross said that if a 3rd Fiji Contingent went Home, he would like to go with it as a drill instructor; he could give the boys a few “tips”, and when he got Home he would take his chance of getting in the artillery.