In the early years of the 1900s, the hamlet of Troyon nestled in a wide, steep valley off the road that rises steeply from Vendresse to Cerny en Laonnais. In Cerny there was only one building, a sugar factory.
A hundred years later, there is nothing left of Troyon, except a farm bearing that name and a sad little graveyard with a cross marking the position of the old church; in Cerny there are only a few more buildings, as it marks little more than a crossroads, where the road north from Vendresse crosses the Chemin des Dames on its way to Laon. The Germans had not opposed our crossing of the River Aisne as hard as they might because they had resolved to defend the high ground of the Chemin des Dames. 1st Division crossed the River Aisne at Bourg et Comin in mid-September 1914 facing only light opposition. We then marched to Vendresse to support an attack on the high ground above Troyon.
Either side of the road up from Vendresse, the fields are rich and rolling. The soil is a loam, great for growing and good for digging. The slope is convex but the crest is about 300m before the Sucrerie. In the top picture, the Sucrerie would have been in the trees on the right horizon; Troyon is in the valley to the left.This means that there were good covered approaches to the front line, up from Troyon. But it gave us the difficult job of attacking up hill and over a crest. The second picture shows the view from the Sucrerie. The Germans, meanwhile, could defend in depth with reserves out of sight of our spotters. Only the occasional aircraft could look over the ridge, but as most of them had no communications, the information took ages to get to the guns who, by that time, had probably other more immediate targets to engage. It was just our luck that the Sucrerie presented them with a ready-made stronghold and observation point. We were to spend the next month in and out of the front line at Troyon. In retrospect, it was a quiet sector. We had the occasional skirmish when we attacked them or they us, but it appeared that they were happy holding their positions and their artillery seemed to enjoy dusting us up most mornings. Apart from that, things were fairly settled.
In the month that we were in this sector, we spent 25 days in the front line in four stints. When we were relieved, typically we were out of the line for 1 or 2 days. Our casualties seemed horrific to us then, but we got used to much worse later at Ypres. During that month, we lost our Commanding Officer, Lt Col Montressor, our Adjutant, Lt the Hon HL Pelham, a major, two captains, three lieutenants and 22 other ranks; 8 lieutenants and 138 other ranks were wounded and we had 114 missing, some of whom made their way back to us later. That was out of a total strength of about 930.
On 15th October 1914, we were relieved by the French. We marched by night to Vauxcere and then to Fismes, where we entrained. The march was a bit of a slog as we were carrying a full load of ammunition, our machine guns and rations. From Troyon, it was downhill all the way back to Bourg et Comin, where we crossed the River Aisne again, this time without Jerry potting at us. However, from there to Vauxcere was all uphill. There is a steep ridge, running parallel with the Chemin des Dames, that separates the River Aisne from the River Marne. We felt like the Grand old Duke of York’s men as we marched up onto the ridge and then down again to Fismes.
Fismes has a large shunting yard, and there the Brigade entrained for a long journey up to the area behind Ypres, although at the time, of course, we knew nothing of where we were going.
There is a lovely little graveyard between Vendresse and Troyon. In it 18 members of the battalion are buried, including the Adjutant, Lt Hon Pelham. Recently, an unknown soldier from the Queens was buried in a new grave.
Join me tomorrow as I describe another part of the Battalion’s exploits further north.