The 22nd Battalion left Querrieu at 3.30pm on 9th May 1918 and relieved the 39th Battalion in the front line before Ville-sur-Ancre and Morlancourt, arriving at 1.50am on the following morning. There was some hostile shelling during the relief, with the 35th Battalion (9th Brigade) on the right and the 24th Battalion (6th Brigade) on the left.
The northern most Australian division on the Somme, the 2nd Division (including the 22nd Battalion) was relieved by the British 18th (Eastern) Division and moved into reserve, ready to counter-attack should the Germans breakthrough in the sector. The Australian Corps held its now shortened line with three divisions – the 4th Division in front of Villers-Bretonneux, the 5th Division astride the river Somme, and the 3rd Division to a point half a mile south of the Ancre between Ville-sur-Ancre and Morlancourt.
A skillful German sniper opposite the Battalion’s right caused many casualties during this tour in the front line opposite Dernancourt. He specifically devoted his talent against the 22nd Battalion’s Sergeants, six of whom were made casualty including Sgt Aspinall and Sgt Corry who were killed in action, before he himself was dealt with. While out on patrol Lieut. Armstrong was wounded and 2nd Lieut. Sutherland was wounded a few days later.
The Battalion was relieved by the 21st Battalion and returned to the Support Line surrounding Lavieville. Thus began a period of rotation with its sister battalion from the 6th Brigade until the end of the month. The expected attack never came, but tension was high and the strain severe. During this time much digging and wiring was done.
A feature of this Lavieville sector was the constant artillery strafing of Pioneer Trench and the Albert-Amiens Road. The bombardments used to come in short violent bursts and it would soon sever all signal wires running to the forward positions. It was in re-establishing communications that Lieut. McCartin (photograph right) was wounded, and his excellent work recognised by the award of a Military Cross.
Heavy rain fell practically all day but the men with little shelter in the outpost line were more concerned by the action of enemy snipers firing from Dernancourt. The 22nd Battalion responded with Sgt Thurlow and Pte Wilson being the most deadly snipers within 6th Brigade, who totalled 57 certain hits during the April tour of the front line. On the 8th April Sgt Thurlow was awarded the Military Medal for gaining ascendancy over the enemy despite being heavily sniped at himself. Later in the day ‘A’ Company relieved ‘C’ Company in the outposts.
After a stormy night, accompanied by barrages from both sides, the Battalion had taken over very a large section of the front overlooking Dernancourt and its railway embankment (photograph right) and to the left Albert, with the Virgin Mary statue still leaning precariously. The previous day the relieved battalions of the 12th Brigade had just beaten off a major German attack. An enemy attack was expected daily, with the men in the basic outposts, and practically no trenches, enduring the poor weather as well as the shell fire and offensive patrolling. The orders were simple: “There will be no withdrawal. Every bit of ground will be fought for.” On the left of the 22nd were the 23rd Battalion, and on the right the 26th of 7th Brigade.
The 22nd Battalion detrained at 5.15am at St. Roch Station, Amiens, and marched 11kms to the village of Bertangles packed with troops, arriving there about 11am. ‘A’ Company was left temporarily behind at St. Roch to assist in the detraining process, while the other three companies enjoyed a fairly good rest in the afternoon. By the time the Battalion returned to the Somme, Albert and the villages to the east including Pozieres and Bullecourt now lay in German hands and its forces were now placing artillery fire and danger on the pivotal city of Amiens. Amiens was now deserted except for a few scattered groups of civilians passing and making for the railway station, its streets now littered with debris and tangled wire. For the men of the Twenty-Second their morale was high, exalted by the emergency and by his knowledge of the seriousness of the situation.
The men rested and spent the time cleaning equipment in preparation for the move to the Somme. At 4.40pm motor buses were boarded at Neuve Eglise and the 22nd Battalion moved to billets at Berthen, about nine kilometres from Bailleul. From the big hill outside Berthen (Mont Kemmel, photograph right) a last view for the men of the 22nd was obtainable of Ypres and the Flanders battlefields.
By now word had reached the battalion that tremendous German offensive had been launched on the Somme, and that within a few days all the old battlefields that had been won at such a heavy cost were now in German hands. A move south was expected and at 10.30pm the 10th Cheshire Battalion (25th Division) that had been fighting on the Somme in the German Offensive arrived to effect the relief.