The United States severs diplomatic relations with Germany as U-Boats threaten US shipping. Intercepted messages reveal that Germany is provoking the Mexicans into war against the US.
The morning was devoted to gas drill and foot rubbing. Companies fell in outside their huts in battle order wearing steel helmets and carrying two blankets fastened to their belts. Hats and puttees were dumped with the QM, and sandbags were worn as gaiters instead of the puttees. At 4pm the move was made by road to Shelter Wood Camp, replacing the 17th Battalion. The 22nd Battalion was heading to the Le Sars sector, facing the famous Butte de Warlencourt. The land was gripped in an iron frost, and the shell-pitted region was now a field of ice many feet thick, which men dug out with picks. It was so cold that moistened hair froze as it was brushed, and bread had to be thawed by the fire before it could be cut. The icy temperatures were also agonising on the feet and fingers, but the prospect of the thaw and return to the terrible mud of Flers and Ginchy was worse.
At the end of January the Battalion moved to Becourt Wood Camp near Fricourt via Meaulte with a fighting strength of 25 Officers and 668 other ranks. For the next two days the battalion trained specialists and raiders, together with medical inspection and foot washing.
General Legge fell ill with the flu and the opportunity was taken to relieve him of command of the AIF 2nd Division, where upon he returned to Australia. Legge was replaced by Brig-Gen Smyth, VC. Smyth commanded the 2nd Division during the pursuit of the Germans to the Hindenburg line and the capture of Bapaume, followed by the battles of Bullecourt and 3rd Ypres. As a result of his Sudan experience, Smyth was particularly adept in planning highly successful ‘peaceful penetration’ raids on the German trenches.
The 22nd Battalion was inspected on parade by Maj-Gen Sir NM Smyth, VC, soon to be commanding the AIF 2nd Division. Smyth replaced General Legge who having fallen ill with the flu was relieved of his command and returned to Australia. At the Gallipoli evacuation in December 1915, Smyth was one of the last officers to leave the peninsula. As Major General in command of the AIF 2nd Division he was involved in the pursuit of the Germans to the Hindenburg line, and the capture of Bapaume in the spring of 1917 were followed by the battles of Bullecourt and 3rd Ypres. As a result of his Sudan experience, Smyth was particularly adept in planning highly successful ‘peaceful penetration’ raids on the German trenches.
A successful German raiding party on 36th Battalion AIF 3rd Division to the south of the Lys in Flanders leaves 11 Australian killed, 36 wounded and 4 taken prisoner. This was one of only two successful raids out of eight by the Germans against the AIF 3rd Division from the beginning of the New Year until 13th March.
The Battalion entrained at Quarry for Mericourt and marched to Ribemont for ten days, and the rest in the village revived many a man. The socks and comforts provided by the Battalion’s many good friends in Australia did much to ease the hardships.
A heavy fall of snow fell which lasted in the bitter cold for exactly a month. Food was carried forward but water had to be melted from the ice in shell holes. However the cold was preferable to the mud. The ground was dry, trench walls ceased to fall in and men could move around and stamp their feet without creating a quagmire. It was also easier to bring food up to the front. At this time the number of cases of trench feet diminished. However, it also became more obvious which trenches were manned and posts garrisoned, this harassing fire became more precise.
The Battalion relieved left company of 21st Battalion in Spring and Spectrum trenches in the Firing Line, and took over new line from 6th Dorset Regiment, British 51st Brigade. This new sector was found to be in an extremely bad condition filled with mud and water. Enemy snipers very active and causing much annoyance amongst the men.