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Private John Richard Cline, Of The 6th Dragoon Guards (The
Carabiniers), Won The D.C.M. At The First Battle Of Ypres
Saturday, October 31st 1914, was in the opinion of no less and authority than the British Commander in Chief himself, the most critical day in the whole of the long Battle of Ypres. By three o?clock in the afternoon of that day, the 1st Division had been obliged to fall back with terrible loss, from Gheluvelt to a line resting on the junction of the Frezenberg Road with the Ypres Menin highway. On its right, the 7th Division had been driven back to the Klein-Zillebeke ridge, while on the right of the 7th, the 2nd and 4th Brigades under General Bulfin, which had been brought up to their support from the first corps, and General Moussy, with his troops of the 9th French corps, were only just holding their own. Farther south, General Allenby?s dismounted Cavalry Corps, who had the whole line to hold from Klein-Zillebeke to the south of Messines, with no reinforcements save two much exhausted battalions of the 7th Indian Brigade, against the advance of two nearly fresh German Army corps, were in sore straits. The position here, indeed, was perhaps the most desperate along the whole front.
With General Allenby were the 6th Dragoon guards, forming part of the 4th Cavalry Brigade, who had been sent to France with the Expeditionary Force in August, and had been in thick of the fighting ever since, rendering splendid service both in the saddle and on foot. They were now entrenched close to the road between Wytscaete and Messines, having been obliged the previous evening to retire from the trenches they occupied at Wytschaete, where for five days and nights they had been shelled continuously, and had had part of their parapet blown away. Among the Dragoon Guards was a private named John Richard cline, who had been the last man to retire, and, being an excellent shot, had taken shelter behind a hedge and brought down more than one of the advancing Huns ere he rejoined his comrades. All the afternoon of the 31st, the Carabiniers, in their new position, were subjected to a heavy bombardment, ?Jack Johnson?s? falling all around their trenches and literally covering them with dirt and black powder. Some of the trenches were blown in, and the men occupying them buried beneath the debris. This gave the German snipers an opportunity by which they were not slow to profit, and bullets soon came humming through the huge gaps in the parapet.
Cline?s troop officer inquired if he were a good shot, and being answered in the affirmative, told him to come with him to an undamaged part of the trenches; and the two kept ?potting? away whenever a sniper showed himself for a moment. While, thus engaged, they could see and hear the ?Jack Johnson?s? coming over, so Cline kept shouting out: ?Another Jack! Down!?-To warn those of his comrades who were standing up to bob down while, when the great shell had exploded, he shouted: ?Up!? to let them know that the danger was past. About seven in the evening, they heard a German band playing the Austrian National Anthem-to put the Huns in good spirits for the coming attack, they afterwards heard-and presently they saw the enemy massing in a wood in front of them. About an hour before midnight, out came the Germans in thousands, and advanced in close formation against that thin khaki line, where ten men had to defend a hundred yards of front. Once more were the Dragoon guards forced to abandon their trenches, suffering in the retirement a number of casualties, and took up a position in a ditch between two mangel-wurzel fields, with a hedge in front and at either end. Unfortunately, the field on their front afforded good cover for the enemy, and they were soon exposed to a hot fire from the foremost Germans, who, when more of their comrades had got through the hedge, charged down on the British left flank, holding their rifles at their right side in position for bayoneting, and firing at the same time.
By now, however, the hard pressed Carabiniers had been reinforced by some of the London Scottish, who acquitted themselves so splendidly on that and the following day, and cavalry and Territorials met the charge half way with shouts of ?Come on the Carbs,? and ?Come on the Scottish! Let them have it!? They did let them have it, and those Huns who escaped their thirsty bayonets executed a rapid strategic movement to the rear and took over. Te British also lay down, firing for all they were worth; but presently cline began wondering whether there were any of the Germans further to their left. Rising, he ran across the field for about sixty yards, and there behind a dip in he ground came upon more than two hundred Germans lying down, evidently waiting for a favourable opportunity to get up and charge our men in flank or enfilade them. Without hesitating a moment, the brave Carabinier dropped on one knee and fired a point blank into the Huns, who were not more than ten or fifteen yards from him, almost every shot taking effect.
It was one man against two hundred, but, as often happens at night, the Germans could not bring themselves to believe that Cline was alone, and, springing to their feet, scattered and ran for shelter, the great number taking cover behind a small hedge, where they lay down and began blazing away at their single adversary. They must have been uncommonly bad shots, however, for with the exception of a bruise from a ricocheting bullet on the upper part of his left arm, Cline was not touched; and he continued to fire till he heard the voice of one of his officers inquiring who was there. He told him and begged him to come out and have a look at the Germans, and the officer came running up, shouting to Cline to lie down. Just as he reached him, a bullet grazed his cap and another went through the sleeve of his coat. The officer, having satisfied himself as to the strength of the enemy, hastened back to inform the officer in command; but scarcely had he gone, than Cline who remained still firing at the enemy, noticed that the further hedge of an adjoining field, about one hundred yards away, was packed with Germans, and that yet another body of the enemy were trying to work their way round to our rear in order to cut our men off. Keeping close under the lee of this hedge, in the hope of escaping observation, he shouted at the top of his voice to warn his comrades, and heard orders issued for some of our men to form on the left and fire on the enemy. He doubled back and joined them, in after giving the Germans a few volleys, the order came to retire, and the survivors of the Carabiniers and the London Scottish fell back to the shelter of a little wood, meeting on their way another party of Scots, who had been unable to reach them in the afternoon, owing to the terrific shelling to which the ground they had to pass was being subjected. In the course of the next day, the French 16th corps arrived to take over part of the line held by General Allenby?s cavalry; but not before the Carabiniers and the London Scottish had taken part in some more desperate fighting, in which the latter conducted themselves with all the courage and sang-froid of veterans and covered themselves with glory. Private Cline, who was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal ?for great gallantry,? is thirty-three years of age and a Londoner, his home being at Clapton Park. extracted from Deeds That Thrill The Empire 1917
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