More trench warfare
The routine continued, until, on the night of 16 March, the Battalion in the trenches came under heavy rifle and machine gun fire and the Allied artillery sent several barrages whistling overhead in reply. The next night word came through that "the Bosch had left" so a raid on the enemy trenches was cancelled. The firing had been to cover part of the German strategic retreat of several miles on the Somme front to the immensely strong Hindenburg Line (14 March - 5 April 1917) (map). The BEF, the 15th Cheshires included, advanced across ground devastated by incessant shelling and by the retreating forces. After approaching their new line they dug in, meeting little resistance, though a ‘bomb’ from a booby trap injured an officer and two men of Noel’s Battalion.
After a week in the forward trenches, Noel’s battalion began a four-week intensive period of activity in heavy snow and rain to improve lines of communication to the new front. They worked on several roads and on the Chaulnes-Nesle Railway (map). It took several days to fill and level one huge crater to enable new track to be laid and they were singled out for praise for their efforts. There was also further training. Noel was billeted at Lihons, at Curchy, at Voyennes and finally at Trefcon before the routine of trench warfare recommenced with another stint in the new trenches east of Maissemy. Some time later there was a brief interlude when every man in the battalion was able to have a bath in Vermond before returning to the trenches south of Pontruet.
Noel’s rank was confirmed in April. In early May there were spells in support near Fresnoy and then in the Maissemy-Fresnay front line. Soon after that, the whole brigade moved to Peronne.
From 29 May Noel spent time in four different casualty stations with a fever, probably trench fever (his record states, “PUO” - Pyrexia of unknown origin). He rejoined his regiment at Heudicourt on 25 June, returning immediately to the trenches, and he remained in this area for three months, the routine little changing and the casualty list ever increasing, both sides carrying out raids.