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Sunday, 2 January 2011

Diary Entry - 2nd January, 1916

This has been a disastrous day for the brigade headquarters and the infantry chateaux, as the Bosch started shooting on them at about eleven forty-five, and by two there was little left of either the 36th or 41st. The latter was ablaze and the former merely a ruin. When I was on my way back from Béthune, having been to town to get some money for the men going on leave, I just got into the straight where houses begin, when I saw a black obuse burst plumb on the pavé in front of the 41st. Well, I took the first road to the left, as I could see that both I and my horse were better out of the way, as there seemed to be no doubt that they were at it in earnest. On going along towards the Sappers, I met Todd, who had also just come back from Beuvry. He was making for his billet. We hunted about for a safe place for the horses, as splinters were very thick, so we finally retired to the 70th battery Mess and tied our horses to the railings. We then stood behind Todd's billet and watched the deliberate shelling of the brigades. The shooting was wonderfully accurate and it made us respect the gun (5.9) and the men behind it. One direct hit demolished the 36th absolutely, and the same applies to the other houses opposite the 36th. The 41st were not so badly hit, but there was only one room left undamaged, and part of it was on fire. The Infantry got off lightly, but a number of men were killed in front of the chateaux. Needless to say, there were some miraculous escapes and, at the 41st Brigade dugout, one shell landed at the top step but, luckily, it was a dud or else the occupants – about 14 officers and civilians – would have all gone west. At about three, I went up with an attached officer and Siggers to find the former's kit in the ruins of one of the dugouts. Well, we were searching about when whizbangs came (the 77 mm), so we bolted for it across the open country. I think I did 100 yards in about 10 seconds flat, with whizbangs bursting in the rear about every five seconds. There was much more damage done than I expected to see, and there is no doubt they completed the job well. The road was littered with shell holes and, on one side, there was a motorbike completely put out of action and, on the opposite side, a dead horse and cart, and I believe the sights in front of the chateaux were too bad to put on paper. On going to my billet at seven thirty, for a wash, I heard a Frenchman shouting and heard Tommies talking excitedly to one another. When I got to the estaminet, I enquired the cause of the row and was told the man was a suspected spy. Well, you can imagine my feelings when, on entering the Mess, the Colonel said, "Take this man, who is guarded by two bombardiers, round to the Infantry headquarters. He is a suspected spy, and he is to be questioned by an interpreter." Well, off I went, in a dazed sort of way, to find the 5th Infantry brigade headquarters, which had been heavily shelled. The Frenchman did not seem to want to go that way, as I think he was frightened of being shelled, but I don't think he was any more so than myself. However, we were going along well, when a pipsqueak burst about 100 yards up the road, and the prisoner hugged me, in fear, I think. It was the devil of a job, wandering over the shell-holed road, which was covered with wreckage, trees and telephone wires. However, we at last reached the chateau, where we found everyone in the cellars - and a nice comfortable feeling it was to be in there. No one seemed to know where the 5th were, but at last I found our Colonel Warde in the artillery telephone department, so I told him my trouble, and he went upstairs and sent down a Major with an interpreter to investigate matters. To cut a long story short, after being there for over an hour, they decided to let the man go and keep a watch over him. I was greatly relieved to get away to dinner, as it was after nine and I could not give any evidence, as I knew nothing about the man. They let him go back to his estaminet and said they would keep an eye on him. That night there was rather a panic in our lines as there were a new crowd in the trenches who were brand-new soldiers and Boschey unkindly hammered down all the frontline parapet for about 200 yards. Everyone thought he might attack, so one man, Hoyland, had to sleep at the O.B., and I had to go to the guns, where I spent a restless night, as my nerves, I think, were a bit jumpy.


  1. As well they might be. This is the sort of entry I have been steeling myself for; it had to come. I get the impression here that he self-censored his entry.

    I admire his ability to praise the skill of the German artillery brigade.

  2. I like the under-statement of 'my nerves, I think, were a bit jumpy'.