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Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Diary Entry - 18th to 25th May, 1916

These days were spent in Blighty. The boat left at eleven and it was a beautifully calm run over, without even a destroyer to shadow us. We landed in London at three fifty pm and I went straight to  the club but as RSG was not there I went straight round to Batts, bathed, changed and returned to the club at five. As I ran into Bob Russell, his mother, Poss Chirnside and Mrs Chirnside, Bill Austin and RSG - having tea in the club, of course I had to join them and then the news spread all over town. Sid Russell was chasing me the next day on the phone but I thought it was Bob until I finally met the latter at midday and found out the real state of affairs. RSG took  me out to St John's Wood to see John and we got him off the afternoon. London seemed packed with people and one would never know there was any trouble such as war. There seemed to be more interest taken in the Irish rebellion than France. I had a day or rather saw quite a lot of Foster, Midler, Barbra, Nan and John, doing theatre with each family. Foster was very busy packing up for Egypt as he is promoted to Major and is taking over the Australian Flying Corps. On Monday, I ran across Knox, an ADC of the 47th Division. They were in just North of Vimy and got a very bad time in the attack which was reported in the paper on Monday. He had to return and he had only been home two days. I left London at seven fifty am on Wednesday and was grabbed by the RTO when enetering the station at Victoria. When coming off the station at Folkestone, I met Suttie who was just returning from leave, having been home for about three weeks as he was not well. When the troops were in the rest camp, we went off to the Metropole for the day, as the ship did not sail until five. There were three ships sailing and each one was packed. There was a large quantity of new kit and men on board. By extraordinary bad luck, I was caught by the RTO again at Boulogne and had to take about 500 men up to a rest camp a good hour's march onto some heights just above the town. One of my men fainted on the big hill and afterwards died, poor chap. Suttie and I stayed at the Louvre and travelled on by the midday train on Thursday, reaching Callons Ricourt about eight pm. To our surprise, there were no horses or Mess cart to convey us to Devion and we were rather taken aback as we had phoned from Boulogne. However, there was nothing for it but to leave our bags and set out for the Mess on foot. When we had breasted a large hill, we got on a passing bus which seemed to be the only vehicle on the road. Devion seemed very deserted on arriving there and, after scaling the iron gates to our Mess, I managed to rouse Madame and the rest of the family and they told us all the news. The Brigade had evidently moved in a great hurry and gone up into action near Souchez and they had left half their kit and mess material behind as they expected to be back in a few days. The people gave us some food and a bed each for the night so we weren't badly off.

Bertie, Diary Entry, Saturday, 20th May
The infantry Brigade here at rest had a demonstration of an attack for the Corps' [illegible] benefit this morning, which the artillery officers were asked to attend for guidance and information. About a mile out of the town they have some demonstrating trenches. This was supposed to be a successful attack on the enemy's front line, with us finally pushing on and holding their third line. You realise what a murderous thing an attack can be when you see this. There are continuous lines upon lines of men at a pace interval, marching up until within about 15 yards of their objective, and then they double. I was surprised at the number of people you had to have to carry ammunition, bombs, machine guns and dozens of other things - and all very awkward to carry. Once you are in the enemy's front line, you are more or less cut off from your own trenches until you get communications trenches cut through. There were dozens of staff people there and four or five Generals. I did not hear their opinion on the subject, but I don't think a quarter of the troops taking part would have been left alive, if there had been any opposition.

Bertie, Diary Entry, Sunday, 21st May and Monday, 22nd May

Took a church party to service at the Divisional cinema which is about 200 yards up the road.  It has been quite hot today. Had a harness inspection at evening stables. When we were halfway through the inspection, Captain Palmer turned up, just back from leave.  He is a wonder at getting a car to go and come on this side of the Channel. He left London at 7.45 a.m and arrived at Devion [Douvrin?]at 4 p.m. If he had come by the normal way, he would not have got here until midday the next day. There has been great preparations for a Divisional horse show, which the Divisional staff asked Palmer to give them a hand with the morning of, before he went on leave. After we had finished dinner, he was discussing their programme of events with us.  Well this was about 9:30pm and an orderly from Brigade came in and said the Colonel wanted to see him at once. Then went home and came back, he announced in his quiet way, "Well, gentlemen, I have some good news. Division is moving tonight. We have to be on the Houdain Road by 11 and at the railway crossing a mile away at 11.15 p.m. Away we went to tell the men, who were scattered all over the place, in bivouacs, some asleep and all quiet. In 10 minutes, the whole place was alive with moving forms in the dark. It was dark too, as the moon did not get up until 12 p.m.. It was wonderful how these fellows all went about their work so cheerfully, and we were on the road at the stroke. We had to leave a lot of our Mess stuff behind - piano and those sorts of things - but we got everything else away bar two lame horses. The people in Devion [Douvrin?] couldn't make out was happening, everybody was rushing about. The Brigade consisted of two batteries - B.A.C the 71st were left at Bully-Grenay to do counter battery when the 23rd Divs relieved us. Anyway, we three units covered about a mile or more of the road, travelling in column of route. It was a beautiful warm night and quite pleasant when the moon got up. We halted once for about an hour. I happened to be on a hill that overlooked the surrounding country, and wherever you looked you could see nothing but head lamps going and coming and the whir of motor lorries, bringing up troops' ammunition.  It rather made me think the great advance was on. It was daylight at two a.m and we marched on, finally arriving at Gouy-Servins at five a.m. It is only a small village and found it very hard to find water for the horses. We watered and fed the horses and ran the horse lines in a field where there were some trees. Our Mess cart had wasted no time in getting ahead and lighting a fire. Dickson, the cook, gave us eggs and bacon at 5.45 a.m., which I think was a pretty good effort. We could not find a house to get into so sat down in an open field. This was Monday 22nd May.

 While at breakfast a message came to say all our wagons had to go out with ammunition to Batteries of the 47th division. It was a bit hard on the men, but after they had breakfast they did not feel so tired. Oakley went in charge. Those who were left just dropped down in the grass and slept. It turned out a scorching day and about 10 a.m. found people waking up and moving to the shade. Palmer went and saw the Colonel about 11, who had come on by car and established Brigade HQ. It seems that the Hun started an attack on Sunday with an intense bombardment against our 47th Division who are on the N[illegible] front which is a ridge in front of Souchey [?].  The Hun evidently took them by surprise and our people could not get enough ammunition. Of course, our people say the Hun put up the heaviest bombardment run in modern times. By barraging our front line which he eventually levelled, he barraged the supports. And also had enough artillery to hold up principal roads behind and take on individual batteries. A pretty big order but, whatever his programme was, he defeated us all right. The infantry must have had tremendous losses, although the papers only say they are small attacks. The Hun drove us out of our positions and got our front line, which is rather important as it is on top of the rise and overlooks our support trenches. Anyway, we seem to have been brought up to do the dirty work. Captain Palmer went up to  see our new position. We are to go in the open. Four guns and eight wagons moved up this evening about dusk. Our position is in the open on the South Hill, a long way back. We are to shoot with a range of 5700 yards and we have a wood on each side of the guns. When it got dark we moved the guns in and made some small holes each side for the mess.

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