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Monday, 30 April 2012

Diary Entry - 30th April, 1917

Walford: Monday, a bright sunny day with quite a lot of power in the sun. Summer must have just woken up to the fact that it is the end of April and we have had no sun. During the morning I did a little observing from the redoubt by the guns, being able to see Oppy wood and the zero house quite easily. Fairly quiet till the evening when Bosch threw over two four twos, several landing in the sunken road near the Mess, which consisted of a sandbag wall some four feet high with a bivouac cover over the top of it. Gunner Bailey, who was drawing water from the well near the railway embankment, got a blightie one in the calf of the leg and went straight to a dressing station nearby. Soon after lunch I took Evans up to the OP and showed him the front, leaving him there until dusk. On the way back to the battery, I picked out a new track for the mules, as the sunken road becomes too warm. Several horses have been killed at the crossroads.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Diary Entry - 29th April, 1917

Walford: At four a.m. there was another small barrage for half an hour, in which we were successful in clearing up the situation and capturing the Bosche, who had broken through, (300 in all). We also jumped into part of the Bosche line on the right of Oppy. A quiet morning but beautifully warm in the afternoon. I went up with Hoyland to register the guns again. I forgot to add that in the SOS on the previous night two of our guns had been knocked out and we had again received a warm reception, it just taking Bosche 4' to open on us. He fairly hailed HE on us at gunfire, and Hoyland said the faster rate that he shelled, the faster our guns fired on the Bosche, and our men were splendid. No. 4 had one burst three yards from the trail and no-one was touched but they were all thrown about by the blast. One gun had a splinter through the buffer and the other had a number of pieces taken out of the slides. We filed the slides down with a little care and got the gun in action once more. As we came down from the OP, the Bosche was shelling our trenches with all manner of heavy stuff, probably as our heavies had been putting it into Oppy all the afternoon. I stayed with the guns for the night, Hoyland and Evans going to K's.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Diary Entry - 28th April, 1917

At three forty-five, having slept with the 56th Battery, I rose and walked up to the guns, as the ball was to open at four twenty-five a.m. At the precise moment, all our batteries opened up and it was not many more minutes before the Hun opened too. He put up a terrible barrage and, as we were quite close to it and in front of all our guns, the noise was terrible, heavier than anything I have yet experienced. To add to our difficulties, he had us taped with his high velocity gun and kept plugging in high explosive and shrapnel at gun fire 30'. I have never been so frightened in my life and I could not steady my nerve after what had happened on the previous days and felt an awful coward before all the men, who were splendid. Marvellous to relate, after two hours of this the casualties were only three wounded and none of those badly. I never realised you could have such a bad time in an open position with the guns firing at you from a flank and have so few casualties. One time, while talking to Hoyland, shrapnel swished past us, the rush of air knocking our steel helmets off. The only thing I can account for helping us were the few old straggly trees above us. We were all thoroughly glad when our job was over and were pursued from the position by the wretched gun firing HE at us. A few prisoners passed the battery, but the machine gun fire sounded very bad as it meant they could not have cleaned up Oppy wood properly. As it turned out, we went through the wood all right and into Oppy, but the Division on our right made a muck of it and failed to keep touch, consequently the Bosche found a gap in the line, pushed a lot of men through and cut us off in rear. It is rumoured we lose a battalion of the Essex and Middlesex anyway, the majority must have been captured. At dusk, as I was sitting down to dinner with Kellagher behind the railway, there was an SOS, the Germans evidently countering. There was a great commotion and Bosche was putting up a heavy barrage. A little later K came in from the guns saying he had seen a 2nd Divisional intelligence officer who said the Bosche had broken through on our division's right and were only a few yards outside Bailleul. Well, as we had no line of trenches between the railway embankment just to our front and our front line, we were naturally rather worried. Hoyland the next day told a most amusing tale how he at the guns was going to bed about twelve a.m., not knowing anything about the situation, when Sergeant Sherlock came in and said, 'I suppose you know the Germans have broken through and are in the vicinity of Bailleul?' On going outside into the sunken road to investigate the matter, he found infantry digging in along the embankment but the unfortunate thing was there was a large gap from this side of our guns to the battery. The most amusing climax was reached though when 30 pack mules appeared for us with ammunition, having come across what was supposed to be No Man's Land, that priceless hero Br Beech heading them with a most unconcerned air.

Letter from Philip Holden 36th Brigade RFA - 30th April, 1917

Dear Mrs Manifold,

May I add my sympathy to that of many others expressed to you.

I knew your son for a little over a year. I have often been able to give him and his brother the Holy Communion.

I think he was one of the most unselfish men I have come across out here. Everybody liked him.

May you be comforted by the sure and certain hope of our religion.

Yours truly

Philip Holden CF

Friday, 27 April 2012

Diary Entry - 27th April, 1917

Walford: Friday, Hoyland arrived up from wagon lines about eleven a.m. and I spent the time getting the lines laid out and the two new guns ready to shoot. The funeral being at two thirty p.m. I did not think I could face it but Kellagher rang me up and said he thought I should go and so I went to lunch with him, going on from there afterwards. On the way home, called in at the OP to meet Hoyland who was going to register the two other guns. The Hun was very aggressive and I sat and waited for Hoyland to arrive after he had lunched with the brigade. About the appointed hour, four p.m. I saw GAH strutting across the field with showers of five nines making him drop into shell holes here and there, so I made off to the old gun pits to meet him and reached them just as the signallers arrived. We went into the pit but could not get through so as we had to wait. I suggested it would be as well to run out a wire to a shell hole on the left flank, but Godfrey would not assent. However, after two salvos of high velocity gun (10-cm) had been hurled at us and a dud had landed at the mouth of the pit, he decided it would be a good plan. The line was dis[?] again and it was getting very dull but the light improved later just as we got through and we registered all right. Funnily enough while walking back, on looking at the house we had registered on, I was rather surprised to see that it was no more, during the five minutes we had not been looking at it a heavy howitzer must have hit it. That afternoon Bosche must have wanted to knock the railway arch in the embankment down, as he fired a number of heavy rounds at it - the bridge though badly pitted still holds out.

Letter from Lieutenant Colonel Goschen - 27th April, 1917

Dear Mr Manifold,

I am terribly sorry to have to write and tell you that your boy in the 15th battery was killed yesterday. Your son will have told you all the details. I want to tell you how dreadfully sorry all the 36th Brigade are. We all liked him immensely and I think thoroughly appreciated his untiring devotion to duty and his delightful company. I was very anxious that he should have come to me as Adjutant but he was not fond of office work and preferred to remain in his battery with his men and his horse.

He was a good sportsman in every way and you have my deepest sympathy in your loss.

Yours sincerely,

AA Goschen
Lt. Col
Commanding 36t Brigade, RFA

27th April, 1917

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Diary Entry - 26th April, 1917

Walford: Went forward to the section at Sucrerie and laid out lines of fire carefully without being disturbed. One of our balloons came down in flames durung the morning, being brought down by an aeroplane and another poor old BE was downed in flames during the morning, the poor unfortunate observer falling out, the other man being burnt with the machine, which dropped behind Bailleul. An ammunition dump went up south of Arras during the day. Bailly registered without trouble before lunch, only firing about 15 rounds, but he took good care to get another battery to comb the trees of Oppy Wood with shrapnel so as no observers were at work and took advantage too of Arleux en Gohelle being very heavily bombarded. While finishing tea in K's before going up to relieve Evans who had stopped up there all day Sgt. Sherlock came in very shaky and said to one of the 56th Battery officers there is an officer to see you outside. It struck me as being funny that my sergeant should tell a 50th Battery officer that someone wanted to see him so I listened and heard him tell Willy that Majors Walrond, Bailly, Bee and Ball had been killed. It was terrible news and fair broke me up. All I could do was wander up to the guns and tell Evans the news and to come back and see what he could do. It was really my duty to go over as senior subaltern at the guns but I could not face it. It appears a shell penetrated the wall and exploded inside killing all with the concussion. The blow struck me heavily enough - losing a brother whom one had loved all his life and never had a bad word or heard anyone else have a bad word against, a brother who had always helped me through all difficulties and who shared troubles and secrets alike with me, and a more thoughtful man I have never met. Goodness knows how mother and father will take the knock. I fear it will go hard with them. However, it seems to me the only way to bear up is to carry on all the harder with the work in hand so that one has not time to think things over. That evening when the guns   came up Hoyland arrived with them, taking over command, and he arranged to go back to the wagon lines, Evans to go to Kellagher's and I, as it was my desire to sleep at the guns.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Diary Entry - 25th April, 1917

Walford: Nothing to do during the morning. Bailly came in before lunch and said he had set the men on digging two places for a section and said that I was to go up with de Vere inthe afternoon to see the road he had reconnoitred so as we should not lose our way. We went down through the railway bridge and across, looking at each pohnt of the road and I can tell you I felt very naked with the Huns in Oppy wood looking right down on top of us. The position certainly looked as if it received a fair amount of atention but did not look too bad. We found one shaft which was unoccupied which was lucky as there was not a stick of cover anywhere. At eight thirty I met the teams at Kellagher's cross roads and as we went down through the bridge the SOS went up and everyone opened up. I can tell you it was very unpleasant as we were on a much shelled road with two gun teams and 30 pack horses. We wandered on over country which, though it seemed easy enough in daylight, seemed covered with shell holes in the dark night. And it was easily noticeable so that as we approached a bridge over a trench we were running into the barrage of a 5.9 battery and a High Velocity 15-cm gun - in fact I had doubts as to whether the bridge was there [?]. Well, to cut a long story short, we got through without a scratch, although every 30 feet a five nine seemed to crash right on top of us. We got the guns in without further incident and I was very glad when all the horses got clear. We had some work running the guns into the emplacements and took great care to cover up well. Then Bailly and I went back, I to the detached section and Bailly to the rear position.

In the afternoon, after coming back from the guns, I went over to the position to see Bailly but he was out and I found Bee there. Bee told me of a gun being blown 20 yards over near the 8 foot by a five nine landing under it and he was taking me over when two shells dropped nearly on us and one of his men Dixon a cook was wounded. I pointed him out and he ran over to attend to him. When he had got him away we went over to see the gun then returned to the Mess. As for the 18 pounder, there was very little of it left, both wheels being blown off and it was a complete wreck. We went back to the Mess and there I left him.

Bee: I went down to the forward position last night. It is only about a mile and a half. I left here at eight thirty p.m. and did not get there until one a.m. There was a gun bogged in the road and had to wait until they got it out. It has been a rather cold wind the last two days. This morning aeroplanes were fairly active. The Hun set three of ours on fire. I saw one of our poor fellows throw himself out. They did a lot of shelling around here today. An 8-in came to earth under an 18 pounds on our right and pitched it 20 yards away upside down and badly knocked it out. Gr Dickson was wounded today. I saw him smile when Walford and I threw ourselves flat on the ground and the next thing he was hit.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Letter Home (to his older sister, Mildred or 'Mim', from Bertie) - 23rd April, 1917

Dear Mim,
I have two letters from you. The last is the 14th inst. We have moved again. Had no chance to see Jack, worse luck. I was sorry to hear two days before we left Vimy of Jack Russell being killed. I was over at their brigade to see Chetty and their Brigade Major told me about it. He had bad luck to be hit direct by a shell. I feel very sorry for the family. Jack was worshipped in his battery.

Well, the Vimy show was a great success. We were hauled out just as it was getting interesting and pushed in somewhere else.Have seen Nevett since we have been here and he is looking splendid.

We had awful weather the four days we were on the move.The night before we startted it snowed and got frightfully cold, then turned to rain and blew a hurricane. Of course, we had no cover and got beautifully wet. The horses had an awful time.We were camped in an open field with a new sown crop and of course it soon was nothing but mud. Anyway, when we got to this position we did not waste much time in digging a Mess. Our first night here it snowed like fun but you soon forget it. The last four days have been fine and bright. Our poor airmen have had an awful time. It makes my blood boil to see that they tell the people at home that we have the supremacy of the air. On our front alone the Hun brings down far more than he should, just through having faster machines. He sets them on fire with a machine gun bullet and to see our men jumping out is cruel. We sometimes get a Hun machine but not often. He is too cunning and only chases our old busses. If our men in our fighters had as stout hearts as our men in our slow machines it would not be so bad. Half an hour ago the Huns attacked and set on fire one of our machines, which was among ten others of ours and then got away unhurt.

We had a merry day yesterday. The Hun kept us out of our position for five hours but hurt none of us. There is one thing the Hun hates and that is guns we capture from him firing his own gas shells back at him, This fairly makes him wild.

Well I have been writing this for three days so I expect it is very muddled. I got your letter last night about the cable. It is rather unsatisfactory but perhaps we will hear something later. Kid, I am enclosing a cheque for five pounds. Will you send me some Kolynos toothpaste and a pair of medium sized nickel pliers. I got mine at the Army and Navy store (top floor). I am also sending a watch to you for a new glass. I would like an unbreakable, if possible, composition.

Well, cheerio,

from B.

A bottle of fountain pen ink and still one more thing: a Stuart refill for an electric torch.

Diary Entry - 24th April, 1917

Walford: Tuesday. Very heavy gunning went on all night to the south and I expected to be hauled out for an SOS all through the night. At eight a.m. I heard two shell whisk over very fast and then two well in front of the guns and thought it time to get up. I had not got my trousers on when a shell landed just over the Mess, which, by the hole, looked very like an 8-inch. We all got into a trench we had had dug outside the Mess in case of emergency. The next one went into the 48th position so we though it time to evacuate and got all men on the move, telling them to go to a flank. On asking Sgt. Higgins if all were clear, we found Corporal Kay and his detachment were missing and were last seen in their shelter beside the gun. There was nothing for it but to go back to the position and see their shelter but Bailly would not allow Sgt. Higgins and I to investigatee but would come himself, although he was frightened out of his life. Well, we found the dugout or where it had been but I thought they must have been out of it as there was no sign of anybody and you would have thought some part of them would have been blown out. So, under pressure from Bailly, we left and made a detour to the right to see if we could find any trace of them. We all breakfasted with the brigade. After breakfast, while with the men, the Colonel told me we should have to move as we were on the duckboards, not because of the shelling. He decided on one position further back near the 70 battery and I was taking four DAC wagons round there past the brigade when we were told to stand fast as we should probably go forward. It was eventually arranged we should go up behind the Sucrerie so we dumped the ammunition in rear of 15th for packhorses. The shelling ended about twelve a.m. and after digging about the shell hole we unearthed all four men who must have been killed by the concussion they were just as they had been sitting - Corporal Kay, Br. Wells, Gunners Sullivan and Richards - every one of them old battery men and a great loss to us. As a result of the shelling, two guns were put out of action. The enemy countered again at two p.m. but again he was driven off with bloody losses. In the evening I went to the detached section to relieve Gough of the seven ones, it being arranged that as both batteries had a section up there one officer could run the two of them
Killed in action: Corpl. Kay, Br Wells, Gunners Richards and Sullivan

Bee: We were woken up in a bit of a hurry about eight a.m. by a 5.9 in firing on our battery. The one who put the wind up us landed about 20 yards from the Mess. So we all went back about 200 yards and watched proceedings. They did good shotting. Knocked out two of our guns and two of 48th also killed four of the 48th men,. We were lucky enough to all get breakfast at the Brigade and lunch at the 71st. We returned to our position after lunch and were glad to find the Mess intact but outside was well churned up. I went down to the forward position this evening. It is only about a mile and a half. I left here at eight thirty p.m. and did not get there until one a.m. There was a gun bogged in the road and had to wait until they got it out.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Diary Entry - 23rd April, 1917

Walford: Another bright sunny day and at four forty five a.m. the 68 Div (Naval) attacked Gavrelle, gaining all objectives and holding the town against many large counter attacks. We put up rather a novel smoke barrage on the left to avoid the Hun in Oppy from seeing what was happening. It proved quite successful as a barrage and covered the left from flanking machine gun fire and snipers in Oppy wood. It was a good light and BCs at the OP were taking on all targets that came in view. The Hun drew a lot of men from behind Oppy for a counter attack and had the face to march straight across the open in column of lumps[?] in range of our field guns. Our brigade being the first to see him got onto him at gun fire and gave him a bad mauling, killing many. But he went one better than this; he formed up about three battalions in the open in attacking order and advanced to the attack under our eyes. We were all waiting for him, heavies included, and opened a murderous fire on him when he came within range, and I believe we killed hundreds. The nine twos with their 101 fuse were making terrible gaps in the ranks. The first wave was wiped out and remnants of the secnd turned and fled, while the third faced it for a few yards and turned. Four times they attacked like this and four times we mowed them down in hundreds. By the end of the day the ground they advanced over was littered with dead. No-one could understand why Bosche attached so much importance to Gavrelle, as it held no ground from a tactical point of view, being in a hollow. This was the most wonderful sight I have seen since I came out and is the opinon of every officer I saw watching it. How the Hun officers got their men to march into such a Hell I can't imagine, unless they had machine guns in rear of them to scotch them up. I forgot to add that Siggers, who was with his guns this morning, in trying to help the No. 1 to move his trail, strained his back and was helpless, not being able to walk. He was helped down to the main position by Bailly and from there went on to the Brigade and thence to the WL. But for a time it is said he commanded the section from on his back.

Bee: A straf on Gavrelle this morning. It is on our right. It started at four thirty a.m. I was on duty at the group OP and had one of the most interesting days I have ever had. The light was bad up till eleven a.m. Then improved steadily until it was perfect. About eleven a.m. there was a tremendous movement of infantry from Oppy, a village on our left. From the OP we got a beautiful view, looking right down on the open plain. This movement was a good distance back, about 6,000 yards range. At first everybody thought the Hun was retiring but found our attack in the earlier part of the morning was a success, which the Hun resented and he was preparing a counter attack. All the 18-pounders on the front lit off at anything that was within range and Huns were running in all directions. Our Major got into them splendidly. The old Hun got a hell of a time. He formed up in the open and advanced in open order. We could practically see everything and waited for him, then mowed them down as they advanced. They made five different attempts too, but were driven off every time. It was the most wonderful sight I ever saw. In fact, we were shooting at moving targets all day. During the afternoon, the Hun brought down two of our planes just in front of the OP, but they came down under control, one landed all right, the other turned turtle and finished up with his wheels on top, but both men were unhurt, There is no doubt the Hun planes do what they like these days and are miles faster than ours, but they always take good care, when attacking, to take on our slow machines. They also fire [illegible 'tear?'] bullets and nearly always set our machines on fire. They bring down, on an average, three of ours a day on our front. It is awful to see these fellows jumping and getting dashed to bits. Yesterday the Hun straffed the 71st Battery very badly with 8-in from ten a.m. and knocked out three guns and properly chewed up their position, but all the men got away although had to move their quarters that night. An interfering Colonel came along while the straff was on today and asked Thorburn if he was firing. He said no. 'Well I shall report you'. So Thorlburn is now hoping he will.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Letter Home (Bertie) 22nd April 1917

15th Battery RFA

22nd April, 1917

Dear Mother and Father,

Same old story since my last letter. We have moved some distance since I last wrote and are back with our Infantry again. It has been about the most miserable weather you can imagine. Our efforts at our last place were awarded with great success. I walked with our Major over the ground we had captured the day after the show and saw with our own eyes the work our own battery had done and we were very pleased. Of course, one battery is only a pinprick in a show these days. Trones Wood last year was nothing like as much shelled as this place. It is lovely to think now that we have nearly double the artillery that the Hun has. We saw holes that you could have lowered your sunbeam into 15 feet down without touching the sides. There must be hundrds of Huns buried in their dugouts 30 feet down. But one does not feel sorry as it was at this place, Vimy, that the Hun gave us such a bad time last year. I don't know whether you remember me saying that we had been rushed up into action in the open at two hours' notice, just as we were preparing for a horse show. Old Hindenberg will never forgive his army for losing that place. Well, the night before we marched, it snowed like fun and then broke into rain. It rained solidly for four days all the time we were on the move, which was very unpleasant as had no cover at night. It was bitterly cold also and the poor horses had an awful time as the lines were in ploughed fields and you can guess the rest. Odd ponies had to be shot where they stood. But it is fine again now and you soon forget all this once your blankets are dried.

We are at present in the open, but it is not taking us long to get underground. The more he shells us, the quicker we get down. I think a few shells over these people who don't believe in fighting for their country would soon bring them forward. There is a battery very busy shelling one of ours just on our left just at present. The men are all away from it but their hits are gradually making more dust. I am afraid very few of them will have blankets tonight. It is not a bad spot though. He had the luck to get 13 horses and one man with one shell last night, but I bet we are accounting for a good many more than that behind his lines,. What annoys him most is to have his own gun firing gas shells at him from gun pits that he built.

Have had two mails since I last wrote. Walford and I are living together at present and are very fit. We are in good form.

With very best love to you all,
from your loving son,

Diary Entry - 22nd April, 1917

Walford: Sunday. A bright sunny day. Bosche took advantage of the light and had 15th balloons up, having a regular field day. He opened on the seven ones on our right about ten thirty a.m. and kept at them solidly around every minute, sometimes quickening. Needless to say, they evacuated to a flank and, although Bosche did some good shooting, he never actually got a direct hit, but must admit he had bad luck having a dud right under No. 2 gun. About two p.m. another five nine joined in from the north and pitched shell in front of the 15th. Fearing that we should be sandwiched, both Bee and I evacuated positions to watch events. He stopped about three but turned on with smaller shell (about 90 mm gun) and threw them all over the place. One could not get out of their way so had to just chance to luck. These shell made it very uncomfortable as one never knew where the next would fall and someone's ammunition went up on our right, making a great flare. About five p.m. an officer and telephonist were wounded just on the left of our position and we had to get them away - the former was all right; the latter bad. In the morning, Bosche brought down one of our balloons near Arras - supposed to have done it with a gun, but I think an airman with tracer bullets was the cause. The previous night to this, the 9th Battery had had 13 horse and two drivers killed by one shell. For some reason best known to Quiller Couch, he had a section wagon lines up behind his guns and an unlucky shell landed plum amongst them, the result being as above.

Bee: Have missed a day somewhere, as today is evidently Sunday. The Padre came round to hold a service. All the OC went to the wagonlines. It was a beautiful clear day and the Hun gave us a hell of a time. He started on the 71st battery who are 600 yards on our left at ten thirty a.m. and kept on firing until five p.m. with 5.9 in one round per minute. He had them registered to a tee. They left their position as had no cover. He put three of their gun out. Our heavies are too far back to do any counter Battery work. We have advanced too far. Splinters were going all ways. At two p.m. he started with two other 5.9-in and put them in front of our battery, so we pushed off to the rear for an hour. Then, at four p.m., until seven p.m., kept up a steady fire with 90 mm and 77 mm all over the country. Got four men on our left, set D36 ammunition on fire and set a pit - the D17 - on fire. Then finished up with a 4.2 in gun (commonly known as a bolter as it comes in at such a rate). He put the wind up us, one landing just a few yards from the Mess. Here endeth a perfect day.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Diary Entry - 21st April, 1917

Walford: Saturday, brighter weather seems to be setting in. Bailley shoots at zero house again. I remain at guns. The Hun pitched a good many shells in front of the battery on the crest but never searched over it. There was great activity in the air, the Bosch coming over and sinking two of our old observing machines. This annoyed our squadron of Meuport[?] scouts, whereupon they went over the Bosche lines and sank two Huns very prettily. A little later one was brought down by shell fire from a great height over our lines and it glided over the battery very low, just landing in its own territory. Bosch seems to use tracer bullets as he sets most of our machines on fire and it is cruel to see the airmen jump out of the flames.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Diary Entry - 20th April, 1917

Walford: Friday. Went up to the OP in the early morning, a place which used to be an old Bosch gun position having three 90 mm guns standing in the pits. These are old cannons built for the Franco Russian war and they have no recoil springs and a rotten old breech. About ten a.m. as there seemed to be a lot of people crawling about the position, I enquired what they were doing, the reply was that their Major and Colonel had come up to look around the ammunition and see if the guns could be used on the Bosch. Luckily, as no touching off cartridges could be found, the idea was abandoned. Bailly arrived about eleven a.m. and fired away till two p.m. when I suggested, as his firing was not of an important nature, the men might break off and have lunch.

Bee: I started out at three a.m. this morning and tried to get some ammunition wagons down to the forward position. It was a pitch dark morning and very hard to see anything. The road we had to go on was never very good - it has been shelled so much. And there are also Bosch ammunition wagons in the middle, which have been knocked out. There is one wagon which must have been going at a great pace as the [illegible] one horse are at the top of a 6 foot hole and the body is on the bottom. The Hun has been shelling a lot all night and did not stop until five a.m. He got five more direct hits on this road. Well anyway I did not get very far, only about 500 yards and stuck. So I eventually got out and came back, transferred the ammunition to pack saddles and took it down. Got finished about five forty-five a.m. and we must have been seen by the Hun but he did nothing. Then I had to go and reconnoitre another road, as the guns have to be brought up, found it all right. The batteries under the railway in front got a bad time during the night. The order to move the guns was cancelled. It has been a perfect light. The 9th Battery, while firing last night put four rounds into one of the 48th guns, which is only 100 yards in front. I expect the layer will get it in the neck. It was lucky no men were at the gun at the time

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Diary Entry - 19th April, 1917

Walford: Dug hard all day, putting the finishing touches on filling sand bags and building two sloping walls to support the roof. It was a dull day and turned to rain for the best part of an hour towards midday but cleared again. Two more guns came up in the morning and Bailly registered them in the afternoon on a house right of Oppy. In the evening we got all the Mess kit and cook house moved and had an iron roof on the mess.

Bee: Much finer today, the ground is drying up very fast. Did a bit of shooting today. After lunch I took Kershaw down to his new position and they fairly put the wind up us. I have never fallen into a shell hole quicker in my life. He was putting over salvoes of 5.9 in, really shooting at a railway bridge, but they were very erratic. Got quite a good view of the country today, You can see most things from just in front of the position.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Diary Entry - 18th April, 1917

Walford: Wednesday. Woke up to the drip of water near my head and on looking out saw it was snowing and thawing as it fell. Well, there was only one alternative and that was to get up out of it before I was flooded out, and this I did. It was very cold standing about outside waiting for the others to get up and was rather amused while hanging about to see Thorburn  take a parade in which the men had to be rooted out of their shelters and I pitied them as it was indeed no day for parading at nine a.m. The cook and servants turned out a breakfast from the mud somewhere, which was much appreciated by all but Bailly, who, in his selfish way, had some grouse. It was unanimously decided that we should start on a hole behind the guns to be a combined mess, so Siggers, Ball, Bee and I started on it, calling in the servants when they had settled their kit up. By dusk we had completed a hole 27 feet by 12 by 5 deep, covering it over with iron and bivouac sheets, using three limber poles to support them. This was a great improvement to the trench and we slept there for the night but continued messing at the old place until the cook house was ready.

Bee: This morning Walrond and I went out looking for an advance position. We started about eight a.m. The ground ahead has been pretty badly shelled. We first of all found four likely positions, about 500 yards ahead of here but too difficult to get the guns into. So we went on to the village of Baillieu, another 600 yards on. It has been well shelled but seems fairly liveable. At this end we found a position and three dugouts. The road down shows signs of the Huns' great hurry. There are a good many wagons and conveyances left on the road and they have evidently had a close call as the traces have been cut. My section are to do a horse artillery stint, when the show comes off. So we went on further, to within 500 yards of the front line and had a look at the ground, which is in good order. The Hun was very good and hardly troubled us. The Hun was a bigger fool than I thought when he let us drive him out of here where everything is in his favour. Tonight I am taking down some ammunition wagons at three a.m.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Diary Entry - 17th April, 1917

Walford: Tuesday, an absolutely rotten morning blowing like hell and raining hard, now and again changing to sleet. I started badly as in the melee of packing kits someone got away with my cap and, though I saw it five minutes before I asked for it, nothing could be found of it. So I sent for my steel hat, but it had fallen off my saddle on the previous night in riding home. So I had to borrow Hoyland's steel hat. We marched at nine fifteen a.m. behind the 15th Battery but before the 15th got onto the road they had to shoot one horse as it got down and nothing would move it. It was a frightful march, though a short distance, and the traffic was very heavy and the roads beyond description. As we massed Marveuil there was a 9.2 naval gun firing from a railway mounting. At twelve thirty we got onto our ground just oustide Arras and went down to the Scarpe to water in a storm of sleet. The servants were very good and got a tent up and we had lunch - a good hot one too - in no time. At three thirty p.m. Bailly, Hoyland, Siggers, I and Sergeant Major set out with two guns, four wagons and a GS wagon and [illegible] for the guns. The road again was packed with lorries and was very bad where the German line crossed it, as the bombardment had pounded it up. However, we got along slowly through the muck and reached the position about five p.m. We were here greeted with a snowstorm and proceeded to dig shelters for the night in a trench some two hundred yards to the left flank of the battery. By dark we had formed a sort of mud hole in the trench, in the middle of which we put a limber pole, throwing a tarpaulin over the top of it. I forgot to mention that, as this was a very open position, we had the limbers beside the guns for cover. By eleven thirty we had about finished food and turned in by number,s a kit being put down and the man crawling inside. I was last man and was very cramped for room, however I was glad to crawl under a blanket anywhere as was very tired.

Bee: Moved this morning. Still as cold and wet as ever. I was orderly officer. I don't think I ever saw the wagon line look more pitiful. The horses were up to their hocks in mud and frozen to the bone. It was blowing a hurricane. When we started to pull out onto the road, horses were falling down in all directions. They seemed to have no feeling in their legs, which I don't wonder at. We were on the move at eight fifteen a.m. and marvellous to relate got all vehicles out onto the road without being bogged. We marched along the main Arras road, which was full of traffic, and our wagon line was not reached until twelve noon, although we only had 7 miles to march. It is on the outskirts of Arras. We had about three hours there and then loaded up and came into our new position. The road up was one mess of traffic, which was blocked the whole way up and this 5 miles took 5 hours to do. The road is pretty badly smashed - the front lines both run across the road. We managed to bag some truck covers and a tent on our way up. The position consists of an open bit of ground without any trenches or shelter, so we all had to set to and dig. By nine thirty p.m. we had a liuttle cover. Put a tarpaulin over the top and turned in. But it started raining again during the night, then turned to snow. About five a.m., the wet began to rise and our blankets got fairly wet. Then about seven a.m. snow began to melt and come through the sheet. So we were not altogether happy. It rained steadily all day. But we set too and dug ourselves another Mess in better ground. It was the best bit of work I have seen for some time, but, of course, nearly everything was damp. But we hope for the best, as the barometer is going up.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Diary Entry - 16th April, 1917

Walford: Monday, a sunny day, the Colonel was to start with battery commanders at nine thirty a.m. for Roclincourt to meet the CRA and look at positions. Jack BC[?] took a subaltern with him and went with Bailly. It was quite a cavalry stunt and, as there was some open country, we came to some ditches which gave us good sport. The roads were thick with transport especially pack mules and there was lots of mud about. We found Newcombe who was taking General Saunders's place, the latter having gone to the corps. We set out - the party consisted of two Colonels with their BCs and subalterns - across the old front line, which, after Courcelette, looked clean country and not much strafed. The ground was very heavy and we soon got onto a duckboard track which took us well up over a crest from which we could see the much talked of Mouchy, which had been taken a few days before by the tanks and cavalry. Walking on, the ground sloped away and we came to a slight valley, the ground sloping away very gradually just leaving a small plateau for our guns. Over the next crest one looked down on Bailleul, just over a railway embankment Opp[? I have to go back through the past few weeks and check all place names, when time permits] was right over that and Arleux en Gohelle to the north and Gavrelle to the south. There were also over this crest a lot of old German gun positions. The CRA allotted the areas to the brigade and the Goschen soon gave us our plot of land and we came right on the right of the 15th Battery with a line of duckboards running between the left and right hand guns of each battery. After choosing the platforms from among the shell holes, we ate a sandwich and wended our way back to the horses in Roclincourt. On our way we spotted Kellagher's battery and went over to see him, but he was at the OP, but we saw Major Jones of the 70th Battery. After a drink, we walked on, nosing round a derelict tank on the way. The ride was even more sporting going back as we went overland as much as we could and Bailly and his carriage horses got very blown. Ball of the 15th Battery was riding a remount which was badly broken and he tried to jump it over a trench and the animal simply fell into it, also stumbling over itself on getting out. As we got home at four p.m., it commenced raining, continuing heavily with a high wind through the night. Cruikshank and Siggers had been out filling up with ammunition and Hoyland had been over to have wagon lines allotted by Pelham (Staff Captain RA). He and the other battery officers lunched in Arras and returned about five p.m. in the rain. All preparations were made for an early move in the morning.

Bee: It rained hard all night and the mud in the horse lines is awful. Horses have been getting bogged going to the water troughs and in some cases have had to be shot where they stood. It is bitterly cold. This afternoon we had to fill up with ammunition, and the dump, which was an army dump, took a lot of finding, as the countryside is one mass of dumps. The OB and colonel all went up to reconnoitre the new positiions. The order came in about filling with ammunition and the only officers in the brigade were doctors, so we got the orders through them. It rained all the afternoon again. Really it is most depressing. We are Messing with the 48th and you cannot imagine the crush.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Diary Entry - 15th April, 1917

Walford: Late on Saturday night we received orders that we were to march to Marveuil at nine forty-five a.m. It commenced raining about eight a.m. and continued throughout the day. We had a heavy march through the mud to St Eloi where we were to rendezvous with the wagon line transport and march in Brigades. After careful reconnaissance of tracks, we selected one and chanced getting bogged. It was a heavy pull but we got out and parked our guns and teams on a piece of clear ground in St Eloi. Here we unhooked and filed to water, as it was learned that there was no room for us at Marveuil as arranged and the Staff were trying to find room for us. It did not take us long to remember we were in a corps in which Buxton reigned as Corps captain as it was one of his splendid muddles. Bailly sent me on from here to see the Colonel. I then took two NCOs with me and went ahead to billet. We found Murdoch (adjutant) just outside Ecoivres planting the wagon lines into what looked a morass, as it was or had been cropped and the rain turned it into a kind of mud lake. Luckily I ran into the wagon line vehicles on the way, headed by Cruikshanks and so sent for the Sergeant Major. Meantime sent Sgt Higgins off to see 5 Nissen huts which had been allotted us. There was some difficulty over the huts as the faithful Murdoch had given me someone else's so we had to hunt him up again and strafe him. The men got the horses watered and fed by three p.m. and we packed them into the huts, giving two to right half and two to left half batteries, being Segeants' Mess, 2 MS stores and general depot. The 15th and 48th batteries shared a hut and we got a kind of lunch tea at four thirty p.m. The rain still poured down and the wind rose as the afternoon went on.

Bee: Got orders last night about ten p.m. that we were to move. It is wonderful how this always happens at the last minute. Walrond was at RA at five p.m. and they knew nothing about it. This meant that the orders would not get to the wagon line until two a.m. and then they would have to start at four a.m. so it does not leave much time. It was a brute of a day, drizzling rain all day. The limbers wagons were very late in getting to the guns. We were told to go to Maronil, but, after an awful muddle, we were billeted at Ecoivre in Nissen huts. Horse lines in mud up to their hocks.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Diary Entry - 14th April, 1917

Walford: Again, movement orders being expected, we stayed at the guns, although we were well out of range. In the afternoon our patrols are reported to be in La Coulotte and Avion. I lunched with Bee, returning soon afterwards to allow Bailly to go to Brigade.

Bee: A fine day but very windy. Hung about here expecting to get orders to move. Walford came to lunch. Walrond went to the wagon line, Thershaw and Shapland went up to Vimy ridge. He had a 6-in gun firing back here. Rumour says we have patrols in Livin. We are about 11,000 yards behind our infantry. The Hun started blowing up Lens today, some of our patrols are level with Lens on the right. It is going to be an awful job getting guns over Vimy Ridge. But there are some guns on the other side already.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Diary Entry - 13th April, 1917

Walford: Stayed at the position all day, expecting to hear word of a move. Siggers who had gone to Hill 145 on the previous evening returned about five p.m. During the day we took Givenchy and Lenz Ancre line (a line of trenches) without any opposition.

Bee: Today was quite fine and it really looks like clearing up a bit. Good news is still coming in about the show. Walrond and I went up to Hill 145, across country, which makes an awful difference to the distance. First of all, crossed the old Hun front line, where we had to cut wire before the show. I was greatly surprised to see what a good job we had made of it. There was not a stake standing. You could hardly recognise any trenches behind his front line, they were merely a series of shell holes. He must have had a hell of a time from our heavies. I did not see a dug out that was not completely smashed. And that country was one mass of dug outs and mine craters as it was ground they took away from the 47th Div. I have never seen any ground that was as completely knocked about by shell fire. Trones, Delville and these places are not in it. No armour in the world would stop the old 9.2 inch. There were some shell holes which had wrecked dug outs and left miniature precipices - holes you could have lowered an 18-pound gun down 10 feet without touching either side . There are some ghastly sights - our men have not been buried yet. And I am sure these tunnels we had here must have saved thousands of lives. I was surprised to see what a wonderful view he had all over our country and cannot imagine why he never shelled us more at the Batteries. The top of the hill is pounded to bits and the view that meets the eye when you get to the top is wonderful. The Hill goes down very steep on the other side and then opens into a huge plain. Lens looks no distance away. Village of Vimey seems untouched. And, except for a few guns shooting onto the hill, it was quite quiet. The Infantry told us the last Huns they saw were moving back over the plain in small bodies yesterday afternoon. He has evidently set all his dug outs on fire as you could see smoke coming out of the ground. From intelligence, they were bringing up reinforcements but did not expect our attack until a while later.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Diary Entry - 12th April, 1917

Walford: It snowed hard all night and, on waking in the morning, found the entrance all drifted up. The servants had to get to work with shovels and clear the passageway in. A cold wind was blowing so remained in the Mess all day, as there was nothing to do. In afternoon, Kershaw registered the battery from [illegible].

Bee: Had a very heavy snowfall last night - about 6 inches - which has nearly all melted now. And everything is very slushy. Thought we would have moved today, as the Colonel would not let any of the battery commanders move from their positions. One of the La Hore Battery's OS came and inspected our position and said he was coming in here. Been very cold all day. A new Subaltern arrived called Ball. He has been out in Gallipoli and Egypt.

Letter Home (Bee) - 11th April, 1917

15th Battery, RFA

April 11th, 1917

Dear Mother and Father,

We are having a much quieter day today than yesterday. The attack we took part in was a great success and we gained all our objectives. Our position is more or less a rest spot now, as he is fully occupied further forward. The weather has been awful, cold rain and sleet, and it is extraordinary how cold it has been. During this rotten weather, we had one beautiful day and all got bucked as we thought the spring had come at last.

I saw three weeks ago on our march up a gosling willow in ud, which looked as if spring was on its road. We shall appreciate it all the more when it does come.

These days the Heads take no notice of weather conditions. In fact, one of our objectives was taken during a snowstorm and a bitter cold wind. Of course, the cold does not affect those who attack, but the poor wounded go through more torture than you can imagine. It is always a marvel to me what the human body can stand when put to it like it is out here. It was only a few days ago I wa trying to help some fellows to get to a dressing station. A shell had landed between 15 of them and they were the only two living. One had a broken leg, a fractured arm and some nasty wounds. The other had three wounds in all parts of his body and had been sniped bringing his mate back. Those poor fellows had been wet through for nearly 36 hours and had made their way over very rough ground for over a mile. On my way back to the battery that evening, I heard a voice from a stretcher which was being carried back: 'Sir, I'm all right now, I've got a life".

Well, I thought I had seen some mud about Courcellette, but this beats all. Another officer and I were on ground captured the afternoon before. He got completely bogged and it took  me all my time to get him out, and we had no kit on. But the poor infanteer with fighting kit of course has an awful load.

This might sound rather depressing but really we are all jumping with joy as this is the biggest victory the Allies have had since the war began and there is no doubt Hindenberg will have an awful liver when he gets the news.

There are quite a lot of fellows we know round here - Messrs Brice, Austin Burston and Chetty - but have had no time to go and see them. Poor Jack Russell was killed the day before yesterday He was very unlucky as was hit direct by a shell when working in his battery position. His battery is not more than half a mile from us. Jack is not so very far from us, but he is now on leave. Hope to see him when he comes back.

We got two mails this week and enjoyed reading in the cutting from the "Age", 'A man's experience in France'. In his account you would think gunners (British!) were the last word.

I must end, with very best love to you all, from your loving son,


Diary Entry - 11th April, 1917

Walford: Wednesday at eleven a.m. Hoyland and I came up to the guns, myself coming up to stay. About two thirty, I and Bee set out in the rain for Carency to find Chettie [Chester Manifold] and several other people. After locating D36 we eventually got onto the 76th Brigade in Carency ruins, just in time to get out of very heavy rain. We found a good chap there, the adjutant, who, funnily enough, used to be a rough rider in the 15th Battery. He rang up Chettie's battery, but found he was on duty at Hill 145, observing. Burston, who was orderly officer to the brigade, was out laying wires, so we had no luck. We talked for about an hour to this man, as it was raining very heavily, and he gave us sad news of Jack Russell, also in the brigade - he had been killed the previous night while in his position outside a dug out  - by a 10-cm shell. When we did set out for home, the rain had turned to snow and it eventually set in to snow hard. I was all right in a British Warm, but Bee would not bring a coat. That night it was very unpleasant going to bed as the dug out, an old one, leaked like a sieve and water was dripping all roads. However, I managed to sleep through it. The latest report of the fighting reads: 'Received at Division two a.m. yesterday - 11,000 prisoners, 108 guns, 160 machine guns and 60 trench mortars have been captured by the 1st and 3rd armies.'

Bee: A very hard frost last night. There was a tremendous wind nearly all day. It dropped about four p.m., then snowed like fun and is still snowing. Walrond came back to the battery. Colonel Groschen arrived yesterday and I went round to try to find Chettie, who is over near Carency. Just as I was starting off I met Walford, who had just come up from the wagon line, and he came along with me. It took us some time to find his brigade, and then the adjutant, who was once a corporal in this battery, rang up and found he was up at the OP. I went out without a coat and got pretty well wet through. He told us poor Jack Russell was killed yesterday, by a direct hit. Burston is also in that brigade. I found when I got back that Chettie had called in at our Mess on his way back from his OP but missed us. This has been a wonderful quiet day in the way of shells. Dozens of batteries moved up today. We are evidently going to join our feet, who are supposed to be a bit south.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Diary Entry - 10th April, 1917

Walford: Tuesday. Still blowing a good strong South Wester, with occasional snow storms making the poor old skins look very uncomfortable and tucked up. Hoyland and I took an afternoon's constitutional to the top of the ridge, where we sat under cover of a bank and, between the snow storms, watched Aix Noulette being strafed heavily with four twos. On returning, we received a note from the guns asking for Evans to be sent up that evening. The note also contained excellent news - 10,000 prisoners taken, 42 guns captured, cavalry through in strength at several places, enemy broken. This news bucked us up immensely as never knew they were attacking at Arras as well. We had Murdoch and Hortayne in to dinner but were rather disturbed on hearing from Sgt. Cowan of 71s that Major Durand was wounded and had been evacuated. Cruikshanks slightly wounded in the leg. It turned out tha, Bailly, Durand and Cruikshanks were in a shelter at the bottom of a captured crater when a four two landed at the entrance, killing several Canadians nearby and catching Durand in the face with the blast and a piece in his leg, also shaking the other two badly and knocking in the dug out where several men were taking cover. However, our joy about the prisoners and guns kept our spirits up all right.

Bee: A brute of a day, cold wind and it snowed in the afternoon. Took things fairly easy this morning.After lunch, Claudie and I started off for our old zeropoint, a mine crater well behind the Hun old front line. I have never seen such sights before - Trones Wood was nothing to it. The mud was something awful. How the infantry with fighting equipment on got through it God knows. But what we saw today tells a bitter tale. Even we, with nothing to carry, had to pull each other out at times. Just before we got to the crater, the station was hit by a 4.2 - in it were two Canadians. It wounded four, besides wounding Major Durand and slightly wounding Cruikshank. This crater used to be in our old front line before we went into Ablain St Nazaire. It was lost by the 47th Div.

Diary Entry - 9th April, 1917

Walford: On returning from our walk the previous evening, we found Cruikshanks waiting for us at the Mess saying he had walked down from the guns to reconnoitre a road for ammunition, as we were to be forbidden use of the main road that night. So I went up, mounted, with him to see the track he had reconnoitred and found that we should be able to use the road after midnight. On going back, had dinner then set out with Murdoch for the ammunition dump to pick up 10 ammunition wagons, which were taking up pills[?] for us. It was almost one p.m before we got clear and we had a clear road until we came out of St Eloy where there was a block of motor lorries. Half an hour saw us through that, but we met with a jam soon after getting onto the sleeper track. Well, we remained here till about four a.m, owing to a 60-pounder battery calmly sitting on the track while they got each individual gun into its pit and a Canadian water cart got one wheel off the track and into a trench, where it stuck. After we had disposed of the water cart by turning it over, all was clear and we reached the battery at four forty-five a.m. (the barrage and attack being timed for five thirty a.m). It soon commenced to rain and it was a good half hour before we started down the new track for home. The officer from the DAC was an awful fool as he would not make up his mind whether to see all wagons clear of the position or not. I got fed up and made good speed for the WL. One had a good view of our barrage riding towards Villers-au-Bois which looked very terrifying as the whole horizon was a mass of mud spouts showing where the shells were doing their work. On arrival at the WL, I unsaddled Tommie (the horse) and went straight to bed - by this time the rain was falling very heavily. I slept till twelve fifty and, after lunch, walked over to see Sanger, eventually bringing him back to dinner. Towards evening periodic snow storms blew up, making life very unpleasant.

Bee: The day of the Vimy Push. We were out at four a.m. The place (tunnel) was blocked with gunners. We were well up and near the opening. Our job was to go out an hour after zero. But the batch of snipers and machine gunners kept us down. The Brigade of foot in front of us made a mess of things. Runlor says that a six-inch smoke shell of ours fell to give them cover until they got over, but they got the wind up and thought it was gas and stopped in their own front line and, of course, the people on the right advanced too fast for them. Their snipers played the devil all day and held the left up. Besides this, they kept shooting our wounded. Hun could see them quite plainly and Armytage had a shot at them with his revolver, but they were too long a range. Then we got a corporal with a rifle who showed great determination but only had an ordinary sight. After half an hour's shooting, another Hun we did not see got our corporal right through the head, through his steel helmet. Armytage was very lucky as this corporal was next to him. At twelve noon they sent out a bombing party to take these snipers and it took them until four p.m. to accomplish this and they finally captured 20 Huns. But they kept us from doing our job very successfully. I got back to the Battery at eight p.m after a very tedious day. And glad to get back where people who were not continuously passing you. This show was on a 30-mile front and, from information, was very successful. Ten thousand prisoners taken.

Diary Entry - 8th April, 1917

Walford: A real spring day, beautifully warm, with just a slight southerly breeze. During the morning, I attended stables and water. In the afternoon, Evans paid out the battery. Hoyland and I took a walk over to our old position (section) in the Bois de Noulette near the chateau. We found our pits turned into men's billets and the battery out in the open to the south of the wood. The place seemed to have been straffed rather severely. In fact, we had to take cover while there. It seemed a very undesirable spot to loiter in. The trees were all very freshly scarred and the chateau was nearly levelled to the ground. We chatted to the adjutant of the brigade there. Their HQs were in the old French dugouts and he said they had lost five men during the morning, having had a direct hit on a pit, and several other casualties had occurred the previous evening on the tramway, so we made tracks for home. On the way, we watched a nine two firing and noticed they were using the new 106 phase which has no delay action.

Bee: Quite a good day. Armytage and I are chosen for intelligence officers during the day of the show. He and I went up with Conover, the orderly officer, to the Tottenham tunnel which is our jumping off place. I have never seen anything like this construction. It is a mile long, the main passage, and then has numerous passages for billets. The [illegible] places are the most awful puzzles I have been in. They are worse than any maze. The tunnel is lit by electric light, which is generated by a plant in the tunnel. It has numerous entrances, which act as air vents. We went right up to our place. They were to blow a mine known as the Wombat which was to connect our front line with the Hun line where cables were to be put through. We found that we had to come up tonight, as the infantry had to come up, which blocked the whole way. They started to move up at eight p.m. and kept coming until one a.m. We got news at midday that we had to go on cutting wire. On our way back from the tunnel, we met Colonel Newcombe and Major Carrington, who were going up to see the wire and if the 6" could not be turned on. We left here at five thirty p.m,. feeling more like walking Christmas trees than anything else, with revolvers, provisions, gas helmets and one thing and another. They put us in what they called the Cave for the night - a place, once you got in, that there was no chance of getting out of. We discussed the next day at great length. There were five of us officers and 15 men. Those who could, slept.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Diary Entry - 7th April, 1917

Walford: The Bosch again shelled through the night, this time landing in our DAC, who were closer downhill towards us, the toll being this time four horses killed. In the middle of the night I heard a lot of movement and shouting on the road. This proved to be the DAC moving to another camp between us and Gouy Servins. D 36 also moved their lines to the fringes of Bois de Bouvigny so as to get some shelter from the wind. Hoyland and I went up to the guns at eleven a.m., after we had completed several commissions at the ammunition dump and RAHQ. It was my first view of the guns in this position. They had quite a comfortable place and seemed to be left alone by the Hun. The main feature of the spot was the approach over a long track built of wooden sleepers with only room for vehicles to go one way. We were up there till five, expecting to see Bailey, but, as he remained at the OP all day, we eventually left without seeing him.

Bee: Very cold first thing, cleared up a bit and during the afternoon dried up a lot. I went to the OP early this morning and started wire cutting. It is a very hard place to see any wire at all. The background has been turned up such a lot, it does not stand out. Claudet and Duran went down to the front line and checked our shooting. The infantry were cleared out of the trenches, which is very satisfactory. We fired 1400 rounds and my head and eyes were quite sore by the time we had finished. We started at eleven a.m. and did not finish up until six p.m. The guns shot perfectly. The Hun plane brought down one of our observing balloons during the afternoon, and set it on fire. But fancy, the men got free with  parachutes. The Hun has some very fast planes here and he can run rings around ours. Had a letter from Mim suggesting that I should go back to Australia. It sounds very nice but at present I can't see how it can be done.

Diary Entry - 6th April, 1917

Walford: Friday. Quite a sunny morning but a strong north wind was blowing with a deal of cold in it. We sent a party of 12 men to church, Hoyland and I also going, but we both the sole occupants and no one else sent any men. It was rather a shame as they were warned of the fact it was Good Friday and might have made an effort to send some men. Towards evening, the sky became overcast and it was again showery. Bosch shelled battery to the north of us in the evening and pumped several right in amongst them, killing one man, wounding three men and killing four horses. Needless to say they made a hasty exodus and found new lines nearer Gouy Servins. Rain set in at four thirty p.m and continued steadily until late at night.

Bee: Last night was the first time we have been able to go to bed before one a.m. The barrage scheme generally does not come in until eleven and then it takes about two good hours to work it out. So far, from cold, we have lost 10 horses. I went up with Claudet to cut wire. At midday it started to rain and it rained heavily until nine p.m. Another practice barrage today. Z day has been put off 24 hours. Our mess is the limit tonight, leaking like a sieve. There was a very fast Hun plane over today, which brought down three of our planes in less than half an hour, and then he went home - not bad work off his own bat. I saw one poor fellow come down in flame. But, even as he came down, under control, which I think was wonderful.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Letter Home (Bee) - 5th April, 1917

Dear Mother and Father,

I am sorry, I have missed the mail. I started this some time ago, but have not had a chance to touch it since. I expect you will think this excuse is becoming rather frequent, but really these days it is getting beyond; one has no spare time. So please don't worry if you don't get a letter. Please don't think we are over worked, but there is always that glorious uncertainty as to what your next job is. We have been three days at our destination digging in and preparing to give the Hun an unhealthy time. Thank goodness we are not getting at us what he is getting from us. The noise alone from bursting shells must wreck his nerves.

We saw the sun today, the first time for a fortnight. We have not had a very enjoyable time here as have no cover for the men. What there is is like a sieve, which makes it rather depressing. And, of course, we have a good deal of snow which, thank goodness, did not stay on the ground long. We are not nearly so badly off as the feet. The trenches are the worst thing I have ever seen. I was in one trench yesterday which was over my knees and all of them are over the knees in slimy mud. I am sure we will soon be web-footed. Considering all this, it is marvellous how the men keep in health. The poor horses are suffering worse than anything else at present. Some people are losing as many as nine a night from cold. It is a big percentage out of 170 a head.

I must close. Excuse hurried note.

from your loving son,

Diary Entry - 5th April, 1917

Walford: A beautiful sunny day, the first sign of spring we have had, and Hoyland and I rode into Bethune, starting from here about eleven fifteen a.m. We got in in time for lunch at one thirty-five in the Hotel de France. There were various odds and ends to be bought but we soon had what we wanted and, after a cup of tea with Blanche – name of the girl at the best teashop – we made for home. It was very nice coming back and we stopped below the Bois d'Ohlain, removed the horses' saddles and let them have a good roll and graze at the grass for about half an hour. From here, it was a pleasant ride across country. I forgot to add that before starting in the morning I went to the DAC and drew four horses and four mules, Sanger of D36 and I having the choice of a small bunch there. They were a poor lot and I think we got as good a choice as possible.

Bee: Today has been glorious, bright, still and warm, but I am afraid it is too good to last. I was at the guns most of the day. Claudet and Kershaw went up to wire cutting. This is one of those positions where the infantry walk right into, ignorant of danger. I had to stop a good many times to let them through. I very nearly got three men with one premature, so was extra careful afterwards. The most wonderful thing was there were very few Hun planes over during the day. After afternoon tea, Claudet and I went for a walk to Cabarett Road to have a look over at our old position at Ablain St Navaire. It is a wonderful sight – there are dozens of batteries right up to the church near Souchey. There are batteries practically on top of the hill. The whole place is fairly bristling with guns. I hardly knew the place. On our way back we met a young Sub out trying to shoot partridge with a revolver. We had a test barrage this morning at eight a.m.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Diary Entry - 4th April, 1917

Walford: As it was a fairish morning and the clouds looked a little higher than they had of late, I thought I should try and get over to Annequin and find "A" anti-aircraft battery. At ten a.m. Wrate brought the horses and we went via Bouvigny, Boyeffles, Lveux-les-Mines, Sailly-la-Bourson. It only took two hours to get to Annequin Fosse but it took me some time to find the battery which was on the far side of the Cambrin road. Of course, John was on leave and Sam McCaughey away in rear with a section, so there was nothing for it but to return. It was inclined to rain on the return journey but managed to hold off. I left the horses with Wrate in Lveux-les-Mines to water and feed and I walked on expecting him to pick me up. After an hour's walk, I sat on the roadside to await the horses but an hour later, as they didn't turn up, I got on a passing lorry, which luckily was going my way. Wrate was not back when I arrived at the wagon line but turned up about six p.m. with two chits from APM and said they would not let him come out of the town without a pass and then he only got one after explanations as to who he was and where he had come from. Hoyland had been to the guns and did not return until eight thirty p.m. We had orders from Brigade to send 30 of our horses over to the DAC where we should get 30 in exchange. The idea was that these, being good horses and having suffered from treatment and lost condition, should be given a rest and a chance to pick up condition.

Bee: Started out with Claudet to the OP at eight a.m. – a miserable morning, raining up to midday. I have never seen anything like the trenches. They are all ankle-deep mud and in some places well over the tops of your boots. Of course, we have no telephone wire but the Corps had made arrangements for us to use a buried line. But when we got to the OP found it had not been completed. So spent most of the morning trying to find a corps officer, without success - too wet for him to be out. I never saw anything like the amount of artillery firing and the funny part was that the Hun did not retaliate. The rumour is very strong that he has gone back.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Diary Entry - 3rd April, 1917

Bee: The Hun put up very heavy fire last night, about nine p.m, on our trenches. More rain and snow, everything is very slushy and depressing. But there are plenty worse off than we are although it is hard to imagine it at times. Today we had to dismantle one of our gun pits as the floor was too low and the gun could not clear the crest, so had to raise the whole structure. We put over a tremendous lot of heavy stuff today, which must have made the Hun very uncomfortable. More orders in tonight to cut wire – get the other section up and a few particulars about the show. I am going as liaison officer on the day. 

Monday, 2 April 2012

Diary Entry - 2nd April, 1917

Walford: It froze through the night and a cold south-east wind blew in the morning, increasing to a gale at midday. The poor old horses were looking very miserable as there was no shelter whatever. After lunch Cruikshank and I wandered out onto Lorette to see what shooting was going on. We found the place much more packed with guns than when we were here before. No sooner had we sat down on Lorette to view the country than it commenced raining and, as it looked as if it was too windy to keep up, we sat in the trench expecting it to be a shower. However, it kept on and so we made tracks for home under shelter of the wood. Before we got far it started sleeting and then turned into snow. It was bitter and when we came from shelter of the wood and had to walk along the crest I thought we should never get back as it was a regular blizzard. The ground was soon blotted out and within an hour and a half there was about four inches of snow on the ground. It stopped about six p.m. for an interval but began again about nine p.m. Needless to say we were very wet when we got back.

Bee: We took the right hand gun pit for a Mess. Bailey and Siggers came and lived with us which rather cramped our style. Bailey is beyond doub the most selfish man I have ever met. Our guns came up last night but did not arrive until eleven p.m We left them outside the pits with camouflage over them as were told would not fire for a day or two, but, of course, that was soon altered and we were told to start cutting wire immediately. Which of course was impossible as had no telephone wire for communication. We are rather lucky as we are the nearest to the railway and our position was completed before the other two were started but the others have the benefit of having dug outs for the men. It has been a brute of a day, snowing and raining and very cold. Our Mess leans like fun and everything is more or less damp.

Diary Entry - 1st April, 1917

Walford: During the night it rained fairly heavily and was cold and dull looking when I turned out for stables at five forty-five. At ten a.m. Bailly, Siggers and Hoyland set off for the guns with a party of gunners to work on the position. I rode over to Chateau de la Haye to see about some telephone wire for Bailly and found the Canadians very hard to squeeze anything out of but eventually got a drum of D3. While watering in the afternoon it blew up into a regular blizzard and snowed for about fifteen minutes.

Bee: Frost last night. I came up to the guns with Claudet and a party of fifteen men on horse. It was a longer way than I thought – about eight miles. And is the other side of St Clair. It took us two hours to do. The last two miles of road is made of sleepers laid on the surface and very slippery. There are hundreds of guns up here. Our position was built by the La Hore [?] Division and consists of six gun pits without any accommodation for men, with mud all around – a cheery spot. The whole brigade are in line, we being the right hand battery. The pits are built of small red cupolas sunk low in the ground so there is very little crest in front of us to hide the flash. We are right behind the Arras Bethune road. The men were kept busy cutting camps in front of pits to let the guns in. There are a tremendous lot of light railways round here, with petrol motors. It is wonderful what a big load they can haul. Our position looks fairly peaceful - very few shell holes about. But a good many anti aircraft shells came to earth about here.

Diary Entry - 31st March, 1917

Walford: Battery marched for Goeux Servins [?] at nine thirty, a very small distance but the roads were packed with traffic. Siggers went on to take over allotted lines and Bailely went forward to see the positions (gun) with other Bcs[?] in a motor lorry. Cruikshank and I rode to Bethune, my main reason being to see if I could trace John [oldest Manifold brother]. We met the vet and padre on the way in and arranged to lunch with them at the Hotel de France. As soon as we got there were surprised on walking round to find how little damage had been done as while we were in the south we were told the place was badly smashed. We were surprised to find very little damage done and the Cafe de Globe being the only noteworthy place closed. It was nice to get a good haircut and shampoo but they cut Cruiker's hair in a peculiar way, like a Bosch's. He was so ashamed of it that he would not come into lunch with us but went without any, like a fool. We stayed there until two thirty p.m and rode to Goeux Servins through several rain showers and eventually found the battery on enquiring of the town Mayor. The lines were on a crop and in fact all the lines seemed to be dotted over ploughed ground. The ridge presented a different appearance to when we were here before, there being a large concentration of troops and guns here now.

Bee: I was sent on to reconnoitre the wagon line at Grand Servin. The Sergeant Major, of course, forgot to order my horses and I was an hour late in starting but managed to get through in time. But, of course, the orderly officer changed his place of meeting without letting us know for some time after. The division was given an area of ground under cultivation for the horse lines. A pretty rotten spot and tents and covers for the men were very hard to get. It, of course, was a wet night, which made things more miserable still. The battery, of course, took the wrong turning with the field but got them out all right. Walrond leaves us tomorrow and does colonel at the brigade.  

Diary Entry - 30th March, 1917

Walford: Marched at eight am, we leading this time, with our Transport, as an agitiaton had been made and the Colonel had gone on leave at Puchevillers so Walrond now acting Colonel sanctioned the matter. Again the weather was brutal, with a south east wind and it snowed like the devil for quarter of an hour during the morning. We watered at Camblain Chatelain, then marched on through Divion and Bruay to Ruity. Things were very bad here on arrival as no billets had been allotted and the water was about a mile away. We had our lines in a wood and by the time they were finished watering had the billets squared as got hold of the interpreter Cadonier as soon as billets had been allotted by the adjutant. Things were very scattered but they might have been worse and do not think there was any grousing.

Bee: Got orders late last night that we were to push on again at eight am to Ruity via Chamblain Abbly (commonly known as Charlie Chaplin), Divion and Bruay, another 18-mile march. We marched third, starting at eight fifteen a.m. To start with we had a mile uphill pull and a pretty stiff gradient but all got up. After we had been on the road a quarter of an hour it snowed like fun and got very cold. The road was up and downhill most of the way. It was a very familiar sight as we came into Pimes [??} to see all the Fosses [??] sticking up. We watered at the latter place and fed. The people turned out to see us go through Divion. How they knew we were coming goodness knows. Our men all have a soft spot for Divion as we have been out there twice to rest. We arrived at Ruity at three p.m., feeling very tired. I walked all the way and was able to keep warm. The horse lines were about a mile the other side of the village in a wood and the billets were in the town. The billets were none too good but better than nothing. All talk about going to bed very early tonight.