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Thursday, 25 October 2012

Diary Entry - 25th October, 1917

A very strong wind sprang up in the night, blowing the tents and bivouacs all roads, and Hoyland and I had a very drafty night in the tube, as we had tarpaulins over each end and they blew away. I rise at three fifteen a.m. to move off with two guns and 66 packhorses. Something was wrong with the men as it was four forty-five before there was any sign of moving and expect they spent most of the night rebuilding their bivouacs. We got onto the road about five and I sent the gun on with Sgt Lamburg, while I took the packhorses to Irish dump to fill up with ammunition. On getting there, find there are only 53 pack animals, so have to put ten rounds on each instead of eight. I will try to put down what I see on going up or my first impressions of the country. The road is quite good and wide when you come up to No. 4 bridge which crosses the Ypres Commune's canal. This bridge has been built with a sunk barge as a foundation. The road goes on, slightly rising and becoming narrower, until you come near the crest onto a small plateau where are dotted 6' mark VII guns 9.2' 8' and 6' hows. The railway also comes along on the right at about 700 yards distance and there is a large dump of ammunition at a siding called Irish [illegible]. A little further up the line, you see several 12' hows and armies of men working on the track, pushing it well forward while several engines push up heavy loads of ballast. You soon  breast the plateau and begin descending a gentle slope, but as you look towards the Hun you look over a small crest and in the distance you see nice green hills which go to form the Paschendale Ridge. Following on down the road, which becomes rapidly narrower and rougher, you come to the first pill box, which has been made into a dressing station. From here onwards guns of various calibres from 8' downwards are dotted alongside the road. All along the road, shells of various calibre are littered about, mostly 18 pdr and 4.5' how. These have all fallen off packs or limbers and remain lying about till they are eventually crunched into the surface or thrown to the side, where they eventually get covered by the mud scraped off the surface. As one goes on to St Julien the litter of dead horses, harness and kit becomes more evident and the surface becomes very rough in places, being pitted with enormous holes which just allow one vehicle to pass on the side. From St Julien crossroads to the spot where the gun position was one wades through a road 6' deep in slush, littered with dead horses, timber, GS wagons, limbers, guns, wheels, shells and every mess and tangle you could think of. The surface is full of holes, and these you can't see in the pea soup. Just to the north of St Julien crossroads is a low line of pill boxes held by the brigade HQ and in fact they are dotted about in various attitudes all round the village. I have forgotten to mention tanks - they lie about, some on the road, others sunk into the mud on either side, the majority suffering from some sort of injury caused by shell fire, a few bogged in the mud. In the middle of the village is what remains of a brick house, reinforced with concrete. About 30 yards past this place on the right you come to a litter of shell holes and ammunition. This used to be the position and there too lie the tanks in which some of the men took cover on the first day and one of which proved a death trap to six men. We go on a little further and come to a plank road leading along the crest and on this we crowd the mules in full sight of the Hun, unloading on a tramway, but the Hun, luckily, takes no notice of us. Imagine this road covered with pack mules, limbers, GS wagons, infantry lorries and a battalion of navvies working at its side, then imagine the Hun putting down a barrage with plenty of attention paid to the roads, as he knows the rest of the country is a bog. If you have that picture in your mind's eye and watch it for half an hour until the Hun slows to an intermittent shell here and there, and then go along that road, you can understand the numbers of dead, both horses and men, that you will see scattered about. Just one example on one crowded road - three shells knocked out seven teams of mules. The trench board tracks are marked by shells just the same as the road and dead lay just as thick there. I have never seen such a hell in the lines of communication in any other part of the line, but what must it be like on the Hun's side under our fire. Well, we are unloading the mules when the Major sends me back to the lines to send up a second gun, as he says he must have two up to register for a barrage on the following morning. In the meantime, Sgt. Lamburg had marched on with his gun, passing the old position and straight on towards Paschendale, and a lot of wagons had followed him, probably being lost themselves and following him on chance. Well, when he had got nicely on the Huns' side of the slope, the Hun opened, the gun team shied and got into a big shell hole. With the Hun shelling, there was nothing to do but unhook and reverse - and each driver with his horses for himself. And so the gun was left in the hole. On getting back, we did a lot of sand-bagging on the Mess, all the officers filling bags. Hun bombed us heartily at night, coming fairly close with several big ones.

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