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Monday, 25 March 2013

Diary Entry - 24th March, 1918

The situation again critical and there seemed to be some doubt as to whether our right flank was in the air or not. The morning was misty though a bright sun was trying to percolate through the haze. About seven a.m. the Huns started shelling Hoplincourt and Barrastre Woods with 5.9' hows and searching behind the woods with pipsqueaks from the south. The remainder of the dump in Haplincourt wood was soon alight and crackling furiously. Two German balloons were up by eight and seemed to be looking right down on us. At nine a.m. we opened an SOS barrage at a slow rate of fire as the infantry have to withdraw, having no-one on their right. By ten a.m. the infantry began to pour back over the ridge and others seemed to be going up from the rear in support and there looked to be a real box up. However, that was only a gunner's point of view. By ten thirty a.m. we were putting down a very heavy barrage in front of the Green Line, which just ran to the front of Bertincourt and at eleven a.m. orders came through to limber up and retire. There was a heavy smoke barrage coming in from the south and suppose the Hun was trying to advance under cover of it.  The tanks went into action just in front of our section and drove the Huns back while the section under their cover completed their firing. On going back over the ridge the Major picked us up and said as there was no more ammunition to be had he was taking the right section back to the position, so to fire off what we had left and I, with the remaining two guns, was to proceed with guide to point of assembly where Siggers had the wagons and guns. From what we could gather, things were in a bad way and must say I did not expect to see either Major, Nicholson or the section again. We found Siggers just north of Le Transloy. He had two guns in action just off the road and the wagons in a valley behind them and had lost one team and a wagon in trying to get up through Bolancourt. On getting over the Le Transloy road, we just ran into the Somme battlefield, which is simply one mass of shell holes, large and small, and, if you get off the road, it is well nigh impossible to get on again. Siggers already had a GS wagon bogged in a shell hole going down to the lines. When we got it out, we proceeded to have or try to get some lunch and await orders and about one fifteen p.m. the Major, Nicholson, Cruikshank and the section joined us, much to everyone's relief.

When lunch was over and we were looking for a way onto the Boulancourt-Guedecourt road a sudden panic started as the Huns were reported advancing on Boulancourt. We had a very rough track to go over to get onto the road and got one GS wagon hopelessly stuck and had to abandon it. The body of the four-wheeled Mess cart also smashed and had to be abandoned with a lot of kit. My kit was left, but luckily someone came along and salvaged it and put it on an ammunition wagon. We then commenced a very trying trek along bad roads which were packed with traffic and infantry all making for the west. As we went along some batteries dropped into action on the south side of the road and fired with open sights due south. At one time it looked as if we would all be captured and if the Hun had had any cavalry there we should have been. The tanks combined with infantry wallowed about the crests of various hills over the shell-pitted country to ward off any rush that might be made on our rear guard. It took us over two hours to go half a mile and the Hun was cunningly dropping some HV shells about the road, trying to cause a panic. In fact he knocked out Brigadier General Barnet Barker (5th Brigade) who was resting by the side of the road. About five thirty p.m. the Colonel came along looking very worried and decided to sidetrack us towards Le Barque and Le Sars, as there were all manner of wagons stuck in the road in front of us, they having sunk through surface and got into the gluey clay mud peculiar to the Somme country. We got onto an old road running due north and eventually came out at Le Barque where we found the traffic very much blocked too. By nine thirty p.m. we were on the main Bapaume-Albert Road, refilled at Butte de Warlencourt, bivouacked at Le Sars, with everything ready for an immediate move or action.

While on the main Bapaume Road numbers of enemy planes flew on towards Albert leaving us alone, but I shuddered to think of the execution they could have done on such a bright night with their machineguns. The road was simply thick with traffic going either way - and all horse transport too. One aeroplane would have accounted for hundreds of horses, men and transport. In fact, one machine might easily have blocked the whole road.

Driver Smith PR, Gnr Belcher J and Gnr Ford R wounded in the team which was knocked out

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