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Sunday, 30 January 2011

Diary Entry - 30th and 31st January, 1916

Hoyland departs on leave on the Saturday night and life goes on as usual on these two days, except that Siggers is rather off-colour with dysentery. A new officer from the Terriers is attached to us on the 30th. His name is Cottew– a full lieutenant.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Diary Entry - 29th January, 1916

Hoyland and I take a good ride round the canal and back via Hinges in the morning. Another afternoon is spent in the shops. I forgot to add that all this time we are in rest we dine with the 41st Brigade. They have a lovely big house near the brewery with all the natural comforts, such as baths, gas et cetera The rooms are huge and the house is a mass of glass doors and windows. The dining room bears the Bosch trademark – a pipsqueak hole in one corner of it, near the ceiling.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Diary Entry - 28th January, 1916

Today was spent in much the same way as Wednesday except that in the morning I went out on exercise with Siggers and we went round by Hinges. Sergeant Samphier was thrown off his horse in front of the ride, which rather tickled me. At night we go to the R A band in the theatre. It is very good.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Diary Entry - 27th January, 1916

I was orderly officer but missed the exercise in the morning, owing to my horses not getting in in time from La Motte farm. The afternoon was spent in shopping or rather entering numerous shops and having a look around – such as going into a boot shop, looking at lots of boots and buying a boot lace.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Diary Entry - 26th January, 1916

I left for Béthune early in the morning, to look for billets. I met Kellagher at the wagon line at eleven thirty and set off round the town, both looking for billets and doing other odd jobs. In the course of the morning, we called on the town mayor and were lucky in getting three billets pink forms, to be filled in before one can get a room in a house. The rest of the party straggled in during the day and by six we had found billets for all.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Diary Entry - 25th January

I spent a very cold night in a canvas house, as there was a heavy frost. I never got my feet warm all night. I had a look round in the morning and found we are nearly 4000 yards behind the Bosch - or ,rather, in front of - front-line trench. The gun pits seem very weak and I think a pipsqueak would blow most of them over but, as we are so far back, I suppose it was never considered necessary to build stronger ones. The Mess is in a farm about 20 yards to the rear of the guns and seems quite comfortable, although its surroundings are filthier than the last Mess, if possible. In one of the outhouses there is a treadmill on which an unfortunate dog has to keep walking. He is tied there on a chain and it is really funny to see him endlessly walking on this wheel. Whenever he stops they turn the wheel inside. I think he churns the butter or does something like that. The aeroplanes were very active after breakfast this morning and some of our machines attacked but did not seem to affect the Bosch though it was quite interesting to see the machines manoeuvring for position. Of course, Boschey, as usual, seemed to run rings round our machines.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Diary Entry - 24th January

We had the usual drill in the morning and, as I was in a section of four men, I was completely lost the whole time, as did not know whether we were in a column of sections or fours. Whichever way you turned, you were in the same formation. Our lefthand man was also very bad. He would never halt to let us form on him. General Golfe gave us a pamphlet lecture at ten and that ended the business. We all stayed in
Béthune for lunch and I rode out to the battery in the afternoon, which is right alongside the La Bassée canal (south side), only about a mile north of our Cambrin position. On arrival, I found Siggers at the guns with the new captain, who takes Griffith's place, and an attached subaltern, who is on tour. Griffith apparently left on the day the battery moved. He has gone to take over a Canadian battery. In the middle of tea, Quiller comes in and tells us we are to take a week's rest at the wagon line, which at present is practically in Béthune, while some 33rd Division people take over our position, to have a week's target practice. We are to leave on Wednesday and Kellagher, who is at the wagon line, is to come up and take care of the Mess and see that they carry on with our gun pits, which are in a state of being remodelled.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Letter Home - 17th January, 1916

Dear Father,

There is very little to write about this week, as I am behind the firing line in a fair sized town, on an Infantry course, which I am sorry to say I have not been able to raise much interest in. I left the battery last Monday morning, reaching here about nine forty-five a.m. and proceeded to the school to report. There are 18 officers and NCOs on the course, making 36 in all.

The first day was very soft, as we simply had to be shown our Mess and billets by an interpreter. I was lucky to get both a good billet and Mess and, bar one wash out, we are all comfortable, but I must say I do not think much of the type of Infantry officer one meets on this show. There are some good chaps, but the majority of them are pretty average rotters. There is one other R.F.A. man on the course besides myself. He is a very good chap. We are usually out all day and leave the school at ten a.m., after an hour and a half Infantry drill, which is not hard to me and I can do it as well as some of them. They give us two lorries to pack into, and we usually have some wonderful scheme to work out. It is usually an attack and you are told off as Company Commander and have half an hour with the Sergeant to think out your best line of attack. At the beginning of the week, I could generally raise enough enthusiasm to have a crack at the business but now it is getting monotonous and I leave it to the Sergeant, who is an Infantry man. After lunching on sandwiches, we have to do practical engineering, which consists of digging trenches, machine gun emplacement or erecting barbed wire entanglements, at which most of the Infantry officers are pretty good at directing the job and doing nothing themselves. We are jolted back to town again at three thirty and the day ends with a lecture at five p.m.. The man who Bee had trouble with is ill and there is a harmless sort of chap taking us. There is another week of this and then I go back to the battery, which will be in a position further north in a wood.

I'm afraid this will miss the mail but as long as it gets gets there, that is what matters.


Thursday, 13 January 2011

Diary Entry - 13th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd January, 1916

All these days have been much the same, with drill, either physical (Swedish) or infantry, at eight thirty, then a trip into the country by motor lorry. When we go out in the lorries, we usually get out about two miles and have some great infantry attack on a fosse, which needs a lot of imagination, for the Infantry men, and a hell of a lot for me, as I know nothing about it. We usually lunch at an estaminet and lay wire entanglements or build parapets in the afternoon, returning home about three thirty. Another lecture at five thirty ends the day. I went to several divisional shows, after the music hall type, and they were really quite good and the band they have there is very good. The division run two of these shows, one at the theatre, and one on the Choque road. The former place is a very fine building. But I believe it had a shell through it a couple of months back, probably a lucky one. The school finished up practically on Sunday, with a harebrained defence of a village to the north-west of Béthune, where the S I H are billeted.

(Next post: a letter home on 17th January.)

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Diary Entry - 12th January, 1916

We were all put into a lorry and jolted over bad roads to a town called La Beuvierre, where we had to bundle out and pair off with sergeants. We were given a scheme which we had to report on. It was something about moving a battalion and was pretty average bilgewater to write a report on, as everyone had a different idea. The reports were discussed at twelve, and at one we proceeded to an estaminet to eat sandwiches. The estaminet being crowded, Jamison and I went into a small miners cottage and sat by the fire. We issued forth at two and found everyone paraded, waiting for us. They paraded before time. In the afternoon, a sapper took us and showed us how trenches should be dug and talked a lot more bilge. Then we came home. There was the usual lecture at five thirty.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Diary Entry - 11th January, 1916

A very boring day, packed full of lectures, beginning at eight forty-five and continuing till twelve forty-five. Well, by eleven, everybody was in a comatose state and sat there like statues. There were two more lectures at two and five thirty respectively in the afternoon. I chummed up with a South Irish Horse man named Jameson and we had a look around in the evening.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Diary Entry - 10th January, 1916

I had notice that I was to report at the 6th Field Ambulance, Béthune at ten am. As this meant an early start, I rose at seven, had breakfast at eight and left per horse and groom at eight forty-five. I called in at the wagon line to see the Sergeant Major about a wagon for servant and kit and then hurried on to town. It took some time to find the school, but I finally arrived with twenty minutes to spare. We had one short lecture in the morning and then went to find our billets and Mess with interpreters. I got into a Mess which is very comfortable, with the pick of the people in it, and I also got a very nice billet in the Rue de Poterne. The only lecture in the afternoon was at five thirty.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Diary Entry and letter Home - 9th January, 1916

Diary Entry

A very quiet day was spent at the guns, with quite a nice sunny day and no shells, not even a whizbang. No. 6 gun pit is finished. It looks really fine and would take a lot of penetrating.

Letter Home 

Dear Mother,

It has come round to mail day once more. It is jolly hard to remember what day it is out here, as one is the same as another.

Boschey has been treating us rather badly lately with shells. I think I told you last week that he knocked out our two brigade headquarters. On Tuesday he started with a very good line for our battery with 5.9s and crept right over the crest, until he pulled one right against No. 48 aiming post, which is about 50 yards in front of the gun pit, and then for some unknown reason he stopped. One of our aeroplanes appeared on the scene and I think it must have frightened Boschey, as a plane can always see the flashes of the guns and, if they once do that and we get a bearing on their battery, we get our heavies onto them and try to lay them out. That same afternoon, Boschey got a 10 cm gun to work on a hows battery behind us and gave it to them hot. Again, they made wonderful shooting. There were a few casualties – two killed and seven wounded.

It was very interesting to watch it all from our telephone dugout. They got two direct hits on a house there, and you could see the poor men hurrying out like rabbits.

On Friday, the 10 cm gun came a little closer to us and was playing over our No. 1 gun and the new Horse Artillery battery, who only took up positions the night before. One shell luckily just shaved the roof of No. 1 gun pit. It went through a wall three yards in the rear and exploded, wounding two men. One poor chap was very badly hit and looked pathetic going past. We were lucky, as we had a lot of men working on No. 1 pit when they burst a shell over them but the bullets all went over their heads. Three more men were in the garden at the time, and the shrapnel fell all round them but did not touch one of them. On Saturday - that is, yesterday - Bee and I were up in the O.B. and spent two and a half hours in the cellar, as Boschey was combing our hair with 5.9 inch hows – and he even got one into the sandbags at the base of the building, but it did not explode. The 5.9 is a dear old thing. You hear it wobbling through the air for about 10 seconds before it arrives. It bursts on percussion, making a regular noise like K-r-r-r-upp (the maker) and a tremendous lot of black smoke is made when the shell explodes. That is why they were named coal boxes, I think. The splinters from these shells fly in a radius of about 350 yards, so that if you are 100 yards away and lie flat you are safe enough. Today, I have had a quiet day at the guns for a change. Tomorrow, I go to Béthune on an Infantry course, the same kind of show as Bee was on, so I'm not expecting to enjoy my fortnight much, although it will be a change from the firing line. One soon realises how the men's nerves go under shellfire, although my experience is only slight.

Well, there is nothing but shelling in this - but there is nothing else to write about much.


Saturday, 8 January 2011

Diary Entry - 8th January, 1916

A rather thrilling day on the whole, as we were shelled by 5.9 inches and 4.2 hows for over three hours. (300 shells about). They began at eight fifteen and stopped shortly after eleven thirty. Needless to say, we spent our time in the cellar, but there was one man from the 47th Battalion (4.5 how) who had lost communication, so I told him to have a try for his battery through our wire. Well, he got through and began shooting, going up to our room. He stayed there and was getting his hair well combed until they dropped a short one and he got a splinter of tile on the head. He came down the stairs pretty quick, but not half as quickly as the time we did when they dropped one short. They got one dudd into the sandbags, but otherwise they scored no direct hits. In the evening, I called in at the 56th and had tea with Pat, but I did not see Shipley. Their gun position, as far as I could see in the dark, is a revelation and battery is very well-placed, being only 1500 yards from our front line trench, placed in an orchard.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Diary Entry - 7th January, 1916

A day at the guns, with very little firing done on our part, but a wee bit done by the Bosch. At eleven, Boschey dropped a 4 cm HE rather close to an infantry working party digging trenches in front of my billet. They then lengthened and frightened some of our men, who were working on No. 6 gun pit, with shrapnel. He afterwards switched to Annekin for about twenty minutes, after wounding two men, one badly, behind No. 1 gun pit. For the rest of an hour, he shelled round about No. 1 but, luckily, none of our men were hit. At eight thirty pm, Kellagher walked into the Mess, having returned from leave.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Diary Entry - 6th January, 1916

On going to the O.B. in the morning, I met Bee at Cambrin Church, and we spent the day up there. Everything was quiet and, on returning, I called in at the 56th battery to see Pat or Shipley, but they were both out, so I walked round the Tourieres loop, on the chance of meeting them returning from the O.B., but without success. One of our important landmarks has had a nasty knock: the left-hand chimney at Wingles has been hit and has broken off a third of the way up.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Diary Entry - 5th January, 1916

Very little doing. In the morning, two generals and the usual amount of followers came round to see the new gun pit. They seemed quite pleased with it, and it certainly does look a pretty strong pit, but, if a 5.9 hit it square, I would not like to be inside. The aeroplanes were very active during the morning, and our anti-aircraft people seem to be asleep half the time - they did not fire on them. Bee came round in the afternoon for tea. He had been to Béthune with Pat.

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Diary Entry - 4 January, 1916

I only fired nine shots the whole day and they were in retaliation. The Bosch was very quiet too, but there seemed to be some bombing going on. On coming down from the O.B., I kept wide of the road from the Infantry headquarters and kept to the open country, but I don't think they shelled the road all day.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Diary Entry - 3rd January 1916

The sergeant on duty called me at six twenty, and I had to rise and see that all the men were standing by, in case of an attack at dawn. After a look round, having reported to Suttie, I climbed back to bed, awaiting results, but I think Boschey is too wise to advance in the open these days, without gas to help him. There was rather a chaos in the Mess all day, as the brigade used it as their headquarters for the time being and people were rushing in and out all day. About eleven, when all the men we could spare were working on No. 6 pit, building an experimental 4.2 proof one, Boschey started on his old racket, well over the crest. It would have been all right, if he had not added, but he kept adding, until he finally put one about three yards from No. 4's aiming post. I was in the telephone dugout at the time and I knew he was close, but, if I had known it was only 40 yards short, I would have moved, as it meant the next one would have been about on top of us – but, for some reason, Boschey had finished. Shortly after this an aeroplane flew over and our 9 inch gun got to work, in cooperation with the hows and 60 pounders, but what damage they did I don't know. Except for a few 10 cm shells, all went smoothly till about three, when Boschey put a direct 10 cm shell plumb into the farm behind the 60s. It looked like a lucky shot, but soon afterwards he popped in another, then he started on the Howitzer batters (59th siege) and, with aeroplanes observing, did some excellent shooting. Our heavies seemed to get their blood up and started plugging away, regardless of aeroplanes, especially the unfortunate How. They were firing as quickly as they loaded, but the 10 cm made it very hot for them and knocked out two men, wounding seven by the time it finished. One cannot but admire the German fuzes - their shrapnel bursts beautifully regularly and they gave me quite an interesting afternoon. That evening I had to camp at the O.B. and started out for the brigade dugout with Rodd at nine. This is a nice cosy spot about 600 yards down Wood Lane from Harley Street. We found Colonel Martin Powell having dinner with some of the Infantry, and I stayed there till eleven. The snipers were very busy around the barrier and near the O.B., and one sentry warned me to keep behind the hedge and, needless to say, I followed his instructions and took every precaution, especially when a 'verries light' went up. I slept on the forestry under the 15th ladder. As I did not have much clothing, I did not sleep too well on the tile floor. The rats too were very troublesome, but there was no trouble during the night – everything was quiet.

Letter Home - 2nd January, 1916

2nd January, 1916

Dear Father,

I must try and write to you in the hurry and excitement of things. To begin with, the Bosch has been treating us very badly this week. They have been shelling our wee village with 5.9 inch hows, which are commonly called “Jack Johnsons” and, after his shooting today, I have great respect for the gun – and the men behind it, as their shooting was worthy of praise.

On Tuesday, when Hoyland and I were at the wagonline, they shelled Cambrin. They just began as we left at eleven thirty, beginning at Harley Street, and working their way solemnly down the road. We missed it all and just returned at eleven thirty when the shelling stopped. We could see there was something doing, as we came across a poor wounded horse and, when we got into the straight among the houses, found everyone gazing towards the brigade. Well! When we got to the town, we turned down to our Mess and saw two beautiful holes, one 10 yards and the other 15 yards short of the Mess and all the tiles were broken (by the splinters). On the house next door, but for a few bricks being dented, there was no damage done. In the afternoon, another one dropped about 50 yards or so over, in the vicinity of the men's cookhouse and, landing in the soft ground, made a hole about 4 foot 6 inches by 15 foot in diameter. I set to work in front of the Mess and dug the fuze out. It was about 3 foot down in the clay and very hard digging, but a good specimen when I did get it.

On Thursday, when I was at the O.B., they again put over a few more in proximity to the battery, but no damage was done. I forgot to mention that they wounded two or three of our brigade staff and one of our subs was taken, to take the orderly officer's place. He will be away for a few weeks. Our adjutant was also slightly wounded and the 41st narrowly escaped being demolished.

Nothing very exciting happened on Friday, except a few pipsqueaks (77 inch) coming down the road, but they are becoming a habit now.

Today I was again away at Béthune, at the field cashier's, drawing money for the Major and, on returning, just got into the straight again when I saw a column of black smoke go up in front of the 41st brigade – the 3.9s were at it again. My stables were only a short distance from the crossroads, so I took my first turn to the left and was going along, not knowing quite what to do with my horse, when I met the doctor, who was also in the same predicament. We finally tied our horses up in front of the 70th Battery Mess and went to the doctor's billet, to survey the shelling. We both decided it was useless to try and go up to the brigade, as we could see they were going to finish them off, so we watched the performance from 400 to 500 yards distance.

We stood next to a brick wall at the back of the doctor's billet and watched events, which came to a close about two. They began at twelve pm. At about one thirty pm, the 70th battery Major spotted us and gave us some lunch. It is extraordinary the way the splinters travel. Every time they burst, we had to get behind the wall, as fragments would come buzzing through the air. By two pm, the Bosch stopped, having executed his work very well. The Infantry headquarters were on fire. Otherwise, he only slightly damaged the 41st. The chemist's, the 30th and all the houses in between were in ruins. The former was also in flames. A number of casualties occurred, mainly at Infantry HQ, but only one shell frightened us – it made a very good refuse pit in our backyard, 10 yards too far. The devils were also putting shrapnel over our battery during the proceedings. One of our men was touched on the foot.

Our Mess is chock-a-block full of refugees from both the brigades. At present we have both colonels in the mess, discussing their whereabouts for tonight and the future. We are taking all we can under cover. Some of them have lost all their kit and have only the things they stand up in.

Everyone will be looking for new houses now, and I think they will be hard to find. There is nothing else and no time to write if I am to catch the mail.


Sunday, 2 January 2011

Diary Entry - 2nd January, 1916

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

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Diary Entry - 1st January 1916

The day started badly, as there was some bungle made over waking my servant, and it was five to seven when Bates came in to call me. On enquiring from Corporal Rosco the cause of the trouble, I found it was rather complicated, so left for the O.B. post-haste. Bee was up there from the 15th, and he said he saw a large party of Bosch working in the open, to the left and rear of Lone Farm. He said he let fly at them but, if I could have only got there, our guns are registered on those trenches, and we could have both let them have it. I was glad to see that some new crosses had been put up on our rabbit run – one right where my two birds fell, which speaks for itself. We kept very quiet all day, and the Bosch also did very little shooting. It rained in the afternoon, but, after it was over, the air was very clear, although there was a high wind blowing from the south-west, which made accurate shooting very difficult. Suttie and I noticed that the dugout on the fringe of Auchy was still burning, but we could not distinguish what it was that was burning. We saw the flames, but could not see what the material was. It just looked as if the earth was smouldering. The Bosch shelled the battery again in the morning.