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Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Diary Entry - 31st October, 1917

Rise at three fifteen a.m to take up two guns and twenty packhorses. The men take some digging out on these occasions, but the Sgt. Major and the Nos 1 all get up and rowse them out. We get away about four fifteen and the two gun limbers go round to the 9th and 16th Batteries to pick up guns. The 9th are called a depot battery and simply sit down at the wagon lines and draw guns to and from the IOM, as they are knocked out or repaired. I went on with the pack,s picked up ammunition at Irish Farm, a railway dump in the forward area, and went straight on to the guns. The two teams were there before me and the first one had got stuck in a bad spot where a number of sleepers had been removed from the track. The sleeper track was only wide enough to take traffic one way and of course we could not offload the mules till we got past it. We tried taking them round the lips of shell holes, until one donkey fell into a big one and had a swim round for about ten minutes. It looked like a case of shooting him where he lay in the bog, but we got him out with the help of much bad language from the drivers. The gun was eventually moved but, as there were three (one belonging to the Naval Div.) on the track, all trying to get transferred to railway trucks on a decaville[?] railway, which was the final approach to the position, and the packs were all trying to offload near the railway, there was some congestion, This buffeting of men, mules and horses went on till we had moved 1,000 rounds with 20 packhorses, and all the time there was a continual stream of mules carrying up small arm ammunition on the same track for the infantry. We eventually got away about six fifteen and, much to our relief, the Hun never put a shell over. It was a beautiful sunny day and the Hun, while seeming to search through a nest of balloons in front of our lines, put some 5.9' shrapnel into our camp, some very heavy pieces falling about in the afternoon, but no damage was done.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Diary Entry - 30th October, 1917

The Major Cruikshank and self take a walk towards Ypres to get warm and have a look at the gun salvaging tank on our way. I rose at six a.m. to attend stables and had to choke Sgt. Lambing off for his men not turning out in time. Rain set in when we had turned out of midday stables and continued for the rest of the day.

Diary Entry - 29th October, 1917

Some sun in the morning and rather frosty. Hoyland goes up to relieve the Major at ten a.m, Cruikshank having left at four a.m. with pack animals does not get back until half past ten. The Hun puts a few down the road while he is unloading but all manage to get back without casualties. Siggers and I go into Ypres. On the way we looked at a new type of tank used for removing guns out of mud under fire. It is a curious looking beast and has a movable platform which it puts out under the tail of the gun, but first the gun wheels have to be removed. We are pointed out the cathedral ruins and Cloth Hall ruins and take a wander over them. There is very little left of either place but they must have been beautiful old buildings as there are massive heaps of debris everywhere. Siggers would not come away without a souvenir of some kind so we pulled an iron door knob off an old door of the Cloth Hall and he had a bit of glass from the Cathedral. It looked as though it might be a piece of broken bottle. All the town was the same - absolutely flattened - and, as we came away, the Hun put in a few high velocity rounds. On the outskirts of the town we saw the remains of what had been a circus with the old wooden rocking horses lying about. Siggers had to go up to the guns in the afternoon for a liaison stunt as he was the only man who knows the country. The Major lobbed down late in the evening, having spent some time trying to find us, owing to the military police stopping his groom and their not meeting. It was a very bright moonlit night - being known as the Hunter's moon - and the Hun started raining bombs everywhere about ten p.m. The archies and the machine guns were very active and made a colossal racket in the still cold night. Some sort of shell or bomb landed very close to the Sergeants' Mess.

We were all very sorry to hear that Lt Gough, nephew of the Army Commander, had passed away on the previous night, being wounded in the lungs. His family are noted army men, and they all have V.Cs. To keep up the reputation, he must needs try to get one if the opportunity arises. The MC was telephoned through to him, but he passed away before it was received.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Diary Entry - 28th October, 1917

I go over to the 15th Battery in the morning to see Claudet about the cigarettes notebooks (in memory of Bee) but find he is away at the guns. At lunch a Major friend of Hoyland's comes in and takes him off to Poperinghe in a car for the afternoon. In the evening Siggers and I walk over to Claudet's again for tea and find he and Dixon in.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Diary Entry - 27th October, 1917

Raining in the morning. Nicholson goes up to relieve Siggers, who comes down late in the afternoon. After lunch Hoyland and I went over to the 9th Battery to see about some of our guns. We found them up to their eyes in mud there and also found Vaisey there. He had just come off leave.

Friday, 26 October 2012

Diary Entry - 26th October, 1917

We and the French attacked about dawn along the whole ridge, taking almost all objectives and 800 prisoners. The line went forward 1500 yards on an average. Lt Gough of the 71st Bty was doing liaison officer and it was doubtful as to what became of him as his signallers all came back saying they had got scattered under heavy fire and they thought he had been hit. The next day he came back on a stretcher, having lain out for about twelve hours. We had two gunners wounded - Bradbury and Dickson. The rain started about nine and continued throughout the rest of the day.

Gunners Bradbury and Dickson - wounded in legs, not serious

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.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Diary Entry - 24th October, 1917

It rained all morning, cleared about two p.m. Hoyland and I, after lunch, walk to brigade and, as we go, noticed on the railway not far from the lines a dump with very useful stuff in it. On reaching brigade, we see the colonel, who was just making preparations to take over from 41st Brigade up the trenches. The General was also there. We sent out a raiding party when we got back, just as it began to rain again, led by Anderson, and, although he and Kemp (my servant) had to crawl under a sentry's nose, they brought back two trestles and a door to put on them as a table.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Diary Entry - 23rd October, 1917

Pouring with rain when we get up and it continues in showers until two o'clock. Hoyland, Nicholson and I walk over towards Ypres to find a pump for the gun lines. We tried several salvage dumps and eventually got into the town and found a Canadian RE dump but could not get anything out of them. We eventually made for the ninth division CRE which we found on a canal running to the north of the town. The Padre and the colonel were there and we fixed it all up on the spot. It was good to hear the French had sunk 4 Zeppelins and that we, it was reported, had sunk 4, but whether ours are official is not yet known. On our way to Ypres, we passed a lot of tanks and one new kind which we were told was used for carrying guns up over the mud. It was a much longer looking thing than a tank. This country is completely different from what I thought it would be like hearing people talk of it. There are a lot of trees and hedges, whereas I thought it would be very flat and bare. The town has been terribly smashed up and an enormous amount of shell must have been expended on it and the surrounding country as there are shell holes a long way back. As far as I could see there seems to be a ridge about a mile in front of the town commanding a view of all this country. They still shell the town with high velocity guns, usually every second day. Today they are trying to knock out a balloon near by with their new clockwork fuze but so far have been unsuccessful with ten rounds of shrapnel 5.9'. The way the railways have been pushed on here is amazing and there is a regular network of new track over frightful country. The same applies to roads and both are in splendid condition. Of course, armies of men are kept going at them.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Football Match - 15th October, 1917

The invaluable fount of knowledge Dne1 has suggested that this photograph may be of the team in the football match mentioned on 15 October, with Siggers possibly sitting in the front row at the right.

Diary Entry - 22nd October, 1917

I get up for stables and send off five men on leave, including Sgt. Higgins and Hogg, Siggers's servant. These two came down from the guns the same night as Hoyland and got chased by shells half the way, just as he did. It rained hard in the morning until nine a.m. then a mist hung around until midday when it cleared and the sun got through. Hoyland and Nicholson went into Pop for a bath after lunch, the former lunching at brigade, sending in the Major's recommendation. Cruikshanks and I ride up to brigade for exercise and the former gets some pills from Todd for his throat. The 18th Div attacked in the morning and the General told us at Brigade that they had gained all objectives. There was very little bombing on our part of the line in the evening, mostly further north.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Diary Entry - 21st October, 1917

Ever since we have been here, each night at dawn there is a continuous blowing of whistles, as the Hun planes seem to crowd over as soon as it is dusk, some going back to Poperinghe, others dropping them on the wagon line area. And he sometimes comes over in day time I believe, although he has not done so since we arrived. He uses his gothas too. Hoyland set out for the guns at ten a.m. It is a good day and in the afternoon I ride Ginger round to try to find some cover for horses and find some stables being put up by the 18th Corps, whom we belong to, quite close by. The men spend the day clearing up and knocking their bivvies into shape. Nicholson goes to 9th division HQ to see a friend of his after lunch. About dusk the Colonel turns up and we show him the stables and ask him if he will try to get them for us. Then he and Vosper go on home. Hoyland's horses came back early, as they were shelled, and so he had to walk back and never got home until six.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Diary Entry - 20th October 1917

More bad news in the morning - Lt Sherman of the 15th Bty was killed by a direct hit from a shell. He was a Canadian and was at Ipswich with us all. Poor chap was to soon get leave to Canada to be married. At two p.m. we start for the 9th Division's old wagon line. The battery we relieved was B50. Well, we had some fun getting our wagons out. One stuck and two others crashed their swingle tree bars but we bound them up and soon got underway again. We went down the road to Ypres through Brielin and crossed the railway at Rickersburg railway junction, going up a muddy lane for two hundred yards, and came into a muddy home. We had more trouble getting the wagons through the mud, but we are well seasoned to the mud now and soon got over our difficulties. Everyone shook down as best they could in bivouac and tents. Hoyland and I managed to get twelve bivouacs from the camp commandant, making all kinds of wild promises. The Hun planes were again very active at dusk, but am glad to say they kept clear of us.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Diary Entry - 19th October, 1917

We march to temporary wagon lines north of Vlamertinghe, Siggers, Cruikshank and gun detachments going on in motor buses about seven thirty a.m. I again went on ahead, this time with Hoyland, the latter to do the billeting and I to reconnoitre a road for the brigade. We had a rotten march as the roads were packed with traffic, as was only to be expected getting so near the push area. We got in about three p.m. in the pouring rain, a thunderstorm breaking over us. The officers shared a Nissan Hut with the brigade and the men slept in tents. A feature which struck one most on first coming into this area was the way splinter proof walls had been put up two foot six inches high round the tents and huts, to keep the bomb splinters out. We turned in early and as I was dozing off to sleep Cruikers strolled in to say that two guns had been put out of action. Cpl. Beech and Gnr Sandalls both of my section had been killed, Br. Francis had his leg blown off and Br. Dempsey badly wounded in the stomach. It seemed they had just taken over and were out of the guns when the Hun started shelling and cut a lot of them off from the pill box (a concrete shelter) on the right so they took shelter in a tank. By this, shells were falling very fast, both five nines and four twos, and one hit the tank, killing four in all, but two belonged to the 9th Division. The Major, on hearing that some wounded men were isolated in a tank, set out with Gnrs. Bullimore, Smith and Sgt Keegan to the rescue. The Major was wonderful and set a magnificent example to the party by going straight through the awful wall of shells, never flinching once and they got all the wounded out of the tank into shelter. Of course, Sandford is being put in for the DSO and, if anyone deserves it, he does for what he did and the brave way he went about it. Poor Br. Francis had his leg blown off at the knee and his only remark was 'No more football for me' with a broad grin. Poor chap, he was being put through for a commission and was a really good fellow. We did not get much sleep that night as there was a lot of activity and the Hun bombed all night but never put any very close.

Corporal Beech DCM and MM - killed - left section
Gunner Sandalls - killed - left section

Br. Dempsey - severely wounded
Br. Francis - severely wounded
Gnr. Campbell - wounded (slight)

2nd Lt Greatwood of D36 also killed by a shell.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Diary Entry - 18th October, 1917

The Majors and the Colonel went on in buses in the early hours, to look over positions which we were to take over. We marched at ten thirty a.m. Siggers and I go on ahead, I to do the billeting and Siggers to reconnoitre a road for the brigade. The Padre, Siggers and self rode on together and had not gone far when we met Colonel Thompson to whom we were attached at Thiepval (11th Div) and Major Griffith, with their units on the march. We hunted for a place to have a meal in Hazelbrook and ran across Brigadier Martin Powell, who used to command the 48th Battery. He was in good form, now commanding an Anzac Corps and he had his little dog Ali Baba with him, which he told us to take note of. We eventually lunched at the Hotel du Nord near the station, then went on to Eecke, to meet the adjutant, who was to be at the main crossroads at three p.m. Siggers had a simple job, as the road was quite all right and he simply had to give a report on it to Vosper, who arrived soon after three p.m. All the battery representatives turned up at two thirty a.m. and we whiled away the time by visting a funny old town Major to whom Gough of 71st Bty put a few questions, greatly agitating the old man. We found our billets were about another two miles further on, quite good though the lines were very slushy. The battery got in about five thirty, in the dark, and we had a great time watering at a stream which we could not take the horse to as the banks were so muddy. It was no fun feeling your way in the dark for water with buckets and mud halfway to the knees. The Brigade and ourselves were in the same farm and messed together.

Diary Entry - 17th October, 1917

We march at seven forty a.m., being called at five. The march was not good. There were too many stops, caused by traffic, especially around Aire. Ginger was very fresh and danced the whole way, getting himself into a regular lather. We reached Tannay at about three p.m. and got our lines up in a grassy field, which was better than most of the other batteries. The billets were the worst part as they were scattered all over the country and some of the men's were about half a mile from the lines. We had a most amusing time at dinner - at least one takes it as all in the day's run. We had hard work in persuading an estaminet to let us have a Mess there but eventually they did and we shared a room with the owners. Well, during dinner one of the females gave her young son - or child, anyway - dinner, much to our captain's disgust. However, he seemed to forget we were no longer in England and that France's customs are somewhat different to ours. To add to the delights of the place, a room close by was full of drinking Tommies and they would insist on playing a french penny in the slot machine, which was all out of gear and it made a noise like two children thumping on a piano at the same time.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Diary Entry - 16th October, 1917

Nicholson and Cruikshank take their sections on driving drill and gun drill at ten thirty, while I take the other horses out on exercise. It was a cold morning and Nelson, the one-eyed horse, was rather keen on pitching me off and he met with success when we got back to the lines, but luckily I landed on my feet on the road. The Colonel met us as we were coming along the main road and walked some of the way with me. The Padre had a concert in the evening at the school but, as no one seemed to know about it, no officers went. Captain Todd also gave a lecture on first aid at the brigade at midday and the unfortunate Corporal Archer was put on the floor for a demonstration of respiration given to a gassed or drowned man.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Diary Entry - 15th October, 1917

Orderly officer driving drill at nine a.m. on spare fields. Nicholson, Siggers and I both have a turn at it with the left and centre sections in skeleton order. It was a nice sharp sunny morning and there had been a frost overnight. In the afternoon the right half battery played the left half at football, it ending in a draw. The Colonel adjutant and a lot more officers were spectators. Siggers and Cruikshank were playing, the latter, getting a kick on the head, was put out for a short time but soon recovered, with a black eye only. It was rather amusing - we had lost one of the cook's carthorses, known as Mrs Fritz and one of the bombardiers in charge of them found an old Frenchman using her in a plough. We sent two lumbers[?] off in the evening to pick up two guns - the carriages at Bethune and pieces at Bruay, it being an all night job.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Diary Entry - 14th October, 1917

Early in the morning, Siggers, Nicholson and self went to Holy Communion held in the school. There was a large church parade at twelve p.m. when the Bishop of Khartoum preached and 50 of our men paraded under Cruikshank as orderly officer. Nicholson and self took a ride at ten a.m. and I nearly came off Ginger when jumping a hedge. Wrate makes my saddle so slippery it is very hard to grip in putties.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Diary Entry - 13th October, 1917

A driving parade at nine a.m. but, as all the fields were too wet, we did not venture off the road. There was a gun drill parade at ten thirty a.m. for both Cruikshank and myself, which I never like taking as I don't know the bookwork off pat. In the afternoon Siggers and I did a little No. 3 director and TOB work, just to take the rust off, and incidentally found we wanted some polishing.

Diary Entry - 12th October, 1917

Rose at three a.m. and found when I got downstairs that there was no time for tea so walked to the station in the pouring rain and after getting settled in one carriage was told that we had to ride further up the train for Bethune. The old train went along at the usual leave train gait until we finally reached Arque about twelve p.m and then steamed into Haryebrook at twelve thirty p.m On reaching Lillers at one p.m. I heard shouts of  '2nd Division get out here', so out I bundled and, on enquiring, heard we were at Ames. After lunch at an estaminet, I found two DAC horses and rode out on them in the pouring rain, which commenced soon after lunch. Reached Ames in time for tea and found everyone in billets with plenty of mud in the lines. This did not look too pleasant as it all pointed to our going north and having another winter like last year.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Diary Entry - 11th October, 1917

Catch the seven fifty train and come straight across without a hitch, landing in Boulogne about twelve thirty p.m. There was a large crowd fighting to get onto the platgform but I found that by following a porter with a barrow it was pretty simple, especially as some wag kept saying, 'Make room for a naval officer.' I spent the afternoon on the sea front watching some sea planes manoeuvring – also an old flying sausage or cigar. Had a great conversation with a South African doctor at dinner in the Louvre. He was a good chap and we discussed the Englishman as he appeared to people who did not know him.