Monthly Archives: July 2015

30 July 1915

Ouderdom

I am disturbed, we are disturbed, the regiment is disturbed, the Army is disturbed, & very soon the Newspapers will be disturbed.  The impudence of the Hun is beyond belief.  At early dawn this morning for some inexplicable reason he fired all his guns not once but many times.  Result of course was immediate waking of all men from their beauty sleep, first by the noise, & shortly afterwards by the Brigade who sent an order to us to stand to, & be prepared to move.  Out we came at dawn, not a cold clammy dawn but a nice bright warm summer morning, & got dressed, & still the guns, ours as well now, continued to disturb the peace of all who tried to sleep.  Nay more, not content with sleep disturbing they came out & proceeded to occupy a trench or two which they had blown to bits.  From one, actually in our divisional line they were hastily evicted.  In the others, the next division to ours they got a footing & are now being carefully pounded by every known kind of shell that we possess.  Tonight I expect the “counter” will come & someone will go & remove all Teutonic traces from the spot, & we shall return to the status quo – as it is not in our Division we shall not have to take it back, though I believe the men would rather enjoy a scrap, & it certainly might be rather a lark.  At present therefore we are still standing to, ready to be off anywhere at any time.  Kits are packed, emergency rations collected, respirators cleaned up, & identity discs long since lost are vainly searched for.  Chaos & suspense look after most things & most people.  Personally I cannot raise the energy to indulge in either; my things are all ready , it is a very hot  day  & the only thing that really worries me is the thought that with all this foolish bustle lunch may be late & the potatoes wet.  Mould & Knighton have both got their second stars, the former does not the latter certainly does deserve them.  Mould, I am afraid will be almost unbearable in consequence, more so to me who am now the only Junior “Sub” left in D. Coy.  Two more officers have come out, senior to me, so that I am still in the same place in spite of the other two promotions.  However think not that I grumble, I am quite happy as a Junior “Sub”, & being fairly confident that I know my job, the mere wish-wash of seniority is of no importance.    The 5th Lincoln band is just giving us selections from Gilbert & Sullivan – at the present moment the Mikado.  During our precious six days rest the band comes & plays a good deal, they have nothing to do but minister to the services of the battalion resting in reserve.  They play quite well on the whole, though there is too much brass & too little wood.  The number of aeroplanes increases daily, in fact there is hardly a minute on a fine day when one can not hear the whir of an engine somewhere overhead.  Just at present our aircraft have been doing rather well, the Hun gets chased when he appears & has rather a thin time.  The Germans have got a new marking again for their machines – instead of a black cross they put a blue large ended – small centered Maltese Cross, very hard indeed to distinguish from our blue circle.  Where they are fighting the trench do the same with a red cross to bluff the enemy who carry a red circle.  Such are their funny ways.  No time for more.

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29 July 1915

Ouderdom

There are just a few moments before the post box is cleared so I thought I would scribble you a line or two.  First of all I hope all is well at home, I have not heard for three whole days which I know is not long but longer that the customary interval.  Since my last letter I have done two fatigues, first yesterday afternoon a bath party to Poperinghe, miles away.  While there I seized the opportunity & had a bath myself, very hot & simply filled with carbolic, a truly excellent tub.  Literally also a tub – large, round & very deep, at one end of the schoolroom of a large monastery place.  Two thirds of the room were devoted to other tubs for the men – thirty could bath at a time the other third was filled by only one officer’s bath.  The men got their bath, & a clean change of clothing, all done by one army arrangement, they almost have to undress by numbers.

Today we have been digging etc. My party of 50 men was engaged on building shell-proof dug-out, headquarters for some General & his staff.  Sumptuous palaces they are compared to our water-logged little hutches in the trenches.  Match-boarded, real windows, doors, ceilings, fireplaces, passages & a roof of layers — corrugated iron, sandbags, brick, concrete then turf.  It, I mean the roof is said to be absolutely proof against shrapnel & the smaller high explosives.  In the case of crumps & Jack Johnsons it is hoped that the concrete layer will burst the shell, & that only the nose– cap & a few pieces will penetrate to the interior.  In the ordinary dug-out a large shell simply tears through the roof & bursts inside, doing as you might imagine a lot of damage.

28 July 1915

Ouderdom

All has turned out wrong again, & we are to have no rest after all.  Back once more to the old routine of physical drill, route march, & rifle exercises – a little hard on the men who are getting only six days rest in twenty-four.  I don’t know who is causing all this extra work, but I do know that it’s possible to try some men too far, & that well disciplined though we may be, the day will come when there will be an almighty row, & then of course trouble, someone shot, a few penal servitude – & all the blame is really on the man who sets the task.  I feel sure I can rely on my own platoon to work until they drop – quite cheerfully too, however useless the work may seem to them, but there are others of us who won’t say as much for their men.  I suppose you saw the account of our mining experiences in the paper – it is very nice of them to say the enemy’s mine did no damage, & that we occupied the crater, & so gained a little ground.  All that is quite true but the twelve new crosses in the Field Cemetery, & the thirty odd men in hospital perhaps they could tell of just a little damage to life & limb, if not to actual trench property.  However we don’t grouse, & above all the Hun must be made to believe that no damage was done.

At present I am sharing a large hut with the Doctor, there ought to be other occupants also, but the Padre is ill, the Transport Officer has sprained his ankle, & the Q.M. prefers to sleep with his stores.  Unlike other huts in Flanders this one has a tarred felt roof, & so kept us dry during the most torrential downpour that I have ever seen; it occurred this morning at 7.30am.  It has now cleared up somewhat, & a bright sun & strong wind (anti gas) are doing their best to dry the camp.     By the way there are one or two things about that mine show which will never appear in any paper, but which none the less ought to be told because they are greatly to the credit of the company concerned.  It was an absolute surprise, a very large shock indeed & the falling debris covered an area of about six acres.  Yet no one left his post, no one lost his nerve.  The Coy. Commander was in his dug-out-long before the pieces had stopped falling he was out clawing, crawling, scrambling his way along the choked communication trench to free his men.  The Dr & Stretcher bearers were on the spot very soon afterwards, & digging parties, mending the parapet, rescuing the buried & clearing away the mess, were at work within five minutes of the blow up – all this too in spite of the bombardment by trench mortars which the Germans kept up, steadily throwing 130lb bombs into the crater & round about.  There was a machine gun in the section of the trench – buried – & when they came to dig it out they found the whole team standing to the gun, nearly all wounded, all buried, & one killed.  The 5th may not have been in a charge, we may never have done anything great – but with men like that I think there is hope for us, thought I say it who shouldn’t.    Yesterday afternoon Petch & I went for a very jolly ride together all over the country – went also to call on the H.A.C. but found that at present they are in trenches, so just did a cross country ramble.  The transport Sergeant sent me round a strange nag that I had never seen before, it proved rather a trial.  To start with it would jump nothing, not even the smallest of ditches.  If, on the other hand, we met a motor lorry, it leapt straight up six or seven feet into the air.  I managed to stick on somehow much to my surprise, more than once I came very near to doing gymnastic exhibitions on terra firma.  It is time for our route march so must get my kit together.

27 July 1915

Ypres

We have got out at last & are now in huts again.  We bivouacked for one night &  then came to our eligible dwelling houses again.  We can now look forward to six days rest broken only by a digging party or two, that is a walk of some six miles, then digging or rather shovelling slush somewhere in the area where stray bullets begin to come to earth, & then a march back again.  Altogether a very tiring performance, & by no means restful.  However we are all feeling very elated at a letter sent round by the G.O.C. our division congratulating the officers & men of the 5th Leicestershires on their splendid behaviour in very difficult circumstances, namely the explosion of an enemy’s mine close to their parapet.  Reference to the silly old mine reminds me that our six or seven days tour kept up its reputation for excitement even to the very end.  It is true there were no more mines, nothing indeed so stirring as that, but we were fortunate enough to witness at no great distance a very thrilling little duel in the air.  During the afternoon a German aeroplane had been flying very low down over our trenches, & in spite of our rifle & machine gun fire had the impudence to continue this proceeding for some time.  Shortly after tea however he came over again, flying this time a little higher.  Suddenly from above & behind him came another machine going at a most tremendous pace.  In a few seconds he had overhauled the Hun.  Suddenly there was a burst of flame just under the enemy machine, followed by half a dozen maxim shots.  The upper machine swerved aside & went off, the lower now almost enveloped in flame tried to plane down into its own lines.  But it was no good the bullet must have entered & fired his petrol tanks & the machine turned over.  Even then the pilot kept control & managed to keep his engine running somehow.  He could not reach his own lines, but upside down as he was he kept going to within about 100 feet of the ground & then fell, a blazing wreck.  The German was picked up dead, but a finer aviator I have never seen, & in a way we all felt sorry that he hadn’t managed to get down whole.  So much did the men admire his work that there was none of the cheering that one usually hears on these occasions.  The Germans of course were wild, & in marvellously quick time they had a battery slinging big shrapnel over the place where he fell, in order, I suppose, to catch any of the inquisitive who happened to be examining the wreck.  “D” Coy were really very fortunate in the trenches this time.  In the last six days we had neither killed or wounded, tho’ as you may have guessed from my letter there were a good number sick.  There seem to be quite a lot of K’s Army about all over the place but still we go on holding a very large piece of line, & get little rest compared to the amount of work we have to do.  We shall only get six days rest in every twenty-four, & if we get very wet & dirty weather we shall be jolly tired of trenches.  However no need to worry yet.

26 July 1915

Ypres

I really believe that we are going to have a rest at last.  The relief will take place tonight & we shall go back for six days bivouac, returning to the trenches again next Saturday night.  A bivouac it is true, does not sound very promising in this weather bur I dare say we shall manage to survive somehow.  Today has been fairly fine & warm except for one gigantic thunderstorm which completely flooded us out, & just made everything in a mess as we were cleaning up.  Last night passed off quietly, the Huns did not try any tricks either dirty or otherwise.  Two of us took a stroll over towards their lines, but found so much barbed wire & empty tins all over the place that our progress became somewhat noisy & we thought it best to return, which we did without any difficulty.  My platoon is “Sticking” it very well considering the enormous numbers of sick we are having.  Several of my people have gone to hospital, several others are carrying on their work but are not fit by any means.  Six days rest will put us alright, if only we can get some dry weather.  It is the wet which brings on the rheumatism, & internal chills etc. which are so prevalent just at present.  The common complaint caught me also, & I have not been really right since I returned from home.  However the excitement of the night before last, & the fact of having something to do, which was more or less worth doing, quite cured me; I am now entirely fit again, & have never felt better in my life.  Three new Officers have come out to us & we are expecting more to follow soon.  Lawton, whom we left behind sick, has turned up again, you will find him in the Luton photo.  With him were Wynne & Marriott both Uppinghammians, quite good fellows all the same.  Allan & Langdale, who were sick, have returned, Wollaston has got his leave, Sharpe & the Adjutant are still away in hospital somewhere.  We are not likely to get our draft of men yet as I understand they are going to be used for some other purpose first.  What new men I have got are pretty good.  One is a hefty coal miner who came in very useful a few days ago.  Several R.E. fellows went down our mine rather too soon after an explosion & were consequently overcome by the fumes.  This man of mine promptly volunteered to go down, & very shortly re-appeared bringing him one of the “gassed” men.  A very good piece of work on the whole which shows that he at all events is made of the right material.  Mould has returned from Rouen where he was looking after some new men.  During his stay there he managed to get leave, & we are now bored by the hour by his glowing accounts of his Sawbridgeworth “fiongcee”, intermingled with passages from the history of his doings at “Rouong”.  On the whole I think he deserves to be shot, or else marooned in the Fiji Islands, where he can pour out his tales of love to some solid audience of far Fiji fishmongers.  He really is a terrible fellow.  Jeffries has been a little lighter of late but Knighton is usually in the deepest & dumpiest stages of mental & physical depression.  So it is left for me to keep things cheerful which I do to the best of my ability.

24 July 1915

Since the penning, or to be more accurate, the pencilling of my last effusion we have seen life.  We saw it yesterday evening between the hours of six forty-five & 11.30pm, it was a “do”.  As I think I may have mentioned to you before, the right end of that particular little trench occupied by my platoon is in close proximity to the enemy.  Under our parapet there has always been a tunnel running away into darkness; at tunnel from which sundry R.E. men, mud-covered, pick-carrying, burly little men emerge from time to time.  Great secrecy was preserved around it no one talked above a whisper when near it, no one was allowed to go down it.  Yesterday the time had come.   Several large boxes were carried down the tunnel followed by sand bags, & then several black cables also whose ends were left lying in the trench.  Everybody worked very hard & quite quietly until all was at last ready for us, & quietly we left the nearest corner of our trench & waited.  A shock, a shudder, the trench rocked & a column of earth went up into the air, huge pieces falling down on top of us.  This was the blowing up of a German advanced sap.  Five minutes later & then came another shake, another column of earth, & their main trench was wafted into the air on some 1500 lbs. of explosive.  It was a great success & the whole of the German corner redoubt was swallowed up in the vast crater which now takes its’ place.  Then of course, we shelled, & they shelled a, a little, not very much I thought.  As a rule after such a doing they shell our trenches to bits, this time they were comparatively quiet but we guessed they were up to something.  The reply usually comes sometime even though it is a bit late in coming.  At about 9.30pm it came.  I was sitting in my dug-out when for the third time in the day the ground rocked, not only rocked but positively heaved.  There was a roar & out I rushed to be met by showers of falling muck, & clods of earth.  No one knew quite what had happened.  Something had “gone up”.  On our right – we were not touched – our trench intact – no Germans rushing us – a few bombs – soon stopped all nonsense with our rifle fire.  I then tried to discover what had happened & found that the enemy had blown up a gigantic mine about 30 yds in front of the trench on my right.  Our parapet was practically undamaged, thought one or two men were buried as one would expect.  Either the Germans got frightened & imagined we were counter-mining, & so blew it up before it was under our trench; or what is just as probable, they knew they were far short & blew it up simply from spite, in order to pay us out for our show in the afternoon.  In any case it is just as well that they blew it up when they did, for the damage to us would have been infinitely greater, had they waited until they were well under our eligible dwellings.  However you can see that we had quite a little excitement.  Meanwhile the sun shines, the birds sing in the woods, the rats run along the parapet, & the flies fall in the gravy just as if none of these portentious things had come to pass.  We are now wondering what will happen tonight, something for certain.  We were to have been relieved but hear that for some reason or other that happy event has been postponed & we are therefore getting ready to spend some more blissful hours in the shade of these beautiful sandbags.  Major, or rather, Colonel Martin, has just paid us a visit, he seems very fit & quite undisturbed by the little jollity that he had last night.  His battalion is just on our right & they consequently felt it very nearly as badly as we did.  Considering everything no one can deny that everyone behaved with great coolness & in many cases great courage.  It was an absolute surprise & yet within three minutes of being blown up we had opened on their trenches with bombs & artillery fire, & had a digging party at work rescuing the buried men.

23 July 1915

Ypres

Since my last letter it has started to rain & rained all night almost without a stop.  This morning at dawn it ceased for half an hour, and since then it has been continuing by showery intervals.  The result of course is that the trench is a swamp.  There are no floor boards, it had been newly dug, & this is its first experience of heavy rain.  Think pea soupy mud & water, varying in depth from ancle to knee, cascades of wet earth falling in from the over steep walls, sodden sand-bags, leaky dug-outs, these are only some of the smaller discomforts that we had & still have to put up with.  The last straw was when some “red hat” sitting comfortably in an armchair with a glass of port & a fat cigar, probably in a Chateau, gave orders that we must devote the night to “Hate”.  In other words instead of trying to keep ourselves as dry as possible, & taking no notice of the Bosch, we were to worry & harass him in every way & make a general nuisance of ourselves.  So we unfolded ourselves from our water-proof sheets, & climbed onto the soaking pre-step, & clipped the Hun sand-bags & played chimes on his loop-holes & threw bombs in his pet saps, & shells on his comfortable supports, & all the while got wetter & wetter & wetter.  The Hun made no reply.  Probably he evacuated the trench & kept dry 400yds in rear.  Now we are trying to get clean, our selves, our trench, & our rifles-we have succeeded in the last, in the first two we have failed.  In fact I have refused point blank either to shave or wash today, & don’t at all see why I should do so.  The trench is uncleanable, not even a vacuum cleaner, worked by a 2000 horse power turbine could remove the muck through which we periodically wade.  As to rifles as fast as we clean them, the rain comes & mucks them up again.

22 July 1915

Ypres

Since my last letter we have had a fairly quiet time as far as shelling is concerned though there has been a little excitement.  Last night was my first night off, that is to say I did not come on duty until about four o’clock this morning.  The first thing I did was to take a look round the German lines & see if anyone was about.  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that there had sprung up in the night a square sandbag tunnel with a large iron plate, & two ominous looking slits.  What its all for & what it all means we haven’t the least idea, but during the day have managed to add considerably to the ventilation both of the plates & the surrounding sandbags.  Further excitement came our way a little bit later when one of my Corporals ”Spotted” a German working party.  There were four or five of them working on a new trench about 1000 yds away, & exposed from their heels to their heads.  These we soon scattered & I think managed to hit one fellow, who certainly sat down with greater rapidity then seemed to be quite natural.  At all events they ceased work, & have not been seen again.  We shall keep a good look out on the spot & if ever they try any tricks again in daylight they will catch it.    I am sorry I look so thin in the photograph.  If you will send a copy along I will let you know whether or no there is anyone who might like a copy & to whom you could send it.  I cannot think of anybody at present.  Today we had a first glimpse of this new German bi-plane about which so much has been said in the papers & elsewhere.  It is a fairly large affair with a double body & carries two machine guns firing fore & aft.  The old thing came sailing over today look for something to have a smack at, but none of our machines were up at the time so it went away disappointed.  Their aeroplanes are very quick indeed at spotting any new trench–work & sandbags, & if they see anything they will get the guns on it in a very few minutes.  Their system of signalling between aircraft & guns must be very good indeed.  What we are expecting to see now is a battle between their “battle” machine & one of ours “Vickers biplanes”, which ought to be an exciting event to watch, though somewhat too thrilling doubtless for the combatants.

21 July 1915

Ypres

Guns, guns, guns, & then guns again & for two whole nights nothing but guns.  Small shells, large shells, “pip-squeaks” & “crumps”, “whizzbangs” & ”coalboxes” Little Willies” & “Jack Johnsons”.  One & all they flew screaming, rumbling, shrieking over our heads flying northwards.  It started the night before last when we let off a whacking great mine somewhere away left.  (HOOGE).  At the same minute we started shelling & five minutes later came the German reply.  We were out of it, it all went over our heads, what happened, what we gained or lost I don’t know, but I should imagine that we were successful, because last night it started again.  This time the Huns began it, & kept it up for nearly two hours without slacking in the least.  The noise was fearful, even with us the whole place was shaking what it must have been like where they were falling we could only imagine.  During the day things have been fairly quiet so far, but I expect they will start somewhere again tonight.  The Hun seems to have a tremendous number of guns of all sizes concentrated round this benighted spot.  Their flashes at night come from all quarters of the globe.  The weather is now very much improved, no rain to speak of for the last few days, & though it is not very hot, it is a great blessing to have it dry again.  This morning my watch was from 1 till 4 & I saw quite the most glorious sunrise I’ve ever seen or hope to see.  It started at 2.15 a.m. with a long thin grey green streak of light.  Then quite suddenly a large mass of fleecy clouds were tinged with pink, & a few minutes later half the sky was one glittering mass of gold.  Everybody stopped work & gazed, it was wonderful.  They are beginning to give the men very much better rations now.   We see less bully & biscuits, & get much more fresh meat & bread; while today they actually sent us up rations of milk & lime-juice, things unheard of before in the annals of this regiment.  The cigarette & tobacco ration is also becoming more or less regular.  Each man gets an ounce of tobacco & 20 cigarettes a week.  This does not last very long when a man has to sit in a trench with nothing to do all day except smoke.  However it is a great deal better than no ration at all.

19 July 1915 (2)

We have got here, that is some of us have got here which, though you may not think it, is more than most of us expected.  Here is a very nice trench fairly clean, very safe & in one place so close to the enemy that they are afraid of dropping shells onto us for fear of damaging their own trench.  “Close” means about 40 yards.  But the Germans the other side of that trench are either asleep or drunk or both, or else they don’t exist.  I honestly believe that even if K. of K. himself were to walk along the top of the parapet arm in arm with Sir Edward Grey the silly asses would not be induced to fire a shot.  We cannot imagine what is the matter with them.  My fellows have discovered several of their loop holes & have been firing at the iron plates.  A bullseye is clearly signalled by the bell like ring as the bullet strikes the metal.  One man this morning rang the bell about fifty times in a quarter of an hour firing each shot carefully over the parapet with his head & shoulders in full view, & still there was no reply.  Even though the Hun is silent still there is a great war to be waged, the war of extermination; the extermination of the fly.  The former occupier of the eligible freehold residence, in trench diction more commonly known by the soubriquet of “dug-out” – in which I have now to pass my time, thought fit to leave fragments of every meal that he devoured.  These fragments by no means minute, rather in fact large, particles of bread, jam, butter, bacon, tea leaves, soup.  Tatlers, & “Newspaper tablecloth-Daily Mails” covered with even more particles are strewn more or less indiscriminately about the floor, where, though no doubt picturesque to the Philistine Sherwood Forester, they serve as extra inducement to some two million homeless blue-bottles to come & have a free meal in my sanctuary.  This being the case, will you, as soon as you conveniently can, send me a box, bundle, package or hamper full of every device known to the civilized world for the catching & killing of these pestilent monsters.  Anything from a fly paper to a poisonous brick mushroom will be welcome; a very effective thing is a piece of wire gauze on the end of a stick with which one is able to smite some fifty or sixty at a blow.  Even if I am unable to slaughter all the flies in the neighbourhood I may at least manage to keep the dug-out clear by thus inaugurating a reign of terror.