Tag Archives: Neuve chapelle

Weekending 2nd April 1916

Our Battalion moves back, closer to the fighting at the lines

Sunday Post 2nd April 1916

We seem to have settled down again after the upheaval of merging. The 4th/5th now has four companies and I am in A company under Captain Cunningham – the luckiest officer in the battalion. I have been made up to full corporal. I am now paid 1s 8d per day – though it all goes home, unless I ask for some specifically. The officers have a kitty and will allow you so much, particularly if we are behind the lines. In the front trenches we get nothing. We have no need for it and the officers do not want us to lose it to the enemy. We are now part of the 118th Territorial Brigade, which is part of the newly arrived 39th Division. Our CO is General Bromielaw and we have english battalions from Cheshire, Hertfordshire and Cambridge as comrades. We have moved to Caudescure, a few miles north of Bethune in preparation to return back to the front line as a full strength battalion. I feel we are destined to defend the land around Neuve Chapelle and Festubert indefinitely.

I wrote to my father to tell him of my promotion. I know he will be proud to learn that both his sons are full NCOs. Capt Cunningham has already told me that my photography skills will be called upon at the front and I am eager to find out what is intended for me.

Sunday post german map 1916We are very close to some serious fighting. Just a few miles away at St Eloi, our lads repulsed three major bombing attacks and some mines exploded near out lines. At home our families are being bombed from Zeppelins flying over British soil killing our women and children! There is nothing the Kaiser will not do. I have seen in the Post a map of his intended conquests “when he defeats the British”.  All of Europe shall be under his worked control and most of Africa. He seems to want the whole British Empire! The revelation only makes us more determined to defeat the scoundrel. We, our comrades from the colonies and our gallant French allies will never let this monstrous bully succeed.

 

 

 

Weekending 7th November 1915

Digging trenches at the front near Givenchy

Sunday Post 7th November 1915

More soldiers are coming through from Blighty to make up the numbers, but I notice that the 4th are not getting as many as other battalions. This is odd because we were only about half strength when we went into action at Loos. Capt Cunningham (acting) is still in charge of our two companies , though we are told a new Colonel is expected soon. Surely we must have more men soon! Otherwise Capt Cunningham could be left in charge.

In fact we seem to be reduced to a number of working parties. After helping the miners last week and pumping out their tunnels, we have now been placed at Givenchy, digging new trench works, connecting old trenches and straightening the lines. It is an arduous job, not least because, the new men don’t seem to be able to resist poking their heads up or straightening their backs at the slightest inclination. The fools think that because there is no shelling nearby and they can’t hear anything, there are no Huns ready to put a bullet in them. Fortunately I have only had a man get a hole in his  arm wound in my lot, but it is only a matter of time, I think.

So, what could be worse that crawling out into No Man’s Land and pulling the dead into shell holes for burial?  This week we discovered it at Givenchy. We dig a straight line from one trench to another, throwing the earth to front to make a bulwark facing the German lines. But it is not earth,  not really. It is bits of uniform, an occasional boot, rifle stocks, bayonets, buttons and bones and sinew. It is those who weren’t buried last time we fought here at this spot a few months ago. This sight is quite sickening, even for our experienced lads. The Medical orderly who came up to collect my wounded fool told us to be very careful, as the ground itself is sickly. In that case we are all doomed because we have been digging it for 5 days!

pickelhaube helmet

 

 

Yesterday three of the lads dug themselves into a hole. Or rather they fell into one. Two trenching picks and a shovel were making steady progress. One touched wood, the second battered it and they were through, 6 feet down in an old German dugout. Table, 2 chairs, and a long dead Hun officer in the bunk.  After checking it thoroughly for traps and bombs, I let everyone have a good look. Not so long ago, new lads would have been all over it looking to steal a moment or two. But now they aren’t at all interested. The officer will even be buried with his Pickelhaube!

Weekending 10th October 1915

Warm work at Givenchy as the Hun take their revenge

After the Battle of Loos, Givenchy

Well we have barely stopped since the reorganisation. We have been posted to Givenchy (where Lt Steven was killed only a week after his brother). We are now about three miles south of Neuve Chapelle, very close to Festubert. In other words, in the months between my first proper battle and now, the British army has not moved forwards more than a few hundred yards. The little hill of Givenchy sits opposite the small town of La Bassee and we share it with the 1st Seaforth Highlanders.

Neuve_Chapelle_to_La_Bassee, and Givenchy_1915

The place has been heavily shelled over recent months and we spend much time at night rebuilding the bulwarks and repairing the wire. Of course Hun know what we are doing there and it is very dangerous. Lt Steven was killed inspecting some of the new defences. We all crouch as low as possible so as not to be seen against the skyline. No Man’s Land is full of craters and there is a constant battle between our snipers and theirs. This involves night-time raids – crawling out from crater to crater, trying to clear them. Dangerous enough as, if they do have snipers in them, they can usually see or hear us no matter how diligent we try to be. They are armed with rifles, while we satisfy ourselves with clubs ad shovels. We also have a macabre task in each crater – we must check them for the dead. This is happening all along the lines.  There are so many missing after the last action and, of course, so many mothers, wives and sisters are desperate to know one way or another. By now the bodies are bloated, the skin often grey-green or blue. It is a relief that a man would not recognise his best friend and so, we can be dispassionate about our task. After clearing a crater, and checking those around, we begin to drag the bodies by their clothes towards it, so that we could at least give them some kind of burial. It is very important to take their identity tags for the records. We had to do this on all fours and if the Germans fired a very light, we had to stay completely still or face a blast of Machine gun fire.

Unbeknown to us, the Germans had been mining up close to our lines.  Fortunately, the tunnelling company were able to detect and blow up a mine that was in front of us. However, on the morning of the 8th the Hun exploded two smaller mines destroying part of our parapet. Although it was nothing like the massive mine I had witnessed just before Loos, we were thrown back and covered in earth and debris. For some moments, I was completely dazed, not knowing which way was up. There is a very strange silence after such an event. As if nobody quite knows how to respond to it.  Lt Cunningham was up and in charge immediately, directing those who still had their wits about them to defend the gap, rebuild the parapet and help to dig out the others. The Germans advanced quickly from some of the craters and could only be held back by sustained machine gun fire. I am pleased to say they were soon turned and all their efforts came to nought.  For such an explosion, hardly any of us were hurt, which is a relief after such an awful time last week. I am looking forward to some rest.

Weekending 13th June 1915

I am wounded again and suffer in a gas attack

I can’t believe that I was wounded on my second trip out. Corporal Quinn told us we would be going out a few days later. He said that the prisoners from my first raid ” didn’t know enough”. Jack said that is was my fault for killing the clever ones. We moved further along the trench, to try to find another forward trench and worked our way along the level ground. It wasn’t as easy this time because there was no large shell hole to work towards,, just some shallow ditches. The Germans were quite lively and without warning they fired a star shell, which exploded high above us and broke into a dozen firey lights that floated slowly down to us. We quickly landed on our bellies and stayed as still as possible. I had been told about these. When this happens we have to wait until they fire a second flare. Sure enough a little while later ( I have no idea how long) they fired a very light arcing high above us. None of us had moved and we stayed stock still again, with our eyes and faces in the dirt and our hands tucked beneath out bodies, so that there was no pale flesh , teeth or eyes for them to see. We waited again, for what seemed like an age until I saw Quinn signal us forward again. again, we worked our way past the advance trench, so that we could see behind the breastwork of sand bags and mud. There were a dozen or so German soldiers – all awake this time, though only two watching. The others were talking and, although I couldn’t understand them, they seemed to be whispering and laughing in much the same way we do in our trenches, trying to make the time pass a little more quickly and rubbing our hands or stamping our feet trying to keep warm.

Quinn looked back at Danny and me. Danny held up four fingers and quietly took out four grenades. I tightened my grip on my hammer. Quinn signalled down from five and danny launched the grenades into the trench. they caused uproar as they landed, the men frozen for a second, unsure whether to pick them up or hide, before their fear got the better of them and they dived for cover. But with four grenades in there, nowhere was safe and the four explosions were muffled by bodies and mud. This time, when we jumped into the trench, there was no one standing, no open hands and cries of “Kamarad”. Quinn quickly rifled through the befuddled soldiers and dragged out a young officer and a man who looked like a sergeant. They were injured but not seriously – they could walk. Quinn and Gray dragged them sideways out of the trench and they ran like the wind back towards safety. Danny and I rolled out after them and threw more grenades into the trench and then beyond, waking up the main trench who started to fire blindly into the darkness. Quickly we crawled back and were about halfway home when another star shell lit up the sky. With our only thought, the comfort of our own trench, we were slow to hit the ground and we must have been seen, because almost instantly machine gun fire whistled over our heads. that was bad enough, but then the artillery wanted a turn and we found ourselves being shelled. there weren’t many, four or five, but the gunners knew the range and we were being bounced like footballs and the noise was horrendous. I got up and ran. A shell exploded not too far away and I was thrown head first into a deep shell hole, I had been hit in the leg and it stung like h**l. I slide down to the bottom of the hole, into the mud and heaven knows what. My heart was beating like a steam train and as I gasped for air, my throat tightened and my chest felt like it was full of hot coals. My eyes were streaming and it seemed the more I tried to claw my way back up the side, the heavier my body became. With a huge effort I slammed my hammer into the mud above my head and pulled with all my might then I dug my toes into the mud and swung the hammer again and pulled. I reached a tiny ledge, which allowed me some respite and I tried to regain some strength. But I was done for. I don’t know how long I was there. The shelling and gunfire had long subsided when I thought I heard some movement above my head. I hadn’t the strength to see if they were British or German and I didn’t care. It was all I could do to draw breath. I was dragged out and back to our trench. Still hardly able to breathe, i was put on a stretcher and carried back to a dressing station.

The doctors propped me up and patched up my leg. I spent that night and most of the next day fighting for breathe, but gradually my chest seemed to get a little better – after some severe bouts of coughing. It was Sergeant MacLeod who fished me out of the shell hole. I have no idea what he was doing out there, but he saved my life. I shall have to thank him when I see him next, but that could be some time. I have beed told I am being sent back to Blighty to recuperate. This time next week I could be in Southampton!

Weekending 23rd may 1915

Back in Paradis and a haircut

And so here we are back, resting in the village of Paradis. After the failure of a fortnight ago, and the loss of so many of our friends, we are all despondent. There is no dash to the football ground, or quick games of cards. Rather subdued, we set about washing our uniforms and chatting with candles in our tents
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French soldiers drinking wine

French soldiers drinking wine at an estaminet in Bethune

Brodie and I too a day out and went back to the town of Bethune to cheer ourselves up. The place is full of British and French soldiers and the townsfolk are very busy selling goods – bread, sugar and meat to everyone. We had some lunch in a bar – or estaminet, as they call it here. An estaminet is like a cross between a pub and a tearoom. They sell wine and food and coffee. Apparently since our arrival they have started to serve tea but Brodie says it is disgusting. Even worse than the tea we get in the front trenches.
Then we went to get our hair cut! Madame Reanaux is a widow, whose husband had been a barber and had been killed in an early Marne battle. She still has the shop and offers haircuts for threepence. It’s very expensive. She was very welcoming and, although she doesn’t speak much English, is very keen that we know this is a ‘good barbers with good haircuts’. Brodie says that is because there are other barbers in Bethune where they offer other services as well. Brodie winked when he said this and said we could visit them later if I wanted too. I shook my head resolutely. What would Mother say?
 
Sikh Lancers showing their horses to young visitors

Sikh Lancers showing their horses to young visitors

Back at the Paradis camp I have been helping with the officer’s horses. We have lost some of the stable hands and Cpl Quinn ordered me to go and help them after seeing me talking to some Sikh lancers and helping them with their horses. It is so good to work with them again – though they are much more lively than my old friends on Mr Mclaren’s farm. Sometimes when I am with them I could almost forget that The Hun are only  a few miles away. Then I’ll hear the shrill scream of a Crump or Black Maria coming overhead and I am crouching in a ditch, like everyone else…

 

Weekending 9th May 1915

We attack Aubers Ridge,  but no progress

 

Most of the last few days have been driven by routine, but there was a definite increase in activity – more trucks arriving in the night and more piles of ammunition being hidden, but close to hand. I know the artillery had received more shells, because we were required to help carry some of the smaller ones up to an ammunition dump, when one of the trucks left the road and got stuck in the mud. That is a constant danger when driving at night, there is little difference between the road and the fields that surround it in daylight. At night, I can understand a driver, conscious of his load and aware that the Germans would throw a few shells over to the road just for luck, might lose his way.

Anyway, there was a general feeling that something was up. Some new regiments turned up, including some Gurkhas – they look dangerous! – and so on the evening of the 8th, we were moved closer to the lines. Four companies of the 4th have been attached to an Indian Brigade for an attack on a place called Aubers Ridge. I have drawn a rough diagram, from my own experience and from Sgt Milne’s map, which he got when we attacked Neuve Chapelle:

Aubers Ridge Simple Battle Plan

 

Our trenches, newly captured from the Germans are overlooked by Aubers ridge, which is held by the Hun and enables them to see what we are doing. Obviously it was thought to be better if we held the ridge, though I am not sure what s beyond it.

So on the morning of the 9th, our artillery started. It had been a beautiful spring night, quite clear with thousands of stars. We silently moved forward and took our positions. I am such an old hand at this, that I must have dropped off, because I was awoken by an almighty racket as our artillery began their bombardment. The Hun must have had a huge shock!  Though, I think the opening bombardment for Neuve Chapelle was worse. From where we were I could see the German’s front trenches. The wire was shredded, blown to smithereens, though some of the shells were short, blowing holes in the muddy ground we were supposed to cover to get to the Hun. Some were very short, so close that we were covered with the wet slimey mud we have come to hate. At about 6am, we watched the Seaforths lead the attack. They charged the enemy trenches which were about 100 yards or so away. The shelling, which had been so effective against the wire, had had little impact on the trenches – the Germans are very good at digging deep trenches –  and before they could get half way there there was a terrific and constant fire from their machine guns. The Seaforths were cut down and stopped in their tracks. caught between the machine guns which swept the field, they were pinned down, unable to even raise their heads. My heart went out to them. I remembered being in that position myself. Suddenly I couldn’t believe that I had survived it, holding my head down, my cheek in the mud and bullets whizzed past. I had to get a grip of myself, remind myself that I am a soldier, fighting for my King and country.

I consoled myself that, provided they didn’t try to move until nightfall, they should be alright. I think we were expected to follow the Seaforths, but Captain Walker and Lt Steven – who had just won the MC – just moved us along the trench – the very shallow trench – so that more troops could join us. It soon became evident that the Hun could sit there filling the air with a murderous stream of lead all day, and our advantage had been lost.  We were moved to support the 58th rifles, but as we moved, we became targets for the German artillery. We were badly knocked about, shells exploding right on top of us. The carnage in that few minutes is the worst I have seen, I am amazed that I am alive. There was general confusion, and a desperate desire to escape the shelling, which seemed to follow us as we moved. As we arrived in the fire trench with the 58th – who didn’t thank us for bringing the German artillery on our heels – we saw Captain McIntyre lead his platoon over the trench and into attack. They ran, yelling, bayonets fixed. they managed about 30 yards before the machine guns picked them up and they were pinned down. Lt Weinberg held the platoon flag and stood waving the men forward, he fell after a few yards. The flag was picked up by Donald Pyott who made only a few steps before he too fell. Then private Ross who advanced maybe en yards before he fell under murderous fire. Then beyond, the 2nd battalion advanced, only to be pinned down after a few yards.

Meanwhile were still being bombarded. The noise was unimaginable as we were covered in waves of mud and worse. One minute I saw a machine gun unit – four men – who we trying to give answer to the germans. When I turned to look at them again, the gun was just a mangled piece of debris with a headless body on one side and on the other a man without an arm screaming for help. Of the other two? I don’t know.

Eventually, we moved back, into the reserve lives. Our artillery tried to respond to the German batteries, but it  seems to me that we never have enough guns or shells – certainly not as many as the Hun. Perhaps if I was in their trenches I might think the opposite. Night fell and with that some respite. The Seaforths dropped back in to the front trenches – far more that I thought possible after seeing them fall out there. and the 2nd also returned. We visited the dressing station as soon as we could to see if our pals were there We have taken a pounding. We were told that the whole day cost us 1,000 soldiers. For what? The Hun still hold Aubers Ridge.

After the church service today we held another, special,  service. We erected crosses for our fallen:

Sgt. W.D. Brown, Corpl. Mulligan, Corpl Stewart, L/Cpl. Taylor, L/Cpl. Whyte, Pte. Allan, Pte, Angus, Pte W.Brown, Pte, Coghill, Pte, j. Diamond, Pte Donnachie, Pte Kelman, Pte Kennedy, Pte Masterton, Pte McAvoy, Pte Montague.

Sgt. H Jarron, L/Cpl. Smith, Pte, Glenday, Pte. Grant, Pte McIntosh, Pte, Ross.

Sergeant-Major Pyott put a white cross for his son Donald who had fallen so bravely and Private Troup placed a cross for his father. It read: ” 456 Sergeant, H Coy., 4th Black Watch, Killed in action 9th May 1915″. Below it was carved the name “Archie”.

It was the name he was known by throughout the battalion.

Weekending 2nd May 1915

Honours for the battalion, the fighting fourth!

Sunday post 2nd may 1915

black watch medalsWe had some good news this week, to break the routine of supporting and defending our trenches. The first decorations have been awarded for our efforts at Neuve Chapelle. Of course we fought hard over those few days and  suffered losses just like the other battalions in the action. Lieutenant Steven, who had worked the trench to our right during the fighting was awarded the Military Cross and sergeants Bowman and Macdonald were awarded The Distinguished Conduct Medal. Lieutenant Steven is a very popular officer and we all took our opportunity to congratulate him. He was obviously as pleased as punch, if a little embarrassed. Sergeant Bowman was also congratulated heartily, but sadly, we were never able to congratulate Sergeant MacDonald. He died of his wounds a few days later.I had hoped hat Sergeant Milne night receive some recognition for his efforts in the trench. I know his knowledge kept us all alive and fighting for those three days.

It is getting busier – more trucks and more soldiers.. We have had some new arrivals from Dundee for the 4th. Even to us, who have really only seen a single action, they look so innocent and unsure. I now realise how we must have looked to the 2nd battalion lads when we turned up only a few weeks ago. Smart, neat, excited, eager… what a difference a few weeks make. Oh we are still eager to fight the Hun, but our puttees are filthy, our kilts ripped, our buttons definitely not shining and covered in lice – no matter how hard we try to rid ourselves of them. The new lads looked at us with a mixture of awe and disgust!

The ground the Germans occupy is slightly higher and so they are able to see behind our lines. their artillery fire is monotonously constant, mainly at our trenches, but often firing to the rear. They want to keep us on our toes! They often aim for the roads that the motor trucks us to supply the front lines. Of course, they rarely hit a truck as the lines are supplied mainly at night, but they riddle the roads and make them all but unpassable. sometimes we are required to go and push the trucks through, sometimes we carry the supplies back tot he reserve trenches ourselves while the engineers try to repair the road. This is all part of war – I understand that, but what really annoys me – a despicable act – is when the Hun target the horses. They are often let out on the fields behind the lies to graze. I am sure the Germans see them and report it to their guns, because those fields would be shelled with shrapnel shells to kill as many as possible. They suffer dreadful wounds and the fear in their eyes and their baleful moans of pain will stay with me for a very long time. Unlike us, they are here because they have no choice. It is wicked.

Now they are taken well back and kept out of sight, but the Germans still throw shells over in the hope of doing some damage.

Weekending 4th April 1915

How I spend my day in the front trench at Neuve Chapelle.

Trench_construction_diagram_1914-1So we are in a regular shift pattern now. Out of a fortnight, we spend three days in the support trench, then six days n the front line trench, followed by a few days back in Paradise.

And so much of our time is spent in predictable routine. Even in the font line trenches, there is often very little activity. We are awake before dawn, in readiness for an enemy attack. If nothing happens – and nothing has actually happened so far-  we shall have the morning “Stand too”. Then Cpl Quinn will come around with the morning issue of rum. Then we will spend some time cleaning our weapons ready for the morning inspection. Most often we are inspected by Sgt Maj Charles, who is very thorough and does not think that being in a ditch, and wet through is any reason for us not to be properly dressed. Funnily enough, the officers do not seem to so concerned.

After the inspection it is time for breakfast, which could be porridge or bread and jam.  After breakfast we will be inspected by Major Muir, our company commanding officer. He is accompanied by Sgt Maj Charles and heaven help us if we don’t look immaculate! Then we set about our daily chores. Obviously we have our watch rotation, though we are lucky enough to have  periscopes, but also we need to help keep the trenches clean, removing any earth that has collapsed and using it for sand bags, replacing broken boards and emptying the latrines. Everything is done with good humour, though very quietly. And we all crouch – even the shorter lads. Nobody wants to catch a bullet, just because they could be seen sticking their head over the top of the trench.

Then lunch. The food comes up from the reserve lines. Our food is cooked in two huge vats by battalion catering staff. They cook everything on those, so it is no surprise that our tea always tastes of beef stew ! Food is brought forward in anything the catering staff can find – dixies (cooking pots), petrol cans or old jam jars in straw-lined boxes. By the time the food reaches us it is always cold.

Black watch in a trenchDuring the afternoon if I am not on guard duty we might chat, sleep, write letters, or play cards. We are not encouraged to gather in very large groups – the occasional shell does come in. Snipers are always in our lookout posts and I like to think that we would be alerted to any enemy movement, so if not working, this time can be quite relaxed.

As evening draws in, we have our second  “Stand too” of the day. Bayonets are fixed in preparation for surprise attacks. And this is when our working day really begins. We are able to move much more freely at night. Men are sent to the rear to bring up vital supplies such as food, ammunition, water, medical and maintenance equipment. Others are sent out to repair wire or check any shell holes, to see if they have been occupied by the enemy. Sometimes we are sent out further, closer t the enemy lines, to try to overhear what they are doing in their trench. I have only been on one of these forays once and it is a very frightening experience, I can tell you! The others are required for guard duty. Two hours on the firing step, peering into the darkness, not sure if the movement in front of you is us or them. It can be pretty stressful and I have heard that some times our lads get it from their own trenches. Thankfully that hasn’t happened to us yet. Even when your time on the firing step is finished, you are expected to stay alert. The nights are very long and tense. Shortly before dawn, we stand too again, and another day begins.

Weekending 21st March 1915

Some rest in Paradise after the hell of Neuve Chapelle

AFTER all the excitement and fear of last week with our big push at Neuve Chapelle, we are now back behind the lines.
The Bareilly Brigade was relieved on March 14 and marched back to billets near the village of Paradis.

French soldiers drinking wine in Neuve Chapelle

It is a strange feeling. There are lots of other soldiers around, mainly British, nut also some French. They are friendly enough, but seem to spend their days drinking wine! There is no beer in France, that we can find, so we have started drinking wine too. Though not in such large quantities. And the brandy has run out, so we are back to rum.

 

We are all still fired up from the battle, but all is quiet. Most of us laugh, joke and talk, almost as if we are relieved to have got our first action over with. And Sgt Maj Charles has relented and allows us to play football. Not me, of course, another week or so i think before I am fully fit. I think we accounted for ourselves well enough, both as a regiment and as individual soldiers. But some of the men are very withdrawn. Johnny Orton seems to have been quite badly affected. He’s not his usual cheerful, singing self at all. He had a real tussle with a young German soldier as they defended Neuve Chapelle from attack and is lucky to have escaped with his life. But he had to kill the lad with his bare hands. It is funny, but before, back in Dundee, I would have relished the thought of fighting a German to the death, but now I feel sorry for Jonny. No matter how right our cause, we have all been brought up with the ten commandments and Though shalt not kill is surely one of the most important?

I have had a couple of bad nights myself, dreaming about Robbie. He was talking to me, smiling, but his head was a mess of blood where he had been shot. So far, I haven’t dreamt, or even really thought, about the Germans I killed. Maybe it is during the quiet times, when there is no fighting, that we have time to think of these things. Maybe we’re better off in battle than at rest.

Weekending 14th March 1915

My first action – Neuve Chapelle 10th-14th March

pka_blwm_tn324_large

We spent the end of last week and the beginning of this week helping to supply the front line. It was a lot of shifting and carrying, but it kept us occupied and allowed us to familiarise ourselves with the reserve trenches and, sometimes, visit the front line which we were told was fairly quiet. It didn’t mean there was no shelling or firing but the locals, as we called them, told us that it was often much worse that this. Each trench has its own name, sometimes there are signs ” Piccadilly” or “Princes Street”, but there are other signs which are far more important. These are usually at junctions or places where a trench gets shallower. They read “KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN” or “SNIPERS” . These have been put in because soldiers have been killed when they haven’t been attentive, or they have been forgetful.

On the afternoon of the 9th we had some time to rest and Cpl Quinn said that we should write a ‘proper’ letter to our families, which he would collect. Jamie said that meant a letter that they will include in our belongings if we get killed. He said that means we shall be in action soon. This left everyone deep in their own thoughts. How hard it was to put into words how I felt at that moment. We were all sitting around, almost afraid to start writing. I decided to write one letter to my whole family and then short notes to each of them. Then another letter to George. I told my family that I loved them and hoped they were proud of me. I thanked my mother and father for bringing me up properly.  I told Chrissy to be strong for Mother and Father and to work hard. I told Janet to work hard at school.

Lily Galbraith 1914

My darling Lily Galbraith

 

I tried to write to Lily, but I didn’t know what to say. I knew how I felt for her, but I didn’t want her to feel guilty if I died. Yet I felt that must write something. I wrote that I have cherished her friendship and hoped that she will go on to find happiness. Horribly formal. But if I wrote how I truly felt it would have been unbearable. Even writing those simple words left me in a very maudlin mood with a heavy heart. Afterwards I placed her picture in my breast pocket with my bible. Cpl Quinn came to collect the letters. He also took our money, any notebooks and personal items that might be useful to the enemy. He said we should try to get some sleep. But there was little hope of that! The whole platoon was restless. Nervous.

 

 

 

In the middle of that night we were awoken by Cpl Quinn. He told us to be silent and get ready to move.  He told us not to forget anything – remember our webbing, rifle and kit. We were cold, bleary eyed and bewildered, but we did as ordered. The weather was foul – cold and wet. our boots squelched in the mud as we made our way to the reserve trenches. Even in the dark I could tell that everyone was in a sombre, determined mood. This moment was what we had all signed up for. To strike a blow of freedom against those beasts who had raped Belguim and were rampaging through France. Quietly we formed up. I could see the shadows of hundreds of soldiers all going the same way. The whole battalion was on the move. I saw our Indian friends ahead of us. Small and silent. At least they knew what to expect. We rested near a breastwork called Windy Corner. Cpl Quinn told us to settle down and rest. Sergeant Milne came round with some brandy, to keep us warm he said.  we had acquired an enormous amount of brandy from local sources. It made a pleasant change from the usual rum. He was generous and we all felt better. He watched us as we shared it around. He said that this would be a messy affair, but to stay with the officers and obey orders. He said he was proud of every one of us. Just for a second, he reminded me of my father….

Black Watch and Dogras wait at Neuve Chapelle

Black Watch and Dogras wait at Neuve Chapelle

 

 

We waited there until the action started. The Brandy began to wear off after an hour or so. It was very cold and we were very stiff and cramped. As jamie said, there was barely room to shiver! Arthur dropped his rifle-and the clattering noise seemed to echo up the trench. Daybreak was cold and wet. We found ourselves next to some Dogs (Dogras), who were further up the trench. Suddenly Cpl Quinn was there, and Sergeant Milne. They were patting our shoulders, waking us, telling us to be ready..

 

 

 

At 7am. Our guns began their bombardment and I have never heard anything like it in my life! Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I felt it – with every fibre of my being. My hands were over my ears but it made no difference. The noise was incredible. It was a thunderous, constant rumble that bounce from your toes up to your head. I cautiously looked back and the whole western sky was alight with fire, like an angry sunset.  I don’t know how many guns were firing, but it seemed like hundreds – thousands maybe.  The shells screeched and whistled overhead. They must have fallen upon the Germans like dogs from Hell. I could not imagine anyone surviving such a constant and overwhelming attack. My whole body was trembling from the noise. I could barely hold my water bottle to my lips. We were bumping into each other as if we couldn’t control ourselves. It was freezing cold, yet I was sweating. I was not the only one who was overwhelmed by the barrage. I could see fear, amazement, shock, in my comrades faces. Cpl Quinn walked among us. Watching. After forty minutes or so the bombardment stopped and the ground beneath our feet stopped shaking. Though I didn’t. My nerves were on edge. I didn’t know what to expect next. It wasn’t fear. No, I was not afraid. More numbed by the complete silence. My senses were dulled. I could see people walking and moving near me but I couldn’t hear them. My fingers gripped my rifle, yet I didn’t feel its weight or the hardness of the wood and metal.

I could see movement ahead of us. The soldiers ahead were moving forward slowly, winding their way through the trenches. I couldn’t see much but , gradually, I started to hear the spit of machine gun fire.

Occasionally bullets dropped around us. They seemed almost spent and squelched into the mud in the earthworks on the top of the trench. Cpl Quinn said that the German machine gunners were obviously getting rattled by our lads, and that if he saw any of us shooting so badly he would give us what for. After an hour or so we were near the front line. The gunfire was more intense and we were told to keep our heads down. We filled the trenches, but still managed to make way for some stretcher bearers who were taking some wounded back. They slid and slipped everywhere and the poor wounded just had to hold onto the stretchers as best they could. The wounds were bright red, mainly in the legs and stomach. They had bandaged the men on the field but the blood seeped through. The wounded men were silent. And so were we.

I don’t think I was alone in not knowing what was happening. I vaguely understood, but did not now what I would be expected to do. I decided to  stay close to Cpl Quinn or Sergeant Milne. If I was close to them, I would be in the right place. And so we are huddled together in the trench, waiting for our turn. It was bitterly cold and still raining. Ken Collins called out for some more brandy, but nobody laughed. I suddenly decided to take a grip of myself. To take control of my feelings and govern them. I was determined not to show fear and to do my duty. I thought about my father and George. They had endured this moment. The minutes before. The anticipation and realisation that death may be close. Yet they had not failed. I was determined that neither would I. I would not fail..

Map Neuve Chapelle 1915At about 11am, Cpl Quinn started moving along the line, telling us to get ready and make sure we had everything. We moved towards the front trench and, just before we stepped up on to a makeshift ladder that would take us above the trenches, we fixed bayonets. then we were on the land, and what a desolate, barren place it was. There were acres of mud ahead and miles of trenches left and right. Small tree stumps broke up the landscape, suggesting that it was once farmland with orchards and hedging, but other that that, no sign of what beauty might have been here before. The Cpl was at the top of the ladder and he pointed out  the trench ahead of us. “We need to hold that trench” he said. ” The Seaforths have taken it, we just need to hold onto it. The Hun don’t like giving an inch, so be sure they will throw everything they have at us!” Jack asked him where we were and he replied “Those ruins over there are a village called Neuve Chapelle. And God help any German who hasn’t run away from it. Don’t be distracted, don’t slow down for anything. Get to that trench!” And with that he led us through the mud, over the planks that crossed our front line trenches and into no man’s land.

We set off, I concentrated on the heels of those in front of me, but I couldn’t ignore  the scores of bodies of British soldiers, mainly Seaforths, but also some Gurkhas. They lay twisted on the ground. I imagine they had been shot, but because they were mainly lying on their fronts, I could not see their wounds. A few were still alive, a couple crawling forlornly towards our trench, one crawling on towards the german trench, refusing any help or assistance. One man held out his hand towards me, begging for water. there was a large hole in his side which was a livid red with fresh blood. I slowed and reached for my bottle, but Cpl Quinn was instantly cajoling me forward shouting at me not to stop or slow down, but to keep on going. I had to leave him. Later Cpl Quinn assured me that the stretcher bearers would have found him and helped him, but I wonder if that was true.  However, the man caused me to look around for the first time and I was amazed to see the battalion all stepping forward in platoons, being led by Col Walker himself. The gunfire intensified, both machine guns and rifle fire, with bullets clipping the ground around us.

Robbie, my friend

Robbie, my friend

A man went down to my left, just spinning round and falling and then another sank to his knees in front of me, clutching his stomach. His rifle had fallen to the earth and his head fell forward. It didn’t register with me at the time, but later I realised it was Robbie. The handsome postie from Carnoustie. The friend who had shared so much with me. The man I joined up with. Suddenly lots of us were falling to the ground, but not hit, just hiding from the gunfire. I dived down into a small hollow. Bullets were thudding into the ground around us. men cried out as they were hit,mainly in the arms and shoulders, which were facing the enemy. Of course, if they were hit in the head. they just fell silent. Peering forward very carefully, I could see an arm waving us ahead. It seemed impossible in all this gunfire, but gradually we worked our way towards the trench, crawling inch by inch, stopping and lying completely flat when we felt the gunfire getting close. After a while, the firing seemed to slow and miraculously, I saw the arm again, waving us forward. We started to move more quickly and ahead of us I could see the trench. There were dead Seaforths everywhere, in higher numbers than before. Suddenly my comrades were up and running to the trench and I was running with them. The gunfire got louder and an occasional shell laded close enough to spatter mud high into the air so that it fell upon us like thick black rain. I got to the wire posts, which stood forlorn, the wire having been cut or blown asunder earlier. I leapt for my life and half fell, half rolled into the German trench, surrounded by my comrades. Looking around, I could see many dead Germans, splayed out with arms wide open and legs twisted, positions fixed in death. Their faces revealed angst and terror. none of them carried a rifle or other weapon and I supposed that they have been killed by our artillery bombardment.

neuve chapelle 1915I found my friends, Jack Gray and Danny Robertson and then, Cpl Quinn who was further down the trench. He signalled to us to follow him and he slowly moved along the trench, looking for traps. As we moved along, we passed more dead Germans. But these must have been killed in trench fighting, as they had bullet wounds, and bayonet wounds. Some of them were still bleeding. Their bright scarlet blood was everywhere. On their tunics, limbs and faces. Jack found them mesmerising and we had to jolly him along. Danny stabbed a dead Hun with his bayonet as we passed. We met a Seaforth Highlander who directed us towards a reserve trench. We picked up speed, feeling a little safer until we came to the German reserve trench, which was full of Gurkhas. We were told to make ready for a counter-attack. We picked up some of the dead Germans and heaved them over the top of the trench to make a kind of barrier facing the new German line. Of course the original earthwork faced our lines. Eventually we couldn’t lift them over their dead comrades and we had to be satisfied filling sandbags. but they weren’t much easier. The mud was almost liquid beneath our feet and seaped out of the bags as we threw them forward over the German bodies. After a while we were allowed to rest from the physical labour and those who weren’t on watch duty were encouraged to eat something and rest. I don’t think any of us were hungry, but a shared my tin of bully beef and some biscuit with Jack and Danny. Then I wandered up the trench – to the north- to see how others were making good their trench.

Sergeant Milne was there with about 30 other 4th. He told us to move further left, and led us up the trench. He said that we needed to hold Port Arthur. I had no idea what he meant, but he had a map in his hand, so we followed him. We made our way up the trench, passing  many more dead Germans and some dead Seaforths. I could no longer look at them, but just kept my eyes on the back of the man in front of me.

The trench came to an end. Ahead there was some low lying land, then about 100 yards away, more trench. Beyond that, there was the outskirts of a bombed out village – Neuve Chapelle. Milne looked at his map again and pointed ‘This is where we need to be lads’, he said. Carefully he climbed out of the end of the trench and moved forward, running low across the gap between the trenches. There was  some gunfire, but it didn’t seem to  be aimed at him. We followed on our bellies so that the enemy didn’t see us. Once we were in the trench and satisfied that it was clear, Milne sent some men back for ammunition. The remnants of a machine gun crew set up at one end of the trench. These men were superb. Usually a machine gun has a crew of a dozen. George had said that they could work with just six men, but here were three men. And they had lost their officer. Yet they worked tirelessly at their gun and saved the trench a number of times. The trench itself was very shallow. Milne ordered us to dig it deeper, where we could, and throw the sodden earth before us.

After a short period, a lieutenant came up and told Milne that we needed to move forward. More 4th followed him. We all grouped together. Suddenly our little trench was full! The lieutenant ordered us all to advance and stepped up and out of the trench. We followed climbing over the trench on to an open field. We were able to walk steadily. It was wet, but the grass still covered the land and there were no bodies or evidence of recent fighting. How that would soon change!  We made about forty yards before the firing began. Now we needed no telling – we started to run forwards towards the gunfire. For a moment I felt complete exhileration. I had my rifle and bayonet, bullets were flying past me, but my friends were all around me and this was our first opportunity to get to the Hun on our own terms. Then, quite suddenly, we seemed to hit a wall of bullets and fell and dived for cover. The lieutenant and several others bought it. I found myself in a ditch with two others. We dared not poke our heads out! The noise was different to the earlier loud rolling thunder. This time there were loud cracks of rifle fire and a constant rattle of machine guns. Another 4th, from C company, I think,  fell into our ditch and told us to move back.

I remember actually laughing. ‘I don’t know how we are to do that! ” I said.

“Well we can’t stay here!” he replied.

He moved to the back of the ditch and jumped a little over the edge and rolled flat, heading back to the trench. Then he crawled low and slowly. I followed. Gradually we worked our way back, keeping our heads down. We tended to work to a rhythm – move hands and feet once, stop, count 10, hands and feet stop….. From ditch to ditch. All the time, bullets raged above our heads. As I approached our trench, I passed the soldier who had told us to retreat. He was dead. I didn’t even know his name, yet if it wasn’t for him, I would probably have been dead too. Milne arrived back into the trench and told us to lie low and be alert. Shortly afterwards darkness fell. My first day of action!

Milne told us to get digging again. He counted us all and set a couple on watch duty. A few times we were ordered to stop and pause whilst Milne and his pal Shorty MacKay peered over the lip of the trench, listening intently. There was less gunfire during the night, which meant that we were at more risk of a trench raid. The machine gunners kept vigilant, taking turns to watch, the others sleeping next to their gun. I took my turn watching. It was very different to guarding the Tay Bridge! Milne advised us to keep very still and keep our eyes peeled. Except for occasional gunfire, the only thing I heard were the moans of the dying. It was heart breaking to hear people in such pain so close to us, but Milne wouldn’t let us leave our trench to help them. He said there were too few men left to defend it already. And so we lay, cold, extremely hungry and tired, in a muddy ditch that passed as a trench. Waiting and watching

I did my turn on watch and  was relieved after a couple of hours. I tried to rest. I was so tired, I fell asleep in the most uncomfortable position, Then suddenly I was wide awake. I looked around and everyone was awake, listening intently. The tension was unbearable and eventually, the machine gunner let go a few rounds in panic. Instantly more gunfire was heard from the trench on our right, which encouraged us all to stick our heads over the trench and take a pop at anything that seemed to be moving. Then a Very Flare was fired and the whole field was bathed in light, followed by even more firing, which took some time to subside. Of course there was nothing out there. It had all been a nasty case of nerves. Milne crawled up to the gunners and gave them such a grilling. I remember thinking that his whisper was as ferocious as a full dressing down from Cpl Quinn.

After a short time I fell asleep again and woke just before dawn, when there was an attack on the trench to our right. The enemy’s left flank advanced to the gap between trenches and our machine gunners redeemed themselves by covering the area and seemingly working with a gun from the other trench to make it a killing zone. I don’t know how many fell to them, but there must have been scores. Milne was behind us, moving along the trench, telling us to get ready. ” But don’t shoot until your are certain, he says. make every shot count.”

Shorty was up the other end of the trench, watching the ground between us and the village. They would help if they could, but it was up to us the defend this gap. The sheer numbers of enemy soldiers were defying the machine guns, and we saw the germans picking their way towards us with their long bayonets. Mile was positioned near the right end of the trench between two he had selected as his snipers. They were getting closer, but Milne had ordered us not to shoot until he gave the signal. Our machine gun was still taking a terrible toll, but there were far too many for a single gun. They were close enough for me to see their faces, their buttons. Then our snipers fired. two officers sank. That was our signal and we let them have it. They were so close I barely needed to look down my sight, but my Barry Buddon training made me follow my instructions to the letter. I looked down my sight, squeezed the trigger, felt the recoil, flicked the bolt to release the case and aimed again – all as cooly as if I had been at a Sunday fair.

It stopped them in their tracks. both machine guns pinned them down and we were able to shoot at anything we saw moving, until Milne came up to us and roared at us to “stop bloody firing!”. He was worried about ammunition and didn’t want us to waste any. I realised that I was down to just 6 clips. Gradually they seemed to work their way back. Their machine guns started – to cover their retreat – and so we kept our heads down. But from that attack, we lost one dead and one hit in the shoulder. The injured soldier, Donald, was in severe pain at first, but that seemed to subside and he became more calm. We did what we could and strapped him up. By this time we were all out of water and were terribly thirsty.

A little while later, when it all seemed to be quiet again, Milne sought volunteers to go to the main trench to get more ammunition. We all volunteered – the prospect of water and perhaps some food was so enticing. He chose Billy MacDonald and Robbie Maclean. and they left cautiously, crawling with their heads down. There was still occasional firing at Shorty’s end. There was a hollow in front of his part of the trench and some Germans were pinned down there. Milne demanded to know how much ammunition we all had. I had just  three clips and the others were similarly short. Suddenly, there was a roar to the left. The Huns were coming out of the hollow up the small incline towards Shorty and his men. Milne rushed across to help Shorty and we followed. The machine gun couldn’t swing around that far,  and we found ourselves firing at them at point blank. There were two explosions – grenades – and some of the Germans jumped into the trench. I caught one in his side with my bayonet. I remember pushing hard and twisting, just as we had been trained. There was a lot of  yelling from both sides. I fired at one German. He was so close his shoulder seemed to explode into a mass of blood. I swung my rifle butt round to his face as he fell. It was soon over. The remainder were sent scuttling back to their trench. I got 4 of them as they crawled back. They got more confident as they approached their own trenches and their heads got higher. I decided to remember that – so that I wouldn’t make the same mistake. Six dead huns in the trench. Four dead 4th. Two more wounded. They lay where they fell asking for water. We didn’t have any. I was down to my last clip. We heaved the dead germans over the top of the trench. The German machine gunners took shots at them, thinking they were British.

What seemed like only a few minutes later, Billy MacDonald dropped into the trench with more ammunition for us all. Robbie MacLean was dead: hit returning from the trench.

Wounded in a trench at Neuve Chapelle

Behind the main trench, things were a lot quieter….

The next day, I accompanied Billy to the main trench. He led and we worked our way behind the earthwork at the back of the trench and then slowly into the open. We weren’t armed – there was no point. We passed Robbie McLean about half way there. He had been shot in the head. It was a horrible wound, but Billy said that he hadn’t suffered. “Never knew what had hit him”, he said. Eventually we dropped into the main trench and we were met by Cpl Quinn and Tom Lewis.  Lt Stevenson was also there. He wanted to know how we were doing and said that we should be relieved soon, but there seemed to be a few problems further back.

Fortunately they had plenty of ammunition and plenty of  water!  But not much food. Lt Stevenson told us to tell  Milne to hold out. Just before we began our return,  Captain Boase dropped into the trench. He had been out and found two wounded men, one Indian and one German. He had tended their wounds and was looking for volunteers to help bring them in. Nearly all the men move forward, eager to help. It seemed odd – one of them probably shot the German not three hours before and yet now they were risking their lives to help him. Cpl Quinn gave us both a large swig of brandy and furnished us with two extra water bottles each and a bottle of brandy. We gulped down a few more mouthfuls of water, Tom gave me some chocolate he had kept, and we began our return to our trench. We had 150 clips and 2,000 rounds for the machine gun. Billy led the way.

And on the way back, I got shot! Of course it was a huge shock, and very painful, but now I am more embarrassed than anything else. As we approached our trench, having passed Robbie again, We must have lifted our heads a little higher because some bullets started whizzing in our direction. One clipped my thigh as I rolled into the trench. There was a fair amount of blood, but Milne poured some of the brandy onto my kilt and told me to hold it against the wound. He said that was my ration and If I hadn’t been so stupid i could have been drinking it. I couldn’t disagree!

Milne said I should make a full recovery, but I would’t be playing footie for a while. That took me back to the dressing down we all got from Sgt Maj Charles. It seemed unbelievable that it was only a few days before, yet so much had changed forever. For the rest of the day, we almost fell into a routine. we stood watch, well crouched, and rested as we could. The weather was a little drier and at one point, just before evening, as the sun was starting to sink, our little trench became a sun trap and we basked in its warmth. We had no food, little water, were being shot at a thousand miles from home, and yet for those few short minutes we could almost forget it all…..

The following morning, just after I had been relieved from watch and just before dawn (Sergeant Milne always changed watch just before dawn, because he wanted the sentry to be awake, he said), there was the most terrific noise. Suddenly we were being shelled all along the line. The noise and feeling from a few days ago, when wee shelled the Germans was nothing compared to this. We tucked ourselves up against the wall of the trench as best we could, but it was little protection. We were covered with mud and there was metal flying everywhere. We couldn’t think, just felt the ground shake as if the devil himself was rising from Hell. With our hands over our ears, our mouths were filled with dust and soil and we dared not open our eyes. It seemed to go on for ever and we were bounced in all directions.

Then It stopped. Unbelievably, some of us were still alive – unharmed even. Looking back, I don’t think we had a direct hit, but some of them were very close. Milne roused us and shook the two remaining machine gunners out of their stupor. My hand found my rifle and I fixed my bayonet. I checked my pockets for my clips and took a few out, placing them in a little hole I had dug into the trench wall for that purpose. Then I saw them, picking their way in the pale light. I remember thinking that they must have been fresh troops, not the ones from the day before because they seemed to advance quite carelessly without caution. Milne crouched beside me. His two previous snipers were dead. He identified the officers. and told me to count to twenty and then shoot them. Then he went to the machine gunners. They were old hands at this now.

I took two officers before the machine gun started. The soldiers next to them didn’t even seem to notice, just kept moving forward, picking their way between yesterdays dead. When the machine gun started, they seemed to wake up from their day dreams, starting to run towards us at first, then when it became obvious that we had their mark, dropping and diving for cover. The machine guns from both trenches worked constantly, a wide arc of deadly fire. It didn’t take long before they started to move back. Again I caught some poking their heads up as they were nearly home. Soon after that  it started to rain and we wrapped ourselves in our overcoats.

A few hours later, when we were convinced that it was all quiet, Milne sent back for more ammunition. I couldn’t go because of my leg, so Billy took John MacInnes. My leg wasn’t too bad, but I wasn’t sure I could put my full weight on it. As the trench was so shallow, I couldn’t really test it. I felt quite disappointed – I would have liked to have seen Tom again and taken another swig of brandy from Cpl Quinn.

They came back soon enough with the message from Lt Stevenson that we should expect to be relieved the following day.  They gave us a dozen clips each and more rounds for the machine gunners. How impressive they were, Angus Smith and Georgie Macbeth. They held their ground and did their duty magnificently. We also got a nip of brandy and some more chocolate. And water. How thirsty we all were…. Billy also brought back a periscope, with Lt Stevenson’s compliments, he said. It was wrapped in some old rags of canvas, in an effort to camouflage it. At least it meant we didn’t have to stick our heads up, though it did attract attention if we moved it too quickly.

I had been spending some time at Shorty’s end of the trench. He explained that the village  we were next to was called Neuve Chapelle and the building closest to us – if that was the right word – used to be the village brewery. I could see some of our lads behind the walls. One waved. their rifles poked through loopholes.

A man called Robertson had been hit in the jaw. It was a terrible mess yet he seemed remarkably chirpy. He was desperate for a smoke. MacInnes took his pipe out for him and lit it, but the poor man couldn’t hold it in his teeth, as his jaw had been largely shot away. The only way MacInnes could comfort him was by smoking it and blowing the smoke into his nose for him. He was very grateful.

Later, Milne pulled those of us who were fit together. He was very unsure of the hollow  in front of the left side of the trench and he had decided to clear it. I volunteered as fit and so six of us, led by Shorty, made our way out of our trench. Shorty had two hand grenades to drop down first. The rest of us took just our rifles and bayonets. We crawled out in complete silence –  Milne said if he heard us, he would shoot us himself. Shorty got to the lip of the hollow, head right down, listening. then he dropped the  grenades over the side. Immediately after the bang we all leapt into the hollow ready for anything. We found two dead Germans, both killed long before Shorty’s grenades had landed on them. However, the explosion had woken up the enemy and we found ourselves quite exposed to them. There was a mad scramble as we climbed up and crawled away from the hollow as fast as we could. I kept my head well down as bullets spattered the mud around us. Inexplicably I found myself laughing uncontrollably. We all got back into our trench safely.

Gurkhas at Neuve Chapelle

Gurkhas at Neuve Chapelle

 

 

The following morning, after an uneventful night, we were relieved by the Gurkhas. At a given time, the artillery threw a few dozen shells over and we used that cover to move troops all along the lines. There had been 28 of us. We left 10 dead and another 10, including me, were wounded. We had to leave our dead, and 4 of the wounded.  Angus and Georgie didn’t want to leave their gun, but the gurkhas Lt gave them a direct order to go without it. We collected Robbie on the way back, dragging him as we had the ammunition before.

 

 

British and Indian wounded at Neuve Chapelle

Some of my wounded comrades at the clearing station at Neuve Chapelle

Cpl Quinn and Tom were there to welcome us. Tom was ordered to lead us back down the trench towards the communication trench to go back behind the lines. We got caught in a line of German prisoners being taken back. Tom told us that Capt Gilroy of the 2nd had captured some Germans who had surrendered. Then they had grabbed their guns when the Captain was occupied and shot him and one other soldier. They Germans were all mown down immediately.  “Don’t trust them” Tom said.  Then he told me about Robbie. Shortly afterwards, I was sitting in a casualty clearing station waiting to be seen. There were hundreds of people there. Some of the wounds were horrific. Tom said Arthur Watson was there somewhere. He had received a head wound, but should be alright. Tom said he looked like a Seek, with his head bandaged! I was soon tucking into some bread and a cup of stew as I waited for the surgeon –  who threw a bandage on my wound and told me to go back to my platoon.

I returned to the trench where Tom and the others were only a few hours before we were all relieved and marched back to a village – called Paradis! And so here I am in Paradise. I have written to Mother and Father telling them about my wound, but that I am quite well. I know how Mother will worry. And I have also written to Lily. A shorter letter, but less formal than the one I wrote before the attack. It seems so silly now not to say how I feel. Had I been killed, I would never have had the opportunity. We  have been inspected by General Willcocks, the Corps Commander, who said we had all done a fine job.