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Title: Q.6.a and Other places - Recollections of 1916, 1917 and 1918
Author: Buckley, Francis, 1881-1949
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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    | Transcriber's Note:                                       |
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    | Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has     |
    | been preserved.                                           |
    |                                                           |
    | For the interest of the reader, 'the morning hate' is     |
    | WWI slang for the "Stand To Arms".                        |
    |                                                           |
    | Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. For     |
    | a complete list, please see the end of this document.     |
    |                                                           |
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Q. 6. A

AND OTHER PLACES



Q. 6. A
AND OTHER PLACES

RECOLLECTIONS OF
1916, 1917, 1918



BY
FRANCIS BUCKLEY



LONDON
SPOTTISWOODE, BALLANTYNE & CO. LTD.
1 NEW-STREET SQUARE, E.C. 4
1920



INTRODUCTION


In the following pages I have tried to set down as faithfully as I can
some of the impressions which remain to me now of three years' service
in France and Flanders.

I have naturally suppressed much of the grim and ghastly horrors that
were shared by all in the fighting area. A narrative must be written
from some point of view, and I have had to select my own. I regret
that so much personal and trivial incident should appear. Perhaps some
will be able to see through the gross egotistical covering and get a
glimpse, however faint, of the deeds of deathless heroism performed by
my beloved comrades--the officers and men of the 7th Northumberland
Fusiliers, the officers and men of the 149th Infantry Brigade, the
officers and men of the 50th Division.

The climax of the story is the battle on the Somme where so many dear
friends have perished. The name is taken from a spot where a small
party of the 7th N.F. did something long afterwards to avenge their
fallen comrades.

Finally no criticism of the Higher Command is intended by anything
that has been written. If such can be read between the lines, it is
unintentional and a matter for sincere regret.



CONTENTS


                                                             PAGE

      I. WHEN IT BEGAN                                          1

     II. THE MEN OF THE NORTH COUNTRY                           7

    III. ALNWICK                                               12

     IV. THE JOURNEY OUT                                       17

      V. HILL 60                                               22

     VI. MOUNT SORREL AND CANNY HILL                           31

    VII. KEMMEL                                                41

   VIII. DIVISIONAL REST                                       48

     IX. BRIGADE HEAD-QUARTERS                                 52

      X. THE BRIGADE BOMBING SCHOOL                            59

     XI. ST. ELOI AND NEUVE EGLISE                             64

    XII. THE SOMME                                             68

   XIII. HÉNENCOURT                                            72

    XIV. MAMETZ WOOD                                           76

     XV. THE 15TH SEPTEMBER, 1916                              80

    XVI. MILLENCOURT                                           87

   XVII. HOOK SAP                                              90

  XVIII. SECOND LEAVE--BRESLE                                  97

    XIX. BUTTE OF WARLENCOURT--TRENCH WARFARE                 102

     XX. FRANCE AND THE FRENCH                                107

    XXI. SOUTH OF THE SOMME                                   115

   XXII. THE BATTLE OF ARRAS                                  122

  XXIII. WANCOURT TOWER--CROISILLES                           125

   XXIV. MONCHY-AU-BOIS                                       139

    XXV. TRENCH WARFARE--VIS-CHERISY FRONT                    143

   XXVI. THE HOUTHULST FOREST                                 153

  XXVII. DIVISIONAL REST NEAR ST. OMER                        161

 XXVIII. THE PASSCHENDAELE RIDGE                              165

   XXIX. GOOD-BYE TO THE 50TH DIVISION                        173

    XXX. DIGGING TRENCHES ABOUT LOOS                          176

   XXXI. THE GERMAN OFFENSIVE 1918--SECOND BATTLE OF ARRAS    182

  XXXII. TRENCH WARFARE--HÉBUTERNE                            203

 XXXIII. TRENCH WARFARE--THE COLINCAMPS RIDGE                 207

  XXXIV. THE BRITISH OFFENSIVE 1918--BAPAUME RETAKEN          219

   XXXV. THE STORMING OF THE HINDENBURG LINE NEAR TRESCAULT   224

  XXXVI. THE GERMANS' LAST STAND                              230

 XXXVII. THE FINAL RUSH FORWARD                               234

XXXVIII. THE END OF IT ALL                                    238



NOTE

The following abbreviations are used:

    B.H.Q.      = Brigade Head-quarters.
    C.C.S.      = Casualty Clearing Station.
    C.O.        = Commanding Officer.
    C.T.        = Communication Trench.
    D.A.Q.M.G.  = Deputy-Assistant-Quartermaster-General.
    D.H.Q.      = Divisional Head-quarters.
    F.A.        = Field Ambulance.
    H.Q.        = Head-quarters.
    L.-C.       = Lance-Corporal.
    N.C.O.      = Non-commissioned Officer.
    O.C.        = Officer Commanding.
    O.P.        = Observation Post.
    O.T.C.      = Officers' Training Corps.
    Q.M.        = Quartermaster.
    R.T.O.      = Railway Transport Officer.
    Y.M.C.A.    = Young Men's Christian Association.



Q. 6. A

RECOLLECTIONS OF 1916, 1917, AND 1918



I

WHEN IT BEGAN


Before the war I was living in London, with chambers at Lincoln's Inn.

I was not surprised when the trouble started. Ever since 1904 it was
reasonably clear to me that our country would have to fight the
Germans or go under.

The days before we declared war on Germany were spent in London.
During the last few of them it was as though a terrible thunderstorm
was hanging overhead, ready to burst: gloom and foreboding on the
faces of all. There is no doubt that most of our people were taken by
surprise and that they were aghast at the sudden gathering of the war
cloud. But when the stroke of fate fell and we were committed to the
war, there was a curious sense of relief in many hearts. Better death
and ruin than dishonour. A shameful peace or neutrality is for most
Englishmen harder to bear than all the horrors of war. Besides, this
struggle for freedom had to be fought out, though few can have
foretold the cost.

I had been rejected for the Territorial Force by the Army authorities
in 1908 on account of weak eyesight. I had therefore few hopes of
better luck in August 1914. At first only trained men were enrolled at
the Inns of Court O.T.C., and this went on for some months--till the
nation in fact began to realise the size of its task. So after two or
three vain attempts to find my way into the services, I had to be
content with the truncheon and armlet of a special constable. With
this force I had no special adventures, but I learnt a good deal about
the Vine Street Police area, and about the electric power stations of
the West End. Christmas Day was spent on duty in the streets, and
Easter Day found me still there. Then something happened which decided
my own little fate, as well perhaps as the fate of Europe. This was
the sinking of the good ship _Lusitania_ on May 7, 1915, under
peculiarly barbarous and inhuman circumstances. Eventually it brought
the Americans into the war, when they came to understand that the
German people gloried in the deed of shame. As for me, it took me once
again to the doors of the O.T.C. in Lincoln's Inn. If I could not go
as an officer I would at least go into the ranks. But by this time the
rush of officer recruits had died down, and they were not so
particular about eyesight. So on May 10, 1915, I found myself in
possession of a suit of khaki. It was second-or third-hand and an
indifferent fit, but it enclosed a glad heart. The die was cast, and
one little boat fairly launched on its perilous passage. Never have I
had cause to lament this step. If it has brought me great troubles and
anguish, it has also given peace of mind and the satisfaction of using
to the full such energy as I possess. It took me out of the stifling
heat of the town and gave me at least four years of an open-air life.
For which God be thanked! If it did not bring much promotion or
honour, it brought the friendship of real men, and a treasure greater
than all the stars and ribbons in the world.

A recruit at the Inns of Court O.T.C. had nothing to fear from those
in charge if he was willing to do his best. There was little
boisterousness or horse-play among the recruits, the dark shadow was
too close for that; and the spirit among my new comrades was one of
great earnestness. For the first two or three weeks we were trained in
Town near the H.Q. of the Battalion in Lincoln's Inn. After that
recruits were sent on to the camp at Berkhamsted for field training.
We were billeted on the local inhabitants. I stayed at the house of
Mr. Charles Dipple, from whose family I received much kind
hospitality. It was a sudden change for one who had spent the greater
part of ten years in London chambers. And at Berkhamsted they worked
you hard, almost to the last degree of physical endurance. Save once,
during a dark two weeks in France, I have never before or since felt
the same fatigue of body. Also the change of food was a little strange
and startling at first. The drill and discipline could do nothing but
good to a healthy man. The enthusiasm of nearly all was great, our
chief idea being to get ready and out to France or elsewhere before
the war should be over. Little did we know what the future had in
store.

There is nothing much to tell of this part of one's experience. One of
the most pleasant incidents was a fortnightly leave of thirty-six
hours at the week-end, which I used to spend with my friends in Town.
Night manoeuvres on Wednesdays and Fridays and guard duty were perhaps
the most unpleasant part of our lot. Some would add the adjutant's
parade on Saturday morning. But that was short, if not always sweet.

I had the good luck to win an unpaid lance-corporal's stripe towards
the end of my stay, chiefly, I think, on account of a certain aptitude
for drill, a clean rifle, and clean boots. Of this small achievement I
was and still am a little proud.

I left the battalion on getting my commission with respect for the
officers in charge of the training. The short experience in the ranks
was to be of great value afterwards, when I came to deal for the first
time as an officer with men in the ranks. It gave a certain sympathy
with them and taught what to avoid. It was the custom of our C.O.,
Lieut.-Col. Errington, to give a few words of advice to those leaving
the battalion to take up commissions. And I have never forgotten two
of the principles which he urged upon us. One was the constant
necessity for a soldier to deny himself in little things. The other
was the idea that every officer in his own command, however small, had
a duel to face with another officer in a similar position on the other
side; and that in this duel the one that used his brain best would
win. And so this embryo existence came to an end--a careless, happy
time with no particular thought for the troubles ahead. In the middle
of July 1915 I obtained a commission in the 3rd line Battalion of the
7th Northumberland Fusiliers, Territorials, supplying drafts to the
1st line battalion in France. I had no desire to display my ignorance
of things military before a group of neighbours and possibly
relations, so I applied for a commission, not in the Territorials of
the West Riding Regiment, but in a north-country battalion of
Territorials, with the 1st line fighting in France. The Territorial
Force seemed to me most suitable for one who had no military career in
view. And France, the land of old time romance and chivalry, gave a
more urgent call than Egypt or the East. The choice of a unit, if one
can be said to choose it, is fraught with greater consequences to
oneself than might be supposed. I cannot say after a lapse of three
years that the choice has proved unfortunate to me. It came about in
this way. We were doing a rifle parade one day at Berkhamsted, when
Lieut. Reynolds (N.F.) appeared with our company commander, Capt.
Clarke, and asked for the names of any men who would like to join the
3rd line of the 7th N.F. The 1st line battalion, he said, had just
been badly cut up in France, and we should be out there in four months
perhaps, certainly in six months. That was all the information we had,
but it was enough for me. A north-country territorial battalion and
France in six months--those were the attractions. I had never spent
more than one night in Northumberland and I knew of Alnwick only by
name. It was therefore rather a step in the dark; but to one who was
still ignorant of the meaning of a 'Brigade' or a 'Division' only
general considerations could appeal. And so on July 30, 1915, I set
off for Alnwick to join my battalion, with a new uniform and kit, with
a somewhat nervous feeling inside, but with a determination to do my
best.



II

THE MEN OF THE NORTH COUNTRY


I have a great respect and admiration for the men of Northumberland.
Especially for those who come from the country towns and villages, the
farm-lands and mines in the northern parts of the county. As soldiers
they have gained a name the world over, of which it would be idle for
me to talk. A cold climate and a fighting ancestry that goes back many
hundreds of years have produced some marked qualities in the race of
Northumbrians to-day. There are few of them that are not true to type,
few that you would not care to have as comrades in a tight corner.
Their stubborn courage and contempt for danger have been proved again
and again. The worse the outlook the more cheerful they seem to
become. Sturdy independence is there, and for this allowance has to be
made--slow to like and slow to change; if you are known as 'Mister'
So-and-so, whatever your rank, you have won their respect. No better
soldiers in the land can be found to hold or to fortify a position.
But I doubt whether they have quite the same genius for the
attack.[1] A certain lack of imagination, a certain want of
forethought, have always, as it seems to me, been a handicap to these
brave men when they attack. Again and again during an assault they
have fallen in hundreds, they have shown themselves as willing to die
in the open as in the trenches. But have they the wild fury that
carries the Scot, the Irishman, or the Frenchman over 'impossible'
obstacles? No, they are not an enthusiastic people, nor a very
imaginative one. And these qualities are needed to press home a
difficult attack. They are not as a whole a quick or a very
intelligent race. But for stark grim courage under the most awful
surroundings they stand second to none. There is a streak of
ruthlessness, too, in their dealings with the enemy; a legacy from the
old Border wars with the Scots. They are quite ready, if need be, to
take no prisoners. A hard and strong, but a very lovable race of men.
Yes, I think all the world of the men of the north, although I am not
blind to their faults. Taken as a whole no more handsome or manly set
of men can be found in the British Isles.

The Northumbrian dialect is difficult to understand until you get the
trick of it. And the trick of it is in the accent and intonation, and
not so much in any peculiar form of words. They have a peculiar way of
dropping their voices, too, which is sometimes disconcerting. But it
is a clean wholesome language, undefined by the disgusting and
childish obscenity which is too often a disgrace to other districts in
England. It reminds me a little of the Scottish tongue, but rather
more of the country speech in the northern parts of Yorkshire, but in
some ways it is all its very own. It must indeed be one of the
earliest surviving types of the Anglo-Saxon speech. I had no great
difficulty in understanding it, but to this day I am sometimes puzzled
to pick up what is said owing to that curious drop in the voice.

A word or two as well about the officers of the Northumberlands,
meaning, of course, the natives of the county. For them as well as for
the hardy miners and farmers of the north I have a very sincere
respect and liking. Better comrades on the field of battle no man
could wish for, better officers for a Territorial battalion it would
be hard to find. Their unbending courage, their gallant bearing in
danger, their cheerfulness and their care and thought for their men
have been responsible in a great measure for the successes won by the
Northumberland battalions and for the lamentable but noble sacrifices
when success was denied. Gallant and devoted soldiers they have been,
and well they have earned the love and admiration of their men. Always
cheerful whatever was on foot, readiest of all to turn a danger passed
into a jest. There could not be a better spirit in which to face the
long delays and the bitter disappointments of the war. Two outstanding
features in their character are, to my mind, practically universal,
whatever form they happen to take. An inherent pugnacity, and a
whole-hearted belief in and love of their county, which amounts to
something more than clannishness. They know everything about every
one in Northumberland, and with others they do not trouble themselves
much. They do not talk about it like the Scots, but it is there all
the same; and it has a profound influence on their actions and
judgment. Within this sacred circle, into which no outlandish man can
break, their pugnacity develops countless local feuds. And these feuds
can be bitter enough, and I do not think I ever met a north-countryman
without one. Generally there are two or three on foot at a time. One
town against another, the men who did against the men who did not.
Sometimes I have thought that these queer hereditary instincts, for
such they undoubtedly are, have led the men of the north astray. The
house has been divided against itself, justice has not been done, or
it has been delayed, incompetence has been allowed to spread its
blighting influence. In other words the love of their county and the
strength of their local feuds have at times blinded the men of the
north to the real interests of their country, when a united front and
a concentration of the best effort available were absolutely necessary
to get on with the war. To me the Northumbrian officer has been
universally kind, and I have never had the least discourtesy or
injustice from any of them, but many acts of kindness. But I have seen
with regret on several occasions a loss of effort and strength through
the divisions caused by prejudice. Thoroughly cheerful and a generous
and charming comrade, much given to hospitality, I do not think the
Northumbrian officer is always a very brilliant person intellectually.
There are many notable exceptions, but they are notable enough to
establish the impression.

Beyond these general observations it would be unwise--and I do not
intend--to enter into the domestic history of any battalion or
brigade. Better comrades one could not have, and a nobler and more
devoted body of men I have yet to meet.

FOOTNOTES:

[1] This criticism can of course be made of any troops of English
nationality.



III

ALNWICK


A short sketch of my stay at Alnwick may not be out of place. For
though it did not seem very adventurous at the time it had a great
influence on my subsequent career, both in France and afterwards. It
is a most romantic spot, with one of the finest castles in England.
The heather hills run down through corn-land towards the seashore; and
the general features of the countryside reminded me much of my own
home in the West Yorkshire hills. The curious battlements and gates in
the town and the monuments outside tell of a time when it was one of
England's front line posts against the raiding Scots. It seemed to me
to be a fitting spot to train men for the wars.

When I arrived at the end of July 1915 the H.Q. of the 3rd line
battalion were at the Star Hotel in Fenkle Street--very comfortable
but rather expensive quarters. Only a few of the officers had arrived
as yet. Just a few new-comers like myself, very green and raw, and
about four or five officers of the 1st line battalion who had returned
wounded from France. These latter had for the most part been wounded
at the battle of St. Julien in April 1915, during the 2nd Battle of
Ypres. They were now discharged from hospital and attached to the
draft battalion for training before going out once more. They were
very friendly and nice to the new-comers; and indeed we looked upon
them quite as veterans, although their active service in France had
not exceeded a few days. Capt. J. Welch, Lieuts. J.W. Merivale, E.
Nixon, and E. Fenwicke Clennell became special friends of mine, and I
am grateful for many acts of kindness from them both then and later on
abroad. The men of the battalion, also raw recruits and wounded men
returned from hospital, were quartered in the houses in the town. The
O.C. battalion was Major (afterwards Lieut.-Colonel and Brevet
Colonel) J.J. Gillespie, T.D., and the Adjutant Capt. W.A.C.
Darlington. The C.O. was a man of great personality, so much so that
he is one of the best known and most talked of persons in the
Northumberlands. A great organiser and a hard worker, who generally
got his own way with small and great, he has done much to make the
drafts efficient. I was lucky to find favour in his eyes, and our
relations were always friendly.

We had as near neighbours in Alnwick the Brigade of Tyneside Scottish,
who were encamped in the Pastures near the Castle, as fine a body of
men as you could wish to see. After staying for a while at the Star
our battalion moved out to Moorlaws Camp and we remained there under
canvas till the middle of October. In the meantime I was lent for
about five days to the 21st Provisional Battalion N.F., a home service
battalion, who were encamped at Cambois ('Cammis') on the sea-coast.
This was like a picnic for me, for all the officers there treated me
kindly and did not work me hard. One night I volunteered for night
duty and had the experience of visiting the sentries (all with loaded
rifles) at the various posts along the shore. Shortly after returning
to Alnwick I was sent, on September 2, to the Army School of
Signalling and Bombing at Tynemouth, and went through the Bombing
course, which lasted about a week. So primitive were the arrangements,
even at this date, that we were only taught how to improvise grenades
out of old jam tins, and how to fire them out of iron pipes as
trench-mortar bombs. We were indeed allowed to handle precious
specimens of the famous No. 3 (Hales) and No. 5 (Mills), but there
were not enough available for live practice. The West Spring Thrower
had not arrived, but I saw a trench catapult in action; and some dummy
Stokes bombs were fired off for us to see. At this course there was an
examination, and I got a first-class certificate as a grenade
instructor, an event which had considerable influence on my career in
France, as will appear later on. When I got back to Alnwick I found
the battalion under canvas at Moorlaws. Here I became 'grenadier
officer' to the battalion, and I had daily classes of men who had
volunteered to become bombers, or 'grenadiers' as they were then
called.

Live practice was carried out entirely with improvised bombs, old jam
tins and black powder. But we procured a certain number of dummies of
Nos. 1 and 5 to practise throwing. Major N.I. Wright (who had returned
wounded) took a great interest in our proceedings and had some dummy
grenades made for us. A gallant soldier with hard service in South
Africa and the Great War, he has always been a good friend to me. I
went on with the bombing till about October 20, when the battalion
returned to Alnwick and went into wooden huts in the Pastures. The
officers were billeted at a house called 'Alnbank,' a mansion some
little distance from the men's quarters. After this move I was
appointed Company Commander to C Company, a newly formed company with
only raw recruits in it. My second in command was Lieut. Joseph
Robinson, a dear friend, who had come all the way from the Argentine,
and whom I first met at the O.T.C. at Berkhamsted. He was known as
'Strafer Robinson' on account of being physical drill instructor, and
a pretty exacting one. I found the recruits in C Company most willing
and anxious to learn their job; and they never gave me much trouble
either in orderly room or on parade.

I was kindly treated by every one at Alnwick. My stay there has only
pleasant memories. Major the Hon. Arthur Joicey, who had returned
from the 1st line, gave me several glorious days after partridges at
Longhirst. The number of these birds so far north fairly astonished
me. The doctors' families in Alnwick were also very kind and
hospitable to all our officers. Mrs. Scott Jackson, the wife of the
Colonel of the 1st line battalion, could not do enough for us; and
many happy evenings have been spent at her house; notably a great New
Year's Eve party for all the officers, just before I left for the
front. I took part in a Rugby football match, the first time for
eleven years. The 3rd line 7th N.F. succeeded in defeating the reserve
battalion of the Tyneside Scottish, largely through the prowess of
2nd-Lieut. McNaught at half-back. There was rather a pleasant
institution towards the end of my stay--namely, a meeting of the
senior officers for dinner every Wednesday evening at the Plough Inn.
They did you well there, and it was a pleasant change from the mess
dinner.

About January 3, 1916, I was warned to proceed with a small draft of
officers to the front. Four of us were to go, and I was delighted to
find myself one of those selected. After a splendid farewell dinner
with the officers of the battalion on January 4, I left the same night
for London to spend my final leave.



IV

THE JOURNEY OUT


On Monday, January 10, 1916, I left England with three other officers,
bound for the Base Camp at Havre. My companions were 2nd-Lieuts.
Peters, O. Clarke, and Gregson. My final purchases at Southampton
included an extra haversack and some morphia pills. The latter had
been strongly recommended for certain kinds of wounds and they were
still sold without a prescription.[2] The journey across the Channel
was done at night. The transport left port about 8 P.M. and steaming
slowly without lights reached Le Havre about 5 A.M. next morning.

My last view of England was the dreary wet dock, and later on a few
distant and receding lights. Though we got into port at 5 A.M. we were
not allowed to leave the vessel till 8 A.M. But, at last, as a cold
and cheerless morning was breaking, I stepped ashore and set foot for
the first time on foreign soil. We soon found an hotel (? Hôtel de
Normandy) where they understood the English language and some of our
ways, and we got breakfast in the English fashion. After a look round
the shops and a shave in a small establishment in a side street, we
reported at a large office in the town. Here we signed our names in a
large register, and were given directions to proceed to a Camp, some
distance from the town, where reinforcements for the 7th N.F. were
collected and accommodated till they could be sent 'up the line.' Our
stay here was a short one, for which I was thankful. They did not seem
at all pleased to see us; it seems we had arrived a few days later
than had been expected, and the Camp Commandant appeared to think it
was our fault. We left Le Havre next day without having tasted the
joys of the 'Bull Ring' or any other educational entertainment
prepared for those staying on at the Camp. The train started about
midnight, and like most troop trains in France moved along in a
leisurely, dignified manner, with frequent stops and long waits
between the stations. When we did arrive at Rouen, which was about
midday on Thursday, we had to change. And feeling unrefreshed by our
night in the train, we spent the time resting at an hotel instead of
seeing the sights. But it is a fine looking old town and would be
worth visiting in more peaceful times.

We left Rouen again at night and wandered along in the same dilatory
fashion, arriving at Hazebrouck and eventually at Poperinghe.

The latter was railhead for the Ypres Salient. It was not surprising
then to find the houses near the railway station looking shattered
from the shells and bombs that had been aimed at the station. We had
tea with the Y.M.C.A., who had with their usual dauntlessness selected
a house close to the station. It had been struck by a bomb a few
nights before, and there was a hole in the roof and in the ceiling and
floor of one of the rooms; but I understood that no one had been hurt
by the explosion. These shattered houses and the distant sound of gun
fire, which we first heard about Hazebrouck, were the first signs of
war that we noticed. After a long wait a limber arrived at the station
to take ourselves and our valises to the camp of the 7th N.F. at
Ouderdom. It was not really a very long journey, I believe, but it
seemed so to us after our long and wearisome journey in the train.

To make matters worse the military police made us take a roundabout
road, and the driver lost his way. Of course a limber is not quite the
vehicle you would select for comfort, especially over roads that are
stony or pavé. The German flare lights could be clearly seen all the
way, and they seemed to be on three sides of us. A most brilliant and
interesting sight the first time you see it.

Eventually we reached the camp at Ouderdom. It was called 'Canada
Huts' and consisted of a cluster of wooden huts erected just off a
narrow muddy road. At one time I am told, the mud was thigh deep; but
now duck boards had been laid down, and though decidedly muddy the
camp was quite passable. When we arrived it was quite late, and we
found the camp in total darkness and every one asleep. But some of the
batmen (or officers' servants) were roused, and they not only showed
us a place to sleep in, but got us some tea and a scratch meal, very
welcome after our uncomfortable ride from the station. What wonderful
people these batmen are! Always so cheery and good to their officers.
Inside the huts we found wooden bunks in two tiers round three sides
and also a wooden table and forms in the middle. Not much room to move
about perhaps, but fairly dry and warm. After two sleepless nights in
the train we did not need rocking.

We found that we had arrived just in time to go with the battalion to
the front line trenches next day. For the battalion had just spent
three days in the rest area and was due to take over the line on the
fourth day. There was not much time, therefore, to get acquainted with
our fellow officers or to learn much about the platoons to which we
were assigned. Several of the officers we had known well at home in
the 3rd line battalion at Alnwick, and Major N.I. Wright and Capt. J.
Welch and Lieuts. J.W. Merivale and Fenwicke Clennell were old
friends. Also we had already met our new battalion commander
Lieut.-Col. G. Scott Jackson at Alnwick when he was last on leave. It
was nice to be greeted by friendly faces when our trials were so soon
to begin.

The last few hours before going back to the line are always rather
dreary and unprofitable, spent chiefly in packing up and deciding
what to leave behind. Valises of course were left behind with all
'spare parts' in the Q.M.'s stores. But in winter a fairly heavy load
of things was necessary, and the weather was wet and stormy. We had no
steel helmets in these days and no gas box-respirators, only two cloth
respirators of little weight. I found myself in charge of No. 4
Platoon in A Company, of which Capt. H.R. Smail was commander. There
were two other 2nd-Lieuts. in the company besides myself. The fighting
strength of a company did not much exceed 100 men, if as many.

Before we left Canada Huts, I was provided with a batman, coming of
course from A Company. And a good fellow he was and much I owe to him.
He has looked after me continuously from the day after I arrived until
he was demobilised on December 24, 1918--nearly three years. A miner
from Ashington, wounded at St. Julien in April 1915, he had rejoined
the battalion some months before in France. At a later stage I had to
rely much on his skill as a cook. A wonderfully cheerful person and a
smart and handy man at improvising little comforts for me. His name
was William Critchlow.

FOOTNOTES:

[2] Fortunately I never had occasion to use them.



V

HILL 60


When it was beginning to get dark the battalion formed up in the road
and the roll was called over. At last we set off slowly, squelching
through the mud on the wet roads, the rain pouring down unceasingly.
We soon struck the pavé road that runs through Dickebusch, a long
straggling village, still fairly intact and occupied by Belgian
civilians. It was shelled now and again but not severely. When we
reached this place, the battalion opened out considerably, platoons
keeping 200 yards apart; a precaution necessary on roads that were
periodically shelled at night. After plodding along for some time we
reached the Café Belge, a mere ruin now, but a well-known halting
place for troops on the march. Here we turned off to the right and
left the pavé road which runs on to Ypres, and after this the roads
were much more difficult to travel. Shell holes were frequent and
generally full of water, so that in the dark it was only too easy to
stumble into them. 'Shell-hole on the right,' 'Shell-hole on the
left,' 'Shell-hole in the middle,' 'Keep to your right' were being
passed back continually. Progress was slow of course under these
conditions and with the heavy loads that we all carried. But it was
all so novel to me that I had not a moment to feel dull or depressed.
After a time we reached the notorious 'Shrapnel Corner' and turned
towards 'Transport Farm,' for we were bound for trenches at Hill 60.
This place was of course famous for the British attack in 1915, and
for the German counter-attack with gas a little later on which was all
too successful. It was also notorious for being one of the hottest
corners of the British front. Owing to their vantage ground on the
hill the enemy had little difficulty in sniping and shelling our
trenches effectively.

   [Illustration: Hill 60.--Official Map, March 1916.]

As we approached Transport Farm I came for the first time under
indirect rifle fire. A number of bullets fired at our trenches
carried over and landed not far from the roads at the back. Though
rather alarming in the dark to one unaccustomed to them, they seldom
did much damage. Occasionally a man or two got wounded during these
reliefs. Our company turned to the left again near Zillebeke railway
station, and then struck off the road and reached the mouth of a C.T.
which led after about a hundred yards to the support trenches.

A glance at the official plan of the trenches at Hill 60 will give
some idea of the extraordinary place it was. Whilst the German line
ran solid along the top of the ridge, there were two complete gaps in
the British fire trenches between Hill 60 and Mount Sorrel on the
left. On paper it looks as if there were nothing to stop the German
from walking across and behind our lines whenever he chose. But I
imagine that these empty spaces were covered by machine-gun posts, and
that the artillery were ready to deal with any attempt of that sort.
Another feature of the place was the awful nature of the ground
outside the trenches. It was a morass filled with partially buried
bodies--that is, partially buried by nature in the ooze and mud.
During a dense mist about seventy identity discs were recovered from
the ground behind our support lines. And it was worse in front between
the opposing trenches. It was not likely, then, that the German would
wish to press us farther down the hill, at any rate for tactical
purposes.

A Company had two platoons in the front line trench 41, some 100 yards
from the enemy, and two platoons in a support line called '41
support.' The trenches themselves were well-built and revetted with
sand bags, and dry enough even during the wettest weather. We had in
these days only small shelters--the deep dugout was unknown. The three
subalterns in A Company took turns at duty in the trenches, four hours
on and eight hours off, night and day. The duty consisted chiefly of
visiting the sentries every hour, and keeping a general look-out, and
seeing that the trench rules were obeyed. A good deal of rifle fire
went on at night. Sentries on either side would exchange shots, and an
occasional machine-gun would open out. At close range the bullets make
a curious crack as they pass overhead. Being tall and having been
warned of the efficiency of the German sniper, I had to walk in most
of the trenches with a bend in the back, which soon became tiring.

On Sunday, January 16, I had a decidedly lively time for my first day
in the trenches. It was always said that the Germans got a fresh
supply of ammunition at the week-end, and Sunday was scarcely ever a
day of rest. However that may be, this Sunday was the worst day I had
for some time. After sending over a few small howitzer shells, the
German field-guns sent periodical showers of shells, 'whizz-bangs' we
called them, on to the support trench and C.T.

This went on all morning, and whilst the shoot lasted they came over
in a perfect stream. After a quieter afternoon a regular trench battle
opened out at night, rifle grenades and bombs being freely exchanged,
and a number of trench-mortar bombs--'sausages and rum jars'--coming
over from the enemy's trenches. Eventually our heavy guns opened out
with lively retaliation and the enemy quietened down. Rather a big
dose to get the first day in the trenches, when everything was so
strange and new. However I was assured that it was not an 'average'
day even on Hill 60, but something like an organised shoot. One of the
features of the place was the number and size of the rats; they looked
the size of rabbits as they scuttered along the trenches at night.
Another was the awful taste of the water we got to drink. It was
boiled and it was turned into strong tea, but it had a most
indescribably horrible taste. The food, on the other hand, was
excellent and plenty of it. In the light of subsequent rations these
were indeed the days of plenty. Owing to the kindness of some friends
of the battalion in England, both officers and men were supplied with
sheep-skin coats or jackets which were wonderfully good in keeping out
the cold at night. 'Stand-to' was a regular institution of trench
warfare, both an hour before dark and an hour before dawn. Naturally
the latter was the more trying, but at this time the rum ration was
served out; and it certainly prevented you from being frozen stiff and
enabled you to get to sleep again if your duties did not keep you to
the trenches. A very curious life in the trenches, a very small world
but every bit of it packed full of interest and novelty to me. From
the trenches, if you looked backwards, there was a splendid view of
Ypres, with its shattered spires and houses, still a beautiful grey
ruin, even in death. I was destined to have a much closer acquaintance
with it later. Beyond the usual rounds of shelling on both sides
nothing of particular interest happened during the next three days. On
the evening of January 19 we were relieved by a company of the 5th
N.F. (Capt. North M.C.), and moved out after dark for a short rest in
close support.

My career as a platoon commander in the trenches was a short one, for
as it happened that was my first and last experience as such. We moved
out and back for about a mile, eventually reaching a house called
Blauwpoorte Farm.[3] It was not a bad place then, and was not shelled,
though at night the bullets used to rattle round if you walked abroad.
Here on the second day I took a small party of men, as a working
party, to the shelters at the 'Sunken Road,' rather nearer the line. I
think we were engaged in clearing the road of mud and generally
cleaning up. On the way there I saw some rather humourous notices
stuck up at various points. 'This is a dangerous spot.' It was kindly
meant no doubt, but on the whole no part of the Salient afforded much
of a rest-cure, and it was practically all under direct observation
of the enemy. We existed simply through his forbearance.

On January 22, 1916, I became bombing officer to the battalion, or, as
it was then called, 'grenadier officer.' My predecessor had had bad
luck, getting his hand shattered by the accidental explosion of a
detonator. Accordingly I was sent to see Sergt. W. Moffat, the
battalion bombing sergeant, in order to pick up what I could of the
routine at so short a notice. Sergt. Moffat was a short withered man
with sandy hair, a quiet manner, but a cheery twinkle in his eye. He
had served in the South African war; and had been mentioned in
despatches for good bombing work during a German attack at Hooge. A
most conscientious and hard-working fellow, with a passion for all
sorts of bombs. I could not have fallen into better hands. He was an
admirable instructor and assistant, and knew all there was to be known
about trench routine. I could see he was universally respected in the
battalion. He was a Salvation Army man at home, and wore their red
woollen jersey under his tunic. Much do I owe him and much do I still
lament his untimely end.

Capt. Smail returned to England about this time, leaving me his woolly
coat, a priceless parting gift. Capt. J. Welch came to command A
Company and a cheerier fellow surely never existed. I was glad to
accept his offer of messing with A Company. There never was a dull
moment at mess when Welch presided.

We went back to Hill 60 for four days on January 23. I cannot
remember much of this stay in the line, and nothing special happened.
I was too busy learning all I could of the routine of the trenches and
locating and checking bomb stores. I had to visit all the trenches
held by the battalion, and thus got the chance of making the
acquaintance of the other Company commanders, Capt. H. Liddell (B
Coy.), Capt. C. Davies (C Coy.) and Capt. G.F. Ball, M.C., (D Coy.). I
remember being asked by our Brigadier-General Clifford to explain some
part of a derelict West Spring Thrower in the cutting at Hill 60 (I
had never even seen one before) and being saved by the timely
intervention of Sergt. Moffat.

On January 27 we were relieved and went back to Canada Huts for a rest
of four days. Oh, that first rest out of the trenches! The
accommodation was poor enough seen in the light of home comforts, but
what a palace of rest and refreshment it seemed to me then, and how
quickly the time passed. I had to practise the bombers (nineteen from
each company) in throwing dummy grenades each morning on the mud flat
(it was once a field) outside the huts. In order to stimulate keenness
I organised a competition and gave one franc each day as a prize for
the best score. I soon found out who were the most expert throwers.

We had a Y.M.C.A. hut close to the camp, and it was interesting to
drop in and have a chat with the men in charge and a cup of cocoa.
There was an old gentleman there, in command, who was rightly proud
of being the civilian nearest to the front line. He displayed to us
with great pride a souvenir found in Ypres, the huge base of a 17-inch
shell--it was almost too heavy for one man to lift. We had our Church
Service and our concerts in the marquee attached to the Y.M.C.A. hut.

Most of the officers got leave to go to Poperinghe during these rests
out of the line, but I never went there myself. There was an
attraction there in the 'Fancies,' a fine concert party, many of whose
songs I learnt at second hand.

FOOTNOTES:

[3] Lieut. F.B. Cowen, a very cheery machine-gun officer, also 7th
N.F., had his quarters here.



VI

MOUNT SORREL AND CANNY HILL


When we went up the line again on January 31, it was to Mount Sorrel,
on the north of Hill 60. Here we had a good set of trenches, but they
were practically cut off from our trenches at Hill 60 by a swamp.
Through the swamp ran a watery sort of drain about four feet deep. It
was the old front line, now waterlogged and quite untenable. Although
the drain was not held by day, a patrol of bombers used to pass along
it at intervals during the night. And it was part of my duties to wade
through it every night. This was not a pleasant job, because you could
not show a light and the mud smelt abominably. We were provided,
however, with rubber boots reaching up to the thigh, so we did not get
very wet. The officers of A Company occupied an 'elephant' shelter
just behind the support line. All its occupants were killed by a shell
bursting in the doorway, just two days after we had left these
trenches. I first met Lieut. W. Keene here. He was the Brigade
Grenadier officer and had the supervision of all bombing arrangements
in the Brigade area, besides being responsible for the supply of
grenades. I always found him friendly and encouraging, and I was glad
to learn anything he could tell me. He asked me to send in a daily
report to B.H.Q.; and I have kept the copies of these reports to this
day.

During this stay in the trenches the Germans stuck up a notice board
with the following legend: _Attention Gentlemen_, and below in German,
'If you send over one more trench-mortar bomb you will get strafed in
the neck.'

On February 3 we were relieved and A Company stayed four days in the
railway cutting at Hill 60 in close support. The second day I went
with Capt. Welch and Lieut. Greene to the trenches north of Mount
Sorrel which were called Canny Hill. That journey was full of
incident, we seemed to be shelled or bombed all the way to Mount
Sorrel and back, and Capt. Welch has often humourously suggested that
I was the Jonah. It also meant crossing the dismal swamp in daylight,
and how we did it without being seen and shot I really do not know.
During our stay in the cutting I explored the old broken trenches
behind our support line at Hill 60, and found a fine dump of English
bombs of early types. I spent quite a long time drawing their teeth.
One little incident I remember at this spot. About 1 A.M. an elderly
R.E. officer came into our shelter, and told us in a voice shaking
with joyful emotion that he had just blown up a German counter-mine
which had been threatening our mine galleries at Hill 60.

On February 8 we marched back to Canada Huts, and had another four
days' rest. This time the bombers carried out a good deal of live
practice with Mills bombs at some bombing-pits about half a mile from
Canada Huts. It was my first experience of the sort; but Sergt. Moffat
kept me up to the procedure at the firing-pit. Also it was the first
time I had the chance of throwing a live Mills bomb myself. On
February 12 we were due to take over the trenches at Canny Hill, and I
went up early and by myself, riding to Café Belge and thence on foot
to Hill 60, Mount Sorrel, and so on to Sanctuary Wood. It was a long
way round but I knew no other way. My dugout was in the wood, rather
far from the front line and from the H.Q. of A Company in Davison
Street. Our front line trenches were about quarter of a mile away from
the German front line, but there were signs that the Germans were
digging a forward trench along a hedge about 200 yards away from our
front. This activity gave the Staff some uneasiness, and considerable
interest was taken in these forward workings. I went out with Capt.
Welch for a short visit in that direction the first night, but we saw
nothing of interest. The next night Capt. Welch brought back a
revetting stake from the new German trench. I believe it was on
February 13 that the Germans attacked and took the 'Bluff,' some
trenches south-west of Hill 60. About 3.30 P.M. our own trenches were
bombarded for about two hours continuously with field artillery, and a
lot of pieces were blown out of the top of our trenches, but no
infantry attack developed. After this a small mine was blown up under
our old trenches at Hill 60 and a platoon was wiped out there. But an
attempt by the Germans to occupy the crater was frustrated through the
initiative of a machine-gun officer. I saw and felt the shock of this
mine going up, and a wonderful sight it was in the evening light. The
shelling went on for some time after dark, whilst to our right our
artillery thundered away in support of several fruitless attempts to
recapture the lost trenches at the 'Bluff.'

On February 14 I was told to organise a series of bombing parties, one
from each company, to visit the German advanced trench at different
times during the night and if possible to bomb German parties working
there. I decided to accompany the first party, from A Company, between
8 and 10 P.M. Sergt. Dorgan, an experienced patroller, went with me,
also L.-C. Lowes, Ptes. Austin and Gibson, and two other bombers. As
it was very wet, I had a sandbag taken by each man to lie down on. The
scheme was to creep right up to the new trench near the hedge, and
await the arrival of the German working-party. So we crept out along
the wet ground and got to the trench, which was about two feet deep.
We found no one there, and Pte. Austin went on into the hedge to keep
a look-out. In the hedge were found a German sniper's plate, a steel
shield with a loop-hole in it, and a German entrenching tool, like a
small spade. These were at once annexed. Then we lay down again on
the sandbags and waited with eyes and ears straining for about an
hour. But no Germans came, though we had one warning from our sentry
to get ready to fire. After that, cold and thoroughly soaked, we
returned in triumph with the sandbags and our spoils, which we placed
in our own trench. The other parties went out later but found no
Germans at work. Possibly the wet night or the battle on our right
prevented them from coming out to work that night. The object of these
forward trenches was afterwards apparent, when four months later the
Germans attacked and took Mount Sorrel. On February 16 we were
relieved and went back into support for four days. I have forgotten
where we went, but I think it was to the Canal Dugouts not far from
Swan Château.

On February 20 we returned to the same trenches at Canny Hill and held
them for five days. The first night in, Capt. Welch was badly wounded
through the shoulder whilst bringing in a wounded man who had been hit
whilst outside wiring. He was a great loss to the battalion, and was
sadly missed by the men as well as by the officers. It now turned very
cold, and we had a fall of snow several inches deep. This made it
difficult for parties to work in the trenches without being spotted. I
had an unpleasant experience of this. I was looking for an emplacement
for a grenade-rifle stand, and I selected a likely-looking spot just
behind the front line. Then I brought a party of bombers to dig the
place out. We had not thrown out five shovelfuls of earth before a
shell came whistling just over our heads. Fortunately I dispersed the
party at once along the trench. Then the fun began. Shells came
whizzing in all round the unlucky spot, till a direct hit right in the
middle of it apparently satisfied the German gunners and the storm
ceased. After that I chose another place farther along the trench
where no digging was required.

On February 25 we left Canny Hill and went back to Canada Huts. On
this occasion we had to make rather a detour to allow the troops of
the 3rd Division to use the roads; and in so doing we passed Ypres
railway station.

On March 1 we moved into the support dugouts at Transport Farm, called
Railway Dugouts. We were told to expect a bombardment by our guns that
night, as the 'Bluff' was to be attacked and retaken early next day.
The bombers of the 7th N.F. spent some time detonating grenades by
candlelight in the bomb store at Transport Farm. Sure enough there was
a terrific bombardment for half an hour. It was the first of the kind
that I had seen, and I believe that at least 500 guns of all calibres
were collected for the occasion. The whole of the landscape seemed to
be alight, every hedge flickering with flame; whilst away towards the
'Bluff' there was a sullen red glare where our shells were bursting.
Nothing further happened that night. But at dawn next morning the 3rd
Division attacked the 'Bluff' without bombardment and surprised the
garrison, taking many prisoners and recapturing the lost trenches and
some more ground besides. I saw one or two droves of prisoners coming
back past Bedford House, the first time I had seen any live Boches.
The bombardment by our guns started again soon after the attack, and
our guns kept up a slow rate of fire all day. In reply the German
heavy guns shelled the back areas freely, especially the road past
Transport Farm, and we got a few shells near the railway. We got
orders to take over the trenches at Mount Sorrel the same night. I
left with a party of bombers soon after 1 P.M., going along a C.T. to
Sanctuary Wood and then back through the trenches to Mount Sorrel.

We found the trenches in a sad mess. That morning there had been a
demonstration with all arms along this part of the front, and the
enemy had naturally retaliated and done a lot of damage. To increase
our troubles it became very cold, and the snow fell inches deep. But
there was no more shelling on either side for the next week. Apart
from sniping, which was assisted by the snow, we were left in peace to
bale out the mud and repair the trenches. This cold snap caused a lot
of sickness, and it was not improved by our having to hold these
trenches for over a week--a long time under such wintry conditions. At
last, on March 9, we were relieved and moved back to some dugouts near
Bedford House. Here we stayed for some days, taking working-parties up
to Hill 60 at night, from 7 P.M. to 1 A.M. One night we were shelled
off the roads, and had to come back with nothing done. Another time I
took a party to mend a breach in the front line at Hill 60. I think we
went back to Canada Huts about March 16--at any rate we had a longer
rest than usual. Sir Douglas Haig came over to Canada Huts to inspect
the battalion. Amongst other things he inspected A Company who were
drawn up in their hut, 2nd-Lieut. Gregson and myself being the
subalterns there in charge. The General spoke to Gregson first, and
asked him how long he had been out. He replied: 'January 14,
sir'--meaning January 14, 1916. His reply was, however, taken to mean
'January 1914,' and quite a little discussion took place, which amused
me much, as Gregson stuck to his point. Afterwards the General came
round to my end of the hut and asked me how long I had been out.
'January '16, sir,' I replied. 'That's all right,' he said, 'well, I
wish you the best of luck.' There was an amused twinkle in his kind
sympathetic face, as I was still half-smiling over his little
controversy with Gregson.

After this we moved off to another rest camp not far away, for a few
days. On March 24 we were due to take over the trenches at Hill 60
again for three days. I went up early in the day and 'took over' the
various bombing arrangements. The trenches now included some on the
south side of the Railway Cutting, and I had my dugout there in the
top of a small hillock called the 'Mound.' From 7.30 P.M. to 10 P.M.
that night the trenches and Cutting were heavily bombarded, but the
relief was not much delayed. The 7th N.F., however, had great luck in
having only two men wounded whilst coming in. They were unfortunate
casualties, it is true, 2nd-Lieut. J.H.C. Swinney[4] and Sergt.
Dorgan, both good men and a loss to the battalion. The next three days
were bad days for us. The battalion had over fifty casualties, much
above the average. Four days in the line generally gave about seven or
eight casualties. On March 25 British mines were exploded at St. Eloi,
and the mine craters were occupied by the 3rd Division. The explosion
took place just before dawn, about a mile or more to the south, but it
woke me all of a shake. I thought at first that I was going to tumble
down into the Cutting the ground heaved and rocked so much. The German
heavy artillery took the precaution of bombarding our part of the
front, and caused many casualties and much damage in the front line.
The whole of C Company batmen were killed by a shell, and 2nd-Lieut.
Burt, a new arrival but an old friend, was also killed. Poor lad, he
was always certain that he would be killed as soon as he got out to
France! I saw in the trenches a pile of our dead, three or four deep,
waiting for removal to the rear. The shelling was severe at times
during the next two days. Lieut. Platt, a forward observing officer of
the 50th Divisional Artillery and a well known and welcome figure in
the trenches, was killed by a shell just below my own dugout. We had
cause, indeed, to remember our last visit to Hill 60. During this
visit I first met some Canadian officers who were looking over the
line before taking it over from the 50th Division.

On March 27 we were relieved and I went back with A Company to some
dugouts near Bedford House. Our first day there we were shelled out of
these dugouts and had to take refuge for a time in Bedford House. A
Belgian battery had just arrived close to us, and unfortunately they
gave the position away. In the afternoon I went a long round to
various reserve bomb stores to check the stores. Next night I paid a
last visit to the Cutting at Hill 60 with a working-party.
Second-Lieut. E.W. Styles was also there on a similar job.

He had just come out; and being anxious to see something of the famous
Hill 60 trenches he went off by himself into the front line, and, I
suppose, asked various questions of the sentries. Anyway, when next I
saw him he was coming back down the Cutting followed at an interval by
a sentry with a fixed bayonet, who asked me if I knew who he was. My
reply was no doubt disappointing to the soldier, who thought he had
really captured a spy this time, and earned his two weeks' leave--the
reward for arresting a spy.

On March 29, before leaving the area, I acted as guide to some
Canadian troops, from Café Belge to the Canal Dugouts. They seemed to
be fine fellows and well up to strength in all their companies. The
same night our battalion went back to Scottish Lines at Ouderdom, but
we moved back to Canada Huts next day.

FOOTNOTES:

[4] A special friend, who unhappily was killed at Wancourt in 1917.



VII

KEMMEL


On March 31 I rode over with various company officers to Kemmel, and
we looked over the trenches H2-K1 below Wytschaete Ridge. We were to
take over this part of the line from the Canadians in two days' time.
It was once a quiet spot, and I think we were sent there for that
reason. But we soon found that we had come out of the frying-pan only
to go into the fire. The battle that was still raging at St. Eloi
about a mile to the north was destined to alter the character of the
once peaceful Kemmel area. I had now changed my mess. All the old
officers of A Company had disappeared since I first joined the
battalion; so I accepted an invitation from Capt. G.F. Ball to join D
Company mess. I was glad to do this, for not only was Capt. Ball the
kindest and best of fellows, but there were old friends
there--2nd-Lieuts. Peters and J. Robinson--whom I knew well at
Alnwick.

On April 1 the battalion set out for the new area, marching first to
Locre and halting there for the midday meal. Later on, towards night,
D Company proceeded to R.E. Farm, a support billet just vacated by
Canadians, and stayed the night there. The Canadians left a lot of
excellent ration tobacco behind them both here and in the trenches.

   [Illustration: Wytschaete Ridge--Trench Map, April 1916.]

Next day we went forward to the new trenches. They were a change
indeed from those in the Salient, and it was evident that there had
not been much heavy shelling there. Instead of the high narrow
trenches at Hill 60, they were mostly mere breastworks with little or
no back protection. And the C.T.s were hardly deep enough to afford
protection from sniping or indirect rifle fire. Fortunately the
Germans did not snipe these trenches. There were three gaps in the
front line, and two small posts in No Man's Land. A long winding C.T.
brought you from Battalion H.Q., which were at Rossignol Farm about a
mile from the front line trenches. The main features of the landscape
were the Wytschaete Ridge and Petit Bois--a thick wood on our left
front. The German trenches were not at first at all close to ours; and
both their wire and ours was thick and solid. We had a big mine shaft
in the supports, but a good way back from the front line. The
Canadians told us that there had been little fighting there except
between patrols and during raids. And it was evident that they had
spent more time and labour in draining the trenches than in fortifying
them. I had my quarters with most of the bombers in a support trench,
H.5, about 250 yards from our front line. We had the trench all to
ourselves and during my first visit to these trenches, which lasted
six days, it was a quiet, happy home, with a green field behind and an
occasional pheasant crowing in the hedges. Unfortunately for the
bombers, emplacements for 60-pounder trench-mortars (worked by the
R.F.A.) were already being dug at either end of our trench, and I knew
there would soon be trouble for H.5. We had a curious little
bombing-post outside the front line at H.4, which was only held at
night. It was inside our wire, but you could only reach it by
clambering over the top of the parapet after dark. The post was
connected by a string to a sentry-post in the front line. And various
signals were arranged to warn the sentry in the front line as to what
was going on, for example, two jerks on the string: 'Man returning to
trench,' three jerks: 'Enemy patrol on right,' and so on. A similar
bombing-post was also held at night for the first time during this
visit. This was in an old broken-down trench outside our wire, called
'J.3 Right.' It was more difficult of approach owing to the mud and to
its distance from the front line, and of course more dangerous because
it might be attacked by the enemy's patrols. Capt. Hugh Liddell of B
Company found this old trench whilst patrolling No Man's Land. It was
probably once part of the front line which had become waterlogged and
then abandoned. Capt. Liddell had his H.Q. in J.4 at this time. The
first night he went with me to this trench with a party of bombers,
and we stayed from 2 A.M. till dawn was breaking. Capt. Liddell was a
great tower of strength to us in these trenches, one of the most
fearless and pugnacious of men, with a taste for wandering about No
Man's Land o' nights. It did you good merely to look at him.

On April 8 we were relieved by the 6th N.F., and D Company moved to a
billet at R.C. Farm. One of the buildings had recently been fired by a
shell, and the bodies of several horses that had been cremated inside
made the air rather pungent. Whilst we were out of the line, the
German artillery started shelling the trenches severely, inflicting
heavy casualties on the 6th N.F., and punishing especially the support
trench at J.4 and the bombers retreat at H.5. During our rest I went
with Capt. Liddell and a working party of B Company to dig and fill in
some cable trenches behind the supports of the 'L' Trenches. During
the work I first made the acquaintance of Lieut. A.E. Odell, the
Brigade Signalling Officer, who later on became a great friend. We
went back to the old trenches on April 13, and I found the bombers of
the 6th N.F. had moved their quarters from H.5 to Turner Town (left),
two rows of small splinter-proof dugouts behind the mine shaft. The
trenches were badly knocked about, and the German artillery and
trench-mortars were still causing trouble. I now messed with D Company
at their H.Q. in K.1.a. On the evening of April 10, I had to patrol
the ground near the mine shaft with a party of bombers, to look out
for a German spy who was thought to be making back this way. We saw
nothing of him, but I believe that 2nd-Lieut. J. Robinson arrested a
Canadian Mining Officer, who in the dark was unknown to him.

On April 18 we were relieved by the 6th N.F. their Bombing Officer,
2nd-Lieut. A. Toon, taking over from me. This time we moved back to
Locre. But I was sent to B.H.Q. at Bruloose with my servant, as Lieut.
W. Keene was away on leave, and it was intended that I should act for
him till he came back. However I was not long at B.H.Q. before it
appeared that Lieut. Keene would be returning that night. Before going
off to Locre, however, I was asked to stay to dinner with the officers
of B.H.Q. which I did; and it was a pleasant experience. The battalion
had good quarters in Locre in the Convent School, and we soon found
that a good lunch or dinner was served by the Nuns at the convent to
weary officers. They also let you use the convent baths. On April 20
we held a battalion dinner there in commemoration of the Battle of St.
Julien.

On Good Friday we had an Easter service, as we were to be in the
trenches again on Easter Day. Our padre was Capt. Rev. J.O. Aglionby,
C.F., whom we came to know and like very well. The bombers had a day's
training at Bruloose, and we were asked to bring our steel helmets,
which had just been issued. So I wore mine for the first time. After
the practice was over, I was asked to come and see the Brigade Bombing
Officer fire off some Mills rifle-grenades, which were a novelty then.
Whilst this was going on a grenade burst prematurely soon after
leaving the rifle, and a piece came back and struck my helmet, cutting
the lining and scratching the metal. After that I would never part
with that helmet, though newer ones were issued later on. Our last
visit to the trenches was to be shorter, and we were to be relieved by
the 3rd Division in three days. We set off on Saturday, April 22, and
arrived in the C.T. all right, for the Germans seldom shelled the
roads in this area. But when we got there we found things rather
lively. A shell killed two or three men of D Company as they were
approaching K.1.a; and Capt. Liddell and I had a splinter from another
shell between us as we passed up Rossignol C.T. On arriving I got a
message from the Adjutant saying, 'The G.O.C. orders that you use the
greatest vigilance by day and by night.' The next day, Easter Day, the
enemy shelled the trenches all day. Capt. G.F. Ball and I had an
unpleasant experience in K.1.a, after lunch. For nearly two hours a
howitzer battery shelled the place slowly and methodically, working up
and down the little trench. Many times dirt and rubbish came flying
into our shelter, but the only direct hit was on a minor structure
which of course disappeared. Next day our cook-house was blown in and
the crockery all smashed, but fortunately it was empty of men at the
time. In these trenches it was difficult to get artillery retaliation,
for the fighting at St. Eloi swallowed up most of the spare
ammunition, and the allowance of shells for the batteries was small;
so the enemy had a free hand in shelling our defences. Early on the
Monday morning the enemy fired a shallow mine between his trenches and
our own. It was a method of gaining ground, for the craters were
fortified and turned into a trench. In this way the Germans began to
approach fairly close to us at K.1 and J.3. I had to register with
Newton rifle-grenades on the crater, but as we were short of
cartridges it was not possible to fire at night.

On April 25 we were relieved by the 4th Battalion of the Royal
Fusiliers, and I got away from the trenches with the last of the
bombers about midnight. There was a big bombardment of these trenches
next day, causing eighty casualties to the new-comers. My own little
shelter was blown to pieces by a howitzer shell and the occupants
killed. Nearly two years elapsed before I was again living in front
line trenches.



VIII

DIVISIONAL REST


In the early hours of April 20 the battalion reached Locre and spent
the rest of the night in billets. By 8 A.M. we resumed our march, and
went through Bailleul to Meteren. It was pleasant indeed to see the
inside of a town again, and to get away from the area that was broken
to bits. We were to be out of the line, we hoped, for at least a
month, so naturally every one was feeling light-hearted. The bombers
of the battalion were collected in a company about eighty strong, and
they were billeted together under my charge. Our quarters were at a
large French farm, called on the map 'Fever Farm,' and near to it was
a fine set of bombing trenches. Lieut. W. Keene was also living at
this farm, in order to be near the bombing ground. And we had our
little mess together in the farm parlour, and our bedroom in a nice
dry attic. No bombing work was done for the first three days, in order
to give time for the men to get rested and to clean their equipment.
The bombers were billeted in a large barn just across the yard, with
plenty of clean straw inside. The French farmer and his wife were
pleasant bodies, nice and friendly to us, and glad no doubt to be
able to sell their light beer and eggs to the English soldier-man. The
other companies of the battalion were billeted in farm-houses near
Meteren. In case of an attack by the Germans on the Corps front the
battalion had orders to go forward and man the trenches on Kemmel
Hill. I received a paper of instructions as to what to do in case of
alarm. We could tell that the Germans were causing trouble up the
line, for we heard a heavy bombardment going on beyond Kemmel. About
1.30 A.M. on Sunday, April 30, the bombers' sentry came and woke me
up, and I went downstairs to find a messenger had arrived with the
code warning 'Kemmel Defences.' So I quickly roused the men and warned
them to be ready to start in half an hour. We hurried into our war kit
and formed up in the dark outside, and soon marched off to join the
rest of the battalion outside Meteren. We learned that the enemy had
loosed off a lot of gas beyond Kemmel, and we were to man the defences
as soon as possible. The battalion marched along as far as the
entrance to Bailleul, when just as day was breaking a cyclist orderly
rode up with orders for us to return to our billets. No infantry
attack had followed the gas cloud, and we were free to return to rest.
The Brigade had another alarm next day, but it was quickly cancelled;
and after that we were not called out again. Every morning was given
to bombing practice, and I offered a small prize each day for a
competition in throwing. If it was wet the men stopped in the barn,
and had a lecture on English or German grenades. One afternoon I
walked over to Bailleul and had a bath at the Corps baths. They were
rather primitive but the water was hot.

It made a nice change to get back to civilisation once more and to
have a meal at a restaurant; and the shops of course were a great
attraction.

About May 5, just as I was about to set out a second time for
Bailleul, a letter came in for me from my brother George. It was dated
the previous day and said that he was billeted with his unit close to
Meteren. So I set off at once to find him, and had the good luck to
meet him as he was cycling round on some medical inspection duties.
His unit had just come out to France and he had no idea I was so near
at hand; and I think he nearly fell off his bicycle with surprise when
I first appeared in that country lane. He could not wait long then, so
I asked him to come to tea with us at Fever Farm next day. And two
days after that I dined with the H.Q. Mess of his unit, the 15th Hants
Regiment, which I enjoyed very much. Unfortunately I saw no more of
him at this time, as I left Fever Farm about May 11.

It was now decided that I should hand over the bombing to 2nd-Lieut.
E.G. Lawson, a most cheery and energetic bomber, and return to company
work. So I was put in command of C Company and returned with them to
Locre, where I stayed for about a week. I had not much to do here,
except the daily inspection of the company and orderly room. The men
of the company included many of my old recruits of C Company at
Alnwick whom I was glad to see again. About May 19 I got my first
leave, it was for seven clear days. And I suppose there was no happier
man in France just then. The train started from Bailleul station about
6 A.M. so I had to leave Locre the night before and stay the night at
an hotel at Bailleul. I had a comparatively quick journey to the
coast, for we reached Boulogne at 10.45 A.M. just in time to catch the
11 o'clock boat. I arrived in Folkestone about 1.45 P.M. and in London
about 3.30 P.M. the same day. Though short, it was a happy time, and I
returned on May 26, staying one night in Boulogne and reaching
Bailleul about midnight on Saturday, May 27. I found that the
battalion was still at Locre, but the Brigade had gone back to the
line, holding the same trenches on Wytschaete Ridge. An unfortunate
accident had just happened in our old trenches. Lieut. W. Keene and
2nd-Lieut. Toon were both badly injured and an N.C.O. killed in the
trenches by a Mills rifle-grenade, which, through a defective
cartridge, fell out of the rifle and burst in the trench. So when I
got back to the battalion I was told I had to proceed to B.H.Q. at
Bruloose and take over the office of Brigade Bombing Officer in place
of Lieut. Keene. This closed my immediate connection with the 7th N.F.
for twenty months.



IX

BRIGADE HEAD-QUARTERS


An Infantry Brigade Head-quarters in France could be a happy home; but
only if the Brigadier was liked and respected by the rest of the
Staff, and tried to make them feel at home. It seems almost an
impertinence even at this date for me to say anything whether in
praise or in blame of the man who controlled the immediate destinies
of the 149th Infantry Brigade when I first joined it. But as I became
much attached to Brigadier-General Clifford I may perhaps be forgiven
for describing him rather closely. Tall and dignified, with a cold
exterior and a penetrating grey eye, he had the power of commanding
the respect and obedience of all. His fatalistic contempt of danger
took him into the trenches wherever shelling was hottest; and it is
difficult to imagine how he escaped being sniped at Hill 60 or on the
Wytschaete Ridge.

He was loved by the men of the 7th N.F. as one who was willing to
share their dangers, and always ready with a word of cheer in the
hottest corner. 'We could have gone anywhere and done anything for
him, if only he had been there to see it.' Such was the epitaph that
the gallant Northumberlands gave him when he fell. I found his
old-world courtesy of manner and aristocratic bearing most inspiring.
And he knew the right way of getting a thing done without being cross
or overbearing. A splendid type of chivalrous soldier, he stands out
in my memory as a beacon of light when I have felt inclined to grumble
at the Army system. I can call to mind a score of acts to me, which
revealed the kindly, generous heart beneath that cold exterior. One of
the first things he said to me when I joined the Brigade was this:
'Buckley, mind you make your authority felt with these adjutants.
Remember, for the purposes of bombing, you are the General.' How could
he have shown more generous confidence or encouraged me more for the
new rôle I had to play?

Major Rowan, our Brigade-Major, was another typical officer of the old
Regular Army, who was generally liked. I did not get to know him so
well, as he left us for higher Staff duties before two months had
passed. I always found him kind and considerate.

Capt. D. Hill had been Staff-Captain ever since the Brigade came out
to France, and what he did not know about the job was not worth
knowing. He often astonished me by his knowledge of what could be
done, and by his serene confidence when things were looking difficult.
Never ruffled, the kindest and most genial of men, he often proved a
good friend and counsellor.

Capt. G.E. Wilkinson stayed with us a short time and then left to join
a mess of his own Machine-Gun Officers. A man of the brightest
good-humour and gaiety, he always kept us lively and amused. He went
far in the war--from 2nd-Lieut. to Colonel of a battalion in eighteen
months. I need say nothing further of his qualities as a soldier. He
was at Oxford when I was there, and I remembered seeing him at our Law
Lectures.

Lieut. G.S. Haggie, the best of fellows too, was always a kind friend
to me, and made me feel at home in my new surroundings. I saw a lot of
him both now and later on when we did many a strange hunt together for
ammunition dumps in the most impossible of places. He was a tremendous
walker and could get over really bad muddy ground at an amazing speed.

I was destined also to see much of the Brigade Signaller, Lieut. A.E.
Odell, who was quite a remarkable character. He was a lion in the
guise of a dove, an autocrat in the guise of a radical, a rigid
disciplinarian in the guise of an army reformer. He won the M.C. and
Bar and earned them both. He worked his men hard but himself harder
still. He had the curious faculty of being able to work for hours by
day and to spend the whole night in some muddy ditch up in the front
line. His kindness to and consideration for his signallers, were only
exceeded by his conscientious devotion to duty. He made me respect and
like and envy him, even if he occasionally made me smile.

Major Rowan left us, I think, at La Clytte or Dranoutre, and Capt. W.
Anderson became Brigade-Major in his place. He had joined the 6th N.F.
at the outbreak of war and got his company and the M.C. at the Battle
of St. Julien. In January 1916 he was appointed G.S.O. III at 50th
Division H.Q. 'Bill' Anderson was a great man, and combined the
fearlessness of the Northumbrian with a great brain. He was probably
the best 'civilian' tactician in the Army, and had he decided to join
the Regular Army I should have expected him to rise very high indeed.
I know what the 149th Infantry Brigade owed to him; but I doubt
whether many others know quite as well. And I have always thought that
he was never given full scope for exercising his wonderful ability. A
tall soldierly figure, with noble features and piercing blue eyes that
could harden almost to ruthlessness, I carry him in my mind as my
ideal of a Staff Officer. He could get men to do anything for him; his
kindly tact and sympathy, his rare appreciation of your efforts,
however clumsy, made you ready to work for him like a slave. He has
been a good friend to me throughout, and he has done more for me than
any other man in France.

At Bruloose the officers of the Brigade had small wooden huts of the
Armstrong type for offices and sleeping rooms. The mess room was in
the farm-house. Naturally it was a great change from the rude
accommodation of a Company Mess. M. Bunge, the French interpreter,
looked after our comforts well.

Next to B.H.Q. was a large and fairly useful bombing ground, where the
Brigade Bombing School was carried on; and I spent a good deal of time
there, as I was in charge of the school. On two days out of every four
I spent the morning there, and in the afternoon I was free to visit
the trenches, some four miles away. On the other two days I could go
up to the trenches in the morning.

I did not miss a day's visit to the trenches and once or twice I went
up twice in the day.

The journey was done on foot, so I had quite a good day's exercise. My
duties in the trenches were to see that the battalions in the line had
a proper supply of grenades; these were taken up by the battalion
transport at night. Also that the grenades in the trenches and all
bomb stores were properly stored and cleaned. I had also to see that
sufficient rifle-grenades were fired at night to harass the enemy's
working-parties, and that our bombing-posts were properly manned.

During our stay at Bruloose I had nearly 2000 grenades taken out of
the trenches and replaced by new ones; this was hard work for the
transport. But the transport officers[5] were very obliging; and I
found on firing these old grenades at the school that about 30 to 40
per cent did not burst properly or even at all. The situation in the
trenches was getting very bad. Shelling by the enemy's artillery was
now less frequent, but the annoyance from enemy trench-mortars was
something cruel. Not only large oil-cans, full of explosives, came
over both by day and by night, but a horrible 9-inch trench-mortar now
made its appearance and blew large craters in the C.T.s and supports.
I had two of the oil-cans pretty close to me at different times, and
they were not pleasant. Eventually the trench-mortaring got so severe,
that the V Corps had a 12-inch howitzer brought up on the railway, and
several of these huge shells were fired into Petit Bois when the
German trench-mortars started. Another feature to be reckoned with was
the approach of the enemy towards K.1 and J.3 by means of a series of
fortified mine craters. These craters were worked on at night, and by
the General's orders they had to be kept under constant fire from
rifle-grenades. Several nights I went up to the trenches to see this
carried out, once accompanied by the General himself. I had at the
Bruloose bomb store a fairly good stock of smoke and incendiary bombs,
like large cocoa tins, only containing red or white phosphorus. It
occurred to me that they might be used with effect against the Germans
working in the craters. So I carried a number of these bombs up to the
trenches, and they were duly fired from the West spring-thrower or
from the trench-catapult. The Germans did not seem to like them, as
their discharge always drew a lot of machine-gun fire in reply. We
also tried to get some more noxious bombs (e.g. 'M.S.K.'), but no
supply could be obtained from the Base. The Bombing Officers[6] of the
6th and 7th N.F. carried on the harassing fire with such effect that
eventually the Germans took to sending showers of 'fishtails' whenever
a rifle-grenade was loosed off. The 'fishtail' was a small
trench-mortar bomb, which the Germans substituted for the
rifle-grenade and used with great effect. Needless to say our
demonstrations were not very popular with the infantry in the front
line. But Capt. Vernon Merivale, M.C., appeared to take a special
delight in these harassing shoots.

FOOTNOTES:

[5] Brigade Transport, Capt. Kinsella; 7th N.F., Capt. B. Neville; 6th
N.F., Lieut. F. Clayton; 5th N.F., Lieut. M.G. Pape; 4th N.F., Lieut.
W.M. Turner.

[6] 2nd-Lieuts. Toon and Thompson (6th N.F.) and Lawson and Woods (7th
N.F.).



X

THE BRIGADE BOMBING SCHOOL


The staff of instructors at the Bombing School consisted of three
highly trained sergeants--two of these had been instructors at the
50th Divisional Bombing School which was now given up. Sergt. Hogg of
the 5th N.F. and Sergt. P. Flannigan of the 4th. N.F. took it in turns
to be at the school and at the Brigade Bomb Store. So with Sergt.
Moffat, who was now appointed Brigade Bombing Sergeant, I had always
two to help me at the school.

On the two bombing days sixteen untrained men came from the battalion
resting at Locre and sixteen others from the battalion resting at R.C.
Farm.

During the two days these men had to be sufficiently instructed to
throw three live Mills grenades. Generally they threw one live grenade
apiece after the first day's instruction, and the two others the
second day. The first thing was to give a lecture to the men,
explaining the nature of the Mills grenade and the proper way to hold
it and throw it.

After this a party of sixteen men were lined up in two lines, about
forty yards apart, and each of the eight men in turn threw a dummy
grenade towards the man opposite him. The instructor had to be careful
that the man threw in the correct way and held his grenade right. The
action of throwing the grenade was more like bowling overhand than
throwing. After about an hour of this the first party of men, eight in
number, went down to the firing-trench, which had to be 200 yards
clear of any troops. There were two sandbag walls, breastworks, about
five feet high--the one in front with a small traverse wall. At the
front wall stood the recruit, the sergeant-instructor, and the Brigade
Bombing Officer. In front about thirty yards away was a deep pit,
mostly full of water, which had been excavated by innumerable grenades
thrown into it. The other seven men took refuge behind the second
wall, until it was their turn to throw. Before the grenade was thrown
the officer had to blow two blasts on his whistle. The first meant
'Get ready to fire'--i.e. draw the safety-pin, the second meant
'Fire.' Some men of course were more confident than others; but on the
whole the Northumberlands were easy to teach, for many were miners and
accustomed to explosives--in fact, it was sometimes difficult to make
them take cover properly. When the grenade was thrown, every one
ducked down behind the wall and waited for the explosion. If it went
off all right, all was well; and the next man came along for his turn.
If, however, the grenade did not go off, it had if possible to be
retrieved and the detonator taken out. This was the most exciting
work I had to do. Generally the sergeant and I took it in turns to
pick up these 'dud' grenades as they were called. After some
experience it was possible to tell the moment the grenade was thrown
why it did not go off, for example the fuse might be damp and never
light; or the cap might misfire; or, worst of all 'duds,' the striker
might stick fast through rust or dirt.

Before I gained the experience of picking up these 'duds' and drawing
their teeth, I had one lucky escape. The grenade in question had a
'hanging striker' and burst on the ground within five yards of me. It
was not, I think, a very good explosion, but one of the pieces caught
me on the thigh--happily it cut into the seam of my breeches and then
turned, following the seam out and leaving me with a bruise and two
holes in my clothes. I never liked picking up these 'duds,' but later
on I got to know from the sound what was the matter with them; and
then it was just a matter of experience getting them to pieces safely.
The live grenades when they burst in the pit, sometimes threw out old
'dud' grenades lying in the mud. One of these latter burst in mid-air,
but hurt no one; and another time the grenade dropped right into the
firing-trench but did not go off. Another nasty thing was when the
grenade burst too quickly; many men have been killed by premature
bursts during practice. But though some grenades went off too quickly,
I never had one burst in less than a second, by which time the
grenade was fairly well away from the trench. Besides these thirty-two
untrained men, the bombers from the battalion at Locre used to come
and practise on the ground under their own Bombing Officer. But if any
of these men wished to pass the live firing test, to qualify them to
wear the Bombers badge (a red grenade on the right arm), I had to test
them with six live grenades. Three out of the six had to fall within a
narrow trench about twenty-five yards from the firing point.

Of course I had to watch the grenade till it reached the ground--and
pray that it would not burst prematurely. What a blessing those steel
helmets were during live bombing practice! They were proof against
bomb splinters and gave you a feeling of confidence.

The battalion bombers were also trained at the school to fire live
rifle-grenades. No risks were taken with the Newton rifle-grenade;
during firing all men had to be behind a barricade and the rifle was
fired off with a string and held in position by an iron stand. But we
used to think the Hales rifle-grenade quite safe, so that men were
trained to fire off these grenades holding the rifle to the ground in
the kneeling position. On one occasion several of us had a lucky
escape. The grenade burst at the end of the rifle, instead of bursting
120 yards away on contact with the ground. Sergt. Hogg and another
bomber of the 5th N.F. were holding the rifle and both got knocked
over, Sergt. Hogg with a slight cut on the head, the latter shaken but
unhurt. The Bombing Officer of the 5th N.F. and I both got scratched
on the face with splinters.

During our stay at Bruloose about 420 men went through the recruits'
course and over 1700 grenades were fired.

Later on I had to be content with much less elaborate bombing grounds.
Sometimes they had to be improvised from nothing, at other times a
bombing-pit of a sort was found, and we had to make the best of it.
After the battle on the Somme far less attention was paid to bombing;
but for a time it was thought desirable to have every man trained in
bombing, even at the expense of the rifle.



XI

ST. ELOI AND NEUVE EGLISE


About July 2 the Brigade came out of the line for a short time, and
B.H.Q. moved to a camp between Mont Rouge and Westoutre. During this
stay I was able to carry on the training at the Bruloose Bombing
School. There was a fine view of the trenches from Mont Rouge. We
could of course hear the sound of the bombardment on the Somme, but at
this distance it was more distinct some days than others.

On July 14 the Brigade went into the line again, south of St. Eloi,
the support trenches being in Ridge Wood. B.H.Q. moved to a camp at La
Clytte, farther than ever from the front line trenches.

At La Clytte there was a small bombing ground, but it was not very
safe for live practice, and I was glad when we left it. We did not
stay long in these trenches; but before we left them the bombers of
the 6th N.F. killed a German and he was brought back to our trenches.
It was the first dead German that I had seen.

Our next move was to a quieter part of the line, namely to Wulverghem,
below the Messines Ridge. B.H.Q. went to a canvas camp at Neuve
Eglise, but moved soon after to Dranoutre, where we were billeted in
houses. Lieut.-Col. Turner, O.C. the 5th N.F., came to command the
Brigade for about a week, in the absence of General Clifford, who went
to England on leave. He was a regular officer, with a keen sense of
humour and with an extraordinary dislike of parsons. These new
trenches were quiet enough, but the sniping of the enemy was far too
good. I was nearly caught out before I realised that fact. I was
looking over the parapet the first day with L.-C. Austin, when a
bullet caught the edge of the parapet just in front of us, tearing the
sandbag along the top and stopping within a few inches of our heads.
Of course we dropped down quickly into the trench, but L.-C. Austin
waved his cap over the top to signal a 'miss.' He told me it would
never do to let the German sniper think he had scored a hit. The
'flying pig,' our large trench-mortar, was first used in a bombardment
of the German trenches here, and I believe our Stokes mortar battery
did a record rate of fire on the same occasion. We had a lot of gas
cylinders stored in the front line trenches ready for use. But they
were not required and we had the pleasant job of removing them. They
were always talked about as 'rum jars.'

There was no bombing ground at Dranoutre, and I had to make a place
for live practice in a farmer's field, much to his disgust. 'C'est la
guerre, monsieur!' was all we could say to his expostulations. We
could now hear the great cannonade on the Somme going on to the south
almost day and night.

A large number of wooden ammunition huts were erected along the roads
near Dranoutre, and heavy gun emplacements were being made about
Kemmel. Perhaps it was intended that the Fifth Army should make a big
push here, if the battle on the Somme had been more successful at the
start.

About August 7 we were relieved by two shattered divisions from the
Somme, one of them being the Ulster Division that had seen hard
fighting south of Serre. We had a good idea whither we were bound. But
at first we moved off to the Meteren area, where B.H.Q. were quartered
in a camp of wooden huts for about five days. The censorship now
became very strict, no inkling of our movements was to be given to
anyone at home. Valises too had to be lightened by sending home all
spare kit; and all papers and maps relating to the Kemmel area had to
be destroyed or returned. Amongst other things I sent home my
'slacks,' and never wore them again in France. About August 11 we
moved off to Bailleul railway station and entrained there, leaving
about midnight. Next morning we reached Doullens, where we left the
train. The R.T.O. at Doullens was Capt. Rearden, whom I knew as a boy
at Wellington College and had not seen for sixteen years. But he
recognised me and claimed acquaintance.

We marched that day to Fienvillers, and stayed there two days in a
French house. The next move was to Naours where we spent one night;
and the next night we stayed at Pierregot. On August 17 we marched to
the wood at Hénencourt.

The whole Brigade was encamped in the neighbourhood of the wood. We
had at last arrived in the rest area of the Somme front, and it could
only be a matter of days before we were involved in the great battle.
But before that could happen there was a great deal to do to prepare
the men for their ordeal, and perhaps not a great deal of time in
which to do it. The Division was served out with the short rifle for
the first time. Hitherto we had only had the long rifle such as was
used in the South African War.



XII

THE SOMME[7]


The battle on the Somme was to me the great tragedy of the war. A
glorious noble tragedy, but still a tragedy. Both sides of course have
claimed the victory, the British a tactical one, the Germans a
strategic one. The net result to the Allies from a material point of
view was the recapture of some hundreds of square miles of France, for
the most part battered to bits and as desolate and useless as a
wilderness; and the capture or destruction of so many thousands of the
enemy at a cost altogether out of proportion to their numbers. The
Germans claim, and claim quite rightly, that they frustrated our
attempt to break through their line. On the other hand it can be
little consolation for them to know that a nation of amateur
soldiers[8] drove them out of the strongest fortress in the world;
drove them out so completely that they were glad to take refuge,
morally as well as physically, behind their famous Hindenburg Line.

No doubt our grand attack lasting from July to November 1916 cemented
the Alliance with France and saved Verdun from falling. No doubt it
paved the way, in knowledge and morale, for further attacks at a later
date. The fact remains that before its lessons were learnt the slopes
of the Ancre and the Somme were sown with the bodies of thousands of
the finest specimens of the British race. What a cost was paid for the
example and the lesson! Never again during the war had Britain such
fine athletic men, such gallant and heroic sons to fight her battles.
No horror or hardship could subdue their spirit. Again and again,
through shattered ranks and over ground covered with the fallen, they
went forward to the supreme sacrifice as cheerfully and as
light-heartedly as if they were out for a holiday. They knew they
could beat the enemy in front of them, and they went on and did it
again and again, in spite of the wire, in spite of the mud, in spite
of thousands of machine-gun bullets and shells. The tragedy of it all
is written in one word. _Waste_--waste of lives, waste of effort,
waste of ammunition. The fact is now clear that in 1916 the resources
of the British Nation were not sufficiently developed to smash the
German war machine. That was undoubtedly the hope of every one who
took part in the battle, to deliver a final knock-out blow. But this
hope failed, even if it failed by a little. Our artillery, mighty as
it undoubtedly was, was not mighty enough yet to destroy the enemy's
defences and to shatter his power of resistance. Alas, it was a blow
that could never be repeated again with such magnificent human
resources!

After the supreme effort by all ranks a terrible wave of depression
naturally followed. And can this be wondered at? For a time there was
lack of confidence which made itself all too apparent in 1917, a year
of unparalleled disasters. No one who has not set out with such high
hopes can know how awful that depression can be.

The effort of the British Army was never so united, never so intense
as it was in the battle on the Somme. Later on reverses brought
knowledge and knowledge at last brought victory. But for some that
victory had its sad side too; for thousands upon thousands of those
gay and gallant comrades in the Great Endeavour were not there to
share it.[9]

The part of the 50th Division in the battle was not a small one.
Briefly the Division went into the Somme area on August 17, 1916, and
left it about March 10, 1917. Their first attack was launched on
September 15, 1916, in company with the Guards and some of the finest
divisions in the British Army. After almost continuous fighting they
were withdrawn about October 5, and went back to the rest area around
Hénencourt till October 21--after having advanced their line from High
Wood Ridge to the edge of Le Sars.

On October 25 they returned to the same front and made two gallant but
fruitless attacks on the Butte of Warlencourt, in support of larger
operations about Beaumont Hamel. The hardship of the fighting between
October 25 and November 16 cannot be realised by those who did not
actually experience the conditions. From December 28 to January 23 the
Division held the line south of Le Barque and Ligny-Thilloy. After
that they moved farther south and held the line in front of Belloy and
Estrées, trenches that had been captured by the French. No wonder,
after this hard work, that the 50th Division gained the reputation of
a hard fighting division.

I can give no very accurate idea of the casualties suffered by the
Division; but some idea of the losses may be drawn from the casualties
among the bombers of the 7th N.F. Of these I have fairly accurate
details. The bombers of the 7th N.F. went into action on September 15,
1916, about eighty strong--ten N.C.O.s and seventy men. When the roll
was called at Bresle on November 20, 1916, eleven men alone answered.
Of the N.C.O.'s two were wounded and the rest were killed. The bombers
of the 4th N.F. suffered almost as heavily, but I have now no details.

FOOTNOTES:

[7] See Illustration, p. 81.

[8] I allude of course to the New Armies.

[9] These views of the battle, I am told, are unduly pessimistic. But
I let them stand as a record of personal feelings aroused as a result
of the battle.



XIII

HÉNENCOURT


Brigade Head-quarters were accommodated in wooden huts, but the
battalions were mostly under canvas. Strenuous efforts had now to be
made to complete the training of the men, and to initiate them to a
style of warfare that was quite new and strange to them.

My own task was to train as many men as possible in the use of the
Mills grenade. Each day I had fifty men to train, and they were kept
at it all morning and again in the evening, until they had each thrown
two live grenades. I had the services of three sergeant-instructors,
who were invaluable in getting the men past the first stage. All the
live firing I had to supervise myself; that being the rule of the
Army, that an officer should always be present during live practice.
All my spare time was spent in going over and testing the grenades to
be fired next day, or in baling out the bombing trench, which filled
very rapidly in wet weather. And so it went on day after day. Thirteen
officers and 671 men who had never previously thrown a live grenade
went through the course at Hénencourt; and about 1400 live grenades
were fired. The battalion bombers used the ground in the afternoon in
charge of their own officers; and they got through another 1000
grenades. On September 2 I was able to tell the General that every man
in the Brigade, including machine-gunners and trench-mortar men, had
been through the course, with which he expressed himself very pleased.
Towards the end of our stay the General came to see the live throwing
several times in the evenings, and he always spoke very encouragingly
to the men.

About September 6 I went with a party of officers from the Brigade to
view the trenches we were to take over on the Somme battlefield. And
as this was my first visit there it naturally made a great impression
on me. We started off in the dark and rode through Hénencourt and
Millencourt to Albert. Just before we reached Albert we passed through
a cloud of lachrymatory gas, which made me weep copious tears for
nearly half an hour. The great sight in Albert was of course the
ruined cathedral, with its colossal statue of the Virgin and Child
hanging downwards over the roadway. We rode on to where the front line
had been at Fricourt then to Fricourt 'Circus,' Mametz, and then to
the south of Mametz Wood, where we left our horses. First we went
through the wood to B.H.Q., which were in some deep dugouts there.
Having obtained guides and a rough sort of map, we went on to
Battalion H.Q. at the Chalk Quarry east of Bazentin-le-Petit. This was
about 1000 yards from the front line, which lay just below the ridge
from Martinpuich to High Wood. A deep C.T. called 'Jutland Alley'
took us up to the front line--'Clark's Trench.' So far we had little
trouble from shelling, but we passed over the bodies of two
unfortunate Highlanders in Jutland Alley who had been recently killed
by a shell. The entrance to Intermediate Trench on the left was
terrible, the smell being overpowering. As a matter of fact there were
scores of dead men just out of sight on both sides of this trench,
whom it had been impossible to bury. It was not unusual to see an arm
or leg protruding out of the side of the C.T., so hastily had the
Germans buried their dead. And there were swarms and swarms of flies
everywhere. When we had finished looking round in the front line,
which was a good trench and quite quiet, we turned back down Jutland
Alley. The German 'heavies' were now shelling the supports and close
to the C.T. One shell, which seemed not to explode, hit the edge of
the C.T.; and when we got to the place we found the trench partially
filled in and an unfortunate man buried up to his neck, much shaken
but not much hurt. We left him to be extricated by his friends who had
got spades. I then visited the trenches near the windmill and then
returned to the south of Mametz Wood. Whilst waiting here I examined
with interest the many curious little 'cubby holes' that our troops
had made during the attack on Mametz Wood. I also watched the German
'heavies' shelling our field batteries near Bazentin-le-Grand, and
sending up clouds of chalky dust. A few shrapnel shells were also
fired near the road, and I believe our horses and orderlies were
nearly hit, but escaped by galloping off when the first shell came.
The countryside looked very desolate and knocked about till we got to
Fricourt Circus, only the chalky roads were crammed with limbers and
lorries taking up supplies. At the Circus there was a remarkable
sight, a huge camping ground covering several square miles, every
available spot on it packed with dumps and horse-lines, artillery
parks, bivouacs, and tents. All the roads round here were full of
troops on the move, and of lines and lines of lorries either coming or
going. After passing Albert there was less of interest, but we saw one
of our aeroplanes stranded in a ploughed field east of Millencourt.
The pilot told us he had got his machine damaged over the German line,
but had managed to get back thus far, when he had made a bad landing.
Such was my first visit to the great battlefield, a dreary looking
spot with a general aspect of chalk, broken stumps of trees, and
crowded muddy roads.

Our stay at Hénencourt was drawing to a close, but before we left we
had an inspection by the III Corps Commander. And on the last day,
September 9, we held a grand sports day and had a band playing. The
men looked splendidly fit and well after their month's rest, and they
displayed a wonderful spirit, talking eagerly of their part in the
coming attack. Alas and alas! At times I could have wept to see these
splendid bronzed men go marching by, the very flower of our English
race. For I knew that very soon I should see few of them again, or few
indeed of their like.



XIV

MAMETZ WOOD


On Sunday September 10, the Brigade left Hénencourt, and B.H.Q. went
to the deep dugouts in Mametz Wood. I travelled there with Sergts.
Moffat and Hogg, and we were lucky enough to get good lifts, first in
a Canadian Staff car and then on a motor-lorry. Capt. Bloomer (5th
D.L.I. and attached to B.H.Q.) shared a deep dugout with me, and we
had meals together.

It was the first deep dugout I had entered, and of course it was the
work of the Germans. There were about twenty steps down at either end,
the wooden sides of the stairway scarred with bullet holes and
splinters. Inside there were just two narrow apartments, one for our
bedroom and the other for meals. Though rather draughty it was
comfortable enough and practically shell-proof. Capt. Bloomer had an
unpleasant job, which kept him out late at nights, and I did not envy
him. In order to make the attack, it was decided to dig a forward
trench some way in front of Clark's Trench. The digging was done at
night and cost us a number of casualties from shell and rifle fire.
Capt. Bloomer used to go up every night to see the work done.

The second morning at Mametz Wood I was greatly shocked to hear that
our Brigadier had been killed by a sniper from High Wood, as he was
going out to inspect the forward trench just after dawn. It was nearly
two days before his body could be brought in, owing to the shelling
that went on at night. He was buried at Albert. A few days later
Brigadier-General Ovens, an Irishman, came to take command of the
149th Infantry Brigade.

My job was now to prepare the Brigade bomb stores and to see that the
grenades were properly packed into sandbag carriers for taking up the
line. A special dugout had been prepared as a bomb store near the
Chalk Quarry at Bazentin-le-Petit, but almost at the last moment the
R.A.M.C. commandeered the place for their forward dressing-station. So
the boxes of grenades had to lie in the open in large shell-holes,
covered with German greatcoats, mackintosh sheets, or anything else we
could get hold of. I spent hours and hours examining the grenades and
packing them into sandbag carriers. One of our transport-wagons[10]
had a lucky escape, whilst carrying a load of 2000 Mills grenades, all
detonated, to one of our dumps. The safety-pin of one of the grenades
broke with the jolting of the wagon, and the grenade went off,
bursting its own and several other boxes, but not setting off any
other of the grenades. I had an anxious time unpacking that
wagon-load. The brass safety-pins of the Mills grenades were very
unsatisfactory at this time; but I had collected a large number of
steel pins from the bombing grounds, and I used to re-pin any that I
thought had weak brass-pins. This examination of the grenades was
rather wearisome, but it was time well spent, for we had no accident
with them when the carrying-parties took them up the line. And other
units were not so fortunate in that respect. About 24,000 grenades
went through my hands, and of these perhaps 5000 went into the
sandbags. On September 14 we first saw the mysterious tanks, which had
arrived behind the quarry to take part in the great attack next day.
We had two allotted to our Division. That night we moved from Mametz
Wood to the Chalk Quarry at Bazentin-le-Petit. Here one of the
Divisional Field Co. R.E. had prepared for us excellent H.Q. in the
side of the Quarry. The offices were well down in the side of the
Quarry, the mess room was a large shelter covered with sandbags a
little higher up. We were fairly crowded that night, for a large
number of 'liaison' officers arrived for duty next day. We were
sleeping inside the mess shelter, practically shoulder to shoulder all
over the floor. Officers were sleeping and feeding and working there
all at the same time. A day and night mess was run for the benefit of
all that came in.

For the last four or five days our artillery had kept up an almost
continual fire on the enemy's lines. Now at the last moment the guns
of the Field Artillery were taken out of their hiding places and
brought forward into the open. Our chalk pit was practically under the
muzzles of about a dozen field guns.

Later on that night we heard a curious whistling, puffing sound, it
was the two tanks clambering up the hill to get into position near the
front line.

FOOTNOTES:

[10] Lieut. F.C. Clayton was now Brigade Transport Officer.



XV

THE 15TH SEPTEMBER 1916


We were all up early next morning, and got some breakfast well before
dawn. The air outside had a regular autumn chill. At first only an
occasional gun fired in the distance. But about twenty minutes before
dawn, our heavy guns opened their bombardment. To one standing in the
quarry, below the level of the ground, they had the most weird of
sounds. A dull rumbling in the rear and a continual whizz and hiss
high overhead. Hardly a sound of the guns firing and no sound of the
shells bursting. Only that terrible grinding swish in the air above.
Twenty minutes of that, and then, with a terrific roar, all our field
guns opened, and we knew that our comrades in front, the 4th N.F. on
the right and the 7th N.F. on the left, had 'gone over the top.' The
noise in front of the field batteries was pandemonium, excruciating to
the nerves. The air shook and quivered with the sound, the quarry
seemed to shake. You could only hear when the speaker shouted in your
ear. And so it went on hour by hour all day. The rate of fire
subsided, but the guns went on all day. I was standing with the
Staff-Captain in the Quarry, when I got what felt like a stone in
the face. It proved to be a piece of a shell, but happily for me it
struck the ground first and caught me on the rebound. A small cut
about the nose and chin, but I had to go and have it dressed. I got
well chaffed afterwards on my rather comical appearance. It was an
anxious time before the first news got back, but when it did it was
good. Our men had taken the first German trench, and were waiting to
go ahead again. Unfortunately High Wood was not taken by the 47th
Division on our right till midday, and meanwhile we lost numerous
casualties from having our right flank exposed to machine-gun fire. A
report came in that a large party of Germans were starting a bombing
attack on our right, so it was decided to send up a supply of
grenades. I went, therefore, and found Lieut. Mackenzie, who was in
charge of 100 men acting as carriers, and handed over 2400 grenades.
This party went up to the front line and back without mishap. But
shortly afterwards Lieut. Mackenzie was badly wounded by one of our
own shells bursting prematurely. We had fifty casualties at the Quarry
from premature bursts. It was not the fault of the gunners, but either
the guns were worn or the shells were defective.

   [Illustration: Scene of Attacks by 50th Division. Sept. 15-Nov.
   14, 1916.]

I lost two sergeant-instructors in the Quarry. Sergt. Moffat was badly
hit in the thigh with a fragment from a premature and died a few days
after. Sergt. Hogg was wounded in the chest by a bullet, but not
fatally. The wounded and prisoners began to stream back past the
Quarry. And as they came we began to get news of our friends in
front. Though successful the Brigade had to pay a heavy price. The 4th
N.F. were literally cut to pieces. I lost many friends killed,
including Capt. J.W. Merivale, 2nd-Lieut. J. Robinson, and Sergt.
Austin, and many more wounded, including Capt. G.F. Ball.[11] During
the attack thirty-seven out of the eighty bombers of the 7th N.F. were
killed or wounded, and the bombers of the 4th N.F. paid a still
heavier price, including their gallant officer killed.

At 4 P.M. the 151st Infantry Brigade took over the operations on our
front and continued the attack at night. Next day B.H.Q. returned to
Mametz Wood.[12] I had to pay a visit to the nearest large
dressing-station to get the anti-tetanus inoculation. This proved more
troublesome than the small cut I received, and it made me feel fairly
weak for the next ten days. On September 20 I went with Capt. D. Hill
to select a place for a dump near High Wood, and we passed over the
first captured German trench. There were few of our men lying about,
for the burial parties had been hard at work. But farther back around
Intermediate Trench there were piles of British and German soldiers
still lying where they had fallen weeks before. We had now to get a
number of sandbag carriers made for taking more grenades up the line,
and I was given a small party from the 5th N.F. to get this done.

About September 22 we returned to the line, and B.H.Q. to the Chalk
Quarry at Bazentin-le-Petit. I have but a confused recollection of the
period from now to the end of our stay in this locality. My servant
had a lucky escape in the Quarry. He was sitting outside my dugout
with two others making some tea, when a small shell fell right in the
middle of their feet. All were thrown over by the explosion, but only
one was really hurt--Capt. Bloomer's servant. We brought the poor
fellow into the dugout, with his right arm almost severed at the
elbow; and we spent the next ten minutes tying him up as best we
could. He died about a week later. I also remember paying two visits
to a most unpleasant spot selected as the Brigade ammunition dump, at
the junction of Crescent Alley and Spence Trench. The German artillery
never seemed to leave it alone.

About October 3 the 5th N.F., commanded by Lieut.-Col. N.I. Wright
attacked the Flers Line, and took two trenches. Before this attack
started a huge howitzer was brought up and placed on the west side of
Mametz Wood. And during the one and a half hours preceding the attack,
it fired sixty 15-inch shells into Le Sars, of which only two failed
to burst. On October 5 the 50th Division was relieved, and B.H.Q.
moved back to a doctor's house in Albert. That night General Ovens
gave a dinner to the officers of the Staff at a restaurant in the
town, where a good repast was served by some French civilians. Next
day we moved farther back to Millencourt, and we were billeted in a
nice house.

FOOTNOTES:

[11] The two other Company Commanders of the 7th N.F., Capt. V.
Merivale, M.C., and Capt. E.F. Clennell, M.C., got safely through the
action.

[12] At this place I first had the opportunity of speaking to our
Divisional Commander, Major-General Sir P.S. Wilkinson, K.C.M.G.,
C.B., who was beloved by every one in the Division.



XVI

MILLENCOURT


I went off to Millencourt, on October 6, in front of the rest of
Brigade in order to look for a bombing ground. I found one all right,
but I cannot say that it was altogether safe or in very good
condition. The firing-trench was a square emplacement cut into the
ground and there was no easy exit in case of trouble; also our
predecessors there obviously had had an accident on the spot, for I
found a box of Mills grenades lying there, half buried, two or three
of the grenades exploded and the rest more or less damaged and in a
dangerous condition. However, the mess was cleared up at last, and I
had to make the best of the place, such as it was. I had now only
Sergt. P. Flannigan to help me, but Lieut.-Col. Scott Jackson, D.S.O.,
my colonel, kindly allowed L.-Sergt. Piercy of the 7th N.F. to come
and assist in the training at the Brigade Bombing School. After the
heavy fighting the Brigade was supplied with large drafts of new men.
They came chiefly from the Fen country and were only partially
trained. I found them far more difficult to instruct in bombing than
the Northumberland miners. I had between forty and fifty of these men
each day, and they had to throw two live grenades before they left.
One exciting event happened during this training. One of the drafts
was about to throw his grenade, when he dropped it and of course it
started to burn. With great quickness and resolution Sergt. Flannigan
picked it up and got it out of the trench before it burst--and his
action undoubtedly averted a tragedy. Many men have received
decorations for similar acts in the trenches, but the Brigade decided
that nothing could be done in this case except mentioning it in
Divisional Orders and recording it in the Sergeant's pay book. After
this I arranged with the Sergeant to keep an undetonated grenade
handy, and if any man seemed too nervous to throw his first grenade
safely, we supplied him with this. He went through all the emotions of
throwing a live grenade, and endangered neither himself nor us. The
empty grenade was then picked up and treated as a 'dud,' i.e. one that
had misfired. Between October 7 and October 21, 477 new men went
through the bombing course, and nearly a thousand grenades were fired.
Shortly after this Sergt. P. Flannigan went to the Corps School, first
as a bomber and afterwards as a Lewis gun instructor; and I never had
his services again.

Brigadier-General Ovens was a pleasant, genial Irishman, who tried to
make us all feel at home in his mess. But I doubt whether the Irish
really understand the Northumbrians or vice versa. At this time John
Coates, the famous tenor singer, came out as a lieutenant in the
Yorkshire Regiment. He was attached to us for a time. It was a
sporting thing for him to do, but he was neither young enough nor hard
enough to stand the severities of the campaign. He acted as General's
Orderly-Officer for a time and afterwards became Town Major of
Bécourt, not an easy or a very pleasant job. He sang several times for
the men, once in the open air, and his singing was certainly top hole.

During this stay at Millencourt I paid a flying visit to Amiens with
Lieut. A.E. Odell. We went there and back in a Divisional Signal car
and stopped only a few hours, in fact for dinner.

About October 24 we went to Albert, stopping one night at the same
house as before, and next day we went back to the line.



XVII

HOOK SAP


On October 25, 1916, we took over from a brigade of the 1st Division
at the ruined sugar factory at Bazentin-le-Grand. The sleeping
apartments were in a dugout below ground, but the mess room and
offices were in the building on the ground floor. After arriving I
went with a bombing sergeant of the Black Watch to have a look at the
Brigade Dump, which was a good way from B.H.Q. You got at it by
walking across country to the west end of High Wood, and then along a
trench tramway till it ended rather abruptly at the Flers Switch. Like
most dumps, it was at the end of the tramway and none too healthy a
spot. It was afterwards moved forward to a sunken road called 'Hexham
Road,' where the boxes of ammunition were just piled in the open.

The position in front was now as follows. The 1st Division had pushed
the enemy back to a line along the top of a ridge running from the
Butte of Warlencourt practically due east. This ridge prevented our
seeing the enemy's approaches and support positions in Le Barque. On
the other hand from Loupart Wood the whole of our approaches and
support trenches were in full view of the enemy, as far back as High
Wood. Across those two miles no one could move in daylight without
being seen by the enemy, and there was practically no position to put
our field guns forward of High Wood. The enemy's front line consisted
of two trenches--Gird Line and Gird Support--with a forward trench on
the top of the ridge, called on the left 'Butte Trench' on the right
'Hook Sap.' Our front line Snag Trench and Maxwell Trench lay this
side the ridge and about two hundred yards away from the German
forward trench.

The Butte of Warlencourt, an old Gallic burial place, was a round
chalk hill, rising about 100 feet above ground level; and had been
mined with deep dugouts and made into a formidable strong point. From
the Butte machine-guns defended the approaches to Hook Sap, and from
Hook Sap and the Gird Line machine-guns defended the approaches to the
Butte. The ground between and around the opposing trenches had been
ploughed up with innumerable shells, some of huge calibre, and it was
now a spongy morass, difficult to cross at a walk and impossible at a
run. As events proved, unless both the Butte and the Gird Line could
be taken at the same time, the one would render the other impossible
to hold. This then was the problem that faced the 50th Division, a
problem that would have been difficult enough in the driest of
weather, but rendered four times more so by the rain which fell in
deluges on three days out of four during the whole of October and
November. I have dealt with these details rather fully, because this
phase of the Somme battle has been passed over as a thing of no
account. The eyes of the public have been directed to the successful
operations at Beaumont Hamel and Beaucourt. They have not been
directed to the misery and horror that were endured heroically but
unavailingly on the slopes between Eaucourt L'Abbaye and Le Barque.
Never have the soldiers of the 50th Division deserved more and won
less praise than they did during the operations between October 25 and
November 15. I have no pen to describe the conditions that were faced
by the brave men, who, after labouring unceasingly in the slimy
horrors and rain for three weeks without rest or relief, stormed and
took Hook Sap, only to be cut off and killed to the last man by
successive counter-attacks. It is a sorrowful page in the history of
the 7th N.F., but for stark grim courage and devotion to duty it
cannot be surpassed by anything in the history of the battalion.

The first attack on the Butte and Butte Trench took place about the
beginning of November and was made by the 151st Infantry Brigade. On
the right the attack did not succeed; but on the left the troops
reached the Butte and took or killed many Germans. Unfortunately the
machine-guns behind the Butte prevented the Brigade from
consolidating the ground won, and the troops eventually retired to
their original line. During this operation the men of the 149th
Infantry Brigade were employed in carrying up stores and as stretcher
parties. Eventually, about November 12, the Brigade took over the
front line, with a view to renewing the attack whenever the weather
should permit. Our H.Q. were established at Seven Elms, about a mile
from the front line, with rear H.Q. at the sugar factory. At dawn on
November 14 the Brigade attacked the Hook Sap and Gird Line, the 5th
N.F. on the right, the 7th N.F. on the left opposite the sap. At the
same time an Australian Corps attacked farther to the right, but no
attack was made on the Butte itself. An officer, who was in the
trenches south-west of the Butte and saw the Northumberlands go
forward, told me that he had never seen such a strange sight. The men
staggered forward a few yards, tumbled into shell-holes or stopped to
pull out less fortunate comrades, forward a few more yards, and the
same again and again. All the while the machine-guns from the German
trenches poured a pitiless hail into the slowly advancing line; and
the German guns opened out a heavy barrage on the trenches and on the
ground outside. In spite of mud, in spite of heavy casualties, the
survivors of two companies of the 7th N.F. struggled across that
spongy swamp and gained the German line. What happened after that can
only be conjectured, for they never kept touch with the 5th N.F., who
reached and took the Gird Line. But it is known that the 7th N.F. got
a footing both in Hook Sap and in the Gird Line behind. The Germans
barraged the captured trenches twice or three times during the day,
and are thought to have attacked them in force with fresh reserves
each time. Owing to the heavy and continuous barrage across No Man's
Land no news could be got back and no supports could be sent forward.
Finally, at night, the remnants of the shattered brigade were
collected, and another attempt made to reach the trenches; but the
Germans had evidently now got back to their old position and in the
mud and darkness the fresh attack had little chance of success.
Nothing more has been seen or heard of the two companies that reached
Hook Sap. It is believed that they perished to the last man,
overwhelmed by successive German counter-attacks. Second-Lieut. E.G.
Lawson fell at Hook Sap, also 2nd-Lieut. R.H.F. Woods, both Bombing
Officers of the 7th N.F.; also Bombing Sergts. J.R. Richardson and J.
Piercy.

The 5th N.F. did well indeed, for they succeeded in holding their
ground in the Gird Line and handed it over next day to the troops that
relieved them. But that also had to be abandoned at last, owing to its
isolated position.

The only consolation that can be drawn from this heroic but tragic
affair is that it may have created a diversion to our successful
operations at Beaucourt. As an isolated operation it was doomed from
the start owing to the state of the ground and the exhaustion of the
men who took part in it.

My own part in the sufferings of the Brigade at this time was so
insignificant that it is not worth giving many details of my
experiences. I found walking over the muddy ground most terribly
exhausting, especially in a trench coat dripping with rain and mud.
And it was a long way, over three miles, from rear H.Q. to the dump at
Hexham Road. One morning I went with Major Anderson to the ruins of
Eaucourt L'Abbaye on a visit of inspection. For months this was a
terribly shelled place, and it was now nothing but a pile of broken
sticks and brickdust. We were lucky to get clear of it before the
morning hate began. There were still large numbers of British and
German dead lying in heaps round the Flers Line; and two broken down
tanks completed the picture of muddy desolation. On November 14, the
day of the battle, I went up to advanced B.H.Q. at Seven Elms, where
quarters were very crowded. I remember being so tired out that night
that I fell asleep standing in one of the passages, propped against
one of the walls. Next day I returned to the sugar factory. And on
November 17 B.H.Q. moved back to a billet in Albert. Here, on November
19, I attended the Battalion Church Parade in a barn. A mere handful
of men, gaunt, hollow-cheeked, and exhausted, their faces dead white
and their clothes almost in rags, it was one of the saddest parades I
can remember.

During this visit to the line I first had the services of Pte.
Fairclough of the 5th N.F. as my Brigade Bombing Orderly, and he
remained with me in that capacity till I left the Brigade in 1918. I
found him a most useful, willing man, and he soon gained his lance
stripe. On November 19, owing to the kindness of Major Anderson, I was
granted leave to England for ten days. He told the General that I was
looking rather war-worn and that I should be needed for further
grenade training on my return.

It was during this visit to Bazentin-le-Grand that I first started
studying Intelligence work. The Brigade-Major asked me to spend my
spare time in assisting him with some aeroplane photographs. I had to
go over the daily series that came in from the Corps, and note
anything new on our own part of the front. Major Anderson was an
expert reader of these photographs, and he taught me all I know about
the subject. I found it an interesting subject, and it was to have a
great influence over my future career.



XVIII

SECOND LEAVE--BRESLE


My journey from Albert to England was remarkable for the hardships
that occurred. It should be remembered that every one was desperately
tired and worn out already. We were told to appear at Albert station
at midnight. When we got there we were told to expect the train at
2.15 A.M. This meant walking about the platform to keep warm, for
there was no shelter for officers at the station. Capt. J.O. Aglionby,
C.F., our padre, and Capt. Lidderdale, R.A.M.C, our battalion doctor,
were both going by the same train, so I was not without company. When
2.15 A.M. came there was no train, and we kept walking about till dawn
broke, but still no train. The R.T.O. then told us that there had been
a breakdown and that the train could not be expected for a long time.
So we decided to go and get breakfast at our billets and then to go to
Amiens by motor-lorry, and catch the train there. At least there would
be less chance of being shelled there, and some food and shelter.

So we set off about 10 o'clock and eventually got to Amiens, where we
had a decent lunch. We had to keep hanging about the station,
however, inquiring for the train. It arrived about 9 P.M., about
eighteen hours late, and we were glad enough to get on board. It is
difficult enough to sleep sitting in a train, but I think I managed a
few hours of troubled sleep. And next morning we arrived in Le Havre.
The first thing there was to march the men down to a rest camp a long
way from the town, and a good way from the docks. We were told to
report back at the same place at 2.30 P.M. So we trudged back to Le
Havre and got shaved and fed. On returning to the Rest Camp we were
told that the boat would leave in twenty minutes and that, as it was a
good thirty minutes walk, we had better be quick. Fortunately we got
hold of a motor-car and got a lift part of the way and hurried along
after that as fast as we could. When we reached the dock we found the
boat would not leave for another two hours. The organisation here was
rotten just at this time, but it improved later. _The Viper_, a fast
packet-boat, took us across to Southampton. And next morning I
proceeded to Weston-super-Mare, having taken nearly three days on the
journey. Most of that leave I spent in bed in the hands of the doctor.
I was utterly worn out, not only with exhaustion, but with the
depression naturally caused by losing so many friends and comrades in
a manner apparently so fruitless.

The company of recruits I had at Alnwick, was practically wiped out, I
found about two of them with the battalion when I returned. Only
eleven were left of the battalion bombers, my good comrades of the
Salient. The Bombing Officers of the four battalions were all
casualties, four of them killed. There were few trained bombers left
in the whole brigade. I went back to France on December 2 in anything
but buoyant spirits.

On returning to Albert I found that the Brigade were billeted at the
small village of Bresle. And I got there without much difficulty. The
weather was wet and cold, as it generally is in December; but active
preparations were soon started for getting the Bombing School open. We
found a fairly good bombing-pit for the Brigade School, but we had to
make one for the battalions. I was now without trained instructors and
I had no Brigade Bombing Sergeant, but I was lent Corp. Munro, a
bomber from the 6th N.F., and I made what use I could of Pte.
Fairclough, my orderly. The result was that I had not only to attend
to all the live firing, but I had to do the sergeants' work as well.
Afterwards there were the grenades to be sorted out for next day and a
friendly hand given to the Bombing Officers of the battalions, most of
whom were new to their work.

During our stay at Bresle 477 fresh men went through the recruits'
bombing course. And on December 26 and 27 the tests were carried out
with the battalion bombers, for the purpose of granting the Bombers'
Badge. These tests were now made much more difficult to pass, and only
seven men passed the throwing and firing tests. After this period I
never carried out any further instruction in the hand-grenade. The
drafts later on came out more fully trained and the Battalion Bombing
Officers carried on any further instruction that was required. During
and in preparation for the operations on the Somme 16 officers and
2106 men went through the course; and at least 5000 live grenades were
thrown. I was lucky to have no accident with the Mills grenade, and no
fatal ones even with the rifle-grenade.

General Ovens went on leave at Bresle, and Lieut.-Col. G. Scott
Jackson, O.C. 7th N.F., came as Brigade Commander to our H.Q. We had
him several times again in that capacity, and he was always a
favourite in our mess. His fine record and services are well known; a
D.S.O. and Bar, he probably commanded a fighting battalion as long as
any officer in France. From the time when the battalion landed in
France in April 1915 till he left the battalion for the R.A.M.C. at
the latter end of 1917, he was only off duty for about three days, in
a quiet part of the line. He always looked a picture of robust
strength, never missed his cold bath even with the temperature near
zero, and was one of the most optimistic men in the whole Brigade. He
was a most pleasant kindly Brigade Commander, with the supreme virtue
of leaving the specialists to do their work in their own way.

Before we left Bresle I got a Brigade Bombing Sergeant--Sergeant T.
Matthewson of the 5th N.F., who had had long experience as Battalion
Bombing Sergeant, and was a thoroughly trained and reliable man. I
found him most useful in his new office and I am glad to know that he
got safely through the war. Amongst other accomplishments he was a
good wicket-keeper, as I found later on.

On Christmas Day I went to dinner with the 7th N.F. at their H.Q., and
was very hospitably entertained. The Brigade moved from Bresle to a
camp at Bécourt on November 28, and stayed there two days; and then
took over from a Brigade of the 1st Division at Bazentin-le-Petit.



XIX

BUTTE OF WARLENCOURT--TRENCH WARFARE


On December 30, 1916, the Brigade was in the reserve area about
Bazentin-le-Petit, and ready to take over the line of trenches running
eastwards from a point south of the Butte of Warlencourt. No material
change had taken place on this part of the front since the fruitless
attack of November 11. The 1st Division, however, had done a good deal
of work in the back areas, and had laid duck-board tracks from High
Wood to the front line, and increased the number of light railways.
B.H.Q. were at some dugouts at the 'Cough Drop,' a place about a mile
north of High Wood. The 149th Infantry Brigade had now decided to make
use of a party of 'Observers,' and Major Anderson asked me to take
charge of them. I was a little diffident about this as I had never had
any experience as a Battalion Intelligence Officer and really knew
nothing at all about observation. But I was glad to take on the job,
and I soon got to like it. On December 30, therefore, two trained
observers from each of the four battalions of the Brigade reported to
me. And I had two N.C.Os. with this party--a corporal of the 4th N.F.,
who soon left to take a commission, and L.-C. Amos of the 7th N.F.,
who afterwards became N.C.O. in charge. On the same day I met the
Intelligence Officer of the 1st Brigade who took me over the line and
showed me the two O.P.s. I was lucky to meet at the start an officer
who understood the business so well. He gave me many useful hints, and
handed over an excellent panoramic sketch map of the view from one
O.P., as well as the Log Book. The latter was a notebook containing
reports of every movement of the enemy seen from the O.P.s. On
December 31 I took the party of observers up to the Cough Drop where
they had a shelter near B.H.Q. I had also supervision of the two
Brigade dumps, one at Hexham Road and the other at the Flers Line
about half a mile north of B.H.Q. Both places came in for heavy
shelling at intervals all day and night, for both were situated about
the end of a trench tramway, an obvious place for dumping stores.
However I had the latter dump moved to a better place, some distance
from the tramway, where there was less scrap iron lying about. During
this tour in the line which lasted eight days, I was employed in
looking after the observers and the two Brigade bomb stores. Towards
the close of our stay I started to make a new bomb store in Hexham
Road. Capt. H. Liddell gave me the general design of it and told me
what materials I should require. But I had no more time than to get
the emplacement dug out and the wooden framework erected.[13] I
remember that we struck two buried Germans in excavating the
emplacement and had to treat them with some very powerful corrosive
before the work could be continued.

Also it was rather a warm corner in Hexham Road, and I caught a shell
splinter on the leg; this, however, struck the steel buckle on my
trench boot and only raised a bruise. The weather became very cold
towards the end of our stay, with snow and frost. The Germans opposite
our trenches were not disposed to be unfriendly about the New Year. On
the left near the Butte they signalled to our men in the trenches
before a trench-mortar bombardment started, as if to warn them to take
cover. On the right they were still more inclined to fraternise. Here
both sides were holding trenches that would have become impossible if
any sniping had been done. So both our men and the Germans worked away
at deepening their own trenches without molesting their opponents;
although sometimes a crowd of men were exposed from the waist upwards
at a range of about 200 yards.

It was one of those curious understandings which arise when no violent
operations are in progress. However, on New Year's Day it went even
further. A soldier of the 5th N.F., after signals from the Germans,
went out into No Man's Land and had a drink with a party of them.
After this a small party of the enemy approached our trenches without
arms and with evidently friendly intentions. But they were warned off
and not allowed to enter our trenches. This little affair, I believe,
led to the soldier being court-martialled for holding intercourse with
the enemy. After eight days in the line the Brigade returned to a camp
at the north end of Mametz Wood. B.H.Q. were close to a battery of
9-inch howitzers, and when these heavy guns fired a salvo, which they
did occasionally both day and night, it fairly lifted the things off
the table. We got shelled here one night, but beyond getting a shower
or two of splinters and stones on to the huts no damage was done. I
had now time to ramble round, and examine various things of interest.
I found a regular dump of German bombs at Bazentin-le-Grand, and some
of these were collected for training purposes.

There were some Divisional baths at Bazentin-le-Petit, and I remember
having a most cold and miserable bath there one night; but it was
better than none at all. It was surprising how quickly the heavy
railway had been brought along. It now reached High Wood, but of
course did not cross the ridge, which would have been in view of the
enemy. About January 15 we went back to the line in very cold weather,
and B.H.Q. stayed at the Cough Drop again for eight days. During this
time I set to work completing the bomb store at Hexham Road, and
filling it with grenades. Each morning I got a party of about sixteen
men, and we collected a lot of filled sandbags to pack round the
framework and shed which were soon finished. The Brigade observers
held a post in the old Flers Line, from which good observation was
obtained on the ground between Loupart Wood and Grevillers. It was not
difficult to get the heavy gunners to fire on German working-parties
that were spotted by the observers; and several parties were duly
dispersed by our shells. Before we left the line this time, the
Brigade bomb store at Hexham Road was completed and filled. And when I
visited the district again in June 1917 it was still standing. I also
began now to write out the Brigade Intelligence Reports which were
sent in each day, and contained a summary of the events that had
happened or had been observed on our front. On January 23 we went back
to the camp north of Mametz Wood.

After a few days we moved off to Albert, and stayed two or three days
in a house near the railway line. The town got both bombed and shelled
at times, though not very severely. After this we moved off to the
village of Dernancourt for a short rest.

Major C.G. Johnson, M.C., who was adjutant of the 7th N.F. when I
joined the battalion, was now attached to B.H.Q. as
Assistant-Staff-Captain. He was an exceedingly able man, and had a good
knowledge of military law. We all liked him well as adjutant of the
battalion, and our relations at B.H.Q. were always friendly. He left us
eventually to become D.A.Q.M.G. in a higher Staff formation.

FOOTNOTES:

[13] Pte. Slack (7th N.F.), a Brigade pioneer, helped me greatly with
the carpenter's work.



XX

FRANCE AND THE FRENCH


The war has done at least one thing for me. It has opened my eyes and
changed my views with regard to the French. I confess that once I had
no liking for them and a certain measure of contempt. I suppose the
average Englishman has started with views like these. There has been
bad blood between the two races, and that at no very distant date.
Indeed the Alliance or Entente started much like a marriage of
convenience. The two partners were joined in interest together against
a common foe and a common danger.

Personally, I do not think there was much love lost between the two
nations for some time after the war started. The bond of mutual
admiration and respect, and I hope of affection, was forged in the
Battle of the Somme and in the heroic defence of Verdun. This bond has
been strengthened since on many a stricken field. The clouds of mutual
mistrust and jealousy have been largely dispelled. We have learnt much
about the French since the early days of the war, and they much about
us; otherwise it would have been impossible for a French General to
be in supreme command of the campaign.

I have often come in contact with the French civilian in town and
country, but only rarely with French troops. Also I have come to know
and like a series of French interpreters attached to battalions or
brigade. The deeds of the French Army speak for themselves, and their
Staff work has been often beyond praise. When we remember the cruel
fate that befell the north-eastern corner of France and its unhappy
citizens, we may sympathise with the fury of the French nation against
their old oppressors. No one living in England can realise the hideous
wounds inflicted on this fair country-side. It may explain to some
extent at least the heroic resistance of the French for over four
years--a resistance that could scarcely have been predicted before the
war.

In considering our relations with the French at different times, it is
well to have a deep sympathy for the cruel wrongs she has suffered.
Thus they must have regarded with very mixed feelings their harbours,
railways, and towns being taken over by an alien though friendly
people.

All things considered the Frenchman may well have said at the first,
'These English, they are everywhere!' At least, this I noticed when I
arrived in Le Havre in January 1916, there was no enthusiasm for us
there. There was no rudeness, it is true, but the atmosphere of the
place was rather chilly and aloof. The country folk about Meteren
seemed pleased to see us; I think they had got used to the ways of
the British soldier and found him not such a bad fellow after all. It
was pleasant to see the country folks round here after our stay in
Flanders, comely and straight, members of a thoroughbred race. The
contrast was rather forcible perhaps.

The Brigade Interpreter in 1916, Monsieur Bunge, a native of Le Havre,
was a pleasant, lively sort of person, always ready for a joke and an
admirer of the British. With him I got on very well; and I learnt one
or two things of the French from him. One of them was how sensitive
they are in small matters of conversation. If in your heavy English
way you did not respond at once with animation to his remarks, M.
Bunge thought he had offended you.

They are a very sensitive race, especially in matters of courtesy. The
colder manner and bearing of the British must have been a sore trial
to them till they got to understand them--especially if they were
laying themselves out to be friendly. It is worth while to let
yourself go a bit in the matter of speech and bearing when talking to
them. And, above all things, if you want to please them, try to talk
to them in French, however badly, for they all take it as a great
compliment. Another thing I discovered was the unwillingness of the
French officers to take the initiative in saluting; yet they would
never fail to return such a courtesy. Perhaps their earlier
experiences in this little matter had been discouraging. It is much
the same with the poilus and farmer folk. If you wish them 'Bonjour'
they would invariably respond and also salute.

Later on I had a day or two in Amiens which provided some impressions
of the French soldiers. The officers there contrasted rather forcibly
with our own, I remember. They were very smartly dressed in
home-parade uniforms, wore their medals, and carried themselves with
an admirable pride and spirit. Our officers, on the other hand,
dressed in the homely khaki, often the worse for wear, had generally
an air of war-weariness. No doubt most of our men had come almost
straight from the battle-field and were enjoying only a few hours'
relaxation in this fine city. Still it made one reflect that the
French are indeed a nation of soldiers which we are not. We obviously
have not the same pride in the paraphernalia of war, and that shows
which way the wind blows. I also saw a number of poilus going on leave
and returning to the line. They looked very quiet and patient, but
without a great deal of enthusiasm showing on the surface. Later on I
saw French soldiers on the march several times. They get over the
ground very fast; but it is more go as you please with them than with
us. I have often noticed how grave these poilus look, even after the
war was over. Nothing of the reckless fun and explosive good humour of
the British soldier. If the latter is not having a rotten time he is
wonderfully cheerful and often light-hearted.

I have also seen the French soldiers holding the line in a quiet part;
and indeed we 'took over' from them there. They do not expose
themselves nearly so much as we do near the trenches. Everything
seemed to be done with scientific method and every one seemed to know
exactly what to do on all occasions. They hold their front line
thinly, trusting in case of accidents to recover it by a
counter-attack. And if the French are not fighting a battle they
generally keep their front as quiet as they can. This of course is all
very different from our own system. If we had a quiet part of the
line, it was generally because we had silenced the enemy's guns and
trench-mortars by fighting.

I had one great chance of studying the French officer at home in these
trenches. Shortly before taking over the French Regimental Commander
in the line asked our Brigadier, Brigade-Major, and 'one other
officer' to visit the trenches, but to be sure and call in at
Regimental H.Q. before proceeding up the line. This was really an
invitation of goodwill and ceremony rather than an invitation to
examine the line. But as this was not quite understood at the time I
was included in the party as Brigade Bombing Officer, rather than the
Staff-Captain or Machine-Gun Officer, either of whom should have gone
in my place. So on a terribly cold day at the end of January 1917 we
set off, and after a long ride from Dernancourt to Fontaine-les-Cappy
in a motor-car, we arrived near Regimental H.Q. and proceeded there on
foot. The Brigadier was a fair French linguist, I had about two words
of French, and the Brigade-Major had none. So it was just as well that
the junior État-Major happened to be a fluent English speaker.
Indeed, he had spent a good time in Newcastle and knew not only
England but the north. We were welcomed by the French Brigadier with
every mark of courtesy and goodwill. It is the custom for a French
officer to salute his superior and then to shake hands with him. The
salute is given even if you do not happen to be wearing a cap.

These worthy and hospitable warriors were in charge of a regiment (or
as we should say a brigade) from the south of France about Bordeaux. I
believe they had won for themselves a good reputation as fighting men.
They knew, however, as well how to take care of themselves; and I
fancy they had a first-class chef amongst their servants. It was a
great affair, that meal, which had been prepared to do us honour,
especially considering that it was served actually in the trenches.
Quite a number of dishes succeeded one another, and were washed down
with some excellent red wine. These were followed by several sweets
and a glass of sweet champagne--the latter to drink to our good luck
in the new trenches--glasses were solemnly clinked at this stage of
the proceedings; afterwards cognac, coffee and cigars. The French
officers expressed considerable interest in the Territorial 'T.'s' on
my tunic, asking what they stood for. The French 'Territorial' is of
course a different type to ours, being in the nature of the last
reserve, elderly men not used as 'storm' or 'shock' troops. The meal
passed pleasantly indeed; and at the end, a photograph must be taken
as a souvenir of the meeting, and that was duly done in the winter
sunlight outside. The French soldiers use small cameras in the
trenches, a privilege denied to us. I have never before or since been
in such elaborate trenches as these that we took over from the French.
Vast communication trenches, six to ten feet deep, ran back for miles
behind the front line. The same with the forward area, the number of
deep trenches was simply extraordinary. Their idea may have been to
make so many trenches that the enemy would not know which to shell.
Unfortunately the trenches were not revetted, and when the frost broke
we came to think less of them and travelled as much as possible across
the open. The inside of the trenches was very clean--not a tin or a
scrap of paper to be seen. The refuse was all dumped just over the
parapet or in the shell-holes outside. The French are accustomed to an
easy system of sanitation. During the day few French soldiers are seen
outside their dugouts, except parties cleaning the trenches. In the
front line only a few sentries were kept on duty, and they were
relieved every two hours. The French speak with great confidence of
their field artillery, the terrible 75's. A battery of these guns
handled by French gunners can fire almost like a machine-gun, and the
noise is deafening.

As a nation the French have their faults. They are exceedingly proud
and quick to take offence, they are not very stable or constant
(obstinate shall we say?), and they are about the hardest bargainers
in the world.

Thrift and making use of the shining hour have been driven to their
last conclusions. The British soldiers have been made to pay very
sweetly for their visit to France. I do not think the French ever gave
the British such a warm welcome as the Belgians did.

But when all is said and done we all have our own faults, and the
Frenchman's most shining virtue is patriotism.



XXI

SOUTH OF THE SOMME


After staying for about a week or more at Dernancourt, the Brigade
received orders to go south of the Somme, and to take over part of the
line won by the French this side of Peronne. We marched, therefore,
through Bray and stayed two nights at Mericourt and two at
Fontaine-les-Cappy. At the latter place I was surprised to find some
graves of British soldiers who had fallen there in the earlier part of
the war. Also I had one exciting experience at Fontaine-les-Cappy.
There was a large grenade dump near our camp, and, just as I was
passing it, an explosion took place. A party of men had been
detonating grenades, and two or three grenades had gone off in the
box, killing two of the party and hurling the grenades in a shower all
round the place. One fell close, and I was lucky not to be riddled by
it. For the safety-pin was blown out and the lever of the grenade held
down by a piece of wood from the side of the box, which was jammed by
the explosion into the shoulder of the grenade. I spent a little time
picking up such grenades as I could find, and two or three of them
were in a dangerous condition.

When we got into the line near Belloy I lived for a time at advanced
B.H.Q. called 'P.C. Hedevaux' ('Post Commandant' _Hedevaux_). The
dugouts were deep and proof against ordinary shells. The General,
Brigade-Major, and Staff-Captain resided farther back at 'P.C.
Buelow.' I was shown over the trenches by the _officier bombardier_
(Bombing Officer) of a French unit. And I found it fairly easy to talk
to him without the aid of an interpreter. I told him two English
expressions which seemed to please him greatly. One was 'dugout,' the
other 'dump'; the equivalent for the latter in French being 'Depot de
Munitions.'

I made an entirely new Brigade bomb store in these trenches, using the
little shelters in a line of disused trenches. After a week in the
trenches the frost broke, and the trenches which had been hard and dry
now became nothing but muddy drains. To wade along them even in
daylight and in gum boots involved the greatest physical exertion. One
unfortunate man stuck in the mud, and before they got him out he was
pulled out of his boots and breeches and had his coat torn off his
back. Finally he was sent to the dressing-station with only his shirt
on. We stayed about sixteen days in the line, and during the last five
or six days I retired to P.C. Buelow to assist in the Intelligence
Work.

This part of the line was quiet and our stay uneventful; but two
things of interest might be noted. The Brigade observers reported that
the Germans were employing French prisoners on the roads about a mile
behind their front line, a cowardly and disgraceful proceeding. The
Germans were seen working hard on their dugouts behind the line--this
was of course a 'blind' for our benefit, for the German retreat
started the day after the 50th Division was relieved.

After our sixteen days in the line B.H.Q. moved back to Foucaucourt
and remained there till about March 7. Then the 50th Division finally
left the Somme front and moved back for a rest. B.H.Q. went to
Warfusée and we had good billets there.

Brigadier-General Ovens, C.M.G., left us at Foucaucourt and
Lieut.-Col. B.D. Gibson, D.S.O., of the 4th N.F., commanded the
Brigade for a few days, being succeeded as Brigade Commander by
Lieut.-Col. G. Scott Jackson, D.S.O., of the 7th N.F.

Two very startling things were done at this time. All the men of the
Brigade were told that they were about to be trained for open warfare,
and they would not have to go into the trenches again. They were to be
used as part of a Corps de Chasse during the next offensive. This was
not borne out by events, but it throws some light on the expectations
of the British Staff. It was also decided at this juncture to change
the organisation of the British Infantry Company. Each company was in
future to consist of four sections--one riflemen pure and simple,
another Lewis gunners, another bombers, and the fourth rifle-bombers.

It was perhaps an unfortunate time to spring this change on the
B.E.F., just on the eve of a new offensive. The idea appears to have
been sound enough, but the attempt to rush it through in three weeks'
time was hardly likely to have good results. To convert a rifleman
into a rifle-bomber in a week's training was of course out of the
question. Hitherto only the most expert and steadiest bombers had been
employed on rifle-grenade work. But now the ordinary infantry were
expected to become rifle-bombers, although their knowledge of bombs
was of the most elementary description. Two problems therefore faced
those responsible for the training and equipment of the rifle-bombers.
First how to get them even partially trained in the time, and second
to invent some apparatus for carrying the rifle-grenades. At first it
was only possible to train the N.C.O.s in charge of the rifle-bombing
sections--leaving them to instruct their sections as well as they
could.

It is hard to realise the complete inadequacy of this arrangement,
without knowing something of the rifle-grenade, and without knowing
the extraordinary difficulty of training a man to become an instructor
of others. However that was the best that could be made of the new
orders at the moment. And so it fell to me to take a class for a week
of N.C.O'.s drawn from the four battalions. I had not only to teach
them to fire the rifle-grenade themselves, of which they knew nothing,
but to teach them to hand their knowledge on to others.

The training went on from March 12 to 17, and thirty-four section
leaders attended the course. About 1150 rounds were fired. I did not
attempt any live firing--in fact, I have never thought it serves any
useful purpose to fire live rifle-grenades in practice.

It is of course much more dangerous than throwing a live hand-grenade,
and one accident in practice is enough to discourage all the recruits
who see it from firing live rifle-grenades in actual warfare. On the
other hand, even where the rifle-grenades are only used as dummies,
the waste of valuable ammunition is simply appalling. A Hales
rifle-grenade used to cost 25s. and it came down to 15s. a little
later, but once fired as a dummy it was not much use to fire again.
Dummies could have been made for about 1s. at the most, but of course
no one in England thought about a trifle like that; and so the
colossal waste went on all the time I had the training in hand. I did
what I could by straightening the rods to use the grenades again, but
I could not save much in this way. Thousands of pounds in
rifle-grenades must have been used where thousands of shillings should
have been spent.

At Warfusée Brigadier-General H.C. Rees, D.S.O., came to take over
command of the Brigade. He had seen very heavy fighting in the early
part of the war, and had since commanded two Brigades before he came
to the 149th Infantry Brigade. He was liked and respected by every one
in the Brigade. Very tall and well built, and a soldier who gave you
the greatest confidence in his ability and leadership, the Brigade
owed much to him, especially at a time when the trench fighting was
giving way (as it seemed) to open warfare. He was a first-class
rifle-shot himself, and never ceased to impress the necessity of
developing this weapon to the utmost. For the hand-grenade he had the
greatest contempt, which he was rather fond of expressing. Fortunately
for me, bombing work was giving way to Intelligence, although for some
time to come I had to train the men in rifle grenades and to look
after the Brigade ammunition stores.

After finishing the rifle-grenade work I acted as
Assistant-Staff-Captain for about a week. It was chiefly office work
as far as I was concerned, the returns being very voluminous. Work as
I could there seemed to be no getting to the end of these returns till
9 or 10 o'clock at night. There were also one or two minor
court-martial cases, in which my legal training proved some
assistance. On March 27 I got my third leave granted, for ten days. It
was perhaps rather quick after my last leave, but the fact of my being
ill on that occasion was taken into consideration. This time I went to
Amiens by motor-lorry and thence to Boulogne, reaching Manchester on
the same day that I sailed from France.

On April 6 I left Folkestone and got to Boulogne about 4 o'clock. Here
no one could say where the 56th Division was, and I was directed to
leave by a midnight train and to report to the R.T.O. at Abbéville. I
got there about 2 A.M. and was told to go back to Étaples by an 8
o'clock train that morning. I managed to get a few hours' sleep and
breakfast at the Officers Club at Abbéville, and reached Étaples
about midday on April 7. On April 9 I was told to proceed to St. Pol
and get further directions there. I arrived there in time for lunch,
and then reached Frévent by another train. Here I was told to go by
the light railway towards Wanquetin and to make inquiries for the 50th
Division on the way. At Frévent I saw a lot of slightly wounded
soldiers coming back from Arras; they had been over the top that
morning on the first day of the great battle which had just started.
Just before reaching Avesnes-le-Compte I spotted some Divisional
transport on the roads, and, on making inquiries at Avesnes, I learnt
that the 149th Infantry Brigade were quartered at Manin about two
miles away. So I left the train and reached our H.Q. just in time for
dinner.

The 50th Division had marched from Warfusée, and were now proceeding
towards Arras to take part in the battle which had started on April
9.



XXII

THE BATTLE OF ARRAS


The Battle of Arras started with a great success. The Vimy Ridge was
recaptured and the vast fortress between Telegraph Hill and Neuville
Vitasse, including a substantial part of the famous Hindenburg Line,
fell in one day. The high ground at Monchy-le-Preux was soon stormed
and secured. But after this progress became very slow, nothing seemed
to come of these great tactical successes. The fighting, instead of
developing into open warfare as we had expected, became again very
similar in character to the great trench to trench battles on the
Somme.

The French waited a week before starting their offensive in Champagne,
and when it did start it failed completely. The weather broke down on
April 10, as it generally did in 1917 whenever the British commenced
offensive operations. It became very cold and it rained or snowed
almost incessantly for over a week. It is hard for one who saw only a
small sector of this great battle to understand what prevented us from
taking greater advantage of our great initial success, which certainly
surprised and disorganised the enemy. But it was not merely the
weather which broke down at a critical moment. There were other causes
at work to delay and impede success. I strongly suspect that the
British infantry units were still suffering from their tremendous
exertions in 1916; and they certainly had not the confident assurance
of victory which inspired the terrible sacrifices on the Somme.
Hitherto our artillery had never been so strong nor had the mechanical
aids to victory been so numerous or so varied. Gas-projectors and
oil-drums were first used in this battle, new aeroplanes were first
launched out in public; the British held the mastery of the air, and
the Germans had not yet devised any effective remedy for the British
tanks. But the British troops were not the troops of the Somme. The
old type of volunteer had largely disappeared, and the same resolution
and confidence were not displayed by some of the British divisions.
The very strength of our artillery was sapping the old reliance on the
rifle, and when the barrage stopped the infantry often seemed to be
powerless to defend the captured positions.

On the other hand the superior and more lengthy training of the German
reserves now began to tell. Personally, I never admired the German as
a fighting man until he was now for the first time driven out of his
vast defences. On the Somme the Germans had artillery support nearly
equal to our own, and they were defending superb trenches with
unbroken roads and country behind them. Now, when they were thrust out
of their famous stronghold and plastered with every sort of
projectile, they held up repeated attacks, backed by enormous
artillery preparation and support, held them up by sheer dogged
fighting and superior knowledge of war. Their Staff work must have
been good, and the training and morale of the troops equally good to
have done it. After the first great success, we gained only small
local successes, costing thousands of casualties and vast expenditure
of ammunition. Eventually, after about five weeks of fierce thrusts,
the Battle of Arras came to an end, giving us, it is true, a much
improved position in front of Arras, but leaving the main object of
the attack unaccomplished. The further offensives of 1917 were carried
on more to the north and south, and the Arras area saw no more big
fighting till the beginning of 1918.

The 50th Division came into action on April 11, and worked alternately
with the 14th Division. The enemy were pushed across the Cojeul Valley
and into the outskirts of Vis-en-Artois and Cherisy. The advance of
these two Divisions would have been undoubtedly greater, but Guemappe
on the left and the uncaptured part of the Hindenburg Line on the
right for a time held up the divisions attacking on either flank. Thus
both the 50th Division and the 14th Division captured Cherisy in turn,
but had to abandon the place through having their flanks exposed. By
their operations in this area both Divisions maintained their already
worthy reputation.



XXIII

WANCOURT TOWER--CROISILLES


The 149th Infantry Brigade left Manin on the morning of April 10, and
marched to Wanquetin, where the troops were billeted in houses. On the
following day it began to snow heavily about midday and this continued
far into the night. The Brigade were intended to attack on April 12,
but, owing to the exhaustion and exposure of the troops, the 151st
Brigade were substituted when the attack recommenced on April 13. We
started our march in the snow just as the light was beginning to fail,
and trudged along through the muddy slush till we reached Arras. Here
there was a delay of several hours before guides arrived to lead the
various units to their stations. B.H.Q. marched through the town and
eventually arrived at the ruined sugar factory at Faubourg Ronville,
where there were deep dugouts below the ruins. We could not see much
of the city but it appeared to be badly knocked about by the enemy's
shells. Not many houses, perhaps, had fallen to bits, but there was
hardly a house that had not been hit. A great many small shells must
have been fired into the town. The place of course was full of
underground passages--though I never had the chance of entering them.
When morning came I was able to take stock of my surroundings. The
sugar factory was one of the last buildings at the S.E. end of the
city, and a trench tramway led to what had once been the front line
trenches about a quarter of a mile from these H.Q.

My job that morning was to hunt round for the dumps of grenades &c.
which had been made by our predecessors before their advance. I
remember finding two of these in fairly good condition in the
neighbourhood of Telegraph Hill--only of course on the Arras side. The
cold night on which we arrived had taken heavy toll of the cavalry
horses, and many of these splendid animals could be seen scattered
about on the ground, some already dead and others dying. They were too
fine bred to stand that wintry night in an open bivouac. As far as I
could make out our lighter siege guns had moved up towards the
Telegraph Hill ridge and our field guns towards Neuville Vitasse;
there were still howitzers of heavy calibre in the environs of the
city itself. I believe the 151st Infantry Brigade attacked on April
13, and pushed across the Cojeul Valley north of Héninel, and dug in
just west of the Wancourt Tower ridge. Wancourt was captured but not
Guemappe, and Marlière was in our hands. On that day I was instructed
to make a dump at Telegraph Hill, which I had no difficulty in doing
as the place was quite quiet.

   [Illustration: Scene of Attacks on Cherisy. April 1917.]

The next day this dump was removed to the region of the Elm Trees at
Wancourt behind the 'Brown Line'; and the Brigade relieved the 151st
Infantry Brigade. B.H.Q. were at the Elm Trees, and consisted of some
fine deep dugouts, which the Germans had used as an ammunition store.
The entrance to them was in a small sunken road. The ammunition was
mostly stored in large wooden boxes, and we had to pull it out and get
rid of it. This was done by emptying the boxes into the nearest
shell-holes; so that the ground outside was littered with German
ammunition. In one of these shell-holes, amongst a lot of rubbish of
this kind, I found four old pewter dishes and two pewter spoons. They
had been heaved out of the dugout along with the rest of its contents.
One of the plates was dated 1733, and all were marked with the foreign
maker's stamp. They afforded, when cleaned, a rather unusual
decoration for the walls of the mess room. This little collection was
disposed of 'under Divisional and Brigade arrangements,' but I managed
to secure the spoons.

The position in front was now as follows. A battalion held the
trenches across the Cojeul Valley, supported by three battalions in
the Brown Line and in Wancourt itself. The enemy was in Guemappe and
also in some trenches just over the ridge of Wancourt Tower Hill. It
was the business of the Brigade to hold the trenches and to make such
improvement in them as opportunity might offer. General Rees was not
the man to let any such opportunity slip. Nothing happened during the
first few days, beyond the usual heavy shelling of the roads and
batteries and forward positions.

But a patrol of the 5th N.F. pushed out towards Guemappe, and carried
out a useful daylight reconnaissance.

Also about April 16, 1917, Lieut.-Col. F. Robinson of the 6th N.F.
discovered the enemy approaching the ruined buildings on the Wancourt
Tower Hill, and promptly ordered a platoon to attack them. This plan
succeeded admirably and the Tower and house were captured. The place
was of vital importance to us as it commanded direct observation on
all the roads leading to our part of the front. On April 17 the enemy
shelled the Tower with 8-inch howitzers--generally a sign that he
meant to attack sooner or later. The Tower contained a formidable
concrete machine-gun emplacement, facing of course our way, but by
General Rees' orders it was blown up by the Engineers. Sure enough the
enemy attacked the Tower that night, and at an unfortunate time for
us, for the 7th N.F. were in the process of relieving the 6th N.F. in
the front line, and it was a vile night, with a blizzard of snow.

The German attack succeeded in driving our men out of the Tower and
buildings, and though several bombing attacks were made that night to
recover the position it could not be done. General Rees at once
prepared to storm the position at the earliest opportunity next day,
the 7th N.F. having completed the relief of the trenches during the
night. It is difficult to describe the confidence which our General
inspired at this critical time; he was rather graver and more
thoughtful than usual, perhaps, but he treated the matter with great
confidence and made every one feel that the misfortune could and would
be retrieved at the first attempt. His plans were made in conjunction
with Major Johnson of the 50th Divisional Artillery; and as a result
it was arranged to attack across the open supported by a barrage from
five brigades of field artillery. The hour was fixed for twelve noon
(German time) just when the enemy is thinking about his dinner.
Without any preliminary bombardment, the barrage opened out at the
appointed hour, and fairly drove the enemy off the hill top. The 7th
N.F. advanced in perfect order and with little opposition recaptured
the Tower and the neighbouring trenches. Two or three prisoners were
sent down, who had been unable to get away before the attackers
reached them. It was a little attack, but carried out with admirable
precision and practically without loss, and every credit must be given
to General Rees for the way he handled the problem. As this operation
was carried out in full view of all the surrounding country it
attracted considerable attention, and congratulations soon poured in
from all sides. I was kept indoors or rather underground a good deal
during this stay in the line, as it was my business to record in a
log-book every note or message that came in to the Brigade Office,
either by day or night. I had the chance, too, of hearing the
Divisional Intelligence Officer examining a few German prisoners who
were captured on our front. He brought with him three large books
containing no doubt the previous history of the German Brigades; and
with the aid of these he was able to check the accuracy of the
prisoners' statements.

One day I went with General Rees to Marlière, and we went some
distance down Southern Avenue, which was then between the German
outpost line and our own. Another day we went to some high ground N.W.
of Wancourt for the purposes of observation. I remember that on this
occasion we had to hurry as the Germans were shelling rather close,
and General Rees got a splinter on the helmet. We were relieved by the
150th Infantry Brigade on April 21, and I rode back to Arras with
Capt. Haggie. I was now billeted for two days in a house in Arras,
where the Brigade Staff-Captain's office was located. The first night
was quiet enough, but the following night was not so pleasant. For our
heavy guns were now bombarding the German positions and their
long-range guns threw a lot of shells in reply into various parts of
the city. On April 23, St. George's Day, the British resumed the
attack and the 150th Infantry Brigade attacked from the top of
Wancourt Tower Hill. A good number of prisoners were made, but
Guemappe still held out and the Germans launched a heavy
counter-attack along this part of the front. In the morning I went
forward to some dugouts east of Telegraph Hill where the General,
Brigade-Major, and Signalling Officer were stationed for this battle.
Our Brigade of course was in reserve, except the 4th N.F. who were
attached to the 151st Infantry Brigade. From this place near Telegraph
Hill I got a good view of the battle around Guemappe. About midday
Brigadier-General Cameron of the 151st Infantry Brigade took over
command of the 50th Divisional front, and at once made preparations to
renew the attack in the afternoon. I was sent over to the Elm Trees
dugouts to find out exactly what he proposed to do with the 4th N.F.,
and he was then busily engaged with the Artillery officers arranging
the barrages. Before the attack was resumed, Guemappe was heavily
shelled by our siege guns, a wonderful sight. The whole place seemed
to disappear in dense clouds of dust and smoke. It had been a
ding-dong battle all day, attack and counter-attack, and at this point
neither side had gained much advantage. The Germans had not only
repelled the attack on our right, but had attempted to push through
into Héninel, in the Cojeul Valley. Fortunately, however, the 149th
M.-G. Company, commanded by Major Morris, stopped this movement by a
well-directed fire to our right flank. When, however, the attack was
renewed in the afternoon things went better for us. The Germans were
pushed down the hill from Wancourt Tower and Guemappe was taken. The
4th N.F. did well, getting to a place called Buck Trench. And the
Divisional front was advanced to a point not far from the outskirts
of Cherisy. It was unfortunate that we had no fresh troops at this
juncture to press home the attack. According to German statements, the
German troops were practically broken up at the end of the day and
they had at the moment no reserves available. Our small party remained
at the H.Q. on Telegraph Hill till the morning of April 25, when we
returned to the Ronville sugar factory, being relieved by a Brigade of
the 14th Division.

On April 26 a large Corps dump about a quarter of a mile from the
factory got on fire, and went on flaring and exploding all day. A good
many pieces of shells and fragments from this dump came rattling
against the walls of the sugar factory, making it no place to loiter
about. I learnt that the 42nd F.A., to which my brother George was
attached, was due to take over from our F.A. in Ronville; but I did
not get in touch with him.

On April 26 B.H.Q. moved to a fine château at the west end of Arras,
where we were much more comfortable than at the sugar factory. That
night I went to a battalion dinner of the 7th N.F., and it was
wonderful what a good dinner they managed to procure under the
circumstances. The next day, April 27, we marched back to a rest area
near Pommera, going along the Arras-Doullens road. B.H.Q. were
billeted in a farm at the south end of the village. I shared a billet
with Lieut. Odell and found the place very comfortable.

We were not left long here. A fresh attack was to be made, and the
50th Division was to be moved forward, to be ready to press home the
attack if it succeeded. We left Pommera on May 1 and marched to
Souastre, where B.H.Q. were billeted in a French château with a nice
garden. Next day we marched forward again to a bare looking spot at
Mereatel, where the accommodation was very limited. We managed to rig
up a few wooden shelters and bivouacs amongst the ruins of the houses.
This had been a nice village, but the Germans had blown down every
house and cut down every tree before they left it. They had even
destroyed the small fruit bushes in the gardens, an unnecessarily
wanton act.

The big attack was arranged for May 3 and it was preceded by the usual
heavy bombardment. But nothing came of it but heavy casualties, and it
was decided to send the Division back to the rest area again. On the
evening of May 3 I met a Colonel of the R.A.M.C., 14th Division, who
told me that he had seen my brother George at Neuville Vitasse just
two hours before, and that he was quite well. I got this information,
just too late, as we were now under orders to move back to the rest
area. And on May 4 I marched back with the B.H.Q. transport to
Souastre, and on May 5 to Pommera.

For the next ten days the Brigade carried out various tactical
exercises under the directions of General Rees. One day was given to
field firing practice, on which occasion I acted as one of the
'casualty' officers--that is to say, I had to select various men
during the sham attack and order them to drop out as casualties. Live
ammunition was used in rifles and Lewis guns as well as live
rifle-grenades; and I remember there were seven slight casualties from
accidents with the rifle-grenades. These 'live' field days in France
were not without their own little excitements, especially for those
who had to keep up with the firing line.

After ten days the Brigade was detached from the 50th Division and
attached to the 33rd Division, holding the line about Croisilles. The
idea was to assist the 33rd Division by holding the line for them for
three days, in the interval between two attacks. So on May 17 the
Brigade moved from Pommera to Souastre, H.Q. being again at the French
château. Here, through the good services of our French interpreter, we
had for dinner a piece of the famous _sanglier_ which lives in the
woods at Pommera. One of these creatures had been shot, and the
huntsmen presented a piece of it to B.H.Q. Mess. It tasted much like
pork, with a more gamy flavour.

On May 18 we moved from Souastre to Boiry St. Martin, where B.H.Q.
were in some wooden huts, amongst the ruins of the village. On May 19
I went over to Ayette, a neighbouring village, and spent the morning
training men of the 7th N.F. in rifle-grenades. Next day I went with
Capt. Haggie to inspect a Brigade ammunition dump at Croisilles, and
on May 21 I went to a canvas camp at Hamlincourt and spent the night
there. I did not get a good night as the enemy shelled the vicinity of
the camp at intervals during the night. Next day I went forward to
B.H.Q. which were in some shelters in a sunken road just west of
Croisilles. We held the line till May 25 and nothing very startling
happened. But two or three incidents occurred here which I remember
with interest. The visit of three War Correspondents, including
Messrs. Beach Thomas and Philip Gibbs. They spent about half an hour
at our H.Q. and were put in my charge to see the sights. We did not go
far from H.Q. as the high ground there afforded the best general view
of the country round.

Both of the English War Correspondents interested me much. Beach
Thomas, tall and dignified and grave; Philip Gibbs, short and bright
and cheery: both very sympathetic to and appreciative of the Brigade.
The other was a Dutch gentleman who told me with a flash of
inspiration that I should not recollect his name.

Another striking personality appeared in the shape of the Brigade
Commander of one of the Divisional Artillery Brigades. Col. Fitzgerald
came to call on us to inquire whether the artillery arrangements were
to our satisfaction and to know if he could do anything to help us. A
tall man with glasses and a kindly, gentle face. One morning he
brought in a great bunch of flowers for our mess room that he had
gathered near Croisilles. The following story was brought to us by the
Artillery Liaison Officer. Col. Fitzgerald went to the front line and
out into the broken trenches in No Man's Land in order to inspect the
registration of the field guns. Seeing a German sniper at work, he
borrowed a rifle and commenced a duel with the Boche in which several
shots were exchanged. Having killed his man he returned with great
satisfaction, feeling the day had been well spent. This occurred near
the 'Hump' whilst we were holding these trenches. He told us that his
guns had had a wonderful target on the Somme in July 1916. They were
somewhere on the high ground south of Bazentin-le-Grand when the
German Guard had massed for an attack on Contalmaison. These guns had
the extraordinary chance of firing with open sights on the dense
German masses behind Bazentin-le-Petit and they had inflicted terrible
losses on the Brandenburghers.

It was from our O.P. near B.H.Q. that I first tried to make a
panoramic sketch of the country in front. It was a crude attempt, no
doubt, but General Rees was kind enough to speak encouragingly of it,
and to tell me to try and develop this side of Intelligence.

That advice bore fruit, for in 1918 my observers were trained to
sketch, and their sketches did more damage to the enemy than any
reports that were sent in. For the heavy artillery got interested in
them and fired on the targets with great effect.

About May 25 we came out of the line and stayed one night at
Moyenneville, returning next day to our Divisional rest area at
Monchy-au-Bois.



XXIV

MONCHY-AU-BOIS


We were now able to settle down to training and manoeuvres. The
country round Monchy was well suited for this, for there were many old
German trenches about, and the villages were all smashed to bits,
giving a realistic touch to field training. B.H.Q. were under canvas,
but I selected an old German dugout which I thought would be drier
when the rains set in. It was also cooler in the hot weather, and its
only drawback was rats. I kept them in check, however, with a small
trap that the Germans left behind; they were always good at inventing
killing machines. My own job was now to train as many infantry men as
possible in the use of the rifle-grenade. And between May 29 and June
16, 190 men went through the course. Also Lieut. Odell brought his
signal company of twenty-nine men one evening to be shown the working
of the rifle-grenade, as it was thought that the rifle-grenade (empty)
might be used as a message carrier.

The course of instruction was somewhat as follows. In the first place
I gave a short lecture on the mechanism of the grenade and methods of
firing it. Then the party of ten was split into two squads and firing
practice took place. The men were trained to fire kneeling and lying,
behind cover and without, and also out of a deep fire-trench. I was
greatly assisted by Sergt. T. Matthewson, who was a really expert
bomber, and by my orderly--L.-C. Fairclough. This training took all
morning, and as far as I could judge the men were interested in the
course and did their best to learn the intricacies of this new weapon.
In the afternoon I was free to wander round and examine the
surrounding country. It was of considerable interest, for it was part
of the ground evacuated by the enemy when he retreated to the
Hindenburg Line. The trenches were magnificently built, and revetted
with wood or wattle-work, and provided with deep dugouts and concrete
machine-gun emplacements. The latter were not only wonderfully strong,
the forerunners of the German 'pill-box'--but sometimes wonderfully
decorated with coats of arms and mottoes.

Very little equipment was left behind, and many of the dugouts were
blown in before leaving. Some of the gun emplacements, too, were very
cleverly concealed. The guns were kept in shelters in a line of
reserve trenches and a set of dummy emplacements was dug out a little
distance away for the benefit of our aeroplane observers.

It was an education in military engineering and fortification to walk
round these wonderful defences. The wiring too was most ingenious and
often carefully concealed in the hedges or ditches. Inside the gun
shelters, you found that the gun was fixed on a central pivot and
worked round a wooden platform with every degree carefully marked.
Whilst on the walls stood a painted board with every barrage line and
target carefully worked out, and the range and code call set out as
well. The O.P. was sometimes in a high tree, with the ladders to get
up and the telephone wires still remaining. It had been a quiet part
of the line, and consequently the patient industry of the German had
had full scope.

The 50th Division began to take over the line west of Cherisy and Vis
about the middle of June; but only two brigades were in the front
trenches together, and it was our turn to remain behind. On June 18
the Brigade moved from Monchy-au-Bois to Boisleux-au-Mont, where
B.H.Q. were in a canvas camp. From June 20 to 23 I continued the
rifle-grenade training. The recruit training was now practically over
and these days were given to showing the handling of a rifle-grenade
section in open warfare. Forty-one officers, nine N.C.O.'s and
sixty-two men took part in these schemes. I had also two or three
rather important court-martial cases to attend to during the evenings.

Before going back into the line I was given nine men to act as Brigade
observers; the 6th N.F. sent L.-C. Chappell and Ptes. Wright and Hume;
the 7th N.F. Ptes. Fail and Ewart; the 4th N.F. Pte. Brook and
another; the 5th N.F. L.-C. Roxburgh, who had once been in the 7th
N.F. and Pte. Garnett. Pte. Brook I found came from Meltham, only
seven or eight miles from my own home. He was a typical lad from these
parts, with the bright red face and the speech that I knew so well.
Naturally I took an interest in him and I was sorry when he left us
about the end of November 1917. He has come through the war safely, I
am glad to say. Ptes. Fail and Ewart were destined to act as my
observers both with this brigade and in the 42nd Division in 1918. And
I cannot speak too highly of the excellent work done by Pte. Fail.
Owing to exceptional eyesight he was a first-class counter-battery
observer, and later on his skill with the pencil did the Germans a lot
of damage. On this front he spotted the flash of a 4-inch gun battery
that used to shell B.H.Q., with the result that the heavy gunners
fired on this battery and silenced it completely.

I had also the services of L.-C. J. Cowen and Pte. J. King (both 7th
N.F.) when the 50th Divisional observers were disbanded. Pte. King
went shortly afterwards back to the battalion. But both these men did
magnificent service in collecting intelligence during the remainder of
the war.



XXV

TRENCH WARFARE--VIS-CHERISY FRONT


From June till October 1917 the 50th Division held the line of trenches
running from the Hindenburg Line west of Fontaine-lez-Croisilles to
Cavalry Farm on the Arras-Cambrai Road. With heavy fighting going on in
Flanders this was a comparatively quiet part of the front. Our trenches
were good and got better every week, and the high ground about Wancourt
Tower Hill gave us excellent observation on the enemy's country,
especially towards the left. This part of the front was divided into
two sectors, and they were held by two out of the three brigades. So
that each brigade spent sixteen days in the line, and then eight days
in the rest area about Neuville Vitasse. Also each brigade held in turn
the trenches on the right, known as the Cherisy sector, and then the
trenches on the left, known as the Vis sector.

My time was given to Intelligence in the line and to Salvage when out
of the line.

Intelligence work included, selecting a convenient O.P. for the
Brigade observers and arranging and supervising the method of holding
it; making panoramic sketches for the observers; writing out the
Brigade Intelligence Report between 10 A.M. and noon every day;
supervising the work of the Battalion Intelligence Officers[14];
marking the Brigade Intelligence maps with all features of interest;
studying and cataloguing the aeroplane photographs which came in large
numbers every few days; destroying obsolete and useless documents (not
a small part of my job either!); and sending to the Machine-Gun
Officer, Major Morris, every week the targets for indirect machine-gun
fire at nights. Field work, i.e. actual observation and sketching,
formed really a comparatively small part of my duties, though I tried
to get up to the observation post once every day. The most important
part was office work--and I had a fair-sized shelter at each
Head-quarters, the walls covered with maps and the table loaded with
aeroplane photographs and reports of all kinds.

Besides the Corps and Divisional Intelligence Reports which came in
daily, there were Daily Reports from the two adjoining brigades, and
generally a goodly sheaf of miscellaneous papers from the Army
Intelligence Department. In this way a great deal of interesting
information came into my hands, as to how things were going on; and I
have never before or since been so well supplied with information as
to what was going on and what was intended to take place. When out of
the line, in a camp near Neuville Vitasse, I had to give the observers
a certain amount of practical training in the use of the compass and
protractor, and map reading. But after that I was free to do what I
liked within reason, and I generally devoted my spare time to salvage.
The observers often turned out to assist me in this, and Lieut. Odell
on several occasions gave me most valuable assistance with his
signallers and orderlies.

Salvage was left very much at this time to the discretion of the
commanders of infantry units. Naturally when the soldier man got out
of the line, he was not much inclined to do much salvaging on Army
Account. Some of the transport officers made a specialty of it, and
Capt. B. Neville of the 7th N.F., the prince of quartermasters,
rescued tons of salvage of all kinds. I dare say, however, a good many
things found their way into his own stores as well, for I never knew a
quartermaster so well supplied as he. There were certain small parties
of men employed at Divisional and Corps Salvage dumps, but they never
seemed to me to take the job very seriously. Perhaps the officers in
charge were not exactly the sort of men to hustle, or to see that
their men got busy. Every one knows that there was a vast amount of
waste, and that the Germans had this matter much better organised than
we.

The Germans were particularly active against our field artillery on
this front. Although we had the advantage of ground for most purposes,
and could carry out infantry reliefs in daylight, there were few
places satisfactory for concealing our field guns. They were mostly
concentrated about Wancourt and Héninel, and these two places
consequently received frequent and heavy punishment from the German
heavies. It was well to keep your eyes and ears open when passing
through these villages and not to linger there unnecessarily. The
pieces from the German 8-inch shell carried a long way, and I had
L.-C. Chappell wounded through the hand and sent down to hospital
through a splinter that carried over a quarter of a mile. We saw a lot
of the 50th Divisional R.F.A. about this time and a fine lot of
fellows they were. On the left our H.Q. were next door to the B.H.Q.
of the 251st Artillery Brigade, commanded by Lieut.-Col. Moss
Blundell. I got to know and like him well, and he did everything he
could to assist our brigade, and especially in matters of
intelligence. Any news that he got he sent on to us at once and vice
versa. I have never known the liaison between Field Artillery and
Infantry more close or more effective than at this time.

One of the most important operations carried out by the 50th Division
was a double raid and gas projection on September 15, 1917, and the
following night. It was carried out by the 151st Infantry Brigade in
the right sector, and at the time the 140th Infantry Brigade was
holding the trenches on the left. I believe the 9th D.L.I, supplied
the raiding parties. It was such a novel and effective raid that some
account ought to be given of it. The scheme was to deceive the enemy
as to the exact extent and nature of the attack. For this purpose a
great many smoke-shells were fired to screen the operations from the
enemy's observation. Also along the flanks of the actual raid a number
of dummy figures were arranged to represent an attacking force and so
to draw the enemy's fire away from the actual raiding parties. The
dummies were put out in No Man's Land the night before, face
downwards, and at the right moment they could be raised or lowered by
means of ropes worked by the men in the trenches. Also a dummy tank
was prepared and hauled forward 200 yards by means of ropes. The
combination of smoke-shells and dummies was wonderfully effective, and
the enemy reported that he had been attacked in great force and with
tanks along a large part of this front.

What really happened was this. After a preliminary bombardment of
great intensity by our guns and trench-mortars (including many
thermite or flame-shells), about 2 P.M. three companies of the 9th
D.L.I, dashed across and captured the German front and support lines
covering Cherisy. They killed and captured a number of Germans without
suffering many casualties themselves, and then returned at once to our
own trenches. At the same time the dummies in No Man's Land were
lowered again. After waiting five or six hours, another short
bombardment started, the dummies were again raised and one company of
the 9th D.L.I, dashed across into the same trenches and killed or
captured more Germans. They then returned to our trenches and the
dummies were again lowered. After dark our men went out and removed
the dummies, so that the Germans never had a chance of discovering the
ruse. The same night at 3 A.M. fifty cylinders of gas were projected
over the German lines. This gas attack cost the Germans dear, probably
more than the two raids, for the next day they were seen burying or
removing large numbers of the men caught in the gas cloud. My own
observers reported 200 gas casualties and the total number reported
reached a figure between 300 and 400. Gas casualties were easily
distinguished, as the Germans removed them in blankets slung between
two men on a pole. Besides, as it happened, the gas cloud drifted
north and caught the Germans during a relief nearly half a mile away
from the scene of the two raids. For example, the Germans were burying
dead all day in the neighbourhood of St. Roharts Factory, which is
some distance from Cherisy. The German report of this operation showed
that they had failed entirely to realise the nature of the attack. And
a similar raid was repeated shortly afterwards near Monchy-le-Preux
with great success. Our aeroplanes swooped down to 300 feet and took
photographs of the first raid from that height. And I was lucky enough
to secure some very interesting copies of these photographs, which
showed our men crossing No Man's Land and entering the German
trenches.

I got my fourth leave, ten days, about August 30 and travelled home
via Boulogne and Folkestone. It was the first leave that took me out
of the line, which it did for about four days. All the previous
leaves had occurred during Divisional rests.

We were relieved in these trenches by the 51st Division about the
beginning of October, and the 50th Division moved out of the line to
the neighbourhood of Courcelles-le-Compte for a short rest.

Before the relief took place Brigadier-General Rees had to leave us
much to every one's regret. He was taken ill with a distressing
internal complaint, which necessitated his return for a while to
England. He was succeeded by Brigadier-General E.P.A. Riddell, C.M.G.,
D.S.O.

General Riddell had at one time been Adjutant of the 7th N.F., that is
to say, long before the war; and he knew all about Alnwick and the
people there. During the war he had been instructing officers at
Sandhurst for a time, and later on he commanded a battalion of the
Cambridgeshires at the Battle of the Somme. This battalion succeeded
in capturing the Schwaben Redoubt, near Thiepval. Later on he had seen
service in the battle still raging in Flanders. When he came to
command the 149th Infantry Brigade at the end of September 1917 he had
already won the D.S.O. and Bar. To this he subsequently added another
Bar during the German offensive in March 1918. He was said to be a
typical Northumbrian. A leader, gallant and war-wise, of whom
Northumberland is justly proud.

When we left the line at Cherisy we had a good idea what our
destination was to be. But first of all we moved a short way back in
the direction of Miraumont. The 149th Infantry Brigade was quartered
at Courcelles-le-Comte, a shattered village in the area vacated by the
Germans after the battle on the Somme. Here we stayed for about ten
days, and the battalions resumed training their men for offensive
operations. One field day was particularly remarkable for a
demonstration by the Air Squadron stationed at Moyenneville. We
commenced operations before dawn, and I was in charge of the messages
at a spot representing battle H.Q. Just before I left at the
conclusion of the operations, about 9 A.M., an aeroplane swooped down
over our improvised H.Q. and left a message saying 'Expect a report at
B.H.Q. in an hour's time.' We returned to B.H.Q. and, sure enough,
about 9.40 A.M. an aeroplane again swooped down and dropped a small
packet. On opening it I was amazed to find a roll of about a dozen
photographs, taken about an hour before, of the final position reached
by the Infantry during the sham attack. How they managed to develop
and print these photographs in the short space of time is almost a
mystery. But I imagine they must have had some electrical machine for
drying the negatives and prints. During this short stay out of the
line I paid two visits to the old Somme battlefield. The first in
company with Capt. H. Liddell, who had for some time been acting as
Assistant-Brigade-Major. We rode to Grevillers and went on from there
on foot to Hexham Road and Eaucourt L'Abbaye. I had visited the
ground before with Lieut. Odell in June, when we were staying at
Monchy-au-Bois. A good deal of salvage had been done since then, and
there were fewer dead men lying about. But the scene of the fighting
at Hook Sap and round the Butte of Warlencourt was still littered with
helmets, rifles, and broken equipment of all sorts. Of course by this
time the trenches had largely fallen in and were covered with rough
rank herbage. But the wire belts and the duck-board tracks were still
there. When we approached the entrance to the cellars under the ruined
abbey at Eaucourt, we noticed traces of men living there. Smoke was
rising out of the ruins and there were recent footmarks about, and
some tins of soapy water. The story was, and I believe it was quite
true, that small parties of deserters dwelt in these old deep cellars
and dugouts, living on the bully beef which still covered the
battlefield and on the money received for 'Souvenirs' sold at
neighbouring canteens. I know of one deserter who lived there from
November 1916 to June or July 1917. Apart from these slight traces of
occupation, the battle-field seemed quite deserted from one end to the
other.

On another occasion I went with General Riddell by car to Thiepval and
we rode back through Bucquoy. This was a very interesting visit, for
the General explained on the spot exactly how the Schwaben Redoubt was
stormed, and how the troops were brought forward and disposed for the
attack. We went over a lot of the neighbouring ground, and I was able
to see how the Germans were forced out of St. Pierre Divion,
Miraumont, and Beaumont Hamel. I little thought as I rode home that
night through Bucquoy that I should in little more than five months'
time be commanding a company in the front line in a muddy ditch
outside Bucquoy. However this stay at Courcelles was invaluable later
on, for it gave me a general idea of the lie of the land on the enemy
side, when we were pressed back to Gommecourt and Colincamps.

We left Courcelles about October 18, and entrained at Miraumont
station. We left the train near Cassel and marched to the village of
Arneke, where I spent two nights at the house of the curé--a kind
hospitable old man. After that we marched out of France and arrived at
a camp about a mile west of Proven, in Belgium.

FOOTNOTES:

[14] Lieuts. O. Young (5th N.F.), Jessop (6th N.F.), and Richardson
(7th N.F.).



XXVI

THE HOUTHULST FOREST


I wish I could omit all reference to the operations in Flanders 1917.
Surely no one can be found to take much pride in the results of this
part of the campaign. Judged by the map alone between May 1, 1917, and
May 1, 1918, it will be found that we actually lost ground in
Flanders, and that we were at the last hard put to it to retain any
footing there at all.

It is difficult to know what motives, political or military, led to
our pressing an attack with such colossal fury on this part of the
line. Perhaps the Channel ports at Ostend and Zeebrugge were the prize
we hoped to gain. Be that as it may, the result of our attack was to
bring about a conflict of unparalleled intensity. The bulk of the
English heavy artillery seemed to be concentrated on the one side and
the bulk of the enemy's heavy artillery on the other. In a country
like Flanders the ground is bad enough in foul weather; but where it
is churned up for miles with the heaviest of shells, it becomes
impossible to use tanks and next to impossible to use infantry.

Moreover, the Germans had superiority in the air. They had
concentrated on aircraft the effort which we had expended on
perfecting the tank. The one can be used effectively in wet weather,
but the other cannot. The German had another defensive surprise for
us. Owing to the nature of the ground the deep dugout was practically
an impossibility. In the place, therefore, of this the German devised
the concrete blockhouse or 'pill-box' as it was called. For miles
behind their front line the country was dotted with pill-boxes, which
could defy the tank and all but the largest kinds of shells. As soon
as our operations started the rain streamed down, making conditions
ten times worse for the attacking force.

All honour to those that gallantly stormed the muddy slopes of
Passchendaele; to the wonderful engineers that conquered the squalid
quagmires of Langemarck and Zonnebeke; to the gunners that stuck to
their guns under a rain of bombs and shells, and to the transport
drivers that fed them. It is a tale of wonderful gallantry and heroic
endeavour. But when all is said and done, one is bound to look at the
result.

On reaching the area round Proven the 50th Division was allocated to
the Fifth Army (General Gough), and received orders to prepare to take
part in an attack on the enemy's line between the Houthulst Forest and
Passchendaele. On October 21, the day after our arrival at Proven, I
went to the Fifth Army H.Q. to get all the maps and information I
could relating to the new front. The Army H.Q. were in a large château
north of Poperinghe, and when I got there I was received by the
Colonel in charge of Intelligence with every kindness. He got me
several maps, gave me the files of intelligence to glance over, and
advised me to visit the Air Squadron at Proven for aeroplane
photographs. He also offered to turn out a Staff car to take me back,
but this kind offer I declined. My next visit was to the office of the
Air Squadron, where they had a file of all photographs relating to our
front. I was able to secure several useful copies, and the promise of
some more. After this I returned to our camp to work on the air
photos. On October 23 we marched to Proven and entrained there,
getting out at Elverdinghe. A short march took us to a camp of wooden
huts a little south of the château, where the 50th Division had their
battle H.Q. When we arrived the huts were quite empty of all
furniture; but in a short time the Brigade pioneers had made a table
and forms to use in the mess. It was decided that only the General,
Brigade-Major, and Signalling Officer should go forward to battle
H.Q., an old German pill-box called Martin's Mill, between Widjendrift
and Langemarck. The rest of the Brigade Staff were to remain at rear
H.Q. at Huddersfield Dugouts on the Yser Canal close to Bard's
Causeway. At this time I was much worried by what appeared to me to be
an attempt to tap the information of the Brigade as to the details of
the forthcoming attack. Naturally an Intelligence Officer has to be
discreet at all times, but especially so at times like this. I simply
record my impression although I cannot give any details.

On October 24 I went to the rear B.H.Q. at Huddersfield Dugouts. They
were in the northern bank of the Yser Canal about half a mile south of
Boesinghe. The front was approached by means of several long duck-board
tracks, in places more like wooden bridges than the ordinary trench
footboards. In the morning I did my best to investigate where these
tracks started, not altogether an easy matter in an entirely strange
country. In the afternoon I was asked by the Staff-Captain to see that
the hot food and tea and rum for the use of the troops next morning
were ready for delivery to the carrying-parties, and that the O.C.
carrying-party knew exactly what to do. I found that the food &c. was
ready packed up in the hot food containers by the four transport
officers, but I had great difficulty in finding the officer in charge
of the carrying-parties. After waiting about for over two hours I did
get in touch with him. And by nightfall I had the satisfaction of
seeing the hot food set off with this carrying-party up one of the
tracks leading to the front. We obtained guides for this party from the
50th Divisional Signals, who gave us every assistance in their power.

The attack took place next morning about dawn, after a heavy artillery
bombardment, and in the rain. Of this attack the Brigade has no need
to be ashamed, although by the afternoon of the same day the remnants
of its brave soldiers were withdrawn to the starting point. The 7th
N.F. on the left had a shorter distance to go than the rest, but on
their left flank was the Forest of Houthulst full of German snipers.
On the right were the 4th N.F. and in the centre the 5th N.F.

Each battalion had to attack across a treacherous swamp, and each was
confronted by a row of unbroken concrete pill-boxes, carefully
concealed from aerial observation. Each battalion made ground, but
each battalion was mowed down in heaps by the machine-guns in the
pill-boxes. I have nothing now to give as an estimate of the
casualties, except the officer casualties of the 7th N.F. Twelve
officers of the 7th N.F. went over the top that morning, and one
returned alive, Lieut Affleck. The others were all killed. It gives
some idea of the spirit of these gallant fellows, when I relate that
Lieut Affleck was preparing a further attack on the German pill-boxes
at the time he was ordered to return with the remnants of the
shattered brigade. The three battalions all suffered the heaviest
losses, but I have now no details except those I have given above.
Lieut. Odell, the Brigade Signalling Officer, and his men did wonders
in keeping the battalions in touch with B.H.Q. during the battle, and
for his great personal gallantry on this occasion he received a Bar to
his M.C. The shattered remnants of the battalions were drawn out of
the fighting zone and given billets not far from the Yser Canal. Even
here bad luck followed the 5th N.F., for a long-range shell crashed
into one of the huts at Rose Camp and caused forty more casualties.
In the transport lines on the west side of the Yser Canal Capt.
Neville, the Q.M. of the 7th N.F., was killed by a bomb next day. An
old soldier with a wonderful record of service, he had preferred to
stick to his battalion instead of taking promotion. I have already
called him the prince of quarter masters. I had also to lament him as
a very kind and generous friend.

We now received orders to retire to the rest area about Ondank, and on
October 26 I was sent to take over a camp for B.H.Q. On the way I
called at D.H.Q. at Elverdinghe Château, where I was very courteously
received by the 'Q' Staff--Col. Cartwright and Major McCracken--who
made many sympathetic inquiries after the officers in the Brigade.

We were now quartered in some old wooden huts, possibly constructed by
the French; and though very comfortable inside they were hardly
bomb-proof. At nights all the back areas round Ypres were heavily
bombed and a lot of horses were killed every night and a certain
number of men as well.

On October 27 the poor shattered remnants of my battalion passed
B.H.Q., very weary and very few in numbers. Besides the Battalion H.Q.
Company there were just enough men to make one decent-sized company.
Lieut.-Col. G. Scott Jackson stopped to speak to me, and the tears
trickled down his weather-beaten face, as he said 'Buckley, this has
fairly done me.' Only those who have had a fine battalion cut to
pieces can realise the feelings of their commander at such a moment.

I set to work with my observers packing a wall of sandbags round the
wooden huts, as a protection against bomb splinters. It was not
possible to protect the roof, but these sandbags were effective
against anything but a direct hit.

I have never known German night bombing more persistent or more heavy
than it was in the Salient just at this time. And although we never
got a bomb in the same field as our camp they dropped close enough to
be disturbing. A camp with some of the Divisional details was struck
some little way from us, and the same night D.H.Q. at Elverdinghe
Château were bombed, several motor-lorries being set on fire.

It was too far back for us to be troubled with much shelling, and the
German long-range guns fired mostly over our heads at the more
attractive targets of Poperinghe and Proven. One day during this short
rest, October 29, I had a ride round with Lieut. Odell in search of a
field-cashier's office where money could be drawn to pay Brigade
details. After a long ride to different places we landed up at a
Canadian Cashier's Office near Poperinghe; at this time the Canadians
were on Passchendaele Ridge. About November 5 the Brigade returned to
the line for a few days before the Division was taken out. On that day
I returned with the Staff-Captain and Capt. G. Bell (6th N.F.,
Assistant-Staff-Captain) to Huddersfield Dugouts. On the following
day I walked nearly as far as the Steenbeke at Martin's Mill, and the
ground around Langemarck was about as dreary and shattered as any that
I have ever seen. It was well described to me once as 'utter squalor.'
Next day I went to the camp of the 4th N.F. south of Langemarck and to
Marsouine camp, to arrange certain details of the relief. The same
night the Brigade was relieved, but I was left in charge at
Huddersfield Dugouts till the evening of November 8 when I returned to
the camp at Ondank. On November 12 the Brigade entrained at
Elverdinghe station and were taken through St. Omer to Watten station.
We marched from there in the dark to the little village of Serques. We
were now to have about a month's rest and training before returning
again to the Salient.



XXVII

DIVISIONAL REST NEAR ST. OMER


Serques was quite a pleasant little village to stay at, but the
arrangements for training were very scanty. I had to search round for
suitable spots for rifle-ranges, and to agree with the owners for
suitable compensation. Also I had to make some of the arrangements for
a ferry boat to convey the troops across the Canal De L'Aa to a good
training-ground between Watten and St. Momelin. On November 14 I paid
my first visit to St. Omer, which is a nice town with plenty of good
shops.

Lieut.-Col. G.R.B. Spain, C.M.G., of the 6th N.F. came to command the
Brigade during the absence of Brigadier-General Riddell on leave. He
was a man of remarkable erudition and a collector of prints and other
things. And I soon found that we had many things in common and many
interesting talks I had with him on a variety of subjects.

We discovered together several early flint implements and arrow-heads
about Serques, and he told me a lot about the early Stone Age, which
interested me greatly and set me looking for these interesting relics
wherever we happened to be quartered.[15] Shortly after this time
Lieut.-Col. Scott Jackson left the 7th N.F. to join the R.A.M.C. and
to take command of a base hospital. He was succeeded by Capt. H.
Liddell, M.C., who now became Lieut.-Col. in command of the battalion.

After staying at Serques for about two weeks the Brigade moved to the
area around Tournehem. This was not such a flat watery country; and we
had better quarters in the house of the curé of the place.

It was decided to hold Brigade Sports here, and I was sent off to
Boulogne to buy the prizes. I went there and back in a Divisional
Staff car. I had lunch at the Officers' Club, where the W.A.A.C.'s
were serving as waitresses; and very nice it was to see their fresh
English faces again. A visit to Boulogne when you are not going on
leave brings back rather melancholy feelings, and I was glad to leave
the place.

An incident happened at Nortleulinghem, which was rather unfortunate
for it spoilt an unbroken record. The 7th N.F., who were stationed at
this place, were ordered to provide a field-firing demonstration for
the Divisional Staff. The demonstration was to include the firing of a
number of smoke-bombs--rifle-grenades with a small can of phosphorus
at the end. Their successful discharge required considerable practice
and nerve.

As Lieut. H. Richardson, the Bombing Officer of the 7th N.F., was away
I was asked to come over and instruct the men how to fire these new
weapons off. There were only two mornings in which to instruct them
before the demonstration came off. Of course it was a very hurried
proceeding, and I was rather horrified to find that the men knew
practically nothing about rifle-grenades. (Most of the trained
rifle-bombers had become casualties in the battle at Houthulst.) I did
what I could to explain the working of the smoke rifle-bomb; but on
the first practice taking place one of the men succeeded in blowing
off the forefinger of another man, through firing too soon. Of course
that was not a fatal accident, but it put the man out of action for
the rest of the war--my only serious accident in bombing of any kind.
When the demonstration came off, there were to my great relief no
further regrettable incidents of that sort.

On December 9 we began to prepare to return to the Salient, and I went
with certain advanced details to Watten, where I spent the night in
one of the houses. I managed to get a very passable dinner at the best
local inn. We entrained next day at Watten station and were taken by
rail to Brandhoek; marching to a camp quite close to the station.

I had seen in some of our Intelligence papers that the 14th Division
was in a Corps immediately on our left, and I therefore knew that I
might have a chance of getting in touch with my brother George.
Accordingly I walked to Vlamertinghe next day and heard that his
battalion was stationed in a camp at St. Jean. On December 12 I was
sent forward to take over B.H.Q. in Ypres, at a convent at the N.E.
corner of the city. The higher floors of the convent were all in
ruins, but the ground floors were more or less intact, and in these we
had our rooms and offices. The mess room was under a pile of rubbish
outside. Having made the arrangements with the 150th Infantry Brigade,
whom we were relieving, I had still an hour to spare before B.H.Q.
would arrive. So I decided to walk over to St. Jean and inquire for my
brother's battalion. It took me about twenty minutes to get there, but
there was no difficulty in finding the battalion or their H.Q. So I
marched up to the H.Q. hut and asked to see Capt. Buckley. He came out
at once and was very surprised to see me, for he had no idea where I
was at this time. It was a hurried but exceedingly pleasant meeting. I
had only twenty minutes to spare, and he was just going forward to the
front line that night. So we had to 'swop yarns' very quickly. And he
walked back part of the way with me towards Ypres. I thought he looked
very worn out and depressed. He had had a very hard time in the
Salient, and in a few days he was back in hospital with influenza.

FOOTNOTES:

[15] At Coigneux I found a series of early implements in which the
British Museum took considerable interest.



XXVIII

THE PASSCHENDAELE RIDGE


The 50th Division were holding the line in front of Passchendaele
Village and a little to the south. On our right were the West Riding
Territorials, the 49th Division, commanded by Major-General Cameron
(once one of our brigadiers); on the left the 14th Division. Only one
brigade was in the line at a time--another remaining in support around
Ypres and the other back at rest about Brandhoek. Thus a brigade went
to close support for four days, to the front line for four days, and
then back to the rest area for four days. This seems to be an easy
method of holding the line; but, owing to the nature of the ground and
to the heavy shelling that went on most of the day and night in the
forward areas, it was impossible to keep a brigade very long in the
front line. The battle on the ridge had been over for some time, but
neither side was yet prepared to disperse its heavy concentration of
guns. But the heavy firing was gradually, very gradually, becoming
less severe.

Ypres itself had been badly knocked about during the great battle.
Most of the troops billeted in Ypres lived underground, but whilst I
was living there it was never severely shelled. Shrapnel was fired
occasionally at the balloons over the city, and also about the Menin
Gate and the roads leading towards the east end of the city. But there
were no heavy guns in Ypres itself, and there was at present no
particular reason for shelling it. We therefore had not an unpleasant
time ourselves in the city. I believe that the H.Q. at the convent
were shelled whilst we were in the front line, but that only happened
once.

On December 13 I went for a walk of inspection as far as Dan Cottages,
some old German pill-boxes, where the forward brigade had their H.Q.
For the first mile or so from Ypres the ground seemed to be recovering
from the heavy shelling it had received, and there was a good deal of
grass now growing about the old British front line trenches. But as
you got farther forward to the area of the heavy guns, the ground was
badly shattered and every shell-hole full of water. Between this point
and B.H.Q. the conditions were simply awful. A vast swamp of
yellow-brown mud divided into craters of large size--all full of
watery slime. And so it went on as far as the eye could see.

Here and there there were oases of dry ground, generally holding
several heavy guns and dumps of ammunition. Whilst at intervals the
swamp was intersected by a wooden road, used by the lorries to bring
up ammunition, and by two or three duck-board tracks which ran winding
through the awful mess of mud and water. These tracks were supported
on wooden piles driven into the mud, and were more like wooden bridges
than tracks. Sometimes they rested on firm ground, but mostly they
were held up in the air by the wooden piles. Again right through the
devastated area ran a good paved road from Ypres towards Zonnebeke.
Here and there in some of the drier spots you could see queer white
mounds--the concrete pill-boxes, some of which were still sound
enough, but others broken in and waterlogged. The pill-boxes and the
road and the wooden tracks were of course well known to the German
artillery, who lavished a great deal of ammunition every day on each
of these targets. But owing to the methodical way in which the Germans
fired on the tracks, it was always possible to mend them wherever they
were smashed. Between 2 A.M. and 8 A.M. practically no shells came
over on to the tracks, and during this time each day gangs of men went
out and mended the damage done to them.

When the frost came and solidified the mud, travelling became safer if
not so easy; for it was then possible to leave the tracks and go
across country by walking round the edges of the shell craters. All
along the road there was ceaseless activity day and night. Lines and
lines of lorries going backwards or forwards, limbers, wagons, men.
When the enemy shelled the road, generally some damage was done, and
it was not uncommon to see pools of blood in the road and the litter
of broken vehicles. At intervals along the road there were vast dumps
of ammunition and stores, and on the side tracks huge piles of every
sort of salvage.

Forward again of B.H.Q. the country was perhaps not so badly smashed,
except in the spots most exposed to shell fire. But the shell-holes
were often full of German dead--I counted nearly 100 within a quarter
of a mile of Dan Cottages. And on the forward wooden tracks used by
our transport, the ground reeked like a slaughter-house. Fragments of
everything just swept off the tracks. The limbs and bodies of the
pack-mules lying sometimes in heaps sometimes at intervals all along
the route. Of course the nearer you approached to Passchendaele Ridge
the drier and firmer was the ground. But that awful swamp behind has
probably no parallel in the history of war. How the Engineers overcame
it is really a marvel. And great credit indeed must be given to this
very efficient branch of the Army, and to the men who laboured there
under the terrible conditions around them. I have mentioned the German
dead; there was no doubt little time to give to them. But I hardly saw
one body of a British soldier who had been left without burial.

On December 15 I went with General Riddell to visit the 5th N.F.
Battalion H.Q. at Tyne Cottages, some pill-boxes about half-way
between forward B.H.Q. and Passchendaele. It was a long walk, and we
went up the Zonnebeke Road till we were in the neighbourhood of that
village, then along the mule track to Tyne Cottages. Whilst we were
talking with Major A. Irwin at the pill-box a few light shells came
over and sprinkled us with earth. It was best to be either inside or
well away from a pill-box: but as the entrance to this pill-box was
like a rabbit-hole and close to the ground General Riddell preferred
to stand outside. After that we paid a visit to Dan Cottages, and
returned back along the wooden tracks to Ypres.

   [Illustration: Plan of B.H.Q. (Judah House), Dan Cottages.]

Next day B.H.Q. went forward to Dan Cottages and stayed there for four
days. The Brigade observers were employed in two ways, partly as
observers and partly as a gas guard for the B.H.Q. pill-box. This
pill-box had already stood one or two strong blows from shells, but it
still appeared to be pretty sound. The door of course faced the enemy,
but was protected by a stout concrete wall and a bank of earth outside
that.

It will be seen from the above plan that the quarters were very
confined--the bunks being roughly six feet long and the room rather
over six feet high.

One observer stood in the narrow passage outside the door as sentry
and gas guard. He was of course relieved every four hours, and at
night there were generally two on duty. The other observers who were
not on this duty held a post about Hillside Farm about a mile forward
of Dan Cottages. This was not altogether a healthy spot, but a good
view was obtained towards Moorslede.

In this area observers were asked to pay special attention to the
enemy's shelling, noticing the direction from which the sound of the
firing came and the areas shelled and approximately the number of
rounds. I had of course to write out the Brigade Intelligence Report
each morning. The last night we were in these quarters a number of
gas-shells were fired round the batteries and B.H.Q. They made the
atmosphere very unpleasant; and though they were not thick enough to
necessitate wearing the respirator, I suffered, especially the
following night, from their effects.

On December 20 we were relieved and moved back to the rest area at
Brandhoek, where we were glad to have four days' rest. On Christmas
Eve we moved to our old quarters at Ypres, and the following night we
had an excellent Christmas dinner thanks to the good services of
Lieut. Behrens, our French interpreter, an old machine-gunner of
Verdun. On December 28 we again went to the front area and held the
line for four days. It was always the custom for one of the officers
of the Brigade to keep awake on duty during part of the night. We
took it in turns and did two-hour shifts. On the morning of December
31 it happened to be my turn to be awake on duty just about dawn. And
this saved me from a very rude awakening. That morning the enemy had
decided on a bombardment of our Divisional front and he commenced
proceedings by shelling Dan Cottages with a battery of 4-inch naval
guns, a very accurate weapon. We got a shell on the roof of the
pill-box which gave a nasty concussion and put all the lights out.
That woke the rest of the Staff up except the Artillery Officer. I had
hardly got the lights on again when we got another shell on the roof.
Again the lights went out, and this time a piece of concrete fell out
of the roof and crashed on to the floor, knocking over some of our
belongings, but fortunately missing the officers inside.

A few small fragments of concrete also dropped on the face of the
Artillery Liaison Officer who had slept peacefully through the first
concussion. He woke up then with a comical look of surprise, as if some
one were playing a joke on him. Although another shell struck the bank
at the doorway we had no more on the roof, and no casualties--only we
found that all our telephone wires had been cut. I wonder whether our
roof would have stood another direct hit! Later on in the day I filled
the holes in the roof outside with blocks of ice and frozen earth, in
fact anything I could find to act as a 'burster' in case of further
shelling. At 12 o'clock midnight, being the beginning of New Year's
Day, our artillery fired their usual reminder at the enemy. It has been
a point of honour with us to fire off all our guns as soon as possible
after the New Year came in. On the evening of January 1 we were
relieved and moved back to Brandhoek. On January 3 the Division was
taken farther back for a rest, and the Brigade marched to the district
about Watou on the French border.

Having served for two years abroad I applied for a month's leave--it
was a privilege granted to Staff Officers who needed a rest. My leave
warrant reached me on January 5, and next day I left Watou and
entrained at Poperinghe for Boulogne.



XXIX

GOOD-BYE TO THE 50TH DIVISION


When I returned to Ypres on February 8, 1918, I found that some very
drastic changes had taken place in the grouping of battalions. Instead
of four battalions to a brigade, there were now to be three; and every
division was to be provided with a Pioneer battalion. This meant that
the 50th Division, who already possessed a battalion of pioneers, had
to part with a battalion from each brigade. And these battalions would
have to be attached as pioneer battalions to other divisions who
possessed no pioneer battalion. As the junior battalion in the
Northumberlands, the 7th N.F. were selected to go from the 149th
Infantry Brigade; and their companions in misfortune were the 9th
D.L.I. and the 5th Border Regiment. Major-General Sir P.S. Wilkinson,
K.C.M.G., our Divisional Commander, was good enough to say that he was
parting with three of his best battalions.

Although I had been attached to the Staff of the 149th Infantry
Brigade since May 1916 I was included in the General Order that all
detached officers should join their respective battalions before they
left the Division. At the time this looked very hard. I had been a
specialist for over two years and had got completely out of touch with
company work. But I have no doubt now that in the events which
happened I was very lucky to leave the 50th Division at this juncture.
In six weeks' time I was, through the good offices of the Battalion
H.Q., given an Intelligence job with our new Division; and the
experience I had gained with the 50th Division was not wasted as I had
feared it might be. Also there went with me from the 149th Infantry
Brigade four highly-trained observers who formed the nucleus and
backbone of the 42nd Divisional observers. On returning to the 7th
N.F. I lost my acting-captaincy and became second in command to C
Company. Also I had to part with many good friends in the old Brigade:
some of them I was destined never to meet again. Lieut. E.W. Styles
who was attached to the 149th Trench-Mortar Battery was unhappily
killed during the German offensive; a great friend whom I shall always
miss. My bombing orderly, L.-C. Fairclough, was also killed during the
same operations.

When I joined the 7th N.F. they were stationed at St. Jean--in Alnwick
Camp. And here the battalion said good-bye to the Brigade.

It was a singular turn of fate that this should occur here. The 7th
N.F. had fought their first battle with the Brigade on this spot in
April 1915, and the name of the camp was of course taken from the town
where their H.Q. were stationed at home. When he came to say farewell
to the battalion, General Riddell referred to this curious
coincidence and also bade us remember the regimental motto 'Quo Fata
Vocant' (' Whither the Fates call'). So we left the Ypres Salient for
the last time. And although I went into Belgium again with the Army of
Occupation, I have never set foot in Flanders again. Of all countries
on earth it is surely the most dismal and unhappy. At least so it
appeared to me.



XXX

DIGGING TRENCHES ABOUT LOOS


Before we left the 50th Division we learnt that we were to join the
42nd (East Lancashire) Territorial Division, commanded at this time by
Major-General A. Solly-Flood, C.M.G., D.S.O. The latter Division had
seen service in Egypt and Gallipoli before coming to France, and they
were now resting in the Bethune area, having just left the trenches
between Cambrin and Loos. This was in the I Corps area of the First
Army. As pioneers to the 42nd Division the 7th N.F. became Divisional
troops, directly under the command of the Divisional Staff and no
longer in a brigade. The three brigades of our new division were the
125th (Lancs. Fusiliers), 126th (East Lancashire), and 127th
(Manchester)--all Territorial brigades. The Staff of the 42nd Division
treated their new pioneer battalion with kindness and consideration;
and I believe we were called on occasion 'Solly-Flood's Pets.' On the
other hand there was friction at times between the men of the 42nd
Division and the men of the 7th N.F.

The whole Division had hitherto been drawn from the East Lancashire
area--Manchester, Oldham, Bury, &c., and they looked upon us rather
as intruders. The Northumberlands were of course not the people to let
slip so admirable an opportunity of accepting a feud: and in October
1918 they committed the unforgivable sin of winning the Divisional
Association Football Cup, which completed their unpopularity.

And for a battalion which had seen the hard service of the 7th N.F.,
the stock jests generally levelled at a pioneer battalion were a
little out of place. The 42nd Division proved themselves a hard
fighting division in 1918, and lived up to their motto 'Go one
better.'

The 7th N.F. left the Ypres area about February 11, 1918, and after
spending a few days at Brandhock they were conveyed in motor-buses to
the small village of Fouquereuil, west of Bethune.

Here the battalion was instructed to help the pioneers of the 6th
Division, who were holding the front line trenches between Cambrin and
Loos. Accordingly three companies of the 7th N.F. were detached from
the battalion and sent to the forward area. I went with C Company
(Capt. Herriott) to Philosophe, a small colliery village still partly
inhabited by civilians, though fairly close to the front line.

Our daily work was making reserve defences, trenches, deep dugouts,
and machine-gun emplacements between Vermelles and Loos. During our
stay of about a week at Philosophe the village was quiet. But one
night the enemy's guns sent a perfect stream of shells just over the
tops of the cottages for about twenty minutes. About a week after we
left the village it was completely knocked to bits by the enemy's
10-inch howitzer shells.

Our next visit was to some reserve trenches at Cambrin, where we
stayed for about a week, improving the defences. It was a quiet, easy
time, though not far behind the front line. After this the four
companies of the 7th N.F. were reduced to three, and I was transferred
to A Company at Sailly-Labourse. Here we were some distance behind the
front line, but working-parties were taken up to the forward area, and
I used to go and inspect them. Shortly after our arrival at Sailly the
enemy began to shell the back areas, causing great annoyance and some
casualties to the civilian population, generally to children. They had
been allowed to live here many months in peace, although not five
miles away from the enemy's trenches. Even Sailly-Labourse received
almost daily salvoes from long-range guns.

I had a very unpleasant experience myself in my billet, a brick
cottage, one night about March 12. I was in bed on the first
floor--the only person in the cottage except monsieur and madame who
slept in the cellar. About midnight the enemy's 4-inch naval guns
started shelling the place. Three shells in succession passed just
over the roof of my cottage, one smashed the next house to pieces; the
next fell into our little back garden, eight yards from the cottage;
and the third struck the road on the other side. After that I got up
and joined monsieur and madame for ten minutes in the cellar, until
the shelling had ceased. Then back to bed. But next day I took the
precaution of changing my billet--going to the cellar of the broken
house next door.

It was a piteous sight to see the poor French folk as they fled from
their homes, with their most cherished belongings packed on to small
carts.

About this time the 42nd Division decided to form a party of
observers, known as 'Divisional Observers,' who were intended to keep
a watch on the enemy during a battle and to report all sudden
movements to the Division. They were really intended to collect
information for D.H.Q. at times when the ordinary avenues of
information had broken down. At first the party consisted of one
officer and nine trained observers: but later on it was increased by
the inclusion of signallers and one or two additional men.

On March 15, 1918, I was instructed to return to Lapugnoy to Battalion
H.Q. in order to organise and command this new party of men. I
obtained this job through the kind recommendation of the Colonel and
Adjutant of the 7th N.F. Although this side of Intelligence was not
perhaps the one that I had most experience of, yet I hailed my return
to an Intelligence job with delight.

When I reached Lapugnoy no observers had yet arrived, but next day I
went to interview Capt. E.C.B. Kirsopp, M.C., the G.S.O. III, who was
the officer on the Staff directly responsible for the equipment and
movements of the observers. Capt. Kirsopp was, I believe, the father
of the observers, i.e. responsible for their formation, and he showed
at all times an interest and a kindness which were fully appreciated.
His faith in the possibilities of the party never wavered, although
for some time it was difficult to know how to make their information
quick and effective. However, he never lost hope in us, and he never
ceased to try to improve the means of communication between the
observers and D.H.Q. Amongst other things he got for the observers two
very powerful telescopes, with a magnification of forty-five times.
And although these glasses could not, owing to their size and the
weight of their fittings, be used during the moving warfare, at a
later stage they proved simply invaluable for making target sketches
of the enemy's defences. Another officer who did us good service was
Lieut. C.R. Stride, the Q.M. of the 7th N.F. Without his aid the heavy
telescopes would never have gone into action, and the observers would
often have been without rations. He always took an interest in the
little party, and provided us with many welcome comforts from his
store.[16]

On March 19 the following observers reported to me. From the 7th N.F.
L.-C. J. Cowen and Ptes. J. King, W. Fail, and R. Ewart--all of whom
were old friends and observers of the 149th Infantry Brigade; from the
125th Infantry Brigade L.-C. J. Flynn; from the 126th Infantry Brigade
Ptes. F. Dunkerley and F. Turner; from the 127th Infantry Brigade
Corp. Walker and Pte. A. Morris. Owing to casualties and to the
observers being recalled to their battalions the personnel of the
party was always changing. But of the above, the four men of the 7th
N.F. and Pte. F. Turner practically remained with the observers from
first to last.

For about a week I stayed at Lapugnoy, giving lectures to the
observers and carrying out some field training with the compass and
protractor. But our peaceful existence in the back area was not
destined to last long. On Friday, March 22, I was instructed to take
the observers to the 42nd Division Signal School at Bethune, in order
that the men might go through a course of signalling. We reached the
Signal School at 4 P.M. on Friday, and at 10 P.M. the same night, we
received orders that all officers and men at the school were to be
ready to move at 6 A.M. next morning. The long expected blow had
fallen at last. The enemy had already launched the first wave of his
great offensive.

FOOTNOTES:

[16] Lieut.-Col. H. Liddell, D.S.O., M.C., was most generous in
providing men to replace casualties and in sending us four signallers
from the 7th N.F. H.Q.



XXXI

THE GERMAN OFFENSIVE 1918--SECOND BATTLE OF ARRAS


March 23, 1918 was a fine day: and that was lucky for us, for we had a
long day in the open before us. We got a hurried breakfast about six
o'clock, and were soon marching by road to the place of assembly on
the road from Bethune to Hesdigneul. Here we had a wait of several
hours on the roadside, whilst an unending stream of motor-buses
hurried past all going southwards. It was rumoured that our
destination was Basseux, five miles S.W. of Arras; and I hoped it was
true, for I knew the district better than any other in France. At last
the buses allotted to the Divisional troops drew up and we got aboard
and set off on our journey to the south. We went through Labuissière
to St. Pol, and thence through Frévent to Doullens, and then
north-east along the road towards Arras. Except for a few large and
recent shell-holes by the roadside we saw little unusual until we
began to get near Arras. We stopped for a few minutes near the C.C.S.
at Laherlière, and I got off and asked one of the hospital orderlies
how things were going on. We were told that our fellows had had a bad
day on the 22nd, but that to-day far fewer casualties had passed
through the station. Soon after that we met a number of French
civilians with carts streaming back from Arras, guarded by French
soldiers. We knew then that things were not going too well in front.

When we reached Basseux about 6 P.M. the buses were turned round and
we went on in an easterly direction till we reached Ayette. Here we
got down and marched in the darkness to the ruined village of
Adinfer. Continual flashes in the direction of Monchy-le-Preux and an
intermittent roar from our long-range guns near at hand showed that
fighting was still going on. But no shells arrived to add to our
discomfort. The observers had to bivouac in Adinfer Wood, a cheerless
proceeding after our long journey down, for we had no blankets and no
chance of getting a hot meal. Some artillerymen gave me a drink of
water, which I remember with gratitude, for I had had no chance of a
drink since 6 A.M., and the roads had been choked with dust. There
was a keen frost that night, and I could not sleep for long. When
daylight came I managed to light a small fire and to heat up a tin of
'Machonchie'; and this put a little more life into me. After that I
went to Adinfer where the Divisional Staff were quartered in wooden
huts. Here I got a cup of coffee and had a chat with the Divisional
Intelligence Officer, Lieut. G.F. Doble, M.C. I found that D.H.Q.
were moving back to Monchy-au-Bois. My instructions were to
reconnoitre the roads from Ayette towards Bucquoy, Ablainzevelle,
and Courcelles-le-Comte. So after getting quarters for my party at a
ruined cottage in the wood, I set out with most of my men and spent
the whole afternoon tramping the roads as far as Ablainzevelle and
back again towards Moyenneville. Unfortunately as events proved this
was time and labour lost. For when I reported to Capt. Kirsopp at
Monchy-au-Bois I found that the 42nd Division had received orders
from the IV Corps to hold the line farther south, towards Behagnies
and Sapignies. D.H.Q. were to move next day to a camp between Logeast
Wood and Bucquoy. I was told to send a party of observers to the east
end of Logeast Wood and to pay a visit myself to the H.Q. near
Bucquoy. The night was again spent in Adinfer Wood; but it was more
comfortable for we had collected some rations and blankets and were
less exposed to the weather.

Next morning (March 25) I moved across country with L.-C. Flynn to the
camp between Logeast Wood and Bucquoy. The country-side seemed
deserted and no sound of firing could be heard. L.-C. Cowen took two
observers to the east end of Logeast Wood and spent the day there, but
nothing of importance could be seen. They were, however, shelled by
the enemy for a time in the afternoon. Later on in the day there were
more signs of the enemy's activity. A large dump exploded at
Courcelles, but it may have been done by our own R.E.'s. And it was
reported that the Germans were advancing towards Achiet-le-Grand. I
found out that evening that D.H.Q. had moved back to the village of
Fonquevillers; so I decided to move my men more in that direction; and
after nightfall the observers marched along the road through
Monchy-au-Bois to Bienvillers.

On this road we saw guns and transport in large numbers, mostly going
south. It was fairly evident to my mind that the enemy had made
another advance during the day, but definite news was hard to get.
Hundreds of shells from the German 4-inch naval guns fell about the
roads all night, but I heard not one of them explode. They must have
been a rotten lot of ammunition. On arriving at Bienvillers the
observers got a billet in the cellars of a shattered house at the
north end of the village. A little later I went to Fonquevillers to
get news from D.H.Q.--and instructions for next day. The Divisional
Staff were quartered in some Nissen huts. When I arrived they had no
particular news, but I was asked to send a post of observers again, if
possible, to the east end of Logeast Wood, which was thought to be
still in our hands. After this I returned to Bienvillers about
midnight and arranged for an early start next day.

In the morning (March 26) we were cooking tea and bacon about 3.45
A.M. when a very tired and draggled officer came in. He said he had
just ridden over from Bapaume on a motor-cycle and he told us a sorry
tale. He evidently thought that the Germans had broken right through
on the Fifth Army front (i.e. on our right), and that the British
forces were about to be surrounded. Bapaume was on fire, and the
British Army defeated and broken in the south. This was the first
definite news I had of the misfortunes in the Somme area. It was
disquieting enough and I determined to approach Logeast Wood with
caution and to keep a sharp look-out for unusual movement as we went
forward. Accompanied by Ptes. Fail and Ewart I went across country
towards Bucquoy as the light was beginning to break. We noticed that
the large trees on the road to Hannescamps had been prepared by the
R.E.'s for felling with gun cotton--the charges being ready and tied
to the trunks so as to throw them across the road. The roads were
already full, mostly horse transport pouring rapidly through
Bienvillers towards Souastre. Transport from the south-east coming in
our direction through Hannescamps appeared to be in a panic and
expecting pursuit by the German cavalry. Once we got away from the
road and reached Le Quesnoy Farm there was little movement to be seen.
A few small parties of our men moving towards us across the open and
here and there a limber. Nothing in a hurry, nothing at all to
indicate a retreat on our own front, though it was actually taking
place at the time. There was no sound of firing, and no shells. A
battery of field guns still lay in a hollow just west of Bucquoy, and
this sight rather reassured me; so I decided to push on a bit. Leaving
my two observers on the ridge west of Dierville Farm I approached the
ruined buildings of the farm which lie a little west of the road
between Bucquoy and Ayette. While I was here I saw some of our
infantry marching along this road out of Bucquoy and forming a line
along it. One of them asked me where they could get in touch with our
troops on the left. Though I had been told to expect them east of
Logeast Wood they had in fact fallen back during the night and were
even now about to leave Ablainzevelle. The troops I saw on the road
were in fact taking up a line of resistance, for they were the British
front line. After this I decided that Dierville Farm could be held as
an O.P. for the time being; and so sending my two observers on, I
returned to Bienvillers to get a little much needed rest. As I went
back there was still no shelling and no sound of rifle fire. Yet it
afterwards transpired that the enemy had already pushed his outposts
forward into Ablainzevelle and west of Logeast Wood. Surely it was on
this part of the front one of the most silent advances made in the
war. When they returned my observers reported all quiet at Dierville
Farm, but the two observers that relieved them at 10 A.M. found the
enemy guns more active. After midday a number of shells were sent into
the village of Bucquoy and not far from the farm.

When I got back the roads through Bienvillers became more crowded than
ever with horse transport, and many guns were being moved on the road
from Monchy-au-Bois. The sides of the road, too, became crowded with
infantry, who were apparently awaiting orders to move forward. In
spite of the congestion on the roads the enemy made only one attempt
that day to harass them. A 10-inch shell from a long-range gun fell in
an open field about 100 yards short of Bienvillers Church, but it did
no damage except to the field. The stream of traffic through the
village continued without ceasing all that day. At 4 P.M. I received
orders from the Division to join the 7th N.F. near Essarts and to come
under the command of the O.C. 7th N.F. It was found impossible to make
any direct use of the observers at the time owing to the
disorganisation and uncertainty that prevailed; so they were added
temporarily as a reinforcement to the battalion. It was indeed a
crisis in the fate of the right wing of the Third Army, though at the
time we did not realise it. At 6 p.m. the observers left Bienvillers
and went forward along the road to Hannescamps, meeting many wounded
on the road and a few other parties of troops returning. We found the
battalion in a hollow west of Essarts. They were just preparing to
move. On reporting to Major McLeod, who was in temporary command of
the battalion, I was told to attach the observers to the H.Q. Company.

The battalion had already had a brush with the enemy. On the preceding
day, March 25, about midday they had advanced in artillery formation
from Logeast Wood towards Achiet-le-Grand.

Near that village they had come under direct fire from the enemy's
field artillery and they had been shelled also with 5.9-inch
howitzers. One company suffered rather severe casualties, but the
battalion succeeded in passing through the village and filling a gap
in the line. Later on in the day they had been relieved by the
neighbouring Brigade and received orders to fall back first to Logeast
Wood and later on to Ablainzevelle. The latter place they were ordered
to leave at 8 A.M. that morning. Eventually they reached the place
where I found them. The men were all in good spirits and evidently
pleased with their part in the rearguard action. Very soon after I
joined them the battalion was moved again, this time about a quarter
of a mile to the south across the Bucquoy-Bienvillers Road. Here we
waited till further orders should arrive, and meantime some hot soup
and rum were served out. Then we all lay down in the open, with
blankets it is true, but the air was so frosty that little sleep was
possible. About midnight we got orders to go to some trenches just
east of the village of Essarts. We marched forward to this place,
about a mile, without any interference from the enemy. H.Q. were
established in a small tin hut in the village. Although there were
still many trees about the place, all trace of the buildings had
disappeared except one or two cellars and some piles of rubbish. We
found our field batteries stationed quite close to us, to the west and
north of Essarts, and one in a small hollow to the east. These
batteries kept up a pretty constant fire during the night; but so far
the enemy did not reply. All our heavy guns seem to have been taken
away, except possibly one battery of 60-pounder guns near Hannescamps.

The two following days, March 27 and 28, were memorable for a
continuous series of attacks by the enemy along the whole of our
front.

On the morning of the 27th I went to the east side of the Essarts Wood
to note what was going on, and I sent a party of observers farther
north to the high ground at Le Quesnoy Farm. About 10.30 A.M. the
enemy's artillery opened a scattered fire on the neighbourhood of
Essarts, apparently searching the hollows for our battery positions.
But it was not until 11 A.M. that the enemy started to shell our
forward positions. From 11 A.M. to 11.25 A.M. a heavy barrage of
flame-shells was put down about Dierville Farm and along the road
leading from Bucquoy to Ayette. I am told that they did not do much
damage, but they were certainly a terrible sight. The flames that
burst from these shells when they reached the ground rose up thirty or
forty feet in the air, flared on for a few moments, and then
disappeared into a dirty black smoke. For twenty-five minutes they
came over fast, and they did not finally cease till 11.45 A.M. At the
same time Biez Wood on our right was heavily shelled and the area to
the south of Bucquoy. Our field batteries at Essarts made a gallant
reply, pouring in an unceasing rain of shrapnel wherever the enemy was
suspected to be concentrating. This in turn drew a very unpleasant
fire on to Essarts, which went on without break till 2 P.M. After that
the enemy's counter-battery guns must have run out of ammunition, for
they gave little more trouble for the rest of the day. Our field guns
however continued to fire all that day and through the greater part of
the night; their fire did not slacken whether shells were bursting
around them or not. And great credit must be given to these gunners
for their share in dispersing five enemy attacks. The battery on the
east side of the wood, belonging to the 41st Division, came in for
some very severe shelling, but the gunners never ceased to fire or to
carry ammunition forward to the guns in full view of the enemy. As
things had become rather hot around our tin hut, H.Q. were moved to a
cellar, used as a dressing-station, where the doctor, Capt. C.F.
Lidderdale, made room for us.

During the evening the battalion got orders to be prepared to form a
defensive flank between Le Quesnoy Farm and Adinfer Wood. The enemy's
attacks had made progress on our left towards Ayette, and it was
feared that he might break through in that direction. Next morning,
however, March 28, still found us at Essarts. The battalion was
ordered to leave the trenches and to fall back behind the line of
batteries on the west of the wood. In order to get a view of what was
going on in front, I was sent by the Adjutant with two observers[17]
to a point east of the wood, and we dug ourselves in in some
partly-formed trenches there. In these trenches we stayed till well
on into the afternoon, sending in reports every half-hour of what we
could see to the H.Q. of the Infantry Brigade in Essarts. Evidently
the enemy had renewed his attacks, for there was heavy shelling all
along the front, and a number of shells again came in amongst the
batteries about Essarts. During the afternoon the 7th N.F. moved
forward to some trenches in support, on the ridge east of Essarts. And
there the observers joined them after dark. The firing had been hot
all day, but it now died down. And it really looked as if the enemy's
attacks had become exhausted for the time being.

This forward move by the battalion was, I found, preliminary to taking
over the front line trenches to the north and east of Bucquoy. And
shortly before midnight we moved out through the darkness and took
over these trenches.[18] The front line lay on the high ground beyond
the village. The H.Q. which we took over were in a mined dugout to the
west of the village. This dugout had been made by the Germans before
the end of 1916, and it was small but very deep. It soon became
unconscionably stuffy, as there was only one entrance. But it was
better than being in the open.

Next day the enemy kept fairly quiet, but the village was shelled
occasionally with heavy howitzers. I went out with two observers to
the high ground west of Dierville Farm. But we saw no movement by the
enemy's troops. Later on the enemy's guns became more active on the
roads, and the road leading back to Essarts received salvoes all day.
Orders came for our relief which was to start after dark. It was not
until 10 P.M. that the companies in the front line were relieved and
the H.Q. Company was free to move off. The journey to Fonquevillers,
where we were going, was not without interference from the enemy.
Hitherto I had had great luck in escaping being shelled on the roads
at night, but to-night my luck was out. As we moved back along the
road to Essarts--the doctor and I at the end of the column--a number
of gas-shells were dropped on the windward side of the road. They were
not thick enough to stop us, but they smelt very bad. As we approached
the cross-roads east of Essarts a 5.9-inch shell fell close by the
roadside. We had a shower of mud thrown over us by this shell, and
three more came in quick succession, but not quite so unpleasantly
close.

An incident also of a disagreeable kind occurred near the end of our
journey. Between Gommecourt and Fonquevillers we had to halt, until
the trenches allotted to us had been located. At this point the road
was packed with troops returning from the line; and some battalions
brought their cookers here, so that the road was crammed almost tight
with men and transport. For a long time nothing happened, but
eventually a German field battery fired several rapid salvoes of
shells enfilading the road. Fortunately the greater number fell
slightly wide of the road, but a few men in one of the Manchester
battalions were hit. It was however a lucky escape. After this the
road cleared quickly and we moved on into Fonquevillers. This village
had been badly knocked about in the early days of the war, and few
houses were in anything but ruins.

But there were still many cellars intact, and also a number of tin
huts built for the French refugees in 1917. Officers of Battalion H.Q.
were billeted in a cellar, and this was improved by mattresses,
tables, and chairs brought in from the huts outside. Here in spite of
intermittent shelling we got a much needed rest. But Fonquevillers was
no place for a permanent rest cure. The village was shelled on and off
all day, and several of our men were hit. I assisted the Adjutant,
Capt. S.P. Brook-Booth, M.C., to collect a supply of early vegetables
from the little gardens; and the officers in our reserve camp at
Souastre thoughtfully sent up a couple of cooked chickens and a few
other luxuries, so that evening we had something in the nature of a
feast. Next morning, March 31, Lieut. Johnston, temporarily in command
of A Company got a shell splinter through his hand and had to be sent
back. I was then put in command of A Company and left Battalion H.Q.,
so that for some days the observers were not under my charge. About
this time L.-C. Flynn, one of the observers, was seriously wounded by
a shell, and we learnt later on that he died of his wounds. It was an
unlucky affair, for he was one of the best observers. But I had no
further casualties for a long time. I found A Company quartered in a
line of old trenches between Gommecourt Wood and Fonquevillers. I
believe they were part of the old British front line before the Somme
battle started. Accommodation was very limited, and I found the other
officers of A Company,[19] four in number, with their batmen and cook
all crowded together in a small shelter. It was as may be imagined
uncomfortably hot at times, especially during the night, part of which
I spent in the trench outside. We only got a few shells from the enemy
here, his attention was directed more to the village behind us and
Gommecourt Wood in front.

On April 1 we got orders to proceed after dark to the front line
trenches at Bucquoy--A Company was to hold those on the left, with B
Company to their right. We were also given a route, but in the
darkness it was difficult to find and it led to a curious incident on
our journey forward. We assembled the company on the road outside
Gommecourt and made towards the village as fast as the crowded state
of the road would allow. Happily we were not shelled here, but there
were signs on the road that others had not been so fortunate. When we
reached Gommecourt, a mere ruin now of broken trees and buildings, we
were clear of the press of transport and troops. We turned south-east
hoping to strike a tramway running towards Biez Wood. Nothing,
however, could we see of the tramway, and we could only push on,
hoping to find it. After going on awhile we certainly seemed to be
reaching a rather queer place, for we saw our men setting out wire,
and a rather scared little man appeared out of the darkness and told
us that 'Jerry was over there,' pointing down the road. We did not
stop for this, but when a German Verey light shot up almost under our
noses, we decided that we had indeed come too far and that it was time
to turn back. This we did without waste of time and retraced our steps
to Gommecourt. I was expecting any minute to hear a machine-gun open
on us down the road. But if 'Jerry' was there in any force he had
decided to keep quiet, and we got safely back to Gommecourt. After
this experience we took a way that we knew, although it was not the
one laid down for us. And after a long march in the dark we struck the
Essarts-Bucquoy Road, and found our guides awaiting us on the road
near Bucquoy. Whilst this relief was going on our field batteries kept
up a hot fire on the enemy's front, but he made no reply.

The guides took us by a winding route through the north end of Bucquoy
to the trenches, which consisted of an old German drain, very straight
and about six feet deep. It ran parallel to the east side of the
village and about 200 yards from its outskirts. The Company H.Q. lay a
little way behind the front line and consisted of a short narrow slit
in the ground, roofed over with tin--one of the smallest shelters I
have ever been in. It was possible to sit down, but not to lie down,
and the floor was inches deep in cold mud. Here I found two very
disconsolate officers awaiting relief. They seemed to be nearly
perished with the cold and wet, and quite worn out by their cheerless
sojourn in the trenches. The trench lay on the slope of a slight hill,
the crest being about 200 yards away. The enemy were not close, their
position was out of sight and unknown. But to the left Logeast Wood
was clearly visible, and the enemy were known to be there. Our trench
ended abruptly on the left, and the nearest British troops on this
flank were some way off and more to the east, so that there was a
considerable gap in the line here. On the right of course we were in
touch with B Company, who were commanded by Lieut. Affleck, M.C., a
veteran of the Houthulst Forest battle, and one of our most
redoubtable warriors in the 7th N.F. I knew that I need not worry
about my right flank! No smoke from fires could be allowed in the
trenches, and cooking had to be done over small fires of fine wood
splinters. When morning came it was possible to have a better look
round. All the reserve ammunition, about 5000 rounds, had been pulled
out of the boxes, and the bandoliers were mostly buried in the mud. It
was a great business clearing the trench of mud and salvaging and
cleaning the ammunition. The enemy did not know where we were. All
morning three of his aeroplanes, flying low, hovered about our little
trench, occasionally firing bursts at us with their machine-guns. We
only replied with an occasional shot, and of course they could not
tell where that came from. At any rate the German guns let the trench
alone and poured a stream of heavy shells all day and night into the
village behind us and into the hedges at the east end. The fact
appeared quite clearly later on that the enemy could not locate our
front line. A messenger dog, belonging to the enemy, was captured at
this time near Bucquoy, bearing a message in German as follows: 'The
affair of Bucquoy is off for the present, as we don't know where Tommy
is.' It was well indeed for our two companies that the drain trench
was not suspected by the enemy. There were no traverses in it from one
end to the other, and a very few well-aimed shells would have blown us
to pieces.

That night (April 2) the British forces made a counter-attack at
Ayette and drove the enemy as far back as the old hangars at
Moyenneville. Seen from the trenches at Bucquoy it was a fine sight.
The enemy put up all kinds of coloured lights, including silhouette
lights and 'flaming onions' both orange and mauve.

Meanwhile we of the 7th N.F. undertook a small venture against certain
parties of the enemy that had been seen and sniped at from B Company's
trench. These parties were busy digging trenches about 400 yards away
to our front. Soon after dark 2nd-Lieuts. J. Dodds and J.H. Edmunds
took out a raiding party of over twenty men in order to secure a
prisoner if possible. As it turned out this was done quickly enough
and without firing a shot.

For on the party creeping forward to the wire belt at the top of the
hill, a German N.C.O. walked towards them, was surprised by 2nd-Lieut.
Dodds, and surrendered without a struggle. He was already slightly
wounded, and had come forward perhaps to have a look at the wire. He
was brought back at once to the trench, and it fell to me to examine
the man and to remove all papers from him except his pay-book and
identity disc. I went out and examined him in a mixture of such broken
French and German as I could summon at so short a notice. I also went
through his papers with the aid of lighted matches. After this he was
sent down under escort to Battalion H.Q., and thence to D.H.Q.

It proved to be a useful capture, for it showed that a fresh German
division had arrived opposite our front. Later on 2nd-Lieut. Dodds was
awarded the Military Cross for the capture. Early next morning (April
3) the Division sent orders that I should return with the Divisional
observers to the rear. So I left the trench in charge of 2nd-Lieut. N.
Holt and went back with my servant through Bucquoy, taking care to
avoid certain large shells which were falling every now and then about
the village. Calling at Battalion H.Q. I found that the observers were
now in some trenches about half a mile farther back in the direction
of Essarts. I soon found them, however, and whilst waiting for them
to get ready I was hospitably supplied with some whisky and soda by
the officers of one of the Lancashire Regiments.

At last we set off in small parties towards Gommecourt, our
destination being Souastre, a long march for tired men. Whilst passing
Biez Wood we came in for some rather unpleasant attention from the
enemy's artillery, whose observers could see movement at this spot all
too well. However we got away at last without mishap and collected
again short of Gommecourt, where we halted for a meal of bully and
biscuit. Eventually after passing through Gommecourt and Fonquevillers
we struggled on to Souastre, very footsore and completely worn out.

From March 23 onwards it had been one long strain, heavy marching most
days and, with few exceptions, sleepless nights. For myself I was a
very tramp, boots worn to pieces, clothes hanging with mud, and thick
with mud up to the eyes. Undoubtedly it was the most trying experience
physically that I have ever been through. At Souastre I called at rear
Battalion H.Q., where Capt. Herriott of B Company kindly lent me his
rubber boots and some clean socks, a great luxury and comfort. Then I
went on to the Officers' Hut at the battalion reserve camp, and was
able to lie down and sleep till well on into the next day. Souastre
was not a bad place to rest, for it was shelled only very occasionally
with long-range guns.

The following afternoon (April 4) Capt. Kirsopp came to see me and he
brought a motor-car. He wished to reconnoitre a 'battle O.P.,' i.e. a
place in the back area from which to observe enemy shelling of the
forward areas or enemy attacks on our line. I was told that things
were expected to happen next day; and I was instructed to find a post
where I could see what was going on, somewhere in the neighbourhood of
the Château de la Haie.

In the morning (April 5) I went with Corp. Walker and L.-C. Cowen to
the Bayencourt Ridge, south of the château, and we got into a small
trench. Things certainly were happening, for the enemy was scattering
his heavy high-velocity shells broadcast over the country. He seemed
to direct them chiefly against our battery positions and the roads and
trenches in rear of Fonquevillers and Sailly-au-Bois. The number of
these shells was unusually large; but later on towards 10 A.M. things
began to quieten down in the back area. What had happened was this.
The 37th Division with the assistance of tanks made a counter-attack
on Rossignol Wood. The Germans had prepared to make another of their
grand attacks that same morning. But it was anticipated by about half
an hour. The result was a fierce struggle in which we gained a little
ground and a certain number of prisoners. The German attack therefore
came to nothing, and this proved to be his last attempt of a serious
kind on our part of the front. Anxiety was not however, at an end for
many days to come.

During the next few days the observers held a battle O.P. near the
orchard in Fonquevillers. It was a long walk from Souastre and back,
but fairly quiet, for it could be reached by going across country and
avoiding the sorely harassed roads.

On April 8 the 42nd Division was taken back for a short rest to the
area round Authie.

FOOTNOTES:

[17] Ptes. Fail and Ewart.

[18] Major V. Merivale, M.C. (C Company), Capt. Herriott (B Company),
and Lieut. P. Cole (A Company) were, I think, in charge of the three
companies.

[19] Second-Lieuts. N. Holt, C.R. King, J. Dodds, and J. Lassey.



XXXII

TRENCH WARFARE--HÉBUTERNE


During Divisional rest the observers were attached for rations and
accommodation to the H.Q. Company of the 7th N.F. We marched back,
therefore, with the battalion through Couin and St. Leger to Authie.
We found nice billets awaiting us in this pleasant French village,
which was too far from the enemy to be afflicted with shell fire. It
was full of French civilians, and the small shops had various little
luxuries to which we had been unused for some time. From Authie Woods
to Bayencourt ran the 'Red Line' trenches, a sort of 'last-but-one'
reserve line, which had been hastily dug by Chinese labourers and were
still only about four feet deep. We did not stay long at Authie, for
the billets were wanted to accommodate French troops who were being
hurried northwards to the battle now raging about Kemmel.

On April 12 the 7th N.F. moved forward to the village of Coigneux and
H.Q. were established in a French estaminet. There were civilians here
too, but the village was liable to be shelled and half of them had
gone away. A distressing attack of tooth-ache took me twice to the
C.C.S. near Doullens. I found that town more deserted than it used to
be, for the Germans had shelled and bombed it vigorously since their
offensive started.

On April 16, after a week's rest, the 42nd Division took over the
trenches running from Gommecourt to Hébuterne. The same day the
observers moved to some old trenches north of the Château de la Haie.
It was a cold place in wet weather, and we were occasionally shelled.
But after a few days through the kindness of Col. Guy, the G.S.O. I,
billets were found for us in a cottage at Bayencourt, which lies about
half a mile south of the château. It was indeed a pleasant oasis in a
badly shelled area. Why the enemy left the place alone I cannot say.
But when we got there there were still plenty of old French folk, who
lived quietly on amid the surrounding strife, and continued to keep
their cows in the fields and to cultivate the land. The church had not
been shelled, for a wonder, and the clock was still going and striking
the hours.

The observers sent up two parties of two men every day to an O.P.
north-east of Hébuterne. The other men manned a battle O.P. on the
Bayencourt Ridge during the morning.

April 23, St. George's Day, provided a little excitement for three of
us. We were told to try to find an O.P. near the Quarries at
Hébuterne, not generally a very healthy spot. As we were shelled
incessantly all the time we were near the place, the idea of
establishing a post here was abandoned. And eventually another post
was fixed on, on the north-east side of Hébuterne. Some useful work
was done here by the observers; they obtained some valuable
information about enemy movement and got the artillery to shell a
relief that was taking place. At the close of our tour in the line,
which occurred about May 4, the IV Corps directed all Infantry
observers to take sound bearings of enemy guns and to wire them at
once to the Counter-Battery Office. This was gratifying, as we had
made a special effort to report these sound bearings, a system of
which I had learnt something in the Salient.

From May 4 to June 9 the Division remained in the rest area about
Couin. The observers left Bayencourt and joined the 7th N.F. at
Coigneux, where we lived in tents on the high chalky ground south of
Rossignol Farm. I messed with the officers of A Company, and shared a
tent with Lieut W.H. Fisher and 2nd-Lieut Dodd. Owing to the bombing
and shelling in the neighbourhood, we were ordered to fortify our
tents. So we had a small trench dug for each inside the tent and in
these we put our valises. It was rather like a shallow grave, but it
gave you a feeling of security when bits were flying about. During
this month the observers had a little mild training each day; but the
G.O.C. sent word to me to rest the men as much as possible. I amused
myself at the battle O.P. on Bayencourt Ridge and sent in daily
reports of sound bearings to the IV Corps Counter-Battery Office.

On the whole the enemy let our camp fairly well alone. We had one
large bomb dropped in the camp, but it failed to do any material
damage. Latterly the 4-inch naval guns took to sending a few shells
over daily, but we had only a few men wounded from splinters. Other
units near us came off worse. During the rest at Coigneux we had a
visit from some American troops. I think they had come to gain a
little mild experience of our methods. Anyway a small party of their
observers came to see how we held our posts. And they were taken to
the battle O.P. and to the forward O.P. at Hébuterne.



XXXIII

TRENCH WARFARE--THE COLINCAMPS RIDGE


No offensive operations on a large scale were undertaken against the
enemy on the IV Corps front, Bucquoy to Auchonvillers, before the
middle of August 1918. The period from May onwards was spent in
strengthening the defences and in wearing down the enemy's strength
and morale. The latter object was achieved by continual harassing fire
from our guns, strong counter-battery, periodical gas projections,
bombing from our aeroplanes, and raids. It was still necessary to work
hard on our defences, for the German offensive was by no means over,
and it was impossible to say at what moment the enemy might renew his
attacks on this part of the front.

The part played by the Divisional observers during this period of
trench warfare was more important and useful than at any other period
of their employment. This was partly due to the excellent position for
ground observation on the ridge between Colincamps and Auchonvillers,
and partly to the improvement in means of communication with D.H.Q.
and the artillery. Great credit is due to Capt. Kirsopp for his
continual efforts to make the information obtained more rapid and
effective. And also to the men who got the information by patiently
sticking to their job for ten long weeks, sometimes under trying and
discouraging conditions.

The observers were quartered in a number of small shelters on the high
ground between Coigneux and Bus, well back from the shelled and bombed
area. The shelters were in the side of a green mound, near the Bus
waterworks; and this place was used as a battle O.P. and became known
as 'Eve' O.P. From here there was a splendid view of the country just
behind the British front line. So that the observers stationed here
could say at once where heavy shelling was going on, either by day or
by night. A telephone connected 'Eve' O.P. with D.H.Q. and also with
the forward O.P. The latter post was about four miles away in a small
trench on the ridge north of Auchonvillers near some apple trees,
which perhaps suggested the name 'Adam' O.P. In many ways it was an
admirable place for an O.P. If care was taken it could be approached
without being seen by the enemy. It was screened by a thick hedge and
also by a deep belt of wire about thirty yards in front of the hedge.
The O.P. itself was in the hedge bank, and was roofed over with
several small 'elephant' shelters, with earth on top of them. There
was plenty of room for at least three men to work inside. And
observation was obtained through a small opening in the hedge bank.
The opening was always further screened by sandbags, so that only
the end of the telescope was exposed to the enemy and that was always
in a deep shadow. A few yards away outside the O.P. in the trench was
a small mined dugout. This was not very deep, about six feet down at
the most; but it was under the roots of the hedge, a good protection
against the shells of field guns. In this dugout the observers who
were not on duty were able to sleep, and the men in the O.P. could
take refuge in case of heavy shelling. The O.P. was connected by
telephone with D.H.Q. and also with Eve O.P. Not far away in the same
trench there were other O.P.'s, one held by the Lovat Scouts (Corps
Observers) and another, 'Rose' O.P., by the heavy artillery.

   [Illustration: Panorama from Adam O.P., July 1918.]

Our method of working the two O.P.'s was as follows. The N.C.O., L.-C.
Cowen, remained at Eve O.P. and assisted me with various duties there,
and with the duty of inspecting the working of Adam O.P. The other
observers, eight in number, were divided into two groups of four, one
in charge of Pte. J. King and the other in in charge of Pte. W.O.S.
Fail. Three observers from No. 1 group went forward to Adam O.P. and
stayed there for forty-eight hours, drawing their rations each day
from the nearest Battalion H.Q. After this they were relieved by three
observers from No 2 group and so on. By this arrangement I was able to
rest the men and to carry on observation continuously for ten weeks
without unduly tiring the men. Out of the four observers in a group,
only three were at Adam O.P. at the same time, the fourth man
remaining back at Eve O.P. for a rest. Thus during sixteen days each
observer had three tours of duty at Adam O.P. lasting two days each,
two rests of two days, and then a rest of six days. This kept all the
men fresh, an important matter if you wish for good observation.

At Adam O.P. two of the three observers were always at the telescope
during daylight, and one was resting in the dugout. And at night one
had to remain awake, to be able to report heavy shelling to D.H.Q. and
to act as gas sentry for the others. It was of course all done in a
system of reliefs amongst themselves. During these summer months
observation was possible in the most favourable circumstances from
3.45 A.M. to 9.10 P.M., so the night was comparatively short. Adam
O.P. was visited on alternate days by L.-C. Cowen and myself. I went
invariably in the early morning, so as to arrive at the O.P. about an
hour or so after observation had become possible. The enemy exposed
himself more freely during the two or three hours after dawn than at
any other time during the day. By going up early I was able to see
that the men were at their post at this important time, and to get
their early information, often of importance, as soon as possible. It
meant starting in the dark, and often a cold wet journey across
country, but the good fellows at the O.P. always had a cup of tea for
me--a little act of kindness which illustrates our friendly
relations.

The most interesting things we could see from Adam O.P. were the
German front line trenches south and south-west of Serre, two spots
known as 'L. 33. a. O. 9.' and 'Q. 6. a. 9. 8.' where anyone
approaching these forward trenches had to cross a ridge and so come
under our observation, the German transport roads about
Achiet-le-Petit, Irles, and Loupart Wood. The German front line was
within 2000 yards, Q. 6. a. within 4000 yards, L. 33. a. rather over
6000 yards, and the roads well over 10,000 yards away. Near to Pys was
a German C.C.S., which was narrowly watched, for any increase in its
size would have probably meant preparation for an attack. And behind
Irles was a derelict British tank which the Germans used as an O.P.,
for it was invariably visited by a number of men just before one of
their reliefs took place, and at no other time.

Every day two reports were sent in to D.H.Q. of all movement seen
during the preceding twelve hours. And every movement seen was entered
into a Log Book. This was my special department; and after a time it
was possible to compile a further book called the Summary Book, with
coloured charts of daily movement. In a short time we discovered the
average or normal movement for the twenty-four hours. And after that
it was quite simple to warn the Division at once whenever any movement
of an abnormal character was taking place.

Owing to weak eyesight I could not do much telescope work myself--my
part of the field work was map reading, in which I had considerable
assistance from aeroplane photographs at D.H.Q. I asked the observers
to make telescopic sketches, on every compass bearing, of what they
could see. And then from these sketches and with my own maps and
protractor I was able to tell them what they were looking at on the
map, and to prepare a panoramic sketch for their use at Adam O.P. Pte.
King sent in an admirable series of sketches which were most useful in
this work of discovery. Later on the more powerful telescope was also
taken up to Adam O.P., and with this Pte. Fail did some most useful
work. With his exceptional eyesight and a gift for sketching he made a
series of excellent artillery target sketches. These I copied out and
coloured and sent to D.H.Q.; and they were sent on to the IV Corps
Heavy Artillery. These targets were fired at with great success. For
example one of the first sent in was of a cook-house and wireless
station at L. 33. a. On July 11 the heavy artillery carried out a
successful shoot on the place, using Adam O.P. as their observing
station. In order to place on record some of the work done by my
observers at Adam O.P. I will give some of the results of their
systematic observation.

A Divisional relief on July 3 and 4 was spotted by Capt. Kirsopp on
information given by the observers of exceptional movement in the
forward area. Another Divisional relief was detected by largely
increased movement on July 25. And a battalion relief on August 6,
with disastrous results for the enemy. At least fifty copies of
different telescopic sketches were sent in to the Division, including
a series of eight showing new workings by the Germans in their front
line system. Reports of nearly seventy gun-flashes were sent in as
well as many sound bearing reports. The following numbers of German
infantry and transport vehicles were reported from Adam O.P.

+--------+------+-----------+-----------+----------+-----------+
| Month  | Days |  Days of  | Effective | Infantry | Transport |
|        |      | Bad Light |   Days    |   Seen   | Vehicles  |
+--------+------+-----------+-----------+----------+-----------+
|June    |  21  |     8     |    13     |   2,100  |     83    |
|        |      |           |           |          |           |
|July    |  31  |     7     |    24     |   5,400  |    413    |
|        |      |           |           |          |           |
|August  |  20  |     4     |    16     |   4,650  |    205    |
+--------+------+-----------+-----------+----------+-----------+
|Total   |  72  |    19     |    53     |  12,150  |    791    |
+--------+------+-----------+-----------+----------+-----------+

Our two best days occurred on August 6 and 12. On the 6th a large
movement was observed in the early hours, indicating a relief, which
was reported to the Division at once by wire. So that when the relief
was continued at night, our artillery were prepared to deal with the
German parties moving in or out of the trenches. On this day alone
1126 infantry and 55 transport vehicles were seen on the move. The
42nd Division Intelligence Report of August 7 reported the matter as
follows:

    'Relief south of the Serre-Mailly Road which commenced on a
    large scale on the morning of the 6th was continued during the
    evening; between 6.50 and 8.20 P.M. 197 men with packs in
    nineteen parties came towards the front line past Q. 6. a. 95.
    80. These parties were engaged by H.A. with great success.
    Casualties caused being estimated to be at least fifty; four
    direct hits were obtained on a party at 7.15 P.M., and on one
    occasion an out-going party was seen to have a free fight with
    an in-going party to gain possession of a sunken track or trench
    in Q. 6. a. Total hostile infantry seen by Divisional O.P. on
    the 6th reached the high number of 1126.'

The observers had their share in those fifty casualties, as Pte. F.
Turner went to Rose O.P. and directed the Sergeant Gunner in charge to
the proper map reference of the German troops. That 6-inch battery
shot superbly, and I wish I knew the Sergeant's name. The G.O.C. sent
his congratulations to the observers on the day's work.

On August 12 at 6 A.M. the observers informed me that the Germans had
been seen going out of their trenches in large numbers and all
carrying packs, rifles, and boxes as well. On this I sent a pigeon
message to the Corps, saying that the enemy might be retiring now. As
it happened this was quite correct, as the Germans admitted themselves
a few days later in their communiqué.

I also wish to put on record an act of kindness to the observers by
the Division and Corps. On August 8 the enemy began to shell the
neighbourhood of Adam O.P. rather severely with a 5.9-inch howitzer
battery. As this went on, I rang up D.H.Q. and asked if anything could
be done in retaliation against the enemy's O.P.'s in L. 33. a. Col.
Guy told me that he would see what the Corps would do for us; and rang
up later to tell me to ask the observers at Adam O.P. to note results
at 2.30 P.M. At the appointed time, every active heavy gun in the
Corps fired a shell simultaneously against selected targets, including
L. 33. a. There were at least four brigades of heavies in the Corps
and the noise was colossal. It must have astonished the enemy as much
as it did me.

On August 9, 2nd-Lieut. Edmunds of the 7th N.F. came to assist me, and
to take over command of the observers during my leave which was now
drawing near. I told him that we had never been shelled at Eve O.P.
But as luck would have it that very afternoon, about 2 P.M., a
long-range gun shelled the O.P. for about twenty minutes; and I had to
clear the men off into the neighbouring Red Line trenches till the
annoyance ceased.

On August 14 the enemy were attacked all along the IV Corps front and
a considerable advance was made that day. Pte. King remained at the
telescope all day, and sent in a number of interesting reports about
the enemy's movements.

At this point I have to break off the narrative, as my leave warrant
arrived that night and I left the observers till August 31 in charge
of 2nd-Lieut. J.H. Edmunds.

One word about the admirable services of my batman, Pte. W. Critchlow.
For ten weeks and more, in addition to looking after my own personal
comforts, he cooked for the whole party of observers at Eve O.P. This
may seem a small matter, but he never had a rest like the other men,
and his hard work contributed materially to the comfort and efficiency
of the section.



XXXIV

THE BRITISH OFFENSIVE 1918--BAPAUME RETAKEN


On my return to France, I reached Authieule railway station on August
31, and went on next morning, partly by car and motor-bus and partly
on foot, to Miraumont. Here I found the observers with B Company
(Capt. W.N. Craigs, M.C.) of the 7th N.F. near the railway station. It
had been strange passing over the smitten ground on the Serre Ridge,
and it was possible then to realise the terrible effects of our heavy
shell fire. Gangs of men were now mending the road all the way to
Miraumont; but it must have been in a shocking state. In one place
part of a transport cart hung suspended from the shattered branches of
a tree; and everywhere the ground was absolutely churned to pieces.

I learnt that D.H.Q. had moved forward to Grevillers, and on September
3 I decided to make a move forward to Loupart Wood, in order to get
the observers more in touch with them.

We were badly handicapped in all the succeeding stages of the campaign
by having no transport to move our belongings. Besides the ordinary
infantryman's equipment, no light weight, we had our blankets, three
telescopes, compasses, and a lot of maps, books, and stationery, and
our daily ration to carry as well. By good luck, however, we found an
old German hand-cart in very fair condition about the station yard;
and we used this hand-cart for getting our gear along for many a weary
mile. In fact we finally dropped it at Le Quesnoy on November 5, not
because it was worn out, but because other transport was found for us.
By the evening of September 3 we got settled into some dugouts at the
north end of Loupart Wood. There were a few dead Germans scattered
about, but a lot more dead horses than men. And as the weather was
hot, the air was none too pleasant.

Next day I visited D.H.Q. who were in some tents outside Grevillers,
and Capt. Kirsopp told me that the observers were urgently needed. It
was proposed to send a party of them forward on bicycles to keep in
touch with the retreating Germans. And so the same day Ptes. King and
Drake (7th N.F.) and F. Greenwood (10th M.B.) went forward towards
Havrincourt Wood to get such news as they could. It had been intended
at first that I should go with them, but it was found impossible to
provide me with a horse. The British forces had already taken Bapaume,
Villers-au-Flos, and Riencourt, and the enemy were supposed to be
retreating fast in the direction of the old Hindenburg Line which lay
beyond Havrincourt Wood. Pte. King's party did good work; they went
through Barastre and Bus in front of the advance guards of the
infantry, and met with no opposition beyond occasional long-range
machine-gun fire. Their first O.P. was just south of Bertincourt, and
the following days near Neuville-Bourjonval. For this expedition Pte.
King was awarded the Military Medal. On September 3 I went with Pte.
Turner to some high ground just south of Bapaume and stayed there
several hours. From here little shelling could be seen, the main body
of the enemy must have retired as far as Havrincourt Wood. Long-range
shells fell near Bapaume and the railway during the day. The same
evening I reported at D.H.Q., and found things pretty lively during my
visit; for two or three German 'planes dropped a number of bombs about
the place, not a pleasant experience for those living in tents. Next
day (September 4) the observers moved forward with the hand-cart
through Grevillers and then to Thilloy and across country to the high
ground south of Bapaume. Here there were plenty of small German
shelters and dugouts partially protected by a shallow trench. In these
we took up our quarters, whilst D.H.Q. moved to some ammunition
dugouts on the other side of the road from Bapaume to Peronne. Next
day (September 5) accompanied by Pte. Turner I reconnoitred the high
ground about Bus. There were many German dead still lying about near
the approaches to Villers-au-Flos, where a considerable stand must
have been made by the German machine-gunners to cover the retreat.
Also we saw on our way back a party of the 7th N.F. preparing to bury
a number of our own men who had fallen in the advance. The same
evening I was told that the 42nd Division would be relieved that night
by the New Zealand Division, and that the observers should stand fast
until further orders, Pte. King's party joined us the next day. We
stayed here for the next two weeks, in what proved to be quite
comfortable quarters. A German soda-water factory was discovered at
Beaulencourt, and we were in time to secure a few bottles. Training
was now resumed in the mornings, and the observers practised sending
and receiving messages with four signallers of the 7th N.F. who were
attached to us. In the afternoon we were free to roam over the recent
battle-field, where many souvenirs of the enemy could be picked up. We
now lay just to the north of the old Somme battle-ground. And on
September 15 I went to Martinpuich by bus down the Albert-Bapaume Road
and revisited the scene of our attack on the High Wood Ridge, which
had taken place just two years before. During our stay at this place
we had visits every night from German aircraft. But they fared none
too well. I saw one aeroplane brought down in flames at night near
Villers-au-Flos by our anti-aircraft guns; and two others shared the
same fate. This was a great feather in the cap of the anti-aircraft
gunners; for an aeroplane is particularly difficult to hit at night.

The 42nd Division was ordered to relieve the 37th Division on
September 22. The latter Division had now reached the old British
front line east of Havrincourt Wood. And the Germans were now in the
Hindenburg Line, behind 'the walls of bronze' which had checked us
once and which they hoped would again stay the pursuit of their beaten
legions.

One particularly disgusting feature of our journey in pursuit of the
enemy was the dreadful state of the huts he had occupied. They all
appeared to be moving with lice and fleas, and it was a most difficult
matter to keep oneself free from their unpleasant attentions. It was
the same wherever we stopped.



XXXV

THE STORMING OF THE HINDENBURG LINE NEAR TRESCAULT


On September 20 I went with Lieut. G.F. Doble, the Divisional
Intelligence Officer, to visit the new area in front. We found D.H.Q.
established in a wonderful series of huts south-west of Vélu Wood.
These had been the H.Q. of some German Corps, and wonderfully well
barricaded they were. Inside each hut, which was panelled with wood,
there was a sliding panel which admitted to a deep shelter dugout
beneath. Here in case of bombing by our aeroplanes, the German officer
had been able to retire quickly and without loss of dignity to a place
of safety. From here we paid a short visit by motor-car to the B.H.Q.
north-west of Havrincourt Wood. On returning through Bapaume I had the
great pleasure of meeting Major W. Anderson, D.S.O., M.C., my old
Brigade-Major, who was now G.S.O. II of the 37th Division.

On September 21 the observers went forward with their hand-cart
through Riencourt, Villers-au-Flos, and Haplincourt to the outskirts
of Bertincourt. We first selected some empty huts near Vélu Wood as
our place of residence. But as we were shelled about five minutes
after arriving, we decided to move a little farther from the wood.
Finally we found two useful Nissen huts built into the roadside and
sheltered by some tall elm trees, just west of Bertincourt. It was not
a very quiet or healthy spot anywhere near Bertincourt; but we were
not damaged by the enemy's shells, though occasionally annoyed. The
same afternoon I went forward by myself to reconnoitre a position for
the Divisional O.P. And I found a useful place in the north of
Havrincourt Wood, or rather in the rough thorny scrub that had once
formed part of the wood.

   [Illustration: Scene of the Attack on the Hindenburg Line, Sept.
   28, 1918.]

Observation was obtained through the branches of a tree, and a small
shelter dugout was close at hand. The field of view extended along the
left flank of the Corps and Divisional front, and went a long way back
to the high ground between Niergnes and Esnes. Flesquières, Ribécourt,
Marcoing, Rumilly, and Masnières could all be seen. The next few days
were spent in locating our surroundings and in reporting the traffic
seen on the back roads. On September 27 I went with L.-C. Cowen to
inspect an O.P. in the British front-line system south-east of
Trescault. We went through the wood and then along a winding C.T.
which brought us to the front line. Here we found a deep dugout with a
ladder leading up to an O.P. on ground level. The view in front was
not altogether satisfactory, but towards the left it was good.

At dawn on September 28 the grand assault on the Hindenburg Line
began. It was quite successful on our left and on the left of our
front, but the Division on our right had great difficulty in getting
forward. By the following day, however, the line was advanced along
the whole front, and the N.Z. Division, taking over the pursuit from
us, made good captures of men and guns. L.-C. Cowen and Pte.
McGarrigle went to the O.P. in the front line on September 28 and had
rather a rough passage. Pte. Fail had a small party at the other O.P.,
and obtained a fairly good view of the battle. On September 29 Pte.
King went with Pte. Chappell in the direction of Ribécourt, but this
expedition was brought to an end by a shell which wounded Pte.
Chappell badly in the face. This was the second and, as events turned
out, the last casualty amongst my observers. I spent a long time the
second day with the observers at the O.P. in Havrincourt Wood and we
saw much German transport hurrying back south of Niergnes. On the
night of September 29 the 42nd Division was relieved, and I received
instructions to remain at our quarters near Bertincourt. After the
battle we were no longer troubled with any shells. Second-Lieut.
Edmunds who had been on leave since we left Miraumont came back to
assist me, for about another month. Great droves of German prisoners
now began to pass us several times a day, a cheering sight in one way,
but not a pleasant one in another. They were truly a desperate-looking
collection of men, mostly of a very low class.

This halt enabled me to get round the country and make sketches of the
various battle-fields.

One night I had dinner at D.H.Q. as the guest of Capt. Kirsopp, and
enjoyed the hospitality of 'Z' Mess. I found a great curiosity in the
fields near Bertincourt. An old cannon-ball pitted with rust and
dating possibly from Marlborough's days. As I could not take it away
with me, I gave it to Major Clarke, the G.S.O. II.

On October 7 the observers moved to some dugouts near Trescault, where
we remained two days. On October 8 I went on to Welsh Ridge, but
nothing much could be seen from there. The battle-field was strewn
with Germans who had fallen in the battle ten days before. On October
9 we had a long march which took all day. We went through Beaucamp and
then towards Masnières, finally reaching the shattered village of
Crèvecoeur. Next morning we moved on again to Esnes, where we had
billets in a nice farm-house.

At last we had reached the land of vegetables, and for the rest of the
campaign we had a plentiful supply. We had been very short of this
kind of food since May.

On October 11 we moved on again and got a billet in a small cottage in
Fontaine-au-Pire. Next day on again to the next town, Beauvois, which
was not at all badly smashed. We had billets in a couple of small
cottages off the main street and we were fairly comfortable here. The
plague of house-flies was very bad at this place; the whole place was
full of them.

The 42nd Division relieved the N.Z. Division on October 12 on a front
extending south of Solesmes and covering Briastre.



XXXVI

THE GERMANS' LAST STAND


On October 12 I went with Pte. Firth to a ridge south of Viesly to
look for an O.P., and selected a spot in the open, but near a sunk
road. However, the G.O.C. required a post to be held on the high
ground north of the village. This was only half a mile from the
enemy's front line and in full view of the enemy, so that I suspected
we should not be allowed to stop there very long. A regiment of
Hussars was attached to the Corps and stationed at Caudry.

It was arranged that an officer and six observers from this regiment
should work in conjunction with the Divisional observers. These
mounted men were particularly useful in getting messages back quickly
from the O.P. to a report centre, for during this open warfare it was
impossible to connect the observers by telephone to D.H.Q.

The first day at the O.P. north of Viesly passed quietly enough, and
Ptes. King and McGarrigle made a useful sketch of the view in front.
Next day, when I went up to the O.P. to make additions to the sketch,
conditions were not very good. Our only cover was a shallow trench
about one foot deep; and for an hour whilst I was trying to sketch
the details of the landscape the enemy's 4.2-inch howitzers shelled
the hill persistently. I told the observers, when I went back, to
leave this post if things got no better and to man the post south of
Viesly. And this was done soon afterwards, as the shells began to fall
very close. Unfortunately from now onwards the light was no good for
long-range observation. Day after day the country was covered with a
thick white mist, a common experience in October, which made
observation quite out of the question. However, from the sketches that
had been made, I was able to make a drawing of the panorama in front,
which was printed out for the use of the troops in the line.

It was decided to attack the German positions at midnight on October
19-20. Taking advantage of the heavy mist the British field artillery
placed their guns in two long lines, twenty-eight guns in a line and
almost wheel to wheel, behind the ridges south of Viesly. This was an
extraordinary sight, for they had no cover whatever except the thick
white mist overhead. Behind the second row, there was a battery of
heavy howitzers (8- or 9-inch calibre), and a little farther back
several batteries of 60-pounder guns. The night attack was carried out
by the 126th Infantry Brigade and was wonderfully successful.

At 10 A.M. on October 20 I called at B.H.Q., a house in Prayelle, to
get the latest news. Then I joined Ptes. Fail and Greenwood at the
O.P., which was now under the muzzles of the field guns. We left this
post and went towards Briastre, and, crossing the road from Viesly, we
finally selected a position near the Briastre Cemetery. Just across
the valley the enemy's guns were pounding the positions we had won
that morning. It was in preparation for a counter-attack, which,
however, was crushed by the fire from our own artillery. We sent in
several situation reports to D.H.Q. through the H.Q. of the 10th
Manchester Regiment, which were now in a cutting not far from the
cemetery.

On my way back to Beauvois I met a number of tanks travelling slowly
forward towards Viesly; but I believe they were unable to get across
the River Selle that night. For the next two days the observers held a
post on the north side of Viesly; and on October 23 the 42nd Division
attacked again, the N.Z. Division taking up the pursuit of the enemy
about midday. The men of the 42nd Division have every reason to be
proud of their battle at Solesmes; the Germans were very strongly
entrenched and they were picked troops, and a night attack is, of
course, one of the most difficult of all to carry out successfully.

The observers were instructed to remain at their quarters in Beauvois,
and for the next eleven days training was resumed. I was told that
great advantages might be obtained from panoramic sketches, if rapidly
and accurately drawn by the observers. And so I directed most of the
training here towards making these sketches. There was nothing in
training that the men liked better than that.

During our rest at Beauvois the New Zealanders had pushed the Germans
farther back, to the outskirts of Le Quesnoy, and towards the end of
October we were warned that the 42nd Division would relieve them after
a further attack.



XXXVII

THE FINAL RUSH FORWARD


On November 3 I moved with the observers to the village of Viesly and
got a billet in a cottage. The village had been badly mauled by the
German guns during the recent fighting. The German does not behave
nicely when his nerves are shaken, and we heard stories of
ill-treatment of women in Solesmes.

Next day we went towards Romeries to reconnoitre the roads, and on
November 5 we had a long march in the rain. Hitherto we had been lucky
to have fine weather for trekking, but now it began to rain almost
every day. We went on over crowded roads through Briastre, Solesmes,
Romeries, and Beaudignies. At the latter place our heavy guns were
still firing, for the Germans had only been pushed out of Le Quesnoy
that morning, and their main body was retreating through the Mormal
Forest. Our advance party, L.-C. Cowen and Pte. Addinall, who had gone
forward on bicycles to find a billet in Le Quesnoy, met with a very
warm reception from the French civilians in the town. After a little
trouble I managed to get possession of a nice empty house near the
railway station, where we were glad to turn in and get our clothes
dry. Next day I went to D.H.Q. at Potelle, a moated farm or château.

There was some idea of disbanding the observers at this time, for
Capt. Kirsopp found difficulty in getting us forward fast enough to be
of any use. However the G.O.C. would not hear of it, and said the
D.A.Q.M.G. must arrange to transport our things.

The same day I went forward to the advanced B.H.Q. at Forester's
Point, on the N.W. side of the forest, east of Carnoy. And I arranged
with the Brigade-Major of the 126th Infantry Brigade to send some of
the observers to help him next day. This, however, was cancelled, as
the Germans began to retreat towards the River Sambre. I saw some
French children still about the cottages near the Mormal Forest,
though there was still shelling going on. Coming back I avoided the
village of Carnoy, as it was being heavily shelled by the enemy's
long-range guns. This was the last time I came anywhere near the
enemy's shell fire. The German dead lay in little clusters in the
fields east of Le Quesnoy, and at various points along the railway.

On November 7 I moved my quarters to a small house at Herbignies, our
belongings being brought for us by Divisional transport. Our hand-cart
was finally dumped at Le Quesnoy. The next day I sent a small party of
observers through the forest to Petit Bavay, and also detached Ptes.
Fail, Ewart, and Austin for duty on the following day, sending them
with bicycles to the Q.M. of the 7th N.F. at Petit Bavay. Also I
walked through the forest to D.H.Q. at the same place. It was a long
tramp in the mud, and I was thoroughly tired out when I reached
Herbignies again that night.

On November 9 we had our final trek forward, some fifteen miles
through the most glutinous mud. As the observers had been overlooked
when the Divisional transport left Potelle, we had now to transport
all our belongings as best we could without the aid of the hand-cart.
This unfortunately meant dumping all our stores except such as were
absolutely essential; and I lost a number of interesting records,
maps, &c., in this way.

We loaded ourselves up then with everything we could take--very full
packs and a blanket rolled on top, about the heaviest marching-order
possible. By midday we had got through the forest to Petit Bavay,
where we halted for a meal on the road side. Then we went on through
Vieux Mesnil, where we had to ford the river, as the bridge was
destroyed. On through Neuf Mesnil and at last to Hautmont. I was glad
to get a billet in the first empty house I came to, 135 Rue de
Gambetta. No beds, but a moderately clean floor to sleep on. Pte.
Fail's party rejoined me here. They had gone right on to the firing
line on the north bank of the River Sambre, where the Guards were
advancing. They brought back useful information as to what had been
going on.

After disputing the crossing of the Sambre the Germans fled rapidly
for about eight miles, and gave no further trouble beyond shelling the
villages of Quievelon and Ferrière. Cyclists and cavalry were pushed
out to keep in touch with them, but owing to the difficulties of
transport the infantry could get no farther. There was now a general
feeling that the end was not far off.

On November 10 I was told at D.H.Q. that there was a 'holiday air'
about every one, and that nothing further need be done by the
observers. Early next morning I heard two transport drivers discussing
the situation in the road outside. They were quite convinced that the
war was over. And they were right; a little later I got the message
from D.H.Q. 'hostilities will cease at 11 A.M. to-day.' Heavy firing
was still going on to the north, about Mons, and this only ceased at
11 o'clock. Then the silence and stillness outside were most uncanny.
It was a silence that could be felt.



XXXVIII

THE END OF IT ALL


After the armistice the Divisional observers were not disbanded at
once. They remained in my charge till December 6, when orders came for
us all to return to our own units. So ended the most pleasant command
that I held during the war.

The men who were with me when we were disbanded, were:

  _Observers_ (_7th N.F._)      _Signallers_ (_7th N.F._)
  L.-C. COWEN                   L.-C. CROZIER, M.M.
  Pte. KING, M.M.               Pte. WARD
  Pte. FAIL                     Pte. ROBINSON
  Pte. EWART                    Pte. PARKIN
  Pte. DRAKE
  Pte. ADDINALL
  Pte. AUSTIN
  Pte. GREENWOOD (_10th M.R._)
  Pte. FIRTH (_6th M.R._)

From the nature of the organisation and equipment of Infantry
observers, they were of more use during trench warfare than moving
warfare. You cannot turn an observer into a scout at a moment's
notice. Only a few of the men ever acquired any real knowledge of map
reading--they did not take the same interest in it as in other parts
of the training--and for moving warfare it is absolutely essential.
Another handicap was lack of transport, we were nobody's children and
left to fend for ourselves. The Q.M. of the 7th N.F. adopted us so far
as rations were concerned, but the collection of rations alone
prevented us from being a really mobile force: we could not move far
away from the source of food supplies.

During the ten weeks on the Auchonvillers Ridge the men did wonders.
But we never stayed long enough at the same place after that to give
them a real chance; and they never settled down to moving warfare.

On December 6 I was attached to B Company of the 7th N.F., commanded
by Major Smail, and living at Boussières; once more I became a platoon
commander, after nearly three years of continuous warfare.

About December 15 the 42nd Division moved into Belgium, and D.H.Q.
were established at Charleroi. After arriving here I became
Demobilisation Officer for the 7th N.F. and continued at that till
January 19.[20] Then I went on leave to England. On February 10 I got
back to Charleroi, and on February 13 I left Charleroi for
demobilisation or rather 'disembodiment.' I reached home at 4.30 P.M.
on February 22, glad to be back.


FOOTNOTES:

[20] I had the greatest assistance from Cpl. Seals (7th N.F.),
formerly N.C.O. in charge of Brigade Orderlies.



Printed by SPOTTISWOODE, BALLANTYNE & CO. LTD.
Colchester, London & Eton, England.


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