The rest of the line was fairly quiet except for a few small "sausages" on trench "50," and our chief concern was now the shortage of men. In those days a trench was not considered adequately garrisoned unless there were at least three men in every fire bay, so that although we had many more men to the yard than we have many times had since, we imagined, when we found it necessary to have one or two empty fire bays, that we were impossibly weak. So much was this the case, that, on the night of the 4th August, C.Q.M. Serjeants Gorse and Gilding were ordered to bring all available men from the stores at Poperinghe to help hold the line—a most unpleasant journey because the Boche, always fond of celebrating anniversaries, commemorated the declaration of war with a "strafe" of special magnitude. As most of this came between Ypres and Zillebeke, the two Quartermaster Serjeants had a harassing time, and did not reach their bivouacs in Poperinghe until 5-15 the following morning. All through the tour the pounding of "A1" continued, while our only effort at retaliation was a 60 lb. mortar which the Royal Garrison Artillery placed in rear of "50" trench. This one day fired six rounds, the last of which fell in the German front line, and for nearly twenty-four hours we were left in peace, while a "switch" line was built across the back of "A1" salient. All hope of ever recovering the old "A1" was given up.
Meanwhile, the Division on our left was not being idle. For the past week our Artillery in the salient had fired a half-hour bombardment every morning at 2-45, and on the 9th this was repeated as usual. The Boche had become used to it, and retired to his dug-outs, where he was found a few minutes later by the 6th Division, who had relieved the 14th, and were now trying to recapture all the lost ground. The surprise was perfect, and the enemy, never for a moment expecting an attack at that hour, were killed in large numbers before they could even "stand-to." During the battle 200 of the 4th Lincolnshires occupied our support trenches, in case of any trouble on our front, and in the evening the rest of the Battalion arrived and took over the line, while we replaced them in Brigade Support—Battalion Headquarters, "B" and "C" Companies in the "Lake" dug-outs, "A" and "D" Companies in the Barracks of Ypres.
During the next six days we were worked harder than we had been worked before, digging, carrying, and trench revetting. Fortunately both halves of the Battalion had fairly comfortable quarters to which to return after work was over, though those in Ypres lived a somewhat noisy life. The barracks were close to the centre of the town, and each day the Boche fired his 17 in. Howitzer from dawn to dusk, mostly at the Cathedral and Cloth Hall, with occasional pauses to shoot at the Ecole de Bienfaisance, just outside the Menin gate. The shell, arriving with great regularity every 15 minutes, was generally known as the "Ypres express," for it arrived with the most terrifying roar, buried itself deep in the ground before exploding, and then made an enormous crater. As it burst, not only did every house shake, but the whole street seemed to lift a few feet in the air and settle down again. In the barracks we had bricks and falling debris from the Cloth Hall, but nothing more, and these slight disadvantages were easily outweighed by the comfort in which we lived. Every man had a bed, and, as the barracks' water supply was still in working order, we all had baths. A piano was borrowed from the Artillery, and provided us with an excellent concert, which was held in one of the larger rooms, and helped us to forget the war for a time, in spite of a 40-foot crater in the Barrack Square, and the ever-present possibility that another would arrive. Incidentally, the piano became later a cause of much trouble to us, for the police refused to allow us to move it through the streets without a permit from the Town Major; the Town Major would have nothing to do with the matter, having only just arrived in place of his predecessor, who had given us permission to have the piano, and had then been wounded (Town Majors never lasted long in Ypres); and the Gendarmerie would not accept responsibility, so in the end we had to leave it in the barracks. The other two companies, though not so comfortably housed, none the less had an enjoyable time by the lake side, chasing the wild fowl, and watching the shelling of Ypres.
Just at this time several changes took place in the personnel of the Brigade and the Battalion. First, Brig.-Gen. G.C. Kemp, R.E., late C.R.E., 6th Division, was appointed our Brigade Commander in place of General Clifford, who left us to take up an appointment in England, having been exactly six months in command. Capt. Bromfield, our Adjutant, whose health had been bad for the past month, was finally compelled to go to Hospital, whence he was shortly afterwards transferred to England. As his assistant, Lieut. Vincent was also away sick, Lieut. Langdale was appointed Adjutant, while 2nd Lieut. C.H.F. Wollaston took the place of Lieut. A.T. Sharpe as machine gun officer, the latter having left sick to Hospital at the end of July. Lieut. Moore sprained his ankle, and 2nd Lieut. R.C.L. Mould went down with fever, both being sent home, and with them went 2nd Lieut. L.H. Pearson, who had severe concussion, as the result of being knocked down by a Minenwerfer bomb. Capt. Bland became 2nd in command with the rank of Major, and Captain R. Hastings and Lieut. R.D. Farmer were now commanding "A" and "C" Companies. Capt. M. Barton, our original medical officer, had come out in June and relieved Lieut. Manfield, who had been temporarily taking his place. We had also one reinforcement—2nd Lieut. G.B. Williams, posted to "D" Company, who the following tour lost 2nd Lieut. C.R. Knighton who sprained his knee. At the same time Serjt. A. Garratt, of "A" Company, became C.S.M. of "D" in place of C.S.M. J. Cooper, who was sent home with fever.
On the 16th August we went once more to the line for a six-day tour, which proved to be the first in which our artillery began to show a distinct superiority to the enemy's, not only in accuracy but in weight of shell. Several 8" and 9.2" Howitzers appeared in the Salient and, on the evening of the 18th, we carried out an organized bombardment of the lines opposite "50" trench, paying special attention to the neighbourhood of the Minenwerfer. The accuracy of these large Howitzers was surprising, and they obtained several direct hits on the Boche front line, the resulting display of flying sandbags and trench timbers being watched with the utmost pleasure by almost every man in the Battalion. The enemy retaliated with salvoes of whizz-bangs on "50," and a few on "A6" and "A7," but did not carry out any extensive bombardment, though, when relieved by the Lincolnshires on the 22nd, we had had upwards of 45 casualties. Among the killed was L/Cpl. Biddles of "A" Company, who had risked death many times on patrol, only to be hit when sitting quietly in a trench eating his breakfast. This N.C.O., old enough to have his son serving in the company with him, was never happier than when wandering about in No Man's Land, either by day or night, and from the first to the last day of every tour he spent his time either patrolling, or preparing for his next patrol. Early in the morning of the 23rd we reached once more the huts at Ouderdom, having at last had the sense to have the limbers to meet us at Kruisstraat to carry packs, which at this time we always took into the line with us. We had been away from even hut civilisation for twenty-four days—quite long enough when those days have to be spent in the mud, noise and discomfort of the Salient.
Our rest, while fortunately comparatively free of working parties, contained two features of interest, an inspection by our new Brigadier, and an officers' cricket match against the 16th Lancers. For the first we were able, with the aid of a recently-arrived draft of 100 men, to parade moderately strong, and Gen. Kemp was well satisfied with our "turn-out." It was, however, to be regretted that the only soldier to whom he spoke happened to be a blacksmith, for which trade we had the previous day sent to Brigade Headquarters a "nil" return. The cricket match was a great success, and thanks to some excellent batting by Lieut. Langdale, we came away victorious. The light training which we carried out each day now included a very considerable amount of bomb throwing, and it seemed as though the bomb was to be made the chief weapon of the infantry soldier, instead of the rifle and bayonet, which always has been, and always will be, a far better weapon than any bomb. However, the new act had to be learnt, and a Battalion bomb squad was soon formed under 2nd Lieut. R. Ward Jackson, whose chief assistants were L/Cpl. R.H. Goodman, Ptes. W.H. Hallam, P. Bowler, E.M. Hewson, A. Archer, F. Whitbread, J.W. Percival and others, many of whom afterwards became N.C.O.'s. Every officer and man had to throw a live grenade, and, as there were eight or nine different kinds, he also had to have some mechanical knowledge, while the instructor had to know considerably more about explosives than a sapper.
The excitement of our next tour started before we reached Kruisstraat. All day long (the 28th August) a single 9.2" Howitzer had been firing behind a farm house on the track to the Indian Transport Field, and, as we marched past the position by platoons, all of us interested in watching the loading process, it suddenly blew up, sending breach-block, sheets of cast iron and enormous fragments of base plate and carriage several hundred yards through the air. We ran at once to the nearest cover, but three men were hit by falling fragments, and we were lucky not to lose more, for several of us, including 2nd Lieut. J.W. Tomson, had narrow escapes. We eventually reached the line, and relieved the Lincolnshires in Trenches "49" to "A3." The 3rd Division had now taken "A4" to "A7." Three days later 2nd Lieuts. H. Moss, N.C. Stoneham and C.B. Clay joined us, and were posted to "A," "D" and "B" Companies respectively. At the same time 2nd Lieut. J.D. Hills was appointed Brigade Intelligence Officer, a new post just introduced by General Kemp.
We suffered the usual scattered shelling and trench mortaring during the first half of the tour, to which our Artillery could only reply lightly because they were saving ammunition for an organised bombardment further North. However, no serious damage was done, so this did not matter. The bombardment took place at dawn on the 1st September, and in reply the Germans, instead of shelling the left as was expected, concentrated all their efforts on the "50," "A1" corner, starting with salvoes of whizz-bangs, and finishing with a heavy shoot, 8", 5.9" and shrapnel, from 10.45 to mid-day. Our Artillery replied at once, but nothing would stop the Boche, who had the most extraordinary good fortune in hitting our dug-outs, causing many casualties. 2nd Lieut. Clay, not yet 24 hours in trenches, was among the first to be wounded, and soon afterwards Serjt. B. Smith, of "B" Company, received a bad wound, to which he succumbed a few hours later. In "A" Company, except for C.S.M. Gorse's and the Signallers', every dug-out was hit, and C.E. Scott and F.W. Pringle, the two officers' batmen, were killed, while A.H. Cassell was badly wounded. The officers themselves had two miraculous escapes. First, 2nd Lieuts. Tomson and Moss were sitting in their dug-out, when a 5.9" dud passed straight through the roof and on into the ground almost grazing 2nd Lieut. Tomson's side. These two then went round to wake Capt. Hastings, who was resting in another dug-out, and the three had only just left, when this too was blown in, burying Capt. Hastings' Sam Browne belt and all his papers. Many brave deeds were done during the shelling, two of which stand out. T. Whitbread, of "A" Company, hearing of the burying of the two officers' servants, rushed to the spot, and, regardless of the shells which were falling all round, started to dig them out, scraping the earth away with his hands, until joined by Sergeants Gore and Baxter, who came up with shovels. The other, whose work cannot be passed over, was our M.O., Captain Barton. Always calm and collected, yet always first on the spot if any were wounded, he seemed to be in his element during a bombardment, and this day was no exception. He was everywhere, tying up wounds, helping the Stretcher Bearers, encouraging everyone he met, and many a soldier owed his life to the ever-present "Doc."
On the 2nd September we were relieved by the Lincolnshires again, and once more became Brigade reserve for six days—six of the most unpleasant days we spent in the Salient. First the Railway dug-outs, to which Battalion Headquarters and half the Battalion should have gone, had been so badly shelled while the Lincolnshires were there that only one company was allowed to go, while the remainder were sent to bivouac at Kruisstraat. The fine weather came to an end the same day, and it rained hard all the time, which would have been bad enough in bivouacs, and was worse for us who had to spend most of our day on some working-party, either dug-outs, or trying to drain some hopelessly water-logged communication trench, such as the one from Manor Farm to Square Wood. Altogether we had a poor time, and were quite glad on the 8th to return to trenches, where we were joined two days later by Lieut.-Col. C.H. Jones, who had returned from England and took over command. He had had the greatest difficulty in returning to France, and it was only when he had applied to the War Office for command of a Brigade in Gallipoli that the authorities at last took notice of him and sent him back to us. On his arrival Major Toller resumed his duties of 2nd in command; Major Bland was at the time in England sick.
The arrival of an officer reinforcement was always the signal for a Boche strafe, and the return of the Colonel they celebrated with a two days' "hate" instead of one. "A1" and "50" and their supports suffered most, and much damage to trenches was done by heavy Minenwerfer, 8" and 5.9" shells. Towards evening the situation became quieter, but just before 10 o'clock the Boche exploded a camouflet against one of our "A1" mine galleries, and killed three Tunnellers, whose bodies we could not rescue owing to the gasses in the mine, which remained there for more than twenty-four hours. The next day the bombardment of "50" and "50S" continued, and amongst other casualties, which were heavy, Capt. J.L. Griffiths and 2nd Lieut. R.B. Farrer of "B" Company were both hit and had to be evacuated, the one with 13, the other 35 small fragments of shell in him. The enemy had now become so persistent that we asked for help from our heavy artillery, and the following day—our last in the line—we carried out several organized bombardments of important enemy centres, such as "Hill 60," to which he replied with a few more large "crumps" on "50" support and was then silent. In the evening the Lincolnshires took our place, and, having lost 11 killed and 39 wounded in 6 days, we marched back to rest at Dickebusch huts.
For some considerable time there had been many rumours about a coming autumn offensive on our part, and on the 22nd September, having returned to trenches two days previously, we received our first orders about it. We were told nothing very definite except that the 3rd and 14th Divisions would attack at Hooge, while we made a vigorous demonstration to draw retaliation from their front to ourselves, and that there would also be attacks on other parts of the British front. We were to make a feint gas attack by throwing smoke-bombs and lighting straw in front of our parapet, to frighten the Boche into expecting an attack along the "Hill 60"—Sanctuary Wood front. Capt. Burnett and his transport were, therefore, ordered to bring up wagon-loads of straw, much to their annoyance, for they already had a bad journey every night with the rations, and extra horses meant extra anxiety. It was seldom that the transport reached Armagh Wood without being shelled on an ordinary night, and whenever there was fighting in any part of the Salient, the area round Maple Copse became so hot that they had to watch for an opportunity and gallop through. In spite of this they never failed us, and rations always arrived, even in the worst of times.
On the 23rd there were two preliminary bombardments, one short but very heavy at Hooge, the other lasting most of the morning on "Hill 60"—a bluff. During the night it rained and the arrival of our straw was consequently postponed until the following night, which proved to be little better. The wagons were late and there was not much time to complete our task; however, all worked their utmost, and by 1.0 a.m. on the 25th a line of damp straw had been spread along our wire in front of "50." Unfortunately, the Battalion on our right were unable to put their straw in position in time, but as the Brigade beyond them had theirs, we thought this would not make any difference to the operation. Just before daylight a general order from G.H.Q. arrived, starting with the words, "At Dawn, on the 25th September, the British Armies will take the offensive on the Western Front." We felt that the time had now come when the war was going to be won and the Boche driven out of France, and some of us were a little sorry that our part was to consist of nothing more than setting fire to some damp straw.
At 3.50 a.m. Hooge battle started with an intense artillery bombardment from every gun in the salient, and it was an inspiring sight to stand on the ridge behind "50" trench and watch, through the half-light, the line of flashes to the west, an occasional glare showing us the towers of Ypres over the trees. The Germans replied at once on "A1" trench, but finding that we remained quiet, their batteries soon ceased fire and opened instead on Sanctuary Wood and Hooge. This was expected, for it was not in the initial attack, but during the consolidation that the 3rd Division wanted to draw the enemy's fire. At a few minutes before six our time had come, smoke bombs were thrown, and, though the wind was against us, Col. Jones, feeling that we must make the biggest possible display, ordered the straw to be lit. This promptly drew fire, and in five minutes there was not one single gun on our side of the Salient still firing at Hooge, they had all turned on us. At first sight of the smoke several machine guns had opened fire opposite "50" and "49," but these died away almost at once as the Boche, thoroughly frightened at the prospect of gas, evacuated his trenches. Half-an-hour later he actually bombarded his own lines on the Northern slopes of "Hill 60" with 11" shells, presumably imagining that we had occupied them. The bluff was complete.
But such a success cannot be purchased without loss, and our losses had been heavy. The Staffordshires had not lit their straw because of the wind, so that the enemy's retaliation, which should have been spread along the whole front from "A1" to "Hill 60" was concentrated entirely on our three trenches "40," "50" and "A1." "C" Company (Lt. R.D. Farmer) in "50" suffered most. Choked and blinded by the smoke from the straw, which blew back and filled the trench, their parapet blown away by salvo after salvo of small shells, their supports battered with 8" and heavy mortars, with no cover against the unceasing rain of shells from front and left, they had to bear it all in silence, unable to hit back. Serjts. J.G. Burnham and J. Birkin were killed, and with them 10 others of the battalion, while 30 more were wounded. Once more the "Doc." and his stretcher-bearers were everywhere, and many who might otherwise have bled to death, owed their lives to this marvellous man, who wandered round and dressed their wounds wherever the shelling was hottest. At the first opening of the battle our telephone lines to the Artillery were broken, and for some time we could get no support, but the Derby Howitzers and one of the Lincolnshire batteries fired a number of rounds for us, and later, thanks to the efforts of Lieut. C. Morgan, R.F.A., the F.O.O., we were able to call on Major Meynell's Staffordshire battery as well. By 7.15 a.m. all was once more quiet, and we spent the rest of the day evacuating our casualties, and trying to clear away some of the litter of straw from our trenches.
The following day passed quietly, and in the evening, relieved by the Lincolnshires, we marched out of trenches. Ten minutes later the enemy blew up trench "47" and opened heavy rifle fire on all sides of the salient. The Battalion was marching by companies, and "A" and "D" had just reached Manor Farm when the noise began, and bullets fell all round them. Capt. Jefferies, who was leading, was hit almost at once and fell mortally wounded, never again recovering consciousness, and several others became casualties before the party could reach cover on the far side of the Farm. "B" and "C" were still in Armagh Wood, so Colonel Jones at once decided to man the new breastwork between it and Square Wood, and there they remained until the situation became once more quiet. Finally, at midnight, we moved into our Brigade Support positions, Headquarters and "B" Company in Railway Dug-outs, "C" Company in Deeping Dug-outs near the Lake, and the others in Kruisstraat bivouacs. Even now we were not allowed to live in peace, for the following morning, at 11.0 a.m., the enemy bombarded Railway Dug-outs for two hours, firing 90 8" shells, and (so says the War Diary) "plenty of shrapnel." No one was hit, though Col. Jones' dug-out and the Orderly Room were destroyed, and the bomb store, which was hit and set on fire, was only saved from destruction by the efforts of C.S.M. Lovett, who with Pte. Love and one or two others, fetched water from the pond and put out the fire. From 6.30 to 7.30 p.m. the dug-outs were again bombarded and a few more destroyed, so that we were not sorry when, on the 1st October the Wiltshire Regiment came to relieve us, and we marched back to bivouacs at Ouderdom.
On the 2nd, after a farewell address to the officers by the Corps Commander, the Battalion marched during the morning to Abeele, where at 3.30 p.m. we entrained for the South and said good-bye to the "Salient" for ever. We were not sorry to go, even though there were rumours of a coming battle, and our future destination was unknown.
1st Oct., 1915. 15th Oct., 1915.
We journeyed southwards in three parts. Battalion Headquarters and the four Companies went first, reached Fouquereuil Station near Bethune after a six hours' run, and marched at once to Bellerive near Gonnehem. Here, at noon the following day—the 3rd October—they were joined by Lieut. Wollaston with the machine guns and ammunition limbers which had entrained at Godewaersvelde and travelled all night, and at 4.30 p.m., by Capt. John Burnett with the rest of the Transport. The latter had come by road, spending one night in bivouacs at Vieux Berquin on the way. This move brought us into the First Army under Sir Douglas Haig, who took an early opportunity of being introduced to all Commanding Officers and Adjutants in the Division, coming to Brigade Headquarters at Gonnehem on the afternoon of the 3rd, where Col. Jones and Lieut. G.W. Allen went to a conference. Lieut. Allen had become Adjutant when Capt. Griffiths was wounded, and Capt. Langdale was wanted for command of "B" Company. Our other Company Commanders remained unchanged except that Major Bland returned from England and took charge of "D."
The billets at Bellerive, consisting of large, clean farmhouses, were very comfortable, but we were not destined to stay there long, and on the 6th marched through Chocques to Hesdigneul, where there was less accommodation. The following day there was a conference at Brigade Headquarters, and we learnt our fate. On the 25th September, the opening day of the Loos battle, the left of the British attack had been directed against "Fosse 8"—a coal mine with its machine buildings, miners' cottages and large low slag dump—protected by a system of trenches known as the "Hohenzollern Redoubt," standing on a small rise 1,000 yards west of the mine. This had all been captured by the 9th Division, but owing to counter-attacks from Auchy and Haisnes, had had to be abandoned, and the enemy had once more occupied the Redoubt. A second attempt, made a few days later by the 28th Division, had been disastrous, for we had had heavy casualties, and gained practically no ground, and except on the right, where we had occupied part of "Big Willie" trench, the Redoubt was still intact. Another attempt was now to be made at an early date, and, while 12th and 1st Divisions attacked to the South, the North Midland was to sweep over the Redoubt and capture Fosse 8, consolidating a new line on the East side of it.
Apart from the Fosse itself, where the fortifications and their strength were practically unknown, the Redoubt alone was a very strong point. It formed a salient in the enemy's line and both the Northern area, "Little Willie," and the southern "Big Willie," were deep, well-fortified trenches, with several machine gun positions. Behind these, ran from N.E. and S.E. into the 2nd line of the Redoubt, two more deep trenches, "N. Face" and "S. Face," thought to be used for communication purposes only, and leading back to "Fosse" and "Dump" trenches nearer the slag-heap. The last two were said to be shallow and unoccupied. In addition to these defences, the redoubt and its approach from our line were well covered by machine gun posts, for, on the North, "Mad Point" overlooked our present front line and No Man's Land, while "Madagascar" Cottages and the slag-heap commanded all the rest of the country. The scheme for the battle was that the Staffordshires on the right and our Brigade with the Monmouthshires on the left would make the assault, the Sherwood Foresters remain in reserve. Before the attack there would be an intense artillery bombardment, which would effectually deal with "Mad Point" and other strongholds. In our Brigade, General Kemp decided to attack with two Battalions side by side in front, 4th Leicestershires and 5th Lincolnshires, followed by 4th Lincolnshires and Monmouthshires, each extended along the whole Brigade frontage, while, except for one or two carrying parties, he would keep us as his own reserve. The date for the battle had not been fixed, but it would probably be the 10th.
Reconnaissances started at once, and on the 8th Col. Jones and all Company Commanders and 2nds in Command went by motor 'bus to Vermelles, and reconnoitred our trenches, held at the time by the Guards Division. Our first three lines, where the assembly would take place the night before the battle, were all carefully reconnoitred as well as the "Up" and "Down" communication trenches—Barts Alley, Central, Water and Left Boyaus. These were simply cut into the chalk and had not been boarded, so, with the slightest rain, became hopelessly slippery, while to make walking worse a drain generally ran down the centre of the trench, too narrow to walk in and too broad to allow one to walk with one foot each side. From the front line we were able to see the edge of the Redoubt, Mad Point, and the mine with its buildings and Slag-heap. The last dominated everything, and could be seen from everywhere. It was not very encouraging to see the numbers of our dead from the previous two attacks, still lying out in No Man's Land, whence it had not yet been possible to carry them in. The party reached home soon after 5 p.m., and a few minutes later a heavy bombardment in the direction of Vermelles was followed by an order to "stand to," which we did until midnight, when all was quiet again, and we were allowed to go to bed.
The following day the remainder of the officers and a party of selected N.C.O.'s went again to the line to reconnoitre. While they were away we heard the meaning of the previous night's noise. The Boche had attacked our posts in "Big Willie" held by a Battalion of the Coldstream Guards, and after a long fight had been driven back with heavy losses, leaving many dead behind them. Both sides had used no other weapon than the bomb, and our success was attributed to our new Mills grenade, which could be thrown further and was easier to handle than the German stick bomb, and the Coldstreams were said to have thrown more than 5,000 of these during the fight. This little encounter had two results. First, it definitely postponed our attack to the 13th; secondly, it brought the Mills grenade into so much prominence that we were ordered to practise with that and that only, and to ensure that during the next three days every man threw them frequently. At the same time we were definitely promised that no other grenade would be issued during our coming battle.
As it was not intended that we should go into trenches until the night before the assault, only very few of the N.C.O.'s and none of the men would have any opportunity of previously studying the ground. In order, therefore, that all might be made familiar with the general appearance and proportionate distances of the various objectives, a small scale model of the Redoubt and Fosse 8 was built opposite Divisional Headquarters at Gosnay, and Sunday afternoon was spent in studying this and explaining full details to all concerned. In the evening the Corps Commander, General Haking, spoke to all officers of the Division in the Chateau courtyard, and told us some further details of the attack. We were to be supported by the largest artillery concentration ever made by the British during the war up to that time, and there would be 400 guns covering the Divisional front. Under their fire we need have no fear that any machine guns could possibly be left in "Mad Point," "Madagascar," or any of the other points due for bombardment. At the same time he told us that if the wind were in the right direction we should be further assisted by the "auxiliary." In this case there would be an hour's bombardment, followed by an hour's "auxiliary," during which time the guns would have to be silent because High Explosive was apt to disperse chlorine gas. At the end of the second hour we should advance and find the occupants all dead. Attacks at dawn and dusk had become very common lately and seemed to be expected by the Boche; we would therefore attack at 2 p.m.
During the next two days we spent most of our time throwing Mills grenades, and certainly found them a very handy weapon, which could be thrown much further than our previous patterns. We also had to make several eleventh hour changes in personnel, Major Bland and Lieut. Allen were both compelled by sickness to go to Hospital—the former to England. It was exceptionally bad luck for both, to endure the routine of six months' trenches and training and then have to leave their unit on the eve of its first great fight, in which both these officers were so keen to take part. In their places Lieut. Hills was appointed to "D" Company, but as he was taken by General Kemp for Intelligence Work, 2nd Lieut. G.B. Williams took command. No one was appointed Adjutant, and Colonel Jones decided that as officers were scarce he and Major Toller would between them share the work at Battalion Headquarters. Two new officers also arrived and were posted, 2nd Lieut. G.T. Shipston to "C" and 2nd Lieut. L. Trevor Jones to "D" Company.
On the 12th, after some last words of advice from Colonel Jones, who addressed the Battalion, we set off to march to trenches, wearing what afterwards became known as "Fighting Order," with great coats rolled and strapped to our backs. The Brigade band accompanied us through Verquin, and a Staffordshire band played us into Sailly Labourse, where General Montagu-Stuart-Wortley watched us turn on to the main road. There was an hour's halt for teas between here and Noyelles, and finally at 10-5 p.m. we marched into Vermelles. The next eight hours were bad, for it took eight hours to reach our assembly position, the third line—eight hours standing in hopelessly congested communication trenches, waiting to move forward. For men heavily laden—each carried six sandbags and every third man a shovel—this delay was very tiring, for it meant continuous standing with no room to rest, and resulted in our arriving in the line tired out, to find that it was already time to have breakfasts. The Reserve Line was full of troops, but it was found possible to give all a hot breakfast, and many managed to snatch a couple of hours' sleep before the bombardment opened at 12 noon.
Compared with the bombardments of the Somme and the later battles, our bombardment was small, but it seemed to us at the time terrific, and it was very encouraging to see direct hits on the mine workings and the various trenches. The enemy retaliated mostly on communication trenches, using some very heavy shells, but not doing a great deal of damage. At 1 p.m. chlorine gas was discharged from cylinders packed in our front line, and at the same time a quantity of smoke bombs and mortar shells were fired towards the Redoubt by parties of our Divisional Artillery who were not covering us in the battle. The enemy at once altered his retaliation targets, and opened a heavy fire on our front line, trying to burst the gas cylinders, and succeeding in filling the trench with gas in three places by so doing. At 1-50 p.m. the gas and smoke was gradually diminished and allowed to disperse, and, ten minutes later, wearing gas helmets rolled on their heads, the leading waves moved out to the assault.
The start was disastrous. Colonel Martin and his Adjutant were both wounded, Colonel Sandall was wounded and his Adjutant killed in the first few minutes, and the machine gun fire along the whole of our front was terrific. Still, the nature of the ground afforded them some protection and they pushed forward, losing heavily at every step, until they had crossed the first line of the Redoubt. The 4th Lincolnshires and Monmouthshires followed, and we moved up towards the front line so as to be ready if required, and at the same time a party of our Signallers went forward to lay a line to the newly captured position. L.-Corpl. Fisher himself took the cable and, regardless of the machine gun fire, calmly reeled out his line across No Man's Land, passed through the enemy's wire and reached the Redoubt. Communication was established, and we were able to learn that all waves had crossed the first German line and were going forward against considerable opposition. Meanwhile, on the right the Staffordshires had fared far worse even than our Brigade. Starting from their second line, they were more exposed to machine gun fire from all sides, and very few reached even their own front line, whilst row upon row were wiped out in their gallant effort to advance.
In case of failure and the consequent necessity of holding our original front line against strong counter attacks, it had been arranged that our machine guns should take up permanent positions in this line. This was done, and Lieut. Wollaston was supervising the work of his teams and improving their positions when he saw that a considerable number of men were coming back from the Redoubt. Their officers and N.C.O.'s killed, they themselves, worn out by the exertions of the past 24 hours, half gassed by the chlorine which still hung about the shell holes, shot at by machine guns from every quarter, had been broken by bombing attacks from every trench they attacked and now, having thrown all their bombs, were coming back. The situation was critical, and Lieut. Wollaston, deciding to leave his guns now that they were in good positions, made his way along the trench and tried to rally the stragglers. Many were too badly shaken to go forward again, but some answered his call and collecting some more grenades the little party started back towards the Redoubt. Lieut. Wollaston was knocked down and wounded in the back by a shell, but still went forward, and, reaching the first German line, turned left towards "Little Willie," which the Boche was still holding in force. At the same time General Kemp ordered two of our Companies to be sent up to assist, and Colonel Jones sent word to "B" and "A" to move up. One message from the Redoubt which reached Colonel Jones at this time said "Please send bombs and officers."
Captain Langdale decided to advance in line, and leaving their trenches the four platoons started off in that formation. The platoon commanders became casualties in the first few yards, 2nd Lieut. Marriott being wounded and the two others gassed, and by the time they reached our front line the Company Commander was leading them himself. Walking along with his pipe in his mouth, Captain Langdale might have been at a Field Day, as he calmly signalled his right platoon to keep up in line, with "keep it up, Oakham," as they crossed our trench. The line was kept, and so perfectly that many of the stragglers who had come back turned and went forward again with them. But once more as they were reaching the German front line came that deadly machine gun fire, and their gallant Commander was one of the first to fall, killed with a bullet in the head. C.S.M. Lovett was badly wounded at the same time, Serjt. Franks killed, and the Company, now leaderless, was broken into isolated parties fighting with bombs in the various trenches.
"A" Company followed. Keeping his platoons more together and on a smaller frontage, Captain Hastings decided to attempt a bayonet attack against the German opposition on the left of the Redoubt, and himself led his men up to the attack. Again Platoon Commanders were the first to fall, and as they climbed out of our trenches, 2nd Lieut. Lawton was mortally wounded in the stomach and 2nd Lieut. Petch badly shot through the arm. However, this did not delay the attack, and the Company, crossing the German front line, quickened their pace and made for the junctions of "Little Willie" and "N. Face." Once more bombs and machine guns were too hot for them, and first Capt. Hastings, then 2nd Lieut. Moss were killed near the German second line, leaving the Company in the hands of 2nd Lieut. Tomson and C.S.M. Gorse, who at once organized the platoons for the defence of the second line, realizing that it was useless to try to advance further. 2nd Lieut. Petch, in spite of his wound, remained several hours with his platoon, but eventually had to leave them. The ground was covered with the dead and wounded of the other Battalions, Fosse and Dump trenches were filled with Germans and machine guns, "S. Face" and both "Willies" were full of bombers, and worst of all the machine guns of Mad Point, Madagascar and the Slag-heap had apparently escaped untouched. There was only one thing left to do, and that to hold what we had got against these bombing attacks, and consolidate our new position without delay.
Meanwhile, in addition to our two Companies, there were several other parties and units fighting in various parts of the Redoubt, and of these Colonel Evill, of the Monmouthshires, himself on the spot, took command, sending down for more men and more bombs. Of these little parties the most successful was that under Lieut. Wollaston, who, although wounded, led a bombing attack into "Little Willie," and pushed on so resolutely that he gained some eighty yards of trench before being compelled to withdraw owing to lack of bombs and ammunition. Unfortunately there was no other party near to help him, or "Little Willie" would probably have been ours. On the right, Lieut. Madge, of the Lincolnshires, held on for an incredibly long time with only a few machine gunners far in advance of anyone else, only coming back after 5 p.m., when he found that part of the captured ground had been evacuated by us. Here, too, Lieut. Morgan, of the Staffordshire Brigade R.F.A., was killed leading his gunners forward to help the infantry who were in difficulties. Some of "D" Company were also in action at this time. Thirteen and Fourteen Platoons set off, as originally ordered, under Royal Engineer officers, to put out barbed wire in front of the Redoubt, but as they reached our front line were heavily shelled and lost touch with the Engineers, many of whom were killed. 2nd Lieut. Stoneham had already been badly wounded, and Lieut. Williams, with a blood-stained bandage tying up a wounded ear, was with his other half Company, so the two platoons were left without officers. Serjt W.G. Phipps, who was leading, knew nothing about the wiring orders, having been told simply to follow the R.E., so he ordered his platoon to collect all the bombs they could find and make for the Redoubt. Serjt. G. Billings with 14 followed, and the half Company entered the fight soon after "A" Company. Their fate was the same. Serjt. Billings, with Corporals A. Freeman and T.W. Squires, were all killed trying to use their bayonets against "N. Face," and the rest were scattered and joined the various bomb parties. F. Whitbread and A.B. Law found themselves in "Little Willie," and helped rush the enemy along it, only to be forced back each time through lack of bombs. Whitbread was particularly brave later, when he went alone over the top to find out the situation on their flank. One other officer was conspicuous, in the Redoubt, in our trenches, everywhere in fact where he could be of use—Captain Ellwood, in charge of machine guns and forward bomb stores, was absolutely indefatigable, and quiet and fearless performed miracles of energy and endurance.
At 3 p.m., the German bombing attacks increased in vigour, and this time a large part of our garrison of the German second line trench gave way and came back to the original front line of the Redoubt—some even to our front line. Who gave the order for this withdrawal was never discovered, but there was undoubtedly an order "Retire" passed along the line, possibly started by the Boche himself. Such a message coming to tired and leaderless men was sure to have a disastrous effect, and in a few minutes we had given up all except Point 60, a trench junction at the N. end of "Big Willie," and the front line of the Redoubt. In this last there were still plenty of men, and these, led by a few resolute officers and N.C.O.'s such as 2nd Lieut. Tomson, C.S.M. Gorse, and others, were prepared to hold it against all attacks. The original parados was cut into fire steps, bomb blocks were built in "Little Willie" and "North Face," and the garrison generally reorganized. Messages were sent for more bombs, and these were carried up in bags and boxes from Brewery Keep, Vermelles to the old front line, and thence across No Man's Land by parties of "C" and "D" Company.
While this took place in the Redoubt, Colonel Jones occupied the old front line with "C" Company (Lieuts. Farmer and Shields), and elements of "D" Company occupying the bays which were free from gas. The trench had been badly battered by shells at mid-day, and there were many killed and wounded still in it, amongst the latter being Colonel Martin, of the 4th Battalion, who garrisoned about 100 yards by himself. Shot through the knee and in great pain, he refused to go down, but sat at the top of "Barts Alley" receiving reports, sending information to Brigade, and directing as far as possible the remnants of his Battalion. For twenty-one hours he remained, calm and collected as ever, and only consented to be carried out when sure that all his Battalion had left the Redoubt. Meanwhile further to the left along the same trench, Colonel Jones made it his business to keep the Redoubt supplied with bombs. He was here, there, and everywhere, directing parties, finding bomb stores, helping, encouraging, and giving a new lease of life to all he met. Many brave deeds were done by N.C.O.'s and men and never heard of, but one stands out remembered by all who were there. L.-Corpl. Clayson, of "D" Company, during the time that his platoon was in this trench, spent all his time out in the old No Man's Land, under heavy machine gun fire, carrying in the wounded, many of whom would have perished but for his bravery.
With darkness came orders that the Sherwood Foresters would take over the line from us, but long before they could arrive our Companies in the Redoubt were being very hard pressed, and scarcely held their own. The German bombers never for a moment ceased their attack, and for some time our bombers held them with difficulty. Then came the cruellest blow of fortune, for many of the bags and boxes of bombs sent up during the afternoon were found to contain bombs without detonators, many others were filled with types of grenades we had never seen. In spite of this there was one officer who always managed to find the wherewithal to reply to the German attacks. Escaping death by a miracle, for his great height made him very conspicuous, 2nd Lieut. Tomson stood for hours at one of the bombing blocks, smoking cigarettes and throwing bombs. With him was Pte. P. Bowler, who proved absolutely tireless, while in another part of the line Pte. W.H. Hallam and one or two others carried out a successful bombing exploit on their own, driving back the enemy far enough to allow a substantial block to be built in a vital place. To add to the horrors of the situation, the garrison had ever in their ears the cries of the many wounded, who lay around calling for Stretcher Bearers or for water, and to whom they could give no help. The Bearers had worked all day magnificently, but there is a limit to human endurance, and they could carry no more. Even so, when no one else was strong enough, Captain Barton was out in front of the Redoubt, regardless of bombs, and thinking only of the wounded, many of whom he helped to our lines, while to others, too badly hit to move, he gave water or morphia. Hour after hour he worked on alone, and no one will ever know how many lives he saved that night.
Soon after 6 p.m., the Sherwood Foresters started to arrive and gradually worked their way up towards the Redoubt, a long slow business, for the communication trenches were all choked and no one was very certain of the route. One large party arriving at midnight happened to meet Colonel Jones, who advised them to try going over the top, and actually gave them their direction by the stars. So accurate were his instructions that the party arrived exactly at the Redoubt—incidentally at a moment when the Germans were launching a counter attack over the open. Such an attack might well have been disastrous, but the Boche, seeing the Sherwood Foresters and over-estimating their strength, retired hurriedly. By dawn the Sherwood Foresters had taken over the whole Redoubt, though many of our "A" and "B" Companies were not relieved and stayed there until the following night. Our task now was the defence of the original British front line, for which Colonel Jones was made responsible, and which we garrisoned with "C" (Farmer) right, "D" (Williams) centre, and "A" and "B" (Tomson) left. Major Toller, several times knocked down by shells and suffering from concussion, Lieut. Wollaston wounded, and 2nd Lieut. Wynne gassed, had all been sent down, and 2nd Lieut. Williams followed some hours later. Our only other officer, Lieut. R. Ward Jackson, was in charge of the Grenadiers, and spent his time in the Redoubt organizing bomb attacks and posts and trench blocks, himself throwing many bombs, and in a very quiet way doing a very great deal.
Twice during the night General Kemp visited the line, and went round the Redoubt before it was handed over to the Sherwood Foresters. He wanted very much to do more for the wounded, but the Stretcher Bearers were worked out, and though volunteers worked hard and rescued many, there were still numbers who had to be left until the following night. Rations were brought by the Company Q.M. Serjeants under Capt. Worley to the Quarry—a few hundred yards behind the left of our old front line—and waited there until parties could be sent for them, a matter of several hours. However, they were distributed at dawn, when they were very welcome, for many had been nearly twenty-four hours without food. 2nd Lieut. Tomson was one of these, remarking, as C.S.M. Gorse gave him some rum, that he had had nothing since the attack but "two biscuits and over 300 cigarettes!"
Throughout the following day we remained in our old front line, listening to the continuous bombing attacks in the Redoubt, and giving what assistance we could with carrying parties. The morning was very misty, and in expectation of a counter attack we were ordered to keep double sentries, so that the trench was more than usually full of men, when the enemy suddenly bombarded it with heavy shells. There were several direct hits, and the trench was blown in in many places, while one shell fell into the middle of a machine gun team. Serjt. W. Hall, of "D" Company, L/Corpl. A.F. Brodribb, and Pte. Bartlam were all killed, and the rest of the team were badly shaken, until C.S.M. Gorse and Corpl. B. Staniforth came along and helped to reorganize the post with a few new men. The trench contained no real cover, and the bombardment lasted for about half an hour; a severe ordeal for men who had already had a stiff fight followed by a night of bombing. Many of the telephone lines were broken, and L.-Corpl. Fisher, who had done such gallant work the previous day, was killed entering our trench just after he had re-opened communication. In the afternoon we were again bombarded, this time with lachrymatory as well as H.E. shells, but our casualties were not so heavy, though the trench was again demolished in several places. Finally at 11-30 p.m. the Sherwood Foresters started to relieve us. They arrived in small parties, and some did not appear until dawn the following day, so that relief was not complete until 8 a.m. We then went back to Lancashire trench between the Railway and Vermelles, where we slept for several hours.
At 2 p.m., motor 'buses arrived to take the Brigade back to Hesdigneul, and made several journeys, but had not room for all the Battalion, so 70 set off to march under Major Toller, who had returned to us in Lancashire trench. It proved to be a dark night, and the party lost their way slightly in Verquigneul, but finally arrived singing (led by C.S.M. Gorse) at Hesdigneul, and reached their billets about midnight.
In so far that Fosse 8 still remained in the hands of the enemy, the battle was a failure, but in capturing the Redoubt the Brigade had prevented it being a complete failure. Though we only held the German front line and one small point in advance of it, we made it impossible for the enemy to hold any of the Redoubt himself, and so robbed him of his commanding position on the high ground. Our casualties had been heavy, and the two attacking Battalions had only one officer left between them, while we in reserve had lost four officers and 22 men killed, six officers and 132 men wounded and 13 men missing. Two officers and 22 men had been gassed, but presently returned to us. The causes of our failure were mainly two. First, the failure of the Artillery to wipe out "Mad Point" and Madagascar and their machine guns; secondly, the gas. This last was undoubtedly a mistake. It caused us several casualties; it made it necessary for the attackers to wear rolled up gas masks which impeded them, it stopped our H.E. bombardment an hour before the assault and so enabled German machine gunners to come back to their guns, and above all it had a bad effect on us, for we knew its deadly effects, and many a man swallowing a mouthful or smelling it became frightened of the consequences and was useless for further fighting. There was also the mistake of leaving Fosse and Dump trenches untouched by the bombardment, because they were reported weeks before to be shallow and unoccupied; as it happened we found them full of men. Finally, there were the bombs. We had been promised Mills only, and yet found many other types during the battle. Possibly a shortage of Mills might account for this, but there can be no possible excuse for sending grenades into a fight without detonators, and no punishment could be too harsh for the officer who was responsible for this.
Honours and Rewards were not given in those days as they were later, and many a brave deed went unrecognized. There were only nine D.C.M.'s in the Division, and of these the Brigade won seven, to which we contributed one, Hallam, the grenadier. Of the officers, Capt. Barton, Lieut. Wollaston, and 2nd Lieut. Williams received the Military Cross, and the Colonel's name appeared in the next list for a C.M.G. It was not until long afterwards that those who had been with him began to talk of the splendid deeds of 2nd Lieut. Tomson throughout the day and night of the 13th, and he was never one to talk about himself. Had anyone in authority known at the time he, too, would have had some decoration.
FLANDERS MUD TO THE MEDITERRANEAN.
15th Oct., 1915. 28th Jan., 1916.
The whole Brigade was left very weak after the battle, and there was a serious shortage of officers. As in this respect we, as a Battalion, had suffered least, we had to supply the needs of other units, and Major Toller went to command the 4th Battalion, taking with him 2nd Lieut. Trevor Jones, as they had no subaltern officers. At the same time 2nd Lieut. H.E. Chapman was sent to help the 5th Lincolnshires, and Capt. Burnett and Lieut. Ward Jackson went to Brigade Headquarters to look after Transport and Bombs, while their duties in the Battalion were performed by Serjt. Brodribb and Serjt. Goodman. We could not afford a machine gun officer, so Serjt. Jacques was made responsible for the guns until an officer reinforcement should arrive. "A," "B" and "D" Companies were commanded by Lieuts. Tomson, Wynne, and Shields, and, as Lieut. Allen was still in hospital, Lieut. Hills acted as Adjutant. The officers all messed together at first, and tried to maintain the old cheerful spirit of the Battalion mess—a little difficult after losing in one day more than three-quarters of the mess.
On Sunday, General Montagu-Stuart-Wortley came to talk to the Battalion after Church parade, and congratulated us on the fighting, saying that, considering the odds against us, he thought we had done very well indeed. He then went round the ranks talking to some of the men who had taken part in the battle, and was very amused by some of the answers he received to his questions. One soldier, asked what he had done in the fight, replied that he had "blown half a Boche officer's leg off with a bomb." The General thought this excellent, but wanted to know why he had chosen half an officer only, and not a whole one.
We stayed ten days at Hesdigneul, and then moved to Drouvin and Vaudricourt, where the billets were better, and we were able to have a Battalion officers' mess. During this time, many reinforcement officers arrived and two large drafts of other ranks. Two of our original officers returned—Capt. Beasley, who now took command of "B" Company, and Lieut. Knighton, who returned to "D" as 2nd in Command. The remainder were new to us, and were posted as follows: "A" Company—2nd Lieuts. M.A. Hepworth, C.H. Pickworth, and G. Russell; "B" Company—2nd Lieuts. J.W. Brittain and, when they returned, the two officers lent to other Battalions; "C" Company—Capt. S.J. Fowler, 2nd Lieuts. A.M. Barrowcliffe and A.L. Macbeth; "D" Company—2nd Lieuts. A.H. Dawes, H.W. Oliver, and J.R. Brooke. 2nd Lieut. C.L. Saunders became Machine Gun Officer. With these additions we were able to start training again, and devoted our time to route marching, bayonet fighting, and, most of all, bomb throwing. At no time during the war was more reliance placed on bombs, and scheme after scheme was invented for "bombing attacks up a trench," to such an extent that the platoon organisation was now re-modelled with the one idea of forming bomb parties. The rifle seemed to be temporarily forgotten.
On the 28th October, as many Units as possible of the 1st Army were inspected by H.M. The King. Our Brigade formed a composite Battalion commanded by Col. Jones, and, with the rest of the Division, and representatives of other Divisions, was drawn up along the Hesdigneul-Labuissiere Road. His Majesty rode past us from Labuissiere and, after taking the salute, came down the hill again in his car with the Prince of Wales. He acknowledged our cheers with a smile, and it was not until afterwards that we learnt of his accident soon after passing us, and knew the pain he was suffering during his drive back, pain which he had so admirably concealed.
After the inspection we sent a large party, six officers and 230 N.C.O.'s and men, to Sailly Labourse, to carry gas cylinders and other material to trenches, but except for this we were spared all fatigues during our period of rest. A week later we marched through Bethune and Robecq to Calonne sur la Lys, a little village outside Merville, where we remained another week before going to the line. Lieut. Allen rejoined us and became Adjutant; Lieut. Hills, after a few days with "A" Company, went to Brigade Headquarters as a Staff Learner. At the same time, Major Toller returned to the Battalion as 2nd in Command. After commanding the 4th Battalion until a new Colonel arrived for them, he had been posted to the 5th Lincolnshires, and for a time it looked as though he would be permanently given command. However, bad luck pursued him, and, as two new Colonels arrived for that Battalion the same day, he again lost his Command. Considering that he had commanded us for three months during the summer with great success, and was easily senior Major in the Brigade, it was exceptionally bad luck that he had to wait another eight months before finally getting his Battalion.
On the 10th November, we were told that we should once more take over a part of the line, and the following morning we marched to Lacouture and went into billets for one night. "B" Co. (Beasley) went on at once and spent the night in support positions near the Rue du Bois between Festubert and Neuve Chapelle. The rest of us moved up the next day and took over our new line from the Sherwood Foresters the same night. Battalion Headquarters lived in a little cottage, "No. 1" Albert Road, two Companies occupied a large farm house in the same neighbourhood fitted up as a rest house, one Company lived in a series of curiously named keeps—"Haystack," "Z Orchard," "Path," and "Dead Cow," and one Company only was in the front line.
The Brigade now held the line from "Kinkroo," a corruption of La Quinque Rue, crossing to the "Boar's Head," and of this we held the stretch opposite the two farms in No Man's Land, Fme du Bois and Fme Cour d'Avoue. The latter, surrounded by a moat, had an evil reputation, and was said to have been the death-trap of many patrols, which had gone there and never been seen since. The trenches had been dug in the summer when the country was dry, with no regard to the fact that in winter the water level rises to within two inches of the surface of the ground. In consequence, the trenches were full of mud and water, and most of the bivouacs and shelters were afloat. The mud was the worst, for although only two feet deep, yet it was of the clinging variety, and made walking impossible, so much so, that many a man has found it impossible to withdraw his foot, has had to leave his gum-boot behind, go on in his socks, and come back later with a shovel to rescue his boot. The water was deeper and often came over one's gum-boots and up to one's waist, but at least it was possible to walk slowly through it without fear of getting stuck. To add to the discomfort of the garrison, the weather was bitterly cold and often very wet, and though no Company remained more than 24 hours in the front line, yet that was long enough for many to become chilled and so start the terrible "trench foot."
"Trench foot," as it was called, was one of the most terrible afflictions of winter trenches. After standing for a long period in water or mud, or with wet rubber boots, the feet became gradually numbed and the circulation ceased, while as the numbed area increased a dull aching pain spread over the whole foot. Exercise to restore the circulation would have prevented this, but for men who were compelled to spend the entire day in one fire bay, exercise was impossible, and by evening the numbness had almost always started. As soon, therefore, as a Company came from the front line, it marched to the rest house. Here, every man was given a hot drink, his wet boots and socks were taken away, his feet rubbed by the Stretcher Bearers until the circulation was restored, and then with dry socks and dry boots he remained for the next 24 hours in the warmer atmosphere of the rest house. Should action not be taken in time, and a man be left for 48 hours with wet boots and socks, the rest house treatment was insufficient, and he had to be sent to Hospital, where, if gangrene had not set in, he could still be cured. Many in the early days did not realize its dangers, for once gangrene starts, the foot has to be amputated.
The enemy's trenches were probably as bad as our own, and he only manned his front line at night, leaving a few snipers to hold it by day. These were active for the first hour or two after morning "stand to," but then had breakfast and apparently slept for the rest of the day, at all events they troubled us no more. This was a distinct advantage, for it enabled communication to be kept between posts and from front to rear, without the orderly having either to swim up a communication trench or run a serious risk of being sniped. One, Kelly, a famous "D" Company character, tried to walk too soon one morning to fetch his rum ration and was hit in the knee, much to his annoyance; but on the whole there were very few casualties. By night, too, there was not much firing, probably because both sides were hard at work taking up rations, relieving front line posts, or trying to get dry with the aid of a walk "on top." In our case, with 24 hour reliefs, there were no ration parties, because each Company as it went to the line took its rations and fuel with it.
Our only communication trench was "Cadbury's," which started near "Chocolat Menier," corner of the Rue du Bois, so called after an advertisement for this chocolate fastened to the side of a house. It was even more water logged than the front line, and consequently, except when the ice was thick enough to walk on, was seldom used. With a little care it was possible to reach the front line even by day without the help of a trench at all, and Lieut. Saunders always used to visit his machine guns in this way, making the journey both ways over the top every day that we held the sector, and never once being shot at.
The Rue du Bois we used as little as possible, for every other house was an O.P., and the gunners preferred us at a distance. The "Ritz," "Carlton," "Trocadero," and "Princes" all gave one an excellent view of the enemy's front line, and, knowing this, the Boche concentrated most of the little artillery he used on this neighbourhood. There was seldom any heavy shelling, mostly field artillery only, and this of a poor order, for not only were there many "duds" in every shoot, but also the gunners seemed to lack imagination. So regular were they in their choice of targets, times of shooting, and number of rounds fired, that, after being in the line one or two days, Col. Jones had discovered their system, and knew to a minute where the next shell would fall. His calculations were very accurate, and he was able to take what seemed to uninitiated Staff Officers big risks, knowing that the shelling would stop before he reached the place being shelled.
Amongst the new subaltern officers was one unlike any we had seen before—2nd Lieut. J.R. Brooke. He loved patrolling for its own sake, and during his first few days in the line explored everything he could find including the German wire and trenches. From this time onwards he spent more of his days crawling about on his stomach than sitting like a respectable soldier in a trench, and even when years later he became a Company Commander it was found impossible to break him of the habit. Captains were forbidden to go on patrol, but this did not matter to him, he would take a subaltern with him and make the latter write the report, calling it 2nd Lieut. —— and one other Rank. One would expect such a man to be large, strong, and of a fierce countenance; 2nd Lieut. Brooke was small, of delicate health, and looked as though his proper vacation in life was to hand cups of tea to fair ladies at a village tea fight.
It seemed probable that we should have to remain in this sector for the whole winter, and our first thought was, therefore, how to make the trenches somewhat more habitable. It was obvious that digging was out of the question, and that nothing less than a large breastwork, built entirely above ground, would be of any use. General Kemp visited the lines several times before finally deciding on his plan, and then sighted two works, the front a few yards behind our present front line, the second just behind what was called the "old British Line," now used for our supports. It was a gigantic task, and the work was very slow, even though every available man worked all night. The inside of the breastwork was to be revetted with frames of woodwork and expanded metal, and, in order that the parapet might be really bullet proof, the soil for it had to be dug from a "borrow pit" several yards in front. The soil was sticky and would not leave the shovel, which added terribly to the work; for each man had literally to dig a shovel full, walk five or six yards and deposit it against the revetting frames. Fortunately for us the Boche did not seem to object to our work, in any case he left us in peace each night.
While this was in progress, an effort was also made to try and drain the area. In many places water was lying, held up by sandbag walls and old trenches, actually above the ground level, and it was hoped that by cleaning ditches and arranging a general drainage scheme for the whole area, this surplus water might be drained off, and, in time, the whole water level lowered. Lieut. A.G. Moore, M.C., who returned from England at this time, was made "O.C. Drainage," and set to work at once with what men he could collect, but so big were the parties working on the breastworks each night, that only a very few could be spared for this other work, and not very much could be done.
Soon after Lieut. Moore, 2nd. Lieut. G.B. Williams also returned to us, and became Battalion Intelligence Officer, a post now started for the first time. At the same time four new officers arrived—2nd Lieuts. G. Selwyn and W. Ashwell to "A" Company, 2nd Lieut. A.N. Bloor to "B," and 2nd Lieut. V.J. Jones to "D." C.S.M. Gilding and Serjt. Brodribb both left us to be trained as officers, and their places were taken by C.Q.M.S. Johnson who became C.S.M. of "C" Company, and Corpl. Roberts who took charge of the Transport. The latter was still under the special care of Capt. Burnett, although he had all the Transport of the Brigade to look after.
Our first tour ended on the 25th, when, after 12 days' mud and frost, we were relieved by the 4th Lincolnshires, and came back to billets in the Rue des Chavattes, not far from Lacouture, where Stores and Transport remained throughout this time. Our casualties had not been very heavy, and we lost more through the weather conditions than at the hands of the enemy, for Capt. Fowler and several N.C.O.'s and men, unable to stand the exposure, had to be sent to Hospital. Our billeting area included several keeps or strong points—L'Epinette, le Touret, and others—for which we found caretakers, little thinking, as we stocked them with reserve rations, that the Boche would eventually eat our "Bully," and it would fall to our lot in three years time to drive him from these very positions. The day after relief, the Brigadier went on leave, and Col. Jones took his place at Brigade Headquarters—"Cense du Raux" Farm—somewhat to the annoyance of one or two of the other Commanding Officers, who, though junior to the Colonel, were all "Regular Time-serving Soldiers."
Up to this time our covering Artillery had belonged to another (New Army) Division, but now our own Gunners took over the line, making it more than ever certain that we were to spend the whole winter in these abominable trenches. We were very glad to see our own Artillery again, for, though their predecessors had done quite well, we always preferred our own, even in the days of 15 pounders and 5 inch howitzers. Not only were they more accurate than other people, but they were also more helpful, and were obviously intent on serving us Infantry, not, as some others, on carrying on a small war of their own. Besides, we knew the F.O.O.'s so well and looked forward to seeing them in the Mess, where, between occasional squabbles about real or imaginary short shooting, they were the most cheerful companions. Lieuts. Wright, Morris-Eyton, Watson of the 1st Staffs., Morgan, Anson of the 4th, and Lyttelton, Morris, and Dixie of the 2nd Lincolnshires, were the most frequent visitors for the "pip squeaks," while Lieuts. Newton, Cattle, and F. Joyce performed the same duties for the Derby Howitzers. They always took care to maintain their superiority over the mere foot soldier by a judicious use of long technical words which they produced one at a time. At Kemmel they were always "registering"; at Ypres, as we, too, had learnt the meaning of "register" and even dared to use the word ourselves, they introduced "bracketing," and as this became too common, "calibrating" and so on; the more famous of recent years being "datum point" and M.P.I, (mean point of impact). Occasionally our officers used to visit the Batteries, in order to learn how a gun was fired—an opportunity for any F.O.O. to wreak vengeance on some innocent Infantry Subaltern, who had dared to suggest that he had been shooting short. The Infantryman would be led down to the gun pit, and told to stand with one leg on each side of the trail, "so that he could watch the shell leave the gun"; some Gunner would then pull a string and the poor spectator, besides being nearly deaf, would see some hideous recoiling portion shoot straight at his stomach, stop within an eighth of an inch of his belt buckle, and slide slowly back—a ghastly ordeal.
On the night of the 2nd December, we went once more to the line and relieved the 4th Lincolnshires in our old sector, which we found very much as we had left it, perhaps a little wetter, as it had been raining. For this tour we slightly altered our dispositions, and instead of each of the four Companies taking a tour in the front line, two Companies only would do so for this tour, the other two doing the same the following tour. It was hoped that in this way the garrison would take more interest in improving their surroundings if they knew they would return to the same place every other day. Under the old system, no one took much interest in a trench which he only occupied for 24 hours, and would not see again for four days. We did not, however, have a chance of testing this new arrangement, for at 3-45 the following morning, orders came that the Division would be relieved the following night, and was under orders to go to the East. As soon as it was dark, the 19th Division took our place in the line, and we marched back for the night to the Rue des Chavattes, whence, after ridding ourselves of gum-boots, sheepskin coats, and extra blankets, we marched the following day by Locon, Lestrem and Merville to Caudescure, a little village on the edge of Nieppe Forest.
We found fairly good billets here, though they were too scattered to allow of a Battalion Mess, and we spent a very enjoyable fortnight training, playing football, and listening to rumours about our destination. The most persistent of the last was Egypt, based in the first instance on a telephone conversation between a Corps and Divisional Signaller, overhead by a telephonist at Brigade, in which the Corps Signaller told his friend that he had seen a paper in one of the offices which said that we were to go to Egypt. On the other hand, Lieut. X of the Lincolnshires had a brother in the Flying Corps, who had ridden on a lorry with an A.S.C. Serjeant from G.H.Q., and had been told that all the Territorial Divisions in India were being relieved by Divisions from France. Against this was Captain Z's batman, who had a friend in the Staffordshires who was batman to an officer who had a cousin in the War Office, and he said we were going to the Dardenelles. On the top of all these came General Montagu-Stuart-Wortley to inspect us, and, incidentally, to tell us that he himself had not the slightest idea where we were going.
On the 19th we moved to the little hamlet of Tannay, still on the edge of the woods, between Haverskerque and Thiennes. As we paraded in the morning there were many who said they could smell gas, but as the wind was N.E. and the line very far away, we thought they must be mistaken. However, the next day the official communique told us of a big gas attack at Ypres on the 9th and 49th Divisions, and though Ypres was 18 miles away, it must have been this that could be smelt. In these new billets we spent Christmas—the first Christmas in France for us, and managed with the aid of plum puddings and other luxuries sent out to us by the good people at home, to enjoy ourselves immensely. Not only were many good things to eat sent us, but we also received some very welcome gifts of tobacco, cigarettes, books and stationery from the "Leicester Daily Post and Mercury" funds. Both these papers have been most faithful throughout the war, never failing to send us "themselves," and often adding boxes of comforts for all. Our celebrations included a Brigade Football Cup competition, for which we entered a hot side, including many of our old players—"Banger" Neal, "Mush" Taylor, Toon, Archer, Skelly, Fish, Serjt. Allan, Kirchin and others. We met the 5th Lincolnshires in the semi-finals and beat them 2—1, and then turned our attention to their 4th Battalion, who after beating our 4th Battalion, our old rivals, met us in the final and went down 1—0. The final was a keen, hard game, played well to the finish, and we deserved our win. The trophy—a clock, mounted into a French "75" shell—was taken back to Leicestershire by Capt. Farmer when he next went on leave.
On the 27th we again moved, this time to some farms round Widdebroucq, just west of Aire, to be nearer our entraining station Berguette, which with Lillers had already been reconnoitred. As Captains Hills and Ward Jackson had already gone forward with an advance party to Marseilles, it began to look as though we really should go East before the end of the war—a fact which some of us were beginning to doubt. Training still continued each day, special attention being paid to open warfare tactics, which fortunately included more musketry and less bombing, and we also carried out a number of route marches and field days. Scouts, having become obsolete, were resurrected, and Field Service Regulations rescued from the dim recesses of valises. It was a pleasant change after the previous nine months' trench work.
At last, on the 6th January, we marched to Berguette station and boarded a long train of cattle trucks, leaving at 4.40 p.m. The first part of the journey was uninteresting, but after passing Paris, the train seemed happier, went quite fast at times, and did not stop so long between stations. The weather on the 8th was lovely, and the third day's travelling under a hot sun was delicious; doors were pushed back, and those for whom there was no room on the foot-boards, sat on the carriage roofs. Finally, at 1.0 a.m. on the 9th, the train reached Marseilles, and we marched out to a camp on the west side of the town, in a suburb called Santi, where there were tents for all, and a large room for an officers' mess. Here we remained 14 days in the most excellent surroundings, and with heavenly weather.
The Staffordshires and Lincolnshires had already sailed for Egypt when we arrived, and a few days later another ship carried some Padres and other officers of the Division to the same destination. For the rest of us there were for the moment no transports, so we had to wait—not a very terrible task, when our most strenuous exercise was sea-bathing or playing water polo, and our recreation consisted of walking into the town, to which an almost unlimited number of passes were given. Here, it must be admitted, there was often too much to eat and far too much to drink, and the attractions were so great that everybody waited for the last possible tram back to camp, with the result that this vehicle arrived with human forms clinging to every corner of the sides, ends and roof—a most extraordinary sight. On one occasion two well-known soldiers who had dined too well and not too wisely, stood solemnly at the side of the road holding up their hands to a tram to stop, when a party of lively French scavengers turned the hosepipe on to them, and they had to be rescued from the gutter, where they lay with the water running in at their collars and out at their ankles. The officers, too, had many popular resorts, such as Therese's Bar and the Bodega for cocktails, the Novelty for dinner, and a host of entertainments to follow, ranging from the opera, which was first-class, for the serious, through the "Alcazar" and "Palais de Crystal" for the frivolous, to the picture palaces for the utterly depraved.
On the 20th we learnt that our Transport was now ready for us, and the following morning we marched to the docks and embarked in H.M.T. "Andania," late Cunard, which can only be described as a floating palace, fitted with every modern luxury. We were all rather glad to be leaving Marseilles, for it was an expensive place, and many of the officers were beginning to be a little apprehensive about the lengths to which Mr. Cox would let them go. However, all would now be right, because once in the desert we should draw extra pay and find no Bodegas. We were to sail on the morning of the 22nd, and soon after dawn orders arrived—to disembark! Sadly we left our palace and walked back to Santi Camp—now hateful to look upon, as we realised that within a few days we should be back once more in the mud, rain, cold and snow of Flanders. The reason for the sudden change, for taking half the Division to Egypt for a fortnight only, was never told us, but probably it was owing to the successful evacuation of the Dardanelles. Had this been a failure, had we been compelled to surrender large numbers to save the rest, the Turks would have been free to attack Egypt, which had at that time a small garrison only. As it was the Division from Gallipoli went to Egypt, and we were not wanted.
On the 27th Pte. Gregory, who died as the result of a tram accident, was given a full military funeral, and the following day at 4.30 a.m. we left Marseilles for the North.
THE VIMY RIDGE.
6th Feb., 1916. 9th May, 1916.
Our return train journey was uneventful until we reached Paris, where a German air raid started just as we arrived, and the train was compelled to stop. We had a beautiful view, and, as the French depended more on their own planes than on anti-aircraft guns, it was well worth watching. The French machines all carried small searchlights, and, in addition to these, the sky was light up with the larger searchlights from below, while the efforts of the Boche to avoid the lights, and the French to catch their opponents, produced some wonderful air-manoeuvering, which ended in the retirement of the Boche. As soon as they had gone, our train went on, and we reached Pont Remy station outside Abbeville at 8-30 a.m. on the 30th—back once more in rain, snow, and mud.
We marched at once to Yaucourt Bussus, a small village with comfortable billets, which we occupied for nearly a fortnight, spending our time training and playing football. Meanwhile, as the Brigadier and the two Lincolnshire Battalions had not yet returned from Egypt, Col. Jones, taking with him 2nd Lieut. Williams as Staff Officer, went to command the half Brigade and lived with Captain Burnett at Ailly le haut Clocher, another small village, to which the Brigadier came on his return on the 11th. While the Colonel was away, Major Toller took command and Major T.C.P. Beasley acted as 2nd in Command. For the time no one seemed to have the slightest idea what was going to happen to the Division next.
On the 10th we marched to Gorenflos, and the following day were taken by lorries to billets in Candas, where, with an East wind, we could occasionally hear the distant sounds of gunfire for the first time for two months. Our new area we found was full of preparation for something; what the exact nature of this something might be we did not know. Several large railways and dumps were being built, new roads made, and here and there with great secrecy big concrete gun platforms were laid. Each day we sent large numbers to work, mostly on the railways, and once more we heard the words "Big Push." We were always living on the verge of the Big Push, and many times in 1915 had thought that it had started—at Neuve Chapelle, Givenchy, Loos—only to give up hope when these battles stagnated after a day or two. Now there were preparations going forward again, this time apparently on a much larger scale than we had ever seen before, so we felt justified once more in hoping for the great event. Curiously enough the possibilities of a Boche big push were never considered, and everyone of us was firmly convinced that, except perhaps for a blow at Ypres, offensive action on the part of the enemy was out of the question. This spirit animated all our work, which was consequently very different from our opponents. Our trenches always had a we-shall-not-stay-here-long air about them, his were built to resist to the last man. It was the same in training and in billets, we unconsciously considered ourselves an advancing army, and thereby, though we may not have realized it, we ourselves supplied the finest possible stimulant to our moral.
The IIIrd. Army (Gen. Allenby), to which we now belonged, introduced at this time the Army School—an important innovation, shortly taken up by all the other Armies. This School, first commanded by Col. Kentish—afterwards Commandant of the Senior Aldershot School—aimed at training junior officers to be Company Commanders, who owing to casualties were now hard to find. The course, which lasted five weeks, consisted of drill, tactical exercises, physical training, musketry, bayonet fighting and bombing, lectures on esprit de corps—in fact everything that a Company Commander should know, but many things that in trench warfare had been forgotten. The Instructors were always up-to-date, and the best use was at once made of any of the latest inventions, while the school also kept a very efficient "Liaison" between all parts of the Army. Students from one Division would exchange latest schemes, ruses, and devices with others from another part of the line, and so no valuable lessons were lost or known to a few only. Our first students to this school were Capt. Ward Jackson, who was in charge of "A" Company, and Capt. G.W. Allen, the latter for a special Adjutant's refresher course. After these, all the Company Commanders went in turn, first to Flixecourt, and later to Auxi le Chateau, whither the school moved in the early summer. There were similar courses for senior N.C.O.'s, which were of the utmost value.
Another important innovation at this time was the introduction of the Lewis light machine gun. The Maxim, and even the Vickers machine gun had been found for many reasons unsuitable for infantry work, being too heavy and cumbersome for rapid movement, too conspicuous for easy concealment. It was therefore decided to form Brigade Machine Gun Companies, who would be armed with Vickers guns, while Battalions would have Lewis guns only, on a scale of two per Company, for they were to be considered a company rather than a Battalion weapon. This light gun had no tripod, was air-cooled, and fired a pan instead of a belt of ammunition. It was as easy to carry as to conceal, and was in every way an enormous improvement on the "Vickers" from the infantry point of view. Training in the new weapon started at once, and as 2nd Lieut. Saunders and Serjt. Jacques were required for the Brigade Machine Gun Company, 2nd Lieut. Shipston was made Lewis Gun Officer, with Corporal Swift to help him, and these two trained as many men as possible with the two guns issued to us, so that when more arrived the teams would be ready for them. Captain Ellwood commanded the Brigade Machine Gunners, and in addition to our chief instructors, we also sent 2nd Lieut. Stentiford and 30 N.C.O.'s and men to start the Company. 2nd Lieut. Stentiford was a new subaltern officer who, with 2nd Lieuts. T.P. Creed and C.J. Morris, had arrived while the battalion was at Marseilles.
On the 16th February orders came that at an early date we should take over the line North of the River Ancre, opposite Beaumont Hamel, and the following day several lorry loads of officers reconnoitred the country round Forceville, Englebelmer and Mailly Maillet, where there were some rear defence lines. Maps of the front were issued, and we were about to arrange trench reconnaissances, when the orders were cancelled and we moved instead, on the 20th, to Bernaville, and joined the rest of the Brigade. The other Battalions and Brigade Headquarters were in the neighbouring villages. At this time the people of Leicestershire were once more very good to us, and our War Diary contains a note that "This day the C.O. acknowledges with thanks the gifts of 30,000 cigarettes from our 2/5th Battalion, also a hand ambulance from Messrs. Symington and Co., Market Harborough." The last survived the rough usages of war for a very long time, and many a wounded man has been thankful for its springs and rubber tyres.
The rest of the month was spent in doing a little training and a deal of road-clearing. It snowed very hard once or twice, and many of the roads became impossible for traffic, so each Battalion was allotted a road to keep clean, ours being the main road to Fienvillers, along which we spread ourselves armed with picks and shovels, while the village boys threw snowballs at us. The 5th Division were moving North at the time, and a whole day was spent by some of the Battalions dragging their transport up a steep hill, a task beyond the strength of the horses. Fortunately we were spared this, probably because we took care not to clear the road to Brigade Headquarters, and so were left untouched. During this very bad weather we lost 2nd Lieut. Brooke, who had to go to Hospital with nephritis.
On the 29th we moved to Doullens, where we spent an enjoyable week, and were introduced to yet another innovation. In August, 1915, the French had introduced a steel helmet for their machine gunners, finally extending the issue to all ranks. This had been found of the greatest value, and there had been at once a marked decrease in the percentage of head wounds. The British helmet now appeared, and was generally voted, as it first seemed, a hideous flat object, though some humorists admitted that it might have distinct possibilities as a washing basin. A few soldiers of the vainer sort thought they looked more "becoming" with a "tin-hat" over one eye, but the vast majority hated them, and it was with the greatest difficulty that those to whom they were issued, could be persuaded not to throw them away. This aversion, however, soon passed, and within a few months the infantryman standing under an aeroplane battle without his "tin-hat" felt distinctly naked.
It was now definitely decided that we were to relieve the French in the Neuville St. Vaast-Souchez Sector, both places where the French had had terrific fighting the previous year, and consequently a sector with a bad reputation. The roads were still in bad condition, and a char-a-banc, full of officers, who tried to reconnoitre reached no further than the French Brigade Headquarters and had to return. On the 6th March we marched to Magnicourt and two days later to Villers-au-bois, about three miles behind the line, going up to trenches on the 9th.
Early in 1915 the French line North of Arras had run through la Targette, Carency and over the East end of the Lorette heights to Aix Noulette. In May our allies made their first attack here and, driving the Boche from the heights, gained possession, after terrific fighting, of Ablain St. Nazaire, Souchez and Neuville St. Vaast. Later, in conjunction with our September attack at Loos, they had again advanced, and finally a brilliant assault by the Zouaves carried the line to the Vimy ridge and on to these heights, beyond which the roads to Lens and Douai lay open. The fighting for the summit had been severe, and in the end each side retained its grip on the hill top, the opposing trenches running 30 yards apart along the ridge. Active mining operations had started soon afterwards, and shortly before our arrival the French had been compelled to give up a considerable portion of their line, and so lose their hold on the summit. With it they lost also their view Eastwards, while the Boche, occupying their evacuated trenches, regained his view of the next ridge to the West.
This second ridge was more in the nature of a large plateau, stretching back to Villers-au-bois, and separated from the Vimy ridge by a narrow steep-sided valley—the "Talus des Zouaves," where the support Battalion lived in dug-outs. Crossing the plateau from North to South was the main Bethune, Souchez, Arras road, on which stood the remains of an old inn, the Cabaret Rouge, where some excellent deep dug-outs provided accommodation for the French Poste de Colonel and an Advanced Dressing Station. The plateau was two miles wide, and over the first half (up to "Point G") ran a long and very tiring duck-board track; beyond "Point G" were two communication trenches to the line. One, "Boyau 1, 2, 3," was seldom used, being in bad condition; the other, "Boyau d'Ersatz," was boarded and well cared for, and used by all. It ran via the Cabaret Rouge into the Talus des Zouaves, most of the way revetted with a wonderful "wedding arch" revetment, and thence to the front line, passing the left Poste de Commandant. The forward part of "Boyau 1, 2, 3," East of the "Talus," was called "Boyau Internationale," leading to "Boyau Vincent" and so to the front line past the right Poste de Commandant. Carency, Ablain and Souchez were houseless, Villers au bois was little better, and our rest billets were huts at Camblain L'Abbe, about four miles behind the line.
The Brigade took over the left sector of the Divisional front and we were allotted the left sub-sector, our right and left boundaries being the two Boyaus "Internationale" and "Ersatz." The whole relief was to be kept as secret as possible, and all reconnoitering and advance parties were given French helmets to wear in the line, so that the Boche might have no idea what was going to happen. It was a little disconcerting, therefore, when a French listening post, two days before the relief, reported that a Boche had suddenly looked into their post, and after saying "Les Anglais n'sont pas encore donc arrives," equally suddenly disappeared. In spite of this we were not disturbed during the relief and by 10-30 p.m. on the 9th had taken the place of the 68th Regiment, who marched out at one end of the trench as we appeared at the other, having told us that we had come to a very quiet sector. The trenches were in fair condition, though very dirty, and we had a quiet night so began to hope that the sector might not be too terrible after all. The next day the French left the area, leaving behind them two companies of Engineers to carry on the mining operations on the Divisional front. In handing over their posts the French had said nothing about their countrymen whom they were leaving in the mines, and during the first night several of them, coming up from below and talking a strange language, narrowly escaped being killed for Boche.