Friday, 30th April 1915
Lt Bunbury and the Colonel spent the day in their dug-out, being steadily shelled and getting more and more heartily sick of it. It was a relief of some sort when a shell, which fell only five yards from them, shattered their cubby-hole and nearly smothered them with earth. They dug each other out and felt like the sparrows in dusty English lanes, much refreshed.
The Battalion passed the night trench digging. This was always dangerous and very unpleasant work, but trench-digging on Hill 60 (of later fame) was also indescribably revolting. Many dead were buried there, and the effluvia from their poor half-covered bodies, added to the horror of having to disturb them, made it an unhealthy and an evil spot. However, the Bn had received orders to go there, and after a longish walk, worried all the time by German snipers, spent the rest of the night at this gruesome work.
Toward the morning, the pestilential odours about them were relieved by the refreshing aroma of strong coffee. A Heaven sent doctor had discovered and appropriated to his own beneficent uses a ruined cottage not a stone’s throw away from them. The only piece of furniture still left intact amidst the general wreckage, was a cooking stove, and this he seemed to think fully compensated for the risk he ran of being blown to pieces any moment. A Turk is not more fatalistic than a soldier on active service. “What will be, will be”, he says to himself, and meantime a cup of steaming coffee is more welcome, if hardly more remote, than that other Gift of God. At any rate, we were very glad the doctor thought so - no coffee ever tasted better.
That night’s work was pretty bad, and the walk back not much better. It proved the “last straw” for Major Stephenson, who had to be sent back to the base sick. Everyone was very glad to get into our own trenches again.
I have often thought gratefully of our medical friend, and wondered what took him out to Hill 60, and still more what kept him there. He seemed unattached to any unit. There are evidently still some pure philanthropists at large in the world, for I cannot imagine that Hill 60 was ever a really inviting spot. (Foster. p30).
Saturday afternoon, May 1st, General Plumer issued orders for a withdrawal from the exposed positions on the eastern side of the salient to begin that night. The withdrawal commenced at 8pm but did not immediately affect the 149th Bde. Whilst the rest of the Bde was digging the line near Bellewarde, all of the 4th Bn were digging 2nd line trenches under the direction of the RE in front of Wieltje village. Shelled from three sides.
'We went digging again tonight, and I had to take 50 men to make up the numbers required by the 6th battalion for their allotted task'.
Saturday, 1st May 1915
A comparatively quiet day, spent in our luxurious dug out, eight feet by six, and a very tight fit. General Fielding of the Coldstream Guards arrived at HQ and took command of the Brigade and General Alderson issued an Order congratulating the Brigade on its attack on St Julien. Once again the Bn spent the night trench digging, but not, fortunately, on Hill 60. (Foster. p31).
Sunday, 2nd May 1915
On Sunday, May 2nd the Bde was occupying trenches south of Velorenhoek. The morning was wet, misty and relatively quiet. Observation balloons were in the air but there were no taubes. The whole Bn was issued with woollen mufflers to serve as respirators should there be another gas attack. That afternoon the 4th Bn were informed that they were to be relieved and rested some way to rear, but at 4pm heavy shelling by the enemy began, which was soon accompanied by the smell of gas that rapidly grew in strength. Before long ashen-faced Lancashire Fusiliers, who had been occupying the 1st line trenches two thousand yards in front, were staggering back towards the reserve trenches occupied by the 4th Bn, coughing, clutching their throats, gasping for breath and barely able to see. They were given a drink and put into a trench to the rear, however, by this time the gas had reached the 4th Bn, so they all had to don whatever makeshift respirator they had, wet handkerchiefs, scarfs and cap comforters among them. The dismounted Cavalry Divn who were alongside the 4th Bn, were ordered to counterattack, supported by the Dublins.
The gas had engulfed the line from Fortuin to Turco Farm and the French line east of the canal. However, every attempt the Germans made to take advantage of the gas attack was frustrated, and by 8pm all was quiet again.
Time passed, but heavy rifle fire was still coming from in front, so two Coys advanced 200 yards to dugouts in the GHQ line, passing some of the Cavalry on the way. The order came to fix bayonets, but the order was intended for the cavalry not the 4th Bn. As the Bn was not required and the GHQ line was pretty crowded they were sent to the rear again and were shelled on the way.
A 4th Bn officer described events to those at home:
‘On Sunday we got orders to move back for a rest, but almost immediately after, the Germans, who had hardly fired a shot all day commenced a terrific bombardment and attacked the line all along our front. We had to at once go forward to the support trenches, and on the way we passed streams of men retiring having been turned out of their trenches on our left by poisonous fumes, they were in a very bad way but were able to reform in our dugouts. We got a dose ourselves, and it was very unpleasant. After the shell containing it had burst the ground round about is covered with thick greenish yellow vapour, which lies heavy in the dugouts and makes breathing very difficult and seeing almost impossible while it lasts. Fortunately we had been served out that morning with temporary respirators, which were a great help. The din gradually died down, and we were relieved to hear that the line had not been broken at any point (HC 15 May 15).
One of the Cavalry regiments however acting as infantry, moved up in extended order and keeping their line and extensions in splendid style, moved straight up into the front trenches and filled up the gap. The situation appeared fairly critical to us, but lots of troops were in reserve I expect.
Word was received around 7pm that the front line had been re-established and the gunfire died down, although machine gun and rifle fire was rolling backwards and forwards in bursts along the line.
The average British regular Tommy is absolutely incomparable. The men whom we rallied were half asphyxiated and had left in a panic when the gas came down on them, but a NCO got them pulled together and when it was dusk took the ones who could walk back to their trenches.
One or two men were injured by the shellfire but fortunately none of the shells had fallen directly into the dugouts. Yarvil had had his clothing torn by splinters four distinct times, but was not hit, other people seemed to be just as lucky.
I happened to be standing on top of a trench talking to a sergeant of ‘D’ Coy, when the usual whiz commenced. He remarked casually that he thought I had better get down as he’d pretty well gauged the fellow coming, so I hopped into the trench beside him, and sure enough the darned thing burst fairly close and a few bits whizzed into the parapet and over our heads.
Simultaneously with the arrival of the smell, their guns started. We thought we’d had a pretty fair dose of shell fire, but this effort of theirs kyboshed anything we’d had previously. Jack Johnson’s which I think must be 6 inch guns gave us the worst time; you hear them coming a long way and can nearly always tell approximately where they are going to burst, a shrill quick kind of whistle, a thud, a very slight pause and then the most appalling bang and a huge cloud of mud, stones etc, is thrown into the air. They seemed to drop a hundred or two of the big ‘fellers’ in our vicinity, and varied them with a shell containing some beastly smelling kind of stuff that made us choke a bit and eyes stream, but the mufflers came in handy.
Have very comfortable billets tonight but move again into another farm quite close tomorrow morning.
We had just finished tea when a heavy shell fire started, and we saw a crowd of men running down through our lines, running all over the place, followed by a greenish cloud of smoke on top of the hill. The dirty scoundrels (the Germans) had opened on them with the poison gas and driven them out. You cannot imagine what they were like, sick and coughing and nearly bursting their lungs, or staggering about, many of them unconscious.
L/Cpl John Ord, ‘A’ Coy, HC - 15 May 15):- The Germans tried the fume shells on our men last night, and you have no idea what they are like. it was just a huge cloud of yellow vapour and it doesn’t half hurt your eyes and it is enough to suffocate an ox. We are provided with things to avoid it; it’s a muffler, which you tie round your nose and mouth and even then it is bad enough. How our brave fellows stood it I don’t know, as after they fire it they advance, and our men in the front trench held on and mowed them down with Maxims and kept our line unbroken. We came out of the trenches last night, and are now going back for a rest.
The Bn was relieved at 11pm.
A lovely day of warm sunshine and blue sky. We spent a quiet morning, in the course of which an order came for us to go back to rest camp at night. This was welcome news to the men, who were undoubtedly very tired from the strenuous work of the past weeks; but by 3 o’clock in the afternoon every man had given up hope of it. The Germans did not allow the day to end as peaceably as it began. They started a terrific bombardment of our position early in the afternoon, blazing away at us with their artillery – a hotter fire, it was said, then anything that had been experienced since the war began. We were fortunate in having very few men hit, but that was no thanks to the Germans. “Jack Johnsons” and shrapnel bullets searched every square inch of ground, but even that was nothing like enough for them.
At 5 o’clock we saw what looked like a thick green cloud lift above the enemy’s trenches and come drifting toward us. We guessed what it was, but at that time we had not been provided with protection against such devilish devices as the “Gas Attack” and nothing but the woollen mufflers, which the sergeant Major had issued.. These we tied around our mouths, and waited.
In a little while the Lancashire Fusiliers, who had been holding a position in front of the 4th Bn, came streaming back from the first line trenches, gasping horribly for breath, and choking and falling. They were in an awful plight. The Bn made room for about 150 of them in their dug-outs, and did what they could for them. But that was little enough, beyond giving those who were able to take it a little water. Many of them were past any help of ours, and lay coughing pitifully, with grey, tortured faces, clutching at their scorched throats. Death had mercy upon some of them, and came quickly.
The CO gave the order to fix bayonets, as he expected the Germans to follow close behind their vile gas and try to rush our trenches. The 4th Hussars, who were next to us, were hurried forward to occupy the trenches from which the Lancashires had been driven. We watched them disappear into the haze of poisonous gas, which blocked from our vision the gallant bayonet charge that followed, but we learned afterward that the Hussars drove what was left of their enemy back into his own trenches. Again the Germans had failed in their attack. In about two hours the firing had died down, and finally ceased.
Our men stood the ordeal of the afternoon finely. Many of them were hit, and all of them were suffering from the appalling effects of the latest and most unsoldier-like of the new German methods of warfare, but during the whole of that afternoon, which they spent on the fire step, with men already dead or dying one of the most cruellest of deaths at their feet, they did not falter. They were simply longing to avenge the Lancashire and ”to get a bit of their own back”. I was properly proud of my men.
But it was just the same with every regiment which came out in those days. The scorn and loathing with which our men regarded the Hun and all his works, prevented him from gaining whatever advantage he expected from his disgusting practices. Whether it was poison gas, or defiled wells, the treacherous killing of our stretcher-bearers and Red Cross workers, or a persistent abuse of the white flag, such low tricks roused no flicker of fear, but only hardened the determination of our men to wipe the people who invented them off the earth. The same spirit is at work today, none regretting more than the Allied Staffs when, for the sake of their own men, they are compelled to kill Germans by Germany’s chosen means. Even so, our enemy knows and rejoices that the older civilisations are leaving her a wide margin of advantage in which to carry on her peculiar devilries. It is the space humanity must still leave, it seems, for the swing of Lucifer’s tail.
I have not myself been able to give Germany more than the historical excuse and the criminological explanation. The Huns of the past were always “pouring over” somewhere and “putting the people to the sword”; and a study of German criminology shows an enormous preponderance of extraordinarily ferocious and brutal crimes. So that, as scientists, we ought to have expected that this race, thrown off its balance as every nation is by war, would show a certain and almost incredible nastiness of taste in its choice of war offenses.
I had given up any hope of being able to carry out the order of the morning and take the Battalion back to rest camp in the rear, but during the evening Staff Captain Hill came in with the order that we were to march at 11 o’clock that night. It was a long and dangerous tramp in the dark. The roads were full of gaping holes made by the devastating shell-fire of the past few days, and all along our route lay signs, which we sometimes stumbled over, of the destruction which had been wrought over the whole of the district. Dead horses and stray portions of what had once been human beings were strewn about the roadways. Even in the darkness the things which could be seen were hideuous; what could not be seen, but only smelled and guessed at were vastly worse.
Skirting Ypres, we crossed the Canal Bridge, which was under heavy curtain fire, losing four of our men, but from this point, by striking across country and avoiding the roads, we contrived to keep out of the range of the German guns.A tramp of nearly twelve miles brought us out upon the highroad again near Vlamertinghe, and glad of the easier walking, we followed the road until we reached Poperinghe. It was then about 5 o’clock in the morning and calling a halt, I sent Captain Hill on to find our billets. Meantime, every man of us, deadbeat, lay down in the roadway where he was and promptly fell asleep. I was not really grateful when a half-hour later Hill returned and we had to move again, but he had found the Convent to which we, along with the 7th Battalion, were allotted, which was something. The 7th were already in possession, but we all found a shakedown of some sort and needed no rocking. I shared my room with Cruddas, and having made and drunk some cocoa, we lay down, exhausted beyond measure, and slept. (Foster. p32-34).
Monday, 3rd May 1915
a bombardment was followed by gas at 4.30pm, attack repulsed
In the evening the last stage of the retirement from the Salient began. The front line itself would be evacuated
We thought orders to depart were surely cancelled, but our staff captain turned up about 12.30am with orders to guide us. One soon gets accustomed to all this night work, but it still has an eerie fascination of its own. The dim silent figures of men just visible standing in the ranks, the quiet words of command and the very long lines of men filing past you. Very often the whole area is lit up by the star shells that the Germans keep on firing the whole night and which illuminate the ground round about for hundreds of yards. While occasionally one hears the dull whistle of a big shell, either from our own or the enemys’ gun, going sailing along overhead. Even at night they constantly shell all cross roads and in fact almost every road in this particular bit. R---- was marching with me on the way out, a shell dropped in the ditch, about three yards ahead of us. Four men immediately in front of us were hit, one poor beggar having both legs shattered, the other three slightly; we escaped all right. It is of course, impossible to stop when the column is marching like this at night, one simply calls for stretcher bearers as quietly as possible. They endeavour to give the man first aid or carry him to the nearest dressing station, or perhaps stay with him until picked up by the red cross cars. These are simply magnificent. One came up to our Bde Headquarters in the afternoon under very heavy fire, and took away wounded; the driver had to back 50 yards down the road before he could turn, a narrow road with a deep ditch on each side, trying enough at any time.
It is extraordinary the medley of arms one meets immediately in rear of the firing – long trains of ammunition wagons, as coup carts, pack mules, reinforcements coming up; all only dimly seen in the dark. And here and there dead horses lying pulled out to one side, or a GS wagon on its side.
One pathetic little group of eight men we passed huddled close into the roadside, nothing about them seemed much damaged. DLI they appeared to be. Their fighting days were over. One has to get hardened and that quickly to the gruesome side.
'We got orders to fall in preparatory to moving away about midnight, and about that time we marched out, and, travelling very slowly over roads, which had been ploughed with shells, and on which they were still bursting every now and then. We made our way back, passing through the northern portion of Ypres and crossing a bridge over the canal'.
From here the Bn struck out across open country so as to avoid a section of road that was a favourite spot for German artillery to shell. They emerged from the fields near Vlamertinghe on the Poperinghe-Ypres road following westwards towards Poperinghe.
‘By George, everyone was tired. The roads are dreadful to march on; our feet are all cut to bits. As I think I told you we lost nearly all our horses and had to walk. Sammy our little dog, had been wonderful through all the scraps. I hear he was blown up by a Jack Johnson the other night, but he is still quite chirpy. He creates great interest amongst outsiders’.
The twelve-mile march from the front line ended at Poperinghe where a girl’s school was being used for billets. Poperinghe, had been a town of 12000 inhabitants in 1914, was an important railhead for allied forces operating in the Ypres Salient. It was never completely evacuated and as such was often seen as something of an oasis to British troops out of the trenches. ‘Pops’ was in range of German artillery and on this day the war diary records an aeroplane bombing the town.
‘It was here we got our parcels – everybody seemed to have got something and we were all very pleased with ourselves. The things you sent were ripping, and we shall live in luxury for the next few days'. (4th Bn officer, HC - 15 May 15).
It was a short stay in Poperinghe:
'The whole Bde fell in about 8pm and we immediately started off again, marching back along the same vile roads we had come along on April 23rd. We arrived at our billeting area, which was near Winnezeele, after a march of about 10 miles, at about 1am.
The billets had to be located in the dark:
At 2am, wandered round about for nearly an hour looking for a farmhouse which had been very vaguely described to us, at last got desperate and invaded the first farm we came to. People very hospitable, as the French always appear to be’.
Monday, 3rd May 1915
For a while the Bn was left to sleep in peace, but sometime before noon they were awakened by the abominable noise of a German Taube. At first only its motors could be heard as it neared and passed over, and Cruddas and the CO tried to sleep again in the vain hope that it was merely a reconnoitring expedition. Before long, however, a series of terrific explosions fetched them out of bed. They were dropping bombs on the village. In no time the rumbling of wheel-carts in the narrow streets and the voices of peasants calling to each other as they hurried on, indicated that the few inhabitants of the village sen in the morning, were leaving it pell-mell. Lt Bunbury chose this inopportune moment to sting disgust to the point of anathema by thrusting his head in the doorway and telling us the “dejeuner a’ la fourchette” to which he had invited us, was “off”, as the café where he had ordered it on arrival had been deserted. No one who has not lived in the semi-savagery of the trenches can possibly imagine how tragic such a disappointment as that seemed to us.. It was beyond words.
All that day we hung about, horribly hungry, for there was no food left in the place, and it was a real relief when at 8pm, the Bn were ordered to move on. We were quickly on the march and about midnight arrived at some farm houses on the outskirts of Winnezeele, and there, after much difficulty in finding them and assorting billets in the darkness, we all stowed ourselves away and, weary to death, had a real good sleep at last. (Foster. p35).
By May the 4th the entire Divn was concentrated in an area six miles west of Poperinghe, although Divn HQ remained at Steenvoorde.
‘Received orders when just getting up that the Bde was going to be addressed by General French, a tremendous compliment, but hardly appreciated at that moment, as we had to struggle to get the Coy out, and got no breakfast, got it eventually at 2pm'.
That morning the whole Bde marched the mile from billets to a field adjoining Bde HQ. The Bns were drawn up on three sides of a square and readied for inspection and an address by the Commander-in-Chief, Sir John French. The GOC and his staff arrived in a convoy of three or four motor vehicles around 11am. He spoke to them for about twenty minutes:
“Men of the Northumbrian Bde,- I want to thank you personally for what you have done during the past ten days. In the ordinary way all units that come here are given a certain time to accustom themselves to their surroundings before being sent forward, but a serious emergency arose and I had to call on you to support the Canadians in the trenches.
“That alone would have been a sufficient trial for a new Division of regular Troops trained for years at Aldershot, but you especially distinguished yourselves.
You took St Julien in the face of a shell fire which was hotter than any previously during the war. No matter that you had to retire; you established yourselves and did all that you were asked to do. You behaved magnificently and I want to thank every officer, non commissioned officer and man”. So began a period of rest, refitting and training, a time for the men to write to their families.
We are billeted at a farm in a delightful country; it is charming. We were on Hill the other night, carrying stuff up for the engineers. It was most peaceful though to our little corner in front of St Julien. You never saw anything like the country beyond Ypres. The smell of dead is rotten, and there is not a house that has not been shelled (4th Bn officer - HC 15 May 15).
At last we are back from the firing line, where the air is sweeter and one does not need to be continually dodging ‘coal boxes’ shrapnel etc. We are having a rest now after our strenuous ten days right amongst it – in the thick of the biggest artillery fight which has taken place for some time. It is a pleasure to be out of the continuous din of bursting shells and the stink of fumes and dead. Just before we came away last night there was another attack, and those poisonous gases were used by the enemy. (We had respirators over our mouths). I thought the enemy had got through, but some heroes in front of us stuck in and held them back.
We were addressed this morning by Field Marshall Sir John French, and he stuck it in very thick, said we had done magnificently all the ten days we were under fire etc etc, and thanked us, and in fact said we were no ‘small beer’. So we are bucked up some. Well we are having good sleeps now and reorganising, as we had practically no sleep when we were in the trenches, could only move about under cover of the darkness, as there was always plenty of Taubes flying about watching for us. We feel a little foot sore, not being able to have our boots off practically since we left Blyth, otherwise very fit. It is very pretty countryside here, thickly dotted with little whitewashed thatched farmhouses, and every inch of ground is cultivated. Everything seems much farther out than at this time at home. Quite a change to the desolation of where we were in the fighting line (4th Bn Officer, HC - 15 May15).
Tuesday, 4th May 1915
It was strange and very beautiful to awaken to a sense of peace again, but it was late before I roused myself sufficiently to feel even that.
After breakfast I took stock of my Head Quarters, which seemed quite palatial. My room was comfortable and so unusually spacious that Cruddas and I thought we might for once improve upon our solitude-a-deux and invite our Quartermaster, Lt Wynnsford, to join us. The farmhouse, one of the older type, was built with low raftered ceilings and red brick floors, and the people there, as, indeed, wherever I was lodged in Belgium, were very civil. The farmer’s wife (good, substantial soul) cooked remarkably well.
The men spent the day washing themselves and their kits, a task they performed joyfully as is the manner of almost any Englishman deprived of hot and cold water for a few days. The pleasure of a wash, a shave, a change of clothes after never even getting out of one’s boots for twelve days is indescribable in ordinary prose. It might perhaps be chanted, if one could distill the delicious sense of a renewed respect for oneself and fellow humans and render it back in the intriguing and stately lilt of an old Gregorian. By the end of the morning the Battalion, bathed and brushed and polished from head to foot, strutted manfully, gentlemen all!
It was just as well, for in the afternoon the Brigade was greatly honoured. For Sir John French came over on purpose to inspect us – a thing, by the way, he very seldom did – and, as he said, “personally to thank the Brigade for their fine bit of work on the 26th of April 2. He added that he wished to explain to us the recent military situation, which had made it necessary to call upon our services so soon after our arrival in Flanders, and very willingly the Cos, to whom he was speaking, gave him the opportunity he sought.
The parade was held in a field opposite Brigade Head Quarters, the men forming up in three sides of a square, with the officers and that privileged person, Sammy, in the centre. Leaving his motor car and followed by his staff, the Commander-In-Chief advanced into the Square and began to address the men. His voice was not very loud, but so clear that every one heard what he had come to say.
Officers, non-commissioned officers, and men of the Northumberland Infantry brigade, I want to say a few words to you this morning, to tell you how much I appreciate the splendid work you have done these last ten days in the fighting at Ypres. When the Northumbrian Division came out here to settle down, in the ordinary course, at Cassel, it was expected to have a little time to pull itself together, as every large unit which comes to this country is obliged to have; but we had this treacherous attack under the cover of asphyxiating gases, which no soldiers yet have used, and men who use them are not worthy of the name of soldiers. We had this villainous proceeding, and I was obliged to send you up to reinforce the troops there. That would have been a high trial for any body Of troops, even for a regular division with years of training at Aldershot – troops that had been fighting before, the highest trial. “You met that call upon you splendidly, and the Northumberland Infantry Brigade particularly distinguished themselves under the leadership of Brigadier –General Riddell, whose loss we all deplore so much. He fell at the head of his Brigade, while leading you to attack the village of St Julien, and though you established yourselves in the position, you had to retire afterwards, as you were not supported. Why, it is not for us to say. Even as it was, you occupied a line of trenches in advance of those that you left, so you also took important ground yourselves. Well, I think you deserve the greatest praise for this, and I wish every officer, non-commissioned officer and man to accept the very warmest thanks of the commander in charge of these forces for the part he took. I deeply deplore the loss of one of the most gallant officers that ever lived, and one of the best leaders. “In the special circumstances under which you were called up, it was particularly magnificent, and I think the front that you all present is quite extraordinary after what you have gone through. You have paraded, showing a smart soldier-like front and apparently perfectly ready to go into action this afternoon, if required. For the whole of this, I can only most heartily congratulate you, and express my warmest appreciation of this conduct. “When I am speaking to territorials, I am always reminded of the large body of Territorials who have shown such glorious and patriotic conduct as you all have. “You took service in the Territorial Force for Home Defence, and immediately upon coming out here you were called upon, in a time of great danger and emergency, to take the place of trained troops in the breach. It is the highest example of patriotism. I must say again that I heartily congratulate you upon all you have done, and I am certain that if ever the Northumberland Brigade is called upon again, they will acquit themselves in the same glorious manner as they have done during the last ten days. (Foster. p36-38).
Wednesday, 5th May 1915
Cruddas and I slept late – it was such a comfort to have one’s clothes off and get into a “fleabag”! We were several miles from the firing line so that the noise of the guns seemed very far away, which may have had something to do with it, too.
The men spent the morning cleaning up their accoutrements and putting a final polish upon the rest of their kits. All the afternoon they lay about on the grass, smoking and swapping stories endlessly.
Most of the day I was strolling about the farm, enjoying the homely place and the people, and our dinner of fresh meat and vegetables cooked by the farmer’s wife. It rained during the evening, and we passed it in talk and a game or two of cards, but I had bad hands and no luck to help me out, so went to bed early. (Foster. p40).
"We are resting now a good way from the firing line, at a farm, and there is a pond where we bathe (even if it is full of frogs), and its A1 having a swim after being dirt up to the neck. What a treat it is walking about and no shells bursting around your ears, and we can just hear the big guns. We sleep in a shed, and its champion among the straw, and nothing to disturb you except a stray rat or a pig and the hens are a trifle early in rising. You’ll never realise what our brave chaps went through. It was a perfect hail of bullets and shells bursting all round you. I was half buried with one, but I wasn’t the least bit hurt and we helped to save the situation" (L/Cpl John Ord, ‘A’ Coy, HC - 15 May 15).
Thu 6th May Germans push the allies off Hill 60.
"Arkwright rejoined us today, whilst 2nd Lts Cheesemond, Cox, Bagnall, Henderson and Lund also joined us from the 2nd line battalion, but none of them were attached to 'A' Coy" p.45 ).
GHQ placed the Divn in general reserve at 6am on the 7th of May and held in readiness to move at two hours notice.
"My wound has almost healed, my greatest trouble is my chest and lungs, which are hurt inwardly. But I am as well as can be expected, and still alive, thank God. Well, I will try and explain our doings up till I got wounded , but you know we are restricted".
'Bell went hospital sick with dysentery' p.46).
Thursday, 6th May 1915
Another easy day. The air, full of spring scents and early summer warmth, put us in holiday mood, and as there was little to do we loafed, and lit another pipe, and loafed again.
Between lunch and tea Lt Arkwright turned up, glad enough to be over his bout of measles, but savage with himself for being out of the fighting at St Julien. A little later poor Bell had to be sent back to hospital with an attack of dysentery – and so it goes. We were specially sorry, however, to lose our breezy Transport Officer. Lt David Turner, who took his place temporarily, contrived to curry favour with us by bringing in an extra heavy mail bag, and before we were through with our letters and had opened our newspapers, a cheery contingent of four from the Home Battalion arrived with a little, it seemed, of the magic dust of England still upon them. They were Lieutenants Cheesmond, Henderson, Bagnall and Lund, holding themselves at the King’s service with refreshing jauntiness and bringing with them good reports of all the other fellows who were keen to be over here with us. They got quite a reception from my war-veterans, who treated them with the kindly tolerance one always shows to the young and the untried. They said they had not “hoped” to get over so soon, and certainly we as little expected to need them. Over a “topping” tea they exchanged all their home news for fearsome stories of the Battalions’ doings since arrival. When I saw them, they were all pulling hard at pipes and “fags” and arranging to settle the little matter of “the Hun”, gas or no gas, by the end of the summer. It was the Battalion’s Social Day! (Foster. p41).
Friday, 7th May 1915
The German artillery opened a violent bombardment of the whole line, concentrating especially on the Frezenburg Ridge. German infantry made several attempts to break the line over the next six days with negligible territorial gains but casualties were heavy on both sides. During
'Brigadier-General Fielding gave a most interesting lecture on trench warfare to the officers of the Bde at headquarters this afternoon'.
A very warm day, about as hot as we ever have it in England in July.
The men had had several days of rest, and in the afternoon I went around the farms where they were billeted to see them. I found them as fit as they could be physically and with an indomitable cheeriness of spirit equal to the best traditions of “the Fighting Fifth”. Once out of the firing line, it was surprising how quickly the men began to miss the excitement of the deadly game they were engaged upon. I a few days we had all had enough of inaction, and the arrival of the post became a very real and welcome relief. The men seized upon their letters and parcels, and in no time were discussing jam and home made cake with the frank relish of a lot of school boys at a picnic. On my way back to Head Quarters, I encountered the Brigadier coming to see me about a list of recommendations to be sent to the Divisional General. It was a more difficult task than usual, for where everyone had done well, very deserving names had to be left out of a strictly limited list.
That over, Cruddas and I exchanged our Head Quarters for a shooting lodge, which had just been vacated by some Yeomanry. There was quite a good sitting room in it and three or four bedrooms, so I had a room to myself again and felt very civilised with sheets, even, in the bed. Such good luck seemed in the nature of thingstoo good to last long, but I was quite prepared to enjoy it while it lasted. Marcus Heywood, now ADC to Sir Herbert Plumer, called to see me in the evening, and we had a long gossip. He said Sir Herbert had watched us throughout the attack at St Julien, knowing very well we could do what was asked of us. I was glad his act of faith was justified. The last sprint through the hail of shells and bullets was in tremendous contrast to the field day parades in which he had last seen us taking parting England. I felt much inclined to go out there and then and tell the men what he had said, but thought they had, perhaps, had enough compliments upon that memorable attack.
“Discipline must be maintained”, as some amusing but tiresome person said in one of Dicken’s stories. After dark, two nightingales in some woods nearby started an impromptu concert, and gave us a lengthy programme of their sweet-throat music, a strange contrast to the recitatives of the “Jack Johnsons” and the thrilling arias of the whizzing, whistling bullets, which have kept us awake for so many nights. It seemed odd, in this land of devastation, to be suddenly reminded of summer nights and the beauty of the quiet country-sides in England. (Foster. p42).