Saturday, 8th May 1915
One of the warmest days we have had so far.
In the morning we received warning from Head Quarters that we should probably have to move, but nothing came of it, and in the afternoon all the officers attended an interesting lecture at Brigade Head Quarters, given by the Brigadier, on the subject of Trench Warfare. His remarks were pointed and punctuated by the booming of the guns around Ypres. the big battle was still going on, explaining, no doubt, why we were under notice to move at any moment (Foster. p44).
Sunday, 9th May 1915
The church parade was abandoned and the men were ordered to remain in their billets because an order to move forward was expected at any time. Heavy fighting had been reported around Wieltje and La Bassee. Eventually orders were issued for the 4th Bn to be ready to move at 7.30am the following morning. A new doctor arrived to replace Dr Weir who had been wounded on the 25th of April.
Still awaiting orders. Church Parade, arranged for 9 o’clock, had to be abandoned, and I ordered the men back to billets to hold themselves in readiness to march at any moment. Heavy fighting was reported at Wieltje and Le Bassee, from which I gathered that our forces must have been withdrawn about two miles south of St Julien during the past few days. Profoundly disquieted as the hours went by and no instructions were received, I went down to Brigade Head Quarters in the early afternoon, and at length received orders to be prepared to move at 7.30am next day.
During my absence, Dr Quinn arrived to take the place of Dr Weir, who ghad been wounded early in the morning of the 25th. I was very glad to see him, as it was hard luck for the men to have lost their doctor just before going into action. Dr Quinn found a case ready for him. Lt Turner seemed very seedy and later in the day had to be sent to hospital – another man down with measles.
But still the day’s troubles were not over. After tea I received a note from Major Stephenson, who had been badly gassed in the attack on St Julien, to say that he was still too ill to rejoin us, and that he had been advised that he must return home. This was a bad bit of news for me, for I knew I should miss his support as well as his cheery society.
'The 5th Bn Border Regt who have now been added to our Bde, have been in France since October without seeing a shot fired, having charge of German prisoners at the base, or on the lines of communication the whole time'.
Monday, 10th May 1915
It was not until the afternoon that the Bn, along with the rest of the Brigade, set off on the march for Brandhoek. There was absolutely no accommodation to be had, so on arrival each Bn was alloted a portion of the woods and officers and men were forced to bivouac.
The Brigade marched off, but not until the afternoon, to the woods at Brandhoek, where we were to spend the night. Each Battalion was allotted a portion of the woods, and proceeded to bivouac. There was no accommodation of any kind to be found, even for the CO and his Adjutant, but luckily it was a fine night, although very chilly. Cruddas and I burrowed out a hollow in the ground. (If modesty did not forbid it, I should say that we both became adapt in this art!) Over it we rigged up a waterproof sheet on some branches for a covering, and the next thing needed was bedding. We went on a foraging expedition, and at a farm house bought a small truss of straw for a penny and brought it back triumphantly. It made a pretty comfortable bed, spread in our hollow, but after a few hours our quarters seemed very cramped, to say nothing of our limbs. Sleeping was not easy in such circumstances. I doubt if the others fared much better. Most of the officers made similar arrangements for themselves, amd some of the men were very ingenious in making arbours to sleep in. But the only luxurious member of the Battalion was Dr Quinn. He, happy man, carried his “flea-bag” in his medical cart, and we all watched enviously while he tucked himself into it. He was asleep in no time – so were not we.
"At last we moved, but in an unexpected direction, as at about 6am the whole Bde started off in a fleet of about one hundred London motor omnibuses, and were rushed up to a point about a mile to the east of Poperinghe, where we alighted and were marched to a place called Brandhoek, quite close to where we spent the night of April 23rd. Here we bivouaced in a wood about 6 miles behind the firing line. The other two Bdes of our Divn marched up, and we are all near together". We made ourselves shelters with branches and waterproof sheets during the day, and I found my oil silk poncho very useful. None of us knew the reason for this forward move, as billets had actually been taken for us somewhere near Cassell.
Tuesday, 11th May 1915
An uneventful day, but that night working parties from the Bn were sent to Wieltje to dig trenches. It was a hard night's work for the men, with the long march there and back thrown in. Meanwhile, the other two Bdes had been ordered to the front line.
To us an uneventful day, but we could here plainly the firing at Ypres. Devastation was still at work there. At night I sent out working parties to dig trenches at Wieltje. It was a hard night’s work for the men, with the long march there and back thrown in.
Two Brigades from our Division were ordered up to the front, but we had still to bide-a-wee.
May the 12th was quiet on the front line, but several items relating to the Northumbrian Divn are of interest. By 11am the whole of Divn HQ were concentrated in Poperinghe. Just before noon V Corps HQ wired to say that certain moves and reliefs would take place during the night of the 12th -13th and the York and Durham Bde would be placed at the disposal of the 27th Divn. There was also notification from 2nd Army HQ that the designation of the Northumbrian Divn had been changed and from that day forward it was to be referred to as the 50th Divn. Bde designations were also changed with the Northumberland Bde becoming the 149th Bde, York and Durham Bde the 150th Bde and Durham Light Infantry Bde the 151st Bde. The 150th and 151st Bdes were marched off towards the front that night, but the 149th Bde was left undisturbed until the 13th.
Wednesday, 12th May 1915
An uneventful day. The men were allowed to sleep through the morning after the strenuous activities of the night.
Another dull day. The men slept throughout the morning, tired out with their night work.
I forget how I managed to kill time in the afternoon, but all the evening I played bridge with Robinson, Robb and Bunbury, using two old biscuit tins with a blanket on top for a table. It’s a great game played how-and-where-ever, and I enjoyed it in spite of all drawbacks.
Bell rejoined us during the day. We were all very glad to have him back and congratulated him on his quick recovery, due to rest and change of food, of course.
Thursday, 13th May 1915
The order to move came at last, the Bn marching off at 2pm. They marched to some open fields approximately 1000 yards west of Ypres near Vlamertinghe, where they had been ordered to bivouac and dig themselves in. It was raining very heavily by this time, so it was a relief when some huts were made available to the Bn around 5.30pm.
The order to move came at last, and we marched off at 2pm to some open fields just behind Vlamertinghe, where we had been told to bivouac and dig ourselves in. We arrived in a deluge of rain so the prospect did not seem particularly pleasing, and everyone was soon wet through. However, the men set to work to make the best of things, though a shortage of tools and ground of heavy clay made their work none to easy.
Cruddas and I found shelter from the worst of the downpour by crouching under the medicine cart beside the doctor; but by the evening the General had arranged for us to make use of some huts not far away. We were told we might have to vacate them if troops were drafted back from the trenches to rest, but, meantime, it seemed, we might make what use of them we could. So we stowed about thirty men into each dirty, leaky hut, and they were only too glad to get there. Head Quarters hut had no beds in it, but it was thrice blessed in its cooking stove, which dried our clothes and gave us a little warmth, beside cooking our supper, after which Cruddas, Wynnsford and I all went to sleep on the floor. Oblivion very quickly claimed us.
At 3.30am, there was a terrific roar as the German guns opened fire on the front line trenches and rear areas, the heaviest bombardment falling on the front line between Hooge and the Ypres- St Julien Road, held by the 27th Divn and cavalry. (What was happening?)
At 7.30am the whole Bde was ordered to be ready to move at short notice and at 10am the Bn moved forward to an open field on the south side of the Ypres road, one thousand yards to the west of the town. They reached the field at noon and in drenching rain, which had begun soon after reveille, they were ordered to dig in.
Left our wigwams yesterday and marched up again behind the town this time, dug ourselves in, raining all the time and soil very clayey; were far from picturesque by the time we finished. The men are getting very ingenious in their methods and even with entrenching tool can get fairly good cover from shrapnel in a couple of hours; generally we tell off two men to dig a hole 6ft long by about 4ft broad and about 4ft 6in deep. It is not wise to have it much deeper in case a shell plumps on the parapet, when the occupants are buried, and if dug in too deep it is impossible to get them out in time. The men also get very ingenious in the way of concealing them with sods and branches also roofing them over with waterproof sheets and turf. ( )
Had to dig ourselves in again this morning (still raining) this time a long snake trench. This was in case our huts were shelled (nothing doing up to now 5.30pm). Men getting very useful with their entrenchment tool, but had not nearly enough of this kind of work in our training. Teach the men to dig, dig, dig, with all kinds of tools, particularly the entrenching tool; nine times out of ten it is the only thing to be had.
Dig in the daytime and especially at night dug outs and all kinds of trenches, it is absolutely no good scratching this ground, as we have found by bitter experience. You must get down 3 or 4 feet, and your earth must be concealed from aircraft observation. Also practice the men getting under cover (and staying under till all is reported clear) directly the whistle goes (3 toots) for a hostile aeroplane over.
The men are very cheery digging, the gag this morning being; ‘Pass the word for the deputy overseer, there’s two men playing war here about being on the wrong cable’.
The 6th and 7th Battalions have been attached to a regular Bde, expect our turn tomorrow night (4th Bn officer, HC - 29 May 15).
The bombardment subsided around 1pm, with only intermittent shelling after that. At 5.30pm, the 4th were moved to nearby huts, the 5th Bn and 5th Bn Borders to trenches north of the road, while the 6th and 7th remained in bivouacs. The 6th and 7th Bns were placed under the orders of the 10th Bde at 10.30pm, and moved off at midnight. The 6th Bn eventually ended up on the eastern bank of the Yser canal near Ecluse No5 while the 7th Bn reinforced the 1st Royal Irish Fusiliers near Wieltje, occupying reserve trenches near the village.
For the 50th Divn, the Battle of Frezenburg Ridge was a period of moving, marching about, much shell-fire and great discomfort, but no actual fighting with the enemy.
Between the 14th to the 23rd of May the situation in the Ypres salient changed little. The 50th Divn was split up to reinforce other Divns in the front line.