Officer in Waiting
4 May - 12 June
The Somme Again
13 June - 24 August
Dompiere & Mont St. Quentin
25 August - 6 September
7 September - 10 November
11 November - 28 Feb 1919
The WWI diary of Percy Smythe was transcribed by his daughter Betty Smythe.
Sun. 16. Leaving this morning. Packed up ready. Got seven letters, one each from Mum, Mrs. Tanner, Clytie, Jean, Vera Keats, Vera Billingham and Ettie Cunynghame. Little news from home. Ettie, Jean, and Mrs. Tanner had just received the postcards I sent from Serapeum. Vera Billingham was working in a boarding house at Mosman, and liked the position. Poor Ettie had bad luck. Her boy, with whom she had been going for three years, suddenly let her go after getting into camp. Mrs. Tanner has been very ill, and Harry's wife has had a very rough time and had to be operated on.
Had early dinner, and left about midday for Vadencourt. They made the pace very hot for the first few miles, and we got knocked up. Thought I would have to drop out but managed to stick it. Didn't stop at Vadencourt, but went on to Warloy Baillon, about ten or eleven miles altogether, arriving there about 4 p.m.
Finished Mum's letter.
Barbed wire entanglements at Warloy -Baillon on the Somme. 1916 AWM
Captured German trenches, north west of the Pozieres Windmill AWM
Looking south towards Pozieres, this position was the scene of severe trench warfare, neither side holding it for more than a few hours at a time. It eventually became, in that particular period of fighting, part of no man's land.
Mon. 17. Cleaning and filling magazines this morning. The companies had skirmishing in extended order. We are getting ready for the battle, into which we will probably go within a few days.
Practice in stoppages this afternoon. Wrote to Jean, Clytie, and Ettie Cunynghame, and postcards to Vera Keats and Miss Prigg.
The big guns have been ripping into it all the evening somewhere up in front. Late tonight orders came for us to pack up in the morning ready to move off.
Tues. 18. Packed up ready to move off. Blankets are being taken separately in the transport, so it seems as if we are going direct to the firing line. If we were only going a few miles we could easily carry our blankets, after doing so for the last week.
The Machine Gun Section is being split up, eight guns and their crews being attached to the companies. We have got six more guns, and a lot more supernumeraries are coming into the section.
Did not leave today after all. Blankets were returned tonight. Some unforeseen emergency must have turned up. Wrote to Mrs. Tanner and Elsie Billingham. The big guns have been going almost continuously up ahead all day.
Wed. 19. Packed up. Blankets were collected and despatched again this morning. Packs were handed in and dumped. Kept out overcoat, waterproof sheet, housewife, air pillow, and the scarf Ida sent me. Got all the gun magazines filled. Were issued with square pink patches, which we had to sew on the backs of our tunics, as an artillery guide, like they used at Lone Pine on the peninsula.
Sharpened up my bayonet this afternoon. The old grindstone was kept pretty busy today putting points on bayonets. We fell in, and Tyson gave us some final instructions for when in action. Were issued with 100 rounds extra ammunition and a day's extra rations. Wrote to Viola, Ida, Dot Witte and Vera Billingham, and enclosed all the letters in a green envelope addressed to Mum, making quite a bulky little packet of it.
Had a hurried tea, and fell in. Moved off about 4.30p.m. Although we had no packs to carry, what with the extra ammunition and other things, the equipment was very awkward and uncomfortable.
Passed through Albert just before dark. It was a fair sized town, rather bigger than Hazebrouck, and was a good deal knocked about by shells. A large glass-roofed building was destroyed, only the walls remaining, the inside being a mass of ruins and debris. The church, which had been quite a fine building was still standing, but was full of holes, and looked a mass of shattered masonry and splintered timber. The tower was badly gapped, and a large bronze figure of the Madonna holding up the Christ-child, who formed the figure of the cross with out-stretched arms, was leaning right over and pointing towards the earth. It had stood up on top of the tower in place of a spire, being held on a base of iron supports, which had been bent or loosened by an exploding shell, allowing the figure to topple over.
The Basilica of Notre Dame de Brebieres at Albert photographed towards the end of 1916, after heavy artillery shelling. AWM
After passing through the town we met various Tommy units returning for a rest. Quite a number of the men were wearing German helmets which they had got as war-trophies. We were halted on a grassy patch, with a number of other Australian units, at a place where there was a low ridge between us and the firing line. It was a pretty spot, blazing with scarlet poppies, and sprinkled with the blue and yellow of other flowers.
There was a lot of traffic on the roads, including vehicles of all kinds, limbers, transports, handcarts, guns, and traction engines, besides equestrians and pedestrians. A couple of big naval guns a few hundred yards behind us opened up once, and fired a few shells back over our heads. They made an awful row and a blinding flash as they went off. There were other guns about firing occasionally also. Managed to score a drop of tea from a Tommy travelling kitchen near by. A couple of huge guns, 9-inch, I think, came along, drawn by large traction engines with caterpillar wheels.
About 10.30p.m. the Machine Gun Section got a move on, the other units having all proceeded towards the firing line. It was a very interrupted march. We would move on a short distance and then stop for some time, move on again, and stop, and so on. Kept this up till after 11p.m. and then had to turn back as we were on the wrong road. Proceeded in the same intermittent manner by a roundabout way, passing through some wooded hilly country.
Thurs. 20. We arrived at the dump at about 2a.m. and unloaded the guns etc. from the limbers. Had to carry the stuff a couple of miles or so to the companies. The latter part of the way was through a very narrow communication trench, which was very awkward. It reminded me a lot of Gallipoli, especially where in places the men were lying asleep in the bottom of the trench. At last we were so knocked up that it was useless to try and carry the stuff any farther, and it was decided to dump most of it in a suitable place, taking only the gun and a dozen magazines. This left Winder and I with nothing to take, so we went into D Co's lines to look for a place to doss. Captain Harris was sleeping, or trying to, in a recess cut out of the side of the trench, allowing sitting room only. There were a lot of these little recesses cut out, and finding one empty, I put the waterproof sheet in it and turned in to try and snatch a little sleep before stand to. A few shells were landing occasionally somewhere in the vicinity, but did not worry about them, and was just dozing off nicely when Holdsworth came along, saying we had to go back and report to battalion headquarters. It was just getting daylight then, and soon the men were standing to, and it was a beastly job scraping past them in these narrow trenches. Popoff and I managed to get detached from the others, and, finding some empty dugouts by the old German tram line, we turned in.
Didn't bother getting up for breakfast, but slept till nearly midday, when I had to go and take over a gun and magazines, etc. from Hackett's crew. Got a place in the Machine Gunners' trench, sharing a place with Mr. Tyson. They are dinkum dugouts here, being holes burrowed into the trench sides, not huts built of sandbags.
Had dinner of bully beef and biscuits, with dessert of biscuits and jam.
Popoff had a tin of coffee and milk, which we made up.
Put in the afternoon improving the dugout, and digging it further in. There are some bodies buried just in front of our door, and having swollen, they have forced the earth up over them, and it is spongy and springy to walk on. The trenches here have not the well-kept appearance of those where we were in Nord. There are no duckboards, but fortunately it is higher ground here, and the ground does not keep sodden. Rubbish lies littered here and there, equipment and belongings of both Tommies and Germans. Outside the trenches, the fields are ploughed up with shell holes.
Got a German mess tin and boiled some water in it to make some coffee. Had tea of biscuits and jam. A lot of our aeroplanes were scouting about over the firing line, and one of these, a battle-plane, started coming down at a steep angle. It soon became evident that the driver must have been hit by the German machine-gun fire, for the machine tilted and descended head first, wobbling about as it came down. It appeared to land in our own lines.
Cleaned rifle. Repaired tunic. A big shell came over and landed about ten or fifteen yards away, hurling a great heap of dirt and clods into the air. Word soon came that it had blown in a dugout and buried several chaps. We were not allowed to leave the trench, but got fuller details later on. There were four killed, Serjeant Elliott (sjt-cook), Bartels, the young Russian, who was sentenced to six month's imprisonment while we were at Fleurbaix, but was let off on a promise of good behaviour, Tommy Gill, and another chap, a cook, whom I don't know. Poor old Tommy Gill, he had often told me he was sure he was going to be killed. He had never cared, he said, before going home on leave to England, whether he was killed or not, but after experiencing again a little home comfort he didn't want to die, but wanted to get through all right. But he reckoned he had a premonition that he would be killed, and, whether it was only imagination or not, it had come true. He used to be in Bert's tent at Mena before the Gallipoli campaign started. He had seen some rough life as a sailor, and had seen his young wife and firstborn child die of starvation under his very eyes in an open boat, when he and another man were the only survivors from a wrecked sailing ship, of which he was master. It was his first voyage as a captain, and he had taken his wife to accompany him. Poor old Tommy, he often told me stories of his adventures in the Persian Gulf, when cholera claimed numberless victims. He had a girl, and would sometimes speculate on the prospects of a married life after the war, if -- there was always that eternal "if" -- he should get through. He did not like the idea of getting married and continuing his life as a sailor, but there was nothing else he could turn his hand to.
Besides those four killed, there were several wounded, including Ferguson the armourer-serjeant, who was a brother of Ferguson who used to be in my section in the Australian Rifle Regiment, and who was killed on the peninsula. He was not badly wounded, but his assistant, Keble, was, being knocked blind, and badly cut about as well.
We have now to carry always with us two bombs and two sandbags each, to be ready when required.
Did not have to stand to, so went to bed about dusk. There was a good deal of strafing going on up ahead, particularly to the right.
Fri. 21. Found it rather cold without a blanket, and woke up with feet almost freezing this morning. Got a fire going and made some tea, and boiled some bacon for breakfast.
Bartlett was killed by a shell last night. Only a couple of days ago he and Morrow and I were joking about "pushing up daisies".
A couple of Taubes flew over during the morning, but kept very high up. The sky was full of white smoke-puffs from bursting shrapnel, but they both got back all right to their own lines. Heard that the Tommies attacked last night, but through some mistaken order they were thrown into confusion and were cut up to no purpose.
Started writing letter to Vern. Heard this afternoon that the Tommies made a local attack today in a small sector. We have to go up to the forward trenches tonight, leaving our overcoats here, as it looks as if there will be something doing. The stretcher-bearers were very busy for a time preparing bandages, and they spoke as though they expected us to be going over the parapet tonight.
Turned in about dusk, chancing whether we had to shift or not.
Sat. 22. We did not move last night after all. Studied French this morning, and cleaned some magazines. Got a copper driving band off a shrapnel shell case, many of which were lying about. This afternoon Dunn and I were sent to Gordon dump for ammunition. There were empty shrapnel cases and unexploded shells lying all over the place. Coming back we went over to a 5.9 inch gun to see them firing it. It was very interesting. When it went off the thing made an ear-splitting noise and a great flash, and the recoil threw the gun back several feet.
Filled magazines when we got back with the ammunition. All of our overcoats and waterproof sheets were collected and sent away to the dump, so it seems almost certain there will be something doing tonight. After tea some of us were sent with magazines to the 1st Battalion dump behind the firing line. We had been improperly directed, and took the wrong trench. After going a considerable distance, another chap and I went ahead to reconnoitre. In one or two places there were parts of dead bodies sticking out of the ground, and we knew they were Germans by their boots. Farther on there were dead Tommies lying here and there, just tossed up on the parapet out of the way and there left to decay. Farther on still they were not even shifted from where they had been killed. In one place half-a-dozen had apparently been killed by the one shell, and, although they must have been dead for over a week, they were still lying, sitting, or reclining in grotesque attitudes of death, their bodies and faces black, bloated and swollen, and the flesh beginning to rot and fall apart. They were grouped about the trench, and we had to step between and over them.
After going on some distance farther, it became evident that we were on the wrong track, so we turned back. Got a Warwickshire, a N. Lancashire, and a Worcestershire shoulder piece off the dead Tommies' tunics.
Winder went back and got the proper directions, and we got out of the trench and crossed over open country to the right trench. Got out on to the road, which took us away down into the valley in front. There was a German observation balloon up, and various parties were moving almost continuously up and down the road. A few shells came over, but it was a wonder they did not shell the road heavily. Further on we came across a couple of 11th Battalion men lying dead on the road, covered over with waterproof sheets and just left there. One's head was lying in a pool of blood. They had both been only recently killed.
We were very doubtful as to which was the right way, but, going down to the bottom of the valley, crossed the old destroyed German tram line, and turned off towards the left, going up another valley. Parties of men were coming and going, and a lot of shells were landing ahead. Winder and two of the others were a bit nervous. We were not at all sure of the way, and twice I left the others and went on to reconnoitre. One of the chaps suggested dumping the magazines in a convenient place and going back, but I would not hear of it. Found the dump at last, alongside a pile of huge 60lb trench mortar bombs known as "apples". Winder, Dunn, and I put our magazines there, but the other two chaps had wandered on somewhere up the valley, and we did not know where they were. Beside our dump lay a dead artilleryman with a great gash in his stomach, all his mouth shattered, a hole through one hand and the other wrist chopped about. His face and hands were a sickly yellow.
While coming back a large piece of shell casing whirred past within a couple of yards of me. Winder said his nerves were all upset and that he had to hold himself under restraint, and he was itching to bolt for life away up the valley. We hurried across the main valley, where it was a bit safer. There was a wrecked German 18-pounder by the roadside. Our artillery had made havoc of it. My feet were very tired and sore, on account of the ill-fitting boots. Got back to our dugouts at last, and prepared to move tonight. Mr. Wilson, our "padre", told us there was to be a general advance along the whole line. Just here the 1st Battalion was to lead the attack, backed up by the 2nd and 4th on either side, and supported by the 3rd.
Got my air pillow and the scarf Ida sent, as I did not want to lose them. Extra supernumeraries were added to our gun crews, Newland, Hockey, and another chap being put in my crew. It appears the Battalion M.G. section forms a reserve for the company guns.
Got ready to move off about 8p.m. There was a good deal of bombarding going on over to the right, and it looked very pretty, with all the flares going up. After waiting some time we got to move on and went down by the road. The two dead men were still lying there in the same place. Crossed the old tram line and moved up the valley. The pace was kept rather brisk, and with the eight Lewis magazines besides my equipment to carry, I was well-nigh exhausted when at last a halt was called at the left side of the valley. Big shells were landing occasionally on the ridge opposite, and once a gas shell fell somewhere behind us, partly gassing some of our chaps, as I afterwards learned.
We had a long cold wait in the valley there, and when we moved off again I got Newland to carry my rifle, as he had no magazines to carry. Turning up to the left along a roadway, we came to a small narrow trench in which we had to get and wait for the stunt to start. "A" Co. was just in front of the M.G. section. There was not much protection in the apology for a trench, but it was better than nothing. We were all there together, the gun crew I was in; Holdsworth, Winder, Popoff, Dunn, Steer, Newland, Hockey, the chap whose name I don't know, and I. Over to the right the artillery had been keeping very busy all the evening. Our part in the fray was timed to start at midnight, when the 1st Battalion were to charge after three minutes' heavy bombardment by our artillery.
Sun. 23. Time dragged slowly away as we waited there impatiently. The artillery action on the right grew heavier, and came closer. Still there were only occasional shots fired on our front, until about 12.30a.m., when the bombardment developed into full force. The din was intense, as we eagerly awaited the word to move forward. But the expected word did not come. There was some commotion in front, and then came the order. "Double back! Double back!" Men came running down the slope, and all was confusion. It seemed in that instant that all our hopes were dashed to the ground, and that failure was to be our lot. Newland and I got out of the trench, along with the others, and fell back together, till we heard the welcome cry of "Steady, boys, steady! Stick to it, lads!" Still there was hope. Just then Jack Bubb came swaggering down the road cursing and swearing in the extremity of his vitriolic language, ordering his men forward again to their places. He found some of his men there and went off up the hill again with them. Kitchen, one of my old reinforcements, came ducking along trying to get a place in the trench, and kept repeating that he was wounded. I asked him a couple of times where he was wounded, but he said he did not know. I think he was only frightened.
Heard Jack Bubb's voice again and saw him coming down the road, this time apparently supported by someone else with him, and he kept saying, "I'm all right. I'm all right." I concluded that he must have been wounded.
Word soon came along that the Machine Gunners were moving forward, so I got up to go, but Newland wanted me to stay. I think he had just momentarily given way to fear. "No," I said. "We're not going to squib it", and, getting out of the trench, staggered off up the hill with my load of magazines. Shells were falling rather plentifully all over the hill, and they sounded anything but pleasant. The weight of the magazines soon told on me, and I collapsed into the trench gasping for breath. After a brief spell I pushed on again and overtook Reg Morgan with one of his crew, and followed them up to the trench from which the 1st Battalion had charged, and in which we had to stay as supports. Passed a couple of dead men on the way. We soon found that the order to go back had been a false order, and nobody knew where it had originated. Most of the men who had retired now began to turn up again. Found a number of machine gunners, with Wilson and Jagone. Wilson told us to get into dugouts where we could. The dugouts were bits of holes scraped in the trench side, and provided sitting-up room only. I found myself in one, and, following upon a shrapnel burst overhead, heard someone groaning painfully in the dugout next to mine, while the stretcher-bearers were called for. Learned afterwards that one of the wounded men was Holleborn, who got a nasty wound in the foot.
Heard that Captain Edwards was dead, also that the advance was successful, our chaps taking two or three lines of trenches. "A" Co. was all in a mix-up, having been thrown into confusion by the false order. What could be found of them were sent, with the other companies, up into the front, to assist the 1st Battalion.
A number of wounded men began to make their way back from the trenches, and Holleborn got up to try and limp away, but, arriving at my dugout, he went down to it and I let him lie down in my place. He seemed to be suffering a lot of pain, and said he felt very sick. Went up along the trench and over the road, and got another dugout. The Germans were sending over a lot of High-Explosive shrapnel and a few "whiz-bangs", but, being very tired and sleepy, I dozed off, leaning doubled up against the wall of the dugout.
Was awakened by a great noise, in time to see a dark object fall upon me, and thought it must be someone killed. Found, however, that it was earth, and that one end of the dugout had been blown in, burying me up to the armpits. Got my head out and called for someone to come and dig me out, and a couple of chaps soon turned up with shovels. It was a great relief to get that awful weight of earth off my legs. Went along to where Steer had a double-sized dugout to himself, and shared it with him. Dunn arrived on the scene, and the three of us were talking, when there was a sudden flash of fire just over our heads, accompanied by the roar of H.E. shrapnel. Dunn seemed to be rather shaken, and Steer was nursing his leg, from which the blood soon began to pour. There was a nasty big hole in his leg, but the bone was not broken. Took his field dressing and bandaged the wound up as best I could. A man in the next dugout was killed by the same shell. A lot of those beastly H.E. shrapnel kept bursting close overhead, each time giving one a jar in the head like a blow from a fist.
It was now getting daylight. Dave Lea came along with a wounded hand, and told me that Salmon and Hicks were both killed. That completes the trio, Smith, Hicks and Salmon. Steer was suffering a bit with his wounded leg, so I let him have the dugout to himself, to give him some room. The only other one available was that in which the chap was killed next door, so, feeling very tired, I got in with the corpse to try and get a little sleep. Saw by his identity discs that it was Squires, a mate of Dunn's. He had been struck in the head, and must have had his steel helmet off at the time, for it was lying at his side unmarked. At any other time it would have given me the creeps, but the close proximity of that grim object did not keep me awake long, and I slept soundly.
Awaking some time later, went along to find out what was doing. Heard that Sjt. Wilson was wounded. Edwards was not killed, as reported, but was badly wounded in the left arm. Captain Wren was also wounded. Mr. Tyson was put in charge of A Co., all the officers of which, except Dupres, were either killed or wounded.
Picked up Dunn and another gunner and went down towards headquarters. Found Holdsworth on the way. He told me Winder had not been seen since the false order last night, and he had found Popoff but had lost him again. There were a number of dead men all along the trench, some having been thrown up on the parapets. One chap was lying in the bottom of the trench buried to the neck, and with all the top of his head blown away. Another was crouching on his hands and knees in a shallow side trench, killed while trying to get away from the shrapnel. Saw a German prisoner sitting in a dugout with one of our chaps keeping guard over him. He was the first of the enemy that I have seen alive during the war. He seemed very young, and was rather nice-looking. He was certainly not the brutal looking sort of fellow one generally imagines the Huns to be. A little farther on I found Fischer with a badly wounded foot, with which he was suffering a lot of pain. Also saw Kitchen with a finger bound up. There were various others too, mostly with slight wounds. Came across Mr. Tyson, and he sent me to round up all the stray men, and send them along to Battalion headquarters. While doing so I found Wootton with a Lewis gun and spare parts bag. Found Tommy Smith suffering a little with shell shock.
Heard that our boys advanced to between the second and third German lines, as ordered. They had an easy win, and could have gone much farther, but, having lost most of their officers, it would have been unwise to have gone farther without proper leadership, so they dug themselves in, occupying part of the village of Pozières. Our `planes have reported the Germans massing in rear.
Having nothing particular to do, I found an apology for a dugout, and got a little sleep. Breakfasted on bully beef and bread, and slept off and on till dinnertime. Things have been quiet all the morning, save for an occasional shell coming over. Turned in after dinner again for a short sleep.
Awoke suddenly and grabbed my leg under the impression that something was biting it, as it was stinging a treat. But the sound of bursting shrapnel reminded me of where I was. Thought I had got a "blighty" in the leg, but upon examination only found a small piece of H.E. shrapnel sticking into my leg through the puttee.
Shortly afterwards the Machine Gunners got orders to go up to the firing line. A blood covered corpse lay at the corner by the communication trench as we passed. Had picked up a rifle to take with me, but what with the magazines and equipment, the load was altogether too heavy, so discarded the rifle, depending on getting a spare one in the front line. Arriving at the next line of trench we were stopped, and found that the order was a mistake and that we had to go back again. Saw there amongst a heap of stuff a clip of German cartridges with the bullets reversed, making dumdums of them. A lot of the boys had German helmets which they had taken as trophies. While we were there a batch of German prisoners came along on their way to the rear. There were eight of them, and they appeared quite satisfied to be taken prisoners. Went back to the other lines, and by this time the dugouts were all occupied and the main trench full, so I went to the little trench in the rear, which was only about eighteen inches to two feet in depth, and proceeded to make myself at home. Found a respirator satchel with an Australian badge and various other things in it. Also found another satchel containing a new pair of sox, which was just the thing I wanted.
Met Bert Newland, and he came over and made his home in my trench, and gave me an account of his doings. When I went forward after the false order, he came on after, and got hold of some magazines and a spare parts bag, which he brought up with him. Not being able to find the Lewis gunners in the supports trench he went on up to the firing line and handed over the things to one of the gun crews there, and then went back to the platoon. At this time they were digging themselves in, connecting up shell craters, and Bert fell to with an entrenching tool. A few Germans would occasionally appear in front, but did not give them much trouble. A batch of about a dozen Fritzs came towards them, apparently with the intention of surrendering, but some of the boys fired on them, and they ran for shelter to the remains of an old cottage, part of the wall of which was still standing. They had no sooner got behind the wall, however, when one of our shells landed right there, completely demolishing what was left of the cottage. No more was seen of the Germans.
Later in the day our battalion was withdrawn to the supports, leaving the 1st occupying the firing line, and Bert still remained with the platoon.
We got hold of a waterproof sheet each and turned in, in the trench, without blanket or overcoat. Got a haversack left behind by a wounded man and made a meal of the contents, and then got to work deepening the trench to provide more protection.
Dunn came along later on and brought his things to where we were. We got several more haversacks and water bottles, and had quite a decent supper of bread and butter, bacon, cheese, sardines, sweet biscuits, and chocolate. A little mouse came over to us to feed on the scraps. It was quite tame, and seemed half silly, possibly suffering with shell-shock. A stray kitten was also wandering about the lines in a half-dazed manner. Was told that serjeant-majors Morris and Woods were killed, also serjeant Simpson, and Jack Hilton is missing. Boniface, Erp, Perry, Dooley and others were wounded.
Newland and I got spare overcoats, and Dunn got a couple of waterproofs and we turned in, in the trench. Slept well.
Monday 24th. Got some scraps of wood, lit a fire, and made some tea for breakfast. Saw a couple of wounded Germans lying in stretchers near headquarters. Was told that Bob Campbell was wounded, Hosford missing, and Captain Kemp wounded. Nagle, who had been boasting of his Irish blood and Irish bravery, fainted before we got near the scene of battle, and had to be sent away.
Got to work deepening the trench. The Germans have been dropping a lot of big stuff over at the firing line. At the distance it looks a grand spectacle when the masses of dirt and smoke shoot up into the sky. Sometimes branches of trees and pieces of timber would be hurled high into the air. Bits of exploded shells kept flying around us, and I was once hit by a spent piece. A nose cap once came whistling and whirling over the trench, landing some distance beyond and ricocheting along the ground.
The adjutant, Lieut. Agnew, came along and told us that an advance had been made all along the line. Went away in search of water, and found a discarded equipment on the parapet of a communication trench. Got from it a bottle full of water, and a mess tin containing bread, butter, and jam. Newland wrote to Jack Bubb, giving him an account of the fighting to date.
There was a rum issue this morning, and I drank half of my issue. It was the first time I ever tasted the stuff, and it made me very sleepy. Slept till dinnertime. Newland wakened me for dinner. He and Dunn had cooked some bully beef and made tea, and Dunn had found some cake somewhere, and with the stock of food we already had in hand, we fared well. Heard that Cpn. Kemp was not wounded, but was sent away with shell-shock.
During the afternoon aeroplanes flew over and circled about at a low altitude sending morse signals with a hooter. On the ridge over to the right lies the wrecked battle-plane which was brought down on Thursday last.
Was warned to report to Ormiston in the firing line, with Tom Board and Graham, and we had to take a couple of tins of water each with us. Parted with Bert Newland, and our mutual parting words were "Bon chance". He tried to send me some message in semaphore when I had got to the communication trench, and that was the last I ever saw of him. He was a decent fellow, and I greatly regret his loss.
A few big shells were falling about the firing line, also close to the communication trench, so we did not waste time getting through. Reported to Ormiston, and Tom and I were attached to Paddy Kelly's crew, Graham going to Reg Morgan's crew.
Got to work deepening our section of the trench, which was in the corner at the end of the communication trench. Tea and boiled meat was brought up for the machine gunners, and we had a fair meal. Later on a number of dixies of tea were brought up for the companies occupying the firing line, which were C and D. Soon afterwards Fritz began to make things uncomfortable by sending over 9.2 inch high explosives, or "coal-boxes", and high explosive shrapnel, which make an effective combination, for if one gets down low in the trench to avoid the shrapnel, he is liable to be buried by the other brutes of things.
About dusk A. and B. companies came up and relieved C. and D., who went back to the next lines. Charlie Holdsworth also came up with a crew of gunners, but was sent back to the next line. Someone came along and said that Lieut. Dupres was wounded. He was the last of A. Co's. officers. Was told that Winder and Popoff were both killed early in the action yesterday morning, and Eric Connelly was killed today.
Fritz kept the bombardment going pretty constant, and the message for stretcher bearers became rather frequent, and every now and then wounded men would come past our corner on their way to the rear. A man came staggering along the parados calling for the C.O. He collapsed exhausted, but struggled to his feet, only to fall again. A couple of us assisted him down into the trench, and he gasped, in grim exaggeration "There's a battalion buried on the left!" A party of men were promptly sent with shovels to their rescue. Through the anxious hours that followed, that pathetic message continually passed from mouth to mouth up and down the trench.. "Shovels wanted on the right!" "Shovels on the left!" "More shovels!" And every time that shovels were called for we knew that some of our comrades must have passed on.
I soon learned with sorrow that serjeant Gordon had been blown to pieces. Dick Rosser and Captain Middleton, of B. Co., who had been temporarily transferred to A., were last seen together, and were afterwards found to be missing. It is supposed that they were buried. Every minute or two one of those big nine-point-twos would come flying over. When they landed anywhere near, the noise of the explosion was most terrific, and our nerves gradually began to suffer, in spite of our efforts to fight against their effects. (Learned afterwards that Perce Morgan was killed during the night. He was buried to the neck, and while they were digging him out another shell came and blew his head off. Fred Archer was last seen in company with him. Freddy Lax was horribly mutilated, being cut in halves and one part of him thrown up on one side of the trench, and the other part thrown up on the other side. Bert Newland was last seen in the firing line.)
Tuesday, 25th. A "coal-box" exploded back along the communication trench a bit, and shortly afterwards a man came up and said there were some men buried there. I grabbed a shovel and went along, followed by several other chaps. The trench was full of dirt for about four or five yards, and we could hear a couple of choking voices calling for help. Started digging for all I was worth above where I could hear one fellow groaning and gasping. It was hard work, and the sweat was pouring in streams down my face and getting in my eyes and mouth. We heard a big shell coming, and it exploded just over the trench. A chap working beside me fell back, and I thought he was killed, but it turned out to be only a wound in the face. Another man also was wounded, and they both went back to the dressing station.
Soon got to work again. The chap I was digging for recognised my voice and called me by name, and I found that he was Donovan of the 12th reinforcements. He was in a dugout, the top of the opening of which was just above dirt-level, and by reaching into it I located one hand, the fingers of which were just protruding from the mass of earth. Soon found his face and scraped the loose earth away, thus giving him freedom to breathe and considerable relief. Kept on digging till I was knocked up, and then handed the shovel over to another chap.
After a brief spell, got to work digging for the men who were completely buried, in the hope that it might be possible to resuscitate them. It was very hard work, and there was a great mass of earth to remove, and the others were for giving them up as hopeless, but I urged them to keep on in the hope of being able to save them. At last we got one fellow half unearthed, and I tried to start artificial respiration, but it seemed a hopeless case. He was stone cold. Saw by his identity disc that his name was Brain.
Had previously sent a couple of men to fetch the doctor, but as he seemed a long time coming I decided to go and hunt him up, while some fresher men finished digging out the unfortunate victims. The extreme physical exertion and the mental strain were not without their effect, and my nerves were already a bit shaky. While going back along the communication trench I saw someone lying on one side, and, thinking he might be wounded, took hold of him and tried to arouse him. Then with a shudder I remembered that it was a horribly ripped and torn corpse that had been lying there all the afternoon.
The dressing-station was not in the next line, so, the trench being full of men, I got out and went back to the third line, only to find that the dressing-station was farther back behind the fourth line. Went back there, and met the doctor just coming away. Told him how things were and gave him the directions, and left the job in his hands. Returned to the firing-line again, to the Lewis gun position. Felt very shaky, but, after smoking a cigarette which I got from one of the chaps there, seemed to feel much better.
About twenty minutes later Jagow came along and sent me back to the next line to bring up Charlie Holdsworth and the remaining gunners. Did not waste any time in the communication trench, which was already badly battered. At one place a couple of big trees had been uprooted, and one had fallen across the trench, the other lying along the parapet. Farther on another smaller tree lay across the trench. Found Holdsworth and his men in a small blind lead off the second-line trench. Got into an argument with McDougall, who seemed half dopy. He did not recognise me, and seemed to be suspicious.
Gave Holdsworth Jagow's message, and at that moment a crowd of men came upon us over the open with fixed bayonets. Heard some of them saying "Is this them? Are these the Germans?", and I roared out at them that they were nowhere near the Germans. We soon learned that they were a company of the 7th battalion, and were supposed to make a charge somewhere, but had evidently lost their way.
Fearing such a crowd of men in the open might attract Fritz's attention and some nine-point-twos, we shouted to them to get into the trench, but they hardly seemed to know what to do until the shells began to come flying over. We had to sit tight for awhile. When we did make a move the communication trench was choked so full of men that it was impossible to get past. I suggested to Charlie that we go up across the open, but he did not like the idea of it, so we got back into the blind lead, and waited there for about half an hour till the way was clear.
When at last we got to the firing line, Holdsworth and his party, which included Dunn, were sent to the position on the left previously occupied by Wiseman and his crew, who had gone to a position out in front somewhere. They never reached their destination. Someone went along about ten or fifteen minutes later to try and find them, but they were nowhere to be seen, and we afterwards learned that Dunn and Holdsworth, with a number of others, were blown up. We thought the whole crew had gone, but it turned out afterwards that Duggan and Leary escaped. I thought Giles, who was a parson and who is such a nice little fellow, was with them, and considered him dead.
At last the stars paled, and welcome daylight began to appear. We were not sorry either, for we expected to be relieved in the morning. Went on post for half an hour, and while on a big shell exploded just out in front, enveloping us in a dense cloud of evil-smelling sulphurous black smoke, and leaving a great hole in the ground where it fell. The crater appeared to be roughly about five or six yards in diameter. At the end of the shift Tom Board went on.
A number of A. Co. men, being left without officers or non-coms., forsook the trench and went to the rear. The remainder were ordered to go up to the right to B. Co, as most of the shells were falling on the left. Made enquiries about Bert Newland, but could not get any news of him. A man was sent off down the communication trench to the rear, and as he went he was trying to take hold of something he could see in the air. Then he stopped and began feeling for the same invisible object up over the side of the trench. Poor beggar, he was mad, but I could not help envying him in a way, for shells held no terror for him now, and anyway he was going to the rear.
A German prisoner was brought in, and his thin drawn face was white and haggard, and he looked indeed an object for pity. He sank down on the ground by the hedge just out of the communication trench, and they left him there. Serjeant Millard wanted to go out and kill him, but we all cried him down, for in our own affliction we could well sympathise with a fellow-sufferer, even though he were one of our enemies.
At last the shelling slackened off, and we took the opportunity to snatch a meagre breakfast of bully beef and bread and jam. It had been a trying night, and the strain had told on us all. Colonel Price, Lieut. Buckley, and Corporal Jagow kept very cool and collected through it all, and I admired them for it. Tyson, contrary to my expectations, seemed pretty game. Major Moore's face was pale and drawn, showing how the strain was affecting him, but he never exhibited any fear.
The bombardment was not withheld for long. It was but a temporary cessation, the lull before the real storm. We had about twenty minutes' peace. Previous to that the bombardment is reckoned to equal anything known at Verdun, but who shall describe what followed? It was Hell. A salvo of four big shells came screaming over, and then everywhere in the vicinity of the firing line was suddenly converted into a horrible roaring chaos, great masses of earth and debris flying skywards on all sides, and showers of clods and pieces of chalk falling all around us. It was awful. It seemed as though the face of the earth was being churned up and powdered into dust. The sight of such masses of dirt being hurled up was sufficient to strike terror into the stoutest hearts, but most terrifying of all was the great variety of horrible nerve-racking noises, as salvo followed salvo in rapid succession. We crouched there in the trench like so many frightened sheep, waiting for what? We could only hope that soon the hurricane of shells would cease, or that our own artillery, which had been strangely silent most of the night, would open up and quieten them. But our hopes were in vain, and the men, what was left of them, were fast becoming demoralized. In our corner where the Lewis gun position was, there were the two gun crews, a stretcher-bearer, a lieutenant, and several others. Colonel Price and Major Moore were in the trench by their dug-out, a few yards away, and Tyson and Howie, and Agnew, the adjutant, were dodging about somewhere. Kelly looked as scared as I felt. Ormiston seemed like a figure carved in stone, his features set in a look of gloom. The lieutenant and the stretcher-bearer were very much afraid, and cowered trembling in the trench, but they were brave men all the same, and remained at their post. Tom Board was near me, and, like the rest of us, took it all in gloomy silence. We were all afraid, every man of us, but we still stuck to our post.
For over half an hour our corner seemed to escape miraculously, but it could not go untouched too long, and soon the nine-point-twos came falling close around us. It seemed to be the limit of frightfulness. Flesh and blood could hardly stand it any longer, and, as it was obviously only suicide to stay there, we cried out for orders what to do. But, as no orders were forthcoming, like Casablanca we stayed there, in constant expectation of being buried or blown to pieces. At last, however, we got an order to move along to the right to B. Co., but, on moving along, could not see anyone about. A man came hurrying from the opposite direction, and, on being asked where B Co. was, said they were all buried.
So we went back to our corner and crouched there, trying to squeeze as much as possible of us under the steel helmets to avoid the falling clods, which came down with some force. It was a terrible experience. Men turned and looked with hungry eyes down the communication trench.
Though in itself a veritable death-trap, it was the road out of Hell. Two or three left us and fled to the rear, but the remainder held firm, defying death in its most terrifying form.
We fairly begged for an order to go out in front, hoping it might be a little quieter out there, and at last the order came. Ormiston and another man went over the parapet with the Lewis gun, and while a couple more were climbing out I got under the low roof of the gun position to wait my turn, thinking that there one might have a little breathing space in the event of being buried. It was well that I did so, for the next instant there was a terrific roar, my head was jerked backwards and a mass of dirt dashed into my face, sticking in my ears, eyes, nose and mouth. For a time there was darkness and a vile reek of sulphur and smuts, but, when the smoke cleared away, our portion of the trench had vanished, and I was within the radius of a large shell crater. Beside me two men were buried, one to the waist, and the other with only his head out, and there must have been a number of others buried in the trench. It seemed a miracle that we were not all blown to pieces, for the shell must have exploded less than three yards away. Half of the roof of the gun position was torn away.
Got to work on the buried men, but, hearing the smothered cries of another man who was completely buried a few yards away, I went to his assistance. Some sandbags had fallen on top of his head, thus giving him a little air space, and he could talk to me through the roof of earth. There were no shovels about, so got to work scratching the loose earth away with my hands, and the man's voice assumed a more reassured tone when he knew that I was digging for him. Worked at it for all I was worth, and had only to drag away a sandbag and he would have fresh air, when there came another terrific roar, and a deluge of loose earth swept over. It was heart-breaking. The man would be unconscious long before I could get to him. Mr. Agnew, the adjutant, was now buried to the knees just in front of me, and was stuck fast. He called for me to help him out, and between us we managed to get most of the dirt away. Another chap came and helped us, and we soon got him out.
Resumed digging for the other poor beggar, but the adjutant called to me from the parapet to come out in front, as it would be too late to save him now, he would be dead. Did not like to forsake him however, so went over to Colonel Price, who still stood with Major Moore in front of their dugout, and said, "There's a man buried over there; he was alive a while ago; what will I do?" He replied, "Its too late to save him now. Go out in front." So I went. It broke me up completely, though, more than the shells or anything else, to think that I had to go away and leave him there to die. Learned afterwards that Tom Board was killed and buried by the shell which demolished our corner. Had lost my steel helmet at the same time, but, before leaving, picked up one which was lying in the shell crater. It was branded "C. McK.", and probably belonged to one of the unfortunate beggars who were buried there. Had also thrown off my cumbersome equipment when digging Agnew out, and forgot to get it again afterwards, so that I came away without either equipment, rifle, or gas helmet.
Tyson left the trench just before I did, and we both ran out together between the craters and amongst the piles of broken bricks and splintered timber which had once been Pozieres. Over to the right a small portion of a wall still remained standing, but otherwise there did not appear to be left one brick upon another. The artillery of both sides had between them pounded the village into dust and splinters, until it presented a pitiful scene of desolation.
Ormiston and a few others were in a little bit of trench with the Lewis gun, and Tyson and I got in a shell crater near by. The tornado of high explosives was just as violent out in front. The Germans appeared to be pouring them indiscriminately all over the place in a reckless expenditure of ammunition. Having lost possession of the village, and not having the courage or the strength to counter-attack, they were wreaking their vengeance upon us, and all the time our own artillery was silent, not a single answering shot going over to the German lines. It was very discouraging.
By this time my nerves were pretty well gone, and I wished I could be killed outright and have done with it. It was not death we feared, but those terrible nerve-racking shells. All the same, the thought of home and all the sorrow that would be brought there by my death worried me a good deal. Of course I said a good many silent prayers during the night and morning, and it can be safely said that every man there did the same, no matter how irreligious he might have been ordinarily.
Tyson and I had only just got into the crater when a "coal-box" exploded just outside and sent a wave of dirt and debris over to us. Tyson then went back to Ormiston and called to me to come too, though for my part I could not see that we were any safer in one place than another. As the proverbial joke says, "Well, if yer knows of a better `ole, go to it!" However, I went over to them, but the next minute a heap of broken up bricks came pouring down into the position, half burying one of the men.
We stayed there for a short time, but the place was untenable, so we decided to go farther out in front, and, if possible, join up with the 8th Battalion, who had stowed themselves away in craters and amongst the ruins somewhere out in front and over to the right a bit, in order to surprise the Germans when they should counter-attack. Not being sure of their whereabouts, we were in a bit of a dilemma, but just then Jagow came along, and we welcomed the sight of him. He was so cool and brave, and betrayed not the slightest anxiety or excitement, although his face was pale and his usual cheery smile and pleasant jest were absent. He will live in my memory as one of the bravest of the brave. Through all that trying ordeal he only seemed to think of fighting to the last.
Jagow had some idea of where the 8th Battalion were, so we went forward with him, but were unable to find them. Then, as the shells were all coming in enfilade fire from the right, we made over towards the left to get beyond the shell-swept zone, not knowing what was to be our ultimate destination.
Where Pozières had been was bounded on the left by the remnants of a hedge, and beyond this there were open fields, where no shells were falling. Getting out into the open fields, we could at last breathe freely, and it was a great relief. There was a narrow strip of wood about three or four hundred yards farther on, and thither we directed out steps. We were now, however, in full view of the enemy's trenches, which were only about three hundred yards to the northward, and soon Fritz spotted us, and bullets began cracking and spitting all around us, followed by the shrill regular claquement of machine gun fire. It sounded like music by comparison after the awful roaring of the bombardment, and did not frighten us in the least. The Germans must have been very bad shots, however, for we all got safely into the belt of timber, which was about fifty yards wide, and was known as the Cemetery, though I saw no graves there. It was bounded on the three sides by a small hedge, and was not too badly knocked about by shell-fire. Just inside the end, which was towards the enemy lines, we found a Vickers machine gun officer and about a dozen engineers in a shell crater, where they were building a gun position. We took shelter with them in the crater, Duckworth and another chap and I. We had got somewhat scattered coming across the fields, and the rest had entered the wood at other points.
We stayed there, listening to the bombardment, which still continued with unabated fury on the right. At last, however, our artillery woke up, and we heard the welcome singing of our shells sailing over to the enemy. Then, to our consternation, our own artillery's shells came dropping all around us in the wood. It was disheartening. One shell dug up the earth just alongside of our position, but fortunately did not explode. There were quite a number of blobs, thanks to American-made ammunition. Our aeroplanes, several of which were circling about overhead, must have reported the mistake to the artillery, for after a while they left us in peace. But then the Germans turned their attention to us, and we thought they were going to blow the wood to pieces, as they had done the village.
A message was brought to the engineers to go back, so we all left the crater and went back along a bit of old German communication trench to a small open space containing a couple of strongly built German dug-outs, which were, however, partly filled with water. There were here, besides a number of engineers, Mr. Agnew, corporal Jagow, and about eight or nine other 3rd Battalion men. After staying there awhile it was decided to go right back to our lines, and first the engineers moved off in small parties at intervals. Got in one of the dug-outs with several other men while waiting our turn to move off. One of the men there was wounded in the thigh. Two of the men were the same two who were buried beside me at the old Lewis gun position. While I had been helping the adjutant, the chap who was only half buried had managed to get out somehow, and dug the other fellow out. The latter had since been struck on the head with a piece of shell, but it was not a serious wound.
Just before we were ready to leave, Colonel Price crawled into the wood, and I was very glad to see him, having been afraid that he must have been killed. He looked rather broken down in spirit, but was still game. Taking command of the 3rd Battalion -- what there was of them, less than a dozen men -- he decided that we had better remain in the wood for the day, and get back under cover of darkness. He and Mr. Agnew got together in the trench, and they got Duckworth and I to stay near in the trench, so that if they happened to get buried we would be there to dig them out, or vice versa.
We got some bully and biscuits out of a spare equipment lying there, and had some sort of a meal. There was only an occasional shell coming over our way, and the bombardment of the village had apparently been checked by our artillery, and resolved itself into the usual desultory artillery duel. There was a leaf of a Sydney "Bulletin" in the spare haversack, and I tried to read it, but was too drowsy, and could not keep my eyes open. Lay down in the trench to sleep, but a shell exploding not far away brought back the horror of being buried alive, and I couldn't bear the thought of going to sleep lying at the bottom of the trench.
A man came along the trench with a German prisoner, who, I think, must have come over and given himself up. Spoke to him in French as he went past, but he did not appear to understand. Got into a fairly comfortable position leaning up against the side of the trench, and slept soundly.
Later on Colonel Price got me digging a trench across the wood for a bit of a defensive position. Sjt. Millard turned up, also Major Moore and Mr. Tyson, and Howie, and various odd stragglers came in one or two at a time during the afternoon, till we had a party of about thirty or forty men. Learned with regret that Jagow was killed by a shell this afternoon. Ormiston was wounded in the morning, during the heavy bombardment. Met George Carroll, and we shook hands on the strength of both getting through safely so far. The 6th Battalion came out during the afternoon and continued the trench from where we were across the fields to the ruined village, so that, although the Germans practically obliterated our old firing line, we finished up with a new trench in a more advanced position, though a little to the left. The men working in the field were sheltered from the enemy's view by a slight rise in the ground.
Slept off and on during the afternoon. Towards evening some movement was observed in the enemy's lines, so I took up a position where I could keep a lookout for any sign of an attack by the Germans. Our artillery favoured their front line with some shrapnel and a few big high explosives, some of which fell short on our left. These big shells could be seen travelling through the air as they neared the ground.
Duckworth relieved me on the observation post about dusk. By this time a fairly respectable trench had sprung into existence. Rations were brought up, and we had a passable meal of biscuits, butter, jam, and cheese.
About 9p.m. we were assembled and moved off in parties of six along a track from the wood to the rear of the village. Passed Jagow's body on the way. He was lying across the path in a perfectly natural position, as though he had just thrown himself down and gone off to sleep. Passing through a portion of the ruined village, we came to our old communication trench, and went right back to the third-line trench, where we had to stay for the night. There was a lot of traffic through the trenches, as the 7th. were just coming in and the 1st. going out. We stowed ourselves away in the bits of holes which were supposed to be dug-outs, some of the men sleeping in the bottom of the trench. Another man and I squeezed into the one dug-out, and we got a fair amount of sleep.
Wednesday, 26th. Got word that we were to be relieved some time this morning or tonight. Howie is now C.O. of A. Co., and Tyson is C.O. of B. Got an equipment, rifle, and respirator from a heap of salvage stuff. Also got a bag of German biscuits which were much softer and sweeter than ours, and were quite nice to eat. During the morning the Germans pestered us with H.E. shrapnel, and quite a number were wounded. A few of those "coal-boxes" also fell in our vicinity. A partly spent lump of metal struck me on the foot, but failed to penetrate the leather. It hurt a bit, though. Another piece buried itself in a sandbag about six inches from me. Mapstone got one in the wrist, and hurried away back to the dressing-station, leaving a lot of blood about the trench where it had spurted from his wound. Heard that Philpot was killed by the same shell which accounted for s.m's. Morris and Woods.
About 1 or 2p.m. we moved off right back to the rear, down the valley, past Contalmaison, across the old tramway and up by the main road to our old position before the attack on Pozieres. Met Tom Martin on the way. He is now in the Engineers. Heard that the 24th Battalion were over near the Gordon dump, and went over in the hope of seeing Viv, but only the 21st were there.
After tea we packed up, took the guns and gear over to the Gordon dump, where they were limbered, and followed behind A. Co. on the way to Albert. Moved up through the wood, and went on through Albert to an open space on the road to Warloy, and bivouacked there for the night. Met Giles, whom I had thought was blown up with Holdsworth's crew. It was a pleasure to find him still alive. Young Bishop and others were killed. Alby Watson, Dooley, Erp, Perry, and others were wounded. Roach and Frank and Hart were killed, Gardiner being wounded.
Tea was issued, and we were supplied with waterproof sheets and overcoats. A good deal of strafing could be heard going on over Pozières way, and we were heartily glad to be out of it all. Turned in, in an old trench.
Thursday, 27th. Dunn's father came to me this morning and enquired if I knew anything of his son. Could only tell him that he was killed. That is the second son he has lost since coming to France. A couple of chaps, seeing the "C. McK." on the helmet I was wearing, asked if I knew anything of the owner, Charlie Mc. Knight, who was a mate of theirs. I could only say that he was probably buried.
Got a couple of letters, one from Mum and one from Bert. He was growling about not getting any letters from me for such a long time. He had been through some signalling exam. and got 299.5 marks out of 300, beating everybody else, officers included. Those who passed are to go through a six week's course of special training for instructors. He may possibly get a commission out of it. In any case, an instructor ranks as a sjt-mjr., so he will not be doing too bad.
Heard that Harry Wilson was wounded. We have fifteen of the Battalion Lewis Gun Section left, which is just half. Am the only one left to represent No.11 crew, even the gun having been blown up. The battalion itself in now about 400 strong. We went in over strength, having 1,100 men. Most of the casualties are "missing", men who were buried alive and nothing more known of them. Of the remaining 400, a good percentage were in rear when we were in the firing line, some on fatigue duties and some having gone back with temporary shell-shock or nervous breakdown. B. Co. appears to have suffered worst.
Got ready to move off this morning, waited till dinnertime, had dinner, and then waited about all the afternoon. Moved off after tea, and marched to Contay, having our packs and blankets carried for us in the transports. Some-one took my swag, which consisted of waterproof sheet, overcoat, and the woollen scarf Ida sent me. Got a nasty blister on my heel during the march. Arrived at Contay pretty late, and put up in small huts built in the middle of a thick wood. Got a spare overcoat from the transport to replace the one I had taken.
Friday, 28th. Went to some Tommy baths this morning and had a cold bath. Packed up this afternoon, and moved off after tea. Left my equipment with the limbers, as the blistered heel was causing some trouble. We marched nine miles to La Vicogue, and were very tired when we got there, about midnight. Went into an orchard and bivouacked under the trees.
Saturday, 29th. Heard that we were to go to Bonneville this morning to entrain for Abbeville or Etape or somewhere on the coast. We went to Bonneville all right, but went into billets there. The sheds were none too clean, so the Lewis gunners camped out in the back yard, which was all grass and trees and hedge. Wrote to Mum and Dad. Stan Walsh gave me Newland's personal property, which he got out of the pack. Will send it to his people.
Sunday, 30th. Left Bonneville this morning and marched through Halloy to Pernois, which is a tiny village in a pretty green wooded valley, on the bank of the Nievre, a small tributary of the Somme. We are to rest here for awhile before going back to the firing line. Finished letter to Mum and Dad. Finished revising "Pierre".
Monday, 31st. Had a little Lewis gun instruction today. Commenced re-writing "Pierre".
Tuesday, 1st. Instruction in Lewis Gun and signalling today. Continued writing Fair Copy of story. Commenced letter of condolence to Mrs. Morgan. Nominal roll-call this evening.
Wednesday, 2nd. Finished letter to Mrs. Morgan. Wrote to Bert, and a letter of condolence to Bert Newland's people. Continued rewriting story.
Thursday, 3rd. Continued story. Got a letter from Vern, the first since leaving Tel-el-Kebir six months ago. He has not been receiving my letters either, apparently. They had just had a bit of a stunt, in which his battalion, and especially his company, took their part well.
We got about a hundred reinforcements today.
Friday. 4. The second anniversary of Britain's entry into the war. Had some bayonet practice this morning, also shooting practice with the Lewis Gun, in which I did no good. Heard that Captain Edwards is dead. Finished rewriting story. More reinforcements arrived today, including McFarlane and Pat Robertson, who were in my tent at Heliopolis. Pat said he met Bert in England.
Saturday, 5. Bayonet practice before breakfast. Route march after breakfast. We went to the baths this afternoon. Titled story "Pierre", and packed it and addressed (it) to the Cambridge Literary Agency. Got a letter from Bert, in which he complains of not hearing from me. Evidently he has not been getting my letters. We are to leave tomorrow on our way to the front again.
Sunday 6. Our departure from here has been postponed. Church parade to Halloy. Chaplain McKenzie preached. It was such a beautiful day and everything looked so nice and green that the shadow of war did not seem to exist.
Monday, 7. News has come to hand that the Turks attacked on the Canal and were routed, our chaps taking 2,500 prisoners.
The M.G. section has been divided and allotted to the companies. I am to be in A. Co., in Preston's crew. Got six letters from home, 2 from Mum, 2 from Dad, one from Viola and one from Ida. At the referendum the 6 o'clock closing scored an overwhelming majority. Ida was criticizing my French grammar on a card I sent her.
Commenced writing a letter to Ida in French.
Tuesday, 8. Shifted quarters to A. Co. billets. We are to leave tomorrow for La Vicogue. Was told off to go with the handcarts.
Slept out tonight, as there was no room in the shed.
Wednesday, 9. Packed up and went round to where the handcarts were. Left about 10a.m. It was better pushing the handcarts than carrying the pack. Had lunch on the way. Arrived La Vicogue about 1p.m., and bivouacked in the same orchard where we stayed before, when coming out after Pozieres. Studied Hugo's French.
Thursday, 10. Raining this morning, and we had to shift into some sheds near by. Left about 10a.m. and marched to Herissart, about 6 miles, arriving there about 12.30p.m. Studied Hugo. Wrote to Bert.
Friday, 11. Studied Hugo. Wrote to Vern and to Ernie Graham. News has come to hand that Hosford and Bluey Stevens are alive and in "Blighty". Wrote to Viola.
Gorizia has been taken by the Italians. Things are looking up for us.
Saturday, 12. The rumour concerning Captain Edwards' death was false, as it now transpires that he is alive and doing well in hospital at Rouen. The padre had a letter from him. Ted Wright had a letter from Jim Voss, who expects to be back soon. The papers are full of the Gorizia capture, which was a smart piece of work on the part of the Italians. The Russians have taken Stanislau.
Sunday, 13. Church parade, after which we were addressed by General Birdwood. The king was to have inspected us, but did not have time to see all the Australian troops. Finished letter to Viola, and wrote to Mum and Dad.
Monday, 14. Packed up. Left after dinner, and went to huts in the wood by Contay, where we stayed before. Studied Hugo. Am now on the last lesson.
Tuesday, 15. Left this morning and went through Contay, Vadencourt, Warloy, to a bivouacking ground near Albert. It was a good long march, and we were all rather tired, and then, to top the lot, Blake kept us fooling about getting the rifle piles dressed in a perfectly straight line. It rained intermittently during the day. Ernie Graham came over to see me. His battalion are at present in the trenches, and are to hop over tonight. He is with the transport, bivouacked just over the way. Met Rupe White later on. He seems to be very much fed up, and told me that whenever he writes to Herrick he tells him to be sure and not enlist, no matter what anybody might say. Rupe is in the 45th Battalion. Met Wickham and Robby, who are also now in the 45th.
Dumped our packs this afternoon. After tea, we moved off through Albert to some chalk trenches not far beyond the town. Moore and I rigged up a roof of our waterproof sheets to keep the rain out. It was too cold to sleep comfortable.
Wednesday, 16. We were roused out at about 12.30a.m. to go farther up. Got the limbers and handcarts fixed up, and moved off behind them. It was raining lightly off and on, and the ground was very muddy and slippery. We had to keep up with the limbers, and it was no easy task. Passed in front of some big guns firing, and the noise and the flash seemed awful after being away from them for a couple of weeks. We trudged away through the mud and came to the old road going down into the valley where the old German tramline had been. Crossed the valley and up to the dump beyond. After resting here for some time we unpacked the handcarts and moved off with the guns and magazines. It was now breaking daylight. Got into the communication trench, and then began the most arduous part of the journey. Soon got knocked up carrying the load of magazines, and discarded rifle. Graham and I dropped behind and soon lost connection with the machine gunners. We both determined that we would go back to the company when we came out. I felt sick, and utterly tired. The Germans maintained a desultory shelling, with big stuff, of the communication trench, and there were plenty of blocks and delays. At last we arrived at the support trench just on the right of Pozieres, where the gunners were staying for the present. We got into some bits of dug-outs, and slept there all morning. Fortunately it turned out a fine day. Breakfasted on bread and jam, half a tin of which Graham had picked up before we left the chalk trenches.
We discovered that the rest of the section, except Moore and Wilson, had moved on somewhere, probably to the firing line, while we were asleep. The four of us set out to look for them, but had no idea of which way they had gone, so after a while we dumped our magazines and Graham and Wilson went on ahead to reconnoitre. Graham returned later saying that the communication trench, which was badly battered by shellfire, lost itself amongst a lot of shell-holes, and there was nobody about. He lost Wilson, who had gone along to the left somewhere. We waited some time for him, but he did not turn up, and as the Germans were starting to shell the communication trench, we went back to A. Co. in supports.
Had a bit of a sleep, and then Graham and I set out again to look for the Lewis Gun section, Moore having in the meantime disappeared. After scouting round a bit we found A. Co. Hqrs., and there learned the whereabouts of A. Co. gunners, who were with D. Co. in the firing line. While we were there Snowy Moore came along, and the three of us got our magazines and went off down Centre Way, which had once been a German communication trench. A portion of it had been solidly boarded up along the sides, there were some big dug-outs in it, and in one place a big church bell was fixed up across the top. The trench had suffered considerably from shell-fire, and, farther on, was almost obliterated. Found our way into the firing line, which is a much better trench than we had at Pozieres, being well sand-bagged in places. We found A. Co.'s gunners, who were quartered in a big German dugout. The headquarters crew being cut up, Graham and I were put in Callaghan's and Hackett's crews respectively.
Lay down on the parados and had a good sleep. Later on a few shells came over our way, so got down on the stairs of the dug-out. After tea, got a bunk in a dark evil-smelling corner. There was a dead German farther along in the dug-out, and the whole place was swarming with flies, while the floor was littered with piles of rubbish of all kinds.
Thursday, 17. On post from midnight till 1 a.m., and then relieved by Moore. An officer came along and told us that Mr. Bulkley and Giddings were killed, besides four other machine gunners, during a bombing stunt, when a party raided a German advanced trench and bombed the enemy out. They counter-attacked, causing the above deaths and a number of other casualties, but were repulsed.
We had a rather long stand to, from 2.30a.m. till about 5a.m. Volunteers were wanted to go for rations, so, as nobody else appeared willing to go, Graham and I volunteered.
Centre Way had been knocked about a good deal more during the night, and in places we had to get out of the trench and go around the wreckage. A Co. had been shelled out of their position in supports, and had to withdraw farther to the rear. Just over the way from the support trench stood portion of the first floor of a building, which, from the appearance of it, I think must have been the old mill. It was now all that was left standing of Pozieres. There were some vile smells about the communication trench, and in one place the floor of the trench was covered with maggots.
Arriving at the dump we had to wait there a couple of hours before the rations came along. There was a big issue of stuff, including cigarettes tobacco, fruit, chocolate, "porkless" beans, etc.
A couple of Taubes flew overhead, and soon afterwards a strafe opened up on the right. Took rations to the firing line. Somewhere out in the open near the support trench some German snipers were stowed away, and kept persistently sniping our chaps in the trench. Probably they hid themselves in cellars with a good supply of rations and ammunition before the township fell into our hands.
Met a German prisoner being brought to the rear. He was a big surly defiant-looking fellow. They said he was one of the snipers who had been causing so much trouble.
Just after we got back to the firing line, someone exclaimed, "Look at the '```plane on fire!"
There, overhead, was a German aeroplane with a blaze of fire streaming out behind it. It had tried to drop liquid fire on one of our `planes, which was circling about at a lower altitude, but our chap fired up at him with a machine gun, and set him on fire. It was a fine spectacle. He put on top speed and tore madly through space, but it was a hopeless case for him. The tail parted company with the body of the machine, but still he raced wildly on towards the German lines on the left, a pathetic picture of despair. Soon, however, the fire got the best of it, and he came down enveloped in flames a few hundred yards behind our lines.
Heard that the strafe on the right this morning was the Scotties hopping over. They took a trench. Heard later that besides the `plane we saw brought down, another `plane and an observation balloon were brought down by our machines this morning.
Some stretcher-bearers went over to the wrecked machine, and got the aviator's helmet. A watch, camera, and an iron cross were also found on the body. Had to stand to this evening, as it was reported that the Germans were massing on the right.
After we turned in, an argument arose about the burnt German aeroplane. Some declared there were two machines, and others reckoned it was only the one `plane, which came down in two pieces. Some said that both occupants came down together on a parachute, others said one fell alone, and others again said both fell locked in each other's arms. Another said that an officer went over to shoot them (after they had fallen several thousand feet!). Mr. Shapira came along and gave us his version. He said that one man fell alone, the other staying with the machine, and coming down with it. He was seen to take some papers from his pocket and hold them in the flames before coming down.
Callaghan's crew on duty tonight. A whizz-bang exploded near the mouth of the dug-out, and Hackett came down the stairs with a slight wound in the leg. Heard that Pickering was killed.
Friday, 18th. Had a good night's rest. Breakfast of tea and Maconochie's rations arrived about 10.30a.m. This afternoon the 1st Battalion came into this trench, and we got orders to go along to the left to A. Co. Got some German flares, a German book, and a tin of "blitzbitz spiritus", (methylated spirits in solid form, for cooking purposes) in our dug-out. Found a V.P.K. camera in a haversack left behind by a wounded officer, but, in view of the penalty of trial by F. G. Court-Martial for having a camera in one's possession, I decided that it wasn't worth the risk, and threw the thing away.
Packed up our things and moved down to the left. In one place the trench had been just about wiped out by shellfire, and we had to skip across the open exposed to Fritz's view for about ten or fifteen yards. A few bullets pinged and clacked about us, but nobody was hit. While getting across I trod on the tails of my overcoat, which I was carrying along over one arm, and went sprawling. Abandoned the coat and left it lying there, as, anyway, it was troublesome to carry, and scrambled across with my load of magazines.
Going on a bit farther we were held up in the 1st. Battalion's lines. A strafe had developed on the left, and the Huns were shelling the end of a communication trench we had to pass, and the C.O. had sent an order that we were to wait where we were for the time being. Met Barber, who belonged to my batch of recruits in the old Australian Rifle Regiment, and was now a company sjt.-major, and held the rank of warrant officer.
Some wounded men came by on their way to the rear, and they all seemed more or less pleased. They had been caught by a sniper who was getting a good score of victims at a place farther on where the trench was broken up and filled in by the effects of high explosive shells. Quite a number had been killed. Soon learned that Major Moore was wounded in the shoulder while crossing the same danger-spot. Heard later that A Co. was cut up by our own artillery, whose shells were falling short.
We had a long dreary wait there in that trench from early in the afternoon. Fritz put some "coal-boxes" and H.E. Shrapnel very close to us a few times. Later in the night young Graham was found to be missing, and we supposed he must have been buried by one of the "coal-boxes", unless, possibly, he might have been wounded and went to the rear without letting us know.
Saturday, 19. At some time after midnight we moved on down the narrow trench to the left. A party of men were busy deepening the trench at the place where the sniper had scored. One unfortunate lay dead beside his pick, and we had to step over his corpse. Arriving at A. Co., No.1 gun crew were sent to a position out in No-man's-land. It was an old German gun-pit, and we had no sooner arrived there than some quarry were sighted and Hendy, who took the gun when Hackett went away wounded, went with Roberts to a hillock a short distance away on the left, and I followed with a bucket of magazines. Joe emptied a magazine and a half at the Germans, who quickly got themselves away.
Went back to the gun-pit afterwards, and crawled in through the confused mass of splintered timber, rent sheets of iron, and broken and twisted girders to the interior, which consisted of some fine dug-outs and subterranean passages, where one would be quite safe from shellfire. Found some stale bread, and we had supper of that and some bully beef, and then turned in, at about 2a.m.
Went on post from 3.15a.m. till 4.15a.m. While there Yorky came running over to the gun pit in a state of great excitement, saying that several of his men had been shot, one having been killed by a bullet through the head. It soon became evident that they had been shot by our own men in the trench, between whom and Yorky's party, who were posted at the hillock near by, some lively shots were exchanged, each taking the other for an enemy patrol.
Off shift, slept till time for breakfast, which consisted of some dirty-looking bacon and a pittance of tea, which was contained in a mess tin and passed round for a sip each.
Set out to explore the vault which connected our gun pit with another about sixty yards away. There was a quantity of equipment and belongings left by some of the 51st battalion, who had previously occupied the place. Scored an air pillow and a kapok cushion, and found a couple of German overcoats, from one of which I collected a few souvenir buttons. Appropriated the other for my own use until it might be possible to get one of our own coats. There were also a lot of German shells, neatly packed in wooden boxes, besides rifles and bombs. At the far end of the vault was the wrecked gun pit, and the entrance to another vault was blocked up with loose earth.
Heard that this battalion has to go over tonight and bomb the enemy out. Got a small carbide lamp that the Huns had left, and managed to get it in working order. There was a bag of carbide amongst the varied collection of rubbish and stuff lying about the dug-out, and we soon had a passable light burning. Then Moore and I went down into the vault, and ransacked all the haversacks left behind by the 51st, appropriating anything worth while, such as tea and sugar, some cocoa, a tin of sausages, and a couple of tins of coffee. When we got back to the others, orders had come for us to prepare to leave, as the battalion was being relieved. Packed up our things. Heard that L/cpl. Murray was one of those killed by our own artillery yesterday, and that Wackett was wounded, having had one or two fingers blown off.
Moved off about 6.30p.m. into the firing line and along to the left to a communication trench, where we were held up, and had a long wait. The cause of the delay was that C Co. of the 10th battalion, were relieving us, lost their way, and we could not go till they turned up. This is always the most anxious time, the last period of danger before getting right away back from the trenches, and the hours of waiting made us all more or less nervy. The artillery was ominously quiet, and we feared that something was pending, and that this was the usual preceding calm. Later on a few H.E. shrapnel came over just to the right, leaving their peculiar shaped black smoke-puffs in the calm air, their harsh grating report disturbing the silence unpleasantly. Then as daylight gave place to darkness, flares began to go up, making a line of moving lights on three sides of us, for their part of the line formed a salient.
At last the missing company turned up, and we got a move on about 9p.m., and went by a roundabout way back to the firing line again. The companies made the pace warm in front and we had to rush and struggle through that narrow trench till I was so exhausted that I could scarcely keep on my feet. Passed the dead digger, whose body still lay where he had been sniped and fallen beside his pick last night. We soon found it impossible to keep up with the company, who did not have the extra weight to carry that we had, and so we dropped behind.
Arrived at Centre Way, which had been cleared of debris, but then we were up against more trouble in the form of a tangle of telephone wires, which criss-crossed over the trench and dangled about everywhere, getting caught in our guns or equipment and giving us no end of bother. To add to our anxiety Fritz started dropping "coal-boxes" along the communication trenches in rear of supports. Arriving at supports, we did not turn up Tramway Avenue, to the left of Pozières. We knew that we were in the village by the numbers of bricks in the sides of the trench. Here the confused mass of wires became worse than ever, and we thought and said some nasty things about our engineers, who were evidently too lazy or frightened to stay and fix the lines up along one side of the trench. In one place a "coalbox" had exploded in the trench, and the vortex of the crater was lined with a glowing light from the phosphorous.
At last we came up with the battalion, at a place where they were leaving the trench and taking to the road, and it was no small relief to get out into the open. After a brief spell by the roadside we moved on, but I was dead-beat and quite unable to keep up with the others, and they got farther and farther ahead till at last I lost sight of them altogether. Later came up with Hendy and another chap. Joe had hurt his hand, and was unable to go on with the Lewis gun. The company man, who had a couple of buckets of magazines, took the gun, and I took his two buckets, dumping my bucket by the roadside. Moved on again, and the other two soon got ahead.
Eventually got to Albert, and had just decided to go into one of the ruined buildings and camp there for the night, when I heard a whistle-blast a short distance ahead. Went on, and found it was the 3rd battalion just preparing to move on again after a halt. Fell in with A. Co., and invited some (of) the infantry to give me a spell with the magazines, but, although I repeated the invitation several times, nobody responded. Fortunately we did not have to go much farther, but went into billets in Albert. Tea and stew was provided, and the men, now safely "out" were all in high spirits, and prolonged a noisy chatter, relieving their pent-up feelings.
Sunday, 20. Slept till 9a.m. After breakfast went out and bought some postcard views of Albert. Scored a Scotch badge for 1 franc. McFarlane told me that Robby said he saw me lying on a stretcher, covered with blood, and that he did not think there was much hope for me. That's how the yarns get about. Got five letters, from Bert, Vern, Jack Elliott, Vera Billingham and Mr. Harward. Vern had heard about the 3rd battalion being cut up at Pozieres, and was a bit anxious. Evidently he had not yet received my last letter. Vera had not had a letter from me for some time, and wondered if I might be offended with her over something. Jack had nearly had a serious accident by a carbide explosion. He said that while I was at Gallipoli he used to pray that I would get into hospital, and thus be away from the battlefield. How completely was his prayer fulfilled! Mr. Harward said that Les Warner and Tom Gordon had left for the front, and Bill Graham had enlisted. Rather rough for his young wife. Jack Parker was a 2nd. lieutenant in Egypt.
Rumours are prevalent to the effect that we are going to Bailleul. Went for a stroll round the town this afternoon.
Monday, 21. We left Albert this morning and went to Warloy. Wotton and I were with the handcarts. Billeted in the same street as when we were here before. Wotton and I camped in the yard. After tea, bought some eggs and milk, and had a supper of scrambled eggs, toast and cocoa.
Tuesday, 22. Left Warloy and came through Vadencourt, Contay, and Herissart to a small canvas camp. It was our first time under canvas since leaving Serapaum on the canal five or six months ago. Wrote to Vera Billingham.
Wednesday, 23. Met Rupe Ferguson, who is a serjeant in D. Co. now. Got a parcel from Mum containing four muslin disinfectant shirts, etc. Were marched to La Vicogue this afternoon, and General Birdwood decorated various ones with honours. Blumer received the military medal, and Dr. Fitzpatrick the military cross. Birdie told us that we were going back to near our previous scene of operations, where things would be comparatively quiet and we would have a chance to reorganize.
Thursday, 24. Captain Burrett has arrived back today, and is now O.C. of A. Co. Packed up this morning and marched nine miles to Gézancourt, which is about a mile from Doullens.
After dinner, strolled over to Doullens. Got Hugo's French verbs simplified, Strand Magazine, Fragments of France, and some postcards. Back to billets about 5p.m. Got lettercard from Bert saying he sent the notebook I asked him for, and a French book which he afterwards found was not the right one.
Friday, 25. We are to entrain tomorrow morning. Packed up today and fell in at 9p.m. Went to the limbers, and had to wait there in the rain till about 11 p.m. Moved off about midnight.