Bert's Diary 1 - 27 April 1917
Sunday April 1st: Left Albert this morning & marched to the gas depot and after being issued with a box respirator each & going through tear gas had dinner and marched to this joint –RIBEMONT, some march too, arriving very tired about 4.30 p.m. ‘From Albert to Ribemont about 40 miles’ - Am attached to No 2 Platoon A Coy. Fixed up in comfortable billets. Ribemont is a pretty big town with no apparent damage by Fritz. Big review tomorrow so I hear & the line on Tuesday. Have met quite a lot of old mates. Be a OL now.
Monday 2nd: Big inspection of the Bde this mng by the Divisional Cmdr. Marched out about two miles to do the job. Had the afternoon free to get ready to leave tomorrow. Got paid too & it came in very handy. Bought some socks and 7 candles & something tasty to eat. Was told by RSM that Vernie had been killed, but do not place any credence on it as rumours are so unreliable. Possibly he has been wounded.
Tuesday Apl 3rd: Received 2 letters this morning – one from Vernie dated 20/3/16 & one from Brumm. Saw Paul White & he saw Vernie two days previously so he must be OK. Moved off this morning & marched to Montaban or some such place rotten march too. Heavy pack & very sore heels. Arrived tired & put up in comfy tin huts. Can see the flares & gun flashes but can hear nothing as yet so must be a long way off. Am still a spare part with nothing to do except help generally
Wednesday 4th: Oh we had a lovely march today 12 ½ mls to Fremincourt or some such name. Had my first good taste of mud & got a glimpse of debris & waste of the Somme battle. For a good way we moved on a track of duckboards laid over the mud, & then we had to plough our way through it. Lovely. Beautiful. Saw a solitary tank on our way over. It snowed heavily most of the way, but our capes kept us fairly dry. Stopped in a little place for half an hour for dinner & then moved on to Fremincourt. As we passed Bapaume on our right Fritz was dumping a few heavies into it. Got fixed up in billets such as they were after Fritzs work on them, & not satisfied with our quarters, a party of 7 of us scouted round & found a nice roomy place with a fireplace rigged up. Got it cleared up great & a lovely fire going, when some officer with a large party shoved us off _ _ _. So we had to go back to our old place. Got a fire going & things as comfy as possible. One of my feet quite dry & the other was having a boot bath with a cup full of water. Changed my socks & burnt one of my boots quite hard trying to dry it. Fairly close to the line here.
Thursday 5th: Pottered round in the morning. Whilst waiting in the water queue ran across Norman Elliot. He’s in the 53rd & his mob were having a spell after a rather lively time of it. Hardly knew him. Just out of the line covered with mud and whiskers, mostly whiskers too. The day has turned lovely plenty of nice general sunshine. After dinner was warned a platoon guide so moved off with the other guides to our respective positions. A Coys possy is skirting the edge of the wood. There is or was a lovely chateau in the woods but it has been reduced to a heap of broken masonry by Fritz before he left. He was probably using it as a hospital as there is a pretty cemetery quite close. As we guides were moving on to the line he dumped a few H.E.’s [high explosives] around. Guided our respective mobs in near sundown. Cold frosty night & there not being enough dugouts had to sleep out. Cold feet all night.
Friday 6th: (Good Friday) Fritz dumped quite a number of H.E.’s probably 4.5s into the wood during the night. Lovely day but spent an uncomfortable night. The Archies [anti aircraft guns] having great practise keep Fritz’s planes away. EAS. EM. Mrs. M. A few more H.E.s dumped on our left by Fritz during dinner. Clarke an old hand killed this mng whilst out scouting in front. Ran into a German M.G. possy. His mate got away.
Saturday 7th: The weather changed after dinner & it came up cold & wet. Orders to move to a position about 400 yards in front and relieve a platoon there came through about tea time. Shortly after dark took a ration party to HQ & drew Coy’s rations & mail. No mail for me worse luck. The Coy QM had got each ptns rations in separate bundles, but tho we passed some of the ptns on our way, we had to carry every blanky thing up to Coy Hqrs & redistribute from there. Men growling like H. Don’t blame. Make anyone growl. That done warned for outpost. Guided to a possy about a mile out, in touch with a Tommy possy & was promised relief in two hours. Where we had to stay was a short length of an old German post trench with pools in the bottom & between the pools 6 inches of soft mud. Commenced to rain and snow. No shelter at all. When my feet began to lose feeling Id get up and walk to the Tommy's post, chat a while and then come back. Wind driven sleet too bitter to walk about in so couldn’t keep walking.
Saty [actually Sunday] Left outpost possy about quarter past 5, frozen, sore and amazed at not being relieved. Must have made lovely targets for any Germans about as we stumbled over white ground. Too cold and miserable to care. Nothing fired at us. It appears the relief couldn’t find us so they let us stay. Breakfast stone cold but enjoyed it all the same. Haven’t even a possy in our trench, but Cpl Seccome & I, mostly he tho, as I was so chilled, dug out a space in the bank, lined the floor & back & got overhead cover & made it rain proof. Still raining. Possy just wide enough for two & we got covered with mud where we touched the sides, floor not long enough to lie stretched out but it shields us from the elements & we think it is Heaven. A lot of our Artillery has moved up & is now in front of us. No 2 ptn is in a sunken rd, the rest of the coy some distance in front. Cold and miserable all day. The bed of the road is a morass. Warned to prepare to move after we had tea & we then went back & carried more ammn to the MG dump.
Monday 9th: About 3.30 in the mng, all of us – the crews for 3 guns and my lot, left the dump & moved off by a long circuitous route to get into position on the left flank of the village to be taken. The 2nd Bn had to take the village & C & D coys of the 3rd were to storm the flanks. A & B of the 3rd were in reserve. As we passed down the sunken road 3 ft deep single file just out of sight of the enemy, he opened a fierce rifle fire the bullets of which swept right across the road & we had to take shelter for a while by sitting down. Fritz either had "the wind up" very badly, or else was expecting an attack. When the fire subsided a little we pushed on & we’d gone ¼ mile before I remembered that Id left my rifle behind!_ _ _ Was so loaded up with MG ammn that I never noticed its absence before, couldn’t go back for it so had to push on without it. About ½ a mile further we turned sharp to the right. Fritz by now was thoroughly alarmed. Everything was made as bright as day by the continual flares & his MGs were working overtime. Another qtr of a mile & we passed a coy of the 2nd lying down waiting to charge & a little further entered a deep sunken road. The guns were placed near the parapet pointing to where I thought our chaps must be & I couldn’t make it out at all & told the gunners but they were positive they were facing Fritz.
There were a lot of dugouts in the side of the road & just then Fritz heavies opened on us from the opposite side to where they reckoned Fritz was. (More about dugouts later.) The H.E. began stirring us up so the Officer went on ahead to find a fire possy. Returned in a few minutes & led sucrose hollow, some one shooting at us as we went, from the opposite side to where the gunners said Fritz was. The heavy gunfire increased to the heaviest I've experienced the shells dropping all around us & quite close. We were ordered into a dugout nearby & in it we dropped. The shells got nearer and nearer & it seemed as if he knew we were sheltering there. They were coming over one every 4 or 5 secs. We then got the order to leave the dugouts and enter the village. I waited until a shell exploded – flaming close too - & then clambered out and ran before the next arrived. One can’t run far with heavy equipment & 2 boxes of ammn so I soon steadied into a floundering walk. Passed one of our boys outed, so I stopped and took the unfortunate chaps rifle & bayonet & then on again, feeling ever so much better now I had a weapon. Ran into a few of the 2nds who told us the village was clear of Fritz except for prisoners.
Later saw several dead and wounded Fritzs, one of the latter of whom begged me to shoot him. He had been bayoneted in the stomach & was in a horrible state. The village was absolutely wrecked from end to end & as our artillery hardly ever shelled it, Fritz must have done it himself. On being relieved by the MG officer, wended my way out of the village to rejoin my platoon. Entered the sunken road which was lined with dugouts before mentioned. Was hungry & tired, & meeting one of our chaps who was filling his face with cake, asked for some, he pointed to the dugout "Plenty in there". Went in & found a box of nice cake – some of Fritz, which I promptly made look foolish. Looking around, commandeered a handkerchief & a pr of socks. All the dugouts along the sunken road, where we’d strolled into casually earlier in the mng, were Fritzs. If we’d been a little earlier what a reception we’d got. All loaded up as we were they’d have shot us down before we could have done anything. He must have had "the wind up" badly & bolted at the first sign of trouble. Little later made for the open & eventually found my platoon in reserves, dog tired. Went & helped construct a dugout & slept the rest of the day and night. Over 500 prisoners were taken during the stunt & quite a large number of them had parcels from home unopened. Most of our boys who made prisoners, calmly relieved them of everything they fancied, so gold watches, automatic pistols are quite common now. Its surprising the number of Fritzs who have automatics.
Tuesday 10th: Easy time of it during the day, but weather rotten, snow and sleet falling heavily & making us all uncomfortable. Had a lovely job in the evening taking their tea to 3 other platoons. Didn't know where they were & had a H of a job finding one of them. Got back just in time to bolt my tea – stone cold of course & then get ready to move up to the line. Arrived in position late at night & was put on one of the posts. We are in an excavation 100 yards long + 50 wide and 5 feet deep. The side towards our chaps is lined with Fritzs dugouts & the side facing Fritz is lined with our newer ones. Things in a horrible muddle with continual rain and snow. Floundering about everywhere – mud from foot sole to breakfast time.
Wednesday 11th: No sleep at all during the night. Fritz shelling road & village off & on all day and night. Up to date nothing dropped on our little lot tho some pretty close. Slept most of the day – even missed dinner to my intense disgust. After dark, and it was snowing heavily, was told to take 6 men out and dig an outpost position & stay there all night. Strongly objected. First, cos to me it seemed unnecessary, second, the newly turned up earth would draw crabs [artillery fire], third, cos a continuous patrol would answer the purpose & would not have the men exposed all night in a bitter snow storm. The outpost idea finally abandoned in favour of a continuous patrol. Was on the job all night got an hours sleep. Owing to some error no tea yet arrived.
Thursday 12th: Wednesday’s tea of stew and tea did not arrive until 2 in the morning, & of course it was not actually hot. Slept all day only getting up for meals. Fritz shelling the road nears us & the village pretty constantly. Owing to the men not standing to smartly this afternoon everybody is up on duty tonight – no reliefs of "off duty" at all. H of a lot of grumbling. Weather vile wind, snow, rain & very occasionally sun. Everything in a vile condition. Mud from head to sole. Our new dugout which "Sec" & I built pretty good except one gets horribly muddy coming in & getting out & every time we come in, bring enough mud on our boots to start a brick kiln. Luckily we had a rough board floor & do not have to bed down at night & always clean it out well every mng before going to bed. Splendid luck this arvo. 8 letters one from "one and only" Bonzer one too. It seriously interfered with my efficiency on patrol cos I was thinking things as we prowled about, instead of keeping my mind on the most serious job. Everything seems quite rosy - Haven't been able to post the letters I wrote some time ago.
Friday 13th: Bed shortly after brecker & slept all day except for meals. Fritz threw a lot of whizz-bangs at us just sweeping the surface also a few heavies. His balloons up all day. Several in front quite close & two on our right fairly close. This position must be a big salient for he seems to be in front & on both sides of us. Water issue today – first issue I’ve had since leaving billets. Still one doesn’t require very much as we get tea twice a day to drink. Just about six received word that we were to push forward 800 yards. Bit of a bustle getting ready. Had to take out a patrol to prevent the mob being surprised. Went forward a good way keeping in a hollow until we were quite close to a huge mound of earth which was apparently bristling with MG’s. Couldn’t establish communication with out flank platoons so we all lay down while the Officer went off to the flank searching for them. There were two patrols out, other chaps & mine.
Fritz, tho he had the wind up badly, couldn’t see us in spite of his almost continual flares, but still the cow kept playing a beastly MG down the valley which had a level bed for nearly 1000 yards & his bullets were too jolly thick & close to be pleasant. From where we were, if he really had discovered our presence he could have wiped us out. While my patrol were lying out in front, the rest of the mob retired, leaving us all on our own, sent one of the men back to find out what they were doing, reported back that they were retiring so I brought my mob back also. Eventually linked up with the flank platoon & dug in about 400 yards in front of the old position. With a man on patrol in front until they dug in. More men couldn’t be spared.
Saturday 14th: Our last nights supper arrived about 4 am this morning cold, but nevertheless enjoyable. We all dug in a rough line each section by itself. Fine day so far thank goodness. Re-read all my letters again. Things not too dusty. Expecting to be relieved tonight. Later. Came the proverbial G_ _ _ about being relieved. We have all to advance further & dig in. We made a further advance of about a qtr of a mile & dug in, each section in a little trench by itself & about 24 to 30 yards from the next section so it was a pretty weak thin line. Weather still fine but looks like rain. It’s too dark to see where or how we are. My section all hard at work scraping out a hole for protection tmw. Came the proverbial G. on our tea, none arrived yet.
Sunday 15th: The ants nest properly stirred up this morning an hour or so before daybreak Fritz started a hellish bombardment, throwing a lot of iron at us & putting a barrage behind us. Our guns also added to the row. Received word that out line was broken & we were surrounded. Was sent over to No 4 Ptn – ¼ mile away – to find them and see about putting in a few intermediate posts. Was patrolling all night between the two Ptns to check any attempt to sneak through. No 4 established two posts on their left & we did the same on our right. Came back. Our men cursing like H at attempting to hold Fritz with such a thin line, but all were determined to give him a war reception. The bombardment continued like mad, & every man stood to his post with bombs and rifles ready. Just at daybreak a line of Fritzs appeared coming towards us at about 200. Couldn’t see the sights but aligned on one by the barrel & got him.
The others too plugged into them & a Lewis gun on our left dropped 40 odd. They didn’t reply to our fire – just faded off. It appears that they were trying to get round to the right flank to Mr. Taylor’s No 1 Ptn & not knowing we were there ran right into us. The bombardment died down after daylight; or rather the barrage did, & settled into a continuous, methodical bombardment of our position. The only thing that saved us was the softness of the ground. I gave up counting the number of big HE’s which landed very close to us without exploding. The day was horribly wet & we had no protection. 3 of us in a little section with only two w.p. [waterproof] sheets. Couldn’t stand up without getting sniped. We were cold & miserable. Breakfast which came up before daylight was of course cold. Everything was muddy. Couldn’t get our usual sleep owing to the rain & consequently were tired and sleepy when daylight at last left us & and we had to carry on. Was on patrol work again all night. The rumour that our line was broken was wrong. Fritz strongly attacked on our left but came the proverbial G.
Monday 16th: Improved our position as far as comfort was concerned. Hollowed out the side of the trench enough to allow two to sit in it & then bring the wp sheet over it & so tho we couldn’t get much sleep, we were able to keep dry - at least we prevented ourselves getting any wetter our overcoats already being soaking wet and very heavy. Fritz did some accurate shooting on our position during the day, but our little section was lucky. Our artillery also did some good shooting at one of his strongholds, tho one or two low shots were very close to our own men. Fritz in shooting at a platoon of ours near his stronghold, kindly dumped 3 or 4 of his H E’s into his own barbed wire. Relieved about 11 pm in almost total darkness & steady rain. Pitied the poor beggars taking over from us cos trench in a horrible mess.
Tuesday 17th: Reached our old positions where our packs were early in the mng. Some of them had been "ratted" tho mine was OK. We then set out for our resting place. It was a march I’ll never forget. Firstly we had had no dinner or tea the previous day & were tired and weak. It was pitch dark – one could not see anyone 4 yds in front, & our road lay for a long way along a railway embankment which was blown up at intervals and everywhere pitted with holes, rocks, logs etc which we were unable to see. There was also plenty of barb wire strewn about. We were continually falling over into the mud & then we’d get more covered trying to get up. Everybody was cursing and swearing something awful. My right boot hurt like H at the ankle & of course I seemed to step on something which would throw my ankle over at every step.
Finally we left the line & went along a so called road. Had a halt for a rest & myself and others moved to the right to rest on the side & all fell into a deep ditch which we couldn’t see. The ditch was thick with mud and curses. A little later one of my section fell on the side of the road dead beat & wouldn’t get up. He was done right in. Just lay on his back in the mud and didn’t care what happened. Stopped back with him. After he’d rested a while we both pushed on, but it was pitch dark. We had no idea where the others were, & we lost the road, so we sat down in the rain until dawn, when we drifted into a village & slept in the first shelter we could find. Found the mob after we’d had some sleep. Billeted in a comfy place & such things go Fritz shells this place off & on, so we had to buzz off & quarter ourselves in a sunken road just out of the town. A mate and I got into a tiny brick room in the outskirts of the village. Quite dry which is the chief thing; Fritz shelled the town pretty heavily for a while. Two or three casualties.
Wednesday 18th: On guard today but a soft cop writing letters most of the time. Rumoured that the building that Bn Hq is in is mined so they are building a dugout in the sunken road. Some part of the chateau where we were a few days ago has been blown up with a few casualties. They today discovered in a hidden cellar in the town a German equipped with telephone & listening apparatus & six months rations! Some nerve eh. Only discovered by accident. Some chap floundering about fell through the roof on top of him.
Thursday 19th: Things fairly quite. Having an easy time. Had to stand to prepare to move this arvo but nothing came of it.
Friday 20th: Informed that we are going into the line tomorrow for a few days to relieve the 4th. Wrote to Mrs. M. KD. C & D McP. E & N G. L.A.F. Fell in after dark to do digging fatigue. Two of our pns marched out about 3000 yds & dug trenches already marked out by the Engrs. Dug until 1.30 a.m. & then came back. Reported that our chaps are using gas shortly.
Saturday 21st: Slept till near dinner & also nearly all the afternoon. Haven’t been able to get the letters I wrote censored yet. Rec’d two letters today, one from Charlie, & Ernie. Moving up the line some time tonight for a few days.
Wednesday 24th: Four quiet days in the line with no excitement & plenty of work. The cookers do not like Fritz & we have to go jolly nearly 2 miles for our rations. Relieved late at night by the Y & L Infnty & marched to the chateau in the woods mentioned earlier where we put up for the night.
Thursday 25th: Anzac Day. Marched about 5 or 6 miles to some camp in tents. After dinner was put on guard. Wrote letters most of the time.
Friday 26th: Up the line again. Fine spell they are giving us. Marched 8 or 9 Ks & took over from the 18th. About 3 miles behind the line but still had to patrol. Fine weather luckily.
Saty 27th: Back again to the tents, but we are going up again tmw so they say. If they want us & go in & out the line like rabbits going into & out of their burrows why the devil don’t they keep us handy instead of marching us about so much. No pay yet but rec’d a reg letter from Viv with money for Cook but as cannot do anything with it yet am drawing my pay on it. Troops mustered writing letters-