The Autobiography of a First World War Soldier - In the Front Line

One night we were led over the front line to dig and join up the ‘outposts’ beyond our front line.  It was pitch dark and whilst some of us dug a trench others looked out for possible “Jerry” patrols.  Once or twice we dropped spades and took up rifles – Jerry patrols reported but nothing happened.  We had to give up digging as it was almost impossible to breathe properly, our digging had let loose mustard gas absorbed in the soil.  An officer came out and told us to get back later on.  Jerry was shelling the rear excessively – The L/cpl. in charge evidently did not know his way back and we landed  in a trench.  Immediately I noticed some German jack boots and told the L/cpl we must be in a Jerry trench.  We were not challenged and decided to get out quickly.  We were shelled by ‘Jerry’ and one fellow I saw behind me must have been so affected by the shelling that he was compelled to lower his trousers.  I saw a shell land beneath him and that was the last of that youngster.

However after much dodging about in the semi-dark – occasionally lightened by shell flashes we were suddenly halted by a challenge of “who goes there?”  Another regimental guard in front of an embankment about 12 feet high wanted to know where we’d been and who we were.  He said Jerry’s lines were just in front – we said we knew – we’d just come from them.  He called us some odd names and told us to follow the road on his right and then try to find our lines.  The shelling down that road was too thick to be negotiated so we saw what appeared to be a half ruined shed or shelter.  We laid down and slept even though the stink was pretty bad.  When I awoke the next morning I found my head in a half carcass of a dead horse which was half in and half out of the shed; the belly of the horse sort of part of the shed wall.

However, daylight found us not too far from our own lines.  Officers wanted details of our escapade and were satisfied that we had got lost but come through.  When we reached our trenches the whole lot had been smashed to smithereens by the nights shelling so that trip to Jerry’s lines no doubt saved our lives.

On the 20th July we were taken up to our front lines.  This line was really well preserved and deep with good dugouts.  This trip up had been made late at night  and it was not long to wait for the 5 a.m. artillery barrage which preceded our attack.  All of a sudden a terrific artillery fire shook the earth around us.  We had not of course experienced this before.  Heavy and light artillery was banging away; the noise was indescribable and I thought that there could be no enemy in front to withstand such a barrage.  At last we went over whilst the guns were still firing.  Smoke from bursting shells was everywhere and dawn was not far off.  We were told to go slowly behind our barrage, but I believe we went too fast for some light shells fell amongst some of us.

I could hear and see the spurt of Jerry’s machine-gun fire on my right and also feel the swish of bullets passing by.  I saw a German machine gun pour bullets into our ranks that killed our Captain and his “runner” amongst others who were killed or wounded.  I saw in the smoke a German red cross man attending to a wounded “Jerry” on the ground, but he soon dashed off on spying our advance.  Suddenly a huge fat Jerry came out of the smoke with hands held high shouting “kamrade”.  One or two fellows lunged at him with their bayonets, but he ducked and cried ‘ach, nein’ he was unhurt and carried on behind us to become a prisoner.

Gradually the Germans retreated and the firing and barrage ceased.  Daylight had arrived and we had reached our objective.  The (? Albert-Minim Road) road was not far from the Town of Albert which I could see in the distance on my left. The virgin mary statue was still hanging down from the Church Tower but later in the day fell down completely.  The story goes that when the statue fell off the war would soon end.

The Albert road, somewhat of the sunken kind had many deep German dug-outs in its sides.  I noticed about a dozen of our fellows outside one of these and shouting down to someone to surrender.

No doubt the German refused to do this so that a Mills grenade was thrown down the dug-out.  A German officer then appeared with his revolver blazing away but soon he fell, probably dead and some of our fellows bayoneted him.  German shells were falling occasionally and I saw, not far away, one of our men blown high with arms and legs spread wide.  He must have reached 20 feet or more before falling back.  I did not know if he survived.

This page was added on 15/12/2016.

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