The Australians were seen in the bright sun-light on my left to be advancing on to ALBERT to eventual capture and occupy. Some I noticed, their rifles slung and sleeves rolled up, were punching Jerry prisoners on the nose as they came towards them with their hands up. No doubt the Australians had been over the top before and had one or two scores to settle.
We then collected ourselves and consolidated our position. We did not stay on that road beyond a few hours and went from one part of the Somme front to another. The Germans started falling back and the ammunition dumps were being blown up nightly.
It appeared that we were more or less being used as troops to guard apparent gaps in the line. Sometimes we marched a number of kilometres to another area to take fresh positions, another day we went further a field by coach. As soldiers of the line, we were told nothing about these movements. We occupied a place called NURLU where much German equipment was lying about. My friend Charlie Cock who was a sergeant in the Essex Yeomanry told me that they went over to capture NURLU, which we took over from them. It was here that we discovered a very big bag of German sugar lying on the ground. Forthwith I suggested that we pick lots of blackberries which were lying around on crushed blackberry bushes to eventually make a stew of blackberry jam. With the sugar, this made a luxurious change from just margarine and hard bread.
Those of us (about ½ doz) who lopped up this mixture went down the next day with ‘dysentery.’ Although not too bad we suffered somewhat from discomfort and concluded that the berries had been contaminated with mustard gas, which was always present on damp soil. Only the jam eaters suffered; so that my conclusions could not have been far wrong. Recovery took place within two days and the jam and sugar left behind.
Soon after this we were in support lines again and due to go over again. On the evening before the assault, letters and parcels had arrived but not for me. I saw one man making a fuss of his rifle and all of a sudden he fired the gun and had his finger on top. He yelled “Mother, Mother” and his finger spurting blood. Up rushed our Captain who called the fellow names and asked for a witness. One fellow said he saw him pull the trigger. Forthwith the culprit was under arrest with our friendly corporal & the witness escorting the prisoner to Flessels. I did not learn of the result of Court Marshall and the Corporal & witness remained at Flessels, for I understand, from a friend, until the war ended.
From time to time we engaged the enemy at odd places, just to out his trenches. They were more “skirmishes” and on occasions, occupation of positions won by other troops.
We took over a front line position near Fricourt Ridge one night. On the way up the communication trench, Jerry was sending over “wizz-bangs.” These were rather frightening in so far as they wizzed rapidly without warning and exploded with a terrific BANG. (Ear shattering). We occupied the front line just as guards for another regiment to go over the top during the night. A lance corporal and three of us were told to get forward into no-man’s land and occupy an outpost..
This we did for an hour or so to keep our eyes glued for possible Jerry patrols. Soon we could hear our Coy advancing and saw them in close formation with rifles and bayonets pointing at us, and an officer with revolver leading. They looked half drunk to us and heard them shout “Here they are.” We immediately yelled ‘We’re Norfolks.’ They were completely surprised at this and asked where ‘Jerry’ was. We told just in front. However they continued advancing but were soon running back again. Our Captain came up shouting about sanguinary cowards and told us to shoot the swines. Of course we did nothing of the kind. In the morning we learnt that the attack had failed. The result was we had to go over the same afternoon.
Fricourt ridge1 from which we were sheltering looked down onto the German positions which were well marked with deep dug-outs and trenches. In the afternoon staff officers were in conflab about our means of attack. It was decided that we went down the slope of the ridge in full view of the enemy and on to a very sandy stretch before coming on to the very awkwardly placed German positions. All this without a barrage and in broad sunny daylight. Over the ridge-top we went and down to the sand. Our Captain with revolver leading us forward. Bullets began hitting some of us and the sand like rain. I was firing from my hip at Germans who could be seen standing up to fire and then retreating. It seemed that I was the only one at the German line and looking down on to a 16 year old German in his deep slit trench. He pointed his rifle at me and I shouted ‘Kamarde’ ‘hands up’, but he still looked scared and pointed his rifle. With that up came our Captain and sergeant major. I told them that a young Jerry was down below. He shouted down ‘Kamarade’ but the boy still pointed his rifle. So the Captain told me to shoot, but I said I could not in cold blood. Forthwith the s/m. pointed his revolver and killed the boy. The Capt. then went off and the s/m was just about twenty feet away from me when a Jerry shell fell between us. I felt nothing except the force of the explosion. The s/m looked unhurt but suddenly dropped his revolver and began shaking with shell shock: Something I had never seen before. With that I went to further German lines and joined up with our Captain and a few others in the trenches. Going over I lost my ground sheet and that evening it poured heaven hard with rain. I was in an open trench all night and next day drenched and without cover whatsoever.
1 Fricourt is three miles due east of Albert