The Autobiography of a First World War Soldier - Wounded and back to England

We were soon out from that captured Fricourt ridge area and often taking up positions vacated by Germans.  Once, sitting in a shallow shell hole with three others, we were sampling some German black biscuits – more like charcoal, – when suddenly a shell was forthcoming in our direction: we all ducked rapidly and I felt some earth projected on to my neck & head and then turned slowly to see a Jerry shell poking out of the earth above my head – the nearest dud I had experienced.  There did not appear for us to be an established front line.  The Germans were giving up some of their positions which we took over from time to time.  We were now into sunny September.  Often trying to eject Jerries from their trenches with spasmodic firing.  Some trenches near a wood needed clearing: our Captain & Lieutenant advanced with us following, but Jerry must have seen the move & began shelling.  Both officers were hit in the chest and went back, we and a sergeant continued for a short distance but gave up because of persistent shelling.  About an hour later the Cambs. Regiment on our left took over and ejected the Jerries that we could see about 500 yards away.  The next day we occupied an earen[?] near the Canal du Nord that had been taken over night without casualties.  We were now taken off these forays and for the next ten days well behind the lines practised moves necessary for the coming Battle of Ephey. (? Epey)  A freshly promoted Captain was now in charge of Coy. B.  He had had quite a time in Frincourt throwing grenades down dug-outs and calling out ‘anyone there.’

He was a dare devil type and proposed going over the top at Ephey on a white horse (which he eventually did).  He explained the moves: – we were to advance in line of sections; the leaders were to carry the tins of food for the remaining section to share out after capturing the German positions.  Having in theory turned the Jerries out of their front line we were to advance 30 yards and then dig in.  This, because Jerry knowing his front line distance would therefore shell us out.  But there was a railway line not far from their trenches: we were to advance to that position first of all and await the final lifting of the extra-concentrated barrage and then all together charge over and capture the Jerry front line.  All nicely worked out on paper a[t] H.Q.  “On our appearance Jerry was to run like mad, and we take over and sit down and have lunch.”

In the sunny afternoon the Regt. band marched us all up to near our front line positions.  We stopped  in a little wooded area whilst the Band played “Believe it if you like.”  The officers had had quite a few whiskeys and were very merry dancing a jig.  We did not blame them.  They were typically brave British leaders who were first over the top with their revolvers ready and apart from carrying their own lives in their hands had also the lives of their troops to worry about as well as the great responsibility of carrying out Army Orders from above.  We could only conclude that their merry behaviour presaged something more than usual.

However we marched up slowly to our front line and got there to take over at dusk.  Everything was ready except my friend & two or three others with a L/cpl had to go back for cans of water. They failed to return during the night so that me and my section had to go back with another L/cpl.  We eventually found the Coy. H.Q. & was soundly told off for falling in their hole which was just covered in corrugated iron and told also that the others had got the water so shove off. (or words to that effect.)  We got back just in time to relay that message to the Lieut. who had sent us.  We just had time to collect ourselves when the barrage began and over the top we went.  The uproar was terrific.  Jerry star shells galore.  White star shells to illuminate our advancing troops, bursting shells and machine gun bullets galore.  How we survived that trip to the railway line is very puzzling.

The area we traversed was down hill and exceedingly rough.  Many were being tripped up by the rough undergrowth, all in the pitch black apart from the very lighting.

The young mad captain on horse-back was mowed down by machine gun fire.  He did not last five minutes.

Although we were lying flat the machine gun fire was very accurate and concentrated.  This was all something vastly different from what we had previously encountered.  Shouts for stretcher bearers were constant and fellows were shouting out Oh & Oh’s almost continuously.  I could see the machine gun emplacement and I thought that if our section could give a twenty-five round rapid fire we might accomplish a kill.  We therefore all began together.  I emptied my magazine and had just dropped my head and rifle to get some more cartridges when I received a terrific thump on my shoulder.  I suggested that it felt like the whole weight of an elephant’s foot stamping hard on an area of one inch.  I felt wet at the back with blood pouring out.  I then told my lot that I was wounded and handed over my group to the next man & crawled along to the left and found our Lieut. & corp in a shell hole.  The corpl. was saying “King is over there with his section”  I said ‘no I’m here wounded’.  The cprl. took off my pack to ease the weight and the officer said get back to casualty.

Dawn was now breaking and the barrage had ceased.  Bullets were still buzzing round my legs but I managed to move back, yet suddenly fell into a narrow trench full of water.  I got out of that (on a cold Sept. morn) and went on again with more bullets buzzing round; another few yards on and down again into the trench or another one filled with water.  Both of these trenches or the same one were hidden by sloping grass of good length.  Possibly a Jerry trap for night patrols.  The bullets were still worrying that I thought I must be walking back into the front area.  I turned round and saw one of our observation balloons going up in the distance and was lucky in so far that I followed its direction and soon came upon a battery of ours.  The officer there gave me a hot cup of tea and suggested the war would soon be over.  He showed me that a horsedrawn wagon was not far away & that I should make for that, which I did.

This Red Cross van had two or three wounded as well as a German with a head wound.  We moved off slowly and for some unknown reason stopped in front of a battery of howitzers quite different from the forward field guns.  A sudden clash of battery fire with the brass hooks, that held up the thick green canvas sides of the wagon, were straightened out by the shock, percussion, or concussion of the firing guns – the German’s head wound began to pour out blood – my ears felt shattered – the horse reared up – the driver shouted at the battery people and the battery commander wanted to know why the sanguinary hell the driver stopped there just as the battery was ready to fire. The guns were situated on a raised embankment fo this sunken road and first about six feet away from the wagon top.

Soon we were at the casualty clearing station of tents and marquees ready for the expected wounded.  I had my wound dressed by a doctor who then pumped in my arm a large dose of anti-tetanus serum.  A good cup of tea and bags of lovely fresh bread butter and jam – the first real clean meal for eight weeks.  Smiling nurses to help – cards to send home to relatives and a lovely warm 18th September sun.

For me the war was over   By small van I was well on my way to Rouen by way of Peronne & Bapaum.

On arrival I was put on a stretcher and covered with blankets and was fast asleep within a few minutes.  This was a marquee hospital which sorted out the wounded for eventual move to hospital.  Next day I arrived at Le Havre and bed and bathed to be freed of lice and fleas at last.

My wound did not hurt only when it was dressed.

Within a few days the Australian Red Cross liner Essiequibo [Essequibo]3 drew up alongside the landing stage – The buildings of which had been transformed into a hospital.  I was transported to the 1st class saloon which was full of cots for wounded and given a life saving jacket.  Sleep soon over came most of us and in the morning lovely breakfast and then onto the quayside at Southampton.  From there to a converted school, into hospital at Birmingham and later in October to Earl Beuchamp’s [Beauchamp’s] Convalescent  house at Malvern, Wocs4.

Whilst there I soon recovered –- The matron being an old LH sister – and heard the maroons on Nov 11, 1918 bring in Peace.  A few weeks in Dec. Jan at Felixstowe awaiting demobilisation on Feb 8/1918 [1919!]  Thus ended the term of a young 1918 1st War soldier. 2

The 18th Sept 1918 saw the whole of the Allied Line advance.  Captain Idris also took part as well as Charlie Cock.  (He showed the Xmas card he sent home in 1918.  It gave a picture of the approach to EPEY.

I did not learn much of the affair.  No doubt it has been recorded somewhere for this day seemed to finish the Germans completely.  They then began to realise the war was over for them.

Notes:

By author

1 P.S. My friend who went back for water lost his way in the dark and later joined his coy B.  He told me later that the 12th Norfolk Battn were used mainly for rushing up to areas that required occasional help.  I don’t think the front line was static as before.  The Germans were constantly retreating.

2 P.S. I later saw one of the fellows of my section who said they came up to the german trenches and found Prussian guards waiting for them with fixed bayonets.  A German grenade thrown at him sent him back.  Apparently Epey (?Ephey) turned into a fierce battle which we won.

By editor:

3 HMHS Essequibo, cf. http://www.wartimememoriesproject.com/greatwar/ships/view.php?pid=3459

4 Madresfield Court.  For more information see http://123-mcc.com/other_history_madresfield.htm

This page was added on 15/12/2016.

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