24th August – France

Posted: December 29, 2016 by saraherhodes in 1916

At last I am going to give you a little news of my doings the last week or so. It is very awkward for me to write as I can only move my right hand up and down, and I have to move the paper backwards and forwards.

Well to go back to where I left you last time. I think we had just left that salvage job. On the Friday night, we got orders to go up to the support lines first thing next morning. Previous to this, it had been decided to take three officers in with each company. Under this arrangement Pat and I were left out (not that I was sorry by any means). Then it cropped up that one of us had to go, so we tossed up in quite the approved style – Pat lost. At some unearthly hour on Saturday, we started out and marched about four miles where we camped in trenches. Here we proceeded to make ourselves comfortable, thinking we were there for the day but in a very short time, the order came to get ready to move right up. Here was a job if you like, the whole battalion had to move off in single file up a communication trench, about two miles long or more. The way lay through the most desolate, shell-torn piece of country I have ever seen. The latter part of the journey was a nightmare. The trenches were non existent – just a track leading from shell hole to shell hole, and on every side. Even in the trenches, dead men in various stages of decomposition. On the top of all this we were subjected to a pretty heavy shell fire which didn’t add to the beauty of things.

All the villages are just one huge dust heap, here and there a piece of timber sticking out like a grotesque arm. When at last we were in the front line, the fun started. The Huns had chosen this time to carry on a particularly vicious strafe. One section of the trenches (which happened to be B. Company’s) came in for quite a lot of fun. The “harebrained ones” concentrated on about eighty yards of it. In a very little time this portion was as unvaried in appearance as ‘no man’s land’.

Shells were lobbing there with quite a clock-like precision of say one per second. I had the pleasure of crossing this place twice. Before I finished, I had crossed it many times. On my way back, I had several very near goes. I was buried about five times by shells. A big 9.2lbs within a few yards of you. Everything goes up. First the sand bags and big pieces fall on your neck, then comes the small pieces followed by a very fine, but very thick cloud of dust. I was wet through with perspiration, and all this stuff falling on me, I was a picture. Even my O.C. didn’t recognize me. My pants were torn, my putties down, and I was dust and much all over.

At 10.30 that night we advanced under a barrage of fire and dug in about 200 yards out. Shrapnel was flying all round like hail. It is a wonder I wasn’t hit. I was moving all over the place right in the open. Our barrage was wonderful. It means every battery we have concentrating on one long line. There was a terrific roar and one long line of light. We had to dig in where this barrage had been. Some of the shells holes were 20 feet deep. The whole land is just one mass of shell holes. You couldn’t place a hand on any piece of ground that hadn’t been turned over time after time. I was hit by pieces of shell time without number. My “tin hat” was crumpled up by one piece and knocked down by it. Another piece cut my sleeve, other pieces bruised me. Talking it all through I had some marvellous escapes.

Our greatest trouble was water. Everything had to be brought out overland, and the Hun shelled our rear lines, and it couldn’t be got through. We had to catch the rain in oil sheets, or go without for over 48 hours. Our fellows came up to the mark all right. They did very well. I am very proud of my men although there are very few of them left now. Up till Sunday night we hadn’t lost very many men, but Monday night we had to go in another 200 yards and this time we got it. We had two machine guns and enfilade shrapnel from both flanks playing on us as soon as we left the trenches. Talk about slaughter! – men were falling all over the place.

I was directing the digging of a trench when I got hit. It gave me a very nasty shock. After we had been out there for some little time, it was decided that the position was too hot to hold, so we had to get back to the trenches we had just left. I managed to walk back and saw the men into the trenches, and then with a fine disregard for shrapnel, snipers, or anything else, just wandered across no-man’s land till I found Head Quarters. Here I got Dr. Jeffries to tie me up. As soon as I was fixed up, I went completely to the pack. It was the result of shell shock. I followed Murray Fowler along to a dressing station for about a mile I suppose, crying to myself as if my heart would break, the tears were running down my face and you would have thought I was a kid of two that had lost a lollie. It was most peculiar and affected dozens of others in a similar manner.

As far as I know, there are about ten of my platoon left. The whole battalion was badly cut up. After passing through about half a dozen different hospitals and clearing stations, I have lobbed here to stay for a bit. Nearly all the others who came in with me have gone to England. Only the very slight or bad cases remaining. I was x-rayed again this morning, and General Sir John Meakin (not Maitland) was looking at me again yesterday. They reckon it is a nasty break but doing wonderfully. Sir John is the Surgeon-General in France also he is the King’s Surgeon- some tuss- me- eh!! I expect to go to England in about a week and to stay there for a good spell. I have finished with work, going to malinger for a bit. You will have to show this letter to others. It is as much as I can do to write one letter.

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