From the Hindenburg Line to Inchy via the Canal du Nord,
then the crossing of the River Selle towards the Forest of Mormal
A quiet morning and fine. Mac and I went forward and finding that our Zone couldn’t be seen very well from my OP, we went on to the next crest, where we got an extraordinarily fine view of all the country the other side of the canal, where lies the main Hindenburg line. There was no mistaking it. The ground sloped up away from the canal and zigzagging across it, like colour zebra stripes, were thick dark wide lines, all wire (??) rows and, behind it, deep lines of trenches, one mass of dug outs as one knows as hopeless looking a proposition as one was ever likely to see, Visibility was very good but there was absolutely no movement to be seen so we contented ourselves with registering a few likely looking spots. Everything was strangely quiet, a few 4.2s dropped into Honnecourt just below us but, where we were on the crest and in full view, we were moving about freely in the open and no-one shot at us which was strange, whilst on the crest between us and the battery a Hun 5.9 was shooting, with very little imagination, on the spur of the ridge, quite a quarter of a mile from any living soul. He kept it up for 4 hours continuously, never changing the spot. It is as well for us that they do make these little mistakes sometimes. We returned, leaving an officer on the lookout, and played bridge with ‘1’ at Brigade HQ all the afternoon till a 5.9 dropped between us and our batteries which were about 300 yards away. Made us run for home to make sure all was well.
We dined in our own mess and then played bridge again till midnight – a very quiet night. At the moment we were supporting the 21st Division so had no liaison to do, a great saving! The 33rd Divn were on our right, their batteries being just in front of Villers Guislans.
I went to the OP after breakfast, a brilliantly fine day. At first I could see nothing owing to mist, then as it gradually lifted, I saw quite a number of Huns moving about in the open the other side of the canal behind Honnecourt. So, of course, opened up on them and had the pleasure of making them run pretty hard but couldn’t see if I’d bagged any or not. This lasted quite a long time as they kept on re-appearing in a very sporting manner. I returned to the battery about 11 leaving H at OP and sent to the Wagon Line, now at Gouzeacourt, for my horses and rode down there with Mac after lunch. I found them quite comfortable except that a damned HV gun had got dead on their line and kept dropping shells just short. I found the wicked, inescapable whizz most unpleasant but they’d got quite used to it and, having no casualties, didn’t mind. So I had to pretend I didn’t either but it was their own fault for getting just behind a village. They seem to have been attracted there by the grazing which was certainly good and the horses looking very fit and well. I signed reams of paper and returned to the Battery to play bridge till midnight. During the afternoon and evening the Hun started a nasty new habit of shelling our end of the village but I thought one was sufficiently well to a flank to be all right. Night firing every night consists of about 200 rounds on roads, trench junctions etc.
Spent a quiet morning checking the sights. After lunch met a ??? ??? crowd in our little sunken road, Marshall, Gus,’1’, Doc Talbot and several others.So it was decided for us all to walk over and have tea at a (palace??) Marshall has erected in Gonnelieu. Half an hour walking took us there along the road which had strangely few shell holes in it considering the amount we had fired at it but this country looked very war worn. The whole countryside a rubbishy waste of battered trenches and barbed wire and the Huns had left a lot of stuff behind them – picks, shovels, odd rifles, stacks of hand grenades and rifle ammunition littered about everywhere. Every few hundred yards one came across places where their guns had been in action – scrapes in the ground mostly with stacks of used and unused ammunition in baskets. The Hun gunners lot cannot be a pleasant one, chased about from place to place by our aeroplanes and our heavies have been extraordinarily good in keeping up with us. Already an 8 inch battery and a 60 pr were in front of us here. The Hun harassing fire has on the whole been good and well placed with occasional happy lapses but his organised counter-battery work seemed to have broken down completely and to have disappeared, I devoutly hoped for good.
Gonnelieu like Villers Guislans was a pathetic sight, enough of walls and brick left to let one know there once was a village and that is all. We found Marshall’s mess, a lean to against the cemetery wall and very swagger. Tea started with whisky and finished with it. Everyone talked quite a lot, my only contribution was to chip in when Marshall laid 4 to 1 the war wouldn’t be over by Christmas and take him for a fiver. I could afford the fiver if the war went on and the twenty quid might come in useful otherwise. Several 4.2s fell close enough to cover the mess with dirt and splinters but we were in the mood to laugh at things like that and returned home, dodging a few more of them, very happy to play bridge again till midnight.
After breakfast ‘1’ came round and told me we were going to attack again in a few days and that one battery was to move as far forward as possible for it and he wanted me to do the job. I was to be in action by dawn tomorrow so I went out with my invaluable Sergeant Tot, Hollingworth and the necessary instruments and spent 3 hours going over the ground behind our OP. It wasn’t easy as, if one came back far behind the crest, one couldn’t clear it. If one got too much left one could be seen (from the high ground the other side of the canal) and the bottom of the valley I banned as valleys are always shelled and generally gassed. After a long search I found a place which I could just fit into, choosing each gun position separately, just behind the crest, with a good trench just in front of the battery and an old deep dug out of ours with 2 entrances, a sleeping place and dining room complete. The OP was in a trench with dug out handy, not 100 yards in front. This seemed good enough, almost ideal, and I returned and arranged to get 200 rounds a gun up during the night and to have the teams up an hour before dawn and get into action before daybreak. So no bridge and bed directly after dinner. A brilliant frosty night, Arctic clearness.
Teams and my horses came up well to time. I went forward to get OP line going. I settled down at the OP and waited. It was very cold and quite dark but I could see a slight mist forming in the valley over the canal. Not a sound came from the Hun land and the only sign of life was a succession of green rockets going up far away back which puzzled me. After a wait of about half an hour I had the satisfaction of getting the report ‘battery all ready to fire’, a good half hour before it was light enough to see. Gradually things became visible and I could pick out the crossroads and crucifix behind Honnecourt so I got all the guns on to that and fired a few rounds to check the line. Just in time, before the mist rose and blotted everything out. So I returned to the battery to find tea, porridge and hot bacon waiting for me.
Staff work very good this morning. Our infantry had had orders to try and cross the canal on rafts during the night and peacefully penetrate at dawn as far as they could get so I returned to the OP to see what I could do. I found the mist clearing under the sun and presently made out patrols strolling across the open, not a shot being fired at them, only a few shells falling right and left, but nothing heavy at all.
Moving very cautiously they picked their way over the first belt of wire, then the second and finally disappeared into the outpost trench of the Hindenburg line. A strange sight which made me think this a real withdrawal when our infantry get into the Hindenburg line in broad daylight and not a rifle or machine gun fired.
Presently I saw far away back 2 or 3 Huns moving along what I made out to be the main Cambrai road so I tried a few shots at them and found it just in range but too far for accurate sniping and they didn’t appear again. It soon became evident that artillery support was not what was wanted this day so I decided to go forward and try and find what chance there was of getting across the canal as evidently there was a prospect of a big move. I took Sergeant Stuart with me, grinning with joy at the prospect of getting forward and we pushed on down the slope towards Honnecourt, joining the road, which was quite good going, and finding a sprinkling of dead Bosch there. Before we got to the village I met one of our own Sapper Majors with a CRE coming back and they told me that they were going to put a bridge across for heavy traffic there, which certainly wouldn’t be finished for 24 hours so that was out of the question for me. But they thought the 21st Division were putting light bridges up towards Bantouzelle which ought to be finished in the course of the morning.
So we made straight for the canal, which was difficult of access owing to all sorts of dykes running parallel to drain the marshy ground at the sides. However we got there and found it a deep cutting, about 10 feet deep with about 3 to 4 feet of beautiful clear chalk water running in the bottom, an impossible obstacle and not even suitable for pontoons. We followed along the bank over a mile perspiring and cursing the 21st Sappers of whom there was no sign – but when Bantouzelle came
in view we saw a crowd of men with sapper limbers just arriving and, going up to them, I found a very cheery subaltern who was full of keenness and optimism when I told him I wanted to get guns across and promised me a bridge by 3 o’clock, and added that they had another section at work on the lock gates at Bantouzelle but that they didn’t expect to get going there till night as there was a lot of clearing and roads making to be done.
The promise seemed good enough so, sending Sergeant Stewart on to reconnoitre the lock gates in case we had to go that way, I returned to the battery to find Brigade Headquarters claiming half our dugout, which I conceded, and boiling over with keenness to get forward, a keenness which I felt myself, and which was, I fancy, not unconnected with the fact of the entire absence of any form of hostile shell fire. Morale I notice is always 100% above par on these occasions. Such being the position I sent back for all the horses and the entire wagon line to come up to where we were at once and sat down to get some eat and drink inside me. Horses arrived about 4 o’clock and I went forward with 2 officers and a full battery staff and horse-holders, to have a look at our bridge, only to find that the damned sappers had let us down, in spite of their optimism, and had only made a foot bridge. We couldn’t get horses along the canal bank so dismounted and left them to water and went along on foot towards Bantouzelle. As we approached some salvoes of whizzbangs at very long range, sailed slowly over and, bursting a hundred yards or so behind, effectively put the fear of God into us.We hurried on to the lock gates for my part expecting them to shell the crossing every minute, as evidently the Huns had some guns left within range, but they did their work damned badly, fortunately for us. We arrived, leaving the shelling always nicely behind, only to find that the bridge wasn’t finished or anything like finished, and the harassed sapper major didn’t think it would be till after dark.
I decided to cross over and have a look at the roads the other side as we evidently must come this way and, finding a way, we scrambled over and picked our way through the village, finding the roads in good condition apart from the approaches to the lock which were the devil owing to our own recent shelling. The road beyond the village was quite obvious from the map and I found a deep sunken road, just passable, leading straight up to the main Hindenburg line and right through it, an extraordinary piece of luck. The Huns certainly left deliberately but they did it very badly. A few well placed mine craters would have delayed us a day at least. I stopped at the main trench to make enquiries and found that I had stumbled onto Battalion HQ, which was down the dug out. So I went down, quite 30 feet, and found a long gallery with little rooms opening out each side which ran, so they told me, for hundreds of yards, and so far as they knew, was continuous right along the trench. It must have taken months and months to build and was safe against anything but an earthquake. I found the CO asleep and very tired but gunners are always treated like princes and he was woken up and told me the position. His patrols were about a mile in front and staying there.
During the night another Brigade was to pass through and continue the advance as far as possible at or before dawn. Moreover, he told me that I could get guns without difficulty along the track I had come up, out into the more or less country behind. This was all I wanted to know so I set off back, sending H to find out how the bridge was getting on and, meeting on the way one of the battalions who were doing the show tomorrow advancing in open order, and wondering where the devil they were going to. It was getting dark and quite dark by the time I got back to the battery where I found that the bridge was not yet going. I decided it was useless to try and get across during the night. It would only mean a muddle, sitting somewhere in the dark and a bad start after dawn. So I arranged to get some sleep and move forward not later than 5.00 a.m. with the whole battery, going forward myself with a full battery staff as fast as possible.This fixed up, we dined, reveille to be at 2.30 a.m. so as to avoid any chance of delay and turned in, sleeping in the dug out. Not a sound of shellfire outside and a fine but misty night.
Called at 3.00 and, after eating a breakfast, went out, inky dark, but somehow or other teams were being got in and everything well in hand. At 5.00 I moved forward with the staff, dawn just appearing in the east. I rode as fast as circumstances allowed and, getting off the barbed wire and trench area, struck the road, arriving at the lock gates just as it was light enough to see that the bridge had been finished after a fashion and consisted of iron girders with planks across laid over the gaps
in the gate and approaches. Not a soul was in sight and it didn’t look too promising as some battery had evidently tried to get across in the dark and had left one gun in the lock below and one wagon half tipped over the side, completely blocking the way for wheeled traffic. However, we couldn’t wait and managed to get our horses over, leaving the battery following behind to get over the difficulty as best they could. They had their orders and their rendezvous was the HQ I had visited last night. I pushed on and, arriving at the HQ, got down to try and get some orders and information. I found Infantry Brigade had moved in and dug out the Brigade Major who was very harassed and couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me anything. In a short time Marshall turned up. He was representing the 17th Div. Gunners and was furious as none of his lot, the 78th, were on the move. He seemed pleased to see me and gave me some definite orders – to push on, find the right attacking battalion and support them. The Brigade Major having told me they were supposed to be somewhere near Montecouvez Farm, so I got mounted and pushed along up the track at a trot, passing on the way a sleeping battery that had crossed last night, which justified my postponing the move till the morning.
I soon struck the main Cambrai road and followed it south about a mile. Not a sign of life but a few shells were falling in a big wood over on the left. The map told me I must get off the road and up to the left which I did, finding myself in a maze of wire and trenches, Hindenburg supports, but luck was in and I found a way through and could see a battalion moving up the high ground on the left past the wood, whizzbangs being sprayed all over the ground they covered, a very intelligent piece of anticipation on the part of the Huns as they couldn’t be seen there from anywhere but behind. My battalion was further on but I was evidently on the right track so sent back for the battery to come on.. Going further on I came across a sight to gladden the heart, the position of a Hun heavy battery dug deep into a steep bank with deep dugouts each side of the gun pits. They had got the guns away but not without loss – the whole area had been shelled to pieces, the gun pits and dugout entrances all smashed in, dead horses and broken wagons lay all around. The whole place was a picture of shell blasted desolation and I had a job to make horse pass it. Our aeroplanes and heavies worked well together and I wouldn’t have exchanged places with a Hun gunner for a trifle.
About 500 yards beyond, up the valley, a few shells were falling and near them was a blue flag so I made for it and was lucky again for it was the HQrs of the Battalion I was looking for. I dismounted and found the CO, not very happy, sitting in a shallow trench breakfasting off bully beef and tea. I told him I was a gunner with a battery coming along behind and he brightened visibly and told me his fellows had run into heavy MG fire with a lot of casualties and he wanted support. We went forward together to have a look at things, following a fork of the valley to the left, where a few whizz bangs were falling. As we approached the crest machine guns opened up and bullets flew thick overhead, so we went cautiously and finished crawling on our hands and knees, bullets singing by pretty thickly.
We got a good view but it wasn’t very pleasant as there were no shell holes to shelter in – a disadvantage of open warfare I hadn’t previously appreciated. However, this was evidently my lucky day as I saw, only about 50 yards away on the left, what had evidently been a Hun OP, a hole dug in the ground and timbered overhead. The entrance the wrong way and rather conspicuous but perfectly safe from MG fire and far better than nothing. So we crawled over very cautiously and tumbled in very happy to be out of the way of bullets. Here we could get a map out in comfort and the CO was able to show me where his front line was, about 500 yards away from us. It was a very good OP and quite a lot of Huns could be seen moving about amongst the shallow trenches (all well-wired) not very far beyond our lines. The only thing to do was to get the battery in as soon as possible. So we returned and I selected a position on the reverse slope about 600 yards behind the OP and just in front of a trench with some good dug outs and which gave good cover and promised a comfy mess.
I decided to get in a section only at first as it was very close up so I sent back for it and got the staff to work getting a wire up to the OP. One had to be careful as the bullets that buzzed over the OP mostly came to rest near the battery but it couldn’t be helped – it was the only suitable place and even there I was afraid of not being able to clear the crest. I went on up to the OP leaving H to get the battery in when it arrived. Arriving there, worked at the angle to the place where I could see Huns and, after a short wait, got the report of the battery in. The range was only 1500 and they reported they couldn’t clear the crest. I checked it with a range table and made out they could just! So as the MG fire was really heavy and support badly wanted I told them to fire, which they did, protesting quite rightly as the first shell hit the ground about 25 yards to my right, Luck still in. I added 200 and fired again but it went too far and it began to look as if I wasn’t go to do much good. Looking back at the battery, which I could see, I saw that the ground to the left of it sloped gradually up with about the same range. So I told them to pull a gun up that slope till they could fire at 1000 yards. It took ¼ hour before they got it up and the bullets made it nasty for them and it made a move of about 600 yards, the gun firing practically open sights but it worked all right and I had the satisfaction of getting shells right in amongst the Huns who scattered and diaappeared.
And I kept it on, firing up and down the trench they were in to discourage their machine gunners. Presently I saw about 30 Huns rush forward from the trench and disappear in a fold in the ground. I took it to be a counter-attack and, the place they went to being well marked, I opened fire on that but nothing happened and about half an hour later a group of Hun prisoners appeared, walking in my direction. My counter-attack must have been this little lot giving themselves up as I heard after that that was what they had done. All this time a track which ran about 100 yards in front of me was being consistently whizz banged which rather alarmed me at first, but, as they never altered direction, towards me, I came to the conclusion that the Hun observer just couldn’t see me, which comforted me not a little. All the same the splinters were nasty and made me keep on ducking. This track ran some way back along the top of the crest, right and back, and was all under direct observation. Imagine my surprise then when, looking round, I saw a party of horsemen calmly coming along as if there was no war at all. I knew that wouldn’t last long and sure enough in less than a minute over came a salvo followed by another and another.
They scattered and fled. It was a mad thing to bring them there. I found out after that this was old Mac with his battery staff. He’d been told we held the ground for 2000 yards ahead and had acted accordingly. He was damned lucky to get off with a few splinters in the horses and one in his bottom which he received just as he was diving like a rabbit into the only cover he could see, just at his side. His luck was in, too, as it turned out to be a Hun OP better than mine with a deep dugout. He stayed there in luxury for the next three days. Machine gun fire opened up again which was not surprising as our infantry in their happy go lucky way had started moving about near my OP as casually as if it was the base. I coursed them and wouldn’t let them come near me which they all wanted to do but the MG fire had more effect and they moved well away and more under cover. But the Hun thought he’d found something and kept plugging in the bullets for half an hour. They seemed to come from some orchards behind Villers Outreaux so I got the rest of the battery up and started shelling that although although I couldn’t see any movement there. But the fire died down so I hoped I’d done some good.
I decided to stay all day where I was and sent for some lunch and with it came ‘1’ and old Tim who wanted orders for the wagon line. I told him to get everything this side of the canal and go in anywhere he thought suitable. Also to send up 12 loads of ammunition as we were running short. So he left with plenty to do before he gets to bed. It was a curious day. On my left about 300 yards away was an enormous farm – Montecouvez Farm – as large with its outhouses and barns as a baronial castle. This the Hun shelled the entire day with heavy stuff. The splinters were unpleasant but it typified his lack of imagination for he never shifted from the place. So of course no-one went near it. The same shelling sprayed over the area behind would have been most extraordinarily unpleasant. To the right was a wood called Martha Copse and, about every ¼ of an hour, he dropped a large minnewerfer into that, making noise enough to drown everything else but I could never spot where they came from. From time to time odd Huns would appear popping their heads up in one or other of the trenches in front which were evidently quite shallow and occasionally running across the open. I was kept very busy taking on everything I saw but it was quite evident that all moving forward was stopped for the day and that we were up against pretty stiff resistance. So about 4 o’clock I returned, sending H up to the OP to keep a watch. At the battery I found that the silly asses had allowed the infantry to take possession of all but half of one of the dugouts which I was forced to arrange to share with the Machine Gun people who were in it. It worked all right and gave me a safe, dry place to work and sleep in – no little comfort under these conditions. I turned in early after dinner and left M to carry on with the night firing for which orders came in about 8.00 p.m.
Bad luck in the night. Just at dawn a Hun bombing plane came over low and dropped one within 3 yards of No.1 Gun, badly wounding the 4 men who were serving it. First casualties we’ve had since I took the battery over, bar gas, so I can’t complain. Fortunately the gun escaped. It was a beautiful fine day. I left the OP to the subalterns for the morning to give myself a rest and about 10 o’clock ‘1’ and Marshall and Mac came over to see me and we decided to go for a walk and see the sights. We made first for the high ground on the left where Marshall’s OP was. But running into some whizz bangs there, decided to make for a little copse to the left of the big farm, where Gus had his mess. There was a strong wind, blue sky, with rather low, furry white clouds driving across like waves. And as we entered the wood we were startled by a continuous clatter of machine guns overhead and, looking up, saw some of our planes playing hide and seek with some Huns in the clouds. They were very low and made an awful noise, chasing one another round and round overhead, very low down. They were so much (?) up that one couldn’t make out which was which, especially as they kept on disappearing in the clouds. They kept this up for about quarter of an hour but so far as we could make out there were no casualties.
There was an appalling din in this little wood. We were right in the line of fire of several batteries behind which were firing fast and continuously. About 200 yards in front Hun shells were dropping. 5.9s bursting with thunderclaps, whilst from the clouds came the machine guns. Every tree seemed to pick up the echo and one could scarcely think for the din it all made but it was one of those curious days when one has the feeling that nothing matters and it all seemed somehow to be rather good fun. In this spirit we found Gus’s mess, a palatial place, like a Swiss chalet, in one storey, built by the Huns, very comfortable and evidently meant for a headquarters. Glass in the windows, beds, tables and a deep dugout in case of need. Gus was in very high spirits and produced whisky and soda which didn’t depress the party at all and finally we started a game of bridge, the hellish row outside increasing if anything. After 2 rubbers a strange figure in red tabs appeared and turned out to be a Corps Gunner Staff Captain who explained that he had come round to try and get some information about some Hun gas shells fired by our own people the day before from captured guns which had been reported to have dropped short. I had heard them come over myself. We refused to take him seriously and soon laughed him out of the idea of getting any useful information from us. He must have thought us quite mad but, taking a couple of whisky and sodas, entered thoroughly into the spirit of the thing and we started vingt et un for his benefit but this, in its turn, was put a stop to by an orderly with orders that gaps in the wire in front had to be cut by dusk and 500 rounds of ammunition a gun to be up by dawn the next morning ready for a barrage.
So the party broke up and we returned to our respective batteries to get things started. I arranged with Mac to do the job with him, sharing a wire if we had to find a new OP. After lunch Mac came round. My morale was not quite so high as, earlier, the Huns had got a gun onto my OP and were dropping shells right into it with no intermission and his didn’t look too nice as shells kept on falling on the slope between it and the battery. Mine was out of the question if anywhere else was available so we made for his and arrived there safe but breathless to find it tenanted by 2 60 pounder subalterns with their usual retinue of lanky clumsy gunners. For some unaccountable reason the heavies seldom go to an OP with a party of less than a dozen, all 6 ft high. Having made it unmistakably clear to them that they were guests and on sufferance, we got to work and found we could just see the wire from there. Mac’s eyes were all groggy from his previous wounds and his glasses were (?) so I told him to be a good boy and let me do his shooting, which he quite meekly did and we spent the afternoon there, Gus arriving later, breathless like us after an exciting run for it but irrepressibly cheerful as usual (? (?) (?) (?).
We stayed till the light was too bad to do any more good. We hadn’t produced any very visible effect on the wire. It would have taken days to do that but these days the morale effect of firing a few hundred yards at wire seems to have the desired result. After dinner at the battery I had a look at the ammunition position again and found it to be a pretty tough proposition. Tim had to get up 36 wagon loads before dawn and, as a lot of it had to be fetched from the position before the last, the night was so dark that one couldn’t see 2 yards, and there was a steady misty drizzle. I did not envy either him or his drivers their job, especially as the way to this position was through the maze of barbed wire and trenches forming the support system of the Hindenburg line. It was no good turning in so I wrote a few letters in the dugout and sat up waiting for my operation orders which turned up about midnight. They were highly complicated, 2 hours work at least to write my own orders, so I settled down to it, being interrupted every quarter of an hour or so by reports of ammunition having arrived, generally accompanied by a mournful tale of one or two wagons having got hopelessly ditched or lost the way altogether. And by 3 o’clock, so far as I could make out, I had 4 wagons wandering about by themselves between the battery and the wagon lines, with not a hope in hell of finding anything till dawn. Very nasty for them but I could do nothing to help them as zero hour was 4.0 a.m. and I had to go to the OP as soon as it got light. At 3.30 dear old Tim appeared, wet, tired and smiling, with the report that all the ammunition was up and the lost ones found. How the devil he did it I couldn’t make out but it was a damned good bit of work and rather nice of him to push through the night to come up and see me. We had a drink on the strength of it and he returned to get things ready and teams up for an advance by 11 o’clock. I turned in just as the barrage started firing to get a bit of sleep before daylight.
Didn’t get any sleep and breakfasted by 5.30 a.m. and, shortly after, left for the OP as my job, besides the barrage, was to support the right battalion in case they had any trouble. I sat there for 2 hours doing nothing as the light was too bad to see owing to mist. As usual Montecouvez Farm came in for more than its share of hate but, on the whole, the shell fire was not at all heavy and on the left gradually died down. So I supposed the attack there must be a success but the right looked sticky and on my immediate front there was no sign of our infantry having got very far forward. About 9 o’clock I saw a light winking from a slit in the ground in some rising ground about 2000 yards in front, evidently a Hun OP signalling back to their infantry, so I turned a couple of guns on that and got some shells very close. In about a minute two Huns scrambled out and ran away back as fast as they could. I chased them out of sight but so far as I could see I didn’t bag either of them. A lot of machine gun fire was coming from the right. None of it came my way. Our friends the Welshmen seemed to be holding up the right flank as usual. Their barrage passed over Villers Outreaux about 8 o’clock and then faded away, but the bad light made it quite impossible to be sure what was happening there.
About half past 9 I saw some movement on the high ground away back on the right, but, for the life of me, could not be sure whether it was our people or the Huns so I dared not fire on it. Then Old Tim turned up, reporting the teams up, and I got him to have a look at it. He couldn’t make it out either, so I left him at the OP and went forward about 1000 yards to the Battalion HQ to see if they could tell me anything. I found the CO in a deep dugout, a splendid little fellow, my friend of 2 days ago, and he was very worried. His centre was hung up by MG fire in the woods, shrubberies of a chateau on our immediate front, and he was waiting for a report from his adjutant whom he had sent forward for information, before asking me to bombard the place again. His right was hopelessly in the air as they had no contact with the people on their right and they were being machine-gunned. He could tell me nothing more so I used his telephone to ask Division if I might fire on the movement I had seen, still further to the right. I waited half an hour and then only got the reply that they didn’t know so I decided to go back, the CO asking me to keep the battery in action ready to support him if he asked for it. He knew my OP and would send a runner.
Arrived at the OP. I found Tim bubbling over with excitement. He slapped me on the back and told me I’d missed the chance of my life. Whilst I was away visibility had improved, revealing the movement as a Hun battery complete with teams, waiting on the hillside for somebody to have a shot at them. We’d worked out angle and range before and he put in as many salvoes as he could. They fled in great disorder, leaving two somethings behind them. Whether guns or wagons we couldn’t see and never afterwards found out but they must have lost their bearings very badly to stay in a place like that and I hope we made them pay for it. The next thing we saw was a huge explosion behind a rather pretty village on the skyline in front, followed by clouds of smoke and flame. Evidently a dump going up so the Huns must have been preparing to clear out there. Apparently the village caught fire,too, as flames and smoke rose high and kept on till we left later. Some infantry coming up from behind. I went across to talk to them and found them to be our own division coming into the line again which was good for us as we shall once more come under our own CRA. They were pushing forward to the left where the attack had been most successful to be ready to go on at dawn next day if the situation permits. Immediately in front, and looking very near, was a Hun observation balloon. As I knew that we should soon have to move forward I said to Tim how nice it would be if someone would fetch him down before he had a chance of spotting us. I hadn’t said it more than a minute when one of our planes suddenly appeared from nowhere, dived at him and down he came in flames. A very pleasant site indeed. Our plane got archied like the devil but came home safely.
It was getting late and ‘1’ came across with orders for me to move forward as soon as I could and as far as I could. He gave me an idea of where to go to. It seemed the attack on the left had been a great success and the whole line had crumbled up. I told him the position where I was and he told me to stay where I was till my little C.O. was satisfied and then come on. So 1 went to see him and found him much happier. He had got the whole of the chateau grounds, had captured a couple of field guns there and the right flank was at last pushing up too and he didn’t’ want me anymore - I returned and went with Tim back to the battery which was firing at some targets an aeroplane had sent down I got all the horses up ready, ate a bit of lunch, gave cease fire at 2 o'clock and pushed off at a fast trot with my battery staff and Hollingworth. The way was quite obvious ,and more important, quite clear of wire. Just long rolling valleys of waste grass, no cultivation at all but no shell holes, except the few this fighting had caused, which didn't count. We passed a burning tank on the way, a nasty sight, knocked out during the morning and, after about 2 miles, saw a few shells falling in the valley in front, scattered about, but evidence that all resistance had not ceased. The valley was full of batteries moving up and teams coming up but I saw no casualties and pushed on as fast as I could past several batteries already in action, across another valley running at right angles, where we ran into a few shells and, finally, pulled up near a chalk pit which gave me the idea of nice cover. Besides the few shells that came,came with such a whizz that I knew we must be getting pretty close up.
So I dismounted short of the crest and walking forward found a shallow trench about 2 feet deep, one that we bombarded at 9 o'clock this morning in our barrage,with a few dead Huns left in it for luck,to show how well we did our job. This trench ran over the crest so I followed it and, presently, got a splendid view of the country in front and found a gunner officer installed there who showed me where the Huns were. One couldn’t have asked for a better OP so I returned , told the signallers to get a wire up to the trench and fixed the battery position about 100 yards in front of the chalk pit which looked like making a fairly comfortable mess with a bit of digging. Left H to get the battery in when it came and,returning to the OP, found the wire installed. But it was maddening to have no Battery as, whilst I was waiting, a party of about 100 Huns got up from shell holes and walked slowly back across the slope of the hillside opposite, disappeared amongst some cottages in the outskirts of Wallincourt, the village immediately in front. Only one battery fired at them and he made a rotten job of it, not getting single shell amongst them - a priceless opportunity missed, just at 3.00. the battery arrived and I got off the first shot within an hour of giving cease fire at the position 3 ½ miles back which pleased me immensely.
I spent an hour or so firing at movement in and around the village and on the hillside and then returned to find that d-d fool H had put the mess in the wrong place - a shallow depression in the ground instead of the chalk pit. I cursed him and he was protesting he was right when a whizzbang fell slap in the middle of the place he had selected and missed our cook's cart and horses which were there by about 5 yards putting an end to any further discussion of that subject. More shells fell near and Sergeant Tot, without hesitating a moment, rushed into the middle of it and rescued the cooks' cart which mercifully wasn't hit, a very brave little bit of work. We set to dig a mess in the bank of the pit and had no sooner started when an orderly arrived with orders to fire a barrage in ten minutes time. A simple one luckily and we got it off all right. After dark 1 went over and dined with ‘1'at Brigade who were in a deep dugout in a wood about half a mile away.He told me we are moving forward again at dawn, 78th not us, to be advance guard but he advised me to have horses up and move forward with a single gun if I could. I returned feeling good. A lot of shells came our way all the afternoon and we'd had no casualties and done a pretty good days work. I sent an orderly down to the new wagon line, our position of the morning, for teams and my horses to be up at dawn, turned in and slept like a log.
Called at half an hour before dawn and breakfasted. A beautiful clear morning, stars still showing. A slight mist and rather cold. I think there was a touch of frost, no wind. Going from the mess, which was a hole we had dug in the bank of the chalk pit (easy digging in clay) about 6ft 6 by 8 ft covered over with a wagon cover in which the three of us had slept, I saw the rest of the battery, still most of them sleeping. Sergeant Tot of course was up. I decided to take him with me, also Mathieson. The country was very pretty and, as there was no sign of our horses, I went out to have a look round. The battery was almost on the crest of a sloping hillside. On the crest and to the left was a little copse with thickets of nut bushes and bracken, Very pretty with old mans beard gleaming with the sun on its dew and cobwebs climbing over everything. Passing this thicket and appearing suddenly out of the mist came a battery moving forward silently in line of march, looking purposeful and mysterious. lt disappeared with clanking harness into the mist and left me impatiently noticing that I should be by no means the first on the road. Of shell fire there was not a sign, the Hun had evidently disappeared again.
In a short time the teams for my one gun and 2 wagons arrived with my horses and the others. I immediately sent back for all the rest of the teams and started out with my little party to see life, telling Hollingworth, whom I left behind, to be ready to bring the battery on immediately he heard from me. Our way lay right over the open country past my OP of the night before and on towards Wallincourt.The sun was getting up and becoming warm and it was as beautiful an autumn morning as I ever remember. At first I avoided the road from instinct - always shelled! But there was a peaceful feeling in the air which made me think the Huns must be a long way away. And after passing the place in the valley below from where I had seen the Huns retiring the night before, I took to the road as it seemed quicker and soon found myself in the village. Not a sign of life was there, a deserted, eerie looking place and the sound of the horses hoofs on the cobbles echoed all up the street. It was strangely little knocked about , considering that we had shelled it all night.Only a window broken here and there and occasionally the side of a house smashed in by a direct hit. I took a turning to the left marked Selvigny as this was the direction I wanted and just as I was getting clear of the village, got one of the shocks of my life.
I saw coming towards me a bust? up figure, in black. I looked and thought again and realised it must be a civilian ,the first, during the whole war, seen by me, whilst advancing. lt was an old old man and as we approached,he looked up at us, smiled and stopped. So did I and said Bonjour Monsieur.This opened the floodgates and he was joined by an old woman, who appeared from nowhere."Ah Bonjour Monsieur,nous sommes delivres, quel jour heureuse" was all he seemed able to say but his eyes said lots more. If ever I saw a man who was happy it was he. He had been hiding in his cellar 2 days he said,eating potatoes. There was no time to wait and I pushed on feeling mildly excited,so evidently did the men, We soon reached Selvigny and here the scene was extraordinary – hundreds of old men and old women, young women and children, were flocking into the street, tricolours come from heaven knows where, were hanging from the windows of nearly every house. All were chattering, laughing, occasionally cheering, and passing round us, asking so many questions and so quickly that it was impossible to understand. Bunches of flowers were produced and given to everyone, the men grinning and making friends in the way peculiarly their own. I felt excited and happy and wondered where the devil the Hun had got to and what I had better do next. Then two men came up to me very excited and told me the curee "'veut beaucoup parlez a un officer Anglaise”. So I was led away up a street towards the church, where stood a grimy unshaved, cheery old man in a cassock beaming through horn spectacles. He came up to me, pursed? My hands, thanked me, blessed the British army, and said a lot of nasty things about the Bosch.
But I hadn't time to wait long. I had to find out something so went back. I left the gun where it was, sent back a messenger for the rest of the battery to come on to that place and pushed on through the village, finding the cross roads in the centre blown up, only a huge crater remaining, the sides of all the adjoining houses having fallen in. Fair warfare that, but it couldn't delay us ,with this fine weather one can take guns across country anywhere. At the end of the village I saw some sapper signallers and a lance with a flag on it under a tree -evidently Infantry Brigade Headquarters. So I dismounted and found our officer there. He told me the Brigadier had gone forward mounted to find out the situation but would be back presently, so I decided to wait, as I was not advance guard. Presently 2 very sheepish looking Huns were brought in and loudly laughed at by the crowd of women and children that had collected, but quite good humouredly ,and shortly after, a telephone cart arrived paying out wire so that even here we were connected up with GHQ I suppose, if necessary, fairly quickly. After about a quarter of an hour,the Brigadier came in, followed by his Brigade Major and Marshall, who was commanding the gunner advance guard(78th) .The old Brigadier was in tremendous spirits. He had been as far forward as Caullery and said a few shells were falling near there but he didn't think there would be much fighting as the entire brigade were engaged in making love to the ladies of the village and he didn't know how to stop them. I asked Marshall if he could give me any orders and he told me all his batteries were forward and he thought they would soon be in action so he recommended me to push on with my gun, take on anything I saw, and bring the rest of the battery as soon as I thought fit.
‘1’,my own Brigade Commander,arrived at this moment, and endorsed this so I dug my groom out of a cottage where he was drinking coffee,and apparently cracking jokes with an old thing of about 70, and went back to the gun. Here again I had to wait whilst the gunners were disinterred from all the houses where they had gone to earth and were making the very best of the situation. We soon got on the move. I took to the open country to miss the crater at the crossroads and, finding it perfectly good going , pushed straight across country, ignoring roads, coming for the first time to really cultivated fields, recently ploughed and crops of uncut late clover. After about a mile I came across an old Hun battery position and near it a sour looking old man who told me the Huns left about 3 am. I noticed that the shallow dug outs near the battery all contained fresh clean mattresses, stolen no doubt from the farmhouses nearby, which counted no doubt for the sour expression of the old farmer. I soon came to a crest from which I could see 2 of our batteries apparently in action,but not firing, about a mile ahead and between Caulllery and Clery whilst in Clery both our shells and Hun shells were falling. I could hear MG fire so I made straight for where the batteries were, got there without difficulty, heard a few MG bullets buzzing overhead, so dismounted and pushed on towards the crest to see if I could see anything, leaving the gun under cover. On the top of the crest I saw a group of a few men lying down and made for them. It turned out to be old Mac and Simpson with 2 signallers. He'd got his battery in and had? no wire but was working visual.
There was quite a good view.Clery on the right was evidently occupied by the Huns, partly at least, for MGun fire was coming from the back of the village in our direction, whilst their shells were falling in our end. Directly in front about 300 yards was a farmhouse being heavily whizz banged which was, Mac told me Batallion HQ. Thence, Simpson was dispatched to find out the situation. He jogged off quite happily apparently but I didn't envy him the job as the place was being shelled like the devil. Further back and on the top of the farmost hill was the village of Bertry and looking towards that I saw Huns running back in parties of 10 and 20 towards the village, evidently retiring. Mac signalled back to get his guns on, but the visual was very slow and he didn't manage to do any good. Looking over towards the right I saw Huns in column passing along the hillside, apparently withdrawing from Clery. This looked like a chance so I ran back to my gun about 300 yards behind and brought them out to have a shot. Immediately a machinegun was turned on us from somewhere at long range and bullets sang by. So, as there was cover near, I thought the open wasn't worth risking and turning back, dropped the gun into action in a little hollow behind a hedge and, standing 20 yards behind on the reverse slope, could still see my Huns so gave my orders from there and had the satisfaction of seeing my first shot within 300 yards for range, tried another and got into them. The grin of joy on the gunners faces as I told them what was happening was a thing to remember, as moreover was a shot I had at 4 Huns in a bunch, when the white puff of shrapnel came, it blotted them out. As the smoke blew away they were no more. I couldn t swear to it but that time I really think I got them all right.
After a bit movement on the hillside I had under observation ceased, as was natural, and at the same time the MG fire from Clery ceased also. It looked as if we had got the village all right so I sent an order back for the rest of the battery to come on, leaving my gun where it was, went forward to Mac again and we decided we'd go on to the next crest and see what we could see from there. As we walked forward,under cover,there was plenty of incident On the crest in front a gun suddenly appeared with its team, dropped into action, evidently right in the open. It looked risky and sure enough in less than a minute a shell dropped near it, another and then 3 more, one right on top of it. Before it had fired more than 3 rounds it was out of action. I heard later that the subaltern was killed and the entire detachment wounded, a useless sacrifice. Across the little valley just on out left a company of infantry appeared moving forward, one behind the other, in 4 columns and almost at once, they were shelled, the shelling following them as they advanced and rather heavy whizz bangs.Of course they had casualties and this made me think a bit as it was certainly observed fire and they were certainly concealed, as we were, from anything in front so the only explanation was a concealed observer somewhere near u, with a wire back. I wondered if we should get it too but we didn't. I suppose our little party of 4 wasn’t considered worth it. This incident was never cleared up so far as I know and remains a mystery to me.
We went on, crossed a light railway, then some turnip fields and the road and advanced on our hands and knees over some stubble to the top of the crest. There were no shell holes large enough for cover so we lay low and, after crawling a bit further, found a splendid view of Montigny in front, looking very pretty in the sunshine and quite untouched, flags hanging from almost every house which looked strange – a festive looking place. My glasses told me they were red cross flags and I thought it was more Hun lies but found afterwards that they had told the inhabitants that no houses would be shelled if they flew red cross flags which shows what a touching faith they still had in our simplicity. I hadn't got a wire back or visual so felt pretty useless there and, as Mac had visual and intended going further,I decided to go back and get a line going and the whole battery into action. As I crawled back I met to my dismay a whole company of infantry advancing in open order and sure enough the Huns started shelling like the devil, whizz bangs dropping like hailstones. 2 or 3 M Guns opened up ,too,and I wished myself well out of it. I managed to get to the road and crept into the ditch doing the Brer Rabbit stunt and feeling very lonely, bullets and whizz bangs flying by, leaving me by no means cold.
An infantry sergeant crawling up the ditch gave me a grin of sympathy. He was on his way, he told me, to collect his men for another rush forwards and I wondered what had happened to Mac out in the open in front and felt rather a swine to have left him. After about a quarter of an hour things quietened down and I made my way back to my one gun in peace. Just as I arrived the rest of the Battery appeared,too, old Tim leading them, and as I walked towards him, a 4.2. fell between us, about 50 yards from each of us, not very encouraging and I waved them back to see where the next fell and waited for it, but nothing more arrived, just that one odd shell and the only one that fell near the battery that day. We soon got the battery in and 1 went forward again with old Tim who wanted to see the sights.Some signallers with us, we got to the forward crest without incident and shell fire had died right down, so had movement. All that remained of war was the sound of M Gun fire in Montigny and that nothing heavy. We met rather luckily the Battalion commander, coming back from Montigny and he told us that we held nearly all the village and were not going further that afternoon as his men were done. They had advanced about 6 miles with some pretty heavy fighting and heaviest casualties.
lt was the advance guard's job to cover any further fighting so Tim and 1 looked round for something to do .Away down to the right below us was a group of houses at a cross roads and, looking in that direction, I saw a woman emerge into the road, shake her apron, and retire again to the house so we decided to go down and have a talk. Just as we arrived there, a few shells dropped near the crossroads so we ran for the house, found an entrance to the cellar and went down, meeting the woman on the stairs and she beckoned us in. In the cellar was the entire family and all the family possessions,husband and wife, 2 daughters of about 18 and 4 small children, a big bed, mattresses on the floor, a table and chairs and odds and ends of things littering the whole place. A stove was burning and we were made most welcome.The old lady produced hot coffee and new bread and talked and talked, the rest joining in in chorus.The Huns had left about 8.0 in the morning she said, very frightened of the Armee anglais whom they hated. They had behaved well these last few days.'Ils ont peur de vous,oui beaucoup’
But for the last 4 years life had been hell. All their livestock had been requisitioned, all their fowls, most of their furniture and in return always paper insults and sneering promises to pay. l couldn't understand the coffee in this land of poverty and was told it was "Cafe Americaine”. Coffee,good coffee, and sugar they had plenty of, owing to the Americans and they were really grateful for it. Afterwards I heard many times the same thing. The coffee was from the Americans and it will always remain a mystery to me that the Bosch was honest about this one thing sandwiched in with his countless enormities.There must be an explanation and I should like to know it. One is reluctant to give such Devils, even their due. We each bought a 20 mark note as a souvenir and the 2 signallers with us thoroughly enjoyed themselves. I had a flask of whisky and we drank “Ah bas les Bosches, ? les Allees” with much feeling. An occasional whizz bang dropping outside to lend point to these excitements but time was getting on and we said goodbye and pushed back to the battery, where I got on my horse and went over to find Brigade HQrs to get some orders. I found them bivouacing in a sunken road and offering tea. I'd had no lunch so ate all I could get and was more than a little pleased to find Mac there, safe and sound. So we'd all got through again without casualties. ‘1’told us that orders would come round later but that we must be prepared to start half an hour before dawn as the advance was to be pushed on for all it was worth but for certain there would be no further move that night, supplies and ammunition were getting so far behind.
So after an hour or so I returned to the battery to get them settled in, only to find a gun missing and no-one knew where it was. Mathieson,the only officer I'd left behind, having gone with it. So,telling Hollingworth to try and find a house for us and the men to sleep in, there were plenty nearby, I got on my horse again and went out in search of my lost gun which I eventually found in the middle of a turnip field about a mile in front. Mathieson and a strange and extremely youthful gunner major standing near. I was angry and asked him what the devil he was doing when the young Major ? and said he'd asked him to come forward as he'd seen a Hun gun flash in the distance and wanted to take it on. I lost my temper at that, and asked the Major to be good enough to take his own guns on wild goose chases in future if he'd got them up. Left Mathieson under no mistake as to what sort of a fool I thought he was (it was almost dark and you couldn't guess range to within 6 miles) and brought my little party in, somewhat crestfallen.
Things were more cheerful at the battery. I found a comfortable house for us,occupied by a man and his wife and 2 daughters.They simply couldn't do enough for us, gave us their largest room with three large beds in it and lent us their kitchen. They'd been under shell fire all day and there's nothing like shells to promote hospitality. Besides they too had' beacoup souffert’ under the Bosch and were unmistakably pleased to give something to people they liked. There were good barns for all the men and beds for most of the sergeants. Nothing like it had ever been known before! We got the whole wagon line up and 7 of us sat down to a comfy dinner on a real table in front of a fire. Orders came in. We were to move forward at 5 a.m which meant being called at 3.0. I sat up till 10, colouring the contours of a new map to be used next day as a big advance was evidently expected and we were advance guard. Then I turned in and slept on the first bed and under the first roof since August 21st.
Called at 3.0.Very sleepy and very comfy.The bed was soft, though I slept in my flea bag. I lay in till 3.30 after digging the others out, drinking a cup of tea, breakfast at 4.0. and went outside, quite dark and a slight drizzle, but everything well in hand, horses all watered and fed and the men having breakfast. I made sure my Battery Staff were all correct and got mounted just before 5.0, taking Hollingworth with me, with Mathieson to bring the battery on behind. I told him to go to Montigny and wait for orders to be sent back. Our orders were sufficiently vague, comprehensive and easy, simply that we were to be past Montigny by 6.0.a.m. and follow due east in close support of the Infantry as far as we could get which evidently presupposed that the Hun was not prepared to give battle where he stood. It was still dark, just enough light to see a hedge and I trotted off due east going straight across country as it was so open. In a few minutes I saw a mounted party on my left converging. It turned out to be Mac with his Staff looking very grim and we went on together meaning to make for Montigny but it was difficult going and hard to pick the way.
We crossed the railway and the road when suddenly a terrific cannonade opened up on our left and behind us, evidently the Corps on the left attacking with a barrage and, sure enough, presently, the direction we were following brought us within view of our own shrapnel and soon we got quite close to the edge of the barrage, within 200 yards. There was no reply and not a sign of any Hun at all, only our shrapnel and HE bursting very close to us and proceeding slowly forwards over open country and, then, in amongst some factories that appeared with the increasing light. I was quite sure by now we'd got too far left and after a slight argument Mac agreed and we pushed further to the right and presently made out a village. Montigny sure enough, and we trotted through it, a few infantry only to be seen, and came out on the Caupry road. It was fairly light now and we decided to take to the open, making for a huge farmhouse about a mile in front, amongst some trees with its outhouses as big as a small village.
Were joined by Marshall, furious, as his people were late in starting. He had gone round and kicked them all out of bed and then had a row with his Colonel who had just returned from leave. Marshall, after commanding the brigade for 3 weeks, and covered with decorations was in a strong position. He had told the CO that his show was a disgrace and that he, the CO, ought to be out and forward, pretty strong but unanswerable and perfectly justified.
Arrived at the farm. We found there the CO. of the leading infantry battalion, an old friend. There was not a sign of a Hun and his men were pushing straight ahead with no opposition. So I sent back for the rest of the battery, took a cup of tea off him and went on again, seeing with my glasses our infantry going forward quite 2 miles ahead. I went straight across country again. A few shells started to drop on the high ground on the left and along the road there, which was apparently under observation, so I kept more to the right, crossed the main Cambria railway, not very badly destroyed, and pushed on through some orchards towards a town straight ahead, which I made out to be Inchy. Here I caught up the rear companies of our Infantry again and, arriving at the village, the scenes of the day before were repeated. The Huns had left 3 hours only, and the people simply could not believe their eyes. They flocked out, cheered and waved flags. Again tricolours appeared like magic from the windows. An old man caught hold of my stirrup leather and ran along side. The Bosch was going back to Mauberge he said. There were no trenches in front but ‘Prenez garde to Le Cateau’, trenches there very ? and wire. Our way wouldn't be by Le Cateau but that old man was all out to help and I left him behind still shouting and gesticulating,only to pass through more and more crowds of people, all happy, smiling and cheering but I didn't like the look of Inchy, shells were falling just outside the town.
It was quite a big place ,a most tempting target, evidently within range and I hurried on feeling it was only a matter of a very short time for the place to be heavily shelled. A bad look out for all those people. At the far end of the town the cross roads had been blown up leaving a crater quite 20 feet deep and the adjacent houses were cut clean in two where the explosion had caught them but there was room to get by and a crowd of at least 100 civilians were at work clearing a way, quite on their own and filling in the sides to let vehicles pass. There was quite a deep valley the far side of Inchy and I kept to the road, passing a section of one of our batteries there, waiting. Straight ahead was high open country and nothing to see seen except a few infantry moving forward in open order, no shell fire except behind, a few shells falling in the town just as I got clear of it. I went along up the road, about 3/4 of a mile and, as shells started falling in Front, I left our horses under cover of a high bank in a road that crossed the road I was in at right angles, sent Hollingworth back, telling him to bring the battery up, round Inchy not through it, and went forward on foot with Sergeant Tot to see what we could see from the crest. We kept to the road and about 1/4 mile further forward found a little group of Marshall, ‘1’ and Mac near a single gun they had got up, looking forward and they showed me the country.
Straight ahead was Neuvilly,only just visible, buried in the deep valley of the Selle. Behind rose higher ground, a steep incline, and very formidable, with splendid observation, but the light was bad. On the left was a very large town and to my amazement I could plainly see a train puffing up and down shunting. Obviously a Hun train. It was evident that the left had not gone back nearly so fast as where we were. The town was Solesmes and by evil chance just out of our effective range. It was maddening. We do not often get trains to shoot at with field guns. Attention was concentrated on the remains of an aerodrome on the high ground behind Neuvilly where some movement had been seen and, presently, came the unmistakable flash of a battery in action there, firing in our direction and I proceeded to get his one gun to work to take it on. I decided to have a look round for a good OP for myself and was talking to the Padre (who had mysteriously appeared from nowhere) about it when, looking up , I saw quite clearly and distinctly a shell coming straight at us. It gave no time to dodge or do anything, passed between us, and burst about 10 yards beyond.
We scattered and ran, he back and I across the line of fire but I had bad luck and ran into 3 more very adjacent and finished up much out of breath in a turnip field by the side of the road, where were some infantry amused at gunners getting sniped. It was our own faults. Apparently we shall never learn that mere absence of shell fire is just the best reason for not collecting in groups right in the open. That made the 4th time I'd nearly been snuffed out for doing it. Sergeant Tot was much pleased and amused at this incident but I made him go down on his hands and knees and we looked round and found a bit of cover about 1 ft deep behind a cart track at the back edge of the turnip field, from which we got a good general view of the country in front. This place we decided to use as a temporary OP but again the absence of comforting shell holes gave us a nasty naked feeling, for of natural cover from splinters there was absolutely nothing. As we were thinking of going back a single gun appeared right on top of the crest close to us but, before it got a single round off, 2 shells fell quite close and then 2 more right on it. No fault to find with the Hun observation this time. The gun was put out of action with 4 rounds and 1 found afterwards the Sergeant killed and the gun smashed.This incident and yesterdays, at the cost of 2 good lives and no advantage gained at all should prove to the Hot Heads that there are times when open sights don't pay.
Having fixed the OP we went back to fix the exact battery position before the battery came up and found things bucking up a bit. Inchy was being shelled consistently and all along the slope we followed, whizz bangs were dropping very unpleasantly mixed up. I decided on a nice place well to the right of the crossroads when 2 shells dropped right in the middle of it, driving me further right, when the same thing happened again and I went further right, there wasn't much time as I could see the battery coming up the road so l finally decided on a position behind a small plantation and in front of a very deep chalk pit, safe on the near side against anything with plenty of cover for everyone.I waved the battery on, got the No 1s up and showed them the position of each gun and the teams were just coming up when a very nasty thing happened. So far all the shelling had come from right in front. At this moment 2 shells whizzed in from behind our left flank, sheer enfilade, and that made me think damned hard. I suddenly realised what that barrage in the early morning meant -the people on our left couldn't be nearly as far up as we were. Our left flank was miles in the air and a battery somewhere there had turned its guns round and was potting at us. There was plenty of high ground there for observation, evidently all held by the Hun and I passed an extraordinarily unpleasant minute. I was about 100 yards in front of the battery and was trying to make up my mind whether to occupy the position and risk it, or take them right out and put them in the valley on the right about half a mile away and certainly under cover. The next shell damned nearly got me, plumb for line and about 5 yards short. Then one about 40 yards over and after that they dropped at least 300 yards and shelled the road.
All this took no more than a minute but that last alteration of range decided me. One must take some chances and I felt that no observer in his right mind would ever leave a target such as we presented - 6 guns and 6 wagons in enfilade complete with teams. If he could see us he could have wiped us right out so 1 waved them on, left Hollingworth to get them on a line 1 gave him and the teams clear. I pushed on with Sergeant Tot after the signallers whom I had sent forward with a wire to the OP - feeling we'd come through a tight corner rather luckily.The light was very bad at the OP and a little rain was falling. I could just see enough to register the battery on the Aerodrome which was marked on the map, but couldn't see any movement. So, as we had plenty of wire, I decided to look for a better OP further forward down the slope. About 500 yards further on I found exactly what I was looking for - a great piece of luck - 2 shallow pits about 2 feet deep, the earth thrown up the enemy side. A turnip patch behind for a background and plough in front. Thrown into the bottom of the pits were 2 clean new mattresses, evidently the place had been used by Hun gunners during the night and it was exactly what I wanted.The 2 signallers got the wire up and one had just comfortably settled in when it stopped raining, the clouds cleared off and visibility became absolutely perfect. So much so that I dare not show myself at all. As we could see the Huns on the slope opposite so clearly that they could certainly see us if we showed too much of ourselves. We had such a good OP and had settled into it so luckily that really it wasn't worth giving away.
Then the fun began. The whole countryside opposite, the other side of the river was spread out like a map and was alive with Huns, little parties coming down a road to support what was evidently their front line. Ammunition wagons, singly and in pairs proceeding leisurely along the roads, cyclists and orderlies moving about on the left, apparently quite unaware of our proximity, the trains puffing in and out of Solesmes and, further north, and just out of range, 2 main roads running east and west simply packed with all forms of wheeled traffic moving steadily eastwards. Evidently the whole Hun army in that sector in full retreat whilst miles further west and well behind me on the left the shells of our barrage, plainly visible, were falling. The situation was clear enough. On our front the Hun had retired very quickly, pushed by our attack yesterday. We had followed right on his heels and our infantry were in contact but on our left, his right, he hadn’t gone back so far, by 3 or 4 miles, in witness whereof due north of us he was still in full retreat in broad daylight and the roads packed with his traffic. Well to the west of him was our barrage, dictating the pace of our advance there. By good luck I had got into an OP from which all this could be seen and I sent the information back but communication went only to the battery and then only runner and could not reach divisional HQ for an hour at least.
Here indeed was an opportunity apparently impossible to seize. If the direction of our attack could have been changed from due east where it was up against strong resistance , a river with high rising ground behind, an enormously strong natural position, well-defended and most unlikely to be taken, except after careful preparation -to due north where there was no resistance at all, simply the exposed left flank of a rapidly retreating enemy. It looked to me as if the retreat could have been turned into a rout, with enormous captures of material and troops, all visible to the naked eye. Easy to see how to be performed? We had advanced at least 6 miles in about 3 hours, and 8 miles the day before. One Infantry Brigade had passed through another, according to plan, communications if existent must have been sketchy indeed, even as far up as Brigade HQ. From there to Battalion would be perhaps 2 miles by runner and the Battalion Commander who knew where his company HQs were at that moment, would count himself a very lucky man. The attack was still in progress and platoons, the fighting unit, would be almost certainly out of immediate touch with Company Commanders. It is the irony of war in the Grand Manner. Attacks can be launched almost easily. They can be stopped sometimes, never easily, but diverted half way through I should say never. Yet had it been possible here was a division at least, possibly an Army Corps, at our mercy, a ripe fruit, asking to be plucked.
These ideas passed through my head but my job was easy ? and delightfully obvious to make our presence felt and we proceeded to do. The targets were easy and there were lots of them. I got to work on the roads first, such as were within range (for the roads packed with traffic north of Solesmes I could not reach)and soon had wagons galloping in all directions as our shells got in amongst them. Shells are the most convincing sign of argument, movement on the roads became less and gradually died away almost altogether. So I left 3 guns , laid on the 3 most likely plans to deal with such single wagons as tried to get along and turned the rest onto little groups of infantry moving about on the high ground left of Amerval and spent a long time sniping everything I saw, chasing them into cover and then out of it and away back or forward, which ever gave the best chance of escape.Retaliation was warming up. An 8 inch battery was steadily shelling a big farm about 200 yards on our right, 2 shells at a time, with direct action fuses. We had to lie close each time and the splinters flew by with plenty of life in them, one weighing about 2 lbs hit the earth between Sergeant Tot's arm and his body and cut his coat a bit. A near thing which made us careful. The whole slope we were on was being persistently searched by whizz bangs, some coming unpleasantly near but I was convinced we hadn't been seen and determined we should not be.
Runners were passing to and fro occasionally, quite enough to account for the shelling, and when the telephone wire was cut, which happened twice, I sent a signaller back, crawling on his stomach, in a wide detour ,to mend it, so as not to give the place away. The second time I sent him I told him to go back to the battery and get some sandwiches and whisky. About 11 o'clock I saw a flash come out of a hedge, behind the road from Neuvilly to Solesmes and, presently, another, followed by a regular succession of them. Evidently a section of a Hun battery -couldn't actually see the guns , which were behind the hedge, but I got the place marked down to a yard, got all the guns on and proceeded to register each gun in turn, putting 3 of my guns on each of the Huns. lt was very easy registration, 5000 odd yards range and when I'd got all the guns registered I fired every round of HE we'd got in the battery at them, over 400. In some ways it was disappointing, each shell could be seen and they all fell well into the position but no ammunition went up and the only visible result was one detachment rushing for cover, quite early on, and presently a mounted orderly galloping off back, presumably for teams but I knew they could never get away in daylight and not unnaturally they never fired again that day or after. I think we must have done some damage, but it was impossible to tell and I never had the chance afterwards to go and see. The Battery reported a shortage of ammunition so I told them to get up 12 more loads. This they did all right but I never found, out where they got them from. Tim evidently had things well in hand and the people behind must have done some good work pushing stuff up.
Lunch arrived and we spent the entire afternoon shooting all the time and always at movement, sniping odd parties of Huns and chasing ammunition wagons along the roads. They must have been badly short of both ammunition and tracks to take it along or they would have never run the risks they ran in using roads on which we had such perfect observation. My eyes got tired out and I handed the shooting over to Sergeant Tot who had the time of his life. About 3 o'clock there was a terrific explosion some miles due north of us, either a dump or a road junction being blown up. So evidently Huns were still there and still had an exposed flank. This explosion was followed by a most curious smoke effect. An enormous cloud of grey smoke rose straight up in the air, gradually assuming the shape of a puff ball living with movement, keeping perfect shape, continuously turning itself inside out, streams of smoke emerging from the top, trickling round the sides and into the centre again at the bottom, in endless procession. lt rose like some great live thing straight up in the air, passing right through a belt of clouds and coming out on top. It must have risen quite 10,000 feet and was still visible an hour after, laying in the air painted red one side by the setting sun. As the light failed I decided to come in. Shelling had died down and we looked like having a nice peaceful walk home when suddenly 2.8 inch shells with instantaneous fuses dropped about 100 yards in front of us, simply filling the air with splinters, followed by 2 more, about 50 yards behind. This was extraordinarily unpleasant - personally I'd never met such big shells with instantaneous fuses and I didn't like it and couldn't understand it for I was sure we'd not given the place away and there was no movement to be seen to account for it. 2 more came, dropping short again, and I decided to run for it, after the next 2, as our job was finished and there was no good in staying - They came all right dropping about 100 yards over, the splinters were simply damnable.
We got up and ran like rabbits, immediately seeing the cause of it all - a whole battalion advancing in open order over the crest and coming towards us. 2 more fell just behind us as we ran but no-one was hit. Having passed the danger zone we slowed down, I for my part feeling rather ignominious, having run away as hard as my legs would carry me from shell fire which this unfortunate battalion had apparently got to walk right into the middle of. They never hesitated, marching coolly on. I exchanged good evenings with their officers as we passed and watched them pass on. They deployed rather more to avoid the worst part of the zone and the shelling did not follow them, walking on in much the same pace, round my OP. I wouldn't have been a Company Commander there for a good deal but so far as I could see they got through without a single casualty. The Hun observation must have been extraordinarily bad as they were in full view on a forward crest and a priceless target, not often to be picked up by a heavy battery. Arrived at the Battery. I found the explanation of the Battalion I had met. We were to fire a creeping barrage in half an hour to support an attack by our 3rd Brigade (passing through) on the high ground the other side of the river. Poor devils, a bad day for them, after advancing 6 miles to do a heavy attack on a strongly held, extremely strong natural position. I worked out the orders and left H to carry on the firing. The Artillery put up a good show, a battery of 60 pounders and 3 brigades of field artillery had just arrived and joined in the barrage within 15 minutes of getting into action, just as it was getting dusk.
As soon as there was time to talk I heard the news of the day. They had had a dirty time in the battery and all the other batteries. 8 inch all day and all over the place. We were lucky and had no casualties but poor Old Mac had been wounded, a splinter in the head, not very serious. He had gone back quite happy. There had been a good many casualties amongst the men besides. However, there was nothing to do but get settled in for the night as quickly as possible as it was beginning to drizzle. The safe side of the chalk pit had all been bagged by the infantry and was also being used as a rear dressing station so that was out of the question. I found the servants digging a hole in the side facing the Hun. I was very angry but it didn’t do any good and we had to make the best of a bad job. We all turned to and got a flat space about 6 ft by 8 ft on the chalk, sides about 4 ft deep at the back, stretched a sheet over and lay down to eat a bit of dinner. Dinner didn't appear which made me cross and going out I found our faithful cook with a cut and bleeding face, standing over a miserable object in still worse condition which turned out to be our other servant. I asked why the devil dinner wasn't ready and he looked up with a cheerful smile and said "Me and him we had a bit of a argument, sir". I suppose I looked angry for he added "All quite friendly like, Sir, just a bit of an argument. 1 couldn’t help laughing and left it at that and presently dinner turned up and wasn't so bad under the ? soup, fried steak and onion and toasted cheese - especially considering that the cook had had a 'bit of an argument' quite funnily with H's servant, resulting in both of them looking as if they had been dragged face downwards behind a lorry. However both were as cheerful as be damned and it only made dinner half an hour late.
I turned in directly after dinner, pretty tired, but was soon disturbed. A Hun 8 inch battery opened up with salvoes of 2. You could hear them coming, whispering at first, gradually rising to a crescendo chord as they whizzed right over us, falling round about the sugar refinery, quite 300 yards behind us. But it was a still evening and the row they made was perfectly appalling .It sounded as if each one had fallen right into the middle of the factory and had instantly not only smashed the whole place to atoms but set off dozens of other 8 inch shells, all going off like thunderclaps inside the quarry. lt must have been a freak of echo but it had its moral effect and made me think what a beastly thing war was and what a fool I was to have allowed them to dig the mess the wrong side of the quarry. Presently gas shells started dropping with their familiar dull leaden plop-plop-plop. So I got up to have a look. They were falling about 200 yards to a flank away from the battery and what wind there was blew the stuff away. About this time we got a message that the attack had been a failure and the wounded coming back reported very heavy casualties so I told off H to go up to the 0P at dawn and turned in, eventually falling asleep to the combined tune of 8 inch crashes in the Sugar Factory and gas shells falling just outside. I woke up once with the sound of the whizz and plop of a gas shell in my ears and the earth from it threw up, falling all over our waterproof cover. I put on my mask and woke the others but we were lucky. The wind served well and eventually I fell asleep and slept well.
Up fairly late – 9.0 a.m feeling much refreshed. H at OP reported all quiet and the mist prevented seeing anything. About 11.0 ‘1’ rang me up on the phone from Brigade, which we got going early, telling me I was posted to C as Major to replace poor Old Mac so I went to see him and found him just moving out of an empty cottage he'd spent the night in to luxurious quarters in a huge house in the middle of Inchy full of women and children who all lived in the cellars. So he was going to trust to Providence and occupy the remainder of the house with a bedroom complete with every imaginable fitting for himself. The Huns had only put a few shells right in the village so far but the whole place was within easy range and the eastern exits were being persistently harassed with whizz bags.I arranged to take over the cottage he was leaving, which had a good cellar as a mess and he told me the battery was fairly near. He told me that yesterday morning Mac, before he was wounded, had run a gun forward and taken on the battery that had shelled me, from a flank, just as I was coming into action, and put it out of action, a very good bit of work. I went on to C Battery, finding them quite 3/4 of a mile from my cottage and close to the crossroads. I didn't like the position, too near the roads ,but the batteries that came in late the night before had taken up all the available ground and there was no alternative but to stay, going forward being out of the question. I spent the day settling in. There wasn't much shell fire but occasional harassing by whizz bangs, sprayed indiscriminately all round, made us take cover, hastily when they came. War of movement had evidently stopped for the moment. We held about half of Neuvilly but the river, with the high ground the other side, made a tough proposition.
In the Battery were the same trio I had been subalterns with a month ago. I arranged for one of them to sleep at the, battery, got a telephone wire back to my house and went back there for dinner with Fergie. Just before dinner a shell dropped just outside, very close, an HV, then another. The road was in absolute enfilade and F and I looked at one another with mutual thoughts of the cellar. A third very close decided us and we made for it. The entrance was in the passage just opposite the front door and as we reached it a shell fell in the road outside and simultaneously a man fell with a thud and a grunt through the door and lay there. We pulled him down and found he’d got a splinter in his back, not bad at all. I found I knew him. He was poor old Allan's groom, before he was killed 2 years ago. We patched him up and, the shelling having died down, sent him on his way rejoicing toa dressing station there was quite close. Then the telephone buzzed. It was '’1’ asking me to come along to his chateau to dinner so I hurried apprehensively through the straffed area and joined them in their palace? in the middle of the village. They had a tremendous spread laid out in a fine great lofty room. 7 courses with Champagne, Burgundy and Old Brandy, come from heaven knows where, and we had a great binge. There was a piano and we danced and sang and drank till about 11 when I thought it about time to be getting back.
Just as I was starting the devils started shelling round my house again. l waited for a lull and then ran for it, diving like a rabbit into the cellar very glad to feel safe. All the telephone wires were cut so I had to turn out some signallers to get them going and then turned in and slept on a stretcher on the floor. About 1.0. an orderly appeared with complicated orders for an attack on the high ground the other side of the river, to take place at 5.30.a.m.So I got up and worked my own orders out. It took me over an hour and just as I'd finished I found I'd taken the wrong battery position and had to do the whole lot again. I finished about 3.30. and then had to turn F out (he had been peaceably sleeping at my side) to go up to the Battery and fire the creeping barrage. lt was evidently going to be a nuisance, being so far from the battery but was worth some discomfort to have a roof over ones head and a cellar to sleep in.
The attack was a complete failure with heavy casualties and our infantry were back in Neuvilly. The weather fine but misty and no movement to be seen from OP. During the day I got orders to reconnoitre a forward position with a view to another attack. I went with F to do this and found nothing but a shallow valley on the forward slope which just gave enough cover to conceal guns but no flash cover and the way there was over the top of the crest in full view of the enemy. They didn't snipe us but you could only get the battery in during darkness. However I marked the place out. As usual harassing whizz bang fire was sprayed all over the battery position area at intervals during the day. They generally got someone but we've had no casualties yet. We were doing just the same thing to them, firing all night, about 300 rounds.
Another quiet day. I handed over my A Battery accounts to my successor there. During the night the men's bivouacs round the battery were shelled a lot. I had a look at them and several of the pits had been missed by yards only. The men were perfectly happy there but all that shelling was meant for the road and I began to think it would be sounder to move right away if I could find another position.
Another quiet day. Usual shelling at night and they dropped a few near our house too. It was curious that the HHun did not shell Inchy more.He shelled the eastern and western outskirts pretty consistently and at internals of an hour or so put one shell over into the village. lt began to look as if he was just beginning to be a little frightened and minding his manners a bit without being able really to behave like a gentleman. Of course he must have known that the place was full of civilians. One of those odd shells the day before had landed in the yard outside Brigade HQrs and killed one child and wounded a lot more who were playing there and I heard that during the morning Gus was sitting in his mess when the next house was blown to bits with a shell in the middle of it. In the aft. I went to the Wagon line and found Fergie, now my capt, bad with flu and about 20 of the battery had it too.
The Huns gas shelled our end of the village last night. No casualties but it made me hop down into the cellar pretty quick from the upstairs room which had tempted me to sleep in it on account of the bed there was there. In the morning I had a serious look for a new position. I was getting tired of the long walk from the battery and as I was now reduced to 2 officers it made harder work for them. I found 2 positions, one off a road to the left, not enfiladed, just flash cover , and a nice 6 ft bank to dig into for bivouac. The other lower down the little valley I found 2 days ago. No cover at all there. I decided to go there in order to get sufficient range and it would be a question of digging holes in the ground to sleep in. I went to Wagon line in afternoon, found 10 more cases of flu. F had gone on leave with flu still bad. The General appeared and promised help with reinforcements. Got 2000 rounds sent to new position.
They gassed us again during the night but not badly. In the morning received definite orders to move to forward positions by midday tomorrow so went up in afternoon to show everyone the position. It was raining hard (all day)and very miserable. Arriving at the new position I found a group of strange officers right in the middle of my position. We talked rather stickily as I knew well enough what they wanted i.e. to bag my position. lt was the 21st Artillery. They were moving forward too. I told them it was my position but they seemed to think they had been allotted the area. We left it at that arranging to settle the matter by referring it to our respective Brigades.
Move cancelled. I couldn't get a decision on the point of my position so went up to meet my opponents on the ground in dispute. They produced their Colonel which made it heavy odds against me and he put up his Major, (a heavy browed old fellow) whom I remembered taking over a position from before the Somme show in 16, to argue it out who claimed my actual site. We were but distantly polite and I made as much as I could of the fact that I'd already got 3000 rounds on the position. However, couldn’t get round the fact that it really was in the area allotted to them by the Corps, which I hadn't known when I went there first, and finally the Colonel, who was a really good fellow, gave his Major the option of going to my alternative position 400 yards further back or taking over the forward position with my ammunition and carting 3000 rounds up to the rear position for me. He chose the forward position and we parted, not exactly friends, but I think with enhanced mutual respect. It had been raining again all day and I went back to get a working party on with digging in my new position which I quite liked as the bank of the road behind made such good cover for digging into. The only grouse was that a 6 inch how battery were moving in on my left with less flash cover than me. I was a little afraid they'd draw fire. As it was I could stand 50 yards behind No 1 gun's position and see to register on the Aerodrome behind Neuvilly. All afternoon dug shelters for the men, a little shelling in front and behind but nothing right in us. Slept in the old house for last time. Marshall had a mess just behind my house and I dined with him, talking over old times far into the night.
Got teams up by 8 o'clock and moved forward to the new position. Fortunately there was a heavy mist so we could get over the crest without being seen. I was very glad to get clear of the old position. We'd been very lucky there, every night shells dropped right in amongst the guns and bivouacs but we had no casualties. Spent all the day digging in and registering the battery. Visibility was too bad to get any sniping of movement. We made a very fine mess dug in the bank with ammunition boxes for the back wall and a fine gable roof with a big tarpaulin on top and just got it completed as it came on to rain like the devil, and kept on all night. The mess stood it all right. The soup at dinner was rather watery from rain picked up en route from the cook house but we slept well, disturbed only by lorries, which passed almost on top of us bringing up ammunition to the 6 inch people and frequent deliveries of ammunition to us from the Battery we quarrelled with. Their Major was short but he certainly played the game. During the night a shell dropped into the 6" How ammunition and sent it up with a great blaze.
The harassing fire last night fell well away from us and it had stopped raining so morale rose with the sun - A hundred yards up the road the Battalion we are supporting had their Head Quarters, including a place with a tin roof and wire beds, made by the sappers, a most luxurious place. I had lunch with them and the CO told me that the attack was to take place next morning. After lunch I rode down to the wagon lines where they were bivouacing in the open as usual, and found more cases of flu and work very difficult to carry on. Returning after dinner, orders came in for the attack. Zero hour 2.0 a.m.' The orderly officer to come round and check the time at 10 o'clock so as not to give the attack away by the Huns listening in on the wires. I worked out our orders and about 10 Old King came round very cheery with his watch, gave us the time, had a drink and departed on his mission. In less than an hour ‘1’rang me up from Brigade and told me that poor Old K had run into a 5.9 just outside Inchy and was very badly hit , arms and thighs broken and hit in the head too. He was very cheery and plucky but they feared he was done for. Orders were for a frontal attack on all the high ground the other side of the river, with final objective 3000 yards back. Battery commanders to go forward as soon as the situation permitted to reconnoitre the Bridges the Sappers were throwing across the river during the night for tanks and guns - a pretty sticky job for the sappers as the river was the front line at present. The whole show looked like being sticky as the position was a very strong one indeed and the Huns had had lots of time to dig themselves well in and put up wire. Turned in at midnight to get as much sleep as possible.
Barrage opened at 2.0.a.m. A good deal of retaliation at first and the heavies on our left got some shells right into them and some of their ammunition went up with a great flare. There was a thick mist and you couldn't see an inch .The first news came through about 7.0. that 1st objective had been gained all along the line, so at 8.0, when our barrage was finished, I went forward with S to reconnoitre. Easy going at first but, as we got near the river, it was nasty. The mist prevented seeing anything. Shells were falling in and all round Neuvilly and right in front High Velocity shells kept on whipping in. As one couldn't see where they were falling one couldn't satisfy one's craving choosing what one felt was the safest route. I didn't like it a bit but there was nothing to do but go on and, presently, I made out the river and followed a tank that was ploughing its way through the marshy ground and evidently making for a bridge. The Huns hadn't found the bridge, anyhow the shells were falling right over and well short. We watched the tank over. He did it very well. The bridge, of iron girders, was just broad enough to take him with a slope down a sticky bank, then a bend right on the bridge, and another the other side and up the bank there. He just slipped down the bank, stopped, altered direction, slid over the bridge, not an inch to spare anywhere, stopped again to change direction and then up the muddy slope and he disappeared into the mist, again seeming to move by some invincible power, perfectly under control and uncanny to watch. I found from the Infantry that they were hung up on the 2nd objective so, as there didn't seem much chance of getting forward at once, and I had got all the information I wanted about the bridge, I returned to the battery and found orders that we were not to move forward till ordered but that the 2nd objective was gained, a very fine bit of work by the infantry. I was definitely ordered not to move but await further orders. At 4 o'clock had orders to rebombard the 3rd objective but information was very meagre as to what had happened on our right and left. The Infantry had moved out of their comfy HQ so I took them over and we dined and slept in peace with no shells near us, having arranged for all the horses to be up in the morning in case of a move. Later ‘1’ rang me up and told me poor old K had died of his wounds.
Orders came in that we were to reconnoitre new positions the other side of the river but not to move forward till ordered. I rode straight across country over the bridge I found yesterday up onto the high ground the other side. A few shells were falling but nothing bad. It was obvious that the taking of the high ground had been a magnificent piece of work. Just the other side of the river was a well concealed trench with wire in front and it was full of dead Huns. The slopes of the hill were covered with wire and the railway had been dug into and consolidated. Farther up and near the top was a sunken road with wire in front and machine gun posts dug in all along. It was a horrible sight - quite 150 Hun dead lay around, all bayoneted. There were very few of our dead. How our fellows had ever got there to do it was more than I could understand. They could have never done it in daylight as the field for machine-gun fire was perfect. But having got there they had made no mistakes. In the sunken road it was just the same, each machine gun pit was full of dead, bayoneted where they had served the guns. There was no mistaking that we had won a real victory this time, everywhere were signs that the Huns meant to stay. He had even begun to dig deep dugouts in places and proper communication trenches, whilst the amount of wire was astounding ,considering the comparatively short time he had had to get it out. He meant to stay and give battle and he had a magnificent defensive position with the Selle river in front of him, 6 ft deep in places and everywhere necessary to bridge.
We undoubtedly took him by surprise but that didn't detract in the least from the splendid performance of our infantry. lt was the best thing I had ever seen them do and for the first time since August I had the feeling as I looked around that we had driven the Huns from a position they had intended to hold at all costs. Voluntary withdrawal doesn't leave 200 dead lying on a forward slope with good trenches, well concealed behind and good wire in front. I dismounted behind the top of the crest and walked on as they were shelling the ridge and, after looking round for a bit, found a place from which there was a good view of the country in front. Visibility wasn't good, but Ovillers held by the Hun was visible and Forest ,more on the right was being shelled pretty heavily. I found an infantry officer who told me where the front line was and as the visibility improved I could see little parties of Huns moving about, quite unmolested. lt was annoying not to have the battery up to snipe them but I was doing no good so wrote C79 OP in large letters all over the MG post I was in, told Sergeant Jessup, whom I had with me, to get a telephone wire up to it as soon as the battery came up and we returned to selecting a new battery position en route and rode back as fast as we could. I found, on return ,that we were ordered not to go forward till 2 o'clock so ate a bit of lunch and then rode forward again with Battery Staff and some some telephone wire leaving S to bring the Battery on – all plain sailing until the bridge was crossed but after that the very devil - no road and a very steep uphill climb over ploughed fields, the railway to cross and then another ploughed field.
Arrived at the selected position. I found other batteries claiming sites all round me. I got my party to work with salvaged Hun spades, digging a mess and a telephone pit in the bank. Just as the battery came up the Huns started shelling and they had a rough passage. Two drivers were hit but all the guns got up all right with double teams, very heavy pulling and the teams got clear away. Then it started raining but we got our cover over the mess, in time. ? ? shelling round us and in amongst us, continual crashes very adjacent but we were lucky and had no casualties and slept in comparative peace. Neuvilly, just on our right, being heavily shelled all night and gassed. I heard that my old friend, Corporal Thorpe had been killed, just on our right, during the evening.
Shelling not quite as heavy. Registered the battery in the morning on Ovillers , lunched at Brigade in a comfortable house near the watermill at Neuvilly and found
that we were to attack again in the morning with Ovillers as the principal objective.
Orders came in about 7.0 p.m, the attack to be at 2.0.a.m, and we were to move forward as soon as situation permitted. During the day we got ammunition up to 2000 rounds at the battery for the barrage. Heaven knows where it came from and with no Officer in the wagon line a very good piece of work, the Sergeant Major getting it up through the appallingly heavy going. Late at night a leave warrant came through for N. I had to let him go but it left me with only one officer in the battery besides myself. Ordered all teams and wagons to be up at the Battery by 8. 0.a.m.
Opened up barrage at 2.0 a.m. and fired till 8.0.a.m. A good deal of retaliation at first but it soon died down and about 7 o'clock I went forward on foot and found that the Huns had been driven well back and that there was every prospect of a forward move. So returned and found a message giving me a map location to go to just behind Ovillers. There to await orders. Teams were up so got on a horse and trotted forward again with my Battery staff, leaving the battery to come on with S as soon as they had finished the barrage. lt was easy going straight across country at first and eventually I struck a road that served and arrived at the position given by 9.30, some 2 miles forward. There I found a group of vacated Hun battery positions and a nasty mess they were in. They had been almost obliterated by our shell fire. In addition they had been heavily gas shelled by us and the remaining smell was so bad as to make it out of the question for us to use what were left ? ? there had been 3 batteries close together and they had been distributed 2 on the edge of a turnip field and one in the middle of a hedge, enclosing some grazing ground .The Huns had been at immense pains to conceal themselves. All the dug outs had been dug about 6 feet deep in the turnip field, covered over with doors and shutters from the houses of the village, the whole camouflaged with turnips replanted on the roofs and the effect was so good that even from a few yards away it was impossible to see that they were dug outs. In fact it was only the gun pits that were at all obvious. Most of the dug outs I didn't see at all until the battery came up and the men found them. But all this trouble had ? them nothing. The position had been plastered with shell fire. It was a monument to the efficiency of the RAF. I suppose their flashes had given them away. We have been shelled but nothing like this ? ? and again I thanked the powers that be that 1 was not a Hun gunner.
The battery arrived in about an hour’s time, the water cart and cook’s cart with them. Got them into action, awaited some orders. We were not advance guard as I had not been ordered into immediate support. Hours passed and nothing happened. Ovillers in front was persistently shelled by the Huns and a few shells fell near, but none right into us. By 3 o'clock I began to get anxious and got on my horse to go and try and find where the other batteries were. After an hour’s search I found them about a mile and a half on the right. It began to look as if I had got into the wrong place. I sent a message to Brigade saying where I was and returned. About 5 o'clock the adjutant came round and I found that the wrong map location had been given over the telephone. lt was late to move again and I decided to stay where I was, as we were expected to have to fire a barrage shortly, which I could easily do from where I was. The exact location of our infantry was unknown and the situation seemed to be getting rather out of hand. At 6 o’clock an orderly came from Brigade, who had established themselves in. The adjutant told me HQs were moving to Ovillers. He didn't know exactly where but would let me know later if he could ? ? Ovillers, with orders for me to proceed at once to a position in front of Vendegies and be prepared to fire a barrage from there at 2.0.a.m. It looked pretty hopeless , it was inky dark.
The only road near me had been blown up by a mine (I had sent S to reconnoitre it) and the prospect of taking successfully the battery forward 3 miles, starting in darkness across country and then along unreconnoitred roads and finally firing a barrage, seemed, to me very remote. Added to this, according to the little information I had gleaned from the infantry, the position I was ordered to was beyond our existing front line and this was confirmed by the remaining velocity of such shells as fell anywhere near us. I thought it over very despondently. I had only one officer besides myself and, finally, I came to the conclusion that I could do no possible good by going forward before dark and that I would stay where I was and risk the consequences, relying on the facts of the case to justify my disobeying orders, but I wasn't at all happy. Then a lucky thing happened, a stray figure emerged from the darkness and asked us if we were artillery. He had been sent out by his Colonel he said (of a ? brigade) to warn all artillery units that the orders for a forward move were a mistake and were cancelled. I felt very greatly relieved, but not happy, so as he said he knew the way I went off with him, taking 2 signallers with me to find his Colonel. After wandering round for half an hour in the darkness we found the battery he came from. I dug out the Major and he confirmed the news and, better still, told me that one of his signallers knew where our Brigade Headquarters were, so I sent my fellows out with him with orders to find Brigade and return to my battery, and returned myself.In about an hour my signallers returned, heaven knows how they found the way, and I decided that the only thing to do was to find Brigade myself and get something definite.
So off we set and eventually found them about 11 o'clock in a broken down house in Ovillers, all asleep and very tired. It seemed that the orders for the forward move had been given under a misapprehension and had been cancelled only after the other 3 batteries had started as they had parked somewhere the other side of the village. One of them had never got the cancelling order and had gone on along the road in the dark until a Hun machine gun had opened up on him. He got back all right but I wasn’t sorry I hadn't moved. The intention was to fire a barrage at 2.45 a.m. but definite orders hadn't been received. In any case I was to be prepared to move forward at dawn. I returned to the battery, ate a bit of dinner, and at midnight an orderly appeared with the orders to barrage at 2.45.a.m. and then move forward to the other side of Ovillers. S had had no sleep the night before so I worked out the barrage orders. All the horses were with us so I gave them orders to be ready harnessed up by 4.0 a.m. and by the time this was done it was time to open fire.
There was practically no retaliation. We fired for an hour and a half and then waited for sufficient light to move forward by. The place at which we started the creeping barrage was well our side of the position I had been ordered into earlier in the night, sufficient justification I hoped for my deciding to stay where I was. Things looked better with the growing light and I felt more cheerful than last night, which I had found more than a little trying. As soon as it was light enough to keep clear of shell holes and wire, I rode off ,at the head of the battery for once, at first straight across country to the Ovillers road, passing on the way several abandoned Hun guns which cheered us up a lot. The village seen by daylight was a pathetic sight. 2 days before it had been quite untouched, now nearly every house was hit. A good few civilians were about even at that early hour, but they were not cheery or enthusiastic. It was hardly to be expected for shells were still falling just beyond, along the road we were taking, and the day before they had all been in the middle of the battle. They looked scared, dirty and worn out and it was not surprising. About half a mile along the road to Vendegies I came across the other batteries of the Brigade in orchards just off the road , where they had stopped during the night so, as the position was very uncertain,
I turned into a likely looking orchard, drew up alongside the hedge, and sent the horses back to water in the village. Whizz bangs, fired at long range, kept falling, too near to be pleasant, several in the next field and a few went over our heads dropping the other side of the road. The position was very obscure and it was not easy to get any information at all. For one thing the character of the country beyond Ovillers was entirely different from anything we had struck before. Instead of open treeless country and rolling uplands, from which it was always easy to see well in front, we now found ourselves amongst small fields and orchards, all with hedges and well timbered, so much so that the country in front looked in the distance like a great forest. The leaves were still on and an army corps could have been concealed within 2 miles of us without our being any the wiser, a very difficult country indeed for close fighting or, for that matter, fighting of any sort. Shells were falling heavily about a mile on our right front, and about 10 o'clock further south and out of sight some big battle opened up with a terrific cannonade but whether we were attacking them, or the Hun attacking us, no-one had the least idea.
‘1' came round about 11. He had had no orders but pushed on to Vendigies to try and find out something for himself. He soon returned and told us the front line was quite uncertain and that we were to remain where we were for the present, but would probably move on again during the day. We were not advance guard as our infantry were not doing the attack, the 21st had that job and were in action somewhere well in front of Vendegies. I had the mess cart up and S and I lunched on Bully Beef and whisky and soda. Directly after lunch we got some direct and comprehensive orders at last, to reconnoitre positions in the orchards the other side of Vendegies at once and get into action there as soon as possible and probably fire a barrage about 5 o'clock. I went on with the staff and Sergeant Jessup, over the stream bridged by the sappers into Vendegies which was full of civilians, who seemed very cheery in spite of the fact that the place had been heavily gassed during the night and was pretty badly knocked about. In particular the church tower had been completely blown to pieces by the Huns, blowing half one side of the church away with it, hard to justify as it would have been no good to us as an OP. The other side of the village was all dense apple orchards and a few shells were falling there but nothing heavy. Just past the orchards I dismounted and went along up to the crest in front of me. There I found a battalion of infantry in reserve, dug into a sunken road that ran right along the top of the crest and from just in front of it I found a really splendid view of the country in front.
Immediately in front was a deep valley. On the high ground to the right was Poix Du Nord, surrounded by orchards. Beyond black and dense was the Forest de Mormal with Englefontaine just visible through the trees on the near edge of it. Far away to the left, just visible, sticking through the trees was a domed tower. I took a compass bearing to it and made it out to be Le Quesnoy church. People were moving about quite freely in the open where we were without being fired at so evidently the Hun artillery was getting pretty disorganised again. I had found an OP good enough for anything so didn't wait long, but looked round for a battery position. I found some shallow dugouts in an orchard to the left of the road with a nice field close to, easy to get into and only 500 yards behind the OP. The dug outs had a few of our dead lying by them but were 2 ft deep and quite good enough to sleep in, so decided to stay there and sent back for the Battery. It came up, but not quickly. Influenza and casualties had reduced us to being 65 men short which made it very difficult to carry on and S and I were beginning to feel the strain a bit of having to do all the work between us. Just as the battery arrived I got orders to fire a barrage on the high ground beyond Poix Du Nord at 5 o'clock, creeping on to beyond Englefontaine.
So I worked out the orders and hurried up to the OP and just managed, to get a few shots in to register, before the barrage was fired. I got a good view of the whole show. One 21st div. battery had got up into action on the slope beyond the OP, quite 2000 yards in front of my position, a pretty good bit of work, and shells were dropping all round him. I saw the Infantry go over the crest beyond Poix Du Nord which also was being heavily shelled. The shelling along the whole front was much heavier than I had expected and, considering the speed with which we had pushed them back, even if their observation wasn't good, the Huns had got their artillery organised for defence very quickly. Our barrage was quite good and having watched it disappear beyond the top of the farthest crest I returned to the battery as it was getting dark. A few shells were falling scattered round amongst the orchards so we hurried on with getting a cover over the pit I had selected for the mess, and settled in. One whizzbang dropped very close, covering our shelter with earth and two dropped into the battery just missing the guns, but no casualties. Intermittent shelling kept on all the night but after the experience of night before, we both slept like tops, after eating a good dinner. Our mess cook never once failed us.
a beautiful morning. Didn't get up till 8.30 and found everything perfectly peaceful and quiet. About 9 o'clock messages came in. We had taken Englefontaine during the night but hadn't extended the front on the left. I had to go forward and reconnoitre a more advanced position which wasn’t surprising as I was quite 4000 yards from the front-line but I sent a message back that I couldn't guarantee to carry on indefinitely – 3 officers and 65 men deficient. I went forward on foot with my friend Sergeant Jessup, who came as always smiling with pleasure at the prospect of going forward. One of a
wonderful type, always at their best in action, brave, cheerful, self-sacrificing, reliable, literally to the point of death, the most ? of companions for enterprises like these, more use than 9 officers out of 10, yet so often spoilt when made officers themselves. As we went up the road we met civilians coming along - old men,women and children, wild-eyed, dirty, terror-stricken, cowering at the sound of every gun that went off. They were dragging hand-carts, wheel barrows and even an old ? and cart too, loaded high with what they had been able to dig from their homes. It was a dreadful sight. Dead soldiers don't move one to pity. Hundreds of dead leave one cold. This was a tragedy of a different sort. They had come from Salesches, just behind the front line. It had been gas shelled for 2 days. Then they had been dug out of their cellars by our people who were hurrying them back to safety.
We passed the OP and going down into the valley halted for a bit to choose the way. Poix Du Nord was being heavily shelled and whizz bangs and gas shells were falling pretty freely in the orchards to the left where we wanted to go and in the bottom of the valley in front. We made a bit of a detour, pushed across the valley, forded the stream and hurried through the straafed area and, taking a breather the other side, found ourselves near the forward battery I had seen firing the night before. Noticing the Major I went to ask him what it was like in front and found the man with whom I had so hotly disputed possession of my position behind Neuvilly. He was more than civil , he was damned nice, and suggested walking forward with me, as he said he knew the way very well to a place where there was quite a decent position. So we went on together about half a mile and he showed me a series of nice little hollows in the ground, clear of where most of the shelling was and then left me feeling very kindly disposed towards him. I soon found a nice place in the hedge of a little orchard just off the road with a good bank behind and quite near by an old brickyard with a deep Hun machine gun pit in it, an ideal mess.
So I stuck up boards everywhere with the Battery number, written large, and returned home, not sorry to do so as the shelling just beyond us had been most vicious and nasty. We were just eating lunch when an orderly arrived with a blessed order, nothing less than Billeting Parties to set off at once to Clery, 15 miles back. Batteries to follow, marching as soon as possible for 2 days rest at least. Flu had brought us to it through shortage of men but it was none the less welcome, the first rest since August. I packed S off at once to find billets and sent for the teams, and we were on the road by 3 o’clock. We marched out with our tails well up. I was the only officer with the Battery but we were lucky and managed just to squeak past the transport of an Infantry Brigade halted on the roadside, risking court martials for passing them, but it saved us an hour at least in halts behind them. It was a long march but everyone was happy. We met nothing on the road. I only halted twice and got in by eight o'clock in the dark but the billets were good, a complete empty house with beds for us, beds for nearly all the men, a nice dry field for the horses and fine weather. We dined off a table, sitting on chairs 10 miles out of shell fire, slept the sleep of the just on comfortable French beds and, with the certainty of a peaceful tomorrow to sooth us, life seemed very good indeed.
Got up late and spent a quiet morning cleaning up. In the afternoon rode over with '1’ to call on a squadron of the RAF I had noticed at Bertry on the march last night. As usual they were very cheery and very hospitable but they were in an awful mess as they had only moved in the day before from some place miles back. I found that C, whom I wanted to see was commanding a wing quite close to us. We asked the Flight Commander, who had taken us under his protection, to dinner the next night and returned. An awful thing happened that night. Returning from Bde HQ in the dark I was carrying two bottles of port and 2 of whisky, our allotment for a fortnight, when I dropped and broke a bottle of each and had to confess to poor old S.
The village had become a pathetic sight. All the morning refugees poured in ,brought back by motor lorries from Englefontaine, the place we had been shelling ourselves 2 days before. It must have been awful for them. They had spent 2 days in the cellars of a village, the main street of which was practically the front line. Every night they had been gassed and all day shelled. Heaven knows how they had been evacuated, but they had been somehow. Old old men and women only just able to walk and young women and small children, each with their little bundle of what they had saved from their homes. Then they had been packed in motor lorries and whisked back 15 miles and deposited in a semi-occupied village with no reserve of civilian food at all. They sat in groups on their bundles in the streets looking pathetic, helpless and bewildered. During the morning I was writing in our mess when, without a word, a young woman in black came into the room, drew up a chair by my side and started writing a letter for all the world as if the place belonged to her. It certainly didn't belong to me. In fact I never heard who the owner of the house was, the whole position was rather strange but she behaved so naturally that it hardly seemed civil to ask her who she was and what she was doing. However I started talking to her and found she was a refugee just arrived from Englefontaine. She had found an empty room in the house and had occupied it with her 2 small children and her old father who presently joined us, equally at home. I could not help thinking of the comradeship of shipwrecked people in an open boat. I asked if they had anything to eat and she answered perfectly naturally ‘No, not for 12 hours' and she hadn't any money or any idea where they were going to get things from. There was only one thing to do and very soon the entente was once again cemented. They were established in our kitchen, eating our bread and jam and drinking tea with our servants, talking the mysterious language that always worked such wonders, a mixture of smiles, ‘No Bon’ ‘Na Poo’ and gestures, everyone perfectly contented. The union was a happy one and our cooking perceptibly improved from that time on.
During the morning I found from the Town Major that the Army had taken over the job of feeding them all. It was beyond the power of the French as we controlled the railways and the country itself beyond the desolated area had been stripped of every bit of food by the Huns. Army rations was all there was for everybody. I rode over with ‘1’ to call on C. We found him in and lunched with him.There also I found P commanding one of his squadrons and asked him over to dine that night. We had a very cheery dinner at my mess - 2 gunners, 2 RAF - and we talked of war and our experiences. Whitler? of the scout squadron told us that when the Huns were retreating from Le Cateau, their roads behind were blocked with traffic for miles and miles and all the machines we had in the air came round like vultures to bomb them. After bombing them they dived down along the road, machine-gunning them. There was such a collection of machines, he added, all cruising round to dive and machine gun 'That I had to wait over 20 minutes for my turn'. He was really hurt because we laughed so much. P asked 'one’ and me to come over to lunch and fly the next day.
Rode over to lunch with P. He had a very comfy mess in a small chateau. After lunch I went up with him to have a look at the line, We flew up in an RE8 over Le Cateau, following the main road towards Englefontaine. It was very easy to pick out the country and I found our battery position quite easily, knowing where to look for it, but unless a flash had come from it no-one would have recognised it as a position. One curious feature, visible only from the air, was a line of things that looked like shell holes, deep holes with earth round them, spaced at intervals of 2-300 yards and continuing as far as you could see in each direction, running roughly north and south, the line passing about half way between Vendegies and Poix Du Nord, in fact just in front of my battery position. I knew what they were as I had used one of them for my OP, a circular hole about 8 feet in diameter and 10 feet deep with vertical sides and a start made with a timbered shaft running from the bottom. At the time it had struck me simply as a very superior machine-gun pit but the real significance was only visible from the air, where they appeared as a connected and continuous line of defence as far as the eye could see. There must have been hundreds of them. Again, this was convincing evidence of our victory over organised defence and of the fact that our advance would be held up if it could be. Our line was now well beyond that line of what ought to have been almost impregnable machine gun posts, for each one I saw then or after was most carefully sited and had a splendid field of fire. The labour of constructing such a system must have been immense. They were well constructed and excellently planned but they had not stopped us for 12 hours and I found it encouraging to think that the Huns were at bay. They had the will but not the power to stop us. I was still convinced the withdrawal on August 19th was intentional but the pace had become too hot. To begin with they dictated the speed. Tactically now we did and the evidence of it was things like this line of posts abandoned almost without a fight and the guns they had been forced to abandon. We were beginning to gather the real fruit of the Battle of the Selle river.
We flew right up to the edge of the forest over Englefontaine which was being heavily shelled. Visibility wasn't good but I could see enough of the forest Mormal to send cold shivers down my back when I thought of the prospect of fighting our way through it, which everything pointed to our having to do in a few days time. It was thick, dense, evil-looking and vast, extending further than it was possible to see. P flew me up and down the line several times, long enough for all these morose ideas to sink well into my mind. The shelling all along the line and, particularly in Englefontaine, was heavy and continuous but I couldn't see any flashes from the Hun guns, just puffs of smoke and clouds of brown dust in the air from the splinters leaving fresh brown patches of earth where before it had been green. There were no Huns visible in the air so I fired half a drum from my Lewis gun into the Hun lines for luck and we returned after a trip lasting about an hour and R sent us back in his luxurious car. Orders came in after dinner for us to return to action next day to be in action by night. We would march back rested but not reinforced., still only 2 officers in the battery and 70 men deficient.
I rode forward with W and my battery staff, across country all the way, a beautiful fine day and a pleasant ride, leaving S to bring the battery along the roads but sending the Mess cart and Cooks cart on early so as to have a hot meal ready when the battery arrived as the Staff, for reasons of their own, would not allow the Batteries on the roads till after 2 o'clock . We arrived without incident at the position and made what preparations were necessary for getting the guns in. In particular, I took a very accurate bearing of a distant telegraph pole which I intended hanging a lantern on later to be used as an aiming point when the battery arrived in the dark. That accomplished there was nothing to do but wait. There was no shelling near us so I went to look up Brigade HQ in a house in the village. My visit was not unconnected with the idea of tea and dinner and a rubber of bridge as they had got their transport up early. Half their house had been done in by a shell but what remained was sound. They had a fire and all my hopes were realised. We played about 4 rubbers, 2 other BCs, ‘1’ and myself completing the 4. During the evening Hindley turned up in a car from our CRA miles back, not in command at present, and explained the scheme of proposed operations - A frontal attack on Mormal Forest, followed by an advance due east, right through the centre of it. A sticky prospect and I'm afraid none of us liked the idea very much. The date apparently was not yet fixed, only’ soon'. H was extraordinarily optimistic, inspired thereto by the higher thought of the red tabbed world he lived in where optimism flourished, unexposed to the heavy ? of the neighbourhood of the front line. He was the exponent of the Bottle Neck theory, new to us, of cut lateral communications and no adequate avenue of escape. The Hun was beaten and the Corps Commander had laid heavy bets on peace in a week, there was no possible doubt of it.
Two shells whizzed in punctuating his last sentences, extraordinarily adjacent and H returned to the land of optimism in his car, leaving us in an atmosphere of shell smoke and entire unbelief. I too departed through the inky darkness of the village to await the arrival of the battery. Just as they arrived the Huns started shelling all round us with whizzbangs and it was anxious work getting them in but all the teams got away without casualties and I sent the man out with a lantern who had marked the telegraph post I had selected as an aiming point. When the guns were laid on it I had a look round and found they were all pointing slap at the mess so evidently my signaller had found the wrong post. Shelling started again in the direction of the posts but I had to send him out once more nevertheless as we had orders for night firing , He was a good lad and went off cheerfully enough and, after a long search, found the right pole and when all was well we opened harassing fire immediately.
The usual shelling all round us during the night, not heavy but enough to keep one guessing and wandering , meant I suppose for the road, but everyone got their share. I went up to the OP after breakfast and in spite of bad visibility managed to check my line on Futoy church spire which was a satisfaction. We were much too far back though and will certainly have to move up for the attack. On return I found orders to go forward and reconnoitre positions left of the railway – very annoying as the nice position I chose before was in the Zone allotted to another Brigade. lt had started raining heavily. I arranged to meet W and S and we did the reconnaisance together. Personally my morale was not high, the rain I suppose. We went along the railway which had been blown up at frequent intervals by huge 20 ft deep craters and the 2 bridges we passed were totally destroyed. Heavy stuff was dropping just on our right and the railway was shelled directly we got clear of it. The prospect was not inviting .We had the choice of a ploughed field, apparently not shelled much, with no road anywhere near, or an orchard near the road, which looked nice from a distance but which a closer inspection showed to be full of fresh shell holes, hundreds of them, not many hours old from the appearance of the earth. So the orchard was definitely ruled out in my mind. We wandered around in the rain looking for something better and found another ploughed field almost in view of the enemy but just possible and nearer the road. I decided on the first ploughed field and we returned making a wide detour as the railway was still being shelled. We were all very wet and agreed that the war was horrid. I had tea with W and a rubber of bridge in the bell tent he used as a mess at his battery, very comfy with 2 pits just the shape of graves about 2 feet deep and the bottoms covered with straw for sleeping in and sheltering from splinters when any shells came along. We reported to Brigade the positions selected and I returned to dine at home? finding a new subaltern at the battery making us 3 officers.
A quiet day, attack postponed, also forward move to new positions. Heard that Mac, who commanded this battery before me, had come back. Not a bad effort to return from England within 3 weeks of being wounded, however slight the wound. Usual harassing fire by us and Hun. We do all ours? day and night, the Hun fire was almost all at night so we got up our ammunition by daylight, a great comfort to all concerned.
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