101 page book, supplied as a PDF document on CD-ROM.
These brief notes of experiences with the guns for thirty-eight months in France were primarily penned for my own satisfaction. Friends who read the manuscript expressed much interest in it, and added the hope that it might be given a more permanent form. Hence it is that it is now printed for private circulation.
The story is a simple record of the fortunes of my own Battery and Brigade, and is intended as a tribute to the good comradeship which existed, under all conditions, among all ranks.
I. Breaking us in
II. Our First Battle
III. "Peace Warfare"
IV. In "the Salient"
V. On the Somme
VII. Ypres Again
IX. At Arras
X. March the 21st
XI. The Turn of the Tide
XII. Through the Hindenburg Line
Breaking Us In.
On a morning early in August, 1915, the Brigade disembarked at Havre without mishap to man, horse, or material, and proceeded to a Rest Camp on the outskirts of the town. We were in France at last! The same evening the Batteries started to entrain, and every two hours a complete unit was despatched up the line—to an unknown destination. The men received refreshments at various Haltes, and the horses were duly watered and fed, but the journey was, on the whole, long and tedious. On one occasion only was the monotony broken, and that unwittingly, by the humour of one of the officers. In the course of the evening, the train stopped at a small station, and the compartment in which the officers were settled drew up in front of the Buffet. Some one asked where we were, and a subaltern, anxious to display his newly-acquired knowledge of French, replied, "Bouvette," which called forth no response. Shortly afterwards the train proceeded on its way, and the occupants of the carriage settled themselves down to sleep. All passed quietly for the next couple of hours—then the train stopped once more, and, as luck would have it, again our carriage came to a standstill directly opposite the buffet of the station. At once a question was asked as to our whereabouts. The same subaltern, shaking himself out of a deep slumber, stretched, roused himself, and, peering out of the window, exclaimed, "Good Lor', still at this beastly hole, 'Bouvette'!" He expressed much surprise at the "unseemly mirth," as he described it, which followed!!
After detraining, the Battery marched through beautiful country, which reminded one of the Borders, as it was not unlike the valley of the Tweed, and we were at once taken to the hearts of the inhabitants of the good village of Seningham, which place was destined to be our home for the next few days. The officers were afforded spacious accommodation in the house of the Maire, whilst the men had comfortable billets in the neighbourhood. Time was spent making our unit shipshape after its travels by land and sea, and the "hairies" obtained as much grazing as possible, to make them fit for what was in store for them. It was wonderful how quickly the men adapted themselves to French ways, and much amusement was caused by their eager, if somewhat unsuccessful, attempts to master the language of our Allies.
When it became known that the officers were anxious to increase their knowledge of the language of the country, the maidens of the village vied with one another to obtain posts as instructresses, and there was nearly a free fight amongst them for the possession of our worthy Senior Subaltern, whose taking ways did not fail to catch their attention!
But, alas! our peaceful warfare was not to be for long! One morning sudden orders came through to prepare for the line in a couple of days' time. All was instant bustle, extra grooming was given to the horses, and finishing touches were put to the howitzers and vehicles. We were to be given a trial in action to show how we would comport ourselves before joining the "Feet" of our own Division, the Guards, who at that time were out at rest. For this purpose we were to be placed under the orders of the C.R.A. of an Indian Division, to reinforce the Batteries already in positions and receive instruction from them.
At last the morning arrived to move off, the column, skirting the town of St. Omer, took the main road to Hazebrouck, and, as we passed through the village of Arques, we caught a first glimpse of our future infantry. They appeared equally keen on seeing their new artillery, and inspected us with a critical eye. The march was made in easy stages, and on the morning of the third day the Brigade arrived at Merville, a quaint old town in Flemish Flanders. After a hasty lunch, the officers rode ahead, in order to get into touch with the unit we were to support in the line, and another amusing incident happened en route. One of the Junior Officers owned a sturdy mare, whose reputation as a charger was apt to be ridiculed by his companions, as she was notorious for her slow gait. When the party had proceeded some distance at the trot, "Halting Hilda" was observed, to the astonishment of everyone, to be gradually taking the lead. This fact called forth the remark from her master, "By Jove, she is pulling extraordinarily hard to day: what can be the matter with the animal?" It was then discovered that the rider had been at her mercy for the last couple of miles, the bit clanking merrily from side to side under her great jaw. In the hurry and excitement of departure, after lunch! the bit had not been replaced in her mouth!
The afternoon was spent in reconnoitering the gun positions allotted to us, which were the alternative positions of the units already in line. As a rule, each battery makes a second or alternative gun position, in case it should be shelled out of its existing one, so that no delay takes place in getting into action again. When night fell there was subdued excitement in the wagon line as the time drew near to take the guns "in." This was actually the beginning of our first venture—would we have the luck to get there without being caught in the enemy's harassing fire? How would we behave under shell-fire: would we be steady or otherwise? All these and many other questions flashed through our minds, for a great deal depends, more than one would believe, on how a new and inexperienced unit receives its baptism of fire.
At length a start was made, and the Battery moved off, and soon turned down the long, straight main road leading to La Bassée, the trees on either side showing signs of shrapnel scars, and even in the darkness it could be seen that the cottages were, for the most part, in ruins. It felt distinctly eerie as the small column proceeded silently on its way without showing lights of any description; the stillness and darkness broken now and again by the barking of a gun as we drew nearer the battery zone, and by an occasional Verey Light, which seemed to reveal us in all our nakedness. That long stretch of road seemed interminable—were we never going to reach our destination? However, all remained quiet throughout our progress, and at last we arrived at the entrance to the gun position, which was to be our home for the next fortnight. The guns were speedily unlimbered and man-handled into the pits awaiting their reception, the ammunition was unloaded from the vehicles, and the teams were returned to the wagon line.
The following morning the pieces were "layed out" on our particular zone, and we had time to look round and take stock of our new abode, which was a farmhouse standing in the centre of an orchard adjoining the main road. The building itself was by no means intact, although, as yet, habitable. It gave us enough shelter of a kind, and we soon adjusted ourselves to the prevailing conditions, and the outhouses surrounding it afforded ample accommodation for the detachments. The gun pits were cunningly concealed in the front portion of the orchard, special care having been taken against the prying eyes of hostile aeroplanes. We were fortunate in the choice of position made for our first time in the line, for two reasons, firstly, ...