Clarence Ahier's Great War diary - Part 2 - 1917

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Clarence Ahier's
Great War diary


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The battlefield near Ypres in 2017


This is the second part of Clarence Ahier's war diary, edited by Ian Ronayne. It covers 2017 and was first published in the 2016 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

Part 1 of Clarence Ahier's experiences as an artilleryman in France and Belgium during the First World War, from his enlistment in 1915 to the end of 1916, recorded in his diary, were published in the Annual Bulletin for 2014.


Kaiser Bill's birthday

About the second week in February, I believe, was the Kaiser's birthday, and we had an idea Jerry would let us know about it. Our stock of ammunition at the gun line was not very big, so I was detailed to carry an order to the wagon line at Ouderdum for six wagon loads to be sent up at once.

Clarence Ahier's bible, journal and war service medals

While passing through Ypres I had to do quite a lot of dodging around corners as Jerry seemed to be feeling active that morning, but I reached destination alright.

At this period the weather was very cold indeed, and the ground was frozen hard as iron, and it took three hours to get the wagon wheels out of the ground. That accomplished, we were soon on our way back to gun line with birthday greetings for KB (Kaiser Bill) but contrary to our expectations, the great day passed uneventfully.

A couple of days after this I was again sent to Wagon Line, and my feet not being too sound, I took advantage of an empty water cart drawn by six horses and jumped on for a lift. This was forbidden, I knew, but the order was generally winked at; but on this occasion I was approached by a Military Policeman and put under open arrest.

I was tried by the Captain, and in spite of my pitiful tale of terrible sufferings in the feet, he was an old soldier and awarded me 14 days No 2 Field Punishment. This consisted of two hours work daily or nightly, when the others were resting, but I soon worked that all. On 28 February we came out of action and arrived at a small Belgian village called Watau, where my 14 days FP came to an end.

Jersey sergeant

On 18 March I left battery at Polincove and went to Arques for dental treatment. While the roll was being called on our arrival at Arques I noticed that the RAMC staff sergeant pronounced my name in the Jersey fashion, which made me think that he was a Jerseyman, which proved to be the case.

His name was Medland and he hailed from St Aubin. He proved quite sociable and asked me if I would like a temporary job on the convalescent staff of the hospital, which I gladly accepted. My job was in the dispensary unpacking medical stores, etc, while every other evening we had to go to St Omer and unload the hospital trains of their human freight of wounded for our hospital.

All good things come to and end and I was marked out and rejoined my battery at Fletre. On Tuesday 2 July we left Fletre and arrived in action to the east of Zillebeke. In this position we were badly knocked about and the battery was gradually being made up with drafts from England. There were about 24 of the men left, who went in action a year before, on the Somme.

Under fire in a trench

I think it was about our third day in this position that we had a rather exciting experience. We weren't actually firing at the time, and about 12 of us were in a sand-bag shelter, which was a fairly good shelter from rain, but was no protection against shellfire. Jerry was simply raining gas shells all around the position and the fumes were penetrating our shelter, in spite of a blanket saturated in anti-gas chemical, which we had hanging at the entrance.

The fumes were getting thicker every minute, and we were lying flat on our stomachs with respirators on. The pain in my throat was getting unbearable and we all had great difficulty in breathing.

Some of the chaps could stick it no longer and tore off their respirators. I was on the point of doing the same when we heard the sickening rush of a heavy shell approaching. Our practised years told us that it was going to hit our shelter, or narrowly miss it, and everybody closed their eyes and waited.

A couple of seconds later, with a deafening rush of air, it landed; our shelter shook and swayed like a ship, the walls seemed to close in, the floor seemed to rise a few feet, the candles were flung all over the place, the blanket torn from the entrance, then silence.

Those few seconds silence made me feel like a condemned man on the scaffold, waiting for the drawing of the lever. It was well known that Jerry had been using a delayed action shell, which burrows deep into the ground and burst about ten seconds after, and we were all waiting for the crash, feeling sure that the shell had gone under our shelter, which it had, as an examination the following morning showed.

Whether the shell was 'delayed action' which didn't function, or an ordinary defective percussion shell, called a 'dud', we never knew, but we did know that it was faulty, otherwise we would surely have been blown into the air. This shell was the forerunner of many more heavy ones, but none so near as this one.

The fact of his sending heavy shells after the gas shells saved us from becoming gas casualties, as the violent explosions cleared the atmosphere of gas.

Moving a casualty by stretcher

Chum Isherwood injured

On 6 July we had to commence preparing an advanced position for our guns in readinsss for an offensive which came off shortly. This was only possible under cover of night, owning to the close proximity to the trenches.

Every night, after leaving a handful of men to serve the guns, the remainder of us would go forward, armed with picks, shovels, sandbags, etc. The journey to the new position was never without incident, as twilight was always a very busy time.

Ration parties, reliefs, working parties, ammunition wagons, are all on the move at that time, and the rival guns are very busy shelling all ways of approach to guns and trenches.

On the night of 11 July, while on our way to forward position, in single file, my chum Isherwood was hit in the shoulder, the force of the impact twisting him round into my arms. He was not badly wounded but was losing blood freely. The sergeant in charge asked who would take him to the dressing station and, he being my chum, I reckoned it was my job. It took us three hours to reach the DS as the shelling had increased, and we could only get along by dashing from one shell hole to another.

My chum was getting weaker every minute and slightly feverish, so that last half of the journey taxed my strength to the uttermost.

There is, I suppose, a funny side to everything, and one incident on that journey amused me, in spite of the danger. I heard one monster coming very close, so I tightened my hold on him and tried to hustle him into a hole, but his legs were getting weak and he stumbled and fell, so I had to drag him as best I could by the arms, and we jumped into, or rather rolled into the shell hole.

That hole had been there a few days and was half full of slimy water, so it's easy to imagine the state we were in. He was usually a cool sort of a chap, but what with the fever and, I'm afraid, the rather rough handling he was getting, he lost all control of himself and cursed and raved like a demented being.

We reached our goal at last, and he received first aid. It must have been about midnight. The doctor, a kindly officer, asked if I thought I could find the battery, but being doubtful, I told him so, and after giving me a packet of fags, he detailed a corporal to accompany me to a place known as the Railway Dug-outs, where I spent a very lonely night. My only companions were swarms of rats, and the continuous ping, ping of shrapnel on the permanent way overhead kept me awake, and I was glad when dawn broke.

Dawn in France, as a rule, was accompanied by a dense fog which made it impossible to see more than a few yards ahead, and I only managed to find the battery position after a lot of trouble.

Missing man

On the following day I was back on the same job at the advanced position, and a very warm time we were having. We were having casualties every night, but my luck still held.

Midway between rear and advanced positions was a place known as 'Strong Point Nine', where we usually stopped for a few minutes rest. One night, when we reached advanced position, the roll was called, as usual, and one man was missing. What had happened to him we didn't know, but some of us had a jolly good idea. He was a nervy sort of a chap, and each night he appeared to be getting worse.

On our way back to guns at dawn we stopped, as usual, at SP9, and there was the missing gunner. We took him back to old position, as a prisoner, but owing to his youth - 18 1/2 - the Major took a lenient view of the case, and his punishment was to continue on the same job, but he was always handcuffed on the way to the forward position, and a close watch was always kept on him while we were at work.

On 13 July 1917 I was detailed for a rather gruesome job; that of finding the remains of Driver Cockbill, who had been blown to pieces a few hours before while bringing ammunition to advanced position. The biggest thing we could find was the knee joint with part of shin, which we put in a sandbag and buried, marking the place with a rough cross.

One night as we were busy at advanced position, Fritz dropped a shell into a dump of Verey lights, and up went the lot. I swear I've never seen such a brilliant display of fireworks. These lights are used by the Infantry for lighting up no man's land, to try to detect enemy working parties, etc. The whole district was lit up as by electric light, and we had to keep down till they had burned out.

Return at dawn

We had to be very particular to leave no trace of our preparations at the advanced position, so the last hour before dawn was spent in covering all traces of anything unusual, which might attract the observations of enemy aircraft. One morning he opened up a heavy barrage about 500 yards to the rear of advanced position, and we wondered how we were going to get through.

We remained under little corrugated iron cupolas and raced through, two at a time. While four of us were together waiting for our turn to rush through, a shell burst about two yards from our little funk hole, and showers of debris thundered down on our thin roof. To add to the shock, our little place was filled with fumes and we weren't sorry when told to get ready for the run.

It was still dark and pouring with rain, and just as we approached our goal, a trench, a shellburst quite near us. We threw ourselves flat on the ground, in the mud, I should say, while he dropped a dozen or so all around us.

During a lull of a few seconds we heard voices from the trench and flung ourselves head first among our pals. As I dived into the trench I had the misfortune to tear my arm rather badly on a nail, and the scar is still with me.

As we continued our journey to old position we heard groans from different directions, and we kept coming across isolated cases of chaps who had been less lucky than us during Fritzies' morning 'hate'. What with helping those who could walk, and finding stretchers for those who could not, we didn't get back to our guns till nearly midday.

A Royal Field Artillery gun battery at Ypres

Gun destroyed

On 23 July 1917 our guns were run into the new position and everything was in readiness for the attack. This was postponed for some reason, but things were far from quiet. Immediately to our left, an Australian field battery was in action. they had been occupied at night preparing their position, but the Australians, as a rule, were not so particular in covering traces as we were, with the result that they were spotted by Jerry planes, and paid dearly for their lack of caution.

We, too, were getting casualties rather freely, and on the third day in action, Jerry scored a direct hit on our No 2 gun. Luckily the crew was not on the gun at the time, but the gun itself was a wreck. I seemed to click for the job of carrying messages and was sent back to old position to report the loss of the gun.

On the way down, near Strong Point 9, I was shaken rather badly by a shell bursting very close to me, and on handing the note to the officer, my hand was shaking rather badly. He noticed it and asked what had happened to me. I explained and, after finding out that I had been on the dangerous job of digging new position ever since it started, he told me a rest would do me no harm, and sent me to wagon line, situated as Dikesbusche (Dickybush).

During the time we were digging that position, we were subjected to heavy shelling with shells of every description, but with gas shells chiefly, and although it is very easy for me to exaggerate, I can truthfully say that another gunner and myself were the sole survivors.

Of course, we had been kept up to strength with new men, but the remainder of the old hands had been gassed, wounded or killed.

Wagon line

The other gunner joined me the following day at wagon line. On the way there I met B Le Maistre, my old enlisting pal, but hadn't the opportunity to stop and have a chat

A few days later we left W Line for guns with ammunition on mules, riding one, and leading the other, and when near the dressing station where I had taken Isherwood, we were scattered by shell fire.The shell which burst nearest the column was almost on top of me, and I was smothered with dust and stones. Both mules reared, and the one I was leading got away from me. I found that the remainder of the column has pushed off at a gallop, but I found them shortly after on the road near dressing station, and my other mule had followed them.

I was given quite an ovation by my chums, and a few medical corps men, as my mates were quite certain I had been blown to atoms. The Medical Corps chaps who happened to be watching us going along told me that the shell appeared to land right on top of me, but my luck was still with me.

Aircraft bombing

On Thursday 9 August, just before dawn, I was awakened by a terrific crash about 100 yards away. It also woke my pal up; he immediately sat up, but I could hear the drone of an enemy plane flying very low just over our heads. Another bomb crashed about 50 yards nearer, then we heard him seemingly right above our little canvas shelter, then the sinister whistling of another bomb coming down.

I thought our time had come, but it crashed right on the tent next to our place. In all he dropped five aerial torpedoes along our line of about 200 yards, and caused havoc, without a doubt. The air was full of cries and groans and we almost dreaded going out to see exactly what had happened.

When we did get out we saw a pitiful sight; chaps crawling about with blood streaming from wounds, a couple running about screaming like madmen (victims of shell-shock). The worst sight of all was what remained of the occupants of the tent next to us. Where the tent was, there remained just a huge hole. On going to examine the place, we found what was nothing less than a shambles, pieces of torn blood-sodden blankets, wound around pieces of limb, and, well, I simply can't describe the sight.

Bombers may have been rudimentary at this time but they were dreaded by the men in the trenches

I unrolled the head of one chap, T Scott, from a piece of blanket, but there was no body attached. Shortly afterwards our attention was drawn to a form lying about 100 yards away. On going to investigate, we found the remainder of poor young Tommy; a fine, fair, curly headed boy, and a great favourite in the battery.

We suffered heavy casualties that morning and that affair cast rather a slur on the anti-aircraft sections, which were dotted about, as Jerry was only 50 feet up and could easily have been brought down; but not a gun opened fire.

After playing his joke on us, he coolly flew over to the Australian battery wagon line and sprinkled a few on them, and then on to the AFA flying column battery, where B Le Maistre was. On Wednesday 15 August we were relieved by AFA and marched to within two kilometres of Poperinghe, which was close to the line, where we were standing by ready to return into action at a minute's notice.

Aircraft downed

One night, while we were there, we heard the drone of an enemy plane approaching and dropping a bomb or two as he came. He seemed to be making straight for our camp, so a few of us ran into a trench quite near our tent and got into the dug-out. After waiting a little, everything seemed very quiet, so I came out into the trench to have a look round. I heard a rush just overhead, and there was Fritz flying so low that I could have hit him with a stone.

He had stopped his engine and was gliding down like a great which bird. You bet, I didn't take long in getting back into the dug-out. Just after that, he started his engine again, and soared into the air, but this time our AA sections were too quick for him. The searchlights found him, and the guns opened a concentrated fire, and he crashed to the ground, several of his bombs bursting as he crashed.

On Friday 17 August at about 10 pm, while I was on guard over the guns, Jerry came over once more, and dropped a shower of bombs right among our horses and tents. All the men who possibly could, ran into a dug-out, but I was unable to do that, being on sentry-go. I managed to creep under one of the guns, but nothing fell within 150 yards of me.

We suffered more in horses than men on this occasion, no fewer than 23 of our horses and mules being killed or so badly wounded that they had to be shot; seven men were killed and nine wounded.

Of those killed, one was cutting another chap's hair, while three others were sitting awaiting their turn, which never came, poor chaps.

On Tuesday 20th, after replacing horses with remounts, we were in action at a place called Admiral's Road, about half a mile to the left of Ypres. Why it was called Admiral's Road, I don't know, but it was a very fitting name as it would have almost been possible to float a flagship in some places.

Captured German pill boxes may have been rather wet, but they did provide shelter

German pill boxes put to use

Jerry had been driven back a mile or so in this sector, and we got our guns in position in what was formerly no man's land, before he retired. We were lucky enough to have pill-boxes (little block houses roughly made with reinforced concrete by Jerry) to sleep in. Each gun emplacement was covered with netting to which was attached little strips of painted sacking to deceive aerial observation. At each gun pit there was a little shelter with room for two men to lie in.

I happened to be inside with another chap one morning. Jerry was sending a few over, but nothing particular, when suddenly after a fairly close burst, I noticed that the atmosphere was getting very warm, and on popping my head out I found the netting on fire, together with my overcoat which was lying on the roof of the shelter.

We were soon out of what would have been a little oven, and tore down the blazing netting from over the gun. To realise the danger we were in, one must know that in the gun pit was stacked about 300 shells, and a terrible explosion was averted by a matter of a few minutes.

We ran over to the flank of the battery, and jumped into a shell hole used by the telephonists. As I jumped, I was hit in the small of the back by something which knocked the wind out of me. Whether it was a shell splinter, or a stone thrown up by a bursting shell, I don't know, but it only had sufficient force to cut my tunic.

A night or so after, while our sector was fairly quiet, our SOS sentry saw the coloured lights usually thrown up by the infantry when in need of artillery support. He immediately gave the alarm SOS Action. A gunner by the name of Syms (killed shortly after) and myself were on duty during those two hours. I rushed across the 100 yards between our pillbox and gun, thinking he was following. To my amazement I saw that our gun was blazing away, being manned by the officer on duty and the Sergeant Major. I took my place on the gun and fired about six rounds when the 'cease fire' was ordered.

Syms had not turned up yet, and according to the SM, things were going to be hot for him in the morning. On returning to the pill box, I heard somebody alternately challenging all the Huns to fight, and singing, and carrying on in a fashion altogether foreign to the occasion. After nosing around for a bit I found him lying on his back in a happy state of intoxication.

A few shells were falling about, but it was a clear case of 'ignorance is bliss'. I saw that to attempt reasoning with him would be futile, so I caught hold of him under the armpits and dragged him into the trench.

It may seem rather strange that a man should be able to get drunk while in action, but this is easily explained. Syms' chum Howell was cook for us, and the battery's 24-hour issue of rum had been put in his charge till issue time. He, no doubt, had made a careful calculation as to the number of men and the amount of rum, and thinking that a little drop from each man's issue would not be noticed, had managed to 'make' a water bottle full, and Syms must have had the best part of it.

On the following morning little was said about the previous night, and Syms was a very lucky man.

The battlefield was like Hell on Earth

Crossing the battlefield

A day or so later we took a couple of our wounded to a dressing station about 500 yards to the rear, and stayed there for a little while, hoping Jerry's shelling would ease down a little before we started back for the guns. But instead of doing so, it increased, and there was nothing for it but to chance it. The distance to be covered was about a quarter of a mile of the most shocking ground imaginable. Great shell holes almost touching each other, and nearly all full of water, barbed wire twisted and tangled all over the place. Add darkness to this, rain pouring down and Fritz sending them over with a good heart all over the place we had to traverse, and you have some idea of what we had to face on our way back to guns.

That dash will live long in my memory; every few steps we sank nearly to the knee in sticky mud, or found ourselves tangled in barbed wire, but my pal and I held hands so as not to lose touch with each other. How we got across, I really don't know. We could hear the crashing of shells directly ahead of us, and see the flashes as they burst, but to stop where we were would have been madness, so we went ahead, guided by the flashes of our own guns.

After what appeared a lifetime, we reached trench, about 500 yards lower down than our pill boxes were, and without hesitation, jumped into about 3-4 feet of water. The shelling increased in intensity and splinters were dropping in the trench all around us. After a time we were forced to take cover in a pill box. Why we left the pill box until the last resource will be better understood after a little explanation.

The foundations of these places were in the bottom of the trench, and the roof level with surface of the ground, with a doorway about 5 feet high. With about 3 ft 6 in of water in the trench, and in the pill box, too, it will be seen that there was only 18 in between the surface of water and top of doorway. We had to bend to get in, and had to remain bent while inside, with our backs hard against the concrete ceiling, and our chins not far from the water.

We weren't over comfortable, but the constant crashing of shells outside made us thankful to have at least a head covering. These places would not be capable of standing a direct hit from a heavy shell. This was proved a few days later when a shell landed on the roof of one behind our guns, wounding everybody inside, but killing nobody.

About half an hour later the shelling slackened a little, and we climbed out of the trench and struggled back to the battery position, soaked to the skin, but safe and sound.

Replacements from England

About a week after, we came out of action, leaving our guns in position, to be taken over by a relieving battery, fresh from England. It was my job to direct two young officers, and the gunners, from Wagon Line to gun position, and I got a bit of fun out of it. One of the officers was very inquisitive, and bombarded me with questions, some of which bordered on the ridiculous, and I must confess to giving him some answers on par with his questions.

Noticing a shell hole with particularly reddish water in it, he asked me in a hushed voice whether it was blood which had turned the water that colour. I answered quite seriously that it was. He meant human blood, of course, and I helped him in his belief, but in reality it was the blood from a dead horse, mixed with the rust of old iron.

Jerry was quiet as we got near the guns, and he asked me if it was a cushy position. I'm afraid my answer didn't reassure him much. I told him that I had only known Jerry as quiet as this for about half an hour during the whole time we were at position, and that quietness had been followed by the most terrible shelling it was possible to experience

Sanctuary Wood

New position

We were out of action but a few days when we went in again at a place between Sanctuary Wood and Hill 60, with Zillebeke Church to our rear. The artillery duels here were very very terrible, and we were losing a lot of men, and damaged guns were being replaced almost daily.

The second night we were in this position I was on guard watching for SOS signals; he was sending over some heavy stuff, but they were all landing around the remains of the church, about 300 yards to our rear, under whose walls a RGA battery was situated. I had quite an exciting time watching the flashes of the bursts, and keeping my ears skinned for any shells likely to fall short, as we were right in line with them.

Suddenly the ground shook as if with an earthquake, a sheet of flame shot skywards, and the night was made hideous with the crashing of hundreds of shells which were flying in all directions. Jerry had managed to drop a shell right into the middle of a huge dump of eight-inch shells which were being used by the RGA battery, and some of the shells were falling dangerously near our position.

Right in the midst of the inferno, up went the SOS signals, and we manned the guns and started blazing away at old Fritz. He could see the flare of the blazing dump, and redoubled his shelling, dropping quite a lot around us. The scene was very weird; our guns were lit up as with powerful searchlights, and for a couple of hours we loaded and fired till the sweat dripped off us.

As I was sitting on the gun layer's seat, laying and firing, my face was only a few inches from the gun wheel, and one shell which burst close actually hit the spokes in several places with shrapnel, but such cases were far from uncommon. The chap whose job it was to load, and whose place was just behind me, had a very narrow escape. The left breast pocket of his tunic was filled with wallet, pay book, etc which caused it to bulge quite a lot. A piece of shrapnel hit this and ripped the lot clean away, twisting him round, but not even scratching him; he couldn't hide the fact that he'd been shaken.

Fetching rations

The following evening, about 12 of us were detailed to go back to the road near the church to get the rations brought up by our mess cart. It was not quite dark, and as we trailed back with a load on our backs, an enemy plane swooped quite low and spat at us with a machine gun.

My word: talk about a scatter. I was carrying a sack of bread, and I quickly slid into a shell hole and kept the sack well over my head. This held had a fair supply of water in it, and I stood in it quite contentedly till he had raced off to his lines. His marksmanship was at fault, as he didn't as much as wound one of the party.

Horses were a frequent target for shelling and bombing

Most terrible shelling

On 13 September we had, I think the most terrible shelling we had ever experienced. We could not remain at the guns more than a couple of minutes at a time, or we would all have been wiped out. Jerry had spotted our position and he had the range to a nicety. He had his observation balloons up, and visibility was very good. We could creep up to the guns, load, and on the command 'three rounds gun fire, which means three rounds from each gun with no fixed interval between each, blaze away, then take our No 7 Dial Sight and Sight Clynometer, valued at about £150, from the gun, and run like mad to the flank.

This meant we were 30-odd men running in a bunch in full view of Jerry, who soon got wise to our move. Before we had quite finished our burst of fire, he would send showers of shells right into our position, then, when we were half way across the open ground, he would shower shrapnel into us, also a liberal number of tear gas shells. This was repeated quite a dozen times that day, and we were glad when night came, and luckily a slackening off of the fire.

It may seem to the inexperienced rather an unsoldierly thing to do, running from the guns, but with modern artillery, the personnel of a battery would be wiped out by a couple of well directed shells. While the guns may be hit several times, providing none of the vital parts are hit, they can be used again.

During the night we were called to action again, and while we were busy blazing away, a squadron of enemy planes came directly over our battery and we ceased firing at once. No doubt they had come to see if the battery was wiped out, and, if not, to do the trick with bombs. As he saw no gun flashes, he thought we were 'napoo'. It was rather a creepy feeling sitting there and listening to him flying quite low, right overhead, and we hardly dared breathe.

Leave

At 4 o'clock on the following morning, 14 September, we were sending over a few (it was usual to have what was called a 'stand to' shoot at dawn, this being the time a surprise attack is most likely). I had just been detailed for duty in the front line trenches with the forward observing officer when the battery orderly came up and said:'You must take another man, this man is for leave'.

You can imagine my joy. I had had 19 months of this life on active service, and the knowledge that I was actually going home for a few days seemed too good to be true. I lost no time in packing up and making my way to Wagon Line, where I had to wait a few days. Then I walked to Poperinght, about four miles, and got into the train.

For some reason or another we sat waiting in the train for about an hour, and Fritz was sending long-range shells right over us, dropping them into the town. We all felt like cats on hot bricks, as it would have been hard to get bowled over, when almost out of his range. At long last we steamed out and arrived at Calais on the following morning. We embarked for Dover, entrained for London, arriving at Victoria on the sunday afternoon. Entrained at Waterloo at 7 pm, arriving in Southampton at 11 pm. The following day I spent in Southampton waiting for a boat, and embarked at 8 pm on Monday, arriving home at 10 am on Tuesday 18 September.

I found Jersey very peaceful and quiet after what I had been used to, and it struck me very forcibly how little people over here realised what war was really like.

Clarence Ahier

All good things come to an end and on the 27th I left Jersey at 4 pm, entering Southampton Dock at daybreak on Friday. I spent the remainder of Friday in London, going to Victoria Palace in the evening. During the performance at the Vic, the warning was given that enemy planes were approaching the City. The performance ended abruptly and the hall was quickly emptied.

My pal and myself were nearly the last to get out, and we were amazed to find the streets practically empty. Everybody had made a rush for the air raid shelters, but as we heard no signs of the approach of aircraft, we strolled about.

It transpired, by the morning papers, that they had failed to pierce the outer defences of the City and had turned back.

The following morning we left Victoria for Dover. The special troop trains leaving Victoria for Dover were always packed with troops returning off leave, and we were witnesses to many pathetic farewell scenes. We embarked and landed at Calais as night fell. As we were preparing to leave the ship we were all ordered below, as enemy planes were hovering above, and dropped two or three bombs, one falling on the quay very close to the ship.

They were driven off by anti-aircraft fire and we were soon marching up to the camp on the outskirts of the town. We have been in our tents a couple of hours when Fritz returned once more, and dropped bombs in a camp of Chinese Labour Corps, killing a few and wounding many. Some of these chinks showed the fighting spirit, and shook their fists at the atmosphere, but others were less spirited and carried on rather panicky.

Back to the front

On Sunday 30th we left Calais, and entrained for the front, our next stop being Abeele, where we stayed the night at a rest camp. Jerry was hovering above again, and dropped bombs in the village, killing a couple of civilians, but nothing was dropped in the camp.

On the next morning I rejoined the battery in the same position as they were when I left them. As I neared the wagon line at La Clyte I met a little procession making their way to the Military Cemetery. I recognised them as being our own men, following a GS Wagon, on which were the bodies of some of my gunner chums, killed just previously at the gun line. One of them was Syms, of the rum incident.

After reporting at Wagon Line I was sent up to the guns, where I found many new faces of men replacing those knocked out while I was away. Three days later I was hit on the back of the hand by a piece of shrapnel, causing the blood to spurt up. I found it was little more than a scratch. I had it dressed by the MO and carried on. The same night we were shelled with gas shells, and my bandage kept chafing and slipping, leaving the wound exposed. Whether the gas affected it, or not, I don't know, but it was looking very raw on the next morning.

I also developed mustard gas blisters on the neck, but I remained with the battery and we came out of action on Thursday 25 October, and marched to Rennighelst for short rest. This place was not very far from the line and we were visited nearly every night by aircraft, bombs being dropped in the vicinity, without doing us any damage.

British artillery

I well remember one night while we were having a service in the YMCA hut and the parson was teaching us the hymn 'If you've found the Heavenly lights, pass it on' when suddenly the alarm was sounded on whistles and we heard the familiar drone of enemy planes overhead.

Although we were quite used to this, familiarity didn't breed contempt, and all lights were immediately extinguished and we awaited eventualities. He only dropped one bomb near us, but by the clatter it made, it was no snowball, and it was very near scoring a direct hit on the hut. It actually landed on the other side of the road and damaged the Church Army Hut rather severely.

At just about this period the Italians had suffered a disastrous defeat, losing thousands of guns and men to the Austrians, and about six British divisions were ordered to Italy, my division, the 23rd, included. I had been attending the doctor daily for my hand and neck, and he informed me that I should have to go to hospital, as he could not give me the necessary attention while travelling to Italy. On Sunday 4 November I left battery, and arrived at the 17 Casualty Clearing Station. I left there two days later and arrived at the 22nd General Hospital at Camieres. Shortly afterwards I arrived at No 6 Convalescent Camp at Etaples, where I stayed until Thursday the 15th, on which date I arrived at No 5 Convalescent Camp at Cayeaux, which was situated on the mouth of the River Somme. I remained here for about three weeks and was sent to the artillery base at Harfleur. The weather was very cold indeed, with snow deep around the tents. While the discipline was very strict, I was not sorry to get away and chance my luck up the line once more.

We marched to the station at Le Havre and saw the year 1917 out while sitting in the train at the station. While we were singing Auld Lang Syne my mind went back to the previous Old Year Out, when I was on guard on the railway at the White Chateau, and wondered how many more I should see under similar conditions.
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