A letter written in 1918 by Griffith Sanderson Lloyd to his mother Mary Lloyd - during World War 1.
Beaufort War Hospital
Oct. 23rd 1918
At last I can settle down to letter writing and as the Christmas mail closes shortly I cannot do better than make this a Christmas letter.
As the letter I wrote you while on leave telling how I spent my first year in France went to Davey Jones, I had better begin at the beginning and tell you all my movements from the time I first hit France 20 months ago at the end of February. I have not my diary with me as I left it at Grafton when on leave so cannot give you exact dates, but will try to make my memory serve as well as possible. I crossed from Folkestone on I think the 22nd of February, 1917, and landed in Bologne and lumped my kit with the rest of the draft through the town and up the hill at the back in the dark. My kit was packed with all the comforts and woollens I had brought from home, and took some lumping so I was pretty tired when at last reached camp on the top of what is known among the troops as One Blanket Hill. It was dark and raining, the mud was up to our ankles, we were not expected and no one wanted us. Our officer went off to the mess and left us to our own resources. We were all new men and did not know the ropes or had not acquired the knack of battling for ourselves. However, we wandered and waded round until we found the Q.M. where we got rations and later found our tents, 13 men in each all over mud and dog tired. We bolted down some bully and biscuits and were soon in the blankets, but it was a rough welcome to France. Things are managed better now I understand, but there was very little system about things then. The next day cleared up and we caught the train to Etaples where our base was. Our mode of travelling was covered in trucks with a sliding door in the middle of each side and written on them is Hommes 40, Chevaux 8. I have travelled many miles in them, however, and much prefer them to the French carriages with their hard seats and straight backs if you have any distance to go, as you can stretch out and if you do not mind smoke light a fire in them in an old oil drum when you are lucky enough to salve one. The camp at Etaples was a comfortable one of bell tents on a sandy hillside east of the town. The town itself is very poor and shabby but a few miles from it is Paris Placque a seaside resort and fashionable place which you reach by tram. I was not able to leave to visit it, however. I stayed at Etaples 10 days, marching out to the Bull Ring where we had to pass out in gun drill and to the gas school. There were then thousands of British troops at Etaples and large Canadian Hospitals, and the ground for a couple of miles all round was covered with camps and huts. I think that there are still big camps there, but some of the hospitals were nearly flattened out with bombs a few months ago, resulting in a great number of causalities, greater than have ever been reported I am led to believe, in fact running into thousands. The camp there was pretty good but we were anxious to get away up to the line and eventually found ourselves aboard the train in the same old trucks and bound for it no knowing our destination. The line then ran in front of Flers about 10 miles from Albert so when we reached Albert out we got and marched through the town to a small detail camp where we spent the night. Albert was the first town I had seen badly knocked about by shellfires, so we were all interested. It looked very dilapidated the most striking feature of it being the figure of Madonna on top of the church steeple which was leaning right out over the street face downwards holding the child out at arm’s length. It had been wired to prevent it falling by Aust. Engineers and they said that when it fell the war would end. The guns of our Brigade, however, knocked it down last April as Fritz used to use the tower as an O.P. and the war still goes on pretty strongly. The next day was snowing but soon after breakfast up went the swages again and away we went down the road. The road was full of traffic and very slushy, but at length we came to the crossroads at Mametz Valley on the right bank of which we found the 4th D.A.C. camped not far from Mametz Wood which was only a row of stumps. We reported to the D.A.C.’s 1, 2 and 3. No 1 supplies and works with the 10th Brigade, No 2 the 11th Brigade and No.3 handles small arms and trench mortar stuff. We were camped in iron cupola huts each holding about 30 men and except that they were usually full of smoke were snug and comfortable. They had a couple of windows at each end and a door but there was no permanent stove like Fritz puts into his huts, so we used to light fires in fire buckets and the smoke had to find its way out as best it could. There was mud everywhere as the Spring thaws were on and there had been heavy rain on and off all the Winter. The mud was yellow and thick like pea soup, and if you tried to cross any old mule tracks you went in over your leggings, and those who had rubber boots were lucky. To water the mules you had to ride down to the troughs and all the ammunition was sent up to the guns on packs a few rounds on each side of the mule or donk as he is more often known as. The donks are wonderful animals for that kind of work, very hardy and staunch and stand the rough weather better then horses, although they have not as much weight to put in the traces and their big ears and short paces give them an ungainly appearance. They are mostly very quiet if properly handled and there were very few kickers amongst them. If they are wild, however, they are nasty things to handle as they can scratch their ears with their back hoofs without any apparent effort, and so can whack the unaware in almost any position. After spending 10 quiet days with the D.A.C. as there was little doing up the line the batteries were pulling out for a spell. I was one day detailed with a number of others to get my kit together and report to the 10th Brigade Headquarters. We put our kits on top of a G.S. Waggon (sic) (G.S> stands for Service and is a long open waggon (sic) with narrow sides and a high seat in front) and we travelled back through Buer near Albert to Behencourt where we found H.Q. in a chateau and I was allotted to the 110th How. Battery. The Bty, had recently come back from Flers where they had been for most of the Winter. They all had plenty of money in their pockets so were a pretty rowdy lot having been away from civilisation for some months and were known amongst the other batteries as the Boosy Mob. They were a fine lot of fellows, however, and none the worse for running a bit wild now and then. One section from Centre had just joined them having come over as a third division battery which had been split up to make the other batteries up to six guns instead of four. They had just travelled down from Flanders and had never been inaction. Our officers were Major Evans (O.C.) a fine fellow and very much liked by the boys. Capt. Gird (Second in Command) Lt. Ray (hand corrected to Hoff) (Rt. Section) (now a dentist in Blighty), Lt Lillyman (Left Sec.) returned to Australia and Lt. Fogarty (Centre Sec) a one pip now in Blighty with gas. Major Evans was wounded at Albert in April and is now in camp in Blighty. He is the best major we have had and we missed him after he left us as we all had great confidence in him. We stayed at Behencourt for ten days. Fritz was at the time evacuating from Somme country and when he made his stand near Bullencourt we had orders to move up to Bapaume for a big attack on the Hinderberg line which was to take place, and cost the Australian very dear as they held the hostile rather cheaply and the stunt was badly managed. However we packed our vehicles hooked in and away we went; spent the night in huts near Nametz and filled our vehicles with ammunition. It was a cold night and the snow was thick. The next day we moved up to Bapaume passing through Pozieres where there had been heavy fighting and were numbers of tanks lying about with holes blown in them, rusty and deserted; they were the first of their kind that I had seen but they have improved on them a great deal now. The ground there was all torn up and turned over by shellfire and looked like on big quadmire. We reached Bapaume about 3 in the afternoon waling most of the way behind the vehicles as it was a fad of the Colonels that all gunners must walk to save the horses. They are usually allowed to ride now except when the ground is heavy, that is in our brigade. As we were entering the town I heard a peculiar humming noise which quickly increased to a rushing shriek and a shell burst almost under three horses about 40 yards to the right of the road, however, without hurting them. It was the first shell that I had had close to me, although I had heard gunfire on and off ever since I reached Albert. We pulled into a field for the night to the left of Bapaume along the Arras Road and were just having our tea when an enemy plane came over and set alight to two of our observation Balloons, one of which was just over our heads and only a couple of hundred feet up and the observers escaping in parachutes. The plane then made for home at top speed and I think go there alright. I have seen hundreds of our balloons brought down since and they always raise excitement everyone turning out to have a look at the sight. There is usually some gunfire round the balloons and machine guns open up; the hostile comes from a cloud, dives at the balloon and fires a few rounds and then makes for another or home, while about a minute afterwards the sausage bursts into flames and starts to fall at first slowly, and then at a good rate leaving a trial of black smoke going up into the air while two white parachutes with black dots suspended slowly drift away from it and from all the balloons near by.
The next day at dusk we left the wagon lines and with guns in front and wagons following went through the town and out along the Cambral Road. The town was a great deal knocked about the front of every house having been blown out with dynamite and the Town Hall had been blown up with a mine a few days before we got in, in fact small timed mines were even then going up occasionally. The country round was open with hardly a shellhole to be seen, very different to the Pozieres and Mametz country. When a few miles out we branched off the main road to the left and finally pulled up in a gully where we unlimbered the guns, covered them with camouflauge (sic) pitched a sort of tent and turned in. It was raining and cold and we were all more or less wet we did not spend a very comfortable night. There were six of us in A Sub Gun detachment, a corporal, a bombardier and four men, all of whom are still going strong although three of us have been twice wounded, and one being a 1914 man has returned to Australia recently. Next morning we turned out at 10 a.m. had breakfast and registered the guns, that is each gun fired a few rounds on some fixed objects which could be seen from the O.P. (Observation Post) so as to correct any light error in range or line. We were in a long shallow gully which was full of guns and Fritz had a balloon looking along it so soon after he started shelling it. He must have put over a thousand shells into it during the day, many shells falling right against guns of different batteries, but except that one officer in an 11th Brigade Battery was wounded, no other damage was done. They were whizbangs and 4.2s and we sat in a shallow trench to keep away from the splinters. I was surprised at what little damage the shells did, but soon learnt to respect them more. That night we moved forward again under a railway embankment to the left front of a village called Ecost. We thought that Fritz would not be able to reach us there as the bank was pretty high and our guns were fairly close up but he soon showed us otherwise as he could enfilade it slightly and used to burst shells on our side of the bank. The bank was our front line and was about 800 yards from Fritz’s where it was hold by the Yorks, but we were firing on to the Australian sector on our right. By getting on top of the bank you could look down a gully on to the hill at the farside which was enemy country and just see some of the gables of Bullecourt to the right just over a rise. There was a tunnel or big drain just under the bank which we floored up and used to get into when he shelled. We stayed there for three days without casualties, then had the Signaller Sgt. and another man wounded one night in their dugout. Our dugouts were small excavations in the side of the bank covered with canvas sheets or iron, and when in them we were fairly safe and comfortable. The weather was cold and we had a bit of rain and snow. On the 10th the Tommies had a small stunt or demonstration as there was a big attack farther north. They went down to the wire about daylight and we saw them coming back they were laying out in the snow in a long line and would get up and run back one man at a time and whenever they did so you could see the machine gun bullets ship up the snow near them. All we saw got back alright although they had a few men hit sown near the wire. We fired a stunt that afternoon for almost 20 minutes on the wire and stood to all night as there was to be a big attack the next morning by the Australians. About 8 o’clock next morning we had orders to fire a few rounds and had just finished and got stand down when a big shell or trench mortar bomb burst right amongst the guns getting me in the head and away I went to the dressing station passing through the G.C.S. at Achet le Grand near Bapaume where I had a small operation, and on to Rouen by hospital train. I eventually reached No.12 General Hospital, a Tommy Hospital a couple of miles out of town composed of huts and marquees. I was in a hut ward and very comfortable but after ten days as my wound healed quickly was sent to the Convalescent Camp near by. I spent about ten days in the Con. Camp and while there had three trips into Rousen. Rousen is a fine big town covering a good bit of ground and with rather an old appearance and very crowded like all French cities. The river runs through it but most of the business and public buildings are on the East side. There is a fine cathedral but not so well decorated as that at Amens which I had seen when the battery was at Behencourt. It had, however, a very high steel tower which we climbed and had a bird’s eye view of the town from it. The town lies in a hollow by the river overlooked by high rounded hills on the East. The best day to visit it is Sunday when the population dressed in their best stroll along the river side or sit outside the cafes overlooking it and drink varied coloured drinks and appear very gay and very French. At the end of the ten days I was transferred to a rest camp at Buchy about 14 miles along the main line, and there I spend a quiet month. It was only a new camp then in the process of building, but in a picturesque spot and as we had fine Spring weather I enjoyed the walks round the country near by. By the end of a month I was feeling very fit and was sent down to the Base which had moved meanwhile from Etaples, Harfleur near Havre near the spot where the famous battle was fought and about the storming of whish Shakespeare makes Henry V. make the famous speech “Once more into the breach &c.” We found the Australian Base Camp on a hillside overlooking a valley amid pleasant surroundings and I stayed on there about five days going through the gas school which was situated on top of a flat hill with for France wide clean streets. It has big dockyards and handles a lot of big shipping and is one of the leading ports of France. As the day was very hot I went for a dip in the surf but found the water rather cold and the beach very pebbly. I finished up with a good French dinner, however.
While I had been in hospital and the Con. Camp my battery had taken part in the taking of Bullecourt and had had a large number of casualties, about 25 I think. They had to move their guns up into the village; they finished up having four of their guns blown out and were afterwards sent North to take part in the Messimes stunt. I was sent up North therefore with a large draft and after travelling through Etaples, Boulogne, near Calais, St. Omer and Hazelbrock, eventually detrained at Steimwertz. I found the battery about three miles away camped at the side of the Baillel so Armentieres Road, the guns having just pulled out from Messines Ridge and everyone was very despondent as they had just lost 25 men in a dump that had been hit while the teams were loading up, so most of the casualties were drivers and 19 had been killed. Major Evans was very hard hit at losing so many old hands as the drivers up till then had been particularly fortunate not having had a casualty since coming to France. We stayed on there about ten days and then went into action not far away at Ploegteert Wood near Hyde Park Corner and Hill 63. We had a quiet fortnight as it was then a quiet sector. While we were there General Holmes was mortally wounded and Billy Holman had a nasty shaking up not far away from our position. The General was taking the N.S.W. Premier I think up to the top of Hill 63 from which a fine view can be seen of Messines Ridge, Armentieroe and the spires of Lille can be seen in the distance. They had got out of their car to watch an anti-battery in action and were just returning to it when a stray shell burst close by, the General getting a piece from which he died shortly after and some of our boys attended the funeral. I spent one night on top of Hill 63 at an O.P. and found it very interesting as you could pick out the flashes of guns and see the lines of trenches for miles and sometimes movement on Fritz’s side with the glasses. Our next move was into Spoilbank along the Ypres-Commines Canal for a stunt which include the taking of Hollebeke and the straightening somewhat of the Ypres salient. The stunt opened on July 31st and Hollebeke was taken in spite of the cruel weather. It rained without ceasing for four days and we had some very cold weather. It rained without ceasing for four days and we had some very cold weather as well. To add to our difficulties we had to lump all our ammo about 150 yds over shell hole country and have 900 rds at each pitt and of course do a good bit of firing. We came in for a lot of shelling especially at night, but were fortunate in only having two shell casualties and few from gas. It was the first time that we had come in contact with mustard gas and we could not account for the blisters some got on their skin from it. We stayed there nearly a month and were very glad when the word came to pull out, but even going out we got into a naval gun barrage near Vermorzeel and had an exciting five minutes gallop down the corduroy road going through it. We had a few days spell and then went into a quiet position ear Wychat Ridge where they stayed over a fortnight and never had a shell near the battery. I did not go in with the guns but as my eyes were sore with gas a party was going to a rest camp at Boulogne I was put on it and had a glorious fortnight there.
We were bumped in tents on a grassy slope overlooking the sea at Amblateuse about 10 kilos from Boulogne through Wimmereuse.
We had fine sunny weather and used to dip in the surf, lay in the long grass or sit outside of the cafes sipping wine or French beer. The latter is a very harmless sort of beverage and an insult to decent beer to call it by that name, but all you can get in most parts of France. I had a number of trips into Boulogne and Wimmereux. The former is an uninteresting town the streets being dirty and narrow and the shops poor. It has however a fine domed cathedral inside the old fortified town at the back surrounded by a strong wall which are designed by Vauban the famous fortress builder, but I think I have given you a good description of it in former letters. Wimmereux is a seaside resort now practically given over to base hospitals, so there are several there. It is about 5 kilos North of Boulogne, and there is a tram but we used mostly to jump aboard a passing motor lorry which the troops in France employ for getting about when you are not forced to march with a column.
Our holiday came to a end too soon and back we went to Bailleul and eventually found our battery near Steinwertz, the guns being out at this time. We were soon on the road again and this time formed wagon lines at Dickebush being camped just to the right of the town and on the 10th September our guns went into action about 200 yards to the right of Hell Fire Corner. One night soon after Fritz put over three shells and two of them did a good bit of damage in two other wagon lines, and one fell in ours but the only damage it did was to blow the cooks tent away put a lot of dirt over them and put the wind up them I expect as they went off and did not show up again until morning. I was sent about that time to Howe Dump as a guide to the ammo trains on the light railway running to my battery and stayed there right through the stunt which proved very fortunate for me as the battery had a very hot time right through, although they had no casualties while near Hell Fire Corner. Hell Fire Corner was a point on the Menin Road which Fritz used to concentrate his guns on and which whether he was shelling or not you always passed at the toot. The first stunt on the Menin Road went swimmingly well but the trouble came when they had to move forward get guns and material up. Owing to the state of the ground which had already been torn and retorn by shellfire, corduroy roads had to be laid down and light railways moved up.
Tee Fritz used to shell heavily and kept moving in new batteries so things got worse and worse especially when wet weather set in. The Ypres stunt was really a series of attacks each with a limited objective as guns could only be got up slowly over the bad country. After the first attack the battery moved up to Beleward Ridge where they had a very rough time indeed and later moved up to Westoek, but after one gun sunk out of sight in the mud they moved them round to Zonnebeke near the church. As the light railways could not be kept in repair to the latter place all the ammunition had to be packed up four rounds on each horse each driver leading two.
The only way along the Zonnebeke Road there being no cross country tracks, as in the fighting now in the open country and the drivers had to do two and sometimes three trips a day. They had a very rough time of it, and as the road was under ground observations in places we lost a number of men and horses. To make things easier for the men the wagon lines were moved close up near Zillebeke Lake but as Fritz got on to them one night and shelled them out they moved over near the old school just in front of Ypres where they remained until they pulled out. All this time I was living at the Dump and at first had a few trips up with trainloads of ammunition. I had an adventure with my first load as about midnight when we were standing at a siding without an engine a shell hit one of the trucks and set light to the ammo. We beat it down the line, there were four of us, but as he sent three more shells the same way we were going we turned off to the right and lost ourselves amongst the shellholes, and it was about daylight before we found our way back to the dump. While the guns were at Zonnebeke, as the trains could not get up, we guides were kept on as a working party at the dump but when Australian stunts were finished I rejoined my battery near the school the teams went back to Reninghelst and we were kept on for three or four days to salve some old guns on Westosk Ridge, they were mostly more or less knocked about and we had a stiff job having to take down the piece of each (the piece is the barrel portion) and drag it through the mud with drag ropes and then pull out the carriage. We were not sorry to see the Canadians come to take over as it is a part of France I for one never wish to see again. When you get up on Westoek Ridge which is dotted with pillboxes and look back from them towards Dodertum it was like looking over a vast desert only in this case it was a desert of mud not a stick or building could be seen for miles but in the distance you could pick out a line of green timber which had not been reached by the barrages and that five years before was a flourishing country side with woods, villages and crops.
We thought when we rejoined the wagon lines that we had done with excitements for a time but we were mistaken. Two nights after our brigade was bombed about ten in the evening and we had four casualties while the 39th lost nearly all their horses but it taught us a lesson which was not to light big fires in the open on a moonlight night. It was the first and only time that we have been bombed since coming to France. We moved back next day through Hazelbrock to Morbecque where we spent a fortnight and while there were reviewed by General Birdwood.
It was not a very cheery camp as all the men were more or less tired out at first but they soon brightened up. We used to walk into Hazelbrock which was a fairly big town. It has since been badly knocked about by long range shells but was then almost intact. As we were very short of remounts I got a trip to Boulogno t bring some up. We went down by train spent the night there then picked up the horses and back by road on a three days march. We heard that then that we were going back to Grimaches rest area for a good spell. Back we went by short marches doing 8 to 10 miles every morning and spending 9 days on this road. We travelled through Estre Blanche and Grecey where the famous battle was fought and finally pulled up at Valines. We were very comfortable there although the civilians were a bit shy of us at first as the tommies had put all sorts of tales into them about the Australians. When, however, they got to know us and found that were not wild animals they made us very welcome and could not do enough for us and were most friendly.
Winter set in while we were there but we had stables for our horses, were ourselves living in the civilians houses. Blight leave was going well so we were all very cheerful. I had a trip into Abberville one day but was not greatly struck by it. It is an extensive town and a very old place, but I saw no imposing buildings and like most French towns was dirty and shabby. The River Somme runs through it which although not very wide runs very fast, and is very deep in that part. We had made arrangements for a big Xmas spread and had even gone as far as to buy the pig all alive oh and the Captain had promised to procure us the necessary liquid refreshments so we were all disappointed when we were suddenly told to pack the vehicles and next night away we went to Grimaches and climbed aboard the train, horses vehicles and all. I was looking after two horses and driving at the time. We put horses in each truck, 4 at each end heads to the centre and the drivers sat in the middle space amongst the harness and horsefeed. You were fairly snug and could unroll your blankets and go to sleep. We reached our destination in this case Peronne and went out along the frosty roads to a village called Doingt where we had stables for our horses and big huts with bunks for ourselves. I think that the date when we left Valines was Dec. 17th. The British had driven a big salient into Fritz’s line towards Cambrai shortly before, but they had hold the hostile rather cheaply with the result that we had hopped in on the flanks and they had lost most of their ground.
They evidently feared that he might make a push there as he was concentrating troops and we had to keep our guns ready for action and on different occasions to stand to before daylight ready to move if he attacked. We were in reserve then, the only time we have been so since coming to France, but I think that Fritz had the wind up about our attacking him more than we did about him coming at us. We had a lot of snow and frost and the roads became like glass and before Xmas we moved up into tents about a mile and a half from Peronne. We had no cover for the horses. They had to stand out in the snow but we kept them rugged and they stood it well, but we had to light a fire and thaw our boots before we could get them on in the morning.
Fortunately the houses in the outskirts of the town were flattened out so we could get plenty of firewood, although removing timber was against orders, still as they made no effort to supply us with wood we had to do the best we could, and it is rarely our mob slips for anything like that. Peronne has been a fine town but when I was there I did not see a sound house in it. There were a number of captured guns in the Square but poor things compared with what have been coming in lately. I came through it about a week ago and although it had changed hands twice since I had seen it before, I did not notice much difference init. On New Year’s day we were on the road again this time travelling towards Bapatime. We had cruel weather but reached in a two days march and entrained next morning. Our destination was Bailleul which we reached before dark, and that night we travelled out to a farm about three miles from Godesville it was a trying march as the roads were like glass and as I have no clogs to screw into my horses back shoes he would sit down suddenly every few yards. (I never travelled without a few clogs in my picket in the Winter after that). We spent about a week in those parts and then made back towards Ypres but this time pulled into wagon lines half way between Loilzette and Kemmel at a camp called Pompier Camp. We had fine stables and cupola huts only a few yards from them and had almost ideal winter quarters. We stayed in them nearly three months which is the longest time I have spent in any one spot since joining this battery. The weather was pretty good considering the time of year. Leave which was stopped while we were at Peronne got going again and we started football at the wagon lines and so everyone was contented. The guns went into Spoilbank about 200 yards behind our former position but just on the bank of the canal. There was practically no shellfire and the dugouts were good, so altogether we had a good time of it. It was there that I saw a good bit of C.G. Grey who was camped near Dranoutie just the other side of Kemel Hill and of Cooper who was camped in Kemmel. On the 19th of January my pass came through and away I sent on leave travelling from Bailleul to Galais and from there across to Dover. There is a very comfortable leave camp at Galais and at Dover they put you straight aboard the train and so up to London. I have written you a full account of my leave and for my further movements I will be able to give you more accuracy as to dates as I have my diary to guide me.
I commence again from where I rejoined the wagon lines still near La Clayette on Feby 5th where I stayed until 12th of March when I went up to the pitts. The guns had just moved into a new position 300 yds to the right of the canal the old position being taken over by the 101st Bty. (1st Div.) We were now a super imposed battery doing all the duty firing so we had an easy tie with no night work. Our infantry were then busy digging rear trenches and putting up row after row of wire while we had rear positions marked in case we should have to fall back. They evidently expected Fritz to make a strong attack and were taking all possible precautions. All went well quietly the night of the 18th when he shelled us and all the country round solidly with gas and H.E. for 3 hours. We only had two casualties, however. He shelled us just after breakfast on the 20th but did no damage; although he put a 12 in. shell just over the signal pitt and two on the main road which he blocked as completely as if it had been mined. On the morning of the 21st he gave gas from 5 to 7, so we were not surprised when we got an S.O.S. We got out on the guns and although it was daylight as far as you could see along the line S.O.S. lights were going up so we expected a big attack. We only fired 30 rounds, however, when we got “Stand Down” for that day.
On the morning of the 23rd just before dinner time word came through to pack the guns and out kits and soon after the teams came up and pulled the guns back to the wagon lines. By 7 p.m., however, we were on the road again travelling South and had hardly a halt until we pulled up at 3 a.m. having covered 25 kilos or more. We did not know what was in the wind but gathered that something serious had happened on the Western Front and tht we were badly needed somewhere. Of course we heard any amount of rumons about Fritz having broken through but none of us knew where or when. We were on the road again before midday next day and it was dark when we pulled up. The next day we marched to near Arras and the day after passed that town on our left and gathered by the columns of transport and guns on the road that we were getting near the fighting. We pulled up at a farm for tea and about dusk started to go into action. We went out into the country about three miles and then had orders to turn back and back we went to the farm where we spent the night. We were on the road by daylight next morning and travelled 20 miles. We could hear guns all day and saw an occasional burst but none came our way. We pulled up for tea in a gully to the right rear of Millencourt behind a bank. These banks are very plentiful in France and afford good cover for Howitzers. We had a long day but our infantry had had a harder. They had left the village where we spent the night just as we were returning about 10 p.m. Had marched all night covering over 20 miles, had found a few tommies in riffle pits just in front of Millencourt who did not know where Fritz was, so after a short spell they advanced in artillery formation until they found him and established their front line on the railway embankment just out of Albert. Next day we registered the guns and the team came up about dinner time, but Fritz’s planes spotted them and over come some cinque-neufs right into the position. The Major did not like the look of things so he commandeered some D.A.C. limbers that were passing and moved the guns up into a dump of trees just behind the right of the village. It was well that he did so as a few days later he towled the old position properly. Things went uneventful through Easter.
We had a few casualties from stray shells but had a good cellar to live in and as the weather was good were fairly happy. The A.S.C. Department must have been slightly disorganised as issue rations were terribly light, but we fared none the worse for that as the village was full of fowls, rabbits, sheep and cattle and the cellars were well stocked with potatoes and barrels of cider. The poultry were first then the rabbits that were big enough to eat, next the sheep and finally some of the cattle. We had our meals in a house which had a fine view of Albert and was used as an 11th Bge. O.P. We had a milking cow which was wounded five times but seemed none the worse for them.
The Frenchwoman who owned the house turned up one morning to collect some of her belongings as all the civvies had left at the toot and found the four quarters of her cow hanging up in the bedroom minus the skin. This quite broke her up but the troops had to live. We sympathised with her as far as possible, but the case was too strong against us and she finally left cursing us to the best of her ability. I thought, however, that she was lucky to have a house left at all. Still that is what war means God spare Australia from ever knowing it.
A trip into the line would do some of the red flag artists from the Trades Hall good and if they saw some of the sights I had seen this year they would quickly change their tune if they were men at all.
The village was full of clothes and the boys were soon all getting about it in frock coats and top hats or red and blue French uniforms, you would never have taken them for a battery of artillery. We all felt sure that Fritz would not rest quiet where he was, having come so far, so were on the look out for trouble and got it. Not a shell came over on the 4th I had never known Fritz to be so docile but it was the lull before the storm. On the 5th of April at 7.30 in the morning while we were stacking shells round the guns he opened up on the village and almost immediately the S.O.S. came through and we were soon busy pumping them back at him. He kept the bombardment up until after one o’clock and we were on the guns nearly all the time. We would get stand down and get settled comfortably in the cellar when the S.O.S. would go again and out we would have to run. He not only bombarded the village but all the countryside round and whereas there had been formerly only a few old shellholes to be seen before now all the ground was pockmarked wherever you looked with holes.
Some of the batteries had heavy casualties but ours was lucky only having a few considering the amount of stuff that he had put over. About an hour before dark we got action and fired a barrage but we had had a busy day and were glad to turn in that night. We found out the next day the strength of his attack which was that one brigade of our infantry covered by two brigades of field artillery and some heavy guns had knocked back three of his divisions and although the infantry had to fall back slightly in one place they recaptured the lost ground again before dark. So sure did he feel of success thinking that he only had a few disorganised tommies in front of him that 60 of his cyclists rode through our lines along the Amiens Road making for Amiens. They got a rude shock I expect when they found out their mistake. Our teams meanwhile had a rough time if it for some days. They had no fixed wagon lines and had to stand to with the harness on the horses and the wagons packed all the time. They then left the gun limbers at a forward wagon lines just behind Hendencourt, in case the guns should have to fall back hurriedly while the rest of the teams and wagons went back to Behencourt. The forward wagon lines got mixed up with the shellfire on Aug 8th and had several casualties while the Major lost his horses. We had another S.O.S. two days after but nothing came of it and shortly afterwards I went down to the wagon lines for a few days spell. I found Behencourt a very different place to when I was there before. Most of the civilians had left so there was no fried eggs and such luxuries to be had, and there was practically no canteens about. News came through occasionally of the fighting up North and that Fritz had got through to Bailleul and Merris.
Our 1st Div. had followed us down but were sent straight back and had some stiff fighting when they got there. We continued to hold the line at Millencourt until 4th of May when we were relieved by tommy battery. Our old Major had the misfortune to get a machine gun bullet through the calf of his leg, just a good blighty, but he never rejoined us and we have not had as good a man since in charge. We pulled our guns out of Millencourt late one night, picked up our wagons on the road and moved towards Amiens. It rained steadily for hours and I have seldom known such heavy rain and to make matters worse the column got separated and part of it got lost. We pulled into camp, however within sight of Amiens soon after daylight. We could see Amiens Plainly, its cathedral standing out very clearly and the smoke of an occasional shell at times as it was well within range. Next day we moved on a couple of mile and pitched camp not far from Glisy on the banks of the Somme. We were in reserve and as the weather was warm used to spent a good bit of time in the water. Whilst there I got my stripe. On the 12th we pulled our guns in about 1 1/2 miles behind Villers Bretteneux raking over from a tommy battery. It was a position right out in the open amongst the crop some distance to the left of the St Quentin Road. It was a very quiet position and we hardly had a shell near us all the time we were there. We had a piano dug into a hole in the ground and the river was only half a mile behind us and we used to take turns in going down for a swim. We used to do a great deal of night firing mostly gas and worked a forward gun up near the town for sniping purposes, but on the whole had a good time. On the 1st of June the 7th Bgde. turned up and took over the position and on the 3rd travelled through the outskirts of Amiens and down along the Somme Valley. We bivouaced for the night and the next day went on again and pulled into wagon lines in a wood near Coteral where we soon had our bivies up. The Somme overflows in these parts and forms large lakes but we found the water very cold for swimming in far colder than it was higher up. On the 9th we had a review before General Birdwood which went off very well. It was a farewell review as he had been promoted to command Vs Army and Monash was taking his place in command of the Australian Corps.
Only the 4th Div. Artillery were present but they made an imposing show being at the time well horsed. He first rode round them and then presented decorations which had been awarded for the fighting round Albert after which we drove past at close column of batteries first at the walk and then on the trot.
Close column is the six guns of the battery in line wheel to wheel followed by the six firing battery wagons and these followed by the six first lines. It looks very well if it is done properly and if the dressing is kept. The following Wednesday I had leave into Abbeville. I was surprised to see such a change in the town. It had been practically deserted by civilians and in parts had been practically flattened out by bombs, especially around the square and the station. Fritz used to bomb it constantly and on fine nights the civilians used mostly to go out of the town and sleep in the fields. On my way back I attended a divisional race meeting which went off very well provided some good sport. A few days after our brigade held a sports meeting but as I was on duty I could not attend.
Our spell came to an end on the 18th when we moved out and after three days march passing through Picquigney where we crossed the Somme and spent a night near Saleul.
We reached our destination between Queasy and Dehors on the banks of a small river. We took our guns in that night and took over from the 113th 5th Div. We were in the outskirts at the rear of Corbie and had our guns in the back gardens while we slept in the cellars. We lived remarkably well having a luxuriously furnished dining room complete to a grandfather clock in the corner, and everything else we wanted. Practically no shells came our way although we used to do a lot of firing. On the 28th we pulled our guns forward through Corbie to a position under a bank about 1500 yds from the line. We had good dugouts and the guns were under a bank so we were very snug. We guessed that a stunt was coming off but did not know when and on the 1st some Americans turned up who were attached to our infantry. The stunt opened on the 4th and was the best managed that I have yet taken part in. The barrage lasted from 3 till 5 and all objectives were reached with small casualties to our side. They advanced 3000 yds took Hamel Village and got up on to the ridge beyond. We had no shells near us and had very few all the time we were in that possey. The aeroplanes played a large part laying wires for telephones and dropping ammunition in parachutes. The Americans who were attached did good work. It was the first time that we had had much to do with them. Although, we had come across parties of them for some time. On the 16th our wagon lines moved to the other side of Point Nouelles while we took over the 106th guns at Merricourt the 107th relieving us. We stayed in there until 1st of August, having no casualties and a fairly quiet time and by the 2nd had our guns out and ready for the next move. We gathered that we were to take part in a big stunt but how big it was to be none of us realised at the time. On the 3rd we moved our wagon lines to Dehors and started carting ammo up to a position about 800 yds from the line. On the 6th our guns went in but did not register and I went up to the pits on the 7th to take part in the stunt. Now begins the most momentous time I have had since joining up and although it is less than three months since that day it seem a year at least.
The day I speak of is the 8th August when we experienced an open action fight the first I had taken part in. We had almost unlimited objectives but the stunt was well worked out each division having to advance a certain distance where it dug in, whilst another went through it and continued the advance. The morning of the 8th turned out foggy but the night was quiet. We opened our barrage about 5 a.m. and kept it going for about two hours. Meanwhile our teams had come up in our rear into a patch of timber near and we had hardly got the last shot out before our limbers and wagons were up. We limbered up scrambled on and away we went through the thick fog over shellholes and through wire which has been rolled down by tanks. We struck the road near Fritz’s old front line and down it went at the trot past infantry and prisoners coming in. We were on a road running to the right of the river but could see nothing owing to the fog and had a very poor idea of where we were making for. After going a couple of miles and very nearly shaken to pieces as the road was torn about by our barrage we branched off to the right and came into action behind a crest on the slope of a hill but as the advance was going well we did not open fire. After about half an hour’s wait we were up and away again and this time after going for a mile or two crossed a gully and came into action on the slope of a hill not far from Bering. Our infantry were just over the rise and prisoners were coming in freely. We fired a few rounds and then got stand down and sat around the trail talking. The mist had lifted and although a few shells were coming over none came near us for some time, in fact up till then we had had none near us. We were sitting talking when a few shells started to fly over us landing in the gully and presently one caught my eye and it flashed between two of our guns. It was the first time that I had noticed a shell like that so it must have been fired at fairly low trajectory and at a fairly short range. One of the men who happened to look across the river noticed the smoke from a couple of guns near a wood on a hill not more than 3000 yards away. We soon realised that they were firing at us as he got our range and the obus began to fall very handy to the battery. We were told to take the sights and get to a flank until the team came up which we did and soon up came the gun teams and were limbered up. My gun was amongst the first out and got clear without mishaps but some of the others were not so fortunate and lost some drivers and horses. We had a young new officer, inexperienced, who thought he would make a name for himself and got a few men together and turned E. sub gun on to the two that were harassing us. He got three shots off before Fritz got him and did not go anywhere near the guns. He was game enough but a man of more experience would not have tried to silence two high velocity guns with one howitzer when the guns had your range first. If they had turned half the battery on them they might have shut them up but even that is doubtful. They were shut up later alright but the Fritz gunners must have had a good day out and had a nice tally of tanks and horses to their credit, while one of our wagons was so badly damaged that we had to leave it behind and it still there a month afterwards when we happened to pass the spot.
We pulled out guns round under a bank about a quarter of a mile to the right and things were more or less disorganised no one knowing just who was hit and who was not, but we soon had our guns barking again and most of the men turned up. We stayed in that position until after tea when we moved on to another position in a deep gully to our right about a mile and a half away. We found some goof Fritz dugouts and as we were all tired out were glad to get a good night’s sleep as Fritz was too badly licked to counter attack and do did not worry us that night.
Next morning we heard how the stunt was going. The Canadians and Australians had broken through and the cavalry had gone through them and hunted Fritz back past Rosienes capturing a great number of prisoners amongst them 500 reinforcements coming up on a light railway. About 600 guns were captured that day, one a railway gun and quantities of ammunition. On the left the tommies had been held up by a nasty spur known as Chipilly Spur, and Malde Wood near by just across the river from which the guns had been firing at us. It was a very strong place as the river and village protected one flank and the wood and ridge must have been thick with machine guns. Its strength must have been underrated or they would have worked round the left instead of trying a frontal attack. Our guns were trained to fire across the river. An advance was made on the left about midday and Fritz was driven almost into Bray which the British could have taken but owning to its being in a hollow by the river surrounded by high hills, it was left until another stunt was organised. We spent all that day in the gully doing a little firing. We had a bit of very bad luck in the morning as a British 6 in. battery behind us dropped four shells 4000 yds short one of which landed right amongst our teams, which were in a wood about 100 yards from the guns, killing two men and wounding others and getting some horses. We were very wild as you may guess but there was nothing we could do except report it over the telephone. There were a number of 5.9 guns in the gully and one 8 in. which had been captured by one of our battalions and our fitter set to work and got one into action. We turned it round and kept it going all night putting over 200 rounds into the vicinity of Bray railway station. The next day after dinner we limbered up and went down the gully and across the river and into a gully near Chipille just below Malade Wood. Things were pretty quiet while we were there and we used to poke about and see the scene of the previous day’s fighting, and also got another 5.9 gun into action. We did not fire many rounds with it, however, but sent it into Corbis with a number of others for instructional purposes. What had struck me most during the last couple of days was the small number of dead to be seen. There were very few Fritzes or our men killed, but here things were different. The wood and approaches were full of Tommy and American dead mostly London regiments and they lay just as the machine guns had got them in ones or twos as they came through the wood. The two guns that had towled us up were there pointing out across the river and we could see six tanks that they had knocked out. The tommies must have put up a great fight and also the Americans who had marched up, the men not knowing that they were near the firing line. They were suddenly told to fix bayonets and up the hill they went through the wood and then swung to the right and cleared the village. Our guns and a brigade of our infantry were then sent across to help them. We were camped in a Fritz tunnel and stayed there until the night of the 12th. At midnight we fired a barrage limbered up as soon as we had finished and crossed the river and made back towards Corbie along the road. We bivouacked for the night and next morning made off away from the river travelling parallel to the front. We passed through Guillimont and formed wagon lines at Harhonieres the guns going in that night in front of Pozieres. We went in for a stunt but for some reason it did not come off until the 23rd and on the 24th the French took over from us and next day we went back to Corbie where we spent the night. The following day we moved to Camon where we settled down. We stayed at Camon until the 7th. We were near Amiens, but it was out of bounds, but I had one trip back to Picquignay. Amiens is a good bit knocked about one house in seven being damaged. The civilians were, however, coming back then so I expect that is now fairly lively again. We left our camp on the morning of the 7th of Sept and travelled through Dehors past the scene of our fighting on Aug 8th and spent the night near Mericourt, S. Somme. The next day I went 4 miles to see a 16 inch naval gun which had been captured. It was built into a big emplacement but had been blown up all the breach part being blown to pieces. About 20 ft of the muzzle end of the barrel was lying on the ground and gave some idea of the size. On the 9th we travelled to Fouilles passing through the old 1915-1916 battlefield, just miles and miles of grass grown shellholes, trenches and wire with here and there the gaunt gable end of a house sticking up to show where there had once been a village or a few shell torn trees marking the sight of a former wood. In fact from Villiers Brett to within a few miles from the present fighting the country had a deserted appearance there being no civilians or signs of cultivation, just one big waste with all the towns and villages in different stages of ruination. I expect, however that the countryside will soon take on a more civilised appearance as the French are a wonderful industrious people and will soon straighten things out now that the Hun has left the country, I hope for ever.
Since we were last in action Peronne has been taken, the river crossed and he was still falling back. On the 10th we left camp early, crossed the Somme at Rue and travelled out along the St Quentin road, one of the straightest roads in the world running for nearly 70 miles without a bend. We passed through Mons (not the Mons of 1914 fame which they fighting near now) and formed wagon and on the 16th they went forward again to be close up for another attack. On the 17th we moved our wagon lines up in front of Pouilley and spent an uncomfortable night as he shelled and bombed round about all night. His bombers were more active that night than I have ever known them; you could always hear at least one droning about and as the night was moonlight with light clouds you could often see the gothas against them. He dropped nothing near us, however, and next morning the stunt opened up. The guns went forward at 10 a.m., the wagon lines moved up to where the guns had been. I was with the wagons for that stunt in charge of D sub the sergeant being up at the pits. On the 21st our guns came out and we pulled back near Craignes where we spent a day and on the evening of 24th moved North through Posiel our guns going in that night ahead of Villiers Faucon. We were now covering the Americans being close to the Hindenberg Line and on the 27th fired a barrage. The Americans reached their objective but neglected to mop up behind them and Fritz consolidated behind them cutting them off and giving them a pretty rough time. One of our divisions got them out of their difficulty, however. Our guns went forward again o the 28th and fired another barrage and on the 2nd went forward into Bellicourt on the Hindenberg Line which had now been broken. The Hindenberg Line is a defence system built on two big ridges with a canal between. In some places the canal is practically uncrossable owing to the steep banks but it runs underground for some miles through a tunnel under Bellicourt this tunnel is connected up by underground passages with his trenches and he also has a wonderful system of underground tunnels while the wire in some places is over 50 yds wide. The tank played an important part in taking the trenches but a great number were put out of action and lie there like dead elephants in all sorts of attitudes many of them having been burnt out. There were also cement strong points here and there and about every 50 yards a tunnel running down about 30 feet where the men could get when we were shelling. There were machine guns everywhere in the bays of the trenches and in shellholes with thousands of empty shells beside them. Our guns were soon out of range so on Oct 4th our wagons moved up to Bellicourt and the guns sent forward to a position in front of Johncourt and two days after we moved the wagons up to Naroy as Johncourt was a bit far away for the teams.
On Oct 8th another stunt opened up, we were now on fairly open country and when our wagon lines went forward to Johncourt after breakfast we found all the depressions full of cavalry waiting to go through. I had no idea that the British had so much cavalry now and about 9 a.m. they moved forward in squadrons and we lost sight of them over the ridge. The next day we moved wagons and guns forward to Ramicourt, Fritz had been fighting there with machine guns in sunken roads, shellholes and small pits in commanding positions. There were practically no deep trenches on either side. On the 10th the wagon lines moved on picked up he guns and advanced about 6 kilos. We were now back in the land of civilians the town and villages being very little damaged and a number of civilians were to be seen. We formed our wagon lines at a large farm where we were very snug. There were civilians living at the place, and old frenchy and his wife. They had no stock left, not even a rabbit and their house was stripped bare of all ornaments but they seemed very pleased to be on our side of the line again. Our guns went forward straight away but had rather a tough time. Our Major has been wounded a couple of weeks before and the batter was being run by Lt. Fogarty the senior subaltern. We had a Captain but he was little more than a figure head being very incompetent. Fogarty went away with gas shortly before I was wounded so I do not know who is in charge now. There were numbers of Americans about attached to the British and we were covering them. On the 14th our gun came back from ordinance as it had been out of action for a few days and I went in on the detachment. The battery had moved into an orchard on the left of a village called L Haie Minneresse not far from St Souplet. We were pretty close up and came in for a good bit of shelling, but we had good cellars so we were pretty snug, & it did not trouble us much. There were plenty of potatoes, cabbages, tin milk &c. about so we lived well. We set to work and dug our guns in wall and it was well that we did so as after events proved. We were then about 500 yds from the line and had to be careful not to show lights at night because of machine guns. Fritz was making a stand there and was pretty strong on account of a river or canal, the Selle, and a big stunt had been organised. Fritz must have had it well back for the purpose of hindering reinforcements coming through, but it came pretty close to us and either shells or trench mortars started falling just in front of the battery. He put one on each sid of E sub and then one just behind our pit when we had been going for about 6 minutes. I got a small piece in my shoulder and No. 2 got three pieces in his leg. We were sent to the Hospital. I went before the doctor and was marked for Blighty and here I am in Beauford Hospital, Bristol, just out of the town dressed in blues and feeling very well. I have been here since the 21st and the date is now 31st of October. I am feeling fit and the wound gives me little inconvenience. The piece is still somewhere in the muscle of my right shoulder behind the shoulder blade. I was X-rayed a few days ago and it was located but I do not know whether they are going to take it out or not. I have had two trips into Bristol and find it an interesting old town and I hope to write more about it later when I have seen more of it, I have received letters from Aunt Bella and Mrs Howard asking me to stay with them when I get my leave, and best of all about half a dozen letters from home which I will answer in due course. By the time this reaches you I expect to be back with my battery. I regretted leaving it for two reasons, first because I have been with it for over 18 months and have made many friends, and second because my stripe being still temporary and not having been confirmed I will have to drop it and the extract 3/- per day which accompanied it. It is bad luck my getting wounded just when I did as if I could have hung on until we went out which we hoped soon to do, I would almost certainly have had it confirmed and perhaps got my corporal and any way if I had held it as temporary for three months it would automatically have been confirmed. Still I am having a good spell and expect I will get it back when I rejoin my unit as soon as vacancies occur, as I am now one of the old hands. I must draw this narrative to a close. I have tried to give an account of the sort of life we lead across the channel and if I have dwelt at times on the gruesome side of the life it is because the moments of excitement and adventure make more impression on my memory than our pleasures which are soon forgotten. Things look more like peace than they have done since the beginning and we all hope that it may come soon. Still we must have a lasting peace and to that end we will continue to work our guns to the best of our ability until we get it no matter what the present cost.
Your loving son
Images of events referred to in the letter