Postcard of the R.A.M.C. during the Great War.
On 8th October Divisional Headquarters moved from the roomy Chateau D’Acy near Mont St. Eloi into a large sandpit.Here we remained for three days in huts tucked into the ever sliding sides of the pit, and – as bombers were rife covered with green camouflage netting, until on the Ioth we moved to Bourlon Château, where “A,” “Q.’ and A.D.M .S. offices conjointly shared the large kitchen. It luckily possessed a huge, old-fashioned open fire-place of the Scots farmhouse type, but had no other merits of any kind whatsoever, except that it was the most habitable part of a building which had been very conscientiously knocked to bits. My bedroom was a little cylindrical vault half way up the kitchen stairs, roomy enough to permit of a bed of sorts being rigged up in it. In peace times it more appropriately functioned as an oven for supplying the family bread.
The 3rd Highland Field Ambulance took over the Chocolate Factory at Ste. Olle – a suburb of Cambrai – as M.D.S. for the 2nd Canadian and 49th Divisions, then in action. This factory, a modern and up-to-date affair with much overhead (and now smashed) glass, was situated on the side … Read the rest
On the 19th August the 2nd H.F.A. took over the M.D.S. at St. Catherine, a suburb of Arras, where they had good (and old-standing) accommodation in a little- damaged brewery. The unit was not sorry to see the last of Cambligneul, where they had been freely bombed during their Stay : one driver being seriously wounded, and another slightly wounded, with thirteen horses killed and the same number wounded the night before they left. The 2/1st H.F.A. moved the same day to Agnez-les-Duisans to act as Divisional Rest Station, and the 3rd H.F.A. took over the Maræuil Field Ambulance site. D.H.Q. had now moved to the hutments above Mareuil, and on the night of the 2Ist we had the highly unpleasant experience of having fifteen bombs dropped amongst us. One landed in front of “Q” office, and an orderly there saved himself only by promptly diving head first into a chalk trench seven feet deep. When brought in for treatment of the many bruises and excoriations that naturally followed this athletic effort, he groused out, “It’s a d- d shame they dinna mak steps doon into thae trenches!” On its being pointed out to him that the delay caused by … Read the rest
The Norrent-Fontes area now gave us for a time a well- earned rest ; and our stay here was rendered historic by a visit from that outstanding personality of the day, M. Clemenceau. Divisional Headquarters were in a large and seemly dwelling up a quiet side street of the little country town. Warned of the hour of his arrival, a guard of honour was duly posted ; and the General and his staff were lined up in front of the building to receive the great man, as a great man should be received. The hour struck : a loud rumbling on the pavé as of approaching cars was heard the guard presented arms : we came to attention rand into our surprised vision came the Thresh Disinfector on its motor lorry, driven by our old friend the nonchalant civilian in khaki, gazing at the proceedings with his usual air of dispassionate interest. Those not within range of the G.O.C.’s eye grinned happily: the others affected a stern yet sublime calm. Before the General had quite finished a few remarks he evidently thought appropriate to the occasion, the “Tiger”, and his entourage, in three limousines, swung into view; and the proceedings, … Read the rest
When the Division had been taken out of the line at Souastre, Divisional Headquarters were successively at Lehurliere, Neuvillette, Fouceuieres and Labeuvrieres, while reinforcement and relitting were going on.
On 8th April it entered the XIth Corps, and D.H.Q. moved to Robecq, the little country town near Lillers where our 2nd Field Ambulance had been first billeted on coming to France in May, 1915. Once more I slept in my old room at the kindly (and hereditary) tailor’s, who still had his old rheumatic sister, his niece and his gamecocks, his welcome to us being as warm as before. Here there were old acquaintanceships to renew : coffee to be taken with the doctor ‘s widow and her devoted domestic in their little house across the street where, whatever happened, they expressed their intention of staying, for as the old lady said, “Tous les souvenirs de ma vie sont ici” : answers – as soothing as possible-to be given to the groups of anxious-minded people at every doorway.
Here, too, to make good our officer losses in the last battle, we were joined by an excellent and efficient reinforcement of ten Australian medical graduates, who were deservedly popular with all … Read the rest
By the 3rd December, 1917, the Division, after a rest in the neighbourhood of Baisieux, had taken over from the 56th Division a sector of 6,000 yards astride of the Bapaume-Cambrai road, from Betty Avenue, Demicourt, on the right, to The Strand on the left ; Boursies on the Bapaume-Cambrai road being about the centre.
Our R.A.M.C. Advanced Dressing Stations were dug-outs at Doignies on the right, and Beetroot Factory (where the sous-terrain ran under the R oute Nationale) on the left, with the Main Dressing Station at Beugny and the Divisional Rest Station at Bihucourt. As Forward Evacuation Officer, my residence was one of the dug-outs in Doignies, where we had an uneventful enough stay for three weeks.
The village – what was left of it, anyway – was shelled daily, with an occasional bombing by way of variety. But the men were ensconced in two deep du-outs ; while a sandbagged shelter off the trench served as officer’s messroom, with a two-bunk dug-out opening off it again, into which one descended for sleep at night or for safety by day when more head cover was desirable. In the evening when nothing else was doing we read the awful … Read the rest
On 15th November, 1917, orders reached our Ambulance H.Q. for an advance party of 50 men, with two officers, to proceed to Ytres and there prepare to take over from the occupying unit. We were rather sorry to leave tranquil Montenescourt, but for some time had suspected that something was in the wind. The continuous arrival of tanks by rail at the depot not far away, and more especially the fitting of each with a huge superimposed bundle some six feet or more in diameter, made up of beams of wood, railway sleepers, tree trunks, etc., pointed to some scheme being hatched but the tank personnel were secrecy itself, so no clue was to be gleaned from them.
Ytres proved to be a fairly large, though scattered village, some thirty or forty miles S.W. of Arras. The Field Ambulance H .Q. seemed an imposing affair compared with the one we had left. Evidently the sector was a quiet part of the line, permitting construction work to be done at will. The officer’s mess was a lofty and roomy structure of brick, wood and corrugated iron, and they had good billets. Niessen huts comfortably housed the men and provided wards for … Read the rest
On the 30th May our unit marched by Hermaville, Izel- les-Hameaux, Penin and Maizieres to Ternas, two miles north from our late location of Monts-en-Ternois. Like it, Ternas was a clean village and asses pittoresque, billets being above the average and the weather excellent for bivouacking. We stayed there for four days, with the usual foot parades, kit inspection, route marches and equipment overhauling, but with plenty of opportunity for rest and recreation.
While conversing one day with the “lady of the house” at our mess regarding the number and variety of the troops billeted in the village since the war began – there had been a steady stream since October, 1914, of French, English, Irish, Scots – she trotted out the old belief that breaking a mirror causes seven years’ bad luck. But she extended it, also, to include a drinking glass as well as a looking glass. “Ah Yes! It was indeed true ! One of her Scottish officers accidentally broke a glass from which he was drinking. He knew, too, that he would have la guigne. Et voila! Il était tué, lui et son ordonnance! By the same shell, his servant and he! Quelle tristesse!”
On the … Read the rest
For the next impending battle our Advanced Dressing Station and the Walking Wounded Collecting Post were fixed at Anzin on the Arras-Mont St. Eloi road, where spme accommodation capable of extension existed while at already Madagascar, a kilometre across country in front on the Arras-Bethune road, was a dug- out serving as Relay Bearer Post ; leaving a Collecting Post- the Lille Road Post – to be constructed another good kilometre nearer the line, in an old trench running alongside the Arras-Lille road. Here, marking off some seventy feet of the trench, we set about deepening it, broadening it, and roofing it with iron “English Shelters”, a thinner type of the heavy “Elephant Shelter” ; on top of them, again, laying sandbags filled with the excavated earth. Three tiers of Stretcher racks were fitted on each side of the interior, the whole available space being about fifty feet by ten, and holding forty wounded ; while in the middle, with sandbagged partition walls in case of a hit, was a chamber set apart as a dressing room.
All this meant steady and hard work for the R.A.M.C. fatigue parties of the three Divisional Field Ambulances from the end of February … Read the rest
“Beaumont Hamel” as our then G.O.C. said six years later, “was the first occasion when the Highland Division was able to prove that, given a fair chance, it would certainly be successful against the enemy. Here was a fortress defended by every artifice of which the Boche was a past master. It had several lines of defence connected by subterranean tunnels, and each line defended by several belts of barbed wire. When the Division proceeded there the place had been attacked on at least two occasions, and it still remained intact. When I went to those Divisions that had attacked in order to try to get some tips, I was told, “You have not a dog’s chance”. As you know it rained continuously for several days before 13th November. In fact we carried out a raid two or three days before, and the men were so involved in the mud that they could not get on and could scarcely get back. Yet Beaumont Hamel was taken, you might say, with almost automatic precision. We took nearly 3,000 prisoners, and that in spite of very little progress being made on our left. This was the same Division that had fought bravely … Read the rest