Toll of Attack

We climbed the little white road which led through the battery positions now almost silent, topped the crest, and dipped into Sailly-au-Bois. The village had been very little shelled since the night before, and appeared the same as ever, except that the intense traffic, which had flowed into it for the past month, had ceased. Limbers and lorries had done their work, and the only objects which filled the shell-scarred streets were slow-moving ambulances, little blood-stained groups of “walking wounded” and the troops of a new division moving up into the line.

Though we were all in some pain as the ambulance jolted along through the ruts in the side of the road, we felt rather sorry for those poor chaps as they peered inside the car. Our fate was decided, there’s still hung in the balance. How often on the march one had looked back oneself into a passing ambulance and wished, rather shamefully, for a “Blighty” one. Sunburnt and healthy they looked as they shouted after us: “Good luck, boys, give our love to Blighty”,

At the end of the village the ambulance swung off on a road leading to the left. It must have crossed the track … Read the rest


Dawn was breaking. The morning was cool after a chill night – a night of waiting in blown -down trenches with not an inch to move to right or left, of listening to the enemy’s shells as they left the guns and came tearing and shrieking towards you, knowing all the time that they were aimed for your particular bit of trench and would land in it or by it, of awaiting that sudden, ominous silence, and then the crash – perhaps death.

I, for my part, had spent most of the night sitting on a petrol tin, wedged between the two sides of the trench and two human beings – my sergeant on the left and a corporal on the right. Like others, I had slept for part of the time despite the noise and danger, awakened now and then by the shattering crash of a shell or the hopeless cry for stretcher-bearers.

But morning was coming at last, and the bombardment had ceased. The wind blew east, and a few fleecy clouds raced along the blue sky overhead. The sun was infusing more warmth into the air. There was the freshness and splendour of a summer morning over … Read the rest

Eve Of Attack

Boom! Absolute silence for a minute. Boom! followed quickly by a more distant report from a fellow-gun. At each bellowing roar from the 9.2 nearby, bits of the ceiling clattered on to the floor of the billet and the wall-plaster trickled down on to one’s valise, making a sound like soot coming down a chimney.

It was about three o’clock in the morning. I did not look at my watch, as its luminous facings had faded away months before and did not wish to disturb my companions by lighting a match. A sigh or a groan came from one part of the room or another, showing that our bombardment was troublesome even to the sleepers, and a rasping noise occasionally occurred when W—k, my Company Commander, turned round uneasily on his bed of wood and rabbit-wire.

I plunged farther down into the recesses of my flea-bag, though its linings had broken down and my feet stuck out at the bottom. Then I pulled my British Warm over me and muffed my head and ears in it to escape the regularly repeated roar of the 9.2. Though the whole house seemed to be shaking to bits at every minute, the noise … Read the rest

Gathering For Attack

The roads were packed with traffic. Column after column of lorries came pounding along, bearing their freight of shells, trench-mortar bombs, wire, stakes, sandbags, pipes, and a thousand other articles essential for the offensive, so that great dumps of explosives and other material arose in the green wayside places. Staff cars and signallers on motor-bikes went busily on their way. Ambulances hurried backwards and forwards between the line and the Casualty Clearing Station, for the days of June were hard days for the infantry who dug the “leaping-off”, trenches, and manned them afterwards through rain and raid and bombardment. Horse transport and new batteries hurried to their destinations. “Caterpillars”, rumbled up, towing the heavier guns. Infantrymen and sappers marched to their tasks round and about the line.

Roads were repaired, telephone wires placed deep in the ground, trees felled for dug-outs and gun emplacements, water-pipes laid up to the trenches ready to be extended across conquered territory, while small-gauge and large-gauge railways seemed to spring to being in the night.

Then came days of terror for the enemy. Slowly our guns broke forth upon them in a tumult of rage. The Germans in retaliation sprayed our nearer batteries with shrapnel, … Read the rest


The attack on the fortified village of Gommecourt, which Mr. Liveing describes in these pages with such power and colour, was a part of the first great allied attack on July 1, 1916, which began the battle of the Somme. That battle, so far as it concerns our own troops, may be divided into two sectors : one, to the south of the Ancre River, a sector of advance, the other, to the north of the Ancre River, a containing sector, in which no advance was possible. Gommecourt itself, which made a slight but important salient in the enemy line in the containing sector, was the most northern point attacked in that first day’s fighting.

Though the Gommecourt position is not impressive to look at, most of our soldiers are agreed that it was one of the very strongest points in the enemy’s fortified line on the Western Front. French and Russian officers, who have seen it since the enemy left it, have described it as “terrible” and as “the very devil”.  There can be no doubt that it was all that they say.

The country in that part is high-lying chalk downland, something like the downland of Berkshire and … Read the rest