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

Carrying On

We spent the next morning running horses and ammunition ashore. The gunner officer, with the D.A.C. officer, left for the beach, leaving me O.C. troops. A naval officer arrived to take charge of the ship during the unloading, and though we were being shelled fairly heavily, every one was too busy to think much about it. On active service the finest cure for being nervy is work. We heard about noon that our half-battalion had landed on Sunday evening, and had suffered very few casualties. Not an officer had been hit.

On the 28th I was on the beach all day long, hard at it. Fighting, actual personal encounter or contribution to battle, is but one part of soldiering. The tangible brief ‘fight’ is the concentration of months of indescribably arduous and intricate preparation and transport, which is quite another part of soldiering. Things are thought out at home, munitions are made, stores gathered and packed, men trained and equipped. The simply enormous transport work is accomplished, no matter at what cost, over what distance. The awful goal of the imminent carnage reached, literally ten thousand indispensable, nerve-racking, back-breaking tasks confront and fatigue the soldier, who must work his hard … Read the rest

The Royal Army Medical Corps

Postcard of the R.A.M.C. during the Great War. ​
Another Case My Lads!

Postcard of the R.A.M.C. during the Great War.

The Battle of Cambrai, 1918

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

The Battle of the Scarpe, 1918

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

Second Battle of the Marne, 1918

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

The Battle of the Lys, 1918

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

The German Offensive, 1918

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

Battle of Cambrai, 1917

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

Pilkem – Menin Road Ridges, 1917

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