1918. The Somme Again. Retreat – Advance – Armistice. Part 3

From the position at Bellacourt the Battery moved out to a camp at Judas Farm, near St. Ledger, which had been the scene of much bitter fighting and shelling during the past few days. Consequently there was very little cover of any sort, and bivouacs had to be resorted to and constructed from any material that could be scrounged. Some very rough shelters were made, the great object being to try and make an overhead roof to keep out the rain, which was persistent, the weather having taken a bad turn.

Leaving the farm, we were allotted a position close to the village of Pronville, a mile east of Queant, which had been a strong point in the Hindenburg Line. Geographically the position was almost suicidal. Situated on a road leading out of the village and on a decided incline, our position could not have been more exposed, for our guns were absolutely on the skyline, and must have appeared like a row of haystacks to enemy observers. So nicely up were we that it was possible to see Bourlon Wood, well behind the German lines. Thus somebody was responsible for a really brilliant selection and allocation of position. In … Read the rest

1918. The Somme Again. Retreat – Advance – Armistice. Part 2

It had been a very trying and tiring time, and the personnel of the Battery deserved much credit for the manner in which they all endured the hardships of the journey. Mention must also be made of the magnificent work of the A.S.C. column, for both the lorry and the caterpillar sections carried out their tasks splendidly. Every move at all times depended on them, and too much praise cannot be extended to them for the part they played throughout the retreat. Few will forget the red-hot exhausts of the tractors emitting showers of sparks during the dash through Bapaume under shell fire; also the speed with which they started up and got the column moving when orders were received to move on. Their kindly actions, too, in giving us a lift on the lorries for a little rest during the retreat, and their provision of extra rations now and again, formed but a small part of their unstinted comradeship which we shall always remember and appreciate.

As we did not know when we arrived whether we should remain at Hem or not, very little was done. No official billets were provided, and the men slept wherever they could, this … Read the rest

1918. The Somme Again. Retreat – Advance – Armistice. Part 1

By the third day of March the Battery was once again on the move, and after a two days’ journey through Combles, Trones Wood, Montauban, Sailly Sallisel, the Battery eventually reached Hermies.

The gun position selected was in a disused quarry on the Ruyaulcourt road, not far from the main Bapaume-Cambrai road, and to a certain extent it was an ideal spot, with one fairly safe dug-out which may have at one time housed some of the Boche. But as the quarry faced the German line, all the openings and doors we constructed made things none too comfortable, though such difficulties we had experienced before. One casualty had to be reported here, that of Gunner “Trunky” Barton, the Battery’s amateur barber, who was wounded.

During a week of digging-in, assisted by a party of Australian miners, three guns, by reason of being parallel with our line of fire, were put down in a line one behind the other, this method being rather unorthodox and strange to the ideas put forward at lectures. The reason was largely due to the fact of the quarry being dug along the side of the road, which road coincided with the line of fire. In … Read the rest

Ypres & The Salient, June 1917 – Part 4

One night in early October in response to an S.O.S at midnight, rain teeming down and pitch dark, and with but four to five men on each gun, the B.C.’s assistant gave the line as ordered to each gun in turn. Coming to No. 4 gun someone said, “Who’s going to lay the b- – gun, then?” That gun’s crew consisted of about four men, no N.C.O. or gun layer. Never having laid a gun before, the B.C.A. did so, and “cocking her up” well, gave the order “Fire” trusting all would be well and wondering, “Where did that one go to?”

October 6th was a bad day for 76, as after he had ranged with a few tracers, Jerry eventually sent over a few rounds between the two “C” and “D” guns. A few more were killed, names unknown, and wounded. Amongst the former was one unfortunate known as “Deadwood Dick” who had had a job at the rear billets as the “rear wallah”.  Owing to shortage of men the B.S.M. had sent him up to the Battery, and so, on his first day on the guns, he met his end. Poor chap, he was a man over fifty … Read the rest

Ypres & The Salient, June 1917 – Part 3

Towards the end of July, owing to an advance, we moved to Gibraltar Farm, on the left of Potijze village, in a hollow to the right of St. Jean, a spot known to the Boche. Rear billets were found at the “siege” park for reliefs, but gun teams, signallers, staff, etc., were billeted close to the position, which was in a boggy field where 60 pounders and field guns lined the remnants of hedges, whilst the “heavies” sat down where they could. The only remnants of the farm were a few bits of sandbagged brick wall which served as the B.C. post.

By sheer hard work, the pieces having to be manhandled into position, the tractors being unable to get right up to the field and with some pieces sinking into the mud and having to be “tackled” out, four guns were eventually put up in position by August 6th and were in action.

The column still brought up the ammunition at night if allowed by hostile batteries, who delighted in strafing the roads. Our transport men suffered casualties on these trips, and realised that motoring wasn’t always a “joy-ride’.’ They certainly put up a splendid performance, for the roads … Read the rest

Ypres & The Salient, June 1917 – Part 2

On the evening of the 30th June, whilst an aerial observed shoot was in progress, enemy planes were seen overhead. On this being reported to H.Q. the reply was, “This is a battle operation, on no account cease fire” so the shoot was therefore continued.

At about 5 a.m. on the 4th July we were detailed for an aeroplane shoot and fired a few rounds, but the visibility was too bad and the aeroplane went home. Later, about 7.30 a.m. the Battery was very heavily shelled by 5.9s. O.K.s were soon obtained on the ammunition, and the position was soon a mass of smoke and flames, approximately 3,000 shells and cartridges exploding during the course of the bombardment. No doubt what actually happened appears to have been that the hostile plane of the previous evening had spotted us firing and had reported the Battery’s position, so when this hostile bombardment began a whole string of “sausages” were up, with the morning sun behind them, observing and directing the heavy bombardment of our Battery. Major Cobbold, who had gone to bed after the early morning shoot, hearing the bombardment, went out, and seeing all the ammunition exploding, gave orders for the … Read the rest

Ypres & The Salient, June 1917 – Part 1

The position we took was at a ruined farm known as Potton Farm, but shortly afterwards we obtained possession of Marsh’s Farm, the rear part of which was still occupied by the farmer, and the members of the Battery made themselves as comfortable as possible in the outbuildings. We were now in 70 H.A.G., commanded by Col. Hardinge, and in the 8th Corps, the Artillery of which was commanded by Brig.-Gen. B. M. Bateman, with H.Q. in Vlamertinghe Château, and from whom Major Cobbold had a warm welcome, as he had been in command at Landguard for several years before the War.

As soon as the guns were in position we proceeded to register our targets in the neighbourhood of St. Julien. For this first shoot our observation post was a concrete pillar-box erected in the ruins of an old cottage, and much anxiety was felt as the first few rounds fired were not observed. At last, however, a burst was seen, and the F.O.O. and the B.C. were thankful to find that the lines of fire had been correctly laid out. The fact was, that we had been issued with some very well-painted, good-looking American shells, of which a … Read the rest

Vimy & Arras

The trek to our new sector commenced in the late afternoon of March 9th, and at places lorries had to be manhandled through the muddy roads, but Herissart was eventually reached at night, and billets were hurriedly found for all. The next night was spent at Doullens, and from there the Battery travelled through back areas and undamaged countryside to a new position at Maroeuil, which was practically undamaged. In one of the villages on the journey, Mr. Showan became very popular amongst the men, as he managed to find a field cashier and pay was issued, which was very acceptable.

We were pleased to find that we were detailed for 13 H.A.G. (1st Army Canadian Corps) commanded by Lieut.-Col. H. G. Carr, whom we had known when he was in command of 69 Siege Battery. The position allotted to us was in a small wood in which four concrete emplacements had been previously prepared, situated slightly in front of Maroeuil, with the ground falling away to the Arras-St. Eloi road, which road was screened with Hessian and warnings were posted up for the benefit of drivers, who were warned not to raise dust, on account of the road being … Read the rest

The Somme, May, 1916 – June 1917. Part 5

Shortly before Christmas Battery S/M. Chinnery left the Battery on being due for discharge, and we understood would have nothing further to do with the war. However, he immediately re-engaged, and was seen by some of the members of the battery later. His place was taken by Battery S/M. A. Martin, who had seen much service, and remained with the battery for a long period. About this time, towards the end of December, Lieut. P B. Showan was posted to the Battery, vice A/Capt. E. N. Aston, transferred.

Various other moves had been made amongst the N.C.O.s. Bombardiers O. Mallows and J. Grundy left to take up commissions, Sergt. G. Potter posted to another battery during November, Q.M.S. “Pony” Moore to a base school as instructor in siege gunnery, and Sergt. F. Streeter to 27th Siege Battery during December. Later on Bombardier E. Shee, followed by Corporal J. Watson, also left for commissions, so from time to time we lost the services of some valued N.C.O.s.

On Christmas day, though there was no truce, very little gun firing was undertaken, and all in the Battery did their best to enjoy themselves under the circumstances. Some time before, a pig christened … Read the rest

The Somme, May, 1916 – June 1917. Part 4

Our new position was totally different from the one we had left, the guns being mounted close to what was the original German front line before July 1st. Some of their very spacious dug-outs made excellent accommodation for the majority of us, and odd huts and splinter-proof shelters were occupied by the remainder. The Officers still retained the Armstrong hut for the mess. The country here was pitted with many shell holes, whilst close by and slightly to the rear was the crater of La Boiselle, a reminder of July 1st. La Boiselle, on the Baupaume road, was on our right, but we were closer to Ovillers on our left. Both these villages were in ruins, but proved useful for “scrounging” purposes, especially as now there was a nip in the air and fuel was needed for the stoves that Jerry had left behind – one thing for which we had to thank him.

Conditions were now not so comfortable as Albert was was well behind us. Our one consolation was a small Y.M.C.A. canteen hut on the Baupaume road, but the occupier held no licence – “on or off’ – and so we became more or less teetotal (the … Read the rest