‘In years to come I can say I enlisted voluntary and tried to do my bit for King and Empire’.
Part III – The Battle
May 1916 – July 1916
Charles W Simmons was born in Welford, near Newbury, Berkshire (England) on August 31st 1892. He was the only son and second child of Charles and Charlotte Simmons (nee Andrews) and until his marriage lived with his parents at Grove Cottage, Speen. The cottage is still there today on the A4 to Hungerford and opposite the Hare and Hounds. The ‘Lily’ mentioned in the diary was our grandmother and it was through her that we inherited her brother’s meticulous diaries of which his war diary is just a fragment. These are his words – not ours.
Mon May 1st 1916
Relieved of guard but on fatigue work at Grub Street from 6-0 until 10.0 P.M.
Tues May 2nd
We have an easy day and leave at midnight to take over trenches at Richbourge [sic] arriving early morning.
Trench Cpl again. These trenches at present are nice and dry. I only hope it will keep fine.
A very warm day. I saw the first swallow of the year and also heard the cuckoo for the first time. Trench Cpl again. No sleep.
Fri May 5th
The rations are very poor. We do not seem to get half enough to eat and the trouble is they do not deliver parcels to the trenches, only our letters. This to me seems absurd.
Sat May 6th
I hear from dear old chum Fred Marshall who is with the Berks Yeomanry. I am relieved as I had not heard for weeks and weeks and his people told me they had several letters returned. I feared the worst but it appears he has been in Hospital. The weather has changed to rain but we leave the line at 10-0 and have a weary march of 5 miles back to rest billits [sic] at Vielle Chapelle arriving 12-30 midnight. I find parcels awaiting me from home and Wash Common so I have a real good feed.
Sun May 7th
I visit the old ruined Church and climb the tower which is all that is left with the exception of the four outside walls and these are about only half their original height. At 2-30 we hold a Service of thanksgiving in the old ruined church also Holy Communion. I send home a forget-me-not which I pick not far behind the firing line.
Mon May 8th
Our Company Officer Capt Hancock inspects us in preparation for the General’s inspection for tomorrow.
Our General inspects us all individually and then we leave at 2-15 in wagons which carry us to Rouge Croix and then we march to Euston Post for 3 days fatigue with the Royal Engineers. We start on carrying parties.
Wed May 10th
We are carrying heavy stuff all day to Loretta Post. Very tiring work. We are heavily shelled while we are at tea but luckily no one is hurt.
Still heavy fatigue, this time we go to Lansdowne Post. All the places out here have very fancy names. We get a lot of heavy shells over while we are at dinner. The whole Division is on Iron Rations (bully beef and biscuits) and we are half starved. I get so hungery [sic] so Pte Hathaway and I go out to buy some bread. We can only get 3 loaves. On our way back we meet our old friend Major Mills who used to be with us but is now with the Lancashire Regiment as Col. We have a little chat on old times. We leave Euston Post and return to our billits [sic] at Vielle Chapelle. We draw 5 francs.
Fri May 12th
We have a Brigade march through Parridy; Lestrem and Lacouture a distance of about 12 miles. At Parridy Church we march past General Pinney. It was a cruel march, the roads were so rough and it was so very hot. Our throats were parched with thirst. On the march we pass such a lovely kept garden, not a weed to be seen, young onions, peas up the sticks and in the front some lovely tulips. In the evening while we are playing football in a big field the enemy must have seen us as they shelled us very heavily. We leave our coats and football and scatter. It was exciting but the old French people grumbled and said “If you Angleterre, war over tomorrow” which meant if we all went back to England the war would finish but we explain that if we went home where would France be.
Sat May 13th
I have a few hours to spare so I answer as many letters as possible. I have so many kind friends in England that write to me but it is difficult to find time to write in return.
Sun May 14th
Morning Service also Holy Communion in the ruined Church. We leave at 6-0 to take over the line at Neuve Chapelle. As it was nearly 8 miles march we do not arrive until nearly 10-0. On our way we pass through Richbourge [sic] which is one mass of ruins especially the Church.
Pouring with rain and the conditions are terrible. I take charge of ration party and at midnight we are heavily shelled.
Weather just a little better. Trench Cpl so no sleep.
A real glorious day. How much different one feels when it is fine while in the trenches. Trench Cpl.
Thurs May 18th
Owing to the heavy mist at dawn we have “Stand To” five hours from 3-0 until 8-0 in case there is a surprise attack. A very hot day. We leave at 6-30 to take over Richebourge [sic] St Vaast Post. Cpl of the guard all night. Can you wonder I get absolutely dead tired with so very little sleep.
Parcels from home and Col Justice so I have a real good feed. Col Justice’s parcel contained socks; chocolate; cake; ham and chicken; turkey and tongue and condensed milk. Mother’s parcel which was badly smashed contained ham; oxo; meat tablets; cake and chocolate. I hear from an old Speen Church chum, Tommy Aldridge.
Sat May 20th
We are very heavily shelled but no casualties. Cpl of the guard again and as I have to be about all night, at daybreak 2-30 A.M.
Sun May 21st
I stroll around a huge cemetery. This is the largest I have seen and I saw dozens and dozens of names on the wooden crosses to see if there is anyone buried there I know. We hold a Service at 2-30 and the noise of the guns almost drowns the Chaplain’s voice.
Mon May 22nd
We are heavily bombarded again but no one is hurt. We leave at 8-15 for Lansdown Post.
Tues May 23rd
Lovely dry weather but we are actually being shelled.
Raining in torrents all day and our trenches soon get like a mud pond. We were bombarded all the afternoon and again very heavily at midnight. It was a very hot time but still we had no one hurt and it was very exciting.
After13 days in the trenches we leave for rest billits [sic] at Croix Barbee (Cro-Bar) [sic]. Sleeping in barns again.
A quiet day as I write letters.
Early reveille at 2-0 A.M. and marched to Port Arthur, then on to Edgware Road for fatigue with the Royal Engineers. We return at 11-30 A.M. We draw 5 francs pay which now totals 66 francs. I must keep account of my pay in case they try to do me out of some of it.
Sun May 28th
Service at 11-0 followed by Holy Communion. During the Service the enemy put over a very stiff bombardment. I suppose he saw there was a crowd collected.
Early Reveille at 2-0 and marched to Port Arthur for fatigue with the Engineers. I am Cpl of the guard again and it rains all night. The enemy shell our billit [sic] and we have to all turn out.
Tues May 20th
An eventful night. The enemy starts a heavy bombardment at 7-0. I am just changing the guard at 8-0 when we are ordered to rush to reserve lines which we are told to hold at all costs. The Germans make a raid and secures several prisoners from the Notts and Derby Regt also several of our Glouc machine gunners who had gone into the line early in the day. We “Stand To” until midnight but our boys hold the line. How we all thanked God for his mercy.
Wed May 31st
We leave in the afternoon to take over Neuve Chapelle and take in the 61st Division for instruction. This Division contains a lot of Worcester, Warwickshire and Berkshire Yeomanry who have had to give up their horses and turn into Infantry. The trenches have been knocked to pieces from last night’s bombardment.
Thurs June 1st
Trench Cpl. We have a very quiet day. Very few shells come over.
Fri June 2nd
The sun is very hot today and our trenches are drying beautifully. An observation balloon breaks lose [sic] and drifts over our lines. They start to shell us again pretty heavy.
Sat 3rd Very hot weather and another night of blood. They shell us awful and our casualties are heavy.
Sun Jun 4th
A terrible bomb calamity. A box or a large heap of bombs explode causing several casualties. It is said that Lieut Kinred tired to save lives by falling on them or something to that effect but it is difficult to get any definite news of the catastrophe. It caused quite a gloom especially as it is thought Lieut Stagg the very popular signalling officer was one of those blown up. The Germans give us a terrible strafe at midnight. Really we are in a hot corner of the line.
Mon Jun 5th
Raining in torrents all day.
Tues Jun 6th
Still pouring with rain and our trenches are filling with water and mud. How cheerful.
Still raining. It has hardly ceased for nearly 3 days. A bit brighter in the afternoon and then what a glorious sunset. Really lovely.
Thurs June 8th
This day will for ever be impressed on my memory. Our Platoon is making a raid on the German lines tonight at 9-0 led by our own officer Lieut A.V. Justice. We leave the front line at 9-0 in the morning and go back to the Reserve trenches to rest. We have a few words of advice from Col Roberts who asks us to bring back a machine gun and if possible a prisoner. I write to my people but it is with a heavy heart as I know it may be my last letter but I make no mention of our going over tonight. I pray earnestly that God will spare me. We split a sandbag down and make a hole through which to put our heads so that our chest and backs are covered. This is for us to know if we meet anyone in “No Man’s Land” without a sandbag it is a German.
The great bombardment commences just before nine o’clock. It also starts to rain. Just our luck. Col Roberts comes round and passes me with a cheering word and says he is pleased to see me smoking a cig as he knows then my spirit is alright. He gives us all the pass word which is “Bobs”. I get as far as the sap and just going out a shell knocks out 3 men on my right hand and 1 man on my left. I myself am blinded for a second but with a jerk I pull myself together and although it may seem ridiculous now to say so, I as it were, forced my eyes open to make sure I am not really blind. I do my utmost to get the wounded clear of any more danger so that they can be dressed. The shells are coming over like rain and Col Roberts is killed in the next bay to me.
Probably I was the last person he spoke to. By now our raiding party has returned after inflicting heavy casualties and smashing machine guns with bombs. They also secured a machine gun intact on a tripod which takes 6 of them to carry across “No Man’s Land”. It was a night never to be forgotten. Our casualties were heavy including Col Roberts and Capt Butt and our trenches are blown to atoms but we must console ourselves we gave them a thrashing also we have the honour of being the first Batt in the 11th Army Corps to capture a machine gun.
We return to the Reserve line and on the way down I find Pt Syd Dye wounded but able to walk. I help him to the dressing station and on the way he gets hit again in the head on the opposite side to me.
When I rejoin my chums we talk over our narrow escapes and adventures. Pt Carter has a hole right through the peak of his hat. We are surprised to find Pt Pat Smith with us as he was supposed to be with the mules in the transport lines but he said he heard our platoon was going over and wanted to be there with us.
Fri June 9th
We leave the trenches at 5-0 A.M. and march to Croix Barbee. We are dead tired, dirty and our kharki [sic] all in rags after 10 strenuous days in the line. We hear that Lord Kitchener has been drowned but of course we do not believe it as out here we have many false rumours going about every day.
Sat June 10th
We parade at 11-0 A.M. before General Pinney. Our Platoon is placed right out in the front of the whole Battalion and he congratulates us all on our raid of two nights ago. He has an extra special word of praise for our officer Lieut Justice because of his youth. He is younger than I am. Telegrams are read out to us from several Army Corps Commanders including one from our own Corps Commander General Claude Munro. Everyone seems delighted at our successful raid and our Batt has made a name for itself. We hear the machine gun is to be placed in Bristol Museum.
Sun June 11th Whit Sunday
At our Church Parade Canon Ross makes touching comments on the death of our Col. A large number of us receive the Holy Communion. We have an awful thunderstorm.
Bank Holiday June 12th
We have to get up at 1-30 A.M. and march to Port Arthur for fatigue. We are tunnel digging for the RE. It is interesting but oh so hard and heavy work. A strange Bank Holiday.
Tues June 13th
The wretched rain has started again and we march to Colon via Veille Chapelle, la Fosse and Lestrem a distance of 8 miles to attend a memorial service to Lord Kitchener. When we arrive we find it has been cancelled yet with all the telephone systems they could not let us know before we had tramped all those miles in the pouring rain. These are the happenings that make us hate the red tape of the Army. We return soaking wet through and find our rations are cut down very small, a loaf of bread has to feed 5 men for a day’s meals. I am getting to simply hate the Army; War; Kaiser and everyone connected with it.
Wed June 14th
Early Reveille at 1-0 a.m. and we march to Port Arthur in the pouring rain for fatigue with the Engineers. In the afternoon we are paraded in our rags and those that need them draw new suits. I am Cpl of the guard and at 11-0 P.M. we alter our watches and introduce the daylight saving.
Thurs June 15th
I answer as many letters as possible. I tell my mother that when I come home I shall order six pancakes for my first day’s dinner.
We march to Veille Chapelle. How these rough French roads tire and blister my feet. I am disgusted with all this marching.
Sat June 17th
On the march again, this time to Hinget on the La Bassee Canal. A cruel tiring march of 9 miles in the hot sun. I receive a little parcel of flowers from home, Lilies of the Valley. How very sweet.
Sun June 18th
A lovely day. What a change to have a quiet Sunday with no marching. Morning Service with Holy Communion. I feel just a little sad today and my mind continually goes back to home and my dear ones. As I hear my dear father has been having trouble with his feet. I send home a Postal Order for 2/- for him to get something to ease them. I shall always sympathize with in future with any one with bad feet after what I have had to put up with.
Reveille at 5-0 A.M. with first parade at 7-0 which is gymnastics. The NCOs hold what we call a “yelling parade”. We have to stand 100 yards apart in a huge field and pass orders to one another. The idea is to give an order distinctively even a great distance.
Tues June 20th
Our usual tiring march with full heavy pack.
Quite a busy day. I start off with Cpl of the guard at 8 o’clock. Later we go to Bethune (Bay-toon) for a bath. It was very interesting marching along side the La Bassee Canal, such glorious scenery and numerous old fashioned barges. These barges are drawn by women with a long piece of rope across their chest while the lazy men sit comfortably in the barge steering. We shout out to the men and say they are lazy but of course they do not understand. In the evening we inaugurate a branch of the Church of England Men’s Society and we have a fine manly speech by the Chaplain of the 1st Army. Quite a large number of us enrol as members.
We start off with Adjts Parade which reminds us of Tidworth Barracks, in fact we are on parade now all day from 7-0 A.M. until 4.30 P.M. doing the same drills as we did in training in England yet we are supposed to be seasoned soldiers with 5 months service in France, 4 months of which we have been continually in and out of the trenches and besides they promised us 6 weeks rest after 4 months trenches. We have the inevitable route march. Really no matter how hard you work or how tired you are there is always a route march. Today we marched to Annezin and the weather was very hot and trying. We complained in February of the cold, we have complained of the continual rain and now we grumble at the heat. I really do not know what weather is suitable for war. In the evening the Divisional Qtr Master inspects our clothes.
Fri June 23rd
We march to Chocques (Sho-kay) a distance of 6 miles in very hot weather. We are formed up to be reviewed by about half a dozen Staff Officers including Munro [Monro]. It is so close, no air going at all and Lance Cpl Bestwetheric a hardy farmer looking lad faints. Sir Claude Munro [Sir Charles Monro] presents honours to several men of our Division fora bravery. Just as we are marching past him a terrible thunderstorm breaks. I have never before been out in such a deluge. We get drenched going back and as we have no change we have to sleep in our wet clothes.
Sat June 24th
I take charge of platoon at drill. They ask all who can swim to step forward and about a dozen of us have a lovely swim in the La Bassee Canal. Another route march to Annezin and Vendin. We draw 10 francs. I write to my sister Annie for her birthday for July 3rd. I have a lovely parcel from Col Justice containing sardines; cocoa and milk; soap; Golden Syrup; and magazines. I have also magazines from my dear friend at Speen Miss A.L. Dunlop and Mirrors and Pictorial from Canterbury so we can all have a good read in “our spare time”.
Sun June 25th
We are working all day, drilling and musketry. It is nothing at all like Sunday. Morning Service at which I am acting platoon sergt. Musketry again in the afternoon. In the evening we hold a voluntary Service in the same field in which many are playing cricket. Parcels from home and Wash Common. Really I am going to have a good feed.
We are 6 hours on drill and musketry but those of us who can swim get a dip in the Canal.
A Brigade march to Vendin and Annezin. While we are out of the trenches we are supposed to be resting but actually we are on the go all day.
Raining hard all day but we have visional training. In this you have to pick out an object and describe as accurately and as quickly as possible what objects are to the right; left; above and beneath it. At 6-0 P.M. we have orders to pack up in readiness to move at a minute’s notice into the unknown. No one seems to know where we are moving to.
Thursday June 29th
Cpl of the guard and witness at trial of prisoners for absent from parade. We are still here ready to move any moment. We have orders that no more letters are to be written until further notice.
Fri June 30th
By a lucky chance I get a letter off to home saying I am quite well but for a time all letters are stopped. I do think this is a hardship as I know how anxious my people will be without news. We of course have our usual route march.
Sat July 1st
A very hot sultry day and our swim in the Canal was appreciated. Sergt Bartlett and I are made bayonette [sic] instructors to our platoon as for several days past we have both been have [sic] an hour daily at bayonette fighting under the instruction of a special sergt sent out with new ideas.
Sun July 2nd
Church Parade with Holy Communion in the morning. The Officers subscribe to fund and we hold swimming races in the La Bassee Canal in the afternoon. We hold a voluntary Church Service in the evening and then at 7-0 P.M. we have orders to pack up and no one to leave billets as we move at midnight. We are excited as no one knows where we are going to.
Mon July 3rd
Instead of moving at midnight we were told to get two hours sleep and then at 2-30 A.M. we were up and away to Chocques Station. We expected to find cattle trucks the same as at Le Havre but instead we find carriages sufficient to hold 48 men. We leave the station at 7-0 and we all hope with such comfortable carriages that we shall be in the train a good long time but alas we are doomed to disappointment as after a short journey, going south via St Pol, we arrive at Bouque Maison and then a tiring wretched march of 5 miles in the boiling sun to Lucheux (Loo-sho). We have a wash but no food as our “cookers” have not arrived. This is a very hilly country down here and the harvest is in full swing.
A wretched wet day. No parades but we are allowed at last to write letters.
Wed July 5th
Route march as usual. I suppose the red tape of the Army must think it necessary to tire and wear us out. We have a bath and change of linen.
Thurs July 6th
Another route march through a huge wood, more like a forest and the mud on the trackway is over our shoes. It is difficult to move much less march. In the evening I visit the old Church and Churchyard.
Fri July 7th
On the move to Beauval via Doullens both of which are very large towns. We are wet through and very tired after tramping 10 miles but I have to take Cpl of the guard. I feel done up. Such a glorious sunset, about the best I have ever seen.
Sat July 8th
Even after that long tramp we did yesterday they must needs take us another route march today. We draw 5 francs which now makes my total 80. I have a very nice letter also some cigs from Miss Dunlop and she tells me if I win the V.C. she will pay to have Speen Church bells rung for me. It is very kind of her but for my part I am not worrying about V.C. I am fed up with war and want to get back home.
A very very hot day. Church parade in the morning. In the evening I visit Beauval Church. It is a huge building more like a Cathedral with a very powerful organ. We climb to the organ loft and find it is an officer playing with another officer blowing with the old fashioned handle bellows the same as I remember we had at dear old Speen Church when I was in the choir. We climb to the belfry and Pte Richards who is with me helps the two French ringers with the bells for their evening Service. We then go to the Town Hall for a short Service and we sing that lovely Hymn “Holy Father in the Mercy”; also “Jesu lover of my soul” and “All people that on earth”. Capt Hunter gives us a grand sermon.
Mon July 10th
We leave at 8-0 A.M. and after a 14 miles march through Thevyres and Authie we arrive at Bus. This is all hills on this march and the sun is scorching hot so that many men fall out exhausted. We are in huts in a huge wood and over our boots in mud and water. This must surely be one of the worst holes in France for billits. We have to walk nearly a mile to wash and even then it was only a dirty green slimy pond. What a terrible dirty, unpleasant and inconvenient life Army life is.
Tues July 11th
On the move again. How we grouse and grumble at this flying column business. We are at the beck and call of every and any Corps. After a not dusty march of 8 miles during which we pass through Forceville we arrive at Warley Balloon. Although tired I take my usual stroll around the town.
Wed July 12th
We leave at 3-0 and march through Raizeux and Franvillers to Heilly. Here we are billited [sic] in tents but we are so crowded we get no sleep.
Thurs July 13th
On the move again. We leave Heilly at 2-0 and march 7 miles away to Chipley which is a trench camp. After 2 hours rest we are on the move again to some huge hills near Bray. We are now sleeping in the open fields and as some time back we had to hand in our overcoats and mackintosh we have no covering.
Fri July 14th
Early Reveille at 4-0 and we make every preparation for our share in the big Somme offensive after 11days flying column. I exchange my address with several of my chums in case of emergency. About 40 of us receive the Holy Communion in the pouring rain. At 12-0 we march away for about 3 miles which brings us nearer the line. We have had no wash or shave for several days. The huge guns, “Grannies” we call them, are firing over our heads. These are the largest guns I have seen.
Sat Jul 15th
A glorious day. Our huge guns are very active. We are still sleeping in open fields with no covering. While I am resting one of my chums says there are several men of the Royal Berks Regt. close by so I rush to see if any come from Newbury. I found one whose home was at Boxford and was with a man named Collyer from Bagnor when he died.
Sun July 16th
Church parade followed by Holy Communion. We leave at night to take up reserve trenches in a huge wood called Bernafay Wood. The French are on our right. These trenches are about the worst one could imagine. The parapets are made with layers of dead bodies with only just a covering of earth. In many cases the trench has fallen away leaving parts of the bodies exposed.
Mon July 17th
Food is very scarce and we are in a wretched condition, covered with mud and filth. The smell from the half-decomposed bodies is awful. We bury many Germans also several men of the Suffolk Regt. I should say the men of the Suffolk Regt. were from a new draft just arrived in France as all their clothing were new. The enemy opened a heavy bombardment at 10pm consisting chiefly of tear shelves which makes our eyes smart and make us cry. I notice a very singular thing. The Germans sent over about 40 duds (shells which have not exploded) all in one spot.
We are heavily bombarded at 3 and again in the evening. It was awful, the worst bombardment I have been through. We are almost dying with thirst and no water can be brought to us owing to the shelling. We spread out a dirty waterproof sheet and catch about 5 pints of rainwater which we strain off and boil with candles making holes in the parapets to hide the smoke. We drink the water out of a Gold Make cigarette tin. What a life and what an experience. I shall never forget it. We have now been 72 hours without sleep and having had no wash we are grimed with filth.
We are under a continuous bombardment and with scarcely any food and no water. We leave at 3 to hold another trench. At 10pm there is a call for reserves and there is a huge rush to get up. We have heavy casualties among whom is Coy. Sergt. Maj. Fowler of Y Coy. I help to bandage him up and Pte. Bennett and I carry him away. He is very heavy and as we have to travel over rough ground and keep on trying to avoid stepping on dead bodies, it was very difficult getting him away. We are shelled heavily and it is raining in torrents. On our return from the dressing station we lose our way and we are so dead tired we fall down anywhere to sleep.
We awake at daybreak and find our company are holding Trones Wood. We have been 24 hours without food or water and the bombardment is terrific. “O God of Heaven help us” is my prayer. We are relieved by the Royal Scots at 12.30 midnight and have 6 miles to march to our rest billet [sic] which is a huge field called “Happy Valley”.
Fri July 21st
After marching on through the night we arrive just after 6am. I am thankful for the two parcels that are awaiting me as we have now had no food for nearly 36 hours. I know what it is to be nearly dying with thirst and what it is to be hungry. I am OFC of the guard again and at midnight the enemy shell us very heavily. We scatter in the dark to some reserve trenches.
Sat July 22nd
We are continually shelled all day and our casualties are many. I have a very nice colourful letter from Rev. R.B. Dickson.
Sun July 23rd
Continually shelled so we can hold no service. Owing to such heavy losses we hear we are going back a long way for a rest and to get reinforcements. We move off at 8pm and have only been marching a few minutes when there is a huge bomb explosion. A bomb falls from a man’s pocket and nearly a whole platoon are either killed or wounded. We halt and rest in a field but at midnight we have to “Stand To” for nearly 3 hours.
Mon July 24th
At 3.30 we are marched back to take over Stanley Avenue. Our hearts are very heavy and we all grumble at being brought back into the line without a rest. The bombardment is deafening and we have to boil our tea with candles. There is great excitement and suspense at 9pm when we have to “stand to” in readiness to reinforce the Cheshires as the enemy are massing troops in front of them. I offer up a prayer for protection. Pte. Syd Dye and I exchange address and we both confide to each other that prayer is our only safeguard. We “stand to” all night but the Cheshires hold the line and we are not wanted. The suspense and waiting was very trying. There was just a little humorous touch. I had just received two Newbury papers and some “mirrors” from home and as I had no more room to pack them in my valise I tied them outside to my belt and several asked me if I was taking them to read in the German lines.
Tues July 25th
I receive anxious letter from home as they guess I am in this Somme fighting. I do wish this would finish up and end all their anxiety. We go to work as navvies on Casement Trench. A most singular thing, for about 10 minutes there is no rifle fire, no shelling and no lights. We have a rumour handed round that Austria had asked for peace. We are delighted as we think we shall soon be home.
Wed July 26th
I have had no wash since Sat and no shave and I have grown quite a beard. The weather is glorious. At 2.30 we move to take over another trench and over my dugout. I find two pieces of paper one giving details of our scrumptious meals of fillitted [sic] bully beef and Cafê without lait, the other saying my apartments were to let with glorious opportunities for fishing, (for dead bodies) shooting, (Germans), and bowling (bombs) a huge barrel arrives from Col. Justice and as we are going to be out working all night I have a real good feed. At 10.15pm we move to meet the Engineers to dig a communication trench from Trones Wood out into “no mans land”. We work until 2.30am.
Thurs July 27th
We finish our digging and prepare to return to our lines. Having our pack and rifles also picks and shovels we must have made an awful noise and I suppose the enemy heard us for they immediately started to shell us with some heavies and almost the first one burst overhead and caught me in the back. I go down with a thud and I am in awful pain with burning sensation in my back, left arm and right knee. I collect my thoughts and realise that if I do not make some effort to get away I shall either be fired on by the Germans at daybreak or taken in as a prisoner. I try to get up and walk using my rifle as a walking stick but I keep falling down so I attempt to crawl. The thing was which direction must I make for as it was pitch dark and everyone of our party had gone in not knowing I was hit. I crawled and wriggle and at last I find myself in the lines of the Cheshires who direct me to the Gloucester lines. I am in awful agony.
Eventually I find a Gloucester officer and he relieves me of my heavy pack. Two stretcher bearers come up Pte. Carter and Pte. Bevan both from my own section. They carry me away to an ambulance car. Before leaving me I tell Carter and Bevan they can share the lovely parcel from Col. Justice I have left behind. I have my coat all cut away so that they can get at my wounds to give them a dressing. The car starts off over shell holes and rough roads and at another dressing station I am dressed again. I can feel the blood all down my legs and what a strange thought comes over me.
I wonder if ever I shall dance again.
In the car again to the next dressing station where I am again dressed and then off again to the next station which is a tent hospital. I am carried in by Indian troops who have beards and long khaki coats and turbans. In their mixed English and French talk they say my wounds are “Bein” (good) and “engleterre” (England) which means my wounds would get me home to England. I have some sort of operation without chloroform and I scream with pain. I reach out and knock the instrument out of the doctor’s hand. He simply gave me one look and I instantly saw my folly so I apologised but he said it was quite alright. I am given a “Smith-Dorrien” bag to put all my belongings in and a Chaplain sends off two field cards for me. When he finds the address is Speen he asks if I know Mrs Gibbs of Speen House as she is his Aunt. We have a chat on Speen and Newbury.
Fri July 28th
I have not had much sleep but at 9am we are placed on a Hospital train at Vanquemont. It is a comfortable train with every luxury but it is so very hot. Still I am not grumbling as I am away from the line. My wounds are very painful. After 12 hours in the train we arrive about 8 PM at Boulogne and I get to no.14 general hospital. I am dressed again and have a soft bed. The doctor says he can send me to England with the next batch so I brighten up and try to bear the pain better.
Sat July 29th
Although I had a soft bed I did not sleep much. I suppose it was because I was not used to a soft one. We have the best of food, chicken, vegetables and pudding for dinner, eggs for tea, orange and cigarettes. We must never again grumble at being a soldier. I meet a Chaplain who knew Newbury very well and we have a good old talk. He was a friend of Capt. Partridge from Wash Common. I start writing a letter to home.
Sun July 30th
Six months ago today I left England for France and now today I am returning to the homeland. I am excited as I know I shall see all my dear people from home. I am leaving France with very mixed feelings, she has been both cruel and kind, she has given me fun and excitement but alas a great deal of anxiety. I really have no great wish to see her again during the war. I leave Boulogne at 10.30 and go onboard the “Fan Breydel”. It is a lovely day and my stretcher is placed out in the open. I gaze at the lovely blue sky and wonder where I am going but never mind I am on my way to England. I keep thinking of submarines and enemy mines as now I am helpless I should have no chance to make a fight for life. I add a little more news to mother’s letter. We arrive at Dover at 2 and I am carried to a Hospital train. I wonder where it will drop me, near to Newbury I wish.
It is an express journey going as fast or faster than any train I have been on yet there is no jolting, just a smooth swaying journey. It was amusing when they brought us each round a basin of soup. You could not help spilling it as when you got it to your mouth the sway of the train took it away again. It was such a boiling hot day and although I have only shirt and trousers on I wriggle the trousers off as the blanket is sufficient covering. I keep wondering where we are going to but I can guess by the sun sinking in the west that we are travelling towards north. We halt for a long time but I cannot find out where we are. On again and the second halt is Nottingham. Off we go again and then about 11.30 PM after a 9 hours express journey we are carried out of the train to ambulance cars. I enquire where we are and am told Sheffield.
There are crowds of people lined up and as we are carried out they throw flowers and cigs on our stretchers which I think was very kind and sympathetic. We are driven away and oh what a rough ride, bumping and jolting all the way. I intend to let the driver have a piece of my mind but when we stop I am carried straight into Wharncliffe War Hospital arriving just a few minutes before midnight. I am bathed and have all my particulars taken and when they ask for clothes all I possess is an under vest. I am thankful for a comfortable bed after such a rough ambulance ride. I send off mother’s letter with stamps I have carried all through France.
His great nephew writes…
(My great uncle survived the war and returned to the family home at Grove Cottage in Speen and later went on to marry Grace Hailstone. He lived at 7 Madeira Place, Newbury until his death in 1969.)