Monday 4th. Sept. 1916. Recalled from Leave. Ordered "out". Felt very 'bucked' with life. Train to Dunfermline, packed a few things and then off to Edinburgh. Terrific crowds at the station to see our train off. Slept on the floor of a third class corridor with a few drunken Canadians, who, I believe, talked to me most of the night without getting a reply. Cheery souls!
5th. Sept. Breakfast in Regent Palace Hotel, London. Lunch at The Troc! Folkestone crowded out. Transports full, place looked beautiful in the sunshine. Usual escort of destroyers crossing over. Had no regrets, and did no moralising as I saw the white cliffs of Dover recede from view. Horribly sick. We draw a veil here! Put up at the Louvre Hotel, Boulogne, with S.R.Wilson (l0th. Argylls, killed 3 weeks later).
6th. Up to the Base, Etaples, which is the last place on earth. Tents, sands, horrible drill instructors, and a rotten adjutant are all I remember of the place, although I was there until 12th. Sept. The atmosphere surrounding the place was rotten.
12th. Sept. Ordered up to the 11th. Service Battalion Argylls - the one to which I most of all wanted to go. Train due to leave at 2 p.m. Left punctually at 4.30 p.m., which is not bad for a French train. Reached Albert on the Somme Front about 6.30 p.m. on the 13th. - a distance of some 70 - 80 miles in 28 hours - not bad going for a French train either! Albert is where the battle now going on began, so I hope to see something decent. Reported to the Details Orderly Room of the 11th. Bn. who heard next day that we were coming. Went along to a park after tea to see our latest form of frightfulness about which mystery hangs, namely, the tanks. They have not been used against the enemy yet. Heyworth (who joined with me) and I then went along to the Divisional Reinforcement Camp at Mericourt.
14th. Sept. Loafed around.
15th. Heyworth and I wakened up early in the morning and told to proceed up the line. Got our 'skates on'. By 11 a.m. we had passed Contalmaison, now a heap of ruins, then we got under shell fire on the Bazentin Road. Passed over the Switch Line, and down towards Martinpuich.
There had been a big show this morning. With the Canadians on the left and the 50th. Division (?) on the right, the old 15th. Scottish Division had gone forward. Martinpuich, Courcellette and Flers had fallen. Our people suffered heavily from our new gunfire methods - the barrage - to which our men were not accustomed. Found what remained of the Battalion in a half-dug trench just South of the Western edge of Martinpuich. Reported to Lieut. McClure, the senior officer. Found Orr, McAinsh, and others whom I knew. Quite a lot of dead all over the place. We had met large numbers of wounded on the way up.
Well! Here we were shelled for three days by the old Hun, fortunately most of his stuff went 50 yards over, though we did have a few people laid out now and then. Found a dug-out, but rarely went to it. Weather beautiful. It was somewhat interesting to a newcomer to watch the shells knocking Martinpuich into a heap of bricks, only about 150 - 200 yards away. Though not so amusing when the bricks began to fall around one. Hun used a lot of shrapnel against us - dirty stuff! We often picked up bits which fell all around us, but had to let them go at once - they were so hot. At night one of our tanks just on our right flank took fire. It blazed away for a long time while the Hun amused himself flinging shells at it.
We had a very lively three days of it. One old rascal (Old Stevie) showed me some eight or nine watches which he had 'souvenired'. We used for line Headquarters an old dug-out in the near end of Martinpuich with eight entrances - five of which were blown in by shellfire, one actually while I was inside.
17th. Relieved by Seaforths on night of 17th, and went back to trenches just to West of Contalmaison, near the Chateau. I spent about half an hour looking for the Chateau, but could not find it, though I could see for miles in every direction. I believe the foundations exist in parts! Took a tremendous feed when we got back, and then slept with the rats (my companions for the next 2 - 3 years). Rain came down and soaked us through in our shelters.
18th. Sept. Relieved by the Durhams. Then walked to Melincourt. It rained the whole time. I believe I slept on the march! Not a man of my platoon fell out, though they must have been on their last legs. Had No. 6 Platoon of 'B' Coy. (Capt. A.G.Cameron).
19th. On the march again to Baisieuz. My servant Milligan calls it "Bazooks". Found we were to camp on a mud field. Waited three hours until the tents came. Just like the Army!
20th. Sept. Roll Call. About ten officers and 360 other ranks from the battalion 'absent'! That's War!
Note from RLM, 1972: Divisional History showed 7 Officers killed and 6 wounded 15th. - 19th. September, and of the men, 45 killed, 245 wounded and 30 missing in the whole of September, i.e. Battalion Casualties.
21st. Found out that there was a bigger population of beetles, wasps and mice in my tent than I had ever seen in any place in England.
Resting (In The Mud)
An easy life now. Men recuperating after the show. Weather the limit! Men complimented by G.O.C. Division and Brigade. Am in a splendid battalion. Officers and men grand. "Hard drinkers and hard fighters", as Phillip Gibbs described them after his Christmas dinner with them in 1915.
24th. Sept. Joint Church Parade with the Camerons. Padre's words mixed up with the boom of a gun or with the screech of a motor bike doing 50 miles per hour.
26th. Sept. Range work. Met the Brigadier. Tried to 'bluff' him twice and succeeded once - not bad for a 'greenhorn'. Out riding at night. Alarm at night for lord knows what.
Life fairly uneventful. Usual 'rags' at night with the officers. Came off fairly well. Artillery fire seemed to liven up from day to day. The Hun must be getting it 'in the neck'. We are now supposed to go up for a short 'stunt' again next week, and preparations are being made for it.
Up To Line Again
October 4th. Camp flooded - gratuitous bath! Move to Bresle, the Durhams again taking over from us. Told to act as Signalling Officer by the C.O. Told him I knew very little about the game.
5th. Oct. A month since I landed in this place and big changes have taken place already. McCallum joins 'B' Coy. Captain C--- just back from Paris - and he looks it.
6th. Doing signals. Find the sergeant is a bit lazy. Wakening him up a little.
7th. Reveille 5 a.m. Eugh! Rain, mud, confusion - march to Bresle, Albert, Becourt ("X 27"), halted for a couple of hours, once again. (Damn these lorries which cover us all over with mud!) On to Martinpuich. Shell holes and shells. Only a few casualties.
8th. Lovely morning. In afternoon 'A' Coy. (in Martin Alley Trench) were shelled. The Hun threw 402 5.9"s at the trench. Only two killed and a half dozen wounded. Heard Ian Morrison had been killed on the 15th. just about an hour after I left him.
Attack Of 9th Division Opposite Eaucourt L'Abbaye
11th. Oct. Detailed to watch bombardment of ours over the front of the 9th. Scottish Division, on our right, preparatory to their attack. Found out where their (the Huns') retaliation fell, and reported. Glorious view. C.O. quite pleased. It was very funny to watch the sky-line go up in bits and then disappear in the smoke. S.R.Wilson killed in this attack.
12th. Oct. Gas shell attack 5 to 6 a.m. Made me wild. Don't want to take prisoners after this. Some bad casualties owing to gas.
13th. When the the 13th. of the month falls on a Friday, BEWARE! A shell came into our dug-out bursting through the roof, shattered the mirror near where it had entered (worst of all), dirtied a few people, and wounded the Adjutant and one or two others. I was out at the time, looking at the line with the C.O. So I had to carry on as substitute adjutant until Tobermory Maclean came up and took over as Adjutant. We relieved the Royal Scots in the front line. Got to sleep at 3 a.m. and rose at 7 a.m.
14th. Round the line. Filthy sights around Le Sars where our artillery must have given the Hun a little anxiety. Got chased by pip-squeaks along with W.C.Smith. Livens one up a little and keeps one fit! Relieved at night by H.L.I. Tiring tramp back to Shelter Wood. Of course, no sooner had we sat down to our midnight meal than the Hun, with his usual sense of humour, began shelling us. No damage done. More shelling about 5 a.m. Our tent covered with muck, while one or two other tents got holes in them. Nothing worse, fortunately.
Sunday 15th. Had a bath.
16th, 17th, and so on till the end - MUD, MUD, MUD!
18th. Our 'rest' is now finished - when did it begin? Left Lozenge Wood, for Martinpuich.
19th. Rotten ration party to take up to the Royal Scots. Bed 3 a.m. Half a bed is better than no bed at all!
20th. Round the companies. The C.O. (MacNeil of Oban) got a mouldy haggis, which he ate all by himself. It came in a parcel labelled "CAKE". He had kept it for three weeks!
21st. Canadians on our left attack the "Quadrilateral" and village of Pys. Partial success. Bombardment all night.
Back to Martinpuich from the line. Frost came on us suddenly and played the mischief with the mens' feet. Had to send a number to hospital.
24th. Oct. Relieved by 7/8th. K.O.S.B. Back to Lozenge Wood. Roads heavy on way back. Got stuck in the mud.
30th. Oct. Still at Bécourt, "X 27" district, as bleak and as barren a place as the Western Hebrides. Note from RLM, 1972: I first visited the Hebrides about 1967! It is said that grass once grew here!
31st. Front line again.
2nd. November. Chased by snipers. Relieved by 5th. Bn. Gloucesters, of 48th. Division.
3rd. Left Bécourt Dell for Albert and a bath.
4th. Albert is knocked about in the most up-to-date fashion, in accordance with the most advanced ideas. There is not a pane of unbroken glass in the place. Every house, if not entirely demolished or with a gable or two missing, has a few holes in the roof, which help the ventilation and also assist materially in the disposal of surplus rain. Ye Gods! It is a funny life!
Albert Cathedral has been very badly smashed but the tower still remains with the figure of the Virgin and Child held out at right angles to it at the top and threatening to fall at any moment on the heads of countless people who pass below. It is commonly said that the War will not end until the Virgin falls. As the French don't want it to fall (preferring to keep it as a monument of the Huns' occupation of the place), what can we do? [Fortunately in the 1918 German Offensive, the Hun recaptured Albert and so gave our gunners the chance to knock the thing down by mistake! That's how the War ended!]
Not In The Line
5th. Nov. Billeting ahead for the Battalion in the delightful place known as Baisieux. Things went well. Back to 'B' Coy. and No. 6 Platoon as the proper signalling officer has now returned.
8th. Nov. Got 16 letters and papers in 24 hours - the accumulation of several days post. Must say we do appreciate cheery letters out here!
Behind Albert. Meet Gough, G.O.C. 5th Army
9th. Billeting again at La Houssaye. Had a row with the Brigade Major. We were both right, only our adjutant had given me wrong instructions and I was only doing my duty by obeying them.
12th. Rugger against A.S.C.
Humdrum life. Snow fell occasionally.
18th. To Amiens with Heyworth. Aired my French and emptied my pockets. Motored back.
25th. Nov. Billeting for Battalion in Contay.
26th. Moved to Contay. After dark, when having my dinner, I was told that somebody outside wanted to see me. Said something, and went out. Found a little officer and another bigger one, who wanted to see Colonel MacNeil. I said something like "Come along, old boy, up this way!" and raced the little fellow up one of those filthy little streets to the C.O.'s billet. Found it was General Gough, G.O.C. 5th. Army and Gen. Malcolm, his M.G.G.S. Gee! He was out of breath and could scarcely speak to the C.O. when they met!
Mametz - And Snow
29th. Felt rotten. Had a cold - owing to being billeted in a house!
30th. March to Mametz Wood. Took about 3 hours. Tents on a white hillside.
1st. December. We are to make roads for the next few days. Out occasionally on work parties. Those officers not on duty all stayed in bed (valises!) and so did the men. We ate, slept, read in our valises. It was so cold outside. We had no fires, absolutely nothing, yet I really believed we enjoyed ourselves. There was practically no shelling.
Found two Russian guns in Mametz Wood. Their date was 1882. They had been used by the Russians early in the war and then been captured by the Hun, taken across Germany, and then used to stay our Somme Offensive. Judging from their appearance they'll never be used again, unless for the scrap heap!
7th. Waited two hours for a train to take us the 4 mile journey to Meaulte. This is absolute truth! Billets in Albert.
10th. Dec. Amiens with MacCallum.
11th. Inoculation. Felt that the end of the world was coming. Out riding to Scots Redoubt with Fyfe. Had a beastly pony - stumbling at every step. When we got into Contalmaison our guns began to go off all around us, then a few German shells came in and the poor old pony 'got off its mark'. Found myself faced with the problem of how to go over the horse's head decently without injuring my inoculated arm. Fortunately managed to stop the brute in time.
14th. Out, officially this time, to take over at Scots Redoubt.
15th. Took over for the Battalion from 12th. H.L.I. in Martinpuich. Found them in a bad mess, having arrived in darkness the previous night, and their men were all over the countryside! Got a working arrangement and saw our battalion in safely - except D.T.M. who, of course, lost his way. Our dug-out flooded, but I managed to find a dry part of the floor. Men's shelters very bad.
Sunday 17th. Left in a hurry for the Front Line. Relieved 6/7th. R.S.F. at 6 p.m. Our line of defence here is not continuous - consists of piquets, posts, and sentries. Had rather a difficult corner to hold. The shell hole occupied by some of my platoon, and just about 10 yards from my H.Q. having been raided and bombed that very morning. Got extra Lewis Gun for the post. Work party digging a new piquet line. Had to do every damn thing myself as my platoon sergeant was hopeless. Had a very busy couple of days.
19th. Relieved by 8/10th. Gordons. Back to Scots Redoubt - a long, long trail. Thank goodness there is a soup kitchen halfway.
20th. to 22nd. Cleaning up.
23rd/24th. Fatigue Party, hard driving work, Pioneer Camp.
25th. Dec. This is Christmas Day by the way! Left at 4 p.m. with 60 - 70 men to carry trench boards from Martinpuich to the front end of Le Sars. Men did well, however, and I did not have very much trouble. Battalion up in Front Line again. 'B' Coy. in dugouts behind Eaucourt L'Abbaye. Had to remain below all day because our movements could be spotted by the Hun, who had two or three guns always trained on the dugout doors, which he was always smashing. Shelling very severe and accurate in this part of the line.
Still Mucking Around
26th. Carrying party at night.
27th. Relieved by 13th. Royal Scots who had an officer and two or three men killed on the road up. Back to Prue Trench and Seven Elms at night. Awful place. Freezing cold.
28th. Dawn did not improve matters much.
29th. Dec. Front Line again. What an affection it has for us! Heavy journey with two days rations. The going was so hard it took an hour for the party to move 3/4 of a mile. None of my men fell out, but I've had more trouble with the sergeant. He'll go at the first opportunity! Mud a tremendous hindrance. It prevented large patrols going out. Hun did not seem to worry. He was content to sit in his trench and 'poop off' Verey Lights.
Farquharson and I were nearly shot by one of our own Lewis Gun men while taking a walk in "No Man's Land". (We had gone out without warning ALL our front line men. By chance the gunner got a glimpse of my bare knees and kilt, and recognized we were not Huns).
The Butte of Warlencourt looked very strange at nights under the glare of Verey Lights. It is shaped just like a coal bin, only it is white in colour from the chalk. The 8/10th. Gordons raided it a few nights later and killed about 80 Huns.
30th. Dec. Longest day in my life so far. Could not move about. All the trenches had fallen in, and our men just lay about in shell holes. The Hun treated us to aerial darts and grenades and we had a few casualties, chiefly in my platoon.
31st. Dec. Repetition of the 30th., only we had the additional trouble of some short shooting on the part of our own gunners. Relieved at night. Got back to Scots Redoubt at 11.30 having carried some 400 rounds of machine gun ammunition in addition to a few other things. Went round with the rum and whisky to my platoon, and so we brought in the New Year. Later on some of the people in the hut began mixing their drinks. We had a terrific meal also. I had about four huge parcels from home containing everything from soap to St. Ivel cheese and Scotch Haggis!
1st. January. Wrote a few letters and got into bed at 3 a.m. Slept like a top, as we had had very little sleep during the past few days. Wakened along with the rest of the officers at 10 a.m. by the C.O. Think some of us must have fallen asleep again for he returned at 11 a.m. and found half still in bed. I was out of bed but was garbed like Venus at the well when he reappeared. Devil of a strafe over this. A new major has rolled up - he does look new - to the War!
2nd. Jan. Major A--- died - had too little to do. (Suicide).
3rd. Jan. Signalling again. Away up 26th. Avenue (a trench) taking over from 10/11th. H.L.I. Tried to get some souvenirs out of an old tank used last September - nothing doing - the whole business blown to bits.
4th. Jan. In charge of advance party for the relief. Trouble with the cooks, who, of course, had to get lost. Caused me a lot of walking. Shelled a bit. One landed 2 - 3 yards in front of me but it was a dud, and I was well down anyway, even although it was in the open.
I Meet The Artillery
5th. Jan. Detailed by the C.O. to go out shooting with a 6" Howitzer officer who was to meet me in Martinpuich (i.e. about 1 1/2 miles behind the lines and about 1/2 to 3/4 mile behind our battalion H.Q.). Apparently Farquharson, my O.C. Coy., had reported the short shooting by 6 inch howitzers of ours on 31st. Dec. The gunners of course denied it. As some of their shells had been falling all day all around my platoon I rather backed up Farquharson. Unfortunately he gave my name as a witness and the whole business went to Corps. H.Q. Looked as if I had been complaining, tho' I know that our gunners must necessarily 'put the wind up' us at times.
Anyway, Mr. 6 inch How. said he would take me to his Observation Post "which was very far forward in a dangerous place", and he would repeat his 'shoot' of 31st. Dec. The beggar took me to a spot not many yards from our battalion H.Q.! He fired off some 50 - 60 rounds at £3:10:0 per round for my edification, taking two hours to do it. Then I told him I was bored, fed-up, hungry, and was buzzing off. As I left him I heard him shouting down the telephone to his battery. "Infantry Officer fed up and hungry and has left me. Stop shoot". Never heard of him again.
5th. Jan. Round the line at night. Some of the Huns' dead still unburied (killed in October!). We had not had time to look after them.
6th. Back to Acid Drop Camp about midnight.
8th. Jan. Front Line again. Glorious night. Laying out lines as usual - 1 a.m. Away out by Chalk Pit. Snowed like Billy-Oh. Lucky to get back by 3 a.m. Got tucked away in a number of sandbags for the night.
10th. In charge of guides for relief by 6th. Camerons. Things went well. Reached Villa Camp by 10 p.m. and got settled down by 12.
11th. Jan. Had a bath in Albert, an event always worth chronicling.
12th. Shifted to Scots Redoubt South.
16th. Jan. To Pioneer Camp. 6 inches of snow on the ground. Ugh!
18th. Into line again. Ground heavy with snow. Atmosphere thick with haze. Strange quietness all around. It was odd to walk for mile after mile along a staked path or on duckboards in the snow. Shell holes all covered up, so we often went in up to the knees. Held up fairly often. Shelled outside Bn. H.Q. and had four or five beside me wounded, not very seriously.
19th. Round the line with the C.O. who 'strafed' everybody. Got down for a sleep about 6.30 a.m. Fairly busy afternoon. Out at night. C.O. Still strafing. Got back at midnight. "C.O." here does not refer to Colonel MacNeil (of blessed memory - he was probably on leave at this time), but to "Conscientious Obstructor", Major H.A.Duncan, temporarily i/c.
Three of a Lewis gun team killed, including McShee who was a master at my school, Hillhead High School, and some wounded. They were in an advanced post at the time. Short shooting as cause. I suppose difficult to avoid, but most embarrassing to infantry who have enough to do to keep out of the road of Hun stuff.
20th. Back to support trenches at Seven Elms - a bleak feature-less desert. Nothing but snow everywhere. The C.O. was lost for 2 hours on the way back - he had only 700 yards to go but took all that time. Battalion fearfully pleased when they heard about it. Heard afterwards that C.O. had visited Eaucourt L'Abbaye and Martinpuich in his wanderings. Lovely!
21st. Trouble with old F. but got things squared up before C.O. came home. Good thing for F. Conference re. raid.
22nd. Line again.
23rd. Hunnybun on patrol had a man knocked out. Very hard time. The C.O. told me he wanted me to act as adjutant while Maclean was on leave. Told him I didn't want to as I was too junior in the Battalion. He wasn't very pleased.
24th. The Black Watch relieved us. They had some 16 casualties. We were very lucky.
27th. Working party - these are the banes of an infantry officer's existence.
28th. Line again. What an affection we have for it!
29th. Good dose of trench mortars and whizz-bangs while going round the line.
30th. Jan. Milligan, my servant, off to hospital with fever. 8/10th. Gordons raided the Butte of Warlencourt. They passed me by, clothed in white shirts and nighties, white helmets, and rifles part white bandaged, in the snowy night. They didn't bring back a prisoner. Put a terrific wind up the Hun. Splendid show!
Note from RLM, 1972: They brought back twelve prisoners, as per War history.
1st. February 1917. At Acid Drop Camp.
2nd. Sent to take over camp at Fricourt from 26th. Battalion Australians. Arrived there about 7 a.m. Found them all packing up. When their C.O. found there was a Scotty in the camp he sent for me and before I could state my business placed a glass and some 'ammunition' in front of me. He was quite surprised when I told him I never drank before 7.30 in the morning. He told our C.O., so the Battalion had a laugh at me!
Off To Paris
4th. Did billeting in Franvillers. Very cold cycling. Roads were the last word for all that is bad. It began freezing at this time, and for two weeks there was not a moment's thaw - even at midday the frost held. The men could scarcely hold their rifles for drill - of course, the Staff considered that the War would not be won without drill! Remained in Franvillers till 18th. Had great ride with Jimmy Orr one day on a couple of fresh horses. Fine omelettes ˆ la francaise in Corbie. Alan White and I granted Paris leave. Got a lot of good-humoured advice from those who had been there before.
The C.O. told me what to see - the Louvre, Napoleon's Tomb, etc., etc. but we did not see any of these places. Buzzed off to Amiens. Dined in style at the Gobert Hotel. Soup, omelette, fresh fish (the first I had tasted for 6 months), duck, souffle, chocolate, fruit, etc. All for 11/-.
Spent night at Belfort Hotel. We were unfortunately given rooms on the very top storey, and only 100 yards from the station. Of course, the Hun came over to bomb the station. As we knew how often his shells and bombs fell just 100 yards short of their objective we were almost frightened. However, we turned over on the other side, resolved to die like gentlemen - in bed!
14th. February, 1917. Up at 5.40. Train late by 1 hour, owing to air-raid, so that wasn't bad. Paris 12.45. Bolted in a bee line for the station restaurant, and remained there till they had produced the finest lunch of the week. Embarrassed temporarily after lunch by the many gratuitous offers of guides, official and otherwise. Soon learned how to deal with the whole beastly crew, and showed them we were not as green as our kilts indicated. I object to guides of any sort.
Our first move was to the Banque de France where we got about 250 francs each. I think we caused some amusement there.
Got into the Continental Hotel, the finest in Paris - this after the C.O.'s advice as to hotels. He had given us an address where we could get bed and breakfast for half a crown, or something. Guess a waiter in the Continental would hand back half a crown if he got it as a tip! We got a bedroom fit for a King. Tea at Maxime's - disappointed with it. Of course, that's not the fashionable hour! Reported to Maurice Brett, the novelist (A.P.M. at Paris) - rather a well known character. Dinner at the Continental. We had some Melba peaches at 2/3 each! Rationing is beginning in Paris tomorrow. Why could they not put it off for three days!
14th. Bed fairly early.
15th. Breakfast in bed! If I ever get back from this war I'm going to have breakfast in bed every day of my life. I'll have coffee and rolls to it. Notre Dame, Hotel de Ville. Lovely streets and buildings. Lunch at Ciro's. Omelettes were most expensive there. We had two each. Perhaps that was why. Our uniforms saved us from dressing for all these places. Rumplemayers for tea. Very nice. Tremendous number of monde and demi-monde there! Think a great deal of the style and dress and of the looks of the Parisiennes, but that's all. They don't compare with the Rue de la Sauchie. Felt myself becoming quite Frenchified. Alan does not know French, so I get plenty of practice. Visited the Banque de France again just in case it would be necessary. Opera House at night. Romeo and Juliet. Magnificent show. Wonderful acting. Glorious singing.
16th. Taxied round the Bois de Boulogne. Full speed along the Champs Elysees. All out round the Avenues in the Park. Had the hood of our car down. These Parisians who hate the cold must have thought us mad. We didn't have coats either. Back by Quai d'Orsay. Thought of old Monte Cristo.
The place is full of Americans just now - all rushing out of Germany. We are scarcely in it. Uncle Sam is running the show, and is far more popular. Wait till he sees how nice the war is!
Olympia at night. Found some Gordons from the 15th. Division. They had apparently been drinking success to the Division! We were the only Highlanders in the place. Nearly mobbed but got out with all our party. Some night! Bed fairly early, as we had to leave next day.
Back To The Fold
17th. Left with 1.15 train. Four English nurses in the compartment. Got into an argument with them about Scott's poetry. Proved to them that Scott was a greater man than Shakespeare!!! Amiens again. Belfort.
18th. On to Frevent. Division has shifted from the Somme (high time too!). Expect offensive in the North. Lorry via St. Pol to Roellecourt. Lunch, and then walked to Maisnil-St-Pol. where I found the Battalion. Maisnil lies behind Arras and Vimy.
19th. Old job again and here endeth this chapter!
The 15th. Scottish Division had been on the Somme for about six months. Their tour of duty began in the full heat of summer and with a bad spell of most cruel fighting, particularly around High Wood. Then on 15th. Sept., with the help of tanks, they took Martinpuich, but suffered pretty heavily. The remainder of the winter was fairly quiet as far as fighting was concerned. The weather was our worst enemy. Mud and snow and rain were always present. In spite of that, the men were very healthy. We seldom got very far from the line, and when in the line or near it amusements were few. Now and then a stray concert party blew up. Leave went slow for officers and particularly for men. Life was very hard but not too dangerous. We made plenty of fun amongst ourselves, and many a wild night was spent in the old tents or huts well within range of the Boche 'cottar gun', a 4.2" high velocity. Some of us managed Paris leave, a few being benefited by the change, and a few being not much better off. Altogether in spite of mud and a certain amount of sickness things were not too bad. They could be a thousand times worse - as we were soon to see.
20th. Feb. Hood went sick yesterday, so I became A/Adjt. Kept the job until 4th. March when Tobermory Maclean returned. Had very busy and interesting time. Maisnil-St-Pol became famous in our time for the "Town-Major Incident", when the C.O. (Duncan) woke up one morning to find the bed next to his covered with big boot marks and thick with mud. Never saw any man so wild!
The C.O. however did one good thing in this village. A man died, and instead of sending the body with a firing party a distance of 20 miles to the nearest British Cemetery - in rain and snow - he buried the fellow in the village cemetery - thus saving much trouble and a rotten tramp for some dozen poor beggars who would have had to 'hoof it'. The correspondence with the Staff over this apparently irregular action occupied ten volumes. No fewer than 6,000 questions were asked and answered - by the poor A/Adjt.!!! So much for the Staff running the War!
Note from RLM, 1972: Yes, I know what you are thinking
24th. Feb. Battalion moved to Noyellette, of which place Sorley became Town Major. At this place the C.O. designated H.Q. Mess as little better than a third rate bar, raising his nose as he sniffed. It was his fault. He drove even the poor Padre to drink! I found the life very interesting. Work began about 8 a.m. and continued until about midnight for me. Battalion was engaged on daily work parties.
The 10th Argylls
3rd. of March. Moved up to Arras by road. Just near the "Y" huts at the cross roads our battalion halted for ten minutes, as usual, on the journey up. One of the men came to me and said that the 10th. Argylls were just a quarter of a mile away. I set off at a gallop for the place, found a drummer boy of the 10th. and told him to go at once into his officers' mess and get out everybody from the Colonel downwards, for the 11th. Argylls would pass in a few minutes.
He did his work thoroughly! When the C.O. gave the order for our fellows to fall in and march off, we began to find hundreds of fellows, all Argylls, coming in the opposite direction. Soon the battalion had to stop - and brother met brother! Our fours suddenly became eights, and shouting was heard everywhere - in the richest Glasgow accents. All the 10th. seemed to shake hands with all the 11th! They brought out their pipe band and played us along the road. I saw dozens of people I knew. The whole road was blocked by the composite 10th/11th. Argylls.
Our C.O.'s face was a study. He couldn't speak. Fortunately he never discovered who brought the 10th. Argylls along. I believe he had his suspicions however. He was in the very devil of a mood that night, so we just left him to look after his own affairs, while we had a good dinner in a hotel in Arras.
War De Luxe In Front Of Arras
This hotel, Hotel de L'Universe, was situated near the station and only about 25 minutes walk from the front line. It was staffed by French people and remained open throughout the whole Arras Offensive until the German Offensive of 1918 when it closed down temporarily. There were quite a number of French people in Arras during the whole course of the war, a factor which could not but have helped the enemy espionage system. We got some quite good dinners out of this hotel. On this particular night we had a specially good meal, paying for it, but the C.O. would not participate. He sat aside and watched us!
3rd. March 1917. The battalion moved into the line at dawn - a daylight relief, a most welcome change from the Somme where, owing to the lack of trenches, every movement in the open had to be carried out after dark.
Our H.Q. was a little house only 750 yards from the front line - just out of range of the Boche trench mortars. Of course, the place was not infrequently strafed by guns. In this house we ate, slept and worked. The H.Q. men lived in the cellar below, where they were comparatively safe. We had two pianos - and the signallers made good use of them. People at the end of the phone in the front line could hear the music at Battalion H.Q.!
We had a splendid trench system in front of Arras, and could move about easily during the day. The Hun was fairly active with trench mortars and machine guns, but we had little to complain about. At one point our line was only 25 yards from the Hun trenches. The men had plenty of dugouts or cellars and were fairly well off. The front line ran through a street, and among the ruins of houses and factories.
Arras Before The Offensive
5th. Maclean came back and I reverted to looking after signals. Life became cheerier, preparations for our offensive proceeded apace, dumps were formed forward, extra trenches dug, stores formed, new lines laid. All the time units were shortening their frontages and Arras becoming more crowded. Every odd corner and cellar was occupied. During daytime it looked like a city of the dead - all our men were hidden on account of Boche aeroplanes - but at night they came out of their holes and burrows and the streets became like Gallowgate on a Saturday night.
7th. March 1917. Bn. relieved and on 10th. we moved back to Noyellette again. Succeeded in getting back to my company tho' asked to become assistant adjutant. Liked the company life better.
11th. to 18th. Training all day long. Managed to get away occasionally for a ride to Habarcq, Arras or Hyesnes-le-Comte. German withdrawal from Somme Front. Very bucked with the news. Loupart Wood, Butte de Warlencourt etc. all taken. We had sat in the mud looking at these places in winter.
19th. Billeted at Maizieres. Good billets. Only person displeased was the Padre - and he was suitably 'told off'.
20th. Colonel MacNeil due back. Thank Goodness! Orders out for the show. Things look promising and men are in good trim. 'A' and 'B' coys will probably have the hardest time. 'C' and 'D' go over first, and then 'A' and 'B' go through to take the Railway Embankment - a mile beyond. Only four officers per company to go over, so expect to be one. Felt very keen.
21st. Practising over dummy trenches for the show. The Colonel, MacNeil, back - what a relief! A difference in the Battalion already.
21 - 24th. Training daily on ground about 4 or 5 miles away. Weather very cold, snow and sleet. Toppingly fit. Told I was to be left behind at Duisans on the first day. Went to see the adjutant about it, but he chased me. Two brand new captains have rolled up. Discovered that I have £40 in the bank. Will just about do for leave - when it comes.
24th. March. Out from 7.45 a.m. till 4 p.m. without a meal. Jove! We tucked in when the parade was over. This training is a trifle overdone.
28th. Rode over to Avesnes. Looked up Tom Martin of Hillhead School. Tea in Officers Club, followed by more tea somewhere else. Saw Sir Douglas Haig and Staff. Bought fish. Devil of a job to get it back as the bag burst in the middle of a gallop. My clothes smelt of fish for days after. Dined with 'A' Coy. Tremendous night.
29th. To Averdoignt with Alan Whyte. Called on MacCallum. Tea with him in a cafe where he knew the people.
31st. Cycled to Arras. Shelled on the road by a naval gun when I was about 4 - 5 miles behind the line. One shell fell just a few yards behind me at the side of the road. Working until midnight, but got the battalion billeted O.K.
1st. April. Splendid row with the Town Major. Showed him the error of his ways - fortunately he was only a Lieutenant.
2nd. Work party - the first of a rotten series up round the front line. Got shelled a bit as we were working along side one of our batteries. No casualties, fortunately.
3rd. March. Took a walk through the sewers where the battalion is to stay during the final bombardment. Cold as hades, but lit with electric light which I don't think they need in Hades. Had to leave late at night for Duisans. Came out by the Scarpe Canal. Soaked through with rain. Argument with 8/10 Gordons who wanted to take the hut we were in. (It was really the Gordons' hut).
Am down as Reserve Signalling Officer. Felt very sorry to leave the men, but feel sure it won't be for long, for I'll be up soon.
7th. Heavy bombardment. Thank goodness I'm not a Hun.
8th. The Day Before!
9th. THE Day! Good news came first - then bad news. Didn't hear our bombardment at 5 a.m. owing to the wind blowing in the wrong direction, and to the fact that I was asleep. Went into Duisans, and learned that we had the front system everywhere, but that our brigade (45th.) were held up by the Railway Embankment, which is some 60 feet high. That meant that 'A' and 'B' companies were held up. Heard they were to try again at 12.15 p.m.
Saw about 1300 prisoners - poor specimens, particularly the officers. Couldn't rest all day, but looking for news. Thousands of cavalry passing through Duisans all day. Heard that the "Blue Line" was taken at 3 p.m. and then the "Brown Line" in parts. At 5 p.m. all objectives of Division gained, and 37th. Division going through towards Monchy - the pivot of Vimy Ridge. Felt bucked but feared the casualties. All divisions, the 9th, 15th, 51st, 3rd, and 12th. - all have done beautifully. Far better than the Somme show. Poor Alan Whyte killed. Shankland and Eric Duncan wounded. Jock Stewart seriously wounded but still able to swear, which he did all the way down to the Casualty Clearing Station. Hunnybun got shell-shock. Went into my valise at 7 p.m. with indigestion.
Wakened about 9 p.m. by Southey who came into the tent to say that A.G.Cameron, Baillie, Muirhead and myself had to go up the line. Was dressed in no time, as I had everything ready. Rotten night. Snowing heavily. Left Milligan behind with my valise and instructions to come up next day. Got onto main Arras Road. Devil a bus in sight. Tremendous number of limbers and transport at roadside - blocked - waiting to get forward. Very dark.
Ultimately managed a car and got to Arras Railway Station comfortably. No shells falling in Arras, which looked darker and more dismal than ever. Lots of cavalry moving through. Left car, and with Muirhead and Baillie, who was up for the first time, went down the old Douai Road. Hun very quiet. Passed along via our old Bn. and Coy. H.Q., the latter now a mass of ruins where some 20 houses were blown off the map by the explosion of a trench mortar dump. Big crater formed - a tomb for some 30 men. Took Muirhead and Baillie up to old front line which I knew well, and sat down for a breather in O.G.1. (Old German Line 1). Wire beautifully knocked about. Moon coming up. Struck across country, followed along by the Railway and by Fred's Wood to the embankment which was easy to find as it was just about a mile away. German trenches in terrible mess - quite unrecognisable. Remarkably clean battlefield - I only saw one dead Hun. The railway embankment was well marked by our shells.
Tuesday 12.30 a.m. Found the Bn. H.Q. all asleep except for the signaller on duty. Heard of Forrest's death, one of the best of my signallers. Stirton had been distinguishing himself, and had accounted for several snipers in the Wood of Blangy who were responsible for Forrest's death.
What had happened was as follows:- 'C' and 'D' Coys left under cover of the barrage in grand style. They took Fred's Wood quickly, but they did not do any mopping up, i.e. they left a number of unwounded Huns behind them in their eagerness to get forward. 'A' and 'B' Coys. therefore got a tremendous amount of this work to do. They bombed dugouts, took prisoners, or didn't take them. A number of snipers were passed over in Blangy Wood, and it was some three hours before they were accounted for. They caused poor Whyte's death in addition to Forrest's and several others. They were finally disposed of by bombs, etc.
The Railway Embankment
'A' and 'B' Coys. then passed through 'C' and 'D' towards the Railway Triangle - the key to our part of the front. They were soon under heavy M.G. fire from Huns on the top of the embankment and from the concrete dugouts below. Our fellows had to keep low and get into the old Hun trenches. Here Stewart, Eric Duncan and several other officers were wounded. Capt. Mitchell patrolled on his own down to the embankment and actually climbed it, to find himself confronted at the top with several Boches. He of course got some information (!) and got back, lor' knows how.
By this time we had a wire laid out to Fred's Wood (10 a.m.) and the artillery (whose fire was well over the embankment by this time) were persuaded to give it another dose. Our fellows then attacked again and took the embankment pushing out posts about half a mile in front. 'B' Coy. took a field gun on the top of the Embankment. Lord knows how the Hun got it up. The casualties in the company were 37, including 3 from my platoon.
The 9th. Scottish Division on our left, just north of the Scarpe, were held up by the continuation of the same embankment. Our chaps were able to fraternise with the 10th. Argylls on the north of the river. We had among the officers, Morrison and Whyte killed, Shedden-Debbie mortally wounded and Stewart, Ferguson, Hunnybun, Weir and Duncan wounded.
The Arras Show, 1917
Tuesday 10th. April. Rejoined No. 7 platoon in the morning, just at daybreak. Mitchell and Miller only officers left in the company. Had a look around. Glorious view from top of the embankment. Bridge broken over Scarpe. The whole place was pounded and churned up with shell holes. The daylight showed the terrific strength of the embankment and how admirably it was suited for defence. The dugouts were large, strongly made but Hunnishly filthy.
In spite of orders quite a lot of spoil had been taken. Watches were as plentiful as Samuel's in Argyle Street, Glasgow. We got black bread, sausages and about 1000 bottles of topping soda water. No whisky however! Along with the soda water was the usual staff correspondence where the battalions were threatened with stoppage if the empty bottles were not returned. Just like the "Q" branch of our own staff.
Thank goodness I did not have to take up rations on the German side of 'No Man's Land'. It must have been terrible under our harassing night fire. I believe some of the prisoners we took had not received any food for three days, so effectively had our gunners worked. Every cross road, every cutting, was blown to blazes.
The 46th. Brigade passed through us in the afternoon, and with very few casualties had gone through Feuchy and had seized Orange Hill, and what was known as the Brown Line, before darkness fell.
From what I have gathered, the Boche was on the run here as he had never run before. He had not a big concentration of troops and if we had had our reserves marching up and through us (i.e. the 15th. Divn.) at the moment we had taken Orange Hill, we could have had Monchy that night - and so saved thousands of lives.
But we delayed too long or else the attacking divisions, the 9th, 15th. and 51st. got through quicker than expected. But when the 37th. Division passed through us, for various reasons, they only gained some few hundred yards. I fail entirely to explain this lack of progress and why they as a division were unable to accomplish on the 9th. and 10th. April (when it was easiest, owing to the Boche confusion, to get forward), what we as a Brigade had to accomplish, and did accomplish at terrific cost on the 11th, in a blinding snowstorm with the thermometer below zero, with no hot food, and in the face of the most terrible M.G. fire which I ever experienced in the whole course of the war.
Still 10th. April, 1917. Orders came for the Battalion to move forward to Feuchy Redoubt. I was sent forward with a runner to fix things up there - to get the lie of the land etc. On my way back again to rejoin the Bn. to take it up, I found that the original order was cancelled. The whole battalion was marching off. Just got time to find my pack and rejoin my platoon. Nobody except the C.O., Adjutant and Intelligence Officer knew where we were going. 1 p.m. [I found out afterwards that Colonel MacNeil was to take the battalion to a place which at the time the order was given would be half a mile or more inside the Boche Line!]
Drill Movements Under Fire
We set off, all loaded up with ammunition, to support the 37th. Division who were supposed to have taken Monchy. It was the very devil of a rush - we were at ten minutes notice - no time for dinners - men tired - overloaded (we had not even in 1917 learned what was necessary and what unnecessary to carry in battle!). Went through Feuchy - column of platoons in file at 25 yards interval. 3/4 mile in front of Feuchy we began to come all of a sudden under long-range M.G. fire.
Then came a sight I shall never forget. As we moved forward we were becoming quite exposed to the enemy - and a platoon is a fairly large body, 16 platoons of course is much larger! In front was heard a whistle and the leading platoon deployed. When the second platoon came up to the same place it deployed on a signal exactly as though on parade - 4 paces interval on the right, and did it beautifully, continuing to move forward in short rushes. It was absolutely grand and only once in later days did I see anything to touch it. My own platoon repeated the movement as enthusiastically as the first. It was really almost funny lying there in the open with bullets swishing over one, some falling now to one side, now to another. We saw them spluttering up the ground beside us quite often.
Things got a wee bit hotter as we moved forward. The Colonel was lor' knows where (MacNeil), but certainly far in front. Except for the Intelligence Officer I bet there was not another officer in the Brigade nearer the Boche than old Colonel MacNeil. He didn't like shells, I'm sure, but he could play with them all the same. Everybody had nothing but praise for the way he led us on.
Darkness was now only about hour off, and we were up alongside a few of the 37th. Division, well on this side of Monchy. So we got in touch with their front line. The Colonel then resolved to dig in some 200 yards behind it, on the forward slopes of Orange Hill and under view of Monchy and Roeux. We had a bit of a job to get into position. The trouble was that there wasn't a damned bit of cover, except a row of broken telegraph poles, and that wouldn't do for a battalion. There was no place suitable for reserves, and the only thing to do was to string us out in a single line and dig in. We had a few people knocked out in getting over to the digging-in place.
Where we first began to dig became Lancer Lane, a trench very familiar to us later on. The Bn. now became Brigade Reserve as the remainder of the Brigade moved to the right towards Monchy. Fortunately the Hun artillery did not worry us much, but all night we were under constant M.G. fire - a grand incentive to digging-in! It snowed most of the night, and our feet soon converted the bottom of the trench into one long slushy puddle. The men were fearfully tired but awfully good. They were soaked literally through and through, their greatcoats had been left behind in Arras. We had no dugouts, of course.
John Walker Saves My Life
I was very lucky because before leaving Duisans I had emptied most of a bottle of Johnnie Walker into my water-bottle. That helped me considerably during the next few days, though I didn't get very much of it. McAinsh shared with me, for he was developing pneumonia, and was soon taken down the line.
At 4 a.m. Capt. Mitchell, who had been doing splendidly came along and said that the Brigade were to attack at 5 a.m. - going for Monchy, with, I think, the 29th. Division on our right. We got the men ready - there wasn't much to do. I never heard a murmur or a complaint, even though they had taken all their objectives and now had to take another Division's objectives. We were soon told that we had to be in reserve to the Brigade. Shortly after 4 a.m., forming-up began on our right, but we could scarcely see for the snow which, blowing in our faces from the East, more or less blinded us. At 5 a.m. the guns burst out (they had been going a little all night), and the other three battalions of the Brigade began to move forward - Scots Fusiliers in support, our lot co-operating with M.G. fire.
The Attack On Monchy - Uphill In A Snowstorm
Dawn came about this time and it was remarkable to see the black blobs of men getting forward, down into Happy Valley and up the slopes towards the Orchard, north of Monchy. Their objective was the Pelves-Monchy Ridge. Our artillery barrage quickly died down to a futile series of noises - our heavy guns were out of range, having been unable to move because of mud. The Boche at the beginning did not use his guns much but he made up for that by the way he handled his machine guns. They were most effective and caused many casualties in the Brigade. He seemed to have thousands of them.
The walking wounded began to come back by 6 a.m. and they continued until nightfall. There is no use in describing their plight, or of emphasizing the hard luck of those unable to walk who had to lie for hours in the snow.
Then the rumours began. We could not make out whether Monchy had been taken or not. It got a hellish bombardment, certainly from our guns and from the Boche. The 6th. Camerons did get through it but had to fall back as both flanks were in the air. Certainly Monchy was not taken by 2 p.m. The Boche defended it like the Devil himself. He had pill boxes and M.G. emplacements everywhere. Our slowness on the 10th. had given him time to rally.
Monchy - Camerons Do Well
I have rarely had occasion to praise the 6th. Camerons in our Brigade (tho' we Argylls would never let an outsider say a word to us against them without getting on his top) but they can scarcely be too highly lauded, along with the Royal Scots, for their show on that day at Monchy. They had some 250 casualties in 3 days fighting, losing 6 officers killed and about 10 wounded. The stretcher-bearers had a hard time. They worked themselves off their feet.
The men now got some bully beef up. Milligan arrived with some whisky and chocolate, the latter went chiefly to the platoon. This was about 10 a.m. We had an officer and one or two men hit by shell and M.G. fire.
The scenery around us was very interesting and we studied it as we ate our bully beef. There was a terrific din all day about Monchy. The hill on which it stood was just a mass of dust, flying bricks and shells exploding, all enveloped in a huge column of smoke. I wish old Dante could have seen it. It was a better example of an inferno than he had conceived.
In front we had Roeux, where the 51st. Scottish Division were to attack a month later. The Chemical works there stood out conspicuously. There was a Red Cross Flag hanging from one of its windows. At night the whole place went on fire. I wished we had been a bit nearer - we could have got warmed up a little!
At one period of the day, I think it was late in the afternoon, the cavalry came up behind us, at a gallop. They got up almost to our trench, but the Boche gave them (and us) such a hot time of it that the poor fellows had to turn and gallop back. This was the only time I saw cavalry in battle. On our part of the line, it was a failure, because of lack of surprise, M.G. fire, and the nature of the ground. On our right they did better, but had severe losses, and their leader, General Buckly Johnson was killed, but I don't think they had been sent up early enough. The slaughter of men and horses, right from the Scarpe Canal to Guémappe (on the South) was appalling.
Fampouz - Roeux. April 1917. Attack On Our Left
On the morning of the 11th. I watched, from the high ground where we were, an attack along the Scarpe on Roeux and Greenland Hill by the 3rd. Division. This was the finest sight of the whole war from the spectacular point of view, except for a fortnight later.
Roeux first went up in a cloud of smoke, apparently, and then from the ground in front our fellows sprang up everywhere, and moved towards their objectives. I got many lessons from watching that attack, particularly in judging the 'lie' of Boche barrage, and his methods of fire. The cavalry were supporting the attack behind Fampoux, but so many 8 inch shells were thrown at them that they could do nothing. The attack was a "limited success" in the view of the spectators. Probably "a brilliant success" in the home newspapers. Don't know what it cost the 3rd. Division but I'm glad I wasn't there.
It snowed heavily till midnight when a thaw set in. This rapidly connected the pools in the trenches until we had a sort of canal running the whole length of the place. We expected relief before midnight, and were fortunately relieved at 4 a.m. Very cold wind, but it helped to blow us home, i.e. back to Arras. Mud feet deep on the roads. I got to Arras about 7 a.m. on the 12th. having had charge of the stragglers. Devil of a job to cover the last mile as we were all loaded with Lewis Gun ammunition. We were accommodated in trenches round Blangy - they were, probably, better than those we had vacated at Monchy!
Got some hard-boiled eggs from Harragin, who was very kind. Company shifted to the sewers where even temperatures were guaranteed - a temp. about freezing point! Got my men shifted to cellars, found a billet, had something to eat, washed my knees, crawled into my valise about 11 p.m. and slept without turning until 8 a.m. on the 13th. when I woke up. Rose at 1 p.m. when I was strafed by the C.O. for being late - one of the humours of the army is the thing one gets strafed for, and one of the tragedies is the things one doesn't get strafed for. Took indents. Farquharson, Heyworth, Beattie to dinner.
So ended Part One of the Arras show of April, 1917.
I forgot to mention that on the 11th. I saw one Hun plane bring down five of our slow, heavy, artillery observation planes, one after another. Our fellows were very game to stick to their work as they did, practically without protection, absolutely at the mercy of any fast Hun machine.
A Slight Grouse
The papers had a lot to say about the show, and a tremendous amount of praise was awarded to the Canadians for taking Vimy Ridge. It seemed to me that they got too much praise, and that some more should have gone, not only to the other people who helped to take the Ridge, but also to ourselves and to the 9th. Division. The key to the Ridge was Monchy which dominated the whole of the Scarpe Valley. This had to be taken and held before any attack on the Ridge could hope for success. The entrance to this valley was, for us, blocked by the Railway Triangle and Embankment, defensive works of the highest importance. The 9th. Scottish and 15th. Divisions of course had to take this embankment which was from 40 to 60 or 70 feet high in places, a most tremendous obstacle. Then as soon as we got into the valley stuff of all kinds was thrown at us from the high ground above.
It is only when we see the enormous difficulties to be overcome that we begin to understand why three Scottish Divisions should be taken from widely different parts of the battlefield and be brought to the Scarpe where they went over, all together. It is further worth mentioning that though, like the Guards Division, we were 'storm-troopers' we had (1) to hold the line in trench warfare and (2) to 'foot-slog' in all our big moves, instead of riding in motor buses as the Guards did.
Arras, April 1917
14th. April. Farquharson and Padre Miller to dinner. Convivial scenes. Saw Harragin on his road to the Transport Lines at midnight. Heard that we are to go into the line again on 18/19th.
16th. Hurriedly sent off to Bois-de-Boeufs in front of Tilloy to take charge of Corps Dropping Station to deal with aeroplane messages. Quiet day. Studied lie of the land and wrote letters home. Never saw an aeroplane.
17th. Went again to Corps Dropping Station. Found no one there, but noted that the place had been shelled in my absence. Waited an hour or two and then buzzed off. Heavy showers of hail.
18th. Told I was to be signalling officer again: vice Hood down the line sick for the third time. For one reason or another this is the 5th. time I have had to take his place. Fed up. Hate being shifted about. Have now been signalling officer 5 times, a/Adjutant once, a/Platoon officer 4 or 5 times, and Corps Dropping Officer. Also Billeting Officer, Intelligence Officer, Interpreter, and Road-maker etc. Expect I will get used to this in time!
Plans and conferences for our next offensive on 23rd. between Monchy and Guémappe. Think it should come off alright. Am getting used to these conferences now, and don't take them so seriously as I used to do, even although it is a matter of life or death. Thank goodness the old C.O. has returned. He is a proper soldier (MacNeil).
19th. Little doing in the morning. After tea Beattie, Farquharson and I went out for a short stroll. After a bit we found ourselves at the cross roads at Feuchy Chapel on the Cambrai Road. Suddenly a shell dropped less than 20 yards from us and covered us all over with mud. I stepped into a deep puddle of mud in addition. We got pelted the whole road back, as the Boche began to fire at some of our guns coming up the road behind us. This was quite a nice walk. Lovely evening. Only we would have been safer on the other side of Arras. We had even forgotten our gas helmets and tin hats!
20th. More conferences. It seems to me that history will sum up the characteristics of this age, not as the electrical age etc., but as the age of Conferences, Concentration and Co-operation. Out looking for wire. Got some from the 29th. Division H.Q.
21st. Conferences again. Mess accounts. Left for the line at 7 p.m. South side of the road this time. Shrapnelled a bit at Maison Rouge. Rough passage across country in darkness to Bn. H.Q. Got there without casualties. Tremendous confusion, however, during the relief. Cursed the R.S.F. heartily, especially their guides, their Signalling Officer and their signalling sergeant. Made myself a bit unpopular with them, but it had to be done for their own good. Spent some time getting out 'B' Coy. onto the right road.
Guemappe - South Of Monchy
Sunday 22nd. Went round line early with Signalling Corporal Mitchell. No phones allowed forward. Visited Coys. Everything quiet - too quiet in fact. Saw Tobermory Maclean, Wilson and Miller of 'D' Coy. They had had a bad night with shelling. The line was quiet now, and possessed all the advantages of a new line - these are:- no dugouts, no drains, no shelters and a painful obviousness to the enemy. Visited the Medical Officer at the Farm. Miller of 'B' Coy. wounded by shrapnel. He died later. Final arrangements for communication. Don't like Brigade Scheme. To Bn. H.Q. at night. Visited Brigade H.A. Saw G.O.C. and had a glass of port at his invitation - drinking to success on the morrow! All hopeful there!
MONDAY, 23rd. April, 1917. A Black Monday. The Brigade was to jump off astride the Cambrai Road which ran diagonally across our front. Scots on left, Argylls on Right with a creeping barrage. An echelon type of attack. Up at 4.30 to see the strafe (from Bn. H.Q. about 800 yards behind the front line). Loud and heavy firing. Noticed loud and terribly ominous, quick and heavy retaliation on to our front line - and feared the worst.
Then the usual rumours began. Ferguson of 'A' Coy. back wounded and with bad news. C.O. would not let me go forward to see what was happening. He allowed Muirhead to go instead. Muirhead got a very bad time of it.
Our attack was a failure. The barrage was too fast and of the wrong nature and our men were mown down by guns and by M.G. fire. All the officers except Tobermory, A.G.Cameron and G.H.Mitchell were either killed or wounded. A.G. got 500 yards forward and into a gun pit with a few men, where I found him next morning. The Boche counter barrage was down as soon as ours. They had even been practising during the night and had given us a lot of trouble.
A second attack took place at 8 a.m., but it was useless. Our form of barrage was to make up for the irregularities of our line. It proved impracticable. Our lot suffered tremendous casualties from M.G. fire in the outhouses of Guémappe. Camerons and Seaforths were in the same position. Royal Scots did well but suffered severely. They were in a more favourable position. Many soldiers lost direction too. Beattie, Farquharson and Willie Wilson killed. Southey and Padre Miller both mortally wounded. Padre Healy wounded, also Ferguson and MacIntyre, all officers. Tyson, our mess waiter, was also killed, poor kid.
Tobermory came back to report about 3.30 p.m. after the 46th. Brigade had gone through. He was utterly played out, having slaved like a Trojan. Went forward myself and gathered the Battalion together in the darkness. Got 102, all told. No officers. Could not find A.G.Cameron or Mitchell in the darkness. Took men back to Bn. H.Q. Had to find my way in the darkness, but with the help of my servant and some signalling got them there alright.
24th. Waited for the dawn, and then roamed around, looking for A.G. and Mitchell. Found them with Bateman, well forward, the latter seriously wounded.
Battlefield in a terrible mess. Boche used sulphurous and incendiary shells which made things indescribably bad. 46th. Brigade got Blue Line. Our Bn. and Brigade sent back to Brown Line. Trudged back with A.G. Cameron and Mitchell. Very hungry and tired. Sorley, J.G.Mitchell, and Capt. Leitch came up as reinforcements. Expect Battalion casualties to be about 300 all told. The Royal Scots hadn't an officer left. Took things easy, trying to sleep in an old Boche dugout. Pretty cold. No word of relief. Felt rather dirty. 3rd. Division said to be coming up.
25th. Reorganising everybody! Visit from Brigadier who was in good spirits in spite of the casualties. Only way to look at things! Was this "Another Glorious Victory" in the newspapers at home? 46th. Brigade in the Line. We are to relieve it tonight. Sent off in the afternoon to look for a H.Q. for the Bn. Got one. Shelled in an artillery dugout. Entrance packed with cordite or some such stuff. They set this on fire.
I was out of that dugout before you could say "Wee Willie Winkie". Got H.Q. in a dugout near the Cambrai Road, near an artillery dugout. Laid new signal lines.
26th. Round the lines (i.e. Companies) with C.O. and Muirhead. It took some six hours hard going. Visited 2nd. Seaforths at Le Bergere Cross Roads, a most poisonous place. Was nearly called to a better, and let's hope, quieter land by some 5.9"s which landed on the little bank at the bottom of which I was walking - three yards away - C.O. and I created a record for the 50 yards sprint.
27th. Did not go round line in the morning. Went round later with McCallum the runner. Saw a company of the Suffolks being blown out of their trenches by a nasty barrage. Lot of sniping. Waited till almost dusk and then risked it across the open. Stayed in line, relieving A.G.Cameron. Made a shelter with Sorley and spent the night in it. Adjutant of the Suffolks shot accidentally. Raids on our right by the Camerons and Gordons on the farm in front of us.
Berneville, May 1917
28th. Heavy attack on our left. Barrage in front of us by our own guns. Everybody too tired to take any notice. Fine day. Bn. relieved at night. I was left behind for 24 hours to stay with 8th. Middlesex. Stayed at their Bn. H.Q. and looked after guides. It was funny to see these Englishmen coming along the trenches, sweating, with greatcoats and full kit on a lovely summer's day! We had had nothing but waterproof sheets. Left at 2 p.m. Missed some nasty shelling and got back to Arras for a bath and food. Bus at 10 o'clock that same night to Berneville, S.E. of Arras. Arrived near midnight.
30th. Sunday. Should be as for 29th. Have lost a day somewhere.
Note: by Robert Lindsay Mackay, 11th Battalion of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.