27th May 1918
There were very few casualties considering the shell fire, but the main part had been dumped on the front and support lines, the wind blowing gently from the direction of the enemy lines reeked of powder and the sickly tang of gas.
By this time about 3am our gas masks were in a bad state, the glasses were dimmed with perspiration and the waterproof bag covering was sticking to our faces and very wet, but we dare not move them owing to the risk of getting a dose of the poison. This confinement was the worst part of it because anyone who has had to wear one will know how difficult it is to breath.
Somewhere near 8am 27th May 1918 our Company Commander decided to move forward, so we headed for the cross country track so well known to us, towards the road. But this was out of the question, because it was absolutely being plastered with all sorts of iron work, and a fly could not live on it, so we were content with moving across the piece of dead ground between Concevreux and the French cemetery, it being fairly well left alone. We succeeded in reaching the rear side of the cemetery and skirted round the left side nearest the road, when suddenly the enemy barrage lifted, and seemed to drop right amongst us. Then it was for who could get forward the quickest, earth, smoke, and the moans and yells all mingled with the deepening crashes of bursting shells tended to make everyone get behind even a blade of grass.
Finally we scrambled through the cemetery and moved about thirty to forty yards in front, and proceeded to dig in with as much speed as we could, because by this time we were under distant machine gun fire as well. Things were getting rather warm and unpleasant, and owing to the smoke and the morning haze visibility was very bad, and gas masks made it much worse. Being a platoon commander I tried to marshal my men into some kind of formation, and issued instructions with regard to entrenchments and they worked like Trojans
Inside half an hour they were fairly well off under the circumstances, in regard to cover, my orderly stuck to me very well and was remarkably cool, owing to the fact that this was the first big fight he had taken part in. He had just been transferred from R.F.C and was really too young to be where he was, so I decided to take him under my wing to save him more or less from the arduous duties of the trench.
By this time the sun was fairly well up and the heat was beginning to itself felt, the time being somewhere about 9am we were just feeling a little bit hungry, and the men were asking when it would be possible to get something to eat, when suddenly to my surprise we were hailed from the road which lay on our left and lo and behold there were the cooks with their field kitchen with smoke pouring out of the chimneys. To say the least it was shock to see them, as it seemed an almost impossible thing for anything to move up that road. Never the less they were there and the greeting they gave us was “Howay get all this stuff off do ye want us to all get blown to hell standin’ here all day?” So I called for volunteers which soon came in the form of eight man and with a mad rush we snatched up all the dishes and made back for the trenches. I managed to get hold of the bacon and forthwith proceeded to dish it out with my hand. The grease had become cold, and it was almost hard, but we could pick out the bacon from the fat. I offered some to the O.C Coy but the sight of the cold fat turned him against it. I think he decided that a little libation from his flask would be more beneficial.
At this point in the defense suddenly we observed two dispatch riders on motorcycles literally tearing up the road towards the front line, (which had already been pierced) and were in grave danger of running into the enemy line, but we hailed them to stop and when told of the position they soon turned about and made back towards Head Quarters. They only got about quarter of a mile back when their machines were blown from under them and they were killed.
We got something to fire at but after killing one or two owing to the haze it was discovered that they were French troops.
A CSM of the Durham dashed over and reported that the Germans were getting round the wood on our left but the OC Coy denied this and told him to go to hell (personally I thought we were there already).
By 9:45am they were well advanced, and on looking behind through the information of my pal Fred, it was to see two scouts come but from behind the wood, followed by his machine gun teams, then there was a scramble to get back, but it was pretty hopeless from the first. I called my platoon to follow me as there was still a chance to get clear, so taking a course straight through the cemetery directly behind, we dodged amongst the graves and head stones as quickly as it was possible, because the bullets from both rifles and machine guns were coming like hail amongst us, but we were rather lucky with regard to casualties as there were very few hit, some being killed outright, and so far as I could gather about three of the boys wounded, including my batman and runner through the left shoulder. On reaching lower ground these were dressed and we made straight for the River Vesle, where there were bridges at intervals. We scurried forward but when we were about a hundred yards from the first bridge a deafening report rent the air and our hopes were dashed as the bridge went skywards in a million pieces. Nothing daunted we made along the river bank towards the next one but our Royal Engineers were doing their work thoroughly and up went another three. There was nothing left to do but stand fast and await events.
The heat was almost overpowering, when an officer, one of the platoon commanders came forward to me to enquire as to what I thought we had better do next. Well on going through the trees which lined the river bank, we saw a rare sight and soon drew back under cover again to hold a short consultation. In the end he wanted to reorganize and make a bayonet charge, but that solution was out of the question, owing to the fact that on the other side of the trees were something like three hundred disarmed British troops being covered with three machine guns and three flame throwers or liquid fire machines, s that any attempt at attack would have meant wholesale slaughter of all those men, so I gave him my opinion, and acted upon it without his permission. In fact I ordered him to dump his revolver and equipment in the River Vesle and keep only what was required for personal use. The Lewis guns I had brought forward and placed on the ground, put a couple of rounds through the machine and pitched into the air.
This part of the program completed we rather gingerly moved once more through the trees into the open, where all the captives we being horded together like a lot of terrified sheep, not knowing what was going to happen next. Also the very piece of ground I have already mentioned, was the natural basin, but the position of the troops being reversed, the enemy having a strong advantage over us, by having his formidable weapons mounted on the long wood tressle bridge, which being at a height just suitable for a massacre should his gunners and fire operators desire, and I may say it was expected every second,. Owing to our numbers it was thought that they would not trouble to take us prisoners.
Meanwhile his troops were trying to get something like five to six hundred British on to this bridge, and when it began to creak and crack there was a panic, so he decided it would be better to form up on terra firma and march us onto the main road.
The time being about noon judging by the position of the sun, we were unceremoniously formed into fours on the main road moving in the direction of Guignicourt.
We had proceeded for about quarter of a mile, passing through the enemy lines of advancing troops. First came his infantry, followed by light mortars, heavy mortars, machine guns, pioneers filling up all shell holes as they came forward to enable the transport to come in comfort along the roads. Next came medical services, followed by fairly solid lines of artillery in order of merit, light field guns, howitzers, then all his heavy guns, and coming pretty close again were the observation sections mounted on motor lorries. The wheels of these lorries were not tyred in the usual way with rubber, but round the rim was a series of coil springs kept in place by an outer tyre of flat steel band, thus when moving over rough surfaces these springs could take the shock and jolt similar but not so good as the rubber tyre. Above us were the huge sausage shaped balloons hundreds of feet in the air watching with all eyes, the advance in the forward areas.