The diary of John Sangway, a dispatch rider with XVII Corps. His signal company was headquartered at Duisans, 3 miles west of Arras, when the Germans launched their Spring offensive on 21st March 1918.
One tries to forget unpleasant experiences and at 4 days after I have almost lost my impressions of our first experience of the big offensive. Moreover one’s emotions are very elastic and one trembles with funk at 5.30am and jests cheerfully at 6, or more definitely is terrorised by a distant explosion at night and takes a nap in the open next day lulled by the whine of shells passing over.
Somewhere about 5.15am on the 21st, I was awakened by a “pop”, a whine and an explosion not too far away. I lay silent not wanting to show “wind-up” and presently someone said “that was the third like that!” After that one after another awoke and joined in the conversation like birds awakening at dawn, the shells continued about the same at intervals of a few minutes and later at longer intervals. The men soon begin to joke about them. The best effort was when a man passed on horseback, and a thin small voice said “There’s Billie Blank [General Sir Charles Fergusson, XVII Corps] (the GOC) ‘opping it!”
During the day I went over to where the shells had pitched and heard a couple more come over.
That night I was on night duty and things were quiet until I returned at about 1o/c. I had just turned in when the firing started again but at slower intervals and nearer to us. I was tired and got an awful wind up & started to go down the [shelter] trench but was dissuaded, finally dossing on the floor with the others. Slept well when firing stopped.
The next night I lay awake until nearly 4am because of a similar thing but more particularly because of one of our guns which disturbed me every time I began to doze. It took me several hours to realize it was one of our own!
Sat[urday] night (23rd) I was called out of the billet to see an “air-fight”. I turned off the light, seized my tin-hat & went out in time to see a line of tracer bullets from a very low plane go over the billets towards a straggling end of the village. It was no fight but rather a fright. Thereafter I slept like a log until 5.30 when Geo. Milton going out with a special [dispatch] threw a handful of stones on the roof & later whined like a shell! I trembled again until I heard his bike start up & tumbled to it!
Sunday [24th] brought a few more shells, an enemy plane or two, some moments of fright but when a man straight from the front line came into the office at 1.30am (Monday) I became as calm as a rock although a bomb dropped some little distance away. Sort of pride I suppose. Wonderful effect though. Some gas shells dropped half a mile away that night, but not many. Slept well from 2.30 to 8.30 with lucid interval about 5 when a gas and a h[igh] v[elocity] shell came over.
Period of distinct windiness, feel big things are happening but painfully ignorant. Bad rumours & some gloom but personally very confident that we are coming out well on top & that the war is being hurried on to an early end.
Painful scenes when villagers were cleared out of an old home, not forced to go but frightened by tales of immediate bombardment.