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Remembered Today:

Text of Sergeant Sanderson’s Diary

Tony Lund

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The diary of Sergeant Bradlaugh Sanderson, (6336), Far Cliff, Holmfirth, serving with the 2nd Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps. August 5th - November 1st 1914. There are around 12,000 words, first published in the Holmfirth Express, January 1915.

Born at Holmfirth around 1886, he was the son of Walter Sanderson, Far Cliff, Wooldale, Holmfirth, and brother of Lance Corporal Frank Sanderson, he was known in the district as Sandy. In 1901 he was working as an apprentice nurseryman and living as a lodger at 6 Pell Mell, Melton, Mowbray, Leicestershire. At some point he became bored with gardening and joined the army. He served his time as a regular soldier and returned to Holmfirth, he was then recalled from the army reserve on August 4th 1914. After arriving back at Melton, he travelled with the other reservists to the regimental depot at Winchester. He then begins a remarkable eye witness account of a war of rapid movement, followed by the evolution of trench warfare on the Western Front in 1914:

August 5th: “The scene remarkable. Meet chums of early soldiering days. Within two hours was equipped and ready, 4,000 K.R.R., 4,000 Rifle Brigade to be dealt with. My old Colour Sergeant wants me to stay and go with the 6th Battalion, but I wish to go with the 2nd so I’m shoved into the first draft of 300 proceeding to Blackdown. It’s quiet a remarkable system at the Mobilisation Stores. You give in a ticket, and at once you are taken to a pigeon hole where your name and number are pasted above. There is a brand new outfit, to size in every detail, no trouble whatsoever. Feels nice to be in regimentals once more.”

August 6th to August 11th: “Time occupied in training and route marching. Colonel says he has never seen such a well set-up battalion. General Hutton and the King inspected us today. Was quite impressive. We were told that we had no reputation to make, but one to keep. Issued out with ball ammunition, this means business. We are off tomorrow.”

August 12th: “Battalion parade at 3 p.m. All the married soldiers’ wives see us off. A little weeping naturally, but no gnashing of teeth this journey. The men are happy and look forward to active service. Arrive Southampton, same secrecy. Gates closed after entering docks. Embark transport ‘Gateka’. Our Brigade is the 2nd, 1st Division. The whole division is on the move. Nobody knows where we are going. The captain gets a letter from a torpedo boat, and then we’re off. Some say Havre, others Boulogne or Dieppe.”

August 13th: “Arrive at Havre. Strange sounds in the shape of ‘Vive Les Anglais’ sounds like the Ongley people. Seem quite pleased to see us. As our band is absorbed as stretcher bearers, and instruments probably in glass cases at home, we fall back on bugles to show the French soldiers how we can march. We were the first infantry to land, and they march us right through the town, and at such a pace, and on cobbles too. Anyhow, we stick it manfully.

“The people are everywhere, even on roofs, and such a clapping. A halt, and people press beer and cider. The NCO’s keep them back, because there’s no beer this trip, however tempting it seems. People, I am sure, can’t understand it, but we accept other things such as flower’s etc. Eventually we arrive at the top plain, and go into camp. Talk about a Turkish bath, then the fun begins. Thousands of people gather round the camp. We introduce ourselves, and pretend we can understand them. Lieutenant Dimmer comes along, says a few words, and before we know where we are he shouts ‘Seize them, they’re spies’. That did it. We were on them, and had them tied to a telegraph post. The French police afterwards said one had been searched for, and they couldn’t find him.”

August 14th: “Brigade went on a route march about 10 miles, and wasn’t it just hot! Couple of chaps had sunstroke, not many fell out, which shows we were in pretty good condition. Everybody paraded at 9 p.m. for an unknown destination. After getting transport and horses aboard and a wet skin, we embark and are off.”

August 15th: “Early morning arrives. Rouen, halt for breakfast. French rolls and butter can be had by sending French soldiers. I did this, and he gave the change and bread to the wrong man lower down the train. Then we were off, and I couldn’t trace the man.

“All this day we are travelling, and the people at each station simply throw groceries, cigarettes, and cider to the troops. Officers can’t stop it. They seem angry. I don’t blame them for being so with regard to beer, etc. I’ve tasted French cider, and don’t like it. We stop at Amiens. There’s more fun. People clamber for souvenirs, and my cap badge and numerals disappear with an amazing speed. Get back into the carriage before they pinch my clothes. Anyhow, we are well off in cigarettes (French), which aren’t like English, they haven’t the bite. I heard one fellow say ‘It’s worth being shot to get such a spread’. We get to Arras, where there is such a splendid welcome. I’ve seen gay gatherings in India, but the scene at Arras beggars description. Feels nice to be an Englishman. We left with enough stuff to stock a general dealer’s shop. We passed stations with a yell until we arrived at Le Capella, and this night we bivouacked in a glass factory.”

August 16th to August 20th: “The 1st Division concentrated at Le Nouvion during the week with other divisions on our left, the cavalry having gone forward. The 2nd Brigade comprises King’s Royal Rifles, Loyal North Lancashire, Northamptonshire and Sussex Regiments. We billet at a farmhouse belonging to a widow. My platoon officer, Mr. Davidson, can speak French. She seemed a little frightened at first but it turned to absolute astonishment the second day, when she discovered that no apples, not even pears on the farm wall had been pinched. Then the antics the troops made, and our buying whatever we needed made her quite a mother to us.

“Kitchener’s circular had been issued, and it was up to us non-coms, to see it carried out. Supervision in that respect was absolutely needless. The town was infested with spies, and I was one day placed in charge of the Marie, which means Town Hall. Here the poor people were served out with potatoes and bread. I was on Division guard, and to watch that no person went near the staff window. I was in charge of the treasury as well. A few spies were caught and dealt with summarily. We were still in severe training, outposts and route marches galore.”

August 21st: “We’re on the move at last. Some say we are going to Namur, but I don’t believe that even our officers know. We march to Etrungt, a town of decent size, and a distance of eight kilometres. Billeted in main streets in houses. Got paid out four shillings. There’s an order that we haven’t to receive more than four shillings at a time. Passed an enjoyable evening. Saw the heavy 90 pounders of the R.G.A. [Royal Garrison Artillery] for the first time.”

August 22nd: “A surprise reveille. All is bustle. Alarm sounded, fall in 3 a.m. Get dressed, draw rations, issue them. Draw extra ammunition in one breath, and off we go, a little grumbling ‘Why couldn’t they give it out before?’ Take leave of our friends who wanted to kiss me, but I said married, and they understood. This day I shall always remember. We march through Avesnes, and halt at a point eight kilometres beyond. Then there is some excitement. A German Taube is seen for the first time. We get under the hedges and everywhere to hide.

“Instead of billeting we move off again. We are told we shall be fighting by night. We march through Maubeuge about10 p.m., and find it full of excitement. We sang Tipperary, but by this time we were getting tired, as we had marched over 20 miles. On, on, it was simply cruel. At 3 a.m. we arrived at Binche in Belgium, after marching about 34 to 38 miles. We heard guns for the first time. My platoon went into a stable, and the front section of fours was asleep before the rear section got in.”

August 23rd: “We were on the extreme right of the British Army, and the alarm sounded. The cavalry went out to our flank, and our brigade then went and entrenched at Givry. About 3 p.m. the fun began. All along our left reports came in that the Germans were attacking heavily. By 4 p.m. the party in our immediate front started, and then the shells began to fly. Heavy rifle fire began on our left, and the boys are already in action.

“We go into a big chateau, knock hedgerows down, pile earth against the walls, and loop hole them. We start dodging the shrapnel, and we can distinguish dense masses across the open country. We hear the South Lancashires are heavily engaged, and we go to their assistance. The cavalry have made a charge, the Scots Greys I think. Casualties are beginning to roll in. Getting dark and off we go, silent, no talking, and swords [bayonets] fixed. The South Staffords, too, are hard pressed. I went on outpost with a few men. About 12 midnight violent firing to our front. Attack, but we were not affected.

“My sentry challenged a soldier coming over the bridge, three times, and was just going to fire when I said challenge louder, and that saved him. He was after ammunition for the left flank. Heard such a noise to our left. It afterwards transpired that it was our troops retiring. The South Lancashires got awfully cut up.”

August 24th: “About 4 a.m. the Captain came and we withdrew in a hurry. We were in danger of being cut off. The cavalry division came to our assistance, and effectually helped our withdrawal. The village was being heavily bombarded. Why are we going south west? It looks like retiring. Towards 9 a.m. we are doing a rearguard action, and we have to make a stand at Peasant. The 2nd Division is fighting to retake Binche, where the Germans are in force. Then we go back gradually to Havay, take up a strong position at a big chateau, and fortify it.

“The house is just as the people left it. Geese and pedigree livestock in the yards. I went through the house, and everything was in apple pie order, even to trinkets on the dressing table. The Huns are getting near. We have to withdraw back up a spur, where it appears to me, that we march up and down the road, first in one position, then another. Looks as if we are marching around ourselves for fun.

“In the afternoon we are in for it. The Germans have been driven out of the big house, and what a sight! Everything upside down. Am sure our chaps won’t do that when we get into Germany. I pity anybody doing that. Bottles of wine all over, cupboards and antique ornaments broken, and looted, beds broken, and pictures torn down.

“My impression of German methods isn’t much. Suddenly we are withdrawn, and go back. Everybody seems to be digging trenches. Shells begin to fly, and things are lively. Rifle fire to our front. We get something to eat, bully and biscuits and hot tea, then we all fall in and march, not forward, but back far into the night. Cross the railway, and in a line with Valenciennes to Maubeuge, get into a village and batter down a door because the owner won’t answer or left. The owner turns up somewhat scared, but we quickly put him at his ease. He was even giving up his bed to someone too ignorant to appreciate it. Anyhow I insisted on him having it back, and we cooked some bacon and slept on the floor.”

August 25th: “It appears the French have let them in somehow, and we’re retiring to Maubeuge. The Germans are following us up pretty fast. We start retiring again, digging trenches until our transport goes past. I heard General Bulfin say it was only military training, but by the look on his face things aren’t what they ought to be. There’s a fight amongst the aircraft above us, I think two are brought down. About 12 noon we are going between the Maubeuge forts, tired, and it begins to rain. The people at Haumont look glum, and crowds are gathered around the railway station.

“By the map we appear to be going east by south, and then south. Get wet through and pass the French army. We march and march until 12 midnight. More dead than alive we arrive at Landrecies. I am orderly sergeant, which isn’t nice, having to perform duties after others have gone to sleep. The French troops seem to have wind up, [nervous and jittery] and to be excited about something. All D Company get shoved in an old rickety house, but as we are all dead beat we don’t mind.”

August 26th: “We have hardly got down when we are up again. The Germans are nearly all around us. Our cavalry is charging on the right and some Uhlans [German cavalry] are captured. Then it is another case of get dressed, rations issued, fall in, in one breath, march quickly is the order. We get orders to cast our packs. What a relief! Then we went into action. Taubes are all around us. The Guards are in action, and we quickly follow suit, just to get our own back somehow. Can’t understand this confounded retirement. We killed a lot, and gave them such a smack in the eye.

“They say it’s the Kaiser’s main army after us. The French thought they would come by way of Alsace, something wrong with their intelligence department. This place is called Marvilles. We are now retiring on Guise. Our cavalry and artillery are heavily engaged in covering the retirement of the whole front. Cavalry men are sleeping on their horses. The artillery are pasted up with dust. The infantry troops are getting tired, and we have to keep a firm hand on them. Mr. Davidson is a trump and cheers them up.

“We have lost a few taken prisoner, the army sergeant and some stragglers who were footsore. I keep my feet in condition by putting Vaseline around my socks, but ain’t they sore all the same! 9 o’clock we are still marching. I didn’t believe one could sleep and march. A few are falling out, it’s not nice marching and fighting. We have filled our stomachs with apples which grow by the roadside. This night we only have two hours sleep.”

August 27th and 28th: “More marching. We started at 3 a.m., all transport, including cookers, are miles in front. There’s an engagement going on at St. Quentin, on our left. Our artillery and cavalry is rendering us very effective support. We start entrenching somewhere about Ribemont. The Germans are quiet close, and soon we’re in for it. The French columns pass by, then artillery, and more rearguard actions. Our Brigade seems to catch them all. It’s alright resting and waiting for the Germans, but then we have to scoot and cover the same ground. After that rest has gone over. Our officer says we are going to rest tomorrow. We are trying to draw the Germans on to a fortified position held by the French at La Fere. A few casualties. We are still marching. I think this is the worst day I have ever had for marching.

“We arrived at Le Fere 1 a.m., August 28th, after marching and fighting and digging, 46 miles with two hours sleep. A lot fell out, but the stragglers keep coming in on gun limbers. It seems a black nightmare. As the remnants march on to a bare field someone with a lantern says ‘What regiment is that?’ Evidently there’s a wag still left, for he at once answered ‘The Flying Corps, what do you think?’ That raised a laugh, which bucked the boys up, but discipline was lost when we got in. They tried to form up as something resembling a company, but it was a failure, as nearly everybody was asleep.

“Well, we awoke at daybreak, hardly able to realise that we weren’t marching. I went scouting, and got two eggs and some milk from a house nearby. After breakfast I tinkered up my feet, and finished up this attempt at a diary. Then one of my chaps gets some vegetables, and we have a dinner in fine table d’hote style. Our happiness is short lived. Cannon sound again. We are ordered to parade at 6 p.m. We march on far into the night. I hear the French have let them through and all sorts of rumours. The next day or so we are awfully harassed.”

August 29th: “Since leaving Le Fere it’s been simply wretched. Same old rigmarole, marching and fighting, and snatching food at short breaks. It’s marvellous how we stick it. Have some lovely corns, and my boots I have cut in lots of places. In a word we’re fed up. Why can’t they let us scrap them, and chance it?

“One consolation, Sir D. Haig is in command, and I suppose our staff officers know what they are doing. Sir J. French isn’t a mug. I hear the Germans are trying to overwhelm us. The Bays had a beautiful charge the other day, but A Battery got cut up a bit. They saved the guns though. There’s no transport been lost of ours. When we were in Landsecies two motor lorries full of rations ran into the ditch. We got extra rations that day, and the lorries were blown up, but we ducked for grub the next day.

“We are marching on to Soissons, which is a big cathedral town. Today at noon we halted in a forest, and there was a large beautiful convent near. The nuns came out and gave us half a loaf of bread, tea, and coffee, and chocolates. It must have sadly diminished their stores in doing so, but we might just as well have them as the Germans, whose guns are still not far behind us. I hear they have big motor cars to bring the troops in. Our cavalry doesn’t think much about the Uhlans. They can’t get a proper smack at them. Tomorrow we shall get into Soissons. Now we are beginning to understand what war means, in the shape of refugees and boarded houses.”

August 30th and 31st: “March through Soissons. What a beautiful town. My impression of the French people is that they are either high up or low down, they can’t understand us singing. The people are kind though, they put water in pails for the troops to scoop up as they go by. This doesn’t suit our medical officer, but the troops manage to get it somehow. French water isn’t good, that’s why they all drink wine. Outside Soissons we enter a big forest, after more of this marching business. Wish I had been a bicycle messenger. We have a long halt at Verte Fraile, and sleep.”

September 1st: “We are starting to entrench in a wood. Our officers keep saying we shall soon be on the turn, and it has bucked us up a bit. Anyhow, today there’s a chance of a scrap. At 2 p.m. we were into it. Oh, the shells. We start moving back in skirmishing order, and we capture some Uhlans. They weren’t half surprised.

“Then the cavalry patrols came in, and report that the enemy has halted 1,000 yards away. We have an affair of outposts which doesn’t develop, and at night we quietly withdraw. Last night we couldn’t get any water, but today I managed to get some water from the divisional carts, and got put under arrest. I suppose it’s another case of example, which is quite right these strenuous times.”

September 2nd: “Today we march to Nantenil. The day is hot, and the troops are showing signs of exhaustion. We have a bathe in a canal, and I’m on outpost tonight. Have been told off and got a court martial without the option. Shall try and talk them over, am sure that it is an excessive punishment, as circumstances were exceptional.

“Got into billets, and tried to bargain for a fowl. She wanted three francs, which I wouldn’t give. She was catching one for someone else, and accidentally killed it, then I bargained and got it for half a franc. The Germans will have the lot tomorrow. The stream of refugees is awful! I saw one poor woman pushing along a pram today filled up with kids, and some walking barefoot and hungry. We gave them biscuits and bully.”

September 3rd: “Start out early. Sharp turn to the left, and follow an arrow marked ‘This way route of 1st Division’. Eventually we cross the Marne at Meaux. The Germans are close on us, and we have barely got over the bridge when our engineers blow her up. All this day we are marching through beautiful forest country and up the valley of the Marne. Enemy appears on the other bank, it is a kind of a running fight.

“The boys are used to marching now, and 20 miles is a flea bite. Towards afternoon we get to La-Ferte-Sous-Jouarre, where we get in touch with the French. That night we bivouac in a farm yard at St Cyr. If Heath Robinson had been here he would have had a beautiful study for the sketch. The officer gave orders that the poultry had to be paid for at the rate of one franc per head.

“The farmer went away in a hurry, like other villagers, and left the farmyard and garden to our own sweet selves, besides the orchard. Then the circus commenced. For about 30 minutes the yard was full of cackling and laughter. The troops would make a dart, slip, and get a handful of feathers. Same with the tame rabbits. Someone let them out of their pen into the garden. There were fowls, rabbits, and Tommies all over. I took a fat one, and three of us got together and had a rare feed. We went on outpost that night, and got disturbed, but withdrew in the morning without much happening, except occasional shots.”

September 4th: “March to Rebais. There we had a close call. We went into a farmyard, and had hardly halted when we got bundled out to go into the firing line. Our old friends, the motor car column, had got up, and we were ordered to drive them back. We advanced through a shower of shrapnel. The artillery found the range, the cavalry made their long hoped for charge, and we couldn’t even get a shot at them. Anyhow, the motor car people got completely scattered, and we went back and got to rest.”

September 5th: “It seems we are marching to Paris, but why we circled to the left from Meaux I can’t for the life of me understand, unless we are going south, perhaps, in reserve to the defending force. We had a grand capture this morning. We paraded at 4 a.m. and whilst doing so, heard heavy firing from our outposts. As it happened we marched past our outpost. I was in the advanced guard this morning, and we moved in extended order. Outpost reported enemy’s patrol, and had fired upon them when we got to the scene. We found two killed, four others hiding under straw, two wounded, including an officer. All these were Uhlans. We got four unwounded horses.

“Early in the day we marched through Coulommiers, and bivouacked after a big march to Manperthine. We were told we should be in Paris defences next day. This night we slept in a stable and had another mixed pot. A draft of 100 men joined us from England. They had been chasing us round France, but they had ridden in the train, and we had trekked it. We heard all sorts of rumours here. One was that the Russians were a day’s march from Berlin, another, that there was a peace conference on.”

September 6th: “What a glorious day! Instead of going to Paris, we are to take the offensive, and we are going back. There wasn’t half a cheer. Perhaps they heard it in Paris. Someone started the Tipperary song and Rule Britannia. To use a Tommies term ‘we did give it socks’. Off we went, and it was at once apparent that the boys meant business. That night our advanced cavalry got in touch with the enemy. It was reported that we had them in a tidy knot. So this was the plan. We began to take an interest in our surroundings. Once more we heard ‘Vive Les Anglais,’ accompanied by a significant gesture of the hand across the throat, and ‘Allemandes’, which is French for Germans.

“Our transport, mechanical, is quite up to date. They come in the night, a long convoy of them, dump rations down where the respective Quarter Masters are, pick up the casualties, and off they go. We haven’t many footsore ones now. I’ve got corns under my feet I could have a horse shoe on. A few days ago I saw some very bad cases of foot soreness. Some of the troops were actually walking with their puttees bound round their feet. Just outside Soissons, Colonel Scaley, the ex War Minister, came up collecting such cases. My section holds the record. No-one has fallen out yet, but there’s one chap who has real grit. Ever since that long march to Mons he has had such awful bad feet, we have left him behind scores of times. Sometimes he would catch us up at halts, then behind again, but he always came marching into bivouac to take his place next morning. He comes from Keighley, quiet elderly. His knees gave way once on a march, but he won’t go sick. We are now beginning to know our officers.

“There’s a kind of sympathy between officers and men I can’t describe. I have also found out the different dispositions of my men. They’re a fine lot, and it’s grand to be amongst them. We have no matches, and I have a pair of field glasses. When I want to smoke, I unscrew one of the lens, and hold it to the sun. Then the cigarette goes round lighting others. Today, for a change we haven’t seen any German eagles (Taubes). They have simply haunted us these last few days. We cross the Marne tomorrow. Mr Hocart used to sing about the French roads. If these are them, roll on English ones, my boots are worn to the uppers through walking on the big square cobbles. Go through Dagny.”

September 7th: “We didn’t go far yesterday, but heard heavy fire on our right. Our Division, as do others, work on the alternate system. That is, the brigades take their turns in the advance. Today we are the advance, and our own regiment is advance to the brigade, and our own company is 2nd in the order of marching. This rotating business is a sound idea, as it gives every brigade, battalion, company, platoons and sections a change. I don’t know what the German idea is, only that we’re going forward and the Germans are retreating. We must have marched them off their feet, and now we are going to show them something else, and give them a smack in the eye.

“Today we had read out to us the Kaiser’s statement about us being a ‘contemptible little army,’ and it made us mad. Just let us get a chance at them. Today we cross a river, the Germans are on the other side. Our cavalry had captured a lot of transport and prisoners. Now we began to see where the Germans had been. Bottles - empty of course - everywhere, and beds and tables pulled out of houses, and windows smashed. I hear the French are heavily engaged.”

September 8th: “Now things look lively. We forced the passage of the Petit Morin after breakfast by way of a charge, and found it held pretty strongly by the enemy. Our 18 pounders got going, and scattered them. They then tried to counter attack, and we simply flew at them. We captured a lot of prisoners and some guns.

“But what a mess they left their camps in. Why couldn’t the French government employ refugees to drive all the cattle away before the retreat? Because it now resembles a slaughter house. They must be like pigs, the way they litter the place out, and we marched by their last night’s camp with our sense of smell deeply aggrieved. I can just imagine the Killjoys in England in a like predicament as these poor people, homes all ruined, and the husbands at the front. My word! There’s a reckoning for the Kaiser and his young hopefuls! I hear our cavalry have scattered the Uhlans.”

September 9th: “Today we forced the Marne at Chateau Thierry. They left thousands of dead and wounded. Our guards of the 1st Brigade got going at 500 yards, and when we came up the sight of the bayonet drove them away. The cavalry rounded them up in a kind of valley, and our artillery simply pumped shells into them. Eight maxims [Machine Guns] and some hundreds of prisoners have been captured, besides transport. That shows how contemptible we are, but we haven’t done with them yet! I hear there are hundreds of stragglers getting rounded up. Over 400 horses have been captured. The whole division encamped in a town, I don’t know the name. I’m on outpost just outside.”

September 10th: “An old friend, the Taube, makes his appearance as we are forming up for moving off. Our maxims soon spotted him, and that’s another less. We cross the Ourcq this evening. This is a grand scoop today. We captured 2,000 prisoners, seven maxim guns, and eighteen big guns, also transport and wireless apparatus. They don’t even stop to bury their dead. We don’t have many casualties, but hundreds of the enemy have been killed.

“It has been raining, and tonight we bivouac at Mrs. Greenfield’s [in the open air] on wet straw. We are in touch with the French cavalry. Shall be glad to get out of here, it simply stinks. Some of the houses have been razed to the ground by heavy gun fire. The mounds of earth tell their tale. Shall be glad to have a rest, as we have been on the go, with little sleep, since August 21st. Got some French tobacco and ‘Wait a minute stinkers’ this morning.”

September 11th: “We crossed the Ourcq with little resistance, but got stuck in on the other side. First intimation we had was at Prieta, where the Sussex have got terribly mauled by shell fire. They have some very heavy guns, with big black shells. We call them coal boxes. We are in support to the Garrison Artillery big guns, and that draws the enemy’s fire. I believe if we had been two minutes sooner, we should have captured a whole convoy. We advanced in skirmishing order under a heavy fire of shrapnel. Mr. Davidson said to me “Isn’t it jolly?” I said “It’s jolly hot, sir”. Then we got it warmer. The Brigade Major got hit, and the Colonel and Sergeant Major of the Sussex were killed instantly. All of a sudden a big German jumped out of a bush, a second after that there was one man less of the Kaiser’s Iron Army. We got to the top of the ridge, where we had a lot of casualties, but the Allemandes never stopped. I saw a strange sight. Two wounded soldiers were helping each other along, they had just got to the top of the ridge when a big black shell burst not two yards off. They weren’t hurt a bit, but our artillery and transport got scattered.”

September 12th: “This day we didn’t get into contact, mostly cavalry skirmishes. We had to advance through woods. I like that better, because it cuts corners off. We passed the French troops, who had it hot last night. The French soldiers are pretty decent. They won’t take money for anything, so we exchange souvenirs. They look very dirty, but brighter than I have seen them. We also saw the Turcos, reminds me of India. We had some letters from home today, about three weeks overdue. I saw two Woodbines sold for five francs. Would like some myself, but will stick to French tobacco till Woodbines become cheaper.”

September 13th: “Crossed the Aisne at Bourg under very heavy fire. The Germans had blown the bridge up, so we had to go across girders, and wade, in places some swam and pulled a rope over. The engineers made a pontoon. Our regiment was already across, and we took up a position on a big hill in front. Towards afternoon we dislodged the enemy at 400 yards with shells and maxim and rifle fire. Not many casualties. We billet at Paissy, but ordered to be ready at 2 a.m.”

September 14th: “This day will ever remain in my memory. It just happened that my company was advance guard, and the battalion advance guard to the brigade. We moved out of Paissy at 2:30 a.m., passed the outposts, and crept silently up the hill with fixed bayonets. We were told we were going to surround an outpost in front, that’s all. I wish our officers would give us more of the general idea.

“It was a rainy morning, simply pouring, and we had no overcoats, these were left at Landrecies, only a waterproof sheet. We went gingerly through a village, Troyon, and up the slope of a big spur in front. We got to the top, reformed, and were going through a cutting in the hill side nearly at the top, marching on either side of the road, single file. Suddenly a squad of cavalry came dashing through, which was upsetting the whole show, because they hadn’t gone twenty yards when a terrible rain of bullets came amongst us and scattered the cavalry, and killed and wounded lots of us.

“Our officer, Captain Cathcart, was hit, and shouted ‘Extend over the ridge right and left’. I went with my platoon officer, Mr. Davidson. We extended about three paces up to the edge of a mangold patch. Day was just breaking when we got into position. We had two killed in a few seconds. Then the Germans turned two machine guns on us from a haystack not 10 yards to our front. My officer seized hold of a man’s rifle, at the same time shouting ‘There are hundreds of Germans behind that haystack’. Then he stood up and deliberately fired, standing. I shouted ‘Get down, sir’. He was shot through the eye immediately, and died a few minutes after. Before he did die, however, he said ‘Hold on to this position, as it is on the flank, don’t retire until you get orders’.

“Bullets were clipping the leaves off the mangolds in front of us. One went through my cap, another hit the safety catch of my rifle, which made me mad. Every time the maxim stopped, I bobbed up and took aim, at the same time ordering the men to concentrate their fire on the left side of the hay stack. Word was passed on to watch the flank as well. All officers were out of action, so still having that infernal maxim in mind, I crept to the left front, and got a beautiful view of him as he was sitting manipulating his gun. I avenged Mr. Davidson, and felt pleased.

“After about 30 minutes, another platoon arrived. Then the Sussex came up on my left. I heard a lot of shouting, and everybody was standing up. The Germans had put up a white flag, and were coming in by hundreds to surrender. The first thing I made for was that maxim gun. Oh, the sight! We must have done terrible damage. We got two maxims away in double quick time. Then I noticed a battery of 12 guns away on our right front. The gunners were coming in, and I had a sneaking fancy all wasn’t right. They were coming in with rifles so I ordered my men back. When the Germans got to our front line they realised what a small number we were. Then they deliberately opened fire at short range. Our chaps gave them rapid, with the result that about 300 made for our lines as prisoners. The others ran back, especially the gunners, who opened fire with fuse zero point blank range shot, then it was an inferno over again, whole lanes being made into our ranks advancing. We despatched the prisoners to the rear, and settled down to work again.

“Eventually we got hold of the guns, and by this time the French, on our right, were coming to our assistance. About 10 o’clock the Germans were advancing in force across the plateau, under cover of their heavy shell fire. We were in a serious predicament until someone shouted; “The Cameroons are coming” which reminded me of Lucknow. The whole of the first brigade came up on our right and left. Our casualties were awful, but I shan’t forget the sight of the Cameroons, or Black Watch, advancing, it was a grand sight. We drove the Germans back, but had no effective artillery support. One battery tried to get to us, but was put completely out of action.

“Then the third Brigade arrived with the Glousters and the Queens. Even these were insufficient to enable us to advance. The factory chimney was blown clean in half. The Lancashires seized the factory. I was ordered to take 16 men, and to hold a position well in front at all cost. We advanced, and got it hot again. It was still raining. I was using the third rifle that day, as the action soon got clogged with dirt. I sent down word for reinforcements and ammunition. I got the ammunition, but no reinforcements.

“After about an hour the enemy were actually advancing in skirmishing line about 100 yards in front. I deemed discretion the wisest, especially as I had lost half my men, so gave the order to retire, crawling one after another, the remainder to keep up rapid fire so as to render the retirement effective. But the hounds got a maxim on to us. The chap next to me got hit in the leg and the arm, and he said ‘Don’t leave me, sergeant’. Another chap and I got to him and dragged him along, crawling until we got him into a coal box hole. The fates were unkind, for the other chap got hit, so I left my water bottle and scooted. The haystacks were on fire. I got back with four men out of 16. I’d had no grub since the night before, my rations had gone west. When I got under cover I fainted. Some kind man gave me some food, and I felt strong again.

“By this time our artillery had got going, and on my reaching the ridge I found the lost reinforcement had come up, so I occupied myself with dressing the wounded. I was horrified to find my two men had been further wounded. One had his leg shattered. There are not enough stretcher bearers for this kind of warfare. Eventually the whole lot of us had to retire singly, leaving dead and badly wounded in the hands of the Germans. I passed my old officer, and covered him up. Our General had realised that we had run slap bang into the main German army, so we started to entrench. As we occupied the most forward position and kept it, we couldn’t advance any further, as it would endanger our flank.

“That night we had a roll call, and found that all officers except three had been killed and wounded, and about 500 of other ranks. The Northants and North Lancs, and Sussex, lost their Colonels. One of our sergeants who had been killed left a wife and 10 children. This is war with a vengeance. One prisoner this morning put his arms around my neck, but I told him I wasn’t in courting humour. I saw several cases of wounded giving Germans water. One of my men, Hunt from Derby, got shot through both lungs. He came back with me. I helped him down to the rear. He wanted a fag before he died. He said ‘It’s wonderful how soothing a fag is”.

September 15th: “We are getting a rest today, after such a terrible gruelling. The Colonel sent for me and very kindly let me off my court martial, so I am free once again. This afternoon a shrapnel burst and killed and wounded 30 of C Company. That’s the Taube again who gave our position away. Other regiments have suffered heavily. Our Colonel read us a message from Sir J. French congratulating us on our tenacity, he calls it.”

September 16th: “Had another attack today, but drove them back. We start digging in. It is still raining. I have been reduced to smoking dry tea leaves. Shellfire is awful.”

September 17th: “I wonder when these attacks are going to finish. This afternoon the Northants made a bayonet charge, and drove the enemy out of their advanced trenches, which was too close to be comfortable. We went and helped them. About four o’clock the Germans held up a white flag and hundreds came in. I was by Mr. Purcel with the maxim gun, and he shouted to us to keep our heads, and not to forget Monday. It was quite needless, so our chaps kept down, but the Queens came up from our right flank. The Germans began to form up on the road in fours. An officer came up to Mr. Purcel, and said ‘You are my prisoner’. That did it. Maxims and rifle fire from the Germans caused us a lot of casualties, but there weren’t many left of the crowd after we had finished with them. It seems that the enemy’s officers deliberately do this sort of thing to stop the rank and file from surrendering.

“It was here that I think Lieutenant Dimmer earned the VC. He shouted to stop firing, and with his pipe in his mouth, and waving a coloured handkerchief, he walked calmly up to the German trenches, saluted the officer, who likewise did the same. After a minutes confab, Mr. Dimmer came slowly back, got behind our trench, and shouted ‘give them hell, men’ and we did. We charged with the bayonet. I got up to the trench, and found an automatic revolver aimed at me. I dropped, and the bullet went sailing over me. That officer got my latest overhand clubbing stroke. Afterwards they came in by twos and threes with hands up, dejected objects.”

“It was still raining. Haven’t had a dry stitch since Sunday, the 13th. We get about two teaspoonfuls of rum. It warms us up, and it is sufficient to help us keep warm until we fall asleep. The ground is simply a quagmire, and the trenches about six inches deep in water. One consolation, the Germans suffer the same, and we consider ourselves as good as any German sausage, we don’t surrender. Our chaps would sooner shoot themselves.

“I went down this morning and got some real English cigarettes from Durrance, of the Northants, who comes from Melton. He has had it rough, too. I felt a bit fed up. Next war I shall go down to Southampton with a pocketful of monkey nuts and a box of oranges, throw them onboard, and shout out Rule Britannia like some do at home. Kitchener’s Army will have to hurry up, else we shall be decimated.”

“I don’t suppose I shall get back, chances don’t seem too rosy just now. It isn’t warfare, it’s murder. Somebody said I should die with my boots on, especially after Monday. I hope it’s right. The troops don’t seem to mind. I don’t mind clean rifle bullets, it is those blessed ‘Jack Johnsons”.

September 18th: “Shells are dropping all round us. The valley below is full of holes. They make a terrible hole, enough to bury a house in. After dinner - I like that name - we had to help the Queens on the right. The enemy suffered very much as they advanced in close mass, but soon dodged back. It is much better for us to act on the defensive. Our artillery has got the range nicely, and I hear some heavy guns are on the way up.

“The Russians seem to be doing well, but all sorts of rumours are going round. Some say a Peace Conference is on. I fancy we will be in pieces before that happens. It’s marvellous how ignorant we are here. We don’t know what is going on except on our own immediate front. We got some English papers and we see that our army saved France. That’s some consolation, anyhow, but we didn’t know what we were doing. I hear that the French haven’t quite mobilised yet. We are on the extreme right of the British Army, and in touch with the French.”

September 19th: “We heard this morning that the Gloucesters were stuck into it last night. Good, the old Brags. We have just got the measure of our opponents. They seem pretty fond of night attacks. It generally ends in fireworks, which beat Brock’s display into a cocked hat. There are spies in the village below, because when a line of troops get to the village water tap, shells at once drop amongst them. I wish they would arrange some system of reliefs. Wouldn’t I just like to have a wash and shave, and clean socks? We wake up shivering. I’ve had a touch of rheumatics. We had another attack this afternoon. I went sniping for pastime, feels all right to get our own back. We had some tobacco issued today, matches are scarce. The general in front of us is called von Kluck, we call him ‘One o’clock’ because he starts shelling about that time.”

September 20th: “Got blown out of our trenches yesterday, but now we have strengthened them by digging under, and making independent traverses. The enemy seems to have plenty of ammunition to waste. If the Kaiser could only see the number that hadn’t burst, or gone in the valley, he’d have a fit. All the same it isn’t nice dodging them. One dropped right in my dug out whilst I was absent. Think I was born under a lucky star.”

September 21st: “Another night attack. When are they going to give over? Don’t think much of their infantry as shots. Our fire is terrible. It’s the bolt action which is freer than the Germans. I hear we are going to be relived at last. It has been a terrible week. Wish one could give a week’s notice like civil life. Still we have to stick it. Whatever happens can’t be worse than we have already gone through. Saw a chap going down on a stretcher, with his left leg blown off, he was smoking a cigarette. Tonight we get relived. Hurrah! Can’t understand why they bring fresh troops to the trenches because they don’t know the position properly.”

September 22nd: “We got relived by the Yorks, and Notts & Derby’s last night. They haven’t been in action before. I hope they manage all right. It is a fine day. The Algerian Turcos are in the valley below, in reserve to their own line. Now I can write letters. Have had a mail come in with some tobacco. Feels nice to be in a village again, and resting feels like a furlough.”

September 23rd: “They took me down to the Aisne, and we had a bathe, passed our 1st Battalion who have lost a good few. Draft of 400 joined today. Them Jack Johnsons won’t leave us alone. Duel in the air, German brought down. Magnificent view of the Aisne valley from here. B Company got shelled out of its billets, about 20 killed or wounded. Saw a Turco with a string of ears. Said he was saving them for souvenirs. That’s rhyme, but it’s a fact. Heard that the Yorks had been rushed. Just as I thought they tried the old white flag trick. We warned them before we left. ‘Mind the white flag business’ but I suppose they thought we only said it in that lofty, experienced manner. Still they suffered considerably in killed and wounded, and prisoners.”

September 24th: “Still in billets. Sir J. French came in when we were cooking, without any instruction, and started talking to us, and saying how pleased he was with us all, that he was proud, and that England was proud too. Also that the position we had gained on the 14th alone enabled the British Army to maintain it’s position. He went round all the billets in the same manner. So once more we were pleased, and everyone came to the conclusion that Sir J. French is a trump. Everybody simply adores him. Regiments have added new glories to their records, and whatever the outcome of this campaign may by, it won’t obscure them. Sir J. French said we were only there for a short rest, as he couldn’t spare seasoned troops, which is quite natural.”

September 25th: “Went out in support of the French guns. We hid in caves which are numerous in the Aisne valley. About a dozen of our fellows was sitting outside the entrance of one, and a Jack Johnson dropped right amongst them. We kept inside then until midnight, when we returned to our billets.”

September 26th: “Today we have been refitting. Got quite a number of nice things from home. There is a flanking movement to be attempted on our left wing.”

September 27th: “Tonight we have to go back to our trenches, and relive the 18th Brigade. Operations carried out successfully.”

September 28th: “We relived the Durhams and I was put in the observation post, which is a dugout about 50 yards in front of the main front trench. As the whole line depends on the vigilance of this post, I kept awake all night. I was ordered to take six men, and post two sentries, orders were to resist as long as possible in case of an attack. Barbed wire had been placed all round as the German trenches were only 50 yards away.

“When I got to the dugout I found a man short, so I sent one man back for him. Whilst he was away I posted my right sentry at Number 1 post, which was at the end of a traverse about six yards to the right front of the dugout. I was coming away when a shot just missed my face. I rushed back just in time to stop my new man, who had just come up in my presence, from killing the sentry, a case of proper wind up. That’s the worst of taking over a strange position at night. All night constant sniping.”

September 29th: “The Germans attacked us, and when they got close up we retired gradually so that our chaps could fire, we soon drove them off, and all day long had some sport in sniping, and we managed to nail a few, too.”

September 30th: “We get relived tonight, and go into dugouts. Our artillery has managed to blow up a few of the enemy’s trenches. The artillery has the range to a nicety, but sometimes they drop a little short, and we have to duck. That’s the 115th Battery. Our old friends the Taubes are frequent visitors. We got one down today, absolutely riddled.”

October 1st: “Had toothache cruel. We stay in trenches 48 hours, and dugouts 48, which is about 150 yards in rear. When the trenches want our help we advance by traverse trenches. The whole line of trenches have been improved since the early days. I would sooner be in front trenches, as we get blown out sometimes in the rear.”

October 2nd: “Last night we took over some night trenches, which connect our line with the French, we only go at night, and leave before daybreak. Well, we left it too long, and in consequence, just as we were getting ready to move off, shrapnel was bursting right amongst us, besides machine gun fire. The troops scattered and I was left in the trench. I got out of the trench side, and was going back over the ridge to the other valley, when a general stopped me and made me go a roundabout way which is about three miles. I had nearly got back, and was just catching up to some stragglers when a Jack Johnson burst right amongst them, killing and wounding the lot.

“The same evening I was warned to take out a party of men and collect the tools which the troops had left that morning. It was a beautiful moonlight night, and I sent my men in a skirmishing line, myself taking the centre. All went well until I was on the high ridge, when a company of Northants, who were marching with fixed swords, attracted the guns, and shrapnel started. It burst right in front of me. I lay flat and dug as I have never dug before. It was a warm five minutes. When it was all over I found two bullets in my pack, a piece torn off, and my water bottle smashed and dented.”

October 3rd to October 17th: “It has been a beautiful fortnight. Night attacks have been few, and the heavy Jack Johnsons have disappeared, but our old friends the shrapnel and lesser coal boxes still cause us a certain amount of damage.

“We have had the Paris edition of the Daily Mail up every day. Tis quite a treat, besides cigarettes and tobacco are very plentiful. We get plenty of food, rough, but good. The troops are all in fine condition. Still it gets monotonous, and the shellfire is apt to cause a nervous breakdown. Happily mine are in good order, although I have had some close calls. I have had a few squeaks, but I’m fed up recording them.

“Hope the war will be over by Xmas or Easter. We get relived tonight, and march away to the rear. I guess it will be a case of out of the frying pan, etc. The French are to relive us but nobody knows except a few of the ‘nuts’. There’s one episode I must not forget to record. About three days ago I was warned to take 36 men with picks in one hand and rifles in the other. Some patrol was going out to try and ascertain where the German field guns were, which played such havoc amongst us, and if all was clear I had to charge and disable them. I shook hands with myself and said ‘Goodbye Sandy’. It didn’t come off though, as they had been withdrawn, and I wasn’t sorry either. I don’t wish to face Fuse Zero again.

“I am sure there are spies in the village. That blessed water tap is a veritable death trap, and our authorities have imprisoned two men and two women. It’s remarkable how the Germans find out things the way they do. As we are getting relived and the head of the French column just appearing over the brow of the hill, bang, bang, goes shrapnel right amongst them, killing and wounding 50. It was their first experience too, what a baptism!”

October 18th: “Once more we are on the train. We entrained at Frisnes, we go through Paris in the night, through Criel, and on to Amiens and Boulogne. Feel glad of the change. Outside Boulogne we are held up for 12 hours, a refugee train and a goods train have collided with appalling results. There are 35 in one carriage, I ought to say cattle truck, because it says ‘hommes 40 chevaux 8’ [forty men or eight horses] evidently they’re not made for sleeping purposes.”

October 19th: “Through Calais, and to think England is only 21 miles away! Anyhow we shall fight better, knowing it’s not far away. Through Saint Omer, Hazebrouck and we detrain at Mont Cassell. We sleep in a farm, nice comfortable hay, we’re for Ypres.”

October 20th: “Supposed to be here in Cassell for a rest, but they take us on a route march, just for exercise. 10 miles, nothing to us. Have a nice outing in the afternoon. We get paid 4 shillings again. Durrance and I visit a tuck shop, and have a tuck in, our stomachs are quite shocked, and somewhat resented this more gentle intrusion, but we soothed ourselves with coffee. The French are good coffee makers but I bar them from making tea. I tried to buy some cocoa, a quarter pound tin. A major in the shop said ‘If I were you, old chap, I wouldn’t buy that’. I said ‘Why?’ He says ‘Oh, if you’re a millionaire, buy it, but just ask the price’. It was three francs. I saluted, and fell out. Some of our chaps were in a convent. The sisters treated them splendidly.

“We are off again, and do a decent forced march from Cassell to Everingde. Ought to be never end, thought it wouldn’t. We marched through Poperinghe. We heard the 7th Division were in a bad way. Passed the naval anti-aircraft guns which have answered for over a score of Taubes. They travel on motors, and go pom, pom, pom, pom, four times. They send a shell a tremendous height, and are much better than shrapnel.”

October 21st: “Today we march to Ypres as supports, but we are not needed. Afterwards we march to Boesinghe, and billet. Plenty of French troops about. We are in general reserve.”

October 22nd: “Stay in a farm all day, and at night we have to parade suddenly, and move up to the firing line. The Cameroons have been driven from their trenches, and our brigade, General Bulfin’s, have to retake them. All night we dig trenches while bullets are flying about. Managed to sleep a couple of hours. This was all at a place called Pilckem.”

October 23rd: “We advanced under heavy fire at daybreak, and at once attacked. It was at once apparent to me that it was going to be another coffin shop, which means a warm time. The enemy were in a village opposite, and they were firing through the roofs of houses, and from all manner of things. We gradually beat them back, and at a given signal our flanks closed in, and then we charged. Queens, Black Watch, King’s Royal Rifles, Northants, and North Lancashires. We surrounded the whole village, and soon we were using the bayonet. We captured about 700, but lost a lot ourselves, as the shrapnel burst on the ground, which is the worst kind. It simply raked our chaps down. One fellow who got shot in the neck was swearing, and then another came and finished him. All day we were fighting.

“At night the country for miles around is lit up with ruined homesteads and stacks on fire. A remarkable thing was the number of cattle grazing placidly, not bothering in the slightest. We counted 1,500 dead in this position alone. It was worse than the Aisne, but we had trenches dug by afternoon.”

October 24th: “They made another attack on us, and we got some more prisoners. They were mostly young boys and elderly men. They seem fed up. Tonight we get relived again by the French Territorials at seven o’clock. Seven o’clock arrived, and the Germans attack, and such a shower of shrapnel I never have experienced. We had some killed right in my trench. Eventually the French relived us, and as we were leaving the trenches got another shelling. After an hour’s dodging and crawling, we left our French comrades, not sorry either. Tonight we march and billet in Ypres.”

October 25th: “In Ypres. It is a lovely town, and one wouldn’t think to see the people talking and walking about, the shops lit up, etc., that fighting was going on five miles away. The Germans haven’t been right in. Our chaps got here just in time. We are ordered to wash and shave, to make the spies think we are fresh from home. I got a Belgium refugee to do the needful. He charged 2½d, if ever a fellow earned it he did.”

October 26th: “Marched out of Ypres at 9 a.m. We looked clean, and a sergeant with the ASC insulted me, and asked if we were Kitchener’s Army. The answer is unprintable. That night we’re in the thick of it again, and making acquaintance with the old Jack Johnsons. Had a charge. One old fat German at the last trench put up his hands, and said something like ‘merci’, I thought that he meant thanks in French, but I was surprised when he pulled out his watch, a safety razor, money, and laid down his arms. Whilst I was picking it up, he scooted, but didn’t get far. Evidently he meant the English mercy, and was bribing me.”

October 27th to November 1st: “Very heavy fighting all round. Here had a good glimpse of ‘Mother’, which is the new big gun something like the German Jack Johnson. Our fellows simply adore Mother, also ‘Archibald’ the naval gun. We dug ourselves in in a wood. There’s plenty of work here for doctors. Wonder when the people in England will wake up to the seriousness of it all.

“Our telegraphists tapped the enemy’s wireless today. By all accounts the Kaiser has given orders to take Calais at all costs by November 1st. Three or four army corps are up against us. We have orders to hold on at all costs. That order is quite needless. We haven’t given way yet, and we never shall. It’s quite an unwritten law that if a certain regiment loses trenches, the same regiment has to retake them. No regiment likes the words ‘driven out of trenches’ after its name.

“I have to see about the issue of rations to the section, and if anyone wants to try a Chinese puzzle let them try to issue 2 ½ loaves of bread, about 11 small tins of bully, 23 biscuits, 3½ tins of jam, cheese, and a lump of bacon with a bone in it, in a wood where no lights are allowed, to 15 men, each to have an equal share, otherwise there’s ructions. Always about 9 p.m. This has happened since the early days of the Aisne. Sometimes there is one tin of Vaseline, a piece of soap, a pipe, chocolate, a pair of boot laces, so we raffle them. One consolation, we get plenty of food, and Tommy has always some to spare for the kids. All one can hear in towns we have passed through, is ‘souvenir, biscuit anglais’.

“Today the RAMC stretcher bearers have caught it hot. The Division Office isn’t even safe. We have gained in aircraft. Quite a number of Allied ones flying now. The Taube mostly drop bombs on defenceless villages and railway stations, but it is seldom seen over us, except at great height. Some of our troops have been driven back slightly, and the 2nd Brigade is in for it. That’s what I thought before the order came.

“After breakfast we start the mystifying walking around ourselves, first to one place, then to another. That’s tactics. Reckon they ought to finish this war with bladders on sticks, or else those pens which they say are mightier than the sword. It’s time a few pen pushers came out to try it on. Anyhow, I place my faith in this little bit of steel I carry.

“About 9 p.m. we advance in support of the Welsh Regiment. Hope they don’t do any welshing, and let us in for our money. Bullets and shrapnel begin to fly, and as a diversion somebody shouts ‘Pass the word down that the Ghurkhas have made a charge and captured eight miles of wireless’. Word went down all right, and raised a laugh. Well, we advanced across a rather exposed position, through a shower of high explosive and shrapnel. We lost a good many men, and Mr. Bouverie was hit, and heaps more. I had my pack blown clean off my back, to my chagrin. Turned just in time to see my emergency rations taking a short cut back to the rear.

“After that we got in touch once more with the Kaiser’s hosts. We charged, and got through, and had to charge back. We got to Zonnebeke, which is now a heap of stones, and a ruined church. We were just going to dig ourselves in, and it commenced to pour. I thought to myself wouldn’t I just like a month’s furlough.

“Just then it happened. A maxim gun started, and I got shot in the ankle. I started raving at the chap next to me for hitting me with his entrenching tool, but I apologised when I saw the bullet hole. I said goodbye and hopped a mile, and then some kind Samaritan, there are plenty, carried me to the first dressing station, from there I was sent to the clearing hospital where there were about 600 wounded of all sorts and sizes. That night the Germans started bombarding Ypres.

“On the morning of the 31st we were suddenly packed off to the station. Whilst embarking we were shelled worse than ever. They wounded a few extra. Must have been a parting greeting. Anyhow, I wasn’t sorry when we got out of gunfire. Eventually, after a racking train journey, which took a day and two nights, we arrived at Rouen on November 1st. The train gave one last jolt, and a form fell on my wounded foot. I didn’t bless that engine driver. What can anyone expect of a cattle truck? Casualties were too severe for the continuous service ambulance trains.

“In Rouen our distress was soon alleviated. My shirt hadn’t been washed or changed during the four months I had been out here. It helped me in. There are more than twelve hospitals here with a complete staff of nurses, and weren’t the sisters just kind!”

Sergeant Sanderson was later sent to the British Red Cross Hospital at Hale, Altrincham, he arrived at Holmfirth on sick leave early in 1915.


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Thanks Tony, a great read into the beginning of the war and a taste of how it was for my grandfather and his unit.

- Simon

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  • 15 years later...

Only just found this post and I thank you greatly for it. As for my two penneth worth...My grandad, Tom Starkie, was one of those taken prisoner on Aug 26, he always blamed it on the French troops for pulling back without notice to anyone. He didn’t get back to Britain till 1919.

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