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Enemy's Artillery Inactive

British Isles Genealogy | Fifth Leicestershire

Like the enemy's, our artillery was comparatively inactive. Our gunners, though from their Observation Posts, "O.P.'s," on Kemmel Hill they could see many excellent targets, were unable to fire more than a few rounds daily owing to lack of ammunition; what little they had was all of the "pip-squeak" variety, and not very formidable. Our snipers were quite incapable of dealing with the Bavarians, and except for Lieut. A.P. Marsh, who went about smashing Boche loophole plates with General Clifford's elephant gun, we did nothing in this respect.

In one sphere, however, we were masters—namely, patrolling. At Armentières we had had no practice in this art, and our first venture into No Man's Land was consequently a distinctly hazardous enterprise for those who undertook it—2nd Lieut. J.W. Tomson, Corpl. Staniforth, Ptes. Biddles, Tebbutt, and Tailby, all of "A" Company (Toller). Their second night in the line, in 15 trench, this little party crawled between the two halves of a dead cow, and, scrambling over our wire, explored No Man's Land, returning some half hour later. Others followed their lead, and during the whole of our stay in this sector, though our patrols were out almost every night, they never met a German.

We stayed in these trenches for a month, taking alternate tours of four days each with the 4th Lincolnshires (Col. Jessop). We lost about two killed and ten wounded each tour, mostly from snipers and stray bullets, for we did not come into actual conflict with the enemy at all.

Amongst the wounded was C.S.M. J. Kernick, of "B" Company, whose place was taken by H.G. Lovett. This company also lost Serjt. Nadin, who was killed a few weeks later.

Although we fought no pitched battles, the month included several little excitements of a minor sort, both in trenches and when out at rest. The first of these was the appearance of a Zeppelin over Dranoutre, where we were billeted. Fortunately only one bomb dropped anywhere near us, and this did no damage; the rest were all aimed at Bailleul and its aerodromes. We all turned out of bed, and stood in the streets to look at it, while many sentries blazed away with their rifles, forgetting that it was many hundred feet beyond the range of any rifle.

By the middle of April the Staff began to expect a possible German attack, and we "stood to" all night the 15/16th, having been warned that it would be made on our front and that asphyxiating gases would be used—we had, of course, no respirators. Two nights later the 5th Division attacked Hill 60, and for four hours and a quarter, from 4 p.m. to 8-15 p.m., we fired our rifles, three rounds a minute, with sights at 2,500 yards and rifles set on a bearing of 59°, in order to harass the enemy's back areas behind the Hill—a task which later was always given to the machine gunners. In those days it was a rare thing to hear a machine gun at all, and ours scarcely ever fired. A week afterwards, when out at rest, we heard that the second battle of Ypres had begun, and learnt with horror and disgust of the famous first gas attack and its ghastly results. Within a few days the first primitive respirators arrived and were issued; they were nothing but a pad of wool and some gauze, and would have been little use; fortunately we did not know this, and our confidence in them was quite complete. On the 10th May, just before we left the sector, we had a little excitement in the front line. A German bombing party suddenly rushed "E1 Left," a rotten little "grouse-butt" trench only 37 yards from the enemy, and held by the 4th Leicestershires, and succeeded in inflicting several casualties before they made off, leaving one dead behind them. This in itself was not much, but both sides opened rapid rifle fire, and the din was so terrific that supports were rushed up, reserves "stood to" to counter-attack, and it was nearly an hour before we were able to resume normal conditions. The following day we returned to the huts, where we were joined by 2nd Lieut. L.H. Pearson who was posted to "A" Company; 2nd Lieut. Aked's place had already been filled by Lieut. C.F. Shields from the Reserve Battalion. 2nd Lieut. G.W. Allen, who had been away with measles, also returned to us during April.

Our next stay in the Locre huts can hardly be called a rest. First, on the 12th May, the enemy raided the 4th Lincolnshires in G1 and G2 trenches, where, at "Peckham Corner," they hoped to be able to destroy one of our mine galleries. The raid was preceded by a strong trench mortar bombardment, during which the Lincolnshire trenches were badly smashed about, and several yards of them so completely destroyed that our "A" Company were sent up the next evening to assist in their repair. They stayed in the line for twenty-four hours, returning to the huts at 4 p.m. on the 14th, to find that the rest of the Battalion was about to move to the Ypres neighbourhood. The previous day the German attacks had increased in intensity, and the cavalry who had been sent up to fill the gap had suffered very heavily, among them being the Leicestershire Yeomanry, who had fought for many hours against overwhelming odds, losing Col. Evans-Freke and many others. There was great danger that if these attacks continued, the enemy would break through, and consequently all available troops were being sent up to dig a new trench line of resistance near Zillebeke—the line afterwards known as the "Zillebeke switch." None of us had ever been to the "Salient," but it was a well known and much dreaded name, and most of us imagined we were likely to have a bad night, and gloomily looked forward to heavy casualties.

Starting at 6-40 p.m., we went by motor bus with four hundred Sherwood Foresters through Reninghelst, Ouderdom, and Vlamertinghe to Kruisstraat, which we reached in three hours. Hence guides of the 4th Gordons led us by Bridge 16 over the Canal and along the track of the Lille Road. It was a dark night, and as we stumbled along in single file, we could see the Towers of Ypres smouldering with a dull red glow to our left, while the salient front line was lit up by bursting shells and trench mortars. Our route lay past Shrapnel Corner and along the railway line to Zillebeke Station, and was rendered particularly unpleasant by the rifle fire from "Hill 60" on our right. The railway embankment was high and we seemed to be unnecessarily exposing ourselves by walking along the top of it, but as the guides were supposed to know the best route we could not interfere. At Zillebeke Church we found Colonel Jones, who came earlier by car, waiting to show us our work which we eventually started at midnight; as we had to leave the Church again at 1 a.m., to be clear of the Salient before daylight, we had not much time for work. However, so numerous were the bullets that all digging records were broken, especially by the Signalers, whose one desire, very wisely, was to get to ground with as little delay as possible, and when we left our work, the trench was in places several feet deep. The coming of daylight and several salvoes of Boche shells dissuaded us from lingering in the Salient, and, after once more stumbling along the Railway Line, we reached our motor buses and returned to the huts, arriving at 5-30 a.m. A May night is so short, that the little digging done seemed hardly worth the casualties, but perhaps we were not in a position to judge.

Two days later we went into a new sector, trenches on the immediate left of the last Brigade sector, and previously held by the Sherwood Foresters. The front line consisting of trenches "F4, 5 and 6," "G1 and 2", was more or less continuous, though a gap between the "F's" and "G's," across which one had to run, added a distinct element of risk to a tour round the line. The worst part was Peckham Corner, where the Lincolnshires had already suffered; for it was badly sighted, badly built, and completely overlooked by the enemy's sniping redoubt on "Hill 76." In addition to this it contained a mine shaft running towards the enemy's lines, some 40 yards away, and at this the Boche constantly threw his "Sausages," small trench mortars made of lengths of stove piping stopped at the ends. It was also suspected that he was counter-mining. In this sector three Companies were in the front line, the fourth lived with Battalion Headquarters, which were now at Lindenhoek Châlet near the cross roads, a pretty little house on the lower slopes of Mont Kemmel. Though the back area was better, the trenches on the whole were not so comfortable as those we had left, and during our first tour we had reason to regret the change. First, 2nd Lieut. C.W. Selwyn, taking out a patrol in front of "F5," was shot through both thighs, and, though wonderfully cheerful when carried in, died a few days later at Bailleul. The next morning, while looking at the enemy's snipers' redoubt, Captain J. Chapman, 2nd in Command of "D" Company, was shot through the head, and though he lived for a few days, died soon after reaching England. This place was taken by Lieut. J.D.A. Vincent, and at the same time Lieut. Langdale was appointed 2nd in Command of "C." There were also other changes, for Major R.E. Martin was given Command of the 4th Battalion, and was succeeded as 2nd in Command by Major W.S.N. Toller, while Captain C. Bland became skipper of "A" Company.

During this same tour, the Brigade suffered its first serious disaster, when the enemy mined and blew up trench "E1 left," held at the time by the 5th Lincolnshire Regiment. This regiment had many casualties, and the trench was of course destroyed, while several men were buried or half-buried in the debris, where they became a mark for German snipers. To rescue one of these, Lieut. Gosling, R.E., who was working in the G trenches, went across to E1, and with the utmost gallantry worked his way to the mine crater. Finding a soldier half buried, he started to dig him out, and had just completed his task when he fell to a sniper's bullet and was killed outright. As at this time the Royal Engineers' Tunneling Companies were not sufficient to cover the whole British front, none had been allotted to this, which was generally considered a quiet sector. Gen. Clifford, therefore, decided to have his own Brigade Tuneless, and a company was at once formed, under Lieut. A.G. Moore, to which we contributed 24 men, coalminers by profession. Lieut. Moore soon got to work and, so well did the "amateurs" perform this new task, that within a few days galleries had been started, and we were already in touch with the Boche underground. In an incredibly short space of time, thanks very largely to the personal efforts of Lieut. Moore, who spent hours every day down below within a few feet of the enemy's miners, two German mine-shafts and their occupants were blown in by a "camouflet," and both E1 left and E1 right were completely protected from further mining attacks by a defensive gallery along their front. For this Lieut. Moore was awarded a very well deserved Military Cross.

R.S.M. R.E. Small, D.C.M. R.Q.M.S. R. Gorse, M.S.M.
R.S.M. H.G. Lovett, M.C., D.C.M.

After the second tour in this sector we again made a slight change in the line, giving up the "F" trenches and taking instead "G3", "G4," "G4a," "H1," "H2" and "H5," again relieving the Sherwood Foresters, who extended their line to the left. Unfortunately, they still retained the Doctor's House in Kemmel as their Headquarters, and, as Lindenhoek Châlet was now too far South, Colonel Jones had to find a new home in the village, and chose a small shop in one of the lesser streets. We had scarcely been 24 hours in the new billet when, at mid-day, the 4th June, the Boche started to bombard the place with 5.9's, just when Colonel Jessop, of the 4th Lincolnshires, was talking to Colonel Jones in the road outside the house, while an orderly held the two horses close by. The first shell fell almost on the party, killing Colonel Jessop, the two orderlies, Bacchus and Blackham, and both horses. Colonel Jones was wounded in the hand, neck and thigh, fortunately not very seriously, though he had to be sent at once to England, having escaped death by little short of a miracle. His loss was very keenly felt by all of us, for ever since we had come to France, he had been the life and soul of the Battalion, and it was hard to imagine trenches, where we should not receive his daily cheerful visit. We had two reassuring thoughts, one that the General had promised to keep his command open for him as soon as he should return, the second that during his absence we should be commanded by Major Toller, who had been with us all the time, and was consequently well known to all of us.

Bomb Corner, Ypres 1915 Bomb Corner, Ypres 1915
Barracks, Ypres 1915

Meanwhile we had considerably advanced in our own esteem by having become instructors to one of the first "New Army" Divisions to come to France, the 14th Light Infantry Division, composed of three battalions of Rifle Brigade and 60th, and a battalion of each of the British Light Infantry Regiments. They were attached to us, just as we had been attached to the 12th Brigade at Armentières, to learn the little details of Trench warfare that cannot be taught at home, and their platoons were with us during both our tours in the "G's" and "H's." They were composed almost entirely of officers and men who had volunteered in August, 1914, and their physique, drill and discipline were excellent—a fact which they took care to point out to everybody, adding generally that they had come to France "not to sit in trenches, but to capture woods, villages, etc." We listened, of course, politely to all this, smiled, and went on with our instructing. Many stories are told of the great pride and assurance of our visitors, one of the most amusing being of an incident which happened in trench "H2." Before marching to trenches the visiting Platoon Commander had, in a small speech to his platoon, told them to learn all they could from us about trenches, but that they must remember that we were not regulars, and consequently our discipline was not the same as theirs. All this and more he poured into the ears of his host in the line, until he was interrupted by the entry of his Platoon Sergeant to report the accidental wounding of Pte. X by Pte. Y, who fired a round when cleaning his rifle. There was no need for the host to rub it in, he heard no more about discipline.

Credit, however, must be given where credit is due, and the following tour our visitors distinguished themselves. On the 15th June, at 9.10 p.m., when the night was comparatively quiet, the enemy suddenly blew up a trench on our left, held by the Sherwood Foresters, at the same time opening heavy rifle fire on our back areas and shelling our front line. Captain Griffiths, who held our left flank with "B" Company, found that his flank was in the air, so very promptly set about moving some of his supports to cover this flank, and soon made all secure. Meanwhile Lieut. Rosher, machine gun officer of the visiting Durham Light Infantry, hearing the terrific din and gathering that something out of the ordinary was happening, though he did not know what, slung a maxim tripod over his shoulders, picked up a gun under each arm, and went straightaway to the centre of activity—a feat not only of wonderful physical strength, but considerable initiative and courage. We did not suffer heavy casualties, but 2nd Lieut. Mould's platoon had their parapet destroyed in one or two places, and had to re-build it under heavy fire, in which Pte. J.H. Cramp, the Battalion hairdresser, distinguished himself. Except for this one outburst on the part of the Boche we had a quiet time, though Peckham Corner was always rather a cause of anxiety, for neither R.E. nor the Brigade Tunnellers could spare a permanent party on the mine shaft. Consequently, it was left to the Company Commander to blow up the mine, and with it some of the German trench, in case of emergency, and it was left to the infantry to supply listeners down the shaft to listen for counter-mining. On one occasion when Captain Bland took over the trench with "A" Company, he found the pump out of order, the water rising in the shaft, and the gallery full of foul air, all of which difficulties were overcome without the R.E.'s help, by the courage and ingenuity of Serjeant Garratt.

There was one remarkable feature of the whole of this period of the war which cannot be passed over, and that was the very decided superiority of our Flying Corps. During the whole of our three months in the Kemmel area we never once saw a German aeroplane cross our lines without being instantly attacked, and on one occasion we watched a most exciting battle between two planes, which ended in the German falling in flames into Messines, at which we cheered, and the Boche shelled us. Towards the end of the war the air was often thick with aeroplanes of all nationalities and descriptions, but in those days, before bombing flights and battle squadrons had appeared, it was seldom one saw as many as eight planes in the air at a time, and tactical formations either for reconnaissance or attack seemed to be unknown; it was all "one man" work, and each one man worked well.

On the night of the 16th June the Battalion came out of trenches and marched to the Locre huts for the last time, looking forward to a few days' rest in good weather before moving to the Salient, which we were told was shortly to be our fate. We had been very fortunate in keeping these huts as our rest billets throughout our stay in the sector, for though a wooden floor is not so comfortable as a bed in a billet, the camp was well sited and very convenient. The Stores and Transport were lodged only a few yards away at Locrehof Farm, and Captain Worley used to have everything ready for us when we came out of the line. During the long march back from trenches, we could always look forward to hot drinks and big fires waiting for us at the huts, while there was no more inspiring sight for the officers than Mess Color-Sergeant J. Collins' cheery smile, as he stirred a cauldron of hot rum punch. Bailleul was only two miles away, and officers and men used often to ride or walk into the town to call on "Tina," buy lace, or have hot baths (a great luxury) at the Lunatic Asylum. Dividing our time between this and cricket, for which there was plenty of room around the huts, we generally managed to pass a very pleasant four or six days' rest.

The Fifth Leicestershire

The Fifth Leicestershire
A record of the 1/5th Battalion the Leicestershire Regiment, T.F., during the War, 1914-1919

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