Whiz-Bangs Krumps and Coalboxes
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The story of a Scots doctor in a Welsh Regiment fighting in France.
Dr. Douglas C.M. Page M.C. His Path through the Great War.
One day not too long ago a large heavy parcel arrived from Canada. It was sent to my wife Liz from her uncle, Gordon Page and contained two large volumes of the War Diaries of his father, Douglas my wife’s grandfather.
What follows this trailer is an edited version of the diary of an extraordinary young man. It takes the form of a sometimes daily and then sometimes more occasional look at the movements of the young officer and medical doctor on his path through World War 1. Each entry will be the centenary of the event beginning on the 2nd December 1915 with the telegram calling him to report for duty.
Maybe he wasn’t all that extraordinary after all, as so many young men of his generation went through an unimaginable hell in support of what they believed in. To serve “King and Country”, to defend the United Kingdom and to support her allies against the aggression of expansionist neighbours. They were perhaps all extraordinary.
In a time when the crowned heads of Europe, who were often related through almost incestuous marriages, saw it as essential to have an Empire grander than their cousins. A conflict that grew out of control due to the actions of a reactionary group in Serbia, aggrieved at the annexing of their country by an aggressive neighbour. The response of the Austrian rulers to the assassination of their Heir Apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife began a snowballing of army mobilisations that once started had no chance of halting.
In 1907 it was made part of Kings Regulations for regiments to keep a war diary. The duty of keeping such diaries would be the responsibility of a senior officer at either Battalion or Divisional level. That officer in many cases would delegate the diary into the hands of a relevant junior officer. The diary would provide crucial information to be used by senior officers while devising strategy. It would not have been usual for those diaries to detail names of men or other ranks.
As far as I am aware the war diary of Lieutenant later Captain D.C.M. Page was for purely personal use and was typed up after the war from his notes.
It is widely regarded that it was an offence for other ranks to write and keep a diary in case you were killed or captured by the enemy, although it seems that no one as yet can provide any evidence of this. The keeping of cameras* was also deemed to be against regulations, but in this respect there is some evidence of a court martial of a Lieutenant in 1916 for having a personal camera.
Inevitably such a diary could give away details of value to the enemy. In fact a great number of men would write such diaries and luckily enough for history many have survived to reveal the true nature of events as they took place.
In history we are often told of the great battles that have taken place throughout recorded time, but what is rarely described is the massive amount of logistics and planning involved in fighting a war. Personal diaries often reveal the day to day lives of the men and those around them, while they waited their turn in the trenches. How they passed the time when resting behind the lines, or waiting to move to the battlefront. The human side of waiting for your turn to fight in such a massive conflict is revealed here in this fascinating document. In some respect it could be argued that these men were doing nothing more than a regular job, in which you went to do your job, shot your enemy, finished work after a long shift albeit possibly days and then went out for a pint with your mates, unless they were killed or injured.
I have added notes from other sources to enhance the writings at times to draw the bigger picture. The result is a true account of a newly qualified medical doctor, who instead of continuing his noble career in the wards of an Edinburgh infirmary, was plunged into the full horror of war where he would learn quicker than in any hospital. Exposed to disease and pestilence as well as gunshot and shrapnel injuries. He would treat young men like himself, still alive, but with half their heads blown off. Men in unimaginable agony with the most horrific of injuries, limbs smashed to pieces, guts ripped open, skulls smashed. Things like trench foot, from constantly standing in water-filled trenches, fever, common colds, infestations of lice and many other things that affect us all, he had to deal with all of them. In four years he would have emerged from the military with more experience than 20 years in a civilian hospital.
In 1974 I met an old Scots soldier that fought with the Gordon Highlanders at the Somme in 1916. He described to me first hand the horrors of going over the top, how he watched as his pals all around him were cut to pieces with machine gun fire as their kilts were caught up in the barbed wire defending the German trenches. He couldn’t believe his own luck as bullets whizzed past his ears, but all missed him. He could never forgive the stupidity of his superiors in making them wear kilts in battle and I could feel the anger in his voice as he told me the story. He was 83 and had never for a day forgotten what happened to his friends, it was with him until he died. Ironically he was to spend his remaining years living in a caravan on a farm owned by a great nephew of Field Marshall Douglas Haig, Commander of the British Army that fought at the Somme.
This though is the story of Douglas Charles Murray Page, my wife’s much loved grandfather, who unlike many survived the horrors of history’s most terrible conflict and went on to marry and raise a family and become a greatly respected physician in his native Scotland. He rarely spoke of his experiences, but there can be no doubt that it would have shaped the rest of his life and how he dealt with all he met and the thoughts that must have remained with him until he died in 1965.
In compiling this work I have had a great deal of assistance from Joanna Moncrieff, a London walking tour guide and friend that has read through countless copy and corrected my mistakes before sending it all back to me to rewrite for her to publish. Thanks must also go to Stephen Lyons, who kick-started this whole exercise by calling my wife Liz out of the blue and asking if she was the granddaughter of Douglas Page. He was researching the 130th (St. John) Field Ambulance in conjunction with his wife’s late grandfather’s diaries, found in a cupboard after his death and he has given me lots of tips and further evidence uncovered by him and colleagues.