Monthly Archives: December 2015

31st December 1915 Friday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

So far Douglas had seen his war mainly from the periphery, the sound of gunfire and shelling was more or less constant. Except for the odd incident that almost killed him it was mostly somewhat distant. The effects of war were all too evident with villages and houses badly damaged, trees and vegetation stripped bare and the landscape pockmarked with shell holes. Largely his unit had watched from the distance and treated more sick than wounded. Today however, was the day young Douglas really discovered the war first hand on his first visit to the trenches. His group, himself and fourteen men went forward to the advanced dressing station.

For the first time Douglas arrives in the trenches, they went via Windy Corner and through a long communication trench. He described the wooden boarded trench as “duck-boards” above the knee in water. Apart from shelling a Hun aeroplane that had “ventured up” the evening passed quite peacefully and his first taste of life in the trenches was uneventful.

Here, rather surprisingly perhaps, they ate a roast dinner that sounded as good as you are ever likely to get in a cold wet muddy ditch. Still Douglas didn’t complain and describes the menu in some detail.

“That night five of us, Captains Owen and Smally R.A.M.C.; Lieutenant’s Rt. Johnson and Nesbit and myself, sat down in our little sandbag dugout, to a Hogmanay feast. In spite of our proximity to the front line, we indulged in roast chicken, potatoes and peas; plum pudding and apricots; coffee; biscuits; sweets; cigars; champagne; vin rouge and cherry brandy”

At 11.55 pm he went outside into the crisp starry night, almost silent except for one lone rifle shot. Midnight, brought in the New Year and the men linked arms as they sang Auld Lang Syne, before they returned to the trench.

“At midnight we solemnly toasted the New Year, in the distance we could hear the cheers and the singing of Auld Lang Syne, I felt quite lonely and depressed, but not for long for all of a sudden one of our batteries let off a salvo which the Hun immediately replied to by sending over 11 shells 10 of which didn’t go off (didn’t explode!). In a few minutes all was quiet on the Western Front. I slept on a stretcher in a small dugout. I was very cosy inside my sleeping bag.”

Windy Corner

The next diary entry will follow tomorrow.

Ray Coggin is both a Taxi Tour Guide and a City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights and themed) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here.

28th December 1915 Tuesday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

He doesn’t state the exact day but around this time, just saying “one day” Douglas and Captain M. Ffoulkes decided to walk along to Richebourg. A few hundred yards from the village they realised that enemy gunfire was concentrated there. They stopped for around half an hour to observe what was their first experience of seeing real shellfire. They watched as shells burst showering brick and shrapnel everywhere and high explosives pounding the stricken village. Douglas tells the story best, he wrote:

“ After the shelling had stopped, Ffoulkes and I decided to venture into the village to investigate things. What a mess! Most of the houses had been reduced to mere heaps of rubble and the church had only half a wall left standing. Curiously the crucifix remained erect. The road in front of the church was in an awful mess being pitted with huge shell holes and littered with brick and stones. We met an Artillery Colonel who told us that he had an observation officer in the church tower in the morning , but that he had got safely away when the bombardment started. The churchyard was a sight, graves torn open and bones and broken headstones lying *pell-mell.”

“While we were inspecting the church a ‘shriek’ came from the east, a Hun shelling coming. I put my hands over my head and ducked. Wind up properly! A tremendous explosion took place 20 yards behind me just behind the wall of the church. What seemed to me like tons of shrapnel and broken bricks came showering down all around. When all had subsided I looked up to see Ffoulkes and the gallant Colonel scuttling down the street like hares. The Colonel was just disappearing round the corner and Ffoulkes was yelling to me to ‘Come on’. I did so without thinking twice about it and ran as I never did before, for I never knew when or where the next shell would burst. However, nothing more happened and we got out of the place safely though a bit shaky after our baptism (so sudden and unexpected) of fire.”

La Grande Guerre

Richebourg church 2016

Richebourg church 2016

* I was amused by Douglas’s use of the term “pell mell” as it’s not a term we hear in common use today. “Pell Mell” or “Pelle Melle” was a game popular in the 17th century probably originating in Italy. It was played with a curiously shaped mallet, the hammer part having curved upwards faces to give lift to a small wooden ball around the size of a cannon ball. The ball was meant to be hit though a hoop that was suspended from a pole. It was played by gentry in London often in a place that is remembered today as the street Pall Mall.

The next diary entry will follow on New Year’s Eve.

Ray Coggin is both a Taxi Tour Guide and a City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights and themed) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here.

26th December 1915 Sunday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

The Diary states that he left Glomenghem with B Section, but maybe he meant to write Calonne instead as he was there until late on the evening of the 25th. He left with B section at 9am under Captain M. Ffoulkes for the Vieille Chapelle battle area and remained there until 30th December.

The next diary entry will follow on 28th December.

Ray Coggin is both a Taxi Tour Guide and a City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights and themed) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here.

25th December 1915 Saturday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

Having just recovered from three days in bed with flu, Douglas attended the packed parish church in Calonne. Douglas was a regular churchgoer throughout his life and sometimes complained that so few of his men attended church services.

He described the church as “a beautiful building, being not unlike St John’s Episcopal Church in Edinburgh”. (The Church of St John the Evangelist was and still is about three minutes’ walk from his parents’ house in Alva St).

Then he continued, “The church was profusely lit by candles, especially up at the altar and there was a tableau at the end of one of the side aisles representing the shepherds with their flocks. The church was packed and there were very few men present. The front pews were occupied by children, who were kept in order by a man in an ancient uniform and cocked hat who carried a gold-topped stick. At times he walked round and administered a resounding smack on the head to some unfortunate child for looking round or not sitting still! It was very comical”.

“The Abbé entered the church accompanied by six little boys in red and white surplices. There was a great jingling of little bells and loud moans from an ancient precentor who had a voice like the Inchkeith foghorn on a particularly foggy night. A choir of girls on the left took up the refrain and the old man and the girls took it in turns to keep up the moan for fully fifteen minutes, until they at last got tired of it. The Curé entered then to the accompaniment of more bells and preached a very fine sermon. He had a splendid voice and spoke very slowly, so that I was able to understand most of what he said. After that there was more moaning from the choir and then the Abbé departed, preceded by his six little attendants and accompanied by bells”.Calonne church

Christmas Dinner was served up at 8pm. Fourteen of the company sat down to dinner that Christmas night in battle torn northern France, the menu had been devised by their Roman Catholic Padré, Father Brown. Here is that very menu, signed by all of those present.

Christmas Day menu 1915

The next diary entry will follow tomorrow, Boxing Day.

Ray Coggin is both a Taxi Tour Guide and a City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights and themed) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here.

20th December 1915 Monday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

Douglas and Captain Anderson were up very early despite their disturbed sleep. At 5am they left Glomenghem for Terouanne* with 2 motor ambulances and 4 drivers to join the 38th Division. Douglas’s duty was picking up marching stragglers, mostly men with bad feet. They paused at Crecques for an hour, before moving on to Mametz where they waited again by the crossroads.

Here he met Major Gwilym Lloyd-George “complete with red tabs”, the second son of Prime Minister David Lloyd George and they chatted for a while.

The red tabs he describes were in fact known as gorget patches that signify general staff who rarely saw any action.

You may remember in BBC’s “Blackadder Goes Forth” General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett asking private Baldrick if he was looking forward to the “Big Push” and going “Over the Top”. Baldrick replies, “No sir, I’m absolutely terrified”. Melchett reassures him that both he and Captain Darling will be “right behind him”. To which Captain Blackadder mumbles “about 35 miles behind”. Both Melchett and Darling sported red gorget patches.

Gwilym_Lloyd_George_1922

Gwilym Lloyd George, became the 1st Viscount Tenby and in the 1950’s became the Home Secretary that sanctioned the execution of Ruth Ellis the last woman to be hanged.

Then they carried on through Aire, Thiennes, St. Floris to Calonne. The company remained in Calonne until 26th December, collecting the sick for the hospital and attending to them. Whilst there he visited Rebecq**, St. Venant and St. Floris. He then spent three days in bed with flu brought on, he felt, by constantly getting soaked through in the terribly wet and very cold weather.

The next diary entry will follow on Christmas Day.

* Probably Thérouanne

** Probably Robecq

Ray Coggin is both a Taxi Tour Guide and a City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights and themed) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here.

19th December 1915 Sunday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

A pre-Christmas dinner was to be served, as they were to be moved closer to the battlefront the following day.

“We had a great feast, turkey, potatoes, brussel sprouts, two plum puddings, mince pies, red wine, Benedictine, almonds and raisins, figs, nuts, cheese and biscuits, cakes, coffee and cigars”. No mention of what the other ranks had.

Following the festive banquet, Douglas spent the night in the chateau with Captain Anderson as he had to be up early the next day. During the night the pair had a nasty fright when an almighty crash awoke them as they were sent tumbling to the floor and they were certain that a shell had hit the chateau. Picking themselves up, they were enormously relieved to discover that it was nothing more serious than that the bed had collapsed!

Ray Coggin is both a Taxi Tour Guide and a City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights and themed) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here.

17th December 1915 Friday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

It appears that even in war there were “slow days”. Douglas had no entry for this day and the Regimental Diary simply states “Nothing to report”. Apart from a few actions in other countries and a German cruiser “Bremen” that was sunk in the Baltic after hitting a couple of Russian laid mines, it seems it really was “all quiet on the Western Front”.

The next diary entry will follow on 19th December.

German cruiser “Bremen” taken before the outbreak of war

German cruiser “Bremen” taken before the outbreak of war

Ray Coggin is both a Taxi Tour Guide and a City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights and themed) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here.

16th December 1915 Thursday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

“A” section of the 130th (St.John) Field Ambulance left the camp for the front in a series of London motor buses. They went off to be attached to the 9th Field Ambulance (Guards division) in the trenches at Neuve Chapelle and were given a great send- off by the men remaining.  The London Transport Museum have in their collection at Acton one of those very same buses (pictured below), currently restored to its Western Front condition.

A B type London bus converted for war use

A B-type London bus converted for war use

© IWM (Q 5238)

Men boarding. Off to the front! © IWM (Q 5238)

Ray Coggin is both a Taxi Tour Guide and a City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights and themed) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here.

 

11th December 1915 Saturday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

The company received their pay. Their first payment since landing in France.

The next few days were mainly passed by driving around the local countryside collecting the sick and injured, described by Douglas as a pleasant duty, getting to see the countryside and meeting various “interesting people”. He even found time, being a Scot, to buy some New Year cards in Terouanne* for a franc each.

He describes an old church at Ecques as being very similar to the Parish Church of St Monan’s, Fife.

All the time while driving around they could hear the thunderous rumble of the guns in the distance and they would often see great battles taking place in the sky.

Writes Douglas, “ One day there was a great fight with 30 machines in the air. Three Germans were brought down, one in flames. It was a thrilling sight. Another day four Zeppelins were spotted on the horizon and were chased by our planes”.

It’s interesting to note that the sight of thirty aircraft locked in combat was merely twelve years after the Wright brothers’ first powered flight in 1903.

A new skill was learnt in the art of riding a horse. Douglas describes the excitement of it with all the big motor lorries and buses using the narrow lanes, but he soon got to grips with it, but described feeling a bit stiff and sore for the first few days.

*Probably Thérouanne

The next diary entry will follow on 16th December.

Ray Coggin is both a Taxi Tour Guide and a City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights and themed) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here.

10th December 1915 Friday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

Taken from the Regimental diary – Supplied by UK National Archives Reference WO 95/2549/2 and recommended by Stephen Lyons, 130th (St. John) Field Ambulance research group.

The whole Company went on a route march and the usual collection of the sick was undertaken.

Arrangements had been made for the Field Cashier to be at Brigade Headquarters by 10am. Captain Anderson of this unit attended at Headquarters at this hour to draw money for the Unit, and after waiting an hour a telephone message come through saying that the Cashier would not be able to come and that Captain Anderson should proceed to Divisional Headquarters at Roquetoire for the money. On arrival there found that the Field Cashier had no money left. The Field Cashier then advised Captain Anderson and other Officers requiring money to proceed to Mereville a distance of 25 kilometres for the money – this was done and the money obtained by 6pm.

Ray Coggin is both a Taxi Tour Guide and a City of Westminster Guide and leads both walking tours and taxi tours (both highlights and themed) around Central London and further afield. Details of his taxi tours can be found here.

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