28th December 1915 Tuesday
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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.”
* 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.
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