Monthly Archives: January 2016

30th January 1916 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.

Mesplaux farm on the outskirts of Locon was about an hour’s walk or a bit less by horse or motor from Béthune, a town of about fifteen and a half thousand in 1916. For most of the Great War it was targeted by the Germans, who had coveted it since the outbreak of hostilities. Until May 1918 it was a British town in France due to the many regiments of the Empire that passed through. Canadians, Australians and Indians and others called it home for periods as they were barracked there, with most of the home comforts for both men and officers. For those camped in the surrounding areas, it was to Béthune that many would head for entertainment during rest periods.

Picture taken from a postcard

Picture taken from a postcard

The Café du Globe was frequented by British officers, while the men would go elsewhere. From 1914 until 1918 it was one of “the’’ places to go. There were more upmarket venues, but “The Globe” was a favourite haunt.

Robert Graves recalling his wartime experiences in his book “Goodbye to all that” wrote of the Café du Globe. “Every officer’s charger in at least eight divisions knows the way to its doors: from early dawn to the curfew toll they are lined up in the sunny square outside, chestnut, black, roan, bay, sorrel and mouse-coloured, waiting for their masters that are drinking inside and rather resentful of the dirty little gamins who hold their heads, smoking cheap cigarettes and shouting obscene cosmopolitanisms at passers-by.”

The next diary entry will follow on 7th February.

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.

24th January 1916 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.

The Field Ambulance group fell in in the morning. They were to move out of Calonne and march their way south to a farm near Locon. Mesplaux Farm was to be the unit’s new home for the next few weeks.

Locon2

Locon

Mesplaux Farm, Locon as it is now.

It was a long tedious march of about 17kms along difficult muddy roads. The ensemble rolled out and began their journey with each man carrying his own kit and arms. They would clatter along through the cold, damp January morning and the half made and damaged road made the going somewhat treacherous. Horses would lose their footing and stumble, the men would sing as they marched, but they too would occasionally stumble. Now and again the troop would come to a halt as they got into difficulties. At one stage a wagon overturned, but the men righted it and they continued.

Passing many English regiments on the way they eventually came to Mesplaux Farm.

Mesplaux Farm

Douglas tells us: “Mesplaux proved to be a large farm on the outskirts of Locon and about three miles behind the trenches. It was a large farm with a stagnant moat around it and three large cess-pits in the courtyard. A healthy spot!

Our men were billeted in the barns while we officers occupied some of the rooms in the farmhouse. The farmer and his family were still in residence. We established our hospital in a wooden hut behind the farm. I was billeted in a small cottage about half a mile from the farm and was very comfortable. The old lady in the cottage was overjoyed when I told her I was a Scot.

Close to the farm was a clump of tall trees in which were artillery observation posts.”On the march

The next diary entry will follow on 30th January.

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 January 1916 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.

While Douglas is enjoying a much earned rest from the front line, it provides a good opportunity to take a look at what it was actually like in a field hospital during war. Whichever side you were on the reality would have been the same. The hospitals had one primary function. That was to repair the repairable and return them as quickly as possible to fighting condition and return them to the front line. Everything else was of a secondary nature. The dying and the dead were dealt with as humanely as possible, but the priority with them was to pass them on to the process of disposal and burial.

Some medical staff saw the attempts to save or prolong the lives of the mortally wounded as futile and a distraction. Some clever and able physicians were seen as wasteful and only out to further their own careers, when they should have been concentrating their efforts on the men that could be saved and had the chance of fighting again. It was not only the military that would find themselves in a field hospital. Civilians, even children would be treated when necessary, but again it was seen as unnecessarily wasteful of resources. Civilians had their own places of treatment, but occasionally it would prove expedient to treat some cases in a military field hospital.

America wasn’t to enter the war as a belligerent until finally provoked into declaring war against Germany on April 6th 1917. Many Americans, mostly ex-pats living in the American community in Paris, set up a voluntary Field Ambulance service almost from the outset of war in France. By 1915 American philanthropists, both men and women began to make their way across the Atlantic Ocean to volunteer for service in aiding France and her allies. The American Field Ambulance was originally set up attached to the American Hospital in Paris. The purpose of the A.F.A. was to aid the transportation of the wounded and sick from the front lines for treatment at the American Hospital. Eventually it transformed to being a more general field ambulance, attracting some 2000 volunteers and spread its wings from the Western Front to much of the battle areas of Europe, including Italy, Greece, Serbia and Albania.

In 1915 a well to do American woman had taken herself to France to follow a career as a nurse and eventually found herself only ten kilometres behind the battle on the Western Front.

The following may not be for the easily offended or the squeamish.

Ellen N. La Motte was 42 years old and got herself a posting to a French Army field hospital. She came from a successful Louisville family with a French background and on the outbreak of the war in Europe sought to find a nursing position for herself. It wasn’t long before she found the horror of the effects of war.

When things were quiet hospitals would have been bad enough, but following a battle would have been chaotic. The injuries of battle would have ranged from the explosive effect of blast injuries that could kill or blow limbs clean off. Gunshot wounds could be equally traumatic with catastrophic internal injuries or less life threatening bullet wounds to a limb. The devastatingly destructive injuries caused by shrapnel shells with a payload of small balls and metal fragments were designed to cause as much human injury as possible.

Established as a nurse in a French field hospital in Flanders in 1915, not far from the front line and close to the area that Douglas was in, Ellen describes the scenes quite dramatically in her book “The Backwash of War”.

An injured French soldier had been brought in with severe injuries to his abdomen. He was an experienced campaigner, 40 years old and a big strong man. His stomach was ripped open by a shell and his bowels were hanging out. He was brought into the ward full of injured men, some of them would recover, many would die. All of these injuries could become subject to infection, in some cases very rapidly. In the case of this unfortunate man his injuries were almost certainly fatal. He lay cursing and shouting, disturbing the rest. For three days this went on, infection had set in and the stench from the wound that filled the ward became intolerable. He was moved into a room with other abdominal wounds next to a man with a faecal fistula, which also gave off a terrible smell, but the man with the fistula had become used to his own terrible odour and so complained about the stench from the old soldier. The old soldier had been infected with gas gangrene.

Gas gangrene is a terrible bacterial infection that rapidly advances in the infected tissue and produces a rancid red fluid that emits a vile odour. It is easily recognisable by the cracking noises it makes beneath the skin and the rapid discolouring that occurs, often in minutes. The gas created under the skin produces large black blisters. Even modern day treatment requires amputation or removal of all the affected tissue area and it is virtually untreatable with antibiotics. One hundred years ago the outcome was in most cases almost certain death.

Ellen also describes the unfortunate admission of a ten year old Belgian boy that had been injured by a shell fragment that had ripped through his stomach. Brought in to the French hospital in agony by a British ambulance crew, he was seen as an unwelcome distraction to the already overburdened staff. The boy was in poor condition and the surgeon was angry at this imposition upon him and his staff. They cursed the British for their action of bringing him to a French field ambulance and not a British one, but had no option but to treat him. If they didn’t he would die. If they operated he could die, or he could die after the operation. After operating he was taken to the ward where he cried incessantly for his mother. The men on the ward were greatly unsettled by the intrusion of the boy and the Directrice (Matron) ordered that his mother be brought from Ypres. Despite protest that she had 3 other children and her husband’s busy bar to attend, the mother arrived in time to spend a short while with her son before he passed away. After which she immediately returned to her duties in Ypres, leaving the medical staff to take care of her son’s burial.

The book that Ellen N. la Motte wrote of her exploits was banned in the USA in 1918 for fear that it was affecting the American public’s appetite for war.

The next diary entry will follow on 24th January.

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.

13th January 1916 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.

Douglas re-joined his unit today where he got a “hearty reception from his mess-mates”.

He remained here in Calonne until the 24th January. Duties were the usual routines, collecting sick men and arranging sick parades and so on.

Able to take advantage of relative peace, Douglas was able to pay a few visits to the nearby town of Merville.

There was the grocer’s shop, Isabelle’s where “Madame Zeppelin had a gracious welcome for all. She was a huge cheery woman.”

She must indeed have been very substantial to earn such a nickname. A Zeppelin airship could be up to 776 ft (236.5 metres) long and 100ft (30.5 metres) wide!

“In the back parlour of the shop was a piano and many a sing-song we had in there. In another shop, an ironmongers, was an exceedingly pretty girl who told me to come back ‘après la guerre’ and buy a perambulator! Who for? Then there was the baker’s shop (Lucy’s), with the tea-room upstairs where we had many a cup of dish watery tea and wonderful cakes.

Air activity was great. We saw many air-fights but the Germans had more aeroplanes than we had.

When in Merville one day we paid a visit to one of the hospital barges on the canal. One of the nurses showed us over it. There were thirty-six beds and all the very seriously wounded are sent down to Calais on those barges. It is a three day trip. Everything was spotlessly clean.”

Merville

Merville 2016

Merville 2016

The next diary entry will follow on 20th January.

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 January 1916 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.

Relief came on the Monday by way of the men of the 10th Welsh, and Douglas and his men returned to Riez Bailleul for ten days of rest.

Riez Bailleul Farm was used for billeting men close to the front line, not only by the 130th (St. John) Field Ambulance, but by many other units of various armies during WW1. By June 1916 it became less peaceful there as it became a scene of fighting. In 1917 it was occupied by Portuguese troops.

Riez Bailleul as it is now (Google Street View)

Riez Bailleul as it is now (Google Street View)

Riez Bailleul Oct 1917

Riez Bailleul October 1917

Riez Bailleul map

 

Lieutenant Meredydd Ffloulkes was today gazetted to the rank of Captain back dated to 1st December, Douglas referred to him as captain during the battle at Ebenezer Farm so, it was likely that they knew promotion was coming and were merely waiting for confirmation. It was only a few days back in December that Douglas and Meredydd had a narrow escape from shellfire at Richebourg (see post for 28th December 1915).

For Douglas relief was short lived.  Not long back at base, he found himself quickly back in the trenches. Fortunately he was soon relieved again on the Thursday 13th.

The next diary entry will follow on 13th January.

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.

9th January 1916 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.

Douglas continued,

“Shortly after midnight a message came through that the Huns were going to attack on our right at 2am Sunday (again) 9th January. We were all told to ‘stand to’ with gas helmets at the alert. Wind up completely! Promptly at 2 o’clock the bombardment began. Our guns replied strongly. Rifle and machinegun fire started also and the noise was terrific. I sat in my aid-post with my orderlies waiting for the worst to happen. Shells were exploding all around making holes in the old house. Bullets were pinging up against the walls behind me. This went on for a solid hour. Strange to say no one was wounded and I got some sleep when all was quiet again. It all started on again at 3 in the afternoon, but this time I had work to do, which kept my mind off the noise outside. One poor man had a piece of shrapnel through the roof of his mouth and into the brain. He didn’t live long. Another man had both his legs smashed to pulp. I had to chloroform him to dress his wounds and control the bleeding. I sent all the wounded off on trolleys to the dressing station at Green Barn where Capt. Ffoulkes was in charge.

All our casualties came from C company on the extreme right, where the Huns were shelling and trench mortaring the ‘Ducks Bill’ (part of our trenches that jutted out into ‘No man’s land’.)

Whilst I was busy attending to my wounded, the A.D.M.S. appeared on the scene and wanted to know why I wasn’t wearing a white surgical gown! Just fancy a surgeon’s gown in a shell-stricken dugout. I felt like hitting him!”

The next diary entry will follow tomorrow, 10th January.

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.

8th January 1916 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.Ebenezer Farm from diarySaturday and it was back into the trenches. It was an eventful evening, as told by Douglas.

“ It was a fine clear evening with a new moon. At Rougecroix we saw the huge crucifix standing erect and lonely by the roadside, and houses all around smashed to rubbish.

Here we left the road and entered a very fine communication trench. It afforded ample protection from bullets, which we could hear whining overhead. Soon we came to a sunken road and 500 yards along came to Ebenezer Farm, which was Battalion Headquarters. My aid-post was situated in one of the back rooms of the farmhouse only part of which was standing. The officers’ mess and sleeping quarters were in sand-bagged dugouts behind the house. We were here about 500 yards behind the enemy line.”

The next diary entry will follow tomorrow 9 January.

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.

7th January 1916 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.

Ebenezer Farm was an old farmhouse that had suffered a lot of shell damage, but was the site of a dugout command post and served as a front line dressing station. The farmhouse had recently witnessed a remarkable event in history.

On the 15th November 1915 Winston Churchill had resigned from the Government following criticism of his handling of the Dardanelles Campaign. He had joined up with the Scots Guards and taken himself off to the Western Front to try and absolve himself and on the 25th November had been in that very same farmhouse.

Churchill wrote:

“Filth and rubbish everywhere, graves built into the defences and scattered about promiscuously, feet and clothing breaking through the soil, water and muck on all sides; and about this scene in the dazzling moonlight, troops of enormous bats creep and glide, to the unceasing accompaniment of rifles and machine-guns and the venomous whining and whirring of bullets that pass overhead. Amid these surroundings, aided by wet and cold and every minor discomfort, I have found happiness and content such as I have not known for many months”.

Churchill had been summoned that day by the XI Corps Commander to attend the HQ at Merville and told that he was to make his way to the cross roads at Rougecroix to be picked up by a staff motor car. No car appeared and after being advised by an officer that the meeting had been cancelled, Churchill angrily trudged the long walk back through the mud and rain in the dark to arrive back at the farmhouse. When he arrived he discovered that the dugout that he had been sitting in had been hit by a shell only fifteen minutes after he had left which had killed an orderly. That mis-sent telegram order unwittingly changed the history of the world.

The site of Ebenezer Farm today

The site of Ebenezer Farm today

The next diary entry will follow tomorrow 8th January

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.

3rd January 1916 Monday to 6th January 1916 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.

The week was to be a relatively quiet one though nonetheless busy for Douglas Page and his men. The ADMS (Assistant Director Medical Services) paid a visit. Meetings were held involving senior officers and discussions had taken place about moving the various sections to new positions. At 9am on Monday morning Captain Anderson marched his ‘C’ company of sixty men and three officers out to attach themselves to 57th Field Ambulance for instructional purposes for a week.

Sick men continued to arrive to be treated, both officers and men. Equipment came and went. Motor transports and horse drawn wagons splashing their iron tyred wheels over the wet ground, meant the camp would have always sounded noisy with the constant clatter of wagons coming and going. Fit men kept busy with camp duties. The many horses, some ailing, would have needed as much attention as the sick men. The sound of blacksmiths’ hammers would have added to the din as farriers re-shod horses. One duty was to follow marching men with a horse-drawn ambulance to pick up stragglers and during the week two groups were detailed to carry out this task.  Horse ambulances at rest

The next diary entry will follow on 7th January

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.

2nd January 1916 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.

After only two days at the Advanced Dressing Station (ADS) Douglas and his men were relieved and he marched his fourteen men back to Vieille Chapelle and then back to Calonne where they received a tremendous reception from the rest of the Ambulance. None of Douglas’s men had been injured and to march back with an un-depleted complement was seen as a great achievement.

The celebrations for our man were over quickly though, as almost immediately he was ordered to report to Robecq where there was a hospital for officers, to act as relief Medical Officer (MO) for the 13th Battalion Welsh Regiment. He was to relieve Lt. Elliot who had been sent earlier to act as MO but had himself been taken ill.  Arriving by motor ambulance he was well received by the Colonel and Major D’Arcy Edwardes.  For the next few days, Lieutenant Page instructed stretcher-bearers and conducted sick parades. Other duties would include censoring the men’s mail and even getting instruction on riding a horse.

Major Edwardes was born into the family of one of Britain’s most famous entertainment gurus of the day. He was the son of a famous musical comedy impresario, George Edwardes. At the age of only twenty, D’Arcy’s father was managing theatres for Richard D’Oyly Carte who founded the Savoy Hotel in London’s Strand. He became the manager of the Gaiety Theatre and other nearby theatres at the same time, introducing popular shows such as A Gaiety Girl.

Gaietygirl1896

A familiar character around London’s theatres in the Strand he helped establish the Edwardian Musical Comedy genre of entertainment. You can read more about him here: http://www.musicalcomedysociety.co.uk/home/history

Son George D’Arcy Edwardes (originally without the last ‘e’) had joined up as a regular soldier in 1907 and having returned from India and South Africa was sent to the Western Front in November 1914 and promoted to Captain in 1915. He was promoted to “Temporary” Major later in 1915, this was a way the army could promote people giving senior rank and privileges without having to pay the full wage of the senior rank. He was killed commanding his unit on July 10th 1916 at Memetz in the Somme and his obituary appeared in The Times* thus:

“MAJOR D’ARCY EDWARDES, who was reported missing, believed killed, during July, and subsequently killed, was the only son of the late George Edwardes, the theatrical manager. He was educated at Eton and Sandhurst, and was gazetted to the 1st Royal Dragoons in 1907. He served with his regiment in India and South Africa, returned home in 1914, and went straight to the front. He was promoted captain in 1915, and soon after was transferred and was made temporary major and second in command of a battalion of the Welsh Regiment, which he was commanding at the time of his death.”    

* The Times 11th August 1916: pg. 11; Issue 41243

The next diary entry will follow tomorrow 3 January

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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