1st January 1916 Saturday
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Douglas woke up that morning after feeling a bit depressed and self-pitiful the night before.
He met with a gravedigger that told him that they dug the graves only three feet deep and buried the dead men either sewn into a canvas shroud or in a blanket.
“The Hun strafed Windy Corner* all morning with ‘Crumps’, shells which made a noise like Ker-r-rump when they exploded. Coal Boxes were another species of shell that produced a large cloud of black smoke. Pip Squeaks and Whizz-Bangs were other shells, the latter arrive very speedily, hence the Whizz-Bang!”
Then he ran into Lt. Nesbit who was in charge of the Trench Tramway system that supplied food, ammunition, wire and equipment up to the trenches and gun emplacements on the front line.
Douglas wrote: “I met with our Lt. Nesbit who was in charge of the 11th Army Corp Trench Tramways. He was badly wounded at Neuve Chapelle (close to us here). He took me to see his abode, a wonder series of dugouts. In his sitting room he had an easy chair or two, a roll top desk, several plain chairs, carpets, marble fireplace and real windows. Pictures adorned the walls and a real bed, a chest of drawers and a large looking glass helped to furnish his bedroom. All these extras he ‘acquired’ from the house of a German spy who was caught and shot in Richebourg not so very long ago”.
The tramway was a narrow gauge line with a system of push trolleys that were also used to ferry the dead and wounded back behind the line. Nesbit’s tramway was known locally as “The Midland” and the stop-off places were all named after well known British railway stations.
Following the meeting with Nesbit, Douglas came face to face with his first taste of death on active service. A young man shot to pieces with machine gun bullets was brought in. It was a hopeless case and Douglas doped him heavily with morphine and the poor young man passed away peacefully no longer in pain.
They buried him in the small cemetery nearby.
This was quickly followed by another type of injury sadly to prove by no means uncommon. A young soldier was brought in with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his foot. Douglas wrote, “I felt sorry for the poor fellow, no doubt the terrible strain had told on him. He was sent back under escort”. No doubt to face further sanction. “Shooting yourself in the foot” or “taking one for Blighty” became a way that men unable to stand the terrible strain of the conditions of war might inflict on themselves as a way of being sent home.
During WW2 my own father suffered a wound to his foot in which he lost one and a half toes. One day feeling a little brave I asked him about it, trying to get to the truth. “Bloody cheek”! He replied angrily. A piece of shell that had exploded nearby had flown at him and taken the end of his boot off, “Lucky I wasn’t killed!”, he said. It was the end of his war anyway as his whole section had run out of ammunition, they were all captured and carted off to a prisoner of war camp in Munich. A story for another day.
*Maps showing the location of Windy Corner
The next diary entry will follow tomorrow, 2 January.
Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here