16th April 1916 Sunday
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Douglas senses that something must be going on. Troops are beginning to move positions, but he has no idea why.
“On Sunday April 16th Lt. Buckly and I with 36 men left Mesplaux to set up an Advanced Dressing Station at Laventie. We marched via Locon, Rue des Lobes, Lestrem, La Gorgue, Riez Bailleul and Pont Du Hem. It was a terribly long tramp and we took the wrong turning at La Gorgue where we saw the Edinburgh Bantam Battalion*. I tried to locate Gordon Sturrock**, but he was away on a signalling course. I saw a lot of aeroplanes at the aerodrome outside Merville. We left Mesplaux at 8a.m. and got to Laventie at 1p.m.
Laventie we found to be quite a decent sized place, but most of the buildings showed signs of shell-fire. There were a large number of troops about. Our A.D.S. was near the station on the north side of the town and was in quite a respectable chateau of three flats and with good cellars or funk holes. The Crown Prince of Germany stayed in the chateau when the Huns occupied Laventie. One of the cellars was full of empty wine bottles when we arrived!
We had our mess, patients’ ward and dressing rooms on the ground floor. On the second floor were our bedrooms and the sergeants’ and orderlies’ rooms, above that a large loft which accommodated all our men. At the back were the cookhouse &c. We took over from the 105th Field Ambulance – (35th Division) who left it in a filthy condition. We had a busy afternoon and evening, putting things ship-shape.
Are we going to attack? Is the Hun going to attack us? Why all this movement of troops? Why has everybody been recalled from leave? These are the questions of the hour. This part of the line is full of troops, guns and barbed wire. The Australians are on our left and a fine body of men.”
* Douglas mentioned seeing the Bantam Battalion at La Gorgue. Such was the fervour for young men to enlist at the outbreak of hostilities in 1914 that recruiting offices were often unable to cope with the volume of men trying to sign up. One way to control the flow was to increase the minimum height requirement of 5ft 3ins (160cms) to 5ft 6 ins (167.67 cms) for new recruits.
The Bantams were formed when a growing number of men were refused entry because of their height, despite the fact that they were otherwise fit for service.
By the middle of 1915 the recruitment had slowed to a point that the minimum height requirement had been reduced a couple of times until it reached 5ft 2ins (157.5 cms). So men began to be assimilated into the main regiments and by the end of 1916 the Bantams were being sometimes being replaced with taller men anyway, so they became indistinguishable from normal regiments. By the way, Bantam officers were not subject to any height regulations.
**Gordon Sturrock was a family friend and although he didn’t know it at the time Douglas would eventually marry Gordon’s young sister Elizabeth Mary. More on Gordon Sturrock in a later post.
The next diary post follows on 17th April.
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