Monthly Archives: May 2017

30th May 1917 Wednesday

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 ever-present threat of gas attack played on the minds of the men. The thought of suffering endless artillery barrages laced with the terror of gas is difficult to imagine. We have already heard about the various alarm systems and how applying the respirators and gas masks to men and animals would be carried out within seconds. Among other measures to be taken were special instructions as to how to deal with contamination.

“One day all the guns on the 2nd Army Front bombarded the German front line and blew it to ‘blazes’. The shrapnel barrage was a sight worth seeing, at the same time we put up a smoke barrage, and filled our front trench with dummies in order to draw enemy fire and spot the position of his guns. However, the wily old Bosche kept his guns quiet. He had evidently spotted the ruse. He retaliated later on in the evening and we had many casualties. Ypres was very heavily shelled, and starting at 11.30pm he kept up an all-night bombardment of Salvation Corner with gas, tear and flame shells. It was a terrible sight. The gas blew over to our dug-outs, on the canal bank, and we soon all began to cough, and our eyes to water. Gas respirators were donned, and had to be worn all night. For days after I felt extremely tired, and had a headache, sinking sensation in the stomach and rapid pulse. I vomited severely at night, and felt better afterwards. No doubt the gas had affected me before I got my respirator on. We had to deal with a lot of gas casualties after this night of terror – 80 cases in all. The Huns used phosgene gas along with the Lachrymatory or tear shells. The 39th Division had over 80 cases of gas poisoning.

Instructions for gas contamination

Instructions for gas contamination

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

The editor of this blog 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 May 1917 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.

Strombos Alarms (see May 15th)  were heard at HQ just before 2am. This sent the whole camp scurrying into a state of nervous alert and all very quickly got into their protective equipment. The state of the alert remained critical until the all clear was given at about 3.30 am. Despite the gas alarm Douglas and his men still had a busy time treating the wounded throughout the night.

“At 2.30 on the morning of May 28th, there was a false gas-alarm which put the “wind-up” most of us. Then at 4.30am after a terrific bombardment the Huns raided 39th Division trenches at Turco Farm, capturing two of our men, one of whom subsequently escaped. We captured one Hun. The excitement was intense, and every gun in the salient was blazing away. 

Nearly every day we got large numbers of wounded to attend to, and pass on to the main dressing station by ambulance car after dark, when the cars could come right up to the canal bank. Most nights I was never in bed, and usually got my sleep in the afternoon. Even then I seldom got much rest, as our mess was always a favourite one for officers to drop into to have a drink, and exchange views. Even the Prince of Wales dropped in one afternoon. He was often up in the trenches hereabout, but no fuss was made.

Gas alarms, and artillery bombardments made night hideous, and wounded trickled in all night, and every night and had to be attended to. It was a nerve-racking life. Rumours of intending ‘pushes’ came along each day. Whatever is going to happen, both sides are extremely nervous, and a tremendous artillery ‘straffe’ suddenly broke out on the least provocation. The whole salient is plastered with guns, large and small, and troops.”

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

The editor of this blog 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.

22nd May 1917 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.

“Artillery bombardments were almost continuous up here, and our nerves soon became dreadfully jumpy. Aerial activity was great too. At nights our men were out in the open digging assembly trenches for the ‘great push’ which is to come off here someday. They went out with their faces and hands blackened, and their feet and rifles wrapped in sand-bags. We had very few casualties to deal with considering the number of shells the Huns sent over. One afternoon our trench-mortar team sent over thirty-two 150 lb ‘flying-pigs’ which did great damage to the Bosche front and support lines.”YpresYpres-1-postcardYpres-3-postcard

The postcards that Douglas included in his diary go a little way to show the enormous damage inflicted on Ypres, or Wipers as it was known to the Allies. The pictures show the beautiful Cloth Hall originally completed in 1304, in the town centre and just behind it, St Martin’s Cathedral. Ypres was almost entirely flattened during the conflict, a state that Churchill wanted to preserve as a memorial after the war. Thankfully the local people had their way and the town was rebuilt.

Today it is a beautiful town with a thriving tourist industry. The rebuilt Cloth Hall houses the “In Flanders Fields Museum”, a must see venue for visitors. The enormous memorial at the Menin Gate was built in the 1920s and contains the names of more than 54,000 victims that perished on the salient*. Each night at exactly 20.00 hours the “Last Post” ceremony is performed, a very moving experience for the many that attend this eternal ritual to commemorate the dead. It takes place every single day of the year.

Ypres has a useful array of gift shops, pleasant cafés, restaurants and museums as well as traditional Belgian handmade chocolate shops. Of course Belgium is also famous for its many award winning beers, which can make your visit very pleasant indeed. You can also take one of the many guided tours and visit the plethora of cemeteries, all beautifully kept by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, including the sadly impressive Tyne Cot which contains 11961 marked graves of which 8373 are unidentified and on the memorial wall almost 35,000 names of the dead never accounted for. It also now has a very moving visitor centre.

* Names that are on the Menin Gate or any of the other memorial walls in the CWGC cemeteries relate to soldiers whose bodies haven’t been identified.  In 2009 the remains of 250 Australian and British soldiers were discovered in mass graves in Pheasant Wood (Fromelles).  In 2010 all these soldiers received military funerals and were re-buried in individual graves in a new cemetery. Those soldiers who were identified by means of DNA testing had their names scrubbed off the relevant memorial walls. (Footnote research by Joanna Moncrieff.)

Poignant inscription on grave at Pheasant Wood Cemetery- "You were lost but now are found"

Poignant inscription on grave at Pheasant Wood Cemetery- “You were lost but now are found”

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

The editor of this blog 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.

15th May 1917 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.

The fear of gas was ever present. It is thought that the fear of the silent weapon was actually more potent than the reality of an attack itself. Alarm systems had been developed to give as much warning as possible and these manifested as claxons, bells, whistles etc., and a device known as a Strombos Horn. These horns were placed at intervals of a quarter of a mile along the front and were powered by a compressed air cylinder which allowed the horn to be sounded for up to a minute continuously (see illustration). As soon as the alarm was heard, men were ordered to don their masks and respirators as quickly as possible. Horses were afforded the protection of a nosebag filled with wet hay.

Back at 130th HQ on this Tuesday at 10.50 pm a Strombos alarm was given and the entire camp quickly got into their protective gear, this took only a few seconds. Fifteen minutes later the all clear was given.

Strombos Horn

Strombos Horn, Mk II (FEQ 847) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30028503

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

The editor of this blog 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.

14th May 1917 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.

“Next night the 39th division on our right raided the enemy trenches, and captured three Huns, with the loss of one man killed and one wounded. Once more the bombardment shook us all up. A lot of heavy stuff fell near us, and our old dug-outs shook to their foundations!”

The fighting had been very intense over the last couple of nights. It’s not hard to imagine the tension amongst the men under continuing and intense bombardments, with both sides invading each other’s positions. Douglas and his crew were not put under any great pressure, but it was to get worse over the coming days.

gassed

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

The editor of this blog 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 May 1917 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.

“On the 13th May I went up to an Advanced Dressing Station (A.D.S) on the canal bank for a spell of duty with Captain Burke, my Irish friend. I took an ambulance car as far as Brielen Village – or all that is left of it, and then walked up the road to the A.D.S at Sussex Farm on the canal bank. The Huns were busy shelling some of our batteries near Ypres, with heavy stuff, but nothing dropped near me. ‘Billie’ Burke and all the 13th Royal Welsh Fusiliers crowd welcomed me back to the good old Salient (I don’t think!) . That night the enemy attempted to raid our trenches, but failed. Many Huns were killed and wounded, and one wounded Hun captured. Our casualties were five men slightly wounded. This occurred at 3am and the bombardment was terrific.”

The day after arriving back at his old unit, Douglas is sent up to the Advanced Dressing Station at Sussex Farm on the Yser Canal very close to Essex Farm just to the north of Ypres. His old pal Captain “Billie” Burke had been at Sussex Farm since the beginning of the month, but Douglas was to relieve Lt. Hogg of the RAMC.

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

The editor of this blog 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 May 1917 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.

“Next day, May 7th, one of our motor ambulances was hit by a shell at Dawson’s Corner. Six of our men were wounded including our Sergt.-Major. One died and another had an arm amputated. This incident cast a gloom over us all. The Field Ambulance was functioning in huts and tents in the famous Ypres Salient, not far from Poperinghe. Every night the din was awful, as both sides indulged in artillery bombardments, as soon as daylight left us. One night the Huns blew up one of our ammunition dumps. It was a great night.

I was kept busy attending to sick and slightly wounded men every morning.”

Trench map

Trench map

Dawsons_Corner_today

Dawson’s Corner today

Below is a schematic of the functioning of field evacuation and medical attention for the wounded. It didn’t always work like clockwork, conditions varied enormously. Medics such as stretcher bearers, nurses, VAD’s and doctors were unarmed in most cases and often performed their duties under fire in extremely dangerous conditions.  The utmost bravery could be attributed to many of these unsung heroes and was rightly reflected in the award of medals etc.

http://www.academia.edu/2037351/The_Royal_Army_Medical_Corps_and_the_Role_of_the_Field_Ambulance_on_the_Western_Front_1914_-_1918

http://www.academia.edu/2037351/The_Royal_Army_Medical_Corps_and_the_Role_of_the_Field_Ambulance_on_the_Western_Front_1914_-_1918

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

The editor of this blog 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.

6th May 1917 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.

“In the early hours of the morning of Tuesday, 6th May, we were shunted into a siding at Etaples. Here I managed to get some bacon and eggs and toast, at a Y.M.C.A. Hut, and was very glad of it. At Calais we stopped for half-an-hour, and were served with tea and cakes by some very excellent Y.M.C.A. ladies. I take off my hat to these ladies who did wonderful service in cheering up depressed and tired officers and men on their way ‘Up the Line’. Here we had a wash at a pump, but in the midst of our ablutions off went the train, as usual without any warning. We had great fun scrambling back to the train. At St Omer we saw a lot of newly-captured Huns, and threw them a lot of cigarettes. Poor devils! How they scrambled for them.

Hazebrouck was reached at 2pm and we dined at the ‘Aux trois Chevaux, then we left Hazebrouck at 4.40pm, and eventually got to Poperinghe about six o’clock, after a most tedious two days, and more in the train! A motor ambulance was waiting at the station for me, and very soon I was with the old crowd again – 130th Field Ambulance. I got a great reception from all. A great artillery duel went on all night at Ypres. I was too tired to sleep.”

More evidence that Douglas got somebody to type up the diary from his notes, not forgetting he was a doctor and therefore had a birthright of sometimes unintelligible handwriting. Tuesday was in fact Sunday.

A Pathe News movie of Motor Ambulances can be seen here.

YMCA Poster Gt. War Centenary 1914 - 1918 Fb Page

There is some more information about the invaluable service so many British ladies provided to the troops in France, plus some useful links at http://inspirationalwomenofww1.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/the-ymca-in-ww1-fascinating-facts-of.html

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

The editor of this blog 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.

5th May 1917 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.

“I left the Gare Maritime (station) at 2am on May 5th for the Front once more. I got a great send-off from the hospital staff, and the Commanding Officer and Padre came down to the station to see me off. This train crawled into Rouen at 6am. I had a wash and breakfast at the Officers’ Club and reported to the D.A.D.R.T (Deputy Assistant Director of Railway Transport), who reconsigned me for Hazebrouck, the train leaving at 3pm, so I had lunch at the club, and a look around the old town. The Cathedral was a wonderful building. Lots of Hun prisoners were working about the place.

The train left at 4pm and there were five of us in a stuffy carriage – 2 Irishmen, a South African, 1 Englishman and myself!” 

Life at the seaside town of Le Havre, both as a patient and a working doctor now came to an end and the tedious train journey into the unknown began again.

Map of Le Havre

http://www.searlecanada.org/volturno/volturno84.htm

6865832269_863195ac6b_z

German prisoners of war wait at the quayside in Rouen to unload an incoming ship.

A postcard of Rouen and Cathedral in 1917

A postcard of Rouen and Cathedral in 1917

Rouen

 

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

The editor of this blog 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.

 

4th May 1917 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.

The Order sending Douglas back to the Front Line where he was to re-join his old unit the 130th (St John) Field Ambulance. Having left as Lieutenant Page he returned as Temporary Captain Page. The ‘Temporary’ tag before captain denotes that the role of captain was not of an established nature, therefore pay was not the same as a fully-fledged captain. It was at this stage in the diary that I realised that Douglas hadn’t bothered to let us know about his promotion. As we go to press, The Gazette which is the official government record has not produced the date we are looking for, though we will continue to search.

Order 4th May

 

“On May 4th, sixty cases of gas-poisoning were admitted to my wards, but only two of them were really bad, and had to be treated with oxygen. The others, however, were bad enough, and it was very distressing to hear them all coughing away without stopping.”

The use of gas as a weapon in The Great War first occurred in what became Poland during early 1915. On the 31st January Germany attacked Russian troops at Bolimow near Warsaw with what was essentially nothing more than teargas. It was not a great success. Approximately 18,000 shells were unleashed on the unsuspecting Russians, but the effects were not as expected. The very cold conditions reduced the effectiveness of the gas. The Daily Mail reacted with its usual lack of restraint, chastising the Germans for “the cold-blooded deployment of every device of modern science”. By April 1915 at the 2nd Battle of Ypres the Germans this time released great clouds of the green mist of chlorine gas causing panic among its victims. Indeed the effects of fear of the gas in many cases caused more problems than the gas itself. The British Commander-in-chief Sir John French, despite being reviled by the German’s use of chemicals resorted to it himself by using it at the Battle of Loos towards the end of September, again with limited success. Some of the 140,000kgs of chlorine used blew back on the British troops causing mayhem and panic. Unable to see through the misted up eye pieces of their masks some soldiers removed them to see and subsequently suffered from their own weapon.

Gassed

 

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

The editor of this blog 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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