Ray

1 2 3 25

3rd May to 4th May 1918 Friday and Saturday

Blighty bound!

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.

“About 1am on Friday, May 3rd, I left hospital at Rouen, by ambulance car for Blighty, feeling wonderfully happy in spite of the early hour of departure. We were motored to the Docks Station where we boarded No. 9 ambulance train. There were six of us in a compartment – myself (a Scot), an American doctor, a Lancashire lad, an Irishman, a Yorkshire lad and an officer from the Naval Division. I slept most of the night. We got to Havre at 7 o’clock, and had breakfast and lunch on the train. At 2 p.m. we went aboard the hospital ship ‘Essiquibo’ – a fine boat, only 3 years old, with seven water-tight compartments. I got a lovely little cabin all to myself, and was most comfortable. After an excellent dinner in the gorgeous saloon, we had lifeboat drill, and then a sing-song which delighted the ship’s officers. I slept peacefully all night, and woke up to find our good ship berthed in Southampton. We were disembarked at 10 o’clock and transferred to an ambulance train, which was soon speeding on its way across beautiful England to Oxford. On arrival there we were driven in private cars to our hospital in Somerville College – a beautiful spot. So ended my adventures in France and Flanders.”

HMHS Essequibo was built in 1915 and had been leased to Canada that used her to repatriate men home to Canada. During such a run near the coast of Ireland she was intercepted by a German U-boat that fired a couple of warning shots to stop her. The Germans having ascertained that she was indeed a hospital ship, Essequibo was allowed to continue her journey. She survived the war and was sold to the Pacific Steam Navigation Company in 1922.

HMHS Essequibo

HMHS Essequibo

After the two day journey and motor transfer to the hospital at Somerville College, Douglas became a patient at the hospital where he spent some time recuperating, before transferring to the War Hospital in Chester.  At the moment we have no dates for these events but will add them when we find out.

Douglas ended the first volume of his diary here and makes no mention of his time in Chester but did have a photograph that we include here.

A typical group of wounded soldiers with nursing staff, myself in centre. Taken at Chester War Hospital in 1918.

A typical group of wounded soldiers with nursing staff, myself in centre. Taken at Chester War Hospital in 1918.

Capt. D.C.M. Page M.C.

Capt. D.C.M. Page M.C.

The first volume of the War Diary of Doctor Douglas C. M. Page M.C. ends here, but there will be some intermediate entries and additions between now and August and the beginning of Volume 2.  Hopefully we will have more information on what happened between arriving in Oxford and finding himself aboard yet another ship, bound this time not for the Western Front, but Northern Russia and Archangel. Please join us on that ship in the Autumn to discover the incredible adventures of a remarkable man as his war continues.

At this point it is pertinent to remember another remarkable man. Douglas’s son Gordon Page who sent a copy of this diary to his niece Elizabeth Coggin and so to share Douglas’s adventure with us and now with the world. Gordon passed away very recently and will be sorely missed by his family and friends. He is survived by his wife Ruth, sons Brian and Matthew and daughter Belinda. Brian has also provided us with decent copies of the pictures in the diary for which I am very grateful.

It is a great pleasure to dedicate this work to Gordon Page.

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

17th April to 2nd May 1918 Wednesday to Thursday

The Road to Recovery

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 was in bed for ten days, and the condition of my throat gradually got better.  I was extremely well cared for. When I did get up I was very shaky, but was glad to get out into the beautiful gardens of the hospital (a theological college in peace time). When I was able I got out into the town, and saw the lovely cathedral, and the shops. In the mornings I used to help Major Austin in the wards by giving chloroform whilst he dressed the seriously wounded officers.

One afternoon another officer and I went for a trip up the river on one of the small steam-boats. It was a beautifully warm and sunny day, and we enjoyed our outing very much. We got off the boat at a pretty little place called Val de Haye, and after a stroll through the village had tea at a place run by an Englishman. There was a merry party of nurses and V.A.D.s on board, and we sang all the way back to Rouen.

Another day we journeyed up river to La Bouille, also a very pretty little village, where we had coffee and biscuits in a quaint old inn.”

By now we know Douglas Page to be a master of the understatement. His narrow escapes that can only pay allegiance to Lady Luck seemed to be never more than a nasty nuisance, responsible for the occasional “wind up”! However, although not deserting him entirely, luck had now worn a bit thin and for the time being at least removed him from the front line of war. The contrast must have been tremendous. Often never more than a few feet or a split second away from being blown to kingdom come, this painful time in hospital at least gave some time to enjoy the nicer side of France.

La Bouille, a little further downstream today retains its rural charm and a convenient car ferry to cross the river.

No2 British Red Cross Hospital, Rouen. A recovering soldier relaxes in the hospital garden.

No2 British Red Cross Hospital, Rouen. A recovering soldier relaxes in the hospital garden.

The No.2 British Red Cross Hospital, Rouen, France. The red cross denotes the ward where Captain Page was a patient.

The No.2 British Red Cross Hospital, Rouen, France. The red cross denotes the ward where Captain Page was a patient.

Boat trip destination Val de la Haye on the Seine.

Boat trip destination Val de la Haye on the Seine.

If Douglas were able to take that same trip now one hundred years later he would be totally shocked at the transformation of the idyllic scene he enjoyed then. Today both banks of the river are lined with the infrastructure of heavy industry. Many wharves flanked by gas and oil tanks, silos, and factories, railway tracks with marshalling yards mark France’s modern prosperity.

Val de la Haye

 

A ward in the No.2 British Red Cross Hospital, Rouen. Major Austin (the surgeon) standing in the centre of the ward.

A ward in the No.2 British Red Cross Hospital, Rouen, a former theological college. Major Austin (the surgeon) standing in the centre of the ward.

Major Austin the surgeon dressed for action

Major Austin the surgeon dressed for action

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

12th to 16th April 1918 Friday to Tuesday

A Cold Sponge Down by a Middle Aged Nurse!

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 Friday 12th we packed up, and marched via Talmas to Rubumpre. We pitched our tents in a field outside the village, and had a splendid view of the surrounding country. 

I hadn’t felt at all well for some time – not since getting a whiff of gas whilst with the Artillery – and at night on the 13th April felt very seedy. Next day my throat and chest were very painful. My temperature was above normal, and I felt decidedly rotten. As we were to move on again that day, the Colonel very reluctantly decided to send me back to the Casualty Clearing Station at Gezaincourt. So I was packed off there in an ambulance car feeling very miserable, and grieved at having to leave all my good friends. I was a patient in No. 45 C.C.S. for one night only, being evacuated by ambulance train at 8.30 p.m. on the 15th. It was a terribly slow journey – we didn’t reach Rouen until 3 p.m. on the 16th April! However, it was a beautifully equipped and most comfortable train. I was a stretcher case and felt very ill. My throat was completely closed up, and very painful. The doctor in charge of the train was a Captain Cowans, whom I knew as a resident house surgeon with Mr Cathcart in Edinburgh Royal Infirmary. At Rouen we were conveyed by motor ambulance to No. 2 British Red Cross Hospital, and after a lot of lying about on my stretcher in vestibules and corridors, I was at length heaved into bed between lovely cool sheets, and felt some better and happier after a cold sponge down by a dear of a Scottish sister (middle-aged!). The doctor – Major Hudson – came to see me in my little room, and told me that my throat and air passages were very badly ulcerated, and must have been so for some considerable time. I was unable to speak or swallow. He prescribed gargles, inhalations and compresses externally. I didn’t sleep – hadn’t had a wink for days now.”

The March to Rubemprè

The March to Rubemprè

It seems that Douglas had now succumbed to the “mouthfuls” of gas from the attack on March 11th. From the slightly embarrassed mention of the “cold sponge down” it would seem that he was suffering from the effects of mustard gas poisoning. This would often manifest with blistering of the body as well as the ulceration of the throat and respiratory organs. (More on the use and effect of gas in an additional post).

The slow train journey to Rouen was to mark the end of Douglas’s adventures on the Western Front but not the end of his war. That was over a year away.

 Red Cross Train, France (Art.IWM ART 1031)

A Red Cross Train, France; wounded British soldiers are transferred from a motor ambulance to a Red Cross train, 1918, artist Harold Septimus Power. (Art.IWM ART 1031) image: Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/22039

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

10th April 1918 Wednesday

Depressing news from the north

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 10th April we heard of the Hun attack ‘up North’ where he has captured the Messine Ridge, Armentiers, Laventie, Fleurbaix, Sailly, Bac St Maur, etc. The ‘Pork and Beans’ (Portuguese) bolted without firing a shot, and let the enemy through. For two hours this evening a continuous cavalcade of our cavalry went through our village on the way north to stem the attack. It was a wonderful sight. They are making a forced march all night, and have to be in in Merville by 8 a.m. tomorrow.”

The Long March North to Merville.

We don’t know where the march began but there was a crippling 82 kms to go to reach Merville by the morning.

Map showing part of the march

© OpenStreetMap contributors.

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

1st and 2nd April 1918 Monday and Tuesday

No Fooling Today, Instead a Difficult Train Journey

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 Monday, 1st April, we marched to Calonne where we entrained. It was hard work getting the horses on board. The train left at 12.10 a.m. on 2nd April, and we were in the train until noon. We detrained at Doullens, very dirty, tired and hungry.

However, we got no respite until we had marched 8 miles along the main Doullens-Amiens road to a little village named La Vicogne. Our men were under canvas in a field, whilst the officers slept on the floor of a room of a big farmhouse. There was a large aerodrome near us. The road was very busy with transport of all kinds. 

We were now in the 5th Corps with the 2nd, 12, 17th, 47th, 63rd and 1st New Zealand Divisions, and are in 3rd Army reserve.”

Douglas so far, hadn’t mentioned his recent inhalation of gas received during the attack on the 11th March. Three weeks had passed, but typically for him he makes no mention of it, although it must have been troubling him. A few mouthfuls would not have exactly gone unnoticed.

The work of a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps had proved difficult enough but also varied in his duties. Instead of attending to the sick and wounded, it was now necessary to help load reluctant horses into a train and commence another slow journey south. Today this 68 kilometre journey is no longer possible by train.

Douglas and the men he looked after were ordered south to Doullens as part of the effort of attempting to plug the gap caused by the breakthrough of German forces following the start of Operation Michael (The first part of the Kaiser’s Spring Offensive) on the 21st March. Sixteen divisions of the British army were now faced by fifty eight German divisions. Many of them battle hardened, but had had some rest time after withdrawal from the east. They had spent time training in their occupied lands behind the front line since their arrival.

The nearby large aerodrome was Vert Galant. It had been gradually expanding since being established in 1915 with the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Navy Air Service, eventually with the Royal Air Force. It operated until 1919.

© OpenStreetMap contributors.

© OpenStreetMap contributors.

The Book by Michael O’Connor “In the Footsteps of the Red Baron” gives the very interesting and full history of Vert Galant.

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

30th and 31st March 1918 Saturday and Sunday

Relief and a trek back to Merville

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 I handed over to the 102nd Field Ambulance (34th Division), and got back to L’Estrade in the early afternoon after some hustle.

Next day (Sunday 31st March) we were up early, and marched off to Merville, via Crois du Bac and Estaires. I rode most of the way, and the men marched very well in spite of being tired after so much hustling during the last few days. In Merville the men were billeted in deserted houses and we had our mess and billets in a large empty villa. Most of the houses near the railway station were badly damaged by shells and bombs, and the inhabitants had left the town hurriedly.”

Merville had at this time suffered a great deal of damage and had been almost totally destroyed, its inhabitants had largely gone. Back in November 1915 it was the area HQ for the British Army and was where Churchill had been asked to attend the aborted meeting in the incident that inadvertently saved his life.

Photo © Ray Coggin. The War memorial in Merville, damaged in a subsequent Battle of the Lys in May 1940

Photo © Ray Coggin. The War memorial in Merville, damaged in a subsequent Battle of the Lys in May 1940

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

29th March 1918 Friday

A Hurried Breakfast and Scots From The Somme

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 took over the Dressing Station at Erquinghem from the 131st Field Ambulance camp on the morning of the 29th, having got sudden orders at 8.35 a.m. to do so. It was some rush. I had a very hurried apology of a breakfast at 8.30, and nothing more till I had a ‘high’ tea at 4.30 p.m.

The 9th Royal Scots (Dandy Ninth), and Macrae’s Battalion came into the village at night. It was fine to see them again. They have just come north from Albert.”

“High Tea” was probably a hot meal and not a plate of scones and sandwiches with the crusts removed.

“The Dandy Ninth”,  so called because their uniforms based on the Hunting Stewart tartan, set them apart from other battalions of the Royal Scots. Arriving in France in February 1915 they had earned a reputation for fighting valour having been involved at High Wood on the Somme in 1916 then in 1917 at Arras and Vimy Ridge and later at Passchendaele and Cambrai.

Having come north from Albert, on the Somme where the Germans initially broke through with great success, they would go on to be instrumental in the disruption and later halting of the German advance during the Spring Offensive.

Once the Germans had been halted it was the tipping point of the war and ultimately led to the Armistice.

McCrae’s Battalion was one of Lord Kitchener’s New Army, Pal’s battalions, raised in 1914. Known as the Sportsman’s battalion it recruited predominately from professional sportsmen that included many footballers, drawn from the main clubs in Scotland.

The whole ethos of Pal’s battalions was that men would fight alongside men they knew from private life, encouraging a stronger sense of unity resulting in men watching out for each other and becoming a more determined fighting unit. In reality what happened was in many instances whole families and friends were casualties, causing in many cases almost the entire male population of some areas to be practically annihilated.

One such area was Cyprus St in London’s East End. No less than 26 young men, all from the same street gave their lives for their country. Following the decimation at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 the experiment of Pal’s brigades was discontinued.

Plaque in Cyprus Street showing men lost

You can read more about the 9th Royal Scots here.

You can read more about the McCrae’s Battalion here.

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

25th March 1918 Monday

The Pressure On The Allies Was Mounting

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 25th I left Houplines in charge of a sergeant and a squad of men, and went back to Pont de Nieppe Dressing Station. Father Brown paid me a visit, and gave me some news of the doings in the south. He said that the situation was very grave, and was most depressing. He told me that our 113th Brigade leave to-night and that the Australians, Labour Corps and the 12th Division have already left for the battle area, so that we have nobody in reserve behind us now. Let’s hope the Hun doesn’t attack here! Father Brown also told me that the Germans had cavalry in action, and that Paris was being shelled by a long-range 9” gun.”

1918 map.  Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html

Pont de Nieppe on the 1918 map. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html

Modern day map showing Pont de Nieppe.  © OpenStreetMap contributors. https://www.openstreetmap.org/copyright

Modern day map showing Pont de Nieppe. © OpenStreetMap contributors. https://www.openstreetmap.org/copyright

It didn’t take long for news to filter through about the start of “Operation Michael” or the Kaiser’s spring offensive. The 113th RWF being deployed quickly to the area near the Somme had left the Armentieres area short of defensive cover at a time that was to prove very challenging for the allied armies.

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

20th March 1918 Wednesday

Returned to base, but bad news

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 returned to the 130th Field Ambulance for duty on the 20th March, and took charge of our Advanced Dressing Station at Houplines, situated in the cellars of what was once a mansion house. All the houses and factories round about were wrecked, and just masses of tumbled down bricks. The garden contained lots of daffodils and violets, and I had quite a cosy bed-sittingroom in one cellar furnished with carpets, 1 easy-chair, and containing a real fire-place.

News was coming through of the great Bosche push down south, the enemy claiming the capture of 26,000 men and 400 guns. Most depressing.”

After a great deal of increased activity in the area, the news of great German successes further south was a heavy blow to the moral of the men.

The surrender of Russia and their withdrawal from the conflict allowed the German high command to plan a decisive attack. Since 1914 neither side had gained any significant advances and now they had to act fast. The influx of many divisions from the east along with their equipment gave a new impetus.

Known as Operation Michael, the plan was to attack the British defended front to the south on the Somme. From there they would push through in a north westerly direction towards the sea cutting off the BEF, seizing the ports and allowing the flow of supplies once more from the sea. This in turn was to produce a tipping point in the war in favour of The Kaiser.

The need for speed was paramount, Germany knew only too well that the Americans were pouring men and infrastructure into the war. Another 840,000 were due to join those in France since 1917 with a total of over a million. This would pose a much more difficult if not impossible scenario and would most likely be Germany’s last chance of victory.

Initially much ground fell into German hands, including all the ground fought over at the Somme in 1916.

However, success would prove to be limited. German front line troops were not matched by the supply routes behind them. The logistics operation could not match the offensive and the front line began to lose its early momentum, practically stalling by late April. That signalled the beginning of the end for Germany and by August the Allies buoyed by the addition of up to 2 million newly arrived Americans regained the lost ground, culminating in defeat of the German Nation by November.

Modern day map showing Houplines to the west of Armentieres

Modern day map showing Houplines to the west of Armentieres
© OpenStreetMap contributors https://www.openstreetmap.org/copyright

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

18th March 1918 Monday

Great Britain 5 Germany 0

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.

“There was a great bombardment at 11.10 on the night of the 18th, the 12th Division carrying out a raid on the enemy trenches. Curiously enough the Huns raided our lines at six different places at the same time, but our boys got off best capturing 5 prisoners, and having only 3 men slightly wounded.”

Activity in the area seemed to be warming up somewhat. Behind the German lines a great deal of reinforcements were amassing as divisions were being released from the Eastern Front ahead of a large push destined for the next couple of days.

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

1 2 3 25
Follow Blog by Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Want a Real Taste of British History?