Ray

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14th & 15th November 1917 Wednesday & Thursday

Night Patrol Ambushed!

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 went round all the trenches and supports examining food supplies to see that they were not tainted by the gas. There was a lot of gas hanging about in the shell holes. 

About six o’clock in the evening Battalion H.Q. was heavily shelled, and one dug-out was blown in. There were four men inside at the time, and they were lucky to escape with bruises and scratches. 

During the night one of our patrols from B. Company, consisting of 2 officers, and 19 other ranks was scuppered by a Hun ‘listening’ patrol inside the Bosche wire. Sgt. Black and Pte. Davies were killed, and Lt. Palmer and 5 men wounded – two very badly. It was a rotten affair, and depressed us very much. Lt. Roberts did splendidly. He killed three Huns and was untouched himself. We were badly ‘straffed’ with gas shells later.

We got back to our rest billets on Friday evening the 16th November, and had an uneventful stay in Erquinghem.”

The men killed during the raid that night were:

Private T.E. Davies 57459. Grave location  II. E. 38

and

Lance Sergeant Bill Black 16223 aged 23. Grave location II. E. 37.

Buried in Erquinghem-Lys Churchyard extension.

William Richard Black, grave details

Private T E Davies

We invite any information on these men including anyone that might have photos.

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

13th November 1917 Tuesday

Gas Again!

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

“At 10.30 p.m. on the 13th November the enemy opened an intense fire of H.E., shrapnel and gas shells on our right support, and front lines, which lasted for 15 minutes. At 11 p.m. he repeated the dose. The din was terrific. Aida Post was smashed about a good deal, and two men wounded (slightly) there. One of our patrols happened to be out in No Man’s Land at the time, and got caught in the barrage. These men were wounded, and the officer badly gassed. One man had a compound fracture of the left leg, but the others had only slight wounds. The officer (Lt. Wood) did good work in carrying in the badly wounded men. We got a lot of gas at H.Q. and we all got the “wind up”. The gases were mustard and phosgene.” 

This was a ferocious attack to endure. If high explosive and shrapnel wasn’t enough to deal with, then have a hearty helping of gas with it to be going on with.

The officer Lt. Wood for carrying out his courageous acts of rescue may have received some recognition for his act, but so far his identity is eluding detection.

We would be grateful for any information which would be well received.

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

10th and 11th November 1917 Saturday and Sunday

Cowgate Trench Bombed!

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 Battalion relieved the 16th R.W.F. in the line on the evening of November 10th. It was a filthy night and the roads were in a ghastly mess. Next day, as usual, I made a tour of the trenches, but went up earlier in the day than usual setting out at 6.30 a.m. – safety first! I visited all the posts. The trenches were very wet and muddy, and I had great difficulty in getting to one of the posts. I got back to H.Q. about 9.30, and had breakfast. Afterwards I toured the Support Line, visiting all the Company Headquarters. The Huns sent over a lot of ‘pip-squeaks’ (small shells fired by field guns), and chased me through the ruins of the Ferme de Biez. I increased my speed to 10 m.p.h.! Whilst I was at the left company (C Company) H.Q. a big enemy aeroplane dropped six bombs in quick succession in Cowgate. He hadn’t meant to do so, but had to as our anti-aircraft shooting was too good for him! 

Our trench mortars had a ‘straffe’ in the afternoon, which the Huns promptly replied to, wounding two of our men rather badly.”

The weather over the last few days was a mixture of a murky fog and heavy rain. August 1917 had seen the introduction of the Gotha GV bombers, it was probably one of these that Douglas described as a “big enemy aeroplane”.

The misspelled farm “Ferme du Siez” which was described as a ruin must have been entirely destroyed as no trace of it exists today.

A Gotha GV introduced in 1917

A Gotha GV introduced in 1917

Trench map showing Cowgate Avenue and Ferme du Siez (Biez in the diary).

Trench map showing Cowgate Avenue and Ferme du Siez (Biez in the diary).

Hybrid maps showing trench map overlay on modern

Hybrid maps showing trench map overlay on modern

Modern aerial map

Modern aerial map

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

7th November 1917 Wednesday

Straight to work for the new Colonel

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

“At 11 p.m. on the 7th, I established an emergency Aid Post in the orchard. The 115th Infantry had planned a large raid on the Hun trenches. They were going over 500 strong, and we (13th R.W.F) were sending out a strong fighting patrol to scupper an enemy post opposite us. I saw our men before they went over. They were a villainous-looking lot, with their faces and hands blackened, and loaded up with bombs, heavy sticks and crow-bars! The show commenced at 1.24 a.m. with a lot of trench mortar and artillery fire. Our chaps failed to get a Hun, as they found the enemy front-line unoccupied. There were no casualties, and I had nothing to do but dodge shells, as the Boche put over a lot of heavy stuff near me. I got back to Bois Grenier Dressing Station at 4 a.m., and had a short sleep there. ‘Billie’ Burke sent me back to Erquingham in a motor ambulance!”

After assuming command of the battalion, Colonel Leman (known as “Dickie”) set to work immediately. A raid on the German trenches was to take place conducted by the 115th with support from the 13th RWF. Remarkably Douglas somehow managed to preserve the battle orders for us to study one hundred years later.

Colonel John Frederick “Dickie” Leman, remained in command of the 13th until the conclusion of the war and the disbandment of the battalion in May 1919. Having been recruited to the Worcestershire Regiment in Ireland in 1906, he was posted to France as a Lieutenant following the outbreak of war in the summer of 1914. Promoted to Captain and wounded in 1915 he recovered to continue with the Worcestershire Regiment. Then due to the high mortality rate and like many others notwithstanding personal ability, he rapidly progressed until given the command as a Lt. Colonel with the 13th RWF. He went on to serve in the Worcestershire Regiment until 1935 and died at home in Dorset in 1951 aged 64.

http://worcestershireregiment.com/wr.php?main=inc/o_leman

Lt. Col. J F Leman http://worcestershireregiment.com/wr.php?main=inc/o_leman

Leman’s secret battle orders

Leman’s secret battle orders

Leman’s secret battle orders

It is interesting to note that the men in the 13th RWF raiding party were carrying sticks and crowbars as well as the probable Mills Bombs. It must have come as something of a surprise to find the German front line trench was unoccupied, thereby defeating the object of taking prisoners. The normal German defensive arrangement was a front line backed up by two further defensive lines.

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

4th November 1917 Sunday

Commanding Officer Arrested!

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

“We left the trenches for Erquingham on Sunday night, 4th November. Our new Colonel – Major Leman – arrived that night. It is understood that Col. Campbell has been sent home under close arrest for speaking his mind about certain high officers being under the influence of liquor during the Langemarcke show. We were all sorry to lose him. He was a splendid commanding officer and took an interest in everybody under his command. He was specially good to me – a brother Scot.”

Lt Col. Robert Ormus Campbell. Photo courtesy of Angus Gordon http://www.tivertoncastle.com/

Lt Col. Robert Ormus Campbell DSO. Photo courtesy of Angus Gordon http://www.tivertoncastle.com/

Most of the main combatants in the war had taken measures to restrict the consumption of alcohol. Wages had rocketed with the glut of overtime working and a lot of that extra money was spent in the pubs. A shipyard owner complained that the bonus of double time for Sunday working resulted in many no shows on a Monday morning and stricter control was needed.

At home David Lloyd George said “We are fighting Germany Austria and drink”. In 1915, in an effort to boost production for the British war effort, he had introduced the Central Control Board. Across the country strict controls were introduced. Breweries were under the control of the Government, the strength of beer reduced, taxes increased. Measures were also taken to encourage pub landlords to be more responsible including introducing facilities for women. By the end of the war in 1918 consumption of beer had been halved and continued to decline. By the 1930’s Britain had become a very sober place.

It was now an offence to buy a drink for somebody other than the person paying for it. Newspapers back on the home front reported on cases of contravention of the new laws, such as a Southampton man Robert Smith who was fined for buying his wife a glass of wine. His wife was also found guilty of drinking it and fined a pound, as well as Dorothy Brown the barmaid who was fined five pounds for serving it, in contravention of the new regulations of the Central Control Board. Mr Smith had told the court that his wife had given him sixpence to pay for her drink, but it didn’t get him off.

The situation on the Western Front was very different. A daily ration of rum was the order of the day. Who wouldn’t have needed it to try and stem the inevitable fear generated under fire in the trenches and preparing to go over the top? Officers had access to more than a daily tot of rum and some may have sought solace in drink. They would have suffered as equally as the men from fear, shell shock and the thoughts of committing so many to their death and injury, as a consequence of their orders.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Ormus Campbell had taken command of the 13th RWF (Service Battalion) on the 13th July 1916, succeeding Lt.Col. Oswald Swift Flower who had been killed the previous day fighting on the Somme. Colonel Campbell was a popular leader who only a few days beforehand described in a letter a successful raid against the German trenches. Douglas was very disappointed to hear that such a popular officer had been sacked and escorted home under close arrest for apparently speaking out against the drunkenness of fellow officers.

He was relieved by Lt. Col. John Frederick Leman, who would remain in the post for the rest of the war.

http://worcestershireregiment.com/wr.php?main=inc/o_leman

Lt. Col. J F Leman http://worcestershireregiment.com/wr.php?main=inc/o_leman

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

1st November 1917 Thursday

Another narrow escape for Douglas

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 whilst touring the outposts I was spotted, and chased by ‘pip-squeaks’. I came down Leith Walk (communication trench) in great style! I watched our 4.5 guns shelling the enemy trench in the morning. It was fine to see huge chunks of timber, etc, go up in the air.”

A “Pip-squeak” was a British nickname for a German rifle grenade. It was a small but deadly grenade designed to be fired from a rifle. It was attached to a rod for firing which was inserted into the gun barrel. A dish shaped washer was slid along the rod between the barrel and the grenade and depending on which way round the dish was would determine whether it went a greater or lesser distance. It was then fired with a blank round as a projectile. Although considerably smaller it was thought to have the same destructive power as an 18 pound shell with equally fatal consequences.

IMG_1260

For Leith Walk see the trench map.

Desalanque Farm in bottom left corner. Leith Walk communication trench top right

Desalanque Farm in bottom left corner. Leith Walk communication trench top right

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

29th to 31st October 1917 Monday to Wednesday

German attacks from the trenches and the air

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

It was back for another turn of duty in the trenches for the 13th Royal Welsh Fusiliers and their medical back up, Captain Page and his team of orderlies and stretcher bearers. Meanwhile the base at Desalanque Farm was taking a pounding from German trench mortars and aerial raids.

“We were back in the line on Monday, 29th October. On the 31st October the Huns shelled Desalanque Farm very heavily with 4.2 shells. Some of them dropped quite near us. His aeroplanes were very active too, and one of our captive balloons was brought down in flames.”

4.2 German shells and equipment including the trench mortar cannon.

4.2 German shells and equipment including the trench mortar cannon.

An observation balloon destroyed

An observation balloon destroyed

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

27th October 1917 Saturday

Saturday night treading the boards, but not duck boards.

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 once again played an active part in not only preserving the lives and health of the men, but also entertaining them. Not for the first time in his service on the Western Front he helped to produce a concert party. Previously with the 130th St. John F.A. he had been part of a concert party known as the Dominoes.

As if it was just something that one does. Not merely understated, as most of his life was, but not stated at all. Something that obviously requires a lot of planning, a lot of practice, recruitment and rehearsal, goes almost unmentioned in his diary.

Luckily for us though he does mention it and leaves a copy of a programme for posterity.

“I organised a concert for the 27th. It was a huge success, and was attended by the General and his Staff and about 40 other officers. It was billed to commence at 7.30 p.m. but by 5.30 there was a queue of ‘Tommies’ half-way down the street. Quarter-Master H Davies was in great form, and I scored a hit with a Sam Mayo item. We gave a two hours’ show.” 

Sam Mayo, real name Samuel Cowan was a popular Music Hall star born in 1881. He became famous for his musical comedy act and his comic songs were very popular at the time. You can view a lot of his monologues on this popular website.

Samuel Cowan died in 1938.

Maybe this was the number from Sam performed by Douglas, it is from 1916

It has survived across a century and the lyrics can be viewed on the above website.

Also a recording of his later work in 1932.

The programme (not in Douglas’s hand)

The programme (not in Douglas’s hand)

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

17th October to 23rd October 1917 Wednesday to Tuesday

Relieving the 16th RWF again

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

It was back to the trenches for the 13th for another six day turn of duty, giving the 16th a few days’ rest. Fortunately, for all these men things were pretty quiet again.

“ Our six days’ tour of the trenches was most uneventful. Everything was very quiet. There was practically no shelling. Aerial activity, especially on the part of the enemy was very active. I spent a lot of time in making improvements at my Aid Post, and visiting the companies in the outposts. We moved out on the 23rd being relieved by the 16th R.W.F. as usual.”

Whiz-Bangs

I thought that perhaps during this period of relative inactivity for Douglas Page it might be a good time to explain one of the features of this website. The Whiz-Bang or its more common spelling of Whizz-Bang. The most common array of spellings are thus Whizz-Bang, Whiz-Bang, Whizz Bang or Whiz Bang.

This was a piece of German ordnance fired from a small field gun, the 7.7cm made by Krupp.

whizbang

whizbang2

Capable of propelling a shell up to seven miles. It’s unlikely that the actual firing would be heard immediately as it could have been fired at least five miles away, but the shell arriving would have made a sudden whizzing sound followed by the bang of its explosion.

Despite its nickname sounding like a garden firework its deadly load was a fearsome and destructive weapon. Where a shell from a field gun would explode with ground contact it would normally leave a crater about 5 ft (1.5 mtr.) across and 2 ft (0.6 mtr) deep. These are rough approximate sizes not definitive crater sizes.

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

11th October to 17th October 1917 Thursday to Wednesday

Local peace breaks out for a week

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

“We got back to Erquingham again on the 11th October, and had a quiet rest period which ended on the night of the 17th October.”

Although Douglas and his comrades were enjoying a restful period in their war, the scene elsewhere was less quiet, fighting around the Ypres area was as intense as at any other time.

General Price-Davies was busy along with other senior staff officers taking afternoon tea and playing badminton, wishing he was anywhere but on the Western Front. He described the scene for the area that Douglas found himself in. He mentioned the long front that had now been established to the south of Armentieres and “what a change it was to see grass and trees instead of shell swept battle front where everything is blown”.

It gives some idea of the change in the scenery, that despite the fighting continuing all along the front, there were places where it was less intense than others. Artillery had undoubtedly been concentrated further to the north to support the drive to capture the ground around Passchendaele, so maybe there were less big guns available to smash up the area around Erquinghem. The picture of remaining greenery was in stark contrast to the shattered trees and cratered mud-bath west of Ypres.

Only 2 days previously the Battle of Poelcapelle had taken place a few miles to the north. It was considered a successful defensive action by the Germans who inflicted 6957 casualties on the ANZAC troops that fought them. However, Germany suffered great loss in holding their position, sustaining 35,000 casualties.

On the 12th the first unsuccessful attack on Passchendaele was launched. Despite heavy losses on both sides, the attack faltered in the quagmire and was repulsed by the German 4th Army. Added to the bogged down troops and equipment, a breakdown in communications forced Haig to suspend the attack.

No exact date given but click here to see a photo from 1915-16 near Bois Grenier showing plenty of intact foliage. British line marked ‘O’ and the German ‘X’. (Awaiting permission for usage.)

mapOct

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

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