Whiz-Bangs Krumps and Coalboxes

20th December 1917 Thursday

‘Pork and Beans’ relieved

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 Portuguese troops in the trenches on our right proved themselves to be hopeless soldiers. The Germans were constantly raiding them, and daily we expected the Huns to attack, and break through. All the gunners were protecting their guns with formidable barbed-wire entanglements. However, on the 20th December the whole Division (38th) side-stepped to the right, the ‘Pork and Beans’ going out, and the Australians coming in on our left. We went into trenches at Wye Farm. Headquarters was in a splendid stronghold in an old battered farm, and my aid post – a poor place, was about 100 yards off.”

Elbow Farm, Wye Farm and Tin Barn Avenue with the area of Fleurbaix

Elbow Farm, Wye Farm and Tin Barn Avenue with the area of Fleurbaix

20Dec17

Elbow Farm today

Elbow Farm today

Wye Farm now Y-Farm military cemetery

Wye Farm now Y-Farm military cemetery

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

15th December 1917 Saturday

A French German gives up the fight.

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 15th December a sergeant of ‘C’ company brought down to H.Q. a German who had crossed on to our lines, and given himself up. He was a strapping, young chap, aged 22, and an Alsation. He said he was ‘fed-up’ with the war, especially as he had to fight against his own people. We were relieved by the 16th R.W.F. that night, and went into support trenches. I remained with Battalion H.Q. in the support line.”

The disputed area of Alsace, west of the Rhine had fallen into German hands as a result of the Franco Prussian war of 1870. The area was contested for over 300 years before that time and in 1871 as part of the peace treaty Alsace and Northern Lorraine was annexed by von Bismark and became part of the newly united state of Germany under rule of the Kaiser. Many Alsatians had joined the German Navy during WW1 in order to avoid fighting among families, but were involved in the naval mutinies in November 1918 following the defeat of the Kaiser and Germany.

surrender

 

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

11th December 1917 Tuesday

Some morale boosting 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

“On the 11th December we trudged up to the trenches again, and heard that Jerusalem had fallen.

One day fourteen German aeroplanes flew over our lines, and were speedily attacked by four of our fast fighting planes. One Bosche was chased by 3 of our lads and brought down in flames. The machine crashed to earth in 3 pieces, and the old Hun himself came down about 5 minutes later! It was a great night. The other 13 enemy planes fled!”

Far from the Western Front, the Ottoman 7th and 8th armies under the command of German General Erich von Falkenhayn had been forced into retreat. The Battle for Jerusalem had begun on the 17th November with the British under the command of General Edmund Allenby. The coastal ports suffered from a lack of infrastructure, making unloading of supplies slow, hazardous and laborious. Allenby had to weigh up his options carefully. So far from their base, failure to keep his troops and horses supplied with rations and equipment could have proved disastrous. Failure to subdue von Falkenhayn’s armies would also leave Allenby vulnerable to counter attack. This would be both militarily and politically calamitous and could have seen Allenby relieved of his command, but he was victorious and on the 11th became the first Christian leader to rule Jerusalem since the middle ages. Fighting continued until the end of December, but the news of Allenby’s triumph over the German commander was greeted warmly at home and on the Western Front.

Field Marshall Viscount Allenby 1861-1936

Field Marshall Viscount Allenby 1861-1936

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

10th December 1917 Monday

A Monday night concert and mistaken identity.

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 night of the 10th the ‘Welsh Wails’, our new divisional concert party made their first appearance in the local cinema house. The place was packed to the door, and it was an excellent show from start to finish. There were 8 in the company, and they were very artistically got up in blue costumes, and tam-o-shanters with big red ‘toories’ on them. Lt Eric Blore, of the South Wales Borderers, was O.C., and put up a great show himself. He was a big man in London theatrical circles, and married Jessie Winter, the actress.”

It seems nothing was more popular than the concerts put on for the men whenever they could be arranged. The war had seen many of the famous male artists of stage and the fledgling movie industry absorbed into the forces. Young Eric Blore a Lieutenant in the South Wales Borderers was an actor that would later go on to find fame in Hollywood. In 1923 he made his way onto the Broadway Stage and firmly established himself as an accomplished actor. His work with Fred Astaire saw him introduced to the movie industry and he went on to appear in more than eighty films, working again with Fred Astaire and his stage partner Ginger Rogers. He would often play the part of the archetypal English butler and you can see him here with Fred Astaire, playing the butler in “The Gay Divorcee” in a movie of the stage play that got him his break.

blore

Douglas for some reason got his facts mixed here in the diary with his mentioning of Blore’s wife Jessie Winter. Eric Blore in fact was newly married at the time to Violet Winter who sadly died only two years later in 1919. They had a daughter also called Violet. He remarried in 1926.

Eric Blore died in Hollywood in 1959 aged 71, but his death wasn’t without controversy. Somewhat jumping the gun the British theatre critic Kenneth Tynan referred in the “New Yorker” to the late Eric Blore”. Blore’s lawyer angrily demanded a retraction. The New Yorker had held a proud record of never having to print a retraction as they were careful to double check all their facts and the furious editor fearing a lawsuit forced Tynan to write it, sheepishly appearing on the news stands with a full front page retraction. Blore in a seeming fit of pique then duly died anyway, so while the rest of the press appeared with news of his demise the New Yorker appeared apologising for reporting his death. Pure showmanship!

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

3rd December to 7th December 1917 Monday to Friday

Back up the line

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 returned to the front line on the 3rd December, being shelled very badly on the way up. We went back to Erquinghem for 4 days on the 7th.”

As if resuming the mundane routine of the working week, Douglas and his men of the 13th Btn., RWF headed back to work. Work of course was fighting the German army from the cover of the trenches, but unlike those at home heading for the mines, factories and mills etc., Douglas and his men went to work under heavy shellfire.

Uncomfortable at Streaky Bacon Farm, the move along the road to Artillery Farm could have been another life saver for Douglas. Although Streaky Bacon is clearly marked, could it be that “Artillery Farm” was actually Gunner Farm? Look at the map to see that it’s in the right vicinity.

1917 Map showing Streaky Bacon Farm and Gunner Farm to its right. British trenches bottom right.

1917 map showing Streaky Bacon Farm and Gunner Farm to its right. British trenches bottom right.

The modern view, Streaky Bacon on the left Gunner Farm on the right

The modern view, Streaky Bacon on the left Gunner Farm on the right

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

28th November to 29th November 1917 Wednesday & Thursday

Court Martial!

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 were relieved on the 28th November, and next day I had to attend at Divisional H.Q. the court-martial of a Pte. Dukes, of 16th R.W.F. accused of desertion. Col. Errington was President, and Major Maclennan, the prosecutor. The padre of the 16th R.W.F. acted as prisoner’s friend. When I got back to Erquinghem I found that the battalion was in brigade support. I had to stay with ‘C’ company at Streaky Bacon Farm.”

Research on this Court Martial has proved a little frustrating. Over three hundred men were accused during the conflict of desertion, cowardice, laying down of arms and murder. Most, on finding of guilt were sentenced to death by shooting by firing squad. Presumably some men might have been found not guilty of the charges but we can assume that most were found guilty. Not all the sentences of death were carried out however with some commuted. The Final say was the Generals in overall charge, usually Douglas Haig, but it was rare to reprieve a man.

However, there is no mention in any list of men executed for desertion of a Pte Dukes, or anything similar, allowing for spelling mistakes or misremembering etc. Frustratingly, Douglas doesn’t record his fate.

In August 2006 the Ministry of Defence announced the pardon of all 306 men that were shot at dawn for cowardice or desertion. All had received proper burials and latterly many names added to war memorials.

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

16th November to 27th November 1917 Friday to Tuesday

A bit of a lull in action but attacked by flu

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 our rest billets on Friday evening the 16th November, and had an uneventful stay in Erquinghem. We relieved the 16th R.W.F. in the trenches on 22nd November, the relief being complete before 8 p.m. I had an attack of influenza and felt rotten the whole of the time we were in the line. I spent most of the time in my ‘flea-bag’, but managed to crawl around the line twice during the six days we were in. Luckily the enemy kept quiet most of the time, so that I had little work to do.” 

In 1917 there were no drugs that we rely on today to relieve the symptons of colds and flu. Influenza was in the following year to account for more deaths than the war itself. Although first discovered accidentally in 1877 Paracetamol was not used commonly in humans due to its many side effects. It wasn’t until 1949 that it was re-examined and then first manufactured in 1951. Only as late as 1959 was it first available as a common over the counter drug, without prescription.

Although it was invented in the late 19th century, Aspirin was used in different ways to treat the symptoms of fever inducing ailments, it has a mixed and interesting history which is better told in these articles https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_aspirin.

Douglas doesn’t indicate if he actually used it himself during this period.

Advert for aspirin

 

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

 

 

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

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