Whiz-Bangs Krumps and Coalboxes

17th March 1918 Sunday

St. Patrick’s Day Goes With A Bang!

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.

“Whilst I was visiting my friends of the 13th R.W.F. in Erquingham on Sunday 17th March, the Huns started shelling the place with nasty 15” high velocity shells. It was distinctly nasty whilst it lasted. He sent over six altogether, and managed to do a lot of damage to the village besides killing and wounding a number of our soldiers and civilians. I attended to several of the wounded. Several houses were smashed up, and a 4.5 limber was blown up by a direct hit in the main street, the horses and men being killed. Three motor ambulances were wrecked. The civilian population were in an awful state, and were seen rushing out of the village terror-stricken. The enemy did a lot of heavy shelling all around us all day, and at night I was called out to Windy Corner to attend to some wounded men. One was dead, but the others were alive, though very severely wounded. After dressing their wounds I got them away in an ambulance car, and was glad to leave a most uncomfortable spot, for shells were exploding all the time not too far off.”

The German 38cm high velocity shell was indeed a beast of a thing. Each one weighed in at a colossal 760 kgs and had a range of between 23 and 38 kilometres. Originally intended for the large guns of a battleship, their use was realised on the Western Front. Where possible these naval guns had permanent emplacements but then adapted to be used mounted on a railway truck, giving mobility to the dreadful weapon.

To send our man down to Windy Corner some 20 kms to the south west must have meant that senior medical help was in short supply down there, but Douglas was able to do his bit.

German artillery troops preparing the monster 38 cm gun clearly showing the size of a shell.

German artillery troops preparing the monster 38 cm gun clearly showing the size of a shell.
By Unknown – photo WW I, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2986020

The rail mounted 38 cm SK L/45 known as the Langer Max high velocity cannon.

The rail mounted 38 cm SK L/45 known as the Langer Max high velocity cannon.
By Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-00153 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5478715

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

15th March 1918 Friday

Gallows Humour after German Attack

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 the 16th R.W.F. raided the Huns taking six prisoners and a machine gun. It was a great sight to watch the barrage bursting on the enemy trenches, and the red S.O.S. lights bursting frantically on the front line. Just as I was going to retire for the night a shrapnel shell burst right overhead. There was a great stampede of everyone for the shelter of the farm cellar, but not another shell burst near us! It must have been a stray one. Anyhow, we all had a good laugh over the episode.”

The red S.O.S lights were rockets that were sent up to direct artillery fire. Yet another close call with a shrapnel shell scattering its deadly load above their heads. Now in his third year of hell on the Western Front Douglas survives another of countless close calls as the men scramble for cover. The laughs were clearly those of nervous relief.

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

12th March 1918 Tuesday

The Constant Shelling is Beginning to Play on The Nerves

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 (12th March) was another day of continuous shelling, which began to tell on one’s nerves. One of the officers, and a man from ‘D’ Battery, I had to evacuate suffering from shell-shock. They were very bad, and I felt very sorry for them. The Huns shelled Erquingham in the afternoon much to the consternation of the civilians. He also shelled Estaires and Bac-St  Maur with high velocity shells. The 2nd Royal Welsh Fusiliers made a small raid, and captured one miserable Hun, who said that the battalion of German ‘Sturmtruppers’ who attacked us on the 10th March had been absolutely wiped out by our excellent gun fire. There were only twelve survivors, and he was one of them!”

The build-up of German offences was beginning to increase pressure on this part of the Western Front. Gradual withdrawal of German divisions from the Eastern Front, following Russia’s withdrawal meant reinforcements being drafted into the Western Front. The news that accurate British Artillery fire was taking effect buoyed moral.

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

11th March 1918 Monday

Douglas Gassed!

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 morning (11th March) there was another great artillery duel at 5 o’clock. The enemy sent over a lot of gas shells near us as usual. One shell crashed into the mess kitchen of D Battery, killing the cook, and gassing five other men there. I rushed over as quickly as I heard about the affair, and found the place in an awful mess, and full of gas. I got a good few mouthfuls of it myself, before I realised it was so thick, and got on my gas mask.”

It must have been very difficult to carry out one’s duties whilst under attack from gas, The need to have your gas equipment ready to hand was demonstrated clearly that morning.

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

10th March 1918 Sunday

A Sleepless Night Under Heavy Fire

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.

“Sunday, March 10th was an anxious day for us all, as word had leaked out that the Germans were to launch a huge attack against us that day. I was awake all the previous night during which the Huns continuously shelled all our back roads, especially around ‘Diarrhoea’ and ‘Laparotomy Corners’. He also put a lot of gas shells around us. About 5 o’clock there was a terrific bombardment on our left which lasted for an hour. The Germans raided the 13th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and captured 1 offficer (Jones), and five men. They also killed 21 of our men and wounded 31 others. It was a nasty business.”

The mention of Diarrhoea and Laparotomy Corners, were clearly local names recognised by the men in the area but not included in the contemporary trench maps. Obviously named because of the conditions experienced in the locations.

The 13th RWF recorded the events thus:

Extract from the 13th Royal Welsh Fusiliers Regimental Diary

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0. http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/C7354150

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

9th March 1918 Saturday

Busy exchanges along an extensive 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

“Next day the 12th Division, after a great artillery straffe raided the German lines, taking 12 prisoners, and a machine gun. Things livened up after this, and heavy shelling went on day and night with no sleep for most of us.

I was called out to attend to wounded nearly every night, as the enemy shelled very heavily the road from Windy Corner to Artillery Farm.”

“Windy Corner” named for the regularity of enemy bombardments putting the “wind up” those nearby is in the village of Cuinchy close to the Le Basse Canal. Today it’s the site of Windy Corner cemetery referred to first in the diary on December 31st 1915.

Artillery Farm, we identified back in December as Gunner Farm, as it’s marked on British trench maps. Douglas described it as being about 100 yards down the road from Streaky Bacon Farm. Gunner Farm is the only place to fit that description. From Gunner Farm to Windy Corner is a distance of about 21 kms, so he was describing quite a long line of attack.

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

8th March 1918 Friday

Yet another close call for the lucky 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

“On March 8th, the enemy shelled our D. Battery all day with 8 inch stuff. Pieces of shell flew all over the place, and it wasn’t safe to be out. I sat in my hut for a while, but eventually decided to go across to the farm for better protection. I was glad that I did, for on going to my hut in the evening I found several holes in the roof, and a large piece of shell embedded in the back of my chair!”

Douglas had a number of nearly but not quite escapes during his war, March 8th 1918 was another one of them. It was fortunate indeed that he decided he might be safer over at the farm.

La Rolanderie Farm today. Now at the entrance to Suffolk Cemetery.

La Rolanderie Farm today. Now at the entrance to Suffolk Cemetery.

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

4th March 1918 Monday

Douglas deployed to the RFA

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 March 4th, I was sent to act as Medical Officer to the 121 Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, at Rolanderie Farm. I had a good billet in a small hut near the farm. The Commanding Officer, Colonel McLennan, was a very fine man. I had a walk round the Batteries every morning to see any sick men. It was fine, walking through the fields, as the weather was sunny and warm at the time.”

Map showing Rolanderie Farm

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

The site of Rolanderie Farm on a modern map.

© OpenStreetMap contributors. https://www.openstreetmap.org/copyright

If anyone has any information on Colonel McLennan please let us know. We found Colonel McLennan of the RAMC but can’t be sure it’s the same man.

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

20th February 1918 Wednesday to 2nd March 1918 Saturday

The School of Instruction

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 20th Feby I was packed off by car to the 1st. Army R.A.M.C. School of Instruction at Bruay, near Bethune. There were about 40 R.A.M.C. officers, including 10 Americans at the School, and we all slept in a large wooden hut on good hospital beds.

Each morning we were up at 7 o’clock, and had a course of physical jerks before breakfast. It was great fun, and I enjoyed this part of the day’s programme very much.”

From Wednesday 20th  February until Saturday the 2nd March Douglas attended the RAMC School of Instruction at Bruay, just south west of Bethune. Unusually for his diary, he goes into a lot of detail about the instruction he received about medical matters. We will go into the events in more detail in any printed version of this diary.  Suffice to say for now that the men spent their spare or non-study time doing physical exercise, route marches or on horse riding exercises, sometimes just going for a ride together.

Bethune had been an important behind the lines centre for British and Allied troops since the beginning of the war, but the time for Bethune was running out. It was soon to be almost totally destroyed in the forthcoming Kaiser’s “Spring Offensive”, or “Operation Michael”.

“The 24th Feby. was a Sunday, and we had Church Parade at 11 a.m. In the afternoon eight of us went out on horses for some fresh air, and had a great time.”

“On the morning of Saturday, March 2nd (my birthday) there was a terrific bombardment. We found out later that the Germans had attacked the Portuguese, and broken through, but that the ‘Geese’ or ‘Pork and Beans’ assisted by our 42nd Division had driven the enemy back again.

That same afternoon I returned to L’Estrude after a very pleasant and instructional week at Army H.Q.”

The fate awaiting Bethune after the German Spring Offensive of 1918

The fate awaiting Bethune after the German Spring Offensive of 1918. Photo via Creative Commons http://www.wikipasdecalais.fr/index.php?title=Fichier:Béthune_beffroi_1918_4.jpg

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

18th February 1918 Monday

Back to the 130th and a comfy billet

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 relieved on the 18th, and went back to the 130th Field Ambulance at L’Estrade. I found them all comfortably situated in a big farm-house. Captain Burke and I shared an Armstrong Hut, and were very comfy.”

There were various developments of the Armstrong Hut. It was a hut usually constructed of wood. They could also have canvas sides and/or corrugated steel sides and roofing.

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/topic/249765-the-great-armstrong-hut-debate/

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/topic/249765-the-great-armstrong-hut-debate/

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

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