Whiz-Bangs Krumps and Coalboxes

October 7th to October 10th 1917 Sunday to Wednesday

Pork and Beans were the order of the day

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

“One day 5 Portuguese officers and 16 other ranks came up to have a look round the lines. They had lunch and tea with us, and it was very funny trying to make conversation with them. Some of them spoke French, luckily. Three days later a whole battalion of them (‘Pork and Beans’) arrived for instruction. Their doctor  was attached to me. He spoke French and I got on very well with him.”

The Portuguese had entered the war on the side of the Allies, mostly due to skirmishes against Germany in Africa where Portugal was attempting to protect her colonies such as Angola. German U-boats whilst trying to blockade Britain had attacked Portuguese shipping whilst trying to trade with Britain, at the time Portugal’s most important export market. Germany finally declared war on Portugal in March 1916 with the resulting loss of almost 8145 Portuguese troops killed, 13,751 wounded and 12,318 taken prisoner or reported missing . However the civilian population paid a far higher price with the loss through starvation and disease of a further 220,000.

Today, at Neuve Chapelle near Richebourg, is a large Portuguese cemetery for their fallen there.

Entrance to the Portuguese cemetery at Neuve Chapelle

Entrance to the Portuguese cemetery at Neuve Chapelle

The small chapel opposite the Portuguese Cemetery

The small chapel opposite the Portuguese Cemetery

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

6th October 1917 Saturday

Many Congratulations.

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

Congratulatory notes continued to arrive for Douglas and on this Saturday an article appeared in the Scotsman newspaper. A note from Brevet Lieutenant Colonel John Gordon Rees was among those received.

The Scotsman, War Honours page 6th October 1917

“My Dear Page,

I have just heard that you have won the Military Cross. Bravo! My cordial Congratulations for this well merited distinction.

Sincerely Yours

J.G. Rees”

Colonel Rees was a regular soldier, a cavalry officer of the 13th Hussars, attached to the R.W.F. who served throughout the duration of the war.

We may have more on him in the future, as we discover more. Please feel free to contribute if you have any further information.

Congratulatory letter from unknown person

Anon.

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

5th October 1917 Friday

A long stint ‘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 went ‘up the line’ on the evening of October 5th and took over from the 16th R.W.F. It was a long relief, and we didn’t get settled down until after 11 o’clock to our six days of trench life.

As before I visited the various posts each morning. I also planned and supervised the erection of our Advanced Aid Post in the Orchard, which would do for a resting place. when bringing wounded from the front posts to my Battalion Aid Post; or where I could be in the event of a ‘Straffe’ by either party – British or Hun.”

Distance from Desalanque Farm to the area known as the Orchard

The 13th RWF relieved the 16th RWF as they alternated on 6 day shifts in the front line. This seems to have been an unusually long term of duty in the trenches and the men would have done well to enjoy their rest periods in between knowing it could be their last. The map above shows the short distance from Desalanque Farm to the area known as the Orchard where Douglas busied himself in finding a seemingly safe place to set up his A.D.S.

The modern site of the Orchard just to the west of the main British and Allied trench system

The modern site of the Orchard just to the west of the main British and Allied trench system

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

4th October 1917 Thursday

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 evening of Thursday, 4th October, Dr. Kelman of Edinburgh, lectured to us on ‘America and the War’. He was splendid. I had a chat with him at the close of the meeting, and when he saw my M.C. ribbon, he said: ‘Ah! Another ribbon for the Operetta House!’ – (referring to his Sunday evening student meetings in the old Operetta House, Edinburgh, which I attended regularly.)”

The Old Operetta House stood in Chambers Street, Edinburgh from 1871 to its final demise around 1951. Chambers Street was named after the famous Scots architect William Chambers who was actually born in Gothenburg, Sweden. Among his best known works are Somerset House in London and the Pagoda at Kew Gardens. He now proudly surveys the street from a pedestaled memorial in the middle of the street.

Dr. Rev. John Kelman 1864-1929 By James Paterson National Galleries of Scotland (Creative Commons )

Dr. Rev. John Kelman 1864-1929 By James Paterson National Galleries of Scotland (Creative Commons) https://www.nationalgalleries.org/art-and-artists/33317/rev-john-kelman-1864-1929-writer

Dr. John Kelman was an established author and a prominent figure in the Presbyterian church, known for his lectures in both Britain and the United States. Described as one of the best known Ministers in Great Britain.

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

29th September 1917 Saturday

Douglas is decorated for bravery.

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 Saturday 29th, September, I received a telegram from Headquarters telling me that I had been awarded the Military Cross. I was naturally very excited, and elated, and received congratulations all round. That night the 16th R.W.F. relieved us, and we marched back to rest billets in the village of Erquingham, where we remained for six days, resting and cleaning up, etc. I attended to the sick and weary, and also saw to the sanitation of the village. and cleanliness of billets and cook-houses.”

The telegram from HQ

The telegram from HQ

Douglas had by this time experienced so much. From a newly qualified medical doctor fresh from University he had originally signed on with the 18th Battalion Royal Fusiliers in 1914. By November 1915 he was a doctor of medicine serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps as a fledgling 2nd Lieutenant. Returning to France in 1917 as a very experienced medic and promoted now to Captain, he was officially recognised for his bravery in the events of September 3rd. http://whiz-bangskrumpsandcoalboxes.co.uk/2017/09/03/3rd-september-1917-monday/

Now he was Captain Douglas Charles Murray Page M.C., R.A.M.C.  He was still only 23 years of age.

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

26th September 1917 Wednesday

An opulent dug-out and another death

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 (26th September), I was conducted to 13th R.W.F. Battalion HQ at Desalanque Farm – a pretty spot. I found Col. Campbell, and the others in great form, and got a grand ‘welcome home’ from all. H.Q. was situated in a series of concrete dug-outs, and my Aid Post was about 50 yds along the trench from H.Q. Mess. It was a splendid place, with tiled floors and swing doors. It had only a corrugated iron roof however, not much protection from shells! Just as I arrived the Huns sent over about 20 ‘pip-squeaks’, and one man was killed and another wounded. It was quite an exciting ‘home-coming’ for me. Lt. Friel, who acted for me when I was on leave, was glad to get away! (See plan of French system.) The communication trenches in this area I soon discovered to be in good condition, but the front support lines were very poor. The line, as a matter of fact, was held by a series of outposts. I went round the trenches each morning, calling at the four company headquarters, and inspecting latrines, and dug-outs.”

The aforementioned trench map is missing. But here is a map of the area.

From The Brewery at Bois Grenier to Desalanque Farm with the trench system as in September 1917

From The Brewery at Bois Grenier to Desalanque Farm with the trench system as in September 1917

2010 view of Desalanque Farm

2010 view of Desalanque Farm

Desalanque Farm in Square 14

Desalanque Farm in Square 14

Being swallowed by expanding Armentiers the modern view of Desalanque Farm

Being swallowed by expanding Armentiers the modern view of Desalanque Farm

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

 

25th September 1917 Tuesday

The Road to the Front

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

“Calais was left at noon on the 25th September in a very slow train which dumped us down eventually at Steenvercke about six o’clock in the evening! From Steenvercke we had to walk 3 miles to the 38th Division Headquarters. Luckily I got onto a motor lorry that was going that way. I was sent on by car to Ercquinghem where I found the 13th R.W.F. transport lines. The Transport Officer directed me to Battalion Headquarters, and I waded on and got lost! However at Bois Grenier I spotted a Dressing Station, and inside was Capt.’Billie’ Burke, who hailed me, took me in and fed me. He persuaded me to spend the night with him. The Dressing Station was in the cellar of a shell-shattered brewery – but there was no beer to be had!”

It does seem a little strange thinking about a British Army Officer wandering around the countryside in war torn French Flanders, trying to find his unit. Having to make his own way, walking, hitch-hiking and then stumbling, purely by chance on his old Irish pal Captain Burke.  What a shame there was no beer to cheer things up!

The 1917 trench map showing the Brewery, now a war cemetery.

The 1917 trench map showing the Brewery, now a war cemetery.

The modern rail journey from Calais to Steenwerck

The modern rail journey from Calais to Steenwerck

Steenwerck to Erquinghem

Steenwerck to Erquinghem

The modern day journey would not differ much from 100 years ago. A probable route.

The modern day journey would not differ much from 100 years ago. A probable route.

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

 

22nd-24th September 1917 Saturday, Sunday and Monday

A Hellish journey back to Hell

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 Edinburgh again for France at 10 pm on September 22nd, and didn’t get to Calais until 4 o’clock on the afternoon of the 24th, owing to missing the leave boat train at Victoria on the 23rd, as the North Express ran very late. I stayed the night in Calais putting up at the ‘Hotel de Commerce’ and dining at the Hotel Sauvage with an officer friend. We intended visiting a picture house after dinner, but just as we were going into the place all the lights went out, and ‘L’Alerts’ sounded – Hun planes overhead. The Frenchies got horribly excited, and rushed through the streets for their houses. No bombs were dropped, but the aeroplanes made over the Channel to England.”

After a gruellingly tiring journey to London in which the train was severely delayed, Douglas missed his connection for returning servicemen to Dover.

After booking into the Hotel du Commerce a visit to the cinema was interrupted by an air raid alert. What his friend and himself were actually witnessing was a bomber raid setting off to England.

A squadron of sixteen German Luftstreitkräfte Gotha bombers had set off from their base on the banks of the River Sambre close to the Belgian /Franco border. Of the sixteen three were lost, possibly shot down and most dropped their deadly cargo on Dover and random places in eastern Kent. Five made it to London in the start of a wave of bombings by fixed wing aircraft to add to the concurrent Zeppelin raids. This was the start of a number of raids where a few aircraft made it as far as London, causing panic amongst the citizens and saw over 300,000 scurrying for shelter at Underground stations.

 A postcard of the German Gotha V bomber (public domain)

A postcard of the German Gotha G5 bomber (public domain)

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

14th September 1917 Friday

A Scottish Seaside Holiday

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

“Edinburgh was reached at 8 a.m. on 14th September, and thus began a very pleasant leave of ten days with visits to relations, friends, theatres, picture houses, etc. Randolph and I went on to Elie for four days and enjoyed the cooler air of the East Neuk.”

Douglas went off to Elie with his younger brother Randolph, a journey they must have undertaken by train.

The East Fife Railway that was the route to Elie was taken over by the North British Railway in 1897 and made some improvements to the track and infrastructure. Although it was never more than a rural railway it survived until the Beeching cuts of 1965.

Douglas didn’t know it then but he was to spend many years of peacetime practising as a GP in nearby Pittenweem.

A contemporary postcard from Elie in Fife.

A contemporary postcard from Elie in Fife.

Elie in later times

Elie in later times

Elie Station in 1967 2 years after closure. https://www.railscot.co.uk/img/58/875/

Elie Station in 1967 2 years after closure. https://www.railscot.co.uk/img/58/875/

The site of Elie Station today. Doubtless poor Douglas would be scratching his Edwardian head.

The site of Elie Station today. Doubtless poor Douglas would be scratching his Edwardian head.

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

13th September 1917 Thursday

London 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

“I lunched on board the Pullman train en route for good old London town. Huge crowds were meeting the train at Victoria. It was a stirring sight. I visited a cinema, a theatre, and a restaurant (Gattie’s), and left King’s Cross for Auld Reekie at 10.30 p.m. in a very crowded and heavy train.”

After the tiring journey from Flanders, travelling all day and night. Douglas took full opportunity to relax, both on the journey and in London. He took the Pullman from Dover where he would have enjoyed a very nice lunch with full silver service. The journey lasted just over two and a half hours.

He made good use of his time in London. At a picture house he would have watched the news cinema reports and saw the action he had just left, though in a much more homogenised form.

He may well have attended the Plaza at Piccadilly Circus for instance. He was also quite familiar with the theatres on Charing Cross Road having been there just over a year previously.

A South Eastern & Chatham Railway boat train with pre-war crimson livery, usually contained Pullman cars painted in the same Crimson Lake. The Pullmans retained the livery throughout the war.

A South Eastern & Chatham Railway boat train with pre-war crimson livery, usually contained Pullman cars painted in the same Crimson Lake. The Pullmans retained the livery throughout the war.

This is former Pullman car “Mabel” built in 1897 and used on the South Eastern Railway’s and from 1899 the SECR London-Folkestone boat services. Almost certainly the type used in Douglas’s train. After withdrawal from service, it was bought for £25 and has been used as a house in Selsey, West Sussex since around 1930

This is former Pullman car “Mabel” built in 1897 and used on the South Eastern Railways and from 1899 the SECR London-Folkestone boat services. Almost certainly the type used in Douglas’s train. After withdrawal from service, it was bought for £25 and has been used as a house in Selsey, West Sussex since around 1930.

The Plaza Picture House at Piccadilly Circus

The Plaza Picture House at Piccadilly Circus

He may well have seen scenes such as these.

Then he went along to Gatti’s the influential Italian family’s restaurant on the Strand. It stood next to where the Adelphi Theatre is today. It is also reasonable to assume that he attended a performance at the Adelphi Theatre as it was part of the theatre complex. We can see from a menu the kind of fare on offer. Easily affordable to a captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps on 15/6d a day.

Menu from Gatti's Adelphi restaurant

Dining room at Gatti's

Chefs and kitchen staff working in the kitchens of Gatti’s Restaurant. (Pictures kindly supplied by Chris Penna of Gatti House.)

Chefs and kitchen staff working in the kitchens of Gatti’s Restaurant.
(Pictures kindly supplied by Chris Penna of Gatti House.)

Then he caught the overnight 10.30pm train from the Great Northern Railway’s terminus at Kings Cross to Edinburgh.

A Great Northern Railway Scotch Express. Similar to the one Douglas would have caught. A similar locomotive is preserved by the National Railway Museum.

A Great Northern Railway Scotch Express. Similar to the one Douglas would have caught.
A similar locomotive is preserved by the National Railway Museum.

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

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