Whiz-Bangs Krumps and Coalboxes

24th March 1916 Friday

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.

As March wore on the weather maintained the relentless cold. If it wasn’t bad enough to suffer the onslaught of artillery and machine gun fire, to endure it in the freezing and damp conditions in the trenches must have seemed like hell on earth.

“On March 24th we were relieved in the early afternoon. It was cold and snowed all day. We trecked back to Les Choques via Gorre – a ten mile march and very wearisome for our trench weary men. We didn’t arrive at our destination until 6pm. I found my billet and medical inspection room in a filthy condition. I slept in a small room off the latter.”

Life at home in Edinburgh was not so straightforward at this time and they suffered plenty of inconvenience as the war began to impinge on domestic life.

Douglas continued with a quote from a letter without saying whom it was from. It was probably from his mother or sister, but gives an insight to the war at home.

“A letter arrived from home about this time.

‘ We are plunged in gross darkness at night – all lights required to be shaded- neglect of this means a penalty of £100, so as I can’t afford to pay this sum I am keeping my windows carefully shaded’.”

A Blackout order in Norwich 1915. http://norfolkinworldwar1.org

A Blackout order in Norwich 1915. http://norfolkinworldwar1.org

The shadow of fear cast over the threat of being fined £100 for showing some light seems to be at the forefront of the letter writer. It would have been an enormous sum to have to be fined for transgressing the blackout. Typically there are records of people being fined as little as 2/6d  or as much as £2 or a little more. There were protests from people who felt they were treated unfairly by an overzealous warden or policeman. Not for two hundred and fifty years had civilians been exposed to war on the home front and not since the Normans arrived had they been attacked by a foreign enemy at home.

Continuing, he immediately returns to matters at the Western Front.

“Whilst out of the line I gave lectures to the stretcher-bearers on first aid &c., medically inspected the battalion and attended to the sick and sanitary arrangements. I also had walks to Mesplaux  and spent many happy hours with the 130th Field Ambulance there. Also to Bethune about two miles off, where I did shopping and visited the pictures and dined at the Lion d’Or. It was all such a pleasant relief to trench life.”

The next post follows on 31st March.

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18th March 1916 Saturday

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 tells more of the now very active time taking place in a very hostile period of action including tragic death by friendly fire.

“ The Loos area was very active about this time (March 18th). Great artillery duels took place and one night a mine was exploded which shook us all up and put out all the lights in our dug-out.

One day Smith our Brigade bombing officer with three men were killed in a *sap. One of our shells dropped short amongst them and blew them all to pieces. We were all very much distressed. The funeral of Lt. Smith was most impressive. He was buried in the little cemetery close to my aid post and during the short service one of our aeroplanes flew overhead. The Huns ‘straffed” it heavily with ‘archies’ and bits of shell fell all around us, but fortunately none of us was injured.

The trenches hereabouts were mostly in good condition. The communications trenches, Hitchin Road and Caledonian Road were in excellent order and one felt very safe going up them. ‘Hilders Redoubt’ and ‘Wolfe’s Trench’ were the names of the trenches in this region.”

* a sap is a trench dug in an attempt to undermine the enemy’s stronghold and were the domain of the Corps of Royal Engineers whose men are known as Sappers (Spr.). They are the equivalent of the rank of Private in other units. The term is derived from the French military from which comes the old French word for a spade “sappe”.

Trench map showing places mentioned by Douglas

The points Douglas mentions can clearly be seen on this trench map. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html

The next post follows on 24th March.

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16th March 1916 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.

March was proving a very active month for young Douglas with the 14th Welsh in terms of front line action against the enemy. However a little relief was to come on the 16th.

“On March 16th we came out of the front line and into the village, a support line, being relieved by the 15th Welsh. My aid post was now nearer the front line and in a battered house on Windy Corner- not a nice spot at all.

We had a lot of enemy shell-fire to endure, as the Huns were searching for one of our batteries which was concealed in some bushes not far behind us at Windy Corner. I took the opportunity of the rest period in getting the men’s feet bathed daily in the *canal. We were spotted on the job once and shelled by our opposite numbers. One man was wounded in the head and we all got a fright. One man had a swim in the canal and found the water very cold. He used some choice language in describing how cold it was. We used to have these parades near Vauxhall Bridge.”

Givenchy Village as it was in the war. When I got to the front in 1916 only a heap of bricks and rubble marked where the pretty little village once stood.

Givenchy Village as it was in the war.
When I got to the front in 1916 only a heap of bricks and rubble marked where the pretty little village once stood.

*     It is of interest that Douglas would choose to bathe the men’s feet in the canal. I am not an expert on the condition of the water in French canals but here in the UK it is not very advisable to bathe in canal water for health reasons, although I have done personally both voluntarily and involuntarily. I can’t imagine the water content being much different in France.   http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/oct/26/weils-disease-andy-holmes

** Not the one over the Thames. We are trying to find it on a trench map. Any help appreciated.

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8th-15th March 1916

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 mentioned about the Guards Cemetery at Windy Corner when another interesting fact popped its peculiar head above the parapet. The designer of the Guards Cemetery was in fact none other than one of the most successful architects of the 20th Century, Charles Holden. Charles who? I hear you say. Well those of you familiar with London’s Underground network will be very familiar with some of his work. Many of London’s Underground stations built during the 1930s were also the work of Holden, something of a genius in his day with a lasting legacy. The Grade 1 listed headquarters of The London Underground at St. James’ Park Station is an outstanding example, along with stations at South Wimbledon, Arnos Grove and Southgate for example.

You can read more about him and his works here.

By stevecadman - http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevecadman/56350347/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6400009

London’s Senate House by Charles Holden Pic by stevecadman – http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevecadman/56350347/, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6400009

Douglas wrote;

“ One fine day Major Sherren (the D.A.M.D.S) and Capt. Williams (Sanitary Officer), came up to inspect the trenches. All went well till we got to Givenchy Keep when the Huns started a ‘straff ’. We got it hot for 20 minutes and just lay low in the trench where we were. Some of the shells dropped very close to us. We saw the remains of Givenchy Church a heap of bricks and stones.”

Trench map

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

Modern day map

Modern day map

A pic from the Liverpool records office shows Windy Corner

A pic from the Liverpool Records Office shows Windy Corner

Windy Corner seems to be a British name given to the point that much of everything was routed through in the area. Look at the trench map showing the British Army names for the area, like Herts Avenue, Wood Lane and such. These days the layout of the roads has altered. Some lanes that were unmade in 1916 are now modern roads and a modern church stands where the “heap of brick and stones” once lay.

The next post follows on 16th March.

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7th March 1916 Tuesday

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 had been with the 14th Welsh for a week. One night the 14th Welsh Concert Party had given a very good concert in a factory that was thoroughly enjoyed by the men, including General Ivor Phillips.

On this Tuesday the unit left Locon.

“I proceeded with the Battalion to Gorre, via Zeelobes*, Vielle Chapelle, Lacature and Le Touret. Battalion Headquarters was in a huge chateau, looted by the German Crown Prince at the beginning of the war. After a day or two there, we had four days in the trenches at Givenchy and a hot time we had there too with numerous casualties. To get to the front line we went along the north bank of the la Bassee canal and passed ‘Lone Farm’, a bleak spot that housed the 129th Field Ambulance Dressing Station.

My Aid Post in the battered remains of Givenchy was in a well sandbagged room of a dilapidated house and my own funk hole and sleeping abode was in a tiny underground dug-out behind the house, quite a cozy wee place and safe. The Battalion Headquarters was up the road and Windy Corner another 100 yards nearer the line.

There was a small cemetery close to my aid post and I saw many of our men buried there during our short stay.”

Givenchy Village as it was in the war. When I got to the front in 1916 only a heap of bricks and rubble marked where the pretty little village once stood.

“Givenchy Village as it was in the war. When I got to the front in 1916 only a heap of bricks and rubble marked where the pretty little village once stood.”

I believe the small cemetery was in fact probably what is now called the Guards Cemetery at Windy Corner.

Guards Corner cemetery map

Guards Corner cemetery pic

* Looking on a modern map Zeelobes is Rue des Lobes.

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2nd March 1916 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.

Today there is no entry in Douglas’s diary.

Although the men from his regular unit the 130th (St. John) Field Ambulance were kept busy at Mesplaux in the cold weather building a new standing for horses and by the end of the week they had built a new joiner’s shop, life in the trenches for Douglas’s temporary company the 14th Welsh, was busy in a more terrifying way with plenty of action against the enemy.

I’m sure there were plenty of distractions to take our man’s mind off less important things than a machine gun bullet pinging over his head, whilst trying to stem the flow of blood from an unfortunate victim. Today however I’m sure his family back home in Scotland would have had him more in mind than usual.

Today was Douglas’s 22nd birthday. No mention of cake, no mention of greetings from home, no time to be thinking of himself when work was to be done.

Dr D C M Page

Dr D C M Page

It is edifying to think that at the age of only 22 this young man had only just completed medical school and then found himself plunged into the awful theatre of war in the trenches of Flanders. To gain not just life changing experience, but more medical experience, more quickly and under the most trying of conditions than anyone could have imagined.  All before his life had really begun.

 

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1st March 1916 Wednesday

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 14th Welsh were relieved by the 9th Cheshires.

Contrary to modern thinking Douglas is about to tell us how on this day in 1916 smoking was about saving lives.

“We had quite a lively time going out, as the Hun machine guns were very active. My guide got a bullet through his pack and smashed up a tin of tobacco in it. This deflected the bullet and saved his life. It took us fully four hours to get back to Locon as the roads were in a terrible state of mud and it was a pitch dark night.

The battalion remained in Locon until March 7th and I got a billet in a cottage, not very comfortable, but better than a dug-out in the trenches.

My days were occupied with sick-parades and training of stretcher-bearers and visits to the ambulance at Mesplaux, &c. Bathing parades were held at the Divisional Baths with laundry attached. I had to be present at these parades to inspect all the men for skin diseases &c. They all got a good hot bath and new underclothing and socks.

Then one night the 14th Welsh Concert Party gave a very good show in the factory at Locon to a crowded house including the divisional General Ivor Philipps. It was an excellent concert greatly enjoyed by all.”

Major General Ivor Philipps MP KCB DSO

Major General Ivor Philipps MP KCB DSO

Major General Sir Ivor Philipps 1861-1940

At the time of the concert Brigadier General Ivor Philipps was in command of the 38th (Welsh Division). Already having had a distinguished career in the British Indian Army, Philipps had retired from the army in 1903 and had joined the Pembrokeshire Yeomanry as a reservist and as Commander from 1908-12.

At the outbreak of war in 1914 he was initially behind a desk at the War Office, but by November he was promoted to Brigadier General and given command of the 115th brigade attached to the 38th Welsh. In January 1916 he assumed command of the entire 38th (Welsh) Division, bringing them to the Western Front. Returning to London for a short period to take up ministerial duties, he returned to the front to lead the 38th Welsh into battle on the first day of the Somme on July 7th 1916.

 

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29th February 1916 Tuesday

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 this day both Captain Anderson and Captain Ffoulkes were given a couple of weeks’ leave and Douglas received news of a temporary transfer owing to the Medical Officer of the 14th Welsh Regiment being taken ill with flu.

“On 29th February 1916 I was sent to the 14th Welsh Regiment as their doctor was ill with influenza. I remained with the Battalion until March 31st ”. The Battalion was in the trenches and I went by motor ambulance to our advanced dressing station at St. Vaast via Lacature and Richebourg. Then I walked down the road past Windy Corner to my aid post in a shell-battered cottage.”

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

22nd February 1916 Tuesday

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 weather turned.

“We had a severe snowstorm on the 22nd February and succeeding days and was very cold and frosty. Our water casks got frozen up and we had to thaw them with braziers.”

Field ambulance Transport on the march in winter

Field ambulance transport on the march in winter.

 

“Our hospital was kept busy with wounded and sick most of whom we evacuated to the Casualty Clearing Station by motor ambulance.”

Mesplaux Farm house

Mesplaux Farm House. Note the usual midden outside the front door.

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

 

21st February 1916 Monday

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 mentions in the diary of being visited by several “big-bugs” during February. Probably the biggest bug was Major General Sir William Watson Pike. A distinguished professional soldier, General Pike 10-03-1860/06-06-1941 was the son of an Irishman and was domiciled in the fashionable Dublin suburb of Booterstown, not far from the port of Dun Laoghaire.  His father William was a landowner and owned a large part of Achill Island in Co. Mayo. William Pike was involved in a series of running battles fought out in the local press with a priest over evictions of tenant farmers.

General Pike as DMS (Director of Medical Services) inspected Mesplaux Farm on 21st February and remarked to the Officer commanding that he had known the place for some months and had little hope of it ever being fit for use as a field hospital. On this visit he was delighted with the efforts the men had put into making it fit for use and Douglas tells us:

“We were inspected by Surg. General Pike, who said that our place was the cleanest, tidiest and most efficient in the whole of the 1st Army. We were all very ‘bucked’ at such praise.”

The praise was reiterated by letters of appreciation to all ranks of the whole 38th (Welsh) Division RAMC, from both the ADMS of the 38th Welsh, Colonel T.J.Morgan and the Commander of the 38th Welsh, Major General Ivor Phillips.

Although General Pike was considered important in his time and as seen below was to rub shoulders with King George V not a great deal seems to have been written about him, which is possibly a cue for a bit more digging.

Major-General Sir William Watson  PikeMajor-General Sir William Watson  Pike

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the King Major-General Sir William Watson  Pike. http://hibbertfamily.org/html/pike/william%20pike%203.htm

With the King
Major-General Sir William Watson
Pike.
http://hibbertfamily.org/html/pike/william%20pike%203.htm

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

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