Whiz-Bangs Krumps and Coalboxes

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.

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

 

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

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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

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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

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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

20th February 1916 Sunday

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“Twenty six of our aeroplanes flew over the lines on the 20th February and dropped twenty 112lb bombs on *Don with good results.”

*Don is a commune in the Nord-Pas- de-Calais.

Don map

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14th 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 describes how he endures an amount of personal suffering during the month.

“The usual duties were carried out of attending to the sick and wounded in hospital and looking after the interests of our own men. Censoring the letters was a tremendous task, which the orderly officer for the day got to do. We had several visits from senior officers and ‘big-bugs’. Their inspections always passed off well, as our place was always exceedingly spic and span. Colonel Davies had the knack of getting the best out of his officers and men. Captain Anderson a good sort and one of the best was a general favourite too.

Suffering from acute toothache one day I got one of our sergeants, – a dental student- to remove the offending tooth. It was an upper bicuspid and he got it out very skilfully, without any anaesthetic. The agony was awful”.

(Field Marshall Sir Douglas) Haig called for dentists to attend the BEF in France in 1914. The BEF ranked vets and blacksmiths higher than dentists in their list of priorities, and when Haig developed toothache in the autumn of 1914, the BEF did not have a dentist on hand to treat him. His toothache had to be treated by a French surgeon, Charles Valadier. Charles Valadier, or Sir August Charles Valadier as he later became, was a dental surgeon from Paris to whom Haig was sent. By the end of the year, there were 11 dentists treating the BEF, an average of one for four divisions. It was not until 1917 that mobile dental treatment units were introduced. – See more at: http://westernfrontassociation.com/the-great-war/great-war-on-land/casualties-medcal/1037-haigs-toothache-dentistry-bef-1914-18.html#sthash.oxlM4Y5r.dpuf

Having cured his toothache with rudimentary treatment Douglas then gets himself into a hospital bed for a fortnight.

“One day whilst playing football in gum-boots and on a muddy pitch, I slipped and injured my right knee (cartilage torn). I had to be taken to hospital for treatment as the knee was very painful and swollen. A splint was applied and hot fomentations. I was in bed for a fortnight altogether and hobbled about with sticks for another week. I got all the letter censoring to do and was kept cheery with visitors and some of my fellow officers who came in for a game of cards with me. The famous specialist Lyn Thomas, the bone specialist, who invented ‘Thomas’s splint’** came to examine my knee, but ordered rest, although an operation was suggested at one time.”

A football game during the First World War

© IWM (Q 1109)

**In fact Thomas’s Splint was not the invention of Lyn Thomas but had been invented in the middle of the 19th century by Hugh Owen Thomas (1834-1891), who is considered to be the father of orthopaedic surgery in Britain. He was one of five brothers all sent by their father, who practiced as a bonesetter, to study medicine.

During the First World War from 1916-18, Thomas’s nephew Sir Robert Jones applied the use of the splint in cases of compound fractures, reducing the mortality of compound fractures of the femur from 87% to under 8%.

http://www.surgeons.org.uk/history-of-surgeons/hugh-owen-thomas.html

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

7th 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.

This month’s entries to Douglas’s diary are made it seems in between life in the camp at Mesplaux and the leisure time as it was spent in the delights of the nearby town of Béthune. He doesn’t mention actual dates during this time so we need to be a little imaginative as to the actual days.

Douglas was to spend the entire month at Mesplaux Farm. Duties at the farm as well as treating the sick and wounded were the usual mundane chores like censoring the men’s mail.

Varying degrees of discomfort would be experienced during February for Douglas. Apart from toothache, he would end up in a hospital bed for two of the weeks as he explains a little later.

The days were punctuated with trips to Béthune for shopping and trips to the cinema as well as relaxing in some bars and a plusher establishment of a Hotel that he seemed to struggle with the name of, calling it “Hotel de Pendre* or some such thing”.

The town of Béthune was the centre of British and Commonwealth activity in the area and was very busy servicing not only the army barracks in the town but the various units that were camped around the outskirts. Men of seemingly all nations would flock here including many Indians serving in the area with the British Army.

The journey into town from the farm was not too unpleasant. There was more than one route along the country lanes of around the same distance. In February 1916 they were well behind the front line so the rumble of artillery fire was at an almost safe distance.

The lane that follows the river La Lawe makes a pleasant walk, even in winter. As an officer that had recently learnt to ride, Douglas would have been able to ride into town with his compatriots or possibly got a lift in a motor or on a cart, but a horse ride would have been the more likely, not having to rely on a lift home.

At the Café du Globe in the Grand Place it was a common sight to see many horses tethered outside (see the 30 January diary entry for a picture) while the many allied officers sampled the delights on offer. The square was often extremely busy with the military from many different units including to two barracks in the town and business must have been very good.  The innkeepers and hoteliers would have done well to make the most of it for it was not to last.

Route to the Globe from Mesplaux Farm

The modern route by foot to the “Globe” (Google Maps)

The route along La Lawe

A modern view of the ride along the La Lawe (Google Street View)

* We would welcome any further information as to the likely identity of this hotel.

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

30th January 1916 Sunday

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.

Mesplaux farm on the outskirts of Locon was about an hour’s walk or a bit less by horse or motor from Béthune, a town of about fifteen and a half thousand in 1916. For most of the Great War it was targeted by the Germans, who had coveted it since the outbreak of hostilities. Until May 1918 it was a British town in France due to the many regiments of the Empire that passed through. Canadians, Australians and Indians and others called it home for periods as they were barracked there, with most of the home comforts for both men and officers. For those camped in the surrounding areas, it was to Béthune that many would head for entertainment during rest periods.

Picture taken from a postcard

Picture taken from a postcard

The Café du Globe was frequented by British officers, while the men would go elsewhere. From 1914 until 1918 it was one of “the’’ places to go. There were more upmarket venues, but “The Globe” was a favourite haunt.

Robert Graves recalling his wartime experiences in his book “Goodbye to all that” wrote of the Café du Globe. “Every officer’s charger in at least eight divisions knows the way to its doors: from early dawn to the curfew toll they are lined up in the sunny square outside, chestnut, black, roan, bay, sorrel and mouse-coloured, waiting for their masters that are drinking inside and rather resentful of the dirty little gamins who hold their heads, smoking cheap cigarettes and shouting obscene cosmopolitanisms at passers-by.”

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