New Years Day, 1917, was quiet. I spent the day renewing acquaintances with the men in "C" Co. At night the Batt had a concert and I recited some of Service's poems. They went over well.
Next day Capt. Black detailed me to 8 platoon and I took them on parade and got by quite satisfactorily. In the afternoon the officers all went to Bruay for a lecture by a staff officer on some phase of tactics. We fraternized with fellows from the other battalions both before and after the lecture.
On Jan. 3rd we took a route march to toughen the men up and the rest of the day was spent in letter writing.
Next day we all paraded for medical inspection but owing to rain no further parades were held. At night we had another lecture at Batt. Hqrs and next day went to Bruay for a continuation of the lecture of Jan. 2.
One of Lena Ashwells concert parties gave a concert at Bruay and on Jan. 6 and I was detailed to parade all who wished to attend from the 10th Batt. I met Kerr (formerly fo Wesley) who was with the 1st Batt.
Sunday we paraded for church and after I found my trench boots had arrived. They hurt my feet at first but once they were broken in I got a lot of comfort out of them. They were ordinance and not so fine as some of the boys brought back from England but they stood up better under hard usage.
Prof. Adkin gave us a lecture on the causes of the war on Jan. 9.
We had snow as a change from rain.
On Jan. 11 I was detailed on a court of enquiry as to several children who had been hurt by detonators. We found the children had got past the sentry and no blame could be attached to the unit. Gen. Horne inspected us after dinner and then we drew up operation orders and plans for a practice attack.
Next morning we had the attack and then paraded to Bruay for a lecture. The Brigade staff were strong for lectures at this time.
Regular routine took up our time from Jan. 13 to 19, lectures, church parades, pay parades, practice attacks, ordinary parades. The weather was cold and it alternated between rain and snow. I wrote a lot of letters during this period and on Jan. 19 I received a ring from Allie which was to be our temporary engagement ring. Fiddes came to me as a batman on Jan. 17. I pulled strings to get him away from another officer but later wished I'd left him where he was. He was inclined to be lazy.
On Jan. 20 we marched from Divion to Fosse 10 about 17 miles. We were all pretty well tired out but found good billets. Fosse 10 was a mining village east of Bully Grenay and we found the people very agreeable. The men were billeted in the upstairs of houses and the officers had real beds, electric light if you paid for the globe. The owners always took the globes out and charged two francs before you could get them back. This helped to pay for their light. We spent 4 days at this place. I acted as orderly officer the first day and the second went up to look the line over in front of Bully Grenay. Our Canadian mail, which had been delayed arrived. I got a chicken from Aunt Annie at Grimsby and we had a feast.
On Jan. 23 the Germans bombarded the mine at Fosse 10. We were on the further side from the mine and so escaped any casualties.
On Jan. 24th I went up the line and took over the trench for "B" Co. The trenches were good and we made a good relief. The country here was chalky and the trenches were deep and dry. We were in the line on this trip 6 days. It was my first trip in as an officer but there was nothing really new about it. As a N.C.O. I had accompanied the officer on trench duty so when I became the officer I knew what was required. I checked up our line to see its weak points, saw our guns were in the proper place and in good order, issued the rum, etc. We had a digging party but the ground was frozen and the men broke so many picks that I reported to Headquarters and the job was called off. We moved into a new dug out, very deep. It was so cold we had to sleep in our overcoats. We couldn't get the smoke up the stairs and it was choking with smoke half the time. It spoiled our sleep.
On Jan. 30 we were relieved by the 7th Batt. with no casualties during this first trip in as an officer. We went back to Bully Grenay where I bunked with an officer named Moor. We remained here 6 days. We were using a 6 day in and 6 day out system.
Our mail arrived and I spent my off duty time answering it. The weather was very cold.
On Feb. 1 I was notified I was next for leave and also sent up on a working party. In the afternoon I was on a court of enquiry and just before the working party moved off Arch St. Louis came over. He was with the Signal Corps as a dispatch rider.
Next day I was told my pass was canceled as my seniority only dated from Dec. 31, 1916 being the date of my joining certificate. I tried to get my pay for the time between the two appearances in orders of my gazetting but without success. My commission appeared in the Gazette of Jan. 13, 1917.
Bully Grenay was a town near the Loos front and had only a few civilians, so there wasn't much to do except play cards write letters, sleep and eat and drink, but it was fairly comfortable, but no white sheets.
On Feb. 5 we relieved the 7th in Reserve at a village called Coron D'Aix, about 1 kilometer south of Bully. We were billeted in one of two or three houses. We spent three days here and then moved forward and relieved one of our own companies who went back to Coron D'Aix. We had a quiet trip tho the other company had a barrage of minnenwerfers on the 2nd night. On Feb. 11 we were relieved by the 7th Batt. I marched back to Fosse 10. We spent the first day cleaning up and on Feb. 13 the Brigade held a parade and on Feb. 14 we were reviewed by Field Marshall Haig.
On Feb. 15 the O.C. sent me to Bethune to make purchases for the mess. There I met one of the chaps from the cadet school.
On Feb. 17 I was detailed to go to the Divisional school at Boyeffles, near Fosse 10, to take a Lewis gun course. H.C.H. Brayfield was one of the instructors at the school. I spent 5 days at the school. They had a good mess and were billeted in a chateau. The course was a good one. We took our batmen with us. I beat the rest of the class in speed at gun stripping but didn't have any luck at revolver shooting. We got a chance to go to Hersin and other places where we met chaps from other units.
The school broke up on Feb. 22 and I reported back to my company in the line. Capt. Costigan was in charge of "B" Co. We lost three men in 8 platoon on the last day in. The weather had moderated and the trench was very muddy. We had a hard trip out, mud to the knees in places and mud that stuck. When we were coming out I saw Wes Cooke of the 8th.
On Feb. 24 we buried Corp. Jallagher who had been killed on the last trip.
On Feb. 25 I was called to Hqrs. by Geoff Burbridge who was adjutant and told I was to report to Hqrs as Lewis Gun Officer. That was a surprise. I had only two and a half trips in as a platoon officer. One doesn't often get on to headquarters that soon. I am satisfied that Geoff Burbidge was responsible and that Col. Ormand was giving me the breaks because we were both members of the Manitoba Bar. I hated to leave the platoon. I had got to know the fellows pretty well and we got on well with them. However, one does what one is told in the army so I moved my kit up to Headquarters and on Feb. 25 I took over the job of keeping the Lewis guns up to the mark. I checked them over, had a lecture to the gunners and on Feb. 28 we went into the line in front of Bully Grenay. I put up at the Detail officers dugout and ate at Headquarters. The detail officers consisted of Lewis gun, signal, scout, and bombing officers, all Lieuts. My job now was to inspect the guns every day, see that they were properly placed so that the whole front was covered and instruct the gunners in their zone of fire. I also had to see the company officers and let them know the general Batt. Lewis gun scheme, in other words I was sort of Liaison officer between the various companies. I also had to take my turn helping the adjutant. We split the night between the detail officers so the adjutant could get some sleep.
On March 3, we were relieved by the 8th Buffs. One of the chaps (Lilly) had been at the cadet school with me. We marched back to Fosse 10 where I was billeted with the padre.
On March 4 we left Fosse 10 and went back to Houdain where I billeted with Ed. Milne then Scout officer. We had snow but I held Lewis gun classes for all gunners. Stan Robertson joined us as bombing officer. I ate at the Transport mess. We stayed at Houdain till March 7. Classes went on each day and on March 7 I gave a lecture to the officers. Looking back on it, I had a lot of nerve to talk to these chaps with only a 5 day course behind me and some of them with long courses in England. However, I didn't think anything of it then.
We were now getting ready for Vimy and on March 8 we moved to Ecoivres, about 12 miles nearer the line.
Ecoivres was a small village below Mont St. Eloy and one of the best billets for the Vimy sector.
Next day I went up the line with the advance party to check over the Lewis gun positions. On the way up I saw Lee Cavanagh who was with the Engineers. I also saw Joe Keeper the Indian runner with the 107th.
On March 10th we moved into reserve at the Labyrinth Tunnel. This was a tunnel used in connection with mining operations earlier in the war and now used as a billet for troops. Headquarters were in a deep dugout near the tunnel but not part of it. We remained in reserve till March, doing nothing but working parties at night, tho as a Headquarters officer I had none of this, I slep by day and did my turn as adjutant at night. On the night of March 13 we went into the front line in a group of trenches called Grand Collection just back of the Vimy Ridge, to the right of La Targette Cross roads. I spent my time drawing a map of the line. It took me 4 days. In addition I kept a check on the guns. This Headquarters job was a snap in the line but out of the line I worked harder than the company officers and in addition had the responsibility of the guns. Altho the Lewis gunners were company men, I was responsible for their training and their equipment. I had a Sergt to help me. He was also in Hqrs. I spent a lot of time reading and writing letters. We had lots of rain still.
On March 20 the 8th Batt. relieved us and we went back to Ecoivres. Here I got a lecture on the German gun and was shown how it worked so that we could use the German guns we captured. I in turn instructed our gunners in its use and also kept up regular classes.
On March 24 we went back into the line. My map was being used by the companies to show their locations, the O.C. having asked me to make extra maps for this purpose.
While we were out of the line I didn't eat at Headquarters but we had our own mess but when we went back into the line I rejoined Hqrs mess. We had the usual issue and in addition we had a mess account to buy extra food, eggs, meat, fruit, etc. Our mess bills weren't high particularly as ours was a dry mess. Anyone who wanted a bottle bought it himself and it wasn't charged to the mess account. I helped Robertson on the Grenade dump and did odd jobs around in addition to my own work. The second Batt. were to relieve us so I was detailed to show the advance party round. As Lewis gun officer I had as good a knowledge of the Batt. front as anyone in the unit outside of the Scout officer, because I covered the whole front at least once a day.
On March 29 we were relieved by the 2nd Batt. The Hun shelled the road after we got out.
I put in an indent for shortages on the guns and the Batt went out on a practice attack over a taped course well back of the line. It was laid out to represent the Vimy sector we were to attack over. It was a long march back to this practice area and we were pretty tired. The heavy walking started my wound to swell, probably caused by a small splinter getting on a muscle. We tried out the guns and found they were in A1 shape. I saw Arch St. Louis several times.
On April 4 I wrote Mother that I was engaged to Allie but we weren't planning to get married till after the war.
On April 5 I went into the line to take over and when Col. Ormand arrived he told me my leave warrant was thro and I had better "pussy foot" it out at once. I didn't need telling twice so I struck off down the communication trench and over the hill to Ecoivres. Just as I passed the cemetry four bombs were dropped on each side of the road but no one was hurt. I got my leave warrant and went to bed. It wasn't dated till April 7 so I had a day to put in. On the morning of April 6 the paymaster woke me and said "All leave is cancelled". I swore loud and long but he said "You have your warrant, what are you doing here?" I didn't need to be hit on the head so I got up, dressed and told the transport officer to send a limber after me and I started out of camp for rail head at Aubigmy. I later heard that within 15 min. after I left, Brigade sent for my warrant to cancel it but it was reported that I had left. I got to Aubigmy but the Railway Transportation officer was the next difficulty. He might not let me entrain ahead of my time. I went into a restaurant to eat and there met a South African who had been at Cadet School with me. He told me that he was assistant R.T.O. I "fell on his neck" and told him my trouble and he dumped me on the train at 3. I met Les Hamm at the station but he wasn't on leave. I changed trains at Etaples but there was no check up there on the way down and I heard some of the fellows tell how they picked up officers for duty on the boat so when we landed at Boulogne at 6 A.M. on April 7, I was among the last off the train and no one asked for my pass. I had breakfast at the officers mess and went to the dock just for the last minute rush at 11.15 and got on board. Once the boat pulled out I knew I wouldn't be sent back. A chap hated to start on leave, get the leave feeling and then be called back. We had a rough crossing and landed at Folkstone at 1 P.M. I wired Allie from Folkstone, took the train, had dinner and arrived London 3.10 to find the bank closed till Tuesday and no money. The Bank had a notice that officers on leave could get money at the pay office. I jumped into the taxi, slammed the door and broke a pane of glass for which I had to pay 5/. I got only £5 from the Pay office and no matter what I said that was all I'd get. I wanted to buy Allie's ring and £5 wouldn't get me inside the door. I went to 3 Whitehall Ct. where Aunty Maude and Tate were living and told them my trouble, but they were broke but took me out to supper at the Savoy and arranged for me to stop at Whitehall Ct. Owen Bryan lent me £1 and Aunt insisted I should have a bath. I went out and bought a pair of shoes and some underwear and had £1 left, not much to spend 3 days in London. I was bummed by Canadians on leave but I also was practically broke so couldn't help them. On Sunday, April 8 I went to Dixons at Fulham and spent the day there. I also cabled home.
Every Canadian I spoke to in London knew more about the Vimy attack than I did. Aunt Maude insisted it was to be Apr. 8. I told her it had been postponed but she said she had got her information from someone at Argyle House and it was authentic. I refused to argue and saw why the attack which at first was fixed for April 8 had been postponed till April 9.
On April 9 at 5.30 our boys kicked off on their attack on Vimy Ridge but I was safe in bed in London. I went to a movie in the afternoon, not having the price of a more expensive show. I borrowed some money and went to see High Jinks at the Adelphe. I felt mean being there seeing a good show and my mates in the midst of an attack and perhaps dead. It spoiled the evening for me. I saw Norm Warner and J.D. Adamson. On Tuesday, April 10, I was waiting at the Bank for it to open. I got my cheque cashed, paid all my bills and went with Tate to buy Allie's ring at Attenburys. I then put Tate in a taxi and caught the 11.45 from King's X for Grimsby. On the way up I met a naval officer who knew Red Mulock. I arrived at Grimsby at 5.45 and found Allie waiting for me. That night I gave her the ring with appropriate ceremonies. I got a cable from home.
Next day I went round visiting all my friends. I spent the evening with Allie. I had a wonderful time. I went to Frances for the night. Allie wasn't well next day. I went to the Blythes for the evening. Allie wasn't much better next day. I went to North Thoresby and saw Mrs Oakes, Miss Janey, Uncle Smith, Mrs. Townsend and Lizzie Mills. At night Allie was well enough to go to a show. I bought a cheap wrist watch.
Next day I went further round and had my picture taken. Allie gave me a signet ring.
Sunday we went to Flattergate Church and to Hewins in the afternoon and Ingamelles at night.
Allie decided to come to London with me, so we left Grimsby on April 16 and stopped at Boston and Peterboro and arrived at London at 9 P.M. We went out to Uncle Richard Dixons at 1 Darrel Road, Fulham.
Next day we saw "Zig Zag" in the afternoon and dug up Mrs Daisy Jackson. We had dinner at the Piccadilly and supper at the Savoy. We went to the Aristocrats at night. It was a tale of the French Revolution and was a bit too realistic for the last night of leave. It broke Allie up.
Mr. France had put my gold in safe when I was over on leave as a Corporal and he gave it back to me £33. I took it to the Bank and deposited it much to the amazement of the Teller who hadn't seen gold for years. He wanted to know where I got it. I told him I brought it over in 1914 and had kept it so he was satisfied.
I left Victoria Station on April 18, having arranged for Allie's passage back to Grimsby. At Shorncliffe I saw Fred Abbott and Abbie Coo, also Harry McKenzie. I left at 5.30 and after a stormy passage arrived a bit the worse for wear. Took the train to Boulogne for Etaples where I put up at the rest camp, a bunch of tents, two blankets, hard ground – quite a change from feather beds.
Next morning I left Etaples at 9.20, changed at St. Pol and got off at Calonne where all Canadians were detrained. I got a billet and stayed over night and next day caught a lorry and after several changes arrived at Houdain where the Batt. was billeted. Next day I was sent out to roll up tape which had been set out at Estree Couchie about half way between Houdain and Ecoivres. The Batt. moved to billets at Mont St. Eloy where I joined them. We were billeted in an old chateau, the whole battalion.
Sunday, April 22, I was ordered to report to the Divisional school at Ferfay as Lewis gun officer in charge of instruction. This was another bit of luck. First I am on leave at Vimy and then I am sent to a school.
Our Batt. had suffered seven casualties at Vimy and most of the officers were new.
On April 23 the Hun bombarded Mt. St. Eloy and a 9.2 shell hit the front door step killing the sentry and blew a hole thro the middle of the building where the Batt. was sleeping, destroying the room where my bed had been. Just another narrow escape. The band (including Capt. James of the Pats Band) were buried in the cellar and a lot of men killed including the orderly room Sergt.
I found the school at Ferfay under Major Niven of the P.P.C.L.I. One our sergts was in charge of Lewis guns and he told me not to worry, that we'd get by.
The school was in a chateau but we were billeted at a small house. Ferfay (Hayebraeck 5 A) is south of Lillers. There is little to the town except the chateau, a church and one or two houses. This was the same school as the one I attended in Feb. 17. The first, second, third and fourth divisions used the same school. My instructors were all men who had fought their guns in action and were in addition good instructors. They came from all units of the 1st division. At first I had to give them their head but I gradually took hold and after a bit started to check some of them up. I had to give lectures and oversee the training generally.
The days were taken up with training, one day much like another. Brayfield came down to take a job and a chap Robertson of the 13th. I lectured on the German gun. We played football, went to Lillers and loafed in our off hours. There wasn't much excitement but it was bombproof.
On April 28 the Batt. attacked the Arleux Loop and again I was on a bomb proof job.
On April 30 a new crowd of men arrived for a course and among them Lt. Cameron of the 107th and 8 Lewis gun N.C.O.s all experienced instructors. He wanted me to give his men jobs as instructors but I refused. My men had all served their turn in the line and his hadn't and mine were just as good instructors as his. I put them on fatigue jobs. He then tried to get my job. I had to fight him and get my work up and it was a tough job. The O.C. rather sided with Cameron and when we lined up in the mornings he would tell Cameron to march off the gunners. I managed to beat him to it by giving the commands before he did. He tried to change my plan of instruction but I told him that so long as I was in charge I'd do the arranging. One day the O.C. asked Cameron at mess what courses he had had. Cameron had taken every course in England. He then turned to me and asked me the same question. I told him I'd taken the divisional school course but I'd handled the guns in the line under active service conditions. The O.C. rather enjoyed the situation. He told Cameron to give the men a lecture. I knew unless I did something I was sunk so I took a mean advantage of Cameron. He gave them a highly technical lecture and when he was done I dragged out the German Gun and gave them a practical talk taking care to say that unlike Lt. Cameron I didn't know the name of any of the parts of the German Gun but I did know how it worked and anyway they didn't need to bother about the names because they couldn't get spare parts. I killed Cameron's lecture and the men still looked to me as boss instructor. Cameron finally gave up actively trying to get my job but as things afterwards turned out he was working just the same and he finally got it.
On May 5 the M.O. was going for a trip so I went with him, it being a half holiday after exams. We went to Villers Aux Bois, Hersen. I saw Waller, Naylor and St. Louis. We got back at 11 P.M.
A new class started in May 7. I was still in charge. Next day I heard that Daisy Jackson's husband had been killed at Arleux so I wrote her. I was warned that I was to go back to the unit as they were out for a rest after Arleux.
On May 9 I rejoined the Batt. at Ruitz, north east of Houdain, where I found the officers had changed thro casualties and a lot of new men were in the ranks. I started in to train every man in the Batt. in the use of the Lewis gun and the German gun. I also held courses for officers. My 16 days at the Divisional school put me in great shape. I brought some of my instructors back and by the time the Batt. went back in the line every man could strip and assemble the gun and had fired it. The regular crews of course had intensive courses.
We trained from May 9 to May 30 when the Batt. went back into the line.
Our billets in Ruitz were good and as we were there for 3 weeks we had things fixed up very nicely. The officers had a badminton court, the men had football, baseball and lacrosse. On May 11 General Byng inspected us.
On May 12 I went to the dentist at Houdain and had a back tooth filled. In the afternoon I played centre half for the Batt. vs 8th but we were beaten 2-1.
On Sunday, May 13, we had a big church parade. General Horne attended. After dinner we went to Bruay where our officers played indoor ball against the 1st Division staff including General Currie.
On May 15 Headquarters played "B" Co. (my old Co.) to a tie in football. Each Co. had a team and they ran a tournament. Hqrs beat "C" Co. 2-1.
On May 19 the Brigade had a demonstration of attacking strong points and a French Canadian showed how the tump line should be used.
On May 20 Canon Scott, Senior padre of the 1st Division held a church parade. He was very much liked by the men, but at times was a disturbing influence to the officers. He would ride up and ask if he could speak to the men. He would do so anyway so it was just as well to give him permission. He was a poet of merit and often quoted from his poems.
I lent Burbidge £10 on May 20 but never got it back. I fancy he thought I owed it to him for giving me the job.
About this time we were experimenting with a sling for carrying the Lewis gun when firing from the hip. The Hun had a harness for his maxim and his gunners could fire as they walked. We had a belt with a boot for the butt to rest in and put a sling round the gunner's shoulder with a ring on it. Just in front of the clamp around the barrel at the front we put a strap with a snap on it. The idea of the snap was so that the gun could be taken from a dead or wounded gunman easily. The 8th had a kicking strap around the small of the butt and no ring and snap. We insisted ours was the better idea and we practiced its use until both the gunners and I bec[a?]me "bugs" about it.
On May 21 Headquarters played football vs "D" Co. and lost 1-0. I was a bit stiff after this game.
On May 23 Col Ormand went on leave and Major Thompson took over command. We had brigade sports and we gave a demonstration of our sling. Sergt Hec. McDonald (my Lewis gun Sergt) acted as gun carrier and my last gunner was his No.1. The scheme was to start walking forward firing from the hip as we went and then drop to the ground and fire in the prone position and then get up and advance again. The idea being to show how easily the gun could be got off the sling. I explained this to a number of brass hats from other divisions and they were very interested. Unfortunately as the Sergt started off the gun kept getting a stoppage. The Brigadier turned to me and asked what was wrong. I went to find out and discovered that in winding the return spring the sergt had tested it with his finger in place of using the scale and in his excitement had too much tension with the result that the recoil couldn't force the handle back and we kept getting a No. 1 stoppage. The sergt fixed this and they started off very nicely but the effect was gone. Then when they to drop the gun, the No. 1 forgot to drop the support with the result that the gun went muzzle down into the ground and the whole exhibition was spoiled. I felt pretty badly because I had visions of touring the Army showing off this sling. The whole thing was a "flop" and the Brigadier gave me a sound "bawling" out. Major Thompson was so put out over it that he refused to recognize me for about 24 hours. I went to see Sergt MacDonald and told him not to worry. He was as badly cut up over it as I was, because he felt he had let me down. However, we still believed we had the problem of carrying the gun solved and were prepared to try it out in action next time there was a show. So passed a chance to become famous.
At night we all went to Bruay on horseback and had dinner. What a night! We all got home without any casualties.
Next day the Transport had their sports. We were doing all we could to keep the men's mind off the war.
On May 25 we went to Bruay and played a game of indoor ball against Division. At this time indoor (or soft) ball was played only by the officers and the men rather looked down on it.
That night we were reminded of the war by an aeroplane that dropped bombs near the town.
The weather was fine and we were in the summer season.
On May 26 I was sent for to Brigade and after a test between the 8th system of carrying the gun and ours, the Brigade Major decided in favor of the 10th platoon pattern and it was officially adopted for use in the second Brigade, so we didn't lose out altogether after all.
On Sunday, May 27, we played football vs the 8th. It was a hot day and we were all in after the hour's play but neither side could score.
Next day we journeyed to the 3rd Brigade area and played baseball and won 7-1. I played 1st base.
Next day we finished our series of football games by playing "A" Co. to a draw. "D" Co. won the series with 4 wins against our two, a draw and a loss to them. Bill Morton was their star performer.
May 30 was the end of the training period and the Batt. was warned to return to the line. I was ordered to report to Ferfay to instruct in the Lewis gun, not at the Divisional School but at a special Brigade school. It was found that men were being sent over under-trained and the Brigade decided to put on a school of its own. The Divisional school was still to operate. Major Sparling of the 10th Batt. was in command and he told me he was going to carry on without an officer but when I got to the school I found Lt. Cameron late 107th installed as Lewis gun officer so he won out after all and his men were the instructors. However, I got all the second Brigade men for our new school. Among those on the staff were: Belcher of the 8th, Gleam of the 10th and several others.
On May 31st the new 2nd Brigade school was opened at Burbure about 3½ miles from Ferfay and about 2½ miles south of Lillers on the St. Pol road. I was billeted in a school master's house with Chas. Belcher. The town was small but we were very comfortable.
We first received a draft for the 7th and started them on our course. I had them for half a day and then turned them over to one of the other instructors. The men were given a 10 day course and in that time every man got a course in Lewis gun, drill, bombing, etc. We had 3 groups altogether and broke up after 25 days as other arrangements were made. My schools and bomb proof jobs never lasted long but were very useful. Some of the men we trained were good, others hopeless but we gave them all we could.
On June 1 I went to Ferfay and saw Bombadier Wells give a boxing exhibition with one of our sporting padres. Wells was an instructor at one of the Imperial schools at Pernes.
Next day I went round with my Sergt and located a place where we could fire our guns. It was always a problem because we were back among the civilians and there was always danger of accidents. We found and old sand pit and fitted it with targets. I had trouble with one civilian over the use of his field but we carried on.
On June 7 the Army put on an offensive at Wycheate Ridge. We could hear the heavy firing in the distance. We were 15 miles west of La Basse and 20-25 miles from Ploegsteert.
On June 8 we went to Ferfay and played the 3rd Divisional school at football and won 3-0.
Next day we played baseball against the 3rd Brigade school but were beaten.
After a lot of trouble I got the German machine gun from Cameron at the Divisional school. He couldn't use it and didn't want me to have it. I had to get our O.C. to get it thro the O.C. of the Divisional School. I gave each class a course on the use of the German gun.
On June 11 we had a draft for the 5th. Next day General McDonnell visited the school.
Next day we played football against the 13th Corps school but lost 2-1 after a good game. We got a draft for the 10th Batt the same day.
Next day we played soft ball against the 3rd Brigade school. Classes were going on all the time and we felt we were doing a good job. We organized sports for them and got equipment from the Y.M.C.A.
My legs ached a lot after the various games.
On June 21 we went to Lillers and went thro a shoe factory. Most of the workers were women.
We were getting a bit of wet weather and had to work inside but with Lewis gun instruction this was not much of a handicap. On June 23 we visited the 3rd Brigade school and beat them 2-0 at football. At night we had quite a time with some of the girls of the village. We got them playing football and then they produced a skipping rope and we tried it but not very successfully.
On June 25 we were advised that the school was to break up so we cleaned the guns and returned them to the Divisional school.
We left Burbure at 6 A.M. on June 26 and arrived (by foot) at Olhain at 11.30 after a 12 mile march. We were a bit chafed by our packs. We messed with the ASC and next day left for the 2nd Brigade Training school under Major Critchley located at a point about 1 mile north west of Mont. St. Eloy in a field. This was to take the place of the school at Burbure. The scheme was to have a composite company from each Batt. in the Brigade. This really made a reserve Batt. for the Brigade. Each Co. sent a certain number of men, not all new men and regular training was undertaken. I was put in command of "D" Co which was the 10th Batt. Co. I had 4 officers with me as platoon officers.
I was bothered with boils at this time and had one on each cheek but the M.O. didn't volunteer to do anything for them so I didn't report for treatment.
This new job gave me lots of work. I had to get my parade state, arrange a syllabus of training and see that it was carried out. We had drills, Batt. schemes, church parades, and had sports for the men. I remained at this school 8 days and then was relieved by Capt. Watson of the 10th. I had been sent two new Lieuts who had been Sergts. They refused to do duty and I reported them to the O.C. (Critchley). He suggested I send them back to the Batt. which was at rest at Ecoivres. I sent two of them back and in half an hour or so they were back with a letter from Col. Ormand. I at once went to see Ormand and told him I couldn't carry on if I wasn't upheld. He decided the best thing to do was to send Capt. Watson to replace me and put me back at my Lewis gun job. I was glad to get back to the unit.
On July 5 I took over the Lewis gun job and started regular classes.
On July 6 I went over to the 78th Batt and saw Bill Johnson, Mike Mitchell and Monte McKenzie.
On July 7th I went with Capt. Bill Herridge (staff Capt. 2nd Brigade, to Oritz.
On July 9 we went on a route march. We got an issue of slugs for carrying the Lewis guns.
On July 11 we were lined up along the road north of Mont St. Eloy and were reviewed by the King. We had a long wait for the King to arrive and it sprinkled a bit.
On July 13 we moved to Gauchin Legal, about an 8 mile march north west. The day was hot and the march was long enough. We billeted over a school and next day marched to Les Brebis, north of Bully Grenay, about 10 miles of a march. We arrived at dark and as we entered the village the Germans shelled it. We found the civilians in the cellars. We got good billets. Mine was with a widow and her daughter. We billeted in this place several times prior to the Hill 70 show and got quite friendly with them. Fiddes was still my batman.
On July 15 I went up the line to Loos to take over the line from the 2nd Durham Light Infantry. They knew we were in to take the Hill. Next day I went over the area with the Col. From this time on I went the rounds with the Col. every morning. It saved a runner and I was able to check up the guns at the same time. We remained in this area 3 days and were relieved by the 15th Batt. and moved to a new area at the right of the old one. The new area didn't have as good a dugout as the old one. We stayed two days in the line and then moved back to Les Brebis. We slept in next day and then cleaned up and wrote letters.
On July 22nd I was sent to Barlin to billet the Batt. It was a long job as very few could be put in each place. I got a good billet for myself. We stayed there 9 days training for the Hill 70 show. They had laid out dummy trenches at Aix Noulette to show the Hill 70 area and we went there to go thro a practice attack on two occasions. Division had also laid out a model of the ground at Houchin, taken from aeroplane photos. We went to look over the ground there twice. Division had gone to a lot of trouble over this show. They had done the same for Vimy.
On July 30 the Divisional O.C. gave us a talk about the job we had to do. We expected to go up the line but the trip was canceled. We were now running into rain.
On Aug. 1 I went into the line but the move was canceled and I returned to Barlin. Apparently we were to attack on Aug. 3 or 4 but for reasons known to the staff the attack was called off but we knew it was only postponed.
On Aug. 4th we relieved the 5th Batt. in the line in front of Loos. After two days we were relieved by the 8th. The relief was slow but we finally got rid of the job and I got a lift home to Les Brebis.
I got new slings for the guns. We were still practicing with the sling and were prepared to give it a good try out in the Hill 70 Show.
On Aug. 8 I checked over the companies and then left Les Brebis for tents at Fosse 2 in front of Les Brebis. It rained which made things rather miserable.
Next day I issued buckets for the gunners to carry ammunition. Later in the day we left Fosse 2 for Hersin where we stopped 4 days. I had a good billet with Easterbrooke. I started the Lewis gun classes. I saw Bob Donald and Arch. St. Louis. Bob had not yet joined the Batt.
On Aug. 13 we left Hersin and marched to Les Brebis and outfitted and then moved into the line relieving the 4th Batt.
The attack on Hill 70 was fixed for Aug. 15 at 4.25 A.M. This was a Hill which commanded a view of the back areas around Loos and as they wished to pinch off Lens it was decided to take Hill 70. Hills were named by their elevation e.g. Hill 63 (Messines area), Hill 60 (Ypres) and Hill 70 (Loos).
We spent all day Aug. 14 getting ready for the attack. I checked over the guns, ammunition and talked to the various crews and impressed on them the necessity of trying out the slings. I was detailed as liaison officer to the 16th and at midnight I reported to Col. Si Peck of the 16th in his dugout well below the surface. He didn't pay any attention to me as I might as well not have been there.
At 4.25 Aug. 15, 1917, the 5th and 10th kicked off on the right and the 16th on the left of the 10th. I sent reports to the O.C. by runner along a tunnel connecting the 16th Headquarters and the 10th. When Col. Si Peck left the dugout with his pipe to follow up his men I reported to Col. Ormand who ordered me to report back to him. The 5th and 10th took all their objectives but the 7th and 8th were held up at the chalk pit and the day ended with the objectives still untaken. I went up to Cameron Sap (a forward dugout) with Major Lefebvre. This dugout had a shaft in it about 15 feet deep that went down to a lower level where a tunnel ran back to the Loos Crassier. We got our bombs and supplies up to Cameron Sap along this tunnel which was cut thro the chalk. The tunnel was narrow and low and had about 3 or 4 inches of water in it, so that it was a hard job getting supplies up by this route.
On the morning of Aug. 16 Templeman and I went up to the Red Line which was the objective set for the 10th. Things were as quiet as the grave, like a morning after the storm but it was only a lull. We found many of our men dead and wounded. Brigade ordered the 10th to attack again. There was a feeling that it was suicide to go forward with so few men. The companies were reduced to nearly ¼ strength but when the order was issued the men went forward and at 4 P.M. they had taken the chalk pit which the 8th should have taken. The Germans counterattacked but our men held on, tho there were rumors brought back to us by wounded that the 5th were being driven back. Things were in confusion. We had a lot of German prisoners in the Sap and they were bringing up bombs from the tunnel. I was afraid the prisoners might hear the reports and take a chance on rushing us so I ordered them all up into the trench. They didn't want to go because the shelling was very heavy but I drew my revolver and hustled them up. One of the men was too wounded to go up so we put him in a bucket and let him down the shaft. The rope slipped about two inches and he let out a yell. He thought he was dropping to the bottom. I then sent our own wounded down the same way having tested it with a heavy German.
The O.C. sent up word that I was to go up and see how things were and report. It wasn't a pleasant prospect. Pitch dark, trenches blown in, not knowing where our men were, heavy shelling. However, there was nothing else to do so I set out with Sergt. Stone and a couple of others. We followed the German communication trench and looked in every dugout to see if any runners were taking shelter. We found a runner, an Indian, and sent him back with the first message to reach us from the front line since the trouble started. We went on and when we were down one dugout we heard a voice calling to see if there were "any officers down there". I called to him to come down and the man started down but slipped and fell down the rest of the steep stairs. He turned out to be one of our own men, named Brown. His left arm was mangled and he had a bad wound in the hip. We pulled a wounded German out of a bunk because he wasn't as badly hurt as Brown. We were first inclined to cut the arm off as it was hanging only by a bit of flesh, but we feared we would cut an artery, so we bound it up and bound up his side. Before we did that however, he said he had an important message and took it out of his tin hat. It gave the location and situation at the front and I at once sent it back to headquarters. After we made him as comfortable as possible, I gave orders to some stretcher bearers, who were taking shelter in the dugout, to take him out as soon as it got quiet and then we went forward till we got to Capt. Carey's headquarters. We got the situation from him and then went back to Cameron Sap and went in a detailed report. My batman Fiddes was blown up by a shell but wasn't hurt but badly frightened. During the night the 4th Batt. took over in the Red and Green lines and our men came back. I had gone to sleep after making my report. When I awoke I found Brown wasn't in yet, so I sent Sgt. Stone and a carrying party for him. It was quiet and they brought him back overland. He was cheerful and smoked a cigarette but died in the dressing station. It appeared that he and another man had started with a message each and in going thro the barrage the other man was killed and Brown received a bad wound in the hip. He dragged himself along the trench for what to him seemed like miles and then another shell mangled his arm. He continued till he got to the dugout where I was and Hadn't strength to walk down. I made a report on Brown and as a result he was awarded a V.C. A report of his exploit appears in the Child's Book of Knowledge but the account is hardly in accordance with the facts.
On Aug. 17 we closed our advance headquarters at Cameron Sap and reported back to Headquarters. We were relieved by a company of the 1st Batt. but there was a mix up over the relief and we had to remain until 3 A.M. the next day. The Germans laid down a heavy gas barrage and we wore our helmets for 3 hours. Finally at 3.30 we left by way of the salent tunnel thro the Loos slag heap. In the tunnel I found a large number of our men and no one in charge. The tunnel had gas curtains at each end so we didn't have to wear our gas masks. The road out led thro Loos which was very low lying. I told the men to leave their mouth pieces in their mouth no matter what happened but if they couldn't see to take off the eye pieces as a last resort. We started out but found the going very bad thro broken iron, wire, etc. and men were being cut because they couldn't see, so we took off our eye pieces and got thro the gas. As we were clearing the town the Germans started to shell and shelled us all the way to Fosse 2 where we found tents behind a slag heap N.W. of Loos. During the 18th Aug. the 4th Batt. fought off a strong German counter attack or we would probably have had to go back in. One of the officers had to go back to help bury our dead. My eyes were starting to hurt as a result of the gas but after a few days they cleared up and I was none the worse. Some of the men who came out with me went to Hospital and I was called on the carpet about it. Being gassed was considered carelessness.
At night we left the tents and went to Barlin where we stayed the day and at night we went to Bruay where we had good billets. Bruay was a mining town well back of the lines. I got report of the guns and got the shortages. I was very disappointed in the reports on the gun harnesses. The men found they couldn't carry the Lewis gun in the harness and fire it as they walked because of the holes, the gun being too heavy and all the weight being ahead of the body, as the pannier had to be clear of the body to allow it to rotate. I made a report on the guns to headquarters. We played a game of softball against a team on which General Currie was playing.
On Aug. 21 I was ordered to pick a gun crew and report to headquarters. I thought it was for an inspection or a demonstration and I picked my best crew. When I got to headquarters they ordered me to get my bedroll and 24 hours rations to report to Brigade but no suggestion of the job in hand. We reported to brigade and found three other crews – 5th, 7th and 8th. I was put in charge and told to get on a bus. Then for the first time we learned that we were going to Isbergues, about 4½ Kilos S.E. of Aire to guard an iron factory. We had a nice ride of 35 Kilos over hills and valleys, woods, towns, villages till we came in sight of Isbergues. It was a bit of a shock to see houses destroyed and big holes in the street so far back of the line. We learned that the Hun had been bombing the factory and we were sent to do anti-aeroplane guard. We weren't so fussy. The rest of the unit was enjoying themselves at Bruay and we were stuck in a deserted town that was visited by aircraft. We found nearly all the inhabitants had left and boarded up their homes. There were two Estaminets open by the day but the occupants left at night. The factory was manned mostly by women and they had some bomb proof shelters in the factory and everytime the air craft signal went they all ran for these shelters. We had a good billet in a deserted chateau, fully equipped even to a piano. I found a machine gun officer there and two of us ran the show. I rigged up two guns, one in the yard of the factory and another on a slag heap. This gave us a cone of fire over the factory. I had four crews, one from each batt, so I had two crews to a gun and I gave instructions that when the alarm went only the crew on duty need stay, the others could get out of town so long as they were back by relief time. We stayed here from Aug. 21 to Aug. 28 and the Hun came over three times and circled round but never dropped a bomb. It was a nasty feeling sitting with a gun crew looking up and expecting a bomb every minute. One of the boys favorite expression was, "For God's sake lay that egg and get on with it." We had a telephone in the factory and as soon as an enemy aircraft crossed our line word came back to the look out and he sounded the alarm. It was funny to see the Frenchmen on the donkey engine start to gabble and run their engine back to the factory as soon as the whistle blew. Twice I had to get out of bed to go to the guns. The night before we arrived the Hun had come over and dropped bombs, three in the back yard of our billet, one in the front and one in the middle of the factory.
I sent Fiddes my batman to Bruay to see about rations, etc. We had no dixies to cook our meals and only 24 hours rations per man. We finally got dixies from the 5th Batt. and I got rations from the 23rd Co. of the Motor Transport of the Royal Engineers. We started to build dugouts at our gun posts the third day. The men rather enjoyed the job, except the raids. They could wander quite a bit and I had an idea that most of them found French girls to put in the spare time with. The machine gunner and I spent a lot of our time at one of the estaminets. He at one and I at the other. I went for walks round the district, one to Berguette, the Hazebroock-Lilliers line where the civilians were all at home and got tea and cakes. We got pay through the motor machine gun in the district and finally got mail, so for a bunch of homeless ones we did pretty well, no brass hats to bother us and we lived like kings, no parades or inspections, so long as the men were on the job at relief time I didn't worry them, tho I did check up on their billets to see they kept them clean.
In spite of the night alarms, we were sorry when the Cyclists and 107th Batt. Lewis gunners relieved us on Aug. 29 and we reported back to our units. It was raining and we went back by motor. We found the Batt. at Cacourt in a valley just off the Arras Road near Gauchin-Lega. The officers were all billeted in a chateau and for the first time and last time, we had a Batt. mess. I paid 30 fr. a week. The M.O. (Dr. McNair) and I bunked together. Next day I started Lewis gun classes for the Batt. The day after I arrived we had a big Batt dinner. A lot of the chaps got pretty tight. Altho the mess was a dry one, each man had his own bottle. Lt. Edwards sang "The drinking song" a song he had sung in winning an award at the musical festival at Edmonton. We had a lot of new officers and it took a bit getting to know them. I didn't tie up with any one because it made it too tough when they got killed, so I more or less kept to myself but tried to be friendly with them all.
On Aug. 31 a large memorial service was held by General Currie in a large field with a wood in the back ground. After the ceremony he presented the M.C. D.C.M. and M.M. ribbons to those who had been awarded them.
We started to play football but the 31st Batt. defeated us 2-0. I played centre half. I met Robertson of the Brits after the game and we had supper at Viller Chattel.
On Sept. we moved to Barlin and from there I was sent to a gas school at Coupigny, just south of Hersin. We were in huts outside the town and had gas chambers, trenches, bombing pits for gas bombs and we received a full course of instruction in "gas" protection and use. It was a 5 day course made up of lectures and demonstrations. We got reams of notes. We had night attacks and on the last day had exams, and competitions. The officers won the relay race with gas masks on. I won second place in speed adjustment of the respirator. We had a great bunch – fellows from all units. We had one young chap from the R.C.R.s. He had the loudest pyjamas ever seen. They were making fun of him and some one said, "He is a permanent gentleman, you eggs are only temporary gentlemen." (referring to the fact that he was permanent force and we were only duration and 6 mos.) We had a lot of fun at the school in spite of the long hours. Someone had a Decca gramophone and we had music every night.
On Sept. 8 the school broke up and we rejoined our units. I found the Batt. at Aix Noulette. We played football and I found I was a bit stiff. Next day, Sept. 9, was Sunday. We held a church parade and then left for the line going up thro Angers to Lieven really a suburb of Lens. This was our first trip in the Lens area. We played football vs the 13th at night and baseball next day against the 16th but were beaten. Next morning we all went out to the ranges for Lewis gun practice. We played the divisional train football, but were beaten 1-0. An officers course in Lewis guns was put on and I found they were pretty poor on their knowledge of the gun. I thought my leave was coming thro but it turned out to be a false alarm.
On Sept. 13 I sent an order to Lewis Moses, 67 New Oxford St. for a tunic with a cheque £5-10-0. At night we went to the west edge of Lieven in a large chateau. The Batt. was in the line on the outskirts of Lens and we had a Batt. Headquarters in a chateau that was well concreted, work of the Germans before he was pushed back during the Hill 70 show. I went round the companies to check up on the gun positions. This was a different front from any yet. The trenches were thro the streets and houses were strong points and cellars were dug outs. Everything was so mixed up you had to be careful or you would take the wrong turn and get into the German line. No one knew just where the Hun was half the time. It was a ticklish front. He had only recently been driven out by the other divisions and he was always raiding. As a result we were continually having alarms. I was glad I was a Lewis Gun officer and at Headquarters and not a company officer. I went round the companies each morning with the Colonel.
On Sept. 17 the Hun shelled Lieven all day and we all had to stay inside. Our headquarters were bombproof so we were safe enough. The German had dugouts even under the cellar and the whole was reinforced with steel and concrete.
On Sept. 17 my leave came thro at last and at night I left for the transport at 8.30 and slept at the transport. Next morning, Sept. 18, I got my leave warrant and got the mess cart and left for the rail head at Au Bigny. I got a train at 1.20 A.M. Sept. 19 and arrived at Boulogne at 6.30. I saw Sgt. Gow of the Postal Corps at the station and went over to the Hotel and had breakfast. The leave boat left at 10.30 and after 2 hours of being sea sick we arrived at Folkstone at 12.30 noon. I would have given up my leave a couple of times to be back on dry land. We caught a train at 1 P.M. and were in London 2.15. I drew £20-0-0, went to Lewis Moses and ordered a pair of breeches and caught the 4 P.M. train from Kings X for Grimsby. I saw Mrs. Seden at Peterboro on the way thro and arrived at 47 Legsby Ave. at 8 P.M. I cabled Mother at once so she would know that for the next 10 days I would be O.K. I stopped with Allie at 47 Legsby and went to visit Frances with her, went to the theatre and visited Blythes, Hewins and generally enjoyed myself. Allie got half day off and we talked over the question of getting married and decided to wait to see how I got on. I wrote a lot of letters to friends in Canada and wrote to May Dixon to get us theatre tickets. On Sept.24 I helped Allie move to 161 Legsby Ave. and went to Thoresby. At night we had a raid scare. Just after got to bed a chap came round telling us to put our lights out. We got up and stayed down stairs till it was over. The Zeps came over but didn't drop any bombs on Grimsby. I bought a new watch (wrist) and some new underwear and visited Harry Smiths at Cleethorpes. I bought Allie a silver tray for her set. On Sept. 26 we went to E. Holton. I spent most of my days roaming round to Blythes, Aunt Dixons and down town until Allie was thro work and in the evening we went somewhere.
On Sept. 28 I left Grimsby at 9.05. Again saw the Sedens on the way thro and saw Sgt. Gow in London. I put up at the Strand Palace Hotel and went out to Fulham. May Dixon and I went into London to see a show but there was an air raid on and she didn't want to chance it, so we went back to Fulham and spent the evening there.
On Sept. 29 I left London at 7.50 A.M. Met Bury and McKenzie of the 10th and had a good crossing for a change and so ended another 10 days leave. I stopped at the Hotel de Paris in Boulogne and went to the pictures at night. On Sept. 30 at 11 A.M. we left Boulogne and arrived at AuBigny at 5. saw Phipps Baker at Aubigny, caught a bus to the transport lines and the boys began to congratulate me on being awarded the M.C. I could hardly believe it and thought the boys were fooling me. However, it turned out that the Col. had recommended me for the work I did on Aug. 16 at Hill 70. I at once wrote Allie, Mother and all and sundry at home giving them the glad news.
On Oct. 1 I rode up to Lievin with the Col. and next day started the old routine, going the rounds of the Cos. in supports with the O.C. in the morning, loafing, and sleeping all day and taking shifts on the adjutants desk while he slept at night. Next day I made a sketch of our front for use in making reports and on Oct. 3 we relieved the 7th in the front line. C and D Co.s had a rough time of it but didn't have many casualties. Went round next day with Rodford showing him the front, ran across Major Snapper Culver. On Oct. 4 we were relieved by the 4th Batt. and went back to huts near Marqueffles farm (S.W. of Aix Noulette.) It was cold at night in the huts. Winter was starting to come on.
On Oct. 7 we moved to Guay Servins and were billeted in huts. I ran across Les Moffat, Mountford and Andy Manson with the 44th. It was rainy and I felt pretty tough. I got a supply of M.C. ribbon and put it up. Next day we started our Batt. mess and I put in an indent for Lewis gun shortages. I was billeted with Easterbrooke, who was signalling officer. He was in great spirits because he was going back to Canada as an instructor. On Oct. 9 his warrant came thro and we gave him a big send off on Oct. 10. It was one wild evening and we forgot the rain outside. After Easterbrooke left I was responsible temporarily for the signal section. We had a concert at night, a very good one. Canon Scott told of his trip to Paris, when he lost half of his troops. McDonnell went on leave to Canada Oct. 11. We envied him a bit, but I felt that leave to Canada just meant parting all over again and I wouldn't go thro that for anything.
On Oct. 12 we moved to Houdain and were billeted in a large house. I was put in charge of the mess, which meant collecting the mess dues and seeing that the supplies were kept up. Any complaints came to me. Pinkey Templeman went to a school from here and Major Lefebvre returned. I started the Lewis Gun classes again. Everytime we were out it was my duty to train the Lewis gun crews, lecture them on theory and practice with the gun.
On Oct. 16 we were reviewed by General Horne of the 1st Army. This meant only one thing, trouble. Rumors were thick. Passchendaele, Arros, Somme, but one thing was sure it meant a fight. We continued our training and on Oct. 18 we knew what was going to happen. General McDonnell O.C. 1st Division addressed us and told us that we were going north to take part in the battle of Passchendaele that had been going on for some time.
No time was lost and on Oct. 19 at 9 A.M. we started. When we were close to the line we marched by night and slept by day but when we were back we reversed the procedure, so this trip was by day. Our first march was to Busnes about 25 kilos. We had very poor billets. I borrowed a bicycle and went to Isbergues to see the people at the estaminet but there was too big a crowd. It was cloudy weather and the Hun wasn't sending over his aircraft as much and there were more people and troops in Isbergues. I Hung around a bit and went back to our billets. On Oct. 20 we continued our march going to Steenbect or Steenbecque, on the main road between Aire and Hazebrouck, only about 7 kilos as the crow flies but about 15 kilos by road. We had good billets. My feet were standing the strain well. On Oct. 21 we had a longer march to Nieppe about 30 kilos and stood the march well. We were billeted in the mess. We were now back in the old Ploegsteert area. Two of us slept on the floor of the mess but we didn't mind. We remained at Nieppe, till Nov. 4 training and getting in shape for the attack on Passchendaele. On Oct. 22 the Duke of Connaught reviewed us, the usual spit and polish. I found a place to fire the Lewis guns and put the men thro some strenuous training. On Oct. 24 we were out as usual when the Brigadier General Loomis rode up. He watched us for a bit and then asked me how I fired at aeroplanes. I told him I had asked that question of everyone I sent to a school and none of them had any idea and the only thing I could suggest was to set up a barrage in front of the plane and hope it would fly into it. That I was sure it was only a matter of luck if a Lewis gun brought down a plane. He asked me how many anti aircraft sights I had and I said 3. He turned to his Brigade Machine gun officer and said, "Were not 4 issued?" I admitted that 4 were issued but only 3 were Lewis gun sights and the 4th was for Vickers. The Brigade officer insisted there was no difference. I respectfully differed with him but the Brigadier said he preferred to accept the statement of his own officer and that if I ran a business the way I did my guns I'd be broke in a month. He gave me a general bawling out before the troops and then rode away. When I got back to camp the O.C. (General Ormand) said the Brigadier had been and I was to go to the Army workshops and get more sights. After dinner the Brigade Major (MacKenzie) called in his car and we went first to Steenuorde but they had no sights there and then to the army workshop at Hazbrouck. The N.C.O. brought out a Vickers sight. I said it was no good and he insisted there was no difference but I said a Major could talk to me but he couldn't and insisted on his getting the Lewis Gun drawings. He brought it out and showed the Brigade Major that there was a ¼ to ½ inch difference in the diameter between the two sights which would throw the fire many hundreds of feet out. We ordered half a dozen for the 10th and rode back to camp. I was satisfied because I had proved that I knew what I was talking about.
We had instruction as usual the next day and on Oct. 26 we all went to Poperinghe to see a model of the front we were to attack. It showed pill boxes, concrete boxes on top of the ground with openings for machine guns. The ground was so wet they had to build them on top. They were something new to us. Next day we had our helmets painted a dirty brown so they wouldn't show too much.
Oct. 28 was my 29th birthday but it was more than that. I was decorated with the M.C. ribbon by General Currie and also took over the adjutants job. (Jack Miller having gone back to England on leave. I gave a lecture next day on "gas" and on the Lewis gun to the N.C.O.s and got on with the adjutants work. Next day I held a summary court and took the evidence to be used at a court martial.
We started training as a Batt and had Battalion in attack with special reference to dealing with pill boxes and strong holds. I drew my first movement order on Nov. 3 and on Nov. 4 we left by train for Brandhock on the Poperinghe-Ypres railway line. We went into tents at Darby lines. Everywhere were troops, a great concentration. We fitted up a Lewis gun anti aircraft post near headquarters and hopped for the bed. It hardly seemed possible that a bomb could be dropped without hitting something. We stayed two days in camp – during which time there was a lot of horseplay letting down tents at night, etc. It wasn't very comfortable and we were running into the rainy season. On Nov. 7 we moved into Ypres but there was a mix up over our billets and we finally got located in cellars with the 123rd Batt. They were good chaps and made us comfortable but filled us full of the trouble we were in for. They were just coming out.
On Nov. 8 we moved to a camp at St. Jean. It was raining and the camp was a sea of mud. If we thought there was a concentration back at Ypres, we hadn't seen anything till we got to St. Jean. There were troops, horse lines end to end. The Hun sent a plane over the first night. He was fired on by thousands of rifles but sailed over, dropped his bombs and went back. We got off without any trouble. On Nov. 9 we started at 2 P.M. into the worst mess the unit had had. Two things were against us, man and nature. The mud was waist deep and it rained almost continually. The engineers had laid wooden dick walks over the mud and we went up by track No. 5 which brought us out on the Gravenstafel road just about where Ravebeek crosses the road at march bottom. If you stepped off the track you sank almost to the hips in mud. How the 3rd and 4th Divs. crossed this was always a mystery to me.
We went up the cobbled road to the top of Bellevue spur and established our headquarters in a pill box by the same name. The troops were lying in open trenches wet to the skin and the rain still came down. We relieved the 14th in support of the 8th. Soon after we got in, the Hun started a bombardment and our R.S.M. was killed and the sentry was blown into the dugout. I pulled him in and tried to bind him up. everyone else beat it. Some of the shells contained phosphorous and it was almost impossible to breathe, but the sentry had to be looked after. In the next compartment I could hear Pinky Tempeman say to Fitzroy (the scout officer) "Get out of the way, you dying B–––– and give a living man a chance." As they both tried to get out of the entrance at once. After the bombardment let up everyone came back and we got the wounded sentry carried back to the dressing station in the pill box at Waterloo Farm. (This pill box was still there in 1923 when I revisited this part of the front.) Col Ormand and I lay all night in the pill box. It was so low you couldn't sit up. The water started to run in from the trench outside. It was one of the most uncomfortable nights I ever put in and yet we were 100% better off than the company officers who were out in the open. The shelling kept up all night. On the way in we passed our own artillery, practically wheel to wheel. I never saw such a concentration of artillery and between the Hun fire and ours the night was deafening.
At 6.05 on Nov. 10, 1917, the 7th and 8th attacked amid a heavy bombardment and they got a terrible cutting up and the enemy counterattacked and we had a scare that the 7th and 8th were driven back and that we were being surrounded. There was no truth in but no one knew what was going on. At night the 10th and 5th relieved the 7th and 8th and we moved up to Meetcheele and took quarters in a large pill box. It was roomier than Bellevue but we found a dead German buried to the waist in one entrance that had been blown in by our shells. We couldn't get him out and had to look at him all night. No one knew where the front was and Col. Ormand went out himself to Vindictive Cross Roads north of Passchendaele and personally paced off the distance the outpost should be. It was one of the bravest things I'd seen. A Colonel deliberately leaving the comparative safety of a pill box and going up with a runner to a front he knew nothing of and placing the troops where, according to Brigade report, they should be. The 8th were not in position when our men went up to relieve them and the company officers did not know where the exact front was and so reported to us at headquarters. The 8th had reported they were 100 yards beyond the Cross roads, so Ormand went out and saw that we were on the line. He invited the O.C. of the 5th to go with him but he couldn't see the need. It rained all night and our runners had difficulty in getting messages up and back. The road was full of shell holes and these were full of water and many of the wounded fell into the shell holes and were drowned. Nov. 11 was a quiet day. Both sides were reorganizing and carrying out their wounded. At night the 58th Batt. came in and relieved us and we were never so glad to get out of any place. I was very lucky in being adjutant at this time. It was the safest job in the unit and outside of discomfort and the fear that there would be a direct hit on the pill box I had comparatively little to worry about. The Col. and I walked out after the Batt. was relieved and every time we would sit down to rest we would find we were in front of a battery and would have to get up and move. The concussion from the firing would almost knock your head off. We were shelled all the way out but arrived at "C" camp Wieltje safely. On Nov. 12 we moved by train (by night of course) to Brandhoeil and spent the day cleaning up and writing letters to let our folks know we were safely out of the hell called Passchendaele. On Nov. 13 Capt. Miller returned from leave and I went back to the Lewis gun job and got reports from the gun crews.
On Nov. 14 we moved from Darby camp at Brandhoeil to Le Sart (east of Merville) by bus and the following day we left Le Sart at 9 A.M. and arrived at Fouquer Euil (S.W. of Bethune) at 11, going by bus. We had good quarters and the first thing we did was to get a bath. We stayed there 3 days. I had a good billet with a family. We spent the time making a list of our Lewis gun shortages writing letters, etc. We marched from Fouquer Euil to Vancouver huts at Chateau dela Haie. On Nov. 18 we were back in our old Vimy area again after being away one month. We had covered a lot of ground and had some stirring experiences in that month. I got my Christmas cards here and sent them out. Col. Thompson (formerly a major with us) had been killed and I attended his funeral on Nov. 20th. We saw a lot of the boys in the other units, including Wes. Cooke, and the boys at the 2nd Brigade school. I started Lewis gun drill and gave a lecture on the German gun. We had concerts and some sports tho it was too wet for much of this.
On Nov. 22 we moved to Carency and the Batt. went into the line at Lieven. I stayed at the Transport and joined the transport mess and looked after drafts and sending up Lewis gun supplies. We had a very easy time of it. I did such jobs as came up, being nominally rear or asst. adjutant. It was too good to last and I finally got orders to come up the line.
On Dec. 1, 1917, I reported to the O.C. at Lievin and took over from Capt. Miller who went back to the transport. The idea was that we would take turns. Capt. Miller to do one tour in the line and I the next. It was a fine idea but it didn't work out because Capt. Miller was ordered back to England as a replacement officer and I took over the adjutant's job, without the rank or pay – tho I got it afterwards. I had a little trouble at first particularly with Major Aikens over work parties. The rest of the trip was purely routine. As adjutant I didn't get out of the headquarters and didn't get round the front. I was tied to the office all day but was relieved by the other officers while I got some sleep. We had a comparatively uneventful trip and were relieved by the 7th Batt. on Dec. 8 and went into support. We had a bombardment at night but got out without any casualties. On Dec. 9 I had trouble with Sgt. Wright. He refused to go up the line claiming he was unfit. I had the M.O. examine him and he pronounced him fit. He stilled refused so I placed him under close arrest charged with disobedience of an order.
We were relieved on Dec. 11 by the 15th Batt. and rode back to Vancouver huts. I sent Fiddes on ahead to get ready and when I got to my hut I found he had put the Sam Browne belt over the candle and burnt it and he hadn't taken the boots out of my bedroll. I got up next day early because the O.C. had decided to hold orderly room. Fiddes didn't show up till after I'd shaved and dressed and I fired him. He had been unsatisfactory for months but I hated to send him back to his company because he had just got married, but it was too much when I sent him out early to do a job and he didn't do it. I asked the C.O. to send up a batman and I picked out a Scotchman, "Scotty" Stewart. He had never been a batman before but turned out to be a dandy. The first two days in camp were spent getting cleaned up. On Dec. 14 we all voted on prohibition in Canada. Bill Baily of Winnipeg had been stumping the army for the drys. I fancy the army voted pretty wet. We held a concert on Dec. 15. Everytime we were out we tried to arrange a concert, to break the monotony. It didn't always work out but we did our best. After a bit you got to know each others stuff. On Sunday, Dec. 16, we had a church parade. Canon Scott, server Padre of 1st Division, held the service. It snowed on Dec. 17 and the same day we moved to Noulette huts. We had a very comfortable billet in a brick hut. We were there two days, both very cold and on Dec. 19 we moved to Houdain Camp "A". We had a fair billet but the Batt. as a whole weren't very well billeted. It took two days for the companies to settle down. We had a meeting of company officers at night to arrange for Christmas. It was arranged to have dinner by companies. On Dec. 24 D company held theirs, Christmas Day B Co., Dec. 26 C Co. and Dec. 27 A Co. As adjutant I had to go to each one. We got chickens, beer and plum pudding in addition to roast beef, vegetables, etc. The officers held Christmas dinner on Christmas Day. All of the dinners went off well, nearly everyone got tight and they voted it a success. R.S.M. Nuttal and I had worked out a guard mounting that no one else knew and we made quite a ceremonial of it. My billet was in a house with a French family. The madam always came thro my room when I was stripped and having a bath. I didn't mind if she didn't. I was kept pretty close to the orderly room and one day was much like another. In fact there was more work out of the line than in. All sorts of reports had to be sent in. I had a sore throat for a couple of days but managed to shake it off. On New Years eve the Sergts had a dinner. I attended and later went to a dinner with B Co. and got in at 3.30 A.M. It was a large evening. We got the madam very tight. She thought it was beer that we were giving her and it was whiskey neat.
[Editor’s note: Monthly headers have been added to assist readers, indicating the most likely transition points between months.]