BASED ON EXTRACTS FROM CITIZEN SOLDIERS OF BUCKS BY JC SWANN AND THE FIRST BUCKINGHAMSHIRE BATTALION 1914-1919 BY PL WRIGHT
At 3.30 p.m. on March 31, 1915, the Battalion paraded and marched down another tortuous road to Pont de Briques, where it entrained in a French troop train. It consisted of some twenty cattle-trucks, each marked to hold between forty and fifty men. The battalion nicknamed the engine “Puffing Billy”
After some five hours of this very crowded travelling, the battalion arrived at Cassel, and detrained at 11 p.m. A three hour march brought it to Terdeghem, where its billets lay. Accommodation being very scanty, many spent the warm night in the open. The wind changed during that night, with the result that the sound of the guns were heard for the first time in the morning.
For three nights the battalion remained at Terdeghem, the only event of importance being an inspection on April 2 of the Brigade at Steenvoorde by General Sir H. Smith-Dorrien, who was at that time commanding the 2nd Army. The battalion then moved to billets on the Outtersteene-Bailleul Road (S.E. of Meteren), where two more nights were spent.
On the 7th April the Battalion marched via Bailleul and Armentieres to Le Bizet, where all the Companies were attached to Units of the 4th Division (2nd Monmouthshire Regiment, 2nd Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers, 2nd Battalion Essex Regiment) for instruction in the method of holding trenches.
Sniping was active, and the Germans were no mean shots at the 50 to 150 yards which separated their trenches from ours.
On the morning of the second day, April 9, the 4th Division exploded a mine under the enemy trenches. The enemy retaliated by shelling our line. One shell entered and burst inside the remains of an old house, containing A Company headquarters. By a miracle everyone escaped unhurt, though many of their possessions were never seen again.
The attachment for instruction lasted four days, two of which were spent in the front line, and two in support. After four days’experience the Battalion was considered ready to take its place in the line on its own.
On April 12, the Battalion marched to billets at Steenwerck, some eight miles distant.
On the 14th the Commanding Officer, Adjutant and company commanders received orders to reconnoitre the line with a view to the Battalion relieving the 1st Battalion Somersetshire Light Infantry, who were in support in Ploegsteert Wood.
On the 15th the battalion marched to Ploegsteert, relieving the 1st Battalion Somerset Light Infantry.
Life during the next two months, were were spent at Ploegsteert or in billets at Romarin.
The trees had been damaged very little, and the fresh green foliage and undisturbed bird life made it most difficult to believe in the existence of a war. Paths had been cleared in all useful directions through the wood, and duck-board tracks laid down to prevent the paths becoming mud channels in wet weather. The majority of these tracks were known by London names, such as The Strand, Rotten Row, Hyde Park Corner, but here and there names like “Dead Horse Corner” appeared. All the houses behind our lines had names, those which received the most attention from the German gunners being the best known: Hull’s Burnt Farm, Three Huns, St. Yves Post Office, are names which conjure up innumerable memories.
The trenches most frequently held by the Battalion in this area were situated in front of the village of St. Yves, the line being held with three companies in the firing line and one in support. The 1/5th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment relieved the battalion every four days, moving either into the wood or back to billets at Romarin.
The trenches consisted of sandbagged walls, a duck-board bottom, a host of large flies and an enormous smell.
The fire trench ran about 200 yards from the German front line, though in places the two trenches approached to within 100 yards of each other. To show one’s head over the top of the parapet was therefore risky, in view of the enemy snipers, who were really first-rate shots and always on the look-out for a target. Desultory rifle fire was kept up by both sides throughout the twenty-four hours, always increasing in volume at “stand to,”each morning and evening, and generally reaching the most absurd pitch about one hour after darkness.
The Battalion remained in this sector till the 27th June, generally holding the trenches in front of the village of St. Yves with three Companies in the firing-line and one in support.
Every four days the 1/5th Gloucester Regiment moved up in relief, the Battalion going back to Romarin to rest billets.
During this period the sector was comparatively quiet, and there was little or no shelling. There were, however, a considerable number of casualties from grenades and snipers. Very little training was carried out, but the Battalion was finding its feet and getting accustomed to trench warfare, acquiring a great deal of experience of field engineering, and last, but not least, gaining considerable knowledge of the art of making uncomfortable conditions more or less comfortable.
On occasions when anything in the nature of an attack was taking place on some other part of the front, orders were received to make a demonstration. The demonstration would be carried out by all units who happened to be holding the Divisional front. 9 a.m.—Long-range rifle fire directed on roads in rear of enemy trenches. 11 a.m.—Artillery bombard a certain section or sections of enemy trench with the object of breaching their parapet. 11.05 a.m.—Whole of front-line garrison open five minutes’ rapid fire on German front line. 1.45 p.m.—A few rifle grenades fired by companies within range of enemy. 4.15 p.m.—A trench mortar fired; three rifle grenades fired at same time from either side of it. 6.15 p.m.—Long-range rifle fire directed on roads in rear.
The enemy seldom paid the smallest attention to these demonstrations, except possibly by spending five minutes in flooding our trench with rifle grenades.
The last period spent in the line in these parts was in the Douve trenches facing Messines, after which began on June 24 a four-day march to other climes.
Since landing in France 5 officers had been wounded, 9 other ranks had been killed and 59 wounded.
In the middle of June, owing to illness, Major-General H. N. C. Heath, C.B., handed over command of the Division to Major-General R. Fanshawe, C.B., D.S.O. (52nd L.I.).
The First Buckinghamshire Battalion 1914-1919
P. L, Wright. Hazell Watson & Viney. 1920
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