The War Diary of George Culpitt, Royal Welch Fusiliers

The Dragon of the Royal Welch Fusiliers

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Chapter 12 Wounded

The patients at Berrington Hospital,  My Grandfather is on the right in the second row next to the nurseHere the remainder of the Battalion gathered and we could ascertain our losses. They were severe for we had lost more holding the line than we had on the day of the attack.

The Battalion casualties were about 200 so it was evident that there were not many left. But those of us who did remain were joyful for we thought that for a time at least we had finished and would not go to the line again. We therefore had a good tuck in to make up for lost time and drawing blankets and overcoat, went to sleep in the bottom of the trench. In the afternoon rumours started going round that we were to go up again that night, but it seemed hardly creditable for the whole Brigade was very badly damaged and not fit to return, but nevertheless as time passed limbers began to arrive with bombs, ammunition, picks, shovels, flares etc. to replenish each man's stock and it became evident that we were indeed to go up again. This announcement fairly put everyone in the dumps for we were again faced with the uncertain issue of battle when we had thought ourselves free for a time at least.

At length everything, was ready. The 4 companies of the Battalion were amalgamated to form Battalion for they were each so short of men that it was hardly possible to get sufficient men for 2 platoons per company, and we waited for the approach of 11 p.m. to fall in. About 11.15 P.M. we moved off. A sorry spectacle indeed. Worn out, unwashed or shaved for 8 days and few in numbers.

We travelled slowly up the road in the direction of Monchy and for some distance all went well. In front of us however we could hear shells bursting and it became evident that the enemy was putting up a barrage through which we should have to pass. Gradually we drew nearer and found that gas shells were also falling around us. We therefore received orders to put our gas helmets on and this we did, continuing our march in this fashion. This made our progress very s1ow for we could not see very far in our helmets and the road was dotted with shell holes. We lost one or two on the way and were getting along as quickly as possible when all of a sudden I heard a whizz and received a terrific blow in the left side of the face, smashing my gas helmet and sending, me flying into a hole where I stayed until I recovered my wits and felt my face to see how much of it was left. Upon examination however, I found that 1 had a cut above my left lip, my eye entirely closed up and in addition to several cuts and bruises the whole left side of my face had already commenced to swell. I had no bandage or field dressing so started back the way we had come for the field dressing station. On the way I had to pass through the gas zone made by the shells, and I did not waste any time in doing this. At length I met a convoy of Artillery and one of them bandaged me up temporarily, and then I made my way back to the Dressing Station. Here I was put on a lorry that was going to Arras and journeyed thus to the centre of the town where they left me to make my way on foot to the Field Ambulance Station, in the prison. This I reached just before 4 am. and after being dressed, went and had some tea etc. which was very welcome. Just before I left, the bombardment started which was to cover the attack which was made at 4.15 a.m. and in which I was to have taken part.

We went from the Field Ambulance in motor char-a-bancs to the Clearing Station at Walus, which we reached about 7 a.m. Here we stayed until 9 o'clock when a train arrived to take us to Frevent which we reached about 12 mid-day, going to the No. 6 stationery Hospital. Here we were again dressed and had dinner and here told to wait in the recreation room which we did until 4p.m. when we once more left the Hospital and boarded a train for the coast. We had tea on the train and reached Etaples about 10 p.m. that night.

Here we were directed to different Hospitals as the motor which was taking us from the rail head passed the Directing, Officer and I found myself directed to No.4 General Hospital, which we reached about 10.30 P.M. After taking our particulars, we were sent to a large tent where we spent the night.

Next morning we were given a bath and clean change and a suit of blues, and then paraded to see the director at the Dressing Tent. As he interviewed each one he marked us for England or elsewhere and I was pleased to learn that I was marked for 'Blighty'. But I did not anticipate getting there for it seemed too easy and too good to be true.

The following day the Major agreed to the recommendation and we were now only waiting the word to move. This however did not come for 4 days and we had all begun to be a little impatient at the wait, but at last at 4 a.m. one morning (May 8th), they aroused us to get dressed which we did with all speed.

From, the Hospital we journeyed in a char-a-bangs to the rail head at Etaples and from thence by train to Boulogne. From Boulogne station an ambulance car took us to the quayside and a few more steps took us to the boat.

At last we were sure (with the exception of U Boat interference) of getting across to England. Before the boat left we had breakfast composed of porridge, egg, bread and butter and tea, and after this was finished each man was given a life belt to fix round his body in case of accidents. Just after 10 a.m. we started off in company with another boat of the same class as our own, with the exception that while ours was marked all over with the red cross, the other was painted grey and armed with a small gun manned by English sailors. There were not many stretcher cases coming across with us, the large majority being walking cases of sickness and slight wounds, together with a few German prisoners on each boat. Once out of the estuary and in the open sea, our escorts could be seen, running parallel on each side and in front and behind and these gave as a feeling, of security.

It was with feelings of thankfulness that we saw the French coast recede in the distance and the white cliffs of England rise in front. My first sight of England for 13 months. Half an hour later we steamed in to Dover Harbour and landed at the Quayside, and it was with very mixed feelings we found ourselves once more among our own people, for it was difficult to realise at first that these people could speak English and understand what we said to them after such a long time in a foreign country.

Well I was now back in England after nearly thirteen months spent amongst the dangers and hardships of modern war and it was indeed good to feel that for a time at least one was safe, and I thank God that He has seen fit to preserve my life and send me home. He is indeed good for to Him I owe my life.

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