The War Diary of George Culpitt, Royal Welch Fusiliers
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Chapter 16 Winter 1917
On the 10th November 1917 we returned again to the trenches and the following day (1lth) took over Eileen Post again, this time having to draw gumboots owing to the very bad state of the trenches follow the rain. The conditions were now getting very bad, some of the trenches being 3 parts filled with water. This was the case with Eileen Post but worse was to come for at 11.30 we had to remove to a Post called Hesney which was by the side of the Lille Road. This was half filled with water and we had to spend the time to 4.30 a.m. standing on precarious footholds under water with the prospect of a gumboot full of water if we slipped off our perches. Although tired there was nowhere dry enough for us to rest and we had to make the best of a bad job. When 4.30 came we returned to our Eileen Post for the day. In the evening we were relieved but before going back to Company Headquarters we had to do two hours wiring in front of the post. This over we got back to Headquarters but hardly had one settled down to a long looked forward rest in comfort when we heard the well known voice of the Sergeant enquiring for us and were told to be ready to go on patrol in about an hour.
Accordingly we fell in but we started having- a happy time on our way up to the front line preparatory to going over the top Fritz started shelling with gas shells which made it necessary for us to put on our gas helmets. It was a pitch-black night- difficult to see under ordinary circumstances, but ten times worse with these helmets on. This lasted about an hour and delayed us at the start, but at last we got going and after a time got clear of the fumes, which enabled us to take our helmets off. This was a relief but we were not out of the wood by any means.
We got on to the Lille Road and then went forward through our Eileen Post through our wire and in single file moved into No man's land. The party consisted of 8 in all, 1 officer, 1 sergeant and 6 men. The officer and 3 of the men had never been on patrol before, while all the men were tired out to start with.
The prospect was not alluring should we meet the enemy or be unlucky enough to get caught in this hell on earth. Slowly, touching each other to keep ourselves from getting, lost, we went forward until we lay within 60-80 yards of the enemy's parapet. If anything went wrong now we were beyond human aid. In front, between us and Fritz was a shallow pool of water and we lay on the edge of this in pairs. Tired out as we were it was with the greatest difficulty that we could keep awake. It was absolutely quiet in our vicinity which also tended to make us sleepy, except for an occasional boom on the right or the left. As we lay there one thought of many things chief of all perhaps was the incongruity of the very fact of us being there.
Still here we are and here we must remain until the Lord will. We were now surprised to hear the sound of a snore on the right as one of our party, tired out, succumbed to the strongest call of nature, the desire to sleep. To one outside events it might seem impossible for anybody to sleep in such circumstances but to prevent oneself going to sleep if absolutely tired is as futile as trying to keep back the sea. To us however, it was a crime in as much as the safety of the entire party depended on every one keeping a sharp look out in case of surprise by Fritz. There was only one incident, however, which was not long before our patrol was ended.
Suddenly there was the unmistakable sound of a very light pistol and to our surprise and consternation we saw in the ascending light two Germans with coloured handkerchiefs over their heads. Our hearts beat hard - our hands trembled as a myriad of thoughts passed through our heads. Had we been seen? Was it but a question of moments before we found ourselves surrounded? To fight our way out or be killed or at best taken prisoner?
.But no, the moments passed and nothing happened and we calmed down. Another incident had passed. Soon we got the order to make our way back to the trenches and like fools rushing where angels fear to tread we threw caution to the winds as we splashed through the mud and water back to the refuge of the trenches. But in our hurry we lost our way and could not find the gap in the wire. So driven more by fear than pluck, disregarding torn clothes or limbs scratched by the wire we commenced to clamber over the belt of wire towards our parapet. This was a fearful business but we managed to get to our disused haven only to look back and find one of our number securely fastened to the wire and unable to get along. This necessitated someone going back to get him. Then we were soon on our journey back to Headquarters.
On the 17th we were relieved by A Company and went to subsidiary line and here we stayed until the 19th when we were relieved and returned to the village. Fritz was using a lot of gas shells lately but unless there is a large quantity at once or one gets a mouthful all to oneself, they are not very terrible.
On the 22nd we returned again to the sub-line trenches after a three day's rest composed chiefly of fatigue and drill. This time we occupied the Fleurfaix sector.
On the 24th November we took over Cessil Post again about 5 o'clock in the evening. Near midnight a strafe opened out on the right and lasted about 20 minutes. At dawn another do commenced on the left lasting, this time about an hour.
Things were now getting, more lively. After dinner, as our chaps were going, to straff Fritz with TM's we had to go somewhat to the right out of the way of the possible retaliation by the Enemy. This time however, it was not much and after a couple of hours we returned to the post. Just after 'Stand to' we were relieved. On the 28th we were relieved and returned to the village marching with our gas helmets on as a practice. The next day (29th) we marched to Streaky Bacon Farm where we spent the night in huts. This was about a third of the way back to the trenches, and the following day, 30th, saw us again on our way to the trenches, this time to the Bois Grenier Sector and the 1,ioat Farm where we occupied dugouts in the sub-line behind the 14th.Battalion. This sector was new to us and therefore somewhat more interesting. First impressions said it was all right - good trenches, dry dugouts etc. We spent our time on fatigues of short duration in different places round about and on the 3rd December 1917, did an all day job at the Girls School, Bois Grenier, carrying cement for the construction of a Brigade Artillery Observation Post.
There was a YMCA in the village within 2000 yards of the line. It was with life in it in the place as it was knocked to pieces as a result of 3 years constant, slow shelling. In the evening we relieved 16th Battalion on the right sector and took over Audrey Post. 7 a.m. on December 4th we evacuated the right post and took up position 80 yards from enemy. It was very cold with some snow during the morning, and we had a fire during the day although it was rather risky. In the evening we were relieved from the Post having done our 24 hours on.
On the 6th after two days fatigues and caring for the RE's we took over another post called Annie. We had one man wounded by shrapnel from an plane bombardment as he was shaving. At night we were relieved and went back to the village. This rest like all the others only lasted a day or two and on the 11th December 1917 we returned to the trenches. Our section occupying a rear post had to do fatigues for the Annie and Agnes posts. Keeping them supplied with their meals which we fetched from the cookhouse at Company Headquarters.
On the 12th we took over Annie Post and had a fairly quiet night except for a shrap strafe when Fritz sent 8-12 5 9's on us. It seemed as if we had been spotted as we had a suspicion of something moving some time previously and it was possible that they had seen or more likely heard us and turned some of their guns on us.
On the 15th we were relieved and returned to Moad Farm. On our wav from the P.L. Post we came across a German who wanted to give himself up. We got him in and searched him and then took him to Company Headquarters.
The next day saw us again at Streaky Bacon Farm and on the 18th we returned to the sub line. Two days later we moved to the right sub line of the Fleur Faix sector, some 2000 yards from the enemy.