The War Diary of George Culpitt, Royal Welch Fusiliers
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Chapter 17 Out of the Trenches for Christmas!
Very frosty weather now prevailed and the ground was very hard in consequence. We occupied oval dugouts and were quite comfortable.
On the 21st we stood to for A Company during the night as they were weak having a platoon at Brigade School. On the 24th December (Christmas Eve) we were relieved by D Company of the 16th Battalion and marched to billets in Bac. St. Maw. by Brigade School. We were out of the trenches for Christmas! Three cheers!!! Not very good billets but better than none in the line.
On Christmas Day we had a Service at 10 a.m. followed by Pay at 12 O'clock. A special dinner at 4.30 p.m. marked the day of peace and goodwill towards men, with the war 2 miles away. It was a very good dinner for an active service meal followed by beer and singing. This Thomas and I did not stay to but went to a shop and had eggs and chips, blowing ourselves out until we were extremely uncomfortable.
We returned early to our billets and retired to rest, to be awakened soon by the rowdy shouts of those who had dined, not wisely but too well.
On December 28th we relieved the 14th Battalion in the line in the Bois Grenier Sector. I found myself detailed for Queen Post. Like several other posts round this quarter there was a day post and a night post. The latter was occupied between stand to in the evening and stand down in the morning and was some distance forward down a communications trench towards the enemy. This post we occupied on the night of December 29th-30th, 30th-31st and December 31st 1917 to January lst 1916 and here I saw the old year out and the new year in. The ground was covered in snow but it was a clear frosty night.We, about 4 in number, had the only decent bay to ourselves, Guarding the C.T. which passed on our right. All was quiet as the hour of midnight drew near but the dawn of 1918 was the signal for a raid by the Australians on the right, but thank goodness- nothing came our way and the night passed quietly away.
I was on Sentry from 11.30 on December 31st 1917 to 12.30 a.m. on January lst 1918. Where should I be next year?.
January lst turned out a fine day with consequent artillery activity on both sides.
During the afternoon while sitting in the dugouts a large trench mortar dropped some 30 yards outside, behind our trench and as there was very little back to the trench we got the full force of the explosion. It came as a surprise for without warning the fire in a bucket standing in the door of the dugout was suddenly blown right in, and the consequent flames and smoke gave one the first impression that something. had dropped on top. The moral effect of these was much worse than the material damage. They were reckoned. to be fatal by concussion alone if one dropped near enough.
In the evening we were relieved and returned to the sub line at the Giles School. Until the night of the 3rd we did wiring and fatigues as usual and then relieved A Company again in the same sector as before. I went to Piper Post. This was somewhat removed from all other posts and was supposed to be a listening post.
Consequently we had 6 men and double sentries all night. The night was as as black as vour hat and very difficult as regards vision. At one time we thought the enemy was going to attack us and we prepared accordingly. Everyone stood with bayonet fixed and fingers on the trigger for if it came to a scrap the first shots counted, and with a couple of Mills bombs each close handy for instant use. Quietness and stillness. Those on sentry straining their eyes out into the darkness for the first glmpse. Someone was moving in front. Who was it? Should we fire?
Halt, who goes there. The almost whispered challenge could be heard. What if they were our own men? We dare not fire until we were sure. No answer, yet still we hesitated. One man crawled a, little way out to our own wire. Yes, there was no mistake. Someone was out there. Now the critica1 moments. They came nearer, and nearer. Halt, who goes there. 16th Battalion R.W.F. came the reply and a figure loomed in the darkness against the sky.
A sigh of relief went up as the tension of the last five minutes was relieved, yet those outside had had a narrow escape for had we fired we should not have been to blame. Word should have been passed along that a patrol was out.
The next two nights we occupied the post again and on the morning of the 6th there was a raid by Fritz on the right near IL Verite. The straff lasted about an hour. These raids were now becoming more numerous as both sides worked up to the Spring Offensive. This part of the line was no longer the quiet home from home it had been, but was rapidly assuming proportions of danger thitherto unknown. On the night of the 5th we were relieved and my section went to a farm some distance behind the subsidiary line known as Cappeel Farm near Fleurbaix and acted as a gas guard.
This we found when daylight came was a big farm laid out in the usual French fashion. The house farthest from the gate Two big barns on either side. The cesspool in the middle. This was frozen over now. The guard room was in the house but the post by the gate so the sentry had a lively two hours. Still 1 for one was quite used to this. There was no danger which was the main thing. You had your gun loaded and a cigarette helped to pass the two hours away. At the same time it began to get a bit monotonous at the end of the third day even although we did 2 on and 10 off as there were six of us, and we were glad to be relieved or the 9th January.
We returned to the village and had the same billets as before.
On the 14th, after four days of inspections and drill, we were relieved off the sector and for the first time for 3 months went further back instead of forward. We marched 5 kilometres to Estairs, picking up the other two Companies at Sailly.
The following days were wet and miserable, making the ground in a terrible state, most of the roads being under water.
Cn the 18th we had our first parade and I checked for Lewis Gun instruction. After dinner we were suddenly warned to pack up and go to better billets and we marched 15 kilometres to Le Parc through Nurville. The next five days passed chiefly in Lewis gun instruction.
On the 23rd we went to the baths. These were 10 kilometres (about 7 miles away so we had a day out. Got back at 5.00 pm.
On the 26th we had an intercompany cross country run and my Company (c) won. I ran and got in just under the half hour 3 ½ miles.
Sports etc. were now becoming. a feature of these rests and they certainly helped to relieve the monotony.
On the 30th I reported sick with diarrhoea and was sent to the IB1field Ambulance at Muville and was discharged and returned to the Battalion on the 31st.
February lst we marched 12 kilometres to Ipsberg.
On the second 8 kilometres to St. Hilare and spent the next days firing on range and suchlike practice.
On Sunday February 10th Thomas and I visited Lillus which was quite a decent place. The only black spot being the Headquarters of the R.E’s where hundreds of big, strong men were lazing about doing nothing, ,while the weak war worn fighting men thought themselves lucky to be away from the trenches for a week or two.
On the 13th we left St. Hilare for Molingam on the way back to the line. It rained all the way and we arrived about 12.45, wet through to the skin. To make things worse we had to practice marching in gas helmets for half an hour.
On the 14th we left Molingham for Estairs, arriving about .4.00 p.m. after marching 20 kilometres. We were billeted in a Camp just outside the town which we took the opportunity of visiting in the evening as it was possible the last place of it's kind and we should see for some time.
On the 15th we left for the line by lorries at 10.30 as I went as a machine gunner and we had to take over the posts in daylight before the rest of the Battalion arrived. Once more we were back in the war and our rest was a thing of the past. We felt it a bit for things were beginning to drag. The endless round, the ceaseless wear and tear were getting us down.
On the night of the 17th Fritz surprised one of our patrols in no mans land killing one and wounding another.
On the 19th we were relieved by the 16th Battalion and we marched to Huts near Port Nieppe.
On the 22nd we left Port Nieppe for Erqingham where we went into billets in the school. The next day we went into the sub line and we began wiring in between our own lines as things were now beginning to look lively. Every precaution was now being taken including wiring operations to impede Fritz, should he decide to make his long, delayed attack. This wiring we did during the night and were made to do so much before we knocked off.
The following day (FebruaiT 27th), we moved over to the right sector sub line.
On February 28th I began to feel the bad effects of some quaker oats which I had made with water, taken from a shell hole in a grave yard causing me to have a repetition ofmy stomach trouble and diarrhoea.
On February 28th I go Light Duty.
On March lst, ditto and March 2nd I go on Medicine and Duty. This was all the satisfaction I got for the time being although I was feeling far from fit and was glad when we were relieved on March 3rd.
We went this time to billets near the barrier in Armentiers.
On March 4, after inspection of our paybooks to see when the last inoculation took place, those who had not been done for 2 years, I among them, were inoculated. This necessitated a day off next day.
On the 6th I developed diarrhoea again badly and went sick and was sent to 131 FH at Erquingham while from there I was sent to the 130 F.H. at Sternwerk.
On the 7th I was evacuated to 54th C.C.S. and on the 12th sent to No. 10 Stationery Hospital.
After a fortnight on light diet I got back to normal and on March 27th went to No. 7 Convalescent Camp, transferring to No. 10 Convalescent Camp the next day. After another fortnight here I was discharged fit on April 10th.