<< October 1917 – December 1917 >>
THURSDAY 1st NOVEMBER 1917
Route marching for company.
FRIDAY 2nd NOVEMBER 1917
Route marching for Battalion.
SATURDAY 3rd November 1917
Parades until midday and movement orders come out. Lieutenant Wicks, our Company’s Billeting Officer, moves out, our Company is to follow the next day. We take this as a sign that we will be out training for a time.
SUNDAY 4th November 1917
We move to Billets near Fletre and near Armentiers. McArthur rejoins C Company.
Lieutenant McArthur was in charge of C Company when I joined it first and retained that command until shortly before we moved towards Ypres when he was relieved by Captain Morris. Here I will give some of McArthur’s history. He had come to Australia same years before the war started and was on the Peninsula with oar
2nd Division out of which the 5th Division was formed, then he obtained Sergeants stripes. He was wounded at Fromelles and on his return to his Battalion received his Commission. Then at Bullecourt he won his M.C. by his counter attack when the Huns broke into our lines. After big losses at Bullecourt the Battalion had to recuperate and it was in the village of Warnboy that I joined up and McArthur was holding C Company over the heads of three Captains waiting for the return of Morris. Captain Morris had been in charge of C Company until he was wounded at Bullecourt. He rejoined C Company and led it into Ypres and McArthur was sent
out to a rest camp. So back now to McArthur who rejoins C Company. He walked into our billets late at night and walked straight over to my bed and said, “How did you get on Toby”, I was flattered at his interest in me.
MONDAY 5th November 1917
Tuesday 6th November 1917
Company parades in morning and Battalion parades during afternoon.
WEDNESDAY 7th November 1917
Parades again and later McArthur and I take a walk into Vieux Berklieux Village and we chanced to meet up with Lieutenant DeMeyrick from a sister Battalion the 55th. He had a good idea that our next move would be into the Kemmel front.
THURSDAY 8th NOVMEBER 1917
FRIDAY 9th NOVEMEBR 1917
Parades and marching out parades. Our C Company Officers have a visit in the afternoon from a party of 8 Australian Nurses. Only Captain Downing could have been responsible for such a visit as not long afterwards he married one of them in London.
SATURDAY 10th NOVEMEBR 1917
We move out at 8am. It was marching order – blankets carried on limber. We arrived at Doncastor Camp which is very close to Kemmel. All day it rained and the limber carrying our blankets got bogged so we had to go without them.
SUNDAY 11th November 1917
We moved to Irish House which was only a four mile march and only a mile from Kemmel. In a large underground, at Kemmel, the 5th Division’s Theatrical Show “The Kookaburras” give entertainment at night. The underground space used was really a tunnel used for transport to Messines ridge when work and excavating was done there to blow up the ridge. Irish House Camp is in a little hollow with possies cut round the perimeter. The flat centre contained was big enough for two football grounds. A half mile walk would take us to the top of Messines Ridge and the flattened remains of a village by the same name. From this point we could look down on our front extending down towards the Valley of the Lys River.
MONDAY 12th NOVEMBER 1917
During the morning we have some physical training and organised games and we are warned to be ready to move at half an hours notice. This night McArthur, Trelew and myself went to the underground tunnel to see the Kookaburras show: “A party of soldier actors only of the 5th Division”.
TUESDAY 13th NOVMBER 1917
At this moment we are well supplied with Officers in C Company. Captain Cromby, Lieutenants McArthur, Wicks, Trelaw & myself.
WEDNESDAY 14th NOVEMER 1917
There is much activity by our guns to our left.
THURSDAY 15th NOVEMEBR 1917
We are to take over a front position. Have Church Parade in the morning. I am detailed to take ten men to collect gum boots as the front is a wet one. We collect 110 pairs of boots and take them to a point on the road. Here we laid them out in 4 or 5 heaps, in sizes 6, 7, 8 and 9. When our Company arrives about 5.30pm each man is handed a pair of boots of the size he asks for. This job done we fall in and move with the Company.
About the last mile of our way to the front led through a duckboarded sap called Manchester Sap. At end of Sap we have about 100 yards to go an the edge of a terrace to a pill box called Wall Farm and which was built above ground to look like a concrete tank. As always for us the entrance is on the wrong side. Wall Farm held a platoon of men safe from shell fire but it would be a trap if enemy were to come over in a raid, owing to the difficulty of getting the men out through the narrow opening. The interior of this pill box was partitioned into rooms front and back and if not lighted by candle were as dark as night. Our C Company Headquarters was in Wall Farm and Captain Downing is now in charge of C Company. Usually only three Officers per Company go into forward areas. This time it is Captain Downing with Trelaw and myself.
We are taking over from a Tommy Company and improvements are necessary. About 200 yards on in front of Wall Farm by a little left, is our picket trench which is about 30 yards of staggered trench. The duckboarded bottom for half its length had sunk below the water. A line of 4 small posts lie out in front of the picket trench at centre about 100 yards distant and in lateral extent cover about 400 yards. These front posts are also troubled with water for on this particular front if a trench is dug to 3 feet deep in evening by morning it is filled to a depth of 18 inches by water. Thus we only had about 18 inches above water and if higher protection was needed it was obtained by building up the parapet or sandbagging.
On account of these water logged posts it was necessary to relieve the men every 12 hours changing over with men from picket trench and that trench was changed in the same way with men of Wall Farm. Men in small front posts had to perch on sandbags filled with earth to keep out of the water. While in the picket trench duckboards were used which rested on “A” frames of timber made like the letter “A” and put in the trench upside down to rest the duckboards on.
This front is very flat and therefore Fritz used machine guns a lot. The same bullets which skimmed our front posts could also be a danger to back roads. Machine gun fire and pineapples were his main offensive weapons. The cackling of his machine guns seldom ceased. They are harmless to men in trenches yet by frequently skimming the parapets might chance to catch a man who did not keep down. When out in front of the picket line I used to flatten to ground many times when the loud crack of bullets passing told they were near. When it was only singing bullets we were not concerned as they were not near. (I have heard arguments about this cracking sound made by rifle or machine gun bullets as to reason but it is certain whatever the cause that the bullets passing close from about 400 yards distant make the air crack like a small pistol).
Our listening ability was always taught for both machine gun fire and shell fire. The smack of the bullet told that it was near and the short howl of a shell gives a split seconds warning.
Friday 16th November 1917
Machine guns very active skimming our trenches and constantly searching up Verne Road which was a feed line from our rear. Our men had to be charged over from post to picket or from picket to post and we had much to do with these singing or cracking bullets. It was flatten to earth when the air smacked and then on to make some progress before the next smack of air.
Saturday 17th November 1917
It is a three Battalion front – 53rd on our right, 56th on our left and 55th in support. The first job I had this night was with Private Russell selecting and digging a snipers post to hold one sniper. This post, however, was never used. The next act for me was to locate the left side front post of the 53rd Battalion. It was quite difficult to find this post as men in front posts keep quiet. Corporal Farral and I make a search without any early success. We evidently searched too far forward as our line swung a little back for our first chance was on a Fritz post. I leave Farral in a shell hole and go alone to investigate, crawling close enough to hear their voices, but now to get back without being heard, I feared to turn my back so very quietly feet foremost, planting my toes one at a time I backed away for about 20 yards and then I felt easier. At this point I gave up the search and said, “we may have to find it from the rear”. So we returned to Company Headquarters where Captain Downing supplied us with a guide to take us to the Company Headquarters of the 53rd Battalion and there we obtained a guide to take us to the required post. We formed the men in the post very quietly. They whispered that Fritz was prowling about. We remained in the post for half an hour or so and had not long left for our own Company when we heard some grenades burst and we heard that Fritz had thrown some about.
The post in question was later moved into a more suitable location.
Sunday 18th November 1917
Tonight C Company will be relieved by D Company. We had lost Private Hansen who was killed the first day. We had to make a lot of movement changing men over and rationing them which work all had to be done during the hours of darkness, before sunrise and after sunset. The ration party did not go past the picket trench and so the relief men would go out as soon as the meal was over and let the men from a post come in.
Sergeant Kurcher was my Platoon Sergeant here. It was Sergeant Hillery before. Now I would go round the four posts with a bottle of rum and I found the brass nose cap of a small shell to be a most useful measure as it just held about a fair nip. Talk passed round in the Company that Fritz had night glasses. This surmisal came about through the accuracy of his light machine guns which he would bring well forward. The cracking bullets would put us down on our stomachs so often. This night not long before our relief an unlucky shell on Wall Farm killed Mick Galway and the same shell wounded Captain Downing.
Galway, an old Peninsula man, was outside the pill box when the shell came and Reg Downing was standing in the entrance to same. As we are moving out this night Downing asked me if we could take Mick Galway with us back as far as a road where a limber could pick him up. It would be a carry of about half a mile and my men were all tired and to carry a big man on a stretcher over much shell holed ground is not easy. We had many falls and I was very relieved when our job was over. Mick was buried close to Irish House. He had a good name as a soldier.
We have now done our first occupation on this new front. Quite different to Ypres. We here had water to contend with but not the mud. We had plenty of machine gun fire but not much shell fire.
Lights were numerous, always some on view, some lighting up the front and others lighting well back presumably for signalling purposes. It would have been a very different war if Fritz had not supplied the lights by which we knew direction and had lighting all on the cheap.
Monday 19th November 1917
From the front we had leap-frogged right back to Irish House. D. Company had relieved us in the line and relief went off quietly. From front to Irish House was an appropriate move and it gave us a day of rest.
Tuesday 20th November 1917
In Irish House we play some football in the afternoon. It was considered best for men not to be let allowed to sleep too long.
Wednesday 21st November 1917
Reported that we move into local reserve this afternoon but movement orders did not come out so we stay in Irish House. A collection went around through the Company for Mick Galway’s funeral and 137 Francs was put into my keeping.
Thursday 22nd November 1917
We move only a very short distance into dugouts where the village of Waitchaite once stood, position is local reserve. Our C.O. Major Street, sent for me this evening and talked working party. It was to be the start of work of a general nature on our front line. I am to take 25 men and dig a post 25 yards long and place in “A” frames. Shovels were not produced on time by the Engineers which caused a long delay for us waiting in the open. We carry “A” frames and tools through Manchester Sap. D Company men, manning our picket trench, go out in front and supply the covering party for us. As usual at this place there was a fair bit of machine gun fire but mostly high and did not trouble us greatly. Once the trench is down a foot or more we have cover when the bullets smack close. I used a pick this night so that I could take cover without a blush and perhaps unfairly did I get the reputation of an Officer who took his coat off on a working party.
The night following another fatigue party would lay the duckboards on the “A” frames and thus complete the first of a line of posts, each of which would hold a platoon and so the small front posts would be done away with.
It is from the reserve position, that we are now in that fatigue parties are supplied for the front, we move back each day for good sheltered sleeping places in underground dugouts.
Friday 23rd November 1917
Working parties again this night.
Saturday 24th November 1917
Trelaw takes working party to front line. It will be my job next turn.
Sunday 25th November 1917
Trelaw takes working party and they return early as Engineers could not supply tools.
Monday 26th November 1917
I take a daylight working party to pioneer sap. Our work is erecting wire behind the support lines. C Company relieves the support line this night and we take over successfully. The Company in support is the ration carrying Company for the Battalion and our job is to carry rations to the front line corp. Trelaw takes half the Company carrying rations to the front at 9 p.m. and the other half of the Company comes with me to take the breakfast ration and we leave at 2 a.m. It is an icy cold night and we move as a party to the cooker which is placed behind a terrace about one mile from the front and is well covered in by a tarpaulin. Only at night time can the cooker be used the overhead cover keeps out the glow and smoke is not visible at night.
If smoke were to rise in daylight it would immediately draw shell fire and Fritz’ fire is too accurate to risk. Having reached the site of the cooker my party pick up the load of containers of tea and bulli beef stew. Each second man carries two rifles and the men so freed of their rifles carry the containers. We proceed through Manchester Sap which is to give us protection against the spasmodic shell fire. The issuing of tea and stew is done as quietly as possible and men moved back to their quarters. The job of a ration party is not a small one. Shell fire is on the increase and on some nights Manchester Sap was so much shelled that we preferred to leave it and go by Vern Road where machine gun fire would come in bursts right down the middle of the road and so accurate was Fritz in keeping his fire along the centre of the road that we marched in single file on each side of the road and it was only if the bullets smacked close that we would fall flat in the gutter for the few seconds until the burst was over. We knew exactly by the sound just where the bullets were flying and seldom would we go to ground.
Tuesday 27th November 1917
C Company is in support trench platoons 11 and 12 occupying Omega trench and platoons 9 and 10 occupying pill box called Bug Farm. We do ration parties as usual.
Wednesday 28th November 1917
In Omega trench at night we had a visit from our Brigadier General Habkirk, who was a British Army regular and a popular man with our Brigade. Trelaw takes the 9.30 ration party and I take the 3 a.m. party.
During the issue of rations to front lines came an issue of pineapples from Fritz. No one was hit by them and pineapples seldom seemed to have much luck against us. Pineapple was the name given to a small shell of the mortar family or Minnie werper family. It was about the size of a pineapple and its casing was segmented which made it resemble the segments on the skin of a pineapple. Coming through the air these pineapples left a trail of sparks. Fritz would send them over in large numbers but this night as none fell in our trench no harm was done. Having weathered the pineapples we had not much to trouble us on our way back to Omegha.
Thursday 29th November 1917
Still in Omegha trench. We are to be relieved by a Company of the 58th Battalion tonight and two left about 4 p.m. to meet the relieving Company and lead them in.
I met them in Whaitchaite and the relief was executed successfully and we, C Company, move back into billets in Kimmel where stew is waiting for us.
In moving back into Kemmel we move into the Brigade reserve area and now the 14th Brigade has been relieved by its sister Brigade the 15th.
Friday 30th November 1917
It is Friday usually a good day for me and we spend it in partial rest in Kemmel this time in a building. Shortages of equipment and clothing were taken.