25 December 1916

Extract from the diary of Pte James Arthur Railton, 8th Bn, 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment

[Pte Railton was from Wallasey and was called up in October 1916 and sent to Mesopotamia]

Christmas day (alongside quay). Service around 10am. Awful dinner. 3 rotten potatoes and a price of fat underdone meat and an orange. No sign of any Xmas pudding. Felt most miserable all day. Wrote home (16 men allowed ashore out of our crowd). Went for dinner.

 Extract from the official war diary of the 1st Bn, 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment

Support trenches

250 men employed in carrying T.M. ammunition.  2nd Lieut JAQUES proceeded on leave and 9 O.R’s.   It was decided to hold no Xmas dinner but to wait until January 2nd

Extract from the official war diary of the 2nd Bn, 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment

Christmas Day was very quiet, enemy acted quite decent, did not fire their guns for the whole of the day.

2 December 1916

Extract from the diary of LCpl Walter Williamson, 6th Bn, 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment

[Williamson had sailed from Southampton the day before]

We awakened to find the boat in dock. It was a grey cold morning and not yet daylight. At the other end of the dock was a great hospital ship, lighted up from end to end, and the great red cross on its bulwarks outlined with lights. In the grey cold morning mist it looked almost phantom like. It was a huge ship and would perhaps hold three times as many wounded as ours would hold reinforcements. This caused uncomfortable mental calculations as to how long the British Army would last if the wastage and supplies bore any relation to this incident in the dock at Le Havre. Pat’s voice pulled me up with his “What about it?” “About what?” I asked. “Breakfast” he replied curtly. I had not heard him wake. I had heard him wake each morning for some months past, as he had a habit of saying his prayers rather vehemently before “Cookhouse”, but invariably some minutes later than “Reveille”. His opinion of “Reveille” was that it was unmusical, uncouth, and a barbaric custom, and the man who first blew it, and every man who has blown it since should have his brains dashed out with his own bugle. As it had not been blown this morning, he was up before it for the first time since he joined the Army. I had the good taste (and good sense) not to remark about it, and we went below to see what could be begged, borrowed, bought or scrounged in the way of sustinence. At a little bar down below we managed to secure a cup of coffee and a sandwich or two. The bar keeper’s chief business however, just then, seemed to be exchanging English currency for French at a rate of exchange that would have caused some excitement in the European money markets, and also accepting letters with a suitable fee, for posting when he returned to Southampton. Either the boat was sunk on the return journey, or this man must be comfortably retired from business, perhaps living affluently somewhere in the Isle of Wight, and thanking the gods that he got a job on a “Rooky” boat and not on a leave boat where such childlike simplicity and faith are not to be found.

The man has yet to be found who dared to offer such terms on a leave boat returning to France. Things must have been quiet that morning on the Western Front, as there seemed to be no hurry about getting off the boat, though officers had left the boat early, no doubt o find out at which part of the line the British Army was being most hard pressed, so that we could come up and save the situation.

During the morning the boat was attacked by numerous vendors of picture postcards, on which many of the trusting ones immediately scribbled the latest news and map reference, and handed back to the sellers with a few coppers to cover postage and thirst caused by licking the stamps. These gentlemen were however, quickly bustled off the boat again, but not before they had disposed of most of their stock-in-trade.

Later in the day we disembarked and heard with feelings of pleasure, that we were to go to a rest camp for the night. Up to that day we had no idea that Le Havre was a much bigger port than London or Liverpool, but by the time we were clear of the docks, we felt convinced of it. Perhaps it was that our conducting officer wished to have a good look round the docks, or even may have lost his way. Such a thing has actually been known to happen. The tedium of our exploration was relieved however by our first acquaintance with the blue coated poilus. They had charge of German prisoners working at the docks. Most picturesque old gentlemen they were in their long blue coats with the lapels on the skirts instead of at the collar. Some of them had evidently put on flesh since their campaigning days of 1870/1. They have evidently treasured their rifles and bayonets too, as they looked quite businesslike despite their antiquity. We really did envy them their beards, and we understood why they look so happy. The morning shave and chin inspections held no terrors for them.

On getting into the town itself, we were assailed by most of the youngsters in the immediate neighbourhood who demanded souvenirs in the shape of buttons, badges, biscuits and bully. It gave the idea that their knowledge of English was confined to words commencing with “B”, but on being told to “Allez toute suite” we found that they were quite well up in many other words culled from the British Army Vocabulary.

After marching some distance through the town, we halted for a rest outside a huge French Barracks which looked very inviting, but that was as far as the invitation got.

On the far side of the road was a little shop whose sign read “BOISSONS”. A few dared and dived for it, and N.C.O.’s were immediately sent in chase and they were brought out (after the N.C.O.’s had quenched their thirst). One poor soul who had not been, was heard confiding that he would have gone too, but thought “Boissons” was French for fish. His sorrow was alleviated however by those who had been, and declared that the sign should have read “POISONS”.

We were soon on the march again, leaving the business quarter behind, along to the residential outskirts, along the fine promenade, past the Kursaal (now being used as a hospital) and on to the foot of the hill of Ingouville. Wise authorities decreed that Rest Camps in France should invariably be situated at the top of a hill, the higher and steeper the better. This is to ensure that everyone who arrives is really in need of a rest. The Officer in charge of the draft had been unable to find any transport to convey his kit to the Rest Camp, and had been carried along in turn to the back of the procession, by men of the draft. It was a most inopportune moment for such a thing to happen as we were just pulling ourselves together for the last weary lap up the hill, but just then someone came along the ranks and asked if Pat and I had yet done turn at carrying the kit. We endeavoured to look as if he was speaking to someone else, but his query was too pointed and well directed to miss, so we pleaded guilty and expressed our pleasure at being allowed to assist in any way that might bring the war to an early and successful conclusion, Right the wrong of Belgium, roll back the invading Hun, and -er-carry the blessed kit.   We were soon of the opinion that the officer had made a very big hole in his Kit Allowance, and had left nothing behind him. We discovered his name on the kit and wondered if he would provide for our wives and children, should either or both of us die from a broken heart before we reached that Rest Camp. We were saved from this fate, being relieved by two more unlucky mortals who did not seem as pleased to see the kit, as we were, to lose sight of it. Eventually we reached the top of the hill and found the Rest Camp.

The most noticeable features of a Rest Camp are its latrines and refuse incinerators, then one notices that the tents are in bad repair. We were numbered off into tents, care being taken to put sufficient men into each tent to prevent the canvas from shrinking. After being supplied with a meal we were informed that any letters for post would be collected for censoring in an hours time.

Then brains were racked as to what might, may, should or could be put in a letter. Was the officer married or single?  Callous or sympathetic? Would it be wise to address the wife as pre-censorship days, or would it be wiser to address her as “Dear Mary Jane” and stand the chance of her thinking that you were quickly cooling off? Enough information however was a way to let interested persons know that we had safely crossed the channel, and that no submarine had interfered with our affairs sufficiently to cut our budding military careers short, in favour of Channel swimming.

After finding out that there was no chance of having a look round Havre, we made for the next place of interest – the Canteen. One locates a canteen in a camp by the direction of the traffic. On arriving there, an enquiry for “Bass” elicited the fact that “Beer only” was sold. The French barman evidently was under the impression that what we required was a fish shop. The beer itself was distinctly discouraging, so we went dry and tried the coffee in the dry canteen. When this excitement palled, we returned to our tent and got into our blankets for the night. Having been unlucky in the scramble for places, we were fixed up near the tent flap, and made a capital door mat for the latecomers.

23 November 1916

Extract from the official war diary of the 1st Bn, 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment

Trenches

Enemy artillery activity at 3pm to 5pm.  Two casualties – killed.

Raid on BOARS HEAD at 9pm without discovering any Germans; party returned intact German front line evidently retired at least 150 yards in rear of BOARS HEAD.

14 October 1916

Extract from the war diary of Lt Charles Brockbank, Machine Gun Corps

charles brockbank

Saturday.  We got the gun all ready and in position by 2.0 p.m. and then had to wait until 2.46 when the barrage started & the infantry went over. I have never seen anything like it in my life. The Gers. came over without coats on, boots unlaced, showing what a surprise it had been. The Bosch artillery woke up and buried my gun team without injuring any of them, and then a few minutes later, it buried me, it is an awful sensation. Jimmy Holmes & Chatterway are killed so is the Doc (xxxx) and the Armourer Staff Sergt., both killed by the same shell whilst attending to wounded outside a dugout. A fairly quiet night followed, for which we were truly thankful. We had nine men in our dugout to bandage up as we had made it into a young hospital. Bowyer is dead. He was the first man into the trench & was killed straight away. Poor fellow.

13 October 1916

Extract from the war diary of Joseph Norton, 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment

We went over the top at 5.45 and took 2 lines of trenches, but before I got to the first line I got a slight wound in the left arm, but I kept on going until we got consolidated in the second German line. After I had had my arm dressed by our stretcher bearers, I got permission to go to the first aid station. Well I went, and on my way I ran into a strong point belonging to the Germans that our bombers had overlooked, as soon as they saw me, they hurled a stick bomb at me, which missed me, so I rushed into the nearest shell hole and I had only been there a few minutes when I saw a German creeping on his hands and knees towards where I was. I jumped out of this hole and started to run, but I had only got about 3 yards he put me a bullet in the head, one in the back and one in my right arm. As soon as I found there was no chance of escape I threw myself down flat on the ground as if I was dead and I stayed in that one position until night time and didn’t stir an inch and I was covered in blood as my face and head was a mass of jelly blood. At night I started to crawl into my own lines, where my own regiment was holding. First of all I got to the nearest place and stripped myself of my equipment and drank what water I had and left my straps in this hole, so I should not make a noise in getting to my own regiment and in so doing I got another bullet in my back. Eventually I got there and the first men I came across were the R.E.’s who bandaged me up and directed me to my own regiment. Then two of our own stretcher bearers gave me water and further attention, then they started to bring me to the dressing station, but in so doing we lost our way and they left me to go and find the way and after they had been gone about an hour and a half I began to get very uneasy as shells were dropping very close to me so I happened to see two more chaps, who directed me as best they could, but sorry to say it was the wrong place, but after about 5 hours journey, I reached one of our field ambulances and then a knew I was safe. As soon as the doctor had dressed my wounds he sent me on a trolly to another advanced station and from there I was taken about 5 miles behind the line and then I was put in another car and taken to the 9th Casualty Clearing Station, where I was kept for a day and then sent by train to a place near Le-Havre, named Etratat, where I was put in a bed for the first time for 8 months.

29 September 1916

Extract from the war diary of Lt Charles Brockbank, Machine Gun Corps

charles brockbank

Friday.  We opened a terrific barrage on HESSIAN TRENCH and on the top of the RIDGE about 1.0 p.m. and when it lifted we could see our infantry going forward. It was a truly wonderful sight. I saw a party of Ger re-inforcements coming up a trench 7/800 yards off so got one gun into action and did some pretty good work judging from the way they doubled about & fell down. The Tank is still up on THIEPVAL.