SATURDAY, APRIL 1st – TUESDAY, APRIL 11th

For the first 11 days of April Lieutenant Colonel Blacker was on leave at Carrick Blacker. 108th Brigade spent the period in reserve to 109th Brigade. Battalion Headquarters and ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies were at Hedauville. ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies were in Mesnil detached to 109th Brigade. On the left of 36th (Ulster) Division (over the boundary between X Corps and VIII Corps) was 31st Division, soon to be replaced by 29th Division. On the right was another of the divisions of X Corps, 32nd Division. The 29th and 32nd Divisions would flank the Ulstermen through to and during the attack on 1 July.

For the next three weeks the Battalion would be engaged in work parties of one kind or another digging trenches, and burying signal cable, initially in perfect spring weather that deteriorated as the month wore on.

During the intermittent shellfire, a single shell hit Mesnil on 3 April and caused twelve casualties in ‘B’ Company, including Private James Hall, who was killed, and Privates Joseph Bulman, Thomas Houston and John Vennard, all of whom were badly wounded and later died of their wounds. Private Robert Sturgeon was wounded in the neck and arm. Four men from 11th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and the Royal Field Artillery were also wounded by this shell.

The Battalion football team was victorious again in a match against 10th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (5-1) on Saturday 8 April, and that evening a Regimental concert was held.

This period also saw the formation of the Brigade Trench Mortar Battery, equipped with the new 3-inch Stokes mortar. All of the battalions provided manpower and 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers lost Second Lieutenant Samuel O’Neill and some good men to the new unit. For the remainder of the war the Battery would see men from the 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers move in and out of its ranks.


Footnote

The casualties during this period were:

20319 Joseph Bulman, died of wounds on 26 April 1916; Forceville Communal Cemetery and Extension.
14260 Private James Hall, killed in action on 3 April 1916; Mesnil Ridge Cemetery.
20305 Private Thomas Houston, died of wounds on 10 April 1916; Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension Number 1.
19750 Private John Vennard, died of wounds on 9 April 1916; Beauval Communal Cemetery.
Nine others were wounded, including 16422 Private Robert Sturgeon
.

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WEDNESDAY, APRIL 12th

Longish crossing, but got to Boulogne in good time—7:40 p.m. Shall catch a train to A_____ [Abbeville] about midnight, and dine at small restaurant.

THURSDAY, APRIL 13th

Here we are in the same place as I left them. We reached A_____ [Abbeville] about 5:45 a.m., and found a car waiting us, so after coffee and rolls came on here, arriving about 7:30 a.m. All flourishing here. One shell did all the damage, killed one man and wounded 10, of whom two have since died, and one is not expected to live. It was the 29th in the line. Some of them going on leave this a.m., were turned back at the rail head at 5.00 a.m. with news that Havre boats were off owing, I think, to submarines. Wretched luck. Showers this morning, turned into blustery but showery p.m. Cold wind, very like last few days at C. B. [Carrick Blacker]

Queen Alexandra’s comforts have come—about 10 things for each Coy., and about five articles for each Coy officer—cigarettes in box, with picture of H.M., muffler, cigar lighter, spoon, knife and fork, games, etc.—all useful things.

There was not a bed to be had in B_____ [Boulogne] last night. Fancy, the people who went by the 7.00 a.m. train found no boat running and had to put in the day at Folkestone and come over by our boat. Russell been made G.S.O. [General Staff Officer] for London District. They had a good deal of rain here Tuesday and Wednesday, place muddy. It turned out very hot in the train yesterday p.m., but I was glad of my clothes on the boat. The first half she pitched heavily, and the second half of the journey, she rolled, at times so badly that the baggage and people on chairs all went sliding into the rails. Smyth and I lashed our chairs to the rails. Some Canadian nurses were in front of us and were very sick. The two men who have died are Houston, a Glasgow man, and Vennard, a brother of the Sgt. Only came in the last draft. Pratt and Padre were in M_____ [Mesnil] at the time, about 4:30 p.m. The old ladies here were profuse in their welcome. Cather brought a gramophone back with him, by Fergie’s direction.

FRIDAY, APRIL 14th

A very wet night has turned everything into mud again. Leave has been stopped, and everyone to be back by 18th. Am distressed that eight or nine have not got away; very hard on them. Div. H.Q. are coming in here after all, so a general squash up will ensue. I don’t think we shall stay here long, but one never knows. Am going over to M_____ [Mesnil] this p.m. to see ‘A’ and ‘B’. Saw one of the new officers, Andrews. Was in a bank at Bangor. Was favourably impressed. The R.A. [Royal Artillery] General moves out of here today, I believe. Day turned blustery and fine, but cold wind. A draft of 26 expected today.

SATURDAY, APRIL 15th

I fancy we shall go into the line again within 10 days, probably where we were before H_____ [Hamel]. A move from here is, I think, imminent, but where to I cannot imagine, as every place is packed. They all seemed very well at M_____ [Mesnil] yesterday. I sent for Jimmy Shepherd and had a chat with him, and thanked him for bringing your letter. The weather is still bitter cold, N.W. wind and squally, snow and hail showers. A football match with 9th Inniskillings today. Ricardo’s lot. Saw ‘At.’ and young ‘Shill.’ yesterday, and told them I had seen their people. Still odd cases of Hun spots among the troops.

SUNDAY, APRIL 16th

A lovely sunny warm day, but still what wind there is is cold. We had service in the open, and it was warm. The fruit trees, grass and foliage, are coming on fast. Am bringing ‘A’ and ‘B’ back here tomorrow and sending ‘C’ and ‘D’ to M­­­­_____ [Mesnil]. We go into H_____ [Hamel] line Thursday or Friday. Bde. [is] only having one Battalion in line, so we shall be out a good deal—six days in and 18 out. Lots of working parties on every day, but not much for me to do. The Div. Staff says that leave has been stopped on account of Easter traffic at home; if so it’s a shame. However, it is hoped it will begin again 25th. We beat 9th Inniskillings 6 goals to 0. We shall be in the line Easter Sunday. Reid is L’Corpl., but still looks after Betsy Jane. Talked to Hughes about his brother, and Johnny Cook [sic] came to see me.

MONDAY, APRIL 17th

I made an eloquent appeal for Allen’s leave and he got it all right. Rain all night has taken the sting out of the air, and it’s a soft spring-like day, but moist and everything ‘lifty.’ The raid S.E. [south-east] of A_____ [Albert] was into 1st R.I.R. [1st Royal Irish Rifles] trenches, and they lost about 200, I learn, including some prisoners. It was the S. Wales Borderers [2nd Battalion, The South Wales Borderers] at Mary_____ [Mary Redan], casualties 86, so far as I can judge, seven 2nd Lieuts. wounded. A very intensive bombardment which flattened out the trench line. We go in, as I thought, Thursday.

The Lurgan handkerchiefs and candles have now come. Ricardo’s lot, not satisfied with their beating on Saturday, have challenged to play again today on their ground, and are sending over for the team. Find the old ladies can provide delicious fresh eggs. People seem to think the leave will re-open on 25th, which looks as if the Easter traffic theory was correct. I am sending Vanston, the new Capt. from 4th Battalion, to Army School for a month. Johnny Cook [sic] was very smiling; tell his father.


Footnote

The early part of this letter appears to be a clarification of a question posed by Blacker’s wife. The first raid referred to (which, in fact, occurred a mile north-east of Albert) was against 1st Royal Irish Rifles. It took place after a heavy gas and explosive barrage that began at 6.55 p.m. on 11 April. A forty-strong German raiding party then attacked resulting in 10 killed, 39 wounded and 28 missing, with most of the latter being captured. Although criticised for allowing the enemy such success, a later German account praised the Battalion’s defence and attributed the raiders’ success to the scale of the gas attack. For more detail see: Taylor, J W. (2002). The 1st Royal Irish Rifles in the Great War. Dublin: Four Courts Press. pp 71-73. 

The artillery barrage and raid on the position held by 2nd Battalion, The South Wales Borderers at Mary Redan, north-west of the sector held by 36th (Ulster) Division, took place at 9.00 p.m. on 6 April. Following a major barrage (estimates put the number of shells at over 8,000), which caused many casualties and destroyed trenches, dugouts and communication lines, the enemy attacked and took a number of prisoners. The attack was repulsed by a bombing party and at 10.30 p.m. the attackers withdrew. The barrage and raid resulted in 29 men killed, 36 wounded and 18 missing.