[The Battalion in the line at Hamel—’…enemy sent over three or four whizz-bangs near our cookers…casualties one man wounded…’—and Lieutenant Colonel Blacker on a course of instruction at Flixecourt.]
A spring-like day, which is now turning to rain. Snow going, and everything slushy. We had a lecture on sanitation at 3.00 p.m., and now a hiatus till 6.00 p.m., when we have another lecture on ‘An attack by Canadians’ by one of them. The School is very well run. Capable instructors and Kentish, a good schoolmaster, and does most things well himself. I hear the French are holding the Huns all right, but they themselves acknowledge to heavy losses. Repington seems to think we are going to see a big German attack by land and sea. I expect they’ve got some big guns and a lot of new ships. The ‘Maloja’ is a sad business. Here they say we’ve got a 3,000 ton submarine, which we’ve captured! A 4th Army now under H. Rawlinson. We still remain in 3rd I think. Three Canadian officers came over from 70 miles and gave us an account of a cutting out expedition they made into Hun trenches in November last. They were only thirty strong. They killed 30 Huns and brought in 12 prisoners. A thrilling story, told quite simply. A really well managed show, well practiced and well carried out. From British Columbia they all were. Rain stopped this p.m. We are in Flixecourt.
The Canadians are credited with the idea and early development of the ‘trench raid’—a small, deliberate attack into the enemy lines to gather intelligence, conduct reconnaissance and kill and capture enemy soldiers. The first such attack had taken place in February 1915 and the raid described by Lieutenant Colonel Blacker took place on the night of 16/17 November 1915 at La Petite Douve Farm, a fortified German position on the road one mile south of Messines. A short account may be found in the Official History of the Canadian Army in the First World War Canadian Expeditionary Force 1914-1919 by Colonel G W L Nicholson CD, Army Historical Section, at pages 107-110. A more detailed account may be found at If Ye Break Faith.
The 9th Royal Irish Fusiliers will find itself in the same sector after leaving the Somme in the summer of 1916 and will raid the same farm in the early hours of 12 October.
[The Battalion in the line at Hamel—’trenches in a deplorable condition’—and Lieutenant Colonel Blacker on a course of instruction at Flixecourt.]
Quite an interesting day. I am enjoying the course greatly; an extraordinary jump from squalor to luxury! We began at 8:45 and went on till lunch at 12:45; then 2.00-4.00; 4:30 to 5.00, and lecture 6.00-7.00. Am learning some things. Of course, some of it is tosh! But the systems of training and the instructors for the young officers and N.C.O.s is excellent and must do good. Kentish, the Commandant, is brainy and a good organiser, with sound views, and full of common sense. More French heavy artillery going through, and the officers coming to dine. We went to see their big Hows. this p.m. Next Sunday is Barossa Day and Kentish has a scheme of taking me and some N.C.O.s and officers to the 1st Battalion for the day. He is very keen, and rightly, on esprit de corps, and is a great Irish Fusilier!
Major R J Kentish, c1910
At the Battle of Barossa on 5 March 1811, Sergeant Patrick Masterson of the 2/87th Foot captured the first French eagle to be taken in battle. The Regiment was awarded the title ‘87th Prince of Wales’ Own Irish Regiment’ and allowed to bear ‘an Eagle with a Wreath of Laurel’ on its colour. The celebration of ‘Barossa Day’ was continued by the 87th’s three descendants—from 1881, Princess Victoria’s (Royal Irish Fusiliers); from 1968, The Royal Irish Rangers; and, from 1992, The Royal Irish Regiment (27th (Inniskilling) 83th and 87th and Ulster Defence Regiment).
[The Battalion in the line at Hamel and Lieutenant Colonel Blacker on a course of instruction at Flixecourt.]
I am to go to course at Div. School after all. Was told at 9.00 a.m. today, and the car to take me is on its way.
10.30 p.m. We got in here by motor bus at 7 p.m. after a 4-hours’ cold drive. Ross Smyth came down with me. I think it promises to be very interesting. A fine mess and very comfy billets, about 300 yards away. Such luxury! Electric light, bed sheets, and charming little room. Four batteries of heavy French artillery billeted here, and the officers dined with us. I had a French officer on either side of me and talked away all dinner time. Very improving, but laborious. Got to Div. H.Q. 11.00 a.m. Waited here till 2:30 p.m. Lunched with _____ mess and had to talk to George Bruce, O’Neill and others. A poor fellow was shot here this morning by sentence of Court Martial, for desertion. Gruesome! Snow all last night and roads very bad, I fear the Battalion will have a bad four days in the trenches. The course lasts for one week. They tell me the original move is on this week, in which case we should go in immediate support of 109th, who are in the line. I think the French are all right at Verdun.
A better day, and a thaw on, though not decided. The weather having been so severe, the Gen. has decided to relieve after four days, and we go into the line again tomorrow (Sunday). Rather a blow cutting our rest by two days. However, we are only to be in four days, but they will be bad ones if the thaw comes; Berry has got the flu, and Scott is doing Medico. Have got all bathed and changed into fresh clothes, and have a bath myself this evening. The relief from here is more complicated as it’s further and means a late business again. The 50 off leave will arrive at rail-head tonight about 10.00 p.m., just in time to go into the trenches. Am feeling very well. Poor Anderson has gone home very ill-pneumonia and Stuart Wortly [sic] has the Corps temporarily. Many moves are on. Hung up for the moment on account of the snow. I dine with Griffith tonight. The new officers have not materialised yet; one has been struck off sick at home; and the others I can get no word of.
Snow falling all day, and is getting deep. A miserable day. Glad we are not in the line. Such a day! I don’t know what will happen if it goes on. Delay in supplies and everything, and when the thaw comes! We are busy sweeping roads, etc. The Huns are making a push at Verdun, with a certain amount of success, but it’s bad weather to attack. A course for C.O.s’ at 3rd Army School begins on Sunday, and I may have to go, only four days, and I don’t want to in the least. Am revelling in 9.00 a.m. breakfast, rather lazy! Draft arrived tonight at 7.00 p.m., after travelling since Tuesday, and finishing up with a six mile march in a snowstorm.
Relief very late and I didn’t get away from trench line till 11.00 p.m. and walked over here about three miles. Got here about 12 midnight, three inches snow and a little frost made travelling rather difficult, and kits didn’t come in till 1.00 a.m. I went straight to my billet and went to bed and managed to keep warm with some difficulty. Water frozen in here, and in Perrier bottle! Bright and clear and frosty today. Of course, another change is on. We don’t go back into the same line—Div. is contracting its front. I believe 109th relieve 107th and we go in close support, 107th going back in Reserve. It means a move from here into villages round—always changes! Just as we were getting to know that bit of line. The sharpest frost we have had the whole winter. We were lucky to be out of the line last night. We buried Wood and Ford [sic] at 2.00 p.m. yesterday, in a snowstorm. I read parts of the burial service. Quite a nice bright little cemetery. They had a salute of guns, which were firing all the time.
The 107th have been doing very well and are very good now. Of course, Fergie was awaiting us when we came in last night, at entrance of village, to conduct us to our billets, and he told us a move was on for Saturday! Possibly, and I must say I thought probably Ypres! But it’s not here, and it’s now postponed two or three days, probably Monday. It’s a great relief to be able to walk about without keeping an ear cocked for the whistle of a shell or the rattle of a M.G. I intend to do some late mornings in bed. Breakfast 9.00 a.m.—after six days rising at 5:30 a.m. Found the pony well and Reid very helpful on arrival. I shall bring him home next time I get leave. Rather cold, but feeling very well, and have escaped the cold which everyone has got. Bitterly cold again tonight. They have altered the move again, and now we are to go back into the line again as before, on Tuesday. They’ll probably alter it again; now they’ve stopped all leave, whatever that may mean. We bathed about 250 men today and gave them clean clothes.
Frost and fine so far, but looks like snow. Quiet night. We shall bury Wood and Ford [sic] this p.m. Padre being away I shall read the burial service. I believe the 69th Res. Regt. Prussians are opposite us.
The German defenders in the area opposite 36th Ulster Division were, in fact, men of Reserve Infantry Regiments 99 and 119, part of 26th Reserve Division, one of two divisions that made up XIV Reserve Corps. An excellent work on the German opposition in this area may be found in the two volumes of ‘The Other Side of the Wire’ by Ralph Whitehead.
Whitehead, R. (2010). The Other Side of the Wire. Volume 1. Solihull: Hellion. (ISBN: 9781908916891)
Whitehead, R. (2013). The Other Side of the Wire. Volume 2. Solihull: Hellion. (ISBN: 9781907677120)
Another lovely day after a sharp frost. Very dark night up to 10.00 p.m., and threatening snow; very hard to get on with work owing to darkness. Got a certain amount done and some bits of the elephant up. Went round 5:30—7:30 p.m. Again a quiet night.
Lieutenant A C Hollywood
9:30 p.m.—We had a sad show this evening. A patrol of two officers (Hollywood and Wood)—the latter has only just joined a month from H.A.C. [Honourable Artillery Company]—two sgts. and four men went out to investigate what the Huns were doing about 40 yards from our advanced post. While investigating they were fired at (rifle grenades). Poor Wood was killed and a Pte. Ford [sic], Hollywood and two Ptes. wounded, not severely. They behaved extremely well, and H stayed out with the bodies until relief came out and brought them in. Otherwise it has been a quiet day. It snowed a bit off and on today, but didn’t lie. Freezing again tonight.
The ruins of the Mill where Second Lieutenant Wood and Private Forde were killed.
The casualties were:
17671 Private Samuel James Forde, killed in action on 22 February 1916; Hamel Military Cemetery.
Second Lieutenant Reginald Nixon Wood, killed in action on 22 February 1916, the first officer of the Battalion to be killed in action; Hamel Military Cemetery.
In addition to Lieutenant Hollywood, 14004 Private Charles Bryans was wounded; he was later discharged as a result of his wounds.
A quiet night. Went my rounds this morning. Still water in places. It’s cold in the cellar in the daytime. We can’t have fire owing to the smoke, but I daresay healthier than a heated atmosphere. The transport are about two miles from M_____ [Mesnil] at the place we go to for our rest when we go out of the line on Wednesday. All ranks will get steel helmets in time. We have been lucky again in the weather this time, though some fearful days. A quiet day. Our Heavies active and hurling big stuff over us, making a fearful noise. The trenches are improving. Everyone has worked hard on them, but water still in many of them. The mining expert, after earnest investigation, decides against the theory of the caves being mined and the men have returned to them. Two men slightly wounded are our casualties, so far, this time in. We have begun making a new H.Q. down here, big dug-out with wonderful steel arched roof, called an elephant. We have got two for H.Q. Neither Bull or I like the cellar, it could be made quite impossible any time. The men’s food arrives hot, in spite of being carried 1½ miles up trenches, many of them 1ft. in water.
‘The Dismantled Elephant, an Iron Hut in the Throes of Dissolution’ by Eric Henri Kennington
Nothing has happened during the night, except a Zep. [Zeppelin] came over at midnight, but did nothing. About 150 men live in some deep caves cut into the hill, and sounds of mining under it have been heard. Patrol has discovered men working at what looks like a shaft, about 150x [yards] in front of us. I cleared all the men out of the caves back to the village. An expert miner is coming today to examine. We passed an anxious night expecting an explosion, which would, of course, have been the prelude to an attack. Clear frosty morning. Such a heavenly spring day, sunny and warm, and a peaceful day. Very little shell fire, and only occasional M.G. The mining expert came early, but is at present unable to make any definite statement. Noises there are, but he can’t determine what. He is going to stay till he can say definitely. We had another man, Patterson, from Cornascriebe, near Portadown, slightly wounded yesterday evening. A spent bullet just penetrated his arm, and was cut out by Berry. The only possible footwear for the trenches in their present state is the Government long gum boot, which comes up to the thigh. I find it very tiring to walk in, but when you come on water on your knees, and liquid mud of like depth, no other boots are possible. I trust now the worst of the weather may be over. Oh! I am so dirty; hands grimy, and feet and body dirty. Somehow I felt it more today in this beautiful sunlight.
An awful amount of work there is to be done to keep existing trenches in order, and then a lot of new necessary work to be undertaken, and few men to do it. Not a man of the 2¼ Coys. in front line can be taken from the line. It takes 80 men every night to bring in the rations from the dump 1½ miles away, from which it has to be carried with the greatest difficulty. I can raise 60 men for work at night. There is our main communication trench, 1½ miles long, which has to be cleaned (in parts 2ft. deep in solid mud and liquid slush), and each side of it riveted to prevent it falling in. It would take 500 men a fortnight to do it, and the earth removed from the top where it has been piled up from bottom when cleaning, and keeps tumbling in again. This can only be done at night. Then there is another communication trench of a mile, to the cookers, up which all the men’s food is carried for every meal. This keeps falling in, and being on low ground is full of water. The cookers themselves are in a horrible place, liquid mud and impossible to drain, or keep clean.