I would love to hear from you about this - please contact me, Susan Martin firstname.lastname@example.org
Following the battle – summer 1915
The battalion was now licking its wounds
Stoner - 10th arrived assars [Essars] 4.30 am 4 miles from firing line.in reserve for 2nd div, heard French got round La bassy and Indian advanced about 3 kilos ours was only place where no advance
We are at a place named chocolate? Min? corner owing to when we took this place the germans had to leave a lot of chocolate at the corner. Well I can’t say I am quite comfortable here we are about 800 yds behind the front line trenches and our own guns are firing right over our heads. If one of them happens to have a misfire we shall be in for it. [in a ruined house with lots of sandbags to stop shrapnel]
Just like home here no birds singing and its a lovely day [however] if other bombardments was bad enough but this will be dreadful we shall be lucky if we can hear for a day
On the 10th May the officer’s newspaper report continues ‘We arrived at Les Choquaux in the early hours of the 10th; a sorry remnant of the fine battalion which marched up in high hopes to the trenches on the evening of the 8th”.
11th At 4pm moved further back to billets at Oblinghem. Here a draft of 120 NCOs and men joined them from the base
On the 12th the work continues trying to reorganise and get together again. In the afternoon they moved the Bethune ‘where the men enjoyed the luxury of good shops, swimming baths, etc.,” The 15th to 19th was spent at La Bourse just outside Bethune, and a concert was held on the 19th, then it was back to the front – at La Bassee.
2pm on the 20th the battalion marched out. Companies in frontline were right to left A, B, C; D company was in reserve. Luxurious dug outs for the officers (how about the ORs?). Time was mainly spent carrying out work on the trenches.
‘Since leaving Cuinchy in January, we had nearly always been in breastworks, but now we returned to real trench life, and very good trenches they were too’ and on the 22nd ‘A constant mining battle is going on in this part of the field, and the stillness of the night is frequently broken by a deafening roar, the result of the explosion of a mine, which is, without due warning, trying to the strongest nerves”. This was to continue for a while
22nd was a quiet day with yesterday’s work continued in the afternoon. Only 30-80 yards to the Germans and no-man’s land dotted with craters of mines exploded by either side. Constant mining battle “the stillness of the nigh tis frequently broken by a deafening roar, the result of the explosion of a mine, which is without due warning trying to the strongest nerves”. Draft of 7 officers and 271 men arrived
23rd May intercompany relief, D relieving A which came back to reserve dug-outs. B company moved back to support trench. Next day relief to Layinghem. In the tour one killed and three wounded. And 26th to Cambrin ‘we understood that when we came here we would be staying here a month – what hopes. 27th at Cambrin 1000s of fleas in billets. These are lovely communication trenches about 10ft height just like underground at smoke? One can easily lose himself…dugouts flowers growing outside of them. 29th sector move to Sally La Bourse (just outside of Bethune). Between 25th and 27th two men were wounded by shellfire.
28th May saw all companies in the front line. Quiet night. D company was in what was known as “Bomb alley” and somewhat seriously bombed. CSM Butcher buried for the third time, escaped with only a shaking and came up smiling. Stoner - ‘my nerves are nearly gone. I have been shaking like a leaf’. 29th found A, B and C in reserve to different sub-sections of the line. D company was garrison to one of the keeps. No change on 30-31st .
By this time the Battalion would have been replenished by new recruits. These were now Kitchener’s men, who had joined up after the outbreak of war. At this time a man could still give a preference for the unit he wished to serve in so some would have experienced Chichester Barracks the same as Charles Jones of the 8th Royal Sussex regiment.
Charles who worked in a solicitor’s office in London reached Chichester on the 7th September and after three days wrote to his wife ‘we naturally expected to be met at the station by an NCO but none did so and we wandered up to the barracks some mile and a quarter in small groups. The barracks are old fashioned, consisting of a large enclosed space with numerous erections built bungalow style sufficient for the comfortable accommodation of 500 men. In all there were about 1,200 in the barracks on the day of arrival, all raw recruits. There were only about six NCOs to take charge of the whole lot…Having formerly reported, everyone enquired about food and we were then informed that none could be given us. The language used by the majority of the recruits, consisting mainly of London roughs and country yokels of the worst description. I cannot repeat here but damns and bloodys etc etc were introduced into every sentence. .. The authorities being bankrupt of food and drink we made our way to the canteen and an institution called the Army Temperance Association. At neither could we obtain either food or drink. We then made for a pub outside, where one or two corporals were drinking, stood them beers and had one or two ourselves. My portion consisted of two glasses of ‘old six’ and a hunk of bread and cheese….’.
He was told to sleep in the library but ‘a small room covered with dirty lino on which we had no sleep packed like sardines and with one of the noisiest and obscene collection of human being it has ever been my misfortune to meet, and the smell of them packed into a small building after a hot day was truly sickening…The bed itself was enough to make sleep impossible but add to the discomfort of this a din which beggars description from 10pm to 1.30am with an occasional boot travelling across the room and language which would have disgraced Billingsgate porters and you will not need to be told that we all turned out quite early in the morning about (4.30) feeling far from refreshed’ (Peter Simkins, Kitchener’s Army p 194-195). However Charles was pleasantly surprised by his dinner of stewed beef and potatoes the next day. His portion was dished up on a chipped enamel plate which had merely been dipped in a bucket of cold water to remove the worse of the grease. “I just cut the meat and potatoes with a penknife and put the pieces in my mouth with my fingers. The liquor I drank from the plate. They were allowed out to supplement the rations by purchasing food from local shops (p198)
Another account of a recruit in Chichester – from Jimmy Carpenter’s war diary, pt. 1, edited by Peter Mealyer & Colin Hague (Stand To Jan 2005, 72, p15) Jimmy enlisted 7th September 1914 with his cousin at St Paul’s recruiting office, London. He had wanted to go into Buffs but was enlisted in the Royal Sussex Regiment. He reported to Whitehall, ‘given 14p for rations and marched to Victoria station singing all sorts of patriotic songs, while people cheered and gave us cigarettes and old gentlemen raised their hats. …we played cards all the way down and when Chichester was reached cleared out of the train and made our way to the barracks, hundreds of us all over the street singing and shouting on our way. When we reached the barrack the sight that met our gaze wasn’t very cheering, on the square and on the fields surrounding, thousands of men were lying about, and no signs of huts or tents…we were given one blanket between four, and told to lie where we could. So we strolled into the town, and arrived back in barracks about 10.00pm, found a dry spot beneath the trees and made our beds, but we could not sleep for men were singing and shouting and fighting and some were drunk and kicking up a terrific din. So at day-break we washed ourselves in the fire buckets, and lined up for breakfast, which consisted of hot tea, without milk, and a lump of far bacon on bread, which we ate and enjoyed being very hungry. Then the roll was called and we were dismissed. So we played football and cards until dinner time. We lined up again and drew stew and bread after which we were allowed out of barracks until 9…free fights were very frequent …we did not return to barracks that night bur found some apartments and had a good bed for a moderate sum. We were rather late getting back the next day, for which the Sergeant Major wasn’t any too nice…we found all the men marching about being instructed by policemen. [After dinner told 300 volunteers needed for the Buffs]
One CO who demonstrated what could be done was Lieutenant-Colonel Osborn of 7th RSR. When still in Chichester he got permission to buy much-needed items at 20% over standard army rates and dispatched Capt J L Sleeman to London to negotiate with suppliers – in fact got many thousands of items, shirts, socks, braces, towels, razors for much less than normal contract rates. (Kitchener’s Army p 262-263)
Marksmanship of the old army was very good but declined with the men coming out now onwards. It was easier to do bayonet training with them. Charles Carrington thought it was essential even though killed few (Tommy p383) ‘I never knew the enemy to stand if your men with their long gleaning blades could get within charging distance’.
Kitchener’s army looked down on by BEF command – belief the men wanted a quiet life in trenches ‘live and let live’. – to counteract this cumulative aggression – habitual daylight artillery and trench mortar bombardments, nocturnal strafing machine gun and rifle fire then the coup de grace by trench raiding – penetrate enemy lines and kill as many as poss. But many felt trench raids as pointless, like schoolboy raid. However modern thinking is that many have succeeded in making men want to revenge death of comrades ‘ Haking told his divisional commanders ‘we must make our men realise that they the power [of]getting into the enemy’s trenches and driving him out; nothing short of that will render us fit for greater…
Classes mixed as never before and this could change in attitudes, as one soldier recalled ‘It’s the first time I’ve seen anyone tight and was not disgusted. Here were these poor devils all going back to Verdun, all good soldiers & pals & just been spending their leave as they liked, after all there was no merit in my not being tight, just because I hate it; my form of leave was to see my family and see something lovely & mountains. Theirs was to see their families and have a drink. After all we each had what we were hankering for hadn’t we? Why should I have it and not they?
From ‘I was there’ - ‘we all cursed our caps and certainly the khaki caps supplied to our officers and men deserved a curse. It gave no protection to the head or neck in summer and in rainy winter it was soon soaked’ and ‘the khaki uniform wraps round one like a sticky blanket’
Sgt Packham [he then was retrained as a signaller and returned as such to his Battalion just after Aubers Ridge ‘what did concern me was the morale of the troops. They had just returned from the Aubers Ridge battle and they were only too pleased to tell me about it for the very heavy casualties that occurred during the battle said they had advanced in line, mowed down and artillery hadn’t destroyed trenches or barbed wire.
June opened with them in the front line, part of it known as Vesuvius and Etna because of the craters, both sides mining, which does little damage. Just as A company relief finished B comapany’s line was bombed on one killed. On the 2nd all quiet apart from usual bombing about Vesuvius and Etna “men are told off to do nothing but look up at the air, and when they see a bomb coming yell out “Bomb over” when everyone gets to earth asap”
3rd saw two more mines. Casualties for this period four killed 17 wounded. Then relief – on the 4th they marched to rest billets in Bethune. Stoner recorded on the 4th ‘just woke up by them bursting in front and around the house it’s a terrible noise they make just as if the whole earth as broken in and a terrible flash like or worse than lightening’ and ‘Kings army have arrived in France in good health’
10th Bethune has been shelled several times. This was followed on the 5th to 16th company training, bombing, sports, concerts. Bethune has been shelled several times on the 10th.
16th June back to the firing lane. On the night 17th & 18th it was believed the Germans were to attack on Waterloo day and the men had the discomfort of having to sleep with boots on.
17th ‘we are going to have another go at the boys tomorrow to let them know it was 100 years ago that the Battle of waterloo was fought. But all we seem to get is a few yards of ground and tons of dead and wounded’
On the 19th they left Cambrin for Fouquieres.
Bright moments at the Front. Sussex men hold sports within sound of the guns (SWN June 20 1915). Lance Corporal AC Oram C Company writing of the sports “they were taken up mot enthusiastically, and a good time was spent, the sports commencing at 3 o’clock on Mon afternoon, 14th June and lasting till 8 in the evening…the band of the 5th RSR played some excellent selections throughout the proceedings and Tommy much appreciated the sound of music by an English band which is rare but refreshing thing out here. A good number of townsfolk turned out to witness the sports… “ the races were 100 yards, sack race, 220 yards flat, band races, officers’ wrestling, 440 yards flat, intercompany wrestling, sack fighting, walking race, six-legged race, Officers, warrant officer and platoon sergeants race, wheelbarrow race, walking backwards race (Oram came 2nd in this). He ended by saying there would be concert that evening
The same issue reported that Corporal AH Blackman of Littlehampton had written to his father that the sports day was enjoyable and that it was unique that while the sports progressed to hear the band of the 5th RSR on one side and the music of the shells on the other.
Having been in corps reserve 20-26th they marched out on the 27th at 10.45 and completed relief at 8.30pm. The 28th a quiet night but at 8.30 am shelled in vicinity of Boyau 13 with high explosive. At 5.30 in retaliation we blew up two small mines and then opened rapid rifle fire on the German parapet and after five minutes blew up a larger mine which blew in 60 to 80 yards of the German parapet. We worked strengthening our fire step sides by building up the sides with the sandbags, of which there are plenty to hand, filled with the soil excavated from the mines. At work also upon deep dug-outs, mostly in the support line. We also started work on a new Company headquarters more central than the existing on’ and 1st July ‘Work continued as above night and day. During the day no earth can be thrown above ground, so all excavated earth has to be put into sandbags to be used as required, or to be emptied out at night above ground. When earth is thrown up by day, the watchful Bosche generally gives us a dose of shelling.’
29-30th situation normal
July opened with work continuing as at the end of June, by day and night. They were relieved by 4.15pm on 2nd July. 8th to 12th July in brigade reserve with usual activities. On the 9th a draft of 30 joined, on
The 10th D company relieved C company in “Z”, C re-joined battalion. This illustrates how different companies could be doing different things.
13th saw the brigade relieved and marched to rest billets where until the 19th there were the rest activities in morning and in the afternoon swimming, water polo, boxing etc.
On the 19th the enemy shelled near the railway station without much damage. In the afternoon it was to the front line with guides meeting them at 1.45 pm when guides met them. The relief was completed at 7pm. The next day there was work on improving reserve trench and existing boyaux and near front line. German aeroplanes were very active during the day of the 21st. Brigade wiring party was at work this and following nights. Our patrols kept watch on the German working parties in the Hohenzollern Redoubt. On the 24th a house behind German lines was set on fire by our artillery, burning vigorously. No other incident that day. Relief at 4pm 25th, to billets close to rear. However this was no rest as 25-29th the men were busy with digging and carrying parties for the RE in various works and improvements in the trenches, including work on a new entrance to Chapel Alley to avoid men having to cross the open in view of the enemy
Private A Stephens wrote to Mr Shippam on the 29th ‘There have been five or six casualties this time. While in the trenches this time we had some rather dangerous jobs, such as trench digging in front of the fire trench. We got plenty of bullets at us from snippers and when the moon came out the Germans put a machine gun on us. We pretty soon got down flat on the ground, but we all came out safe. I am getting used to it now. Well sir, how is Chichester looking? In all 57 Shippams’ men enlisted and Mr Shippam kept in contact with many of them.
Lance Corporal F J Farnell wrote on the 25th, published SDN on the 6th August – ‘close by hear runs a river a little wider than the Chichester canal with nice clean water in it. Here we are allowed to bathe from 7am to 9am. I suppose the Germans take pity on us between these hours knowing that we get dirty the same as they do. Where we are is practically a little village with small wooden huts…streets three foot wide sometimes made of brick or tiles from ruined houses…names the same as at home Guildhall Street etc.’
A draft of 25 NCOs and men arrived on 30th July. On the 31st the village where the HQ was suffered shelling in the morning with no damage. They were relieved about 9.30 and moved to rest billets and company training etc. until 8th August
There was a brigade horse show on the 5th. The battalion won 1st prize for best pair of heavy draught horses, best turned out cooker, best SAA cart, best NCOs riding horse; 2nd prizes for best pair of light draught horses, officer’s jumping and 3rd prize for best turned out water cart, best turned out pack animal’
Sussex News 6/8/15 published another letter to Mr Ernest Shippam, this one from Sgt Tullit. ‘18 days in the trenches 6 days in firing line 6 in support then back in fireline again “one day in the week we gave them an eye opener. We all had the order passed down to stand to ass there was to be a bombing of their trenches and in case of their trying to build up their parrapets at once. We were to fire rapid fire all down their line…when once our artillery commenced to bomb it lasted for nearly an hour and it was a sight I cannot explain by writing but by the things that flew up in the air, houses, barbed wire et. I bet we shifted a few’
Report from Sussex
H G Godwin was reported in the SDN to have died of wounds having previously been reported wounded. Harold Godwin had gone to France on the 23rd November 1914, discharged on the 10th July and died 5/8/1915. Aged 38 he was the son of John & Mary Ann Godwin of Seven Oaks and husband Mary Ann Godwin 2 Chancellor’s Street Hammersmith. He left at least two sons, and four stepchildren
The first couple of days back at the font were fairly quiet. On the 8th our
heavies registered 9 a lot of bombing on the Germans during the night.
Relieved to brigade reserve the 9th ordinary training was hindered by having to find large working parties to reserve & communication trenches, four miles there, four hours working and four miles back.
16th August back in trenches, relieved on 18th to billets in Bethune.
Relieved another regiment on the 24th, and until the 29th usual work in trenches, improving them.
Evening news 18/8/15 reported on the case of Alfred Thompson from, Brighton. The boy enlisted at 14. He was big for his age and his parents had tried to put him of. In the trenches he got poisoned foot so was taken to hospital. His mother found out where he was and told the war office. He was brought back home and went back to his old job in Hove Baths. He said he wanted to go back
Relieved again on the 7th. During the trench period one killed and nine wounded. The night was spent bivouacked in a field. A 6.30 march on the 8th with a halt for breakfast. Billets at 11am. Weather was very hot but as the SDN officer reported they got through it due to the early start and shade of trees
From the 8th to the 20th the battalion remained in billets. Boxing proved to be a very popular activity. Lance-Corporal Orrin the following account to the Sussex Daily news, printed 23 Sept 1915 ‘Quite the most successful concert we have had out here took place on the 12th September. We had previously had 16 days of hard work in the trenches, and besides holding the first, second and third lines were very busy night and day digging trenches, advance and otherwise. We occupied the advance trenches as we dug them, the work entailed a lot of danger, but the men stuck to the work like Britishers. It was undoubtedly as hard a period of work as the Sussex boys have been called upon to perform and considering the risk attached the casualties were slight. After being relieved we had a long march to negotiate, occupying the best part of two days, and the men much appreciated on arriving at their billets ‘somewhere in France, their first ‘night in’ for nearly a month.’. After a clean up and a football match against the 1st Northants it was the concert. Lance-Corporal Orrin again ‘The scene was very picturesque, the concert taking place in an orchard adjoining the billets. The stage was made up of two farm wagons, and the usual piano was commandeered. A huge bonfire in the middle of the field made a fine effect, and gave the appearance of an old-time country fair. Many of the inhabitants were present, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves…a novel feature of the concert was in inter-company band contest and inter-company marching song contest, the instruments comprising all sorts of weird artefacts such as horse-shoes, combs, bells, mouth-organs, a side drum and a big drum (in the form of an old oil drum). The contest was easily gained by C Company… [which] played a selection composed of ‘Sussex by the Sea’, ‘Mississippi’, and 'Tipperary’. C Company were to the fore again with their marching song, ‘Cock Robin’, with variations, and easily won this contest, conducted by Sgt Smithers. .Individual artiste turns – 1st Pvt Gibbs with various characters from Dickens very fine also those of Harry Ford, Harry Lauder & Sam Mayo. 2nd prize CSM Thorpe for song ‘Farmer Giles’. 3rd Pvte Court with song & patter. Other good ones – Pvte Jubelick ‘They built Piccadilly for me’, L/Cpl Woodcock ‘And a little child shall lead them’ Pvte Mackay ragtime song ‘Get out and get under’. Pvte Brown – sketch Business is brisk, Pvte Simmonds ‘I was there watching them’ and a clog dance. L/Cpl Lcich solo on flute accompanied at the piano by Pvte Gibbs, Pvte Plumb ‘when I lost you’. Ended with God Save the Queen
Boxing and football
The 1st Division supply boxing tournament was held on September 13th. – two representatives both successful 9st 9lb Corp G E Bevan beat Rifleman Murphy, welterweights CSM Soughton beat Sgt Forrester 1st Northampton. In the football match Northampton scored once and in 2nd RSR equalised Pvte Adams scored.
2nd RSR team - Sgt Coomber, CSM Butcher, Sgt Miles, Pvte Barlett, Cpl Tuck, Cpl Blacklock, L-Cpl Tucker, Cpl Merchant, CSM Soughton, Pvte Simpson, Pvte Adams
On 17th draft of 25 joined. On 20th marched at 6pm, bivouacked. Stay in billets a most pleasant one – pretty village with grass orchards and inhabitants most kind. “All ranks thoroughly enjoyed their stay, and the stay in the village will always be remembered by us as a pleasant interlude” so reported the Officer. This was Haules les Mines.
What a contrast to what the men would remember of events to come in less than a week. Preparations for the Battle of Loos were gathering apace.