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Ward No. 5
Stationed at, Hursley Park Military Hospital,
July 6th 1916
My dear Mother and Father,
Now for full particulars. In the first place you will see we are rather low down south but its lovely to be in a proper bed and get something decent to eat.
Well as you know the great Advance commenced last Saturday morning at 7.30 after 7 days absolutely terrific bombardment, shells of all sizes up to 15 inches and weighing 15 cwt were whizzing over our heads. We were placed between 6 or 7 Batteries, quite closely so you may have some hazy idea what a never ending roar we had to live and sleep against, but believe me, we were so tired at night that even that roar made no difference to our sleep, in fact I can sleep anywhere save on a real bed and I shall have to get used to it.
For a month previous to the attack we have worked like niggers training and making preparations. For ten days we walked 5 miles each morning (Sunday included) to our training ground and then tramped across fields of corn and wheat etc and as it rained each day our legs were wet through above the knees, so its a wonder some of us have not had rheumatics before now. After these 10 days we moved to a field nearer trenches every night from 7pm to between 3 & 5 the next morning.
We had to carry boxes of explosives weighing 50 lbs up to the front line and if you knew what the winding in and out there is to do you'd know how our arms felt – ie. Almost useless by the time we'd finished. We had also to take up one night, cylinders full of Gas – a gas unknown to the Germans, it is so strong as to penetrate the Huns gas helmets. Absolute quietness and no smoking or lights were insisted upon as we did not want Fritz to hear us as he'd guess something unusual was happening and if he shelled us and burst one of the cylinders, not one of us would have been here to tell the tale, as luck would have it we got there safely.
The third day it poured with rain making the trenches up to the knees in water, and that is without exaggeration. This made it more difficult still to get our stuff up on the following night, however we managed it alright. Then a fortnight ago tomorrow (Friday) we went into the trenches and stayed in (living chiefly on bully beef and (dog) biscuits until the attack came off last Saturday, making 8 days and under our own, and the enemy's ceaseless bombardment all the while.
During the whole eight days the wind was favourable for us to send gas across to Fritz so we gave him a bit one or two nights. On one occasion 6 or 7 of our men who had released the gas caught the fumes and I was at the Dressing Station when four of them were brought up.
It was a pitiful sight to hear them coughing and struggling for breath and vomiting, three of them died later.
I will now give an account of the attack and my wound.
At 6.30am Saturday morning every gun we had (for a frontage of 10 miles) opened a rapid fire, fairly making the earth shake. Each Battalion moved into position at 7.15am, we blew up two mines under Fritz's second and third lines (using 7 tons of Ammonal, a high explsive). It was just like an earthquake as each mine went up the whole earth trembled in fact rocked for two seconds.
At 7.30am our first line went over the top and then Fritz opened out with his machine guns from all quarters it seemed, not to mention a continual hail of shrapnel and coal boxes (coal boxes are shells when burst given off a big amount of black smoke which gives the appearance of coal fumes). The good old “Chums” or tenth Lincs as we like to be called were the first over in our division except for “D” Company which went over last to form a “Strong Point” in the German fourth line. Anyhow our turn came the order was passed down “Over the top lads” no one shrank back, but as one man climbed on the parapet. Zip zip zip then k-rupp, k-rupp bullets and shells all around but on we went, but we had not gone far before down went one man, then another and another.
Our Major was hit in the hand, but still he kept on with us, over our first line scrambling along over shell holes galore, when all of a sudden something struck me in the back, I thought for a moment something had blown the middle of my back out, I gave one slight exclamation and dropped down. I got my pack off slung off ammunition gas helmet etc and laid down in a shell hole wondering whether I was dying or not. I turned on to my side to see if there was much blood as I could feel something wet and warm trickle down my back.
I knew I might stay there for hours without any help as the stretcher bearers were busy with heaps of wounded behind me.
I laid there about half an hour (which seemed hours) and all the time the machine guns were sending their missiles making the zip zip. But I had a good bit of protection with being in a shell hole. All at once there came a whizz:- k-rupp. It was a coal box burst within twenty yards covering me with dirt. I had to wait a few seconds to know whether I had been hit with a piece of shell. No I was alright. Then whizz k-rupp again yet again and a fourth time each shell seeming to get nearer. I thought to myself if I stay here many more minutes I shall be blown to pieces, and yet to move out of cover was asking for more bullets. Still came the shells, so I made up my mind to try and crawl along to the left and back to our trenches.
The pain in my back was beginning to make itself felt but I scrambled out and rolled over first on one side and then the other from one shell hole to another – having a slight pause in each.
The second hole I crept into I came across Corpl Y......... (whom Gertie will remember at Keelby) – he had been shot through the leg so I asked him if he was going to make a dash for it with me. He said "yes" as he realised it was death to stay out under this shell fire. We crawled along and at last reached our first line with a sigh of relief dropped into the trench, but the sights which met our eyes were almost too awful to describe. Poor fellows lying everywhere, some dead and some dying in agony with limbs and shoulders blown away, faces altered beyond recognition. Others crawling on hands and knees, and some making their way along the rear like ourselves. We had to tread over many a dead and dying man but we could do nothing, my wound was bleeding very much but as I got to the second line I met one of our stretcher bearers and he said he would put a dressing on it and told me to lie in the bottom of the trench or creep into a dugout if I could not keep on to the Chateau Dressing Station (this Chateau I have mentioned in previous letters). On I kept through the trenches passing heaps heaps of dying and wounded comrades in face the trenches were running with blood. To make things worse Friday had been a hot sunny day and it had turned the watery slush into sticky mud, which was still up to our knees. One thing I admire was coming across one wounded man helping to carry or lift another comrade more unfortunate, I was unable to do this as it was my back which was hurt. At last I got to the dressing station but here were heaps and heaps of wounded who had got there before me and would you believe it the Huns trained their guns on to the Chateau and gave us five minutes terrible bombardment. This cruelty is beyond humanity. I could see I should have to wait hours maybe before I should be attended to so the Doctor asked me to walk to the dressing station at Albert if possible so I hobbled for another mile to Albert and by the time I got there I was done up. I was wounded at 9.30am arriving at Albert at 11.30 my wound being dressed again at 2pm. The doctor said I had a wound very deep about 1½ inches in length but luckily the bullet passed straight through my back and out of the left side but it hasn't touched the spine or kidneys.
I was moved about from one place to another arriving at Abbeville (in France). Here we got a bath sleeping suit wound properly dressed and into a BED, it was so lovely to be attended to by English Nurses, but the way we had two eggs bread and butter and cocoa, then next morning (Monday) we had porridge then wound re-dressed. We left by ambulance train at 10.20pm arriving at Le Havre at 2pm Tuesday (nearly 16 hours journey).
On board the big ship “Panama” and 3pm a good meal of meat and potatoes and gravy and sailed at 4.30pm, it was a glorious evening everything calm. I slept well until 4am but came on deck then. We were then anchored just outside Southampton Docks, we landed at about 5.30 last night and were brought here.
I have just had a lovely dinner of not stew but beef and potatoes and rich gravy and a cornflour pudding. As soon as I get better I get 10 days leave so you can reckon on seeing me for certain but I shall be here a week or two yet. It is like coming out of Hell into Heaven. We lost heavily but the Huns lost worse, our part was between La Boiselle and Contalmaison. If you read today's Daily Sketch the first paragraph page two will get an idea as to the coolness of our troops and the terrific fire we had to face.
All I can say is the good old “Chums” whom the Grimsby People ridiculed, have done their part like heroes the same as all the other fellows. I estimate about 100,000 took part on the 10 miles and at least 25% were killed or wounded, but we are progressing as you know.
As I looked back from the Hill near Albert it was a sight worth seeing although terrible, nothing but smoke green, grey, black and yellow and little figures (with steel helmets showing) climbing up the slope and over the ridges, but the slaughter I came across will never go from my mind and I am no coward but like the rest of soldiers I don't want to see such terrible sights again.
Please excuse awful scribble and paper but I am writing this in bed and my back is stiff but I shall write as often as possible as usual. I shall be up for a bit each day soon. I am enclosing the piece of my jacket where the bullet entered, it is the only souvenir I have left, as I left everything on the battlefield, the hole where it came out isn't very large.
They do not provide us with razors here so will you please send me a 5/ safety one some shaving soap and a pair of nail scissors as am hard up for a shave. My health otherwise is perfect.
Best love to all from your loving son,