GWL 6th May 1915

I have completely forgotten what the number of my last letter was, but I have not written since the field service postcard.  I am going to start again at No.1.  

This last fortnight has been distinctly trying.  Continual shelling all day & night and anxiety as to what the situation really is.  Nobody seems to know or, if they do, they do not tell us.

So now you are back in London and going to be frightfully busy.  The weather is perfectly heavenly, which is a grew blessing, as at present I have no kit beyond what I stand up in and badly need a bath.  Such is war – Vive La France.  So Ion is a Captain.  That is good news – The old thing does deserve it, doesn’t he?

A shell landed on our dug-out or rather the corner thereof last night, but there being a healthy roof and the shell being small the damage was nil, but we don’t want any “crimps” on our home, do we?  Fritz has a heap of guns up here.  So he has everywhere apparently.  For the most part they seem to be engaged in ploughing up fields untended by their lawful owners, but now & then they strike a winner and the place thereof knoweth it (whatever it is) no more.  The parcels have arrived all safe and sound and are very comforting indeed.  Please send me a piece of soap!  Some day soon there is going to be a mighty washing of the person and raiment.  The inconsiderate and uncleanly Hun has destroyed my laundry with a 17 inch shell.  Luckily none of my clothes were there, but all the apparatus of cleansing garments has vanished in a cloud of smoke.  The trees are now nearly fully out and look lovely – No more news.”

Sir John French’s 8th Despatch:

“On May 1st another attempt to recapture Hill 60 was supported by great volumes of asphyxiating gas, which caused nearly all the men along a front of about 400 yards to be immediately struck down by its fumes. The splendid courage with which the leaders rallied their men and subdued the natural tendency to panic (which is inevitable on such occasions), combined with the prompt intervention of supports, once more drove the enemy back. A second and more severe ” gas ” attack, under much more favourable weather conditions, enabled the enemy to recapture this position on May 5th. The enemy owes his success in this last attack entirely to the use of asphyxiating gas. It was only a few days later that the means, which have since proved so effective, of counter-acting this method, of making war were put into practice. Had it been otherwise, the enemy’s attack on May 5th would most certainly have shared the fate of all the many previous attempts he had made.

No substantial advance having been made by the French, I issued orders to Sir Herbert Plumer at one o’clock on May 1st to commence his withdrawal to the new line. The retirement was commenced the following night, and the new line was occupied on the morning of May 4th.

I am of opinion that this retirement, carried out deliberately with scarcely any loss, and in the face of an enemy in position, reflects the greatest possible credit on Sir Herbert Plumer and those who so efficiently carried out his orders. The successful conduct of this operation was the more remarkable from the fact that on the evening of May 2nd, when it was only half completed, the enemy made a heavy attack, with the usual gas accompaniment, on St. Julien and the line to the west of it. An attack on a line to the east of Fortuin was made at the same time under similar conditions. In both cases our troops were at first driven from their trenches by gas fumes, but on the arrival of the supporting battalions and two brigades of a Cavalry Division, which were sent up in support from about Potijze, all the lost trenches were regained at night.

On the 3rd May, while the retirement was still going on, another violent attack was directed on the northern face of the salient. This was also driven back with heavy loss to the enemy. Further attempts of the enemy during the night of the 3rd to advance from the woods west of St. Julien were frustrated entirely by the fire of our artillery. During the whole of the 4th the enemy heavily shelled the trenches we had evacuated, quite unaware that they were no longer occupied. So soon as the retirement was discovered the Germans commenced to entrench opposite our new line and to advance their guns to new positions. Our artillery, assisted by aeroplanes, caused him considerable loss in carrying out these operations.”

The new line ran to the east of Sanctuary Wood and the Gloucesters were were positioned just south of the Menin Road.  At 6 a.m. on the 4th small parities of Germans advanced in the region of Stirling Castle Wood and although fire from the Gloucesters initially stemmed the advance, but ground was eventually ceded.

may 4th front line

{next post May 12th}

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