GWL 27th May 1915

Back once more after an all too short five days.  We had quite a good journey back here; the only wait of any length being in Boulogne where we sought in vain for a car.  Finally we took the passenger train and aided by a series of motor buses arrived here about 2 AM.  Movements are uncertain but at present I am at the same place from which I started my leave.  It was awfully hot yesterday and some of the country looked so lovely as we came along in a very slow train.  

Rather a windy day and not much sun.  Rather dull I think chiefly from dust.  My careful servant had all my clothes washed for me so the only things I want are undergarments to replace those cast away.

A good deal of desultory banging going on.  What exactly happened the other morning I cannot find out as at present I am the solitary occupant of this camp with the exception of a very moody cow and a grubby calf.  It does not seem quite so strange being back here as I thought it would.  I think in five days one has hardly time to uproot entirely from this kind of life.  I think we got the most out of it, don’t you?”

The assumption is that George managed to get back to England for a few days R&R with Marion.  Boulogne was the main Channel port for troop movements into Northern France and Flanders.  By the 27th the Batallion had moved to Busseboom, just south of Poperinghe where they were held in reserve.  The Second Battle of Ypres concluded on May 25th.  British casualties for the whole battle were 60,000 men killed, missing or wounded.  The Battalion  lost 6 officers and 128 men killed, 5 officers and 368 men wounded and 3 officers and 77 men sick with total casualties of 587.

At home Mr Winston Churchill resigned as First Lord of the Admiralty following the disastrous Gallipoli campaign.

{next post 28th May}

GWL 19th May 1915

Well here we are back just a very little bit from our beast of a place.  Very weary in every way and feeling that of all things in the world a week’s leave is what we would like best, but apparently it is not to be.

About 3.30 this morning I was standing on  certain level crossing checking troops as they marched past and behold Clarence Gardner, who says that he has heard that we are to get at least three days leave – so all the world, in spite of a 12 mile ride in a very drizzly drizzle, seemed very gay, but, alas, the divisional General this morning dashed all our hopes to the ground and even suggested that we should be back in our wretched spot in three days.  This after the men have been in trenches continuously since May 4th.  As Mr Eye-witness has had it all in the papers I think there can be no harm in my adding my little bit.  The trouble really started when we came back in the early morning of May 4th.  Otto never found out we had gone until about two ours after it had taken place, but he did not waste much time when he knew.  From then on there was continuous heavy shelling of all our line – though no infantry attack until the 9th.  All the same the Brigade on our left had to come back and we were forced to leave our little home in the chateau one morning in a great hurry, as Otto was looking into the front door about 400 yards away.  So we all packed up and went into a new land, not so comfortable but having the advantage of a more or less undisturbed entrance and exit.  Then on the 9th the fighting began.  My poor regiment had an awful time.  They were putting shells into the trenches at an awful rate and we had to leave a salient piece that was the worst.  The Germans got into the trench before we could get back when the shelling ceased, and then Conner apparently went up to see what was happening and thinking the trench was held by us walked in and has never been seen since.  That is the story as I heard it.  Whether anybody saw him taken away a prisoner I don’t know, but I rather think not.  There is one thing to be thankful for, we killed an awful lot of huns.  The fighting went on for four days and then things gradually got quieter.  I see the 28th had a knock on the same day as we had.  Vicary and I are the only ones left here of the regiment who have never left France or Belgium since we came out five months ago to-day.” 

This is Georges version of the Battle of Frezenburg Ridge [see May 12th].  Apparently Conner was captured according to annotation of letter received by Marion.

{next post 27th May}

GWL 15th May 1915

A much quieter day.  Let us hope things are settling down here after a thorough shake-up.  My poor regiment; it has done splendidly.  The Brigade has had telegrams from Joffre and sundry big wigs, but what we want more than millions of telegrams is a rest.  Get somewhere where we cannot hear a gun and where a bath is not completely non-existent.

Your letters have all come up to the 10th.  Also the parcel with the ginger and creme de menthe.  Thank you all so much.  It has been raining rather a lot the last two days, but the sun has come out again a bit this evening, which makes things brighter.

The Lusitania incident is pretty bad.  How this war has brought out the utter impotence of America in European politics.  It is rather pathetic in a way, considering the manner in which Americans are won’t to speak of the greatness and power of their country.  The truth is that they are quite powerless and Germany knows it.

And how is your cooking?  I am not much of a hand at it myself.  The loathely buttered egg is about all I can manage with any prospect of success.  My servant is not bad though.  There is a beastly little fly that is becoming rather a nuisance now.  He bites and looks like a sandfly, but the bite does not irritate much.  I must stop now.”

The RMS Lusitania, a Cunard liner, was sunk by “U-20” on May 7th off the coast of Southern Ireland with the loss of almost 1200 lives.  George’s disdain for the Americans was a widely held view of the time and the initial American reaction to the sinking was unremarkable.  Shells which failed to explode at the Front were known as Wilsons after President Woodrow Wilson.  However, public opinion in the US started to turn against Germany culminating in American entry into the War in April 1917.

Torpedoed_Lusitania_diagram

{next post 19th May}

GWL 12th May 1915

I have not written I am afraid for a long time except for a postcard now and then.  I am so sorry, but there has been very heavy fighting round here during the last few days.  You and I have lost one very good friend and some more wounded.  The Regiment has done splendidly.  It has been awfully trying.  I am very well, but very dirty and suffering from a chronic headache; and that back from the frostiest of front lines so you can imagine what the poor fellows have been through.  I will write and tell you all about it one day when Mr Censor will let it pass.  I want this bit of a letter to get through so will not put any contraband goods in it.  I am more sorry than I can say about Conner.  The respirator has arrived, thank you so much.  Just the thing.  Bye bye for a bit.”

From Sir John French’s 8th Despatch quoting Sir Herbert Plumer:

“On the 9th the Germans again repeated their bombardment. Very heavy shell fire was concentrated for two hours on the trenches of the 2nd Gloucestershire Regiment and 2nd Cameron Highlanders, followed by an infantry attack which was successfully repulsed. The Germans again bombarded the salient, and a further attack in the afternoon succeeded in occupying 150 yards of trench. The Gloucesters counter-attacked, but suffered heavily, and the attack failed. The salient being very exposed to shell fire from both flanks, as well as in front, it was deemed advisable not to attempt to retake the trench at night, and a retrenchment was therefore dug across it. At 3 p.m. the enemy started to shell the whole front of the centre Division, and it was reported that the right Brigade of this Division was being heavily punished, but continued to maintain its line. The trenches of the Brigades on the left centre were also heavily shelled during the day and attacked by infantry. Both attacks were repulsed.”

This was the beginning of the Battle of Frezenberg Ridge.  The Battalion lost 5 Officers and 140 men on May 9th, which, when combined with the losses of the 1st Battalion fighting further south in Fromelles of 12 Officers and 275 men, constituted the worst day in the Regiments history.  It isn’t entirely clear what befell Major R Conner who was Battalion Second in Command as his death isn’t registered until September 1915.  However Lt Col Tulloh, the Commanding Officer died after being hit three times.  For a more detailed account of the events refer to “The Gloucestershire Regiment War Narratives 1914-1915 by Captain R M Grazebook”.

During this phase George was with 81st Brigade HQ positioned in Sanctuary Wood.

barnes-wollen-william_second-battle-of-ypres1st_rs_8th_may_1915

{next post 15th May}

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}

GWL 30th April 1915

81st Brigade HQ. Your letters up to the 25th have all arrived.  Such a glorious day, though still frightfully noisy, but the news seems better to-day.  I have been forced to the awful conclusion that Fritz’s Communications are much nearer the truth than our own.  That does not mean that he is as truthful as he might be.

There is no news.  I am very well indeed,but badly in need of a bath.  It is a problem that will need a great deal of solving.  John Guild told me he was writing on one of the postcards.  What I want really is a pair of riding breeches.  Hawkes can make them as he has the measurements.

The Germans seem to have heaps of ammunition, but they put some quaint things into their shrapnel.  One fired into a trench yesterday contained the back sight of a rifle and the trigger.”

On April 29th Sir John French met with General Foch and a planned retirement to a new line was agreed and carried out over the following few days under the command of General Plumer.

{next post 6th May}

GWL 28th April 1915

Your letters have all come up to the 22nd.  Thank you so much.  Still a great deal of noise one way and another.  We don’t know what is happening at all.

Yes, Sears sweets have come and are much appreciated.  Altogether a very fine parcel.  Prunes very good indeed.  So you are enjoying your holiday?  I am glad.  Lovely weather, quite warm and sunny;  all the trees coming out and the flowers too.  There is an immense difference between today and a week ago.  In the garden of this ruined but once palatial residence there sat a small stone cupid underneath a rhododendron bush.  Alas, the day before yesterday a “crump” came along and carried him to heaven.  He is now no more – Sic transit.  He looked very charming sometimes in the sun.

I wonder how old Ion is getting on in his little bit.  There has been such a lot of “hate” this afternoon, I think the French must be trying to make amends – Oh for another million men and heaps of ammunition to get this blessed show over once and for all.”

The fact that even in Brigade HQ they had no idea what was happening gives an indication of the confusion that was prevalent.  At this stage the 2nd Gloucesters were based variously in Sanctuary Wood and further north towards Potije.  They were acting mainly as reinforcements and on trench duty.

Elsewhere the First Battle of Krithia in the Dardanelles campaign began.  This was the first attempt to make inroads in the Gallipoli campaign but failed through poor communication and leadership.

{next post 30th April}

The First World War seen through the letters of George Power