Training completed, but with still no real experience of being under fire, Ronnie Poulton’s company paraded on Saturday 10th April to take their turn in the trenches, intermingled, we understand, with companies of the Dublin Fusiliers. In his latest post Ronnie describes his first venture into ‘no-man’s-land’.
Saturday 10th April. “I carried a rifle and 15 rounds. We climbed through the wire and went a few yards forward and lay down, in the formation – Corporal and Officer together, and two men in rear, interval ten yards, distance from Officer about ten yards. They watched the rear and flank. I was lying for a quarter of an hour by a very decomposing cow! After listening hard we moved forward and again lay doggo. This went on for about an hour, during which time we were perhaps 100 to 150 yards out. Then we returned, each pair covering the other two.”
Sunday 11th April. Trenches. “We all stood to arms at dawn, and the Germans started a tremendous fusillade, as is their custom. But soon after, all was quiet and you could see the smoke rising from the fires all down our line, and the German line.
About 11 a.m. our field guns put twelve shells on to the German trenches in front of us. Immediately the German guns opened on us, putting ten high explosive 6 in. shells and ‘White Hope’ shrapnel – their back-blast shrapnel. The result was 8 ft. of parapet blown down, another bit shaken down, one man with a dislocated shoulder of ours, and five men of the Dublins wounded, one seriously. As they were all within three yards of me, I was lucky. The brass head of a shell shot through the parapet, missed a man by an inch and went into a dug-out, where we obtained it.
The shelling is very frightening – the report, the nearing whistle and the burst and then you wonder if you are alive. Crouching under the parapet is all right for the high explosive, but for shrapnel it is no good, so that is why they mix them up. The men – the Dublins – were quite as frightened as we were as a rule, but some didn’t care a damn. Some were praying, some eating breakfast, one was counting his rosary and another next door was smoking a cigarette and cheering up our fellows. After a prolonged pause, we rose from our constrained position, and went on with our occupations; but it unnerved me for a bit.”