October 29th 1918

Daily Telegraph, 18.10.18

Many will have read with excitement and pride of the British troops entering Lille on October 17th, as was reported in the Daily Telegraph the following day. What we did not know then was that Capt. Leslie Grundy (MGC) was involved. Indeed he is claiming his men were the first British into Lille on that day:

20/10/18 “To our surprise, we found we were the first British troops to enter… The ovation we got was terrific… The men were covered with flowers and flags. The civilians were off their heads for joy and several ladies were so overcome that they kissed me on both cheeks with tears in their eyes. They must have had an awful time here with the Germans. No butter, cheese, meat or eggs for four years. Many of the women have been in prison – one case, a sentence of 15 days imprisonment for giving a cup of coffee to an English prisoner…

When I asked at the Mairie for ‘billets de lodgement’ they went off their heads for joy, and before I could look round they had put my men into billets – everyone got a bed. I had a splendid room with real linen sheets (hidden while the Boche was in possession) and we messed in a large dining room, beautifully furnished. The people insisted on doing all the cooking and our servants had the time of their lives.

My host was a leading brewer in the town, a M. Agache, and he was the most hospitable man I have come across for long time. Mme Agache has been a hostage in Germany for a long time and had suffered simply horribly – thank Heaven our women have not been in a similar position. One of the minor indignities to which they were submitted was to go to their baths stark naked, escorted by soldiers…”

January 5th 1917

Not all our correspondents focus entirely on the War. Some, such as Lieut. Alan Jenks (RE), like to recall their schooldays  –  and playground warfare:

jenks-arc24.12.16 “I remember Martin Collier quite distinctly, also Jack Haldane. When engaged in tactical skirmishes with the latter, my motto used to be ‘he who fights and runs away will live,’ a motto which I have faithfully pursued (so far) through life. If I am caught, it will be through not running away fast enough…”

(I think Leslie Grundy with his water-pistol was equally guilty of getting the vast but clumsy Jack into such a state that he uprooted a sapling to attack his tormentor with wild swipes of trunk and root.)

“As for France and Flanders, which is where I am (Censor Volens, or words to that effect) – well, one’s chief impression is mud and water. I learnt at Lynam’s or elsewhere that water flowed downhill. France is the exception. No well-behaved water does it here. It just stays.

As for work, generally one digs a trench or ditch in peace-time in order to drain a field. Here one has to try to drain the trench into the field. That is what sappers are endeavouring to do here. Action and reaction being equal and opposite, result nil. The only feasible method is to use language so warm that the water boils and so evaporates. This is only a temporary expedient however.

Very best wishes for the School and Staff.” 

December 9th 1916

By a strange coincidence, on the same day Lieut. Jack Gamlen (OBLI) wrote to us of meeting Capt. Leslie Grundy (late of York & Lancaster Reg., now with 90th Machine Gun Corps), Leslie also wrote to us of an incident that had occurred the previous evening, when he was sitting in a small cellar of a largely demolished house.

grundy-glo25.11.16 “I heard the swish of a shell and heard a loud detonation. I went up the cellar steps to ask how far off it had fallen and was told that it had fallen about 200 yards away and that only a few splinters had come our way.

I had got to the top step of the cellar when I found a man in my way at the top. I had just touched him and was going to tell him to move aside when we all heard a shell coming. We all ducked instinctively, the man on the top step falling on me. I had lost my balance, but before my feet had left the step I was on, there was a brilliant flash and a terrific explosion.

I scrambled out from under the fellow who was on top of me and found myself at the bottom of the steps with the place full of dust. There were some cries coming from above. I lit a candle and found that the centre part of the roof of the cellar had fallen in and had smashed the table, but had missed the officer and the two servants who were in there and that they were only a bit dazed.

I then went up above and found men lying all over the place. I flashed my torch around and saw that five were obviously dead and that about six more were lying about groaning. Another man and myself got the two worst cases into the cellar and started bandaging them up.

I went up with another fellow and we got the third man down. As we were going down the stairs, another shell came and burst about 20 yards to the flank and, I found afterwards, smashed in half another cellar on top of three men, also killing three of the limber horses and wounding the fourth…

The shelling stopped and we went up to count the damage.

Right on top of the cellar was a huge crater, 6 ft. across and going right through the 3 ft. of bricks on top of the roof. It was not 6 ft. from where my head had been. Two small beams had apparently saved me. They were riddled with splinters, but apparently the force of the shell had gone in another direction.

Five men were lying round the entrance dead. Three of them were in my company and two belonged to the other company. One of my best sergeants and two of my best men. The two others were guides.

We took the personal effects of the five to send to their homes and put them in a shell hole not far away. We buried them this morning. The three horses are still lying across the road. Two of my wounded have since died in the dressing station. In all I lost about ten men killed and wounded, and the other company about seven.

Incidents like this are happening every day on all parts of the front and they happen pretty frequently around here, but you seldom hear about these small details, so I thought I would tell you about one of them – not so much for the morbid interest of the thing as to give you some idea of what war is like…

I am very fit at present with the exception of slight deafness and headache caused by the explosion.”

Certainly, such details are not to be found in our newspapers or, from what Jack Gamlen told us, Brigade Intelligence Reports either.

 

 

December 5th 1916

Lieut. Jack Gamlen (OBLI) was last in touch back in October, to tell us the story of his regiment’s involvement in the Somme battle in August. He said then that the Somme trenches were “very horrible.” His latest letter tells that, for the time being at least, he has escaped them:

23.11.16. “When you have been wet through for a week, have just come out of the trenches and are standing in the main street of a horrible and historic village, looking through glasses at the German lines, it is pleasant suddenly to have your elbow jogged by your Commanding Officer and to be told that you are to report forthwith at the Brigade Headquarters. Every so often a subaltern is detailed for attachment for instruction in staff duties…

As I approached Brigade Headquarters, I remembered that I had neither washed nor shaved for a week and felt very much ashamed of my appearance…

I was conducted into the presence of the Brigadier, a young and very handsome man with many medals. He was reading the ‘Times’ and told me to sit down and eat.

After a pause he put down his newspaper, looked long at me and in a mild, tired voice said, ‘Soaked through I suppose!’

‘Yes, sir.’

‘And the men?’

‘Soaked through all the time, Sir.’

Then he gave a very refined groan and went on reading the paper.

It was not long before I learnt that this Brigadier was as ready to be soaked through as any of the men, but, at the time, he seemed an exquisite being, remote from war, and mud, and hardship.

I made myself presentable by lunch, when we were joined by the OC Machine Gun Company, no less a person than L Grundy OD. He is my junior by many years and we had never met before. Now we meet nearly every day, but have not yet found time to talk much about the School…

By night I was mostly at Headquarters, but by day I often went out with the Brigadier on his visits to the various Battalion Headquarters. We were frequently shelled and once or twice had quite narrow escapes, but the Brigadier’s personality is such that I think no shell would dare to come too close to him…

My chief job was to write the daily Brigade Intelligence Report, which goes on to the Division. To do so sometimes made me shiver at the cold-bloodedness of my task. It is one thing to put down, ‘The right-half Battalion sent out a patrol between 2 and 4 a.m. which did so and so,’ and a very different thing to go on patrol oneself. The same is true of ration-carrying parties. How well I know them! One must see the game oneself in order to realize how much hardship, danger and often heroism, is compressed into six cold lines of an Intelligence Report.”

 

July 27th 1916

Whilst we have learnt much from the newspapers about the ‘Big Push’ on the Somme, it is not the same as hearing from someone in the thick of things. Capt. Leslie Grundy (late of York & Lancaster Regiment, now serving with 90th Machine Gun Company) has found the time to provide us with a first-hand account of the events of July 1st.

He was involved in the attack on Montauban at the southern end of the battlefield. (Here the preliminary bombardment was clearly more effective than further north and casualties considerably fewer).

grundy-glo“We had done all the practising for the last fortnight and were now waiting in the assembly trenches. For us, these consisted of a few small trenches cut in a hollow between two woods about 700 yards behind our front line. We had arrived in these trenches late the night before, and had passed a very cold night indeed. Consequently we were all awake when dawn broke.

The guns had been keeping up a pretty heavy bombardment throughout the night, increasing in intensity every minute. The fringe of the wood behind us (curiously enough called ‘Oxford Copse’) was lined with 18-pounders, who were firing over our heads. As they were only 150 yards away, the noise was deafening.

Although we had not been given the time for ‘Zero,’ we judged it was near enough for us to issue the rum, so an issue of two jars among 150 men was made at 5 o’clock. We got word from Brigade Headquarters that Zero was to be at 7.30.

About this time a heavy ground mist appeared and for some time it looked as if the attack would have to be postponed. As it was near to 7.30 the Company Commander and I went over to a small piece of rising ground that was in front of us to watch the first wave go over the top. Over it went at 7.30 exactly, and as far as we could see there was only one casualty and it did not sound as if there was very much hostile rifle fire…

At 8.30 I went forward with my servant, and the two other sections followed 50 yards behind, interval 100 yards, but owing to the weight of our loads we fell behind our appointed place and found ourselves mixed up with some engineers. This ground was made up later on, while waiting for our artillery to lift.

When about 100 yards off our original front line, we saw that the enemy was putting up a barrage in No-man’s-land and a lot of our infantry were knocked out going through. When we got right up to this barrage we made a dash and, as far as I could make out, lost very few men. One of the section officers, however, was wounded rather badly in the back.

We found the Boche wire, when we got up to it, had been blown to pieces by our artillery fire and the trenches themselves had suffered so terribly that it was difficult to tell in what direction they ran. I had my first rest here; it was a hot day, and the packs were beginning to tell on us.

As it looked as if the Boches were shortening their range, we thought it best not to make too long a stay at this spot and therefore pushed on as far as the Glatz Redoubt. In a few minutes No. 2 section came up; so far they had only lost three men.

At this point a party of about 30 Boche prisoners were marched past; all of them apparently in great fear of their lives! They had all, seemingly, been very much shaken by our bombardment, and in the trench we were occupying there were many of them lying badly wounded. After a few minutes we mounted our guns and opened fire on the Boches to the left of Montauban, as the Brigade there did not seem to have attained its objective.

All this time our heavy artillery had been keeping up an intense bombardment on Montauban, and we could see our infantry waiting in the open in long line, ready to go in when the artillery fire lifted. Later there seemed to be some slackening of the fire and our troops immediately went forward. The whole thing was done as if on parade. They went over at a steady walk, keeping their dressing all the time. As far as we could see, there was no hostile rifle fire from Montauban at all and, as yet, no shell fire was falling on them.

I then decided that this would be the time to get our machine-guns into Montauban, so we went forward…

The whole place was literally blown to pieces, and it was with great difficulty we discovered where the roads had been. However, somehow or other, we managed to get both sections to A. Keep, where we found some men already busily consolidating. We had only been there a few minutes when a Boche machine-gun started traversing the village…

Just before dusk there seemed to be a small attack, but it was easily dispersed by rifle and machine-gun fire. All that night we fired at all small parties of Boches who could be plainly seen, and as it grew light we heard the sound of bombs exploding and found the Boches were bombing Montauban Alley from the other end.

About 7 o’clock the bursting bombs seemed to be very close to one another and… about 30 of our men jumped out of the trench and started to retire towards us in Montauban. Immediately on seeing this, the Boches jumped out of their trenches and started firing on them. We turned two machine-guns on the Boches and wiped the party completely out, but not before they had accounted for all our men.

The wounded in our trench were coming into the dug-out at an alarming rate and soon it became evident that the only people holding the keep were the machine gunners, and we had only two men per gun. As the bombing attack seemed to be developing, the Company Commander sent a message back for an artillery barrage. In a short space of time our shells started to come over, bursting in the valley in front of Montauban…

After this, the attack seemed to fizzle out. Several Boche snipers however, had managed to get into position in the diagonal trench leading from Montauban Alley to Montauban. They managed to cover all the exits from C Keep and they got a number of our walking wounded, who were trying to get back.

The shelling was fairly heavy throughout the day, but there were no more infantry attacks…”

That evening Leslie and his men were relieved and here at least undoubted success was achieved.