March 29th 1915

Further to Nevile West’s news (see March 22nd), we have now heard from Jack Smyth (Lieut., 15th Sikhs) that he was also involved in the Battle at Neuve Chapelle.

Jack Smyth

Lieut. J. Smyth (15th Sikhs)

24/3/15. “We have just returned from Neuve Chapelle (the name has been mentioned so much in the papers lately that I don’t think the censor can object to my putting it in here). I left my A.D.C. job as we were transferred to another Brigade and I have been with the regiment since the 8th.

We did seven days in the captured German trenches, and they were about the best we have ever been in; they had been in them about three months and had made them very strong and comfortable and had done themselves pretty well too as the empty wine bottles and cigar boxes showed.

They must have lost very heavily indeed, as there were rows of dead bodies in front of our trench from when they made a counter attack to try and get the place back and came under the fire of our machine-guns.

It was a relief having the trenches a good way apart, so that we could have patrols out at night and sleep comparatively comfortably, instead of the jumpy nights when the trenches are 50 and 80 yards apart, as we have been having lately.

The first night we were there one of our (Indian) scouts jumped on to one of their scouts and sat on his head and yelled for help and he was brought in; he tried to make out that our people had stolen his pipe from his pack, but as tobacco is pollution to our people he was deemed a liar by everybody present.

We brought in three of their wounded, who must have been out there for five or six days. They seem very callous about that sort of thing and never made an effort to bring them in, although they were nearer their trenches than ours more than a good deal.

They bombarded us fairly hard with artillery every day but without much result. On the evening of the 12th we were reduced to 5 officers: the C.O., three Company Commanders and myself, the other Company being commanded by a Native Officer. But our Adjutant has come out and several others and we now have got 14.

The men are very fit and very bucked about the whole show, which is about the biggest knock the Germans have had up this way.”

 

 

March 22nd 1915

News has been received of the battle fought at Neuve Chapelle earlier this month. Lieut. Nevile West (Royal Berkshire Regiment) was involved.

Nevile West

Lieut. Nevile West

Neuve Chapelle, 19/3/15. “I think I may tell you, now that it is all over for the present, that our Regiment and my Company led the attack on Neuve Chapelle, which you have probably read much about. The attack was dated for last Wednesday, March 10th, and the night before I was detailed by the Brigade to take a party out to remove all the wire in front of our trenches, the Germans being about 100 yards away, at the time a most precarious game, as they heard us working at it and cutting, and so sent up magnesium flares and opened fire on us. Fortunately none of us was hit.

The attack commenced the following morning with half-an-hour’s terrific bombardment of the Hun trenches, which, being so close, proved a terrible ordeal for us sitting cramped in the wet trenches, several shells pitching short in amongst us; anyway it blew all their barbed wire entanglements away, and their trenches and themselves to blazes.

When the half-hour was over, we advanced, the only opposition being a machine gun which did for several. The Hun trenches were a terrible sight when we got there, masses of horribly mangled remains, and the whole air full of picric acid fumes from the lyddite shells. The front line (ours) went straight across the three lines of their trenches, and proceeded as far as the near side of the village, when we started entrenching ourselves under heavy enfilade fire, shrapnel and high explosive shells included.

This was due to the attack on our left primarily failing; their second go cleared the situation, however. Another regiment then passed through us, took the village, and established a line a few hundred yards on the further side. The Indian Division was on our right, and they were too impetuous, and receiving less opposition, got too far ahead, and had to be brought back a bit. Prisoners and wounded were streaming down the road from Neuve Chapelle to our Aid Posts all day.

It was a terrible day, horrible sights. May it be a long time before I see such another, and when quiet came not with darkness, but about midnight, one’s nerves were all over the place. During the actual proceedings one has little time to think. The next day was quieter, the Huns shelled us continuously, but not so vigorously. My skipper was wounded, while next to me, by a shrapnel shell bursting overhead; and therefore left me in command of the Company, as I am still; being alone like that, at such a crisis, a horrible feeling of loneliness came over me, and does come now.

The next morning (Friday) the Huns made a counter-attack on our position, shouting in pure English, ‘Don’t shoot, we are the H.L.I,’ and as that regiment was on our right, and slightly in advance, we were at first taken in, but when it was discovered that it was the Huns advancing, rapid fire was opened, and the ground in front of our trenches now is heaped with their dead, and those that were wounded crawled into our lines. We cannot bury them, so must leave them there to rot; won’t it be terrible if the weather gets really warm, and the sun hot?

That same morning, the Huns, having failed in their counter-attack, bombarded our trenches and the village furiously for an hour, and God alone knows how we lived through it, the bits of shell and the fumes were horrible; it is impossible to get away from either, and I saw two men blown quite 30 feet in the air.

Their bombardment lulled at about 10.30, and at 11.00 we started bombarding their trenches preparatory to attacking again. We could see the wretched Huns flying for all they were worth. A and C Companies were then in support to the Rifle Brigade. When our bombardment ceased, the R.B’s got out of the trenches, and began to attack; they fortunately hadn’t gone far before (I should think) about 12 German machine guns opened fire, and God knows how any of them escaped; I was right in the open at the time and it was hell. Those that remained crawled back at dusk. A great friend of mine who was in the 1st Battalion with me was riddled with bullets, and killed instantly.

A bullet hit my camera which was in my coat pocket, and just turned its course enough. Otherwise, ‘I shouldn’t have gone no further.’ My luck has been extraordinary; may it long continue so. We have just been sent two more 2nd Lieutenants. Apart from that we have only five Officers left.

Well, such is my news, but you will learn more about it from the papers, as they get the operations taken as a whole. The Huns lost terribly, and I fear we did also, although with the modern machines of war, one can expect nothing else. It is terrible, real hell on earth.”

March 15th 1915

Ruttledge MC

Capt. JF Ruttledge

In this week’s ‘London Gazette’ is the announcement that Jack Ruttledge, now a Captain in the Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment), has been honoured with the award of the Military Cross.

The citation reads, ‘For great coolness and gallantry on 19th December 1914, near Neuve Chapelle. When his company were moving over open ground under very heavy fire, many casualties occurred and Lieutenant Ruttledge remained to the last, helping the wounded away to cover.’

 * * * * * * *

An anonymous Old Dragon has written in to give us a glimpse on the sort of life being enjoyed in the trenches at present.

“In the Trenches

La Belle France

March 12th 1915

 The last three days and nights were very noisy and a bit bomby and grenadey. On several occasions we had Brigade orders to open heavy machine gun and rifle fire at the German breastworks backed up by artillery fire at a certain time, and the row usually lasted for about half-an-hour. These unaccustomed bursts of activity were partly to make the Huns as nervy as possible, and partly to prevent them sending reinforcements while attacks were being made between here and * * * * *   (censored).

I was rather lucky in not getting hit the other day. I was working with two men a few yards behind the parados, where one ought, barring accidents, to be pretty safe, when a rifle grenade suddenly dropped and exploded six yards from us. We felt the shock of the explosion and gust of hot air in our faces, but none of us got hurt. We have been sending quite a lot over into their trench (70 yards distant) lately, and they invariably send just the same number back. Some 15” howitzers have arrived at the front, and are apparently found to be a great success. They say that if one of these shells drops in a decent sized factory it absolutely levels the whole place.”

Whereas further south, in the region of the Somme, it is possible to dig deep trenches with underground dug-outs, we understand that in the Ypres area the water table is much higher and such trenches are nigh impossible to build.

“I don’t know if I have explained to you that we aren’t in actual trenches at all, but behind a parapet made of sand bags riveted up with sheets of corrugated iron, hurdles etc., with earth thrown up on the enemy’s side. This parapet varies in height, but I should say the average is between 6 and 7 feet.

This sort of breastwork is of course only of use when we are too near to the enemy to have much fear of artillery fire. The old earth trenches became uninhabitable long ago on account of the mud, but the men still have to dig in where they get shelled, as of course our parapets are no protection against shell-fire.”

Trench pic