April 12th 1915

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’.

RWPP profileSaturday 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.”

April 7th 1915

Ronnie Poulton’s Battalion have now moved on to Steenvoorde, the Brigade headquarters, where they were inspected by Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien (General i/c British 2nd Army),  who explained that they were to undergo further instruction before going up to the Front.

Ronnie’s journal tells of his other duties too.

RWPP profileSaturday 3rd April. “This day passed quietly with parades in the morning, spoilt by rain. The beautiful weather of the last few days seems to have broken up. We had several interesting talks with French soldiers who have just been relieved from the trenches. They were very cheery, but not very smart.

Franking the men’s letters is a great nuisance, though unavoidably one gets some interesting lights on their characters. The men were paid five francs this day.”

Easter Day was spent at Flêtre.

Monday 5th April. Flêtre. “The people round here in the farms are very much on the make. My French is coming on by leaps and bounds and I am doing my best to stop the fellows getting cheated. The food is very plentiful and good, but mostly tinned and biscuit; so they will buy bread at exorbitant prices.

It is much better fun than at Chelmsford because, though discipline is more strict in lots of ways and the punishments much more severe, the tone can be much more friendly with one’s men and it’s rather humorous to receive compliments unofficially by reading the men’s letters, as we have to censor them; and they are meant because the writers do not give their names and you only know that they come from the Company, but do not know which Platoon.”

From Flêtre, Ronnie has now moved on to Bailleul and it cannot be long now before he reaches the Front.

Boulogne-Bailleul route