November 11th 1917

2nd Lieut. Pat Campbell, having returned to the Ypres front following four days’ leave in Paris, has found himself back in the thick of this seemingly never-ending battle at Ypres, which has been going on since July 31st.

23/10/17 “The veterans of the brigade say – at least some of them do – that in all the long years they have been out here they have never seen such a country of absolute desolation, or such mud, and that they have never had the breeze up so badly as they have in the last few days…”

Pat was involved in an attack on October 22nd. As the Forward Observation Officer for his Brigade, he had to make his way forward with four signallers to a pill box close to the front line. Carrying heavy equipment and in bad conditions, this took them 3 hours.

His job was to keep in touch with the advance and send back information to the artillery. This was easier said than done, it seems:

“It is very difficult to tell what has happened in the early stages of a battle; some of the walking wounded who come dancing down the line are so pleased with themselves that they tell you that everything is going top hole, though they were probably hit before the thing began, while others who are rather worse and have lost some of their friends are equally despondent.”

He and another officer took turns to go forward:

“We went out alternately to various HQ and other less official sources to find out what news we could get and whether the infantry wanted any particular artillery support. On one of these little trips I got rather a nasty shock, which made me decide that I was not going out any more.

Usually you can hear a shell coming for at least a second or two and one learns to act promptly, but on this occasion it was a light velocity shell, which came right alongside us without any warning at all.”

This seems a strange point at which to leave this incident, but Pat does, so there it is. The Campbells deserve their luck. Pat’s brother Percy Campbell was killed in the first battle at Ypres almost three years ago to the day in 1914.

In his letter Pat asks, “I am wondering what the papers said about yesterday’s battle. It seems to have been a pretty decent show…”

This is a view shared at least by the Daily Telegraph:

Given the conditions Pat describes, it is difficult to imagine how a battle can be fought:

“It was very tiring walking about because at every step you lifted pounds of thick Belgian mud. I don’t think you could find a single square yard in that area that was not part of a shell hole, but even so, you can’t have any idea of what it looks like. It is simply indescribable.”

It is not that often that an artillery officer finds himself in the front line and Pat is quick to acknowledge the role of the infantry, who are there all the time:

“The more you see of them, the greater respect you have for them all, and I think the subalterns in particular. Such things as trenches have practically ceased to exist now, and they just live in shell holes and going forward to attack over ground like this, I really can’t understand how they do it. “

And so say all of us.

September 1st 1917

2nd Lieut. Revere Osler (RFA)

Sir William & Lady Osler have been advised of the death of Revere, their only child, on August 30th.

Revere was severely wounded by the explosion of a shell and taken to a casualty clearing station at Dozinghem. Sir William, Oxford’s Regius Professor of Medicine, has friends amongst the doctors and surgeons currently active in France, who rushed to Revere’s side.  Despite the attention of these eminent men, he could not be saved.

To those who knew Revere as a boy at the OPS at all intimately, he was a delightful friend and companion and was greatly loved. The ordinary Public School curriculum (in which he took little interest) hardly gave him the opportunity for showing his genius, which lay in two directions, observation and love of nature, and also devotion to art and literature.

 

 

March 17th 1917

Having read in the newspapers over the past few days of the Germans’ “strategic retreat,” from the battlefields of the Somme, we are most fortunate to have another letter from 2nd Lieut. Humphrey Arden (RGA) and discover he was there to witness the event. His description of the land that is now in the hands of the Allies is, I am sure you find, of considerable interest.

14/3/17 “So it has happened at last! What a hopeless wish it seemed a year ago that in twelve months the Hun would be deliberately retreating, and that after shooting on a point one day at a range of 8000 or 9000 yards, we could go on the morrow and examine the very spot, and see the craters made by our own shells…

The newly captured ground resembles, more than anything I’ve seen, imaginative pictures by artists entitled ‘The Battlefield’ or ‘After the Fight.’

Dead men, dead horses, shattered gun emplacements, broken limbers and wagons, rifles, bombs, equipment, and all the ghastly filth of carnage. How the Hun has stood the hammering so long is a marvel. He says he goes willingly and I don’t doubt it.

There is a valley leading down to a famous ravine, which is enough to make one sick, if one hadn’t become hardened gradually to such things. In one spot evidently our guns caught a Boche battery taking in ammunition. The teams and their drivers had been blown to pieces, the wagons are pitiable wrecks, and the whole place stinks of death. It is gratifying and interesting to see shrapnel heads of your own calibre right in the middle of a gun emplacement at which you had been firing a few days before.”

The retreat took all by surprise and Humphrey’s account describes how the Hun took advantage of the weather conditions to put it into effect.

“During days of thick fog when all observation was impossible, he took the advantage of a couple of days of frost to get his guns away and destroy most – though not all – of his dug-outs, and retire behind the next line of barbed-wire with machine-guns to hold us up. Our infantry followed close on his heels as far as they could, and pounced on some patrols that came out to see if we were following.

But for the moment, of course, a halt had to be called to save useless sacrifice. Barbed wire cannot be dealt with except by guns, and guns cannot move up without roads, and roads there were none.

Oh yes, they are marked on the map all right, but it would puzzle you to pick out any but the two principal ones from the desert of shell holes; and even the principal roads are swimming in mud, pitted with craters, and at vital points ruined and blown up by the Hun.

Advance is a wonderful feat in this place. Light railways follow up to within a quarter of a mile of the infantry in two days… and armies of men set to work making new roads and repairing the faintest traces of old ones.

Soon our guns were ready to deal with the next line of barbed-wire, and having shattered it to bits and cleaned up the enemy garrison, the same thing occurred again. This time the Hun did not wait for the attack but bolted as soon as our shower of shells showed him it was imminent.

And so, I suppose, it will go on till the vaunted concrete line or ‘Hindenburg Stellung’ is reached.”

December 15th 1916

In the course of the last four months a number of our gallant Old Boys have been honoured and, as the end of another term approaches, they should be recorded on these pages:

Victoria Cross (VC)

Capt. William Leefe Robinson (RFC), “for conspicuous bravery. He attacked an enemy airship under circumstances of great difficulty and danger, and sent it crashing to the ground as a flaming wreck. He had been in the air for more than two hours and had previously attacked another airship during his flight.”

Distinguished Service Order (DSO)

Capt. Harry Maule (North Lancs) has been awarded the DSO “for conspicuous gallantry when leading his company during operations. During several days’ fighting he set a fine example of cheerfulness and cool courage to those around him. He was three times knocked down by the blast of shells.” (Edinburgh Gazette, Sept. 28th 1916)

Major Ernest Knox (Sikhs) in Mesopotamia.

Major James Romanes (Royal Scots). “For conspicuous gallantry in action. He led his battalion with the greatest courage and initiative. He set a splendid example throughout the operations.” (London Gazette, Nov. 25th 1916)

Military Cross (MC)

2nd Lieut. Stopford Jacks (RFA). “He, assisted by a sergeant, organised a party to extinguish a fire in a bomb store. Although burnt in several places, he continued at the work until the fire was extinguished.” (Edinburgh Gazette, Dec. 13th 1916)

2nd Lieut. Budge Pellatt (Royal Irish). “When a Platoon was required from his company to replace casualties in the front line, he at once volunteered and led his men forward with the greatest determination, though suffering heavy casualties.”

2nd Lieut. Northcote Spicer (RFA). “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in registering all batteries of the artillery brigade from the advanced lines prior to attack. He was severely wounded, chiefly from having to signal by flag, which was observed by the enemy.” (London Gazette, Oct. 20th 1916)

French Honours

‘The Times’ (Sept 16th) noted that Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt had been made Grand Officier of the Legion of Honour.

2nd Lieut. Trevor Hoey (OBLI) has been awarded the Croix de Guerre decoration by the French Commander on the Salonika front for distinguished conduct, referred to in the Army Orders as follows:

“When all the other officers were placed hors de combat, he took command and led the final charge against the Bulgarian position, which was brilliantly carried at the point of the bayonet.”

Mentioned in Despatches

2nd Lieut. FRG Duckworth (RFA) in Salonika, Capt. WW Fisher (RN) & Cdr GH Freyberg (RN) at Jutland, Maj. EF Knox (36th Sikhs) – for the second time, Capt. RJK Mott (Staff) in Salonika, Lieut. JC Slessor (RFC) in Egypt, and Maj. RD Whigham (King’s Own Scottish Borderers) – for the second time.

It is difficult to express just how proud we are when our Old Boys distinguish themselves so.

October 8th 1916

Lieut. Hugh Sidgwick (RGA) is proving a prolific correspondent.  Being currently under-employed behind the lines on the Somme, he apparently has plenty of time for both reading and writing.

sidgwick-ah-226/9/16. “I was in the most forward of our batteries the other day just at ‘zero’ time – i.e. the prearranged moment when the final bombardment begins. The noise was really appalling. Our own howitzers were comparatively mild members of the orchestra: the high velocity guns easily out-topped them: now and then came the roar of the really big guns far behind: while the rumble of field guns was practically continuous. If you don’t stop to think, it is something of an experience: if you do, you want to sit down and cry.

Generally, I feel a complete fraud and quite unworthy of print in the ‘Draconian’.  I have only been a combatant for about six weeks and am now a petty clerk. So this is my last contribution to the war columns. Veni, vidi, Vick-E: I came, I saw a little of it and it was all over. Any telephonist will explain the joke to you. It is the first I have made since 1902.

The modern Pepys and Shane Leslie book are much appreciated here. Leslie is quite interesting, but what right has he to be compiling memoirs and summing up an epoch at his age (31)?

Besides, I am not at all so certain that the epoch is over yet. Everyone I meet out here appears to wish to live after the war pretty much as he did before, though all agree that other people ought to reform their ways and show signs of spiritual uplift.

I hope all goes well with the OPS.”

August 26th 1916

 

Benham, Frank

Captain Frank Benham (RFA)

Frank has died in Queen Alexandra’s Hospital, Millbank, London.

He received wounds to the right side of the head, the neck and shoulder on August 5th. He was able to write three short communications to his wife on arrival at the No. 2 Stationary Hospital at Abbeville on the 8th and it was thought that he was being transferred to England on August 11th.

There was considerable confusion as to his whereabouts, until he sent a telegram to his wife saying he had arrived in Southampton on August 2oth. The following day he was transferred to Queen Alexandra’s.

He had in fact spent the week following the 11th at the No.2 General Hospital at Havre, it having been decided that he was too exhausted to continue to England. On the 14th he suffered a minor haemorrhage from the neck wound. It stopped quite quickly, although the cause of it remained unexplained.

On August 22nd, Frank suffered another haemorrhage and underwent an unsuccessful operation to save him.

His wife was at his side when he died.

August 13th 1916

Edmund GayCaptain Edmund Gay (Norfolk Regiment) was declared missing a year ago.

The Daily Telegraph reported about ten days ago that our Government understands that there are only nineteen officers and 359 other ranks known still to be in Turkish hands as Prisoners of War.

With regards the 290 officers (amongst whom Edmund is numbered) and 9,700 other ranks still missing, they feel that there are no longer any grounds for hoping they might be prisoners,

“and therefore it was consequently decided that the missing officers and men not accounted for must be officially accepted as dead. Effect is being given to this decision after due consideration of the circumstances of each individual case.”

There has still been no official confirmation of his death given to the family however, and until such time we will continue to list him as “missing.”

* * * * * * *

Benham, FrankCaptain Frank Benham (RFA) was wounded by a German shell hitting his dug-out on August 5th. At the time he was in charge of a battery at Mametz Wood on the Somme.

On August 8th he was strong enough to be able to write to inform his wife of his situation and the matron on his ward has also written to say she hopes he will be strong enough to return to England shortly.