April 1st 1915

England v France 1914

England v France, April 1914.

It is only a year ago that we were reading of England’s great victory at rugger over the French – now our allies – in a match that our dear old boy, Ronnie Poulton (now known as Ronald Poulton Palmer) captained the side to a 39-13 victory, scoring four tries himself – a record, surely, that will stand for a long time.

‘The Sphere’ reported the match in glowing terms, describing Ronnie as providing the moving spirit:

“It was a tremendously fast game, marred to some extent by roughness on the part of the French players, who do not yet seem to have learnt the true spirit in which to play the game. Poulton Palmer was again the moving spirit in the English attack and he has entirely confuted those critics who were for leaving him out of the English side this season on his poor showing in the trial games. Palmer is always worth playing in our international side as long as he is willing to do so, partly because of the fear he engenders in the opposition and partly because he is always likely to win a match off his own bat.”

‘The Field’ magazine commented that “Much has been said of his dodging, but his effectiveness has really lain more in his promptitude in discovering the right direction for his runs and the point at which he could best support his comrades.”

Ronnie is now a Lieutenant in the Royal Berkshire Regiment and we hope to follow his progress over the coming months and fervently hope that he will be returned to us safely when this war is over to resume his captaincy of the England team.

On crossing the Channel to go to the Front, he is keeping a journal and these are his first entries: 

RWPP profile

Lieut. RW Poulton Palmer

 

Tues 30th March. “We found ourselves boarding the ‘Onward’, the ordinary traffic steamer – Folkestone to Boulogne. I believe I crossed in it for the French match this time last year…

The embarkation was very well done, the men being quiet and orderly and our time of embarkation only just second to the Bucks, who easily beat the record for the port, which has seen 55,000 troops cross over. It was an eerie crossing, a full moon, a smooth sea, and a torpedo boat zigzagging about in front of us…

At Boulogne we disembarked and I found the Port Commandant was old Col. Eastwood of the Oxford OTC. We formed and marched up the hill to a camp. Here we fitted the men and got in ourselves and spent a very cold night (under canvas with only one blanket per man. They awoke to driving snow).”

Wed 31st March. “We marched off to the Pont des Briques , a matter of four miles. The men found the pack rode very heavy and two or three fell out. At the station the Battalion was divided into parties of 42 – each party to go in a goods van… There was a ghastly crush in the train, since we were one truck short and as many as 50 were in some. They could not sit down, but had to stand on the six hour journey. Off we went about 11pm and arrived at St. Omer via Calais; then on to Cassel which was our detraining point. A ghastly cold night and little sleep.”

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.”