Most of our reports from the battlefield of the Somme have concerned the infantry thus far. 2nd Lieut. Humphrey Arden (RGA) writes to redress the balance.
18/11/16. “I expect you have received a thousand and one letters descriptive of the Push during these last few months, but perhaps the gunners’ point of view is not so well known.
We have been on this front practically from the beginning of the show and so far have had no rest – as a unit – night or day. The “crowded hour” of going over, with, perhaps, rest or withdrawal afterwards is not for us. Infantry may come, field artillery may go, but we, the heavies, go on for ever…
Do you know, I haven’t seen a civilian for three months, nor been inside a standing house for four. Mud walls, sand bag roofs – et voila tout.
…It is a very different sitting in your own O.P with the battery under your thumb at the other end of the wire. Then one tells the guns what to do – which is so much better than being told by a total stranger what he (often wrongly) imagines they are doing. Besides, it cheers one up to see the cautious Hun duck and run for his life, and to pursue him remorselessly till he reaches his dug-out or gets out of sight. It is better still to catch him unawares and see the bits fly – as I did yesterday.
That sort of thing makes him peevish and he looses off blindly. His blind shooting is not, and never in my experience has been, good. Of course he is bound to hit something sometimes.
He put a good round eight-inch through the roof of a neighbouring battery’s officers’ mess some weeks ago. The shell happened to be a dud and landed on its nose between the major’s knees. ‘Dear me,’ said the latter, ‘how convenient,’ and he struck a match on the base and lit his pipe. A good tall yarn? Nevertheless it happened.
…Well, we expect to go on living in this blasted heath and with the help of the wheezy old tanks and their butterfly existence, and the incomparable infantry, be they Australian or Canadians or better still, old English regiments – for they all have their turn down here, we will blast out the wily Hun foot by foot till his moral sickness is greater than he can bear.”
Before the war, Humphrey was for a short time a master at Eagle House Preparatory School. He was due to go to Cuddesdon College to prepare for Holy Orders.