Chapter 17

Box of ‘Shells’ Contained Bricks!


Our new gun site was in the open. Our ammunition was limited and some of it was bad. I opened one box of four 18 lb shells to find only bricks. Other boxes of American shells did not suit our guns. We were pleased to have wagon loads of boxes with good shells. The first one I opened had a card tied to a shell, 'If you're single, drop a line; if you're married, never mind,' underneath a woman s name. Such things were common.

As our six-horse wagon team hurried to the rear a crump of shells straddled them. Animals were killed, but three drivers and a mounted NCO were unhurt. On 26th September, 1915, we witnessed a dreadful sight - hundreds of young infantrymen hurrying to the front line and being decimated by enemy machine-gun fire.

The men moved over Hulluich Plain in full view of the Germans. It was sickening to view. Force marched, weary, hungry and untried under fire, these 'rookies' seemed ignorant of the dangers facing them and they were needlessly sent to their slaughter.

Our guns were given enemy targets. We fired, switching from one area to another. We scored many direct hits and silenced many guns.

Seasoned Guardsmen manoeuvred forward and occupied forward shell holes to give support to Highland soldiers. Our sister batteries, in the far side of the plain near a cemetery, used open sights to blast Hun trenches. The tactics were bold, but short lived, for German mobile guns moved up and pounded them, creating heavy losses.

Signallers and linesmen were taxed to keep communications open. By luck, a signaller saw the flash of the enemy mobile guns, gave us bearings and in ten minutes of rapid gunfire, we had silenced the tormentors.

The Battle of Loos was a tragedy. Losses on both sides reached many thousands dead and many more wounded. We had a rough time during this long battle, our guns playing a big part.

German prisoners trooped past our guns. One remarked, on seeing a pile of shell cases, 'You have done well. Are you the 24th Division?' His English was perfect. He asked again, but no one spoke, then, 'Your silence tells me you are the 24th Division.

During a lull in the battle we were relieved by another battery. Rain was falling incessantly and we lived in a sea of mud which drowned many wounded infantrymen before they could be reached in 'No man's land'.

We were tired, lousy, hungry and footsore. We reached a place six miles in the rear. First, horses were groomed, watered and fed, then we were seen to. A rum ration was handed out. I never touched the stuff, even when an officer demanded I take rum, I refused. I was reported to the Captain who demanded, 'Why do you refuse a lawful command, Caseby?'

Politely, I said, 'I promised my parents I would not drink. I hate all kinds of drink. I'm sorry, Sir.'

The Captain complimented me. As I walked away I heard him say to the officer, 'I admire the lad's courage.

Next day, while we were on parade in pouring rain, I was one of three gunners called from the rank. We could not think what we had done wrong. My name was called first, '70412, Caseby A., gunner. You are promoted Bombardier.' I was the youngest with a 'Tape', also an extra 9d per day. When called out, I expected to be court martialled or drafted to front line trench mortars, but promotion it was indeed - a great surprise. Next day when my name appeared on the order board, I reported to the Quartermaster (stores), for my chevrons. Not only did I receive them but he called the tailor to sew them on. I was delighted and my promotion was popular. I was friendly with everyone in the battery, for I wrote letters for many who could not write and they knew I would not expect anyone to do something I could not do myself - with the exception of drinking rum!

We had come through a bloody battle, the weather was filthy, but we were not discouraged. We mourned the loss of friends, other recruits filled the blanks in our ranks. Orders came after three days to move. Loos was left behind, we were on the long trail to Ypres. This was to be the role of the 24th Division, where a mammoth attack was planned. We were fortunate to have fine leaders, men tried and proved in war.




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This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993.   All rights reserved.  Used here by express permission.