Chapter 18

Tour of Trenches Earned Ten Francs

 

The long trail over, we reached a placed called Ouderdoun. This was to be the wagon line for horses and stores. In the evening our guns moved forward to a place called Bedford House, about half a mile to the left front of Dickiebusch village. We learned that the mansion house was once the property of a Belgian count, who was in the pay of the Germans. He was shot as a spy.

German planes made sorties over our lines. One was brought down by a Lewis gunner.

I was in charge of one eighteen-pounder. I had a splendid crew. They were always at work. One day I accompanied an officer and signaller to a front line observation post. I had a good view of the German line, but when I heard a rifle shot I realized we were in no man's land', in front of our infantry.

From my hideout I saw the graves of British and German dead, marked by rifles stuck in the ground and for the first time I saw red poppies growing all around. The wire entanglements in no man's land' were intricate and deep. We sent word back for one gun to fire one shell set for shrapnel. It burst in front of us, at the right height to smash wire. In the four hours forward we heard a few rifle and machine-gun shots and the whizz of our own shells. The signaller said it was a picnic.

When we got back to our guns we found a new captain -Captain Topper Brown. We learned from some recruits that Brown was crazy on horses and harness. He even had men trim the rank vegetation around Bedford House, a crazy thing to do. Jerry planes came over and spotted the change which showed them that something important must be happening, for next morning at two a.m. we were blasted for twenty minutes, some hundred shells crumping around us. At the same time, the wagon line was bombed, horses killed and men wounded.

I made many trips with officers to forward observation posts and had many narrow escapes. Three times we were lifted off our feet by 'dud' German shells. Had any one exploded we would have been blown to bits. Each trip I spotted good shelter places, should the Huns open fire. On one occasion a salvo of six shells came whizzing over. I shouted to my companions to duck into a dugout nearby. They followed me. We were plastered only with dirt and choked by fumes. A close shave.

Colonel Coates visited our gun site at Bedford House. He was a stout man. He asked Captain Brown for two guides to take him up the line to an observation post. I was one, with orders to see to the Colonel's safety. Going ahead I walked quickly. Twice I was told to 'ease up.' The Germans were lobbing trench mortars all over the second line of trenches and beyond. The Colonel was puffing.

Many duckboards were broken, footing was bad and in places there were great gaps in the trenches. The Colonel asked me how far we had to go. I told him about fifty yards beyond the trench that was being strafed by machine-gun fire. I told him there was a safe dugout a little to our right. That pleased him. I made for the dugout, spoke to a sentry who tapped a coded message on his buzzer. Within a minute an infantry captain appeared and escorted the Colonel to the downstairs mess. The other guide and I were taken to a slit trench, where we got bread and cheese - something we did not have at our gun pit. Within an hour Colonel Coates reappeared with the infantry captain and we were told the operation was complete, so we turned back.

As we reached the boundary of our guns we were given ten francs each and thanked for our services. I do not know if the colonel was taken by a secret route to the observation point, but we never asked and we were never told. My friend and I had a good meal and ten francs each, a very profitable day for us.

During our long spell at Bedford House, we took part in many raids, giving support to our infantrymen who raided the German trenches one night and took one officer, two NCOs and four privates prisoners.

It was mid November, snow was on the' ground and everything was frozen. Our soldiers went forward with helmets and boots whitewashed and wearing long white smocks. We found our German prisoners had only just arrived and that the officer had plans to attack us.

 

 

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