Chapter 26

After the ‘Byng Bang’ and Tanks

 

It took some days to assess the aftermath of the 'Byng Bang', as we named the attack plan and the use of tanks in warfare. One of our batteries was wiped out in reprisal attacks and many of our reinforcements were killed. The whole front, on both sides, showed nervousness. The German gunnery was bad and our selection of targets seemed poor. Shifting enemy gun positions turned out to be the cause.

We moved to a copse behind Templeux. We even had sappers digging a second line of defence for guns behind us in Templeux. Some of our gunners supervising this activity were wounded.

On 22nd December 1917, I was in the forward trenches with Major Hobday and other officers. We observed a great bombardment by hundreds of our guns, firing all out to 'Smash Mallicoff' and 'Smash Ruby', as the gunners shouted with each shell.

For days I had peered into the Mallicoff and Ruby Woods. Intelligence knew that both places were hideouts, bristling with trenches, deep dugouts, ammunition dumps, trench mortar batteries intersection tunnels and a hundred lookout posts. I was just one observer who had reported many movements from careful binocular sightings. So a massive strike was necessary and every available twelve and fifteen inch land-sited naval gun took part in the strafe. It was a terrible and yet magnificent sight while it lasted.

As the dust and smoke of the bombardment lifted I could see that there were now no woods, only a few jagged and splintered stumps where beautiful trees had been. Fires blazed, ammo blew up and trenches had been levelled.

We saw a van with a huge red cross painted on its side move towards the stumps. We were ordered to fire from two guns and our fourth shell struck the van. It blew up with a massive orange flash and bang, for it had been loaded with mortars.

Each day, with an officer and morse code signaller, we visited seven observation posts which were located in front line trenches and in no man's land on intelligence gathering missions. One dull, frosty afternoon the air cleared and I could see Germans fixing up screens of six feet square meshing with coloured markings and also supposedly dormant earth-works that were now fresh earth mounds. Word was signalled back and every minute we expected actions such as gun salvos, but headquarters remained silent concerning counter measures. Two days later aeroplane pictures confirmed my observation, but just too late for what followed.

I was with the guns, munching biscuits and cheese, when word came to blast Bellinglise. The action was short and sharp and too late. An enemy raiding party that lay hidden in no man s land crawled through wire and lobbed grenades into our lines. The attack fizzled out for infantry observers, who had seen the move, withdrew to support trenches and then successfully counter attacked. The following day, I crawled into a slit trench in no man's land and to my dismay, found a German rifle and two of their 'toffee apple' type grenades.

When the officer and signaller crawled in beside me they too instantly realized that the place was unhealthy, so we withdrew to a front line post fifty yards away. Judge our sigh of relief when we saw half a dozen whizbangs drop right into the hideout we had left.

When we got back to the guns it was Christmas Eve. Behind us a large number of Gurkhas arrived. They were short active men, full of laughter and fun. We knew why they were there, to erect wide wire entanglements. The old stand-by military maxim was about to be tried yet again - 'Maximum wire, minimum men.' It never seemed to work, it lost lives unnecessarily and with the introduction of the tank it had little value.

We had the usual Christmas and New Year feasts. Turkey, goose, chicken, pork, pudding, fruit and sweets - we even had paper hats and crackers. No doubt the General who thought about crackers received a medal and knighthood. I had my usual lot of food parcels and lots of festive season letters and cards saying nice things about my efforts, which made me feel both very humble and proud at the same time.

As an extra treat we were taken in parties of ten to the rear wagon lines for two days to be entertained by 'The Roses', who were the 55th Division Concert Party and 'The Snipers', our own 24th Division Concert Troupe. We did enjoy ourselves even though the air was frosty, the ground cold and the subzero temperature froze the sea of mud and water-filled shell holes. I kept a People's Journal newspaper from my parcels wrapped around my body between shirt and tunic to keep out the cold.

On my birthday in January 1918 our Battery was pulled out of action for a rest. During this period we were addressed by General Daly who confidently concluded by telling us, 'The Hun is about to attack. He will never succeed.'

We took his talk with a grain of salt, for we had heard similar words many times and knew them to be - Bluff!

 

 

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