Chapter 28

Dug in by the Somme


A signaller reported that all communications were cut and so we were isolated. Many of our wounded infantry passed our guns and enemy small arms fire whizzed around us: we were normally out of its range. The mist was clearing when a despatch rider arrived with the news, 'The Germans are only six hundred yards away!'

We brought our horses, limbered up and galloped pell-mell to the rear, turning at Soyecourt, where we brought our guns into action, although high explosive shells crumpled all around us.

Our officers, who were superb by their example, set our pattern of dogged determination. We fired and plastered road blocks and gun sites until, early on 22nd March, it became clear we were being fired on from our flanks. There was only one remedy, to limber up and gallop out of danger. The morning was free of mist so we had to find cover and briefly set up a screen of shrapnel to halt the foe and then repeat the process several more times, the horses always being at hand. We passed the Vraignes ammo dump and took the opportunity of again recharging our limbers with '106' fuse shells.

We then cantered through the fields as all roads were being shelled and were skirting a blazing aerodrome when we were rocked by a mighty blast as the ammo dump we had left minutes before was blown up, the work of our sappers. They played a fine rearguard action, destroying bridges, laying land mines, blowing up dumps and immobilising transports and guns.

Before nightfall we were retreating again until we had columns of infantry taking up positions near us, ready to engage the advancing Huns. We munched bully beef and biscuits given to us by the soldiers and they tasted sweet compared with our usual food. During the third day of our retirement we crossed the River Somme with infantrymen trotting over the bridge beside us.

About an hour later, as we were going into action, American servicemen blew up the bridge. Our riverbank position and the elevation on the landscape gave me a first real sight to date of the effect of our own shells bursting among German troops. It thrilled and yet saddened us at the same time. A whole salvo shattered about fifty Bosche on the far river bank. Through glasses I could see masses of troops and columns of transport moving towards the river. Our planes bombed the enemy and enemy planes bombed us. The carnage was unspeakable.

Major Hobday moved one gun to the crest of a mound and fired, open sights, into barges filled with men on the river. Hundreds were killed or drowned and still they crossed the river and bravely fought back, gaining ground. Rifle bullets soon began to spit around us, so we were soon on the move again galloping across open country. Our men were tired, thirsty and hungry and so were the horses. The excellent work of our Battery Transport must not be forgotten, for they kept us well-supplied with shells, despite the situation of moving with great rapidity and the constant dangers in their unsung tasks.

Word got around that French soldiers were rushing up to give support to our hard pressed men. I did not see the French. One thing we knew was that we were again under rifle fire, so it was the same old tactical order, 'Fire and Retire.'

We all knew that a stand must be taken and that a counter attack was necessary. On 25th March two divisions were in readiness to engage the Germans, but two pincer movements made us all fall back, just in time for a score of Germans on motor cycles rushed towards us lobbing grenades at our troops.

This was a new menace to us and the beginning of the attack looked most frightening at first sight and then quite comic, in a gruesome way. The poor devils were brave but foolish in their attack, for the ground was too rutted for high speed movement and all soon toppled off or were shot from their cycles before they could inflict much injury. Two of the wounded were captured, pushed into a van, driven off at a great speed to the rear and well-questioned by HQ staff officers.

We made three moves that day before we could rest. Our luck was in, for next morning someone from transport column drew up beside our guns and they handed out dixies of hot tea, bread and cheese. The first hot tea for six days. Though chlorinated, it tasted sweet.

Damn the Hun, he would not allow us time for a 'cuppa', for the lorries were now their target and we had to defend them. We fired and tried to sip tea and chew cheese sandwiches, but it was the old story; the enemy were too near and we had to up tail and retreat. It happened three times that day.



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