The Battle of Champagne, May 27th to June 19th 1918
On May 27th the third Great German Offensive, on the Chemin Des Dames started. Orders were received to embuss with guns and ammunition for the Vishy French Army leaving the transport to follow by road. At 22.30 hours on the 28th May the Battalion left Aulnay L'Aitre in French lorries. The lorry that I was in had not gone far when the lorry following crushed into the back of our lorry and put us out of action so we had to be towed by another lorry.
This meant that some of the lads had to leave our lorry to lighten the load for the lorry that had to pull us. This was all right for the few of us that were left for it enabled us to lie down and get some sleep as we rode on during the night. Early the following morning we felt the lorry going up and down on its near side and at times we quite expected to see the lorry turn right over, on looking out we noticed that we were going over heaps of stones that were at intervals at the side of the road. I expect they were there for repairing the road.
We then opened the little sliding door that was in the driver's cabin to see
what they were up to only to find that both the French drivers had gone to
sleep and left us to the mercy of the lorry that was pulling us. We were
lucky for when it got daylight we passed several lorries that had turned over
and were lying at the side of the road. About 6 a.m. we passed through the
town of Chileans. The streets were full of people on their way to work.
Later on we passed through Epernay. The French people were going about in their usual way for like us they did not realise how bad things were and that it would not be long before the Germans would be driving them out.
It was not long before we knew that a retreat was taking place, for we started to pass lines of civilians carrying and pushing trucks with all their belongings on with little children running at the side of their parents, all trying to get away from the Germans as they were advancing. At 11 p.m. we debussed at the village of Chambreecy which was to be Battallion Headquarters. Just before reaching Chambreecy I spotted a little stream so when we got off the lorry I ran back to have a wash for the dust which the lorry had covered us with on the journey made me feel very uncomfortable.
This was the worst thing that I could have done for during my absence the lads had been issued with a meal and on my return all the food had gone. I was feeling very hungry for the last meal I had was at 4.30 p.m. the day we left and boarded the lorry. At 2 p.m. we marched about 5 kilos to the village of Sarcey which was to be company Headquarters. At 7 p.m. we made our way across the fields having to carry our guns etc. as our fighting limbers were still making their way by road. We were to join up with the 57th Brigade.
It was hard to believe that a war was on for the countryside was so beautiful and hardly a shell hole to be seen. On our way we passed in front of a French 75 gun firing for all it was worth. I expect they were getting rid of all their ammunition for they had their horses with them and looked as if they were ready to pull out at any moment. It was not long before Jerry spotted us for two small shells fell quite close to us, badly wounding one man in the arm and wounding our officer 2nd Lt. Pope in both his legs.
2nd Lt. Pope was a very smart officer and a good leader, I have oft times wondered what would have happened to us had he not got wounded. After his wounds were dressed he turned to Sergeant Fisher and said ' Carry on Sergeant' then he left for the dressing station. That was the last I saw of Lt. Pope. Sergeant Fisher took us to a spinney. An officer of the Gloucesters told us to clear off as he did not want any machine gunners near him as it was his Headquarters. We left and made for a sunken road where we took cover until it got dark.
When it got dark Sergeant Fisher sent two gun teams with Sergeant spiers and two with him. I stayed with Sergeant Fisher. We went out and dug a small trench and two gun positions. The trench was very shallow for about three feet down we came to chalk and we only had our own little trenching tools to dig with. Just before daybreak Sergeant Fisher sent some of us back with some ammunition to take cover on the sunken road as the trench was not large enough to hold all of us.
As the day began to break Jerry started to send some heavy shells over which fell well behind us, so for the time being we felt quite safe but it was not long before he put his barrage down on us and shells started bursting all along the top of the sunken road. One fell quite close to me. I thought I had got a Blighty one for I felt something hit me very hard on my leg but it was only a lump of chalk. The Germans were reported to be in Bois de Limons advancing towards Thery-Ville en Jardenoiss Road.
Our two guns under sergeant Fisher were now firing for all they were worth and things were getting pretty hot where we were. Two infantry stretcher bearers came and took cover near us. It was not long before they were needed for a poor lad came running towards us with blood running down his face and his right arm only seemed to be hanging on by the sleeve of his tunic, he was shouting 'I am hit'
While the stretcher bearers were attending to his wounds he kept shouting for
his mother. The shelling got so heavy that the infantry had to fall back.
Our guns carried on firing for about another hour then the Germans put a machine gun barrage on us. The bullets were coming over the top of the sunken road and falling a few yards from us which made us keep our heads down and unable to see what was going on in front. The order came back from Sergeant Fisher to take as much kit as possible and get back to Battalion Headquarters.
The German barrage was still on us and the first man to stand up, Pte. Davis got machine gunned in his back and fell down. We left him with the two stretcher bearers and the other wounded men. I don't know if he died only they must have got captured for they had no chance to get away. I went back well loaded. Besides my own equipment I took 500 rounds of ammunition in two machine gun belts, a spare barrel and a cleaning rod. I was unable to move very fast for I was feeling rather weak as I had not had any food for two days.
As we fell back shells were bursting all around us, something seemed to say to me tilt your head. As I did a piece of shrapnel went right along the side of my steel helmet leaving a long scratch on it. It was not long before one of our party got wounded. He got hit in the shoulder so I added a little more to my load by carrying his rifle. We had only gone a few more yards when another one got wounded in his foot. We made him keep his boot on although blood was coming out of it. At last we came to a stream where we got down on our hands and knees and relieved our thirst by drinking like a lot of cattle. Feeling a little better we got under way again and it was not long before we came to our next line of defence. It consisted of a line of infantrymen lying on the grass with just two turfs in front of them to rest their rifles on.
Their Officer spotted us and wanted to know where we were going. We told him that we had received orders to get back to our Headquarters. He had a man with him from the Local Scouts who climbed a tree and said that another one of our men was coming with a machine gun. When he reached us it was Pte Butt. He said that the rest of our two gun teams had got knocked out but he had managed to get a gun away.
I told him that I had got two belts of ammunition so should we stay. He said our orders were to get back to Headquarters and another thing we had not got a tripod for the gun. Sergeant Fisher was one of the party that had got knocked out. For this action he received a Bar, to his Distinguished Conduct Medal. The Infantry Stretcher Bearers took charge of our wounded and we made our way back for there were only five of us left. Eventually we reached the road which lead to our Headquarters. Then an argument started as to which way we had to turn. I said seeing that we turned to the right when we went into the line we should turn left to get out. While the argument went on I went into a house that was still standing hoping to find some food and to my surprise a tall gentleman came up to me. By his appearance he looked like a doctor. On seeing him I hardly knew what to say.
I spotted a water tap in the corner of the room. This was most unusual for
all the other houses I had seen in France had pumps. I asked him for a drink
(d'eau si-vous-plait). He gave me the water, he also put something in it.
After I had drunk it I wondered if he was a German and trying to poison me.
I had no ill effects so he must have put something in the water to do me good. I don't know why he didn't leave the village with the rest of the civilian population. He must have got captured if he did not get killed when the village was destroyed. When I returned to my mates they were still arguing as to which way we had to go. One of the men, an old soldier with two conduct stripes said he was going to turn right so two men decided to go with him, the man with the gun said he would go with me.
I don't know what happened to them only they never returned to the company.
Pte. Butt and I had not gone far when we met 'D' Company marching along the road. We used to call them our 'Buckshe' company for they used to relieve us in the line when we were due for a short rest or reinforce us when we needed it which they were doing now. The officer leading them, I believe it was Major A.S. Warren M.C. spotted us and told us to fall in behind them. I said to Butt that we were near to Battalion Headquarters so we might as well carry on and see if we could get something to eat. Pte. Butt decided to go with 'D'Company so now I was all alone.
When I reached Battalion HQ they had all gone back except one Sergeant who was getting ready to leave. I told him that I was the only one left of two gun teams and I wanted something to eat as I had not had any food for two days. He said that he had no food and all he did was to take my name and number and then he left me. I then spotted a line of men being issued with some stew from a field kitchen. I went up to the cook and asked him for some. He said that he had to feed his own men first.
I stood there and saw him give it all away. I thought this a very mean thing to do for they were men from the Royal Engineers and were able to get their meals regularly. I did manage to get a little dixie full of hot water from him which I was able to mix with an oxo cube I had in my haversack. My young lady used to send me the oxo cubes which came in very handy. After the Engineers finished their meal they beat it so no I was all alone. The Germans were now shelling all around where I was but I decided to stay put for I had reached the place where Headquarters should have been. It was not long before the wounded started to roll back making their way to the dressing station.
Some were being carried on table tops and doors for there were not enough stretchers to go round. Men wounded in the arms were helping men along who were wounded in their legs. Thousands of wounded men passed me and I was beginning to wonder how long it would be before I would be joining them only several shell fell quite close to me. I was just beginning to wonder what to do, when who should arrive; Sergeant Speers and eight men, the remains of our other sub-section. I told him that I was the only man left of Sergeant Fisher's sub-section and that Battalion Headquarters had left.
They had found a loaf of bread and a bottle of cherries in the village so we shared the loaf and cherries between the ten of us, thank the lord that there was no more of us. Sergeant Speers saw the ammunition I had and wanted to know what I was doing with it. I told him that I was ordered to get back to Headquarters with as much as we could carry. I don't know if he expected us to be captured only just before we were about to leave he told me to empty the belts and throw the ammunition down a ditch, all 500 rounds.
We then went up a road where our 'it' company must have been for I saw one of them lying dead in the road along with other men. Not far along this road we came to a haystack and here we found some food and ammunition. Sergeant Speers told us to carry as much of this ammunition as we could. I was so mad after having just thrown 500 rounds down a ditch that I threw the two empty belt boxes that I was carrying away and picked up a white canvas bag that I thought had some special food in it, only to find at our next stop that it was a bag of tea which was of no use to us for we were not able to make tea.
We left the road and went across some fields and made our way to the top of a hill where we stopped for a rest. Sergeant Speers spotted a farmhouse at the bottom of the hill so he asked for two volunteers to go down and see if they could get some water. I did not volunteer but I went down with them. On reaching the farm the two volunteers started looking around for eggs when along the road came a French horse mounted patrol and said the Germans were coming along the road. The two volunteers left without the water, I spotted a pump and filled two petrol tins with water before making my way back. On reaching the top of the hill I found that all our men had left.
I spotted them in the distance on top of Mont de Blighty. The only troops
about were some French Colonial Troops and they were falling back. I was so
mad when I saw our men had gone that I gave the French troops the water.
While here a German aeroplane came over and was chasing one of our planes down into the valley. The French troops fired with their rifles at the German plane and we were actually higher up than the planes as they headed for the ground. As soon as the British plane landed the German made off for the German lines. I then saw an observation balloon shot down. I think that it must have been a German balloon unless it was a French balloon that was unable to get away.
After all this excitement I made my way to join my section, who had joined up with some more men of our company, so during the night we dug a trench and four gun positions. Owing to the chalk we were only able to dig a shallow trench so during daylight we were unable to stand up. The following morning we were issued with some Maconikes a 'tin stew', one tin between two men. It was most welcomed for it was my first real meal for three days. The enemy did not worry us during the forenoon. About midday I noticed some infantrymen on our left flank trying to advance in extending order. Twice they got nearly to the top of a ridge and then fell back. On the third attempt they went forward over the ridge and out of my view. This attack must have been taking place by the 9th Cheshire Regt. led in person by their Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel W.W.S. Cunninghame and also one by the 2nd Wiltshire Regt..
At 6.15 pm orders were received from Division that the line was to be withdrawn to the Westledge of the Bois D'Edisse, Mont De Bligny and then across the Ardne to North of Bligny. On completion of this withdrawal we should have been relieved by the 40th French Division but this relief did not materialise. We left our trench without firing a shot. I carried one of our guns out and we made a new gun position on the side of the road which led to the village of Chaumuzy. The Germans attacked us and at 8 pm we made a counter attack. We went forward about 100 yards then we came under heavy machine gun fire which stopped our advance. The only cover we had was by lying flat on the ground.
Lt. Ainsworth was lying on the right of me. I don't know if Jerry could see that he was the Officer in charge of us, only every time I looked at him bullets were falling all around his feet, kicking up dust as they fell. I don't know how close we were to the Germans or how many there were only just in front of me I spotted two Germans come down a tree, turn their backs on me and walk away. I turned to tell Lt Ainsworth but he had gone and so had the rest of our men, the only ones left with me were dead. I expect that the tow Germans up the tree must have seen our men go back and thinking that I was dead decided to make their get away. For a moment I didn't know what to do, I fixed my bayonet, took the dust cover of the magazine of my rifle and put a bullet up the spout so that if they did spot me I was ready for them. When I saw that they were out of arms way I made my way back and joined the rest of my section on the roadside. At one time I thought about going after Jerry but not knowing how many there was I thought it best to get out of their
way. By June 1st the Division's line was unbroken but the rifle strengths of
Brigades were reduced to; 56th Brigade 900 men, left of the 9th Cheshire
Regiment, the 1/4 King's Shropshire Regiment and the 8th North Staffordshire
Regiment. The 57th Brigade 950 men left of the 10th Royal Warwickshire
Regiment, the 8th Gloucestershire Regiment, the 10th Worcestershire Regiment.
The 58th Brigade 350 men left of the 9th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, the 9th Welsh Regiment and the 2nd Wiltshire Regiment. The 5th South Wales Borderers the Divisional Pioneers had 500 men left. Our Battalion had 35 guns out of 64 still in action. At 2 am on 1st June Pte Handley and myself went back to the village of Chaumuzy for rations. The sight we saw there would have done the lads in the line a world of good for the street was flowing with water. We followed the trail and found that it was coming from a horses drinking trough at the top of the hill.
The outlet had got blocked up and so it could not run down its proper outlet.
Up the line the only water we had been able to get was by digging a hole in the ground. During our absence four of our gun teams had gone forward so on our return at 5 am Sergeant Speers detailed Pte Foulds, Pte Handley and myself to take four bags of rations to them. On making the top of the hill we found a few infantry men dug in. It was now daylight so infantry told us to take cover as the Germans were all around us. There was quite a lot of British and German dead troops lying about, they must have got killed during the night. We asked the infantry if they knew where our gun team were. They did not so Pte Foulds crawled out to look for them. We found one team so he came back and told Pte Handley to take one bag of rations to them and I was to go with him with the other three bags of rations.
Handley would not go so I tied all four bags of rations on the butt of my
rifle and crawled out with Foulds to the gun teams. We found Lt Ainsworth
who was in charge sitting in a shell hole, he looked all out, his steel
helmet was nearly putting him off balance a his head kept falling forward,
only like the rest of us he had not had any sleep for several days or nights.
He gave us some of his rations and told us to take cover on the ridge as we would not be able to get back to our own gun during the daylight. This was the last that I saw of 2nd Lt Ainsworth.
His friend Lt. Wake who I met some years later at a reunion dinner told me
that Lt. Ainsworth was sent home with shell shock. Back on the ridge Pte.
Foulds stayed in a slit trench with some infantrymen. Pte Handley and
myself got into a hole with a dead German lying on top. He had a wound in
his chest. The infantrymen said that he had only just died and he would not
let them dress his wounds. He was wearing a large pair of hornrim glasses.
I wanted to take them off but I could not do it for he still had his eyes open.
Pte Foulds received the Military Medal for this action. During the day a German sniper must have been trying to hit Handley and I for every now and again a bullet would fall quite close to us. We went into another hole but it was just as bad, we were only just missing the bullets so we went back and stayed with the dead German. This sniping got on Handley's nerves so much that he asked me to shoot him which I refused to do. Then Handley asked me to go and ask Foulds if we could go back. Foulds said no, we were to stop until it got dark or sent back by Jerry.
What we could not understand was that some French troops were digging a trench some distance in front of us and nothing seemed to be happening to them. At 7 pm, just before the German barrage started these French troops retired past us. I have often wondered if they were Germans dressed in French uniforms. After these troops had fallen back and the shells started to fall thick and heavy around us Handley said it was time that we got out of it so off we went and only just in time for when we reached the road and looked back our four gun teams that we had just left got up out of their positions and as they did so dust was coming up from the ground all around them, made by the bullets falling near them.
It was a sight I shall never forget for as they got up the metal dixies that were on their packs shone like mirrors as the sun caught them. I don't know how many men became casualties. My mate Golder was with them and it was not until we had got relieved that I saw him again. He said that he had got mixed up with another party. When Handley and I returned to our guns on the roadside they were firing for all they were worth at what looked to be Germans until an officer of the Cheshire Regiment came running up the road shouting cease fire.
It was like being on the ranges. What happened was that the Germans had got in front of some of our own men. All along the roadside were men of all different regiments of the Brigade. So the Officer told them to fix bayonets and go out and help our men in. No one moved at first until the Officer got in front and waving his stick, saying come on the Cheshires, then they all got up and went forward. Lt Wake, one of our company officers came along the road being helped by two men, he had blood running down his face from a bullet wound in his head, as he passed he said 'carry on lads'. I met him some years later at a reunion dinner.
I mentioned about the moustache he now had. He said that he was sent to a French Hospital and it was ten days before he got a shave so when they got to his top lip he told them to leave it alone. He received the Military Cross for his part in this battle. At 10pm Sergeant Crouch and L/Cpl Goode came to us, they had a gun, but had lost all their men. he asked Sergeant Speers for some men and he would take up a position further down the road. Sergeant Speers gave him Pte Davis, Pte Vain, Pte Handley and myself. We went and took up a position on the bend of the road and made our gun positions on top of the sunken road and camouflaged it in a small bush that was still standing, only we now had Germans in front of us and on our right and left flanks.
Handley and I made a small slit trench about 2 feet wide and 4 feet long and 4 feet deep, with the soil we got out of this Pte Vain just scooped a hole in it so that he could lay flat in it for cover. Pte Davis dug a hole for himself. The Sergeant and L/Cpl got into a shell hole
The following message was received from General Franchet d'Esperey,
Commanding the Groupe des Armes des Nord (G.A.N.) through the Commander of
the V. French Corps.: 'Gen. Franchet Commanding G.A.N. directs me to
communicate to the G.O.C. 19th Division his appreciation of the spirit shown
by the 19th Div. during the present operations. On the eve of the birthday
of H.M. the King of England the General Officer Commanding G.A.N. wishes to
avail himself of the opportunity to thank Major General and the Division
under his command for their fine performance under trying circumstances.
General Franchet d'Esperey wishes the troops of the 19th Division to be informed of his high appreciation of their conduct.'
Just as it was getting light on Sunday 2nd June Pte Davis who was on stay at the gun (lookout) shouted 'Jerry coming'. Before we had a chance to see what was taking place Pte Davis shouted 'who goes there?' instead of jumping on top of Jerry or keeping quiet and letting Jerry keep walking up the road so that he would have walked right into our line. Of course as Jerry heard an English challenge he just turned round and ran back down the road to his own lines. He must have been a runner taking a message back to his HQ and took the wrong road. When he did find the right way he passed across a field in front of us, we fired a few shots from our rifles at him, I don't know if we hit him only he ducked down several times.
This brought Sergeant Crouch out of his shell hole so he told us to cease fire in case we gave our position away. An Infantry Officer came along and told us off for not letting Jerry carry on up the road, he said that they saw him coming and had we let him pass he would have walked right into the main body of men who were manning the road. He also might have been an important prisoner to have had in our hands. The following day was rather quiet, the only Germans we saw were in their flying machines, for they came flying low all along our line trying to find out where we were. They carried on like this for several days. We could always tell when they were coming for we would hear the crack of rifle fire as they flew along the line and the infantry taking pot shots at them.
That night Pte Handley and I went back to Chumuzy for rations, on our return in the darkness we passed our gun positions and had it not been for some men who were sawing a tree down to block the road we would have walked right into the German's lines. They wanted to know where we were going, when we told them they said that we would not find any machine gun post out there as were in No Man's Land and the only troops there were a patrol who were lying out in front of them while they cut the tree down in case Jerry came out to see what was going on. Handley and I soon did a quick about turn and found our gun which was not far away.
Our gun position was the first that the Germans would come to if ever they
came up the road and the last one that our troops would pass whenever going
out on patrol in No Man's Land. Whenever they did pass us they would leave a
password such as Thames, then on their return they would answer to whatever
password they gave when we challenged them.
At 2 am on the 5th June the Germans bombarded our line. When he attacked us the lads of the Wiltshire Regiment who were dug in near us , with the help of fire from our own gun went out and drove him back.
June 6th was a day of heavy fighting. At 4.30 am the enemy attacked after a
very heavy bombardment and again at 6 am. These two attacks were beaten off
but at 11 am and after an intense bombardment he succeeded in gaining the
summit of the hill and an immediate counter attack made by the Cheshire
Regiment though pressed with great gallantry failed to restore the situation.
However a second counter attack by the 14th King's Shropshire Light Infantry succeeded in retaking the hill and some forty prisoners. For this attack we shifted the position of our gun in case they needed covering fire for the attack. In doing so the enemy must have spotted our gun for at 8 pm he started dropping some small shells all around us. At 9pm he got a direct hit on our gun, he made such a mess of it that we got the pieces that was left of it back in sandbags.
We were very lucky for only one man out of the six of us got hit, that was Pte Vain, he got three very small wounds, one over his eye and one in his throat. After Sergeant Crouch dressed these two wounds he came and sat in the hole with Handley and I. He then said that his knee was hurting. On looking we found that he had got hit there too. Then his head started to ache. He went to take his steel helmet off only to find that he couldn't do so, for when the Sergeant dressed his eye wound he put the bandage over the chin strap of his steel helmet so it was impossible to take it off. Pte Handley and myself were very lucky for from where we were we could have reached out and touched the gun. We nearly got buried and a petrol tin in the hole with us got peppered with shrapnel. For this action the 56th Infantry Brigade were cited in V French Army Orders of the Day and the 1/4" King's Shropshire Light Infantry were cited in V French Army Orders of the Day.
They were awarded the Croix de Guerre with star and the Croix de Guerre with Palm respectively. Sergeant Crouch received the Distinguished Conduct Medal and L/CPK Goode the Military Medal. At midnight we got orders to go back to Company HQ in the village of Chaumauzy where I received a much needed cup of tea, the first for nine days, after which we got our heads down and rested in a cellar. All units of the Division had meanwhile become so reduced in numbers that it became necessary to reorganise the 19th Division into one composite Infantry Brigade, one composite Battalion being formed from each of the three Infantry Brigades, The following is an extract from the official report of General Pelle, Commanding V.French Corps. on the action of June 6th 1918'Behaviour of the British./
The 19th Brigade had been in the line for nine days and had had five days of heavy fighting. It had twice been reinforced by composite units which had behaved well under fire. A very strict discipline exists in this fine division. One feels complete confidence in its Commander and Staff who continually send me frequent reports of the situation and of the troops. The French troops have been profoundly impressed by the fine bearing of their British allies.'
On Saturday 8th June we were relieved by the 25th Composite Machine Gun Battalion. During the forenoon I went souvenir hunting in some of the houses that were still standing. Not being able to carry any large articles all I took was a few post cards, some rosaries and a bible. At 1 pm we marched back to Battalion HQ which was in a wood in the Bois de Coutron area.
On Sunday 9th June we had a muster roll call to see who had been killed,
wounded or was missing. My mate Pte Golder who I thought was one of the
missing turned up on the parade. I had not seen him since 1st June when we
fell back. He had got mixed up with another company. His only complaint was
that where he had been they had been getting a lot of gas. Our stay in the
woods was very peaceful except for a few heavy shells that used to come over.
I found a sack of flour in a limber so every day I used to make a little dumpling and boil it in my little dixie, when cooked I used to spread my jam ration on it and enjoy a real first class meal. The only duty we used to do was gas sentry at night for some of the shells had gas in them.
Friday 14th June
At 8pm Sergeant Monagan, three men and myself made up a gun team and headed for the line. I was taking the place of Pte Jolly, who with our Battalion Commanding Officer R.G.S. Lt. Colonel Cox M.C. and Sergeant Brooker had to go back to some french town to be presented with the Croix de Guerre which the French were giving them for the battle we had just been through. When we reached the village of Chaumuzy we had to wear our gas mask for Jerry was shelling it with gas shells. After the gas had cleared we went out and relieved a gun team who were in a reserve position on top of a hill in front of the village. In daylight we had a good view of the surrounding countryside which was very beautiful. We had two slit trenches, in one the Sergeant and two men stayed with the gun and two men went into the other slit trench. Every 24 hours the two men with the Sergeant were to change places with the other two men but before changing over the two men were to go back to the village for rations before joining the Sergeant.
Pte Avery and I were to be the first to stay in the slit trench. The
Sergeant gave us our following days rations, except our jam rations, he told
us to crawl our for it in the morning. Early the next morning before it was
light Pte Avery who was either laughing, sleeping or eating started to worry
me to get the jam. Jerry was dropping a few shells but none was falling near
us. I told Avery that if he wanted the jam he should go and get it himself.
After worrying me for about an hour and it was getting light he decided to go for the jam himself. He had hardly left our hole when a shell dropped almost on top of us.
I was sure Avery had got it and was surprised to see him back in the trench without a scratch but without the jam. When he had cooled down he started on to me to get the jam. I thought that if I was going to get any peace I had better get it so off I went and not a shell dropped anywhere near me.
When I reached the Sergeant he told me to take all the jam which was in a cardboard container and after we had had our share we were to take the rest back to him. It was my turn now to worry Avery to take the jam back but it was no use and the Sergeant never got his jam. When it got dark Avery and I went down to the village and got the gun team's rations and returned to the Sergeant to do our 24 hour tour of duty with him at the gun. The following day Sunday 16th June except for a little shelling and a visit by a few German planes that were flying over our lines we spent quite a pleasant day.
Sergeant Monagan must have spent a very dull 24 hours with the other two men of our team for he asked Avery and if we would stay with our gun until another team relieved us. Pte Avery agreed straight away for this trench was about ten feet long, two feet wide and about four feet deep, at one end the top was covered with a ground sheet laid on top of some grape vine sticks and camouflaged with grape vines for we were in a grape vine field. At this end of the trench the Sergeant claimed for he was able to lay down and rest in comfort but no sooner the Sergeant got up to stretch his legs and have a look around, Avery was down in his place, I never did get a chance to lay down.
Monday 17th June
During the morning we had some heavy shelling followed in the afternoon with a very bad thunderstorm. At night the other two men returned with the rations as usual. They went and placed the sandbag of rations on top of the covering at the Sergeant's end of the trench. The storm had left a puddle of water in the ground sheet, the weight of the water and the rations sent the water pouring down on Avery who was laying down in the trench with his face up to the groundsheet. He jumped up like lightening for the got the lot all over his face. After calling the lad a few names that was not in his pay book he saw the funny side of it and gave us his usual laughter.
Tuesday 18th June
Some heavy shells dropped near our positions but luck was with us for no-one got hit. At 9pm we went down to the village to collect some Italian Machine Gunners from the 8th Italian division who were going to relieve us. At 10pm I arrived back with 15 Italians. Jerry dropped a few shells on the way back so the Italians wanted to know where the caves were. I don't know what they thought of the two little holes I was taking them to. When Sergeant Monagan saw the number of men I had with me he nearly had a fit. He took the man with the gun and the man with the tripod and told me to take the rest back to the village and bring them back the following night.
I spent the night with the Italians in a cellar in the village of Chaumuzy.
The next day the Italians amused me by singing their songs, They had plenty of wine so they got a bit lively, they gave me some of their food to eat, for each man was issued with a loaf of bread. At 8 pm I rounded them up and took them up to our gun position, by 10pm we had handed over our two slit trenches and left the Italians to carry on with the war. I believe that they received quite a lot of casualties.
On reaching the village with our gun kit etc. we found our fighting limbers waiting for us. We had just loaded the limber when Jerry put a bombardment on the village. The mules bolted off with the limber and we got out at the double. The Germans most of got word of the relief, if he had shelled the village the night before he would have killed thousands of Italians for when I went for my men it was like being down Petticoat Lane on a busy Sunday morning.
I could hardly move for troops who were packed in the street. We arrived back at Battalion HQ which was in a large wood about midnight, I was given a rum issue and then I just fell down and went to sleep under a tree until a Sergeant woke me up the following morning to fall in. After marching about 12 kilos we boarded some buses which took us about 40 kilos to Aulnay Aux Planches where we spent several days sorting ourselves out after a roll call to see who was missing.
The casualties sustained by the Battalion during the period 29th May to 20th June
Officers: Major S Scott, Killed; 2nd Lt J.C. Tornents killed; Major J.P. Inch, wounded. Lt J.T.W. James, 2nd Lt.Pope,2nd Lt. J.B. Chalmers, 2nd Lt.A.V. Bruman, 2nd Lt W.P.Wendall, 2nd Lt S.Smith, 2ndLtWake, 2nd LtE. Danks. All were wounded. Lt H. Mills missing. Other ranks; 20 killed including Sgt Fraser, Military Medal. 145 wounded including Sgt. Fisher D.C.M. 24 reported missing. The following is an extract from the official report of General Pelle.
Commanding V. French Corps to convey his congratulations to the 19th Division on their fine defence of their positions on June 6th and especially to the 56th Infantry Brigade on the spirited counter attack which retook the Mont De Bligny.
The General Officer Commanding wishes to add his own congratulations to those of the Corps Commander and at the same time to express his high appreciation of the steadiness and devotion of the Division throughout to series of operations from May 29th to June 6th.
He deplores the loss of so many gallant Officers and men and is confident that the Division will continue to uphold its now well established reputation and to demonstrate the fighting qualities if British soldiers to our French allies. (Signed) H. F. Montgomery Lieutenant Colonel, General Staff, 19th Division 8/6/18.
|Title||Diary of George Holloway describing the battle of Champagne (1)|
|Item Date||May - June 1918|
|Creation place||Champagne, France|
|Copyright||The Great War Archive, University of Oxford / Primary Contributor|
|Digital repository||The Great War Archive, University of Oxford|