The War Diary of George Culpitt, Royal Welch Fusiliers
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Chapter 14 Once More to Face Death
We reached le Havre about 3 a.m. on September 11th 1917 and stayed on board for some hours. Daylight brought the same old dirty, rotten France to our view. Interesting because of it's newness but speaking despair to our souls because of its remembrances.
About 8 a.m. we disembarked and marched to the Rest Camp where we were put under a shed which had previously been used as stalls for horses, and here we stayed the night. The next day, September 12th we had two false alarms to move off, but did not do so . September 12th passed in likewise manner. On the 13th, we shifted at last in the evening to the boat which was to take us to Rouen at which we arrived about 4 a.m. on the 14th.
Here we stayed for 7 days engaged in the various exasperating manoeuvres with which these rotten camps were infested. The principle acted upon here was to get us so fed up that we were glad - even anxious to go up the line to make a change.
On the 21st we left Rouen by train through Etaples, Bailleul to Steinwerk. Here we detrained and marched to Divisional Headquarters at Saiely, resting the night in a large room. On Sunday - the 23rd September, we left about 11.30 for 13 Battalion RW Fusiliers.
On arrival at Erkingham we dropped our kits in the yard of the YMCA and in the afternoon were inspected by the Colonel and placed in different Companies - I went to 'C'. At 7.15 we fell in in the rear of B Company to go to the line. Now we were for it. Leaving the village we went across some fields for a considerable distance through the guns - the same old guns as before - and so on the dug-outs in the second line where we stayed the night.
On the next morning we joined our company in the 2nd line and now the usual trench routine occupied our attention. After two quiet days we were relieved by D Company and returned to subsidiary trench. On the 26th our draft suffered its first casualty, a chap named 'Cannen' being wounded after only two days on the trenches. This happened just after the first six of the party, including, myself, had left Headquarters - such is luck.
The next night (September 27th) we were detailed for a post in Dixie Post the front line. A raid by Fritz was anticipated and therefore we were all a bit nervy which necessitated us standing to all night, but nothing happened and we returned with the daylight. During the day there was a slight increase in artillery activity but no casualties. At night we went again to Dixie Post in the front line but this night was so fine and moonlight as to be almost like day and therefore there was very little chance of there being any rumpas. The next night we were relieved and went back to Erkingham Billets arriving about 10 P.M.
This was always a time of congratulation etc. On arrival at the village we were detailed to different billets. To these we would go and there was a rush for the cosy out of the way places - out of the direct route of the door etc. for as we were likely to stay in these billets for 4-7 days the places we got in first usually remained ours until we went back to the line. Then the rush for blankets ensued and when these were obtained we looked round for some grub. This time we were more lucky than usual. The Cookhouse, having prepared some oats and rissoles for us which we greatly appreciated. Then to bed. The joy of taking, off one's boots for the first time for days, taking off one's coat and sleeping in a fair amount of security, greatly exceeded the discomfort of the hard floor - no pillow. These so called rests were such in name only and the following day (Sunday) we were out at 8.30 a.m. digging a drain on the road from the village to the Seine.
Returning for dinner we were on parade again at 2 p.m. and back on the same job, but this time the monotony was relieved by our having to hunt round the adjacent countryside for two German aeronauts who had come down with a German capture balloon which had drifted over our lines and landed in a field close by. This went on for about an hour but we did not find anybody just as we were returning four German planes attacked one of ours right overhead and also fired down on us but with no results. At last we got back to billets, the day's work being done and it being Sunday I went to Communion in the top room over an Estaminet.
The following morning we had a round of Physical drill etc. and then the rest of the day to ourselves. We saw, the Portuguese soldiers for the first time - a number passing through the village on their way to the line. A sign of the times also was the number of civilians leaving Armentiers, the town about two miles away, which up until this time was standing practically intact as regards the greater portion. That part of the town nearest the line was somewhat knocked about, but the greater part, extending to within two miles of our village was to all intents and purposes standing as before the war except that it was without life.
At night the guns, can be heard going, on the left at Ypres keeping the boys going at it although it is now October.
The same evening we went back to the trenches leaving the village at 7 p.m. After an uneventful journey we reached the-reserve (subsidiary) line and directly we had got settled in our dugouts, we had to turn out for Ration fatigue to A Companv of the North Battalion.
The next day saw us digging an enfilade trench in Haptack trench at which, after permitting us to work for a couple of hours, Fritz sent over about a dozen shells with no result.
We knocked off about 3.30 but 8 o'clock found us again on R.E. fatigue carrying trench stuff to the centre company. The following day we were again on fatigue digging a drain in the sub line. We did not have to turn out again that evening and so we were able to have a quiet evening, 3 or 4 of us in the dugout, writing letters and playing cards, making our supper of bread and cheese and tea if we were fortunate enough to have any left. At this time however rations were fairly plentiful and with the quiet time we were having there was more comfort about than had ever previously fallen to my lot. The weather now began to show signs of the coming winter with wet days at intervals and muddy underfoot. This was not nice but as the trenches were well kept, the sides kept up with wire netting and the battoons drained and duck boards all along, the inconvenience was by no means so great as last winter.
The next day after fatigue we got ready to go up to the front line and relieve the company who were in. I was detailed to Audrey Post where we duly installed ourselves. It was a very wet and muddy show, some 120 yards from Fritz. There were six of us on the post and we did double Sentry a11 night. At dawn after an uneventful night, we occupied the day post only 80 yards from the enemy. It was a very wet and miserable place - very muddy and it rained the best part of the day, and we were very glad to be relieved at dusk and return to the Front Line.
These sort of places were never very healthy. The general aspect was one of desolation and misery and the fact that it was well registered by the German guns was plain to see by the destruction all around. If one was lucky as we were the day would pass without incident, yet another time the post might come in for a terrific walloping from Fritz's trench mortars and be a decidedly nasty corner.