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Q.6.a and Other places Part 3

And he knew the right way of getting a thing done without being cross or overbearing. A splendid type of chivalrous soldier, he stands out in my memory as a beacon of light when I have felt inclined to grumble at the Army system. I can call to mind a score of acts to me, which revealed the kindly, generous heart beneath that cold exterior. One of the first things he said to me when I joined the Brigade was this: 'Buckley, mind you make your authority felt with these adjutants.

Remember, for the purposes of bombing, you are the General.' How could he have shown more generous confidence or encouraged me more for the new role I had to play?

Major Rowan, our Brigade-Major, was another typical officer of the old Regular Army, who was generally liked. I did not get to know him so well, as he left us for higher Staff duties before two months had passed. I always found him kind and considerate.

Capt. D. Hill had been Staff-Captain ever since the Brigade came out to France, and what he did not know about the job was not worth knowing. He often astonished me by his knowledge of what could be done, and by his serene confidence when things were looking difficult.

Never ruffled, the kindest and most genial of men, he often proved a good friend and counsellor.

Capt. G.E. Wilkinson stayed with us a short time and then left to join a mess of his own Machine-Gun Officers. A man of the brightest good-humour and gaiety, he always kept us lively and amused. He went far in the war--from 2nd-Lieut. to Colonel of a battalion in eighteen months. I need say nothing further of his qualities as a soldier. He was at Oxford when I was there, and I remembered seeing him at our Law Lectures.

Lieut. G.S. Haggie, the best of fellows too, was always a kind friend to me, and made me feel at home in my new surroundings. I saw a lot of him both now and later on when we did many a strange hunt together for ammunition dumps in the most impossible of places. He was a tremendous walker and could get over really bad muddy ground at an amazing speed.

I was destined also to see much of the Brigade Signaller, Lieut. A.E.

Odell, who was quite a remarkable character. He was a lion in the guise of a dove, an autocrat in the guise of a radical, a rigid disciplinarian in the guise of an army reformer. He won the M.C. and Bar and earned them both. He worked his men hard but himself harder still. He had the curious faculty of being able to work for hours by day and to spend the whole night in some muddy ditch up in the front line. His kindness to and consideration for his signallers, were only exceeded by his conscientious devotion to duty. He made me respect and like and envy him, even if he occasionally made me smile.

Major Rowan left us, I think, at La Clytte or Dranoutre, and Capt. W.

Anderson became Brigade-Major in his place. He had joined the 6th N.F.

at the outbreak of war and got his company and the M.C. at the Battle of St. Julien. In January 1916 he was appointed G.S.O. III at 50th Division H.Q. 'Bill' Anderson was a great man, and combined the fearlessness of the Northumbrian with a great brain. He was probably the best 'civilian' tactician in the Army, and had he decided to join the Regular Army I should have expected him to rise very high indeed.

I know what the 149th Infantry Brigade owed to him; but I doubt whether many others know quite as well. And I have always thought that he was never given full scope for exercising his wonderful ability. A tall soldierly figure, with noble features and piercing blue eyes that could harden almost to ruthlessness, I carry him in my mind as my ideal of a Staff Officer. He could get men to do anything for him; his kindly tact and sympathy, his rare appreciation of your efforts, however clumsy, made you ready to work for him like a slave. He has been a good friend to me throughout, and he has done more for me than any other man in France.

At Bruloose the officers of the Brigade had small wooden huts of the Armstrong type for offices and sleeping rooms. The mess room was in the farm-house. Naturally it was a great change from the rude accommodation of a Company Mess. M. Bunge, the French interpreter, looked after our comforts well.

Next to B.H.Q. was a large and fairly useful bombing ground, where the Brigade Bombing School was carried on; and I spent a good deal of time there, as I was in charge of the school. On two days out of every four I spent the morning there, and in the afternoon I was free to visit the trenches, some four miles away. On the other two days I could go up to the trenches in the morning.

I did not miss a day's visit to the trenches and once or twice I went up twice in the day.

The journey was done on foot, so I had quite a good day's exercise. My duties in the trenches were to see that the battalions in the line had a proper supply of grenades; these were taken up by the battalion transport at night. Also that the grenades in the trenches and all bomb stores were properly stored and cleaned. I had also to see that sufficient rifle-grenades were fired at night to harass the enemy's working-parties, and that our bombing-posts were properly manned.

During our stay at Bruloose I had nearly 2000 grenades taken out of the trenches and replaced by new ones; this was hard work for the transport. But the transport officers[5] were very obliging; and I found on firing these old grenades at the school that about 30 to 40 per cent did not burst properly or even at all. The situation in the trenches was getting very bad. Shelling by the enemy's artillery was now less frequent, but the annoyance from enemy trench-mortars was something cruel. Not only large oil-cans, full of explosives, came over both by day and by night, but a horrible 9-inch trench-mortar now made its appearance and blew large craters in the C.T.s and supports.

I had two of the oil-cans pretty close to me at different times, and they were not pleasant. Eventually the trench-mortaring got so severe, that the V Corps had a 12-inch howitzer brought up on the railway, and several of these huge shells were fired into Petit Bois when the German trench-mortars started. Another feature to be reckoned with was the approach of the enemy towards K.1 and J.3 by means of a series of fortified mine craters. These craters were worked on at night, and by the General's orders they had to be kept under constant fire from rifle-grenades. Several nights I went up to the trenches to see this carried out, once accompanied by the General himself. I had at the Bruloose bomb store a fairly good stock of smoke and incendiary bombs, like large cocoa tins, only containing red or white phosphorus. It occurred to me that they might be used with effect against the Germans working in the craters. So I carried a number of these bombs up to the trenches, and they were duly fired from the West spring-thrower or from the trench-catapult. The Germans did not seem to like them, as their discharge always drew a lot of machine-gun fire in reply. We also tried to get some more noxious bombs (e.g. 'M.S.K.'), but no supply could be obtained from the Base. The Bombing Officers[6] of the 6th and 7th N.F. carried on the harassing fire with such effect that eventually the Germans took to sending showers of 'fishtails' whenever a rifle-grenade was loosed off. The 'fishtail' was a small trench-mortar bomb, which the Germans substituted for the rifle-grenade and used with great effect. Needless to say our demonstrations were not very popular with the infantry in the front line. But Capt. Vernon Merivale, M.C., appeared to take a special delight in these harassing shoots.

FOOTNOTES:

[5] Brigade Transport, Capt. Kinsella; 7th N.F., Capt. B. Neville; 6th N.F., Lieut. F. Clayton; 5th N.F., Lieut. M.G. Pape; 4th N.F., Lieut.

W.M. Turner.

[6] 2nd-Lieuts. Toon and Thompson (6th N.F.) and Lawson and Woods (7th N.F.).

X

THE BRIGADE BOMBING SCHOOL

The staff of instructors at the Bombing School consisted of three highly trained sergeants--two of these had been instructors at the 50th Divisional Bombing School which was now given up. Sergt. Hogg of the 5th N.F. and Sergt. P. Flannigan of the 4th. N.F. took it in turns to be at the school and at the Brigade Bomb Store. So with Sergt.

Moffat, who was now appointed Brigade Bombing Sergeant, I had always two to help me at the school.

On the two bombing days sixteen untrained men came from the battalion resting at Locre and sixteen others from the battalion resting at R.C.

Farm.

During the two days these men had to be sufficiently instructed to throw three live Mills grenades. Generally they threw one live grenade apiece after the first day's instruction, and the two others the second day. The first thing was to give a lecture to the men, explaining the nature of the Mills grenade and the proper way to hold it and throw it.

After this a party of sixteen men were lined up in two lines, about forty yards apart, and each of the eight men in turn threw a dummy grenade towards the man opposite him. The instructor had to be careful that the man threw in the correct way and held his grenade right. The action of throwing the grenade was more like bowling overhand than throwing. After about an hour of this the first party of men, eight in number, went down to the firing-trench, which had to be 200 yards clear of any troops. There were two sandbag walls, breastworks, about five feet high--the one in front with a small traverse wall. At the front wall stood the recruit, the sergeant-instructor, and the Brigade Bombing Officer. In front about thirty yards away was a deep pit, mostly full of water, which had been excavated by innumerable grenades thrown into it. The other seven men took refuge behind the second wall, until it was their turn to throw. Before the grenade was thrown the officer had to blow two blasts on his whistle. The first meant 'Get ready to fire'--i.e. draw the safety-pin, the second meant 'Fire.' Some men of course were more confident than others; but on the whole the Northumberlands were easy to teach, for many were miners and accustomed to explosives--in fact, it was sometimes difficult to make them take cover properly. When the grenade was thrown, every one ducked down behind the wall and waited for the explosion. If it went off all right, all was well; and the next man came along for his turn.

If, however, the grenade did not go off, it had if possible to be retrieved and the detonator taken out. This was the most exciting work I had to do. Generally the sergeant and I took it in turns to pick up these 'dud' grenades as they were called. After some experience it was possible to tell the moment the grenade was thrown why it did not go off, for example the fuse might be damp and never light; or the cap might misfire; or, worst of all 'duds,' the striker might stick fast through rust or dirt.

Before I gained the experience of picking up these 'duds' and drawing their teeth, I had one lucky escape. The grenade in question had a 'hanging striker' and burst on the ground within five yards of me. It was not, I think, a very good explosion, but one of the pieces caught me on the thigh--happily it cut into the seam of my breeches and then turned, following the seam out and leaving me with a bruise and two holes in my clothes. I never liked picking up these 'duds,' but later on I got to know from the sound what was the matter with them; and then it was just a matter of experience getting them to pieces safely.

The live grenades when they burst in the pit, sometimes threw out old 'dud' grenades lying in the mud. One of these latter burst in mid-air, but hurt no one; and another time the grenade dropped right into the firing-trench but did not go off. Another nasty thing was when the grenade burst too quickly; many men have been killed by premature bursts during practice. But though some grenades went off too quickly, I never had one burst in less than a second, by which time the grenade was fairly well away from the trench. Besides these thirty-two untrained men, the bombers from the battalion at Locre used to come and practise on the ground under their own Bombing Officer. But if any of these men wished to pass the live firing test, to qualify them to wear the Bombers badge (a red grenade on the right arm), I had to test them with six live grenades. Three out of the six had to fall within a narrow trench about twenty-five yards from the firing point.

Of course I had to watch the grenade till it reached the ground--and pray that it would not burst prematurely. What a blessing those steel helmets were during live bombing practice! They were proof against bomb splinters and gave you a feeling of confidence.

The battalion bombers were also trained at the school to fire live rifle-grenades. No risks were taken with the Newton rifle-grenade; during firing all men had to be behind a barricade and the rifle was fired off with a string and held in position by an iron stand. But we used to think the Hales rifle-grenade quite safe, so that men were trained to fire off these grenades holding the rifle to the ground in the kneeling position. On one occasion several of us had a lucky escape. The grenade burst at the end of the rifle, instead of bursting 120 yards away on contact with the ground. Sergt. Hogg and another bomber of the 5th N.F. were holding the rifle and both got knocked over, Sergt. Hogg with a slight cut on the head, the latter shaken but unhurt. The Bombing Officer of the 5th N.F. and I both got scratched on the face with splinters.

During our stay at Bruloose about 420 men went through the recruits'

course and over 1700 grenades were fired.

Later on I had to be content with much less elaborate bombing grounds.

Sometimes they had to be improvised from nothing, at other times a bombing-pit of a sort was found, and we had to make the best of it.

After the battle on the Somme far less attention was paid to bombing; but for a time it was thought desirable to have every man trained in bombing, even at the expense of the rifle.

XI

ST. ELOI AND NEUVE EGLISE

About July 2 the Brigade came out of the line for a short time, and B.H.Q. moved to a camp between Mont Rouge and Westoutre. During this stay I was able to carry on the training at the Bruloose Bombing School. There was a fine view of the trenches from Mont Rouge. We could of course hear the sound of the bombardment on the Somme, but at this distance it was more distinct some days than others.

On July 14 the Brigade went into the line again, south of St. Eloi, the support trenches being in Ridge Wood. B.H.Q. moved to a camp at La Clytte, farther than ever from the front line trenches.

At La Clytte there was a small bombing ground, but it was not very safe for live practice, and I was glad when we left it. We did not stay long in these trenches; but before we left them the bombers of the 6th N.F. killed a German and he was brought back to our trenches.

It was the first dead German that I had seen.

Our next move was to a quieter part of the line, namely to Wulverghem, below the Messines Ridge. B.H.Q. went to a canvas camp at Neuve Eglise, but moved soon after to Dranoutre, where we were billeted in houses. Lieut.-Col. Turner, O.C. the 5th N.F., came to command the Brigade for about a week, in the absence of General Clifford, who went to England on leave. He was a regular officer, with a keen sense of humour and with an extraordinary dislike of parsons. These new trenches were quiet enough, but the sniping of the enemy was far too good. I was nearly caught out before I realised that fact. I was looking over the parapet the first day with L.-C. Austin, when a bullet caught the edge of the parapet just in front of us, tearing the sandbag along the top and stopping within a few inches of our heads.

Of course we dropped down quickly into the trench, but L.-C. Austin waved his cap over the top to signal a 'miss.' He told me it would never do to let the German sniper think he had scored a hit. The 'flying pig,' our large trench-mortar, was first used in a bombardment of the German trenches here, and I believe our Stokes mortar battery did a record rate of fire on the same occasion. We had a lot of gas cylinders stored in the front line trenches ready for use. But they were not required and we had the pleasant job of removing them. They were always talked about as 'rum jars.'

There was no bombing ground at Dranoutre, and I had to make a place for live practice in a farmer's field, much to his disgust. 'C'est la guerre, monsieur!' was all we could say to his expostulations. We could now hear the great cannonade on the Somme going on to the south almost day and night.

A large number of wooden ammunition huts were erected along the roads near Dranoutre, and heavy gun emplacements were being made about Kemmel. Perhaps it was intended that the Fifth Army should make a big push here, if the battle on the Somme had been more successful at the start.

About August 7 we were relieved by two shattered divisions from the Somme, one of them being the Ulster Division that had seen hard fighting south of Serre. We had a good idea whither we were bound. But at first we moved off to the Meteren area, where B.H.Q. were quartered in a camp of wooden huts for about five days. The censorship now became very strict, no inkling of our movements was to be given to anyone at home. Valises too had to be lightened by sending home all spare kit; and all papers and maps relating to the Kemmel area had to be destroyed or returned. Amongst other things I sent home my 'slacks,' and never wore them again in France. About August 11 we moved off to Bailleul railway station and entrained there, leaving about midnight. Next morning we reached Doullens, where we left the train. The R.T.O. at Doullens was Capt. Rearden, whom I knew as a boy at Wellington College and had not seen for sixteen years. But he recognised me and claimed acquaintance.

We marched that day to Fienvillers, and stayed there two days in a French house. The next move was to Naours where we spent one night; and the next night we stayed at Pierregot. On August 17 we marched to the wood at Henencourt.

The whole Brigade was encamped in the neighbourhood of the wood. We had at last arrived in the rest area of the Somme front, and it could only be a matter of days before we were involved in the great battle.

But before that could happen there was a great deal to do to prepare the men for their ordeal, and perhaps not a great deal of time in which to do it. The Division was served out with the short rifle for the first time. Hitherto we had only had the long rifle such as was used in the South African War.

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