‘A Little Book of Words & Doings’.
NEUVILLE ST VAAST 1916: ‘3 mines blown up while up in our tour . . . the one on Sunday April 2nd affected me more. Sunny all day. Had offered Lieut. Wilkinson*(1) & Rowley*(2) a Major Drapkins corkhoffe? cig at Stand To (3). When mine went up shook us to and fro. I made for my rifle in support trenches. Burnt . . . carrying in exposed position. (4).
My Memories of the First World War. The Revd A. H. Hibbett. 1967.
‘I shall never forget my experience at Neuville St Vaast, . . . when I went with a party underground to listen for the enemy tapping their way in underground passages towards our Front Line. It (was a) dark night which made it all the more ‘exciting’. Whose mine would go up first, theirs or ours? Our feelings were indeed tense.
“Pass the word down for Bomber Ford”, came the command from the officer in front of our column, as we lined up to throw hand grenades over the parapet. “Pass the word back I aint,” retorted Bomber Ford from the rear. The German mine went up first – and we tried to occupy the crater before the enemy advanced to take possession of it. It is strange to think that I might have thrown one of my sister’s hand grenades at Neuville St Vaast. (5)
Researching 1/5th South Staffords and reading this experience of my father at Neuville St Vaast leaves me with nothing but compassion for those who died on both sides and incredulity that anyone could possibly survive such horror.
(1) 2 Lt J.W.H. Wilkinson was wounded. (2) Lt. Arthur J. Rowley: current Censor of Pte Bertie’s Letters.
(3) ‘Stand To’ was at dawn & dusk everyday/ when all soldiers must stand ready for enemy attack. Pte Bertie normally would have had had his rifle with him but maybe as one of a ‘Bombing Party‘ he was carrying hand grenades to toss into a new crater before rushing forward to claim it.
(4) ‘Burnt’: text here is indecipherable/ not clear whether he or his rifle was burnt in ‘exposed position’. Could be ref. perhaps to the wound Lt Wilkinson received?
(5) ‘My Memories’: Neuville St Vaast. This was one of the very few stories of the War my father told me as a child. Compare Hibbett Letters 20th -31st July 1915 & ref. to 172 Tunnelling Company. R.E. See also website ‘The Long Long Trail’. The Tunnelling Companies RE. Photo: Vimy Ridge Bomb Crater Machine Gun Post.<http://www.pinterest.com>
TRENCHES 063. 064. 065.
1st Apr. Sat: Very quiet indeed.
2nd Apr. Sun: 6.50 pm. The Enemy exploded a mine on the south side of B4. This was immediately followed by a second explosion S.W. of the same crater. The Platoon standing to at the North end of 0. 63 immediately rushed up to where the SW entrance to the crater had been but found this blown up and the bombing post there buried.
The connecting trench W. of the crater to 0.64 had also completely disappeared. The fumes from the crater were stifling. 2/Lt Knowles, who led the Platoon which reached the crater lip, found it impossible to enter and several men were in a state of collapse, so he lay down with his party and bombed into the crater. The enemy opened heavy fire with rifle grenades and trench mortars from sap on the right side of the crater, also a machine gun from the direction Point 5. We then established a bombing post and a Lewis gun on the N. lip of the crater and dug a communication trench round to 0.64, establishing communication with that trench the passage of which is very difficult at present by day.
The platoon Standing To at S end of 064 when the explosion occurred rushed along PAYERNE but found the end of the crater blocked and a heavy fire of trench mortar and rifle grenades directed on this point. The Y sap in the WINDOW was attacked by grenades but the enemy could make no progress there. This part of the line was much troubled with trench mortars and a machine gun from the direction of B. 6. The artillery put up a very effective barrage, after half an hour the rate of fire was reduced and everything was quiet by morning .
1/5th SOUTH STAFFORDS CASUALTIES:
OFFICERS KILLED: Lt A. A. Smith. (Author of War Diary Appendix 4. March 25th). WOUNDED: 2/Lt J. W.H. Wilkinson.
OTHER RANKS KILLED: 9871 Pte l. Medlicott; 976 Pte J. Wooldridge; 886 Pte J. Mc.Neil; 9004 Cpl J. T. Knight; 95 Pte J. Dawes. MISSING – BELIEVED KILLED:- 9006 L/ Cpl B. Hopley; 9013 Pte W. H.Turner; 1180 Pte J. H. Bird; 9048 Pte A. J. Belcher; 9702 Pte L. Smith; 8478 Pte H. Ball.
OTHER RANKS WOUNDED:- 8016 A(cting) C. S.M. Burton L.F.; 6443 Sgt. J. Williams; 8833 Sgt W.H. Perry; 9248 L/Cpl J. Wentworth; 7820 L/Cpl F. Fisher; 742 Pte R.G. Collier; 926 Pte C. Hathaway; 8187 Pte T. Rotton; 615 Pte E. Wilkins; 819 Pte F. Bishop; 941 Pte T. Homer; 428 Pte B. Brooke. 819 Pte W.H. Thompson; 9031 Pte A. Holmes.
SLIGHTLY WOUNDED remained at duty:- 982 Pte J. Powell.
NEXT POST: 9th APR. 1916.