Alexander Henry Tod records his first experience in the line …
Here I am back in billets and comparative comfort after my first spell in the firing line. We had twelve days of it altogether and had a rather tough time. The weather broke badly and it was very cold and wet. Otherwise it was warm enough – the battalion suffering 100 casualties with 20 killed including one officer. We occupied a section of the trenches officially known as the “hairpin” which is right at the apex of a big salient penetrating into the German line, with Loos on our right and La Bassee on the left. Our trenches were of course those recently occupied by the Germans, before the big attack, and were in a terrible state of disrepair. They were practically blown to bits by the artillery of both sides.
We were not 30 yards from the Germans at places and as it had not been possible since the advance to get out working parties to put things to rights, the place had remained just as it was after the big fight; the dead lying everywhere both inside and outside the trenches. Our comparatively heavy casualties were solely due to our exposed position, as, except for a bombing raid by the Germans which accounted for about 10 of us before they were driven off, we were not in open action. The shallow trenches gave us no protection and we were subjected to very heavy fire of all sorts – artillery, rifle, machine guns and bombs, from the front and both flanks. Their snipers took a heavy toll as there were stretches of our trenches open to enfilade fire and from the lie of the land they could look down on us. Our periscopes were smashed by the dozen and it was most wearing work keeping a proper lookout, as we were liable to be rushed at any moment. At this point we are purely on a defensive position and as far as I can see neither side can afford to let the line remain as it is and it will have to be straightened out somehow.
The “line” here is very irregular and broken and in places looks more like an octopus than anything else. In fact at two points the Germans and ourselves are in the same trench, and the short intervening section, of just bombing range, is barricaded off with sandbags and unopened coils of barbed wire. I was at one of these points with my platoon and had a squad of bombers up against the barricade. It was here they tried to rush our trench by open bomb attack and it was here I got a real baptism of fire.
to be continued on Thursday … the continuation of November 1st 1915 can be found here.
These letters began on October 9th, 1915. You can find the rest of them by searching the tag or category ‘Somewhere in France’.