Somewhere in France – In the Trenches 20th April 1916

German stick-grenade
Source – Wikipedia

Diving right in with the latest letter from Henry Tod, ominously titled ‘In the Trenches’.

I have rather a big budget this time [I think he means lots to tell] and if I don’t get it off quick I will never remember all what has happened. We have just moved back to the reserve trenches after a most exciting spell in the firing line, including bomb attacks, gas and mines and every other abomination the war has brought to light. We went up to the line on Easter Monday into a section of the HohenZollern Redoubt, of bad repute. We had got warning of an impending attack from a deserter who evidently didn’t want to be in it. The bit of line we are holding is absolutely unique, being a mere conglomeration of craters, as mining has been going on for months from both sides.

There is really no “firing line” in the ordinary sense, our company front for instance being three craters, of which we occupied one and the near lips of the other two. On the second night the Germans tried to bomb their way into our crater, but although they kept it up for over two hours we managed to keep them out. Meantime it had developed into a first-rate artillery duel, as these local scraps [!!!] usually do, in which trench mortar batteries and everything else chipped in.

I was in charge of the crater and could give little heed to what was happening elsewhere. We had about a dozen casualties although I had never more than ten men in the crater at one time. I was kept busy seeing the supply of bombs was kept up and the casualties replaced with fresh men. [I have this image of bombs in – men out] We had built a trench of sorts high up round the inside, which provided some protection and most of their bombs exploded harmlessly at the bottom of the crater. Anyway we gave as good as we got and eventually things quietened down but we had to keep a sharp lookout all night.

At dawn about 3am, the sentries reported figures moving round the crater, but a few bombs sent them scuttling for cover. It was here I got my first German, at least one I can vouch for. A few of them were returning bombs at us but we were keeping them at a safe distance, about 40 yards. I had taken a rifle and was on one of the little sentry platforms at the top, waiting for a decent target in the gathering light. One unfortunate Bosch, a huge fellow, suddenly rose clear of his cover quite close in with a stick-bomb and made to throw it, but I was on him at once and bowled him over like a ninepin before he parted with his missile. This helped to quench their ardour and peace reigned again – but not for long …

The sequel to this episode on the next blog post.

I’m struck by how readily Henry’s letter transports the reader in time and place: explosions at the bottom of the crater, the little sentry platform, the line being a mere conglomeration of craters, men scuttling for cover, bombs in men out. Great inspiration for someone writing about WWI – and to think that I had no access to these letters until after writing my first three novels!

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Somewhere in France – 15th April 1916

Source: Wikipedia

Henry Tod continues to be out of the line.

I have your letters of 21st and 24th March and am glad to see you are all keeping so well, considering the severe weather. I note you are putting in some strenuous work on the garden and would like to pop over and see how you are carrying on. [I believe his family was farming in Alberta at the time.]

We are still enjoying our rest and from my letter to Andy [Henry’s brother] a few days ago you would get an idea of what we are doing. I am enjoying this rest much more than the last one for some reason or other and suppose a nice comfortable billet has something to do with it. We are not overworked and as I can always get a horse, I cannot complain of much at the moment.

The weather has taken a turn for the worse and today we had a heavy hailstorm. Last night I got lost in the dark riding home from a village some little distance away. I thought I knew the way better than the horse did and when we came to a cross-roads we had a bit of an argument. I insisted on going my way and the result was we came to a different village altogether. I felt very cheap when we had to go back to the cross-roads and take his way and I wondered how he could go straight to his table door in the dark.

We have another week or so before we resume our acquaintance with the trenches. Our thoughts had again been turned to the possibility of leave in our due turn, but this has been stopped all through the First Army of which we form a significant portion. The reason we do not know and can only conjecture. Rumour as usual is busy and some big movement on either side is predicted, but our ignorance on these matters is profound.

I peaked ahead to Henry’s next letter home and there’s an indication he’s near the Hohenzollern Redoubt. The redoubt was near Auchez-les-mines at the northern tip of France near the Belgian border. Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia about action in March/April 1916. The number of mines blown is horrendous. We’ll read more soon.

“Following the British attacks of 2–18 March, the German units at the Hohenzollern Redoubt were considerably reinforced. The new German garrison of the redoubt remained doubled for several days and a high level of alert maintained until the end of the month, when the possibility of another British attack was considered to have ended.[11] On 19 March 1916, the British exploded another mine at the redoubt and the Germans sprung two mines in the Quarries on 24 March. British mines were blown on 26 and 27 March, 5, 13, 20, 21 and 22 April 1916; German mines were exploded on 31 March, on 2, 8, 11, 12 and 23 April 1916. Each explosion was followed by infantry attacks and consolidation of the mine lips, which were costly to both sides and turned more areas of no man’s land into crater fields.[12] The British 12th Division was eventually relieved on 26 April 1916 and missed the German gas attacks at Hulluch which began the next day, from an area close to the Hohenzollern Redoubt.[12] Engagements continued until the summer, when the British and Commonwealth forces moved their focus south, in preparation of the Battle of the Somme (1 July – 18 November 1916).”

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

 

Somewhere in France – 2nd April 1916

Henry Tod writes his parents about a mine blowing incident – that’s mine blowing not mind blowing, although the latter could also apply.

Dear Mother and Father

I am not quite sure where I left off in my last letter. Sufficient anyhow that we were relieved and clear of the front line trenches just in time. [Imagine receiving his earlier letter then waiting to hear whether he lived or not.] I think I told you we were going to spring a mine on our front and had everything planned to occupy and establish communication with the crater. The question was whether we or the relieving battalion would do the job.

We knew the Germans also had a mine ready under us, or nearly ready, according to our sappers, but we would probably blow first. We had just been relieved by an Irish regiment and got as far as the reserve trenches on our way back, when the Bosche blew his mine and rather badly strafed our Irish friends. (A euphemism to be sure.] We came in for some of the bombardment which invariably follows on these occasions but nothing to what the front line was getting and altogether we thought ourselves very lucky fellows.

We stood by while it lasted in case of an attack on our lines but this did not develop and eventually we resumed our way to billets. The Irishmen had heavy casualties and a long stretch of their trench was knocked in, while a new geographical feature called ‘Munster crater’ was added to their responsibilities. [The name might have derived from the name of the Irish regiment – pure speculation on my part.]

Photo source – https://graphics.wsj.com/100-legacies-from-world-war-1/

We are now out of the line for a couple of weeks rest and training and are at the same place where we spent our last Divisional rest, at Christmas time. The weather is perfect and I got a football sent out for the men. The other companies are following suit and already there is fierce rivalry between them. My company (B) drew with A company last night after a great tussle – one goal each. There were two casualties of a minor nature. I get plenty of riding exercise and so far we are having a nice easy time. The men are getting brushed up in their drill and have received a complete refit in clothes and kit. We also do a lot of shooting and wiring practice. Nothing further to report meantime.

If you are interested in the work of mines and sappers and the underground world of WWI, read the novel Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks. It’s one of the most popular novels about the war and a chilling look at what men endured.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.