In the Trenches – 20th April 1916 – Part 2

Continuing Henry Tod’s experiences on that day in the trenches.

At 5 a.m. to the second, a most intense bombardment broke out along our lines, and we had all that uneasy feeling it was a prelude to an attack. We had been sitting tight under this [I think he’s referring to the bombardment] for half an hour or so when – sniff! and the next moment we were struggling into our gas helmets. The gas gongs were beaten to raise the alarm for those in dug-outs (the worst place when gas is about) and to warn those in the rear. It was a horrible sensation to be tied up in these gas bags capped as they were of course by our shrapnel helmets. We looked fearsome enough, and everyone looked alike, but one’s sight hearing and breathing is so interfered with and to run around in these things to see the men were properly fixed up was the acme of discomfort. The men were splendid and there was no sign of panic which was a great relief.

The gas cloud came over thick and blotted everything out in a white mist and was supplemented by a shower of gas shells. You could not see more than a step or two but the helmets were effective and s long as they were well tucked in under the collar, nothing came through. I had got a mouthful or two in the early stages but beyond tickling up my inside a bit and a subsequent headache I was none the worse.

Of course our main concern was the possibility of a visit from our friends. [!!] We kept up a slow steady rifle fire into the mist just to show we were still there and our artillery was putting over heavy stuff good and hard. I think they had the wind up in the back regions. The Germans did not attempt an attack on our front, that we could see.

The bombardment lasted an hour and a half and the gas cloud was beginning to clear away when they had another surprise for us. They sprang a big mine just to the left of my crater and we came in for a deluge of earth and stones and mud, which completely buried one man and gave the others a proper dousing. I had just left the crater but was back in a jiffy to find my little band standing by, bombs in hand, ready for any emergency and covered from head to foot in mud. We got the submerged on excavated and he pulled round after a bit. The men were really splendid and I recommended the sergeant for a decoration.

The gas finally cleared away and we resumed our normal existence again, but the strain was telling and we were relieved that afternoon, i.e. a day before time and we went into the reserve trenches.

One of the company officers, Bethune, whom I think I’ve mentioned, was very seriously wounded and also gassed, and an officer of A company was killed and two others wounded. Our casualties were pretty stiff but I have a feeling we gas more than we got, as our artillery kept up a very hot fire all the time and we succeeded in pinning him [the Germans] down on our front. He attempted an attack on other parts of the line but at no place did he gain a footing. The Irish division on our right lost some ground, but regained it before the end of the day.

We had comparatively few cases of “gassing”, the only fatal one being a little white terrier which had adopted us and followed us into the trenches. Poor little chap: no one thought of a gas helmet for him. He had his day and the rats he has killed are countless.

We go up to the same spot tomorrow for a couple of days to complete our spell and are hoping things will not be quite so lively. Our friends are very restless now and no doubt our time is coming.

My first three novels pictured below feature WWI and drew inspiration from letters like these.

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 – 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.