Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Eyewitness to Loos: Lance Corporal Budge's Account

Scottish Battalions Attacking at Loos

Lance Corporal Bernard Scott Budge served with Company D, 5th Battalion, Queen’s Own Cameron Highlanders. The young soldier was wounded by shrapnel during the Battle of Loos. Recuperating at the Ulster Volunteer Force Hospital in Ireland, he wrote to his mother in Scotland recounting his experiences during the battle. Soldiers wrote home to their families often, but because of censors or not wanting to cause their loved ones to worry, they did not always go into detail about their battlefront experience. Budge did not conceal much from his mother, which provides us with valuable insight into this important battle. The Battle of Loos was fought between 25 September and 13 October 1915 and is noteworthy for Great Britain’s first use of gas. 

Letter of 6 October 1915
From: 11184 Lance Cpl. B. Budge, 5th Cameron Highlanders,
Carson Ward
Ulster Volunteer Force. Hospital, Belfast

Lance Corporal Budge on Right

I now propose to tell you a little of this great British advance which took place recently & in which I was intimately concerned.

To start with, on Tuesday 21st Sept. we were billeted in a schoolroom in a village called Sailly Labourse, about three miles from the firing line, & about two miles from Vernelles, which [mark-out] name you may now be familiar with. Sailly Labourse was occupied by French people of the poorer class, mostly miners, & they had received warning from the military authorities to remove from this village or stay in it at their own risk. On this Tuesday, all troops billeted there were cleared out, & occupied a line of trenches some hundreds of yards in front of the village, in case the place should be shelled in the retaliation bombardment by the Huns. Our big guns further back had started firing, & by the noise, they appeared to be "some" guns. One gun in particular called "Granny" by the artillery men, a 21 inch gun, did fearful damage, & it was not long before the Germans were sending over "feelers" for "Granny". 

We slept that night in the bottom of that trench (which was merely made in case the British should have to fall back), but were'nt [sic] very comfortable, but then we are never [underlined] comfortable sleeping in trenches! On Wednesday morning at 8am sharp, our gun belched out a "Good Morning" to the Huns. From our position I could see thro' [sic] field glasses, the front line trenches of both sides, & I pitied the poor chaps in them, for they were getting a most awful shelling, & the bombardment had not by any means reached its height yet, tho' [sic] from all sides, particularly from the French, a deep, insistent rumble was always heard. The French were evidently going it strong. Immediately in front of where we were entrenched, was a battery of four of our guns, & they were spitting out the shells like hail. Poor Germans! 

Loos Battlefield


On Thursday we did nothing except stay in trench, which had now become most uncomfortable, owing to the rain having started. On Friday 24th Sept the N.C.O.'s of the company attended a conference by the company officer, where we were told all about the attack which we were to launch on the following day. As we could not attack the Huns with our heavy packs on, we discarded the packs, & wore on the back our haversacks, which contained two days rations, our canteen & waterproof sheet. I slipped in my "Tommys Cooker" & I can tell you I was very glad later on that I did so. We each had 220 rounds of ammunition, & carried two ball grenades (bombs) in our left ammunition pouch. We paraded at 2 p.m. & were marched up to the trenches opposite a redoubt called the Hohenzollern Redoubt, a very strongly fortified German position, & which was reported by the artillery to be now a titanic mound of tumbled earth. We were soon to know the truth. While going up to the trenches, our bombardment had reached its height, & what a noise! The earth shook, & the very air vibrated with the row. I never heard the like of it in all my life before. The mud in the trenches was something awful; we were slipping & falling down, but had to press on till we reached the support trenches, where D Company was installed. Still raining.

At 3:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, we each got a mug with hot tea & rum mixed, & some fried ham, which bucked up us all considerably. From 5 am to 5.12, gas was sent across, the wind being favorable, from 5.12 to 5.20 smoke was sent over (to cover our advance) & then more gas was sent across, of a different kind. I notice that the papers here mention nothing about this gas etc. which we sent over. The gas evidently did its work well, as I found out myself afterwards. The smoke which we sent over was a sort of cover, & some other form of gas was sent over, which did not kill, but which I think, merely temporarily affected the eyes. The smoke & gases going across was a beautifully wonderful sight. It was just like clouds in the sky. lt was right along the line, & was about 50 or 60 feet in height. It was weird. At 5.39 ½ am A&B Companies (who were leading) got out on the parapet, & at 5:40 am, the British line charged!! Up till the minute of the attack, our artillery had kept up a hellish fire on the German trenches, but they then lifted their curtain of fire further back. From now onwards, things seemed a bit dim to me. I think we all went mad. Anyway we got into the open (it was now broad daylight) & charged across. We met a very heavy machine gun & rifle fire when we advanced, & high explosive & shrapnel shells were coming thick & fast. Men around me began dropping & by the time "D" Coy. reached the first German trench (the other coys. had gone ahead) my platoon was reduced from about 50 men to almost 12. 

The Black Watch now rushed on as reinforcements. With some other men, I went into the first German trench, intending to look for a communication trench it takes us up further, as the rifle fire had become so hot that it would have been sheer suicide to advance over the open. This first German trench, whose official name is "Little Willie" was in an awful mess with our shells, & contained quite a lot of Germans, mostly dead. It was here that a Hun (Lord knows where he came from) rushed up to me & said "Gott strafe England" so I said " You're a liar!" and polished him off. Well, after I'd got into this trench, it was discovered that the Germans had still a trench in the front of three houses to the left of "Little Willie" & were holding it with a few machine guns, so it was decided by a Black Watch officer, who was in the trench with about a dozen men, that we should stay in "Little Willie" trench, & defend the left flank in case the Huns should make a counter attack. All told, we mustered about 50 men & 2 machine guns, & so a chap was sent back for reinforcement. That night we were up on the firing step all night waiting on the Germans, but tho' [sic] they bombarded us pretty heavily, they didn't attack. 

Advancing Through the Gas at Loos


About 100 H.L.I. [Highland Light Infantry] came next day as reinforcements creeping thro' [sic] the grass. The Huns didn't spot them till they came tumbling into the trench, & then they caught quite a few. There was a chap who gave me quite a start for he was Uncle Tom's double & I thought it was he at first! He came creeping along, & when coming into the trench he let out a yell - hit by a sniper. I asked him where he was hit, & he announced in a voice very like Uncle Tom's "Oh! I've been hit in me arse, in me arse!" I felt like bursting with laughter tho' [sic] it wasn't funny for the H.L.J. man. Tell this tale to Uncle Tom. I'm sure he'll laugh at it. All this time it had been raining like anything & we were all in a pitiful plight. We stayed in "Little Willie" till we were relieved on Sunday by the Northampton Fusiliers & went back to our old trench where the Camerons had a roll call, & only about 200 answered their names out of 1000!! It was terrible. 

I heard later on that the troops who relieved the Black Watch were driven back by a strong German counter attack, & that nearly the whole of the Hohenzollern Redoubt was in their hands again. On Monday morning the remnants of the Black Watch & Camerons lined the front trench & at 3 pm. we had another charge! This one was twenty times worse than the first & was absolute Hell upon earth. I thank God I came thro' [sic] alive. We walked across, supported by the Guards, & were met with a perfect storm of German high explosives. Their gunners must have been well on the look out. Whenever a bunch of men advanced, there would come a whistle in the air, a bang, & the group of men would crumple on the ground just the same as you would crumple a piece of paper in your hand. 

They got the first & second trenches, & went on to the [mark-out] third, but I was hit in the right calf by a piece of shell which scoped out a piece of flesh about that size [circle drawn on paper] so I retired to the first line, & bandaged it up. In this trench I found that the Germans were busy bombing out our lads, so I crawled on my belly across to our old trench to tell them to send up bombers. I was repeatedly shot at, but escaped. I saw sights that week-end which I will never, never forget till my dying day. I hope to God I may never see them again. I now went to the doctor to have my leg properly done up, but as I could limp along, he sent me right back to the reserve trenches to the R.A.M.C. where I was bandaged up, & after being hurried down with other wounded men to Cambrai we were taken by motor ambulance to Béthune, where we stayed from that night till Wednesday 29th Sept. when we got a train to Étretat, a beautiful little place about 16 miles from Havre.

Belfast Hospital


I got a decent feed & sleep here, which I very badly wanted & left on Saturday 2nd Oct for Havre.  per motor bus, & arrived at Havre about an hour & a half later. We drove right up to the hospital ship s.s. "Oxfordshire" which took 50 hours to take us to Dublin. Was a trifle sick coming over. We left the ship, which carried over about 1400 wounded, at 11 pm on Monday 4th inst., & slipped straight into a finely equipped hospital train which took us into Belfast about 4 hours later. At an intermediate station, people came into the train, & distributed mangos, apples, chocolate & cigarettes among the men, were most awfully decent. When we got to Belfast station, we got a jolly fine reception. A large fleet of over 50 motor cars had, with commendable public spirit been lent by various owners for the purpose of conveying the men to their various hospitals. A detachment of the 4th Royal Irish Fusiliers & a number of civil & military police were on duty at the station, & the public were excluded from the arrival platform, although a huge crowd had gathered outside the station to witness the departure of the men. Before leaving the station, the cars halted inside the entrance, where refreshments, including tea, cakes & butter, fruit, chocolate, cigarettes etc were dished out to the wounded. I was seated [mark-out] beside an old toff who was driving his magnificent car, & when we ran out of the station, I had a fat cigarette behind my ear, a cup of tea in one hand & a sponge cake in the other. Directly the people caught sight of us, they setup a tremendous cheering, & s'help my lob, I found myself blushing. We all felt like a lot of giddy V.C.'s! I have a high opinion of the Irish people generally. 

Well, I have been put in this hospital & I tell you I am not sorry. This is not a military hospital, & it is civilian doctors who examine us each day. The nurses, or I should say "Sisters" as they are called, are all very nice girls, & do all in their power for us. We have as much food as we can swallow & it is of the best. I honestly believe a millionaire could not feed better. When we arrived at this hospital, which was opened by Lady Carson on 8th Jan 1915, we got a hot bath & some supper then what a bed! Oh! I hope I'm here for the duration of the war!! Our ward holds 100 beds we have a fine gramaphone [sic] & piano. Fancy a piano! I have'nt [sic] seen one for ten months! I bet I'll waken up some of the patients!! I expect I'll be here for a week or two, then get a week at home, go to Invergordon where our reserve battalion is & then back to old France. However, I hope that it'll be some time yet. Before I conclude this tale, I see  in today's official dispatch, that the greater part of the Hohenzollern Redoubt had been retaken by the Germans!! That place has cost us a fearful number of lives. I have been told that not more than 40 Camerons remain out of 1000, & all the Highland Battalions are much the same.

Well, well, I think I'd better write about something cheerier now. I am looking forward to the time when I shall get weeks leave [lost words] night will have a big party & invite everybody in Partick.

I am afraid I must stop writing now, as my numbers are about broken with writing all this.

Hoping to hear from you soon.

Love to all


Lance Corporal Budge survived the war and emigrated to the United States. He worked for the U.S. War Department during the Second World War.

Source: Archives of the National World War One Museum


  1. A very good account from the ground.

  2. Excellent. Thank you for publishing this fine letter.

  3. What does he mean by a 21-inch gun? Is that some type of siege mortar, or is he mistaken? I thought the very largest guns used by the British were 18-inch naval guns mounted on railway wagons, and only one or two of those.