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

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Bogart Rogers's Hard-Edged View of Air Combat

Here's a little change of pace from yesterday's article on Lord Flashheart.  MH

Lt. Bogart Rogers, 32 Squadron, RAF

The son of Earl and Belle Rogers and a sophomore at Stanford University, Bogart Rogers  (1897-1966)  traveled to Canada to join the Royal Flying Corps in September 1917. After flight training in Canada and Texas, he was commissioned in January 1918 and sent to England for additional training. Posted to 32 Squadron in May 1918, he was credited with six victories, including five over the vaunted Fokker D.VII, while flying the S.E.5a. Rogers was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his service.  He left the Royal Air Force in May 1919, returned to the United States, and became a screenwriter, technical advisor, and producer in Hollywood. While collaborating with John Monk Saunders, the script that drew most heavily on his war experience was The Eagle and the Hawk, starring Cary Grant and Fredric March. He was also known for  developing the first photo-finish camera used at American racetracks.

In December 1930,  he wrote an article  summarizing his unsentimental  view of air combat titled "The Startling Truth about War Flyers" for the magazine Popular Aviation.  Here are some of his most telling quotes from that piece:

  • The only people who fully understand the war in the air are the fellows who fought it.

  • Every time I hear someone speak of the war in the air as a gallant and romantic business, a modern counterpart of the chivalrous strife of old, I break right out laughing. It was a cold, calculating, deadly occupation - sans chivalry, sans sportsmanship, and sans any ethics except that you got the other fellow or he got you. 

  • Most fliers, I think were fatalists.  It was the only doctrine that would hold water. If you embraced it, as many did, it was a great source of consolation. You simply decided your destiny was predetermined and inevitable and ceased worrying about what may happen to you.  When your time came it would come—there was nothing you could do to stop it.

  • Callousness and a hard-boiled and unsympathetic attitude were the chief salvation of the Air Service.  Outwardly nobody was sympathetic.  They had feelings, of course, but not very obvious ones.  If your best friend was shot down you masked a breaking heart by declaring he was a damn fool who should have had better sense.

  • [Pilots preferred] to shoot the enemy in the back when he wasn't looking, or bring odds of ten to one against him.  

Original Source of These Quotes

  • [After losing a popular squadron mate] Green had apparently regained his bravado with the rest.  But later in the morning he collapsed—suddenly, unexpectedly and completely.  His nerves snapped with the twang of a broken flying wire and they sent him home for a long rest.

  • The rigors of combat did not cease when the planes returned to the hangars. The strain continued on the ground. The fliers lived an abnormal life in which death and disaster were their daily diet. The exhaustion and nervous energy was tremendous.

  • Strong drink and lots of it was a boon and salvation to the aviators. Show me a good, stout-hearted, cool, dependable air fighter, and I'll show you, nine times out of ten, a hard drinker... It let them relax, it enabled them to forget and it made them sleep

  • [Visiting the Grave of a Fellow Flyer Alvin Callender] The grave was beside a little farmhouse and not marked at all. We put up the cross and then sodded the top and built a little border or brick around the edges. It was a solemn party that came home

Sources: Fighting on Borrowed Wings: The Combat Experiences of Americans Serving with French and British Units During the First World War by Kyle Nellesen, Chapman University;  A Yankee Ace in the RAF: The World War I Letters of Captain Bogart Rogers by John Morrow;

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Woof! Woof! Meet the Unforgettable Lord Flashheart of Black Adder—Videos

It doesn't mean I'm not sick of this damned war — the blood, the noise, the endless poetry!
Squadron Commander, Lord Flashheart

A Sad Note: After putting this article together, I was saddened to discover that Rik Mayall, the brilliant actor/comedian who portrayed Flashheart, died of a heart attack at age 56 in 2014. RIP

Friday, June 28, 2024

The 353rd "All Kansas" Infantry Regiment of the National Army, Part 7—The Meuse-Argonne Offensive

By James Patton

The following is an extract from the History of the 353rd Infantry Regiment 89th Division, National Army September 1917–June 1919 by Capt. Charles F. Dienst and associates, published by the 353rd Infantry Society in 1921. It has been extensively edited for length, style, and clarity.  

Section of the Kriemhilde Stellung in the
Bois de Bantheville

On the Way to Meuse-Argonne

On October 12th the 353rd Infantry received replacements from the 86th Division. Again we were at 'war strength,' with nearly a thousand men to a battalion. 

We did not have long to wait for the next phase of our journey. On Sunday October 13th we began the long march, the final destination, we little realized, was to be the Rhine. Theoretically, we were merely moving up to be V Corps Reserves, for the second phase of the Meuse-Argonne offensive; but first we were on a back-breaking march over muddy roads, across trenches, through wire; in fact, everything to hinder us but the actual resistance of an enemy.

The day after we moved up to Eclis-Fontaine, all officers and non-commissioned officers of the regiment were assembled for a 'straight talk' from Major-General William Wright [89th division commander]. His final words were: 'We are fighting the final great battle of the war. We are privileged men to have a part in it.'"

On the same afternoon, the brigade officers were addressed by the corps commander, Major-General Charles Summerall: 

Don't permit yourselves to even think about relief when you’re in the line. Only when you are so exhausted, despondent, and depleted by casualties as to be without field action, without a complete reorganization, will you be withdrawn from battle. The enormous loss of time and effectiveness in making a relief during the vital stages of battle makes it impossible to relieve a division until it can fight no longer.

Many officers and men have been indulging in criticisms and derogatory comments of other organizations. Statements are used—‘Outfit on our right didn't support us’ or ‘Failed to come up’ or ‘Did not protect our flank’.

Such comments are improper and dangerous. It is the duty of every commander to protect his own flank by his formation in depth. The more fortunate units naturally advance and must exploit their success, thus aiding their neighbors to get forward. In this manner, and only in this manner, can strong resistance be overcome without great loss.  The spirit of this Division demands that every individual and organization give the utmost strength to push forward and destroy the enemy. We recognize, therefore, the same determination and desire on the part of our brothers in arms. There has been also a tendency to exaggerate losses and casualties by the use of some of the following expressions:    ‘All shot to pieces’-   ‘Held up by machine guns’ -   ‘Suffered enormous losses’ -   ‘Men exhausted’.

All officers and soldiers are forbidden to use such expressions in official messages, reports, conversations, or discussions. They are generally misleading and always do harm. An exact statement of the facts will convey the necessary information.

No one was deluded about the situation at the front when the 353rd moved up on the night of 19 October 1918. Reconnaissance had noted the intensity of the struggle by the numbers of unburied dead. Field Order Number 82, of the 32nd Division under date of 16 October announced advance on the left and included the following instruction for their own forces:

No ground now held will be abandoned, but if necessary to obtain more favorable positions, local advance may be made. The Commander-in-Chief yesterday personally gave instructions to the Division commander that every foot of ground gained must be held at all costs. And he desired this impressed upon all ranks. Every man who had individually worked forward will form a rallying point for others coming up and the ground so gained by small groups will be held to the last. No falling back from the present outpost line will even be considered.

This order had come down to the 353rd by the endorsement of higher commanders. While the phrase ‘all shot to pieces’ was forbidden, there was plenty of evidence that it applied to the 32nd Division. 

Reports said that the enemy was retreating at other points on the line. Headquarters said that our sector formed a pivot and if it gave way, the whole German army to the north would be lost, so the Germans would hold here at all cost. To our front was one Bois after another and the terrain a succession of hills and draws. The enemy had concentrated large numbers of machine guns and artillery with intent to hold. The machine guns were protected by snipers posted in trees. 

German Bunker Converted to an Aid Station
Near Bantheville Woods

Objective: "Mop Up" Bantheville Woods

The First Battalion took the lead under command of Captain Portman, Captain Crump having been evacuated. The route to the new positions led through open fields, past Gesnes, into the heart of Bantheville Woods. On the line one company relieved a battalion, one platoon a company. It seemed all out of proportion, but such was the measure of casualties in the retiring division. Shelling was severe and the First suffered quite a few casualties before reaching the positions. “D”and “C” Companies were on the outguard, supported by Companies “A” and “B” respectively. Reconnaissance, however, had been thorough and the relief was effected within two hours after commencement.

Shelling continued with increased severity. Captain Portman was severely wounded while standing at the telephone. Command passed to Capt. Allen Barnett of “A” Company. Captain Portman was evacuated to a base hospital. In addition to the losses from artillery fire, machine guns took their toll. Woe to any man who stepped out into the open to survey the line which wound its way through the dense under-growth, marking the advance limits of the position.

On October 21st it fell to the lot of the First Battalion to relieve the 178th Brigade to the right. Reports indicated that they were in position some two hundred yards ahead. Inasmuch as the Second Battalion was already in contact with the enemy in their own position, some confusion as to situation and procedure resulted. One thing was clear—the woods must be mopped up before relief could be achieved.

The 89th Division had been informed that the Bantheville Woods had been cleared of the enemy and that all that was necessary was to mop them up. It was found [however] that these woods were held in force and that the mission assigned was an assault against strong and stubborn resistance.

The afternoon of October 20th orders were received from V Corps for the Division to capture the line Hazois Woods to Hill 253. General instructions were that one brigade attack with the other brigade in reserve. So the 177th Brigade was to take over the entire front, placing the 178th Brigade and the Division’s Machine Gun Battalion in Reserve. This relief was finally accomplished after midnight on October 21st, having been slowed down by stragglers, occasional machine gun fire from the Bantheville Woods, and persistent gas shelling through the east central part of the woods.

Instructions were then received to adjust the boundary line with the 42nd Division. This was accomplished on the night of October 21st by our leading brigade taking over the front as far as Tulerie Farm from the 168th Infantry, 84th Brigade, 42nd Division.

Two battalions of the 178th Brigade were mopping up the northern part of Bantheville Woods were to withdraw to the Divisional Reserve. They were relieved by the First except two companies of the 356th Infantry which were too far forward.

Position of the 353rd Infantry through 31 October with
Enemy Gas Shelling Displayed

Terrific shelling and gassing together with close-up machine gun and sniper fire from all directions, indicated that the woods had not been cleared of the enemy. Relief could be effected only with great difficulty and severe losses. The situation was reported to Brigade Headquarters, but the reply ordered the First Battalion to advance to the north edge of Bantheville Woods and clean out the enemy. The time for the jump-off from the funk holes which had been occupied by the relief was set for one o'clock, without barrage.

Companies “A”, “D”, “C” and “B” formed in line from the western to the eastern edge of the woods. In the morning of October 22nd, the two companies of the 356th Infantry moved northward in the woods and were located in the northern and eastern interior of same where they were practically cut off until the time of their relief by our advancing companies later in the day, as they passed through their positions to the edge of the woods.

It was nearly noon when the order came to complete the mopping up and advance to the objective—a sunken road at the northern edge of the woods. Companies “A” and “D” formed on the left and “C” and  ”B” on the right. By this time it was 1230 and the jump-off time was 1300. There was to be no artillery preparation and no barrage. Two large patrols were out and in danger should our Stokes mortars, one-pounders, and machine guns be used for barrage purposes. Their return at 1250 brought a profound feeling of satisfaction. All watches had been synchronized. The forward movement began simultaneously all along the line.

The advance had progressed but a few paces when it seemed like all of the machine guns in the world opened up. Deadly flanking fire came from a clearing to the left. The Stokes mortars section had only nine rounds of ammunition. It was a short range of two hundred and fifty meters. When the direction and range had been determined, Sgt.  Bailey of the one-pounder section placed the mortar between his knees and fired the whole nine rounds, and the machine guns were completely out of action. Later Intelligence charts showed a great number of German dead in this particular spot. 

The advance continued in skirmish line by infiltration. At length a path was reached. It had to be crossed quickly for it was in the field of fire of a machine gun on the flank. Madly a sergeant dashed forward. He made it safely but the whole woods was alive with the rapid firing guns. He ran directly into the face of another nest. With a bullet hole through his chest Sergeant Lee McDaniel came to his last halt. His body remained standing, braced against a low bush. Even in death he leaned forward as if to push aside resistance. Nearby another dropped, crashing down through the dense undergrowth. The branches and leaves sprang back into position, covering the body from view. 'Will he ever be found?’ was the wild thought of the moment. But it was only for a moment. The line must go forward. [Sgt. Lee B. McDaniel, DSC, rests today in Plot D Row 44 Grave 1 at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery.]

Thus, foot by foot and yard by yard, the advance continued until the edge of the Woods was reached. Ahead lay an open field with another forest just beyond. The enemy were running across the open ground to secure cover. ‘Give 'em hell’ was the cry. The fleeing figures disappeared into the forest like rats into holes. It had been a nerve-racking ordeal; some cried, some swore, and others yelled at the top of their voices.

The enemy attempted no counterattack but his artillery continued its activity with increased effectiveness. The advance had been trying enough but the Battalion would have to hold its position in the little salient that had been won for nine more days. Day and night, the enemy kept up his firing with machine guns, trench mortars, ‘Aussie [Austrian] Whiz Bangs,’ and every other type of available artillery. Enemy planes swept low back and forth over the woods registering new targets on every appearance of occupation. Every little depression in the terrain was filled with poisonous gas. Every day the casualty lists thinned our ranks.

The personnel shifted in rapid succession. Captain Barnett was replaced by Major Peatross on October 22nd. Lieutenant Dolan, in command of Company “A”, had given way under the strain and Lieutenant Hulen took over for him. Captain Dahmke took command of “C” Company. Sergeants were in command of platoons and corporals in command of sections.

Every hour brought its hair-raising episode and miraculous escapes. One of our own big shells came over. It somehow dropped short in the midst of our own soldiers. Four were killed and eleven wounded including one officer. 'Don't tell the captain I'm hit until the rest of the men are taken care of' was the self-sacrificing statement of Lieutenant Metzger. One hysterical man cried out, 'Let's go back.' 'Nobody goes back’ was the answer, ‘To the holes at once.' A rocket notified the artillery of their short range.

South Slope of Horseshoe Hill

While the First "carried on" out on the outguard line, the Third held the support position farther back in the woods where shelling and gas were but little less severe. The Second formed the Brigade Reserve and was located on the south slope of Cote-Dame-Marie, known to us as Horseshoe Hill. Immediately after the First had advanced to the edge of Bantheville Woods, Companies “G” and “H” were temporarily attached to the Third in support.

Men of the Second and Third carried food and supplies to the First over a muddy, slippery path through the woods. The enemy knew this path to be our only line of communication and shelled it heavily at all times. Marmite cans scattered at random along the way and occasional Doughboys covered with blankets told the story of ration parties that had been shelled.

Along this same road, Captain Fox and his first aid men had run their aid station until the last one of them had to be evacuated to the base hospital. All day long stretcher bearers carried the wounded and gassed to the rear. Cost what it would, but the men hung on, and they prepared to attack. Reconnaissance parties from the Second and Third moved out daily toward the front line to inspect the jump-off positions and get a glimpse of 'No Man's Land.' As soon as all the other units were in place, the 353rd was prepared to go over the top. Thus, time dragged on to the day of the final offensive, November 1st, 1918, which marked the beginning of the end of the World War.

The 1 November 1918 Offense

Jump-Off Point for 353rd Infantry, 1 November 1918

In spite of the punishment which the enemy inflicted during the nine days of occupation in this sector, there was no let-up in the preparation for the big offensive. Higher authorities had profited by the experience in the St. Mihiel offensive. Instead of keeping information secret, companies now held schools to explain the terrain and tactics of the future offensive. Almost every man had a look at the battle map. Many corporals carried sketches showing objectives and landmarks. Runners and platoon leaders had looked out over no-man's-and. Full information brought confidence. "D" Day found the men of the 353rd well prepared for the fight.

On the day before the battle, from Major General Wright [89th Division Commander] there came this final exhortation

You can expect heavy counter-attacks before you reach the [Barricourt] woods. It may come just after you enter the woods. It may come while we are halted on an objective. It may come while we are in motion. In any case, we must hold our ground. First must immediately develop its full fire action in place, mow down the enemy and capture any of them who penetrate among us. Warn your men about this. The Boche will try to surprise us. Be constantly on the alert for it. There is no question but that we can whip him. The more of them we get in the counter-attack, the fewer we will have to fight later on. When he counter-attacks he plays our game, but we must be ready.

Don't worry about fire on your flanks. When that comes, it is a sign we are succeeding. We are pulling the other people forward. We are getting inside the Boche lines. We are hurting him and if we drive resolutely forward, we are going to defeat him badly.

We can expect bitter fighting—many machine guns. To overcome this we must have full development of fire action, great development in depth and resolute determination to go forward at all costs. The more we hesitate the greater will be our losses. The halts on our objectives are taken according to the best previous experience in order for the infantry to be coordinated with the barrage. All other halts should be avoided. Troops must drive on and leave strong points to be mopped up by the support detachments. This mopping up must not be neglected however,—special detachments detailed will be for it but the assault elements should pass on and gain the main objective. 

The 89th Division had accomplished its big share in the St. Mihiel drive in company with veteran divisions of the American Expeditionary Forces. Now, at a time when the allies have this great opportunity to win, we have again been selected for a big task and in company best guaranteed to succeed. We must take our objectives. The corps commander, commander-in-chief, the Allied Governments count on us. This can well be the climax of the Division's service. That's what we have all been living for. Burn this into your minds. Tell it to your men. Hold them together. Set your teeth. Put it across.

Battle formation of the regiment was the same as had been used in the St. Mihiel Offensive, familiar to the men and each one understood his part. The Third accompanied by the Machine Gun Company, led the way. In all attacks the Machine Gun Company had been with the assault, and the line companies felt great confidence in its support. The Second followed the Third in the assault. The First, under command of First Lieut. Vernon D. Hunter, was in reserve. Capt. F. M. Wood was in command of the combat liaison group with the troops on the right flank. This group consisted of Company "D," a machine gun platoon, and a like force from the 90th Division.

Enemy shell fire was so continuous and severe that it was a serious question as to whether the Third should relieve the First before the jump-off, scheduled for the morning of November 1st, or whether the Third should simply come up and pass through the First at "H" Hour. It seemed certain that many casualties would result in making a complete relief ahead of time, a most difficult relief to make because most of the elements had to move through two kilometers of shell-torn thicket to reach their positions. Nevertheless, it was finally decided that it should be made. For some unaccountable reason, enemy shell fire practically ceased at dark on October 30th, and the lull lasted long enough for the relief to be completed by 11p.m. There were no casualties until the last elements of the relieved battalion were moving into their new position. 

Third Battalion Takes the Lead

At dusk on October 31st the Second had left "Horseshoe Hill" for the slight reverse slope in the northern edge of Bantheville Woods. Major Wood had been evacuated and Major Peatross again assumed command. Companies "G" and "E" in order moved over the shell-torn path through the woods that many of the men had followed as "chow" details to the advanced positions. Companies "H" and "F" skirted the eastern edge of the woods until opposite the other companies of the battalion and then took positions alongside. At eleven o'clock everyone was in place and "digging in". At 3:30 pandemonium broke loose, with crashing explosions in our midst which blasted up huge boulders about us and rent limbs from trees overhead. Occasionally a hellish shell found the shallow pit of an unfortunate Doughboy. The climax of terror came about an hour before the jump-off was scheduled to take place. Up until now the shelling had been regular but distributed; now it was intensive and concentrated. Company, platoon and section leaders were trying to prepare for the advance. Shouting was useless; voices were lost in the uproar. Gas shells were bursting and each man had to be alert. The only way to warn a neighbor was to appear in a mask, and the violent explosions seemed to scatter the fumes of the dreaded "yellow cross".

On the night of October 31st all packs were carried to a point near the edge of the woods in the center of the sector where they were left under a small guard. Company "I" then moved out about 200 meters in front of the woods on the left and "dug in" on the jump-off line—only a few meters from the advanced elements of the enemy. Company "L" moved up to the edge of the woods and occupied the ground vacated by Company "I." All our men were in position at 11 p.m. Between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. our artillery put over a heavy gas bombardment on the Bois de Hazois. The enemy artillery replied vigorously but most of their shells went over our battalion in an effort to reach our artillery.

From midnight until 3:30 a.m. on the morning of November 1st, opposing artillery exchanged only the usual courtesies in keeping with that branch of the service. At 3:30 a. m., however, our artillery opened up with one of the most terrific bombardments of the war, and by 3:40 a. m. our battalion admitted freely that the enemy counter-bombardment compared quite favorably with ours. This particularly severe bombardment at this time was explained later in the day when enemy maps showed that the artillery of five German divisions had been trained on the forward position of the Bantheville Woods in anticipation of the attack.

It seemed as if every gun of both armies was in action. The noise was deafening and the earth fairly vibrated. Finally, after the ear had become accustomed to this tremendous roar, the cracking sound of machine guns could also be detected, together with the whistling of machine gun bullets which were passing over our heads from our own machine gun barrage. It was all quite awesome and had an inspiring effect upon the awaiting doughboys; the roaring sound of friendly artillery gives them confidence. The sound of shells flying overhead and dropping on the enemy were pleasing to their ear now, as music had been before the war.

Before long the roaring became monotonous to the tired soldiers and many of them fell asleep. It was interesting how unconcerned these men seemed just before plunging into battle. Those who could not sleep laughed and joked and guaranteed to treat Fritz in a proper manner before the day was over.

About 4:45 a.m. the enemy bombardment began to roll back. Apparently the enemy knew that we were going to start something and decided to pound our support battalion. This gave the officers and men of the assault battalion a chance to see that all was ready for the jump-off.

At 5:30 a.m. it was still so dark that one could not see over fifty yards except in places where the Thermite shells were breaking. But “over the top” Third Battalion went, on schedule.

Dawn came and the counter-bombardment slackened. First aid men hunted out the wounded and started the stretcher bearers to the rear. At 6:25 a.m. the Second Battalion organized its depleted ranks and moved forward in support of the Third. 

Sergeant Parli and the third platoon of "M" Company were following our barrage dangerously close in the center of the battalion. Every time a Boche stuck his head up out of a shell hole, he faced one of Parli's men with a fixed bayonet and did not have a chance to fight. A great many prisoners were taken on the first hill in front of the jump-off line. Our men had seen German prisoners before and took no interest in the individual captives, but simply motioned them to the rear and pushed on for more. Sometimes more prisoners were in our midst than our own men, but Fritz knew that there were more of us everywhere, so he fell in line and marched obediently back.

On the right, the first and second platoons of "M" Company had been held back temporarily by machine gun fire. Lieutenant Jackson who was leading the Company and several of his men were killed within a few yards of the jump-off line. Lieutenant Furlong, second in command, grasped the situation quickly. Followed by Corporal McKay, he dashed across the fire-swept area into the patch of woods immediately in front and successfully put the machine gun nests out of commission. Many of the gunners were driven toward the company and taken prisoner. 

Lt. Harold Furlong, DSC, Medal of Honor

On the left, Company "I" encountered considerable machine gun fire too. Captain Baxter proceeded to demonstrate the value of rifle grenades. He put these troublesome nests out of action with a few well-placed shots. Now the whole battalion moved forward, hugging the barrage so closely that the Germans were able to get very few machine guns in place after it had passed. No sooner would a German raise his head up to see whether the barrage had lifted than a Doughboy was upon him. 

The front covered was so wide that it was impossible to spare the men to completely occupy Andevanne Woods; so the battalion moved forward, simply flanking into the edge of the woods. The movement proved very fortunate for it was later learned from prisoners that a body of 150 picked sharpshooters had been placed atop the ridge in the Andevanne Woods. This trap was not encountered and soon they saw our battalion approaching Barricourt Woods, to their left rear. About the same time, the Boche artillery, evidently assuming that the Andevanne Woods had been carried by our assaulting wave, concentrated a large part of their artillery fire on these woods, thus on their own men, who quickly came out and surrendered.

The first objective, Andevanne Wood, was reached on schedule.  Concurrently—thanks in good part to the intensity of the opening barrage—the 354th Infantry of the 89th Division captured the nearby town of Remonville. The approaches of this town had been strongly fortified, each clump of trees forming the shelter of a nest of machine guns and barricades had been constructed in the streets.  Consequently, there was ample time to reorganize for the assault on the second objective. This advance was made through a heavy counter-barrage. Approaching Barricourt Woods, the Battalion again encountered considerable resistance. Captain Baxter and Sergeant Malone, of "I" Company, handled their men so skillfully as to reduce this resistance, with small losses, and at the same time, in close quarter fighting, inflicting tremendous losses on the enemy. 

The Second Battalion Takes Barricourt Woods

Second Battalion Launched Their Assault on
Barricourt Woods from this Position

Barricourt Woods, or the Heights of Barricourt, a position of great natural strength, was considered one of the most vital points in the whole German line. Its capture meant that our guns could easily reach the only line of communication left to the Germans between Metz and Sedan. Moreover, since all of their reserves had been used up and American pursuit had been so rapid, many of his units in the line had become hopelessly confused. The Germans must retreat at once, so every man in the 353rd pushed forward as if he were responsible for the outcome, and we reached the second objective on schedule. Here the Third Battalion halted to let the Second pass through. Mission accomplished, the Third now supported the advance of the Second.

Parties of prisoners, some of them holding up wounded hands, brought the first news of the Third’s success. Under artillery fire at all times, the Second kept on due northward, across the deep valleys east of La Dhuy Farm and over the low ridge southwest of Andevanne Woods. After overcoming some remaining machine gun nests, the Second waited an hour in shell holes while the Third proceeded to the second objective, Barricourt Woods. In this reorganization, "G" and "E" Companies had switched to the right flank while "H" and "F" took over the left flank. The two platoons of "E" Company under Lieutenant Cristoph that were forward were to accompany the Third and mop up the small woods southeast of Andevanne Woods. 

The dense screen put down by our guns had partially lifted. When we advanced enemy observers picked it up so we were forced to continue on through a shrapnel barrage. Nevertheless, groups kept steadily forward, preserving good distance and interval. By almost miraculous good fortune, we reached Barricourt Woods with very few losses.

The 353rd was in battle formation, with the Second in assault, the Third in support, and the First in reserve, waiting for the word to go over the top. At ten o'clock our artillery again put over a few shots similar to earlier in the day. Finally at 11:30 information was received that there would be no more artillery preparation. Nevertheless, at all cost we must gain the army line.

German Artillery Piece Captured outside the Woods

The enemy had used every minute of this time preparing his machine gun defense. Bands of fire were so accurately planned that practically every foot of the ground in front of the woods was crossed and crisscrossed with deadly machine gun bullets. The preceding day we had captured many pieces of artillery, as the Germans were unable to withdraw "strategically" or even "satisfactorily." The situation for the enemy was desperate. His only hope of escape was to sell out at the highest possible price in one of his matchless rear guard actions.

At noon we crossed the advanced line of the Third in the heart of Barricourt Woods. Determined leaders, such as Sergeant Guthrie of "E" Company, and Sergeant Miller of "G" Company, speedily outflanked and overcame machine gun resistance as the advance continued. Dense undergrowth, torn and tangled by the rolling barrage, made progress very difficult. Companies and even platoons became badly mixed and lost contact with one another. Consequently they didn’t arrive on the final objective at the same time.

At 12:55 p.m. we attacked. Immediately the enemy opened up with annihilating fire. Lieutenant Lewis of "H" Company fell mortally wounded while starting the first group of his platoon. Lieutenant Barr of the same company was seriously wounded an instant later. In "G" Company Sergeant Ramsey and several others fell before they had made five yards into the open. In Company "F" the casualties were even greater than in the other companies.

After an hour of bitter fighting with heavy losses, no weak point in the enemy defense had been discovered. Major Peatross ordered a simultaneous advance along the whole line. He knew the losses would be great but there was no alternative. Assaulting waves started forward supported by Chauchat rifle and grenade fire but it was accurate rifle fire which accounted for most on the enemy. By three o'clock resistance was giving away and we were able to advance freely.

Hardly had the Second cleared the woods when German artillerymen laid down a barrage along its edge. The Third had moved up and now were suffering severe losses. Nevertheless, the men closed the gaps and moved ahead. Every unit on the line was in action, firing to front and flank. As we approached the high ground of La Torchette Hill we again encountered deadly machine gun fire. The Germans were organized on the brow of the hill and were supported by Minenwerfers and 88s. Our men were exhausted and units had been badly broken up. We were compelled to halt and reorganize on the lower slopes out of the enemy field of fire.

When Captain Dienst with two platoons of Company "G" arrived at the edge of the woods on the left, they saw at least two hundred men in close formation moving toward the woods. The dense fog had become so thick that one could see for only a few hundred yards. At first he took these troops for our own on the right, supposing that they had reached the line first. However, his orderly, Parmenter, yelled, "They’re Germans and they’ve got guns." In a moment the two platoons were down in the shallow depression just within the edge of the woods. The dead machine gunners killed by our barrage were rolled aside and their guns were turned on the advancing Germans. Here were the best targets that had ever appeared before the men of the 353rd and every man made the best of it. The Germans broke ranks and ran for cover in every direction. It lasted for only a couple of minutes.

In another instance Company "F" and the remainder of Company "E" were on the line. The Germans made no further attempt to enter the woods, and the two platoons of "G" Company and two platoons each of "E" and "F" Companies under command of Captain Dienst were holding the ground.

Column of German Prisoners during the Battle

The other two platoons of "E" Company under the leadership of Lieutenant Morgan had an equally exciting experience on the right. Patrols discovered that Les Tuilleres was still occupied by the enemy. A company of them were resting on the side of the road about five hundred meters to the right flank at approximately our point of contact with the 90th Division. The platoons promptly moved to that flank and cleared Les Tuilleres, taking several prisoners and "shot up" a company of Germans before they could resist.

Company "H" and the two platoons of Company "G" had finished mopping up the woods and were now about four hundred meters to the left on the northern edge of the woods. Headquarters of the Second were in the woods five hundred meters southeast of Les Tuilleres. The Third had organized on the second objective of the day. After a full day of mopping up (including the capture of a field piece by Lieut. "Dinty" Moore's platoon) in the wake of the advanced battalions, the First "dug in" in the woods just beyond Remonville. The faithful supply train, too, reached this vicinity during the night. We were on the objective for the day and in full control of Barricourt Woods.

But hardly had the Second gained the edge of the woods when the thick fog intensified the darkness of the night. Major Peatross had been wounded earlier but he refused evacuation and reorganized the battalion for another advance.  

At nightfall the fog turned into rain which continued throughout the night and almost incessantly for the next twenty-four hours. It had been a hard day's work to get through the brush of Barricourt Woods. The strain of the previous night was also beginning to have its effect. The men were tired, hungry, and thirsty. There was still a supply of reserve rations but canteens were almost dry. Little more could be done than post guards and wait for daylight.    Early in the night, orders were received to resume the advance at 5:30 and that the barrage would be the same as on the first day. At 5:30 our artillery put over a few shells immediately in front of our advanced positions, but no one on the line recognized it as a bombardment, so waited for artillery preparation.

The Third moved forward to support the Second. The brigade requested that the barrage be repeated at nine o'clock, but was denied because the entire Division front would be bombarded at later hour.

It was late, but the army objective must nevertheless be reached. In the misty darkness, the line once more moved forward. "L" Company was in close co-operation with "H" on the left. "G" and "F" carried forward the center while "E" Company took over the extreme right and protected that flank. The rest of the Third kept up in close support and guarded the flanks of the regiment. Still farther back the First was still in reserve.

Riflemen and Chauchat gunners in the leading wave opened fire at the points where flashes in the darkness betrayed the location of the enemy. At first it was slow going. Suddenly someone broke forth with a wild Indian war-whoop and the effect was electric. All up and down the line went wild shouts. Every man who could do so fired from the shoulder or the hip as he moved forward. From that moment the demoralization of the enemy was complete. They were pinned down in the face of that mad, shouting, fire-spitting line. For more than a kilometer the savage on-rush continued. With difficulty, commanders restored order and stopped the charge when the army line was reached at 6:30 p. m.

We immediately sent out patrols and stationed outposts to protect our exposed flanks and consolidated our positions. A patrol from "L" Company under Lieutenant Underhill found the enemy leaving the town of Tailly. Troops of "L" and "H" Companies following close behind the patrol immediately took possession. Tailly was the most advanced point on the army line on the night of November 2nd. The following message was passed along: 

The Commanding General, 89th Division, wishes me to give you his thanks and congratulations for reaching the exploitation line. Bully work.

The enemy made no attempt to shell or dislodge us. After midnight, however, a battery of our own heavy artillery, not realizing how far we had advanced, began shelling the hill. The supporting machine gun company had established themselves along the road and suffered several casualties. Rockets were promptly sent up. After a few shots our artillerymen increased the range.

Morning came and with it the first sunshine we had seen in two days. No units were on our flanks and many isolated groups of the enemy were still in the rear on either side but there were plenty of signs that the enemy had abandoned the field. Rifles, machine guns, packs, helmets, and equipment of every sort lay scattered about in wild confusion. Doubtless the wild yells of the previous night had led the Germans to imagine that the safety of their scalps lay only in flight. At about ten o'clock combat groups of the 355th appeared over the hill. For hours they and their supporting troops poured forward through us to carry on the advance.

La Torchette Hill cut off the view to the edge of Barricourt Woods, but we knew that many of our brave men were scattered back over the field. Losses in the Second were approximately forty per company. We were told that seventy-five German dead had been counted immediately outside the woods. 

Wounded Men at a Dressing Station during the Offensive

Captain Boyce describes the devoted attention of our Battalion First Aid men: 

On November 2nd we moved into Barricourt Woods, arriving about 10:00 a. m. The attack was to commence soon so we immediately prepared an aid station. The best place available was a large shell hole. We moved in, put a few tree limbs across the top and stretched a shelter half over them. This construction was more for camouflage than protection.

It was about one o'clock when the attack was launched. Almost immediately the wounded began pouring in by the multiplied ten's. I had only five men, and most of the company first aid men and stretcher bearers had been killed or wounded. The infantry had orders not to leave men behind to tend the wounded, so we had to use German prisoners and slightly-wounded men for stretcher bearers. Men were brought to us in horribly mangled condition. We worked as fast as we could, but they came all afternoon and through the night.

It was so dark that it seemed the blackness could be felt. Without light, we built a fire in the bottom of the shell hole, but we had to extinguish it as it had been spotted by the enemy and heavy shells began coming over uncomfortably close. It was now necessary to do all the dressing of the wounded in the dark, which was a miserable and difficult task. It seemed almost impossible to get litters back from the ambulance dressing station, so many had to be improvised from two poles and a shelter half.

Morning found us with only about five wounded men left on the battle-field, and they were in excellent condition considering their wounds and the weather. That day we were able to move our operation up to Tailly.

Each man still had some reserve rations, even after three days, but most badly needed water, so details were soon on their way. Those who still had a can of solidified alcohol lost no time in heating their rations. In the evening the kitchens came up and we had our first cooked meal since the afternoon of 31 October. While contact with the enemy had ceased earlier, everyone agreed that the offensive wasn’t over until that chow line was formed on the evening of 3 November.  The 353rd Infantry would spend the next five days around the village of Tailly, before marching on to the Meuse River and their final battle of the Great War.

Next Friday: The All-Kansas regiment fights its final battle of the war on Armistice Day and then proceeds to occupation duty in Germany

James Patton

Thursday, June 27, 2024

Sapper Tells His Auntie All About Shrapnel

Purchase a Copy of this Book HERE

From Men, Women, and Guns by "Sapper"

[Sapper was the pseudonym of Herman Cyril McNeile (1888–1937) a Royal Engineer officer who served with distinction in the Great War and began a notable writing career before the Armistice.  He wrote ten novels about his most famous character, detective and war veteran Bulldog Drummond and a good number of other  literary works. A nice biographical sketch of Sapper can be found HERE.] 

Two days ago a dear old aunt of mine asked me to describe to her what shrapnel was like.

"What does it feel like to be shelled?" she demanded. "Explain it to me."

Under the influence of my deceased uncle's most excellent port I did so. Soothed and in that expansive frame of mind induced by the old and bold, I drew her a picture—vivid, startling, wonderful. And when I had finished, the dear old lady looked at me.

"Dreadful!" she murmured. "Did I ever tell you of the terrible experience I had on the front at Eastbourne, when my bath-chair attendant became inebriated and upset me?"

Slowly and sorrowfully I finished the decanter—and went to bed.

But seriously, my masters, it is a hard thing that my aunt asked of me. There are many things worse than shelling—the tea-party you find in progress on your arrival on leave; the utterances of war experts; the non-arrival of the whisky from England. But all of those can be imagined by people who have not suffered;  they have a standard, a measure of comparison. Shelling—no.

The explosion of a howitzer shell near you is a definite, actual fact—which is unlike any other fact in the world, except the explosion of another howitzer shell still nearer. Many have attempted to describe the noise it makes as the most explainable part about it. And then you're no wiser.

Listen. Stand with me at the Menin Gate of Ypres and listen. Through a cutting a train is roaring on its way. Rapidly it rises in a great swelling crescendo as it dashes into the open, and then its journey stops on some giant battlement—stops in a peal of deafening thunder just overhead. The shell has burst, and the echoes in that town of death die slowly away—reverberating like a sullen sea that lashes against a rock-bound coast.

And yet what does it convey to anyone who patronises inebriated bath-chair men?. . .

Similarly—shrapnel! "The Germans were searching the road with 'whizz-bangs.'" A common remark, an ordinary utterance in a letter, taken by fond parents as an unpleasing affair such as the cook giving notice.

Come with me to a spot near Ypres; come, and we will take our evening walk together.

"They're a bit lively farther up the road, sir." The corporal of military police stands gloomily at a cross-roads,[xiii] his back against a small wayside shrine. A passing shell unroofed it many weeks ago; it stands there surrounded by débris—the image of the Virgin, chipped and broken. Just a little monument of desolation in a ruined country, but pleasant to lean against when it's between you and German guns.

Let us go on, it's some way yet before we reach the dug-out by the third dead horse. In front of us stretches a long, straight road, flanked on each side by poplars. In the middle there is pavé. At intervals, a few small holes, where the stones have been shattered and hurled away by a bursting shell and only the muddy grit remains hollowed out to a depth of two feet or so, half-full of water. At the bottom an empty tin of bully, ammunition clips, numbers of biscuits—sodden and muddy. Altogether a good obstacle to take with the front wheel of a car at night.

A little farther on, beside the road, in a ruined, desolate cottage two men are resting for a while, smoking. The dirt and mud of the trenches is thick on them, and one of them is contemplatively scraping his boot with his knife and fork. Otherwise, not a soul, not a living soul in sight; though away to the left front, through glasses, you can see two people, a man and a woman, labouring in the fields. And the only point of interest about them is that between you and them run the two motionless, stagnant lines of men who for months have[xiv] faced one another. Those two labourers are on the other side of the German trenches.

The setting sun is glinting on the little crumbling village two or three hundred yards ahead, and as you walk towards it in the still evening air your steps ring loud on the pavé. On each side the flat, neglected fields stretch away from the road; the drains beside it are choked with weeds and refuse; and here and there one of the gaunt trees, split in two half-way up by a shell, has crashed into its neighbour or fallen to the ground. A peaceful summer's evening which seems to give the lie to our shrine-leaner. And yet, to one used to the peace of England, it seems almost too quiet, almost unnatural.

Suddenly, out of the blue there comes a sharp, whizzing noise, and almost before you've heard it there is a crash, and from the village in front there rises a cloud of dust. A shell has burst on impact on one of the few remaining houses; some slates and tiles fall into the road, and round the hole torn out of the sloping roof there hangs a whitish-yellow cloud of smoke. In quick succession come half a dozen more, some bursting on the ruined cottages as they strike, some bursting above them in the air. More clouds of dust rise from the deserted street, small avalanches of débris cascade into the road, and, above, three or four thick white smoke-clouds drift slowly across the sky.

This is the moment at which it is well—unless time is urgent—to pause and reflect awhile. If you must go on, a détour is strongly to be recommended. The Germans are shelling the empty village just in front with shrapnel, and who are you to interpose yourself between him and his chosen target? But if in no particular hurry, then it were wise to dally gracefully against a tree, admiring the setting sun, until he desists; when you may in safety resume your walk. But—do not forget that he may not stick to the village, and that whizz-bangs give no time. That is why I specified a tree, and not the middle of the road. It's nearer the ditch.

Suddenly, without a second's warning, they shift their target. Whizz-bang! Duck, you blighter! Into the ditch. Quick! Move! Hang your bottle of white wine! Get down! Cower! Emulate the mole! This isn't the village in front now—he's shelling the road you're standing on! There's one burst on impact in the middle of the pavé forty yards in front of you, and another in the air just over your head. And there are more coming—don't make any mistake. That short, sharp whizz every few seconds—the bang! bang! bang! seems to be going on all around you. A thing hums past up in the air, with a whistling noise, leaving a trail of sparks behind it—one of the fuses. Later, the curio-hunter may find it nestling by a turnip. He may have it.

With a vicious thud a jagged piece of shell buries itself in the ground at your feet; and almost simultaneously the bullets from a well-burst one cut through the trees above you and ping against the road, thudding into the earth around. No more impact ones—they've got the range. Our pessimistic friend at the cross-roads spoke the truth; they're quite lively. Everything bursting beautifully above the road about forty feet up. Bitter thought—if only the blighters knew that it was empty save for your wretched and unworthy self cowering in a ditch, with a bottle of white wine in your pocket and your head down a rat-hole, surely they wouldn't waste their ammunition so reprehensibly!

Then, suddenly, they stop, and as the last white puff of smoke drifts slowly away you cautiously lift your head and peer towards the village. Have they finished? Will it be safe to resume your interrupted promenade in a dignified manner? Or will you give them another minute or two? Almost have you decided to do so when to your horror you perceive coming towards you through the village itself two officers. What a position to be discovered in! True, only the very young or the mentally deficient scorn cover when shelling is in progress. But of course, just at the moment when you'd welcome a shell to account for[xvii] your propinquity with the rat-hole, the blighters have stopped. No sound breaks the stillness, save the steps ringing towards you—and it looks silly to be found in a ditch for no apparent reason.

Then, as suddenly as before comes salvation. Just as with infinite stealth you endeavour to step out nonchalantly from behind a tree, as if you were part of the scenery—bang! crash! from in front. Cheer-oh! the village again, the church this time. A shower of bricks and mortar comes down like a landslip, and if you are quick you may just see two black streaks go to ground. From the vantage-point of your tree you watch a salvo of shells explode in, on, or about the temporary abode of those two officers. You realise from what you know of the Hun that this salvo probably concludes the evening hate; and the opportunity is too good to miss. Edging rapidly along the road—keeping close to the ditch—you approach the houses. Your position, you feel, is now strategically sound, with regard to the wretched pair cowering behind rubble heaps. You even desire revenge for your mental anguish when discovery in the rodent's lair seemed certain. So light a cigarette—if you didn't drop them all when you went to ground yourself; if you did—whistle some snappy tune as you stride jauntily into the village.

Don't go too fast or you may miss them; but should you see a head peer from behind a kitchen-range express no surprise. Just—"Toppin' evening, ain't it? Getting furniture for the dug-out—what?" To linger is bad form, but it is quite permissible to ask his companion—seated in a torn-up drain—if the ratting is good. Then pass on in a leisurely manner, but—when you're round the corner, run like a hare. With these cursed Germans, you never know.

Night—and a working-party stretching away over a ploughed field are digging a communication trench. The great green flares lob up half a mile away, a watery moon shines on the bleak scene. Suddenly a noise like the tired sigh of some great giant, a scorching sheet of flame that leaps at you out of the darkness, searing your very brain, so close does it seem; the ping of death past your head; the clatter of shovel and pick next you as a muttered curse proclaims a man is hit; a voice from down the line: "Gawd! Old Ginger's took it. 'Old up, mate. Say, blokes, Ginger's done in!" Aye—it's worse at night.

Shrapnel! Woolly, fleecy puffs of smoke floating gently down wind, getting more and more attenuated, gradually disappearing, while below each puff an oval of ground has been plastered with bullets. And it's when the ground inside the oval is full of men that the damage is done.

Not you perhaps—but someone. Next time—maybe you.

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Remembering a Veteran: Isaakii Solzhenitsyn, Russian Army Grenadier Artillery Brigade

Isaakii Solzhenitsyn

Isaakii Semyonovich Solzhenitsyn (11 June 1891–15 June 1918) was an officer in the Imperial Russian Army and the father of Russian novelist,  historian, and heroic critic of Communism and atheism Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Isaakii was born in the Stavropol Governorate, the son of Semyon Solzhenitsyn, a wealthy farmer and landholder, and Pelageya Solzhenitsyna. Solzhenitsyn volunteered for an artillery brigade in the Imperial Russian Army in 1914 at the outbreak of the First World War. He fought against the Germans in East Prussia and Belorussia and was awarded the Cross of St. George as well as the Order of Saint Anna for bravery. Once when his battery was set afire, he saved some munitions boxes himself.  His son Aleksandr would later write about his service: 

The three officer’s decorations that he left from World War I—which in my childhood were considered the mark of a dangerous criminal—were buried by my mother and me out of fear of a search. When the whole front was collapsing, my father’s battery remained on the front lines until the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

Isaaki married Taisiya Solzhenitsyna, née Shcherbak, in Belorussia in February or March 1918, shortly before the signing of the Brest-Litovsk Peace Treaty. They were married at the front by a brigade priest. Solzhenitsyn was discharged from the army after the signing and the couple moved to Georgiyevsk in the North Caucasus. On 15 June 1918, Isaakii Solzhenitsyn died of blood poisoning in a hospital in Georgiyevsk following a hunting accident, six months before his son Aleksandr was born,

Sources:  Alexander Solzhenitsyn: A Century in His Life; The Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Center

Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Forgotten Voices of the Great War

Click on Image to Order HERE

This 2002 collection of interviews with people who lived through the First World War was gathered from the archives of London's Imperial War Museum.  I've read of number of such collections over the years and found this one an especially good one.  It contains a high number of inspiring, insightful, and emotionally hard-hitting entries.  Naturally, it is heavily weighted toward British and Commonwealth combatants, but it includes a scattering of German, French, and (from the 1918 section, exclusively) American entries. Rather than describe the work further, I think it might be better to share a few of  the contributions I enjoyed.  MH

Private W. Underwood (Canadian), 1st Canadian Division

It was a beautiful day. I was lying in a field writing a letter to my mother, the sun was shining and I remember a lark singing high up in the sky. Then, suddenly, the bombardment started and we got orders to stand to. We went up the line in two columns, one on either side of the road. But as soon as we reached the outskirts of the village of St.Julien the bullets opened up, and when I looked around I counted just 32 men left on their feet out of the whole company of 227. The rest of us managed to jump into ditches, and that saved us from being annihilated.

...Then, as we looked further away we saw this green cloud come slowly across the terrain. It was the first gas that anybody had seen or heard of and one of our boys, evidently a chemist, passed the word along that it was chlorine. And he said, “If you urinate on your handkerchiefs it will save your lungs, anyway.” So most of us did that. . . 

Sergeant Stefan Westmann (German) 29th Division, German Army

We got orders to storm the French position. We got in and I saw my comrades falling to the right and left of me. But then I was confronted by a French corporal with his bayonet to the ready, just as I had mine. I felt the fear of death in that fraction of a second when I realised that he was after my life, exactly as I was after his. But I was quicker than he was, I pushed his rifle away and ran my bayonet through his chest. He fell, putting his hand on the place where I had hit him, and then I thrust again. Blood came out of his mouth and he died.  I nearly vomited. My knees were shaking and they asked me, “Whatʼs the matter with you?” I remembered then that we had been told a good soldier kills without thinking of his adversary as a human being - the very moment he sees him as a fellow man, heʼs no longer a good soldier. My comrades were absolutely undisturbed by what had happened. One of them boasted that he had killed a poilu  with the butt of his rifle. Another one had strangled a French captain. A third had hit somebody over the head with his spade. They were ordinary men like me. One was a tram conductor, another a commercial traveller, two were students, the rest farmworkers - ordinary people who never would have thought to harm anybody.

But I had the dead French soldier in front of me, and how I would have liked him to raise his hand! I would have shaken it and we would have been the best of friends because he was nothing but a poor boy — just like me. A boy who had to fight with the cruellest of weapons against a man who had nothing against him personally, who wore the uniform of another nation and spoke another language, but a man who had a father and a mother and a family. So I woke at night sometimes, drenched in sweat, because I saw the eyes of my adversary. I tried to convince myself of that would have happened to me if I hadnʼt been quicker than him, if I hadnʼt thrust my bayonet into his belly first.

Why was it that we soldiers stabbed each other, strangled each other, went for each other like mad dogs? Why was it that we who had nothing against each other personally fought to the very death? We were civilised people, after all, but I felt that the thin lacquer of civilisation, of which both sides had so much, chipped off immediately. To fire at each other from a distance, to drop bombs, is something impersonal, but to see the whites of a manʼs eyes and then to run a bayonet through him — that was against my comprehension. 

Captain Reginald Thomas (British). Royal Artillery

It was a magnificent sight as the French cavalry came out of the forest at Soissons [1918, two years after the first use of tanks]. Their uniforms were all new, bright blue, every bit and spur-chain was burnished and polished; their lances were gleaming in the sun; and as the bugler blew the charge the horses went into the gallop in a fan attack - two regiments of French cavalry. They went along beautifully, magnificently, through the wheat field in the afternoon sun, until they hit the German machine guns that had just come up and unlimbered. The machine-guns, they opened on them at close range and aimed high enough to knock the riders off their horses. Riderless horses went all over the field for two or three hours. At the end of that time there was practically nothing left of those two cavalry regiments.

A Fresh Looking Kilted Unit Somewhere on the Western Front

Sergeant Alfred West (British), Monmouthshire Regiment

One of my boys was about the ugliest man Iʼve ever seen. He was short, stumpy, and most uninteresting to look at. Well, one time I was down for a rest with my machine-gun team when I realised old Sam was missing. We watched out for him, then suddenly we saw him walking up to a cottage on top of a hill. We found that he had a little agreement with a lady - and that when she started to hang out clothes on the line, that meant her old man had gone out. When the signal came you couldnʼt hold Sam back - he was up the field.

Out of the line the boys were all wanting women. And the women, knowing this, used to put a sign in the window saying ʻWashing done for soldiers.ʼ Iʼve seen up to twenty men waiting in one room...

Sergeant-Major Richard Tobin (British), Hood Battalion, Royal Naval Division

On March 26th [1918] we dropped into a trench. It was a trench we knew of old. We had started to retreat on 21st March, 1918, and here we were back in the trench we had started to attack from on November 13th, 1916

Rifleman Fred White, 10th Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps

Us fellows, it took us years to get over it. Years! Long after when you were working, married, had kids, you’d be lying in bed with your wife and you’d see it all before you. Couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t lie still. Many and many’s the time I’ve got up and tramped the streets till it came daylight. Walking, walking—anything to get away from your thoughts. And many’s the time I’ve met other fellows that were out there doing exactly the same thing. That went on for years, that did.

There's another volume of Forgotten Voices covering the Second World War. This  entry touched on the Great War, so I thought I would include it. The observer may have been participating in Operation Market Garden.

Sergeant Dan Hartigan, 1st Canadian Parachute Regiment (WWII)

As we flew inland from the coast at about 1,200 feet I looked down to see a strange countryside. What I saw wasn't just a western European landscape, but ravaged terrain. The vegetation cover was so sparse a looked a somewhat burgundy tinge- mud oozing from the turf. I'd never seen anything lke it. It was quite surreal. For a few miles along the flight path and stretching towards the French coast on the Channel, as far as the eye could see, were hundreds of thousands of crater rings. There were so many it appeared almost incomprehensible. Yet, there they were, sullen on the surface of this ravaged landscape. We had heard of no heavy artillery attacks in this area, certainly nothing of this concentration of fury. Then it dawned on us quietly that we were flying over the World War 1 battlefields. It was a sobering sight, which filled us with melancholy for the suffering which must have gone on down there. Yet here we were 26 years after that last war ended, going to fight the same enemy. It took some time to come back to reality.