Chapter 4 Travel across to the battle lines.
By Horace William (Bill) James
About 12-pm we detrained at Hazebrouck and marched a short distance out to temporary billets. The one I struck was very temporary indeed being a small brick building without either doors or windows and in places large pieces of the walls were minus, and the floors covered with little straw. I was not long in looking up something better and got into what was once a hospital but Fritz had given it a bad shaking with a couple of shells. In the building I found a nice little room, which was not very airy, and in there with two of my mates we had a decent little posy.
The next thing was a bit of a clean up etc. and then we went out to have a look round the town, which is a fair sized place with a couple of fine churches. There are a lot of people here still in business although I believe a great number have made a bit of a move away on account of old Fritz putting over something like 140 shells in two days, a month or two back. Evidently they are looking for a better life. Needless to say I had a good binder tonight.
The next morning, Sunday the 10th March, 1918 I lay in bed and had breakfast brought to me. My friend Pat volunteered to get up and get enough for three, which amounted to three dixies of tea. We had scored a bit of Frogy bread the night before. The night before leaving Abele, I received a parcel from home containing a tin of butter, which I had securely placed in my pack. So with the addition of a tin of bully we had a good breakfast and got under the blankets again.
At 9.30-am we all got up and when we got outside found that the clock had been advanced one hour for the daylight saving scheme making our rising hour 10.30-am, which is some hour for a soldier to rise. What was left of the morning I spent out in the sun writing home and in the afternoon went for another walk round the city arriving back at 8.30-pm.
On Monday the 11th March we were again up rather late and 10-am got ready to move off, having been lined up in a small paddock close by where I might say we waited until 22-pm, when at last came the joyful order “Packs up”. Very soon we were off making for the Battalion. A few enquires on the way as to the how far it was proved to be very far from satisfactory for after walking a few miles we still got the same answer. Just a few miles although we still kept moving along and the old packs grew heavier and my feet more sore.
|On Parade with full Kits|
Just before 6-pm we came into a small village known as Bavinchove, which is just outside Cassel. In this village was the Headquarters of the 1st Wellington Battalion to which we were to be attached. Another small wait and we were lined up, numbered off, inspected by the R.S.M., roll call, then inspected by the Adjutant and finally drafted into our different Coys. Yours truly getting into the 9th Hawke’s Bay Coy. with two of my mates, Patterson and Rossbridge, known as Pat and Rusty.
Then came the runners who were to show us the way to our companies. Ours turned out to be Tom O’Carrol who gave me a little news from NZ and the Thames in particular. Two km back the same road we had just arrived by, brought us to our Coy., feeling only a little bit weary. The first thing was a feed and then we were put into a barn for the night. Rusty and I were soon fast asleep under one blanket.
The next morning we all went out on Company parade and after the C. O.’s inspection, he kindly asked to see me and two other Buckshee Corps and after a little explanation kindly asked us to return to the ranks so that now I am just one of those common soldiers known as privates or in other words something to hang things on.
Sunday 24th.March, 1918. We have now been here just under a fortnight and have had rather a decent time although we had plenty of drill and have been inspected by the G. O. C. But a nice little shower came on at the right moment and cut things a bit short. I had three days in bombing school learning the art of throwing these little crackers.
We have had some good games of football and I went fairly close to getting into the Battalion team who won the 1st Wellington competition. I have met quite a few Whangare-ites since I came here. Some of them are A. Jack, E Heape, L Gill, J Hinter, H Bechne, F Eceles, R Cadman, W Baker, H Willis, and others.
On Friday last the Heads all got the wind up a bit and we got packed up in a hurry ready to move off at any moment as old Fritz was supposed to have broken through. We were off to push him back but after waiting about all day the gale went down a bit and we were given orders to make down for the night.
Yesterday we were on parade as usual but today we are all packed again and now we are waiting orders to move off but I think it is a dinkum go this time and I guess there will be something doing in a few days now. Our little holiday has come to an end. My pal Rusty had his leave stopped.
Sun night the 24th March, 1918 we left Bavinchove moving off at 9-am. I was in a loading party getting our transports on board the train. We had just completed this task and were having a buckshee cup of cream at the G. M. when an old Fritz dropped three bombs close by just to remind us as we were going to war. No damage was done.
We were soon seated in the usual class carriages and were moving off. By daylight we had reached Bolongne but not the end of our journey for we kept on going passing numerous village towns etc. until 2-pm when we pulled up at Ailley Sur Somme, a small place on the river Somme.
Here we detrained and unloaded all the transports and then got into a small wood. Had a much needed meal and wash and then got orders to get into battle order. Ready to meet Fritz who according to rumours was close at hand and coming strong but we had to a march of 26 miles to do. So we dumped everything to make the old packs as light as possible and then we anxiously waited orders to go, but instead we were told to bunk down for the night. The next task was to get some grass for a bunk.
Midnight we were roused and were soon on the march, which finished at the end of the first mile to wait for the M.F.’s As there was a heavy frost on by now and we had no coats or extra clothing we were beginning to feel a bit cool and very soon small fires were soon blazing up in the street, which grew both in number and size. A few cocoa and coffee drinkers soon had their dixies on the fire. Wood was a bit scarce and I had a little excitement when trying to gather some.
In the morning we were still on the road so moved back to the wood we had left and made some breakfast as best we had with us. Then rested until 11-am when we got into wagons and were off, passing through the city of Amiens on the route. We travelled for about two hours and were put out to finish the trip per boot. A hurried lunch and we moved, meeting returning soldiers and refugees all along the road. At last we came in sight of our guns and could see the many enemy shells exploding on our side. Then another bomb close to us jogged my memory once more and it took my mind away from Whangarei.
After driving 10 miles we finished up in an open paddock. Had the usual meal. Found a haystack and were soon down for the night but were only allowed to sleep until 12-pm and were then aroused to move out which proved a wrong order and so had to get under the straw once more. But it was far too cold for sleep and I spent most of the time walking about.
The next morning we built fresh bivvies but did not have the pleasure of using them as we were again moved up a little closer and after about an hours march found ourselves in Mailly Wood with orders to dig in. A few shells made us work all the faster, one of them giving an officer a nice Blighty. The next day we built a decent posy and were again disappointed we did not use it.
At 8-pm that night we moved off in single file up through the village of Mailly Mallet and could soon see the first of the flames and lights of the front line and then the whistle of machine-gun bullets over our heads. At last we reached the support trench wet through and after standing on the bank for half an hour we were dumped into an old filled in trench much to my relief. The first thing was dig and that lasted until morning when we had to get well down with a bit of cover over our heads, but it was more than cold.