8th June 1917
Into the trenches - The Battle of Arras

Reveille sounded at 3am, breakfast taken an hour later.

By 5am the sleepy-eyed battalion left Agnez-sur-Duisans via Duisans and the piles of rubble which used to be the village of Beaurains.

We took over the trenches up on Telegraph Hill at 9:30am.  For the first time we were in range of the enemy guns.

So far the army life had been reasonably endurable, at times even enjoyable.  Naturally, during the weeks of training a great deal of thought had been given to the question of individual behaviour in the face of danger.  What, for instance, would our reaction be to the sight of human bodies torn to shreds by high explosives?  Would we be able to thrust our bayonets into the solar plexus of the Hun as we had so often done to those straw stuffed dummies on the training grounds?  This manoeuvre disturbed me greatly and I was determined always to keep one round up the spout.  Would we vomit, faint, lay down and cower or, heaven forbid, just scream?  We were afraid of being yellow or, worse still, showing it.  Strangely enough, when the time came for initiation into the horror and carnage of war most of us were prone to none of these emotions.  I have no doubt that the ‘rookies’ owed a tremendous debt to the few remaining pre-war veterans of the Battalion Territorials, who, by the process of attrition, were by 1917 either NCOs or held commissions.  Their behaviour and coolness under fire and, moreover, their understanding of what we rookies were going through served as an example that just could not be denied.

It was during the march from Agnez that two incidents left their mark.

At the side of the road in the debris around Beaurains was a gun limber and spread-eagled across the wheel a British soldier was shackled.  The unexpectedness of this sideline to active service with the British Army came as a shock and we speculated on the nature of the crime which called for such barbaric treatment.

The second incident was more revolting.  Face down over a pile of debris lay the body of what appeared to be a dead Highlander.  His kilt had been pulled up over his back and into his buttocks had been plunged rifle and bayonet.

Telegraph Hill, high above the plain, overlooking the ruined villages of Tilloy-lès-Mofflaines and Neuville Vitasse, gave a splendid view of the vast network of trenches which formed part of the Hindenburg Line.  As darkness fell the flashes from the British batteries tucked away at the foot of the hill immediately below held our attention.  We were not yet in the real target area and consequently our duties were negligible.  A few stray heavies landed on the Hill during the night which drew blood but mainly the damage was confined to the nearby British cemetery.  The casualties were the packs which had been dumped in a pile pending the completion of our spell in the line.

Reveille 3am. Breakfast 4am. 5am march to Telegraph Hill.
9:30am trenches - funk hole (1) in traverse on no mans' land.
First sight of the line.
Several heavies over.

Original diary entry
Original journal notes

"On June 8th, the Battalion paraded at 5:30am and marched via Dainville, Achicourt and Bauerains to Telegraph Hill, arriving there at 9:30am. The day was spent in the German tranches in the Harp system, which the Battalion had occupied on April 28th."
Excerpt from "The War History of the 1st Battalion Queen's Westminster Rifles 1914-1918" [ISBN 1-84342-610-2]

Google Maps entry for Beaurains here
Google Maps entry for Tilloy-lès-Mofflaines here
Google Maps entry for Neuville-Vitasse here
(1) Dictionary entry for "funk hole" here