15th June 1917

At 9am the Hun commenced his regular morning strafe on the support lines and the heavy shells bursting either side of the trench evidenced the accuracy of his gunnery.  We anxiously awaited the direct hit which seemed inevitable, at the same time not oblivious to the possibility of an attack following the long, intensive bombardment.

Suddenly the racket stopped and from our crouching position we rose up to the alert.  At once our NCO dashed up shouting “first six men, this way – quick as hell”.  Grabbing rifles and swords we ran, anticipating we knew not what.  The NCO said “Put those bloody rifles down, you won’t need them”.  After some ten or fifteen yards our progress was barred.  Straddling the trench was an enormous mound of huge boulders of solid chalk.  The shell which had caused the damage had burst some yards in front of the parapet splitting a seam in the iron hard ground so that the trench collapsed.  Ten or twelve feet below that mountainous heap of chalk one of our company was known to be in his bivvy and a second man was missing.  Throughout the rest of the day relays of men laboured with pick and shovel in the boiling sun until by evening the crushed and broken body of young Watson was discovered.  The other man, whose name I have forgotten, was alive but was said to have been blinded.

In due course our spell in the line was over and we were back in billets.  Naturally letters and parcels from home were our first concern.  In a corner of the barn stood a massive tea chest addressed to Rifleman Watson.  In private life Watson had been employed by a large grocery firm and they had generously despatched to him that enormous crate of comestibles which by wartime standards were luxuries indeed.  Why the army accepted such a huge consignment for delivery to the front intrigued us.  In accordance with custom the platoon had no compunction in sharing out the contents.  Our susceptibility to the tragedy of war was already becoming blunted.

During the night B Company was fully engaged in the wearisome task of erecting more barbed wire entanglements by the tributaries of the Scarfe and before the dawn various companies were moved to exchanged positions.  B Company now found itself located in Buzzard Trench in the reserve line.  This was an improvement in many respects to the support position although the night trips to the front line, laden with all the paraphernalia of war, were longer and more exhausting.

It was during this spell that an unusually solemn Bradley paid me a visit.  “I’ve been detailed as Gas Guard.  What does that mean?”  I said, “Fine, you have nothing to do but sit on your bottom all day by the Gas Gong (a shell case suspended on a bracket at the side of the trench) and sniff – you beat the gong with your entrenching tool handle, that’s all”.  He replied, “That’s alright but I can’t smell!”  Pointing to a small red mark on the bridge of his nose he explained that ever since a fall off a bike when he was a schoolboy his sense of smell had been non-existent.  He was very sensitive about this and I promised to respect his confidence and also act as his ‘nose’ during his spell on duty.  Actually I had been fully aware of his disability for some time but as he took such pride in his physical wellbeing I had kept the knowledge to myself.

During the trips we made together whilst guiding the Queen Vics wiring parties to the front line it was our custom to rest for a few minutes on the way back to our trench in order to partake of a little refreshment.  Invariably Bradley, who, by virtue of his additional years liked to be the leader, would dispose himself happily on the most revolting heap of cadavers, or perhaps the remains of some latrine, to open his bread and jam!  Tactfully I usually managed to get him to a less unsavoury spot, although there were not many to be found in that region.

Heavy morning strafe.
Shell over my bivvy.
Willis and Watson buried.
Guide to wiring party.
Wiring by Scarfe.

Original diary entry
Original journal notes