12th August 1917 - Letter

Letter home to Mum and Dad ...

12th August 1917 (Sunday)

Heavy rain was still falling when reveille sounded at 9am and the morning was spent in dumping heavy packs, which by rights should have contained all possessions likely to be of interest to German Intelligence.  My own breast pockets remained stuffed with diary and notebook.  The front page of the latter bearing the regimental crest, proudly proclaiming that the owner was a ‘Sniper Observer’.  What my fate would have been had I been taken prisoner was never put to the test but rumour had it that the Boche was not too kind to the Sniper fraternity.

At 2pm we moved off behind the “heavy” positions along the edge of Zillebeke Lake past the light railway.  This well-defined track confined between marsh and lake was a well-favoured target of the German long range guns.  As a precaution the Companies proceeded in single file, two yards between each man.  Following behind were the Queen Victoria Rifles who, according to the grapevine, lost one whole platoon when the German guns suddenly plastered the rear area with high explosive.  To the left of Hooge we waited and rested, watching the continuous stream of shells pounding the Menin Road, making rubble and dust of what used to be a town.  Behind the distant ridge an enemy observation balloon rose high in the sky and from the dust and smoke ahead a battery of R.F.A. came straight towards us driving hell for leather.  The pounding hoofs, swaying guns and limbers’ wheels bumping three feet off the rough shell pocked ground was exhilarating to the onlooker but dangerously close for comfort.

At dusk the Battalion moved on through Hooge, from whence the R.F.A. had come and guides led us into the front line position at the base of Glencorse Wood.  All through that night the Battalion crouched and endured on the edge of the numerous deep shell holes brimful with the filthy slime of mud and flesh.  Intense shelling went on continuously throughout the night and the torrential rain never ceased.  The shattering noise of the ‘minenwerfers’ created havoc to the nervous system.  In the trenches at Arras the light of the ‘minnies’ fuses approaching could be spotted and in daylight the “Flying Pigs” themselves could be seen tumbling over and over through the air.  In the deep uncluttered trenches of the Hindenburg Line there was room to move and with luck it was possible to take evading action.  At Ypres we could only hold on to our slippery perches and wait.  The slightest movement and men ran the risk of slipping over the edge of the six-foot deep craters of mud.  Weighed down with their heavy equipment they had little chance of ever emerging.

Rose at 9am.
Packs taken away.
Left 2pm through Zillebeke. Into front line.
Heavily strafed.
Letter from home with photo. Wrote letter home.

Original diary entry
Original journal notes

"The next afternoon (August 12th), the Battalion moved forward by cross-country tracks to Yeomanry Post, on the west of Sanctuary Wood and about 1000 yards north-east of Zillebeke Lake. It arrived there about 5:00pm, and three hours later guides led the companies forward to relieve the 6th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment (53rd Infantry Brigade, 18th Division), in the left sector of the front line west of Glencorse Wood. The state of the ground and the incessant shelling had stopped all attempts to consolidate the position; there was no cover from shell-fire, and the British and German dead were still lying out in the open. The 'line' was roughly that reached on the first day of the battle and was quite indefinite. It consisted merely of convenient shell-holes, with here and there a disconnected length of trench, and in these the companies with their supports were distributed in two rough lines. A Company was on the right in touch with the Q.V.R., and B Company on the left in touch with the 7th Middlesex (167th Infantry Brigade), with C Company in support north of the Menin Road, and D Company in reserve in a trench north of Yeomanry Post."
Excerpt from "The War History of the 1st Battalion Queen's Westminster Rifles 1914-1918" [ISBN 1-84342-610-2]

Google Maps entry for Zillebeke Lake here
Google Maps entry for Hooge here