Diaries; 26th – 30th September, 1914.

Saturday 26th September: Vendresse

All night long the Germans made desperate attempts to break through our lines but were always driven back. It was a terrible night and daylight they are still at it. We have our hands full of wounded again and shells and bullets are flying about. This is the liveliest day we have had this last week. It is just like the first day of this battle over again.

A few of the South Wales Borderers were captured and we had 104 wounded to bring in but we got them away in the wagons at night. We had to bury a few also, one being an Officer of the South Wales Borderers. There were a good many German wounded to look after also.

We seem to be just holding this position and no more.

We went off to have a few hours’ sleep after a hard night and day’s work. There is a great many British buried in the Church-yard of this village also on the sides of the hills round about.

Sunday 27th September: Vendresse

The day has opened quiet but as this is the Germans favourite day-Sunday I expect we will get it hot enough before night. We are still getting a few wounded after yesterday’s hard fight. Just what I expected, in the afternoon they opened a terrible artillery fire on us. This house we have made into a hospital belongs to an Admiral of the French Navy, it has some fine big cellars in it where we put the wounded for safety. We, the Bearers sleep in a barn next to the house. So in the afternoon when they started to shell so heavily, with their coal boxes, we were ordered down the cellars beside the wounded. We have had to do this a few times now.

We had just left the barn this afternoon when a coal box went right through it and landed in the yard in front of the house. It did not burst though it made a big hole in the roof and side of the barn. Our luck is still in. We shored up the roof and intend sleeping in it tonight shells or no shells.

We have had very few wounded after all the shell fire about 20 or 30 though the Germans made another attack after the shell fire. They must be losing a terrible amount of men.

We had an issue of tobacco today a thing we have not had for a few weeks now.

Monday 28th September: Vendresse

Still another day of the same as yesterday but not so many wounded or shells either. We had a good look at the hole the shell made in the barn yesterday and realized what a narrow shave we all had but a miss is as good as a mile. We are still sleeping in the barn and trust to luck they won’t hit it a second time.

Tuesday 29th September: Vendresse

We were awakened in the middle of the night by a terrible rifle and artillery fire; the enemy had made another attempt to break through but were again driven off. Their artillery kept at it all night and all day till well on in the afternoon it gradually died away till only a gun now and then barked and a shell dropped in the village doing very little damage as all the property in the village has already been damaged.

We had to bury 5 more men tonight who had died of wounds before we went off to sleep.

Wednesday 30th September: Vendresse

This day opened very quiet till the afternoon when an artillery duel began on both sides but no attack was made. The Engineers were measuring where the shell came through our billet to get the range of the gun. They say the Germans have 32 of these guns along this front, 4 being against this village. They gave us another 2 hot hours before dark putting a few through the church doing little damage though we had a few more Camerons wounded and 5 more men to bury.

Letter; 25th September, 1914.

Dear Tom,

I have not had much chance of writing to let you know how I am getting on but I have sent you a few postcards. I do not know if you got them, as I have received no word from you.

We are not allowed to say what we are doing, or where we are, and all our letters are supposed to be read by our Commanding Officer, but I am going to send this letter home with one of the wounded. I hope you will get it but you might not as it is very hard to get a letter sent home.

The only thing they allow us to send home is one of these printed postcards which I am sending with this letter.

I never thought when I left home we were going to come through what we have come through. We were all told off to our different jobs before we left Aldershot and I am one of the Stretcher Bearers of the R.A.M.C. No.3 Field Ambulance, First Division, Expeditionary Force.

We were made into teams just the same as in the shipyard-five in each team, four and a No.4 in charge. Our duty is to go out and collect the wounded and bring them back to the Ambulance Wagon. The wagons then take them to some clearance hospital, or the train to go to the base or home.

So you see I am nearer the firing line than I thought I would be. In fact, we were nearer than we should have been last week for we lost our No.4 killed but let me start from the beginning when we landed in France.

As everybody knows we went right into Belgium on the train, and the next day (A Sunday at that) we were under fire, so you see we had not much time to think about it.

If you follow the doings of the First Division or hear anything about them you will know we are there. The Guards are in the First Division also the Black Watch, Cameron Highlanders, South Wales Borderers, the Welsh Regiment, the Gloucester Regiment and one or two others. So if you see anything about them you will know we were there.

We were only one day in Belgium and we had to retire right back through France till we were into a town 271/2 miles off Paris-Meaux they call it. Then we started to advance again. We had to do some terrible marches when we were retiring about 30 miles a day under a scorching sun and sometimes we were very short of rations and had to sleep anywhere.

One day when we were being pressed by the enemy (28th August), the 12th Lancers and the Scots Greys made a great charge at the enemy’s cavalry and one of the 12th Lancers captains was wounded, Captain Mitchell. I was one of the Bearers that went back over the battlefield for him but he was dead and had been taken away in another ambulance.Another day the Gloucester regiment was shelled in the trenches and about 30 wounded and 3 killed. A Captain Shipway being one of those killed. We had to go into the trenches for them so you see we are seeing something.

This was nothing to what we went through on the 13th, 14th, 15th and 16th of September. In fact, we are still in the same place as we were on the 13th and the battle has been going on all the time but the first three days were terrible. The First Division lost a terrible lot of men, every regiment in it lost heavily. I cannot give you any figures, the sights I have seen I hope never to see again.

We don’t know how the rest of the Divisions got on but the First Division lost a lot and the enemy lost three times as much. The enemy's dead were piled up in heaps and the dead and the wounded lay out in the open for days before anybody could get near them.

On the 15th, 23 of us in ‘C’ section were in a village called Chivvy. Every barn in that village was filled with wounded. We were bringing them in every time we had a chance. But on the 15th we went out in front of our own firing line to try and get some wounded in, when we lost 2 men- killed and 3 wounded. The No.4 of my squad was killed a chap named Price also a chap named Duncan. Ross, McGill and Abre were wounded all inside half an hour. We went out too far and the rest of us had to run back for cover and leave our men lying but we got them in after it was dark. We were not allowed to go so far out again as the enemy was shooting at everybody they saw.

Their shells have been bursting round us every day since we came into contact. We are getting used to it and have some fine laughs at some of us running for cover, or watch a duel in the air between two aeroplanes.

The sights on the hillside are awful. The Germans are fine equipped in fact they could not be better. Everything they have is up to date and all made of the lightest. Half their things are made of aluminium and everything was new.

However hundreds of them have surrendered-new kits and all- and hundreds more are lying dead on the hillside. We are looking after their wounded as well as our own.

We had a very busy time but we are getting it quieter now. One or two a day, nothing like what we have had. My old regiment (The Black Watch) fairly got it, I counted 28 of them dead on the top of one hill alone about 5 yards apart.

I am trying to give you an idea of what it is really like out here. If ever I manage to come through this War I hope I will never see another. Some of the men here have been all through South Africa and say that the worst battle there was nothing to this.

I wish it was all finished till I get back to work again. Tell Jim Pye I cannot manage to write to him just now. I am only chancing this letter getting through to you but hope to see you all again soon.

From your old pal

J. McFarlane

P.S. Drop a note and let me know how you are all getting on.

Diaries; 19th – 25th September, 1914.

Saturday 19th September: Chivy

The enemy made a determined attempt to break through our lines here last night but was driven off. The night favoured the attack as it was as dark as hell and raining. It has been raining for nearly 4 days with a break now and then. We got in some more wounded that had been lying out there for 4 days and nights in the rain. You will have an idea what condition they were in when the troops in the trenches are wet through and covered with mud and we are not much better.

Our Artillery are on the hills behind us and the Germans when trying to find them drop the shells on us. Then they shell the whole village from end to end. We have to find the best cover we can as the houses are no good as they have almost all been smashed to hell.

Sunday 20th September: Chivy

All night long the rifles and machine guns were hammering away at it and as day broke the big guns took up the argument, this is the Germans favourite day-Sunday. They seem as lively as ever.

Along with another chap, I went out to a field to try to get some potatoes. A sniper was having a few shots at us but as he was a bad shot we worked away getting some potatoes for our dinner till a Jack Johnson* whizzed over our heads and burst only a few yards away to be immediately followed by another. We thought it was time to shift, the rest of the men had a laugh at us running with a sack of potatoes on our back to where they were under cover but we had a good dinner of potatoes and bully.

About 6pm we were told to hold ourselves in readiness as we were going to leave this position. It is costing too many lives to hold it. The 4th and 6th Divisions reinforced us in the battle yesterday but have already lost very heavy. We lay down for a short sleep, all ready to move off.

*Jack Johnson was the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion Johnson’s name was used by British troops to describe the impact of German 150 mm heavy artillery shells which had a black colour.

Monday 21st September: Chivy/ Vendresse

After a few hours’ sleep, we were awakened at 1am and as it was terrible dark we had a fine job getting a horse and cart off the old farmer to take our medical stores away in as we had no Ambulance waggon here. He kicked up a terrible row and most of the Brigade had retired back so we had to hurry or we were done for.

We managed to get away in front of the last regiment to leave and marched right back to where the rest of the Bearers of our Ambulance were at Vendresse, we reached them about 4am.This place is just as hot for shell fire but not for bullets as Chivy. They shelled here all day doing a lot of damage to the village.

Tuesday 22nd September: Vendresse

Another day of the usual shower of shells and all last night both sides were blazing away for all they were worth and as soon as daylight came the heavy guns started. Shells whizzed over our heads and are bursting all around. I don’t know how this house we have made into a hospital has escaped. We are quite used to the shells now and often count those that do not burst.

We received a free issue of newspapers today, the Daily Mail & Daily Sketch, the first English papers we have seen since we landed in France. They were dated the 11th and we are now beginning to understand a little of what we have been doing and what is going on.

We have been getting very few wounded today and the Germans have quietened down a good bit this afternoon but we witnessed a fight in the air between a French and a German aeroplane. The French one came down very fast in our lines but he seemed to land steady enough. The German flew back over his own lines dropping signals all the time, the signal is a set of bombs which burst in the air leaving a trail of crystal like smoke that marks the position of the British guns. The remainder of the day was quiet.

Wednesday 23rd September: Vendresse

This morning opened very quiet and the sun shone brightly so we took the chance to do a little cleaning up till the shells started to drop around us again then we had to get under cover. We are all fine and fresh now ready for anything or any sort of marching. Nothing of importance occurred today just the usual shelling.

Thursday 24th September: Vendresse

Another day of the same usual shelling, we had another issue of newspapers today and we offer our thanks to the people who are responsible for them.
One or two German aeroplanes over and our guns fire shells all around them then they fly back again to their own lines. The Germans are the finest equipped soldiers I have ever seen. Everything seems to be made for lightness. The day finished quiet.

Friday 25th September: Vendresse

Still another day of the same shelling, shelling, shelling but in the afternoon it grew heavier and heavier. They shelled the village we are in till it was like a reeking furnace. A few men and horses were wounded but only one man killed. They got lively just before dark again they have been dropping the coal boxes 7 amongst us today doing a lot of damage but very few casualties for the amount of shells.

Diaries; 5th – 11th September 1914.

Saturday 5th September:  Rozay(-en-Brie)

We marched off from here at 6am. A great many of our troops had passed along the road throughout the night. We are still going south-east but are getting it a bit easier today though it is just as hot. In the afternoon we reached a place called Rozay(-en-Brie) where we halted and we have been told we are to spend the night here.

Continue reading “Diaries; 5th – 11th September 1914.”