Diary; 30th September, 1915.

Thursday 30th September: Vermelles/ Labourse

It has faired up today and the sun is shining though the roads are very bad yet. Things are fairly quiet except on our left where our artillery keeps hammering away. In the afternoon the whole Division shifted back to Labourse where we billeted for the night.

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Letter; 29th September, 1915.

Letter 29th September: Vermelles

Dear Bob,

Just a few lines in a hurry as I am just going to snatch a few hours’ sleep. I expect you will have seen in the newspapers about our advance. Well, Bob, a good many of the Kingston boys were in this last affair and I do not know how they have got on, but I hope they are all right.

I was not in it at the start, but Kirkwood was, and I expect he will have an interesting letter to write you. The Guards Division did not get into it until Sunday, so I can just tell you what I found out and what I saw.

At 6 am on Saturday the 15th Division was in the trenches in front of Vermelles, on the right of La Bassée. Our Engineers pumped the gas at the Germans as the wind was in our favour.

Our Artillery had opened fire four hours before this; we could hear the bombardment from where we were (at Lillers about 24 miles away). We were there as reserves and so had to march all day and night on Saturday till we got here.

After the bombardment and gas course, the 15th Division hopped the parapet led by the 9th Black Watch, Lochiel’s Camerons 6th Battalion and Royal Scots Fusiliers. They did simply splendid advancing right through Loos and capturing Hill 70. They held this position till the 21 st Division came to their assistance, but through some misunderstanding, three regiments of the 21 st Division retired, leaving the 15th in the lurch, so that they also had to retire from Hill 70.

Part of the 45th field Ambulance (Kirkwood’s Ambulance) was in Loos and when the 15th Division retired behind Hill 70 they also had to retire and in doing so their Ambulance must have been very heavily shelled.

I saw four of their G.S. Wagons with their medical panyards lying on the road side with the horses lying dead beside them. I cannot say whether any of their men were killed but I hear a Section of their Bearers were gassed. I have not yet seen Kirkwood to get full details from him but hope to do so soon.

I am only judging what happened to their Ambulance by the position their Wagons were in when I got there on Monday night. It is very hard to understand the cause of their Wagons being left there, but I think they must have been caught in a heavy fire of gas shells. Their Wagons, of course, are now safe and can be brought back at night.

When the Guards Division reached here on Sunday night-Monday morning, the 15th Division were just in front of Loos. The Guards retook Hill 70 and are now ready to advance further but the damned weather has broken down. It has been raining since Sunday and still continues.

Our Artillery all around us here is still firing away as hard as they can and the Germans are dropping s few coal-boxes round about here. We are going to keep this advance up as soon as the weather gets better again. All over it has been a big success and we have taken a few thousand prisoners. I cannot say for certain but reckon about 10, 000. I have seen 14 Guns that were captured; two of them are still lying in the centre of Loos.

I will now give you a little of what I myself saw.

Our Ambulance reached Hallicourt on Saturday night, or rather Sunday morning, and lay down in a field for a few hours rest, our Division being just in front of us. On Sunday night we moved on to Sailly Labourse, our Division moving up to the other side of Vermelles and the same night they relieved the Division holding the front line around Loos.

On Monday we, the Bearers of the Ambulance moved up to Vermelles followed by the Remainder of our Ambulance. The Bearers then moved up to Loos, as our Division was going to retake Hill 70. They took it all right and we had to work all night getting the wounded away. The road between Vermelles and Loos is a terrible sight to see-dead lying everywhere. The 9th Black Watch must have lost terribly as I saw hundreds hanging on the barbed wire. Yes! We have advanced but the 15th division suffered terribly. This road is a sight to see but I expect Kirkwood will be able to tell you more than I can as he was there when the first attack came off.

I won’t say any more at present but am trying to find out how all the Kingston Boys fared and will let you know as soon as I can. A good few of the R.A.M.C. have been lost but nothing to what the infantry have lost. You remember I told you we would lose a few before we got the enemy on the run.

The bombardment and the attacks are still going on; we are giving them no rest. I am now going to snatch an hour’s sleep as we have to go back to the village of Loos to bring in the wounded. We came down from there last night. The smell is awful. This has been a better success than Neuve Chapelle.

There is a big colliery in the centre of the village. I hope to write you of further successes shortly but it is hell in that village as the Germans are dropping coal-boxes in it every minute-day and night.

No more at present but hope to write soon.

Your old friend
Mac

Excuse the writing; I am so tired.

Diaries; 25th – 29th September, 1915.

Saturday 25th September: Lambres

We left here “Lambres” at 8 am and marched on till we came to a village called Ames at 10 am. We stayed here until 2 pm and while here were told the 15th Division had taken 4 lines of trenches.

We left Ames at 2 pm and marched on after the Welsh Guards. It was raining the whole time and the roads deep with mud and almost blocked by French and British Cavalry, there being thousands all going the same road as us.

After marching and hanging about the roads for hours we reached a place called Haillicourt at 1 am in the morning and were billeted in a field.

We were so tired we were glad to lay down on the wet ground and in the rain. What cheered us up was the news that we had advanced 4 miles on a 10 miles front.

Wounded were now passing along the roads in Ambulance cars as we went off to sleep.

Sunday 26th September: Haillicourt

We wakened up shivering with cold but are all anxiously waiting for news. Some say we have advanced a great deal, others that we have lost very heavily.

We are still here at Haillicourt at 2 pm but the sun has come out and brightened things up a bit. A great many French Ambulance Cars are passing here full of French wounded but everything is quiet.

Later on in the afternoon every gun around about opened fire. Another bombardment had started.

We, of the C Section Bearers, left here at 6 pm and marched on till we came to Sailly-Labourse where we billeted for the night.

Monday 27th September: Sailly-Labourse/ Loos

We slept in a barn here all night and everything is quiet this morning. We have just heard that the Guards will go into action today and we will follow them up.

The 15th Division seem to have lost very heavily by all accounts.

We marched off from here at 2 pm and marched on till we came to Vermelles station where we took over a dressing station in a Brewery from the 46th Field Ambulance and leaving 10 of our men there the remainder of us marched on nearer the firing line. After an hours march, we halted and formed an Aide Post at Fosse 8 just behind the village of Loos, the village our troops took from the Germans on Saturday.

As we halted here a heavy attack is going on to our left and the Cavalry are all standing by.

We then moved on up to the village of Loos where we were badly needed as a great many wounded had to be brought in as the Guards had advanced and re-took Hill 70.

Along the roads and in all the streets of Loos dead are lying everywhere. The place is simply covered with dead, the Germans being in the majority. It is a weird sight bedside some of the trenches to see our dead and the enemy’s dead lying opposite each other both with their gas helmets on.

The horrors of war, it being in the dark except when a star shell lights up the scene and the smell is awful. It is enough to turn any man’s head but plenty of work is before us and we have no time for thoughts, a good job too.

We passed on through the ruins of the village stepping over the dead and dodging the shells the Germans are now sending into the village, passed a German gun near the ruins of the church. This is about the 14th gun we have seen this last two days that have been left by the Germans.

At last, we were leaving the village behind and with the Tower Bridge on our right we came to a halt at the last house on the outside of the village. It is an Estaminet and has been made into an Aide-Post by the Regimental Doctor and his Stretcher Bearers. It is full of wounded and more are being brought in, so we start carrying away the ones he has dressed to the Motor Ambulance Cars a mile behind the village.

We kept on carrying away the wounded and by 5 am had cleared out all that could be brought in, we were then told to make our way back to our Aide-Post till further orders.

On our road back just at daybreak, we could see better the state of the battlefield and it was horrible to see. Two or three wagons of the 45th Field Ambulance were lying in a ditch on the side of the road with all the horses dead, also some of the Welsh Guards transport.

I heard that a Section of Bearers of the 45th Field Ambulance had been caught by gas shells and gassed. That is how their wagons came to be there.

I think we have made a good advance here, about 5 miles, and would have made a bigger one only the 21 st Division retired but we have lost heavily. A great many of the Highland Regiment’s dead are lying about.

Tuesday 28th September: Loos

After getting back to Fosse 8 we had a hurried snack and tried to snatch an hour’s rest. We managed about 2 hours sleep then were up standing ready in case we were wanted.

Parties are now going out over the ground we have captured burying the dead. This attack was started, here where we are, on Saturday morning at 6 am by the 15th Division with other Divisions on their right and left.

After hanging about and getting in one or two wounded now and then we were relieved by another Section of our Bearers. We went back to Vermelles railway station, to our hospital there where we were to billet for the night. We had just been asleep about an hour when we were called out to assist No. 4 Field Ambulance; but when we got to their place we were not needed so we had to come back.

Wednesday 29th September: Loos/ Vermelles

After a lively cannonade by both sides all day, we went up to Loos and cleared all the wounded from the Aide–Posts landing back about 2 am.

It was very quiet in Loos last night only a few shells dropping when we were there but the roads are in a terrible state owing to the rain. It rained all day but cleared up at night.

An attack seems to be going on all day to our left near Cambrin but all over things are fairly quiet. The Guards were relieved by another Division and came back to Vermelles beside us.

Diaries; 13th – 24th September, 1915.

Monday 13th September: Hallines

Still here at Hallines, another small route march.

Tuesday 14th to Monday 20th September: Hallines

Nothing doing except route marches on the 15th and 17th.

Tuesday 21st September: Hallines

There is some word of us leaving here soon.

Wednesday 22nd September: Hallines/ Ecques

We left Hallines at 6.30pm and marched on after our Brigade till we reached a village called Ecques at 9.30pm. We billeted in a field here for the night.

Thursday 23rd September: Ecques

We stopped here in Ecques all day but marched off at 6 pm and marched on till 9 pm in the rain when we halted and billeted in a barn in a village called Lambres. There is something big coming off as we can hear the rumble of the guns in the distance.

Friday 24th September: Lambres

We stayed at Lambres all day and night and we can still hear the terrible rumble of the guns.

Letter; 12th September 1915.

Letter 12th Sept: Hallines

Dear Jim,

Just a few lines to let you know I am getting on all right. I have written to Mr Allan and given him my new address; also mentioned how I came to be in this place. I expect you will have heard of it by this time. I had a letter from Tommy and he was saying you were very busy. I am glad to hear it as plenty of work means plenty of the “ready”, but as you know, out here we do not get paid for overtime.

Well, Jim, we are getting very little over time at present; thank goodness! We are simply resting or doing a little route marching or having a field day with the Division.

We have mostly been practising keeping in touch with Brigades and units when advancing. It is easy doing it now-miles behind the firing line, but I well remember how different it was at Neuve Chapelle. They have new ideas of how it should be done but when we get into the firing line and try it, only then will we find out it is workable.

It is very enjoyable at present, always out in the open and climbing the small hills round about. All are in good health and fine fettle. We were inspected by the General Officer Commanding the Division on Friday (Earl of Cavan). He is in command of the whole Guards Division.

We also had a letter read out to us by the Mayor of Fouquieres (which had gone to the French Army Headquarters then on to the British and then to our Ambulance). It thanked the Ambulance for its splendid work while in that village. This is the first time – we are told- that any unit of the British Army has been so mentioned when it was supposed to be resting. As the Commanding Officer said, it is good to get praise from the French for good conduct and work while back from the Firing Line.

When we landed in this village (Hallines) which is about 30 miles from the Firing Line and about 6 to 7 southwest of St. Omer, we were sleeping in a field beside a small river. This field lay in a hollow and when it rained for two nights and days we were flooded out. I got up on the second night as the water was running down my back and had a chill for three days afterwards. I am glad to say I am all right now.

We are now billeted in a paper Mill nearby and as the Mill goes day and night we make ourselves believe we are onboard a boat, as the throb throb of the Engine sends us off to sleep. There is one thing about it we have a roof over our heads and as the nights are getting cold we are glad to be billeted inside.

I don’t know how long we are to be here, or where we are going when all is ready. Some say, Arras, some Ypres and others that we are to make a landing at Zeebruge. This is all talk of course as none of us know where we are going till we get there.

Personally, I think we might go to Arras as the French have been bombarding round that district for 15 days, but the British are also doing a bombardment about Ypres as we can hear the guns at night, even though we are about 30 miles away.

I think we will go to Arras for another reason. As I said when at home we have been
gradually extending our line and relieving the French of a good bit of theirs. Up to the present, we have taken over about 35 miles of the French line since last June.

We have a Division of troops south of Arras but the French Army is still holding Arras itself, so I expect we will take over part of the line between the British Division south of Arras and the British troops further north. If this turns out to be the case, by the end of this month the British Army will be holding a line from Longemarch to a point 20 miles south of Arras, covering in all 100 miles of a front. I can only say that is why I expect the Guard’s Division will go to Arras, when
it goes into action, but I will let you know whenever the move comes off.

You can tell Tommy that the 1st Scots guards are in the 2nd brigade of this Division, so I should often come across them. They are in a village a few mile (I think) from here, so must be only two from St. Omer. I am going to try to get up there on Monday or Tuesday to see Sandy McDougall’s son and also Bill Whittaker. They are both there, I have been making enquiries off the Bombing parties in this village.

I don’t know what more to say at present but hope all the boys are keeping well. Tell Tommy to keep me informed about the “boys” of the class at the front and if I come across any of them I will let you know at once.

I don’t know if I need say any more at present, except that I sent my address to Mr Allan and put 3rd Guards Brigade in it. This is giving too full an address as you will only require “3rd Field Ambulance, Guards Division, B.E.F.” Tell all the boys I was asking for them and thank them for the splendid time I had when on leave. Roll on Berlin.

From your old pal, Mac.

 

Diaries; 4th – 10th September, 1915.

Saturday 4th September: Hallines

Still raining, thank goodness we are under cover. Nothing doing.

Sunday 5th September: Hallines

Nothing doing.

Monday 6th September: Hallines

We had another field day with our Brigade.

Tuesday 7th September: Hallines

Nothing doing.

Wednesday 8th September: Hallines

Letter read out to us on parade from the Mayor of Fouquieres, the letter having been passed through the French and British Army headquarters. The letter thanked us for our good work and behaviour while we were there. This is the first Ambulance or unit which has been congratulated for its work when it was supposed to be resting.

Thursday 9th September: Hallines

Nothing doing except a small route march.

Friday 10th September: Hallines

We were inspected by the General Officer Commanding the Guards Division, the Earl of Cavan.