Letter; 31st October, 1915.

Letter 31st October: Allouagne

Dear Tom,

Just a few lines to let you and the boys know how I am going on; I hope you received my last letter all right. I told you in that letter that the Guards were going to take the Redoubt on the Sunday, but owing to circumstances, and the weather breaking down, the attack did not come off.

To go back to the beginning-On the Wednesday when we were having a rest the 1 st Brigade of Guards were in the 1 st line when the Germans made a counter-attack to try and get the whole of the redoubt. After a hard fight which was mostly by bomb attacks they were driven back with heavy loss, and the 1 st brigade counterattacked and took the trench on the right of the Redoubt. The day after the weather broke down. It is almost impossible to charge in wet weather so all attacks were cancelled for the time being. So now we have two-thirds of the Redoubt, the Germans holding the other third, or the trench on the left.

Owing to the smartness in which the Guards move, and also owing to their strict discipline, they have not had the casualties that other Divisions have had. We know that as we have to get away the wounded. The 3 rd (our) Brigade, took over the 1 st line on Saturday and stayed there till Tuesday night when the whole of the Guards Division were relieved and sent back for 14 day’s rest, as they had not had 48 hours out of the trenches since the start of the Battle of Loos.

I was up with the 3 rd Brigade for the 4 days they were up this time, but everything was very quiet, having only 20 wounded the whole time. We were very glad, as it was a terrible trench to bring wounded down, it being so narrow and with so many turnings. There was also the rain, the trench in some parts being a foot deep with mud and water; other parts falling in with the rain, while other parts were knocked in by shells.

This trench is called Guys and is two and a half miles long from the quarry to the railway line. This is not the trench I referred to in my last letter but another on the left of that, nearer Cambrin. The trench I referred to in my last letter was called “Bart’s Alley” and the one next to it is “Gordon’s Alley”.

The way we are having so far to carry the wounded through the trenches here is owing to the flat country and also owing to the advance the old trenches are linked up with the new and make one long trench. When I was up that last time I was left up in the dugout in charge of 5 other men. I was having a walk round at 7am to see if any of the regiments had any wounded when I ran up against one of the Kingston boys, an Iron Driller named Kincaid. Jim Pye will know him. He is a Sergeant in the 2nd Scots Guards, having listed after the war broke out. He told me he had been out here since February and is keeping well and getting on all right. I am going to see him and have a long chat now we are back resting.

On Thursday past we were to be inspected by the King. Everything was ready when it was all cancelled. We did not know what was wrong till night when word went round that he had had an accident.

Things don’t look bright round the Balkan’s way, but though we are slow to move, I think when we do move round that way, we will move to some tune. It looks like prolonging the war, but personally, I think the bigger it gets, and the more countries that come in, the quicker it will be finished.

I think the fiercest fighting to come and what will have a big say in this War is going to be in poor old Serbia. Troops are leaving France for there; the 28th Division having left a few days ago and there is some word of the Guards going, but I won’t build up hopes on that, but if it comes true I will try and let you know as soon as possible.

They can afford to send troops from France, as there are thousands of troops out here who have not yet been in the trenches, but simply doing training-what others are doing at home.

They can’t send all fresh troops to Serbia as they will have to send some of the regular Divisions to steady them up, so I expect there will be as many troops leaving here for Serbia as there will be leaving home.

One thing that is very satisfactory I have noticed of late is that we are using ammunition freely; for every shell, the Germans send over-and they send a few over at times- we send 20 for their one. As far as I can see for myself the German troops must have a hell of a time in the trenches; our guns never stop. They are continually working at their trenches.

They attempt to build and repair their trenches by night and next day our Gunners knock them all down again. It must be hell for them as I know what like it is when they shell us very heavily.

I don’t know what more I can say at present, only we are resting here for 14 days. It is a village between Bethune and Lillers. I have not seen Kirkwood or any other of the boys, but hope they are all keeping well, also all the boys at home. Tell them I was asking after them all and hope the class is doing well.

From your old Pal, Mac.

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Diaries; 22nd – 31st October, 1915.

Friday 22nd October: Labourse

Both ours and the German artillery have been very lively all day. We are expecting to go up the line again tomorrow, another attack is coming off.

Saturday 23rd October: Labourse/ Annequin

We marched off from Labourse and marched to Annequin in the afternoon where we opened an Advance Dressing Station for receiving the wounded. Eight of us went up to the trenches to a dugout in the quarry on the right of Cambrin. We stayed on duty there. Everything fairly quiet having only two wounded of the Welsh Guards to bring down all night. It took us about 3 hours to bring down each case, the trench being almost as bad as Barts trench only this one was called Guys Alley.

Sunday 24th October: Annequin

After being on duty in the dugouts for 24 hours we were relieved by another eight men and we went back to the Advance Dressing Station at Annequin. Everything is very quiet and the attack did not come off owing to the weather breaking down. It is raining very heavily.

Monday 25th October: Quarry Fosse 8

I went up in charge of eight other Bearers to the dugout in the Quarry in front of Fosse 8. The trenches are very treacherous with the rain and it is very hard work getting the wounded down but we only had 5 cases.

Tuesday 26th October: Annequin

We were relieved by other nine men at 9am and went back to Annequin. The Germans dropped a few shells around our hospital here today but our artillery were also lively. We were relieved by another Ambulance of the 12th Division, the Guards Division all being relieved and going back for a rest. We marched back to our main Hospital at Labourse and billeted there for the night.

Wednesday 27th October: Allouagne

The whole Ambulance marched off from Labourse at 9am and marched on till we came to a village between Bethune and Lillers called Allouagne.
We are here for 14 days rest and the King is going to inspect the whole Guards Division tomorrow.

Thursday 28th October: Allouagne

We are still here in Allouagne and it is raining like the Devil. We were all ready for the inspection by the King when it was cancelled. The King having met with an accident.

Friday 29th to Sunday 31 st October: Allouagne

Resting here in Allouagne, nothing doing.

Letter; 21st October, 1915.

Letter Thursday 21 st October: Labourse

Dear tom,

Just a few lines to let you know I received your welcome letter, also your splendid parcel for which I send my best thanks. I enjoyed the contents all right and the candles are coming in very handy now we are back in a billet for two days rest.

I am glad Bob Wyse received the letter I sent as it was the first time I have tried to send a letter home that way as it is very risky, but All’s well that ends well.

As you will be aware, I told what I knew and what I had seen at Loos, and I may say I did not think I was going to have so hot a time so soon after. I have hardly been 48 hours away from the trenches since I wrote that letter, but we have still got Hill 70, though I see some papers are not certain about it.

As you will see by the papers we have been after the Hohenzollen redoubt on the left of the village of Hulloch, we have not got it yet but the Guards will take it. The Guards have hardly been out of the trenches for a day since Loos. I think they are wanting them to do too much.

We have been in the trenches around Hulloch, on the left of Loos. On Wednesday afternoon we used the gas for a few hours and after an hour’s bombardment, the 46th Division (Terriers) went forward. They took the Redoubt and two lines of trenches quite easily but could not hold them. The Germans counter-attacked and the Terriers retired. Again another Regiment of the same Division bombed the Germans out, again the Germans attacked, and they also retired. As one of their own Officers said that no Division could have taken it better, but they
could not hold it.

Don’t think Tom that I am blaming the Terriers one minute, but had that Division had a sprinkling of old soldiers and old Officers to steady them, it would have been all right.

Another thing is this Division had just come down from Ypres where they had been in the trenches (Reserve) for about seven months and as some of them told me themselves, they had never been in a big charge before.

The only thing they managed to hold was the centre trench of the Redoubt-the Germans holding the other two trenches, one on each side, so it is a very hot position. That is what we still hold.

On Wednesday night we had to go up and assist the Ambulance of that Division as they had lost terribly. Then the Guards relieved them the next day, so we had to stay on, leaving our Hospital in Vermelles. We had to work up in the trenches from Wednesday night until Monday afternoon with only two hours’ sleep when we were sent back for a few hours rest. We had been getting wounded down every day and night. We were up there without a stop, but what the trouble was; and the way we took so long to get the wounded away was; the distance we had to carry them, and as soon as we brought one in we had to go straight back out for more.

We had to carry the wounded from the second line of trenches back to our Hospital in Vermelles, a distance of three and a half to four miles. Three miles of that through the trenches, the other mile was down the road to the village. Carrying wounded on a stretcher through a trench three mile long is a thing that nobody could have the slightest idea until they had to do it.

In the trench there is a sharp corner nearly every 10 yards, going round these corners one’s hands get jammed against the side of the trench. It took us nearly two hours to go from our hospital with an empty stretcher to the dug-out where we picked up the wounded and it took us four hours to carry a wounded man back. So you can see Tom we couldn’t make many journeys in 24 hours.

I am going to say this Tom; I never throughout the whole of the war had so hard a job and so hot a job as we had up here. The Germans every now and then bombarded us and attacked but they can’t get through. They are losing heavily. On Saturday night, when I was not far from the 1 st Line, the Germans made an attack with gas bombs but the Guards gave them bombs and it very soon died down.

At 5am on the Sunday morning (17/10/15) our Artillery opened the bombardment as the Guards had orders to take the Redoubt. It was mostly a bomb attack but the Germans were too strong. We only managed to take 50 yards of the trench on the right of the redoubt and were held up on the left. A few hours later the 50 yards captured by us was levelled flat by the German guns and the men who held it buried under it, but we still hold it.

That day Sunday the 17 th was one of the hottest days I have ever put in out here. If the Germans are running short of ammunition they were not short on Sunday. They shelled us the whole day with coalboxes, they were coming over in showers of six at a time, but we never stopped getting the wounded away.

We were the only Field Ambulance that went through the village of Loos without losing a man, but this last time up here we were lucky to get away with only three of our Ambulance wounded. Two were wounded in the head by a shell and the other received a bullet through his ankle. They will now be home in England. I think Tom our luck was in again, for every time we went up on Sunday, I never expected to see the half of us coming back, but again all’s well that ends well.

The Germans must have wasted a terrible amount of ammunition as they were very quiet next day but the trenches are so close to each other up there that bombing is continually going on, at one place only a barricade separates them. Of course, Tom, don’t think our Artillery were doing nothing; for every shell, the Germans sent over, they sent over two and the din was terrible. So we have the satisfaction of knowing the Germans were getting a hotter time than us, though to us that seemed impossible.

While I was up in trenches once on my own, looking for wounded, I got in touch with the 1 st Scots Guards and asked about Sandy McDougall. They told me he had been slightly wounded at Loos but did not think it serious enough to go down the line. Three days after that he had to go sick and was sent down. So tom I have not had the chance of seeing him yet but expect it won’t be long before he is back again. I expect you will have heard about it by this time.

Yesterday the 6th Camerons went past here and I made enquiries about William Clark, son of John Clark, and they told me he had been wounded at Loos and they expected he would lose his arm. I don’t know if that is true or not; it is only what they told me.

Duncan Allan’s (Mr Allan’s nephew) Battalion, the 1-6th Black Watch is south of Arras-a Division away on its own, with the French, that is as far as I have found out about the boys. I have not yet met Kirkwood, but might run into him any day. They are not far from here.

The Guards are going up to the redoubt on Friday (tomorrow) and the General has told them they have to take it. I think it is on Sunday at all costs. He also told them the Germans have received orders to hold it at all costs so I expect we will have another hot Sunday. I will let you know how we get on as soon as I can.

You were saying in your letter that Mr Lithgow was expecting to go to Service. Well, tom I wish him the best of luck and hope he comes through it safely.

I think I will now finish but would like to tell you that I witnessed one of the finest sights out here I have ever seen. Three of our aeroplanes bringing down a German. It was on 11/10/15; we brought down four that day but this one was brought down near our hospital. I will tell you more about it later.

I hope everybody is keeping well and that you have had good news from all the boys and hope they are all keeping well. I am very glad that the Class is doing so well, also the Swimming Club. Tell all the boys I was asking for them.

From your old pal, Mac

Diaries; 16th – 21st October, 1915.

Saturday 16th October: Barts Alley

We had to wait in the dugout in Barts Alley all night and when daylight came we got a few wounded to take down to Vermelles. We had very few cases all day but enough to keep us going as we never had a rest having over three miles to carry each wounded man.

We have to get all the wounded away as the Guards are going to make a bomb attack on the Hohenzollern Redoubt tomorrow morning.

Sunday 17th October: Hohenzollern Redoubt

After working nearly all night taking a few wounded down, we lay down and had an hours sleep in a dugout in Barts Alley but we were up and ready when the artillery opened the bombardment at 5am.

After about an hour’s bombardment by the artillery, the Guards advanced over the barricade bombing the Germans out of their trench. It was a terrible fight and we only managed to hold about 50 yards of the trench.

The German artillery were now firing as hard as they could, sending over showers of coalboxes at once. The Guards held onto the trench they had captured though they were losing very heavily.

We were working hard getting the wounded away and shells were dropping all about us but being in the trench saved us a good bit. The Germans were sending a great many coalboxes over our heads and they were dropping in the town of Vermelles where our Hospitals is.

The attacks and counter-attacks lasted well into the afternoon and we were carrying the wounded away right through it. The Germans dropped three coalboxes in the bomb store in Vermelles which is next to and in the same building as our Hospital. The explosion knocked everyone in the hospital over but none were wounded. It killed one and wounded two in the bomb store; it also set of over 200 bombs which burst with a terrible roar and threw one box a hundred yards away.

It has been one of the warmest times we have had yet. None of our Bearers were wounded though when going up for the wounded, one shell burst close to 4 of our men lifting them off their feet.

It quietened down a little before night and as we had been getting the wounded away all throughout the attack we had the lot cleared by 8pm. Then we went back to our Hospital at Vermelles for a rest leaving 6 men on duty in the dugout in Barts trench.

When I arrived back at our Hospital in Vermelles the Officer asked me to show him the regimental aide posts, so I had to go out again and after walking through about 8 miles of trenches and seeing that all the wounded had been cleared away we arrived back at the Hospital about 2am in the morning. Then I lay down to try and get asleep, the first for about 4 nights.

Monday 18th October: Vermelles

After a few hours’ sleep and some food, we were ready for anything again. I went up to the Advance Post with three others and stayed there all day carrying a few wounded down to Barts trench where others carried them to Hospital. We were relieved well on in the afternoon when it was a bit quiet and went back to Vermelles to our advance hospital.

Along with a few others, those of us who had been up here the longest were relieved and went back to our main hospital in Sailly-Labourse then on to our billets at Labourse.

We can hear another attack going on just after reaching here. I expect it is a German counter-attack.

Tuesday 19th October: Labourse

We had a good night’s sleep last night and everything is very quiet today up to about 4pm when the Germans made another counter-attack but it failed as usual.

The rest of our Ambulance came back from Vermelles at night as our Brigade had been relieved.

Wednesday 20th October: Labourse

Things were very quiet all day and a few of our Ambulance are getting home on leave.

Thursday 21st October: Labourse

Everything quiet, our Hospital shifted from Sailly-Labourse where we have been billeted this good while. The two villages are close together.

Diaries; 9th – 15th October, 1915.

Saturday 9th October: Labourse

Things were again quite today till afternoon when the French on our right opened a heavy bombardment then our guns started but not nearly so hard as the French whose bombardment was one continuous roar.

Monday 11th October: Labourse

The French and our artillery have been hammering away all night and at times we could hardly sleep so great was the noise.

Just about 9am, we witnessed one of the greatest sights I have seen throughout the whole of the war. It was three of our airmen heading off and bringing to the ground in our lines a German aeroplane. The two Germans were made prisoners and the plane was hardly damaged in any way. The way our airmen brought the German down was a treat and the way they manoeuvred in the air was grand. The Prince of Wales was an interested spectator. The two Germans were taken away in a motor lorry.

Tuesday 12th October: Labourse

Things were fairly quiet last night and all this morning. In the afternoon the 12th and 46th Divisions moved up to the firing line, the Guards coming back but we are still staying on here. Something big is coming off soon in a day or two.

Wednesday 13th October: Labourse

We are still here and the guns were very quiet till the afternoon when they opened up a bombardment which was short and sharp. At the same time we used the gas then the 46th Division territorials made an attack and took the Hohenzollern Redoubt on the left of Hulloch but they lost very heavily and the Germans counter-attacked and re-took some of the Redoubt.

We, of C Section Bearers, were ordered out at 8pm to go up and assist the Ambulance of the 46th Division. We were working all night to 10am the next morning when we had cleared them very well away. The distance we had to carry each wounded man was about 3 miles through one long trench called Barts Alley.

We went back to Labourse but had just left when they made a bomb attack and again lost heavily.

Thursday 14th October: Labourse

We went down to Labourse but we just had time to get some dinner when we had to march back to Vermelles and take over the Hospital from the Ambulance we were up assisting last night. The Hospital is in a cellar in the Brewery and a bomb store is in the same building.

We, the Bearers went right up to the trenches and started to carry down the wounded. We had a terrible job as we had to keep to the trenches all the time and it was about three miles each time. Our knuckles and the back of our hands were all skinned with rubbing against the side of the trench.

The Guards Division having relieved the 46th Division we have to stay here.

Friday 15th October: Barts Alley

After being out all night we arrived back at Vermelles for an hours rest but had to go out again at 11am. We went right up to the trenches again and waited there to see if there was any wounded. After about 6 hours wait a shell dropped in the trench beside us and wounded two of our Bearers, the rest of us had a narrow escape. We took the wounded down to the Hospital at Vermelles. After another hours rest, we went out again at 8pm but owing to the Germans making a counter-attack we could not get right up and were ordered into a dugout to await orders.

Diaries; 1st – 8th October, 1915.

Friday 1st October: Labourse

It has faired up after a terrible night of rain and we are resting here for the day. The 23 rd and 24th London Divisions have taken our place at Loos. Things are fairly quiet today.

Saturday 2nd October: Labourse

We are still resting here at Labourse and our Hospital is at Sailly-Labourse.

Sunday 3rd October: Labourse

We are still here at Labourse but the Guards go into action tonight so expect we will go too. An attack by the Germans at Cambrin last night was repulsed and our artillery have been keeping hammering away all day. A 15inch gun just beside us makes a terrible noise when it fires.

Monday 4th October: Labourse/ Sailly-Labourse

Our Ambulance took over a school at Sailly-Labourse to make it into a hospital.
A terrible night last night, rifles and guns going all night and the Germans made another attack but were driven off with heavy loss. A party of our Bearers went up to Vermelles in case they were needed. The Germans made five attacks all night but each time they were driven back. The ambulance that relieved us at Vermelles had two shells dropped in their hospital killing and wounding a few.

Tuesday 5th October: Vermelles

A party of our Bearers went out at night up the Hulloch road outside Vermelles. It is terrible open country up there and this road is high up above the fields around. The bullets come across this road at night something awful. When we were up bringing down some wounded, one of our Bearers was hit in the ankle by a bullet and it was his first time up the line with us. The rest of us got back safe.

I was sent back again up this road, taking the place of the man who was wounded. We were on duty all night on this road.

Wednesday 6th October: Vermelles

We had a very lively and busy night as the Guards were being relieved and they had to come down this road. We had 14 cases all night and there were only six of us on duty there with two miles to take each case. Every one of the 14 was wounded on this road yet we went up and down it with every case and not one of us was hit. We had the luck of the Devil.

We had it fairly quiet all day after our busy night but in the afternoon the Germans dropped a great amount of shells around our dugout and we had to keep under cover.

We were relieved at 6pm by a party of the 38th Field Ambulance and we marched back to our Hospital at Sailly-Labourse and from there to our billets at Labourse. Our ambulance is still keeping on the hospital at Sailly-Labourse.

Thursday 7th October: Labourse/ Vermelles

We are still in our old billets at Labourse. In the forenoon, the Germans dropped a few shells around our Hospital at Sailly-Labourse but in the afternoon our artillery opened fire on the enemy. The noise of the bombardment was terrible. Something was going on. At 9pm we were called out to go up to Vermelles to see if we were needed as a great amount of wounded were coming down to our Hospital at Sailly- Labourse. We went up past Vermelles to near Hulloch but all the wounded had been cleared.

Friday 8th October: Labourse

We reached back to our billets in the morning and had a rest all day. It was the Prussian Guards who had made an attack on the left at Hulloch but our troops drove them back with heavy loss.