Letter Thursday 21 st October: Labourse
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