Thursday, February 26, 2015

Grandfather's journal March 1915 Part II

All his journal entries are in my book "World War 1 - An Unkept Promise" on Kendle or paperback "The Great Promise" on Amazon

March 11th

We opened at dawn on the BOIS-DU-BEIZ, which was still held by enemy. We learned that the 7th Division had advanced as far as possible on our left, but had failed to take the AUBERS RIDGE. So to cooperate, our Division (Lahore) was ordered to consolidate the position we had won, and to hold it, which we did in spite of numerous counter attacks.
It was awful to see the Germans mowed down by our guns, for they made attack after attack in close formation, and were literally blown to pieces. Every attack, leaving the ground in front of our trenches more thickly covered with bodies.

A column of their reinforcements were caught plumb by our 15’  Howitzer. One round made a gap in the column of about 60 yards – men, horses and vehicles going in the air. In a confused mass, this our most mighty gun, did some terrific work.
My line, marvel of marvels, still held, only being broken once by shell fire. The day was much the same as yesterday – continual firing.
A stream of wounded and prisoners, as one batch, was coming through the RUE-DE-BOIS. Three of their own shell[s] came long into them, [which] killed or wounded about 20 of the prisoners. Strangely enough [they] never touched any of the natives who were escorting them.      

Our artillery observers in the vicinity [said that] it was funny to see the niggers laughing at the Germans, the thought of them being outed by their own chaps seem to amuse them greatly. They made the Germans walk slowly and keep to the road, for it was evident the scared prisoners would have liked to have run across country. 

March 12th

[We] kept up steady rate of fire throughout the night, raising a little at dawn, and throughout the morning [we] engaged various targets. The enemy commenced to bombard RICHEBOURG (which was about 400 yards to our left) with salvos from their 8.2 Howitzers (nicknamed coal-boxes or Jack Johnsons).
In the afternoon my communication broke down; consequently the battery had to stop firing. I went along the line and whilst crossing a main road, shell[s] were falling pretty thick, although the majority were going into the village. I found the break in the wire; a shell had hit it square and chopped a piece out. I took our now favorite cover and got in the hole made by the shell. [I] repaired the line, [then] tapped in and found everything alright. Another line running in the same direction was also broken like mine, so I repaired it, tapped the line and asked who they were, it was the 9th Brigade. They were profuse in their thanks for it had saved them an uncomfortable job.
Was still pretty hot when I reached the battery; the guns were very lucky for nothing fell between us and the village.

They were bombarding the poor old church fiercely.  Three of us (two telephonists and myself) were watching the effect of the fire and speculating which would be the next to go in the air.      

Several splinters [were] whizzing over our heads at every salvo, but we took no notice, until one small piece hit me in the muscle of my right arm, but [it] did not penetrate.
The next salvo, a good sized piece, just grazed my cheek and went about 2 inches into the ground at my feet.  I scratched it out, [but] had it been a couple of inches more near, it would doubtless have given me a nasty knock. 

We thought we had watched the fun long enough, so we went into our little house and had ‘ tea’  – nothing short of an earthquake would make us miss that at this time, for some cows near bye [sic] kindly supplied us with milk, and milk in tea is ‘ bon’ .
In the evening the Manchesters caught 5 spies in RICHEBOURG. They were found in underground cellars and must have been there months. They received scant ceremony, and no doubt were soon put out of the world quickly. For spies, either man or woman, were promptly dealt with, especially by the French.
The night was rather more quiet, only doing little firing; we had gained and consolidated our objective and the Germans seemed glad to keep quiet, as long as we would let them.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Grandfather's journal - March 1915 Part I

His entries in March are many and therefore I decided to start early and continue through March.

March 4th – 9th

Preparing for the big bombardment, Batteries were everywhere. Under almost every tree there was a gun, and our giant 15’  Howitzer was to make her debut, as well as quite a few of our new 9.2’  Hows.

 We laid out double lines to our observing station, as well as lines to various parts of the trenches. [Supply] dumped a large amount of ammunition [so that] every preparation was made to give the Germans the biggest shock they had yet received at our hands.

March 10th

The bombardment of NEUVE CHAPELLE commenced at 7:30 am. It was horrific to hear the tons of metal going through the air; in all we had 476 guns on about a four mile front. The 18 pounders were cutting the enemy’s wire embankment.
The heavy artillery were all concentrated on the enemy’s line of trenches and the fierce fire was kept up for ¾ hour.
We then lifted to the BOIS-DU-BEIZ to enable our infantry to attack. Our trenches were lined with Garhwals , Purchase,  and several other regts of native troops. The Leicesters made the first charge, taking the German trenches in grand style but were held on the edge of an orchard outside NEUVE CHAPELLE. A regiment of Territorials  came to their assistance. A terrific hand-to-hand fight ensued, especially at a spot we called, ‘ The Street of Hell’ . Eventually, after fighting that can hardly be described, we gained the village about midday. Many prisoners were captured. They were brought in batches and they all seemed terrified and glad to be captured.

The natives advanced on the right and captured the trenches in front, but were held up by machine guns in a redoubt by the left edge of the BOIS-DU-BIEZ.

The Gurkhas did grand work, especially with their wicked little knives, which accounting for many German heads. As the Germans ran from the trenches, the little Gurkhas were after them, and many of the little chaps clambered on the backs of the big Germans [with] the knack [of] Sweeney Todd for throat cutting.
The Seaforths were brought to assist the natives at this point, and in a splendid charge, (which according to our officers and many old campaigners who were observing with us), was the finest sight they had ever witnessed. They went into the murderous fire as if they were going on a picnic. In spite of the enormous losses they incurred, the[y] captured the redoubt and its contents of Germans and machine guns.      

All his journal entries are in my book "World War 1 - An Unkept Promise" on Kendle

Monday, February 9, 2015

Western Front Feb 1915 Part II

The complete journal is in my book 

World War 1 - An Unkept Promise

Feb. 8th

          Had a day on my own strolling about, waiting for the Battery to come – they arrived about 6 pm. As we could not bring the guns into action until after dusk, on account of aeroplanes observation, the 56th Battery went out of position and moved towards RICHEBOURG. We took up the position of their guns, also the farm, and it was about the most comfortable billet we had ever had, as regards accommodation, for the building had escaped shell fire, which was strange, considering the village at the back had been ‘ through it’  as had those on the left and right.

          Feb. 9th – 17th

One day whilst in front, the Leicester’s found the bodies of two young girls in a nude condition, underneath some straw, just in front of the trenches. They had evidently been violated and murdered some long time before, for the bodies were decomposing – just two more innocent victims and proof of the way the blaggards fight. [i]
 During this time it was very quiet; we did little firing. It was the nicest position we had ever been in.
 It was a change, except for Collins having a couple of squeaks while repairing the line. Nothing worth recording happened, for nothing in the nature of a shell came near us, and we did very little night firing – we called it rest.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Western Front Feb 1915 - Part 1

World War 1 - An Unkept Promise

Jan 29th to Feb. 5th
A rather quiet period, the enemy seemed to have undecipherable off a little, for at times they never replied to our fire, and the attacks of the previous week seemed to have quieted them considerably.

Feb 6th
We bombarded the Germans front line trenches from BRICKFIELD to RAILWAY TRIANGLE. The fire was so effective; the Guards advanced and captured the trenches without losing a man. The Artillery there, were afterwards highly praised in a letter for the splendid work; special inference was given to the way communications were kept by telephone. Undoubtedly which was for our Battery, for at one time I was receiving and sending orders for the firing of three batteries, besides our own, with all their lines being broken by shell-fire.
The Battery received orders to move to relieve 55th Battery R.F.A. next day.

Feb. 7th
I proceeded with the Captain to CROIX BARBETTE, to take over the wires and communications of 56th Btty. Arriving there about midday, one of the telephonists took me along the observing wire to the trenches. It was rather quiet, save for occasional bullets; - the chap with me was rather merry. He advised me to crawl on hands and knees across a point of ground just in rear of the trenches, as we would get sniped. I followed a little way, but on seeing an R.E. fellow walking about unconcerned, I thought, if it's safe enough for you, it is for me. I walked across much to the other fellow's disgust. He got wild when I insisted upon him helping me to mend a broken wire and prop it up on some trees. He was very angry and crawled back, but it was quite unnecessary, for I walked back and nothing came near me.
We went along some reserve trenches - a few light shell were bursting a little beyond - I traced a wire into a redoubt and dodged inside as one whizzed over.
There was an Infantry telephonist inside, he said, 'Just in time mate, three of ours were put out just outside a few minutes ago.' He was working away quite unconcerned. I had a chat for a few minutes and started back, I think much to the relief of the chap with me. On the way back, the enemy were shelling RICHEBOURG Church with 'coal-boxes'. I stood on the road and watched about 20 go over, but they failed to reach it.

I went into the village at night and had a few drinks of rotten trench beer, came back to the 56th Btty and slept in a loft of the farm, and had the best night' s un broken sleep that I had had since we were at rest, seven weeks before. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

January 1915

I was hard out, and handed over the instruments to Collins. I went in a stable and slept throughout the day - a little shelling took place, but I slept through it all.

Jan. 2nd to 23rd
During this period it was the usual give and take. We fired every day at any targets that presented themselves, and were occasionally shelled, very often at night.
The REDOUBT was retaken and lost many times, each attack meaning a fierce couple of hours work, till at length it was undecipherable 'no man's land' for neither side could hold it.
Rifle bullets at night made it rather uncomfortable.
The weather was very cold and wet, a few heavy snowstorms. I sometimes had a fever in a bucket.
Night attacks were very frequent - we were lucky in having only a very few casualties, or wounded, although quite a few went away sick.
One day during this period, I went to Bethune and had a much needed bath and change of underclothing. It was a relief for I, as most, was overstocked with 'livestock'.

Jan 24th
During the day the enemy bombarded the lock of the canal and railway line (by our observing station) with their 8' Howitzers. Sending over 129 shells, which did no material damage, one shell fell plumb on the railway line and flung a piece of the rail (about 4 foot) right over our guns fully a thousand yards, and fell a few yards from where I stood, I thought it was a shell coming over.
We afterwards read in the papers of this incident and smiled to read the lot they made of it, whereas when it happened, we took little notice. We were rather more interested watching the effect of their fire on the lock, which they failed to hit.

Jan 25th
The night passed rather quiet, rather less than the usual amount of shooting taking place.
About 7:15 am I received a message from 25th Brigade R.F.A. that information had been given them by a German deserter that a big attack on our front at GIVENCHY and CUINCHY was to take place at 7:30, preceded by a heavy bombardment.
I sent the message to the observing station, and hurriedly rousted the gun detachments and the officers. When it started, it was horrific, and we replied with rapid gun fire.
The enemy captured our first line trenches and our infantry fell back to our observing station.
Two out of my three lines got cut by shells, and while I attended to the instruments, Collins ran a line to the left Section.
He was knocked in the knee, the same shell wounding two men and fatally wounding Mr. Watkins, a young officer that had only joined us 8 days previous. I sent two of my chaps along the observing line, and then the line to the 25th Battery got broken.
I hastily got Collins, who was limping, to attend to the phones and I went along the line to the 25th.
It was warm for we were heavily shelled, but I found a couple of yards of the line had been cut out by shrapnel, where the wire ran along the top of a wall. I climbed on the wall and dropped very quickly, for a shell seemed to whiz inches by my head, bursting a little way behind. I got a piece of wire that had been holding up a vine of some description, and managed to fire up the line. I was very glad when I reached the 25th to find that communication was through.
I stopped a little while to recover my breath. On my return to the Battery I had a very close shave from a splinter from a shell, which burst directly in front of me. I fell on the ground, I think just in time.
Reached the battery without mishap - just as I reached them, another big shell burst right in the farm, about 20 yards from where my little shed was, luckily doing no damage except to the building.
Just opposite, a shell came right into the shelter where the telephones for the left Section was, severely wounding one man.
It was in all a horrific morning, our infantry had been forced to retire right back, and we thought it was all up.
We were the foremost Battery, and knew if our infantry lost the small ridge in front of us, it was the finish of us and our guns. Luckily the third line stood, and we kept up firing at ground range, and were credited with doing great execution among the masses of advancing Germans.
The Guards Brigade, consisting of the London Scottish, Seaforths, Camerons and Guards were brought up as reinforcements, and stopped the German advance, by entrenching themselves behind our original line. In spite of all attacks the Germans held on to the ground they had gained by overwhelming odds.

Jan 26th
At 7am our troops made a counter- attack on the lost ground. After a fierce bombardment, of about 3 hours, the Guards regained a little, but failed to get our six fire trenches, which was the objective. We fired feverously and were shelled in return. One 6' going right into the cellar of the farm by the left Section, quite a few near the guns, but only two men were wounded.
The fight went on more or less all day, but we failed to get any further forward, but repulsed an attack from the Germans in the afternoon.
The 1st Siege Battery, on our left rear, got it hot, shell going right into the farm where they were in action. It was very soon ablaze - but in spite of the heavy shelling, I watched the gunners pluckily go to and from the farm, moving the wounded. After a while they managed to put out the fire in spite of the persistent shelling. It was grand to watch them, although at times they were obscured from view by smoke from the shells and fire. But they stuck it grandly and after putting the fire out, they started shooting again, as if it were to get their own back.
During this time some shells fell very near us, but did no damage.

Jan 27 and 28th
In two days of attacks and counter attacks, very fierce and severe scrapping, we regained all the lost ground, and numbers of prisoners were taken.
No further casualties at the guns, which was lucky considering the shell fire they put over at intervals.
The Germans did a great deal of entrenching during the night's and we had some good targets to shoot at during the day. Our guns were dandy, for considering the enormous amount of shooting they had done throughout this campaign, they were still perfectly accurate and our lyddlite accounted for many things.

Jan 29th to Feb. 5th

A rather quiet period, the enemy seemed to have undecipherable off a little, for at times they never replied to our fire, and the attacks of the previous week seemed to have quieted them considerably. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Royal Field Artillery - The Early Battles of WWI

The journal of Captain Fred G. Coxen is now available on Kindle  Royal Field Artillery - The Early Battles of WWI the book also contains Captain Coxen's life before and after the war. The book contains many personal photos and images of original documents.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

December 1914

Marched to PONT DE NEIPPE and billeted in a farm just outside the village. We could hear the old familiar sounds in the distance, the rockets from the trenches.

Dec 14th
Marched through PLOEGSTRESTTE,  and took up position beside the 35th Battery, behind a ruined chateau, on the grounds of which had once been a beautiful garden.
We ran our line beyond the chateau to some ruined houses, from where we had a good view of the German trenches and MESSINES beyond.
On my way back, I went into a partly wrecked house and was surprised to find a young woman and her brother, and her five little children. The baby I took from its bed, for it reminded me of my own, she gave me some hot milk. As well as I could I tried to induce her to go away to a safe place, but she would not. She told me her husband a soldier, had been killed. I was rather upset I think over the poor little kiddies - I gave them my peppermints and odd money and came away. I never had time to go that way again, but I thought of the kiddies very often.

Dec. 18th to 20th
Remained in position for a bombardment of MESSINES. Did little firing until 20th, when the bombardment took place - it was horrific, but we had nothing much at the guns in return. The wagon line was shelled out in the morning, but fortunately only one man was wounded. We left position at 5 o'clock and marched back to our rest billet.

Dec. 21st to 23rd
Remained in rest billet until morning of 23rd, then marched to BETHUNE and billeted in a school house. George and I having no blankets, resolved to find a bed somewhere, and while asking a Frenchman in our best French, his daughter came along and invited us to their house, which was only a little way down the street. They were very poor, but treated us handsomely.
The mother, an elderly woman, doted on us, and gave us as much as we could possibly eat and drink. She made us up a bed on the floor, she called us at 3:15 am and had coffee ready for us. On leaving she was indignant when we went to make payment.
We marched at 4:30 am towards LA BASSEE to take up position. It was Christmas Eve - a very grim Christmas Eve, and my thoughts were far away.

Dec. 24th
We took up position at CAMBRIN, CUINCHY and GIVENCHY were just on our left; all were in a state of ruin, for heavy scrapping had been recently taking place.
George and I took over the wires of the 47th Btty, and were very busy firing up our communications. We had a grand observing station - a ruined brewery - It was beautifully furnished - but everything was ruined, lovely carved furniture and ornaments - in pieces - a piano, and large gramophone, everything had been left as it stood. I secured plates, cups and an assortment of cooking utensils and took them back to the guns.
Late that night I had orders, to get into communication with 2nd Infantry Brigade. It was uncomfortable laying the line on account of rifle bullets, but did the job without mishap and got back to my dugout.
The thoughts of the previous Christmas Eve were with me, and I felt anything but happy.

Dec. 25th
I forgot it was Christmas Day for I was busy firing up communications all day. All was very quiet - it was a mutual truce.
I had a piece of bacon for dinner - one of the chaps secured a chicken and some vegetables, and at night we had a feast. George came down from the observing station, and with couple more, we went to a large house nearby and collared a piano, and brought it to the guns.
We had a concert, it was not a great success - but we made the best of it. There were many poor devils much more worse off than us.

Dec 26th
Rather quiet, occasional shelling.
I had a sorely needed wash, the first for four days.
We did little firing. The dugout was swamped, so we moved into a small shed at rear of farm. It was very cold and drizzling rain.

Dec 27th - 28th
Nothing unusual, we fire at intervals, at working parties of Germans, and into trenches. They search for us but all over, and save for a shell now and again, nothing near us.
Kept up very slow fire at long intervals throughout nights.
Am on duty day and night with phone, but am so used to it, that it takes little or no effect, although I never have a complete night's rest when in action.

Dec. 29th and 30th
Did much firing - and were credited with smacking up a German Field Battery near LA BASSEE.

Dec. 31st
The morning was rather quiet.
At 2:30 pm we were subjected to a fierce bombardment and a heavy attack. The enemy capturing the KEEP, by the railway embankment, from the Kings Royal Rifles, who then recaptured it again late in the afternoon.
About 10pm the Germans again attacked and gained the KEEP and REDOUBT. We were firing heavily all night, it was very cold. After two attacks we succeeded in again retaking the lost ground about 3 am, but could not hold it, the KRR's being 'bombed' out soon after gaining possession.

Throughout the night until about 8 am we kept up hot fire - the New Year had came in, in real war like style.