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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’ .
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 shell[s], 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.
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 shell[s], 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 Btty got broken. [ii]
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.
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.