The countryside is alive with troops. We are right under one balloon and its crew are billeted close at hand. The big captured guns were dragged out by “caterpillars” yesterday.
Everything is riddled with shell splinters – if you sit down you always find a piece or two within arm’s reach. A ‘hot shop’ when they are flying!
All around are evidences of the Hun’s intention to winter here – huts, earthworks, and deep tunnels, or ‘funk holes’ slanting down sometimes twenty or thirty feet to underground chambers. The more canny fellows are occupying the latter; but most prefer the fresh air – anyhow it would be better to be blown up than buried alive.
Visited Y.M.C.A. and heard of exciting adventures of other batteries, some of which have suffered considerably. One gun was run up until they were laying with open sights, their officer watching the result through his glasses. Each evening at the Y.M.C.A. a Tommy N.C.O. with intense earnestness stands out between the queues of purchasers filing into the stalls and harangues them in salvationist style. He has long-service stripes, and two wound-stripes, so has gone through the mill, preaching his gospel in his spare time.
I saw in the distance part of the town (Bapaume) under bombardment against the sky – great geysers of brick-dust spouting upwards as though the whole place were in eruption. Hereabouts, three days ago, was nothing but a torn and tattered solitude. Today it is a mass of life and movement – we make our homes in the habitations we have wrecked; amid the ruins of a desolate country.
[Image: A general view of Bapaume taken from the Citadel after capture by the New Zealanders in World War I. Shows extensive damage to buildings from bombardment. Photograph taken 30 August 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref. 1/2-013561-G]
Looking round the Hun’s quarters and inspecting a battery of huge guns, abandoned, together with all their stores, ammunition etc. They bear the name “Krupp”. Rather pathetic to find half-written letters among the debris.
Balloons all over the place. Fritz lobbed a “toute suite” shell somewhere near whilst we were at tea and one fellow remarked that “many more of them would make a fellow swallow a hot spud”. Had another holocaust this afternoon and burnt all my precious letters. It is not wise to keep them, an old hand told me that more than once he had had to interfere with men reading and commenting on the letters of men who had been hit.
Oh those terrible mules of mine! They take long slow strides like camels. When the shelling started yesterday, I lashed the Hibernian Steeplechaser into a prodigious loping canter wonderful to behold. The Poet’s groans and grunts seem to say “But this is a fearful business!”
Dozens of our planes going over bombing.
Had a look at German graveyard; their wooden crosses are much grander than ours. One of the dead was “Englander” so and so, but they had given him the same kind of cross.
[Image: British and Australian troops examining 150 mm artillery guns (captured by the British in the Amiens sector) at Longueau, 29 August 1918. IWM (Q 80023). Longueau is on the eastern outskirts of Amiens, south-west of where Lincoln was with the NZ Division. The image is however illustrative of ‘huge guns’ abandoned as the Germans retreated.]
[Image: Battle of Amiens. A dump of German artillery guns and howitzers captured by the British Fourth Army, 27 August 1318. One in foreground was captured by the Australian Corps (note a message scribbled on the barrel – “Captured by Anzac Corps. What about the Tanks?”). Those in the foreground are all 21 cm Mörser 16 heavy howitzers. IWM (Q 9269)]
At this moment I am sitting in a field far in advance of our recent lines – the Hun having taken it upon himself to retire about 3 miles all of a sudden. We are halted here awaiting orders where to proceed. This is open warfare. A few minutes ago a small army of tanks came rumbling across the fields in the direction of the scene of hostilities.
Today we got within the enemy’s aerial or balloon observation. He started to open out on the road we were following. Then came the shells – thick and fast, failing at first a little ahead, then right amongst us. Several horses were hit, but no men. We could feel the heat of the bursts. We lashed our teams up wildly and bounded on over the shell-holes, those teams who had animals killed casting them out of harness and proceeding with the remainder, some of them right to the guns. The ammunition was then heaved out in a matter of seconds and we continued our mad career back to the new wagon lines. This sort of thing is more or less inevitable when the enemy withdraws. You must push on in the open to keep him within range and with what guns he keeps in action he has a good target. The war news is now good and there is some hope of being “in at the death”.
[Image: A Wellington Regiment waiting in a trench, during the World War I Battle of Bapaume, before entering the town. View from behind the soldiers looking across a field towards Bapaume. Photograph taken 29 August 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref. 1/2-013552-G]
[Image: A general view of the French town of Bapaume taken within an hour of New Zealand troops entering it. Shows the huge amount of destruction caused during the heavy fighting there in World War I. Photograph taken 29 August 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref. 1/2-013546-G]
Trip after trip to the guns. Some “yankee starts” when whole batteries of 6 inch howitzers barked in our faces out of the darkness, especially from the new long-range high-velocity 6 inch guns, which have the most ear-splitting crack of them all – almost like the Crack of Doom.
I am now in the slowest team in the battery, whereas in the days of ‘Rangatira’ and the others it was one of the fastest. My two ungainly giants have to be whacked along from start to finish. The Poet emits his camel-like grunts the whole time. They are strong, but slow and lazy and the rest of the team are in their way no better. One preposterous donk, ‘Jinny’ with colossal ears, falls down periodically and lets the others walk on her – seems to enjoy it.
At the finish we found the corporal had saved a pint of beer (heavens knows where he got it) for each of us and I can assure you we had no difficulty in washing down some hard biscuit and cheese with it. I am grazing my steeds near some trenches bearing every sign of a hurried Hun evacuation – helmets, great-coats and gear of every description thrown about in confusion. Hun equipment figures quite largely in our battery just now. More than half the men have not been able to get their gear up from our old lines and they now appear in German caps, greatcoats, etc. and eat out of a huge Hun cooker in full swing and last night our stew contained cabbage, macaroni etc. meant for Fritz. It is also interesting to see notices in German all over the countryside and to inspect the numerous dumps and other abandoned munitions – all very different in appearance and design from our own, though none the less effective. They encase many of their shells in wickerwork covers. Everywhere is evidence of their great want of copper – even the driving bands of some of their shells being made of a substitute. One cannot but admire the ingenuity with which they overcome difficulties.
You people have some mistaken ideas as to our personal attitude towards the enemy. You suggest that one would feel especially bitter against them on hearing of a brother being wounded. We have no such feeling, and the only way to realise why that is, is to be here. The men are hardly philosophers, but few of them are little-minded enough to harbour any personal spite against the soldiers who are forced to fight them and whom they are forced to fight. We know that the Germans are neither more degenerate nor cowardly than we are – it is their rulers who are to blame, and when you see a dead German you feel just as much pity as you do for a Britisher.
[Image: New Zealand troops with a captured German hut, Bapaume, France. Photograph taken 27 August 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref. 1/2-013759-G.]
Today not quite so tough, the weather a little better, but there is sad news from the guns – the fine old Sergeant (Bill White) with all his medals – the best sport and coolest hand – has been killed. I am glad to say the dead are beginning to be buried.
[Image: A German shell-burst, seen near Grevillers, on the New Zealand Division front. IWM (Q 11252)]
Were I able to write coherently and give you a full account, one day would supply more of the thrilling and entertaining, than three months of life in the wagon lines. All day in the saddle, carting ammunition from one place to another, getting an occasional snack and a pull from a water bottle, given our mounts a mouthful of grass here and there at an occasional halt and watering them with a moistened mixture of mud, frogs and beetles, from shell holes and empty village ponds. The most vivid effects in the evening and night. Imagine traffic, such as London streets never witnessed, carried out in darkness and almost impenetrable dust without a single light – Endless streams of vehicles of every description; shouted orders, directions and curses; horses plunging over rough ways and dragging their bouncing burdens up hill and down dale. In one place a grotesque herd of huge tanks came crawling and tottering up an embankment, smashing down the sides of the sunken road in their unwieldy gyrations. It was like a scene from another and madder world – Hell would seem tame after it. Old Nick will have to pop up and take a few lessons if he hopes to “put the wind up” the survivors of this war. All this to the accompaniment of endless gunfire – great belches of flame and thunder right in your face, from a distance of a few yards, and of bursting shells from the other side. It isn’t too safe here, but the Hun prisoners say “you want to be over there to know what bombing and shelling is”. The night ended in a dreary wait of hours in torrential rain. I had my name and unit noted by an irate traffic officer and shall probably be court martialled and shot at dawn.
[Image: New Zealand guns being transported forward during more open warfare in France during World War I. Shows a horse team pulling a gun carriage past an abandoned tank on the side of the road. Photograph taken Grevillers 26 August 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-013581-G]
Bivouaced in the open on a recent battlefield. When I had written the last page in bed a sergeant came in and roused us all out bag and baggage and we’ve been going ever since, advancing from one position to another, carrying ammunition all over the place. The scene of the recent advance is striking and terrible. The ground is thick with shell-holes, wrecked ‘planes, tanks, armoured cars, and all the paraphernalia of war, and the dead are still lying about, some in singularly life-like attitudes – the hot weather already playing its part and producing diabolical results. The country is rolling, with some narrow gullies on whose ridges are the remnants of machine gun redoubts etc. Last night we lay in the open fields and the dew was so heavy that it wet my horse-blanket though. Got a good sleep in spite of enormous bombardments. In the afternoon several daring Hun fliers came over quite low. How they escaped from our machine guns, rattling in all quarters, mystifies me. The scene, especially at sunset and by moonlight, of moving masses of artillery, the din of gunfire, bursting shells, bombs, etc. and the spasmodic gun-flashes stabbing up at the sky, created an effect hard to even faintly describe. The fact however it is an advance and not a retreat makes one take it more cheerfully – the trumpet blows!
[Image: A German machine gun position photographed just after its capture by New Zealand troops during World War I. Shows a New Zealander inspecting the trench in which a dead German soldier lays. Sheets of iron and pieces of timber are strewn around the nearby dugout. Two stick hand grenades are visible in the foreground. Photograph taken Grevillers 24 August 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-013508-G]
[Image: Guns in a captured German battery at Grevillers, France, during World War I. Image taken by Henry Armytage Sanders, 24 August, 1918. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-013494-G]
[Image: A motor car travelling along an uneven dirt road passes a huge shell hole in captured ground during World War I. Small groups of soldiers are visible in the background. Tree stumps appear on the horizon. Photograph taken near Grevillers, France, on 24 August 1918 by Henry Armytage Sanders. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington. Ref: 1/2-013495-G]