In a description worthy of Lieutenant George in Blackadder Goes Forth, one Tommy describes the moment when his brave fellow soldiers take the Germans by surprise in a truly action packed, and sometimes sobering, battle.
Illustrated Police News – Thursday 04 May 1916
How the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry most gallantly recaptured lost trenches on the Ypres-Langemarck road is the subject of a thrilling story.
“we were as merry as a party of school girls out blackberrying”
Said a non-commissioned officer, a native of Manchester: They told us we were going up for a quiet week-end in the firing-line. We knew what that meant and we were as merry as a party of school girls out blackberrying, because we were jolly well fed up with the dulness of things where we had been, and wanted something to liven us up.
The roar of the guns was terrific and the ground trembled under our feet as we marched, just like Chelsea Bridge sways under the feet of the marching Guardsmen.
When we were well on the way the din ceased gradually and soon the stillness was only broken by the steady tramp of our men as we picked our way across the strange road and stranger fields under the starry sky that made one think of anything but war and its attendant horrors.
We halted for few seconds when we had got to the point that we believed to be within counting distance of the German lines in order that our ranks might be dressed for the final rush.
Suddenly, without the least warning, a bright star shot into the sky. It looked natural that some of us took it for ordinary shooting star. Then came another, but this one was obviously a German star shell sent up to warn their unsuspecting comrades of our attack. Hardly had we had time to note the disappearance of this star when a bright sheet of flame lit up the gloom just ahead of us and there was a sharp whistling just overhead that told of the passage through the air of hundreds of bullets.
Not all went overhead. “Oh I’m hit,” cried out Billy M__, my chum, and then the chap on my left also went down. There was no time for star-gazing.
The officer in command of our company called out playfully, “Hop it, Sallies,” a saying much used by other regiments in chaffing us, and we dashed forward with a half-suppressed yell, thirsting for vengeance on the men who had shot down our comrades.
We cleared the intervening ground with few bounds and poured over the enemy parapet in one irresistible rush that carried all before it.
The enemy at this point had been taken surprise and presented the appearance of trapped and scared rats in a sewer rather than fighting men with arms in their hands.
Those nearest to us flung down arms and everything they were carrying and dashed along their trenches as though all the fiends of Hell were after them. We went after them as fast as we could, only stopping now and then to hurl bombs and send bullets after them.
We drove them to a part of their trenches where the floods had played havoc and pursuers and pursued had to wade in thin mud almost knee deep times. It wasn’t very pleasant to get through and I fancy that was the hardest part of hard night’s work. It was not only the discomfort of getting through the liquid mud, but here and there you felt that you were walking over dead men, who lay at the bottom of this terrible swamp.
By now the infernal din of the artillery had begun again, and other points of the line were being shelled vigorously by both sides, but for us the night’s work was over.
One very dramatic incident of the night battle is vouched for by Corporal W. Pickering, of Birmingham, a machine gunner, who accompanied the attacking force.
He says: When we passed through storm of shell and bullets we were brought to a dead halt before some barbed wire that still remained at the part of the parapet that we had to carry. It seemed impossible to get across this narrow strip of wire that stood between us and victory, but a non-commissioned officer solved the problem for us.
He and some other men flung themselves flat on the wires, making a human bridge over which the rest were able to pass before the enemy could recover from their surprise at the daring of this “engineering” feat.
Thanks to the enterprise of these comrades, were able to sweep with a deadly fire the whole the communication trenches near. Bombing parties also got on to the parapet in the same way.
From the moment we drove the enemy out of the trenches, the German guns rained hundreds of shells on us, and their own retreating troops were caught in that torrent of shell fire at various points.
Indeed, at one point a party of the enemy, who had escaped from our pursuit, were forced back into our position by the heavy fire from their own guns, which seemed to be bent destroying all life in the immediate vicinity, whether it was that of friend or foe. This feature of German counter-attacks I have noticed before, and the impression we have formed is that it is part of their plan for making their own troops hold to position when they are attacked.