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A chronicle of life in Castle Coop & the pursuit of Henmanship
April 22nd 1915,
‘Nothing of any importance occurred this day’.
(Source: War Diary, National Archive)
Unfortunately this statement wasn’t accurate.
On the afternoon of April 22nd at around 5.00pm, the Germans unleashed the first poison (cholorine) gas attack on trenches north of Ypres.. At around 5.00 pm , French sentries in Ypres noticed a yellow-green cloud moving towards them – a gas delivered from pressurised cylinders dug into the German front line between Steenstraat and Langemarck. They thought that it was a smokescreen to disguise the movement forwards of German troops. As such, all troops in the area were ordered to the firing line of their trench – right in the path of the chlorine. Its impact was immediate and devastating. It caused immediate asphyxiation and 6,000 casualties. Despite the Canadians heroically trying to hold out against the enemy, the gas attack opened a four mile hole in the allied defences and created an opportunity for the Germans to advance into the strategically important Ypres salient.
Reinforcements were needed immediately.
(Source: The Northern Echo)
War Diaries National Archive. April 23rd:
11am: Orders received from Brigade HQ to prepare to move forward at once to the fighting line
1.45pm: The Bn. concentrated just north of CASSEL and proceeded by march route to RIVELD.
From here orders were received to proceed at once to STEENVOORDE.
Large numbers of French troops were seen here proceeding north in lorries.
5pm: The Bn. left in two parties in motor buses for POPERINGHE and onwards to VLAMERTINGHE.
Here the Bn. went into billets at the W end of the town.
The following information was received at VLAMERTINGHE.
11pm: The French had been attacked by the Germans with poisonous gas and the former had given way.
The Canadians had filled the gap and were winning back the lost ground.
Very heavy artillery fire could be heard and YPRES was reported to be heavily bombarded.
As April 23rd dawned, the 8th [Battalion DLI] received its emergency call-up.
With the noise of the distant guns getting louder, the Durhams marched to Steenvoorde, where they gathered in a field, were issued with dressings and phials of iodine to treat the injuries they were going to sustain, and those who had not yet done so were ordered to make a will. Then a fleet of red Lond double-decker buses carried them towards the guns.
The moon shone down on a strange scene for us – a faint mist covered the ground. Our buses swayed and bumped along the uneven pave. The men were in excellent spirits, and sang and cheered like boys out for a school treat. – Capt. Harvey.
(Source: The Northern Echo)
On April 24th, the red London buses dropped off the Bede boys who had been trained as teachers rather than soldiers, near Ypres. They marched through the devastated town, its buildings collapsing into the streets and its roads blocked with dead bodies.. German missiles were flying overhead, and gassed and injured Canadian soldiers were flooding into the town from the opposite direction. Then it started to rain heavily, soaking their greatcoats.
Leaving Ypres, the 8th Battalion marched through the night towards the front, the noise getting louder, the very lights getting brighter and the stream of casualties turning into a torrent.
Just before dawn on April 25th, the 8th DLI stopped at Boetleer’s Farm at the top of Gravenstafel Ridge. Two companies, the Bede boys in A and the Durham Pals in D were selected to walk down the ridge, picking their way past dead bodies, to the partially – flooded trenches. The shattered Canadians in the trenches were delighted to see them and showed them how to wet a cloth and place it over the face to protect from gas.
Then the Canadians left, leaving the Durhams – who had never fired a shot in anger – beside the gap in the lines through which the Germans were about to flood.
(Sources: The Northern Echo & Harry Moses)
All the morning the Bn. stood by ready to turn out.
The heavy artillery fire continued.
6.30pm: The Bn. turned out and proceeded east through YPRES to the fighting line where it went into action.
Casualties of the fighting were: OFFICERS OTHER RANKS
KILLED 8 81
WOUNDED 9 153
MISSING 2 340
TOTAL 19 574
(Source: War Diaries National Archive)
STE MARIE CAPPEL (near CASSEL) :
Day spent in inspections and issuing stores.
A telegram was received from HM The King.
The numbers arriving at STE Marie CAPPEL were:
Other ranks 1001
(Source: War Diary National Archive)
It was usual for novice soldiers to be introduced slowly to the horrors of the trenches. The plan was for the Bede boys in A Company, 8th Battalion DLI to do more training before being placed in a quiet area on the front with more experienced troops to break them in.
In an account later published in book form, H. W. Tustin recorded his memories of the 21st April, a shortened extract of which I reproduce below:
A hen fluttering down from its perch on to my face aroused me…The stench of a sodden pigsty steamed up through the loose boards of the soiled hay which made our common bed.
It was not a sweet billet this; but neither the hens above nor the pigs below had disturbed us..We had passed the night oblivious of the fitful glare and rumble of distant gunfire – careless even of the tearing reverberation of bombs dropped near us during this, our second night in France – for we were dog-tired, and, being Tommies of a Northern Territorial regiment, had learned to make the most of the little rest allowed.
We were still drowsy on that cold Wednesday morning of 21 April 1915 ..but … we stirred ourselves into activity. One or two hardy warriors bathed in the duck pond near at hand and emerged declaring themselves much refreshed…
The morning was occupied in routine work and wearisome inspections and parades, and then in the afternoon, we were free to explore the village of Sainte-Marie-Cappel, which lay within half a mile of our farm.
The peace of this hamlet fell upon us like a benediction…The war seemed far, far away. Yet as the children played there came, rising and falling on the breeze, the sinister jarring and rumbling of the guns.
Credits: Richard Corr and www.pen-and-sword.co.uk
Nothing of any importance occurred this day.
All arms were tested with ball ammunition.
(Source: War Diary, National Archive)
On Saturday, the military historian, Harry Moses gave an illuminating lecture entitled, ‘Bede Spirit – 8DLI’ in the Durham Light Infantry Museum.
Harry Moses immediately prior to giving his lecture 18/04/15
Harry Moses has been researching and writing about the WW1 experiences of the men who belonged to the DLI since the 1980s. In particular he has tried to piece together what happened in April 1915 when the students from Bede College who had joined up as Territorial soldiers, were suddenly rushed from their duties guarding the coastal defences to fight on the front line in Belgium.
On August 3rd 1914, WLS, Tutty & Bob H, together with their fellow students, were at Conway Army Training Camp when they heard that war was imminent. Hurriedly the Territorial recruits packed up the camp and returned to Durham.
They clattered home in a train, arriving at Durham station at 1.00 a.m. and marching down to the Market Place where tables had been set out with a meal for them (their officers were refreshed in the Rose & Crown Inn in Silver Street). They spent a last night in their college before being formally mobilised the following day, and sent to the east coast near Whitburn to guard against invasion. (Source: The Northern Echo “When the Bede boys took on the Kaiser”)
What did the battalion do at the start of the war?
D/DLI 2/8/60(71) Soldiers of the 8th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, constructing a trench, 1914 (Picture credit: Durham at War/ Durham County Record Office)
(Source: Durham at War)
The ‘Bede boys’ were in A Company of the 8th DLI & were under the command of Captain Frank Harvey. Although amongst themselves, they called him ‘Captain Cardboard’, they held him in great affection and respect. After 8 months of coastal duty and training, the 8th Battalion were suddenly rushed to Newcastle so as to be ready to be sent off to France. WLS, Tutty & Bob H were about to take active part in fighting a global war in which more than million combatants & 7 million civilians died.
The War Diaries from the National Archives give an account of the days of April 1915 which immediately followed.
At 3.35pm on 17th April 1915, all horses and vehicles plus 3 officers and circa 80 – 90 other ranks entrained at the FORTH CATTLE DOCK NEWCASTLE for Southampton en route for Le Havre.
This was the advance party.
Major JH Smeddle was the senior officer in this group.
The Battalion proceeded from billets at GATESHEAD and entrained in two parties at the CENTRAL STATION NEWCASTLE as follows:
C & D Cos. Under Captain Bradford entrained at 10am
A&B Cos. Under Lt. Colonel Turnbull entrained at 11am for Folkestone where they entrained on one of the Cross Channel mail boats.
Folkestone was left at 11.30pm on a clear fine night.
BOULOGNE was reached at 1am on the 20th April:
Other ranks 921
Marched from landing place to a rest camp at OSTROHVE
The Bn. left the rest camp for the PONT-DES-BRIQUES station to entrain for the front. Distance marched about 3 miles
The train arrived from LE HAVRE with Major Smeddle and the transport. The Bn. left on one train for St OMER. Here orders were received to proceed by train to CASSEL which was reached about 7pm. After detraining the Bn. marched to billets about STE. MARIE CAPPEL. There was some delay in finding the billets in the dark as they were much scattered.
(Source: War Diary – National Archives’ reference WO 95/2841/1)
& so in early in April the 8th DLI received orders to join the British Expeditionary Force. The days that followed were full of final preparations and farewells. On April 17th the transport and machine-gun detachment departed via Southampton en route for Le Havre, and two days later, the 8th Battalion crossed by the shorter route, Folkestone-Boulogne. On April 19th, patriotic crowds crowded into Newcastle Central Station to line the platforms. They watched as nearly 1,000 Tommies poured into railway carriages whose sides were graffitied in chalk with the legends – ‘Berlin Express‘, ‘Up the Bede‘ & ‘Bede v. the Kaiser‘ -and they waved the youngs lads off on their journey to the front line.
At Folkestone the Bede boys joined a troopship & having reached Boulogne, were loaded into ‘horse trucks’ which ‘rattled through the French countryside & arrived at Cassel, about 12 miles west of Ypres…’
(Sources: Harry Moses & The Northern Echo)
Thus, WLS, Tutty & Bob H arrived just behind the front line trenches exactly 100 years ago today.
Will you be taking a punt on the Grand National? Despite my historic lack of success with Euromillions, The Agent has just left to go to the Bookies & place our bets. It’s so exciting! He is going to back Lord Windermere:
but I’m gunning for Rocky Creek.
There’s the Oxford & Cambridge Boat Race to come as well this afternoon! I’ve used the singular rather carelessly as this year will be the first time that the Women’s Boats are racing each other on the same stretch of river as the Men’s & so there will be 2 races today. Clare Balding has decided to commentate for the Boat Race rather than the Grand National so as to wave the flag for the women. Yay!
According to Anna Watkins (Cantab) who won a gold medal (sculling) in the London 2012 Olympics , women’s phenomenal success in the Olympics plus funding with commercial clout (Newton Investment Management/ BNY Mellon) has enabled the women’s squad to finally break free from hanging on the coat-tails of the men’s squad.
Helena Morrissey, CEO Newton Investment Management & a former Cambridge cox, calls today’s Boat Race, ‘A milestone for equality’, and writes:
“…only 5 years ago, the Women’s Boat Race had no financial support, & the athletes had to cover the high costs of participation. Today, men & women receive equal sponsorship, a breakthrough for diversity in sport that we believe is the start of putting men’s & women’s sport on an equal footing…”
Elite men & women university rowers are now really being given the same racing opportunities; given that equal opportunities are meant to be a given, it’s a change that has been a shamefully long time coming. It makes me so cross that women have had to deal with all this discrimination rubbish and in this case, right up until today!
Yours applauding this recognition for women athletes and keeping my fingers crossed for Rocky Creek!
Henmanship rating: Placing a bet on the Grand National: 7
Losing the bet : 2
Watching the Boat Race on TV: 4
In the nick of time, my faithful correspondent, Digby D, has very kindly saved me from my post-holiday-blues, by alerting me to Vanity Fair’s May ’15 Proust Questionnaire.
Please see in the screen shot below, Ms. Bergen’s answer to Question no. 1. which I think scores a perfect 10. I am pretty sure the entire International Friday Night Foyle’s War Club would agree with the general sentiment.
Yours, absolutely delighted to find that Ms. Bergen is a kindred spirit,
Henmanship rating: Watching Foyle’s War in bed: 8
I have been practicing my parallel turns like mad since the Graf ‘s Masterclass.
yours wondering if maybe a beach holiday would be a good idea for next year,
Henmanship rating: regularly falling down : 2