Nine days in the front line opposite Messines meant that any hot food had to be taken in the evening, in case cooking fires and smoke were spotted from the German trenches. The enemy were not only close at hand, they were on higher ground…
Relieved by the West Kents, they retired behind the lines near Neuve Eglise, where diarist Will and his mates were not only pleased to be eating regularly, they were being kept busy. Work involving ‘limbers’ is frequently mentioned – for those not in the know, limbers are two-wheeled carts for transporting ammunition, attached to a gun-carriage. But it strikes me that in the diary, the word ‘limber’ probably covers larger supply carts as well.
Friday July 7th: Rise 6.30am, breakfast at 7.0 consisting of tea and bacon. Dinner we get a bully beef stew and tea. For tea, our rations issued are one 2 pound loaf between 3 men, cheese and jam, and some days we get preserved fruits, mostly raisins instead of jam, and a 1lb tin of butter between 8 men every 2 days. Parade in morning, physical drill, then semaphore signalling, and to finish up with, judging distance. In afternoon I was washing limbers, filling belts, and packing limbers. Raining most of day. Parade hours, morning 9-12, in afternoon, 2-4.
Saturday July 8th: Rise at 6.30 and still wet and cold, breakfast 7.0. Physical drill and rifle exercises in morning, in afternoon told we are going to move. We have a foot inspection and all ammunition, also iron rations. We are packing limbers and carrying small arms ammunition. We move about 7.0pm to old camp at Aldershot [?] have a drink of tea and turn in, in the open. Rest of Coy comes in from firing line.
Sunday July 9th: Duty section and supply many fatigues up to dinner time, in afternoon 6 Batt gives sports, rest of Coy goes to Church Parade. 2 German planes up, driven off by one of our battle planes. Take a walk round the road. Get on our packs and move off behind our own limbers, at 8.0pm, for a march to Bailleul [about 8 miles west of Messines] a long road, and arrive in town about 12pm. March to a ballroom and turn in.
Monday July 10th: Leave the ballroom at 8am and march through town to a paddock, and have breakfast at 9.30. In meantime I buy a paper and enjoy the news. Another kit inspection, and then duck out and begin another tour of the town. Continue all day, getting a hot bath and haircut. We move out of paddock to station, a distance of about 1,000 yards. Spend about an hour on siding and finally board cattle truck, leaving about 10.30. Later I try to get a lay down. The truck has 40 men in.
Suddenly, they had orders to pack up and leave. The fairy-tale aspect of the old manor house, reflected in the glassy waters before it, slept on in the morning sun, oblivious to the activity around. The men packed limbers and field kitchens, hitched horses, filled in latrines, folded tents and prepared for a lengthy march to Bailleul, their original base near Armentières. From there, cattle trucks took them overnight to Doullens, where everything had to be unloaded from the train for a rapid march south through Picardy…
Liam’s Story, a bestseller when originally published in 1991, is now available in both eBook format and paperback, from Amazon and other online bookstores.
Photo: Imperial War Museum