Humdrum day

27th January 1915

The Dorsets enjoyed a quiet night, apart from a “burst of fire at 4am”. In the morning, some of the Bedfords came under the Dorset’s command, allowing most of D Company to move to the Battalion’s HQ, which was in a farm nearby.

II Corps O.C. Lieutenant General Sir Charles Fergusson visited the sector at 6pm, but other than that it was a fairly humdrum day spent making more improvements to the trenches.


A dot ball for the Dorsets

21st January 1915

The Dorsets remained in Bailleul for another day, preparing themselves for an inspection by “A Corps Commander”, according to the 15th Brigade’s records. I’m pretty sure this means the OC for II Corps, Sir Charles Fergusson (perhaps A means Army).

If you remember, Fergusson had been booted out from leading 5th Division by General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, after the furore at La Bassée. But he came back in January as CO of II Corps underneath his old boss, Smith-Dorrien, who was in command of the newly-formed Second Army.

A thin rain fell throughout the day. Up at the frontline the two sides continued to take sporadic pot shots at one another with their artillery, as the waters, once again,  began to rise .

A shot in the arm

1st January 1915

Frank’s year began with a visit from the business end of a hypodermic needle.

Any men who hadn’t previously volunteered to be inoculated against enteric fever, which is more commonly known as typhoid, were now duty bound to receive the jab. This usually resulted in suffering from some side effects, such as fever, stomach upset and vomiting. All of which promised a lovely start to 1915 for the Dorsets.

I finally have access to the 15th Brigade’s war diary again. The one for August until December stopped at the end of September. Perhaps a visit to the Public Records Office would reveal the missing pages.

Another welcome return is Lieutenant-Colonel Louis Bols who reappears from convalescence to command the 15th Brigade in Gleichen’s absence, replacing Lieutenant-Colonel Griffiths of the Bedfords. If you haven’t read about his adventures at Givenchy then I recommend you do so now. I haven’t been able to find out anything else about his injuries but if he had been shot then he recovered remarkably quickly.

It appears that the two men had an interview with General Sir Smith-Dorrien, Second Army, and General Morland, 5th Division. The 15th Brigade’s diary doesn’t go into any more detail about what was said and neither does the 5th Division’s.

Not so Stille Nacht

26th December 1914

The Dorsets enjoyed, if that was possible, another quiet day with no shelling. Strangely both the Bedfords’ and the 5th Division’s diaries record that Sector B was shelled.

The Dorsets’ diary also mentions in the margin that the G.O.C. 2nd Corps visited the fire trenches – this was General Sir Smith-Dorrien, although he was now technically G.O.C Second Army.  The BEF had just been split in two armies for better control over the growing number of troops in Belgium and France. First Army was commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Douglas Haig, Second Army by Smith-Dorrien. It could be argued that the BEF now ceased to exist, but the term continued to be used when referring to British troops in Belgium and France through the rest of the war.

Could Smith-Dorrien’s visit have really silenced the Dorsets when it came to talking about fraternisation with the enemy? He had issued a sharp order on 5th December warning his troops:

Friendly intercourse with the enemy, unofficial armistices, however tempting and amusing they may be, are absolutely prohibited.

This, coupled with his criticism of the 15th Brigade, could have certainly put the Dorsets under pressure to appear blameless at this time. Or perhaps my imagination is now running away with me. Amaretto and nocturnal babies does that to the best of us.

At 8pm singing could be heard coming from the German trenches. The Dorsets’ diary inexplicably adds a comment that the trenches were strongly held. Perhaps this was a sufficient amount of men to give a particular range to the choral performance.

The Wasp Factory

15th December 1914

The Dorsets remained in billets, albeit at a readiness to move of just 10 minutes. The operations continued between the 16th French Corps and II Corps but by 2.40pm the French attack had broken down again. I can’t help likening this attack to a boy with a stick poking at a wasp’s nest. 5th Division was supporting the 8th Brigade’s attack with their artillery, drawing congratulations from Smith-Dorrien. Troops were tasked with creating diversionary rifle fire but it was all to no avail.

The British attack had failed dramatically the previous day and the Germans were well prepared for any further action. Billy Congreve of the 1s Bn. Gordon Highlanders was more damning. He lay the blame squarely at the feet of Sir John French.

Such was the attack ordered by Sir John French. Next day, I read in the paper ‘British troops hurl back Germans at Wytschaete’. A beautiful epitaph for those poor Gordons who were little better than murdered.