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Glimpses of War

Impressions of a Rushden Officer

Rushden Echo, 22nd December, 1916, transcribed by Gill Hollis

Glimpses of The War
A Rushden Officer Visits a Military Cemetery
“The Last Post”

A Rushden officer, well-known as a member of the Rushden Urban Council – now on active service – sends some further “glimpses” of the war:-

So fine and warm it is to-day that one might think it is summer instead of winter. Just outside the boundary of the big city and close to the camp is the spacious cemetery. We have some minutes to spare, and we pass row upon row of the plain wooden crosses, pausing occasionally to read the names and rank of the fallen. In the “military” section of the cemetery, ranged on one side of the grouped Colours of the Allies, we see some thousands of these little crosses, with here and there a more imposing monument of stone. On the other side, devoted to our French Allies, are the elaborate beaded wreaths and crosses and the wooden erections – strange to our eyes – that contain the floral decorations, the printed descriptions, and often the photographs of the departed.

What a variety of rank and regiment! Noticeable is the number of fallen soldiers of our Dominions Overseas. There they lie, side by side, gunner and private, sapper and trooper, with those of higher rank. “Australia” and “Canada,” “New Zealand” and “South Africa,” mingled with the names of almost every county of the homeland, remind us that it is an Empire at War – a world-wide Empire.

Around us are newly-opened graves that tell us of the daily toll. Here we await the arrival of the firing party.

First arrives, in his khaki uniform, a chaplain whose features are unmistakably Irish. He is to conduct the funeral of the Roman Catholics. He disappears in a small shed and soon emerges in priestly attire. One is struck by the great change produced in his appearance merely by a change of vestments. Now appears the Presbyterian minister, who is to conduct the service we are to attend.

Two lines of kilted men now approach the mortuary, and stand silent as the bearers come forth slowly with their burden. The Union Jack serves as a pall for the plain coffin of unvarnished oak.

Slowly we follow the bearers, and behind us file the bronzed Highlanders. In accents unmistakably Scottish the Chaplain reads the funeral service, and the last rites are performed with due solemnity. The few French spectators stand by respectfully as the last tributes are being paid.

Then ring out the three volleys of the firing party. Clear and penetrating sounds the “Last Post,” as we stand with bowed heads facing the lilted warriors now at the “Present” with bayonets fixed.

“Slope Arms!” “Left Turn!” “Quick March!” and the sergeant leads off his party back to camp.

We step to the graveside and read the inscription below. Only 23 years has he dwelt on this earth, and when on the morrow the plain wooden cross is erected o’er his tomb we may read “Died of wounds.” What he died of, we know; what he died for is not so easily described but we feel he died in a Great Cause.

Just a thought for the parents – the brothers – the sisters. So far away from the Scottish homes has he died that none of them can be here; and we feel that our hour has not been spent in vain can they but know that the last duties have been done with reverence and with a heartfelt sympathy for those that mourn at home.

The Rushden Echo, 12th January, 1917, transcribed by Gill Hollis

Glimpses of The War - Rushden Officer’s Impressions
Experiences in The Trenches - A Terrific Bombardment - A Fight in Mid-Air

Lieut. L. Perkins (a member of the Rushden Urban Council, and headmaster of the Newton-road Schools, Rushden), who has just spent a few days’ leave at home, has penned the following “glimpses” of life at the front, the sketch being written in the trenches:-

We have an early breakfast, for to-day we enter the trenches. We move off by companies, and on nearing the danger zone we proceed by platoons. Now we leave the open road and move along the “track,” till we enter the village through which the trenches run. The guide meets us and we file down……..street. The twists and turns are numerous and somewhat confusing at first.

Now we turn off sharply from the communicating trench and drop our men at the various sections allotted to us. Not until we are all so distributed can the retiring platoon quit the trench. It has been fine for a few days and the trench-boards are dry. Men for the various posts are now placed and the remainder can disappear into their dug-outs.

The “gas alert” signal is not on to-day, for the wind is behind us. Every man’s gas helmet has been inspected before marching out, and so there is a sense of security against gas attacks.

I place my equipment on a nail, in a small dug-out, and then examine the men’s quarters. On my return I find that the rats have already eaten through by haversack to get at my biscuits.

Rats! They swarm everywhere. As I stand for a few minutes in the dug-out they come out cautiously, then boldly, and spread over the floor. One youngster comes to smell at my boot, but, after examining toe and heel, he decides there is no dinner for him there and trots off.

A baby rat, with its mother in charge, comes out and plays a while.

Now I go to the front line trench for a two-hours’ turn of duty. The men are all well sheltered, except those on observation posts. Watchful eyes are ever strained across No Man’s Land to G……. Wood. It is still called G…… Wood, but the bare trunks stand there gaunt and dismal, their branches having been torn away and the leaves scattered by the shell-fire.

The ground between our trenches and the Germans’ is pitted with shell holes, some of them partly concealed by the grass of one or two years’ growth.

Not a Hun is to be seen, but we are reminded of his presence by occasional bursts from his machine guns.

Now and again the sniper is at work, but without success to-day. Our artillery has been busy all day, and in the evening the enemy replies vigorously. The majority of his shells burst clear of our trenches, but as we go from one post to another we find places where our passage is barred, and working parties are sent to repair damage.

Now it is quite dark, for the moon is obscured by heavy clouds. Overhead our shells are screaming on their way to smash the enemy’s wire entanglements. Our machine guns are rattling, as they send their “bursts” of fire to prevent the enemy getting out to repair their wire. We have an occasional response from the enemy’s machine guns.

Our patrols are now out, and due precautions are taken to avoid injury to our own men.

Now, relieved, I descend into the dug-out to get a few hours’ rest. Again our guns are busy, and the ground trembles with the shock of discharge. This particular dug-out is very deep It is about 8 ft. in height, and the floor measures 10 ft. by 12 ft., so that we have room to move about.

Former occupants have accumulated the household furniture, which comprises a table, three chairs, and one rough bedstead. We have no hall-stand, but there are nails driven into the props of our dwelling, and so our equipment is hung ready for immediate use. It is a relief to dispose of it for a time – pouches, revolver, haversack, with emergency rations, water-bottle filled, field-glasses, and gas-helmet. The steel helmet need not be worn down below, so that one feels more comfortable.

A few hours’ rest, and I am out on the top again. Now we are subject to a violent bombardment. Big stuff it is, too, and it has come a long way, enfilading our trenches. One hums overhead and I press flat against the trench side. That one has gone too far. Not so the next. Crash!

It feels as if my helmet is pressing my head down. One is deafened for a time, and for a moment there is a feeling of intense pressure. Then down comes a shower of earth and stones. Along with my sergeant I am passing near a shelter, and so we press into the corner till the “shower” is over. We hear another coming, with a noise suggestive of an approaching express, and it bursts a few feet beyond us. A big black cloud of smoke rises and earth and stones fly in all directions. We see bits of metal buried in the trench wall within a yard of us. Luckily, we are not hit, and we walk in the direction from which the shells come, for we notice that the enemy is “searching” our trenches, dropping the shells a little further each time.

At last he ceases fire, and shortly afterwards I am again relieved. Into the dug-out I go for a few minutes preparatory to returning to my own platoon posted in the second line of trenches. At the foot of the steps, as I am about to ascend, I hear a terrific bang, and am pushed back again by an invisible something. I wait a few minutes and the bang is repeated. Then I find at the top of the steps a great heap of earth, with just room enough for me to crawl out. Our air pipe is torn out and the big bellows have been blown away. (From time to time fresh air is forced down a 3 in. hose pipe by means of huge bellows, a man being detailed to act occasionally as “organ blower.” This pipe serves also as a speaking-tube.)

Now I reach the communicating trench. Here and there I have to climb over places where the trench sides have been blown down. I find the second line scarcely damaged. We have no casualties so far, though the next battalion has suffered somewhat. During the day the necessary repairs are made.

The next night is spent in the support trenches. Here our dug-out is not so deep. It is the cellar of what was once a house. A large spring mattress is on the floor and four of us lie across it, not to sleep much, however, for our artillery is firing incessantly.

The enemy’s shells burst perilously near our roof, which is scarcely thick enough for security. Yet we do get some sleep, for we are tired by the previous night’s vigil.

Nearly all the men are in bomb-proof shelters, but one unfortunate group has suffered. A sergeant comes in to report one man killed and some injured about 20 yards away. The Medical Officer is sent for, and the injured men are tended.

In the early morning there is a quiet funeral at the village cemetery, and the padre performs the last rites over the fallen soldier.

I am left in charge of a working-party. During the morning we witness an exhibition of skill on the part of our airmen. Soaring above us, one of our aviators is being shelled by the enemy. Three shells burst in rapid succession below him. He moves off to the right and three more burst in his wake. Then he rises rapidly and shells are seen bursting below him. Now he darts off straight over to the enemy’s lines, to return a few minutes with the shrapnel bursting around him. Other aeroplanes approach and take part in the dangerous work of observation.

Our work is carried on to the accompaniment of continual gun-fire. Our own guns are so near us, though we see never one, that the ground shakes with each round fired. It is dangerous too, for now and then a shell explodes prematurely, and a different note is heard as the bits come whistling over us. Near by are some trees, and we see bits of twigs cut off by the flying fragments. Luckily, no one is hit to-day – only the day previous a man was killed in this manner at the same place.

Now our task is finished, and we pass by a long trench to the main road. Here we divide into smaller parties until we are clear of the exposed ground. We pass the chateau; that bears evidence of the fray. There are great holes in the adjoining farm buildings, and the front of the chateau has been badly damaged, though now it is well protected by sand-bags.

We are at last back in the village, and can wash, and we remove our boots for the first time in three days. Best of all is the comparative quietness, for now the firing is not near enough to disturb our rest.

Rushden Echo, May 25th 1917

Near the Line

A member of the Rushden Urban Council, now an offlicer in the Army (and a former headmaster in Rushden) writes:—

 The hut I dwell in appears from the outside as though it were a bungalow that had settled down in the mud so far that the roof was ready to be submerged. In reality it is a.hut constructed so that the walls are two feet high find the ridge of the roof about seven feet. The doors are at the gable ends, which are a framework of wood, with canvas stretched across. However, the wooden floor is acceptable, for there, is much mud about, and we have, to walk on "slats"—wooden framework put end to end to form a continuous path. So near are the guns that the roof shakes when the firing takes place, yet just behind, not 100 yards away, the ploughman is guiding his solitary horse as calmly as in peace time, and the furrows are being made as regularly as if no.battle would ever disturb them.

Not much to do in the way of drill. Physical exercises to keep men fit, inspection of rifles, of ammunition, goggles, and gas helmets (for it is essential that there should be no defects in case of gas attack), these and similar duties keep one busy during a part of the day. Yet there is plenty of spare time. No one seems to think of the battle raging so near, though from time to time the guns speak. What's the use of troubling about it? When our turn comes, in we go. Till then, carry on as usual. Being a long way from any town, we can get no opportunity of shop­ping or seeking amusement. The canteen will supply whatever is really necessary in the way of extra food. For articles of clothing and for food luxuries, we rely on the parcels from home.

No furniture is provided for the hut, we sleep on the floor and straw beds would certainly be welcomed. A few in­dustrious officers have already fixed up crude beds with wire netting on short wooden supports, but the majority are disinclined to trouble about this, as we may be off at any moment.

We get English papers the day after publication, but letters do not reach us much under three or four days.

Our roughly-made table, is being used for meals, so I lie on my back to write. There is no need to complain about venti­lation, as a good breeze blows through the hut. The nights are not very cold, but the breeze in the early morning is somewhat chilly. During the night there is a loud report from time to time and the hut shakes a bit. But there is not much doing in our immediate vicinity. Plenty of mud there is, but most of us were accustomed to it before coming across. The electric light is wanting, so we use candles. Somehow we manage without all the modern improvements. Bang again! Now I'll stop for a while.

The Rushden Echo, 29th June, 1917, transcribed by Gill Hollis

More Glimpses of The War - By A Rushden Officer - Terrific Bombardment
A Rushden officer – a member of the Urban Council and a well-known educationist – sends us the following further “glimpses of war”:-

  The tremendous explosion of the mines and the previous bombardment which followed must have aroused the jealousy of Thor, for he waited but a couple of days before giving an exhibition of his powers.  The lightning flashes were not so frequent as the flashes from the guns, though certainly more vivid.  But his thunder was a comparatively weak effort in duration and intensity.

  Past lines of laden lorries our car carried us to the strip of land that but recently had been between the front trench lines of the combatants.  Already the ruined roads are being repaired.  Horses and mules seem innumerable, drawing the wagons to or from our new positions.

  Here we halt to examine the huge craters made but a few days ago.  The ground is churned by the huge shells, and in many of the holes the water of the recent storm still remains.  Bits of equipment lie about, though the Salvage Corps has already cleared away a great amount.  The edge of the crater is high, and we climb up to look across to the other side, some 80 yards away.  The depth is amazing.  The trenches formerly held here by the enemy, are at this point entirely obliterated.  How many of the foe lie buried here I cannot estimate.  Pieces of concrete may be discerned among the huge lumps of clay torn from a depth of 100 feet.  Behind, the guns are still barking and throwing shells far over our front line.  Occasionally a shell from the enemy comes over as a feeble response, but these seem to be shots fired at random.

  We have passed through what was in recent years a village.  Now there is not a single roof to be seen, and the walls are dwarfed with repeated explosions.  What was once a peasant’s home is now but a heap of broken bricks and timbers.

  It is all very striking, and the lively scenes around are very impressive – men and guns, horses, mules and wagons, tents and lorries covering the country-side.

  Yet beyond all this there was one little “glimpse” that will outlast all the others in my memory.

  A Flemish peasant with his family was riding in a rustic cart his humble furniture and household treasures along that dusty crowded road, and he was trekking homewards.  The homestead may be in ruins, but there his home has been, and it is long since he has been able to bend his steps towards it.

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