The Rushden Echo, 20th July, 1917, transcribed by Gill Hollis
Rushden Officer’s Near Squeak
The Great Mine Explosion - A Vivid Word Picture
“I Do Not Believe in War, But I Do Believe in Killing Prussianism”
A Rushden officer in the Army – a member of the Rushden Urban Council, and a well-known schoolmaster – in the course of a letter home, says:-
This morning I took a busman’s holiday and went beyond the old German trenches to look at the wrecks. It is most difficult to walk across the country, as the ground is so torn by our shells. I saw – well plenty. There is no Wytschaete village at all. Even the cellars have been blown out. Two buildings only have any vestige of walls. You may have read in the papers of the destruction caused, but these things require seeing to get a true picture. I did not descend the dug-outs that still exist in some places. I expect there are too many old Germans therein buried.
Fritz was busy, and shells were screaming overhead, so it reminded me of last Autumn. I saw the biggest of the craters today. I don’t wonder the Hun made a poor fight after those terrible explosions and the bombardment. But we’ve got to go on until the Hun is smashed. I don’t believe in war, but I do believe in killing Prussianism.
I had a nice run out in a car this morning to a place about twelve miles “back,” and a pleasant return journey after lunch. The view from the top of the hill was very fine. I could see the sand dunes of the Flemish coast.
Yesterday I had a near squeak of getting what is called a “blighty” one. I was near a certain railway siding – just been there five minutes – when there was a whizz and a bang. A big cloud of earth rose at a distance of 30 yards and showers fell. The shell had penetrated the soft earth and so the bits flew upwards and cleared us. That shell did make folks scatter. It is a wonder no one was hit – just bits of earth and mud fled around – perhaps there may have been some bits of iron, but they did no damage so far as I could see. It is not healthy just there, though I have been many a time and have never had a visitor like that just then.
In another letter the writer, dealing with the recent raid on London, says:-
It seems a monstrous affair to put bombs into a school and to kill and maim the little ones. Such events as these make our men furious and certainly cannot tend towards making them merciful. The pity of it is that the vengeance may be wrought on men who are ignorant of such monstrosities. It is never brought home to the instigators of such diabolical proceedings.
I told you I had been to see the craters. In a village I will call Cross-gates, there was not a bit of roof in a single house. In another village I entered the ruins of a large school. It was shattered to bits. Yet on the road I saw some little children playing outside a cottage. Not 50 yards away the next cottage was in absolute ruins. I expect the family has returned to their little home since the great bombardment of June 7th. You never heard such a noise, I’m sure. Nothing could have lived in the parts I visited near the craters. The ground has been churned up by our shells. No wonder the Huns retired. There must have been thousands killed and buried during that day. This made the task of the Infantry much lighter. There was not much to be seen of Petit Bois and Grand Bois. The stumps reminded me of Gommercourt Wood. All this, of course, you may have read in the papers, but I’ve seen it, and so can get a better idea of the desolation caused.
The ground between, however, is no longer covered with growing crops. The “wood” is like a forest of bare poles. The ground is torn by shells. Instead of the quarries, you see a few craters. Houses all gone, heaps of brick remain. Trenches now disused cut across our path. Road in dreadful state, but being repaired. Church flattened over windmill in ruins. Then you may get some idea of the country round about. Horses and mules by the thousand, but not running about the fields. No cattle. No carts, except the military wagons, etc. Along the road hundreds of motor lorries and horse wagons. Gangs of men moving shells. You can’t get all this at a cinema show, though you may get a good idea.
I saw two old men trying to clear out the fallen bricks from their roofless cottages. They will have a chance to get home now that the Hun has been pushed back a bit. Occasionally a shell drops in the area, but the chances are we shall not be hit. Of course, some find a mark, but the risk is not so great as before.