Passchendaele: The first week

Continuing the diary of Gunner Ferguson Hamilton during the battle of Third Ypres, ninety years ago.

Tues 31 July. I remained at BC post till 3.00 this morning, and, thoroughly tired and very sad made my stumbling way to my dugout. Our offensive began at 3.30 but though there would be a terrific din, I slept soundly. I awoke at 5.30 but soon fell asleep again. Gas shell attacks were made at times during the day, depleting our ranks, already much depleted by death, wounds and sickness, still further. I believe we gained our objectives on our immediate front, but I think, as I forecasted, that we met stiff opposition. 3 gassed.

Wed 1 Aug. Copious targets came in last night but we did not fire on any of them. During barrage yesterday we fired 646 rounds. It was a standing barrage (not creeping), the part we were on: in all yesterday we fired 695 rounds. Rain will hinder operations today. Hostile battery fire today, but we did little firing.

Thurs 2 Aug. Concentrations. Harassing fire and neutralisation was our work today. Wretched weather conditions. On our immediate front advance of only 750 yds was attempted and made. There seems to have been stiff opposition. Forret farm, according to latest report, still holds out.

Friday 3 Aug. Peace from hostile fire till late last night and early this morning. Gas shells again. We fired during night and up to breakfast time 135 rounds on Zandvoorde and district. We had an S.O.S. Hollebeke call, but got cease fire sfter a few rounds. It has been raining heavily and the conditions underfoot are simply deplorable: it makes artillery work most difficult.

Sat 4 Aug. My day off. Conditions are not very favourable yet. The whole country is one quagmire, but there are signs of improvement.

Sun 5 Aug. We are doing a fair amount of night firing. There is a set night task every second night when I am off duty. Only two guns in action today. B gun in workshop a day or two ago. This morning we had five wounded and another this afternoon: we are too close to roads, railway and ammunition dumps. Some very big shells came across today as on 30 July: perhaps 11.3 ins (6″=100 lbs 8″=200 lbs). Shelling of our roads tonight: gas shells also. Then the enemy launched a counter-attack and all our artillery were going ding-dong style for over an hour.

Mon 6th Aug. Gas shells again early this evening. Shrapnel forenoon. Weather improving. Thundershowers nevertheless. Firing on road during the night.

To be continued…

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