Passchendaele: The fifth week

Continuing the weekly serialisation of Hamilton Ferguson’s diary of Third Ypres in 1917:

Tuesday 28 Aug. This morning I awoke early, certain I heard a German plane close at hand dropping bombs. What I mistook for the sound of the engine of the plane was the roar of the wind, and the firing of our own guns misled me with regard to bombs. I seem to have more terror for bombs dropped than for hostile artillery. The wind has raged all day and at times there has been some more rain. A new method of working the battery was introduced tonight, affecting chiefly the gun teams.The men do 48 hours duty and then go behind to billets at Ridge Wood for 48 hours. We do not love changes.

BCA Ross was reprimanded yesteday for using insulting language in a letter, concerning an officer. He had written some remarks about the Stockholm Conference and spoke of Lloyd George as autocratic. This letter was returned, and in another letter he made the remarks concerning the officer complained of. If Lloyd George and others are to be allowed to say that the Tommies in the trenches are happy and eager and full of determination then we should be allowed to express our opinions. It seems that only such messages as Ll George speaks of are allowed to go through. The politicians have no right to make capital out of the Tommy without giving the Tommy freedom to express his opinions. The censorship is rotten and the real feeling of the soldiers is not allowed to reach the people at home.

I have not ceased to be a British subject and I do not see why I should sacrifice citizen rights on being compelled to join the army. We have more right to speak than those whoare left behind. Instead of that we are not allowed to say a word except in a boastfully arrogant style about our own side. Reason must not be used.

(Our joke about those who were employed in munitions factories was “Yes! £10 a week for making shells and 1 bob a day for dodging them.”)

Wed 29 Aug. We cleared out of billets in Voormezeele last night to hand them over to Infantry. Our method now is to do 48 hrs duty on the guns and then go back to billets at Ridge Wood. That affects only the gun teams of course. We accepted two NF (Neutralising Fire) calls last night and the team on B gun were greatly pleased to get the wireless message that the enemy battery had ceased firing (as regards the first call). No night firing last night. Today strong wind again with some rain, hindering our work considerably. Not a single round fired.

Thursday 30 Aug. Comparative quiet still reigns.Weather conditions still not very promising. Some shelling in our vicinity.

Friday 31 Aug. Night firing on roads last night. Some shells fell in front of our battery last night: gas shells mixed with the others. For artillery cooperation with infantry an artillery officer is usually attached to infantry headquarters as liaison officer. One of our officers – Captain Buckton – is now acting in this capacity. Apart from night firing not a round was sent over. German bombing planes were over this district today. I saw one bomb explosion. Some of the machines seemed to be of the Gotha type. I have read a translation of a captured German document describing their new system of defence lines with shell-holes as their front line. Their idea is to have a depth of defence: 1/6 in front, 1/3 behind that and 1/2 further back. Concealment from our aeroplanes is to be a great essential of their structures. Villages are unsafe for them: woods and ravines are to be used. I also have read an interesting document on Sound Ranging by a system of microphones which enables us to tell the exact position of the hostile gun to within 25 yards and also is able to range our guns upon hostile artillery found firing, certain conditions of course being most suitable.

Sat 1 Sept. Went on duty at 9 oc this morning to let Ross have a day at Bailleul. we are still inactive:not a single round fired today. We cannot understand it at all. For some time past we have been getting rum practically every day, but I am no fonder of it than I was before.

Sun 2 Sept. No night firing last night and not a single round expended during my turn of duty. Showers today. Planes out in great plenty tonight. Intended to go for a walk but whizz-bangs were dropping and caused me to give up the idea. One dropped on the road quite near our dugout. A great many infantry passed upthe line today and during the evening. What it portends I cannot say: one would think, from German activity, that he was aware that we are making a move of some sort.

Mon 3 Sept. Balloon shoot on hostile battery. Warm weather: washing day.

To be continued…

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