May 1915

May 1915

Saturday May 1

Enemy commenced at 7pm with desultory fire which got more heavier towards 11am——————–by 6th Adj [1] Sjt. T. Venn being killed yesterday [2] with other 3. Visited 6th 7th 8th 9th Batts. with a view to laying cable out. 1pm few shells falling. Laid cable out to Batts. Shelling heavy again at 2pm. —-hell of shells.  Calmed down about 7pm when heavy rifle fire was heard on both of our flanks.  Shells continue to fall in and about the village while transport etc. going through.  7pm and 9pm was a nice cool evening and between the outbursts of gunfire it seemed nothing like was————–

Sunday 2

Odd shells fell through the night.  Bombarding us again at 6.30am.  Rotten job issuing rations when shells are falling so thick 11.10am until 12.45pm another very heavy bombardment from the enemy 5.10pm enemy attacked in force after shelling our trenches with poisonous gas to our left.  We were ordered to move at 8.30pm back for a rest but did not get away until 10.30pm arriving west of Ypres at 1.55am.  Report that the attack on the trenches had been repulsed.  It was terrible from 5.10pm until 6.50pm during the main part of the attack shells fell like hail all around.  Received Gold Flakes[3] from home just as I landed here 7 men of 9th DLI lost through shrapnel on road here 9 wounded.

Monday 3

Very quiet here for us at camp here at Brielen.  The Arty[4] firing on our left.  All rations taken overnight, nothing left except a little bread and stew.  Took my boots off today the first time for 9 days.  Our guns bombarding the enemy at 5.30pm.  Canadians playing football in front of our guns.  Left Brielen at 8.30pm and marched to Watou arriving at 1.45am.  Every man properly done up through marching at night and getting no rest at day.

Tuesday 4

Lay down for sleep at 2.15am and up at 7 washed and had a good feed in coffee shop.  The usual occurance for Bde HQ no signs of anything to eat.  Heard that Dunkirk is being shelled.  General  French spoke to DLI Bde near St. Jans –ter- Biezen.  We were not on the parade although we worked with the Bde whilst in the firing line.  He spoke well of the way the Bde did their duty and said it was a case of necessity or they would not have been rushed up as soon.

Wednesday 5

Had a good nights rest, got up at 7.15am, shaved, washed and had a good breakfast.  Visited HQ of Batts previous——–cables.  Cables laid with waggons from Div.[5] from 7th DLI via Bde. HQ  8th 6th DLI.  Had a good cold bath, change into clean clothing, sent others to be washed, feel A1 now.  Nothing else to record.  Have just heard that Germans have occupied about 3 miles of ground that we held all last week.

Thursday 6

Daughter’s birthday. [6]

Sent pack horse to complete line from 8th 9th DLI then checked all shortages of equipment.  What a job.  Weather glorious but terribly hot.  Line laid to all Batt HQ by 1.22pm.  5 Frs[7] per man paid out, first in the country.  Three of us did not draw any.  Shopkeepers try to rob the Tommies if possible.  One charged 4d[8] for a bar of soap to a soldier, a woman came in and was charged 2d for another bar.  I can quote many more instances.

Friday 7

North. Div.[9] placed on Army Reserve from today according to message just received.  Motor cycle letter post commenced yesterday between Bde. and Div. HQs.  Everything to be in readiness to move at 2 hrs notice.  Order received at 11am.  Nothing special today.  Turned in at 10pm.  Weather still continues very fine.  Had haircut, moustache trimmed.  It was very amusing before.  Got it trimmed satisfactorily.

Saturday 8 [10]

Reveille at 6am.  All packed, ready to move when ordered.  Believe we are moving at 2pm.  Can hear very heavy bombardment of Poperinghe.  It has been going on since 8pm last night.  No signs of —–tonight.  Heavy bombardment still continues 10pm.  [3 lines crossed out]  Made bivouacs in wood covered all with trees to hide from possible visits from aeroplanes.  Assisted to make tea then enjoyed a right good meal of bread butter and marmalade which repaid the trouble of carrying it.  Artillery just in front of us continually bombarding the enemy.  Nights seems colder than usual to sleep out in the open.  We arrived here at 5.30pm.  Roads here are bad for the feet when marching.

Sunday 9

5am ordered to be ready to move with this notice.  Reported that a whole German Army Corps are attacking northwards.  2.30pm left Watou marched at head of Bde. through Poperinghe arrived at Brandhoek.  Bivouaced in wood, covered all with trees to hide from aeroplanes, assisted to make tea by 7pm and had a good feed which repaid for the carrying of it.  Artillery in our front firing on enemy.  Passed road end to Reningeist where brother is billeted.[11]

Monday 10

Reveille 7am. Cleaned rifles laid lines from Bde HQ to Batts and finished at our bivouac then discovered an abandoned DS cable which I made use of then reeled one line in after dinner.  10pm turned out with lineman to repair broken crossing then another at 11pm.  Saw them removing 9.2 gun with Caterpillar engine.  Much trouble in getting around bends in roads.  Shot Capt. House Blackie at 8.10pm.  Turned in at 11.30pm.

Tuesday 11

Reveille 6am. Dug hole to bunkhouse then buried line after breakfast.  Gathered at 10am to be ready to move at 2 hrs. notice. 7.45pm —moved off 9.55pm. entered Ypres at 11.20pm the place was in flames.[12]  Arrived the Ypres Schools at12.45am unloaded the telephone equipment and sent waggons back again.  Under shell when entering Ypres.  People would not believe if told of conflagration in that town it was a grand awful sight.  Saw my bro. Ben when parking, first time since the beginning of August.

Wednesday 12

4am commenced and laid lines by 5am for 7th C. 2am to 9th then at 7.20 I was told over the phone that Stewert 9th telephone operator was wounded.  Line to 7th was out with shells twice.  Received parcel from home.  Ypres still in flames.  Went on as phone operator, give men chance of sleep.  Received parcel from home, had a fine supper.

Thursday 13

Slept til 8am, breakfast 10.30.  Rain making phone difficult to use, constant breaks through shell bursts.  We are now 151st Bde.  Heavily bombarded at 10am then severe German attack on our right.  82nd Div. forced back.  3rd Cav. Bde had a severe handling as well.  Enjoyed my meals today with pies etc. from home.  Had a very warm time of it today it was impossible to keep a line whole.  Ypres still burning.  Motor cyclist wounded coming through town, shell blew cycle and man across the road.

Friday 14

Got to bed 2am called out again 5am then other a his until 8am.  Had ham and fried cheese for breakfast.  Had stew and chicken in it.  Also glass wine for dinner.  Wine plenty, cellar full here.  Linemen having plenty of work, out all night, some still out at 1pm.  Got more orderlies from Batts.  Fire very desultory.  Day dull with a little rain.  Line laid out to 1st Cav. Div.[13]  No trouble with lines until dark then two were damaged.  Ypres still burning.  Nothing else of importance today.  Firing being slack, only artillery fire heard all day.

Saturday 15

Turned in at 1am, called up at 8am had a good sleep.  I heard heavy rifle fire 11.30 last night which wore down towards 1.30am.  Only occasional shells falling, firing very slack.  Ypres still burning.  6th 8th Batts & HQ gone back for a rest.  I was left with 7 men to reel up cable and follow on.  They left about 10am.  Had a decent supper of oxo and bread then turned in.  Slept on a bed, it was fine.  Had a good supply of wine if we wanted it but we’re content with a little.

Sunday 16

I was awaken at 8am by a Sjt of RAMC & Cpl of Wessex Sg. Sect. both drunk and looting.  More wine from the cellar then I slept until 7am made breakfast for all had fine feeds all day chips and sausages galore, felt quite at home.  Got 8 sets of cable in.  Limber cam at 6.35pm, loaded and got off at 7pm.  Got through Ypres alive.  I saw no burning houses so fire must have died down.  Then about our journey end at Brielen, we came under heavy shell fire, had a few near goes from pieces flying.  Twice right under the dirt as it fell.  This is the result of our bombarding this afternoon, I hear.  Arrived at 7.45pm.  Slept in dugout.

Monday 17

Rudely awakened at 5am by German shelling our lines, fell asleep again until 7am.  Germans still bombarding us.  Started loading 8am.  11am quiet.  This supposed to be a rest but I would rather stayed in the Schools Ypres.  4.45 French Arty bombarding enemy position who then replied with large shells at intervals of 4 mins. then turned into a very heavy bombardment which lasted until 7.45pm.  10pm very quiet on our front, minimal rifle & gun shots.  Heavy rifle well away to our right.  All cable and phones overhauled and repaired.

Tuesday 18

Awakened at 2am told to report in office at 5 got there and no-one there until 5.50.  Rifle inspection and pay.  Ordered to have lamp practice tonight so expect to be fired upon by our own men for our pains, if not by enemy arty.  Lamp practice did not come off.  Enemy gave us a few Johnsons[14] over.  They came quite as a surprise and they were the first today.  It is 7.35pm when first one burst, a piece came through two sides of our hut and through the side into next one.

Wednesday 19

Nothing much doing today.  Weather still dirty & wet, over boot tops with clay.  French Arty fired a few rounds occasionally throughout the day.  One enemy shell only fired at us today at 7.30pm but it was a dud.  Plenty work in Sig. C office, morning until tonight.

Thursday 20

Fine day, very hot.  French Arty shell enemy points.  They replied with occasional shots, mostly duds.  Some shells had a second explosive and compelled the shell to travel further on.  9pm heavy bombardment of our line by high explosive shells for 2 hrs.  German aeroplane gave range of French position then turned to see the effect of their fire and fired on by aircraft guns made him turn over, came to earth at 7pm about a mile away.

Friday 21

Nothing until 7pm. 7th & 9th went up to the trenches to relieve 6th & 8th Batts.  7pm very heavy German attack in vicinity of Hill 60.  11pm another to our front, heard no results of it.  We got our usual dose of shells about 7pm.  Could not get to sleep until after 1am owing to the heavy arty & rifle fire.

Saturday 22

Summary of information say aeroplane on Thursday night crashed to earth between French & German trenches.  One Hun less.  Assisted in building dugout.  Heavy firing again tonight on our right.  Intermittent firing along the front.  Message received 10pm states Austrians attacked Italians and blown a bridge up so Italy is now drawn into this war.  10pm a very heavy thunder storm passing over here.  9.30pm very heavy bombardment by every available gun then attack on German position.  The roar of the guns, rifle fusillade, star shells and lightening made it a fine effort but men were giving their lives while we were admiring it all.

Sunday 23

Very quiet all day until evening when we got a rude shock, shells came over quite close to where we are building a dugout, what a scatter, men flew in all directions to their funk holes.  It commenced about 7.45 and lasted an hour.  A’planes been flying around all day but none hit by our guns.  Have not heard anything of last nights attack.  10pm heavy bombardment of German lines.

Monday 24[15]

2.45am enemy attacked whole of our immediate front after first using chlorine.  Our arty bombardment of enemy was terrific, one continual one.  It lasted about 8 hrs.  Know nothing definite, hear various stories about the fighting all unreliable.  It is awful to see the men when gassed.  Our arty bombarding more or less heavily all day, moreover at 10pm and heavy rifle fire in vicinity of Potijze 9pm.  Expected to move today but still here.

Tuesday 25

Nothing special for today.  Germans gave us our usual dose of shells, small ones this time, no damage done.  French battery yesterday shelled heavily 3 killed.  Worked on dugout again.  I was sent over to farm to arrest 3 men of the Glosters, got 2 into guard room after a lot of trouble, third could not be found.

Wednesday 26

Enemy shelling us from 6 until 8am, 2 very near to dugout.  Sjt. Broadbelt came this morning in Sjt. Olsen’s place.  Noticed building on fire in direction Potijze.  Also heavy rifle fire.  A few shells put over about tea time.  It is astonishing the number of shells put over without damage.  Also number of duds.

Thursday 27

7th & 9th came back here from trenches.  Weather cold & windy.  Quiet all day.  Hs a walk around by Brielen and Three Tower Chateau after tea.  Strength of Batts. After the German attack 6th Ofrs.[16] 24 Other Ranks 507 7th Ofrs.16 Other Ranks 534 8th Ofrs.29 Other Ranks 223 9th Ofrs. 25 Other Ranks 752.  The 8th have been very unlucky each time up in the firing line. 2nd DLI Bde. RFA returned today badly damaged limbers but guns alright.  We have lost since coming out 50% of Bde in less than six weeks.

Friday 28

Saw Ypres in flames yesterday and today.  The Suffolk arrived in camp late last night.  Nothing to record until about 7pm when we got a few shells over as a reminder.  Everything remarkably quiet these two days.  Even aeroplanes scarce owing to low clouded sky.  Shells falling in Ypres tonight.  Twenty men up.  Morning & afternoon from 8th & 7th for telephone practice 6th & 9th came back to Brandhoek.

Saturday 29

Awakened 7.30am.  Splendid morning.  Not a shot to be heard.  Nothing like was aeroplanes exceedingly busy from 4 to 7 pm.  Both enemy and allied machines, as many in the air together.  Expect trouble shortly.  7.45pm trouble came sooner than we expected, heavy arty bombardment on both sides, just seen red flare in the air, 8.20pm signifies infantry attack on French trenches.  Ypres still burning.  Ceased shelling us about 9pm.  Our arty on Monday spotted Germans massing in very large numbers in Sanctuary Wood which they shelled with high explosives and shrapnel.  The enemy after a very short stand scattered in all directions losing very heavily when out in the open from rifle and M.G.[17] fire.

Sunday 30

Everything very quiet, they seem to be keeping the Sabbath Church parade for 7th & 8th Batts.  Heard that our shell fire last night caused considerable damage.  On Whit. morning one of our 9.2 shells burst right in enemy trench blowing men, earth & sandbags to a height of 100ft.  Enemy did not stay for another.  Heard this story from 3 sources including the Adjt.[18] of the 6th.

Monday 31

2.30am heavy shelling of enemy lines who did not reply until about 5am, firing almost ceased at 7am.  A Pte.[19] in the Suffolks shot himself either accidentally or otherwise. DRshouse killed with shell this morning.  Visited places where shells had burst, the hole averaged about 8’ deep,[20] one burst near a dugout killing two French arty men, one of them absolutely blown to pieces.  8.20pm sighted airship L28 travelling in a westerly direction then turned to NW.  Lost sight of it owing to darkness.  SPA orders to be to move tomorrow.


[1] Next two lines are undecipherable

[2] 308 Serjeant Thomas Venn, 1/6 DLI was killed in action 26 April 1915, has no known grave and is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial

[3] Gold Flakes = popular brand of cigarettes

[4] Arty = artillery

[5] Div. = Divisional

[6] Mary Jackson Rowlandson born 6 May 1904 (known as Polly?)

[7] Frs. = francs

[8] d = deci/part of a Franc

[9] North. Div. – Northumbrian Division

[10] 8 – 13 May 1915: Battle of Frezenberg as part of the Second Battle of Ypres

[11] 47091 Gunner Benjamin Rowlandson R.F.A.

[12] Next phrase undecipherable

[13] Cav. Div. = Cavalry Division

[14] Johnson = or Jack Johnson, Tommy slang for a large 15cm German artillery shell that burst with a dense black smoke.  From the name of the black American boxer Jack Johnson (1878-1946), world heavyweight champion from 1908-15.

[15] 24 & 25 May: Battle of Bellewaarde, part of the Second Battle of Ypres

[16] Ofrs.= officers

[17] M.G. = machine gun

[18] Adjt. = Adjutant

[19] Pte = private

[20] 8’ = 8 feet (about 2.5m)