The War Memoirs
of Emmanuel Diggle
2nd Bn Lancashire Fusiliers
We left Wembley near London
late on Friday night and arrived at Southampton at 12.30pm 21st Aug 1914.Embarked
at once on boat called Saturnia, set sail 8.30am 22nd and arrived at Boulogne
10pm same date.
Disembarked at 8am Sunday, Marched to camp
23rd 3.30. Sudden orders to pack up, 20 hours train ride, entrained
at 5.30pm 23rd.After 12 hours ride train was stopped, orders given to
unload train and to prepare for force march as the British and French
were retiring (date Monday 24th Aug). Dinner and tea together 22.30pm,
commenced march 4 o'clock for Mons.
Passed through Le-Cateau on 24 th, Cambrai 25 th. During the afternoon
at least 40 to 50 thousand French troops passed us, they were retiring,
suddenly an aeroplane appeared over us (Allies), 4 th Kings fired on
Continued marching until 7pm, halt for 2 and a half hours, orders to
fall in 9.30pm and reinforce 1st Division. Marched all night (lost),
went through enemy lines 3 times and out again without being discovered,
3.15am 26th near Mons railway.
The Battle Of Le Cateau
C.C is giving orders for 2 platoons of "C"
Coy to entrench till it comes daylight. Staff Officer arrives and orders
us to clear some small hayricks in our front so as to have a clear field
of fire. At the same time, telling us we would be lucky to have a man
alive in another 2 hours, as we were 7 miles from the position we should
Unknown to us the enemy are at the other end of the field, we have no
equipment or rifles at the time as we left them where we started digging
a small head cover.
4.15 am 26th, the enemy opens fire on us with
Maxims, rifle and artillery, every man runs for his rifle and equipment.
No one seems to realise that war has commenced, although several men
have been killed.
Capt Sidebottom takes command and observes for us, we open fire at 1000
5 am Capt wounded in the head and they are
closing all around us, Capt again wounded in the arm. Junior Officer
killed. 30 of us still left out of 2 platoons. 2nd Leiut Stewart takes
his platoon and retires without us knowing.
6 am Capt gives orders 'every man for himself'
and tells us to retire (18 of us). Everyone seems to be cutting his
pack off with his jack knife.
We lose the Capt and we have heard that he was killed. We get back as
far as the British firing line but our battalion are nowhere to be seen.
5 of us are together and attach ourselves to the Hants Regt. Later we
find our own Regt, about 700 out of 1240. Orders sent to Enniskillen's
to reinforce us but they retire and we are left in the lurch.
9am 4th Division has orders to fight a rear
guard action while the remainder retires. Shells are dropping all around
us and we think our day has come for we are almost surrounded.
12am We came to close grips and on our left,
hand-to-hand fighting is going on freely. We are continually being driven
back but we keep counter attacking and hold on for a time. Someone is
spreading rumours out to stick it out as 30 thousand French troops are
coming to reinforce us but they don't seem to be coming.
4.30pm Orders to retire through Cambrai and
the men are simply fighting like devils to throw the enemy off but it
is hard work, as we have had no sleep for 50 hours and no food for 30
hours. But we get to Cambrai all right and every building we look at
seems to be getting knocked down by shells and the civilians cannot
make us out.
Women and children are running in all directions, several of them are
lying dead and wounded on the roads. Several of our men are carrying
children on their backs and the mothers following close behind.
7.30pm We are leaving Cambrai behind and all
seems to be well and shelling has almost ceased. We keep marching till
12.30pm and then we have a half a pint of tea and bully and biscuits.
We slept on the roadside until 3am 27 th and make a hurried move as
they are on our heels again and shelling has commenced. But no one seems
to take any notice of it. While we are going through a small village
men and women run to us with buckets of water, wine, cider and some
are giving slices of bread and butter, although they need it themselves
very badly. The sun is terrible and our feet are very sore, plenty of
men are falling out as they cannot march any further.
We are having 10 minutes halt every 110 minutes. We keep picking men
up who got lost yesterday. Some of the troops are leaving their great
coats on the roadside, as they are too heavy to carry.
1 o'clock 27 th, we halt for 20 minutes for
dinner, biscuits and bully again. We halt at 10.45pm for tea and sleep
till morning. But we are unable to sleep for at 1am on 28 th we are
wakened by some heavy shelling so we have to get on the move again.
We march till 9 o'clock at night, rumours say we are going to have a
3 days rest on the 31 st and everyone seems to buck up a bit.
At 11 pm we are to move again as the enemy
are following us up in motor transport. On the following day we had
a few small attacks and we had to blow up several bridges (29 th) and
we could not get any sleep that night and everyone is fagged out. When
the order is given to halt, everyone drops on the road and is asleep
in less than 10 seconds. But never mind, today is the 30 th and we get
our 3 days rest tomorrow, the 31 st. We got 3 and a half hours sleep
on the night of the 30 th so we felt fresh for our last day's march
which commence at 2.50 am.
31st We came to a large forest which seemed
to have no end to it, for it took us nine hours and twenty minutes to
march through it. Between 7.30 and 8.30 we found that our cooks were
waiting for us when we halted. We furled arms and the cooks brought
us some rum and tea and it put new life into us. We were then told to
gather some hay and make ourselves as comfortable as we were to have
our rest. So we all got on the floor with our rifles slung around our
necks and we were soon in dreamland. But we had to rise again at 4 am
and the order was given to fall in.
At 4.45 am on the 1 st Sept everyone seemed
surprised and wanted to know where we were going again, and of course
someone said we were off to Paris to take up our position in the area
of the forts. But them forts must have had legs and also Paris as well
for we never seemed to get any nearer.
On the 2 nd of Sept we crossed the river Marne
and went to a place called Lagny where we had one days rest. But the
officials must have thought we did not deserve it so they had us on
parade, doing platoon and Coy drill. After presenting arms, turning
to the right, and left, sloping arms and various other drills by numbers,
which nearly drove us all mad. They must have thought that we were a
lot of recruits, and we are supposed to be on active service.
On the 4 th we marched to Lassigny and on
the 5 th to a town, which I forget. But on the 6 th we turned about
and marched from 2.50 am till 6.30 pm. 16 hours covering a distance
of 38 miles.
At 4 am on the 7 th we got to the river Marne
again and then we got into action. But it was only for a few hours for
the enemy retired and we followed them like a pack of wolves and it
seemed strange to everyone that no one seemed tired and all wanted to
keep on the move.
The First Battle of The Aisne
We still kept on night and day till about
the 13th of Sept when we marched in the direction of the river Aisne
at 6.30 am. We had had no food to eat for nearly 3 days but something
was wrong. For we passed the Essex, 4th Kings on our way and they were
eating biscuits and drinking rum and tea but we could only think that's
all we are aloud to do in the army.
At 9am we came to a village called Billy, 1 and a half miles from the
Aisne and we halted in an orchard. So we soon got to work on the apples
and pears and made a good meal of them.
At 9.45am the 4th Kings came and halted on a small crest in front of
us but the enemy must have seen them for two shells came whirtling over.
One bursted in front of them and the other bursted near to us. Everyone
seemed to get excited and the Kings marched to the rear of us and whoever
gave the order must have made a great mistake. For they went on to a
higher crest than they had left and soon were in trouble again, for
the enemy got the range and they soon let us know it. For they shelled
us terribly and everyone were looking to their officers for orders,
but none seemed to come. Near a great big haystack were several officers
under cover but that did not last long for all the men started to scatter
and look for cover.
But eventually we were formed up on the road and we got orders to cross
the river Aisne at all costs. That was about dinnertime, we got to the
river alright but the Allemandes were shelling the bridges and we could
not cross till about 3.30. Then we did some good work, for both the
Cavalry and the Artillery were loud in their praises.
They said they never saw men like us cross a river and take position
after position off
The enemy. All in the open where shrapnel and maxims, also rifle fire
were pouring all around us. But we were told that if we could not drive
them back our artillery could not cross. So we got to work and cleared
them the best way we could and we were soon a mile and a half across
the far side of the Aisne.
But somehow we got left on our own, about 80 of us under Captain Blencowe
and the officer soon proved himself a soldier. For about 11pm at night
we came to a group of small hills, we crossed the first and second alright
and then came the third and why we should be fighting and still going
on and on we couldn't tell. But on the third hill was a very low wall
about 3ft high and 16inch's thick which afforded us good cover. The
officer was asking for scouts but none of them were with us so he came
to me and 2 more as well and asked us to go in front and see if we could
find anything out. So we got over the wall and on we went for about
30 yards, when all of a sudden we saw a German strike a match and light
his pipe. He was about 20 yards off us, so we got on our stomachs and
began to crawl towards him but he began walking away from us. We came
to some hedges and we could hear the German's talking so we went all
along their line to find out how many were there and I think there was
about 250 of them. So we went back and I reported to the officer all
I had seen and heard and I had no sooner given my report to him when
we heard a report one of our men had seen the German striking another
match and shot him.
Then came the trouble for we could hear them shouting and fixing their
bayonet's so we got order's to 'fix our bayonets and load with 10 rounds,
take no notice of bugle calls and hold on to the position at all costs'.
We saw them coming on and we soon opened a rapid fire on them and they
had the cheek to sound our cease-fire and retire on their bugle. But
our officer called out take no notice of it so we gave it to them pretty
hot and they charged at us. We got over the wall to meet them but they
never came no nearer that 15 yards off us and then they retired and
we followed then till 2.30am.
14th September, and then we went back to look
for our regiment and it seemed that they had been in billets all night
while we were fighting. But we got our rest after our officer reported
to the C.C. and he complemented us on our good behaviour and good fighting
and told us we could have 3 hours sleep. This was at a place called
Braine, but unfortunately the Grenadier Guards got into a fix so we
had to support them and everything turned out well as we got round the
enemies flanks and turned them into another direction. Thus relieving
the guards, but we are all dead for want of sleep and food and the strain
is beginning to tell on us.
Tonight we get no sleep, as we have to make a night attack on St. Marguerite
and take it at all costs. But the country is bad and hilly. I forgot
to mention we lost our Major crossing the Aisne on the 13th and 3 officers
on the 14th. But we have had very few casualties up to now. At 10.30
pm we formed up for the attack and oh my god what a sight, for the hills
are thickly wooded and the shells and bullets are flying all around
us. It is worse than hell, we have cleared them off the first 4 hills
and now comes St. Marguerite. Men are charging up the hills with their
bayonets fixed. Half of us have gone mad, some are shouting mother,
other's calling father and some are calling their wife's and children's
names. Several men are praying while they are running up the hills.
Oh it all seems strange till we get stopped about 50 yards from the
top of the hill. The officer coming round to all of us and telling us
to rest for a few minutes before we make a final bayonet charge. For
this is the last position which holds St. Marguerite. Some men are crying,
others calling out 'cheer up we have only once to die and the bravest
deed is laying down ones life for his friends'. The whistle sounds and
we all charge like one man amidst all the terrific fire of the enemy
but we get to the top alright but I will not try to describe what happened
then or what it feels like to be in a charge. But we captured the position
and hold on like grim death for we have lost a lot of men in the charge
and it took us all our time to hold them in check.
At 8.30am on the 15th September the enemy
started to shell us but we had made small trenches with our entrenching
tools and that afforded us a slight cover and we were also in a big
wood. They shelled us from 8.30 until 2 o'clock without a halt, all
went quiet for a few minutes and then we saw the Germans coming towards
our trenches with fixed bayonets. But it had been raining heavily all
night and they only made slow progress and when they did get near us
we made up for the men we lost last night. We had 10 wounded in my trench
(200 yards long) but the enemy broke in all directions and retired.
After that they commenced to shell us again but no one got hit. At 7.30pm
men were sent to St. Marguerite to bring up the rations, we got 6 biscuits
each, some tea and sugar and raw bacon. We could not cook the bacon
or brew any tea so we had to have biscuits and jam and we made cigarettes
out of our tea, as we had never seen a cigarette for days. At 11pm we
got issued out with 2 spoonfuls of rum each so it warmed us up a bit.
At midnight the Germans made another attack on us but we drove them
back and they suffered heavy losses.
At 4am on the morning of the 16th September
they tried a surprise attack on us and again we repulsed them and again
they lost heavily. But as fast as you kill or wound them there seems
to be others taking their place at once. But we got issued out with
some more tea at 7am so I thought I would have a ramble and see if I
couldn't make a warm drink for I had not touched warm tea for days.
I made my tea alright but I could not get back to my trench as they
had commenced to shell us again. It seemed to be raining lumps of iron
and lead and I got behind a big tree for cover. At last I thought I
would try to get back to my trench as they might make an attack after
they had finished shelling and I wanted to be with the boys again. But
when I got to about 100 yards of my trench the shells were coming quicker
so I had to keep dodging, first behind one tree then another. But luck
was against me for a shell bursted about 6 yards from me and after the
explosion I found myself sitting on the ground. For I got knocked down
as clean as a whistle and I was covered in mud especially my eyes and
the men said I was like a chimney sweep. For my face must have been
full of powder but I had to stay where I was till it went a bit quiet.
Then I walked back to my trench and I found I had been hit just behind
the right ankle and a piece of shell was just showing through my boot.
So I pulled it out but I was frightened of taking my boot off as I knew
I should never get it on again. As I had been standing in water up to
the knees for 30 hours and I've never had my boots off since I put them
on at the depot (5 weeks and 5 days). So I did not take any notice of
it for I only felt the pain for about 2 hours. But during the days and
nights of the 17th and 18th of September they did nothing but shell
us and they also made about 7 attacks on our trenches but we repulsed
But on the afternoon of the 19th September my leg was stiff and fat
so the officer told me to report sick and see what was the matter with
it. So I tried to walk but I couldn't so I had to hop the best way I
could. When I got to the hospital at 6.30pm I took my boot and puttee
off and the wound had a thin skin over it and the doctor asked me what
was the matter with me. So I told him 'blood poison', he looked at it
and then cursed me and asked me if I thought he could not tell a shell
wound from blood poison. But he told me I would be sorry later on for
not reporting sick and said I would have to go to the base that night
at 11.30pm. But at 10pm the enemy started shelling us again and they
kept it dropping all around the church, which we were in which was being
used as a hospital. Later on one shell knocked the tower off and another
the roof off. So they carried us out and put us into a cellar of a house
next door and they were only just in time for they knocked all the church
down and we got removed in the horse ambulance to a town about 8 miles
away where all was quiet. The following day we had a 26-mile ride in
a motor transport to a railway station, on the sidings was a temporary
hospital and they were performing all kinds of operations. Taking men's
fingers and legs and arms off, it was an awful sight. We were 2 days
in the train, not a hospital train but horse vans and I was glad when
I got out at Angers. They took me to hospital at once as they wanted
all serious cases and they advised me to let them take my foot off.
But I did not like the idea of having a wooden foot so I refused. I
was then sent to Le-Mans where they asked me again to have my foot off
and again I refused. So they sent me to Le-Havre where they cursed me
but all the time I was in hospital I got treated well. I must say that
a Tommy who has been wounded knows the comfort of the sisters in hospital
for they work night and day and they are a blessing to men who come
in thick with mud fresh from the trenches. I cannot speak to high of
them for they are noble women.
I got sent to my base at Le-Havre and then
they sent me up to the front again. My regiment had not done much fighting
since I left them but I was just in time for they left St. Marguerite
for Belgium by motors then by train as the enemy were trying to break
through to Calais. Our first fight was at Bailleul, we came onto the
Germans all at once. Bailleul is a large town on the Belgium and French
frontier near Ypres. We managed to drive them through Bailleul and about
5 miles to the other side and held them there for 2 days. When we got
relieved to reinforce the Seaforths at Meteren a few miles to the right
the same night we took Meteren at the point of the bayonet.
Next day we advanced about one and a half
miles, we got relieved again and was sent to a place called Ploegsteert
and it was a plug-street. Nothing but woods and very nearly up to the
waist and knees in water. It nearly plugged us but I think the great
battle we had there was one of the worst I'd seen for it was impossible
for us to retire as the mud was too deep. But the enemy was better off
than us as they were on a small ridge, but that night it was like going
through the gates of hell for someone must have made a great mistake.
The Seaforths were on our left and Royal Warwickshire's on our right,
the Seaforths were told to take the ridge in front, which was 800 yards
away from them, 600 from us.
Our artillery began to shell the enemy and my regiment had to keep up
a rapid fire on the Germans while the Seaforths did the charge. But
when they got in a line with my regiment something terrible happened.
Whether it was the officer's fault or the men's I cannot say but they
began to cheer and some running right, left and to the front. Just fancy
charging an enemies trench 600 yards away but very few arrived at that
trench. For they lost a terrible lot of men and you could hear nothing
but 'fetch a stretcher Jock eh who over there why don't you fetch that
The moans and cries of men that night were awful, it echoed right through
the wood. But that night was a night of mistakes on someone's part for
we got the order that we had to take the position the Seaforths failed
to get. So our turn had come and the Warwick's has to cover our advance
the same as we did for the Seaforths. Our artillery started to shell
the ridge again about 1.30 in the morning and when they ceased fire
and all was quiet we crawled out of our trenches soaked in mud and water.
When we got to about 300 yards off the enemies trenches our artillery
commenced to send shells over again. What for god only knows but they
were shelling us as well as the enemy but we had to keep on under our
own shellfire and the rifle and Maxim gun fire from the enemies' trenches.
We lost several men wounded and killed before we got there, we all called
that night 'The Devil's Birthday'. But we waited till we got 50 yards
from the ridge and there we saw the Jocks hanging on the barbed wire
but about 80 of them were near the ridge waiting for us. Shortly after,
the whistle sounded and we all made a run for the trench and it seemed
to be years before we got there for it is hard work doing a charge with
wet clothes and about 20 or 30 pounds of mud besides the weight of 300
rounds of ammunition and equipment. But we got the position and captured
several prisoners, Maxim guns, rifles and ammunition.
We only stayed in Ploegsteert a few days after
that and then we went to the right again about 3 miles. I think they
must like us for storming the enemies' positions for it always falls
on the poor old Lancs fusiliers, in our division anyway.
We got as far as Le-Bezit (in Belgium) near the railway station, the
women and children are crying with joy as we passed them and they are
clinging to us and pointing in the direction of the enemy. All the soldiers
are carrying the children and holding hands with the women. But they
are being sent back as we are getting near to the railway station and
also to the enemy. I passed the stationmaster lower down and asked him
to supply me with a single ticket to England but he only smiled. But
I nearly got a single ticket 5 minutes after that for the Prussian Guards
saw us and made It pretty hot for us so we had to extend outwards and
then advance under a terrible shell fire.
This was at a place called Warneton, Le-Touquet near the bend of the
river Lys, 5 miles on the left of Armentieres. But we did not go far
as the shells seemed to be coming in millions so we had to retire to
the railway station again for cover. But when we got there the captain
of my company was there and he cursed and shouted like the Devil and
told us we should not retire, as the British never beat retreat.
But I thought once of asking him about the retreat from Mons but he
was not there and if I had said that to him I should have got about
10 years imprisonment for it.
But anyway we went on again under terrible shell fire and one shell
dropped in the centre of B Company and killed about 8 and wounded about
14, so that was a good start. But we kept on till we came to a small
wood in a field with hedges in front about 200 yards from the enemy
so we all lay down and in about 20 minutes nearly every man was asleep
as everyone one was fagged out. I was placed on sentry at the time and
I heard one officer say to another " doesn't it look nice, all
asleep and only a few yards from the famous German Guards. But they
have done their work dam well and they have not had a sleep for days".
When it got dark we retired about 100 yards and commenced to dig trenches.
But the next morning the Germans tried a surprise attack but it didn't
come off as we were all ready and some good cover in front of us and
we didn't forget to let them know it. That night we sent a patrol out
but only 2 came back, Sgt Creedy and Gibson was missing. Creedy we know
got captured but we heard Gibson was only about 100 yards in front of
the trenches killed but I will prove that later on. But just fancy sending
Sgt Creedy on listening patrol and people knew he was deaf.
But we left Le-Touquet after a few days and went to Armentieres. The
Rifle Brigade relieved us and when we left the enemies trenches were
800 yards from ours but we did some good work at Armentieres.
A small draft joins us the same night, they will never forget their
baptism of fire for they were just in time and we made an attack on
the Germans the same night they arrived. A lot of them got wounded but
a few days later we got orders to go back to Le-Touquet and it was nearly
time too for the Rifle Brigade had let the enemy crawl up to within
200 yards off them and entrench.
But our Brigade has lost the Innis Fusiliers, they are said to have
disgraced themselves and we have had a territorial regiment sent to
us, The Monmouthshire Regiment and they are a fine lot of lads. Three
of them have earned the DCM since they have been with us for mining
under the German trenches. We made small dug outs in our trenches about
a underground and about 4ft long so that we could either shelter from
the rain or to sleep in. It was also slight cover from shrapnel. The
trenches were about 6ft deep and 3ft wide with a small standing position
about 2ft from the bottom of the trench to allow you to stand on in
case of an attack.
There is nothing to describe now until Christmas Eve except that we
drew our pay on the 27th November 1914, the first pay we have had since
we came out August 4th. But I should like to tell you a little bit about
the weather we had from October until March. The ground was covered
in snow for over three months and almost everyday it was either snowing,
raining or freezing and in places was 2ft to 3ft and even 5ft deep in
mud and water. Many a time when we bailed the water out and got in our
dugouts for a sleep the whole dug out would fall in and bury you and
the men would commence to dig you out to see if you were alive. For
when they do fall in, about 5 or 6 carts of earth drop on you.
When we wanted any warm tea we had to crawl out of the trenches at night
and go to the houses the Germans had knocked down and collect as much
wood as we could carry. About enough to last us 24 hours and then we
got an old bucket and knocked holes in it, then got to work on making
tea. At nights we got a small amount of rum issued out to us so we always
kept that till we went on sentry late at night. We made a nice drop
of warm tea to mix with it but several men have suffered from frostbite
and I might say this is not the same kind of frostbite one sees in England.
About a week before Christmas the frost was terrible and the ice was
to be seen everywhere.
But at last came Christmas Eve and it was
a great Christmas indeed. I was glad to be in the trenches just to see
the sights. The ground and trees were covered in snow and ice and we
had gathered a great supply of logs of wood for a fire. As soon as we
lit the fire the blaze was so big that the Germans could see it very
plainly and started sniping at us. But we sat down in the bottom of
the trench and let them waste their ammunition at the fire. At midnight
we all started singing carols and playing mouth organs and the Germans
sent a few volleys at us and then stopped and commenced singing as well
as us till about 3.30am on Christmas morning. Then we heard someone
shouting in front of our trench and we found it was the Germans, but
we could not make out what he was shouting.
But about 6.30am they started shouting to us again in plain English
"Don't fire today, let us have one days peace" so we shouted
back "Alright". After that they got on top of their trenches
and we did the same. We saw one of the Germans coming towards us so
one of my Company went half way and met him and the Germans gave him
a few cigarettes. He could read and speak English well, so we gave him
the Daily Mail. After that, their officer sent a flag of truce with
a message to my Captain but the Corporal who went to bring him into
our lines forgot to blindfold him and he saw all our positions and how
many men we had in our trenches. So the Captain made him a prisoner
and sent one of my chums back with a message allowing them a few hours
armistice to bury their dead, at the same time, explained why he had
kept the bearer of the message a prisoner.
After that I thought I would go and watch them bury there dead and also
to prove if Gibson was lying dead in front of our trenches (Gibson is
the man that was supposed to be killed when he went on patrol). So I
went to look for him but he was nowhere to be found, so he must have
been captured or killed after he was captured. After that I went to
watch the Germans bury their dead and they were lying all over the place
and they were frozen into the ground. They had to be dug out with pick
and spade and buried again as they were rotten and some fell in pieces
as they were being dragged to their grave. I then shook hands with the
Germans and they gave me some cigarettes, which they seemed to have
a plentiful supply of.
After that I began to make my way back to the trenches but on the roadway
were two rows of houses so I thought I would go through all of them
to see what was inside. I found two barrels of beer, which I rolled
to my trench to celebrate Christmas day. After that I went back again
with four more men and we found a lot of coal, so we got six sacks full
and took them back again and came again for more but the Sergeant Major
got on my track and chased me outside. On the way back I started picking
potatoes to make a stew of Bully beef, leaks and potatoes and it went
down first class.
The same day, Alec Ball, of my section found a bottle of rum before
it was lost in the officer's quarters, but he said we were more entitled
to it than him as he had only been out at the front for six weeks. We
had been out all the time so we had a good dinner of Bully Beef and
spuds and after that we let everyone know it was Christmas day. We divided
all the beer but not the rum, that was only for my section, and we enjoyed
ourselves the best way we could. Singing all day and night but we kept
a close eye on the Germans.
It took us about a week to get over it. About
a couple of days after I was reading an article in the Daily Mail on
'How we love our Officers', that's quite right, we do love them SOMETIMES.
But what about this Captain of ours, he said to one man, a Corporal,
at the same time pointing to the man he meant 'I would not have such
dirty bloody swine's in my section as him if I was you'. Doesn't that
sound as if we love our Officers (rather)
Then came New Years Eve. We were in billets
at the time in Le-Bizet, but I myself, and my platoon working on New
Years Eve. So at midnight I started singing with some other men, a carol,
but we got by a brave bold Sergeant of our platoon, he had the 'Wind
On New Years Day we came into the trenches again and a few days after
that we got orders we had only to stay in the trenches 24 hours at a
time, as they were full of snow and ice. But they kept us in 3 days
and nights without any sleep or warm tea. When we did come out, they
put my section in a house on the fourth night. We all pulled our boots
off and commenced to rub our feet and legs to get the blood to circulate.
Then we all lay down and was asleep in less than five minutes and we
slept till the following morning. When the officer we all loved (I don't
think) came in and asked us what we were doing with our boots off. He
had been in a soft bed all night with his boots and clothes off. Anyway,
he put a crime against my section Commander for allowing his men to
take their boots off after standing in snow and ice for 72 hours. Yes
we do love our officers and pray to god to give them more sense.
About four days after that it commenced to rain night and day for about
three or four weeks without stopping. The trenches got full of water
right to the top and at times we left about 20 men scattered all along
the back of the trenches. While we stayed in houses at the rear, about
150 yards away and at times these men get relieved every four hours.
We were unable to occupy the trenches for nearly eleven weeks and we
put a few men here and there to give the alarm in case anything happened.
But my platoon got told to occupy two houses in front of our trenches
and we had to snipe all day and night, in turns, for the enemy kept
several of their men sniping ours. So of course we did the same as them.
But a few days after that we got orders to take the two rows of houses
in front of us and between ours and the Germans trenches. For the Germans
occupied them by night and used them for sniping purposes. But we did
not know whether they used them by day so our officer asked for three
volunteers to go through every house to see if anyone was there.
So my chum made one and I made another as we had made it up to stick
together and if one of us gets killed the other must write home to our
parents or wife and let them know. So we all took our equipment off
and the officer gave me his revolver, fully loaded and twenty spare
rounds in case we came to grips. So we crawled from our position and
got into the yard of the first house. Then I opened the door and listened
for a few minutes to see if I could hear anyone inside. But we went
down the cellar and all through the bed chambers but no one was there.
So we gave the signal to our officer that all was clear and then we
made for the second house. We went upstairs first and then down in the
cellar but no one was there so we gave the signal again. We then went
to the third and then the fourth but when we got into the fifth house
we heard something move in the cellar.
So we pulled our boots off and one went upstairs first while two stayed
below. But no one was upstairs but we could still hear this noise in
the cellar. We had a small flash lamp with us so we made our way down
the cellar. Me and Clarke, but no one was there, but when we got to
the top of the cellar again we heard the noise again. So we went down
again but we could find nothing so we came out.
We only had three more houses to go through so when we got to the sixth
house we could still hear that same noise only more plainer. So Clarke
went upstairs first but no one was there but when we got down to the
cellar steps we heard someone talking. So I got my revolver ready and
we put the lights out and got close to the wall and down another six
So I got on my hands and knees when I got to the bottom step and Clarke
told me to fire low twice and then he would flash the lights. So I let
fly two bullets very rapid and then someone started screaming. So I
got a bit excited and I let fly again with another four and then loaded
my revolver again but I could not see as we kept the light out. S o
we flashed the light while I was peeping off the corner of the bottom
step and I saw I lovely sight.
Two big burly Germans crouching behind two big barrels. I wanted to
kill them, but Clarke told me to have mercy on them. So we went over
to them and one of them could speak broken English so I told him to
turn his pockets out and to tell his friend to do the same so he did
do. But they only had one revolver and about five rounds. So we took
them upstairs and I bandaged one of them up, for I hit him in the leg
twice and once in the arm. We then handed them over to our officer and
took the other two houses. Three days after, we took the other row of
houses but we had to fight for them. About 15 of us fought for 8 hours
with bombs and grenades.
All went well after that till about the ninth
of April, except for a few sharps attacks, which was of no importance
to no one. But we mined under the Germans houses and trenches and up
till then I was in a house 23 yards off the enemies sniping. I was in
charge of six men to guard the house and also to throw bombs and grenades
at the enemy when I thought it was necessary. But on the morning of
the ninth of April I had to withdraw my men as the mines were going
to blow the Germans up. So we got into a small trench and at 8.30 the
mine went up below. I will write a letter, which one of my section put
in the papers.
The mine was timed to go up at 8.30 in the morning, and while the bombardment
was going on, you could hear the men saying to one another "What
is the time?". For the boys were eager to see if any of the Germans
went up with the mine.
The time came at last and a dull rumbling sound could be heard and when
we looked up we could see nothing but bricks and timber and men's legs,
bodies and arms flying in all directions. The houses and earth seemed
to be taking a trip to the skies. When the mine went up, you should
have heard the men cheer, it would have done some of the boys at home
good they simply went into the air all along the line.
After the mine went up we all rushed to our positions and started sniping
those who were trying to get away.
Think they must have lost at least 250 men killed by the explosion and
our rifle. All the time we were sniping, our men were shouting "Remember
the Falaba" and the poor women and children who they murdered.
But there is no doubt about the bravery of the Germans. I saw one officer
come out into the open again to pick one of his comrades up but he found
his resting place beside his mate.
But about dinnertime, I was chewing a dog biscuit when we got the order
to stand to and be ready as the enemy were about to attack our houses
and take the position off us. A few minutes afterwards the Coal Boxes
and Little Willies came whirtling over us and they gave us a terrible
bombardment and knocked about six of our houses down. But we were firing
on their trenches all the time and when they saw the shells were not
making us retire they stopped and all went quiet again. But they never
ventured to attack us, but for fourteen days and nights after, they
sent hundreds of bombs and grenades at us doing very little damage.
After that Private Willetts and I got awarded as Special Snipers and
bomb and grenade throwers. It was a rather 'ticklish' job but one day
I went up into the attic of a house about 120 ft high. I took some tiles
off the roof and put my periscope through and I could see the Germans
working and carrying sand bags away from the head of a mine. So I went
for the officer and when he saw them he was surprised and told me to
pick a hole about four inches by four to allow a rifle to pass through
it without being seen. So I did do, and then I got a few planks of wood
and placed them across the beams so that we could lay down and fire.
When everything was ready, I loaded my rifle with 10 rounds of ammunition
and he told me to fire while he was watching through the periscope.
I opened a rapid fire on them and dropped three and wounded about four
of them. After that they stopped working and we could do nothing but
wait. While I was having my tea the officer sent for me again as they
had started work again and he told me to look through the periscope
while he fired, which he did. He killed three but the remainder had
The next day I tried another position, I had just dropped two when my
chum came up and asked me to let him have a shot, which I did. He was
just taking a sight when a bullet hit the iron plate in front of him
and the flint off the iron got into his eye and face and in my leg and
arm. So we had to leave that place at once and then I went to another
iron plate, which was supposed to be bullet proof. But I had only fired
two shots when one came right through the plate and just missed my ear.
So I had to clear away from there and I went to the high house again
where I picked another two men off. But they could not find out where
I was firing from as the chimney was shielding my porthole.
Two days after we went back into billets at
Le-Bizet, but we left two days after to have a rest at Armentieres.
But I was very sorry to leave Le-Bizet as the billet I was in were occupied
by a young married couple and they had always been very kind to us.
She washed all our under clothing and did cooking for us and run errands
all over the town. But the Belgian people were always very kind to our
Regiment whenever we went. But I felt sorry for this young woman, for
while they were bombarding the town, she gave birth to a child and had
to leave her bed the same night. But she came back again after six days
for she did not like to leave her few bits of furniture behind. So she
is still living there although it is only 1000 yards from the trenches.
But she does not care as long as she sees a soldier in khaki she knows
she is safe.
After we had a few days rest at Armentieres
we got orders to move, but where we did not know till we arrived. But
we marched about 16 to 18 miles to a place called Bailleul and we had
a days rest there.
Of Ypres, Sint Juliaan
After that, we got orders to move again and
we soon found out that we were on the road leading to YPRES and we had
heard that it was rather hot.
It was two days after the Canadians got smashed up through the French
troops retiring but it was not their fault. For asphyxiating gases will
move heaven and earth never mind soldiers. We halted in a field on the
right of the town of YPRES about 2 o'clock in the afternoon and had
our dinner. The Old Usual, Bully and Biscuits.
At 3 o'clock we saw a German aeroplane coming towards Ypres and one
of ours went up to meet it. Then ensued a fine battle in the air, it
was wonderful how they manoeuvred around one another. First one would
swerve downwards and then the other after it, finally ours got at an
angle slightly above it and brought it down with maxim gun fire. But
the men were thrown out and the aeroplane came down with a crash.
Shortly after that another German aeroplane appeared and our anti aircraft
guns opened fire at it, but it missed it and then it went back again.
At 4.30 we had our tea, biscuits and Ticklers jam, he ought to be tickled
to death with it. At 5.15 we got our orders that we were for the trenches
in St Julien just a little to the right of Ypres but in front and near
Zonnebeke. They were the same trenches where the Canadians lost so many
men. But they fought a glorious fight, which will be remembered in British
At 6.30 we started off for the trenches, which were about 8 miles from
Ypres, and we had only just got on the move when the enemies artillery
started shelling the field we had just entered. I think the aeroplane
must have seen us, for a whole division is a large object, but they
were too late.
We lost our Commanding Officer after we had gone three miles, for they
commenced to shell all the roads leading to the trenches and he got
wounded in the head. So we made a halt till it got dark but the shelling
still continued and when it went dark it was pouring shrapnel and all
kind of shells at us. But we kept on till we came to a river where we
had to cross a pontoon bridge, which was slow work, considering that
the bridge was being shelled and we lost another officer and 10 men
crossing the bridge.
After that, we left the road and made for the open country and we were
walking in a zigzag fashion for about another hour. When we came to
the road again and running along side the road was a trench occupied
by the 2nd Ghurkha Rifles and I had a good chat with them. In their
own language they told me they had several attacks on them during the
last two weeks and that they were waiting for reinforcements so they
could go into the front line again.
We moved on again under an awful shellfire and before we had gone far
we lost another 19 men and then we kept losing 1 or 2 every few hundred
yards till we got to our trenches. We found them occupied by A&S
Highlanders and they soon jumped out of the trench with joy when we
told them we had come to relieve them. They didn't forget to let us
know that we would get a fine reception on the following morning.
It was about 11.30pm when we finally got settled down so a few of us
went in front of the trenches for about 350 yards and 150 yards from
We saw a sight that we will never forget as long as we live, for the
ground was simply covered with dead. I should say at least a thousand.
Germans, Canadians and A&S Highlanders, so we got to work bringing
in all the Canadians and Scotsmen but it was hard work as the enemy
kept sending starlights to see if anything was happening. Before it
came daylight we had put over 200 Canadians and Scots in a farm close
by, to wait till the following night so we could bury them. We buried
at least 100, but the next morning the enemy commenced to shell our
trenches all along the line. Also the farm where we had placed all the
bodies the previous night. Soon the farm was a blaze and burned all
the bodies of our fallen comrades to a cinder.
Word came round to keep a sharp lookout for the enemy as we were expecting
an attack after the bombardment but nothing occurred.
At 10am a few of us got orders to rush in front of our trenches and
cut our own barbed wire with wire cutters and entrenching tools. As
soon as we ran out, they opened fire on us at once, as they thought
we were going to attack them. But it was only a sprat to catch a mackerel,
our artillery then came into action and you could see the timber and
earth flying out of the enemies' trenches. At last their trenches was
nothing but a cloud of smoke.
I then got told by my officer to get my glasses out and to keep my eyes
on the French and Ghurkha's on my left as they were about to advance.
I saw them crawl out of the trenches and advance in single file close
to the hedges in a field till they got to about 200 yards of the enemy.
The French on the left of the field and the Ghurkhas on the right of
the field. The leading men of both Regiments wheeled to their right
and then turned to their left facing the enemy again. When they were
in position our artillery stopped firing and then the Ghurkhas and French
advanced by short rushes of about 15 to 25 yards. The enemy spotted
them and they started shelling them and also opened fire from the trenches
with rifles and maxim guns. But they rushed forward and their artillery
had to stop while the battle was decided.
I could see all this very plain as they were only 800 yards on my left
and I had a pair of good field glasses. But I got a terrible surprise
for when the Ghurkhas got to the enemies' trenches they all through
their rifles on the ground and held their hands up. I thought they were
all going to surrender and all of the Germans got on top of their trenches
to make them prisoners. But that was not to be, for when they all got
on top, the Ghurkhas drew their Kukris (knives) and then commenced to
fight like devils. Soon there wasn't a German alive; they went to the
assistance of the French then and at last captured the trench. After
that they commenced to attend their wounded and I saw one Ghurkha go
into a small house and bring six Germans out one at a time. When he
got them out side he cut their heads clean off with his kukri.
All went well until the next morning, the
2nd of May 1915, the enemy opened a shocking fire on us with their heavy
batteries from 6am until 9am and then all went quiet. So I made my breakfast,
rum and tea, biscuits and cheese.
At 11.30am the Sergeant Major told me I had been promoted to Corporal
to take charge of the grenade and bomb throwers. But I refused it, the
same as I refused it a few months previous. Anyway, I was making another
drink of rum and tea about 3 o'clock in the afternoon when I saw the
Germans burning some rubbish in a small house near their lines. The
wind was blowing the smoke towards us, about 10 minutes after they commenced
to shell us again and our eyes commenced to water. They were poisonous
shells and then appeared a yellowish green cloud of asphyxiating gas
rolling towards our trench. None of us had any pad or respirator or
helmets so we got on to our firing positions at once and opened a rapid
fire into the enemy who were advancing behind the poisonous gas. But
we could not hold out and men were choking and gasping for breath. I
fell off the top of the trench into the bottom but I got up again as
it is worse lying down than standing up. So our officers gave the order
to retire and they began to bombard us again with shrapnel, rifle and
maxim guns. But we lost about 407 men according to the papers in one
and a half hours and that was only my Regiment. When we began to retire
I made my way to the left, out of the way of the gas, and got into a
trench with French troops. But shortly after I got gassed again, with
them, so I began to retire again with them but they stopped and their
officer told me to go back to the hospital.
I went back through a village where I saw the body of a Indian, his
legs in the gutter, his body two yards away and his head about six yards
across the other side of the road, it nearly turned me sick.
At last I came across some Belgian artillery and they asked me to carry
some shells for them as they were bombarding the enemy who had gassed
us. I carried about twenty shells for the to their guns and then I fell
on the floor like a log of wood. So one of them picked me up and carried
me to the hospital. But before I got there, a Canadian stopped me and
made me drink half a canteen of raw rum, which I did, and then I started
to vomit and it all came up again as green as grass.
After that the Belgian picked me up again and was walking down the road
when I saw some horses coming along at a gallop and when they got near
me I saw that one of the drivers was my own brother who I had never
seen for ten years. But I could not speak as I was nearly choked and
he did not recognise me.
So at last I got to the hospital and the Belgian shook hands with me
and went away. I was sent from there in a motor ambulance to a clearing
hospital at Bailleul and the next afternoon, to the base. I forgot to
mention that I got hit twice when I was retiring, once in the leg and
once in the arm.
We were about 30 hours in the train all laid on stretchers, at the other
end of my carriage I saw two of my chums, both came from the same place
as myself and also lived in Heywood the same as me. We got carried out
of the train at Rouen and placed in motor ambulances which took us to
number 12 Stationary Hospital where we had to have a bath and then placed
into bed. The following morning the doctor came to see us but he could
not give us any treatment and ordered us to have all the tent walls
down, so as to let as much fresh air as possible into the tent. He told
us not to smoke any cigarettes for a few weeks and our meals consisted
of oatmeal and milk, one or two of them got medicine for a cough.
The Sisters treated us very well indeed and also the young doctor, a
Lieutenant, for two weeks. The Colonel Doctor came round one day to
see how we were getting on but I think he must have been vexed at something
for he marked us all up and discharged us from hospital the following
day. At the same time, telling us we would get treated at the convalescent
The following afternoon at 5pm we fell in, ready to march to the convalescent
camp, but we had only gone a few hundred yards when half of us had to
fall out on the roadside, as we were too weak to walk. We had to walk
about 400 yards at a time and then rest again till we got to our destination.
The Doctor came round to see us and then issued us out with a packet
of cigarettes each and then we were told to join our different company's.
The following morning we all marched past Senior Medical Doctor but
he would not let us stop and speak to him. All he could say was "Up
you go and the best of luck, get to your rifles again".
That Doctor was stone mad, and he should have been kicked out of the
Army, but I have heard since that he got moved and is now in the lunatic's
ward in England. I hope they keep him there for the rest of his life.
The next day we all got sent to base as fit and we had to go in front
of another doctor there. He said to one man in front of me "Well
my man, what is the matter with you?". The reply was "Consumption
Sir". The doctor said "Ah, your just the man we want, go up
to the front again and spit all over the Germans and give them consumption".
He marked that man fit and he went to the front the same day.
He told me to stand at one side and to take my shirt off. He said to
the next man "Well what's wrong with you?" the reply was "bullet
wound". The doctor said "have you ever shot a German?"
the answer was "I don't know Sir, but I hope the first man I do
shoot is a doctor"
The Doctor looked surprised and said "Why, what for?". Then
came a bold answer, "Because they are a dammed nuisance to everybody".
The Doctor never replied but marked him fit for the front again.
The next man came in, "Well, what's up with you?" "Bullet
wound in the left shoulder".
The Doctor said, "Who hit you?" "A German sniper"
came the reply, the Doctor said "Oh you do know who hit you, well
go back again and bring him to me and I will hit him". He marked
A little Rochdale lad came in next, the Doctor said, "Well my man,
what can I do for you?" the reply soon came "Well Doctor,
you can give me a single ticket to England if you don't mind, I am sure
I wont tell anyone about your generosity ". The Doctor gave him
7 days light duty.
Such is the life we have to put up with at the base. We have to parade
every morning at 8.30am until 12.30. Drilling right and left, turn by
numbers, sloping and presenting arms by numbers. Nearly every man as
from 7 to 25 years service in the Colours or Reserve and now they are
putting us through recruits drill. But it is nothing but red tape where
ever you go in the Army.
If they do want us on parade, why not practice Skirmishing or Fine Discipline
or Shooting? Something we can all take an interest in, instead of such
daft parades as we are doing.
At 4 o'clock in the afternoon we go for a route march till about seven.
But we all have to take our turns on the docks every other day. Unloading
ships and loading the trains with food for the men the trenches and
also with forage for the horses.
This fatigue always lasts for about 7 and a half hours and is very hard
work for men who only just came out of the hospitals.
Several members of the Y.M.C.A. are doing some very good work out here
and they are always doing their best to make the men as comfortable
as possible while they are here.
There is a concert nearly every night and we have heard some very good
singing lately. They also sell tea, coffee, cake, biscuits, cigarettes
and various other things that are necessary for a soldier. The recreation
rooms are splendid. Cards, draughts, chess, billiards and other games
and they also supply writing paper and envelopes free.
The S.C.A. is also doing good work, only they don't sell refreshments
and if it wasn't for these kind people we should not know what to do
I was warned with a draft yesterday to go to the front, but the Doctor
rejected me as I was took weak and the gas was just beginning to tell
on me again. So he ordered me to go to the convalescent hospital again
the following morning.
I went to the hospital and was admitted at once. The next day I went
in front of the Colonel Doctor again and he tested me all over and then
shook his head. But he would not tell me anything, only I had to attend
for medicine twice a day and also to see the doctor every day. I have
been doing that for this last month but still I am not much better now
than when I came into the hospital at the beginning.
But they have given me a light job and I have to go on parade every
day for one hour's Swedish drill. But I am in the same mind as a soldier
who put a letter in the paper saying 'Gott Strafe Swedish Drill'.
I have just read in the Daily Mail that K
of K is going to bring the men home who came out with the first British
Expeditionary Force, what is left of them.
So I am expecting to get a rest and to see Good Old England again.
I don't think there are many of the men left but I do know there are
only 8 men in my Regiment who came out with us and has been in this
country ever since.
And thus ends my experiences of life in the
first year of this Murderous War
Date 5th August 1915.
In later years 'Manny' was to re-enlist into
The Royal Engineers and saw service in bomb disposal during the Second
World War. He passed away at the age of 51 on the 23rd of January 1942
from a heart attack.
His grave is in Christ Church, Portsdown.
Sent in by Dean Lowe, great grandson
of Emmanuel Diggle Great grandad died in 1942.
The diary was never typed out until now.