Memoirs & Diaries - William Bernard Whitmore: England & The Somme 1915-16
Note: William Bernard Whitmore served with the 14th (Service) Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment (also known as the 1st Birmingham Battalion), service number 133.
Preparation in England, 1915
Inspection by General Campbell.
Saturday March 15th on my birthday. Route march to Birmingham from Sutton. General inspection in Calthorpe Park at 2. General Campbell in passing lines asks me what I was before I joined. General salute at 3.30 pm Victoria Square, dismissed at 4pm near Corporation Street.
Inspection by Field Marshall Lord Kitchener Saturday March 20th at Whittington Barracks Litchfield 5 pm. Afterwards marched past Lord Kitchener taking the salute. Marched from Sutton 10am marched back 10pm Full Pack, about 20 miles. Bully Beef Sandwich at Frog Lane School Litchfield ?pm no Drinks.
Major General Dixon
Inspection by Major General Dixon, Inspector ? Infantry Forces, at 4pm March 24th Sutton Park "Musketry", etc, "Trenching" etc, Phi....
First inoculation March 15th. A very bad time.
Second inoculation March 25th 1915. Bad Time.
Friday April 9th
Company marched from Sutton to Henley in Arden, started 8am arrived 5pm. Lunch at Shirley "Red Lion" and Saracens Head. I rode Captains bike.
Returned Friday April 16th 1915, started 8am arrived in Sutton Park 5.30pm. I rode Captains bike back.
Entered Huts same night 16/4/15
April 22nd 1915
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April 27th 1915
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Monday May 3rd 1915, Charged with hesitating to obey an order, two days C.B. But not a defaulter, ordinary duties (lighting candle 12pm not dousing at once)
Tuesday May 4th 1915 Promoted L.Cpl
May 7th 1915
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May 20th 1915 1st & 2nd Batt. Race
1st Batt. Won by 311 Points.
Mantle first of 7th Battn.
Friday June 4th 1915
Temple done well
Farewell Dinner May 28th
? ? Officers & Men ?
Left Sutton June 24th 1915 to go under canvas Hensley Camp Leyburn, North Yorkshire. "Kitcheners Birthday", A.S.C., W.L.T. Gloucesters, 'A, M, Coys', 'Pioneers', & Lonsdale Borderers. Left Hensley Camp Leyburn 28th July 1915, up all night Tuesday packing, arrived at Hornsea Range, Wednesday afternoon. On the Shooting Range from 5am till 8pm some days. Visited Hull Saturday July 31st 1915.
Left Hornsea 1st August, Bank Holiday, with 5 men for Hensley Camp to collect baggage.
Left Hensley for Codford Camp Aug 10th 1915 started 1pm arrived 1pm Codford Station 3 miles march to camp. Battalion...
On The Somme, 1916
Several pages are missing from the diary prior to this point
…Bray at 3.15 afternoon, Band playing in square, shells bursting all around.
It is Saturday Dec 4th 1915. Marching to trenches 4.10, dusk, shells bursting, someone says, boys it is Saturday night. Men coming out of trenches up to their thighs in mud. Reached trenches 5.30 bullets & shrapnel bursting over our heads, slept in Dug Out, lying with legs over one another & hundreds of rats as big as rabbits crawling all over us, biting holes in Haversacks for our rations. Sunday morning 8.30am men expose themselves & shell bursts within two yards of us boys hitting man in the stomach. We are served out with Gum boots, which reach to our thighs & fasten to belt round our waist.
March through communication trenches, up to our thighs in mud & water, often times above our thighs, water running into gum boots, takes 2 hours to reach firing line, only 500 yards distance, enemy firing over us all the time. Firing line worse than anything imaginable standing in waist in mud & all dug-out fallen in, two men killed in one dugout. I am appointed Q.M.Sgt in the trenches, our Q.M.Sgt Left at Bray. Heavy Shrapnel firing and enemies snipers continuously popping at us, but without success.
Monday December 6th trenches worse than ever, had no food up for N.C.O? for 48 hrs, very hungry, company came in on Sunday night 11pm. Marched over the top, machine gun on them part of the way. Six days in Carnoy Trenches, fearful experience, line regiments who we relieved say, the worst they have ever known for new regiment to experience for the first time.
Relieved at midnight. March over the top, to Carnoy, men terribly exhausted can only reach Bronfay Farm. S.M. Malin & myself carry on to Chipilly arriving 8am. Three days rest then back again to Bompay Wood, 5 days in the trenches. I am stationed at Bray & take Rations up to firing line every night. C.S.M. Kitchen & Pte Hackettget killed. We take rations up at 6.30pm do not arrive at Bray till 4am next morning. Battalion leave trenches for Froissy by canal stay 6 days including Christmas day I have a mild attack of dysentry.
The Battalion suffer very bad from dysentry. Monday the 27th December the Batt go back to trenches, 'Carnoy'. I stay at Bray & take rations up every night. ? transport to Carnoy, ration party up communication trench to firing line, back again to Bray arriving about 3am. Never leave Bronfay farm till after dark.
31st December, company on reserve at Billon Wood, last day of 1915, 12pm midnight very heavy bombardment by our artillery the boys singing the Old Year out, just like Tommy Atkins "will have his little joke".
Fritz had a fine reception for the New Year & a good many strange faces appeared in ______. Batt leave Billion Wood for trenches Q.M.S. & Storeman go to Bray. Take rations up every night to Carnoy leaving Bronfay Farm at dark. Have one night off to go to Whizz Bangs concert at Bray very good. The roads very bad from Bronfay to Carnoy, cannot pass Bronfay Farm till quite dark then 500 yards between each limber, holes in the road from 2 to 4 feet deep, limbers often get stuck & road shelled occasionally, go up trench with ration party at Carnoy hand over rations to C.S.M. Malin & report safe arrival to Captain.
Return alone down trench to Carnoy & then by road to Bray arriving sometimes as late as 3am in the morning. Company leave trenches on Saturday Jan 8th 1916, leave Bray on Sunday Jan 9th 4pm for rest, arrive 8pm Sunday Jan 9th Vaux. Three kilos from Corbie, inspected by General Kavanagh on Wednesday 19th January 1916, same date found Post Card with gift of tobacco from E Hyam, Red Horse, Alcester.
A Company isolated with fever, one & two Platoons. Left Vaux 10th March. Arrived Villers Vocage same day stayed one night, left Villers Vocage 11th March for Doullens, arrived same day, stayed one night, left Doullens 12 March for Grande Rullecourt. Stay at Rullecourt one day, leave Rullecourt for Agnez - les Duisans, stay one night. Leave Agnez - les Duisans, for Arras, arrive Arras 2am Thursday 16th March1916. Visit Hotel De Ville at 2am, take souvenir from motor car outside, 144Smith is killed.
17th March 1916, I rode motor with blankets all the way from Vaux till we arrived at Arras. Occupied trenches 6 days 2nd line, 6 days 1st line. I was billeted with C.G.M.S. & Storeman, taking rations up every night, leaving St Nicholas at 10pm arriving back 1, 2, & 3am. I just missed trench mortar. Taking 4 days rations to Captain Dug-out from C.S.Mjr Dug-out.
Monday 26th March I go into Hospital at Arras, bad attack of influenza, am taken same day to Habarcq 12 Kilos from Arras. Batn came into Habarcq same night.
Sunday April 2nd came out of Hospital. Left Habarcq for Arras on Monday April 3rd company sapping 9 days, go in first line trench on the 12th April. Occupy the first line for 8 days, two casualties in Battn Cpn Erdhardt & Pte Sanders. Both very serious, Capn Erdhardt recovered Sanders died, buried at Habarcq. Left trenches for 8 days rest on the 20th April. While at Arras Q.M & Servant wounded by shrapnel on road entering Arras (known as Dead Man corner) Q.M. Horse killed & Servant's mule killed.
On Sunday 23rd April my company inoculated in the chest, double dose, I am very ill for 3 days. This is Easter, 1916. I give up smoking.
On Thursday 27th April leave Habarcq for Arras, stay in Arras 25 days then go to Duisans for 6 days rest, return to Arras May 28th, we C.Q.M.S stay at very large house in Arras.
June 16th 1916 Cpl Elliott killed while in charge of a Machine Gun, shot through the head. Leave Arras Saturday 17th June for Duisans, stay at Duisans for 5 days, leave on the 21st June for the village of Lattre St Quentin 16 Kilos from Arras.
Sunday the 25th June I should have gone on leave on this date, am very disappointed. Leave Lattre St Quentin Monday 26th June for Wailly South of Arras, stay in trenches two days, I go with rations from Lattre each night. Wednesday morning 23rd Company march to Gouves near Agnes. Leave Gouves on Sunday 5pm, 12 miles hard marching for the village of Magnicourt sur Canche addressed by the Colonel & General before we start the march, told we are to lead the attack in an advance south of Arras.
Leave Magnicourt Sur Canche on the 13th July 1916 for village of Boisbergues, started march at 7pm arrived at 3.30am, about 17 miles, a very trying march.
Leave Boisbergues for Herissart about 17 miles, passing through Bernaville. Leave Herissart for Franvillers, arriving on the 15th July 1916. Stay one day Franvillers. Leave Franvillers for Meaulte about 8 miles past Albert on the left, see the town in the distance, we have now been on the march 4 days since leaving Magnicourt Sur Canche and have covered about 50 miles.
We are here for the advance which started on 1st July. 5 hours after arriving we are ordered to hand in our packs and overcoats, and be prepared at an hours notice to take part in the attack. I see one of the Y.L.F. buried, who died of wounds, a solemn little service within sound of the guns, buried sewn in a blanket. There is 8 observation balloons up at one time, in a small advanced area.
Leave Meaulte for Mametz on the 19th July. Germans just evacuated, pass Fricourt, arrive at Mametz, dozens of Manchester City Battn lying buried, equipment and rifles all over the place, see Carnoy in the distance. Batt go into action on Wednesday night July 19th. I go up with rations under very heavy shell fire. On Saturday night 10pm Batt attack between Delville & High Wood, or Furneaux Wood.
July 22nd 1916, very serious losses, A Company return with 4 men & 1 Officer, afterwards 3 more men come in, after lying in a shell hole for 48 hrs. Report they saw German snipers shoot our wounded, who raised themselves up, or tried to take off their equipment. We were (inflasted?) by machine gun fire, in a field of oats which had to be crossed, between our lines & the Germans, about 350 yards.
The men who returned were Pte 1403 Cordell, Pte593 Bullivant, 44 Harris, these three returned 48 hours after. The four who returned same night were 1637 Harrison, 1678 Cooper, 1359 Smith, ? Dutton 15/614 with Mr Higgins & 332 Davis (Servant). C.Q.M.Sgt Rice & myself take rations Sgt Morey went to Hospital sick, Sheddon 980 and 833 Rider, Machine Gunners also Wells 1412, were in the front line got back all right, 97 Tongue, 69 Dixon, 143 Simmonds, were carrying rations, 806 Line and 1256 Dobson were stretcher bearers.
[It is not an exaggeration to talk of 'very serious losses'. Of the men William listed back in 1915 as his 'A' company comrades, at least 29 died in this one day of fighting alone (the attack started at 10pm on Saturday 22 July, hence the deaths of the men killed are recorded as being on 23 July 1916, when they should have returned.)]
When the Company marched into trenches, the following N.C.OS were left at Becordel to form new company if we got wiped out, each company did the same. 58 Sgt Cox, Cpl Cardell, Cpl Jarvis, Sgt Plenderleith came up with Draft from Hospital at Base(?), also 127 Palmer, 444 Marshall, 901 Goodwin, and Dudley. Officer left behind with Servant at Becordel where Mr Salisbury & Mr Gorman, their Servants were Hunt 84, 1332 Herrington. Mr Bagley & Wilkinson returned from Clars?. Dean was left behind at Groom. After the attack we dig ourselves in on the Ridge just behind the front line, between Mametz & Pozieres.
Montauban Redout being shelled with shrapnel daily. It is here we have two drafts up. 16 & a Lcpl in the first & 41 Ncs & Men in the second, C.S.M. Hayes comes with the first and is appointed C.S.M. To A Coy. Captain Robinson is struck off the shrapnel at this time the 24/7/16 and Mr Watts, 2nd Lieut appointed O : C Coy.
After staying on the Ridge for 6 days the Battalion go back again to the trenches with recruits, C and D to attack, A and B in reserve trenches. This is on Saturday night 29th July 1916, 10pm. Batt goes in for 48 hours, terrible ordeal, shrapnel and machine gun fire Mr Higgins seriously injured in the testicles, Sgt 58 Cox and 1256 Dobson killed, 614 Dutton, 1258 Butler, 1678 Cooper, 593 Bullivant, 901 Gordon, 127 Palmer, and 10 of the Draft injured, the Draft had only been with us one day.
After Batt comes out we march back first day Dernancourt on the 8th August under canvas. Leave Dernancourt on the 4th August, entrain at Edge Hill for Airaines, passing through the stations of Corbie and Amiens, stay at Metigny for one night. Next day 5th August March to the village Etrejust, sleeping in the wood, I make a bivouak.
On Friday 11th of August we leave for 48 hours on permission. We walk from Etrejust to Airaines, where I have a good lunch of chicken and whiskey, this is midday 11th August, we left camp at 10am. I take train for Abbeville via Long-Pre, riding in the guards van owing to missing the 1.30pm. I arrive at Abbeville at 3.30, having a good time and stay the night.
Next day I go by train to St Valery-Sur-Somme, stay the night at Hotel Belle Vue. Meet Regtal Sgt Major A.S.C, this is Sunday August 13th, I am surprised to find A.S.C staying in Hotels, also large tent for writing and recreation and Y.M.C.A. tent, there are none of these luxuries up the line. Leave St Valery-Sur-Somme after dinner 5pm and return to Abbeville, changing at Noyelles.
Stay the night at Abbeville, leave at 4am for Long Pre, necessary to catch the 4am train on Monday morning to reach camp at midday 14th August, expiration of Leave. Arrive Long Pre, sleep on a bench outside cafe and walk to Airaines, breakfast Airaines, walk to camp, arrive 12 noon.
We continue to stay at Etrejust till the 24th August, 19 days, during this time we have had drafts of Warwicks, Hunts, and Worcesters.
We leave Etrejust at 5am on Thursday 24th August, entrain at Airaines for Edge Hill, Dernancourt, stay one night under canvas, leave 10am Friday, camp on a hill left of Bray, stay one night, leave at 12noon Saturday, march to village of Montauban, near Trones Wood, occupying reserve trenches for three days.
Tuesday August 29th go in support to the front line, through valley to Malts Horn trench on the ridge in front of Guillemont. Stay in supports for 2 days. Thursday August 31st go to Billon Farm area, stay at Billon Farm area for 2 days, no canvas, Men sleep in open. Leave Billon Farm area for attack on Saturday 2nd September.
On Sunday 3rd Sept 9am attack commences. O.S.B go over first at 12.45pm. A Coy go over, heavy German barrage fire, lose half the boys before going many yards, our advance is made with the assistance of the French Barrage. We take many prisoners Germans running in carrying our wounded. German prisoners not wounded carry our wounded from the line to dressing stations. Under escort they do stretcher bearing. I gave six wounded prisoners a packet of cigarettes, they were very thankful, cannot help but feel sorry for poor devils.
While in Malts Horn trench I bring ration party through valley, takes six hours, I am soaked through for 48 hours, and stay in sap? head?
....a good success, in places a walk over, Batt occupy German front lines, relieved on Wednesday night 26th September, move on 27th September for the 'citadel' Happy valley. Stay one night under canvas, move next day 28th September for Long Pre by train, stay one night in Long Pre, leave next day, Saturday, for Caubert, 2 Km from Abbeville. Sgt Cordell & myself visit Abbeville.
(While under canvas before entraining German airmen bombed the camp at 10pm after one of the corporals made an ass of himself in the tent) Sunday 1st October leave the village of Caubert for Abbeville to entrain for Lillers, a large town near Bethune, by train, passing through the towns of Frevent and St Pol.
Arrive at Lillers 8.30pm. March to Locon, small village, past third post at Bethune. Stay one night, Tuesday 3rd October, move to small village of Essars. Stay 2 days, on 5th October move to Festubert village in support, leave Festubert for Givenchy to take over front line on the 10th October. Stay 6 days in front line, 6 days in Givenchy, and 6 days back in front line, and 6 days rest in Gorre.
After rest back again in the same sector, on November 2nd I am charged with disobeying Army Orders, writing a Field Postcard and putting Billy Bethune. 2nd Lieu Hughes witness. It is considered a very serious crime, I am brought up before Coy Officers and remanded for the C.O, brought up before the C.O. Lieu Hughes cannot produce the card, it has gone on to C. Vanes, crime should never have been brought up, with no evidence against me.
C.O. asks me if I will be tried by Field. G. Court Martial or by him, I prefer him to deal with it, had it gone to F.G. goodness knows what would have happened, because no one should bring a charge without evidence, especially an Officer. I bear the brunt and am severely reprimanded, a very trying ordeal for me, for such a trivial offence.
At this time I am sweating for leave. Ken's birthday on the 8th November, I send him a card. Batt come out after the same term as before, 6 days, rest at Gorre, take over the ? work on the 15th November, A in front line.
[At this point the diary stops, presumably William felt he could not risk it after the postcard incident. The remaining sections of the diary are the names and addresses of friends, and a list of comrades in 'A' company. If you would like a copy of these parts of the diary, please email the editor.]
Contributed by Mark Barnes, e-mail.
"Bully Beef" comprised cans of boiled or pickled beef used by the British Army.
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