SECOND LEAVE BRESLE
My journey from Albert to England
was remarkable for the hardships that occurred.
It should be remembered that every one was desperately
tired and worn out already. We were told to appear
at Albert station at midnight. When we got there
we were told to expect the train at 2.15 A.M.
This meant walking about the platform to keep warm,
for there was no shelter for officers at the station.
Capt. J.O. Aglionby, C.F., our padre, and
Capt. Lidderdale, R.A.M.C, our battalion doctor,
were both going by the same train, so I was not without
company. When 2.15 A.M. came there was no train,
and we kept walking about till dawn broke, but still
no train. The R.T.O. then told us that there had
been a breakdown and that the train could not be expected
for a long time. So we decided to go and get
breakfast at our billets and then to go to Amiens
by motor-lorry, and catch the train there. At
least there would be less chance of being shelled
there, and some food and shelter.
So we set off about 10 o’clock
and eventually got to Amiens, where we had a decent
lunch. We had to keep hanging about the station,
however, inquiring for the train. It arrived about
9 P.M., about eighteen hours late, and we were glad
enough to get on board. It is difficult enough
to sleep sitting in a train, but I think I managed
a few hours of troubled sleep. And next morning
we arrived in Le Havre. The first thing there
was to march the men down to a rest camp a long way
from the town, and a good way from the docks.
We were told to report back at the same place at 2.30
P.M. So we trudged back to Le Havre and got shaved
and fed. On returning to the Rest Camp we were
told that the boat would leave in twenty minutes and
that, as it was a good thirty minutes walk, we had
better be quick. Fortunately we got hold of a
motor-car and got a lift part of the way and hurried
along after that as fast as we could. When we
reached the dock we found the boat would not leave
for another two hours. The organisation here was
rotten just at this time, but it improved later. The
Viper, a fast packet-boat, took us across to Southampton.
And next morning I proceeded to Weston-super-Mare,
having taken nearly three days on the journey.
Most of that leave I spent in bed in the hands of the
doctor. I was utterly worn out, not only with
exhaustion, but with the depression naturally caused
by losing so many friends and comrades in a manner
apparently so fruitless.
The company of recruits I had at Alnwick,
was practically wiped out, I found about two of them
with the battalion when I returned. Only eleven
were left of the battalion bombers, my good comrades
of the Salient. The Bombing Officers of the four
battalions were all casualties, four of them killed.
There were few trained bombers left in the whole brigade.
I went back to France on December 2 in anything but
On returning to Albert I found that
the Brigade were billeted at the small village of
Bresle. And I got there without much difficulty.
The weather was wet and cold, as it generally is in
December; but active preparations were soon started
for getting the Bombing School open. We found
a fairly good bombing-pit for the Brigade School, but
we had to make one for the battalions. I was
now without trained instructors and I had no Brigade
Bombing Sergeant, but I was lent Corp. Munro,
a bomber from the 6th N.F., and I made what use I
could of Pte. Fairclough, my orderly. The
result was that I had not only to attend to all the
live firing, but I had to do the sergeants’ work
as well. Afterwards there were the grenades to
be sorted out for next day and a friendly hand given
to the Bombing Officers of the battalions, most of
whom were new to their work.
During our stay at Bresle 477 fresh
men went through the recruits’ bombing course.
And on December 26 and 27 the tests were carried out
with the battalion bombers, for the purpose of granting
the Bombers’ Badge. These tests were now
made much more difficult to pass, and only seven men
passed the throwing and firing tests. After this
period I never carried out any further instruction
in the hand-grenade. The drafts later on came
out more fully trained and the Battalion Bombing Officers
carried on any further instruction that was required.
During and in preparation for the operations on the
Somme 16 officers and 2106 men went through the course;
and at least 5000 live grenades were thrown.
I was lucky to have no accident with the Mills grenade,
and no fatal ones even with the rifle-grenade.
General Ovens went on leave at Bresle,
and Lieut.-Col. G. Scott Jackson, O.C. 7th N.F.,
came as Brigade Commander to our H.Q. We had
him several times again in that capacity, and he was
always a favourite in our mess. His fine record
and services are well known; a D.S.O. and Bar, he
probably commanded a fighting battalion as long as
any officer in France. From the time when the
battalion landed in France in April 1915 till he left
the battalion for the R.A.M.C. at the latter end of
1917, he was only off duty for about three days, in
a quiet part of the line. He always looked a picture
of robust strength, never missed his cold bath even
with the temperature near zero, and was one of the
most optimistic men in the whole Brigade. He
was a most pleasant kindly Brigade Commander, with
the supreme virtue of leaving the specialists to do
their work in their own way.
Before we left Bresle I got a Brigade
Bombing Sergeant Sergeant T. Matthewson
of the 5th N.F., who had had long experience as Battalion
Bombing Sergeant, and was a thoroughly trained and
reliable man. I found him most useful in his
new office and I am glad to know that he got safely
through the war. Amongst other accomplishments
he was a good wicket-keeper, as I found later on.
On Christmas Day I went to dinner
with the 7th N.F. at their H.Q., and was very hospitably
entertained. The Brigade moved from Bresle to
a camp at Becourt on November 28, and stayed there
two days; and then took over from a Brigade of the
1st Division at Bazentin-lé-Petit.