© Yorkshire Ramblers' Club. Reproduction of this article is not permitted.
However, short extracts from it may be used, for non-commercial purposes, provided their source is fully cited, acknowledged and referenced as:
YRC Committee. (1921) Under Arms. Yorkshire Ramblers' Club Journal Volume 4 Number 14: pp245-250. Leeds: YRC.

Under Arms.


As a Senior Officer in the Special Reserve, though being exceptionally fit and active for my age, I felt having to remain with my battalion at home, training successive batches of recruits, while so much was doing overseas. Early in October 1916 the welcome orders arrived, and I proceeded via Rouen Ito the Arras area.

When nearing St. Pol after dark, I was much impressed by the flashes of the big guns, which resembled almost continuous summer lightning with occasional heavy rumbles. A motor lorry drive without lights brought me to Transport Camp of the 5th K.S.L.I., where I was warmly greeted by many old friends.

My first impression of the trenches was that a C.T. was a crookedly made drainage scheme, floored with greenhouse gratings. Of traverses I very soon found the use. Dug-outs and tunnels seemed in no way strange to me (a pot-holer), and I was soon settled in my new home. Reliefs worked smoothly as a rule, except when some fool came up an exit C.'I`., or the Boche gunners were specially energetic. I heard two ghosts in the front line, the first being a party of New Zealand Tunnellers at work, the second during the frost of January 1917, caused by our having succeeded in raising the temperature of our dug-out above freezing point, with the result that frozen chalk became detached from the roof. Later on I had reason to dread those dug-outs which would keep out nothing bigger than a whizzbang, but had roof enough to bury everyone if anything larger landed on it, and I sometimes wished for a roof of Yorkshire limestone, 200 or 300 feet in thickness.

Aerial battles were always of interest, but I often wished I could have helped. Being strafed by Archies was more exciting for those in it than for onlookers, though occasionally falling pieces of shell reminded one of stones hurtling down a mountain or whistling on their way down G.G. Fortunately there was sometimes a comic side to an awkward situation, and Tommy Atkins generally saw it. It was this sense of humour and casualness which helped to win the war. One of the wonders of the war was the caves of Arras. Originally chalk quarries about 30 feet below the town, joined together by headings, they were further connected by our tunnellers, tramways were laid, electric light installed by our sappers, and guides provided, so that umpteen thousands of men could go umpteen miles and debouch into the C.T.'s near the kicking-off line for the Battle of Arras.

In conclusion, I am sure that it was only British dogged determination which enabled the many thousands who had never "slept out" before they joined up to stick it as they did out in France and elsewhere. My immunity from rheumatism, &c., I put down to the healthy outdoor life I have led amongst mountains and dales, not forgetting the hardening to water \and mud obtained in our Yorkshire pot-holes.

C. R. W.


There must have been many like myself who had no Territorial experience, and who were past their first youth, suddenly faced with the problem of joining the Army in some way or other.

It took me until January 1915 to arrange matters, and having a nearly blind right eye, and some "anno dornini," I could only scrape into the A.S.C. I will draw a veil over the early days, with their endless fatigues and discomforts. Everyone took them in good part, and on the whole had a fairly happy time. Our division, the 23rd, concentrated at Borden, where we remained until August, when we sailed for France. In October I was posted to a Railhead Supply Unit near Bethune, where we rationed the First Corps. There was plenty of variety, as we were continually changing railheads in the area. This went on until September 1916, when we suddenly went "spare," the unit going to a depot and I to the Army Purchase Board at Merville, where I remained until February 1917. This was about the best time I had, as billets were good, and, speaking French, I was able to help a lot in the purchase of forage direct from the French farmers. In February we re-formed our detachment, and rationed the Portuguese during the period of their concentration and training. In June 1917 we went to Noeux-les-Mines back to our First Corps, a very unpleasant place too, the object of daily long-range shelling by the Hun. After a course of training with the Labour Corps, I was commissioned in August. The next five months were spent in the Ypres salient on Forward Ammunition with the 189th and 152nd Companies during the Passchendaele stunt, and subsequent operations.

In December I got a concrete factory into my own hands, and in January 1918 was transferred to the Chinese Labour Co. sent to work it. This was probably the most interesting part of my army service; we were near Poperinghe at the time, and did all sorts of work on ammunition, hut building, loading and off-loading trains, and built a large ammunition ramp just below Boesinghe. On the April retirement to France I had half the company near St. Omer on broad gauge railway construction for six weeks, my first command, and I was not half proud of it. Back with the company again, we reached Menin in the middle of October, just after the Hun had left. The first thing we did was to put out the fires he had made of his dumps and stores. I got my captaincy and the command of my company in January, and kept it on salvage work till my demobilisation in September 1919.

On the whole, though there were bad times, the spirit of real comradeship one found in all ranks was most inspiring, and makes one feel it too good to be lost entirely. One thing above all others stands out in my memory - the yearly message at Christmas of cheer and hope from my fellow members of the Yorkshire Ramblers' Club. No matter where I was it always reached me, and it did one good to get it.

I like to think that the lessons learnt on peak and glacier, on moor and fell, were of use to us in our military careers, helping us to face anything in front of is with courage and determination.

G. A. P.-K.


Trenches, 7th January 1917. - The trenches here are appalling; the old hands say they are as bad as Ypres last winter. They certainly are bad; it took me nearly an hour to get a matter of 500 yards. Twice I lost my gum boots (thigh) in the mud, which is more like glue, and had to pull my leg out of the boot, then stand on one leg, and pull the boot out with my hands! The front line here, I think, would be better described as a standing stream; in places it is a foot deep in wet mud, in others the boards do just stand out above the mud and water, and the rest, measuring a good half of the company front, is from 6 to 18 inches deep in thick brown water; in many places, for 20 yards on end, you wade through it above your knees.

I dare say "above your knees" may not sound very alarming, but a bath, full to overflowing, will hardly get above your knees when standing up. Trench grids float about, mostly broken up; others, held down under the water by fallen earth and mud, have many of their crosspieces - on which you walk - missing, and so down you go into a sump as you walk along, or else trip up and go full length into the whole lot! I can tell you it isn't half jolly.

Practically no revetting has been done, so the whole trench which hasn't slipped in is gradually doing so. There are no dug-outs for the men at all; there was one which held about four, but the heavy rain last night so swelled the water in the trench that it overflowed and filled it up. We rigged up a few shelters last night, but have had to knock off this morning in order to have all hands at the pumps.

October 14th, 1917. - . . . I am unable to give days and dates, but I have had a pretty rough time, as you may suspect, but I don't think I am really much the worse for it. The weather has been appalling. I was up in the line nearly two days before my battalion, and I stayed in with it, fought with it, and came out with part of it. The ground is beyond description for the mud, the like of which I have never seen before. I have been wet through for a week, and am still fairly so; the sun sometimes dries me off a little with the help of the warmth of my body, but then the rain comes, and I am as bad as ever.

However, my spirits remain firm and high, my confidence in coming through whole has proved sure and sound. I regret to say the Colonel died of wounds during action. At the present moment I am commanding a company, but hope to be relieved of that responsibility before long.

During the time I was in and about the line there were no trenches at all - all shell-holes. I lost my puttees and boots in the mud, and had to carry on for 36 hours in my socks. I was going to get a pair from a Boche prisoner, but the poor fellow had a wound in the foot, so I let him go on. I finally got a pair from one of our own N.C.O.'s who was wounded elsewhere. Funny people, aren't we?

Naturally, wading about knee-deep in real mud and slush, mixed up with young rivers and biffed barbed wire entanglements and goodness knows what, I contracted trench feet. After that we had miles to walk out of the line, and the N.C.O.'s boots didn't fit, my socks were soaking, I hadn't any puttees, so I chafed my heels into blisters.

My servant was fine; he helped me most of the way back, I think - I have very faint recollections of the latter half of the trail. I remember we were on a road which, without exaggeration, was anything from six inches to two feet deep in broken metal, mud, water, and shell-holes. It took us nearly six hours to come three miles; we were "bumped" all the way.

18th November. - I write in what was once a Boche dug-out; it is very small and somewhat damp underfoot, water having to be bailed out every hour or so. There are several of us in it, so none too much room, but it is as strong as a dugout can possibly be, having 5 feet of solid concrete on all sides. Shells bounce off it like an indiarubber ball would do. It is perfectly safe when you once get in - the lively time is when you get outside. The ground is all the same - one huge, desolate waste . . . .

21st November. - I confess I never experienced shellfire in full when I was out last time, but you know that bombs are dropped occasionally in England, 40 or 50 in one night, if it is a bad raid, so when I tell you that we experienced fire for hours on end at the rate of six to ten rounds per minute on a selected area - say 300 yards square - and now and again during intense periods even up to the rate of 25 rounds per minute, you can imagine it was pretty warm.

The shells were 5.9's, nearly six inches in diameter, and the concussion blows out your candles whenever the shell is within 20 yards of your dug-out. After the first half-hour or so, the concussion begins to give one a headache, and renders work rather tiring, as it is almost impossible to concentrate your mind on anything except the shelling. There is always any amount of work to do in the line, consequently one's sleep is cut down, as one cannot sleep during a heavy bombardment, and the work you don't do has to be done at night when things are quieter. Then you get umpteen gas shells, and have to get busy looking after that . . . . . .