This is an extract telling of Lysterfield settler Herbert Bailey’s experiences during the final bloody battles in France in 1918.
During November – specifically at 11.00am on the 11th day – we remember the end of World War One, that terrible conflict that decimated a generation of young men. This is an extract from the diary of an old Lysterfield identity, Herbert Bailey, who served with the Field Engineers division of the AIF during the final bloody battles of the war in France in 1918. Bert’s story was told by his daughter under the title “Eve Greenland (nee Bailey) Remembers” in the October and November 1994 editions of the R-LCNews but in the following we hear Bert’s own words.
The draft to which I’m detailed leaves the Engineers Training Camp at Brightlingsea, Essex, early morning on 12th April 1918. We entrain for Liverpool Street Station, London. Arrive there in a couple of hours. We are hurried off and down into the Underground to be taken across to Waterloo Station. We have to stay here for several hours. Ladies supply us with a liberal amount of tea, sandwiches etc. to which we all do justice.
We get on the move again, this time for Southampton, here we spend the afternoon about the dockyard. No chance of getting any leave to visit the town, but there are many other things of interest to watch. The mammoth ship “Olympic” had just arrived with American Troops and everything was bustle and activity. There were several ships about that showed very plainly they had been in conflict with submarines and collisions. The “Warilda” (an Aussie boat) was there, she had a large gaping hole in her side and her bows were doubled up.
Some of us form a fatigue party and assist to unload motor lorries, putting the provisions etc. on to the boat that’s to take us across to France. Late in the afternoon we embark on the “Prince George” with numerous other troops. At dusk we are towed out into the open sea, get under our own steam to cross the Channel for Havre. Convoyed by destroyers which seem to be darting about everywhere and come from nowhere. Go below and get what little rest is likely to be had in so confined a space.
Have a speedy passage across and pull in alongside wharf at Havre before daylight. Have breakfast aboard early morning, disembark and prepare for a march to the Base Camp. Full pack up and a fairly warm morning, we again get a move on. Everywhere are vast heaps of war material of all descriptions, this place being used as a huge dump.
Havre appears to be a fairly large town and has some fine buildings, but everything is getting in a sad state for want of repairs. German prisoners are assisting to clear up the streets. Numerous kiddies flock around us, begging for biscuits or any other tucker we may have. There are lots of fruit barrows about, for the most part drawn by dogs. We pass one huge dump that was fired by an incendiary bomb from a Fritz aeroplane during the night and many acres of stores are now a smouldering mass. Battalions of Indians and Chinese are working on the dumps and many gangs of German prisoners are on various jobs. Many refugees are living in huts and homes of all descriptions everywhere.
We halt for several rests on our way, reach Camp at Rouelles just about tired. A good feed is prepared for us to which we do full justice. White bread by way of a change. I think we all agreed that we’d just had the best meal for a long time, for things were not too good in Blighty and not enough of it. The bread was awful stuff. We are put into tents for the night.
From July 28, 1918 – “We once more get a move on. In this neighbourhood a stunt is shortly to come off and preparatory to it a raid is arranged, principally to get few prisoners and so find out what’s doing and the enemy disposition. A daylight raid is (proceeded by bombardment) sent over, very heavy firing is put up by both sides immediately after ours open out, the result fairly satisfactory and a few prisoners are brought back. Otherwise for us, the work we do is much the same as previously.
A day or so after another push is arranged, this time I think to straighten out a bit of a salient close by A…..t. And in this we see some of the full horrors of war, a heavy bombardment is put up as a barrage for our troops to advance behind, at an early hour in the morning. Our boys go over and are rather strongly opposed, anyway they purk on and after heavy fighting and casualties they gain their objective. In the quarry where we are staying at present, there is an advanced dressing station and very soon victims are being brought in by the AMC both of the enemy and our own. And one sees sights that he’d rather not keep in his memory, some of the men are terribly shattered.
It’s not daylight yet and I’m watching the illumination etc., listening to the terrible shattering of the bursting shells for miles around. The groans of the more dangerously wounded nearby are most pitiful to hear, and makes one wish they were far away from such scenes. Some of the men succumb to their injuries on the way down and they are lain aside, both the enemy and our own men get the same consideration and treatment at this dressing station.
An interpreter of ours is going amongst the wounded gleaning any information they may choose to give him. Several of these German wounded can speak a bit of English, sufficient to make themselves understood. One feels he’d like to plug his ears up and be deaf for awhile. Wounded continue to be brought in until evening and after attention is given them, are hastened away farther back in the ambulance with all possible dispatch.
Our men gain what they set out for and straighten up the line at this point. Fritz shortly after makes a counter attack and comes a cropper. Failing in this he puts over gas, fails even with that, although he gets lots of victims. It is pitiful to see fellows when they are badly gassed. One doesn’t always know just when he is gassed he may possibly continue on with what he is doing and some time after suddenly go out to it. Excitement possibly is the cause of this extraordinary affair. His gas attack reaches right back to where we are, the alarm is sounded, everyone is awakened, gas shells are exploding everywhere around, we don our masks, some of the boys think no more of it, but with their masks on simply turn over and go to sleep again.
We are now again under orders to get away from here and go back a bit for to have a spell out of the line. A Tommy Engineering Company relieves us, we pack up, get away and after a short march out on to a main road, are boarded in motor lorries and took to our new home. There is a vast amount of traffic on the road and war material is seen everywhere. Crops of corn unreaped on all sides. As we proceed towards the back areas, some of it is being harvested. Yanks also are to be seen everywhere one goes these times and all one comes in contact with appear to be a fine lot of fellows.
After a lot of jolting about we eventually arrive at our new home. This place R….y, a suburb of Amiens is knocked about least of any place we have been in for some considerable time. Anyway it’s not out of range of shell fire, has been considerable knocked about and is deserted of well nigh all its former inhabitants.
We are billeted for the time being in a large roomy College and fix ourselves up fairly comfy for the night. We have taken up the space that has been allotted to other troops, so the following day have to get out and take up quarters in some deserted houses. This one, a sample of Fritz’s ironmongery has penetrated the roof, consequently with the rain a portion of the ceiling has collapsed and more shows a tendency to fall down.
It’s coming onto rain again, this job being something in my line, I get up in the attic and fix matters up as best I can with material at hand and we’re all serene. A few nice pieces of furniture, bedding etc. salvaged, yes and a picture or two, what more does one want in this great war?”
This is another extract from the diary of Lysterfield settler, Herbert Bailey, telling of his experiences during the final bloody battles in France in 1918.
During November – specifically at 11.00am on the 11th day – we remember the end of World War One, that terrible conflict that decimated a generation of young men. This month’s local history article is an extract from the diary of an old Lysterfield identity, Herbert Bailey, who served with the Field Engineers division of AIF during the final bloody battles of the war in France in 1918. Bert’s story was told by his daughter in the October and November 1994 editions of the R-LC News under the title “Eve Greenland (nee Bailey) Remembers” but in the following we hear Bert’s own words.
The country truly is in an awful state. The first night we stay in dugouts, until recently occupied by German Troops. Much war material, clothing, equipment etc is strewn everywhere. Evidence of a hasty exit on all sides. Lots of unburied horses and men lie round about and for our own benefit, we dispose of numbers of them. It’s not too healthy to be living in such close proximity to those who have departed a few days previously and are still lying around, especially when warm weather prevails. What a contrast in the spirit of our men now that they are continually advancing, to what prevailed only a short time ago. The dugouts which we are so often occupying recently are for the most part fairly comfortably fitted up. Fritz evidently had every intention of staying, for almost all have nice little stoves in, good bunks, furniture, accessories etc. His bad luck. Our good, just a change over.
We continue our advance and are now on the old battlefields that have been fought on and over again. The condition of the country is now far worse than anything I have previously seen. Truly one sees some most harrowing sights at times which would possibly in normal times put him off his mental balance. Fallen men, horses etc are lying round as we proceed. Scarcely a dead stick remaining of what were once woods. Everywhere desolation, rubbish, shell holes. One can pass along the road and not see the slightest sign of villages that were once there, being razed to the ground at an earlier period, they are now grown over with rubbish and appear like the rest of the wilderness . He has precious little opportunity of using his planes in the daytime. So makes the most of his night trips, paying us frequent visits with his bombing planes, the concussion of these is great. Especially if he drops an aerial torpedo in the vicinity, the concussion fairly takes one’s breath.
We’re going ahead now with our pontoons to assist in crossing the Somme and lay a distance back waiting a favourable opportunity. We are right in a line and under the direct observation of his balloons. I suppose he spots us and very soon things get lively around here. A salvo of shells comes over right into our midst, gets into a bunch of horses and mules, kills and wounds several, splashes a pontoon with fragments. Just luck, I suppose, quite a queue of our boys are just drawn up to a canteen nearby when the shells lobbed, the animals and the pontoon saved them. One Corporal was killed instantly, hit in the temple, several slightly wounded. Gas accompanied the shells and quite a number got more than their share. I, for one, had a pretty good fill of it, but luckily I soon recovered. Couldn’t get the mask on quick enough. Several had to go away to hospital. I say luck because it’s marvellous the whole mob wasn’t killed right there. We go out several nights fixing up bridges etc. He has, of course, done his utmost to destroy all means of crossing to retard the progress of our troops. There are no places in these areas that are safe possies. Our water cart goes to a well in the village nearby for a supply and while there, over comes a salvo of shells, knocking out quite a number of both horses and men that were at the water point. He being in the neighbourhood just recently, of course, knows the exact range. I was getting water there myself just previously.
In one’s wildest imagination it would be impossible to form any estimate as to the colossal amount of metal that has been scattered over this vast area of country that has been fought over, time and again, during the past four years and has caused such utter and terrible scenes of desolation everywhere. One goes for many miles and the same scene presents itself, not many square yards of soil anywhere, but what has been churned up and pitted with shells. Many lines of ruined and fallen-in trenches still exist showing only too plainly evidence of the conflict that has waged about them. The whole place is devastated and ruined. One also sees many hastily constructed burial grounds and cemeteries containing the fallen. Isolated graves are everywhere, the fallen one has been interred where he fell. Rough crosses or some other crude token such as his rifle, helmet etc. to mark the spot where some mother’s son is taking his long rest.
A copy of Bert’s diary is available at the Rowville Library. Its full title is “Diary 1917 – 1919 of Herbert Austin Bailey”.
First published in the November 1999 edition of the Rowville-Lysterfield Community News.
Herbert Bailey PHOTOS
A copy of Bert’s diary is available at Rowville Library. Its full title is “Diary 1917-1919 of Herbert Austin Bailey”.
First published in the November 1996 edition of the Rowville-Lysterfield Community News.