Arrived at Beaulencourt1 about 3 am. Got down to it in a Nissen hut. Up again by 8 o’clock. Packed waggons and dumped a lot of stuff. Marched off at about 2 o’clock with a full load on our backs. Arrived just beyond Bapaume at about 5 o’clock. Put up tent and then had tea. Went on gas and air raid guard until midnight. Could not sleep until about 3 o’clock.
Were ordered to put up tents in a field but kept going before tents were up. Moved into village. Fit<ted> up dressing station, and got straight to work. Very busy in the afternoon. Germans still advancing†. Left with stretcher cases on our hands. A few of us carried some of them on our ambulance along the road. Nearly lost our people.2
Beaulencourt (B): Michelin square J; 4km SE. of Bapaume (C), where this journey ended, and about 7km W of Bus (A), where it started. ↩
These last lines of shorthand crossed out by ALL. The Ambulance’s first concern was obviously to keep themselves and their wounded out of the hands of the advancing Germans, and when there was eventually a chance to write up the diary the exact sequence of events was no doubt difficult to recall. The deleted lines are difficult to read, but seem to be something like the transcription given here. ↩
Got into bed and Billy Truman pulled me out again for duty. On duty all night. A lot of cases in first thing after supper time, but not many after midnight. Got off in the morning at 7 and in bed at 8 o’clock. Awake at midday. All bearers warned to go up with Major McMee. Got up about 3 o’clock. The bearers marched off at 4. Went on duty first thing after tea. Received moving orders and moved off at about midnight by light rail. Bombed on the way but no casualties.
Up about 6 o’clock. Lay awake from 3.30 listening to a very heavy bombardment. Thought attack must be coming next. On duty at 7 o’clock. A little friction on the bed-patient washing problem. Received orders first thing to clear all bed patients and all other patients to be dressed and ready to move. Later on received orders to pack waggons, and again later that we were not going. Ben taken off the ward in the afternoon. Glorious day. Gunfire very heavy all day.
This German offensive, aka “The Spring Offensive“, “The Kaiser’s Battle” (die Kaiserschlacht) and “The March Retreat”, was the last German attempt to win the war in the West before (a) the Allied blockade would make the Germans’ military and domestic situation logistically untenable, and (b) the arrival of American troops in France could make a critical impact. The initial scene of the offensive was north and south of St Quentin, some 40km east of the Somme battlefield, against the British 3rd and 5th Armies, the latter of which especially had had its section of the front extended to relieve the French army, and both of which had undergone thinning-out to offset manpower losses (the British Government by now was restricting reinforcements for Haig, partly due to industrial and reserve manpower needs in Britain, but also, rightly or wrongly, to prevent him from attempting further offensives at huge human cost.)
Malcolm Brown, in “The Imperial War Museum Book of the Western Front”, says that “The March offensive . . . made use of . . . means [including] surprise achieved by marshalling men and matériel to the front by night; deep infiltration before zero hour by storm-troop groups who bypassed front-line defenders leaving them to be dealt with by subsequent waves; and a concentrated, devastating bombardment on all key points of the British resistance, including headquarters establishments, dumps, magazines, even individual guns.” The attack was also assisted by fog at the vital time.
There were further German onslaughts in the following weeks, re-taking a lot of the ground which had been gained since 1916 at the cost of great British and French losses. But: much of the ground regained, eg the Somme/Ancre area, was difficult to fight on due to previous devastation, including the Germans’ own mining, trenching, tank traps etc; at long last (26 March) Allied unity of command (under General Foch) was accepted by Haig and established; and in August there was a well-planned Allied counter-attack, integrating all kinds of troops, weaponry, air and communications resources, and achieving massive troop movements in complete secrecy. ↩
Up about 6.30. on duty at 7 o’clock. Kept pretty busy all morning. Didn’t do much in afternoon. DMS1 round and made drastic change in the ward. Concert of Number Nines2 at night. Pretty good considering the †compère and merriment†1 vile3. Had short walk afterwards. Little chat with John Dory and A B Watt and Watt lent me a paper to read an article on the “Chance of peace”
The Number Nines (assuming as always that the transcription is correct) were presumably a Forces concert party (and if so, presumably based on some medical unit) – ALL had previously mentioned the Number 9s [sic] on 15 August 1917. ↩
The transcription is uncertain: “compère” assumes a nasalised “o”, ie no written “m”; ‘merriment’ is the only word which seems to fit the second outline, but is dubious; the sense appears to be that the environment for the concert was difficult. ↩
Up about 6.30. On duty all day. Finished about 5 o’clock. Fine day but rather cold. Heard that Zeppelins had once more visited the north-east coast1. Had walk at night and glanced in at the picture show in the next village but didn’t stay. Had talk at night with Wood and Harvey on the war and things generally.
On 13 March 1918 three Zeppelins set out to raid the North-East but only one of the three reached England, bombing Hartlepool. The bombs killed eight people, and Sgt Pilot Arthur John Joyce (9935) was killed when he flew his FE2b fighter into Pontop Pike near Dipton, County Durham. The latter incident may have been unconnected to the Zeppelin raid; contemporary accounts record only unknown reasons for the crash. ↩