WWI A Soldier`s Diary

From Shropshire Star October 2017

This extract from Alf Durnell`s World War I diary was published in Toby Neal`s history page in the Shropshire Star 100 years after the events. 

Exactly 100 years ago a Shropshire soldier was going through hell on earth, meticulously recording the horrors he saw every day in October 1917 in hand written diaries

Alf was in the Royal Garrison Artillery and was pitched into the maelstrom of the Ypres campaign.  Born in Wellington in 1895, he was the son of a policeman.  He joined up in December 1916 and served with 113 Siege Battery, firing a six inch howitzer.

Thursday 4th October 1917

Left rest camp at 2pm for our new position at Ypres.  Got there at 3pm and went to the billets of 123 Bty (i..e. gun battery) who we were relieving.  Had my first issue of rum, it was very strong and nearly got over me.

Friday October 5th

Went to Bty at 8am and took over all guns.  The Bty is in an awful place and in going there I saw some most pitiful sights on the Menin Road, dead horses lying everywhere and smelt awful.  Here and there some poor chap was lying on a stretcher dead waiting to be buried.   Next we come to the field ambulance station, poor wounded lying everywhere.  Over on the right a burial ground and a chaplain is just burying a few dead.  That is a sight you see each time you pass.

I was on No 4 gun, we fired 80 rds (i.e. rounds, shells) in reply to one of our infantry S.O.S. call.  Rum issue again and my word you want it for its raining hard and no shelter.  

Sunday October 7th

The day which will remain in my memory as long as I live.  Paraded at 7.30 and went to Bty.  Got spades and 25 of us, under Lieut. Sizeland went another 3kilos (kilometres) further on to dig a new position.  It was an awful journey.  Fritz was shelling all round us, but we had to go through it, horses, wagons and men were knocked into the air like bits of wood.  It was most pitiful, men were lying dead everywhere, horses all over the place and such a smell.  I can say Fritz knocked hundreds out in a few minutes.

Well we pushed on amongst it all, bits flying everywhere and thinking every second would be the last, then one of our wagons skidded and the driver fell off, breaking his leg, so we had to patch him up.  Well we got to the site of new position at last and what a site too, it made you feel bad to look at it, shell holes everywhere and poor horses which carry shells up were stuck up to their stomachs.

There is not even a blade of grass behind where Fritz is shelling.

Went and had a bit of bully beef and Wilcox got wounded.   The shelling went on until 4pkm and we had to wait until 7pm on before we could start back through and mud up to our knees, and what a long walk it was.  Distance 9 kilos.  Landed back at billet at 9pm.  Got a cup of hot cocoa at YMCA.  That was all we had since 12 0`clock.

As I have said, I shall never forget it as long as I live for it was cruel.  

Tuesday October 9th

Started a big barrage fire at 5am and the infantry went over on a big push.  They got all their objectives and a lot of prisoners.  Our guns fired 800 Rds between 5am and 11am.  It was awful hard work on the gun for the mud was up to our knees.  A big lot of wounded came down all day long and one case I noticed was two German prisoners helping one of our chaps down the line, they were only boys.

Saw several tanks, they were not as large as I thought they would be.  Fritz sent three shells close to No 4 gun.  Covered me in mud.  Expected to have a Blighty one (i.e. a wound requiring him to return to Britain) every second.  

Saturday October 13th  

Fritz still shelling heavy.  I ws hit in the back with a piece of shell, but it did not go through my overcoat.  Tired out not having had any sleep for 48 hrs.  

Sunday 14th October

Got up at 7.30 feeling better, hardly any breakfast for us.  Building dugouts to 11am then went to Bty and was guide to wagons.  Came back through Chateau Wood.  It was terrible, shells flying everywhere and the driver had to go at the gallop.  Saw lots of tanks and aeroplane there knocked out, in fact it was a most terrible journey and one I can never forget, horses and men  are lying everywhere about here unburried and the smell is awful.

 Alf Durnell sm
 WWi 3 soldiers
 WWI mud horses
 Alf Durnell, was gassed twice but returned to resume his career as a railwayman.
"I noticed two German prisoners helping one of our chaps down the line". "shell holes everywhere and poor horses which carry shells up were stuck up to their stomach".

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