December 1915

The SS Karnak arrived at Le Harve at 6am on the Saturday 4th December 1915 after what, by all accounts, was a rough and unpleasant voyage. Despite the sight of the hospital ship Aquitaine, all illuminated in Southampton water to cheer the men on their way, the sea was very rough and many for the men suffered terribly with seasickness and spend the voyage vomiting.  Disembarkation was delayed because of a weak dockside crane which meant the wagons had to be unloaded before being lifted. At 12.30, the Unit left the docks and marched to No. 6 Dock Rest Camp for a night under canvas.

The following day, Sunday 5th December, the unit, along with a company of South Wales Borderers entrained into cattle trucks with Lt Col Davies acting as Officer Commanding (O.C.). 48554 Pte George Henry Jickells recorded in his diary that there were 24 men in each cattle truck or in the same sized trucks, 8 horses and two Army Service Corps (ASC) men. I can hardly have been a comfortable journey. The train set off at 3.20pm on an all day and night journey to Aire sur La Lys arriving at 1pm the following day. Here the Unit, along with the rest of the 38th (Welsh) Division, were to join XI Corps (part of the 1st Army) who where holding the Neuve Chapelle sector of the Western Front. At this time XI Corps consisted of Guards Division, in line north of Neuve Chapelle and the 19th (Western) Division (new army) in line to the south with the 46th (North Midlands) Division (territorial) in reserve.

 

 

Map 1 Map of the Western Front winter 1915/16

At a stop at St Omer, Lt Col Davies was supplied with a map and position of the village were the Unit was to be billeted on arrival at Aire sur La Lys but when they arrived, there was no one to meet them and they had no interpreter. Unloading the train was delayed due to the short platform and the Unit marched off from Aire (Map 2 letter A) at 2.30pm in pouring rain and eventually arrived in pitch darkness at the village of Enguinegatte (Map 2 letter B)   (population approximately 400) at 6pm, soaked to the skin having taken several wrong turns on the way.The "O.C. lost his way, (nothing unusual)" recorded 48554 Pte George Henry Jickells. Although Lieut Anderson, along with a billeting party had been sent on ahead of the Unit, great difficulty was encountered in finding billets for both men and horses as the Wiltshire Yeomanry were already stationed in Enguinegatte. Eventually, with the assistance of the O.C. of the Wiltshire Yeomanry and his interpreter, billets were finally found in barns etc. The schoolroom was used to make tea for the men but many slept without blankets, tired, wet and hungry.

 

The following day was spent rearranging billets and fatigue duties and the unit was visited by the A.D.S.M. (Assistant Director of Medical Service) of the 38th (Welsh) Division - (at this time Col Morgan). Pte Ieuan Phillips 48563 reported in his diary that the men had a stew this day. Capt Ffoulkes and Capt Anderson were billeted in a house from where Capt Ffoulkes wrote to his family (papers of Annie Ffoulkes held in Bangor University Archives) from the kitchen while the adjoining room was full of men of the unit chatting and drinking cafe au lait made by Madame. He describes the local people as very good to the men, doing what they can for them but this is very little as they are so poor. Describing the village as very scattered and composed mainly of small farms. "The people are happy but poor and dirty, and most of them never seem to have heard of a bath". The Unit received orders to move at 9am the next day to Glomenghem (Map 2 letter C), a larger village, just a few miles away.

In continued wet weather, the Unit marched out of Enguinegatte at 9am and arrived in Glomengham at 1pm. The men were billeted in barns and stables while the headquarters was established in a chateau. Lieut Douglas Charles Murray Page RAMC reported himself for duty and was taken on the strength of the unit.

The wet weather continued on the 9th December when the A.S.C. (Army Service Corps) motor transport reported for duty with 4 Sunbeam Ambulances, 2 Ford Ambulances and two motor cycles. It is not clear from the Unit War Diary if the drivers for these vehicles were already on the strength of the Unit or joined on this day. The Unit was ordered to collect the sick of the 113th and 114th Brigades and transport them to the hospital established by the 129th Field Ambulance at Clarques about 6 Km due west of the Unit's current location.

On the 10th December, the Unit continued to collect the sick from the 113th and 114th Brigades and a route march was held. Capt Anderson had a difficult and frustrating task in obtaining the cash to pay the unit, attending the Brigade Headquarters at 10 am, then proceeding to Divisional Headquarters at Roquetoire and finally being sent to Merville, some 25 Km away and finally managed to obtain the cash for the Unit by 6 pm!

Map 2

 A section of Map sheet 36A edition 6 (1916) showing the location of the Unit in Mid December 1915 - scale - each numbered square is 1000 yards square.