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.


 

2nd Week at War - 11th - 17th December 1915

Saturday 11th December was again wet and miserable but the men did at least receive their 1st pay while on active service in France. 48563 Pte Ieuan Phillips received 10 Francs but was unhappy as he had no cigarettes!

On the 12th December, the Unit received instructions to open a hospital and a suitable site was found a few kilometres to the east in the village of Rincq (Map 2 letter D). A Section with Capt A J Andrews in command were detailed to clean and establish the hospital and by 6 pm it was ready to receive patients. On the following day, the tent sub-division of A Section were sent to the hospital for duty with the remainder of the Unit going on a route march or doing fatigues. Tuesday the 14th December saw the men of the Unit continuing with fatigue duties, including laying roads for the motor ambulances at both the Headquarters (Glomengham) and at the Hospital (Rincq) and this work continued on through the following day.

Lieut Elliott was sent on the 16th December to take on the duties of Lieut Pennant (M.O. 13th Welsh) who had been sent to hospital. Instructions were received for A Section to proceed to the 9th Field Ambulance for instructional purposes. This was common practice and companies/sections of all the Units of the 38th (Welsh) division were attached in rotation to equivalent Units of the more experienced and battle hardened divisions of the XI Corps to gain experience. B Section took over the Hospital, taking over from A Section who departed for Estaires by motor bus at 1.30pm under the command of the O.C. Lt Col Davies. Captain Andrew and Lieut Buckley were the other two officers of A Section.

Estaires in 1914

The acting O.C. of the 9th Field Ambulance was Captain Fraser and the Unit had its headquarters in Estaires, an Advanced Dressing Station (A.D.S.) at Laventie and an Aid Post at Red House. Groups of 12 men under the command of an Officer were attached to the A.D.S. in rotation while the remainder of A Section were attached to their corresponding departments of the 9th Field Ambulance.

The official War Diary of the Unit state there was 'nothing to report' on Friday 17th December but 48563 Pte Ieuan Phillips who, as part of B Section was manning the Hospital at Rincq, appeared pleased to report that he had roast meat for dinner.

 


 

3rd Week at War - 18th - 24th December 1915 - Calonne

The stretcher bearers of the Unit underwent a Gas test on the 18th and that evening orders were received from the A.D.M.S. to send forward on the following day, a party consisting of 1 Medical Officer and 12 men to take over the Field Hospital at Calonne which was the centre of the 38th (Welsh) Division rest area at the time.

Map 3

 

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

On the 19th December, Lieut Elliott returned from duty with the 13th Welsh. Capt Ffoulkes led the advanced party which included 48563 Pte Ieuan Phillips, which left Rincq by car and arrived at Calonne via Merville at 6.30pm to prepare to take over the Hospital.

Calonne sur la Lys pre war

The Unit marched out of Glomenghem at 7.30am on the 20th December and arrived at Calonne by 2.30pm, their journey being delayed by the 113rd Brigade who had taken the wrong road and so blocked the path of the 130th (St John) Field Ambulance. The wagons had to be left on the road as no wagon park had been arranged for them at Calonne. The Unit received 31 patients into the hospital on the day they took it over. The Hospital was established in the village schoolroom and Capt Ffoulkes and Capt Anderson had rooms in the schoolmaster's house. The whole village was described by Capt Ffoulkes as being very dirty and the roads to be in a hopeless state. Troops and transport passed through the village continuously almost all day. Calonne was very much closer to the front line and the sound of shell fire could clearly be heard at the hospital. Over the next few days the hospital was gradually put in order, billets were found for the men and standing and a park was obtained for the horses and transport of the Unit.

On Christmas Eve, A Section returned to Calonne and so the whole Unit was together for their first Christmas at war.

 


 

4th Week at War - 25th - 31st December 1915 - Calonne

The men of the Unit were permitted to observe both Christmas day and Boxing day as days of rest and recreation in so far as emergencies would allow. 48563 Pte Ieuan Phillips records that Christmas day was "very enjoyable" and that they had a lovely meal and pudding.

On Boxing Day, B Section handed over the running of the Hospital to C Section and departed at 9.30am for Vieille Chapelle to be attached to the 57th Field Ambulance for a week's instruction. B Section consisted of 60 men under the command of  Capt Ffoulkes along with Lieut J Burke and Lieut D C M Page. The three officers took it in turn to take a party of a dozen men or so up to the A.D.S. of the 57th Field Ambulance at St Vaast for 2 days. St Vaast is located about 3 km east south east of Vieille Chapelle and was about 2 km from the front line and is now the site of the St Vaast Post Military Cemetery. Capt Ffoulkes with his party relieved Lieut Burke on the 29th December. According to Capt Ffoulke' letters, the A.D.S. was located in an orchard about 300 meters from the communication trench and consisted of a semicircle of splendid dugouts one of which was especially large for the treatment of the wounded. On the morning of his arrival at the A.D.S., Capt Ffoulkes took six of the men into the trenches and records that they had quite an exciting time. They had to keep their heads low as they walked along the 1km zig-zag communication trench, as if they stood erect, their heads and shoulders would show above the parapet and there was a German machine gun trained on the trench. Having reached the reserve trench, Capt Ffoulkes left the men with the Regimental Medical Officer of the 9th Welsh and went on to the front line trench. He recalls that "it was strange to feel that you were within 100 yards of the Germans - it's the nearest I've been to them yet and I didn't want to get any nearer". He further records that British Field Artillery Batteries were posted all around the A.D.S. and kicked up an infernal din at times, especially a battery of 18 pounders situated about 80 meters behind the A.D.S. In the evening, they enjoyed sitting on the roof of their dugout, watching the British shells bursting over the German trenches until the German guns began to return fire when they felt it best to retreat into the safety of the dugout.

At the 9am parade on the 27th December, Lt Col Davies read out to the Unit at Calonne the Christmas Message to the Troops from His Majesty the King. Arrangements were made with the representative of the Mayor of Calonne, for the Unit to take over the remaining classroom of the school on the night of the 29th for a week.

Calonne pre war