To the Somme June - July 1916

 

28th Week at War - 10th June - 16th June La Gorgue - Busnes - Auchel - Villers Chatel

On the 10th June, the 38th (Welsh) Division received orders to proceed south and over the 11th and 12th June, their positions in the Neuve Chapelle sector were taken over by the 61st Division. This marked the end of the Division being part of XI Corps. The initial phase of this move to the south was to take the Division to an area just east of St Pol (Saint Pol sur Ternoise) to be trained on a manoeuvre area lent by the French. The 130th (St John) Field Ambulance paraded at 1.30pm on Saturday 10th June and marched at the rear of the 114th Brigade (to pick up stragglers and the sick) via Merville, Calonne and Robecq to Busnes, arriving at 8.30pm where they were billeted on the Busnes-Robecq road. 48563 Pte Ieuan Phillips states in his diary that after the 14 mile march he "slept in a motor car like a top". A small rear party was left at La Gorgue to hand over to the 2/1 South Midland Field Ambulance from the 61 Division. 

Busnes

 

The rear party left at La Gorgue and Laventie arrived in Busnes on the 11th and wagons were loaded and reloaded for instructional purposes but the Unit was still busy treating the sick of the 114th Brigade. On the following day, an advance party under the command of Lieut R A G Elliott left for Auchel at 7am and the rest of the Unit paraded and marched via Lillers and Burbure to Auchel arriving at 2.30pm. The march was very wet and miserable. The OC recorded in the Unit War Diary that "very poor billets for Officers and men and bad standing for the horses". While Capt M Ffoulkes described the billets at Busnes as "most uncomfortable but as we only remained one night, it did not matter much", and those at Auchel as being "much more fortunate in the matter of billets".  Later that day the OC visited Villers-Chatel.

Auchel church

On Tuesday 13th June, an advance party under the command of the OC left for Villers-Chatel at 7.15am and relieved the 76th Field Ambulance of the 25th Division at 1pm. There were 12 ordinary and 18 extraordinary beds for Officer and 40 ordinary and 56 extraordinary beds for other ranks at Chateau Villers-Chatel and 156 ordinary beds for other ranks at Mingoval. Lt Col Davies described these two locations as 'excellently situated spots for Field Ambulance, both the former containing ample accommodation for sick officers with a beautifully laid out park while the huts at Mingoval were spacious and of a French pattern. The billets for the Unit were in an untidy and dirty state, those at Mingoval were unfit for occupation and verminous and no certificate re billets was asked for or given'.

By the time 48563 Pte Ieuan Phillips arrived at Chateau Villers Chatel he records in his diary as being "fagged out completely".

On the 15th June, the 38th (Welsh) division became part of XVII Corps (3rd Army) and began training for the offensive ahead. The divisional training programme which had been issued by GHQ some weeks earlier stipulated that divisions were not only to train to attack enemy trenches and strong points on a large scale but also to train to follow through once the enemy defences had been breached. The men of the 130th (St John) Field Ambulance were not only to take part in these training exercises but had to continue to treat the sick and injured of the 114th Brigade. 

29th Week at War - 17th June - 23rd June Villers Chatel - Mingoval

The hospital at Villers Chatel was situated in one wing of the Chateau. The Chateau was first used as a hospital by the French Army in 1914 and is famous for being the place that General Ernest Jacques Barbot, the commander of the French 77th Alpine division, died from shrapnel wounds to his chest that he suffered during the 2nd battle of Artois on the 10th May 1915. General Barbot was initially buried in a small military cemetery in the ground of the Chateau Villers Chatel but was subsequently reinterred at the French Military Cemetery of Notre Dame de Lorette.

Villers Chatel Chateau

The owner of the Chateau, Madame La Countess de Florimond and two of her four daughters were still in residence in one wing of the Chateau while the Unit used the rest as a hospital. Capt M Ffoulkes, in a letter home dated 17th June 1916 wrote that "The Countess  has an Irish lady - an old maid named Miss O'Donnell from Kerry, living with her. She acts as a sort of companion and has been with her about 15 years. I had a long chat with her this morning - she took me to see a cemetery for the French soldiers in the Park. The land was given by the Countess and the graves are beautifully kept. I came across some German soldiers buried there".  The fact that this cemetery was well kept and contained the graves of French as well as German soldiers was also recorded by 48563 Pte Ieuan Phillips.

 The Chateau Villers Chatel 2015

The Chateau is currently owned by the Great Grandson of the Countess who was in residence when the Unit occupied it as a Hospital in June 1916 and lets out two of the bedrooms on a bed and breakfast basis. I stayed there in March 2015 and was most comfortably looked after and while the owner does not have any photographs of the Chateau during the Great War (these were lost during the Nazi occupation in WW2), he was able to show me around the various rooms that were used as wards and operating theatres. Capt Ffoulkes describes the Chateau in a letter home "Our present abode is a most romantic place and we are very comfortable. It is an old chateau - a small castle in fact - situated on the side of a gentle hill in a beautiful old park". He goes on to say "It has turrets, winding staircases and beautiful oak panelled rooms. My bedroom is in one of the turrets and I have a luxurious old fashioned bed". I suspect that this may well have been the room I stayed in!

While stationed at Villers Chatel and Mingoval, the Units chief work consisted of field training with the Division. On Saturday 17th, the Unit was engaged with drill, physical exercise and fatigues although 48563 Pte Ieuan Phillips recorded that on this day he was kept busy with a great number of sick men to be seen. On the following day, the hospital at Chateau Villers Chatel was visited and inspected by Brig General T. O. Marden C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., commanding officer of the 114th Brigade and a route march with stretchers was conducted under the command of Capt Ffoulkes.

On the 19th, the A.D.M.S. 38th (Welsh) Division visited the Hospital at Villers Chatel and conducted a medical board to examine men of the 10th, 13th, 14th and 15th Battalions of the Welsh Regiment who were considered unfit for forward duties (PB - permanently base) and the hospital was also visited by General Sir Charles Fergusson, Commander of XVII Corps.

General Sir Charles Fergusson in the 1920s

A route march with stretchers was again undertaken with Capt Anderson and Capt Ffoulkes in command while Lieut R A G Elliott proceeded on leave. A further route march was held on the next day but while 48563 Pte Ieuan Phillips records that he had no route march on the 21st, the Unit War Diary records that there was a Unit route march with stretchers and also practice in loading and unloading stretchers, carrying wounded over difficult country and through woods. Lt Col Davies also carried out an examination of the stretcher bearers in first aid. Between 9am and 5pm, four medical officers along with a Sgt Maj R.A.M.C. and a Sgt Maj A.S.C. carried out a reconnaissance of the divisional training area.

On Thursday 22nd June the Unit took part in a Brigade level field training day. The Unit left the Chateau Villers Chatel at 9.00 am and arrived at the training area at 12.00 noon. Field operations were conducted until 5.30 and after tea, the Unit marched back to Villers Chatel arriving at 9.50pm. A long day! On the following day, the Unit marched to Monchy Breton at 5.00 am and was involved in manoeuvres until 8.30pm. 48563 Pte Ieuan Phillips records that he ended up 'Bivouaced under a hedge for the night. Rough time'. During this time, Lt Col Davies and Capt Ffoulkes took part in a Staff ride with the 114th Brigade.