British NCO served as chemist corporal with 187th Coy Royal Engineers and E Coy 2nd Bn Special Brigade Royal Engineers on Western Front, 1915-1918
REEL 1: Aspects of period with Royal Engineers in GB, 9/1915: embarked on troopship at Southampton, 2/Sep/1915; problem with asthma; armed only with a revolver and ammunition; description of kit and equipment; accompanied by band during march to Chatham station; description of train journey to Southampton and voyage to France; disembarked Rouen, 7/Sep/1915. Aspects of operations with 187th Coy Royal Engineers on Western Front, 1915-1916: marched to camp on race course; problem with breathing; sleeping and messing arrangements; description of gas mask and method of use; description of journey to Helfaut via St Omer; first sight of soldiers carrying gas cylinders; story of being selected for gas company at interview in Chatham; story of carrying company rations in blankets. REEL 2 Continues: description of billet in barn; daily routine and duties; physical training and cross country running; description of constructing trench for chlorine gas cylinders; issued with improved respirators; description of training including method of releasing gas, gas test with respirator and gas attacks at night; various recollections of other soldiers in section; story of swimming in pool. REEL 3 Continues: always carried Bible given by mother; shared billet with men from mining company; story about two soldiers sharing same name; story of suggesting using rubber instead of copper pipes for connecting gas cylinders; story of having hair cut by French woman in village; story of staging mock fight in estaminet with friend Jimmy; amusing story about solider nicknamed 'ankle down'; duties as section orderly; description of constructing latrine; story of gathering nuts to eat. REEL 4 Continues: story about friend who worked in chemist's shop; political beliefs; attitude to Germans; opinion of quality and quantity of food; attitude to physical exercise and training; relations with local civilians; travelled by bus to join 187th Coy; opinion of billet in barn; problem of proximity of midden and having to boil water; story of being given rum by sergeant major; moved into new billet; story of candle starting fire in billet and spreading to owner's house; various memories of two Scottish medical students in section; description of farm machinery; story of dogs operating wheel to churn butter; story of having photograph taken; further description of constructing latrine; story about sacks of worn army boots; opinion of CO Cpt Sanders and Cpl Anderson. REEL 5 Continues: further comments on Cpl Anderson; story about soldier reading poetry while on sentry duty; opinion of Irish company cook Paddy Brady; story of unsuccessful attempt to find friend's brother; story about Cpl Dawson winning VC; opinion of new sergeant Robertson; location of gas cylinders in trenches near Bethune. REEL 6 Continues: description of duties with gas cylinders; story of finding box of 'jam tin' bombs; problem of cold and frozen ground; story of being mistaken for a German spy by Brigadier; importance of secrecy over gas cylinders; story of coming under fire while carrying gas cylinders and casualties in section; description of wearing gas mask like a turban; description of transporting gas cylinders on narrow gauge railway and loading them onto lorries; sheltered in ruined building; story of soldiers singing and playing chess during route march; reaction to seeing Red Cross barges carrying wounded; weather conditions; lectures and talks; story of playing football match wearing gas mask; received parcels from home for Christmas; Christmas Dinner at local estaminet, 12/1915; description of No.16 Section New Year's Eve dinner, 31/Dec/1915; reads out menu. REEL 7 Continues: further reading from menu including toasts and songs. Recollections of operations with E Coy 2nd Bn Special Brigade, Royal Engineers on Western Front, 1916-1918: reorganisation of unit early 1916; story of hot bath in brewery; issued with new clothes; daily routine and duties; issued with leather jerkin; marched to station at Calonne; description of train journey to St Omer; marched to Heuringhem and billeted in cottage; opinion of Lt Pelling; formed nucleus of new section; joined by new drafts from GB; description of first company parade in the snow; number of men in section; billeted in loft; problem of lice and methods of removal; story of hunting rabbits and having them cooked at local estaminet. REEL 8: description of night exercises on common; method of connecting gas cylinders; route marches; inter-section sports day; various memories of Sandy McPherson; role in charge of target practice using revolvers; story about cross-country race; amusing story about Lt Jobling. REEL 9 Continues: noise of guns in the distance; price of food; opinion of estaminet owner Monsieur Frederick; awareness of progress of war; opinion of rations and lack of fresh fruit and vegetables; off-duty recreational activities including pitch and toss; story about trousers; story about switching rations; opinion of quartermaster; story of building masts for chlorine gas experiment; description of making straw mattress for tent; shaving; further comments on Monsieur Frederick; story of inspection by Haig on Helfaut common. REEL 10 Continues: attitude to poor drill display by Coy during Haig's inspection; route march to St Omer; foot inspection; importance of comradeship; moved to Somme sector; opinion of accommodation; problem of chlorinated water from river making tea taste bad; travelled by box car up to line at Bray; description of trenches including Brick Alley; nature of terrain; duties in charge of fatigue party erecting tent and unloading gas cylinders from train; story of building shelter out of empty wooden cases; method of testing phosgene gas cylinders; attached to C Coy at Noeux-les-Mines; role instructing four men from Pioneer Corps in connecting and discharging gas cylinders; problem of soldier damaging thread on cylinders. REEL 11 Continues: code word for discharging gas; checked pipes and connectors; officer's whistle used as signal to discharge gas; each team responsible for 20 cylinders; effects of phosgene gas; story of disconnecting gas cylinders that were facing own trenches; retaliatory German artillery barrage after gas attack; turned off and removed empty cylinders; always kept gas mask on while handling cylinders; method of testing gas cylinders and problem of leaks; reaction to death of Cpl Cole; re-joined E Coy; story about 'Darky' Drake being paralysed by gas; taken by lorry to village south of Laventie; slept outside because of dust in barn aggravating asthma; story about finding grave of soldier who had died in 1914; description of journey up to front line communication trench 'Ersatz Alley'; story of finding bodies of six soldiers under a ground sheet; description of constructing emplacements for 600 gas cylinders; story of finding dismembered bodies of two Royal Engineers signallers; 1600 cylinders of gas released during night; description of watching German minewerfers going over trench; story about frightened soldier praying during barrage; cylinders disconnected and removed at night; smell of cordite; opinion of pork and beans; story of delivering letter to soldier in other section; description of men playing house (bingo); story of buying cherries from French woman; returned to Noeux-les-Mines; section billeted in mine building; gas cylinder testing; billeted in winding shed; opinion of French miners. REEL 12 Continues: description of attack with C Coy near Loos; reaction to soldiers shaking hands with foot of dead German in trench; preparations for attack; infantry carried gas cylinders up to line; use of Vernol sprayer to neutralise gas in trench; second gas attack; stored gas pipes in shelter; story of soldier cut in two after shell exploded in trench; tour of front line trench; problem of wind direction; E Coy fired 2000 gas cylinders during attack; removed empty cylinders and replaced with rubber hoses; story of local women doing soldiers' laundry; moved to Chateau-de-la-Haie,7/1916; billeted in barn; story of touring trenches during thunderstorm; story of being hit by truck; role instructing new draft in using gas cylinders; story about Irish soldier Fitzsimmons and distribution of rations; method of cutting emplacements for gas cylinders; slept in bivouac; story about sections betting on dogs catching rats; learned semaphore signalling with flags; story about veteran Scottish soldier in Coy; listened to band playing popular songs; story of instructing sergeants in map reading. REEL 13 Continues: attitude to sergeants being commissioned; reaction to news coverage of Somme offensive; distribution of mail; story about elderly soldier called Mold; story about soldier with syphilis; opinion of trenches; story about trench occupied by British and Germans; story of soldier hit on shoulder by fin grenade; songs sung while marching; story about two wounded brothers being sent home; casualties in section; description of unloading boxes of gas cylinders; opinion of billets over estaminet; story of having hair cut by civilian barber; use of German POWs to unload pit props; duties in line at night including guarding gas cylinders; story of playing Crown and Anchor. REEL 14 Continues: story about corporal hitting CSM; removal of gas cylinders and rebuilding fire-step; story of watching cockfight at estaminet; description of trench system and conditions; daily routine and duties; wind direction; communication with home and censorship; reason for gas cylinders being referred to as 'rats'; story about meal in estaminet with friend Malcolmson and reaction to his subsequent death; story about two underage soldiers in section; reaction to casualties during Somme offensive; story about Scottish soldier awarded DCM; opinion of working conditions and comparison to infantry; attitude to using revolver; carried Mills bombs; German artillery retaliation after each gas attack; number of cylinders discharged by each man; problem of smell from gas in trenches and on clothes; story about soldiers sharing a cigarette. REEL 15 Continues: description of billet in brick factory; opinion of new section officer; condition of trenches; description of wiring rubber pipes to cylinders; story of first leave in GB and reaction to being given white feather; duties as section orderly corporal including delivering mail; interview with new section officer; various memories of Christmas dinner, 1916; problem of frost and snow; used newspapers to keep warm; stole coal from mine for fire; duties at wind reading station and description of accommodation and food; story of rats eating rations while away from shelter; story of obtaining biscuits at Canadian canteen and staying the night. REEL 16 Continues: amusing story about whale oil; sentry duty over gas cylinders; reason for gas being discharged at night; reaction to death of company barber; description of cooking onions and biscuits; story about soldier who looked like Charlie Chaplin; amusing story about officer's dog; further memories of period in brick factory; story of spraining wrist during bombing raid; story of soldier being punished for neglect of duty; story of whole section volunteering for Heavy Machine Gun Corps to get away from officer; made deceptive tracks in snow; attitude to stealing. REEL 17 Continues: opinion of quality of new draft; attitude to munitions workers being paid more than soldiers; moved into new billet; washing facilities; attitude to drinking; story of trapping thief and punishment; story of very tall soldier carrying officers' kit; description of erecting bell tents; walked up to front line; reaction to sight of dead horses and mules; condition of trenches; duties digging pits for trench mortars to fire gas shells; revolvers replaced with rifles; carried boxes of 4-inch gas shells for mortars; story of soldier falling off duckboard into mud; problem with feet and having to walk in socks; returned on gun limber; description of gas attack at Vimy and recovering bodies; state of health and consultation with medical officer. REEL 18 Continues: story of medical officer visiting camp and organising improvements in conditions; story of finding crashed aircraft and charred body of pilot; story of helping pilot after crash; story of watching Divisional concert party; story of playing Crown and Anchor with Canadian soldiers and buying food with winnings; duties with carrying party near Vimy Ridge taking gas projectiles up to front line; method of firing projectiles; story of watching Canadian concert party on night before Battle of Vimy Ridge; description of attack at Vimy Ridge, 9/Apr/1917; returned to billets in Noeux-les-Mines; issued with rifles and webbing; description of Livens projector and method of loading and firing; various memories of Jimmy Greenwood; use of burning oil instead of phosgene. REEL 19 Continues: description of battery trench and method of concealment; worked at night; problem of hard ground; sections worked independently and together; description of installing and wiring projectors; number of liquid phosgene bombs fired; Bty able to deposit 12000pds of liquid phosgene on enemy positions in 15 minutes; description of switchboard; fired on signal from whistle; method of firing; responsible for 5 batteries; retrieved projectors at night and carried back to dump; burning oil bombs also fired; moved to Hulluch front; problem transporting projectors on narrow gauge railway; casualties; location of projectors north-west of Vermelles-Hulluch Rd; dug gun emplacements; loaded bogies with projectors and bombs; duties on trench guard; use of underground tunnel; description of 'flying fin' grenades exploding on German trenches; story of using bogie to carry body; story of friend Bobby Baird being gassed and subsequent death at Casualty Clearing Station; story of buying and learning to play tin whistle; opinion of effectiveness of gas projectors; moved to camp at Ecurie; description of camp and buildings. REEL 20 Continues: sleeping arrangements; problem of lice; washing facilities; description of observation balloons in Oppy Wood; location of projectors behind hedge; moved to new position at Gavrelle; story about incident with officer drawing revolver; use of bridge as land mark; story of officer's horse becoming trapped; story of mule jumping into trench and having to be pulled out; description of loading and firing projectors; method of wiring charges and camouflaging projectors; story of soldier wounded in groin by bullet; moved to new post north-east of Gavrelle; story about religious soldier; amusing story about rum; erection of tents; projectors dug in at night; comparison of living conditions with infantry; method of priming charges for bombs; story of finding messages from munitions girls and replying; duties bringing back salvage including box of German detonators; story of finding bodies of missing working party; story of soldier killed while examining German fuse cap. REEL 21 Continues: description of journey into line along communication trenches; story of stealing timber and corrugated iron to build hut; story about Scottish soldier collapsing; opinion of section CO Dick Liptrott; story about boxes of grenades and Very lights catching fire; story of carrying back salvage from sugar factory; use of mules to carry projectors; trench guard duties; slept in old German dugout during day; story of coming under fire while collecting water from village well; reaction to soldier eating all the rations; story of buying stock of cigarettes at 2d a packet from camp canteen; story about soldier with diabetes; story of meeting old school friend; story of swimming in stream with Dick Liptrott; carried bags of Mills bombs for trench raids; story of helping soldier with wounded leg; story of contracting trench fever and treatment in hospital; opinion of Horatio Bottomley and his 'John Bull' newspaper. REEL 22 Continues: further comments on Bottomley; story of only one soldier turning up for church parade at Roclincourt; story of being bombed while digging out projectors; story of day trip to Amiens; attitude to progress of war and casualties; story of boots wearing out and problem of swollen feet; opinion of conditions in hospital; role in charge of working party tarring shed; story of argument with ASC driver in estaminet; description of testing circuits with galvanometer and mending breaks; story of soldier accidentally hit in buttocks with pick axe; story of narrowly avoiding being hit by piece of shell case; story about two French prostitutes; story of falling into dugout; description of base plates used for projectors; story about soldier being gassed; opinion of base plates; amusing story about password. REEL 23 Continues: story of second period of leave in GB and comparison with first; attitude to religion; disembarked at Boulogne and posted to St Martin's Camp; rifle practice; training exercise with gas cylinders; description of different methods of firing gas; story of singing with opera singer in estaminet; move to St Quentin Front and billeted at Roye; story of finding German and French soldiers buried in same grave; description of using petrol cans to carry water; story of seeing Douglas Haig in car; description of underground dugout, terrain and trenches; story of digging projectors into no man's land; leisure activities during day; story of being given opium ointment after stubbing big toe; story about British aircraft; description of firing projectors from shallow trench and problem of fouled leads; retreated to shell hole in no man's land; problem of projectors not arriving; awareness of forthcoming German offensive, 3/1918; story of warning gongs sounding before gas attack. REEL 24 Continues: description of German attack in fog, 21/Mar/1918; description of evacuation of position; story of gas shell landing nearby and breathing in gas; assisted doctor moving the wounded; effects of gas poisoning and description of journey to hospital in French ambulance; description of medical treatment and conditions in hospital; taken by hospital train to hospital in Rouen for further treatment; problem of badly fitting clothes and having no boots; period of convalescence at camp near Trouville; opinion of food and accommodation; volunteered to help with clerical duties and rations for camp; story of journey to depot to collect food and deliver to cookhouse; leftovers given to German POWs. REEL 25 Continues: story about South African sergeant-major; issued with new uniform; story of conversation with German NCO; story of conversation with Canadian soldier; story about falling off pile of boxes on train; further comments on rations; returned to unit; opinion of new drafts; attended sick parade and marked fit; physical training and sports; story of marching 16 men along beach; story about meeting VADs in Trouville; returned to Rouen; description of medical inspection for VD; story about officer; losses in company; location of position; projectors and other equipment brought up in GS wagons; casualties; story of salvaging items from deserted house; story of following pattern of German shelling on track; contents of orderly room loaded onto truck every night to prevent capture; reinforcement of camp from bombs; story of meeting brother Harold. REEL 26 Continues: description of building walls around tents; story of argument with sergeant; story of visiting estaminet with brother; problem of injuring finger; story of meeting American sergeant; problem of projectors damaged by shell fire; story of friend wounded by shell; bombed by German aircraft; description of preparing position and guns opening fire; story about captured German pilot; story about three horses galloping free of gun team; reaction to friend Sandy McCullough being wounded; story about drunken Australians; church parade; attitude to blasphemies; story of soldiers singing obscene words to hymns; description of experiment in firing projectiles; posted to camp near Savy; opinion of sergeant-major; description of erecting and dismantling posts; method of transporting gas shells along wire ways; story of failing to respond to bugle call; reprimanded for carrying ammunition; moved into camp near Nieppe forest; description of village; story of buying pigs trotters; description of trenches; story about overturned lorry. REEL 27 Continues: story of being spotted by German aircraft while carrying projectors up to edge of forest; forest shelled with gas shells; dug out projectors and moved to new position; problem of gas affecting breathing; swam in canal; story of using library in school; story of receiving treatment for toothache from local woman; story of playing bridge in an estaminet; story about motorcycle; mounted guard over phosgene cylinders in quarry; billeted in damaged houses near Calonne; description of work on railway; story about German graves; story of finding decomposed bodies of three German soldiers; story of meeting wife's cousin; story of buying apples from French woman; daily rations supplemented by food from home; story about mushrooms; moved to billets in deserted house in Arras; description of damage to city; story about finding bodies of Germans killed by phosgene gas; dug in projectors near chateau; story about soldier killed by shell fragment; story about soldier with shell shock; story about Canadian trench mortar sergeant being wounded; description of final gas attack; story about German POWs; period of three weeks rest in Arras. REEL 28 Continues: story of finding wild grapes; opinion of new South African section officer; story about rifle; story of winning 54 francs during game of Crown and Anchor; attitude to gambling; story of visiting cemetery for 1200 Germans killed by gas; billeted in barn near Valenciennes; route marches; problem of broken respirator; paraded in fighting order; story about two American sappers; problem of reduced rations; story of betting war would end in two weeks; description of train journey to north of Paris; story about stealing bread; story of stationmaster announcing war would end at 11am, 11/Nov/1918; reaction of men to news of Armistice; allotted billets and found tins of Maconochies; slept in dance hall; description of rations for section; story of buying candles. REEL 29 Continues: description of Armistice celebrations; story of inviting former POW into billet; attitude to route marches; story of catching fish using Mills bombs; attitude to racist US soldier; story about Pioneer Jones being arrested and tried for leaving train; guard duty; polished boots and equipment; drill practice; amusing story about Cockney soldier; billeted in cow shed at Leme; story of receiving voting paper for General Election in GB; kit inspection; arms drill; reason for unrest in ranks; story of cycling to Heuringhem; accommodation in Nissen hut; role in charge of cooks; story about beans; opinion of camp and facilities; opinion of billets and rations in new camp; caught rabbit; story of stealing potatoes from farmer's cellar. REEL 30 Continues: paid 75 francs to farmer for potatoes; taken by lorry to Fruges; billeted in loft of house; visits to estaminet; method of supplementing rations; laid trail of black powder; description of Christmas Dinner, 12/1918; attitude to blockade of Germany and Allied intervention in Russia; issued with leave papers and 200 francs; last meal at estaminet; posted to Etaples; opinion of food at Salvation Army canteen; story of giving American soldiers packs of Bull Durham cigarettes; story of attending Salvation Army service; travelled by train to Boulogne and marched to St Martin's Camp; billeted in brewery cellar; embarked at Boulogne and given tin of sardines and two buns; disembarked at Folkestone and marched to Shorncliffe barracks for demobilization, 1/1919; problem of nausea; handed in arms and equipment; state of health; story of return to home in Sutton.
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