Friday, 1 May 2015

Leighton Buzzard Men in France

The Second Battle of Ypres, by Richard Jack (Wikimedia)

Saturday 1st May 1915: Private Charles Winmill of Leighton Buzzard, who is serving with the Canadian Division, has written to his mother at Church Street from a hospital in a small seaside town in France:
“Well, I am pulling along ‘fine right’ now; with the aid of crutches, I am able to take a walk along the sea beach, and I thank my lucky stars I’m able to be away from the firing line. If I had lost a limb I wouldn’t have said a word, and you can’t wonder at it, because I have had three of the worst days a man could have. The fun kept on for four days, with intervals, but the hottest time of all was when we were called from Ypres to check the advance of the enemy. When the order came for us to extend and fix bayonets we could see whole bunches of French retiring on account of the gases that were used with such good, or bad, effect by the Huns”. [1]
The Canadians also retired in some confusion and dug in until the order came to advance again. “That second advance was just ‘plain hell’, and yet at times it was laughable, for a man would fall over a stone or a big clod of earth with the result that his bayonet would stick in the ground and maybe his gun muzzle would be full of dirt and then you could hear a ‘good round curse’.“  Private Winmill’s battalion held the trenches through Friday night and into Saturday morning when reinforcements arrived, by which time “not many of our boys were left; indeed the honours’ list must be heavy, but we did just what we were told and got what was wanted. About five o’clock on Saturday night I got my souvenir. I could have sung a song after I got it, because I wanted to get away from the slaughter house for a while and forget the things that had happened.” His wound is progressing well and he expects to be going back to the front line soon, but hopes that his next wound will take him to England or Canada for good.

Corporal H. Guess, serving with the Bedfordshire Regiment, has also written to his parents with news of a poison gas attack:
“We have just come out of the trenches for a rest, after five days and six nights forty yards from the Germans – a bit close for a start. They are a rotten lot of cowards, for they tried to poison a lot of us the other day with those gases they send over. There were fourteen of us in the trench I was in, and only four of us are left, and when the gas was coming the Germans rushed another trench and killed and wounded about 150 of our men, but they lost 500 in doing it. The gas did not upset me much. It is a shame to see the way the Germans are treating the poor Belgians. I have seen them homeless, and the towns are in ruins with the houses and Churches blown up. I think, however, that the Germans have had about enough of it. I have come across several Leighton fellows since I have been out here. Will Sewell is all right. I hear Harry Bierton has had his thumb blown off.”
Source: Leighton Buzzard Observer and Linslade Gazette, 20th May 1915

[1] At the Second Battle of Ypres between 22nd and 25th April the Canadians attempted to defend a position left exposed by the effect of a chlorine gas attack on the French Algerian Division. The Canadians themselves faced a direct gas attack on the 24th. Their efforts stalled the German attack and bought time for the British to advance, but at the cost of 6,000 casualties. 

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