It seems extraordinary to have finally reached this day. When I sat listening to my Grandpa talk about his experiences I could never have imagined that I’d be writing about it 45+ years later and having researched his memories in such depth. I was even invited on to BBC Radio Scotland to mark the centenary of Passchendaele.
On the 31st July 1917, Charlie and his 16th Battalion RWF, 113th Brigade, and 38th Division went over the top for the second time – and Charlie’s last ever military action.
“During the advance which was most gallantly carried out, opposition was experienced from machine guns and snipers, and several officers were hit. The majority of the enemy met were dispatched with the bayonet except those who gave themselves up”.
Hostile fire came from Zouave House but was easily overcome. By 5am excellent progress continued with 150 Germans taken prisoner and 50 “bitter” enemy killed. Fresh companies moved quickly through those in front to renew and sustain the attack. Machine gun fire poured out of Stray and Marsouin Farms while the advancing battalions moved dangerously close to their own creeping artillery barrage. Many officers were being lost so NCOs quickly took over their responsibilities “without hesitation. The behaviour of all ranks was excellent throughout”
The patriotic press and a number of books, including a well known account by Conan Doyle, would revel in the success of that day. The “heroic” Welsh who’d “swept over Pilckem Ridge” were embarrassed at their humiliation of the Kaiser’s favourite Potsdam Guards known as Cockshafers and regarded as “the best German Footguards on the Western Front”. A Welsh officer surrounded by loud and surrendering Cockshafers had threatened to punch one of them unless he “let him alone”. A Cardiff man described them “with their tails down” but also meek and amiable. German medics even treated the wounded Welsh in a large underground bunker already containing a 150 of their own men left behind in their rapid retreat.
By midnight the 16th RWF were relieved by the 15thRWF but were back at the Front Line near Stray Farm at 7am on 1st August. On the 2nd August they held the whole of the Front Line in their sector close to the Steenbeek River.
Records show that Charlie’s war ended that day on the 2nd of August. The Germans were already attempting a counter attack with their heavy artillery causing many casualties. Charlie would be included in the 183 “Other Ranks” wounded in the 16th RWF’s War Diary.
His available medical records detail a shrapnel wound to his right chest and a GSW (gun shot wound) to his shoulder. He would have been carried back to an Advanced Dressing Station and once well enough, moved to a Casualty Clearing Station. Research tells me this was likely to be at “Dozinghem”. The CWGC cemetery close to the site of the old hospitals includes graves of other 16th battalion men.
He was shipped home on 2nd September 1917 and taken to the Northumberland Hospital at Gosforth in Newcastle.
He left hospital on 29th December 1917 and was discharged from the army on the 2nd May 1918 under King’s Regulation paragraph 392 XVI being deemed No longer physically fit for War Service.
The 38th Division had finally avenged the criticism of Mametz Wood. Charlie’s suffering would continue until June 1920.