Thursday, 13 April 2017

Easter in the war

D/DLI 7/913/320 Italian Easter postcard sent by Private Fred Lucas to his son
D/DLI 7/913/320 Italian Easter postcard sent by Private Fred Lucas to his son
This week we have two different Easter experiences.  

Firstly, we have a letter from a letter written by Cuthbert Headlam to his wife. Headlam worked as a clerk at the House of Lords before and after the war, with a desire to go into politics himself. He was the member of parliament for Barnard Castle 1924-1929, and 1931-1935. He also served on Durham County Council 1931-39. During the war, he was a General Staff Officer, rising to become a Lieutenant Colonel.

This extract is from a letter dated 19 April 1916 (D/He 149/9):

It is difficult to realize that tomorrow is Good Friday – we were at Stansted last year weren't we? What a happy time we had there and what lucky people we were to have it! 

You see I am in rather a Christian mood today which I know will please you – but, darling, I must confess that I have not been to church all through Lent and have denied myself nothing that I could get! I look upon being separated from you and leading la vie militaire as quite enough penance for one lonely man – besides, you seem to be doing enough church for two ordinary people!

D/DLI 7/63/2(199) Map of the Arras and Vimy area drawn by Reverend Birch
D/DLI 7/63/2(199) Map of the Arras and Vimy area drawn by Reverend Birch
Secondly we have the memoir of Private David Brown who served with 10th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, and later 15th Battalion. Prior to the war he worked as a shop assistant and enlisted at the end of 1915. He was discharged shortly before the end of the war, as no longer physically fit for war service.

This extract is from April 1917, and the beginning of the Battle of Arras:

My first turn came on the Easter Monday morning in the great fight of Vimy Ridge in which the Bosche was driven out of his great Hindenburg Line. We had been working for a few nights digging the assembly trenches in front of the first line bringing us nearer to Fritz. We were taken to these on the Sunday night. It started raining and kept on all night. Everyone soaked to the skin and trenches flooded with water. We were timed to go over at 7.23 am. But about 5.30am we could hear the barrage commence 30 miles away. Just one long rumble which came nearer and nearer, until our turn came. Some shells I can tell you. Just like clouds in front with the explosions. Everyone all nerves until you get over, then it all seems to leave you. All you think about is to get at the Huns. 

In about half an hour our battalion had taken three lines of trenches. Then we were all hard at work consolidating the line, making fire steps, so that we could be ready if the enemy should counter attack. We thought we would have been relieved that night after doing our bit, but such was not the case. The Battalion which had to go ahead of us had not taken their objective. “The Somersets” were nearly wiped out. So we were kept standing to all night and next morning we received orders that we were to advance with the rest of the Brigade to clear out the enemy. 

There was to be no barrage this time. It looked like being a surprise stunt, we managed to get right up to the wire defences. But could not get through owing to the awfully heavy machine gun fire. So every man had to get down anywhere he could in shell holes for shelter and wait our opportunity. But luck was with us, it started snowing very hard, completely stopping Fritz from seeing us. Then the fun started, every man was upcutting the wire, and it wasn’t very long before we were through. We put the wind up old Fritz when [we] got near him. I think we were all like a lot of mad men shouting and yelling. We cleared them out of their dugouts with the good old Mills bombs. We did not give any chances. We took over 400 prisoners. We were relieved almost at once by another Brigade after taken all objectives.

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