Camouflage Committee | 08 May 1915

It’s the eve of the latest big push on the Western Front, and the French Camouflage Committee has been doing its bit for the Battle of Artois.

Second Krithia

Being nothing if not persistent, General Hunter-Weston orders round three at Krithia. This time it’s the turn of a few lucky Antipodean units, lately shipped round from ANZAC Cove, to see what fighting at Cape Helles is all about. They soon discover it involves piecemeal attacks, with precious little artillery support, less coordination between the various attacking units, and almost no idea of what their objectives are beyond “advance”. Sergeant Cecil Eades was one of the ANZACs who attacked towards the Krithia Spur.

Well, we charged, but what we charged goodness only knows. I never ran so much in my life. Then the machine guns started. That stopped our charging. We advanced by short rushes to within striking distance, but were too decimated to complete the attack. Captain Heron and I happened to be alongside each other and there was a wretched Turk enfilading us with stray shots.

It was dark by this time. Heron and I took turns with the rifle and entrenching tool until Heron got an enfilading bullet over the right eye; I then had to dig for the two of us. We got down to cover without any further mishap. Why the Turks never counter-attacked that night and wiped the lot of us out, God alone knows.

There’s another feeble attempt at a general offensive in the evening, and then time is called on Second Krithia. There’s been an advance, of sorts. The French have held their end up and are now staring pensively towards the forbidding ravine of Kereves Dere. The MEF’s line is a few hundred yards closer to Krithia. And the air continues to fill with the thick, choking smell of the unburied dead. Here’s something that’s not entirely unlike the new line.

That's not gone well.
That’s not gone well.

Camouflage Committee

One of the persistent problems in this war is getting a really good observation post to observe your own artillery’s indirect fire and issue corrections. Height is critical. But of course, you can’t just build a tower or put your spotter in a house behind the front line, since such things are excellent ordnance magnets for the enemy.

And so the Camouflage Committee has been doing its bit to make the war slightly more silly. To support Second Artois, they’ve got permission to build an experimental fake tree overlooking the enemy positions. It’s about twenty feet tall, and it’s been made out of steel in the Committee’s workshop in Amiens. They’ve already taken plenty of photographs of a suitably-placed real tree that’s somehow managed to escape being completely destroyed by shells, and built their tree to look exactly like it.

The pieces have then been hauled up to the front line, and last night, under cover of darkness and the deafening artillery barrage, some poilus have removed the real tree, hauled it away, and assembled the metal substitute in its place. It’s just about large enough around to fit a slightly fat observer inside. It’s a staggering and highly successful piece of original thinking; as the war wears on, these fake trees will become more and more common.

The eve of battle

The Anglo-French bombardments of Aubers Ridge, the Lorette, and Vimy Ridge are raising to fever pitch. Meanwhile, Sir John French does his bit for inter-Entente relations by writing a whiny letter to General Joffre about the quality of French colonial troops. Presumably their breaking ranks and fleeing a couple of weeks ago is indicative of deep personal failings and not, say, seeing all their mates being gassed to death. He’s requested that Joffre remove the remnants of the Zouaves from Ypres and replace them with white troops.

Second Ypres

Meanwhile, the Germans are turning up the heat on the newly-reduced salient once more. This time their target is Frezenberg, in the middle of the new BEF line. Once again the weight of an advance is falling squarely on Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Back to Private Jimmy Vaughan.

We were hit dead centre with heavy guns and machine guns. Then we were enfiladed from the right and enfiladed from the left, both ways along the trench. All the officers practically were gone and of course these trenches weren’t much good even to begin with. Then they blew what wasthere to pieces. We had practically no protection at all.

I was hit with a shell splinter and I was just laying there in the trench. Lieutenant Papenau looked at it, shoved a cigarette in my mouth and lit it, and he said “Don’t worry, Vaughan, we’ll get you out just as fast as we can.” I lay there for six hours. That’s as fast as they could get me out. I was lucky. One fellow had just been leaning over talking to me, he stood up, and the next minute he got it, and fell down dead on top of me.

Finally, Vaughan crawls back to an old artillery dugout and lies there for several more hours until darkness, when stretcher-bearers finally reach him and he begins the long journey back to Vlamertinghe. (The wound is serious enough to send him home permanently.) It’s been a bloody day. The Patricias are still clinging to their positions. Some of them are heard to mutter to themselves “We’re holding up the whole damned line.” The 1st Suffolks just across the way are almost completely wiped out; so are the 3rd Monmouths and the 12th London Rangers.

But the line is holding, and the German attacks on Frezenberg have been blunted. They’ll keep trying, but by tomorrow reinforcements will have arrived and their chance to push exhausted men back will be gone.

Actions in Progress

Defence of Van
Battle of Ypres (Second Ypres)
Gorlice-Tarnow Offensive
Battle of Krithia (Second Krithia)

Further Reading

I have a Twitter account, @makersley, which you can follow to be notified of updates and get all my retweets of weird and wonderful First World War things.

The Daily Telegraph is republishing its archives from the war day-by-day. Worth a look. I’m reading the paper every day, and it’s where the content for Our Advertising Feature comes from.

(If you find the olde-tyme style difficult to get along with, have a look at this reading guide.)

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