As we’ve already seen, the ground under the Western Front is seething with mines and counter-mines as underground warfare continues to be an integral part of strategy. However, it’s been complicated at Loos by the chalky ground. Mining can be rather a Goldilocks affair. Up in Flanders, the water table is often too high and the soil too sloppy to permit mining. Meanwhile, at Loos, the rock is so solid that any mining would be easily audible to subterranean listening posts.
That’s not stopped the BEF’s geologists, of course. They’ve just redeployed the Tunnelling Companies to places where they might actually get somewhere. Some of them, the poor sods, are having yet another scrape near Hooge Chateau, because one enormous crater in the area just isn’t enough. There’s a more directly useful effort going on at the northern end of the Battle of Loos front, near the La Bassee Canal; and another at Givenchy.
And that’s not the only digging going on. Conscious of the need to move further forward to shorten lines of communication, brass hats everywhere are having newer, better holes built for themselves. Corporal Moylan of the 1/7th Londons has been stuffed with one of those jobs.
They wanted to reinforce a new big dugout for Advanced Brigade HQ so that they could be further up. There was a big cutting and a railway in it connected to a coal mine, so the Engineers took the railway lines and loosened them and we carried them up. That was a working party! I forget now whether it was a hundred men, but it was a lot. We padded our shoulders with sandbags. How we lifted those rails onto our shoulders in the dark, I don’t know.
I broke my tooth on an army biscuit while this railway business was going on, and it hurt like hell. … The Medical Officer was there. He’d got some empty bully-beef boxes, so he sat me on those. I remember Sergeant Gilder holding my shoulders, and the MO, with no anaesthetic, took my double tooth out.
It was peculiar because the same thing happened when I was a prisoner in 1918. I broke a double tooth on the other side, and there it was a civilian German dentist who laughed and said “I’m not going to give you anaesthetic because I haven’t got one. If you want one, write to Lloyd-George and tell him to take off the blockade!”
Started with threatening signs of diarrhoea. Tramped along shore from Gully to Y Beach. Smell of dead horse very strong in places. Some confusion about Field Ambulance time and so breakfast which should have been over was still going on when I arrived. I could not postpone as I had to get to Border Ravine by 10 a.m, for service by the side of the coast road at which seven soldiers were present. Wind very trying. Altar cloth difficult to fix and dust covers everything.
Eat one of my bully beef sandwiches. I told orderly to drown the bully in mustard and without a doubt he did. I wept copiously, but ’twas that or nothing. So I persevered.
The Americans in Full Metal Jacket may have said that they were in the shit, but this is the genuine article. Meanwhile, Sir Ian Hamilton is trying to convince himself that it’s the Ottomans who are unfit for any further offensive action. Poor sod.
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