The Hohenzollern Redoubt is falling. Too many Germans with too many grenades, supported by too many Minenwerfers and too good a knowledge of the trenches. Hand grenades and mortars are worth their weight in gold in this kind of close-range fighting. The battle isn’t just trench-by-trench, it’s firebay-by-firebay. Being able to throw a grenade over the zig-zags is absolutely priceless. And the BEF’s main grenade right now is still the Number 15 “cricket ball”, which has, like so many other bits of equipment, proven unable to stand up to use in wet conditions. They simply won’t explode frequently enough to be of much use. And, on top of all that, the battle has claimed the life of a third divisional commander. General Wing, a man noted for his willingness to get as far forward as possible and to inspect front-line trenches as much as possible, runs out of luck and is killed by shellfire.
This was supposed to be an offensive of breakthroughs, of grand manoeuvre. It’s descended into a gruelling, gritty, trench-by-trench slog. The parameters for “success” have changed beyond all recognition from where they were just one week ago.
General Joffre has authorised one last push in Champagne, looking to break through the German reserve line and then march on Somme-Py. This has in part been approved because General Castelnau proposes the first wide-scale adoption of the artilleryman General Nivelle’s new concept for a rolling barrage, of which more soon. They’ve also stockpiled enough ammunition for a 36-hour preliminary bombardment.
Good news (relatively speaking) for our friend Louis Barthas.
At four the next morning we were relieved, and sent back to a reserve position near the ruins of Neuville-Saint-Vaast. That night we could finally bed down in individual holes dug into the slope of a sunken road which led into the village. Since September 25 we had only one hour of sleep at a time. Seven consecutive nights of watch, of work, of burying the dead . . .
Meanwhile, the 13th Squad, despite its illfated number thirteen, came back from these skirmishes without having lost one man. But the next day Private Guerard was wounded by a stray bullet in the leg, carrying a load of water from Neuville. The stretcher-bearers who came to pick him up told us that the regiment was losing, on average, ten men a day, killed or wounded. But if we had listened to that clown Niessel, and attacked like mad the way he told us to, it’s likely that we’d have lost a hundred men a day, instead of ten.
No, he can’t be happy with getting out of it for a bit. He does go quiet for the next few days as the blokes catch up on sleep and swap latrine rumours.
Kenneth Best’s life has become rather less interesting of late as he sits in hospital and regains his strength, very slowly.
Same as yesterday. Read, wrote postcards and played chess. Was visited by Surgeon-General. Some rain last night.
He’s due up before the medical board in five days, who will assess his condition and decide what to do with him.
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