War started in August 1914.  With Germany, Austria Hungary against Russia, France, England and Italy. Hundreds and thousands enlisted right away in the army or the navy – conscription did not come in until late 1916. I was 16 at the time war started.

In January 1915 Lynn was bombed by a zeppelin.  A close relative of mine was killed. When war started some females went round putting white feathers on able-bodied men who had not enlisted.  Later in 1915 a zeppelin passed near Lynn in daylight.  We had an Anti air gun and searchlight which we later found out were dummies.

When I was 18 in 1915 I enlisted under Lord Derby’s scheme.  You enlisted and took a shilling and went back to Civy life until required.  In September I was called to the colours and went to Salisbury Plain to join the Royal Horse Artillery.  Ordinarily the Horse Artillery covers the Cavalry with 13-pound guns. In France we covered the infantry with 18-pound guns.  In a few weeks we were transferred to Woolwich, there I became a Driver/Signaller and joined what was known in Woolwich as the Suicide Brigade, why-I didn’t know then! In three months I passed out in Buzzer, Flag and Lamp Morse, Heliograph. Semaphore, Riding Drill, Gun Drill and Rifle Drill.  Rifle Drill consisted in going down to the Butts and firing 5 rounds of ammunition. Where the bullets went was nobody’s business.

In early 1917 I went overseas to France and joined the B Battery 29th Division.  The 29th was known as The Storming Division – from Battle to Battle. About 6 of my pals from Woolwich joined the same unit.

This was during the Battle of Arras or known as Vimy Ridge.  Almost immediately I went down with flu and was given 5 days excuse duty.  Sleeping on bare earth with a ground sheet in a sort of Bivouac.   After 5 days without food I was very groggy and went sick.  I was given M and D (medicine and duty), tantamount to saying I was swinging the lead.  However I survived and later detailed as centre driver to take up ammunition at night.  Just after we left someone said “Langley hasn’t his tin hat”.  My wheel driver, being a sympathetic sort of our fellow said, “ Well that’s his bloody head”.  Bloody was the main adjective used by the troops?  The corporal in charge sent a man back to get it. It was a quiet night no sounds of warfare at all.  The PBI were the poor Bloody Infantry.  The next trip up with the ammunition was in daylight.  The Jerry balloons were up and one section of the road was under their observation so we had to gallop singly along about a hundred yards of road. However Jerry didn’t spot us and we all returned safely. Shortly after this I went up the line and became a signaller in action. We didn’t have a proper telephone hut just a sort of funk hole in the trench – a funk hole was a small hole in the ground you dived into if suddenly under shellfire.  We worked in pairs, one on the phone and the other errand boy, for a few days I was the errand boy Suddenly it dawned on my thick head that I was being conned. My half section knew it and we decided to take turn and turn about.  Almost the next day the C.O (Commanding Officer) he did a little firing.  The Jerry balloons were up so he decided to put a smoke screen round the battery (as I look back I don’t see that that was wise round a stationary object).  My pal was then errand boy and was helping the three Officers with the smoke bombs – he got fed up with it and said, “Give us a break” I replied “I’ll just finish this letter”.  I never finished that letter,immediately all hell was let loose, Jerry had got our range and poured all he had got at us, one shell came almost on top of us.  The Major, one Officer and my pal were killed and one very badly wounded.  The funk hole was in complete darkness and I thought the entrance had been blown down.  We had an entrenching tool to dig ourselves out somewhat shocked I tried to find it.  After a little the smoke and dust cleared away and I crawled out of the hole climbing over my pals body.  A Gunner picked me up, flung me over his shoulder and took me into a dugout by theguns.   Jerry continued shelling so we had to run and leave the area altogether. All our guns were out of action so we all left and went down to the safety of the wagon line. After a short stay there we moved up to Ypres for the Passendale Holiday Camp!!! We went into action for 3 or 4 weeks, gave Jerry hell.  It was lovely July weather.  There were guns of all description and size in the area. I think it was August Monday that the real fun started – for a period of four hours we fired 4 rounds a gun a minute that’s 1000 rounds per gun.  We had 6 guns and there were 3 other batteries in the 29th. Then after that terrific barrage there was dead silence and we moved forward.  Then it rained and rained and rained.  When we reached Jerry’s front line we had 26 horses to try and move guns forward without success.  It was mud, mud and more mud, no roads no trees, no buildings just mud, mud glorious mud.  We speak of silence, after that 4-hour barrage that’s what it was.  I was detailed to go forward with an Officer and his orderly to the forward position, where ever that might be. We had big wading boots and as we plodded on ,every now and then one us would get stuck in the mud and the other two had to pull us out. Later when the Officer had seen all he wanted to see we returned to the Battery.  I was by then completely tired and went to sleep in a dugout for 4 hours.  The engineers built a new road and eventually we got our guns forward into position.  Soon Jerry started to hit back and after all we had to get out of the area till it was quiet.  If ever the Infantry sent up a SOS flare back we went.  I remember sheltering behind some boxes – when it cleared we found that the boxes were full of ammunition! In this stint in the line I was the only man not to get a relief.

 

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