Oultersteene - December 1915 to May 1916

Oultersteene - December 1915 to May 1916

Embroidered Christmas Greeting

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[56 KB] BailleulAlbert, as usual, tells us precious little in his postcards which indicate what was going on at the time. Unfortunately, Lt Col Elsner (the author of the Diaries) compounds the problem by discussing what seem to be trivia 80 odd years on. I suspect that although the infantry were daily suffering and dying in the trenches, there were no big pushes, no dramatic counter-attacks, and that the death and destruction almost became if not quite humdrum then at least normal for the Field Ambulance units. There are entries on cost-cutting measures (substitution of liquid mixes for tablets; re-use of envelopes; sieving ash for coal recovery), a trial of "Glaxo" (not so good in tea) and minor disciplinary offences.

BailleulLt Col Elsner gives us some insight into the start of the working day as follows: Reveille at 6am. Horses for Vidange carts 7.45am. Sick parade 8am. (A Vidange cart is used to remove 'night soil'. As my informant quipped, "probably even less popular than trench raids..."). I cannot make out whether he was simply trying to maintain his troops at a high level of discipline or whether he was a true tyrant. On 21st February "Pte Parr accused of 'Neglect of Duty' when patients breakfast was 10 minutes late". On 23rd May "Pte Pitkethley fined for negligence, he broke a thermometer". Yet he goes to enormous lengths to clear his men when they are accused of levity whilst on burial duties.

There are frequent aerial bombing raids at Bailleul throughout this period, with varying degrees of effectiveness. There are also gas attacks, although whether it is our gas or their gas is not too clear. I have a feeling that the one described on 30th April is a British attack. At the time, Officers are other ranks were split; the officer casualties occupied the buildings while the other ranks were housed in tents. At 1.15 am the alarm was given. All doors and windows in the buildings were closed and the tents were tightly laced. Patients were issued smoke helmets. The air cleared in 15 minutes. Those in the buildings suffered no ill effects "but there was much coughing and retching from those outside" - hardly surprising really.

Friction with the local populace continues. There is an incident on 20th April where the owner of the field behind the other ranks accomodation is "erecting stakes right up to the tents prior to raising a barbed wire fence, refusing to give any room". The rent officer is eventually called in to resolve the dispute. At about the same time as this is going on, the 9th Division is swelled by the arrival of at least two of the four South African Battalions. The arrival of the other two is not recorded.

On the postcards Albert writes: This village is about 3 miles from the place where we are at present stationed and it resembles very much a town we were in about three months ago. We are having a quiet time at present but we don't know how long it is likely to last. We are doing drills now and it is no 'Bon' as they say in France. We have been in Belgium and France and if I could choose where to go, I should prefer France.

There are another two embroidered cards like those at the head of the page, one for mother and one as a rememberence card.

Finally, this quiet period ends with "Secret orders to move to the 1st Army training area on 30th May".

horizontal rule - men advancing

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