1916 – Sick Leave – Battle of the Somme
Fritz wrote to his mother from the hospital in Alexandria – much of the letter is taken up with describing the flood and the aftermath. Part of it reads ‘I cabled to you yesterday so you will have known that I am out of action for some time. My right foot is fairly bad – blistered as well – left one not at all bad. This is a topping hospital and I have a fine room with an officer I know. Every possible comfort and swarms of English nurses to do everything that one can desire; its a delightful rest after 11 weeks – which by the way is quite a long time to last at Suvla; I only had 4 officers left.
(Ed – One of those officers was Lt R V J Agius)
The War Office record conﬁrms the frostbite.
The subsequent records read:-
1. 1/2/16 Lt Col F W D Bendall, 3rd Battn London Reg MEF; Med Board 12/1/16 unfit 2 months; grant leave 12/1/16-11/3/16 (send form)
2. 3/3/16 Completed form received. Reports; Order M.B. Eastern Command 11/3/16
3. 16/3/16 M Bd. Unfit OS 6 weeks Unfit Home service 1 month; Fit for light duty.
4. 26/4/16 Send further wire to G.O.C -Minute 8 – done Confirm wire No 1949 – done
5. 1/5/16 GOC reports this officer is being attached to the 4th 2nd London Regt for duty
6. 3/5/16 Order M Bd through S o Cmmnd early date
7. Joined for duty 4/5/16
8. M Bd 12/5/16 Fit
9. 5/6/16 Inform GOC that this officer’s services are no longer required to command the 2/3 London which is in process of amalgamating with the 1/3. And ask for his recommendation as to the disposal of this officers services.
10.1/7/16 Send reminder
11.8/7/16 600 reports he has no recommendation to make with regard to this officer
12.15/7/16 The following Officer has been instructed to proceed to Southampton on 17th inst and report personally to Embarktion Commandant before 4pm for orders. 3rd London Regiment;Lieut Col F W D Bendall for attachment to 56th Division; Ordered out in reply to Military Secretary’s wire F 8972 dated 13 July; Action taken on 12/Drafts/1367.
Fritz’s mothers diary showed;
Jan 2 Reached England
Jan 3 One night in Oxford
Jan 5 Home
Jan 7 Mistley (This was the home of the Brooks family and probably had more space and resources for a real welcome than the small house in Ipswich.)
Jan 16 Torquay
Jan 28 Bridlington; The reason for the visit to Torquay is not known – but he obviously went to Bridlington to link up again with his school and – since he seemed to have stayed there for several weeks — and possibly to help out with some teaching while he was still on sick leave; all boys schools at this time were chronically short of teachers for obvious reasons. Also there might have been the opportunity to see Marie – although, around this time, the whole Eccles family moved to London, where she had almost completed her musical studies.
In April Ida Kate’s diary simply says ‘To Hurdcott.’ Hurdcott (No 3 Group Clearing Hospital AIF) Camp, near Salisbury Plain, was established in 1915 for various regiments,some from Yorkshire and Lancashire, and in 1916 was enlarged and taken over for Australian forces. A Clearing Hospital was sometimes called a convalescent hospital, and was classified as being for those who would take at least 6 months to be fit to return to active service. It is not known why Fritz was sent there and it may have been en route to some form of training camp.
Whatever the reason, Ida Kate’s next entries read
July 15th to France -left England 5.0pm arrived at port about 3am 16th.
July 17th ’tramped about for orders’.
July 18th Got train for jolly old town where we stayed for 24 hours; On Friday, train again – being warned of long trip, took food- travelled all night. (19th) in a train ¼ mile long until 11.am Telephoned to Div Hquarters – car came for me – found my Brigade Com.
Since the flood at Gallipoli, Fritz was a Lieut Colonel without a battalion – and, in fact the 2nd/3rd (City of London) Battalion was officially disbanded in June 1916. However he was still part of the 56th (London) Division – a Territorial Force Division “The Division….was entirely composed of battalions of the London Regiment..the complete Division was reformed in France from 5th January 1916, and served with distinction on the Western front for the rest of the War”. Fritz was now attached to the 1st/8th Middlesex Battalion, which, in February 1916, had been transfered to the 167 Brigade of the 56th Division.
He was plunged into the middle of the battle of the Somme. “The offensive campaign of 1916 – initially conceived to be a war-winning simultaneous strike on 3 fronts by all Allies, with maximum force – came down to a few Divisions of the British Army attacking on ground not of their choosing and where there was no possibility of strategic gain. There was disagreement between the Commander-in-Chief and the Army Commander who had to carry out the attack, about how it should be done. Haig’s plan was to capture ground, breaking past the first enemy line and the second enemy line on the first day .All possibilities to exploit enemy disorganisation should be grasped from then on. Yet at the same time, the army applied rigid, inflexible tactics as regards the way their infantry should conduct the attack. The area chosen for the battle was a quiet agricultural area, not well furnished with railways or roads capable of supporting supplies to 400,000 men. Of the 56 British Divisions at the time, no fewer than 53 went through the Somme in 1916. The battle lasted from July 1st to 18th November. After a disastrous opening for the British attack, the Allied offensive pushed on, yard by yard through a hot summer and were eventually halted as the mud of winter closed in. Little ground had been taken but the German Army had been mortally wounded. According to the British official history of the battle, total Allied casualties amounted to almost 630,000 and German around 660,000. British casualties reported by the Adjutant were 419,653 – of whom some 5% were missing at roll-call but may have subsequently reported. “
Fritz arrived 3 weeks after the battle started.
July 21 Brigade Com. Took me to Btn headquarters; had dinner in a cellar with tin hat on. July 24th came out of front line trenches to comfortable billets. July 27 at ?H? (nr Combles) Aug 2nd In trenches – living just in front of our big guns in a terrific noise – hit by piece of flying brick on the forhead -shed not less than 6 drops of blood! –Aug 8th out again in different village, not so quiet, nearer things, but a rest. Aug 16 – a special dinner (in trenches again) not 400 yds from our front line and 600 yds from the Boches. Aug 22 – Out again -7 hours in the saddle on my gray.Sept 5th In an old German dug-out 7th seeing many strange things. Sep 24th Been in the thick of it for a fortnight – not out of my clothes for 10 days. (nr Ginchy) Tanks employed.
(Ed – In this period Bendall in the 1/8th Middlesex was in the same area as Capt Arthur Agius in the 1/3rd Londons).
One of his poems gave more graphic details:-
September 25, 1916
I sat on the fire-step – by my side
The adjutant – next him an F.O.O.
The trench was an old German one, reversed
The parapet was made of many things
That should not have been there at all–the time
Was zero minus twenty; and the noise
That had been horrible enough before
Grew to an unimaginable pitch.
It seemed as tho’ I had no eyes, no mouth,
No sense of sight, no taste, no power of speech
But only hearing — hearing multiplied
To the last limit of a dizzy brain.
The noise was everywhere about — but mostly
Above us; — and was made of every sort
Of bang,crash,whistle,whine, thump,shriek and thud.
If every devil from the pit of hell,
Each with an unmelodious instrument,
Each vieing with the other in making noise,
Had flown above me in the tortured air,
One great infernal pandemonium,
I do not think they would have made a tenth
Of the long seismic polyphony that passed
Over our heads. I saw the adjutant’s
Mouth open, and his lips move as in speech
But no words came that I could hear, because
My hearing was entirely occupied.
The trench wall rocked – then dust and clods of earth
Fell all about me and I was aware
Of fat grey smoke-wreathes and an acrid smell.
And dimly, as one hears a metronome,
In punctuating stabs of sharper sound
Thro’ a great orchestrated symphony
I heard the German counter- barrage burst
On the high ground above us, saw my watch
Marking three minutes to the zero hour,
Sat for another unremembered space
Wondering what would happen if a shell
Fell in the trench beside me; felt again
By some sixth sense rather than thro’ my ears,
That there were fewer shells — that they had ceased.
Climbed on the parapet — and — north by east
From the torn hill of Ginchy Telegraph —
Saw — aye and seeing cheered exultantly —
The long well-ordered lines of our advance
From Bouleaux Wood to distant Guedecourt
Sweep from the valley underneath my feet
Up the long slopes to Morval and Les Boeufs
Ida Kate’s diary continued “ Sept 29 Had to go up for another spell; three wonderful days – with a view of the finest advances we have made and later a little show of my own with two tanks.
Oct 11.five weeks strenuous fighting, now a good rest in front of us. Hope to go back further soon.
He had twice mentioned tanks; these were a new feature in the Allies armoury. The tank had been used once before the battle of the Somme but this was their first big test.The tank was unreliable – a new and untried machine -but it did a great deal to end the horrors of trench warfare and brought back some mobility to the Western Front. In April 1916 Haig had said that he wanted tanks and crews to be ready for June 1st -when the Somme battle was due to begin. This was impossible since there were only prototype models and no crews – the latter being a great problem as very few had experience of mechanised vehicles. The first tanks finally arrived in Europe on August 30, but crews had major problems since they had few resources, nowhere to look for information and no experience. “However on Sept 15, 36 tanks made an en masse attack at the Somme; Originally there had been fifty, but these 30 ton machines could not cope with the lunar landscape of the churned up ground and 14 had broken down or got bogged down,.Regardless of this – a new era in warfare had started.
Fritz celebrated the tank with a new poem
(2 verses and chorus given here)
You couldn’t take a motor over wire
You couldn’t ride a bicycle thro’ deep holes,
You couldn’t use your horses under fire
Of the Maxims spitting at you from their peep holes.
But if you’ve an impenetrable skin
And a Hotchkiss to discourage close attention,
Why then you can butt resolutely in
Without receiving any harm to mention
The tank, yes the tank,oh , the creepy crawly tank,
See her reach across a crump-hole,see her waddle up a bank,
When this good old pachyderm leaves her trademark on the berm
The Hun must leave his trenches to the tank, tank tank,
Yes the Hun must leave his trenches to the tank.
You can do without a wire -cutting stunt
(Which really always gives the Hun an inkling)
If you’ve got a line of tanks to go in front
They’ll eliminate the wire in a twinkling.
For they lumber up and down and in and out,
Trailing several tons of wire,stakes and pickets,
And the very worst abattis they can rout
Like a charging herd of elephants in thickets.
The tank, yes the tank, oh, the humpy bumpy tank,
See the bombs and bullets glancing off her armour-plated flank
Hear her grunt and wheeze and rumble- see the pillar-boxes crumble
Not constructed to be sat on by a tank, tank, tank
Not intended to be sat on by a tank.
The diary continues –
Oct 17 In a charming French Chateau -very tired, but did not know how ‘done’ I was until we came out -could sleep for a week.
Oct 27 Far away from our battle ground after another spell; appointed to be Commandant of the Divisional school
Oct 30 -this appointment cancelled – appointed to be O/C 1/8th Middlesex. Gone to fairly quiet trenches.(O/C 30/10/16 to 06/03/17)
Nov 5 Settled down quickly with my new Battalion – these trenches seem very quiet after recent experiences.
Nov 15 Acting Brigadier as General on leave ‘ and I am senior OC in the Brigade; in luxury in a fine house.
Nov 24 Home on leave
Dec 9 Back; at Hotel Meurice, (?)Boulogne
Dec 17 at a comfortable billet after a miserable journey here; Xmas servic and hymns.
Ida Kate’s diary now has an entry in brackets the death of Major Blagbrough.
G.S.Blagborough was almost certainly Fritz’s greatest friend – going back to the time when they were school masters at Bridlington Grammar School.
He wrote his reaction
Killed in Action December 1916
In peace “they said “prepare for war” my friend
So you and I in those far happy days
Began in sport — but for a serious end–
Our mimic warfare and our martial ways.
And when, at night, beside our mutual fire
We made and unmade kings, and tore the skies
Apart to read the future, you— desire
The father of your thought — with savant eyes
Saw the Red Cloud that swallowed us and said
That this would come which has come, and were glad-
Were glad altho’ you saw the cloud blood red;
And I – I laughed, and said that you were mad.
So. It has come. Your dreams were all too true.
I have played many games with you. They are done.
But this I know, and knowing smile — that you
Have played the greatest game of all — and won.
So fare you well, my friend. Indeed I know
That you fare well. It must be thus — for He
Who died to make men good will have it so
For all of those who died to make men free
1916 ended on almost as sombre a note as 1915.
East Yorkshire Regiment
attd. 16th Bn.
West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own)
Son of Walter and Alice Isabella Blagbrough, of Selborne Mount, Bradford.