War Memories of Lt. W L Heape East Lancashire Regiment 1914-1919

the capture of the Fromelles-Aubers Ridge, but I don’t recall that I was given any detailed briefing. On the night of 8 th May I went up to the forward position with “B” Company. The German lines were about 300 yards away, and between us ran a muddy ditch across which planks had been laid. Twelve-pounder guns were brought into the Front Line with the object of blasting a way through the enemy’s barbed wire. About 5 am on 9 th May a heavy bombardment opened with every possible gun, but I don’t think it lasted beyond half an hour. In the event, it proved ineffective. The Germans were ready. Their machine guns enfiladed us and when Lt. Daw gave the order for the advance he was killed at once. I went over with my head down. I remember the swishing of the bullets through the grass. 2 nd Lt. Bligh was shot dead alongside me. I must have crossed the ditch, and shortly afterwards felt a blow on my right leg as if from a crowbar and went over like a shot rabbit. I had been drilled by a machine gun through the ankle, calf, thigh, and just under the hip joint. I lay bewildered in the long grass. It was clear that the advance had failed, for men were lying in a form of open order around me, firing at the German lines. CSM Price advised me to try and get back, and with reluctance I confess that is exactly what I did. I started to crawl through the beastly ditch, trailing my wounded leg, and on the other side I saw a gunner officer firing off trench mortars as fast as he could. He was H W Huggins, who had been Senior Boy in my house at Rugby School. He recognised me, and called out, “Hello Heape, isn’t this awful?” I replied something and crawled on. Reference to my OR List shows me that Huggins had a very distinguished war career, and is still with us. I don’t know how I managed to get back to our lines – perhaps I was helped – but I remember the medical officer’s astonishment, when he cut off my breeches to attend to my wounds, at finding Simey’s knee cap on my wounded leg. Shortly after he left me, lying in a stretcher behind the breast works, I was hit again, this time in my left leg, by shrapnel from a bursting shell fired by our own artillery falling short. A large bit of shell casing entered the inside of my knee and cut the popliteal artery. I still remember the hot blast of the explosion, the thud of the fragment as it entered my knee and the pulsating jet of blood as if from a hose. In seconds, it filled the bight of my stretcher and was running down the back of my neck. There were cries for help from the men around me. Someone applied a tourniquet, and that caused the trouble for it was left on all day without easing. The pain grew unbearable and I ate all my supply of morphine tablets, which in turn produced a raging thirst. Someone handed me a water bottle taken from the body of a dead officer who was lying near me. It was full of neat Jamaica rum, and I could not drink it. I was moved into a dugout. The morphine had eased the pain but another shell burst in front of the entrance, killing several people in the dugout and leaving a splinter in my skull, which I carry to this day. At dusk two of the regimental bandsmen took me off to the rear. There were no communication trenches, and they had to walk behind the cover of canvas screens. The Germans continued to shell and every now and then my two stretcher-bearers went down flat to take cover from a bursting shell. It was a nightmare journey. They did a wonderful job, and that was the last I saw of the battalion, which had been nearly annihilated with 10 officers killed, nine wounded and 430 other ranks killed or wounded.
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