the capture of the Fromelles-Aubers Ridge, but I don’t recall that I was given any
On the night of 8
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
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
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