major_swindell

This is the featured article from Stand To! No 94, the journal of The Western Front Association.

Article edited by Paul Swindell

This article contains extracts from the war diary of my grandfather, Major Swindell as he wrote them. He was a Pioneer in the 2nd Battalion, Manchester Regiment. Having joined the Colours in 1906, he served throughout the war, from being an Old Contemptible, all the way through to the Armistice. He ended the war as the battalion's Pioneer Sergeant.

The diary was written in two separate volumes - one is a Letts diary for 1915, covering the period 5 August 1914 to 31 December 1916 - published here as Part 1 - and the other is a notebook which covers the period 1 January 1916 to 3 September 1918 to be published in Stand To! 95. The diary ends two months before the Armistice. It is unknown whether he ended his diary at that point or if he started a missing third volume. The diary covers most of the major battles of the Great War - starting with the Retreat from Mons (including Le Cateau), the Marne, the Aisne, First Ypres, Second Ypres, The Somme/Ancre, Messines and the 1918 offensives.

The reader may be puzzled about my grandfather's name, Major was his forename, not his rank. According to the story my father told me, this unusual name came about due to a short-lived tradition in his family of naming the boys after army ranks. Major was the last one, as after he was born, all the women in the family got together and put a stop to it!

My father had dipped into the diary over the years, but he was put off reading the whole, as the handwriting was quite difficult to decipher. I decided to attempt to transcribe the diary for the benefit of both my father and future generations. It has been a wonderful experience for me, as my interest in, and knowledge of the history of the Great War was pretty scant before I started to transcribe the diaries.

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Image: a selection of Major Swindell's personal possessions including his teasured diary.

 

Vol. 1 - 5th Aug 1914 to 31st Dec 1915

Notice
In the event of my death, please forward this diary to.

Miss V. Walton.
No. 2 Hyndman Grove,
Hyndman St.
Peckham.
S.E.
(Signed) M Swindell
Pioneer 2nd Manchester Regt.
B.E.F.
3-2-15

Diary Of
M Swindell, Pioneer
2nd Battalion The Manchester Regt.
14th Brigade, 5th Division, France.

Aug 5th 1914.
[Curragh] Recalled from Donard Field Firing Camp to Regiment on mobilisation. Arrived at 6-30pm at Curragh where Batt was stationed.

Aug 6th to Aug 12th 1914.
[Curragh] Going through the hundred and one things that is necessary when a Regiment has orders to mobilise. Some seven hundred reservists arrived from the depot at Ashton-u-Lyne.

Aug 13th 1914.
[Curragh] Left Keane Bks at 9.30am for Curragh siding, entrained for (Destination not Known). 11.30am arrived at North Wall Dublin. Troops slept in Royal Bks. Good reception from town people as we marched through.

Aug 14th1914 .
[Dublin] Left North Wall at 8-30pm on the Buteshire, heavy thunderstorm while embarking. Splendid send off from people of Dublin. (Destination not Known)

Aug 16th 1914.
[The Buteshire] Weather broke with dawn, rain etc. Shoals of porpoise kept us company. 4pm French torpedo destroyer stopped us, we exchanged greetings. 5pm sighted land. 6pm took aboard pilot & arrived at [Le] Harve (sic) (France) 7pm. Disembarked at 11-30pm & slept in dock shed.

Aug 18th 1914 .
Arrived at (Le-Cateau) 1.0pm. Rather glad, stiff from all night ride. Stopped for dinner in field, and at 4pm marched off, arrived & billeted at Landrecies 8pm.

Aug 21st 1914.
Left Landrecies 7am, arrived at St Waast-les-Bavay at 2-30pm, a distance of 16 miles. Went into billets.

Aug 22nd 1914.
Left les Bavay at 6-45am. Crossed the Belgium frontier at 8-30am. Very hot and thirsty. Arrived at Hainin 2-0pm. People very good, tobacco, cigarettes, matches, food etc, in galore, thrown at one as one marched along, billeted in a ballroom of an Estaminet at Thulin.

Aug 23rd 1914.
[Thulin] Inspection of billets by the CO at 9.30am. Heard big guns fire at 11-0am. Watched shells burst over Mons. Battalion fell in 11-30am and took up position along side canal. Engagement started 12-30pm. Heavy firing (both artillery and rifle) between 2pm and 7-30pm. A few casualties.

Aug 25th 1914.
[Bavey] Moved off at 4-45am distance 25 miles. Retiring. Very hot, arriving at Le Cateau 1-30pm Took up position.

Aug 26th 1914.
[Le-Cateau] Big Battle of Le-Cateau. Battle started with the break of dawn, the firing was terrible. Large number of casualties killed and wounded. Ordered to retire at 3-30pm. Arrived at about 8-0pm. Raining very hard. Snatched a couple of hours sleep & woke up wet through, & found we were on the move, still retiring. (Batt 400 strong, out of 1200)

Aug 28th 1914.
[Pontoise] Retirement continued. General French compliments troops on their behaviour at Le-Cateau. Battalion reorganised.

Aug 30th 1914.
Marching all day. A few minutes halt each hour. Everybody tired and sleepy, job to wake troops to move on again.

Sept 1st 1914.
[Attachy] 3rd & 4th Divisions in action. Battalion acted as general reserve, marched all day, arrived and bivvied at St Quentin about 10-30pm.

Sept 6th 1914.
[Favieres] Marched off at 6-30am & arrived at Coutry 6-0pm. We advancing, enemy retiring.

Sept 9th 1914.
[Rougeville] Marched off at 4-30am. Battalion acting as advance guard. Got into heavy artillery from the enemy at Saasy, about 9-0am. Our guns got into action & things were a bit more even. One battery of the enemy were doing considerable damage. Our artillery could not locate it. Battalion received orders in conjunction with the DCLI to take the guns. Casualties very heavy in the advance - mostly by shrapnel. About 4.pm our heavy guns found the enemy battery & put paid to them. We advanced and took the hill, the battle being over about 6pm. Captured the artillery of 6 guns. Enemy retiring, leaving hundreds of dead, 70 was counted in one trench alone, alongside the battery of guns. Our casualties very severe. Bivouac on side of hill Montreine-n-Lyom.

Sept 10th 1914.
[Montepeine] Marched off at daybreak. Passed a lot of bodies of English & German troops, probably crawled out of the woods onto the road to die. DCLI got severely cut up in last night's battle, there were also 700 Germans captured. A draft of 190 reinforcements joined us about 3pm.

Sept 13th 1914.
Marched off at 5pm. Enemy driven back over river by our artillery. We advanced & crossed river (Aisne) by pontoon bridge. Got shelled in crossing, no casualties. Then opened out in skirmishing order & advanced to attack the hill about a mile away on which the Germans were strongly entrenched. Heavily shelled by shrapnel in advancing, few casualties. Captured hill.

Sept 14th 1914.
Advanced & took up position on edge of wood [west side of wood at Chivres]. Very heavy firing on both sides. The village of St Marguerette was practically blown to pieces. A few wounded. Weather rotten.

Sept 26th 1914.
(Jury). Decent billet - very comfortable. Germans fired on our aeroplanes all morning. General Smith-Doran (sic) came through the village in his car, & seeing a few of us standing about, pulled up & had quite an interesting chat to us. The following are some of his remarks. That the health of the Batt considering the trying times we had had under fire, & the wet weather was remarkable. That our trenches was far the worst along the whole line. That the behaviour of the troops throughout had been splendid. That the Manchesters had had a very severe and trying time, but had borne it well, & that the retirement from Mons would be known in history as one of the greatest & most successful retreats accomplished.

Editor's note - After a period of rest, the battalion moved north to Flanders.

Oct 8th 1914.
[Vauchelles] Stayed in this billet all day. The people of the house laid out the table in the best room, used their best crockery & invited us to test their cider, which, needless to say we did, & pronounced it splendid. We got our rum issue just before we moved off, about 5.30pm. Offered it to the landlord to smell, sorry to relate he swiped the lot off neat (about three quarters of a pint) (I wish I could drink it like him). We couldn't say anything after his kindness. We fell in shortly after, & he (the landlord) came to shake hands with us, he hadn't a leg to stand on. Don't know whether he thought he was young again but, he rolled his sleeves up & wanted to fight the village. His wife said something to him, he turned & struck at her which, fortunately for her did not land, but the striker himself landed in the gutter. It was amusing, we marched off amid laughter, at 6.30pm.

Editor's note - From 12 October to 14 November, the battalion were in and out of the line in the La Bassée sector, east of Bethune.

Oct 15th 1914.
[Richebourg] German infantry attack lasted till midnight (14th). D Coy got it in the neck, 70 killed, wounded & missing, of same Coy in this attack.

Oct 20th 1914.
[Lorgies] Sharp fighting A & B Coys made bayonet charge. Later in the day D Coy charged & lost 93 killed & wounded, but it brought the pains on with the Germans, some of them broke the record at running.

Nov 12th 1914.
[La Gorgue] Germans still shelling billets but hitting nothing so far. The Batt took up their position in the firing line, I moved back with 1st line of transport to La Gorgue. Germans put half a day shells over without however doing any damage. Rain all night so dug in under bank for shells.

Nov 13th 1914.
Still at La Gorgue. Went up to the firing line with ammunition & tool limber. Wet all day, managed to find an old barn for shelter.

Nov 15th 1914.
[Estaires] Marched off at 8am, through Doulieu into Meteren. Rain, hail & snow all the way. The billet that was allotted to us was awful, so after things had quietened down a little we scouted & found a nice little place in a convent where I had the pleasure of a bath. There was also a good fire so dried our clothes etc. Still raining.

Editor's note - From 16 November 1914 to 2 April 1915, the battalion operated in the Messines sector, east of Bailleul.

Nov 16th 1914.
[Meteren] Sorry to leave, but marched off at 3.15pm passing through Bailleul into Neuve-Eglise. The Batt going into position at Wulverghem. Went up with ammunition & tool limber. Afterwards returning to Neuve-Eglise.

Nov 17th 1914.
[Neuve-Eglise] Still at same place. Batt got shelled by Germans with J Johnsons first day. Lost both of our machine guns, the foresight of one being blown off, a shell dropped on the other burying the gun and gun team. Gun's officer and one man killed. Gun Sergt mind unhinged & four wounded. The head of the man killed could not be found. Killed are buried at dressing station.

ST Editor's Note: According to Officers Died in the Great War (ODGW) only one officer of the Manchesters was reported killed on 17 November 1914. Lieutenant Robert Horridge, aged 26, was 3rd Battalion (the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database has him listed as 4th battalion) attached 2nd Battalion. He was the Son of Alice M. Horridge, of 19, Glade Street, Park Road, Bolton, and the late Albert Horridge B.A. He is buried in Dranouter Churchyard, Grave III.B.1.

Nov 19th 1914.
[Neuve-Eglise] Received orders to move to dressing station [1km NE of Wulverghem], we (4 pioneers) now stop at dressing station with the doctor. Much easier for us.

Nov 22nd 1914.
D. Station, heavy artillery fire all day. Two German airmen brought down by our artillery. Buried one of ours who died from exposure.

Nov 28th 1914.
[‘Aunties'] We are back for a rest, Half way between Bailleul & Dranouter. It's a large barn holding A Coy and Headquarters. The owners still occupy it. We have named the Lady (Auntie). She wanted 1 penny per bucket for water. We had no money so she took away the handle of the pump. That meant a walk of half a mile through the muck for water. P.S. The troops when speaking of (Auntie) used the most affectionate terms.

Nov 30th 1914.
Still in same billets. What with Auntie, the mud & the boys on the lice, I shan't be sorry when we shift. Was issued out with the fur coats this day.

Dec 2nd 1914.
‘Aunties'. Had a generals's inspection by General Count von Gleeson (sic) [this was Brigadier General Edward Gleichen, then OC 15 Brigade - ST Ed.] This made the boys moan a little, having to turn out for a German. Auntie went strong today. She put a chalk mark on her wood, & of course marks and all went. She got wound up & then the music started. She only stopped for breath. The only thing I can compare her voice with is a steam hooter.

Dec 4th 1914.
Still at Aunties'. Boys tickled her up this morning. Milked the cows before she was up. It brought the pains when she found the cows dry, then she counted her hens. She had all the officers up and down through the mud, searching here and there. We had a chicken for dinner that day. I think it is a pity we shift tomorrow for I fancy the rabbits wouldn't be so bad.

Dec 5th 1914.
Moved off at 3.15pm. The parting with Auntie was rather painful, the boys threw her kisses & one threw a handful of feathers over her then we enjoyed the funniest five minutes of our lives. Auntie can dance too. Took up the same trenches at Wulverghem relieving the West Ridings. We went to the same dressing station which was still standing all right.

Dec 8th 1914.
D. Station. One man who was on listening patrol got lost & laid for 36 hours between the firing lines. He got hit by snipers, but afterwards found his bearings & got safely back our own lines. Casualties 1 killed & 3 wounded.

Dec 9th 1914.
D. Station. 40 men & 1 officer of "B" Coy volunteered to make a charge on the advance trench of the Germans. The night was favourable being foggy, they advanced close enough to charge, but when charging, they came into contact with barbed wire entanglements erected just in front of the German trenches. Germans opened a rapid fire & our fellows had to retire & was very fortunate in getting back with 3 slightly wounded & 1 missing. During the day we had two killed with the one bullet in the trenches.

Dec 19th 1914.
Saint-Jans-Cappel. Up to the tops of our boots in mud. Rain continuous. (Red letter day) Got paid out 5 francs - first since I left The Curragh. It was like giving a donkey strawberries. What is 4/- to a fighting soldier?

Dec 24th 1914.
D. Station. We hoped there would be no casualties during the holidays. But our hopes were soon dashed to the ground. 1 lieut (Mr Yarrow) killed, 1 sergt & 1 pte wounded, but both died afterwards. It almost made one think that the Germans had singled out 1 officer, 1 sergt & 1 pte.

ST Editor's note: Only two officers by the name of Yarrow are shown as killed in action, neither of them serving with the Manchesters and neither in 1914. However, Second Lieutenant Herbert Ronald Farrar, (27) 3rd Battalion Leicester Regiment, attached 2nd Manchester Regiment was killed on that day. ‘Yarrow', ‘Farrar' - say the words quickly and one can understand the error. The sergeant who died was 4170 William Williams, born in Kansas in the USA but lived in Openshaw and enlisted in Ashton-Under-Lyne. 6470 Private George Robinson of Moston, Manchester, died of wounds on Christmas Day. All three lie together today in Dranoutre (CWGC) Military Cemetery.

Xmas Day 1914.
D. Station. A little firing by artillery at dawn, but died away as if by mutual consent towards breakfast time. Our chaps went and met the Germans half way between the trenches & exchanged cigarettes, cigars etc. We thought we might get a little larger rum issue, instead we only got half issue. So none of us were interested. Received King's & Queen's post card.

Dec 26th 1914.
D. Station. One or two shells were fired on both sides early morn but soon stopped. Our lads went and met the Germans again. They are Bavarians opposite us, & say that they are fed up, & that the Prussians have left them in the lurch.

Dec 29th 1914.
D. Station. Slight artillery fire all day. Got relieved by the DCLI's & the Dorsets at dusk and move back taking up the old billets between Dranouter and Bailleul. But we did not get into "Aunties" this time. B Coy have that place & I hope they enjoy it. We are further up the road in a decent little barn, about 6 yards over the frontier line in France. There is only one fault about this billet. A cow starts lowing about 3am, but as we are bed-mates I suppose one mustn't say anything.

Dec 30th 1914.
The shed with the cow. Received Princess Mary's gift.

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Image: Major Swindell in a photograph taken prior to August 1914

 

1915
Jan 1st 1915.
The shed with the cow. Heavy artillery fire from the French on our left front. The Colonel inspected billets. B Coy went out trench digging at Wulverghem. We are in reserve while here.

Jan 11th 1915.
Neuve-Eglise. Went up to the dressing station & buried one of ours. After leaving the dressing station, it is up to one's knees in mud all the way up to the firing line, & one has a job to dodge "johnsons" holes in the dark. We went through this lot up to a place called Shelled Farm, which is so called on account of some terriers lighting a fire there on New Years Eve. (A bit cheeky considering it is only a matter of 200 yds from our frontline) The Germans got onto it & shelled them out, knocking down half the farm in the process. Returned to the dressing station, and then onto Neuve-Eglise, where we arrived at 3.30am. We had a thunderstorm on our way to the dressing station. Very severe lightning.

Jan 15th 1915.
Neuve-Eglise. Went up to D. Station. Two wounded no one killed so had no occasion to go to shelled out farm. 30 of A Coy reported sick, 18 had to be carried from the trenches with frost bitten feet. Captured two more snipers (civilians).

Jan 20th 1915.
Neuve-Eglise. Have 17 soup carriers to make out of biscuit boxes for the Batt use while in trenches. (ie) carry hot soup from Headquarters to the trenches.

Feb 23rd 1915.
Neuve-Eglise.
Bat went into the trenches at dusk. Went up to dressing station and took over Brigade stores, comprising of bombs, flares, hand & rifle grenades, picks, shovels, buckets, sandbags, corrugated iron, detonators etc. Stopped here for the time the Batt was in the trenches to issue out and take in tools, stores etc. Sharp rifle fire all night. The place where these stores are kept has been christened Firework Hut. A fine name as there is about two ton of explosives stored & I have to stop there night & day.

Feb 24th 1915.
Firework Hut. Am not allowed to show my head outside the door during the daytime, as we are in full view of number 8 trench. The snipers there are pretty clever. The immediate district is called La-Plas-de-ferme. The enemy shelled our trenches during the day, result 1 wounded. Heavy rifle fire started at dusk. Weather fine.

Feb 25th 1915.
Firework Hut. Heavy gun fire started just after dawn, shells flying over this place from both sides. Germans shelled Neuve-Eglise. First shell "a Johnson" dropped in the square & some of the 5th Cheshire Territorials ran out of their billets to see the effects of the shell, when shrapnel followed up the Johnson, wounding 5 of them.
The 6th Cheshire Territorials on our left had 7 killed & several wounded, we had 1 killed & 1 wounded. We buried the former alongside the others at the side of the farm. No rest for the wicked, am up all night handing out tools & fireworks. I am thinking it will be a quick go out if a shell catches firework hut?

Mar 8th 1915.
Neuve-Eglise. Went down to Mud Town, as the huts are called, & had to canvass up the inside of the officers quarters.

Mar 10th 1915.
Neuve-Eglise. Went down to Mud Town. Had to make two tables & two stools for the C.O. & Adjt. There was an accident at the battery of 4.7" guns. A shell exploded as it was being loaded, killing 1 & wounding 4. One not expected to live. If he does he will be blinded for life. Our artillery started bombarding this morning, we had some more shells over in Neuve-Eglise. The batt got up a boxing tournament, a pretty decent show considering.

Mar 16th 1915.
They started off again at about four in the afternoon, with a heavy concussion shell followed up by shrapnel. 40 shells all told they sent over today, dropping five clean in the middle of the yard, knocked half the farm down but didn't touch Firework Hut. Batt relieved by the East Surreys at about 10.30. Casualties 2 wounded.
Casualties at Firework Hut during shelling - Broke the cat's leg.

Fireworks Hut. The fun started about 10.30 with a six inch shell dropping clean into the middle of the dung heap in the centre of the yard. It was a case of get out and get under. I got across to the other side where they dress the wounded before the next one came. We could just here the report of the gun & hear the shell coming, just like a motor car going at full speed. We could hear whether they were short or going over the top. They had sent over fourteen & the betting was 2:1 on hitting the farm. Bill Hodge stood at the doorway, "hear it comes" he said, "and it's a short ‘un". Sure enough it was for it knocked parts of the farm down. I thought it time to have the cellar for it & I made tracks. They sent 5 more over then stopped for dinner.

Mar 20th 1915.
Neuve-Eglise. Finished off soup boxes. Got word from orderly room that Capt Parker was killed at 12 noon. He was known as the father of the company. He was also a millionaire. One private was also killed. They were brought down to Neuve-Eglise and buried there. There were also 7 wounded.

ST Editor's note: Captain Erasmus Darwin Parker was 48 years old and co-author, with Colonel Willoughby Verner, late of the Rifle Brigade, of The Military Life of H.R.H. George, Duke of Cambridge. He is buried in Nieuwkerke (Neuve Eglise) Churchyard along with the private who was killed. 34-year-old Robert Taylor of C Company had been born in Dukinfield but had returned home from Christchurch, New Zealand to join the battalion.

Mar 21st 1915.
Neuve-Eglise. Batt was relieved by the Yorkshires of the 63 Brigade. We are to take up a fresh position. Proceed to Bailleul tonight. Went up to the dressing station as usual, 1 killed. Had to wait until the parson came before we could bury him. This is a new order out that the parson has to be present at each burial, or else. Before, the doctor done the service. It was 11 o'clock before he arrived & 12 before we got away from the dressing station. The Batt had gone on. We had 13 kilometres to walk. Arrived at Bailleul at 3.30am. Casualties in 2 days 3 killed & 9 wounded. Weather fine.

Mar 22nd 1915.
Bailleul. Went into the R.C. church which dates back to 1609, some splendid carving inside. Strolled round the town. Germans did not do too much damage while in occupation.

Mar 29th 1915.
Locre. Had to report to staff Captain at Kemmel at 8am. Arrived there & found we had to stop (attached to Brigade staff) to make wire entanglements frames covered with wire & sacking, for the roofs of dugouts, answering the same purpose as corrugated iron. Casualties 2 killed 10 wounded. Still had to go from Kemmel to the dressing station to bury the dead.

Apr 1st 1915.
Locre. Made crosses for the 3 we buried last night. Nothing doing.

Editor's note - Between 2 and 7 April 1915, the battalion moved to Ypres.

Apr 8th 1915.
Ypres. Have to meet the ration carts at about 1000 yards across country to the road. Huns have been shelling Ypres today, the shells passing clean over us. We have made a good start in this district - 5 killed & 21 wounded, mostly caused by French mortars. One of the killed had his face blown away.

Apr 10th 1915.
Ypres. The name of the one barn that is left standing, all that is left of the farm buildings is called Chester Farm. It is possible for the stretcher bearers to fetch the wounded out from 29 trench in the daytime, being protected by a high ridge. Casualties 1 killed, 15 wounded.

Apr 13th 1915.
Ypres. Had a Zeppelin over in the night, dropped two bombs into Reninghelst, Damage put a few of last years turnips out of step. One of ours & a Belgian aeroplane went up & dropped bombs on to it, bringing it down at Popperinge (sic), taking 30 prisoners. 1 Company for the trenches as working party. 1 wounded. Weather continues fine.

Apr 17th 1915.
Ypres. Aeroplanes were hovering over us all day. At 7pm the Batt started with the blowing up of hill 60. I had the pleasure of seeing it go up. The bombardment started. Shells flew in all directions. I was not allowed to go up to the dressing station on account of Germans shelling all roads. Bombardment continued throughout the night.

Apr 18th 1915.
Ypres. Germans counter attacked at dawn but was repulsed. We took 88 rank & file & two officers prisoners, some of which were left in the blowing up of their trenches yesterday, the remainder during the counter attack. The Batt's casualties were 2 killed & 41 wounded. Went up to dressing station at dusk. 2 shells exploded amongst us as we were unloading the rations, luckily hitting no one. We got the rations of the other two pioneers who's turn it was to stop at the dressing station. Just as we turned off the road to cut across the field we got another shell bursting just in front of us & wounding a chap just behind us. Reckon our luck was in.

Apr 24th 1915.
Ypres. Bombardment & battle still continues. The French were blind & panic stricken with vitriol shells and gases but the Canadians stuck it. A lot of the French & Canadians are blind. Went up to dressing station at dusk, have to skirmish for it owing to shelling. Casualties 5 wounded.

Apr 27th 1915.
Ypres. Made some forms for the officers mess. Two companies go up to the firing line to night & come away in the morning. Battle still continues on our left. Our 1st Batt passed us this morning to take up some trenches & missed a lot of old faces.

Apr 30th 1915.
Ypres. The Batt went into the trenches, relieved the East Surreys. My turn up at dressing station. Had 1 wounded in taking over. We nearly stopped a 13 pounder on our way up, coming up by the ragtime battery as we call it, owing to it dropping shells 1,000 yds behind our firing line into our reserve dugouts, causing several casualties.

May 6th 1915.
Ypres (Chester Farm). Germans used gas on Hill 60 last night (It is a gas-ly war). The ration party had a hard job to bring rations up last night owing to the amount of shells they put on the roads. Firing was pretty heavy on both sides all day, especially with trench mortars from the enemy, killing in the process 1, & wounding 15 of ours. Weather moderate.

May 26th 1915.
Ypres (Chester Farm). Very restless all along the line during night, on account of the presence of gas. I suppose about 12 noon the Germans shelled with heavy shrapnel (Canal Post) causing several casualties of ours. It's a bit awkward in moving about now as the Germans have rigged up 3 observation balloons, result, Canal Post being shelled. Had a very narrow escape myself. While digging a grave for one chap who was practically blown to pieces, the Germans started shelling again, only putting them further over this time. The first shell gave us warning to dive for cover, the second dropped 4 yards in front of the grave we were digging a minute before. Talk about digging ones own grave. Casualties 2 killed & 5 wounded.

May 29th 1915.
Ypres (Chester Farm). Night & day quiet. Think the Germans are retiring from this position. No sign of a relief yet. The material that we are using against the gas is a mixture of Hypo-sulphate-soda 10lbs, common soda 2lbs, 1 half pint glycerine, to two galls of water. The Germans are still shelling Ypres. Casualties 7 wounded. Cannot find out the result of the bombardment, which started on our left yesterday.

May 31st 1915.
Ypres (Chester Farm). Today seems to have been held in reserve for aeroplanes of which there were plenty. Hundreds of shells were fired at them. The blue sky was dotted with the white puffs of smoke, which look like balls of cotton wool. Still sending them into Ypres. I don't know whether the Germans are retiring or not but it has gone very quiet all along this front since the Italians have joined in the scrap. The 14th Division of Kitchener's have arrived in this section. Casualties 5 wounded, one an officer. Weather splendid.

Jun 1st 1915.
Ypres (Chester Farm). They have started breaking Kitchener's Div. in by putting a platoon in with a company of each Regiment what holds the trenches. It's time we were relieved, been in now 32 days without a break. Hardly any fighting here during the daytime - as soon as it is beginning to go dark the battle starts & stops at daybreak. A Zep [zeppelin airship] passed over this evening for the coast & England. Hope he bumps something before he arrives. Casualties 1 died of wounds.

Jun 2nd 1915.
Ypres (Chester Farm). At one-thirty this morning we had a visit from a German aeroplane who stayed with us for a couple of hours, flying very low. Don't know if he found any secrets but he moved of before it got properly daylight. The party of Kitchener's 14th Div. who are in with us are the K.R.R. [King's Royal Rifle Corps]. One of them was killed last night and we buried him today. Heard today that the Zep that went over last evening did bump & was brought down near the coast. Casualties 1 wounded.

ST Editor's note: Two men of 7/King's Royal Rifle Corps of 41 Brigade, 14th (Light) Division were killed on 1 June 1915; Riflemen William Furness (now buried in 1st DCLI Cemetery, The Bluff) and Henry William Hicks (22) today buried in Chester Farm Cemetery. It is likely that Hicks was the man buried by Pioneer Swindell.

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Image: Major Swindell's ‘little lady' Violet

 

Jun 3rd 1915.
Ypres (Chester Farm). Had orders to bury a horse behind Hill 60. Made an attempt to go up late last night taking quick lime etc, but was too hot and had to come back. So went up early this morning about 3.30. After wandering about a bit found the carcass, which must have been there for months. The stench from it was awful. We buried it. Vomited and was very quiet all day. A bombardment started on our right about 1pm round Armentieres way. The Germans shoved a board up above their trench with these words on it. We have captured Pryermyst & 260,000 prisoners. A Belgian battery opened out behind & knocked the board up a fire. Casualties 4 wounded. Weather splendid.

Jun 22nd 1915.
Ypres (Chester Farm). Very quiet all the morning. A desultory artillery fire carried on all day. Spent best part of the day making a new latrine for the officers. Casualties 1 killed 6 wounded. Killed - Lt Vanderspal (sic). Weather inclined to rain.

ST Editor's note: ODGW shows Lieutenant Edgar Roland Vanderspar (24) as having died of wounds on 24 June 1915. He is buried in Chester Farm Cemetery. He was the son of George and Alice Vanderspar of 155, Newbridge Hill, Bath, the very house in which the ST editor lived from 1988-1990!

Jul 23rd 1915.
Ypres (Chester Farm). Artillery active all day. There was a loud explosion which shook this place about 3.30pm. Heard later that it was one of our mines which blew up the German trench in front of our 26 & 27 trenches. Casualties 1 wounded.

Jul 24th 1915.
Ypres (Chester Farm). Paved the pathway leading into the graveyard with bricks. Heavy artillery fire during the morning. We were relieved at night by the 1st Gordons, making in all 86 days in without relief. We moved back to Reninghelst, arriving there about 3.30am. Casualties 1 killed & 6 wounded.

Editor's note: On 24 July 1915, 2/Manchesters left the front line for a rest, following which there came a move to the Somme (Suzanne/Maricourt), which in turn was followed by a period of leave.

Jul 27th 1915.
Eecke. Battalion inspected by General Plummer (sic) [Plumer]. Weather continues fine.

Jul 28th 1915.
Eecke. Having parades just as if it were peacetime.

Jul 30th 1915.
Eecke. Brigade on route march. Weather splendid.

Jul 31st 1915.
Eecke. Transport moved off at 9pm, Batt at 12mn & marched ?

Aug 1st 1915.
[to] Godewaarsvelde (sic) where we entrained. We arrived at Corbie 3.20pm & at Daours 6.10pm, when we billeted in out houses, farms etc. One man fell out of the train whilst asleep at Calais. Only scratched his hand. We travelled in cattle trucks - 40 per truck.

Aug 2nd 1915.
Daours. Roll call at 7am. Breakfast. Bathing parade afternoon. One of the Surreys was drowned while bathing.

Aug 3rd 1915.
Daours. Made some eye protectors for the gas helmets. Weather fine.

Aug 4th 1915.
Daours. Batt paraded & moved off at 8am. Marching to Morlancourt where we billeted. Taking over the billets of the French 403 Regiment. Arriving at 1.30pm.

Aug 5th 1915.
Morlancourt. The billets here are in a filthy state, the French have no idea of sanitation whatever. Shit paper & tins all over the shop. Result - we have to clean it all up.

Aug 9th 1915.
Suzanne. The cooks, kitchens, etc. go right into the trenches at this place. No casualties.

Aug 11th 1915.
Suzanne. Received permit, warrant, cash, etc. to proceed on leave tomorrow. Weather fair.

Aug 14th 1915.
Leave. A dream.

Aug 16th 1915.
Leave. Dream continues.
From trenches. The listening patrol last night bumped an advanced party of the enemy (ie. bombing party). The patrol was surprised, one being captured, remainder retired back to our foretrench, two of them being seriously wounded. They all receive a Field General Courts Martial. Casualties 2 wounded, 1 captured.

Aug 18th 1915.
Leave. Find dream a damn good one.

Aug 19th 1915.
Leave. Finish of dream. Left Victoria 5.40pm to return. Didn't want to but had to.

Aug 20th 1915.
Suzanne. Arrived at Suzanne 12 noon. Sampled whisky & wine with the boys. No casualties. Weather fine.

Sep 2nd 1915.
Sailly-Laurette. Made tables for officer's mess. Also some notice boards.

Sep 5th 1915.
Sailly-Laurette. Officers of the Brigade held a race meeting at 4pm. Had some very fine sport.

Sep 6th 1915.
Sailly-Laurette. Made table for C.O. Football match between our machine gunners and the Devons. Devons won by 4 to 1. Weather fine.

Sep 8th 1915.
Sailly-Laurette. Football match between our stretcher bearers and the Devons. Devons won by 1 to 0. Weather grand.

Sep 12th 1915.
Suzanne. Pretty sharp action on the right, presumably by the French, lasting about two hours until 6.30pm. The result of those four men who were courts martialed for leaving the listening post on Aug 16th, was sentenced to death, but were commuted to 10 years penal servitude. Weather very hot. Enemy fired at one of our aeroplanes this morning, one of the shells did not burst at the proper time, but came down amongst the transport some mules without hurting any.

Sep 14th 1915.
Suzanne. Quiet. Heavy firing still going on on our left. Have orders to make dugouts. Expecting trouble here shortly.

Sep 19th 1915.
Suzanne. Plenty of duels with aeroplanes of both sides. One thing it affords amusement for the troops. Weather fine.

img019

Image: Major Swindell now with moustache at his wedding to Violet

Sep 22nd 1915.
Suzanne & Maricourt. Had orders to shift up to Maricourt this evening. Batt goes into trenches. Had four wounded just as the [?] over by trench mortar. Casualties 4 wounded. Have a carpenter's shop here - fireplace, bench etc. On the whole it is a very decent dugout. Weather fine.

Sep 24th 1915.
Maricourt. Busy making trench gratings etc. Enemy shelling village just after dusk. Fighting mostly by trench mortar, bombs and hand grenades. Weather changeable.

Sep 29th 1915.
Maricourt. Had one of our signallers hit in the calf. C Coy captured a prisoner today, fine big young fellow, about 19 years old, stood 6ft high, gave himself up. It appears that about 12 came out to give themselves up, but our fellows opened up a fire on them, 11 went back & this fellow dropped into a hole & waited until the firing died down & then came in. Weather cold. 1 wounded.

Oct 6th 1915.
Maricourt. Quiet all day, the usual give & take game at night time. We had one fellow wounded during the night. An officer got onto the parapet & shouted some rather endearing names regarding the Huns, & of course they (the huns) didn't like it & sent over quite an appreciable amount of presents in reply. Result, one of ours hit. Casualties 1 wounded.

Oct 8th 1915.
Maricourt. Still hear the banging of heavy guns on our left & right. Our front quiet, mostly all bog & marshy land. Fighting done by bombing parties at night.

Oct 10th 1915.
Maricourt. A most beautiful day. Plenty of aeroplanes of both sides were in evidence. It is always interesting to watch the shells burst all around the planes. Not quite so interesting for the chaps above. Weather uncertain.

Oct 11th 1915.
Maricourt. Terrific bombardment started with the coming of the dawn on our left & still continues. On our front quiet by day, by night sniping & interludes of hand grenades & bombing.

Dec 10th 1915.
Maricourt. Had to put up some beds in the dugouts in 26 trench this afternoon. Trenches half full of mud & water. Weather wet.

Dec 11th 1915.
Maricourt. Wet. Troops up to their necks in mud. Pretty cheerful however.

Dec 13th 1915.
Suzanne. Put up a drying shed for troops to dry clothing etc. German plane bombed Maricourt today.

Dec 25th 1915.
Suzanne. Rained all night & stopped about 8am. Nothing doing, just cleaned up a bit & waited for dinner, which wasn't so bad, taking things all round. Quiet all day.

 

Chart:
Personal Memoranda Train Service
Watch No................. to from
Season Ticket No........ for soup.............................. trench trench
Stores Ticket No...... Will think about it................. 3.am 3.am
Bicycle No............... 303 s.a.a. ............................
Bank Pass Book No..... Also Ran.............................
Telephone No............To Come.............................
Telegraphic Address.... Ditto.................................
Size in Gloves............Try Bleaching powder............
Size in Collars............No Dog..............................
Size in Hats......... 6, 5/8 without lining..............
Size in Boots............ 7, 32/16.............................
Weight......................11st 6lbs Date...Pudding......
Height......................5ft 12ins...Date......."............
Insurance falls due...... In the field.........................
Name and Address... Billy Upton, Somewhere.........

 

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