Captain John Baber
Captain John Baber was immediately on the left of the 3rd Division, whose
attack has been described. At the time he was serving with the Machine Gun Section of
the Queen's Westminster Rifles, who were apparently under the orders of Lt
Colonel F.W. Towesy of the West Yorks, tasked with protecting the flank of the
9th Infantry Brigade.
He describes the events from just outside the main attack, and then took part in the consolidation after the battle, witnessing the aftermath in a short letter to his sister:
19th June 1915.
I expect you want to hear a little of our scrap. First of all, I did not fire the M.G. as the Germans had had enough & did not counter attack where we were. We got up to the trenches on the evening of the 15th, & began to dig ourselves in & put the
railway lines in a state of defence. Sharp at 2.59 A.M. when it was growing light, swish, wish went our heavy shells, & wump, wump at the other end. Bang, whiz etc went the smaller fry & that continued till 4.30 A.M. when the first assault was made; there was little left to resist. In the meantime the Hun guns got to work, & there Heavies gave us gyp till about 10.30. Those eight hours were the longest I have ever spent, & our trench was so narrow that we had to sit without a possibility of moving, with our knees up to our chins. I tried Demon Patience but could not get the beastly thing out.
Between 10.30 A.M. & about 4.30 P.M. everyone shelled every one else intermittently, but at teatime the Huns thought they would like to counter attack. So their guns began to fire rapid. I've never heard such a noise. After an hour of that, the message was sent down for two of our guns, so I made my way up a communication trench with 2 guns. It was melodrama in the best Lyceum style.
Wounded men hobbling down the communication trench, harassed orderlies, "Machine guns, thank God, - hurry up guns, your wanted badly up there, etc." I couldn't help laughing. When we got up, German prisoners were being passed back, & the trenches were full of their casualties & ours but I chose two positions & waited but nothing happened. Our field guns had caught the Germans collecting in a wood & had broken them up all by themselves. The Germans whom I saw seemed delighted that they were captured with the exception of one Prussian boy aged 19, wounded in hip & leg. He thought we were going to shoot him, but was consoled with cigarettes & chocolate. A kiltie had tried to comfort him, but Gaelic & beard & kilt almost frightened the poor kid off his head.
I stayed in our new trench for 24 hours
& then we marched back to our Canal & last night we came out here.
("here" being a wood several miles back).
We are all very fit & enjoying ourselves. Today Ray went into --- /about 6 miles behind Y.) & brought champagne, strawberries & biscuits for the mess, but one can only buy these things in limited supplies & knowing where to look.
By permission of Nick Balmer