Thursday 16 October 2014

An Unexploded Shell

Geluveld Church

Friday 16th October 1914: We hear that the 2nd Bedfords have taken up a position in the village of Geluveld just east of Ypres. Our contact with the 1st Bedfords tells us: “The Norfolks got the wind up and so we had to hold the line of our front trench with three sections[1] and stand by. The remainder of the Company dug bombproof shelters round the farm. Litchfield[2] and I decided to change our quarters and found a delightful house quite close by and we got the woman who was in it, with her children, to clean it up for us and light the fires”.

“In our dining room we found an unexploded shell which had passed through the window and curtain, boring a clean round hole in the glass and had stuck into the wall (about two inches) and about a foot from the floor”.

“We showed it to some gunner officers who advised us not to touch it as it might explode at any minute. We warned the woman and, in spite of it, had our meal in the room and were constantly interrupted by people wanting to see the shell”.

“In the middle of our meal two French civilians came in – one said he was the mayor of Givenchy-lès-la-Bassée and the other explained that his parents were buried in their house cellar in Givenchy and that he wanted a pass into the village to extricate them”.

“I explained that the Germans were in the occupation of the village but gave him a pass to Battalion Headquarters to see if they could help him. As he was going out I showed him the German shell in the wall, at the sight of it he seemed to go mad, went blue in the face, rushed at it and gave it a savage kick. We were horrified, and petrified with fear, seized him by the neck and dragged him out of the house and flew up the road. Here we waited for the house to blow up but luckily nothing happened”.

Sources: X550/2/7; X550/3/wd

[1] There were four sections in a platoon, four platoons in a company and four companies in a battalion. A section, at full strength, comprised ten men.
[2] Second Lieutenant John Litchfield would be killed six days later.

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