Monday 10 November 2014

The Late Lieutenant Graves

HM Hospital Ship Oxfordshire [Wikimedia]

Tuesday 10th November 1914: The 1st Bedfords have not been seriously attacked today and the 2nd Battalion has returned to their dugouts at Ploegsteert.

Things are looking up for our man in hospital at Boulogne who has reported: "About 3pm a doctor came and asked if I would like to go to England. I of course jumped at it, so he said I must be ready to start in an hour. Delighted and envied by all the others, I sent off orderlies to try and discover my kit, without success".

"At 4 pm I was shifted off in an ambulance after saying goodbye to the sister, who was rather loath to let me go, and was packed into an ambulance with a fellow in the Northumberland Fusiliers, Captain N F Booth, having warned the driver to go easy".

"We reached the docks in safety and were put aboard a very comfortable hospital ship, a Great Western Railway Boat off the Fishguard to Rosslaire line. I think it is called the Oxfordshire". We wish our man well, we doubt we shall hear from him again for some time, perhaps never, as we hear that unofficial contacts such as him are being frowned upon.[1]

Lieutenant Graves who was killed in action with the 1st Battalion yesterday was, we understand, son of Mrs. Graves of Sandye Place. He was a member of the firm of Williams, Ambrose and Graves, coal exporters and pit wood importers of Cardiff. When the announcement was made on the floor of the Cardiff Exchange all heads were bared, expressions of sympathy and regret being general.

Two days ago, the day before his death, Lieutenant Graves spoke with us: "For ten days we have been fighting and marching, and now hope to remain here for 48 hours to recover. One is not allowed to discuss the general situation but we have been hurrying on in order to permit a great French movement which is now in progress. The general morale of the army is wonderful. We have just had a circular from Field Marshal Sir John French in which he says that no other troops in the world would have stood what these have for weeks. We have lost 22 officers in this regiment. With all this I have never heard a man or officer doubt that victory is unquestionably ours. It is quite extraordinary how steady even the fresh men are when they are with the older hands".

"Yesterday I was in a big barn with 93 men in reserve to the dismounted cavalry. At about 4 o'clock they started shelling us, "coal boxes" making small volcanoes all round. They thought our guns, which were actually on the other side of the village, were behind. Eventually a shell came clear through the roof; another blew the next stable to bits and one fell in the courtyard. Time to clear out. I gave the order and led them in the rear of some cottages fifty yards down the road. They led out in single file, not a man leaving his equipment. Thirty of them had never been under fire before. During the afternoon I was lucky enough to see a big French advance. They might have been on manoeuvres - luckily most of the shrapnel burst beyond them. There is a tremendous battle going on and from the sound of it the Germans are being driven back. It is likely to be very decisive".

"You can't imagine how nice it is to be more or less quiet here. In the trenches the noise is deafening. the big guns going all day and usually all night. The first morning I was in the Germans attacked at dawn - came on in grey masses and were simply ploughed down by our people. I don't think they have much heart left for it, lots of them advance with their arm held over their eyes. Our trenches were only two hundred yards from them, but I believe none got within fifty yards of us. Their infantry really don't count, but it is hell when their big guns shell the trenches".

Sources: X550/2/7; Bedfordshire Times 4th December 1914

[1] i.e. officers were no longer allowed to keep diaries at the front.

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