Wednesday, 10 February 2016

More from the Yeomanry Part I – First Going into the Trenches

Thursday 10th February 1916: Lieutenant Hargreaves of the Bedfordshire Yeomanry is home on leave and gave a talk in Bedford on the Regiment and its recent exploits, going into the front line trenches for the first time in January. The Regiment received news that the Cavalry Corps was to take a turn in the front line trenches for which information they were fully prepared, as some for months every cavalry regiment had formed within itself a dismounted unit, which had practised route-marching, learnt to adjust and carry a pack, and generally fitted itself for infantry work. It was not long, therefore, before the Cavalry Corps actually took over possession of a portion of the front line trenches. The Bedfordshire Yeomanry had had a somewhat long journey before they arrived at what is known as Reserve Billets. These consisted of a number of cellars in a ruined town(1). Fatigue parties were formed and various kinds of work were done in the neighbourhood. This meant that the men kept very hard at work throughout the day and a part of the night. It was, continued the Lieutenant, impossible for anyone unacquainted with life in the trenches to form anything like an accurate conception of what that life means. From the time of taking over the duty to the time when they are permanently relieved from what is known as the shelled area, the men are almost incessantly at work. They experience hours of uncertainty and may be subjected to fire at any moment; the work is very fatiguing, and often attended with danger. The duty of guarding the front line itself is undertaken by the regiments of the Brigade in turn – that is to say, when the Brigade is actually in the front line, some of the regiments will be in the front line, and the remainder in the reserve trench, further back. When the turn of the Brigade is at an end they all go into rest billets until their turn comes round again. He (the speaker) was fortunate in being among the officers who happened to be with the Bedfordshire Yeomanry on the first occasion on which they actually went up to the front line(2).

They started, as usual, very early in the morning and marched to the cellars in the village previously mentioned, where they remained for two days, at the end of which they again started very early in the morning, in full marching order and for the first time entered the communication trenches leading to the front line. Some idea of the extent and complexity of the trenches could be gathered from the fact that they had to march for two hours down the communication trenches before they reached the front trench at all. It was not always realised what a maze of trenches there were, and he could compare them to nothing more appropriate than the streets of a town. They lead in all directions, and it is quite impossible to find one’s way unless the trenches have sign-posts at the corners, or one is very familiar with the trench he is holding, or is able to make a little sketch of the position. So complicated are the trenches and so close to those of the enemy that there is risk of wandering into the danger zone, and it is difficult sometimes to ascertain if one is facing the English or the Germans. When they enter the front trench the first duty is to take it over from the men already there, and this is a business that takes some time. Every man has to take the place of a previous occupant and every officer has to make acquaintance with the trench he is taking over and has to learn all he can about the stores and about the Germans who are immediately opposite to him. The piece of trench held by the Bedfordshire Yeomanry was in close proximity to the German line, not more than fifty yards away in fact, with practically no wire defence in front and they heard all sorts of rumours of the Germans preparing to mine their trench.

Source: Bedfordshire Standard 25th February 1916

(1) Vermelles near Loos

(2) 17th January 

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