The War Diaries of Roger Stamp: April 1915

The War Diaries of Roger Stamp: April 1915

These are the first entries in the war diary of Stockton man, Roger Stamp. We will be updating the diary on a daily basis, exactly 100 years to the day that Roger himself made the original entry …

He began keeping his diary (much against Army orders) on the day his battalion (5th DLI) left Newcastle for France, via Folkestone, on 17 April 1915.   He continued to write his diary up until March 1918, when he was granted an honourable discharge from the army after, in August of 1917, being wounded for the third time.

The opening pages see him introduced to the rear areas ‘behind the lines’ in Flanders before moving into the firing line …

Saturday 17th April 1915 – Left Newcastle by train 1:30pm arriving Folkestone 11pm.

Sunday 18th April 1915 – Embarked immediately to awaiting boats. Boat [Invicta] started at 1:45am and arrived at Bolougne [BOULOGNE] 3:10am and finally at ST MARTINS Rest Camp, Bolougne [BOULOGNE] about 4:45am. Reveille was at 6am, Running Drill at 7am, remainder of the day to ourselves till 5pm, when we fell in and marched to Pont de Bricques station. After a long wait we got set off in horse trucks, at 9pm, after 5 hours’ journey we got out somewhere (Cassel I found out afterwards) and afterwards set out for Stiene Vorde [STEENVOORDE] getting there…

Monday 19th April 1915 … about 8am and after finding billets (have sent a letter home today,) settled down at 9am. At 8pm we are still here and look like stopping a few days. Our billet is a straw barn, the walls of which are made of beams about 2 foot apart and filled up with mud and straw. The scenery is fine. We have all to be in billets by 8pm and only have one field ration to move in, so that we are always ready in case of alarm.

Tuesday 20th April 1915 – This is my 20th anniversary of my birthday but have kept it dark. We are still in the same place. Reveille was at 7.30am and at 9.30 we fell in and marched to the farmhouse on our left, about 400 yds. Here the remainder of the Coy [Company] are billeted. We have only 1½ platoons at our place. PM a very easy time and got back at 12 noon and then dismissed. At 3pm roll call is to be made, this every day. I learn we are only 2 miles off the Belgium frontier and 8 miles from the firing line. While out this morning we saw an amm[unition] column going to the front – about 60 motor transports. I think that we are about 12 miles from LA BASSE and the same from NEUVE CHAPELLE. On Sunday night I along with Private Wilkes asked for a drink of L’eau (water) and were given something like our own, English, Dandelion & Burdock stout and after drinking it and joining our detachment I learned it was beer I had had. I drank it quite unconscious of the fact.

Wednesday 21st April 1915 – Reveille at 6.30am. We had a march to Headquarters today 2 mile away near the village, afterwards having a short lecture by the Colonel and then back and dismissed. We are to be allowed in the village 50% per day, 25% from 1 to 5pm and 25% 5 to 8pm. I am going at 5pm. Letters to home and E. Green.

Thursday 22nd April 1915 – The time does fly but we get to bed that early and not up till late. Today reveille was at 6:45. I went to the village last night by myself and then, this Thursday, not at all, and I was glad I did go. Set off about 6pm and find the village is about 1½ miles, my earlier estimation was wrong. I saw an old lady making lace by hand, I have never seen anybody so quick with fingers before. About 30 bobbins with cotton line attached at the top and the cotton worked in & out a lot of pins. I looked about the place, the chief thing is the church, I did not go in as service was just starting. At one shop I went in for some chocolate and asked for deux franks [francs] of chocolate, 1/8d worth and when it was brought I thought what a good 2d worth. I should of asked for quartre soos [quatre sous], 2 pence (the 5-centime copper coin was called a sou.) I finished up here, after a bit of parleying, with buying 25 centimes, 2½d, of chocolate and deux soos [sous] of chocolate cake, I had to point to the cake, I could not ask for it. It was tough like elastic. Afterwards I saw in a window some wafers and fancied one or two. Early on in the day our Lieut[enant], Mr Ropner, had told us to barter with the retailers, so when I asked the price of the wafers, I managed to by pictures and my book, they showed me one for a soo [sou]. I said give me 3 for 6 soos [sous], but they understood me that I wanted 6 soos [sous] worth and offered me 6 wafers for 6 soos [sous]. Someone came in for some sweets so I got some sweets and also 2 wafers. This is my first adventure in French shopping. The majority of the farmhouses here are thatched, the remainder are new or have been renovated and have tiles on the roofs. We passed a cemetery at Bolougne [BOULOGNE] and there like here the monuments are splendid. Nearly all the stones have crosses, and even the poorest grave has a wooden cross, while the better class have small chapels, look to be about 6 to 10 ft square, built up and ornamented outside with carved stonework surmounted at the end, or ends, with a stone cross. At several places we passed on the road coming here we saw brick huts with a grated door, inside of which are the crucifix of the Virgin Mary with Jesus. At some road ends are just large crucifixes, and also at the end of some rows of houses, let in the wall are to be seen a representation of Virgin Mary and Christ in her arms, these just being about 10 inches high. Under or at the sides of all are little wooden crosses, similar to a child’s sword, I do not know yet what these are for but may find out later. We have had a surprise inspection by General Lindsay and finished up for the day about 1.30pm. This afternoon I have washed a shirt and one pair of socks.

Friday 23rd April 1915 – At reveille this morning we were told to get ready, war kit, and report at Headquarters. War kit includes blanket, groundsheet, socks, change of underclothing and full pack. We had one blanket each given the first day at STEENVOORDE. However we managed to get some breakfast and the day’s rations were given to each man. We arrived at Headquarters about 9am and stayed there till 12.45pm when we moved off to the outside of the village to the North. Again waited till 5.45pm and loaded the buses which carried us to a village 3 miles from the firing line arriving here at 7.20pm and then marched to a 50th Camp arriving here at 9pm. More rations were given out and we were told to make ourselves comfortable the best we could. At Headquarters our ground sheets were given in, so we laid down in our blankets in the open and were soon off to sleep despite the noise of the guns in the rear area. Also the star lights were continually being sent up, we could see, in the firing line.

Saturday 24th April 1915 – 2am we were called up and eventually set off for the firing line as we were informed, we seemed to take a road always parallel to the trenches for we seemed never to get nearer. However in time we were caught in the glare of the star lights and when seeming very near, had to about turn and going back about 1 mile we rested in a field, all the battalion, this at 4am. At 8am we were roused for some tea and then had our biscuits and some jam also. We had finished the meal and been gathered together, proved and settled down again, when about 9am the first shell burst over us about 50 yards to the rear. Another 4 followed and then we cleared off for safety to some old entrenchments a little further down and to the right of the road. Each man was given either a spade or a pick. The shells continued so all the company were called to the road and taken a short distance down and then over one field out of the range of the shells and here we are 10.30.

Sunday 25th April 1915 – We were fallen in as I had just finished the last. We marched by a longer route to the firing line and were under artillery fire nearly all the way. Without doing any damage we were brought out as there was not room, while coming out 5 men wounded by shrapnel and, I heard, 1 killed out of A company. All the day we were near the front line and under artillery fire all the while more or less. About 5.30pm we were placed in a ditch and set to work with our small entrenching tools, all the large ones being left at Bains Choauds [Chauds] while coming up on the morning. In our newly made trench we settled for the night till 1.30am when we were fallen in and marched again to the firing line. At 1.30am it was pouring down of rain and continued for about 2½ hours. Last night I saw a fire at YPRES and included in the glare a church steeple but I don’t know if it was the church on fire. The roads were terrible also slushy and at 4am we were again starting to entrench ourselves in under fire of snipers. Our own artillery must have worked hard and driven the enemy back for YPRES is now quite out of the range of fire, whereas yesterday it was being shelled when we retreated. Very soon after getting dug in the shells started and soon the enemy was sighted and we took the hedge on our left to meet them but they gave no target and we had to retreat under artillery fire. We gathered together about 1½ miles away and very soon a counter attack was on the go and we were proceeding champion when somehow or other our own artillery opened fire on us and we had to again retire. During the counter attack the snipers were continually on us. Now we are under cover but have been shelled without any damage being done up to the present as far as I know. I have not had a wash since Friday morning and had biscuits and corned beef up to now. On Saturday morning we had one pint of tea, hot, but none since. I am just imagining the dinner at home, they will be starting now as it is 1.30pm. We are still under cover, I think waiting of orders. My thoughts have wandered to the chapel at home about 3 times this morning, what a contrast, peace and quiet against warfare. 3.25pm I have had a wash. The children will just be singing their farewell hymn at home now. I have left my blanket off here, some chaps have only kept a pair of socks and a few a shirt as well but up to now I have kept the whole of my kit. Moved from here about 8.30pm and taken up a position about 4th out of trenches. Just got dug in when moved to trench one about 11pm.

Monday 26th April 1915 – Still in the same position and under artillery fire from rise to setting of the sun. Some shells bursting very near and one burst in the trench about 4 yards away. A chap was badly hurt and while trying to get him out another chap was killed by a shell that followed immediately. I heard at 2pm that our company had 10 killed and 11 wounded. At 9pm we were moved to the firing line to hold the position.

Tuesday 27th April 1915 – Still in the firing line and had an easy night but today the snipers are out and the artillery are on us again. This afternoon we lost our first man from our section and another in the same trench was badly wounded. I have found an old cavalry man’s waterproof cape and intend to stick to it as long as possible. Have been moved further along the line and had to dig our own trenches. Every man had to take a turn on guard every half hour as an attack was anticipated.

Wednesday 28th April 1915 – An attack was made but not at our part of the line. It is now about 8am and up to now we have been dodging snipers and completing our trench. The artillery was on us very soon and one or two have been hurt. I had a turn trying to spot the snipers but they are too well trained and by an instrument fixed on no noise is made when fired but we hear the bullets buzzing by. I had a shot, a place I thought was a sniper but don’t know if I hit him. Somebody had stolen our corporal’s ration bag which had our tin of jam for the section in besides his own rations so we have only biscuits and corned beef today, and water, and have to be careful with the water as well. We can only get out to fill our bottles after dark and although a bottle holds a quart it only seems a drop after being used to help yourself with 2 or 3 cups of tea for breakfast, a good drink at dinner time, then tea and supper, a quart is not so much. Last night after getting my part to some satisfaction I went for my bottle and drank, it was like wine, then I had a good walk to fill up the bottle again. Today rations are 3 biscuits, ½ tin corned beef, 2oz tin, and a bit of cheese, a little tea and sugar, but I expect we won’t be allowed to make a fire in the trench. I collected some wood off the ration box for fuel if we got permission. The smoke draws attraction and although we have been shelled, more will come if we should show ourselves in any way. I have not had a shave since leaving NEWCASTLE; my finger nails are sore with not washing and the chap. Since being in the trenches I have had one slice of bread, on Monday night. This is the only bread supplied since Sunday 18th at BOULOGNE when we had about ½ loaf. These are the only two occasions up to now that we have had bread supplied since coming to France. At STEENVOORDE I was able to purchase some bread and only sometimes as flour was very scarce and double the price of flour in England, I was informed. At the farm we bought out all the bread they could spare at ½d per slice and on Friday while waiting for the buses managed to buy 2 slices also. I will tackle a biscuit now for breakfast, they are that hard that I will be able to eat a bone with a bit more practice. Later in the day we were shelled and had about 2 killed but altogether we had an easy time. Late on at night we were relieved, I don’t know the time for my watch is broken and after a 5 mile walk, which seemed 10, we reached a rest camp at 2am.

Thursday 29th April 1915 – We were given a hut for each platoon and are packed liked herrings in a tin so tight that we all have to lie facing the same way on our sides and some on the centre on our feet also. At 10am we were roused and had to commence digging trenches, for the enemy must have had an advance for they were able to hit the camp by artillery. We are now supplied with plenty to eat bread, jam, bacon and tea. A lot of aeroplanes come over here, in fact we have had them following continually, they fly above us and the enemy get the range from them. I was able to have a jolly good wash and also made 2 tins of tea myself to drink from my spare rations. We expected to move but did not so expect the enemy have been driven back.

Friday 30th April 1915 – Reveille at 7am, breakfast at 8am then rifle, bayonet, ration and field dressing and foot inspections. I’m going to have a shave today. I had a letter from my brother Tom yesterday and also sent one home. The weather has been splendid altogether excepting Sunday night, a very good thing for us. The water here is very bad and all has to be boiled before drinking, this order was given out when first coming to France but up to now have not bothered and sometimes had not the opportunity but now we do it always, in fact the purest water is that that settled in the bottom of the trenches we dug yesterday. This has naturally gathered in and has filtered itself through the earth but this is also boiled.

Roger’s diary continues with May 1915