Witley, August 1, 1917

Wednesday         8 p.m. Rain continues to fall has not eased up since Monday night. went out this am route march rained all the time, busy removing mud this afternoon and rust some job in the rain Offensive progressing favourably Am in the pink

1917 08 02 headline.JPG

Just under this headline reads another: “GERMAN TROOPS HOLDING FRONT LINES AWAIT THEIR DOOM IN DUGOUTS.” (1) Although Gibbs tells of one machine-gun emplacement that did raise a white flag, he acknowledged, writing after the war, that those machine-gun emplacements were “terribly effective against the desperate heroic assaults of British infantry.” (2)

pillbox IWM 11659.JPGThe foot-soldiers faced sidelong (enfilade) fire from machine-gunners “of proved resolution, whose duty was to break up our waves of attack until, even if successful in gaining ground, only small bodies of survivors would be in a position to resist the counter-attacks launched by German divisions.” (2) The Germans occupied a chain of small concrete fortifications “or ‘pill-boxes,’ as our soldiers called them.” (2) Made of two-inch concrete, they withstood anything but a direct hit from a big shell, and were small enough to make difficult targets, even if artillery observers had not been hampered by rain and poor visibility.

Across the Channel, Percy’s observation is confirmed by the War Diary: “Weather very wet. 72 hours continuous rain. Section training commenced. Recent inspections show that more independence & sense of responsibility desirable amongst Section Commanders.”(3)

The image (Q 11659) comes from the collections of the Imperial war Museum. It shows the body of one of those resolute fighters in a pillbox destroyed next month in the Third Battle of Ypres.

(1) Gibbs, Philip. “Germans Holding Front Trenches,” The Globe (1844-1936). August 2, 1917. 1. Archive available from ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
(2) Gibbs, Philip. “Part Seven: The Fields of Armageddon. V.”  Now It Can be Told. [published in the UK as The Realities of War]. 1920. Available from Gutenberg.
(3) War Diary of the Fifth Canadian Divisional Artillery. Vol. 7 (August 1917): 1. Library and Archives of Canada.

Copyright 2017. See “More about this project.”
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