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International Corner – Lice & Rats – November 1917

Fig.1. International Corner, North of Poperinghe on the N321. The resting spot for the 104 MCG. By Paul Reed.

Our rest spot was International Corner, some seven or eight miles back from Passchendeale.

Fig.2. ‘International Corner’ is on the N321 east of the Abbey of St. Sixtus which is marked here. This is where J A Wilson MM of the Machine Gun Corps rested when out of the line during the Third Battle of Ypres, 1917

(This action takes between International Corner, the communications trenches across the Yser Carnal torwards Pilkem, Langermarke, Poelcappelle and Houthulst Forest)

“We used to get a daily paper. It was in the Daily Mail that an attack by the enemy had been frustrated, or words to that effect … ‘Enemy driven back with heavy casualties’. It was all lies. We knew because we just happened to know what had happened’.

I played football once at right-back against the trench mortar battery. It was during the winter and the ground was all icy. I went down on one knee and gashed it badly on a lump of ice.

‘We were called in from rest at one time to give support to the Canadians who were attacking Pilkem Ridge’. (Clearly the MCG were a peripatetic group who would be called in as and where required. This may have been around the 26th October as the 3rd Canadian Division moved toward Passchendaele.  The Battle of Pilckem Ridge was earlier, 31st July to 2nd August). 

The Morass of the Battlefield - Flanders

We carried in ammunition, there were 250 rounds in a tin box.

When you were out of the line for a bit rest you could always bet your boots on a good Salvation Army tent.

They give you writing paper and all the rest of it. You couldn’t write letters without them being checked. I don’t know what we would have done without them, they were excellent. I always give them something when they come to the door.

There were rats on the Yser-Ypres canal bank at Boesinghe, that was real fun.

This was around November. There were all these holes; we’d bung them up with sods of earth and stick some cordite in the last one, slam some more turfs over it and wait for them to go off. You’d think the whole bank-side was ablaze and the rats. We’d try and hit them with bayonets and spades. They’d be down into the water and this little terrier which belonged to the cook would go in after them.

We tried to shoot fish with a gun.

We never got them. Someone would throw in a Mills Bomb, what we called a pineapple or just a ‘bomb.’ They’re called hand-grenades now.

Lice were a menace.

Get too close to the brazier in your dug out and you’d start itching. We used to do all sorts to try and get rid of them. If you took a candle and ran it along the seams you could burn them out. I remember once, it was in the middle of winter, I had a chance to give my shirt a clean – you only had the one. I hung it outside on a bit of line over night.

The next morning, you bugs, despite the frost the lice were still alive. 

 

Shot for Cowardice – August 1916

Jerry was marvellous with these dug-outs.

He used to make them with railway sleepers. As soon as the artillery lifted its barrage, up came Jerry from these heavily constructed dug outs. They’d never been touched. He’d be out with his machine guns and mow our lads down as they advanced. We lost 30,000 men in the first day of the Somme. We were warned about that at International Corner up in the Poelcapelle area.

With these trenches and dug-outs the war was static; there were sentries here and there.

There was this occasion when Jerry had come over in the dark, cut the barbed wire, crawled in and killed the sentry at one spot. It was fatal to have trenches running straight along, so they were zigzagged. Jerry got into these trenches and grabbed all these lads who were in the dugout quite unprepared. This young officer Lieutenant Munday and Sergeant Stones were doing the rounds touring the sentry posts on the forward line when they came along this trench and were suddenly confronted with Jerries. Before the Munday could do anything he was downed and the Sergeant ran away. That Sergeant was accused of desertion.

What would you have done?

I would have done the same. ‘He that runs away lives to fight another day.’

Jerry must have come over with pick-axe handles.

At his trial this Sergeant said he could do nothing about it. Munday was walking in front. He just ran back, along the trench, said he was looking for the company cook. It was plane common sense. Get out of there, there was nothing you could do but get a bayonet through the gut. We had a team in a SAP at that point. Our boys were questioned. Hadn’t they an inkling what was going on? I had been relieved from duty that night due to sickness and that Lance Sergeant Stones had volunteered to go forward in my place

The report in the Daily Mail was that the Scots had gone over and more or less repaid the debt.

It said that an attack by the enemy on our trenches at this spot had been frustrated – or words to that effect. ‘Enemy driven back with heavy casualties.’ It was all lies. We knew because we were there. It was bunk to keep the moral of the troops up elsewhere on the line or to keep everyone happy at home.

That Sergeant was shot for ‘shamelessly casting away arms.’

(Lance Corporal Peter Goggins and Lance Corporal John McDonald, both of the 19th D.L.I. Bathams were also shot on the 18th January as they failed to follow up the raid when required to do so. Stones was a 5ft 2inch, 23 year old miner from West Hartlepool who’d enlisted on 10 March 1915).

The officer in charge had to go up and make sure, to see you are dead and put a bullet through you.

That officer lived in Stockton. He was one of the Brothertons who were builders merchants – Foster-Brothertons in Thornaby.

The incident was brought up in Parliament years later by the Labour Government.

All this came out.

He should never have been shot.

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