From Daours we moved into Blangy-Tronville and relieved our 2nd Division. Four days of waiting for orders, then a rush late one night right up to the liveliest sector on the Somme, to wit, Villers Bretonneux, the scene of hard fighting by the 4th Division.
First night in, we camped on a railway bank just behind Villers Bretonneux and sat all night in our gas bags. Next night we moved closer up and lived in an open trench for 24 hours. We were under shell fire all night and the best part of the day. Snow and I were blown out of this trench at 6 o’clock next morning. Luckily both of us were unharmed, but very shaky for the next month.
Third night in we were moved into Villers Bretonneux and I was lucky enough to get a cellar almost as soon as we took over our section of the town. The blighter dropped about hundred shells into the place whilst our chaps were still being shown their particular holes in the ground. Snowy and I were separated here and he was dodging shells for the best part of an hour before he found his den. Several of our chaps were caught and one killed and the rest of us were dressing wounds all night. Next day we were allowed to sleep in – of a kind.
It would be hard to describe a town which has been bombarded by both the British and Germans; the British because it was only recently that we obtained possession of the place, and the Germans because they had lost it. It was the Key to Amiens. Every place in the town had a great shell hole in it somewhere, that is, every place that remained standing. Whole lengths of streets were levelled to their foundations. The place I lived in stopped about 30 shells whilst I was there, and had stopped heavens knows how many before.
We had nine clocks going in our cellar and I amused myself seeing how many I could rake together. One day I was out wiring windows and doors and blew into a house that had somehow escaped damage and found a piano and a great grandfather clock that started chiming the old Ballarat Town Hall chimes as soon as I wound it up. I rattled that piano until I brought the whole platoon up to the spot and a concert started right away with the old familiar “So Long Lettie” and winding up with the “Long Trail”, the only two tunes I could remember. Fritz must have heard the chorus ‘cause he knocked the chimney down and became quite unpleasant and we had to clear out of there “tout suite” -my French. I managed to get my clock home, and by hooky, I could almost swear that I was back in Ballarat every quarter of an hour.
After hanging on and wiring this place for nine long days we were relieved and left the town by (what we thought was) the quickest possible route, but heavens, it proved the slower. We walked into a shower of shells and two more of our chaps were carried out. We camped in a railway cutting that night and moved off before breakfast next morning and finally came to rest just off the Amiens – Roye road, in a woods by the name of Bois l‘Abbe , a woods with nine roads all meeting in the centre forming what is now called Clock Face. One could stand in the centre of this wood and look down nine different avenues.
Our platoon had a week’s work cutting down great oak trees to be used for dugouts. This wood was overrun with strawberries and cherries. Of course I left them alone. It was while in this wood that I gained much fame as an engraver. Souvenirs were turned out by the dozen and many later found their way to the War Curio Exhibition in Blighty.
Our job as foresters came to an end much too soon. We had dugouts to make up in the reserves. We had about five miles to walk every night over the roughest tracks around Villers Bretonneux. We soon adapted ourselves to mining and at the end of a week had a drive deep enough to stop anything Fritz could put on top. Every night as we left the work for home, that Blighter would start strafing and we would have to walk miles on a narrow, winding track. We were chased home every night or rather morning.
One morning, four of us had just left the track and were moving pretty quickly along because of bursting black shraf (shells) over on our right, too close to hang about. We thought we were clear and eased up a bit when they altered the range and got the first about 12 feet above my head. The concussion knocked me along the ground and rattled my nerves but that was all. The other three chaps all got wounds, one pretty seriously. I happened to be directly underneath, the other three in single file in front of me. The crowd behind us came up about 20 minutes later and found the four of us in a heap on the ground. We were carried to a dressing station where I awakened to find I was not punctured, convinced the Doctor I was all right, and went home ( to camp).
Snowy thought he was seeing things when I dragged myself through the wood. They thought I was a sure thing for Blighty. I couldn’t hear a thing and had a bad head and several aches for weeks after. The Doctor had issued me with a note that gave me a weeks spell and light duties for two weeks, so I didn’t have to go out to work for three weeks and then only for one night as our Division was due for relief. We left the Villiers sector, glad to get away, but (we left them) very short in strength.