For three days we remained in support, and the whole time the plain behind us was full of gas. The Artillery suffered most heavily, for they could not always wear their masks, and after the first 24 hours there was a continuous stream of blinded gunners helping each other back along the road to Philosophe—a terrible sight. We too had several casualties, for the platoons, on their way to bath at Les brebis, had to pass across the plain. At Philosophe we lost two mules, through a direct hit with a heavy shell, and the driver, H. Gamble, was very lucky to escape with nothing more than a bad wound. It was a miracle he was not killed. On the 12th the battle became quieter, and that night, relieved by the Canadians, who arrived very late owing to a railway accident, we marched out to Bracquemont. Before we went the Germans to the North had advanced so far that we could see their lights in our left rear. Bethune, too, was in flames, so we were not sorry to be leaving the sector. Most thankful of all were the transport drivers, for there are not many worse places than the Loos road, and few more desolate spots than Philosophe coal mine on a dark wet night, when the wind is making the loose sheets of iron rattle, and the horses have “got the wind up.”
Gorre and Essars at peace.
12th April, 1918. 10th Aug., 1918.
Bracquemont was sadly changed. Instead of the gay, almost fashionable suburb of Noeux les Mines, with numbers of people in the streets, it was now a wilderness of empty houses; the only sign of life, the piteous little groups of women and children waiting by the roadside for some French car to come and take them to a place of safety. The miners alone remained. Inspired by Clemenceau, who had visited the place a day or two before, they were working day and night, regardless of bombardments and nightly bombing raids. The furnaces at the Noeux Mines could be seen for miles round, and were a constant mark for every German gun and aeroplane, but still the plucky miners carried on their work, knowing that on them alone depended the coal supply of France. We were billeted in the Convent formerly occupied by the Casualty Clearing Station. The following morning the Drums gave a short concert in the Bandstand, and after dinner we were taken by lorries to Hersin Coupigny.
Hersin Coupigny was still fairly thickly populated, but the news from the Merville and Kemmel area where the enemy seemed to be making good progress, together with the arrival each evening of a few high-velocity shells, were fast driving the inhabitants to seek safety further West. We remained here until the 24th of April, the first few days in huts, the remainder in the Tile Factory. It was not an enjoyable rest—in fact it was no rest at all. All ranks were ready to move at short notice, and one expected almost hourly to be sent forward to fill some new gap in the line.