Trench Warfare

This page contains the memories passed to me from an officer of the 4th Btn, 53rd Welch Division’s diary. The officer came ashore on Gold Beach during the D-Day landings.

Static Warfare in Normandy

28th Wednesday June ’44

“………….Reports had come in that hundreds of lives had been lost through badly constructed trenches. The shelling apparently was very severe and the shrapnel from air-bursts and from shells bursting in the trees killed many of our troops, although they had dug themselves well in.

Higher Command decided that all trenches should henceforth be well canopied, but that the canopy should in no way interfere with a good field of fire.

29th June Thursday 1944

The day was spent constructing thickly canopied trenches. How the men cursed that they had to do such things when they were NOT in the front line. My platoon area was very marshy and a good many of the trenches were water-logged. I was up to my waist in water all night.

Each man was told to prime his grenades, and that meant that we would soon be face to face with the enemy.

Reports still came in that our comrades were having a hell of a time with the Jerry. We expected to relieve these hard pressed troops any moment now.

30 June ’44 Friday

This will be a long remembered day, for we moved forward to take over part of the FRONT LINE.

Oh yes; we still had our bicycles. The actual take-over was completed in the dark. On the way up, dead bodies and dead animals littered the road, and knocked out tanks and vehicles proved the fierceness of the battles.

We passed through CHEUX, a village where there wasn`t a house standing. On and on we went, until we met our company Commander, who had gone forward to liaise with the CO of the Company which we were relieving.

Our Company Commander called the Platoon Commanders aside and told us how badly the ‘Cameronians‘, whose place we were taking, had suffered during the past couple of days.

It was dark, and as we had not experienced any shelling or mortaring we were at that point all quite calm and collected. We took over at dead of night, and worked like ‘niggers’ until we were well inside the bowels of Mother Earth.

The Cameronians had been pulled out now, and it was up to us to do our duty.

Fortunately, there was a lull in the enemy mortaring and shelling, and this gave us a golden opportunity to dig ourselves well in. The out-going troops were keen to get away – no wonder, for the intensive continuous shelling had harassed their digging. They had to be satisfied with mere shell-scrapes, which accounted for the heavy death toll.

All night long, I kept going round my platoon fox-holes, and I also visited Company HQ.

[The diary notes to quote here three verses of the ‘Soldiers prayer before battle; quoted right]

July 1st 1944 Saturday

With the breaking of dawn came the first mortar bomb. Just before that I was able to cast a good look at the surrounding country. We were actually in an orchard in Granville-sur-Odon, and just behind us was the main railway line to Caen. The ground was strewn with dead. Three British officers and fifty other ranks were killed just before we took over.

I got out of my trench and crossed the railway line to look at some graves. Near one of them was a photograph of a Hitler Youth.As I bent down to pick it up the first mortar bomb dropped about fifty yards away. That was my first experience of the enemy at work.

I rushed back to my trench as fast as I could go, and believe it or not, we were then shelled and mortared for fourteen hours without a break. What a bomb-christening!

I dashed from trench to trench to see if my men were all right. It was now that the troops fully realised the value of a CANOPIED trench. The soldiers gripped each other in the trenches, and gnashed their teeth as the earth trembled. Never will I forget the whine of the Nebelwerfers or ‘moaning-minnies’ (the German multi-barrelled mortars).

Sitting down under such a barrage was nerve wracking. Going into an attack, no doubt, would have been better. It was a disappointment to us all that we were so early employed defensively, unable to repay the enemy in the only way he understood.

Hours of agony such as these we all hoped we should never have to endure again. That any of us should have survived was beyond comprehension, for the massed guns of the Jerry belched death with demonical fury.Mingled with the shelling and the mortaring, Spandau and small arms fire came at us in all directions.

Amoungst those killed were Ptes Dawson and Seviour. Thier trench got a direct hit. Jenkins, my Batman, had a miraculous escape. Whilst he was in my trench having a cup of tea and a cigarette a shell dropped right into the trench which he originally occupied.

Smoke shells were also fired by the Jerry, and we had to be on our toes because we thought an attack was imminent.

At any moment we expected the shelling to end and to see an army of Jerries over-running our positions, but it never came thankfully as our rifle barrels had become chocked with mud and earth…..”