A Rough Diary of my Soldier Life, by
Pte. George Linney
28 Bedford Street
20th March 1919
The war broke out as you know in August 1914 but I did not join up before February 1916, as I thought it was my duty to stop at home and help keep things going, because my father was incapable of work. Moreover, my mind was quite made up when I heard that two of my brothers had joined the colours.
Well things kept going on all right, but I could see I should have to go sooner or later, but every time I mentioned the matter to my father, he would not hear of my going. So I kept giving way to please him, but at last in December 1915 I could see things had got to a climax and if I did not go and get attested I should be fetched and I was determined that this should not happen, so I made the journey to Luton on 2nd December. I was attested in the Bedfordshire Regiment.
Well it was not long before they called me up for military service, but my employer Mr. Wood, Confectioner of High Street, Leighton Buzzard with the help of the tribunals, kept me a civilian until 6th March 1916, when I at last made the journey to Luton again with the intention of "soldiering" to the best of my ability.
I did not mind in the least going, for I have thought since I should have gone before, but I was thinking of my father and mother at the time, more than the war. They were both very sorry when I went I could see.
After messing about Luton half that day, about 500 of us at last went by train to Bedford and were taken to the barracks there. I shall not forget my first night in the army for a long time to come. We were placed in a very big room for the night and were given one blanket and of course we had to sleep on the boarded floor, there being no beds to spare at the time.
Anyway I had to make the best of it and that night was only a small difficulty compared with what I had to go through afterwards.
I remember quite well I was messing about Bedford barracks for nearly a week (still in "civilians") and was beginning to wonder what was going to happen, when one morning a sergeant fetched us all out on parade. We were all sorted out in to different lots, (for different regiments I later found out), but there were only six fellows all told in the lot I was in.
After this was finished an Officer came to me and said, "Linney you are in charge of this party. You are held responsible that you six report to the 5th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment stationed at Rye, Sussex, today. Do you understand?"
I replied, "Yes sir."
He said, "Right, parade ready to move off in an hours time."
So away we went and got ready.
We were all ready at the appointed time. He gave me one railway warrant for the six of us, so that meant we all had to keep together and travel by the same trains, and also a big envelope to give to the officer commanding 5th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment. I suppose it had our joining up papers and particulars in it.
About a thousand of us I should say at least made for the Midland Station Bedford, headed by a fine band of the Bedfordshire Regiment and I must mention the fact that we had a fine send off indeed. It was a lovely day and there were crowds of people about cheering us. We were all entertained at the station and eventually started off for London.
We arrived at St. Pancras Station after an hours run and I said to my six, "Now we must be careful and keep together when we get out, so none of us get stranded," because you see I had the only railway warrant.
I found out there that we had to change for London Bridge Station and had a decent while to wait, so the other chaps decided to have some dinner. We went out into London and came across one of Lyon's shops in the Strand and had dinner there.
Well after enjoying the sights of London for an hour and a half we walked to London Bridge Station and started on our other journey, and we eventually reached the town of Rye at about 6 'clock in the evening.
My first impression of Rye I must admit was very bad, for it was very cold. In fact it was snowing hard and it did look a very poor dreary, old fashioned place.
I soon found out we were at the right place and after messing about a good deal (for it took us a long time to find out where the regiment's orderly room was) we at last reported to the 5th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment which I afterwards found out were "pioneers".
We were expected and treated very well. We were given a good warm tea and taken to a billet in Cinque Ports Street. The people there also made us welcome and we soon made ourselves at home.
I must also mention here I think, that all the same six of us were put in the same billet, which I think was very lucky, and we all went out to France together later on.
The landlord and landlady's name was Mr & Mrs Dunk and they were very thoughtful and kind to us indeed. We often remarked when we were in France, we wished we were back there again.
We occupied the top two rooms, which were very large and had a comfortable bed apiece.
The next day was filled in by getting fitted-up in khaki clothes etc. and other necessities and I must say I felt very proud to be a soldier and very soon settled down to army life. Considering the numbers of us staying in the town we lived very well indeed.
My company which was "A", had our food in a big building which was fitted out very well. The only thing about it was, if you were not there at meal times you had to go without. So you can be sure that I was not very often late.
Taking all things round I had a jolly good time at Rye. I used to like walking by the sea, or looking round the very old buildings and castles. I remember quite well bringing a piece of rock from the famous old "Camber Castle" home on leave with me and it was placed in the boys museum at school.
As a soldier I think I did extremely well, for I was often praised by the N.C.O. in charge of my platoon for good work and nothing seemed to hard to do. I truly expected to be made Lance-Corporal long before I went to France but it never came off.
I got on well as a sportsman too. I remember quite well playing football for my battalion against "Ashford Town" and had the luck to score two goals for them. Also, I won about 30 shillings and a wristwatch running in the battalion sports held on Easter Monday 1916. I won the Battalion race of a quarter of a mile and also the open race of the same distance, which I thought was a very good performance, for nobody there thought I could run. I was congratulated by several noted people in the town and soldiers, and anyway I was asked to represent the battalion at "Devonshire Park" Eastbourne on the following Whit-Monday, which I accepted.
I remember having a fine time there also for I had four days holiday, although I did not win anything there, which I really did not expect to, after I found out I had such runners as "Applegarth" and "A.D. Arcy" to run against.
Well things kept going on very well indeed but I could see France coming nearer and nearer and let me say the truth, I did not want to go. But at last I was placed under orders for active service and came home for my draught leave, and said goodbye etc. to all at home.
by myself Pte. Geo. Linney.
I am not quite sure but I believe the date was 4th July 1916 when I first crossed the channel for active service. I remember we started from Folkstone about 2 o'clock in the afternoon and landed at Boulogne about 4 o'clock. It was a most lovely day and my fears were not realised, for I thought I should be seasick, but owing to the nice weather at the time (the sea was very calm indeed), I very much liked the first voyage across.
We landed at last and I must say the first impression of France was very good indeed. Boulogne I should say in peacetime is a very lovely place, and of course it was too good a place for us to stop there long.
We moved by train the next day to Etaples which was then a very big base. Thousands and thousands of soldiers were there, of all descriptions and regiments. I had never seen so many before.
I do not want to put all my experiences in France into this book, or I should never finish, so I shall shorten it somewhat.
I soon found out what a soldier's life was like in France, but I did not grouse or grumble because I knew it was no use. I should have to put up with it, so I made a vow that I would smile whenever I could and I really believe I was smiling through some of my worst experiences.
I remember quite well leaving the base and joining the 13th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment, which was at that time stationed at Festubert in Belgium, or in close reserve to the British front line trenches.
I think I have forgotten to mention that the draft I was in consisted of 150 N.C.O.'s and men and we were posted to different companies. All us six "pals", as we called ourselves, who started in the first place from Bedford were still together, and we had the luck to be placed in the same company which was "C". In fact in the same platoon which was "11".
We soon got on well together and although we did not like the life, we had some good times as well as bad.
We stopped at Festubert in reserve for four days and it was there that I was first under shell fire from the Germans.We were staying in a cellar in a very old house which had been half knocked down by shells. It was a very dirty place and the rats ran about there in scores, especially at night, but it was better than being outside when "Jerry" was shelling.
At last we had the orders that we were going in the trenches to relieve the Scotch Guards. I have forgotten to mention that my Battalion was in the 116th Brigade and belonged to the 39th Division which was supposed to be "hot stuff" at that time.
I really believe that my first night in the trenches was my worst. I must admit I was quite nervous, which was only to be expected at first. I thought that night that I should never live 'till morning, for we were gassed for an hour and a half and our masks were very poor at that time.
I was very frightened all through this first gas attack. I kept thinking the gas was coming through my mask, all the time. Also I kept thinking I should be suffocated, but I managed to keep my head and not take it off until we had the order to.
Another thing which happened that first night, was that through some mistake or other I was picked out for a bombing raid on the German trenches, and remember I had not been in action before. There were only twenty of us that went over the top and I shall never forget it. We had eight killed and four wounded.
I owe my life to an old soldier (who poor fellow is now dead) who told me to keep with him, which I did and he brought me safely back in after our raid had been a hopeless failure. We were in "No Mans Land" that night for four hours.
After that however I soon got used to trench life and warfare. Guns firing, shells bursting and gas etc. were treated as in everyday life. When I look back again to it now, I really think I was inclined to be a little reckless at times. It took a lot to make me nervous after the first night or "terrible break in" as I call it.
I must pop back to England for a minute. Well, when I was in training officers and N.C.O.'s were always telling us that it paid you to keep as fit as possible and I found out that they were right. For we came out of the trenches after being there a week and after a couple of days rest, we walked in "full marching order" from Bethune in Belgium to the town of Albert on the Somme, a distance of something like eighty miles in just over a week. It was a terrible walk but I was of good constitution and bore it better than most of the other fellows. I felt very sorry for some of them who suffered with bad feet, for it was right in the middle of summer.
We eventually reached our destination and had a well earned rest. After this my Division took part in the great "Battle of the Somme".
The date of the first big battle I was engaged in was 3rd September 1916. My Battalion was practically wiped out that day, but I only received a slight scratch in the shoulder which I said nothing about. It was the day when Sergeant-Major Carter 12th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment (who we were supporting) won the V.C. I saw the poor fellow get killed when he was carrying wounded in.
The attack that day must have been a failure. The numbers of chaps killed or wounded was shocking to see. We did not even capture the German front line on our battle front. Of course we had to be withdrawn from this battle to be made up again, for we had lost heavily so we had another two or three weeks rest. I must add that three of us pals got wounded that day, so afterwards there were only three of the old 5th Battalion left in my platoon.
We came out to the town of Acheux which I have had good cause to remember since. The chaps that came to the battalion to make us up to full strength again, were of course all new to the game. Straight from England or "Blighty" as we called it then, so they sent us in to just hold another part of the line, whilst other divisions were fighting elsewhere.
The place we went to was just in front of the village of Mailly-Mailly and the trenches were so white and chalky that we nicknamed it "The White City". It was not too bad here at all considering there was a big battle raging right and left of us, but there was a good deal of "trench mortar strafing" taking place every day. However one sad incident occurred here I remember, for ten fellows were coming up to battalion H.Q. from the Bedfordshire Regiment and they were all killed before they reached our headquarters. I have often wondered since if any of those poor chaps lived at Leighton Buzzard.
We stopped in this place for about six weeks and then moved down the Somme river a bit lower. I had some very narrow escapes during this period, but they were too numerous to mention.
I kept struggling along however and on 5th October 1916 I was made a Lance-Corporal and received 3d a day for it. They told me it was for good work "in the field".
The next item of interest occurred on 21st October 1916, when I was wounded during an attack on the village of Le Sars. The attack started at three minutes to twelve (midday) and I was hit in about six places just as I had reached the German front line. I really thought my last day had come, for I was bleeding badly from the nose and mouth, but I managed to walk to the dressing station at Thiepval which was three miles away.
I was soon attended to and bandaged up and placed on a stretcher in a motor ambulance, and at last I started leaving the trenches behind and I was hoping I should never see them again.
I stopped the night in a big field hospital and the next day we were all placed in a hospital train. I say all of us because there was a huge lot, some wounded badly others only slightly. The nurse told me I had got a nice "Blighty one" and I was delighted.
I believe it took us about twenty four hours to get to Boulogne. I was taken off the train and placed in another motor, and soon found myself at the No. 3 Canadian General Hospital, where I was made comfortable and put to bed.
The next thing I remember was when the doctor came and woke me up and gave me an examination. My left eye was much swollen and quite closed. My left hand was helpless, a piece of shrapnel had gone clean through my hand. I was also hit in the back and another piece of shrapnel was lodging in the top of my head.
I don't remember much for I felt too bad but I know I had an operation. They took the shrapnel out of my wounds and after that I felt much better.
Two days later the nurse came to me at 6 o'clock in the morning and said, "Young man you are going to England today."
Of course I was glad to hear that news and the nurse got me all ready and I was taken down to the boat in a motor. We left France at about 10 o'clock in the morning. We landed at Dover two hours later and were placed in a hospital train. We were given food etc. and were made as comfortable as possible.
Our first stop, I remember quite well, was Kensington, London. We stopped there quite a long time. I began to think I was going to be lucky enough to be in hospital in London, when off we went again. I do not know what route we took but I remember going though Wendover and Aylesbury stations on our way to Birmingham, which we reached rather late that day. Once more we were placed in motors and I found myself at another big general hospital at Birmingham, which was indeed a very good military hospital.
I was only here about a month, for my wounds quickly healed and I was moved to a convalescent home at Bilton Hall, Rugby. Now this was a very nice place. It was a private house belonging to Mr. S .Wooton, a race horse man in peace time, but he had kindly given it for use of wounded soldiers during the war.
I quickly regained health and strength here for I put on two stones in just under the month I was there. We used to have motor rides when the weather was suitable and all sorts of sport, which we could manage to play.We also had a piano and gramophone indoors, not to mention whist drives and dances and a billiards table.
I remember one day the people had us a treat. They came round for a dozen volunteers to go out somewhere to tea they said. Well I for one volunteered to go and we started off in a motor, to tea as we thought. Well, we got to the place and it looked like a school from the outside, but anyway we could not understand it. We would not say that we would not go, so we went inside and found out they wanted us behind the counter to serve the customers at a jumble sale, which was taking place that day. It was a new job but we managed it all right and afterwards had "our tea" at a lodge house nearby. I have often laughed since as to how neatly they "had us".
It was here that my father and mother came to see me. They wanted to come when I was in hospital but they left it rather too late before they mentioned it and as I thought I should be on the move, I told them to wait until I was settled at the convalescent home.
Well they came and I think were very surprised to see me looking so well, for I was nearly better. I only had a small bandage around my head at the time.
I left this home on 5th December 1916 for ten days "sick leave". Of course I was sorry to leave it because it was such a good place and I could see France and the trenches staring me in the face again.
I made the most of my time of course when I was on leave and had a good time. Near the end of my leave I had a message to the effect that I was to report to the 3rd Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment at Newhaven, on the 15th December 1916.
Well, I said goodbye once more to all at home and reported there at the proper date. It was the first time I had been to Newhaven and I hope it will be the last. They put me in a hut which was not so bad. There were of course plenty more on the same game as myself. Next morning they took us all to the doctor and he reported me fit for duty again.
On the way back from the doctors who should I meet but one of my pals of "the old six". He was one of the three who got wounded before me on 3rd September and had been in hospital a bit longer than me. So I soon found a pal at Newhaven and it happened that we once more went to France together.
As I said before, I did not like Newhaven. The place itself was all right but they treated us badly. The food was bad and I was glad to get away from there, although I knew I should have to go to France again.
I tried to get home for Xmas but they would not grant it, so a pal of mine of the old 5th Battalion at Rye, who was also there and lived at Brighton, asked me if I would go home with him for the day and I said yes.
We started Xmas morning about 8 o'clock and of course we had to break bounds because we had not been granted leave. The distance we had to walk was ten miles but that was nothing to us in those days and of course we did not have 'full pack".
He let his mother know we were coming, so we were expected and got there just in time for dinner. So I had a decent Xmas after all. I know we had such a good time that we stayed Boxing day as well. Just imagine my surprise when we got back to Newhaven and we had not been missed out of camp. I thought we should at least get a week "in clink", but I did not get anything.
I did not stop at Newhaven long after this, for I was under orders once more for France the next day. We started for France the second time on New Year's Eve 1917. I remember quite well getting a letter from home just before I started, which said my brother Alfred had been very severely wounded. I thought this very bad news and I was somewhat downhearted when I once more stepped on the boat for France.
The second trip was somewhat like the first and we went to the same places. The only difference was the weather and that was very cold and there was plenty of snow about.
This time I went to another new battalion which was the 7th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment and of course I was still a Lance-Corporal. We joined this battalion at a village called Wantigny, ten miles from the town of Arras.
We were rather lucky for they were out from the trenches for a rest and we had a nice quiet fortnight, before we once more journeyed to the trenches. This time we went to Arras. The front line trenches were only a mile in front of the famous old big town. You can be sure we had to be very careful when we were out in the town, which was shelled every day and subject to a gas bombardment nearly every night.
We stopped here for a month and we used to go up to the trenches, digging every night after it got dark. Many a good time I had at Arras and many narrow escapes. We went back for another rest in March and I could see we were in training for "over the top" again.
We went to Arras again a week before Easter 1917 and five days before Easter Monday. An intense bombardment began on the German trenches. It was a terrific bombardment and a splendid sight to watch of a night. The Germans sent very few shells back and I know we used to watch the bombardment for hours of a night. We could not sleep owing to the noise.
The attack in the first place was fixed for Easter Sunday but it was put off until the next day, because the Germans captured some of our chaps and our people were afraid that they would give the game away.
It came off on the Monday however and it was called "The Battle of Arras and Vimy Ridge", 9th April 1917 and it was very successful. The attack started at five in the morning, just as it was getting light. Our artillery put down a great barrage and the German position was soon in our hands, with hundreds of prisoners and many guns. A little fighting took place but not much. Fritz had had enough with the bombardment.
I used to like to watch the aeroplane in this fight. Our men did some splendid work.
This battle lasted about a week and we advanced something like six miles on our front, which was supposed to be excellent for those days. I have much pleasure in announcing the fact that I came though this big battle without a scratch.
After this we came out for a well earned rest. We were congratulated by Douglas Haig, who came and inspected us on 29th April and mentioned our splendid work.
When we went in to action again, it was on the very same front and the fighting was much worse than when we left it. The principal thing the Germans were fighting for was the village of Monchy, which stood on a very big hill and was a very good position for us. All through this fighting we held this village, for our people were determined to have it and the result was we had many casualties. I know it was only pure luck that brought me safely through this. I was expecting to get killed or wounded every day but it never came off.
The next big battle came off 3rd May 1917, but the Germans were all ready for us and we gained little. After this our people were content to slow up a bit and we had a fairly easy time, compared to what we had just had.
Soon after this our people had started attacking in Belgium and our front got quieter still and at the finish we were having a very easy time which we all deserved.
After this battle on 3rd May which lasted five days, we were taken out of the line for six weeks rest. We went to a village called Grand Rullecourt, twenty miles from Arras, so we were a good bit from the line which seemed quite a change. It always seemed funny somehow when you could not hear guns firing and shells bursting, because we got so used to it.
We made the most of this rest. We were favoured with splendid weather nearly all the time. I remember we had divisional races, horse racing, boxing tournaments, horse shows and open air concerts etc. The time went much too quickly and it did not seem long before we were off to the trenches again.
We went back to the very same trenches we had come from. There had been no further fighting, only a few raids by both sides for prisoners. I liked this Arras front somehow and I also liked the little village we always came out to named Achicourt, only half a mile from Arras and at this time only six miles from the front line.
We used to do sixteen days in the line and eight out and this went on for months.
I had a great stroke of luck in June 1917. The Battalion Royal Sergeant-Major asked me one day if I would be his batman (otherwise known as servant), and of course I said yes (his other one had gone to hospital sick). After that I had a much better time than if I had been in the company. I was placed on headquarters strength, which consisted of a few runners and signallers, the O.C. and S.M. and myself. In the future where they stopped I had to stop.
Well from that date every time we went into the trenches, H.Q. had a dug-out to get into if there was anything "doing" (shelling etc.). Whereas if I had been in the company I should only have had a trench, so I knew I had a good job, so I looked after it. The Sergeant-Major and I always did get on well, although a good few of the other fellows didn't.
Another thing of note I remember was a fellow by the name of Woolhead, who lived at Lindslade and joined the battalion in July. You can guess our surprise when we saw one another.
Up to October 1917 the same year nothing special occurred but one day in October we were relieved by the 17th Division and we always knew that meant a long rest or a change of front. We went back ever so far this time to a place called Questive near St. Poll, and after a weeks rest, started a new kind of attack practice with the aid of dummy tanks.
We had never seen these before, but we guessed rightly that we were going to try a new form of attack with them. We had a months training with them, then had a long train journey down south, right down below the old Somme battlefields.
We detrained at that famous town Albert once more and kept walking until we were quite near to the trenches, in the front of Cambria. We afterwards found out there was nothing doing, no bombardment or anything. We were told at the last minute that it was going to be a surprise attack. No bombardment beforehand but with tanks instead. I have often wondered since how Fritz did not hear these tanks the night before the battle, for they were kicking up a most awful row. Everybody had the wind up, for every minute we expected Fritz to hear them and shell like blazes, but he didn't and everything was ready by the appointed time.
At 4.15 on the morning of the 20th December 1917 the fun started. Imagine if you can being out by yourself at 4 o'clock in the morning, everything is very quiet and not a soul to be seen. Well that was what it was like one minute and then the very next. Oh dear! Thousands of guns started firing. It was some barrage that morning, I never had seen anything like it before or since.
Machine guns, tanks and men attacking and God knows what. It was awful and yet splendid for England, for it was a fine attack that morning. Fritz was taken quite by surprise and by 10 o'clock in the morning, not an enemy shell could be seen bursting anywhere, which meant that all his guns had been captured, or were out of range and that he must have been pushed back ten miles.
To be continued...
(Note: He had reached the bottom of the last page of the writing pad he used to write his memoirs. I'm sure he meant to continue with his story but to my knowledge he never did).
George William Linney was born on 28th February 1895, at 28 Bedford Street, Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, England. After the war he returned to Leighton Buzzard, where he married and raised a family. Most of his working life was spent on the railways. He died in 1968 at the age of 74.